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Tollie's Garden

A young girl slowly falls in love with an older man who lives in their carriage house.
TOLLIE’S GARDEN

Sisyphus

Note: This is a long love story and I had to divide it into two parts. It was difficult to do and not break the continuity. I hope you will stay with it. I think it will be worth your while.

Part One

I was seventeen, almost eighteen when Tollie moved into our small apartment above our carriage house. I didn’t pay much attention when mom rented it to him. I was too busy trying to fit in with the other girls and adjusting to my new school after moving into the huge house we inherited from mom’s grandfather, my great grandfather, who I only met a few times before he died.

It felt weird living in a mansion, white pillars at the entrance, Wisteria growing up to the third floor, a big Dutch door, you know the kind where the top opens and the bottom stays shut--it was pretty cool. We had a big stone wall in front of the property with ivy growing up the sides. The long driveway curved in the front of the house and you could drive in one way and out the other way. The house had fifteen rooms, four fireplaces. I had a fireplace in my bedroom and so did mom. I also had my own bathroom and the kitchen was huge with a pantry next to it that had shelves and cabinets all the way to the ceiling.

It was a shock inheriting that big house after living in a small row house in Hoboken, New Jersey then moving to Chestnut Hill, a ritzy part of Philadelphia. Mom’s brother Steve inherited a lot of money because we got the house--don’t know how much--but her grandfather’s Will had one strange stipulation for both of them. They would get the same amount of money from the trust that showed on their income tax. The Will said he wanted them to know what it is to work for a living rather than just have money they didn’t earn. So mom had to earn money in order to get any money from the inheritance and that made it a challenge. The problem was that mom had always been a waitress, never went to college, got married to my dad because she had me then he took off with some woman when I was three and for awhile I got birthday cards from him but that was it. Oh well.

So the mansion was a mixed blessing and we felt a little out of place. We had a beautiful, luxurious house but barely enough money to make ends meet. That’s why we rented the carriage house to Tollie for five hundred dollars a month and that helped a lot. My mom got a job in a pretty swanky restaurant not far from where we lived and made good money--the problem was it was mostly tips and some weeks were better than others. The other stipulation was we couldn’t sell the mansion because he loved the house and wanted to keep it in the family. So we were stuck--not a bad thing to be stuck with--a beautiful home, but there we were with a large property that needed maintenance.Just keeping the grass cut, paying the utilities and taxes and making sure we didn’t let it fall apart was a big job.

It was also weird living in that house and not being friends with any of the neighbors. They said a polite hello if they saw us but we were not in their class, never got invited to any dinners and I didn’t really care. I thought they were snotty and phony with their big houses, big cars and fancy clothes.

Still, we weren’t broke by any means. Mom made pretty good money and it got matched from the trust so we did okay. We weren’t starving and mom was able to get rid of the old Subaru we had and got a newer model Volvo and we were both able to buy decent clothes. I have to admit, I loved clothes and wanted guys to like me and if you didn’t dress a certain way at school you were an outcast. Also, kids knew where I lived and I wanted to give the appearance that we were better off than we really were--not sure why.

So Tollie moving into the carriage house was a necessity and the income really helped get more money from the trust each year. Mom interviewed him and told me he seemed like a nice man and that he loved to garden. He asked if he could put in a garden in our big backyard and alongside of the carriage house and he would take care of cutting the grass. He’d share the vegetables with us.

He was quiet, kind of shy, but friendly and I didn’t pay much attention to him. He’d wave hello when I came home from school and he was either cutting the grass or working in his garden. He also trimmed the big hedge on both sides of our house and there were lots of bushes.

I found out from mom that he was twenty-eight when he moved in--ten years older than me--and mom said he was a writer, had taught for awhile at a community college while working on his PhD in English. He had finished all his course work and was working on his dissertation but then decided he wanted to write poetry and a novel he was working on and dropped out of the program. Mom told me he grew up on a farm, homeschooled, but got into Harvard anyway and had a fellowship. He talked a lot to my mom. She invited him for coffee and she was always making cookies for him and meals. She was twenty or so years older than he was but I think had a crush on him. It seemed weird but I didn’t really think about it that much. Still, I could see why. He was actually good looking though somewhat nerdy but nice. He had longish brown hair, a beard and wore wire rimmed glasses, but like I said, I didn’t pay much attention to him. I had more important things to think about like applying to college and this guy Tristan who I was crazy about and just keeping up with my classes. I was determined to get into a good college and not end up being a waitress like mom. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do or what I was interested in, but I was in AP English and Biology and got good grades.

Getting into college was everyone’s obsession and there weren’t many options after high school, so researching colleges, taking a prep class to prepare for the SATs and filling out the applications was a full time job. I was also a cheerleader, believe it or not. I liked the exercise and wearing the short skirts. It was kind of sexy and fun getting everyone to cheer for our football and basketball team. It was also a good thing to have on my college applications.

Other than school and babysitting for this woman up the street, I liked to work on my tan in the big backyard and would lie out there on a blanket with my best friend, Janine, both of us in skimpy bikinis. I’d see Tollie working in the big garden he made and glance over at us, but mostly he concentrated on digging and planting and whatever else he did. He worked hard, had a lean, tan body and looked good in his cut-off jean shorts and a t-shirt. He was in pretty good shape probably from the gardening and he biked everywhere. He didn’t own a car.

When he wasn’t working in the garden, he would sit on a canvas folding chair in front of the carriage house and write in a thick tablet or his laptop. Every once in awhile he would look up at us, but mostly he didn’t pay much attention and either did I. To me he was just an older guy, renting the carriage house and we hardly spoke.

I would see him from my bedroom window writing late at night while I was studying then when I’d leave for school in the morning, he was out in the garden, usually barefooted. He’d smile and wave to me when I left for school in either Janine’s car or Tristan’s.

Sometimes, my mom made extra food for dinner and asked me to take some to him in his apartment over the carriage house. I think it was her way of getting him to like her, you know, the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. She had to be at the restaurant by four and always made food up ahead of time for me. She was a good cook and made great soups, stews or lasagna so I would get to drop off the food and chat with him for a few minutes then leave and that was that.

I liked how he fixed up his place. It was small but he had floor to ceiling book cases on two of the walls, lots of hanging plants. He had a beat up couch with an Indian style blanket over the back, a big old soft chair with a lamp on a table next to it, a pile of books and magazines on the floor and a round oak table by the window--that’s where he wrote and ate. His bed was in the corner and always made. It was one room with a faded oriental rug in the center, a small kitchen area with a little refrigerator, a sink, a four burner stove and he told me he liked to cook. I noticed a wine rack with bottles of wine.

When I’d bring up a covered dish, he always poured a glass of wine and asked if I’d like a glass. I always said no and he never made a big deal about it, but I liked how he looked at me, not flirting, just warm and friendly. He always had music playing, sometimes classical, sometimes jazz.

Then one night near the end of my senior year, he asked me to join him for dinner. He said he wanted to talk to me so I said yes. That was the first time in the two years he lived there that we actually had a conversation and I’m glad I did.

He served me the soup and actually made a small salad with vegetables from the garden and a wonderful dressing he made--just oil and vinegar with a variety of herbs. I’m not sure what, but it was delicious. He poured me a glass of wine and we clicked glasses and he said, “To life.” I noticed how his eyes twinkled behind his glasses then disappeared into little slits when he smiled.

“So what did you want to talk about?” I asked after sipping the wine.

He put his glass down after sipping, stirred his soup then looked at me, that smile on his lips, “Sarah, I’ve lived here for almost two years and we have never really had a conversation. I know you’re busy with school and your friends and I see you’re a cheerleader and getting ready to go off to college in the fall. I’ve gotten to know your mother quite well. We’ve had lots of conversations, but I want to know you.”

“You do?” I asked, surprised. “Why?”

He chuckled at my questions and my surprise. “I want to know what you’re passionate about,” he said, looking into my eyes.

His question stunned me, “Passionate about?” I repeated. “That’s a strange question.”

“What do you love?” he asked, lifting his wine to his lips, taking a sip, “If you could do anything you want with your life, what would that be?”

I took a sip of wine and just looked at him, noticing how he was looking into my eyes. “I don’t know what to say,” I answered, my mind racing to think of something, “Why do you want to know?” I asked, realizing his question scared me.

He smiled, knowing as well as I did that I was avoiding answering him because I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I loved. I didn’t want to tell him how much I liked shopping for clothes. I told him I liked cheerleading and was interested in some of my classes, though most of it was doing what I was assigned and I didn’t think about loving my subjects.

For a few minutes, we were both silent, eating the soup, taking a sip of wine. He looked at me and I don’t think anyone ever looked at me like he did. I felt he was really trying to see me, know me and it aroused something in me to feel his caring. So I asked again, “Why do you want to know what I love?”

“Because I want you to be happy and know you will never be happy unless you know what you love.”

“Are you happy?” I asked.

“Very,” he answered, smiling.

“Really,” I responded, noticing the twinkle in his eyes.

“Yes, I love to garden and I love to write poetry and stories and I love the quiet and I love watching the birds at the feeder and seeing the flowers bloom and the vegetables growing. I’m very happy.”

“Aren’t you lonely?” I asked. “I never see you with friends. “Don’t you want to love someone?”

“Sometimes I’m lonely and yes, I would like to love someone and be loved. I do have friends. They don’t live around here but we stay in touch and a dear friend is going to visit here this Sunday. I’m really looking forward to it.”

“Great,” I said, wondering if it was a man or woman but didn’t want to ask. “And I hope you find someone to love you. You seem like a really good person. I hardly know you, but I can tell by the way you work in the garden and I see you writing all the time. I admire that.”

He smiled, nodding, “Thanks, Sarah.

I looked at the little table with the lamp next to the soft chair and saw a big manuscript and a thick notebook. “Is that your novel?” I asked.

“That’s the one I’m working on now but I have a few others. Mostly I’ve been writing poetry, lately.”

“Have you been published?” I asked looking back at him.

“No, maybe one day I will, but I just want to write. Hardly anyone has read what I’ve written.”

“Don’t you want to be read? Don’t you want to be published?”

“I do want to be read and one day I’ll be published, but it’s not that important to me.”

My eyes were drawn to his manuscript and I was curious. I liked to read but only had time to read what they assigned in school. I wanted to ask if I could read his novel but didn’t.

“I’d like you to read my novel,” he said, as if reading my mind, “but I know how busy you are. Maybe one day you will read some of what I’ve written. I’d like that,” he said, looking at me then continued, “I hope you find what you love to do, what makes you happy in your soul.”

“My soul,” I responded. “What do you mean?”

“I mean what makes you happy deep inside, feel fulfilled, alive regardless of whether you make money or not, something that really means a lot to you.”

I finished my wine and the soup and saw it was getting dark out. “I better get going,” I said. “I’ve got to study for my history exam.”

He leaned forward and looked into my eyes and again I felt he was looking at me with such caring. I felt his warmth, his gentleness and his eyes sparkled and it felt like he was seeing deep into me. No one had ever looked at me like that and it made me tingle all over and I felt like I was glowing, blushing but I wasn’t.

“I enjoyed having dinner with you,” he said.

“I did too,” suddenly feeling reluctant to leave but knew I had to. “This was nice.”

“I’ll wash your mom’s bowl and bring it over tomorrow,” he said when I got up and he walked me to the door that led to the stairway to the garage below.

“Let’s do this again,” he said. “I think you’re very beautiful.”

I blushed when he said that and swallowed. “Thank you,” I said liking how he said that. It was so sincere and sweet.

When I walked back to the house, I glanced up at the window and saw him clearing the table and look down at me. He waved and I waved back and I suddenly felt something special had happened. No one had ever asked me what I loved or felt passionate about or looked at me like he did, but somehow he awakened something in me, made me think not just about the question what am I passionate about, what do I love, but about him, how he lived so simply and loved what he was doing and didn’t seem to care if he was published or need anyone. He seemed happy and peaceful. I had never met anyone like him. He was no longer the man who rented out the carriage house and worked in the garden. He mystified me. I wanted to know more about him.

The next morning, I had to rush. I stayed up late studying and slapped off my alarm clock and went back to sleep then woke up with a bolt, got dressed, throwing on a pair of jeans, a new tank top, my sandals and hopped into Janine’s car eating an English muffin, trying not to get crumbs on me. She parked right in front of the carriage house and I saw Tollie in the smaller garden on his knees. He looked up and waved and I waved back through the open window as Janine turned in the driveway and rushed away. I suddenly remembered the nice evening I had with him, feeling more connected in a strange way, but Janine interrupted my thought telling me she and her boyfriend, Alex had a big fight so I listened to her.

Mom never got up early after working at the restaurant and I knew she and the staff always had a meal and a few drinks after they closed and she’d hang out. Who knows when she came home or what she did. She always left for work before I got home from cheerleading practice or whatever so sometimes days would go by and we didn’t see each other. I was pretty much on my own, but mom always had something made for my dinner and a note saying she loved me or put the clothes in the dryer or take this or that to Tollie.

When I walked in the kitchen that afternoon, I saw the bowl from the night before on the counter and I suddenly remembered the nice night I had with him. I put the bowl in the cabinet and then went to the window and saw Tollie in his chair in front of the carriage house writing in the thick notebook. I watched him as he wrote, wondering what he was writing about. He was so deep in thought, writing intensely then he’d stop and look up at the sky as if that’s where the words were coming from.

I thought about going out to say hello but didn’t want to interrupt him so I opened the refrigerator and took out the jug of apple juice, poured a glass and wandered around the big kitchen, thinking about how nice it is, how lucky we were to have such a beautiful house. I put the empty glass in the sink, rinsed it out and then went back to the window and saw Tollie wasn’t there, wondering where he went and why I cared, then shook that thought away, picked up my heavy backpack of books and went up to my room. I looked out my window and saw Tollie at his table writing on his laptop. He looked out the window and saw me and smiled, waving at me then went back to work.

After plopping down on my bed, picking up the glossy magazine with pictures of girls my age or a little older wearing sexy blouses or posing in short skirts, pocketbooks over their shoulders, or showing off their shiny hair with a bottle of shampoo next to them. I thumbed through the pages, hardly looking then stopping, wondering if I would look cool in those shorts or blue pants then tossed the magazine aside thinking about Tollie’s question--what am I passionate about and I couldn’t really think of anything and felt a pang in my stomach and chest then sighed staring up at the ceiling.

I then did one of my favorite things, unbuttoning my jeans and slipping my hands inside my panties and stroking my pussy with my finger, moving it slowly up and down, feeling my wetness and the growing pleasure as I got more and more turned on and then stuck two fingers inside, feeling my pussy gripping my fingers as I moved them faster and faster, my breathing getting heavier, quicker, my fingers going deeper, gripped by the warm wetness of my pussy and suddenly thought about Tollie, imagining him and not Tristan or some imaginary man, my fingers going faster and harder until I suddenly exploded, gasping, holding back a scream, but then it burst out and I let go, a loud scream filling my room, glad no one was home and then releasing my fingers, feeling the warm cum on my thighs, my breathing slowing as I lay there loving what I could do to myself and feeling surprised that I thought about Tollie--he’s so much older than me and what am I thinking, suddenly feeling confused, surprised and stupid at such crazy thinking.

Just then my cell phone rang and I was glad I didn’t get interrupted as I opened it and saw it was Tristan, still feeling the relief from masturbating. “Hi Tris…what’s up,” I managed to say.

“Nothing much,” he said. “What’s happening with you?”

“Nothing,. just glad it’s Friday and it’s the weekend.”

“Yeah, right, I wish I didn’t have to go to that fucking job at the market.”

“Oh right, when do you finish tomorrow?”

“Five, wanna do something tomorrow night.”

“Maybe, like what?”

“We could get a pizza and watch a movie or something.”

“Maybe, I’m not sure. Let’s play it by ear.”

“You alright,” he said after a long pause.

“Yes, I’m fine. I’m alright.”

“You sound funny. You usually sound more, I don’t know, more wanting to do something.”

“Let’s just play it by ear, okay,” I said. “Listen, I have to go. It’s time for dinner and I’m famished.”

“Okay,” he said and I could tell he was annoyed or upset.

“Let’s talk tomorrow,” I said. I really have to go. Have a good night, baby,” I said then clicked my phone closed, tossed it on the bed next to me, suddenly wondering why I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with Tristan. We usually spend as much time as we can, especially on the weekend. I sighed looking up at the ceiling then got up, went to the window and saw Tollie still working, concentrating and I just stood there watching him, curious about what he was writing and the dear friend who he said was going to visit him on Sunday and how excited he seemed and again, wondered if it was a man or a woman.

I went down to the kitchen and took out the left over lasagna from a few nights ago and heated it up two pieces in case I wanted more. I liked Friday nights and usually did something with Janine or Liz or Tristan and was rarely home alone with no plans but for some reason I didn’t feel like hanging out. Just then, my cell phone rang again and it was Janine.

“Hey!” I said, checking the lasagna in the oven, wishing I had stuff to make a salad and remembering the delicious salad I had at Tollie’s.

“Whatcha doing,” Janine asked.

“Making supper," I said. “I’m just going to lay low tonight.”

“Really, you’re not doing anything with Tristan?”

“Nope, he just called. Hey, what’s happening with you and Alex. You guys had a fight.”

“We’re cool. He’s on his way over. We’re going to watch one of his dumb movies--that’s about it. We could come over there, if you want. What about it?”

“Nah, I want to be alone.”

“Really, anything wrong, why do you want to be alone? That’s weird.”

“I just do. I have things on my mind. Just want to lay low, you know, just be alone. What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing’s wrong. It’s just strange, Friday night and all.”

“Listen, my dinner’s ready. You guys have fun tonight. Glad you made up.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Talk to you later. Call me if you change your mind.”

“Okay,” I said. “See you,” and hung up, realizing this was the first Friday night in a long time, I didn’t do something with my friends. I took the lasagna out of the oven and put it on the plate, sat down still wishing I had a salad like I had last night.

There was more lasagna left and I suddenly got the idea of seeing if Tollie wanted some, surprised that I thought of that, realizing it was partly the desire for salad that inspired me, but knew it was more than that so I quickly got a plate, put a piece of lasagna on it, grabbed my plate and went out the kitchen door, looked up at the window, noticing Tollie was still working then walked up the narrow steps and knocked on his door with my foot since was I holding both plates. When he opened it, I could see his surprise, his smile.

“Surprise!” I said, “I thought you’d like some of this left over lasagna but really I wanted another salad like you made last night.” I blurted it out, surprised at myself. “Hope you don’t mind.”

He laughed. “Wow! Sarah, aren’t you something. This is a pleasant surprise.”

“Well, I saw you working and thought why not, thought you might be hungry and I was thinking about that salad and the delicious dressing so I thought I’d pop over, hope you don’t mind,” I repeated, feeling awkward and again, surprised at myself.

He laughed again and opened the door wider, letting me in. “No, I don’t mind. I’m just surprised, thank you.”

I walked in and put the plates down on the table while he pushed his computer aside. “Sure, I’ll make us a salad. Would you like some wine?”

“Yes, thank you. I’d love some wine,” I said, realizing I hardly drink wine and last night was the first time in awhile. I was surprised how comfortable I felt and also a little nervous, unsure, but glad I had followed my impulse. He put the bottle on the table and two glasses. “You pour while I make the salad,” he said, moving back to the counter.

I watched him making the salad, cutting up a tomato and green pepper, tossing it with his fingers and I liked how comfortable he seemed then poured the dressing over it, tossing it again with two forks and brought it to the table while I poured the wine. We picked up our glasses, clicking them, looking at each other and again he said, “To life and to our friendship.”

It thrilled me to hear him say that--especially since before last night we had hardly spoken to each other and it felt like after two years of his living in the carriage house, I had discovered something I didn’t know existed. I repeated his words, “to life and our friendship” and took a sip of wine, loving how he looked at me and smiled.

“I like it here,” I said, helping myself to the salad. “It’s cozy.”

“Good. I’m glad,” he said. “I love living here. It’s so perfect for me. I love that I can garden and write and it’s so quiet--just me and the birds and squirrels and I can bike into town to get some food. I don’t need much else.”

“I don’t think I could do what you do,” I said. “I’d be bored, I think, in fact, I know I’d be bored.”

He nodded, chuckling. “Maybe one day you will find what you love and you won’t be bored, but I know what you mean. You’re going off to college in the fall. Maybe you will find what you love there. I hope so. You’re young.”

“How did you find out what you love?” I asked, wishing he didn’t think I was young, even though I was.

“I’m not sure exactly how I found out what I loved. It kind of evolved. I grew up on a farm and I never went to school. I just worked with my dad and some of the other people who worked with us and we just talked a lot and I learned how to plant and harvest and my mom and sister canned things and I always helped with that and I loved to read and so many books taught me and inspired me. Dad put me in charge of the chickens when I was nine and I started selling eggs at the farmers market and to neighbors--that’s where I learned math. We went to different farmers markets near where we lived and I just watched people. You can learn so much at a farmers’ market. That was the only school I had--that and the farm and I started writing down my thoughts, sometimes in poems, sometimes in little stories. I was lucky that my parents trusted me and let me wander in the woods near our farm. I loved fishing. We had a big creek near our house and I caught trout and sometimes bass and learned from nature.”

“So you were really free weren’t you? I can’t imagine not going to school. I’m just so used to it.”

He nodded. “Maybe that’s why you don’t know what you love. You didn’t have the chance to find out like I did. I read an article recently about how many young people commit suicide and how rampant depression is among teens and so many don’t do well in school and those who do well go on to college but most don’t and find boring jobs and flounder in their lives, drink, get high. Some find out what they like but most choose something that will help them get a job when they get out but they don’t love it--maybe some do but, like I said, most don’t. Most people are bored, I think. I remember a line from Thoreau’s Walden, “the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.’ It’s really tragic.”

“You went to college,” I said “and mom said you were working on your PhD and then dropped out--why did you do that?’

“Because I knew what I wanted to do. I knew I was a poet and it wasn’t a choice. It’s hard to explain--I mean, you can choose to do something like be a doctor or lawyer or whatever but you are chosen to be a poet. It’s a gift and a tremendous responsibility and I found that I wanted to share what was intimate and secret and I felt, I mean, really believed that what I had to say was important and I had to say it. I didn’t have a choice. I just knew I was a poet--it’s as simple as that.”

“But you said you never published anything.”

“I know. But when you’re a poet you have to forget that you are a poet and just write poetry. Getting published isn’t that important. The reason you are a poet is to write poetry and believe it will be found, discovered like finding a treasure without looking for it. You don’t advertise yourself.”

“But you spend so much time gardening,” I said.

“Well, yes. I love to garden and it’s not that different than poetry and I have to eat--so gardening and poetry go together. It feels so natural and I learn so much from the garden. ”

We finished eating and he poured me a little more wine, emptying the bottle. We sipped the wine, both of us sitting back and he looked at me. We were quiet for a few minutes and I was trying to absorb all that he had said, fascinated by his words, how he thought and how he lived.

“But don’t you need money?” I asked, still wondering about how he lived.

“Not much--it all depends. Like your mom, my grandfather died and left me some money--not a lot but enough--and mom and dad still have the farm. Maybe I’ll go back there one day, but I was lucky to inherit some money and I don’t need much. I believe I am here to write poetry and stories and that’s what I do. I’m blessed and feel grateful. I really appreciate how lucky I am to have found this place and to be able to write and garden. I couldn’t be happier.”

I looked over at his notebook next to the lamp on the small table. “I saw you writing today, you looked so engrossed, like nothing else existed, what were you writing?”

He chuckled and glanced over at the notebook then back at me. “I was working on a new poem. I’ll read you a few lines--not the whole poem--I’m still working on it but I’d like you to hear it. Thanks for asking,” he said, smiling at me then went over to the table, picked up the notebook and came back to the table and sat down, turning the pages, looking for the lines he wanted to read, adjusted his glasses, tugged at his beard.

“Okay here goes. This poem is called, “Following Dawn.” I’m imagining I am above the world following the sun rising and moving across the world and I’m looking down.” He looked into my eyes, cleared his voice and read slowly and there was something in his voice that was different, as if he went into a trance. I can’t remember all the words but it was like music and even after all of these years, I still remember these lines, “and I want my words soaring through the sky to touch the hearts below me, praying I can love myself enough to love the ugly, the evil, the killers, the vultures and with my words wake the innocence they were born with, the goodness they’ve forgotten.”

He looked up at me after reading those lines and closed his eyes as if holding back tears and I felt like I was going to cry. He was reading with so much feeling, the words pouring out of him. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him as he read, thinking about his voice and these words I have never forgotten, “Oh, if only I could say these final words, be heard and leave behind one song that makes a difference, I’d gladly leave the dawn to others.”

He took a deep breath when he finished, closed his notebook and looked away then took another deep breath and smiled at me. “It still needs work but that’s what I was writing this afternoon.”

“Wow that was amazing. You’re really good and I love how you read the poem. I had tears listening to you.”

“I’ll give you a copy of it when it’s finished, if you’d like,” he said.

“I would. I really would. Thank you,” I said, realizing we read poetry in school but I never heard anything like that. I was floored.

“Thank you for bringing the lasagna and surprising me. This has been nice,” he said.

“Thanks for the salad,” I said, feeling it was time to go but not really wanting to. “I better get going,” I said, standing up, reaching for the empty plates.

“Leave them,” he said. “I’ll bring them over in the morning.”

He walked me to the door and just before I left, he kissed me on the forehead and said, “Goodnight, Sarah and thank you.”

I was overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings when I went home, surprised how Tollie had touched something in me I didn’t know existed. I was intrigued, fascinated and amazed to suddenly discover this man who had been living a hundred feet from me for two years in our carriage house and who I hardly paid attention to and thought was weird. I went to the window and saw him sitting in his chair reading and wondered if I could ever be alone and content.

I slept in that next morning and didn’t wake up until eleven. It was Saturday and I loved not having to get up and rush out to school. The fact is, I loved to sleep--still do, but not like I did when I was a teen. Anyway, when I got up, I looked out the window but didn’t see Tollie. I took a long shower, played with myself, had a huge orgasm then got dressed, throwing on an old pair of cut-off jeans and a baggy t-shirt and even before I got to the kitchen, heard Tollie and my mom laughing. When I entered, mom looked up at me and smiled, “I made home fries if you want some” and Tollie turned and said, “Good morning, Sarah” then turned back to the big cheese omelet and home fries mom made him. She was sitting next to him at the table, actually close to him, almost touching, holding her coffee mug and I suddenly felt a pang of jealousy that surprised me. I tried shrugging it off and put a bagel in the toaster oven, got out the cream cheese, poured myself a mug of coffee and tried to act nonchalant about Tollie being there, but I wasn’t. I didn’t know how to act. I was shaky and didn’t know whether to sit with them or go out on the back porch or go back to my room. All I knew was I didn’t want the home fries mom made for Tollie and knew I was being stupid. I love home fries and mom is such a good cook.

I ended up sitting at the table with them somehow feeling like a third wheel when I knew it was crazy. I was a kid and Tollie and my mom were adults, but I wanted to feel special like I did when we had dinner and he read me that poem and said he’d give me a copy and it felt so intimate. They were talking to each other and I tried to listen but I wanted Tollie to pay attention to me and not to my mom and didn’t know what to do. I knew I looked good in the tight cut-offs and wished I wasn’t wearing such a baggy tee shirt. Mom had put on weight and was a little plump. She didn’t exercise but still looked good considering she was in her forties and she was wearing a low cut white blouse and no bra. I couldn’t tell for sure whether she was doing it on purpose or not but there was plenty of cleavage showing and I know she liked cooking for Tollie. I was definitely jealous and hated what I was feeling and somehow wanted to let him see how sexy I looked in the cut offs but I didn’t. Still it was pretty intense thinking I was competing with my mom for Tollie. Wow! That was insane but that’s what was going on.

When the phone rang, my mom took the long cord and went into the pantry next to the kitchen and there I was sitting across from Tollie. He had finished eating and looked at me over the rim of his coffee then put his mug down.

“I really enjoyed being with you last night,” I said.

“I liked it too--very much,” he said. “It’s nice getting to know you.”

“Thank you,” I answered, shrugging my shoulder. “I liked that poem you read. I was really touched.”

“I’m glad you liked it. I’ll give you a copy when it’s really finished and I’d love you to hear some of my others. Hardly anyone knows my poetry so it would feel good to share them with you.”

“I’d like that,” I said and our eyes met and I somehow felt special again like something was happening between us but I didn’t know what.

Mom came back in the kitchen and hung up the phone and sat down with us and they started talking again, continuing their conversation. And again, I felt like I didn’t belong there so I picked up my plate and mug, rinsed them and said, “See ya” and left the kitchen feeling confused and like my heart was going to burst. What was going on with me, I wondered running back up the stairs to my room. I had never been so confused in my life and didn’t know what to do.

(To be continued)

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