I was sitting in my office looking out the window at the little park behind our hardware business. I had only been at my desk a few minutes when I saw this young girl sit down on the park bench. She laid a backpack on the ground between her feet. I wasn't that close but I'd swear she was crying. I got busy for the next couple of hours and paid no attention to the world outside.
It was nearly eleven that morning when I had cleared my desk of the accounts that had come in overnight. I could now take on today's reports that were trickling in from the offices up on the top floor. I worked alone undisturbed here in the rear of the business. My boss's office was down the hall and I could occasionally hear the rumble of his voice on the phone or when someone was with him.
I glanced out the window and was startled to see the girl still sitting there. She appeared to be half asleep or maybe just letting the time go by. Suddenly she straightened and stood up, walking over to the water fountain to get a drink. This hadn't been hooked up for the summer yet. She just came back and slumped on the bench again. She looked around and saw me watching her.
She was young, maybe sixteen-or-so. Her long hair was a pretty shade of brown with little highlights in it, but it hadn't been combed today. Yes, she had been crying. A brave, "screw you" expression crossed her face and then she put her head down resuming the original position I had seen her take when she arrived. She stayed that way until it was time for me to go to lunch.
I walked out and sat on the far end of the park bench. I began speaking as if to myself. "Damn, I wish the town would hook up that fountain. It's getting warmer all the time and a person sure could use a drink. Oh well an ice cold glass of Ginger Ale or a glass of Sprite would sure go down easy. Couple that with a hamburger or a Chilly Dog with chips would be good too."
"Are you trying to pick me up, Mr.?"
"Am I that obvious, Sissy."
"Don't call me Sissy. My name is Francie Reilly."
"Well Fran, let me guess. You act like a person who just got dumped. You're young and don't know which way to turn. The guy probably took all of your money, maybe your virginity and all of your self esteem. So you're sitting in a park far from home and don't know whom to ask for help. You most likely ran away after your parents warned you against the guy, so you're too ashamed to call them to help you get back home."
Tears started in earnest now. "How did you know?"
"I had a sister once who did the same thing. She sucked it up though, and went into a church for help. The pastor called my Dad and he came and got her. She's married now with a child. She learned that bad boys can be exciting and a lot of fun. She's a lot older than I am and that experience hasn't changed her that much. I haven't been that close to her because of our age difference. I do love my niece, though and she thinks I'm pretty wonderful. Come on, I'll buy you something to eat. I don't have that much time before I have to return to work."
"What's your name?"
"Are you a bad boy?"
"I don't consider myself one, but how can you tell?"
"I'll take a chance. All your talk about cold drinks and food overrides any worry I have about you." She didn't say much and I didn't question her during lunch. Francie was young and I could see she was going to grow into a pretty woman. I watched her out my window all afternoon.
When I got off from work, I asked her, "Follow me. I'll give you a place to sleep and feed you until you decide that home is the best place for you." Fran Reilly followed me home that night to my two-room kitchenette.
I learned a lot about Francie. I shared I was twenty-two, and had been to college majoring in accounting. I told her about my family. I had a sister, Betty, who was married to Pete Cooper, and my niece, Becky. I mentioned my father, Philo, and my mother, Millie.
Francie did learn, in the three weeks she was with me, that I was employed in a business owned by my parents. My dad owned three hardware stores; this store here in Clearview, which father had opened just recently, and was where I was working now. There was the home store in Benson, and another one in Stapleton.
The one in Stapleton was the town my brother-in-law, Pete, came from, and with whom my sister had met while going to College. Pete and Betty now lived in Benson, and Pete helped manage the home store with my dad. Pete also oversaw some of the departments in all three stores. Pete and Betty went to the Stapleton store at least twice a month to see to that operation, much like Dad coming here a couple times a month. Dad was only here over night, whereas Pete always took four days in Stapleton.
I was just out of school and was learning the business by working in Clearview where I wasn't directly under my father's thumb. I pretty much did what my father told me to do because he had paid for my education. Sometimes I resented him a little. Not that he was a hard taskmaster, but because he owned three stores and was driven to excel. Dad had laid out a plan and it was up to me to follow it.
I saw no reason to impart that fact to this person who would soon be gone out of my life. It took me three weeks to convince her that her parents might not be all that she wished them to be, but they just might love her more than she believed.
What I found out about Fran was that she was the middle child in a middle-class family. Her brother Steve, was the first born. He would be the one to carry on the family name and was thought of as the most important. Her ten-year-old younger brother Sam was the baby of the family and was of course nearly as important. She had been the princess of the family until Sam came along, but that had changed dramatically and she resented it. Now sixteen she was left to fend for herself, or at least she felt that she was.
Fran was living with me in my little apartment as my step-sister. She could have been because we did live as brother and sister. I slept on a day bed I used for a couch. I suppose my being six years older I felt I had the right to preach about how she should live her life. Did she listen to me? I couldn't really tell.
I didn't own a car because I lived only a block and a half from where I worked. This was a bare existence for me and I knew it would get better someday. I took all my lunches from the lunch cart and often bought a heat-em-up meal in the microwave for dinner. That worked well for the two of us. I knew when I was at home with my folks I would have great meals and I often talked about them.
"Learn to cook, and your husband will love you forever." This was one of the lessons I tried to impress on this wayward girl.
Day times Fran hung out in the library. Fran and I did things together after my day was done. We walked about the small city and went to the movies. We sat in the park and when the city turned the water on at the drinking fountain we both declared it was the best water we had ever tasted. One day when I came home from work, a week into living like this, Fran asked me to go get some feminine items for her. She was going to stay on the couch all day.
"I'm sorry you aren't feeling well, Fran."
"Don't say that. I'm so relieved because I thought I might have become pregnant. For awhile I wanted to get pregnant, but I'm so glad I'm not. What would have happened to me if I was? Think of the mess I would be in? And think what would have happened to me if you hadn't taken pity on me? You've fed me and given me a home for a few days and taught me so much. I really am immature, aren't I?"
I grinned, "You were, but now you're not." Feeling better, Fran called one of her girlfriends and learned her parents were frantic with worry about their missing daughter. She came to the conclusion that maybe her parents did have some love for her. I was unaware of this and figured her being so sober one morning had something to do with her monthly.
That night we sat on the couch together watching the eleven o'clock news. When Fran sat down beside me, she sat right next to me. "Kenny, would you kiss me? In fact I'm yours to do with me what you wish."
"Fran, I can't do that. I think you are a wonderful person, but it wouldn't be right. You really should go home and finish school. You leaving like you did will be a wake up call to your parents. They'll give you the attention you were denied before."
"Kenny, you must love me a little. I know I love you a lot. I know I'm young, but I have found out what love is."
"I am very fond of you, I won't deny that. But we are from two different worlds. I'm not ready to take on a wife at this time. If we were both older and settled into life, it might be possible."
Fran stood up with tears in her eyes. "I'm not attractive enough for you, am I?"
"Fran you are very pretty and you will become more beautiful as time goes by. I'm thrilled that you consider me for love after the experiences you have gone through, but it just wouldn't be right." Fran was a temptation, though. Her body hadn't firmed up like it would in a few years, but it promised something exceptional.
"Okay Kenny, I suppose you are correct, but I do love you and I wanted to show you how much. I'm going to bed now and think about you. I'll see you in the morning. Goodnight."
What had I got myself into? I did love this too young woman, and on several different levels, I knew getting any closer to Fran wouldn't work. I didn't get much sleep that night. I was half asleep when I got ready for work. I knew Fran was awake in the bedroom because I heard a bureau drawer close. As I opened the door to leave, Fran came rushing from the bedroom and threw her arms around me. "Kenny, I love you and I always will. I'll never forget you either."
What brought this on? Unthinking, I leaned down and kissed her. She gave me a sad smile. "See, that wasn't so bad, was it?"
"Fran, we'll talk about this tonight. Will you be in for lunch today?"
"No, not today, Kenny. Good-bye."
I was bothered all day by a strange feeling. I felt something had happened and I should know what it was. I found out when I reached my apartment that evening. There was a folded note on the table. I sat down and when I picked it up, I felt something enclosed. I opened it and a pair of diamond earrings clattered on the table.
Kenny, I took a hundred dollars from your slush fund for a bus ticket and traveling money. My father paid $1,500 dollars for earrings for my fourteenth birthday. That proves I'm not a thief. I thank you so much for rescuing me. You told me I fall for bad boys. I am here to say you are not a bad boy, but I fell for you anyway. Give the earrings to the woman you choose to live your life with, with my blessing.
I was saddened that my association had ended with Fran. Did she leave my thoughts for any length of time? No, she didn't. I did feel good about the way I had treated her and her image would pop up at the most unexpected times. I began to date occasionally. I think it was to wipe Fran from my mind, but after a year she was still there.
Months went by, when my college had a homecoming event. All alumni were urged to attend. My fraternity was to have a party for the alumni to meet the new inductees. All of fraternity alumni's past and present names and home addresses were listed. One address caught my attention for it was in the home city where Fran lived. Tom Bitner was a fraternity brother whom I spent hours playing chess with. I hadn't planned to attend, but this year I was going to.
The party was as raucous as expected. Finally I spotted Tom who was standing against the wall watching the drunken goings on. I sidled up to him and we decided to have a game of chess. The party was getting really wild so we escaped to a back room off the kitchen. "Kenny, did you come all the way from Ohio to play chess with me?"
"No, but I did come to see you. I would like to have you check up on someone who lives in your town. I'd like it if you passed the word about the person back to me."
"It's has to be a woman, doesn't it?"
"Not a woman exactly, but a girl who will be graduating from high school this next year."
"What's her name?"
"Franny? How do you know her?"
"You know her then?"
"Sure. I work with her brother. I was invited to a pool party at their house last week. What gives?"
"Did you know she ran away from home a year ago?"
"I've heard that, but the family never discusses it. How do you know about her?"
"Well, she ended up at my apartment when the guy she ran away with dumped her. She hung out three weeks with me."
"Did you get to tap her? She was pretty damned wild for awhile. She seems to have changed now since she came home."
"No, we lived as brother and sister. I was curious about her that's all."
"Call her up. I can give you her home phone number."
"No, no, I can't do that. We had words and she told me to find someone I could love. I thought we would talk about it some more, but she left suddenly."
"You dog you."
"It wasn't like that. I mean I didn't hit on her. I tried to give her some advice, but she just wouldn't see it my way. I did gain some affection for her and want to know how she turns out."
"Okay, if I hear anything unusual about what she is doing, I'll call you. Let's get this game started. We came here to play chess, didn't we?"
Tom did call or write several times a year. Some times he didn't call about Fran but because we were friends. Invariably he would ask for me to send him a photograph of my family or my staff or my parents. I learned Fran graduated high school with remarkable grades considering what they were when I knew her. She was going on to the university, taking something in social science.
One time, Tom made the comment that he escorted Fran to the wedding when her brother married. "She is one of the friendliest women I know, but damn she is deft at turning a man away from her. To be honest, I hit on her and got nowhere. She shut me down and I hadn't even started." Pictures of the wedding followed a month later.
I laughed, wondering why I was so pleased at this. My own love life wasn't that much. My sister was always fixing me up. This was when I returned to the home store. I had paid my dues by working in the smaller store where I met Fran. I was fully involved at headquarters now. Funny, I didn't have the urge to connect seriously with a woman. It seemed as if I kissed one, Fran's face would be in my dreams that night. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't celibate. Any young man has his needs that can be satisfied without a firm commitment.
I did get enough involved with one woman named Sarah to move in with her, but she accused me of not being serious about our relationship so we parted after a bit. Analyzing my actions after moving on, I knew she wasn't the one to give the earrings to.
The years flew by. I was always busy, being named as head of the accounting department in my family's business and kept at headquarters. I also had the chore of auditing the other two stores the family owned. Word came one day from Tom Bitner that Fran was getting real serious with a young man and his name was Anson. Tom related that Anson began working at the Reilly firm as a sales associate and had rapidly moved up. Of course while this was going on he was making a pitch for Fran every time she was home from college.
This bothered me. I tried to tell myself I was acting like Fran was mine. What could I do now that Fran's graduation was fast approaching? The hell with it! I had the earrings that she left with me. It was time I made a move to return them. Tom, now married and still best friends with Fran's brother, was invited to her family graduation celebration around the home pool on a Saturday afternoon in May.
I called him, "Tom, one more favor for me, if you would. Will you pass onto Fran, a small box while at the party? It is something she left with me six years ago. I'll drive up Saturday, hand the package over to you, stay at a motel and drive back early Sunday."
"Sure, I can do that. Why don't you drop in and I'll introduce you to her brother who is a good friend of mine?"
"Well, I don't think I had better. It wouldn't be appropriate for me as a casual acquaintance to give his sister a present. Understand it is something that she left behind when she stayed with me. I only knew Fran for a short time and she has most likely forgotten me. But it is something valuable and something her father gave her as a child. Now that she is starting life on her own it should be with her."
"You're acting funny about this. What is it?"
I sidestepped the issue and wouldn't say. "I want to have it returned and it likely will embarrass her to have a reminder of the time she was a run-away-wild child."
"Okay, but after the party is over, promise I can come over to the motel and beat your butt at chess."
"Deal. You'll have to work at it though. I've been whipping your ass three times out of four."
"It's time for me to win. As they say, my ship is coming in."
"Okay, I'll call when I get to town. I'll be there about nine in the morning if everything goes according to plan."
Tom hung up and I walked across the room and stared into the mirror hanging on the wall. I shook my head at the image. Well, I had made a move and the die was cast. That is if I didn't chicken out and stay home. What is my problem? Hell, I was just returning an object that didn't belong to me.
I arrived at the motel after leaving early from home. I called Tom and he declared I just had to meet his wife, Kate. He gave me directions to his house. It was really nice and his pregnant wife was friendly and attractive.
"So, you are the friend Tom talks about all the time. He says tonight he is going to beat you at chess so you had better watch out." We laughed over this. Tom tried again to get me to go with him to the Reilly home, but I was just as adamant that I wasn't going. I was tempted though.
I did agree to have breakfast with him and Kate tomorrow after our chess game. She knew the game often lasted this long. Kate almost chiseled out of me why this item was so important to Fran. I didn't tell her what it was, but it was a valuable item left with me as collateral for money to return home. For now, I told Tom I was returning to the motel and get some sleep because I was on the road so long this morning.
I wondered how Fran would receive the earrings. Maybe I should have just mailed them. No, I wanted to know her reaction and I knew if I was there, then her reaction would take a different form. I was sure Tom would tell me all about it. I'd learn about it tonight. I lay down and unbelievably I slept. That is until there was some pounding on my door. I glanced at my watch and I had slept late into the afternoon.
"Open up, Kenny." This was Tom. "You have guests. They want to speak to you."
I looked out through the screen. There were four men standing there. Tom, of course I knew. I surmised who the older man was. It had to be Fran's dad and of course, the other two were her brothers. "Let us in."
I did. I was backed up to the bed as they crowded in. Tom stood there grinning. Fran's father announced, "Young man, I'm Timothy Reilly. These are my sons, Steve and Sam. You're going to meet the Reilly women folk in a little bit. There is going to be a family meeting soon with all present and that includes you. No getting out of it."
I turned to Tom, ignoring this man in front of me. "What happened?"
"No time for that now. You'll find out when you talk to Fran."
"Tom, at least tell me what Fran said when she opened the little box?"
"She didn't say anything at first because she fainted."
"Is she okay?"
"Sure, this caught her by surprise, that's all."
I hurried up and changed while being bombarded with questions being put to me. Tom stood in the background smiling. It was like I was a prospective son-in-law being questioned to see if I was good enough for his daughter or something.
I was soon ready wearing in a nice pair of slacks and a short-sleeved dress shirt. I took along a blazer in case I needed one. When we stepped out of the motel, Timothy told me to follow him in my car. Tom, and Sam, the younger brother of Fran's, got in with me. "Tom, what's going on? Fran's father seems to know me pretty well."
"Don't ask questions. They will be a time for that shortly. You'll soon see why everyone is acting the way they are. Now when we get there, you will be meeting Fran's mother. Everyone else at the family graduation gathering will be gone. I'm to let you in the rear door and you are to go up the stairs to a door on the right. Fran will be waiting for you and she will answer your questions."
Sam, from the back seat questioned, "Fran says she only kissed you one time. She's been talking about you for years. One of you has to be crazy. I'll bet you hardly remember her after all the time since that happened."
"Sam, Fran is a girl to be remembered. Time and distance has nothing to do with it."
"Sam, shut up. Fran will take over and ask and answer any questions from Kenny."
"Thanks, Tom. I'm going to ask you some questions too. You seem more involved than being just a friend of the family."
"Talk to Fran first." Nothing more was said. Tom drove around to a rear entrance and pointed to the door. "Up the stairs."
I came in and had to pause at the foot of the stairs. Three women were coming down. One was Kate, Tom's wife. She stopped in front of me. "Kenny, this is Fran's mother Phoebe, and Steve's wife Rachael. We'll get more acquainted after you talk to Fran." I recognized both from the pictures sent by Tom at Rachel's and Steve's wedding. They headed through the kitchen toward the front of the house leaving me standing there looking up at Fran who had come part way down.
Fran was waiting for me on the stairs. She had on black slacks and a light blue top. Her black hair was long but pulled back and gathered with a braided band to keep it out of her face. He figure had matured along with her age. The baby fat had disappeared and she was trim and proportioned perfectly. When I reached her, she took my hand and led me into a bedroom. "Kenny?" I could tell she was waiting to be kissed.
I opened my arms and she came into them, raising her lips to mine. I peppered her face and lips with kisses. I had played this scene through my mind for six long years. I could tell Fran had as well. We ended up just hugging together tightly.
I pulled her away so I could look into her eyes. "You didn't get hurt?"
"What do you mean, did I get hurt?"
"Tom said you fainted when you opened the box I sent you."
She laughed, "I have never fainted in this lifetime that I can remember. That's just my cousin messing with your head."
"Tom is your cousin?"
"Yes, and I've been having him spy on you for years."
"Well cousin or no, he has been doing the same for me. I have a whole bunch of pictures of you. He was always sending me pictures of what he and Steve were doing and always you would be in the background somewhere. The one I treasure the most was of you as a bridesmaid with Tom at Steve's wedding."
"I picked that one out for him to send. I hoped you would like it."
"I did. I even had your image separated from Tom's and had the wallet-sized picture of you made to carry with me. Fran, let's pause here for a minute. I feel I know you quite well, but I don't really."
"I know and I feel the same way. Can you stay longer than tonight or do you have to return home immediately?"
"I can be here for a week. Next week, would you go home with me and meet my family?"
"That would be great. Of course I can. Wow, two whole weeks together. You're going to stay here. Your room is right next to this one. I sleep here and you can sleep there." Fran paused and then continued, "Or we can sleep together."
"What about your parents? What would they think if you became my friend with benefits?"
"I have it covered. After the way you rescued me six years ago and by urging me to grow up and return home, you're in solid with them. I'm an adult now and can do anything I want to."
I stared at her. This was the way she acted when I first met her. I didn't like it then and I didn't like it now. She laughed at my expression of disproval. "Kenny, I can tell that last hit a sour note with you. Let me finish it. I can do anything I want to, but within reason and keeping other people in mind of how it affects them."
"I do think we can work this out, but I would like it to be very discreet about sleeping with you. We can work on how much to share."
"That we can." Just before we left the room Fran said we still had a lot to talk about. I agreed. I wanted to find out how serious she had been with that Anson fellow that worked for her father.
We went down and were nice to her family. Tom thought it a great joke that he was able to play the intermediary for so long. It seemed that Fran came home and told her mother everything that happened to her when she ran away. She even told her of the note she left me along with the earrings. A year later, Tom came home and mentioned that his friend remembered Fran and was inquiring about the young runaway teenager.
Fran's mother then told her father and the rest of the family about me. Whenever Tom and I spoke, what I said to Tom was shared with all. Her father and mother implored Fran to contact me herself, but Tom knowing me better, sided with her and advised to let it play out.
"Kenny will come to his senses some day and will return the earrings to you. If I didn't know about the earrings, I would think he is crazy. He works steadily and isn't ready to take on a long distance relationship with Fran yet. I will bet he will approach her with the earrings as soon as she graduates."
"Tom is right. I just know Kenny thinks about me as much as I think about him. If he returns the diamonds and is still interested, then I'll know we can begin a relationship and really get to know each other."
This all came out over the dinner table. I wanted to slow this down a little. "Listen to me a minute. Fran and I barely know each other. Sure we have been dreaming about each other, but that isn't good enough grounds to guarantee that we will begin a relationship. I'm going to be here a week and I have suggested that if we are still thinking about the future together, then she should travel to meet my folks the following week."
Fran stated, "That's the plan and Kenny is right. I want to spend my life with someone, but dreams or no, I have to be sure of whom it is with. This is reality and I pray it is as good as the dreams I have had. I guess you can say we are just friends now."
Conversation moved away from us and I leaned over and whispered, "Fran, your maturity is showing."
"I should hope so. Do you realize that I am the same age now you were when I met a wonderful man who talked to me and showed me I was still a child? I would like to think I am at the same level now you were at that age."
I had a short conversation with Kate as she and Tom was leaving. "Kenny, I kept thinking that Tom was interfering in his cousin's and your life. For five years he told me he felt you two belonged to each other and he was going to do everything in his power to bring you together. This started before I met him. He told me how excited he was when it was discovered by you that he and Fran lived in the same town and you asked about her. He said he never knew why he didn't blurt out that she was his cousin, but he wanted to find out why you were so interested."
"I wonder about that too. I was so surprised I was receiving so much information about Fran who was supposedly just a sister to one of his friends. Tom has always been my friend from the first day we joined the Fraternity together, so I explained it to myself, this is what a frat brother would do."
"And that begs the question of why you were interested in Fran?"
"I guess it goes back to the original situation. I did a small favor for a woebegone runaway kid. She left an expensive item with me to thank me for what I did for her. She also charged me to give them to the woman who would make me happy. I've come to the decision, of whom better than she?"
"So it is all settled then?"
"I would like to think so. Returning the earrings gives us an opening now to really get acquainted. I think this is the time for everyone to back off and let me and Fran work it out."
Fran came up to me. "Kenny, lets go get your things and move them to your room here."
"I was wondering about that. You'll go with me, won't you?"
"Of course. Mom and Dad, we'll be back after breakfast in the morning. Kenny has to check out by eleven."
Timothy, her father, cautioned, "Fran, you don't know Kenny that well."
"Dad, I spent three weeks with him when I was sixteen and that turned out okay. You've said so yourself."
"Oh, go, I'm sorry I spoke. I keep forgetting you're an adult now."
"You're the best, Dad."
Fran ran upstairs and came back down with a small overnight case. We didn't say much on the way to the motel. I had one hand holding hers though. I unlocked the door and turned to her. "Is this where I carry you over the threshold?"
"I think we had better wait for that. I'm hoping someday you will, but this is about fulfilling a dream I've had for six years. We do have to move from dreams to reality, but I don't see anything stopping us from becoming friends with benefits. After all we are adults."
I took my shower first. I was sitting at the small desk in my robe while Fran took hers. When she came out I watched her walk toward me. She was a little flushed. "Kenny, undress me please."
I started to say she was, but then saw she was wearing the earrings. I removed one and nibbled on her ear, moving down, nuzzling, and kissing her on the neck. I did the same with the other. I carried her to the bed. And when on it she stopped me from exploring more.
"Kenny, the day I ran away from you, I was going to meet you coming in from work just like I am now. It came to me finally, that you wouldn't make love to me back then because I was too young. You did so much for me and I only had one thing of value to trade for a way to reach home. So I took some of your money for the bus and food. I was sure you would return the rings very soon but you didn't.
"A year later Tom came home and we realized you were the knight in shining armor who saved me. I began to hope you might come to me and it would mean more. You've waited so long, though. I was really worried when we found out you had moved in with a woman named Sarah. I thought the earrings would go to her."
"Fran, I never considered giving her the earrings. They were yours. Yes, I liked Sarah very much and I had to find out if she was the one to make my life happy. Truth to tell, you weren't out of my thought for any great length of time. During my time with her, you were in my mind way too much. Sarah was smart and sophisticated, just the opposite of how I remembered you. She didn't need me, but you might. So we split. You may meet her again someday, because she is still a friend.
"I knew the rings still belonged to you but it had been so long, I felt I couldn't just appear at your door and say here are your earrings. So I have waited for a more appropriate moment. I settled on the day you graduated to be that day. I believe I have chosen the right one."
"You have. You must realize that I haven't been without my trying to find someone to love these long years either?"
"I have, I've heard about someone named Anson."
"That was Mom and Dad's choice for me. Remember though that you gave me a lesson on whom to choose. You told me that bad boys were fun and exciting, but not good for a life-time mate. Anson hasn't crashed and burned yet, but he will. I don't see him ever realizing his dream of getting any of Dad's money either. That is what he was angling for. I was to be the way for him to get it."
"Aren't you afraid that I have become a bad boy and here to ravish the fair maiden who will leave you in the morning like what happened to you one other time?"
"That may be, but I could be a bad girl and you wouldn't know it. So Kenny, why are we talking when we could be doing?"
Fran and I had over six years in a dream relationship. This, our first intimate relationship, was no dream. This was real and more beautiful than any dream could be. Exhausted, we basked in the afterglow, just lying side by side.
Fran spoke first, "That was wonderful. We now know we are compatible. I was so afraid if we ever did come together that it would be a let down. It wasn't."
"Fran, I was going to say the same. What now for us?"
"You mentioned staying the week here and then I would travel to stay a week with you. I think we should not make any solid commitments until after."
"Hey kid, your maturity is showing."
"I hope so. I met a man six years ago who advised me I had to grow up to be happy. It was good advice. My heart tells me to go for the gold, but my mind tells me to go slow and be sure. I honestly believe that heart and mind will meet in the near future and I will be happy."
"That is the best plan. I may have thought you were immature at the time, and in many ways you were, but the most mature thing you could have done six years ago was to leave me the way you did. Leaving your earrings at the time triggered dreams in both of us. If you hadn't, we would have gone out of each others minds and would have been lost to the other. Very wise of you."
"Kenny, I wasn't trying to be wise, I was just saying thank you for befriending me. The dreams came later and now are coming true."
I laughed, "You're saying it was a stroke of luck?"
"That's as good of an explanation as any. Doesn't matter, we are here together and it is up to both of us now to see where it goes."
Tired and satiated, we snuggled together and soon slept.
"Kenny, wake up, we promised Dad we would come for breakfast."
"Fran, don't wake me. I want to finish the dream I had last night."
"Awake or asleep, it's all a wonderful dream."
I was concerned about facing Fran's parents this morning. She pooh-poohed me. She was right. The only one who looked askance at us was Sam, her sixteen-year-old brother, but he said nothing.
"Mom, Dad, Kenny is going to stay until Friday and get to know everyone. Then he is going home and I'm going with him. This will give me a chance to meet his family. I'll stay a week and by that time we'll know if there is a possibility of us becoming a permanent couple."
"Does that mean you won't be joining me here in the family business?"
"Dad, I can't say at this time. That would be plan B for me at best. Kenny is a vice-president of his family's business along with his brother-in-law. There could be a position there for me in the human resource department and I would be working with him."
Her father was disappointed. "You could be equal to your brother and cousin here." He paused, "But I want you happy, sweetheart. We almost lost you once and I don't want to go through that again."
"I promise you won't have to. I found, back then when I came home, how much family meant to me. And yes, father, I found how much you missed me when I wasn't here. We were close while I was away at school and found it possible to continue even though I wasn't physically present."
"Franny girl, I was just making clear that I'd miss you." I could see love shining in both father and daughter's faces.
It didn't take a day or two before I realized that Fran was very intelligent. Her father owned and operated an insurance concern selling both commercial and personal insurance. The business was often discussed at dinner and Fran took part in the conversation. She would be an asset in my father's concern just from that fact alone.
I did think about the fact that her family would miss her when and if she moved away. If we married, there would be several hundred miles separating us from them. But then there were holidays and vacations where she could be with family. Not strange in today's world and shouldn't be a deal breaker if we loved each other. We could work it out.
I told Fran much about my family. My sister and brother-in-law were eight years older than me. Pete had been groomed to help manage, with my father, all three of our stores. I was now working at the home store as well, heading up the accounting, billing, inventory etc. for all three stores. I delved into what living at home was like, telling Franny that Pete and Betty lived in their own house across town. I lived in a detached apartment on my folk's property.
"Franny commented when I mentioned this, "That's convenient. Is that where you and Sarah lived?"
"Yes. We weren't bothered at all. My niece, Becky hangs out with me a lot. She is like a younger sister to me, much like you were the three weeks I knew you years ago. She brings her friends over. The only restrictions I have for her is there is no drinking and absolutely no sex in my apartment. I have no doubt that she does everything teenagers do somewhere else. She is always asking about relationships and things like that. It is up to her mother and father to watch out for her morals, although I do pass on some comments, occasionally."
"Kenny, I know all about your comments. It straightened me out and made me good enough to meet you again without having regrets about my life style after leaving you six years ago."
I told her about coming back to the town of Clearview once a month for a day, checking accounts and talking with the person who managed the store for the family. Pete did that at the Stapleton store. I only went to the Stapleton store once or twice a year when there was a party or something.
Pete always took Betty with him. It bothered me slightly, for he was there on Friday, over the weekend, and returned to the home store for work on Tuesday. I was expected to have all my work in Clearview done in one day. Dad, I thought trusted me, but it seemed like he favored Pete more than me. I suppose Betty being the oldest was favored and that was why she could go to Stapleton and I suspected used the time there for a mini-vacation.
I was treated with respect without reservation for the week I stayed with Fran and her family. Friday morning we left and headed for my hometown. We made a leisurely trip of it, arriving in the late afternoon. I ushered Fran into my mother's office at headquarters.
"Hi Mom, I'm back from vacation. I've brought a friend with me to visit."
"Kenny, I was wondering where you were." She looked at Fran.
"Mom, this is Francie Reilly. I've known her for several years. I met her six years ago and we have just reconnected. We are thinking about making our life together."
"I'm pleased to meet you, Francie." Mom looked puzzled. "It's odd, Kenny has never mentioned you."
"Not odd when you hear about how we met and why we are together now. We have had a relationship in the dream world and it has just come out into the open this past week. I was surprised Kenny hadn't told you about me because my family knew all about him. But then most men don't share their dreams."
"This sounds mysterious?"
"Not mysterious, but as noted, odd. I will be here a week anyway and you will learn all about how we met and what kept us with a tenuous connection for six long years."
Mom looked from Fran to me and back again. "Kenny, I'm all done for the day. Let me pack up and I'll take you home with me. I'll call your sister and have her over for dinner tonight." She looked closely at Fran. "You've known Kenny for six years? You must have been very young at that time."
"I was. I was only sixteen."
Mom thought about this and turned to me. I was grinning and she was about to blast me. Fran laughed out loud. "Mrs. Burns, don't chastise Kenny. He is one of the good guys, maybe even better than you are aware of. Can we wait to share until dinner?"
Mom had to have the last word. "Kenny, you didn't trifle with her did you?"
"No Mom, remember I'm one of the good guys. Fran just said so." Before we left, I showed Fran my office where I did accounting for the whole concern. My brother-in-law stuck his head into the office and welcomed me home.
I introduced her to Pete Cooper. Pete, with a daughter and my sister, still liked to look and his eyes traveled up and down Fran. "You're it, huh? Kenny has been waiting years for someone to catch him. I must say the wait was worth it."
"Thank you. I actually caught him six years ago. He waited for me to grow up and become his equal, that's all."
I was smiling when he asked, "What do you mean you caught him six years ago?"
"I'll tell, but you'll have to wait for dinner tonight." She turned to me. "Kenny, is your father in the store because I would like to meet him?"
"He should be up front on the counter. We'll check. Pete, we'll see you tonight at dinner. Mom is having the family in." We walked by Pete and out into the store.
"You've created quite a mystery about how we met." I said this to Fran while searching for my father.
"I hope it is okay. Pete kind of hit me wrong with his comment."
"Sure, Pete was paying you a compliment and it didn't come out right. He really is a nice person. He has to be because he is in charge of the help we employ. He is really good at it. You'll like him when you get to know him." I pointed, "That's my father talking with a customer. You'll like him, too."
"Kenny, these are things I need to know about you?"
"Like what things?"
"You know, things like how you get along with your family. I can tell that everyone gets along well together. After what I went through when I was a dumb teenager it means a lot to me. But then it got straightened out and we all realized that family is a unit and needs to work together."
"That's very well put. I think you have done your share in making it happen."
"It wouldn't have if it hadn't been for you."