Short Story: Lemons Aren’t Always Sour

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Meghan Reinholz is an avid reader, writer, and all-around nerd. She wouldn’t mind spending all her time surrounded by books, and hopes one day to own a bookstore that doubles as a coffee shop. Who wouldn’t love to spend all day surrounded by books and fellow nerds?

* * * * *

Will stared out the school window, one hand propped up his chin and the other draped over the front of his desk, letting his fingers leisurely brush against a chipped wood piece. What a waste of time, he thought. A bird flew past the window, but he didn’t follow its path because that would take too much energy, and Will loved conserving energy. Not just household energy like dishwashers and dryers and lights, but personal energy too. He never did more than he had to, and if he had to do more, he would do it quickly.

Will barely even heard his teacher call for the end of class right as the bell rang, signaling that school was over. As his classmates gathered their belongings, he continued to idly gaze out the window, his thoughts sluggish.

“Will… Will!”

Will blinked away the haze and turned to face the voice, surprised anyone took the time to call his name. His breath hitched in his throat as he struggled to remain composed. His deep green eyes wandered the room, looking anywhere but at the door.

Penelope Alistair—“Penny” to most—was peeking around the entrance to his classroom, her face lit up by a smile and her gaze directed at him.

“Will!” she exclaimed, walking towards him. “Are you stopping by the bakery after school today?”

Will blinked again, the tips of his rounded ears warming as Penelope stared at him, expecting an answer. Oh right, he should probably respond.

“I hadn’t planned on it,” he mumbled, grappling for his forest green backpack, determined not to meet her gaze again. Even though he stood a full head taller than her, Penelope’s very presence made her a force to be reckoned with. And he did not want to reckon with her at that moment.

“Oh, that’s all right!” she said, he noted with a hint of disappointment. Then her smile returned once more. “I’ll see you some other time, ‘kay?” Waving goodbye, she headed out the room and Will was left with a racing heart and a knot in his stomach.

Did she always have to ask him if he was coming to her parents’ bakery after school? She could just wait and see if he would show up instead of asking him, wasting precious seconds of unneeded conversation. Will clutched his chest. Why was his heart still racing? And why did he feel so guilty?

Will shouldered his bag, and meandered his way home, his thoughts turning to Penelope. He’d known her since they were kids, though he wouldn’t exactly qualify their relationship as “friends” because friends waste energy, and maybe Will found it a little difficult talking to Penelope. He just didn’t know how to anymore.

Still, he couldn’t help but think of Penelope when they were apart. She had long black hair that could never stay in any hairstyle, no matter how hard she tried. From braids to caps, her hair never stayed in a restricted form, instead flowing down her back like the night sky. Recently, she had her hair trimmed and came to school with bangs that hung just above her eyes. That had startled everyone, including Will. It’s not that it looked bad—it looked great actually—but he would never tell her that. It would waste too much time complimenting her and then waiting on her response. So, he kept quiet. He never mentioned to Penelope how pretty her eyes were either: a strange dark blue that looked purple in certain lights, and always lit up with curiosity. And her smile…

Will realized how long he’d been thinking about Penelope and covered his mouth in embarrassment. Again, blood rushed to his face and he hastily closed the distance between him and the door to his house.

He was home already? He’d been thinking about Penelope the entire way home?

Shaking the daze that girl put him in whenever she was around, Will unlocked the door and stepped inside his house. A sense of immediate calm and relaxation hit him as he shuffled to the kitchen, his stomach rumbling from hunger. He scanned the pantry for anything appetizing and grumbled when he found nothing. A lemon danish sounds good, he mused, then immediately groaned as he thought of Penelope for the second time that afternoon. Penelope was the one who first introduced him to lemon danishes. Her father had made a batch of them one day after school, and since the two lived so close by, Penelope and Will would walk home together. On that particular day, Penelope dragged Will to her parents’ bakery and practically shoved a lemon danish in his face, convincing him it’d be the best decision of his life. She was right. Ever since then, Will’s favorite pastry from the Alistair’s bakery was a lemon danish.

Instead of putting in the energy to either walk to the store two streets down or heat something up in the microwave, Will walked to his room and threw himself on his bed. He bundled himself in his softest blanket, his limbs heavy and his eyelids sluggish, allowing himself to let them close. In reality, he hadn’t done anything extraneous that day, but that one short conversation with Penelope had drained him of all his energy. She wasn’t annoying or anything, not even too upbeat. She was just so… Will stopped himself before the word entered his mind. The more he thought about her, the more energy he would waste.

* * *

The next day of school was even more draining. Penelope talked to him again. And this time, she wasn’t deterred by his brooding “don’t waste my time” vibe either.

“Come to the bakery today,” Penelope exclaimed, excitedly grabbing his hand. She had caught him outside his classroom on his way to lunch as thoughts of his nice, warm bed swirled around in his head.

“I’ll think about it,” he grumbled, feeling the soft skin of her hands wrapped around the rough of his. Her fingers around his was enough to make his ear tips turn red. Thankfully, his mess of dark hair covered them from view.

“No, you have to come! My parents made a new recipe for lemon danishes, and I know they’re your favorite!” Penelope pulled on his hand, drawing him closer to her as her gaze pierced through and eventually broke down his resolve.

Letting out a defeated sigh, Will murmured, “All right, fine.”

Penelope cheered and dropped his hand, giving him one last mischievous grin before she headed back to her classroom. He stared after her, watching as that night-black hair swished from side to side as she walked. She was practically bouncing with joy. How does she not collapse from exhaustion? he sighed.

That girl.

* * *

Will took his time getting to the bakery, not wanting to expend more energy than necessary by hurrying. While his motto claimed that if he had to do something, he would do it quickly, over the years he had found that no matter how fast he tried to get something over with that involved Penelope, hurrying only made things worse, and strangely more time-consuming.

Once Will opened the door to The Little Bakery and the familiar bell chimed his entrance, he was immediately graced with the scents of freshly baked bread, sweet cakes, apple pies, warm cookies, other sweet delectables, and fresh coffee. While he enjoyed the Alistair’s bakery, he despised how packed the place could become at certain times. All those people clumped together, chatting about time consuming topics made him shudder. Thinking about those particular moments, mixed with the combination of the current chattering customers, drained Will of his already low reserve of energy. He considered going to sit down at the table near the back of the shop as his foot caught on something and he did a flailing jitter to regain his balance. His mouth gaped as the “something” his foot caught on was an older woman’s cane. The lady had barely moved from the disruption, but turned away in a brutal huff before Will could apologize, shooting him a parting evil glance. He got a chance to admire the speckled floor as he couldn’t bring himself to see if anyone was staring.

“Welcome, Will!” Penelope’s father, the owner of the bakery, called out from the back, waving a flour-powdered hand at him.

Will raised his hand in greeting and wandered the store, keeping a close eye on the back of the shop. Any minute she could walk out. He wouldn’t be surprised by her appearance this time. He still remembered the tingling sensation of her hands wrapped around his. Though it was pleasant outside, not too warm and not too cold, her hands had been cool. He wondered if the absence of the bakery oven during school hours had any effect on the temperature of her hands.

Lost in thought, Will approached the new display of sugary goods, eyeing the buttered coffee cake. They haven’t had these in a long time. Before he could consider how much money he had on him, someone slid into his peripheral view.

She didn’t even have to speak before his heart started beating faster and faster. Will turned, time seeming to slow down. Penelope stood before him, an eager grin on her face. Her long hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail, strands already escaping from her hair tie. Her dark blue eyes reflected the store lights, and practically sparkled at him as she stared. She was here, standing in front of him.

He wasn’t prepared.

“Hi Will! I’m so glad you came,” she laughed. A royal purple apron covered her casual clothes, dusted with flour and dough. Her name tag was slightly askew at the corner where the necktie met the front of the apron. A smudged fingerprint made of flour grazed the corner of the name tag, slightly blurring the last letter of her name. Penelop.

Will nodded his head in acknowledgement, his green gaze dropping to the right as his ears began their routine warming in her presence.

“Hey Penny,” he mumbled, scratching the back of his neck nervously. His eyes wandered around the store, too embarrassed to meet hers. He locked on to Penny’s father bringing out a tray of…were those lemon danishes?

Penny followed his gaze. “You’re just in time. My dad finished the first batch of the new lemon danishes. Come on,” she said, pulling him along behind her. Again, her hand resting on his made him sweat with nerves.

“Hi sweetheart,” Penny’s dad said warmly, giving Will a smile too. Will thought he saw Penny’s mother in the background, but once the smell of those danishes reached his nose, he lost all focus on anything else.

“Hey Dad! Will wants to try one of the new lemon danishes.”

“All right, here you go, Will. I know they’re your favorite,” Penny’s father said, placing a danish on a plate and handing it to Will. When Will met the man’s eyes, Penny’s father gave him a wink.

Will gratefully accepted the pastry, his saliva ducts ready to flood his mouth. He tried to pay Mr. Alistair, but the man waved his hand in dismissal because Will was a family friend, and Family friends get free tastes at The Little Bakery. Will gave Mr. Alistair an embarrassed nod, feeling more like a moocher than anything else. However, once he took a bite of the danish, Will had never been more grateful for knowing the Alistair family.

As Will happily munched on the sweet and slightly tart flavor of the pastry, he must have made some sort of satisfied sound because Penny’s father and Penny both giggled. He didn’t care though; he had his danish and dang, it was good. He could already feel his energy renewing as the sugary goodness filled his body. Will glanced at Penny, who was smiling as usual and he did something so out of the blue, she stared at him with wide eyes and a miraculously slacked-jaw.

Will smiled right back.

* * *

Will thought everything would go back to normal after he had his danish and smiled like a fool at Penny, but he was wrong. Very wrong.

After finishing the scrumptious lemon danish, he went to place the glass plate back on the counter. Penny’s father said something and Penny laughed, distracting him for a second—seriously, that girl’s laugh was hypnotic. The plate slipped from his grasp, supposedly right above the counter, but Will was a centimeter off and the plate fell to the floor with a sudden, horrible crash.

Silence filled the bakery as everyone stopped to stare at Will, whose ears started burning with shame and embarrassment, while his neck about disappeared into his shoulders. He glanced at the other customers, his head still tucked in tight to his body. All but one of the customers were gazing at him confused; the lone older woman glared at him with distaste and muttered something about “reckless teenagers” as she grasped her cane tight between her weathered fingers.

Before Will could even consider bending down and cleaning up his mess, Penelope was already crouched down in front of him, a broom and dustpan magically appearing in her hands, sweeping up the broken pieces of the plate.

“Sorry,” he whispered, his newfound energy suddenly vanishing. He went to help clean up what he could when Penelope stood up to throw the pieces away. His chin connected painfully with Penelope’s head, the two repelled away from each other like magnets.

“Ouch!” Penelope clutched her head and winced from the pain. Will was flat on his back, the impact rendered him motionless for a few seconds. Penelope crawled over to him, careful of the newly scattered glass pieces and leaned over, blocking the ceiling fan from his field of vision.

“Are you okay?”

Will blinked several times, trying to clear his head after the collision. When his eyes adjusted, he noticed Penelope gazing down at him, with furrowed eyebrows and concerned eyes darting between making eye contact with him to his injured chin. His heart made a violent flip and he shot up in shock, only to smack his forehead on Penelope’s chin. The two were once again blasted apart from each other, both groaning in pain.

Penelope’s mother and father were standing around the corner, glancing between each other and the two groaning teenagers.

“I’ll get some ice,” Penelope’s father replied, patting his wife comfortingly on the arm as he hurried off.

“I’ll call an ambulance,” Penelope’s mother said, wringing her hands and disappearing into the back.

Penelope mumbled something about the two of them being fine, but her grumbles were lost in the chaos as the other customers came over to inspect the scene.

Will was still clutching his forehead, pain throbbing in multiple places on his face. He peeked through a slit in his eye to see the older woman glaring at him with malice. Her eyes seemed to hiss ungrateful brat! to him. He closed his eye as pain stabbed down his forehead. What an exhausting day, he thought.

Penelope’s father returned with four ice packs, two for each of the kids. He tried to lighten the mood with a joke about how this would be the perfect opportunity for romance when his wife elbowed him in the ribs.

After applying two packs of ice on their throbbing lumps, Will and Penelope sat awkwardly across from each other in the back area, the customers once more enamored with the bakery’s goods.

“Sorry,” Will mumbled, his jaw stiff from the collision. His fingers curled around the ice packs, the ice crinkling as he adjusted the placement of the pack on his chin.

Penelope glanced up at Will’s comment, huffed in amusement, and gave Will a quick smirk. “You didn’t do it on purpose, so it’s okay.” Her chin was red from the impact, the extreme cold of the ice pack turning it even redder. The other pack rested on the top of her head as Penelope glanced at the customers over the counter. She made eye contact with the older woman, who had the audacity to glare at Penelope.

Penelope sighed and readjusted the ice pack on her head.

Will’s gaze flickered to Penelope, resting on those eyes that always mesmerized him. When she looked up, though, he shifted away, unable to meet her gaze out of shame.

“Did you like the danish?” she asked quietly, carefully trying to bring him out of his mortified shell. Penelope had a way with him, always able to make him talk when no one else could.

Will nodded, then realized she might not be looking at him. “Yeah, it was good.” After a pause, “Thanks.”

Penelope smiled at him and he turned to face her again. When he stared into her eyes, his heart did another flip and he made his second rash decision of the day. Maybe it was the lack of proper energy saving in the past thirty minutes, or the double head injuries that gave Will this sudden confidence as he asked, refusing to look away from Penelope’s strangely beautiful eyes, “Do you want to go on a date with me?”

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