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Porch Lights(9)
Dorothea Benton Frank

“Deborah Ann Jenkins. He’s a doctor, for heaven’s sake! Maybe there was an emergency.”

“He’s a dermatologist, Annie Britt. You think there was a midnight outbreak of contagious acne? Do you think we’ve got a poison ivy pandemic on our hands?” Deb giggled and I shook my head. She was a hopeless giggler, but she made me laugh.

“Would you listen to us? We’re turning into the Snoop Sisters.”

“Well, when the day arrives that you find something better to do than monitor the comings and goings of the George Clooney of Sullivans Island . . . you’ll let me know?”

“We’re pathetic.”

“No, we’re not. We’re curious. You said so yourself. Anyway, I think he’s gay. I’ve always thought that.”

“You just say that because he flirts with me and not you. Besides, he was married.”

“Yeah, to some woman who didn’t have the sense not to go out on a boat during a thunderstorm.”

“Bless her heart. She was on her way back to the dock when she got struck by lightning and the boat capsized. Not her fault.”

“Here’s to barometers, right?” Deb took a long drink of her tea, draining her glass. “She should’ve checked the weather.”

“Amen. Anyway, he’s got to be lonely, don’t you think?”

“If you say so. So far I haven’t seen any women around his house, have you?”

“Nary a one. But he’s probably still grieving.”

“Maybe Jackie will like him. We should introduce them.”

“He’s too old for her.”

“But not too young for you! Ha! Mercy! It’s almost one! I have to go, or I’m gonna be late. I wish you’d come with me, Annie. It would do you so much good.”

“Do me good. Humph. I walk the length of this island every day of my life. That’s plenty of exercise for one woman. Besides, I’m too old to be jumping around.”

“Oh, come on! It’s fun!”

“Maybe another time,” I said, wishing she’d get on with the business of leaving. I could feel my nerves starting to act up. Jackie and Charlie could arrive at any moment, and I wanted that moment for myself. If that sounds selfish, you haven’t longed for your child like I have.

“Okay, then, Mrs. Robinson. I’ll see y’all lay-tah! Tell that precious Charlie I’m baking him a blueberry pie.”

“That’s his favorite! He’ll love it! How did you know?”

“Because I actually listen when you ramble on and on!”

“Oh, you! Stop!”

I blew her a kiss, and the screen door closed behind her.

I sighed hard and leaned back in my rocker. Then I rocked forward and stood, moving to the edge of the porch to have a good look at Steve’s house. His very charming cottage was nestled in the dunes about ten yards from mine. Deb was jealous because she lived two houses on the other side of him and her house was positioned in a way that denied her a direct view of his deck and porch. And, although she wouldn’t admit it, his bedroom. I had the ideal view. Yep. I did. I saw plenty, and yes, I looked on purpose. Seriously? I would’ve used my binoculars except I was afraid he’d see me. And if you’re thinking I’m a peeping Thomasina, this was a very different affair from sneaking through the bushes in the dark and peering into random windows. It was specific and enjoyed from the safety of my own property.

Most of the island houses like ours were built of clapboards, perched high on stilts because of the occasional flooding tide from a hurricane. His, like mine, had louvered shutters that actually worked when we needed them closed to protect our windows from things like branches that took flight in high winds. His tin roof was red, and mine was silver. His house, which bore the misleading name of “The Dew Drop Inn,” was painted bright white with red and black trim. It looked like a greeting card for a real estate company in all its optimism, but the fact was, he wasn’t the kind of fellow you just dropped in on for a visit without calling. Or maybe I wasn’t the kind of woman who just went willy-nilly knocking on a single man’s door, especially one like him, whom I had no business visualizing in any other capacity than a nice neighbor. Good luck with that.

I often wondered what kind of casseroles he liked. Chicken divan? Probably not. No, he seemed like a man who liked heartier things to eat. Lasagna? I made a passable lasagna. I wondered then if I could ask him to show me how to use the rotisserie on my grill, the fancy one I bought Buster for his birthday that he never used. Buster preferred his Big Green Egg. But figuring out the machinations of my grill was a reasonable excuse to call on Steve.

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