No matter where my head had been the night before, I woke up the next morning determined to make my problem a simple choice between Sid and George, with George having the edge. After all, George wanted to marry me and be faithful. Sid was happy to give me a lifetime commitment, but could not promise fidelity. Perhaps it was the three and a half hours I was going to be riding in a car with George that did it.
Actually, it turned out to be four hours. George was up early enough that we were able to get on our way by nine-thirty. Only he insisted on driving the entire way and drove like a snail. Having had to engage in the occasional car chase, not to mention ditch a tail or two, it’s only fair to concede that my driving habits are not the same as most people’s. I do not have Sid’s lead foot, but, well, I’m not exactly a slowpoke, either. I could have driven us to South Lake Tahoe in less than three hours easily.
On the other hand, George insisted on being a polite, conscientious driver, and that was a good thing, I told myself. He even asked me for directions as we came into the South Lake Tahoe area.
I was basically born into the hospitality industry. My parents had owned a small motel in South Florida, where they come from, then sold it and bought the Tahoe property when I was around two-years-old. I’m not sure when, exactly. Either way, it was before I had any real memory. The resort in Tahoe is a little off the beaten track. The main lodge faces a side road, and with it are the staff buildings and the laundry (which I knew all too well). Behind all that, for about five acres, are rows of cabins. After the last row of cabins, is the back of my parents’ house. That house faces another, smaller road.
That was the road I directed George to and he pulled up into my parents’ driveway. A minute later, Murbles and Richmond, my parents’ two very large mixed-breed dogs, came running up, barking their fool heads off, as usual. George looked worried, but I got right out of the car. The dogs danced around me as I greeted them.
“How are my sweet babies?” I crooned. “Come on. Settle down, guys. How are my sweet little puppies?”
“Lisa?” asked George on the edge of whining. “Are you sure those dogs are safe?”
“Are you kidding?” I said, laughing and petting the dogs. “These are my babies.”
Murbles, sadly, was showing his age. He was around nine years old at that point. Richmond was six or so. I’d found him abandoned during a trip home when I was in college. I suppose they were intimidating, but when George refused to get out of the car, I got a little disgusted. [Odd how I feel some sympathy for George – SEH]
“George, they’re sweethearts,” I said, getting a hand on each of their collars. “Come meet them.”
George got out of the car. He walked up slowly to the two dogs.
“Now, just reach out a hand and let them sniff you,” I told him.
George did. Murbles sniffed, then whined and loped back to the house. Richmond wanted to sniff George’s crotch, as well, and I pulled him back.
“Lisle? That you?” Daddy came around the side of the house.
Daddy is a huge man with a stern face and huge eyes. His voice is deep and gravelly and has a strong Southern accent. He, like my Mama, calls me Lisle after his mother, who was German.
“Daddy!” I hollered.
Leaving George to fend off Richmond, I ran to my father. He gave me a big hug, then the two of us headed for the house porch.
“Lisa Jane!” Mama came out of the house and onto the porch.
She’s as small as Daddy is big, bright and pert like a little Southern sparrow.
“Hi, Mama!” I called, then turned. “Come here, George, and meet my folks.”
I could see Daddy sizing up George as they shook hands. Daddy didn’t really smile or say anything, but that’s his way. Daddy’s very jealous of the men in my life. He really doesn’t like Sid. They only get along because they have to.
Mama bubbled all over George, but then, that’s Mama’s way. There are very few people in this world that Mama doesn’t like. As far as she’s concerned, everybody is just as good and innocent as she is, even Sid. Well, she knows what he’s up to, but she won’t talk about it and usually acts as if he isn’t.
It was hard to say what my parents thought about George. They were very nice to him, but there was something funny about it. For one thing, Daddy wasn’t jealous. I figured George would get his approval, but he didn’t quite. George was the first man that I had dated that Daddy wasn’t jealous of. Mama was as nice as ever but had stopped talking wedding.
We had lunch in the kitchen. Mama had made sandwiches. It was a nice, casual lunch, the conversation being light and not really of any substance. Then George blew his big chance to score points with my mother by not offering to help clean up. It was no big deal, and Mama certainly did not fault him for it. But as she shooed us away to look at the rest of the resort, I could tell she was not impressed.
I took George to the horse barns. Daddy kept a small herd for the guests to ride, which meant these were the sweetest tempered horses you’ve ever seen. Sid was not fond of horses, but he accepted that I was and let it go at that. George kept trying to protect me from them as if he was scared they were going to do something terrible.
But what really did George in was the call to the main lodge. George, Daddy, and I were down there chatting with Miles Weaver, the desk clerk when the phone rang.
“Plugged toilet in number twelve, Bill,” Miles told him after speaking to the guest who’d called.
“Alright,” Daddy grumbled.
“Daddy, I’ll get it,” I said cheerfully. “Are the tools in the same old spot?”
“Same place as always, Lisle,” Daddy said with a grin.
“Come on, George,” I said, and headed for the back of the lodge.
“Why don’t you call a plumber?” George asked as he followed.
“For a plugged toilet?” I snorted. “A plugged toilet is nothing and plumbers are expensive.”
“But you shouldn’t have to do that.”
“Why not? I’m capable.” I got out the plunger, the snake, some rubber gloves, and a couple wrenches.
“Lisa, you’re a woman,” George said.
“I noticed. What has that got to do with anything?”
“You don’t know the kinds of things that go down those places.”
I laughed. “Oh, yes, I do, George. I’ve unplugged many a toilet in my time.”
“But my wife does not do such menial things.”
I stopped and glared at him. “I am not your wife yet, and if you want me to be your wife, then you’d better get used to the idea that I am going to do what I darned well please, as long as it’s not immoral or illegal. Furthermore, I do not like the concept of woman’s work or man’s work. A person works according to God-given talent and not sex. Nor is there is any such thing as menial work. I am not too good to unplug a toilet or sweep streets or whatever. Are we clear?”
George stepped back. “Okay, but I still don’t like this.”
“Fine. Then do me a favor and either shut up and help, or go up to the house and cry on Mama’s shoulder.”
George opted to help, but he didn’t last too long. The people in cabin twelve had small children, which gave me a clue as to what was wrong. I asked the parents if anything was missing. The mother looked frantically at the array of toys strewn across the room’s floor and shrugged. George looked as though he was about to say something, but I nudged him in the ribs.
We went into the bathroom, where I put on the rubber gloves and got to work. George waited just long enough for me to stick my hands in the toilet, then decided that he’d meet me up at my parents’ house. Okay, it was a pretty sick mess, but nothing that terrible.
It’s not like I don’t understand that plumbing is gross. Sid couldn’t handle plumbing, either. His toilet got plugged every now and then. The first time, Sid had asked me to call the plumber, rolled his eyes when I insisted on taking care of it, myself, and then let me do my thing. The other three times, he offered the plumber, shook his head and let me get on with things, and thanked me for saving him some trouble. No complaining. No chauvinism. If Sid didn’t like something, he expressed himself quietly and usually with a remedy for the situation. If my idea was better, he’d do that. There was a give and take with us that I was beginning to wonder if George could understand.
It didn’t take long to retrieve the toy that had been flushed down the toilet. The parents were horrified that one of their little darlings had been the cause of the mess. I just laughed and pointed out that most kids waited until vacation time to act up and that they wouldn’t believe some of the antics my sister’s kids had gotten up to.
Mama had apparently been telling George the same thing when I got back to the house after cleaning up in the lodge.
“They just can’t help it,” she was saying as I walked into the kitchen. “Oh, Lisa, there you are, honey. Would you go tell your daddy it’s time to put on the coals?”
“George, why don’t you help me with the salads?”
I didn’t hear George’s response, but I couldn’t imagine him being much help.
I found Daddy out by the big barbecue grill and smoker in the gated side yard next to the house.
“Mama says it’s time to put on the coals.”
“Okay.” Daddy immediately bent to the task. “Where’s George?”
“Mama wanted him to help with the salads.”
Daddy chuckled. “Yeah. She said he needed a bit of training.”
I was about to ask in what, but Mama and George came along just then. Mama held up a pitcher of dark tea and held a six-pack of beer. George was laden down with a covered bowl and a big picnic basket overflowing with napkins, place settings and more food.
“I made some sweet tea for a treat,” Mama announced, putting the pitcher on the picnic table next to the grill.
That was odd. Mama almost never makes sweet tea because it is really loaded with sugar and no one else in the family really likes it. It’s even too sweet for me, and my sugar habit is legendary. George was clearly getting his baptism by fire. Mama also pointed out the beer, which she put in the cooler next to the table, along with a bottle of white wine that she got from the basket.
Daddy put the hamburgers on the grill while Mama and I laid out the table. George got a beer for himself and one for my father and the two chatted while Daddy cooked. We ate, talking aimlessly about nothing, and when we’d finished, I bounced up with Mama to clear the dishes and help clean up. Mama told George to talk to Daddy and she and I went back to the house.
As Mama got the water going in the sink, I put the leftovers away, then got a towel. I could see that she looked a little down.
“You don’t seem happy,” I told her.
“Oh, I’m alright,” she said with a sigh.
“Come on, Mama.” I grabbed a dish from the drying rack and put my towel to it. “You were so happy about me and George getting married and now you’re not. What’s going on?”
She looked at me. “When you called about getting engaged to George, I thought he could make you happy.” She paused. “And that you were finally over Sid.”
“I thought you liked Sid.”
“I adore Sid. He is the sweetest man I have ever met since your daddy.” She blinked her eyes. “But he is never going to marry you, and I do not want you wasting away your life on a man who will not marry you.”
“But I’m happy with Sid.” My gut leaped as I realized how true that was. “It’s not wasting my life away if I’m happy, is it?”
She blinked and smiled at me. “That’s all I want, Lisle, baby. You know that.”
“I do, Mama.” I went back to drying plates and glasses. “I mean, it’s not perfect. And we may be coming to a compromise of some sort.”
I watched for her reaction.
“A compromise is always good,” she said, finally, and frowning. “A little security would be even better.” She shrugged and scrubbed at a spot on the over-sized spatula Daddy had used. “Of course, these days, even being married ain’t that secure.”
“True enough,” I said. “Who’s getting divorced now?”
“The Shakespeares.” Mama rolled her eyes. “She finally got tired of him cheating on her. Said she could run the business better than he could and wanted her chance to try. Back in my day, we put up with that kind of nonsense because we didn’t have the opportunities you have now. That’s why I raised you girls to be self-sufficient. So you won’t have to be stuck like the women were when I was growing up.” She shuddered.
The screen door creaked and George wandered in with the cooler.
“Bill asked me to empty this,” he said, smiling.
Mama grinned at him. “You can put everything in the fridge, George. Lisa, why don’t you go see what’s keeping your daddy?”
“Sure, Mama.” I dropped my dishtowel on the kitchen table and went outside.
It was only eight, and the summer sun was just barely touching the tops of the pines. There was a little forested area just beyond the yard, with a little clearing just beyond that. I knew I was supposed to be looking for Daddy, but I suspected Mama wasn’t that worried about it and wouldn’t begrudge me some time to digest the conversation we’d just had. I walked through the trees to the clearing and took a deep breath.
There was no question about marrying George. I was not going to. I couldn’t. But what to do about Sid? Mama hadn’t exactly given her blessing on me moving into his bedroom, but I could tell she wasn’t going to have a conniption over it, either.
Actually, it wasn’t just about moving in. Sid was not some fairy-tale come to life. He could be a royal pain in the butt. He was vain, stubborn. His values were often counter to mine. On the other hand, I shared things with Sid that I shared with no one else, things that had nothing to do with Quickline. Sid shared with me in the same way. We weren’t just best friends. In fact, we were as emotionally intimate as he wanted to be physically. Our communication was stronger than some married couples I knew, and these were good marriages.
I looked around the clearing, remembering the fall before. Sid and I had talked there. He had gone to a great deal of trouble to get Motley for me, even though he hadn’t really wanted a dog. He kissed me then, not on my forehead, but full and warm on the lips. I chuckled as I savored the memory.
George, I had to concede, was almost better at kissing than Sid was, possibly why I hung onto being engaged as long as I had. The trouble was sweet romantic kisses, no matter how delicious, were not enough for me. I needed a real relationship. I needed Sid.
When Sid kissed me, it was special. A lot of the time it was because he had no other way to express how he felt about me. Only what would happen when the kissing became commonplace, when the lovemaking became commonplace? I didn’t think that would happen. I could see the initial thrill fading, but not the deeper emotions between us. They were too strong already. We had gone way past infatuation. We’d been together too long and had worked too hard. Ours was an exceptionally, incredibly good relationship. Surely that meant something?
I heard leaves crunching in the trees behind me and saw my Daddy headed my way. He smiled as he entered the clearing.
“Am I interrupting anything?” he asked softly.
“Not really,” I said. “Just thinking.”
“I’m guessing not about George.”
I shrugged and looked at him. “How do you feel about him, Daddy?”
“I like him alright. He’s a fine young man.” Daddy sighed. “Kinda feel sorry for him, though. I don’t think he knows you ain’t marrying him.”
“I haven’t said I’m not.” I pursed my lips, feeling more than a little piqued that Daddy was reading my mind.
Daddy chuckled ruefully. “Aw, Lisle. Let’s just be honest. We both know who you’re pining for and it ain’t George.”
I sighed. “I’m sorry, Daddy.”
“For liking Sid and not George. You hate Sid.”
“I don’t hate Sid.”
“You don’t like him.”
“I like him fine.” Daddy looked away into the trees. “I just worry about him, is all.”
“He’s not going to do anything.”
“He ain’t going to intend to do anything, and that’s the problem.” Daddy sighed. “I can just see you and him getting all het up and you ending up doing something you’re rather not and feeling guilty about it. That kind of guilt is hell on a relationship.” He looked at me closely again. “On the other hand, I remember somebody getting into a pretty big snit reminding me that it’s her life and her decisions.”
“Oh, that.” I couldn’t help laughing softly. I had taken Daddy to task pretty strongly. My gut twisted. It was time to tell him what Sid had asked for. I just couldn’t figure out how to begin. I hadn’t even told him that I lived at Sid’s house, which I suddenly realized was the perfect place to start. “Um, Daddy, since we’re being honest, there is something I’ve got to tell you. About where I’m living.”
“You mean at Sid’s house?”
I gaped. “How did you know? When did you know?”
“Janey told us when they were up here last Easter.” Daddy looked at his feet. “I kinda wish you’d found a way to tell us yourself.”
“I’ve been wanting to for ages!” I yelped. “I didn’t want to do it over the phone. But Mae wouldn’t let me every time we were visiting.”
“Now, don’t blame it all on your sister.”
I kicked at the ground. “I most certainly can. You know how she is about starting fights during the holidays. And last fall, you were already mad enough at Sid.”
The light was fast starting to fade, so I barely caught the grin on Daddy’s face.
“At least, that’s out in the open,” I said.
“Bill? Lisa?” Mama’s voice echoed through the little forest.
“Guess it’s time to come in,” Daddy said, turning toward the house.
“Daddy.” I touched his arm. “Are you okay about Sid and me?”
His long arm wrapped around my shoulders and he squeezed me next to him.
“About okay as I can be about anyone hanging around my little girl.” He cleared his throat. Arm in arm, we walked through the trees. “I tell you, Lisle, you sure know how to pick ‘em. George is a nice boy, but he’s soft. He looks like he could stand up okay, but he’s a wimp. On the other hand, that damned boss of yours, and his city sheen and fancy ways, you’d think he was a wimp. But he could knock the snot out of George. He’s one tough customer. I tell you, Lisle, if he wasn’t so close to you, I could almost like the man.”
Mama was calling us in to play games. We tried playing poker. Daddy is really good at it. He’s even won a few tournaments. He taught me, so it’s really a lot of fun to play with him. Mama enjoys it, but we can read her like a book. George didn’t get the game at all, so Mama had us call it quits fairly early, before Daddy and I could take George to the cleaners. We moved on to Monopoly. In short, it was an excruciating night. Thank God, Mama kept us busy and sent us to bed early so that we could return the rental car and catch a flight out of Tahoe airport.
As we left the next morning, Daddy hugged me and whispered in my ear.
“Best get on with it,” he said. “Waiting won’t make it any easier.”
“I know,” I sighed.
But I couldn’t dump it on George on the way home. It would make traveling together too hard, not to mention not wanting to cause a scene on the plane. We got the car returned and made it onto the plane just in time. George burbled on about how much he liked my parents. I looked out the window and tried to figure out when and how I was going to tell him. George didn’t seem to notice that anything was wrong. Of course, I sighed, he was not very good at telling when I was not listening to him. He was not very good at listening to me, period, which meant if I didn’t do it right, he’d probably think we were having a fight and wouldn’t get it.
My thoughts drifted back to Sid. I was still undecided about what to do about his offer. I really didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but I wasn’t entirely comfortable with moving into his bedroom, either. If I was concerned about hurting George’s feelings, I was even more worried about hurting Sid. Then the plane landed and I realized I had to make up my mind soon.
While we waited for our luggage at the airport, George told me that that following week, he was meeting with his lawyer to change his will in my favor. I told him it was far too soon to do that and I didn’t want his money, anyway. George went to get the suitcases. George wanted us to meet in Westwood for lunch since we both had our own cars at the airport. I agreed, telling myself that I was going to break it off there, public place or not.
As we finished eating, I got my nerve up.
“George, we need to talk.”
He sighed. “Yes, we do, Lisa.” He reached over the table and grabbed my hands. “Look, I know you like to keep things to yourself, but it’s really getting to be a problem for us. I think we need to go to counseling together so we can learn how to communicate.”
I pulled my hands away. “George, you need to learn how to listen.”
“I listen. You don’t talk. Your parents aren’t like that, so I don’t understand what’s going on. I think counseling will really help us.”
My parents weren’t part of a top-secret espionage agency, and there was no way I was going to tell George what was really going on.
“I’m not going to counseling,” I said.
“It will be alright. You’ll see.”
He got up and grabbed the check. “Lisa, no more. We’re both tired and getting mad. Let’s each go home and we’ll talk about this tomorrow.”
I was so shocked, I sat back and watched him go. The waitress offered dessert and I ordered it. I don’t remember what I ordered, I was so confused. George, I decided, could wait for another time. I still had to face Sid.
The weird thing was, having my parents more or less okay with me moving in with Sid did not make it easier to. It was hard because Sid and I obviously had the kind of relationship most couples wish they had. But something wasn’t quite right about moving in and I couldn’t figure out why for the life of me. After I finished and paid for it, I went to the back of the restaurant and called Sid.
“I’ll be home in about twenty,” I told him.
“Great. I’ll be waiting for you.”
“Good.” I hung up.
The odds were decent that Sid had figured out something was up, but it couldn’t be helped. He obviously heard the garage door opener going, because he was near the garage door when I came in. He was wearing a sport shirt and tight, very dark-blue jeans.
“Hi,” I said, lugging my suitcase inside.
“Hi. How was Tahoe.”
I swallowed. “Interesting.”
“Here. Let me get your case.”
He bent and as our hands touched on the handle, it was as if I felt a spark run through me. I could feel my heart beating faster. I looked into his sweet, gentle eyes. He moved in closer. My eyelids shut as his soft lips gently caressed mine. The suitcase thudded onto the floor. I was utterly drawn into him. Our arms wound around each other. My lips returned the kiss with equal fervor.
Our lips parted and Sid looked at me, one of his eyebrows slowly rising. I couldn’t help it, I kissed him again. This was about more than simple passion. This was about something deeper. I couldn’t help wondering if Angelique had felt this way kissing him. Then all I could think of was my father pointing out how guilt was hell on a relationship.
Sid felt me cooling first. He pulled away a little and kissed my forehead.
“Can’t, huh?” he asked softly.
I shook my head. “I’m sorry. I’m afraid I’ll feel guilty and then resent you, and that’s not fair or right. I can’t do that to you, Sid.”
He sighed but laughed lightly. “I know.”
“I’m so sorry.”
He held me a little tighter. “Don’t apologize for being who you are. You had to be honest with me. I expected nothing less.”
“I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
He laughed softly again. “You didn’t hurt them.”
I pulled away a little and looked him in the eyes.
His shoulders lifted a touch. “Sure, I’m a little disappointed. But hurt? No. Frankly, I expected this.” His hand brushed my cheek. “Nothing’s changed.”
“We’re still friends, then?”
“Yes.” He almost choked. “If I had thought for one second that my proposal would change that, I would never have made it. Lisa, I value our friendship above everything else in my life. I can’t give you up.”
“I can’t give you up, either, Sid.”
His hands cupped my cheeks. “Lisa, when we come together–”
“If we come together.”
“When we come together, it will be with joy or it will not happen.” His eyes held mine. “That much, I can promise, and you know I’m not going to go back on my word.”
Smiling, I reached up and kissed him, then sighed. “I wish I could.”
“I know. We’ll just have to wait, is all.” He held me close to his chest and kissed my hair.
“You achieved one of your objectives,” I said, sinking into his hug. “I’m not going to marry George. I can’t.”
“Lisa, it was never my objective to break the two of you up.” He paused. “I mean, I wasn’t trying to offer you an alternative.”
I laughed and pulled away. “I know that. You were very clear that you wanted me to be able to make my own choices.” I paused and looked at him. “Anyway, I haven’t had a chance to tell him yet. It’s not going to be as easy as you would think.”
“Hurt feelings?” Sid asked, his eyebrow lifting.
I winced. “Some. But the other part is his problem with only hearing what he wants to hear. I have got to find some way to make it absolutely crystal clear that the wedding is not happening.”
Sid winced also. “You’ve got a point. Why don’t you give your Father John a call? He might have some ideas.”
“You’re right.” I grinned at him. “What a great idea. Thanks.”
“Good.” Sid smiled. “Why don’t you get unpacked? Skip the business wear today. We need to be ready in case our house guest causes any problems.”
I picked up my suitcase. “He’s here, then?”
“In the special guest room. One of us should probably be awake at all times.” Sid grinned. “And, naturally, we got a bunch of writing work in, including one editor request for another miracle.”
Namely, an editor was up a creek and needed us to turn something around extra fast. Those jobs were a pain, but they did put us in debt to the very people we needed to assign us more work.
“That sounds like fun.”
Sid shrugged. “It’s an easy one to crank out. We’ve also got interviews to figure out.”
“See you in a couple.”
“See you in a couple.” I turned and went into my little suite of rooms and finally started breathing again.
Things had not only gone better than I had hoped for, I was in love. I stopped. In love with Sid? Motley was right there and demanded petting, which I did automatically. Was I really in love with Sid? I was. I was in love with a man who could not love me back, exactly the scenario my mother was worried about. But then I remembered my answer. I was happy with Sid. I thought it over. I was, without question, happy with Sid. So, it didn’t make any difference whether or not Sid could return the feelings, which as I thought about it, was why I was not now in his bedroom. When Sid could return those feelings, and it seemed we were slowly headed in that direction, then we would consider the sex. Until then, I would just have to love him silently.
I grimaced. That part sounded pretty nauseating. Unrequited love, pining away. Blech. I was not a Victorian romance heroine. On the other hand, I was perfectly content as a single person. I wasn’t going to be pining away. I could wait for Sid to get his feelings together, and if he never did, that was okay, too. I was happy with the way things were. I thought it over. Nope. I was definitely happy, a little on the blissful side, but happy.
[So was I. By that point, I think I knew what was holding you up, and it was the one thing I couldn’t promise. I still didn’t understand why my fidelity was so important, but I was okay with the concept of being faithful. I just didn’t think I could be, and I was terrified of what would happen if I broke that particular promise. – SEH]