Random Acts of Kindness II

 

Darcy woke to sunshine filtering in through light curtains and the smell of bacon and coffee. He looked around at the white sloped ceiling, painted plank walls, and the colorful quilt stretched across his long legs. The bed was soft and comfortable, if a trifle short for his tall frame. The sheets were smooth and white and the whole room had a clean smell mixed with some sort of flower. Looking to his right he realized the smell came from a vase of red peonies on the bedside table. There was a low dresser under the sloped wall and a cozy looking armchair and floor lamp next to the window.

His memory began to clear and he recalled Georgie’s accident, his wait in the hospital, and the dark-haired girl who brought him here. He tentatively stretched out and seeing his bag on the floor, dressed and left the room.

His nose led him downstairs and eventually into the empty kitchen, where the smell of coffee was strong and bacon was sizzling on the stove. Just as he was beginning to wonder if he was supposed to help himself, the side door opened and the dark-haired girl came in, carrying a milk-white pitcher filled with blossoms, obviously picked from her own garden. She set them in the center of the table and washed her hands while looking over her shoulder at him.

“Good morning. Did you sleep well?”

“Quite well, thank you.”

“I hope the bed wasn’t too short. My father always complains that his feet are dangling when he visits.” She smiled kindly at him and he couldn’t help but wonder who this woman was who brought complete strangers into her home.

“It was fine, thank you… Miss Bennett, isn’t it?”

“Technically, yes. But my name is Elizabeth, or Liz or Lizzy, whatever suits you. And you’re Mr. Darcy?”

He still stood awkwardly in the doorway, filling the narrow space with his large frame, looking at her with a mixture of confusion and curiosity. “Yes, Fitzwilliam Darcy. Most people just call me Darcy.” He saw her raised brows and looked down. “My sister calls me Will,” he added quietly.

“You must be hungry. Sit down and I’ll make you a plate.”

She gestured to the table and he sat obediently, looking out the large bay window into a tiny garden overflowing with bushes and flowering plants.

She set a large mug of steaming coffee in front of him, pointing to the cream and sugar in the middle of the table. Within minutes he was looking at two ceramic bowls, one filled with strawberries, the other with fresh melon. Then she set a plate of eggs and bacon in front of him and sat in the window seat.

“Hope you like bacon,” she said.

“Yes, it looks wonderful, thank you.”

He ate slowly, looking at her out of the corner of his eye, wondering who she was and why she’d made him breakfast. He could have just picked something up at the hospital. Then, after contemplating hospital food for a moment, he was grateful she’d cooked and decided to try and be more friendly.

“You have a lovely garden, Elizabeth,” he said awkwardly, looking out the window at the overflowing beds.

“Thank you, but it’s Janie’s doing. She loves plants. She grew these melons herself, and all the flowers in the house.” At his puzzled look, she explained, “Jane is my sister. We live here together.”

“Ah.” He had hoped to avoid the topic of her sister for a little longer, but that obviously wasn’t going to happen. “Your sister works at the hospital?”

“Yeah, she’s a pediatric resident. This is her second year. She really loves it there.” She took a big swallow of orange juice and looked at him over her glass.

“Miss Bennett, I have to tell you how sorry I am about what I said to you last night. I was told there was a drunk driver, and without thinking that there might be other victims, I assumed you to be his family. I’m really very sorry, I was out of line.”

“Apology accepted. And stop calling me Miss Bennett.” She smiled through her reproof before he could feel embarrassed at her chastisement.

Just as he was about to reply, a timer went off and she opened the oven door and pulled out two trays of delicious looking cinnamon rolls that filled the whole room with a mouth-watering scent.

She smelled them with a smile on her face and set them on top of the stove. “Do you like cinnamon rolls?”

“Yes, I do.”

She put two on plates and brought them to the table along with a small pitcher of milk. “I like them with milk. You?” He nodded and accepted the glass.

“These are amazing! Did you make them yourself?” he said after swallowing a bite.

“Thank you, and yes, I did. Now you’d better hurry up so we can get to the hospital.” She started cleaning up the breakfast dishes and within minutes they were back in the car and headed to Vanderbilt with a tray of cinnamon rolls.

He followed her through the web of hospital halls, attempting to memorize the way so he’d be able to retrace his steps later.

“You seem to know your way around here pretty well,” he commented.

“Yeah, I come to see Jane pretty frequently.”

“Lizzy! Are those cinnamon rolls I smell?” said a young man in a white coat hurrying down the hallway.

“Yes, Jimmy. They’ll be with Jane on the fifth floor, so if you want one, you have to pay her a visit.”

“Wild horses couldn’t stop me.” He winked and smiled before continuing down the hall.

Darcy was about to ask if he was a friend when he noticed a woman approaching them.

“Lizzy! I heard about Jane. Tell her I’ll be up as soon as I’m done with rounds,” said a petite woman who looked like she hadn’t slept in a couple of days.

“Sure thing, Candace.”

“Lizzy! Is that what I think it is?” said a man in scrubs as he walked past briskly, gesturing to the pan Elizabeth was holding.

“Fifth floor, just follow your nose.”

“Lizzy! You just made my day!” said the next scrub-clad resident.

“Save it, Joey! I know you just love me for my baking.” She smiled to keep the sting out of her words.

Darcy marveled as it seemed that every third person knew her by name and had tasted her cinnamon rolls before.

“Wow, you must visit your sister a lot for everyone to know you,” Darcy said.

“Well, I do, but a lot of them were in med school with Jane, so I saw them at our house for cram sessions, and I even had a few undergrad classes myself with some of the first years. And of course, we throw a mean barbecue and everyone is always invited.”

The elevator chimed and they were on the fifth floor. “I’ll be down this hall with Janie, room 514. The nurses can tell you if you forget. ICU is straight through those double doors and to the right. You can’t miss it.” She pointed ahead and handed him a small piece of paper. “Here’s my cell number, but you can’t always get reception in here and they won’t let you use it in ICU anyway, but just in case. I’ll check on you in a couple hours.” And with that she turned down the hall and disappeared into her sister’s room.

~

Darcy sat next to Georgiana’s bed, silently watching the monitor beep in time to her heartbeat. He stroked her right hand as he had done the night before and watched her face for any trace of movement. Finally, he was rewarded with a flutter of her eyelids.

“Georgie?”

“Will? Where am I?”

“You’re in the hospital, sweetheart. You were in a car accident.”

“Oh.” She closed her eyes and went back to sleep.

Two more hours passed before she finally woke up. The doctor examined her eyes and Darcy watched as she followed the pen and his fingers in various directions. She was given more pain meds and told again about her accident. She asked a lot of questions, and Darcy listened to the answers carefully, committing each response to memory. Finally, she said she was tired and he left her to rest for a few hours.

As he was heading toward Dr. Bennett’s room, Elizabeth met him in the hall.

“I’m going to head home and make some dinner for Jane, then head back up. Do you want to come with or hang out here?”

Looking at his watch, he was surprised to see it was after four pm. Not too surprising when you go to bed at dawn and wake just before noon. “Georgiana just went to sleep, so I’m not really needed here.”

She gestured and he followed her, noticing she now carried an empty pan. The cinnamon rolls hadn’t lasted long. When they got to her cottage, he went upstairs to shower and she went straight to the kitchen to start that night’s dinner. He let the hot water wash away the stress of the last twenty-four hours, relaxing for the first time since he’d gotten the call about Georgie. She was hurt and recovery would be slow, but she was going to be okay and had no permanent damage. When he stepped out of the steaming room, he was met with the smell of onions cooking and the sound of muffled music.

He stood in the kitchen doorway, watching Elizabeth bounce her hips from side to side to the beat of ‘My Sharona’. Had she been wearing those shorts all day? For the first time he noticed how shapely her legs were, leading up to a pert bum. Just as he crossed his arms in front of him and leaned against the doorway to enjoy the show, she spun around to face him, singing “get your motor up, ahhh!” Her hand flew to her heart and her eyes nearly popped out of her head.

“Fitzwilliam Darcy! You scared the living daylights out of me!”

Oddly, he found himself laughing. It wasn’t really that funny, but the stress of the day combined with the look on her face and the way she said his name struck him as extremely comical. Not to mention that her hands were covered in some sort of pink goo which she had now spread across her shirt.

A moment later, she was laughing, too. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself! Look what you made me do!” She gestured to the stain on her shirt while attempting to keep a straight face. “Turn around.”

“What?”

“You heard me, turn around. I need to take this shirt off – it’s covered with meat. I don’t want salmonella all over my house.” She stepped into the laundry room and opened the washing machine. He heard a loud clunk and she called, “Are you looking the other way?”

“My eyes are closed,” he said in a semi-exasperated but still amused voice.

He heard something rush past him and opened his eyes in time to see her feet dashing madly up the stairs. Two minutes later she was back, wearing a red tank top and with an armful of dirty clothes. She dumped everything into the machine and turned it on.

“I grabbed yours off the floor. They’ll be ready tonight.”

“You’re doing my laundry?”

“It’s not rocket science. There’s no sense doing a whole load for just one shirt, so I threw a few other things in there, including your clothes from yesterday. Don’t worry, I know how to do laundry.” She smiled and went back to plunging her hands into a large mixing bowl.

“What are you making?”

“Meatloaf. It’s one of Janie’s favorites and it travels well.”

He watched in fascination as she mixed the meat with eggs and some brown spices, then dumped in the bread crumbs from some sort of machine with a blade and the onions from the pan on the stove. She squeezed it between her fingers and kneaded the mixture together until it no longer looked like separate ingredients. Then she dumped all of it onto a foil covered pan and shaped it into an oblong loaf-type structure. Finally, she squeezed ketchup over the entire thing until it looked like it was bleeding.

“You don’t have to make that face. I promise it will be good. You’ll love it.” She smiled at him as he realized his thoughts must have been clearly displayed on his face. He got out of her way as she popped it into the oven and washed up, then pulled out a large sack of potatoes.

“Here, you wash, I’ll slice.” She handed him a potato-shaped scrubber and turned on the water.

He awkwardly picked up the object and turned it over in his hands a few times. Finally, he placed the tuber under the running water and began to awkwardly scrub it with the strange brush. Once it was clean, he set it on the towel to his left where Elizabeth examined it, cut out the eyes, and cut it into chunks.

The music was still playing and he heard her quietly singing along to ‘Walking on Sunshine’.

“Georgiana loves this song.”

“It’s one of my favorites, too.”

They washed and cut in silence until all the potatoes were done and placed in a pot of boiling water. She pulled out several carrots from the fridge and handed them to him, this time with a peeler.

He looked at her quizzically and she said, “These need to be peeled. Just get it a little wet, hold it at the top and peel downwards like this.”

She showed him how to remove the outer layer of skin and before he knew it he had peeled a dozen carrots and the dark-haired girl (as he still thought of her) had sliced them and thrown them into a skillet where they sizzled until she put a lid on top of them. She removed a package of frozen broccoli form the freezer and threw it into the top of a tall pan that looked like two pots stacked together.

“Does your sister like watermelon?”

“Georgie? Yes, she does.”

“Come on then.”

She led him out through a side door and into the backyard. It was small but every available inch was covered in flowers or some sort of produce. It smelled of summer blossoms and the air hummed with bees and butterflies. She led him to a patch on the far side, away from the shade of the house and the large oak tree that filled the center of the small garden. She knelt down and dug around in a large vine with big fingerlike leaves.

“Found one!” She leaned back with a triumphant smile, a large green watermelon filling her arms. She cut the stem with a small knife and led the way back into the house.

“Jane loves watermelon. I’ll cut up about half of this so she’s got something to snack on later. We can take a container to your sister’s room, too. Marjorie will see she gets it when she wants it.”

“Marjorie?”

“She’s the charge nurse over in your sister’s ICU. Tall, looks like an African queen, always smiling.”

“Yes, I think I saw her earlier. Is Georgie allowed to eat already?”

“She should be sometime tonight. That’s when they are usually allowed, anyway. I’ll check with Marjorie to be sure.”

“You seem to know a lot about the hospital. Are you a resident, too?”

“No, not at all. But I visit Janie a lot since she’s always there, and I bring her food. Residents are not known for eating well. And the smell of home-cooked food will always bring them running, so I’ve gotten to know most of the other residents and a lot of the doctors over the years.”

“Does your sister cook, too?” He knew it was a lame question, but he was beginning to feel bad that he was staying in her home and being treated kindly and knew virtually nothing about this dark-haired stranger.

“Oh, no. It’s a sort of unspoken deal we have: I do the cooking, she does the gardening. It works for us. Or at least it has for the last seven years.”

“You’ve lived here for seven years?”

“Yeah. Janie lived here a year before me, then when I started at Vandy I moved in with her. Jane spent her first year in the dorm and hated it, of course. What’s to love about a dorm? When Daddy found out I wanted to go to the same school, he bought this house. He said in the long run it would be cheaper than paying for both of us in the dorm or an apartment and at least he’d get some money back if he ever needed to sell it. Plus, it gives them a place to stay when they come to visit, and Mama is a lot happier knowing we’re in a safe neighborhood with our own kitchen than in some ‘dilapidated apartment’ as she calls it.”

“So you’re not from around here?”

“Sort of, but not really. I was born in a little town just outside Atlanta. Daddy got offered a teaching job at Vanderbilt when I was five, so we moved here. Then Emory offered him department chair when I was sixteen, so we went back to Atlanta. I consider both cities my home, but the rest of my family is back in Georgia.”

“Do you have a large family?”

“Well, there’s Mama and Daddy, still together after nearly thirty years of marriage, though I have no idea how. Two more different people never clapped eyes on each other, but they seem to get along somehow. Jane’s the oldest, then me, then Mary, Cat, and Lydia. Mary just graduated from Emory and is looking for a job. Cat will be starting here at Vandy in the fall and Lydia is about to start her sophomore year of high school.”

“Will your sister move in here?”

“That’s the plan. Daddy really knew what he was doing when he bought this place. By the time Cat finishes school and Jane completes her residency, he’ll have had it for nearly fourteen years. And that’s IF Cat doesn’t do a professional school.”

“What’s she studying?”

“She doesn’t know yet. She’s very artistic, probably the most artistic of us all, and Nashville is a decent place to be for that, but until she decides what she’s going to major in, she won’t be able to find the perfect place. I’d love to see her at an art school, but she’s still unsure about majoring in something so ‘fluffy’ as she calls it. Our uncle wants her to come to Boston and go to school there, but she’s still undecided.”

While they talked, Elizabeth had filled two large Tupperware containers with watermelon chunks and written ‘Bennett’ on the bottom in permanent marker. She filled a mixing bowl with heavy cream and set the mixer on high, adding vanilla, sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon.

“What are you making?”

“Whipped cream. It’s for the pound cake.” Right on time, the oven timer buzzed and she reached in to pull out a perfectly golden cake in a bundt pan. She slid a knife around the edges and turned it onto a cooling rack.

“Wow, you’re really going all out.”

“Not really. This is how we usually eat, but it’s generally not just us. It’s very important to eat well. My mother always taught me that. It’s probably the only thing she and I have in common.”

“You’re more like your father?”

“Yeah. We both love reading and talking politics and debate. Mom calls it arguing. But what do you expect from a literature professor and a law student?”

“You’re in law school?” he asked, surprised.

“Was. Just graduated. I guess I should say I’m a lawyer now. I passed the bar last week,” she said with a smile.

“Congratulations! That’s great! What are you doing to celebrate?”

“I just got in from Atlanta last night – that’s why I was so late getting to the hospital. I was celebrating with my family. Jane and I were going to take a little trip together – she’s got some time off this summer – but I don’t know now. We were supposed to leave next Wednesday, but she may not be up for it. We’ll have to see how her arm is doing. It wouldn’t be much fun if she was in pain the whole time and just wanted to sleep.”

“No, I suppose not. Where were you going?”

“New York. Just for the week. Our Aunt and Uncle live there and we planned to stay with them. Then we were going to pop up to the coast of Maine for a few days to get a reprieve from the heat.”

“I don’t know that New York will be the reprieve you want. It’s pretty hot in summer.”

“No matter how hot it is, I can guarantee you it’s not as hot as Tennessee in the middle of July. August is even worse. The humidity is outrageous and the air is like soup. Even if New York is boiling, Maine will be a nice way to relax at the end of it all. I hope Janie gets better, because this last semester was torture and I could really use a break.”

She flicked off the mixer and dipped her finger into the bowl, fluffy whipped cream covering it. She held it out to him. “Try this.”

He looked at her, wondering if she actually expected him to lick the cream off her finger. “Go on. Tell me if it’s sweet enough. Jane always says I don’t use enough sugar, but I don’t like it too sweet.”

Apparently, she did, so he grabbed her wrist gently and leaned down, putting her finger into his mouth. He slid it out of his closed lips slowly, surprised at how he enjoyed the sensation.

“It’s perfect. Not too sweet, not too rich.”

“Thanks. Now I just have to mash these and we’re ready to go,” she said.

He watched as she deftly drained and mashed the potatoes, stirring in salt and pepper, an entire stick of butter and a large scoop of sour cream. She turned off all the burners and squeezed lemon juice over the broccoli. The carrots were glazed in some sort of brown sauce which she told him was brown sugar and placed into a glass bowl. She retrieved two baskets from the laundry room. One she filled with the glass dishes that held the hot food, the smaller one she filled with the whipped cream, the two watermelon containers, a large bottle of sparkling water, some plastic cups, paper plates, napkins and various serving utensils. In less than five minutes she had all the pots and pans in the dishwasher and the counters wiped off.

“Do you mind grabbing the big one?” She asked, pointing to the basket. He did as she asked and they were off to the hospital.

~

He had asked Liz in the car if he could have a moment with her sister when they got to the hospital. She had agreed and after making Jane a plate and seeing she was comfortable, Elizabeth left them alone.

Darcy shuffled near the door for a minute, not sure how to begin, then decided to just jump in.

“Miss Bennet, I have to thank you. The doctors told me that if it wasn’t for you, Georgie would have died before she got to the hospital.”

“You’re very welcome, Mr. Darcy, but really you don’t have to thank me. Anyone would have done the same in my position.”

“I’m not so sure about that. Any doctor, maybe, but we’re very lucky it was you in the next car over and not someone with no medical training.” He looked down and put his hands in his pockets, trying to decide what to say. Figuring he owed her the truth, he turned his red-rimmed eyes to her and said, “Georgie is all I have. It’s been just the two of us for so long now, I don’t know how I would manage without her. You didn’t just save her out there. You saved me, too.”

Jane smiled and he swore she could see his very soul. She held her hand out to him and he walked toward her slowly, taking her hand in both of his and holding it gently.

“I’m honored, Mr. Darcy.”

“Call me Will,” he said impulsively, not sure why he was asking these Bennett women to call him by a name only his sister used.

“Will, I’m glad I could help. I can only imagine what this has been like for you. Your thanks should go to whatever guardian angel was watching out for your sister that day.”

He rather thought she was the guardian angel, but nodded and kept his thoughts to himself.

“Elizabeth says you’ve been planning a trip?” he said, releasing her hand and sitting in the chair next to the bed.

“Yes, we were supposed to leave in a few days, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to now. I want Lizzy to go on her own, but I know she won’t. It’s too bad, really. I know how much she was looking forward to it.”

“You were going to New York and Maine, right?”

“Yes, we have family in New York. We were going to rent a cottage in Maine.”

“Will they let you come at a later time?”

“It’s probably too late to get our money back on the cottage, but I’m sure our aunt won’t have trouble rescheduling. That’s what I’ll try to talk Lizzy into, but I don’t know if it’ll work. She has another interview scheduled soon. It may interfere.”

“Is she trying to work at a firm here in town?”

“You’ll have to ask her that. She’s been oddly quiet about her plans. Honestly, I don’t know if she knows what she wants exactly, but I’ll let her explain it.”

He nodded slowly. “Miss Bennet.”

“Call me Jane,” she interrupted.

“Jane. I’d like to make a suggestion, if I may.”

She looked at him encouragingly.

“I’d like to invite you and Elizabeth to stay at our home in Maine. We have a summer house there, right on the water, and you could come any time.”

“That’s very kind of you, Will, but really, you don’t have to do that. We can figure something out, I’m sure.”

“I want to. You’ve both been so kind, to Georgie and to me, and I’d like to do something nice for you. Please. I hate that you’re missing your vacation and I want to help.”

“I’d hate for you to go to all that trouble, just for us.”

He could tell she was wavering and made a final point. “I was already planning to open the house anyway. I thought it might be a good place for Georgie to recuperate once she’s able to travel.”

She gave him a thoughtful look, then said, “I’ll talk to Lizzy about it and let you know. Thank you for the offer. It’s very kind of you.”

He nodded, smiled, and left to visit his sister. He passed Liz in the hall and they agreed to meet in an hour to go back to the house. Visiting hours would be over soon and it was almost sunset already.

He sat next to Georgie’s bedside as he had done earlier in the day. He worried, he prayed, he worried more. He talked to her when she woke up, helped her eat two bites of watermelon—her first solid food in more than twenty-four hours, and she fell back asleep before it was time to go. He gently kissed her forehead and told her he would be back in the morning and went to find Liz.

As he sat at the table in her little cottage that night, watching her sort beans and then set them in a pot to soak, he told her about his offer to Jane.

“She mentioned it. Are you sure you want to have two near strangers in your house?” she asked.

He laughed. He couldn’t help it. Here she was, a total stranger to him, a woman several inches shorter, and he’d guess forty pounds lighter, than himself, and she had invited him to stay in her home, after he had yelled at her in public. It was impossible not to laugh.

She looked at him oddly, then started laughing herself.

“I guess I see your point,” she said after a minute.

Never mind that he hadn’t actually said anything. His hilarity had made the point for him.

A minute went by before she spoke. “I think we’d like to accept, but I reserve the right to go to a hotel if it gets awkward or your sheets smell funny.”

He chuckled and smiled. “Deal.”

~

The next morning, Will came downstairs after a shower and a haphazard effort at making his bed. Predictably, Liz was in the kitchen making breakfast. This time it was a quiche and fruit salad.

“You really like to cook, don’t you?” he asked.

“I do.” She looked up from a steaming pot with a smile. “I do it more when I’m stressed. It helps me relax.”

He nodded. “Jane says you have an interview coming up. Are you planning to stay here in Nashville?”

“I think so. I like it well enough. But I wouldn’t be against moving if the right opportunity came up.”

“Do you think you’ll get the job?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. I did an internship with them last year. I heard it’s between me and another guy who interned. We’ll see.”

He looked at her thoughtfully and wondered if he should speak his mind. Finally, he decided there wasn’t any harm in having a conversation, and jumped in. “You don’t seem very excited about the possibility.”

She looked at him apprehensively for a moment, then seemed to relax.

“You know what’s nice about becoming friends with strangers?”

“They’re not strangers anymore?” he asked, confused at the direction of the conversation.

“Well, that, and you can tell them things you would never tell anyone else because you probably won’t see them again, or not very often.”

“Is there something you want to talk about, Liz?”

“I don’t want to be a lawyer!” she blurted. She seemed surprised to have said it.

“What do you want to do instead?” he asked calmly.

“That’s it? You’re not going to tell me I’m crazy or ask why I just spent three years in law school without becoming a lawyer?”

He shrugged. “You don’t really seem like the lawyer type. Don’t get me wrong,” he added swiftly, “you’re very bright and you seem like you’d be good at arguing. You’re certainly persuasive. But I work with a lot of lawyers and you’re missing a certain coldness they all seem to have.”

“So you’re saying I’m too nice to be a lawyer?” she asked with a small smile.

“Basically.” He shot her a cocky grin and leaned back in his chair. “So, if you don’t practice law, what will you do?”

“Honestly? I’d like to open a café. Maybe a bakery. I love food, and I like to make people feel welcome.”

“You’re very good at both.”

“Thank you. I just don’t know how to go about it. Not the bakery, that I think I could handle relatively well, but the transition from law to food is a little rocky.”

“Are you afraid your family will disapprove?” he asked.

“A little. My dad shelled out good money for me to go to law school. I’m sure it will be useful for reviewing contracts and handling the business side of things, but I didn’t need it to open a restaurant. And my mom definitely won’t be happy, though she wasn’t thrilled with law, either.”

“I’m sorry. That must be tough.”

“Thanks.”

“Do you think your dad would come around if you told him how much you wanted it and that you aren’t interested in law?”

“Yeah, he would come around, probably fairly quickly, after teasing me that the time to realize I wasn’t interested in practicing law was my first year of law school. But I still feel guilty about essentially wasting his money. I have three younger sisters. It could have been used somewhere else, I’m sure.”

“Of course, money can always be allocated elsewhere, but the real question is what makes you happy. I’m sure your father only wants what’s best for you.”

“Yeah.” She didn’t sound like she fully believed it, but she did seem more at ease than when they’d first started talking.

~

A few days later, they were sitting in the kitchen late at night, having one last conversation before he left the next morning. They talked and laughed and sat in companionable silence, like two old friends instead of two strangers who’d only met a week ago.

Her hair kept falling into her eyes and he watched her brush it away, amused at her frustration with such a small detail. It fell again, and he reached out to brush it back before she could raise her hand. She immediately went still and her eyes flew to his face. He looked at her intently, his eyes never leaving hers, and slowly ran his fingers across her cheek. Her breath hitched and he felt his heart race to know she was at least somewhat affected by him.

“Liz, I know I’m leaving tomorrow, but I have to tell you how much I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”

She looked down. “You don’t have to thank me.”

“Yes, I do. I have friends I’ve known for years who wouldn’t have done half so much. Thank you. You’re a gem. Truly. I feel so lucky to have met you.”

She smiled and blinked rapidly. “I’m glad I met you, too. You’ve been a good friend, Will. I won’t forget you.”

“Liz, I … would you, when you—” He stopped and took a deep breath. “When you come to Maine, will you go to dinner with me? Just the two of us?”

“Like a date?”

“Yes, a date.”

“You want to go on a date with me?”

“Yes. Will you?”

She smiled the wide smile she only used when she was really happy and he felt something loosen inside him.

“Yes, I’d love to go on a date with you.”

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