Friday, December 31, 2010

A Broken Heart Mended


          I saw Kevin again at a New Year's Eve house party.
The man who'd broken my heart.
Out of the corner of my eye, while I was laughing and talking with a group of friends, I spotted him. I didn't think he saw me.
A chill sweeping through me, I excused myself and strolled away from my friends.
I slid the glass door to the balcony open and stepped into the cold winter night. The shrill party noise followed me until I eased the door closed.
I hugged myself, and peered at a sky filled with bright stars and a giant moon. What to do? Face him? Ignore him? I couldn't stay out here in the cold and snow forever.
I needed a second to think.
When we broke up, I thought I'd never love anyone else. To love once, so intensely, I told myself, was to love always. I would never feel like this about anyone else. I wouldn't even try.
I started to shiver.
I decided to face him—I needed closure. But before I could reach for the door, it slid open. Tall and broad-shouldered, Kevin faced me, the party clamor behind him spilling into the night. He pushed the door closed. "Hi," he said, smiling easily. "I saw you escaping a minute ago. I thought I'd join you."
"I needed a break form the music and laughter," I said, totally surprising myself.  I mean, I felt calm. In control.  My heart steady.
"Your boyfriend's probably wondering what happened to you."
"I think Mark's in the rec room playing pool."
For months I tried to tear Kevin from my memory, but despite my efforts, I awoke every morning thinking of him. I saw him on the street and in crowds everywhere—the illusion of him. And for a long while I dreamed of him.  Nightly.
"How have you been?" he asked.
"Fine."
His eyes crisscrossed me. "Look, Casey—I want to apologize..."
I waved a hand. "I shouldn't have been fooled so easily. "
"It's cold out here." He rubbed his hands together. Blew into them. "Let's go inside and find a warm corner where we can talk."
"What will Lisa think, her seeing you with me?"
He shrugged a little. "I'm alone tonight. She called at the last minute...the flu, she thinks. And you're going to catch your death out here." He smiled at me and inched forward, as if to circle a warm, protective arm around my shoulder.
I stepped aside. "The very first clue," I said, "should've alerted me: You stopped answering your cell when I called, and you stopped texting me altogether."
"Casey, please..."
"But it wasn't until you suddenly couldn't find time for us that I really became suspicious." I bit my bottom lip. "And when you said we needed to 'take a break,' the truth finally hit me. You'd found someone else. Lisa."
"I know I was acting like a jerk—I just didn't know how to tell you about her."
Letting out a frosty breath, I sidled past him.
I'd lived through this moment—talking to him—a thousand times in my dreams, but none of the horrible emotions I expected to feel surfaced. Not anger—not electric shock—only a tiny bit of sadness.
I reached for the sliding glass door. Before I could pull the handle, the door swished open. Mark stood in front us, smiling. "What are you guys doing out there, it's freezing. Close to zero."
I stepped inside, the party clamor and warmth from the room immediately engulfing me. Kevin followed, closing the door, and the three of us faced each other.
"Mark," I said, "this is Kevin O'Neil. We worked together at Fisher and Atwater for a time before I left the firm." Before the two men reached to shake hands, I added, "Kevin, this is Mark, my fiancé."
Kevin's hand stopped in midair, but Mark grabbed it and gave it a hardy shake.  The two men said, "Glad to meet you." Then Kevin, darting a glance at my engagement ring, gave a sheepish nod and said, "I should call Lisa. See how she's doing."
"She'd like that," I said.
Kevin disappeared.  "That's him?" Mark asked "The guy who broke your heart?"
"I thought it broken beyond repair at the time."
"You look cold," Mark said, and wrapped me in a warm embrace.
"I spotted him. I tried to avoid him. I ducked outside, but he followed."
Among the throng of partygoers milling about, still snuggled in Mark's strong arms, I gazed into his eyes.
I remembered a time when I thought only Kevin's dark eyes could excite me, but blue eyes, I decided, were far more exciting—and tender and loving and caring.
Mark kissed me, and suddenly I felt his warmth and love sweeping through me. "You're not still hurting, are you?" he asked.
"It's a new year," I said, "and I've mended perfectly."

The End
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Merry Christmas


         It had been a cold Friday, snow falling for the last three hours.
I parked in the Dooley Insurance Agency lot at 6:00 p.m. I expected to find all the lights inside the office turned off, but everything looked lit up. When I unlocked the front door and stepped inside, I found Heather Allison, our new office manager, so busy trimming the office Christmas tree she apparently didn't hear me entering.
She'd started work for the Dooley agency a month ago. What a beauty she was—short but curvy with blond hair tumbling across her shoulders. Big blue eyes. Single, too. Like me. I reigned in my hormones.
I closed the door softly, tilted my head, and smiled. I didn't dare speak. She stood on a metal folding chair in her stocking feet, stretching, trying desperately to reach the top of a seven-foot spruce tree to drop a gold star in place. I didn't want to startle her. She might fall off the chair. But if you rush up behind her, I told myself, and yell, "Merry Christmas!" she might fall into your arms.
Bad idea, I decided. So I waited until she heaved a big sigh and jumped off the chair, the star still in her hand. That's when I said, "Hey. What's happening?"
She whirled, her blue eyes popping. "Oh, Lord! You scared me. What are you doing here, Mark?"
I explained I'd made calls all afternoon and I was coming in to finish up paperwork in the office so I wouldn't have to bother on Saturday. "And what are you doing trimming the office tree all by yourself?"
"Everyone else bailed. Because of the snow, I think. But I love rimming a Christmas tree."
"Really?"
"It reminds me of home and of all the happy times our family had over the holidays."
I'd always wished for a happy holiday experience. After my folks died in a car accident when I was six—I had no other living relatives—I grew up in series of foster homes where money and love were sometimes scarce, Christmas trees sometimes nonexistent. "Need help?" I asked.
"What about your paperwork?"
"It can wait. Let's start with the star."
At six-two, I had no trouble stretching and reaching the top of the tree to set the star in place. "What's next?"
Heather looked at me curiously, as if my not knowing the next tree-trimming step was strange, but a warm light sparkled in her eyes; and, I swear, my heart quivered.
We worked on stringing the lights, then started hanging the many colored ornaments. All the while, we swapped details about ourselves. We were both thirty, never married, not even dating. She grew up with three sisters and three brothers and learned the value of hard work and cooperation.
I told her my story about the foster homes. "And after I graduated high school," I said, "and was lucky enough to get grants and a scholarship, I decided I was going to make a good life for myself—a meaningful life with everything I ever wanted."
"Like a family?" she asked.
That question, shot at me point-blank, startled me. Since I'd never been part of a real family and had never known close, loving ties, I tended to shy away from relationships that might lead me in that direction. "Um...I have a new car," I said.  "I'm on my way to owning a great house. I have a boat and motor."
She nodded silently. I'm sure she realized, like I did, that I'd mentioned only material things. But she said simply, "Next comes the tinsel—I'm old fashioned, I love tinsel."
Strand by strand, we meticulously hung tinsel, tinsel, tinsel on every branch. All the while, she softly hummed Christmas carols—"Silent Night," "Jingle Bells," "Little Town of Bethlehem"—and my heart begin filling with a warmth I'd never experienced before.
When we finished with the tinsel, I helped her wrap a cottony skirt that looked like newly fallen snow around the tree stand. Then we sat on the floor in front of the tree, our arms looped around our knees, like kids, and admired our work. The glittering, pine-scented tree, her nearness and warmth—everything thrilled me.
 "Tomorrow morning," she said, "I'm coming in to lay out the manger scene underneath the tree. I just bought it. It's at home."
I didn't think twice. "Need more help?"
She smiled.  "I'd like that."
"Maybe breakfast first? Pancake House?"
"I like that, too." She leaned back on her hands and gazed at the ceiling, her eyes darting around.
"What are you looking for?"
"Where should we hang the mistletoe?" she asked. "Over your desk?"
Both of us smiling now, we playfully bumped shoulders.
"I dare you," I said. Then I laughed and felt, well, merry. Very merry. Like this might be the happiest, merriest Christmas of my life.
The End
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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Married in the Spring


           I stood to one side as the hospital attendants quickly removed the unconscious man from the front seat of my car and strapped him to a gurney.
Wind-swept snow nearly blinded me; bitter cold bit my cheeks.
"We'll take him now, Rita," one of the attendants said.
This morning, I'd found the man slumped over the steering wheel in his car at a little roadside park on a county road.
"He'll be all right," the other attendant said, pointing to a bracelet on the man's wrist. "Diabetic. Blood glucose probably too low. Happens sometimes."
I'm a nurse at this hospital.
I knew the attendant's assessment was on target. When I'd discovered the man, he was pale and soaked in sweat, his heart beat rapid—classic signs of hypoglycemia.
As the attendants hurried him away into the hospital, I followed them to the ER. Raising the man's blood glucose with intravenous glucose and plenty of fluids would bring him around nicely. I needed to talk to him. I had his car keys. I'd locked his car before I brought him here, and I was sure he wouldn't remember where he'd left the vehicle.
An hour later, I sat in Thomas O'Malley's hospital room in a chair next to his bed. Hooked up to several IVs, he was sitting up and smiling at me. "I don't know how to thank you," he said. "Rita...Rita Albright, that's your name?"
I nodded. "I'm a nurse," I said. "Helping people is what I do."
"If you hadn’t come along," he said, "I would've...frozen to death."
"That's possible."
Though I hadn't realized it when I rescued him, he was wonderfully handsome—curly black hair, blue eyes, square jaw, and an easy smile that sucked the air right out of my lungs.
"Why did you stop at that tiny roadside park in the first place?" he asked.
"My folks live on a farm. I'd been visiting over the weekend, I was driving home, I'd drunk too much coffee with breakfast—I needed a restroom. Why were you on that off-beaten road?"
"Lost. I own a window and siding business. I'd been at a farmer's house, writing out an estimate. After I left, I felt myself getting weak. I felt confused. Ready to pass out. I had to get off the road."
"You weren't' paying attention to your blood-sugar level, were you, Mr. O'Malley?"
"Tom. Call me Tom. Please." His smile turned sheepish. "I'm careless, I admit. But this has never happened before."
"You didn't have an orange or a candy bar with you? A can of regular soda?"
He offered another sheepish smile. "I was in such a hurry this morning...you know how Mondays are." Then, "How in the world did you get me into your car? I'm six-one, a hundred eighty-five pounds. You're...?"
"Five foot, a little more than a hundred." I preferred not to reveal how many pounds over a hundred. "You weren't quite out of it yet. I managed to get your arm around my shoulder, and somehow we staggered from your car to mine."
"Thank you," he said. "I can't thank you enough."
I told Tom I was sure he'd be released this afternoon. He'd need somebody to take him to his car, about thirty miles away. I could do that—Monday was my day off—the snow had stopped—but if he preferred to have his wife or someone from his office take him, I could write out directions.
"Not married," he said. "You?"
Shaking my head, I dug in my purse for his car keys. "These are yours."
"Thank you," he said, smiling his breathtaking smile. "I'd be delighted to ride with you again."
Despite the cold, the gray skies of this morning had given way to late afternoon sunshine. By the time I drove Tom to his car over the newly plowed county road, I felt as if we'd know each other forever. He was a city boy; I was a country girl. But we discovered with liked the same movies—romantic adventures; the same music—old time rock 'n' roll; and the same sports—he'd played baseball in high school; I'd played softball.
After I parked my car next to his in the snow, he jumped out and started his, letting it warm up. Climbing back into mine to stay warm, he said, "I owe you my life. Let me take you to dinner tonight. Ribeye, thick and juicy. Baked potato, sour cream. Salad, blue cheese..."
I shook my head.
"Please?"
"How about my place?" I said. "I'll fix a meal that's good for you. Something healthy."
He thought about that for a second."It's an offer I can't refuse," he said, his smile melting my heart. This wonderful man with the big smile has been eating healthy ever since. Hopelessly and helplessly in love, we married in the spring.

The End
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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thanksgiving Dinner


       The dreaded announcement crackled over the airport's loudspeaker: "Due to heavy snow," a man's voice droned, "no flights will be arriving or departing until further notice."
I slumped back in my seat in the terminal. A plane was visible through the windows of the gate area, wind-swept snow swirling about it. Across from me a woman muttered, "But it's Thanksgiving! Everyone's expecting me home."
I nodded silently. I knew how helpless and disappointed she felt.
Everyone was expecting me, too—Mom, Dad, my sister, Angie, her two kids and her husband. I'd been away too long. And now this! A snowstorm paralyzing the airport. How long would I be stuck here, only a 160 miles from home? A few more hours? Overnight?
I glanced at my watch: 10:00 A.M. I was scheduled to arrive home at noon. Mom's to-die-for Thanksgiving dinner would be served promptly at 4:00. I called home on my cell phone. Told her the situation. "Not to worry, Cindy" she said. "Turkey's not in the oven yet. If we have to, we'll have Thanksgiving tomorrow."
"No way!" I said. "Eat on time! All of you.  I'll have leftovers tomorrow—whenever I get there. All right?"
She didn't answer.
"Promise," I said. "I'll call back as soon as I hear more."
"All right."
After I shut my phone down, I realized a handsome man with startling brown eyes was sitting next to me. "I had to do the same thing," he said. "Call home. Tell them I didn't think I'd make it—my mom, dad, and grandma."
"I'm so disappointed I won't be home I could punch a wall," I said.
"Me, too. You headed for Moline International?"
I nodded. The warmth in his brown eyes sent a little tingle rippling through me.  "My hometown's Davenport. Yours?"
"Rock Island. Just across the river from you. I'm Brett O'Connor."
Was I simply happy to see someone from close to home among the hundreds of strangers stranded at the airport, or had this man's sudden appearance and good looks rocked me a little?
I smiled. "Cindy Boyd. Why are you traveling on Thanksgiving Day?"
"I work for a marketing research firm. I travel about once a week. I always plan things so I'm home for weekends and holidays, but this time a snowstorm's fouled things up. It happens sometimes." He shot a glimpse at my ringless left hand. "You?"
"I've missed being home for Thanksgiving and Christmas for the last three years," I said. "I decided that had to stop."
"Good for you."
I explained that I worked for a large engineering firm In Chicago, at first an exciting and challenging job, but as I continued to climb the corporate ladder my work schedule had become more and more demanding, sometimes seventy hours a week.  "So I handed in a six-week's notice," I said. "I was going to tell everyone today—I've quite my job. I'm going to move back home. To my roots."
"Oh, wow," he said. "Quitting a good job these days takes nerve—I mean, with the job market like it is."
"I've got a little money saved, I've got good contacts around home, I'll find something. Maybe I'll start my own consulting business."
"I admire you," he said. "I really do."
"I have an older sister who married her childhood sweetheart right after high school. They had two children right off—and I thought how foolish. Now I'm thinking how wonderful."
He nodded. "Funny how life changes your mind sometimes, isn't it?"
We both smiled. We laughed a lot as we chatted more about ourselves. We were both the same age. Thirty-five. He was an only child and wished he had a brother and a sister. He concluded by telling me he'd never been married.
"Me, either," I said.
"Simply haven't found the right person."
"I haven't had time to think about it," I said.
And then that man's voice droned again over the loud speaker telling us the snow was getting worse. No flights would be leaving until tomorrow morning. Every stranded passenger in the airport seemed to heave a giant, exasperated sigh.
"We're stuck," Brett said.
"Looks like it."
We both called home. Tears misted in my eyes when I told Mom I couldn't be there until tomorrow. She assured me there'd be plenty of leftovers. When I put my phone away, Brett's eyes met mine. My heart gave a little jolt. "How about having Thanksgiving dinner with me?" he said.
"In an airport? You're kidding."
He stood up. Held out his hand. "Hamburger? Fries? Milkshake?"
I smiled. I dropped my hand into his. His long fingers closed around mine as he firmly but gently pulled me up to my feet. That tingly feeling rippled through me again, more intense this time. "Sounds like a perfectly lovely Thanksgiving dinner," I said. Suddenly the snow and the delay—none of it mattered quite as much anymore.

The End
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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ready! Set! Go!



          "Oh wow! What am I doing?"
I stood in front of the full-length mirror in the church's dressing room, staring at my own reflection. I saw a pale woman with chestnut-brown hair—her eyes too big, too wide, too fearful.
"You look elegant in mom's wedding dress," my older sister Rita said.
"I wish I'd have been slender enough to wear it, too."
I spun around to face her. "I don't think this is going to work."
"Nonsense! The dress fits you perfectly."
I pressed a hand to my queasy stomach. "It's not the dress I'm talking about—it's the wedding."
"Don't get yourself worked up, Kristy." My sister wrapped me in a soft, hug, then stepped back.
"I'm about to marry a man I've known since fourth grade. We dated in high school, broke up, lost track of each other in college, came back home, became best friends—and now we're getting married!'
"A love story for the ages."
"But I can't believe it."
"You love him, don't you?"
"What's love got to do with it? I'm scared." I swallowed. "I should make a run for it out the back—"
"Shhh! You'll give me a heart attack. Besides, if you run, I'll tell, and Jake will catch you."
"Not if I have a head start—"
A sharp knock at the door nearly stopped my heart. I thought the intruder might be Jake—my wonderful, kind, patient, loving husband-to-be. Had he finally lost his patience? I couldn't let him see me like this, near a meltdown with last-second jitters. No way!
Rita opened the door; my heart stopped, but Rita's husband and her ten-year-old daughter, Ellen, entered. "We've got restless people in church," Andy said. "Not to mention an anxious groom and a frowning minister."
"Jake's anxious?" I said, wringing my hands. "He should see me—I'm falling apart."
"You're beautiful, Aunt Kristy," Ellen said, offering a big smile.
"Thank you, sweetheart." I suddenly felt my eyes turn misty.
"We're nearly ready," Rita said.
"According to who?" I said.
"Go calm the groom down," Rita told Andy. She waved the two of them away and closed the door. Then my sister turned on me and said softly, "Coward."
"That's not fair."
"You're afraid to walk through that door, into the church, down the aisle, and say I do to the man you love. I'd say that's cowardly."
I heaved a big sigh. I crossed my arms.
Rita said, "He's giving up his former life, too, but he's ready to join you in making a new one."
"I know."
"He's making the same promise you are—until death do us part."
"I know."
Rita sliced a hand through the air. "Right now he's standing on the altar facing a church full of people, and he's wondering why your commitment isn't as strong as his."
"I need just another second..."
Rita stomped her foot. "Look at you! Ready to cry. Ready to change your mind."
"I'm not changing my mind."
"I'll bet by this time Jake is changing his mind, too—ready to run. Just like you wanted to."
I blinked. "He wouldn't."
"A fine pair you two are. You deserve each other—both quitters. How did you ever expect to stay married?"
"We are a good pair!"
"I don't believe it. Neither one of you has an ounce of backbone!"
I started to bristle. How dare my sister say something like that, especially on my wedding day. I fired back: "Jake's the most loyal, dependable, honest, considerate, loving man I know."
"Do you really believe that?
"Absolutely."
"Do you think you'd ever find a better man?"
"Absolutely not."
"Then what are you waiting for?"
"Nothing."
"Ready! Set! Go! Walk though that door!"
I grabbed a deep breath. I pictured my dad in his tux, waiting to walk me up the aisle. And my mom standing in the front pew of the church in her beautiful dress, gazing back at me. And the church full of well-wishers, their shiny, smiling faces turned toward me. The minister. My bridesmaids. Jake's groomsmen. And Jake himself, tall and handsome, his blue eyes shimmering with love.
My chin jutted out. Rita opened the door, and I marched toward my dad, standing just inside the church entrance.
"Are you all right?" Dad asked.
 I looped my arm through his, ready to marry the man who loved me—whom I loved—ready to begin a new life with him, ready to kiss him and hold him in my arms forever.  "Ready," I said.
Dad patted my hand. "I was worried about you."
I glanced at my sister. The smile on my face felt huge. "Nothing to it," I said. "I'm fearless. Piece of cake. Right, Rita?"
She rolled her eyes and smiled back. "Right."

The End
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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rebounding

         "Jenny! Need some help?"
I'd pulled into the underground garage beneath my condominium and had flipped up the hatchback on my car when I heard Tom's voice behind me.
"You're a lifesaver," I said, as he slid out of his car, having just pulled in alongside me.I was his new neighbor in the building. Well, not exactly his neighbor since he lived on the third floor and I lived on the fifth. We'd already talked several times; he'd helped me out of a couple of jams. We were both single. Not dating.
He was the nicest, friendliest person. Easy on the eyes, too. Tall. Lean. Beautiful blond hair. Sky-blue eyes. But I'd never really seen him smile. He intrigued me; he made my heart flutter, but I thought, Control yourself, Jenny. It's way too soon.
"What've you got there?" he said, looking amazed. "Eight, nine, ten bags of groceries?"
I explained that school boards paid teachers only once a month. After five years in the profession, I'd learned that it was wise to stock up after every payday. We made two trips each to my apartment. When Tom set the last bag on kitchen table, I smiled and said, "I owe you."
He flipped a palm up. "You don't. Glad to help." And with that he disappeared, adding simply, "See you around."
The truth is I really did owe Tom. He'd changed a flat tire for me, and when I couldn't track down the building's maintenance person, he'd fixed a leaky pipe under my kitchen sink. But each time, after helping me out, he hurried away. I suspected we both suffered from the same affliction. We were afraid of rebounding from a failed relationship.
Two days later, on a Friday afternoon after work, Tom and I rode the elevator together up to our respective apartments. He was a lawyer who worked for State Legal Aid, an agency that offered legal assistance for people of low income. At the last minute, feeling my heart rate spike, I gathered my courage and blurted, "How about a cup of coffee? Freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies. My mom's recipe."
His lips pursed. He started to say something. But stopped. Then, "I really can't. I mean, I shouldn't—"
"I understand," I said, as the elevator doors slid open and Tom exited, not even looking back. Disappointed, I heaved a sigh and thought, Well, you blew that, Jenny!
I wondered if his experience had been close to mine. I'd gone with Steve two years. We talked about marriage endlessly—before he decided we weren't "right for each other."  Maybe things had been worse for Tom: His fiancé left him at the altar.
Thirty minutes later, after I'd showered and dressed in jeans, T-shirt, and sneakers—I wasn't going anywhere tonight—hadn't gone anywhere on a Friday night in ages—a knock sounded at my door. Who in the world—? I swung the door open. And there stood Tom, scratching the back of his head, looking sheepish. "I—I need to apologize," he stammered, "for being such a jerk. Blowing you off like I did."
"You're not a jerk, " I said, and invited him in.
While he sat at the kitchen table and I started to make coffee, I explained that I recognized all the symptoms of his illness: no dates, home every night, a fear of becoming too friendly with a member of the opposite sex. Never a smile.  "You're afraid of rebounding," I said.
"Is it that obvious?"
"To me it is." Then I told him my story.
"I know how you feel," Tom said. "Betrayed. Let down. My fiancé thought I should be making more money—I mean, I love my job. When I wouldn't accept an offer as a corporate lawyer, she split."
I poured coffee for him and set a platter of cookies on the table. "A fine pair we are," I said. "A pair of rejects."
We fell silent.
Tom took a sip of coffee, a bite of cookie. "These are delicious."
"Thank you."
He pinned his gaze on me. My face suddenly felt warm. My heart did more than flutter—it raced—and I wondered if my cheeks had turned pink. He puffed out a deep, long breath. "I've decided," he said, "that despite disappointments and fears, life is made for living. And loving. Would you like to do something tonight?"
Now my heart thumped. "Like—?"
"Dinner. A late movie."
I blinked. "I'd love to. I'd have to change."
"I'll be back in an hour." He gulped down his coffee and grabbed another cookie. "These are out of this world," he said. And for the first time ever, I saw a huge smile ripple across his handsome face.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Lovely Spring Day

             The woman I'd longed to meet since moving in next door to her a week ago, stood on my front porch, my Boston Terrier Buster clutched in her arms, his stubby tail wagging.
I'd just answered the doorbell.
"Found him in my backyard," she said, "digging in my flowers." Smiling—for which I was thankful—she handed me the squirming eight-pound monster. "Thought you might like to have him back."
I shook my head sheepishly. "One of the twins—or maybe I did—must've left the back gate open. I'm so sorry. 
She smiled again. "He was on his way to China."
"He's a nuisance. But the twins love him. I do, too—did he ruin anything? I'll gladly pay."
"It's all right," she said. "No harm done. He really is adorable."
I couldn't take my eyes off her. Slender. Chestnut-brown hair cut short. Up-tilted nose. The first time I saw her my heart went Bam! and I knew I wanted to get acquainted. My mom, who visits nearly every day and helps me out a lot with the twins, said to me pointedly, "The girl is single, never married, and works at home"—Mom had already gossiped with other neighbors—"you should talk to her, John."
But how does a widower with five-year-old twin daughters get acquainted with a single girl—his neighbor—and send signals that he's ready to move on and open up his heart again to someone? How does he get to know her well enough to ask he out—if only for a cup of coffee? Especially when he hasn't dated in seven years. And now Buster, the Monster Dog, is caught digging in her flowers.
The front door still open, I set Buster down, shooed him into the house, and closed the door. I turned quickly, before my neighbor could escape, and offered my hand. "John Bedford," I said. "I don't think we've been formally introduced."
"Sally Rogers," she said as we shook hands. " I'm so glad to finally meet you."
Oh wow!  She's glad to meet me.
 I didn't know what to say. "Um...a great day—a great start to the weekend, don't you think?" is all I could manage.
"Lovely."
"My mom's in the house French-braiding Sara's and Jesse's hair—I'm taking them to a birthday party." I glanced at my watch. "Pretty soon...two o'clock."
After I said all that, I expected the information to bore her. Why had I even mentioned it? But she asked, "How old are the girls? They're beautiful."
"Five. I'm a widower."
"I guessed that. Or that you were divorced."
"My wife died three years ago." Stop babbling, I told myself.  "How long have you lived in the neighborhood?"
"Five years. I work at home. I'm a certified public accountant. I do contract work for small businesses."
"I'm a junior high school teacher. Social studies and P.E."
"Tough job."
"But I like it." I glanced at my watch again. Any second now Mom would come to the door and tell me the twins were ready.
Sally inched toward the steps. "I should be going. You're busy."
I followed her down the steps. I couldn't let her get away.  "Um...is gardening your hobby?"
"That and reading. I do some needlepoint. I love old movies. You?"
"Um...I like to golf. When I have the time."
"Really," she said. "I've always wanted to learn."
She ambled toward the sidewalk. I followed. I glanced at my watch again. The twins should be piling into the car any second and this moment—this opportunity—would be lost.
"Where did you live before moving in?" she asked.
"In a condo. But I thought the kids should grow up in a home with a yard and neighbors. Buster, too—sorry about your flowers."
"Don't worry about them. I think you'll all love it here."
My turn to smile. "I'm sure." My heart suddenly jack hammering, I did the unthinkable. I gulped and said, "Look, this birthday party will last a couple of hours. If I dashed back, could I invite you in for a cup of coffee?"
She seemed to hesitate. Was she making up an excuse to turn me down? Was she already expecting someone? Her boyfriend. Please! No!  "Why don't you stop at my place?" she said. "I'll have coffee and rolls ready."
Wow! Oh wow!  "I'd love that."
She walked home, and when I turned I saw Mom, the twins, and Buster standing on the front porch—all of them smiling at me in their own special way.
"Who left the back gate open?" I asked.
"She did!" the twins cried in unison, pointing at each other.
"Thank you!"
I rushed to the porch, hugged them, then picked up Buster and scratched him behind the ears.
"A lovely spring day," Mom said, her knowing smile growing wider. "Don't you think?"
"Perfect."
"I left the gate open," she said, hoisting an eyebrow. "On purpose."

The End
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