Katie Ganshert was born and raised in the Midwest, where she writes stories about finding faith and falling in love. When she's not busy plotting her next novel, she enjoys watching movies with her husband, playing make-believe with her wild-child of a son, and chatting with her girlfriends over bagels and coffee. She could talk books all day and is often spotted around town walking her dog, pushing a stroller, and reading—all at the same time. She and her husband are adopting from the Congo and her debut novel, Wildflowers from Winter, releases this May through Waterbrook Press. You can find her online at katieganshert.com
When he walked inside the candy shop, my heart gave a few erratic thuds and I almost swallowed my gum—a giant flavorless gob of Hubba Bubba that had grown steadily bigger since the beginning of my shift. I coughed and let my dark hair curtain my face, as if it might hide me altogether.
What was he doing here?
I blinked down at the massive psychology book I was forced to lug up and down Bascom Hill every other weekday and tried to focus on Freud and the Oedipus complex. But what had intrigued me moments before no longer kept my attention. The words blurred into psychobabble. I couldn’t believe he was here, in my mom’s candy store.
Mom would be appalled if she saw me hiding from a customer. She would grab my arm and tell me to go offer my assistance. But I couldn’t help it. It was him. ECB. Eye Contact Boy. Not his real name. I got that fluttery, warm feeling every girl gets when they think a hot guy is staring.
I took a deep breath, tucked my hair behind my ears, and peeked at him. He stood in front of the Jelly Bellies, perusing the multitude of flavors. I could only sees his backside—dark hair styled in that Robert Pattinson I-just-got-out-of-bed look, backpack slung over his shoulders, and a pair of worn jeans that fit him so well they should be illegal.
I bit my thumbnail, wondering if he noticed me. Wondering if he ever noticed me. He moved past the Jelly Bellies and stopped in front of the M&M’s. Mom stocked every single color, from lime green to light gray.
The first time I saw him was at church. A group of us took a bus off campus every Sunday to go. I saw him across the lobby and for a moment our eyes locked and I couldn’t look away. He had the most intense eyes I have ever seen—bluish green with impossibly dark eyelashes. During the entire service, I was ultra aware of myself and of him. I couldn’t stop looking. I glanced at him so much that Shelby, my roommate, jabbed me with her elbow.
A week later, the campus ministry organized a Halloween event at a giant corn maze. He was there and we played this bizarre game of look, look-away. That’s when Shelby officially named him ECB. Then there was the bonfire last weekend. I felt him staring several times. But every time I peeked, I found him engrossed in conversation. One time with a girl. She had gorgeous blond hair, a teeny tiny waist, and glossy heart-shaped lips that pretty much screamed kiss me. When I saw him laugh at something she said, my chest went all tight and knotty.
It’s not like I had any right to be jealous. We’d exchanged a total of five words. Five. I like your shoes. And thanks. My friends and I had gone to a coffee shop next to Memorial Library to study. I ordered steamed milk with a shot of caramel, and as I brought it over to our table, he was there, inside the shop. For a fraction of a second, I thought he was walking toward me and I held my breath.
“I like your shoes,” he said.
They were Pepto-Bismal pink Converse All Stars. I loved them. “Thanks.”
He smiled and walked out the door. I stood there, a little in shock, then turned to my friends with wide eyes and we all giggled like idiots. Now here he was, in my mom’s candy shop on State Street, wandering aimlessly up and down the aisles.
As much as I wanted to hide behind the counter, it was my duty to assist customers. Wishing I would have put on some makeup, or at least worn something other than my oversized Wisconsin Badger hoodie, I spit out my gum, wiped my hands down the thighs of my jeans, and left my safe haven behind the counter. I got about halfway to him when he turned around. Wow, those eyes. I blinked several times, loathing the heat that flushed up my neck. I was certain my cheeks matched my sweatshirt.
“Hi.” My voice squeaked like a prepubescent boy. I cleared my throat. “Can I help you find something?”
The corner of his mouth lifted into a lopsided, way-too endearing smile. My face grew warmer. He, on the other hand, looked totally unaffected.
“I don’t know what to get,” he said.
“What do you like?”
“It’s not for me.”
“Oh.” I fidgeted with the promise ring my dad gave me for my sixteenth birthday. “Who’s it for?”
A sinking feeling settled in my gut. I was hoping he’d say his mom.
“I’m not really sure what to get her.”
Her. I’ve never hated a pronoun so much in all my life. I envisioned blondie from the bonfire. Of course she was his girlfriend. She was beautiful and flawless and even had the nerve to be friendly. I know because I talked to her later that night. Why would he be interested in someone as plain and ordinary as me when he had someone like her? “Is it for a special occasion?”
He looped his thumbs under the straps of his backpack and shrugged. The movement stretched his shirt across his chest, revealing defined muscles I didn’t want to notice. “I’m hoping she’ll go out with me.” He flashed me that crooked grin and my heart fluttered. “I guess it’s a bribe.”
Yeah, like he needed to bribe anyone. Not even the lucky blonde. I stuck my thumbnail in my mouth and started chewing.
“What do you think? Should I go with chocolate?”
I shrugged. “Chocolate’s a safe bet.”
He cocked his head and pierced me with those gorgeous eyes. “What’s your favorite candy?”
“Redhots.” I blushed as soon as the admission escaped my mouth. Redhots? Why couldn’t I have said something normal—something devoid of subtext? Like Pez? “Or Hot Tamales. Fireballs. I could eat them all day. I like things spicy.” Oh my goodness, stop talking Julia. “Cinnamon. I mean I like cinnamon.”
I looked down at my pink shoes and wished the floor would open and swallow me.
“Do you sell Redhots?”
“Oh, yeah. In that barrel over there.” I pointed to the row of wooden barrels filled with the less common candies. He shuffled over and scooped up a handful of tiny boxes.
“Not everyone likes Redhots, though. She might want something less . . . intense.”
He gave one of the boxes a shake. The candies rattled like maracas. “It’s original. Less cliché than chocolate.”
He walked to the counter and slid his wallet out from the back pocket of his jeans. I stepped behind the cash register, bagged the Redhots, and handed them to him. “Here you go.”
When he took the bag, his fingers brushed mine. I swallowed and rang up his bill. I gave him his change and we shared one of those looks again. What in the world was up with those looks? Seriously, how was it possible for chemistry so potent to be completely one-sided?
“Thanks for the help,” he said.
“Have fun on your date.”
“She hasn’t said yes yet.”
“I’m sure she will.” I bit my lip. I should not be allowed to talk in the presence of cute boys.
“See you later, Julia.”
He knew my name.
I looked up, but he was already pushing open the door. Before I could ask him his, he was gone. I stuffed another piece of Hubba Bubba in my mouth and chomped on it for twenty minutes, until the watermelon flavor ran dry and the clock struck eight. I took my time closing, trying hard to bat away the image of him and blondie feeding each other my favorite candy.
When the cash register was balanced, I put on some Dr Pepper Lipsmackers, tucked my psychology book under my arm, and left. I locked the door and pocketed the keys. As I turned around to make my way down State Street, I almost swallowed my gum for the second time in one night. There he was, leaning against the brick façade of our candy store, looking breathtakingly flawless under the streetlight.
“Hi,” he said.
He took one of the small boxes out from the bag and smiled. “I heard you like Redhots.”