The lights were off in most of the office areas but Julie McKinn was still at work in her office. This report on the finances of Taggert and French was the first that would have her name on it and she was determined that it would be exactly correct in all details.
She had been out of this world pleased, when she was chosen for this job, after temping for a good long time and working as a kind of accounting flunky for an office across town. But the job at Taggert and French represented for her the crashing through of the 'glass ceiling'. In a very concrete way, with her getting the position of head of their accounts, Julie had 'made it'.
(She tried not to reflect on the additional fact that an African American woman getting this kind of position was indeed a rarity. It was the 'glass ceiling' to the nth degree! But that thought was there and she paid attention to it now and again.)
She was simply determined to make sure that there were no problems, and there were some stubborn areas of these reports that refused to add up for her, so she kept working at it.
She had already called her sister Lila at home and asked her if she would give Lily Anne some dinner.
"I have to be at the office for a bit longer," Julie said. "There's an end of quarter report that is due and I'm still struggling with it."
Lila, a wonderful sister as usual, told her that 'yes', she'd corral the ever effervescent Lily Anne and feed her dinner.
(At that point Lila was living in the same apartment that Julie and Lily Anne had; she was getting over a nasty break up and had been really grateful to Julie, when asked to simply come and share their place. It wasn't huge but they all managed.)
Having made the call, Julie went back to the part of the report that puzzled her. It was then that there was a knock on the office door. It startled Julie, since she'd been certain that she was the only one left in the offices.
"Yes," she asked, opening her drawer where she had a can of pepper spray just in case.
The door opened and in stepped the boss of the company, Mike Taggert.
(Though he, Mike Taggert, was indeed the boss, he simply hadn't been around that much lately.)
"Oh, Mr Taggert!" Julie said.
He smiled at her and she clarified: "I recognized you from you photo."
"I see!" he said. "And I know that you're Julie McKinn, the new kid on the block around here."
"Yes, sir!" she said, standing at her desk.
"It's 'Mike'," he said, "Not 'sir'!"
"Thank you, sir," she said, before she even had a chance to think. She simply put her hand over her mouth and giggled into her hand.
"Care to try again?" he asked with great humor.
"Yes,... " and she realized that she was about to use 'sir' again and only stopped herself in time. It left her blushing and Mike Taggert was grinning at her.
(Julie McKinn was 27 years old, and had a master's degree in Business Admin with a hefty minor in economics and accounting. She was a treat to see and wore her 120 lbs well. She was a workout devotee and kept herself in what she thought was very good shape.
She had, at a very early age, made what was then thought to be a 'mistake' with a boy who professed eternal love, but was interested rather in getting Julie's panties down and off. Of course, the result of that 'mistake' was her lovely Lily Anne. But after that 'mistake', committed at the age of 18, Julie dampened down the flames of any romance and got on with making her way. She finished her basic schooling and toiled for years to get her MBA and finally get herself settled. And, to tell the truth, her lovely Lily Anne was anything but a 'mistake'.)
She was, right then, in Mike Taggert's eyes, who knew that there was a new light in accounting but had not really met her yet, since the decision to hire her had been the company manager's decision, Sheila Fox, looking simply gorgeous, though he sensed that Julie was, right then, a little frazzled around the edges.
"Nice to see you, Mr ... uh, Mike," she said.
"Takes some getting used to," she admitted and he nodded, still smiling.
"Sheila has been singing your praises for a while now and, since I'm back in town from my wandering..." he smiled at her then and explained: "Well, not really wandering, I've been setting up new outlets for us in some spots in Europe. We're very excited about those. That's why they call me 'reclusive' around here."
"But, as I was saying," he went on, "Sheila has been singing your praises, and, when I saw your light, I decided to look in on you. Sorry, if I frightened you!" he finished.
"Yes," she admitted, "My defense drawer!" She held the pepper spray and giggled.
Immediately she explained: "I was raised in what's called a 'bad area', both my sister Lila and I were. You learned early about taking care of yourself, or you became a statistic of the neighborhood."
"And you didn't!" he said pleasantly.
She went on with her explanation, not really sure why she was, but only feeling that this man was someone that she could talk to: "No, I didn't, though I did the normal 'stupid' young girl thing and got pregnant at the age of 18. It almost meant that any chance for me in life was over."
"But it wasn't!" he said, and she nodded again.
"No, that only meant that I have my beautiful Lily Anne to raise," she said, smiling. She thought a moment and said: "Sorry to be dumping my stuff on you this way, uh, Mike."
"Not at all," he said, "I have always felt that the company at a certain level resembles, if it works well, a kind of a family. I might like to meet your Lily Anne some time," he concluded.
She smiled at him and said: "That would be nice."
(Mike Taggert was 40 years old with curly, gray highlighted hair and a kind of outdoorsman's face. He had come up through the family but had been, in ways, a rebel, aiming his own life at first the marines and then working, while in the service, as a military policeman. It was a life that he loved. He was urged by his Uncle Frank to come into the business after the Marines and promised to give it a chance. Now, at the age of 40, he was the owner of the company, having inherited it from his Dad and Uncle Frank and saw it thrive.)
(For her part, Julie thought that Mike Taggert was gorgeous: a thought that she kept strictly to herself. She would only share that thought with her sister Lila, when she got home.)
"Okay," he said then settling down on a chair. "Tell me why you're burning the midnight oil here, so to speak."
"It's these reports," she said. "I've only taken over now from Les Winston and it's the first set of reports that will have my name on them, and I'm having some problems with them. It's fairly technical."
"Try me!" he said.
"Yes," she said, "Sorry, I've gotten my head so far into this that my mind is still working on problems here, I didn't mean to be talking down to you."
He held up and hand and smiled: "Julie, I know exactly what you're talking about. I used to work on those reports, when I was learning about the company, before Les took the job and did the reports himself."
"Okay," she said, "Here it is."
She took a deep breath and went on to explain: "Well, there are several ways of testing the results that the report shows. It is normally, almost always, enough to just use one of those methods, and you only go to other methods if there is a problem. I began using the normal method to make sure that the figures were accurate but wanted to be sure. Then I went on to a second and a third method with the figures and that's where I am with the stuff now."
"Conclusions?" he asked.
"Yes, I'm afraid that there is a discrepancy of about $40,000 in these figures." She took another deep breath and then went on: "I've run these three tests on the figures three more times and there is no doubt now at all. If I hadn't gone on to the other ways of testing the figures, the discrepancy likely wouldn't have shown up at all, and doing only the one kind of test is standard procedure."
"I see," he said. He was silent for a few moments and said: "And, Julie, what's your conclusion with the figures?"
"My conclusion, sir..." she said and he didn't correct her that time. "Is that there is a figure of $40,000 missing and unaccounted for. It normally wouldn't have been discovered at all. Sometimes our margins are at about that rate and we wouldn't have noticed this. But this is no margin error, of that much I'm sure. I just don't know what to think. I can't put my name on this report and say to you and the Board that the finances are all fine. They're simply not, I'm sorry."
He put his hand on hers and said: "Julie, you have no cause at all to apologize here. You're doing a spectacular job and I'm really, really pleased. This is not your fault."
He thought a moment and said: "Why don't we do the overview tests one more time, and I'll be here to do them with you. If we have the same conclusion, and I'm afraid that we certainly will; there is absolutely no reason to challenge what you've done here, then we'll know there's a problem."
"Fine," she said.
"Uh, Lily Anne?" he asked, concerned.
"Oh, thank you, Mike," she said, "Lila, my sister, who's living with us just now, is taking care of her."
"I promise that it will only be another forty-five minutes to an hour at the most," he said, "And then I'll take you to dinner. Is that okay?"
"Oh, I think so," she said, "Let me please call Lila first.
"Good," he responded, "I'll begin to run the figures."
"Hello," Lila said.
"Honey," Julie began, "I have about another hour or so, then I'll catch a bite. Are you all settled there?"
"Yes, love," Lila said, "Don't worry at all, her majesty and I are having a grand time!"
"Hi, Mommie!" Lily Anne shouted from the background.
"Hi, honey!" Julie said, "Sorry, I have to work for a bit yet."
"We're fine here, Mommie!" Lily Anne shouted from the background.
"I'll be in touch," Julie said.
"Fine," Lila answered and they hung up.
She turned her attention then to Mike Taggert, who was slowly working on the same procedure that she'd just been through with the figures. It took a while to get all the tests done on the figures but then he settled back and said: "You're right, Julie; it's a matter of $40,000."
"Oh dear!" she said.
"I know," he said, "I will deal with Les about this myself. He was with us for a good long time and there must be a really special reason for this."
He turned to her and found Julie in tears.
"I'm sorry," she said, "I like Les so much. I'm sorry to have been the one to have discovered this."
"What a wonderful person you are!" Mike said, and barely kept from stroking her face with his hand.
"I'll go to the loo," she said, "And have myself all righted in a few minutes; I know that you don't want to go out with a weepy woman!"
"I might!" he said, "If it were you!"
She giggled then, behind her hand and went off to the bathroom to fix herself. She knew that she'd been at it long enough that she was probably drooping.
She was back in just a little bit, and smiling at him.
"Good," he said, "We're just going to put this out of our head now, and not let it ruin our dinner. Any 'drothers' about dinner?"
"No," she said, "You pick and it'll be fine with me."
"Good," he said, "I know a grand Chinese place not far away. Small but the food is great. Not much for ambience."
She laughed and said: "The food matters; the ambience isn't so important."
"You'll add ambience," he said softly, "Just by being there!"
"Make me blush now!" she said and giggled, "Good that I have dark skin!"
They both laughed then and left the office and the problem for later.
DINNER AND THE AFTERMATH:
Julie was in a more somber mood as they arrived at the restaurant for dinner. It proved to be a small 'Mom and Pop' kind of place.
They sat in silence after ordering and Julie finally thought that she had to speak up:
"Mr. Taggert..." she began but when he put his hand up, she switched to "Mike, I'm afraid that I'm bad company tonight."
"You're fine," he said, "Lovely company."
"I feel so bad about that report and what I found ... I know that the amount isn't a huge figure but I like Wes so much, and having been the one to, I don't know ... finger him, I guess..." her voice faded away but now there were tears streaming down her face.
"Hey," he said, "We can get through this; you'll see. We need some kind of answer from Wes but it'll be fine and you only were doing what you were supposed to do."
"I know," she said, wiping her eyes, "But it feels so much like ratting out on a friend to me."
She hesitated and said: "I'm sorry for being so weepy about this but it has affected me that way."
"I know," he said putting his hand on top of hers. "What do you want to do?" he said then.
"I apologize, truly I do, but I'd like to go home now," she said, the tears still coming.
"Of course," he said. "Do you have your car?"
"Not today," she said; "Lila needed my car, so I took the bus today."
"Well, let me take you home," he said. "I'll be right back; I just want to talk to the owner here for a few seconds."
She heard him explaining to the woman who'd seated them that his friend wasn't feeling well and he had to take her home.
"Way to make an impression, Julie!" she said to herself in a derogatory tone of voice.
Then he was back and offered her his hand. He took her to the car and took her home. As they were sitting outside of the building, she spoke up: "Mike, I'm so sorry for ruining your evening."
"Didn't ruin it at all!" he said. "Being with you was such a breath of fresh air for me. So, just let me say, good night!"
She leaned over and kissed his cheek before getting out of the car.
Lila met her at the door, as she entered.
"Hey, love," Lila said, and Julie was crying and in her arms almost immediately.
"What?" Lila asked, "What is it? Who was that? Who were you with?"
"It was Mike Taggert," Julie said, sobbing.
"You mean the owner?" Lila asked a bit surprised.
"Yes," Julie said, "The boss."
"What did that man do, honey? Tell Lila!" her sister said next, still holding her.
It was then that they heard Lily Anne's voice, as she came charging into the living room.
"Momma!" she said with great gusto.
Julie hid her feelings right then from Lily, not wanting to worry her. She dried her eyes, as soon as she heard Lily coming from the direction of her room.
(They had a two bedroom apartment but now Lila shared the one bedroom with Julie, since Julie took her in a few months previously.)
"Sorry, sweetie," Julie said kissing Lily Anne on the head and getting a hug from the little girl. "I had to work late tonight. What are you up to?"
"I was playing in my room," Lily Anne said.
"Well, I have to talk to Aunt Lila for a few minutes, okay?" Julie said.
"Yes, Momma," Lily said and skipped away toward her room.
(Julie watched her go with a look of pure love, trying to remember what it had been like to be that age, and be the little girl with the big smile and the pig tails. Lily Anne always made her feel better; very often just seeing her did that. Lily Anne was such a love that Julie never second guessed her hasty decisions as a young girl, decisions that resulted in the birth of Lily Anne.)
Julie and Lila went into the kitchen and sat, while Lila made them each a cup of tea.
"Okay, now tell me!" Lila said.
They settled down and Julie told the whole story. She mentioned to Lila how her report would implicate Les and how that made her feel. She also told her about meeting Mike Taggert and how nice he'd been.
"And then I turned into a weepy fool and had to be brought home!" Julie said, sniffling again.
Lila ended up both holding her hands and then moving her chair around so that she could hold her. As she held onto her lovely younger sister, Lila said softly into Julie's ear: "Hey, why don't you go and do your workout. You know how it clears out the cobwebs for you. But have you eaten?"
"No, I haven't," Julie answered, "But I think that the workout will be more important for me now than getting something to eat. You're such a love!"
"She says it!" Lila said, "The one who has always taken care of me after my latest disaster in living!"
Julie went off to the bedroom to get herself ready and emerged in a few minutes wearing her workout pants and a tee shirt.
"Watch out world," Lila intoned, "Here comes Julie!"
They were both giggling by then.
"And don't you dare ask me if those tight, tight pants make you look fat, missy!" Lila said, to more giggles.
"Thanks for being there for me," Julie said, in the middle of a hug.
"Take the car!" Lila said softly.
"No, I think that if you drop me off, it'll be fine; I'll call later, when I'm ready to come home!" Julie said, having made her decisions.
"You're so considerate!" Lila said. "So, come on, you walking man trap! Let's go."
They were giggling then, as Julie went to get Lily Anne, telling her that she was going to the gym for her workout and would be home to tuck her into bed.
(Pushing herself at the gym was indeed one of the ways that Julie had to deal with anxiety and stress. She thought, at times, that it was always the gym that got the benefit of Lila's latest scheme or disaster. This time it was Lila sending her there to do some thinking, while she had her workout. She knew also that it would work for her, help her put it into perspective.)
She did some work at first on the weight machines, minding her own business. She certainly wasn't there as an alternative route to finding a man. Once her work on the weight machines was done, she settled into a long run. She ran at a good pace, and one that helped her get all the various problems of the day, which had pressed in on her mind into perspective.
She was pleased in the end, that she'd done it, gone to the gym and got herself straightened around.
She was, however, dumfounded, when she finished her run and walked the track with a towel around her neck to see that Mike Taggert was standing there and watching her.
She was finally, she believed, ready for him. She walked over to where he was and said: "Lost, stranger?"
"No, not at all!" he said. "I was just concerned about you, and the way we left our attempt at dinner."
"I'm sorry about that!" she began but he held up his hand.
"No, no sorries about being so caring and concerned about people that you've worked for and with and like so much," he said.
"Thank you!" she said smiling. "The workout helps me to think and get things into perspective."
"Good to know that about yourself," he said, "Not everyone has such a tried and true method."
"But sweaty now!" she said softly.
"Hmmmm," he said, grinning. "I specialize in taking sweaty ladies out for fast food! Did you know that?"
"No," she said, "I didn't at all! Am I invited?"
"Well," he went on, "You're the original sweaty lady!"
"So I am!" she said smiling. "I do have to be home to tuck my Lily Anne into bed."
"Yes," he said, "I called and talked to Lila, who wanted to know what I'd done to you!"
"It'll be fast food, my specialty," he said, "And shakes all around. I promised that I'd fetch you from the sweat factory and pick up the swag and bring you and the swag both home!"
"Aren't you the grand guy!" she said then. "And for all that, at the risk of being inappropriate, I'm going to give you a sweaty hug!"
She did fairly launch herself at him then and they hugged, with each having thoughts of how marvelous the other one felt. They also both struggled to push those thoughts away.
DINNER AGAIN AND A MEETING:
He walked her out to the parking lot then, where his car, a lovely large Lexus, was waiting.
"Beautiful car!" she said. "I share my wreck these days with Lila."
"I see," he said.
Then she spoke a bit about Lila's free and easy life style and how she periodically had to pick up the pieces of Lila and take care of her for a while.
"You are so impressive!" he said. "Being the super caring sister, and the mother of one of the most beautiful little girls around!" He thought a second and said: "I'm sorry, if I'm making you blush. I have a tendency to speak my mind these days."
"I never would have noticed!" she said and giggled.
"Don't start with the big boss!" he said in a fake warning voice.
She giggled again and then turned serious for a few moments. "Thank you for what you just said," she said finally in a soft voice. "I really appreciate it."
They stopped at a McDonalds and bought piles of chicken McNuggets, fries and shakes for everyone. Then they hauled their big bag of food off to Julie's apartment, where they were greeted with great glee by both Lila land Lilly Anne.
They were met at the door by Lily Anne, who was already sporting a pair of pjs and a huge grin, when she saw her Momma. She also eyed Mike Taggert, after giving her Momma a welcome hug.
"Momma!" she said, "Are you feeling better?"
"Yes, sweet love," she said.
By then it was Lila also queuing up for a hug. Once the greetings were done, Julie stepped back and said:
"Mike this is my sister Lila and my beautiful Lily Anne!" Then she turned to Lila and Lily Anne and said: "This is my boss, Mike Taggert!"
Lila smiled and extended a hand but Lily Anne glared at him for a few seconds and said: "Were you the one that made my Momma sad today?"
Mike snorted a laugh and said: "Pleased to meet you, Lily Anne, your Momma has told me about your loveliness and she was certainly accurate about that and, to answer your question directly, no, I'm not the one that made your Momma sad today. It was about something that both she and I were working on that made her sad. And, thank you for being her protector!"
Lily Anne immediately seemed to reassess Mike and gave him a huge smile, showing one place in the front of her mouth where she'd lost a baby tooth and hadn't yet gotten in a replacement.
"I like you!" Lily Anne said, with the suddenness and élan of youth, and gave Mike a spontaneous hug, kind of surprising him. He grinned at Julie and Lila, while he was being hugged.
"And," Mike went on, "I have here a bag of goodies for all of us! I know that your Momma is starving, so why don't we go to the kitchen and see what's in the bag?"
Lily Anne, knowing it was about her bed time, turned to her Momma and said: "Momma, may I?"
"Yes, love," Julie said, getting another hug from Lily.
They all made their way then to the kitchen and sat at the table, while Mike unveiled the goodies that he had in the McDonald's bag. He had enough chicken selects for all of them and fries too. Plus, he had two strawberry shakes and two chocolate shakes. He and Lily Anne voted for the strawberry ones, giving Lila and Julie chocolate.
The group of them settled down to have their treat, and talked among themselves.
"How was the run?" Lila asked Julie.
"Great!" Julie said, "Help me out."
She turned to Mike and said, "My workout, a great mind healer!"
"I'm glad," Mike said, smiling at her, "We can deal with it tomorrow at work. It'll be just fine, I promise you. You'll see."
Julie smiled at him and said: "Thank you."
"What, Momma?" Lily Anne asked.
"Oh," Julie said, "It's something that has come up at work, that both Mike, Mr Taggert and I have noticed and we just have to correct it, is all."
"Good for you, Momma!" Lily Anne said.
The conversation continued in a general vein that way, until Julie noticed that Lily Anne was falling asleep in her chair. She got up and picked Lily Anne up, saying: "Boy is she getting heavy! This used to be easy!"
Mike stepped over and, smiling, took Lily Anne from her Momma. Lily Anne simply put her arms around Mike's neck and her head on his shoulder and continued to drowse, as they took her to her bedroom.
Julie supervised Lily Anne, as she brushed her teeth and then got her into bed. Then it was Lila and Mike both getting hugs from Lily Anne before Julie gave her a final hug and kiss.
"I love you, Momma!" she said, then, to Lila standing in the doorway with Mike behind her, she said: "I love you, Aunt Lila! I love you, Mike Taggert!"
Mike Taggert sighed, when he heard that.
Back in the kitchen, the three of them settled for a few moments again, before Lila excused herself and went off to the bedroom.
"Kind of makes me feel like one of the family!" Mike said.
Julie grinned at him. "Yes, she's the ambassador around here!"
"She's wonderful!" was Mike's answer and Julie simply pulled him into a hug.
"Thank you for tonight!" she said. "I'm really sorry to have gotten so weepy about Les and all. I promise that it won't happen again. I hope it hasn't ruined my chances at that new job. I did enjoy the work that I was doing very much."
"And you did it so very well," Mike said to her. "But, hey, I need to get out of your hair here! I'll see you at the office tomorrow morning."
"Yes!" she said, and realized that she came within an instance of kissing him. She pushed that thought to the back of her mind and reined in her feelings immediately, as he left.
Lila was waiting for her in the kitchen.
"He's grand!" Lila said.
"Oh, honey," Julie said, shaking her head, "I almost made a fool of myself at the door and kissed him."
"You should have!" Lila said, grinning at Julie. "He's so obviously stricken with you!"
"Think?" Julie asked, doubt in her voice.
"Yes, I think!" Lila said. "I don't know a hell of a lot about what's right for my life but I sure know a lot about love and those kinds of glances!"
"Oh, I have to think about this!" Julie said. "I'm for a bath and then bed."
"See you in the sack!" Lila said with a grin, and the two of them hugged.
In bed that night, looking at each other from pillow to pillow, Julie brought it up again: "Do you really think that, Lila?" she asked.
"Yep! I do!" Lila said. "You just let things take their own course and you'll see that I'm right about it."
"Ohhhh," Julie said, barely suppressing a yawn. "I'll have to think about it."
Early the next day at the office, Julie was working in her office, when one of the secretaries said that Mr Taggert was in that day and would like to see her in his office.
She went there directly. She was a bit nervous about greeting him but he set her at ease right away. His manner with her was cordial but not too familiar. She appreciated that, not having known what to expect. She pushed back into the back of her mind her thoughts about how good he looked that day.
As a matter of fact, Mike Taggert was having the same kind of thoughts about Julie, who was turned out that day in a gray suit with a frilly red silk like blouse. The skirt was tight across Julie's butt, the current fashion, and emphasized her nicely formed breasts.
Mike struggled, as soon as he saw her, to not go into a fugue about what she'd look like without the suit jacket, skirt and blouse. He kind of shook his head and said quietly: "Sorry, Julie, wool gathering."
They sat in a small informal seating area by a bank of windows and Mike spoke to her:
"Julie, Les is coming in today. It's a normal thing for us to do a final interview. I want you here for the first part of that to go over your report findings. I promise you that this won't get nasty! Just trust me here. We'll find out what went on and see what we can do about it."
"Fine, Mr Taggert!" she said, and he didn't correct her use of his formal name at that point.
It was only a few minutes later that Les was announced by the secretary. Mike greeted him cordially, when he entered the office and Les was a bit surprised to see Julie there but greeted her. It was as though he suspected what was about to happen.
"Les, I've asked Julie to be here for the first part of our interview today. I want her to start us off. He turned to Julie and nodded.
"Les," she began, realizing that as soon as she started to make her presentation, her nerves settled down immediately. "I've done our quarterlies, and ran the numbers and totals using three different methods."
This was apparently something that Les hadn't counted on. He became a bit pale, as soon as she said it.
"I think that you know what I found," she said softly.
Les shook his head 'yes'.
"It was a matter of $40,000," Julie said then. "That was the discrepancy. I can't find any reason for it, though I've looked throughout our system. And I've told no one but Mr Taggert about it."
"Yes, um ... you're right," Les said, even more pale.
Julie looked at Mike then and he nodded. "Julie," he said, "I think that Les and I can take this matter from here. Thank you for your help. I'll be down to see you in just a little bit."
"Thank you, Mr Taggert," she said and got up but before she left the room, she reached down and kissed Les on the cheek. Then she left.
She waited in her office. She did some work but only to keep her mind occupied. Finally, there was a knock on her door.
"Come in!" she said, and smiled as Mike Taggert entered her office. He was carrying two cups of coffee.
They sat and he said: "Okay, let me tell you. It was, it seems, a one off about a family emergency. I told him that we would have taken care of the emergency, if he'd let us know about it."
"Oh," Julie said nodding.
"What I've done, and you can make the report show this, if you would; we'll keep it above board that way. I've told him that it was a retirement bonus from the company. He said that he had already gotten together about a quarter of the money in an account to pay it back. So, I think that we'll leave it there."
"Thank you for treating him so well," Julie said. "And, no, I'm not going to cry again. I won't make it a habit of doing that every day at work."
"Okay, then I'll promise to try not to make you cry every day at work!" he said, grinning.
"Oh, you get a hug for this!" Julie said, getting up and grabbing him.
His mind was immediately awash again with thoughts about how marvelous she felt against him, and he moved back a bit, when he felt himself getting a possible erection, giving himself a mental warning about that. He was certainly not sure that she, an Afro-American woman would even possibly appreciate advances from him. He simply pushed it from his mind.
A BIRTHDAY PARTY:
"Oh," she said, as he was leaving, "And I have a request from Queen Lily Anne."
"Yes!" he said, "Anything for that girl! That's what I say!"
She giggled and said: "We're having a small, that is the three of us, birthday party for the Queen on Saturday, and she has requested your company."
"Oh, what a treat!" he said. "What shall I get her."
"No, please!" Julie said immediately, "That's not why you're invited. No gift is necessary. Just come and have cake and ice cream and help us sing 'Happy Birthday! That will be grand."
"Okay," he said, but made a mental note about what he'd seen in Lily's bedroom.
He went shopping that afternoon. In fact, when he was in Lily's bedroom to give her a 'good night' kiss and get a hug, the other day, he noticed a desk but no computer. He was determined that he'd do something about that. He was pleased with his plan.
He was greeted at the door by both Julie and Lily Anne.
"Hey, Mike," Julie said, collecting a hug from him and then it was Lily Anne's turn.
She gave him a hug also and said: "Thank you for coming to my birthday bash!"
"It is a distinct honor to be invited," Mike said, as he entered. He had with him large briefcase that he sat by the door.
"Have you eaten?" Julie asked. "We have and are all ready for cake for the Queen."
"I have," he said, "Grabbed something quick after work today."
They went then into the kitchen where Mike greeted Lila and they were seated, as Julie got the cake out, and lit the candles. Then it was all of them singing to a grinning Lily Anne.
When the singing was all done, the cake was passed around and they all had a piece of cake. There were a few small gifts, which pleased Lily Anne very much.
"Next year will be a better year," Julie said.
"Momma, I know," Lily Anne said, "Just having the party for us is a real treat!"
Julie smiled and went to kiss Lily on the head. It was then that Mike spoke up:
"As a matter of fact, Queen Lily Anne, the adults around the table have conspired and appointed me the messenger of the birthday, so, without further ado, let me produce what our conspiracy has turned up for the birthday Queen."
Julie and Lila just looked at him, and when Lily wasn't looking, he winked at Julie and then went to retrieve his briefcase. He brought it to the table and set it on the table, and when he opened it, it had a huge gift all wrapped inside.
Mike took the gift out and said: "Lily Anne, this is from your Momma, your Aunt Lila and me. Happy Birthday!"
Lily Anne was really, terribly excited by this unforeseen bounty. She started to open the wrapping paper and asked her Momma: "Do I have to save the paper?"
Julie laughed and said: "No, you don't!"
Then Lily Anne tore at the paper with a will and went into screams, and squeals; she started jumping up and down, as she saw, emerging from the wrapping paper, a new MacBookPro computer for her.
Julie was struck dumb, as was Lila. Mike was equal to the challenge, however, giving Lily Anne a quick kiss on the cheek and hug with a 'Happy Birthday, sweetie!' to go along with it.
Lily Anne was then springing from one adult to the other with tears now on her cheeks and many, many 'thank yous' expressed.
"Momma, may I open it and see about getting it started?" Lily Anne wanted to know.
"Yes, honey," Julie said, "But wash your hands first."
Lily Anne went off to the bathroom to wash and Julie was in Mike's arms immediately, and was joined there by Lila.
"You wonderful man!" Julie said. "What a nice thing to do for all of us!"
He grinned at them both and got a kiss on the cheek from Lila. From Julie, however, he got a kiss. It was quick but it was soft and very expressive of what was going through Julie's mind right then.
"We should talk about this!" Julie said.
"I don't think so," he said, "What's done is done!"
"It was so nice that you did it that way!" Lila said, with tears in the corner of her eyes. "Things are always tight because she takes such good care of me!"
"Hey, hey," Julie said, hugging her older sister, "None of that now! This is a party! Party faces now."
Then Lily Anne was back and Mike and Julie helped her to unpack the MacBookPro.
"Let's take it to your room," Julie said.
"It comes with a year of internet service prepaid," Mike said, once again stunning Julie.
"And," he went on, "I'll teach you how to find porn on the internet!"
Lily Anne squealed with laughter and Julie just turned and hung on to him. "I'm gonna bite you, Mister!" she said, and they all laughed.
The party was a huge success. They got the computer set up for Lily Anne in her room, and Mike went through the programs with her, promising that he'd help her whenever she needed the help.
It was a very happy but very tired little girl that they put to bed that night. Once the birthday girl was in bed, Lila said that she was going to the bathroom to take a long bath, leaving Mike and Julie alone.
They stood quietly in the hall before the door to the apartment.
"This was too much!" she said.
"No, not at all!" was his response. "Look at you, the wonder of you," he said, looking down into her eyes, as he had his hands on her shoulders. "Look at who you are! You're the care giver. You're the one who lets Lila be the fantastic, free spirit that she is, with no thought for how she's going to make out because she has you, the care giver. And look at Lily Anne, that beautiful, wonderful little girl, who has you for a care giver and protector. That's who you are: the care giver. And do you know who I am?"
"Who?" she asked in a soft voice, never letting her eyes stray from his.
"I am the one who takes care of the care giver! It doesn't matter if it's a computer for the little girl or whatever is needed. I take care of the care giver."
She sighed then, a deep, deeply felt sigh. But Mike wasn't finished yet; he went on:
"But, Julie, you must tell me, tell me now; tell me now and there will be no consequences or problems of any kind. Tell me now if a romance between me, a 40 year old, white bachelor, and you, a beautiful, young, brown skinned lovely is simply not part of your plan for life. Tell me now and I will be fine, sad but fine, understanding and sad but fine! But tell me now!"
She stared at him for a moment, and the silence seemed like a long, long one.
"Mike Taggert," she began in a soft voice. "I simply do not recognize any significance to the color of your skin or mine in this relationship. I feel like I am being swept away by the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to a girl, especially a girl like me, who made her mistake at such a young age."
He put a finger over her lips then and said: "Lily Anne is not a mistake, never was, never will be; I won't hear of that!"
"She leaned her head against his breast and said: "Yes, yes, you're right, and I want you to know that the time is coming for you and me, just coming, I can sense it. As for right now, I'm going to kiss you and you'd best be prepared because I intend to lick you right down to your toes!"
"Oh," he said, "Goodie for me!"
"No, goodie for the two of us!" was her reply, and then she was kissing him. It was a kiss filled with life, her life and his life and the lives of those for whom she was a care giver, and filled with passion and promise and a kind of commitment that some lovers find in each other at the very start of everything.
"Good night, beautiful Julie!" he said then and kissed her one more time.
"Good night, Mike, my Mike!" she said, as he left.
When she wandered back into the apartment, Lila was waiting for her. There were no words at first. Lila simply stood there with her arms opened and Julie fitted herself into her sister's arms and cried her joy.
"He's so wonderful for you!" Lila was whispering.