Thursday, August 11, 2016

Lost Grove

I tromped past the carnival rides and the concession stands, looking at all the fun everyone had had tonight at the Lost Grove Summer Festival.
Everyone except me. I still smelled sulfur in the air from the fireworks show that had lit the sky with unbelievable squiggly color, but now gray smoke clouds hung in the air.

This was the fourth year in a row I'd attended our town's summer festival with my girlfriends, no boyfriend in sight. The festivities over, I headed across the grassy park for home; I lived only a fifteen-minute walk away.
I loved this little town of Lost Grove where my folks had gone to school all their lives, had married, settled down and raised a family of three. But my two older brothers had left for the Big City, had married, and started families. So had my most recent boyfriend.
Twenty-eight years old, I remained behind.
Why?  I asked myself. Why not leave like the others?
My trek home across the park took me past the fireworks preparation area. That's when I spotted a fireman in uniform under the tall pole lights. He was piling fire extinguishers into the back of a fire-department red minivan, a huge red light mounted on the roof.
He slammed the tailgate closed. When he looked up, he spotted me. "Hey," he said. "What's happening?"
His huge baritone voice surprised me with its softness.
"Just watched the fireworks," I said. "I'm walking home."
He frowned. "Alone? In the dark? Are you kidding?" He glanced at his watch. "It's eleven o'clock."
"This is Lost Grove," I said. "I'm safe. I know everyone."
He stepped forward, and I found myself face-to-face with a handsome hunk of a man with a square jaw and curly blond hair.
He offered a hand. "Ryan McGee, rookie Long Gove fireman." He smiled a dazzling smile. "Now you really do know everyone."
His hand warm and firm in mine, my heart thumping, I smiled back, and we shook hands. "Erin Wells. Head teller at the bank."
Ryan explained that as a rookie in the Lost Grove department he'd been saddled with the job of monitoring the fireworks tonight. "What did you think of them?"
"Amazing," I said. "Maybe the best ever. I'm an expert. I've been attending this festival since I was a kid."
His feet shifted in the grass. "Got the minivan loaded up. I...could give you a ride home." He bit his bottom lip. "Just say no if I'm overstepping my bounds here."
I tunneled my hand through my short red hair. "Um...all right," I said, then held my breath. I'd obviously let my heart answer instead of my brain. Though this was Lost Grove where nothing bad happens, Ryan was still a stranger.
He must have seen hesitation written on my face because he said, "It's all right. I'm not married, if that's what you're thinking, never have been." He pointed to his silver badge. "I really am a fireman, and I could use some advice about opening an account here at the bank and transferring my funds from New York. And advice about investing."
Ten minutes later, we sat in the moonlight on the steps of my front porch talking as if we were old high school friends who had reunited after years apart. I explained the easiest way to transfer his funds and told him to stop by the bank tomorrow morning about eleven.
Then I pursed my lips and asked, "Why would you leave your family in New York City to settle down in a little midwestern town like Lost Grove, population barely two thousand?"
He thought a moment, scratching the back of his head. "You ever lived in a city of millions?"
"No. Only here."
He blew out a breath. "The noise and confusion, the aggravation, stress, and hassle—I decided after twenty-seven years I wanted something different." Then he looked at me. Our eyes met, and I felt myself blushing. "If you don't mind my saying so, you're beautiful and probably quite talented—why have you stayed here?"
Why?  Hadn't I just asked myself that same question earlier?
I told him my parents lived her. I told him about the camaraderie I felt with my friends and neighbors. About the pride I felt for my little town with its traditions like the Summer Festival. "Maybe most of all," I said, "I feel wanted and needed."
"That's what I want," he said, "Exactly what I want." Then smiling shyly in the moonlight, he said, "Um...after we meet at the bank tomorrow morning, how about lunch? Would that be okay?"
My blood raced, and my face felt flushed. "I'd like that," I said, tremendously pleased again that I'd never left this little town of Lost Grove. "Lunch would be great."
The End
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