Rick heard their burst of laughter but made no effort to greet them or move from the kitchen table. A few minutes later, they strolled slowly into the kitchen, Andrea's arms full of packages.
"Hiya, Rick!" Lee greeted him cheerfully.
Andrea smiled and dumped her packages on the end of the kitchen table. "Boy, did we shop!"
"Did you get everything you wanted?" Rick asked politely.
Lee plopped into the chair across from Rick. "You should have seen us. We were just one big shopping machine!"
"That's nice." He glared at her. "Andrea, you got a phone call." He could barely contain his anger.
"A man named James." his voice was low and deadly. "He said he was looking for his Sweetie."
"Oh, Jimmy! Is he in town? Did he leave a number?" she asked excitedly, ignoring the angry look Rick was giving her. Turning to Lee, her smile widened. "You remember Jimmy! He practically raised me when B..." her mouth slammed shut and she turned back to Rick. "Did he leave a message?"
"He said he would call back tonight."
"I hope he's in town!" Scooping up the packages, she disappeared around the corner toward her bedroom.
"So, have you been working all morning?" Lee leafed through some of the papers on the table.
"More or less."
"Been spending a lot of time thinking about that phone call, huh?" he asked casually.
"You can't fool me, Rick, I saw the mistrust in your eyes. I thought you were all finished with that!"
"Andrea has some secrets that I'm curious about. I don't like people who hide things." Rick said softly.
"You're a fine one to talk, brother dear."
"We both know that you have some hidden secrets of your own. And maybe, just maybe, if you asked Andrea, she might tell you what you want to know." Lee pushed himself to his feet and shuffled out of the room with his walker.
Andrea waited patiently through most of the afternoon and evening hours. These surprise visits from Jimmy were very short because Jimmy was not one for sitting still for any period of time, except when he took care of her. At age fifty three, he took her in when Brian's illness became extremely bad. For two years, she practically lived with him and any time she could sneak Brian out of the house, it was off to Jimmy's they went. He was a big man, both height-wise and weight-wise, but he was kind and gentle with caring hands and a warm smile. He would have done anything for her, even put aside his own need to travel. But once Brian had died and he felt she had dealt with the loss, he left to continue his life of traveling. Once Jimmy had left town again, she had moved out of her parent's house and into his, with his permission. At the tender age of seventeen, she was on her own, going to school and working part-time. Jimmy sometimes sent checks and flew home occasionally but she never saw her parents again. They had told her in a letter that they were moving to Europe and neither did they offer an explanation nor did she ask for one. Since then, there was no contact at all, there was only Jimmy and his surprise visits. He must have called the other house and gotten the answering machine which informed the caller of their change of residence and the phone number.
"Andi, telephone!" Lee called out.
She had been so lost in her thoughts that she hadn't even heard the phone ring. Diving across the bed, she picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Jimmy!" she squealed, a smile lighting up her whole face.
"How are you?" he asked in his deep baritone.
"I'm fine! How are you? Where are you?"
"I'm just fine. I'm about an hour away. How's Lee doing?"
"He's better... he's home again."
"Terrific! I'll be 'round in a while then! Make me some strong coffee, Sweetie. See you shortly."
"Remember how to get here?"
"Got a memory like an elephant, girl. I've gotta go." he told her.
"Bye, Jimmy!" she called just before he hung up. Jumping to her feet, she hurried through the kitchen toward the family room. "Lee!"
"We're in here!" he answered.
She raced into the family room to find Lee and Rick playing cards on the floor with the television on. "Jimmy's on his way."
"I kind of figured that. How long?" Lee asked, playing a card.
"About an hour." she sank down onto the floor next to him. "He sounds good."
Rick played his card. "Where's he coming from?"
"Who knows." shrugging, she tapped a card in Lee's hand.
"Jimmy has a major case of wanderlust. I think he's been just about everywhere there is to be." Lee answered, playing the card Andi had suggested.
"How many years has he been traveling?"
"Must be forever." she commented almost absently, still staring at Lee’s hand.
"How old is he?"
This time she paused to think before answering. "I guess about sixty-six or thereabout."
Rick's eyes widened in surprise. "Really?"
She laughed. "But don't tell him I told you or else he'll murder me."
"He doesn't look old." Lee told him. "And he sure doesn't act old."
"How long will he stay?"
"As long as he chooses." she smiled sadly. "But the longest he's stayed was three days and that was when Lee went into the hospital."
Rick lapsed into silence as he played his card.
"I'm gonna make some coffee. Anyone want?" she offered, getting to her feet.
Andrea threw open the front door and leapt in Jimmy's open arms.
"Hi, Sweetie." he gave her a hard hug before releasing her.
"Hi. Come in!" she stepped back to let him come through the doorway. "Rick and Lee are in the family room."
"Who's Rick?" Jimmy whispered loudly as she closed the door behind him.
"Older." she corrected. "And he doesn't know anything about Brian so..."
“Gotcha!” he wrapped his arm around her waist and they went into the family room. “Hello there, men!”
Rick’s head flew up at the booming voice.
“Hiya, Jim.” Lee greeted him.
“Lee, you’re looking mighty good.” Jim walked over to shake hands with him.
“Thanks. And you don’t look an hour over forty.” he returned.
“Liar.” Jimmy guffawed then calmed down to eye Rick.
“Jimmy, this is Lee’s older brother, Richard. Rick, this is James Womatt.” she introduced them.
Jimmy walked over to Rick and shook his hand. “Good to meet you, Richard.”
He nodded. “Rick.”
“Rick it is, then.” Turning back to Andrea, he studied her face. “Where’s that java, girl?”
“Waiting for you in the kitchen, old man.” she teased.
“Well, bring it on in here. I see them cards and I itch to play some poker.”
Lee grinned. “Rick, the poker chips are in the game room downstairs. Would you get them, please?”
Rick nodded and disappeared just as Andrea reappeared with a steaming mug of coffee.
“Andi, did you tell Jim about your book?” Lee asked.
“No, not yet.”
“Well, tell me.” Jimmy prompted as he accepted the mug.
“My poetry can soon be found on the shelves of all major bookstores.” she told him.
He puffed out his chest. “When do I get my free autographed copy?”
“Well, we only have one advance, advance copy that I gave Lee for his homecoming.”
“At least let me see it, then.” Jimmy ordered, taking a sip of his hot coffee.
“Actually, I think Rick has it.” Lee spoke up.
“Has what?” Rick asked, coming into the room with the box of chips.
Rick stared at his brother for a moment. “Oh, the poetry! No, I think it’s in the kitchen.”
“Where?” she asked him.
“On the counter, I guess.” Shrugging, he dropped to the floor with the chips as she left the room.
She returned a minute later, knowing the book had not been on the table last night. “I found it.” she announced.
Jimmy took the book from her. “Set up for a game while I look through this.” He settled onto the couch opposite Lee.
“Andi, you in?” Lee asked her.
“Sure, why not?” She sat on the floor at the opposite end of the coffee table from Rick.
When the game started, Jimmy put down the book and picked up his cards. “So, Rick, what do you do? Wait, let me guess! A cop?”
“Me? A cop!” he hooted. “Not likely. I’m a private investigator.”
“Work for yourself?”
“You bet.” he nodded and moved a card around in his hand.
“Where are you based?”
“Oh, you ever hear of Andrea’s parents?”
She glared at him before smacking his leg. “Shut up, Jimmy.”
“Now that is no way to talk to me, girl.” he admonished.
“Why would I have heard of her parents?” Rick asked casually, not looking up from his cards.
Jimmy glanced at her. “No reason.”
Rick made a mental note to call headquarters tomorrow.
“Jim, how long are you staying?” Lee asked to fill in the silence.
“I’ll shove off tomorrow evening.”
She felt tears prick at her eyes. As brash and as obtuse as Jimmy was, she loved him with all her heart. Biting her lip to keep it from trembling, she stared at her cards to keep the tears from falling.
“You have offices here in the states?” Jimmy resumed his questions for Rick.
“A few. One in New York.”
“Been working out of there?”
“Jimmy, where have you been since we last saw you?” she interrupted.
His forehead furrowed in thought. “Actually, I been in California most of the time. Went to Hawaii for a while, but mostly California.”
“Oh, how disappointing! No safari stories or anything?” Lee teased him.
She watched the older man crack a smile. He looked sad and a bit older than usual. “Jimmy...?”
“Saw a bunch of movie stars.” he jumped in over her voice.
“Anyone interesting?” Lee asked.
“Did not.” she nudged his leg. “He’s dead.”
“I swear I saw him at the yacht club bussing tables!” he told them.
“Sure. And he dyed his hair so no one would recognize him, right?” she put down two cards and accepted two from Lee.
She shook her head fondly at the older man. “Jimmy, you’re unbelievable.”
“Ain’t it the truth.” he grunted, tossing a chip into the pile in the middle of the table.
“Lee, you really should go to sleep! It’s late and Jimmy promises he’ll be here tomorrow.” Andrea tugged at his shirt.
“I’m okay.” he stated firmly.
“Lee, now.” Rick ordered. “It’s late and you cannot afford to miss any sleep.”
“Don’t tell me what to do!” Lee yelled at him.
“Boys!” Jimmy boomed. “Enough, both of you!” They both turned wide eyes on him. “Lee, I think you should hit the sack and I’ll see you tomorrow. And don’t argue with me, boy! I’m a lot bigger and a lot stronger so hop to it. And as for you, Rick,” he turned to face him. “I’m not adverse to putting a choke hold on a man I’ve only known for a few hours.”
A smile spread slowly over Lee’s face as he watched Rick respond to Jimmy’s threat. “All right, I’m off. I’ll see you all in the morning.” He got to his feet with some help from Rick, then he left the room with his walker.
“Well done, Jimmy.” she told him, laughing at Rick.
“I thought so.” he grinned at her.
“I’m gonna turn in, too, so you two can talk alone.” Rick announced, heading for the foyer. “I’ll see you both in the morning.”
Once he had left the room, Andrea dropped onto the couch and pulled Jimmy with her. “Now we can really talk. Tell me what you’ve been up to.”
“Relaxing by the pool, in the tropics. That sort of thing.” he answered vaguely.
“What else have you been up to? I can’t believe you’ve been sitting by a pool anywhere for two months.”
“Well, I did go to Hawaii for a week.” was his reply.
“Tell me what’s going on or else I’ll put you in a headlock. And you taught me how so believe me, I can do it.” she threatened him.
“Nothing is going on.”
“How long have I known you?”
“Most of your short-lived life, girl.” he growled.
“We never hide anything from each other. Why are you doing it now?”
“I’m not hiding a thing.”
“James Andrew Womatt! How can you sit there and lie to me?” she cried.
“Sweetie, I’m not lying.”
Jumping to her feet, she glared down at him. “I’m going to sleep. Maybe by morning I’ll be able to look at you again.”
“Andrea...” he called after her.
She stopped but didn’t turn.
“Everything I do is for your own good.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it.” she hissed, starting for the foyer.
“Just remember that I love you.”
She stomped through the foyer into the kitchen and down the hall into her bedroom.
Rick walked quietly down the stairs.
“It’s all right, she went to sleep.”
He whirled around to find Jim standing in the foyer, watching him. “I just didn’t want to disturb you.”
“I know you heard her pounding through the house. We had a little argument. It isn’t the first and I hope it won’t be the last.” Jim said quietly.
Rick studied him for a minute. “You’re sick, aren’t you?” He saw Jim’s shoulders tense.
“Who told you that?”
“I’m a P.I., this is my job.” Rick shrugged.
“I’m guessing you’re very good at your job.”
“Then it’s true. You are sick.”
“Why haven’t you told Andrea?”
“Isn’t it obvious? Her husband is dying! She doesn’t need to have my poor health on her mind.” Jim told him.
“How bad is it?”
“Look, I’d like to hire you to do a job for me.”
“You’re changing the subject.”
“Dammit, boy! Shut up and listen to me!”
Rick’s jaw clenched and he folded his arms across his chest. “All right, I’m listening. For now.”
“Listen and listen good. And none of this reaches Andrea or your brother, understand?” Jimmy’s voice was low and throaty.
Andrea closed her eyes and tried to sleep. All night she waited for the darkness to come but it didn’t. All she could do was lay there and stare at the ceiling, thinking about Jimmy and why he was lying to her. She knew he was lying, she could tell. She knew him well enough to see right through him. Something was wrong and she was determined to find out what it was, no matter what.
Lee looked up from the morning newspaper. “Still sleeping.”
Rick pursed his lips. “They had a fight last night.”
“I know.” Lee’s gaze returned to the newspaper on the kitchen table.
Of course he would know, Rick berated himself. After all, he was her husband.
“What are your plans for today, Rick?”
“I have to go to the office for a while.” Rick answered.
“Can you give any juicy details?” Lee’s voice was full of curiosity.
“Afraid not.” he shook his head. “But I have to be off early. So I’ll see you later in the afternoon.”
“Right. Maybe by then Jim and Andi will be speaking to one another again.” Lee called out as Rick headed for the garage.
“Does everyone know my business?” Andi asked, shuffling into the room, wearing her bathrobe.
“Good morning.” Lee greeted her. “You still look tired. Why don’t you go back to bed?”
“I can’t sleep anymore. I’m so angry. And worried. Lee, if he’s keeping something from me, it must be serious.”
“Look, maybe he’s ready to settle down. Maybe he found himself a woman in California. After all, he settled for two years for you.” he reminded her.
“He would have told me that. Where’s Rick?” she asked.
She shuffled over to the stove and put up the water for coffee.
“Good morning.” Jimmy entered the kitchen.
“‘Morning, Jim.” Lee greeted him.
She turned and leaned her hip against the counter to stare at Jimmy.
“Did I forget something?” he looked around.
“You tell me.”
“Andrea, enough is enough.”
“I would think so.”
“Maybe I should just leave now.” he announced.
She turned back to retrieve the whistling kettle. “You do what you want.”
“Andrea!” Lee gasped.
“I want you to quit playing this game.” Jimmy informed her.
“I’m not playing any game, I’m waiting for the truth.” Pouring the water into her cup she paused for his response.
“Sweetie, I’ve always taken care of myself, don’t try to change me now.” Jimmy said before leaving the kitchen.
“I don’t want to change you, you old coot.” she muttered. “I’m going to do some writing.”
“Andi, he loves you very much.” Lee said quietly.
“Yea, yea, I know.”
Rick strolled through the kitchen to look out into the back yard. Lee and Andrea were nowhere to be found and Jimmy was sitting on a lounge chair near the pool. Opening the back door, he went out to join Jim.
His head shot up and he squinted up at Rick. “Hey.”
“Where are Lee and Andrea?”
Rick pulled a chair over next to Jim. “When did they leave?”
“About an hour ago.” He sat up straighter. “Are you going to tell me?”
“I found them. It was easier than I thought.” Rick informed the older man.
“You must have a lot of connections.”
“More than you know.”
“Are they all right?”
“They’ve been living in the same place for eight years. Before that is sketchy, but I didn’t think you cared much about that.” he paused while Jim nodded in agreement. “Here’s the tough part and I can’t be sure yet if I have all the facts. Someone is checking into this for me.”
“What is it?”
“There’s a little boy living with them.”
“Oh my God.” Jimmy’s face went white. “How old?”
Jimmy sank back onto the chair. “What else is there to find out? They had another child.”
“The primary question would be, is it theirs?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m having someone check into the adoption thing. Maybe they adopted.” Rick suggested.
“What am I going to tell Andi?” Jimmy mumbled.
“Nothing until I figure out what is going on.” Rick reminded him. “Now, are you going to tell me how sick you are?”
Rick’s jaw went slack. “What?!”
“I have a brain tumor.” Jimmy sat silently for a moment. “I have to trust you. There are some things I’m going to tell you, basically because I know you could find out anyway. But, you have to promise not to say anything to Andrea or Lee until I’m ready.”
So Jim sat there, and uninterrupted, told Rick the whole story. About Andrea’s background, Brian, her parents, and things that he had thought he would never have to tell her.
Andrea and Lee came into the kitchen, still chuckling over the movie.
“Hi, Rick.” Lee greeted him.
“Downstairs watching television on the big screen tv.” Rick answered, making a note on the paper in front of him.
“We don’t have a big screen tv.” she reminded him.
Smiling sheepishly, Lee spoke. “We do now.”
“It came about half an hour ago.” Rick told them.
“I ordered it.” Lee announced. “Is it nice?”
“Jim loves it.” Rick paused, trying to calm his racing mind. “He loves it so much, he’s decided to stay longer.”
“Excuse me?” she said quietly.
“He wants to stay for a while.”
“Go ask him. He said we have to fill the pool, though.”
She arched her eyebrow in disbelief and went to find Jimmy.
“Did you get all your work accomplished?” Lee asked, settling slowly onto a chair.
“Most of it.”
“How long have you been home?”
“A couple of hours.”
“You and Jim do much talking?”
“Some. Why?” Rick asked.
“Just curious as to why Jim told you that he was staying.” Lee answered.
“Maybe because I was the only one here.”
“It was Andi’s idea to go out.” he shrugged. “Far be it from me to argue when she’s treating.”
Rick waited a minute. “What do you know about Brian?”
“Brian, the boy in Andrea’s earlier poems.” he explained.
“He was her brother.”
No, he wasn’t, Rick’s mind screamed. “Was?”
“He had M.S.”
“M...?” Rick shook his head.
“Multiple sclerosis.” he explained.
“How old was he when he died?” Rick knew all these things but he thought that Lee might get suspicious if he didn’t ask.
“Fifteen. Can you believe it? And they were really close.” Lee continued.
“That had to be rough.”
“Yeah.” Lee’s voice was full of sympathy. “Rough is an understatement.”