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Mr. Perfect(9)
Author: Linda Howard

Stripping off her summer sleepwear of T-shirt and panties – during winter she added socks to the ensemble – she stepped into a nice warm shower and let it pummel her awake. Some people were larks; some were owls; Jaine was neither. She didn't function well until after a shower and a cup of coffee, and she liked to be in bed by ten at the latest. BooBoo was upsetting the natural order of things with his demands to be fed before anything else was done. How could her mom have done this to her? "Just four weeks and six days more," she muttered to herself. Who would have thought that a cat that was normally so loving would turn into such a tyrant when he wasn't in his regular environment?

After a long shower and two cups of coffee, her synapses started connecting and she began remembering all the things she needed to do. Buy the jerk next door a new trash can – check. Buy groceries – check. Do laundry – check. Mow the lawn – check.

She felt a little excited at the last item. She had grass to cut, her very own grass! She had lived in apartments since leaving home, none of which had come with lawns. There were usually some tiny patches of grass between the sidewalk and the building, but maintenance always took care of mowing them. Hell – heck, they were so tiny the job could have been done with scissors.

But her new home came with its very own lawn. In anticipation of this moment, she had invested in a brand- new lawn mower, self-propelled, state-of-the-art, guaranteed to make her brother, David, turn green with envy. He'd have to buy a riding mower to one-up her on this, and since his lawn wasn't any bigger than hers, a riding mower would be an expensive sop to his ego. Jaine figured his wife, Valerie, would step in before he did anything that foolish.

Today, she would have her inaugural grass-cutting. She could barely wait to feel the power of that red monster pulsing under her hands as it decapitated all those blades of grass. She had always been a sucker for red machinery.

First things first, though. She had to make a run to Wal- Mart and buy a new trash can for the jerk. A promise was a promise, and Jaine always tried to keep her word. A quick bowl of cereal later, she pulled on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, stuck her feet in a pair of sandals, and was on her way.

Who knew a metal trash can would be so hard to find? Wal-Mart had only the plastic kind in stock. She invested in one for herself, but didn't feel she had the right to change her neighbor's type of trash can. From there she drove to a home-and-garden supply store, but struck out there, too. If she had bought her own metal can she would have known where to find another one, but it had been a housewarming present from her mother – that was Mom, Queen of the Practical Gift.

By the time she finally located a large metal trash can, at a hardware store – well, duh- – it was nine o'clock and the temperature was already edging out of warm into uncomfortable. If she didn't get the grass mowed soon, she would have to wait until sundown for the heat to abate. Deciding that grocery shopping could wait, she wedged the can into her minuscule backseat and headed south on Van Dyke until she reached Ten Mile Road, then turned right. Minutes later she turned onto her street and smiled at the neat, older houses nestled under their mature shade trees.

A few of the houses had tricycles and bicycles on the front lawns. These older neighborhoods were seeing an influx of younger couples as they discovered the reasonable price of the aging houses. Instead of disintegrating, the houses were receiving face-lifts and remodels; in a few years, the price of real estate would shoot up again, but for now this area was just right for people just starting out. As she got out of the car, the neighbor on the other side of her house walked over to the waist-high white picket fence separating the properties and waved. "Good morning!" Mrs. Kulavich called.

"Good morning," Jaine replied. She had met the pleasant old couple the day she moved in, and Mrs. Kulavich had brought her a nice thick pot of stew the next day, with fragrant homemade rolls. If only the jerk on the other side could have been more like the Kulavichs, Jaine would have been in seventh heaven, though she couldn't even begin to picture him bringing her homemade rolls. She walked over to the fence for a neighborly chat. "It's a beautiful day, isn't it?" Thank God for weather, because the world would be hard up for a conversational gambit without it.

"Oh, my, it's going to be a scorcher." Mrs. Kulavich beamed at her and brandished a trowel in one gloved hand. "I have to do my gardening early, before it gets too hot."

"I had the same idea about mowing my lawn this morning." Others were of the same mind, she noticed. Now that she was paying attention, she could hear the roar of a lawn mower three doors up from Mrs. Kulavich and another across the street.

"Smart girl. Take care not to get too hot; my George always wets a towel and puts it on the back of his neck when he mows, though our grandsons help him with the mowing and he doesn't do it as often as he used to." She winked. "I think he cranks up the old mower now just because he's in the mood to do something manly." Jaine smiled and started to excuse herself, but something occurred to her and she turned back to the old lady. "Mrs. Kulavich, do you know the man who lives on the other side of me?" What if the jerk had lied to her? What if he wasn't really a cop? She could just see him having a good laugh at her expense, while she tiptoed around and tried to be nice to him.

"Sam? My, yes, I've known him all his life. His grandparents used to live there, you know. Lovely people. I was so glad when Sam moved in after his grandmother finally passed last year. I feel much safer having a policeman so close by, don't you?"

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