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misunderstanding

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Despite moving to an entirely different state, it seems like most Walmarts were the same. Neil glanced at his grocery list as he pushed his cart. Eggs, check. Milk, check. Bread -- no, he’ll have to circle around back for that. He needed more dry-erase markers because those damn things always managed to die on him at the worst times. And - oh, yes, tissues. It was nearing winter and he knew his kids would be sniffling and sneezing everywhere. He didn’t look forward to wiping his desks of snot every day.

As he turned the corner to the bread aisle, he saw a familiar figure crouched in front of the selection of white bread.

“Andrew?” He asked, rolling to a stop besides Andrew’s cart. Andrew ignored him. “Uh -” Before he could say anything else, Andrew held up a hand to silence him and continued staring intently at the bread. An awkward minute passed, as Neil waited to be acknowledged, fidgeting all the while. Eventually, Andrew nodded and pushed aside several loaves of bread to reach one in the back. He tossed it in his cart and turned to Neil.

“Neil,” he was all he said said, cocking an eyebrow.

“You took your time with the bread. Are they really all that different?”

Andrew shot Neil an ‘are you serious?’ look, and turned back to his cart. “You can’t just pick bread at random.” He hoisted a truly massive jar of peanut butter aloft. “Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can’t be made with any type of bread. It’s scientific.” Andrew’s poker face was, as always, perfect, and Neil couldn’t help but laugh.

“Alright, whatever you say, you PB&J Connoisseur.” Neil reached up above their heads and grabbed his usual brand of wheat bread, brandishing it. “This, however, is the best bread for chicken sandwiches.”

“Is that so? Maybe you should -”.

“Mr. Minyard! Mr. Josten!” called Travis McKenzie, troublemaker extraordinaire, from down the aisle. The kid jogged up toward them. “Are you on a date?” asked the 13 year-old with wide eyes. Neil stepped back immediately. Anyone else who didn’t know about Travis’ mischievous ways would have fallen his angelic demeanor. Neil wasn’t anyone else; he could see the cunning in the kid’s eyes.

“I - uh, it’s not a date!” Neil said, making eye contact with Andrew, who only looked at him boredly. Andrew turned to the kid, staring him down. (Or up, really, because the kid was almost taller than the two of them.)

“The fuck are you doing here, kid? Where’s your mom?” Andrew crossed his arms in front of his chest, and the kid gulped.

“Um… She told me to get bread.” Andrew quirked an eyebrow. “... And I took a side trip to look at the toys...”

“Alright,” said Neil, feeling bad for the kid. “Let’s take you to the front and see if we can find your mom, okay?”

Just as he finished speaking, a woman came around the corner pushing a loaded cart. “Travis Adam McKenzie! Don’t wander off like that - oh, and who are you?” She looked between the two men consideringly.

“I’m Neil Josten, ma’am. I’m Travis’ math teacher. This is Andrew Minyard, his English teacher.”

At that, Mrs. McKenzie’s face brightened. “Oh! Yes, I remember you, I apologize. We met at the PTA meeting, right?” She asked, turning to Andrew. “I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you immediately. I was flustered because someone - ” She glanced pointedly at Travis. “- decided to not do as I told.”

Travis looked away and kicked at the floor. “Sorry, Mom.”

“Well. I’m sorry Mr. Josten, Mr. Minyard. I know my boy can be a handful sometimes.”

Surprisingly, it was Andrew who spoke next. “It’s alright. Kid says some dumb sh-stuff sometimes, but he’s a pretty good writer.” He pointed at Travis. “Make sure you actually read your books, though. I do know when one you or your classmates just Google the summaries.”

“Yes, sir,” Travis said, rolling his eyes. His mother smacked him lightly on the back of the head for that.

“Honestly! Where are your manners?”

“It’s alright,” said Andrew. “Believe me when I say that I’ve had worse.”

“Well, I’ll get out of your hair, then,” Mrs. McKenzie said, grabbing a loaf of bread as she did and tossing it in the cart. “I know you teachers hardly get a day off. Let’s go, Travis. And next time, don’t bother your teachers outside of class, alright?” She pressed a firm hand to his back, efficiently herding him out of the aisle.

“I knew it, Mom!” They heard as they turned the corner. “Everyone said I was wrong, but I was right! They're definitely dating!”  

“So.” said Neil, scrubbing a nervous hand through his hair. “You were about to say something earlier.”

“Was I?”

“When I was showing you the best bread for chicken sandwiches.”

Andrew stared at him for a moment, then looked away. “I was just gonna tell you that you should show me sometime. Your sandwich-making skills.” He looked pointedly at Neil. 

“I,” he replied rather eloquently. “Sure.”

Andrew smirked and shot him a quick two fingered salute, pushing his cart away. Neil watched Andrew’s back as he walked away and wondered briefly if he had missed something significant. Bread couldn't really be that interesting... right?