The Process of IlluminationbyBarb36D©
"He now felt glad at having suffered sorrow and trouble, because it enabled him to enjoy so much better all the pleasure and happiness around him..."
–The Ugly Duckling, Hans Christian Andersen, 1844
My warm-hearted husband has always had a habit of picking up strays. I suppose that's one of the endearing things that attracted me to Donny in the first place. However, throughout the past 30-plus years, I can't count all the wayward dogs, cats, and even rabbits he "adopted" and I ended up nursing back to health. Thank goodness we were lucky to eventually find loving homes for these lost souls, or our house would resemble a zoo. Now that we're in our fifties, and basically empty-nesting, I figure my days of playing Florence Nightingale to his Father Flanagan were over. Apparently I figured wrong.
"Come on Honey, it's one thing to provide shelter to some kitten or puppy, there's no way I'm going to take in a full-grown stranger," I replied emphatically, after taking a sip of hot coffee.
"I know I'm asking a lot Barb, but we do have that spare bedroom, and it's not like he'll be here forever. Once he gets on his feet... hey, the least you can do is meet him; then maybe you'll understand," Donny pleaded.
Sitting out on the back deck, still in my low cut lacy nightgown under a long terrycloth bathrobe, I stared out across the long back yard and ten acres of mature trees. A brisk early October morning breeze swept through me. Clutching my elbows to buffer the chill, I bargained. "Okay, okay, you can bring him by the house sometime; but that doesn't mean I'm saying yes to this," I reluctantly relented.
"Great! I'll go get him!" Donny shouted and headed back in the house.
"What? You mean he's HERE? Not now, I look a mess," I said, knowing full well my hubby was prone to pulling such stunts.
"You look just great. We'll be right in." I heard his voice trail off, as he trotted off through the house.
I barely had time to check the mirror, before Donny's truck door slammed. Pouring another cup of coffee, I looked up to see his latest stray, and boy was he a big one. The bearded, scraggly-haired, overweight boy in his early twenties appeared older, as he warily raised his eyes through thick dark horned-rimmed glasses.
"Honey, this is Ben. Ben, this is Barb," Donny introduced. I made my way toward them, clutched the neck of my robe, smiled and extended my hand.
"Hi Ben, nice to meet you," I smiled up at the extremely shy, six foot tall stranger.
"Say hello Ben," Donny prompted, hearing no response from the youngster.
"Hi Missus..." he slowly began.
"Oh, call me Barb; everybody does. No need to be formal around here." I brought my smile to a grin, detecting the inkling of a smile from him.
"N-nice to meet you Barb," he finally got out and comfortably shook my hand.
"Okay then, how about some nice fresh coffee?" I suggested, pulling my hand from his.
The boy's smile broadened a bit. He nodded. The two guys took seats at the kitchen table, while I turned to get cups. Returning with the coffee pot, I hadn't noticed my robe had opened, giving them a nice long view of my cleavage as I poured.
"Those are hot now, don't burn yourselves," I warned, then catching sight of their eyes glued to my chest, I realized the double connotation.
Suddenly embarrassed by inadvertently displaying myself, I turned my back to them and cinched up my robe. "So Donny tells me you're doing some work for him..." I said, sitting across from them, folding my arms, and sipping my coffee.
The next half hour was spent prying Ben's sad story from him. He lost his family in an auto accident, when he was a junior in high school. After his aunt and uncle took him in, he graduated, and has been living on his own since. Judging from his shabby appearance, I guessed he suffered from poor social skills, and limited experience with girls. Although he was socially 'challenged', he seemed to relax more, as we continued to talk.
He ragged appearance and introvert tendencies were two hurdles I knew he could overcome with a bit of help. Whether or not we could affect his lack of self esteem was a concern. However, after chatting with the less-than-attractive, but intelligent young man, I could see why Donny felt inclined to offer him a place to stay.
Hubby and I excused ourselves into the next room. Following a short private pow-wow, we agreed on some basic ground rules. "I'm mostly concerned about the privacy thing, Honey," I admitted.
"Sure, I'll make sure he knows to keep his distance from our bedroom, bath and stuff; that's if you can keep from showing him your big tits," Donny laughed.
"Hey, that wasn't MY fault... oh forget it, you asshole!" I shook my head.
"Wow, this place is so nice and huge, compared to my apartment! I really DO appreciate this, Missus ..., I mean Barb," Ben's face lit up, as he hauled two huge oversized duffle bags to our spare bedroom on the second level, and just down the hall from our master suite.
"Here's a nice big bathroom Ben. Don't be afraid to use it," I smiled but made the comment with all sincerity.
"Our bedroom is down the hall," I noted, more-or-less restating the section of our two-story house that was to be considered off limits.
He nodded. I explained more details about our schedules, and some minor things we expected from him. He was quite agreeable and seemed virtually thrilled to have the opportunity to stay with us.
Betty Lou Who?
After only a couple of weeks, I started to notice changes in the boy. When he and Donny were not at work, Ben spent most of his free time fixing things, and helping with household chores. He was bathing and eating healthy meals regularly, which improved his quiet demeanor dramatically. I determined that improving on his appearance might be the greatest challenge.
After dinner one evening I stopped by his room. I knocked on his door. After hearing some paper shuffling, he answered the door and let me in.
"So Ben, I was thinking," I started and noticed the covers askew on his otherwise neatly made bed. Sauntering to the bed to sit down, I smoothed down a raised edge. "WE were thinking actually... have you ever given any thought to attending college?"
"Sure, I've thought about it plenty. That's one of those things at the top of my list, once I can afford it," Ben admitted, glancing down at the ruffled bedspread.
"I believe you could possibly qualify for financial aid, if that would make a difference."
"Hmm, I should check that out. I only hope I'm smart enough to..."
"We're not talking Harvard here! Anybody should be able to get through Tech. Besides, I can tutor you, if you need some help," I offered.
"Damn, that's right, you used to teach didn't you Barb? That would be cool. I'll have to check out registration and stuff tomorrow after work."
"Great! I'm sure you'll do just fine. Let me know what you find out," I smiled and left his room, feeling glad he was excited about the idea.
The following day was wash day. With Ben gone, I headed upstairs to pick up any dirty clothes. I decided to strip the beds and Ben's room was next. Pulling the sheets off his bed, I noticed the edge of a magazine shoved under the mattress. My memory flashed to yesterday's conversation and Ben's awkward glance at the bedspread. After already raising a son, I figured the magazine would be the typical girlie variety. Boys will be boys. Once I pulled it out, I was somewhat reassured in my estimate. What surprised me was the title, 'Mature Bra Busters.'
The thought of a twenty-two year old male getting his jollies from a magazine full of golden oldies freaked me out at first. Then I felt a strange sense of pride, as I thumbed through the worn pages. I noticed one particular spread featuring a 52-year-old woman in various stages of undress. Although her (probably dyed) blonde hair was a bit longer, her body shape bore an uncanny resemblance to mine. Reading the accompanying - obviously fictitious - article, it was interesting to note that "Betty Lou" wore a 34-DD bra. It was even more interesting to note that someone (Ben) had underlined the size. Since my bra size was identical, how coincidental was that? "Better stop letting him help with that part of the laundry," I resolved.
Turning the page, there was Betty Lou in all her glorious nudity, spreading her legs to prove she truly was a blonde. With a sense of cynical interest, I read more of the article... "Betty - her name inked out, replaced with BARB - likes nude sunbathing on her boyfriend's boat and screwing two guys at once..." "God, who writes this crap? And he changed her name to BARB. Oh, my God!" Now I WAS embarrassed. I was clearly the object of the boy's fantasies.
Stuffing the magazine quickly back under the mattress, I collected the sheets and headed downstairs to finish the wash. "Just shake those thoughts out of your head, you fool!" I said to myself. "All boys have their fantasies. It's harmless," I reckoned, trying to dismiss any further vulgar images.
From behind me, I heard the back door, "Barb, you were right. Tech accepted my application!" Ben yelled over the drone of the washer.
"Hey, there ya go Ben. Good job!" I shared in his enthusiasm, putting whatever fantasies he might have for me on a back burner.
"Yeah, I start night classes next week. I've got a counselor, books and a schedule. Now all I have to do is get smart," his eyes rolled.
"I'm so proud of you. I'm sure you'll have no trouble with these courses," I stated, scanning his schedule, while clamping a motherly squeeze on his upper arm.
"Not as long as I have your help?" Ben's eyes pleaded.
"I said I would help, and I will, okay?" I responded and wrapped my arms around him in a full hug. Pressing my chest into his, I felt his strong arms wrap around me. His warm hands moved gently to pull me closer. I backed away, with his hands still around my waist. He smiled and nodded, before letting me break away.
"Damn, I wasn't here to help with the laundry. Did you find everything okay?" Ben asked.
"Sure, no problem. I decided to wash sheets too."
"Oh, okay," Ben acknowledged, before his eyes shifted toward the stairs.
Telling my husband about finding the seedy magazine would only serve to confuse him. Besides, there was something harmless and tender about the boy. I decided to keep that bit of information to myself, for the time being.
I spent the following few weeks dedicated to cleaning up things outside. Bundling up for the approaching winter, I made my way through a glade of trees that led to our pond. "You gonna need some help Barb?" I heard Ben yell from the house.
"Always! And bring some twine with you," I hollered back.
Stacking the debris from dead trees and brush around the pond, I caught sight of Ben heading my way with a roll of twine.
"I thought you had a bunch of homework this weekend. No need to help with this stuff."
"Guess I just needed a break. But, if you'd rather do it yourself..." Ben smiled, exhaling gusts of billowing white steam.
"Don't be silly. Damn, but it's cold out here! You can wrap that one over there. I'll start another stack here," I advised and slapped my arms to keep warm.
Ben wrapped that stack and was tying up another bundle, when I saw a small group of mud ducks taking a water break. Tapping Ben on the shoulder, I pointed in their direction not far from us. The two of us watched as the younger ducks dutifully followed their mother.
"Now that's one ugly duck," Ben commented, at seeing a smaller duck who appeared to be the runt of the litter.
"Oh, I think they're cute," I remarked, now shivering.
Finishing up the tie job, he noticed my uncontrollable shaking and put his arm around me for shelter. "You women are all alike. C'mon now, that's one ugly duck!"
"He may s-seem that way right now, but s-someday..." My teeth chattered.
"Right, I remember the story. Unfortunately, we don't have time to watch the transformation, and besides it's a mud duck. He won't get much better looking. You're freezin' girl! Better get you back to the house NOW!"
A stiff northeast wind bore down on us, as we fast walked/ran back to the house. Slamming the door behind us, Ben looked on as I stood frozen solid. "G-GOD, I can't move." I said, as he took his parka off.
"Here, take that off and I'll fix the fire," he commanded, pealing off my heavy coat, cap and gloves.
"The ducks... that o-one ugly d-duck..." I started, trying to shift my brain from the pain in my stiff joints. "You just w-watch and see! One d-day..."
"Damn, would you just stop with the fucking ducks!" Ben rekindled the fire.
Coming back to me, he cupped my pale face in the warmth of his large hands. I felt the blood instantly return to my cheeks, while his gentle touch caressed me. Our eyes locked together for an eternity. His index fingers worked under my ear lobes. Then the slightest hint of his hands pulling me forward broke the spell. I averted my eyes from his and pulled away.
"Not for this ugly duck," I heard him mumble, as I turned away.
"What did you say, Ben?" I asked.
"Nothing, just talking to myself," he brushed off, lowered his head, and went back to stoking the fire.
I shuffled off to the kitchen to set us up with a pair of hot chocolates, and nothing else was said about ugly ducks. I knew he must have mistaken my brushing him off as a blow to his ego. If he really knew why I retreated from any further advances; that I was becoming attracted to him, perhaps that might have made a difference. If he knew this was my problem and not his? No, he didn't need to know that.
Funny thing is, from then on, he underwent more obvious physical changes. The young man's household routine started to include time on the treadmill and working out with Donny's weights. He started eating less at meals, and virtually cut out colas, which had been his major addiction. Ben was trimming down, beefing up, and basically evolving into quite a stud.
Once they develop a mind-set, kids are amazing! In only a month's time, Ben's transformation was well underway. His once flabby overstocked belly and ass tightened up nicely, while his upper body grew thick with muscles. Except for the unmanageable hair, scraggly beard and horn-rimmed glasses, I would never have recognized him as the same twenty-two-year-old.
Considering that I might have been somewhat of a catalyst in such an impressive transformation, I was secretly proud of contributing to his makeover. Since I hadn't verbalized my part in Ben's new body, Donny (the Savior of Strays) gloated at what he thought was his casual influence.
"Old Ben's sure coming around, don't ya think?" My husband boasted during dinner.
"How's that?" I played along.
"Don't tell me you haven't noticed how trim he's getting?"
"Oh that, yeah I guess he is," I replied, with a subdued smirk.
"Well, it's all my doing, you know. I told him to shape up, if he ever wanted a chance with the ladies," Donny stated, like repeating some ancient proverb.
"Hmm, and which ladies would that be?"
"Maybe the little honey I have him set up with this Friday night."
"Oh really! And, who's the lucky girl?"
"Her name is Alicia. She's this cute little blonde receptionist that works for Watson Construction," Donny said between bites.
"You keep saying how little she is. She's not vertically challenged, I hope."
"NO. She's just petite, you know, about Meg's size," Hubby added, referring to our daughter. "Just a sweet girl – always bubbling about something or other," he added.
"So, just because this sweet little bubble head has a crush on you, you think she'll be interested in Ben," I poked him.
"I never said she has a crush... geez, the girl is like twenty-one. She and Ben will have a great time... I think. I mean, you can never tell about these things. Who knows?" Donny shrugged.
"Well I'm sure Ben will give us an accurate play-by-play," I smiled.
"Better than that; we're making it a foursome. We get to watch!"
"Hmm, thanks for letting me know. God Donny, you never cease to amaze me," I said, shaking my head. "And where do you - I mean WE - plan on taking these kids?"
"Dinner and dancing, whatcha think?" He suggested.
"Okay, and how fancy a place, so I know how to dress," I prodded him.
After rattling off all the restaurants in town, we decided Grig's Steak House & Lounge would be our best shot for having a fun night with a pair of kids thirty years younger than us. The food was good and the adjoining lounge had dancing. Dress was high-casual to low-formal, meaning we could pretty much wear anything halfway decent, without being stuffy.
Thursday, before the big Friday, offered a pleasant surprise; and I did have to thank my hubby for this one. He treated Ben to an early date with his barber. "Oh my Lord, what do we have HERE!" I said, almost in shock. "The barber must have had a field day with you!" I exclaimed, seeing Ben for the first time with short hair and a clean-shaven face.
"I think he butchered me," Ben grunted.
"Nonsense, it looks great, Ben. Just look at you... you STUD!" I exclaimed, dragging him to the hall mirror. "See, just enough hair for Alicia to run her hands through, when you make your play for her," I said, running my fingers through his shortened locks for effect.
"Right, I'm sure. I haven't even met the girl." Ben blushed.
Judging from his previously hidden pot marked complexion, I assumed the beard was more a practical than cosmetic decision. I'm sure he felt uncovered and quite self-conscious, as his reclusive body language indicated.
"You may not believe me, but I DO know exactly what you're going through," I empathized.
"You're right Barb, I don't believe you."
"I was a bit younger than you, when my face was ravaged with acne. My mom was always hauling me off somewhere to visit another dermatologist. This was long before they have all the fancy meds they have today. Basically, nothing seemed to work," I recalled.
"What did you do? I mean, you look... you're beautiful," Ben wondered.
"Yeah well, just don't look too close. I still carry a couple of deep scars, and makeup does wonders. No, actually I just got older. I think I was about twenty-five when things started to finally simmer down. I also believe a positive attitude might have helped."
"Telling me I should be happy about myself, and just forget what others say?" Ben recited something somebody must have offered years ago.
"Not exactly. Instead of wasting my time with that superficial bullshit, I just spent more of my energy on developing a captivating personality and a killer figure," I laughed.
"Well it worked for you; that's for sure. You're a God damn knockout!" Ben's eyes lit up.
"You goof, I was just kidding... but I'll take the compliment," I said, softly running the back of my hand against his cratered face.
"So, you got this whole date thing figured out?" Donny asked, downing his second beer, as he entered the family room.
"Sure," Ben started, "First, we get her liquored to the max, and then I take the bag off my head and screw her 'til she falls madly in love with me –how's that sound?"
"GREAT Ben, sounds like a plan to me," Donny laughed and slapped him on the back. "Just remember lift off is seven o'clock, at least that's the time I told Alicia we'd pick her up," my hubby reminded, before sinking into his recliner.
As Donny became instantly engaged in whatever was on the tube, I could see Ben was anything but settled on the subject. I left for the kitchen and poured two cups of coffee. Heading toward the deck, I motioned for Ben to join me.
"Ben, will this be your first real date?" I asked, after we had sipped our coffee in silence for several long minutes.