Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Neighbor Guy

Every year for the past three years, on the date of my husband's death, I've taken time to view CDs on our living-room TV that highlighted our wedding—the ceremony, the reception, and our departure.
Saturday, two o'clock in the afternoon, I sat on the couch, legs folded underneath me, crying, smiling, sometimes even laughing, reliving that precious day.
I knew that some day I'd have to stop this ritual. But when?
Smiling now, I watched a scene in which my dad, looking handsome in his tuxedo, stood at the head reception table, glass of pink champagne in hand, and toasted Jake and me.
That's when the doorbell rang, jolting me back to reality.
Who was at the door? A salesman? Lord, I didn't want to talk to anyone.
I wiped my eyes with a tissue, zapped the TV, and hurried to the door.
Denny, my next-door neighbor, stood on my front porch smiling sheepishly through the screen door, his right had twisted behind his back.
"Hi," he said. But after he caught a good look at me, my eyes probably red-rimmed and tearful, he backed away cautiously. "Sorry, Liz. I knew this was a bad day, but..." His voice trailed off. "I'll come back later—maybe tomorrow."
"No," I said, pushing the screen door open. "Come in. Please. I...I was just reminiscing."
He bit his bottom lip and nodded. "Yeah. I know. Me, too."
When Denny stepped into the house, I caught the scent of fresh cologne and wondered why he kept his right hand stuck behind his back.
Denny Patrick had become my husband Jake's best friend and, therefore, one of mine. Denny moved in next door after Jake and I had lived on Cedar Street for four years. The two guys instantly connected. A mechanic, Jake knew everything about repairing cars and things like lawnmowers and snow blowers. A carpenter, Denny knew everything about home repair. Together they tackled project after project.
We enjoyed backyard cookouts together. Denny often brought a pretty girl but never the same one more than twice. I asked him once about not having a steady girlfriend. "I haven't found the right one," he answered, shrugging. I told him he'd better hurry. He wasn't getting any younger. He smiled and said, "I'll wait."
But all of the camaraderie, all of the good times ended when Jake at age thirty-eight died of a heart attack while at work. During the past three years Denny'd helped me out with mowing grass and removing snow, with plumbing and electrical problems.
Now, as I backed up slowly, wondering what was up with Denny, he followed me into the living room. He spotted a CD on the coffee table, clearly labeled with a black-felt pen: WEDDING.
He glanced at the blank TV, then his eyes landed on me. He cleared his throat. "This is clearly the wrong time." His face flushed. "I've made a huge mistake."
My eyes narrowed. "Denny, what are you holding behind your back?"
He cleared his throat again and now shuffled his feet. "I have no right to be here."
"Dennis," I said. "What's going on?" Jake always called him Dennis when they had a moment of disagreement on a project. "What are you holding behind your back, Dennis?"
He clamped his eyes closed for a second, and then whipped out a beautiful, deep-red rose, its long stem wrapped in green tissue. "This is really awkward. Um...I thought we might go out tonight. Maybe deal with Jake's death—I miss him, too—by talking about him. Or maybe by talking"
I gaped at Denny. With his unruly red hair and charming smile, he was truly handsome. Watching him mow my lawn, his muscles rippling under his white T-shirt, I sometime thought about an "Us", but I always quickly dismissed the notion. He was Jake's friend—my friend. The neighbor guy.
I took the rose from Denny's hand, and with my other hand wiped the last of my tears from my eyes. "Thank you," I said. "Thank you. You are so very thoughtful. And sweet."
"But not very smart, huh?"
Life is cruel sometimes, taking away people we love so unexpectedly our heart breaks, but sometimes life offers opportunities that beg to be explored.
I gazed at the rose in my hand, sniffed it, and decided to listen to my heart. "A date?" I asked.
"Dinner?" Denny said, his eyebrows rising, his voice hopeful. "A late movie? I'll come over at seven?"
I grabbed a deep breath. "I'd love that," I said, heat rushing though my body.
"Oh, wow!" Denny said. "You are so cool, Liz."
After Denny bolted out of the house, I put the rose in a vase in water, gathered my CDs and tucked them far away in the back of my bedroom closet.
The End
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