Chapter 1

Mom was one of those women who had faith that things would be better someday, no matter her financial situation. Dad died when I was six, leaving Mom with no source of income. There was a mortgage on our home and it wasn't very long before my mother realized that the insurance from his death wouldn't last very long. She went to work in an insurance office as a secretary.

There was always enough money for food, but with the mortgage on the house and with seventeen years left to pay, she had to watch every penny. I did my part as I got older. I had a paper route, mowed lawns, shoveled walks and ran errands. I had one little hobby that I practiced when I was alone to entertain myself. I loved to sketch different items that I looked at and wanted to remember.

I started with crayons, copying from different catalogs that came into the house by mail, but I couldn't get the details I wanted with them. I could by using pencils for my sketches. Over time I would think beyond the images and what something would look like if the item was constructed in a different way or of a different material. This habit of mine was just something I did when there was nothing else for me to do.

There was no possibility of further education in my future because of our finances. I didn't dwell on it. Mom and I were doing as well as many families would do in a like situation and a big segment of young people never went to college.

The area where we lived consisted of rows of cottages built as the owners of the old-time mansions sold off much of the acreage that surrounded them. These mansions were a part of our heritage and when one was torn down, I felt as if we were losing something that could never be regained. Originally these homes of the well-to-do demanded a staff to tend the grounds and a sizable staff in the interior. These places, as they changed hands, became my major source of income.

I had full-time work as a handy person at some of these more stately homes. I felt I was preserving something valuable when I was directed to fix a window or repair a broken railing. I used the library as a source for how to do minor plumbing or masonry. Just to take off and put on the storm windows each summer and fall was a major undertaking. I was willing to work and as I grew into my teen-age years, sometimes I made almost as much as my mother did working in an office.

I fell in love with Allison Merkle when we were seventeen, and eventually we gave up our virginity to each other. To me, this meant it was to be a lifetime together. Allison was cute and tended to be flirtatious. We were the same age, but I realized she had nowhere near the maturity that I had. Sometimes I felt she would go too far with her flirtations, but she always apologized and swore I was her one true love. I suppose lurking in the background of every true love, is how much money do you have or are you going to make? On the outside, my prospects might not look that great, but they were improving all of the time as my name spread among the well-to-do.

As a teen-ager I was earning good money doing chores around the neighborhood. That amount didn't look as if it would support a wife and give her all that she desired. I did make a pretty good wage, but it was often feast or famine because the income was so unsteady. I wanted a home of my own and was saving toward it. When we signed the papers for our home, we were married. We lasted three years before we were divorced.

Divorce! This was the last thing that I could imagine happening to me. But, as the saying goes, you never know. And I didn't. Over the years as a teen-ager I had built up quite a clientele of people I worked for. I cared for their property as if it was my own. Soon after I married, I was often asked to go south in the fall and get winter quarters ready in Florida. I was to make sure their properties here in New York were ready for them when they returned in the spring. Sometimes I would be gone for a whole week at a time.

Allison worked in an office where she was in the secretarial pool. She was the youngest and listened to the other women, many older and single because of divorce. Some had never married. You could say they had a jaded view of life and were maybe a little jealous of a young woman who had a life opposite of their own. She being married, with a husband and a home of her own.

Often if I was out of town or was too busy to be home for the evening meal, Allison would go out with the girls. This soon became a way of life for her. I never suspected that there was anything that she did on these evenings out that would destroy our marriage.

I had one special request the first year. I was to open up a winter cabin and have it ready for the Christmas holidays for a family group. This was in the Adirondack Mountains. I made it into the cabin the week before Christmas and I had it ready on time for the owners. To collect an added bonus, I was asked to stay an extra day to make sure everyone knew how to work the generator, stoves, and start the snow blower, if needed. There was a heavy snowfall and I was snowbound for three extra days. I was there a total of eleven days and wasn't home for the Christmas holiday.

Allison was perturbed when I reached home and she shut me out of our bed. This was the first time this had happened in our life together. I was now hearing the comment that I had better change and find a steady job, because she wouldn't continue to live like this for long. I apologized all over the place and she wouldn't listen at all. Our relations were strained for several days and Allison continued to have her girls night out.

Suddenly this changed and I was getting from her how sorry she was for the way she had been acting. Sex then was fast and furious to make up for the month and more I had been without. I was informed soon after that we were to have a baby. How unsuspecting can a person be? Very, if he thinks he has the love of a faithful wife. Robert Roger Anderson, III, came in September the following fall. I was ecstatic.

I worked all the hours and begged for more to have enough money to make a nice home for me and my family. This lasted until the Christmas party when Bobby was fifteen months old. I overheard some friends gossiping while I was relieving myself in the restroom. "Robby is so dumb. You would think he didn't know how long it takes to have a baby." I sat there and counted, remembering where I was when Bobby would have been conceived, and when he was born. It wasn't possible for me to have fathered Bobby if he was born a full term baby.

I don't know who Allison had been listening to, but she had received some bad advice. It didn't take much investigation to find out how unfaithful my wife was being. It was a man that always seemed to have money to spend and was a constant companion to my wife when I wasn't around. When confronted, she said she still loved me as deeply as ever, but she was alone so much. She admitted to having a friend who was generous and always paid her tab when she was out with the girls. "How have you thanked him for all of this? Are you still seeing him?" She wouldn't answer either question. "Is Bobby my son?"

I started divorce proceedings the next day, although it broke my heart. I walked away without paying alimony or child support. Allison wanted and got the tiny little bungalow that I had been able to scrape up enough money to put a down payment on. There was no equity built up and I actually had to find more money to pare down the mortgage somewhat. This was to balance the difference between the mortgage and the equity, as the property was technically changing hands.

The man who sired the baby moved in with my wife before the divorce was final. He lasted only a month before Allison realized that he was nowhere near what she thought he was. She kicked him out of my former home and out of her life. The money he so impressed Allison with was found to be money he was taking from his mother, and he had no solid prospects of his own. Especially after the mother disowned him for stealing from her. She was now much the same in the secretarial pool as the rest of those unhappy women.

Allison was back looking for sympathy and reconciliation. No way could I see any reason to reconcile. It wasn't long before the bank foreclosed and my ex-wife and the boy of another man, became homeless. I was under pressure by my mother to take her back'. "Mom, if you want Allison and Bobby living with you, that is fine, but I am not going to have anything to do with either." Would you believe that my mother took her and the baby in?

"Son, the kid bears your father's name. Robert Roger Anderson is a name you and I have always been proud of. He is named the third and you should stand by the name if not the one who bears it."

"Mom, I'm the laughingstock of the whole town already. I couldn't hold my head up if I let Allison back into my life. I won't treat you any differently than I have ever done just because she lives here. I'll come visit you and I'll be civil to both Allison and Bobby when I do. This is as far as I will go." My mother could see how serious I was and stopped pushing for me to reconcile.

I will say, Allison and Mom were good for each other. Mom was the one advising her former daughter-in-law now, and Allison was listening to her. Allison ceased going out in the evening and stayed home where Mom taught her all of the things that a young single woman alone with a baby to support would need to know to survive. It eased Mom's life as well, for Allison gave Mom some of her wages to help with expenses.

I guess you could say this was the unhappiest period in my life so far. Previous to Allison moving in with Mom, the answer to where I was to live presented itself. One of the women I worked for, Katrina Castleman, owned one of the mansions not far from Mom's house. She was aware of what had taken place recently in my life and offered me a permanent position. I don't think I was offered the job out of pity, it was just that there was work enough to justify a full-time person on the premises. She had a business and was often away and wanted some presence on the place. When she suggested that I move into some quarters in the back downstairs, I accepted.

I was living in as caretaker, chauffeur, and general handyman for Katrina, who was a fashion designer of women's apparel. She had her own label and for several years was doing quite well. Katrina was really busy and her work was much in demand. As is sometimes the case, she ran off track and was bouncing from one style of design to another. For a couple of seasons, she just couldn't seem to come up with what the public demanded in new styles.

Some of her competitors, those on the way up, clearly outdid her for three of the last four seasons and the critics panned her creations. The House of Kat was now on the decline. Katrina was fifty-nine, thin to the point of emaciation, although at an earlier time her figure had been quite robust. Most of the time my employer was wound as tight as a drum, often snapping at those she was talking to on the phone, and those people that made it to her studio.

I knew she could be a warm generous person. At least that is the way she was with me. I was now closer to my work and had fairly decent quarters to live in. There was a time in the past when a couple hadn't arrived until they could afford servants in residence. Katrina was of that time and although I couldn't be considered a servant, it wasn't unusual to have someone on the property.

The top floor of her home was devoted to her business. This came about when she lost her design studio in the garment district in New York. For three years she operated successfully from her home, until again, her designs weren't selling. Those who worked for her moved on to studios that were more successful. Name means much in the fashion world, and no one wanted to work for one that was fast on a downhill slide.

It was a few days after I took up residence that I was working in the kitchen repairing a cupboard door. "Robert, just as soon as I get the strength, I'm making tea. Would you care to join me?"

"What troubles you?"

"Tired, that is all. I'm working on some designs and it isn't coming together. I worked all night and a little while ago I looked at what I had accomplished. I'm starting all over just as soon as I can get my head together."

"Sit still. Let me make you coffee. Tea is fine, but you need more caffeine than what tea will give you. Have you eaten?"

"No, not this morning."

"I'll make something for you. You put your head down and relax. You are a good designer. I've read about you all of my life. Some idea will come to you." I made coffee as promised. A half hour later, I slid a cheese omelet onto the table. There were two slices of toast on the side, one to eat with the eggs and one to load with strawberry jam. I received a startled look of thanks.

"Dear boy, that was wonderful. It is just what I needed. You were right, an idea has come to me. I think you are my inspiration. You must be lonely in your two rooms. Would you care to join me for dinner and maybe stay and talk afterward? You have been doing my chores for the last ten years as child and man. I still know little about you other than you were married and it ended in divorce."

Kat had a well-stocked pantry and it was a joy eating and conversing with her. I came from my rooms early that evening and helped her prepare the meal. She was as high this evening as she was down this morning. The day had gone well and she was pleased with what she had accomplished with the design she had been working on.

Over the months that followed, we joined together for most of the meals. Sometimes she wasn't in residence, which was often, because she was still closely connected to the garment district. I used her kitchen to prepare my meals as she urged me to do. I rarely went up to her work area, but being curious I had looked in on occasion.

This last time when she said she was going to be absent for several days, I boldly strode in and looked at everything. She had a packed library of books and catalogs concerning material and accouterments, usually accompanied with samples. There were books on buttons and every kind of fixture for clasping clothes together. Threads, appliqu├ęs, ribbons and rhinestones.

She had been in business so long, I imagined she knew these items by heart. Along one wall were examples of those dresses and suits that she had designed and either not sold or those that wouldn't sell. I spent two hours going down the racks to see what she had done in the past. The sample dresses especially were indicative of the various materials used for their construction. All were numbered as to patterns, but I couldn't read patterns.

Not having anything pressing, I pulled a few dresses out and laid them on the tables and studied them. Taking up a sketch pad, I put the pattern number down. Using a pencil I noted the changes I would make that to me would be more what a woman would like to be wearing. You wonder why I was interested? This was a hobby I had all of my life. Here I didn't need to sketch from pictures, but had the solid item before me that I could copy and make changes. Many that I looked at, the design was okay, but would be much better made from a different material. These changes I listed on the sketch pad.

Suddenly, feeling like an intruder, I hastily put everything back, rolled up my sketches and went down to work on some things I had been putting off. From that moment on, I waited patiently until my employer had to be away on business and then I would go up the stairs to lose myself in my new interest. This was a form of recreation for me. I could become immersed in this activity and forget the time when I was happily married.

It took two years to be found out. I was twenty-four at the time. Kat had one blockbuster fall season in the last three years. She did have a steady clientele who followed her label so there was no lack of funds. My bonus at Christmas time was more than adequate. My bank account continued to grow, for I had few expenses and Kat was liberal with my salary.

As I say, I was eventually found out by Katrina and she ambushed me to make me confess. It came about like this. At dinner one Saturday evening she asked, "Robert, it has been two years or more since your divorce. I'm going to ask you a personal question. Please don't take offense."

"Ask anything."

"You were married and I imagine for some little time. You and your wife must have had many times you were intimate. In the last two years, you seldom go out. What are you doing for sexual gratification?"

This question stunned me, but Allison was in the past and if my employer was curious, it was something I didn't mind talking about. "Allison and I did have more than a normal amount of sex before marriage and even more after we were married. That dropped off considerably the third year. When I discovered she was cheating on me, it stopped altogether. Since I have been living here, Allison, who is living with my mother, has hinted repeatedly we could have no strings attached sex. That, as far as I am concerned, holds no interest for me because I have no interest in her at all.

"However, when I see other attractive women, I tell myself I am foolish not to find someone to satisfy my needs. Night emissions for me are not rare and occasionally I resort to the time honored method that many men in my situation do. I can admit this, for you would suspect that I did, whether I told you or not. Why deny it?"

"Well you are honest. Another question, does the number thirty-five mean anything to you?"

I ruminated and couldn't think of anything I knew of connected to that number. "No, I can't say that it does. Tell me."

Kat had a half smile on her face. "Robert, would you make love to a thirty-five-year-old woman or would you object just because of her age?"

I reasoned that this woman talking to me wasn't referring to herself as she was much older than thirty-five. I answered, "I can't think of any reason not to have sex with a woman because of her age. She would have to be pleasant looking, I think, and not grossly overweight. Other than that, I can't imagine that looks would matter too much. As the saying goes, all women look alike when the lights are out. You know this conversation must be leading to something interesting. Do you have someone in mind?"

"I have someone in mind, but I have to ask one more question. Robert, would you consider making love to someone who is thirty-five years older than you? Think it through before you answer. The woman is several years older than your mother. Although the woman I'm thinking of was considered a beauty at one time, the looks have been somewhat ravaged by time."

I looked across the room at Katrina. Ashamed in one way, I had never considered Kat as a sexual partner. Waiting, her head was lowered and she didn't look at me. Now I examined her intently. She felt it, for I saw her face flush. No, this woman wasn't unattractive and she was my friend. For all her boldness in bringing up the subject, she was suddenly shy. I sensed she had the same need as I had. It was a possible way to satisfy both of us.

"Mrs. Castleman, would you fetch me some wine? Make it the kind that you enjoy, and please would you join me in a glass?" Kat would have to get up and walk the length of the room before my gaze. She would have to return the same way. The blush was deep and strong as she passed in front of me.

I studied her. She had filled out in the last two years from being the emaciated, to a normal fleshed woman in her early sixties. This was due to my cooking, for I had taken over preparing the meals for both of us. I knew if I unwrapped her from her confining clothes, I would find a body that had some wrinkles and had lost some of its tone. Did that matter? No, I didn't think it could. Would I find pleasure? I knew there was only one way to find out.

Kat had this conversation because of concern about my sexual well-being. Shouldn't I have shown the same concern for hers? She must have thought much about this before broaching the subject to me. I was standing when she returned and took the wine and tray with glasses from her and set it on the table. "Sit Katrina, I will pour."

I poured a bare inch into the goblets and handed her one. She took it with shaking hand. "Kat, would you take the first sip before I taste mine? I want to taste it on your lips when we kiss for the first time. We will then finish what I have poured and save the rest until later. I have need to shower which won't take me long. What I'm saying is, may I join you in your bed this evening?"

Kat took her sip, and then ran her tongue over her lips, waiting. She tilted her face up to mine with her eyes closed. I brushed my lips over hers and then wanting more, I opened them slightly and kissed her harder. No pretense now, she clung to me. This was a kiss of passion. "Robby, do you really need the shower?"

"Yes I do. May I use yours? I would be pleased if you would wash my back."

"Robby, you don't know what you are saying."

"Kat, look at me. I suspect--no, hope--this isn't going to be a one time union. Once you see me and I see you, we won't have to worry about how we look anymore. Now, do you want me to carry you up one flight or shall we join hands for the journey?"

Kat giggled then. "You must be Irish with all of this blarney you are handing me. Hell, I'll race you to the shower. This is an experience I think I'm going to enjoy."

I said I was ambushed. That happened later that night as we lay cuddled together. "Robert, I'm going to tell you something that I don't think you are aware of. You know those large sketch pads I use in my studio? That's a question."

"Yes, I've seen them in your hands."

"Well for your information, each sheet has a small number on it. That is so we can keep track of our sketches if they are sequenced. For some time now I have found some numbers missing. I was puzzled and looked everywhere. I went looking for them and I found what I was looking for two days ago. I want them back."

"Why, they are just some I scribbled on."

"Robby, they show more than just scribbling. Some of the deductions you made about pairing a certain design with a different material than I used was masterful. In fact, some of them bordered on art. Would you tell me your thoughts about them when you sketched them?"

"Sure, if you want. They really mean nothing to me. Sketching is just a hobby I have had all of my life. Most of them are from the designs and dresses you have hanging upstairs in your studio. In my mind, I made the changes for a certain segment of society. Many of the buying population buy fine dresses in the one- to three-hundred dollar range. These are women who want to go out for dinner, go to a wedding or a funeral, and look nice. They aren't looking to make a statement. They don't want to show a whole lot of skin and they want to feel comfortable."

"Where did you get this idea from?"

"The ideas come from everywhere. Hell, some of them are even seen in the National Enquirer. People usually look at the pictures. They should look at the captions by the critics under the pictures. Catalogs and advertisements are full of women wearing dresses. I know when I see a woman, I know immediately if she is wearing a dress that looks nice or is wrong for her. This is only my opinion, though. That's also only after I look to see if she has a nice set of breasts anyway."

"Robby, stay serious. I really want to know. I know you can't be serious about tits after seeing my saggy old melons." (We never did get back to discussing dresses much before dawn.)

I guess you call it expanding your horizons. I don't mean Kat and me, I mean me working upstairs for two hours every day. This was dumb, or stupid, or whatever you wanted to call it. Imagine me helping to design clothes. Kat made it simple for me. "Robby, look at this dress. Who should wear it? How would you change it? Who would wear it now?" That is the way it would go. The whole mechanics of the design business at first were beyond me.

Then she ran onto a bunch of sketches I had drawn that dealt exclusively with women that were overweight. Overweight--hell, tell it like it is--fat women. She put them aside, but every week or so I could tell she had looked at them. Finally, "Robby, would you do more sketches of what you think would make this segment of the population look better? Half the women in this country are overweight."

Fashion design took place with a seven- to nine-month lag time. Who knew what the style was going to be that many months in advance. Kat decided that she would develop her designs that took some of my ideas and produce a few copies in different sizes and shapes that the more general population might like. I had quoted one hundred dollars for the lower limit, but Kat went even further and said they could be manufactured and priced a third lower than that.

She thrived on the new direction her label was taking. This wasn't the only thing she--me--thrived on. Katrina was sexually experienced and demanding. Each day was a new day for us. She tried to get me to have my name recognized as having done some of the work. No way was I going to become involved. The world would laugh her right out of the business if she let it be known that she was getting some ideas from her handyman.

At the first show she had which included the creations that I was involved in, the crowd was silent when the models went back up the runway. I was in the back of the convention hall where the show was held. The designers before and after Kat's dresses were frau-frau, most being too far-out for the general public. Many were made to barely cover, and constructed of weird materials. There wasn't one that came in under a thousand dollars. Many were in the two- to five-thousand dollar range.

Kat told me these designers were hoping for a few orders to cover their costs. Some didn't even mind if they drew other than raves. At least their name would be in the news. There would be a knock-off on all of these dresses almost immediately. The few who had to have high fashion would provide the profit.

I found Kat at a small table when the show was over. There were tears coming from her eyes. When she saw me she jumped up and kissed me. I thought for sure that we had bombed. Not so. "Robby, we have factory orders for dresses of every one we showed. The House of Kat is on top this season."


If Mom hadn't asked Allison and little Bobby to move in with her, those two would have gone out of my life. As it was, I saw Allison occasionally and little Bobby more often. I hated the boy's father for what he had done to my life, but I couldn't hate the kid. If Allison wasn't around to see me do it, I would color or read to him. As he got older, I would play toss and catch. I didn't let Mom refer to me as his dad, so he called me Robby and I called him Bobby.

"Robert, I notice that you don't hold as much resentment toward Allison as you used to. Is it Bobby, or are you waking up to the fact that Allison still loves you? You could get back with her and make a happy life for the three of you. She still considers you her husband and is just waiting for you to reconcile. I never had a daughter and I know she was foolish and made some mistakes, but I think you should forgive her. I have."

"Mom, I can't. I don't know as I will ever marry again." Kat and I were married, but I didn't need Mom to be more disappointed than she was. This was because of her feelings and hopes concerning Allison and Bobby. "I have to tell you that I have found someone to enjoy life with again. That includes being intimate. You would be doing Allison a service by impressing on her she should start dating and find someone else to love."

"Oh Robby, I was so hoping you wouldn't do that. I will explain to Allison, but I want her to stay here until she does find someone for herself. Another thing, I know you like little Bobby. He carries your name and I guess he is going to be the only grandchild I am ever going to have. Have you any feelings for the child at all?"

"I can't let myself. I don't mind if you consider him your grandson. Don't place the blame on me for the unhappiness in this situation. It wasn't me that listened to some sweet-talking asshole or opened my legs to him either."

"I know, I know. Someday though, you may change your mind. I hope so, for all there is for Allison this way, is pain."

"Let's change the subject. Mrs. Castleman has increased my salary again. That hobby of mine doing sketches, is bringing a few dollars for me as well. How much do you still owe on the house?"

"I owe fourteen thousand dollars. Allison has been contributing, so I'm doing quite well, even with the mortgage. It is not like it was when you were a child, and I had the one income."

I sat down and wrote out a check for fourteen thousand dollars. "That should pay off the mortgage. If you have a little extra now, you could buy something nice for the kid you claim as grandson. Look Mom, I have to run. I'll see you in a week or so. Love you." I hurried out while Mom was still looking at the check in her hands.

My resentment toward Allison had disappeared. For three years I hadn't had any sex and she was to blame. Who wouldn't resent a person who did that to you? This had changed when I took Kat to bed (or she took me). No matter. Kat and I both were aware that it would end sooner than if I had a relationship with a younger woman. Now though, it was as if we were gifting each other and appreciating each other in the giving.

Mother talked to Allison telling her that I had started a relationship, she not knowing who it was. She also told her that I had indicated that I might not marry the person. That to Allison in this case was--he taketh away and then he giveth back some hope.

Allison came into the storage area where I was fixing an old lawn mower. I heard it all again. The, I'm sorry, the, it was a mistake, the, it was only sex, and finally, the, I love only you. She paused and then in a slightly abject voice, "Who is this woman that has taken you from me?"

I let her beg for an answer until she was crying, because she knew I was just waiting for her to finish her tirade and supplications. One of those times was unexpectedly at hand. Kat must have been ready to enter from another direction to ask about a design I had sketched for her. She came in from behind Allison and listened to her. I had seen her appear. I shrugged my shoulders indicating that I didn't know how to handle this situation.

"My dear, you must be the woman who threw Robby away by being unfaithful. What a bad thing to do to one who loved you so much. Let me ask you why you have a right to object if he has since found a measure of happiness with someone else? Maybe this other woman needs him more than you do. She certainly appreciates him more than you ever did.

"Let me tell you another reason you should have appreciated him more. I can explain it better by showing you than by telling you. Do come up to my workshop. I have two dresses in your size. I'll give you a choice and you may keep the one you like the best." Kat gently steered Allison out of the storage area and across the yard to the house. Allison looked back at me before entering, questioning what was happening. I had no idea what Kat was up to either. I returned to work on my lawn mower.

It was more than a half hour later when Kat shouted out the third floor window for me to come up to the studio. I took my time and cleaned up. I slipped into my quarters and hurriedly washed. I put on a pair of slacks and a tailored shirt that had been pressed in the military style. I combed my hair and made my way up the stairs. I knew my measured tread could be heard from above. I moved slowly on up, knowing it was time for Allison to become aware of who my love was.

I glanced first at Kat when I entered, and then at my former spouse. Kat had dressed Allison in one of the dresses that I had made several changes to. She looked as if it had been designed only for her. The basic one I had worked from, lay spread out on one of the work tables. I had no idea what had transpired before I arrived.

"Robby, doesn't Allison look exquisite in the dress she is wearing? I offered her a choice between that one and the one laying on the table." Kat turned to Allison. "Dear, what you have on is a House of Kat original, but inspired by one Robby Roger. The one on the table was designed by the House of Kat without his input. It came out and only did moderately well two years ago. I am anticipating the one you have on will do as well or better than the regular House of Kat designs. It was inspired by Robby Roger for the summer line."

"Thank you dear. You do so well in bolstering my ego." I crossed to Kat, tilted her face and kissed her on the lips.

"Robby, you are my inspiration."

"Robert, what in the hell are you doing? That's gross. You, old lady, what makes you think you can capture the love of a young man like Robert?"

"I already have my dear. Be honest, don't you think I have the same things going for me as you do? I asked Robby if he could go to bed with an older woman. His reply was that he could. Someone had told him that all women are the same with the lights out. Just for your information, we make love and the lights are always on.

"Think Elizabeth Taylor. How many men would refuse to go to bed with her if they had the chance even now. Not many I'll warrant. Allison, at one time you had all of Robby and then you stupidly threw him away. Robby came into my life when he was twelve years old. I was forty-nine years at that time. He delivered papers to my door. He didn't throw it on the porch. He brought it up the steps out of the weather and put it into my box. Later when I needed work on my grounds, he was the one I hired.

"When he divorced his unfaithful wife, I gave him a chance to get away from her by offering a place for him to live. Robby is the ultimate handyman. He isn't satisfied until all the chores necessary to keep an estate such as this one are done. And he is more. He is a man of vision. He has the unique ability to look at a woman and see her dressed better than what she is wearing. A perfect example is what you now have on. He has helped me to see the same way through his eyes and I have been in the fashion business all of my life.

"I discovered what his hobby was when I went looking for some missing sketch pads. I looked at the changes in my designs that he put down on paper. I began looking through his eyes. Then I looked at the man. I never considered Robby as a partner, he being so many years younger than I am. It took me two days after discovering his sketches to discover the man. What a treasure, my dear, you threw away.

"My career is at the highest peak it has ever been and it is all due to the one person that doesn't want his name spread all over the fashion world. He still calls himself a handyman and is the happiest being just that. He was sad, lonely, and without joy for the first two years after he moved here. Now he has the love that was so lacking and it is with me. I know our association will not last many years, but right now I revel in what I have."

"I do too, Katrina."

"There is no hope for Robby to ever return to me, is there?"

"There is always hope, but it won't happen for awhile. You do have some things going for you that I don't have. You are young, and you have a son with Robby's name. He has told me how happy he was the first two out of three years he was married to you. Planned or not, you live where he has to see you occasionally. So yes, there is hope for you."

Allison was silent. Then, "I guess I'll have to accept that. Robby, I'm glad you found someone to love. You deserve happiness. Mrs. Castleman, you said I may keep this dress. I will cherish it, knowing that Robby had a part in designing it. You two make an odd couple, but I can see how it works for you both."

Allison was almost to the door and Kat and I could see that she wanted to say one thing more. "Robby, I would ask if you could find it in your heart to be a presence in little Bobby's life? He knows the life he is living isn't the same as other kids have. It isn't his fault or yours, but he does need a man to be with him sometimes. Please?"

"I can do that. As you say, it isn't his fault." Allison nodded and left.

"The woman really does love you. Are you sad you are married to me? Why didn't you tell her before that we are married?"

"It was more a concern for my mother than for Allison. Am I feeling bad about being married? No Kat, I truly love you. You give me everything I need or want."

"What about after I'm gone?"

"Sweet, I'm hoping you live forever. Let's not think about it. Now we are two people in love and that is all we should be thinking about." I embraced Kat and then cleared one of the tables so I could show her how much she meant to me.

We all settled into a routine. I continued doing what I was happiest at. That was taking care of the grounds and house just as I had always done. I did set aside some time everyday when my wife was home for working in the studio. She was away a lot working on getting the creations that we both came up with ready to show. Most of the real work was in the city where the garment center was located. These shows were four times a year. Some years we didn't come up with anything spectacular, but we had a good solid clientele that followed our designs. The factories that produced them were always busy. We could honestly say we never had a season where we bombed.

Bobby was often with me as I worked around the place. That was until I went up to the third floor and then he was told to go back to his grandmother's. That was at first, but now that Allison had asked it of me, I enjoyed having him in the room with us. Mother still thought it weird that I chose an older woman--one even older than she was--to love. It took many months before she and Kat became friendly, but it did come about.

I never made an appearance at the shows where I was identified as Kat's husband. I condescended, with the very strong insistence of Kat, to have my initials somewhere in the credits for a particular design. If you weren't looking you might miss seeing it. (r r) could easily be missed.

Mom was thrilled when I escorted her to one of the fall shows and Kat presented an original dress to her when we returned home. Kat wanted to invite Allison, but I adamantly objected, so she dropped it. I knew she was thinking of the time in the future when she wouldn't be with me. It did make me cherish what I had even more.

Over time, Katrina Castleman's life became known to me. Kat had been married twice before. Her first husband died in the Korean conflict after only four years of marriage. Castleman, her second husband, lasted seven years before dying of pneumonia. She had one married daughter who she was estranged from, and had been for twenty years. Seiena had come into the House of Kat to learn the business. Katrina had planned on her daughter taking over the House of Kat sometime in the distant future. Their association ended when Seiena had needed money and stole some designs that were exclusive.

The rift had occurred when Seiena sold those designs she had pilfered from her mother, to another studio. The studio that bought them took top spot at the show for that season.

Kat did not have her daughter charged with the crime, but turned her out. The daughter was now forty-five, lived in Montana, and had three children. Seiena married a dress shop owner, Steven Dribbles, leaving her past behind and moving on. Kat did keep track of the movements in her daughter's life, knowing she lived in a small city. She even had some pictures of her grandchildren taken by an investigator who was hired specifically for that purpose.

I urged Kat to make amends, or at least make the overture. "You have planned my future with someone that has wronged me. Do the same for yourself."

"No, I can't. I don't know how to approach her. She would think I was senile or something."

In one way, I suppose I was brutal. "Kat, you are getting old. Someday you are going to have a large estate that needs to be settled. Are you going to cut your own family out entirely?"

"Robby, all of my estate is going to you. What you do with it is up to you."

"Kat, I could give the whole estate to charity and unknown persons would benefit. Wouldn't it be better to leave it to someone that you loved at one time? How about your grandchildren? Don't you want them to know you? I would give them much of your estate and they probably have never heard of you. You would be just a name. Honestly, don't you want them to know more than this about you?"

"Stop it Robby, you are hurting me. I have sometimes questioned myself if I did the right thing. Seiena has never tried to contact me. Not even to say she was sorry. I admit though, I was pretty rough on her when I found out the results of what she had done."

"Did you ever give her a chance?" My answer was a shake of her head. Three days later Kat turned to me as we lay cuddling late one night. I knew she was restless and hadn't been sleeping.

"Would you do a favor for me?"

"Of course. You know I would do anything for you."

"I knew you would. It is about Seiena. Would you go out to the town where she lives and see if there is any way we can be friendly and a family again?"

"I can do that. Kat, this will make you feel more complete. Even if you two can't come to terms, then you will know you tried. I'll think about how I am going to approach her and leave in a couple of days. You should go with me."

"No I can't. Do you think you will be sharing the fact that you are my husband with them?"

"I don't know. Why?"

"I just wondered if you might not be ashamed to be married to someone as old as I am."

"Katrina Castleman, you disappoint me. Are you ashamed to have such a young lover, married or not? Is that why you didn't want to take my name?"

"The name? Why I didn't take it is for strictly business reasons. As far as being ashamed, I wake up every morning and want to tell the whole world we are married. I will too, if you want me to."

"I feel the same way. What we have is working wonderfully. I love you!"

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Romantic / Slow /