Forty-Eight Hillside Avenue

I should have stopped when I saw that Mrs. Wallenford's bedroom shade was still closed and the morning paper remained on the front porch but I was late for work so I kept on driving. When I came home from work at the end of the day and saw that the mail was in the mailbox and the paper was still on the porch, I knew something was wrong.

I pulled the car to a stop in front of the Wallenford house and ran up the front steps, grabbing the paper and mail on my way. I had a key to the door and so I let myself in.

"Mrs. Wallenford?" I called out as I tossed the mail and newspaper on the hallway table but I got no reply.

I quickly rushed through the downstairs of the house and then flew up the stairs to the master bedroom which was dark, the shades still closed. I turned on the light and my heart leapt when I saw that Mrs. Wallenford was lying flat on her back on the floor, dressed in her nightgown and a robe. I saw that her eyes were open and that she was staring at me, trying to say something but her words were garbled and I couldn't understand what she was saying.

I grabbed the phone on the nightstand and called 911, requesting an ambulance be sent to 48 Hillside Avenue. I took the pillow from her bed and put it under her head to try to make her more comfortable.

"Just hang on, Mrs. Wallenford," I said. "Help is on the way."

"Ihask," she tried to say.

"Shh," I said, brushing her graying blonde hair from her face. "Don't try to talk."

"Clmdaaaa," she said.

"Stay calm," I said. "It won't be long."

"Ihasr…." She said weakly.

"It's going to be okay," I assured her. "Just hang tough."

"Idowatoblit….." She mumbled.

I heard the siren in the distance.

"I'll go show them the way," I said. "I'll be right back."

I raced down the stairs and out the front door, flagging down the ambulance as it rounded the corner and came to a stop behind my car at the curb.

"I think she had a stroke," I called out to the two paramedics who jumped out of the cab.

"How long ago?" One asked quickly.

"Not sure," I admitted. "Maybe early this morning or late last night, I'm guessing."

They retrieved a stretcher from the back of the ambulance and hurried up the front walk.

"Up the stairs, first door on the right," I instructed.

I followed the two guys dressed in blue uniforms up the stairs. They immediately went to work on poor Mrs. Wallenford who was trying to mumble out words while I glanced around for her purse which I found on top of the dresser.

"I'm sure all her medical information is in here," I said as the two emergency medical technicians took Mrs. Wallenford's vital signs and performed other checks while inserting an IV into her arm.

One of the paramedics took the purse from me. "Are you family?" He asked.

"No, the neighbor," I replied. "She has a daughter outside of Chicago."

"Will you call her?" The other guy asked.

"Rtno," Mrs. Wallenford said.

"Yes," I said, knowing it was going to be one of the hardest calls of my life. "Don't worry, Mrs. Wallenford," I said. "I'm sure Barb will be here as soon as she can."

"Hr….." She started to say but one of the paramedics cut her off.

"Don't try to speak, Ma'am," he said. "Just stay still and quiet."

When they finished working on her, they got her onto the stretcher and wheeled her from the room.

"I'll be there in a few minutes, Mrs. Wallenford!" I called after her. "Don't worry about anything."

I went into what used to be Barb's bedroom in the front of the house and stared out the window, watching as the two attendants loaded Mrs. Wallenford into the ambulance and then the vehicle quickly sped off. I sighed and went back into Mrs. Wallenford's room, sitting on the unmade bed and picking up the phone. I saw the list of names and numbers by the phone, including "Barbie's cell" and I dialed that number, my heart beating in my chest.

"Hello, Mom!"

I heard Barb's voice and I realized she had caller ID on the phone.

"Barb, it's Elliot Issotti," I sighed.

There was a brief pause, and then a realization. "What's wrong?"

"Your mom had a stroke," I informed her in an official business like tone.

"Oh, Elliot." I heard her voice fall.

"I'm sorry."

"How bad?"

"Not sure yet," I said. "She's on her way to the hospital now. I'll head over there as soon as I hang up."

"Oh, God," I heard Barb sigh. "Poor mom."

I felt terrible, of course, but there wasn't much I could do except act as the messenger. I gave Barb my cell phone number and when I was done with the call I entered her cell number into my phone. I sighed as I stood and left the master bedroom. I stepped down the hall and glanced into Gary's old room, my one time best friend dead nearly seven years now. The room was cluttered with boxes and other junk, but some of his childhood was still in the room, including old little league photographs and trophies, posters of the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox on the wall, his familiar old desk and book shelf, and a Star Wars bedspread on the bed.

I crossed the hall and stuck my head back into Barb's old room which was still painted pink and somehow still smelled of her all these years later. I saw the photo of her, me and Gary taken at the Elk's Picnic still hanging on the wall. I bit my lip before I let out a long sigh and hurried from the house, closing and locking the door behind me.

###

I spent a couple of hours in the Blue County Medical Center Emergency Room waiting for a prognosis on Mrs. Wallenford but because I wasn't immediate family, I wasn't privy to her condition due to health care privacy regulations. The doctors allowed me to sit in the ER Cubical with Mrs. Wallenford while they continued to run tests and prepare to admit her to a room on the general ward floor. The left side of her body was paralyzed, she couldn't speak well, and she was having difficulty swallowing.

The Doctor said the delay in getting her to the hospital following her being stricken would likely negatively affect her ability to recover and I felt guilty that I hadn't gone into the house that morning when I saw that the shade was still shut. Mrs. Wallenford was always up before I left for work and I should have known something was wrong when I didn't see the shade up.

It was nearly nine that evening by the time they transferred Mrs. Wallenford to a room, shared by an older woman recovering from hip surgery. Once Mrs. Wallenford was settled in she promptly fell asleep and I remained in the chair in her room, soon falling asleep myself. I heard the nurses come in a few times, the hip patient in the next bed moan and groan periodically, and the beeping of Mrs. Wallenford's machine by her bed, but I managed to get some sleep in.

"Elliott?"

I opened my eyes and for a moment I thought it was a dream because standing in front of me was Barb Boucher (Nee Wallenford), appearing almost as if she were a vision.

"You stayed here all night?" She asked with surprise.

"Well, I didn't want her to be alone," I said.

I stood and gave Barb a much needed hug and she clung to me as if I was the Savior.

"How is she?" Barb sighed once she broke the embrace, glancing at her mother sleeping in the bed.

I took Barb's hand in mine. "Not much change since we last talked," I sighed. "Paralysis on the left side. Speech and swallowing affected."

"This is so unfair," Barb sighed. "She was in such great shape. Walking every day. Swimming at the Y. Good weight. Low blood pressure. I don't get it."

"I guess you just never know," I said with a shrug. "She definitely didn't deserve this," I agreed.

Barb stepped over to the bed and kissed her mom on the forehead, brushing her hair back. "Hi Mommy," she said.

Mrs. Wallenford opened her eyes and forced a smile as tears formed in her eyes. "Brby"

"Yes, Mom, I'm here," Barb said, sucking in her breath as tears rolled down her cheeks too.

I stepped out of the room to give the two women their privacy. About ten minutes later, a red eyed Barb came out of the room and gave me another hug as we stood in the hall.

"You came alone?" I asked after the hug that seemed to go on forever.

"Yeah," she said, wiping a tear from her eye. "Jacque's got a full agenda and I didn't want to disrupt the kids' schedule so I just grabbed the first flight I could. My work schedule is pretty flexible."

I nodded with understanding. "You're staying at the house, right?"

"When I'm not here," she said, sucking in her breath. "My God, the last time I was in this place was when Daddy died."

"That's been a while now," I said.

"Ten years ago last month," she sighed. "Seems like yesterday. Now this."

I could tell she was emotionally wiped out by the unexpected illness of her mother so I gave her another hug.

"It's going to be okay," I assured her.

"You sure?" She asked, her voice breaking.

She still looked great, even at forty-seven. She wore her blonde hair cropped to the collar now, but it was still wavy and silky. She had maintained her figure and while there were crows feet by her eyes, her facial skin was still baby soft and smooth.

"You're just going to have to take it one day at time," I told her.

"I'm the only one left, Elliott," she sighed. "I can't lose her now."

"I know," I said, kissing her on the cheek. "Don't worry, she'll get better."

"You should go," she said. "You have to work, right?"

"Yeah, but call me anytime, it doesn't matter," I said. "I want to be here for you."

"You always have been," she replied, hugging me one more time before I turned and left her to be with her mom.

###

I felt sad as I drove home to shower and change for work. The neighborhood suddenly felt forgotten and empty as I drove down Hillside Avenue toward my house. I loved this street and this neighborhood which was one of the reasons why I bought my parents' house when they decided to retire and move to Florida.

Franny my (now ex) wife wasn't thrilled about selling our house on the other side of town and moving into my childhood home but for me it was a dream come true. I was back in the familiarity of my youth and back next door to the Wallenfords even though Barb was long gone by then, married with her own family in the mid-west.

I'm not sure why it was so important for me to move back 'home' and it certainly did little to help my marriage but the kids adjusted well to the change, happy to be in Grammie and Grampie's house. Franny didn't like competing with the ghosts of the past, however, and by the time the kids were out of the house she decided to go with them, leaving me alone in my childhood home which was too big for one person but I made the best of it, content with the memories of the past while I lived in the present.

I thought Hillside Avenue was the perfect place to grow up and I wanted my kids to grow up there too even though the neighborhood had changed over the years with some of the families I knew moving away and new ones arriving. My parents were about fifteen years older than the Wallenfords and they bought our house in the 1950s. My Dad was a plumber and he started Issotti Plumbing around that time. My oldest brother John was born a few years before the newlywed Wallenfords moved into their house next door.

The Wallenford's house at 48 Hillside Avenue was about ten years newer than ours and they kept it in good shape. It had bay windows in the dining and living rooms facing the street and some neat features like oval doorway arches, built in hutches and bookcases, and a modern kitchen. There was a year round side porch than doubled as the family room, a large kitchen with a built in eating area, and a small study with a bathroom on the first floor and three bedrooms and a large bath upstairs. The cellar was redone with a neat family room hang out place with a bar, fireplace, and pool table and I spent half my teenaged years down there. Mrs. Wallenford kept the house neat, clean and she was always making changes and updates to the place.

Our house was similar in layout to the Wallenfords (both houses were built by the same guy) but ours never felt as fancy as the Wallenford house. My mother worked and didn't spend as much time on interior decorating like Mrs. Wallenford. My parents never really modernized the kitchen and because there were three sons the house always had a lived in messy feel to it. My father built a workshop off the garage and stored some of his plumbing supplies on the side of the garage so the yard had a cluttered look to it sometimes. The cellar was a make-shift hang out place but it wasn't as fancy as the Wallenford's either.

My brother John was seven years older than me and my brother Ted was born two years before me and a year before Gary Wallenford next door. Barb and I were both born the following year and I was friends with both Gary and Barb, although Gary also hung out with Ted a lot.

There was a large group of neighborhood kids growing up – The Smithsons with four kids, the Murrays with three, the Jacksons with five, the Olsens with six, the Benards with four, the Edmonds with three, the Clarks with six (including twins!), the Lizzottes with three, and the Fitzgeralds with five so there was never a shortage of kids of varying degrees in ages to hangout and play with.

The elementary school with the playground, ball fields and open area was down the street and around the corner. The woods along the Blue River was only a few blocks away. Downtown Hillsboro was a bike ride away. The neat Beano Field was only a half mile away. There was always something to do and kids to hang out with. There were whiffle ball games, 1-2-3 Redlight, Tag, Hide-n-Seek and other games being played in someone's yard every night in the summer. We'd play baseball and football at the school fields. We'd swing on the swings and shoot the breeze. Everybody knew everybody and for the most part we got along well.

Because the Wallenfords lived next door, of all the neighborhood kids I was closest to them physically, spiritually and emotionally. Gary Wallenford was my friend and Ted's friend so we hung out as a trio and sometimes Barb would tag along too. If Ted and Gary didn't want me around, I would hang out with Barb on my own when she wasn't with the other girls in the neighborhood. Sometimes a group of us would take the bus to Greenville for a movie or shopping or we we'd walk to Beano Field to take in a summer ball game. We'd ride our bikes to Red's Tastee Freeze for an ice cream or to Johnny C's Diner for a malt and fries. Sometimes Barb and I would do that sort of stuff alone and I never complained about that!

Barb Wallenford was pretty, popular, friendly, fun, nice, and I was thrilled to have her as a friend. I liked her more than most girls but I decided early on that I wasn't going to wreck things by trying to put the moves on her. I think she had a similar attitude so we never worried about the whole boyfriend-girlfriend dating/sex thing and just enjoyed each other's company, playing Monopoly or Life on rainy days, watching movies in her cellar, and going to parties together.

Although we both dated other people in high school, we always went to each other for the big stuff. She was my partner for high school graduation and we spent a lot of time together that summer before college took us in different directions and changed our lives forever.

I stayed in the area and went to Green College while Barb went off to Notre Dame University. We'd see each other during the holidays and the summers for the first few years but then she stopped coming home so much. She met this guy Jacques and it seemed pretty serious. She married him a few years after graduating from college and they moved to Chicago where he had some big deal job.

I married Franny whom I met in college the next year and we bought a small home in Hillsboro. I got a job as a teacher at my alma mater Hillsboro High while Franny worked as nurse when she wasn't taking time out to give birth to our kids, Ellen and Bobby. My brother John took over our father's plumbing business and I bought their house eight years into our marriage. I'd see Barb on occasion when she came home for a visit – she had two kids of her own (Leonard and Marie).

Mr. Wallenford, who was an insurance guy, got cancer and passed away after a two year battle, leaving poor Mrs. Wallingford a widow at a relatively young age. Barb was very close to her Dad and she took the death pretty hard. She came home every few months to spend extra time with him during his illness and it was nice to see her although not under those circumstances.

Gary was a Hillsboro cop and a member of the National Guard. We stayed friends since we both remained in the area. He married and later divorced and married again, having three kids – two in the first marriage and another one with his second wife.

Gary went to Iraq and Afghanistan with the National Guard on two separate tours even though by then he was in his late thirties. It was on his second tour that he was killed by a road side bomb and his death devastated both his mother and his sister. The funeral was hard on all of us and the loss of our good friend was tough on both Ted and me. Ted had gotten a good job in California and wasn't home much anymore, especially with our parents retired to Florida but he came home for Gary's funeral and my parents came up from Florida for it too.

Barb and I were basket cases together, grieving Gary's death in a unique way that neither her husband Jacques or my wife Franny could really appreciate or understand. Jacques was a nice enough guy but a bit of a stuffed shirt and he really didn't relate to Barb's small town roots or family bonds and I didn't understand what she saw in the guy in the first place.

Franny never warmed up to Barb, insisting that we had an affair in the past and that I had always loved her. I said of course I loved her but in a platonic way and there was never any sex between us but I don't think Franny ever really accepted that truth.

I suffered through a bit of a depression after Gary died. I was burned out as a teacher and I was grieving the loss of Gary and in many ways my childhood. Teaching teenagers continuously reminded me of my own teenaged years and that made me think of Gary and Barb Wallenford more often than not.

Franny had enough of all of it and with Ellen in college and Bobby joining the military, we divorced five years after Gary was killed. Franny was in another relationship within months and she remarried last year. Ellen splits time between me and her mother when she's home but Bobby rarely makes a return. I got a new job at a small charter school in Greenville which gave me a fresh new start.

The one consistent through it all was Mrs. Wallenford. She was my surrogate mother in many ways with my own Mom in Florida for nearly fifteen years. Not only was she Gary and Barb's mom but she was also my neighbor and my friend, especially after her husband died. After Gary was killed, I made sure to help out Mrs. Wallenford whenever I could, mowing the lawn and snow blowing the driveway and walk and doing other helpful chores when called upon.

Franny would complain because she said it took away from my own responsibilities at home and she became even more resentful about the entire situation, living in a house she claimed she never liked and having to exist "in the shadows of the Wallenford's" as she put it.

Barb came home every three or four months, sometimes with her daughter and or son but rarely with her husband. It seemed like old times whenever Barb was in town. We'd have backyard gatherings and take in games at Beano Field. Franny was sociable and personable enough but there was always this underlying tension and resentment and I was actually relieved when Franny moved out and I didn't have to feel so guilty helping out Mrs. Wallenford or visiting with Barb when she came home.

That probably sounds crass but it was the truth.

###

Mrs. Wallenford spent four days at Blue County Medical Center. I'd stop by every day after work to find Barb sitting dutifully by her mother's side. Gary's widow stopped by on occasion but there weren't many other visitors and Barb rarely left the hospital. I'd take her to the hospital cafeteria for supper or to the pizza joint up the street.

I'd see the lights go on at the Wallenford place around midnight each night and I'd know Barb was home but she was usually out the door when I was leaving for work in the morning.

Mrs. Wallenford made some improvement with her speech but she remained paralyzed on the left side and she was going to have to transfer to an intensive rehabilitation center for therapy. Barb put on a good front but I could tell she was extremely upset about her mother's illness.

"I can't lose her, Elliott," she told me with desperation in her voice. "I just can't."

Barb and I talked about more stuff in those four days her mom was in the hospital than we had in years. Sometimes when she came home, Barb would knock on my door and I'd pour her a drink and we'd talk for a while. We also talked over dinner each night at the hospital.

"How you holding up?" I asked her on the third night.

"I'm a wreck," she admitted. "But I've got to be strong for Mom."

It felt like we were fifteen again. Talking about real and personal stuff, unafraid to share our secrets with one another. She talked about her 'status quo' marriage and I talked about the failure of my marriage. We talked proudly about our kids and of course about Barb's mom. We also reminisced about our childhoods, our shared experiences and our perspectives on the good old days. It was great being with Barb again. It seemed like old times even thought we were in our middle forties living separate lives in different parts of the country.

I apologized to Barb for not checking on her mom that first morning, feeling guilty that I was responsible for her condition.

"Don't beat yourself up, Elliott," Barb told me. "How do you think I feel living so far away from her?"

Mrs. Wallenford was transferred to an intensive rehabilitation center located about thirty-five miles from Hillsboro. Barb stayed a few more days and then returned home. I made the trek to see Mrs. Wallenford every other day and on the weekends. Barb called her five times a day and me almost as much (it seemed).

Barb hoped to place her mom in a nursing facility closer to her mid-western home home with the eventual plan of moving her mom into her house once some physical modifications were made and Mrs. Wallenford was ready to make the change.

Barb returned to Hillsboro with her daughter Marie three weeks later. It was early June now and I was almost done with school for the summer. Barb reported that Mrs. Wallenford had made some improvements and the rehab place and she was getting ready to transfer her to the next step in the recovery process. When they weren't visiting Mrs. Wallenford at the rehab facility, Barb and her daughter were at the house boxing up personal affects they were going to have shipped to Chicago, including some of the furniture. I agreed to get rid of the rest of the stuff for them after they were gone.

It was a melancholy experience for both Barb and I whenever we were in the house together packing up years of memories and treasures.

"This was my life," Barb sighed on one occasion when we found some trinkets from a trip to Summer Beach eons ago. "Where did it go?"

Barb got teary eyed whenever we came across something that had belonged or came from her Dad or her brother. Going into Gary's room after so many years was especially difficult and because Barb couldn't decide what to keep and what to get rid of, we left the task to Marie who was a better neutral arbitrator.

I was struck by how much Marie looked like her Mom and how similar their personalities were too. I enjoyed her company and if Marie had any concerns about what kind of relationship I had with her mom, she didn't let on.

Barb found some photo albums in one of the chests and we sat on the couch going through them. They went all the way back to when Mrs. Wallenford was a little girl and Barb got misty eyed as we travelled through the years in photographs. Her dad as a young man, her parents a newlyweds, the birth of both Gary and Barb, and then all those great years growing on Hillside Street with dozens of photographs of birthday parties, vacations, holidays and other family events.

Ted and I made it into many of the shots. Sitting on our bikes in the Wallenford driveway. Playing in the back yard. Having a cookout on the Wallenford picnic table. The time both families went to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park together. A day trip to Sun Rise Lake Beach. Taking in a ball game at Beano Field.

Neither of us said anything as we silently viewed the memories stopped in time and caught on film. Then it was Gary's high school graduation followed by Barb's graduation, then the college years, and Gary's first wedding and then Barb's wedding and the birth of her children.

We turned the page and we both paused with equal embarrassment at the photos before us. It was Barb in her early thirties, naked in the tub with baby Marie. I saw her breasts in one shot, a hint of her privates in another, and a clear shot of her lovely fanny as she lay on her stomach with her buns sticking out of the suds.

"Oops, didn't know those were in there," Barb giggled.

"Sorry about that," I said, feeling slightly awkward, glancing away so she wouldn't think I was perv.

"I wish my body still looked like that!" Barb laughed as she gave the photos a glance over.

I returned my attention to the photos for a moment. "I'm sure it does," I observed.

She punched me on the arm and we both laughed before she flicked to the next page.

By the time Mrs. Wallenford was ready to be transferred, Barb and Marie had packed up and labeled everything they wanted to be brought to Illinois. On the morning of their departure, I joined Barb and Marie in the Wallenford house for one last nostalgic walk through the rooms.

"God, I loved growing up here," Barb said, wiping a tear from her eye.

"Me too," I said.

Even after Barb and Marie were gone, back to Chicago with Mrs. Wallenford with them, I would use my key and let myself into the Wallenford house just to sit among the packed boxes and other belongings remembering the times long ago happily spent within these walls and with the wonderful family. Now two of them were dead, one was a stroke victim, and one was about to walk out of my life again, this time forever. There would be no reason for Barbara Marie Wallenford-Bouchard to return to Hillsboro once she sold the family home.

I saw the box labeled 'photo albums' and I broke the seal and dug out the album with the baby photos, admiring the young mom Barbara, smiling at the camera (Jacques must have been the one taking the photos) naked and sexy in the sudsy water with baby Marie.

I took the one that revealed her tush for my own memories and resealed the box.

Barb's son Leonard showed up a few weeks later in a U-Haul truck with his girlfriend, Gail. I helped them load up the stuff Barb and Marie had destined for Chicago – a few dozen boxes, a couple of hope chests, an antique dresser, the flat screened television, a microwave, a bed, the fancy sofa from the living room, a sewing machine, some art work, the patio furniture, a desk, a couple of lamps, and various odds and ends. Everything that remained I was to tag sale off, haul off to the Salvation Army, or sold privately.

Leonard and Gail spent the night and then were off in the morning, back for Illinois. I walked through the house feeling sadder that ever seeing it stripped of its soul. I held three tag sales over the next six weeks and sold off most of the nicer and more desirable stuff. I dragged some boxes of less appealing junk to the Salvation Army and placed ads in the paper for some of the furniture. I sold some of it off to Green College students and other young people with apartments in need for furniture. I made several trips to the dump hauling away junk that wasn't worth selling and it left me with a sad feeling as I tossed pieces of the Wallenford's life into trash pins.

I kept the lawn mowed and I did a few fix up projects around the Wallenford house to help with the sale. By the end of the summer, the house was just about empty. I managed to sell the pool table in the cellar to a guy down the street, and the snow blower to another neighbor. I bought the riding lawn mower and took a few other sentimental belongs from the house that reminded me of my times growing up there.

By the time Barb returned to Hillsboro at the beginning of October to sign the house over to a lawyer to be sold in her absence, about the only thing left in the house was the queen size bed in Barb's old bedroom and the appliances (which would be included with the house sale). I'm not sure why I couldn't bring myself to sell Barb's old bed. Maybe it was my way of holding on to something from the past that represented Barb for as long as I could.

I saw Barb's knee's buckle as she walked through the house one more time. She roamed from empty room to empty room, sucking the air and seeming to memorize every square inch into her mind's eye.

She stopped short in the doorway of her parents' bedroom and again when we reached Gary's room. Then, after collecting herself she stepped into her old bedroom and laughed when she saw her bed still there, neatly made up as if it was waiting for her.

"Why is my bed still here, Elliott?" She teased.

I shrugged innocently. It never occurred to me as she might take it as symbolic of something deeper.

"You know," she said as she stepped into the room and glanced out the window to check out Hillside Avenue one more time. "I could never duplicate this anywhere else in my life."

"Me either," I said, standing in the doorway watching her look out the window. "When I first left for college, all I wanted to do was quit and come home," she told me. "Back here. To where I was safe and everything was familiar and my mother would cook me wonderful meals of love and my father would hold me tight."

She turned and looked at me. "When I married Jacques, I thought we'd have all this and more. A house and home that represented family and love and togetherness in a neighborhood that would be friendly for our children and would make us so very happy and contented."

"I don't think we could duplicate what we had here anywhere else," I sighed.

"That's what I learned," Barb said heavily. "Jacques wasn't my father and no matter how hard I tried to be my mother, I wasn't her either. The kids did fine but they had no frame of reference so it didn't matter to them. They had friends and the neighborhood was nice enough and that was good enough."

"I thought buying my parents' house would be the ultimate satisfaction," I said.

She stepped to the bed and sat on it. "It wasn't?"

"Franny never wanted to move here but I kind of forced her," I said. "I tried to capture the magic we had growing up here in a new bottle but life just doesn't work that way." I smiled and stepped toward her. "But I have no regrets."

"Even though Franny left you?"

"She would have left me eventually anyway," I theorized.

I sat next to her on the bed and Barb leaned in and kissed me on the cheek. I could feel her smallish breasts rubbing against my arm and I found myself flashing back to our younger years, back when we were teens with our hormones running amok and all the times we teased each other and 'almost' did something we wanted to do but knew we couldn't. I never lost the crush I had on her. Franny was right - I always seemed to be a little google-eyed when Barb was around.

"So, I was going through my mother's photo albums when they arrived out there," Barb commented with interest. "Finding a new place to keep them. I noticed that there was an empty photo holder in one of the albums."

"Must have fallen out," I reasoned.

"I hope not because I'd hate for a bare-assed photo of me to fall in just anybody's possession," she grinned.

"Yeah, that would be embarrassing," I agreed with a smirk.
But I couldn't help but feel a dejected sense of emptiness. I don't think I had ever felt so lonely before, even after Franny left me.

"Why did you take the photo, Elliott?" Barb asked with interest.

"Sorry," I said sheepishly. "I didn't think you'd notice."

"I'm flattered you took it," she assured me. "But why?"
"I think you look lovely," I said, letting my eyes caress her body. "I wanted something to remember you by. In that way."

"I don't look like that anymore, Elliott," she said. "We're forty-seven now," She reminded me.
"Well, I think you look great," I assured her.

"Thank you," she murmured, staring into my eyes as we sat together on the bed.
"It was always cozy in here," I remarked, looking around the room.
"I loved it here," she smiled, pulling her long legs up under her.
"You know that I've had a crush on you ever since I can remember," I told her, taking her hand in mine.
"Of course," she revealed, resting her hand on my thigh. "So did I."

"You did?" I asked with surprise.
"Yes," she said softly. "Why do you think I was always hanging around you when we were teenagers?"

"Because we were friends," I answered dumbly.
"Yes, we were friends," she agreed, looking deep into my eyes as if she was searching for something undiscovered.
"I thought it was just a schoolboy infatuation puppy love crush and affectionate fantasy," I confessed. "But when we both moved on to college, it didn't go away," I admitted, sliding my arm around her waist. "Even now, I still think of you."
"Oh boy," she sighed, bring her hand up to her chest. "This is all so wrong, you know that Elliott."

"Yes, I do," I sighed with guilt.

"I'm married."

"I know, but all I'm asking is a chance to show you how much I love and adore you!" I said. "To say finally say goodbye the way I wish we could have said hello all those years ago."
With that said, I gently pulled her close and gave her the softest of kisses, holding my lips lightly pressed against hers for the longest time.
"Oh Elliott," she sighed as our lips finally parted, her breath coming in a gasp as she melted into me, letting me pull her even closer.
"Oh, Barbie," I whispered back. "I wish we could go back."
"Me too," she smiled.
I leaned in and nibbled my lips up the arch of her neck before I lifted her up into my lap with her back pressed against my chest.
"Wow, Elliott!" She exclaimed, pressing herself against me and feeling the hard impatience of my manhood dig into her butt buns.
"I'm going to miss you all over again," I whispered into her ear as I gently cupped her breasts from behind with my hands.
We sat there for the longest time, sharing the intimacy of the moment. Then I allowed my fingers to find the top button of the row of buttons running down the front of her blouse and she let me delicately work my way down, unbuttoning each button one by one. Finally, when there were no more left to unbutton, I lifted my hands to her shoulders and lazily pushed her blouse down off the slope of her shoulders.

Barb dropped her arms and let the blouse slide down the rest of the way, revealing her bra which I easily unhooked and watched as it felt from her breasts, leaving her topless except for an attractive silver necklace with a cross on it. My hands moved around to her front again to feel her smallish breasts, cupping them and fondling them as I gently plucked at her rock-hard nipples.

"Oh, Barb, finally," I marveled as she dropped her head back against my shoulder, her sweet smelling hair tickling my face.

She lifted her head up and I leaned in to plant insistent kisses on her lips. The kissing went on for several long moments until she began to slowly turn in my arms to face me. Our eyes met and they bored into the other's soul until she pulled my lips to hers as my hand made its way to the waistband of her skirt which I unfastened. She shimmed if off her legs and down her hips and all that was left were her yellow panties. Easing my fingertips down under the waistband of her panties onto the swell of her surprisingly firm butt, I delicately squeezed and fondled her buns while pulling her against the swell of my manhood that bulged inside my pants.

Barb seemed to swoon as she pushed herself against me, kissing me deeply and passionately.
"You're so beautiful," I murmured, looking down at her.
"Let me see you..." she whispered, dropping her hand to the lump thrusting out against the front of my pants.
I quickly and willingly unfastened my pants and pushed them down my thighs. Then, as she pulled away and watched, I hooked my thumbs under the waistband of my shorts and I slowly pushed them down my legs, freeing my penis that sprang out into the open, hard and stiff.
"Oh," she murmured, staring at its obvious impatience as it rose up and out.
I watched with eager anticipation as her hand explored my twitching cock, curling her fingers around it and giving it a soft squeeze. "I always wanted to do this."
I was speechless as I gawked at her hand moving over my erection, clutching and fondling it as she went. Then her hand dropped off of it and went to her yellow panties. Slowly and teasingly, Barb pushed the panties down over the swell of her hips as I anxiously waited to see the hidden secret that lay between her long, shapely legs as the panties finally cleared her pussy, leaving it naked and exposed.
"Oh, Barbie," I practically sobbed.
She kept pushing her panties down her thighs until they were off over her feet and then she hooked them with a toe and kicked them into the air. They arced up and then went fluttering to the floor and we both giggled.

"I want you," I whispered before I pushed her back on the bed.

"I wish I still looked the way I did in that photo," she sighed.

"You look wonderful," I assured her, rolling her over on her stomach and kissing her buns that still looked they way they did in the bath that day.
"Make love to me," she pleaded as she rolled back over onto her back. "Finally."

###

It was dark in the empty house. We lay naked under the covers of Barb's teenaged bed having made love as if we were teenagers again. We both knew it was our last goodbye. The house would soon be sold, Barb would be back in Chicago with her husband and ailing mother, and I would be left alone on Hillside Avenue with nothing left but my memories.

"Forty-eight Hillside Avenue will always be the Wallenford house to me," I promised her.

"And my heart will always be here with you," she assured me, kissing me on the chin.

"I guess we came full circle," I realized.

"I guess we did," she concurred.

"Better late than never," I said.

"Definitely," she agreed.

"I'll miss you," I said, kissing her on the forehead.

"I'll miss this," she said, her voice breaking.