John Warden knew, by the early afternoon, that he was going to be late again. He cursed himself and made a promise, a promise that he intended to keep, that he'd get his schedule under control and not let this happen again.
After all, he had reasoned with himself, having a freer time for Lullabelle, his lovely, lovely granddaughter, was the main reason why he set up his businesses the way that he had, with superior management, so that they could run seamlessly. With things running so well, John Warden had more time to take care of Lullabelle, the light of his life.
Tragedy had come stalking John Warden at important points in his life. There was the early death of his dear Emaline by cancer, shortly after their Lucy had been born. He turned his hand to being a single Dad, and didn't think that he'd done a great job of it. Lucy grew up a free spirit but she had a kind of streak in her. John had always written that part of Lucy down to the background that her mother had provided. There were some creepy people on that side of the family, he always thought.
For most of her life, Lucy's free strangeness had been innocuous but then with high school, and her brief time at the university, it had become different. Lucy had turned into a party girl, and John didn't know any of this until Lucy came home pregnant.
He had been hoping that the pregnancy, which she intended to see through -- her one really adult decision in her life -- would bring her around. It didn't. It introduced Lullabelle into his life and didn't seem to faze Lucy at all.
After her recovery from the birth of Lullabelle, she seemed to take up with the same people as before. There was never a thought or question about who the father might have been. John and Lucy had had 'the talk' about that and she was blatant in her telling him that she just wasn't sure of the father's name. She didn't hide that fact that within her close knit group of about eight, including three girls, sex was free and frequent. It pained him to hear it but she was at least being honest.
There had been some kind of party after that; it was a party for 'the group', as Lucy called them. In a spectacular accident, involving two cars racing, six of 'the group' had been killed, including all the guys and Lucy.
It left John with regrets and Lullabelle. She became, at that point in his life, his focus and his main intention in life.
John Warden, at forty was a sad but gorgeous man. He had a reserve within him of the kind of qualities that helped him take business ideas and simply make them successful. He'd been fortunate in a few close friends, who shared his ideas and had the money to make some of them a reality. After initial successes, John had his own capital but never lost touch with those friends.
He was, to be sure, a good looking man. He was tall 6'3" and carried his 205 lbs very well. He worked out, mainly at the workout facility at his office, to keep himself in shape. One of the things that he did to celebrate his early success in business was to have a huge house built on ten acres of land, with a surrounding forest, at least on three sides. It had been, at the time, a treat, gift for his Emaline, and had, unfortunately, been where she came home to die. Now it was him and Lullabelle in the big house on Forest Road.
And, right then, right at that time on that day, he realized that he was going to be late to pick Lullabelle up from school. He wanted to kick himself. He knew it was getting close to the very end of the school day and decided to try a phone call.
"Hello," a soft voice said.
"Serena," he said.
"Yes, John?" she asked. She changed that quickly to "Sorry, Mr Warden!"
"You know it's John!" he said, and got a soft laugh from her, almost like a giggle.
"I'm really sorry, Serena," he said, "I'm going to be a bit late."
Serena laughed and said: "Okay, I'll tie her to a chair and keep her here for you!"
"Serena, you're the best of the best!" he said, "And I promise on my late Momma's grave to not be late any more!"
"Don't you go making rash promises on your Momma!" Serena said with a laugh.
"I owe you," he said.
She laughed then and said: "Watch out, I might collect!"
John and Serena Markus had become, over the months, good friends. Their association had started early in the school year with a parent-teacher conference. When John had come into the room, remarking to himself how absolutely lovely this young African-American woman was, he'd quipped to her that this would need to be a 'Grandparent-Teacher' conference. She laughed had gave him her hand.
She did say, after that, that she'd really like to meet Lullabelle's mother sometime in the future. It was then that John Warden had told Serena about Lucy's death from that accident.
He found himself then wandering into much of the story of Lucy, and his apparent failure as a parent. He discovered in that conversation, that Serena was level headed and her point of view was one to consider. She'd simply advocated that because of the way Lucy was and who her friends were, his main choice was to love her, support her and wait for her to work her way out of the situation. She thought that Lucy might have done that, had it not been for the accident.
Serena also expressed her admiration for John and the way that he was being a parent to Lullabelle.
"Oh," he'd answered, "It's like having been given a second chance. I intend to make sure that it doesn't happen again."
Serena Markus had liked his attitude. She told him that if there were occasions, when he needed her to keep Lullabelle a little, after school, she'd be happy to do that. She even gave him her cell phone number.
So, today John was taking advantage of the offer and called to tell Serena that he'd be a bit late.
He was apologetic from wall to wall, when he arrived at the school. He parked his car in the side lot and hurried into the school, where Serena was doing some plans and Lullabelle was busy with some drawing that she was doing.
(Lullabelle wanted to be, at that point in her life, an artist. She had a good hand for drawing.)
When she saw him at the door, Lullabelle fairly flew from her chair and ran to him for a hug. He gathered her into his arms and kissed the top of her head, right on the part where her pig tails parted her hair. As he kissed Lullabelle's head, he grinned at Serena, who was grinning back at him.
"Grandpa Johnnie!" Lullabelle said into his chest.
"Sorry, love," he said, "Late at the office!"
"That will cost you an ice cream treat on the way home!" Lullabelle said with great affection.
"For my best girl," he answered, "I'm up to the challenge."
He went to Serena then and held out his hand, thanking her for seeing to Lullabelle for that short time.
"I really appreciate it, Serena," he said, and he gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
(It should or could probably be mentioned, at this point, that Serena Markus was 26 and gorgeous! She had a lovely figure and one of the significant factors of her life was that, since that initial Grandparent-Teacher conference, she had a soft spot for John Warden. It was a kind of life complication that she tried to keep under wraps, and it wasn't aided at all by how lovely, in attitude and also demeanor, plus physical appearance Lullabelle Warden was. In this instance, the hug and kiss only served to kind of stoke her fires. But she pushed those kinds of thoughts away and promised herself that she'd think about them only later at home, in her apartment.)
"Okay, Ms Demands," John said, winking at Serena, "We're off for ice cream! We'll have dinner later tonight."
"You're so cool, Grandpa Johnnie!" Lullabelle said, and turning to Ms Markus she reiterated: "He's so cool!"
"Definitely cool!" Serena said with a grin.
"Where did you learn that language?" John asked.
Lullabelle giggled and just waved at Serena, as they went out the door.
Serena shook her head and sighed, again pushing her thoughts down inside of herself until she had time to visit them at home in private. She worked for a while on her plans and was startled a bit later, when there was a knock on the door. She thought that it was probably the janitor and that it was her cue to get going for the day. The door opened and it was John Warden and Lullabelle again. Only this time, Lullabelle was carrying a dish of chocolate ice cream, soft serve, for Serena.
"What a treat!" Serena said. "You get a hug for that!" she said to Lullabelle, gathering the pretty girl into her arms.
"And you too!" she said to John, going to him, after setting her ice cream down on her desk. She hugged him, molding herself against him in the process.
Thoughts raced across John Warden's mind, during the hug, and he, like Serena, simply tried to push them away.
"I'm going to learn how to cook beginning tonight!" Lullabelle said to a smiling Serena. "Grandpa Johnnie said that I can cook the steaks for dinner."
Lullabelle got a huge smile on her face and said: "Why don't you come to dinner, Ms Serena and I'll cook for you too?"
Serena was obviously embarrassed right away but John Warden only chuckled and said: "Serena, why don't you. I really owe you for being so nice to her nibs here."
Serena stammered, realizing that she was now caught in exactly the kind of situation that she'd often enough pictured for herself.
"I uh, ... I, uh, ... Sure! What time? Only have to go home and clean up!" she stammered.
"Look pretty special to me; don't you think, Lullabelle?" John said.
Lullabelle giggled and said: "Ms Markus always looks special."
.... There is more of this story ...