Thursday, April 15, 2021

​New Beginnings by Jennifer Anne F. Messing

“Stop, Chloe! Don’t run!” I yell as my three-year-old daughter darts out into the parking lot. “Come back!” My arms are carrying two huge, heavy bags of groceries and I almost drop them to chase after my golden-haired toddler.
Suddenly a male voice calls out, “I got her! Stay where you are.”
I heave a sigh of relief as I watch the man chase after Chloe and pick her up. She turns to him and a look of fearful confusion comes into her eyes as she sees the stranger’s face. She’s about to burst into tears.
“It’s okay Chloe,” I say to her. “He’s bringing you to Mama.”
Carrying Chloe in his arms, he starts walking toward me. Tall, with thick, light-brown hair, he looks vaguely familiar. I cannot place where I’ve met him before, when right then he says, “Autumn Fleming from Pleasant Valley High School, is that you?”
“You have a good memory,” I say, smiling with surprise. Now it’s all coming back—and quickly!
“Please forgive me for being so bold, but I’d never forget a pretty lady who was a top student and the star of our senior drama production.”
“You’re Gavin Matthews, right?” I ask, incredulous. I’m twenty-seven now and haven’t seen him since our high school graduation.
“Yes,” he replies, handing my daughter to me. “You haven’t changed at all—still beautiful.”
Chloe grabs my neck and hugs me tight. I feel a warm blush spread across my cheeks. “Thank you, I uh...”
“Where’s your car?” he asks. “Let me help you load up. It’s cold out here.”
I point to the forest-green sedan, about five cars away. “These two bags aren’t all, though,” I tell him. “There are two more bags and one big box outside the door of this building right behind us.”
As soon as I say that an awkward feeling comes over me. I’ve never been one to put on airs, but it doesn’t feel great to meet Gavin for the first time in nine years outside a food bank! Chloe and I get by okay, but every bit helps…especially since my divorce almost three years ago.
“Get Chloe and yourself in the car,” he says, “I’ll load everything.”
“I appreciate it,” I tell him, noticing his blue eyes. Then I walk over to our car, buckle Chloe into her car-seat, and get into the driver’s seat.
A few minutes later, after loading everything into my trunk, Gavin opens the back door and says, “Mind if I sit for a moment?”
“Not at all.”
“Got any place you’re going?” he asks.
“I’m off work today. No specific plan,” I reply.
“Are there any frozen or refrigerated items you need to run home?”
I think for a moment, then answer, “Not this time. Why do you ask?”
“Can I invite you for a cup of coffee and lunch at our restaurant? It’s just across the street: Papa’s Favorite Pancake House.”
“Your restaurant?” I ask, smiling.
“Yes,” Gavin answers. “My parents have owned it for many years. I’m the manager now, and I love it.”
I sit and think about his invite. It’s very appealing. I also remember how nice he’d always been to me, and everyone, when we were classmates in our junior and senior year—quite different from many of the good-looking guys who were self-centered and superficial.
“Sorry, I hope my invite didn’t make you feel uncomfortable,” he says. He looks away briefly as though embarrassed, then turns to face me once again. “I didn’t see a wedding ring on your finger and figured it would be fine, but—”
“It is fine,” I answer. “Coffee and pancakes sound heavenly right now.” And so does lunch with a very attractive man!
I turn the engine on and he rides along with us. He guides me to an empty space in their restaurant’s parking lot.
Just a few moments later, he opens the door to their cozy, family-friendly restaurant. There’s a fire blazing and a warm hearth. Delicious aromas fill the air.
A hostess approaches us, smiles and says, “Gavin, sir, do you need a table for three, with a highchair?”
“Yes, we do,” Gavin answers. “This is Autumn Fleming, by the way, a friend of mine from high school. And her daughter, Chloe.”
“Nice to meet you, Autumn and Chloe. Welcome!” she says. “I’m Lauren.”
The pot of freshly brewed coffee Lauren brings us a few minutes later is perfectly delicious on this cold, January afternoon. Chloe is quickly devouring the blueberry muffin and cup of milk he ordered for her.
“I’m so glad we bumped into each other today,” he says. I sense his sincerity. “What do you do now?”
“I’m an admissions counsellor at Oakland Community College. Been there for four years and really enjoy this line of work.”
“Sounds very rewarding,” he says.
My smartphone beeps; it’s an incoming email. I quickly glance at my screen and see that it’s from my employer.
“Excuse me for a moment, please; an email from my boss,” I tell him.
“Of course.” He pours syrup on his pancakes that have just been served.
As I read the email, not once but twice, slowly digesting its contents, I’m overcome with excitement and joy. My eyes mist.
“Good news, I trust?” Gavin asks.
“Yes!” I answer. “I’m getting a generous pay raise starting February 1st.”
“Congratulations!” he says. “I’m glad I’m here to celebrate with you.” He reaches across the table and places his hand on mine. It feels warm.
For a few moments I quietly bask in the serendipitous, sweet joys this day has brought: a pay raise, eating mouth-watering strawberry pancakes with hot coffee, but most of all to be sitting in a restaurant with a wonderful, kind man.
He gazes into my eyes and says, “Cheers to old friends…and new beginnings!”
“To happy new beginnings!” I reply, anticipating the future bright with possibilities.

© Jennifer Anne F. Messing

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