Duty Bound
by Deb Thompson

"Dan, got a minute?""
If Dan had learned one thing, it was duty. He mowed and edged the lawn every weekend and helped collect offerings at church. He bathed little Danny every night before bed and made certain all joint-custody arrangements were cordial when it came to Danny's mother. He ran a three-mile loop every morning before work, and he worked overtime at least twice a week.
But he could not bring himself to be good at play. And oh, how that woman would surely want a man who could play. Deena belonged to a local artists group, played tennis, and danced with a square dance club. She sent out at least three new jokes a week to co-workers via e-mail, and he often heard the sound of her laughter as she passed his office doorway. He had tried to think of funny things to tell her during informal company meetings, but in his earnestness to please her he was certain he fell short of comedic brilliance.

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"Dan? Got a minute?" He hadn't imagined her voice. She had leaned into the half-open door of his office and was looking at him so desperately that he was sure his heart tried to exchange places with his tonsils.
"Come on in, Deena." He gathered enough presence of mind to stand and move one of his guest chairs closer to the desk for her. "Have a seat."
"Dan, I have a problem."
Oh, of course, he reasoned. She would never have thought to come to him with some invitation to walk on the wild side.
"What's up?" he asked, forcing his body posture to revert to business mode.
"I have to finish this report for Bill, and it means staying an extra hour or two tonight. I know my Sara and your Danny are at the same day-care center. When you pick up Danny, would it be possible for you to pick up Sara too, and drop her back by here for me? It would really help me out. I wouldn't have to pay the late hours fee to the day care, plus Sara can spend the extra time here with me."
Would he do this for her? Well, let's see. Would he cover her with his own body in a raging inferno? Would he fling himself in the path of an oncoming truck in an attempt to shield her? Would he subdue windmills and slay apocalyptic dragons in order to keep her safe and to protect her honor?
"Sure, Deena. No problem."
"Oh, thanks so much. I'll call the day-care and let them know it's all right for you to pick up Sara." She stood to go, and when she smoothed the lines in her jacket, he noticed for the first time that her dark suit was clean, but worn-looking.
She stopped at the door and looked back.
"I really do appreciate this. I know we don't know each other very well, and I thought of asking some other people first before bothering you. You seem so busy, and I know you are always trying to find more time with your little boy, so I hoped you'd understand." She lowered her voice in confidence. "This place just seems so full of flakes. They're fun to be with when you hate going home to a quiet house every night, but most of them act like they're pretty irresponsible. I think you're really the only one here I would ever trust to help with something like this."
They were five feet apart from each other, but he felt a much bigger chasm close between them.
"I won't let you down."
Her smile jump-started his yearning heart.
"You should bring Danny over and have dinner with Sara and me this weekend," she said on her way out. One lovely hand lingered on the doorframe. "Do you know anything about washing machines? I think maybe mine needs some help. Maybe you wouldn't mind taking a quick look at it when you're over."
"Sure. Need any dragons slain while I'm there?"
She leaned back into the doorway and laughed with him.
"You have a nice smile," she told him. "You should smile more often."
He knew he would. With a woman like that, a man would just have to make it his duty.

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Copyright© 2001 Deb Thompson
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