Thursday, June 20, 2019

Two Awesome Guys

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?”
“That’s me.”
“Elementary school teacher?”
“Right again.”
 “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, AngelaHe’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.”
“He should.”
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.”
“I’d love to hear all about it!”
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.

The End

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Throw Away

I hadn’t see Jeremy Dalton for over a year after my older sister jilted him, throwing him away, practically leaving him at the altar.
Then one summer day at the County Fair, I spied him sitting alone at a picnic table under the shade of an oak tree, and my heart jumped around in my chest. When he recognized me as I scuffed through the grass to the table, his smile beamed.
“Ellie!” he said. “Where have you been, girl?”
“You’re the one who disappeared.”
He half stood. “Sit!” he said. “Be my guest.”
Music from the rides on the midway floated across the grounds, and hickory smoke drifted in the air from vendors barbecuing chops, ribs, and sausages.
I sat across from him, but I felt awkward. I mean, I was thrilled to see him again but wondered what I should say. Tall, lean, blond, and sinfully handsome, he was a twenty-eight-year-old farmer whom my sister had ditched for a big-city ad executive she met at a newspaper convention in Chicago.
Somehow Jeremy looked older, as if his experience with my sister Cora had aged him. I decided to tell him how I truly felt about Cora’s breaking up with him. But first I said, “What are you doing here alone, sitting under this tree by the animal barns?”
“Cooling off in the breeze. I’m showing lambs at two o’clock, and it’s hot in those barns. You?”
“I’m exhibiting quilts in the 4-H building.”
The breeze blew my unruly hair about. His face broke into a wonderful smile. “I always liked that wild red hair of yours,” he said. “Pinned on the top of your head. But never quite under control like Cora’s. Yours is curlier, I guess.”
I blushed.
But after he mentioned Cora, his smile faded, and I said, “You getting along okay?”
He nodded. “Took awhile. After Cora dumped me, I felt like road kill. But at least she was honest and told me she’d met someone in Chicago.”
“All her life she’s wanted to be a big-city journalist, and you’re a guy who didn’t want to leave the farm. Didn’t you two talk about your differences?”
He tried to smile again, but the smile didn’t quite reach the corners of his mouth or eyes. Cora met him during an interview she wrote for our local newspaper when a tornado ripped through the area and crumbled one of the barns on his family farm but spared the farmhouse. A major miracle.
“Where is she now?” he said.
“Married. Working for the Chicago Tribune. She finally got what she really wanted. Look,” I added, “I think it’s terrible what she did to you—I told her so. We didn’t speak for weeks.”
Calliope music from the Ferris wheel drifted our way on the shifting breeze.
Has he given up on love?I wondered. Perhaps I should have called him. But what would he have thought? I’m chasing the man my sister threw away.
“You!” he said. “We haven’t talked about you.”
“One semester of veterinary school left,” I said, and laughed. “I’ll be a doctor.”
“Wonderful!” he said. “You’ll be running off to the big city, too, I suppose.”
“I’ll be working with Dr. White in town in his clinic. I love living here. I’m not going anywhere. His beautiful blue eyes searched my face a moment, as if he were trying to discover a secret inside me, and my heart jumped in my chest again. What makes this girl tick?Is she for real? Was he asking himself those questions? He glanced at his watch, stood abruptly, and said, “Got to  water the animals.”
Should I ask him if he needed help? But why would he accept the help of a McPherson girl? He was still hurting from his encounter with the first one he met. I stood, too, and we shook hands in the cool shade of the oak tree, his fingers wrapping firmly and warmly around mine. “Nice seeing you again,” I said.
“You, too. Take care.”
He turned and strode toward the animal barns. I wanted to run after him. But I stood motionless under the tree. Finally, I called, “You need help?”
Thirty yards away, he stopped and swiveled my way. He crept ten paces closer and cupped his hands over his eyes so he could see me better in the blinding sun. “Would you like to?” he said. “I could use a good helper.”
Ambling toward him, my blood racing, I said, “I’d love to help.”
“Hard work,” he said.
“Hard work’s never bothered me.”
We turned and strolled toward the barns, our bare arms bumped, and heat rushed though my body. I know he felt the same heat because the man my sister threw away smiled down at me with that beautiful blue-eyed smile and said, “I can’t believe this is happening.”
“Me either,” I said, smiling back. “But it is.”
The End

Friday, August 17, 2018

Setup

  
My twin brother Bobby—I’m Barbara—grinned and said, "I'll leave you and Ian alone. I'm going to see if there's enough ice in the coolers." Bobby scurried off toward the picnic-table shelter. My family and friends were celebrating my parents' wedding anniversary at the county park on a gloriously bright, sunny, Saturday afternoon—Michael and Kathleen Dolan, married fifty years.
I turned toward Ian, the tall, handsome hunk
my brother had left me with. We stood in the shade of an oak tree. Not far away, guys readied to pitch horseshoes, and a mixed group of kids warmed up for volleyball.
"Bobby knows the coolers are full of ice," I said to Ian. "I saw him take care of the ice myself. This is a setup. You know that, don't you?"
Ian smiled at me. Dark hair, bright blue eyes, mega-watt smile—he hadn't changed since I last saw him maybe ten years ago. Like always, the sight of him nearly took my breath away.
"I don't mind us being left alone," Ian said. "I've been thinking about you, Barbara."
"About me?" I blushed and nearly fell backward against the tree.
"When I called Bobby and said I was back in town, he invited me to your folks' party, and I automatically thought of you."
"Ah!" I said. "He probably told you I'm the divorcee in the family. What about you? Married? Probably not. Otherwise, my match-making brother wouldn't have set us up."
"I've left the marriage thing to fate," Ian said. "Figured someday the right woman would come along at the right time."
I'm sure my matching-making brother must have told Ian I'd avoided dating since my divorce three years ago and had become somewhat of loner, a recluse sort of. But Ian and I didn't get a chance to talk any longer, because a friend of Ian's rushed up to him and said, "Dude, haven't seen you in awhile. "C'mon! I need a horseshoes partner." And off they went.
Bobby and Ian had been best friends in high school, playing on the same baseball, football, and basketball teams. Ian's parents were divorced; he lived with his mom, and he spent a lot of time at our house, eating supper with us at least once a week.
I'd crushed on him severely and would have been thrilled to date him, but no high school girl dates her brother's best friend. How awkward! And now I wondered if Ian were back in town to stay or if he were just passing through.
Forget it!I told myself. But I couldn't deny the pull I felt toward him—once again.
The moment I caught Bobby alone at the grill flipping hamburgers, I said, "Why didn't you tell me Ian was back in town?"
"I thought the surprise would be nice. Shake you up a little." Shrugging, he added, "I knew you always like him."
Oh my!  Had my feelings that obvious?
"And by the way," Bobby added, "he's back in town to stay. He's taking care of his elderly mom and setting up his dental practice." Bobby shot me a mischievous look. "I told him you were the meanest police sergeant in town."
At the picnic tables underneath the shelter, my family sat together—Mom, Dad, Bobby, and me. Maybe thirty guests had also gathered. The food was delicious. Ian sat four tables away, and every time I glanced at him he seemed to be glancing at me.
 After short speeches from Bobby and me honoring our parents, while others congratulated them, Ian and I seemed to gravitate towards each other. "Let's take a walk," he said.
"I'd like that," I said, my heart fluttering.
For a minute or two we strolled silently along a tree-shaded path in the park, and then Ian said, "I had a crush on you in high school. Did you know that? I ate at your house every time I could so I could sit across the table from you."
For a second time today, he nearly knocked me over. "What?"
"It's true. I loved you mom's cooking, but I think I was also in love with you."
"You're kidding me!"
"I'm not. But a guy doesn't date his best buddy's sister. At least not in high school. That would be way too weird. You're a police officer now?"
"Guilty as charged."
We stopped walking. Ian turned to me and grabbed both my hands.
My heart nearly exploded.
He said, "Look, Barbara, I'm in town to stay. You wouldn't arrest me if I asked for a date, would you?"
A little breeze blew, rustling the trees, but it did nothing to cool me off or to stop my head from spinning. Finally, I squeezed Ian's hands. He smiled. I smiled. "After all this time and after what you just said, "I'd arrest you if you didn't."
The End

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

My Yardman

"I don't know how to thank you," I told Ken, my yardman, as we stood on my front porch. "I'm truly grateful."
"I'm glad I was here to help."
My elderly father had tried to boost himself out of his wheelchair—he'd had a stroke a year ago—and had fallen this morning. I couldn't lift him by myself, so I ran out to the front yard where Ken was cutting grass and asked for his help.
"Dad wanted a box of cereal from the cupboard," I explained to Ken now. "I was in the den on the phone. Dad thought he could stand and reach the cereal himself."
Ken smiled a wonderful smile that's like sunshine. "I don't think he hurt himself."
"He didn't, but I scolded him."
Another smile from Ken. "I'm sure you did." He glanced out over the lawn. "Well, I better get back to work."
Ken Roberts had been my yardman for over a month. A widow and a widower, both of us in our forties, we taught in the same school system but at different buildings. Ken taught P.E. I taught music. He liked physical activity and keeping busy. That's why he started his lawn care service several summers ago. With my dad living with me now, I found yard work too much to handle, so I hired him.
Dad lounged in his room enjoying his morning TV programs. I hurried to the kitchen to do the breakfast dishes. I looked out the window over the sink and watched Ken clipping the bushes along my property line. Since the first day he arrived, I found him appealing and had to admit that visiting with him was always the best part of my day.
But I squelched the romantic thoughts that rumbled through my mind. I mean, why on earth would such a handsome man be interested in a widow whose father lived with her?
Finished with dishes, I made fresh lemonade. Later, while Ken was loading his gear into his pickup, I called from the porch, "Want a cold drink?"
"Sounds great."
He ambled over to the porch and up the steps. I handed him a glass of iced lemonade. "Thanks," he said.
"You're welcome."
I sat on the porch glider, wondering if I should invite him to sit with me. The thought made me tingly, and I couldn't bring myself to open my mouth.
He gulped half the lemonade down, smacked his lips, smiled, and said. "Thanks again. I needed that. How's your dad doing?"
"Fine. He's napping now."
Ken's soft blue eyes captured mine. "Taking care of him isn't easy for you, is it?" he asked solemnly.
"No, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I don't want him to go to a nursing home."
"I know," he said. "You simply open your heart and do what you have to do."
"The worst part is his lack of mobility. He loves to go places, and I can wheel him out of the kitchen door easily enough—no steps—but getting him in and out of the car is difficult."
"My wife was wheelchair-bound, too. Stroke. Same as your dad."
I blinked in surprise. "Oh, I didn't know that. I mean, I know you're a widower..." I didn't know what else to say.
Ken finished his lemonade, then came over and handed me the empty glass. "Look," he said, rocking back on his heels a bit, "could I come by later in the day, after I'm finished with mowing and trimming and can get home and cleaned up. Don't eat any supper."
My heart leaped into my throat. Was he asking me out on a date? That tingly feeling raced through me. But I couldn't go on a date. Like dinner and a movie. I couldn't leave Dad home alone that long.
Sensing my hesitation, Ken said, "Please say yes, Amanda. You wont' be disappointed, I promise. Neither will your dad. I think I can give us all a lift."
His words confused me, but I said, "All right."
"I'll be here at six, sharp."
At six, Ken pulled into my drive with a full-sized van. When he jumped out and slid the side door open, I nearly fainted. The van was equipped with a hydraulic lift, which made it wheelchair accessible. He must have had it outfitted for his wife.
Smiling that huge, wonderful smile, he took my hand and pressed it into his, the electricity between us startling me. "Where would you and your dad like to dine to night?" he said.
I was nearly breathless. "Anywhere."
His smile grew wider, warmer. "Let's ask your dad."
"Wonderful," I said, leading Ken into house. My heart thumping like mad, I called from the kitchen, "Hey, Dad! Ken's here. Let's go out to eat!"
The End
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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

TEXTING

Her shy smile highlighted her sparkling brown eyes. "It's great to meet you, Ryan," she said.
"I feel the same way," I said, and swallowed. In fact, I've been dying to meet you raced though my mind, but all I could manage was a timid,
"This is very nice." We sat across from each other at a circular table in the quiet restaurant, strangers, though we'd spent hours texting.
I'm glad she'd spoken first, broken the ice, so to speak, but now we sat, eyes lowered, studying our hands on the table, both of us apparently lost for words. A waitress broke the awkward silence when she dropped menus on the table and said, "How are you folks? Pot roast, today's dinner special. Mashed potatoes, gravy, and corn. What would you like to drink?"
We each asked for a glass of water, and then I said, "We'll need a little time."
The waitress scurried off, leaving us to silently study the menu. Sheila and I had met on a dating site a month ago. I'd discovered her three days after joining the site—Sheila McCoy. Her picture and profile intrigued me. The fact that she was in to sports was a definite plus. She'd been a three-sport star in high school: softball, volleyball, and track. She played softball in college. Baseball was my only sport. I'd played in college, and the fact that we liked sports, I felt, gave us a starting point for a relationship, at least something to talk about. 
Besides that, she was a high school PE teacher, and coached the girls' softball team. I'd been in real estate for the last eight years and was doing well. I'd just joined a slow-pitch softball team for guys over thirty. I'd told Sheila, and she seemed excited for me. I decided the first chance I got today I was going to ask her to watch the team play this Sunday—if I could somehow get a conversation started and find the nerve to ask her.
When the waitress returned, Sheila and I decided to skip the special. We ordered cheeseburgers and fries, along with a salad, and handed the waitress our menus. "I'll take the check," I told the waitress.
Sheila's eyebrows lifted. "You don't have to do that," she said.
"Your treat next time," I said, and then winced, thinking I'd sounded a bit presumptuous.
Falling silent again, we each sipped our water.
This silence between us was in stark contrast to the texting we'd done.
She'd seemed eager to share information about herself with me. I felt the same way about sharing my information. In fact, while texting, I couldn't remember ever being so open, honest, and relaxed with someone I'd just met.
I texted her in the morning before work. She texted back at lunchtime. We texted when we got home in the evening. We often talked on our phones, but it was when I was texting that I felt most bold and confident. Now we were alone, face-to-face, and reality was sinking in: we were still strangers.
The silence persisted. I wished our food would arrive so we could at least talk about that. Or fill our mouths with food so we'd have a better reason for not talking.
Then an idea zapped me. Maybe I could solve this problem. Yes! Plucking my phone from my pocket, I said, "Don't be alarmed. I'm going to try something." I jerked my chair around so my back faced her. My thumbs tapped out a text: Sorry, but I'm really awkward at this—small talk with a date and flirting. Faulty genes, I think.
In a moment her phone rang, a muffled sound, and I assumed she grabbed the phone from her purse. Her reply: Me, too. I'm the worst. My knees were shaking when I sat down...they're sill shaking.
Tapping at the keypad again with my thumbs, I wrote: Why don't we pretend we've known each other for a hundred years? Long-lost friends. No pretense. No holding back.
Her reply: I'd love that.
I spun my chair around and faced her again. She smiled a big smile, a dimple blossoming in her right cheek, which I noticed for the first time. "You look beautiful," I said.
"And you're quite handsome." Then she smiled again. "I remember you said you'd started playing softball. I'd like to see one of your games."
I tried to hide my surprise, but I'm sure I went owl-eyed. "Sunday afternoon. I'll pick you up, if that's okay."
"Splendid."
Our food arrived. Everything looked delicious. But finishing off this simple meal took over an hour because—well, because, though texting was cool, Sheila and I had so much more to talk about, smiling at each other face-to-face.
The End
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