Widow

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Chapter 17

When Peggy woke Sunday morning, her first thoughts were of her date the night before. I can’t believe I kissed him like I did. What was I thinking?

I wonder if I was dishonest with Ken? After Peter died, I felt in many ways, I’d died too. There were months when my entire being felt void of any emotion other than grief. I seriously wondered if Peter’s death also marked the end of my sex life……. Could it have been that last night I wanted to see if I was still sexually alive? Was that why I kissed him the way I did?

On the other hand, maybe I wasn’t thinking. Maybe I was just reacting to Ken. He’s so gentle and so much fun. Am I falling for him? ……. Or, is my poor body, which has been devoid of sex for two years, starting to scream at me?

Have we progressed from ‘acquaintances’ to a relationship? He gave me the key to his house, for gosh sakes. That’s not a gift a person would give to an ‘acquaintance.’

What about the note he gave me?

“I might as well give you the key to my house,

Because you already have the key to my heart!”

I remember it exactly. If he isn’t ‘romantic,’ I don’t know what ‘romantic’ means.

If this has become a ‘relationship,’ what will I tell Ned? How long can Ken and I keep our ‘whatever it is’ ‘under cover’? Maybe a hot shower will help. Maybe what I need is a cold shower, a really cold shower.

After breakfast, Ned found his mother down in the basement digging through an old cardboard box. “What are your doing Mom?”

“Looking for something. Here they are!”

She emerged holding two pair of boxing gloves in her hands. She declared, “It is time you and I begin your boxing lessons.”

In a rather short time Peggy learned her son was quick and his right arm was very strong. Probably from all that pitching.

As for Ned, he found he truly enjoyed boxing.

Showering after the boxing lesson, Peggy remembered today was the day of Mother’s dinner…. No doubt she’ll have an eligible male waiting to greet me. Well, if he’s nice, it’ll give me someone to compare against Ken. Truth be told, I haven’t let anyone under my shield for two years. Therefore, Ken is the only competitor, so to speak…. . Well, beside Jeb, but, apparently, Jeb and I are not destined to become involved.

As 12:30 approached, Ned and Peggy walked over to her Mother’s house. It was several blocks away. The late August day was cool. The hint of fall in the air felt good as they stretched their legs.

When they walked in, Peggy looked at the dining room table. Sure enough, it was set for four.

“OK Mom, who is to be the fourth for dinner?”

“Well, I’ve known his father for some years. He’s a very important man in this town. I think his bachelor son is a little older than you. I thought it would be a good idea if you two could become acquainted.”

Just then Peggy turned glancing out the window. Ralph Tarrance was prancing up the front steps. “Good God Mother, please tell me you did not invite that creep for dinner!”

“Oh, do you know Ralph Tarrance, dear? I’d no idea. I know his father is a very important man. I’m sure Ralph’s not a creep once you get to know him.”

Before Peggy could say another word, the doorbell rang.

Ralph came in all dressed up in sport coat and tie. His slicked back hair looked almost greasy. His expression reminded Peggy of the wolf getting ready to eat Little Red Riding Hood.

“Hello Peggy,” he oozed, “it is nice to see you away from the bank.”

“Oh you two know each other?” asked Margo in an innocent voice.

Peggy almost gaged.

“Oh yes,” replied Ralph. “Peggy is one of the women under my supervision at the bank. In fact, Mrs. Mitchell, I have been trying to get Peggy to go out with me for some time. But, she keeps saying she isn’t ready, don’t you Peggy?”

“I’m not ready,” Peggy replied. “Ralph, this is my son Ned. Ned, please shake hands with Mr. Tarrance.”

Ned stepped up holding out his hand. After feeling Ralph’s dishrag grip a look of disgust crossed Ned’s face.

“What’s the matter, young man?” Ralph asked.

“Coach always tells us to give a firm handshake. It shows you’re truly glad to meet someone.”

“Coach?” questioned Ralph. “Who is Coach?”

Peggy replied, “He’s the man who is coaching Ned’s little league team. Ned’s quite taken with him.”

“Well,” countered Ralph, “the coach may know baseball; but, he obviously knows nothing of courtly manners. A soft handshake is a mark of distinction. I suppose the ill-bred don’t understand the refinements of good society.”

Ned glared at Ralph. Then he turned and looked directly at his mother. Peggy gently shook her head from side to side. Wisely, Ned retreated to the couch.

Before any more fireworks exploded, Peggy’s mother called everyone to dinner. Mainly because Margo cooked a fine meal, the hour at the table passed without further incident.

After dinner, they adjourned to the living room. Ralph made for one side of the couch motioning to Peggy, “Why don’t you join me on the couch?” Before Peggy could move, Ned leaped on the couch beside Ralph.

“This is my favorite seat in the house,” he announced. He sat with his arms folded, glaring at Ralph.

“Ned dear,” asked his Grandmother, “would you like to come into the dining room and play checkers with me?”

“Nope. I want to stay here. I like to talk with the adults.”

Peggy thought, Ned is my hero. I ought to kiss him.

An hour of stilted conversation followed. At last, Ralph got up to leave. As he walked out the door, he grabbed Peggy’s arm, pulling her onto the porch. He actually shut the door on Margo and Ned.

Ralph smiled his sweetest smile. “Now we are finally alone. “May I have the pleasure of your company for dinner on Saturday night?”

Peggy smiled sweetly. “Ralph, you’re kind to ask, but I’m still not ready to begin dating. As I told you before, I have neither the time with my work and my MBA classes, or the inclination, to start a relationship with someone. I’m emotionally not ready. Besides, I have an engagement on Saturday evening. I hope you’ll understand.”

“Oh I do understand, and come Monday morning you will understand a few things too,” Ralph growled. He stalked off in a major huff.

Peggy stormed back inside the house, landing on her poor mother.

“Mother, if you evermeddle in my social life again, I’ll fry you in cooking oil for a week! Your ‘nice young man’ has been peeking down my blouse, leering at me, and asking me for dates for the past year. He’s a conceited womanizer. Everyone at the bank hates him.

“On top of that he became my boss a few weeks ago. Now I’m going to catch it, big time, for turning aside his attempts to date me. Come on Ned; let’s get out of here before I blow my top even further!”

Peggy fumed out of the house. She completely ignored how Margo’s face had paled and the shocked expression on her mother’s face.

It was a silent fast walk back home. As they approached the house Ned remarked in a timid voice, “I hope Mr. Tarrance isn’t the guy who gave you the flowers, Mom.”

“No he surely isn’t. Ned, as I told you before, if I ever become seriously involved with a man, you will be seriously involved also. I made that promise to you after the Myron matter. Nothing has changed from the promise I made to you that day in Gram’s hammock. Any life changing decision like getting married again is a decision both of us will make, not just me. Are you comfortable with that?”

“Yeah, sure Mom.”

Ned went off to play. Peggy stormed into the house. She needed to talk to someone so she could blow off steam. Whom to call? Suddenly, she knew. Right now, her most trusted friend, and the one who would understand, had to be Ken. She picked up the phone.

“Hello, Ken Lister here,” answered a friendly voice.

“Boy am I glad you’re there. I’m so mad I’m about to blow my top. I need to talk to someone.”

“Did I do it?”

She laughed. Some warmth must have come back into her voice. “No you didn’t do anything you funny man, except your ‘did I do it?’ remark got me laughing a little bit. Wait ’til you hear who Mother invited to Sunday dinner to meet her widowed daughter…… That creep Ralph Tarrance.”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“I wish. Apparently, Mom has known Ralph’s father for years. She says he’s an important man in town. She thought his bachelor son would be just perfect for me. Mom didn’t even know Ralph worked at the bank. Which meant she didn’t know he was my boss and she didn’t know I’ve been refusing every one of Ralph’s advances.

“You should’ve seen him ooze around the table. After dinner he tried to get me to sit next to him on the couch but Ned, bless him, jumped into the seat next to Ralph and saved me. Ralph finally got me alone by pulling me on the porch as he left. He actually shut the door in Ned and Mother’s face.”

“I turned him down for another date. Which reminds me, can we have a date Saturday night? I told Ralph I had a previous engagement. Even though he’s a creep, he is my supervisor and I don’t feel good about lying to my boss.”

“We absolutely have a date Saturday evening. Don’t you remember promising to go out with me every Saturday night from now ’till Christmas?”

“You’re a sweet liar. Truth be known, all I can remember about last night was kissing you. Whoops! There I go again, talking too much.”

“That’s what I remember too.”

Peggy could tell by his serious tone, he really meant it.

“Ken, when Ralph stormed off Mother’s porch, he told me I’d ‘understand a few things on Monday morning.’ What do you suppose he’s implying?”

Ken thought a minute. Finally, he replied, “I don’t like the sound of that at all, Peggy. It sounds as if he’ll use something at work to get even with you for turning him down again.”

“My thoughts exactly. Whatever it is, I guess I’ll find out tomorrow. I don’t think he’d dare fire me, the bank’s paying for my MBA.”

“Whatever happens I know you can handle it, Peggy. You’re one tough lady.”

“Thanks for listening.”

“Please don’t hang up yet,” Ken pleaded. “I love hearing your voice. Tell me again what you remember about last night.”

“I remember buying a table and a couch. Did the man deliver it yet?”

“Not yet. I vaguely remember him saying he couldn’t deliver until around dinner time. I hope he gets here pretty soon; I’m tired of eating off my lap.”

“What I want to do with your lap is sit on it. Oh darn, there I go again putting my foot in my mouth. I’m going to hang up now. I’m too flustered to talk further. Thanks for being there when I needed you, Ken.”

When Peggy hung up Ken’s mind went into overtime. That was the first time she’s ever called me! It has to be a positive sign about how she feels about me! …. . I wonder what might happen to her tomorrow at the bank? I need to keep in touch. If I wasn’t ‘under cover,’ I could ask her out for lunch.

The furniture arrived a few hours after Peggy’s phone call. Ken finished Mrs. Swanson’s casserole on the new table, which he placed in front of the TV. Tomorrow I’ve got to start to cook.

The wicker couch felt nice and strong. But, it really needed pillows. Peggy promised to find some for him. I know what to do. I’ll measure the couch. The measurements will give me an excuse to call her tonight and find out if she’s calmed down.

As Peggy closed the Business Law book about 10:00 that night, the phone rang. She thought, I hope it’s Ken. Then she remembered the long call they had shared that afternoon. Warily, she picked up the phone. “Peggy Waldren.”

“Are you OK? I’ve been worried.”

“Oh I’m so glad you called.”

“Why, more trouble?”

“No I’m fine, all calmed down.”

“Then why are you glad I called?”

“It’s none of your business why I’m glad you called. You trap me into spilling my innermost thoughts, Ken Lister. You should know there are some things a girl has to keep private.”

“Oh……..OK now let’s do a little business. The inside of the couch measures 72 inches by 23 inches. If you get 2 cushions they would need to be 36 by 23. The back is 25 inches high. What do you want to do Saturday night?”

“Hang on while I write that down. I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

“Suppose you drive over here. You could try out your garage door opener so no one would know I have company. I’ll cook you a nice dinner. You could see the house and help me with all the still unresolved decorating issues.”

Peggy thought for a minute. “If I accept, I’d be in your house without a chaperone. Do you promise to behave?”

“I told you before I can’t lie to you, Peggy. As a consequence, I can’t promise to behave.”

His reply caused Peggy to pause a long time before she answered. At last she formulated her response. “You can’t lie to me because you want me to trust you. Correct?”

“Correct.”

“Well, if you want me to trust you it’ll be necessary for you to behave won’t it?”

Ken hesitated…. . . “Let’s put it this way. Whatever happens will be decided by unanimous vote.”

“Unanimous vote…. . Hummm. OK, subject to the unanimous vote rule, I accept your invitation. What are we having for dinner?”

“I’m not sure; but I know one thing that’ll be here for you.”

“Do I dare ask?”

“A very empty lap.”

She laughed at his quip as she said good night.

Monday morning Peggy found a note asking her to report to Ralph Tarrance’s office.

As soon as she walked in Ralph announced, “Mrs. Waldren, we are going to implement the revised time shifts I discussed with you last week. Starting tomorrow, you will come in at 10:00. After your teller window closes at 4:00, you will report to the drive in window. You will remain at that post until the drive in window closes at 6:00.”

“And if I’d accepted your date invitation, this change would not have occurred would it Ralph?”

“I don’t know what you are referring to,” snapped Ralph. “This meeting is over.”

Right before noon, Peggy’s phone rang. It was Ken. “What happened?”

“I’m now working the late shift. I have the drive in window from 4:00 to 6:00 o’clock every night. Now I’ll never get to any of Ned’s after school activities. It could’ve been worse, I guess. Call me later.”

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