"These are inedible!" the man said, frowning up at Sam as he thrust a bag of apples out at him.
"Oh, I'm sorry, sir," Sam said, smiling as he took the bag. "I'll get you a new bag."
Sam rolled his eyes as he walked into the back of the produce department. He didn't like the job, but he worked hard, and he needed the money. His scholarships paid for the college courses, but not the books or his food and housing. The job at the supermarket also meant he could take home damaged or past-due food. It was all still perfectly fine to eat, but they just couldn't sell it.
"I'm sorry for the inconvenience, sir," Sam said as he handed the new bag of apples to the guy.
"Thank you," he said, then looked down at Sam's name tag, "Sam."
"You're welcome," Sam said, flashing his charming smile.
"That kid at the front side the apples were fine," the man said. "But they were all bruised."
"Sorry about that," Sam said.
"I think I'll come to you from now on when I have a problem," the man said with a nod, then held up the bag of apples. "You pick out beautiful apples," he said, then turned and walked away.
Sam huffed out a laugh and shook his head. When he went into the back, ready to toss the bag of apples into the bin reserved for employees to take home and eat, he didn't see any bruising or damage at all. He rolled his eyes and put the bag back out front.
"They're stale," the man said, pulling a face that said only one taste of the horrid crackers had ruined his day.
"Sorry about that," Sam said, taking the box of crackers from the same man who had been very picky about apples only two days earlier. "I'll get you a fresh one out of the back."
Sam waited until the man had left with his new box of crackers before shoving a "stale" cracker into his mouth and munching on it. The crackers were fine. Sam sighed, chucking the opened box into the bin of take-home food.
Sam heard loud voices, the volume increasing, so he headed up front, frowning when he saw his picky customer waving a bag of bread in Ash's face.
"You might not be able to see it," the man said, "but there's mold! I smell mold!"
"I don't know what to tell you, sir," Ash said, and it sounded as if Ash was losing his cool, which never happened. "I've given you three different loaves of bread. Maybe I could interest you in another brand."
"It stinks of-oh!" the man said, smiling when he caught sight of Sam. "You! I'm sure you could help. This man over here can't seem to find me a loaf of bread that isn't moldy. Would you please find me one that isn't green and disgusting?"
Sam waved a flustered Ash away, then took the bread from the man. "Mr.?"
"Novak," the man said, "but you can call me Gabe."
"Gabe," Sam said, smiling, "I'll bring a new loaf of bread out for you right away."
"Thank you!" Gabe said, shoulders dropping with relief.
Sam walked into the back room, then right back out again without ever changing out the bread. "Here you go," he said, handing the bag to Gabe.
Gabe looked it over closely, sniffing and peering into the bag. "Thank you. This is much better."
"You're welcome," Sam said, trying to keep his smile from turning into a chuckle. "Have a nice day."
"I will now!" Gabe said, then headed for the front of the store.
Sam found Ash and told him that the problem customer preferred dealing with him, so not to even bother trying to please him. Ash hugged him.
"This bacon smells funny," Gabe said, waving the package of bacon in Sam's face. "Do you like bacon? I really like bacon, and it smells funny."
Sam nodded. "I do like it. Haven't had it in a while because I'm on a tight budget, but yeah, I like bacon."
"Well here," Gabe said, handing him the package. "Toss this in the employee bin and get me a new package. I don't want to eat it because it smells, but I'm sure a less discerning nose like yours wouldn't mind eating it."
Sam chuckled as he took the package. "I'll bring a new one out. Just gimme a minute."
This time Sam really did toss the bacon into the refrigerated bin. If his customer wanted him to eat bacon, he'd have bacon for a few mornings. He worked hard, so why not?
"Yes!" Gabe said, sniffing at the new package and closing his eyes in pleasure. "Much better. Thank you, Sam."
"You're welcome," Sam said, then waved as the man took his basket of food to the front of the store.
"Which one would you eat?" Gabe said.
Sam turned around, laughing when he saw Gabe standing there with a bag of M&Ms in one hand and a bag of gummy bears in the other. "Uhm, well, I prefer gummy bears."
"Me too," Gabe said. "But smell this! And try squishing them through the bag. They're all hard!" he said as he tossed the M&Ms onto the shelf nearest him and thrust the bag of gummy bears at Sam.
"Yeah, they do feel a little stiff," Sam said, smirking. "But I think maybe you should get them anyway."
Gabe frowned at him. "Why would I buy stale gummy bears?"
"Because I like them that way," Sam said, "and when you come to dinner at my place, you can bring them for dessert."
Gabe's eyes widened, then a smile broke out on his face. "Was I too obvious?"
"Not at first, no," Sam said. "But if I take home any more food that's perfectly fine other than the fact that my favorite customer refuses to eat it, I might get fired."
"Oh!" Gabe said, eyes widening. "I didn't mean to get you in trouble."
"You didn't," Sam said, shaking his head. "In fact everybody here is thrilled that I volunteer to take care of you every time you come in."
Gabe chuckled. "So when am I coming over to dinner?"
"I get off early tomorrow night, so how about then?" Sam asked.
Gabe nodded. "Sure. Are you on or off campus?"
"Just off," Sam said. "I'm a few blocks away in a shitty little apartment."
"Any roommates?" Gabe asked, mischief in his eyes.
Sam nodded. "One, but she won't mind taking off for the night if I tell her I have a guest."
"It's a date then," Gabe said, taking the gummy bears away from Sam. "I'll bring these."
"Okay, see you," Sam said, giving him a little wave.
"See ya," Gabe said.
Gabe turned out to be a really great guy, and Sam had a lot of fun with him. He got along well with Jess, even going so far as to buy her a beautiful necklace with a funny little design etched into the back of it. She loved it and wore it all the time, even when she was sleeping.
She was still wearing the necklace when Sam waved goodbye to her, taking off with his brother after packing up the car with all his stuff, Gabe in the back seat as they headed off for a road trip across the United States, just the three of them, ready to find Dad.