Lindy jumped for joy as she saw Grace extricate her lanky frame from her little car. Grace was attempting to carry multiple bags, which she promptly scattered as she swept Lindy into a bear hug.
“Still living up to your name, I see,” said Lindy, laughing. “Graceful as ever! Welcome, sister. So glad you could keep me company while Dave's away.”
A stocky man with a buzz cut and ear protectors suddenly appeared in the garden next door. With military bearing, he began marching up and down the lawn, wielding a leaf blower, blowing the leaves towards them.
“What?” said Grace, trying to lip read over the noise of the blower.
“I said you’re as graceful as ever…never mind,” Lindy yelled, scooping up dropped items. “Let’s go inside where we can hear ourselves think.”
Grace scurried after her, covering her ears.
“Well, little sister, it’s very cute,” said Grace, shedding her coat and scarf and gazing around the cozy interior of the little house. “I must say I never imagined you two rebellious counterculture beings in a subdivision in the suburbs. How do you like it so far? And what’s up with Captain Courageous next door?”
Lindy deposited the bags and poured wine. The noise of the leaf blower receded.
“Needs must,” she said. “I’d much rather be out in the country, but it’s what we can afford for now. I haven’t turned into a Stepford wife yet. Most of the neighbors are okay, other than Mr. Simpson, that old curmudgeon next door. We are currently engaged in the great leaf standoff. Cheers."
“Cheers,” said Grace, sipping her wine. “You’re engaged in what?”
“You heard the leaf blower. He’s fanatical about keeping the leaves off his lawn. It drives him nuts that we don’t worry about ours. If we keep the grass regulation length, there’s nothing he can do about it, so that makes him even crankier. He revs up that blower whenever he sees someone arrive here and blows all his leaves onto our side.”
“That’s petty,” said Grace. “Have you tried talking to him about it?”
“When he first complained about us not clearing the leaves off our lawn, we tried to explain that we believe it’s better to let the leaves decay naturally and that the leaf blower is not environmentally friendly. We probably did come across as a bit more preachy than we meant, but he exploded. He accused us of having no standards, no morals and no community spirit or words to that effect. It’s our generation’s fault that the country is going to hell in a hand-basket. You get the idea. Hence the leaf blower which greets our visitors and wakes us up early on weekends.”
“So, you’re just going to wait him out till leaf season is over?” said Grace.
“He cranks the blower up whenever he sees us coming now. It's impossible to talk over that racket even if we tried,” said Lindy. “It’s a stalemate for the time being.”
“Is there a Mrs. Courageous?”
“No one seems to know. Neighbors say she’s been an invalid for a while, and no one has seen her recently. We’re not the only ones he’s argued with, so everyone’s been avoiding him.”
“So sad,” said Grace, shaking her head. “Never mind. Let’s do the grand tour.”
After Lindy had shown her the house, they went out into the garden. There was no sign of Mr. Simpson. The yellows, reds, and oranges of the fallen leaves on Lindy’s lawn were bright spots in the slightly foggy dusk. Mr. Simpson’s immaculate green lawn looked almost garish in the soft fall light. Grace picked up a perfect sycamore leaf and was admiring its delicate tracery of veins when something caught her eye where the leaf had lain. It was a ring with a large, clear sparkling stone. She picked it up and proffered it to Lindy.
“Is this yours?” she said.
“Never seen it before,” said Lindy, examining it. “It looks like a diamond. It’s beautiful. If it's real, it's not something I could ever afford.”
The ring glittered as she held it up to the light. She slipped it into her pocket.
“I’ll put it away safely. If no one comes looking for it, I’ll put an ad on the neighborhood list serve.”
Next morning, they were sitting in the kitchen sipping their coffee when Grace noticed Mr. Simpson. He was walking slowly up and down his lawn, minus the leaf blower and ear protectors, with his eyes glued to the ground. She pointed him out to Lindy.
“He must be looking for something,” said Lindy. “I almost didn’t recognize him. He looks so stooped and old compared to usual.”
“I wonder,” said Grace. “Do you think the ring might belong to him? We should ask him.”
“Do I have to?” said Lindy. Grace looked at her with mock severity.
“Okay, okay, big sister, I’ll be the better person. As least he doesn’t seem to have the leaf blower to hand.”
They approached him cautiously. He nodded apathetically when he saw them. Usually immaculately groomed, he was unshaven. It worried Lindy more than if he had yelled at her as usual.
“Have you lost something, Mr. Simpson?” she asked. “Can we help you look?”
“My wife’s engagement ring,” he said gruffly.
Lindy held the ring out to him. Mr. Simpson gasped, his eyes widening.
“I don’t believe it. Where did you find it? Thank you so much.”
To Lindy’s astonishment, he began to cry, tears trickling down his bristly cheeks. Grace gently gave him a brief hug. He sobbed for a moment, then regained his composure, roughly swiping his face. He cleared his throat.
“My wife hasn’t been well lately. She’s lost a lot of weight and the ring kept sliding off her finger. I was going to surprise her by having resized. I must have dropped it on the lawn. When I blew the leaves into your garden, it ended up over there. "
"I'm glad we found it," said Lindy. "I hope your wife recovers soon,"
Mr. Simpson looked at Lindy, tears welling again.
“The doctors say we shouldn't expect...we shouldn't hope, ah, damn it."
He wiped his face with his sleeve, looking exhausted. He straightened up with an effort.
"I am sorry, young lady. I haven’t been very neighborly to you and your husband. Since my wife’s been so ill, little things get on my nerves and I lose my temper for no reason. I'm not proud of it. My wife would be the first to say I’m being a jerk. Can we start over?”
He extended his hand. Lindy smiled as she grasped it.
“Of course. Please tell us if we can do anything to help. Grocery shopping, cooking, house cleaning, you name it. Just no leaf blowing!”
He gave a brief chuckle and saluted as he headed back to his house, clutching the ring.