The ride home for the two of them had been a bit silent; really all the weeping had been done in the days following the fire. Now, Amanda was taking little Alice home with her. Driving through the early evening, she was trying to put her own sorrow aside so that she could begin to be the kind of resource that Alice might need.
It had been swift and fairly catastrophic, the fire. He sister and little Ben had both died of smoke inhalation but amazingly Alice, 8 years old, had made it out of the house safely into the arms of firemen who saw to her needs immediately.
They'd found material that indicated that she was the nearest relative and she was called and sent for. She had the whole journey from Charlottesville to indulge her grief.
She got time off from the library, where she was head librarian, to make all the arrangements and wind up affairs. They'd been through all of that together, with Little Alice, or, as Amanda always called her lovely niece, Alice Blue Gown, simply clinging to her.
It felt strange, when she allowed herself to think about it at all, for Amanda Reese to become, in essence, a mother at 33 and herself unmarried. But whenever she thought of that, she always reflected on a life lived in her sister Winnie's shadow. Winnie was the lovely one, and Amanda always 'Winnie's sister'. Yet it never disturbed the love between them and Winnie was never anything but a loving sister, pal, best friend and fellow adventurer.
From the very start, from the birth of Alice, Amanda was in love with the little girl, with her flaming red hair, freckles and, these days, the front teeth gap that added such pizzaz to her smile.
Then the disasters came stalking them, or so it all seemed now. First it was Joe's death in that auto accident, and now this fire, taking away the lives of her beloved sister Winnie and little Ben, only a baby.
But Amanda consoled herself with the fact that she had Alice and they had gotten through the funeral and all those arrangements together, and now it was home to build a new life together.
Amanda had always been the 'studious' one, while Winnie was being the glamorous one, and Amanda's 'plainness' as only in evidence in when compared to Winnie's loveliness.
Amanda, at 33, was, and had been for a long time, athletic; she kept herself fit and had a shape that could certainly turn heads, as she entered that glorious time in a woman's life, when she became radiant, sexy and fully the woman that she was intended to be.
But Amanda, was the quiet one, playing the pal and companion to Winnie's glittering glamor. She'd dated, had a few affairs but nothing that moved her heart.
And now it was she and her Alice Blue Gown, and she'd made the decision to concentrate on that new relationship.
They'd done their weeping, copious weeping and were leaving for their new life, in Charlottesville as fast friends and bosom companions.
As they moved through the growing dusk, the car engine began to make, what Amanda thought was strange noises. They continued and Amanda pulled off to the side of the road, and let it set.
"What is it?" Alice asked in a voice with some concern.
"Not sure, love," Amanda replied. "I know about libraries and books not about automobiles. I was hoping that you'd tell me what was going on."
Alice giggled at that, and they both enjoyed a giggle, as the engine sound seemed to fade.
They went on but in about another five miles, the sound returned. Amanda pulled off to the side of the road again. Only this time, a vehicle pulled off behind her, after she'd been setting there for only a few minutes.
"Who's that, Aunt Amanda?" Alice asked softly.
"It's, uh a policeman!" Amanda replied.
"Oh," Alice moaned, "Should I throw the drugs out the window?"
Amanda giggled and said: "Don't you start with me, Missy!"
"It's Alice, not Missy," Alice said with a grin.
"Yes," Amanda said, stroking the little girl's face, "My Alice Blue Gown."
Then the policeman was standing next to the window.
"Ma'am? Everything okay?" he asked.
"I'm not sure, officer, er Malone," she said, looking at his name shield. "It has been making a strange noise on and off for the last seven or eight miles. It seems okay now but when I start again, it happens."
"No idea?" Officer Mike Malone asked.
"Oh, no," Alice put in, "My Aunt Amanda's good with books, not cars; she just told me so!"
"And you are?" Mike said grinning at the shining, smiling little girl.
"I'm Alice; Aunt Amanda calls me her 'Alice Blue Gown'."
"Oh, yes," he said, "Sinatra! I remember that one. Pleased to meet you Alice Blue Gown."
Amanda spoke up then: "Sorry to have bothered you, officer..."
"Oh, it's no bother at all, Ma'am," he said.
"Where are you two lovely ladies going?" he wanted to know.
"Charlottesville," she said, "It's not too far now."
"Tell you what," he said, "I'm heading in now myself, and going there also. You go on ahead and I'm going to follow you just in case anything is really wrong with the car. Don't want you and your pretty Alice Blue Gown to be stranded out here at night."
Alice gave him a huge, toothless, winning grin, as he said that.
"Oh, thank you, officer!" Amanda said.
"It's Mike, Ma'am," he corrected.
"Well then it's Amanda," she corrected in return.
"And it's still Alice!' little Alice put in with a grin, causing both of the adults to smile.
"Have Alice Blue Gown for the holidays?" he asked, conversationally, and with the intention of not letting this lovely lady go too quickly.
"Actually," Amanda said, "Alice is coming to live with me..." she broke off then.
"My Mommie and brother Ben died in a fire last month, and I'm going to live with my Aunt Amanda," Alice said then, she began to sob, when she said it.
"Sorry, Ma'am," Mike said, "Didn't mean to pry."
"You're not prying, Mike," she said, "You're being very caring and Alice and I appreciate it."
"Well," he said then, "I'll let you get on; I'll be following you to make sure you get where you're going okay."
"Thank you very much," Amanda said.
"You're handsome," Alice chimed in then.
He kind of stammered and said 'thank you', while Amanda just laughed.
He went back to his car and Amanda said: "Well, Missy?"
"It's Alice," Alice said with a smile, "Not Missy, and he is handsome."
"Yes," Amanda said, agreeing, "You're right, he is handsome."
"Maybe he's not attached!" Alice went on, still grinning.
"Missy, Alice, whatever your name is," Amanda said blushing a bit but with a huge grin on her face, "This conversation is over!"
"Yes, Ma'am," Alice said.
"But he's handsome!" Amanda said one more time and they both laughed, as they pulled out onto the road again and cruised towards home.
Mike Malone followed them to make sure that they didn't have any car trouble between their location and where they were going.
When they did arrive home, Amanda pulled into the driveway and Mike pulled into the curb with his cruiser.
Amanda and Alice stood in the driveway and waited for him, as he walked in their direction. As usual, Alice spoke up first:
"We're gonna have Christmas together, my Aunt Amanda and I, and maybe I'll get a kitten. My Momma was allergic and Aunt Amanda isn't, you see," she said, all in one breath.
"Sounds like a great plan," Mike said smiling.
"My Aunt Amanda is gonna be my Momma now," Alice continued. Her voice quivered just a bit and Amanda hugged the little girl to herself.
"Bet she's gonna be a good one," Mike said.
"Yes, I think so," Alice said and then in a different direction: "Who you gonna have your Christmas with? Your family?"
"It'll be me and Anthony," he said, "Just like always."
"Who's Anthony?" Alice asked next.
"Alice!" Amanda said but Mike intervened: "It's okay; I don't mind answering her questions."
Then he went on: "Anthony is my pal, he's my chocolate lab. He and I spend the holidays together."
"Sounds sad," Alice said, and Amanda just got red in the face, but Mike laughed.
"No, not at all," Mike answered, "We're good company for each other."
"Can I meet him?" was Alice's next question, "I might like Anthony."
"Well, maybe we can arrange that," Mike said, "But I need to let you go and get settled."
"You and Anthony could come and have Christmas with us!" Alice said then.
Both Amanda and Mike laughed at that.
Mike replied: "Well, your Momma Amanda and I would have to talk about that!"
"Good night, Officer Malone!" Alice said then, "Thank you for being so nice and greet Anthony for me."
He knelt and hugged her and said: "Alice Blue Gown, you're the prettiest little girl that I know."
Alice hugged him back and then flashed a huge, gap toothed grin at Amanda, who watched with teary eyes.
"Now hug Aunt Amanda," Alice said then, "And tell her that she's the prettiest librarian that you know; because she is!"
The two adults laughed again and Mike have Amanda a quick hug, with her whispering into his ear: "Sorry about that!"
"No," he responded, "She's just the loveliest!"
Then he stood back and said: "Amanda, you are the prettiest librarian that I've ever known."
With that and a wave of his hand, he went to his cruiser and left.
Amanda and Alice watched him go and then Amanda turned to Alice but before she could say anything, Alice said:
"Sorry, Aunt Amanda; but he's so handsome."
.... There is more of this story ...