Friday, August 31, 2012

Attic Treasures

 "Hi, Ms. Manning, I'm Billy Cooper."
  he man standing before me at my front door at eleven in the morning—soft blond hair, startling blue eyes—nearly took my breath away. Somehow he seemed to think I should know him.
 "I'm Stacy Manning," I said. "But I'm sorry, I don't believe we've met."
 "I'm your landlord's son," he said, smiling. "I guess Mom forgot to tell you I was coming by."
"Oh!" I laughed. "Your mom did call yesterday. I forgot."
We shook hands, and I felt totally sheepish.
     Not only had I forgotten that Billy was coming by, but I stood in front of him in faded cutoff jeans and a raggedy-looking purple top—my paint-smeared painting gear. I'd just finished painting what I'd decided would be my bedroom in this old but comfortable two-story home I'd moved into a week ago.
       "Don't mean to bother you," Billy said.    "But I left some gear in the attic when I took off for the Navy. Mom said I should clear it out. You'd need the space someday."
 I'd just arrived in this quaint college town and had taken my first real job as a college English teacher. My landlord, Billy's mom, who now lived in a condo, said she was tired of itinerant renters, so she agreed to sign a rent-to-own contract with me. I couldn't have been more delighted.
I told Billy to come in. I followed him up the stairs and nearly died when he headed for the very room I'd finished painting. "Used to be my room as a kid," he said. "Cool paint job." Then he pointed. "Attic door's in the ceiling in this big closet."
He pull the spring-loaded folding ladder down. He climbed the steps into the dark hole and switched on a light that apparently hung from the attic ceiling.
He lugged down an old computer, a twenty-gallon aquarium, skis, ice skates, golf clubs, fishing poles, a crossbow and arrows. And tennis rackets. Several of them. I eyed the rackets wistfully.
"Treasure all," he said with a wry smile. "But I don't know if I'll ever use any of this stuff again. Except for the tennis rackets." Finished, he swung the attic door up to the ceiling.
"You've been in the Navy all this time?" I asked.
"Six years. Destroyer. But I decided to get out. I'd taken a few college courses and finished up on the East Coast. Earned a masters degree. Now I've come home. What brings you to this little town?"
"I'm a new English teacher at the college," I said proudly. "My first real job."
His brown eyes got big. "Good for you!" he said.  "I'm a new math teacher. My first real job outside the Navy."
"Oh, wow!" I said. "That’s great!" We both laughed, and my heart skipped when I realized we surely would be bumping into each other occasionally.
"Well," he said, "I suppose I should lug all his stuff out to the car."
"I'll help. Do you play tennis much?"
"All though junior and senior high. Not much in the Navy, but I got back in shape and played in college. Never first team, though. You?"
"State champ in high school," I said, puffing up a bit, "but in undergraduate and graduate school I always needed to work nearly full time. I haven't touched a racquet in awhile."
We hauled his things to his car, where we stood a moment, facing each other. I thought surely he would drive off—I didn't want him to. He looked at me again, as if he were seeing me for the first time. I blushed under his gaze.
Shuffling his feet he said, "Mom told me you were single, but she didn't say if you were...well, seeing somebody."
"I'm not."
He smiled broadly, a beautifully warm smile. "I'm single—and you know what?
"I'm the new assistant tennis coach at the college."
I blinked and leaned on his car so I didn't fall over. "Really?"
"Honest. How about we hit a few this afternoon?"
I needed a second to catch my breath and slow my pounding heart, thinking, It's strange how the ball can bounce your way when you least expect it. "I'd love to," I said, delighted that one of the treasures Billy dragged out of the attic had been tennis rackets. Not a football. Or basketball.
The End
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