To bike or not to bike?
Without thinking too much, Leah slid the essays into her school bag, put together a thermos of green tea, slid on her comfy shoes with a black-eyed-Susan pattern, and left the cottage to walk the half mile to Brenton Lake Park. She claimed an empty bench under a big maple tree and spent a few minutes enjoying the view. The reds, oranges, and yellows around the lake’s edge were more vibrant and plentiful. They reminded Leah of the New York autumn colors in Central Park where she’d liked to do exactly this—sit on a bench, correct papers, and enjoy being outdoors.
Of course, the nature in Vermont was much better than what she’d experienced in New York City. Everywhere she turned a breathtaking view greeted her. A beautiful, serene lake. Mountains rising up from the shores. Birch, pine, and maple trees standing tall and proud. Fields of wildflowers, although many dying now, promised to be gorgeous next summer. Wide open fields, neatly mowed or covered in cows lazily munching.
Yeah, she’d done the right thing in answering that job posting for a fourth grade teacher in Maplehaven. Her New York colleagues and friends had thought she was joking when she announced she’d be moving to Vermont, but this might be a place to heal. And even if it wasn’t, at least the scenery was magnificent, and she’d always found comfort in the outdoors.
She settled in to correct the essays and enjoy the autumn evening. The assignment had been to write about your hero and the top paper was Luke Davidson’s. In bold, block lettering, the boy had written ADVENTURES WITH A HERO. The first paragraph read: I’m going to tell you about a hero. Not a superhero who wears a funky suit or has a special power or fights bad guys. A hero that takes people on adventures instead. A hero that I want to be just like when I grow up.
Leah’s throat grew tight and her eyes stung as she went on to read the rest of the essay. Luke provided example after example of things Dakota Brenton had done for him, his mom, Birch Peak Adventures customers, and the town in general. The entire piece read like a testimonial to how amazing Dakota was, and Leah had a feeling every word was true. She’d done her best not to think about Dakota over the past week, but if she were being honest, she hadn’t succeeded. The man had made an impression—much like he’d made on Luke apparently—and she couldn’t totally scrub him from her mind.
“I thought you stayed indoors.”
Leah’s head snapped up to find the subject of Luke’s essay astride a bicycle in front of her, Ginger panting by his side. Man, did he always look like a male model? His legs somehow appeared longer in a pair of gray swishy workout pants, and another long-sleeved T-shirt showcased a fabulous torso and chest. He leaned forward with his hands still on the handlebars and all the muscles in his arms screamed out how fit he was. He wore a baseball hat with his Birch Peak Adventures logo on it, and though everything about his attire said causal, an intensity swirled about him. As if raw energy was barely contained beneath his flesh.
That energy called out to Leah.
Ah, shit. She’d been staring, hadn’t she? All that perusing of him had kept her from giving him a response. “Yeah, I do stay indoors,” she said slowly, “except when I’m outdoors.”
His chuckle stirred up something inside her, something that definitely should not be stirring.
“Maybe Vermont is working her magic on you. Changing you,” he said.
“Do you always ride your bike over here?” she asked.
He chewed on his bottom lip for a moment and the movement mesmerized Leah. “If I say yes, does that mean I’ll never find you on this bench again?”
Ouch. So he understood she was actively trying to avoid running into him. Not good. She didn’t want to get involved with him, but she didn’t want to come off as some rude city girl either.
“Never is a strong word,” she said.