Sunday, May 3, 2015


My new neighbor—a beautiful, slender redhead—wobbled near the top step of a six-foot ladder on a sunny spring afternoon, tossing last fall's soggy leaves out of the gutter along the front of her house.
I parked in my drive and hopped out of my car.
The ladder—an old, rickety wooden one—appeared ready to buckle.
At any moment, I expected her to tumble and hit the ground. She'd be lucky if she didn't break her neck. I yelled: "Need any help?"
But she didn't answer, so I scuffed across the lawn, waving at her. When she spotted me, she clambered down the ladder and waved back. Despite dirt smudges on her chin and cheek, she smiled a most winsome blue-eyed smile.
"Hi, I'm Lilly Carter. We're neighbors, I guess."
"Carl Foster," I said, and extended a hand.
She whipped off a brown glove and we shook. I confess, at the touch of her warm hand in mine, I my heart jumped, but if I thought we were going to be friendly neighbors, I was disappointed. She refused my help with the gutters, saying, "I've got to do these things myself."
"But everyone needs help once in a while," I said. "It's what neighbors are for."
She thanked me but dismissed me.
I tried to help her a few more times. When she attached her garden hose to the outside faucet and water squirted everywhere, I recommend she insert a washer at the end of the hose. When she couldn't start her lawnmower—one that the previous house owner had left in the garage—I told her I could change the spark plug and oil and clean the fuel filter, but she refused my help. She came home the next day with a new lawnmower.
That rebuff hurt. I wondered if we'd ever be anything but strangers living next to one another.
The next week, a buddy clued me in about Lilly. I'm a plumber, and my buddy Jeff's an electrician. He'd come over to hook up a new electrical box for me and recognized her the second he spotted her pruning the hedges in front of her house.
"We went to high school together," he said. "Lost Nation. About a hundred miles from here. Homecoming queen. Every guy in school was dying to date her. Her family's rich, man. Her old man's a real estate developer. She should be a fashion model living in New York. What's she doing living next to you?"
"Beats me."
A week later disaster befell me. On a Saturday morning I dashed outside to get my mail from the box at the curb, and when I dashed back, I realized I'd pulled my front door closed and had locked myself out of the house.
I had two choices: Break a window to get in. Or ask my not so neighborly neighbor for help. But would she?
Standing on her front porch, while she smiled at me warmly, I explained the situation. "All my windows are locked," I told her, "except the bathroom one. But it's high up and the window's narrow." I felt sheepish. "I need someone slender to climb through."
Her eyes brightened. "I'd be glad to. Where will I find your keys?"
"Kitchen table probably."
My ladder sat in my basement; hers was broken. So I hoisted her up to the window. She wiggled through, no problem, suddenly out of sight. "You okay?" I called.
Smiling, she stuck her head of blond curls out the window and dropped my keys down to me. "You left them on the bathroom sink," she said.
I unlocked my back door, and when I entered the house, I found her sitting at the kitchen table. "I'd like to talk to you," she said, blushing a little. "I haven't been a good neighbor—I'm trying very hard to be an independent woman."
Intrigued and smitten, I sat down across from her.
She said her parents were wonderful, loving, kind, and thoughtful, but she needed her freedom. That's why five years after earning her degree in marketing, she'd finally taken a job away from home as manager of a cosmetics store here in the mall. "But I do realize, like you told me when we first met, everyone needs help once in awhile."
"That's true. Everyone."
She lowered her blue eyes, then looked up at me hopefully. I loved her eyes and curly hair. "The old gas grill I found in the garage won't light," she said.
"Spider webs clogging the burners, probably. Propane tank might be empty. I can fix all that. If you'll let me."
Her smile was the brightest ever. "Then perhaps we can have a cookout tonight, neighbor."
I nodded slowly and felt a grin breaking wide across my face. "Yes, we can," I said. "Yes, indeed—neighbor."

The End
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