Web Site: Sweet Romances by Lois Schwartz
Liz has one problem after another, but she couldn't be more surprised when her toothache turns into a good omen.
“Another mile and you can rest,” Liz Oleson promised her aging car as she drove west on Interstate 94 across North Dakota. This was her fourth day on the road.
With everything she owned weighing down her car, she didn’t dare go over fifty miles an hour. She was even afraid to turn on the air conditioner despite the August heat. The blue and white highway sign pointed her to the rest area exit.
“You can cool down while I get off my aching fanny,” she said as she parked. The one-sided conversation at least gave her ears variety from the roar of the wind through all the open windows that had made listening to the radio impossible.
She exited her small sedan to stand in the shade where she stretched her arms upward and arched her back. She ate the sandwich that she had resisted eating as she drove because her loose dental crown demanded that she chew it carefully. After drinking from her water bottle, she pressed on the crown with her tongue. The crown and anything else that needed to be fixed had to wait until after her new job started in two weeks.
A big sports utility vehicle pulled in beside hers and a good-looking couple got out and headed for the restrooms. He was tall, a powerful advertisement for his brand of shirt and jeans. The woman was cute and obviously pregnant. Both were blonde and blue-eyed like Liz and like so many others of Scandinavian decent in the state.
Someday, Liz thought with a sigh as she tamped down her hopes of one day looking up at a guy with as much love in her eyes as that woman had when the man helped her down from the car. But not today.
Liz glanced at her watch. She had to get to her apartment complex while the office was still open. She dropped the water bottle back into the ice chest and closed the windows and locked up her car to go to the ladies’ room.
When she returned, the couple next to her looked ready to leave. The man opened his window as she passed in front of his car.
“You know you’ve got a low tire, don’t you?” he called.
Liz felt a chill run down her spine despite the heat. She spun around to face him. “Me?” she said, panic strangling her voice.
He nodded and pointed to her rear tire that definitely looked low. Liz groaned. Calling a garage for help did not fit into her tight budget and waiting for the tow truck would make her too late to get into her apartment today. She would have to change the tire herself--and fast.
“Got a spare?” the blond hunk asked as he killed his engine and climbed out.
Liz opened her trunk, exposing her belongings that filled every square inch. “Yeah,” she said, shaking her head. “Under all this stuff.”
The man’s wife walked up beside him. They looked at each other and then the man shrugged.
“We’ll help, if you’d like,” the woman said cheerfully. “That is, I’ll watch while he does the work.” She extended her hand. “I’m Ellie.”
Liz gave her name and shook Ellie’s hand.
The man offered his hand, too. “Gene,” he said with a nod. Liz was surprised by the warmth his touch created in places totally unrelated to her hand.
“Do you have far to go today?” Ellie asked as she helped uncover the spare.
Liz explained briefly that she was heading to Dickinson for a new teaching job. Gene jacked up the car and took off the low tire.
“That’s where we live too,” Ellie told her cheerfully.
About then Gene insisted she get back into their car and turn on the air conditioner. Liz felt a twinge of envy for the sweet way he cared for her.
The tire changed, Gene put the low tire where the spare had been. “Get that leak checked right away so you’re not caught without a spare.”
Liz assured him she would, and silently hoped it wouldn’t cost much. “I can’t thank you enough, Gene. You’ve been great to change the tire for me,” she said as she started repacking the trunk.
After washing his hands, he wished her well and stepped up into his car. Before he shut his door, Ellie held out a sack of candy and called, “Would you like some caramels? You look like you could use a sugar boost.”
Liz shook her head. “Thanks. They’re my favorite candy, but I can’t. I have a loose crown on a tooth I broke when I was a kid. I’ve got to baby it until my first paycheck comes and I can afford to see a dentist.”
Liz noticed an immediate frown on Gene’s face, but she wasn’t surprised. He was a caring guy. Ellie rummaged in the tray between their bucket seats and found a small white card that she passed to Gene. “Give her this,” she insisted. Gene passed the card to Liz, looking somewhat reluctant.
“Family Dental Offices,” Liz read.
“My brother is one of the dentists there,” Ellie called as Gene started the motor. Liz thought that explained the reluctance on his part.
“Don’t wait to see him. You can pay later. He’ll know you’re good for it,” she added with a laugh.
Liz grinned and slid the card into her pocket. “Thanks.” She waved as they left and wished she could see them again to repay their kindness.
“The considerate good-looking men are always taken,” she muttered as she climbed in behind the wheel. Wiping the perspiration off her forehead, she took another swallow of water and started on her way.
Two mornings later, Liz was hunting through her dirty clothes for the jeans with the dentist’s card in the pocket. Her loose crown had fallen off at breakfast.
In pain, she swallowed her pride and went directly to the dental office without even calling. Liz explained her problem to the receptionist.
“I’m sure one of the dentists can fit you in,” the woman said. “They normally don’t start seeing patients for another twenty minutes, but one of them should be here soon.”
Liz thanked her, but didn’t have time to sit before the door opened. She looked back to see Gene staring at her. “Ah, hi,” she said. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“You didn’t?” He sounded surprised.
Liz shook her head. “I came to get this glued back on.” She held up her crown. “Remember? Your wife gave me her brother’s card.”
“‘My wife’?” he asked incredulously.
“Yes, Ellie.” Liz frowned. The man certainly should remember his own wife.
Suddenly, Gene threw back his head and laughed. “Thanks,” he said several moments later. “A good laugh is a great way to start the day.”
Liz didn’t see anything funny and felt more than a little foolish. “Why don’t you tell me what’s so funny so I can laugh, too?”
A look of surprise crossed his face again. “I’m not married,” he stated simply with a shrug. “Not even close.”
“But...” Liz sputtered. She pulled the card from her pocket and saw Eugene Nelson in the list of dentists at the bottom.
“Ellie is my sister. Her last name now that she’s married is Ericson,” Gene said gently. “She gave you my card. She’s always giving it to pretty young women she meets and likes.”
Liz raised her hands to cover her hot cheeks.
“Don’t be embarrassed.” Gene stepped closer and took one of her hands in his. “I’m not and I probably should be.” He squeezed her hand. “I didn’t catch your last name.”
A new tingly sensation skittered down her spine as she told him. She smiled broadly, but when she inhaled air past her exposed tooth, she pressed her lips together in pain.
“Come on. Let’s get that crown glued on.” Gene led the way to his office where he cleaned the crown and checked her tooth. “Actually, I’m glad you came,” he said as he replaced the crown. “I was going to look you up.”
Liz could say nothing as she bit down and waited for the glue to dry.
“Being new in town, I thought you might like a tour around the area.” He removed the excess glue. “I even know a good restaurant where we can get buffalo burgers.”
“I’d like that,” Liz responded as she took the hand he offered to help her up from the reclining chair. “The tour, I mean. I’m not so sure about the buffalo.”
He laughed and walked with her to her car. They agreed on a time and he jotted down her address and phone number.
“See you Saturday,” he said, flashing his gorgeous smile as he went back inside.
Liz kept on smiling as she drove home. Who would have guessed that a flat tire and a dental emergency could be good omens?
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