Laurie Ingram Sibley
Allie checked her antique silver watch. Four o’clock. Still an hour and a half until her blind date arrived. She had already vacuumed the entire house and deep-cleaned the microwave. Her nervous pacing took her past windows that framed the yellow maple tree in the center of the front yard. Wind made the branches quiver. As she watched, another leaf drifted down to join the carpet of gold beneath.
Allie seized upon the idea. Raking was the perfect autumn chore to kill some time while she waited. She yanked a blue knit hat down over her ears and marched outside to find her rake.
The crisp air teased her cheeks. Allie dragged the rake through the leaves with quick, rough strokes. Frustration with the whole situation fueled her muscles. Why had she ever agreed to meet Rachel’s new-to-town cousin? But Allie knew the reason. She hadn’t had a convincing excuse, and she wasn’t ready to share the truth just yet—the truth that her heart belonged to someone else. Which was ridiculous because they hadn’t actually met.
She knew his name was Colin because she’d heard it called out in the coffee shop all month. She knew his voice was deep and sexy as he ordered an Americano. He had dark hair and a strong jaw. He was friendly and confident as he joked with the baristas.
One afternoon, as Allie graded English essays behind a fragrant chai latte, their eyes had met by accident. Well, Allie had been staring on purpose, but she certainly hadn’t meant to let him know it. His eyes had smiled first, behind square black glasses, and then his mouth. He’d raised his coffee cup in a tiny salute on his way out the door.
There had been mutual eye contact and smiles on several other occasions. Twice, when she’d timed her leaving just right, he’d held the door for her and they’d made small talk. They were working their way up to a grand romance, Allie was sure of it. They just needed more time.
Chilly wind ruffled the branches overhead and several more leaves swirled to the dry grass. She’d finished about half the yard and it was just… 4:07? Why did time move so slowly when you just wanted something over with? She leaned miserably on the rake. In reality, Colin probably wouldn’t recognize her if they passed on the street, and she had only an awkward evening with a stranger to look forward to.
Leaves crackled underfoot as Allie tromped to a new part of the yard and resumed raking. And daydreaming.
Allie and Colin meandering hand-in-hand through a pumpkin patch.
Snuggling in the bleachers to watch her students play Friday night football.
Kisses that tasted like apple cider and hope.
Allie tossed the rake aside to admire her pile of autumn beauty. She checked the hands of her watch—only 4:13? Groaning, she let herself fall to her knees in the mound of leaves, then flopped onto her back. A spicy, musty scent closed in around her.
Allie dropped her arm over her eyes, blocking out the late afternoon sun. Maybe she could just hide here. Maybe the blind date wouldn’t see her. He’d knock and then leave and Allie could just tell Rachel she’d mistaken the time—
Allie froze at the masculine voice, arm still covering her face. This couldn’t be happening.
She’d dreamed so often of hearing Colin say her name. Now she was projecting his voice onto the blind date.
“I’m Rachel’s cousin, Colin. Didn’t we… have a date tonight?” He sounded confused.
But not nearly as confused as she was. He was over an hour early. And his name was Colin, too?
She opened her eyes. Colin—her Colin!—stared down at her curiously. Because she was a grown woman lying in a leaf pile, for Pete’s sake, wearing an ugly hat. She scrambled to her feet, Colin reaching out belatedly to assist.
He kept hold of her hand as they gazed at each other, electricity zinging between their fingers. When they finally spoke, it was at the same time.
“Coffee Shop Girl?”
“What time is it?” It seemed obvious now that she couldn’t have raked the entire yard in thirteen minutes.
“Five-thirty. Isn’t that when—?”
“My watch stopped. I must have forgotten to wind it—Did you call me Coffee Shop Girl?”
He grinned. “Sorry. I needed something to call you while I worked up the courage to ask you out. But I never imagined Rachel’s friend and Coffee Shop Girl were one and the same.”
Allie felt a piece of heaven settle into place on earth.
Colin plucked a leaf from her hair. “I was thinking we could walk through the park and enjoy the fall colors, but you got a head start on leaf-pile jumping.” He suddenly kicked his way into the middle of the heap, wearing a mischievous look that caught at her heart.
Feeling giddy, Allie plunged in after him. She grabbed handfuls of bright yellow leaves, tossing them into the air and watching them flutter down around their shoulders. Colin drew her into a clumsy spin.
She tripped and they went down, laughing. Braced on his arms, Colin’s face hovered above hers, the twinkle in his eyes replaced with a spark of something new. A second later, his head dipped and she felt that spark on his lips, gentle and hesitant.
For a moment they smiled shyly at each other in their rustling nest. Then Colin pushed to his feet. “Hey, Coffee Shop Girl, want to get some coffee?”
He pulled her from the leaves for the second time. “Your hands are cold,” he said, tucking one of them into his pocket as they started across the yard.
Allie’s other hand drifted to her lips. She’d been right. His kiss did taste like hope.
And they had plenty of time.
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