(For more information on my Genre Self-Challenge, read previous entry here.)
“Breaking the Ice”
“Don’t do that, Sally…” my little sister called out. “Mommy and Daddy will get angry.”
“And why’s that?” I shouted back. “The pond’s frozen solid! It’s perfectly…”
“Perfectly…” I trailed off, looking down at the splitting ice beneath my feet. My eyes widened as I saw the ice start to break, and in a panic, I tried to run. But it was too late; the next thing I knew, I was immersed in the cold, black water below. And then…
My alarm clock rang.
“Ugh…” I groaned, forcing myself out of bed. “Morning already.” Then, with a yawn, I recalled the scene from moments before. “Hmm…a dream? Or a memory from when Cassie and I were younger, maybe?” I shrugged my shoulders and glanced over at the calendar. It was Tuesday, which meant it was my turn to open the bookstore. I quickly got ready and rushed out the door.
It was snowing pretty heavily, and by the time I reached the store, I was both completely covered in large white flakes and completely terrified from having to drive on such slippery roads. With the little used bookstore being so hidden away already, it seemed unlikely that many people would stop by today. Nonetheless, I dutifully turned the key in the lock on the front door, same as every Tuesday.
I worked by myself for quite some time before I heard the loud jingle of the bell at the door. Peeking around the corner, I saw Mrs. Johansson walk in carrying a small white box. She was a frail old woman who inherited sole ownership of the little bookstore after her husband, whom she had first opened it with, passed away a couple of years ago. I approached her quickly, taking the box from her and helping her to dust the snow off her coat.
“My, it sure is a cold one today,” she remarked with her standard pleasant smile. “And what a blizzard! I’m surprised you even came in today, Sally. The others all called me to say they couldn’t make it.”
“Well, to be honest, I hadn’t realized how bad the weather was until I was already out in it,” I laughed. “Besides, it was my turn to open. I had to come.”
She patted my arm. “That’s what I like about you…” she trailed off, and when I looked at her questioningly, she switched topics. “I sure feel bad for the bakery down the street, though. It just opened, and already it has to face a day like today.” She shook her head sadly. “I couldn’t help but stop by there this morning on my way in. That box you’re holding has some goodies in it, so help yourself.”
“Oh, thank you,” I said, setting it down on the front counter and opening it up. The smells of cinnamon and brown sugar rushed out at me. “Mmm,” I mumbled. “It’s such a warm scent. Almost nostalgic, even.”
The rest of the day passed by without much activity. A few customers came in, but not many at all. After I bid Mrs. Johansson good-bye come closing time, I drove back to my apartment, white-knuckled all the way.
As it just so happened, Cassie called me that night. “Geez!” she shouted over the phone. “I can’t believe you went into work when there’s a blizzard over there! Just how reckless can you be?”
I chuckled, hoping that doing so wouldn’t make her even angrier. “I couldn’t help it. It was my turn to open, after all…”
“And what does that matter?” she sighed. “Seriously…but I guess you’ve never really grasped the dangers of winter. It’s just like the time when you were eight and fell through the ice in the pond. And that was, what, over twenty years ago already?”
“Wait a minute…what was that?” I asked, suddenly remembering my dream. “That really happened?”
“Of course it did! You mean you don’t remember it?” she replied in disbelief. “I kept telling you to get off the ice, but you wouldn’t listen, and suddenly you just fell right through. If it weren’t for that boy who had been walking past…”
“There was a boy?” I prompted for further detail.
“Yes, a boy,” she continued. “He was just a few years older than you. Jimmy was his name. At any rate, somehow he managed to get you out of the pond safely and carried you back home.”
“I bet Mom and Dad were worried,” I said, stating the obvious.
“Of course they were. But anyway,” she interrupted, “you really don’t remember it at all? Not even Jimmy? Poor guy. He was your first love and everything…”
“What?!” I shouted into the phone.
“Haha, not so loud, that hurt my ear…” she chuckled. “That’s right. You two spent a lot of time together that winter. We used to tease you about it, and finally, one day you proclaimed ‘That’s right! I love Jimmy! So?’ Mom and Dad laughed so hard at you,” she said, her giggle becoming louder. “But he disappeared in the spring right along with the snow, and we all just dropped it afterwards. Apparently, your memory disappeared, too.”
“Well, I am the single one of us, remember? Guess I never was much of a romantic,” I said a little mournfully, before changing the topic.
That night, after I got off the phone with my sister and went to bed, I dreamt the same dream again. Only this time, it continued until the icy darkness disappeared and a red-headed boy with deep green eyes hovered above my face.
I was woken up the next morning by a phone call rather than my alarm. “Hey, Sally,” came groggy voice at the other end. “It’s me, Pat. Listen, I know it’s my turn to open today, but I’m snowed in. Seems the blizzard still hasn’t let up. Think you could do it for me? You live closer, anyway, and I hear it’s not as bad in your area. Me, though, I probably won’t even be in today at all.”
“Fine,” I sighed, a little grumpy at having the responsibility pushed on me, but reasoning, “I’m already awake anyway now…I might as well.”
Just as I was about to step out the door, the phone rang again. “I sure must be popular this morning!” I exclaimed to no one. “I wonder what this person wants. A kidney, maybe?” I answered the phone with the irritation of being newly-awoken still in my voice, but quickly changed my tone when I heard the Mrs. Johansson on the other end. “Oh…yes…yes…I see…” I replied into the receiver. “No, it’s fine. I’ll still open today. Yes. Yes, I’m sure. All right, Mrs. Johansson, I hope you feel better soon.”
As it turned out, the kindly old lady had slipped on the ice that morning and was too still sore to make it in. I hesitated, debating whether or not opening today was really worthwhile, before resigning myself to go. After all, I had already promised two people that I would.
On my way to the bookstore, I paused at the little bakery. It was open again today, which surprised me some. Curious, I decided to stop in.
“Hello!” greeted the man behind the counter. “What can I do for you?”
I looked in the glass display at the baked goods. “Sorry that there’s not much selection,” he began, “but it’s only due to this weather. There’ll be more once it clears up some and the traffic here increases.”
I nodded and smiled. “I’m sure there will be. The food that Mrs. Johansson brought in to the bookstore yesterday was really good. Ah! It was that,” I pointed.
“Mrs. Johansson?” he questioned, but upon seeing what I pointed at, he nodded. “Oh, that must’ve been the kind old woman who came in yesterday morning. Come to think of it, she did mention something about a bookstore. I bet you’re the employee there she was praising, too,” he grinned. “The one who always comes in no matter what the weather’s like?”
I laughed. “Well, I am an employee, and it’s true that I’m nearly always there, anyway. I’m Sally,” I said, extending my hand across the counter.
“Nice to meet you. I’m the baker here, and currently, the only person willing to show up myself. The name’s Jim,” he returned, shaking my hand.
“Jim…” I paused, suddenly recalling my discussion from the previous night. “Haha…what a strange coincidence.”
“And what about Mrs. Johansson?” he asked. “Is she in today?”
I shook my head. “No, I’m afraid not. She slipped and hurt herself this morning.”
He frowned, adding sincerely, “That’s a shame. I sure hope she’s all right. Is there anything I can do?”
“No, I don’t think so, but thanks.” His obvious concern for a woman who was practically a stranger to him moved me a little, and I added, “She’s tough for such a petite, elderly woman, though. I’ll be stopping by after work to check on her, but I’m sure she’ll be just fine.”
He seemed to relax a little. “That’s good to hear,” he said, smiling slightly.
I bought some baked goods and left to open the bookstore immediately after. Compared to the deadness of today, yesterday had almost been busy. Left with very little to do aside from various small tasks such as organizing some of the books and double-checking—actually, more like triple-checking—the inventory, I found my thoughts drifting back to the man at the bakery. Something about him caught my interest, though I couldn’t quite place it.
I was on a small ladder, reaching up toward the books on the highest shelf, when I sighed, “Hmm…he wasn’t wearing a wedding band. Then again, he’s a baker, so he could’ve just taken it off?” I let out a sudden laugh. “What the…what am I even talking about? It’s a good thing no one else is here today.”
Just then, I heard the jingle of the bell as the door opened. “Hello? Sally? Are you here?” came Jim’s voice.
Startled, I lost my footing on the ladder and fell backwards. “Eee—!” I cried, falling to the floor and causing several books to fall with me.
“Sally? Sally!” Jim shouted, running towards me.
I opened my eyes to the worried face of a man with red hair and deep green eyes. A sudden bolt of realization passed through me and I shouted, “Jimmy!”
His face turned slightly red, and when I caught a hold of myself, so did mine. “Ah…sorry. I didn’t mean…” I trailed off, allowing him to help me sit up. I cleared my throat, saying, “This might sound a little strange, but…” I chuckled nervously, looking down. “I don’t suppose that…that you once saved a girl from an icy pond twenty-one years or so ago…”
When I didn’t immediately hear a response, I forced myself to look back up at him. His expression was one of surprise. “Sally…” he muttered, half to himself. Then suddenly, he put his hand to his forehead and let out a loud laugh. “Sally! I can’t believe it’s really you!”
I laughed along with him. “So it was you, then? The boy who rescued me all those years ago. And you really remember me?”
“Of course I remember you,” he continued. “You were my first love…” His face suddenly became bright red, even more so than before. “Ah…sorry, I didn’t mean to say something so awkward. I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong impression of me or anything. Besides, I’m sure your boyfriend wouldn’t appreciate someone hitting on his girl…”
I laughed nervously, feeling my own face become hot. “Oh…well…one of those…I don’t have…ahaha…” I turned away again. “That is, I’m single.”
“…Oh.” A pause. “So am I, actually.” Another pause. A longer pause. Suddenly, he cleared his throat and stood up, offering his hand to help me up as well. “Anyway, I just came by to see how you were doing on your own. And also, to bring that,” he said, pointing to a white bakery box he had left on the counter. “For Mrs. Johansson. When you visit her. It’s on me, of course.”
“Thanks,” I said, smiling and straightening myself up. “I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.”
“Good,” he said, returning the smile. We stood silent for a while, just…looking at each other. It was odd, but the longer we stood, the more familiar it seemed.
“Well then,” he finally broke off, heading to the door. “I should be going. Try to be more careful, okay? And give the kind old lady my regards.”
“Will do,” I said, following just behind him.
He moved to open the door, but paused once more, and turned back toward me. “If…if you’d like…do you think we could meet again soon? Maybe Friday, or something, after work. To catch up. And…” he trailed off, laughing. “Well, to be truthful, I’d just be interested in getting to know you more,” he finally forced out.
I could feel my smile growing wider. “Sure, Friday after work would be great.” I answered. “Until then…”
He grinned. “Right. Until then,” he said, and left out the door.
When he was out of sight, I let out a huge laugh. “Perhaps I’m more of a romantic than I thought…”