By Edward M. DeFranco
I smelled the ocean air and saw the sun setting in the distance on my drive home from work. I had moved back to my hometown a year ago, after Nettie died. Cool weather and being close to friends all helped me step past losing my wife. Too late, I realized how much I'd loved her and depended on her, but she'd died in an accident a few weeks before our third wedding anniversary.
My new home was a fixer-upper, and I enjoyed my frequent trips to the hardware store. I needed the work at this time in my life. Using my hands somehow kept my mind occupied—away from my great loss. Nettie had always had such confidence in me, but now that was something I was lacking. I just didn't know where my life was going—not like I had when she was alive.
The next day after work I went to Keegan's Hardware Store to buy some stain I needed to redo my kitchen cabinets. When I walked down one of the aisles, I saw a lady helping another customer. She had a familiar face.
I glanced at her and realized it was Kathy Jarron. We had dated in high school. She had the most beautiful golden-brown hair. Now it hung in a pert ponytail with a green scarf tied around it. I could see she had kept her figure, and even in her overalls she looked wonderfully feminine. I smiled at the thought of a girly-girl working in a hardware store. She still had the most gorgeous green eyes I’d ever seen. They always reminded me of the ocean. We’d stopped dating after high school, but stayed friends. Then Kathy had moved to go to college and with our busy young lives, we’d lost touch.
I smiled at her and listened to her describe the benefits of one type of paint as opposed to another. She sounded very knowledgeable. Clearly, she knew her business. She was not just some part-time clerk, but an intelligent and well-informed salesperson. Little Kathy Jarron. Who could have guessed she'd end up selling paint? When she finished talking to the customer, she smiled at me.
“Are you finding everything you need, sir?” she asked.
I nodded. Before I could speak, someone hollered for her help and she dashed to the other end of the store. I watched her retreating figure with regret. I couldn’t believe she didn’t remember me. Had I changed that much since high school? Besides the sideburns, I had recently grown as a change after turning thirty, did I look that much different? Okay, I thought , I didn't have that goofy high school haircut, but my face was the same. I felt hurt that she hadn't recognized me.
Two days later, I was off work and back at Keegan's Hardware. I was definitely getting to be a regular. This time I needed some nails and other supplies to fix the shelves in the living room. I searched for the right sized nails, but some part of me looked for Kathy. As I turned the corner on one of the aisles, someone touched my arm and said, “Don’t you need a hammer to go with those nails?”
It was Kathy. “When I saw your face the other day,” she said, “I recognized you from somewhere, but it wasn’t until I got called up front that I realized who you were.”
She hugged me. Then I embraced her, and I remembered how good she'd felt in my arms, all those years ago. How had I let this prize get away?
“I wondered if I’d changed that much since high school,” I said.
“You look a bit taller . . . and you still have the same wonderful eyes.”
When we had been dating, she used to comment on how she liked the way my eyes seemed a different color depending on what I wore. Sometimes brown, sometimes hazel. But they were nothing compared to her stunning ocean eyes.
“And the same baseball build.”
I smiled. “I try and keep in shape. You look great too.”
“I’ve just come back to the area. This is only the second week I've worked at the store. I’m staying at the mobile home park in the Heights part of town with my sister.”
“I’ve come back to the area recently too,” I said. Could it all be coincidence, or was fate trying to tell me something?
“I’m glad to be home. It rained too much up north—rain, rain, rain, day after day. I couldn't take it anymore . . . and since my divorce, I felt well . . . alone.”
“I moved to be close to friends again after Nettie died. Quickly changing the subject, I said, “Guess you’re going to see a lot of me here in the store. I bought a place that needs repairs.” The idea of having an excuse to see Kathy often put a smile on my face.
“I’ve been quite involved in remodeling houses,” Kathy said. “That’s why I got a job here. Maybe I could look at yours sometime and give you my ideas.”
“I’d like that. You know there’s this club in the foothills that plays decent new music.” I stopped myself. Was I ready to ask Kathy out? I couldn’t believe it, but talking to her felt so natural. “Would you like to go with me sometime?”
She smiled and touched my arm again. “I’d love to, JJ. We always had such a great time together.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought about the school dances and the times we’d gone to movies. “I hear a band is playing at the club tonight.” I grinned at her and held her hand. “What time do you get off work?”
“At five. I could be ready by six.”
I smiled again. I couldn’t conceal how happy I felt.
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I have a BA and an MA and live in California. My fiction has appeared in anthologies, literary journals, and romance magazines.