A few days later, Sara was washing dishes after work when the phone rang.
“Hello,” Sara said.
“Yes, this is she.”
“Oh, James. How are you?” Sara felt her heart beat faster. Here was her answer. Would she get to stay in her house?
“I got the job. I start on Monday.” He sounded excited.
“That’s wonderful! And you still want to live here?” Please say yes!
“Yea, that’s why I was calling. Hoping my room was still available.”
“When do you think you’ll want to move in?” Sara said in a rush.
She heard James chuckle. “I’ll probably come on Sunday with my bed and clothes, if that’s okay. My uncle doesn’t work on Sundays so should be able to give me a hand loading. Do you know any guys around there who could help me unload?”
“Yeah, I have some friends who live down the street. Mark is the guy’s name. And Bill Newman lives directly across the street. I’ll ask them both tomorrow.”
“That would be great,” James answered. “I mean, I could move it all myself, being so strong and manly, but I like to give the little people a chance to do a good deed, for their sakes.”
“You are a king among men, James Overman.” Sara meant it, even if her tone was playful. “I’ll see you Sunday.”
“Til, Sunday, Sara Carraway.”
The next day after work, Sara walked to the Newman’s house across the street and knocked on the door. Miss Jane answered.
“Sara, dear. It’s so good to see you. Come in, come in.” Miss Jane was always so upbeat. “Bill, Sara’s here,” she called to her husband, who must be somewhere in the back of the house.
“Thank you,” Sara said as she walked into the tastefully furnished two-story home. The decor gave the impression of being sort of stuck two decades ago. But Jane and Bill were completely sweet and sincere. They had retired a few years ago and had four kids and lots of grandkids who all lived within four hours of Savannah. They were really too busy to redecorate. After eating dinner here last week, Sara felt a little more at home.
“Come on back to the kitchen,” Jane said. “I was just making a cake to take to a friend of mine who’s sick.”
The kitchen smelled divine. There was a lemon scent in the air and flour and egg shells littered the counter top around a very used mixer.
“Wow,” Sara commented. “Whatever that is, it smells wonderful.”
“It’s a shame, I know, but I am a one-trick pony. I make this lemon custard cake that my mother taught me to make when I was a girl. It’s good and I know how to put it together in a hurry, so I try to always keep the ingredients on hand.” Jane went over to the oven and peeked inside. “You know, this is almost ready. Would you like to have a piece?”
“Oh, I couldn’t take your friend’s cake. You made it for her.”
“Did someone say cake?” Bill Newman pushed the swinging kitchen door open and walked into the room. He was average height and weight, with thinning pepper gray hair. He headed straight for the oven and leaned over to take a look. Jane was next to him when he stood up and he put an arm around her and leaned in for a quick kiss on the lips.
Bill turned to Sara, “She makes this cake all the time and I never get any of it. She’s always sending it to other people’s houses. Please say you want a piece. Then I can actually have some.”
“Then, yes. I would love some. But just for you.” Sara smiled at Bill, who still had an arm around his wife.
They all sat around the kitchen table and chatted about work and home and grandchildren. In about ten minutes the cake was ready to eat. Jane sent Bill and Sara to the den, and she followed with cake and milk for everyone on a tray.
Sara picked up her fork and took a bite of cake. The tartness of lemon was just enough to keep the sugary cake from being too sweet. It was really quite a wonderful taste.
“Miss Jane, this is wonderful,” Sara said around her bite.
“Thank you,” Jane said, smiling. “What do you think, Bill?”
“Mmmmm,” was all Bill could get out as his mouth was completely full.
After a swallow of ice cold whole milk, something Sara hadn’t had since grade school, she was ready to tell this wonderful couple about James.
“So, I wanted to tell you something. I’ve made a decision and I didn’t want you to think bad of me. I felt like things would look bad and I like you two so much so I wanted to tell you before you had a chance to think the wrong thing.” The run on sentence came out in one breath and Sara had to pause before she could continue.
“Sweetie, please. You’re shaking. Don’t be nervous. I’m sure whatever it is we will understand.” Miss Jane was the picture of a concerned mother. Sara wanted to cry at the emotions that continued to be a problem for her.
“Thank you. I didn’t expect to feel so shaky about this. I – William, he didn’t – he didn’t leave any life insurance. And he made most of our money, so without his salary I can’t afford to keep the house.”
“Oh no. You’re going to have to sell?”
“Well, that’s what I thought, but then I realized that I could take on a roommate. If I did then I could afford to stay because I don’t want to move. And, surprisingly, I found someone.”
“Wonderful! Who is she, my dear?”
“That’s just the thing, it’s a he.”
“Oh.” Miss Jane looked questioningly at Sara. Then turned to Bill with a concerned look. “Is this young man someone that you know?”
“Sort of. I met him in Oden, where William grew up. He worked for the funeral home there. Just part-time. His family owns it and he was working during William’s funeral. There’s nothing between us. I didn’t want you to think that, but he’s a really honorable guy. That’s not a word people use very often today, but it’s the best word to describe him. He’s honorable.” Sara had been thinking about James as she described him. His image came to her mind and she realized that she was excited at the thought of him coming back. She was going to be very glad to see him. She looked at Jane and Bill. They were looking at each other.
It’s like they can read each others thoughts, Sara thought to herself. They are looking at each other as if they are talking. That must be so great.
Bill spoke first. “If you trust him, then we will, too. But I hope that you will allow us to meet him and to give you our opinion. We don’t want to be your parents, but after four kids and countless teenage friends, we have developed a sense of people’s intentions.”
“And please know, my dear,” Jane said, picking up where Bill left off. “That if you ever need us for any reason, or if you ever feel that you have changed your mind and need anyone to stand up to him with you, we are always on your side.”
“Thank you. I really appreciate that. James Overman is his name and he will be moving in this weekend. Maybe when he gets here with his stuff you could help him move in and that way you could get to meet him?”
“I think that’s a wonderful idea. Bill can help move furniture and I can provide the lemonade,” Jane said with an easy smile, the nervous tension that had been like a knot inside Sara loosening with every minute. “In fact, how about you invite Christine and Mark as well and we women can each bring a bit of food and have dinner after the men unload everything. That way he gets to know us and we get to know him. For some people, just knowing that a person has friends and neighbors looking out for them, keeps them in line.”
“I agree,” said Bill. “You are so smart,” he said leaning over and squeezing Jane’s knee.
“It must be from living with you for forty years,” she replied smiling and squeezing his knee in return.
Sara was relieved and jealous all at the same time. Oh, baby, I miss you so. We weren’t like these two but we were getting there. We could have gotten there.
She stood up realizing how late it had gotten. “I should go. I need to go to the store and I like to take a walk before it gets dark. I spend all my time at work sitting behind a desk so it’s nice to get over to Daffin Park and walk the track.”
“Well, try not to get eaten by the mosquitos. Those fountains are beautiful, but the water attracts mosquitos like bees to honey.” They all stood up and headed for the front door.
“Thanks again for the cake and the advice. I’ll pop over on Sunday and let you know when James gets here.”
“We go to the nine am Mass at Blessed Sacrament, and have brunch with some folks afterwards, but we should be available after one or so. Wouldn’t you say, Bill?”
“Yes, I’ll be in my moving clothes by one. No problem.”
Sara was down their front steps now and turned around to wave good-bye. But they were already linked arm in arm and headed back inside, two lovers who had managed to stay together for forty years. Sara missed William more than ever as she walked back to her house, alone.