Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

"That's fifteen dollars and ninety nine cents, thanks."

"Mhmm."

You scoop the change off the counter and put it carefully into the till, examining the woman out of the corner of your eye. She couldn't be more than twenty-one, with peroxide blonde hair and dark brown (dark brown? Honestly!) roots and a top that is far too low cut to be legal. She's bouncing a fat, dark haired baby on her hip, and scowls when she catches you looking.

Your eyebrows raise a fraction.

Thelma, you imagine her name to be. It's not that you know anyone called Thelma, really, so you don't know what a Thelma looks like, but you figure that if you did know a Thelma, this would be her. You push a five-dollar note and a receipt along the counter at her, and she snatches that, along with her bag of sanitary products and cheap low quality cosmetics (wouldn't go out in the rain with that mascara on, honey!) and leaves in a flurry of dry straightened hair and Britney Spears perfume.

You cough.

Definitely a Thelma, you think, as you smile at the next person in the long line that has somehow snaked around the stand of Gilette shavers by counter number 4 next to you, and call the customer forward.

The man, in a business suit with a Bluetooth headset attached to his ear and briefcase dangling from his right hand, grimaces at you before placing a blue plastic toothbrush, pad of yellow lined foolscap paper and clear plastic folder onto the sticky conveyer belt. You scan the items, mind working rapidly.

'…no, no, no. The shipment will arrive in China on Tuesday, at five o'clock. And you'd better have someone waiting at the docks for it, otherwise heads will roll! No… fine. Quarter past five. No later, or this deal'll have to go to another company…"

The man is barking into his headset as you chirp, "Eleven dollars sixty, thanks."

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a black crocodile skin wallet, and thumbs through several greens before extricating a fifty, hastily muttering that it's the smallest he has, before returning to his (rather one-sided, by the looks of it) phone conversation.

Harold, you think. He must be a Harold, with his perfectly coiffed hair and Giorgio Armani cufflinks. And he's bound to be the CEO (or someone who fancies himself the CEO, at least) of a multinational company producing something as mundane as fruit loops- there's something in the way he stands and that saccharine smell emanating from him, the deluded air of importance. He surely isn't a day younger than thirty, and is in all likelihood, interested in men, judging by his 2008 spring season Prada loafers and manicured, cuticle free nails. And is that a December Vogue peeking out of his briefcase? You bag his purchases and hand them to him with a smile.

He grunts a thankyou and leaves, still arguing with the man (or possibly woman) talking into his ear.

"Next."

You see that Joseph at the next counter hasn't done much to reduce the massive line of frantic last minute Christmas shoppers, and sneak a quick glance at the other registers to see other checkout boys and girls in fast frenzied mode, bagging items like it's nobody's business.

Then, directly behind you, you hear Maria arguing with a customer, predictably. You hear something about plastic bags and saving the environment and snort.

You know that you're going to be in for a long night.

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

You hate working night shifts. Usually you don't have to, because you have the excuses of school and sports and music and tests and cries of child labour, but it's six days before Christmas and the supermarket is crawling with people complaining of slow service and not enough counters.

"Trust me, all our staff love working Christmas shifts, because the atmosphere's so great and everyone's happy… It's good fun!" Michelle, your supervisor, had said. Alas, alack, how wrong she was.

The abundance of tinsel and cheesy Christmas carols and being forced to wear a Santa hat and flashing reindeer pin are all aggravating factors reminding you why you did not like working at night. You hate everything about night shifts, from the bright white fluorescent lights to the dark outside and empty bus stop waiting two streets away; not to mention your overlying neurotic fear of being held at gun/knife point and being demanded to give someone 'all your money, bitch!'

But worse than the embarrassing revised dress codes and spooky bus stops and blinding bright lights, is the boredom. Hardly anyone comes into the store at night, anyway, so you're often left sitting morosely at your counter in your black slacks and red company shirt with your nametag glinting on your chest and the brain cells seeping out of your ears. Boredom, indeed.

You bag a lettuce and bunch of carrots for your last (thank God!) customer, and are about to turn off your counter and register lights for the night when there's an 'excuse me' from somewhere near the gum stands and you look up.

There's a boy standing there, waving a long block of Tobelerone and a bottle of water- a boy who you probably would have found absolutely drop dead gorgeous if you weren't so tired and bored out of your wits.

You sigh and then force a smile, turning around to face him.

"Next," you say, almost out of habit than anything, because the boy is already one step away from the counter and smiling as he places his purchases on the conveyer belt. You snatch them up to scan them, and he clears his throat.

You raise an eyebrow questioningly.

"So, d'you usually work this late…Kate?" he asks, in a voice too cheerful for the time of night, as his eyes flick to your nametag. You grimace at him.

"Quite unfortunately."

You check the screen of the cash register.

"Five twenty three, thanks."

He nods and digs into the pockets of his jeans, before fishing out a note and a handful of change.

"Here you go."

You turn back to the register to count his change out and drum your fingers on the counter as you wait for his receipt to print.

"Thanks," he says in that same cheerful voice as you hand him his change and receipt.

"Would you like a bag for that?" you ask, indicating his purchases. He shoves his change and receipt into his back pocket and peers at you through his fringe.

"Nah, I'm good, thanks," he picks up the Tobelerone and carries it in the crook of his arm, then places the bottle of water on the counter in front of you. You are about to frown at it and ask, 'what now?', but catch yourself as he smiles lopsidedly at you.

"You looked like you needed it," he explains, "See you later."

You watch him leave as the bottle sits dripping on the counter top.

The next day, it's the same thing. You serve a couple of 'Madeleines' and 'Matthews' in the heat, as well as a 'Lauren' and a 'Jackson'.

It's nine o'clock when the mysterious gorgeous-bewildering-water boy from the day before shows up, this time holding two apples and a packet of blue biros. He smiles at you again, and you almost smile back this time. Almost.

He puts the two apples carefully onto the counter and then lays the biros down.

"Fancy seeing you here again, eh?" he says teasingly, and you laugh, before cursing yourself inwardly.

"Strange, huh? I mean, s'not as if I work here, or anything," you reply, weighing his apples and punching them into the register. He laughs too, a deep sort of chuckle that reverberates in your chest.

"Yeah, I guess," he says, "Night shift must be deadly boring, though."

You nod before you can stop yourself, "Very."

"Mhmm," he nods this time, and puts a fiver onto the counter, "I used to work night shifts at the news agency down the road- trust me, that's heaps worse- noone really comes in for a birthday card at ten at night like it's an emergency."s

"Because I'm biros and apples are amongst the most terribly of emergencies," you say dryly, and tip thirty-five cents change and his receipt into his cupped left hand. He laughs, and you find yourself laughing too.

"Definitely," he says happily, picking up one of the apples and the packet of biros, and gently nudging the other apple towards you.

"Cheers."

"What…? No, no, I can't take that," you say hurriedly, pushing the apple back towards him. He shakes his head, his hair falling into his eyes.

"Come on," he says good naturedly, "It's the least I can do to thank you."

You frown, bewildered, "Thank me for what, exactly?"

"Well," he starts, "I'm convinced that this supermarket is now luring me to actually buy things instead of stealing them by stationing pretty girls at their counters."

You nearly choke, and he winks at you.

"Go on, take the apple. It's good- I've checked for bruises and worms. Besides, I'm assuming you haven't eaten for your whole shift."

"Oh… uh… good point, thanks," you stammer, mentally slapping yourself on the forehead for being a stammering idiot.

By the time you compose yourself, he's gone.

You bite into the apple. It's good, like he said. Crispy and juicy and glinting red in your hand.

The next day, you find yourself waiting for him to arrive, just so that you can talk to someone after your mammoth eight-hour shift. The shift proves to be a rather interesting one, to say the least, involving a group of girls from your school and a display of pink roll-on deodorants.

You're not surprised, really.

But mister gorgeous-dimpled-smile-and-apple man turns up just on time, carrying two rolls of wrapping paper, a pre made Christmas pudding, and a two dollar pack of four decks of cards.

You smile at him as he loads his haul onto the counter, and examine the packet of cards with interest.

"You gotta love those cards,' he says, nodding at the pack, "I'm pretty sure that they don't even have full decks, actually."

"In all likelihood, no," you agree, "Probably anything within the range of twenty and fifty is good enough for them."

He laughs, something that he appears to very much enjoy.

Once you ring up his purchases, he rips open the plastic packaging of the cards and hands you a deck; the ones printed with little purple elephants.

"Y'know, Christmas is a few days away," you say with a smile.

He shrugs.

"I figured you might want something to do," he says nonchalantly, as you open to the box, I mean, you can build a card castle. Or maybe you can hang around and wait for me to appear and we can play snap, or something, yeah?"

"Oh, I'll hold you to it," you tease, shuffling the cards in one hand.

He nods at you, hitching up the corner of his mouth.

"See you tomorrow, then."

As he's walking away, you decide that his name must be Jack, because he is suave and droll and good-looking. But other than that, you can't explain why. It just fits.

The next day- the fourth day- he is running late, and so you shuffle the cards absentmindedly as the other register beep around you. It begins to storm and you think that maybe he won't come.

You are shuffling the cards for a third time when you hear a familiar voice.

"So, are you dealing, or am I?"

He's standing at the end of your counter, dripping absolutely wet and holding a rolled up newspaper and a packet of chewing gum.

"Wow. You're absolutely sopping," you say, before adding, "And I'm Captain Obvious."

He chuckles and comes to lean on the counter, rain clinging onto his fringe and dripping off the sleeve of his tee shirt.

"Indeed you are," he says, reaching up to squeeze his sleeve, "And I'm Captain I-just-took-a-bus-and-train-in-the-storm to see you, and I challenge you to a game of speed!"

You laugh and the two of you play a quick and subtle game of speed, hands hidden behind the tower of juicy fruit packets to your right, which you win. He sighs.

"Drat. I was never much good at that game, really."

You arch an eyebrow, "Sorry, but it shows."

He chuckles, then there's silence.

"Wait…" the word tumbles out of your mouth before you can stop it, and the next words spill out into the air before you have a chance to consider them properly.

"Did you say you traveled here, in that-" you jerk your head towards the door, where it is gusting and pouring like there's no tomorrow- "to see me?"

He winks, "You betchya. I got completely soaked and I'm pretty sure my mum's gonna kill me when I get home dripping like this, but I'd have to say it was worth it."

You don't know how to respond to his, so instead you manage to choke out, "W-wait, I don't even… er, what's your name?"

"Jack," he says, "I was beginning to think you would never ask."

You ignore his last remark, and grin, leaning on the counter.

"Figures."