I originally posted this story back in 2016, and am revamping it in May 2020, thanks to having a little bit of time during the coronavirus pandemic.
A brief explainer: My daughter has this cool blog revolving completely around lemons. Since I draw lemons about as well as a piece of burnt toast, I thought I'd write a little romantic story with lemons in it as my humble contribution to her collection.
She had a brief—extremely brief—impression of a stream of pale yellow liquid rising in the air, sparkling in the light, and beyond them, a pair of alarmed brown eyes behind black-rimmed glasses.
Then the coldness hit her. A tsunami of tangy sweetness, although as she discovered shortly later, it wasn't actually a tsunami, just a couple of tall paper cups of iced lemonade poured directly down her front.
It even splashed right into her face when one cup rocketed upward for some reason, causing her to rear back, coughing and blinking madly at the stinging in her eyes. Reflex made her hands fly up to her face and wipe the liquid off, which caused her arm to loosen its grip around the paper bag she held against her chest, and she felt the now sopping wet bag go slack as its contents spilled out of a hole in its bottom.
"Oh, God," a voice choked. It was followed by the sound of several boys going from shocked silence, to snickering, to howls of laughter in three seconds flat.
She opened her eyes and stared at the trio of boys who were leaning against one another and clutching their stomachs. Before humiliation could engulf her in its fiery grip, she noticed that they weren't actually laughing at her. Instead, she followed the direction they were pointing at and looked down at her feet, where another boy was on his hands and knees gathering up the lemons that had burst out of the paper bag and gone rolling off in all directions. He hobbled away to chase one that had traveled across the supermarket hallway, pinballing into several people and a couple of shopping carts in the process.
He hurried back, holding several lemons in his arms, then stood before her, looking agonized. "Uh, I think I got them all. I'm sorry, I—wait, I know, don't go anywhere."
He rushed off again, only to come back with a canvas tote bag with the supermarket logo that he must have purchased from a cashier. "Here. This'll hold them," he said, handing her the bag that now contained her lemons. "I'm so sorry, miss. Are you okay? Heck, what am I saying? Of course you're not okay. I'm really sorry."
As if to echo the sentiment, one of the boys cried, "Oh, man, here we go. Keno strikes again, folks!"
"Dude, did you really just try to juggle that glass of lemonade like it was a soccer ball?"
"If only Coach were here to see your sweet, sweet moves."
At that, the boys laughed even harder. The boy named Keno threw them an evil look over his shoulder as he produced a handkerchief from his pocket and held it out to her. When she made no move to take it, he hesitated, then raised a hand to wipe her face himself.
This jolted her to action, and she raised both hands as if to ward him off. "Oh no, you don't have to. I'm okay. Really."
"Yeah, you've done enough already," one of his friends said.
She and Keno looked down at the yellow stain spreading rapidly across the front of her uniform blouse and skirt, both of them mentally ranking the situation on a scale of "okay" to "disaster" and apparently coming to the same conclusion. "I-it's fine. I can just wash this off in the bathroom," she said with much less conviction.
Keno was already shaking his head. "I've got a better idea. Will you dumbasses shut up and help?" he snapped at his friends. "Give me my bag, will you?"
One of the boys passed a sports bag over to him, and he crouched down and dug through it until he found what he was looking for. "Here," he said, handing her a wad of white cloth. "Wear this, so you won't have to go home in that wet blouse."
She shook out the cloth, which turned out to be his own white, button-down uniform shirt, the green logo on the front pocket declaring him a student of St. Anthony Academy, the nearby private school for boys. "Don't worry, it's clean. At least, it's a heck of a lot cleaner than that mess you're wearing," he said when he noticed her reluctance, then cringed a little when he realized what he'd said. "Which is, I know, totally my fault."
She glanced down again at her uniform and sighed. "All right. I'll go get changed."
Keno and the other boys were still there where she'd left them, still loitering in front of the lemonade stand, when she emerged from the restroom, wearing his shirt in place of her blouse. It hung loosely on her, which surprised her somewhat; she hadn't thought he was that much bigger than her. Then again, in all the confusion, she hadn't really gotten a good enough look at him to assess his size. Or anything else about him, really.
And another surprise: His shirt smelled…not bad at all. Boy sweat and soap and fabric softener and the outdoors. Kind of comforting, actually, and definitely better than the way her younger brother smelled nowadays.
She tried her best to repair the damage, rinsing her face, washing out the strands of hair that were starting to stiffen in clumps and wringing out her skirt. Her shoes and socks were also soaked and getting stickier by the minute, but there was nothing she could do about that at the moment. Luckily, her school bag had managed to escape the worst of the impromptu shower.
Really now, she thought to herself, there are worse things to get doused with in the middle of a supermarket while stalking your crush at his school.
Like…she scrunched her face up…beer or something. She couldn't stand the smell of beer. Or soy sauce. Wouldn't that be a nightmare to wash out? All dark and crusty and smelling like the fried tofu her older sister liked so much. Of course, there was the question of why anyone would be wandering around the supermarket holding two or three tall paper cups of soy sauce, but then who knew, right? Anything was possible.
Her eyes met Keno's while she was still several feet away, and she self-consciously combed her fingers through her damp, shoulder-length hair until she caught herself and lowered her hand. It was pointless, really. Oh well. No choice now but to go back to Sam and inform her that today's stalking mission had come to a premature end.
As she drew closer, Keno pushed his glasses up his nose and looked her over approvingly. "That's good. It fits you. And your skirt looks nearly dried out."
"Yes. I used the hand drier in the restroom," she said, smoothing down the hem of his shirt over her skirt, the bag of lemons sliding down her arm. "Thank you for lending me your shirt."
His shoulders tensed as he appeared to brace himself. At the same time his friends, who were buying new glasses of lemonade to replace the ones that had been spilled, turned to him and said: "Okay, we've got the drinks. Hurry up and let her yell at you already. We need to get these to the rest of the prancing ladies in A Squad."
Keno's left eye twitched, and he adjusted his glasses again in an unsuccessful attempt to hide his mortified expression. "I'm really sorry for crashing into you and spilling lemonade all over you, miss," he muttered without looking at his friends. "Like they said, you can go ahead and yell at me all you want."
"Why?" He blinked. "Because I spilled lemonade all over you."
She shook her head. "No, not that. Why lemonade? You guys are from the St. Anthony junior varsity soccer team, right? So why not sports drinks?"
Before he could answer, another one of his friends spoke up: "It's his idea of pissing off A Squad, who're still at practice. He's suicidal like that."
"It's not just that," Keno said quickly, then pushed his glasses up and gave her an embarrassed smile. "I happen to like lemonade."
"Look, miss, have you forgiven him yet? We really have to go."
Ignoring the others, she looked her fill of this boy standing in front of her. She had to tilt her head back to do it, as it turned out he was half a head taller than her. He had black hair with a hint of wave, and his eyes behind his black-rimmed glasses were russet brown, eyes that held a friendly light behind his sheepish demeanor.
He also had a slightly husky voice and the reflexes of an over-caffeinated kitten. And a smile like a shaft of sunlight in a darkened room. Oh dear. She hadn't been staring at him, had she?
"So, uh, have you?" he asked.
"Hmm?" Apparently she had, since she'd completely forgotten the question. "I'm sorry, have I what?"
"Forgiven me yet," he said patiently.
"Dude, screw this, we're going ahead."
"Yeah. And we'll tell them it was your fault their drinks were late."
They watched his friends walk off, with Keno's mouth hanging open and his hand reaching out as if he had been about to call out for them not to leave him, only to realize how futile it was. "Oh dear," she murmured. "Shouldn't you go with them?"
He turned back to her. "I won't go until you tell me. What can I do to make this up to you?"
"Oh. Well, since you asked, will you smile for me again?" She giggled at the startled look on his face. "I'm not making fun of you. I was just thinking you don't look half as bad when you smile."
"Half as bad—you mean I look entirely bad when I'm not smiling?" he said, looking as if he didn't know whether to be confused or irritated with her. It was an expression she saw often enough, usually on the faces of people who spent any length of time around her.
"Ah, never mind what I said." She shook her head, mortified by the unexpected direction she'd taken. "And no, you don't need to do anything. I'm not mad."
"Well, why not?"
She beamed. "Because you spilled lemonade on me."
He gaped at her.
"I happen to like lemonade, too," she went on happily. "I love lemons. I love the way they smell, how bright and yellow they are, and how they look like cute, fat little footballs. Don't you think so?"
"Uh, yeah," he agreed weakly.
"And I was thinking, it could've been so much worse, you know? Like, it could've been soy sauce or something. At least, I smell like my favorite fruit."
He blinked slowly, a strange expression passing over his face.
"So don't worry about it, okay? You better get back to your teammates before you get into trouble." She nodded to indicate the direction his teammates had disappeared to.
He burst out laughing, turning aside and covered his mouth with his fist to muffle his laughter. "Okay, I get it. Thanks for being so nice about this. Oh, and here." He brought his other hand up and opened it, revealing a lemon, one of the escapees from her bag. "It had rolled into a corner."
She took the lemon, considered it, then polished it against her shirt—or rather, his shirt—and handed it back to him. "You can have this one."
"Huh? What am I going to do with this?"
"Make lemonade with it," she said brightly.
He blinked again, then chuckled as he pocketed the lemon. "Yeah, I think I will. Make lemonade, I mean. Thanks, then. Bye."
"Oh! Wait a minute!"
He stopped in mid-turn and looked at her.
"How will I return your shirt to you?" she asked.
He grinned again. "Just come to the fence beside our soccer field during practice like you usually do. I'll find you."
She winced at that. Well, of course he'd seen her and Sam. Probably the whole team had seen them, despite their pathetic attempts at spy-like stealth. Hard not to notice two strange girls wearing a different school uniform lurking outside an all-boys school gawping at the soccer team as if they were zoo animals. "Okay then. Thank you," she said, raising her hand to wave goodbye.
She stopped in mid-wave and looked at him.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Gwennie," she replied.
"I'm Keno. Nice meeting you, Gwennie."
They shook hands and exchanged grins, then Keno pushed his glasses up his nose and sprinted away, his sports bag bouncing against his back. Gwennie took a deep breath and headed out the supermarket at a more sedate pace, then walked around the block until she reached the small café where Sam sat waiting for her, nursing an iced mocha frappe and scanning the street intently. Her best friend stood up when she caught sight of Gwennie, nearly overturning her chair in the process.
"What took you so long? You said you were just going to buy one thing," she demanded. Then her gaze fell upon the shirt Gwennie was now wearing, specifically on the green seal on its front pocket, and her eyes bulged. "And w-w-why are you wearing a St. Anthony uniform shirt?"
"I'm sorry. I had a little accident," Gwennie said, then proceeded to explain what happened back at the supermarket. By the time she was done, Sam had settled back in her chair and was sipping her half-melted frappe with a calculating expression.
"Hmm. This could be promising. You're saying this guy Keno just so happens to be a member of the St. Anthony Academy junior varsity soccer team? And you knew that how?"
"Well, one of them had a soccer ball in a net bag, and I know the varsity team practices for much longer than the JV team. So I just kind of said what I was thinking out loud and they didn't tell me I was wrong, so…" Gwennie finished with a little shrug.
Sam gave her a look of respect. "Sometimes, Gwennie-pig, you do surprise me. So anyway, he plays the same sport in the same team in the same school as Jayden Lascano, your dream guy," she went on, tapping the straw against her lip thoughtfully. "Fine, so Jayden is the star striker of the varsity team and this Keno guy is just a junior varsity player, but who cares? They're bound to know each other. Anyway, this guy spilled lemonade on you then gave you his shirt to wear?"
"Like I said, it was an accident," Gwennie defended him. "And he was so apologetic about it afterwards. He even tried to—"
"Never mind that," Sam cut her off with a wave of her hand. "Don't you see? He's given you the perfect excuse to drop by St. Anthony and talk to the team. Tell them you're just there to return this guy's shirt. In fact, you can walk right up to Jayden himself and introduce yourself to him. We've seen enough to know that the varsity and junior varsity teams practice at around the same time. Yeah, it's perfect!" she exclaimed, eyes sparkling. "Thank you, Keno or whoever you are. We couldn't have worked out a better plan than this."
Gwennie sighed as she absently dipped her finger in some water droplets on the table and drew a frowning face. "I don't know. I don't think I can do it. I just can't walk up to Jayden and talk to him. You know me. You know what I'm like. My mind will go blank and I'll start babbling stupid things and he'll think I'm a total idiot and never speak to me again. What am I going to do? I can't do this alone."
Sam reached over and squeezed her hand. "Don't worry about it. Look, how about I go with you?"
"Yes. Yes, please," Gwennie said gratefully. "Thank you, Sam."
"Great!" Sam exclaimed, pumping her fist. "Finally, after a whole month of doing nothing but creep around outside that soccer field like a couple of perverts, we're about to make some real progress. I can't wait to tell Alyssa and the others. They'll probably scream the roof down, I swear."
"Hmm, yes." Gwennie swallowed against the sudden wave of nervousness. "W-when do you think is a good time for me to give Keno's shirt back?"
"Why wait?" Sam declared breezily. "We go tomorrow, Gwennie-pig."