RONNIE AND AMANDA
She sat wearily with Amanda in the doorway. It seemed to be the best thing to do at the time.
"Mommie's tired, love," she said to Amanda.
"Okay, Mommie," the pretty little girl said.
"We'll go someplace lovely, as soon as I rest," Ronnie said next, and she realized that tears were gathering in the corners of her eyes.
"Mommie," the little girl asked next. "Are you sad? Are you crying?"
"Yes, sweet love," Ronnie said. "I'm sad that this is happening to us."
"Justin and the others got mean," Amanda said, saying the simple truth, as only an innocent child might.
"Yes," Ronnie said, with the tears now streaming down her face.
Amanda put her arms around Ronnie's neck and hugged her.
"I love you, Mommie," she said.
"I love you too, sweetheart," Ronnie said.
"It's gonna be fine," Amanda said with a kind of wisdom that was beyond her age of 6. "We're going to go someplace lovely next."
"Yes, lovely," Ronnie said. "I just have to sit here and rest a bit."
"Yes, Mommie," the little girl said, content to watch the later evening traffic go by, as her Mom got some rest.
Ronnie had been tramping around most of the day with Amanda and carrying her for a good deal of it, since the little girl got tired so quickly and often.
She said a bitter: "Not eating properly will do that to a little girl!" but hid that kind of message from lovely Amanda.
Ronnie sat and went over it in her mind again, trying to see exactly what had brought on the changes that resulted in her and Amanda being no longer welcome with 'the group'.
It's what they'd called themselves. Each of the four of them, the three guys and Ronnie, from homes that they certainly didn't want to or couldn't go back to. They struck out on their own, after high school. Ronnie was the only one that had actually graduated.
Justin had made it sound like such an adventure for them, and Ronnie had gone along with it. It was, in those early days, the sense of adventure of it. They each worked periodically to keep things going. They never, however, worked for a long time at any particular job.
Ronnie was seen as the 'woman of the house' the 'group's' woman.
Early on, Justin had insisted on sharing Ronnie with the other two. She never liked that but wasn't totally against it. It just seemed to be part of the adventure that they were having.
Two things happened, fairly quickly, at the end of that first year. One was that Ronnie became pregnant.
At first the guys thought it was cool and they were all kind of proud to be fathers. There was never any real thought about whose child it actually was.
The birth of Amanda was a joy for Ronnie and she began to understand a love that was lasting and just up-lifting.
But there was also the other thing. It was Ed who initially began the drugs. They each began to do them, except Ronnie, who with Amanda to think about now, refused.
At first the guys in the group took it okay.
It was grass that they began with and worked their way to meth. It got to the point where they were working to satisfy the drugs needs, and Ronnie was out doing what she could in order for their to be some kind of normal life with food and shelter for them, still for them all.
She pleaded with Justin to get away from this. She told him that the three of them should go their own way but he wasn't hearing about that at all.
"No," he'd said, "It's still the group, and if you want to go, then go. There are other bitches around."
Ronnie was stung by that much more than she let on. As time went by, she put more and more of her efforts into Amanda and less and less of her efforts into 'the group'.
It was only after a number of years that things changed again. Meth was now the ruler of the shack, where they were crashing at that time. But Ed brought in a new 'bitch', as they insisted on calling their women. That was Elaine. And then, more and more, Elaine took over Ronnie's position as the 'bitch' that they all had sex with.
Elaine was jealous, it seemed, of Ronnie, who was referred to as the house 'Mother'.
At that point, Ronnie always thought that it was at Elaine's instigation, the guys began to use Ronnie for sex but only rough sex. She put up with it for a while, because it didn't happen all the time but there were those times, when they all three got together, having had something —- drink or meth, she never knew —- and they'd play their rough games with Ronnie.
That only changed, when one time Ed wanted to play 'Gag Mother', as the game was called but this time he was determined to do it in front of Amanda. He said: 'So that Amanda can see what a skank her Mom was. He was so obviously channeling Elaine at that point. To Ronnie, at least, that was apparent.
It was Ronnie's final and ending indignity. She flatly refused, and so the group moved on, shortly after that, deciding to make their way to the coast but they kicked Ronnie and Amanda out. It was done in a way that was fairly sneaky and they left, taking all of Ronnie small parcel of personal things. She and Amanda were left with nothing.
Then it had been the day, the whole tiring day, on the street for Ronnie and Amanda and that brought them to where they were at that moment.
One of the last thoughts that Ronnie had, as her head slumped against a door was: "Congratulations, Veronica Wells, here you are, 22 and can't even keep your promise that something lovely is happening next for Amanda.' Then she slept.
It had been a kind of a celebration that evening. Ray made sure that he didn't drink too much but then he never did. He was, they all thought, 'the sensible' one of the group.
They were celebrating their success in the markets, making each of them a little richer than they already were.
Ray certainly enjoyed the camaraderie of it with them. They ate and had some wine but some of the guys decided to go bar hopping that night.
"Not for me," Ray had said, "I have some things to do that need me to get up early tomorrow. I'm going to finish this beer and head out home."
At 30 years, Ray Milton was doing well. He'd followed his interest, after college, and went into trading and commodities. He seemed to have a flair for them and he prospered.
He devoted his time and energy to getting to where he wanted to be with his life, professionally and financially, and that plan was working well.
He wasn't anti-woman or romance, but he was a planner and a woman didn't figure into his plans until he was financially set and able to offer such a woman the kind of life that he envisioned for them.
It was working for him too. He'd made a major step this year by buying a house. It was, he thought, his first step into the future.
He was content and actually whistling, as he walked to the car park garage, where he'd put his car.
Ray was a happy and contented man at this age.
His only real regret was that his wonderful parents hadn't lived to see his success.
He'd been a late life child and both his elderly parents had died, actually within a year of each other, his Mom going first and then his Dad slipping into a kind of ennui that never let up until he too died.
It was the sad year of Ray's life, and had taken him a good year or more to get over it and get on with his life. It was after that year that he bought the house as a kind of a path into the future.
Both his parents had an allergy to cat dander and so they never had pets but Ray had added, to his own 'family', both Flame and Rita, two siamese kittens, who were great fun and now, already a year later, in charge of the house.
These were the kind of thoughts that were swirling in Ray's head, as he went to the garage for his car.
His reverie was broken by a tiny voice saying : "Hi!"
A MEETING AND AND A RESCUE:
Ray was startled and stopped. He looked down and saw a lovely little girl, nestled against a rather tired but pretty looking woman. The woman was asleep and the little girl was leaning against her. The little girl was holding a faded, stuffed rabbit in her arms.
"This is Leo," the girl said first.
"Pleased to meet you, Leo," Ray said and the little girl smiled, taking encouragement from how nice this man was being.
"My Mommie's tired," the little girl said.
"I can see that she is," Ray answered, "It's so nice of you to let your Mommie sleep."
"Yes," the little girl said, "I'm Amanda and that's Mommie, and Leo."
"Hi, Amanda," Ray said, "I'm Ray."
"Mommie said that she needed to rest and then we were going to go to someplace lovely," Amanda continued.
"Oh, good," Ray said.
But Amanda was not through: "The others left town to go someplace else and wouldn't let Mommie and me go with them. They were no longer nice to us at all. They took all our things; now we don't have anything, Mommie and Leo and me."
"Oh, too bad," Ray said, making no attempt to move away.
"We don't live with them any more," Amanda said.
"Where do you live?" Ray asked.
"We don't live anywhere," Amanda said "But Mommie said that we're going someplace lovely next."
It didn't take very much thinking for Ray to realize what the reality of that statement was.
"Did you have dinner?" Amanda asked politely.
"Well, no," Ray said, "I was going to do that next."
"I had a candy bar," Amanda said. "Mommie said that it would have to do for me. She didn't have anything at all though."
It was then that Ronnie woke, and realized that Amanda was talking to someone.
"Oh dear!" Ronnie said quickly, looking around.
But it was Amanda who again stepped in and said to her Mommie: "Mommie, this is my friend Ray. Ray, this is my Mommie."
Ronnie looked up, as Ray said 'hi'. She said the first thing that came to her mind: "You a policeman?"
Ray chuckled and said: "No, I'm really a commodities trader."
Ronnie was relieved; she was afraid that she and Amanda were about to be hauled in for vagrancy.
"Actually," Ray went on, "I'm about to go and get some dinner, and I'm wondering if you'd like to join me?"
Ronnie look undecided but it was her concern for Amanda that made her say: "Yes."
"My treat!" Ray said. "Amanda said that she's hungry and that you must be too."
"Yes, we are," Ronnie said. "It's really nice of you."
Ray held up his hands then and said: "No strings of any kind attached! I promise."
"Thank you," Ronnie said.
At that point Ray bent down and held out his arms for Amanda, who scrambled into his arms with a grin, holding on to Leo, as she did.
Ray turned to Ronnie who said to him softly: "I'm Ronnie, Veronica Wells." She stuck out her hand and Ray took the hand, saying: "It's my pleasure, Mother of the lovely Amanda."
"My car is in the garage," he said and they walked into the garage.
"This is so nice," Ronnie said, when they got to his car.
"Sorry, that I don't have a kiddie seat for Amanda," he said.
"We'll sit in the back," Ronnie said, "And I'll buckle her in and hold on to her."
"I'll be careful," Ray said smiling at her, as she got Amanda situated.
When he got into the car, Ray turned and said: "Okay, ladies, what'll it be? You pick."
"McDonalds!" Amanda said with some joy in her voice. Ronnie nodded her head 'yes' to the idea.
"McDonalds it is!" Ray said, and drove out of the garage.
When they got to McDonalds, Ronnie and Amanda put in their order and then Ronnie said that she wanted to take Amanda to the bathroom to wash her hands. Ray nodded and, after he paid, waited for the food.
When the two of them came back to where he had just gotten the tray of food, Amanda's face was all clean, as were her hands.
"The girls look all sparkling!" he said with joy in his voice, getting a grin from Amanda and a sly kind of smile from Ronnie.
"This is so nice!" Ronnie said, as they sat to eat.
"It's my pleasure," Ray said.
They ate and Ray noticed that Amanda was beginning to fade. She was leaning against her Mom's shoulder and her eyes were quickly closed.
Then Ray took the opportunity to talk to Ronnie: "Plans?"
He asked. He held up a hand then and said: "I'm here on a need to know basis but I am concerned for where you and lovely Amanda are going to bed down tonight."
"Ohhh," Ronnie said, wiping tears from her eyes. "I have no plans. I told her that we'd go someplace lovely next. I'm afraid I was lying to her."
"Not at all," he said, "My place is really lovely and Flame and Rita will dote on her."
"Flame and Rita?" Ronnie asked.
"My siamese cats!" he said and Ronnie smiled.
"Please come home with me!" he asked, quietly but with some emotion in his voice. Then he went quickly on: "Ronnie, this isn't a seduction scene on my part. I assure you. But something has to be done now and I'm determined to do it."
"That will be so nice," she said. "My story, our story, is so sordid, as you'll find out but I need to take care of her and you're being a knight in shining armor."
He grinned and said: "What a grand thing to say!" Then he had a thought and went on: "Um, bags?"
"No," Ronnie said, "We left and they kept everything and are gone now. It was one of their ways of being mean to us. I only have her rabbit, Leo."
"We'll," he said, "Let's you and Amanda and Leo and I go home now."
"Yes," Ronnie said, "Home now."
He carried Amanda again to the car, with Ronnie walking along carrying Leo. She put her hand through his arm, as they walked, and for the world, they looked like a young, happy couple out for a dinner treat, and taking their daughter home.
That, at least, was what was going through Ray's mind at the time. It made him smile.
"Yes?" she asked quietly, and the told her. It made her smile too.
Ronnie knew, in a back part of her mind, that this might be a dangerous thing to do but her instincts, which were pretty good, though not as helpful with 'the group' as they might have been, told her that she and Amanda were in good hands that night.
He drove them home and pulled the car behind the house and to the garage. There was a Jeep in one stall and the other stall was empty for this car.
"This is gorgeous," she said, as he carried Amanda toward the house, her head still on his shoulder.
It was just as they got to the door that Amanda woke with a "Mommie?"
"We're at the lovely place now, honey," Ronnie said.
Amanda responded with "Oh, goodie! The lovely place! And Ray is still here."
"And you get to meet Flame and Rita now," Ray said, unlocking the door.
"Who are they?" Amanda wanted to know but let out a pleased cry, when she saw the two cats, coming toward the door to be official greeters.
The cats were ready to greet them, as soon as they entered the door. The didn't seem to be frightened. It was more of an attitude that indicated that this was their home and whoever new came into it came with their sufferance.
Amanda was enchanted right from the start, and both Rita and Flame made the most of her, twisting themselves around her ankles and rubbing up against her, as she sat on the floor with them.
"Oh, I love them," Amanda said with glee, petting and scratching the purring cats, who were making their own kind of fuss over her.
"Let me show you around," Ray said, leading Ronnie and Amanda, with Rita and Flame following in their wake, deeper into the house.
He gave them what he called 'the tour', showing them the lower level family room with its view over the yard and the forest in back of the yard, the first level living room, dining room, kitchen, library and a kind of room off to the side that had workout equipment in it.
"This is so nice!" Ronnie said quietly.
"Thank you and welcome!" he said with a smile.
They went upstairs then and he showed them the guest suite, which he proposed that they would have. It had its own en-suite bathroom with a tub and a shower. He also showed them, the master and its bathroom, which included a jacuzzi tub, as well as a stall shower. There were other rooms up on that level as well but unused, one of them with its own bathroom.
"Very nice!" Ronnie said.
Then Amanda chimed in with: "Mommie, can I have a bath in the deep tub?"
Ronnie looked a little chagrined at Amanda being forthcoming enough to ask such things but Ray stepped in immediately:
"Of course you can, if your Mommie says it's okay."
Ronnie nodded her head and that set Amanda off to jumping and clapping happily.
Ray turned to Ronnie and said: "It's a bit deep."
"I'll be with her all the while," Ronnie promised.
"Good," he said.
"Look," he began then, "I will get out of your hair but I will put your clothes into the washer tonight. Let me just show you where there are clothes that you might be able to wear, while your others are being washed. Tomorrow it's shopping for all of us and we'll outfit the two of you."
This brought tears to Ronnie's eyes immediately. She simply had not been, over these number of years, used to someone being as genuine and kind as Ray was constantly being to them, and she said so.
He'd put his arms around her and, for the moment, she clung to him, letting the tears flow.
Amanda piped up then with: "Mommie, is Ray going to be your boyfriend?"
That caused both Ray and Ronnie to laugh. Ray answered: "Well, we're not sure about that but if and when it happens, we'll certainly let you know!"
"Goodie," Amanda said, "Mommie has a boyfriend."
"That's not what he said, love," Amanda said but Ray was grinning and Ronnie joined him in the grin.
Then Amanda had another question: "Mommie, is this our home now?"
Ronnie turned, embarrassed and showing it, to Ray who saved the day with: "Well, sweetie, it is for as long as you need it to be."
This got a 'goodie' from Amanda.
"Okay," Ray said, "First clothes for Amanda the princess."
He fished out from a drawer a tee shirt for Amanda to wear as a night shirt.
"This will do fine," Ronnie said, thanking him.
Then he took Ronnie to his room and showed her his stash of workout clothes, including shorts, running pants, tees and all sorts of clothes.
"Pick what you need from here, and take this basket for the clothes for the washer. I'll do those right away," he said.
"This is very kind," Ronnie said, though she was seeming to get used to the kindness that she and Amanda were receiving from Ray.
"If you want," he said, "You can just put the clothes to be washed outside of the bathroom door and I'll take care of it."
"Fine," Ronnie said with a smile, and turning to Amanda, she said: "And guess what, precious."
"What?" Amanda asked, grinning at her Mom for using that name for her.
"I'm going to take a bath with you in the deep tub!" Ronnie said, getting a response of, as before, clapping and dancing about from a very happy Amanda.
"I'm gonna leave you now for a bit," Ray said. "I'll be back in a little bit to collect the clothes. If you need anything before then, I'll be in the library downstairs."
"Thank you," Ronnie said, and, getting on tip-toes, she kissed him on the cheek.
It worked the way that they said. Ray was back in a few minutes and spying the pile of clothes outside of the bathroom door, picked them up to do the laundry. He had some things of his own to do also.
He knocked softly the door, and got a "Hi!" from Amanda and a softer one from Ronnie right away.
"I have the laundry and will do it now; did you get what you needed?" he asked.
"Yes, we did," Ronnie said.
"Don't mean to embarrass you," he went on, "But in the top drawer of my armoire, there are shorts of different kinds: some boxers and some briefs. You might find something that you can wear."
"Thank you," Ronnie said, "Helped myself to a pair."
"Good," Ray said. "I'll be downstairs. Let me know, when the princess is ready for bed. I'll be up to say a 'good night' to her."
"Thank you," Amanda's voice was heard next and he said a 'welcome' and went to do the washing.
He started the laundry downstairs and then went to the library. He had some things to do there and settled down to them. Rita and Flame were with him.
"They're both lovely," he said to the cats, who twitched their tails as they were spoken to.
"Don't know what all happened but they got a raw deal from someone, that's for sure. But we can correct that, right girls?"
That got a yowl from Rita and then one from Flame also.
He ended by giving himself a 'be careful' message for all sorts of reasons, that he thought was appropriate, though he knew that he was, by this time, fairly smitten with both Ronnie and Amanda.
It was only a little while later that there was a knock on the library door.
"Come in," he said, and Ronnie opened the door. She was wearing a pair of running pants that were a bit baggy on her and a hockey jersey.
"I love this!" she said, meaning the hockey jersey.
"And who is this lovely, lovely little girl?" he asked.
"It's me, Amanda," the little girl said.
"You're so bright and clean that I hardly knew you!" he said, as she came to him and with youthful spontaneousness, was in his arms for a hug.
"You smell so nice!" he said.
"Hug my Mommie," she said, "She smells nice too!"
"Glad to!" he answered and gathered Ronnie in for a hug.
She was in his arms then, and he was struck, positively struck by how wonderful she felt. The hug lingered and he uttered a: "Sorry," and backed off.
She, however, simply smiled and kissed his cheek.
"Bed time for the princess?" he asked.
They went toward the door and he said: "You know, Amanda, I think that Flame and Rita will at least start the night with you. The bed in that room is big enough for them and you and your Mom but maybe tomorrow we should search out a special room that will be for you alone."
"Goodie!" Amanda said with some enthusiasm. "My room! Won't that be great, Mommie? This really is the lovely place."
"Yes it is, love, and it's great!" Ronnie said with a smile.
"And," Ray announced next. "I was rummaging in my things and have come up with a pile of first class books for bedtime reading. Some of them, favorites, were mine as a child. Here they are."
He handed them to Amanda and she said: "Oh, 'No Good, the Dancing Donkey'. Can I have the story about the donkey, Mommie?"
"Yes, love," Ronnie said, giving Amanda a kiss. "Do you want me to read it?"
"Could we have Ray read it, since it was a favorite of his?" Amanda asked.
"Yes, we can certainly have Ray read it," Ronnie said.
Then they got the little girl into bed and tucked the covers around her. As soon as she was in bed, both Flame and Rita were up on the bed and snuggled against her, causing her to both smile and giggle.
Then Ray read 'No Good'. By the time he was finished with the read, she was already drifting off to sleep.
When the reading was finished, Ray made sure that the night light was on for Amanda and pointed out to Ronnie that the house had an integrated intercom system.
"We'll be able to hear her from anywhere in the house," he said. "I'm sure that you must be tired too; do you want a late night drink before turning in?"
"Yes," she said simply. "You're being so nice to us, a veritable savior for us and I need to tell you some things."
"Only if you want to," he said.
"Yes," she responded,"It's best if I do."
"Fine," he said, "I'll go and fetch us each a glass of wine; makes the talking easier, I think."
"Yes," she said.
"Oh," he said next, "I have a robe for you in my room; let me get it."
He went then and fetched a short silk robe for her.
"Bought this and never used it; was buying it for you, I guess!" he said, and she smiled at him.
"I'll be right down," she said to him then, and he went to get the wine.
He was struck by how lovely she looked, bathed and her hair done up. There was a loveliness and freshness about her that had escaped attention before that.
He surprised himself with the fact that he was actually saying that to her and not only thinking it.
"Sorry," he said, "Didn't mean to make you ill at ease."
"Oh, don't say 'sorry' for being so nice, and you don't make me ill at ease. This is the first peace that I've known in years."
The tears came for her then but she wiped them away and raised her head, determined to have this talk with him.
He listened then, as she went into all of it about 'the group' and how it had changed, first with the birth of Amanda and then with the drugs and the addition of other women. She mentioned how it had ended with her being looked down on by everyone and the final demand that she provide oral sex for the guys with Amanda watching.
He just shook his head in disbelief.
"That's when we left, and they went away. They took everything that we had. We got away with only the clothes that you found us wearing. I was sure that those girls had some evil, evil plan in mind for both me and Amanda and I left to protect her. By then I hardly cared about myself, since I'd made such a mess of my life but I wanted better for her. I was just telling her stories, when we sat by that garage, and I said that after a rest we were going someplace lovely next. It gave her so much hope, and then you came along and made it the truth after all."
She stopped then because she as crying so hard. He went to her then and put his arms around her, hauling her into himself. She kind of curled around him and had her cry, almost a cry for a misspent youth and the wrong path she'd had them both on, and how much that scared her, for Amanda's sake.
There was nothing, at that moment, sexual about their being entwined. It was pure and simple peace and a sense of security.
She looked up at him and he kissed her forehead.
"Now me," he said. He talked about himself briefly, what he did and how he pursued his goals to get where he was.
"I'm old fashioned enough to have wanted to have something substantial to offer the woman who would come along and share my life," he said.
"But what I mainly want to say is this: Ronnie, you can stay here as long as you want, you and Amanda. I already admit that I love that little girl! I make no claim on you of any kind. We can share this house and I will take care of you, while you decide to abide here, and when you need to go, I'll understand and make sure that you are taken care of for the next part of your life."
She sighed and cried now for a different reason.
"I never, ever thought that there were people like you out there," she said, "I thought it was all only a fairy tale."
He still held her, and finally said to her: "You must be really tired; I can't imagine how the worry has taken it all out of you. Will that room and bed be okay for the two of you?"
"Yes," she said, "Fine, better than fine."
"Tomorrow," he went on, "I intend to take the day. We need to shop. You both need outfitting and maybe some things for Amanda's room? Does that sound okay?"
"It sounds like you are an angel!" she said.
She kissed him then. It was soft and it was the most wonderful thing he'd ever experienced. It made him sigh.
"That's for me and Amanda," she said, "That's how you say 'thank you' to an angel."
She stood up and said: "Oh, I'm afraid that wine went to my head. I must be more tired than I thought." While saying that, she put her hand to her head but he was there and he scooped her up, with his arm under her knees and his other arm behind her shoulders.
She let out a great sigh and simply rested her head against his shoulder, as he carried her to bed.
"I'm only across the hall," he said to her. "You sleep well and let me know if you need anything. I'll keep my door open a little because Flame and Rita might just do some prowling tonight."
He left only after he'd tucked her in and puled the covers up. She smiled at him and then raised her arms for a hug and then another of those soft kisses, before he went.
He left them there, Amanda, Ronnie, Flame and Rita, all of them, and went downstairs to do whatever final clean up was needed before going to bed himself.
He woke next morning, when Flame and Rita got up on the bed and began to make their breakfast noises. When he opened his eyes, he saw Amanda, who, holding Leo under her arm, was standing next to his bed and smiling at him.
"Hi!" he said.
"Good morning, Mr Ray!" she said.
"Breakfast?" he asked her. "Hungry? I know that Flame and Rita are."
"Yes, please," she said.
"Okay," he said getting up and putting on his robe. "Let's go and see what's available."
They went downstairs companionably together and began the process of making pancakes. He set Amanda up with an apron and talked her through the process, as they made the preparations. He put sausage in the microwave to prepare them and the two of them made the pancakes. They worked out a system, where she poured the pancake batter onto the griddle and he flipped and removed. It worked and they were laughing together in the middle of the task.
"Well don't you two look like a happy pair!" came Ronnie's voice from the doorway.
He turned and said: "Hi, mornin'!"
"Hi, Mommie," Amanda said also, "We're making pancakes. Want some?"
"Sure do!" Ronnie said.
"We're set here," Ray said and got Amanda down from the chair. She went immediately to her Mom for a hug.
Then Ray brought her a cup of coffee. She set it aside, however, and gave him a hug also.
"How'd you sleep?" he asked.
"Wonderfully, peacefully! First time in a long time," she said, and kissed his cheek.
"Good," he said, coloring up from the kiss, making Ronnie giggle.
"Mommie," Amanda said then, "Is Mr Ray your boyfriend?"
"Not sure yet, honey," Ronnie said, getting down on one knee and hugging her daughter. "He certainly is being nice to us."
"Yes," Amanda agreed, "I love Mr Ray!" She took a moment to think and said: "And I love Flame and Rita too!"
As though on cue, the two siamese wandered into the room, making morning noises of their own and were rewarded with scratches and petting.
They sat to breakfast then.
"We might need lists," Ray said.
"Lists?" Ronnie asked.
"Yes, of the things we need to shop for," he went on.
"Oh," Ronnie said, putting a hand to her mouth in her agitation and emotions.
He reached a hand to her and put his hand on top of hers. "Ronnie, it's necessary; even if you two don't stay here."
"Mommie, can't we stay here with Mr Ray and Flame and Rita?" Amanda asked, having heard that last remark.
"Sure we can, honey," Ronnie said, kissing the little girl's cheek. "We're just talking now about the day."
"Sorry to mention that," Ray said.
"No, it's okay," Ronnie replied, "Just takes some getting used to, is all."
She smiled a rueful smile and said: "We're just not used to someone taking care of us is all."
"Well, I'm off today and we need to get ourselves ready and go. Shall we, in addition to clothes and toilet articles, see about items for Amanda's room today."
A quiet but emotional Ronnie shook her head 'yes' to the idea and it caused Amanda to flare up and clap her hands in positive glee.
"Oh, my room!" Amanda enthused.
"I have your clothes from yesterday washed and ready," he said. "It'll be at least a start for us today."
In just a little while, they were indeed ready for the shopping trip. He had, in addition to his Lincoln, a Jeep and they took the Jeep that day. It was a white Grand Cherokee.
The shopping was a fabulous hit with all of them. They began with things for Amanda. They made sure that she was well and fully outfitted by the time that they were finished.
They did their shopping at a mall. When the packages for Amanda were all taken care of, with Ray walking them to the Jeep to store them, he said: "Okay, it's your turn, Mom."
"Oh," Ronnie said, "This is being so expensive."
At that moment, Amanda was watching a kind of performance out in the mall. Ray took the opportunity to say: "Ronnie, sweetie, I don't shop that much; in fact, I don't spend that much. This will be fine."
"I just seem to always want to cry around you," Ronnie said.
He gave her a handkerchief to dry her eyes.
They walked into the ladies' section of the store, where they encountered an older woman, who asked if she could help.
"Everything for her; she's lost everything!" Ray said, pointing at Ronnie. "Amanda and I are off to get some ice cream, while you shop for clothes and unmentionables."
Ronnie giggled and Amanda clapped for joy at the thought of finding ice cream.
"We'll meet you back here in about a half hour?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, stroking her hand along his cheek.
They came back from the ice cream adventure to find Ronnie loaded with packages and grinning at them.
"The word 'thank you' isn't big enough in the language or any language!" Ronnie said seriously to Ray but he simply smiled and said: "We're just taking care of things here is all."
"Yes," Ronnie said, "Taking care of things."
Their next order of business was Amanda's room. They went furniture shopping and bought the bed that Amanda liked. It was a lovely double with white wood and trim, with matching bureau and a night stand. Amanda was jumping and clapping and really happy about it.
They made arrangements for the bed to be delivered and were told that it could indeed be delivered that day.
When they got back 'home', Amanda was, by then, really tired.
"Come, honey," Amanda said, "Nap time."
"Mommie, nap with me please?" Amanda asked.
"Yes, I will," Ronnie said.
Ray then said that he'd go down and get some dinner under way, and left.
As they lay there, Amanda stroked her Momma's cheek and said: "Mommie, remember that you told me, when we were out and alone that we were going someplace lovely next?"
"Yes, honey," Ronnie said, wit tears in her eyes now.
"Is this the 'lovely next'? Mr Ray's house?" Amanda asked then.
"It certainly seems to be," Ronnie said. "He's grand."
"Yes, I love him and it's so nice here, Mommie. Can we please stay here?"
"I think that maybe we can, princess," Ronnie said then. "I think that maybe we can."
A CRISIS OF SORTS:
They were all up early the next morning. Ray had some breakfast set for them, and, when Amanda and Ronnie entered the room, he was already dressed in a white shirt and tie.
"My you look handsome!" Ronnie said, and, turning to Amanda asked: "Don't you think that Ray looks handsome?"
"Yes, Mommie," Amanda said, "I love Mr Ray!" she said then with finality.
"They sat to breakfast and he said: "There are a few things that I need to tell you."
"Fine," Ronnie said.
"I have to go to work," he said.
She shook her head 'yes'.
"Today is my usually grocery shopping day; I normally do it after work. I have a basic list here but you'll need to supplement it with what you and Amanda like. Can you do the shopping?"
"Yes," Ronnie said right away, waiting for him to finish.
"I'm going to take the Jeep and I'll leave the Lincoln for you two for whatever errands you have or need," he said next.
She was getting choked up by this and was working to push her emotions back into the back of her mind.
"Here's some money for your shopping," he said, and then hastily added: "Food money is in the cupboard in a jar. You'll see it where I've put it. It's the beginning of the month and I've put this month's food and grocery money there. I've figured on $150 a week for us. We'll see how that works out. Is all of this okay?"
He was finished then and she said: "Yes" in a tiny voice, the emotions threatening to get the best of her.
When breakfast was done, she said: "Leave the dishes and things, I'll do the clean up. You go to work."
He got hugs and kisses at the door from both Amanda and Ronnie.
"I'm hoping to only have to do part of a day," he said, "But we'll see."
Ronnie still seemed to be stunned by what was happening. Up to that point, it had been a clear and wonderful rescue but this extended that rescue and the possibilities.
"Honey," Ronnie said to Amanda, "How about if I turn on the tv for you for a bit?"
"Yes, Mommie," Amanda said, "Thank you."
Ronnie tuned the tv into a station that had children's programs and went to the kitchen.
She opened the envelop and it contained $200 in cash. Then she went to the cupboard and looked and in a cup in the cupboard, as he'd said, there was $600 of food money in cash. Ronnie took it out and sat at the table.
"A car," she said to herself, "$800 also," she said next. "A new kind of start for us."
The thought came unbidden and Ronnie just let it set there and roll around her consciousness.
Then it was Amanda's voice that cut across her thinking: "Mommie?"
"Yes, sweetie," she said, "You watch tv and I'll be right there; then we'll get you dressed and we have some shopping to do."
When Amanda was gone back to the tv, Ronnie said to herself: "That was 'the group' in you talking and there will be nor more of that. It's grocery money and his car and not your money and car to steal and run away with. That kind of mental bullshit is gone and done with, along with those no accounts that you spent so much of your and Amanda's life with!"
She was severe with herself because she shocked even herself with the temptation thoughts that had run through her mind.
"Amanda," she called, and, when Amanda came in, she said: "We need to make a list and go to the grocery store."
"A car?" Amanda asked.
"Ray left his Lincoln for us," Ronnie said.
"Oh goodie!" Amanda said, and they sat and made out their part of the list.
Ray thought about it on and off the whole day. He never really meant it as a test but knew it might be a temptation, and in the back of his mind, he settled himself for the real possibility that they'd be gone, when he got home.
He also realized that he was fine with that, if that's what it took for them to get their feet well on the ground. If, indeed, being with him wasn't what was going to fulfill them, although he realized more and more every day that it was certainly was was fulfilling him.