Friday, December 12, 2014


I creep up to my new neighbor's house in the howling midnight snowstorm like I'm a burglar, the snow stinging my face. Except I'm not a burglar. A burglar doesn't carry a heavy-duty flashlight, shining it on his victim's front door.
All lights in the neighborhood blinked out a half hour ago—I'm on a rescue mission. I'm a fireman; it's what I do.
I rap loudly on the front door, realizing the sound is probably more frightening to the lady and her daughter who live here than the storm. But right now it's ten below zero outside. With no power in the area—therefore, no heat in the house—the pair will be half frozen to death by morning regardless of what they wear. Besides, the license plates on the lady's car reveals she and her daughter are from Florida. They probably need serious help.
I rap again, harder. I must sound as if I'm trying to break in—a burglar, indeed. Or someone worse. "I'm your neighbor!" I shout, hoping my voice carries over the howling wind and through the door.
Doorknob in my gloved hand, I feel a click and a twist of the knob. The door opens an inch. I press my lips to the crack between the door and the doorjamb. "It's you're neighbor," I shout. "Patrick Sullivan. My house is warm and lighted—I have a home generator. You're both welcome."
The door opens halfway. Without shining the light in their faces, I find the woman and her young daughter shivering in the darkness bundled in parkas, looking frightened and anxious. The woman grips a baseball bat in both hands, ready to swing. "Honest," I tell her, smiling. "I'm here to help."

Sipping hot chocolate at my kitchen table, eating store-bought cookies, we get acquainted. Mandy Abbot and her eight-year-old daughter Claire have been my new neighbors for a week. A widow, Mandy has come to this little town in northern Iowa to take over as the CEO of a major health care center in nearby Webster City. I tell her I'm a fireman and reveal I'm single. Never married.
I explain this little town is filled with lots of old trees. In storms like this, branches break, power lines snap, and the power goes off. It's why some of us around here have a home generator. It kicks in when the electricity shuts down. Mine keeps the furnace and fridge running and a few lights burning.
Our chat winding down, the three of us finally decide it's time for bed. I show them a bedroom down the hallway they can share. Little Claire, giving me a mighty hug, says, "Thank you, Mr. Sullivan. Thank you, very much. I was really scared."
I tell her and her mom that I'm glad I could help. Tomorrow's Saturday. Sleep in. Then I head to the living room where I peer out a window, marveling at the whirling snow. Back in the kitchen, I find Mandy waiting for me. She's my age perhaps—nearly forty—an unbelievable blue-eyed beauty snuggled in jeans and green sweatshirt. Swiping her long auburn hair aside, she says, "I just wanted to thank your again—and apologize for the baseball bat." She looks sheepish. "Claire and I were victims of home invasion once, three years ago."
"And when you heard the loud banging at the door, you didn't know what to think."
"Exactly. All those terrible memories came rushing back."
"I'm glad I could help," I say again. As our eyes meet, my pulse unexpectedly spikes like crazy. Her cheeks flush pink. What's going one here? And then we quickly say good night.
The next morning, while I dress, I'm filled with regret. The power's back on. My guests will be leaving.
I rap lightly on their bedroom door, get no response, and head for the kitchen, where I'm nearly rocked off my feet when I'm greeted with the smell of coffee, bacon, eggs, and find Mandy at the kitchen counter mixing waffle batter in a bowl.
"Good morning," she says brightly, and tells me she stocked her kitchen when she heard the storm was coming. She trudged home early this morning through a foot of new snow and brought things back to my house. "Making breakfast is the least I can do for your helping Claire and me survive last night."
I collapse in a chair at the table. I'm totally astounded. I rub my hands through my scruffy beard. The thought that leaps into my mind is private, but it jumps out of my mouth: "I could get used to us having breakfast together." Then my face turns hot, a three-alarm fire. "I'm sorry.... That was inappropriate."
Mandy turns from the stove, smiling, spatula in hand. "Give us a little time, Patrick Sullivan," she says. "We'll see what happens."

The End
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