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American Romance

Percy Phillips ate her lunch every day by herself in the park next to the pharmacy where she worked. On cold days, she tucked her frizzy hair into a wool cap and wrapped a hand-knitted scarf around her throat. On warm days, she held her ham sandwich in her left hand and an umbrella in her right to ward off the sun because of what her father told her as a child. 

“Freckles look like tiny chocolate chips,” he’d say to her before tucking her in each night, kissing each one sprinkled across her nose. 

One day that was neither too cold nor too hot, a man about her age sat down next to her.

“Expecting rain?” The stranger said, looking first at the cloudless blue sky then back to the umbrella firmly grasped in Percy’s hand. His voice was so calm and gentle that it didn’t occur to Percy that he might be teasing her. 

“No, you see my dad always counted—” Percy stopped mid-sentence as she noticed the plethora of light and dark brown spots on her bench mate’s face.

“He counted…?” the man asked, smiling knowingly.

“He counted umbrellas, of course,” Percy replied, without considering how silly the statement sounded. She blushed, her face matching the warmth of the man’s smile. He wasn’t handsome in the traditional sense. His nose was crooked and his ears were small, but his chocolate chip brown eyes were intelligent and kind. 

“I’m Philip,” he said, extending his right hand. In his left hand, he held onto the handles of a large picnic basket. 

She laughed.

“Do you think Philip is a funny name?”

“Oh no,” she replied, now blushing deep enough to obscure her freckles. “Your name is my name. I’m Percy Phillips. And your name is Philip. It’s quite a coincidence.”

“Speaking of coincidences, were you stood up, too?” he asked wryly. “I was supposed to meet someone here for lunch this afternoon. A friend of a friend. Or rather, an acquaintance of an acquaintance. Now I’m feeling rather stupid.” 

“Stupid? Hardly, I think you’re quite brave.” 

“Brave? How so?”

“Well, first of all, you were willing to take a chance. My dad said you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Percy answered, acting as if her ham sandwich were a basketball. She pantomimed a fadeaway jumper. “I think your acquaintance’s acquaintance is the stupid one.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“You said first of all. Doesn’t that mean there’s a secondly to follow?”

“Oh, of course,” Percy continued. “Secondly, you were brave enough to sit next to a crazy woman with an open umbrella on a sunny day.” 

“I just assumed you knew something I didn’t—like there would be a solar flare storm or an alien invasion later today.” 

“The only thing I know is that my ham sandwich seems far less appealing than whatever is in your basket.” 

Percy surprised herself at her bravado, but Philip made frivolous small talk seem less frivolous and small. On the contrary, she found herself hanging on his every word.

“I’ll make a deal with you, Miss Phillips,” Philip said. “If you can shoot your ham sandwich into that trash can from this bench, I’ll share my picnic basket with you.”

“And if I miss?”

“You’re not going to miss, Miss.”

“No, I believe you’re right. I’m not,” Percy responded, tossing the rest of her sandwich into the trash can across the path without the slightest hesitation.

The rest of Percy’s lunch hour passed too quickly for either of the former strangers. Over gourmet cheeses and between sips of sparkling cider, she learned that Philip was an engineer—not the kind of engineer who used slide rules, but the kind who drove trains. During that same conversation, Phillip learned that Percy’s father had passed away just three short weeks prior. 

“This has been the first time I’ve smiled since,” she said quietly when he handed her a homemade chocolate chip cookie. 

When the picnic basket was emptied, Philip stood and held Percy’s umbrella aloft while she gathered her things. 

“Thank you for a wonderful lunch,” she said, standing, reluctant to leave. “I need to head back to work.”

“Well, I suppose it’s time for me to finish running my errands,” he said quietly. “May I walk you back to work?” 

“Of course,” she smiled. “I work at the pharmacy. Right over there—” She pointed behind them. When she returned to look at his face, she noted a deep sadness flicker across his eyes. 

“Well, I actually need to drop by the pharmacy. It’s one of my stops,” he mumbled, his eyes downcast, averting her gaze.

“It’s a wonderful shop,” Percy said, touching his arm. “It’s much more than a pharmacy. We sell groceries, craft beers, and even some household items…” 

Percy was well aware that she was panicking. His somber look stopped her mid-sentence.

Without a word, he pulled out several prescriptions from his wallet and showed them to her. Cytoxan. Trexall. Temodar.

Up to this point, everything about her lunch in the park had been unfamiliar to Percy. She wasn’t the kind of girl who men found attractive. She seldom talked to anyone but customers. But now she was holding a few slips of paper she knew too well. 

 The prescriptions were for medications she had filled many times for her own father. Her brow furrowed as she calculated the dosage, a grim frown growing on her face as clearly as she felt Philip’s stare. 

In an instant, her frown was replaced by a wide smile.

“This is fantastic, Phillip. I will fill your chemotherapy meds the moment I get behind the counter.” She turned to walk spryly to the pharmacy, Philip and his basket trailing close behind. “I’m so happy.” 

“You are?” Phillip replied, genuinely surprised. “Why are you happy?” 

“Because these prescriptions need to be refilled every seven days. Do you know what that means?” She stopped suddenly, turning nose-to-nose with him. 

Phillip grinned. 

“It means you have to come see me every week. That is if you don’t want to see me more often than that.”

"I'd like that." Phillip responded, "I'd like that a lot."

"Good," Percy said, emphatically, leaning forward and kissing Phillip once on his freckle sprinkled nose. "Well what do you know, my dad was right?"

"How so," Phillip asked, trying to suppress the red rush to his cheeks.

"He always said freckles looked like chocolate chips, I guess I had to learn on my own that they also tasted as sweet. Now are you coming or what?" She said as she turned back towards the pharmacy."

"Of course, Percy Phillips. I'd follow you anywhere." Phillip answered marching smartly behind her, truly anticipating whatever would come next.




August 09, 2023 12:48

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1 comment

Thom With An H
18:52 Jan 13, 2024

Bravo

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