Local Fiction: Clean Up on Aisle Three

Young Lucy McBride is an ordinary teenager who lives with her mother, Kelly, and her mom’s boyfriend, Chuck. She works at a grocery store owned by Chuck and his father, Raymond. One morning, Lucy discovers the dead body of Raymond on aisle 3, and her life is changed forever. Clean Up on Aisle Three is a young adult thriller mystery book that follows the story of Lucy, a teen who finds herself lost in the world. After witnessing a death, she begins to question herself, her mental state, and the people surrounding her. As she struggles to find her place in the world, she reconnects with a long-lost aunt, finds comfort in a loving boyfriend, and surrounds herself with friends. Will Lucy rise above her struggles and be able to break away from the shackles of her family, or will she surrender and let dread sink her dreams of freedom?

From the Author: I was inspired to write Clean Up on Aisle Three by the teenage parents I was working with at the time when I started this book. I was amazed by their resilience and courage with all they’ve gone through. I also have mental health as a big chunk of this novel because it’s something I deal with daily and was diagnosed as bipolar twice. I wanted people to know that they aren’t alone and that sometimes, you have to make your own family. You are loved just as you are. 

You can purchase a copy on Amazon.

Chapter One:

My mom says she found out about me in a graffiti filled, urine-smelling truck stop bathroom. She was sixteen, hadn’t had her period in over two months and craved nothing but gummy worms and stale tortilla chips.

My grandpa chased her out of the house the day after she peed on that white stick. She said my grandpa doesn’t believe in God. But that day, in Arizona, I’m sure he did. He claimed my mom had the devil enter her between her legs, and what would arrive those quick seven months later was sure to be the worst mistake of her life.

So, hello. Nice to meet you. I’m that mistake. But you can call me Lucy. Born and raised here in the Sonoran Desert and I always pray for rain.

Mom and I live with her boyfriend, Chuck Williams. She says my SS—sperm supplier—moved to Michigan right after I was born. The only time I met the guy was way before I can even remember. There are a few pictures of him. In an old shoebox somewhere in the attic, they’re getting pretty faded now. It kind of sucks at times knowing I’ll never know my dad, but I guess it could be worse. He could be a total creep or something.

Chuck always wears the same old red-and-green flannel shirt on his days off, has toothpaste stuck in his messy and going-gray beard, and fills the fridge with silver and red half-empty beers he swears he’ll finish. If having six or more beer cans in the fridge with a few sips taken out of each was an Olympic event, Chuck would win the gold every time. Mom’s also an alcoholic, so him taking a few sips is his subtle way of making her stop drinking. Sadly, it hasn’t worked yet.

Despite Chuck’s complete dorkiness, he’s still pretty cool. He gave me a job at his family grocery store, Smiles. Smiles is owned by his filthy-rich, conspiracy theory filled dad, Raymond. Chuck’s the manager. He hired me to help me save money. I hate the job, but it’s work experience, so I guess I should be grateful.

The only thing that gets me through each day is knowing that after graduation, I’m getting out of Arizona. I can’t wait to leave. My boyfriend, Ben, and I have plans to move to Seattle. It’s not like anything’s keeping me here. I don’t have a whole bunch of friends or even family.

Ben and I have been inseparable since we were in 3rd grade. I can’t say when we got together because I don’t even remember. I think one day we held hands and decided that we liked the way it felt.

Ben is 6’3 which makes him exactly a foot taller than me. He inherited his dad’s thick, red, flowing hair that reaches his shoulders. He’s obsessed with Pez dispensers and loves peanut butter. Ben was diagnosed with Autism at 6 years old when our teacher noticed he organized everything in the classroom by color. Including everyone’s backpacks. The Autism thing is pretty cool because he’s my own personal encyclopedia, thesaurus, and atlas all in one adorable package. I’m lucky.

Right now, I’m getting dressed for work in my dumb work shirt. Since the store is called Smiles, the work shirts are bright yellow with a cartoon smiley face on it. It’s embarrassing. I work in the meat department, which sucks because I’ve been a vegetarian for almost five years. Chuck knows this, but he and my mom like to punish me for what they call my bad attitude. Though that attitude is honestly caused by them ninety-nine percent of the time.

There are kids at my school who do drugs, get tattoos, and brag about getting alcohol poisoning. But I left the house at 2 a.m. one time to rescue a stray cat and according to Mom and Chuck I’m the worst teenager in all of Arizona.

“Lucy, you almost ready to go?” Chuck shouts through my purple door. “We’re gonna be late! I have a lot of work today.”

“I’ll be right there,” I yell over my Glitter Tooth playlist on my phone. I’m putting on my vanilla-scented deodorant, taking my chalky tasting pills with lukewarm water, then I run out of my room like a lightning bolt.

Mom never cleans after herself. The kitchen’s full of cereal bowls with rotten milk, spoons stuck to the sides, and empty water bottles.

Chuck’s already there drinking his black coffee over the sink. He hates creamer. Coffee on its own is gross if you ask me.

He says, “Let’s get out of here. Ready for donuts?”

“Yeah. But I want to say goodbye to Mom really quick. Is she still sleeping or something?”

“I don’t know where she is. She didn’t come home last night. Maybe she spent the night at someone’s house after the bars.”

Chuck and I are used to mom not coming back after the bars. She usually meets up with one of her friends and she ends up passing out at their house. I wish she didn’t have to drink so much, and I’ve tried helping her stop. Nothing ever sticks. It’s so annoying, but at least she doesn’t have a DUI or something.

“Good point. Oh well, we’ll see her later.” I lock the dark blue door behind.

Chuck starts up his black truck, Bruce. He doesn’t allow anyone to drive it, especially Mom. I swear the thing is the baby he never had. Bruce is always spotless.  I mean, normal people don’t wash their cars every Friday night, right? Because that is part of Chuck’s routine. The only exception to Bruce staying spotless, with Chuck’s No Eating rule is every Sunday when we enjoy powdered donuts together on the way to work.

We ride down desert roads full of green cacti and brown sand. The sun’s blinding me and I’m already too warm. I’m looking forward to escaping this heat. I need to get out of here and away from the same people I’ve known since kindergarten.

As the truck engine rumbles, Chuck asks, “You doing okay, Lucy? Noticed you were up late last night.”  

“Yeah, I’m fine. I was watching a movie and writing some poems.”

“Oh, okay. It was loud in there. The sound echoed through the hallway. You going to let me hear your poems one of these days? I’d like to.”

“I’ll read you one later. I’m still tired. I don’t know if you realize this or not, but it’s 7 a.m. on a Sunday. You didn’t even have Ben come in today. Not cool, dude.”

“Hey, you’re getting paid for working! You should feel grateful about that. And today we’re getting our donuts and chocolate milk, remember?”

I roll my eyes because he’s right. Powdered donuts and chocolate milk are the ways to my heart. It’s our tradition every week; only the two of us know about.

I guess I could try being more grateful, but my newly diagnosed bipolar disorder is seriously making me feel even more insane. I can barely keep my thoughts straight. My brain doesn’t let me sleep, and it seems like every other minute, my mood changes.

As we pull into the corner Lucky Liquor, I find myself full of panic. I’m not sure what that’s even about, but I’m going to try and take some deep breaths. I always have panic these days. I’m not sure what causes it most of the time, and that makes it extra frustrating.

Lucky Liquor is owned by this guy named Miguel who always gives Smiles business. He’s been friends with Chuck since they were kids and the two of them are like brothers. Miguel comes into Smiles for groceries, and Chuck comes here for donuts, cigarettes, and beer. Seems like a pretty good exchange if you ask me.

The bell jingles as I walk in. I head straight for the fridge full of chocolate milk and energy drinks. Don’t worry, I’m not drinking the two together. I’m not a monster. The milk is for my donuts and the energy drink is the fuel I’m going to need to make it through my shift today.

Miguel asks, “Hey, Lucy! How’s your mom?”

I hate that everyone asks me that. Everyone in this stupid town knows her. She’s well-known for being the girl who had a baby when she was in high school.  I mean, she’s thirty-three with a seventeen-year-old daughter. I wouldn’t say that’s entirely the path everyone takes. This town is full of gun-lovers, Bible-quoting grandmas, which means teen pregnancy is shunned here. It doesn’t help that mom still dresses like a seventeen-year-old.

I put my stuff on the counter. “She’s fine. I’ll tell her you said hi.”

“Two packs of Golden Gaucho cigarettes, please,” Chuck asks. “Luce, did you get me donuts too?”

“Of course. How could I forget?” I jiggle his powdered donuts. Chuck swipes his card and I open my donuts. I’m starving.

“Couldn’t wait, Lucy?” Miguel laughs.

My mouth’s too full to respond, so I shake my head and try swallowing faster. “See you later, dude!” I tell Miguel, then I head out to the car.

We drive to Smiles and I’m already ready to go home. The red sign isn’t lit up yet and the parking lot is empty. The way I like it. The two of us weave through the lot and go in from the back, since it’s easier to open the store this way.

Raymond’s car is already here. He’s the absolute worst. He’ll sometimes help on Sundays since it’s our busiest day of the week. He’ll tell Chuck he “just wants to make sure everything’s running smoothly”, but I’m pretty sure he’s being a control freak.

I roll my eyes, “Are you serious? He’s here? Why didn’t you tell me?”

Chuck shakes his head, “Lucy, calm down. I didn’t know either. Don’t get mad. He’s probably here to help. The store is going to be super busy today.”

“Whatever. I’m not going to be nice, though. He’s been such a weirdo to me lately. I regret showing him how to watch videos on his phone.”

“Why? What’s he doing now?”

“He’s been showing me some insane videos. He’s trying to make me believe all of these conspiracy theories with him.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep. He told me yesterday that all politicians are lizards who are performing mind control on humans. Apparently, the lizards are planning an uprising to get rid of all humans.”

“Wow. I told him to stop that. It’s worse than I thought. He’s scaring customers away. Tune him out if you can.”

“I’ll try…”

I don’t tell Chuck this, but Raymond’s also been telling me how robots are going to start taking everyone’s jobs. He said that in the next ten years, Smiles is going to have robots stock the shelves. On top of his stupid theories, he won’t even let homeless people use the bathroom. He also cheats on his wife, with the produce manager here at the store. Everyone, including the customers, know about it, so they’re not as sneaky as they think.

I feel like my life’s one cruel joke after another. I hate being bipolar. I hate having to be in Arizona. I hate this grocery store.

I should get rid of this bad attitude because I’m going to be stuck here for the next eight hours.

With my therapist’s guidance, I have a new mantra I say to myself, ‘My bipolar doesn’t define me.’ It’s especially helpful in moments like these. Lost and consumed by this disease.

My bipolar doesn’t define me.

My bipolar doesn’t define me.

I got this.

As I wash my hands with the pink soap that dries them out, Chuck screams, “Lucy, call the police. Right now!”

“What’s going on?”

“No time for questions. Call them!”

I don’t know what to do. I grab my orange phone out of my apron pocket and with shaky hands dial nine-one-one.

The operator asks, “What’s your emergency?”

I feel like there’s a bowling ball stuck in my throat. “Hi… this is Lucy. Lucy McBride. Can you please come to Seventh and Camden to the Smiles Grocery Store?”

“I’ll need more details to assist you, little girl.”

I cover the phone, so the lady doesn’t hear me yelling. “What’s going on? I need to tell the police something to make them come there.”

“My dad’s dead, Lucy. Someone… Someone murdered him.” Chuck’s crying.

Choking on words, I say, “Hi, uh, sorry. There’s been a murder at the store and we need help. I don’t know any more details.” My heart pounds through my ears. I’m definitely having a heart attack.

“Okay, are you safe? Is there someone there? To help you?” The nice lady on the other end replies.

“I’m safe. I think My mom’s boyfr-he’s crying a lot. Found his dad. I’m here in the back of the store. Don’t know more details, I think I’ll be okay.”

“Okay, it’s going to be all right. I’ll send someone right now. Stay safe. Say hi to your mom for me!”

Is she fucking serious? Can she even say that? I hang up before the operator asks me any more questions and walk out of my meat department bubble. I see it. A long trail of blood, like a large snake slithered through the once white aisle.

I hear Chuck choking out his words, “Why?” and “What the fuck, Dad?”  

I can’t believe what I’m seeing. Chuck’s a hunched over mess in aisle three. Aisle three— that’s the middle of the produce department. All the yellow, green, and pink-fleshed apples are now covered in Raymond’s blood.

A part of me wants to add humor to the situation, say, ‘Clean Up on Aisle Three!’ But, that’s definitely insensitive. Even for me.

I’m too scared to look past the blood-stricken apples to see Ray’s dead body. I’ve never seen one except in the horror movies Ben and I watch. The difference is that movie bodies are fake. This is the remains of a once breathing, talking asshole who walked around these aisles all the time.

My curiosity gets the best of me. Shit. He has two bullets in his chest and has a look of shock on his face. I mean, I’d be shocked too if I was killed in a Smiles. But, the fact that this was his Smiles was probably heartbreaking. He fell among these fluorescent aisled walls with the waxed-coated apples.

I should’ve never looked. I feel bad for the guy. My heart feels like it’s about to explode out of my body and join Raymond on the floor.

As my vision blurs and the vibrant lights burn my eyes, everything is swirling into one. The walls are starting to close in. My chest’s heavy. I can’t breathe right. I want Ben or my mom to come and save me. But Ben might not answer my text I sent after the 911 call, and Mom’s probably hungover. Just my luck.

Before I can even take a full breath, I hear sirens in the parking lot. The howling noise makes the hair stand up on my arms and I get shivers from my arms to my toes. My body feels tense, almost as if I’m flexing like a bodybuilder. Everything spins. I can’t focus on any one item in the store; they’re blended together. Why do all the green vegetables look exactly the same? Such a pretty shade of forest green…

“Lucy. Lucy, wake up,” Ben says, rubbing my sweaty hair.

I rub my eyes. “Where are we?” As I look around, there’s police officers here, but I don’t recognize them. Detective Mick Kane is talking to the other officers. Their voices sound like gibberish.

“We’re in the break room. You passed out a while ago.” Ben smiles. I’ve never been so happy to see someone in my life. His dimples and gap between his two teeth feel like home. 

I pull off my apron immediately. It has blood on it from the ground meat. That smell is enough to make me pass out again. It’s horrible. A reminder of Raymond’s tragic fate. I can’t believe I actually feel bad for him.

Where’s Chuck? Did he pass out too? Is Raymond’s body gone? I’m glad Ben’s here with me now. I hope Mom’s here somewhere too. She needs to know what’s going on if she doesn’t already. I mean, she’s pretty disconnected from everything for the most part, but this is a pretty big deal.

Mick Kane, the only detective in town, comes over to the white couch. I know Mick because of all the times I’ve picked Mom up from the bars. Mick and his husband, Frank, own a bar in town called The Dirty Sailor. Mom’s favorite.

Mick’s pulled out his white notepad. “Hey, Lucy, how are you feeling?”

“Um, I was in aisle three, saw a very dead Raymond, No I’m in here. I’m a little confused and my head hurts. Everything after Raymond is a huge blur, though. Is Chuck okay? Is my mom here?”

Ben hands me a clear plastic cup, water from the cooler. “Lucy, slow down. One thing at a time. Drink this.”

Mick says, “Chuck’s gone. We took him down to the police station. Your mom’s phone is going to voicemail. I have some questions to ask. You’re going to need to come down to the station too.”

“Are you for real?” I say while seeing blood oozing from Raymond’s head every time I blink. “Do you think I killed Raymond or something? Wasn’t my passing out from all that blood a big clue it wasn’t me?” I don’t do well with blood and guns freak me out.

“Lucy, let’s go down to the station. I’ll ask my questions. I’d like to keep investigating this case. It’s protocol. We check with everyone who works here and is affiliated with the store. That includes you. Afraid of blood or not.”

“Um, rude,” Ben says. “Take it easy. We understand you’re busy, but no reason to be mean.”

“Sorry, I’m not trying to be rude. I need to ask everyone. It’s part of my job.”

“Does that clear it up?”

Turns out I’m not the killer, but we all knew that. Ben showed Mick his phone. In his phone was my panicked text from last night that prove my innocence.

“Yes, these messages are enough proof for me. I had to ask before we moved onto the next person. I don’t want more people to be killed. We may have a killer on the loose and I’m not about to let that happen.”

Jordan O' Halloran

Jordan O'Halloran lives in Kelseyville, California with her partner, roommate, and cat. She is addicted to the smell of books, bright colors, and caffeine. A huge advocate for mental health and kindness, she spends every waking moment thinking of the perfect first line. When not writing, you can find her eating cheese, painting, or sleeping. You can follow her writing journey on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter as Jordanjotsjoy.

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