We met at the Coldwell Banker Real Estate office. She was looking at pictures of houses for sale on the bulletin board that was hanging on the wall. A sales person came out and ushered her into a small office. The realtor addressed her as Miss Billings.
My eyes followed her as she went across the room. She knew it too. She turned to close the office door and her glance held mine. The woman looked like she was a hippy, but that movement had been dying out after its peak of twenty-five years ago.
My mind stayed on her though, while I was waiting. Her clothes looked to be homemade and all except her skirt was hand-knitted. She was even wearing a small, knitted, round hat. Her skirt was of a loud, flowered print. I didn't get a good idea of her figure, dressed as she was, but she was tall and had pleasant features. She just looked as someone I would like to know.
I had no idea I would ever have a conversation with her. I wasn't one to push myself forward onto anyone. I guess I looked well enough, for people never hesitated to approach me. I was all right then as long as someone else made the first move.
It wasn't but a few minutes before another salesman came out and introduced himself to me and ushered me into another office. Single family homes, I found, were priced out of my range. I had a decent job as an accountant, but no established credit history. I guess I would be renting for awhile. The salesman was shaking my hand in the reception area, telling me he was sorry he couldn't sell me a home.
Just then the door opened and Miss Billings came out and I was hearing the same words as I had just heard from my salesman. "I'm sorry about this. You wouldn't be interested in half of a duplex, would you? We have several of those listed and they are only half to two thirds the cost of a stand alone."
"No, I don't think so. I wouldn't have any control over who owned the other half, would I?"
"Only if you purchased first. We have a couple with that contingency."
"May I see what one looks like?"
"Come back into the office. I have pictures and stats."
My salesman asked me, "Is that something you would consider? I'm fairly new as a salesman and didn't think of that as an option."
"I'd look, but I would have the same concerns as the lady who is looking at them in the other office."
"Maybe you would like to look at them together. That would solve some problems for both of you. I'll ask."
He knocked on the other office door and stuck his head inside. I was far enough away so I couldn't hear what he was saying, but soon he motioned to me. "Come in Mr. Bennet. If you and Miss Billings see what you like, we can all go view it together." Introductions were made as I entered the office. I met Diane Billings and she met me, Billy Bennet.
We did agree on a duplex to look at. It would be tomorrow afternoon before the realtors could arrange for us to see it. We made the appointment, and as we were leaving the realtors, I asked Diane if we could get to know each other a little more over dinner.
"I would like that. You aren't an axe murderer are you?"
"Nope, I'm not. Not on the first date anyway. Seriously, if you are concerned, call my mother in the phone book listed as Mildred Bennet. You don't have any old boyfriends around that are jealous do you?"
"No. I do have a few who I have remained friendly with though."
"I can see why. You are quite attractive."
"Thank you, you aren't so bad looking yourself. Where will we be dining?"
"There is a little place on Elliot Street just off Main that I frequent."
"Would what I am wearing be appropriate?"
"Definitely." This was one of the most expensive places to eat in town. For some reason I wanted to impress Diane Billings.
Over dinner I found out more about Diane. Her parents lived in Manhatten NY and were originally hippies. She confided they still were and living much as they had back in that era. At one time they had lived in a commune not far from here. Grown up now, Diane had come up to Vermont looking for the places her folks talked about so often. She found a few of the people that were friends of her parents and decided to stay. Diane had just landed a position with a law firm as a paralegal.
When I found out where this law firm was located, I burst out laughing. I was only two doors away at the accounting firm next door. "Hey if we buy a house together, we can go to work together. We could alternate driving and save half the cost of driving into town. Where are you staying now?"
"A motel near exit one. How about you?"
"I live in Putney with my mother. She has a companion after three years of being without my father. He died suddenly from a heart attack and I think it is time I move out. I hate to cramp my mothers activities. She is relatively young and although she loved my father, she realizes it is a long time alone if she doesn't find someone to replace him."
"That's too bad. How long were your mother and father married?"
"Twenty-three years. Why?"
"I asked because, I have a thing about marriage. I think two people shouldn't be together more than twenty years. My parents are married and fight all the time. I wish they would divorce and start over with someone new. They still have different sexual partners just as they did when they lived out at Johnson's pasture in Guilford twenty some odd years ago."
"Maybe they love each other."
"Love. To me that is a word that has no meaning. If I have a sexual partner, that is one word I won't want to hear. It is too abstract and just for writers and poets to obsess over to sell more books. I can see where two people can have an attraction for each other, but it is just a cover for lust that happens between us animals."
"You are entitled to your opinion, but think about it. Look at me. Do you see anything about me to love that doesn't have lust attached to it?"
"I agree with the lust part, but I don't know you yet. Love could come after we are together awhile."
"I doubt it. Okay, say we have sex and you like the feelings that brings to you. Don't you get the same rush with the first bite of a creamy cone. After that the flavor diminishes and by the time you get to the last bite, you are wondering why you didn't buy the small cone instead of the bigger one. The joy and flavor just doesn't stay with you. So, say a particular woman is yours for twenty years. The taste and flavor is gone or severely diminished. Time for a change, wouldn't you say?"
"You're all wrong. What about your parents? Don't you feel any filial love for them? Or how do they feel about you? They must feel love for you."
"My parents have never said how they feel about me. They made sure I was fed and clothed and they paid for my education and handed me a check to help me find a place to live. What do I feel for them? Well they gave me life and I'm thankful for that. What am I supposed to feel? I am the same as the rest of the animal kingdom. When I was old enough, I was pushed out of the nest and stopped being nurtured. So I'm thankful and I said that to them. Let's stop this discussion right here."
"Someday, Diane, you will change your mind. I doubt it will be me that changes it though. If you and I hooked up, I would know I would be gone in twenty years. I want more from a woman than that."
"In the meantime though, I bet if I offered myself to you for sex, you would take me up on the offer, wouldn't you?"
"Maybe, but as I said before, I don't know you yet."
Yes we did buy the duplex together. Two bedrooms in each half. It was located in Newfane. This was convenient to our places of work as we came down Rte 30. Diane could pull right into her law office. I had to drive around the common and park. I could look across and see where she worked. When we were in her vehicle with her driving, I just walked to work from her car.
Diane rushed to furnish her new quarters, whereas I took my time. I was in no hurry, so I just purchased a king-sized bed to sleep on. I was into antiques and reproductions and planned on adding a piece as I could afford it. She was horrified at how I was living and invited me over for meals or to watch television.
"You wait. I know what I want and if I can't find it in a reasonable length of time, I will build it. I have all of my Dad's woodworking tools and he taught me a lot about building things. You'll love what my home looks like when I finish furnishing it."
"Love! You said that word and now you are using it to describe feelings for an inanimate object. This whole concept just doesn't fly with me" I shrugged refusing to debate with her.
In return for the meals I received from my neighbor during the week, I took Diane out for dinner on a weekly schedule. When I ran out of high class restaurants in Brattleboro, we traveled to Keene, NH. Winter came and I convinced Diane that we only needed one snow blower and I would use this to clear our driveways, hers and mine.
I finally found a 1950's green and yellow enameled kitchen table and set about building four straight chairs to put around it. They were simple, solid, and serviceable. These were painted in the same shade of green as the table, with the fiddle backs of the same shade of yellow. I striped the legs and the rungs the same way. They were pretty damned attractive sitting around the table when finished.
"Hey, Diane, I have a place for you to sit at my new-old table. Tonight instead of going out, I'm cooking dinner." Mom had given me a cast-iron doughnut kettle which I used to cook the pot roast in. The beef, which was almost done and falling apart, found room for carrots, onions and potatoes. All went into the pot an hour before it was set on the table. She may not have loved the dinner I prepared, but she sure as the devil liked it.
We had traded keys soon after moving in. One August evening we were in the middle of a terrible thunderstorm when I heard my door being opened. I looked up and there stood a drenched Diane. She had on a white tee shirt and her short shorts. The rain made them both transparent. "Billy, I hate thunderstorms. May I sleep here tonight?"
"I have only the one bed, you know."
"I know, and it is big enough for the two of us. Actually it is time for us to take our lust for each other to the next level. I promise I won't hate you in the morning either." Diane, before this had always kept herself well covered, wearing more than one layer of clothing, most usually a light sweater even in the summertime.
The rain was cold so I suggested she take a hot shower to get warm. When she came out with a towel around her, I expected she would slide into bed. That's not what happened, though. She came up to me and dropped the towel doing a little pirouette. "You like? We have been living side by side for more than a year now, and you have never made a move on me. I thought it was about time. Even when you take me out to dinner, you have never even offered to kiss me."
"Maybe it is because I don't want to get caught up in something I can't control. I know I can control my lust for you, but what if I fell in love with you? That is something no one can control."
"You're either chicken or gay. Which is it? Even if you are gay, I'll bet I can make the night pleasant for you."
"I'm not gay and I'm calling your bluff about my being chicken. I have a bad feeling about this though, but if you're game, then I guess I am too. I just know one of us is going to end up regretting satisfying what you put down as lust."
So there was the challenge before me. Her body was exquisite. I was sexually experienced, so it was easy for me to take what was offered. Lust was what animals had for each other according to Diane, so I was an animal. A thoughtful, loving, caring, but insistent animal.
I made breakfast in the morning before Diane appeared. She looked at me speculatively, with only the comments, "You're definitely not gay. Thank you Billy, I enjoyed last night very much and as promised, I don't hate you this morning. I'll eat and then I have to get ready for work." It was her week to drive and I expected some more comments about last night or about the future. I was disappointed.
Friday evening on the way home she said, "Billy, you have always been the one to take me out to dinner. I think I should be asking you sometimes. Let's alternate. I'll take you this week."
"Okay, but you don't have to."
"I want to keep our relationship even, and this would be a way to do it." I wondered about the word "relationship," but said nothing. I was to learn that Diane had different taste in food than I. I was soon learning to like Thai, Indian, and Mexican cuisine.
We also began to spend more nights in bed together. Not often though, and always at her instigation. I remembered our first dinner together and how she said a man and woman shouldn't be together for more than twenty years before changing partners. If I married a woman, I wanted it to be for a lifetime commitment. I also want children and that to me meant marriage. Lust was fine and if all Diane had for me was lust I would take it when offered, but I felt love trumped lust any time.
We had owned our duplex for almost two years when Diane said she was coming over to talk. "Billy, we have been sleeping together off and on for nine months now. I find it a highly enjoyable experience. So much so I would like to sleep with you every night. Well almost every night. We would need time alone and I think I have figured out the solution.
"We would sleep together five nights a week, but the other two we would sleep alone. That is just to keep things in prospective. I probably would go out with a friend and you could do the same. If we said five nights, then you could have a different weeknight and wouldn't be tied to the same schedule as I would have."
"Let me get this straight. You want to tie me down for five nights, but keep your options open to go out with another person. What would that be for? Maybe for comparison? So if you found someone you lusted after, who was better than me, you would dump me and expect me to be satisfied on your one free night and he would have five?" What do you have, a lust meter that you measure your men against?"
I had no expectations of ever asking Diane for a lifetime commitment, but I wasn't going to play second fiddle for sex either. Did I come off looking angry? You bet!
"Billy, you have it all wrong. Don't you enjoy having me in bed? I just thought this way our lust wouldn't get stale. You can't be happy being tied down to someone every day and night."
"Married people do. But then they have to and want to for they have willingly signed up for a commitment. It holds until they fall out of love or cheat which in fact would nullify the commitment. No, I'm not making any agreement such as you suggest. If you want to sleep in my bed, you just come over from your side of the house and get in with me.
"I'll do the same with you, but you have to get a bigger bed than you have for us to play in. In fact, I will construct a frame that will take a king-sized mattress. That's as far as I will go. You'll love it. Oops, I used the word love. I guess we are done here. Go home."
You see? Yes, I had fallen in love with Diane, but I wasn't going to make any commitments such as she suggested. This way, I could start looking for a woman and love again.
Diane was in my bed before midnight. Every night for five nights she slipped into bed with me. I worked in the basement all five nights before bedtime working on the bed I was constructing. The sixth night I saw her get into her car about seven. She was dressed to the nines. That was a misnomer. She was definitely a number ten. Did I like it? What do you think? Was Diane playing a game? There was no way for me to tell. I was miserable, but my neighbor next door would never know.
I did get some relief from my misery. My mother called and told me my cousin who lived in California was in town and would be here all next week. Would I come for dinner?
"I certainly will, Mom. Does Cheryl still go out evenings?"
"You ask her, she is right here."
"Hey Babe, do you still hit the nightspots like you used to?"
"No, I'm old and settled down now. Married too, as you know. Frank and me hit four years of wedded bliss a month ago. I do still love to dance though. You could take me out one night this week. Come on up to Putney and we'll hash over old times. How come you aren't married anyway? You are certainly handsome enough."
"No woman has asked me. You know how shy I am. I am attracted to my neighbor, but she isn't into long term commitments. When I marry I want some one forever."
"Being in love and married is the best thing that ever happened to me. I know I was a little wild before Frank, but not anymore. In fact, I'm three months pregnant, but I can still dance if you will take me."
"I'll be up to see you in less than an hour. We'll make plans." Cheryl was just as beautiful as ever. My uncle and aunt had lived next door to me when I was growing up and my cousin and I were inseparable. We had even shared our first kiss, just for the fun of it.
When I finished high school I had gone out there and lived with them until my father died and then I returned to stay with my mother. Cheryl and I were always best of friends and had even gone on double dates with each other. I knew all about her and she about me.
"Billy, run down to Hanafords and get some groceries for me. Take Cheryl with you. Here is the list of what I need."
"Let's go, Babe. We can just make it before the store closes."
When we arrived, I sent Cheryl down to get a gallon of milk while I went to find butter and cheese. I came around the corner and bumped into Diane. "Hi, Diane, I saw you go out tonight. You are looking beautiful."
"Oh hi, Billy. What are you doing here?"
"I'm picking up some things my mother needs." Just then Cheryl came and put the milk in my cart.
Cheryl being who she was, reached up and took the grocery list from my shirt pocket and looked at it. "Coffee creamer for breakfast is next. Tell me what aisle and I'll hunt for it. Don't be long."
"Cheryl wait a minute. This is Diane Billings, my next door neighbor. Diane, this is Cheryl Franklin. We grew up next door to each other. She is here from California staying with my mother for a week. I haven't seen her since my father died. Before that we lived in the same house and shared the same bath all the while I went to college."
Cheryl was perceptive and aware that I was trying to make Diane a little jealous. "Diane, you live next door to this hunk? Are you ever tempted to go next door to visit late at night? I would if I still lived near him. He was my first you know and they say you never forget your first. Oh well, lucky you living where you do. Billy, hurry along. There is a lot to do before we go to bed tonight."
Diane and I watched as Cheryl swayed her butt around the corner out of sight. Cheryl, the tanned, voluptuous, beauty from California, with the long blonde hair.
The first words from Diane were, "She had a ring on her wedding finger."
"She's married. Her husband had to go to France for a month. Cheryl is out traveling around the country looking up old friends while he is overseas. I'll see you Monday. It is my week to drive. I have to go."
I walked off leaving Diane standing behind me. I wanted to turn and look back at her, but resisted the impulse. As Cheryl and I made it to where the bacon was, she said, "You're in love with Diane, aren't you?"
"Yes, but Diane claims there is no such thing as love. We are all animals and all we feel is lust, not love. I wish I could change her, but I'm not begging for crumbs."
"Take her to bed."
"We are sleeping together, but only when she comes over. I'll tell you all about it tonight after Mom goes to bed before I go home."
"Stay at Aunt Mildred's tonight. That should shake her up. That is if she has any love for you at all. Personally I don't see how she can not love you. You are my cousin, but I'm telling you, I would have¾ No, I'm not going there."
"No, don't go there, but the feeling is probably mutual between us. You are lucky you have found Frank. I'm still looking and haven't given up on Diane yet, either."
"Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Maybe you could talk to her before you leave and explain some of the things we both said to her tonight. You know, like I'm your cousin and our first was just a kiss."
"I'll do it just for you."
I did go home, but it was three hours after midnight. It was ten in the morning before I got the lawnmower cranked up. I saw Diane watching me out the window as I passed by back and forth. Usually she brought me out a cold drink, but not this morning. When I put the mower away, I entered Diane's kitchen to find her sitting at the table doing a crossword puzzle.
The atmosphere was cool, but I ignored it. "Diane, Cheryl is coming over tonight. I'm taking her out for dinner. Would you go with us."
"You have to be kidding. Won't that cramp your style to have two women who you have had sex with together at the same place and at the same time?"
"I'm positive it won't bother Cheryl. She is in the past. You're the one I am having sex with now, so I do have a sense of loyalty to you."
"This woman is in your past?"
"In my past in many ways, but we will always remain friends and we have another attachment that will never be resolved. Be certain I will never have sex with her."
"Because of me?"
"Partly, and that is between you and I, but there is another reason. Cheryl will share the reason with you if you will consider dinner with us tonight."
"You want me to go for sure?"
Diane dressed nice and I had on a blazer and slacks. "We'll be dining at the Putney Inn tonight. Mom will be joining us for the dinner and then we will be returning here to talk."
"I feel as if I'm being manipulated."
"Don't feel that way. After dinner and we return, it will be here in my quarters. All you have to do is get up and go into your place if you are uncomfortable. I want you to get to know Cheryl and you already know my mother."
"Okay, I guess."
We came down Rte 30 and took the throughway to Putney. Diane was silent. She thought she was meeting one of my lovers from my past. Mom and Cheryl were sitting in the Inn parking lot waiting for us and we all went in together.
"Diane, I'm so pleased Billy brought you tonight. I do so enjoy dining out. My companion couldn't come tonight, so I was free. Bill tells me you have met Cheryl."
"Yes, I was introduced while at the grocery store."
"Hi, Di." My cousin giggled. "I have always wanted to say that to someone. I've been waiting forever to get the chance. You don't mind do you?"
"No, of course not." I'll call you Cher, then." Who scored in that round, I couldn't tell. Maybe it was a draw.
"Aunt Mildred, I'm starved. Let's order soon."
"Diane, this is my cousin. Did Cheryl and I mislead you in some way? Actually it is a game we play sometimes. We used to double date and we did this while watching each other's backs."
"Billy, she said you had your first with her. Is that true?"
"Yes, but the first we mentioned was a kiss. It was never more than that."
Mom broke in with, "These two are only three days apart in age. They are almost like twins in how they think and act. It was a sad day when my brother moved away. Billy missed them so much, he went to school out west so he could live in the house with his aunt and uncle and of course, Cheryl. He has as much love for them as he did his father and me."
Mom used love in describing how she felt. I could see Diane tense up. Good manners kept her from saying anything. "Cheryl, do you work?"
"I do. I'm a clinical psychologist. I specialize in matters of the heart. You know, broken marriages, etc? I'm taking a few years off from work soon. I'm pregnant and want to give my baby a good start in life by lavishing all my love on the baby while in its infancy. Don't you think that is a wonderful plan?"
"For some people, I guess. I think my parents thought differently. Maybe I'll tell you sometime how I was brought up."
"We'll have some time tonight and I'm interested. I won't put on my professional hat though. I only do that while I'm in my office."
"That's a relief."
When dinner was finished, I hugged mom and kissed her. Mom surprised Diane by giving her a hug. "I'm so glad you are Billy's neighbor. He talks about you all the time. He is the happiest I have seen him since his father died. You are so good for him." She turned to Cheryl. "Will you be home tonight?"
"No, I'll be staying with Billy, or maybe Diane if we get to be friends. He can run me up before work in the morning."
"He doesn't have to do that. I have to be in Brattleboro early. I'll meet you at his office." There was an argument over who would ride in the back seat. Both women declared they should.
"Both of you get in the back. Geez, women!" That sent them into gales of laughter. There was a new show that had just come on television, called NCIS. The team leader was always clipping one of the other characters in the head to wake them up. I got clipped, by both of my passengers.
Cheryl started questioning Diane about her relationship with me. Diane intimated that she didn't have a relationship and didn't really want to talk about us. I had the feeling she might bare her soul better if I wasn't listening. I looked at Cheryl's image in the rear view mirror and caught her eye. I shook my head and mouthed, "Later."
When we arrived in Newfane I said, "I'm working on a project in the basement for a couple of hours. Make yourselves comfortable and get to know each other." I then disappeared downstairs.
I became absorbed in building Diane's bed as I had promised. I was making raised panels for both the head and footboard. I had them all sized and ready to slip into position. First before that, I was scrolling a design on them with a router. It was noisy and I was absorbed in I what I was doing. I finished the last one and glanced at my watch. Eleven o'clock. I swept up and headed up the stairs.
There was a note on the table. "Sleep in my bed. We are sleeping in yours. Diane." I could hear the two talking earnestly as I passed by my room. I grabbed my toiletries case from the bathroom and went over and showered. Crawling into Diane's bed, I immediately fell asleep.
"Get up. Cheryl has your breakfast made. I have to get dressed. We all overslept. I stayed just a minute to watch Diane disrobe, which she did provocatively. Cheryl came out of my room as I was pouring my second cup of coffee. Diane would be along in a few minutes.
"Billy, the woman loves you, but she has been conditioned not to admit there is such a thing as love. It all lies with her parents. Believe it or not, I think her parents too, love each other. They have been together thirty years, twenty-seven of them married. Both have other partners periodically and fight all the time, but they make no move to split up permanently.
"I think they hurt each other, just to get back at the other, and do it without thinking. If someway the cycle could be broken, they would recognize that the love for each other is there, but it is hidden. I just hope they can admit it before one of them dies. The guilt of the remaining partner will be devastating if it isn't. Not your problem, really. You have enough to do to get Diane to admit what she feels for you is love."
"It isn't just love for another person she denies. I don't think Diane ever had a pet or beautiful things that would generate affection. She recognizes lust is a feeling and knows that is not love. I do think our meeting in the store made her jealous. That was a knew emotion for her and she didn't like it. I'll slip in sometime when I'm talking to her that she had that feeling because she wanted me for her own. Wanted me because maybe she felt love for me and didn't want to lose me." We heard her door close so we terminated our discussion.
I dropped Diane at her office. I drove around and parked in front of mine. Mom was waiting as promised and I hugged her when I got out of my car. Cheryl stood talking a minute with me. Then she came into my arms for her hug and kiss. Over her shoulder I could see Diane watching all of this from across the way. I waved and she whirled and went into her office. Cheryl realized what had just happened. "It won't do any harm, she seeing us being affectionate. She'll think about you all day and if I don't show up tonight, she'll be all over you."
"Cheryl, I don't want to hurt her. I hope she does come over. I'm going to make a slip and accidentally tell her I love her."
"That would work. Tomorrow night though, I'm going to ask her out to dinner. I'm going to get her thinking about her parents and the way she was brought up. I might even delve into what I think about her parent's lives. You know, tell about how heart broken one of them would be if one of them dies. There would be no closure for the remaining spouse."
"I don't know. I would hate to lose what I have with Diane now. I might lose it all."
"Billy, be brave. What you have now won't last. You know that."
"Go, Mom is getting impatient. I guess I'll just take it one step at a time." I turned away.
"You do love her don't you?" I waved my hand over my head as I entered my office.
"No cousin tonight?" This was said as I waited for Diane to get in the car as I was picking her up.
"No cousin tonight. I want to work on the bed I'm creating for you."
"Why don't I just go buy a bigger one? A bed is just some place to sleep and recover from the day's work."
This pissed me off. We had been having sex on my bed for months. My lips pursed and I couldn't help feeling just a little hurt. I didn't say anything. Finally Diane realized something was wrong. She stared at me as she thought over what she had said.
"You're pissed because I said a bed was just a bed, aren't you?"
"Just a little."
"Why for God's sake?"
"Let me tell you a little bit about beds. Do realize there are some beds still surviving since B C? King Tutankhamun's bed is where it can be seen. Nearer our own time, George Washington's bed is on display. The French were great early furniture makers and they are in museums all over the world. When estates were inventoried, the beds were listed first or nearly so.
"I know I may not be any great craftsman, but I want to build something for you that you will treasure and be a treasure. I may never sleep in it, but someone you choose to mate with will. Maybe he would appreciate a few inanimate pieces of wood where you don't. I am putting all my love into making something beautiful for you, because I love you.
"There, you know how I feel about you. That is the last time I will say it." I changed the subject. "Am I cooking tonight or are you."
"I'm eating alone tonight. You can get to work on your project sooner. When am I going to be able to see this wonderful bed anyway?"
"Whenever you want. I'm not keeping you away from it."
"I'll wait. Cheryl has asked me out to dinner tomorrow night. We'll be dining alone. I'll see you in the morning."
I said little in the morning to Diane. My thoughts were on what I was creating. It seemed as I finished one part of the bed I wanted to add something more. Tonight I was going to be working on some small hidden compartments.
Cheryl arrived while Diane was getting dressed. She naturally looked for me in the basement where I was working on Diane's bed. "My God, Billy, it is beautiful."
"It is coming out much as I had hoped. Whether Diane appreciates it when I give it to her, I can't tell. Another two weeks and it will be finished. You know if Diane doesn't think it is something special, I'll be moving. I have poured my all into creating this for her."
"She'll love it, I'm positive."
"You don't know her like I do. Hey, I can hear her moving around upstairs. Go out and have fun. Keep tomorrow night free for me. I don't know when we will see each other again. I miss you, you know."
"I miss you too sweet cousin."
I worked until eleven and then I went to bed. I didn't hear Cheryl bring Diane home. Diane was waiting in the car in the morning. Thank God Fridays came once a week.
"Did you have fun last night?"
"I did. Cheryl gave me a lot to think about. You know, I thought she would talk about you most of the evening, but she didn't. She questioned me mostly about my father and mother. I know that is what she is trained for, but I got the impression that she thinks I'm all mixed up. Do you think I am?"
"You do have a different slant on life than I do. It is just the way we were raised by our parents, I guess."
Diane informed me that she would be visiting her parents for a week. This would give me a chance to finish the bed and move it into her bedroom while she was gone. Friday night before her return, I rounded up some of my co-workers and we moved the bed upstairs.
The bed made her room look small. I had gone beyond just building the bed. I purchased the best in mattress sets and knowing what Diane preferred in color, I had found what I thought she would like for a scheme. It was ready for her when she came home.
She didn't sleep in it, though. Her parents were with her. I had moved her smaller bed into her other bedroom that was otherwise unoccupied. The mother, Madge, was coming down with a cold and wanted immediately to slide into bed. "Right this way, Mom. Daddy will have to sleep on the couch and I will sleep with Billy."
I was talking to Diane's father after just meeting him, while Madge was being shown where she would be sleeping. I heard Madge cough out that the bed was big enough for both her and her husband.
Diane came out and looked at me. "I see you finished your project and moved it in. Thank you." That was it, no more than just a thank you. I was hurt. I excused myself as soon as I could and returned to my side of the house.
I didn't see Diane again that evening. It was about four a.m. or a little later, when I heard and saw an ambulance pull up to Diane's door. The medics came hurrying out with Diane's mother. "They think Mom has pneumonia. Dad is all to pieces. Not like him at all. We are going down to the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and get her cared for."
"Is there anything I can do?"
"I don't think so. Not now anyway. Billy, thanks for the offer." Father and daughter got into Diane's car and drove away. She wasn't back when it was time for breakfast. I wondered how her mother was.
I spent that Saturday raking leaves and building covers for the shrubs. I mowed the lawn for the last time of the season before putting the mower away. It was late afternoon before Diane drove in.
"How is your mother?"
"Not good. It can go either way for her. Billy, I have never had anyone close to me get this sick before. Neither has my father. He's a mess and is staying right by her side in the Intensive Care Unit. If Mom dies, I don't know what will happen to him."
"Why is that?"
"I don't know. I just don't know."
"Think about it. Maybe the answer will come to you."
"You sound just like your cousin the night we went out."
"Maybe it is because we think about things the same way. How are you going to feel if your mother doesn't make it? I don't want to be mean, but I am curious."
"I would miss her terribly. I'm going down this evening and see how she is after I shower and clean up. I need something to eat, too."
"I'll make up something. You go clean up. I'll even drive you down and talk to your father for a few minutes." Suddenly I had a woman in my arms with tears streaming down her face. I held her until she calmed down and then she went to shower while I prepared a meal for this woman who declared there was no such thing as love.
When we went in to see Madge. Burton was sitting beside her. I guess he had been by her side all day. He looked extremely worried and beat. "Mr. Billings, let me take you out for a meal. Diane will sit with her mother. You need to get some air and stretch your legs."
"Okay, but I don't want to leave Madge for very long. I could use a burger though. A salad would go good too." I took him up the street to Burger King. He needed more, but was afraid it would take too long to order and consume.
"Burton, what does the doctor tell you about Madge? What are her chances, or can't they tell yet?"
"They think she is over the hump. Odds are sixty-forty in her favor. It just happened so quick, it has thrown me for a loop. This has really scared me. We've been together a long time."
"Yeah. Well, most of the time anyway. We have our problems. She isn't that easy to live with sometimes."
"Maybe this bump in the road will smooth things out for both of you. She must see how deeply you love her. I know you love her the way this has hit you."
"You know Billy, she has never said she loves me. I have never said I love her either. I just never knew how, I guess."
"I think you have a perfect chance right now. I know she is almost comatose and that can work to your advantage. You are staying with her all night aren't you?"
"Yes, of course."
"While you are sitting beside her, whisper that you love her. Say it over and over. Tell her you have twenty or thirty years ahead of you together. Ask her to fight to stay in your life as you don't see how you could handle life without her."
Burton looked at me as if I was crazy, but after being silent for a few moments, he realized just how lonely it would be without Madge.
"Diane tells me you both go off and have affairs with others. Is that necessary for you or just something to get even when Madge does."
"I haven't done that for ten years. Madge thinks I do, but I don't."
"Do you know for certain if she does the same?"
"I don't know. She goes out once a week with kind of a smirky smile on her face. Years ago I would see her out with another man occasionally. I'm assuming she still does. It hurt me to see her out like that, so I always stay at home or go where I know I wouldn't run into her."
"Burton, I would guess it has been years since you have romanced Madge. It is never too late. This is the perfect time to start. She is vulnerable right now. Just don't make any statements or promises that aren't true or you can't keep. This may be difficult to start, but once you do, you will feel the love flowing both ways."