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Installment 18

 

“Good morning, Lee.” Andrea greeted him as she entered the kitchen the next morning.

He looked up, his mouth full of food. “Mumph.”

Smiling, she poured herself a glass of orange juice and went to sit at the table. “What would you like to do today?”

He finished chewing and swallowed. “Look outside, Andi.”

She turned to stare out the window. “Oh, it’s raining.”

“Been raining since about three a.m.” he told her. “So I guess that picnic is out.”

“It would seem that way.”

“And no zoo, either.” he sighed.

“Can’t we think of something to do inside today?” she asked, taking a sip of her juice.

“We could see another movie.” he suggested. “Or walk around a shopping center.”

“Well, why don’t you think about it while I go visit Jimmy. I should be home around lunchtime, okay?” she got to her feet and put her empty glass in the sink.

“All right. Tell Jimmy I said hello.” he called after her.

“Will do.”

Lee waited until she left the room before turning around in his chair. “Okay, Rick, you can come in.”

Rick hurried around the corner and joined Lee at the table.

“So, what do you think? Will she agree or am I gonna have to trick her?” he asked.

“You’re probably gonna have to trick her.” Lee answered before biting in the other half of his roll.

“So how should I do it?”

Lee shrugged and looked really interested in the peanut butter on his bread.

“You aren’t going to help me, are you?”

“I’ll help you execute any plan you come up with but this has to come from you.” Lee told him.

“Great. I’ll be here forever trying to come up with something.”

“Think simple. You only have a couple of hours to set it up.” At Rick’s blank look, Lee sighed. “Where did you want to take her?”

“Maybe to a dinner theater or something.” he said uncertainly.

“Okay, so you need to find someplace that’s playing something good. You need reservations and you need to know when dinner starts.” Lee began.

“Right.”

“Then you have to figure out how to get her into the appropriate clothes and to the dinner theater without letting on what is happening.”

“Right.” Rick repeated, looking at Lee expectantly. “So how do I do that?”

He shrugged. “Beats me.”

“C’mon, Lee, you’ve know Andrea for years. You know her way better than I do.”

“Yup.”

“So, you’re gonna help me?”

“Nope.”

Rick sighed. “It’s a lost cause, I’ll never come up...” his voice faded out. “Cause?”

Lee grinned and watched Rick’s face change. “Yes, oh master of deceit?”

“Okay, I got it. When Andrea gets home, you tell her that someone called and they’re having a benefit dinner at the dinner theater I pick. The benefit is for cancer research and they want her to sit at the ‘family of cancer patients’ table and she has to dress accordingly. Then tell her that you and I already have plans and she should just go alone. I’ll be waiting to meet her in the theater at the table and voila, there we have our plan.” Rick finished triumphantly.

“Not bad for your first plan.” Lee nodded.

“Help me pick out someplace to go.” Rick opened the newspaper to the entertainment section.

“Remember, you’re doing all of this at your own risk. For all you know, she may turn around and drive right back home.”

Rick cocked his head in thought. “I’ll just have to send a limo for her.”

“A black stretch with tinted windows.”

“Absolutely.” Rick nodded, reading a review of one of the dinner theaters. “How about Seven Brides for Seven Brothers?”

“Yea, she’d probably like that.”

“Has she seen the whole movie on tv?”

“Yea, I think we watched it before.” Lee answered.

“Well, then, I had better make reservations, hadn’t I?” Rick jumped up out of his chair and crossed the kitchen to the phone.

 

 

“Lee!”

“In the kitchen!”

Andrea hurried along the hall into the kitchen. “Hi.”

“Hi. How was Jimmy doing?”

“He looked tired and kinda worn out.” she answered. “But we talked for a long while.”

“I’m sure he’ll be rested by tomorrow.” he paused. “By the way, a woman named Angela called here.”

“Oh, about what?”

“There’s a dinner benefit tonight at the Sully Dinner Theater and they want you to attend. It’s a benefit for cancer research and they want you to sit at the ‘family of cancer patients’ table.” Lee said slowly.

“Oh, well, what time do we have to leave?”

“Actually, Rick has already made plans for him and me and I would really like to go. So, if you don’t mind, would you go this one alone?” he pleaded.

Cheered at the prospect of Lee spending time with his brother, she agreed. “So, what time do I have to be there?”

“Actually, she said they would send a car for you so you wouldn’t have to worry about driving.”

“So I guess I have to get all prettied up for this?”

“Yea, I guess. Why don’t you wear that long white dress?”

“Oh no, I can’t wear that. I want to wear something polished, to present a good image.” she told him.

“How about the black dress with the white beads?”

“Yea, that one is pretty.” Nodding, she glanced at the clock. “But it’s at the other house. I’ll have to run home to get it.”

“Well, I’ll take the ride with you if you want. The car is supposed to be here at five thirty to pick you up.” he said.

“All right, lets go over to the other house and on the way back we’ll stop off and get some lunch.” she grabbed her purse and started for the garage. “C’mon Lee, lets move.”

Around the corner in the front hallway, Rick grinned. He would have a white rose corsage waiting for her at the theater.

 

 

Andrea brushed her hair, trying to get the curls to obey. Everything was perfect, right down to her black shoes. The dress had a close-fitting black bodice with white beads forming a vee from the white lace victorian neckline. The skirt of the dress flared out from her waist and fell in graceful folds to just above her ankles. The material was soft and clingy and comfortable to wear, yet it smoothed over what she considered were some of her “trouble spots.” She donned her good gold watch, her gold bracelet and her gold and pearl drop earrings. The look was sophisticated and very polished.

“Andi, the car will be here in five minutes!” Lee called.

“All right, I’m coming.” Grabbing her black beaded evening bag, she hurried down the hallway to the stairs. She went down the steps slowly, lifting her skirt slightly so as not to trip. Before she met Lee, she would never have had a dress or accessories like this, but she had often attended company functions with him both before and after their wedding, so she had purchased several evening gowns for those occasions.

“Wow, you look fabulous.” he whistled.

“Thanks. What are you and Rick doing tonight?” she asked, brushing a piece of lint from her skirt.

“Dinner and something. Who knows, maybe strippers.”

She grinned and kissed his cheek. “I hope you two have fun.”

“Maybe beer and prostitutes, who can tell.” he continued. “So you have a good time and don’t worry about me.”

“Yes, sir.” she saluted as the doorbell rang. “That must be my car.” Opening the door, she was surprised to find a chauffeur in full dress standing there.

“Mrs. Holivan?”

“Yes.” she turned back to Lee. “Have fun.” Waving, she followed the driver to a very shiny, very sleek black limousine. “All of this for a cancer benefit?” she asked the man holding open the black door.

His face remained blank as she slid into the back seat. He closed the door and a minute later, the car pulled away.

 

Rick kept his eyes on the door, waiting for Andrea to arrive. He pulled at the starched collar of his tux with one finger, not even noticing that he was a bit overdressed. All he could think of was impressing Andrea.

Every time someone approached the reservation desk, he stiffened. He took a moment to reassure himself that the white rose corsage he bought was sitting on her plate in the plastic florist box. After confirming it was still there, he looked back at the door and there she was. She looked tall and regal in the ankle-length dress and the lace that caressed her neck gave her a royal air that no other woman could possibly duplicate.

Quite a few heads turned to follow her progress across the room and Rick’s heart swelled with pride. He stood as she approached the table.

She stopped and stared at him. “Rick, what are you doing here?”

“I’m waiting to have dinner with the most beautiful woman on the planet.” he answered softly.

“I don’t understand, I thought this was a benefit dinner.” she stood next to the table.

He picked up the corsage box. “This is for you. Will you wear it?”

She stared through the plastic at the miniature white tea roses. “Rick, they’re beautiful.”

He opened the box and took out the corsage. Setting the empty box on the table, he reached for her hand and slid the elastic band around her wrist. “I guess this means you’ll stay for dinner and the show?”

“What happened to the benefit?”

“That was just a lure to get you here.” he held out her chair for her. “Are you mad?”

She settled into the chair. “No.”

He gently brushed her hair over her shoulder before returning to his seat. “You look beautiful.”

Color rushed up into her cheeks and she looked down at the table. “Thank you. You’re looking quite handsome yourself.”

He watched the candlelight dance in her eyes and caress her face. “I can’t believe that I’m sitting here with you.”

“I can’t believe you went through all of this for me.” she told him, bringing the corsage up to inhale the rose’s sweet fragrance.

“I would walk over hot coals for you.” he teased.

She grinned and her eyes met his. “Now?”

“Well, maybe later.”

The waiter came with their menu and after reciting the specials, disappeared to let them decide.

“Would you like some wine with dinner?” Rick offered.

“No, thank you. I’d like to enjoy the evening clear-headed.” she told him.

“Are you telling me you’ve already decided to enjoy the whole evening?”

“Absolutely. It isn’t often that men take me out for expensive dinners.”

“Oh, didn’t I tell you? This was your treat.” he grinned and her answering smile took his breath away. “Andrea...”

“Are you ready to order now?”

Rick looked up and frowned at the waiter’s untimely intrusion. “Andrea?”

“Yes, I’d like the chicken with spinach and the baked potato.” she told the waiter.

“What kind of dressing would you like on your salad?”

“Russian.” she nodded and handed him the menu.

“I’ll have the same except I’d like the steak instead of the chicken.” Rick told the man, handing over his menu as well.

“Very good. Your salads will be here shortly.” As he left, another waiter stopped and left bread and butter on the table.

“Were you about to say something, Rick?” she asked him.

He shook his head. “I don’t remember.”

She reached for a soft roll and tore a piece from it. “Ooo, these are still warm.” She popped the piece of bread in her mouth.

Rick watched her in fascination. The way her lips curled around the bread, the way her tongue swept out over her pursed lips, and then the way her jaw worked as she chewed the bread.

“Your salads.” the waiter announced.

She put aside her roll and picked up her fork. “This is quite lovely, Rick.”

He nodded and speared a piece of lettuce.

She watched him chew it vigorously, like he was trying to rid himself of the devil. He looked devastatingly handsome in the black tuxedo. His broad shoulders filled out the jacket with pride, creating an aura of strength about him. Before tonight she never really noticed what a sexy voice he had... and when he smiled at her, oh, that smile! Every movement he made drew her eye until she finally had to look away, sure that he could feel her stare.

They ate dinner, talking every now and then. Sometimes they spoke about Lee or Jimmy, other times they spoke about work or her poetry. When the waiter cleared away their plates and took their order for dessert, they were talking about her plants.

“So tell me how you learned about caring for them? I mean, it’s one thing to appreciate them but it takes a heck of a person to care for them.”

“Well, I read a lot at first and I talked to a lot of people about gardening. Most of them were the neighbor’s gardeners. Then, when I needed a job, I found one at a nursery. And during the summer, I got a second job as a landscaper’s helper.” She leaned back as the waiter returned with their chocolate volcano cake.

“So you had two jobs that summer?”

“That summer and every summer after that. The same landscaping company rehired me every year. Believe it or not, that’s how I met Lee.” She took a bite of her cake. “Mmm, this is delicious.”

He nodded. “How did you meet Lee?”

“I was landscaping in front of his building for almost two months. I never went into the building, although the other workers did. They went in to cool off and take breaks, but I kept working, barely took lunch breaks. One day he came out with a quart of juice and two cups and he plopped himself right onto the grass in front of me. He offered me some juice and we talked for a few minutes. Then I started working and he kept talking.” she paused to eat more of her cake. “We tried dating once, but it really didn’t work at all so we stayed friends. And every summer I was back doing maintenance on that building. It was only during my last summer with that company that I found out that Lee’s office was footing the bill. We ate lunch together at least three times a week and did stuff on the weekends when we were free. I still don’t know why he came outside that first day.”

Rick new why... his brother always did have an eye for beautiful women. And she was definitely one of them. “He must have felt sorry for you and your mop of curls.”

She smiled and put another forkful of cake in her mouth.

Just then, their waiter came by to offer drinks, saying it was the last call because the show was about to start. He informed them that they could also order drinks now for the intermission. They both ordered coffee to wash down their dessert and about five minutes later, the show began.

 

“Oh Rick, I had a wonderful evening.” Andrea told him as the garage door slid shut behind their car. “The dinner, the show, the company.”

“I’m glad.” He got out of the car and came around to help her out. “I had fun, too.”

She took his hand and slid out of the car, then she leaned against him. “I’m sorry I yelled at you last night.”

“It’s all right, I guess I deserved it.” he let his arms curl around her waist to hold her to him.

“Yes, you did, but I thought I should be polite and apologize.”

“Will I have to apologize after I kiss you?” he asked softly, staring at her lips.

“Try me.” she whispered, her eyes drifting closed. She felt his lips touch hers, tentatively, caressingly, before he pulled away.

“Well?”

“No apology necessary.” she breathed.

“Good.” He leaned over and kissed her again, his lips melting over hers.

She pressed against him again for moment, enjoying his kiss, before pulling away. “We should go in.”

“Think we can find a nice couch somewhere?” he asked.

“Aren’t we a little old to be necking on a couch?” she teased.

“Honey, you’re never too old.” he wrapped his arm around her shoulders and together they went into the house. Wandering quietly through the house, they ended up in the basement with the stereo on softly in the background.

They had been talking for over an hour when the phone rang.

Rick’s eyes flew to the clock in surprise... it was almost midnight. He touched Andrea’s hand and went to pick up the phone. “Hello?” his voice was low as he turned away from her. “Yes, I understand. Thank you.” he hung up the receiver before turning back to her. “Andrea.”

She looked up at him with wide, happy eyes. “Yes?”

He hated to see the sparkle die. “That was the hospital.”