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 her. 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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Sunday, April 2, 2017

I'm Lucky

I recognized her right away on this sunny Saturday morning—my neighbor in the apartment complex I'd moved into a month ago. She stood in the Super-Mart parking lot, grocery cart parked in front of her, her head swiveling, left then right.
In one arm she clutched a bag of groceries, in the other she held her three-year-old son Tommy. She set both carefully in the cart.
           We weren't exactly strangers—Laura McGee, Tommy, and me. I'd nodded hello to them often in the complex hallway and had ridden the elevator with them several times to the fourth floor, our floor. We chatted a bit. Last week I helped Laura out of a jam I'm sure she'd like to forget.
Through those encounters, I learned she was a divorced single mom with a college degree in computer sciences who worked at home as a graphic designer, a mom totally devoted to her son. She knew I was single and one of three veterinarians opening a new clinic in town.
"Hi," I said, approaching slowly because I didn't want to frighten her or Tommy. "Something wrong?"
A smile chased away the scowl on her face, and her blue eyes brightened. "Oh, Ryan!" she said, swiping strands of her long dark hair out of her eyes. "I feel so stupid. I forgot where I parked my car."
I wanted to chuckle because the last time I'd talked to Laura, I'd helped her out of that jam I mentioned: She'd locked her keys to her old Honda Civic parked in the complex parking lot and couldn't get to the spare key; it was locked in her apartment. I'd managed to jimmy the car lock with a coat hanger—an old trick I'd learned as a kid growing up on a farm—and unlock the door. Now she couldn't find the car.
But instead of chuckling, I said, "Let's think. Which entrance to the store did you use?"
She shrugged. "What with mountains of work and the baby I don't know if I'm coming or going." Shielding her eyes from the sun, she gazed across the parking lot, then at the front of the store, where we stood. A blush flooded her cheeks. "This is the pharmacy entrance." She pointed. "I entered way back there—where they sell groceries."
"C'mon," I said. "I'll push the cart, and we'll find your car."
"You don't have to. You've been nice enough already."
"Nice is my specialty. C'mon."
We tromped across the lot to the grocery entrance, took a hard right, and found her car. I couldn't resist: "Got the key?"
She gave me a playful poke in the arm and then plucked her set of keys from the jeans pocket. "See?" she said, smiling a big beautiful smile that captured my heart.
"If you want," I said. "I'll unload these groceries into your trunk while you fasten Tommy into his car seat."
"You really are nice," Laura said, opening the trunk for me.
Minutes later, when I shut the trunk, the grocery cart empty, Laura stood next to me.
I cleared my throat. My feet shuffled. "Um...stop me if I'm straying off base here," I said. "But it seems to me that with a baby and a full-time, at-home job you never get out of the house, except maybe to grocery shop on Saturday."
"That's true," she said, "but Tommy and I are doing fine."
"Let's do something this afternoon, the three of us," I said, hoping I didn't run out of courage. "A picnic at the petting zoo, maybe. I'll bet Tommy would love that. He'll be ready to go."
Laura frowned. "You should have plenty of girlfriends. Why would you want to spend time with a frazzled, divorced mom?"
I held a hand up. "First of all, no girlfriend. Like you, I'm busy. But this seems like a perfect opportunity. Besides, I love kids. I'm the oldest of five—two younger sisters, two younger brothers. I grew up babysitting, and we all survived. Second, you're not frazzled. You just need a break."
Laura bit her bottom lip. She seemed to be thinking hard. Finally she said, "My mom is always telling me I need balance in my life."
"Always listen to Mom," I said, and cleared my throat again. "I haven't done my shopping yet. I'll buy hotdogs, buns—everything. I'll stop by at five, if it's a deal." I blew out a breath. I didn't know what to expect.
Laura folded her arms, and her wonderful blue eyes sparkled. "You really, really are nice," she said. "It's a deal."
A sheepish smile creeping across my face, I said, "I think I'm lucky."

The End
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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Chaser and the Chasee

On Sunday morning, I sat in a back booth of Red's Diner—a diner I owned, I might add—and studied the revised menu I was working on. I glanced toward the door when it opened.
A man dressed in a Marine Sergeant's uniform, rows of colorful ribbons decorating the left side of his chest, strode in, the door closing softly behind him.
Noah Murphy!
My heart lurched, and I dropped the pen in my hand.
He looked around the busy diner, studying the counter, the grill, the huge menu board above it...the booths, and that's when his eyes landed one me.
I gulped.
I bit my bottom lip.
My hands clenched.
The boy I'd chased and loved during high school but eventually lost—a man now deck out in a Marine uniform, only fifteen feet away.
His eyes widened. A smile flashing across his face, he approached slowly. The ten or twelve people eating breakfast in the diner, impressed at the sight of such a handsome man in uniform, turned to watch. When he stood over me, our eyes met, and my face flushed—bright red, I'm sure. His eyes were as blue as ever, his hair as blond as ever.
"May I?" he asked, nodding at the seat opposite me.
"Of course," I said, ignoring my thrashing heart. "The more customers the better."
"It's been awhile, Red," he said. "How have you been? You own the diner—I saw the big neon sign outside."
The sound of my nickname falling from his lips forced tons of memories to flash through my brain, and I touched my curly red hair without thinking. I'd chased Noah as a freshman and sophomore in high school and snagged him as a junior. I worked at the diner before and after school, usually, three or four days a week. The place turned out to be our favorite meeting spot and our hangout.
But by the time we were seniors, Noah had drifted away. He'd found another love, I was left broken hearted, and then he sailed off for a career in the Marines. I'd gone to college, studied business, worked at the diner during summers, and after graduation, with financial help from my folks, took it over.
We chatted as he devoured the breakfast I recommended: scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, coffee, and two pancakes on the side. My treat.
When my heart finally slowed down enough so I could talk straight, I asked point blank, "What are you doing here, Noah?"
"Retiring," he said, wiping his lips with a napkin. "Helping my folks move into assistant living. Buying the house."
"You're going to stay?" My eyebrows inched up. "Live here?"
"For the rest of my life," he said, sitting back. "I've served eight tours in the Middle East. I want peace and quiet"—he studied my face—"and all the other things I'd never found in the Marines."
My eyes flicked to his wedding-ring finger. Bare. I'm sure he'd seen mine was also bare.
"Best breakfast I've had in a long time," he said, and shoved his empty plates aside. "Maybe best ever." Then he smiled. "I owe you."
He left me with nothing more than another smile and a nod.
Abby, my BFF from high school, now my kitchen manager, rushed to take Noah's place across from me in the booth. "Oh my God, Allison!" she said, grabbing my hands, squeezing. "Is that him?"
I gulped again. "Yes."
"Married?"
"I don't think so."
"Don't let him get away this time, girlfriend!"
I'd never married. I'd had chances, but mostly I'd been too busy. I doubted Noah had come back for me. Throughout the twenty years he'd been gone, he'd visited his folks on leave but had never contacted me.
I sighed.
Still, it was great seeing him today, looking so fit and handsome.
The next Sunday, as I sat in that corner booth, tweaking the menu—my usual routine—he strode into the diner again. Dressed in jeans and a Marine T-shirt, he sat across from me.
"Hey," he said, a sheepish look creeping across his face.
"Hey."
"Allison Fisher," he said, his lips working, "I've finally admitted to myself I loved the redheaded girl I knew twenty years ago, the girl who chased me everywhere, the girl I treated so badly." His fingers inched across the table to touch mine. "Um...do you think after all this time I could become the chaser? Is there hope?"
I started at him for a long moment. Then I smiled and waved for a waitress. I squeezed his hand.
"We'll talk about it over breakfast," I said, my smile wider as he squeezed my hand back. "I'd love being the chasee this time," I added. "I really would."
The End
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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Table for Two

"Poor guy at table two looks like he's being stood up," my waitressing buddy Hazel said. "I asked him a half hour ago if he'd like to order. He said he was waiting for someone."
I studied the tall, lean man at table two.
I hadn't noticed him before because I'd been busy in the kitchen loading the dishwasher. Most of the Sunday morning breakfast crowd here at the Hickory Grove Restaurant had cleared out.
 Hazel said, "He's cute but looks sad...or hurt. "Then she winked at me. "Why don't you cheer him up?"
"I'll see if he's ready to order," I said, smiling at Hazel.
Married with three kids, Hazel was always trying to set me up with good-looking guys seated alone. She declared it was her mission to get me paired off with a guy before I graduated from college and quit my part-time job here.
I grabbed the water pitcher and approached the man's table. I spotted his cell phone and a bouquet of flowers wrapped in green tissue lying in front of him on the table. Without asking, I refilled his water glass.
"Thank you," he said, glancing at my nametag. "Crystal...that's a cool name."
I blushed a little. The man's startling blue eyes amazed me, and his crestfallen voice grabbed my heart. "Would you like to order?" I asked.
"I've been stood up," he said, raking his hand through his sandy-brown hair. "It's over—and I'm glad...I guess."
"Um...maybe whoever you're waiting for got caught in traffic."
He shook his head. "This is the last restaurant in town before the Interstate. She told me last night to meet me here at noon. If she wasn't here, she'd decided to leave town. We were finished." He picked up his cell phone and studied it. "She's not answering my text messages." He turned the cell off, shoved in his pocket, and said, "Would you like these flowers."
"They'd look nice in a vase the counter."
"Do that," he said.
While I arranged the flowers, I expected him to leave. But he didn't. Flashing another wink, Hazel said, "I think he's waiting for you."
"I think he's hungry and waiting for something to eat."
I was right. He ordered our breakfast special: eggs, pancakes, sausage links, hash browns, and toast. As I sprayed tabletops and wiped them down, I glimpsed him devouring his meal. His girlfriend's dumping didn't seem to bother his appetite. When I handed him his ticket, he smiled an awesome smile and asked, "Been working here long?"
"Four years," I said. "I'm a senior at our local college."
His eyebrows shot up. "I am, too—a senior. Photo journalism. Strange I haven't seen you on campus."
"It's a big place."
Then he exhaled a big breath and said, "Could we talk for a second? I'd like to ask you a question. I mean...if you have time."
"My shift's over," I said. "Wait a minute."
After clocking out, I sat at his table, wondering what was up with him.
He said his girlfriend visited over the weekend and insisted that after he graduated he join her father in the family-owned construction company.The disagreement had been a long-standing problem between them. Last night he flat out refused and this morning the girl left town. "The thing is," he said, "I think all of us are given one life, and there's no prize at the end for spending it on something we don't like." He paused. "Do you think I'm being selfish? I'd like an honest answer from a stranger. Someone who has no reason to lie to me."
My lips pursed. "I think we should all be the author of our own story," I said. "I'm majoring in elementary education—my parents are doctors and wanted me to be one, too."
He leaned back in his chair, his eyes crisscrossing me, as if he were admiring me. "That's awesome. What do you parents say?"
"They agree with me. Anyone who really loves you would have to agree."
Silence gripped us for a moment. I think each of us was absorbing what we'd just declared. Finally, he said, "Name's Brady Henderson" He held out a hand and we shook, his grip warm and firm in mine.
"Crystal McCloud."
"Could I walk you to your car?" he asked. "Maybe meet you on campus? We could talk more," he added hopefully.
I thought about it for only a second. "I'd like that," I said.
While we headed for the door, I glanced back at Hazel. The grin on her face was the biggest, lopsided grin I'd ever seen. Then she tossed me a wink.

The End
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