Harrelson’s Custom Fit Boots…Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey…
Susan looked nervous as she entered the shop; peering down the street both ways to see if she was being followed. She wasn’t. She stepped over to the display area just in the middle of the front of the store. A lovely pair of ankle high boots sat comfortably on the top of the display, which was arranged as a pyramid. She reached out and picked up one boot when a man’s voice came from off to her side.
“I don’t think those are the ones for you.” She turned to see an elderly gentleman standing with hands placed together before him, almost as if in prayer. He had a big smile on his face; a welcome sight for most. She shuddered in surprise.
“May I suggest something for you?” He asked. She shook her head no.
“I’m pretty sure of what I’m looking for.”
“Very well. If you need anything…anything at all, please feel free to ask. I’ll be over at the counter.” Again; the gentleman seemed kind enough, but the woman’s experience with men was not good at all, and she didn’t trust him, even if he looked kindly.
She walked around the store; her friend Iris had recommended it because the owner, Mr. Henry Harrelson by reputation, was so helpful and friendly and had a knack for matching the customer with the boot. Odd that Iris would say that; shouldn’t it be the boot to the customer? She spotted a pair of brown calf-length boots with a spike heel; a very nice look for her she thought. She reached out and picked up one of the boots and looked at it. It was very appealing; well made and good looking. She turned to ask the gentleman and found him standing close to her; too close, in fact. She backed away.
“I’m sorry, but we don’t have that one in your size.” He smiled his grandfatherly smile once again. The woman felt a tingle up her spine; warm and almost comfortable, but she shuddered anyway.
“How can you know that; you haven’t even asked my size.”
“9 1/2, right?” He laughed softly.
“Ye…yes…how did you know?” She shuddered again.
“Just the experience of sixty years in the business. I can help you find something that really suits you. May I?” He smiled and she shook her head no once again.
“That’s alright. Thank you, but I’d rather just look, please.” He nodded, his eyes revealing a warm welcoming glow like Gandalf or Mr. Rogers.
“Whatever you prefer. I’ll be over here…”
“Yes…I know…just in case I need your help.”
Susan wanted almost to snap at him, but the more time she spent in the store, the more comfortable she felt. She decided, however, not to give him the satisfaction of knowing that. Too many men in her life had disappointed her and more than a few had hurt her; badly, as a matter of fact. She had grown to distrust all men immediately with the onus on them to prove themselves. Most had failed.
She walked to the back of the store and there it was…the perfect boot. It was calf-length; tan suede with a pointed toe and a two inch heel. She picked up the boot and noticed it was in her size. She turned to ask the man for help and found him rearranging a display just a few feet from her. She held it out and smiled.
“I’m sorry, I should have taken that one down long ago…just absent minded I guess. That’s the only one. Been meaning to find out where the mate is…just busy I guess.” He smiled once again.
Whether it was desperation or frustration, she didn’t know, but Susan shrugged and frowned and said,
“Okay…I give up. Which pair of boots here suits me?” She was hoping at least for a maybe a black calf-length boot that she could wear out since she had her boot-cut jeans on.
“I think you’ll find this pair here suits what needs you have.” He nodded and smiled enthusiastically like a child showing a parent a picture they’d painted. He stepped over to the wall and picked out a pair of dark brown boots…work boots. Lace up with a heavy feel and look. She frowned.
“Are you kidding me?” She knew what she was looking for and why. Being attractive had become almost an obsession to her since her transition. Not quite always, but frequently focused on her looks; she wasn’t vain, but was so insecure after so many bad relationships where her partner wanted her to be ‘just so.’ She had been looking so long for ‘just so,’ that she had forgotten who she was.
“No, Miss. I really think this is the boot for you.” His smile was as bright as ever and his voice as clear and welcoming as any she’d ever heard. She sighed and looked at the pair.
“I do need a work boot for the yard…” She was almost pouting at that point. She frowned and blew out a frustrated breath.
“They’re on clearance. A real bargain at $34.”
“She was about to protest when she remembered she spent nearly seven times that for her last pair of ankle-highs, and all she got for it was one date and an insult too mean to repeat here when her date realized she was one of ‘those’ girls.
“Fine,” she said with a sniff, “I guess I’ll take them.” He smiled once again as was his wont; he seemed to be perpetually friendly and helpful.
“I’m sorry…I seem to be out of bags,” he said. You don’t mind carrying the box out, do you?”
Susan’s car was parked only a half-block from the store and across the street but she did mind. She was about to protest when he grinned.
“I’m awfully glad you came in today. Here, why don’t you take these as a gift; sort of a bonus on the sale.” He held out a pair of brand new suede gardening gloves.
“I got these for my wife, but you look like you might find some use for these; please?” He sounded like a little boy asking for another helping of cake. She shook her head slightly before saying,
“Okay…yes…” He handed them to her and half-grinned. She started to walk out of the store but stopped.
“Sir? I’m sorry…please forgive my rudeness? You’ve been very kind and helpful. She smiled for the first time in quite a while before she walked out of the store.
“You’re quite welcome….Susan.” He looked around the store and smiled.
Susan walked out and noticed that she’d parked near the post office as she spotted her car across the street. She’d have to walk to her car and back to get her mail, so she shrugged her shoulders and walked into the post office instead. Balancing the shoe box and her purse was a chore, but she managed to fish out her key and get her mail out of her post office box.
“What…Modern Gardening?” She stared at the magazine in her hands. She shuffled through the mail, and found that while almost all of it was bills for her, someone had accidentally placed the magazine in her box, along with Rose Review and Flower Monthly.
She shook her head and was going to go the counter to return the magazines. As she turned, she ran head first, literally, into a tall man. The collision sent packages and mail all over the floor. As she stooped to pick them up, she noticed the man helping her. The boots had fallen out of the box and he was replacing them as he stood up.
“Sam? Sammy Danielson?” The man asked. Susan grew nervous.
“What? No, my name is Susan, Susan …” She tried to think of another last name.
“Susan Pevensie.” She had just finished re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia to her niece, and the name had gotten stuck in her head.
“NO…” He nearly shouted, but his smile remained intact. He leaned a bit closer and down.
“Sammy…It’s Pete…Pete Lydeksen. You and I had chem lab together…Baseball…The prom…” He laughed. She started to turn red.
“Hey…what’s that all about? We’re buddies…At least we were.” He shook his head.
“I heard from my sister about…you know…about what you…I don’t even know what to say. But I’m not surprised. I don’t know why, but there was always something about you, Sammy.”
She pulled back and frowned, lowering her head.
“No…not that way…you always seemed a bit sad, no matter what was going on. Even when we’d win a game? You know? Like something wasn’t fitting…I guess it was you. So Sammy…”
“It’s still Danielson, but my name is Susan, Peter.” She was talking with her head down; chin nearly reaching her chest as her fists began to clench nervously. He noticed the magazines on the floor.
“Say…do you garden? I have a nursery out in Montville. You should stop by sometime.” He said as he picked up the last of the mail and handed it to her.
“Roses, huh…tricky but worth the work. I have some hybrids you might want to see. I’m hoping to get them registered soon.” He smiled, and she swore his grin was almost identical to the man in the store.
“Hey…Are you busy for lunch? I’m on my way to a business luncheon, and I could really use some company. It’s business casual, so you’re already dressed for it. You know you look really good, Sammy. I’m glad for you.” He smiled and held the door open as she walked out of the post office. He walked her across the street to her car.
“Here…why don’t you leave your car here, we can take my truck…it’s just down the block.
“Peter…I’m not sure about this.” Susan looked down again.
“Nonsense. We’ll have a good time and catch up on what’s been going on. Well, I guess we already know what’s been happening with you…but maybe you can tell me about it? Okay?”
“Peter…I’m not the same person you knew back then.” She laughed nervously at the obvious irony of her statement.
“Hell, Sammy…Susan…we’re all different.”
“Yes… but…” She looked down at herself nervously and her eyes began to tear up.
“Listen…we were teammates once, but that’s a long time ago, and guess what?”
“I don’t know. What?”
“This is the real world. You may have changed teams, but we can still fraternize!” He laughed, this time heartily.
“We’re still friends. As far as I’m concerned nothing has changed between us, okay.”
“Come on, I’ll show you where my car is,” He said, placing his arm around her shoulder as if it was meant to be there all along.
“I am so glad I ran into you.” He laughed.
She looked up at him and smiled.
“Me too, Peter, me too.”
Across the street the man looked out the window of the shop to the scene across the street. He breathed out a contented sigh and smiled before going back to work.
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