Monday, October 15, 2012

The Proposition

A thirty-year-old widow with twin boys, I never expected a proposition over a cup of coffee at a booth in the Lunch Box Cafe. Seven-thirty in the morning. Just before work. But that's exactly what Jason said to me: "I have a proposition for you, Christy."
I felt my eyes narrow.
"Don't look at me like that," he said. "I'm serious."
"Jason, I told you—"
"I know. After work and school, what little time you have left, you devote to the boys.
I understand that."
I glanced at my watch. I'd have to scoot in a minute.
"I'm serious," he said again.
He said he'd like to start baby-sitting for me next week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights while I attended class—he knew my evening sitter was moving. No fee. In exchange, I'd sit for him on Saturday nights with his three-year-old daughter, Joy. My boys—John and Mike—are four.
He paused and added, "I'm going to start dating again."
I frowned. "You have someone in mind?"
"Not yet." He drank the last of his coffee. "What do you think?"
"I don't know," I said, feeling doubtful. "I've got to run."
"Think about it, will you? Meet me in the park after work. We'll iron out the details."
All day at the insurance agency where I'm a secretary, I thought about Jason's offer. I knew I could trust him with my kids. He was a widower, a loving father devoted to his daughter. Ever since Howard's death two years ago, I visited Jason often at the hardware store he owned, asking for advice on how to solve little fix-it problems around the house. Then I accidentally ran into him six months ago one morning at Mrs. Lombard's day care center when he walked in with Joy and I with my twins. I accepted his offer for coffee. I couldn't resist his easy smile. But two weeks later, when he asked for a date, I made it clear I wasn't available. Still, we continued to enjoy coffee with each other one or two mornings a week.
That afternoon at the park, under a cloudy sky, I sat with Jason on a picnic table. I had never seen him look so solemn. "I'm discovering I can't be a mom and a dad forever," he said.
"I know. Filling both roles is difficult."
"And after two years without Deb, I still feel an empty place inside."
I looked at the gray sky. I felt that same empty place, but if I stayed busy—work, school, the kids—I didn't notice the emptiness so much. I didn't need anyone.
"A deal?" he said.
"Think you can handle two boys?"
"A piece of cake."
"A deal!" I said. "I can't wait to pamper a little girl."
The baby-sitting was done at my house. My boys adored Jason, and because he'd be with them, I felt a great piece of mind while attending class. I intended to be a certified public accountant.
The second Saturday night I baby-sat, just before Jason left, I asked cautiously, "How's your search going?" I felt sheepish, poking into his private life, but persisted. "I mean, have you found anyone?"
He shrugged. "Lone Tree's a small town. "
Then he bent, hugged all three kids, and said, "Good night all."
For a moment, I felt relief that his search had failed, but I realized that was selfish of me. Jason deserved a good woman.
When he called the following week to ask me to baby-sit Saturday night, he said, "I've found someone."
"Really?" I said briskly. "Who is she? Do I know her?"
I wanted to ask more questions: Was she married, divorced, single? Did she have children? Was she young? Beautiful?
But Jason brushed me off saying, "I'll tell you when I see you Saturday night. Five o'clock."
He looked handsome when he showed up Saturday dressed in jeans, loafers, and a light-blue Polo shirt. Apparently he wasn't taking his lady to any place fancy. He stepped into the house, Joy in his arms, released her, and the kids trooped outside to play in the backyard.
"Big event, huh?" I said coolly, catching the wonderful scent of his cologne.
"Yes," he admitted. "I haven't dated in years."
"Very." His Adam's apple bobbed. "Any advice?"
"Be yourself, you'll do great. Is she pretty?"
"A real beauty."
My heart suddenly ached. "Young?"
"Umm...same age as I am." He pointed at the lounge chair in the corner. "May I sit down?"
"Certainly." I sat on the sofa across from him, wondering why he wasn't rushing to meet his lady.
"Kids?" I asked.
"A widow," he said evenly. "Two boys."
"Really?" My lips pursed. I thought it odd that he should know two widows with sons. "Will you be coming in late tonight?"
"Not at all. I'm going to ask her to bring her kids along. We'll be home early."
"If her kids are coming along, then why leave Joy—" I halted, my jaw dropping. "Jason, if this is this some kind of prank—"
"No prank," he said. "I thought we might go to the circus—the kids, you, and I. It's in town for the weekend. "
My hands clamped my knees. "You don't really have a date for tonight?"
"I do," he said. "You—Michael, John, and Joy."
I gave him a sideways look. "What have you been doing the past two Saturday nights?"
"Inventory at the store," he said, and grinned.
"You planned this?"—a stupid question.
"I didn't know what else to do."
I jumped up. I felt duped. But immensely pleased that he hadn't even looked for anyone else. "Jason, I told you how I felt."
He stood, squeezed my shoulder gently with one hand, and patted two fingers of the other hand across my lips, silencing me.
My knees seemed to melt, and I knew my face must be scarlet.
He said, "Christy, I think we can make time for each other, kids included—if you'll give all of us a chance."
I looked away from his smile. I fumbled my way into the kitchen, hung on to the back of a kitchen table chair for balance, and peered out the window at our kids playing on the swings and slide in the late afternoon sunshine.
"Is it a date?" he said. "The circus? All of us?" He aimed the words at my back, but they hit me in the heart. "Everyone loves a circus."
I steadied myself. I felt my eyes grow misty. I turned, faced him, smiled, and said, "I don't believe I've ever heard such a lovely proposition."

The End
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