JUNE 21, SUMMER SOLSTICE
All right, okay—I called Newman Zender. And what did he say? “Lindsey, you’re feeling better now?” Like we’d just talked the day before, and he was expecting me. (Megan swears she didn’t make the threatened call to him.)
He chuckled when I told him I didn’t recognize him in the hospital basement, thought at first he might have been an escapee from the Psych Ward. (Did I really tell him that?? He seemed to get a kick out of it.)
Then he asked if I wanted to come over to his place on the lake today. “Don’t we have an unfinished conversation to… not finish?” (Did he mean from this winter, or from almost three decades ago? Egads.)
So what popped out of my mouth? “Is that a Zen question?”
He laughed again. “No, Zender. A Zender question.”
Lindsey’s heart is beating fast on the drive over to Emerald Lake (which used to be Toad Lake back in her high school skinny-dipping days, but a few years ago the trendy developers decided the old name wasn’t dignified). She wipes her damp palms down the thighs of her jeans, tells herself she’s acting like a ridiculous teenager. Then, just to remind her how really ridiculous that is, a massive hot flash roars through her, and she has to pull over to the side of the road, yank off her fleece zip and fan herself with it.
It’s another typical June day in the Northwest—anywhere else the height of summer, the longest day of the year, and here it’s cloudy and sixty-five degrees. At least the cool air calms her prickly heat. She tilts the rear-view mirror and blots her damp face, starts to twist the mirror back into position, then halts.
She’s startled by the face looking back at her: green eyes wide, their color amped by the flush in her cheeks; long hair fluffed with its natural waves coming out in the dampness. It could almost be her twenty-three-year-old face looking out of a shadowy time-tunnel.
“Right. Just means I’m ready for bifocals.” She snorts as she briskly puts the mirror straight. Maybe Newman will be seeing her in soft focus, too.
Her heart is fluttering too fast, feeling like it’s up in her throat as she pulls off the gravel lake road into a grassy drive. It leads past a wooden dock and a shed surrounded by willows leaning over the banked shore, toward an old farmhouse set among lichened fruit trees. She parks, gets out, and listens to the silence for a moment. Not seeing anyone in the yard, she opens the back door of the Subaru and bends over to retrieve the pickle jar with a rhododendron bouquet from her garden.
“Ah!” She startles as she straightens and turns.
Newman’s standing there, holding pruning loppers, a wide white smile on his tanned face.
Lindsey blinks, tilting off balance and caught in one more disorienting trip back through that time-tunnel.
“Sorry.” He drops the loppers and reaches out a big hand to take her arm and steady her. “Guess I better stop spooking you.”
She shakes her head, thrusts the flowers toward him. “From my garden.”
“Thanks.” He glances down at them, then back at her face, and that glimmer of humor is still in his eyes. “Good to see you again, Lindsey. Again,” he says.
Lindsey can feel the heat rising in her face, imagining the picture her snug jeans must have presented as she leaned over into the backseat. Oh well, at least according to Nick, that portion of her anatomy offers viewing pleasure. So, “Likewise, Newman. Again.”
When he laughs she can tell he’s doing it with enjoyment, and she takes the moment to enjoy her own view. He’s aging well, Newman, wavy hair gone gray but still plenty of it, square-jawed face and blunt nose like a lion, thick eyebrows lowering over clear blue eyes. It isn’t fair that men get to look stronger, more defined, with the age lines setting in, while every media message hammers home to women that they’re turning into dried-up rejects. But to hell with that, she’s not going there today. Looking up at Newman, she lets herself appreciate his height and solid masculine presence. He’s gotten thicker with the years, but not paunchy like so many men their age. He looks way too good, in fact, barefoot in cutoff jeans, a worn flannel shirt hanging open over a faded blue tee.
Then he sobers, and their glances catch. A palpable jolt of recognition crackles through Lindsey. Raw attraction, and they both clearly feel it. She hastily looks down, her face flushing again.
“Let me show you the garden. I finally got my beehives moved over here from the old house.” He seems unruffled, ushering her toward a path around the side of the house. He sets the bouquet on the porch and leads the way to the back, where raised vegetable beds are sprouting lush greens. Beneath more arthritic fruit trees, bees dart and buzz around the white boxes of stacked hives. A steep hill backs the property, dense with fir, alder, and cedars climbing toward the ridge.
“This is a beautiful spot.” Lindsey turns to take in the gnarled clematis vine engulfing a tilting trellis on the back porch of the house.
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