A/N: Just a reminder that this story is set in 2014. There is a reason I mention this :)
Amy recounted the coins in the register for the third time. It was difficult to trust her math skills when her mind was elsewhere. Though Sheldon was occupied with his game night the previous evening, he sporadically found a few moments to text her. Each time her phone chimed, her heart skipped a beat. They were mostly messages like "Leonard and I beat Howard and Raj again!" and "I found gold-plated armour!", but the one that brought her the most joy was "I'll see you tomorrow." Now 'tomorrow' here.
A key turned in the lock, and the bell jingled. "How was your date with Dr. Smitten?" Cody asked, as he locked the door behind him.
"What? No good morning Ms. Fowler, just straight to it?"
"Sorry, I'm just so excited for you!"
Amy couldn't help the grin stretching across her face. "It was perfect. He brought pizza because, you know, Thursday is pizza night. Then we watched the first two episodes of the Batman live action series. We talked about it last week over Skype, and I mentioned wishing I had the time to see it."
"He brings you food and entertainment. This guy really knows the way to your heart."
"He really does," she sighed dreamily.
Joining her at the counter, Cody leaned his elbows on it and placed his chin in his hands while looking her in the eyes. "And did you get a goodnight kiss?"
"You know I'm not going to let it go."
Amy pretended to busy herself by straightening the new stack of tournament posters she printed minutes earlier. "That's private."
"Oh, come on. It's not like I asked if he ravished you in the storage room."
She felt her cheeks flush. That thought hadn't even crossed her mind, but now that it was there, she couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to have Sheldon's naked body pressed against hers among the boxes of comic books.
"Did he ravish you?" Her employee asked, bringing her out of her trance.
"Cody, please. I think it's time we found you a girlfriend so you can have something else to think about."
"I haven't found the right girl. Until I do, I'm going to live vicariously through you."
Amy shook her head as she skirted around him. Fingers on the door lock, she twisted her head over her shoulder. "Hey, can you double check the cash in the register?"
"Really? You're always so thorough."
"Is this because you're so smitten with the doctor that you can't concentrate?"
"Cody," she warned.
He winked. "Of course, boss."
She unlocked the door and peered out into the parking lot. Jenny, the tiny blonde from Polished Nail Salon next door, swept debris from her portion of the sidewalk into a pink dust pan.
Amy gave her a little wave. "Slow day?"
"First appointment is at 11:30. The weekday work crowd needs their beauty sleep, I guess."
"I guess. I wouldn't even know what that's like."
"Me either." The younger woman dumped the pan into the building's trash can. "I saw Cody come in. Maybe you'll finally take me up on my offer to do your nails before the rush."
Amy looked down at her polish-free nails. Her mother forbade her from manicures because "they attracted the wrong kind of men." As tempting as it was to go against her mother's wishes, in all honesty, she had never been interested in girly rituals. Besides, she already attracted a man, one who probably couldn't care less about something so frivolous. "Maybe another time. I'm expecting my boyfriend any minute."
The woman's squeals were loud enough to scare off a flock of red-crowned parrots roosting on a nearby tree. "Amy! That's wonderful! What's his name? Where did you meet him?"
"His name is Sheldon. He's a new customer with whom I have a lot in common."
Jenny sighed dreamily. "Workplace romance. The only guys who come here are either full of themselves or they bat for the same team, if you know what I mean."
"I suppose there aren't a lot of men who want a manicure." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a familiar tall frame coming toward her. "That's Sheldon."
"He's kind of cute."
"Hands off; he's mine."
The manicurist chuckled. "He's all yours. My man is out there somewhere."
Sheldon waved and awarded his girlfriend with a crooked smile when he reached the sidewalk. "Hello." He nodded to the other woman then pushed the comic shop door open.
"Where are you going?" Amy called after him.
"I need to talk with Cody while you two chat."
Amy frowned. "Okay. I'll be in soon."
Jenny tapped the dustpan against the trash can and swiped the bangs out of her eyes. "I should get back inside too. With my luck, I missed a phone call for another appointment."
Back inside the shop, Cody was grinning like a fool at something Sheldon said. What were those two talking about? "What's going on?"
"You and I are going shopping for tournament snacks. Grab your car keys," Sheldon informed her.
"I can't leave Cody by himself on our second busiest day the week."
"I already explained the situation, and he's more than happy to hold down the fort for a couple of hours."
Amy's frown deepened. "Sheldon, I need to speak with you alone in my office." Ushering her boyfriend inside, she caught a glimpse of Cody when she turned around and rolled her eyes when he winked at her.
At Amy's insistence, Sheldon had a seat on the swivel chair, while she sat on the corner of her desk. "If this is a ploy to get an extra hug, I would not object."
"Actually, I need to talk to you about your conversation with Cody. You had no right asking him if he's okay with staying alone. He's my employee, so it's my job to decide whether or not it's appropriate to ask him such favors."
"I was only trying to help."
Her voice softened. "I know you were. In the future, ask me first."
"I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
"Thank you." She hopped off the desk and rummaged in her drawer. "If we're going, we should go now before it gets too busy. How much do you think this will cost?"
"Don't worry about the cost. I'll pay."
"This is business related, so I insist on footing the bill."
He shrugged. "Alright, but we're using my club member card, unless you already have a Costco membership."
"I don't. I've never actually been in a Costco but heard they have great prices, if you're looking for bulk items."
"Oh, they do. You're in for a treat, literally and figuratively," Sheldon promised, as they made their way to the front door.
Cody waved at them a little too excitedly. "Have fun!"
"Call me if it gets busy or for any emergency, big or small," Amy directed.
"Don't worry, Ms. Fowler!"
Shopping with Sheldon was different from any other shopping trip Amy experienced. He was so meticulous about everything. First he examined each cart for imperfections. If a wheel squeaked in the slightest, it was cast aside. When the perfect cart was finally selected, he removed a wet wipe from his bag and ran it along the handle. It actually was a good idea. Hundreds of people touched them each day. Flu season was a long way off, but those pesky summer colds were lurking around.
Sheldon flashed his membership card at the greeter, granting them access into the store. "Let's go this way," he suggested, as Amy stared up at the high ceilings and massive size of the building.
Amy insisted on pushing the giant cart, which was no easy feat. Her chin barely rose above the handle, and it's large size made steering more difficult than the average sized grocery cart. Stretching her neck out, she slowly wove around the other shoppers. After a near collision with one, she pulled aside and let my Sheldon take over. Side by side they walked past laptops, phones, and TVs all boasting the lowest prices. He maneuvered the cart to an aisle filled with snacks of all types sold by the case.
"Wow! I've never seen a pretzel jar so big!"
"You think this is amazing. Wait until you see the giant cans of soup," he promised. "If Medford had a Costco in the '80s, my mother would have been buying those up for the church dinners."
Amy examined each item closely. "So many choices. I don't know what to get."
"Stick with the classics, like these Cheez-Its. A box of 45 individual bags at $9.59 comes to 21.3 cents per bag. You can offer 2 per person or save the extras for the next tournament"
"Wouldn't it be more economical to buy a box that isn't pre-portioned?"
"It is, but with individual portions, you prevent cross-contamination of whatever's living on people's skin. Not everyone has the decency to pour rather than stick their fingers in the box."
"That's a good point." She tilted her head at the item. "The price is reasonable, but what if it doesn't go well and there is no next time?"
"Amy, trust me, there will be. Leonard has expressed interest, and I'm even okay with Howard and Raj attending, now that I've finally convinced them we really are dating."
"What did you tell them? I'm still picturing the confused looks on their faces when we came out of the office holding hands. Raj's gaping mouth was priceless."
"Indeed it was. It's not so much what I told them; it's my actions last night."
"Normally I'm hyper focused on the games, but I couldn't help texting you about my progress. I also may have laughed a little too loud when you sent me that GIF of the gamer twisting the controller so hard that he fell off the couch."
She chuckled. "Sorry, I couldn't resist."
"Don't be sorry. It was appropriate and was the perfect method to prove you really are my girlfriend."
A warm, fuzzy feeling took over her body. Amy wondered if she would always feel this way when Sheldon referred to her as his girlfriend. She plucked a box of the Cheez-Its off the shelf and set it into the cart. "What else do I need?"
"Beverages, but first I need to make a pitstop in the candy aisle."
With one hand on the cart, he reached for her hand with the other. It felt so domestic shopping with a man. For a moment, she pretended they were a married couple doing their weekly grocery run. Again, she was wowed by the massive amounts of products for sale in one container. She had to keep herself from drooling at the bags of chocolates lining the shelves. While she was admiring the 4-pound canisters of jelly beans, she was only half aware that Sheldon left her side.
"Okay, I'm ready," he announced when he rejoined her.
"Where did you go?"
He raised and lowered his eyebrows suggestively but said nothing. On tiptoes, she tried to peer around him into the cart, but he blocked her view with his body. "No peeking."
"Okay, now I really want to know." She snuck around to the other side then fished her hand into the cart. The crinkle of plastic filled her ears as her fingers ran over a large bag filled with whatever it was he was hiding behind the Cheez-Its. "What on earth did you buy?"
"Just stocking up on something. We better get going if you want to see everything the Costco has to offer before your store gets too busy for Cody to handle alone."
"Awww, but I want to know what you have in there," she pouted.
"You'll find out soon enough."
As they continued their trek to the beverage aisle, Sheldon pointed out the massive soup cans, as promised, and she spun her head in awe to take it all in. "Even the Band-Aids come in huge boxes!"
At their destination, they inspected the labels for the best price per ounce. It took both of them to hoist the 40-pack of water bottles into the cart. Breathing hard, they paused to catch their breaths and watched the other shoppers pass by pushing mountains of groceries.
"I've always wondered what kind of lives people have when they load their carts so high. Do they have a lot of children? Do they live outside the city and only shop once a month? Are they hoarders?"
"All of those observations are plausible. I myself don't come here frequently, as I don't drive, so I stock up on when Leonard brings me here."
"I don't shop often myself because I don't have a lot of free time, but I'd be happy to take you when I can. After seeing these prices, I'm thinking of getting a membership too."
"The membership fee is $55 per year. I propose we share an account; I will pay the membership fee, and in return, you can chauffeur me."
"That hardly seems fair. I don't mind paying my half of the fee."
"Determining who gets the better deal is dependant on many factors. It's quite possible your expenses could exceed that of the membership fee. First we would need to know how many trips we make per year. Then we calculate the cost of fuel and vehicular wear and tear, including the cost of oil and every other aspect of owning a vehicle."
"That's not necessary. Let's just agree that you will pay the fee, and I will be responsible for all things vehicular."
Did that really just happen? Now that she was the co-owner of a store membership with her boyfriend, it really did almost feel like they were a married couple. Sheldon began walking to the freezer aisles. Running a little to catch up to his long legs, she wondered if her expression matched that of her feelings inside or if she looked nonchalant. Her thoughts were cut off when he stopped suddenly, and she bumped into him. Slightly dazed, she blinked and surveyed her surroundings. All along the front ends of the freezers, product demo representatives were giving away samples of their wares.
"This is the treat portion of the trip I informed you about," Sheldon said, as he accepted a sample of orange chicken.
Amy helped herself to one of the tiny cups. "Wow, this is good. Now I want to buy some."
"That's why they do it. Drat! Now I want some too."
Eight samples and half a grocery cart later, they stood in the checkout line. Amy set her hand on her belly. "That was really filling. I'll have to save my last slice of pizza for dinner." She consulted her wristwatch and gasped. "Oh no! We've already been gone over two hours. I hope Cody can handle the Saturday rush."
"He would call if there was a problem."
"You're right. I just…" Her ringtone went off. Digging in her purse, she lifted the screen to her eyes. "It's the store! I knew it!" With trembling fingers, she swiped Accept. "Cody? Is everything okay?"
Sheldon moved the cart up as the line moved forward then looked at her expectantly, but she needed to concentrate on her employee's words. Turning her head slightly, she pressed the phone to her ear. "Wait, slow down. This isn't one of your practical jokes?... Are you absolutely sure?... Wow! He was honestly the last person I expected to hear from... No, I'm not upset you called. That is great news! I can't believe it!... Are you swamped yet?... Good. We're in line now, so I should be seeing you soon. 'Kay, bye!"
She tossed her phone back in her purse and met Sheldon's raised eyebrows. "That was Cody."
"I gathered that. What's this great news?"
Eyes shining and grin widening, she paused for effect. "Stan Lee agreed to donate a signed copy of the latest Spiderman issue! I didn't actually expect him to return my call!"
"Amy, that's wonderful!"
"Yes! My only regret is I wasn't there to speak with him myself."
"You can call him back to thank him."
"I think I will. Maybe I'll even ask if he would mind making an appearance on tournament day. If we advertise that Stan Lee will be in attendance, we're sure to get a great turnout."
"You don't want to do that."
"Why not?" Amy asked, as they reached the front of the line. She began placing their purchases on the conveyor belt, while Sheldon stood stock still. "Sheldon? Is something wrong?"
"I'm sorry. I was just thinking about what a terrible idea it would be for Stan Lee to appear at your store."
"Would you like your purchases in boxes or directly back in the cart?" The cashier interrupted.
"Boxes please. We will also need three separate transactions. Two personal and one business." To Amy he whispered, "I'll tell you about my experience with you know who in the car."
The cashier did not look pleased to be performing three transactions. Even though he swiped each item proficiently, it still felt like an eternity to Amy. She was curious why Sheldon was opposed to having one of the greatest comic book legends visit her store. He wanted her business to do well, and this was an almost surefire way to accomplish that. It didn't make any sense.
In the parking lot, Sheldon took his time loading the boxes into the trunk. Was he deliberately stalling because he changed his mind about telling her, or was he just being meticulous? Finally, the last box was stacked, and he wheeled the cart to the cart return in the parking lot. In the car Amy looked at him expectantly, but he appeared not to notice. His eyes were instead focused on the rearview mirror.
"Traffic is clear behind you. Why aren't we going?"
"I'm waiting for you to tell me about your problem with Stan Lee."
Sheldon crossed his arms over his chest. "I don't have a problem with him, but he has one with me."
"I'm going to need more info than that."
He sighed then dove in, keeping his eyes on his lap. Amy listened raptly as he described his encounter with the comic book creator four years earlier. When he was done, he peeked at her through lowered lashes. "You're probably ashamed to call yourself my girlfriend now."
Placing her hand on his, she squeezed his fingers. "I'm not. It was all a misunderstanding. You didn't know he was being sarcastic about inviting you in to watch the Lakers game."
"I should have left when he threatened to call the police, but I didn't. Now I can't come within 100 feet of him, and your store isn't large enough even if we stand on opposite ends."
"Then I won't ask him to come. He's probably too busy anyway. I'm just thankful he agreed to donate the comic book. It will still be a good way to entice the gamers if we advertise the prizes." She inserted the key and placed the car in reverse.
Putting the car back in park, she looked at his unreadable expression. "Is something wrong?"
"I just want you to know how grateful I am that you're so understanding. No one else in my life, except maybe my mother and meemaw, would sacrifice so much for me. I promise I'll make it up to you, starting with my first little token of appreciation."
She heard the crinkle of a plastic wrapper. Moments later, a familiar foiled-wrapped item sat in her palm. Smiling, she held the chocolate kiss up to the sunlight and watched the silver foil sparkle. "Is this what you were hiding?"
He nodded while holding up the giant bag. "I wanted to surprise you, and trust me, it's not easy to do that. You're so curious about everything. I even had to distract you at the checkout line so you wouldn't see them."
"I can't help being curious. It's the future scientist in me. And wow! That's a lot of kisses!"
"Three hundred fifty of them. Like I said, I need to stock up."
"You're so sneaky but sweet. Thank you." She leaned over the console and wrapped her arms around his torso. The feel of his head resting on hers and the sweet gesture were worth the figurative price of not inviting Stan Lee.