The market square was busy, as it usually was on a Saturday. But this particular day it was even more so as it was the first day of the town’s bi-annual French Market.
The main street’s cobbled walkways had many stalls selling different varieties of French goods: bread and pastries, dry smoked sausages; sweets; cheese; and so on. Though it surprised me to see there was also a vendor selling Italian chocolates and biscuits.
Maybe I’ll buy some later for Mum, I thought. And some sausages for Dad.
I thought back to the reason I’d come to the market in the first place.
For the last several weeks, someone had been leaving anonymous love notes in my locker at school. From the awkward style of writing, my admirer wasn’t very well versed in written communication, though there were some attempts at flowery language. There were also some random bits and pieces written in the notes.
For example, the sender had written into one of his first notes that my name, Sabrina, is the Latin form for the river Saverna. I didn’t see the significance of this.
When I showed them to my friend Lily Tyler from my form group, she told me that she’d noticed Alexander Hargrove, a boy in our year, staring at me at times.
Alex, as he preferred to be called, was one of the popular boys; the captain of the school’s cricket team; and a member of the Vocal Group, like I was. Almost every girl in school had had a crush on him at some point or other.
I’d briefly considered that he could be my secret admirer before dismissing that possibility as a hopeful fantasy, since Alex and I very rarely spoke, despite that we shared the same History class and attended Vocal Group practise every Tuesday and Thursday lunch hour.
I couldn’t think of anyone at our school who could be interested in me. Also the letters didn’t give many clues to the identity of my secret admirer. From untidy scrawl it very obviously a boy.
Having a secret admirer had never been on my most wanted list, even if I read about them in my many teenage romantic novels. But now that I had one, I could help but feel nervous and flattered at the same time.
The last letter had said to meet him on the first day of French Market on Saturday, which I did.
Before setting off for the market, I’d agonised over what clothes I should wear. I eventually settled for cool and casual. I chose a short-sleeved yellow linen shirt and dark blue jeans with a dark blue vertically striped cardigan with yellow and pale blue strips knitted in and mismatching buttons.
As I walked down the high street, stopping to look at whatever caught my eye, I heard a guitar playing; an acoustic playing a song I recognised as “Cry Me a River”.
The voice singing the song somehow sounded familiar; which was strange as I probably would have recognised it after hearing it the first couple of times, but this was the first time I was hearing his voice.
I quickened my pace, curious to see who was performing.
There was a crowd of people where several of the market stalls that sold cooked foods. The stalls were arranged in a circle surrounding sets of tables and chairs where people could sit and eat.
The performer was sitting on a stool, with one foot on the ground and the other on an amplifier placed in front of him, and crooning into a microphone. His face was obscured by several people that stood around in front of him. Some dropped the odd coin into an open guitar case that lay next to him.
I stepped closer to try and get a glimpse of him.
When I saw who it was, I could feel my eyes widen in shock.
Alexander Hargrove! I’d know that face anywhere.
That’s why I recognised his voice! I’d heard him sing in Vocal Group, except I was more used to hearing it with the other voices when we sang.
At that moment, almost as though he heard my thoughts, he looked up from the guitar strings, still singing. It was almost like he was serenading me.
When he finished the song, he took a sip from a water-bottle that he must have placed next to him.
Some of the audience began to move on to other parts of the market.
I was sorely tempted to do the same, but for some reason, my feet wouldn’t budge.
Placing the bottle down next to him again, he leaned into the microphone and said, ‘This next song is one I wrote myself for a very special person, though it has no words. It’s called “Saverna Lullaby”.’
Saverna! The name of the river that my supposedly came from!
The song was for me! He really was my secret admirer!
Alex began to play again, and a beautiful lilting melody was coaxed from the instrument. It was so gentle, making me think of an almost still river or lake at dawn.
I closed my eyes and just listened, letting the melody paint pictures in my mind.
The tempo gradually increased until it became moderately fast but steady, like a flowing river, then it slowed again, before coming to a stop.
I opened my eyes as the last note died away.
Alex once again leaned into the microphone. ‘Thanks for listening everyone. I hope you enjoy the rest of the day,’ he said.
He began to pack away his equipment.
The rest of the audience started walking away to other parts of the market.
Again, I wanted to follow them, but at the same time I wanted to ask him about the love notes, as well as the song.
Taking a deep breath, I slowly approached him, almost dragging my feet.
Alex looked up as he was locking his guitar case.
He smiled, saying, ‘I hope you liked the music.’
‘You wrote the love notes?’ I still couldn’t believe that he was my secret admirer.
Alex didn’t reply, but then he didn’t have to; he just smiled.
‘Well, this is going to be awkward,’ I muttered to myself. I wasn’t sure what to say next.
‘You want to go for a coffee or something?’ Alex suddenly asked. ‘My treat.’
After dropping his guitar and equipment off in his Dad’s car, who Alex explained had an appointment with the local dentist, we went to a café, which is popular place for locals to go at the weekend, so it was very crowded. Since there was little chance to get an empty table, we decided to order to take away.
I ordered myself an iced-mocha, whilst Alex asked for an iced chocolate drink.
‘Don’t like coffee?’ I asked.
‘Nope, can’t stand it,’ Alex replied. ‘Too bitter.’
I laughed at the funny face he made. I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker myself, but when I did I had it with lots of milk and sugar.
‘So, how long have you been playing?’ I asked while we waited for our drinks.
‘Since I was seven, when my parents divorced,’ he replied. “Plus, playing on the street is a great way to earn pocket change.”
‘You’re really great. Though, I would have thought you’d go for an electric, rather than acoustic.’
He laughed. ‘I do have an electric, but there’s something nice about playing an old-fashioned acoustic.’
I smiled and nodded in agreement. I loved the hard notes of rock music, but I also enjoyed the softer notes of classical and acoustic music.
When the barista gave us our drinks, we walked out to find somewhere to sit down.
‘I’m just surprised that you didn’t use it to pick up girls at school,’ I commented as we walked.
‘Why would I need to?’ he asked, slyly. ‘Aren’t my good looks and sparkling personality enough?’
‘Oh, you’re so full of it!’ I exclaimed, laughing.
I can’t remember the last time I’d laughed so much in one day.
As we talked, I found that we both had similar interests. We both loved rock music from the eighties. Alex turned out to be a huge Beatles fan. We argued over who was the greatest British rock musician out of John Lennon and David Bowie. Eventually we’d agreed to disagree.
We continued in a similar way that even when we finally found somewhere to sit down; a bench in the local park just a couple of streets from the town centre.
I found that I enjoyed talking and laughing with him, but there was a question that kept nagging at me; so I just went ahead and asked before I lost my nerve.
‘What does this mean? For…you and me?’ I didn’t want to say “us”, as that would have implied that we were going to be together and I want didn’t to jump into a relationship if he wasn’t entirely serious.
‘What do you mean?’ Alex asked.
‘Well, before this we never spoke more than two words to each other,’ I said. ‘So it just makes me wonder where all this is coming from.’
Alex considered this for a minute or two.
‘So basically, you’re not sure if I’m serious about you.’ He said it as a statement rather than a question.
Alex took a sip of his iced-chocolate drink.
‘I’ve liked you since first year,’ he confessed. ‘I almost asked you out a few times, but I always backed out at the last minute.’
‘Scared, didn’t think you were personally interested in me.’
I couldn’t imagine Alex being scared of anything. He always seemed so laid back and unflappable.
‘You were always on your own, in the library with your nose in a book. You always looked so…unapproachable.’ He paused. ‘I sat at a table near you several times, but you never even looked at me. You always seemed so deep in whatever you were reading.’
I blushed. I had a habit of immersing myself in a book to the point where I wasn’t aware of what went on around me.
‘You’re cute when you blush,’ Alex said.
My heart skipped a beat, and my face was probably the same colour as a tomato.
My eyes slid to my almost empty cardboard coffee cup. But Alex was having none of that. He took the cup out of my hands, and placed it on the bench next to us, along with his own.
He turned my face towards his.
Then he kissed me.
And I kissed him back.
I could feel my heart beating at a hundred miles per hour.
When he pulled back, I was out of breath.
‘Wow.’ My first kiss.
‘Still don’t think I’m serious?’ he smiled.
‘Well, you might just have to try convincing me again,’ I said, slyly.
He grinned. ‘I can do that.’
He spent a whole seven minutes “convincing” me of his sincerity.