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.
Sid, Nick, and I left around nine the next day to get to Mae and Neil’s place. Darby’s birthday party was starting early because the three of us were going to have to leave around four to get Nick on his flight back to San Jose. That was why I’d gone to mass the evening before. Sid and I were exhausted, and I was afraid it showed. He did notice that I’d taken my dinner ring off.
“Why?” he asked as Nick ran to get his suitcase.
“I just don’t want my folks asking awkward questions,” I said.
“No. That would not be good.”
Sid drove us in his Beemer. As we got onto Interstate 10, he took a deep breath.
“Nick, Lisa and I have something to tell you,” he began.
“The problem is you can’t tell anybody.”
“Oh.” He looked really deflated. “I hate secrets.”
“It’s a good thing, Nick,” I said. “We just want to tell you only because, well…”
“Nick, it looks like Lisa and I will be getting married.” Sid slowed for a car ahead of us, then changed lanes. “We’re not sure when and since Lisa has been getting a lot of pressure from our friends and her family, we don’t want people to know so that we can make up our own minds.”
“Married?” Nick sat up straight. “Does that mean you guys can take custody of me?”
“Maybe,” I said. “We’ve got a lot to work out. That’s why you can’t tell anybody, especially my family.”
“Then why are you telling me?”
Sid smiled. “Because after us, you are the one most affected by it. If you can keep this quiet, then maybe you can come and live with us.”
Nick made a weird face. “Okay.” He sighed and looked out the side window.
Sid and I glanced at each other.
“Does that make you unhappy?” I asked Nick.
“No! I’m happy for you. Really, I am.”
Sid looked into his rear-view mirror. “Nick, has somebody else asked you to keep a secret that’s not so happy?”
“I’m not being molested, Dad.” He rolled his eyes in utter twelve-year-old disdain.
“Honey,” I said. “After last year, and Darby’s trouble, we have to ask.”
“I suppose.” He suddenly sat up. “Getting married, huh? You’re copping out, Dad.”
Sid laughed. “And I’m glad to be. But we don’t tell anyone.”
“I get it.”
When we got to the house, I was a little startled by the “For Sale” sign in the front yard. The lawn had been completely cleared of dead leaves and toys. The rest of the exterior had been freshly painted. Inside, the place sparkled with new paint and an unusual orderliness.
“The kids have been a wonderful help,” Mama told me. “It’s been a real family project. Even the twins are helping to keep things picked up.”
“Have you checked to be sure aliens haven’t swapped their bodies or something?” I asked.
Nick and Darby ran upstairs to Darby’s room and pretty much disappeared until time to eat. After the huge lunch that Mae had made, the party settled down a little. Sid and Mama ended up in the living room. Mae and I landed on the couches in the family room. The kids were all outside in the backyard and relatively quiet, for a change. Possibly because Daddy and Neil were out there, also.
“The place looks great,” I told Mae.
“It does. I’m so glad Mama and Daddy have been here. I don’t think Neil and I could have done this much in this short a time if they hadn’t.” Mae giggled. “It’s really happening, Lisa. The people at S.C. have been so helpful to Neil. He’s going to be able to do research as well as keep up a part-time practice.”
“Do you know where you’re going to land yet?”
Mae nodded. “I think we’re going to end up in Pasadena. There’s a school next to Caltech that looks really good. They even have a decent arts program. Apparently, a lot of the Caltech professors send their kids there. Ellen will be so in her own element, and the twins will, too. I’m not sure if we’re going to send Darby there. There are a couple of good arts schools nearby, too, so we may go with that option.”
“What about Janey?”
“She’ll probably end up wherever Darby goes. She’s more oriented that way. But there’s also an ice rink in Pasadena, so she can keep that up, if she wants to.”
“And what about you?”
“Yeah, but what about making friends and your own life?”
Mae looked at me funny. “I’ll be fine. The big problem, of course, is finding someplace we can afford to buy. The good news is Neil has sold his practice.”
“Yes. Can you believe it? Which means we’ll have even more for a down payment when we sell this place.”
“Mommy!” Ellen, in tears, came running in through the sliding glass door. “I fell down!”
Mae scooped her daughter up. “I’m so sorry, sweetie. Let’s go see where your boo-boos are.”
She took Ellen upstairs.
Feeling… Weird. I ambled to the living room, where Mama and Sid were still talking.
“What’s up?” I asked, flopping next to Mama on the couch.
Sid laughed sadly. “Let’s just say that your talent for worming things out of me comes honestly.”
Mama smiled. “We’ve just been talking about Sid’s medical problems right now.”
“Really?” I gaped at both of them.
Sid shifted and looked away. Mama smiled.
“I’ve never heard about this AIDS thing, but it sounds pretty serious,” she said.
“He doesn’t necessarily have it,” I said.
“I know, but you’re in limbo.” Mama smiled. “Lisle, honey, do you remember when I got breast cancer?”
I groaned. “It was only one of the worst years of my life.”
“She was just ten, Sid,” Mama said. “My mama came out and went with me and Bill to San Francisco for the surgery and chemotherapy. Bill’s mama stayed with the girls.”
“That’s right,” I said. “You had a mastectomy.”
“Thought so,” Sid said.
“You were checking out my mother’s breasts?” I yelped.
“No!” Sid looked a touch frantic. “I, uh, just happened to notice that they didn’t always match.”
Mama laughed long and hard. “Of course, they don’t, honey. Those darned pads always slip.” She smiled warmly at Sid. “The important point is that the doctors told me back then, and are still telling me, that the cancer can come back at any time. I have been living for seventeen years with the reality that my cancer will probably come back. That it hasn’t has been something of an anomaly, but it’s not unheard of, and I’m grateful that it hasn’t come back. But every day when I get up, there’s always that little thought in the back of my mind. Is today the day I will find that lump? Does this little ache or pain mean that it’s here again?”
“How do you live with that?” Sid asked, incredulous.
“I live my life.” Mama smiled at him. “I make plans and I go on. I know that cancer may just come along and derail everything. But so can a lot of things. Now, I know you’re worried that Lisle could get this thing. And, I am, too. But you didn’t want it to happen. You feel really bad that it might. I don’t know what Bill will do, but I think you can take him. Sid, honey, the important thing is that you live your life, and you give my baby the best life you can. I trust you to do that.”
“I will,” said Sid. He took a deep breath. “Without question.”
I felt the irritation rise. “I can give myself my own life.”
“Lisle, that’s not what we meant, and you know it.”
Sid looked at me and grinned. “Lisa’s right, though. She’s perfectly capable of managing her own affairs to her liking. I’m just insanely lucky that that those affairs include me.”
I felt myself smiling at him. “And you’re also insanely lucky that you know what to say at the right time.”
Shortly after that, though, we had to collect Nick and head toward LAX. Nick chattered on about his day and the baseball game. Once Nick boarded the plane, I looked at Sid. He shrugged, then turned me toward the parking lot.
“Honestly, Lisa,” he said. “Your mother is right about living one day at a time.”
“I know. But that she made you responsible for it.”
He squeezed my shoulders. “That’s just her training. You and I both know that you determine what kind of life you’re going to live.”
Sid laughed and squeezed me again. That night, we both slept through without a nightmare, and I asked him specifically about that the next morning.
“You didn’t miss anything, Lisa,” Sid told me over breakfast.
I looked at him, suddenly thinking of something. “Sid, it’s been over three weeks, hasn’t it?”
“What has?” His nose remained buried in the newspaper.
“Since the last time you had sex.”
He looked up from the paper. “You’re right. It has been.”
“You’re not feeling grumpy, are you?”
“Not really.” He suddenly grinned at me with that hot little smile of his. “Occasionally horny, though.”
I laughed and sighed with relief. In fact, we slept through the next night, too. Tuesday night, we did not do as well. Earlier, at Bible Study, Janet Weinstock went into wedding mode and teased me about Sid.
“Everyone knows you’re in love with him,” Janet announced in front of everybody.
My face flushed and I snarled. “Janet, you’re making assumptions you have no right to make!”
I looked around at the shocked faces of the rest of the group, then fled. Esther and Kathy caught me in the parking lot.
“It’s okay,” Esther said to me. “We know Janet is an idiot.”
“And,” said Kathy. “She may be making up for something she does not, in fact, have. Lisa, you and Sid are solid. However weird it’s feeling right now, I am willing to bet seriously good money that you two are okay.”
I squeezed my eyes shut. “I know. We are. But it’s still really messed up.”
“You two will figure it out,” Kathy said.
“And without Janet,” Esther added. “What that quote from Shakespeare? The course of true love?”
“Never did run smooth,” I finished. “Midsummer’s Night Dream. Only my favorite play.”
“See?” Esther squeezed my arm. “Then you know it’s right.”
I let my breath out, then looked at the two of them. “Thank you.”
Sadly, their encouragement did not entirely help. When I got home, Sid had already made up the couch in my sewing room.
“You know,” I heard myself snarl. “You do not have to assume that I’m going to have a nightmare.”
Sid blinked. “What about me?”
“Shavings!” I groaned. “Alright. Fair enough.”
I kissed him goodnight with more intensity than I’d planned. And – no surprise – he responded in kind. That we each had a nightmare was no surprise, either.
The next morning, I do not care how much we pretended not to be, we were both a mess. Still, there was work to be done, and we sat next to each other on the couch in my office, going over rejected queries, deciding which ones we’d send to other publications and which ones would end up getting filed.
“Okay, they said they just accepted something on this,” I said, showing Sid the last one. “Which means a competing piece.”
Sid nodded. “I still like the idea. Why don’t we reframe it? I’ll write up some options this afternoon.”
I think Sid got playful to try and ease the tension and exhaustion we were both feeling. It almost worked. As I made a note on the paper, I noticed that he had a slightly lecherous smile on his face.
“You’re staring at my ear.” I felt some of the tension ebb a little.
“I’m thinking about how much I want to be nibbling it.”
“I’m thinking how much I want you to be nibbling it.” I turned and smiled at him. “And a whole lot more.”
Sid caught his breath, and I saw my chance to escape. I went over to my desk and dropped the papers on it.
“Lisa, can I ask you a question?” He had a rather puzzled look on his face.
“Sure.” I leaned my backside on the desk.
“You’ve always been very strong on the concept that sex belongs in marriage. And yet, since last summer even, you seem to be okay with us having sex and not waiting.”
My insides twisted. “I think it’s something Father John told me right after I’d…”
“Yeah.” Sid knew I meant right after I’d killed that man.
“I told him it seemed so wrong that I could justify killing someone but not making love to you, who I love. And he said I could justify it. I’m not that rule bound. And I thought about it, and he was right.” I looked at him. “I’m not that inflexible. You were bending over backwards trying to be what I needed. I needed to give some. And especially now when we’re practically married.”
It hit me like a blow to the solar plexus. I burst into tears.
“Lisa.” Sid came over and held me. “What is it?”
All I could think was that he’d get afraid again that I was rejecting him. “Sid, no. It’s…” I still moved away from him. “Sid, I love you and I’m not going anywhere. I swear to God, I am not. But I really hate the way things are right now. It’s so confusing and scary and weird. I just want my old life back. I really do.”
“Do you really want to go back to the way things were between us?”
“Yes!” I shrieked, turning away.
Too late I realized what that meant for his life. I heard him leaving the office.
I chased after him and found him in his bedroom, sitting on the edge of his bed.
“Sid, I’m sorry,” I said from the doorway. “I know how hard it’s been for you to give up fooling around.”
“No, you don’t.” Sid shifted and shook his head. “You don’t know because it’s actually been pretty damned easy. It’s like I said, I’ve gotten really tired of that scene.”
I came over and sat next to him. “I didn’t mean what I said like that anyway.”
He looked at me, his eyes still hurt. “Are you sure about that?”
I winced. “I don’t know. In some ways, maybe I did. Your messing around made you a lot safer for me.”
“I didn’t have to worry about you marrying me.” I put my hand on his arm. “I mean, I want to be with you. Absolutely. Don’t worry about that part.”
He shuddered. “I’ll try not to.”
“And I really did hate being jealous.” I picked at my thumbnail. “It’s just that when I was in the hospital, and you told me you loved me and that you didn’t want to sleep around anymore, I was so happy. I was hoping we could be in love, and life would go back to normal, and we could be ourselves and just go on. But now, everything’s changing, and we’re talking marriage, and I’m scared again.”
Sid looked away. “The funny thing is, as I’ve been sitting here, all I’m thinking is that nothing’s changed. We’re still not having sex.”
I bumped him. “We’ll fix that in six months.”
“Hopefully. We’re still fighting.” He sighed. “Somehow, I thought that being in love would mean less of that.”
I snorted. “Sid, we’ve been in love almost since we’ve known each other, and we’ve been fighting all along.” I flopped onto my back. “We’ll be fighting for the rest of our lives.”
He looked down at me. “That doesn’t bother you?”
“No. Why should it?”
“And being with me for the rest of your life doesn’t bother you.”
“Sid, I love you.” I reached up and touched his chest. “I keep telling you. I want to be with you for the rest of my life. I really do.”
“But you’re not so excited about getting married.”
I winced. “No. I’ve never wanted to get married. You know that.”
Sid slid down onto his side next to me and the bed rocked gently with him. “Lisapet, what is it about marriage that has got you so terrified?”
That took my breath away, but Sid was right. I was flat out scared of getting married.
“I don’t know,” I said, but then suddenly I did. “I don’t want to end up like Mae.” I trembled. “She does everything for the kids, Neil, her church, and absolutely nothing for herself. I mean, in some ways I admire that, but I couldn’t be that selfless.”
“You can’t be selfless? Good lord, Lisa, you put yourself between three kidnappers and their target.”
“That just happened. Mae does it day in and day out, and come to think of it, so does Mama. Husband and kids. My entire identity subsumed into that. I don’t want that to happen to me and I feel guilty that I’m that selfish.”
“Alright, in the first place, I do not want you subsumed into my identity. And in the second…” He sighed. “What Mae does is not healthy. Neil and I were talking about it last Sunday. He’s getting worried about her.”
“It’s what’s expected of me.”
“There’s just a lot of pressure out there. Ann Landers insisting that toddlers be watched every second. Magazine articles on what makes a good mom, and putting your children first, and still keeping your husband part of it. Having It All.”
“That was a wretched book. Okay, so there are societal norms to deal with. We will.”
“You’re not the one who’s expected to change her name.”
“You’re right. But I do get to be the one to remind you that whatever we do, we do on our terms, not on anyone else’s.” He smiled at me. “One thing you and I have in common is that we both, each in our own way, love to buck societal norms. And we both work within them, when necessary. It’s why I wear clothes.”
I laughed. Sid is a nudist at heart, although he is also a clotheshorse.
“I guess. The problem is, I sort of want to get married. I do like the sacramental part of it. That’s important to me.”
“I think I get that.” Sid’s hand gently brushed my cheek. “Either way, you and I will decide how marriage will work for us or even if marriage will work for us.”
“But I promised—”
“You didn’t promise to marry me. You asked if we could. In a fit of euphoria, I might add.” His hand cupped my chin. “What you did promise is to be with me and that’s all I care about.”
“It’s all I care about. Being with you, I mean.” I blinked. “I love you so much, Sid.”
“And I love you, Lisa.”
He kissed me, softly at first, then more deeply as he slid halfway on top of me. I sighed as I reached for more, but then Sid pulled away and sat up.
“What did I do?” I sniffed anxiously.
“Oh, nothing much.” His smile took on a rueful cast as he pulled me upright. “Just made me really wish that we could make love.” He sighed deeply, got up, then bent over and kissed me. “My sweet Lisa, I can’t tell you how much I want you in my bed.”
“And I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to being there.” As I got to my feet, I looked around. “Sid, when the time comes, which bedroom are we going to move into?”
He started to answer, then looked around, himself. “I guess I have been assuming you’ll move in here.”
“So have I.” I winced. “It still feels like your bedroom, though.”
“I know. And you have your bedroom.” He shook his head. “I wonder if that’s what we need. A new place, someplace that will truly be ours. I mean, that’s been the problem, hasn’t it? We’re trying to figure out who we are as a couple, and what a lifetime commitment to each other is going to look like. So, why not start with where we live?”
“I suppose.” I frowned. “But I don’t understand how that will make it easier to figure out who we are as a couple.”
He looked around the room again, with its dark cherry wood dresser and headboard, the sliding mirrored doors to the closet, and dark brown drapes with off-white sheers underneath covering the sliding glass doors to the side yard and the hot tub.
“I’m not sure either, except that no matter how much I remind myself that this house is technically ours, I keep thinking of it as my house.” His arm slid across my shoulder. “This is my room, my private territory, and you have your room and your private territory. And this is my bed, not ours. I think we need a place that is truly ours.”
“That makes sense.” I made a face. “But I like this place. It’s got a lot of good memories.”
Sid gave me a quick squeeze. “Yeah. It does. Why don’t we look around anyway? See what’s out there.”
“I don’t want to move too far away. Church, you know.”
“That is where our friends are.” He steered me into the hall. “Why don’t you go tell Conchetta that we’re going to eat lunch out again and I’ll call a couple real estate agents and make some appointments.”
I stopped at the end of the hall. “What about getting married?”
He smiled. “We’ll take that one off the table for the time being. If we decide to get married, we can do it at any time. In the meantime, we’ll just be us.”
“That sounds good.” I frowned. “So, what do we call us?”
“We’re partners.” He grinned.
“They’re going to call us boyfriend and girlfriend.”
I smiled. “I’m going to go put my dinner ring on.”