He had a lazy eye. That’s the first thing I noticed about him. It wasn’t that his eye was looking off into the west when he approached me in the grocery store. We were in the baking goods aisle, surrounded by flour, sugar and spices . His slight wall-eye was made even more noticeable by his Elizabeth Taylor violet eyes. His face was pleasant enough. He had this Matt Damon ‘just handsome enough but completely clueless’ thing going for him, and I fully expected him to talk in elongated, slightly slurred, two word sentences like that puppet in the movie about the Film Actors Guild (or F.A.G.).
“Excuse me, Miss,” he said, waving his hand slightly to get my attention or make sure that I knew he was talking to me. “Do you know where the tunafish is?”
There is something about me and the way I look that makes complete strangers come up to me and ask me for directions. I have been on walks and had people pull up to ask me how to get to the pharmacy, or where was such-and-such street. In the store I attract lost children, bachelors and married men on their first grocery trip for the wife.
I must look like a human GPS station.
“Down the next aisle,” I tell him, pointing to my right. “At the end.”
He smiled and nodded. “Thank you.” And then he was walking away.
I really didn’t think anything more of it, or him. Like I said, people come up to me all the time and ask me directions and I don’t remember all their faces, or what they asked for. I was a single mother, recently widowed, with a feisty two year old on my hands every hour I wasn’t working. Except the weekends that I sent my daughter, Katie, off with my mother for a child-free mental vacation. And you know what I do with my child-free time? Run errands. Grocery shop. Sleep. I do the things that I can never seem to get done while Katie is with me.
My father says I look haggard and says that life has made me hard. But I don’t think that is the case, or people wouldn’t come up to me in the store and ask for directions. You don’t ask someone who looks overwhelmed for anything except “Can I help you?” At least, that’s my opinion.
I stood in the checkout line, having put all my items on the belt, making sure I got extra wipes for sticky fingers to keep in my car (on the floor beneath the carseat). I saw a bright yellow romance novel on the rack and picked it up, turning it to read the back.
“John Conner is a devilishly handsome rogue with a secret.” It read.
I admit that I love a good romance novel. They are an easy read and fill my head with what I wish could be between a man and a woman. But I have never met a ‘rogue’ that wasn’t perfectly content with staying a rogue.
“I’m tired of devilishly handsome rogues and of their secrets,” I mumbled to myself, putting the book back in it’s place.
“How about “the normal looking guy with an unusual shopping list” instead?” A voice behind me asked.
I tuned and looked, seeing the same wall-eyed man who had asked me for directions to tuna. He had a much folded and wrinkled sheet of notebook paper–frayed edges still hanging on for dear life. The print was so large and black that it had bleed through the paper. I could have read it from fifteen feet away. It read: “chicken nuggets, peanut butter, tuna, ice cream.” His cart was filled with just those four items, but filled none-the less.
I tried not to laugh as soon as he put the first jar of peanut butter on the belt behind the partition, but I had to say something to counter his remark.
“Interesting combination.” I motioned to his cart, wondering if four family size bags of chicken nuggets would get frostbite before this obvious bachelor could finish them off. He wasn’t overweight, or not obviously so. He looked fit and healthy, and it did make me wonder how children and bachelors can survive so well on such an unbalanced diet.
He blinked up at me, his wall-eye moving just slightly to his left while his other eye focused on me. He squinted for a second and then lit up with recognition. “I found the tuna!” He pointed at what had to be 30 cans in his cart.
“I see that,” I said, amused.
He continued to put what he could on the small space left for him on the belt. The cashier was moving forward at a steady pace, checking out the customer in front of me with a steady beep, beep, beep of the upc scanner. “Yeah,” the wall-eyed man said, not looking at me while he kept loading the belt, building a tower of peanut butter and tuna, “My nephew is coming over this week and all he will eat is chicken nuggets, tuna, peanut butter and ice cream.”
“Have you tried giving him yogurt?”
He stopped loading the belt to look up at me.
“They have kids yogurt in kiddie flavors…”
He was still looking at me and it was a little disconcerting. I know I am not UNattractive, but I have never made a man stop and stare, not even my dead husband, who married me because he was very practical and wanted an equally practical wife. I had on sweat pants, a BYU tee-shirt and an old, favorite sweater that was just as comfortable as my old, favorite tennis shoes.
My hair was up in a pony tail, to keep it out of my face. In the two years I had been a widow, I hadn’t cut it once. At first that was because I just didn’t care. I really was, like my father had said, hard. But I had an infant and my husband had killed himself on that stupid motorcycle. He had to have it, you know. He was a tall, thin, geek with pale blond hair and amber eyes, but he thought he was a sex god while on the motorcycle. It still made me angry. It was the only thing he had been completely impractical about, and it killed him.
Anyway, back to my hair.
By the time I actually cared about my hair, it had become a habit to put it back in a pony tail, or banana clip and just leave it alone. I would braid it for church and let the long, chestnut rope of hair fall to the middle of my back like a tail.
That morning I had been too lazy to even put it up in a pony tail. I must have looked like I just got out of bed, with my sweats, unkempt hair and no make-up on. Until the man looked at me so closely, so deeply, I really hadn’t cared. But now I felt self conscious.
I saw his hand move up and then down as his mouth opened to say something.
“I’m mostly blind,” he said, starting the conversation in a new direction that made me want to squirm in my shoes, “and sometimes in less light, all I can see are shadows. But there are people who have a sort of ‘glow’ about them. Like a golden halo.” His voice was soft, and I couldn’t help but notice how rich it was and how it made my spine shiver when it softened. “You have it.”
That was the best line I had ever heard come out of a man’s mouth. It may have been the truth, from his point of view, but in the back of my mind, it was still a ‘line.’ I blushed, none-the-less, and felt my cheeks tingle and burn.
“So, do you like romance novels?” he asked.
If it was possible to blush more with your cheeks completely flushed, I am sure I accomplished it.
“I do love to read something quick, easy and entertaining at times,” he replied, almost hinting that he also liked read aforementioned manuscripts.
It was my turn to look up and stare at him.
“Try Julia Quinn,” he said to me, as matter of fact as any man might suggest a Tom Clancy novel to another man. “She has some historical romance that’s pretty good.”
I blinked, stunned.
I had never met a man who admitted to reading romance novels.
“Or you can try Nora Roberts if you prefer modern romances.” The checker had started on my goods and asked me for my savings card, but I was too busy staring at the man to give her any of my attention. “That’s where I started. And then, naturally, I had to move on to her J D Robb stories. She’s not a bad writer for someone so prolific.”
He kept talking. He went on and on until we were talking about all of our favorite novels, focusing on historical romance.
Little tidbits leaked out while we walked slowly out of the store. He attributed his prolonged bachelorhood to his blindness. I explained my early widowhood while saying how much I hated antiheroes and how tired I was of stories about ‘rich rogues.’
“I’m definitely not rich,” he said in response, and then he smiled. His smile was dangerous, and maybe even a little wild when coupled with his wall-eye. “But I could be a rogue if the situation called for it.”
“Why would you want to be?” I asked.
“Because every woman wants one.” His smile turned crooked. “If that wasn’t true, there wouldn’t be five billion romance novel covers with the word ‘rogue’ in the title.”
I laughed. “You have a point.”
“The point is to be just enough of a rogue to attract a woman, and enough of a man to accept that you can’t act like one if you want to keep her.”
“That was brilliant.”
We exchanged email addresses, but I swear to you, I was in love with him by the time the Dial-A-Ride disabled bus came to pick him up and load his seven bags of chicken nuggets in.
I stood with my full cart, watching the minibus pull away from the store front and wondered if anyone had ever wrote a romance novel about an occasionally roguish, mostly blind man falling in love with an ordinary looking woman at a checkout counter…