“Maya? I’m here!” My neighbor, Vince, entered my kitchen carrying a toolbox and a grocery bag. “Let me see this assignment of doom.”
I’d texted him as soon as I saw Olive’s science homework: build a battery from a piece of fruit. Who did this teacher think I was? MacGyver? I’d majored in English.
I shoved the instruction sheet across the dining table toward him. “I thought fourth graders made dioramas. This is too much.”
Olive had taken a break from fretting about homework to enjoy some macaroni in front of the TV. Now she wandered into the room. “Mom says you know about science.” She put her bowl in the sink and ran water over it. “I thought you were a soccer coach.”
Vince laughed, and I took a moment to enjoy the deep rumble of it. “Soccer is a volunteer gig,” he said. “I teach science at the high school.”
“Cool.” Olive clambered onto the chair next to mine. Vince remained standing and unloaded items from his bag: wire and clips, a few lemons, and a tiny lightbulb. From his toolbox, he removed a handful of nails and a pair of pliers.
“All right.” Vince sat down across from me and smiled warmly. “No need to panic, Maya. We’ve got this.”
Every time he reassured me, I fell for Vince a bit more. After years as a widowed single mom, help shouldering the burden was such a gift. The only problem was that Vince had recently started dating someone else. It made me wish I’d revealed how I felt.
“Which lemon should we use?” Olive wanted to know.
“We need a few, but you can pick the one we start with.” Vince passed her the bag. She studied each one carefully, then made her choice and rolled it over to Vince.
“Excellent.” Vince handed me a nail. “Let’s have your mom do the first step. This zinc nail will be the positive end of our battery.” He pointed to a spot on the lemon’s skin. “You can just stick it right in there, Maya.”
Desperate to get this right and prove my usefulness to Olive, I braced the lemon against the tabletop and focused all my energy on the nail. Leaning over my target, I pulled back and stabbed full force through the rind. Instantly, there was a squirt of wetness.
“Ow!” I jumped from the table, pressing my fingers into my burning eye socket.
“Oh, man!” Vince was on his feet, too, and then his hands were on my shoulders ushering me toward the sink. “I should have brought goggles. I’m an idiot.” I heard the faucet turn on and water begin to rush into the sink. “We’ll need to flush the juice out.”
“Is her eye going to fall out?” Olive asked gleefully from somewhere behind me.
“Definitely not,” Vince said.
Though I knew fruit juice wasn’t dangerous, I still liked the confidence in his voice. He’d make a good dad.
Cradling my head in his hand, he slowly guided it under the stream. Cool clear water ran over my forehead and into both eyes. The burning sensation receded incrementally until I found I could blink. I turned off the faucet and lifted my head. My hair had to look monstrous, but Vince’s gaze was serious—not amused—when he handed me the dish towel.
“What?” I patted my face dry and finger-combed my bangs.
“I just want to be sure you’re okay.” Vince put his hands on my cheeks and peered into my face. “It would be a tragedy if anything happened to those beautiful eyes.”
My cool cheeks immediately began to warm. “Since when do you notice my eyes?”
“Since always.” His hands dropped to my shoulders, but he didn’t pull back.
“Your girlfriend probably wouldn’t like you talking like that.”
“We broke up.”
“I kept talking about you and Olive.” He took a lock of my hair between his fingers and pushed it behind my ear.
“Because you’re my favorite people. Do you think I make fruit batteries with just anyone?”
I laughed. Was this really happening?
Olive piped up again. “Are you going to kiss my mom?”
Vince’s thumb traced the corner of my mouth. His eyes locked on mine as he said, “I’m sure thinking about it.”
“Well, stop thinking, and start doing!”
“Olive!” I scolded, but Vince’s gentle kiss kept me from admonishing her further. When we parted, I’d completely forgotten what I was going to say.
Vince and Olive put together the rest of the battery while I watched from a safe distance. When they were finished, the little light bulb shone forth its golden glow. It was amazing the way a simple connection could illuminate everything.
Olive gave him a hug of thanks. Vince caught my eye, grinned broadly, and beckoned me toward him with a toss of his head.
As I crossed the room and leaned in for another kiss, I decided fourth-grade science was my new favorite subject.
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