M. Odom

A Flash of Watermelon Juice

Cleo burst into Herb’s Grocery Store and was instantly hit with a blast of cold air that tasted vaguely of lettuce. She scanned the maze of aisles filled with brightly colored cans and boxes of food. Slightly out of breath, she checked her watch. It was three on the dot. Perfect, thought Cleo, as she skipped towards the produce aisle. She slid her hands into the pockets of her overalls and wandered through the rainbow rows of fruits and vegetables.

Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, Cleo saw another young woman. Her heart turned in circles. There she is, thought Cleo, The most beautiful person in the whole universe. The woman had glowing milk chocolate skin and flowing black hair. Her skirt swished around her ankles and her eyes sparkled like galaxies. They were deep and mysterious. Cleo always liked to imagine that if she stared into them for long enough, she would fall into them.

“Nova!” Cleo tore across the store with a huge grin as the young woman looked up.

“It’s you again,” Nova laughed, “I feel like I see you every time I’m here.” Deep inside, it made Nova so happy to see Cleo’s bright smile on her weekly grocery run.

“I come here every Wednesday,” Cleo giggled and blushed as she ran her fingers through her own strawberry blonde hair.

“I’ve noticed,” Nova smiled, “What was your name again?”

“Cleo, short for Clementine,” she replied, looking down at the yellow Converse she was wearing as she rocked from her heels to her toes.

“Of course, how could I forget?” Nova chuckled as she held up a carrot and inspected it. Cleo laughed some more as she fiddled with the buttons on her overalls.

“Well, I was going to say … I mean, I’ve been meaning to say this, I mean …” Cleo fumbled for words and took a deep breath, “Nova, um, what’s your favorite fruit?”

“My favorite fruit?” Nova repeated with a slightly confused laugh, “Oh, definitely watermelon.”

“Oh, that’s funny, because since you’re an astronomer and all, I figured your favorite fruit would be starfruit. Ha, get it? Star-fruit! Astronomer!” Cleo turned bright red and then proceeded to crack up at her own joke.

“Wait, how do you know I’m an astronomer?” Nova looked up from browsing the apples and studied Cleo quizzically.

“You told me! Don’t you remember?” Cleo asked energetically and continued, “Anyways, I’m an artist. My favorite thing to paint is sunflowers because my favorite color is yellow.”

Nova shook her head and chuckled, “You are too cute.” Her skirt swirled around her as she spun to walk towards the big cardboard bin of watermelons further down the aisle.

As Nova looked through the watermelons, she realized that her heart was beating a little faster than usual. I need to calm down, Nova told herself, I simply can’t fall in love with her. I don’t even know her! And well, she’s a woman. And being gay is fine. But I’m not gay, of course. I think. Nova slowly ran her fingers across the smooth sides of the watermelons to calm herself. No! Nova wanted to scream, I can’t fall in love with her!

Meanwhile, Cleo also wanted to scream. She doesn’t understand, Cleo thought and sighed, She just doesn’t get it. To her, I’m just the woman that she bumps into every Wednesday on her three o’clock grocery run. She barely notices me. I’m in love with her and she’ll never know. With my luck, she’s probably straight. This is tragic, she thought.

At that point, Cleo felt like crying. She didn’t know whether it was because of her wild emotions, or because she was standing next to the onions. After further thought, it was definitely her emotions. Every time Cleo saw Nova it was like this. They would make some small talk and Nova would walk away, leaving Cleo to infinitely replay their conversation in her head.

Cleo ran her hands through her hair and took a deep breath. She was tired of the small talk, tired of waiting, and tired of not knowing. In that moment, she decided that she would tell Nova how she really felt. Cleo decisively grabbed her shopping cart and wheeled around.

“Nova!” Cleo sprinted down the aisle towards the young woman, who was bent over the cardboard bin, holding a huge watermelon.

Cleo was out of control. She couldn’t stop and she careened into Nova. In a flash of watermelon juice, the two women found themselves sprawled on the cold tile floor, soaked in sticky sweetness and surrounded by shattered watermelon.

Nova looked around, stunned. “What just happened?” Nova paused, breathing heavily and trying to block out her own emotions. “Never mind, I don’t care.”

Cleo stuttered, “N-nova.”

“It’s fine,” Nova cut her off and stood up.

“No, I’m sorry. You don’t understand,” Cleo pulled herself up using the bin of watermelons that they were standing next to. She reached for Nova’s hand, but Nova shook her off.

“I said, it’s fine,” Nova began to wring the watermelon juice out of her clothes, on the verge of tears.

“No, Nova,” Cleo was shaky as she began, “You don’t understand. I’m in love with you. I’ve been in love with you from the moment I saw you in the produce aisle that one day, all those Wednesdays ago. And maybe you don’t love me because I’m a woman. Or maybe you don’t love me because I’m annoying. Whatever it is, I’m sorry. But I know that I love you. You don’t think that I just happen to come to Herb’s Grocery Store every single Wednesday at three o’clock by accident, do you?” Cleo paused and gasped for breath. “Well, I don’t,” she choked out, “I come to see you. Nova, I love you.”

The two women stared into each other’s eyes in the middle of the produce aisle at Herb’s Grocery Store, surrounded by rows and rows of fruits and vegetables. Nova felt a pain in her chest and turned away. It hurt too much to look at Cleo.

“But how can you love me if you don’t even know me?” Nova whispered, not wanting to let on how deeply she cared.

Cleo was sobbing, “But I do know you, I know you’re beautiful, and kind, and funny, and smart and … and …”

Nova took a deep, shaky breath, “No. No, you don’t know me. You can’t love me.”

Cleo wiped her face, “Just let me make it up to you.”

“Don’t bother,” Nova gazed at the floor.

“I’ll do anything,” Cleo desperately begged, “I know that you’re not upset about the watermelon, you’re upset that I’ve made you feel vulnerable and scared and uncomfortable. It’s not about the watermelon, but I’ll buy you a watermelon. I’ll buy you ten watermelons. For goodness sake, I will buy you a hundred watermelons and bring them to your house. Please give me a chance.”

Nova looked at the woman in overalls standing in front of her, her hair soaked with watermelon juice and tears. Seeing her every Wednesday makes me so happy, Nova thought, But we’re practically strangers. It would never work. I don’t want to break her heart. Or mine.

“Please,” Cleo begged again.

Nova sighed. She couldn’t stand to shatter Cleo any more. Something about her quirkiness just made Nova smile. She couldn’t say no. Most of all, she couldn’t stand to lose Cleo forever.

“Okay,” Nova sighed, “Okay.” She pulled out a pen from her soaking wet pocket and scrolled an address on Cleo’s arm.

“That’s my house. I’ll see you there at three o’clock on Wednesday.” Nova said, so overwhelmed with emotions that she didn’t know what to think.

“With a hundred watermelons?” Cleo smiled through her tears.

“With a hundred watermelons,” Nova couldn’t help but smile as she pushed her shopping cart out of the puddle of watermelon juice and walked out of Herb’s Grocery Store.

Cleo simply stood there, gazing at Nova as she walked away. As the doors closed behind her, Cleo broke into a huge grin and began to do a happy dance in the middle of the produce aisle.

For the next week, all Cleo could think about was Nova and watermelons. Cleo stopped every few days at Herb’s Grocery Store. She would retrace her steps to the scene of their most recent meeting by the cardboard bin and lug several watermelons to the checkout line. It took what felt like thousands of trips to get them to her car, and even longer to shove them all into her backseat. Eventually, the backseat ran out of room and the entirety of Cleo’s little yellow Volkswagen bug was filled with watermelons, from the passenger’s seat to the trunk.

On Wednesday at two-thirty, Cleo bought the last watermelon. She squished herself into the driver’s seat of her tiny yellow car and took a deep breath, holding the key above the engine. Her stomach was churning. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine that when she pulled up at Nova’s house with all one hundred watermelons, Nova would fall in love with her. Every bit of her wanted to believe that this could happen, but something told her that it never would. With this thought, she started her car and pulled out of the Herb’s Grocery Store parking lot for the last time.

As Cleo drove along the road, she was wrapped up in her dreams of Nova. Cleo imagined Nova showing her the stars and trying to learn to paint sunflowers. She wondered if there was a way that Nova actually had the universe in her eyes. Maybe, since she spent so much time looking at stars, they were able to soak up the starlight. Caught in her fantasies, Cleo smiled to herself.

All of a sudden, a blazing red truck came racing right towards Cleo. She shook herself out of her daydreams, screaming in terror, but it was too late. The truck slammed into her little car. In a flash of watermelon juice, Cleo and her car were sent spinning and smashing against the guardrail alongside the road. Watermelons and broken car parts flew through the air, shattering as they crashed against the ground. The red truck sped away as quickly as it had appeared. Cleo lay silent on the asphalt.

Meanwhile, Nova was waiting rather anxiously in her driveway. Over the past few days, she had thought more and more about Cleo: her smile, her laugh, her kindness. Nova couldn’t deny her love anymore. Loving Cleo would be worth any pain, any heartbreak, any judgment. When Cleo drove up to her house, Nova was going to hug her tightly and never ever let go.

Time crept on. By three-ten, Nova knew that something was wrong. Cleo would not have been late to meet her. She started to walk down the street and then broke into a run.

On the road in front of her, broken watermelons were strewn across the street like corpses, their blood flowing everywhere. The little yellow Volkswagen was upside down and crunched like a tin can. Most of the doors and tires had flown off, littering the road with pieces of metal. Right next to the car lay a woman with strawberry blonde hair, soaked in watermelon juice.

“Cleo,” Nova choked out. It felt like her heart was in as many pieces as the car.

Nova climbed over the wreckage and crawled next to the woman. Cleo’s neck was bent and twisted at an angle that certainly meant it had snapped during the crash, but to Nova, she was as beautiful as ever. Nova felt tears welling up behind her eyes.

“Cleo, wake up,” Nova’s voice was shaky as she desperately shook the body, “Cleo, Cleo, please. Cleo–” Nova began to cry.

She picked up the small body in her arms and held her, rocking her. Nova buried her face in Cleo’s chest to dry her tears, wishing that she would be able to feel the comfort of her heartbeat, but there was nothing. Everything was still and silent.

“Cleo,” she sobbed, “How could … How did … How could this happen?” Tears flowed down Nova’s cheeks, her voice breaking, “Cleo, I loved you. No. I love you. And … And when you pulled up to my house, I was going to tell you. I was going to tell you that I love you. I waited too long. I was too scared, too stupid. And now it’s too late. Too late. I never needed the watermelons. All I needed was you, Cleo. And now you’re gone. Now you’re gone … gone forever. I’m sorry, Cleo, I’m sorry. I … I love you, Cleo.” Nova sat like that in the road for a very long time, drenched in watermelon juice and clinging to all that was left of Cleo.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the stars, a woman with strawberry blonde hair smiled down and felt Nova’s arms wrap around her: the embrace that she had always wanted. She loved Nova, and Nova loved her. In a flash of watermelon juice, everything was just as she had always wanted it to be. 

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