I was in a rush, cutting through the lighting section at Home Depot when I saw her. Through the chandeliers and flushed mounts, the recessed fixtures casting a cozy glow to her cheeks, she saw me and smiled. I quickly forgot where I was or what I was doing. I nearly took out a box of ceiling fans.
In my experience, it was rare that a pretty girl smiles so eagerly at a stranger. Perhaps they assume one might get the wrong impression. Maybe they knew a professor, a coach, a stepdad or plumber who took the smile as a precursor. Either way, the attractive ones usually take caution with their smiles. Come to think of it, the unattractive ones do as well, but for other reasons entirely.
But this smile, in the wash of track lighting, it was refreshing and heartfelt, and apparently dangerous. Before I knew I’d lost control of my cart and crashed into hers.
“Pardon me, I’m so sorry” I said, flustered and blushing. Her eyes widened with her laughter, a Hollywood laugh I’d only seen through a haze of smoke in black and white pictures onscreen. One that promised good times ahead. I introduced myself. Her smile remained intact.
“Hi Charles. I’m Sara.”
Sara, her name a whisper. She shook her head, said she was looking for desk lamp. She was tired of oppressive overhead light in the guest room, so bright and draining, you know? She spoke with her hands. I nodded, following her gaze as it roamed the galaxy of lights above. People passed, back and forth, shopping for rugs, lumber, nails, power tools, doors, and paint. But we stood, illuminated, under all that candlepower, smiling at each other.
I got myself together, guided her towards the desk lamps. No LED’s for Sara, she liked the green, bankers table lamps. I wondered what she did at her desk. I saw her perched gracefully, writing children’s books. Then she asked what I did for a living. I realized I wasn’t wearing my apron.
“Oh, well, a little of this and that.” I wasn’t ashamed, not really. Besides, I don’t think it would’ve mattered to her. Sure, I liked what I did, but I wasn’t young nor old, the ages most people found acceptable to roam the aisles of a box store thirty hours a week.
She cocked her brow. That smile again. “You’re a man of mystery, is that it?”
Her sandy blonde hair curled like a ribbon down her back. Gorgeous hair that played in the lighting. I shuffled my feat, tried to tame my heart, which was drifting someplace else, snagged in her shiny curls. I saw us in the park at dusk, under a lamp. Or catching a ball game at night. Maybe at a show, in the theater, chatting with our eyes amongst the buzz of the crowd as we waited for the lights to dim and the show to start. Each moment together loaded with anticipation. I stumbled to say something when she turned.
A tall man strolled up the aisle. Broad, confident, his shoulders square and owning the lights. He looked from her to me and then set his arm around Sara.
“Hey babe,” he said, eyeing the bankers lamp. Sara’s eyes lit up, her smile followed her gaze, leaving me for him. He snapped his fingers then pointed at my chest. “Hey, Charles, right?” He glanced at Sara. “This guy is the best, he helped me find that bracket thing I was looking for. Last weekend?”
Sara nodded, getting it now. The lights stung my skin as beads of sweat formed on my forehead. She looked at the box in her cart. “Yeah, he was just helping me with the lamp.”
The man looked around, rocked back on his feet. “All right, well let’s get going. We’re going to miss the show.”
Sara tapped the box, smiled at me. “Thanks Charles.”
I watched them get down the aisle, his arm around her shoulders. Under the lights, they were all smiles and love. I went to find my apron.
*From the Writer’s Digest Prompt – https://www.writersdigest.com/prompts/well-that-was-embarrassing