Authors: Debbie Macomber
I put my purse and books down on my desk. Moving to the front, I leaned forward and placed my hands against the edge as I looked out over my students.
“Good evening,” I said.
The class returned my greeting in a mingling of different accents.
“Tonight I want to talk about idioms.” Knowing that some of my students needed to see the word written, I walked over to the board and wrote
in large letters for them to see and copy down.
“Idioms are part of every language,” I said. “It is a word or phrase that isn't meant to be taken literally. For example, if I say I am over the moon, that means I'm thrilled or happy.”
JosÃ© raised a timid hand. “Then why not say you're happy?”
“I did. Only I said it in another way. Here's a second example. Perhaps you've heard the phrase âIt's raining cats and dogs.' It doesn't mean cats and dogs are literally falling from the sky.”
Titus raised his hand. If I remembered correctly, he'd come from South Africa. “We have a similar saying in Africa. We say it's raining old women with clubs.”
The discussion turned lively after that, as the other students shared idioms from their own cultures. Some I found hilarious, and soon we were all laughing and sharing.
It always surprised me how quickly the class time passed. Before I realized it was even possible, our session was up. As had become his habit, Nikolai was the last to leave. He waited so he could walk me to the parking lot.
“Do you understand now what I meant when I said I was over the moon?” I asked as I collected my purse and books.
“Yes, Teacher. You say you are happy I bake bread.”
I felt a little silly having him call me Teacher all the time. “Nikolai, you can use my name if you prefer.”
His eyes widened slightly.
“My name is Leanne.”
“Leanne,” he repeated, pronouncing it as if it were foreign on his tongue, which it probably was. At the same time, he said it as if he were speaking in church or a library, slowly, with a low voice, like a prayer. “
is a beautiful name.”
“Thank you,” I said as we walked out of the classroom.
“A beautiful name for beautiful woman.”
I must have given him a startled look. After the ugly things Sean had said to me, I didn't think of myself as beautiful.
“You no believe?” Nikolai asked, shocked. “You no believe you beautiful?”
Embarrassed, I looked away, unable to answer.
He frowned and, reaching up, he ran his finger slowly, deliberately down the side of my face, easing it over my chin and down my neck in a gentle caress. I inhaled sharply at the electric shock that went straight through me. It'd been so long since a man had touched me that my body reacted instantly. Nikolai locked his gaze with mine and spoke softly in Ukrainian. I didn't understand a word. Whatever the meaning, it sent a series of chills racing down my arms.
With effort I pulled my eyes away and picked up the pace, walking toward the parking lot, my steps hurried. Nikolai followed and he, too, seemed eager to move beyond whatever had transpired between us.
“Thank you again for the bread,” I told him, unlocking my car door.
“I am raining-cats-and-dogs glad to make it for you.”
I smiled, unwilling to correct him. “Did you get it from the bakery?” I asked, knowing he rose in the wee hours of the morning to bake for the deli.
“No, no,” he said emphatically, shaking his head. “That bread comes from machine. I make with my own hands this bread to show you thanks. As I knead dough I think of you, think of you eating my bread, enjoying the taste of my bread. I think of you smiling when I give you my bread.”
“I'm sure I'll enjoy it,” I told him.
His smile was wide and warm. “I bake you more.”
“Nikolai, I am only one person. It will take me several days to eat all this bread.”
“Still I bake you more. I bake you bread every class. You will eat and enjoy my bread and I will remember your smile. Your smile make me smile here.” He tucked his hand over his heart.
I hated to squelch his enthusiasm by explaining I couldn't possibly eat that much bread living alone; I would need to share it. I set my purse on the passenger seat and was ready to slide into the car. “You know the class is going to think you're the teacher's pet.”
A shocked look came over him as he stepped away from me. “You treat me like dog?”
“No, no,” I said, unable to hold back a smile. “It means you're my favorite student.”
Immediately his look softened. “This is another idiom you say.”
“Yes, another idiom.”
His smile blossomed. “I see you Wednesday, Leanne.”
He stepped back from the car and raised his hand in farewell. As I backed out of the parking space, he walked alongside my car. Before I pulled away he knocked on my window. I rolled it down and he looked at me, his eyes dark and serious.
“I come again on Wednesday with more bread.”
“You must be Kaylene,” I said. Rocco had arranged for me to meet him and his daughter Tuesday afternoon at the Lloyd Center. His daughter was tall, thin, and straight as a toothpick. I remember being fifteen and wanting so badly to be as beautiful as my sisters. It was an awkward age before I started to develop. One look told me Kaylene was on the cusp. She was a lovely girl who'd inherited her father's height and bone structure. It wouldn't be long before she blossomed into a woman. I understood her need to be noticed, and her father's fears that she would be.
The dance was the first one of the school year and was set for that Friday night.
Kaylene stood with her arms folded across her chest; her feet were braced apart and her face held a hard look of defiance. She didn't respond until her father nudged her with his hand. She stumbled forward a couple of steps. “Yeah, I'm Kaylene.”
“I'm Nichole. I understand you're looking for a dress for the school dance.”
She squinted her eyes up at her father. “I already have a dress, but my father thinks it shows too much skin. In his words, it makes me look sleazy.”
I met Rocco's gaze. He might have been a bit more diplomatic. No wonder Kaylene was upset.
“My friends and I spent a lot of time picking out that dress. It isn't like I've got a date or anything. It's just a bunch of us girls going, so I don't see what his problem is.”
“Are boys going to be at that dance?” Rocco asked.
“You know they are.”
“Then you're not wearing that dress.”
I could see this was fast disintegrating into an argument between father and daughter, and I had best put an end to it now. “Why don't we check out a few of the stores and see if we can find something more to both of your liking?”
“I like the one I have.”
“You mean the one you're not wearing?” Rocco returned.
“It doesn't hurt to look, Kaylene,” I said, hoping to be the voice of reason.
Her shoulders sagged, accepting defeat.
“Then let's get started,” Rocco said.
“Just a minute,” Kaylene cried out, and came to an abrupt halt. “No way are you coming with us.” She glared at her father.
“How else am I going to approve your dress?”
“Dad. It's not happening.” Her horrified look intensified.
“Listen here, Kaylâ”
I cleared my throat in an effort to get their attention. I didn't intend to stand between a father and daughter, or to get caught in the middle of this exchange, but clearly someone had to say something.
“Rocco,” I said before their argument escalated further. To help him to look my way I laid my hand over his forearm.
His gaze jerked toward me and then down at my hand on his arm as if my touch had burned him. I dropped my hand and stepped back.
“Do you realize how awful it would be for me if one of my friends found out
went shopping with me?”
His gaze reverted back to Kaylene. “I don't care what your friends think. If you want to go to that dance, thenâ¦”
“Rocco,” I said again, louder than before. This time I placed my hand in the middle of his chest before he turned to look atÂ me.
“What?” he snapped, diverting his eyes away from his daughter.
“Do you trust me to find an appropriate dress for your daughter?” I asked, because if he didn't, he shouldn't have asked for my help. Otherwise, all I'd be doing was mediating between father and daughter.
He didn't answer.
“Do you?” I asked forcefully.
“I guess.” His lack of confidence was almost comical.
“Leave,” I said.
At first I thought he was going to make a fuss, but then he snapped his mouth closed and slowly nodded. “How long do you think this will take?”
“Give us a couple of hours.”
He glanced at his watch. “Okay, fine,” he said, none too graciously. “I'll meet you back here at six-thirty.”
I checked my own watch. “We'll call if we're going to be any later than that.”
“Later? You might need
than two hours?” He all but rolled his eyes as if he thought I was being ridiculous.
I gently patted his forearm. “These matters take time. Relax, Kaylene's in good hands.”
Rocco plowed his fingers through his hair as if he was second-guessing his decision to ask for my help. I gestured with my head for Kaylene to follow me. We'd gone only a few steps when she whispered a heartfelt “Thanks.”
“No problem. I would have hated it if my father went shopping with me.”
“He wants me to dress like someone's grandmother.”
I remember thinking the same thing when I was her age, only it'd been my mother. It took me a moment to recall my conversation with Rocco over coffee when he'd dropped off my cell and asked for my help.
“Where would you like to start?” I asked.
“I get to choose?” Kaylene sounded surprised. “You're not going to drag me into any of those old-lady stores?”
I hated to think of which stores she considered “old lady” stores. I probably should have asked, but I was afraid she might mention the very department stores I frequented.
For the next hour and a half we flitted from one dressing room to another until we found an outfit we both felt was perfect. I was confident it would make Rocco happy, and Kaylene looked lovely in it. To sweeten the deal, the dress was on sale, marked down fifty percent. That gave us enough left over in the budget to find matching shoes.
“We have one more stop,” I said, glancing at my watch, noticing it was six-twenty-five.
“Dad doesn't like to wait.”
“Tough. This is important.”
Kaylene looked confused. “I thought we had everything.”
“We're going to Victoria's Secret.”
Surprise showed on her face, followed by a huge smile. “Are you going to tell my dad?”
I shrugged. “Why should I? You can if you want. He gave us a budget and we stayed within that amount. The proper underwear is all part of the outfit.”
“Let's go,” she said, giggling like the schoolgirl she was.
“Give me your phone and I'll text your father and tell him to give us an extra fifteen.” She handed it to me and I did a quick text. When I finished, I found Kaylene inside the store, sorting through bras, searching out ones that were far too big for her. I looked at her and raised my eyebrows.
“A girl can dream, can't she?”
We both laughed. We hadn't gotten off to a great start. Kaylene resented the fact that I'd been asked to help. I can't say I blamed her. When we first started shopping, she didn't want me picking out the dresses. I gave her free rein, letting her make her own selections. I could quickly see that her father had a point.
My chance came while she was in the dressing room. I removed the rejects and brought in fresh outfits I felt were a good compromise. Once she saw that my choices were relatively close to her own, the first barrier went down. She quickly lost the attitude, and for the rest of the time it'd been fun.
With a bit of power shopping, we found what we needed at Victoria's Secret: lace panties and a matching bra. Kaylene had to add a few dollars of her own money, but she did so willingly. We buried the recognizable bag in the one for the shoes and then rushed to the meeting spot. At that we were still five minutes late.
Rocco was there, pacing impatiently when we strolled up to him.
“So,” he said, looking between Kaylene and me. “How'd it go?”
“We found a compromise dress,” I said, not wanting to appear overly pleased. Kaylene had her pride and I was determined not to stomp over it.
“Nichole did a good job, Dad. I wouldn't mind shopping with her again.”
Now, that was high praise.
Rocco caught my eye and arched his brows. “I have the final say.”
I cocked my head to one side and eyed him steadily, as if to remind him he had put his trust in me and needed to keep it there.
Rocco must have read me, because he quickly changed the subject. “I bet you're hungry.”
“Starving,” Kaylene said. “Are you going to treat us to dinner?”
Rocco looked to me. “Care to join us?”
I hesitated. The offer was tempting, but I'd left Owen with Leanne and I hated to take advantage of her.
“Come with us,” Kaylene said, her eyes wide and appealing.
“Let me make a call first.” I felt guilty even asking, but Leanne was fine with keeping Owen.
“Go. Enjoy,” my mother-in-law insisted. “Owen and I will cook together. He loves helping me in the kitchen, you know.”
I did. My preschooler was a budding chef.
Both Kaylene and Rocco looked toward me as I disconnected. “No problem.”
Rocco let Kaylene choose and she wanted pizza. Not the best choice for me, calorie-wise, but I wasn't going to complain. Besides, it'd been months since I'd last indulged myself with something other than frozen pizza.
We headed out in separate cars and met up at the restaurant, which was only a few blocks away. I couldn't help wondering what Jake would think if he saw me with Rocco. No two men could be any more different.
Rocco looked as if he'd walked out of the Alaskan woods. He had the physique of a lumberjack and the tattoos of a biker. By contrast, Jake was a suave businessman who dressed like he'd stepped off the pages of
The contrast had me smiling.
I met up with them at the pizza parlor. By the time I got inside, they were sitting in a booth. Within minutes we ordered. A meat lover's pizza for Rocco and a veggie pizza for Kaylene and me to share. Rocco asked for a beer and I had a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc.
“Dad, one of the kids from my school is here. Give me some quarters, okay?”
Rocco dug in his pockets for spare change and gave what he had to his daughter. Within minutes Kaylene disappeared into the arcade. I felt a little weird sitting in the booth with Rocco like the two of us were on a date.
“Kaylene said it went well and that you were super-cool.”
“She's a great kid, Rocco. You're doing a good job with her.”
“I try. She doesn't make it easy.”
“No teen does.”
Our drinks were delivered and I took a sip of wine. It was crisp, cold, and refreshing. I leaned back against the booth and looked down at the wine.
“She can be difficult,” Rocco said, continuing our conversation. “That girl finds the stupidest stuff to argue about. I want her to be smart and strong, but I'm not a good example, and her mother, God knows, wasn't, either.”
“You're a man, Rocco, and Kaylene's a teenager. What do you expect? Give her time.”
“The thing is, I gave my parents hell, so I expect my daughter will do the same to me.” He drank down a third of his beer and set the mug aside. “So what's your story?” he asked.
“I take it you're divorced.”
I lowered my head. “Soon to be. We've been nitpicking over the details for the last two years. I got word on Saturday that Jake has agreed to the settlement offer. We're ready to sign the final papers.”
“The day you backed into the ditch.”
“Yeah.” My fingers curled around the wineglass stem. “I was so sure I'd made the right decision to leave Jake. In the beginning I was strong. I mean, it hurt like crazy, but I refused to stay in a marriage when my husband's brains and sense of honor shifted below his belt.”
“He cheated? On you? Is the man blind?”
His words were good for my ego. Rather than go through the gory details, something I preferred not to discuss, I turned the question around to him. “What about you? What's your story?”
“It isn't pretty,” he said, focusing on his beer. “I knocked a woman up one night when I was too drunk and horny to care about using the proper protection.”