Miranda Parkes sang along with the car radio as she made a right turn onto Jefferson Avenue and then a quick left over to Madison Street. The song had been popular back in her high school days and brought back happy memories to the forty-eight year old. Then again, she really didn't need anything to feel good right now, not after leaving the doctor's office and her yearly physical a half hour before with a clean bill of health. In her happy state and with lunchtime so near, Miranda decided to stop by her older sister's house and see if she'd like to go out for lunch.
It wasn't often that the two of them got to do that anymore. At least not since Miranda had gone back to work a few years back to help with the kids' college costs. Now, with both her son and daughter out on their own, the salt and pepper haired woman found that she liked it too much to quit. Working at the Office Barn might not have been her dream job, but it beat sitting at home in a now empty house and watching the soaps.
Work wasn't something that her sister, Alice, had ever had to concern herself with. While Miranda's husband, Ralph, was successful enough as the manager of a local electronics store, Peter Moore, whom Alice had married right out of college, owned a string of dry cleaning stores that made the two of them much more than comfortable. That Peter had been twelve years older than Alice or that their marriage had been childless hadn't seemed to matter.
A last turn down Washington Place brought Miranda to Alice's house, a nice Colonial at the end of the street. As she pulled in front, Miranda was disappointed to see that neither of their cars were in the driveway. She then remembered Alice saying something about planning to take her car in for service this week and it looked like this was the day. So much for going out for lunch.
"Well, maybe another day," Miranda said to herself as she adjusted her glasses and glanced back over her shoulder to check traffic before pulling out.
She had just put the car in gear and was about to release the brake when she remembered that she was still carrying some papers from the family lawyer in her purse that Alice had asked her to pick up for her. She had been carrying them for two weeks, forgetting to give them to her twice.
"Maybe I'll just leave them here before I forget them a third time," she thought as she put the car back into park and turned off the engine.
Walking up to the front door, Miranda decided not to leave the envelope in the mailbox since, after all, the information was personal and not something that Alice might want someone else reading. Searching through her bag once more, she quickly came up with the emergency keys that both sisters carried.
After letting herself in through the kitchen door, Miranda put the envelope on the counter where Alice was sure to see it and scribbled a short note across it. Just enough to say she stopped by and was sorry she missed her.
Miranda was about to go when she thought she heard a noise from the living room. At first, she was sure it was her imagination, but after hearing it a second time, she was almost sure that someone else was in the house. Not wanting to panic, although part of her wanted to do just that, the short haired woman decided to take a moment to peek into the living room through the louver doors over the counter.
If Miranda had seen a gang of thieves stealing away everything her sister owned, it wouldn't have startled her as much as the image that appeared when she moved the small door open a half inch. Despite the absence of any cars in the driveway, her sister was indeed home. The problem was, she wasn't alone.
As hard as it was for Miranda to believe, her dear older sister was half naked and on her knees in front of the couch. Her large breasts, of which Miranda had always been envious of, now hung free as her dress was down around her waist and her bra was clearly visible on the carpeted floor. The fifty-two year old's appearance wasn't half as shocking as the fact that she was performing oral sex on a man definitely not her husband.
The young man sitting on the couch, his eyes closed as he tilted his head back and enjoyed Alice's attentions, couldn't have been more than twenty-one at most. Shirtless himself, with his jeans pulled halfway down his legs, the black haired youth had a quite impressive physique. Along with a well defined chest and arms, Miranda also noticed a rather large tattoo of a panther on his left bicep.
Morality and everything else aside for a moment, Miranda found it unbelievable that such a hot young man would even look twice at her sister, much less engage in sexual acts with her. After all, the honest truth was that when you got down to it, Alice Moore looked like just what she was - a middle aged woman. Oh she was still attractive for her age, especially since unlike "little sister", Alice refused to let her own short hair show even the smallest traces of gray, but she hardly had the sort of body that men lusted after.
Miranda didn't have much time to ponder the question as the encounter she was witnessing suddenly became even more intense. Alice lifted her head off the young man's cock, of which even from her limited vantage point, Miranda could see was quite impressive, and stood all the way up. Then, after pulling her dress all the way off, followed by her panties, Alice climbed onto him, taking hold of his cock and guiding it into her.
"Oh yeah, baby," Miranda heard Alice cry out a few moments later as she began to ride his manhood with an ever increasing fury, "give me that beautiful cock, fill me up with it! Fuck me hard and make momma come!"
Finally it all became too much for Miranda and she realized that she had to get out of there. Closing the swinging door as quietly as she could, Miranda quickly crossed the kitchen and fled out the side door, locking it behind her. It wasn't until she was safely back in her car that she realized that in her dash, she had still retained enough clarity of mind to have retrieved the envelope on her way out.
"Thank God for that," Miranda said to herself thankfully as she pulled the car away as quickly as she could. The last thing she wanted right now was for Alice to know she had ever stopped by this morning and seen what had been going on in her living room. Not until she could decide what, if anything, she should say about the whole matter.
That was a question that preyed on her mind for the rest of the week. One that caused her to avoid two of her sister's calls, telling Ralph that she would call her back later, which she never did. How could she when she still didn't know what to say?
By late Saturday morning, the matter finally came to a head. Ralph had announced that Peter had just called and asked if he wanted to go to the baseball game with him. Evidently, one of his friends who were originally supposed to go had canceled at the last minute. Seeing as Peter had season tickets right behind the first base line, Ralph was hardly going to say no.
"Why don't I go with you?" Miranda suggested.
"To the game?" Ralph asked, thinking that Miranda didn't realize that the other seats were already spoken for.
"No, just to see my sister," she clarified, "I'll drive myself back home and Peter can drop you off after the game."
"Well, okay," Ralph said, not really wanting to give up the car but not wanting to start a disagreement that might ruin his going to the game either. "But I have to leave now if we want to get to the stadium to watch batting practice."
"No problem," Miranda smiled, knowing full well that he was hoping that she would say that she needed some time to change before going and then change her mind. "Let me just get the papers that Alice wanted me to drop off and I'll be ready to go."
Taking the new envelope she had transferred the papers into from the buffet in the dining room, Miranda dropped it into her purse and met her husband at the door. Bringing over the papers would be a good excuse for her unexpected visit, especially since she still didn't know what to do about what she'd seen.
"I'm so glad you decided to stop by," Alice was saying as she poured her younger sister a cup of tea as they sat in her living room. "I was almost beginning to think you were avoiding me for some reason, that I might've done something to make you mad."
"No, I've just been busy these past few days," Miranda lied, hoping that for once, Alice didn't see through her deception.
"Really, with what?" Alice asked, pouring herself a cup before taking a seat on the couch.
Miranda let out a soft breath, thinking that Alice was sitting in just about the same spot where that young man had been the other morning. A memory that reminded her of the envelope in her purse.
"Oh, I have those papers you asked me to pick up from the lawyer's office," Miranda said, thinking that changing the subject would be a good idea.
"I asked you to pick those up almost a month ago," Alice commented as she took a sip of tea.
"Well I did, I just kept forgetting to give them to you," Miranda replied, her defensive nature where her sister was concerned kicking in automatically.
"Well I'm glad they're not something important," Alice countered, "not the way you forget things."
Falling into a pattern that had lasted a lifetime, Miranda got even more defensive and before she knew what she was saying, let the proverbial cat out of the bag.
"I'll have you know I came by the other day to drop them off but..." she started to say then stopped in mid-sentence, too late to undo the damage.
"But what?" Alice asked.
"But you were occupied."
"I don't understand," Alice replied.
"Do I have to say it?" Miranda asked.
"If you want me to know what you're talking about, that might be helpful," Alice smiled.
"You were having sex on that very couch with a boy half your age," Miranda blurted out, having to almost force the words out of her mouth.
"A boy half my age?" Alice asked, as if she didn't know what her sister was talking about.
"Dark hair, very nice body, large tattoo of an panther on his arm," Miranda went on, "I'm sure you must remember him."
"Oh, you're talking about Carl," Alice finally said, her tone not showing the least bit of embarrassment in having been caught. "Such a nice young man, his father owns Martin's Garage where we get our cars done. He was nice enough to drive me home after I dropped off the Beemer. So you're talking about Wednesday morning."
Miranda suddenly found herself wondering if she's come by on Tuesday or Thursday, would she have found someone else on that couch with Alice. From what her sister was saying, Miranda got the impression that she just might have.
"Just how many men are you involved with?" Miranda found herself asking.
"Well I'm not actually sure you can call it involved," Alice said, still slipping her tea as if they were discussing the chance for rain tomorrow.
"What would you call it, exactly?" a stunned Miranda asked.
"Hmmm," Alice pondered for a few seconds as she considered the question. "Fucking I guess, just having a good time."
"Don't looked so shocked, little sister," Alice said calmly as she put her cup down on the coffee table. "It's not like it was the first time I've done it."
"How many..." Miranda started to say, now unable to get out the words. "How long..."
"I'd probably have to say at least six years," Alice said, choosing to answer the second question first. "As far as an actual number, I really never kept count."
"I can't believe this!" Miranda exclaimed. "You've been married to Peter for over thirty years and..."
" ... and we haven't been sleeping together for the last fifteen of them," Alice completed the sentence.
"Does he know?" Miranda continued.
"I've never asked him," Alice answered, "and to be honest, I really doubt he would care."
"How can you say that?"
"He's the one who stopped wanting to have sex, not me," Alice said.
"Did he ever say why?"
"No." Alice simply said.
"I can't imagine what it must be like to have your husband lose interest in sex," Miranda said.
"Can't you?" Alice asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Wasn't it only a few months ago that you told me that it had seemed like ages since you and Ralph had done it," Alice said. "Has that changed since then?"
"But nothing," Alice interrupted, "when was the last time you and he got all hot and sweaty?"
The question gave Miranda pause as she took a few very long moments to consider the question. The forty-eight year old started to count backwards and felt a shudder when weeks quickly turned to months and then to almost two years. And the time before that hadn't been even close either.
"Exactly." Alice said as the silent look on her younger sister's face confirmed her belief.
"Ralph is a very busy man, what with the store and all and..." Miranda tried to explain, but realized that she wasn't even convincing herself.
"It does have a way of sneaking up on you, doesn't it?"
"I guess so." Miranda admitted.
Miranda sat silent for a few long moments, not exactly sure what to say next. She couldn't believe how casual Alice was about all of this, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
"Can I ask you a question, Alice," Miranda said when she regained her composure. "It's kind of personal."
"Sure why not," Alice replied.
"Putting aside the right or wrong of what you're doing," Miranda framed her question, "are all the men you're with like Carl? I mean are they all..."
"Young and hung?" Alice interrupted.
"Well, that's not exactly how I was going to say it, but I mean that he was so young and good looking, and..."
" ... and I'm an old lady who could easily be his mother, if not his grandmother." Alice said, again finishing her sister's thought.
"I didn't mean it that way."
"Oh yes you did," Alice smiled, "and I agree with you. I'll be the first one to say it. But what you have to realize is that I'm not trying to date them, just play with them a little. Put yourself in their place. Given the chance that a woman, even one old enough to be their mother, is offering them a blow job or a quick fuck, with no strings attached, how many horny young men are going to pass that up. Oh they might never admit to anyone that they fucked some old broad, but they sure as hell enjoyed it while they were at it. In fact, even I was surprised at how many of them really got off on the fact that I was so much older."
It a strange sort of way, Alice made sense. Even Miranda had to admit that.
"What's it like?" Miranda surprised herself by asking, the inflection in her voice leaving no doubt as to what the meaning of "it" was.
"Exciting," Alice broadly smiled, the single word carrying a world of meaning.
All the rest of the day, and during a semi-sleepless night, Miranda's conversation with her sister repeated in her head. Never would she have imagined that Alice would be one of those women who took lovers on the side, or that she could be so unabashed about it all. Before afternoon tea had been over, Alice had even mentioned the names of a half dozen young men that she'd had sex with. The most shocking of which had been Doug Maguire, who Miranda remembered as having gone to high school with her son.
"Don't let the fact that Doug could afford to lose twenty or so pounds fool you," Alice had said in reference to the portly convenience store clerk, "that boy has a tongue made of gold."
Also very much on Miranda's mind as she greeted the early morning sun, was the realization of how empty her own sex life had become without her even realizing it. That at least, she told herself she could do something about, and the sooner the better.
Waking up a half hour before she and Ralph normally got up on a Sunday morning, Miranda put her plan into action. Carefully. she slipped out of bed, making sure that she didn't wake her husband. Stepping away from the bed, she slipped off her nightshirt and the simple white panties she wore beneath it.
Taking a moment to look at herself in the mirrored sliding doors of their bedroom's built in closet, Miranda decided that she wasn't all that displeased with the body of the woman looking back at her.
True, she was on the short side of fifty, and definitely didn't have the same physique she did when she'd gotten married, but all in all, the one she did have wasn't half bad. She'd managed to avoid the heavy weight gain that so many of her contemporaries had fallen victim to, currently weighting only a dozen pounds more than she did in her twenties. Even her breasts had held up pretty well, despite the years and two pregnancies. Sure there were a few lines on her face, but just enough to give her character as her mother used to say.
Turning back to the bed, Miranda lifted the light sheet that had covered her and Ralph and climbed under it. Making a tent with her body, she worked her way to the side her husband slept on and took a moment to look at his body.
It would've been nice to have been able to say that Ralph had hardly changed too, but that wouldn't have been the truth. Too many weekends of watching the game in front of the television with the only exercise being walking out to the kitchen to get another beer had taken their toll. Still, she hadn't married him only for his looks.
As was his habit, dating even back to the days before they'd been married, Ralph wore jockey shorts to bed and little else. From the way the folds of his underwear rested, Miranda could see the outline of his cock. That was one thing that hadn't changed over all the years. The man still had one impressive piece of equipment. Reaching out with her index finger, she softly traced the outline of his manhood.
Back when they'd first gotten married, before the kids and all the responsibilities, their sex life had been akin to that of a couple of rabbits. There wasn't a room in the house that they hadn't screwed in, at any time of the day. Feeling his cock stir in response to her touch, Miranda was reminded of one of the games they used to play.
Early on in their relationship, they had established a tradition of sorts in which Miranda would wake him up on Sunday by performing oral sex on him. Ralph used to say he loved that even more than intercourse. One thing would inevitably lead to another and it would be a couple of hours before they'd make it out of bed. Miranda had decided that it was time to revive that tradition.
Reaching down into his shorts, Miranda closed her fingers around his cock and carefully lifted it free. It wasn't half as fun, she remembered, if Ralph woke up too soon. Gently giving it a few slow pumps to restore some of its firmness, Miranda leaned down and slid the head of his cock into her mouth.
The taste of his manhood brought back pleasant memories, making her wonder why they have ever stopped doing things like this. Feeling his body respond to the wet embrace of her mouth, she ran her tongue up and down his length. Aside from the mostly gray hairs that now surrounded it, Ralph's cock had changed little over the years. Which was to say it didn't take much to get it quite hard.
Her head rose up and down as she began to suck him in earnest. One hand cradled his balls, massaging them as the other pumped him into her mouth. She'd gone on for a few minutes when she felt Ralph began to stir. If she were lucky, she thought as she redoubled her efforts, she would be able to make him come just as he was waking up. He was always loved it when she did that.
"Mmmmmm," Miranda heard Ralph moan in his sleep as she continued to suck him enthusiastically.
With one hand still wrapped on the base of Ralph's cock, Miranda brought her other one down between her own legs and began to massage herself. Deft fingers quickly made their way to a familiar spot and Miranda began to share in the pleasures she was bringing her husband.
"It won't be long now," Miranda thought as she listened to another, louder, set of moans from Ralph and recognized both the signs of awakening and an approaching orgasm. She wondered at the same time if he would be able to get it up a second time so that they could have an early morning fuck.
Then, just as he was about to climax in her mouth, Ralph woke up. His eyes opened with a reaction that while explosive, was hardly the one Miranda had expected.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he yelled as he pulled the sheet off of the two of them and looked down at his wife. His voice carried more than a touch of anger in it.
"If you don't know, I must be doing it wrong," Miranda laughed as she lifted her head from his cock just long enough to answer. It was incomprehensible to her that he was actually serious in his anger.
"Don't you think we're a little old for this nonsense?" Ralph asked as he lifted his body and pulled away from her.
"Nonsense?" Miranda repeated, realizing that he might not be joking as she first thought. "You're kidding, right?"
"I most certainly am not," Ralph said as he climbed up out of the bed and reached for his bathrobe.
"Don't you think it might be fun to spend the morning in bed like we used to?" Miranda asked. "After all, the kids are all grown and we do have the house to ourselves. Don't you miss those days?"
"No, actually, I don't," Ralph said as he tightened the sash on his robe. "Oh I'll be the first to say that they were a lot of fun and I'm glad we had them," he went on, "but there has to be a point where you finally grow up."
"Grow up?" Miranda asked, unable to believe he actually felt that way.
"Yes, grow up," Ralph said once more as he put on his slippers, "after all, we're practically grandparents for Pete's sake." he added as he alluded to their daughter's recent pregnancy.
"And grandparents don't fuck?" Miranda thought but didn't say. Instead she asked, "Wouldn't it be fun to spend the morning in bed and cuddle like we used to?"
"Not when I have way too much to do," Ralph replied. "I want to be down at the store by nine."
"But it's Sunday," Miranda countered.
"We're having a big sale tomorrow," Ralph explained, "I want to go over everything and make sure those kids they hired labeled everything right."
Miranda started to say something more, then thought better of it. No amount of talking was going to change things. Their life together had undergone a transition and she hadn't even noticed it happening. The thought sent a sad feeling through her.
"Don't you think you should put some clothes on before someone sees you through the window?" Ralph said, making his only reference to her nudity. "The streets already full of kids playing ball."
"At least one of them might be interested in looking," Miranda thought as Ralph exited through the doorway and she reached for her own robe.
The events of that Sunday morning weighed heavily on Miranda's mind all the following week. She didn't mention them again to Ralph, and it was pretty obvious that he considered the matter settled. Nor did she broach the subject with her sister, Alice, both out of a reluctance to admit to her that she had been right, and a fear that she might have to listen to more of her exploits. Or worse, walk in on one of them again.
No, she told herself repeatedly, she had to accept the fact that her sex life was now a thing of the past. It was strange, she pondered, that such a thought bothered her as much as it did. After all, it wasn't as if she and Ralph had been burning the sheets these last few years. In fact, as she had told Alice the week before, they hadn't made love more than three times in the last three years. Yet somehow, the prospect that they might fall back into the habit at any time had made it okay. Now, with that possibility gone, she felt that she had lost something very precious.
Other than that, the week went by quickly enough, as she spent the better part of her days working at Office Barn. Like she said many times before, it might not have been the best of jobs, but the people she worked with were first rate.
"Showtime, girls," Mandy Clark said to her two co-workers as they enjoyed their late afternoon coffee break. "It looks like Josh is setting himself up for a fall again."
All three sets of eyes, those of Mandy, Lois Parker, and Miranda turned to watch Josh Allen walk up to Jennifer Forrest. Josh was a cute kid, most would say, five seven and about a hundred and thirty-five pounds. He had short sandy hair and the sort of average build that was so average that you never really took notice of it. His only real drawback, most would agree was a baby face that made the nineteen year old look like he was still a high school freshman.
Jennifer, on the other hand, always looked older than her eighteen years, due partly to having physically developed at an early age and always dressing to show off her assets to her advantage. Long brown hair ran down her back, draping over a near perfect body who's only fault was that her breasts were just a bit too large for her frame. Few men, however, were about to complain about that.
The two teenagers exchanged a few words too low to be overheard. Then, true to form, Josh walked away a few seconds later, a look of dejection on his face.
"Kerplunk!" Lois laughed softly.
"Doesn't that boy ever get tired of being rejected?" Lois said as she brought her cup up to drain the last of her coffee.
"Evidently not," Mandy laughed.
"You'd think he'd realize by now that Jennifer was way out of his league," Lois added.
"You'd think, wouldn't you?" Mandy replied.
"I actually feel sorry for him," Miranda offered. "He really is a nice young man."
"I never said he wasn't," Lois agreed, "I just said that if he had any sense at all he'd stop wasting his time and give up the chase."
"Maybe he thought she might feel guilty about letting him take the fall for her when she screwed up that supply order last month and finally say yes when he asked her out for dinner," Miranda suggested. "After all, Josh got docked a day's pay for that."
"You think she'd really care that he was that stupid to stand up for her?" Mandy asked.
"Yeah, like there was any chance Bob Carpenter was going to blame Jennifer for anything she does wrong," Lois added.
"Am I missing something here?" Miranda asked.
"You mean you don't know?" Mandy asked, lowering her voice.
The look on Miranda's face said that she had no idea what they were talking about.
"Jennifer is fucking Bob Carpenter," Mandy whispered.
"No way," Miranda replied.
"Okay, then she's just bending over and spreading her legs while he sticks his cock in between them," Lois grinned in a low voice.
"Damn," Miranda said as she let out a long breath.
"Well time to get back to work," Mandy said as she looked up at her watch and tossed her paper cup into the trash.
Miranda stood behind a few moments longer, looking across the store at Josh. It really was a shame he had such a crush on a heartless bitch like Jennifer. Imagine letting him take the rap for her when she knew Bob wouldn't even say a bad word about her mistake.
The image of the store manager put an even more depressing thought into Miranda's head. Bob Carpenter was just about Ralph's age and obviously, he had no problem with his libido. Was it possible that Ralph had his own 'Jennifer' at his store? Or was he telling the truth when he said that he'd lost any interest in sex? The only thing she was certain of was that, either way, he had no more interest in her.
The rest of the day passed quickly and before they knew it, quitting time was just about there. Mandy, Lois and Miranda were closing out their registers, they usually wound up on them at the end of the day, when they heard Bob Carpenter call Josh over to the customer service desk behind them.
"I'm going to need you to stay late next weekend to help with inventory," Bob said to the junior associate. "I just thought I'd let you know now in case you'd made any plans."
"But I stood for inventory last month, Mr. Carpenter," the sandy haired nineteen year old said, his voice showing respect for his boss mixed with a measure of disappointment. "According to the schedule, this is supposed to be Jennifer's turn."
"I have a special project that I want Jennifer to work on," the store manager said in way of explanation. "Something that she's uniquely suited for. So you'll just have to take her turn as well. That's not going to be a problem, is it?"
"No sir," Josh said.
"Good boy, I knew I could count on you." the older man smiled as he turned and walked away.
"A special job that she's uniquely suited for," Mandy parroted after Josh had walked away. "I can imagine what that entails."
"Maybe she should stop next door at the hardware store and pick up a pair of knee pads," Lois suggested. "I bet she could charge it as a work related expense."
Both women laughed at the joke, but Miranda was still feeling sorry for Josh. At least this time he didn't automatically let Jennifer walk over him, at least figuratively. Maybe he was finally getting over her.
"Still feeling sorry for Josh?" Lois asked, interrupting Miranda's musings.
"A little," Miranda admitted.
"Well you better save a little bit of that for yourself," Mandy advised.
"Excuse me?" Miranda asked.
"In case you haven't looked at the scheduling board lately, guess who else is supposed to be pulling inventory duty this month?" Mandy smiled.
"Oh shit, I forgot all about it." Miranda replied.
"Yeah, I bet," Lois grinned. "And don't even think of asking either one of us to do it for you, Mandy and I have tickets to see 'Grease' over at the community college and we have no plans to miss it."
"I wouldn't even have thought of asking," Miranda lied, thinking how much she hated inventory.
With that, the clock on the wall struck six and their workday was over.
Miranda's main concern with having to work late over the weekend was how would Ralph react. He wasn't that happy that she had kept her job after the kids finished college in the first place, and practically went ballistic the last time she had worked late doing inventory. It turned out to be the same weekend that was his turn to host the rotating poker game.
Luckily, all she got out of Ralph was an unintelligible grunt after she told him. Rather than play poker at home next weekend, he and his buddies were headed up to Lake Armstrong to fish and play cards. It was, Miranda knew, a chance for them to also get very drunk and not have to explain it to the wives the next morning.
So early Saturday morning, Miranda got up and helped Ralph pack the car with his fishing gear and provisions for the overnight trip. Supplies that included a case of beer, a six-pack of which was already cold in the cooler. She wished him luck, knowing that if he planned to bring home any fish from his weekend excursion, they would be coming from Peterson's fish store out on Route 8. In all the years he had been making these fishing trips, Ralph had yet to bring home enough to cook as a meal. Of course there were always the stories of the big one that got away.
Knowing that her work day didn't begin until noon and would run until the early evening because of inventory, Miranda decided to go back to bed and get a few more hours sleep. When she got up again a little after nine, she was glad she did. The three extra hours had made a lot of difference.
Office Barn closed at noon on Saturdays, so there was no reason to dress as she would if she was expected to deal with the public. So instead of a nice blouse and skirt combo, Miranda laid out sneakers, a pair of jeans and a comfortable red sweatshirt before heading for the shower.
The cold water helped her shake off the last vestiges of sleep. After drying off, she put on the clothes she had selected and was ready to face the day. Walking into the kitchen, Miranda opened the refrigerator door to get some eggs for breakfast, then remembered that she'd forgotten to pick any up when she went shopping the other day.
"I could just have cereal," she thought as she closed the door, "but why not treat myself." It had been a while since anyone had treated her to anything.
Picking up her purse and transferring her essentials to the fanny pack she then strapped around her waist, Miranda headed out to the car. Cara's Breakfast Nook ran a weekend special until eleven and her French toast was a delight to behold. Since it was only two blocks from Office Barn, she had plenty of time to enjoy breakfast and still get to work with time to spare.
"Can I get you another refill on that coffee?" Ruth Hasset, one of the waitress' at the Breakfast Nook asked as she looked down at the empty cup in front of Miranda.
Miranda glanced down as well, both at the empty cup and the small remnants of what had been a truly enjoyable breakfast. She then checked her watch and decided that she still had plenty of time.
"Just a half a cup," she said to Ruth who dutifully poured just that amount, then wished her a good day and went on to another of her tables.
Miranda brought the cup to her lips and was enjoying the rich mix when a male voice from behind her also wished her a good morning. It was a voice quite familiar but nevertheless unexpected.
"Jim," she said in surprise, almost spilling her coffee as she looked up at the white haired man standing next to the table.
"Something wrong?" the fifty year old asked as he saw that he had startled her.
"No, I just didn't expect to see you, that's all," Miranda smiled.
"I don't know why not," Jim smiled in return. "Gary and I have been having breakfast here every Saturday for the last twenty years. You know that."
The mention of the second man's name drew Miranda's attention past Jim's shoulder where she saw another man about the same age standing at the register and paying their bill. Now she was even more confused. Jim Collins and Gary Paris were half of Ralph's poker playing circle, and had been for over a decade. If they were here, who had her husband gone fishing with? Or were they planning a late start to just take part in the game tonight?
"I guess I just forgot for a moment," she said, the puzzled look on her face helping her explanation.
"Yeah, we're all getting to that age," Jim laughed as Gary caught up to the two of them and handed the other man his part of the change.
Gary said hello as well, asking her how she was doing and remarking that he hadn't seen her sister around lately. Something that was unusual since he lived just down the block from her.
"What did she do, pick up a new hobby?" he grinned.
"Something like that," Miranda replied, thinking that her neighbor would be shocked to know what that hobby was.
"Well you tell her I was asking about her," Gary said.
"I will," Miranda replied as the two of them turned to leave her to finish her coffee.
They had only gone a step or two further, when Miranda asked them a question she was almost afraid to get the answer to.
"Are the two of you going up to the lake this weekend?"
"Up to the cabin?" Jim asked in turn, to which she nodded her head in acknowledgment.
"The lake's been put off limits for fishing until next month at least," Gary said, answering for his friend. "They had some kind of spill there over the winter and they want to make sure it's totally clear before they let anyone fish again. Not that we ever really catch anything."
"Oh, I didn't know," Miranda said.
"Well we'd better get going," Jim now chimed in. "Say hello to Ralph for us as well. Tell him the next time he decides to skip our game to go on a business trip, he could at least just send the money he usually loses." he added with a laugh. "That way he won't be missed as much."
With that, both men were gone, leaving behind a now quite concerned Miranda.
The rest of the coffee grew cold in her cup as she silently sat there. Her first impulse was to call Ralph on his cell phone, then decided against it. She wasn't sure that she wanted to know where he really was at this moment, or with whom.
Leaving Ruth a tip, she picked up her check and headed to the register herself. She was so dazed at the moment, she didn't hear Ruth say goodbye as she walked past her, or notice anyone around her as she walked to last two blocks to work.
The question weighed heavily on her mind the next few hours as she, Josh and two other employee's did the store's inventory. Distracted as she was, Miranda knew she wasn't really doing her share, but Josh seemed more than willing to pick up the slack. Miranda promised herself she would make it up to him another time.
"Tony and Karen are going over to TJ's to grab a pizza," Josh said to Miranda as he found the aisle where she was working. "Want to come along?"
The question made Miranda look at the large clock on the wall. She hadn't realized it was already after six. The last few hours had just raced by.
"No thanks, Josh," she smiled at the sandy haired young man, "but could you do me a favor?"
"Sure, what do you need?"
"Can I borrow your car for a little while?" she asked. "I took the bus to work and I really need to run a little errand."
"Do you want me to drive you?" he offered.
"No, you don't have to," she replied, "and I won't be long, I promise. I just have to run over to my husband's store and pick something up."
"No problem," Josh said as he handed her the keys.
As she pulled out of the parking lot and quickly covered the twelve blocks to Crazy Al's, Miranda had to admit that she had no idea what she was doing. Or what she expected to find.
The store was still open, as was the norm for a Saturday, and no sooner had she entered when Artie Davis, the assistant manager, met her. The forty-one year old had a smile on his face, but behind it he had a feeling of concern.
"What brings you here this time of night, Miranda," he asked. "don't tell me that after all these years that Ralph doesn't trust me to run the place when he's gone and sent you over to make sure everything is okay?"
The question had been said with humor, but Miranda knew that there was some truth in it as well. She knew that Ralph worried about Artie, but not for the reason the younger man thought. He was constantly worried that the owners might realize that the assistant manager was better at the job than his boss and that they might decide to do something about it.