A Moment To Frame
By Arpad Nagy
Sandy De Luca was a sunshine girl. Cradling a mug of coffee in her small hands, Sandy stood, her eyes closed and a smile on her face basking in the heat of spring's first kiss. Like the tulip bulbs breaking the softened soil, Sandy felt the call to shed the sleep of hibernation and sprout into the new season. It was late April, and winter's chilly fingers had finally receded over the mountains. The morning sun beaming through the window warmed the room and her spirits.
Stepping into her closet, Sandy ignored the bulky fleece sweaters and the thick woolen cardigans. She pushed the winter wardrobe back along the track, piling them into the corner in the affirmation that the days of hiding beneath her winter wardrobe were over. Left with space to breathe, her collection of pretty dresses dangled, waiting for their turn to sway in the sun.
The bronze-on-white, wandering midi dress was perfect for today. With a side cut running to mid-thigh and the hemline touching below the knee, the dress would dance around her bare legs beneath. Sandy would look casual but chic with an adorable tie-waist accent and the always cute and trendy button-front style. With her long copper hair and olive skin, she would light the torch of beauty.
Zach Emmerson walked through the grocery store on a late Sunday afternoon. The entire weekend, two days of solid work had left him without time to replenish his fridge and pantry for the week ahead.
The late 30s bachelor meandered through the aisles, dropping groceries into his cart as he checked off items from his menu of meals to see him through to another weekend.
When he rolled his cart around the corner from the pasta aisle to the lane for breakfast items, he caught a glimpse of a woman's shapely bare calves below a white dress, her feet in flat, white shoes exiting the far end of the lane.
It was a brief flash, nothing more than a moment, but it drew his attention like a moth to a flame. He received the unintentional signal sent, triggering a primitive response; Zach felt compelled to see more of the woman wearing the white dress. Glancing up, he caught her profile as she paused before making the turn.
The woman wore a small nose with a slight rise at the bridge. Her lips, a soft pink that shone with gloss. With her straight, brown hair tucked behind a dainty ear, Zach spied an earring jeweled in purple and the shape of a butterfly or a flower. Taking in the sight of her slight, soft jawline and a naked, elegant neck, Zach's chest heaved with a long, deep breath.
He hastily pulled the few items he needed off the shelf and dropped them into his cart before heeling around and making for the end of the aisle. If he were lucky, by the time he turned the corner and entered the adjacent corridor, she would be there. Zach's anticipation was high, already searching for the correct smile he should be wearing and words; clever, casual, but funny, he should say to her.
He made the turn, and halfway down the aisle stood a woman in contemplation, holding a small box of tea in each hand. She was 70-years-old if she was a day. There was no one else. Zach had lost the woman in the dress before he could find her.
In search of her, Zach made a casual loop around to the far end of the store. Past the milk and eggs, down the chips and snack aisle, then skirted by the pharmacy, but his mystery girl was gone, vanished like an apparition.
Defeated, Zach went through the checkout, spoke cheerily about the nice weather with the girl behind the Plexiglas barrier, then gathered his groceries and left the store haunted by the feeling that he missed an opportunity.
It was mid-June, and the town was bright with flowerbeds in bloom and trees wearing skirts of green; the promise of a hot summer was forecast. Zach had returned from a weekend in the wild, seeking trout to tickle the end of his line. His first excursion of the season, fly fishing a favorite, mostly secret lake, was a productive one, filling both his net and soul.
After sorting out the camping gear, stowing his fishing equipment, and cleaning the truck, he was ready to relax and catch up on a TV series or two. Peering in the fridge and then the freezer, Zach sighed and resigned himself to the fact that he'd need to make a trip to the grocers.
Deciding on a light dinner, Zach opted for a robust salad followed by a pot of steamed mussels, which he intended to sauté in garlic, fennel, diced, fresh tomatoes with a touch of Thai basil and finish with white wine and cream. He gathered the necessary ingredients and then snuck an indulgence for afterward, a guilty pleasure of BBQ chips and a jar of mild salsa con queso cheese for dipping.
At the front of the junk food aisle, leaning into the cooler over the eggs, carefully inspecting the yogurt offerings, was the woman he saw months ago in the white dress with the great legs.
Though he'd spied her only briefly on that spring day, Zach knew without a doubt this was her. She looked lovely that day, in that simple, breezy dress and her summery slip-on shoes, but today the woman was devastating. It wasn't one thing in particular that caught Zach's fancy; it was all of her hitting him all at once.
The straight brown hair he'd seen lying between her shoulder blades was now in a waterfall of bronze curls, waves, and swirls. Instead of the casual, long white dress with the copper motif, she wore a light summer dress with a hue between a bright red and deep pink.
Slender, tanned, and toned bare arms led his eyes down to her slim wrists corralled in hoops of silver bracelets with bangles on one and a thin silver watch with a purple face on the other. Her legs, which looked terrific, ran down to a pair of dainty feet in exquisite, peach-colored, peep-toe, short stiletto heels.
Her dress was a show all on its own. In a shade of peach slightly darker than her heels, the tube dress hung with crimped frills at the top of her thighs, the hem ending above the knee. Looking alluring and adorable was a back-knot tied at the center of her bust.
If you could pour everything about a woman that was cute, sexy, sweet, lively, fun, and enchanting into a glass, then God had filled hers to the rim.
Zach's observations and evaluation of the woman took less than three seconds. Another second after that, Zach knew he had to speak to her.
"Hi," Zach said as he parked his cart next to her and reached for a carton of eggs.
"Hello," the woman replied.
Zach sighed heavily.
"Is everything okay?" she asked, "Or did you get a bad carton?"
"Nah, it's not that. Sorry,” he said. “It’s you.”
The woman wrinkled her nose and drew her head back slightly at the remark.
"Excuse me?" she said.
Zach almost passed out from the level of adorable her expression held. He forged ahead.
"Look, I don't like to criticize people," he began, "especially someone I've not met, but I've got to tell you that you're causing problems," Zach explained with a fanning gesture of his hand towards the lady's appearance.
"How's that, exactly?" she asked, straightening her posture and regarding the man with a quizzical expression.
"It's not your fault," Zach answered. He didn't have any clear construct to his conversation with her, but he gauged that what followed would be alright. He felt a smooth stream of words rushing to get out.
"The thing is," Zach continued, "that husbands and boyfriends are shopping with their partners in tow, are already in trouble because of…all that," he said, pointing at her entirety.
The woman smiled then laughed, "What are you talking about?" clearly entertained by his animated comments.
Zach blinked quickly and saw a board of green lights in his mind's eye.
"It might not be easy to hear, but it's true. Didn’t notice the tension in the air? Wives' and girlfriends' threat radars lit up as soon they walked in here. You're dangerous.”
She quickly raised her index finger to her lips to cover her amused grin.
In fact, not to sound rude, but it's almost inconsiderate to walk in here looking as gorgeous as you are." Zach explained.
The woman blushed, and her smile deepened.
"You're ridiculous," she said to him, then offered her hand, "Sandy. Sandy De Luca."
“Hello Sandy,” he greeted her while taking her hand in his. It felt like a feather, soft, airy, and all-girl.
Smiling, Zach returned the introduction, "Zach Emmerson."
"I'm sure you're either returning from or going to a wedding or a gala because you look absolutely stunning, but try and think of us common folk when you come down to mingle with the peasants," Zach joked.
Reluctantly, he let go of her fingers. Then, setting the eggs in his cart, Zach wrapped his hands around the cart handle and turned to continue on his way.
"Well, I've interrupted you long enough and probably did a fair job of embarrassing myself now, so I'll say ‘so long’ and hope the rest of your day is as great as you just made mine."
Sandy laughed again and, shaking her head at Zach, gave a flick of her fingers in a wave. "You're terrible!" she said.
"I'm the worst," he agreed with a roll of his eyes, then stepped away from her.
Sandy was chuckling to herself, her eyes tracking Zach as he trundled away.
But then he stopped.
For a moment or two, she watched him, standing in the center of the aisle, his head bent down, looking into his cart and seemingly conversing with himself.
When he turned and steered himself and the cart back toward her—she smiled.
She thought Zach was bold but cute and funny, and Sandy was a woman that welcomed compliments instead of shying away from them.
She sauntered toward him, meeting him halfway on his way back to her.
"Did I make you forget to get yogurt?" Sandy asked him.
"You made me forget what day of the week it is," he answered without missing a beat.
"Ohmigosh! You are terrible!" Sandy exclaimed.
Zach nodded, "I'm afraid so," he confirmed.
"I want to ask you something," he said, "and it's definitely going to sound odd. Bordering on creepy, but I'm going for it."
"Mm-kay?" she answered, curious and slightly worried.
"I've seen you once before," Zach began, "in the spring. I saw you in here for a second. You were wearing a white dress with some bronze designs on it. You had on these little white shoes, your hair was different, it was straight, and you wore small purple butterfly earrings. Then you turned the corner and disappeared.
She was staring at him incredulously. Sandy knew the dress and the exact day she wore it. She remembered feeling rather pretty that day, that first warm spring day.
Zach held her gaze, then said, “I thought about you all the way home and wasn’t even sure you were real.”
A pause of silence lay between them.
Sandy shifted nervously on her heels and took a half step back. Crossing her chest with her left arm, she cupped her right elbow with a ring-free left hand and turned slightly toward Zach.
"What did you want to ask me?" Sandy replied.
"Well, I might never see you again. It happens. I was hoping you'd allow me to take a picture of you.”
Sandy felt a wave of electric chills pass over her body, "who is this guy?" She wondered.
“I know it's strange.” Zach said apologetically, “I've never even thought about asking a woman I just met for a photo, but…." shying away from concluding his sentence Zach let it hang.
"But—what?” she asked him, wanting to hear more of his words.
Zach cleared his throat, looked directly into Sandy's pretty blue eyes, and told her. "But, you're the prettiest woman I've ever met in my life. I could look at you all day long and never tire of seeing you."
“Geesh! Zach!" she squeaked in response, her cheeks hot with color.
Zach could only shrug his shoulders at his words and her reaction. He didn't know if it was good or bad.
"Would you like me in front of the dairy cooler or the shelf of potato chips?" she asked. Her eyes sparkled, her smile beaming.
The boy was doing his best to help. He was very excited that Nonna was coming to live with them because he loved his Nonna so much. She was so nice to him, and they always cooked together on her visits. Last time she showed him how to make the little hats from pasta, pinching and crimping them into pointy bonnets. Then, after boiling them and putting them into tomato sauce, he and Nonna pinched little leaves of basil for the feathers in the caps.
But they weren't cooking today; they were bundling up her stuff in old newspapers and packing them in crates. His job was to wrap up the pictures in paper and carefully place them in the box with the spongy white puffs.
Tilting his head sideways, the boy stared curiously at the picture in his hand. It was odd because it didn't seem to fit with the others he had wrapped up.
All the others had Nonna and Papa at different places; their cabin, camping in front of rivers and lakes, and places with old statues and water fountains. This picture made him giggle. It was funny—Nonna was standing in front of a stack of zesty cheese Dorito's, pretzels, and chips!
The boy took the frame to his grandmother.
"Yes, Samuel?" she answered, setting down a colorful ceramic bowl on the table. "What is it, darling?"
"All the pictures I put away in the boxes are special places with you and Papa. This one is just a picture of you in a store. Was this a special place too?" he asked.
Mrs. Sandy Emmerson bent down and looked at the picture held by her grandson.
"Oh yes, Samuel," she answered, “It certainly was.”
"This was a very special place. It's exactly where I first met your grandfather," she explained, taking a long look at the picture taken so long ago. Her eyes watered at the memory and how her late husband had declared that the day was a moment to frame.
"Didn't I look so pretty then?" she asked the young boy.
The boy looked up at his Nonna and smiled.
"Nonna, I think you're the prettiest girl I've ever seen."