Prime Cut

Looking for love in all the right places

Posted in , May 7, 2010

The words popped out of my mouth before my brain could stop them.

“Hey, Mr. Butcher Man!”

Maybe he didn’t hear me. But, no, he was definitely walking toward me, that dark-haired guy who worked behind the grocery meat counter I passed every week on the way to the dairy aisle.

I could’ve died right there in the middle of the Super S Foods parking lot. What had gotten into me? I’m not a flirt. Just the opposite. Men were the last thing on my mind. I had enough to think about being a divorced mom of two teenagers.

Besides, hadn’t I learned the hard way not to trust in love? I’d gotten married straight out of college for what I thought were the right reasons. But it turned out nothing I did was good enough for my husband, that I could never be me. Yet I’d stayed for 20 years because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it on my own, that my kids would be hurt, that every choice I made was a mistake.

I prayed and prayed about what to do, and finally worked up the nerve to leave. I got my own place and was supporting myself, doing freelance writing. My kids hadn’t been happy about the divorce, but they were coming around.

I was thankful for my safe, comfortable life, where I could hang out in sweats and fuzzy socks, where my heart was never in danger of being broken, where I’d at last found the peace that had been missing in my marriage. The life God had led me to.

So this temporary public insanity? I knew it couldn’t be God’s doing. What can I say to get myself out of this mess?

“I’m bringing my son a treat,” I said, holding up a bag of homemade chocolate chip cookies. “He works at the feed store. I saw you and thought I should say hi.” I held out my hand. “My name’s Sheryl.”

“James,” he said. “Nice to finally know your name.” Something about those warm brown eyes seemed so familiar.

“Do you have family in Corpus Christi?” I asked. He nodded. “Did you go to Calallen High School?”

“Class of ’76,” he said.

“I graduated in ’77,” I said. “What are the odds of us meeting halfway across Texas?” Then the Super S manager walked up. I nodded goodbye to James and turned for the feed store.

Bummer, I caught myself thinking. He seemed nice. But two steps later my mind was churning with doubts. What does a two-minute conversation prove? You don’t know the guy. Haven’t you learned your lesson?

But Blanco is a one-stoplight town, and the Super S is the only grocery. It wasn’t as if I could stop going there. In fact, I found myself in need of something almost every day—an onion, some salad dressing, more chocolate chips. And as long as I was in there, what was the harm in taking a quick peek in the meat department? Still, James never seemed to be there when I was.

Two weeks after we met in the parking lot, our eyes locked over the pork chops. He stepped out from behind the counter. I hastily thought up a meat order, trying not to get distracted by how cute he looked in his white apron.

“Hi,” I said. “Remember me? Do you have any packages of ground meat? I didn’t see any set out.”

“Of course,” he said. “Good to see you again.” When he came back with the meat, he asked, “Will that be all?”

I pulled out my card. “I wanted to give you this,” I said. “In case you ever want to talk more about high school…or need a freelance writer.” Now what had gotten into me? Our hands brushed, and I felt a tingle of excitement. At the same time, I heard my brain warning, Take it easy there. I rushed out of the store.

Every time the phone rang I jumped. Please let it be James. My daughter teased me about the “cute butcher” (had I really called him that?). Then it was him. “I was wondering if you’d like to have lunch Friday,” James said.

“Sure!” I said. Then it occurred to me that Blanco is such a small town, people would talk if they saw us out together. “Would you like to come over here?”

“Sounds good,” he said.

I hung up the phone feeling giddy.

That Friday James and I sat at my table and got to talking. And talking. Somehow we stretched turkey sandwiches and Fritos into three hours. I’d spent almost that long deciding on my outfit, wanting to get that perfectly thrown-together look, cute but casual so it wouldn’t seem like I was trying too hard.

“I remember you in high school,” I said. “You wore that denim FFA jacket.”

“That’s right,” he said, his face lighting up at the memory. “I thought I was the school traffic cop in that jacket, stopping kids running to class. Nutty, huh?”

We talked about where life had taken us. James too had been married and divorced. He’d sworn off dating and put his energy into collecting antiques. I could relate to that—I told him how I’d been focusing on my writing and my kids since my marriage ended. We laughed a lot too. That felt really good.

There was one more thing I had to know. “Do you talk to God?” I asked.

James wasn’t fazed by my question. “All the time,” he said. “Every day.” Finally he had to go. “This was fun, Sheryl. We’ll have to get together again.”

I’d had a great time too. But it hadn’t been a real date. Just two old schoolmates catching up. If he called again, that would mean he was really interested.

James didn’t call the next day. Or the day after that. A week passed. Then another. I saw him at the grocery, but he didn’t so much as glance in my direction. I should have known better. Why had I even put myself out there?

One morning I saw an ad in the paper for an antique sale. Sounds like something James would be into. Next thing I knew, I’d circled it in red ink, dropped the paper into a plastic bag and tied it to his car door in the Super S parking lot. Why am I doing this? Do I have a need to be rejected? No, I’m just being nice, nothing more. See, I won’t even sign my name.

I got home and decided to bake cookies to take my mind off what might have been. I set the ingredients out on the counter. In a bowl I blended sugar with margarine and eggs. God, what is it about this guy? I mixed in flour, vanilla, baking soda and salt. Why do I feel so bold around him? Is your hand in this?

I stirred in the chocolate chips. Can’t you tell me how this story ends? Just as I was taking the first tray of cookies out of the oven, the phone rang. “Hey, Sheryl, was that you who left that bag on my car?”

“Guilty,” I said. “It looked like a good sale.” We chatted for a few minutes. Then on impulse, I added, “I just took a batch of cookies out of the oven. Want to come by for some?”

“I’m in the car now,” he said. “I’ll be there in five minutes.”

I looked down at what I was wearing—a flannel shirt, gray sweats and pink fuzzy socks. Not exactly dream girl material. But there was no time to change. Besides, why should I? I thought suddenly. If James likes me, he’ll like the real me. I guess I’ll find out.

I had my answer the moment I opened the door. Those warm brown eyes met mine and lingered. “It’s great to see you,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about you ever since our lunch.” I slid in my socks across the floor to the kitchen. He laughed. I got us our cookies and we picked up our conversation right where we’d left off.

Interesting. I didn’t feel one bit awkward or afraid around James. I felt peaceful. And something more—I felt happy in a way I hadn’t known was possible. My heart was doing cartwheels.

Four months later James and I were married. How did our love story end? It hasn’t. We’re still living it!

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