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Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Second Look by R. Ambardar

“Thanks for hauling away the leaves, Eric,” Tina said, leaning against the porch railing and scanning the freshly raked yard. “Our town doesn’t allow us to burn leaves.”

“We have the same problem. But since I have woods nearby I dump them there.” Striding over to his pick-up truck, he hauled out a bright blue tarp and swept some of the leaves from a neat pile onto it and lugged it back to the truck. After several trips to and from the pick-up, the leaves were all cleared away.

“You’ve been such a help since I moved here,” Tina said. When raking the large yard, she had wondered how she would get rid of the leaves. Then Eric arrived to save the day.

“Least I could do since my mother told me she and your mother were friends since school days. Your mother asked if I could help you around till you got settled.” He pulled off his cap and ran his fingers through his hair. Thick dark hair, Tina noticed reluctantly.

If she knew her mother right, she was making plans behind the pretense of getting Eric to “help out” with her move to a new town and a new job. But she didn’t want to seem ungrateful. Eric had been cheerful and kind in the way he’d called now and then to ask if she needed anything.

“You must let me treat you to a home-cooked dinner soon,” Tina said. Though when she could do that she didn’t know since she was busy learning the ropes at the computer software company which she’d just joined.

“Don’t worry about that. You just settle in.” He waved and drove off. Tina picked up her rake and gloves to put away when her neighbor, Carol, came out to sweep the leaves off her front steps. Seeing Tina, she smiled and walked over to her.

“You’ve got your leaves done and I still have to do mine.”

“That’s because I had some help with it.”

“Was that Eric Masterson I saw talking to you?” Carol asked.

“Yes,” Tina said, surprised. “Know him?”

“He’s the speech therapist for the school my husband teaches at, and Tom can’t say enough good things about him.”

“Really?” Tina hadn’t even asked what line of work he was in. She’d just taken his help for granted without trying to learn anything about him. Of course she knew why. Her mother, well meaning as she was, expected that the casual friendship would jell into something else, and that wasn’t what Tina wanted at all. “He’s just helping me settle in since our mothers are good friends.”

“Well, back to work. If you need anything, holler.” Carol grinned and walked back to her house.

Tina sniffed the crisp fresh air and squinted in the golden sunshine. She like it here and the neighbors were friendly. Still, it would take a little time before she was really settled. Putting away the rake and gloves she went into the house and got to work emptying a cardboard box containing kitchen supplies. Soon she would have the semblance of a home.

The shrill tone of her cordless phone caused her to lean up and grab the phone from the kitchen table. It was Eric.

“I was going to the Farmer’s Market. Did you need anything from there?”

“Not right now. Thanks for asking.”

Tina bit her lower lip as she replaced the phone on the table. Eric seemed so nice and thoughtful. If her mom hadn’t planned for him to be a chaperone while she settled at her new place, she might have been interested in him. She had deliberately ignored the way the corners of his eyes crinkled when he smiled. He was probably helping her against his will, just to be nice to his mother. She blew out a breath. Too bad. That was what happened when her mother tried to prod her along to meet “somebody nice.”

The phone rang suddenly. It was her mother wanting to know if Eric had helped her.

“Yes, he did, Mom. But I know what you’re up to.”

“And what is that, dear?”

“You’re trying to fix me up with him,” Tina said with secret glee. She had caught her mother at her little game.

“What? Eric? Oh no. You’ve got it wrong.”

“You were not trying to fix me up with him?” This was a first.

“Of course not. You’re not his type.”

“What type would that be?”

“Well--you’re outgoing. When I met him at Phyllis’ once, he struck me as being a serious young man.”

Tina was so stunned that she had no words for a few moments. This put a whole new complexion on things. Her interest in this serious young man, as her mother called him, was perking. She wanted to know what made him tick. Maybe she would prepare that dinner and invite him after all.

“Are you there, dear?”

Tina realized that she hadn’t said anything for a while. “Still here. Well, he’s been helpful.”

“That nice,” her mother said. “But there is someone I’d like you to meet. He’s your father’s business partner’s son, a lawyer who’s setting up practice in your neck of the woods.”

“Mom, don’t you ever give up?”

“Just meet him, that’s all I’m saying.”

“We’ll see.” After a few minutes of chitchat, Tina hung up.

The next week, Tina was so busy meeting clients for the first time and getting to know her co-workers that she forgot all about her plan of inviting Eric over for dinner as a “thank you” gesture. In fact, she forgot all about Eric, until he called one Friday evening.

“I’ve got two tickets for the football game tomorrow. It’s the biggest thing in town. Canton College is playing Ferris State, and I’ve been stood up. My date canceled at the last minute. Would you like to go? You wouldn’t believe the hot dogs at the concession stand.”

Tina laughed. “Okay. You don’t have to bribe me. I love watching football games.”

“Really?” A soft chuckle accompanied the surprise in his tone. “So do I. Pick you up at six-thirty?”

“It’s a deal.” Tina felt a slow simmer of warmth. He seemed self-assured in an understated way and going to the football game beat opening up more boxes. There was just one down side to this. She wouldn’t have been going to the game if his date hadn’t canceled. Kind of like a left-handed compliment. Oh well.

Eric picked her up at six-thirty and while he was driving, she had a chance to observe him. He was friendly and comfortable to be with.

“Hopefully, we’ll be early enough to find good seats,” he said, parking the car in the lot that was filling up fast.

Just as he had predicted, they found good seats and soon the scramble of the first two quarters claimed their attention. At half time, they threaded their way to the concession stand.

“Hot dogs are on me,” Tina said, and bought hot dogs and small cups of cocoa.

“Let’s go sit at that bench,” Eric suggested.

It somehow felt just right to be sitting there enjoying their hot dogs and cocoa while watching people hurry by. Still, Tina wondered if Eric would have taken the initiative to ask her out if their mothers weren’t good friends.

“I have a confession to make,” Eric said, after a few moments of silence.

“Confession?” Tina swung around.

“I didn’t know if you’d come out with me because you wanted to or only because I was helping out,” Eric said. “So I told you my date had canceled at the last minute. I figured if you agreed to come to the game it was because my date stood me up.”

“So you didn’t have a date?”

“No.” He threw her a heart-stopping grin.

“Want to hear my confession?” Tina said, wiping her hands on her napkin.

“As long as we’re on confessions.” Eric wrapped his napkin into a ball and stashed it in the empty cocoa cup.

“I thought you might get bored helping me settle in and wouldn’t want to see me again after that. Not that I’d blame you.”

Eric shook his head. “I remember when I first came here I had a nice neighbor helping me out. She still does--reminds me of my mother.”

“I have a nice neighbor too, but I doubt she would have been able to haul away leaves,” Tina said with a laugh.

Eric stood up. “Time to head back.” He put his arm around her and guided her gently through the crowds.

They found their seats again to catch the last few minutes of the half-time display, and as Tina settled into her seat, she made a mental note to ask Eric to dinner. How nice that things had worked out in their own persistent way. Somewhere in town was a lawyer, who, she was sure, wouldn’t mind getting his own date at all.

About the Author: Rekha Ambardar has published over eighty short stories, articles, and essays in print and electronic magazines, including The Writer’s Journal, ByLine, The Indian Express, Writing, Her mysteries have been published in Futures, Nefarious, The Gumshoe Review, Orchard Mystery Press, Shots in the Dark and other anthologies. She is a regular contributor to The World and I Online, a subsidiary of The Washington Times, and has published articles on topics of current interest and concern.

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