"Lee, I don't think Rick should stay at the house anymore. Couldn't you try and talk him into moving into the Tamarack house?"
Lee sighed. "I've tried. He keeps telling me it's too far away from the hospital."
Andi frowned and looked away. "Then maybe I should move out." she said softly.
"You can't be serious!"
"I can't stay in the same house with him anymore."
"What are you talking about?" Lee cried. "He hasn't, uh, forced you...?"
"No!" she gasped.
"Then what's going on?"
"I can't handle seeing him, knowing he thinks I'm a tramp or an adulteress." she said tearfully.
"He doesn't think you're either of those! He just doesn't know what to make of you!" Lee touched her shoulder. "Please, try for me."
"All right. I'll try. But I won't like it." she mumbled.
Rick stood silently in the doorway looking out over the backyard. His eyes followed Andrea's every movement as she wandered through her garden. Every now and then, she stooped to pull a weed or clean up a dead leaf or branch. Lazily he studied her tall frame in dark blue shorts and white cropped shirt. Even at her size, she moved with a flowing, graceful stride that implied confidence and security. When she stepped over a flowering shrub, he saw that her feet were bare and that added to the innocent picture that she presented. Suddenly, as if sensing his presence, she looked up. He lifted a hand in greeting and she returned the wave. He thought she would stroll over to talk to him but instead, she turned back to her garden. If Mohammed wouldn't come to the mountain... he shrugged and ambled over to her side.
"Hi." Shoving his hands in his pockets, he greeted her with a faint smile.
Her voice was as smooth as silk. "Do you do this every day?"
She knelt down and caressed the petals of a beautiful silvery-purple rose. "No." Leaning over, she inhaled its light fragrance before rising. Without pausing, she continued to step delicately along the narrow path.
"Did you already visit Lee this afternoon?"
"Yes." She stroked the tougher petals of a light pink climbing rose. "He was in good spirits."
"He was." Rick agreed. "He said he had a big surprise for us tonight."
"He did mention that he had an announcement." she moved on to study the soft needles of her blue spruce.
"Lee loves blue spruces." he commented.
"I know. I planted this one for him." was her reply.
"So, which is your favorite?"
"I love them all. From the redwood tree all the way down to the silver dust." She
swept her hand out, indicating the tiny silver plants that were growing nearby.
"They all seem to love you as well. I don't see an unhappy plant or tree out here." he told her.
A frown creased her forehead and her eyes strayed to the left. "You're missing one tree."
She led him over to the saddest looking tree he had ever seen.
"It's all bent over!" he exclaimed, studying the pathetic specimen. It stood about five feet at its highest point and then the single limb drooped toward the ground. All along the main trunk were little shoots of bluish growth but it was mostly bare. "What is it?"
"It's a Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar." she fingered the limb. "I can't understand why it isn't growing! I've tried everything but it just refuses to do anything."
He wrinkled his nose. "It's pretty ugly."
She glared at him. "It most certainly is not! It has character!"
Snorting, he pushed at the skinny trunk. "It's ugly."
She turned on her heel and stalked away.
Rick followed at an easy pace, appreciating the rhythmic sway of her full hips. "Andrea!" he called. "I was just kidding."
She ignored him and went into the house through the open back door.
He sighed and followed her into the house. "Andrea!"
She whirled around, catching him by surprise. "What're you doing home so early, anyway?"
He stepped back, his eyes widening at her angry question. "I wasn't needed at work."
"Who says you're needed here?" She slapped a hand to her mouth, surprised at the words that fell from her lips. She couldn't believe she had said that. "Rick..."
Frowning, he dropped into the chair at the table. "Do you hate me that much, Andrea?"
"The truth." he snapped.
"I don't hate you." she exclaimed. "You're just a little hard to get along with."
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize I was being difficult." his shoulders sagged.
She slid into the chair across from him. "Look, I'm sorry for what I said. I'm under a lot of pressure and the thought of losing Lee is looming closer and I'm scared. My life before him was pretty bad. I hate to imagine what it'll be like after..." her voice trailed off.
"He's been looking better so maybe he's getting better."
She looked away, hating to see Rick lying to himself but not wanting to correct him.
"Hey, let me take you out for a light dinner before we go to see Lee." he offered.
She sighed. "All right. Maybe Lee's exciting news will cheer us both up, huh?"
"Lets hope so." he answered with a feeble smile.
"So, what do you think he's gonna say?" Rick asked as they walked along the hospital corridor.
"I really can't imagine. I just hope that whatever this is, it's good news. I don't think I can handle anything else." Andi quickened her steps to keep up with him. "What do you think he's gonna tell us?"
He shrugged. "As long as his spirits are high, I don't care what he has to say."
She plastered on a smile and preceded him into Lee's private room. There she found Lee sitting up in bed, a smile on his face.
"Hi, you two." he greeted them.
She went to his side and kissed his cheek. "Aren't you chipper this evening?"
"You're looking mighty cheerful, little brother. What's going on?" Rick leaned against the dresser.
He just smiled. "I want to wait until Dr. Hayes comes. He said he'd be back shortly."
"Lee," she grasped his hand. "What is this all about?"
"I want the doctor to tell you so you don't think I'm joking." he said as Dr. Hayes appeared in the door.
"Good evening, Mrs. Holivan, Mr. Holivan." he nodded to Andi and Rick.
"Dr. Hayes, what is going on?" she was almost frantic. "Has he had a relapse?"
"Quite the opposite." the man smiled. "Lee is in remission."
"Remission." she repeated dumbly.
"We're almost positive. We'll want to keep him here through Sunday but if all goes well, Monday we'll release him." the doctor spoke slowly.
"Remission." she mumbled. Turning to Lee, she let the happy tears roll down her cheeks. "Oh, Lee, this is wonderful!" She practically dove into his arms and hugged him.
"We'll send Lee home with a walker and hopefully he'll progress to using a cane. However, I would suggest you set up a bedroom on the main floor so he won't have to climb any stairs." Dr. Hayes finished before turning to leave.
Rick followed him into the hallway.
"Wow, this is a great surprise, Lee. Tomorrow morning I'll arrange to have your study turned into a bedroom." she told him, still in his arms.
"Oh, Andi, not my study!" Lee cried.
"Where else would we put a bedroom on the first floor? We don't have that many rooms." she reminded him.
"You can move back into the Tamarack house." Rick suggested from the doorway.
Andi started to shake her head. "Rick, that's your house now."
"It would be perfect. Lots of fresh air, little interruption. And there's already a bedroom on the first floor." he shrugged. "I can't see how you'd say no."
"But it's so far away from the hospital." she said hesitantly.
"You could hire a private nurse. Maybe even get someone in to help around the house." Rick continued.
Grimacing, she turned back to Lee. "Whatever you want to do, sweetheart. It's your decision."
"Tamarack it is, then. And a private nurse part-time." he added.
"Good. Andrea and I will have the place primed for your arrival Monday." Rick announced.
She frowned, thinking about her studio at home.
"Andi?" Lee called.
"Hmm?" her eyes focused on his face.
"If you're uncomfortable about this..." he started.
"No! No, it's fine. I was just planning out what had to be done." she told him.
She smiled at his teasing voice. "All right, daydreaming."
Andi studied the servant's quarters. The bedroom was a good size and as soon as she had the table, chairs, and couch moved out of the room, it would be quite sufficient. Just outside the door was a full bathroom just big enough to be comfortable. The first thing to be done, she decided, was to have the furniture moved. Then, she would have to go out and buy new curtains and new bedclothes for the bed. Once that was accomplished, she would have to pack her stuff and haul it back out here. And Lee's stuff as well.
She turned slowly. "Yes?"
"Will this room be okay?" Rick asked from the doorway.
"As soon as we get rid of the excess furniture." she waved her hand toward the makeshift sitting room.
"All right. Anything else?"
"Like what?" she turned back to look over the room.
"Well," his voice was hesitant. "Do you and Lee prefer a king-size bed?"
Pressing her lips together, she tried to compose herself. "Actually, that might be nice. I think it will fit in here."
"Yes, I think it will." his voice was soft. "You must be terribly excited about this."
"I am." she wrapped her arms around her waist and turned to smile at him. "Life is good." Squeezing her bulk past him, she went to retrieve her purse.
He followed her. "I'll have the furniture from the spare room upstairs, moved down here. Then we can store this furniture up there."
"I forgot that the spare room had a king-size bed." Clutching her purse in her hands, she edged toward the foyer. "I'm going shopping and then I'll stop by the hospital to see Lee."
"Okay. I'll see you back here, later?"
"Yes, later." She turned and sprinted out of the house.
"Hi, Lee." Rick ambled into the private room.
"Hey." Lee looked surprised. "What're you doing here?"
"Andrea went shopping so I decided to drop in and talk to you." he said casually.
"Yea. Andrea and I decided to have the king-size bed moved from the spare room upstairs, into the downstairs bedroom." Sinking into the chair at Lee's bedside, he folded his hands neatly.
"That's nice." Lee shifted in the bed so he could see Rick fully. "Did she go shopping for clothes?"
"I don't know. She didn't say."
"Oh, well maybe she went to buy me a gift." Lee grinned.
"So, what was this impromptu visit really about?" Lee asked.
Rick narrowed his eyes and decided to be blunt. "Dr. Hayes told me that he thought it would be all right for you and Andrea to... uh..." he faltered.
Lee cocked his head. "Make love?" he supplied curiously.
"Did he offer that advice on his own?"
"Well, no. I asked him."
Lee's blond eyebrows shot up. "Oh, you did?"
He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Yes, I did."
"I think you and Andrea should have a baby." was the answer.
"Really." the word was heavy with sarcasm.
"You might even be around to see it born! And you'd have your legacy." Rick stated. "And Andrea would have a part of you with her forever."
"I would never, ever think of leaving Andi alone to raise a child." Lee said firmly.
"Oh for Pete's sake!" Rick bellowed. "She'll have more money than most people could ever dream of! She could afford to hire help if she wanted it!"
"Lee, she's a lot stronger than you think. And with the money available to her, she could raise a child with absolutely no problem." he continued.
"Money isn't everything. A child needs the love of two parents." Lee said stubbornly.
"But Andrea has so much love to give."
Rick had his mouth open to argue when Andi breezed in.
"Hi." she looked from one man to the other. "Am I interrupting something?"
Lee glared at his brother. "Absolutely not."
Rick returned the look.
"Are you sure? I could just go jump out the window." she offered, trying to lighten the mood in the tension-filled room.
Lee grabbed her hand and squeezed it tightly. "So, what did you buy me?" he asked cheerfully.
"Oh, lots of goodies. New curtains and sheets and a throw rug." she bubbled.
"But those aren't for me!"
She smiled and touched his nose. "I'll have a surprise waiting for you at home on Monday."
"Well, that's incentive for me to pass all their damn tests!" he told her. "Is it a good surprise?"
"Mmm, you could say that." she teased.
"Is it bigger than a breadbox?"
"I'm not telling. The suspense is half the fun."
He groaned comically. "Torture!"
"Are you going to tell me what the surprise is?" Rick asked as he walked with Andrea toward their cars.
"You might tell."
"Me? Never." he grinned. "My lips are sealed."
"Well," she looked around them.
"I changed my mind."
"I want to keep it a secret."
"Does it involve something lacy?" he asked curiously.
"You know, something slinky with black lace?"
She whirled around to face him. "Richard Holivan, you are insufferable!" Turning on her heels, she left him standing in the hospital's lobby.
Andi nodded politely and stalked past Rick and into the kitchen. Pouring herself a cup of coffee, she watched as he studied the newspaper. "Where'd you get that?"
"Pardon?" he looked up.
"The paper. Where did you get it?"
"The corner store." he answered, returning his attention to the article he was reading.
"Oh." She dumped her remaining coffee in the sink and pulled her gardening gloves from her back pocket. Sliding them on, she strolled to the back door.
"What're you up to?" the voice floated over her shoulder.
"I'm hoping we'll be here for an extended period of time so I'm going to build up the gardens." she answered.
"Build them up?"
Nodding, she gazed out the back window. "Put in some more flowering plants, maybe add some trees." she paused. "That is, if you don't mind."
"Of course not. Can I help?"
She threw him a surprised look. "Think you can handle a shovel?"
He screwed up his face in thought. "Mmm, could be."
"Well then, hop to it. You've been drafted."
"But what do we do first?" he asked, folding up the newspaper.
"Go out and see what we can put where. And decide what we want to put in." she answered.
"So, tell me why your gloves are already on."
"Because I'm sure I'll see weeds and I'll just have to yank them." Leading him outside, she glanced at his jeans. "You may want to change before we go shopping for plants."
He looked down at his jeans and shirt. "Why?"
"Because you're gonna get dirty. You volunteered and I'm gonna make you work hard." she explained.
"I'm not adverse to hard work."
She patted his arm. "Of course not."
"Unbelievable." Rick muttered under his breath as he wiped the sweat from his face. They had talked for a mere ten minutes and then they shoved off for Andrea's favorite nursery, taking a small pickup truck from the four car garage. Then, they wandered around the nursery for at least two hours while she picked out plants and trees. Employees wandered by, waving to her like they were old friends. When he questioned why no one stopped to offer help, she laughed.
"They all know I work best on my own. They only get in the way." was her answer.
But when it came time to load their purchases, they were all happy to help. With the truck loaded, they set off for the house. And now, here he stood, shovel in hand, digging his third hole. And there she was, trying diligently to free a small, red-leaved tree from its container.
"Is the hole big enough yet?" he called, pushing his damp hair off his forehead.
She glanced over her shoulder. "Make the top a little wider around the match the bottom."
He stared into the hole, realizing that she was indeed right. The bottom of the hole was wider than the top. Wondering how he accomplished that feat, he sighed and braced the shovel between his legs. He grunted as he pulled his shirt off over his head and dropped it on the ground. Then, he jammed the shovel into the ground.
Andrea looked up at his grunt to find him bare-chested. Swallowing, she tried not to notice the broad, muscular chest. She pressed her hand to her forehead and closed her eyes. He was beautiful.
Her eyes flew open at the sound of his voice. "Excuse me?"
"How does the hole look?"
Quickly she checked the hole. "Perfect." Grasping the delicate tree trunk in one hand and the container in the other, she set it down right next to the hole.
"Same as before?" he asked, reaching for the container.
Nodding, she released the bucket and carefully pulled the tree out. She grabbed at the packed dirt to keep it from crumbling under her fingers. He dropped the bucket and moved to help her set the tree in the hole.
"Okay." She sat back on her haunches and studied the tree. "Do you think it needs to be turned to the left?"
"So the branches kind of point toward the rest of the garden instead of hanging over the path."
They both leaned forward at the same time to adjust the tree. Their hands met on the slender trunk and neither moved.
He looked up but she was still staring at their hands. "Let me move it. You direct me."
Scrambling to her feet, she quietly gasped for air. "My left... more... there."
Brushing his hands together, he got to his feet. "Let me go get some top soil."
She nodded and after he walked away, she fell to her knees. "Get hold of yourself." she whispered to her trembling hands.
"Here we are." he announced, pushing the wheelbarrow toward her.
"Great. After this, we only have two more trees and three plants." she reached for the shovel.
He groaned. "Why so many?"
"Lets just say we're doing our part for the ozone layer." she joked.
"That's it!" Rick dropped onto a chaise lounge next to the still empty pool.
"All right. We'll leave the rest for tomorrow." she agreed, watering one of the flower beds bordering the patio.
"The rest?! We put in everything we bought!" he exclaimed.
"Ah, but tomorrow is a whole new day!"
He groaned and closed his eyes, throwing his arm across his forehead.
She watched as his muscles bunched and shifted with the action. His arms and chest were sweaty and dirty and his jeans were dusty. Smirking, she turned the hose on his magnificent body.
He shouted and tumbled off the side of the lounge chair. "What the...!"
Laughing, she released her grip on the sprayer and the water trickled to a halt.
"Andrea..." he started toward her, water dripping down his face and chest.
She held up the hose and he stopped moving. "You looked hot." she said around her laughter.
"Why you..." he lunged for her and wrestled the hose out of her hands.
They stood there for a minute, both breathing heavily. He had an arm wrapped around her waist and the moisture from his body was dampening her clothes where they touched. He leaned toward her, the hose still clutched in his free hand. She pushed away from him and the minute he released her, she felt the biting sting of cold water on her side and back. She whirled around to find him grinning at her.
"All right, so now we're even." she held out her hands, palms toward him.
"For now." he answered, dropping the hose and trotting into the house.
Andrea wandered into the kitchen, showered and refreshed. She was a little tired after the long day but it was a good tired.
She smiled at Rick, who was sitting at the table, showered and shaved, with a cup of coffee.
"How about we go out tonight? My treat." he offered.
"Oh, my. You know, I've always wanted to see Paris, if you don't mind." she teased.
Grinning, he leaned back in the chair. "How about dinner instead."
"Hmm," she narrowed her eyes. "I say dinner and putt-putt might cut it."
"You're one tough lady. It's a deal." he pushed back his chair and stood. "I haven't played putt-putt in years."
"Good. I'm going to wipe up the course with you, then." she said smugly.
"We'll see." Placing a hand at the small of her back, he led her toward the garage.