I was sitting at the table gossiping with my friends when Hilda looked at the entrance.
"Well look at that! Benny Henson. I thought when his wife left him he shriveled up and blew away."
His breakup was pretty. Pretty ugly. Pretty painful.
Pretty much her fault, and it pretty much destroyed him.
She "traded up', taking off with a banker. Tried to rape him in the divorce. Had everything pre-prepared, sign here, sign here, initial this. I'm being fair honey, just sign. Bob says it's very fair. He'll get it notarized, just sign.
Benny was quiet, and people assumed because he didn't talk much, he didn't think much. He thanked her for trying to help, turned around, and beat the hell out of Bob.
He dragged him out of the house and threw him over the porch railing into the rose bushes. When his soon to be ex wife protested, he threw her into the rose bushes beside him. Then he decided the roses needed irrigating, so he pissed all over the happy couple trying to get out of the bushes.
Then he leaned over the rail and told them if he heard the first word about pressing charges, he would hunt them down, shove a thick piece of rose briar up their ass until it stuck out their mouths, and saw it back and forth until he got bored. They never said a word.
Unfortunately, a next door neighbor saw and heard it all, and it was just too good a story to keep quiet. His wife worked for Bob at the bank, and it wasn't long until bundles of briars started showing up on both desks. If his father hadn't owned a big chunk of the bank they would have both been out the door.
Benny had a third cousin that turned out to be a hell of a divorce lawyer. When the smoke cleared, since she made more and cheated, she had to pay him maintenance for three years, or until he got married. When they filed papers on the bank for violation of the ethics clause of their employment policy, a quiet settlement for an undisclosed amount was reached. She desperately wanted the McMansion she had forced Benny to buy, so she had to give him half of full market value to keep it.
Benny walked away with a big chunk of change and a nice monthly check.
What he didn't walk away with was his pride. He didn't have a clue, and it shook his self confidence badly. When she found out she was going to get hosed in the settlement, she started a smear campaign about his character, his size and stamina, even his sexual preference. Only the threat of a lawsuit shut her up, but by then it was too late.
He held his head high, but it hurt and he withdrew into himself, disconnecting from any social interaction. Taking a delivery job that kept him on the road a lot, he all but disappeared from the local social scene.
Yet there he was, striding right towards us.
'Us' was the usual bunch of gals who got together every other Thursday at the local pub to let off a little steam. A little flirting, a little dancing, a good bit of drinking on occasion. Housewives, professionals, factory workers, our binding factor was a shared history going all the way back to grade school. No social distinction here, we were just 'the girls'. Some were married, some were divorced, and everyone knew who was who.
He stood before me awkwardly, before speaking rapidly.
"Bonnie, can I talk to you for a minute? I'd like to ask you something."
He caught me on my fourth whiskey sour, and I was feeling pretty good. I had known Benny since we moved into the house next door when we were five years old. We were inseparable until the start of junior high. Then biology took over and we went separate ways.
Benny didn't belong to any particular circle, but got along well with everyone. He was mostly a loner, but a friendly loner. I was in the cute girl club, and had the A list of boys swirling around us. Benny dated but strangely, never expressed interest in me. I always wondered why.
And here he was, out of the blue, wanting something from me.
The whiskey made me mouthy, honestly, I was just having a little fun.
"Ask away, big boy, but the answer will be yes. I knew you always wanted me."
The girls were smiling ear to ear, enjoying his discomfort. He seemed a little shocked.
"No, no. I need some professional assistance. On something I know you're skilled at. I'll pay you."
I couldn't help getting one more dig in.
"Benny, honey, I just said you can have it for free. And I am pretty skilled."
Giggles and light laughter swirled round the table. Benny got red, said just forget it, and headed towards the door. I jumped up and grabbed his arm, tugged him towards the dance floor. Luckily, it was a slow song.
He was stiff at first but gradually relaxed, even seemed to enjoy it a bit. I leaned in and whispered in his ear.
"Relax, Benny. It was all in good fun. Surely you remember what a tease I am."
"I remember. You spent your junior year in high school trying to give me a permanent blush."
"I couldn't help it, you were so serious all the time."
The song ended and we stood awkwardly for a second.
"Come back to the table," I urged him. "tell me what you need. You know I'll help if I can."
He was back to looking uncomfortable.
"This needs to be a private discussion. Why don't I call you sometime in the next few days. Still in the book?"
"No, I cancelled my home phone, couldn't see the point when I use my cell constantly. Here, give me your phone, I'll program it in."
I was surprised when he handed me the latest, top of the line Iphone. I know it showed.
It was his turn to smile.
"Can't be a technophobe forever, Bonnie. When would be a good time to call?"
"Right now. Saturday, 6:00. I'll be at your house. But I want fed, a rack of your ribs to be specific. All the trimmings, including dessert. Then I'll probably be more willing to give you help, whatever it is."
This threw him.
"Uh, Bonnie, I'll be glad to, but I don't want to mess up your social schedule. You sure you don't want to do it on a week night?"
"Honey, honey, look around you. When it comes to possibilities in this small town, I'm fishing in a pretty shallow pool. Everything available has been caught and tossed back so many times they have hook mouth."
"It'll be nice to spend an evening with someone I actually like."
I still made him come back to the table and sit with us until another slow dance came up on the jukebox. He felt really nice, I was sad to see him go.
And me? I had one more, a cup of coffee, and went home to my big divorce house and my little divorce life.
I was a lot like Benny, I didn't see it coming. We had our lives all planned out. My husband was going to climb the corporate ladder, while I was going to be the best high school English teacher in the state. Judging by the awards hanging on my den wall, I accomplished my end of the deal.
He made it to VP, then decided an almost fifty year old wife wasn't the correct arm candy for his social functions. I got traded for a twenty something, cute as a bug, and dumb as a rock. He was slick though, taking a West coast assignment and most of the money. I ended up with the house free and clear, a little cash, my car, and bad memories.
I had just retired from teaching when me left. It was too late to go back to full time, so I did substitute teaching from time to time. It helped financially and relieved the boredom, but it wasn't the life I expected to be living.
Without embellishment, I was still a good looking woman. I exercised on a regular basis, ate right, and took care of myself. Most women will admit that at our age we agonize over every new wrinkle and blemish, and the ravages of gravity, but overall I was holding up quite nicely. Men from forty to sixty thought so, anyway.
I dated fairly regularly, but not seriously. Couldn't seem to find one that held my interest. Perhaps that was why I was looking forward to dinner with Benny so much.
I often wondered why Benny never asked me out. My marriage collapsed about six months after his, and we would see each other from time to time around town. He was always friendly but never made overtures. If you're female, this piques your interest and assaults your vanity.
Benny was a lot of things, but first and foremost he made the best barbeque in the area, maybe even the state. He was always in demand for private parties and fund raisers as a cook. The local Republicans almost canceled a rally last year because he wasn't available. This was why I pushed him into fixing those ribs. I knew from experience they would melt in your mouth, with the perfect blend of vinegar and spices.
I wasn't disappointed. Ribs just right. His secret recipe dressing coleslaw. He had a thing about that. Any fool can pour barbecue sauce over cabbage, he was fond of saying, but very few people could make good coleslaw. Potato salad with the same dressing. Cornbread pancakes instead of hush puppies, another one of his trademarks. Baked beans with shredded barbecue and large chunks of red onions mixed in. His wife was a fool to walk out on meals like that.
I told him so as I slid back from the table.
He grinned, "She didn't like barbecue that much, not high toned enough for her I guess."
I patted my stomach, so glad I had worn a loose fitting sundress instead of jeans.
"Good. More for me."
I'm glad you said that. I haven't brought out dessert yet."
"Let's give it a little while. If I take one more bite right now a Bonnie bomb will explode all over your dining room. Take me for a walk, this is the first time I've been to your new house."
His ex choose the wrong time to trade up. It was just before the real estate market collapsed, and Benny made out like a bandit when she bought him out. When Bob left his wife for her he got hosed pretty good also. Word had it they were just barely making enough to cover the new mortgage. Maybe that's why we didn't see them out and about like before. Oh well.
Benny held onto his money for awhile because he wasn't sure he wanted to stay in the area. When real estate tanked bargains were everywhere, and he took his time, finally deciding on a small two bedroom house with four acres of land. He paid cash for it. It was in good shape and he kept it neat as a pin.
He let me hold his hand as he gave me the tour. For some undefined reason this pleased me no end. I admired his vegetable garden, and the flower beds would have put Martha Stewart to shame. I told him so.
He was looking right into my eyes when he said,
"I've always enjoyed looking at things of beauty."
For once he had me blushing.
We settled on the porch swing, watching the sun set over his pond. He reached over and flipped a switch, and three small fountains erupted in the center. The spray created mini rainbows against the setting sun. The man continued to amaze me.
I was as happy as I had been in a long time, so I decide to take up my old pastime, teasing him until he blushed.
"Benny, I know why you asked me out here. The secret must be killing you. I'm glad you decided to share it with me first. But it's pretty obvious to anyone who is around you for any length of time."
He indeed turned a deep crimson.
"What do you mean, you know? What have they been saying?"
"Benny, Benny. Everybody knows you hate NASCAR, professional wrestling, and basketball. We all know secretly you're a Yankee. Admit it, you'll feel better if you do. You're probably a hockey fan."
"Uh, Bonnie, I was living here when you parents moved here. NASCAR? Watching a bunch of guys turn left for four hours, that's entertainment? The only reason most people watch is for the wrecks, and you can see them on the highlights of the late news. Basketball? Watching tall guys running up and down a wooden floor trying to get a ball through a hoop? The only reason people watch that is to gamble."
"And wrestling? If your idea is watching pumped guys roll around in spandex panties in positions that would get them arrested outside a ring and trash talk to a script is fun, turn in your college degree. It's obviously not doing you any good. It's a soap opera on steroids, literally."
"As for hockey, guys skating back and forth hitting a piece of rubber and each other with sticks? I'll never understand it."
"Now, if you could get the wrestlers into race cars, have them run so many laps, get out and play the race car drivers a game of horse, then have the winners wrestle the basketball players, add in a few pyrotechnics, a buzzer beater free throw, a wreck or two, and some trash talk, that would be entertainment. If a few of them would wear hockey masks, it would damn near be perfect."
I decided to give it a rest.
"So, Benny. Why am I really here? What IS the deep dark secret?"
He told me to hold on for just a minute. He came back with a piece of paper and a check. He handed me the check.
It was made out to me, for one hundred dollars. The memo line read 'deposit for services to be rendered. The other piece of paper was a binding nondisclosure agreement from a law firm a few towns over.
"Sign the paper and take the check, Bonnie. If you don't I won't say another word."
Curiosity killed the cat and undid countless women. I signed and handed it back to him.
As soon as he had it in his hand he led me back into his house and into the spare bedroom. He had turned it into a home office. Tidy, efficient, a top of the line computer sitting on the desk. He gave me one more lecture.
"I know you signed the paper. But I need you to look me in the eye and say you won't tell a soul. Eventually, if things work out right, everyone will know anyway. I just want it to be at my pace. When it comes time, you can be the one to break the news, if you want."
"Benny, in all our lives, have you ever known me to betray a confidence? I thought not, but if you don't tell me what's going right now, I'm going to scream! Talk. Now."
"All right, take the office chair, it's more comfortable. This is going to take awhile."
He paced for a second, then plunged in.
"When Mariam left me, it shook me to the core. I didn't have a clue she had stopped loving me, and had found someone else. She was good, but then I wasn't looking. I thought we had a good life. Our kids were grown, we had the house to ourselves. I was looking forward to spending our time doing things we had put on hold for most of our lives. She actually seemed happy. Hell, the night before she sprang Bob on me we made love twice. I now see it was a 'I'm sorry and goodbye' thing."
"Looking back, I realize that a woman who could have sex twice with a man one night and profess love to another the next morning was someone I would never understand."
"Add to that the ruthless way she went about trying to take everything we had accumulated together. This type of person didn't exist in my world. I was numb, if it wasn't for family she would have probably gotten everything she wanted. I know I wasn't in shape to defend myself."
I interrupted him.
"I can't say I know everything you were feeling, but I can identify. I was almost as surprised as you when Dan left. It was cold, and vicious, and I didn't have the support you did. He got me pretty good. We're a pair, aren't we?"
I was trying to smile through tears. He surprised me by coming over and giving me a gentle hug.
"I'm sorry Bonnie, I know it was hard. Hopefully we're both better off now."
"That being said, at the time I was a mess. My old boss went through almost the same thing, and he insisted I get help, even set me up with the counselor he used. It actually did me a lot of good. In fact, it's led me to where I am now."
"My therapist urged me to write my thoughts down so I could discuss them during our sessions. I filled up about thirty spiral bound notebooks. It did help, but I discovered something. I loved to write."
"She encouraged me, complimenting me on my style. Told me to seriously pursue it, if nothing else to aid in my healing. I took a creative writing course at the community college."
"So I started to write, compulsively. I bet I didn't turn the television on for six months. Almost got carpal tunnel until I bought the computer and learned how to use it."
"At first, I wrote just for my own enjoyment. Then I started wanting to share them, get some feedback, see if people were actually interested in reading the stories. Since I didn't want anyone locally to know, I went to the internet. You'd be amazed at the sites out there for writers."
"And I got feedback. People actually seemed to enjoy them. One suggested that most seemed to be about my ex wife and the pain I was in, I should try a site called Literotica. Ever heard of it?"
I paled. Hoping he wouldn't notice my agitation I denied ever hearing of it.
"It's a site for erotic fiction, divided into categories. All types of things from science fiction and fantasy, romance, a section called 'loving wives', although it should be renamed 'cheating wives', stories about transsexuals, bondage, just about any part of the sexual spectrum is covered."
"I wrote a few rants against the ex, but in the end, while the opportunities for fantasy revenge are endless, it's hard to sustain the rage forever."
"So I stayed away from the hard sex, hurting stories, and concentrated on love stories. I've always been a sucker for happy endings, even though from experience I know it doesn't always happen. I primarily write in the romance category now, been at it for two years."
"I"m fairly popular, and love getting the comments, good or bad. It keeps me in perspective and helps improve my writing."
"Anyway, as to why I brought you here. One of the features of the site is a section that puts your work out there for publishers to look at. About two months ago I picked a few of what I thought were my best and submitted them."
"Two weeks ago I got a request to send some samples of my work to a publisher. I sent them a draft of a novel I just finished, along with some short stories. Much to my surprise they really liked the novel."
"I got a detailed email telling me to have a professional editor look it over and help polish it, send the end result back, and if they find it acceptable they would like to publish it. That's where you come in. I know you worked for a publisher right out of college as an assistant editor before you decided to teach. So, can you help me? We'll have to find out standard rates so I can pay you. Will you do it?"
I had worked for a publisher right out of college, even held the title assistant editor. That was a fancy name for someone who did the grunt work while real editors turned unknowns into best selling authors, and pandered to the ones already established. But I did learn a lot and enjoyed the time immensely.
"Well, will wonders never cease! A writer! Nobody saw that coming. I'd love to help, but my skills are a little rusty. When can I see it?"
He seemed really relieved.
"As soon as you want. I can pull it up now if you like."
"I think I'd like to see some of your old stuff first, kind of get a feel for your development. Would you mind?"
"Not at all, let me pull it up for you."
He went straight to the Literotica site and brought up his page. I was surprised to see over thirty stories, a few poems, and two novellas.
"Get comfortable, take your time, I'm going to wash up the dishes and get the coffee ready. Let me know when you need a break."
He leaned over me and kissed my cheek.
"Thanks, Bonnie. This means a lot to me."
My cheek felt a little warm long after he left the room. "Well", I thought to myself, "Let's see what he's got."
I smelled coffee and looked around to see Benny standing behind me.
"Time to take a break, it's been almost three hours. Stop before your eyes cross. I've sliced the cake I made for dessert, it's on the table. Get up, stretch, and join me."
The cake was great. It was a variation on the 'better than sex' cake that was so popular. Benny called it the 'no damn cake in the world is better than sex, but it's still pretty good' cake.
"I agree" I said with my mouth full.
"With what? That the cake is good but sex is better?"
How could he keep making me blush? I must be losing my touch.
"Yes" I said, trying to seem enigmatic.
"Take it home with you if you like. I usually give it to people I work with. Let me find a cake plate."
He rattled around in the pantry cabinet until he found it. I glanced at the clock on the coffeemaker and was startled to see it was 11:30.
"I'm so sorry I ignored you so long. Why didn't you get me sooner. This must be a lousy first date for you."
That slipped out before I thought. This wasn't a date, not really.
He made my night when he said, "Actually, it's the nicest 'date' I've had in a long time. And it can't be classified as ignoring me for doing what I asked."
"Truth time now. What did you think about the writing? Am I wasting my time?"
"Definitely not. I can see the progress you've made, amazing really considering what I read was produced in an eighteen month span. When can I see the novel?"
"Anytime after tonight. It's almost midnight and I'm not fond of you driving alone this late. Call me tomorrow and we'll work out when to get together next."
He put the ribs, the side dishes, and most of the cake in containers and put them into my car. As he opened my door he made me promise to call when I got home. He thanked me again and was going to kiss me on the cheek when I turned and kissed him on the mouth. Just for a few seconds, with our mouths closed, and it was still the hottest kiss I'd had in what felt like forever. He was still standing in the drive as I drove away.
I did call him and he answered on the first ring. We talked about nothing for a few minutes before he made me promise to call tomorrow to set up our next meeting. I went to bed smiling for a change.
Sunday I went to church, and all my friends noticed my smile.
"What gives?" said Hilda after the service.
"To quote my grandpa, You're 'grinning like a mule eating briars'. Hot date last night?"
My smile got bigger.
"Well sort of. I don't think it was meant to be a date as such, but it sure felt like one at the end."
"Who was it? Where did he take you? Did you get some nooky?" Sarah was married and true blue, but she got a vicarious thrill listening to us talk about our dates.
"A lady doesn't divulge such things, especially on church steps. Suffice to say, we didn't go anywhere but his house, and I was there until midnight. If you want any more than that, stop by my house, I'll feed you a nice lunch."
Sarah had to go home to hubby, but Hilda came right over. Benny had given me enough food for five people, and I knew if it stayed I would eat it all. I would love it, but my thighs and butt wouldn't.
She came in, took a big sniff and burst out "Benny Henson!" before dissolving into laughter.
"So you're the one who finally snagged him. Was he good, did he put up much of a fight? He must really like you to cook for you, I've never heard of him doing that before. Talk, girl, talk."
I wanted to prolong the suspense as long as possible.
"Eat first, talk later."
She sighed. "All right, but remember I"m the guest here. If the ribs come out to an uneven number, I get the extra one. If I find out you held out on me I'll stab you with my fork."
We ate like pigs. I did my best to ignore the screams of my thighs, after all, it's a sin to waste food, right?
Hilda was groaning about being stuffed when I brought out the cake. She hesitated before taking a big slice, then said she didn't want to be rude to her host so she would eat it just to be polite. When she asked for a second slice, I arched an eyebrow at her.
"The first was for politeness, the second shows appreciation." So we both had another slice, promising faithfully to do our best to wear out the treadmills and do extra Zumba classes at the gym for the next two weeks.
Meal over, dishes stacked, we flopped on the couch. Hilda grinned at me.
"All right, spill. I'm too full to beat it out of you, but I will plop my fat ass on your chest and sit until you can't breathe if you don't."
"Please don't. Remember when he came into the bar the other night? He needed advice he felt I was qualified to give, and no, it wasn't romantic. I kind of forced him into making me dinner in exchange. We started out as the friends we were, but he did hold my hand for awhile, and I got a couple of nice kisses. It made me feel like a teenager again. I loved it."
She sat up, interest perked.
"So, you going after him? If not, can I have a shot? I've always thought he was handsome, and he's so polite. I'm telling you, he practically has 'husband material' stamped on his forehead."
For about ten seconds I forgot she was my best friend and we were women in our fifties. Well, me anyway, she had just turned forty seven. Damn, high school all over again.
"Yes, I'm going after him, at least romantically. Husband material may enter down the road at some point. And you're not, not until I get my shot, understand?"
Laughing she said, "Okay, I get it. You're falling hard girl, admit it. But if you throw him back, I'll be there trying to catch him on the rebound."
Looking me in the eye, she started singing.
"Bonnie and Benny sitting in a tree, k i s s i n g, first comes love, then come marriage, here comes Bonnie with a baby carr--"
I shoved the piece of cake she had on the coffee table to take home with her in her mouth, spreading it all over her face. Her eyes got huge, then we collapsed into each other, hugging and giggling. She kissed me, making sure she spread the remains of the cake all over my face. We WERE teenage girls again, just for a little while.
Not wanting to seem anxious, I waited until five before calling. When the answering machine picked up I was disappointed. Leaving a message that I would be home the rest of the evening, I tried to occupy myself with dishes and lesson planning. For the next two weeks I was a teacher again, covering for a girl on the last of her maternity leave.
An hour later he called back.
"Sorry I missed your call, I was in the vegetable garden. Why didn't you call my cell? You have the number don't you?"
Damn, I had forgot to put it into my phone. I couldn't use reverse directory because we made our date in person.
"I do now, forgot to put it in the other day. When can we get together? I'm really anxious to read it."
I could have had him send it to my computer, but then I wouldn't have a chance to see him face to face.
"I'm home most every day by six. Come whenever you want, as long as I know you're coming I'll be there."
I pushed it just a bit.
"I can come over now if it's not any trouble. I just finished my lesson plan for the week, I'm subbing this week and next. You need to get this to them while they're still interested. Don't want to have other projects come up and get put on a back burner. I could get three good hours in."
"If you're sure it's not an imposition, come on out. I'll make you some supper, but after last night it will be something light."
"Benny, be careful. Feed me too many times and I'll be like a stray dog, you won't be able to run me off."
There was a little silence on the other end. "Please," I thought, "don't frighten off now."
"That doesn't sound like a bad thing. Come on out, I'll start cooking now."
I almost did cartwheels to the car.
Something light was a whole chicken done on his gas grill, with sprigs of fresh rosemary pushed into the meat at regular intervals, covered with tarragon, chopped chives, and a few fresh sage leaves. Just a light sprinkling of seasonings, salt and coarse ground black pepper. A local wine, white with an infusion of raspberry. A nice side salad and sorbet for dessert. We ate on his deck. I could definitely get used to this.
"Please tell me you don't always eat like this," I said as I finished the last of the sorbet.
"No, I often just have a sandwich. But I love to cook, I used to do it all the time before Mariam left. Doesn't feel right, cooking for one."
He suddenly went silent, remembering.
I rubbed his arm.
"As I said before, more for me. Her loss, I bet she misses it. I don't see Bob whipping up a little something. Bet he doesn't even know how to turn the oven on."
He had a small smile on his face when inspiration struck me.
"You know, we haven't finalized my fee yet. I'm going to put into the contract that every time I come over you have to feed me. A sandwich will be fine occasionally, and I may want to eat out once in awhile, but meals like this will be the norm. Deal?"
I stuck out my hand. He looked at it for a second before taking it. Instead of shaking it he took it to his lips and kissed it gently.
"Deal." He said quietly.
I didn't know what to say, just let the moment linger. Pulling myself together, I told him if I didn't get to work soon I wouldn't get anything done.
He turned into a writer again, not my Benny[ My Benny? Where did that come from?] and sent me into his office.
"All my passwords are on the desk. It's 7:30 now. work for an hour, then take a break. Don't want you to lose focus. Coffee when you break? All right, see you in an hour."
He practically shoved me in and shut the door.
I started reading and immediately became engrossed. The hour went by very quickly. He knocked lightly, calling out to tell me the coffee was ready. He had the cup waiting on the table when I came out. After I had a few sips I looked over the cup at him.
He looked down, reddening. Then he grinned.
"Everybody has a pen name. I chose that because it's the description used for cheap romance novels. Plus it's sexually indeterminate, I didn't give out any personal information except my age and geographic location. You know, most of my readers think I'm a woman."
"After reading the first three chapters, I've come to the same conclusion. I take it back, you're not a closet Yankee. You're really a closet Yankee woman. I bet you're a liberal too. Do you shave your pussy? I've always wanted to, I bet it feels great when a tongue runs across it. Tell me-"
He was beyond red, more a medium purple. With a strangled grunt he left the room. It took me five minutes to stop laughing.
I found him on the swing out front. I sat down and rested my head on his shoulder.
"Honey, don't be mad. It's just me doing what I've done to you our whole life. I would never say anything like that in public."
He sighed and I snuggled deeper, not about to miss this opportunity. His arm went around me. I closed my eyes, enjoying it.
"Forgive me?" I said in a little girl voice.
The small half smile I loved to see on him was back.
"You know I could never stay mad at you."
"Good. Make up kiss?"
I know, I know, I was pushing a little. But, to my astonishment he bent down and gave me a sweet, slow kiss that seemed to last forever, even though it was more likely just a second.
We women know when to push and when to back off, and this was the time to move back a little and let him digest what was happening. I moved back upright on the bench.
Did I see a little disappointment? I hope, I hope.
Back to business.
"The first three chapters are really good. Some small continuity and dialog issues, but very, very good so far. I need to print it out so I can read and make notes. Problem with that?"
"Just make sure you're the only one seeing it. Oh, and keep a record of your hours so I can pay you. This is mostly a business relationship after all."
Mostly? I liked the sound of that.
"Good, I need to go, I have school to teach in the morning, and if I don't get enough rest it's hard to stay focused. Shaping young minds, yadayadayada."
I'll be back Wednesday afternoon to go over what I've accomplished, all right?"
He agreed and walked me to the car after we were done printing out his work. Naturally I was loaded down with leftovers, and just before I got into my car he handed me a set of keys.
"Here, it's the spare set of keys to the house. Sometimes I run a little late on Wednesdays. This way whether I'm here or not you can work. See you then."
I got another nice kiss and a good hug. Progress.
As I drove away I knew. I wanted Benny Henson, and by golly, I was going to have him. Being alone so much for the last few years, I had developed a habit of talking to myself out loud.
"You don't know it yet, Benny boy, but you're mine now. I'm like quicksand and you won't even know you're standing in it until it's too late. You're already in up to your knees. I'm gonna swallow you up and you're gonna love it."
A car came up behind me and I saw myself in the rear view mirror for just a moment, and my smile was down right feral. I liked it.
So began our semi business, semi romantic relationship. I would come over on Wednesday afternoons, Most Saturdays and Sunday evenings. While he was home I would have to fight the urge to just go out and be with him. It seemed to take him forever to call me to dinner.
And the dinners, wow. He must have felt obligated to making them all special. Cuban pulled pork sandwiches with fruit salsa on the side. Steaks grilled to perfection, with roasted tomatoes and eggplant topped with mozzarella cheese and garnished with basil leaves rubbed with olive oil. Fried chicken with green beans and corn on the cob. Spicy meatloaf with mashed potatoes. Boned Boston butts with garlic cloves, rosemary and basil wrapped inside and oven roasted.
Desserts, coconut cake made with freshly grated coconut. Pecan, apple, and chocolate pies. Banana pudding. Strawberry, blackberry, and blueberry fool. When he found out I was a chocoholic he nearly killed me.
"Chocolate overdose." His own recipe. Made from scratch chocolate pound cake, baked in a bundt pan. Chocolate pudding, cooked not instant, timed to be done when the cake was turned out onto the plate, hot pudding poured over and into the middle of the hot cake so it would absorb and meld together, topped with chocolate chips after it cooled a bit. I gained six pounds in three weeks.
After weighing, I told him to ease off on the food.
"Stop feeding me so much. I'll end up looking like one of those porkers you barbeque."
He cut back, nice salads, grilled chicken, salmon, smaller portions. We made it a habit to walk about for a bit after dining, and I made sure at one time or another I snagged his hand and held on to it. He never offered to let go.
I got a week without interruption, and unknown to Benny I spent most of my time on the book. It was quite good, a happy, not quite tear jerker, just the thing romance readers would love.
He got a little overlong in some passages, and I didn't like the direction about two thirds through, but it worked out. He listened to most of my suggestions, but on some he wouldn't budge. I did get it down from 165,000 words to 120,000, mostly be removing redundancies and cleaning up dialog. It wasn't the work of a seasoned editor, but it was a good effort.
We had a little celebration when we sent it off, a couple of glasses of wine. I hated it, now I had no excuse to be at his house.
"Thanks, Benny. I enjoyed this. Too bad it had to end. hope it gets accepted and does well."
He made my day when he said, "End, what makes you think it's going to end? If they publish this and it's as well received as they think it might be, they're going to want another as soon as I can get it to them. I'm about two thirds through, you need to start editing now so we can stay ahead. Come on, let's go print what I've got so far."
His next was geared towards a more mature audience, and I actually blushed at a couple of passages. Wonder if he could really do some of the things he'd written about? I had to change panties.
He was only two thirds through and I couldn't wait to see what direction he would take. I had a few ways I would like it to end, and he listened intently, then questioned me relentlessly on my reasons. He actually wrote two different endings, scrapped them both, and ended up with something totally different that worked much better.
It took four months for him to finish and me to edit. In my opinion, it was far better than his first. He sent it off to his publisher.
They responded by offering him a contract for three more books over the next eighteen months. He was over the moon.
You couldn't find his books in libraries, it was next to impossible to get a print contract without a good agent and a boatload of luck and talent. He wrote ebooks, available as downloads. Generally quick easy reads available for a very modest price. His first book, after seven months, had only made about seven thousand, and he had to pay taxes on that. I urged him not to get discouraged, and he laughed.
"If I was in it for the money, I would have quit before I even started. This is as much for me as the readers. If I happen to make a few bucks off it, good for me. And if I end up making a lot of bucks, better for us."
Us? What us? I could only hope.
I took his hand.
"Great! We're having too much fun to stop now. That being said, all work and so forth. Time to take a break, Benny. We're going down to the pub tomorrow, share a few drinks with my friends. They're thinking I'm making up the time we spend together. And Saturday, you're taking me to see the latest Nickolas Sparks movie. You can call it research if you makes you feel better, but I'm going to call it fun. And you have to buy me popcorn and candy. I plan to sugar up and get giggly."
I watched him closely while I made my little speech I had practiced for a week, hoping for a positive reaction. He looked startled at first, but soon had a tight little smile, trying not to grin, I suspected.
"You're right. Time to stop hiding out like criminals. Let's do it right. Wear a nice dress, and I'll get my best suit cleaned.
He was suitably impressed when he picked me up, and I just threw my ensemble together, if you count agonizing over every dress I owned for six hours, trying to decide which one to wear just tossing it together.
I settled on one I loved but never wore, because I thought it too daring for a woman my age. I bought it on impulse and had never worn it publicly.