Sam answered the door on the second ring, carefully setting aside the book she'd been attempting to read for the last hour and a half and wondering who could be calling at this time on a Saturday afternoon. The young man on the other side of the door was tall, maybe a little over 6', and young, no more than 17 or 18. For a moment she was struck by something familiar about the level look he was giving her from deep brown eyes. It wasn't quite a challenge but he was certainly assessing her in a way Sam found slightly disconcerting given his age.
Apart from that look, he seemed fairly innocuous. Baggy shirt, cargo pants and sneakers; Sam smiled at the thought he was probably expressing his individuality just like all his friends. God, had she ever been that young?
'Can I help you?'
'Ah, Hi, I was actually wondering if I might be able to help you. I'm looking for yard work around here and I noticed your garden's a little … overgrown … at the front.'
Sam ruthlessly suppressed the blush his carefully chosen words evoked and glanced out over the straggly grass and rampant weeds of her front yard, particularly highlighted by its contrast with the carefully manicured order of her, mainly retired, neighbours'. Hey, you try saving the planet every 10 minutes then see just how important your prize perennials really are!
The young man handed over a card. What am I doing thinking of him as a 'young man', he's no more than a boy! It was a simple white rectangle, with the words 'Yard-work & General Maintenance' and his name. John Owen. Despite that flash of familiarity she'd felt when first seeing him on her doorstep, the name didn't ring any bells so she dismissed her initial feelings. He obviously just had one of those faces. She could also see he'd scribbled a cell-phone number on the back.
'I'm still a student really but I like working outdoors and I figure the money will come in handy for when I go to college.'
Sam contemplated the serious but obviously nervous young man. Stop it with the 'young man' business! It wasn't so much nerves, she decided, as a sort of studied nonchalance; as though he didn't want her to realise exactly how important this was to him. Remembering her own teenage years, the battle to be taken seriously and move out from under the long shadow of her father's career, Sam relented a little and smiled at him.
Accepting this as sufficient encouragement, he waved a diffident hand towards the end of the street and continued, 'I do work for the Major & Mrs Reynolds on the corner if you need a reference and I can give you some other numbers too if you'd like to check the standard of my work?'
'Okay, well, I'll certainly think about it, John. Um, thanks, I'll let you know.'
'You can reach me on that number pretty much anytime. I can't turn it on during school hours but if you leave a message I'll try and get back to you as soon as I can.'
He paused. 'Okay, well.' Running out of words, he made a move to leave before turning back to her from the edge of the porch.
'If you wanted, I could just do your lawn now and cut back some of the undergrowth around that hydrangea so it has a bit more room to spread out?'
He looked at her with that level look again and she knew she was fighting a losing battle. He was courteous, he was keen and she suspected he was hard-working too. Otherwise why would he be touting for business on a Saturday afternoon?
'Okay, but let me know your hourly rate and I'll pay you for any time you put in today. Depending how it goes then we'll decide whether I want you to do something more regularly.'
'Cool!' His whole face lit up, as though he'd been given a marvellous and totally unexpected gift. 'I'll just go and get my stuff. Be back in 15 minutes!'
True to his word, 15 minutes later she heard the stutter of qa mower in her front yard and glanced out to see him cutting a clean swathe through the leggy grass she hadn't cut since Easter, when her brother and his family had visited.
Taking the opportunity to watch covertly from her hidden position inside the cool shade of the house, Sam studied the lean youth as he pushed the mower back and forth. She decided he wasn't as skinny as she'd originally thought. He was actually sort of wiry, with a deceptive strength he was using to lug the mower around the small patch of grass. Get a grip, Carter, is that any way to think about a child! She also found herself appreciating the care he was taking. He was avoiding what few plants she had and taking his time on the most overgrown patches of grass.
Before long he was finished with what she could now call her lawn, cutting off the mower engine and moving it over to the side-walk, nearer his battered old truck.
Just as she was thinking she should go back to her book (and the glass of wine she'd been enjoying with it) and leave him to get on with things, he swung his arms up and grabbed the back of his t-shirt, levering it forward over his head before throwing it through the window into the front cab of the truck. Whoa! Not as much of a child as you thought then, Carter! Appalled at the visceral reaction she was having to the sight of a half-naked teenager, she raised the wine glass to her mouth and slugged half a glass back just as he turned and smiled at her. The sudden awareness that he'd known she was watching him was enough to make her gasp and blush to her toes. Turning away from that way too perceptive gaze, she moved into the kitchen and hyperventilated quietly to herself for a few moments. Aaaaaarrrrrgggghhhhh.