It wasn’t the crash that registered right away. The thump was in the periphery, a noise that stood out a little more than the background conversations floating around her as she chatted with friends in the lobby of the synagogue. It was the silence in the aftermath that drew her attention. The silence, followed by a gasp and a mass of people moving toward the opposite end of the lobby.
Marnee looked away from her book club friends and saw several people clustered together. Their voices were loud, but unintelligible, as they all spoke at once. As they moved, she saw them assisting an elderly man who had obviously fallen. She watched them, knowing it was pointless to add to the crowd. Off to the side was a teenager, who’d been moved out of the way by the ever-helpful crowd and was now looking as if she’d like to melt into the ground. With a half-smile, the kind you give to a kindred soul, she walked over to her.
“You know, if you kind of look through all of them, put your shoulders back and position your lips into a semblance of a smile, no one will notice how embarrassed you are,” she said to the teen.
The teen whipped around to Marnee and slumped. “Excuse me?”
Marnee held out her hand, and after a couple of seconds, the teen took it. “Hi, I’m Marnee. Growing up with three older brothers who took great pleasure in embarrassing me, I thought I’d pass along a little of the wisdom I’ve accrued.” She looked at the teen’s red cheeks and shook her head. “I don’t have any suggestions for stopping a blush, though. Wish I did because it drives me crazy even today.”
The teen drew her hands to her cheeks and closed her eyes for a moment. “Great, just great. Oh, I’m Tess. Sorry, my dad would kill me for my lack of manners.”
Tess nodded toward a grey haired man who was limping over to them, leaning heavily on his cane. “Yeah, he tripped on a piece of carpeting. I tried to help, but they sort of took over.” She took a few steps toward him. “Are you okay?”
The man gave a rueful laugh. “My pride is hurt more than anything else. Sorry I embarrassed you, sweetie.”
Marnee looked at the man she’d thought of as elderly and vowed to get her eyes checked. Sure, his salt and pepper hair had fooled her from a distance, but he was obviously one of those prematurely grey people, because his face was unlined, his eyes a bright piercing blue, his jaw square and his bearing straight and sure. His hand, which grasped his cane, was powerful and not marked with age spots. This was no elderly grandpa and Marnee gulped. He was actually really attractive.
He turned his gaze on Marnee and looked at her with interest. Marnee stepped forward, feeling that hated blush heating her cheeks. “Hi, I’m Marnee. So you survived the flock?”
His laughter was warm and deep. “Yes, I did. I’m afraid I once again embarrassed Tess though.”
They both looked toward where Tess had moved to lean against the wall and use her phone.
“I hear that’s possible just by breathing, so I’m not sure I’d worry too much,” Marnee said.
“Oh, you have a teenager?”
“No, but I was one. And I have three older brothers who all have children, and one of my nieces is just turning thirteen this year, so...”
“So you’re very well prepared. I thought so, when I saw her actually talking to you, rather than running away.”
“I doubt she would have run away without knowing if you were okay.”
He shrugged. “True. And she didn’t go far, which is an improvement. I should probably thank you.”He held out his hand and she let him grasp hers. His handshake was firm and warm and this close to him, she could smell his spicy aftershave.