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“Omigod,” Julia said after she put the phone down one Sunday afternoon in late August.
“What is it, Mom?” Melissa said casually, looking up from the book she was reading. She knew that Julia sometimes tended to dramatize things, so she wasn’t too worried that some catastrophe was bearing down on them.
But when Melissa noted that her mother was walking stiffly toward an easy chair, white as a sheet, she became more concerned.
“Mom, what is it?” she said. “Has something happened?” Did someone die, or what?
Looking blankly at her daughter, Julia said, “Your Aunt Isabel is coming.”
“What?” Melissa exploded. “When? Why?”
“Tomorrow,” Julia said in tones of impending doom.
“But what on earth for?” Melissa cried. “What possible reason—”
Julia gave her daughter a sharp look. “You’re partially to blame.”
“Me? What did I do?”
Just at this point, Audrey walked into the room.
“And you’re to blame too!” Julia said accusingly, actually pointing a finger at her elder daughter.
“What have I done now?” Audrey said wearily. For her part, she was used to shouldering responsibility for just about everything her parents thought had gone wrong with the family.
“Aunt Isabel is coming,” Melissa said hollowly.
Audrey’s jaw dropped. “Omigod, no!”
“Omigod, yes,” Melissa said viciously.
“And it’s because of you two!” Julia almost shrieked.
Now it was Rod’s turn to drift into the room. He had been upstairs, checking some baseball scores, but the loud voices of his three women made him suspect that something was up.
“Mom,” Melissa said in a struggle to regain her calm, “I think you’d better settle down and tell us what’s going on.”
“Yes,” Rod said, “I’d like to know too.”
“You’d better,” Julia said heavily. “You’re in this too.”
“Me?” Rod said, puzzled.
“Yeah,” Audrey said snidely. “Our Aunt Isabel is showing up here sometime—”
“Tomorrow,” Melissa inserted.
“—and I imagine we’re going to have some explaining to do.”
“That’s right,” Julia said, looking daggers at the three of them.
Rod was totally flummoxed. “Who is this Aunt Isabel? You make her sound like some kind of dragon.”
“Not far from the truth,” Audrey said, and no one seemed inclined to contradict her.
Taking pity on Rod’s confusion, Julia said, “She’s my older sister—two years older. And she’s, um, rather strict in her moral code, shall we say. I have a feeling she doesn’t think things are quite—right—with us here.”
“Right—how?” Rod said weakly.
“I think you know,” Julia said.
Rod swallowed thickly. “But—but how—?”
“She saw,” Julia said, staring at both her daughters, “various pictures of the three of you on your Facebook page. You looked, if I may say so, very friendly with each other. Do you catch my drift?”
All three of the young people had the good grace to blush.
“Well,” Audrey said defensively, “there was nothing, um, explicit about those pictures! I mean, we didn’t have our clothes off or anything.”
“No, Facebook wouldn’t allow that,” Julia said tartly. “But Isabel isn’t stupid. Some of the pictures made it pretty clear how—close—you three are.”
“Well,” Melissa said brightly, “at least there are no pictures she could have seen of you and Rod!”
Julia’s gaze almost made Melissa crawl away in humiliation.
“But,” Rod persisted, “what’s she going to do? I mean, what can she do? We can lead our lives the way we want, can’t we?”
“We can,” Julia said, “but that doesn’t mean she has to like it. And all this may get back to my own parents—and I’m not on particularly good terms with them either at the moment, since they seem to blame me for letting my husband Arthur ‘slip through my fingers,’ as they said to me not long ago.”
“Oh, God, Mom,” Melissa said, “this is ridiculous. We’re all adults. What can anyone do to us?”
“I told you: no one can actually do anything—but familial disapproval can be pretty hard to take.”
“Yeah, I know what that’s like,” Audrey muttered.
“You’re saying,” Rod said, trying to keep to the subject, “that Isabel is a bit of a prude.”
That comment was so amusing that all three women burst out into a cascade of chortles, guffaws, and nearly hysterical laughter that took minutes to subside.
“Will someone explain, please?” Rod said.
“She’s the prude to end all prudes,” Audrey said. “I mean, she could have been Queen Victoria’s twin sister. What do you say, guys?” she went on, looking around at her sister and mother. “Do you think she’s still . . .?”
“I’m sure she is,” Melissa said dismissively.
“Me too,” Julia murmured.
“She’s still what?” Rod said, more perplexed than before.
“Still a virgin,” Audrey said flatly.
Rod was thunderstruck.
“Oh, come on!” he burst out. “She must be—what?”
“Forty-seven,” Julia said.
“No one’s a virgin at forty-seven!” he scoffed.
“You wanna bet?” Melissa said. “How much you wanna bet?”
Rod emek escort frowned darkly at her. “Don’t be foolish. Anyway, how do you intend to find out if you’re right or not?”
Melissa laughed shortly. “That’s a good question.”
“Look, people,” Julia said, suddenly all business, “we’ve just got to put the best face on things.” She flitted around the room, tidying things up as if that would be the solution to their difficulties. “We’ll just say Rod is Melissa’s boyfriend and let it go at that. I mean, even Isabel can’t object to a college girl having a boyfriend.”
“But a boyfriend who lives with us?” Melissa said pointedly.
“Well,” Julia said, a bit shaken, “okay, that’s a bit strange.”
“And,” Melissa pursued, “what about all those pictures of Rod cuddling with Audrey?” She gave her sister a pointed look.
“That I don’t know about,” Julia said. “We’ll just have to say that you three are all great friends.”
And that’s how they left it. Everyone did engage in a frenzied campaign of cleaning up, for in addition to her other traits Isabel was a neat freak and wouldn’t look kindly on a dirty house. It would only augment her apparent suspicion that the inhabitants of the house were, in more than one sense, dirty.
When Isabel traipsed in the next morning, having driven efficiently from her small place in North Bend, Rod finally got a look at the fearsome woman whose reputation had preceded her. And he didn’t quite know what to make of her.
At first glance, she did look something like a dragon. He was expecting the severity of expression and the tightly bunned hair that framed her square face; but there was something about her piercing blue eyes that he found strangely compelling. Taller than her sister, at about five foot six, she seemed even loftier because of her almost regal bearing and her tendency to look down—literally and figuratively—at everyone around her. She was dressed in a shapeless blue print dress that did nothing to reveal whatever figure lay underneath it; not that she had any intention of permitting anyone, man or woman, from even speculating on such a matter.
She grudgingly greeted Julia with a formal hug, but could barely bring herself to shake hands with her two nieces, who—Rod noted with amazement and alarm—were actually cowering in her presence. He wouldn’t have been surprised to see them curtsy.
And when she turned to Rod, after Julia had tremblingly introduced him, she gave him a look as if she had suddenly discovered a slug in her salad.
“Hi, ma’am,” Rod said with all the confidence he could muster, extending a hand.
Isabel looked at the hand with quiet disdain, but at last shook it for precisely half a second before releasing it.
They settled down to a late morning tea—what else?—served by a patently nervous Julia in the living room. When everyone had a cup in their laps, accompanied by shortbread, Isabel began the discussion they all knew was coming.
“Well, my dear,” she said, somehow making the endearment sound like an insult, “you have moved.”
“Ye-es,” Julia said with a tremor.
“Why, may I ask?” Isabel pursued.
“Well,” Julia said in a rush of words, “I just wanted to get out of that house. You know, now that Arthur had left—”
“And good riddance to him,” Isabel said fervently.
Man, Rod thought, a real man-hater. No one with a cock is exempt from her contempt.
“—I just didn’t want to be in that house anymore,” Julia went on. “And I thought the girls could live with me while they finished college and went on to find work. I didn’t want to be alone.”
“That much is obvious,” Isabel said acidly. “And what about him?”—angling her head derisively at Rod.
“Um, well,” Julia stumbled, “it just seemed a good arrangement. I mean—”
“Did it now?”
Julia, withering under the disapproval, tried to regain her courage. “Yes,” she said, then, more firmly, “Yes, it did. Rod and Melissa are very much in love. It only makes sense for him to stay here, at least until he graduates.”
Isabel didn’t say anything, but managed to look simultaneously at Julia and Rod with the thought: Oh, you think so, do you? Well, I don’t.
But she said, “And he seems rather keen on Audrey too.”
“Yes, he is, Aunt Julia.” It was Melissa’s first words to her. “And why shouldn’t he? She’s my sister.”
Isabel slowly turned her gaze at her niece. It was so intense that Melissa lapsed into silence and stared into her teacup.
She seemed on the verge of laying down some magisterial judgment on the shameful immortality of the younger generation—and of Julia for tolerating, even abetting it—when Rod suddenly interjected:
“Ma’am, I hope we can make your stay here very happy. You should know you are always welcome in this house.”
Isabel looked startled, as if she had just witnessed a bear cub speaking. For once at a loss for words, she eventually murmured, “That’s very kind of you, young man.” She was secretly pleased, keçiören escort even delighted, that he had called her “ma’am.” If ever there was a woman who should be called “ma’am,” Isabel felt it was herself.
Somehow that broke the tension. The young people had guzzled their tea and received permission from their elders to flee the scene. Isabel remained with Julia, the one on the couch and the other in an easy chair. Julia was not looking forward to a private interrogation, but Isabel’s features did seem to have softened, and she said in a gentler voice:
“Dear, please tell me what’s going on here.”
“What do you mean, Isabel? Nothing’s ‘going on.'”
“Oh, come now!” Isabel said, her voice rising. “I’m not a child, you know.”
“I just don’t know—”
“He is . . . intimate with Melissa?”
“Well of course! He’s her boyfriend.”
“And with Audrey?”
“What do you mean?”
“Is he intimate with Audrey?”
Julia looked like a rabbit hypnotized by a snake’s eyes. She licked her lips several times before finally bursting out defiantly, “So what if he is? Is there anything wrong with that?”
Isabel’s stare became only more intense. “Is—there—anything—wrong—with—that?” she repeated. “Am I really hearing those words?”
“Isabel,” Julia cried, “I don’t know why we need concern ourselves with this! What they do is surely their business?”
“My dear,” Isabel said as if speaking to a particularly dim-witted child, “it’s not just their business. It’s our business.”
“How?” Julia exclaimed.
“How? What about marriage? Is he going to marry the both of them? Last time I heard, polygamy was still illegal, even in Utah. Or perhaps they will move to some Arab country and convert to Islam. I understand Muslim men can have up to four wives.”
Julia almost laughed out loud. Yes, they can—and perhaps I can be Rod’s third. But she said: “Oh, Isabel, don’t be silly. The subject of marriage hasn’t even come up, and—”
“No,” Isabel interjected, “I didn’t think it had.”
“Well, they’re awfully young! Let them enjoy themselves for a while!”
Isabel’s expression made it clear that the kind of enjoyment Julia was alluding to was to her mind not enjoyment at all. “I trust that the girls are least—protected?”
“Of course they are. They’re not stupid. No one’s thinking of having children right now.”
“Well, thank God for small favors.”
The conversation seemed to have reached an impasse. Julia, in any case, was emotionally exhausted by the cross-examination. God knows what Isabel would do if she found that I was also “intimate” with the versatile Rod. I imagine she’d never speak to me again—and neither would my parents, whom she would be bound to tell.
It was decided to leave things like that. Isabel radiated outrage and moral displeasure, but she realized there wasn’t much she could do about it beyond that. She in fact did wish to reacquaint herself with her sister, whom she genuinely loved and hadn’t seen in quite a while. Over the next several days of her visit—whose length she failed to specify—the sisters did reconnect with talk on more neutral subjects and expeditions to the library or to shops and once even to a movie (G-rated, naturally).
Melissa then came up with a plan. Audrey readily agreed, but Julia was appalled.
“I don’t think you’re aware of the risks involved!” she cried.
“Oh, Mom,” Melissa said offhandedly, “it’ll be fine. What’s the worst that could happen?”
“A lot of bad things could happen!” Julia exploded.
“I don’t think so,” Melissa said. “I think Aunt Isabel is actually getting to like Rod, almost in spite of herself. I mean, he’s been the perfect gentleman, and she appreciates that—all apart from what she imagines us doing in our den of iniquity upstairs every night. So I think it couldn’t hurt.”
Melissa proved to be wrong in the literal sense, but right in a more figurative sense.
The plan was to leave Rod alone with Isabel for an afternoon, to see if a one-on-one tête-à-tête—or at least just a few hours together, with no one else interfering—might make Isabel warm up to him, and therefore to the whole unorthodox situation. Of course, Rod’s relationship with Julia had to be kept secret, lest all hell break loose. So the poor woman had to be celibate while Rod slept alternately with Melissa and Audrey. They did their best to keep quiet whenever they got involved in any serious cuddling, but they weren’t entirely successful at that—as Isabel’s severe glares at them the next morning made all too evident.
Rod wasn’t at all certain the plan would work, but how could he stand up to three determined women? They all left for what purported to be a lengthy shopping trip. Isabel was in no way pleased at being left alone with the polluter of her nieces’ bodies, but she did grudgingly admit that, whenever he wasn’t in their beds, he was a rather nice young man.
But the whole plan quite literally got off on the wrong gölbaşı escort foot.
About half an hour after the three women had left, Rod made his way upstairs. It was just at that moment that Isabel emerged from her guest room and started heading downstairs for a cup of tea. Somehow she wasn’t expecting Rod to be there, and she let out a little cry of alarm—and slipped.
To Rod’s horror, it seemed horribly likely that Isabel might take a tumble right down the stairs. He rushed up to her and caught her just as she was about to fall head over heels. Isabel squawked as she felt a man grasp her frame; and to her mortification, her breasts—covered as they were with blouse and bra—were squeezed by Rod’s chest as he desperately but awkwardly supported her and restored her balance.
“Are you all right?” Rod said in alarm.
“I’m just fine, young man,” Isabel said (she refused to call Rod by his name). But in fact she didn’t look fine.
She insisted that Rod let her go, and when he reluctantly did so, she tried to regain her dignity and decorum and walk back into her room.
But the first step she took caused her almost to fall to her knees, and she cried out in pain. Rod clutched her again, and Isabel was forced to circle his shoulder with one arm while she grabbed the banister of the stairs with the other.
“Um, I think you may have sprained your ankle,” he said.
Isabel hated feeling in any way dependent on anyone—especially a man. But at the moment she acknowledged that she was far from well.
“If you can just help me to my room, I believe I will be all right.”
But Rod unexpectedly swooped her up in his arms and began carrying her to the bed in her room.
“Young man!” she cried indignantly. “There is no need for this!”
“Oh, it’s okay,” he said casually.
Isabel was, she had to admit, impressed with the ease with which this lean, lanky man was carrying her as if she were light as a feather. She knew very well that she was not, but she resigned herself to being at his mercy for the time being.
Rod placed her with exquisite delicacy on the bed, and she lay there, her back to the headboard, looking ruefully at her ankle. It seemed to be swelling a bit.
Rod noticed that too, and he quickly said, “I’d best get an ice pack.”
Before Isabel could protest, he tromped off to the bathroom to get the article. He found one easily enough and came back, wrapping it around Isabel’s injured ankle.
“There, that’s better, isn’t it?”
She had to admit it was.
“Is there anything else I can do for you?” Rod said.
Somehow Isabel colored, as if even that harmless utterance was some kind of double entendre. “No, I don’t believe there is. You—you’ve been very helpful.”
“All right,” Rod said. “I’ll let you rest.”
He was on the verge of leaving the room when Isabel said:
“Young man, there is something you can do.”
Rod stopped in mid-stride and looked over his shoulder. “What’s that?”
It was several moments before Isabel said: “I cannot rest in these clothes. Can you help me put my nightgown on?”
Rod seemed to sway with confusion for a little while. “Um, how exactly can I do that?”
Isabel reverted to her customary severity and impatience. “Well, you can first fetch it from the closet.”
Rod stalked over to the closet and opened it. Isabel had appropriated a fair amount of space for her numerous articles of clothing, mostly skirts, blouses, and dresses. He did notice a surprisingly thin, frilly nightgown hanging at the far right of the closet.
Pulling it out a little, he said, “Is this the one?”
Isabel nodded shortly.
He took it off the hanger and brought it to her, seemingly intent on placing it in her hands and then bolting from the scene. But Isabel had other ideas in mind.
Looking at him sharply, “You will first have to remove my other clothing.”
This time Rod really did come close to fainting. “Wh-what?” he stammered.
Isabel closed her eyes as if cursing the stupidity of the entire human race except herself. “In my condition I can scarcely undress myself, can I? So you will have to help me.”
“How?” he said weakly.
“I will instruct you.” Sitting up straighter and scooting around so that her back faced Rod, she said, “First unbutton my blouse.”
Rod did so mechanically, not believing this was really happening. After he had undone all the buttons, Isabel shuffled her shoulders to get the blouse off and tossed it aside.
“Now the bra.”
Rod swallowed hard. “I—I can’t do that.”
“You can and you will,” Isabel said firmly. “I’m sure you’re very skilled at it, as you’ve no doubt done it many times before. And I know you’re enough of a gentleman not to peek over my shoulder.”
Rod in fact fumbled with the clasps. True, he could undo Melissa’s—or Audrey’s or Julia’s—bra with a few fingers of one hand, but this was an altogether different proposition.
When the job was finally done, Isabel again made a curious little shake of her torso and slipped the bra off, throwing it away to join the blouse. Striving as much as he could not to look at the topless woman, he couldn’t help noticing the surprisingly robust curve of one breast as he glanced at it from the side.
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