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It’s odd how you tell one car from another just by sound, but I knew it was Aunt Em when I heard the car pull into the driveway. She’s not actually my aunt. She and Mom were college roommates and have been joined-at-the-hip best friends ever since. Her parents stuck her with the name Frances Marie. Everyone calls her Marie except Mom, who calls her Frankie. I couldn’t say Aunt Frankie or Aunt Marie when I was young so she was always Aunt Em to me until recently. Now I call her Frankie, the way Mom does.
She has her own key, so there was no reason for me to wait at the door for her but I like watching her. Tall for a woman at 5’11”. Slender, but still a woman’s body, well toned from running and swimming, both of which she did at least 4 times a week. Fair complexion, grey eyes, light brown hair, just past shoulder length, often in a pony tail or french roll. Firm, medium sized breasts that, even at 41, need little support. She’s attractive, pleasant looking rather than pretty, and has the calmest, most wonderful personality. When she smiles it lights up her face and the world around her.
My Mom, Carol, is a startling contrast when you see the two of them together. Mom has black eyes and a dusky complexion, her black hair cut to just below her ears. Mom’s not short at 5’6″, but that 5″ difference looks like more when they stand side by side. And she’s not as slender as Frankie. She’s not an ounce overweight but she has more of an hourglass figure, with larger breasts. Mom’s prettier than Frankie, until Frankie smiles anyway. I think Mom’s stunning, but she’s my Mom. I would think that.
After Frankie’s husband, Mike, died from cancer, almost 3 years ago now, she spent a lot of time at our house. It was somewhere to come when she needed someone to talk to, or when she just wanted company, or someone to hold her while she cried. As often as not, that someone was me, since that was about the same time as my folks were getting a divorce, and it was a hard time for my Mom as well.
The divorce was messy and many times I also held my Mom while she cried. Mom and Frankie eventually got through the rough times, and they are still their own mutual support group. Just like in college. About 9 months after Mike’s death, Frankie decided she couldn’t live in what had been their home for 15 years, so she rented it out and moved in with us for a while. She never left. No reason to. After all, she’s family.
When Frankie saw me waiting at the door, she smiled and hurried her pace a little coming up the walk. As she walked through the doorway, she gave me a peck on the cheek. I closed the door behind her, sliding an arm around her waist as I did, then pulled her against me as I tipped my head down to kiss her.
Frankie’s mouth opened under mine with a soft sigh as her arms went around me. I caressed her back, then slid my hands down to the small of her back, pressing her groin tightly against mine, causing her to moan softly. When the kiss ended, I moved my arms up to hug her tightly, then slid my hands back down to her waist as she lay her head on my shoulder. We stood like that for a few moments, not speaking.
“Where’s Carol?” Frankie asked, leaning back to look up at me, without moving out of my arms.
“She called and said she had to stop at the market. She’ll be here in a few minutes.”
“Oh, well,” she said, laying her head back on my shoulder and giving me a hug, “I guess we’ll have to wait.”
“Just as well,” I replied, “I just got back from running and I need a shower.”
“Why? You’re just going to get sweaty again later,” Frankie teased.
“And it’ll be a lot more fun.” I said. “Or you could come shower with me now.”
“And have Carol walk in on us?”
“That’d be cozy,” I said, “my shower’s too small for 3 people.”
Frankie chuckled as she poked me in the ribs.
“Go,” she said. “Get thyself clean.”
About 15 minutes later, wearing just a pair of cutoff sweat pants, I walked down the stairs and into the den. Mom and Frankie had opened a bottle of wine and were sitting on together on the sofa, turned slightly to face each other, laughing about something.
I walked up behind the sofa and put my hands on Mom’s shoulders, squeezing them gently.
“Hi, Mom,” I said, as I leaned over to kiss her cheek.
“Hi, honey,” she replied, snaking her right hand up and around my head to hold me there as she turned her head, then pulled me down so she could kiss me. Her lips parted as I probed with my tongue, then she opened her mouth to mine as I pressed it firmly against hers. My left hand slid down, under the neckline of her blouse and inside her bra to cup her right breast, squeezing it gently as my palm caressed her nipple.
Frankie slid off the sofa to kneel in front of Mom and slid her hands under Mom’s skirt. Mom slid forward on the sofa so her bottom was at the edge, then lifted her hips so Frankie could pull her panties off, then spread her knees as Frankie began kissing up the inside of Mom’s canlı bahis thigh until her face was buried between Mom’s legs. Mom was moving her hips to match the strokes of Frankie’s tongue, as Frankie quickly brought her to climax.
When her breathing was under control, Mom said “I guess we have 2 choices. We can go upstairs and get in bed so we can do this more comfortably, or we can have supper.”
“I thought you said there were 2 choices,” Frankie said. We went upstairs.
* * *
Three years ago
I answered my cell phone on the first ring. I’d left the library and was getting in my car when I realized I’d forgotten to turn the ringer back on. I’d just done that when it rang, startling me. When I looked at caller ID, a chill of premonition ran up my back. Mom never calls me in the middle of the afternoon.
“Hi, honey. I need a really big favor.” Another chill.
“Yes. The hospital called just a couple of minutes ago. They don’t expect him to make it through the night.”
Mike is Aunt Em’s husband. About two years ago he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He’d already outlived the year and a bit that the doctors had told him he had left. Now it looked as if he’d finally run his race. This time when he went into the hospital, we all knew he wouldn’t be going home again. When she’s not at work or the hospital, Aunt Em has been spending most nights at our house. It’s a big place and we have two guest bedrooms with their own bathrooms, so the larger one just became Aunt Em’s room.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Frankie rode with me this morning. Can you come pick her up and take her to the hospital? Joyce is going to cover for us the rest of the day, but I need about an hour to get one project finished.”
“I’m in the parking lot, so . . . fifteen minutes? A tick less if I make all the lights.”
“Thanks, honey. See you in a bit.”
I made it in thirteen minutes. I hurried into the office. Jenny, the receptionist, just pointed at Aunt Em’s office. I found her sitting behind her desk, not moving, staring at her computer screen. I walked around her desk and put a hand on each arm, urging her to stand up. She did, turning to face me. I moved her chair to the side with my foot and pulled her to me, hugging her tightly as she buried her face in my shoulder and sobbed. I held her head against my shoulder with one hand while I gently stroked her back with the other.
Aunt Em lifted her head and looked at me.
“I thought I was ready,” she said. “We talked it out. He’s in so much pain. We knew it was time.” She paused, then buried her face in my shoulder again. “I thought I was ready.”
“Aunt Em,” I said softly, “you’d never be ready for this. You’ve been inseparable since before I was born. There’s no way you could get ready.”
Just then, Mom walked into Aunt Em’s office. She came over and hugged both of us, then stood up on tiptoe to kiss my cheek.
“Thanks, honey. You two go on. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Twenty minutes later we were in Mike’s hospital room. Gone was the tall, gentle giant I’d known when I was growing up. 6’5″ and down to less than 150 pounds. His face was drawn, but calm. A difficult feat considering how much pain we knew he was in. The pain meds barely took the edge off anymore, but he was maxed out. The government wouldn’t let the doctors prescribe larger or more frequent doses because Big Brother didn’t want him becoming an addict.
Aunt Em sat on the edge of his bed, holding his hand, stroking his forehead, crying silently, tears coursing down her cheeks. Mike looked at her and managed a smile, then turned to look at me.
“Hey, short stuff,” he rasped. He’d started calling me that about time I learned to walk. He and Aunt Em couldn’t have children but we couldn’t have been closer if he’d been my real father. I was still three inches shorter than he, but had a couple of more years to grow. Had he lived and had I ended up taller than him, I’d still been ‘short stuff.’
“Hi, Uncle Mike.”
“Looks like I’m going to miss your graduation,” he said. “I’d liked to have seen that.” It took him a while to get all of that out. It tied my stomach in knots, knowing how hard it was; how much effort it cost him.
I just nodded. I couldn’t say anything as my throat choked up and my eyes brimmed with tears.
Mom came in about half an hour later. She walked to the other side of the bed from Aunt Em and kissed Mike’s forehead. I stood beside her, my arm around her waist as we sort of supported each other.
Mike closed his eyes and seemed to doze off. A while later, he opened them and looked at Aunt Em.
“I’m ready,” he gasped, then looked at me and nodded.
I nodded back then when to find his doctor. Everything had been signed a while ago. All that was left was for Aunt Em to tell the doctor to turn off the life support. I asked the head floor nurse to call the doctor, then went back to Mike’s room. Mom was standing bahis siteleri behind Aunt Em, her hands on Aunt Em’s shoulders.
The doctor came into the room in less than ten minutes, two nurses trailing him. He took Mike’s vitals, then looked at Aunt Em, asking, “are you sure?”
Aunt Em, despair clear on her face, nodded, then said, “Yes. Please remove the life support.” The formalities having been observed, Aunt Em turned to Mom and sobbed into her shoulder as Mom’s arms went around her.
The doctor didn’t actually remove the equipment, except for the breathing tube. He just turned it off, then he and the nursed moved across the room to stand near the door, giving us as much privacy as they could.
About twenty minutes later, Mike opened his eyes and looked at Aunt Em. Aunt Em squeezed his hand and leaned close.
“It’s been a privilege loving you,” he rasped, struggling to speak. Then he closed his eyes for the last time. A few minutes later he died.
Mike’s funeral was a week later. Aunt Em spent that week at our house. Mom took as much time off as she could, but I spent most of every day with her. My high school graduation was still just over a month away, but I’d taken my finals early and was just marking time. I had to spend one hour a day at school to satisfy some rule about attendance, but other than that, there was nothing I had to do that was more important than being there when Aunt Em needed me.
After that, Aunt Em usually spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at our place, so she wouldn’t be alone on the weekends, and the other nights at her place. I spent 3 or 4 days a month at her place, usually on weekends, keeping the landscaping under control, and doing the other little chores that pile up when you own a house.
Aunt Em wasn’t sleeping well, and she hadn’t been since Mike’s death, so even when there wasn’t anything that needed doing around her house, I’d stop by every day after she got home from work to see if she needed anything. Usually we just sat and talked, ate dinner, then talked some more, or watched television or a movie. If we had wine, Aunt Em didn’t want me to drive, so I’d spend the night in the guest room. I knew she still wasn’t sleeping because I’d hear her tossing and turning, and sometimes I’d hear her crying.
Near the end of the summer, Aunt Em stopped spending every weekend with us, but Mom or I still stopped by her home every day, just to check on her. She still spent a couple of nights each week at our place. When I started school in the fall, I stopped by 2 or 3 times a week. If Mom wasn’t going to be home, I’d spend the evening with Aunt Em. I could study there just as well as I could at home, but that way neither of us was alone.
After dinner, if I didn’t have to study, Aunt Em usually would sit next to me on the sofa. We had fallen into that pattern when she was staying with us. She’d start to cry and Mom or I would comfort her. Since it was summer, and I hadn’t started college yet, most of the time I was the one who was there. At some point, Aunt Em sort of settled on me being the one to hold her when she needed holding.
Near the end of the fall quarter, Mom called to tell me she had a last minute meeting that was going to run late. She and Aunt Em had ridden to the office together in Mom’s car, and Mom asked if I’d stop by to pick Aunt Em up and take her home. I had Mom transfer me to Aunt Em to see if she wanted to go out for dinner.
We went to a small steakhouse frequented. As Eduardo, our waiter, walked away with our orders, I noticed that Aunt Em’s eyes were shining with unshed tears as she stared blindly, not looking at me, or anywhere for that matter. Just staring. She seemed fragile, as if she was holding herself together, but only barely. As if she was running out of the strength it took to do it.
“Do you want to leave?” I asked her.
She didn’t say anything for a moment, then blinked and looked at me, shaking her head. “I’ll be ok,” she said. “I was just remembering the last time Mike was here with us. It was your birthday. Being here with you just reminded me. That’s all.”
After dinner, I drove Aunt Em home. I parked in the driveway, gout out of the car and walked around to open her door and offered her my arm as we walked to the front door.
“It’s still early,” she said, her voice breaking, “could you stay a while?”
I slid one arm around her waist, and pulled her head into my shoulder with the other as she turned to face me.
“I was going to ask you if I could,” I said. “What I had in mind was some of that butter brickle ice-cream you have in the fridge, and it wouldn’t be polite to eat and run.”
“Liar,” she said, smiling at me weakly. “You were going to take care of me whether I asked or not.”
Busted. I didn’t say anything. Nothing to say.
“Weren’t you?” she said, punching me on the arm.
Aunt Em changed into one of those long tee shirts, the ones that reach just past mid-thigh, that some bahis şirketleri women wear as house dresses, and nightgowns, and bathrobes, and etc. Sort of the female equivalent of men and their tee shirts and sweat pants. After the ice cream and some coffee, I put a movie in the player and turned the TV on. We sat together on the couch watching it, Aunt Em’s head tipped sideways to rest on my shoulder.
A while later, around 9:00, I realized Aunt Em was staring at the television but wasn’t watching it, so I reached for the remote and snapped the TV off as I lifted my other arm to put it around her shoulder. With a long, soft moan that tore at my heart she buried her face in the hollow of my shoulder and started crying. Sobs wracked her. I put my other arm around her and hugged her as she cried.
Grief affects people differently. I think this was the first time she had really cried for Mike. There had been many small episodes, but Aunt Em kept her grief inside as well as she could when people were around. I’d heard her crying at night when I’d been here and when she stayed with us, but always when she was alone, and never for very long.
She cried for a long time. I just held her, occasionally caressing her hair, but mostly just holding her. I was proud that I was the one she chose to be with when she could no longer hold it inside. I was also ashamed of that pride. And, try as I might, and I really tried, I couldn’t completely ignore the fact that her warm, firm breasts were pressed against my chest and that it was making me hard.
A long time later, her crying slowed, then eventually stopped. When she stopped crying, she sat up, wiped her eyes and nose with tissue, kissed my cheek, turned her body until her back was toward me then lifted her legs onto the couch and lay back across me, her head now supported by my left arm as I held her the way you hold an infant. She pulled my right arm across her body, just below her breasts, turned her face into my chest as she slid her left arm around my waist, gave a deep sigh and was asleep almost immediately.
A while later I worked my cell phone out of my pocket and called Mom. Caller ID showed her who was calling.
“Hi, honey,” she said when she answered. “What’s up.?”
“Aunt Em’s asleep. Really asleep,” I said, keeping my voice low. “We went to dinner and were watching a movie. She started to cry, and she cried for a really long time, then just fell asleep.”
“Can you stay there with her tonight?” Mom asked.
“Right now I don’t have a choice. She’s lying in my lap. I’ll let her sleep for a while then wake her up so she can go to bed. Then I’ll come home.”
“Could you just stay? I’d really appreciate it. I don’t want her to be alone when she wakes up.”
“Sure, Mom. I’ll take care of her. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, honey. Thank you. It means a lot to me.”
About an hour later, Aunt Em stirred in her sleep, so I figured it was a good time to move. I slid out from under her and put a throw pillow under her head, then got a real pillow and the comforter from her bed to cover her. I swapped the throw pillow for the one from her bed and tucked the comforter around her. I grabbed another pillow and comforter from the guest room and stretched out on the floor near the couch. The carpet was a lot softer than some of the places I slept when I was camping as a kid, so it didn’t take me very long to fall asleep.
The next morning, I awoke before dawn, around 6:30. Aunt Em was still asleep. She’d been asleep almost nine hours, but when I checked on her she seemed to be okay. She was just sleeping. I went into the kitchen to make myself some coffee and breakfast. Just as I was finishing, I saw Mom pull into the driveway. She came in carrying my gym bag.
“Hi, honey,” she said, giving me a hug. “How’s Frankie?”
“Still asleep,” I said, “but I think she’s ok. I think it’s just that it’s been such a long time since she’s had any real sleep instead of just napping.”
“I brought you some clean underwear, sox, a couple of changes of clothes, a toothbrush and some other things,” Mom said, putting the bag on the table and heading toward Aunt Em’s bedroom.
“She’s still on the sofa,” I told her.
Mom tried to change direction in mid-stride and stumbled a little. Catching her balance, she looked at me with a small grin, then walked into the living room with me following her.
Mom adjusted the comforter around Aunt Em, and stroked her cheek. Aunt Em stirred, opened her eyes to look at Mom, smiled gently, then closed her eyes as was instantly asleep again.
Mom hugged me, kissed my cheek. “Thank you, sweetheart,” she whispered on my ear then took my hand and pulled me into the kitchen.
“Can you stay with her for a couple of days?” she asked as we sat down at the table. “I would, but things are kind of hectic at the office and I don’t think we can both be out at the same time right now.”
Mom paused, looking thoughtful, then continued, “Or when she wakes us, take her home with you. She can stay with us for as long as she wants, and that way you wouldn’t miss any classes.”
“I’d still have to stay with her,” I said. “Otherwise she’d be just as alone there as she is here.”
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