For MY Ben…the story that inspired our new beginning…
It’s so hot for June. Hot, sticky and sweltering…
It’s 4pm and the farmers’ market is crowded thick with people. The peaches I bought are sweet, she thinks as she takes another bite of the juicy tender flesh. Mentally taking inventory if she’s seen everything there is to see and picked up everything worth picking. Savoring the peach, she wonders if she’s missed wild strawberries somewhere in the hustle and bustle. Scanning the crowds she looks around at each sign and stall hoping to see evidence of the tiny, perfect jewels of summer. Out of the corner of her eye she catches sight of them, balanced carefully in the lap of a way-too-handsome guy in a wheelchair. He is trying to get a plastic bag around them. She can’t help staring, not just at the strawberries but at the man…
He isn’t her type at all. Obviously tall despite the fact that he’s sitting down. His body is long and lean but with a small, cute belly revealing he might just like to eat as much as she does. She usually favors lumberjack types… but the sexy little goatee on his chin checks that box. Ugh! I’m a fool for a man with facial hair… His hair is short and looks soft, hugging the top of his head. He looks confident and comfortable with that confidence. The confidence comes in the way he moves and holds himself but, he still looks comfortably slouched in his seat. She takes in the awkward angle of his legs, his knees lean to one side while his feet seem pushed to the opposite side of the footrest. She can’t keep herself from looking; it’s beyond strawberries now. Gah don’t stare, she berates herself. She tries to shift her gaze elsewhere but she keeps looking back at him.
Then his eyes meet hers and when he starts coming towards her, she knows she’s in trouble. The distance between them shrinks rapidly. She bites her bottom lip watching the way his shoulders work to push his chair along the rough pavement in her direction. As he gets closer, he smiles and the skin crinkles at the corner of his eyes just a bit. They are blue, cool and calm. She clenches her teeth in fear, quite certain she’s about to get chewed out. I deserve it, staring is rude but I’m not staring because of his wheelchair. I’m staring because the man looks like sex in a seat.
Ben finds himself easily cutting through the crowds of people at the market. It’s busy and everyone is clamoring for the first harvest of summer fruits and vegetables. Thankfully, people tend to give him a wide berth and the seas of people part easily at the appearance of a guy in a wheelchair. He can’t find peaches anywhere but he’s only been here a short time.
Trying to navigate the rough street where the market is being held and working his way through the crowd is taking a lot of his focus. That is until his eyes catch sight of a woman. She is beautiful, sitting on a bench under a tree. She looks bohemian with long flowing hair, like chestnut colored silk. It falls over her shoulders and down her back in wild curls. She has on a long flowing dress and a big satchel purse is slung over her shoulder. Tucked under one arm is a large bouquet of fresh flowers and in her other hand, a big juicy peach she’s obviously enjoying. His eyes travel over her. Gosh, she looks perfect right down to her pretty painted toes in strappy wedge sandals. He navigates out of the crowd a bit and watches her. She is looking around for something…
Hopefully not someone, he thinks to himself. She looks his direction and he sees her eyes land somewhere around his knees. There’s a little spark of delight in her eyes suddenly and he watches them travel over the rest of him. He braces himself for the dismissive glance most people give when they see him. No one is more invisible than a guy in a wheelchair, unless he’s doing tricks or looks in need of help. His hopes deflate. His eyes don’t leave her though. He notices a flush of embarrassment creep over her face. She continues scanning the crowds, but her eyes keep coming back to him with shy furtive glances, again and again, until their eyes meet. Could she maybe… he thinks to himself. Well no harm going over there… He knows he’s a decent looking guy but most women don’t see beyond his noble steed, the TiLite ZRA. What’s the worst that could happen? At least I can find out where to buy peaches. He smiles to himself and starts pushing towards her.
He pulls in close and makes sure to catch her attention, lest she pretend not to see him like most people do. “Would you mind telling me where you found the peaches?” Ben asks, angling himself toward her and flashing his best smile.
She looks tense like she’s dreading something. She’s totally not into this… She looks like she’d rather be swallowed whole than talk to me. He braces himself for dismissal but it’s too late to turn back. There was a flicker of something that crossed her face when he smiled though. Maybe she’ll at least be polite. Continuing to smile, he notices her expression softens more.
“I got them a few stalls down,” she says motioning to her right and smiling in return. She shifts her body around uncomfortably, but asks tentatively, “Would you be willing to tell me where you found the strawberries?” She’s seemingly more comfortable by the minute.
Ben deflates a little bit… Strawberries of course, that’s why she’s been staring at me… Well, I don’t know. She did look a lot for someone who just wants strawberries…. What the hell, maybe it’s worth flirting a little bit. I have nothing to lose, I can find peaches now. “Ahh, strawberries. Yes, they’re just back there. You probably just missed them, distracted by peaches. Easy mistake. It looks like you’re enjoying it, at least,” he says with a wink and nods at the half eaten peach in her hand.
“Yes, They’re fantastic peaches! Lucious with great flavor!” she says back with a smile.
He takes a deep breath and tries to sit up a little taller to bolster himself. He searches his brain for something to talk about besides produce. “It also looks like you have amazing taste in shoes.” Women love when you notice their shoes…. She is really exquisite in every way, and her feet are so pretty. They’re perfectly hugged by her shoes.
She seems to relax more, and smiles back. Ben finds it so alarming how that smile lights her face up and finds himself gripping the push rims of his chair to steady himself.
“Thanks. I love these sandals.” She stretches out her legs and flexes her ankles, as if she’s trying to show them off better. Ben feels something spark inside him. “I love summer when I can wear sandals and I love having pretty toes. It’s something I do for me. It makes me feel like a goddess,” she says, laughing shyly, and tucking her hair behind her ear to look at Ben again. “I’m half considering a tattoo just here,” she says, leaning forward and pointing to the space of creamy skin on top of foot just below her toes…
“I couldn’t help but notice… eye level and all,” Ben says, referring to his seated position. She’s engaging in conversation and flirting back. Let’s keep this game going, Ben. “I think a tattoo would be cool so long as you’re not thinking like skull and crossbones….” Ben says, raising his eyebrow skeptically.
“Hahaha no, nothing like that,” she responds, laughing.
Her laugh is intoxicating too, Ben thinks to himself. I need to make her laugh more. She sparkles when she laughs!
“No skulls, scorpions, or other vile things…. I am actually thinking of a butterfly. Which is probably silly and cliché, but I want something feminine,ridiculously girly and full of beautiful color.”
“Nice…” Ben says, nodding his approval. “Looks like a good place. Beautiful canvas, anyways.”
She blushes again…
Score one for Team Ben! Good looks and charm! Who needs legs? He celebrates inside. A silent moment passes, each one smiling at the other, taking in the silence. Ben finally breaks it… “Would you maybe be willing to show me where you found peaches… and I’ll show you where I found strawberries?” He angles his chair in the direction of the strawberry stall.
“That’d be fantastic!” she says with a smile, collecting herself and standing up. “I’ll follow you… somehow I think you’re better at navigating crowds than I am.”
Did she just make a little joke? Ben’s brain churns at the possibility that this woman is at ease with him and not put off. She’s incredibly nice at least, and her smile and laugh… She’s a lovely surprise. I think I’m glad I came to the farmers’ market tonight,Ben thinks to himself while giving his chair a hard push forward.
Holy cow! Hunky wheelchair guy is flirting with me. He didn’t want to lecture me, he wanted peaches… My inner school girl is giddy and dancing with glee. She takes a few deep breaths to steady her nervous, excited energy. They make their way, passing by stalls of vendors and carts. She stays just a step behind him.
She was right though, the crowds do seem to open before them with lots of people awkwardly skirting around. They all give him a wide berth without ever really looking at him or acknowledging him. Some of them even have a panicked look on their face when they dart hurriedly out of the way. Ben doesn’t seem to notice it at all… He’s probably used to it. She’s glad he can’t really see her face, while she takes it in. She finds herself appreciating the view from behind, watching his shoulders move as he guides her to a tiny table, easily missed and hidden by the crowd. There’s a “fresh off the farm” tweenager at the table who looks bored waiting for someone to stop by. She steps up to the table while Ben waits just behind it, smiling.
They are perfect wild strawberries, such tiny brilliant specimens of flavor and sweetness. The smell alone makes her salivate. “I can’t wait to go home and make tarts!” she exclaims loud enough for Ben to hear. She quickly buys a whole flat of the little gems and tucks them in her enormous purse. She turns back to look at Ben, beaming with gratitude.
“Okay, young lady, now where are those peaches?” he asks, flashing that smirk of a smile at her again. It’s so adorable, it’s alarming.
“They’re right next door… “ she says, laughing, and points at the stall to their left.
“Over there?” Ben says, gesturing with his hand.
She notices for the first time his hands seem different too. He’s not exactly pointing and his hands kind of seem locked in a fist, with his fingers drawn together in his black leather gloves. Maybe it’s just the gloves? She wonders. “Yes… follow me….” She starts skirting around people, weaving through the other patrons to a table overflowing with big juicy peaches that look kissed by the blush of summer sunshine. Looking behind her for Ben, she notices he’s had no such trouble getting through and soon he’s parked right beside her. He braces a hand on the table to reach up and grab a peach. She watches his hands again and notices he kind of slides his hand over the peach instead of actually grabbing it. He finally seems to have hold of it and raises it to his nose to smell.
“Oh, there are samples too!” she remembers, reaching for a small plate nearby. Securing a small bite of peach on a toothpick, she offers it to Ben.
“They smell fantastic!” Ben says, lowering it away from his nose. He eyes the tiny toothpick skeptically for a second before offering her another disarming smile.
“Feed it to me, woman,“ he says in a teasing way, before opening his mouth with a wink. She feels the blush creep into her cheeks again. HE IS TOTALLY FLIRTING WITH ME!!! Feeding it to him feels funny and oddly intimate, but he’s silly and it’s endearing. I wish I could stop blushing though… Oh well, maybe he’ll think it’s cute. She lays the sliver of peach on his tongue. He seems to be laying it on extra thick. He carefully closes his lips over the tiny toothpick and slides it off, making eye contact the whole time.
But his eyes are soon rolling in ecstasy as he starts chewing the chunk of flavorful fruit “Those are fantastic peaches,” he exclaims and hurriedly braces himself against the table again to lean in for a plastic bag. She tries not to stare as he opens the bag, pushing it around with the side of his hand until it’s in a little bowl on his lap. She watches him carefully cup his hand over six perfect peaches and set them in the bag. He gathers the bag together in his lap and rolls forward to pay.
She hangs back, kind of hoping now that their respective purchases were procured they wouldn’t part ways. She keeps an eye on him, watching, studying him as he leans forward and pulls his wallet out of somewhere. She watches the careful balancing act unfold as he hands the bag of peaches to the cashier. She looks on and learns. Observing the way he juggles his wallet and captures cash between his knuckles. She feels kind of awkward just standing behind him. She takes in the careful way he flips his wrist over to capture change and he uses his other hand to steady the cash… He brings it close to his chest and drops it in his lap. He does the same with the peaches and rolls out of the stand. She follows close behind. She could make a study of this man with his adorable grin and mischievous blue eyes.
He’d always found that women had a hard time resisting his boyish smile. Well, that was before…. but this one is taking the bait… How do we keep this little flirtation going, Ben? He’s certain she’s still beside him, kind of hanging on. She’s probably not sure what to do now either. He looks around for a place where maybe she can sit and they can keep talking. He carefully considers his next move. She seems genuinely comfortable around me. She certainly hasn’t done anything most people do, like offer to help with everything or treat me like I’m incapable of doing anything on my own. The look on her face when I made her feed me that bite of peach was perfect. She didn’t bat an eye, she blushed which was sweet but she wasn’t put off…It’s totally worth taking a risk to see what this woman is about. Spotting a park bench just a few feet away, he heads toward it. “Want to sit and join me for a minute while I put everything away?“ he asks hopefully.
“Sure… Thanks!” She sits down, smiling. It’s obvious she feels uncertain too. She buries her hands in her enormous purse, shifting things around.
“You’re like Mary Poppins with that thing,” Ben teases. “What else do you have in there? Chemistry set? Potting soil? A bow and arrow?” He starts naming random things and turns in his chair to pull a back pack off. He rests it on his feet and begins the process of trying to catch the zipper between his knuckles. I got it on the first try, luck’s on my side a little bit tonight. I hope she’s not watching me too closely. Again he’s made aware of his stupid hands and the way they limit his life. He starts working the bag of peaches and strawberries into his backpack and then starts to close the zippers again.
“No, I’m not Mary Poppins… This is my farmers’ market purse.” She indicates the huge satchel style bag that goes over her shoulder. “This baby is packed with amazing treasures like peaches, local honey, fresh peas, cucumbers, and beets. Not to mention these beautiful flowers.” She pauses to bury her nose in them.
She chats on, bubbling over with words and personality. I want to know this woman, he thinks and finds himself start to smile just watching her talk. “Hey now, do not forget those strawberries. You couldn’t have found them without me. Did I overhear you say that you are going to make tarts?”
“Yes!” She giggles with excitement. “I bake. I LOVE to bake and I have a Texas-sized sweet tooth! I saw this recipe for wild strawberry tarts using custard made from Greek yogurt and a brown sugar crust. You saved the day helping me find these berries.”
She just glows with excitement. I thought her laugh was infectious but when she’s excited about something, it’s contagious. He secures his backpack on the back of his chair again and gathers the dollar bills on his lap to tuck away in the pouch behind his knees. He grabs the frame of his wheelchair to secure his balance. He’s probably sitting on change by now but he could sort that out soon enough. He nudges the last nickle between his thighs and pushes up on his rims, to lift and adjust his hips.
He sits back up so he can focus on her again fully. “Hey… Do you maybe wanna go get coffee with me? We can keep talking…. You can also share with me your plans for the peas, cucumbers and peaches…” Ben raises his eyebrow at her questioningly and holds his breath, waiting for her answer.
“Sorry, but I have a strict rule about getting coffee with nameless people…no matter how charming they are.” She puts on the pretense of a stern prudish school marm.
“Ohhh well, that’s easily fixed isn’t it? Ben… Ben Bauer. And you? What should I call you? Strawberry Tart Goddess, Twinkle Toes or maybe just Sunshine?” Ben says, flashing his grin.