Ice Cream

If anyone had asked Grace what she saw in such an odd, awkward, by-no-means handsome person as Harold Bird, she would have been a little at a loss. Her mind would have flooded with all the things she saw, and she would have been unable to articulate any of them.

First into her mind would come the ice cream cone. How one chilly day in January she looked up from her painting and saw a man standing there with a vanilla ice cream cone. In January. It made her smile, that picture and all its peculiarity. That was the first thing she saw in Harold, that he was peculiar.

"Hello," he said, not as if he had anything particular to say, the way people come up to artists painting in public, but as if he just wanted to say hello.

"Hello," she said and waited for what else he would say, because he had an air about him of intelligence and a little shyness, and because, with that occasional insight she had, she knew that there was a depth of gentleness in him, and that was the second thing she saw in him. There had been ungentle people in her life, and her tranquility-loving heart fled from them and, instinctively, to the few truly gentle people she knew.

"Would you like some ice cream?" He held out his cone.

Grace laughed. "No, thank you. I find it a little cold for ice cream."

He looked down at the cone and gave a rueful, sideways smile. "I suppose you're right. It's not even melting."

Grace laughed again, and he smiled with her, and that was the third thing she saw, that he had a quiet, understated sense of humor. She gathered together her courage, because she never did this sort of thing, and said, "But I wouldn't mind some tea, when I've finished this figure."

He slowly smiled, and that was when she saw the fourth thing, which was that the peculiarness and the intelligence and the gentleness and the humor were all animated by something that turned him from an odd-looking, awkward, bespectacled, middle-aged man into someone very attractive.

He leaned against the railing and slowly ate his ice cream cone with a deliberate attention to detail, which was how she saw that he was a man of method and care. And he had not introduced himself, which made him utterly a mystery.

When he finished his ice cream, he wiped his hands carefully on a napkin, folded it up into precise squares, and put it in his pocket, then came around behind her and looked at her painting, which made her feel shy.

"I like your perspective," he said, which was different. "I like the accuracy of the city line and the pure fancy of the figures. I think—forgive me—I think I almost understand what you mean."

"That is what every artist wishes." She surveyed her painting with a sigh. "I fall short so often."

He didn't say those things that everyone says when you dare to deprecate your own work. He tilted his head to examine the painting and seemed to take her at her own evaluation. "No one is ever a success a hundred percent of the time, but one success can be worth all the failures." And he smiled his sideways smile again with a deep and almost gleeful inner satisfaction, which was how she saw that he was made up of secrets.

Grace threw down her paintbrush and smiled back. "I'm done for today. And freezing."

"Then allow me to give you tea."