by Ceri Hebert
"Mom, you need a date."
Sarah snapped her head up and threw her daughter a startled look. It wasn’t necessarily the words but the volume that unsettled her. After narrowing her eyes at Abby she glanced to her left through the white picket fence that separated her property from the neighbor. Said neighbor, Neil Ramsey, was at his shed, certainly close enough to hear Abby’s statement. He must’ve because Sarah could see his lips turn up in a smile even though he appeared to have his attention on his paintbrush.
Sarah Callahan attacked the tender tiger lily stem with the clippers and added the length to the long basket at her side but then looked back up at Abby.
"Gee honey," she remarked dryly, "why don’t you say it a little louder. I don’t think the neighbor heard."
Abby bestowed her best "you’re totally clueless" roll of the eyes reserved almost exclusively for her little brother. "Hello, that’s the point. I can say it louder if you like, though."
“Don’t you dare.”
Sarah glanced up at Neil Ramsey again. He’d gone back to painting the old shed that stood halfway between his new house and her property line. Shirtless, the sultry July sun gleamed against his tanned shoulders and back. His brown hair stood on end as if he’d raked his hand through it many times.
"He’s too young for me," Sarah muttered lamely. She cut another tiger lily and scooted down towards the pale pink roses.
"You can’t be that much older than him," Abby continued.
Sarah turned and looked at her relentless daughter. Her little matchmaker who was only thirteen.
"I think you should invite him over to dinner on Friday."
"What makes you think he has any interest in an old woman like me?" Sarah winked at her daughter, but only got the rolling of the eyes again.
"Because he’s always outside when you’re cutting flowers. Listen, Mom, I know boys, and I can tell when one is interested."
Sarah nearly laughed over that statement but figured it would probably only hurt Abby’s feelings, so she rolled her eyes back.
"Well, my little Yenta why don’t you leave my love life alone for now. The poor man hasn’t been in town more than two months. He probably wonders who the crazy neighbor in the straw hat who cuts flowers all day is."
Abby stood up quickly and tucked a pink rose behind her ear. "No, he likes you. We’ll get you a date with him, leave it to me."
Before Sarah could respond, Abby turned and dashed off to the house.
"Abby, you better not try it!" Sarah yelled before she realized the attention she drew. She glanced back over at Neil. Again his dark eyes were pinned on hers, and underneath the moustache that framed his upper lip he smiled broadly.
Regardless of whatever evil little matchmaking plans Abby was cooking up, a distinct increase of her heartbeat took Sarah by surprise. She smiled back at him and shrugged. It would be a struggle to keep it cool now.
It had become a ritual in the Callahan house, from the time Sarah and her husband divorced four years ago. Abby and her younger brother Seth would cook dinner for Sarah every Sunday night. It gave Sarah an opportunity to soak in a hot bath after a hard weekend of catering. Abby had become quite proficient in the kitchen and after a few years Sarah stopped worrying that her kitchen would burn down.
“Mom, dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes!” Abby called from the other side of the door.
Sarah sunk lower into the lilac scented bubbles, soaking the hot water into her body. Enya drifted from the CD player in the corner and the wide edge around the tub held half a dozen lit candles.
“Mom!” Abby’s voice was closer to the door this time. “Did you hear me? Dinner is pretty soon. You have to get ready.”
“Yes, I heard you. Since when do I have to get ready? I can get ready in less than five minutes. Robe, fuzzy slippers, ta da.”
Abby gasped. “No, not tonight. Tonight we made you something special. Please Mom. You need to be dressed.”
Sarah picked up on the panic in her daughter’s voice. “All right, all right. I’m getting out.”
With more reluctance than energy, Sarah pushed herself out of the tub and released the water. She snuffed out each of the candles and switched off Enya.
In her bedroom a deep ruby red dress had been laid out on her bed, a dress she hadn’t worn but twice since her divorce.
“What the heck are you up to?” Sarah muttered to herself, but took the dress up anyway and held it up to herself. Facing the mirror she wondered if she’d even fit into it. When she’d worn it in the past it made her feel like a million dollars.
“Can only try,” she told her image in the mirror and with firm resolve got ready for her dinner with the kids.
Soft music drifted up the stairs to meet Sarah as she walked down, securing a gold and ruby earring. When she reached the bottom she stopped. Something was up. Her little dears had done something and as she paused at the entrance to the living room, she wasn’t too sure she’d be happy about it.
Sarah stepped into the softly lit living room and before she could stop, gasped. Neil Ramsey swung around and faced her, his dark eyes wide. He gaped at her for a long moment then smiled.
“Hi, I’m sorry I’m early,” he said. “The kids let me in.”
Sarah took another step into the room, quite aware that she looked stunned. She pushed the look away, and smiled more naturally. “No, it’s all right. I hope you’ve made yourself comfortable.”
Neil nodded. Sarah couldn’t help but notice how handsome he was, an inch or two over six feet, a trim, athletic build clothed in a dark blue oxford shirt and black slacks. He even wore a tie.
“And where did those kids get to?” but as Sarah glanced into the dining room and saw the table set for two, complete with beautiful pink roses and candles, she knew the two had long gone.
Leaving her alone for a romantic dinner for two with her new neighbor. She opened her mouth to speak, then shut it again, turning back to look at him. What the heck must he think of her? But he only smiled, a dimple cut into each cheek.
“They said they’d be back in a few hours,” Neil replied.
“Oh, that’s right,” Sarah said with forced cheer. “Can I get you a drink?”
Neil laughed. “Sure, I’d love one. But I’ll say it if you won’t. I think we’ve been set up.”
Halfway to the dining room, Sarah turned and looked back at him, with an embarrassed grin. Heat crept into her cheeks. He stood a pace behind her. How much more humiliating could this be? The romantic music, the candlelit table, her dress that bordered on sexy.
“May I apologize right now for my children? And I’ll give you the opportunity to back out of this evening with no hard feelings at all.”
Neil gazed down at her, a small smile playing on his lips. Apparently he enjoyed this. There wasn’t an ounce of discomfort in his dark eyes. Sarah’s heart rate climbed to a new level.
“And disappoint them? If you’d have me, I’d love to stay for dinner,” he replied in a low voice.
A flutter of motion at the French doors off the living room caught Sarah’s eyes. In the dim evening light she could see Abby and Seth dashing across the lawn towards their tree house at the back of the property.
She shifted her eyes back to Neil. “It would be my pleasure to have you stay.”
About the Author: Since the age of 12, it’s been Ceri’s dream to be an author. With three books published this year, she’s achieved that dream. Currently she’s happily settled in southwestern New Hampshire with her husband and four children busily weaving stories and continuing to pursue her dreams. You can find out more about Ceri at her website or join her Yahoo Reading Group.