Wetlands

Chad Keller was sitting in a booth at McDonalds's reading the paper while munching on his chicken nuggets not paying attention to the people coming and going around him.

"Killer?"

Chad hadn't heard that nickname in years. He glanced up and saw a woman around his age peering at him. She was wearing an attractive summer dress and Chad struggled for a moment to place her before his memory tapes kicked in.

"Winnie!" Chad exclaimed with amused surprise, standing and giving her a hug. "Look at you!"

She smiled as she returned Chad's hug.

"Man, I haven't seen you in forever!" Chad said with a grin when they broke the embrace. "How the hell are you?"

"I'm okay," she said. "I was out in my car eating my fish sandwich and listening to the radio. I saw you through the window and it took me a few minutes but I realized it was you!" She glanced at his chicken nuggets. "Please, don't let them get cold."

"Ah," Chad laughed with a wave of the hand as he took a seat. "Do you have a minute?" He asked, gesturing for her to sit as he folded up the newspaper and made the table more presentable.

"Maybe a minute," she smiled, sliding into the seat across from him. "Do you come here often?" She joked.

Chad laughed again. "I try to get out of the office for a lunch break," he explained. "I do the rounds. McDonalds. Wendys. Burger King. Subway. The local pizza places."

"Where do you work?

"I crunch numbers for Casey and Finley Investments," he said.

She nodded and then glanced at his hand to see no ring. "Not married?"

"Divorced," he sighed. "Didn't last long." He saw the ring on her finger. "Congratulations," he smiled.

"Widowed, actually," she stated. "Almost a year now."

"Oh, Winnie, I'm so sorry."

"That's why I'm back," she explained. "I was alone half way across the country and I figured I might as well come home to familiar surroundings."

"You working?" Chad asked.

"Blue County Federal Credit Union as a mortgage broker," she replied.

Chad looked at her with admiration and appreciation. Winnifred Bumont, the girl next door, his sister's good friend, a cute and friendly kid he enjoyed watching grow up as part of the neighborhood gang.

And now here she was back in town as a mid-thirties widow with the same attractive features she enjoyed in her younger years. She had cut her black hair much shorter, barely to her shoulders now, but she had those same puffy cheeks, wide lips, and catching smile.

"How's Cheryl?" Winnie asked, referring to Chad's sister and her friend.

"She lives in Pensacola," Chad answered. "Married a Navy guy. They bounce around."

"And your parents?"

"Sold the house. Live in a condo near Sunrise Lake." He glanced at her. "How's your mom?"

"She's okay, thanks," Winnie smiled. "I'm living with her in the old house."

"Seems strange that you were both widowed at relatively young ages," Chad noted.

"Yeah," she agreed with a sigh.

"So what happened?"

"To Mike, you mean?"

Chad nodded.

"He was only thirty-four," she said. "Undetected heart disease. He died in his sleep. No warning. It was hard and painful but my mother was my reminder that I'd get through it because she did too."

"Where'd you meet?"

"College – Syracuse," she said. "I went back to Illinois with him after graduation."

"I bet your mom is glad to have you back."

"But not under these circumstances," Winnie said.

"Of course not," Chad said awkwardly.

She pulled a chain out from under her blouse. "I wear his wedding ring around my neck," she said.

Chad nodded.

"I don't know when I'll take my ring off," she admitted, lifting up her hand so he could see her wedding band.

"You'll know when it's right," Chad replied.

"My mother says the same thing," Winnie remarked. "But in the meantime it's important to fool myself in order to dull the day to day pain."

"With time?" Chad asked.

"The anguish of grief is brutal," Winnie sighed.

"I can only imagine," Chad said with sympathy.

"Well, I should get back before they send a search party out for me," Winnie smiled as she stood. "It was really great seeing you again, Chad."

"I'm around," Chad offered. He fished a business card out of his wallet and wrote his personal cell phone number on the back. "Call anytime. if you want to talk"

She smiled. "Thanks. That's kind of you."

He watched her leave the restaurant and he sucked in his breath. Poor Winnie.

Chad wasn't sure if he should let that be the end of it if Winnie didn't call. He knew where she worked and he definitely knew where she lived and it would be easy to stop by and say hello at either location but she was a recent widow and maybe she just needed time on her own to figure things out without him getting involved.

Chad was feeling lonely in his post- divorce reality and enough time had passed to start experimenting in the dating world again but maybe using his sister's widowed childhood friend as his first test case wasn't the best idea.

Chad decided to wait to see if perhaps Winnie would make the first effort but he didn't put much hope in hearing from her.

A week passed and Chad's cell rang on a Thursday night at home. He didn't recognize the number on the screen and he thought maybe it was a telemarketer, especially when he saw Illinois identified under the number, but then he remembered that's where Winnie lived before moving back.

"Hello?"

"Hi Chad, it's Winnie." She sounded professional with a little bit of nerves thrown in.

"Hi, Winnie." He smiled into the phone. "What can I do for you?"

"I was….well, I was wondering if you wanted to get together on Saturday," she said. "I didn't have any plans and I thought it might be nice."

"Sure, that sounds great," Chad said, trying not to sound overly excited, surprised by the suggestion. "What were you thinking?"

"I know this sounds silly, but I was thinking of a bike ride," she said. "There are a couple of ten speeds in the garage that seem to be in working order."

"Sure, that sounds fun," Chad replied.

"We could meet here on Saturday morning?" Winnie suggested. "Say, ten o'clock?"

"I'll be there," Chad replied. "See you then."

"Great….okay…..see you then….thanks."

"Good night, Winnie."

"Good night, Chad."

The phone beeped and went quiet and Chad smiled to himself, glad that she called.