Justin drove his car down the street where Ophelia lived. He’d been thinking about what Mr. Kelly had said to him all the rest of his shift. The man had seemed so confident it was just as easy as finding a woman, determining whether she was good or not, and then marrying her if she was. He wondered if it really had been that easy back in his day. Mrs. Kelly didn’t seem to disagree with him so maybe it was true. Sometimes dealing with those mostly older guys made him feel like the awkward grandson they all wished they had. Certainly, Mr. Kelly wasn’t the first one to suggest that it was high time he was married. Usually he just laughed it off. If he did find someone, like Ophelia, that he felt a connection to, there was no rush to get married in his mind. He honestly didn’t see a benefit in a big expense and a showy ceremony and a party to just announce to everyone you didn’t plan on breaking up the relationship for the foreseeable future. Now if that was something that Ophelia or any other woman he wanted to be with wanted, he’s wasn’t against it. It just seemed unnecessary.
He just about to park in front of her house when she noticed a guy walking down the sidewalk of Ophelia’s duplex and get into his car and drive away. He’d been tall, with dark hair and about their age, maybe older. He parked the car and sat where he was for a moment. It wasn’t a delivery man and it wasn’t the cousin or his boyfriend. His mind went to the man that Ophelia had been in a relationship with at her work. The married one. He bit his lip. He hoped that it hadn’t been him. Logically, Justin knew that there was nothing official about what was between them. But the idea of the married guy still being able to show up whenever he felt like it annoyed and worried Justin. He took a deep breath. He didn’t know what was really going on and he didn’t want to assume the worst, though it was hard not to.
She opened the door, looking annoyed and about to say something when she saw it was Justin. She smiled. She looked sweet and sexy at the same time, her flowy yellow sun dress fitting to her curves perfectly. “Hi, come in.”
She moved to the side to let him in. She grabbed his hand and lead him into the sitting room. She looked him over. “You look like a doctor.”
“That’s because I am,” he said.
She gave him a flirty smile. “So where are we going?”
“Seems a nice day to take a walk,” he said. “Looks like there’s a park down the street a bit.”
“Ok!” she said. “Let me get my sandals.” She whipped around and disappeared into her room. The duplex was much more peaceful without dozens of people clogging it up. She kept everything generally neat and it didn’t look like she was much a decorator with her second-hand couches. Pictures of her family hung on the wall. One of the pictures caught his eye. It was a picture of Ophelia’s family, but from a while ago. Ophelia looked like she might have still been in high school or just graduated. Her hair was blue and longer. Anna sat in her wheelchair and held who was probably baby Zoe. Toddler Brody sat on her feetrest and a young man with blonde hair and crooked grin stood behind them all. The young man could have been Justin’s brother, if he wore some glasses.
“That’s Darren,” Ophelia said coming up to stand next to Justin. “The one in the back. This picture was taken about six months before he died.”
Justin looked down at her. “It must have been hard for her,” he said. “Losing him so young.”
Ophelia nodded. She didn’t say anything for a moment and when she did her voice wavered a bit. “He was always so responsible and kind and funny. Back then, I’d hoped to find someone like him. It was hard for all of us.”
She walked away from the picture. “Ready for that walk?”
He took Ophelia’s hand and lead her out the door. The late summer sun shone down lazily on the neighborhood. It wasn’t too hot but he knew they shouldn’t take too long to get to the park. He reached into his car and pulled out a messenger bag, and then walked down the sidewalk with Ophelia.
“What’s that?” she said.
“A surprise,” he said.
She giggled. “A surprise at the park?”
He nodded, giving her a small smile.
“Will I like it?” she said.
“I hope so,” he said.
“That’s not fair,” she said. “Now I have to know what it is.”
“You will,” he said.
“You’re so annoying,” she said, pouting but taking his hand back.
“I’m surprisingly ok with that,” he said. “I just can’t wait to see the look on your face when you find out what it is.”
She laced her fingers in his and walked shoulder to shoulder with him. He stopped them at the park and looked around for a minute, his hand shielding his eyes. “Let’s go over there.” He pointed to a small grove of trees with a picnic table nearby.
“Well, we couldn’t be having a picnic because that bag’s not big enough,” she said.
“It’s not a picnic,” he said.
As soon as they got on the grass, Ophelia slipped her sandals off. “Are you going to take your shoes off. I bet you’ve been on your feet all day.”
“Um, no,” he said. “I have huge ugly toes that makes me look like a Hobbit.”
“It can’t be that bad,” she said.
“It is,” he said.
“Suit yourself, but the grass feels amazing,” she said. There was a little slope that lead down to the trees and picnic table. Suddenly, Ophelia was running down it, laughing her head off, her dress trailing behind her like a comet of sunshine.
Justin felt his heart clench and he laughed as she spun around. “Come on,” she said. “You’re being so slow.”
He jogged a bit to catch. He was within a few feet of her when she ran up to him and hugged him. “This was a great idea. I love being outside. Seems like I don’t get to be outside enough working at the bakery.” He held her slight form to him, wishing that he didn’t need to let her go. He put his arm around her waist and led her over to the tall aspen. He almost had his bag open until he saw that Ophelia was trying to crane her neck to see what was inside. He turned his torso so that she couldn’t and she slapped him on the arm. “Not fair.”
He pulled out a thin blanket and spread it out on the grass under the tree.
“My lady?” he said indicating to the blanket.
“Well, my thanks, sir,” she said sitting down and patting the ground next to her. He did as he was bid. He looked over at her. She was examining his face.
“Can I take your glasses off?” she said.
“Sure,” he said. “I won’t be able to see very far but I’ll still be able to see you.”
She gave him a coy smile and reached out to take his glasses off. She examined him again but this time she gave him a bright smile. “I’ve wanted to see what your eyes look like without them.” She put a hand up to his face and traced his eyebrow. “I have to say your parents did a good job.”
Justin smiled and looked into her own intriguing blue eyes.
“What?” she said.
“I was just thinking that your own eyes remind me of ocean swells in a storm,” he said. “I’m originally from Tampa, Florida. When a storm is coming in from the Gulf, you can smell it first. Then you see the water grow darker, the waves get bigger, and they’re capped with frothy white foam. The sound of the waves beating the shore just slams into you.”
She had leaned back on her forearms and her head tilted back, listening to him. “You’re a poet, Justin,” she said. “Or a maker of fairytales.”
“Then I wonder if you’re the princess,” he said, grinning.
She looked at him with a sadness in her face. “No, not the princess. I don’t need to be rescued no matter how cute the knight is.”
“Are you sure about that?” he said.
She sat up and leaned towards Justin. He was tempted to kiss. Instead, she attacked his shoes. Before he could do anything about it, she had them off as well as his socks. She tilted her head as she inspected his feet. “You weren’t kidding. They do look like hobbit feet. I sure hope this wasn’t the surprise you were talking about.”
“No,” he said chuckling. He reached over and grabbed his messenger bag. He pulled out a small terra cotta pot, a plastic bag of charcoal briquettes, a lighter and then a box of graham crackers, some marshmallows and a couple of chocolate bars. Ophelia started to clap her hands and laugh. “S’mores. I love it!”
“Let’s get the charcoal going for a minute before we put them together.” He gathered up his supplies for the fire and put it on the concrete base of the nearby picnic table. He lit the charcoal in the pot and turned around. Ophelia had one of the candy bars almost open. He rushed over to her and snatched it out of her hand. “Not yet.”
“Are you always this infuriating?” she said.
“I just happen to believe that good things come to those who wait and follow the rules,” he said.
“You sound just like Anna,” she said. “Or that is something Anna would say.”
“I’d say it worked out pretty well for her and Phillip,” Justin said.
Ophelia nodded. “Phillip is a good guy. I’m glad she has him.”
“Tell me about what you do at the bakery,” Justin said, laying on his side propped up by his elbow. “And don’t say ‘bake’ because I get that much of the idea.”
“Dang, that would have been funny,” she said. “I’m the pastry chef. I mean, I do love to bake and decorate regular things like cupcakes and cookies but my real passion is French desserts. Or any really complicated desserts, really. It’s such a fun challenge. Like take Croquembouche, for example.” The word was executed with flawless French precision. “It’s also known as the French Wedding Cake, except its not even a cake. Its these little, delicate eclair-like pastries dipped in caramel and then stacked on top of each another until they’re about two feet high. Then, traditionally, they’re decorated with spun sugar before given to the bride and groom.”
“That sounds amazing but like it takes forever to make,” he said.
“For sure,” she said laying down on her back next to him. “Eclairs are a pain all by themselves, even at full size. But these are itty bitty. So you have to get the eclairs baked just right, then fill each one with the creme. You dip them in the caramel to make sure they stay together. I love making the spun sugar. Lots of steps and such a challenge, but the end result is amazing and delicious.”
He watched her as she talked. Her hands liked to move around and mimic how she would actually make the items she talked about. He was pretty sure he could sit and listen to her talk all night long.
Justin sat up. “Ready for some S’mores.”
They went over to the picnic table. Justin pulled out some bamboo skewers and handed her one and the bag of marshmallows. “Nothing as fancy as you can make,” he said, popping a marshmallows on his skewer.
“No but so, so good,” she said. She had already stuffed a marshmallow in her mouth. But she, too, had put a marshmallow on her skewer and put it next to his to roast over the charcoal. She held the marshmallow so close the charcoal a blackened crust started to form on the outside.
“You’re burning it?” Justin said.
“Uh, yeah, that’s the point,” she said.
He shook his head. “There’s a fine art to the S’more and it definitely calls for an evenly roasted and browned marshmallow.” He lifted his up for her to inspect. “That is perfection.”
He returned to the blanket and unwrapped his candy bar and got it between the crackers before the chocolate could melt any further. As it was, it was getting all over his fingers anyway. Ophelia giggled watching him trying to lick the chocolate off his hand. She shuffled on her knees over to him. One minute she was eating some of the chocolate off her S’mores, and then in the next she reached her hand around his neck and pulled him in for a kiss. He could taste the chocolate from her lips and tongue. He never felt so turned on in his life. He was helpless to do anything more about it. His own hands were covered in sticky marshmallow and chocolate and he didn’t want to ruin her dress. He lost himself in her touch and felt a little disappointed when she pulled away. She surprised him again by reaching over and gently kissing off some chocolate she’d gotten on his cheek. He closed his eyes again, enjoying the warmth of her closeness, and the faint scent of vanilla from her hair. When he opened them again, she looked bemused. Neither one said anything.
“I better be getting home,” she said, finishing off her treat and licking her fingers as best she could. “One of the sucky parts of working for a bakery is that I have to be up super early to get all the yeast doughs started.” He copied her and hurried to get cleaned off so he could put everything away.
“Oh, your little pot,” she said.
“I’ll come back for it when its not so hot,” he said. “A good reason for me to come back.”
Ophelia smiled at him. “I hope you do.”
He held his hand out to her and she took it and wrapping her other arm around his arm. There really wasn’t much to say on the way back to her house. It was tempting to ask her if he could stay but he didn’t want to be like that with her. If she had wanted him to stay, he didn’t doubt she would have asked him. He wasn’t in any hurry. They stood in front of the chainlink just outside her duplex.
“Justin,” she said, her face suddenly conflicted. “I really like you.”
Great, here it comes, he said, his stomach falling.
“In fairness, I need to tell you something,” she said. “I’ve dated this guy for a while, on and off. And right now, it’s off. He wants to get back together. I’m not sure I do. And then you come along and now I have no idea what I want.”
“Ophelia,” Justin said. “I really like you too. In fact, I haven’t liked anyone this much in a long time. I’m not in a hurry. I’m not here to pressure you or make ultimatums. I just enjoy being with you, and I hope we spend more time together in the future. Maybe you’ll find you won’t want him anymore. But there is one thing I ask – if you do decide to get back together with this guy, just tell me, please? I’m a big boy. I’d rather know so I can step out of the way if he’s who you really want.”
She put her forehead against his bicep. “Thanks,” she said.
He reached over and tipped her chin up with his hand. He gave her a soft kiss.
“Good night and sleep well,” he said. He got in his car. As he drove down the street, he saw her in his rear-view mirror still standing at the gate, watching him drive away.
Homesite of author Whitney Sivill. I'm a mother of three, a wife and a student. In between, I write clean romances, fantasy tales, and mid-grade & young adult fiction. I might throw in the occasional fanfiction, too.