I hadn't paid a lot of attention to the "For Sale" sign on the house next door until the moving van showed up, five months later, early on a Thursday afternoon in mid-June. The moving company was owned by my high school buddy Dave, so I wandered over there to see if, as sometimes happened, he was doing any of the actual moving. I was dressed in the running T-shirt and jeans that I usually wore when I didn't have a meeting, and it had been a few days since I'd shaved.
"Hey, Bob," I said to a guy coming out of the house. "Dave here?"
"Hey, Bill," he smiled back. "No, we had two people call in sick today, so we've only got four of us for two moves. Dave's with Jimmy, so Mikey and me are here. It's been a long day."
I poked my head into the back of the van to see who was moving in (so I'm nosy, sue me). Dressed as I was, it probably shouldn't have surprised me to have a lamp thrust into my hands.
"That's an extremely valuable lamp," said the woman who'd given it to me. "It goes in the upstairs front bedroom. Don't break it."
I got a quick view of long, blonde hair, a great body, particularly in jeans, and a real nice rack. The kind of woman I'd been dating ever since I'd made my fortune and moved into this swanky neighborhood. Most of them had been just as warm and friendly as this one. I shrugged and walked toward the house. I wasn't busy, Dave was a good friend, and this was a new neighbor.
"You helping us out?" Bob asked with a grin on his face. "You're a lifesaver. Mikey and I were both going to have to push back our dates tonight."
"It's probably easier than arguing with that lady in the truck," I said.
"The blonde?" he asked. "Tell me about it."
"This is an extremely valuable lamp," I said solemnly. "I'm going to try not to break it. Always nice to have a new neighbor, huh?"
"I don't know if she stays with the place or not," Bob laughed. "Her mom's your new neighbor. A real nice lady."
I came face to face with her mom about half an hour later, and almost dropped the box I was holding.
"Mrs. C!" I yelped.
"Willie!" she smiled.
"Actually, I'm tryin' to go by Bill now," I smiled as I put down the box and hugged her.
"All right, Bill," she said. "I'm trying to go by Marcia now."
"It's a deal, Marcia," I said. "And where's Mr. Colley?"
"Mr. Colley passed away," she said, waiting two beats for the look of sympathy to spread over my face. "Just before he was about to finalize the divorce that would have let him share all the savings he'd managed to hide with the little bimbo he was dating."
We looked at each other and burst out laughing. I'd lived next door to the Colleys over ten years ago. From the time that I was in fifth grade, along with the Colleys' beautiful daughter Heather, until they suddenly left after eleventh grade, Mrs. Colley had been one of my closest friends. It's not that my parents weren't great, but I found that I could talk to "Mrs. C." about anything. I still remembered the afternoon when I had confided to Mrs. C. that I was thinking about asking Heather to the junior prom.
"Don't," she said abruptly.
"How come?" I said, pained that she might not think I'd be good enough for her daughter.
"Because she's not the right girl for you," she answered. "Even if she said yes, you'd be miserable. Trust me, the right girl will come along. Jennifer's going into ninth grade next year, you know."
Well, that was a big non sequitur. Jennifer was the younger of the Colley girls, and when the Colleys had first moved in, 8-year-old Jennifer had marched into my yard one day with a pack of cards, dealt us both a hand, and asked me if I had any jacks. Since then, we'd played cards together every Friday night. Whenever I was dateless, that is. In other words, just about every Friday night. Always the same game. And always with the same start: "Got any jacks?"
The first time she did that and took my card without putting down a pair of jacks, I pompously informed her that she wasn't permitted, under the rules of the game, to ask for a card that she couldn't match.
She had looked back at me with one of those "all right, idiot, let me explain this to you slowly" expressions that girls apparently learn in the cradle.
"So I have one extra card now," she'd said, "and you have one fewer card, and your complaint is what?"
A long pause followed.
"Exactly," she'd concluded. "Now shut up and play."
Jennifer was also a tomboy who, from that day forward, had always pestered me to let her play in our neighborhood softball and soccer games. So, the idea of Jennifer's being the "right girl" had never occurred to me.
"Jennifer?" I asked.
"When the right girl comes along, Willie," she smiled enigmatically, "you'll know it."
Then she gave me one of those looks.
"Just try not to blow it."
I snapped out of my daydream and remembered my manners.
"So has Heather been ordering you about like the real movers?" Marcia smiled.
"Oh," I said, my mouth hanging open. "I guess I should've figured that out. But I didn't recognize her at all. Nothing. Isn't that strange?"
"Going through three husbands in ten years can give you a few extra wrinkles, even at age 30."
"And I haven't asked about —"
"No, you haven't," she smiled again. "Jenny will be here around seven tonight. She's a schoolteacher down in Richmond and she'll be driving up as soon as school's done today. It's the last day of classes. She may be moving up here, too, after Heather and I get settled."
"Is Heather moving back?"
"For a few years, she says, until she figures out what she wants to do with herself. Or meets another rich husband. Although these pre-nups she keeps signing don't let her keep much when the marriages go bust."
For the next fifteen minutes, she filled me in on what had happened to the family since they had moved away. I told her everything about my life, including my parents' deaths only two years apart. It felt just like Mrs. C had never left; I would have been happy to remain there all afternoon, except that Heather blew in. I opened my mouth to say hello, but Heather froze me with a look and turned to her mother.
"Mother, you know we're paying them by the hour, don't you?"
"Actually I'm paying them, dear."
"Whatever. If you want to pay them to talk, I guess that's up to you. Did you get a look at that fucking mansion next door?"
"I guess I'll get back to work, ma'am," I said, nodding to Marcia.
"Thank you, young man," she said with a smile.
I helped the guys for two more hours until, around five o'clock, a tan Saturn pulled into the parking lot. I happened to be at the truck just then, and she walked right up to me.
"Hi, I'm Jenny Colley," she said. "Have you seen my mom?"
"Upstairs, I think," I murmured, stunned at what the tomboy had turned into. In truth, I'd begun to find her attractive at the beginning of the summer that the Colleys left, after her mother had pointed her out as potential date material. But now she was something special. She didn't have her cheerleader sister's figure, and her shoulder-length brunette tresses weren't as brassy as her sister's, but God, what a beautiful woman. Besides, I told myself, I was past the blonde cheerleader stage now.
"Thanks," she said.
I hoisted the next box and followed her into the house.
"Hey, mom, you guys here?" she yelled from the bottom of the stairs.
"Jenny?" Marcia yelled down. "We're up here."
My box went upstairs, so I followed her there, too.
"You're early," Marcia said.
"School ended at one," Jenny said, "so I got an early start."
"Oh, well, I'm afraid you're on your own for dinner then," Heather said. "We thought you were coming later so I only made reservations for two. And you know how crowded Portofino's is."
I was about to butt in to say that I thought that Portofino's would be delighted to have another paying customer, when her mother wheeled around and butted me in first.
"Well, I'm sure Bill would be happy to take you out for a bite," Marcia said.
I looked at the three women: Marcia smiling, Heather sneering, and Jenny looking a little doubtful.
"Oh, no," Jenny said. "I'll find something."
"It'd be my pleasure," I said eagerly.
"Go ahead," Marcia said to her daughter. "He's a perfectly nice young man."
"Mom's apparently willing to pay the movers to chat in addition to moving the occasional box," Heather interjected.
Jenny gave her sister a long stare and then turned to me.
"I'd love to," she said, as much to spite her sister as to accept the dinner invitation, it seemed.
"Great," I said. "I'm Bill. I'll be here around six-thirty."
"Jenny," she said, offering her hand. "I guess you already met Heather, too."
I gave Heather the most insincere smile I could manage while I shook Jenny's hand. "Six-thirty then."
.... There is more of this story ...