Monday, October 31, 2011

A Pumpkin Patch Match

     A hunk of a man with chestnut-brown hair, Calvin Johnson shouted, "Climb board, everyone. We're headed for the pumpkin patch!"
I watched as kids and parents cheered and then scrambled onto the three, horse-drawn hay wagons. "Might as well sit up front with me," Mr. Johnson said, and hoisted me up to the front end of his wagon. I flushed as he settled in next to me and grabbed the horse's reins.
Dressed in jeans, boots, brown-flannel shirt, and a billed cap, he smelled delightfully of spice and woods. And such a strong and handsome man he was. Whoa! I told myself. You're on a field trip with your fourth-grade students, now is not the time..."
"You don't remember me, do you, Ms. Lee?" He flicked the reins. "Get along, Betsy." The horse lifted its head and snorted; the wagon rumbled forward in the warm October afternoon sunshine.
As I looked at Mr. Johnson, his brown eyes locked on mine. "Umm...I'm not sure..." I said.
"My son Rob was in your fourth grade class. You and I met at open house. Later in the year, we met again. In the principal's office."
"Yes, yes...I do remember."
"Been awhile." Calvin flicked the reins again; Betsy picked up her pace. "Rob's mom died that year. The boy was acting out pretty bad. But he's doing fine now."
"I'm so glad."
"In college, a sophomore. Always thought you were the prettiest of Rob's lady teaches."
I flushed again. I didn't know how to respond to this outspoken man. "Thank you," I said, wishing I'd had the courage to say, And you're quite handsome, Mr. Johnson.
"How've you been?" he asked.
"Um...fine. Just fine."
No husband, no children, no ties—except to school. Never married. Sometimes lonely.  But I couldn’t tell him that. In fact, I felt no need to tell anyone. Really, I was doing fine. School and all its related activities—like rounding up parent chaperons and drivers and taking my fourth grade class to the Pumpkin Patch on a Saturday afternoon—kept me plenty busy.
Once the wagons halted, Calvin hopped down, grabbed my hand—this touch was electric—and helped me off. My face flushed again. Get a grip, Rosie!
Calvin said, "Got to cut the pumpkins off the vine for the kids." Then he smiled the warmest, brown-eyed smile I'd ever seen. "See you back at the wagon in awhile."
My best friend Kathy Berg, whose son was in my class, sidled up to me, grinning. "He likes you, Rosie. He threw you onto the hay wagon to make sure you didn't get away.  He's smitten. Go for it, girlfriend."
"Don't be silly. I'm not interested."
"You going to bury yourself with school work the rest of your life?"
When we were all loaded on the wagons and headed back to the farmhouse, kids lovingly cradled their pumpkins in their laps and laughed with delight. I sat next to Mr. Johnson—he'd hoisted me onto the wagon again—but this time I think he'd edged closer to me: His warmth seeped through my jeans and hoodie, and my heart rate spiked.
I said, "It's so nice of you, Mr. Johnson, to give away pumpkins."
"Cal," he said. "Call me Cal. Halloween's been my favorite holiday since I was a kid. Just like to do it—give pumpkins away and hear the kids laugh. It's why I plant them. Is it okay to call you Rose?"
There was that point-blank bluntness again and that same warm, brown-eyed smile. I smiled back. "Rosie. My friends call me Rosie."
"How'd you hear about the Pumpkin Patch, Rosie?"
"Saw your poster on the bulletin board at school."
"First time I've done that, made a poster and put it in school. Having a good time?"
"Marvelous. I like to hear kids laugh, too. Most of them have never been on a farm."
"Five hundred acres of the best land in the county. Got a boyfriend?"
I blinked. More bluntness. Before I could decide if I wanted to answer or not, someone from the back of the wagon screamed, "OH NO!" Cal called, "Whoa, Betsy!" and the wagon crunched to a stop. Cal and I leaped to the ground and found that a little girl had dropped her pumpkin. It lay splattered in the dirt. Cal promised to take the tearful girl to fetch another one as soon as he dropped everyone else off at the farmhouse.
Back on the wagon again—another hoist from Cal into my seat—we looked at each other and our eyes locked for a second time. I gulped and decided to offer my own bit of bluntness: "No boyfriend, Cal."
He grinned.  "What I wanted to hear. Neighbor's got a haunted house down the road a piece. Pick you up at eight tonight?"
While my heart hammered and while I decided Halloween was fast becoming my favorite holiday, too, I said, "Eight would be just fine."

The End
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