Angie looked at the wet, bedraggled stranger standing on her porch, the snow coming hard and fast behind him. “Ma’am, I’m sorry to have bothered you but my truck broke down a mile or so back. Can I please use your phone?”
Angie studied the shivering man before her and stepped aside. “Come on in, you’ll freeze if you staying out here much longer.” He gave her a grateful smile before coming in, careful to knock his shoes off on the mat before entering the small house. She gestured over to the small living room, a roaring fire going. “I should warn you, the weatherman has already called for a winter advisory, if you don’t have to be on the roads they are saying don’t be. You might not be able to get a tow truck out here tonight.” She handed him the house phone, the local tow service already pulled up. The man turned from the fire with a sigh, “Are you serious?”
She nodded, moving to the opposite side of him on the fireplace, poking at the logs, making embers flare up and the fire briefly flare.
Angie looked over at the man as he talked to the tow service, his sigh of frustration once he hung up said she had been right. He set her phone up on the mantel, huddling closer to the fire shivering in his overly large jacket, zipped all the way to the top a soaked winter cap on his head, hiding his hair. His jeans were soaked up to the knee from walking in the heavy and thick snow and his shoes….she bit back a gasp when she saw they were a pair of old worn-out sneakers. After a moment of thinking it over, she made her decision. “You’ll get hypothermia if you stay in those wet clothes, I’ll see about some clothes while you get a shower.”
He looked at her incredulously then back at the mantel, his gaze on a particular picture. “Will your husband mind that? I ain’t looking to get my ass kicked.”
Angie laughed, surprising herself at how light it sounded. It faded as she looked at the picture, “My husband died three years ago in a car accident. I…haven’t gotten around to going through his clothes yet. You and Jim are about the same height so they should fit.” She gestured to the fire, “Leave your hat, coat, and shoes, with any luck they’ll dry by morning. If not, Jim’s old coat will probably fit, what’s your shoe size?”
He looked down at his old worn-out shoes, the flush in his cheeks gave his pale face some much-needed color, “About a size ten.”
She nodded, gesturing for him to follow her. She led him down the hall to the only bathroom, stopping to grab him a towel and washrag. “Then his boots should fit. Here, bathroom’s is the last door on the left, I’ll go find you some clothes while you get a shower.” He nodded, she started to turn away when he gently grasped her arm, bring her gaze up to meet his.
She noticed then how striking his eyes were, long dark lashes that would make most women envious, framed the most vivid violet-blue she had ever seen. His voice was thick and hoarse with emotion, “Thank you for your hospitality, ma’am.”
She patted his hand with her opposite one, giving him a gentle smile, “You are welcome and my name is Angie. Not ma’am.” He took a step back and smiled shyly at her, “Mine is John.” Angie nodded and watched him go inside the bathroom before heading to the spare room that held all of Jim’s things she hadn’t had the heart to go through yet.
She had finished finding her impromptu house guest’s some new clothes when she heard the shower turn off. Angie bundled her load up and brought it out only to stop short when she saw a damp, half-naked John standing in the bathroom doorway. He had his wet clothes bundled under one arm while holding the towel wrapped around his waist with the other one. Angie had to draw her eyes from water dripping down his lean frame. She looked up and got her first good look at her temporary house guest. He had a thick mop of dark hair in need of a cut, where it was brown or black was heard to say with it still damp, he had a beard that matched his hair color. He was still pale but whether it was his natural color or it was still recovering from his walk in the snow, she was unsure.
She also wouldn’t put him much older than his early twenties. A good decade younger than her if she was right. Mentally shaking herself from her thoughts, Angie handed the bundle out to him, “Here I’ll take your wet clothes and put them in the wash, they’ll be ready by the morning. "
John nodded before taking his clothes from her, both jumping at the static as his hand brushed against hers. She took a step back and cleared her throat, “I had just finished making supper, are you hungry? I always fix extra?” John shy nodded, “Thank you. I would appreciate it.” Angie nodded, “The kitchen is through that door,” she pointed to a door on the far right side of the hallway. “You can come in after you get dressed.”
John looked down at his host, gratified filled him along with a healthy dash of humbleness at this woman that took him into her home when she didn’t have to. Clothed and fed him when she didn’t have to. He cleared his throat, “I’ll hurry then.” He stepped back through the doorway, closing the door. Angie shook herself and went into the kitchen and began setting the table for two.
John came into the room just as Angie was bringing the casserole to the table. She nodded to the small table tucked into the corner of the kitchen. “Have a seat, I was fixing to get the salad and drinks out.” John moved to take the dish from her hands, careful to grasp the potholders from her, “Here I’ll get that.” Angie let him and turned back to the fridge and grasped the salad bowl with one and a bottle of red wine with the other one. She gestured to the wine glass sitting by his plate. “Would you like some?” John silently nodded, watching her as she set the bowl down and reached for the wine corkscrew, a couple of turns, and the cork released with a pop. If John noticed Angie poured herself a much bigger glass than him, he didn’t say anything. As she sat down, serving her guest first then herself she thought back on her life since Jim died.
It was putting it politely to say she hadn’t been coping well. She holed herself up in this tiny little ranch Jim had dreams of turning into a small vineyard, wouldn’t talk to anyone, wouldn’t see anyone. Her work as a sales rep for a winery allowed her to do most of her work from home, so she still had an income.
But the worst of it had been Angie began to drink heavily. It had started out with a glass of wine before bed, then two, then three. Before she realized it Angie was going through a bottle a night between drinking wine with her meal then her nightcap.
As she studied her houseguest she decided then, tonight was her last night of having a glass of wine with dinner. She looked up from her meal, her mind lost in her thoughts and to her surprise she was looking down at both an empty plate and glass, her guest looking up at her, seeing her plate empty, he nodded to it, “Would you like some more. This is really good.”
Angie smiled, holding her party out. “I would think you, just a spoonful. It’s actually my late husband’s recipe. Jim was always experimenting in the kitchen, some of his experiments were amazing while others…not so much.” John laughed, serving himself another helping, “Sounds like he was a damn good cook, myself I burn water.” Angie smiled, looking at the wince rack behind him, the last thing Jim had made her. “Yes, he was.”
They lapsed back into silence, both lost in their thoughts as they finished their meal. When they were done, Angie went to clear the table then to her surprise, John began helping her, starting the water to clean up. He shrugged, giving her a shy smile, “You cooked a wonderful meal the least I could do is help you clean up.” Angie nodded, touched at his offer. “I’ll wash and you dry,” In no time, the plates were cleared and washed up, the leftover food put away and the kitchen was put back into order. Angie leads the way to the living room, pausing as she saw how hard and fast the snow was coming down in the short time John had been there. She shuddered to think what would have happened to the poor man if he had come later when the night was beginning to set in and the snow was falling harder instead of earlier before the sun went down.
By his pale and wan look, he had the same idea she had. Deciding to distract the both of them she turned the tv on, flipping over to the news. She set her glass down on the coffee table, gesturing to the sofa she sat on. Have a seat.” John sat on the other end of the couch, watching the weatherman as he spoke of the storm. John heaved a sigh of relief. “Well, that’s a relief it will be over by morning. I have to report to base for basic training in the next seventy-two hours.” Angie turned to him in surprise, “Really, what branch?” He leaned back in his seat, staring at the tv, “Army. I was supposed to have gone by bus, but when my bus broke down, I decided to see about driving on the rest of the way. The truck is a bit of a clunker but the owner was willing to take cash and I bought it on the spot. Didn’t expect the tire to go like it did and I had no spare.” Angie nodded, taking a sip of her glass, “Will hopefully we can get you back on the road tomorrow.” He nodded, clinking his glass with hers, “Cheers to that.”
They continued to watch the news before turning on a movie. It wasn’t long before they both began moving into more comfortable positions as the movie went on.
Angie stilled as John’s hand brushed against her cheek, she looked up from her position on the couch and thought, if he was any closer he would be able to kiss her. As if reading her mind he leaned down and brushed a soft kiss against her cheek, when she didn’t pull away he leaned down and pressed a kiss to the corner of her mouth. Angie sat up, this time taking the initiative, and placed one against his mouth. For the first time in years, sparks flooded her, making her shiver from head to toe. John pulled her into him and took her mouth in a deeper kiss.
Angie gasped at the feel of his body pressed against hers. It rekindled an ache she didn’t think was no longer there and for the time in years, she wanted to feel something other than grief and loneliness. When his kisses and touch become more insistent she didn’t stop him. When he pressed her against the seat of the sofa, she didn’t stop him.
“Hey Angie, you got a minute!” Angie looked up at the voice of her sister-in-law. She smiled at the older woman, “For you Tammy, I got all the time in the world. What’s on your mind?”
It had been six years since that fateful night when she let John into her home. That night they talked and Angie was reminded that just because Jim was gone didn’t mean her life was over. She had awaa3ekened the next morning to an empty bed and a not on the nightstand. John had left that morning at first light while she was still in bed. He had managed to get a tow truck out to the road where his truck had broken down and was taken into town where he got the tire fixed and went on to his next destination.
While she had been sad and upset she hadn’t John able to tell John goodbye, she wasn’t sorry John that night. John didn’t know it but he had been the push she had needed, that morning for the first time in years she called up Jim’s sister and talked to her for the first time since the funeral.
She had so missed her friend and was glad Tammy was still willing to speak with her. Angie then went through the house and throw out all of her alcohol and spent a long and hard weekend finally going through Jim’s things. She and Tammy laughed and cried a lot that weekend but in the end, their friendship was stronger than ever.
Next, Angie with a sad but light heart put the ranch up for sale. She now lived in town and was working with several local win makers getting them up and running and helping with sales and marketing. She felt Tamy jar her arm, she saw her give her a concerned look. Angie just shook her head, “Just thinking about what’s happened the last few years.”
Tammy grinned at her, “If I ever see this John I’ll have to thank him, he brought my friend and sister back when I thought I had all but lost her.” Angie patted her arm and smiled back at her, but before she could speak Tammy spoke, “Oh, back to what I was trying to get your attention about. Harry is supposed to be coming in, he isn’t cleared to drive, so he’s coming by bus. Can you pick him up and take him on home. I have to get to work in the next few minutes, the restaurant is slammed and unfortunately, they can’t spare me that long.”
Angie nodded, looking forward to seeing her brother-in-law for the time in years, having been deployed for the last few years on back-to-back assignments. Angie nodded, “speaking of pick up have you seen your namesake today, I swear that girl is part ninja the way she disappears.” Tammy laughed and pointed out the group of children across the street. “Remember, her playdate was lasting an extra hour today because her friend was showing off her new kittens.”
Angie gave a half-hearted groan. “I see a pet request in the near future after this playdate.” Tammy patted her shoulder and headed down the street toward the restaurant where she worked. Shortly after Tammy left, with Angie keeping a watchful eye on the park behind her, the bus arrived.
Angie smiled at the people coming up to the bus, greeting various family members in military fatigues.
“Angie?” She turned and saw a person she hadn’t seen in many years, “John?” He gave her a sheepish smile, “I was hiding out from my daddy when you came across me, my name is really Alex.”
Angie noticed then, he wasn’t dressed in the fatigues like many of the bus passengers, he had a leather jacket on, an Army t-shirt under it, and worn jeans and boots. He also had his arm in a sling, making his jacket sleeve empty. Angie didn’t get a chance to say anything else. A set of little feet came tearing up the sidewalk, her smile bright and her little red pigtails bouncing with her every step. “Mama!” Angie laughed as her daughter threw herself at her, “Tammy, easy honey.” She heard Alex’s sharp inhale and knew he had caught sight of Tammy.
More importantly, Tammy’s every striking eye color. She turned in time, her daughter in her arms, and knew Alex saw her daughter’s striking violet-blue eyes. A perfect match to Alex’s. The stranger she let in her home that night all those years ago gave her much more than a night of passion. He gave her a reason to get back up and live.