Ellinor walked out of the house without the scarf her mother had told hear to wear, it was chilly outside, because she wanted to be a rebel. She was 10 and a half and felt very grown up on that Saturday morning when she walked out to meet a boy.
John waited nearby in a park, slightly shoving around the sand underneath his basket ball shoes as he sat on the cold park bench. He pulled his green coat tighter around him to evade the cold winds, nervously gazing after a girl with fire red hair.
She walked slowly away from her street where she had always lived – where she knew every nook and cranny. Her fingers inside her mustard yellow gloves touched the fences as she walked past them, just like every day when she walked to school. This day she didn’t take to the left but to the right. Her feet nervously took her on the path to the boy with freckles.
The bells in the nearby church struck 10 and John looked up toward the other side of the park, his heart throbbing faster and faster until it skipped a beat as he saw her come around the corner, out from the forest on the other side of the pond. He unknowingly smiled.
They both felt like it took forever until they were so close they could touch each other, which they didn’t, they were too shy. Ellinor sat down next to him on the bench but before she did she saw a heart carved into the seat, a heart John had carved with his home key while waiting, but he didn’t tell her that.
A duck couple walked past them down to the pond and John and Ellinor followed them with their eyes in silence, sitting close so close but yet so far away from each other. Ellinor dangled with her feet that didn’t quite reach the ground and tugged her gloves while thinking what to say. John continued to dig into the ground with his shoe not even looking at her but from the corner of his eye he could see her red hair flying in the wind.
When they had sat there for at least 20 minutes seeing ducks and people pass by John daringly with just a glance to the side took Ellinor’s hand in his and then they sat like that, a girl of 10 and a half and a boy of 11 in the park on a November morning with their fingers entwined. Ellinor looked away and blushed but she didn’t let go of his hand. He cleared his throat and asked her if she wanted to buy hot coco from the little café deeper into the park, he explained he had some money so he could pay. She just nodded in response.
Together they followed the path into the park past the pond and to the botanical garden where the dead roses were covered in frost, seemingly forgotten by the person who handled the garden. Ellinor looked at them as they passed the flower beds while being painfully aware of John’s warm hand. It was like electricity rushing from her hand to her heart down to her stomach where the butterflies went crazy. It made her shyly smile.
John had his focus on the little café with blush pink walls and white corners together with a small sign in white saying ”Rosie’s” in the centre of the botanical garden, a place his grandma sometimes took him on Sundays for tea. As they together opened the wooden door to the café a smell of fresh buns and cake came toward them.
Scattered here and there in the front room were old ladies smelling heavily of old perfume and moth balls, they smiled lightly at the young couple who quickly let go of each other’s hands and blushed. Ellinor waited a bit behind while John walked up to the register and ordered two cups of hot chocolate with lots of whipped cream, just as he ordered every time when he visited with his grandma. The woman behind the register smiled and said
– I will be out within a minute with your hot coco, you can sit down.
They walked to the back room and sat down at a small round table with dark green, velvet chairs. In the back room were a mother and daughter and an old couple, both of them well over 80, they all quickly glanced at John and Ellinor and continued with their discussions.
John hung his coat on the back of his chair, he had a carefully ironed button down shirt in light blue on which his mother had forced him to wear after a lot of ”ooh” and ”aah” when he told her where and why he was going on the early Saturday morning. He felt a bit over dressed, he only wore a button down on special occasions like funerals (his grandma’s) and weddings (his cousin’s and his aunt’s) but his mum had not taken a no for an answer and he didn’t want to be late.
Ellinor put her gloves in the pocket of her coat and hung it behind her on the chair, she had her finest dress on, a dark blue one which her mother always thought looked beautiful on her because of her red hair, and around its white collar she had a velvet ribbon. She pulled the skirt nervously and wondered if this was how grownups felt when out on a date, not that she knew if it was a real date or not. She wanted to look at John but she didn’t dare to meet his eyes.
It had been so much easier the other day when she had written an answer to his note, when she said yes on meeting in the park. She was caught up thinking on the note while John struggled to find the words, while he struggled to say anything that made him sound interesting and cool to Ellinor whom he had a crush on for the last year. The note he gave her the other day was their first interaction.
They could hear the conversations from the other tables as they sat there quiet. The woman behind the counter came with their hot chocolate just as Ellinor had gathered enough courage to talk; she remained silent and sipped hot chocolate from her straw. John very lightly stirred his hot chocolate and took a spoon of whipped cream, just as he always did before his first sip which this time left a cream moustache on his upper lip.
It took a while before Ellinor noticed since she could barely look at him; she fiddled with the lid to the little bowl of sugar cubes – on and off, on and off and twirling it a little to the left and a little to the right. The feeling of being an adult had vanished and she felt painfully young and like she didn’t know what she was doing.
John, still wearing the cream moustache, looked at his watch and nervously scratched his foot on the floor. He had felt so confident this morning about swooping her off her feet just as they did in his mum’s favourite movies but all he seemed to do is make her bored. He glanced over toward her and got discouraged, she didn’t even want to look at him, she seemed to adamantly look away. His heart sank.
Ellinor started to panic that she didn’t know what to do or say, maybe her sister was right, maybe she was too young for love, maybe she should go home again. She looked up from the sugar bowl and met his friendly brown eyes and she smiled which made her instantly blush since she didn’t mean to smile like a goof. John felt how his eyes locked with hers for just a second and when she smiled his butterflies multiplied by millions in seconds. He smiled back, still adorned with a cream moustache.
They sat there drinking their hot chocolate while customers came and gone around them, some whispered about the cute little couple and others just took notice but didn’t care. John and Ellinor tried to tentatively talk to each other. At first it was about school, their classmates and the horrid lunch the day before and then about their families and interests.
John learned about Ellinor that her birthday was in March, that she had an older sister named Aly and that her dad was remarried to an awful woman who could never remember her name and that she liked to read Nancy Drew and write ghost stories.
Ellinor learned about John that he was the oldest of three siblings, that his parents were still together and that he liked to play video games and that his favourite time of year was late spring or beginning of summer when one didn’t need a coat anymore.
As they talked shyly to each other they both wondered if this was how love felt like. None of them were an expert but both believed it must be so since they had heard about the heart racing and the butterflies in the stomach going mad when one loved someone, just as it did on their insides as they sat there talking.
It wasn’t until hours later they finished their then not so hot chocolate and put on their coats again and prepared to go out in the cold. When they got out they noticed it had snowed and the sun hid behind the clouds. Ellinor was quick to make a snowball which she promised not to throw on John and then laughed and did anyway. She started to run and he ran after her with a snowball.
John tried several times but every snowball missed her, he didn’t know if it was because she was good at evading them or if he just didn’t have the heart to hit her with one. He loved the sound of her laugh. Her red hair flied around like a halo while she ran and jumped around.
After a while they both were exhausted from all the running, they stood a couple of metres from each other at a stand still trying to catch their breath but not leaving the other with their eyes, just in case the other would try something.
Ellinor dared to look at John, truly see his freckles which she could still see from afar and his brown hair almost hidden underneath his red cap with a fluffy ball on top. Her heart skipped a beat, just as her sister told her it would do if she loved someone. While she looked at him he dropped the snowball and said with a smile:
– Game over.
– I win?
– You win.
As a reaction she reached out her hand and he walked up to her and took it, she almost let go of his hand from the surprise when she felt his naked hand against hers, his warm skin not through a glove but directly against hers. He felt like the butterflies had spread to his hand and he felt warm all over when he held her hand in his.
They walked like that side by side into the city centre where they strolled around the stores and looked into the windows, just as they saw other couple’s did. They felt grown up. John showed her some games that he liked in the window of a game store and she took him to see the window of her favourite book store. Not a single time did they let go of each other’s hands, not even the cold from not wearing their gloves bothered them much, the electricity from touching each other held them warm.
As they walked around they came upon an empty playground, not far from the park, with swings and a little castle with a slide from the second floor. Ellinor let go of John’s hand and ran up to a swing.
– Come on, she said.
John was hesitant since he didn’t like being high up in the air, especially not on a swing since he fell off one when he was four and needed six stitches. He stood hesitant outside the playground looking at Ellinor swinging back and forth with her red hair flying.
– Come, Ellinor shouted merrily.
He took one step inside the playground and started to go toward the swings but changed his mind and sat down on a ladybug at a safe distance away. There he waited for her.
When she came up to him she asked:
– You don’t like swings?
– I fell off once and needed stitches.
– Oh, said Ellinor and felt awful for trying to get him on one.
She sat down on the bee next to John and there they sat for a while until they noticed the sun was going down.
– We should go home, said John.
Ellinor looked up at the sky and then her watch, with a sad heart she nodded. It was soon time for dinner and she had promised to be home before that but she didn’t want to leave, not yet.
Hand in hand they walked back to the park again, to the park bench they had met a couple of hours before. They stood there quiet for a while just holding each other’s hands, taking in the moment. Right before Ellinor was about to turn around and leave John took courage and said:
– I made it for you.
– What? She asked confused.
John pointed slightly toward the heart on the bench and Ellinor blushed when she realised what he was referring to. At first she didn’t say anything and then it fell out of her mouth:
That was at least what she had heard them say on her sister’s favourite movies and in the magazines she read in secret.
John smiled and then nodded which made Ellinor smile too.
Ellinor felt grown up again, she had a boyfriend, just as her sister had, she was 10 and a half but she wasn’t a little girl anymore. John felt like he was going to burst from happiness, the girl he had followed around with his eyes for a year was his girlfriend! His inside was made of goo.
– Can I see you tomorrow? he asked.
– Of course, she smiled.
They became quiet again, lingering by the bench, stalling the inevitable when Ellinor after intently memorising John’s every freckle suddenly said:
– You have a cream moustache.
She then turned around and left, wishing he would come after her and kiss her, just as the boys always did in movies. He didn’t but she vowed that one day she would kiss him – on the mouth.
John looked for her until he could not see her red hair anymore, and lingered just a short moment longer before he turned around and walked home with a new spring in his step. ”I will marry that girl one day” he thought and smiled.