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   Chapter 5 No.5

My Sister's Keeper By Bill Benners Characters: 6932

Updated: 2018-05-28 10:57


"STOP!" I SHOUTED. Ashleigh looked up, her hands frozen on the last button. "I'm sorry, Ashleigh, " I said. "Call me drunk. Call me stupid. Call me whatever you want. I'm as red-blooded as any male and you're the best looking woman I've had in this house ever! But you just don't need to be doing that. Please, just call the studio in the morning and make an appointment." Her gaze remained locked on me even as another heavy branch fell on the deck. Her shirt lay open exposing her bra. It was tempting. God, was it tempting! I turned away. "Please, Ashleigh." The telephone rang and broke the impasse. I reached for it immediately. "Hello?"

It was Mom. "Richie, can you run over and help your dad move Martha's bed?"

I closed my eyes and drew a slow breath. "Move it where, Mom?"

"Is something wrong?"

"No, nothing's wrong. Move it where?"

"Just turn it so she can see the street out the window."

"Okay. Sure. I'll stop by in the morning on my way to work."

"Thank you, Baby."

"You're welcome, Mom."

"Did you get something to eat?"

Thunder rattled the house. "I've got to go, Mom."

She paused. "Is something wrong, Richie?"

"No. I'll call you later."

There was a short pause. "Is someone there?"

"See you in the morning, Mom. Bye-bye."

I set the phone back on its cradle and looked up at Ashleigh. She reminded me of the way my dad often looked at me. Arrogant and pompous. I spoke gently. "Think about what you're doing, Ashleigh. You're extremely beautiful, sexy as hell, and certainly don't need me to tell you that." She remained motionless. "Just call the studio tomorrow. Okay?"

She flipped her hair back, exhaled sharply, and began fastening the buttons. "Yeah, sure."

"And we'll go see what we can do about your lights." I tossed down the rest of my drink, found a pad of paper, and made a note to remind me to stop by Mom's in the morning. As I propped it by the coffee pot, Ashleigh drifted toward me jamming her shirttail back into her jeans. Her eyes were downcast and her shoulders slumped. I lifted her raincoat off the cabinet knob and held it open for her. She slipped her arms into it, pulled the collar high, and buttoned it. She kept her eyes low and said nothing.

I snared my windbreaker, pulled it on, and retrieved a flashlight from a drawer next to the back door. "Please don't take this personally—"

A clap of thunder rocked the house and the lights went out. Ashleigh screamed and threw her arms around me. The scent of her shampoo and the heat of her breath on my neck brought back long-forgotten feelings. I should have pushed her away. Instead, my arms folded around her and my lips brushed her forehead. "Shhh. It's just thunder, " I whispered. For a long moment we held each other and, for that moment, she was all mine and I ached for more.

As the lights flickered back on and the microwave beeped, she raised her face, closed her eyes, and puckered her lips. I hesitated, then as my lips touched hers, my heart stopped and I relived my entire life—falling in love all over again and making love a hundred times—before releasing her and turning away.

"I'm sorry, " she whispered.

I cleared my throat, gripped the doorknob, and wiped a tear from my eye. "Don't be. There are things in this world that frighten me too." I drew a breath. "You ready?" She nodded and I opened the door holding it for her to step back out into the storm. I felt like a fool—like a failure.

Coward!

It was a short walk to her front porch. I held the light while she unlocked the door then followed her into the darkness panning the light about the room. The place smelled of perfume and potpourri and reminded me of a weekend cottage with a breakfast bar separating the living room and the kitchen. She took my arm and led me across the room saying, "The fuse box is over here."

Luckily the "fuse box" turned out to be a circuit breaker panel. I shined the light on the switches as Ashleigh stood closely behind peeking over my shoulder.

"See anything?" she whispered into my ear.

The main breaker was off. Not tripped, but switched off. I flipped it on and the room filled with light and the hum of appliances. A second later, an ancient console television fizzled to life showing an old black and white Greta Garbo movie. Ashleigh leaned on the counter next to me and planted a hand on her hip. "Well, if I'd known it was that simple, I wouldn't have bothered you."

"Oh, it's no bother, " I said scanning the rest of the switches.

"Can you stay a few minutes? I'd like to talk about the photos."

"Well, I…" The rain pounding the roof caused me to hesitate.

"Please? I have some scotch, " she said. "Would you like a drink?"

I closed the panel box and turned off the flashlight. "I—think I'd better go."

"Couldn't you at least have one drink so I could show you the pose I had in mind? Please?" Ashleigh lifted a tumbler she had waiting, opened the freezer door, and dropped a few ice cubes into it. "I promise I won't keep you long." She broke the seal on the bottle of scotch, screwed the cap off, and held it poised over the ice. "Please?" Her smile was soft. Her eyes had that sparkle children get when they're excited and as she moved, the beads in her hair clinked against one another. She was much more relaxed here than she'd been in my house and I really didn't have any reason to rush home.

"Well, okay. Just one."

She poured the liquor, placed the glass on a small square napkin, and handed it to me. "Just make yourself comfortable and let me get set up."

"Thanks." I sipped the whiskey and couldn't help but smile as she scurried through the living room into the bedroom. There was a time when I, too, had wild dreams and unrealistic expectations.

Some of the furniture reminded me of my grandmother's and the rest had a Pier One look. I lifted a framed 5x7 photograph off a buffet behind the front door and studied it. It was a portrait of a teenaged Ashleigh with a woman, a man, and a boy—probably her family.

Over the couch hung a large portrait of her and a cat. It wasn't bad, but I would have done it differently. As I stepped closer to the portrait, a longhaired tan and black cat stood up on the couch and stretched. It had blended so well with the pillows I hadn't even noticed it, but when I reached out to stroke it, it vaulted to the floor. I didn't mind. Normally, I wouldn't have even offered. It looked back at me and I noticed it had one blue eye and one brown one. As far as cats go, this was a pretty one.

I drifted to the closed door Ashleigh had vanished through, leaned against the doorframe, and could hear her fiddling around behind it.

"Ashleigh?" I called.

"Not yet. Just a second."

I felt like a teenager playing some kind of childish game. It was delightful, even sensual. I chuckled and sipped the scotch.

"Okay, " she called. "You can come in now."

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