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My Sweet Lisa – Chapter Nine

My Sweet Lisa is Book Seven in the Operation Quickline fiction series – Lisa’s kidnapping spurs a host of changes in both hers and Sid’s lives. Yep, it’s finally Real Love. Now what? You can read Chapter One here, or check out all the episodes so far here.

I awoke the next morning to the sound of Sid cursing.

“Wha…?” I moaned.

“We overslept.” The bed rocked as Sid rolled onto his back. “It’s after eight-thirty.”

I struggled upright. “We’ve got to leave here by nine-thirty to get to the appointment.”

“I guess we’re not running this morning.” Sid rolled onto his side.

I tried to get out of the bed through the rocking and flopped back, panting.

“How am I going to sleep on this thing?” I groaned.

Sid burst into laughter.

“It’s not funny!” I swatted at him. “I’ve gotta get in the shower and we need breakfast. Now, how the heck do I get out of this thing?”

“Roll your legs over to the side and off, then use the side to push yourself up.”

It worked. I rushed to my bathroom, on the other side of the house, got showered and was in a nice plaid skirt, blue blouse, and dark blue wool jacket before Sid got to the breakfast room.

Sid drove to the psychologist’s office. He was in one of his more annoying moods, the one where he finds what I’m doing or how I’m reacting vastly amusing but will not share the joke. [You had just asked how you were going to sleep in my bed. As in, on a permanent basis. Yes, I was happy. – SEH] So, maybe I was not in the best frame of mind when we got to Dr. Heilland’s office. There was the usual paperwork. Sid and I each filled out our forms. When the receptionist finally ushered us into the office, I almost balked.

Dr. Heilland was on the tall side of average. He wore a blue chambray shirt over khaki slacks, and his hair, what there was of it, was light gray. His lower face was covered with a light gray beard, neatly trimmed. Avuncular was the word that sprang to mind, as in his whole demeanor was of that comforting uncle who always liked you.

“Good to meet you,” he said, still standing. He indicated the couch near his desk. “Why don’t you two have a seat?”

Sid and I sat down.

“So, I understand we’ve got a trauma issue to deal with,” Heilland sat down in another chair, and opened his notebook.

“Yeah,” said Sid. He went on to describe the incident and how I’d been recovered.

“How long have you two been working together?” Heilland asked.

“About two and a half years,” I said.

“And how long have you been married?”

“What?” I yelped.

“We’re not married,” said Sid softly.

“Oh.” Heilland blushed. “I am so sorry. From the way Mr. James was talking… I’m so sorry. I must have misunderstood.” He looked at us then gathered himself together. “So, you do seem remarkably close to each other. Can you tell me what, exactly, your status is?”

“Unknown,” said Sid. “We’re trying to figure things out.”

“It’s a long story,” I said, trying to blink back tears.

Sid, bless him, went on to describe his former lifestyle and my difficulties with it. The strange thing was, while Dr. Heilland got the religion part of my outlook, he didn’t seem to be buying my objections on that basis.

“You don’t seem that comfortable with getting married,” he said, finally.

“No. It’s what I want,” I insisted. “I want to be with Sid. I love him.”

“I believe that,” Heilland said.

The other weird thing was that we didn’t really get to talking about my trauma. Just Sid’s and my relationship.

“You okay?” Sid asked as he drove us home.

I thought for a moment. “I don’t know. It used to be that everyone assumed that we were sleeping together and that peeved me because we weren’t, and they were judging me for doing it. And I have to say that hurt. Now, everyone seems to assume we’re married, which I sort of get. It’s not like we aren’t close. I don’t know. It’s something about the assumption that gets to me. Like we can’t define who we are. Everyone else gets to.”

Sid shook his head. “People will always make assumptions. We can’t do anything about that.”

“Says my favorite control freak.”

“You’re right.” Sid glanced at me before changing lanes. “But we have always said that we get to define the terms of our relationship. This is yet another time when we do. Frankly, I do not give a damn what other people decide about us.” [Damn was not the term I used. – SEH]

I sighed. “Easy for you to say.”

“Possibly. Probably. Nonetheless, we are up against societal norms. Those are always hard to negotiate. But the bottom line is how we choose to work within those norms, not how others want to classify us.”

I closed my eyes. “You’re right.” I took a deep breath. “I do want to be with you, Sid. That’s the most important thing to me. I hope you understand that.”

He chuckled. “I think I’ve got that part.”

There was yet another nightmare that night. We were still in my bedroom for some reason. [I couldn’t make the promise yet. – SEH] Sid held me, and I fell asleep, but woke up alone.

Henry called that morning to let us know he’d sent the microdot upline.

“It’s a Company code,” he told us over the speaker phone.

“Coming from a KGB operative,” Sid said.

“Yeah, and not just any KGB operative. Don’t worry about it, though. We’ll take care of it.”

Sid looked at me as we hung up.

“You’re going to try to break it,” I said.

He nodded. “Absolutely.”

“We do have writing work to do.”

“In between times,” he replied.

I took off in the middle of the afternoon to go to the Good Friday services at my church. The next day, Saturday, I spent most of in my sewing room working on several different projects. I tend to cut out several sewing projects at one time, then work on them together. More time elapses between when I start a project and finish it, but overall, I spend less time per project doing the actual sewing. Oh, and Kathy came over and we did a fitting on her wedding dress. I was decidedly pleased that I didn’t have to do any additional alterations. After I got the buttons in the right place, all I would have to do was get the hem in and Kathy hadn’t brought the right shoes, so that was going to have to wait, and we still had two weeks until the big day.

The problem was the party that Sid and I were going to that night. Sid could tell that I was less than enthusiastic.

“We don’t have to go,” he told me as I picked up the small gaily wrapped box after dinner.

“Yes. We do,” I said. “It’s for Kathy and Jesse and we have to go.”

Given that I was one of Kathy’s bridesmaids and that she was one of my closest friends, Sid couldn’t really argue. I had on a nice dress and heels. Sid wore a nice two-piece suit over a pink silk broadcloth shirt and colorful tie.

“So, it’s wedding related,” Sid said. He helped me into the seat of his Beemer. “That really has nothing to do with us.”

“Yeah. Right.” I glared at him. “They’ve got us pegged as a couple.”

“Okay.” Sid did sound a little hesitant as he slid behind the wheel. “But I thought you said Frank and Esther were going and they’re not a couple, per se.”

“Only in their own minds, Sid. We both know that.” I pulled the Thomas Guide map book out from under the front seat and looked up the address for where the party was.

“But does the rest of your group?” Sid backed down the driveway.

I shrugged. “It’s still a wedding shower. I hate showers.”

“How bad could it be?”

“How enthralling does kitchen bingo sound?”

“Point taken. But that doesn’t mean we have to go.”

“Yes, we do. And we need to get over to La Cienega and head south.”

“Why do we need to go?” Sid gunned the Beemer as he turned left onto Sunset through a tiny gap in the traffic.

“Because Jesse, in what I have to assume was an act of desperation, asked you to come with me, and you said yes.”

It had, in fact, happened before my ill-fated birthday party.

“Fair enough. But I still think you’re overreacting.”

“Hmm!” I snorted, but he would find out soon enough.

You see, the wedding culture among my friends at church was… Well, kind of scary. Admittedly, most of the people in the Single Adults Bible Study were at that age when people tend to get married, so there had been a fair number of weddings over the previous couple of years. Particularly bad were Janet Weinstock, née MacDonald, and Sylvia Perez, née Podrano, both of whom seemed to think that getting married was the most exciting thing in the world and every bride wanted showers and parties and lots of presents, never mind that some of us had everything we wanted or needed and did not. The only reason we were at a couples’ shower as opposed to the more traditional one was that Kathy’s sister, Estelle, had made a big deal about doing it. I also happened to know that Estelle’s big deal had more to do with Kathy asking her to make a big deal of it rather than let Janet and Sylvia decide that Kathy had to have a shower. It was a stroke of genius on Kathy’s part.

Sadly, Janet and Eric had already arrived when we got to Estelle’s house in Baldwin Hills, as had Sylvia and Manuel. Estelle had the same dark chocolate skin that Kathy had, but Estelle was a little shorter than Kathy and wore her black hair down and straightened. Leon, her husband, wore dreads. Estelle was an attorney in the juvenile courts and Leon directed commercials and the occasional TV episode. He’s why Estelle can afford to work where she does. Leon welcomed us into the house and took the gift. Jesse met us in the hallway. I gave him a big hug, then he shook Sid’s hand.

“Sid, I want to apologize now,” Jesse said.

I groaned. “They’re in full wedding mode, aren’t they?”

Jesse nodded dismally. “Worse yet, they’ve decided you two are next.”

Sid held his hands up. “They can make all the assumptions they want. It has nothing to do with us.”

Jesse and I looked at each other and went into the living room, where we greeted Erin and Carl MacArthur. Maryann and Michael Dreyer ignored me, but I was fine with that. They can be very judgmental, and they really don’t like Sid or that I live in his house. I was also surprised to see Lety and Reuben Sandoval there. Lety oversees the Eucharistic Ministers (which Jesse and I both are), but Reuben doesn’t go to church and seldom shows up at church-related parties.

The living room opened into the dining room, where a dessert buffet had been set up. I left Sid as he chatted with Esther and Frank and got myself a plate of treats. I was happy to see that the party wasn’t dry, probably another reason Kathy had prevailed upon her sister to host it. If Sarah and Dan Williams had, it would have been. Sarah said hi to me as I got a glass of wine. Dan just nodded.

“Lisa!” Janet crowed. She’s medium-height and model-thin.

She and Sylvia scurried up and gave me big hugs in spite of the fact that my hands were full with a plate and a wine glass. The two look remarkably alike, including their bottle-blonde hair, although Sylvia’s roots are generally darker. Irene and Esteban Sanchez both rolled their eyes at me in sympathy.

“Aren’t you so excited?” Sylvia’s eyes shone.

“About Kathy and Jesse? Sure,” I said.

“What about you and Sid?” Janet nudged me.

“I’m sorry.” I smiled. “I’d really rather not talk about that right now. I want to stay focused on Kathy and Jesse. It’s their night.”

“Of course,” said Sylvia.

“I’ll just say this,” Janet said, her voice carrying throughout the room. “We are going to have so much fun when you two get married.”

My smile grew tight. “You’re assuming we’re getting married. We may just decide to shack up, you know.”

Sylvia and Janet laughed nervously, shooting glances behind me. I had a bad feeling I knew who was there.

“Lisa, you are just too funny,” Sylvia said, and the two moved off.

I turned. “Hi, sweetie.”

Sid was chuckling. “Did I just hear you suggest that we shack up?”

“They already think we are,” I grumbled.

“Hey.” He touched my arm. “It doesn’t matter. We know the truth.”

I sighed, then smiled at him.

“Some shower,” Esther suddenly shouted. “When do we get to take our clothes off?”

“I will if you will,” Sid shouted back.

“Will you two not get started?” Sarah Williams groaned in the awkward silence that had followed.

Sid and Esther shook their heads and sighed. I love Esther Nguyen, but the only person I know who has a dirtier mind than hers is Sid. When the two of them get together the air can get pretty blue with the innuendos and double talk. The worst of it is, Sid has no problem being naked no matter who is around, and Esther will rise to a challenge like a trout to the fly. I did not want to think about that possibility.

The rest of the party wasn’t as bad as it could have been. We only played one game, a version of The Newlywed Game. First, the guys got sequestered, while we women wrote down what we thought they’d answer to some rather stupid questions. Then we came back together and compared answers, each couple getting a point when their answers agreed. Then the women got sequestered.

“You doing okay?” Kathy asked me.

“Yeah.” I looked around the large backyard. The other women had broken down into small groups. I kept my voice low. “Sid and I are figuring things out. He’s decided he doesn’t want to sleep around anymore. He just wants to be sure it’s permanent before making any commitments.”

“That’s great,” Kathy said. “I’m so happy for you, Lisa.”

I shrugged. “It’s just really awkward right now, and, let’s face it, Janet and Sylvia did not help tonight.”

Kathy groaned. “I cannot believe how dense those two are. Tim and Donna aren’t here because of them.” She sighed. “They may be breaking up, anyway.”

Tim and Donna had been a couple since I’d known them.

“Oh, no.”

“Tim doesn’t want to make a commitment and Donna is getting fed up.” Kathy shrugged. “I can’t blame her, either. He’s been stringing her along for six years.”

“That long? I didn’t know that.”

“I’m afraid so.”

I put my hand on her arm. “How are you doing?”

“Okay. I’m a little nervous. It’s a big step. But it’s one I’ve been waiting for a hell of long time, so I’m good. I’m looking forward to it, and it doesn’t hurt that I’m already at his place.”

It wasn’t public knowledge, but Kathy had already moved over to Jesse’s condo in February. The lease on her place had expired and it hadn’t made sense for her to get a new place.

“I’m glad,” I said. “I really am.”

The women got called in and the game went on. It was a lot more fun than I’d thought it would be. Janet and Eric got into a small tiff over why had he sold his Mustang if that was the car he’d want to own if he could have any car he wanted. Then Dan Williams confessed that I was the last girl he’d dated before meeting Sarah, which caused quite a ripple of laughter.

I’d been a little stuck on that question. I’m not sure why I said Andrea Norton’s name. I just remembered that Sid had said something about going out to be sure he could perform, and that Andrea was somebody he could call on at any time, and, come to think of it, did when he was bugged. I was shocked when Sid said that Andrea Norton had been his last, um, probably not a date, but close enough.

I wasn’t the only one shocked. Michael Dreyer pursed up his lips.

“What’s the matter, Mike?” Leon asked.

“I was just remembering where I’d seen that name last,” Michael said.

Sid laughed. “If you know her, I wouldn’t say anything.”

“I read it in the newspaper.” Michael sniffed. “She was arrested, I’m afraid.” He wasn’t afraid.

“How did I miss that?” Sid asked, jovially. “Too bad for her.”

“What was she—” Esther started.

“Never mind,” I said, suddenly worried that I knew what for. “Who’s next?”

As it turned out, most of the couples, including the Weinstocks and the Dreyers, bombed out completely. Estelle and Leon got only three points. Sid and I, Esther and Frank, and Kathy and Jesse had each missed one question. The one Sid and I had missed was what was my pet name for him. I’d said I didn’t have one, but he’d written down that I called him a reprobate often enough. I did, but I didn’t really consider it a pet name. It was more of a joke, and as I thought about it, about as accurate as when he teased me about being an ice maiden. Sid frequently pointed out that the joke was that he knew I was anything but. I swallowed and caught my breath and hoped that no one had noticed.

Thank God, the cake was served right before Kathy and Jesse opened their gifts. Kathy made a point of getting a pair of scissors and cut the ribbons off the packages.

“Don’t you want to know how many kids you’re going to have?” Janet giggled.

Sid looked at me funny. I waved that I’d explain later.

Most of the gifts were the usual household items one got at a wedding shower. Kathy was very gracious, more than I would have been, even though she and Jesse had been having enough trouble trying to integrate two households’ worth of kitchen equipment, sheets, furniture, and other stuff into one. She did scream when she saw Sid’s and my gift.

“Court-side seats! Oooo-eeee!” She pumped her legs up and down and Jesse laughed like a hyena.

“And dinner, too!” Jesse crowed. “Thanks, you guys.”

Calling Kathy and Jesse Lakers fans would have been understating it, and we’d gotten them tickets.

With the presents unwrapped, and a couple more bottles of wine open, the party was mellowing out nicely. Sarah managed to stop Frank from spiking the punch. We were mostly spread around the living room when Janet did the worst.

“So, Sid and Lisa, when are you going to announce?” she asked loudly.

“You’re assuming we will,” I said with an icy smile.

“Oh, come on,” said Sylvia.

Sid cleared his throat. “If and when we decide to announce, we will do it when we’re damn good and ready and not before.”

“Anybody want more cake?” Estelle asked, and there were quite a few takers.

On the way home, Sid was… I don’t know how to describe how Sid was, but he wasn’t entirely happy.

“So, what was the thing with the ribbons?” he asked.

I rolled my eyes. “It’s an old gag that the number of ribbons you break unwrapping your gifts at the wedding shower is the number of children you’ll have. Janet and Sylvia think it’s hysterical and probably nicked most of the ribbons to make them break more easily. At least, they did at Sarah Williams’ shower.”

“Why do you put up with those two?” Sid checked his blind spot, then gunned the car into the next lane and around two other cars.

I sighed. “When they’re not in wedding mode, they’re actually pretty nice women. There’s just something about showers and weddings that flips a switch in their brains, and they become impossible.”

He glanced at me. “Shacking up?”

“You have no idea how attractive that sounds right now.”

“You know, we probably could, and they wouldn’t be any the wiser.”

I stirred, feeling the warmth rising. “Except that they already think we are.”

Sid grunted. “So what? As for the wedding thing, how bad an assumption is it?”

“I don’t know. Not bad, I guess.” I glared out the side window. “It’s not the odds that’s the issue. It’s that they assume it’s going to happen. Don’t I get to be the one who decides that I’m getting married?”

He chuckled. “I hope I get some say in that.”

“You’re the only one who does.” I looked over at him, then looked away. “Sid, do you want to get married?”

He blew his breath out. “You know my training on that one. Still, I can’t really call it a crock anymore. And if I’m honest, the whole lifetime commitment thing, even with fidelity, that doesn’t bother me.” He glanced at me, then turned his attention back to the road ahead. “I know what promise I want to make to you. What happens after that, whether we just share a bedroom or get Father John to wave his hands over us doesn’t really make much difference to me. Which is why I don’t mind going along with whatever makes you feel comfortable.”

“Comfortable. Interesting way to put it.”

He looked at me, then again, focused on the road.

I had three nightmares that night. Sid and I were both dragging the next morning, but I made it to Easter mass on time then visited my shut-ins. By the time I got back, Mae, Neil, the kids, and Mama and Daddy had all arrived at the house. It was a happy, chaotic day, with no questions about my future, about Sid, about anything. That night, I slept through until morning undisturbed by any dream at all.

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