Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Man With a Beard

"Okay—here's the deal," I told my best friend Carla. "I'm not a romance-novel kind of girl. I don't believe in love-at-first-sight. I don't believe in moonlight and passionate kisses that destroy your knees as you fall into his arms."
Carla sat in a chair across from me in my office.
I'm Dean of Students at Mount Saint Clare College for women—Dr. Alexis Anderson. Carla's an English Professor, head of the department. She's forty, married twenty years, three kids. I'm forty and never married. Not involved with anyone. Well...except....
"Let me get this straight," Carla said, eyeing me. "You spend the summer in a wilderness cabin. You meet a tall, bearded, pony-tailed mountain man—"
"Forest Ranger."
"Whatever. You carry on a passionate affair—"
"We dated...a couple of times."
"And now that you've left the wilderness and school's started again, you can't get the guy out of your mind. You mope around like a zombie, but when you talk about him there's a twinkle in your eye—and you can't figure out if you're in love. Am I right so far?"
"It can't be love. I mean, something like this just doesn't happen to me."
"Who says you're different from any other woman?"
Maybe Carla was right. Who says I'm different?
I'd spent last summer living in a cabin on Lake Mystic in a state wilderness area not far from the college—reading, relaxing, and getting ready for this school year. It was the first summer I'd taken some time off. When a raccoon took up residence in the attic of my cabin, I called the state ranger's office. That's when Max Winter, dressed in uniform, appeared at my cabin's door—tall, broad-shouldered, piercing blue eyes, heavily bearded. He trapped the pesky raccoon and released it fifty miles away. The problem is I think he captured more than the raccoon—he'd captured my heart, but he didn't release it.
He visited me several times at the cabin. "Just to check on you," he said the first time. "Bears and cougars around here occasionally. You've got to be careful. Don't leave food out. You like living here in the wilderness by yourself?"
"Love it. School's always so hectic. This gives me a chance to get away. It's the first time I've spent the summer like this. I have a condo in town I'll go back to when school starts."
One night we sat around a campfire and ate bratwurst on toasted buns and devoured s'mores. He looked handsome and rugged in a camouflage shirt, tight-fitting jeans, and shiny black boots—my heart skipped rope the entire night. He told me his grandfather and dad had been loggers in these parts, but logging days had passed, so he became a ranger because the wilderness was in his blood. He'd never married. Our first date was a fish fry at Smokey Joe's Roadside Inn where, after devouring bass and walleye, we had a blast line dancing. A good night kiss in front of my cabin in the moonlight buckled my knees as I fell into his arms, and more dates followed.
But at the end of summer we both agreed that though we didn't live very far apart, we came from different worlds—academia and the wilderness—and well—that was it. We parted.
The first month of school ended, and Max still haunted my memory. One Friday afternoon, Carla popped into my office, closed the door, and said breathlessly, "There's a man out there at the secretary's desk asking about you."
My eyebrows jumped. "Brilliant blue eyes. Heavy beard?"
"Clean shaven. Crew cut. New jeans and pressed shirt. Truly handsome."
"Probably a father worried about his daughter."
When a tentative knock sounded at my office door and I said, "Come in," Carla jumped up and left. I stood up behind my desk in front of man whose face was familiar but unfamiliar. But for only a second. My mouth dropped, and I collapsed into the swivel chair behind my desk. "Max—?"
A smiled swept across his face. His lake-blue eyes sparkled. "Dr. Anderson?"
"What are you doing here, Max?" My mouth and lips could barely form the words.
"Took a little time off. Thought I'd visit your world like you visited mine—I haven't been able to forget you, Dr. Anderson."
"I've really have missed you, Lexi."
Then I did something only a character in romance novel would do. I popped up out of my chair, stepped around my desk, and cupped the man's smooth cheeks in my hands. Right there in my office I kissed him. "I think we can blend our worlds," I said, my heart hammering.
"You think? Honestly?"
"Honestly. But you've got to let your beard grow out," I said, kissing him again. And again.
The End
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