The Warmest Winter, Day 07byTooCleverByHalf©
Thanks to everyone for their feedback on the previous chapters, with a special thank-you to my real-life editor. Remaining errors, if any, are mine. Reading the chapters of this story in order is highly recommended. All geek culture references are properties of their original copyright holders. For the record, I have nothing against gingers, as I proudly am one. Spoiler: No sex in this one- catch you next time!
On Saturday mornings, Mike did not set his alarm. Especially in the winter, when he worked from a home office, it was important to delineate the weekend somehow. If he wasn't careful, he might overwork himself.
He got in a shower early, knowing that none of his three houseguests would be using the water heavily at the same time. Gingerly, he tested the sensitivity of his groin. Still not ready for action.
Six days ago, he found them in his yard. That day, and every day since, those women had given him more sexual satisfaction than the previous four years of his life. But none of them knew about one another's efforts, and Mike was feeling the wear and tear in areas he'd greatly prefer not to have worn or torn.
He was still churning over solutions in his head. He couldn't reject each individual advance – it was too complicated and unreliable. He certainly wouldn't reject any of the women, they were hot as Hell. Somehow he had to pre-empt them from making any advances.
Okay, so some of that was easy. They'd been living together, the four of them, for nearly a week now, and other than the basic leave-it-like-you-found-it, they hadn't cleaned house. That would occupy most of the day.
The problem was that he'd be doing an equal part, not only to be fair, but it was also, after all, his house. And watching a grown man engage in serious housework was, to many women Mike knew, a form of pornography. He had to kill the mood, everyone's mood, before they even got that far.
Mike got out of the shower and dried off. So, what could he say, or get them to talk about, that would kill the mood today but not any longer? Of course, if they knew his mood was killed for the day, they wouldn't try...
It was a shame he hadn't taken a bath, and that he'd already left the shower. It was absolutely a "Eureka!" moment.
Finally relaxing, now that he had found a solution, he finished his morning routine, got dressed, and went down for breakfast.
"Hello?" Mike called at the bottom of the stairs. He couldn't tell where the ladies were. There was a crash from the dining room, followed by an exclamation of "Sonofabitch!" from what sounded like Jenny.
Mike smiled. Jenga on the dining room table. "Sorry," he called.
The women greeted him and razzed him for getting up so late, which he defended only by reminding them of the weekend. Cassie did not feel like making him a solo breakfast this morning, and besides that, it was her turn to set up the tower. Mike warmed a couple packs of Pop-Tarts and poured himself the last of the coffee. He joined the others at the table while they started another game.
As had started to be the routine, breakfast conversation centered on what they were going to do that day. Under normal circumstances (or as Veronica called it, "in the real world"), this would be taken up by work, school and whatnot. Snowed in, they needed to get creative.
Mike took the opportunity to suggest housework for the day.
"And that'll include laundry," he added, "I know I have a load or two."
All three faces looked at him, and then he realized the unintended innuendo. Restraining a wince at the error, Mike continued, "And how about we tell stories all day, to pass the time for the boring parts?"
"Can we finish the game first?" asked Veronica, deftly placing her block on top of the tower. Jenny's turn was next. Mike smiled inwardly, and timed what he said next perfectly.
"I could start while you keep playing to the end of this game," he offered while Jenny started scooting a block out from the middle.
Right as she was about to pull the block out, Mike said, "Kendra Harrington."
The tower fell, and Jenny cursed again, but then looked at Mike as full realization hit her. Her eyes widened to match those of Cassie and Veronica.
"We met seven years ago," Mike said, "My first term in college."
Professor Napolitano sat across from the complicated student in front of him.
"As the department head," he started hesitantly, "I don't think I can recommend your course of action. College is about more than the credits. Employers are looking for certain kinds of experiences, what they show about character, et cetera."
"I'm afraid I'll have to disagree with you on that," replied Michael, "Oftentimes what courses a person takes are subject to availability, and how well they do tied more to their learning styles matching the professor's teaching style, than to their natural proclivity with the subject matter."
Napolitano sighed. It had been like this the whole conversation. The young man sitting in front of him was in his second week of college, and already sounded like a graduate. The worst part was that the punk was right.
"Be that as it may," the advisor continued, "You should aspire to more. If you can CLEP as many courses as you are looking to, you could graduate in three years. But if you take your time, graduating in four years instead, you can add in internships, independent studies... any number of other things that are attractive to prospective employers. It'll make a sparkling transcript for a résumé."
"Let me try this another way," Michael offered, "What is a résumé for?"
"Fine. Job hunting."
"Okay. So everything you're suggesting is to accelerate my career, making more money, sooner, doing a job I like. So far, so good?"
"As a matter of fact, that's the point of college, is it not? Replace ten or so years of on-the-job experience with four years of academia to reach the equivalent pay grade sooner?"
"If money is all you're after, but-"
"Without the motivating factor of money, college would be a ghost town, and you know it. It's not the only thing, but it's first by a long shot. Now, I already make a substantial amount of money doing consulting work. Most of that involves research, which is what I call 'work study.' I can only go so far without my degree, but the demand for my services is already rising. There will come a point where attending classes and doing homework will do more harm than good. To minimize the risk of this, I have chosen my course of action."
Michael stated all of this very matter-of-factly. He had a quiet, even tone. Whatever ruffled his feathers, it wasn't this. Napolitano sighed.
"All right, then, I've said my piece. For the record, I can't say I support what you're doing." He stood and offered his hand. Michael also stood, and shook it.
"I appreciate your willingness to keep an eye out for me," Michael said.
"And off the record, let me just say you got balls, kid. Good luck. I'll watch for you in the funny pages." Napolitano broke off the handshake to gesture to his collection of sociological journals. Michael smiled and walked out of the open door.
When he got outside, into the waiting area, he gathered up his stuff into his bookbag. Between it and the door he just walked through was another student, a girl that looked as fresh as himself to the environment.
"They tell people it only takes seconds for a thief to strike," the girl said. She was a redhead, wearing a businesslike skirt and blouse. Her long legs were crossed in front of her, stockings up beyond her skirt's hemline. One hand was on her knees, the other casually draped behind his bag.
"I kept an eye on your stuff for you," she continued.
"They also say you shouldn't trust strangers," Michael replied. She held out her hand.
"I'm Kendra," she said, giving him a strong gaze from her sea-green eyes and rising from her seat.
"Michael." They shook hands.
"There. Now we're not strangers. We should celebrate with a drink."
"I'm sorry. I don't like alcohol."
"Not exactly. I mean, my parents are and I was raised that way, but I... never mind. What I mean is, I literally dislike the taste."
"Oh!" Kendra blushed, "Of course!" She laughed. Michael liked that laugh. It was high and sweet, and carefree. No pressure, just fun.
"How about coffee?"
"Oh, I don't touch the stuff," Kendra said, "But tell you what: we'll go to the dining hall and get milkshakes."
"What about your meeting?"
"Oh, I was a walk-in, and it can wait. Come on, before it gets busy."
They walked off together, still chatting the whole way.
"So you lied to us," Veronica said, "You told us you graduated high school early, and were in college four years."
"Sorry," Mike said, "That was the without-Kendra version I tell casual acquaintances. Now you're being upgraded to the 'friend' version. That's why I'm telling you."
The four of them were working together, putting the finishing touches on the basement. It was easy work, most of it, but detailed and thorough. Mike had admitted that it had been far longer than a week since the house had been cleaned. He usually only had to do a major cleaning right before he left for the year. Everything needed to be returned to its orderly and organized state, and most surfaces that could take it were Handi-Wiped.
"My mother would be apoplectic if she knew this is how I cleaned," Mike said, "She thinks that if it takes less than a full Spring Break to clean a house, you must have missed something or done something wrong. Don't even get me started on her dishwashing standards."
After breakfast, the quartet had changed into their most work-ready clothing. For Mike, this was his oldest jeans and a plain white T-shirt. He didn't like to mess with a winning formula too much. For the girls, some variety was in order.
Cassie wore a pair of sweatpants, accentuating her round, full buttocks, and a plain white T-shirt similar to Mike's. Jenny had foregone wearing a bra and instead wore a bathing suit top under her shirt. Some cleaning spray and soapy water had already found its way onto her shirt, and so the zebra-print showed through. She also wore cutoff short shorts, which made her legs look even longer.
Veronica wore jeans and a long-sleeve shirt, being the first to volunteer for the ickiest tasks. She had the yellow gloves on in the group. Before Mike put the images of the trio, especially Jenny, into storage before he started getting turned on too badly, he made a mental note to have them do a carwash sometime...
"So was that the first date or were you friends for a while?" Cassie asked.
"I think we were friends until our milkshakes ran out," Mike said, "That's when I asked her to dinner the next week."
"So you guys hit it off pretty well, then?"
"Yeah, I guess. I was happy."
"So what happened?"
"Ah," Mike said, "The seeds of that were already sown. As someone once told me, 'You have to look at the details.' The signs were there from day one, but I really should have known the night I proposed. It was towards the middle of my second year at school..."
Michael was feeling great about his life. He was making money doing consulting work, which was easy now that he chose his clients more selectively. His girl was gorgeous, his grades were tops, and most of all, he knew how to make it all fit together.
Without explanation, Michael insisted that Kendra don her best, and be ready to go out to dinner at seven sharp. They both still lived separately, in the dorms at school, so that their relationship would not distract from their studies.
When he arrived at her dorm to escort her to his car, he was floored. Kendra had bought a brand-new outfit for the occasion. The rubies around her neck matched the deep red of her hair. The dress was a tight black number, with a slit up the right side to mid-thigh, and subtle collar of a green that matched her eyes. Michael was briefly stunned.
The week before, Michael had managed to sneak away for a few days, giving Kendra the excuse of some on-site consulting gig. In reality, Michael went to see Kendra's parents, to ask permission to marry her. She had warned him about them, that they were very upper-crust, and distrusted the intentions of anyone in the working class towards their little girl.
Nevertheless, Michael pulled into their driveway in his Benz, precisely at their agreed time. He'd bought the car only a week before, as his old Ford Escort was unlikely to impress. The salesman was shocked but eager when he bought the vehicle outright.
"Mister and Missus Harrington, I will be direct. I know you are wary of gold diggers, men looking to your daughter as an easy alternative to earning their way in the world. I am not one of them. I already outearn most of my professors, and this will only increase in several ways when I have graduated. I will have more time, I will be able to risk raising my fees, and my education will garner me more lucrative consultations.
"I am aware that consultation is not generally seen as regular work, but five minutes' research will tell you I am in demand. I have even had an offer for an employee, to help me and learn from me. This offer came from a man twice my age.
"I dated Kendra for months and was quite happy to do so. When she revealed her parentage and the existence of her trust fund, I appreciated her willingness to share with me, as I will finally tell her of my real success before I propose to her next week.
"However, I would not like to be the cause of a rift between her and you. The love you three share as a family is obvious, and I would rather she be separated from me than from you. And so I ask you for your blessing to marry Kendra."
The speech impressed the couple, but they hid it well. After grilling Michael for half an hour about his consultation, they became convinced he was not exaggerating his accomplishments. When he showed them a pre-nuptial agreement with his signature already on the line, they finally had to break.
"You have our blessing and our encouragement," said Martha, Kendra's mother. They insisted he call them by their first names from that point further. Kendra's father, Samuel Harrington III, brought him his mother's wedding ring, which Michael accepted.
Now, at the restaurant, Michael seemed to have run out of words. How would he get it out? Why couldn't he just say it?
Stop. Think. Plan. Execute.
"Did you know I've been looking at properties?" he started. The conversation had been a little quiet for a while as they both enjoyed their meals and one another's company.
"What do you mean by properties?" Kendra asked, puzzled.
"I mean, vacant lots. Land."
"I want to build a house."
"A summer getaway for you? That's awesome!" Kendra always seemed to support his radical ideas. She always believed he could follow through. "I'd miss you while you were gone, but it would give you a chance to relax, work only as much as you want to-"
"No, that's not it, I..." Michael said, "I mean, it's a getaway for us... and maybe someday, more than that."
Kendra grew still. She spoke her next words carefully. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, we can design our dream house, right where we want it, how we want it. It can be ours by the time we graduate."
"Michael," Kendra said, "That's... well, for a start that's too soon. My trust fund doesn't kick in until I have my degree. And my parents won't release it early if you don't have yours yet, either. Not to mention the interest on the loan we'd have to take out. I'd love to do it, but-"
"We wouldn't need a loan."
"Michael, you're not suggesting we build it ourselves, are you? 'Cause if so, you've finally said something I can't say is a good idea."
"Kendra, please! I'm trying to tell you I'm rich." Michael burst it out a little strongly. Kendra sat back, mildly startled.
"...How...rich?" she asked.
"Rich enough that I don't need to know how much a house like this is going to cost before I say we won't need a loan. Rich enough that I bought a Benz outright the other week, just to impress your parents when I saw them last week."
"You saw my parents? Why?"
"I wanted them to know how much I love you. I wanted them to know you have nothing to fear from me. I wanted them to give me their blessing."
Kendra's eyes started tearing up as she realized what Michael was driving towards. Michael noticed, and went straight to it. He slipped from his chair and down onto one knee. The surrounding restaurant hushed as the other patrons took notice.
"Kendra Marian Harrington, I have loved you from our first milkshakes to this moment. I would like nothing more than for us to spend the rest of our lives together. Will you marry me?"
With this last question, Michael opened the small box and revealed her grandmother's ring.
"Yes!" Kendra cried. "Oh, Michael, yes!" The restaurant cheered. Both of them smiling through tears, Michael slipped the ring onto her finger, and they kissed.
They received a bottle of house wine from the restaurant in celebration, of course free of charge. Other patrons who left before them came by the table to congratulate them warmly. They were feeling so great that they checked into a nice hotel rather than return to their dorms.
Once inside, Michael and Kendra were on fire. They couldn't keep their hands off of one another. They had been building to it for a month or so, but tonight Kendra could not stand it any longer. Not that Michael objected. When he slid into her for the first time, his first time, he could think of no more joyful moment, except the ecstasy of release which came soon after.
"Oh, that's so beautiful," said Cassie. She was tearing up along with the memories.
"If I got proposed to like that, I'd never let him go," said Veronica.
"What, the romantic down-on-one-knee, or the revelation that he's fabulously wealthy first?" Jenny ribbed her.
"Well, the money doesn't hurt," she replied, but Cassie tapped her on the shoulder. Veronica and Jenny had not been facing Mike, but now they turned. Mike's face had darkened severely. His eyes were fire, his face was stone. He shook his head slowly, and the storm faded into the background as he continued.
"The summer before my last year of college, Kendra and I decided to get a short-term lease on an apartment for the summer, sort of a dry run. The laws had been altered and the changes enacted. The house was planned, down to the funky closets. She seemed okay with whatever I wanted, just happy to be with me, I supposed. And then about a week before term started, I got a phone call at a small rented office where I did my consulting work..."
"Hello. I'm calling for a Michael Evans."
"Speaking. May I ask who is calling?"
"Michael T. Evans? Engaged to Kendra Harrington?"
"Who is this?"
"I'll take that as a yes. My name is Sam. Sam Harrington. Kendra is my sister."
"She doesn't have a brother."
"They don't talk about me. They think it's letting the family down for a Harrington to not only join the military, but to refuse officers' training and enlist. Look, are you marrying Kendra or not?"
"Yes, of course."
"Then we need to talk. Face-to-face. Soon."
"My schedule's somewhat flexible."
"My plate's clear, too. May I come over?"
"Sure, I guess. Our address is-"
"I mean at your office."
"Sure. Today's one of my 'late days.' Kendra won't be expecting me for hours."
"I know. And I know where it is. Classified story short, I worked Intelligence."
Sam hung up. Michael stared at his phone.
Twenty minutes later, a man with Kendra's exact hair color knocked on the door. Michael let him in out of the rain.