Tossing Ted into the dating pool after 20 years of a dry marriage that finally withered away in divorce was like forcing the milquetoast accountant to skydive from a plane soaring over rugged mountainous terrain. He had no safe place to land.
Shy and laconic, Ted couldn’t even muster small talk about his one interest, gardening.
“I can cast circle and conjure up a love potion for you,” Ted’s Wicca-practicing neighbor, Tisha, offered after Ted had sculpted a magical garden plot for her herbs replete with a unicorn he handcrafted. Ted had lamented to Tisha that meeting women at bars didn’t mesh with being a teetotaler. He was loath to approach them in a garden store fearing he’d be sprayed with pest repellant, ditto the produce section at the market. Scratch online dating sites, too. Ted didn’t even have a Facebook account. And he couldn’t hold a conversation even if he started one.
Tisha swirled her tongue lasciviously in her mouth. Mischief swam in her dark doe eyes.
“Maybe you need a woman who’ll talk for you both.”
“Even then she’d have to look past what I look like,” Ted tutted as he ran a critical eye over his roly-poly 46-year-old body and scrubbed his balding dome. “I had my chance, but my ex even hated with a passion my one passion. I can’t get excited about dating because it can’t happen.”
Tisha glowered. “Never say can’t. It creates a ruinous vibration. Relax, Ted. There’s someone for you. You’ll see …”
Soon after following a waning full moon, a queen bee mysteriously descended on Ted’s lush garden and established a hive in a dangling birdhouse so furious with buzzing activity that Ted called a beekeeper to remove the intruders.
“Piece of cake.” Donna the beekeeper unleashed a colorful harangue from the moment she barreled up in her honey-colored truck. Ted couldn’t get a word in edgewise. He reveled in her buzz.
“A mature queen and her swarm have taken residence in your birdhouse, could be more than 10,000 bees packed in there,” Donna hopped onto the sprawling apple tree and took a gander.
Lithe with sinewy arms and legs and a golden ponytail, the beekeeper appeared to be in her late 30s. She wore smooth white pants and white long-sleeved shirt and leather gloves, with a wide-brimmed hat and attached veil hanging from her sunburned neck.
“They picked the perfect spot. Your garden is amazing. Lots of pollen and nectar. I imagine the scouts are doing a circle dance in the hive, letting the other worker bees know there’s food aplenty here. They gotta keep feeding the queen royal jelly. She’s laying eggs like they’re going out of style.”
Donna jumped down and bustled to her truck where she effortlessly gathered a ladder, a plastic bin, and a handheld smoker, then launched her attack.
“Need me to hold the ladder?” Ted bleated.
“Better keep your distance, Mr. Roberts. We don’t know what kind of honeybees these are. Italians are somewhat docile but German and African bees, look out. They’re aggressive as hell.”
Ted edged back a few steps but felt drawn to Donna like a lodestone.
“By the way, my first name’s Ted.”
“Donna,” the beekeeper chirped back as she strategically placed the open bin to catch the birdhouse, then, donning her hat and veil, she flew up the ladder, smoker poised for battle. A wary squadron of bees circled at 12 o’clock high. Fearless, moving slowly but deliberately, Donna shoved the smoker in the maw of the birdhouse and unleashed two puffs of smoke.
“Smoke calms the little buggers, but they’re not happy,” Donna peered into the hole. “The queen’s probably scurrying around spreading her pheromones, or maybe she took flight. Not easy for a layman to spot the queen. She’s a little bigger than the workers because they keep feeding her, every day of her life … Stop me if I’m, rambling, Ted, I just love bees.”
Spellbound, Ted basked in Donna’s energy. “Me, too, Donna,” Ted sputtered. “I mean, if it wasn’t for bees, I’d have no garden. They pollinate the flowers, fruit, and vegetables.”
Donna peered down at the lovesick gardener and beamed.
“Most folks just think bees are pests. They get into your walls and can cause some serious damage. Honey is not conducive to construction.”
Ted felt his rickety body shake with emotion. “Your husband’s lucky, Donna, you bring home money and honey,” he blurted, surprising himself by his recklessness.
Donna laughed and pulled off her left glove to show no ring. “Single. Guess I’m too flighty, no pun intended.”
Ted shared a laugh, then Donna pulled a small pocketknife from her pants and snipped the birdhouse string.
“Geronimo!” she yelled and the small birdhouse plopped into the plastic bin.
Ted approached gingerly. “Did you get the queen?”
Donna hopped down and swept the air with an expert eye. “Must’ve. See the bees shoving their fannies in the air? They’re signaling the other bees in flight that the queen has moved. Give them a few minutes, and they’ll find her, and I can get out of your hair.”
As Ted self-consciously covered his bald spot, he spied Tisha poking her head through the bamboo border like an Irish pixie. She held a teacup and started tapping it insistently, pointing to the beekeeper. Ted nodded assent.
“While we’re waiting for drifters, Donna, would you like a cup of chamomile tea?” Ted sheepishly offered.
Donna tossed her hat and veil and exposed a broad grin. “Sure thing, Ted, I’d like some tea. And I know where I can rustle up some honey.”