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By Judy Baer
Steeple HillCopyright © 2007 Judy Baer
All right reserved.
My question is this, if your home is your castle and your body is your temple, which gets more maintenance?
For me, diet is a dirty word.
Not to my roommate Maggie Tamburo, however. She puts notes on our bathroom mirror like the one hanging there today.
Someday I'll weigh what my driver's license says I do. I pulled the sticky note off the bathroom mirror, wadded it up and tossed it into the garbage. No time to think of my roommate's hang–ups now. It could take hours just to run through the highlights, and I have an appointment today that I can't miss. I'm a part–time tutor and I have a little guy named Nathan waiting for me whom I can't stand up.
After my session with Nathan Tracy, his mother, Linda, caught me in the hall outside his room. "Do you have time for coffee, Quinn? I'd like to talk to you."
She beckoned me to follow her to the kitchen, where streams of sunlight poured over a blue–and–white checked tablecloth on a bright yellow table. She poured coffee, set out a plate of lemon–frosted biscotti and doughnuts covered with chocolate sprinkles in front of me and sat down.
"Nathan adores you."
"The feeling is mutual. I think he's going to be president of the United States one day."
"He'll acknowledge you in his inaugural address, I'm sure."
Linda's forehead puckered in thought. "There is a man in our neighborhood who could use someone like you. Jack was widowed two years ago. He has a ten–year–old son with juvenile arthritis. He's been trying to be mother, father, breadwinner, cook and housekeeper in addition to homeschooling Ben when he's sick, just like his wife did."
Linda sipped her coffee and pushed the doughnuts my way. I took another. Maggie would have a fit, but I don't gain weight—she does. Since I end up on her diet at home, I have to forage sweets for myself when she's not around.
"If you want my theory, he keeps busy so he won't have to think about having lost his wife, Emily. They were a 'perfect' couple, so in tune with each other that they could finish each other's sentences. Emily always said that if she thought about ice cream the next thing she knew, Jack was bringing her a bowl from the kitchen."
Linda leaned forward and rested on her elbows. "I know you are busy, Quinn, and that you work at two jobs, but I'm wondering if you have time for one more student."
Busy is an understatement. I'm a model as well as a tutor.
I have the natural Nordic look popular in the upper Midwest—tall, blond and leggy. My grandmother describes me as she might a really good dessert–peaches–and–cream complexion, honey–colored hair and naturally rosy lips the color of fresh strawberries. It's nothing I can take credit for, of course. God and my genetics get that.
My roommate Maggie Tamburo is also a model. While I model part–time for the fun of it, she makes her living in the business. Maggie is dramatic looking in a dark, exotic way reminiscent of Sophia Loren. She's voluptuous, sultry and prone to gaining weight easily, a problematic trait for a model who spends a lot of time in front of the camera. She has large brown eyes and pronounced features which are, when arranged as they are on Maggie's face, breathtaking.
"Modeling seems like a glamorous profession, yet you prefer to tutor. Why?"
"Looks are fleeting, Linda. What I can do for these kids can affect them, their families, maybe even the world. Someday I'd like to earn enough money modeling so that I don't have to charge so much for my tutoring services to families who are already financially strapped."
"You'd love Ben Harmon. He is an unbelievable charmer," Linda continued. "His father, Jack, is determined that Ben have the best education he can under the circumstances."
I felt a familiar pull toward this child already. "Ben is the cheeriest, funniest, most thoughtful little boy I've ever met," Linda continued. "A sunny disposition personified. His mother once told me that even when he was in pain, he tried to smile through his tears." She put her hand to her chest. "It makes me cry when I think about it. Jack Harmon is stubborn in some stereotypical jocklike ways," Linda admitted. She bent her elbow as if to show off her flimsy bicep. "'I can handle it myself," she mimicked. "That sort of thing. Maybe he won't even consider it. He's an independent guy."
"I like him already." Independent men don't bother me. I'm independent, too. I only answer to one guy, God.
At that moment I caught a glimpse of a jogger running by Linda's kitchen window.
"Look at this," she said, rising to her feet. "Speak and he appears. You're going to get the chance to meet Jack and take a look at him." Her eyes twinkled. "And there's a lot to look at. He's the best scenery in the neighborhood. Wait and see."
Linda opened the door before the doorbell rang. "Hey, Jack. You must have smelled food on my table. Come on in."
"I'm pretty nasty." There was pleasant amusement in his tone. "I don't think you want sweat on your chairs."
"A little sweat never scared me. Besides, there's someone here I want you to meet."
Linda returned to the kitchen with a trim, muscular man with dark hair that curled into damp ringlets at the nape of his neck. A forelock drooped agreeably over one eye. He was tan, fit and lean, with a blatantly athletic body, even features and a wide, playful smile.
I understood immediately what Linda meant about improving the scenery.
"Jack, I'd like you to meet Nathan's tutor. She's been working with him ever since the car accident that's kept him home from school. She's amazing, by the way. Brilliant as well as beautiful."
"If she's as good a teacher as she is lovely, then Nathan is one lucky boy."
I clapped my hands to my cheeks and felt them burning. "Please, you two. You're making me blush." I reached to shake his hand and I felt engulfed in his firm, steady grip.
"And Quinn, this is my neighbor, Jack Harmon. He has a little boy who is slightly younger than our Nathan. He got none of his father's bad traits and all of his good ones."
Jack laughed and dropped into the chair across from mine. "Does that mean the poor kid has no traits whatsoever?"
Linda set a bottle of water in front of him. He opened it and chugged the entire thing down. "Oh, there's a redeeming quality or two in you."
She turned to me. "You're a fabulous father for one thing. I told Quinn how you homeschool Ben when he's not able to be in the classroom because of his juvenile arthritis."
"Impressive," I said, and meant it. That raised Jack's stature in my eyes. I love hands–on parents.
"Ben's worth it." Jack's expression grew soft with affection. "There's nobody quite like Ben, is there, Linda?"
"There's nobody quite like either of the Harmon men."
"You're the best, Linda." He reached for a biscotti.
Linda handed him a mug of coffee to dip it in. He ate it in three bites. "By the way, here's the address of Ben's dentist. I think Nathan will like him." He threw a business card on the table. "Thanks for the sustenance. I've got lots to do today so I'd better run—literally."
He turned his attention to me and for a millisecond I felt as if I were the one and only most important person on the planet. "Nice to meet you, Quinn. Keep up the good work with Nathan."
And as quickly as he'd come, he was gone again. "Whew. That's a whirlwind of a man." "Gorgeous, isn't he?" "What makes you think I noticed?"
Linda hee–hawed. "I know you recently broke up with your boyfriend, so I'm sure you're reading the menu again. And your eyesight is good. You just can't miss a guy like Jack."
"Jack Harmon." I leaned back in my chair. "That name sounds familiar to me."
"You've probably heard of him through the fund–raisers he runs. He's a big supporter of childrens' sport camps." Linda frowned. "I don't know how he keeps it all together."
She was silent for a moment. "Or maybe I do know how. Jack has closed himself off to relationships with women. By choice, he has no social life. He's a man still aching over the loss of the love of his life. No woman will ever be able to compete with Emily. They adored each other. What's more, it's easy to remember the good and forget the bad when you lose a spouse. Emily is flawless in Jack's eyes and always will be. No living woman can compete. I think he keeps the schedule he does in order to prevent himself from falling into that kind of temptation." She sighed. "Sad but true."
I put a business card on the table. "If you ever feel he wants help schooling his son, give it to him. When–and if—he's ready, he'll call me."
I stood and gave Linda a hug. "By the way, next time you go to the store, you'd better stock up on dowels and foam balls. Your son is planning to build the solar system before I come back."
"Not life–size, I hope."
As I left the Tracys', I stared at the large brick and stone houses along the manicured streets and wondered which of these enormous houses belonged to Jack and harbored two lonely males.
After my last student, I stopped by the Images photography studio and was greeted at the door with a hug and shower of kisses—some human, some not. The studio's resident pet, a long, lean greyhound named Flash, at my encouragement, put his paws on my shoulders and washed my face with his tongue. That done, he glided back to the couch in front of a small television and resumed watching a black–and–white rerun of The Andy Griffith Show. Andy's whistling has a mesmerizing effect on him. A rescued former racing dog, Flash has forsaken speed for the good life of a couch potato.
I own Flash's friend Dash, another Mayberry fan and an equally lazy greyhound who hogs my bed and steals my heart. My childhood friend Pete Moore, owner of Images, read an article on former racing dogs in desperate need of homes and took me to "meet" a few at a function at a local pet store one Saturday afternoon.
I, who needed a dog like I needed cellulite, immediately fell in love. If there is a more elegant dog on the planet than a greyhound, I don't know what it might be. Handsome, lean, athletic, intelligent, polite, loving… how could I go wrong? Frankly, I've dated very few men with all those qualities in one package.
Excerpted from Mirror, Mirror by Judy Baer Copyright © 2007 by Judy Baer. Excerpted by permission.
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