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Would any man want the package deal Emma has to offer?
It was never Ira Croft’s intention to be sixty one and single, yet here he is. Life has been good to him, but sometimes a nagging ache creeps into his heart when he least expects it. Has he missed the best part of why man was created? Emma Prater is forty six and unmarried. She is also the sole caregiver for her brother Rodney, a young man with Down syndrome. She sees herself as plain and quit thinking of marriage long ago – what man would want the package deal she has to offer? But Rodney knows a good man when he sees one and he knows more about what his sister has sacrificed than she realizes. When Ira places a personals ad at the urging of a friend, Emma reads it aloud to her brother. Rodney knows intuitively that this is the man for Emma, but how can he get these two lonely hearts together?
“Have ya et?” Joe asked. “I’ve got brown beans and light bread. Cooked ‘em yestiddy and there’s plenty left fer the two of us.”
“Sounds good. Why don’t we put them on the stove? I’ve got something I want to show you while they heat up.”
“What is it?” Joe asked as he took a Dutch oven out of the refrigerator and transferred some of its contents to a saucepan. “We’ll let these heat slow so they won’t scorch. Nothin’ worse than scorched beans.”
He shoved a pile of newspapers and machine parts to the far side of the table and then pulled a plastic container of margarine out of the refrigerator and placed it in the middle with a loaf of white bread. He pulled his pocket knife out of his pocket, opened the blade and swiped it on the leg of his overalls before quartering a white onion, which he placed on a saucer and then he opened a can of fruit cocktail. He spooned the contents out in equal portions into custard cups and poured the syrup over the fruit, before asking “Say, do you like the cherries?”
Ira knew that Joe favored the cherries himself and so he said “No. Oh no, I never do eat the cherries.”
Joe poked through the fruit with a spoon and took all of the cherries for himself.
“Well, what was it you wanted to show me?” he asked.
Ira felt the letter in his pocket and was suddenly loath to take it out and show it. It had, after all, been written to him alone. He had a sudden intuition that the Plain Woman wouldn’t like to know that he had shown her words to someone else.
“Oh, it wasn’t anything important, now that I think about it. Let’s just eat this feast you’ve set and then go check on those pigs again.”
Joe looked at him sharply and Ira avoided his eyes.
“Oh, look at you,” Joe said. “You’re keepin’ secrets. What’re you up to, anyway?” He pulled the pan of beans off the stove and set it directly on the table, then got a big spoon from the drawer to dip with.
“Help yerself. Maybe you’ll feel more like talkin’ when yer belly’s full. Ya ain’t leavin’ here until ya do, ya know.”
“Are we eating out of the same pan?” Ira asked, annoyed at the rush of heat he felt creeping up his neck.
“Oh, I forgot to get bowls. Here, let me wash a couple.”
“You might get a couple of spoons while you’re at it, too. And a knife for the butter.”
“My, ain’t we fancy today,” Joe sniffed, carrying the still-wet bowls and utensils to the table.
Ira busied himself filling his bowl with beans and then he spread margarine on a piece of bread. He folded it in half and took a bite of it, looking out the window as he chewed.
“Well, will you look at that. I do believe yer blushin’. Now I’d say this ‘unimportant thing’ yer not gonna tell me must have somethin’ to do with a woman to make ya color up like that. Ya ain’t gone and got yerself a galfriend, have ya?” Joe grinned hugely, looking at Ira. He took a bite of his own bread.
“Not exactly,” Ira sighed with resignation. He knew Joe would never let the subject drop until he had ferreted out every last detail.
“Remember those Personals ads we looked at while you were in the hospital?”
“Yep. Don’t tell me ya went and answered one. Ya did, didn’cha?” I knew ya would, ya rascal! I just knew it!” Joe laid his spoon down and gave Ira his undivided attention.
“Well then, exactly what?”
“I wrote one.”
Joe hooted with laughter and slapped his thigh, leaning back on two legs of his chair. “Ya wrote one. If that don’t beat all. And then what happened? Did anybody write back?”
“A few did,” Ira replied cautiously.
“And you’ve picked one out, ain’t cha?”
“I might have.”
Joe’s chair came down on all four legs with a bang.
“So who is she? Have ya called her? Have ya taken her out courtin’?”
“That’s the problem. She didn’t sign her name. I don’t know who she is or how to find her.”