May 30, 2020
Dan: Flowers and kittens
I’ve taken care of this little flower long enough. When I brought it in the Friday before the shut down, I thought it would be a nice gesture to welcome the newbie. I already had suspected that I’d be the one asked to take her under my wing. I had helped Sophie get acclimated.
I trim off a couple of yellowing leaves and pinch back a dead flower or two. Considering I’m no plant expert, the plant looks pretty good. I’ve surprised myself that I not only kept it alive but it’s grown and is blooming again. It’s covered in the purple flowers that caught my eye when I saw it at the grocery store.
While it’s kept me company since March, it’s time for it to go to its new home. I tuck it in a plastic grocery bag, hang that on my arm and pick up Monster. Rex, already in his collar and leash, keeps his eye on me, his body tense for the moment I open the front door.
“Ready to go, little guy?” Monster, now a much bigger cat than the bag of bones Rex found under the steps, settles into the crook of my arm. His yellow eyes are wide and bright, curious. It pains me a little to be sending him to a new home but Jess tells me Lori danced around for an hour after meeting the little guy a few nights ago. I have a feeling, after all, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to visit.
It takes some juggling to carry a cat and a plant and maneuver my over-excited mutt down the street on this gorgeous May day. Rex follows his nose from step to step, with careful examination of things dropped on the sidewalk and a nearly disastrous chase after a butterfly.
At last I reach Jess’s front door. She lives two blocks away from me in a house nearly exactly like mine. Only it has old-fashioned touches that remind me of my grandparents’ house. Awnings over the windows. An aluminum storm door. And inside the scent of a comfortable old home. The fragrance, a mix of vanilla, dust, and flowers, hits my nose as soon as Jess opens the door.
She, on the other hand, is as fresh and exciting as a new day. Her smile is bright as she takes Monster from my arms. The flower aroma is from her. I breathe in the feminine smell that thrills me to my core.
“What’s that?” Jess points to the bag.
I can’t wait to show her. “Your plant, the one to welcome you to the office. I’ve taken good care of it.”
The walk in a bag didn’t do it any favors. A couple of flowers have fallen off and a branch is broken. But Jess doesn’t seem to notice. Her eyes are wide with delight. “I had forgotten about it. And you took care of it all this time.”
I shrug. “A little water now and then.”
“It’s beautiful.” She pushes up on her toes and kisses my cheek. “I wonder who it’s from.” Her smile is mischievous. I think she knows.
“I found it at the store and brought it in on the day we were told we had to start working from home. Thought the new girl needed something bright and very purple to welcome her.”
She places it in the center of her shiny coffee table. “Thank you, Dan. Now come in while I finish putting the lunch together. Lori, someone here to see you.”
Lori, dressed in pink shorts and a sparkly t-shirt instead of a tutu, races down the stairs and dives for the dog. “Rex!”
“I meant the kitty, Lori.”
Lori kisses my dog right on his black nose and jumps up. The child must have springs in her feet. “Kitty!” She gathers the little fur ball in her arms and coos to it.
“Have you thought of a name?” I know Monster won’t last.
She nods and holds up the cat who is all claws at the rough handling. “Tiger. Because of his stripes.” Then she addresses the cat. “How do you like your new name?” To my surprise, the claws retract and Tiger begins to purr. I think we have a match made in heaven.
“You all get better acquainted while I go back to the kitchen.” Jess catches my eye before striding away.
I watch her go, enjoying the view of her bare legs and her petite body clad in white shorts and a blue and white checked shirt. She stops and turns. “Coming?”
Of course, I am. I race up to her and follow her into the kitchen. “What are we having?”
“This.” She pulls on my t-shirt and I wrap my arms around her and lean in for a kiss. Sweet as the chocolate chip cookies packed in a plastic bag on the table. Warm as the summer sun. Necessary as air.
May 30, 2020
Jessica: Space and time
The news this morning has been breathless as the world awaits the first American space launch since before Lori was born. I’ve kept it on the television all morning, delighted to listen to good news for a change.
When I was a little girl, the Space Shuttle program was just an ordinary occurrence. It didn’t get much coverage at all and when the last shuttle launched in 2011, an era ended without much comment—that’s how I remember it anyway.
Today, the newscasters report in flowery prose, as they talk about the mission and the astronauts and the new space ship.
It only heightens the optimism I feel. It’s as if a weight has been lifted, maybe temporarily, maybe for good. I got up early to bake chocolate chip cookies. I sliced sourdough bread for the ham sandwiches Lori asked for. I pack a thermos full of lemonade and another full of rose.
We’ve decided to go to the park on the other side of town where we’ll meet Hanna and Matt beside its iconic pagoda.
I’ve already packed a blanket, folding chairs and a bag filled with sunscreen, bug spray and toys for Lori and stowed them in the trunk of my practically-abandoned Hyundai. It’s been parked in the same spot since March. I checked to be sure I had gas and that it would start.
The truth is, I can’t wait for this picnic. I’ve seen Dan almost every day since we met for coffee. But today feels special, like a celebration.
When I hear him knock at the door, my heart pounds as I race to answer. All of me wants to pull him into the house for a long, luxurious kiss.
The sight of Rex, a grocery bag and an anxious kitten makes me rethink my plans. For a moment or two, anyway.
I ask him to help me in the kitchen and I’m sure both of us know what we’re going to do first.
I need to breathe in the sandalwood he always wears, delighted that I now know that. I need to taste his mouth, always as minty as the Lifesaver I suspect he popped moments before arriving at my door. I need to hold him close, to feel his long arms around me, his heart beating in my ear pressed against his chest.
I haven’t needed a man in a long time. And I know I’ll be fine with or without one. But I remind myself, this isn’t Colin. This is Dan.
We rush to pack the cooler and get going. Lori sees to the bowl of water for Tiger while I put a kid-proof lock on the cupboard holding the trash can and Tiger inspects the kitty litter.
The park is filled with people anxious for a day in the sun. Hanna and Matt have already laid a plaid blanket in a shady spot near the pagoda and set up two beach chairs. Matt’s drinking a beer and Hanna sips from a water bottle. They’ve got a radio on and they’re listening to news about the upcoming space launch.
“Hope you don’t mind the radio.” Matt takes the chairs and cooler from Dan. Rex rushes to Hanna, his pink tongue hanging out and his tail wagging like a whip.
“Down, boy.” Dan tries to restrain him but Hanna shakes her head.
“He’s fine. I love other people’s dogs.”
“Now be careful Hanna.” Matt looks more concerned than I would expect.
“I’m fine, hon.” She gives him the stink eye and I think, Secrets.
But it isn’t a secret for long.
“I have to tell you.” Hanna’s face practically splits in a delighted grin. “We’re pregnant.”
I trip over the cooler as I reach out to hug my friend and squeal. With an embarrassed laugh, I hug her before asking when to expect the new arrival.
“Thanksgiving. We’re hoping all this coronavirus will be gone and we can have a proper baptism and party.”
“Seems like so far from now, doesn’t it?” I wonder for a moment what the fall and winter will be like. The predictions aren’t hopeful.
But our picnic has turned into a celebration. So much has happened in spite of everything. We toast the parents-to-be with wine and beer and lemonade.
While Hanna and I talk about how she’s feeling and their plans, Lori and Dan play catch with Rex. They look so natural, the three of them, as if they’ve been throwing a ball and spending time together all along.
After the ham sandwiches are gone, the potato chips have been fed to the dog and three cookies are all that remain, Dan looks at Hanna and asks, “Would you like to take a walk?”
“No, thanks. But go ahead.” She smiles at Dan and then winks at me. “I want to talk to Lori.”
“She knew what you meant,” I whisper to Dan as we walk away.
“This has been a perfect day,” he says as he puts his arm around my shoulders.
I have to agree, mostly. “Some of those cookies were a little burnt.”
“Baked to perfection. I like them a little crispy.”
He’s a good man, isn’t he? Sweeter than I expected. And so patient with Lori.
I sigh as we skirt other blankets dotting the brilliant green lawn. I haven’t been this contented in a long time.
Dan and I walk in silence around the park. It’s a moment I won’t ever forget. The air is warm. The sun bright, a hint of the summer to come. All around us are sounds of excitement, of freedom, of hope. We don’t know what the summer will bring, how the pandemic will progress. Maybe it will be a carefree time, a respite from the pain and suffering and fear of the past few months. Maybe the virus will continue to spread. Maybe people will get fed up and ignore the warnings and make things worse.
We know we have good things to look forward to. A new baby, a new cat, and, well, whatever we will be, Dan and me.
For today, I’ll wear my mask and stay six feet from everybody else. Except Dan. I’ll keep him close as we navigate what it means to fall in love—there I said it—while working from home.
Thanks for stopping by every Monday for the past 29 weeks. I have enjoyed writing this story—it has been one way to escape the troubles of a pandemic.
Dan and Jessica’s story has benefited from your ideas and stories about surviving the early days of the pandemic lockdown. Thanks for sharing them with me.
Even though the coronavirus hasn’t left us—I thought for sure it would be gone by now when I started this story—I hope the saga of these two working-from-home lovebirds has helped in some tiny way. The last audio chapter is coming Dec. 7, just before book launch day for INN BY THE LAKE.
Together we wrote a great story to remember the lockdown of 2020.
Be safe. Be well. And keep in touch.
Ⓒ2020 MARY K. TILGHMAN
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