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Installment 8

 

"Oh, you can't know how wonderful it is to be outside again!" Lee said happily as Rick pushed him along the path.

"I'm so happy that Dr. Hayes said it was all right. And it is such a beautiful day, too!" Andi exclaimed, walking beside the wheelchair.

"So, did you take Rick to the old house last night?" Lee asked, grasping her hand in his.

She squeezed his hand. "Yup."

"How did it look? Pretty neglected, huh?"

Rick shot a surprised look at Andi. "Actually, it looked great."

"Really?"

"I've been out there once or twice to give the place a lift." Andi said carefully.

"Oh, that's right. You did tell me you went over." he tilted his head to look at Rick. "Did you revisit your younger days?"

"Not really. I wandered around to see if anything needed repairs but the place is in great shape." Rick answered. He watched in amazement as Lee tugged at Andi playfully and she dropped carefully into his lap. Laughing, she draped her arms around his neck, her long legs dangling over the arm of the wheelchair as Lee wrapped his arms around her waist. Rick dug his feet into the sidewalk and continued to push the chair along the path, his eyes straying to the cap of red hair that glinted in the sunlight.

"Are you going to tell him?" Andi prodded her husband.

"Oh!" Lee snapped his fingers.

"Tell me what?"

"When we get back to my room, remind me to give you the deed to the Tamarack house." Lee told him.

"What're you talking about?" Rick stopped pushing the wheelchair.

"I had the title of ownership transferred into your name. Now the house is legally yours."

"Why did you do that?"

"Just humor me and accept it." Lee stated simply.

"Lee..."

"Forget it, it's done. Now, mush." he pointed forward.

Rick began wheeling the chair along the sidewalk again, his face was a mask of anger, though neither Lee nor Andi saw it.

 

 

"Andi, why is he angry with me?" Lee asked her later, confusion evident in his voice.

She stared at the door where Rick had just disappeared. "I don't know."

"Just when I thought we were getting closer." he pouted.

"Lee, it has to be hard on him. You're the only family he has left." she reminded him.

"I'm trying so hard, Andi. I want to make things right between us before I die." he said softly.

"He's as stubborn as you are and he won't admit that you're dying." she pursed her lips. "And I bet he's scared to death of losing you. Then he'll have no one."

"Why do you guys look so somber?" Rick asked, strolling back into the room.

"We were talking about you." Lee told him.

"I'm sure it isn't the first time." he drawled.

"Lee, honey, I'm gonna leave you guys alone." Andi pressed a soft kiss to his lips.

Rick gaped at them. This was the first time he had ever seen Andrea kiss Lee on the lips and even now the kiss was chaste and quick. He watched her leave the room before turning to his brother.

"We need to talk, Rick."

"Okay. About what?"

"Me."

"Is that all you ever talk about?"

Lee didn't blink at the humor in Rick's voice. "This is not a joke."

"All right." he settled into the chair. "What about you?"

"I'm dying." Lee said bluntly.

"I know that!"

"Do you?"

Rick jumped to his feet and paced at the foot of Lee's bed. "Of course I do."

"I don't think you do. I think you think this is some bad dream that will go away. Well, it won't. I'm dying and there's no two ways about it." his voice was firm.

"Lee..."

"You have to come to grips with it, Rick. There will be a time when I won't be here. You'll be the only Holivan left. I won't have any legacy to leave behind except for my business." he said quietly.

"Why didn't you and Andrea..."

"That was never an option for us. I would never leave Andi to raise a child alone." he waved his hand in the air. "I need you to accept the inevitable. I'm getting weaker and weaker and one day, this body will just give out. I need to know you'll remember me and talk to your family about me. If I can't be there to tell them myself, I'll expect you to do it. I want to tell you everything that has happened in the past six years and I want you to remember it."

Rick dropped into the chair. "I don't want you to die." He cradled his head in his hands. "I want to be selfish and keep you here forever."

Lee patted his shoulder. "Rick, I don't want to live like this forever. I can assure you, when I die it will be because I don't want to live anymore."

He clapped his hands over his ears. "I don't want to hear this!"

"Rick," Lee pried Rick's hands away from his head. "I've already made provisions with my lawyer about being kept alive on machines but I haven't told Andi. I need you to understand so if the time comes, you'll explain for me."

"Lee..."

"Don't deny a dying man his last wish, Rick." his voice was light but strained.

 

 

Rick closed the front door behind him and looked around, expecting Andrea to greet him. When she didn't, he shrugged and went into the kitchen to put up a pot of water for coffee. Wandering over to the window, he looked out over the back yard. What he saw there made his eyes widen in surprise. There she was, practically naked, sunbathing on the lawn. She was stretched out on her stomach on a towel with her cheek resting on her arms. Her back was bare and the ties for her bathing suit were laying useless beside her on the towel. He couldn't tear his eyes off her smooth skin. At the very fringes of his mind, he heard the kettle whistling but he didn't acknowledge the angry sound. His feet were frozen to the floor and his legs turned to jello. As he swayed forward, automatically his arm went out to brace himself. The sound of his flat palm making contact with the glass alerted her to his presence and she lifted her head, her surprised eyes meeting his shocked ones. He turned blindly and found his way to the stove to remove the kettle from the hot burner.

Outside, Andi was struggling awkwardly with her bathing suit. She finally got the strings tied together and she stumbled to her feet, dragging the towel with her. Opening the back door, she stepped into the kitchen where he was standing next to the stove, his big hands gripping the edge of the counter top. The door closed behind her with a soft click.

"I didn't mean to startle you." he said carefully. "I just wanted to know if you wanted coffee."

"No, thank you." She wrapped her towel around her wide hips and started for the foyer. "Oh, Rick?"

"Mmm?" His back was to her and his eyes were squeezed shut.

"Would you like to go to dinner and a movie tonight?" she asked.

"Uh, sure."

"Well, I'm going to take a shower. Why don't you look through the paper to see what's playing." she suggested.

"Yea, sure." Once her heard her footsteps on the stairs, he released the breath he had been holding on a ragged sigh. Vision of her creamy white skin made him groan and ache with longing. Those long legs and curved bottom made his palms itch to feel her softness. "No!" he roared, slamming his hand onto the counter. This was his brother's wife! He would take her to dinner, be civil, see the movie, then bring her home without touching her. If he touched her, he would be lost.

 

 

 

She kept touching him! Rick sat silently across the table from her, trying desperately not to cry out every time her hand brushed his skin. At every turn, she was touching him... his shoulder in the car, his hand in the parking lot, his arm in the restaurant. Why was she torturing him?

"Rick?"

His eyes flew to the long fingers that were touching the back of his hand. "What?" The word came out harsher than he'd meant and he cringed when she pulled away.

"We should go if we want to catch the movie." she said softly. Picking up the check, she got to her feet and went to pay the cashier.

He followed her slowly, trying not to notice the gentle sway of her generous hips under her skirt.

"Ready?" she turned sparkling green eyes on him.

"Yea."

She grabbed his elbow and they left the restaurant. They walked along the sidewalk toward the movie theater.

"Penny for your thoughts." her voice was cheerful.

I'm thinking about throwing you down right here on the sidewalk and making mad, passionate love to you, he said silently.

"Rick?"

"I was waiting for a higher bid." he answered, stepping up to the ticket window and buying two tickets.

She followed him into the building and waited while he choose two seats right in the middle of the theater. "Well?" she asked after they were settled.

"Well what?"

"A nickel for your thoughts."

He smiled in the darkness. "That isn't much of an offer. Normally my thoughts run closer to fifty cents."

She laughed softly. "At least you're smiling again." Resting her head on his shoulder, she tapped his knee. "I wish you could tell me what's bothering you."

He resisted the urge to wrap his arm around her shoulders and pull her closer. "It's nothing."

"You can tell me anything, Rick. Just remember that, okay?"

"Okay." Her voice had taken on that little girl quality that reminded him of the innocence of youth. Knowing he would regret it, he rested his arm on her shoulders as the movie began.

 

 

Rick parked the car in front of the garage. Shutting off the engine, he turned to face Andrea. "I had a nice time."

"Me, too." she said softly. "Thank you for going out with me."

He nodded silently and got out of the car. Circling around the back of the vehicle, he went and opened her door for her. 

She got out and they walked up to the front door. Pulling her key from her purse, she slid it into the lock. Before she could turn the key, he spoke.

"Andrea..."

She turned to face him and placed a hand on his shoulder to steady herself on the step. "Yes?"

One strong hand came up to cradle her cheek. "I really enjoy spending time with you."

Her heartbeat accelerated as he leaned toward her. This was it, he was going to kiss her.

His eyes drifted closed as he pressed his lips to hers. He heard her soft sigh and increased the pressure on her mouth. With his free arm, he tried to pull her closer but she stumbled off the step and fell against him. He groaned as her soft breasts pressed against his hard chest.

Her eyes flew open as she realized what they were doing. Mortified, she whirled around and then threw open the front door. She had disappeared up the stairs before he could even blink.

He took her key out of the knob then closed and locked the door behind him. Running his hands through his hair, he sighed disgustedly. As he walked into Lee's study, he prayed that his brother had some scotch somewhere.

 

 

Andi paced her studio all night. How could she let this happen? And what was she going to tell Lee? He would know something was wrong the moment he looked at her. Tracing her fingers over her lips, she sighed. And how was she ever going to face Rick after what happened?

 

 

"Good morning, Lee." Rick's voice was cheerful but a frown lingered in his eyes.

Lee gazed at his older brother. "What's going on? You look worried."

"There's nothing wrong." he answered quickly.

"No problems at work?"

"Nah. Nothing earthshattering, anyway." he shrugged. "Say, you never did tell me what's happening now with your company."

"Well, my V.P. has pretty much taken over, though I've been keeping an eye on things as best I can. I get reports and of course, the board must approve almost all of the decisions that Jacobs makes. But he's a good man and highly intelligent." Lee told him.

"Will he continue to run the place?"

"Unless the board advises Andi to let him go. She will be head of the company."

"But she doesn't know anything about running a business, does she?"

"She won't have to. She'll have enough advisors to explain all sides to any controversy and then she'll make a decision. But that's only in extreme cases." Lee nodded confidently. 

"She'll do just fine."

"Lee, about Andrea..."

He raised a hand to halt Rick's words. "I'm really too tired to argue about Andi."

Rick shook his head. "I don't want to argue. I want to ask you a question."

Lee's eyebrows shot up. "Oh?"

"I want to know the truth."

"Okay. What's the question?"

"You and Andrea."

"Now what kind of question is that?" Lee cried out.

"A damn good one if you ask me!"

"Why?"

Rick pushed his hands through his hair. "Something just doesn't seem right."

"Like what?" Lee was more curious than upset now.

"I can't put my finger on it. But for one thing, do you know I've only seen her kiss you on the lips once." he stated.

Lee shrugged. "She's uncomfortable with affection in front of other people."

Rick's eyes narrowed. Whatever game Andrea was playing, evidently Lee had been roped into it as well. "Tell me, what's Andrea's favorite perfume?"

Lee rolled his eyes. "What is that going to prove? I can tell you what my secretary's favorite perfume is."

"Yea, I guess so." Rick lifted one broad shoulder. "I don't know what's gotten into me."

 

 

"Oh, Lee! I don't know what came over me!" Andi sobbed into his shoulder. "It just happened before I could stop it. I was only trying to be friendly and nice!"

He tried to smother a smile. Now he understood his brother's earlier questions. Andi had taken one step into his room and blurted out the whole story without pausing.
"Andi, don't be so hard on yourself. It was just a small kiss. Maybe he'll chalk it up to the tension between us all." he knew better than to tell her about Rick's earlier visit. Maybe things would work out for the best after he was gone. Maybe Rick would take care of Andi the way he himself had always wanted to.

"Then you... you don't hate me, Lee? You have every right to." she sniffled.

"How could I hate you?" he stroked her hair away from her face. "Andi, once I'm gone, I don't expect you to be celibate. In fact, I'll expect that you'll marry and raise a family. Maybe name your first child after me." he grinned crookedly.

"Oh, Lee." she sighed and carefully laid her head on his chest. "I don't think I'll ever find anyone as wonderful as you."

 

 

Rick heard her final sentence as he approached the room. He stood in the doorway for a minute, grimacing at the shot of jealousy that pierced his heart. Closing his eyes briefly, he cursed under his breath before turning and stalking off.

 

 

The next week and a half, Andi and Rick spent fastidiously avoiding each other. They dodged each other at the hospital as best they could and Rick spent more and more time in the city.

One afternoon, Rick went to the hospital and found Lee and Andi out in the hospital's courtyard.

"Hi, guys."

Lee smiled at Rick's greeting. Andi barely looked up.

"What're you doing here so early in the day?" Lee asked.

"I finished up a really important case and I decided to take the afternoon off to celebrate." was the answer.

"Congratulations." Andi murmured.

"Well, now that it's over, tell us all about it." Lee prodded.

Rick grinned and shook his head. "It was one of those really long, really boring cases. That's why I'm so glad it's over."

Andi leaned over and whispered in Lee's ear.

He turned his head up to look at her. "But, Andi..."

Her eyes widened as he spoke her name. Taking a step back, she fluttered her hands in the air before turning and trotting back along the path to the hospital.

"What's wrong with her?" Rick asked, keeping his eyes trained on his brother's face.

"Nothing." Lee watched her disappear into the hospital, a worried look on his face.

 

 

Andi collapsed against the hospital wall just inside the door. Closing her eyes, she breathed in deeply. She had tried so hard to stay away from Rick, but then he had shown up today, looking relaxed and happy. And the smile that stretched across his face merely accentuated his good looks.

"Mrs. Holivan, are you all right?"

She opened her eyes to find a nurse hovering over her. "Oh, I'm fine. Thank you." She gave the woman a weak smile.

"Okay." she left Andi alone.

Sweeping her hand through her hair, she sighed. How was she going to continue to face Rick every day? She glanced out the window and saw that Rick and Lee had made themselves comfortable and they seemed to be in the midst of conversation. Pressing her fingers to her lips, she sighed and left the hospital.

 

 

Andi pulled her car into her driveway and shut off the engine. Going around to the back of the car, she opened the trunk and pulled out a grocery bag. As she was approaching the front door, it opened and Rick trotted out. 

Without a word, he went to the trunk of the car and pulled out the remaining three bags. Balancing them carefully in his arms, he shut the trunk. Then, he followed her back into the house and into the kitchen. "You got a lot of food." he commented as he set the bags on the counter.

She nodded silently and started unpacking the items.

"Are you expecting company?"

"No." her voice was low and when she turned away, her hair swung around her head, hiding her face from his view.

His breath caught as the sunlight glinted off her red curls. Clutching the counter top, he watched her stretch on her toes to put a box away on the top shelf. Her shirt pulled out from the waistband of her shorts to expose a small expanse of smooth, lightly tanned skin. The sight of that tender flesh gave him a flashback to seeing her stretched out on the back lawn...

She turned and found him staring at her with dark, churning eyes. "I... I can put this stuff away. Thanks."

"It's no problem, really." he put the carton of milk in the refrigerator.

"You must have something else you want to do. Honestly, I can do this myself." she told him insistently.

He folded up the paper bag he just emptied and set it on the counter. "Are you going to avoid me forever?"

"Who says I'm avoiding you? You have your life, I have mine." she explained, unloading a second bag.

"Do you want me to apologize for what happened?"

She leaned back against the counter. "You tell me what happened."

"We kissed."

She arched an eyebrow and crossed her arms over her chest. "I believe you kissed me."

Narrowing his eyes, he studied her. "We kissed." he repeated. "So, what should we do about it?"

"You're really making this out to be much more important than it is." she shrugged.

He tilted his head. "If you say so. I'll leave you to your groceries, then." Turning, he left the room.

Andi watched him leave then turned back to unpack the remaining bag of groceries. She was trembling so much she almost dropped the jar of applesauce.