Is that him?
I nearly drop the loaf of bread, on its way from the shelf to my cart. Time stops as I inspect the man halfway down the aisle. His hair is just as red and curly as I remember. He looks a little more muscular and less scrawny from the last time I saw him. Goosebumps raise on my arms as I think about those hands that used to stroke my face and wrap around my back. A red t-shirt matches his hair.
Red was always his favorite color.
Red was the color of the dress I wore to my first prom with him. He couldn’t stop staring at me, his hazel eyes sparkling in the disco lighting of the dance. He said the red dress complimented my caramel skin beautifully.
Red was the color of his face--as red as his hair--when he first asked me out. He was super nervous, but I smiled, admiring the courage. Before you ask if I said yes, just think for a second. It should be obvious.
Red was the color of the vintage shoes I took swing dancing on one of our dates. We danced and laughed for over an hour, when suddenly he pulled my hand, nearly running out the door with me trailing behind. The silver moon and diamond stars watched in anticipation as he guided me towards a secluded corner on the side of the building. Crickets and giggling were all I could hear as the ivy trellis sheltered us. I was suddenly aware of how close he stood to me, the starlight twinkling in his gorgeous eyes. Our lips met and fire exploded. Red fire shot through my lips and down my neck and back, through my arms and fingers that found his hair.
We both forgot sunscreen when we went swimming that summer. The sun burned our skin red as we swam, hiked, and biked through those months. When the scorching days turned into cool nights, we snuggled and whispered to each other under the stars. His skinny arms wrapped all the way around my body, pulling me close to his chest so I could smell his cologne through the red t-shirt.
The bonfire popped and crackled as we had our first argument. I called in an early night, not wanting to say something I’d regret. The next morning, he biked five miles to my house on his red bike. We both apologized and I wrapped my arms around his neck, burying my face into his shirt, sweaty from biking. I didn’t care.
My eyes were puffy and red when he told me the college he would be attending. It was not the one I chose. That was the moment I realized I would never find another one of him. We were both only 18, but mature enough to understand what I’d be parted from. Our love was much deeper than the average teenage romance. I begged him not to go, yanking his arm towards me as he turned to walk away. Our lips turned rough, angry from the prospect of separation. My legs wrapped around his waist as my salty tears fell on our lips. He finally untangled himself from me, slowly closing the door behind him without looking back.
Red was the lipstick color I chose for graduation. I made up my mind to tell him I would attend the college he chose. It was my second favorite choice, but if I could be with him, it would be worth every sacrifice. The ceremony was over, pictures were taken of the graduates with friends and family, and I searched desperately for him, some faces confused at my speed with my blue gown streaming behind me. I spotted his red hair in my peripheral vision first, and I whirled around, ready to call out his name--
The words choked in my throat. The crowds melted in my eyes, the clamor of celebration muted. All I could see was him pressing Perrie--my best friend--against the side of the graduation stage, passionately kissing her. Her fingers ran through his curly red hair, her other hand pulling him closer to her body. I couldn’t watch anymore. Hot tears streamed down my face as I ran back through the sea of people, pumping my legs even faster that time.
I force my paralyzed arm to move, placing the bread in the front of my cart. I pull my cart backwards, trying to stealthily make a u-turn before he could see me, but it’s too late.
“Molly?” I stare at the handles of my cart, pretending not to have heard. The wheels squeak as I push it down the aisle, away from him. I hear footsteps running behind me, louder and louder until a hand grabs my arm.
“Molly, is that you?” I purse my lips and slowly lift my gaze to meet his searching, hazel eyes.
I force a pained smile. “Hi, George.” My voice comes out sickly sweet. Quickly looking away again, I push my cart forward with more vigor than necessary.
“Molly, wait!” I stop and turn around again, my patience waning.
“What? What do you want?”
His eyebrows lift in surprise at the sharpness of my tone. “I-I just wanted to see how you were doing, and if you want to, maybe, go out sometime.” His ears turn red.
“Thanks for the offer, but I have a boyfriend.”
“Eleven years have passed, and you’re still mad at your high school sweetheart for going to a different college than you?”
“No, I’m mad because eleven years ago my high school sweetheart cheated on me with my best friend.” George’s whole face slowly morphed into a tomato red.
“Yeah, I saw you two making out after graduation,” I answered his unspoken question. “And I wonder how long you two were together before that.”
“We-we weren’t dating anymore,” he nervously said, absently running his hand through his hair.
“We hadn’t officially broken up, and I was going to tell you I would change colleges for you. So you still broke my heart.” My anger burned red, ringing in my ears. I didn’t wait for a response, briskly walking away.
I load my groceries in my car, breathing slower as my anger fades. I’m in a happy relationship now. Why should I dwell on high school grudges?
Sighing, I swing myself into the driver’s seat and slam the car door closed. Before I can put the keys in the ignition, something forces my head back against the headrest. I choke for air, but to no avail, my fingers clawing at the thin wire pressed against my neck.
My glance finds the rear view mirror, snatching a glimpse of curly red hair poking out beneath a black beanie, and hazel eyes staring back at me above an equally dark bandana. In an instant, everything becomes clear. George finding me in the grocery store wasn’t a coincidence. He had joined the underground assassination squad, who finally uncovered my secret identity.
His eyes flash with anger as spots dance in my vision. I see my nails covered in blood--taken from my own neck in panic--before I lose consciousness.
How ironic, I think, the world around me fading. The last color I see is his favorite . . .