Doesn’t that man ever stay in the house? Rose slammed her car door and tried to ignore the man next door. Just once, she wished he’d let her get away without trying to talk to her. But why should this time be any different? Lowering, her head, she hurried toward her house. Right now she wasn’t in the mood for conversation. At least not with him.
“Hello, Rose, uh... Mrs. Asbury.” He dropped his snow shovel, grabbed something from the garage, and hurried toward her.
His relaxed, tall, lean body in a denim jacket and jeans caused a stir of excitement in her. Even his graying temples aroused something in her that she found way too familiar. Stirred up feelings she didn’t want stirred up. She barely glanced at him, yet felt a tug on her heart.
Darn! Rose threw the scarf around her neck and pulled her coat close against the cold wind. Why didn’t he just leave her alone? You’d think by now he’d realize she didn’t care to talk to him. Her stomach fluttered, a feeling she hadn’t experienced in a long time. Hunger pangs, she dismissed it. Nerves, that’s all. She nodded a hello, like always, and hurried to her house. What was it with him? Why did he keep bothering her? Couldn’t he see she wasn’t the least bit interested?
Suddenly, her feet slid out from under her. Splat! She landed on her butt, fell back, and hit her head. Groceries flew everywhere. Oh crap, just what she needed. She looked up to see the man leaning over her.
“Are you all right?”
Heat rushed to her face. Other than humiliated, she was fine. A bit sore, but she didn’t think she had any broken bones. She tried to sit up.
“Wait!” He pushed her back down. “You may have broken something.” He ran his hands gently across her ankles and legs and up toward her thigh.
A smoldering heat started deep in her stomach. She held her breath, let it out slowly. Even through her slacks, the heat from his hand sent tingly sensations down to her toes.
That’s it, enough. She pushed his hands away, sat up and managed to get to her knees. The man tried to help her. Ignoring him, she got to her feet and brushed herself off. Heat radiated from her face. Darn, it probably turned as red as her coat.
She bent down and picked up her groceries. She still hadn’t spoken to him. Why didn’t he leave? She could manage just fine without his help. He picked up some of her canned goods and put them in the bag. She reached for it.
“Here, this is for you.”
“For what?” She looked at the flower in his hand.
“It’s a yellow rose. It means friendship.”
She could see it was a yellow rose, she wasn’t a nitwit. And she knew what it meant. Frank used to bring her roses every week. She took it from him. “I...uh...” Heck, she didn’t know what to say. Why would he give her a flower?
“I saw it and thought of you.” Stephen ran his fingers around his shirt collar.
“Here, let me help.” He took the bag of groceries and started walking toward her door.
She grabbed the bag from him and ran into her house, too humiliated to speak and leaving him to stare after her.
Stephen stared after Rose. Darn woman made him feel like he did something wrong. Worse than a kid getting scolded by the principal. Why he bought that darn rose was beyond him. It seemed like a good idea when he saw them in the grocery store. Especially when he saw their meanings. Now he wished he hadn’t.
Crabby, old woman, she could have at least said thank you. Okay, so it’s cold and she fell, but she did the same thing in the summer. How many times had he seen her working in her yard? Yet when he came out, she jumped up and hurried into the house. You’d think he tried to attack her or had some horrible disease.
All he wanted was some friendly conversation. He shook his head. Don’t know about her. Obviously she didn’t want anything to do with him. Too bad, she’s an attractive woman. Not that he was looking for anything more than friendship. Heck, he lived here over a year and she never did more than nod at him. Bet she didn’t even know his name.
Crotchety, old biddy.
So why did he bother with her? He really didn’t need more friends. He had the Senior Center and the neighbors a couple doors down, Len and Millie Fisher. Why he insisted on talking to Rose Asbury he’d never know.
Still, he hoped she wasn’t hurt. She had taken a nasty fall. Bet she’d feel it in the morning. Bet she’d have a good black and blue mark too. He chuckled. Served her right, rude old coot.
Something about her, though. Not sure why, but he wanted to break through that tough reserve. He shrugged and walked back to the garage, put the shovel away and went into the house.
Oh well, can’t say he didn’t try.
Rose set her groceries on the counter and rubbed her hip. Gonna be sore as heck tomorrow. Bet it turned black and blue already. Stupid klutz! Talk about the epitome of embarrassment. Bad enough she fell, but why did he have to see her. She made a fresh pot of coffee, picked up the rose and smelled it. Something about the fragrance of the flower made her think of Frank.
“You could have been nicer to him,” a voice whispered.
Rose jumped back. What the heck? “Who’s there?” She spun around the small kitchen. Shivers ran up her spine. She didn’t see anyone, yet sensed a presence. Cold air brushed past her and settled over the room. She gripped the counter. What the heck’s going on here? “Who’s there?” she yelled again.
“It’s only me.” A shadowy figure appeared in front of her.
Rose backed up and bumped the refrigerator. “Ouch, Darn it.” She hurt bad enough without making it worse. “Who the heck are you?” Darn, it sounded like ....
“It’s me. Don’t you recognize me?”
Rose peered at the shadow. “Recognize you, I can hardly see you.” She rubbed her eyes. This was ridiculous.
“He did help you, Rose. You could have invited him in,” the voice went on.
“I didn’t ask for any help. I could have managed on my own. Besides, I don’t like the feelings he arouses in me.” Somehow she couldn’t help answering aloud. Good grief now she was talking to herself.
“Why not? Frank used to stir those same feelings. Quit acting like you’re dead. Wake up, live. You’ve become a recluse. There’s a big world out there that you used to love. You enjoyed people. The man was only trying to be friendly.” The voice didn’t let up.
Something about the voice sounded like her sister, Emma. But Emma had been dead for several years. She wished it would leave her alone. She poured a cup of coffee and pulled her sweater tight, trying to block the cold rushing through her.
Rose hurried into the living room, set her coffee on the table, and turned on the television. Winter weather advisories crawled across the screen. She glanced out the window. Already a thick blanket of white covered the trees and bushes. She used to love snowstorms, but it seemed like ages ago.
Memory of when her kids were little and she went outside and helped build snowmen or had snowball fights made her smile. Those were the days. They had loved the first big snowfall. But time passed and kids grew up. She sighed. Grew up and moved away. Now snow was nothing more than a nuisance. She hated driving in it, but at least the road crews kept the main roads pretty clear. They even salted and plowed her street more frequently than normal.
A thumping noise against the house interrupted Rose’s thoughts. “What in the world?” She got up and limped to the door, rubbing her hip. Darn, already it hurt.
Just as she pulled it open, four little pairs of legs raced around the bushes into the next yard.
“Little monsters,” she mumbled. “Go throw snowballs at your own house.” Shaking her head, she slammed the door. What’s wrong with kids now days? Her kids had been taught to respect people’s property. Not that they were saints by any means, but they showed adults proper respect, or she’d know the reason why.
If any neighbor had corrected her kids, they darn well better have listened. Today, kids acted like they owned the world. Don’t give a darn about people’s privacy. And for God’s sakes don’t tell their parents. “My little Johnny would never do that,” they said. Yeah right, their little Johnny was usually the ring leader.
“Oh for heavens, sakes, Rose,” Emma’s voice returned. “What’s the matter with you? People have been like that for ages. Even back in your day there were a handful of people that believed their kids could do no wrong. You were a teacher, you ran across that all the time. That’s not the norm, and you know it. You’re not that old. Can’t you remember what it was like to be a kid, you certainly were no angel.”
Rose jumped at the sound. Where was it coming from? Suddenly a shadowy figure appeared on the chair opposite her.
The shadowy form didn’t move. Rose put on her glasses and looked closer. Nothing. Darn, now she was imagining things. No angel, “harrumph”.
No she guessed she wasn’t. She chuckled at the memory of childhood days. Oh how she, her sister and brother had prayed for snow so they could earn money to buy Christmas gifts for their parents. They shoveled snow, but they fooled around a lot too.
“And threw snowball at the neighborhood grouch’s house,” the voice said.
Rose looked at the chair. Again the shadowy form presented itself. It looked sort of like Emma. Rose peered closer, and it disappeared.
“Okay, we did, so what? And if you’re going to talk to me, at least have the decency to show yourself.”
Dear God is that what she’d become, the neighborhood grouch? Rose stood up and went to refill her coffee cup.
“Well so what if I am a grouch? I’m not hurting anyone. Why can’t everyone just leave me alone? I’d have nothing to bitch about.” Rose wanted to get rid of the voice, even if it was Emma. Besides, she didn’t believe in ghosts. Her imagination that’s all it was.
Sarah peeked around the corner of the garage. Her friends hid behind her. “I think she saw us.” She made another snowball and raised her arm to throw it.
“Stop!” Jenny pulled Sarah’s arm. “You’re going to get us into big trouble. She’s going to tell.”
“Oh quit being a scaredy-cat.” Sarah tossed the snowball at her friend. “She doesn’t even know where you live. She never pays attention to us.”
“Yeah, we’ll get into trouble.” Jason and Billy agreed with Jenny.
“Come on let’s find something else to do, leave the old lady alone.” Billy turned and ran toward Sarah’s house, the others followed close behind.
“Party poopers,” Sarah grumbled as she gave in and followed her friends. She kicked the snow with her boots as she followed slowly behind. Big old scaredy-cats, that’s all they are. Don’t want to have no fun. She picked up a handful of snow, looked back at Mrs. Asbury’s house and threw it. Darn it, she was too far away. Oh well, she’d find something else to do.
She hated that the old lady was rude to her grandpa. All he wanted to do was talk to her but no, she couldn’t be bothered. Served her right that she fell. Poor Grandpa just stood in the drive and watched her go into her house. Didn’t even thank him for helping her. Old Meany. Sarah raced after her friends.