It Just Happened Ch. 09byREGade©
Chapter 9: Jennifer
Ed and Jen came in and found us embracing, Millie commiserating with me because of the predicament I had just described to her, broke and being forced into kowtowing to a rich girl in order to hold on to my job. I pulled my head away from Millie, hoping to alert her that we had company. She misunderstood and thinking that my intention was to kiss her, she closed her eyes and pushed her lips into mine.
"Ahem!" Jen said rudely interrupting what was becoming a very tender moment between her sister and me. Millie looked up and seeing that we were being watched, became unsettled.
"What are you looking at? Can't we have some privacy?" Millie asked in a disturbed tone.
"What do you think you're doing in my house?" Jen shot back at her sister.
Ed began laughing; seemingly amused at his wife's irritation of finding her sister in the arms of her former boyfriend.
"And you," Millie said, pointing at Ed. "How can you be so cruel to your own brother?"
"What do you mean by that?" Jen asked her sister, becoming even more confrontational. "We've taken Benny in. Ed's given him a job and I'm helping him negotiate his way through the mess he's gotten himself in. How can you say we've been cruel to him?"
"Your husband," Millie said before pausing for effect, "is forcing Ben to become a gigolo and threatening loss of work if he's unsuccessful," she said, standing up and pulling me with her.
Jen's mouth flew open. "Never would my husband..."she paused, thoughtfully and looked at Ed. "Is that what you meant by that suggestive remark? Did you really use loss of employment to intimidate Benny?"
"It was...I mean...a business decision," my brother stammered.
I guided Millie past Ed and Jen, toward the back door where I grabbed a jacket and helped her with her coat. As we left the house I heard Jen berating Ed. "So he made some mistakes. That's not an excuse for taking advantage of him. How can you even think of mistreating him after everything he gave you? He's not a bad person; it was that woman's fault."
"What does she mean? What did you give him?" Millie asked when we got outside, heading for her car.
"I relinquished my share of out parent's estate because I owed Ed for paying my college tuition," I said, opening the driver's door.
"Oh, yes, I remember that now," she said as she got in the car. I shut the door and went around to the other side and got in. The car, a small Nisan, was cold inside. We sat in the bucket seats, staring out the front window at the cluster of new homes.
I snickered and Millie turned to look at me, questioning as if to say, "what?"
"At the time, I thought I was only relinquishing my share of the house. I didn't know about those other houses. From the looks of things Ed made a handsome profit."
"Do you have any idea how much profit?"
"I can't even estimate," I said, trying to shake the hollow feeling inside. The six large homes all had a view of the lake. "The land was free because my parents had owned it for years. If the houses sold quickly it could amount to one hundred thousand or more per house, I suppose."
"They sold quickly. I remember Jennifer and Ed took a Hawaiian vacation a few months after your dad died."
I didn't respond to learning that my brother and ex-girlfriend had taken a vacation. I was lost in my own thoughts, remembering the months it took me to reach the decision to relinquish my part of the estate. It was my way of repaying Ed for financing three years of college tuition. Ed had built the homes; he deserved the profits. He and Jen also deserved a vacation after caring for my father.
Seeing Jen's aggravation at finding Millie and me together was disturbing. What difference did it make to her if we gravitated toward one another? But seeing her accuse her husband for treating me unfairly was downright scary. This was not like her at all. I was seeing a side of Jen that I had never known before. She had even kissed me this morning.
Millie was watching me, probably wondering what I was thinking. I decided to come clean. "Miss Hawley, I have a confession. My plan was to string you along for six weeks or until we finished Beverly's remodel job."
"I understood why you couldn't be seen in public with me. That's not to say I liked it, but I...what do you mean by stringing me along?" she asked, sounding alarmed.
"I was planning on using you."
Millie laughed. "You're not alone in that. I was planning on using you, too."
I signed heavily, "Wait, that's not what I meant. My plan involved gaining your trust to find out dirt on my brother and your sister. I believe Ed paid my college tuition so Jen and I would be separated for months at a time. I think he saw us together and wanted to take her away from me."
"What's that got to do with using me?"
"You're probably the only one who would know how it happened between them. I got their letters on November the fourteenth, four years ago, but I believe it had been going on a long time before then and they thought they had to tell me before I came home for Thanksgiving."
Millie was quietly looking out the front window, like she hadn't been listening. "I'm sorry, Ben, I can't help you. I was away at school and when I came home that summer I was too busy trying to get over a guy to notice what was going on around me. Your brother may have been sniffing around her, but I can't be sure. You'll have to ask them."
"I'm sorry...about the guy, I mean. I know how painful it can be."
She turned to me, eyes sparkling. "Thanks. Are you talking about getting over Jen or the other one?"
"I don't think I'll ever get over Jen, but you know what?"
"She kissed me today," I said, regretting immediately that I had been so forthcoming.
Millie pretended not to hear what I had said. "What about the other one?"
"Veronica was good for me. She helped me keep my mind off losing Jen for over three years. I miss her, but I know I'm better off without her. What about you? Did you ever get over the guy?"
There was a long silent pause before she spoke. "No, but I'm working on it."
"Yes, Mister Crumbly?"
"Will you go to dinner with me tomorrow night?"
She chuckled and there was a catch in her voice. "In public?"
"Yes, in public."
"I thought you were broke."
"I don't have a car, but I have six un-cashed pay checks and a new credit card," I said, reaching over and rubbing her shoulder.
"Do you think that's wise to use a new credit card? Isn't that what got into trouble?"
"I don't actually have the plastic yet, but I have enough cash to take you to dinner."
She moved over, placed her hand on my chest the same way Jen had done that morning and kissed me, twice, the same as Jen had done. "I'd love to go to dinner with you, in public. What time should I pick you up?" she asked, moving back to her seat.
I got out and went around to the driver's door. She rolled the window down.
"I'll make reservations at the Regal for seven. You can pick me up at a quarter till, unless you want to come in and meet the family."
"The Regal is awfully expensive."
"I know, but it's the best place to be seen in public."
"Does that mean you're asking me to be your girlfriend?"
"Miss Hawley, I don't have a pot to piss in. After next week I may be out of work and have to find a place to live. But I'll make two promises; I'm not leaving town and I'll get a job. Will you be my girlfriend?"
"Kiss me," she said. I leaned in and touched my lips to hers. She pulled away.
"Tell me truthfully, did that remind you of my sister?"
"Truthfully, yes, but..."
She interrupted me by starting her car. "Ben, I'll go to dinner with you, but I'm not going to compete with your infatuation with my sister," she said, putting the car in reverse.
"Am I competing with that guy back at school?" I asked.
"Kiss me again."
I stuck my head inside her car and kissed her. She took her foot off the break, making the car move backward, halting the kiss. "No, you don't remind me of anyone," she said, laughing as she left me standing in the driveway.
I went inside and finding the downstairs deserted, I locked the back door and trudged upstairs, planning on finding a suit, shirt, shoes and tie to wear the following night. But the sound of an argument taking place in the room across the hall was so disconcerting that I couldn't concentrate. I went back downstairs and watched television until one A.M.
Ed had already gone out when I went downstairs the next morning and since I didn't feel comfortable being around Jen, I grabbed a cup of coffee and went back upstairs. She wasn't unapproachable or anything; it was just that I didn't want to risk mentioning the argument I had heard in their room the night before. Besides, I had work to do. After selecting the clothes I would wear that night, I studied the folder labeled "Stew."
I had been at work making notes on what I found in the file for thirty minutes when my cell phone rang. I recognized Miss Sterling's voice.
"I hope I didn't get you into trouble. Max noticed that I sent the picture to you too." Nadine said as soon as I answered her call.
"Why would I be in trouble? What did you tell him?"
"He wanted to know whose email I copied and I had to tell him it was you. Please don't be mad at me, Ben."
"I'm not mad at you."
"He wants to meet with me."
"What did you say?"
A long silence followed. "Nadine, what did you tell him?"
"I said I would meet him. Are you angry?"
I laughed and thinking I might hurt her feelings, became serious. "I'm not angry with you. Are you comfortable meeting him in person?"
Another long pause, "It's a little scary," she admitted.
"Are you excited?"
"Promise you won't be angry?"
"I promise. Are you excited?"
"In that case there's nothing to worry about. Go meet him and have a good time."
"But what if...?"
Why was she putting me in this position? "What if what...what if he wants to sleep with you?"
"You have to let your feelings be your guide, Nadine. If he excites you the way you think he will and if you're attracted to him, you should go for it."
"What if I'm not attracted to him?"
"That's simple, Nadine. Say no, you're not interested."
"But what if...?"
I was becoming exasperated with her. "What?"
"What if he's willing to meet your demand? What if he says he'll convince the others to reduce the amount you have to pay?"
I couldn't believe my ears. I had never met this woman. What was she saying? That she would bed the guy on my behalf? Prostitute herself for me? I couldn't let her do that, could I? "Nadine, I don't want you to do something you may regret later. Nothing is worth that."
"I just want to please you, Ben." Her voice had a plea that pulled on my heartstrings.
I heard Jen saying I had a call on the land line. "It's Beverly," she said.
"I have to go, Nadine. Don't fuck Max unless you really want to. Do you hear me?"
When she didn't respond, I hung up, my concern for her overshadowed by disgust with myself.
Beverly was very conciliatory, inviting me to her house, offering to come after me, saying she was ready to sign the contract. "Hang on, Beverly. Let me see if I can borrow my sister-in-law's car."
I walked to the stairs and found Jen looking up at me, telling me I could use her car, like she had been listening to my conversation. I told Beverly that I would be there soon. Fifteen minutes later, Jen caught up with me at the back door. As she handed me the car keys I felt her hand linger. Seconds passed before she withdrew her hand.
"Why did you refer to me as your sister-in-law?" She asked, her voice bordering on confrontational. "Beverly knows who I am."
She was looking at me, eye to eye, standing her ground. I knew; right then, that if I had suggested she kiss me she would have jumped into my arms.
"What should I have said, 'let me see if my former girlfriend will loan me her car?'"
She had to struggle to remain calm. The way her face twitched, the way her body fidgeted, had me on edge, like something was about to happen. "No...that would have been...worse. Why didn't you say, 'let me see if I can borrow Jen's car?'"
"I'm sorry about last night, Jen," I said, disregarding her instruction to refer to her as Jen instead of my former girlfriend. "I know this is your house now. I shouldn't have invited Millie over without getting your permission."
"I was...surprised to find her here. This is as much your house as it is mine. Do what you want; you don't need my permission. I promise not to interfere again."
"Thank you," I said, leaving, feeling relieved that I hadn't acted on my impulse to tell her to kiss me. What was this power I suddenly had over women?
Beverly was fully dressed and ready for me. She recited everything that was to be done, including the changes we had talked about the day before.
"Are you sure moving the half-bath won't be any trouble?" Moving the bath was going to give her a few more square feet in her walk-in closet.
"My brother would want to charge you extra, but I don't see where rerouting the pipes will be a problem.
"You can reroute my pipes any time," Beverly said, grinning until she saw the serious look I gave her. "Sorry," she said, becoming very businesslike. "I only have one more question. Are you sure you'll be able to finish before Christmas?"
I assured her we would be finished in time for her to celebrate the holidays in her remodeled home.
"I'm looking forward to it," she said, smiling as she handed me the signed contract, a check for ten percent of the total price and a key to the house.
I reiterated that we wouldn't begin the work until the following week, thanked her for awarding the work to us and left, relieved that she didn't press the issue of rerouting her pipes.
When I got home I discovered a furniture truck blocking the drive, and not able to get past it, I was considering if I should leave Jen's car in the street or wait for the truck to be moved when I spotted two guys, each with a mattress on his back.
"Shit!" The mattresses were obviously from the bunk beds in my room. "Shit!" That's where I had hidden Nadine's picture, under the mattress on the lower bunk. "Shit!"
I got out of the car and ran toward the two guys. "Nice photo. Is that your girlfriend?" one of them asked.
"Shit!" They found it. "What's going on?" I asked him.
"Your brother bought you a new bed," the same guy said, pointing to the new mattress inside of the truck. I watched them carry the bottom part of mattress into the house, wondering what came over Ed. I was waiting in the car when they came back outside, carrying one of the bunk beds. After two more trips they got into the truck and waved to me as they left.
When I got upstairs to my room Jen was there, making the bed. Seeing her tucking in the sheets caused my chest to fill with emotion. Ed had bought the bed for me and she was doing her part to make it comfortable. Suddenly, my triumph of the day, getting the contract signed, seemed trivial by comparison. All that mattered was that the only family I had, my brother and his wife, cared for me.
Jen looked up from her work, puckered her lips to blow an imaginary strand of hair away from her cheek and looked at me, lovingly. She was dressed the same as me, jeans, sweater and sneakers. I smiled, nervously.
"You need a trim," she said, matter-of-factly, like she was commenting on the weather.
That was good enough for me. I silently thanked her for saving me from doing something stupid. She wanted me out of the house and I was glad to go. "You're right," I said, moving to the desk and placing the contract, check and key to Beverly's house next to the photo of Nadine.
"You get the drafting chair and I'll get the scissors," she said, walking toward the door.
Jen turned. "You only need a trim. I'm perfectly capable..."
A thrill invaded my body as I went to get the drafting chair. It was tall with a seat that swiveled. I carried it into my room and placed it near the desk where I could look out the window, hoping the view would keep my mind off of her being so close. I took my seat and waited for her to return.
"It's mainly the back and maybe we'll take a little off around the ears," she said as she placed a towel around my shoulders.
A small piece of paper stuck to the outside of the window before being lifted by a gust of wind. I tried to follow the path of the paper, fluttering in the wind, the same way Jen's closeness was making my heart flutter.
"Sit still," she ordered.
Thinking it would take my mind off her perfume, I initiated a conversation. "Millie said she was in school four years ago. Wouldn't she have finished college before that?"
"She went back to work on her masters. She was studying library science."
"She said there was a guy. Did breaking up with him interrupt her study?"
The scissors stopped moving. "I don't...I don't know. That was the summer...Millie was kind of out of it and I guess I was too."
She hadn't finished the sentence, 'that was the summer...' and I didn't prompt her, 'that was the summer you were away and I let Ed steal me away from you'.
She resumed trimming the hair above my left ear.
"I told her about our kiss," I said, changing the subject.
"What did she...don't tell me...did Millie make a snide comment about me?"
"No, she didn't."
"I'm surprised. It would be just like her to repeat what she said before."
"What was that?"
I felt Jen's lips next to my ear as she whispered, "she said I was grazing on both sides of the road, you know, like the grass is greener..."
She stopped talking, like she was waiting for me to respond. I couldn't laugh. She was talking about four years ago when I was away. She was admitting, 'grazing on both sides of the road' that she had sampled the grass, Ed, while I was turning down the opportunity to sample an Iowa farm girl.
I felt a dull ache hit the bottom of my chest and hardly noticed as she spun the chair around to look me in the eyes. "It wasn't the way you think, Benny," she implored me, clouding, near tears.
"There's nothing you can say, Jen, especially not 'it just happened!' that will satisfy me."
"I'll make it up to you. I want to. You can't imagine how hollow it makes me feel to see you with my sister, but I swear it will be different. If she wants you and you want her I won't interfere. I swear I'll be good."
Seeing the pained look on her face and hearing her ramble on, like she thought talking would keep her from crying made me want to comfort her. I pulled her to me, saying something about it being okay.
"We shouldn't..." she said, whispering into my ear. But when I heard the comb hit the floor, followed by the sound of the scissors, I rubbed her back and felt her hand on my neck, smoothing the place where she had trimmed my hair. Our cheeks were pressed together, made slick by the shared moisture accumulated between us. She felt soft and familiar in my arms, making the time we had been apart evaporate, those years when I had used Veronica to fill the void.
Jen pulled back, smiling through tear-filled eyes and brought her lips to mine. Our kiss started tender, changing to open mouths, thrashing tongues, unlike anything we had experienced in the past. Without thinking, my hands went under her sweater, up her bare back and found the little hooks that held her bra together. If she noticed that I was lifting the sweater over her head it was only to break the kiss and raise her arms to permit its removal. Her lips returned to mine and never left, not when my hands massaged her breasts, not when my fingers twisted the nipples and not when I unbutton her jeans.