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.