When Brooke told her kids that she hired a babysitter for Friday night, Devon argued that he could stay by himself and watch Brinley.
“I don’t want some teenager to watch us.”
“She won’t bother you, Devon. But it will be good for Brinley to have some company. And you’re responsible, but you are not mature enough to take care of Brinley.”
“What is there to take care of? She is just going to watch princess movies and play with her ponies.”
“I can see the two of you getting into an argument and Brinley throwing a tantrum.”
“She does that all the time. I’m used to it.”
“No more arguing about it. I’m going to ask one of the neighbor girls to watch you.”
After securing a babysitter, Brooke went through everything in her closet trying to find something suitable to wear. She had not purchased anything new since Carl passed away. She had worked up until the accident, and it was business casual at the office. So she had some casual dresses, blouses and slacks to choose from. But they were a little outdated, and nothing looked just right.
She held some of the outfits up to her and looked in the mirror. It was then she realized that she hadn’t had a haircut all summer. She had worn it up for the reunion. It was the second week of August and the temperature was hot and humid. She decided to wear her hair up for their date.
Finally, she decided on a flowered cotton dress. It was sleeveless, but the V-neck was modest. She accessorized with a colored bead necklace and matching earrings.
“Mom, you look beautiful!” Brinley exclaimed when she walked into the living room.
Devon looked up and his jaw dropped open. “Who are you going out with again?”
“An old friend from high school,” she said casually. “I told you that. His name is Chase, and he has a boy your age and a girl Brinley’s age. His mom is a friend of Grandma’s.”
“Will we meet him?” Brinley asked with excitement.
“I think you will.” She figured Chase was old-fashioned enough that he would come in and meet her kids before taking her on a date. At least, she expected him to.
She was not disappointed. At six o’clock there was a knock on the front door. She went to open it, and Brinley beat her to it. The door flew open and Chase stood there, tall and handsome. He had chosen to go clean-shaven tonight. At the reunion he had worn a trim beard. She had liked the look. But she had to admit, he looked even more handsome tonight, if possible. He had a bouquet of pink and white roses in his hands.
“Come on in, Chase. This is my daughter, Brinley.”
“Hi, Brinley. It’s nice to meet you.”
“You brought my mom flowers?”
Chase turned a shade of red. His eyes met Brooke’s. He held out the flowers, and she took them from him.
“I wasn’t sure what would be appropriate.”
“Any flowers are always appropriate. Thank you. I’ll find something to put these in.”
She found a vase under the sink, filled it with water and arranged the flowers in it. She could hear Brinley talking to Chase. She was asking him about his daughter and what her name was. Brooke carried the vase into the living room and set it on the coffee table. It had been a long time since she had received fresh flowers. She was thrilled with his thoughtfulness.
Devon came downstairs.
Brooke put her arm around Devon’s shoulder. He stiffened and she removed it. She hadn’t meant to embarrass him. “This is Devon.”
“Hi, Devon. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Are you a stranger?” Brinley asked.
“I’m not a stranger to your mom. We went to school together.”
“A long time ago,” Devon muttered.
Chase laughed. “That makes us sound ancient.”
There was another knock, and Brinley opened the door to let their babysitter in.
“Hello, Daelyn,” Brooke greeted the teenager. “There’s a pizza in the freezer, and I bought chips and pop.”
“Mom only buys chips and pop when it’s a celebration,” Brinley said.
Brooke blushed as Chase looked at her and grinned.
A celebration, huh? He couldn’t help feeling a little bit like celebrating, himself. One week ago he had not dreamed of dating again. And to date Brooke had never crossed his mind. He didn’t even really know her. But that was the purpose of the date, right? To get to know her. She fascinated him, and he was looking forward to learning more about her.
She looked great. She had on a flowery dress with bright colors, and matching beads and dangling earrings. She had worn her hair up like she had at the reunion. He liked it that way, but it made him imagine what it would be like to take it all down.
He looked away from her and addressed the babysitter. “I have a pizza ordered that will be delivered around six-thirty. It’s already paid for including the tip, all you have to do is accept it.”
“We don’t get pizza delivered,” Brinley said.
That was a shocker. “You don’t order pizza delivery?”
Brooke looked embarrassed. “I don’t really trust someone to come to the house when I’m not here.”
“Even the pizza delivery guy?”
She blushed, but nodded.
“Do you want me to cancel it?” He checked his phone. “There’s still time, I think.”
“Would you mind? I appreciate the gesture, but I’m not comfortable with the idea.”
He didn’t tell her that he knew the owners of the pizza parlor and their delivery people were trustworthy. He had to respect her decision, even if he thought it more than a little odd. This was a small town. But then, he remembered, she had lived in Detroit for several years. Maybe she had forgotten how little crime there was in their town.
He stepped outside and called to cancel the pizza. “It’s already in the oven,” the employee told him. “What should we do with it?”
“Why don’t you treat yourselves to it tonight? Eat it on your break or split it up and take it home with you.”
Brooke stepped outside and shut the door behind her. “I don’t see your pickup.”
“I brought my mom’s SUV.” He glanced at her skirt and heels. “I wasn’t sure what you were wearing. You look great, by the way.”
She blushed, and he wondered how long it had been since someone had told her that. By someone, he meant a man. He wondered if she had dated at all since her husband passed away. But he wasn’t going to ask her that, not yet, anyway. Maybe she would mention it.
He opened her door, and when she was comfortably seated, he went around and got in behind the wheel. He realized his heart was pounding nervously. So far, he thought he had done all right, but now they were alone together. He didn’t know if he could carry on conversation like he had been practicing in his head. He wished he had that cool confidence he’d had in high school. Lisa’s betrayal had killed that, leaving him insecure about his effect on women.
“Thank you for understanding about the pizza,” she said.
“Is it because you lived in the city?”
“Yes, I don’t trust someone to come to the door.”
“You don’t have to worry about crime here. At least, there hasn’t been a robbery by a pizza delivery person that I know of.”
He wondered if she was offended by his remark, but then he saw the smile. It started in her eyes, then slowly the corners of her mouth turned up.
“There were a couple of robberies in town a few years ago,” he admitted. “Some kids broke into a few of the businesses and made out with a little cash and alcohol.”
“I remember my mom telling me about that. It was pretty hard to believe, but I guess there are some troubled teens no matter where you live.”
“I’m hoping to avoid that with my kids. With Josh. He’s already started with an attitude. They say is normal at his age.”
“Devon has, also. Just like tonight. He didn’t want a babysitter, but I know he and Brinley still fight. I don’t trust them to stay home alone and not get into an argument.” Her eyes met his, with a shy smile. “I didn’t want any phone calls while we were eating dinner.”
“What grade is Devon in?”
“He starts seventh this year.”
“So does Josh. And Maddie will be in third.”
“So will Brinley. It’s kind of funny, isn’t it, that our kids are the same ages?”
His eyes met hers. “Our lives have kind of paralleled each other’s, haven’t they?”
“I didn’t realize how much until we talked the other night. My mom has mentioned something like that a couple of times.”
“My mom has brought up your name a couple of times,” Chase said. “I never realized that we had so much in common, I guess.”
“Do you think they were trying to play matchmaker?”
He shrugged. “I don’t think my mom would. She knew I took it pretty hard when Lisa passed away. I haven’t been ready to think about dating, and I think she knew it.”
“Then it just naturally came about.”
“I think that’s pretty cool, don’t you? I mean, there you were, looking gorgeous, and I wanted to dance with you.” She blushed at his compliment. Then he added, “I can’t believe I was brave enough to ask, after you shot down both Ben and Nate.”
“Nate’s reputation preceded him.”
“Yeah, he has a reputation. He hasn’t changed much since high school, unfortunately.”
“Megan said he cheated on his first wife.”
Chase’s jaw tightened. “He denies it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.”
“I consider Ben a friend. He went to Michigan State at the same time I did. He took his studies pretty seriously. I know he met his wife there. They invited Carl and I to their wedding.”
“Did you go?”
“We did. His wife is nice, and I didn’t feel comfortable dancing with a married man. Even though he said his wife told him it was all right to dance, as long as he danced with me.”
“I see he danced with Barbara.”
“He did, and after we left, he kept drinking. When she danced with him again later, he got a little handsy, I guess.”
His mouth stretched into a grin. The idea of getting “handsy” with Brooke had crossed his mind a few times when they were dancing. He’d felt too mature to hit on her at the class reunion. But he had imagined what it would be like to embrace Brooke somewhere in private, and she had very kissable lips.
He pulled into the parking lot of the popular chain restaurant. It was busy. They didn’t take reservations, and he worried that they would have to wait a long time for a table. As he held the door open for her, she brushed his shoulder as she passed him. He could smell her flowery perfume.
He was surprised when she took out her cell phone and checked it. “I want to see if Devon had texted. I gave the babysitter instructions to call, but sometimes he texts me with silly questions.”
“My mom would call if there was any trouble, but Josh would text. I bought him a cell phone for his twelfth birthday.”
“That’s when I bought one for Devon. When is Josh’s birthday?”
“Devon’s is in December. He came during a blizzard, and Carl had a hard time getting out of the driveway and to the hospital.”
“I didn’t realize you would get a lot of snow in Detroit.”
“Oh, it comes in heavy sometimes. It doesn’t take long for them to plow the streets, but that was the middle of the night.”
“How do you feel about winter?”
The hostess approached them. “Your table is ready.”
After they were seated, Brooke picked up the menu and started looking at it. Realizing Chase had asked her a question, she said, “I like winter, but I’m not much of a sports person. In high school, I ice skated and skied some.”
“I haven’t skied for a long time, but it might be kind of fun to try it again I have a couple of snowmobiles and I take Josh out on the trails. My brother goes out with us most of the time.”
“Devon has never been on a snowmobile. I guess I haven’t since high school. Megan’s family had them and she took me out on it a few times.”
“Maybe we can go out on the trails this winter.” She looked surprised, and he wondered if he was crazy for suggesting it. “You must think I am crazy. It’s August, and I’m already talking about taking you snowmobiling.”
“I don’t think you are crazy. I think you are very nice to offer.”
Nice? That wasn’t quite the impression he was going for.