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As you see, everything was fine after all. You sit on the hospital couch, sighing with relief. You take a sip of the lukewarm instant coffee. Can’t believe that I’m really going to be a father—you speak to yourself in your head. You smile, covering your mouth with your hand. What should I name the baby? The doctor said the baby’s healthy, and Maggie is doing well, too, even after giving a birth to the stillborn child two years ago. It was a little boy. He had little fingernails, too. You still remember the stern, solid face of the doctor as he announced the baby’s death in a formal manner. You still remember the blue baby crib that you shattered into pieces and the blurry pieces that you saw through the tears. But dreams come true, someday, somehow. Now you are going to have a family, after years of loneliness. There has been a big hole in your heart, always. It has been empty all the time that you had to fill it with something, anything. You sit on the hospital couch and watch people passing by. Then the cell phone rings. It’s Maggie.
“Hi, honey. You need anythin’?”
“Hi, Jack? Um, do you happen to be around any grocery store? I kinda feel like eating a clementine.”
“Sure. I’ll go get some. I’ll be back in about few minutes.”
You slowly get up. It feels like you could get anything for her. Even the stars. Your chest pounds and sizzles as if you are back to your teenage years, as if you are in your first love.
First love came quite unexpectedly, from a random place. A church. Well, it’s hard to tell if it was the first sight. You had never talked to her before, nor had you thought she was amazingly pretty when you first saw her. She had been always there, the exact same spot across the aisle. You started to glance on her more often, afraid to reach her and talk to her. Every Sunday mornings, you would see her sitting right across the hallway with her dark brown hair flowing around her shoulders. You noticed new things every time you threw a glance at her. She wore bright color sweaters. Her shoulders were straight, and her hair was brushed neatly. Little pearl earrings. She always wore those. At times you frowned because her earrings reflected the sunlight and blinded your eyes. That couldn’t prevent you from staring at her, though. Sometimes you wished her to turn around and look at you, although you feared her knowing that you’ve been staring at her for the entire chapel. The dull, everlasting voice of the preacher suddenly turned into romantic music. You couldn’t get rid of the white pearl earrings out of your sight.
The bright juicy clementines. They are Maggie’s favorites. She says that clementines tickle on your tongue and make you laugh. The fruit stand is full of clementines. Sweet and sour odor fills your nostrils. You grab one and smell one to find the best ones for Maggie.
“Katie used to love clementines, too.”
You mumble to yourself.
Her name was Katie. You reached her one day, your legs shaking, your eyes traveling around everywhere, and your back sweating a bit.
“Hi. I’m Jack…” She turned around, and looked at you, puzzled.
“Um, have I seen you somewhere?” Oh, god. You bit your lips. That was the most uninventive, cheesy comment ever! You wanted to cover your face and run away and pretend nothing had happened. She smiled.
“Probably yes you have. We go to the same church.”
“Wow. Um, amazing.” Awkward silence.
“Do you go to West High?”
“Great. I go to East high.”
Another awkward silence.
“What’s your name again? I’m Katie.”
She smiled again.
You smile. You just found a good, sweet and sour clementine. It’s fresh. How many should I get? You hesitate. Three will do it. You pick up three clementines and put them in a plastic bag. Then you see someone coming up to you. A calm-looking lady walks slowly up to the fruit stand and grabs a clementine. She smells it, her eyes closed. Her long eyelashes cover her lower eyelids. Her short brown hair barely touches her neck. But she looks very good. She seems young and lively. You can’t help staring at her. Then your eyes meet with hers. The few seconds before you turn your eyes away seems like an hour. However, you look away. Then you turn around again only to whisper, “Katie?”
Her eyes open wide. She frowns as if she is trying to remember who this man is. She covers her mouth. “Jack?” Then your cell phone starts to ring.
You called her every night. Well, almost every night. You didn’t want her to think of you as a clingy person, so you called her once every two nights. You could not talk much, but she talked about her everyday life. She talked about her annoying biology teacher, her friend Camille who was always into guys, and her favorite band “Backstreet Boys.” Her voice sounded like a chirping canary. At church, you shyly looked at her. However, this time, she would occasionally turn around and smile. She let you take her out to the ice cream store. Her favorite flavor was mint chocolate chip. You wanted to tell her that you loved her so bad. You wanted to tell her that she was the one, that she was the perfect girl for YOU.
You order a coffee and mint chocolate chip ice cream, one for you and one for her. You are in the ice cream place right next to the grocery store. Katie and you are the only customers in the store right now, since it is Monday today. You’ve already told Maggie, who called you wondering where the heck you are, that you are running a little late. Katie sits by the window with her back straight. Silence fills the air, and you check your empty voicemail box for about fifty times. Finally, Katie opens her mouth to speak.
“So…how have you been?”
“Good. How about you? What’s your occupation?”
“Good. I work as a freelance writer.”
“I teach in the elementary school.”
“Oh, really? Wow, Jack. How can you even speak in front of twenty kids? You used to be so quiet and shy.”
She laughs softly.
“Yep, I still feel goose bumps rising up when I face the class. No, I mean, I just don’t say unnecessary things. But I really like teaching children.”
“I see. Well, you were always a nice person. I still remember the clementines.”
She glances at your clementines in the plastic bag.
“You still do? Oh god, this is embarrassing.”
“Well, we were both young teenagers. We were like…what? Sixteen?”
“We were very young, indeed. I won’t do such things now, as I am a thirty year-old man. Hahaha.”
Laughter fills the place.
It was almost midnight when Katie suddenly said it.
“Aw, Jack. I really want a clementine.”
“I know it’s really random, but I just want one. Have I told you that it was my favorite fruit?”
“Katie, I know all of your favorites including clementine.”
“Yeah, you do know a lot about me. Anyways, I wanna eat a clementine.”
You stopped and thought for a moment.
“But Katie, it’s almost midnight. All the stores are closed.”
“I know. Ugh, never mind. I was just saying it. Ok, Jack. I have a ton of homework so I gotta tah-tah.”
After you hung up, you scratched your forehead in thought. The fridge in your house did not have clementines. Then you started to call up your friends and asked for clementines. All of them said no, puzzled—why would he call people in middle of the night only to ask for a clementine? When you finally reached Bill, who knew well of your fervent love for Katie, you told him about your conversation with her.
“Well, Jack. I don’t have clementines in my house right now, but I could get you some.”
“I could sneak some from my parent’s store. You know we run a grocery store, right?”
“Oh Billy, you saved my life! I promise I will pay you back.”
“No problem, buddy.”
After half hour, you ran from Billy’s house towards Katie’s house. Since you knew that her room was on the first floor, you tiptoed through the front yard. Her lights were on. Great. You knocked on her window.
“Katie, it’s me. Jack.”
You whispered through the crack.
“Jack? Geez, what’s up in this late hour?”
“Ok, close your eyes first.”
Katie closed her eyes. You took out the clementines. They were still cold and juicy.
“Now you can open your eyes.”
“Oh, my goodness, Jack!”
She covered her mouth, and let out a delightful shock.
“Wow, I don’t know what to say. Thank you. Wow.”
She giggled, grabbed your neck and pulled towards her, and kissed on your cheek.
“You knew I liked you, right?”
You ask her teasingly.
“Well, yeah. It was kind of obvious. You called me every night.”
“Nope, it was once every two nights.”
“And that clementine made everything clear. That was very romantic, though. I loved it. If it was any other girl, it would have totally worked.”
“But I liked you, not any other girl.”
Your eyes meet with hers, but they turn away to look out the window.
It was a chance. She loved the clementines. You hailed for yourself, in your mind. When you told Billy about the success last night, Billy jumped into the sky.
“There you go, man! She’s absolutely going to say yes. Ask her out.”
“What should I do?”
“You know what to do. Take her out to dinner. Look good. Real good. Um, get a pretty ring. And some pretty flowers. Give them to her, and tell her that you love her.”
You did exactly what he told you to do. Billy was more experienced than you were—he had four different girlfriends, and he wasn’t a virgin. You called her.
“Hey, Katie. Are you free tonight?”
“I guess so. Why?”
“Wanna go out for dinner tonight? I know a perfect burrito place.”
“Sure. Wanna meet at around…five thirty?”
“Yeah, I’ll be waiting for you in front of West Library.”
She didn’t come.
You waited for two hours.
She didn’t come.
The night got chilly, and your stomach growled. Flowers drooped and looked ugly.
She didn’t come.
“So…are those clementines for you? Or…”
Katie turns and asks. You shrug.
“My wife. Her name is Maggie. She likes clementines, too.”
“Oh. That’s nice! So…you are married?”
“Yep. We’ve been married for three years now. We are actually expecting a baby this coming week.”
“Wow. It’s great. I never really imagined you as a…married man.”
“Are you a married woman?”
“Umph, what about that Tommy guy? Didn’t you guys date in high school?”
You ask her, although you know the answer and the fact that it is a bad question.
“Goodness, what a stupid question, Jack. It was fourteen years ago, high school. Of course we broke up after about two months.”
“But didn’t you like him a lot?”
“I did. And I was so happy when he told me that he liked me. But it turned out that he just wanted a girlfriend and he already knew that I liked him. So he asked me out, tried to have sex with me, and when I told him that I was not going to lose my virginity until I turned eighteen, he dumped me.”
You could not face her in the church anymore. Her friends in the church had told him everything about this Tommy guy, who happened to ask her out that exact night. Tommy was a senior in her school, a tall and good-looking guy. You knew about him earlier, since Katie talked about him often. You started to sit on a different seat on a back row. You came late and left quickly so you didn’t have to face her—for two more years. You went to community college, and Katie applied to a university in California.
“Are you living back here now?”
Katie twists her lips a little.
“No. I still live in California. I’m here for few days to be with my parents. I’m going back tomorrow evening.”
She pauses for a moment, thinking.
“So Jack, are you happy?”
Surprised at this random question, you freeze for a moment. However, you manage to speak calmly.
“Yes, I am. I have a job I like. I have a family. I love my wife, although she is not wonderful in your way. She is wonderful in her own way, and it’s quite different from you. I think my life isn’t bad at all. I guess I am happy, even though I’ve had some bad memories.”
“What about you? Are you happy?”
“Uh-huh. I am not married, but I love my job. I want to concentrate on work for now.”
“You are a strong woman, Katie. I’m sure you will succeed in your job.”
“Thanks. I should be going, Jack. I am supposed to eat dinner with my parents.”
She gets up, and you escort her to the door. You shake hands with her and share the last eye contact with her. You think that you see a mixed emotion with regret and relief in her eyes, but you shake the thought off. It’s over, now. It’s been over since that night when you were sixteen years old. Memories are memories, and they are beautiful because they are the things of the past. You watch her as she walks towards the parking lot. She doesn’t turn around. She doesn’t have the pearl earrings on. You can see the gold rings dangling beneath her ears. She probably knows that you are staring at her back, but she doesn’t turn around. The sweet and sour smell of the clementines. Your cell phone rings. It’s Maggie, again.
“Jack! I’ve been waiting for you for hours! Where the hell are you?”
“I’m really sorry, Maggie. I just met a…old friend. We just talked for a while. I bought the clementines. They are really sweet. I’ll be there in five seconds.”
“Ok. You better hurry.”
You hang up. Then you slowly turn around and head towards the hospital. You take out a clementine, split it in halves, and peel one of them. You bite into one of the pieces. Sweet and sour. It tickles on your tongue. You want to laugh. So you laugh softly.