Mary jerked awake, disoriented for a moment as she tried to determine what had awakened her. Dim light coming through the front windows let her know she had slept most of the afternoon in her chair. The pain in her neck let her know that was a bad idea.
“Miss Mary?” The voice accompanying the quick knock on the front door startled her, but her surprise quickly turned to joy as she recognized Josiah’s voice.
“Coming!” Mary struggled out of her chair, her old joints protesting. She made it to the door with the help of her walker, and pulled it open. There Josiah stood with a plastic grocery sack in one hand and a bouquet of flowers in the other.
“How are you, Miss Mary?” Josiah looked a little sheepish, his blue eyes slightly downcast.
“Josiah!” Mary squeezed his arm. “Is it Thursday already? I’m so glad to see you!”
As she slowly backed out of the way, making room for Josiah to enter the house, he said, “I’m glad to see you, too, but it’s only Wednesday. I came a day early.”
Mary made her way across the room, looking over her shoulder every few steps to make sure he was still following her. “I look a mess, Josiah. I hope you won’t judge me too harshly.”
“You look beautiful,” Josiah answered.
When they finally made it to the kitchen, Mary sunk into a chair, and said, “This weather’s getting to my bones.” She grimaced as she rubbed her hip. “Makes it hard to get around.”
Josiah set the grocery sack on the table and began pulling items out. First a carton of ice cream, then whipped cream, chocolate sprinkles, and a jar of maraschino cherries.
“What’s all this?” Mary’s eyes were as wide as a little girl’s.
“Ice cream sundaes.” Josiah grinned at her. “I’m trying to make amends.”
“For standing you up last week.” He didn’t look at her as he dished the ice cream. “I had a little bit of an accident. Hit a deer. I should have called and told you, but I wasn’t thinking. My dog died and I was kind of upset.” Josiah looked at his friend, obvious sorrow in his eyes. “I’m sorry I didn’t call.”
Mary waved her hand, dismissing his apology, “No need to be sorry. It’s fine.” She grabbed his hand and squeezed. “I’m so sorry about your dog, and I’m glad you’re okay.”
Attempting to lighten the mood, Mary said, “I can’t remember the last time a handsome man brought me flowers.”
“I don’t know about handsome.” He reached for the empty vase sitting on the counter, and ran water from the tap into it. “I don’t have a lot of experience, but I hear ladies like to get flowers with their apologies.”
Mary laughed, and dipped her spoon into the ice cream. She actually could remember the last time she received flowers from a handsome man; Arthur had given her a dozen roses on her last birthday before his first stroke. What she couldn’t remember was the last time she had ice cream. Living on a small fixed income, she never felt like she could afford little luxuries for herself. Occasionally Eva would bring her a piece of cake or pie. She had made several cakes for Josiah, but she had never thought to ask him to buy some ice cream when he picked up her groceries for her.
“How is it?” Josiah asked, placing the flowers in the middle of the table and sitting down to join her. “I didn’t know what your favorite flavor is, so I just went with vanilla. Everybody likes vanilla, right?”
Mary nodded. “Vanilla is my favorite!”
“Well, I’m glad you like it.” Josiah took a bite before adding, “And don’t think this gets you out of our Thursday dinner. Tonight was just to apologize and get back in your good graces so you’ll make me some of your famous fried chicken tomorrow.”
Mary laughed. “I’d be pleased as punch to fry you some chicken. So long as you go to the store for me. My cupboards are about bare.” When Mary saw the look of horror that flashed across Josiah’s face, she quickly said, “Oh, no! Don’t you worry. I didn’t go hungry or anything. My sister, Eva, ran out to the store for me. I’m just running out of some staples . . . can’t make your chicken and biscuits without flour and buttermilk.”
Josiah looked both guilty and relieved. “I’m awfully sorry I didn’t call. I didn’t even think about leaving you hanging without groceries.”
Mary cut him off. “I said don’t worry about it, and I mean don’t give it another thought. I’ve got a dozen ways to get groceries if I need them. What I missed was your company. I’ve grown rather fond of you.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” she joked.
“You are kinda scraping the bottom of the barrel.”
Mary shrugged, “Not everyone knows about my fried chicken.”
“Well, I kind of hope the secret doesn’t get out,” Josiah grinned, “I’d hate to have to share.”
“Well then I guess you’ll hate to hear this, but you’re gonna have to share tomorrow?”
“Oh, yeah?” Josiah was truly surprised.
“Yeah,” Mary couldn’t stop the wide smile that spread across her wrinkled face, “I’m watching the two little girls next door tomorrow evening. Their aunt asked if they could stay over here after school for a few hours.”
“Well, look at you, Miss Popularity!” Josiah teased. “I miss one Thursday and you’ve already replaced me.”
“I hope you don’t mind them having dinner with us,” Mary’s eyes sparkled. “It’ll be like a party, all four of us together.”
“I’ll be looking forward to it.” Josiah reached for her hand, and gave it a squeeze. “And I mean that.”
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, The Society of Classical Poets, and various other literary journals. She recently won an Honorable Mention for her short story “A Slow Burn” at the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society’s annual convention. She also received the Springs of Helicon Award for Poetry, awarded by Tennessee Wesleyan University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.