They considered themselves a very typical middle classed couple, both working and enjoying life. Ross and Lois were both in their thirties so they were still young and full of life. It was just coming into the dead of winter so they had a long cold season ahead of them and they both hated the thought. The winter seemed to bother Lois a lot more than it did Ross. She didn't exactly fit the mold of seasonal affective disorder, but she had to work at keeping her spirits up, and it wasn't just the absence of sunshine. It was the snow and slush and the discomfort of being cold so often, and feeling fearful every time she had to drive in snow, sleet, or any form of precipitation for that matter. She felt somewhat confined, because she would often decline an invitation for cards or dinner because couldn't bring herself to deal with the realities of winter. Then she met a couple of women and they invited her to join their little volunteer club. What made it easy for Lois was, she never had to drive. One of the club members lived a few blocks away and was quite happy and eager to provide the transportation. Lois seemed happier and that made Ross happier as a result.
Ross was in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner when Alma arrived early to pick up Lois for their club meeting. Lois invited her in and Ross said, "Hi Alma, coffee?"
"Thank you Ross, I'd like that. I don't know how I managed to read the clock wrong and arrive this early."
"Glad to see you, how are the roads?"
"Oh, they're fine as long as nobody tries to go too fast."
"I sure appreciate you always picking up Lois. That way I don't have to worry about her."
"Oh, think nothing of it, I'm glad to do it. That gives Lois and me a chance to gab before the meeting or whatever."
Lois heard the last part of the conversation as she entered the kitchen and said, "The only bad part of all of this is Ross ends up doing the housework and I hate that."
Alma laughed and said, "I'd love it if Ben would do the housework. Instead I have to hire a housekeeper."
Ross hung up the towel and joining them at the table said, "I'll bet it's no picnic trying to find somebody trustworthy and reliable though."
"You're right there. I went through three of them before I got lucky. I only need her once a week and so far it's wonderful. I don't have to listen to Ben whine, and I don't have to do a thing around the house unless I want to. Plus, if I work an hour or two overtime, that covers her salary. I just wish I would have done that a long time ago."
Lois said, "Ross never complains. He encourages me to get out as often as I want to, so I don't do as much as I should. He loves to write and be on his computer, and he works so many hours that housework really gets in the way of what free time he could have."
"Sounds to me like you two need a housekeeper too."
Ross was quick to say, "No thanks, I don't want to go through hiring and firing a half a dozen times just to find one halfway responsible adult to clean our house."
With that said, Alma and Lois left and Ross did the last of his chores and went to his office. He sat there and surveyed his little domain. He did like his office. He loved to write short stories, and he would write everything from some small historical piece to erotica, porn, romance, and an occasional mystery. He just loved to create. To him, it was a lot like working in clay. He liked to see what he could do, and if he didn't like it he just hit the delete key and moved on. In clay, if you don't like what you're doing you squash it and start over with the same ball of clay. Right then he had a mystery started that he was struggling with, and one erotic story that wasn't going much better for him. He liked both plots however, so he wasn't giving up on either of them. He continued to sit there and look around his room.
Along the far wall were shelves that were what he called his library. On those shelves were books that he had read and especially liked, both paperback and hardbound. Then there was his collection of things he had written that he wanted to save. They represented about ten years of writing and saving, and he would always print them and keep them straight with report binders and plastic covers. He could pick up any one of his stories and read a few pages and be able to remember the rest of the story. To him, they were nearly priceless. Lois would usually read what he wrote and he had a few friends that seemed to appreciate his efforts in that area.
When Lois got home that evening she said, "Ross, I talked to Alma some more about a housekeeper. Why don't we try that for awhile?"
"No thank you. I know you're thinking of me, but it just isn't worth the grief, let alone the expense." She let it drop but she didn't forget about it.
When she got home from work the next day she told Ross, "I met the nicest young woman today. She works in our records section and she's so pleasant to talk to. I said young, but I'd guess in her mid to late twenties or so." There wasn't much Ross could say to that so he just looked at her and listened. "She didn't tell me, but I learned that she went through a pretty painful divorce not long ago and she ended up almost broke. One day she had a husband and their two incomes weren't bad at all, and then she learned that he had skipped town with most of their money. No warning at all."
"I'll never understand how anybody could do that to another person."
"I wish we could do something to help her, but our little volunteer club just doesn't have what she needs right now and that's money."
"You're not hinting that we give her money are you?"
"No of course not, I was just telling you about her."
"I do feel sorry for her assuming her problems weren't of her own making." Lois didn't know anything more about the woman so that subject died.
Ross was finally breaking out of his writing slump and had added a couple of chapters to his mystery, and by making some changes to his erotic story he was able to get that moving again. But then house chores interfered, so he had to see to those before he could immerse himself in his little world once again. At least with Lois volunteering and going to the club meetings with Alma, he didn't worry that he was neglecting her.
He thought the issue housekeeper issue was dead, but then Lois came home from work and said, "I had lunch with that young woman I was telling you about."
"You refer to her as a young woman, but she's probably not much more that five years younger than we are."
"Well, I know but... anyway her name is Patty Emerson and we had the nicest chat."
"Oh a little bit of everything. She's very personable and quite smart. She loves to read and watch old movies on television. I told her you enjoy writing and she wanted to know all about you."
"I hope you didn't make a big deal of my writing honey, because that's just for my own pleasure."
"Oh, I know that, and that's what I told her. She still wanted to know what you write and so forth."
"Did you tell her I write porn?"
"Well no, I told her you write erotica and mysteries."
"Well, that's true as far as it goes."
"I want to hire her as our housekeeper." Well, there it was.
"Honey, we talked about that. She'll last about a month, and then she'll never return, or will show up whenever she feels like it."
"I think she'll be great. We could pay her cash so we don't have to worry about keeping financial records for her."
"And you trust her to keep her mouth shut about that cash income that should be taxed?"
"I'll make you a deal. I'll go along with this if you'll hire her, pay her, and fire her, when she doesn't work out. I'll help her learn what is expected of her, but that's all."
"And be nice to her."
"Yes, and be nice to her.
"The only thing is she might have to do it like on the weekend or evenings or something because she works full time."
"That's fine with me; I don't care what day of the week she would work. By the way, just what would you have her do?"
"Oh, you know, sweep and mop, clean the bathrooms, dust, and the laundry, and whatever she might see that needs to be done."
"That would mean I'd have no housework to do at all."
"That's the whole point of it right?"
"You do realize this is going to be very expensive."
"I know, but if it works out it, will be worth it. If we find out later that we can't afford to keep her, then okay, and we'll go back to how it was before."
"You've had this in mind ever since you met her haven't you."
"No...well not exactly. It did occur to me when I met her though."
"So is it safe to assume you've already offered her the job?"
"Of course not. I did mention there was a possibility though. I told her I had to talk to you first."
"And when do I meet this so called young lady?"
"Okay, tomorrow night it is then. But remember this is your baby and I'm just her trainer."
"I remember. It's important that you like her though, because you'll see a lot more of her than I will."
"I guess that's true. Okay I admit I like the idea of no housework, but I'm afraid to get my hopes up."
"I understand, but try to think positive because I just have a good feeling about her. It's even better that she'll work when we're here, because you won't have to worry about somebody else having a key to our house."
"That is a good point. Okay honey, you have me convinced."
Tuesday evening Ross was a few minutes late getting home from work, and when he went in Lois was at the kitchen table talking to a young woman that he assumed would be Patty. He put on his best smile and joined them as Lois said, "Ross, this is Patty the woman I was telling you about."
"Nice to meet you Patty."
"Nice to meet you too Ross, would you like some coffee?" He stopped in his tracks and tried to hide his smile from Lois. He had to admit she was getting off to a very good start.
"Yes, thank you Patty."
He sat down across from her and just listened for a minute before Lois said, "Honey, I told her what we could pay her and what her duties would be, and I told her that you would be the one to help her get through the first few times. Can you think of anything I'm missing?"
"Just that I'll be here almost all the time when she's here."
"Oh yes, I forgot I told her that part too. I told her she should just call you by your first name too."
Patty hit him with her blinding smile and said, "Ross, if I get in your way as I clean just boot me out or whatever, I'll learn fast then." His smile jumped onto his face even as he tried to tell himself this was all too easy and pleasant. There had to be a major downside to this grand experiment.
"Patty, when did you think you might want to start?"
"I'm good with tomorrow about five thirty or six if that's okay with you."
"That's fine with me." Lois just sat there innocently smiling at him.
And so began Patty's weekly visit to clean their house and do the laundry. It was always at least nine o'clock before the last load would come out of the dryer and she could leave. Then one evening Ross found her sitting and reading and he told her, "Patty, if you want to leave I can take care of that lost load of laundry. There's no point in you having to wait for it."
"Thank you Ross, but I don't mind at all. I'll just go back to my apartment and read there, and this chair is more comfortable than mine is." He couldn't look at her and not smile, and if she smiled at him, which she did a lot, he would almost stare at her. He did his best not to ask her but it just came out anyway.
"Patty, why do you always wear shorts? I mean it's the middle of winter." She just smiled at him yet again.
"Because it isn't winter indoors and that's where I'm working. I get too warm if I do housework in long pants. That's why I wear sweatpants over here and then strip them off before I start working. Does it bother you that I do my chores in shorts?"
"Oh no...no, not at all, I was just curious. Um...Patty, are you getting along okay...I mean cleaning our house and all?"
"Yes of course I am. It's easy work, and you and Lois are so nice to me and the money is really helping me. Am I doing a good job for you?"
"I can't think of a single complaint. It seems so natural when you're there I don't even think about it anymore, it's just, well, like you're part of the family."
"Thank you, that means a lot to me. Ross, I like talking to you."
"I have to confess I wasn't too keen on having a housekeeper at first." Bang, there was that smile again.
"I know, Lois told me. I'm glad you've changed your mind."
"It was nothing against you, it's just that I was afraid we'd end up with more problems than we were curing by hiring somebody."
"Oh, you don't have to explain, I really do understand. When I started working for you, I pretended this was my house, so I've always tried to clean it and take care of it as though it really was mine." She was turning him into a puddle. She was just too good to be true.
"Well, unless we suddenly go bankrupt or something ,you'll always have a place with us as long as you want it."
She stood up and gave him a hug and said as his arms went around her automatically, "Thank you Ross." Then she stepped back and gave him a sheepish smile and said, "Oops, I'm sorry, I got carried away."
Ross almost stuttered when he said, "That's...that's okay. He smiled and walked away as his arms remembered how she felt.
It was a Saturday a couple of weeks later, and Ross and Lois were having after breakfast coffee at the kitchen table. "Are you and Patty getting along okay Ross?"
"We're getting along great. Has she complained about me?"
"No, of course not, I was just curious. You haven't mentioned her for some time."
"Nothing to say about her I guess. She does a great job with the house cleaning and laundry, she's pleasant to be around, and...well, I even told her one time that she almost felt like family now. I forget she's even here sometimes."
Lois laughed and said, "Well, don't get so comfortable that you wander out in your underwear like you used to."
Ross smiled and said, "No, that wouldn't be a good thing would it."
"I don't know who would be more surprised, her or you."
"I don't know either."
"Are you getting more writing done now?"
"Some, but more importantly, I think I'm doing a better job now because I'm not trying to rush to accomplish something."
"Patty asked me about your writing the other day and I suggested she just ask you about it. I think she's not sure it would be proper for her to ask you."
"That's silly; of course she can ask me. My God, I asked her why she always wears shorts when she's here."
Lois smiled and said, "So you do look at her legs do you?"
He smiled back at her and said, "Oops, you caught me. She said she always gets too warm when she cleans in long pants."
"She probably doesn't even wear shorts when she cleans her apartment then, I mean, why would she if she gets that warm?"
"Oh great, now you'll have me thinking about that." Lois just laughed and let it go.
The next Monday, Ross was rummaging through his stack of manuscripts and short stories when he realized his nice and tidy alphabetized stack was a little out of order. He stopped and thought about that and put it right, found what he was looking for and went back to his desk. Rather than go back to what he was doing he looked over at his library again. He had kept his things in the same order for ten plus years, even before they moved into their present house, and Lois never bothered his library. Was Patty reading his stories? His first thought was he didn't even care if she was. But then, should she do that without asking him? He found Lois in their bedroom and he told her of his suspicions and added, "I don't know it that's a problem or not, the only thing I wonder is if she's into anything else without permission."
"So nothing is missing or broken?"
"Well, I didn't do an inventory, so one or two of my stories could be missing but I don't know it."
"Does this upset you Ross?"
"I can't decide. Maybe I'm just overreacting. I mean I know she's in there because she keeps everything dusted and neat. What do you think we should do?"
"Do you want me to talk to her?"
"Maybe that would be best. There's no point in getting her upset unless you get the feeling there is more to the story."
"I'll be sure to catch her tomorrow night before I leave and we'll have a girl to girl talk."
"Let her know that I'm not mad at her okay?'
"You worry more about her than if she really was family." Ross didn't know what to say to that so he just let it go.
Tuesday night Ross stayed in his office so Lois and Patty could talk without worrying about him listening. Then Lois poked her head into his office and said, "I'm leaving honey and I'll be home by ten or ten thirty."
"Okay, enjoy yourself." Ross waited just a little bit and then went out on the pretense of making coffee. He waited as the Keurig made the coffee and then wandered into the living room. She must have been in the laundry, so he just sat down on the couch and picked up the Newsweek and flipped through the pages. It wasn't long before he could see Patty out of the corner of his eye standing not far from him.
"Ross, could we talk?"
He put his magazine down and said, "Of course, join me I have all evening."
She sat down next to him and paused for just a second before saying, "I guess I did something I shouldn't have."
"Are you talking about my stories?"
"Yes. I'm sorry if I overstepped my bounds." Ross was melting like cheap ice cream as he looked at her. He took her hand in his and looking at her said, "Patty, when you get right down to it, you didn't do anything wrong. I don't mind you reading things from my little library. I'm not even sure why I told Lois about it now. I'm a little anal about keeping them in a certain order and when I found a couple out of place, it threw me. I mean how trivial can I get. If you're apologizing for reading my stories I accept and I'm apologizing to you for overreacting. Feel free to read whatever is there... no wait, let me warn you about something."
"You write dirty stories, I already now that." He had looked down at their hands but when she said that he almost jumped as he looked back into her eyes again. There was that smile and her eyes were almost squinting as she enjoyed his reaction. His smile started at one corner of his mouth and grew to cover his face.
"Patty, don't tell me you've read some of them. A few of them get pretty raw."
"So I found out. But then, Lois warned me earlier, but she was a little too late.
"I hope you weren't offended."
"I'll admit to being surprised, and one of them I put back without finishing."
"How many of my stories have you read?"
"I don't know, maybe a dozen."
"And you came back for more?"
"Yes, why wouldn't I?" Ross wasn't even aware that he was still holding her hand. He was too busy swimming in her eyes and basking in her smile.
"I write those for pleasure and my own enjoyment. I like it when somebody else enjoys them, but I don't kid myself, I'm an amateur at best. I guess the fact that you keep coming back for more knocks me off balance a little bit."
"After reading a couple of your stories, I'd say you are off balance by more than a little bit, but I still like to read what you write."
"You know, Lois said earlier that I worry about you more than if you were family and I guess she was right. I do catch myself worrying about you." Her smiled softened as she dove toward his heart saying, "I like knowing you worry about me."
Ross caught himself just before he fell from the precipice, and with a voice stronger than he intended, he said, "Help yourself to any of my books, but travel at your own risk, because they aren't sorted by genre, just alphabetical."