Rick laughed as Andrea stuck her tongue out at him. She swung at the red ball and it finally fell with a 'plop' into the hole.
"That's four for you." he called as he marked a number on the scorecard.
"Fine. Lets just see how well you do on this hole." she said, snatching the card from his hand.
He set the ball on the mark and gazed down the course toward the hole. Narrowing his eyes, he licked his index finger and held it up.
"Oh just swing already!" she exclaimed, poking him in the back with her club.
"Now, don't rush me."
She sighed loudly and watched him swing at the ball. It rolled down the green and hit the far bumper before coming to a halt about two feet away from the hole.
He trotted to the ball and made a big deal about getting just the right aim. He even went so far as the kneel down and check the line of the ball to the hole. He missed that shot but sank the ball on the third hit.
She wrote down three on the scorecard, then followed him to the next hole. "You're still losing."
"By how much?"
"No problem." he shrugged.
She patted his shoulder. "We only have two holes left, Rick."
He folded his arms across his chest and stuck out his chin. "Just play."
Grinning, she set up her golf ball and swung. The ball bounced off a side bumper, hit the triangular bumper in the middle of the course and dropped into the hole. Yelping with joy, she went to retrieve her ball.
He glared at her as she took the scorecard from him. "No problem." Placing the ball on the same mark she used, he straightened. "I can do this." The club met the ball with a 'clack' and the ball rolled along the course. It hit the far bumper and stopped on the opposite side of the triangle to the hole. Grunting, he stepped up to the golf ball and smacked it with his club. It finally fell into the hole after his fourth hit. He turned to find her trying to hide her smile. "Not a word! Not one single word!"
She saluted and moved on to the last hole. But she couldn't resist. "You're only eight behind, now." she threw over her shoulder.
He clamped his mouth shut and joined her at the tee. She was so cute, wandering around the course without any self-consciousness, energy just radiating from her. Several times during the day he had the urge to sweep her into his arms and plant a kiss on her pouty red lips.
The game ended with Rick behind by seven and by mutual decision, they turned in their clubs without playing a second round. Inside they found dozens of teenagers playing video games or skeeball.
"Would you like a soda or something?" he offered.
"How about a quiet game of skeeball? Maybe air hockey?" he gestured toward the back room where the skeeball machines were.
"Actually, I'm kind of tired and I'd like to get some rest. It was a long day."
He slung his arm over her shoulder and they strolled out to the car. "I understand. And tomorrow is gonna be tough, too. Am I right, commander?"
Yawning, Andrea waited for Rick to open the door from the garage to the laundry room.
"I'm sorry I'm boring you so." he teased.
Smiling sleepily, she preceded him into the kitchen.
"Are you sure you don't want something to drink?" he offered again.
"I just want to go to sleep." Hesitantly, she placed her hands on his shoulders and kissed his cheek. "I had a lovely evening. Thank you."
He watched silently as she disappeared around the corner. He, too, had enjoyed the evening with her... and even the afternoon in the garden had been fun, even if he had to dig what seemed like twenty canyons.
Andrea looked up at a loud groan to find Rick standing at the kitchen counter.
"Oh, lord." he moaned, shuffling his way toward the sink.
"Good morning." she said cheerfully, watching him as she took a sip of her coffee.
"I hurt everywhere."
She raised her eyebrows and said slowly. "Everywhere?"
Rubbing his aching shoulder, he snapped, "Yes!"
"All right, all right. I guess working outside today is out of the question, then."
"Damn straight." he grumbled, taking a glass out of the cabinet. He was not a lazy man, but evidently he found and overused muscles yesterday that he hadn’t know he owned.
"Then what shall we do today?" she asked.
"Do you have to be so cheerful?"
She grinned at the grumpy note in his voice. "Oh, absolutely."
"Whatever you want to do is fine as long as I don't have to move."
"Then I guess painting the pool is out, huh?" she tapped her finger against her cup.
"Why would you want to paint the pool? We could have someone come out and take care of it." he reminded her.
"That isn't half as much fun."
"Did you and Lee paint the pool last year?" Standing next to the refrigerator, he watched as the smile spread across her face. He was almost jealous that thoughts of his brother could bring such a joyful look to her face. With a silent sigh, he reminded himself that they were happily married and he should be glad for Lee.
"Yup. But I think we had more paint on us than the pool did."
He couldn't picture his brother doing anything as mundane as painting a swimming pool. Who was this woman and what was she doing to his straight and steady brother?
"So, what options remain for today?" she looked over at him and caught several emotions rushing across his face, but they were gone so quickly she was unable to interpret them.
"We could go shopping." he suggested.
"I should get Lee a welcome home gift."
"You're giving him something, aren't you?" he questioned.
"Well, sort of."
"Lets just say I don't want to be outdone." was his answer.
"But you don't know what I've gotten him."
"Then tell me."
"I don't think so."
"Is it bigger than a bread box?"
She looked away from him without responding to his question. "What would you like to get Lee?"
He smiled as she changed the subject. "Beats me. What does he need?"
Cocking her head, she pursed her lips in thought. "Can't think of anything he needs."
"What does he want?"
"Another good question."
"You know, you're no help at all." he grumbled, pouring himself a glass of orange juice. "Well, what did you get him for his birthday?"
"A blue spruce."
"Ah, trees." he nodded. "Good choice."
She stuck her tongue out at him. "I've been buying him gifts for over six years now. The way I see it, you have six years to make up for."
He groaned at her statement. "Thanks for reminding me."
"No problem." she quipped.
Suddenly, he snapped his fingers. "A video camera."
"A camcorder. It's perfect."
"Oh, no! You do know he'll be following us around with a camcorder, recording everything for posterity!" she called.
Energized by the idea, he grabbed her hand and hauled her out of her chair. "Lets go!"
"We don't even have a VCR!" was her plaintive cry.
"I can't believe you bought all this." Andrea mumbled, carrying a box into the kitchen.
"I can't believe you guys don't have a VCR." Rick was right behind her, hefting two more boxes.
"But why did you buy the little tv?" she asked, setting her package on the table.
He carefully slid his two boxes onto the counter. "You should have a tv in your room."
"Is that why you bought it?"
"I don't need a tv in my room." she shook her head. "I rarely watch television."
"Well, we'll put it in there anyway." he shrugged and twisted sideways to stretch his back muscles. "Now that you've seen what I'm getting Lee, any chance I can sneak a peek at your gift?"
"I promise that you spent a lot more money than I did."
"Is that good or bad?"
"You'll just have to wait to find out." Smiling, she made herself a glass of ice tea. "What should we do now, Mr. Big Spender?"
"All right, you rest, I'll clean." she turned to leave the room.
"Clean what?" he called after her, leaning one hip against the counter.
"Okay, you do that. I'll set up the VCR and get the camcorder wrapped up." he told her.
"Where are you going to put the VCR?" she asked, coming back into sight.
"The family room."
"Oh, okay." She headed for her bathroom, intending to clean it from top to bottom. She paused in the doorway to her bedroom, her eyes wandering over the dark oak furniture. "I need a couch... something bright and cheerful. This room needs some color." Placing her hand on her hip, she thought about the furniture she had in storage. There was that overstuffed red couch from her living room. Yes, that would do nicely. Retracing her steps into the kitchen, she put down her glass and strolled into the family room. "Rick?"
"Hmm?" He didn’t even glance up from the floor where he was studying an instruction booklet.
"Would you help me get something?"
"Sure." he answered absently, turning a page.
"It involves physical labor."
"No more plants." he groaned, setting down the instructions before looking up at her.
"No. I have a storage room near the other house with some of my stuff in it." she explained.
"Oh, boxes and stuff." he said, getting to his feet.
"Yea. I need to get my couch."
"Your couch." he repeated.
"Uh huh. It's a big red couch and I want to put it in my room. It'll be a nice splash of color and it'll give me someplace to write." she told him.
"You could convert one of the upstairs rooms to a studio if you want." he offered.
"No, it's all right. The couch will be fine." she assured him.
He followed her through the house to the garage. "A lot of memories attached to that couch, huh?”
"From your parents' house?"
"No." she opened the passenger door of the pickup truck and slid in.
"I guess you're an only child." he said casually as he started the truck and pushed the button to open the garage door. He couldn’t help but ask question, he was trained to be inquisitive.
"You could say that." Folding her hands neatly in her lap, she stared straight ahead.
The tone of her voice should have stopped him, but for some reason, he continued. "Your parents?"
"I don't have any family now." she said tersely.
Her voice softened. "Except Lee." she glanced over at him. "And you."
"Yes, me. So, what happened to your parents?" he asked conversationally.
She exhaled slowly. "I haven't seen them in eleven years."
The silence in the car was almost deafening.
"Then they're still alive?"
"Who knows." she shrugged.
"What do you mean 'who knows'?!" he began, his hands tensing on the steering wheel.
"I don't want to talk about this." was her muttered response. "Turn left at the light." she directed.
He clamped his mouth shut and made the turn.
"Stop at the gate and punch in ten, seven, seven, four." she instructed as he turned into the parking lot of the storage company.
He did so before recognizing the numbers she gave him. "That's Lee's birthday."
"Yes. Go to the end of the row and make a right." She eyed the numbers on the building after he made the right turn. "Okay, stop here."
Looking over at him, she saw the apology in his coffee brown eyes. "It's okay. I just can't talk about my family. It hurts too much." She opened the door and slid out of the truck. As she approached the storage bin, she dug in her pocket for her key. Unlocking the pad lock, she stuck it and the key back into her pocket. Then, she leaned over and lifted the garage-like door.
"Wow, look at all this stuff." he said from behind her.
"This all came out of my apartment."
"Oh, well, where's the rest of it?"
She looked over her shoulder at him. "What?"
"The rest of your furniture. There isn't that much here." The room was filled mostly with boxes and what could only be described as stuff, but no real furniture. Had she moved it all into Lee’s house? All the furniture in Lee’s house had look liked Lee’s taste, not like things Andrea would have picked out on her own.
"I only had a three room apartment. And the kitchen table stayed with the place when I moved out." she told him.
"Oh." He peered into the dark room. "So, where's the couch?"
She reached into the room and flipped the light switch on the wall. "Over on the left."
"Is it heavy?"
"Fairly so. Why don't you back the truck up to the door and open the tailgate." she suggested.
Stepping carefully into the room, she smiled at the dilapidated boxes and makeshift dust covers. Fortunately for them, the storage room was bigger than she had really needed and there was nothing blocked the piece of furniture she wanted.
She stepped back to let him get at the sofa. "Sure. If we just lean it toward us and you lift the other end, we can carry it to the truck."
"Okay." He tipped the couch toward her and she grabbed the arms. Then he went to the opposite end and lifted it up. "Ready?"
"Yea." she grunted, stepping backwards. "Your end in first?"
They swung around and he set his end of the couch on the tailgate. "Ready? Push."
Putting all her weight into it, and she had a considerable amount, she pushed the couch and it slid loudly along the bed of the truck.
"Okay, hold on." he vaulted up onto the truck and shoved the end of the couch into the corner, trying to fit it onto the bed. "It's too long."
She smiled. "I know. I have some rope in the cab to tie it down."
"Do you think of everything?"
Rick grunted and pushed the couch along the wall.
"Okay, that's good." Andrea nodded.
"Finally." he sank down onto the couch. "Hey, this couch is comfy."
"What did you expect? Granite?" Spinning around, she headed for the door.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm finished here."
"Aren't you going to say thank you?"
She wrinkled her nose. "Thank you."
"That wasn't very nice."
"I never proclaimed to be nice." she said haughtily before leaving the room.
He watched her go, a smile pulled at the corners of his mouth. When she had disappeared completely from his sight, he stopped and took a good look around the room. She had brought pictures from her studio to hang on the walls and a few knick-knacks graced the dressers. There were a several books on the night stand along with a big notebook, a notepad, and a handful of pens. The big bed was made perfectly and not one item of clothing nor one accessory was out of place.
"Are you poking around my stuff in there or what?"
He grinned at her call. "Nice underwear!" he called back. His smile widened at the sound of her husky laughter. Getting to his feet, he took one last look around the room. It left him with a feeling of warmth and hominess that was lacking throughout the rest of the house. The smile lingering on his lips, he joined her in the kitchen.
"Have fun?" she asked, taking a sip of coffee from her mug.
He gave her a big smile but said nothing.
"What does that smile mean?"
Shrugging, he went to get himself a cup of coffee.
"Smile and the world will wonder what you've been up to." he told her, joining her at the table.
"Should I be wondering?"
"Do you have anything to worry about?"
"Oh, most definitely. Diamonds, emeralds, boxes of money and that sort." she said sarcastically.
He glanced down at the hands that were wrapped around her mug. "I'm surprised Lee didn't buy you some huge rock surrounded by lots of other rocks."
Shrugging, she smiled tentatively. "I didn't want it."
He nodded, surprising himself by anticipating her answer... and by believing her.
"Lee, the room is all set up for you and Andrea."
Lee looked over at Rick. "Yea?"
"Yea. We went out to pick up her couch from storage and it looks really good in there."
"Oh, that red couch? It was nice." Lee sat up straighter and eyed his brother. "Why are you smiling?"
"I'm not smiling." he shrugged.
"Then what is that funny look on your face?"
Rick's forehead furrowed in thought. "I didn't realize that I looked funny. Am I at least amusing you somehow?"
He grinned and his eyes twinkled merrily. "You almost always amuse me, Rick. But something is different. What did you and Andi do yesterday and today?"
Groaning, Rick slumped down into the chair. "Yesterday we planted about three hundred trees and four hundred plants."
"In the back yard."
"You worked in the garden?"
"Don't sound so surprised." Rick made a face. "I heard rumors that you painted a pool."
"Oh, I can't believe she told you that!" Grinning sheepishly, he shrugged. "It was actually kind of fun."
"How much paint did you guys waste on each other?"
"Not that much!" Lee protested. "All right, probably enough to paint half of the pool again. But man, it was worth it."
Rick watched the light shining in his brother's eyes. A shot of jealousy pierced his heart and he looked away.
"So, did you found out what she got for me?" Lee asked.
"Nope, she hasn’t said a word. I even peeked around your room when we moved the couch in, but I couldn't find anything." was the answer.
"What did you get me?"
"Who says I got you anything?" Rick said casually, studying his hands to avoid his brother’s gaze.
"I know you, you wouldn't let Andi out-do you." Lee grinned. "Well, what did you buy me?"
"Nah, a big elephant."
"Great. Did you build him an elephant pen on the property?"
"Uh, uh. I just stuck him in the garage."
"Hey, you bought me a car, right? Those were just hints, right?"
"Hardly." Rick shook his head. "You know, if I tell you now, it won't be a surprise."
"I hate surprises."
"You love surprises."
"Nuh, uh. I lied all those years."
"Sorry, that won't wash." he jumped to his feet and paced the room.
"All right, fine. Don't tell me what it is. I'll just sit here and sulk." Lee pouted.
"Go ahead and pout, it won't work."
"How about if I just beat it out of you?"
"Now boys, no fighting in the hospital."
Rick looked up at the sound of Andrea's sweet, sing-song voice.
"Hi, sweetie." Lee held out his hand.
"Hi. What's going on in here?"
"Rick won't tell me what he got me." he whined to her.
"You make him. Please?" he pleaded, giving Rick an evil glare.
She looked over at Rick, sizing him up. "I don't think I could."
Lee shot her a questioning look. "You know, don't you?"
"Um, well, sort of."
"You can tell me." he tugged on her hand, pulling her toward him. "C'mon, Andi, sweetheart, baby-doll."
She rolled her eyes. "You know that won't do it."
"Pretty please. With a cherry on top."
Rick laughed at the pitiful look his brother gave Andrea. "Forget it, Lee. I've already sworn her to secrecy."
"Oh, yea?" he turned back to her. "Did he make you sign your name in blood?"
"Then you can tell me!" At her negative reply, he sighed. "I hate it when two people keep secrets from me."
"It's only another twelve hours. Deal with it." Rick teased him.
"Fine, then. Be cruel and heartless to a dying man." he said, flopping back onto the pillows.
"Oh, please. You're hardly on your death-bed." Rick's voice was laced with light-hearted sarcasm.
"What time do we have to pick you up tomorrow?" Andrea asked, perching on the side of his bed.
Lee wrapped his arm around her hips. "Dr. Hayes hasn't told me yet." he looked at Rick but as he was speaking, he pinched Andrea's bottom.
Rick's eyes flew to her face at her semi-muffled yelp.
Blushing, she smacked at Lee's hand. "Stop that!"
"What?" he asked innocently.
Rick watched them and listened to their carefree, easy chatter. They looked good together and seemed like the best of friends but it was times like this that he wasn't sure they were lovers. There were no sexual undertones, no sparks, no chemistry. Only the sweet look of long-time friendship.
"So, what are they putting your through tonight?" Andrea asked after Rick left.
"Nothing that I know of. They'll probably keep me here most of tomorrow to finish out the tests. They've already done a load of tests yesterday and today, which is why I told you not to bother coming in. They had me carted around and hooked up to machines... it was really boring." Lee explained.
"I could have come in and kept you busy with my charming and witty personality."
"You, charming and witty? Impossible!" he teased her.
"You should have let me come in and keep you company." she reprimanded.
"From what I heard, you've been pretty busy, anyway."
"Mmm, yes. We put in a bunch of new plants and trees. I found the most charming Japanese Weeping Red Laceleaf Maple tree. I can't wait until you see it, Lee! It is so pretty." As she talked, she wandered around the room.
Between her pacing now and Rick stomping around the room earlier, something had to be going on. "Come over here and sit down." he called, tapping the chair.
She obeyed and sank into the plastic cushions.
"What else did you plant?"
"I finally found another nice Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar. It's very tall and sort of stately-looking. Also, I found this weird little tree called a Contorted Filbert. You have to see it to believe it, I can't even begin to describe it." she laughed, thinking of the peculiar tree.
"Rick helped you with all of this?"
"Yea. He was a pretty good sport about it, too. He complained about as much as you did the first time I dragged you outside into the garden." she remembered out loud.
"I figured God put gardeners on this earth to take care of our gardens. I thought we should all leave gardening to them."
She pinched his cheek. "Maybe there's a bit of the gardener in all of us."
"You must be mistaken, my dear. There is no gardener in me." his chin lifted a notch and he looked down his nose at her.
"I guess there's enough gardener in me to go around for the three of us." At his blank look, she sighed. "You, me and Rick."
"Oh, right! I forgot." He rubbed his chin with his finger. "So, I guess you and Rick are getting along better."
"Sure. We aren't arguing anymore. And he's kind of stopped asking me all sorts of questions about us. So you could say we're getting along." Propping her feet up on his bed, she nudged his leg. "Why?"
"Just making sure that I'm not walking into a war zone when I come home."
"Nope. It seems we have called a temporary cease-fire."
"I'm glad." he grabbed her hand. "I want you two to get along."
Andrea closed and locked the front door behind her. Walking quietly across the foyer, she entered the kitchen.
"I'm not asleep." Rick called out as she tip-toed into the room.
"Oh." She relaxed and went to pour herself a glass of juice.
"How was Lee when you left?"
"He was fine. He's so excited to be coming home it's like talking to a little kid about to go to the circus for the first time." she laughed quietly as she leaned on the counter.
"It's good to see him so happy. Have you spoken to Dr. Hayes about how long he'll be in remission?" he queried, pushing his papers into a neat little stack.
"No. I'm supposed to meet with him tomorrow morning."
"Mind if I come?"
"Of course not! I would have offered but I thought you would be at the office." she explained.
"Whatever is there, can wait."
"The meeting is at 9:30. We can probably see Lee after that unless they're doing last minute tests." Straightening, she stretched lazily before putting her glass in the sink. "I think I'll turn in, now." She stopped across from him at the table. "Good night, Rick."
"Sleep well. I'll see you in the morning." he said, still fiddling with the stack of papers in front of him.
Turning, she left the kitchen.
Once her back was turned, his eyes followed her as she disappeared around the corner to her bedroom.
Andrea closed the bedroom door behind her before turning on the light. The dark wood tones definitely softened the brash color of the couch. She was pleased that they had brought down the furniture from upstairs... it was made from solid oak and built to last for a lifetime.
And there it sat, on the polished oak night stand, the gift she had for Lee. While she was positive he would appreciate it, she also hoped he would like it. It took a lot of hard work to put it together but it was the only gift she could think of for a man who had everything.