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If Not for You

Beth collected her books and purse and was heading down the hallway when she heard her name.

“Beth,” Nichole Nyquist, a substitute English teacher who’d befriended her, called out from behind her.

“Hey,” Beth said, smiling as she turned around, happy to run into her friend. It’d been a couple days since they’d last connected. They’d met during the first week of classes and struck up an immediate friendship. After the birth of her second son, Nichole had given up her full-time position and currently worked only as needed. Seeing Nichole was a treat, as she hadn’t been at school all week.

“Do you have a minute?” Nichole asked.

“Of course.”

“I wanted to ask you to dinner tomorrow night.”

“Oh.” The invitation came as something of a surprise. She’d been to Nichole’s house once and briefly met her husband, son, and stepdaughter. Kaylene was also a senior at the high school. Nichole and Beth ate lunch together in the teachers’ lounge when they could, but those times were rare.

“I know it’s last-minute. I wanted to connect with you earlier but didn’t, and the next thing I knew it was Friday. I’ve been thinking about this awhile; I hope you can come.”

“I don’t have any plans,” Beth said, a bit wary of this sudden bout of chattiness from Nichole. “You’ve been thinking about what?” Nichole had left that part suspiciously blank.

“Ah . . .”

“Is there something you aren’t telling me?”

Nichole scratched her ear and then let out a long sigh. “Actually, there is. Rocco is inviting his best friend, Sam Carney, to dinner. I wanted the two of you to meet.”

Beth held the textbook closer to her chest. So that was it. Nichole planned on setting her up with Rocco’s friend. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem. She’d gone out to dinner and a movie with Tyler Crowley, an English teacher. He was divorced, lonely, and a little too eager to get involved in a relationship. Beth turned him down for a second date when he’d asked her again. He got the message after that.

Nichole paused as though hesitant, and Beth knew there was more to the story. “Tell me a little about Sam.”

Nichole slipped her purse strap over her shoulder and clung to it as if she wasn’t sure where to start. “He’s a great guy and he isn’t bad looking either.”

“Divorced? Single?”

“Single. Never been married. He’s a mechanic, and from what Rocco tells me, he’s one of the best in the city. Apparently, he can fix just about anything.”

If nothing else, Beth would know where to go if she experienced car trouble. Still, she sensed there was something else Nichole wasn’t telling her. “And . . .” she prompted.

“And, well, Sam probably isn’t like any other guy you’ve ever dated.”

Seeing as her dating experience had been limited to an approved list from her mother and that one date with Tyler, that was probably true. Still, she felt obliged to ask. “Different in what way?”

Nichole glanced down the hall as if looking for someone. “It’s hard to explain.”

Beth waited, giving Nichole time to collect her thoughts.

Her friend sucked in a deep breath. “When I first met Sam, he was . . . I’m not sure how to explain it. Let’s just say he was a bit unconventional . . . still is, for that matter.”

That was a curious way of putting it. “How so?”

“He swore a lot.”

“Not good.” Beth got enough of that from her students in the hallways. She found it to be in bad taste and a sign of a poor vocabulary.

“It’s better now,” Nichole was quick to add. “Owen makes Sam give him a dollar for every swear word he uses.” She struggled to hold back a smile. “The first few months I was convinced he was going to pay for my son’s college education.”

Owen was Nichole’s son from her first marriage. “Good for Owen.”

“I can’t say what Sam’s language is like now, but when he’s around the house his descriptive phrasing isn’t as picturesque as it once was. Rocco and I don’t get out as much as we once did, so we don’t see Sam socially a lot anymore. He stops by the house a couple times a week, though. He’s crazy about Matthew. I’ve never seen a man take to a baby the way he has. He’s perfectly content to hold him, and he isn’t averse to changing a diaper, either. Just not a messy one.”

So he liked babies. That was good. The swearing was troublesome, though. Sure as anything, her parents would balk at the thought of her dating a mechanic, but then she’d specifically moved from Chicago to get out from under their thumb.

“Anything else you care to tell me about Sam?” she asked, undecided. Frankly, this dinner didn’t sound promising and could end up being a disaster.

Nichole held her gaze. “Actually, I think it would be best if I didn’t say anything more. You should make up your own mind about Sam. All I can tell you is that he’s a really great guy. I had my doubts when I first met him and you might, too. Just give him a chance, okay?”

Beth nibbled on her lower lip. “Let me think about it. Can I get back to you either tonight or first thing tomorrow morning?”

“Sure. I know it’s a last-minute invite . . .”

“It’s fine, Nichole. Thanks for thinking of me. I’ll let you know soon. Promise.”

They left the building together, and by the time Beth reached Sunshine’s studio she’d decided against meeting Sam. It would be a waste of time on both their parts. From what little Nichole had said, it didn’t appear they had anything in common. The music teacher and the mechanic.

Not a good match.

Not a good idea.

Sunshine was busy painting, her long, thick, salt-and-pepper hair hanging straight and loose, reaching all the way down to the middle of her back. Beth couldn’t ever remember seeing her aunt in anything other than long skirts and Birkenstocks. She’d remained a flower child who never outgrew the 1960s. Concentrating on her work, her aunt apparently didn’t hear Beth enter her studio.

Standing back, Beth waited and watched. Her aunt was a talented artist. Her work was highly sought after and hung in galleries all across the country. What fascinated Beth was the prices she got for a few squiggly lines. It was between those lines where Sunshine’s talent came to life. In that space was intricate artwork, cleverly hidden at first glance. It often took Beth several minutes to see the full picture.

This current project displayed rows upon rows of blooming poppies, their color vibrant against a backdrop of what appeared to be random strokes of red paint. She stared at it for several minutes until she saw it. A school of fish. Unbelievable. Beth couldn’t help being mesmerized.

Her aunt released a deep breath as if she’d been holding it in and then relaxed, stepping back to consider her work, and nearly tripped over Beth.

“Beth, how long have you been here?” she asked, setting down her paintbrush.

“Not long.”

Sunshine apparently followed Beth’s eyes and cocked her head to one side. “You like?”

“It’s brilliant.” As far as Beth was concerned, there was no other word for it.

Sunshine tossed back her head and laughed, the sound bubbling up from her like champagne fizz. Beth loved hearing her aunt’s laugher. It had a magical quality that never ceased to amuse her. Just listening to it made her want to laugh, too. She resisted the urge to close her eyes and store it in her memory bank for times when she was low and struggled with worry or frustration.

“You say that every time, you know?”

“Because it’s true.”

Sunshine walked over to the tiny refrigerator, similar to the one in Beth’s college dorm room, opened it, and took out a bottle of water. Handing one to Beth, she grabbed another for herself. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

Beth felt a little silly turning to her aunt for advice. “I have a question for you.”

“Fire away.” Stretching out her arm, Sunshine saluted her with the water bottle.

“A friend asked me to dinner tomorrow night and . . .”

“Male or female?”

“Female, but it’s a setup. She wants me to meet a friend of her husband’s, though technically he’s her friend, too, I guess.” Beth felt a little funny talking about this, but the fact remained she was a novice when it came to men and relationships. She’d dated some in high school and college but had never been in a serious relationship.

“And the problem is?”

Beth leaned against the edge of the table, unsure how to explain. “To hear Nichole tell it, my dinner date is a bit coarse, what my mother would term uncivilized.

“You’ve mentioned Nichole before, haven’t you?”

Beth took a sip of water and nodded. “Yes, she was one of the first teachers to welcome me at the high school. She’s great. I have her stepdaughter in one of my classes.”

“So the problem is . . . ?”

“Sunshine”—Beth sighed—“I can only imagine what my mother would say if she heard I’d agreed to have dinner with a mechanic.”

Sunshine set her water bottle aside and cupped Beth’s face with both hands, staring deeply into her eyes. “My dear girl, that is your problem in a nutshell. You are living your life to please your mother. This guy—”

“His name is Sam.”

“Sam could be the most wonderful man you’re ever likely to meet. You haven’t even met him and you’re already judging him, deciding he isn’t worth knowing because he wouldn’t get your mother’s approval! My dear girl, take a chance.” She lowered her hands and gave an expressive sigh. “I knew a Sam once, and fell instantly in love with him. He was an artist, unconventional, crazy talented, married, but I didn’t learn that until it was too late and he’d stolen my heart.”

“Oh no.” Beth had never heard her aunt talk about anyone named Sam. But then there’d always been men in and out of Sun- shine’s life. No one man seemed to last for long. It was as if her aunt was looking for something elusive that continually escaped her.

“I have no complaints. When we were together it was glorious: a time I treasure. We were equals, in tune with each other. All we talked about were art and wine.” A wistful look and a smile stole over her, as if she was caught up in the memory of her love affair.

“Is he the reason you never married?” Beth hadn’t dared to ask the question before.

“Because of Sam?” She shook her head. “Not at all. He was a passing fancy, nothing more. It was a good thing he was married; otherwise, we would have grown to hate each other—our personalities were far too similar. But while it lasted . . . it was heaven.”

“Do you really think I should agree to this blind date?”

“Beth, my beautiful, beautiful child, of course you should. Let go of your inhibitions, live free, fall in love; make the most of this opportunity. Who knows, this Sam could end up being the man of your dreams.”

Beth managed to suppress a giggle. “I doubt it.” Even Nichole seemed uncertain that she was doing the right thing.

“Why not? You’ll never know unless you try. Be positive, throw away your doubts, and pretend you’re meeting a prince.”

From the meager description Nichole had given her, Sam sounded nothing like royalty. Still, her aunt was right. She needed to give him a shot. No harm, no foul.

Beth kissed her aunt’s cheek and left wearing a smile. Fact was, she couldn’t ever remember leaving Sunshine without smiling.

As soon as she was home, Beth sent Nichole a text.

Count me in.

Not more than a minute passed when she got a return text.

Great. See you at six.



Beth knew it was a mistake to feel the least bit optimistic about this blind date. She’d heard about these kinds of setups from her friends often enough to know they rarely worked out.

Even with all her doubts, she spent Saturday morning filled with happy anticipation, a sense of excitement. She had two piano stu- dents in the morning, which left her afternoon free.

When the time came to get ready, it took her nearly an hour to decide what to wear. She didn’t want to appear too formal in a dress or skirt, nor would she be comfortable dressed casually in jeans and a sweater.

Before long she had nearly her entire closet laid across the top of her bed. In the end, five minutes before she was scheduled to leave, she decided on black leggings and a white linen top. Instead of heels she wore ballet flats. Giving herself one final inspection, she drew in a deep breath, gazed at herself in the full-length mirror in her hallway, and decided this was about as good as it got. The look was a little like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, although she wasn’t nearly as beautiful.

As she left her apartment complex, Sunshine’s words rang in her head.

This Sam could end up being the man of your dreams.

Beth was ready to meet that special someone.

So very ready.

If Not for You
by by Debbie Macomber

  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0553391984
  • ISBN-13: 9780553391985