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Unspoken Chemistry

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Kala realizes too late that she’s bought too many groceries, and she struggles on the long walk back to her apartment. It’s an icy walk, and she nearly falls several times. She only agreed to pick up the groceries because Lito was depressed with Hernando gone on a research trip to Spain, and Dani was busy with a dance rehearsal. She tried to pick the right things. Cheerios with the honey. Bok choy. Yogurt with 2% fat. She wonders once again why she agreed to this as she trudges up the hill towards the large, drafty house the four of them are renting. Something about grocery stores has always perplexed and depressed her.

She stands for a moment in front of the house, frowning. They’re renting the second floor, and the stairs up to it are caked and crusted with winter. Snow, ice, salt. She picks up the bags, and starts up the stairs slowly. She’s nearly to the top when she slips and has to drop one of the bags to catch herself. The contents of the bag thunder down the steps and onto the sidewalk below. She sets the remaining bags on the landing and rubs her face, exhausted. She starts back down the stairs to gather everything that fell when she notices a young man on the sidewalk, apparently coming home from a night class, shouldering a backpack and carrying a Thermos. They hold each other’s gaze for a moment. Then he kneels down and begins to pick up her groceries.

Kala scampers down the steps to help. They don’t speak as they pick up apples, boxes of tea, several dozen strawberries that have spilled out into the snow. She watches his hands search the snow for anything they missed, and then she looks away, sucking in her cheeks a little and trying to stop her spiraling train of thought.

Doesn’t anyone else realize the most beautiful man on the planet is on my sidewalk?

Kala glances up at him as they get to their feet. He hands her the bags, and she smiles, turning even pinker than she already was from the cold.

“Thank you,” she says quietly.

He shakes his head to signal he didn’t mind and smiles back. His face is expressive, and despite sharp features and a strong jaw, he seems kind. Kala hopes she isn’t staring.

“I’m Wolfgang,” he says and shakes her hand.

His accent makes her momentarily weak.

“I’m Kala.”

He glances at her. “That’s beautiful.”

“Well, my parents must have thought so,” she says modestly.

“Where are you from?” he asks.

“Mumbai, which probably explains why I’m so terrible at dealing with the winter,” she says, laughing at herself and gesturing with her grocery bags. “You?”

“I just moved here from Berlin.”

“Oh, well at least you’re used to the cold. I’m sure I’ll never be warm again.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” he says, a smirk playing at the corner of his lips.

Kala blushes, and after a breath says, “Well -- thank you -- I should probably--”

He nods, hiking his backpack higher on his shoulder. “See you around.”

“See you around,” she replies, and returns up the stairs.

She gets inside, drops the groceries, and stares into the dark living room. What was that?