Calla had lived on Canasta Street for sixteen years. She and her husband, Mark, had moved into their house when their son was still just a toddler. Now, Nathan was in his last year of high school and had just completed his college application. She couldn’t help but be proud. She just wished that Mark had lived to see it. As Nathan brings home a new girlfriend, and a new mysterious and handsome gentleman moves into the street, Calla is forced to open up her heart.
Calla stepped off the bus on Canasta Street and made a quick stop at the shops before walking the three blocks to her home. Typically this time of year she made the walk all bundled up and with her head down against the wind. But this fall was gorgeous in Chicago and the city was, for a brief time at least, a place of vivid autumn colours. Only the slightest nip in the air foretold of the cold winter to come.
She’d lived on Canasta Street for sixteen years. She and her husband, Mark, had moved into their house when their son was still just a toddler. Now, Nathan was in his last year of high school and had just completed his early action application to attend Northwestern, his first choice for college, next year. Calla smiled to herself. She couldn’t help but be proud. She just wished that Mark had lived to see it.
As she approached her block, all the tiredness of the long workday seemed to lift.
From his porch, old Mr. Whitten waved to her. Next door to him, the Carnaby children, along with their cousins and friends were noisy and exuberant as they played in the front yard. Two houses past them, Mrs. Gamble sat on her steps, her daughter Eunice at her side.
“You’re home early,” the older woman called out.
Calla just smiled. She was home at exactly the same time she was home every day.
“Did you buy something at the store?” Mrs. Gamble asked. “Just milk,” Calla answered. “And a half dozen apples. You know Mr. Ohng’s produce is hard to resist.”
“Come and sit a spell with us,” the older woman said. “We haven’t had a good visit with you in ages.”
“Oh, I’d better get home and see what Nathan is up to.”
“He’s sure up to nothing at home,” Eunice said with just a hint of superiority in her voice. “He’s across the street in 2B with Gerty’s wild grandniece.”
Calla kept her expression deliberately blank. Eunice undoubtedly wanted to get a rise from her, but she wasn’t about to give the woman the satisfaction.
“Oh, come up and sit,”Mrs. Gamble pleaded. “That way you can see him when he leaves.”
Calla wouldn’t have walked across the street to talk with Eunice. But Mrs. Gamble was a genuinely sweet older lady who was trapped all day with the bitter unhappiness of her daughter.
She made her way to the porch. Setting her bag beside her, she seated herself on the fourth step, just slightly below Mrs.,Gamble and directly across from Eunice. “How was your job today?”Mrs. Gamble asked.
Calla shrugged. “Fine,” she answered. She knew the woman was eager for details. Calla had been a nurse in Dr. Walker’s ear, nose and throat practice for over a decade.
With the coming of fall, the office had been full of allergy sufferers fighting off sinus infections. Calla was not sure how entertaining the stories would be when all the characters were blowing into tissues.
“It’s been pretty routine at the office the last few days,” Calla told her.
“Well, there’s nothing routine about the goings-on around here,” Eunice piped in.
“That girl has got her hooks in Nathan and no good is going to come of it.”
Calla couldn’t stop herself from casting a nervous glance in the direction of the apartment building across the street. Gerty Cleveland had lived there for twenty years at least. She was about Mrs. Gamble’s age and had a large family scattered across the city. Less than a month ago, Jazleen—or Jazzy, as Nathan called her—had come to live with her. Calla didn’t know the whole story, but there were plenty of rumours swirling about.
The girl’s mother was on drugs. Or maybe she was in jail. Jazleen herself had been in trouble. Gerty was Jazleen’s last chance. Or maybe she was the only chance the teenager had ever had.
Calla had heard what everyone was saying. But what resounded with her louder than all the neighbourhood whispering were the words of her son, Nathan.
“She’s okay, Mom,” he assured her. “She’s a good person.”
Calla trusted her son, but she worried, too. Young men could often be blinded by a pretty face or a good figure. Jazleen was no great beauty, but she had sweet features and the requisite number of teenage curves.
“Once you get to know her,” Nathan said, “you’ll like her.”
That was slow going so far. Jazleen had been in their house many times. She was mostly silent and slightly sullen. Those were hardly traits to win the heart.
“I don’t think we should jump to conclusions about the girl,” Calla told Eunice. “Nathan says she’s nice.”
Eunice sucked her teeth. “Yes, well, I’m sure that’s what the boy would tell his mother.”
Calla was very tempted to remind Eunice that since she obviously didn’t know one thing about mothers and sons, it might be best if she just kept her opinions to herself.
She was saved from making any comment by the now familiar tap of shiny shoes coming down the sidewalk.
“It’s him!” Eunice breathed, barely above a whisper. Calla didn’t need to ask who she meant.
Every woman on Canasta Street, single, divorced, married or widowed, like Calla herself, knew the only man who would attract such attention.
Deliberately Calla kept her gaze on Mrs. Gamble. She flatly refused to turn and look, though she could see the man perfectly in her imagination. Landry Sinclair had moved into the house next door to her just weeks ago. He was polite and friendly, but so far no one had really gotten to know him.
What Calla and the other women did know was that he was tall and trim, with a strong jaw, a handsome smile and thick, arched brows. And, so far, there had been no visitors at his place. He seemed unattached, which provoked much speculation.
“That is the finest looking man I’ve ever seen in my life,” Eunice stated in a hushed whisper. “And I think he’s just about my age. Don’t you think he’s probably my age?”
Calla nodded. “More or less,” she agreed. Though she thought the years certainly held up better on him than on Eunice.
“Have you noticed his accent?” Eunice asked.
Of course Calla had noticed. She noticed everything about him.
The man clearly was not a local. But he was almost as mysterious as he was good-looking.
He answered any question he was asked. But basic information of where he was from and where he worked remained unknown, as well as the most critical fact to some—whether there was
a woman someplace waiting for him. “Good afternoon,Mr. Sinclair!”
Mrs. Gamble called out as he passed by the gate.
Calla turned to look at him then. The man was dressed attractively. He looked businesslike, successful.
She smiled in a way she hoped would appear to be polite disinterest.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Gamble, ladies.”
He doffed his fedora, revealing dark hair that was just beginning to thin on the top. “It’s a beautiful afternoon to sit out and enjoy the weather.”
“It surely is,”Mrs. Gamble agreed.
“Why don’t you come and join us?”
Calla heard Eunice draw a sharp, shocked breath. She couldn’t tell if Landry Sinclair had heard it or not.
“I wish that I could,” he answered, smiling broadly. “I sure wish I could.”
He did not give a reason why he couldn’t, but for an instant Calla’s glance met his. His eyes were deep brown with a sparkle that was as much intelligence as humour. Calla found him completely irresistible.
Which was precisely the reason she had never spoken to him.
That was the last thing in the world she needed, to get all goofy and lovestruck over some man. She’d had her man. They’d had a good marriage and raised a wonderful son. Romance for her was over and done now.