The shop was quiet, and as she placed the tea cup on the bar the familiar clink of porcelain on formica ran around the walls. Cold sounds on cold surfaces. Save for a few regulars the place was empty. She looked back to the couple at their table; weather beaten ramblers. They peeled off their macs and draped them over the empty chairs nearby.
As she made to take their drinks over, the man got up, but she out manoeuvred him. This was not only an act of kindness, she was bored. As she approached the couple they smiled and began chatting; was she local? She must get bored in the off season right? She smiled politely as she decanted the tray, and tried to answer their questions. As she straightened up something flickered at the corner of her vision, and she froze.
A familiar shape, a footfall, an unmistakeable red mac. Her stomach flopped and she lost track of the questions being asked. After a moment her vision cleared itself of her nerves and she turned her focus to the person on her right. It wasn’t him. A man in his fifties walked by her, familiar to her but no, not him. She turned and hurried back to the bar, masking her pitch of anxiety as an urge to get back to her post. The man walked on to the end of the shop and found his friend.
She looked into the mirror that backed the bar, and breathed deeply. The upturned ice cream sundae glasses fractured her reflection. The couple beyond her had settled in and forgotten about her. She saw the woman’s hand graze the man’s as she reached for the tea he’d poured for her. Must be nice, to have that one person; to do this with. She pushed the thoughts down, they made her stomach hurt.
She turned and gently raised her shoulders so she could place her folded arms on the bar. The cold formica pressed through her white cotton sleeves and into her forearms, and a memory passed through her. The red mac, the cold on her arms, a year ago. Noise from the entrance followed by a wet smile, and a pair of green eyes she felt she’d seen before.
He had laughed kindly at the idea of an ice cream shop being open in West Wales, in the autumn. Welsh people, she said, would never eat ice cream if they waited for the hot weather. He’d liked that. He’d mispronounced the Welsh spelling so she’d written down a phonetic version for him. ‘Say it like this,’ she’d said, pushing the paper napkin to him. ‘Hufvin ya!’ he said, over pronouncing the last syllable in a mock German accent. They had laughed together. Then their smiles dropped as their eyes locked, each recognising something in the other.
A moment later more noises had followed and members of the RNLI crew walked in. He was pulled into their conversation. He was with the Environment Agency, testing the waters, he’d be here a while. He joined the group as they took their usual tables, and she returned to the bar. She had watched him in the mirrors, occasionally turning to find his eyes snagged on hers. Too nervous to go any further, she could only watch and wait for something to happen.
But nothing did. That first day was the easiest she had felt. From that moment on she was nervous. He would come in, they would talk, but she couldn’t relax. Her cheeriness during their first meeting disappeared as she felt the intimidating seriousness of their connection. Her colleague said she acted coldly, that she should flirt more. But she had excuses to hand; he was just being nice, he was this nice to everyone.
Only one day had the clouds parted. Her nerves broke, just for a moment, and it had been easy. He was burning terribly in the unseasonable sun and she was teasing him about it. They had sun tan lotion, she showed him, behind the bar. ‘Go on then,’ he’d said and folded his arms, leaning on the bar and closing his eyes. Her heart beat at the shock of the moment, and somewhere inside she began to tremble.
The world suddenly became quite distant, like she was drunk. Without thinking at all, or thinking that she was someone else, she squeezed some of the cream onto her fingertips and gently touched it to his nose. He didn’t move. She moved carefully, touching her fingertips to his forehead, moving down his cheeks to his chin.
She fought the impulse to touch her palms to his cheeks. She wanted to slide her hands over his face, around his neck, and pull him toward her. She swallowed the tension she had not realised had built in her throat, and as her fingertips stopped moving he opened his eyes. The moment was gone.
A couple of days later he’d left town, and she’d seen him only once more, on Guy Fawkes. That evening she had hoped for something to happen, and she had stood near him on the harbour front. His face was lit up by the fireworks and she had willed him to look over at her, but he never did. She was the girl looking a boy, who was looking at the fireworks. He wasn’t here for her, that’s what she told herself.
That memory weighed down her as she left the shop for the evening. She walked along the harbour front to where she had stood that night. The waves crashed in from the Irish Sea and she placed her hands on the iron balustrade. She closed her eyes and dug her fingertips into the cold metal. She urged it to dampen down the memories of a warm, sunburnt face. A red mac. Green eyes. A smile. And she told herself that happy endings were things that happened to other people. But not to her.
I wrote this for the Round #2 of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. For this I had to write a drama, involving ice cream and a bottle of sunscreen, using no more than 1000 words. It also had to be written in 48 hours. The judging is still currently going on so I don’t know if this has gotten me any further in the competition, but I quite like it.