I wrote this story with another imaginative soul…
He heard her laugh from a couple of aisles over. He was about to place his six simple items on the belt by the cashier. He pushed his cart to the side when she laughed again and abandoned it. Whoever owned that laugh was someone he had to see. The hair on the back of his neck felt like an unseen hand had artfully brushed against it.
He kept looking for the person that laugh belonged to but couldn’t seem to pinpoint it. Then, he glimpsed her standing next to the spices and glancing up at the cinnamon placed unnecessarily and rudely high on the shelf, with one earbud in. It had to be her; the only other women in the vicinity were already collecting their pensions.
She was nodding to nobody as a smile cracked across her face under her mask.
Then another laugh.
Though he would not usually approach anyone, he felt his feet glide toward her. Though he had no expectations as to what she might look like, he felt an unfamiliar sense of familiarity when he looked at her. Just as he was about to speak, she turned halfway toward him, her eyes sparkling, the fading laugh leaving her eyes. He opened his mouth to speak but felt his throat clamp. He just nodded in silence.
She pulled her mask down to reveal a smile. “Well, hello there, stranger.”
The ‘hello’ he warmly and hesitantly uttered crept its way across his lips as they moved, creasing the corners of his eyes.
“Could you help me get the cinnamon? I’m trying to make the family cookie recipe for the Christmas celebration. I was warned not to get the cheap stuff,” she said, rambling to herself. He watched her face move with the words as his feet shot roots into the ground beneath him to keep his heart from soaring out of his chest.
He kept staring until she looked from side to side behind him and then back in his face. “umm…Frankie? Can you get the cinnamon, please? I still have to bake tonight.” He kept staring. There she was. His heart was beating rapidly; there was sweat on his brow. The clerk announced BBQ and 4th of July deals over the loudspeaker. He blinked and inhaled hard, and then she was gone again.
Between heartbeats, time dilated. Frankie watched his arm reach up and pick out a lovely brand of cinnamon. When he handed it to her, her nimble fingers brushed his. The jolt awakened him. She smiled and asked, “Are you okay?” He nodded. “Wait,” he said, his voice almost disembodied. “Do I know you? I feel like I do.” She laughed at him as if he’d asked the most ridiculous and amusing question possible. “Not really, no. But I think we’re going to know each other very well, depending on whether you can answer one simple question.”
Frankie nodded and swallowed as Amelia grinned mischievously and pulled out her earbuds. This was a big test. He didn’t even know it yet. There was only one acceptable answer, but a close second would allow him to have an opportunity to prove himself further. “Which Star Trek captain is the best?” she asked as she slipped the cinnamon into a place of prestige in her shopping cart. “Thank you, by the way.”
Frankie didn’t even pause to answer: “Picard. He’s brilliant, ethical, and emotional, perfectly blended. But you know that. If I can make you laugh before you turn and walk away, will you let me talk to you again? Anywhere or anywhen you want.”
Amelia wrinkled her nose, made a noise like a buzzer, and made a thumbs-down signal. She then laughed again. Frankie’s spine shivered again. “That is not correct, so I’m not sure about any sort of prize here.” The room seemed to pulse and fade in and out of Frankie’s vision as the Christmas music faded to summer-time special promotions again. He stood there, alone, in the spice aisle in his Birkenstocks. “Oh God, not again,” he thought to himself and choked back the tears creeping dangerously close to slipping from his eyes in the middle of the spices.
He was lost somewhere in time again, the memories of lost love flooding him. He picked out a container of cinnamon and held it in his hand. Even though people passed him, no one noted the single tear that slid along his cheek and down to his hand holding the bottle. “Amelia,” he whispered.