Her step is light but cautious as if she fears that something may be waiting around each corner to steal her happiness. She enjoys the sun on her back. She shivers as the chill of the early spring breeze ruffles her hair and runs kisses down her neck. This is the best time to come, before the day gets busy and the queues destroy the pleasure, before the hoards have pillaged the bounty.

The old fashioned sign to the delicatessen creaks on its chains. Outside the fresh fruits and vegetables are arranged artfully in baskets and wooden crates. Jersey Royal potatoes still clad in the soil of their birth offer warm season’s greetings. Bundles of broccoli, watercress, spinach and radishes, apricots, cherries and rhubarb present themselves before her eager eyes. Brilliant greens and shining reds, soft yellows and oranges are bright in the sun; it is as if the baskets were treasure chests unearthed from the caves of winter.

She runs her fingers along the lengths of asparagus to the bulging tip, already tasting the grassy sweetness and the rich slick salt of butter. She inhales the sharp, rich scent of the tomatoes. Her basket is filling before she even crosses the threshold. The sound of the bell as the door opens and the calm still of warm air, heavy with the smells of delights to come, deepen her sense of expectation. Ahead of her shelves are laden with spells to charm the senses: flavoured olive oils and vinegars, the fresh and the sweet, the rich and the unctuous. It is an enchanted paradise of pleasures and she takes her time to peruse each shelf full of possibility.

She tries not to be distracted by the increasing beat of her heart, by the pull to look round to the counter. She has not yet decided whether this new presence here has heightened her pleasure or whether he detracts from it. She is disturbed by the apparent loss of control over her nervous system: the racing heart that makes her breathless, the tremor in her hands. Surely these are not healthy symptoms. Finally she turns; he’s there of course, leaning against the sill of the window behind the counter, talking to the elderly gentleman that she had been so familiar with. He wears a white t-shirt and jeans under his apron, appealingly natural and masculine in an age of artifice and androgyny.

She tries not to look too long. Turning back to the bottles she looks at him with her mind’s eye; his broad shoulders and narrow waist; his high cheek bones and strong jaw; his smiling eyes and his full lips. She breathes slowly.

Walking over to the counter she smiles to her old friend and tries not to look at the new influence.

‘Good Morning,’ the old man asks, ‘How are you today?’

She chitchats, painfully aware of the huskiness of her voice and of the breathless schoolgirl quality to her laughter. She feels ashamed at her lack of control and is sure that the shame must be colouring her cheeks. It is him that steps up the counter to serve her while her friend hangs to the back, she glances at him and wonders if her look is pleading. She is sure that he looks amused.

Her stomach twists. She evades the new influence’s eyes and struggles for words.

‘We have something new in today. Do you want to try?’

Relief and gratitude flood through her at the thought that she doesn’t have to speak.

She nods, flushes, smiles. He cuts her a sliver of cheese from the round near the front. She likes his hands: not delicate like a musician nor big and powerful like a labourer, but somewhere in between, they look strong and steady. She takes the cheese from his proffered knife acutely aware of the proximity of his skin.

The sharp scent of the cheese touches her taste buds before the flesh causing her mouth to rush with saliva. The first taste is nothing short of an explosion of flavour, sharp, rich, salty, nutty and almost overwhelming.

‘That’s amazing.’ She gushes, nerves lost in enthusiasm and sensual overload.

‘I’m glad you like it.’ He’s smiling: watching her face and enjoying her pleasure.

Her leads her through further delights; one after another; observing her enjoyment and enhancing it with each step. Fresh, clean goats cheese, earthy aged cows cheese, silky, unctuous soft cheese, vibrant, challenging blue cheese, soft, sweet hams and chewy indulgent, cured beef. She follows each sample with a greedy promise of more, deeply satisfied and yet aching for further gratification.

Flushed and happy she pays at the till, says her goodbyes and wanders into the street.

The park is perfect in the midday sun. Winter weary souls, grey and housebound, are drawn out to enjoy the first of the year’s warmth, blinking at the new born world. The spring enlivens the active and sends the sedentary into blissful meditations. The park is at once both full and empty. A press of humanity breeze past one another like ghosts in separate times, the whooping and calling of the playing families does nothing to disrupt the reverie of the solitary dreamers. The day grows differently for all on their own path: slowing to precious moments for the couple under the trees and racing in excited hours for the boys with their bikes and their adventures.

She sits on the sidelines and watches life over the pages of her book. The suns rays cast a spell over nature, coating the trees in glitter and making each colour glow. She revels in the screeches of the children at play, the whir of the spokes on a bicycle, the raucous laughter of the teens, the orchestra of life. The warmth tingles across her skin. She is happy in these quiet moments.

She places a cherry in her mouth and closes her eyes. The dark juice slides down her throat. She takes another and sees herself accepting it from another hand. She imagines how warm his hands must feel. Every detail is clear in her mind. She feels him nuzzle into her neck and place a kiss close to her ear. She shivers. She has imagined this moment so many times. She feels his warm breath on her neck as his arms encircle her. Not just the fantasy of physical intimacy, she imagines it all. She imagines conversations and futures, shared dreams and moments. She builds him a new life in her mind in a parallel world where dreams come true and the sun is always shining unless a walk in the rain would be romantic.

‘Why don’t you just ask him out?’ Amanda asks.

Because I can’t. She thinks. I wish I hadn’t told you.

She stands over the stove. She is cooking tagliatelle with spinach and mascarpone. The pasta bubbles in a pan on the back hob and her attention is focused on the frying pan in front of her. She likes to hear the hiss of the garlic as it hits the olive oil. Amanda is always telling her off for not using the extractor fan but she hates the noise.

She takes a sip of wine, blackberries and vanilla warmly coat her tongue, she tries not to notice that Amanda is still talking.

‘What have you got to loose? Even if he says ‘no’ at least you’ll know where you stand and they won’t bar you from the deli just because you asked an employee out. And you never know he might even say yes…’

She’s not sure she wants to know where she stands. She’s fairly convinced that knowing where you stand is overrated. She watches the spinach darken and shrivel in the pan.

‘Seriously, sweetheart, I want you to be happy. You deserve to meet someone special.’

The words drift on the outside of her mind. She knows it’s a kind sentiment. She isn’t unhappy. She quickly tastes the iron of the spinach before she softens it with the smooth, sweet mascarpone and tosses it through the pasta. She grates over parmesan, adds seasoning, tosses it and tastes it again. She takes the two steaming plates through to Amanda before she is tempted to eat anymore in the kitchen.

Amanda looks refills both their glasses and stares at her with big concerned eyes clearly waiting for a response. They are sat at the small two person dining table in their small two person flat. The TV is on for background noise but neither of them is watching. Amanda is still looking at her and she keeps her steadfastly focused on her plate. She twirls the tagliatelle around her fork. She glances up and softens. She can’t ignore Amanda. That would be unkind.

‘I’ll think about it.’ She lies.

The children are playing outside. She likes the sound of their screams and laughter. She isn’t on duty today so she sits in the classroom and marks books while she eats her lunch, broad beans and peas crushed with parmesan, garlic, olive oil and mint with crunchy bread. She follows it with strawberries. She could sit in the staff room but she chooses not to. The chat about kids and TV, relationships and sex, the covert hierarchy are all too much. She prefers to stay here. The classroom is quiet and comforting. It smells of paint and glue and paper and the walls are a colourful montage of the progress of her charges.

He is an unwelcome distraction, tickling at the back of her mind. She tries to prevent her imagination from wandering away from her; she wants to stay in the real. But can’t somehow, she pictures his face. The open exercise book is pushed away with a frustrated sigh. For a few moments she lets the classroom fade and her dreamscape to shimmer into being. A pallet of reds today, warm and intimate, smelling of sweat and scented oils. She flushes, shakes her head, drags herself back to the now and the exercise book back to its place in front of her.

She goes home. In the living room she sits on the sofa and watches television, the show is dull but soothing and she drowses in the familiar boredom known as relaxation. She is thinking of him again. In the absence of more pressing matters she allows herself to wander through the world she has built for them. A home by the sea, bright and airy and smelling of baked bread and fresh flowers, a life of simple perfection, luxurious only in it’s freedom from strife. He is always smiling and she is always enough and they are always contented.

The evening draws on. She cooks for Amanda. They eat and talk and watch a movie. She goes to bed and reads a book. She turns out the light. She sleeps; she wakes; she works; she goes home. She sleeps; she wakes; she works; she goes home. She sleeps; she wakes; she works; she goes home. Round and round and round the cycle of days. Through the doldrums of routine she thinks of him and wishes her life away.

It is Saturday again. She is warm and relaxed in the expanse of her bed, she stretches like a cat and rolls over. She no longer wants to sleep but she is enjoying the feeling of comfort, of the unhurried, indolent indulgence of lying still. She stirs only to reach up and open the blind, allowing the sun to warm her while remaining under the covers. Another beautiful day.

She goes through in her mind all the things that she should do and the order in which she should do them. She plans each step carefully and looks forward to her day. She will start with a cup of tea and breakfast with Amanda. Then she will shower and walk to the park to feed the ducks. After that she will go to the deli. She feels a silent rush of anticipation and her cheeks colour again. She pulls the covers up higher as if to hide her blushes from an unseen visitor. After the deli, she will drop her purchases at home and she will meet her mother for coffee. Then she will go back to the park to eat her lunch. In the afternoon she and Amanda will go shopping for clothes and visit the cinema and that should close the day. After that she will go home. Amanda is out tonight so she may take a bath and indulge in her favourite chocolates, maybe a glass of her favourite wine. She will listen to music and go to bed early with her book. She is looking forward to finding out what happens at the end. On Sundays she and Amanda stay in their pyjamas all day and share the cooking of dinner. This week they have lamb and have discussed slow cooking it, she is looking forward to that too.

She hears Amanda’s bedroom door open and swing closed and gets up to join her in the living room. She is calm and happy with her plans, she smiles and drinks tea while Amanda cooks bacon sandwiches.

The sign above the deli isn’t creaking today. The day is very still and very warm, barely any breeze at all. They’ve propped the door open to try to encourage the air to move. She feels the heat as she walks past the door, she is very aware of the presence within, she feels exposed without that barrier between them. Her heart beats faster and she is forced to remind herself why she is here. She has plans for purple sprouting broccoli and she and Amanda have decided to serve the lamb with a green salad. She collects the items she needs and continues to make further plans, imagining each morsel as it will appear on her plate and the taste when it touches her lips. They have celeriac this week and avocados; she squeezes the flesh to find the best one.

She hesitates before walking in, trying to order her thoughts. She doesn’t want to betray her emotions this time. She will be calm. Inside the air is hot and heavy and she feels him like gravity as she steps through the door. She is drowning in the atmosphere and the weight of her own emotions. She tries to calm her breathing. Her body is reluctant to follow instruction, clumsy and heavy while her mind becomes disconnected. She is light-headed. The magic is lost to her today, or she is lost to the magic. The bottles of oils and sauces are just that and she collects what she requires with her mind floating somewhere outside herself, whispering a soothing mantra.

She approaches the counter. He does his best to help by making suggestions and offering her things to try. Her hands shake and she becomes annoyed with herself. She mind floats further from her and berates her body for failing to follow instruction. She avoids his eyes. She pays for her items and heads out of the door.

She hurries out of the door too fast, longing for the freedom of the outside world. She is a mess of anger, frustration and tension. A part of her thinks she might want to cry. She breathes and tries to compress it all in again, push it all back to a safe place where she can remain in control. But nothing works, not even her feet. She stumbles, shopping scattering from bags as she tries to regain her footing. She kneels, face burning, stuffing vegetables and bottles back into bags, praying that nothing is broken, hoping that no one has seen. But of course they have, of course he has.

He is kneeling in front of her helping her collect her scattered treasures.

‘Are you okay?’ He asks. ‘Have you hurt yourself? You don’t seem yourself today?’

‘I’m fine.’ Her voice sharp, hurried.

She starts to feel angry at him for stepping out from behind the counter for invading reality with the chaos he creates in her heart. But he is being kind and she knows she’s wrong. He dips his head trying to catch her gaze, concerned eyes under long lashes. She relents, softens.

‘Sorry. Yes, I’m fine. I just….I don’t know.’

‘Just one of those days, huh?’ He smiles.

He places the last of the items into her bag and gets to his feet. He takes hold of her hands and helps her to stand. She wonders how she has the strength. Her body has turned to butter, melting under his gaze. He loiters and she doesn’t have the strength to wonder why. She looks at her feet.

‘It’s Sophie isn’t it?

She nods, like a child too shy to speak to an adult.

‘I’m Michael. Look, uh…’ She reaches into his pocket and hands her a piece of paper that he’d been keeping there. ‘This is my number. Maybe you can call me sometime. We could go for coffee?’

She stares dumbly at the paper in her hand. She looks up after a few moments as if she’s only just remembered that he’s standing there. He looks awkward and hopeful. She nods.

‘Okay, well maybe later?’ He looks uncertain, as if he knows as well as she does that the nod is not an answer.

She thinks she smiles. She’s not sure. But it seems to be enough for him and he backs away into the store.

Sophie stands on the pavement staring at the piece of paper in her hand. The sun is rising higher in the sky and she feels the prickle of heat on the tops of her shoulders. The door to the deli is still open. A couple walk in and Sophie knows that Michael will smile and help them choose from the delicacies on offer. She smiles when she thinks of it.

She gathers herself up and walks away, the paper still in her hand. She struggles to remember what she was going to do next. She feels very hectic and disorganised. But she is smiling, her life suddenly like so many scattered treasures on the ground