Seeing Noah the day before added fuel to Annie’s fire to get tone. While he failed to age, she looked like life had put her through the wringer and forgotten to leave her out to dry. She regarded the tiger stripes around her waist and the laugh lines around her eyes with pride. Both marks of aging represented a mother that loved. When she put her head on her pillow, she felt good about herself. Still, she couldn’t help hoping that the 10,000 steps she walked faithfully would magically melt inches from around her waist.
Before J.R. left for school, she reminded him that they had a crock pot meal for supper. She didn’t want to be tempted by Hazel’s pies. The action proved prudent when she imagined the cinnamon and brown sugar-coated apples tendered by the baking process melting in her mouth.
Annie rounded the corner of the hall and pulled up her wrist to check her steps. It was the same place she always checked her steps. This time the turn surprised her. From out of the blue, a man’s body pressed against hers. He wrapped his arms around her and twirled so quickly Annie didn’t realize what happened until she landed on top of him and exhaled with an “oof.”
She struggled to gather her senses. What had happened? One minute she was walking down the hall and the next she was on the ground in Noah’s arms.
A smile spread across his lips, and his eyes sparkled. “I’ve had women fall for me. But not with as much vigor.”
Uncertainty filled Annie. Her heart raced, and her world lost its balance. Annie pushed at his chest to get away from him. She couldn’t help noticing that someone replaced his chest muscles with rocks. It was like pushing herself away from a wall. “I am so sorry. I wasn’t paying attention…” She rolled away from him and scanned the area around them to see if anyone else had seen the fall.
The sound of balls dribbling on the other side of the gymnasium wall told her the whereabouts of everyone else. Nobody had seen her make a fool of herself.
Noah stood and offered her a hand to help her up. “J.R. told me you’d be here exercising. I thought I’d join you.”
Annie accepted his hand and pulled herself up. “When did he tell you…” She never finished the question because the answer sparkled through his copper colored eyes. She also understood the sly smiles the two of them had shared over dinner after she returned from the ladies’ room.
She arched an eyebrow in challenge. “Is there anything else I need to know about what you two discussed?”
The dimple in Noah’s chin deepened as he tried and failed to suppress his smile. “That’s for me to know and you to find out.”
Annie swallowed hard to tamper down the fluttering of the butterflies in her stomach. What has my son done? Because she feared the answer, she kept the question to herself.
Noah eyed her Fit Bit. “How many steps do you have to go?”
Annie pressed the button too hard, and it bypassed the steps and displayed the heart rate monitor. Her pulse read at 142 beats per minute. Twenty over her normal walking heart rate. Her eyes widened, and she pressed the button several times to get back to the home screen. When she skipped it again, Annie dropped her wrist to her side and said, “It doesn’t matter, I have enough.”
His gaze traveled her body, and he smiled his assessment. “Yes, you have enough.”
It had been a long time since anyone had flirted with Annie and she didn’t know how to respond. Heat flushed through Annie’s body, and her face reddened.
Noah cleared his throat and adjusted his tone. “What are you two doing for dinner tonight?”
His inclusion of J.R. in the dinner plans set Annie’s mind at ease. Perhaps she had misinterpreted his intention.
“It’s crock pot, chicken and rice for us. We have extra if you’d like to join us.” Annie always made extra because Jesse’s uncle and brother made it a habit to stop by. When they didn’t have the company, J.R. brought leftovers to school for lunch the next day.
Noah reached over and fiddled with the hair around the base of her neck. “I’d love to, but I promised my Aunt Peggy I’d eat with them. She’s making a chocolate silk pie for dessert. If you’re willing to change your plans, you’re welcome to join us for dinner.”
Just then Al came around the corner. Noah pulled his hand away, and Annie startled. For the brief time they had talked she forgot they were in a building full of people.
“What are you two crazy kids doing in the hall by yourself,” Al’s eyes twinkled through his scowl.
“Pie,” she exclaimed, “we were talking about pie.”
Al’s face changed to reflect his congenial nature when he laughed. “Ha! You should see the look on your face Annie.”
“I can’t wait to see what it looks like when she tells J.R. that they’re not having pie because she wanted to eat crock pot, chicken and rice casserole,” Noah joked.
Later that night Anne smiled quietly as she looked back on how her plans failed to come to fruition. She only walked 8000 steps and J. R. had to help her pack two lunches of chicken and rice casserole for the next day.