“Thank you! Have a great day!” Ella cleaned the counter as her latest customer left the store. The night before, Ella had spent hours preparing to deliver Eric a delicious and eye-catching dinner―a delivery which had lasted only a few minutes. And now, curiosity had taken hold of her. What did he think? …of the meal? …of me? Who should make the next move?
“The ball is in his court now.”
Ella turned around to find Lilly standing before her. “How do you always know what I’m thinking?”
“I’ve got a lot of years under my belt.” Lilly hopped up and took a seat upon the counter.
“I’m just wondering what sort of impression I made, that’s all.”
Lilly eyed her friend. “That’s not all.”
Ella blushed a bit, unknowingly. “What do you mean?”
“She means you like him!” James called from the office.
Ella whispered to Lilly, “How can he hear us?”
“Ears like a bat.”
“I prefer cats,” James said, sticking his head momentarily through the door before disappearing again.
“Hopefully he won’t hear me say this, but he’s right.”
“He’s not right.”
“Oh, yes I am!” James said as he entered the room.
Ella tried to laugh them off.
“You do! You like him!” Lilly exclaimed, sliding back onto the floor.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I can’t like him.”
“Why not?” Lilly stood at James’ side, both of them with their arms crossed, anxious for the answer.
“Because I’m in a relationship.”
“Of course, Steve!” James exclaimed; Ella simply nodded as if to confirm. “We made a deal, El. I would take a few days off to mourn the loss of… you know who. In exchange, you were supposed to drop Steve for a while.”
“You never took time off!” Ella argued.
“Oh, my heart!” James pretended to swoon as if he were acting out a scene from Shakespeare. “What warrants such preposterous accusations!”
“You’re working right now!”
“Okay, there is that,” he admitted. “But what about Steve?”
“What about him?”
“If you’re having feelings for another man, then he has to know.”
“You’re right,” Lilly chimed in. “We should tell him.”
“Luckily, I have my phone right here.” James pulled his cell from his apron pocket and held it up with wide eyes so that Ella could see.
“Noooo,” she said, as if warning a toddler not to do something naughty.
“Um, I think it’s the right thing to do,” Lilly said as James pulled up Steve’s number in his contacts.
“That’s not necessary. I don’t have feelings for Eric!” Ella tried desperately to snatch the phone from James, but Lilly was playing defense and playing it well.
“It is necessary, El! We are your friends and so we must save you from yourself,” James taunted.
“Give me the phone, James!”
“Honey, you don’t have a commanding voice. Try not to embarrass yourself.”
“If you don’t give me that phone, I will schedule you every Saturday night from now until the end of time!”
“Please! This is a flower shop. No matter what this place will be closed before anything worth doing on a Saturday night even starts!”
“I’ll schedule you on Wednesday nights.” Ella beamed, having caught James in a checkmate. “You’ll miss your favorite show of all time…”
James gasped, “You wouldn’t dare!”
The three snapped out of their quarrel and looked up to see a man standing across the counter from them. They had been so wrapped up in their own world; they hadn’t even heard the bell.
“Eric!” The greeting came out louder than intended. “Hi!”
Lilly remained between her two friends, restraining Ella’s arms. Ella pulled her arms down as hard as she could until Lilly let go, never breaking her smile that she aimed at Eric. Lilly went into the office as if nothing had happened.
“What brings you in today?” Ella continued.
“I was on my way to lunch and thought I’d stop and ask for recommendations.”
James stood beside Ella, holding his phone behind the counter and out of Eric’s view. Ella glanced down to find Steve’s number dominating the screen. As James’ finger inched closer to the Call button, Ella grabbed the phone. As the two struggled over the phone behind the counter, Ella maintained her friendly smile with Eric as if nothing was happening.
Eric couldn’t see what they were fighting over, but it was obvious that there was something. “Did I come at a bad time?” he said.
“Of course not,” Ella assured him as she finally pried the phone from James’ hand with one big tug.
“I do wonder though,” James said as he leaned on the counter. “How long have you been standing there?”
“Ignore him,” Ella said as she nudged James away. Rather than retreat into the office with Lilly, he went back to the ribbons on the wall behind the counter so that he would still be within earshot of Ella’s conversation. “Sorry, you were saying?”
“I was just asking for recommendations for lunch. I actually have time to sit down for the elusive meal, and wanted to try somewhere preferred by the locals.”
“Well, there are all sorts of great places. It really depends on what you’re in the mood for. You can go over to Sal’s, he makes great subs. Or burgers at Marty’s. Tuck’s pub is good too. Mary Jo and her husband have the best salads.”
“Are these names of places or the owners?”
“Oh, sorry. Force of habit.”
“That’s alright. Why don’t you just join me?”
“I was just asking you to join me for lunch.”
Ella had heard him the first time, but his words didn’t quite sink in until now. “Oh! Well, yes. I’d love to.”
They both stood in silence for a moment. Eric looked at James and back at Ella, awkwardly. “Are you free now?”
“Oh!” Ella had never been so embarrassed so often in her entire life. “Yes, of course.” She slowly backed away from the counter. “Let me just get my things.” James held a flat box with bows laid out on it. Ella couldn’t imagine what he was thinking, but he had an evil glisten in his eyes. To prevent James from doing anything she wouldn’t like, Ella quickly grabbed the box away from him and held it securely out in front of her. “I’ll just put these away and get my things.” Ella kept smiling as she leaned back on the office door to push it open just as Lilly pulled it open from the other side. Ella lost her balance and fell back into the office.
Lilly jumped back with surprise as Ella rolled to the floor. “Are you okay?” she asked, not even trying to stifle a chuckle.
“I think you’re supposed to make sure I’m okay before you laugh at me.”
Eric leaned around the counter trying to see into the office. Ella was laying on the floor, covered in bows. All he could hear her say was, “Well, at least none of the bows were damaged.” He smiled at her optimism as Lilly helped her to her feet. “Thank you.” Ella grabbed her purse and carefully maneuvered her way out of the office without stepping on any bows.
Recovering from her fall―although, not from her bruised ego―Ella slid the apron over her head and moved around the counter to join Eric, adjusting her blouse as she went. “Ready?” she asked her companion, as if he hadn’t just witnessed her latest mishap.
“Yes, are you?” he firmly controlled his laughter as it built up inside him.
“Yes, I am.” Ella pulled her purse onto her shoulder but only took half a step forward before Eric pulled her back. “What? I’m fine.”
“May I just...” Eric reached out to Ella.
Is he going to kiss me? Should I kiss him back? Yes, of course! What would I be thinking if I didn’t? How rude of me to even consider not... As Ella’s thoughts ran wild and she was about to pucker her lips, Eric pulled a bow out of her hair.
Ella simply laughed at herself. She had reached the point where she could do nothing else. Eric and the others laughed along for a moment, not realizing how close Ella had just come to embarrassing herself further. Once they were all calmed down, Eric said “After you,” with a gesture to the door. Ella led the way, leaving the others to clean up her mess and laugh about their boss a bit more.
“I am so jealous of her,” James admitted after Ella had left the shop.
“She had the perfect guy fall into her lap. Why doesn’t that happen to everyone?”
Lilly chuckled. “It’s Ella.”
“Have you ever known anyone not to love her? Even Maggie would stop the show with her mere presence. Call it genetics.”
“That’s true. I would like to see it happen to someone else. That would be proof enough that it could happen for me.”
“Well…” Lilly considered her next words carefully. “You can look at me.”
James stopped picking up bows. “What? Is there something you want to tell me?”
“Fine! You know the guy in town who is passing through?”
“The gorgeous artist? Who doesn’t?”
Lilly simply smiled.
“No. That’s the mystery man?”
“Ha! What do you mean?”
“You’ve been acting… well… not yourself.”
“Well, don’t get used to it. We’re seeing each other until he leaves town. Then we’re done―like it never happened.”
James eyes widened and he shook his head. “I wouldn’t tell Ella that, if I were you. What would she think?”
“It doesn’t matter. I’m a big girl.”
“Okay…” James relented. “We will see where this goes then.”
Ella and Eric settled on a mom and pop’s pizza place, Ella’s favorite. It wasn’t far from the flower shop, so they decided to walk. As they made their way down the sidewalk past the many tiny shops, they noticed a crowd had gathered near the corner.
“What’s going on?” Ella asked.
Eric simply shrugged his shoulders in response.
Clapping suddenly rang up from the circle of people.
“Mind if we check it out?”
“No,” Eric said, although he was more curious about food than this group of people standing around.
Try as she might, Ella could barely push through the group. “Excuse me,” she repeated as she squeezed through the crowd.
Ella followed the familiar voice to it’s source. “Hi, Dalia,” she said to one of her most loyal patrons. She was close enough now to peek into the center of the circle. A young man sat on a wooden box. He had short dark hair that was long enough to fall over his eyes. His face held no expression, no grief, no happiness, no care. A book of blank paper lay open across his lap, black lines emerging as he ran his hand across the page. “What’s he doing?”
“He’s a traveling artist,” Dalia said. “Well, he’s been working at Chuck’s Lumber Yard, but apparently does this on the side.”
“This.” Dalia handed Ella a piece of paper. It was a brownish yellow, as if someone had spilled a cup of tea all over it. The studious lines of charcoal worked as one to create a drawing of the very woman she was talking to. “You pay him for portraits,” Dalia said.
“It’s beautiful.” The charcoal lines were honest and whole. She was captivated by this image which seemed to be a portrait of Dalia’s personality, more so than her face.
“I suppose I should take that as a compliment,” Dalia said, taking another satisfied look at the portrait.
Ella felt a tug on her sleeve and looked up to see Eric who was anxious to move on.
“Sorry, I only have the lunch hour. What was it?”
Ella was still trying to understand how that young man had created a portrait that was so revealing. She couldn’t imagine words fitting enough to describe his creations, so she didn’t try. “A traveling artist. He does really fantastic work.”
Once at the pizza shop, Ella led Eric to a table on the patio where an elderly tree graciously sheltered them from the hot sun. Their waiter came and went with their orders, leaving the two of them to entertain themselves.
“This was always my favorite table. My mom and I would wait for the doors to open and we would get a whiff of the pizzas in the oven.” As she said this, a waiter opened the doors with a pizza in hand. “Here we go, take a deep breath!”
Eric did as Ella suggested. The smell of the pizza made his stomach growl. “Wow! That smells great.”
“I have to say, I’m surprised you agreed to come here,” Ella said.
“Why’s that?” Eric inquired as he sipped his soda.
“Because you’re a personal trainer. Shouldn’t you be eating boiled chicken and celery sticks?”
Eric was so amused that his soda shot out of his nose as he laughed. “Ah, that stings!”
“Just saying. I could have taken you to the organic food place. It’s good, but it’s no pizza.”
“Well, I did ask you for recommendations. How could I say no after you raved about this place all the way here?”
“True. So, did you eat the dinner I made for you? Thinking back, it probably wasn’t the healthiest meal I could have come up with.”
“No, but I never did thank you. It was delicious. Although, if you were to cook for me every night my clients would to start looking a lot better me.”
“That’s not all bad. You’ll just make them feel better about themselves by turning yourself into a junk food eating slob.”
“True.” Eric began to think back on that special dinner delivery. “Now, what kind of diet are you on? You’ve got a great figure.” Eric realized what he was saying without enough time to hold the words in. “I mean, you look great― nice… in a… nice… sort of way.” He looked around, anywhere but at her, fidgeting and rubbing his hands on his knees as they became clammy with embarrassment.
Ella blushed. She had stunned him, just as planned. “Thank you. I am on the eat-whatever-I-want-and-exercise-when-I-feel-like-it diet.”
“Oh. Well, it’s working for you.”
The aroma of the restaurant arrested them as their pizza was delivered. “Here is your make-your-own pizza: thin wheat crust, goat cheese, spinach, and kalamata olives,” the waitress said as she set the pie near their table. “Can I get you anything else?”
“We’re good, thank you.”
Ella waited for Eric to take his first bite. “Oh, wow. I have to admit, it didn’t sound great, but this is amazing. Mmm, definitely a good choice for lunch.”
“Glad you like it,” Ella ate her slice calmly but she cheered inside at having the most satisfying confirmation that he was attracted her. Mission Desire: Accomplished, she thought.