Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Starting Over

 I stood on the front porch of my house with Brian at midnight, my heart pounding. The scent of roses from the nearby trellis drifted in the air.
"I had a wonderful time, Jenny," he said.
"Me, too." I breathed deeply, and wondered if he could tell in the moonlight and starlight how flushed my face felt. "The music was great.Thank you for a lovely evening."
"I'll call," he said, squeezing my hand.
"Please do."
We said good night, and when I let myself into the house, the phone was ringing. I knew it was Marge, my best friend, who lived across the street, now married with two adorable kids. "I saw you come home," she said. "How'd it go?"
"You were waiting up? Watching?"
"Had to. Why didn't you kiss him?"
"I had a wonderful time. The Blues Fest—terrific music, but..." I sighed. "Look, I know he's your cousin, and he's everything you said he was—thoughtful, warm, funny..."
"Don't you just love his brown hair? Those dreamy brown eyes? His killer smile?"
"Look, Marge..."
"I'm trying to help you out here, Jenny. Your husband's gone, it's been three years...and what did Jared tell you before he died?"
"He'd be disappointed if I didn't move on...start over."
"Are you going to disappoint him?"
"I don't know..."
"Listen, Jenny, once other women know Brian is single and has decided to settle in this one-horse town to open his veterinary clinic, he'll be spoken for instantly. "Get smart, girl. Give him a chance."
We hung up. I changed into pajamas and collapsed into bed, my mind in turmoil.
Like other newly weds, Jared and I'd dreamed of having children, grandchildren, and a long, happy life together. Jared and Jenny. Forever. So intense was our love, so vivid our dreams, I still couldn't stop myself from feeling guilty at times about trying to find happiness with someone else.
Brian called the next day, Saturday, and asked me to a River Bandits baseball game. "Only a minor league team, he said, but peanuts, pop corn, cold drinks, a warm night and baseball—tough to beat. "
I smiled. His enthusiasm was infectious. "All right."
That afternoon, Marge also called: "You and Brian want to go sailing with Dan and me at the lake Sunday? About noon? Call Brian. I know he'd love to see you again."
"He's already asked me to a Bandits game tonight—things are moving so fast."
"Good. Tell him about sailing."
"Maybe...I just don't know."
"Don't be foolish, Jenny. Start something. Give him a kiss."
At the Bandits' game, Brian and I ate hot dogs, peanuts, and popcorn. Drank eighteen-ounce cups of soda. The Bandits rapped out twelve hits. Brian and I and the rest of the Bandit fans cheered and stomped our feet as the home team thrashed the Clinton Lumber Kings 11-1. Marvelous fun.
After the game, as we strolled under the glow of parking lot lights toward Brian's SUV, Brain appeared solemn. "You loved your husband very much, didn't you?"
"Very much. We were..." My voice faltered. How could I describe Jared and me?
"Perfect together?" Brian said.
"Yes. Perfect."
"I understand how difficult it must be for you to be with me, someone different."
My head dipped. I didn't answer, but this man's understanding nearly overwhelmed me.
Brian unlocked and opened my door. When he sighed, I knew he must be thinking Jared would be a difficult man to follow. Perhaps too difficult. Why bother?
As we drove out of the parking lot, Brian asked if I'd like to see where the new clinic was being built. I said, "Of course."
When we arrived at the north edge of town, I climbed out of the car with Brian and stood in the moon and starlight, peering at the half-constructed brick building. "I've been in a big clinic with three other doctors in Lancaster," he said. "I'm tired of the rat race. I thought I'd settle down here. Start over."
I don't think he aimed "settle down" or "starting over" at me. He was simply stating a fact. But when I didn't respond, he said, "I feel guilty intruding on your feelings for your husband."
I blinked. Guilty. What a sad-sounding word. A terrible word.
Why should he feel guilty?
"Guilt's the worst feeling, " I said. "Try to avoid it. At all costs." The moon and stars bathed his handsome features in a soft glow. I drew in a deep breath. Once I'd made up my mind, the words slipped easily from my mouth: "Marge and Dan have asked if we'd like to go sailing tomorrow. About noon."
Now it was Brian who seemed hesitant. "I don't want to monopolize your time."
"You're not...but it's all right if you do."
His eyes roamed my face. I tried to breath again.
"I'd love to go," he said, smiling a perfectly dazzling smile. "It's been a long time since I've done something like that."
 I smiled back, and while his fingertips traced my jawline, I raised my lips to kiss him and said, "Me, too."
The End
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Monday, August 15, 2011

Back To School


         In elementary school, teachers dubbed me Terrible Tom, so as I sidled up to my eight-year-old-niece's third-grade classroom door, I thought it natural to feel a little uneasy.
Amy said, "You'll really like Miss Hardy, Uncle Tommy."
"I'm sure."
I knocked lightly on the closed door.
It swung open, and in front of me stood a blond young woman so attractive  that the sight of her took my breath away. 
"Good morning, Amy!" she said. "And welcome to our third-grade classroom, Mr. Spencer. Come in, please. We have a seat for you."
My hand darted out. Miss Hardy and I shook. "Thank you," I said.
From my seat in the back of the room at a table, I counted thirty-two desks—quite a roomful of kids for one person to handle. And I'd forgotten what a third-grade classroom was like: the tiny desks, the low chalkboard, the bulletin board filled with colorful drawings, the room smelling of glue.
Yesterday, I'd spoken to the school's principal at length, explaining I'd missed open house last week because of business—I'm an insurance agent—but Amy liked her teacher so much she insisted I visit their classroom and meet Miss Hardy. He assured me the teacher wouldn't mind.
As Miss Hardy taught spelling and handwriting, she smiled and laughed a lot. She was having fun, so were the kids. I was totally impressed.
At recess time, after the kids scampered out of the classroom to the playground, Miss Hardy sat down across from me at the table. "Well, Mr. Spencer, I don't have playground duty today. We have a chance to talk."
"How's Amy doing?"
"Just great. She's a lovely, intelligent child."
I nodded gratefully. "I think you're quite a teacher."
"Thank you," she said, blushing. "I love seeing kids happy."
I explained Amy had lost both her parents in an automobile accident two years ago in San Diego, where her family had lived. Her dad was my brother. I adopted Amy. Her coming to live with her grandpa and me—an invalided widower and a bachelor—back in her dad's little hometown of Walcott was a big change for her and a great challenge for all of us.
"It's great to see her doing well," I said. "And she insisted that I meet you—I hope I haven't caused you any inconvenience."
"Not at all, Mr. Spencer. Please visit anytime."
I looked past Miss Hardy through the window to where kids romped in the playground in the sunshine. "I used to go to school here," I said. "Played on that very playground. Got into lots of trouble."
Miss Hardy smiled. "Fortunately Amy's no trouble at all—she's a delight."
"I'm glad," I said. I pushed myself up from my chair and prepared to say good-bye to Miss Hardy, though I didn't want to. Her blond hair, cheerful smile, and buoyant personality—all had captured me.
She wore no rings.
I wondered if she had any weekend plans.
She pursed her pink lips and looked as if she wanted to say something, but I spoke first. "Um...I hope you don't think I'm out of line here..."
She shook her head. "I was about to say exactly the same thing."
"Well, ordinarily I wouldn't put this burden on a single dad, but we have a field trip tomorrow to Niabi Zoo, and I wondered...well, I wondered if you could chaperon one of the buses with me. Or with another teacher, if you prefer."
"A school bus?" I said warily. "One of those yellow monsters?"
"Monsters, indeed—the very reason we're always short of chaperons."
I smiled. "The last elementary school bus I rode I got kicked off for throwing a snowball—inside the bus. Once I brought a garden snake aboard—and really freaked everyone."
"Shame on you," she said. Then, "Will you be able to help?"
"I think I can rearrange my tomorrow's schedule."
"Wonderful. The weather's supposed to be seventy-eight and sunny.""
"Ah—just one thing, though."
I simply couldn't resist a bit of mischief.  "I always get sick if I have to ride in the back of the bus."
Miss Hardy flashed a smile. "Perhaps you can sit in front," she said. "Near me."
"That would be fine."
"But you have to behave. No snakes. No snowballs."
I nodded happily. "I'll behave, I promise."
"See you and Amy at seven-thirty," she said. "Front of the building."
We shook hands again in parting, our warm palms lingering together a moment longer than necessary. By the time I hit the sunlight in the street, I was thinking my first day back to school had been the best school day of my life.
I couldn't wait to ride a school bus. Again. With Miss Hardy.

The End
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