A droplet of bright-orange sweetness forms atop the curvature of the frosted treat. Dew, speckles the whitish half-frozen, half-melted exterior, then slithers down my hand. My eyes follow.
In anticipation of its zesty juiciness, my mouth waters. I gulp and lick my lips before it dribbles to the ground. The pink of my tongue pokes and laps at the single strand and an explosion of rich and tart flavors erupt at the back of my expecting throat.
My lids flutter.
Ejecting the warm gust in my lungs, I ran the back of my hand across the beads of perspiration collecting at my brow. It is a scorching, one-hundred and three degrees, and my body’s cooking from the outside in. My salvation? The flavored ice sliding down my throat.
Confining the popsicle between my cheeks, I suck and nibble. The citrus scent invades my nostrils and with it, the memories of bike rides, street friends, and Summer days past dusk hours, not so long ago. One side of my mouth curves up and I dive for seconds. The gluey substance drags through my digits slipping to the cemented walkway. When it hits the concrete it fizzes and sizzles.
Relishing in the juice on my thumb, I grin as if no one is watching. The humid breeze toils my hair out of my ponytail. With clean fingers, I swat loose strands lashing my face.
My head snaps towards the voice, it’s Alex. My orbs widen. Lean, tan legs languidly carry his athletic body to where I sit on my porch. His dirty-blond curls bounce with every step he takes. A dimpled smile and a wink come at me from a few feet away and my breath catches somewhere in my windpipe. I give him a toothy smirk and I know my eyes reflect stars.
“Are you planning on sharing, or ... will you eat that all by yourself?”
Watching him approach through narrowed eyes, buzzing bees at the pit of my stomach causes me to quiver and I shift in my seat. The forgotten popsicle dripping away to nothingness in my hand. The goo runs over my palm and my jaw opens in shock. Red tinges my face and fire sting the back of my neck, forehead, and chest.
The gibberish spewing out causes me to curse under my breath. It’s not quite as sexy as it sounded in my mind. To prevent further damage, I bite my lip.
Notes of coconut and salt ooze from his body. Spellbound, I watch him plop beside me as he giggles. There isn’t an inch to spare between us, at either side. A soft gasp of air leaves me and I blink a few too many times adjusting to his familiarity. The smooth material of his baby-blue T-shirt touches my skin, I stiffen holding my breath and roll my shoulders back.
I must escape his nearness.
“Y-you want one?” I look behind me, my waist turned halfway. “I have more in the fridge.”
His sight glides lazily from my face to my hand and back up. Then points at the one I held with his lips. “I’ll take a bite off that one if you don’t mind. I love orange.”
My brain goes a mile a minute, and, my intelligence and voice get lost in the randomness of it all. But I agree while I push the melting lolly towards him. The honey of his pupil's dance and his hand holds mine steady while his teeth crunch into the ice.
His touch is sweltering hot.
Closing his eyes he savors the flavors. “Mm, that’s good.”
I gave a wordless nod and engross myself in the uninteresting birch stick I held. He sends a beguiling look my way.
“How’s Summer treating ya? Been busy?”
“Not too much,” I retort licking the side of my hand. His eyes follow my tongue and I blush again. “Working four days a week. You?”
“At the beach, most of the time.”
I glance at his pink, freckled cheeks and resist the urge to stretch an arm and touch them. Instead, I opt for a dull, “I can tell.”
He smiles. “You don’t go much, do you? Why?”
Flapping a hand I brush his comment off with a generic reply. “I get home late the days I work. The others I spend doing—other stuff.” Nothing. I do absolutely nothing. “You’re lucky you give classes down at the shore.” I pointed at the word instructor on his shirt.
“Yep. I am.”
“What is it you teach? Scuba?” Since high school, I know he surfs.
He gave me an odd look but went with the flow. “Surf. Do you—ride the waves, Olivia?
For all things sacred! Must he pronounce my name like that? With a little breathiness and a pause that could drive a girl insane?
“Um, no. I don’t. Love the ocean though.”
With an earnest look, he studies my face. I pretend not to notice. I play with my fingers and the darn sticky stick in my hands.
“You know? Late afternoons and dusk at the coast are nice too.”
And sensuous ... No, thank you. “Yeah. They are. Sunsets are my favorite.” I can’t stop fidgeting.
“I do too. Many evenings I lie on the sand looking over the horizon. That glowing ball," he points at the sun, "reflecting over the tide is breathtaking.”
“I didn’t take you for a romantic.” Taken aback, my eyes widen.
He shrugs. “Beauty is beauty. It has nothing to do with romance.”
Oh, but it does. At that moment, I fell deeper for him. Damn it.
“You should come. Tomorrow morning. We’ll be there around nine.”
“A few friends from college.”
"Oh? I’m not sure I’d want to impose—”
“It could be us if it makes you feel uncomfortable. We have nothing set in stone, my buddies and I. We didn’t plan much.”
“Ha! Did you or not?”
Drawing a mouthful he took his time to collect his thoughts. “I—wasn’t sure you’d say yes if it was you and me,” his lids lowered. “I assumed you’d be more comfortable if more people were there.”
He begins to nod but then chucks. “You’re right. That was stupid.” He made a face.
Like my popsicle melted, he’d done the same to my heart.
We share a look. One of those where you have a feeling the floor has disappeared from beneath you, and you thank your lucky stars you’re sitting down.
“Well, it so happens I am off tomorrow.” I challenge myself to be bolder. He’d been brave, why shouldn’t I?
A deafening silence follows those words. They meant nothing, and also everything.
“How?” I whisper.
“I’ve seen you around on Thursdays.”
I wrinkle my nose. “You have?”
It was his turn to flush. “Yes. And, Sundays and Tuesdays.”
His eyes lock with mine and I could hear the drumming of my heart in my ears. When had Alexander said more than five words to me before?
For years, he walked to and from school in front of my house and all I got was rare muttered hellos or no-eye-contact waves of the hand. What had changed? Why was he different? Was it college that changed him?
Sitting up straighter he clears his throat. “Do you wanna hang out at the beach tomorrow morning—with me?”
“Sure. Sounds fun.”
Playfully he bumps me with his shoulder and rises to leave. “Good.”
I don't want him to go. Not yet.
“Do you want to share another popsicle?”
His eyes brighten. “Yeah.”
This time, it was my turn to bump him playfully with an elbow. “Good. What flavor?”
With a simper, I nod. “I will.”