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Of Lewis Carroll and Cotton Candy
Of Lewis Carroll and Cotton Candy
“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?” The mermaid didn't reply. Then again, when I queried her, I hadn't been expecting a response. Her ivory face, and aubergine sculpted scales were nothing more than an artists rendition of a mythical creature. Still, I liked to imagine that she had voice of her own, as beautiful and rich as the sea she lounged by. I visited her everyday, sometimes twice; just to keep myself from going insane. I laughed quietly at my own contradiction. Any passerby would question my sanity when they witnessed me conversing with a statue. Elladora, as she was christened by the bronze name plate at the base of her tail, was my only true friend. In the past six months, I had traversed more towns, cities, and villages than I cared to recall. Unfortunately, my actions left precious little time to make acquaintances with the locals. Instead, I focused on my to-do list, which, for the moment, had become completely irrelevant.
The massive cone of spun sugar before me was evidence enough of that. It was an indulgence I rarely allowed myself to make. Living pay check to pay check, odd job to odd job, certainly didn't do wonders for one's bank account. After my purchase, I was reduced to a mere twelve dollars and eighteen cents. It wasn't much. In fact, I was currently at a loss as to how I would pay for food in the coming days. For now though, I couldn't find it within myself to fret. Tonight was just one of those nights when worrying seemed frivolous.
The quickly fading sunlight was streaking the sky with burnt hues of scarlet and indigo, giving a picturesque back drop to the scene below. Families were loading up their towels and heading for the touristy restaurants that dotted the shoreline, umbrellas and toddlers in tow. Up and down the boardwalk, tiny lights were beginning to flicker, heralding the start of another summer's eve. Couples strolled arm in arm, hand in hand, toward the Ferris wheel, pausing occasionally for tender caresses and serene smiles. Children were pulling grandparents towards the fudge and taffy stands that lined the walk. Some became tearful when their wishes were denied, while others faces were lit with the radiant smiles that can only come from the truly innocent. And I, sitting by my lonesome on a roughly hewn, sunny yellow bench, was perfectly content to relax, savor my treat, and watch the nightly drama as it began to unfurl.
Or, rather I was until a heavy scoop of chocolate ice cream landed in my lap with an unceremonious plop. I glanced up quickly, expecting to find a distraught child, and an apologetic mother. Instead, I found myself greeted by a pair of strikingly blue eyes. They were the kind you see only on film stairs and in paintings; the kind of eyes that leave you wondering, if in fact, they are real. They drew me in, pulled me deep, and causing my heart to miss a beat. It wasn't until a deep voice cracked the silence that I realized how entirely awkward the situation was.
Reality kicked in as I found myself struggling to repress a giggle, while the stranger stammered out an apology. “I'm so sorry. Here, let me help you with that.” He removed a napkin from the pocket of his dress slacks, and began clumsily wiping away the quickly melting mess.
“No. No. It's fine. I've got it.” He backed away, allowing my first real glimpse of his face. His hair was deep brown, and would have been curly if not for its short length. The faintest hint of a five o'clock shadow covered his strong jaw, and that combined with the scar that ran the length of one cheek, gave him a rough look.
“Are you a tourist?”
“Something like that. Why?”
“Just you're accent.” He laughed lightly, a sound that warmed my long abandoned heart. “You're definitely not from Jersey.”
“Oh.” The entire conversation was making me nervous. His words were friendly enough, but I had never been one to make friends easily.
“If you'll excuse me, I've to go.”
“Wait! Let me buy you dinner. Consider it an apology for my pitiful coordination.” His words were accented with a small laugh, and gentle smile. I once again found myself inexplicably drawn to him, and against my better judgment agreed to his request. A free meal, was a free meal.
“Alright, but we'll have to find something here. I'm not dressed for a restaurant.” I smiled shyly and rose from the bench, my cotton candy completely forgotten.
“You're not a vegetarian or anything, are you?” He turned away from the brightly lit hot dog stand before us to face me.
“Far from it,” I said with a small laugh. My parents were both vegetarians, but there was something about a well cooked hamburger that was nearly impossible to resist.
“Good. Hot dogs okay with you?”
I was tempted to drool as I watched the hot dogs rotate slowly on the roaster. “Yup.”
“Why don't you find us a seat over there,” he gestured to the small tables clustered near the end of the boardwalk, “and I'll buy dinner?”
“Wait, I almost forgot. What do you want on it? The usual? Ketchup, mustard, and relish? Or are you feeling a bit adventurous and willing to brave their obnoxiously-hot-blow-your-socks-off chili?”
A light giggle escaped me.
“I'm not kidding. That's really what they call it!”
An amused look crossed his face, but he said nothing.
Not ten minutes later, we were seated at a red picnic table, sheltered from the fading sun by a checkered umbrella.
I stared at him as he dug into his meal. I didn't know that you could fit that much on one hot dog. Chili, onions, mustard, relish, cheese. I lost count after that. Mine on the other hand was incredibly plain. Just mustard. It was the way I'd always eaten them. It was probably the way I always would.
“So, why mustard? I mean, what do you have against ketchup?”
“Nothing, really. When I was little, my parents took me to Chicago with them on a business trip. I learned, from the old man behind the counter at a local joint that a true Chicagoan doesn't use ketchup. Most places don't even offer it. I guess his words just stuck with me.”
“I've never been out of Allenhurst.” He paused and gestured to the area surrounding us. “This place, it's all I've ever known.”
I glanced around. “It's a pretty little town.”
“I guess, but it's not much good if you have big plans.”
“I know the feeling.”
“Really?” He sounded surprised. “ I'm sorry, but I just realized I don't even know your name.”
“Alright then. Well just Evelyn, I'm Vincent De Luca. It's a pleasure to meet you.” He extended his hand in greeting.
I laughed then; a rich, full laugh that I hadn't used in a very long time.
Vincent smiled jovially.
“That's quite a mouthful.”
“Yeah, tell me about it. Everyone calls me Vince for short.”
“Well, Vince, what do you do? What keeps you here?”
“An inn. My grandfather opened it over seventy years ago. It's one of the oldest along the Jersey Shore. I took over a few years back after my father passed.”
“I'm not.” He sighed and ran a hand over his face. “Forgive me, that was incredibly harsh.”
“It's alright. We all have rough relationships.”
“What about you Evelyn? Allenhurst isn't very popular with single women. There's not much here. You said you were a tourist. Is this just a pit stop on your way to somewhere else, or are you here for awhile?”
“I'm not sure. I guess you could say I'm on a permanent vacation, going wherever the road takes me.”
Suddenly, he glanced down at his watch and swore under his breath.
“I'm sorry, but I've got to run. It was great meeting you; maybe I'll see you around?”
Before I could even reply, he was gone, dashing down the boardwalk, suit jacket flapping in the breeze. Dazedly, I sat there and stared after him until he disappeared from view. That had been rather interesting.
He was charming, I'd give him that. And incredibly, undeniably handsome.