Bad Timing

For eighteen months Derek had attempted to cajole a smile out of stone cold Claire. He’d been counting. He’d tried small talk. Will the carpark ever reopen? Will the leaky roof ever get fixed, or must customers forever dodge traffic cones with their squeaky trolleys? And whatever happened to the deli counter?

Derek eyed the row of checkouts and, out of habit, checked his broken watch. He didn’t even know why he put the stupid thing on every morning. He glanced left and right again, as if his choice wasn’t already made, and shifted quietly into Claire’s line. It wasn’t the shortest queue, but Claire was efficient. Her line would move faster. At least it would with the collection of sturdy pensioners in line. Sturdy meant no fussing. Pensioners meant none of that Challenge 25 nonsense.

A tomatoey blush crept up Derek’s cheeks as he remembered how strangely Claire had looked at him when he’d mentioned how the customers attempting to buy alcohol just kept getting younger and younger. He knew he looked younger than twenty eight, and he’d never tried to buy alcohol from Claire before. He wondered if she’d ID him. But more than that, he wondered if she’d ever smile at him. He couldn’t even figure out why he wanted to see her smile. Derek didn’t fancy Claire. That would be absurd.

Claire glanced along the line. He was here again, the one who wittered endlessly about all sorts of nonsense. Beautiful nonsense. Tempting her with his youthful blushes. God, he was gorgeous, his dark head bobbing above a foamy sea of white and grey. Why must he always get in her line, reminding her of days lost to the cruel tick of time? She was young and beautiful once. Full of laughter. Laughter, she thought, with a mental harrumph. She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d smiled.

Derek kicked his basket forward, the polished floor providing little friction, and popped a mint into his mouth. He had tried everything, even jokes. Jokes about horses walking into bars. Jokes about jaywalking chickens. Unfaithful cartoon characters. Jungle-dwelling kitchen appliances. Fruity marsupials. The only thing worse than Derek’s jokes were his puns. He shouldn’t be allowed out in public.

Stone cold Claire with her ice cold glare, he thought, as their eyes met across the loaded conveyor belt. No wonder she always looked at him funny. She could probably tell he was making up rude rhymes about her in his head. He blushed again and checked his useless watch, just for something to do.

“Did you remember your loyalty card today?” said Claire, lifting the checkout divider and sliding it into its rack. Good god, woman, you’re not his bloody mother. Might as well be. Oh god, he’s blushing again.

Derek fished the card out of his wallet. “And I have some coupons.” He laid them out in a curve in front of her. Like a rainbow, he thought.

Like a smile, she thought. BEEP! “What are these like?” she asked. “I’ve been meaning to give them a try.” She looked at the packet in her hands. Fishfingers. She was asking him what fishfingers were like. Generic brand fishfingers.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Answer, you idiot! “They’re alright, but I don’t think you’d like them.” BEEP! “They’re cheap and bland.” BEEP!

“Ah, they aren’t worthy of me,” she said. “Is that what you’re saying?”

Was that a smile? Did I miss it? “Absolutely,” he said, determined to make her smile reappear. “I’m uncultured. I’ll eat anything. But a fine lady, such as yourself, deserves only the finest foods.” BEEP!

She chuckled, a smile lingering on her face, lighting her eyes. Derek stood, holding his breath, as if releasing it would cause time to tick on, taking Claire’s smile with it.

“If I was twenty years younger,” she said, with a wink. What the hell did I just do? Did I really just wink at someone half my age?

Derek smiled, then blushed. How young does she think I am? Fifteen? She can only be ten years older than me, if that. God, she has a lovely smile.

“That will be twelve eighty four please,” said Claire.

Derek fumbled with his wallet, his fingers suddenly too fat to pull out a twenty pound note.

With just a smile to sustain him until his next visit to Claire’s line, Derek headed along the high street to get his watch repaired. The queue was long and he cursed his bad timing. Should’ve got here sooner, he thought, thinking of Claire. Twenty years sooner.

Inspired not by Derek, but by Clive. Cheers dude.

word count 760. A little long for flash.

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