Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Being Neighborly

I couldn't believe I was baking brownies for the widower down the street. I studied the recipe: butter, unsweetened chocolate, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, chopped walnuts.
Okay. The man wants brownies. He gets brownies.
In a saucepan, I melted the butter and chocolate on the stove.
I'd known Charlie Brooke forever. He taught and coached at the local high school. Both my sons played football for him and said he was the best coach ever. His wife died shortly after my husband died, four years ago now.
Charlie and I'd never socialized after our spouses' deaths. I was convinced Paul was my one and only. I just couldn't imagine myself with any other man. So why was I making brownies for Charlie?
You want to know the truth?
He's the most helpful man I know. During the winter he plows snow up and down the block for the neighbors—sidewalks and driveways. One morning this spring when he walked by my house with his dog and saw that my car sat in the driveway with a flat tire, he changed the tire.
Just yesterday, as I struggled to rake up the autumn leaves that had fallen overnight from the maple tree in the front yard, he trotted over with his leaf blower. He blew them into a pile, and we bagged them for the refuse collector.
"I don't know how to thank you." I breathed a sigh, happy to have that job finished, but I suddenly wondered how I looked. My hair a mess. My face probably smudged. All sweaty.
He gazed at me with a smile. "Just being neighborly."
Here's another thing about Charlie: He's handsome. At forty-five, he's trim and rugged-looking with dark hair graying at the temples, his eyes a gorgeous deep blue. Not that his looks mattered to me. Of course, not. "Really," I said. "I owe you."
"Brownies?" he said. "Do you bake brownies?"
My eyebrows lifted. "Brownies?"
"I'm sorry. I know it's sexist to think all women bake, but I haven't had homemade brownies since"—he faltered—"for a long time..."
I knew my recipe for brownies was somewhere in my recipe box in the kitchen. I could have told him I'd bake a batch sometime and drop them off at his house.  But what did I say? I said, "Yes, I have a great recipe. I'll make a batch." Then I added, "Why don't you come over tomorrow afternoon, about three? I'll have coffee ready."

        I carefully spread the brownie mixture in my 8x8x2-inch baking pan, all greased. I don't know why I invited him over today, Sunday. Sunday had always been a special day for Paul and me, a day to relax after a hectic week. Read. Watch TV. Play chess. I worked as an emergency-room nurse. Still do. Part-time. Paul was a traffic engineer for the city.
I had just sprinkled powdered sugar over the top of the brownies and had started to cut them into squares when I heard a knock at the front door. Wiping my hands on a towel, I felt flushed. I told myself to calm down. I hurried through the dining and living rooms. I opened the front door. Charlie's smile was wide. "Hope I'm not early."
"Not at all. Come in."
What really bowled me over was not his good looks but how happy I suddenly felt to see him. Like he filled an empty space in my home—and in my heart.
He drew in a deep whiff. "Smells like brownies in here, for sure. And coffee."
But as he sidled by me, I smelled only his cologne, a tantalizing musky scent; my heart went all fluttery. What's wrong with you, Alison? But I knew. I just didn’t want to admit it. I was smitten. Forty-four going of fourteen.
I led him to the kitchen and pointed out a chair for him at the table. I sliced the brownies, stacked them on a platter, and poured coffee for him. We munched the goodies, sipped our brew, and chattered about our kids and the lovely autumn weather. All the while he kept wiping his mouth with a napkin and saying, "These are delicious."
At one point I said, "You'll have to take the rest home with you."
He quickly glanced at the clock. An hour had slipped by. "I guess it is time for me leave."
Oh my! I hadn't meant to sound as if I were kicking him out. On an impulse I asked, "Do you play chess?"
"Never learned." He thought a moment. "What are you doing for supper tonight?"
That caught me by surprise. "Um...leftovers, I suppose."
"I make a mean plate of spaghetti."
"I love spaghetti."
"About six? Later you can teach me to play chess."
I didn't think twice. "All right, I'd like that."
I wrapped the rest the brownies in tinfoil.
"Really," he said, "don't you want to keep some of these for yourself."
I handed him the package. Our fingers touched. I felt a spark, and a smile crept across my face. "They're yours."
"I appreciate this."
My smile grew bigger. I made myself take a breath. "That's all right," I said, and marveled at how warm and mellow I felt, being neighborly.
The End
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