Chapter 1: Serendipity Smiles
Littleton, Colorado, February 2006
“NEVER DO THIS FOR A MAN!” I YELLED OVER MY SHOULDER TO MY THIRTEEN-
year-old daughter, Katie. I sprinted faster toward our house to save me time. Why did I give myself only an hour? I’d just stuffed two leashes into Katie’s hands—one leash leading to an eighty-pound puppy, and the other to a twelve-pound bichon frise. I felt a pang of guilt. Was I a bad mom? I halted and whirled around to check. Yep. The bichon, Honey, and the lab, Cooper, had lassoed Katie by her ankles on the greenbelt’s path. And the look on Katie’s face? Bewildered. Frantic. Perturbed. Are you my mother?
My soul answered yes. Choosing to race toward a man began my marriage journey. Steve had called me during our dog walk and asked if I could meet him—for the first time—for a hike. My response was honest, unexpected, but reasonable for a woman who hadn’t dated in twelve years: “But I haven’t bathed in three days.”
For reasons unknown, Steve persisted. “I’d love it if you took a shower and came over. When can you be here?”
Thirty minutes later, I pulled out of my driveway. I pressed the radio on as I drove to his house. I couldn’t believe it. Serendipity had pulled up a chair, held my face in its hands, and whispered, “Don’t miss this.” Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion’s rendition of “The Prayer” filled my SUV. Of the thousands of songs tooling around inside my head, this one happened to strike a life-changing chord a month earlier.
The song had made a cameo appearance during my first-grade Christmas party. A group of unusually chummy moms encircled my desk—so chummy, in fact, that for the first time in my career, I shed my teaching armor and became a mere mortal. As I opened my loot of Christmas gifts, these women watched in earnestness, hoping their child’s gift would become legendary. My students sat in circles playing a listening game about passing an object either to the left or right. The room moms thought it was a great game; I knew better. I knew it was nothing less than six-year-old torture. Twister mind torture.
I turned left myself, toward the quiet town of Morrison, away from my suburban house bordering a beltway carrying 100,000 cars per day. Steve lived in Willow Springs, an exclusive community cushioned from the hum of suburbia. The twenty-minute drive gave me time to rehearse my story of how he popped into my life:
At my teacher’s desk, I had ripped open a gift wrapped in metallic red paper and turned it right side up. Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion’s sepia faces graced a CD cover that featured their glorious duet, “The Prayer.” To this day, I believe the song was recorded in a heavenly studio in some secret chamber. It’s the only song that brings tears to my eyes, no matter how many times I’ve heard it.
I touched the CD cover, sighed, and, looking to the heavens, uttered the words that would change my life: “If I ever get married again, I want this song sung at my wedding.”
I wanted it sung because even though I was a singer, it was out of my octave league.
Our Junior Achievement parent volunteer, Gail, leaned close to me, touched my arm, and asked loudly, “Are you dating anyone?”
All the moms shifted their stares back from their confused children to their red pepper–faced teacher.
“Oh, no. I just meant that if I—”
Gail spoke, fortune teller–like. “I know someone,” she whispered. She grinned at her own ingenuity and repeated, “I know someone.”
“Who? Who?” chorused my Dixie Chick moms.
Gail announced her candidate. “His name’s Steve, a friend of my fiancé, and he would love someone like you.”
“Okay, ladies,” I said, rising from my desk, rescuing my baffled students. “Let’s get the food ready.”
The moms guffawed, enjoying my embarrassment. But I wasn’t interested and had tuned out Gail’s advertisement. How could a teacher get involved in a relationship through one of her own students? How unprofessional.
But Gail persisted. In January, she began haunting me, first on bus duty, then on a field trip. A week later, she wildly waved her arms as I ushered my class into an awards assembly. On Groundhog Day, she showed up again, arriving early to stand with her daughter at the front of my class as I assumed my morning duty. I couldn’t avoid her now. She raised her eyebrows and gave me a hopeful thumbs-up.
“So, Ms. Lynn, what are your thoughts about Steve?” she asked.
This stalker had to stop. I already had twenty-six of them, in training, who followed me around in two lines all day, every day. I feigned interest in Gail. Besides high standards, I had
manners. “Tell you what, Gail, why don’t you email me Steve’s information and when the school year’s done, I’ll think about it.”
“It’s a start,” she said, heaving a reluctant but triumphant battle sigh. “Oh, let me guess, you’ve got cold feet, right?”
“For sure,” I lied. I had no cold feet. She, on the other hand, had OCD.
“Do you want his phone number too?”
“Women call men now?” I asked, surprised. I hadn’t dated since 1995. Dating was avant-garde to me, like dry-erase boards.
Gail must have noticed my bulging eyes. “Well, some women don’t like giving their phone numbers out. I’ll send everything to you.”
Thank God I could cross her off my list. The school bell rang. I faced my kids. Switching gears, I touched Darci’s nose and grinned.
“Good morning, everybody! Sam! Nice haircut.” I grazed his buzzed head. “Mind if I get one like it so we can be twins?” Sam was most often mute, so his body wiggled in response.
I strolled down the rest of my line, a sergeant reviewing a platoon. One girl in the middle stomped on a classmate’s feet.
“Ashley! Stop it! End of the line.” My voice narrowed. “Now. You know why.” I spotted Peter’s head bobbing for attention. “Peter, I got your mom’s message and my answer is yes. And what holiday is today?”
“Groundhog’s Day!” screamed the children. I loved my job.
“Did any of you see Punxsutawney Phil on the news this morning?”
Glee turned to blank looks, except for one overachiever.
“I did! He saw his shadow and that means we have six more weeks of winter,” said my future weathercaster.
“We’re going to make groundhogs today. C’mon.”
My minions followed me into our classroom, a nod to my childhood first-grade room forty years earlier, its trimmings nostalgically pure: red and white paper chains—600 links
glued together with sticky, stubby fingers—draped the walls, offsetting the cacophony of color, shapes, patterns, and other sensory overloads that defined my world. A number line skirted the front wall, with vowel and spelling charts posted low, munchkin-height high. Lusciously illustrated picture books topped every cabinet like framed family photos, and student work adorned bulletin boards inside polka-dotted borders. A green alphabet strip hemmed the chalkboard.
I opened my computer screen and pulled up the attendance folder. A notification icon appeared—an email from Gail.
I groaned, but I opened and scanned it.
Then I sat down and read it slowly. Twice.
In one nanosecond, I threw my professionalism out the window.
That night after dinner, Steve’s number appeared on my caller ID. I ran upstairs for privacy and picked up the phone. I tried to sound normal. Confident. Not giddy, but grown-up: not me.
“Hello?” I asked, summoning my femininity from the dead. “Hello, Barb? This is Steve Vannoy.”
His voice was grown-up, silky, pure, confident. Its echo nestled into my core, and my heart hammered all the giddiness out of my body. “Hi, Steve,” I answered, my voice and soul entwined. “How is your evening going?”
“Busy! I’m not home long.”