“Come on, Claire. You can’t be alone on Valentine’s Day,” Lisa insisted over the phone.
“Sure I can,” I said, looking at the box of chocolates on my coffee table. I had a bottle of champagne chilling in the refrigerator, too. I hadn’t picked out a movie yet but it would be something with a Hepburn in it. Probably Katherine. She always made me smile.
“He’s a great guy. I promise.”
“Your boss’s cousin, whom you’ve never met. He might be a serial killer, for all you know.”
“He’s just a lonely guy stuck in a strange city on Valentine’s Day. Be a little hospitable.”
“And what about his wife or girlfriend at home?”
“He just broke up with someone.”
“You have to get back out there at some point. Do you think Hugo is sitting around at home?”
I felt every muscle in my body tense up at the mention of my ex-husband’s name. No, I knew for a fact that he was not sitting at home alone. My cousin had sent me a covert phone photo of Hugo with some gorgeous redhead in the sort of restaurant he had never bothered to take me to.
“Live a little! Let a nice guy buy you dinner,” Lisa said.
“No. I don’t think so. Sorry, Lisa. You know how stressful things have been at work. I’ve been looking forward to spending this evening on the couch wearing yoga pants. I can’t deal with dressing up and making small talk with some random guy.”
She sighed. “He might be your soul mate. You could be missing out on meeting the love of your life.”
“Maybe he’s Trudy’s soul mate.”
“Really? I thought she was seeing someone.”
“They had plans for tonight but he cancelled at the last minute. So that relationship is over.”
“Great! I’ll give her a call. Thanks!”
She hung up on me. I shut off the phone and plugged it in to charge. I wasn’t interested in taking any more phone calls tonight, especially from my boss. If he had another “brilliant idea,” it could wait until morning.
Ten minutes later I was dressed in faded yoga pants and a hoodie with a chocolate ice cream stain in an unfortunate spot. I had decided on Bringing Up Baby, and was studying the map from the chocolate box.
I sighed. I was tempted to ignore it, but the TV was turned up loud enough to hear through the front door. Sliding on the chain, I opened the door a crack and found Barry from across the street.
“You’re home! Thank goodness. Could I borrow your miter saw?”
“Miter saw. I’m pretty sure I saw one in your garage.”
All of the tools belonged to Hugo. He had bought a condo with no garage, so he left everything behind. I had told him to get it all out of my garage by the first of the year or I’d sell everything. A month and a half past the deadline, it was all still sitting there.
“I’m building a wet bar! I really wanted to get started on it tonight, but I need a miter saw.”
He looked so hopeful, I couldn’t tell him to go the hell away.
“Okay. I’ll open the garage and you can grab the… thingy.”
I shut the door in his face then grabbed a coat to pull on over my comfy clothes. Barry was standing in the driveway waiting when I raised the garage door.
The room was crammed with gleaming tools, stacks of wood and boxes of unidentifiable manliness. The last time there was an ice storm, it took me nearly twenty minutes to clear my car in the driveway. I was late to work. I had been dreaming of parking in this garage since we bought the house. It had never happened.
Barry’s eyes had glazed over and he was practically drooling as he sidled through the piles and made his way to the workbench.
“Is that a JH Williams 1390-piece Mammoth tool set?” he asked, his voice hushed.
“I understand the individual words in that sentence, but….” I thought of that photo of Hugo with the gorgeous redhead. “Tell you what, Barry. I will sell you the entire contents of this garage for one hundred dollars, but you have to take everything and you have to get it all cleared out of here tonight.”
He looked at me like I had lost my mind. “Do you have any idea what all this is worth?”
“Less than my car, which I am currently unable to park in this garage. Do we have a deal?”
“Yes! Yes, yes.” He started picking up random items and tucking them under his arm. I had seen lottery winners who looked less excited. “I’ll go to an ATM and get some cash. Or is a check okay? I can get cash.”
“A check is fine.” I pointed out the wheelbarrow/cart thing in the corner that I had barked my shin on countless times when trying to access the attic. “Why don’t you use that?”
I thought he was going to cry. “Are you sure? You could keep that and use it for yard work.”
“I have a service. Please get that thing out of here.”
He looked downright giddy. “I almost called my brother to see if I could borrow his miter saw, but I thought I’d try you first since you’re right across the street. I can’t believe this!”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Barry.”
“Yeah! You, too.”
I went back into the house and popped the cork on the champagne. As I savored my first sip, I pictured Hugo’s face the next time he stopped by unannounced to get something from my garage. I could imagine him turning red, then purple. Maybe he’d have a heart attack. I wondered if I was still listed as his beneficiary on the life insurance.
I giggled as I topped off my glass and went back to my movie.
Ten minutes later, there was a knock at the door. I sighed and paused the movie. Barry was standing on my doorstep holding some sort of power tool.
“I don’t feel right about this,” he said. “I mean, this thing alone is worth more than one hundred dollars.”
“Okay. You drive a hard bargain. I’ll take ninety dollars.”
“Seventy-five. Keep talking, Barry. I can go down to zero.”
He smiled. “How about if I offer you free handyman services? Anytime you need anything done around the house, I’ll take care of it for free.”
I thought of the time he was cleaning out his gutters and fell off the roof.
“Sure, Barry. If I need anything, I’ll come knock.”
“Okay. I feel better now.”
I waited. Was he expecting me to invite him in?
“Okay. Guess I’ll get back to hauling stuff.”
I closed the door and went back to my movie. I had to turn the volume way up to drown out the rattles and scrapes coming from the garage, but by the end of my second glass of champagne I hardly noticed the noise anymore.
I was just finishing off the bottle when I heard the crash. I paused the movie and went to fumble open the door into the garage. It was blocked by a pile of boxes, so I went through the front door and lurched out to the driveway. A table saw had tipped over onto my car and Barry was flat on his back under a pile of lumber.
“I’m okay,” he said faintly. I felt a completely inappropriate urge to giggle.
I lifted a few boards off him and he managed to scoot out from under the rest. He stood slowly. He didn’t look to be badly hurt, but I was seeing everything through a pleasant haze. I hoped he didn’t have any internal injuries, because I was way too tipsy to drive him to the hospital.
He was staring at the stain on my hoodie. I cleared my throat and crossed my arms over my chest. He looked away quickly. Yes, he seemed to be feeling just fine.
Barry pushed the table saw upright and we both studied the dent and scratches in the hood of my car.
“Sorry,” he said.
Thank goodness for champagne. Otherwise I might be pretty perturbed right now. “It’s okay. That’s what insurance is for.”
“Is it okay if I get the rest of the stuff tomorrow?”
“Why don’t you wait until the weekend? Maybe your brother could come help you.”
“That sounds like a good idea.”
“Are you sure you’re okay? I could call 911, get the paramedics to check you out.”
He blushed. “I’m fine. I used to play football. I got sacked much harder than this.”
That explained a few things.
“Okay. Good night, then.”
He limped off across the street and I headed back to the front door, which I had left sitting wide open.
There was a skunk standing in the doorway, sniffing the threshold. My heart stuttered as I froze and held my breath. If I threw something at it, it might run into the house. If I walked towards it, it might run into the house. If I walked away from it, it might run into the house.
I shivered. I wasn’t dressed for standing out in the cold. Across the street, Barry slammed his front door shut.
The skunk gave a start and toddled into my house.
“Live a little! Let a nice guy buy you dinner,” Lisa said.
I hesitated. Maybe drinking champagne alone on Valentine’s Day wasn’t the smartest option. What was next? House dresses? A dozen cats?
Lisa sensed the hesitation and pounced. “He might be your soul mate. What do you have to lose? It’s only one evening.”
An hour later, I found myself circling the block for the third time, trying to find a parking place somewhere along the row of restaurants. The wait time was going to be insane. Maybe I could talk this guy into getting some fast food and making a quick night of it.
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Positive attitude, I reminded myself. This was going to be fun. We could get to know each other while we were waiting.
A car ahead of me pulled out and I zipped into the space before anyone else could get it. I decided to see it as a good omen.
I arrived at the door to the restaurant at the same time as a slinky blond in a little black dress that made my floral maxi look frumpy. It was the only dress I had that was long enough to not require me to shave my legs. I opened the door and let her go in first.
A guy with artfully disheveled hair stepped forward and gave her a dazzling smile. “Claire?”
“No, sorry,” she said, stepping around him to greet her date.
For a split second he looked disappointed, but then he steeled himself and smiled at me. “I’m Lyle. Nice to meet you.”
We shook hands. The waiting area was crowded, forcing me to stand close to him. He was wearing too much cologne. I tried to suppress a cough.
“The hostess said the wait would be at least an hour. The seats at the bar are full, but I could get us a couple of drinks. What would you like?”
His gaze had wandered back to the blond. She was hugging her boyfriend, and her dress had ridden up.
“Vodka tonic, please.” And keep them coming.
I watched him walk away. Either he spent hours in the gym or those were calf implants. I was leaning towards implants.
I pulled out my phone to text Lisa that I hated her. She didn’t respond.
At the bar, Lyle was flirting with the woman standing next to him. The bartender gave him three drinks. He slid one over to the woman, along with what looked like his card. Then he picked up the other two drinks and made his way back to me.
“So,” he said with artificial brightness. “Lisa told me you work in marketing.”
I forced myself to sip my drink, rather than chug.
“Yes. We’re currently launching a campaign promoting a new energy drink that’s….”
“You big turd!” he shouted.
I jumped, spilling part of my drink on my shoes. “What?!”
He laughed. “Oh, sorry. The game is on at the bar. The ref made a bad call.”
I glanced behind me. He had been watching a basketball game over my shoulder while I spoke to him.
I should have stayed home.