Once home, Harry went over his notes and then made a few calls. He left messages with some long-time contacts hoping he could get them started right away on the ABC project. With that out of the way he sat by the phone for a few moments and fidgeted with the cord. He hadn't been able to think of anything except Beth since he'd left the note for her. He wanted to call her but he didn't want to appear too anxious, and besides, he didn't have her number. He began to fantasize. The scene was a picnic on a hillside by a lake or a romantic dinner by candlelight in a small café, somewhere they could enjoy an intimate conversation together, undisturbed. She sat enamored as he shared his hopes and dreams.
Why am I having these ridiculous thoughts? I don't even know this girl! What if we have nothing in common? What if she's not my type? But she had told her co-worker how much she enjoyed meeting him! And then there were those stunning eyes of hers—just fascinating. How could those eyes fool him?
She IS my type, he proclaimed to himself. There must be something about me that she liked.
"Alright, here we go," he stated aloud, and grabbed the slim Isles End phone book. He flipped it open and began working down through the names. Fahey, Fayler, Fair, Fairbanks—Beth! There it was, right there in the open for anyone to see . . . for anyone to call! What did he have to lose? It had been several hours now, would she be home already? Nervously, Harry punched out the numbers. He heard the ringing on the other end and fought back the urge to quickly hang up. He listened: one ring, two, three . . .
He recognized her sweet gentle voice.
“Hi, it's Harry Turner.”
"Yes—I found your number in the phone book. I didn't want you to feel pressured to call me, so I thought I'd give you a call and see what you're up to—"
“Sure,” he ventured.
“Well, I'm rearranging the furniture in my front room.”
“Actually, I was thinking about calling you. But I wasn't sure if that would seem a bit anxious, even though you invited me to. I wanted to leave my number for you at the office but then I ran into the same problem."
"What problem is that?"
"Not wanting to appear forward, I guess. Or worse, to be perceived as some crazy girl who gives her number out to any stranger. So . . . I decided to move some furniture around."
“Do you?” he questioned.
“Do I what?”
“Give your number out to any stranger?”
“Well, only if they're really interesting,” she teased.
“Hmmm, didn't your mother teach you that—you know—whole thing about strangers?”
“Of course, Harry, but my boss told me he had already done a thorough background check on you, and you passed the test. He also said he had a good feeling about you."
“Really, the Chief Executive Old-timer of ABC told you that?”
This made Beth laugh.
“So what else did he tell you about me?” he probed.
“Not much, really—he said you reminded him of himself when he was younger. He said he liked you.”
“Well, I guess if your boss approves of me, I can't be all bad!”
“I'll have to be the judge of that,” she quipped.
Harry chuckled. "So, I was going to ask you if you'd like to have dinner with me."
"I think that would be nice!"
"Great," Harry said with instant confidence. "Is there somewhere you especially like?"
"Well, Harry, this is a small town. We don't have a lot of choices unless we go to the city. We could meet at Belmar's—you know, just up from the cafe?"
"Or," she continued slowly, "another option would be to have you over to my place . . ."
"Harry, normally I would never consider having a guy over to my home for the first date, so to speak. Now I feel funny saying that! But my boss did give his approval."
"You're referring to the background check?"
"He really did?"
"I wasn't sure if you were actually serious or just joking!"
"Bill already treats both Valerie and me like we are his daughters. He's very protective. But back to our plans—I'm just thinking it would be nice to have you over here. You could see my little house and I could make something simple. I just didn't want to create any added pressure on either of us, so soon, you know?"
Harry hoped to quickly put her at ease. “Beth,” he said, “I would be very happy to meet you anywhere and I'm flattered that you would be comfortable enough to have me over to your home. I promise I'll behave myself . . . if that's what you decide you'd like to do.”
“Behave yourself? Well, don't get carried away—you'll take all of the fun out of it!”
They both laughed as she continued.
“So, Harry, it's my place for dinner?”
“Okay, how about tomorrow evening, say six-thirty?”
“Can I bring something?”
“Actually, yes. You could bring a bottle of merlot.”
“That's some sort of wine, isn't it?”
“Hmmm, yes, you can bring some salt water taffy.”
“Sure. As long as you're going to the trouble, you may as well bring something I really like.”
“Alright, consider it done!"
“Well then, I better let you go, Harry.”
“Wait a minute, what are you going to make for dinner?”
“It's a surprise.”
“All right, so if you want to see that taffy, you'd better tell me how to find your house.”
Beth agreed and gave Harry the directions. He recited them back to her to be sure he had them right and then said good-bye. Flopping back down on the sofa, he let out a long sigh. He couldn't believe he had not only called Beth Fairbanks, but was having dinner with her tomorrow night. And he was amazed at how well their conversation went. He was always so clumsy and nervous around women, before and after Jennifer. Somehow this woman had a way of making him feel at ease. For the first time in a long while he had a feeling of excitement and hope.
Even as his enthusiasm grew regarding his plans with Beth, memories of Jennifer began to surface. Over time, he'd learned to turn his thoughts to somewhere safe where the grief could be held at bay, but other times he was compelled to let it flow.
Suddenly he couldn't help recalling the crush he’d had on her through high school. At first, her innocent, childlike features had caught his attention. Her smooth skin, her long silky hair, and her profile . . . flawless. By the end of high school she was nothing short of radiant, marked with a purity that had attracted Harry and every other boy who laid eyes on her. Unfortunately for Harry, having a crush on any girl at that age never materialized into anything outside of his own mind. That’s what had happened with Jennifer—he worshiped her from afar. It wasn’t until years later, that she had unexpectedly come into his life again, and he had never been happier, especially those few months after they had become engaged. He recalled how funny it was, whenever they went out, they always seemed to hook-up with his parents. At first, double dating had been Jenny's idea, but after a while the four of them almost naturally seemed to end up doing something together every week. This arrangement seemed to spark up something new in his folks too. The way they would hold hands, laugh, and whisper things to each other, it was as though they were the young engaged couple rather than Harry and Jenny.
Would he always torture himself with the past? He wanted to focus on the future but Gwen had explained to him, this reflecting was just part of the healing process. Don't try to stuff it down, Harry, and don't isolate yourself! But that's exactly what he did. Thankfully his sister had taken care of most of the logistical details of his parents’ effects leaving Harry free to work through the more emotional components of recovery. There were, of course, bills to pay, funeral arrangements to make, and all the matters of the estate. But Gwen seemed to have the strength, the skills, and the motivation to attend to all the details. Harry couldn’t understand how she managed, but he guessed it was the way she found her healing, and he was grateful for her unselfish efforts.
Harry allowed himself a few more minutes to reminisce and realized the process didn't create the usual anguish he was used to. He wondered if his Jenny would approve of Beth Fairbanks. Somehow, he thought the answer might be yes. Even though they had just met, he could tell right away there was something special about Beth. But what was he thinking? He'd hardly spent twenty minutes with this woman! Entertaining these sort of thoughts was plain nonsense.
I've got to keep things in perspective, he warned himself.
Play it safe . . . mmm-hmm!