Patty felt nervous, anxious, and thrilled as she knocked on the Foster’s front door.
Ann looked relieved but keyed up as she led Patty to the kitchen. “Okay, first I’ll get you caffeinated then you can pick where to start.”
“How about the handle?” Patty suggested then tried not to gasp at the site before her. The handle was the least of the problems. She talked Ann into removing not only the hardware but the cabinet doors; they would refinish the exteriors then add all new pulls and knobs to instantly update the lackluster design. The task would be time-consuming, but they were both up for it. It would be a good start.
And it was, but then school let out and summer proved challenging.
“Just bring Jackie along. Matt and the girls are usually around; they can keep her company,” Ann offered, not wanting to lose Patty yet again.
Jackie reluctantly came along the next day. She brought a book—she was never comfortable without one—and she really didn’t want to go with her mother to this stranger’s house. She was going into the sixth grade, and she felt old enough to stay home alone—sort of. Her pleas were not convincing, though, so she got into the car with her mother.
“Oh my gosh, Jackie, look at you all grown up! I’ve been hearing all about how great you’re doing in school, and dance, piano, art. Go ahead into the den. I hear the TV, so someone must be awake.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Foster.” Jackie gave her mother a pleading look, but even Jackie could see the backsplash was going to be difficult.
Jackie tentatively stepped into the closed-blinds darkened room to find Matt—she assumed it was Matt as he was the only son—sprawled on the couch staring blankly at the screen.
Matt sensed her presence and sat up straighter. “Hi! Come on in. Jackie, right?”
“Yes. Hi and thank you, Matthew. What are you watching?”
“Smurfs.” He grinned apologetically, realizing she would think the show a bit babyish, but he loved the program, and it was too late to lie—she had seen the little blue creatures.
“Cool,” Jackie said. She sat down on the smaller couch adjacent to the one Matt was occupying.
“Whatcha reading?” Matt pointed to the book Jackie clutched to her chest.
“Oh.” She didn’t realize she had a death grip on it and removed her sweaty palms to turn it around to show him. “Great Expectations.”
“A school book in the summer? You need Smurfs.” Matt chuckled so she would know he was just joking around. After a little laugh, they both turned their attention to the chase ensuing on screen from the bad wizard.
She asked about his sisters, and he listed all their summer jobs: babysitter, lifeguard, and candy striper. “It’s great, they’re gone all day and have money to send me out for ice cream when they have boys over.”
Jackie nodded, though she couldn’t relate. He asked her about being an only child. She shrugged. “I don’t know any other way, but I get bored.” She asked about his school, and she told him about hers. The time flew by.
“Okay, honey, we’re done for today,” Patty called from just outside the den.
Jackie hopped to her feet. “Well, I guess I have to leave now. Thanks for letting me hang out.”
“Sure, come by anytime. I’m usually right here.” He waved from the couch.
Jackie smiled as she walked out to find Patty and finally exhaled. She knew plenty of boys, even liked a few, but this Matt…he was different. He was cool and relaxed and seemed to have no problems talking to her, even though they had only met once. Or was it twice? Anyway, she wished she could be so self-assured, but she always felt tense around boys, like she might say the wrong thing. When she and Matt talked, it seemed easy. They chatted until they simply ran out of things to say.
She’d tried to keep her eyes on the screen, but it was difficult not to glance over at the sandy-haired, lanky boy. She couldn’t tell today, but she remembered his eyes were green when she met him in the supermarket years ago. She remembered well because she didn’t see that type of clear but colorful feature very often. His nose was peeling back then. It had been August. That’s what had caught her attention; the loose, dead skin was just taunting her to give it a quick yank or brush it away. She remembered wondering how he could stand it. Now she knew, he was aloof, carefree enough to ignore a little sunburn.
“What did you and Matthew talk about?” Patty asked Jackie on the drive home.
“Nothing,” she replied from the safety of the backseat, avoiding her mother’s glare in the review mirror.
“Oh come on, you were together for almost two hours.”
“Really, we talked about nothing.” It was true, and her mother just wouldn’t understand that talking about nothing was really something.