Getting Closer

by vatergrrl


“I can’t figure out what I did wrong.”

            Tom Wyman, my best friend since the third grade, when I’d come out to Seattle from Kansas to live with the Marshalls, nodded seriously, his brown eyes dark and serene. His long black ponytail bobbed as his head moved. He was bigger than me, big enough to have been a quarterback, or at least the kicker, for the football team, but he said that he’d rather beat himself up by running cross country than by crashing into three hundred pound home-appliances-on-legs, thank you very much.

            “I can’t either – we both know you’re a perfect gentleman.” He snorted at his own joke, but sobered when he saw I wasn’t responding. “Look, Cory, maybe there’s something going on that you have no idea about. She’s just spooky – maybe she’s getting out of a bad relationship, and something you did reminded her of the jerk.”

            “Must have been quite a jerk,” I mused, looking up at the sun filtering through the maple tree we were sitting under. Summer was such a brief week in Seattle you didn’t miss any of it if you could help it, and even though I could see dust and pollen floating through the air, I didn’t make a move to go inside the air conditioned university building. The grass was so soft and bright, the warmth of the sun so enticing, it seemed reasonable to risk having my allergies flare up to keep enjoying the outdoors.

            “You didn’t see the way she dashed out of the house,” I told him, recalling the way Lynn had run away from me as if her butt was on fire. And, were those tears I had seen in her eyes when she finally looked up at me, if only for a second, to tell me she hoped I’d feel better soon?

            “She was just such a sweetheart in the office.” I scrubbed at my nose with the side of my hand, feeling a familiar pressure escalating just under my eyes. “All helpful and chatty, really cool.”

            “But maybe that’s where she’s comfortable.” Tom reached down to pluck a blade of grass from the lawn, brushing the end of it against his fingertips. “You know, scripted conversations of a sort, a nice professional distance kept between you and her.”

            “Yeah,” I gulped, the pressure transforming itself into a persistent buzz that no amount of scrubbing with my hand could erase. “I suh –“ The buzzing backed off for a second, and I sighed with relief. “I suppose you’re right.” Before I could reach for my handkerchief, however, I felt the pressure sluice out in a rush, and my head snapped forward. “Heh-shhh! Uhr-esh!”

            “That it, man? Hardly worth the effort of a ‘bless you.’” Tom liked to tease me about my allergies, and had once counted twenty seven sneezes in a row from me before I told him to knock it off.

            “Not quite.” Mercifully, my nose took just enough of a time out to allow me to roll over onto one hip and pull out a handkerchief from my opposite front pocket before I sneezed again. “Chhh! Huh-chhh. Ih-shhh.” My nose ran profusely, a thin stream of watery mucus that I caught between folds of white cloth. “Ksssh!”

            As my fit gradually subsided, I heard the sound of feminine giggling to my right. Looking up, I saw two brunette coeds smiling at me, one of them waggling her fingers at me in a little wave. Tom, for his part, waggled his fingers right back, and I elbowed him with one arm while keeping my handkerchief clamped to my nose with my other hand.

            “I don’t suppose either of you are nursing majors? My friend could use a little TLC, you know.” That remark earned him another elbow in the side, but at least by that time I could sit up and take the cloth away from my face without embarrassing myself.

            “No,” the pretty brunette who had waved at me said. “We’re theatre majors.” She giggled again, which set off her friend, and I wondered just what sorts of roles they would end up getting. They’d probably be identified in their first roles as “Giggly Coed #1” and “Giggly Coed #2” in some low-budget slasher, where the masked villain would decide he didn’t like brunettes who giggled and dispatch them in the first five minutes of the movie.

            “We can play nurses, if you want us to,” the other said, even more brazen than the first. The thought was momentarily appealing, but I realized that these two young ladies, nice as they probably were, didn’t attract my interest even a quarter as much as the young woman who had run out of my home a few days before.

            I shook my head and turned away from them, blowing my nose and expelling a mini-flood of watery mucus into a fold of soft cotton, swiping at the tip of my nose just in case any had escaped. “Sorry, ladies, but I have to find a garbage can and then get to class.” I wadded up the handkerchief and placed it in the front pocket of my backpack, intending to dump the wet cloth into the next can I saw. Not frugal or recycling friendly, I knew, but my grandmother regularly sent me a baker’s dozen of the same for birthdays and Christmas, a tradition that had started the first time I met her.


            “Mom, this is our son, Cory.” My foster mother, Arlene, placed a protective arm around my shoulders as she faced the steel-haired matron before us. The older woman looked at me as if I had been dropped from a distant planet, and I wriggled uncomfortably under her scrutiny.

            “How old are you, Cory?” Her soft Southern accent belied the hard look she was giving me, and she clutched her pocketbook tightly.

            “Eight and a half, ma’am,” I told her, using the “company” manners my birth mother had taught me only a few years before.

            “Well.” She seemed momentarily impressed by my use of “ma’am,” but then hardened again. “And what are you studying in school?”

            I did my best to stop fidgeting, but I noticed the strong odor of what I presumed was some big Southern flower wafting off of her in my direction. The scent filled my nose, and set it to itching.

            “History, math, art, English.” By the time I got to “English”, my nose was itching so much that I scrubbed upward with the palm of my hand, a gesture my doctor had told me was the “allergic salute”. When I snuffled, Arlene’s mother gave me a look as if she’d just bit into a lemon.

            “Do you have a cold?”

            “Dough,” I told her honestly, thinking it would be rude to say that her perfume was bugging me so much. However, the nose rubbing and snuffling had done little to quiet the itch in my nose, and to my horror, I let loose with a loud “Uuuh-shoo” aimed at Mrs. Cortland’s feet.

            “Buh-less you.” She jumped back a foot, probably thinking I was contagious, and Arlene patted my shoulder briefly before leaving me with this stern, imposing, and strong-smelling woman.

            “Huh-shhh! Ehh-shooo!” I finally managed to cup my hands to my face, but it did little to muffle the noise I was making. Arlene’s mother snapped open her pocketbook and extracted a dainty-looking patterned hanky, offering it to me insistently. I took it without a word, grateful to have something to sneeze into other than my palms. “Ehh-chhhh! Hpt-shhh!” The cloth muffled my sneezes a little, which appeared to make Mrs. C. happier, because when I could finally catch my breath and look up, she was regarding me with a soft smile.

            “Bless you, Cory.” She shook her head and made little clucking noises as she guided me over to the living room couch. The cushion beside me bowed under her weight, and I felt her begin to rub my back in small circles. “Good heavens, so much noise out of such a little boy.”

            I snuffled again and tried to protest, but she placed her hands under mine, forcing the hanky back up to my nose. “Blow,” she whispered in my ear, and I complied willingly, the itch subsiding as I blew a few more times for good measure.

            “There.” Arlene’s mother made a satisfied little sound as I swiped at my nose and then crumpled the hanky between my hands.

            “Bless you, Cory.” Arlene entered the room holding one of Bob’s huge white cotton handkerchiefs, and seemed about to give it to me when she noticed what I was holding in my own hand.

            “Cory and I were just getting acquainted,” Mrs. Cortland told Arlene, pausing to reclaim her hanky. I wasn’t at all sure why on earth she wanted to touch the thing, but she placed it back into her pocketbook. Winking at me, she leaned forward to take Bob’s handkerchief from my foster mother and placed that into my hand. Even though the thing was folded in half three times, it still covered both of my palms, and I had to fold it again to get it to fit into the front pocket of my jeans.

            A week later, a package arrived from Georgia, addressed to me. The card inside was from Mrs. Cortland, who had written in the blank space above her elaborate signature, “For a fine young man of impeccable manners.” The package itself contained thirteen white cotton handkerchiefs, each about half the size of the ones in Bob’s dresser drawer. Each birthday and Christmas after that, she’d send another baker’s dozen of them, gradually increasing in size until I’d “graduated” to the standard size you’d find in better men’s furnishings departments. At my high school commencement, I had tucked a monogrammed one into the front pocket of my suit jacket with a flourish, like the guys in the old film noirs of the forties and fifties, and when I saw my grandmother after the ceremony, I offered it to her to dry her eyes. She smiled and patted my cheek, winking at me as she dabbed the cloth under her smudged eyeliner and mascara.


            “So, what are you going to do about Lynn?” Tom grilled me later that afternoon, stopping the car behind a school bus full of kids who were making faces at us from the back window. I made faces right back at them, and a few of them laughed.

            “I don’t know. I mean,” I said, grabbing onto the dashboard as the car lurched forward again. Tom was not, perhaps, the world’s smoothest driver, but I often let him drive when the pollen counts were particularly high, not wanting to risk a crash due to sneezing and thereby missing seeing an oncoming car. “I sure do want to see her again, but I can’t think of a thing to say that will persuade her to se me again.”

            Tom thought a moment, then smacked the steering wheel with the palm of his right hand. “Your mother’s birthday is coming up, right?”

            “Yeah.” Every year, I struggled to find something for my mother, and it was always a hit-or-miss proposition. As a Realtor, she dressed conservatively, yet wanted to be up on the latest fashions, so a few years ago I had started consulting Vogue and Vanity Fair in desperation to determine what was “now” rather than “so five minutes ago.”

            “Well, what if you call her up, explain to her that you’re lousy at getting the knack of what women want, and suggest she accompany you to find something. It’s task oriented, somewhat impersonal, and if she freaks out again or decides you’re a creep, there will probably be a lot of security guards she can call upon to drag you away from her.”

            “Thanks a lot.” Tom’s idea, however, did have real merit, and after dinner that evening, I flipped through the telephone directory to find David Carlson’s number. Certainly, he’d know his daughter’s number, whether she lived on campus, in a sorority house, or in an apartment with friends. Whether he’d give it to me was another thing, but I had to try.

            Moments later, I heard someone pick up on the other end. “Hello?”

            It was Mr. Carlson, so my luck was holding so far, at least. “Hi, Mr. Carlson, this is Cory Marshall. I was in the office with my father a few days ago – he needed to see you about prosecuting the drunk driver?”

            “Yes, Cory. You’re feeling better?”

            “Yes, sir. Lots of chicken soup and orange juice seemed to do the trick.”

            “Good, good.” He paused a moment, then asked, “I take it you’d like to speak with Lynn?”

            “If you could give me her phone number, I’d appreciate it.”

            “Actually, Cory, she’s come back home for a little while. If you can hold on for a few minutes, I’ll go get her.” He set the receiver down gently on what sounded like a hard surface, and a moment or two later, I heard the phone being picked back up.

            “Yes?” Lynn’s voice was small and hesitant, and once again I felt like a heel for making her feel so bad.

            “Hi, Lynn, it’s Cory Marshall. Please, don’t hang up on me, okay?” I rushed ahead, not wanting to give her the opportunity to put the receiver back on the hook. “I just wanted to apologize for the way our meeting ended on Wednesday. Whatever I said, it was probably stupid, and I sure didn’t mean to hurt your feelings in any way.”

            She sighed into the phone, a quiet little puff of air. “You…” She sighed again, and I could almost picture her looking up at the ceiling of what I assumed was her parents big, elaborate kitchen, trying to find a polite way to tell me to buzz off. “Cory, I … you didn’t say or do anything wrong.” Another long pause. “You were really, really sweet, and I enjoyed talking with you. I’m just kind of on the rebound from a bad relationship, and when you grabbed my wrist, it reminded me of – him.”

            I pictured some clumsy oaf chaining Lynn to his side with a beefy hand, using her more as a trophy appendage than as a girlfriend. Probably a BMOC, the kind you only think you want to be near until you find out he’s worthless. I also pictured smashing my fist into his face, feeling his nose crunch under my swing, seeing the bright red drops spurt out from between his fingers.

            “I promise you right now, Lynn, I don’t think that anyone, woman or man, deserves to be slapped, punched, insulted or abused in any way. If my grasping your wrist reminded you of a bad situation, then I’m really sorry, and I won’t touch you unless you say it’s okay.”

            Lynn made a little choked sound, then whispered, “That would be nice.”

            I waited a moment before pushing my advantage. “Say, Lynn, I need to find my mother something for her birthday, something kind of unique, and I haven’t a clue as to where to start. I thought that, well, since you have a nice fashion sense, you might know what I could get.” A nice fashion sense, hell – she had looked stunning the day I’d met her, combining office professional with her own artistic flair.

            “Well, what does she usually wear to work?” With that question, I knew I had at least a chance to meet her for a short excursion to the mall or an antique store or something.

            “She’s a Realtor, so I guess she wears pretty much the same thing you were – suits, scarves, a lapel pin every once in a while.”

            “I’d try one of the personal shopping services at Nordstrom’s or the Bon Marche, maybe poke your head into one of the boutiques in the mall.”

            “I’m afraid I’d just get lost. Would you mind coming with me, be my personal shopper? You can just be my impersonal shopper if you want.”

            She laughed, the sound light and free over the phone. I pictured her wide mouth opening into a smile, revealing her bright teeth. Little lines would probably appear around her eyes, the sort that women in their forties tried to smooth out with Botox injections, but which I thought showed that a woman liked to have fun and be free.

            “Okay, you talked me into it. When and where?”

            I suggested that Saturday afternoon, when we would both have time free, and she countered that she’d like to meet me at a designated spot in the mall, drive her own car there and back.

            “How about Pacific Desserts?” I named a small store at one end of the mall, famous for their chocolate indulgences, including one cake called, simply, Illegally Chocolate.

            “Sure.” We agreed on a time, and as we said our goodbyes and hung up, I was suffused with hope that perhaps I might actually be granted the opportunity to get to know Lynn better. If I didn’t touch her, didn’t spook her in any way, and let her set the pace of whatever relationship we were destined to have, that maybe, just maybe, there was a future for us.



            I was waiting at a small square table at Pacific Desserts, watching the door, when I saw Lynn enter. She was dressed simply in a white Oxford cloth shirt and jeans that were just tight enough to be exciting but still classy. She had tied her long, curly auburn hair back with a bright patterned scarf, and as she surveyed the patrons to search for me, it waved slightly when she turned her head. I wondered what she would look like with her hair down – too damn good, I suspected, and tried to push the thought aside.

            “Cory!” She had found my table, and sat down in the back iron chair across the table from mine. “I hope you haven’t been waiting too long.”

            I could wait an eternity for you, darlin'. Whoa, boy, down tiger. “Oh, no, I just got here a few minutes ago. Would you like to order dessert, or share one? I hear they make some really rich stuff, and if you can eat an entire slice of anything by yourself, they give you a medal.”

            “And a stretcher to haul you out on, too?”

            I laughed. Even if her joke seemed a bit strained, she was trying, and so I’d try even harder to make sure she could just be herself and not worry that I’d swoop in like the Wolf in Into The Woods. Hello, little girl…

            “Maybe we could look around at some of the stores, and then come back here as a reward,” she reasoned, and I got up from my chair immediately.

            “Sounds good to me.” I waited by her chair until she had gotten out of it, then pushed it back under the table. Good manners, as taught to me by all of my relatives, sure couldn’t hurt.

            We headed for Nordstrom’s, and Lynn made a beeline for the women’s accessories department, skirting the overeager perfume sellers and shaking her head at them as we hurried past. I held my breath through the gauntlet, and emerged generally unscathed.

            “What about this?” Lynn held up a long rectangular scarf with a nautical rope pattern on it. I shrugged, and she put it back on the rack. “Nautical is very trendy right now, but I’m not sure your mother would go for trendy. What’s her coloring, anyway?”

            I explained that my mother had been raised in Savannah, Georgia, and retained just a little bit of Southern gentility, but preferred bright, clear colors. She was black haired and brown eyed, almost the complete opposite of me, which prompted quite a few looks by strangers and then the explanation from my mother, “He’s not of my body, but he’s most certainly of my heart.” A nice way to tell people I had been adopted, and if they didn’t pick up on that, my mother would just huff and shake her head in exasperation at them. “What does it matter, anyway? Some people are worse snoops than the society ladies my mother plays bridge with!”

            “Well,” Lynn said a moment later, letting a bright blue scarf slip from her fingers. “I’m not sure any of these are too terribly exciting. Would your mother go for something more daring?”

            “Daring?” I echoed. “Skydiving, bungee jumping, kayaking? That sort of daring?”

            Lynn laughed and, to my surprise, touched my arm briefly. “I was thinking in terms of going to a boutique store, some place that’s going to sell different stuff. Tell me more about your mother, what she’d like.” She led me out of the store, past the various sales associates standing behind their counters crowded with look-younger-now potions and acid-bright eye shadows and blushers. Ick.

            “Some of those ladies look like they applied their faces with a trowel this morning,” Lynn said once we were out of earshot of the store. I noticed then that Lynn wore little, if any, makeup, and the look suited her just fine. Natural was very attractive to me, so unlike the many women I’d met on campus who were trying to hard to stay up with the trends and emulate the look of the currently-hip singer or wafer-thin actress.

            “You think?” That got another laugh out of her, and I hoped she’d touch my arm again, but no such luck. Instead, she stood still in front of me, exhaling with a little “hooo.” Her hand fanned daintily in front of her face, and I could see her nose wrinkle as if someone had passed a skunk by her.

            “It’s my breath, isn’t it? I just can’t stand chewing gum, and – “

            She shook her head and grimaced, plowing briefly through her purse but coming up empty-handed. Her mouth hung open, and she was breathing in little gasps, pressing her fingers hard against her upper lip. It was then that I recognized the pre-sneeze expression she was fighting against, and I yanked my handkerchief out of my back pocket, offering it to her.

            “Th-uhhh.” She accepted it from me with a thin smile, holding it uneasily to her face as two powerful sneezes ripped out of her, bending her forward at the waist. “Ehhh-shoo! Kshhhh!”

            Unlike some women I’d met, who either sneezed at such a high pitch that dogs would have run away, or who extended the sneeze to make it cute and somehow more “acceptable,” Lynn’s sneezes were on the loud and somewhat masculine side, if sneezes could be said to have a particular gender.

            “Bless you.” Lynn’s eyes flickered up briefly to acknowledge me, then she held the cloth tighter to her face against another series of sneezes.

            “Hiih-kssh. Ksssh. Kssh!”

            “Bless you again.” I wished I could look away from her, but for some reason, the sight of her was kind of hypnotic, the contrast between her delicate features and my handkerchief obscuring most of them compelling me to watch. She was just plain cute like that, kind of alluring somehow.

            “Thag you.” Lynn sniffled and unfolded the cloth a bit, then blew her nose into it. “Ugh,” she muttered, swiping a few times under her nose before she took the square away from her face. When she looked at me, I pressed my palms toward her in a “stop” gesture.

            “Keep it. You might need it again, after all. I don’t really need it back.”

            “Oh. Okay.” She regarded it dubiously, but tucked it into the front pocket of her jeans anyway.

            “So, you were going to show me some neat little place you know of here in the mall,” I offered, gesturing forward.

            “A sorority sister of mine works at the Beadery Boutique.” Lynn walked just slightly ahead of me, and I couldn’t help but notice and appreciate the way her round, small behind filled out her jeans. “Yes, I know,” she went on, unaware of my scrutiny. “I don’t seem like the sorority, rah-rah type. But my first year at the U, it was hard to meet people, and I’d always been interested in sororities, so when I heard about the multicultural sorority on campus, I thought I’d try rushing it in the spring. All of the girls were so nice, and most of them thought it was cool that I was doing something different by wanting to major in chem.”

            She stopped underneath a big, sparkly sign and said, “Here we are.” I looked inside at rows and rows of plastic bins, each of them filled with beads of particular colors or shapes. “You can choose your own beads,” Lynn explained, drawing me into the store. “Or you can buy something premade. But you strike me as the creative type, so let’s go get a little tray and you can think about what your mother would like most.”

            The labeled trays were all back at the cash register, and as we got there, the beautiful, mocha-skinned employee looked at Lynn and threw her arms open wide.

            Lynn! Sweetie! You’ve been away from here far too long, girl.” Her tone was scolding, but the big smile on her face said otherwise, and Lynn quite easily accepted this woman’s hug.

            “And what handsome young thing did you bring with you? Do you have an exclusive on him, or can I borrow him some evening to drape over my arm?” The woman’s enthusiasm was astounding, and I grinned at the idea of being called a “handsome young thing.” Reverse sexism, perhaps, but it was fun.

            “Hi, I’m Heather.” She stretched out a slender hand, and I shook it, impressed with the strength of her grip. “I work with pliers and wire every day –I’m stronger than I may look. And you are?”

            “Cory.” I wondered at Heather’s ability to cram so many words into the space of a few seconds “We met in her father’s law office. My father’s trying to sue someone who was driving drunk and hit him broadside.”

            “Oh.” Heather frowned and shook her head. “I want to go into law to prosecute those idiots, and other idiots, too, but it’ll take a while.” She looked at Lynn as she mentioned the “other idiots,” and Lynn shook her head subtly as if to say, “Off limits. Let’s discuss something else.”

            “But, I’m sure Lynn didn’t bring you in here so I could rant about the injustice system. You got suckered into making something. A Mother’s Day gift, perhaps?”

            “Birthday. I can never seem to get her anything that’s just right, but she does like necklaces, so maybe this would be a good risk.”

            “Oooh, good!” Heather handed me a tray, and explained the store’s system. Each bead had its own price, corresponding to labeled sections of the tray. I was to drop each bead I wanted into its correct tray, and then after I’d made my choices, I could sit in the back of the store and string them up on fishing line, wire, or beading thread.

            I wandered through the store, boggled at the array of choices, until Lynn came back to my side and pointed at a section of particularly elaborate beads. “What you might want to do is to pick your showpiece first, the bead that’s going to be the focus of the necklace. These are good for that.” She pointed to a small bunch of oblong glass beads with smaller blobs of color splashed on top of the uniform-colored base bead. I chose one in green, a shade that almost exactly matched the color of her eyes.

            “Great.” If she noticed the resemblance, she didn’t mention it. “Now, you’ll want a few more, slightly smaller and less flashy beads for ‘stations,’ and after that, you can fill in with small glass beads of whatever color you think works.”

            For a guy who hadn’t done anything artistic after leaving sixth-grade art class, I felt I did pretty well, grabbing assorted round beads in varying shades of green and blue to complement the dominant colors in the focus bead. When I sat down with my tray at a table in the back of the store, even Heather complimented me on my aesthetic sense, and she was even more artistic and fashionable than Lynn.

            “Great!” Heather enthused over my choices, measuring out sixteen inches of wire for the necklace. “Now, thread your main bead on here, and just remember to add to each side evenly.” She handed me a pair of tiny needle-nosed pliers, indicating that I should give the wire a twist around the main bead. “You don’t want that going anywhere.”

            I agreed, and began the delicate task of making sure I was getting each side symmetrical. Five minutes later, I had worked my way halfway up each side, having slid the beads off a few times when I realized I didn’t like the pattern I’d created.

            “That looks so nice, Cory.” Lynn leaned over my shoulder to get a better look, and I could feel her hair tickling my ear. “Your mother will –“ She stopped abruptly, scrubbed at her nose with the back of her hand, then continued. “Love it. It’s so colorf—“ The “f” dragged out a bit, then changed to a series of short, hitched breaths. Lynn dug into her pocket and pulled out my handkerchief again, sneezing into it three times in rapid succession. “Ehh-shooo! Hih-chuuh. Ehh-shoo!”

            “Bless you,” Heather and I offered in unison, looking across the table at each other as we did so.

            Lynn tried to stifle another sneeze, but it came out anyway, followed by five more. “Huupf-shoo. Uh-chmmm! Huh-chhhh! Ih-shhhh! K-shmmm!” When she took the cloth away from her face, her nose was bright red, and she looked more than a little tired and frustrated.

            “I’b going to go fide a bathroob,” she told us, getting up from the table. Heather and I both watched her exit the store.

            “She must be coming down with something,” I explained unnecessarily, and Heather nodded.

            “I guess so.” She frowned, and she fixed me with a dark, imposing stare. “Cory, you seem like a really nice guy and all, and Lynn seems to like you. Now, I’m not sure if I should say this, but her last boyfriend really put her through the wringer – I mean, I’d like to do to that guy what I’d do to the drunk driver who hit your father. You know, lay him out in the middle of the road, and run over him with an SUV, then put it in reverse and run over him again. So, just to let you know . . . “ Here her voice dropped an octave to a menacing growl I hadn’t thought she was capable of. “If you hurt her, and I find out about it, you’re the one going under that SUV. I will hurt you so bad you’ll wish you  could slam your head into a door to ease the pain. Got it?”

            The bead I’d been holding fell out of my numb fingers and rolled away across the table, falling off and landing on the floor with a soft tap. “Uhm, yes. Yes, ma’am.” Heather suddenly reminded me of my grandmother, that first time I’d met her, but I doubted Heather was going to lighten up and accept me any time soon.

            “Good!” She gave me a Cheshire-cat smile and picked up the bead I’d dropped. “This one goes on the left side.”

            I admired Heather’s degree of loyalty to her friend, but her warning also made me wonder yet again what the creep in question – I didn’t even know his name, which was good for him – had done.

            Five minutes later, as Heather was helping me affix the ends of the wire to a nice clasp, Lynn returned and sat back down next to me.

            “Feeling any better?”

            “Some.” She rubbed a tired hand over her face. “I think maybe I’m coming down with something. Could I take a rain check on that Illegally Chocolate you promised?”

            Although I was disappointed that our date, if that’s what it was, seemed to be coming to an abrupt end, and I felt terrible that Lynn was feeling so crummy, the word “rain check” stood out in my mind. Could she possibly mean there was the possibility of getting together again?

            “Sure,” I said, trying to be smooth and cool. “Let me pay for this,” I held up the necklace, “and then I’ll walk you out to your car.”

            “That sounds good to me.” Lynn exchanged another hug with Heather, who held her at arms length for a moment afterward.

            “You call me, okay? My phone thinks you’ve been stranded on a desert island for ages! It misses you.”

            “I miss it, and you.” Lynn took the necklace from my hands and gave it to Heather. “How much for this, then?”

            Heather took a small strip of paper with a series of numbers on it up to the register, then started inputting the numbers. “Mmm, looks like twenty-four eighteen with the tax.”

            “That’s a bargain for me,” I said, digging a twenty and a five out of my wallet. Heather took the bills from me, opened the cash register, and put them in their respective slots, handing me back change.

            “It was nice meeting you, Cory. If you need anything for Mother’s Day, or you want to bring a cute friend around for me, you just stop by. I’ll be here all summer.”

            “I’ll do that,” I laughed, thinking that Tom would find Heather almost more than he could handle, and he’d like it that way.

            “You two take care, now.” She ushered us out of the store, then waved before going back in.

            “She’s a great person,” I commented, escorting Lynn toward Pacific Desserts.

            “She really is.”

            “Say, what lot did you park in? I promised to walk you to your car.”

            “I’m over in the purple lot.” We headed out in that direction, and in a few minutes, we were standing next to the dark red Toyota I recognized from a few days earlier, when she’d made the visit to my house.

            “Well,” Lynn said, “this is my car.” She pulled out her car keys and jangled them for effect.

            “Yeah, I guess it is.” I swallowed hard, then acted on impulse. “I know I said I wouldn’t touch you unless you said it was okay, but could I give you a hug? You kind of look like you could use one.”

            Lynn considered it a moment. “Okay.”

 Seizing the opportunity, I collected her into my arms, careful to keep my embrace light and friendly, casual. Her head came up to my chin, and I tipped my head down so that I could enjoy the fresh green apple scent of her hair. The curls were soft and fluffy, and again, I wondered how all that hair would look streaming past Lynn’s shoulders.

Before I could think too much more about that, I felt Lynn’s head jerk downward, and an uncovered sneeze misted my shirt. “Uh-eshooo!”

“Oh, god, I’m so sorry about that!” Lynn drew back to observe me, her hand clamped over her mouth. I shrugged and reached forward toward her, brushing her bangs out of her eyes. A breach of our “contract,” I guess, but she didn’t protest.

“No need to be sorry. You just get yourself home, drink lots of juice, and call your friendly neighborhood doctor-in-training if you need anything.”

She sank down into the driver’s seat of her car and closed the door, rolling down the window. “Tell your mother happy birthday for me.”

“I’ll do that.” I watched as Lynn turned the car on, put it into gear, and then drove away. Waiting until she was safely out of the lot and into traffic, I walked back to my own car, looking forward to the next time I might see her.