Sunday, September 15, 2013

Back Home


Somehow it had gotten to be ten o’clock in the evening. Ben had said he should go home, but I didn’t want him to leave. He had a talent for making me smile, and he'd helped me forget the trauma of moving with my twelve-year-old daughter from Arizona all the way across the country back to my hometown.
Ben and I had been new neighbors for a week.
We stood on my front porch in the moonlight, the scent of lilacs drifting in the air from the nearby bushes.
The old-fashioned but newly stained porch swing seemed too inviting to resist, so we sat down.
 “It's been a wonderful evening,” Ben said. “Dinner was delicious. Thank you.”
“Just burgers, fries, and a salad.”
“Yeah," he said, smiling "But I’m used to TV dinners and carry-outs.”
As we rocked gently back and forth, the chain that held the swing suspended from the ceiling began to go creak, creak, creak.
Ben looked up. “That would be easy to fix, Susan. So would the leaky faucet in the kitchen."
“It was so nice of you to replace the garage window Leslie broke with her softball yesterday. I wouldn’t know how I’d repay you for any more help."
 “You don’t have to repay me for anything," he said with a gentle smile. We're neighbors.”
He thanked me again for the meal and left. What a nice man, I thought. You’re lucky to have him as a neighbor, Susan.
The next morning, Saturday, at the breakfast table Leslie arched an eyebrow and said, “What did you guys do last night, Mom? After you made me go to bed.”
“Mr. Cunningham and I sat on the porch swing for a while."
"Just sat?" She eyed me. "Did he kiss you?"
I blinked and then frowned at my daughter. "Where do you get ideas like that, Leslie?"
 “Just wondering, Mom." Then, "The swing squeaks. You should ask him fix it.”
“I can take care of it today. And the leaky faucet."
Life as a single mom had been hectic back in Arizona, and I'd known it was going to be hectic here, too. I’d left home to go to college in Arizona. I'd earned a degree in elementary education, met Tom, married, and had Leslie. We settled down in Phoenix, but when Tom was killed in an auto accident two years ago, I eventually decided I wanted to return to my hometown. I wanted Leslie to grow up knowing her grandparents—my decision thrilled them beyond words. Besides, instead of Leslie and me living in a condo like we had when Jake was alive, I wanted to live in a house again, so my daughter could experience the charm of having a yard, a neighborhood, and neighborhood kids for friends.
When Aunt Rose decided to move to an assisted living facility and sell her house, I jumped at the opportunity to buy it.
That afternoon, I struggled in the driveway with the lawnmower, trying to get it started.
“Spark plug, probably,” Ben said.”
I looked up and saw him standing on the other side of the fence that separated our yards. He looked handsome—tanned with sandy hair long enough to brush the collar of his denim shirt. I felt tingly inside. Cool it, Susan!
Ben cleaned the lawnmower's sparkplug and air filter, drained the old gasoline from the tank, poured in new gas, and the mower fired up on the first pull. I cut the grass in forty-five minutes.
“Drink?” Ben asked from his side of the fence, as I pushed the mower into the garage. “Iced tea? Lemonade?”
Tired and sweaty, I said, "Tea would be great."
We sat in the backyard at Ben’s picnic table. Last night he talked about himself. He'd been a carpenter for twenty years. He was forty. Two years older than me. His wife had died three years ago. Tonight he told me about the neighbors. About garbage collection days. Mail delivery. The new sewer tax. His smile warmed my heart. When I got up to go home, I felt as if I’d known Ben forever.
I met Leslie in the drive. She was coming home from across the street, where she'd been hanging out with her new friend, Sandy.
“Were you at Mr. Cunningham’s house?” she asked, arching that eyebrow again.
“Yes, I was—don't ask again if he kissed me. He didn't.”
“Do you like him? I like him.”
“He’s very nice. He fixed Aunt Rose’s lawnmower.”
“He could fix a lot of stuff around here.”
"I've already fixed the squeaky swing," I said proudly. "And the leaky faucet."
Leslie smiled at me. "But there's one thing only he can really fix, I'll bet." Her smiled grew wider.
I patted my blonde-haired daughter softly on the head.  How smart twelve-year-olds are these days. "Yes, Leslie, “ I said, “Perhaps you're right...maybe...eventually...”