He noticed her as she passed the foot care aisle.
He didn’t need anything; he was cutting through to the other end of the store, past the athlete’s foot powders, the heel scrapers, and the callous removers.
She was on the tall side of average height and her dark hair spilled past her shoulders in loose spirals.
It was light brown, but under the harsh fluorescent lights of the store he saw glints of honey and cinnamon mixed in. She stood in profile to him at an endcap.
She tilted her head down to study the list of ingredients on a tube of toothpaste. A strand of hair rippled past her face and bounced over her shoulder.
She brushed it back with her fingers. He imagined that they were sweet and sticky from touching it.
He shook his head at how creepy he sounded even to himself. He was just here for toilet paper and a few other sundry items.
Her skin looked warm. Her cheekbones reminded him of sunlight over creamy, pale pink apricots. For no particular reason, he recalled the one time he watched someone peel the skin off a mango and offer him a piece of its flesh.
He remembered the way the fruit slid over his tongue.
He barely had to touch his teeth to it before its flesh gave way. Its sweet, syrupy juice streamed through his mouth and coated his tongue before he swallowed.
He pretended to study a jar of heel crack repair cream when she looked up as if she felt she was being watched.
In the frozen foods section he stood a cart’s distance away from her. Her sundress scooped low in the back and her shoulders were smooth, a few shades lighter than the color of ripened peaches.
Yellow roses and strawberry vines skimmed her waist and blossomed past the small of her back and around her hips. She paused in front of the ice cream and scanned the various pint-sized flavors from a local creamery.
When she chose one and moved on he stopped to see what space was empty in the display. She’d chosen honey lavender vanilla.
He thought about how it would feel for milky, fragrant coolness to slip down his throat.
At the end of the aisle he lost sight of her. He sighed to himself and continued to check things off of his grocery list: bread, tin foil, laundry detergent. He headed for cleaning supplies.
This time he came at her from the opposite direction. Her forehead was wide. Her face narrowed a bit over high, curved, softly-lit cheekbones down to a narrow and perfect chin.
Her lips were full and even. When he was a little boy, he remembered, he used to help his grandmother seal cranberries in mason jars.
They’d drop them by the handful in sugar water and wait for them to heat and expand. They came out plump and deeply red. Delicate as they looked, he could hold one in his fist and it wouldn’t burst.
When she looked up and saw him, they turned up just a little at the corners revealing small, straight teeth.
Her eyes were large, and when her gaze met his just for that second of polite acknowledgement he saw sunlight bursting through pale blue sky.
She chose a bottle of dishwashing soap. When she reached for the shelf he noticed there were no rings on her finger. He took a deep breath and tried to think of something to say.
Before he could formulate a sentence she nodded to him, indicating that she needed to move on. He pulled his cart to the side and let her pass.
Her arm brushed against his sleeve as she passed him.
He had to pull himself together. This was almost stalking. And he was the guy his friends teased for being overly-polite to women. After speaking with three or four women at a bar one night and not even getting a phone number, one buddy jokingly asked him if he was worried about protecting their chastity.
But for now, he grabbed his detergent and made a bee-line for the back of the store where the restrooms and meat department were. He ducked into a stall and took a few slow breaths until his body was less…hungry
In the produce aisle he saw her from a distance picking over a bin of plums. She held one in her palm and rolled it around with her fingers. She made a light, delicate fist around it and then released. It’s black-purple skin puckered and bounced back as if her touch made its flesh expand and press out, stretching its skin taut.
She smiled, satisfied, and dropped it into her mesh bag. She did the same with a half-dozen more before moving on.
He didn’t mean to be behind her on the checkout aisle, but he’d chosen the shortest line and it quickly lengthened behind him. There was no way to change lanes. As they waited their respective turns, she peered over the edge of the fashion magazine she was skimming and smiled at him. This time it was a wide, friendly smile of recognition.
“We meet again!” she exclaimed. He smiled. "I'm Jeff," he said. "Ella," she replied. She turned to load her things onto the conveyer belt. She didn’t say anything else to him after she paid and disappeared as the sliding doors whooshed behind her.
Annoyed with himself, he paid for his things and pushed his cart out the doors towards the parking lot. She was loading her groceries into the trunk of an older model Prius that was parked next to his car.
“The universe must be pushing us together,” Ella joked as she reached into one of her bags.
“Yeah,” Jeff managed. He was sure he was blushing. She produced two plums from the bag and then shut the trunk. She held one out for him.
His hand trembled and their fingers touched when he took it from her. She leaned against her car. Looking him straight in the eyes, she took a bite.