Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Me? Cry? No Way!

I glanced at the Sunday morning newspaper headlines—Tornadoes Rip Georgia—and shook my head. Then I blinked when my six-year-old daughter, Melissa, said, "Did Luke ask you to marry him, Mommy?"
"Sweetheart, where did that question come from?"
I left the paper on the counter and set her bowl of cereal in front of her.
She carefully poured milk from a half-gallon jug by herself.
"Didn't spill a drop!" she said happily. "Don't people who like each other get married?"
I smiled. My daughter amazed me—so young, so precocious. Stroking her head of curly blonde hair, I said, "Sometimes."
"I'd marry him. If I was old enough."
That afternoon, Luke McAllister—the man my daughter said she'd marry—backed his pickup into my drive. The swing set he promised to erect for Melissa lay packed in cardboard in the bed of his truck.
He jumped out of the cab, smiling.
While I stood in the drive, Melissa ran to him. He picked her up under her arms, hoisted her high above his head, and said, "I'll have this thing up in no time, princess."
"Can I help?"
"You bet!"
Setting Melissa down, he ambled over to me. The first sight of him each day—tall, lean, and tanned—always took my breath away. Circling an arm around my waist, he kissed me lightly on the forehead. My knees turned to rubber; my heart rumbled. His brown eyes full of warmth, he said, "And you, my lady, may help, too."
"Thank you, kind sir."
"Got something to tell you later."
"What?"
"Later."
Unpacking the wooden-framed swing set and erecting it turned out to be a trouble-free project. Luke was a carpenter. He'd arrived here in Hapersville, Iowa, shortly after last year's floods tore through the town's residential section. He was a construction worker—my age, thirty-five—never married—who drifted from one disaster to another, helping put towns back together. The work made him feel needed, and he loved the adventure.
We met when he ate meal after meal at the Lunch Box Café, which I own and operate. I was sure I was in love with him, but I would never be able to commit to him. Though he worked now for a local builder, I never knew when the next disaster in some far away place might take him away. I couldn't stand the thought of another "Dad" walking out on Melissa. Or on me.
The swing set included two swings, jungle bars, and a slide. After Luke tightened the last bolt and nut, Melissa cried, "Swing me, Luke! Swing me!" And he did until I finally suggested, "Melissa, sweetheart, I think Luke's worked hard, is thirsty, and would like a nice cold glass of lemonade. Try the slide. We'll be right back."
Inside the house, as I fetched lemonade from the fridge for Luke, I glanced again at the newspaper headline—Tornadoes Rip Georgia—and my heart lurched. I knew instantly what news Luke intended to share with me. He was leaving Iowa soon—maybe tomorrow—for Georgia, for a place where he was needed, for a new adventure. Erecting Melissa's swing set was his final act of generosity for Melissa and me.
 I swallowed. I won't fall apart, I told myself. I won't cry. The man has a right to his own life.
When I brought the lemonade to the table where he sat, he reached for the glass, and our fingers touched. I felt electricity, but I reined in my emotions. "Luke," I said, calmly, "I don't know how to thank you. For—everything, actually."
He gulped his lemonade, then set the glass down. "Hey, it was fun. It's what I do. The smile on your face and Melissa's—that's my payment."
But I'm leaving—I knew that was his next line.
I felt my world turning upside down, but before he made the dreaded announcement, Melissa called from the back door, "Mommy! Luke! Watch me hang by my legs."
At the door, Luke and I watched as Melissa, indeed, hung from the jungle bars by her legs. My breath caught. "Be careful, sweetheart."
 It was Luke's next words that rocked me: "Marry me, Allison."
I spun around. I felt my eyes pop. "You want to...marry me?"
He looked sheepish. "Um...I'm sorry. I forgot to say I love you." He brushed my cheek with his fingertips. "And that I've been named foreman for Nelson Construction. No more roaming for me. If you'll have me."
My breath caught again. My heart hammered. "We—I have to talk to Melissa."
"She approves," he said, smiling. "She already told me so."
Oh wow! Amazing.
While Melissa still hung upside down, my world suddenly righted itself. Luke's kiss was soft and sweet. And I said I wasn't going to cry.


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The End