Mitch pulled their stolen minivan into the grocery store parking lot. In the seat beside him, Victor made a small annoyed sound, doing that thing where he seemed to be looking down his nose at you even though he was coolly observing the open parking space on the other side of the yellow line.
“Why didn’t you pull through? It will make for an easier esca-- It will be easier to pull out when we leave.” Victor’s eyes seemed to dare Mitch to comment on the slip.
Mitch turned off the car, tucking the keys in his pocket as he unlocked the back doors. “We’re going to need to load the groceries into the back. It’ll be easier this way.”
Victor glared, but didn’t argue. Probably annoyed that he hadn’t considered that. Shrugging, Mitch waited to shut his door until Dominic and Sydney had shuffled out of the van, Sydney still looking mildly upset about having to leave Dol at home.
“But can’t we just pretend that he’s a service dog?”
“No one would believe that, Sydney. Dol’s practically a bear. He’s almost as tall as you.”
Mitch hadn’t argued with Victor on that one. Dol was an almost alarmingly well behaved dog, but there was no way anyone would be convinced. Plus, the dog didn’t seem to mind them leaving him for short stints of time. Mitch imagined Dol would spend all the time sniffing out Victor’s nicest black coat and rolling around on it for kicks.
With everyone out and the van safely locked, their ragtag group headed into the store, drawing a few strange looks from patrons and employees alike. Ignoring them, Mitch grabbed a cart from the corral as Victor picked judgmentally at a display of oranges. Dominic was eyeing the pharmacy longingly while Sydney made a beeline for the apples. Digging in his pocket, Mitch fished out the hastily scribbled list he’d made the night before in between helping Sydney with her math homework and attempting to convince Victor not to set Cheryl’s wig on fire at the next PTA meeting.
“You know she deserves it, Mitchell.”
“That might be, but Syd’s just settled in here and I’d really hate to have to up and move again. Plus, wouldn’t it just be better to, I dunno, bake better brownies than her or something?”
Mitch wasn’t sure he liked the borderline maniacal light that had sparked in Victor’s eye at that, but at least he seemingly stopped plotting arson. Mechanically gathering fruits and vegetables into the cart, crossing items off the list as he went, Mitch mostly ignored the antics the rest of his little family were getting up to. Victor seemed to have decided the oranges were beneath him and moved on to the kohlrabi while Sydney appeared to have drafted Dominic into helping her lug what must have been a full bushel of apples over to the cart.
“And what exactly are you going to do with that many apples?”
“They’re for science, Mitch.”
“Uh huh,” Mitch said, side-eyeing Victor suspiciously as he grabbed one overflowing bag of apples out of Dominic’s hands and placed it back on the display. “And does this science have anything to do with cyanide?”
Puffing out her cheeks grumpily, Sydney muttered, “You’re no fun.”
Rolling his eyes, Mitch moved on, grabbing the back of Victor’s coat to tug him into the next aisle. “I can’t believe how much Vic’s corrupted you in such a short time. You used to be so cute…”
Sydney shook her head, chuckling at Mitch’s overly dramatic mother-hen tone. Checking the list again, Mitch set off down the aisle, grabbing what they needed and tactfully putting back whatever random items the others grabbed. They loaded up on all sorts of things in the international aisle, Mitch letting Dominic run loose since he was the only one who actually knew what he needed for all the homemade Mexican dishes he cooked up for them on a semi-regular basis. Next was the baking aisle, which Mitch and Sydney nearly cleared out. Baking had quickly become one of their most precious bonding times and the house was rarely without some sort of freshly made pastry, cake, or sweet. They grabbed canned goods and pasta next, followed by tea and coffee.
Crossing off another few lines on the list, Mitch sighed, knowing the next aisle was going to be a pain. Cereal was always a tricky topic with this particular family, considering how varied their tastes could be.
Navigating the cart around the corner, Mitch immediately pulled up, causing Dominic to crash into his back and Victor to screw up his face in a frankly childlike pout.
“What are you doing, Mitch?”
“Uh…” Mitch raised a finger, pointing down the aisle at a couple who seemed to be locked in a heated debate over cornflakes. Aesthetically, the pair was gorgeous, like they were ripped off the pages of those trashy magazines that grocery stores always stocked by the checkout. The man was tall and broad shouldered, with perfectly coiffed black hair and dynamic eyes. The woman was slight, willowy in a way that didn’t really do justice to the feeling of power that seemed to cling to her like a second skin.
“Well, well, well,” Victor drawled, slipping all to smoothly into the calculating asshole persona he enjoyed so much. “If it isn’t Eli Ever and his charming lady friend... Selma? Sadie?”
“Serena,” the woman sighed.
“Ah yes. You must excuse me. My memory’s just not what it used to be,” Victor said with a theatrically wistful tone. “Though, I am glad to see your tastes haven’t improved after all these years, Ever,” Victor sneered, gesturing to the cornflakes Eli seemed to be clinging to like a lifeline.
“Victor,” Eli practically growled, eyes narrowing as Victor’s grin only widened.
Sighing, Mitch fought the urge to rub at his temples, glancing down at Sydney to see how she was doing. While Victor and Eli took petty potshots at each other, Sydney seemed to be locked in a staring match with her sister, neither willing to look away first. Deciding he might as well be productive, Mitch gave Sydney a quick, supportive pat on the shoulder before grabbing some Cheerios and scanning the shelves for Victor’s favorite, Fruit Loops. Behind him, the scene continued to play out.
“You never understood the basics of nutrition, Vale.”
“Ah, but at least I didn’t let my mother dictate my diet until I was in my twenties.”
“How are you, Sydney?”
“Better than you, Serena.”
Mitch tried very hard to ignore them, but Dominic was starting to fidget nervously beside him and Victor and Eli’s voices were rising with each stupid barb. Other shoppers were starting to stare and Mitch did not want a repeat of the Great Milk Debacle, so he quickly grabbed Sydney’s Honey Bunches of Oats and Dominic’s oatmeal before turning back to grab his lesser half and borderline angsty teen.
“YOU’RE NOTHING BUT A DESTRUCTIVE CHILD!”
“AT LEAST I DON’T HAVE A SAVIOR COMPLEX A MILE WIDE!”
“First place in the science competition. Why do you care?”
Passing the cart to Dominic, Mitch swooped in, placing one hand on Sydney’s shoulder and taking a fistful of Victor’s jacket in the other. “Ooooookay. Enough of that.” Nodding to Eli and Serena, Mitch towed his rowdy charges away, debating the acceptability of physically throwing Victor over his shoulder in the middle of the store. Luckily, it didn’t come to that as Victor calmed down once they were out of direct view of the couple.
Pausing a moment to sniff derisively and brush at some imaginary dust on his coat, Victor said, “That was quite unnecessary, Mitch. I had it under control.”
“Heh, yeah, okay . I’ll just leave it to you then next time.” Mitch rolled his eyes, reclaiming the cart and leading the way to the frozen food. It only took a few more minutes to grab the last of the items on the list and another ten to get through the checkout line. As they made their way back to the car, Sydney telling Dominic about some new experiment they had started in class, Mitch noticed that Victor seemed to have gone missing. Sighing deeply, he decided it wasn’t worth worrying about and that the blond would show up eventually. The three of them had just finished loading the van and returning the cart when Victor sauntered up, smug look on his face that could only mean trouble.
“And where were you?” Mitch asked, sliding into the driver’s seat and waiting patiently for the others to buckle up.
“Oh… Just leaving a little gift for a friend.” Victor’s lip curled into a downright evil smirk as he twirled his favorite switchblade between his fingers.
As they drove out of the parking lot, Mitch couldn’t help the soft chuckle when he saw Eli Ever punch the hood of his car, Serena shaking her head and toeing at one of the very flat tires.