After Emilia picked the pear, she held it in her palm, turned it over once, and waited.
She heard Seth panting up the slope behind her. She did not turn around.
“Couldn’t catch you,” he said, jogging around to face her, his sneakers crunching over gravel. He stood in the shade of the pear tree, leaf shadows playing tag across the folds of his wheat-colored hair. She noticed his red t-shirt, rings of sweat accenting the contours of his belly. Seth was one of those boys who might benefit from the use of a man-bra.
“Want a pear?” she asked him, holding out the pale green fruit.
“No thanks,” he said, waving her hand away. “I’m saving it.”
“Saving what?” she asked.
Seth smiled with only half his mouth. “The calories. I’m heading out with my dad to Stuff-o-Mania after this. We’re sharing one of their big pans of hash.”
Emilia knew Stuff-o-Mania hash was more than potatoes. It was sausage, jalapenos, and crispy, fried onions, covered in layers of cheese. The big pan was the size of the four-person diner table. If you ate it single-handedly (single-mouthedly?) they gave it to you free.
“You’re actually going to share it with your dad?” Emilia asked as she raised the pear to her lips. This was the whole reason she’d come up here before the heat of the day: to grasp one of Mr. Lopez’s Comice pears, to bring it to her lips. To let her teeth sink into it.
Seth lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “I tried one time to finish the whole thing. Couldn’t do it.” He looked down at the dirt, traced a pattern with the toe of his shoe. Emilia wondered if he were ashamed at his failure.
“Oh well,” she said. Honestly, she didn’t care. Her thoughts were on the fruit. Pears fascinated her: the juiciness without the crispness. Sweetness without tartness. Pears were plain, honest, unassuming. They never disappointed.
Seth had seen her when she passed the convenience store. She'd seen him inside, but pretended she hadn't. He’d followed her. She hadn’t turned around when he called her name. She often claimed deafness when it was convenient. Said her dad yelling at her when she was a kid broke one of her ear drums.
As she chewed, she watched a droplet of sweat trickle down Seth’s flushed cheek.
There was something beautiful about the quiet of the pear orchard. Emilia wanted it all to herself. How many more words would it take to chase him away?
“So, why are you up here?” she asked. Direct questions were sometimes best in these situations.
Seth flinched. He opened his mouth. Emilia thought he was going to speak, but he let his jaw hang loose too long. Emilia had that feeling: dread rising like flood water in a canal.
“I—” Seth began. At least it was a sound.
“Yes?” Emilia scratched at the skin of the pear with her fingernail.
“I just wondered if Micah….” His cheeks burned the color of fat tomatoes.
Emilia let the hand holding the pear drop to her side. She felt a droplet of juice drip onto her shin and dribble down to the elastic of her sock.
Seth tried to recover. “I – just – you know….”
“Does this have anything to do with Homecoming?” Emilia kept her voice perfectly level.
“Well, yeah, I—”
She swallowed. “I’m sorry, Seth. I’m not going. Not with Micah, not with anybody.”
When she glanced up, she saw that Seth’s eyes were crinkled. “So, it’s not—”
“It’s not you,” she said, shaking her head so that her ponytail flipped from side to side.
“Dances aren't my thing,” she said.
“Okay,” he said.
“But thanks for the thought.” She smiled.
Seth nodded, shaggy hair flapping into his eyes. “Okay.” He turned away. “See you around, I guess.” He raised one arm in a sort-of salute.
“Bye,” Emilia said, and watched him gallop down the hill.
When the back of his head finally disappeared behind the ridge, Emilia tipped her head back to gaze at the blue sky. Then, she returned to her first love. Fresh pear.