Title: Retail Steals Your Soul
Author: Reiko K.
Beta Reader: Cat
Characters: Sam, Dean, OFC
Genres: Gen, pre-series, outsider!pov
Rating: PG-13 (for language)
Word Count: ~1,950
Summary: Two boys walk into Karla's workplace and she notices some things.
Disclaimer: This is non-profitable fan work.
A/N: Title credit goes to my brother who has worked in retail for years. His exact words were "Everyday your soul dies just that little bit more". With the stories he sometimes tells me, I can imagine. Anyway, this was beta-read by the brilliant Cat. Really, that woman is awesome. Therefore, any mistakes/typos you come across are totally my fault. I've re-written the entire fic, though, so hopefully they've been kept to a minimum.
I hope you enjoy this story. As always, reviews are more than welcome.
RETAIL STEALS YOUR SOUL
Karla Reynolds believes in demons. She believes in evil. She believes in things that can suck out your soul and leave you for dead.
Her personal hell is called retail and she's been stuck working here for years.
Karla's latest level of torture is called Jolly Good Grocers, and ironically it's neither jolly nor good. Still, it's better than her last job bussing tables at Red Lobster, even with the crappy pay. She made more tips at Red Lobster in a day than she makes in a week at Jolly's, but at least she doesn't have to deal with the nauseating smell of seafood, not to mention stressed-out co-workers, short-tempered managers, and customers who never knew what they wanted except endless baskets of cheddar bay biscuits. In addition, her new employer, Mr. Khan, is too polite to peer down her blouse as Mr. Jack(ass) Donovan had always tried to do.
So yeah, the wages suck, the overhead train track is annoying and the shady neighborhood is giving her mom cause to harass her every half-hour (Karla is seriously considering not paying her phone bill this month), but on the upside Mr. Khan is respectful, the customers aren't too bad, and the shop is just two blocks away from WoodHell Medical Center, where her sortofmaybe boyfriend interns.
Broadway is also shop city, so there's that, too.
It's 8 o'clock and there's still two hours left before she can call it a night and close shop. She would have been home hours ago if freakin' Gerald hadn't called out last minute. The only other employee, Mary, has taken the weekend off, and Karla hates that she's such a pushover that when Mr. Khan asked her to stay behind to close, she hadn't been able to say no.
Considering the state of her poor feet, and the fact that she's also opening tomorrow, she really should have.
No one has entered the shop in over fifteen minutes and Karla is bored. Her phone's still in the back, charging, and if she reads one more article about the secret affairs of Hollywood celebrities she's going to seriously tear out her hair. She has her psych textbook stashed behind the counter but she can't quite bring herself to study either. What she really wants is to be out with her sorta-boyfriend, not manning registers of empty shops while trying to decide what'll be more interesting to read: how proprioceptors regulated muscle movement or the latest Wall Street scandal.
Huh. Maybe another gossip rag isn't such a bad idea after all.
She's about to grab the closest Star! magazine when the bells above the door chime and two boys enter.
She lowers her hand as she glances out of the window in search of lagging parents, but there aren't any. Karla frowns, immediately concerned. The neighborhood really isn't the safest place for kids to be wandering around, particularly at this time of night, and the fact that the eldest looks no older than eleven or twelve makes her uneasy. Still, when the kids look her way, she plasters on what she hopes is a plausible I'm-not-judging-your-parents-for-this smile and tells them that if they need anything, she'll be right over here.
The oldest kids nods again, tugs on the younger one's arm, and they both disappear behind the last aisle. Curious, Karla follows their movements in the overhead mirror.
She can't see much from where she is, just the miniature figures picking up a shopping basket and slowly making their way through the aisle. Every so often the younger one will pick something up, show it to the older one, and more often than not the older one will shake his head and return the item to the shelf. She hears muffled whispers from across the shop but can't make out any of it. When a train passes thunderously overhead, she can no longer hear even that much.
And then the oldest boy suddenly turns and gazes at her through the mirror, and Karla drops her gaze, surprised to feel her heart pounding.
She tries not to stare as they travel through the rows, only allows herself a brief glimpse every so often to make sure they aren't stealing anything, but otherwise she keeps her eyes trained towards the door, wondering if someone else (preferably the kid's guardian) is going to walk in.
When another two minutes pass, Karla realizes she's being naively optimistic.
A few moments later they round the final aisle and are once again in her direct line of sight. The boys slowly make their way down the aisle, studying the rows of canned, boxed, and packaged sweets. Their backs are to her, with the oldest holding the half-empty basket and the younger—his brother, she assumed—glued to his side with not even half a foot between them. Karla tells herself she shouldn't stare, but she can't quite bring herself to stop. Not even at the thought of being caught, which makes her unreasonably nervous.
She remembers the older boy's distant gaze in the mirror and glances away.
Jesus, there's something seriously wrong with her.
Karla eventually gives in and takes advantage of their turned backs to watch. She takes in their ratty clothing and scuffed shoes and the dirty, threadbare jackets that are way too inadequate for the crisp November air. She notices the older boy's dirty finger nails as he lifts the sweets, checks their price stickers, and sets them back on the shelves, then repeats the process. She watches the younger one's shoulders slump each and every time, and the way the oldest will squeeze his arm, a silent 'behave' or 'sorry', she can't tell. Maybe neither. Probably both.
Watching them, Karla can't shake the feeling that something's wrong. With their dynamic, with their exchanges, with the way there's never more than a few inches between them, like there's some invisible rope tied around the two of them that forces them to stick close.
Karla wonders if they're really brothers, after all.
"How about this one, Dean?" The younger one whispers, his finger pointing to a pack of chocolate chip cookies wrapped in crisp clear plastic with a bright yellow and green sticker sloppily slapped onto the middle.
Karla wants to shake her head and tell them that those cookies taste just as cheap as they look, that tree bark with sugar is more savory than those things could ever be, but she holds her tongue. She's grateful for her restraint when the oldest, Dean, examines the white price sticker, gives his brother a nod, and tosses them into the basket.
The younger one looks up at Dean and gives him such a blinding smile, as if he's just agreed to buy him a white chocolate raspberry truffle from the Cheesecake Factory and not a fifty-cent pack of stale cookies, and Karla feels her heart clench in her chest, because fuck.
They were walking towards her not a moment later.
"You guys find everything alright?" she asks and inwardly winces at how nervous she sounds.
She quickly grabs the basket from Dean and hoists it up onto the counter.
"Yeah," he murmurs, and she gives him a brief glance before pulling out the items—all knock-off generic brands—and entering the prices into the register.
She's just finishing ringing up the last item—the fourth can of beef-a-roni—when Dean curses. She has to bite back a smile when the younger boy hisses at him for it.
"I forgot the peanut butter," Dean says, taking a step back. The younger boy immediately follows.
"End of the fourth aisle," Karla says immediately, in habit.
Dean makes an annoyed sound, glances at the younger boy then at Karla, and then back again. He finally turns to the younger boy with a look that's almost frightening on a kid and says, "Stay here, Sammy. I'll be right back. Don't move."
"Yes, Dean," Sammy says automatically, like Dean's his parent and his word is law.
The thing is, Karla doesn't think she's too far off the mark.
Dean gives the two of them a final glance before rushing off.
She doesn't know what she's doing, her body moving faster than her brain can currently keep up with, but she's suddenly leaning forward and asking, "What's your favorite candy?"
Her words feel clumsy as they rush to get out, but her tone remains low and level, which she's thankful for when she sees Sammy take a nervous step back.
"Starburst," he says. Confusion is quickly sweeping his wariness away.
She's already reaching down when she asks, "And your brother?"
"M&M's," he says, watchful eyes tracking her.
So brothers they are. Karla nods and bends down and it takes less than five seconds to retrieve the items. She hesitates, then in a split-second decision bends down again and starts snatching more things; some Snickers, Gummi worms, Kit-Kats, Swedish fish, Blow-Pops, Now and Laters, Tootsie Rolls. She flips open a brown paper bag and sweeps the candies inside. It's a bit heavy so she doubles it.
She stuffs the bulging bag between a package of hard noodles and sliced bread, maneuvering everything so it's properly hidden, and then looks at Sammy. He's staring at her with wide eyes, lips parted like he wants to say something but can't find the words.
Karla brings her finger to her lips and says, "Shhh."
He bites his lip and glances back, no doubt checking to see if Dean's within sight. He isn't. The look he gives her then is heartbreaking, all hopeful eyes and an uncertain smile, and Karla has to restrain the impulse to to hop over the counter and squish him to death.
"It'll be our little secret, alright? My treat," she adds, just in case.
Karla can probably write a list of all the reasons why what she just did is plain stupid, but she sees the way the kid's face transforms, all shining eyes and flashing dimples, and Karla can't bring herself to care. She'll have to pay for the candy out of her own wallet, will probably live off of ramen and eggs for the next week, but damn if it isn't worth it.
Dean comes back carrying a jar of no-brand peanut butter and shoots his brother a suspicious look at the smile he's failing to hide. Karla quickly scans the jar, stuffs it in the bag, and reads the total. When Dean carefully starts to pick out dollar bills and change and only just manages to pay for the full amount, Karla knows she's done the right thing.
They leave the same way they'd entered the store: sides brushing and steps in sync. The bells chime as the doors open, and Karla shivers as a rush of cold air enters the shop.
Sammy turns and gives her a small wave and Karla responds with a bright smile. She tracks them through the window until they disappear from her line of sight, but finds herself staring after them long after.
The bell chimes and pulls Karla out of her reverie, and she watches as an elderly black woman enters the store. She gives the woman a hasty welcome and glances up at the clock on the opposite wall and groans. It's only 8:15.
It feels like much more time has passed.
The boys, Sammy and Dean, stay with her long after the last customer leaves, after she charges herself for the candy, and after she flips over the sign on the door and closes the shop. She volunteers for the dreaded night shift for the next few weeks in hopes that they'll once again drop by.
They never do.