I know many people can’t imagine loving Tofu. Read on, I say.
LOVE AND TOFU
My heartbeat kept pace with the steady beep of the scanner recording prices of mustard, coffee, and pears. Then I noticed the tall man join the back of my checkout line. Thomas.
He’d been a regular for about a year at the neighborhood market where I worked. We had flirted a little at first, but then he started dressing in suits and coming in with a pretty blonde woman. He bought yogurt and low-fat salad dressing and tofu. Then he was alone and he wore jeans and t-shirts and bought chips and soda and frozen pizza. I tried to glance at his cart to see today’s purchases, but he was still too far back.
I forced myself to make small talk with the customer in front of me, Mrs. Lawrence. Jim’s Uptown Market was in an island of neighbors and community surrounded by big city. Many of our customers had been shopping here longer than I’d been alive. Like Mrs. Lawrence. She came in every day to buy a can of cat food and a pint of milk. On Tuesdays she bought a chicken breast and Fridays either a pork chop or some ground beef. That was a Tuesday.
“How’s Snowball?” I asked Mrs. Lawrence, placing her purchases in the canvas bag she always brought.
“Sitting in the window sill, watching birds and dozing.” Mrs. Lawrence handed me a five-dollar bill and I tapped the register keys.
“Sounds like a nice way to spend the afternoon.” I placed the change in her palm and handed her the bag. “Would you like Jamie to walk you home?”
“That would be lovely.” I reached for the microphone, but Thomas spoke up.
“I’m walking today. I’ll carry her bag.” I met his glance and had to look away before he saw my heart. It was just like him to offer to help the elderly woman. I’d watched him hold doors open for women of all ages, always return his shopping cart to the store, and occasionally pull quarters from the ears of children who grew restless in the checkout line.
“Why thank you, Thomas. I’ll wait outside.” Mrs. Lawrence moved to the exit.
Thomas nudged the shopping cart forward as he unloaded his groceries. Uh oh. Yogurt. Did that mean he was dating again? I started scanning the items, taking an inventory. Dish soap. Milk; low-fat. Orange juice. All very unhelpful in giving me a glimpse into his romantic life. Where were the potato skins and canned pasta? My heart turned to ice as I keyed in the code for a head of lettuce. No, two heads of lettuce.
My shoulders sagged. If there was tofu, I would have to face it: I missed my chance, the window of singleness when I could think about offering to cook him a real meal to give him a break from the microwavable frozen stuff. I kept scanning and checking. No tofu. No air freshening candles. Real ice cream, not air-churned frozen ice milk. I chanced a quick glance up, looking at his clothes. Khakis and a polo shirt.
“How are you today, Thomas?” I asked, keeping my voice professional and courteous. “The salad dressings in aisle three are on sale.”
He didn’t answer right away and after a moment I forced myself to look at him. He stood, head to one side, with a quizzical expression.
“I’m fine, Meredith.” His brow furrowed, as if trying to remember his shopping list.
“Did you forget something?”
“No.” He shook his head. “I guess I just realized –”
“Yes?” I prompted. My heart pounded again, faster than the beeps this time.
“It occurred to me that you must see a lot in my groceries.”
I turned and busied myself with bagging. “Oh, no. I don’t pay attention to what my customers buy.”
“Really?” His eyebrows rose. Were we flirting again?
“Well, I do worry that Mrs. Lawrence really has a cat.” I smiled. “And I’ve noticed someone quit buying tofu a few months ago.”
He threw his head back and laughed, the sound drawing me in like iron filings to a magnet until I chuckled too.
“Yes, I lost some diet restrictions a while back.” He swiped his debit card through the reader. “And I live upstairs from Mrs. Lawrence. Snowball does spend her days in the windowsill.”
“Is the diet back?” I asked, forcing myself not to look at him.
“Ummm, no. Why did you think it was?”
I showed him the yogurt and lettuce as I put them in the bag and he laughed again.
“I decided I actually like yogurt and an occasional salad would be better for me than all that frozen pizza and other junk.”
“Is that so?” The butterflies in my stomach all fluttered in a matching cadence. “I make a great grilled chicken salad. I’ll give you the recipe sometime.”
“I’m not good at following recipes.” He picked up the bags. “How about if you make it for me?”
The doors whisked open and Mrs. Lawrence came back in. Thomas smiled at her. “I’m waiting for Meredith to invite me over for dinner and then I’m ready to go.”
“Well?” Mrs. Lawrence’s eyes were open wide.
I laughed, heat rushing up my neck. “Why don’t you come Thursday night? I’ll make the salad.”
He leaned across the counter and whispered in my ear. “I’ll bring ice cream. No tofu, I promise.”