Sunday, April 2, 2017

I'm Lucky

I recognized her right away on this sunny Saturday morning—my neighbor in the apartment complex I'd moved into a month ago. She stood in the Super-Mart parking lot, grocery cart parked in front of her, her head swiveling, left then right.
In one arm she clutched a bag of groceries, in the other she held her three-year-old son Tommy. She set both carefully in the cart.
           We weren't exactly strangers—Laura McGee, Tommy, and me. I'd nodded hello to them often in the complex hallway and had ridden the elevator with them several times to the fourth floor, our floor. We chatted a bit. Last week I helped Laura out of a jam I'm sure she'd like to forget.
Through those encounters, I learned she was a divorced single mom with a college degree in computer sciences who worked at home as a graphic designer, a mom totally devoted to her son. She knew I was single and one of three veterinarians opening a new clinic in town.
"Hi," I said, approaching slowly because I didn't want to frighten her or Tommy. "Something wrong?"
A smile chased away the scowl on her face, and her blue eyes brightened. "Oh, Ryan!" she said, swiping strands of her long dark hair out of her eyes. "I feel so stupid. I forgot where I parked my car."
I wanted to chuckle because the last time I'd talked to Laura, I'd helped her out of that jam I mentioned: She'd locked her keys to her old Honda Civic parked in the complex parking lot and couldn't get to the spare key; it was locked in her apartment. I'd managed to jimmy the car lock with a coat hanger—an old trick I'd learned as a kid growing up on a farm—and unlock the door. Now she couldn't find the car.
But instead of chuckling, I said, "Let's think. Which entrance to the store did you use?"
She shrugged. "What with mountains of work and the baby I don't know if I'm coming or going." Shielding her eyes from the sun, she gazed across the parking lot, then at the front of the store, where we stood. A blush flooded her cheeks. "This is the pharmacy entrance." She pointed. "I entered way back there—where they sell groceries."
"C'mon," I said. "I'll push the cart, and we'll find your car."
"You don't have to. You've been nice enough already."
"Nice is my specialty. C'mon."
We tromped across the lot to the grocery entrance, took a hard right, and found her car. I couldn't resist: "Got the key?"
She gave me a playful poke in the arm and then plucked her set of keys from the jeans pocket. "See?" she said, smiling a big beautiful smile that captured my heart.
"If you want," I said. "I'll unload these groceries into your trunk while you fasten Tommy into his car seat."
"You really are nice," Laura said, opening the trunk for me.
Minutes later, when I shut the trunk, the grocery cart empty, Laura stood next to me.
I cleared my throat. My feet shuffled. "Um...stop me if I'm straying off base here," I said. "But it seems to me that with a baby and a full-time, at-home job you never get out of the house, except maybe to grocery shop on Saturday."
"That's true," she said, "but Tommy and I are doing fine."
"Let's do something this afternoon, the three of us," I said, hoping I didn't run out of courage. "A picnic at the petting zoo, maybe. I'll bet Tommy would love that. He'll be ready to go."
Laura frowned. "You should have plenty of girlfriends. Why would you want to spend time with a frazzled, divorced mom?"
I held a hand up. "First of all, no girlfriend. Like you, I'm busy. But this seems like a perfect opportunity. Besides, I love kids. I'm the oldest of five—two younger sisters, two younger brothers. I grew up babysitting, and we all survived. Second, you're not frazzled. You just need a break."
Laura bit her bottom lip. She seemed to be thinking hard. Finally she said, "My mom is always telling me I need balance in my life."
"Always listen to Mom," I said, and cleared my throat again. "I haven't done my shopping yet. I'll buy hotdogs, buns—everything. I'll stop by at five, if it's a deal." I blew out a breath. I didn't know what to expect.
Laura folded her arms, and her wonderful blue eyes sparkled. "You really, really are nice," she said. "It's a deal."
A sheepish smile creeping across my face, I said, "I think I'm lucky."

The End
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