Of all the times to turn down Granddad’s offer to hire temporary help! And leave it to me to pick the week he’s traveling to prove I can manage Creekside Lodge when he retires. I blow on my fingers, the unseasonably chilly spring canyon temps wreaking havoc with the ancient pot belly stove in the reception area. Applying torque to the wrench in my hand, I mentally review the chores still left to do before check-in.
The bell chimes over the door, its sudden peel catching me off guard as the wrench slips from my grip and I lose my balance. Just before catapulting into the wrought-iron structure, strong hands steady me — button-down shirtsleeves rolled up to expose muscular forearms peppered with dark hair.
“Well, if it isn’t Lily Springer,” my rescuer drawls, his voice thick like nectar. My heart pounds double-time, either from the near-faceplant, or from the close proximity to the walking advertisement for Mountain Living magazine: Hank Eagar, a flash from my past. The “one who got away” and broke my fragile teenage heart in the process. I knew from the town grapevine that Hank had returned to town. But for how long? was the question on everyone’s lips, and on my mind. My now-empty hand flies to my chest.
“Thank you!” Still breathing heavy, I will my pulse to settle. And before I get a chance to ask him “Why here? Why now?”
Hank ’s grip slips from my arms. “Let me.” He rocks back on booted heels to retrieve the errant wrench.
Pushing a pair of horn-rimmed glasses (those are new) atop a head of dark, th ick hair, he ventures a peek inside the stove’s chamber. And I venture my own gander at stone washed denims that really ought to be deemed a public nuisance. He turns to catch me staring, pinning me with eyes that rival our canyon sky on a clear day. I squelch an urge to grab a lodge brochure to fan myself, the list of to-do’s swimming around in my brain.
I clear my throat. “I can’t thank you enough, Hank.”
“No worries,” he says, reaching out to brush a wayward wisp of hair from my face, his feather-light touch surprising me. His gaze holds me captive for a split second, as if he too senses the sudden tilt of the Earth’s axis. But then he turns to peer back inside the metal monstrosity.
“Screwdriver? ” Hank extends his hand toward me, snapping me out of my stupor. Reaching into the toolbox, I locate the item. “Say…check-ins start soon and…” Eyes twinkle as he accepts the Phillips. “Good thing I showed up when I did, then.” He points to a spot his fingers are too big to fit through. “Think you can you fit your hand in here?”
This requires me to lean in closer… something it seems like Hank wants. “Uhm…sure.” I swallow. Plaid flannel and tiny hairs tickle my neck and send my heart pumping into overdrive.
But as his nearness warms me from head to toe, the crunch of gravel outside signals an early check-in — reminding me of the unfinished chores. A light bulb goes off and I brandish my list. “Any chance you can spare a few more minutes?”
He flips the metal grate closed and unfolds long legs to tower over me. Popping his glasses back into place, he flashes me a wide and knowing smile. “Hank the handyman, at your service,” he responds, tossing the screwdriver into the box before reaching for the wrinkled sheet in my hand. His fingers brush mine and my breath hitches in my throat, causing his lips to lift in amusement.
Muff led voices and a yapping dog signal time is running out. “My grandpa put you up to this, didn’t he?” “I cannot tell a lie.” A crooked grin steals over Hank ’s handsome face. He moves in closer, then. Close enough that I see the flecks of gold glinting in his eyes, smell the faint scent of pine clinging to his shirt.
And even though it’s still just the two of us in the tiny reception area, he lowers his voice. “But I wouldn’t be opposed to working out something a little more… permanent.” As I peer up at my handyman, two things cross my mind. First, I need to thank Granddad for hiring help behind my back. And second, I need to see how he feels about an early retirement.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.