: Fleeting Encounters:
The plan of getting up bright and early had completely failed. It was already 8am when Jeannie finally managed to open her eyes. Shocked by the time she hurried out of bed, cursing as she stumbled down the stairs whilst trying to get dressed.
She grabbed a coffee and rushed over to her father’s office where she hoped to find deeper insight. To her surprise Thomas sat already at the desk with papers spread out in front of him and she saw her pretty little plan going up in smoke, at least for a the time be.
“Good morning Jeannie. I heard you had a smooth time last night”, Thomas looked down on his letters, chuckling a little.
“Susan called I take it?” Jeannie concluded and stepped to the desk. She tried to have a sneak peek at the papers at least.
“She did” Thomas replied while scribbling notes on a pad. “Do you need a hand, dad?” Jeannie questioned her father who seemed rather stressed with the paperwork. He waved her off and shuffled most of the letters on one side.
“I’m fine darling. Just the odd thing to sort.”
“I just thought you might like a break, or…”
Thomas quizzed her with a look. With a sudden burst of enlightenment, he sat up straight.
“Actually, you could help.” He reached in to his pocket and produced the keys from his pickup truck. From underneath the paper-mess he pulled out a long list.
“You could go in to town and get us some supplies. Be a darling, will you?”
That had not exactly been Jeannie’s thoughts when she had offered her help, but she couldn’t possibly decline. Her plan was only on hold.
“But mind the driver’s door. It can be little temperamental at times.” Jeannie halfheartedly acknowledged her father’s warning as she made her way down the hall and studied the list thoroughly.
The old truck was in desperate need of a good overhaul. The old 4x4 buckled stubborn along the road like a mustang in heat and it took a while for Jeannie to work with it. She was glad when she made it to the grocery store in one piece. Jeannie parked at the top of Main Street close to the Town Hall. The door needed three hard tries before it would shut properly. Jeannie was wondering where the need would be to lock the damn thing as no-one in their right mind would steal this sad excuse of a vehicle, but lastly did it anyhow. The weather was still hot. She enjoyed a little walk along her home town. The shops were all ahead all neatly lined up and followed the road to the gazebo.
She was glad that she had her shirt tied around her waist as she could feel her shoulders starting to burn. If need must she could protect herself from the sun later and concluded that she should start using the sun screen.
It had been a few years since she had visited the grocery store but was immediately recognized by the owner, her old school friend’s uncle Mr. Smyth, who kindly welcomed her home. After a bit of small-talk she grabbed what she needed and went to pay the bill as the door-bell signaled the arrival of another customer. Out of the corner of her eye she recognized the man she un-voluntarily had met the night before. Flustered she grabbed her bags and wanted to leave as quietly as possible, when Mr. Smyth reminded her of the bag of potatoes she had asked for.
Without thinking she shifted both bags into her left hand and asked Mr. Smyth if he could just lift the potatoes on to her shoulder. Quizzing he looked at her.
“Are you sure, Jeannie? It is rather heavy” he asked concerned
Time was running out before she would get noticed and a glanced carefully over her shoulder and saw the man standing with the back to her. Luck seemed to be on her side after all.
“Yes, that will be fine. The truck is just outside.”
With a grunt, Mr. Smyth heaved the bag on Jeannie’s account onto her shoulder. It took a little adjusting to find a steady foot before she waded along the shop floor, glad that the bag was hiding her face from unwanted eyes and enabled her swift escape.
The relief she felt when she finally had managed to throw the bag on the back of the truck was immense. Her back cracked a little as she tried to stretch and quickly wiped some sweat of her forehead with her sleeve and continued her mission down Main Street. As she passed the shop, still engrossed in her list, the stranger stood on top of the store steps, watching her as she walked by.
Her next stop was at the hardware store to pick up an order. When she saw the size of the box she already had regretted not to have parked closer to the shops.
The store assistant made an apologetic gesture when Jeannie pulled the box close to her. He sadly couldn’t carry it up for her as he was all on his own that morning.
Stopping a few times along the sidewalk to readjust the load she tried her utmost not to make a fool of herself and failed to notice that she had passed her encounter from the night before again. He stood at the bakery counter when he noticed her struggling along and thought about helping her, but by the time he exited the bakery she had already reached the truck and went along his own business.
After a further more errands Jeannie walked across to the book store. She wanted to have a look if she could find some books to kill time that would not require any kind of deep thinking.
She sauntered along the shelves and picked out books here and there, flicking through the pages and sighed every now and then before placing them back in to line.
Disappointed she turned her eyes away from the books when she noticed her bar encounter sitting at a table at the end of the isle she was trapped in. Jeannie checked if there was a different way out, but behind her was just the store-wall, so she had no other option than to pass him after all. She almost seemed save as he peeked up from the book he was reading and their eyes met. Again, she felt that un-nerving pain shooting through her stomach. Before she had passed, she heard him casually say
She knew it a bad idea to turn but out of sheer reflex she jumpily turned her head around and didn’t notice that her brother-in-law had entered the shop, whom she perfectly ran over. She could hear the man chuckle from behind his book and heat flushed her cheeks again.
“Jeannie! Are you alright?” the preacher asked concerned.
“I’m fine Martin. -Just my pride got a knock”, Jeannie mumbled as she carefully tried to observe if the stranger was still staring at her. As she turned, she was left in awe, for the table lay deserted.
Jeannie didn’t really feel like small-talk with Martin and was thankful as an elderly lady approached him. Quickly she stole herself out of the store, taking a deep breath. Why, oh why did this have to happen again?
Suddenly the smell of waffles lingered in the air and Jeannie knew exactly where that came from.
With a smile she followed the smell light-footedly to its origin.
The local Diner was only a few yards down the Street. Her mother’s best friend Carrie had run the Diner for over 40 years now and even Jeannie once had worked there serving to better up her spending money.
Jeannie wanted to visit Carrie anyway, and she desperately was in need of a hot chocolate.
Carrie was busy behind the counter when Jeannie sat down at her old seat at the furthest end of the counter. She waited patiently for Carrie to look up while Jeannie studied the old pictures on the wall. She had seen them a thousand times before but never really had paid them any greater attention. Behind the counter was a framed photograph of a group of four people. With a sad smile Jeannie recognized her then teenage parents accompanied by Carrie and her first husband. It was hard to believe for Jeannie that they had known each other since they were little children.
“OH MY GOODNESS” Carrie’s voice squealed through the Diner when she finally noticed her. Startled, Jeannie got of her seat, giving her old boss a big hug.
“What took you so long Jeannie Leeland? I heard you were in town ages ago.” Carrie rocked Jeannie tight as she spoke.
As she finally let go, Carrie eyed Jeannie suspiciously. “You are not eating enough young Lady. There is only skin and bones left of you. Have a seat I know exactly what you need.” Carrie concluded with a grin.
Without any opposition Jeannie sat down again whilst Carrie poured one of her famous hot chocolates and ordered a blueberry waffle from the kitchen.
She handed over the hot drink and took the seat next to Jeannie.
“Now, tell me sweetheart, how is New York? Tell me all about the Big City. There is never anything exciting happening here.”
Jeannie laughed, “I beg to differ, unless you are interested in boring office stories.”
Disappointed, Carrie pulled a face.
“Not even a story with a male lead?”
Jeannie sighed, “The male lead would only disappoint in the end I am afraid”
“I see,” replied Carrie understandingly.
The smell of waffle steamed from the plate which was placed right under Jeannie’s nose and almost instantly her belly started to rumble.
While she happily tucked in to the delicious sweet treat, Carrie updated Jeannie with the latest town gossip. How had she missed the luxury of THIS kind of food! It was basically the same old story. The knitting club was in uproar as they no longer were able to use the Town Hall for their meetings on a Tuesday but had to shift it to the Wednesday. Unthinkable!
There was also a planned fundraiser coming up to refurbish the old gazeebo although the Town Meeting still hadn’t decided what kind of fundraising event they wanted to organize. The Mayor, Tanner was insisting that DUNK THE MAYOR was never an option and would never be.
“And then”, Carrie lowered her voice a little, “then there is rumor going around that your brother is trying to persuade your father to give up the Ranch. I tell everyone of course how absurd this is. Why ever would Joshua do such thing?”
Carrie detected that she was on to something as Jeannie lips suddenly formed a very thin line.
“Oh dear. Is it true?” Carrie asked more concerned than curious.
“I have my suspicions. He mentioned to me how the work is getting too much for dad. But I am not really sure what to think of it. I actually wanted to investigate myself today. But dad sent me out to run some errands for him. What else are people saying about the Ranch by the way? Anything worth mentioning?”
Carrie thought for a moment. “No, not that I can think off. I know that your father was complaining that he lost some students for the show training but I didn’t think too much of it. Do you think it might be actually bad?”
Jeannie drew in a deep breath before answering “I have no idea. I am clueless.”
With her finger she tapped the back of a spoon that was resting on the saucer, and ruminated hard. She seemed miles away until she tapped too hard and sent the spoon flying behind the counter.
“Honestly what is wrong with me!” angered about her own clumsiness Jeannie reached with one arm behind the counter to get her spoon back. As she turned around to face Carrie, she couldn’t believe her eyes. As fast as a flash of lightning she tried to hide behind Carrie.
“What is wrong with you?”
“There is that guy again!” Jeannie whispered pressingly.
“What guy?” Carrie didn’t understand a word and turned around, Jeannie adjusting her position so she would not be detected.
“That one over there by the window on the left. In the Denim Jacket”
Carrie’s grin went from ear to ear as she recognized the man.
“Ah, your bar encounter.”
Shocked and wide-eyed Jeannie glared at her friend.
“Excuse me”, her voice remained a high whisper.
“How on earth do you know about this?”
“Darling, Springwood Falls is still a village, and if you happen to bump in to Alexander the way you did, soon everyone will know about it.”
Jeannie did not understand why it would make any difference into whom she had bumped in to as she tried to peer over to Alexander. He sat alone at a table and sipped on his coffee while he was reading in a book. Thoughtfully he scratched occasionally his neatly trimmed black beard which seamlessly joined his equally dark wavy hair.
“Alexander Gauthier” Jeannie shook her head puzzled to hear Carrie’s voice.
“Beg your pardon?”
“Alexander Gauthier. The Canadian architect.” Carrie spoke to Jeannie as if she were to know this man.
“Don’t you remember?”
Jeannie shook her head. “Sorry, I don’t follow”
“The year you moved to New York the main bridge had to be reconstructed and he was the architect on the project. Don’t tell me you have forgotten that.”
Slowly it dawned on Jeannie.
“After the works had been done, he bought the house down at the lake as he liked it here so much. Don’t blame him for that. As far as I know, he is working from home and travels around throughout the year. He is such a nice man and mostly keeps himself to himself.”
Jeannie was baffled but then not surprised of how much Carrie new about him, or on that account everyone in Town.
As she plugged up the courage to look over to Alexander again, he had already vanished. With a sigh of relive Jeannie took the last sip of her hot chocolate. It was already getting on and she needed to get the supplies back to the Ranch.
After she promised to visit Carrie soon, she left and headed back to the truck.
The sun burned down from yet another crisp blue sky.
Jeannie unlocked the car and tried to open the door when it decided to be temperamental. The truck had stood in the heat for a long while and the door must had expanded.
Sored she barked at the car “You are joking me!”
She tried to pull hard on the door handle but nothing moved.
All the while a man accompanied by a terrier walked along the sidewalk.
A second time, she tried to jerk the door open, but unfortunately lost grip and fell backwards, right into to him for another time.
Blinded by the direct sunlight Jeannie couldn’t see at first who it was who had caught her in half flight, but her gut feeling gave her a good guess.
“Hello again” his amused voice vibrated deep through her.
“You got to be kidding me” Jeannie hushed with closed eyes.
Quickly, to reduce the embarrassment scale, she straightened herself as she noticed his book lying on the ground and picked it up.
“I am really sorry. I am usually not that clumsy.”
Alexander smiled at her and pointed at the truck.
“May I?” Without hesitation he walked over to the car, dropped the book in the back and kicked the bottom of the door frame with force, while he pulled the door open.
With a bowing gesture he gave Jeannie a bold look. Jeannie was left in wonder how quickly he had managed to open the door and stepped in.
“Thank you so much.”
“My pleasure Jeannie.” Within a split second he had managed to draw all the color of her face by simply saying her name. He picked up the book from the bonnet where he put it before, while Jeannie tried to ask him how he knew her name but was only able to utter a crooked how.
Alexander turned around as he walked backwards away from the car and left her with the parting words,
“It’s a very small Town Ms. Leeland. See you around!”
She tried to understand what exactly just had happened as she started the engine and drove back home. For all that was good, she could not remember Alexander Gauthier, but then, it was almost a decade ago since they had refurbished the bridge. As she drove down the road, she had to laugh out loud over her own clumsiness. What a mess she had catapulted herself in to.