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Second Time Around

Chapter 26 - A New Door Opens

By Arli J

Edited by Radio Rancher
Based on Characters from Pinochle, by E Walk

When I finished my phone calls, we sat down for a quick cup of coffee. The movers would be here about noon, so we needed to be back from our errands. I had realized that I needed to stop by Sally's office and leave her a key to my house, so she could show it to prospective buyers. When I mentioned this to Gregg, he decided he had better leave his key to the store with her, as well.

We packed the boxes of canned food into the back seat of the car and went, first to Sally's office, then to the Salvation Army. Sally was out of the office when we got there, so we left our keys with her secretary.

I had been to the Salvation Army before, so I knew where the food pantry was located. The door was open, when we arrived with the first boxes of food. The lady in charge looked up.

"Harley! Howare you? I haven't seen you in ages!"

I took a closer look and recognized her. Ruthie Schmidt, a girl I had grown up with; we had gone through twelve years of school together, and then drifted apart, as so often happens.

"Well, hi, Ruthie! How long has it been? No, don't tell me! I really don't want to know!" We were both laughing.

"What are you doing here? Is there something I can do to help you?"

"Well, Ruthie, I'm moving to Nebraska, to start a new job, and I've got all this canned stuff that I don't want to take with me, so I thought maybe you could use it here."

"We can always use more food, with the number of people out of work in the area and desperate for food to feed their families! Come on in, and set those boxes down."

"We've got a couple more in the car. We'll go get them." We set the boxes we were carrying on the table in the center of the room. The walls had shelves filled with canned and boxed foods. There were two big refrigerators in the back of the room. Ruthie was already looking through the boxes, as we went out to bring in the rest of the canned goods.

She looked up, when we returned. "This is wonderful, Harley! Someone is really going to enjoy these!" We set the other two boxes on the table.

"Hey, Harley, did you say you're starting a new job? I know how old you are! What are you doing, starting a new job at your age?" She grinned at me.

"I tried the 'retirement thing,' and I was bored silly. You know how it is; you get used to working, and you just can't quit."

"Why do you think I'm here? I lost Dave two years ago, and I thought I'd go crazy. Then I heard about this place and came down to volunteer my time. I've been here ever since, and I couldn't be happier."

"Hey, Ruthie, I don't mean to be rude, but we've got a lot of stuff to do today, and we're flying out to Nebraska this evening."

"Well, it was really good to see you again, Harley! Good luck with the new job!" She started unpacking the boxes, and we headed back to the house. On the way, I stopped at the Post Office and turned in a change of address. I remembered to put Gregg's name on it, so that when his bills came, they would be forwarded, too.

When we got back to the house, the answering machine was blinking. I picked up the message. It was Becca: "Hey, guys, we thought you might want to join us for dinner tonight, and we can leave for the airport from there. Beau wants another of those steaks! Let us know if the movers have picked up your car, and we'll swing by to pick you up. Oh, should I call ahead of time, to be sure you're awake?" I could hear her giggle, as the line went dead.

Gregg looked at me with a puzzled expression . "What did she mean by that? 'To be sure we're awake'? I just looked at him.

"That lady is one sharp individual. She took one look at our faces when we got to the diner last night, and she knew what we'd been doing!"

"Oh, my God!" His face was scarlet. I couldn't help laughing at him. I would never admit to him that I had been just as embarrassed last night as he was now!

Since I knew that we weren't leaving until this evening, I had called several moving companies to see if we could find one to pick up our stuff today. I finally found one—who also turned out to be the least expensive!—that would have a truck there around noon. I looked at the clock.

"Gregg, I'm so glad that we decided to store your stuff in the garage instead of the store! Now, all we have to do is bring it in and put it with mine in the living room. We really don't have that much, both of us together, so it won't take long for them to load it. We'd better check the car to see if there's anything in it we're going to need. Then, I think we've covered all the bases."

We went out to the garage and started carrying his boxes into the house. We stacked them in the living room with my boxes. It didn't take long, and we now had a respectable pile of boxes, but there was still room to walk around the living room. After that, we decided to see what was in the fridge for lunch, and, of course, after all that strenuous work we needed a coffee break!

We were just finishing lunch, when there was a knock on the door. It was the moving men. They quickly carried everything out and stowed it in their truck. We watched as they attached the tow bar to the back of the truck and hooked the car to it. They lifted the bar, raising the front wheels of the car off the ground. Then they waved to us and drove off. When we went back into the house, it had a strange, empty and almost lifeless feel to it. We just looked at each other.

Gregg pulled me into a hug. "I hope you're going to be happy with this. It's a big change in your life. I know; I had the same feelings when I came here from Fremont. But, whatever happens, we still have each other."

I hugged him close. "Thanks, Gregg. I think I really needed to hear that right now." We pulled apart just enough to look each other in the eye. His expression was so full of love that I almost started crying again. I just couldn't understand it; I've been on the verge of tears, or flat out crying more in the last couple of weeks than in the rest of my sixty-plus years put together. What is this man doing to me? But, whatever it is, I like it!

We went out to the kitchen and put on a fresh pot of coffee. While it was brewing, we checked over the 'to-do' list. Now that the movers had been here, everything was checked off on the list. It was almost comical; we looked at each other and both heaved huge sighs at the same time. We were finished.

Finished. My life in Ithaca was finished. I felt a momentary tug of anxiety over leaving everything that was familiar in my life and heading into the unknown. But as I looked at Gregg's face, so full of love, smiling across the table at me, I knew we'd make it. Somewhere, somehow, we'd make it. As long as we were together, there was nothing we couldn't handle. I returned his smile.

The coffee was ready, so I got up and filled our cups. We could really relax now. The last few days had been hectic, but all that was over now. We sat, sipping our coffee and just smiling across the table at each other. Everything that needed to be said had been said; everything that needed to be done had been done.

I looked up at the clock. 4:47. I should probably give Beau and Becca a call to let them know what was going on, and to find out when they planned to go for dinner. It was already a given that we would be having our last meal in Ithaca at the State Diner.

"Gregg, I'm going to call Beau and Becca and find out what's going on." He got up from the table and followed me to the living room, coffee cup in hand. We both set our cups on the coffee table, and I picked up the phone. Becca answered, and I told her we were ready to go. She checked with Beau and told me that they would be down to pick us up about 5:30.

When I finished the call, we went to the bedroom to get our luggage. I took my small travel bag to the bathroom and emptied what was left in the medicine chest into it, on top of the clothes I had packed for wear when we arrived. We went through the house, opening doors and drawers, checking to be sure we hadn't missed anything. I had to chuckle, as I walked into the bedroom to find Gregg on his hands and knees, butt in the air, dragging the suitcases that had never been opened out from under the bed. We carried our luggage out and put it in the living room, close to the front door. Between us, we didn't have a lot. There would certainly be room in the trunk of Beau's rental car for all our stuff, as well as the small travel bags they had brought with them. We were ready to go.

We sat down on the couch to finish our coffee. Then I took the cups to the kitchen, washed them and put them away. I dumped the coffee pot and washed it out. Then we set our luggage on the front porch, locked up the house and sat down on the front steps to wait for Beau and Becca.

When they arrived, Beau got out and helped us load our suitcases into the trunk. We got in and drove across town, headed for the diner. There was still very little traffic, and as we passed the foot of the Commons, I looked up the street. There might have been a dozen people in the two blocks of the Commons, where normally there would have been groups of college students, high school students and shoppers, even at this hour of the evening. It seemed so sad. Gregg must have sensed what I was feeling, because he reached over and squeezed my hand. Becca turned around in her seat and gave me a sympathetic smile.

The diner was almost empty, and at the dinner hour! We found a booth and the waitress came to take our orders. Beau had his usual steak, Becca and I both had the baked chicken, and Gregg ordered—meat loaf! He looked over at me with a sad smile. "I'm really going to miss this." I just smiled back and nodded.

After dinner, I directed Beau down State Street and onto Route 13, headed for the airport. When we got there, terminal porters unloaded our luggage, and Beau went to turn in the rental car. Then we stood by the big windows and waited. It was only a few minutes until the corporate jet pulled up in front of the terminal. The attendants wheeled the staircase into place. As we started out the door, I looked up at the clock. 7:00. I don't think I'll ever get used to Beau and his almost fanatical punctuality. I try to be on time for things, but this man makes me feel scatterbrained!

Our luggage was already loaded, so we got into the plane and buckled our seat belts. I was feeling distinctly nervous, but not as panicky as on my last trip. Gregg gave me an encouraging smile. "It will be easier this time, really!" I tried to smile back, but it wasn't easy.

When the plane began to move, I could feel myself tensing up. Then came the burst of power to the big jet engines, as we became airborne. I was prepared for a real rush of anxiety, but it never came. As we climbed to cruising level, I looked out the window. This really isn't so bad! I looked over at Gregg. He was watching me closely, and I could see him relax, as I gave him a big smile.

The flight was uneventful. The flight attendant came in and lowered the table. He showed Gregg how to adjust our seats, and then he came out of what I found out later was the galley with cups of steaming coffee for everyone. Beau was more like himself this evening. He had tried to help and been rebuffed. That hurt him, but he was able to let it go. He was looking forward to the family vacation at the nude dude ranch. I really wanted to ask some questions about that, but, with Becca sitting there, I decided not to ask.

It seemed like a very short time before the attendant came back and asked us to put our seats in the normal position. He removed the table and stored it. Then he disappeared in the front of the plane. I looked out the window. A big city was passing below us. Gregg leaned over and took a look. "Omaha. We're almost home." He smiled at me.

When we came down the steps from the plane, we were met by a young man who was apparently a friend of Beau and Becca. He told us that the van was waiting. As soon as our luggage was unloaded from the plane, he helped Beau put it on a cart and wheeled it over to the parking lot, where Beau's van was parked. He opened the back and stacked the luggage inside. Beau gave him directions on stowing the bags, so that theirs and ours were separated. The young man got into the driver's seat. Beau and Becca took the seat behind him, and Gregg and I crawled into the back seat. We were off.

I looked at my watch. 8:38. I looked out the window. "Wow, it's awfully light for 8:30 in the evening!"

Beau turned and grinned at me. "That's because it's 7:30 here! Did you forget that we're an hour behind you yankees?"

"Oh, that's right! I'm going to have to reset my watch!" He grinned at me again. "I'm used to it. I reset mine before we left Ithaca."

I relaxed and watched the scenery for the rest of the drive to Fremont. Gregg was sitting snuggled as close to me as he could get in the van's seats. When we arrived in Fremont, Beau directed the driver to take us home first. We pulled up in front of Gregg's house, and it felt like a real 'Welcome home,' the lawn smooth and green, the red and white geraniums glowing on either side of the front door. Beau and the driver got out and helped us carry our luggage to the house. Gregg opened the front door and they set everything inside. Then Beau shook hands with us. "Welcome home, guys! I think things are going to work out better for all of us." Becca waved and called "Goodbye," as the two men got back into the van and pulled out into traffic. We stood there for a minute, watching them drive off down the street, then turned and went into the house.

Gregg closed the door, turned and grabbed me in a big hug. "Oh, Harley, it feels so good to be home!" He was clinging to me, and I hugged him back. When we broke the hug, he looked at the suitcases piled by the door. "This is never going to do! Let's get these things upstairs!" He grabbed a couple of suitcases and started up the stairs. I grabbed a couple more and followed him. All the bags we had with us were his, so we set them in his room. Then we went back down stairs and got the rest of the luggage. Most of it was mine. I was ahead of him on the stairs this time. As I passed his door and headed for the guest room, he stopped. "Hey!" I stopped and turned around. He set down the suitcases he was carrying and grabbed me in another hug. Then he took hold of my shoulders and looked me straight in the eye.

"At the risk of misquoting, I'm going to tell you something that someone else told me. You're not a guest here; you're family! Family doesn't sleep in the guest room!" He picked up the suitcases he had left in the middle of the hall and marched into his room with them. He set them in the middle of the floor with a decided thump. He turned and glared at me. "Now, get those things in here, where they belong!" This was a side of him I had never seen. I wasn't sure whether he was kidding, or whether he was serious. I decided to follow orders, just in case. I brought the suitcases I was carrying and set them beside the others. He grinned at me. "There! That's better!"

We brought up the rest of the suitcases and set them in the bedroom. Gregg looked at the pile of luggage in the middle of the floor. "I don't think I'm up to dealing with these tonight. Let's just go take a little walk down by the river. Tomorrow we'll both feel more like dealing with all this!" He walked out, and I followed him. He turned and shut the door. "There. I don't see any mess; do you?" He grinned at me and started down the stairs. I suddenly realized that I needed to use the bathroom.

"I'll be right down, Gregg!" He nodded and continued down the stairs. By the time I came downstairs, he was sitting in the kitchen, and the coffee pot was brewing. What a surprise! We sat at the kitchen table and waited for the pot to finish its cycle. Then Gregg got up and brought cups from the cupboard. He brought the coffee pot and filled our cups, set the pot back on the burner and sat down. He had the most relaxed and happy smile on his face. He was home now. When we finished our coffee, we set out on our walk.

We walked down the street toward the river. The shadows were even longer and darker now. When we reached the grassy strip by the river, we sat down on a bench. It was so peaceful here, the sunset, the murmuring of the Platte, as it slid between its banks, the early crickets tuning up for their concert. It was moments like this, moments that were becoming more frequent with Gregg, that made me so content with my life. I don't think I've ever been so much at peace with myself.

But even Paradise has its tiny flaws. The mosquitoes were coming out, along with the crickets. After a few minutes of brushing them away and slapping at those brazen enough to land on us, we decided to give up and go home. By the time we got there, the street lights were coming on, and we needed to turn on lights when we went in the house.

The clock on the mantel in the living room read 9: 47. Gregg looked at me. "I swear, I'm still on Eastern Time. I don't know about you, but I'm ready for bed. There's nothing to stay up for, anyway. We won't have TV until tomorrow." He took my hand as we went up the stairs.

We took turns in the bathroom. When I came out, he was in bed. He smiled at me, as I crossed the room to the king-sized bed. I stopped at the edge of the bed. What should I do? Do I have a right to be here? This was their bed, Gregg and Jerry. I know where I want to be, but can I just get into their bed with Gregg?

He was watching me closely now. I could almost swear that he was reading my mind when he spoke.

It's OK, Harley. Jerry's not here any more. When he left that day at the cemetery, he was on his way to wherever he needs to be now. And he told me then to go on with my life. You're my life, Harley. Please come to bed."

He held out his arms to me. I was on the verge of tears—again! I undressed quickly and slipped into the big bed. He moved to the center of the bed and drew me to him in a warm hug. I gradually relaxed in his embrace and hugged him back. He drew closer to me and kissed me. That kiss went on and on, growing in intensity and passion. I couldn't help responding to it; I just love that man so much.

We didn't go to sleep right away, but when we finally did, I slept peacefully, wrapped in Gregg's arms.

Editor's Notes: That was a very sweet loving chapter. I had tears in my eyes as they got in bed together. They really do love each other, and no matter what happens, they will be there for each other.

Thank you Arli for this wonderful moving story, and thank you too Uncle Ed for having the idea of bringing Greg and Harley together to share their lives. I can't forget to thank Will B for inspiring Pinochle which introduced us to Gregg. Is this six degrees of separation?

Let's hope the next chapter comes along soon/

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

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