I hadn't paid a lot of attention to the "For Sale" sign on the house next door until the moving van showed up, five months later, early on a Thursday afternoon in mid-June. The moving company was owned by my high school buddy Dave, so I wandered over there to see if, as sometimes happened, he was doing any of the actual moving. I was dressed in the running T-shirt and jeans that I usually wore when I didn't have a meeting, and it had been a few days since I'd shaved.
"Hey, Bob," I said to a guy coming out of the house. "Dave here?"
"Hey, Bill," he smiled back. "No, we had two people call in sick today, so we've only got four of us for two moves. Dave's with Jimmy, so Mikey and me are here. It's been a long day."
I poked my head into the back of the van to see who was moving in (so I'm nosy, sue me). Dressed as I was, it probably shouldn't have surprised me to have a lamp thrust into my hands.
"That's an extremely valuable lamp," said the woman who'd given it to me. "It goes in the upstairs front bedroom. Don't break it."
I got a quick view of long, blonde hair, a great body, particularly in jeans, and a real nice rack. The kind of woman I'd been dating ever since I'd made my fortune and moved into this swanky neighborhood. Most of them had been just as warm and friendly as this one. I shrugged and walked toward the house. I wasn't busy, Dave was a good friend, and this was a new neighbor.
"You helping us out?" Bob asked with a grin on his face. "You're a lifesaver. Mikey and I were both going to have to push back our dates tonight."
"It's probably easier than arguing with that lady in the truck," I said.
"The blonde?" he asked. "Tell me about it."
"This is an extremely valuable lamp," I said solemnly. "I'm going to try not to break it. Always nice to have a new neighbor, huh?"
"I don't know if she stays with the place or not," Bob laughed. "Her mom's your new neighbor. A real nice lady."
I came face to face with her mom about half an hour later, and almost dropped the box I was holding.
"Mrs. C!" I yelped.
"Willie!" she smiled.
"Actually, I'm tryin' to go by Bill now," I smiled as I put down the box and hugged her.
"All right, Bill," she said. "I'm trying to go by Marcia now."
"It's a deal, Marcia," I said. "And where's Mr. Colley?"
"Mr. Colley passed away," she said, waiting two beats for the look of sympathy to spread over my face. "Just before he was about to finalize the divorce that would have let him share all the savings he'd managed to hide with the little bimbo he was dating."
We looked at each other and burst out laughing. I'd lived next door to the Colleys over ten years ago. From the time that I was in fifth grade, along with the Colleys' beautiful daughter Heather, until they suddenly left after eleventh grade, Mrs. Colley had been one of my closest friends. It's not that my parents weren't great, but I found that I could talk to "Mrs. C." about anything. I still remembered the afternoon when I had confided to Mrs. C. that I was thinking about asking Heather to the junior prom.
"Don't," she said abruptly.
"How come?" I said, pained that she might not think I'd be good enough for her daughter.
"Because she's not the right girl for you," she answered. "Even if she said yes, you'd be miserable. Trust me, the right girl will come along. Jennifer's going into ninth grade next year, you know."
Well, that was a big non sequitur. Jennifer was the younger of the Colley girls, and when the Colleys had first moved in, 8-year-old Jennifer had marched into my yard one day with a pack of cards, dealt us both a hand, and asked me if I had any jacks. Since then, we'd played cards together every Friday night. Whenever I was dateless, that is. In other words, just about every Friday night. Always the same game. And always with the same start: "Got any jacks?"
The first time she did that and took my card without putting down a pair of jacks, I pompously informed her that she wasn't permitted, under the rules of the game, to ask for a card that she couldn't match.
She had looked back at me with one of those "all right, idiot, let me explain this to you slowly" expressions that girls apparently learn in the cradle.
"So I have one extra card now," she'd said, "and you have one fewer card, and your complaint is what?"
A long pause followed.
"Exactly," she'd concluded. "Now shut up and play."
Jennifer was also a tomboy who, from that day forward, had always pestered me to let her play in our neighborhood softball and soccer games. So, the idea of Jennifer's being the "right girl" had never occurred to me.
"Jennifer?" I asked.
"When the right girl comes along, Willie," she smiled enigmatically, "you'll know it."
Then she gave me one of those looks.
"Just try not to blow it."
I snapped out of my daydream and remembered my manners.
"So has Heather been ordering you about like the real movers?" Marcia smiled.
"Oh," I said, my mouth hanging open. "I guess I should've figured that out. But I didn't recognize her at all. Nothing. Isn't that strange?"
"Going through three husbands in ten years can give you a few extra wrinkles, even at age 30."
"And I haven't asked about —"
"No, you haven't," she smiled again. "Jenny will be here around seven tonight. She's a schoolteacher down in Richmond and she'll be driving up as soon as school's done today. It's the last day of classes. She may be moving up here, too, after Heather and I get settled."
"Is Heather moving back?"
"For a few years, she says, until she figures out what she wants to do with herself. Or meets another rich husband. Although these pre-nups she keeps signing don't let her keep much when the marriages go bust."
For the next fifteen minutes, she filled me in on what had happened to the family since they had moved away. I told her everything about my life, including my parents' deaths only two years apart. It felt just like Mrs. C had never left; I would have been happy to remain there all afternoon, except that Heather blew in. I opened my mouth to say hello, but Heather froze me with a look and turned to her mother.
"Mother, you know we're paying them by the hour, don't you?"
"Actually I'm paying them, dear."
"Whatever. If you want to pay them to talk, I guess that's up to you. Did you get a look at that fucking mansion next door?"
"I guess I'll get back to work, ma'am," I said, nodding to Marcia.
"Thank you, young man," she said with a smile.
I helped the guys for two more hours until, around five o'clock, a tan Saturn pulled into the parking lot. I happened to be at the truck just then, and she walked right up to me.
"Hi, I'm Jenny Colley," she said. "Have you seen my mom?"
"Upstairs, I think," I murmured, stunned at what the tomboy had turned into. In truth, I'd begun to find her attractive at the beginning of the summer that the Colleys left, after her mother had pointed her out as potential date material. But now she was something special. She didn't have her cheerleader sister's figure, and her shoulder-length brunette tresses weren't as brassy as her sister's, but God, what a beautiful woman. Besides, I told myself, I was past the blonde cheerleader stage now.
"Thanks," she said.
I hoisted the next box and followed her into the house.
"Hey, mom, you guys here?" she yelled from the bottom of the stairs.
"Jenny?" Marcia yelled down. "We're up here."
My box went upstairs, so I followed her there, too.
"You're early," Marcia said.
"School ended at one," Jenny said, "so I got an early start."
"Oh, well, I'm afraid you're on your own for dinner then," Heather said. "We thought you were coming later so I only made reservations for two. And you know how crowded Portofino's is."
I was about to butt in to say that I thought that Portofino's would be delighted to have another paying customer, when her mother wheeled around and butted me in first.
"Well, I'm sure Bill would be happy to take you out for a bite," Marcia said.
I looked at the three women: Marcia smiling, Heather sneering, and Jenny looking a little doubtful.
"Oh, no," Jenny said. "I'll find something."
"It'd be my pleasure," I said eagerly.
"Go ahead," Marcia said to her daughter. "He's a perfectly nice young man."
"Mom's apparently willing to pay the movers to chat in addition to moving the occasional box," Heather interjected.
Jenny gave her sister a long stare and then turned to me.
"I'd love to," she said, as much to spite her sister as to accept the dinner invitation, it seemed.
"Great," I said. "I'm Bill. I'll be here around six-thirty."
"Jenny," she said, offering her hand. "I guess you already met Heather, too."
I gave Heather the most insincere smile I could manage while I shook Jenny's hand. "Six-thirty then."
We finished moving their stuff in, with Mrs. Colley smiling at me the entire time. She obviously had her reasons for keeping my identity a secret, so who was I to argue? The woman had never steered me wrong before. I walked back to my house, showered and shaved, and took a quick tour through my closet. Using my most basic dressing criterion - cleanliness - I selected a nice pair of slacks and a blue shirt. After one final check in the mirror, I headed down to pull my baby out of the garage. I had a very sedate and expensive-looking Lexus that I used most of the time, but my "fun car" was a restored 1967 MG Roadster convertible. I carefully backed out of the driveway and drove the 75 feet necessary to park it in front of Marcia's house.
"Hi," Jennifer said, answering the door. "You know, you really don't have to do this. I'm more than happy here by myself."
"No," I said honestly, "it really is my pleasure. You must really trust your mom, though, to let her set you up like this."
"My mom's great," she answered. "If Heather had suggested you take me out, I'd make you sample all of my food first. Am I dressed all right for wherever we're going?"
She had on a very simple pleated skirt and a white silk top.
"Depends on whether you can eat without spilling your food," I smiled. "I was thinking of going to Annamaria's, the other Italian place here in town."
"I'll change," she said. She returned moments later in an even more beautiful deep red top.
I pulled into the parking lot of Annamaria's, the restaurant that had replaced Portofino's as the "in" Italian place in town. There was already a small crowd in the entrance as we walked in.
"No, sir," the maitre d' was saying as we approached. "I'm afraid all of our tables are reserved tonight. I'm very sorry."
A very well-dressed couple turned away in disappointment and it was my turn.
"So no luck, huh?" I said.
"No, sir," he answered coldly.
Turning, I led Jenny out of the building.
"What was that?" she asked.
"What was what?" I parried.
"The winking and the nodding and the eyes going back and forth," she said.
"Oh, well, there are no tables, and then there are really no tables," I said. "Tonight's just one of the ordinary no tables night."
"So where are we going?" she asked.
"You don't mind eating near the kitchen, do you?" I smiled as I led her out of the restaurant and down an alley on the way to the parking lot.
"No," she said hesitantly.
"Good," I said. "We'll be a little close."
She was still puzzled as I knocked on the first door we came to.
The same man who'd turned us away at the entrance opened the door with a grim look on his face.
"Tony," I smiled at him.
"Beell," he said in a very heavy Italian accent.
He stepped aside to let us in, the first time I'd ever been in a silent Italian kitchen. Normally, there's enough talking and yelling and general food preparation noise in Annamaria's to drown out all but the most determined conversation, but now there was nothing. Everyone had stopped and turned to look at us.
"What?" I said. "A guy can't go out on a date?"
"Sure he can," said the woman standing at the stove over a pot of sauce. "The Olympics happen every four years, too. And everybody stops and watches. Here, taste."
As everyone returned to work laughing at my expense, she silenced my retort by shoving a spoon in my face full of the wonderful tomato-based sauce that the restaurant specialized in.
"Mmmm, wonderful," I nodded.
"Oh, my God," said Jenny, who'd had the next spoonful presented to her a little more daintily. "This is incredible."
Tony led us over to the kitchen table, where, for a hefty premium, the restaurant would occasionally permit a group of four customers to eat in the kitchen and watch the staff prepare dinner. He quickly cleaned it off for us and set up two plates. As soon as he left, the sauce woman, Annamaria herself, came over with three glasses and a bottle of wine. Pulling up a chair next to mine, she poured us each a glass.
"So Bill doesn't bring many dates here?" Jenny asked her.
"He used to," Annamaria said. "Blonde hair, red nails, gold jewelry, boobs out to here. We let him know he could do a lot better than that. Until today, he hadn't brought anyone else in for, what, two years, Bill?"
"So he hasn't dated in two years?" Jenny asked.
Annamaria gave Jenny a quick appraisal.
"Well, he hasn't dared to bring them here," she grinned, before turning to me.
"You're doing much better now," she said, before suddenly whacking me on the arm with the back of her hand. "Now why don't you introduce us?"
"I'm so sorry," I said. "I thought I had a non-speaking role tonight. Annamaria Colapietro, this is Jennifer Colley."
After the usual round of "Oh my Gods" and "I don't believe its," during which both women jumped up and reached across me to embrace each other before returning to their seats, Jenny turned to me, her eyes bright.
"Annie and I were friends in the eighth grade when we used to live here," she said.
"Yeah, what happened that summer?" Annamaria said. "One minute we're talking about our plans for the next year, the next minute you're gone."
"I know," Jenny said ruefully. "All of a sudden, my dad pulled up everything and we moved to Richmond. It was all very secretive, and we weren't supposed to tell anybody. God knows why. Anyway, I finished high school there."
"And now you're back?"
"Mom's back. I don't know what I'm going to do yet. I've been teaching English for the past five years, but I kind of want a change."
"So you could move back here. Date Bill for a while, find a nice guy, get married, and on and on."
"Very funny, Annie," I said as she grinned at me.
"I could," Jenny said. "But I think Heather's going to move back, too. She just got divorced from her third husband. And I had enough of living near her back in Richmond. I didn't have one boyfriend who couldn't keep his eyes off her, and she loved every minute of it."
"Blonde hair?" Annamaria recalled.
"Red fingernails, gold jewelry, boobs out to here," Jenny chuckled before turning to me. "I didn't notice you staring at her."
"See, Annie, I'm all cured," I spread my arms out as I smiled at our hostess. "Besides, the first time I saw her this afternoon, she ordered me to take a lamp to the upstairs bedroom, and threatened to kill me if I broke it."
"Really?" Annamaria said.
"Well, with her eyes," I said.
"Bill was one of the movers at my mom's this afternoon," Jenny explained. "And when Heather and Mom went out to dinner, my mom somehow conned him into going out with me."
She flashed me a bright smile, and I turned back to Annamaria, who was looking at me with a smirk.
"Yes, he's very helpful," she said. "He helped me move into this place, and now we let him eat in here sometimes, as long as he remains out of sight of the real customers."
In fact, the kitchen table was the most expensive seat in the house, and usually available only on weekends. Her sarcasm was lost on Jenny, though, who simply looked around and said, "I can't believe this place is yours. I mean, you're twenty-seven just like me. And you own this whole restaurant."
"Well," Annamaria said, "first of all, Carlo and I own it together."
She pointed out her fiancée behind one of the stoves. Carlo waved back, obviously amused to see the way that Annamaria and Jenny were getting along.
"And second, we do have a pretty substantial debt to one of the local loan sharks."
She kicked me underneath the table as she said it, making me inhale some of the red wine I'd been sipping. As I coughed, she slammed her fist on my back.
"That's a very nice wine, Bill," she said. "Try not to waste any of it."
"Sorry," I said. "Something went down wrong."
The two women chatted for a little longer, and then Annamaria apologetically announced that she had to get back to work. She stopped back several times during dinner, though, once when Jenny was in the ladies' room.
"So you taking her to the dinner on Saturday?" she asked.
"Maybe," I said. "I suppose I'm going to have to come clean at some point."
"I don't know," she laughed. "You're dating a lot better class of woman as a mover than as a business consultant."
Jenny and I were among the last to leave the restaurant, since Annamaria insisted on our tasting a little bit of everything. When I pulled up in front of her house, she relaxed into the leather seats.
"I guess they're home already," Jenny said. "I know I didn't leave that many lights on when we left."
"Portofino's isn't what it used to be since Annamaria opened up," I said. "So the meals don't take quite as long there."
"You mean I could have just tagged along with them and gotten an extra seat with no problem, huh?" she raised an eyebrow at me.
"I'd really like to see you again," I said, looking down. "I hope you're staying here a while."
Jenny was smiling broadly when I looked back up.
"I'd like that, too. At least the seeing you part. I've got to help mom and the princess unpack tomorrow, though. Why don't you give me a call after you get off work?"
Taking a piece of paper out of her purse, she scribbled down her cell phone number. I leapt out of the car to open the door and walked her to the front porch.
"Thanks, Bill," she said, kissing me gently on the lips. "I can't remember when I had a nicer evening."
With a song in my heart, I watched her close the door and drove back to my house. Okay, it was a short song.
I called in sick the next day.
"You're never sick," Marylou said suspiciously.
"I get sick," I protested.
"I don't think I've ever seen you sick in the four years I've worked here," she said. "I think you're faking it."
"So what are you going to do about it?" I challenged her.
"What do you think I should do about it?" she answered.
"I think you should say, 'It's your fucking company, Mister Smith, '" I told her. "'You can do whatever the hell you want.'"
"Oh, sure," she snorted. "Like I've ever kissed ass at this company. Like that would work."
I joined her in laughing. Marylou was the best hire I'd ever made.
"So we'll see you tomorrow night?" she asked finally.
"Unless I'm still sick," I told her before hanging up.
I spent the day piddling away at various projects I was working on. As much as I wanted to just get up, walk next door, and offer to help my new neighbors, I didn't want to appear desperate. At least, not as desperate as I was.
At about four, I got a call from one of my best friends, Beth Moorhead. Beth was married to the Dave Moorhead who owned the moving company I'd "worked" for yesterday. Beth owned her own dressmaking shop, and she and Dave were the parents of two kids, including my five-year-old goddaughter Alice.
"So, new girlfriend, huh?" she said.
"I had one date," I protested. "The hot line's already buzzing, though, huh?"
"That's right," she laughed. "Annie really likes her, too. So I just wanted to let you know I'll be here until seven tonight."
"That's nice," I said, puzzled. "But —"
She'd already hung up. I tried both her and Annamaria, but neither would come to the phone. Unable to divine what the two women were planning, I finally gave up. A little after five, I called Jenny.
"Hello?" she answered.
"Hi, Jenny," I said. "It's Bill. So what are our chances of getting together tonight?"
"Excellent," she laughed. "Come on over in about half an hour."
I arrived when instructed, and found that the three women had pretty much assembled an entire household.
"So," Marcia said, her eyes twinkling, "I understand there's a new Italian restaurant."
"Oh, God, mother," Heather said, "as if we didn't hear about this ad nauseam from Jenny all day."
Marcia looked over at me.
"By the way, Bill, we all got last-minute invitations to a dinner dance on Saturday night at the country club," she told me. "Would you like to go with us?"
Jenny had brought us out glasses of iced tea, and I began choking on mine as soon as Marcia finished. This time it was Jenny who was pounding on my back.
"I told you, Mom," she said, "I don't have anything to wear. I can't go to the club in jeans."
"But honey, you have to," she said. "I forgot to mention, the dinner is in honor of Willie Smith, that nice young man who used to be our neighbor."
"That dweeb?" Heather sneered. "Well then, the hell with that."
I suppose that was fair. A little harsh, maybe, but fair. I hadn't been the most attractive guy in high school. Once I'd gotten to college, and gotten some fashion advice from one of the girls who lived in my dorm, I finally started to get some interest from the fairer sex. In high school, though, with the thick glasses and the long hair and the cheap, poorly fitted shirts, I suppose dweeb wouldn't have been inaccurate.
"He was not a dweeb!" Jenny jumped to my defense with more passion than I would have expected. "You just didn't like him because he was a soccer player instead of one of your precious football groupies."
"Oh, I forgot your little crush," Heather said, slipping the needle into her sister.
Both Marcia and I looked at Heather with surprise as Jenny looked down and blushed. She quickly excused herself and went in to refill my tea.
"She used to write 'Mrs. William Smith' and 'Jennifer Smith' all over her notebooks in eighth grade," Heather crowed, watching my reaction as, behind her, her mother's eyebrows went even higher. Apparently, Mrs. C hadn't known that either. When I refused to become jealous, Heather turned back to Marcia.
"Anyway, what's little Willie done to deserve a dinner?"
"Apparently donated money for a hospital wing and given out a whole bunch of scholarships," Marcia said, watching me out of the corner of her eye.
"Willie Smith," Heather said slowly, clearly reassessing her attendance, "is rich? Is he married? I wonder what I should wear."
"Speaking of wardrobe," I said quickly, Beth's message having become clear, "I think I could help Jenny find a dress."
"You know a seamstress, too?" Jenny asked, coming back into the room.
"Sort of," I said.
"Wonderful," Marcia said, putting an end to the discussion.
Marcia grinned broadly, and Heather snidely, as we left the house.
"Where are we really going?" Jenny asked. "Sears?"
"Very funny," I answered. "Look, if you're not happy with the dress, you won't have to go. And I'll stay home with you."
"All right, smartie," she said, crossing her arms. "Let's see what kind of dress you can get me."
We parked right in front of Beth's dress shop.
"Oh, my God," Jenny said as she saw the midnight blue dress in the window. "That's gorgeous. Bill, I'm not going to be able to afford one of the dresses in there. I'm a school teacher."
"Well, she's a pal, maybe she'll rent us one," I said. "C'mon."
I dragged her into the store.
"Hey, Beth," I said.
She ignored me, and gave Jenny a long appraisal.
"So you're a size six, right?" she said.
"Well, an eight," Jenny blushed.
"Uh-huh," Beth said, as if Jenny really had no idea what size she wore. "And what, a 36-B?"
"34," Jenny whispered.
"Uh-huh," Beth said again.
After one more look, she walked back toward the front of the store.
"This'll be perfect," she said, dragging the mannequin out of the window.
"No, I can't," Jenny said. "This is silly. I'm sorry, Beth, right? I really just can't afford anything like that."
"I'm sorry," I said. "Beth, this is Jenny. Jenny, Beth."
"Hi," Jenny said. "I'm sorry to take up your time. But I can't buy that dress."
"Well, I can't sell it to you, either," Beth said. "So it works out for both of us. But this dress is going to fit you like a glove. When we let out the top a little, anyway."
"Beth, I —" Jenny began.
"Trust me," Beth interrupted. "And stop being sorry. If I want sorry, I'll call Bill. Bill's much sorrier than you could ever be. And besides, people are going to see you and say, 'what a lovely dress, who made that?' and you're going to say, 'why, Beth Moorhead, she has a shop down on Fifth Street.'"
Jenny looked at me helplessly.
"I'd really like you to go to the dinner with me," I said softly.
"Oh, all right," Jenny capitulated.
"Great," Beth said. "Here, you can put it on in there."
Jenny took the dress into the changing room.
"Thanks," I said quietly to Beth.
"Oh, you know I'd do it for you even if she wasn't going to look great in it," Beth smiled back. "And give my shop some awesome pub."
"Publicity. So Annie said she might be moving here?"
"That's my hope," I said. "Before she comes back, though, I should tell you two things. First, she's Heather Colley's sister. Second, Heather will be at the dinner, too."
Beth's eyes narrowed as I finished. Beth had been dating Dave, the quarterback of the football team, as far back as junior high school. In eleventh grade, though, Heather had engineered their breakup in time to get Dave to take her to the junior prom. Fortunately, Dave came crawling back that summer, and, after they'd figured out together what Heather had done, Beth took him back. It was still pretty clear, though, that the name of Heather Colley didn't hold good memories for Beth.
"It would be kind of nice if Jenny really stands out tomorrow," I grinned.
Beth looked at me for a few seconds and then broke into laughter.
"What's so funny?" Jenny asked as she returned wearing the dress.
Both Beth and I were stunned.
"What's — so — funny?" she said slowly to me, as if she only now realized that she was dating a moron.
"Oh, I'm sorry," I said. "We were just talking about Annamaria. She and Beth are good friends. And then you came out, looking like that."
"Aren't you sweet?" Jenny said to me before turning to Beth. "It was so good to see her again. How do you know her?"
"I was a few years older in high school," Beth said as she whipped out a pincushion and started working on the dress. "We didn't become friends until a couple of years ago."
Jenny apparently didn't want to bring up Heather, so the conversation veered off in another direction. After about an hour, Beth asked Jenny to come by at eleven the next morning.
"I really like all your friends," Jenny said as we got back in the car.
"Well, I only introduce you to the nice ones," I said. "Maybe tomorrow we'll find some of the others. Now, for dinner, how about we get something from Jackson's grocery store, and you let me cook you dinner at my place."
"That sounds wonderful," she said. Half an hour later, we were on our way back to my house with the makings of a feast. I was dreading the upcoming revelation, but, as serious as I was quickly becoming about this woman, I knew it was time to end my little charade. I pulled into my garage with Jenny apparently still clueless that we were less than 100 feet from her mom's house. She looked over at my Lexus and then back at me.
"Nice car, Bill," she said slowly.
"Thanks," I answered. "Come on in."
I led her into the kitchen and watched as her eyes widened at the size of the kitchen and the living room beyond it. I offered her a tour, and it wasn't until we were upstairs in one of the guest bedrooms that she finally spoke to me again.
"Nice house, Bill," she said, just as slowly.
"Thanks," I said. "'A fucking mansion, ' as your sister said."
"A fucking mansion?" Jenny said stiffly.
I'd started out the door to head back downstairs, but something about the way she emphasized the word 'fucking' made me turn back.
"I'm sorry?" I said.
"You've already been fucking my sister here?" Jenny demanded. "So now what, you want second prize, too? All you men are such fucking assholes!"
I stared at her, realizing that I hadn't fully grasped the extent to which she'd felt that she'd been living in her sister's shadow all these years. She in turn, after a two-second delay, headed for the door. I grabbed her arm and without thinking, yanked her backward on the bed, where I unceremoniously fell on top of her.
"I'll give you two seconds to let me up, asshole," she said savagely.
"Not until I say three things," I said, as she glared. "One, your sister has never been here. And I've certainly never, um, fucked her."
So far, no luck.
"This house is right next door to your mom's," I explained. "She was talking about it when I was helping your mom move in."
Her eyes softened a little, but it was clear I was going to have to go to number two.
"Number two, I love you."
Whoops. Wrong tack.
I sat up, and she sat up with me, still full of fury.
"Don't play with me, you bastard," she said. "We just met."
"I love the way you eat pasta," I pressed on, already in for a dollar. "I love the way you shop for dresses. And I love the way you play cards."
Now she was really puzzled, but she stared intently into my eyes. I took a deep breath.
"Number three. Got any jacks?"
I smiled, watching the light go on.
"Willie?" she whispered.
"Like I told your mom," I said, "I'm trying to get beyond the Willie now."
"Oh, my God," she said. "Oh, my God, Willie."
"I've loved you for thirteen years," I said quietly.
She threw her hands around me and began sobbing softly on my shoulder. After a few minutes, she looked up at me and smiled.
"You're not a mover," she said factually.
"No," I said. "I'm a business consultant. Who's done really well with some startup companies. I happened to be out walking yesterday and I looked in the van. I really am a neighbor who was ordered by your sister to bring a lamp upstairs. And actually, the real movers were a little short-handed, and I know the guy who runs the company — it's Beth's husband — so I stuck around to give them a hand. I'm sorry — well, sort of sorry — to have misled you."
"Does Mom know?"
"Your mom knew it long before I did," I said. "When I first saw her, I was shocked to find we were neighbors again. She didn't seem surprised at all, just pleased to see me. I'd bet she knew who her neighbors were before she bought the place.
"That sounds like Mom," Jenny smiled and wiped away a fresh tear.
"And after that I just followed her lead."
"Cause she's your mom," I said. "I always paid more attention to her advice than to my own mother's advice."
"So why didn't she tell me?"
"Maybe for the same reason I'm not really sorry I didn't tell you. She knew which daughter I'd want to date," I said.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean if Heather knew I lived in this house, she'd have been all over me, right?"
"That's true," she nodded, looking down again. "Every time I'd say something about you yesterday, she'd remind me that you were a mover. If she knew you weren't..."
"I would have had to get around her to get to you, wouldn't I?" I said.
She looked up again.
"And even if I wouldn't date the little golddigger if she paid me, that still wouldn't have been the best way to date you, would it?" I asked her, seeing a shy smile start to form. "So neither your mom nor I ever got around to mentioning to your sister that I wasn't actually a mover."
"You know, your mom tried to tell me back in the eleventh grade about waiting for the right girl to come along," I said. "I was falling in love with you that summer before you left. And now that you're back, I've remembered why."
"Will you excuse me a minute?" she said, wiping another tear off of her cheek. "I need to freshen up."
"Sure," I said, pointing to the bathroom, "right in there. Do you want me to start dinner?"
"No," she said. "I want you to stay right there."
She came out a few minutes later. Without the jeans. Without the plaid shirt. Without the sneakers and socks. Wearing a very simple white bra and a pair of white panties with yellow flowers on them. She leaned against the doorway as I started to breathe again.
"You know, this is not the outfit I would have picked to seduce you in," she said.
"First of all, you don't need an outfit," I grinned. "And second, I don't need any seducing. As I remember, little Jenny Colley was always pretty bold."
She walked toward me, and that simple act alone sent my pulse racing. I stood up to meet her, and she reached for my belt.
"In that case, mister," she asked as she pulled it free and reached for the button on my jeans, "got any Jacks?"
"Nope," I was completely unable to stop grinning at her like an idiot. "Not a one. Go fish."
"I think I will," she popped open the button and dropped to her knees, unzipping me on the way and dragging my pants and boxer shorts down to the floor.
"Ooh, looks like I picked a king," she said before he disappeared inside her mouth.
"Oh, shit, Jenny," I cried, caressing her head. Without taking her mouth off of me, she undid my shoes, pulled off my socks, and had me step out of my pants. The slightest push from a hand on my stomach sent me sitting back down on the bed. I pulled my shirt over my head. I desperately wanted to pull her up, and sit her back down beside me, and let me make her happy. But she wasn't about to stop.
She didn't stop until she'd felt me exploding. She did her best to swallow it all, but it had actually been a rather long time since I'd done any exploding. She looked down to where some of my cum had dripped down off her chin and landed on her upper breast.
"You never were very neat with your toys, Willie Smith," she laughed.
"I'll show you toys," I laughed back. I scooped her up and threw her on the bed, where I spent the next twenty minutes making her as happy with my mouth, I hoped, as she'd made me with hers. Finally, when we were both ready, I crawled up beside her on the bed.
"I want to make love to you, Jennifer Colley," I said.
"You always did talk too much, Willie Smith," she smiled back. "Just shut up and do it."
I didn't say another word until we were done.
"So, do you, uh, want me to take you back home tonight?" I asked after we'd cleaned ourselves up.
"You'd do that for me, drive me all the way home?" she teased. I watched her naked body cross the room to where she'd left the pants with her cell phone.
"Mom?" she said, looking back at me with a big smile. "I'll be at Willie's tonight.
"Yeah, right, Bill's," she agreed. "And mom? Thanks."
The next morning, we were having a late breakfast in the kitchen when we saw Heather's car tear down the street. Jenny hadn't wanted to go back home to change clothes while Heather was still there, so this solved the problem nicely. Marcia opened the door as we were coming up the steps.
"Guess I'm a little predictable, huh?" Jenny said.
"Just a little, dear," Marcia smiled. "She went out to have her hair done with Monsieur Ali. For the dance, of course."
"He's supposed to be very good," I offered.
"Well, it's more like one of his assistants," Marcia said. "And she had to offer them a ton of money to open up early. I understand the place is booked all day."
"Gee, maybe I ought to find a barber shop," Jenny joked, pulling her hair out.
"I think you look perfect," I said sappily.
Jenny smiled at me.
"Seriously, though," I said, "we have to be going. Beth's expecting us at 11:00."
"You won't believe this dress," Jenny told her mother.
"I think I will," Marcia smiled back.
Twenty minutes later, we pulled up outside Beth's. She quickly dismissed me, noting that after the fitting Jenny had a hair appointment, with Ali himself, and then one final fitting. I should come back around three o'clock.
"Hairdresser, huh?" I said. "That Annamaria won't leave me alone, will she?"
Beth just smiled and hustled Jenny into the back.
I spent the next four hours having lunch and doing some shopping and running some errands of my own. At three, I returned to Beth's.
"Hello?" I called into the nearly empty store.
"Hello, Bill," said Jenny, as she flowed out from the dressing room.
I was actually speechless. Her hair was pulled back and up, and she filled out the dress perfectly. Even without makeup, she was gorgeous.
"Well?" Beth said as she came out behind her.
"I'm sorry," I said to her. "I didn't see you."
"No kidding," Beth laughed, joining Jenny. "All right, you two, out you go. I still have to get my dress finished for tonight."
I loaded Jenny into the Lexus — thank God I hadn't brought the sports car — and we made our way back home. I showered and shaved, and, with Jenny's help, selected a tuxedo. Ali had given her a set of cosmetics, and she busied herself in the guest bathroom while I dressed.
We arrived at the club shortly after six, and the first person I spotted in the foyer was Joe Towson, our state's junior senator.
"Bill," he said, his eyes lighting up. "Congratulations."
"Thanks, Joe," I said. "This is Jennifer Colley. Senator Towson. He doesn't really like me that much, he's just hoping for another campaign contribution."
Jennifer's eyes opened wide, as if she couldn't believe I was talking this way to a senator. Joe just laughed, though, as he held out his hand to Jennifer.