The handsome man with who answered my neighbor’s door when I rang the chimes surprised me so much I couldn’t get my name out. “I’m—I’m—”
“You’re Angela Dugan, right?” His face broke into a big blue-eyed smile. “From across the street?”
“I’m Jake Morgan. Dad never stops talking about you.”
“Your dad—how is he?”
“He’s doing fine.” Jake waved me into the house. “Got charcoal lit in the backyard grill. Burgers. Will you join me?”
Over burgers, chips, dip, and lemonade at the backyard picnic table, I explained that Mr. Morgan—Jake’s dad—and I had become good friends in the six weeks since I’d moved into the neighborhood. He raked up the remnants of last fall’s leaves in my yard. Then he cut and trimmed my grass. “Need the exercise,” he said. So I often dropped off a plate of brownies or a crockpot of stew for him. Last week, though, when I last talked to him, he looked pale, didn’t seem to have any energy but refused to call a doctor.
“Then I spotted a car with out-of-state plates in the drive,” I told Jake now. “And...well, I just had to come over and check.”
“Dad phoned Thursday,” Jake said, “and admitted to not feeling well. I told him to call his doctor, and I’d drive up to spend a few days with him. Turns out he had a slight stroke—right in the doctor’s office.”
“Oh my! I feel so guilty—I should’ve checked on him. He’s such an awesome guy.”
“I’m the one who feels guilty. I’ve not had much time for Dad.”
While we finished our burgers, Jake told me he grew up in this house in this little town of LeClaire, went to college and snared a great job in Peoria, Illinois, with Caterpillar, the world’s largest heavy-equipment manufacturer.
“But I’ve been on a treadmill since I started,” he said. “No time for Dad”—he glanced at me—“nor anybody else.” He shrugged. “Now they’ve asked me to be an assistant in research and development. I’d travel a lot overseas. Pretty exciting. But...I’m not sure the job’s worth it. I should look for something else. Something with less stress. If less money.”
Jake and I cleared off the picnic table. I washed our glasses and silverware in the sink, and Jake dumped the paper plates and other trash in the garbage. His handsome features, his easy smile, his blue eyes—he totally blew me away. Get a grip, Angela. He’s only visiting. I decided I should go home before my mind started leapfrogging way out of control. But before I left, Jake and I exchanged cellphone numbers so he could keep me informed about his dad.
Jake spent most of the next day at the hospital with his dad but called and asked if he could pick me up after school to take me to the hospital for a visit.
“Look at you two, Mr. Morgan,” said from his hospital bed, smiling a jaunty smile, despite being laid up. “Quite a pair.”
I blushed. Jake’s feet shuffled.
Turned out, Mr. Morgan would need a bit of home care and rehab because the stroke had weakened his left arm and leg. No more yard work for Mr. Morgan for a while.
After our visit, Jake took me to dinner, and that night at my front door, in the moonlight, he said, “You won’t be seeing me for the next couple of days, Angie. I’ve got some things to do around town. And some things to work out in my mind.”
“I understand—your job, your dad’s health.”
“I’ll be in touch.”
Two days passed. I didn’t hear a word from Jake.
The next day when I was leaving school, he sent a text, telling me his dad was home, and the awesome guy was doing great.
At home, I bustled about in my kitchen, baking brownies for Mr. Morgan, when a rap at the kitchen door halted my work. It was Jake. I let him in.
“Busy?” he said, all smiles.
“I’m baking brownies for your dad. He’s really okay?”
“Just fine. He’ll have to take it easy for a while.”
Jake’s smile turned shy, like a little boy trying to be modest. “I have a new job,” he said. Then, “I’m grilling for Dad. Chicken. You’re invited. Dad insists. So do I. I’ll tell you all about the job.”
Now his smile turned seriously bright. “I’ll be your new neighbor.”
Our eyes locked. My pulse quickened. “Oh wow!” I said. “I like that.”
His blue eyes sparkled. “Me, too.”
After Jake left and my pulse slowed down, I slid the brownies into the oven and decided that I had just enough time to whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. The two awesome guys from across the street rocked my heart.