Chapter 1

Caution: This Romantic Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/ft, Consensual, Romantic, Reluctant, Heterosexual, Fiction, First, Safe Sex, Oral Sex, Cream Pie, Slow, .

Desc: Romantic Sex Story: Chapter 1 - Poor Ed. Thinks he's settled, single. Has his toys. LIfe could be better, but for now... His elderly neighbor has a problem. Her granddaughter's in jail and guess who gets to pick up the fourteen year old daughter? That would be Dana, who sees Ed as the friend she's been waiting for.

It was the Thursday before Thanksgiving week. I was changing out a couple of things on my car, engrossed in the task.

That's why I was surprised when I heard, "Edward, do you have a moment?"

I heard the voice behind me and recognized it. Mrs. Leland Sommers, widow, retired school teacher. My former English teacher, retired ten years ago, the year after she saw me graduate from high school, and now, through some twist of fate, my neighbor in the little apartment complex.

"Of course, Mizz Lee," I said, carefully pulling my torso from under the hood of my SUV. I stood up and smiled at her. I was twenty-eight, she was seventy-two, tall, completely grey-headed, still carrying herself with the regal assurance with which she commanded a classroom full of high school students who were seldom interested in literature, language or grammar.

"Edward, I have a situation." Her cool grey eyes were missing the laughter we sometimes shared over book discussions and the occasional friendly joint venture to the local university for some minor cultural event.

Yeah, forty years of time separated our ages, but she'd honed in me an interest in culture in the short year she'd been before me in a classroom, and now this geographical quirk meant that occasionally I'd end up joining her for a recital or a reading. That is, those times where her constant companion was not available (not too often) and I couldn't find an interested female my age (all too much more often) to go.

I was also the "Edward, can you help me with this computer thing" guy for her and several other people in the complex, by dint of my technological astuteness. I was an IT guy. Like in "information technology". Ergo, I knew THINGS, especially things that the more elderly neighbors needed support with. So I was figuring this was another "reset the router" task.

I was wrong.

She saw my questioning expression. "This isn't the normal thing, Edward." I was still "Edward, former student and younger friend" to Mizz Lee. To my friends and co-workers, I was Ed in polite conversation. She continued. "You know about my daughter..."

Yes, I did know. Mizz Lee was the epitome of conservative and strait-laced demeanor and her daughter, almost twenty years my senior, was of similar temperament. In the same year, cancer had claimed both Sally and Mizz Lee's husband.

"Yes, ma'am," I answered.

"You do know she had a daughter, right?"

I did know that fact. "Wild" was the most polite term used to describe her granddaughter. There were several legal terms, too, the language one usually finds on police blotters. "I remember you talking about her," I said.

"Well, she's finally done it. Jail. I find myself getting ready to raise my great-granddaughter." Mizz Lee's lips did not smile as she said this. Her shoulders heaved. "Dana's fourteen, and right now she's at a shelter." Mizz Lee named the city eighty miles away. "I was wondering if you'd mind going with me to collect her. I do not relish making the drive alone."

"Jerry can't make it?" I asked. Jerry was her, well, at sixty-eight himself, a little old to be described as "boyfriend".

"He's headed off to speak at a conference for prosecuting attorneys," she said. "I need to go as soon as possible."

"Today?" I asked.

"Yes," she sighed. "She doesn't need to spend another night in the shelter. I'm going to go. I wish you'd drive."

"I'll drive," I said. "Let me stick this stuff back together and then go clean up."

"Thank you, Edward," she smiled.

I wrapped up the changing of a little under the hood doohickey, went inside, washed up my hands and face and then called Mizz Lee.

The drive over was uneventful. Mizz Lee caught me up on the goings on with her granddaughter and great granddaughter. It wasn't the happiest of stories.

"Her dad isn't going to take her?" I asked.

"Hah! Her mom doesn't have the slightest idea who the father is."

"Ouch!" I said. "What about Sally's husband?"

"Nobody knows where he is." Sally had divorced him ten years before her death. He hadn't been a part of his daughter's life before that, traveling for months on end. "Granddaughter told the authorities that I was the next of kin. I hate to ruin your vacation, Edward."

"That's no problem, Mizz Lee. I was just staying in town taking care of loose ends. It's not like you interrupted my Everest expedition."

She laughed. "You need a life!" she said.

"It just hasn't worked out for me yet, Mizz Lee," I said. I knew that Mizz Lee knew the rudiments of my situation, mateless, still hopelessly socially inept. That explained why I was the youngest occupant of a little six-unit apartment building and the only one single besides her, and that for me, weekends were spent on various dead end pursuits with minor technology angles, playing with model rocketry, nature photography, remote control vehicles, amateur radio ... I always had something new to play with. Except people.

And then I met Dana. Fourteen year old Dana. Five feet four, a hundred and ten pounds, honey-colored hair cut in a practical, low-maintenance Dutch boy bob, complete with bangs hovering just above grey eyes, a smattering of prominent freckles like confetti over her nose and cheeks. Baggy slacks, a sweatshirt in the cool autumn air, and red tennis shoes. That was the person that a staff lady brought us as we waited in the child protective services office.

She recognized her great grandmother. "Hi, Grandma," she said shyly.

"Oh, Dana, baby!" Mizz Lee cooed, gathering her great-granddaughter in her arms.

"I'm so glad you came for me, Grandma," Dana cried, wrapping her arms around her last family member.

The administrator lady smiled. "I'm glad to see a happy ending to this one." Twenty minutes were spent signing various forms. I sat in the waiting room patiently. And we left. Me carrying two plastic bags of belongings, Dana holding her grandmother's hand, we walked out to the car.

"Who's he, Grandma?" Dana asked.

"That's Edward. He's my, uh, OUR neighbor. I asked him to drive me here," Mizz Lee answered.

"Hi, Dana," I said.

"Hi," Dana said, smiling shyly. "Are you Grandma's boyfriend?"

I turned red and my tongue didn't work.

Mizz Lee rescued me. "Oh, no, baby! Edward was one of my students, and now he's a neighbor and a good friend who helps me on things like this. You'll meet my boyfriend soon."

Dana didn't miss a beat. "So, Mister Edward, do you, like, HAVE a girlfriend?"

"Not right now, Dana," I answered honestly.

"D'ya want one?" She smiled sweetly.

And that's when my troubles began.

"Uh, you might be some horrible person, Dana. How about we try being friends first?" I was trying to dodge and be flippant and stay gentle at the same time.

We got in the car, Mizz Lee and I in the two front seats, Dana in the back. I checked the rear-view mirror and saw a smiling face, grey eyes meeting mine in the mirror.

Now when I and Mizz Lee traveled, the radio stayed on the classical music station. I started the car and the strains of a sprightly concerto came dancing out. I expected a teen-aged "yuck!" I didn't get that.

"Grandma, why is it that I like your music so much?" Dana asked.

"I don't know, sweetie. I'm glad you do." Mizz Lee answered. "Are you going to have enough clothes for this evening, or do we need to go shop for some right now?"

"I'm good," Dana chirped. "But in a day or two..." she paused. "Edward, stop listening. Girl stuff!"

"I'm not listening. And your grandma is the only person on the planet who calls me Edward."

"Okay, Ed, Eddie? Which one?" Dana questioned.

"Ed," I said.

"Okay, Ed," she giggled. "Don't listen."

"I'm not listening."

"Grandma, I'm gonna need some tampons. In a couple of days. It's that time..."

Mizz Lee sighed. "Yes, dear. I've been through it all before. We'll do that, too."

The ride home was uneventful. I had questions running through my head, though. Young Dana was in the middle of major upsets in life, and I would have figured her demeanor would be, shall we say, a bit morose. She wasn't. She had all the markings of somebody who'd hit the lottery.

On the interstate, she unbuckled her seatbelt and scooted between the seats so the conversation was easier. I felt a finger touch my shoulder. I glanced sideways and saw a smiling face. And a wink. 'Oh, well, ' I thought to myself. 'Just go with it. She's happy and playful.' And cute. I definitely added cute in that thought.

We pulled off in the middle of the trip back and had dinner at a chain restaurant. Mizz Lee gently reminded Dana of a few etiquette niceties. The meal went well. Dana and Mizz Lee went to the ladies' room, I paid the bill over Mizz Lee's objections, and we finished the drive home.

I was reminded that Dana had previously visited her great-grandmother's home because she didn't seem too curious as we pulled into the parking lot. I grabbed Dana's two sad little bags of clothing and we all walked to the doors of our apartments. Mizz Lee and I shared a common alcove for our doors. She unlocked her front door and led the two of us inside. I put the bags on the sofa and turned to leave.

"I'll see you two later," I said, turning.

"Thank you, Edward," Mizz Lee said.

"Yeah, thanks, Ed!" Dana squeaked, and she bounced up and hugged me. "Where do YOU live?"

"Right across from your grandmother," I said.

"That's convenient," she said. "I know where my friend lives!"

So I went to my own apartment, said "Hi" to my cat, hit the shower, shaved, and then settled in for the evening, computer on my lap, cat on the back of my recliner, the TV on something mindless in the background. I ran through the email, checked into a couple of on-line groups in which I share interests, and then eased back against the headrest of the chair. And I thought about the day. And a finger brushing my shoulder, and a wink.

My cellphone rang. I looked at the display. Mizz Lee. "Hi, Mizz Lee," I said.

"Hello, Edward," she said. "Are you busy? Do you have plans for the evening?"

"No, ma'am," I answered. "What's up?"

"Dana's in the shower right now. I just got a phone call. An old friend of mine is in the hospital and I need to go see her. Would you mind if Dana visited you for a couple of hours?"

"Sure, not a problem at all. I need to put on some company clothes, though. Give me a few minutes."

"Oh, it will be a few minutes. Are you sure it's okay?"

"Mizz Lee, you know how my evenings usually go. If you're okay with her being here, then I'm okay with it."

"Why would I possibly be less than okay with it, Edward?" she questioned.

"Uh, I'm twenty-eight. She's fourteen." I could see that headline: "Man Convicted of Molestation".

"Oh, Edward, I trust you. And her."

And I'm thinking Grandma didn't see the wink. Or maybe I was reading more into things than I needed to.

I pulled on a pair of trousers and belted them up, then topped off the ensemble with a pocket t-shirt. That's what I was wearing when I heard the knock on the door.

I opened it. Mizz Lee stood there with Dana wrapped in a towel. Dana looked at me with a self-confident smirk. Mizz Lee spoke. "Edward, can Dana borrow one of your t-shirts? She didn't have any night clothes."

"Oh, sure," I said. "Hang on!" I dashed off to my bedroom and returned with a clean t-shirt. I handed it to Dana. "Here, babe," I said. "Bathroom's first door on the right in the hall."

Dana took it from me. "Just a mirror of Grandma's apartment, then, huh?" she countered, heading up the hall. The door closed.

Mizz Lee said, "She's a good young lady, Edward." She smiled. "I'll be back in a couple of hours."

Dana returned, my t-shirt doing yeoman service as a young teen's nightshirt on her young frame, its hem stopping just above mid-thigh. It was an alarming thing, revealing legs long in proportion to her perfectly weighted frame. The drape of the white knit fabric pushed ever so slightly outward, twin points above smallish titties.

I forced myself not to stare.

"Okay, Grandma, how's this?" Dana smiled and twirled. I hoped it was for her grandma's benefit. It did uncomfortably startling things inside my head.

"That's good enough until we get you proper pajamas tomorrow, I think, Dana." Mizz Lee looked at me. "Is that okay? My nightgown's long enough to drag the floor on her, and she doesn't need to look like an old lady."

I'd never seen Mizz Lee in a nightgown, so I had no sense of scale. Such a thing was beyond the pale. I was thinking, however, that picture of young Dana in a t-shirt was a pleasant image. Perhaps too pleasant. "No, that's fine. I'd offer her an old pair of hospital scrubs, but compared to me, she's tiny. They'd be a poor choice."

"Okay," Mizz Lee said. "I'll be back in a couple of hours. Dana, be nice to Edward."

"I will, Grandma," Dana chirped. She slid beside me as Mizz Lee closed the door.

The click of the door lock made me look down. My eyes met cool grey, with honeyed bangs hovering at her eyebrows. And a smile.

"What's on TV?" she asked.

"I don't have any idea. Let's see." As she slid onto the sofa, I handed her the remote.

"What do YOU watch?" she asked.

"Me? Nothing. Everything. Every now and then there's a show that I stop to watch, but usually the TV's just on."

The cat sauntered into the room, looked at me with disinterest, then he spotted Dana.

"Who's this?" Dana asked.

"That's DC," I said. "Short for 'Damned Cat'. He doesn't like humans, except on HIS terms." And DC instantly made a liar out of me by bouncing up onto the sofa and pushing his gourd head under her hand.

Dana giggled.

"Apparently that means you're not human," I said.

"That's what my teachers say," Dana smiled. She petted DC and cooed in his ear. I could hear his purring from six feet away.

I sat in my recliner and kicked it back. I expected Dana to immediately click the TV to one of the "kid" channels or MTV or VH1. Instead, she ran through the whole list and settled on a nature show.

"I love these," she said. "You don't mind, do you?"

"No, that's a good choice, actually," I said.

"Good!" she giggled. "I like this stuff."

"What?" I asked, "No Disney or MTV or VH1?"

"Nah! Not MY thing! You like this, too?" She turned her gaze to me.

"Actually, of all the channels, I'm usually on history or science or nature. Or an occasional movie, but half the time I just have it on for the background noise," I restated. That was the truth. I reached beside my chair and retrieved my laptop, flipping it open. This was MY norm, an evening with the TV in the background, the world open to me through the internet. And NO! no porn.

The laptop caught Dana's eye. "Oh, you have a laptop?!?"

"Yep!" I said.

"Whatcha lookin' at?" Her eyes questioned as much as her words.

"I'm checking email, then I have some favorite websites."

"Nothin' nasty, huh?" Her face was a smirk.

"Nooooo, nothing nasty! And what do YOU know about nasty on the internet, anyway?"

"I know it's on there. They warned us about it at school. A policeman talked to us about it an' everything."

"Really?" I said.

"Really. He said there are places where you can talk to people and you have to be real careful because adults try to talk kids into meeting them for all kinds of stuff." She breathed. "And he said that there are places where you can see pictures of people doing things that are not proper for kids to look at."

"That's all true," I admitted. "But there's a lot more stuff on here that's not nasty."

Now she was standing beside my chair. "So what do YOU look at?"

"Okay. Let me show you some of the stuff." I showed her some of my favorite tech sites and message boards. And then, because she was standing there, I took her to the cute sites filled with puppies and kittens, all with funny captions. Next thing I knew, she was sitting on the arm of my chair, leaning on my shoulder, giggling and cooing. And that was not the least bit unpleasant.

And completely innocent. Two hours passed effortlessly, signaled by the knock on the door.

I peeked out the peephole. Mizz Lee. Opening the door, I said, "Hi! How's your friend?"

"Oh, she's going to be fine. Old people stuff, you know." Mizz Lee said. "How was our angel?"

"She was an angel, as a matter of fact. We watched TV and surfed the net. I've seen enough cute puppies and kitties for the evening." I laughed. "She's welcome any time."

"Thanks, Ed," Dana said.

"Yes, thank you, Edward," Mizz Lee said. She smiled as Dana hugged me and pulled my face down to kiss me on the cheek.

And that's how my first day with Dana went.

After I shut the door behind her and Mizz Lee I went about my evening routine, shower, shave, and then to bed with a good book and the TV on in the background. I went to sleep with DC the cat making a loaf shape on the covers beside me.

Ah, the life of a single guy. Saturday morning I slept until I felt like getting up. Arising, I began the Saturday ritual of housekeeping, laundry, vacuuming, doing the things to keep my home from becoming the stereotypical single guy's pad. Once I got some of those things out of the way, I started out the door, coinciding with Mizz Lee's door opening.

"Hi, Ed," Dana chirped.

"Hello, Edward," said Mizz Lee.

"Hello, ladies," I said. "Where're you heading?"

"Shopping!" Dana said. "Grandma's buying me clothes an' stuff."

"She needs everything, Edward. We're going to the mall, I'm afraid."

"I'd be afraid, too, if I was taking a fourteen year old girl to the mall," I laughed. "I'm going grocery shopping."

"I like hot chocolate!" Dana injected. "An' those curly nuts..."

"Cashews?"

Her head bobbed enthusiastically. "I know they're cashews. I wanted to see if you listen close..." And a little smile, more of a smirk, actually.

"I'll add that to my list," I said. "When can I expect you to come have some?"

Mizz Lee smiled at me. "If it's okay with you, I can go visit my friend in the hospital this evening," she said.

Dana smiled. "Pleeeeeze?"

"Oh, sure," I said.

We drove off in separate directions. I did my grocery shopping and returned home to unload. After I put away the groceries, I wheeled my bicycle out and took a forty-five minute turn around the local streets, alternating between easy pedaling and brisk sprints. Returning to the apartment parking lot, I pulled in behind Mizz Lee's blue SUV.

Dana exited, waving, then carried in several colorful shopping bags. Mizz Lee hauled out a couple more. "Whew! Edward! It was everything I was afraid of," she said.

"I need to show you my new stuff, Ed," Dana squealed.

"Tell you what, little brown-haired girl. Give me time to shower, then call me. If it's okay with your grandma."

"Of course, Edward," Mizz Lee said. "Come over when you're ready."

I smiled at my friends and went inside, letting the shower wash away the results of a good workout, then, since I was clean, I shaved and splashed on a little cologne just to feel civilized. I knocked on my neighbor's door.

Dana answered. "Come in!"

I complied. Mizz Lee was smiling. "That's one outfit," she said, indicating new jeans and the t-shirt Dana was sporting.

"I'm going to change," Dana announced.

When she left the room, Mizz Lee said softly, "I dreaded fighting with a teenager over what was appropriate and practical, Edward. She surprised me. You'll see."

Dana returned to the living room wearing a tasteful little sheath of a royal blue dress, not too short, not too tight, fitting her curves nicely as she transitioned into a young woman. She tilted her head and looked at me. "Well?"

"Delightful!" I exclaimed. "You make that dress look very good!"

She ran her fingers through her short hair and straightened her bangs, striking a pose. I don't know if she actually meant to strike a pose, but she put her weight on one leg and bent the other, thrusting her hip out slightly, her face a shy smile. My heart melted.

"I bought her a black one, too," Mizz Lee said as Dana bounced out to change.

"Oh, gosh!" I said. "You got that one perfect. And black?"

"Oh, Edward, I know she's going to grow out of them, but I suffered so when I was her age, between my mother sewing our clothes, putting me in hand-me-downs and buying what few new clothes I got oversized so that I wouldn't grow out of them too fast. I wanted her to have better."

"How about THIS!" Dana said.

She stood there, and all that business about "the little black dress"? I used to wonder. I wondered no more. The color might have been black, but on that fourteen year old frame, with those grey eyes and that smile... "Flawless," I said. "That's beautiful!"

She grinned. "D'you REALLY think so? Really?!?"

"Yes, little one, you make that dress look like the black velvet under a perfect little diamond."

Squeal! She wrapped her arms around my neck and kissed my cheek. "That's sweet!" She stood up, smiled at her grandma, then left.

"Really, Mizz Lee. That's stunning on her."

"Edward, she chose that. And the other things. They're appropriate for school. For church. She didn't go off for the trendy things." She raised her voice. "Dana, show Edward your shoes, dear."

Dana returned to the living room, jeans-clad, with matching shoes for her two dresses, and with a pair of athletic shoes on her feet.

"See," Mizz Lee said, "sensible."

"What do you do with a sensible fourteen year old?" I asked.

"Put her in school here on the Monday after the holiday," Mizz Lee said.

I expected to see signs of disappointment on Dana's face, what with us discussing school. I couldn't find any. "You're not one of those 'I hate school' kids, then?"

"Oh, no, sir!" she smiled. "I like school. Learning things is fun."

Mizz Lee caught my raised eyebrow. "She's interested in learning, Edward."

I pondered the impact of that statement on Mizz Lee. The lady was the epitome of the educator you hoped your children would see, a master of her subject matter, as well as a lover of teaching her students. I remembered Mizz Lee in her classroom. She was a presence, and somebody who obviously loved to teach would certainly love somebody who wanted to learn.

"Really?" I asked. "That's good. Rare. But certainly good."

"Y'all stop talking about me. I'm back." And Dana bounced back into the room.

"We were talking about you back in school, that's all," I said.

She smiled. "I wanna go back. It'll be so much better if I can go all the time."

"The child services lady said Dana has missed a lot of school, Edward. Her mother was less than diligent in the last couple of months." Mizz Lee sighed. "I hope we can catch her up to grade level here. We've got time. We'll have to see where she fits in the new school."

"I'm not worried, Grandma," Dana said. "I don't have trouble keeping up."

"I hope not, dear," Mizz Lee said. "We'll find out after Thanksgiving."

"You didn't say anything about THIS outfit, Ed," Dana said. She twirled when she noted I was looking. A rugby shirt. Blue and yellow stripes. Jeans. Not too tight, but fitting plenty well to show an attractive young woman's form.

"Very nice," I said. I looked at Mizz Lee. "Mizz Lee, you KNOW I have a shirt exactly like that."

Mizz Lee smiled. "Why, yes, I think I do remember that shirt, Edward." She looked at Dana. "You two will look like bookends."

Dana didn't miss a beat. "Ed, why don't you go put YOUR shirt like this on, and then we can go out for dinner while Grandma goes to visit her friend in the hospital?"

I raised an eyebrow at Mizz Lee.

"If you don't mind, Edward..." she said.

Five minutes later I knocked on Mizz Lee's door. I usually had to wait if Mizz Lee was answering. Mizz Lee didn't answer. I don't think the echo had stopped from my last knock when the door swung open to reveal Dana in a shirt matching mine, with a bag in her hands. Mizz Lee appeared behind her.

"Dana, young ladies should not appear anxious when men call." She smiled at me. "Ed, she's got her pajamas in case I might be late. I do hope that is okay with you."

"Of course," I said. "Now, what does one feed a Dana?"

"Fried shrimp?" she asked brightly.

"I know just the place," I said. "Bee-Bee's. Really good seafood."

Mizz Lee said, "Edward, she'd be happy with burgers, too. You don't have to spoil her."

"I'm spoiling me," I said. "I love the place, but I don't like eating by myself."

"Then you two enjoy your evening. And Edward, thank you for watching her for me." Mizz Lee turned and locked her door, then walked to the parking lot.

I did some of that "watching" as a jeans-clad cutie disappeared into my apartment.

"We have an hour until it's time to eat, Ed," Dana said. "Whatcha wanna do? Computer?"

"We have time," I said. This time I sat on the sofa with my laptop and she snuggled in beside me. We caught up on the cute kitties and puppies and a few YouTube videos that had us both laughing. Then it was time to go to dinner.

"Do ya ever cook, Ed?" she asked, as we walked to my car.

"Oh, yeah, sometimes. Especially cold wet days that cry for..."

"Soup!" she finished. "Soup, glorious soup!"

"Where'd that come from?" I asked.

"I dunno," she said. "I was at the library one day and somebody left a cookbook on the table, and I had to look at it." She smiled at me with those grey eyes enhancing the hypnotism. "First cold rainy day of winter, you're gonna cook one with me, 'kay?"

"Sure," I said. More gears engaged in my head. We got in the car. The destination was a fifteen minute drive for us.

"So, d'ya have a grown-up girlfriend? I mean, am I getting in the way hangin' out with you?"

"You asked me that yesterday, Dana."

"I know, but my grandma was there. So you can tell me..."

"I wouldn't lie to your grandma, Dana. Or you, either. Friends don't do that." I glanced from the road to her face. Her chin was propped in her hand, her elbow on the armrest.

"I know. That's the way it's supposed to be. Doesn't mean that's the way it is, though." She sighed. "I've been lied to before."

"Who?" I questioned.

"Mom, for one. Mainly. I begged her to stop doin' stuff. She promised me she was stopping. But she didn't. And now..."

"I'm sorry, Dana."

"It's not your fault, Ed. Just please don't lie to me."

"You're my friend, Dana. We don't lie to each other. It's okay to say 'I don't want to talk about it.' But it's not okay to lie. Between me and you, I mean. Deal?" Why was I having this serious talk with a fourteen year old girl I'd met the day before?

"Deal! Ed," she answered.

And I answered the question in my head: 'Because this young girl was now part of my world.'

We drove through town.

"Can ya believe they're putting up CHRISTMAS decorations?!?! It's not even Thanksgiving!" She crossed her arms. "It's just so obvious how they try to manipulate people."

"Manipulate? That's a pretty big word, Dana."

"Straight A student, Ed. Until I started missin' school." Arms still crossed.

"Oh, really? How's that working for you? Straight A's, I mean."

She sighed. "Until last year it didn't make a difference. But last year, kids started pickin' at me, callin' me geek and nerd and stuff like that. Like it's not cool to make A's and do well in school."

"Talk to your grandma about that, babe," I said. I immediately caught that I used "babe".

So did Dana. "You called me "babe", Ed."

"Just a term of endearment, Dana. And you are. A babe, I mean."

"Thanks, Ed," she said. "You're a babe, too, you know..."

"Uh, no..." I countered.

"Yeah! You are," she said happily.

"But I'm not, Dana. I'm not."

"Maybe not to other people, Ed. But sometimes other people can be catastrophically, totally wrong."

"Catastrophically?"

I glanced. She was smiling. "Yeah. Catastrophically," she repeated. "You know how different people like different music. I mean, some of the stuff they listen to today, I can't even call music, but people listen to it, so it's kind of like somebody's head is made different so those things sound good."

I could see where this was heading, but I let her go. She continued. "So if two people can have different tastes in music, then they can have different tastes in other things, right?"

"Right," I admitted.

"I thought about this a lot when the other kids were givin' me a hard time at school. Don't you think I'm right? That I get to say what I like?"

"You're right. Now how did this conversation start, exactly?" I asked.

"You called me a babe and I called you one back and you said you weren't. But I get to say. Just like I get to say that for me, Bach is better than rap."

Okay, I thought. Let's get on a different track from here. "What do you know about Bach?" I asked.

"Music appreciation class. I was the one listening. I think Bach is cool." Grey eyes surveyed my face.

"Me, too, Dana. I like a lot of classical music. Not just Bach, you know. Look at those CDs on the shelf when we get back."

She punched the car's sound system on. The CD was Mendelssohn. "I was just seein' if you were humoring me to get on my good side." She smiled sweetly.

"Why would I do that, little girl? We don't owe each other anything. Just neighbors, huh?"

Her smile was enigmatic. "Yeah, Ed. Just neighbors.".

"Oh, yes, Ed. We need to listen to this stuff."

"Instead of watching TV?" I questioned.

"Yeah. Maybe we can play a game or something. Maybe something with cards? Like rummy?"

"You play rummy?" I questioned.

"Yep! We can do that when we get back from dinner, huh?" She smiled.

"Okay," I said. "Let's go eat some shrimp."

Afterward we walked out to the car. She bounced ahead of me, leaving me to appreciate her cuteness and exuberance. I clicked the keyfob to unlock the doors and she swung into the passenger seat and buckled in. As soon as I got the car started, she punched the power button on the stereo. The CD came back on and she giggled.

She twisted in her seatbelt and propped her chin in her hand watching me.

"What?" I asked, when I noticed.

"Just lookin', Ed." She giggled. "Does it make you nervous?"

"No, it makes me wonder about your sanity."

"Hah! Ed, we already HAD this conversation," she said. "Do I make you nervous?"

'In ways you won't understand, ' I thought. I said, though, "Nah, but just remember, turnabout is fair play, Dana."

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