Milk, eggs, flour, chocolate, baking soda, vanilla. Abby read the list again as she tried to figure out if baking soda and flour were in the same aisle. Abby was fumbling with the chocolate on the top shelf, when her cell phone rang. She glanced over and saw it was her sister.
“Hey, let me call you back. This store is packed. Maybe I’ll just buy some cupcakes, add sprinkles, and say they’re homemade” she laughed into the phone before hanging up.
Abby reached again for another pack of chocolate. Perhaps she could eat some of it when the cake was baking or maybe not, maybe she’d exercise instead. She tried to push the bag back into the shelf. Just then, several packs of chocolate began to fall. Embarrassed, Abby tried to pick up each bag and return them to their space, as she avoided eye contact, hoping those around her in the crowded aisle didn’t assume her to be a klutz. That’s when she saw him.
He had thought that he had seen her, thought that he had heard her laugh just moments ago, but maybe that was just him.
That couldn’t have been her, he thought. Not with that short, curled hair and printed dress. She wasn’t even wearing glasses. No the girl he once knew who wore hoodies and continuously fumbled with her glasses. No, no that couldn’t have been her.
Nick glanced over at the cart.
“Hey, Nicky, can you grab me some flour. I’m gonna need those for the cookies. We ran out last night”, Eileen, his girlfriend of almost four years, said to him, as she weighed the grapes, deciding to add more as she took it off the scale.
Nick smiled and went to aisle ten in search of the flour.
And that’s when he saw her, as she quickly tried to pick up the bags of chocolate that had apparently fallen from the top shelf. Even though the woman in front of him looked like a shadow of the girl he once knew, it was unmistakably her. He remembered how clumsy she was, how they would joke about it.
Suddenly, he was in a panic. Unsure of what he should do. Walk back to Eileen and wait for her to get the flour, back out of the aisle really fast, or just get the damn flour. He didn’t have any time to think. Abby had begun to look around, self-consciously as she gathered the fallen bags and tried to restock the shelf on her tiptoes. As soon as she looked up and saw him, she beamed.
It had been a while, a long while. Despite that they lived in a small town, it had been years since they had ran into each other. Perhaps they had been unconsciously avoiding each other. It seemed like ages, since they were in college and went on a break and decided to never say anything to each other. Ages since she decided to change all the plans and switch colleges without telling him. Years since he lied to her, lies that at the moment seemed really petty and laughable.
She couldn’t stop smiling, perhaps it was the embarrassment or perhaps the anticipation of the moment. It had been so long and every once in a while, she found herself wondering about him. Nick, her first real boyfriend, her college boyfriend. How long had it been? Six, seven years. Maybe five since they had stopped putting the effort into trying to communicate what had happened to them, since she had stopped trying. Sometimes she liked to believe they fell apart willingly, other times, she told herself it was his fault.
She steadied the bags on the shelf and smoothed out her skirt, thankful for her choice of dress today.
He grinned at her as she took in his grown-up look. Despite the Christmas sweater he was wearing, his face had matured, the beginning of crow’s feet edging near his eyes, hinting how much he had laughed and smiled throughout the years.
Nick looked at Abby trying to remember what had happened, the last letter she had written him explaining what she did, the time he called her and wouldn’t answer her calls back. The time he approached her and she ignored him in the halls. He looked at her and tried to remember what their story was.
“Nick, is that you? It’s been a long time”, Abby began, as she took the first step into the conversation. She couldn’t really believe it.
“Abby! How are you?”, Nick said, relieved that it wasn’t too awkward between them.
“I’m really good. I’m just trying to figure out the ingredients for these cupcakes I’m trying to make. I’m still learning how to bake. I’ve always wanted to. Ha! You just caught me trying to put back the chocolate chips. Anyways, look at you! How’ve you been?”, exclaimed Abby at a rate she realized was way too excited for casual conversation.
“I’ve been doing good. Just trying to get a few groceries”, Nick said, trying to cut the conversation short before Abby mentioned their past. It would be so like her, bluntly asking what happened to him. He was tempted to ask her what happened to her, why had she stopped talking to him after all these years. They had made plans. She, out of the two of them, was always so anxious about plans and them working out. Why had she stopped?
To his surprise, all Abby did was stare at him for what seemed like too long. He realized that she was not tasting her words before she said them to him, a habit of hers when they were younger, she was waiting for him to say something, something substantial.
As he comprehended being put on the spot, Nick began to fumble for words. He didn’t think he had to explain himself, it had been years. Thankfully, Eileen turned into the aisle.
“Honey, did you find the flour?” Eileen chimed as she pushed the cart forward.