BEGINNINGS: 'A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT'
George looked out the back window past the deck and out into the yard. It was the filthiest weather that he'd seen in a long time, he mused to himself. Then with a characteristic chuckle he said:
"Yes, this is certainly the night about which I could write: 'It was a dark and stormy night!'"
He had a laugh about that and took another sip from his drink. Then he was watching as a huge burst of wind, a kind of micro burst, occurred.
George, for a while, had been worried a bit about the big dead elm tree in his back yard. If the wind would catch it, he knew, it might just do some real damage out there.
As if to echo what was in his mind, the huge gust of wind took the big tree and pushed it over, as if by invisible hands. George watched, wide eyed, as the tree slowly went down and, although doing no more damage, did crush one section of the fence between the neighbor's property and his. It was a fence that had been built by the previous owner over there but now there as a big gap in the fence.
George set down his drink and went out to see if there had indeed been any other damage to the woman next door's property. He pulled on his barn boots, kept by the back door in the laundry room for just such occasions and then his rain slicker. He still had on a pair of shorts and didn't bother about a tee shirt. He was anxious to see what the damage might entail.
Next door Germaine Ward was also watching the storm, and, for her part, had been also thinking about the big tree. She gave a little shriek, when she saw the tree twisted by the micro burst of wind and toppled, taking out a section of her fence.
She was wearing a night gown and having a glass of wine before bed, having worked on some briefs in her downstairs office, when the tree was felled. She hurried to the utility room and got her 'wellies' and an old coat and went out to explore the damage too.
They met out there very briefly.
"Hi," George said, and although they had seen each other at times, since the new neighbor moved in a few weeks earlier, they hadn't had a chance to meet.
"George Sweet," he said to her holding out his hand, which she took.
"Germain Ward," she said back to him.
"And I'm the owner of that tree," he said ruefully.
"Oh it's too bad, it was so big and lovely," she said wistfully.
"I already had an appointment with the tree guys to take care of it," he went on. "I will, of course, personally see to the damage done to your fence. I can take care of that."
"Oh, thank you," she said. "That will be fine."
"Well," she went on, "It's really nasty out here; I need to get back inside before I get drenched."
"Yes, uh, Germaine," he said, "Maybe meet again under better circumstances."
"Yes, nice," she said and turned to go.
Just then there was another micro burst. It had the effect of pushing her off balance. She tried to catch herself but the wind kept her off balance. In the process, her coat caught on the tree and, from the violent movement, it being old, was torn up one of its seams. The same snag caught her nightgown material and down she went.
It happened so fast that George didn't have a chance to move and help her.
Quickly enough, Germaine was down and the only thing showing was her butt,.
George did take time to stare at her for a moment before going to her aid.
She tried to move but groaned.
"Oh, my ankle!" she said, and he was at her side.
"Here let me!" he said.
"Damn coat," she complained, "I'm getting soaked."
Then, despite her protests, he took off his slicker, and, though he was only wearing shorts, put it around her shoulders and picked her up in his arms. She involuntarily put her arms around his neck.
"But you're getting all wet!" she said.
"The virtuous never catch colds!" he said triumphantly.
She laughed in spite of herself, "So that's what you are, the virtuous?"
"No, I never said that," he answered with a smile, causing another smile in her.
"Does it hurt bad?" he asked.
"Not terribly but it did, when I first tried to walk on it," she said.
He got her home and got her settled in a chair in her kitchen. With her directions, he went for a set of towels right away. When he'd dried her hair, and, at her insistence, dried himself a bit, she let him take off his rain slicker and then she saw the tear in her own coat.
"Oh my god!" she moaned. "I was out there in the rain showing almost everything all the while!"
He grinned but then said: "But I did cover you up!"
"Be right back," he said, grinning and left, wearing his slicker on his way home.
When he came back, it was with some bandages that he used to wrap her ankle, giving it more support.
"Oh, that feels better!" she said. "Where'd you learn to do that?"
"Bit of sports medicine in my days," he said in response. "Can you take care of yourself?" he asked then.
"Think so, don't know," she said.
"Have a friend you can call?" he asked. "If need be, I could camp out on your couch but I know that you don't know me at all."
"Know you, heck," she said, before thinking, "I flashed you already!"
"Yah," he said, "That was the cool part of the accident!" He hesitated and said:
"Oops, sorry, counselor!"
"You'd better!" she said, and then: "Yes, I can call my assistant, my legal assistant. Could you please get me the phone?"
He gave her the phone and waited until her legal assistant, Betty arrived to take care of her.
"Betty, this is George my next door neighbor. He and I were out in the storm checking out damage to that fence from his tree falling, when the wind blew me over."
He began to grin and she said: "Don't you say it, Mister!"
"What," Betty wanted to know.
"Don't!" Germaine said again and he put up his hand in front of him, as if to ward her off.
"Really, George," she said, "I owe you here; thank you for taking care of me; I appreciate it. Hope you don't catch a cold."
"Well, you know," he began, "The..."
"Yes, yes," she interrupted, "The virtuous don't catch colds but we have never established that you are virtuous!"
"No," he went on, grinning more broadly now, "But we have established that you're wearing..."
She gave him a withering glance and he held up his hands again and made as if to go.
"Thank you, George," she said, and Betty accompanied him to the door.
"Are you okay?" Betty asked.
"Yes," he said, "Hope I don't catch a cold!"
Betty giggled at that and went in to take care of Germaine.
AN OFFICE SURPRISE: FATE INTERVENES
George discovered a very strange fact about the lawyer with whom he was going to consult about his writing.
(George was, you see, a prolific romance novel writer, very successful but under the name 'Shirley Love'.) He needed to do something for his two nieces' futures and thought that now was the time. He'd only used the law firm for a few things but was going there now and was that pleased at what he discovered about his appointment with Germaine.
Betty met him, as he entered the office.
"George," she said, "Isn't it?"
"Yes," he said with a smile, "Here to see the boss lady."
"Sorry, George," she said with obvious difficulty, "Germaine has a writer coming to see her, by all the stories that we've been told a prima donna and really doesn't have the time now."
"Oh," he said, "A writer, prima donna?"
"Yes," Betty said, "Some babe named Shirley Love. Pretty big stuff in the romance novel industry, I guess."
"Ah," he went on. "Shirley Love; well, Betty, that's me!"
"What?" she said, as almost a squawk.
He only grinned but then said: "That's me, prima donna!"
She only grinned back at him and said: "Don't start with me, Mister; I'm not the floozy type that shows you my butt end in every storm that passes!"
They both laughed and he said: "So, you heard about that?"
"Yes," she said, "And the dragon lady was properly chagrined."
Again, they laughed but then Betty went on:
"Thanks for taking care of her; I love that lady with a passion. But hey, it's your time; let's surprise the boss."
"Good plan!" he said.
Betty went into Germaine's office, knocking first.
Germaine looked up with a pained look on her face: "Do I really get 'Shirley Love' in the shuffle?"
"Seems like your turn, boss!" Betty said happily.
"Well, you needn't be so cheerful about it, is all!" Germaine complained, making a face at her assistant.
"But I have George Sweet for you right now," Betty said.
"Oh, good! How nice, let him in, and hold up Ms. Love, when she gets here; she's probably going to be late, and I hate that!"
George went into the office and Germaine was on her feet and smiling:
"My hero! How are you, neighbor?"
"Not bad," George said.
"I'm afraid that I have only a few minutes, I'm waiting on an author, of romance novels. We take turns around here being assigned to walk in kinds of cases and this Shirley Love is my turn. So, not much time."
"That's okay," he said, "Maybe another time."
Germaine smiled at him and said: "I certainly hope so; we are neighbors but see one another seldom."
"Well with the fence broken down now, maybe we'll see each other more often," he quipped. Then added: "I will be fixing that soon."
"No real hurry, George," she said and got up to show him out.
"Oh, by the way," George said, "I need to tell you; I work out of my home."
"Oh," Germaine said, interested but not sure why George mentioned it.
"Yes," George said with a smile, "I write, you see; what I write are romance novels under the name 'Shirley Love.'" He grinned, when he finished saying it.
Germaine went to the door, saying to George, a minute please. She opened the door and stared at a grinning Betty. "You knew!" she said.
"Yep!" Betty said. "Step in it, did we?"
"I'll get you, Missy!" Germaine threatened, and Betty answered by sending an air kiss across the room.
She turned back into the room and said: "Okay, George, how do I apologize?"
"By helping me with a legal matter," he said.
"Done!" she said, "Please sit down, Ms. Love."
George laughed, as he took a seat.
"Well, I am surprised," she said first off. "Don't know why, I just am."
"Of course it's unusual; but it's what I do, and really, what I like to do. I know it's like formula writing but it's a formula that works and has frankly made me pretty much a rich man."
"I've never read any of her, I mean your novels, George," she admitted, "I'll have to correct that."
"Well, I need help," he said to her next.
"Please tell me," she said, "It'll be a treat to do something nice for you, after you were so nice to me, when I sprained my ankle."
"Let me tell you; you see, my sister, younger sister Annie died of cancer 6 months ago. Her husband never stayed around and is simply gone, beyond record, maybe even dead. She left behind two lovely little girls, Adrienne and Suzanne, aged 6 and 7. They are just wonderful. They've been staying with my Mom, who is in her upper 70's now and in failing health. I'm the only other relative and I mean to bring them to live with me. But what I want is to set up trusts now for each of them for money for their education."
"Easily done," she said, and added: "You're such a caring man, George."
"Thank you, but if you'd meet these two, you'd quickly see that they are worth all the trouble."
"I'm sure," she said, "And I look forward to it."
"But the trust will be a simple matter; how much are you talking about?" she wanted to know.
"Well," he went on, "Despite what I make for my novels, I really live quietly and simply, when my trees aren't falling on people's fences and causing them to fall."
"And almost flashing!" she quipped.
"Well there was that bright, shining light in all of it," he said with a laugh, with her joining in.
"I apologize, George," she said, "I'm supposed to be being professional here."
"I prefer if you're neighborly!" he said then. "But your question, I was thinking of putting $100,000 in each trust."
"A lovely thing to do," she said. "I'll draw up the paper work and we'll go over it, as soon as that's done. Can I see you tomorrow?"
"Lovely," he said, "I'm between novels now and am not scheduled to begin another one for a month, though my fans are always clamoring for more."
Germaine found herself even more impressed with her neighbor, after doing this bit of business with him.
She decided one afternoon, when she had some time off, to bake him a cake, as a kind of 'thank you' gift.
She had the cake finished and iced and was making her way toward the gap in the fence, when she heard an uproar at George's house.
"You cheated! Both of you!" George roared.
"Beat you, beat you, beat you!" two squeaky voices were saying, kind of chanting in chorus together.
"Did not, cheated!" he maintained.
"Beat Uncle George! We did!" a voice answered back.
"Yep we did!" said another small voice and then there was a rousing:
"Yaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy!" from the two voices.
It was at that point that Germaine stepped through the fence.
George looked and said: "Good, you two bandits, here's my lawyer now and I'll sic her on you both for cheating."
The two little girls, both tow headed looked owl eyed at Germaine as she crossed the lawn from the fence. She was carrying a cake.
"Germaine," George said, speaking up, "These are my nieces; this is Adrienne and this is Suzanne. The older one, Adrienne, is the wily one, so beware. They've just been cheating at Monopoly and I want to sue them both."
The two girls didn't say a word but only watched Germaine closely.
Germaine set her cake aside for a few moments and made an elaborate show of shaking hands with each of the girls. Then she spoke up:
"It's true that I represent your Uncle George in certain matters but I can easily see where justice lies in cases like these and if you two lovely ladies would like, I will take your case and sue your Uncle George for malicious slander, saying nasty, untrue things."
Adrienne reacted first but Suzanne was quickly behind her. Her face was wreathed in a gap toothed smile and she led Suzanne in shouting another victor's:
"Yaaaaaaaaaay! Got you, Uncle George, she's our lawyer now! And you're in trouble!"
"Drat!" George said, "Beaten and then surrounded by women! What can a guy do?"
"Have some cake!" Germaine said mildly, and went on: "Girls, I've brought this cake to say 'thank you' to your Uncle George, who is really a pretty nice guy, for rescuing me the other day."
The girls only nodded their heads, and Germaine went on: "That big tree fell in a storm and I was out here with your Uncle George and a big burst of wind knocked me over, and I hurt my ankle. He rescued me, and took me home; then he bandaged my ankle and got someone to come and stay with me. He's quite a hero."
The two pretty little girls grinned widely, when they heard that their Uncle George was a hero.
"Hero!" Adrienne said.
"Hero!" Suzanne soon echoed.
"So, it's cake for all of us now!" Germaine went on, "Unless you want me to go ahead and sue your Uncle for telling fibs."
Adrienne looked at Suzanne and they both shook their heads 'no'. It was Suzanne who put in at that point:
"We love our Uncle George!"
"Yes, honey," Germaine said, stroking the little girl's face,, "I can see that."
Adrienne spoke up then: "Are you Uncle George's girlfriend?"
George just barely suppressed his laughter at that point, but Germaine looked seriously at the two of them and said:
"I don't rightly know; you see, Uncle George hasn't told me, if I am."
"Oh, he probably will," Adrienne said then.
"Yes, he's good at saying nice things," Suzanne went on, "Even if he fibs!" She ended the last with a broad grin
"Do not!" George said and Suzanne's grin got only bigger and wider.
"Remember I'm representing them!" Germaine said.
This got another team "Yaaaaaaaaay!" from the girls and he put up his hands in surrender.
They settled down to cake at that point. George went to fetch some milk for all of them.
It was shortly after the cake and milk that George announced: "Bath time, pals. Who's first?"
"Uncle George," Adrienne asked softly, "We talked about it, Suzi and I, and can we have a bath together?"
"That sounds like a little more trouble than I want to handle," he said dubiously.
"But..." Adrienne began but Germaine stepped in at that point:
"Look," she began, "I represent the two girls now as their lawyer; why don't I take them up and I can give the two of them a bath?"
That produced another dual voiced "Yaaaaaaaay!" from the girls.
George smiled, and said: "Done and done."
Adrienne piped up at that point and said: "Uncle George's girlfriend is going to give us a bath."
They giggled, Germaine smiled and so did George.
"Come on, you two, before Uncle George does something to retaliate," Germaine said then, leading them away, holding their hands in hers as they went.
She looked over her shoulder and said: "White wine, if you've got it; beer if you don't!"
"Beer it is!" George said, getting up with the left over cake, the plates and glasses and going to the kitchen, humming to himself. He busied himself in the kitchen getting a glass of beer for himself and one for Germaine. But as he was going up the stairs, he heard them.
They were singing. It was, just at that moment, "Row, row, row your boat," sung as a round. There was more joy in the voices than he'd heard from Adrienne and Suzanne for a long time. He stopped his progress just to listen.
He gave the door a push, when he got there and entered a fairly steamy bathroom with Germaine sitting on the edge of the huge tub, a three person jacuzzi affair, and scrubbing hair, while still singing. He waited in the doorway until the round was finished and put the beer glasses down and clapped.
"Weren't we smashing?" Suzanne asked.
"Yes, smashing!" Adrienne echoed.
"Smashing indeed," George said, "And I never thought that lawyers could sing so well."
"Yes, she was awesome!" Adrienne said then with Suzanne chiming in to agree.
"Uncle George," Adrienne then began, "With Aunt Melanie all gone, isn't it a good idea to have Germaine as a girlfriend?"
This got a barely suppressed grin from Germaine and a serious look from George, who said:
"Well, love, I'll have to think about that; it's not a decision to be made hastily."
"Goody!" Suzanne said, joined by Adrienne, "Germaine's going to be Uncle George's girlfriend!"
"That's not what I said," George interrupted but only got two gap toothed grins from the wet headed girls.
"Beer!" George said.
"Thank you, George," Germaine answered. "Ready for pjs you two?"
They both indicated that they were and Germaine toweled them off one at a time and handed, first Suzanne and then Adrienne to George for undies and pjs.
They got them into their bedroom next.
"Oh you two share?" Germaine asked.
"Yes, we want to," Suzanne explained.
"Not a very girlie room yet," Adrienne said.
"Well, but Uncle George is a boy; maybe we three can conspire and go shopping and make your room more girlie!"
"Yaaaaaaaaay!" they both shouted.
"Story, Uncle George?" Adrienne asked then.
"Story!" he said, with Suzanne grinning her agreement.
"Uncle George reads stories ever so well," Adrienne said then.
"Maybe tell Germaine our news first?" George suggested.
"Yes, the news," Adrienne said.
Before George could go further, Suzanne said:
"We're going to come live with Uncle George now; now that our Momma's gone to heaven and all."
"We were living with Grandma and that was nice," Adrienne put in, "But this will be ever so much better. Grandma's not too well."
Germaine went to them and said: "Oh how lovely for you, and for me, living next door." She hugged and kissed them each and said: "I'm so sorry about your Momma."
They had their sadness then, with Germaine holding the two of them. Then it was "Where the Wild Things Are" for bed time. Afterwards, they spent a few minutes saying their prayers, blessing their Nonnie, Uncle George, Germaine and especially their Momma. It left tears in Germaine's eyes, when it was done.
As they were leaving, Germaine asked generally: "Light on?"
"Yes, please, small light, night light," Suzanne said.
George and Germaine went downstairs.
"Forgive me for being emotional here," Germaine said, once they'd settled with their beers, "But they are so open, fresh, wonderful!"
"My sister was a grand, grand woman! She raised them so well, until she got sick."
"Their father?" she asked.
"Up and gone," was his answer.
"My sister and I were so terrible at picking, well, mates," he said then.
"Oh, you mean Aunt Melanie?" she asked softly.
"Yes, she was bi-polar and just up and ran away with some guy she'd met on the internet. I had little or no idea of it."
"That was, oh, five years ago," he said, "So, they hardly knew her."
"Well," she went on, "They are certainly in there pitching for you to have a girlfriend."
"No," he interrupted, "I think that they're in there pitching for me to have you as a girlfriend."
"I noticed," she said, and they let that topic go.
"But I need to get around to divorcing her, I guess," he said quietly. "Know any good lawyers?"
"Gail Graham of our office," Germaine said right away. "She's excellent. Shall I give you her number?"
She hesitated then and said: "I'm sorry, George, please don't think I'm being pushy."
"No, don't apologize," he answered, "And, yes, give me her number."
She got up then and said: "George, I have to scoot; I have some early work tomorrow to do."
They were a bit awkward for a moment but Germaine remedied that by simply kissing him on the cheek and heading off. He walked her to her yard, where the fence was still broken.
"Maybe a gate?" she said, as they got to the fence.
BATH TIME THE SECOND
The following day was a busy day for Germaine. She and Betty did have time for a coffee break at 10 AM, after hours of hard work and Germaine talked about the two girls who were now living at George's house.
"They sound wonderful," Betty said.
"Oh they are!" Germaine enthused.
"By the way," Betty said, "Office gossip is that Gail got a call from your Uncle George for a divorce action."
"Well, he needs to get himself clear of that part of his past," Germaine said sensibly.
"So he's ready for you!" Betty said then with a grin.
"Don't you dare make me blush!" Germaine said, getting up.
"Back to work!" Germaine said then.
"Boss has got a boyfriend, Boss has got a boyfriend!" Betty began to chant.
"Not yet she hasn't," Germaine said, "He is undeclared, and when Adrienne and Suzanne ask me again, I'll tell them so."
It was 8:00 PM that night, when Germaine got a phone call. It was George.
"I know you probably had a busy, busy day," he said, "But we have a request for bath time from the two mermaids."
Germaine could hear the spirited "Yaaaaaaay" in the back ground, once he'd said that.
She went over and found the two girls waiting for her. They gave her hugs immediately, when she arrived.
"Bath time, friends?" she asked.
"Yes," Adrienne said, then she looked at Suzanne and they both apparently agreed on something. It was obvious that they'd talked about it.
"Bath time for all three of us?" Adrienne asked.
"Can we?" Suzanne asked.
Germaine was taken aback and looked at George who just put his hands up and shrugged.
"Of course we can," Germaine said. "Bath time for the girls."
Then turning to George she asked: "Do you have shorts and a tee that I can borrow, after the bath?"
"Certainly," he said. "You three enjoy yourselves."
He was upstairs in a bit and heard more of the three of them in the bathroom singing, and a little splashing. He went about the task of getting the shorts and tee shirt for her to put on.
"Is he your boyfriend yet?" Adrienne asked.
"He hasn't declared himself yet," Germaine said.
"Do you think maybe if you smooch him that he'll come around?" Adrienne asked.
Germaine agreed with that and then Adrienne and Suzanne looked at one another and both of them seemed to agree also.
"Yes," Suzanne put in, "Smooch him; it'll be sure to work, you're so pretty."
"Why thank you!" Germaine said then.
It was shortly after that, when there was a knock on the bathroom door.
"Clothes for the mermaid!" George said.
"Thank you" she answered, "Put them by the door, I'll get them in a second."
"Here they are," he said, as his voice trailed away.
"I'll get my clothes and dry off; you two enjoy yourselves for a few more minutes," Germaine said to the girls in the tub.
She went to the door and opened it a bit, reaching down for the pile of clothes that were left there for her. Just then, George was moving from the bedroom with clean pjs for the girls. He saw her face and naked arm. She smiled at him. What she didn't know was that there was a mirror wall to her left and George, by simply looking beyond her to the mirror wall could clearly see her from the back.
"My aren't you lovely!" he said, and it was then that she caught her reflection in the mirror and putting her hand over her mouth to quiet herself, shut the door. She was, however, laughing inwardly, after it happened.
"Lovely, hmmm," she said to herself, getting dressed in his shorts and tee shirt.
She went to the door then and to tell him that the girls were ready. He stood there and said:
"Sorry, that was an accident; I wasn't sneaking."
"Lovely accident!" she said with a smile.
"You're telling me," he answered with a grin.
"Too bad," she said and then: "You bring out the worst in me, George; I was going to say 'beast' but that kind of statement can wait. Mermaids now for pjs, a story and sleep."
They got the girls up out of the tub, dried off and into their pjs for sleep. In the bedroom they had a time for conversation about the day before their story.
"Uncle George," Adrienne asked, "Is Germaine your girlfriend yet?"
"I'm, uh, not sure," he said, smiling.
"We were just wondering," Suzanne said. "She'd make a smashing girlfriend."
"I bet she would," he said, "I'll let you know soon."
"Goody!" came the chorus from both girls.
Next they had their story, ready by George, and then it was prayers before turning out the lights. Again, as before, they blessed their Grandma, Nonnie, their Uncle George, Germaine and their Momma before final kisses.
When they got downstairs, Germaine said to George: "I hope you don't mind, I put a bottle of white wine in the refrigerator, when I first got here tonight.
"Sounds marvelous," George answered and got two wine glasses for them.
They were in the family room then, with their glasses of wine and about to settle down. Before she sat, Germaine said out loud:
"Well why not?"
"What?" George said, uncertain about what she meant.
"It's this way," Germaine said walking over to him, "The girls said, while we were sharing the bath, that all I had to do to bring you around to be my boyfriend is to smooch you. So here it comes."
She went into his arms and pulled him into a hug. They were kissing then. Soft and wet at first and slow but building. Nice all the while and still building. Her lips opened, during the kiss and she stuck out her tongue and ran it along his lips.
"Oh, George, am I your girlfriend now?" she asked.
He laughed briefly and said: "I guess so; this is, after all, smooching!"
"And even better," she said." Years and years and all the while I guess I've been waiting for this ... for you. Thank God for that storm!"
"And the campaign of the mermaids!" he said and they shared a giggle.
"We have to tell them," she said.
"Yes, in the morning," was his reply. "Can you stay?" he asked.
"Yes, love to," was her response, hugging him tightly, "I just have to go home to close things down. Won't take me a moment."
MOMMA AND ANOTHER HOUSE