The judge banged his gavel, and I followed my lawyer out of the courtroom, past my glaring now ex-husband.
My steps echoed down the polished marble corridor. Each footfall took me further from the pain of betrayal, infidelity, and alcohol abuse. I almost danced with elation. The attorney eyed me strangely. “Most people are distraught when they get divorced.”
Distraught? I felt like I’d escaped from a horrible prison. Caring for my fifteen-month-old daughter Patty was my top priority. Now she wouldn’t suffer growing up in a dysfunctional, abusive home. We’d been set free.
A few weeks after the divorce my best friend Debbi asked, “When will you start dating again?”
“Never,” I replied. “My new mantra is, ‘Every man on the planet is a conniving sneak, existing only to wreak havoc on unsuspecting women’s hearts.’”
Debbi laughed at my irrational words. “You don’t mean that. Someday you’ll find true love.”
Love? No thank you. I didn’t want a new relationship. I didn’t even want to look at a man.
Until a Norse god walked out of my neighbor’s home.
Tall. Tan. Fit. Gorgeous.
A modern-day Thor was visiting Frank, my middle-aged neighbor? I looked away from the enticing vision and repeated my “all males are evil” mantra.
A few days later Frank stopped by while I weeded the lawn. “Hey Jeanie, I’m letting the neighbors know my buddy is staying with me for a while. He works night shift. He’s a super guy.” OK, Thor was a super guy staying with Frank. Fine. It had nothing to do with me.
The next day I glanced out my bedroom window and spotted Thor standing next to a black pick-up. He looked up and down the empty street, then hopped into the truck bed. What was this guy up to? Thor removed his shirt and stretched out to nap in the summer sun. His muscles seemed to reflect the light. I stared open-mouthed. Whoa, did this guy pose for romance book covers? Yeesh.
I dragged my hormones away from the window and practiced my man-hating mantra. Perhaps a bit overboard since this guy was way out of my league.
Still, there was no harm in looking. Spying on Thor’s afternoon tanning sessions became a daily ritual. I’d climb onto my mattress and peer out the small rectangular transom window above my bed.
After a week, guilt forced me to stop. I established Commandment Number Eleven:
Thou shalt not ogle thy neighbor’s guest.
A round of deep house cleaning would take my mind . . . and hormones . . . off my neighbor’s virile friend. While Patty napped I threw on a ragged sundress and pushed my hair into a messy ponytail. No sense putting in contacts or using make-up.
An hour of scrubbing later, I grabbed the window cleaner and headed toward the bedroom. “Just to tidy up,” I told myself, “not to peek at Thor.” Sure. Even I didn’t believe myself. But Thor wasn’t in his usual spot. A knock on the door interrupted my spying attempt.
Thor stood at the door. Had he spotted me ogling him? Fresh sweat beaded my upper lip. I wiped it with a sudsy glove and stammered, “Oh. Yes. Hi, um . . .”
When I fell silent, Thor gave me a shy, easy smile. Wow, this guy put toothpaste commercial actors to shame. “Hi, I’m Jake.” He pointed over his shoulder at my neighbor’s house. “I’m staying with Frank.”
“Uh, that’s nice.” I inwardly cringed at my inane response.
“Frank talks about what a nice lady you are.”
“Um . . . thanks,” I said.
He looked down for a moment, lifted his head, and blurted, “Would you maybe go out with me sometime?”
I stared into his electric blue eyes. It felt like I’d touched a high voltage line. I glanced at his wide shoulders. Too tempting. I lowered my eyes. Bad move. His shorts revealed his long muscular legs. I blinked hard and admitted, “Look, I just ended a bad marriage. I’m not interested in dating.”
Thor—Jake—blew out a relieved sigh. “Same here. My girlfriend and I broke up last month. I’m not ready for a relationship. I hoped we could go to the movies or something. Just friends.”
“I’ll go out with you if my babysitter is available. But remember, just friendship. Nothing more.”
Jake lit up like a Christmas tree in Times Square. “Great! Here’s my number. Call whenever it’s convenient for you.” He waved goodbye. I closed the door and wondered why such an attractive man would invite me out. A glance in the mirror revealed my full bedraggled glory.
I looked like a sweat-doused monkey in rubber gloves. Yep, his line about “just friends” explained the invitation.
That weekend Jake treated me to a movie and dinner even though it wasn’t a date. “Hey, I appreciate you going out with me. I’m glad to pay,” he said.
Despite his handsome appearance, Jake was endearingly humble. We talked non-stop. During dinner Jake said, “You’ve only eaten a few bites. Is the food OK?”
“It’s great. I’ll take it home in a doggie-bag.” Paying the sitter would bite into my limited budget. My leftovers would provide three delectable meals for Patty. Since I wasn’t eating much, Jake politely stopped eating too.
He drove me home and I invited him in. “Patty’s been asleep for an hour,” the sitter said. She grabbed her pay and left. Patty awoke just as Jake and I sat down on the couch. I walked her out and warned Jake, “Don’t be offended. Patty shies away from men.”
Patty pulled her tiny hand from mine and toddled straight to Jake. He patted the sofa and asked, “Want to sit with us?” She held up her arms. I froze, shocked.
Jake scooped up Patty and sat her on the couch. She snuggled against him. Jake grinned at me and patted the cushion again. “Are you joining us?”
We spent the evening chatting and laughing. When Patty grew sleepy I tucked her in bed and returned to Jake. “I had a great time tonight.”
“Me too,” he said.
I scooted closer. “Just to remind you. I’m not looking for a relationship.”
“Me neither.” He laid his arm across the back of the sofa.
I leaned toward him, “Just friends.”
He brushed my cheek softly with his thumb. “Friends.”
We gazed into each other others eyes. He cupped my face like precious porcelain as I lifted it toward his. Our lips met for a heartbeat of eternity.
The next day Jake knocked at the door, his arms laden with bags. “You seemed to like the restaurant’s food last night. I wondered why you didn’t eat much. When you tucked Patty in I checked your fridge.” His gentle kiss eased my embarrassment over the empty refrigerator.
Jake spent the next months proving his trustworthiness. His honesty, generosity, and love silenced my man-hating mantra. When Jake proposed the following year, I don’t know who was more ecstatic, me or Patty.
After thirty-three years of friendship, love--and unabashed ogling--I still thank God that “Thor” came to my door.
|Jake, Jeanie, and Patty's son|