Friday, October 9, 2020



"Are you all right?" the tall, tanned, muscular stranger asked, as he dismounted his bike and pushed it toward me.

I sat on a tree-shaded bench along the bike trail rubbing my grass-stained knee, while my bike—my younger brother's bike, actually—lay in a heap beside me in the grass. 

"I saw you take the fall," the stranger said. He stopped in front of me, his startling blue eyes full of concern. "I was about fifty yards behind you. Are you hurt?" When he removed his helmet, he revealed a head of short, curly black hair, his square-jawed face clearly in view. Oh my!

"Embarrassed, mostly," I said, eyes lowered. "A rabbit darted out of the woods. I hit the breaks, I swerved, and suddenly I was lying in the grass.”

"Glad you were wearing a helmet,” the stranger said. “ I know a bit about bikes.” He told me I was riding a skinny-tired road bike, often used for racing. Casual bike riders sometimes find a bike like that uncomfortable and unstable. All of which I already knew.

I smiled at the stranger. “Unstable for sure,” I said.

“The seat on that bike,” he added; “is sway too high for you, the handle bars too low. And though I’m glad you’re wearing a helmet, you need one that fits better.”

"The bike and the helmet belong to my brother." I explained he was off to college. I was visiting my folks. They lived only a block from the beginning of this trail. I spotted the bike and helmet in the garage and decided to enjoy this gloriously bright, sunny day with a bike ride—I couldn't resist. "But I hadn't ridden a my own bike much lately, and now I'm sitting on a bench rubbing my knee, my brother’s bike in a heap."

"Look," the stranger said, and flashed a wide smile. "I've got an idea. I'm testing this new hybrid." He inched the bike closer to me. "A padded seat and upright handlebars provide a comfortable riding position and—"

"How do you know so much about bikes?"

"I sell them," he said, beaming. "I own Bike Right, best bike shop in the state."

"Ah!" I said, and grinned. "I thought you sounded like a salesman."

"Sorry about that." He shrugged, a slight blush creeping across his sculptured cheekbones.

Oh, my!

He said, "Bikes have been my life since I was a kid. But here's what I was thinking." He explained he could lower the seat and handle bars on the hybrid he was riding—no tools necessary. He'd ride my brother's bike, and we could continue riding along the trail together—if my knee felt okay—or go back to the parking lot at the beginning of the trail, maybe five miles back. My decision.

"Um, I don't know if I trust the knee for a long-distance ride," I said. Besides that, I wasn't sure I should take a ride with a total stranger, no matter how totally handsome. "Let's cycle back to the parking lot," I suggested.

We rode side-by-side, slowly, chatting, while other bikers and a few runners whizzed by us. When he told me his name was Jeff Bradley, I nearly fell off his bike. I'd been a cross-county runner in high school and college, and I remembered reading in the sports pages about a kid at my high school who'd been a junior national cycling champion several years in a row and had even tried out for the Olympics. We'd never been in any classes together, though.

"You're Jeff Bradley?" I asked. "Graduate of Clear Creek High School, fifteen years ago?"

"I am!" Big, big smile.

Oh, my!

"I'm Sally McBride. I graduated the same year."

"Are you kidding me? Cross country star, right? Four high school state championships. I read about you in the paper all the time. A college star too."

"Until I tore a muscle in my left calf—it's never been the same. Now I don't run at all."

By the time we'd reached the parking lot and stopped at his car, we knew each of us was single, not dating, and he knew I was the lead teller at the Clear Creek State Bank.

"Look," he said, all sheepish. "I can set you up with the perfect bike, helmet, everything but..." His voice trailed off.

"But what?"

"I'd love to go riding with you—you know, just to make sure everything's okay. I mean, if you're interested in a bike."

My head tilted. "Do you ride with every lady you sell a bike to?"

"No. Never before," he said. "Ever. Honest."

My heart thumped again.

Oh my! Oh my!

A smile stretching wide across my face, I said, "I'm interested," and realized maybe this could the most enjoyable ride of my life.

The End





Thursday, October 8, 2020


            My mouth fell open. I jerked off my sunglasses for a better look at the man standing over me. I lounged in my beach chair in the sand, very close to the blue water's of Mystic Lake. I tilted the umbrella shielding me from the sun for an even better look at the man. 

"Katy?" he said. "It's me. Charley Hayes!"

"Oh. My. God! Charley!"

The entire beach scene seemed to disappear for a second—bright sun, hot sand, blue lake, and laughing families enjoying a splendid afternoon.

Charley smiled. He had turned gray around the temples, and his sandy hair had thinned a bit, but he was still tall, muscular, and quite handsome. "How on earth did you recognize me?" I said.

"That huge green umbrella caught my eye. I sort of peeked under—you haven't changed. Is that same umbrella, after all these years?"

"Yes! The very same," I said. Whipping off my sunglasses, I jumped up to shake his hand. He wore a Hawaiian shirt and long white swimming trunks. I'd dressed for the beach in a new, red, two-piece bathing suit.

Twenty years ago, my husband and I, along with several other families from differing states rented, a cabin every summer on Mystic Lake. Charlie and his wife were one of the few who owned a cabin. We all swam and laughed together, our kids included. We cooked out and often enjoyed midnight bonfires on the beach. We sang and made up ghost stories.

But as our three kids grew up—my husband Ted's and mine—we didn't have time for summer vacations on Mystic Lake any longer. Our kids became involved in summer sports like baseball, softball, and soccer.

"How long's it been?" Charley said.

"Twenty-five summers since Ted and I were here," I said. "It's why I decided to visit again for a week. An anniversary, of sorts. We always had so much fun, and I was looking for something to do."

Charley raked a hand through his hair. I sensed he wanted to ask about Ted but was perhaps afraid of my answer since I was alone. I saved him from asking: "Ted died three years ago," I said softly. "Heart attack."

Charley closed his eyes a second. "I' sorry. Such a great guy." Then Charley smiled again. "What a voice he had when we sang around those bonfires at night."

"The way you plunked that ukulele—anybody could sing. "How's Martha?"

The smiled dropped off Charley's face in an instant. His feet shuffled in the sand. 

Oh Lord. I should have thought before asking. "I'm sorry," I said quickly. "Stupid me."

He bit his bottom lip and then said, "Um...she died ten years ago. Cancer. I guess we're both in the same boat," he added.

I wondered if he felt as lonely as I did. Two Lonely Hearts. Maybe he didn't, since his wife had passed away a long time ago. Maybe he had a lady friend. Probably—such a handsome man in his fifties.

"Mind if I sit with you a bit?" he asked.

"Yes, please! Please do."

Charley told me his son Ben bought the cabin from him. Every summer, Ben and his wife Angie and their two young kids spent as much time here as they could. Charlie came along sometimes. He was taking his afternoon stroll along the beach when he spotted me. He said he'd dated a bit but nothing seemed to click, so he'd given up. "Life's been pretty lonely," he concluded.

Lonely or not, I hadn't thought about dating—not for a second.

Then Charley sighed, pursed his lips, and looked me squarely in the eyes. He jolted me with a simple question: "Would you like to do something tonight, Katy? Go into town, have dinner?"

My eyebrows must have jumped off my face with surprise, and I'm sure I appeared tongue-tied. I mean, I never expected to be asked on a date, not in a million years. "I—I'm..." Then I thought if Charley Hayes had the courage to ask me for a date, I had the courage to treat him to a meal. My heart pounding, I managed: "How about if I make something for us at my cabin? Barbecued chicken, maybe? And a salad?"

"Excellent!" he said, his blue eyes lighting up. "I'll make a pot of beans, and I'll bring some wood for a fire later. My ukulele is stuffed somewhere in a closet back at the cabin."

I tried to quiet my pounding heart. "Perfect," I said, as I pictured two lonely hearts sitting together around a fire under bright stars and a big moon, becoming better acquainted, perhaps shedding their loneliness.

The End

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Two Awesome Guys

The handsome man with who answered my neighbor’s door when I rang the chimes surprised me so much I couldn’t get my name out. “I’m—I’m—”
“You’re Angela Dugan, right?” His face broke into a big blue-eyed smile. “From across the street?”
“That’s me.”
“Elementary school teacher?”
“Right again.”
 “I’m Jake Morgan. Dad never stops talking about you.”
“Your dad—how is he?”
“He’s doing fine.” Jake waved me into the house. “Got charcoal lit in the backyard grill. Burgers. Will you join me?”
Over burgers, chips, dip, and lemonade at the backyard picnic table, I explained that Mr. Morgan—Jake’s dad—and I had become good friends in the six weeks since I’d moved into the neighborhood. He raked up the remnants of last fall’s leaves in my yard. Then he cut and trimmed my grass. “Need the exercise,” he said.  So I often dropped off a plate of brownies or a crockpot of stew for him. Last week, though, when I last talked to him, he looked pale, didn’t seem to have any energy but refused to call a doctor.
“Then I spotted a car with out-of-state plates in the drive,” I told Jake now. “And...well, I just had to come over and check.”
“Dad phoned Thursday,” Jake said,  “and admitted to not feeling well. I told him to call his doctor, and I’d drive up to spend a few days with him. Turns out he had a slight stroke—right in the doctor’s office.”
“Oh my! I feel so guilty—I should’ve checked on him. He’s such an awesome guy.”
“I’m the one who feels guilty. I’ve not had much time for Dad.”
While we finished our burgers, Jake told me he grew up in this house in this little town of LeClaire, went to college and snared a great job in Peoria, Illinois, with Caterpillar, the world’s largest heavy-equipment manufacturer.
“But I’ve been on a treadmill since I started,” he said. “No time for Dad”—he glanced at me—“nor anybody else.” He shrugged. “Now they’ve asked me to be an assistant in research and development. I’d travel a lot overseas. Pretty exciting. But...I’m not sure the job’s worth it. I should look for something else. Something with less stress. If less money.”  
Jake and I cleared off the picnic table. I washed our glasses and silverware in the sink, and Jake dumped the paper plates and other trash in the garbage. His handsome features, his easy smile, his blue eyes—he totally blew me away. Get a grip, AngelaHe’s only visiting. I decided I should go home before my mind started leapfrogging way out of control. But before I left, Jake and I exchanged cellphone numbers so he could keep me informed about his dad.
Jake spent most of the next day at the hospital with his dad but called and asked if he could pick me up after school to take me to the hospital for a visit.
“Look at you two, Mr. Morgan,” said from his hospital bed, smiling a jaunty smile, despite being laid up. “Quite a pair.”
I blushed. Jake’s feet shuffled.
Turned out, Mr. Morgan would need a bit of home care and rehab because the stroke had weakened his left arm and leg. No more yard work for Mr. Morgan for a while.
After our visit, Jake took me to dinner, and that night at my front door, in the moonlight, he said, “You won’t be seeing me for the next couple of days, Angie. I’ve got some things to do around town. And some things to work out in my mind.”
“I understand—your job, your dad’s health.”
“I’ll be in touch.”
Two days passed. I didn’t hear a word from Jake.
The next day when I was leaving school, he sent a text, telling me his dad was home, and the awesome guy was doing great.
At home, I bustled about in my kitchen, baking brownies for Mr. Morgan, when a rap at the kitchen door halted my work. It was Jake. I let him in.
“Busy?” he said, all smiles.
“I’m baking brownies for your dad. He’s really okay?”
“Just fine. He’ll have to take it easy for a while.”
“He should.”
Jake’s smile turned shy, like a little boy trying to be modest. “I have a new job,” he said. Then, “I’m grilling for Dad. Chicken. You’re invited. Dad insists. So do I. I’ll tell you all about the job.”
“I’d love to hear all about it!”
Now his smile turned seriously bright. “I’ll be your new neighbor.”
Our eyes locked. My pulse quickened. “Oh wow!” I said. “I like that.”
His blue eyes sparkled. “Me, too.”
After Jake left and my pulse slowed down, I slid the brownies into the oven and decided that I had just enough time to whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. The two awesome guys from across the street rocked my heart.

The End

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Throw Away

I hadn’t see Jeremy Dalton for over a year after my older sister jilted him, throwing him away, practically leaving him at the altar.
Then one summer day at the County Fair, I spied him sitting alone at a picnic table under the shade of an oak tree, and my heart jumped around in my chest. When he recognized me as I scuffed through the grass to the table, his smile beamed.
“Ellie!” he said. “Where have you been, girl?”
“You’re the one who disappeared.”
He half stood. “Sit!” he said. “Be my guest.”
Music from the rides on the midway floated across the grounds, and hickory smoke drifted in the air from vendors barbecuing chops, ribs, and sausages.
I sat across from him, but I felt awkward. I mean, I was thrilled to see him again but wondered what I should say. Tall, lean, blond, and sinfully handsome, he was a twenty-eight-year-old farmer whom my sister had ditched for a big-city ad executive she met at a newspaper convention in Chicago.
Somehow Jeremy looked older, as if his experience with my sister Cora had aged him. I decided to tell him how I truly felt about Cora’s breaking up with him. But first I said, “What are you doing here alone, sitting under this tree by the animal barns?”
“Cooling off in the breeze. I’m showing lambs at two o’clock, and it’s hot in those barns. You?”
“I’m exhibiting quilts in the 4-H building.”
The breeze blew my unruly hair about. His face broke into a wonderful smile. “I always liked that wild red hair of yours,” he said. “Pinned on the top of your head. But never quite under control like Cora’s. Yours is curlier, I guess.”
I blushed.
But after he mentioned Cora, his smile faded, and I said, “You getting along okay?”
He nodded. “Took awhile. After Cora dumped me, I felt like road kill. But at least she was honest and told me she’d met someone in Chicago.”
“All her life she’s wanted to be a big-city journalist, and you’re a guy who didn’t want to leave the farm. Didn’t you two talk about your differences?”
He tried to smile again, but the smile didn’t quite reach the corners of his mouth or eyes. Cora met him during an interview she wrote for our local newspaper when a tornado ripped through the area and crumbled one of the barns on his family farm but spared the farmhouse. A major miracle.
“Where is she now?” he said.
“Married. Working for the Chicago Tribune. She finally got what she really wanted. Look,” I added, “I think it’s terrible what she did to you—I told her so. We didn’t speak for weeks.”
Calliope music from the Ferris wheel drifted our way on the shifting breeze.
Has he given up on love?I wondered. Perhaps I should have called him. But what would he have thought? I’m chasing the man my sister threw away.
“You!” he said. “We haven’t talked about you.”
“One semester of veterinary school left,” I said, and laughed. “I’ll be a doctor.”
“Wonderful!” he said. “You’ll be running off to the big city, too, I suppose.”
“I’ll be working with Dr. White in town in his clinic. I love living here. I’m not going anywhere. His beautiful blue eyes searched my face a moment, as if he were trying to discover a secret inside me, and my heart jumped in my chest again. What makes this girl tick?Is she for real? Was he asking himself those questions? He glanced at his watch, stood abruptly, and said, “Got to  water the animals.”
Should I ask him if he needed help? But why would he accept the help of a McPherson girl? He was still hurting from his encounter with the first one he met. I stood, too, and we shook hands in the cool shade of the oak tree, his fingers wrapping firmly and warmly around mine. “Nice seeing you again,” I said.
“You, too. Take care.”
He turned and strode toward the animal barns. I wanted to run after him. But I stood motionless under the tree. Finally, I called, “You need help?”
Thirty yards away, he stopped and swiveled my way. He crept ten paces closer and cupped his hands over his eyes so he could see me better in the blinding sun. “Would you like to?” he said. “I could use a good helper.”
Ambling toward him, my blood racing, I said, “I’d love to help.”
“Hard work,” he said.
“Hard work’s never bothered me.”
We turned and strolled toward the barns, our bare arms bumped, and heat rushed though my body. I know he felt the same heat because the man my sister threw away smiled down at me with that beautiful blue-eyed smile and said, “I can’t believe this is happening.”
“Me either,” I said, smiling back. “But it is.”
The End

Friday, August 17, 2018


My twin brother Bobby—I’m Barbara—grinned and said, "I'll leave you and Ian alone. I'm going to see if there's enough ice in the coolers." Bobby scurried off toward the picnic-table shelter. My family and friends were celebrating my parents' wedding anniversary at the county park on a gloriously bright, sunny, Saturday afternoon—Michael and Kathleen Dolan, married fifty years.
I turned toward Ian, the tall, handsome hunk
my brother had left me with. We stood in the shade of an oak tree. Not far away, guys readied to pitch horseshoes, and a mixed group of kids warmed up for volleyball.
"Bobby knows the coolers are full of ice," I said to Ian. "I saw him take care of the ice myself. This is a setup. You know that, don't you?"
Ian smiled at me. Dark hair, bright blue eyes, mega-watt smile—he hadn't changed since I last saw him maybe ten years ago. Like always, the sight of him nearly took my breath away.
"I don't mind us being left alone," Ian said. "I've been thinking about you, Barbara."
"About me?" I blushed and nearly fell backward against the tree.
"When I called Bobby and said I was back in town, he invited me to your folks' party, and I automatically thought of you."
"Ah!" I said. "He probably told you I'm the divorcee in the family. What about you? Married? Probably not. Otherwise, my match-making brother wouldn't have set us up."
"I've left the marriage thing to fate," Ian said. "Figured someday the right woman would come along at the right time."
I'm sure my matching-making brother must have told Ian I'd avoided dating since my divorce three years ago and had become somewhat of loner, a recluse sort of. But Ian and I didn't get a chance to talk any longer, because a friend of Ian's rushed up to him and said, "Dude, haven't seen you in awhile. "C'mon! I need a horseshoes partner." And off they went.
Bobby and Ian had been best friends in high school, playing on the same baseball, football, and basketball teams. Ian's parents were divorced; he lived with his mom, and he spent a lot of time at our house, eating supper with us at least once a week.
I'd crushed on him severely and would have been thrilled to date him, but no high school girl dates her brother's best friend. How awkward! And now I wondered if Ian were back in town to stay or if he were just passing through.
Forget it!I told myself. But I couldn't deny the pull I felt toward him—once again.
The moment I caught Bobby alone at the grill flipping hamburgers, I said, "Why didn't you tell me Ian was back in town?"
"I thought the surprise would be nice. Shake you up a little." Shrugging, he added, "I knew you always like him."
Oh my!  Had my feelings that obvious?
"And by the way," Bobby added, "he's back in town to stay. He's taking care of his elderly mom and setting up his dental practice." Bobby shot me a mischievous look. "I told him you were the meanest police sergeant in town."
At the picnic tables underneath the shelter, my family sat together—Mom, Dad, Bobby, and me. Maybe thirty guests had also gathered. The food was delicious. Ian sat four tables away, and every time I glanced at him he seemed to be glancing at me.
 After short speeches from Bobby and me honoring our parents, while others congratulated them, Ian and I seemed to gravitate towards each other. "Let's take a walk," he said.
"I'd like that," I said, my heart fluttering.
For a minute or two we strolled silently along a tree-shaded path in the park, and then Ian said, "I had a crush on you in high school. Did you know that? I ate at your house every time I could so I could sit across the table from you."
For a second time today, he nearly knocked me over. "What?"
"It's true. I loved you mom's cooking, but I think I was also in love with you."
"You're kidding me!"
"I'm not. But a guy doesn't date his best buddy's sister. At least not in high school. That would be way too weird. You're a police officer now?"
"Guilty as charged."
We stopped walking. Ian turned to me and grabbed both my hands.
My heart nearly exploded.
He said, "Look, Barbara, I'm in town to stay. You wouldn't arrest me if I asked for a date, would you?"
A little breeze blew, rustling the trees, but it did nothing to cool me off or to stop my head from spinning. Finally, I squeezed Ian's hands. He smiled. I smiled. "After all this time and after what you just said, "I'd arrest you if you didn't."
The End