When a grocery store begrudgingly promises a 24 hour cycle, it's because they don't want anyone to take advantage of it. No store wants to showcase their midnight employees; likely a group of teens ranging from high school to the budding freshmen of college, getting a job wherever they had to to pay off heavy loans and keep the tank of their cars at least half full. There was a 50/50 chance of either being greeted with a smile (likely insincere), or a glare, because those poor kids were just as tired and confused as you were at 4 in the morning. But it was the risk every 24-hour place accepted, and kept an arms-length away when they knew they weren't ready for it.
But what business does anyone have at a local grocery store at 4AM (3:55AM, really, but what's the difference)?
Chris had to ask himself that a million times, getting lost in his half-asleep stupor more than twice on his way to the breakfast aisle. To be fair, Jill had work the next day, and she couldn't get off on the right foot if she didn't eat the right cereal in the morning. That was a good reason. He could put the fact that he'd lost the battle of rock-paper-scissors twice behind him if he reasoned it logically instead. He was here in the most sinful hours of the morning on a desperate quest for (artificially) fruit-flavored cereal because Jill needed him to be.
He'd finally found it after a good minute or so of completely skipping over it. It was the last box, and managed to blend in perfectly with the other multicolored boxes on the aisle. At least it was easy, and he was done.
Or at least he thought so. He was caught off guard by the sound of a shopping cart hurrying closer on its too-old-for-use wheels, and turned just in time to see it and it's rider stop at the end of the aisle. A young woman likely in her early twenties with short hair and what looked like a free sample— that she'd coaxed from some poor worker this early- in the hand that wasn't holding on to the cart. She stepped off of the bottom rung of the cart (so full it could support her weight, apparently), and brushed off her sweatpants after giving Chris a quick look over
"Sorry, that's mine. I must'a left it over here earlier."
Still confused, Chris had enough sense to move out of her reach when she went for the box of cereal.
"You 'left' it over here?"
"Yeah. I mean, my cart was already full, and I didn't want it to get crushed, so I thought I'd get everything else first before I came back to get it. Makes sense, right?"
He didn't believe her, not by any stretch of the imagination, but he did spare a glance at her now abandoned shopping cart. It was full of microwaveables and a plethora of unhealthy snacks. At the very top, however, there was a bag of grapes.
"I guess so. But can you prove it's yours?"
She finished off the rest of her free sample before answering, watching the cereal more than Chris.
"Uh-huh, just hand it over and I'll show you where I wrote my name."
She held her hand out this time, almost like she believed he would comply.
"Right. Unfortunately, I need this cereal. Maybe you should have just put it in your cart when you had the chance, but you didn't, and it's mine now."
Chris turned on his heel, more than ready to get back to bed and forget about the cereal entirely.
He stopped, however, turning some to at the very least humor the woman that had been holding him up.
"Look, I don't know who you are or why you're so stubborn,"
"Chris? Okay, Chris." She rolled up her sleeves, prompting Chris to turn back to her. "You can call me Piers, and I'm willing to fight you for that cereal."
Chris gave her a once over. She was notably shorter than him, and, underneath the baggy clothing, didn't look like much bulk.
"Yeah. I need that cereal, and I'm gonna get it."
"Look, I'm not about to fight some college girl."
"Alright then. This college girl's about to make you cry."
Chris barely had any time to react when she lunged, low to the ground, taking advantage of the height difference to go for a shot to his ribs. In the midst of blocking it and preparing to try talking her back down, she threw another punch, this one to the opposite side. She was fast.
"Hold on a sec—"
"C'mon Chris," A jab. Whether he was blocking or not, she planned on hitting something. "Either you fight me like a man or you give up the cereal."
"You're overreacting! Why do you want this cereal so badly!?"
Rather than answering, she was back on the offensive. With the punches not doing enough for her liking, she went instead for a single-leg take-down, successfully getting Chris on the ground. The box of cereal that had started this whole mess slid just out of reach, standing on the sidelines like a willing observer.
It was 4AM, where was she getting all of this energy?
Chris caught her next punch as she reared back, doing the same with the other arm before twisting them around her torso. She was basically caught in a bear hug after losing her balance.
"I'll let you go if you promise to stop fighting me."
"If I stop fighting you how'm I gonna get my cereal?"
She fought out of his grip just enough to rear back for a headbutt, effectively getting Chris to let her go. With her enemy incapacitated, she hurried over to the box of cereal and picked it up, feeling triumphant.
"Well it wasn't the best fight, but at least I...Wait, shit, are you alright?"
Noticing Chris' still prone form on the ground, the triumphant feeling wilted. Chris covered his face. It wasn't unlikely that his nose was broken, but, more importantly, Jill would be laughing her ass off as soon as she saw him.
"Doesn't matter. Just take your cereal."
"I mean, it's just cereal..."
"I'm not upset about th' cereal, it wasn't even for me. I'm mad because I'm bleeding and I have to go home like this. So, thanks."
"Bleeding? Hold on, let me see."
Putting the cereal on a random shelf, she kneeled down to the still-grounded Chris, putting her hands over his to inspect his wounds.
"Whadda you care? You won your prize fair and square, right?"
"I fought dirty, okay? Now stop being a baby and let me see your stupid nose."
Chris complied, if only to have the ordeal finally over.
"It's not bad. I mean, it's bleeding, yeah, but not broken."
She pinched the bridge of his nose lightly, resulting in having her hand swatted away.
"Don't be a baby. Gimme your phone."
"What, are you mugging me now?"
"I'm gonna give you my number and my address, alright? So if you have to go the hospital or anything I'll cover it. Also, if you want a bowl of cereal, you can come over."
"I told you it wasn't for me."
"Then you can take it back to your wife, or whatever."
Chris thought over the statement as Piers reached over him to grab his phone from his pocket. It was handed back after a quick moment, and he finally found the strength to sit up.
"Is Jill your wife?"
"Do you like getting into people's personal business?"
Piers shrugged, standing. Chris' mind went back to the shopping cart, a fair amount of the goods likely melted by now.
"Who're the grapes for?"
"Those grapes in your cart. Who are they for?"
"You don't think I eat grapes?"
She looked over the cart. He had a reason to doubt, she supposed, and didn't miss the casual 'no' as a response.
"They're for my roommate. She loves grapes."
"Do you like getting into other people's personal business?"
"It's not the same."
When she was smiling instead of tackling him to the ground, she was actually cute.
Grabbing her newly won box of cereal from the shelf, Piers walked back over to her cart and dropped it in without missing a beat.
"Sorry about the mess. Maybe try bargain brand? Anyway, like I said, call if you want any cereal."
Jumping back onto the buggy, she kicked off.
Chris was left to wonder where his night would have gone had he not lost that game of rock-paper-scissors...as well as why no employees were bothered enough to respond to all the noise.
This is also up on my Ao3 but I think I'll just leave it as a oneshot for ffnet ¯\_(ツ)_/¯