tagNovels and NovellasReplacement Therapy Ch. 02

Replacement Therapy Ch. 02


Chapter 2: Full Speed Ahead

I'd spent the good part of Friday evening organizing my thoughts about how to finish the basement room at the Michaels' home in the most efficient way. Yolanda agreed to paint the baseboards and casings if I did all the other stuff. I had half-gallon of semi-gloss white latex in my storage unit which I retrieved before leaving for the Michaels' house. That would look after the trim. I picked up my rubber hammer, cushioned knee pads, gloves, and safety glasses, and I was set for the day.

I hadn't reckoned on the children, and Kirk was full of questions about what I was going to do. The floor would be first, and that didn't require any nailing or gluing. It was a snap-fit system that only required cutting the final length in each row and using a rubber hammer on any stubborn pieces. I set up the miter saw in the workshop, and got started.

"Kirk, I need some help here. Can you bring me a piece of flooring when I say to?" I asked.

His face lit up. "Yeah. I can do that. Which piece?"

"Any one will do. Let's start with five or six pieces to get going, then we can figure out how we'll do it from there. I'll get three, and you get two, okay?"

"Okay." He rushed over to the open carton and picked up the top two pieces and brought them to me. In a flash, he was back for another two. I didn't need to move.

We started by setting up three rows at a time, the nearest longer than the next, and so on. By the time Kirk had made four of five trips, I could see that this job was going to go quite quickly. I showed him how I would measure the last pieces and the cut-off would be the first piece in the next row. That way we always had a tongue end to start a new row. Kirk figured that part out quickly and we were off to the races.

The miter saw was out of his reach, but I didn't want him near it anyway. Besides, he was too busy figuring out where the next pieces would go. The only time consuming job was ripping the last row to width and working around the two doorways. By noon, we were almost done.

We'd been so occupied with our job that we hadn't noticed that Deanna was nowhere to be seen, but Yolanda had been sitting on the stairs watching us. For how long, I didn't know, but there she was as we neared the end.

I stood up and looked around the room. The maple laminate had transformed the room into a warm area. I walked around the new floor, looking for squeaks or flexes, but found none. When I tapped the last piece into place with the rubber hammer under Kirk's careful supervision, I leaned back and we gave each other a "high five."

"It looks wonderful, Aaron," Yolanda said. "And you got it done so quickly."

"Couldn't have done it without Kirk's help," I said, playing to the audience.

"Yeah, Mom. I helped a lot," he said proudly.

"You sure did. I watched you. You were really busy setting up the pieces. Nice going!" his mother enthused. Kirk was busy acknowledging his accolades.

"Where's Deanna," I asked.

"She's over at her friend's house. She's doesn't like the sound of the saw. She's afraid of it."

"Yeah, Deanna's a fraidy-cat," Kirk said, obviously implying he wasn't.

"Oh well, it wasn't girls work anyway, was it," I grinned at Kirk. I got a dirty look from Yolanda for my effort.

"Yeah! Making stuff is for guys, right, Mr. Prentice?"

I nodded briefly, but chose not to agree verbally.

"After lunch, we'll do the casings and baseboards. That shouldn't take too long either. You can help, but you'll have to be careful. No touching the nail gun, okay?"

"Okay," he nodded, hands on hips, surveying his mornings work with pride.

We sat around the kitchen table eating sandwiches and drinking milk. Yolanda was beaming, and Kirk was restless, asking questions about what other work needed to be done besides the basement room. When Kirk finished his last sandwich and drank all his milk, he excused himself and raced for the basement once more. I figured he wanted to spend more time admiring his efforts.

"You've made a friend for life, Aaron. He loved every minute of this morning. He can't wait to tell his friends all about it at school on Monday. His father was always reluctant to let him in the workshop for fear of him getting hurt."

"I understand that. I'm the same way. But Kirk's a little older now, and with some clear instructions, I think he can contribute without my putting him in danger. We'll see how it goes this afternoon. I may even be able to get those light fixtures started today."

"If you need some more help, let me know. I'll be glad to pitch in where I can."

I looked at her and saw that enigmatic smile she was beginning to show more often. "This is fun for me, you know. I haven't had a project for a long time, and this one had gone very smoothly. It's all part of my rehab."

She blushed as I smiled at her. We weren't that comfortable around each other yet. Perhaps she was suspicious of my motives. A young widow, on her own, vulnerable to a guy out looking for a conquest? That wasn't me, but how would I convince her of that. I guess all I could do was to continue persuading her with my willingness to help without asking for anything in return. Maybe over time she'd understand it was just as important for me to help her as it was for her to get help.

"I didn't see any bicycles in the basement," I observed. "Do they have them?"

"Deanna had a little pink girl's bike, but she's outgrown it and Kirk wouldn't be seen dead riding it," she laughed. "It's another one of those luxuries that aren't at the top of the list yet."

I nodded understanding, but filed the information away for future use.

"What are you going to put in the new room in the way of furniture? I asked.

"One of our neighbors has donated an old ping pong table that I can use for cutting and laying out my work. It's a big table, so that will take up almost half the room."

"Anything else?"

"No ... everything else is upstairs and in use."

I sat thinking for a minute. "Do you have anything important to do this afternoon?"

"No ... I assumed you would be here all day."

"Alright then, I'd like to borrow your truck, and you and the kids can come with me. I have an idea I want to share with you."

"What kind of an idea?" she asked.

"Never mind. Just let me show you what I'm thinking, and then you can decide if you like my idea or not."

Again, she had that suspicious look. I hadn't reached the point of trust with her, but I would keep working toward that goal.

When Yolanda's husband, Ryan, was called up, he left behind his 250 series Ford pickup. When he was killed, Yolanda sold her little Honda sedan for cash, keeping the much more valuable truck. It had a crew cab, so the four of us could ride together. It would be perfect for what I wanted to do.

When I sold our house and moved into the condo, I had furniture and furnishings galore and no space for it. I thought about selling it all on ebay, but I never got around to it. I didn't need the money and I couldn't seem to get up the energy to do something with it all. I had rented a heated storage unit and put everything in there, almost forgetting about it.

It had rained fairly steadily Friday night and into Saturday morning, but it quit before noon. It looked like it was going to clear, just as they had predicted, so it would be an ideal time to haul things without having to worry about a tarp. I chose not to tell Yolanda just what I had in mind, fearing that she would put her foot down and refuse. I wasn't going to give her a chance. With any luck, Deanna and Kirk would make sure of that.

Deanna had come home for lunch and when the dishes were done and put away, Kirk and I returned to the basement to finish the room. It went even quicker than I had guessed. I wasn't trying to miter the corners. The door casings were first, and I simply cut the header an inch longer than flush with outside of the casing to give it a noticeable overhang. Six cuts and a few nails from the power-nailer, and we had two doors cased.

The baseboard corners were even simpler, just butting the two pieces to each other; one tight to the wall, the other tight to the adjoining baseboard. We were finished before two o'clock. Kirk had helped by holding the boards in place snug to the wall while I ran the nail gun along, firing through the base into the shoe plate of the wall. Once again, the young boy got enormous satisfaction in helping me with a simple, safe job.

"Okay, Kirk. The only thing left is to paint the boards, and the job is done," I announced, followed by another high five.

"Oh, Aaron, it looks wonderful," Yolanda exclaimed from the stairs. "I'll get started painting the trim tonight."

"Okay, I'll help you tape it off. We wouldn't want any paint on your new floor or walls."

I could see the look of happiness in her eyes. That was worth the effort all by itself.

I loaded the kids into the back of the crew cab and the four of us were off, with only me knowing our destination. When I pulled into the storage lot, I think Yolanda figured it out, but didn't say anything. So far, so good.

If my memory served me right, I knew what the kids were going to see first when I rolled up the sectional door on the unit. I was right. Two youth bicycles were sitting there, leaning on their kick stands. I had cleaned and oiled them before I put them away, hoping against hope that my boys would get a chance to ride them again. It never happened.

"Mom! Look at this," Kirk squealed. "Bikes!"

Deanna was just as enthused. "Mom ... this is just like the bike Carolyn has. Wow!"

"Okay, gang, give me a hand and we'll put them in the truck first," I said, not daring to look at Yolanda. If looks could kill, I suspected they'd be holding funeral services over me about now. I could almost feel the heat. Once they were loaded into the truck, I turned and faced my fate.

She was standing there, red-faced, but with a grim smile. I might just get away with this.

"You did this deliberately, didn't you!" she said, almost whispering.

"Guilty. I told you about it being easier to say sorry and get permission didn't I?"

She just shook her head in disgust, and now I knew I had a chance to pull the rest of this plot off.

On top of a pile of covered furniture was a rolled up eight foot by three-and-a-half foot braided oval rug. I pulled it off, and flopped it into the truck along the side of the box.

"Can't have the kids playing on a cold floor down there. This will fix that." I unrolled a couple of feet to show Yolanda the colors. They were brown, burnt sienna, and sand. They would suit the room perfectly. I didn't bother to check for Yolanda's expression. I was sure it wouldn't be pleasant.

I went back in, and uncovered a nice maple rocking chair, almost the same finish as the floor. "Here's something for mom when she's doing her sewing," I announced to the kids. It was the next thing into the truck.

A goose-neck floor lamp with an adjustable neck followed, again the right thing for close work, in or out of the rocking chair. I didn't bother announcing it, since everyone could see what it was. Back into the room and I rummaged around, looking for what ever I could find. Not everything would go to the house today. There were two items that were too heavy for me. They would have to wait for another day.

An old wing chair was an easy choice, and I added it to the load. As I prowled around, I found something I had forgotten about. It was a boot-box full of Lego. I picked it up and put it on the tailgate.

"Have a look at this, kids," I said.

"Wow! Look at all the Lego, Mom. This is way more than we have. We can build lots more things now," Kirk announced in a loud voice.

This time, Yolanda was just shaking her head, obviously having surrendered to my plot. Victory!

We drove back to the house with the kids bubbling away in the back seat, checking every once in a while that the bikes were still in the back. The box of Lego was between them, and they were looking at the various items, announcing every once in a while some new part. In the meantime, the front seat was silent. Icy silent.

I unloaded the truck and the first thing the children wanted to do was ride their bikes. Deanna's bike was Terry's old bike, and it fit her fine. I wouldn't have to lower the seat. Kirk rode Matt's bike, and in his case, I had to raise the seat an inch or so. Kirk was going to be a big boy. I got a great deal of satisfaction watching them ride along the sidewalk and up and down the driveway.

"You ambushed me," I heard over my shoulder. Yolanda didn't sound pleased.

"Sorry, but if I'd told you what I wanted to do, would you have been okay with it?"

She looked out at her children, and back to me. "Probably not. You're taking choices out of my hands, Aaron. I want them to have a bike, just like the other kids have. But right now, I can't afford it. Now, they'll think they just have to ask you and it will happen."

"Nope. Not so. I didn't operate that way with my kids, and I won't do that to yours either." I paused and sat on the tailgate of the truck. "Yolanda, all that stuff in the storage unit are things from my past. Bikes the kids will never ride again. Furniture I didn't have room for in my condo. All sorts of things that are surplus from a previous life.

"I suppose I could have sold all or most of it on ebay, or something like that, but ... I couldn't at first. It would mean giving up on the past. Cutting the last tie. Then, when I knew it was really over and done, I just couldn't summon the energy to do it. So it sat ... and sat ... until one day, when I met a very brave woman who needed a hand. Someone who wouldn't ask for anything if her life depended on it. Someone who deserved a break. It was in my power to help, and I didn't think twice about doing it. Please don't take away the good feeling I get when I can help you."

She was looking at me intently, her eyes boring into mine. I held her gaze, challenging her to break first.

"It's hard for me to understand you, Aaron. There are times when I wonder if you have an ulterior motive. There are other times when I think you are a saint. Somewhere in the middle is the real Aaron Prentice, I guess."

"I'm no saint. Georgia wouldn't have sailed off into the sunset if I were. But ... there's no hidden agenda, I promise. I said it was therapy, and it really is. I hope sometime you'll come to trust me on that. In the meantime, I'm determined to help, so I guess I'm asking you to get used to it."

She looked at me, again with suspicion, but perhaps there were cracks forming in her armor. I would try to prove my motives were pure. At least, I was pretty sure they were pure. Sex wasn't something that had been on my mind much in the past couple of years. Georgia had done a number on me that way. Yolanda was safe from me.

I was invited for dinner, and I accepted. It beat the hell out of eating alone. The children were lively, talking about all the things they could do with the Lego, and all the places they could go with their friends on their new bikes. I caught Yolanda smiling as they voiced their enthusiasm. I think she had come to terms with my actions, and was sharing her children's happiness.

Before I left, I reminded them that I would be back Sunday morning to work on the lighting fixtures. My impromptu visit to the storage unit had put a stop to the effort in the basement. However, it was only an hour's work to install the fixtures, so I would be finished quickly. They were going to church for eleven o'clock services, and I promised to be done and gone before then.

Kirk and Deanna wanted to ride their bikes Sunday afternoon, so the baseball game was forgotten. I didn't mind. We knew a big area when they could ride safely. I had given them the helmets that the boys wore, after Yolanda and I cleaned them thoroughly. I would be quite happy to be sitting with this captivating woman while we watched the kids have fun. Perhaps I could get a little closer to her ... maybe to the point she would trust me a little more.

The afternoon seemed to spin away so quickly, and when we put the bikes in the back of the truck and headed for home, I was disappointed. True, I'd had a nice conversation with Yolanda, but I didn't learn an awful lot. I was well aware of how attractive she was, but that wasn't what I was interested in. I wanted to find a way to crack the walls she had erected around herself. I'm not sure what my motives were, but it was becoming a challenge that I couldn't or wouldn't ignore.

As a side effect, my newly improved mood was noticed almost immediately at the office. I was feeling good and I guess it showed. Sandra showed up at my desk and openly flirted with me for a few minutes. She hadn't given up hope that I might forget the company policy and date her. That wasn't going to happen. If I was going to date anyone, it would be Yolanda.

I stopped in to Bernie's for a pint after work on Thursday afternoon.

"Hello, stranger. I haven't seen you for a while," Nick remarked.

"Nope. Been busy."

"Oh ... work?"

"Nope. Just doing things to help out Yolanda ... Mrs. Michaels."

"Really. Well, I haven't seen her much either. You two keeping each other company these days?"

"We see each other on the weekends when I drop over to do some chores, or take the kids out riding on their bikes."

Nick nodded knowingly. "Good for you. If she wasn't so skittish, she'd make good girlfriend material."

"Yeah. I have to take it very slow with her. I don't know why she's so nervous around me. I didn't think I was that scary."

"Well, you've got a lot farther than anyone else ever has. I think she's just so beat down over trying to keep her family together that she won't let herself relax. She needs a vacation."

"You could be right Nick, but every time I try to help her, she gets uptight about it."

"What kind of help?"

"I've got all this stuff in storage that's just sitting there doing nothing. I gave the kids bikes ... the bikes my boys used to ride. It was no big deal for me, but she was upset that her kids would think that anything they wanted, I would get for them."

"Would you?"

I snorted, almost driving beer through my nose. It was a hell of a question. Would I?

"Maybe," I admitted.

Nick smiled and walked back down the bar to look after the waitress's order.

"So, Nick, what do you suggest?" I asked when he returned.

He shrugged. "I take it you've already told her you're just doing it to help?"

"Yeah ... but ... she's got her pride, and I think that makes it harder for her to accept gifts or handouts from me. It's like taking charity, and she doesn't want that. I'm trying to figure out how to help her without getting her upset."

"It is charity. You can't hide that. She's getting something of value at no cost. That's charity."

"You're a big help," I groused.

"So, what's in it for you? Why do it?"

I shrugged this time. "It makes me feel good. I'm doing something to help someone who can use a hand up. I told her it was therapy for me. It is, too."

"And that's all? No ulterior motive?" Nick was giving me one of his no-nonsense looks.

"Okay, okay ... she's a nice looking woman and I love her kids. Yeah ... I want to get to know her better. Damned if I can break through that wall she's built around herself though."

"How does she feel about you?"

"Don't know. Oh, she'll go out with me when we take the kids to the park, or a ball game. But there's nothing personal going on when we do. I've tried to find out more about her, but she doesn't tell me very much. I wish I knew just what she thought about me. I'm afraid if I ask her, I might not get the answer I want to hear."

"That's always the risk," Nick said, moving down the bar to serve a new customer.

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