by Kelly F. Barr
Maddie walked along the riverfront, alone again, story of her life. She couldn’t figure out if there was something wrong with all the men in the world or if it was her. She veered off and entered the park, but it wasn’t long until she was wishing she hadn’t as she saw couples holding hands, talking, and laughing. They all looked so happy and comfortable.
It must be her—with all her fears and insecurities—who could ever earn her trust? Maddie cursed all those who had hurt her in the past. It had begun with her parents, then boys in high school, and finally grown men. Maybe she was better off alone. But how could she convince her heart?
She sat on a park bench and sighed. Maddie didn’t believe in “happily ever after”. She’d seen too much real life for that. Relationships took work—real work, and if both people didn’t put in their share of the work, the relationship would fall apart. She just wanted to find someone willing to work with her, to treat her like she was the most important person in their life. Was that too much to ask?
“Do you mind if I sit here?”
A gravelly male voice startled her. Maddie turned to find a man in faded blue jeans and a black t-shirt with disheveled dark brown hair standing at the other end of the bench. She shook her head and the gentleman sat down.
“Are you okay?” He reached into his right jeans pocket and pulled out a white handkerchief. “You can use this. I promise it’s clean.”
Maddie wrinkled her brow, then lifted her left hand and placed her fingers on her cheek. It was wet. She hadn’t even realized she was crying. She swiped the tears away. “No, thank you.” A white handkerchief. He really has a clean, white handkerchief. She didn’t think any men carried hankies anymore.
“Let me guess … relationship problems or one recently ended.”
Maddie raised an eyebrow and frowned.
“I’m sorry. It’s just so common anymore. The dating pool lacks good character. People are too self-absorbed in today’s world. It’s tough to find someone who cares about the wants and needs of another.”
Where had this man come from? Maddie remained silent.
He smiled at her. “I’m Hunter Winters. Would you like to grab a cup of coffee? There’s a nice café just a block from here. If you need someone to talk to, I’m a good listener.”
Maddie was taken aback. Should she even consider a man with the name “Hunter”? Why would he want to listen to the sob story of a total stranger? Yet, something about his offer was very appealing, and he didn’t seem threatening at all. She continued to consider him.
He stood up and reached out his hand. “Come on, what d’ya say? Maybe you’ll feel better after a good latte and a listening, nonjudgmental ear from someone who’s been where you are.”
Maddie smiled, took his hand, and stood. If Hunter was feeding her a line, it was definitely the most unique one she’d ever heard. “That’s the best offer I’ve had in a long time.”
Hunter smiled and, still holding her hand, led the way out of the park.