Robbin is nicknamed by the citizens as a beach town, but I always thought that it was too cold for such a name. Peter always acts heroic by jumping into the frigid beach water so that the girls can see how adventurous he is. It isn't hard to grow tired of his actions. The redeeming aspect of Robbin though, is that even if it is cool in May and early June, it always somehow becomes ten or fifteen degrees hotter from mid-June and up until September. By then, tourists line the streets and big expensive cars remind us that they don't belong here.
The cool temperature has not let up yet as I walk to my job, but the seagulls have already begun swarming the cool sands of Robbin's famous beach. Robbin's Sweets was the only place that had offered jobs during the winter and I had promised my parents that I would keep working there until the end of high school next year.
It is mid-afternoon when Burt walks with the same girl from the night before. Her long, twisting blond hair is held in place by a blue headband that intensifies her electric blue eyes and her pale skin is something that I know will immediately set her apart from the other kids in Robbin. She is wearing a shirt that is too large for her and its length partially hides the jean shorts that she is wearing underneath. Her worn down Nike shoes echo on the hard wood floors of the candy shop as she looks around and her small, delicate hands are playing with the hanging candy that I had put up earlier in the day.
"Hey Burt," I say from behind the counter. "No kids today?"
"Nope, just me and Asteri here," he motions to the girl and the warmth that his smile shows is something I had never seen before on him.
I nod in understanding and watch him turn back to point something out to the strangely named girl. "See this," he signals to the town's favorite candy: strawberry licorice. It comes in strings, bite-size chewy bits, flat candy, and hard drops; our specialty. "You have to try these, Ter."
I see the girl react with surprise at her nickname, but she recovers quickly.
"This is the best candy you'll ever try. I guarantee it!" He takes a drop from a nearby bin. "Here," he says and she accepts his offering cautiously. It is like watching a visitor trying to play nice with a zoo animal: no one knows how the animal will react to a stranger's kindness.
Her face lights up at the flavors that I am sure she is experiencing for the first time and Burt turns, smiling back to me. "That's right! Riley, I have to get something in the truck for your dad." He says, slapping his head softly. "How is he by the way?"
"Tired, but you know how it is: that diner is his life, he'd die making it perfect." I recite. "But, mom did say that she wanted you, Helena, and your kids over for dinner. I know she misses the heck out of you."
Burt nods with the usual happiness that he has attained from the year before and walks out of the store towards his truck, leaving the stranger in the quiet store with me. I watch her as she kneels over to look at some of the sweets hidden on the bottom shelf, and the way that her back bends makes her shirt accentuate her tiny form.
"Those are for beginners," I say to her as she runs her fingers over the boxes. She looks up at me and it takes me several seconds to regain my composure. Her defiant features had momentarily taken my breath away. "The ones you should try are over there," I point to a shelf stacked with boxes of sweets from other towns and cities.
"These ones?" Her voice is low, raspy, and unsure.
"Yeah, they're our best sellers," I state. "There are some from other states too: New York, California, Mississippi, Texas; you know, all the good stuff."
She nods and slowly walks over to the shelves. "I don't know about all these other states," I can tell that she is trying to keep the conversation casual and that, by her tense actions, this is something unknown to her. "But I prefer the Florida candy. It's all I've ever known."
I walk out from behind the counter and stop beside her. She is a lot shorter than me, but I'm not that surprised since I stand at six-foot-three, a ridiculous height for a seventeen year-old. She smells like the sea-salt air that invades our lungs every summer and I force myself to focus on what I am doing. "I understand, our sweets are the best, but if we aren't open to other ones how do we compare the best to others?" I reason. "Just give them a chance and I am sure you'll be surprised. I'd hate to think that you're missing out on something because of a stubborn idea."
Her head snaps up at me and I take a step back. Her agile movements surprise me and her mouth is set in a thin unreadable line. One hand is clenched tightly at her side.
"Here we are," Burt's voice interrupts our standoff and I walk back towards the counter. I can still feel her eyes on me as Burt approaches the counter as well. "Tell your dad that I found this in my store a few days ago and that it will help his blender work better, okay?"
"Thanks Burt, I will."
"Alright," he turns towards the girl, whose face is once again placid. "Did you pick something for yourself?"
She shakes her head and I see Burt's shoulders sag slightly.
"Here," I say quickly while grabbing a box from behind the counter. "These are from New York, I'm sure you'll like them."
She stares at me as Burt pays for the box of candy. I smile at her and she looks away, her cheeks a burning rose red. Before I can be more intrigued by her strange reactions, she and Burt walk out of the store and into the summer afternoon.