Thursday, September 30, 2010


         "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.
"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.  " 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?"
"I left the gate open," she said, hoisting an eyebrow. "On purpose."

The End
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