The Man In the Cell(ar)
Rob Webster had never heard of Blue County but that's where he was heading, riding the bus from Norfolk, Virginia just hours after his release from jail. He was broke, homeless, unemployed, and kicked out of the Navy and he had nowhere else to go but to the hometown of his former Navy shipmate, Rich Dye.
The retired Navy Chief Dye was the only person from Webster's former life who kept in touch during the disgraced Sailor's incarceration and it was Dye's kindness that was bringing the scandalized and ruined Webster to Hillsboro for a second chance.
It was a relief to be out of prison after serving two years and Webster enjoyed the scenery outside the window during the endless bus ride. He kept to himself, reluctant to talk to others fearing they would figure out that he was a felon convict criminal and he knew that was going to be the stigma he would face once he got to Hillsboro no matter how sympathetic Chief Dye might try to be.
Webster sucked in the fresh air whenever he got off the bus at the various stops. It felt good to be free although he wasn't sure how free he could truly be given his past. He watched the road signs as the bus made its way North through Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and finally Massachusetts. He lost track of the number of stops that were made along the way, but there were two transfers and he kept his Navy sea bag close to him at all times as it contained everything he owned in the world (which wasn't a whole lot).
Webster saw the "Entering Blue County" sign on the side of the interstate and he began paying more attention to the surroundings from the window. He saw a lot of green – green trees, green grass, green pastures – and he knew he was in New England. The bus left the highway and Webster observed the various businesses, homes and other sights until the bus pulled into the court square in downtown Greenville which, Chief Dye had told him, was where he should depart the bus.
Webster stepped off the vehicle and it didn't take him long to recognize Chief Dye standing on the sidewalk waiting for him. Webster hadn't seen the guy in eight years but Dye was basically the same even though he was no longer wearing the uniform. He had put on a few pounds, he wore his hair longer, and there were streaks of gray on his temples, but the Chief still had that unmistakable grin and large eyes that gave him a presence no matter how many people were in the room.
Webster hoped that his former mentor would recognize him. He had grown his hair in prison and added a beard to distance himself from his previous sharp military appearance and there was Dye giving him a mock salute as he approached.
"Ace!" Dye laughed, using his old affectionate nickname to address his former subordinate. "Welcome to Hillsboro!"
"Nobody's called me Ace in a long time, Chief," Webster responded as he accepted Dye's extended hand in a shake.
"Well, nobody's called me Chief in a long time either, Web," Dye grinned. "The name's Rich to you now."
"What am I doing here?" Webster asked, glancing around the picturesque town.
"Starting over," Dye answered.
It was good to see the Chief again. They had met when Second Class Petty Officer Webster reported to his second naval command, Chief of Naval Information (CHINFO) in Washington DC following his initial tour on the aircraft carrier USS GEORGE WASHINGTON. Chief Dye could tell from the start that Webster had what it took to be an outstanding Navy Journalist and Dye immediately took the young Sailor under his arm, giving him the nickname "Ace" because of his obvious writing talent and ability to get to the heart of any story.
The two Sailors worked closely together for the next two years, the mentor and the protégé who developed a sound professional relationship and a warm father-son personal kinship too. Chief Dye eventually transferred to Japan where he made Senior Chief. Webster transferred to the Naval Hospital in Jacksonville Florida the following year where he made First Class Petty Officer and he was destined to be advanced to Chief as soon as he had time in rank.
Webster eventually transferred to another aircraft carrier, USS HARRY S. TRUMAN in Norfolk while Senior Chief Dye retired from the Navy and returned to his hometown. Webster was in his second year onboard TRUMAN when his life turned into a nightmare and his career imploded in disgrace and scandal.
Reunited for the first time in ten years, the two former Navy men didn't say much as Dye drove his late model sedan across the Blue County Bridge that spanned the Blue River into Hillsboro. Webster spent most of his time staring out the window at the surroundings, the place where he would now be living for the unforeseeable future.
"Okay," Dye informed his passenger as they began the ride down Hillsboro's Main Street. "I'm going to show you all the places you'll need to know about in your new capacity. These are the places where you'll meet the good folks of Hillsboro and get quotes and stories."
Dye slowed the car in front of a diner. "This is Johnny C's," he said. "Most popular place to eat in Blue County. Half the town eats here at least once a week. A guy named Birdy Braft runs it now but the retired Johnny C himself can still be found in there sometimes. Across the street is Panther's Gym. The Panther is dead but it's the most popular hangout in town for the yuppies and the athletically-minded. That's Duffy's Tavern over there, good place for a drink. Down that street is Fontaine's Family Grocery Store where everybody in town does their shopping. There's Hillsboro Pizza and the barbershop which is another terrific place to talk to people."
Dye drove the car out of the downtown area and into a residential neighborhood. "They call this part of town 'The Flats,'" he told Webster. "This is Beano Field right here," he said, stopping in front of a green baseball park. "It's home of the Serguci amateur baseball league and it's where everybody goes in the summer."
Dye drove around the corner to the third base side of the park. "This is the Bullpen Tavern," he said. "Another great hangout. There's Serguci League baseball museum on the second floor that you should check out. It will tell you everything you need to know about the history of the league."
Webster didn't say anything as he tried to take it all in. Dye drove the car back to the main street and turned down a side street, pulling to a stop in front of an older brick building with a small store front. Above the door read 'The Hillsboro Weekly'.
"This thing has been around forever," Dye explained as he climbed out of the car. Webster did the same from his side. "I used to deliver it when I was a kid."
"You work here?" Webster asked.
"I own the rag!" Dye laughed as he unlocked the front door.
Webster followed him into the cluttered office that had several wooden desks throughout the large room. There were about fifteen computers scattered on various desks and tables, various photographs and paintings hanging on the wall, old light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, a warped wood floor, and editions of the weekly piled everywhere.
"The Greenville News and Dispatch is the area's daily newspaper of note," Dye explained. "We don't try to compete with them. We go with the local human interest stuff and interesting stories specific to Hillsboro and its people."
"You own this?" Webster asked with surprise.
"Cecil Phillips ran it for fifty years," Dye said with a grin, taking a seat behind what was obviously the editor's desk in the center of the room. "His widow sold it to me for a song."
"Your own newspaper," Webster remarked, impressed.
"Only I really don't have time to run it," Dye said with a sigh. "I'm teaching two classes at Blue County Community College and I'm the acting Media Director for Hillsboro High. I've been using some of my students to help around here but I need somebody full time I can trust to do the job." He peered at Webster who was still glancing around, taking in the atmosphere and surroundings. "That's where you come in."
Webster stared at his old mentor. "You're kidding."
"Serious as a heart attack," Dye replied with a grin. "Come on, Ace, you can do this job with your eyes closed."
"I've been in town for ten minutes."
"You'll figure it out quickly," Dye replied. "The stories write themselves. Everything's computerized. The local printing company prints it for us. It's cake."
"You want me to be the editor of The Hillsboro Weekly?"
"You got anything else lined up?" Dye asked, raising his eyebrows.
"What if people find out about me?" Webster worried.
"You've got a clean slate as far as I'm concerned," Dye replied. "You do a good job and people won't care if you're the guy who took photos of Princess Kate."
Webster scratched the back of his head. "You really don't have to do this for me," he said.
"Actually, I'm doing it for me!" Dye grinned as he sprang from his chair. "Come on, I'll show you where you're going to be living."
Webster followed Dye out of the Weekly's office and watched as Dye locked the door behind them. "We print on Thursdays and distribute on Friday's," he said. "We circulate about three thousand copies a week at seventy-five cents a copy."
They returned to the car and drove back to the flats section of town, finally turning onto a street with older houses, stopping in front of a gray sided two story home with a glassed-in front porch. The mailbox name read "Issotti".
"This is my sister's house," Dye explained. "Her marriage went bust about five years ago." He shook his head with disgust. "Geez, I spent twenty-six years in the Navy, gone more than I was home and me and Darlene are still going strong. Ellen marries her high school sweetheart, never leaves home, and she's the one who has a failed marriage. Go figure."
"I'm living here?" Webster asked with confusion.
"She has a basement apartment she usually rents to college kids," Dye explained. "It's yours, at least until you get back on your feet. I've already paid the first two months rent for you."
"You just make sure you keep The Hillsboro Weekly going," Dye replied, walking him up the side driveway of the house. "Ellen has a daughter Tammy in the Army – traitor! – and a second daughter Lenore still at home, taking classes at Blue County Community. Lenore's got a shithead for a boyfriend so you'll have to deal with that, I guess. I don't have time for soap operas."
Dye stopped on the sidewalk to the side porch and pointed to a car parked on the grass next to the garage. "You can drive that old Toyota," he said.
"Whose car is that?"
"My daughter's, but she's at college in Boston and doesn't need it anymore," Dye explained.
"Man, Rich, a job, a car, and an apartment?" Webster remarked with disbelief.
"You're doing me a favor, Web," Dye replied. "Don't worry about it."
Dye led Webster through the side porch and into the kitchen of the house.
"Ellen?" He called out. "I got your new renter here."
The kitchen was clean and well maintained with an island in the middle of the room, handsome cupboards and cabinets on the walls, plenty of counter space, modern equipment, and a shiny floor.
Webster heard footsteps on the stairs and a woman in her late thirties appeared in the doorway. He could see the resemblance between the brother and the sister, although she looked much less cheerful and much more worn out than her brother.
"Web, this is my kid sister, Ellen," Dye proudly introduced.
"I don't feel like a kid sister anymore," Ellen sighed, throwing Webster a look. "So, you're my new renter?" She didn't sound very enthused.
"I really appreciate the favor," Webster replied.
"The favor is to my brother, not to you," Ellen tartly informed him. "I usually rent to nineteen year old female college students," she explained. "I didn't want men in the house with young girls of my own." She sighed and brushed her hand through her black hair. "I don't suppose it matters much anymore."
"Why don't you show him the apartment, sis?" Dye suggested.
"Fine," she muttered stepping toward a door that led to the cellar. "Where's the rest of your stuff?" she asked, noticing that all that Webster was holding was a sea bag.
"I don't have anything else," Webster replied.
Dye and Webster followed her down the yellow stairs, passing coat hooks on both sides of the wall. She stopped at the landing half way down and gestured to the door leading to the outside.
"That's where you can come and go," she said, handing Webster a key before heading down the rest of the stairs.
"You won't have total privacy," Ellen said, stopping at the washer and dryer at the foot of the stairs. "But I'll try not to come down late at night."
"It's okay," Webster replied. "It's your house."
The apartment consisted of a small kitchen with older appliances and an L shaped counter top but not enough room for a table, a small bathroom with a rusted shower stall but no tub, a fair sized living area, and a small bedroom off of the living room. The place was furnished with a couch and coffee table in the living room area with a television set in the corner. The bedroom had a bed, dresser and a chair and nothing else.
"The girls hung out down here when there wasn't a renter," Ellen said with sentimental nostalgia. She opened a door at the far end of the room. "I store stuff in here if you don't mind."
"It's your house," Webster repeated.
"You can park on the street for now," Ellen informed him. "Parking ban goes into effect in late November."
"Alright then," Ellen concluded. "I guess that's it."
She threw her brother a look before leaving the two men alone.
"I don't think she likes me," Webster replied once he heard the door at the top of the stairs close.
"Ah, don't mind her," Dye replied. "She's been pissed off ever since her husband left."
"I thought you said that was five years ago," Webster said with surprise.
Dye rolled his eyes and laughed while he pulled his wallet from his back pocket. "Here," he said, taking several twenties out of the fold. "Get yourself some clothes and whatever else you need."
"You've already done enough, Rich," Webster said.
"There's Donovan's Department Store on Main Street in Greenville," Dye said, ignoring Webster's protest. "Or Walmart in Miller City if you must."
He put the bills on the coffee table and pulled a cell phone out of his pocket. "Here," Dye continued. "It's all pre-loaded with the numbers you'll need."
"Jesus, Rich," Webster remarked.
Dye put the cell phone on the table next to the money. "I stocked up the kitchen with food so you don't have to worry about that. Meet me at the Office at eight tomorrow morning and we'll get started. Oh, here are the keys to the Toyota," he said, dropping them on the coffee table as well.
Dye started for the stairs.
"Hey Rich!?" Webster called out.
Dye stopped at the first step. "What is it, Ace?"
"Thanks," Webster replied, feeling embarrassed.
"Don't worry about it," Dye replied before he disappeared up the stairs just like his sister.
Webster sat on the couch and stared at the single painting that hung over the television on the paneled wall. It looked like it might be Beano Field. He glanced around and sucked in his breath. At least Ellen's cellar was bigger than his cell.
Webster spent his free time during the next few days reading back issues of The Hillsboro Weekly, getting a feel for both the newspaper and the town. He shadowed Dye for most of the first few days, learning the advertising accounts and key players in the paper's success. The computer system at the paper was pretty easy to grasp and Dye insisted that Webster man the editor's desk from then on.
On one of the first mornings Dye took them on the rounds, they passed the store front for Issotti's Plumbing.
"Why does that name ring a bell?" Webster asked.
"That's Ellen's ex," Dye explained, gesturing to a handsome guy coming out of the door.
"Hey John," Dye called out. "How's it going?"
"Great, Rich, thanks," Issotti replied, greeting the two men as they approached.
"John, this is Rob Webster," Dye said. "He's going to be running the Weekly for me."
"Nice to meet you," Issotti replied, taking Webster's hand in a shake. "Welcome to Hillsboro.'
"Thanks," Webster replied, watching as the plumber disappeared into a van parked in front of the building.
"He used to be your brother-in-law?" Webster asked once the van drove off.
"He's also one of our biggest accounts," Dye laughed. "You learn to keep personal and business separate in this line of work."
Webster also met the two young students Dye had been using most recently, a rail of a kid named Denny Dowd from Blue County Community College and his girlfriend Kim, a short and somewhat plump girl who was a senior at Hillsboro High.
"So, you were in the Navy too, huh, like Mr. Dye?" Dowd asked a few days into Webster's tenure.
"Yep," Webster replied as he edited a story Dowd had written about a lady who trained pigeons.
"What'd you do there?" Kim asked.
"I was a Navy journalist," Webster replied, stating what he thought was the obvious. "An information specialist gathering news about people, places and activities in the Navy and communicating it to the military and civilian communities through radio, television, military publications and hometown newspapers." He was reciting his job description from memory. "Serving as reporters and editors working in print and broadcast media with public affairs officers and as independent journalists arranging public displays, exhibits, demonstrations, speaking engagements, news conferences, VIP visits and ship and shore-based tours."
"Very interesting," an impressed Kim replied.
"They changed the rate to Mass Communications Specialist about six years ago," Webster said. "I never liked that title though."
"Well you're in Hillsboro now so I don't suppose it matters either way," Dowd said with a laugh.
Webster shook his head in agreement and kept on editing, trying not to think about his glory days of old that he still missed more than anything. But he was grateful for the opportunity Dye had given him and he wasn't about to complain, even if he had to deal with two young clueless whippersnappers who were his part time assistants. Dowd was an adequate writer/stringer and Kim was good at selling the ads so Webster was contented with the arrangement.
Dye checked in every few days and he ran interference when a major problem arose but he generally left Webster alone to run the paper as he saw fit. By now, the new editor had familiarized himself with the town layout and the major players. He frequented Johnny C's, The Panther Gym, Duffy's Tavern, and some of the other popular businesses in town and after attending a couple of selectmen and other political meetings and writing some great stories, most in the town had accepted him as the new guy.
The basement apartment was now cluttered with several back issues of The Hillsboro Weekly, research materials, books on the history of Hillsboro from the library, and other magazines and periodicals. Webster also brought home a computer from the office with a link into the mainframe at the Weekly so he could work from the apartment too. He spent ten bucks on an old desk from the goodwill store and set it up in the living room area. He barely saw Ellen in those first few weeks and he got the impression that she liked it that way.
But Ellen did help him with the computer hookup. That's how he discovered she worked as the receptionist for the local internet communications company and she arranged the appointment for one of her company guys to install the modem for the computer.
The basement apartment could be claustrophobic at times (especially on rainy days) with the thin small windows at the top of the walls the only peek of the outside but the former Sailor with shipboard experience wasn't bothered by that although sometimes the place had a faint mildew smell to it.
When his television wasn't on, Webster could hear footsteps on the floorboards above and occasionally voices, especially in the kitchen. He often heard the television sounds and when the phone rang. He knew when someone was in the shower and when the toilet flushed. He felt a little bit like a spy sometimes but it wasn't his fault nobody had sound proofed the place.
As far as Webster could tell, the daughter wasn't home much, apparently staying with the boyfriend most of the time. Webster had been living in the apartment for nearly a month before he saw Lenore for the first time but she hardly gave him a second look as they passed in the driveway.
Ellen managed to do her wash loads when he wasn't around so Webster heard her more than he saw her and it felt a little weird to be living in her house without ever seeing her. But his job was keeping The Hillsboro Weekly going which kept Dye happy and Webster didn't have time to think about Ellen or Lenore upstairs or how much he missed the Navy.
Dye was more than satisfied with the job Webster was doing. The feedback and reaction had been positive and there was even a slight increase in the number of copies sold. Webster had quickly adapted to the area and wrote to the audience, using his 'ace' talents to find just the right story written in just the right tone at just the right time to satisfy readers. His front page story about Cesar the Cat's ordeal being caught in a tree was a big hit (mostly because of Webster's comedic writing talents) and the following week Webster's lambasting of an unruly citizen at a selectman's meeting was the talk of the town. His editorials and commentaries were also spot on.
"Geez, Ace, you would have thought you were born here!" An impressed Dye remarked as the rave reviews continued to mount.
By now, most folks knew and recognized Webster, many calling him by his nickname 'Web' and some even copied Dye and called him 'Ace'. Webster was a regular at Johnny C's and he became a member at Panther's Gym so he could maintain his shape and athletic skills gained in the Navy. Webster was satisfied that he had successfully made the transition but he wondered if folks would still be as warm and welcoming if they knew he had just spent two years in jail.
One Saturday afternoon, Webster was in his basement apartment typing away on the computer when he heard the door at the top of the stairs open followed by footsteps on the stairs. He glanced up expecting to see Ellen, but it was Lenore instead with a basket full of laundry in her hands. She was wearing pajama bottoms and a tank-top and she dropped the basket on the floor in front of the washer when she reached the bottom of the stairs.
"Hope you don't mind," she said, glancing at Webster who was seated at his desk pecking away.
"Not at all," he replied, glancing up from the computer screen.
"I ran out of underwear," she reported. "My mother's a little behind."
She bent over to grab some of the dirty clothes from the basket and Webster caught a peek of her behind as her pjs slipped down her backside a bit. She held up a pair of silk black panties for him to clearly see before she shoved them and the rest of her clothes into the tub and then she started the machine.
"Hi," she said as she took a few steps toward the living room area. "We haven't really met yet."
"You're Lenore," Webster replied.
"Yes," she replied, impressed that he knew her name. "And you're the new guy."
"I've been here six weeks now," Webster pointed out.
"Yeah, well, I'm not around much anymore," she replied. "Why couldn't you have moved in two years ago!?"
"I was indisposed," he said sarcastically, more to himself than to her.
"What was your name again?" She asked.
"Rob Webster," he answered, peering at her with interest, noticing how her white tank-top snuggled her breasts. She wasn't wearing a bra underneath and that allowed her nipples to rub against the shirt and he couldn't help but notice that highlight.
"You were in the Navy with my Uncle, right?"
"Right," he confirmed, realizing how long it had been since he had been this close to a scantly clad young woman.
"Where you from originally?" Lenore asked.
"Ohio," he answered.
"Why didn't you move back there?" Lenore asked, taking a seat on the arm of the nearby couch.
"Nothing there for me anymore," he answered.
"So how do you like living in the basement?" she asked with an amused look on her face.
"Beats where I was living before," he replied.
Lenore laughed, thinking he meant the ship and not realizing he was referring to a jail cell.
"My mother never let guys live down here before," she said with annoyance.
"She mentioned that," Webster revealed.
"I guess since I'm practically living with my boyfriend now so it doesn't much matter anymore," she added, sounding almost sad in a way. She glanced around the apartment. "My sister and I used to pretend this was our apartment when we were younger."
"Sounds like fun," Webster replied without really meaning it.
"You should get plants," Lenore said. "I remember one girl who lived down here had dozens of them."
"That can cause mildew in a place like this," Webster replied.
"I didn't think of that," Lenore admitted. "My mother wouldn't let anybody have pets down here either even though we had a cat upstairs."
"No time for pets," Webster remarked.
"So, you're helping my uncle out at the Weekly?"
"Yep," Webster answered, motioning toward the computer. "That's what I'm doing now."
"You should do a story on me," she giggled.
"What did you do?" He asked with interest, always looking for a new story idea.
"Me and my friends collected money for the homeless," she replied proudly.
"Well, why don't you and your friends stop by the office tomorrow and I'll do a story," Webster said.
"Hey, that would be great!" Lenore said with appreciation. "Thanks!"
"Sure," Webster replied.
"Well, I'd better go," Lenore said, popping off the couch. "Do you think you could put my clothes in the dryer for me?" she asked. "I gotta go meet Lunger."
"My boyfriend," she said.
"Sure," I can do that," he agreed.
"Thanks!" she squealed, turning and starting for the stairs. "I'm sure I'll see you around again!"
His eyes were on her backside as she walked. "I'm sure you will."
She disappeared up the stairs, leaving him alone as usual.
Twenty minutes later, the wash cycle stopped and Webster went to the machine, opening the lid and digging out Lenore's unmentionables which he tossed into the dryer along with a static sheet and he turned the dial to the appropriate setting.
Twenty-five minutes later, when the dryer dinged off, he retrieved the warm and silky undergarments and tossed them into the basket, stopping and sighing for a moment when he realized how long it had been since he had enjoyed any amount of intimacy. Now he was reduced to feeling Lenore's clean undies for a cheap thrill.
He took the basket up the stairs and opened the door to the kitchen.
"Hello?" he called out but the house was quiet.
He hadn't been inside the house since the first day he met Ellen. The kitchen was much the same way it had been on that day – neat and tidy. He poked his head into the next room which was the dining room. There was a table for six in the middle of the room, along with a hutch and a built in cabinet in the corner of the room. Beyond the dining room was the living room, comfortable with modern and attractive furniture and a wide screen television on the far wall. There were several family photos hanging on the wall and on the bookcase in the corner.
Webster took a few moments to examine the shots, catching a glimpse of Ellen's ex in several of them. He stepped into the front hallway and stared up the stairs.
"Hello?" He called. "Lenore?"
He slowly made his way up the stairs, passing the years of school photos of the two girls that hung on the wall – Lenore and her sister Tammy from kindergarten all the way to their high school graduation portrait shots. There was also a photo of Ellen in her wedding dress, smiling and happy, nothing the way she looked now.
Webster saw several doors as he peered down the hallway of the second floor. More photos graced the walls. There was a bathroom to the left and then the master bedroom. On the right were two small bedrooms and a linen closet. The first bedroom was neat and orderly with a couple of Army posters on the wall and Webster figured that was Tammy's room. The second bedroom was a mess – bed unmade, clothes strewn on the floor, the closet door open with clothes hanging off it, dresser drawers open with clothes sticking out.
Webster put the laundry basket on the bed and his eyes caught sight of an empty condom package sticking out from under the bed. He also saw a couple of beer cans on the bedside table. He stepped out of Lenore's room and hesitated for a moment before sticking his head into the master bedroom which appeared spotless. The king size bed was made, covered with soft pillows. The room smelled of perfume. There were three large dressers, a huge mirror, a make up table and an easy chair in the room and Webster knew that all that was missing for Ellen was her husband.
He quietly left the second floor, tip toeing down the stairs like a burglar and returning to his cellar abode thankful he hadn't been caught. Ellen probably would have evicted him if she found him snooping through her house.
Webster interviewed Lenore and her friends and the story ran on the front page of the following edition of The Hillsboro Weekly. Webster was at the computer in his cellar apartment the night Lenore's story ran. He heard the door to the kitchen open.
"Can I come down?" It was Ellen's voice.
"Sure," Webster replied loudly.
Ellen appeared a moment later with a copy of The Hillsboro Weekly in her hand. She was still in her work clothes – an attractive looking business suit.
"You should have been a fiction writer," she said, holding the paper up.
"What do you mean?"
"Only a writer like you could make Lenore sound like Mother Theresa," Ellen remarked.
"Your brother taught me that there are no boring news stories," Webster replied. "Only boring reporters."
"You're a much better writer than my brother," she told him.
"He's more of the on air type," Webster said.
"What's a writer like you doing writing for the rinky-dink Hillsboro Weekly?" She wanted to know.
"I'm doing your brother a favor," he said.
"Oh?" She challenged. "I thought he was doing you the favor."
Webster didn't say anything in reply.
"You should be writing for The New Yorker or something," Ellen told him.
"Well, I'm writing for The Hillsboro Weekly," he said.
"What happened to you?" she asked with curiosity. "Why'd you leave the Navy?"
"The Navy left me," he replied, glancing down at the computer keyboard to avoid her eyes.
"Was it drugs?"
He shook his head no.
"Did you leak sensitive classified material to Wiki-Leaks?"
He shook his head no again.
"Write some hit piece on an Admiral?"
"No," he grinned. "Nothing like that."
"What then?" She demanded.
"I trusted someone I loved," he answered after a moment's pause.
"Me too," Ellen sighed sadly, sucking in her breath. Then she held up the paper for him to see again. "Thanks for writing about my kid," she said.
"Sure," Webster replied.
She turned and went up the stairs and Webster realized he had just had his first real conversation with the woman after nearly two months living in her cellar.
Several days later, Webster was working on the computer in the cellar when he heard loud yelling coming from upstairs. He tried to ignore it and mind his own business but when he heard Lenore's voice become agitated and high pitched and a man's voice threatening in tone and demeanor, he left his desk and bolted up the stairs, crashing through the cellar door.
"Is there a problem here?" Webster shouted.
The guy who was up in Lenore's grill, pinning her against the kitchen island, turned with surprise at the intruder.
"Who the hell is this?" He demanded.
He was a big guy who obviously worked out. He had tattoos on his arms and he was wearing thick leather boots along with jeans and a jean jacket over a checkered shirt.
"The renter," Lenore replied, using the opportunity to slip out from underneath him and step away from her boyfriend.
"I thought your old lady only rented to broads," the guy frowned. "What's he doing down there?"
"Lunger, you're an asshole!" Lenore was clearly pissed. "Just leave! I'm tired of your shit."
"Ah, why don't you just shove it up your ass?" Lunger replied, pushing by Lenore and throwing her an elbow as he headed for the door.
"Sorry," Lenore mumbled to Webster once the boyfriend was gone.
"What do you see in that guy?" Webster asked with a frown.
"I dunno," she mumbled. "We went to high school together."
Webster knew Lenore was with the guy to act out against her parents and her Army sister but he wasn't going to mention that to Lenore.
"Does he smack you around?"
"No, it's verbal, never physical," Lenore insisted, straightening out her sweater. She was also wearing a red skirt.
"You shouldn't take that crap from anybody," he told her. "You can do better than that guy, Lenore."
She stared at him with wide eyes, taken aback by his pronouncement. "What do you know?" She asked bitterly, wrapping her arms around her chest in a protective manner.
"Nothing," Webster sighed, heading for the cellar door.
"Wait!" Lenore called out.
Webster turned and waited for her to speak.
"I'm really sorry about that," she said, looking toward the door. "Lunger is a..."
"Lunatic," Webster finished for her.
"He's an asshole," she decided with a sigh, rubbing her ribs where he had elbowed her.
"So dump him," Webster advised.
"It's complicated," Lenore groaned, heading for the refrigerator. "Do you want a soda?"
"No thanks," Webster replied. "What's so complicated about it?" He wanted to know, closing the cellar door and stepping back into the center of the room.
Lenore took a seat on the top of the counter. "You know how it is," she said, opening her soda can.
"The sex is that good," Webster replied, surprising Lenore again with his feedback.
"Boy, you don't mess around, do you?"
"Is this what you want to do with your life?" Webster asked. "Hang around with a loser."
"Who are you now, my father?" She snarled. 'Not that he really cares anyway," she added as an aside.
"Nope," he replied. "Just the guy in the cellar."
"I'm beginning to think there's nothing else for me," she confessed with a defeated sigh.
"You and my uncle got to travel the seven seas and my sister is off being a war hero and here I sit in good ole Hillsboro RFD dating a jerk, working part time at Fontaine's Family Grocery Store and taking boring classes at the community college. My parents got divorced and sometimes I think to myself 'What happened to my happy life?'"
"You're not interested in the military?" Webster asked.
"Curvature of the spine," she replied. "Flunked the physical."
"Tough break," Webster replied.
"Not that I was interested anyway," Lenore admitted. "I'm not exactly the disciplined type. I was just keeping my sister happy."
"Well, what are you interested in?"
"Nothing," Lenore answered honestly.
"You're kidding, right?"
She looked at him hatefully. "Are you going to judge me too?"
"Nope," Webster replied, starting for the cellar door again. "But feeling sorry for yourself is not going to solve any of your problems."
"Eat shit," she told him in response.
Webster ignored her and returned to his cellar abode. He was surprised when she angrily followed him down the stairs.
"I don't need to take your crap!" She yelled. "Who are you to tell me anything?"
"Nobody," Webster replied, taking a seat on the couch and looking at her as she loomed in the room.
"I don't feel sorry for myself," she insisted.
"Why are you getting mad at me for?" Webster challenged.
"I don't like you telling me that sort of shit," Lenore complained.
"Noted," Webster replied.
"Oh…," she groaned. "Everything sucks so bad."
"It doesn't have to," Webster said.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Just that your life is what you make it," Webster replied.
"I read that in a Chinese fortune cookie last week," she said sarcastically.
"You need to figure out what you want to do with your life."
"I want to leave," she said.
There were tears in her eyes and Webster gave her a long look.
"Leave the cellar or leave town?" He asked.
"Town," she whispered.
Webster stood and took a few steps toward her. "Where would you go?"
"I don't know," she admitted.
Lenore didn't stop him when he put his arms around her and pulled her close. "You need to figure that part out."
"This I know," she allowed, pushing against his chest.
"Where's your sister?"
"Fort Hood," she answered.
"Maybe you could go stay with her for a while," Webster suggested. "Change of scenery."
"You need to find someone you can talk to about this," he advised.
"I'm talking to you," she reasoned.
"That's probably not the best idea," he replied.
"How do you know?"
He broke the embrace and stepped away from her. "I'm not the one."
"How do you know?" She stepped after him as he retreated back to the couch.
"I'm too old for you, Lenore," Webster told her. "You know that."
"Do I?" She asked bluntly.
"Yes," Webster answered. "What do you think would happen if your mother and uncle found out? Not to mention your boyfriend."
"I'm legal," she reminded him.
"You should probably go," he suggested.
"I wouldn't mind having sex with a Sailor," she said.
"That wouldn't solve your problems," he told her.
"Maybe not, but it sure would feel good," she teased.
"You need to be thinking long term solutions not short term instant gratification," Webster advised. "Go stay with your sister and figure things out."
"What's the matter, you afraid of Lunger?"
"Of course not," he replied with annoyance.
"Are you gay or something?"
"Well then?" She asked.
"Life is complicated enough," he replied.
"Screw you," she barked. "I don't need this shit."
She bolted from the room, rushing up the stairs. She certainly had an anger issue!
Webster sighed and went to his computer desk but then he heard the cellar door open and Lenore appeared again, only this time stark naked.
"You sure you don't want some of this!?" She sang, prancing around the room in front of him, wiggling her bare butt as if she was dancing to music.
"Lenore, this is inappropriate and wrong," Webster told her, embarrassed for her.
"So what?" She teased, moving closer to him.
"Please leave," he warned, abandoning his chair and moving away from her.
"Homo!" She screamed, pushing him hard in the middle of the chest before running for the stairs. "I'll never forgive you for this!"
"You'll thank me later," He called after her once he regained his balance. "Go stay with your sister!"
"You can rot in Hell!" she yelled from the top of the stairs before slamming the door shut.
"I already have," Webster sighed aloud to himself.
He rubbed his forehead trying to figure out why he just didn't seduce the poor girl and make her feel happy for a little while. He certainly could have used the distraction and the sex but then he thought about Dye and Ellen and he was glad he had restrained himself, no matter how attractive the naked young woman had looked to him.
Webster didn't see Lenore after the 'naked incident' as he thought of it. Part of him felt guilty and slimy about his rejection of her and part of him was half-expecting Lungar to show up and beat the shit out of him for 'making my girl get naked for you' or for Dye to confront him with a rumor that the convict took advantage of Dye's niece or for Ellen to evict him for inappropriate behavior against her daughter. When several days passed and nothing happened, Webster figured Lenore was too embarrassed and humiliated to say anything to anybody about what had taken place between them.
Webster was in his basement apartment once again pounding away on the keyboard. There was always a story to write and it seemed that his entire life was dedicated to The Hillsboro Weekly. If he wasn't at the office, he was making the rounds pushing ads, looking for stories, or following up on leads. And when he was in the cellar apartment, he was usually on the computer catching up on work he hadn't gotten to at the office. He had no social, personal, or sex life but after spending two years in jail he had become accustomed to such realities and now his routine seemed to be The Hillsboro Weekly 24/7. He didn't mind staying busy. It helped him forget how much he missed the Navy and all he accomplished in his career.
The cell phone rang and he picked it up, expecting some tip on a story.
"Ellen?" He was momentarily confused.
"Your land lady? The woman who lives upstairs?"
"Oh, Ellen!" He said. "You could just open the door you know."
"I didn't want to disturb you," she explained.
He decided not to comment that a phone call could be considered a disruption too.
"Is something wrong?" He asked, praying the call wasn't about the naked Lenore.
"I need a favor from you," she said.
"Lenore and her boyfriend are coming over for dinner tonight," Ellen revealed. "I'm really not up to taking them on alone again. I was wondering if you'd be willing to join us to even out the numbers."
"What do you mean take them on?"
"Oh, the boyfriend has a huge chip on his shoulder and he tends to take it out on me."
"You don't like him."
"I don't think he's good for my daughter," she admitted.
"Have you ever mentioned this to Lenore?"
"Oh, she knows," Ellen sighed. "Will you help me out or not?"
"What are you having?" He teased.
"American chop suey," she replied. "I'm expecting them at seven."
"I'll be up," he said, glancing at the clock on the bottom of the computer screen.
"I appreciate it," Ellen said and the call ended.
This seemed a little strange to Webster. He had exactly two conversations with Ellen since moving in and now he was going to be her dinner guest to run interference for her confused daughter and jerk boyfriend?
He turned off the computer and took a quick shower. He combed out his hair and trimmed up his beard. He put on a colorful sweater and his best slacks. In the three months since his arrival, Webster had managed to build up his wardrobe some although he usually wore jeans to work.
At 6:55 he made his way up the stairs and saw that Ellen had left the door at the top open for him. He stuck his head into the kitchen.
"Hello?" He asked tentatively.
He saw Ellen standing at the counter stirring the large crock pot full of macaroni. He also noticed the wine glass close by as Ellen turned to greet him.
"Do you want some wine?" She asked, taking a sip from her glass.
"Maybe not yet," He replied.
"Could you cut the bread for me?" She asked, gesturing to a loaf sitting on a cutting board on the island.
"Sure," Webster replied.
"There's garlic butter in the refrigerator."
"Right," Webster responded.
"Did you know that Birdy Braft was career Navy?" Ellen asked from her station at the crock pot.
"Yeah, we've talked about it a few times, especially when your brother is in Johnny C's with us," Webster replied. "He was a cook, of course."
"Maybe you should do a story on the three of you," Ellen suggested.
"Maybe," he agreed. He waited a moment. "So, what's the problem with the boyfriend?"
"There isn't a problem, really," Ellen replied.
"Oh really?" Webster asked, raising his eyebrows at her. "So why am I up here again?"
"Don't you want a home cooked meal for a change?" She asked. "I see you with the pizza boxes and Subway bags. Have you even turned the stove on down there?"
"I made a stew once," he volunteered.
She poured a second glass of wine and handed it to him. "He comes from a good family," Ellen sighed. "I thought he would be good for Lenore when they first got together. But he's a spoiled kid with no plans. His parents enable him. Lenore has issues with her father which I probably didn't help so the two of them like being fake miserable together."
"I met him briefly," Webster volunteered.
"What'd ya think?" Ellen wanted to know.
"A smart ass bully who likes to treat Lenore like shit," Webster answered.
"Exactly," Ellen groaned. "He has no job. He lives in an apartment over his parent's garage. His main vocation is computer games. Lenore gives him all her money. She's barely attending her college classes. She's almost as pathetic as I am."
Webster looked at her with surprise and Ellen seemed embarrassed when she realized what she had said.
"I didn't want you moving in here," she admitted. "My brother wouldn't take no for an answer."
"I can move out if you want," he said.
"No, the money helps," she told him. "You've actually been one of the best tenets we've ever had. You're so quiet I never know you're down there. You never bring anybody home. We used to hear some of the girls having sex down there which wasn't a good thing when my girls were younger."
"I can imagine."
"The house seems so empty now with Tammy gone and Lenore spending so much time with the boyfriend," Ellen sighed. "I'm thinking of selling and downsizing."
"It's a nice house," Webster remarked.
"I got married when I was eighteen," Ellen revealed as she began working on the salad.
Webster had finished with the bread and waited for his next assignment.
"My husband's family helped us out buying this place," she continued. "That's the only way we could afford it. It was a nice place to raise a family. The previous owners put in the apartment downstairs for the mother-in-law."
"Every house has a history," the writer remarked.
"I didn't think I'd be spending the last five years doing this alone."
"I'm sorry," Webster said.
"He took over his family's plumbing business," she explained. "Got really full of himself. Had an affair with a widower up on the hill. Then left me for one of the girls in his office."
"I've met him," Webster revealed. "He advertises in the Weekly."
"I know," Ellen frowned. "'Issotti's... a real family business'. Makes me want to barf."
"I can cancel the account if you want."
"My brother might not approve," she replied. "He's the one who introduced us. I actually liked John's kid brother Elliott more at first, but John was the oldest and he managed to charm me when I was sixteen."
"He's definitely got the looks," Webster observed.
"Now I'm thirty-nine and not so charmed," she sighed. She threw him a look. "How old are you?"
"Thirty-five," he reported.
She glanced up at the clock on the wall. It was nearly 7:15.
"Typical," she grumbled. "They never show up on time."
"The chop suey will be fine in the crock pot," Webster assured her.
"It will dry out," she complained.
"Put a little bit of water in it," he said.
She did as he suggested and then poured herself another glass of wine. The salad was done and she brought the large wooden bowl into the dining room. Webster followed with the bread.
"My brother says you were never married."
"This is true," Webster replied. "Relationships are hard in the Navy."
"My brother and his wife made it- going on thirty years now."
"Your brother is an impressive man," Webster commented.
"He is," she agreed.
They heard a car in the driveway and Ellen let out a sigh of relief.
"Finally," she said, moving to the doorway to greet Lenore and Lunger as they came through the kitchen door. "Glad you could make it," she said as the two teenagers entered the room.
"We're not that late, Mom," Lenore said defensively. Then she caught sight of Webster standing in the dining room behind her mother. "What's he doing here?"
"I invited him to join us," Ellen replied.
"Oh, isn't that just great," Lenore replied sarcastically, refusing to look Webster in the eyes.
"Larry, would you like milk or soda with your dinner?" Ellen asked.
"Water's fine," Lunger replied, taking off his coat and throwing it on the kitchen chair before walking with Lenore into the dining room.
Ellen followed with the crock pot and the four sat at the table to eat. Webster tried not to look at Lenore too much but whenever he did he saw her scowl at him. The conversation centered mostly on the upcoming Greenville-Hillsboro Thanksgiving Day football game. It was all Webster had been hearing about for weeks and he had researched the entire history of the series and written three articles on the subject so far, including a feature on Spunky Martin who played in the first game between the two teams in 1938.
Webster knew from Dye and others that Lunger had played two years of high school ball before getting booted off the team for drug use and that, according to most, became the beginning of the kid's spiral into his present reputation as "Loser Lunger".
Lenore's boyfriend was noticeably quiet during that part of the conversation. Webster picked up on a certain tension between Ellen and Lunger who had a habit of being Eddie Haskell overly fake polite to Lenore's mom. Meanwhile, Lenore seemed totally disinterested in anything Lunger had to say and she spent most of her time trying to impress Webster while, at the same time, being snide and sarcastic toward him too. It was a strange dinner gathering all around.
Webster complimented (sincerely) Ellen on the casserole and salad and Lenore said the bread was great too.
"Oh, Web did the bread," Ellen pointed out and Lenore rolled her eyes.
As soon as the two teens were done eating, they were ready to 'split' as Lunger put it. Lenore threw her mother an apologetic look before following her boyfriend out of the dining room, leaving Ellen and Webster on their own with a table full of dishes and left over food.
Ellen poured herself a little bit more wine and offered Webster another refill which he accepted.
"Tammy is the one with her head on her shoulders," Ellen remarked. "She knew what she wanted when she was twelve and she went for it. Lenore?" Ellen sighed. "She was always the flighty one, the one with no direction or grounding. The divorce certainly didn't help. Now look at her."
"She'll figure it out," Webster said.
"I hope so," Ellen replied heavily.
"Gotta have a little bit of faith," Webster remarked.
Ellen threw him a look. "Funny," she said. "That's exactly what my brother said to me when he wanted me to let you move in here."
"I appreciate you taking the chance," Webster replied.
"I trust my brother," Ellen said. "But it was a leap of faith."
"I understand," Webster said.
"Especially since Rich wouldn't tell me what happened to you," she said, eyeing him as she took another sip from her wine glass. "He said you were an amazingly sharp ship shape 4.0 Sailor that had come upon some hard times."
Webster couldn't help but laugh. "That's certainly an understatement."
There was a long moment of silence.
"So, are you going to tell me?" Ellen finally asked.
"I suppose I owe you that much," he sighed, emptying his wine glass nervously.
She waited for him to collect himself.
"I was leaving with a Sailor in Norfolk," Webster told her. "Things were going great. I was going to make Chief soon, the relationship was going well, and I was feeling pretty good about us. Then one night she comes home all freaked out. Told me she hit a dog with the car. She already had a DWI and she didn't want to get in any more trouble. So I took the car to a friend and had him take the dent out."
"You were protecting your girlfriend," Ellen said.
"Yes," Webster agreed. "Then a few days later I read about a hit and run not far from where we lived. An eye witness described the car that wasn't all that far off from the make, model and color Lisa was driving."
"A hit and run?" Ellen asked.
"Somebody ran down and killed some guy out walking his dog," Webster explained. "The dog was fine but the guy not so much."
"How long did it take you to figure out it was your girlfriend?"
"I knew the moment I saw the newspaper article," Webster admitted. "She was way too upset that night for it to be a dog."
"What did you do?"
"Nothing," Webster replied. "Played dumb."
"Oh." Ellen sounded disappointed.
"Two weeks later the cops finally catch up to her. She tells them I'm the one who took care of the dent and that I helped her try to beat the rap."
"Why did she throw you under the bus?"
"She was with another guy that night," Webster sighed. "I guess I was just the patsy."
Ellen stared at him but didn't say anything.
"I was charged with a felony count of being an accessory after the fact to vehicular homicide," Webster replied. "I was held on $200,000 bail but your brother got me out pending trial and I was eventually given a three-year sentence, although I was released after two for good behavior."
"What happened to your girlfriend?"
"She's still serving ten years," Webster said. "The guy she was with served a year. All three of us got kicked out of the Navy. My lawyer worked a deal out where I was administratively discharged with a RE code of 4."
"What does that mean?" Ellen asked.
"It means I can never go back in," Webster sighed.
He played with the top of the glass with his finger for a few moments.
"That was the worst part of it for me," he sighed with defeat. "I loved the Navy."
"You made a mistake."
"A big one," Webster affirmed.
"You paid the price."
He glanced at her. "Your brother is the only one who stood by me," he revealed.
"He believes in you," Ellen said.
"He told me to come here when I got out."
"But all you really did was move from one cell to another," Ellen realized.
"In some ways," Webster agreed.
"I guess we're both still serving our sentences," Ellen sighed.
"How so?" Webster asked.
"I was a stay at home mom and wife for sixteen years," Ellen revealed. "It was the perfect life and I loved it. I loved being a wife and mother. That's all I was meant to be, really."
"And then your husband left you," Webster said.
"I had to go find a job to make ends meet," she sighed. "It was Rich who talked Mr. Lockman into hiring me as the receptionist even though I had absolutely zero experience answering the phone or working with computers."
"It worked out okay," Webster remarked.
"Yeah, right," Ellen sighed. "I'm a divorced empty-nester working an entry level job about to turn forty. Everything's great!"
Neither said anything until Ellen finally stood and began to clear the table. Webster helped, bringing the dishes to the sink. She washed and he dried, neither of them saying a word.
"You really are a talented writer," Ellen let him know when they were done with the chores.
"Thanks," he replied. "It was a nice dinner."
She laughed but didn't say anything else.
"Well, back to the cell," Webster said, starting for the cellar door. "Good night."
"Rich invited you to his house for Thanksgiving, right?" Ellen asked.
"Yes," he confirmed.
"And you're going to the game?"
"Can't miss my first Hillsboro-Greenville Turkey day rivalry game," he smiled.
"Maybe we could go to the game together and then to Rich's house," she suggested. "I'm a Hillsboro Hurricane alumni after all."
"That would be nice," Webster told her as he opened the door to the cellar. "I'll look forward to it."
"Okay," she said, smiling naturally for the first time since he had met her. "Good night."
Webster went down the stairs to his cell(ar) apartment taking the steps two at a time with excitement.
Webster knocked on the cellar door at the top of the stairs at 9:30 on Thanksgiving morning and Ellen invited him in. She was wearing her Hurricanes sweatshirt underneath a long winter coat, along with boots, a wool hat, and gloves.
The weather had reasonably cooperated. It was in the mid-40's with a stiff wind but there was no rain or snow and that satisfied most of the gathering crowd. Ellen drove them to the Greenville sports complex and they made their way to the Hillsboro side of the field, talking with dozens of people. Ellen bumped into several old classmates while Webster was recognized for his association with the Weekly.
Webster got several quotes from countless people, including most of Ellen's classmates before, during and after the contest. The football game lived up to its hype with the Green pulling out a dramatic 24-18 win in the closing minutes of the game and Webster worked hard to get some powerful and emotional quotes from fans as they left the complex.
Ellen agreed to go to the Weekly office with him so he could bang out the story before the paper went to bed for its Thursday night printing. He wrote one straight up sports story about the game itself with some colorful descriptions and metaphors and a second feature about the fans watching the game, focusing on Hillsboro Alumni Mike Heston who had moved away fifty years ago and was home for his first Thanksgiving game since he graduated from high school.
"It's still the same," was Webster's favorite quote from Heston. Simple, direct, and honest.
"You write so fast," Ellen observed as she watched Webster peck away on the keyboard.
"The feature story was already half written in my head before we even got to the field," he replied. "And I wrote the game summary in my head as we watched the game."
Webster was done in less than two hours. He sent the electronic copy of the final edition to the printer and then Ellen drove them to Dye's house for the family thanksgiving gathering.
The Dye family was big, four generations of a close knit family sharing the holiday in Rich's open and comfortable home. Dye grinned when he saw Webster arrive with his sister but he didn't give him a hard time about it. Lenore was there for a few hours solo before she was scheduled to join Lungar and his family later in the day.
The afternoon was spent in laughter, good cheer, holiday happiness, spirited conversation, family memories, and football remixes. The clan accepted Webster as if he had always been among them and he easily fit in to the merriment celebration. Ellen floated among the many relatives but she made it a point to check in with Webster every so often.
Webster found himself standing next to Lenore at one point and she sheepishly gave him a look of humiliated resignation.
"Thanks for not saying anything about what happened that day," she said. "I can't believe how immaturely I acted."
"You're eighteen, Lenore," he reminded her. "You're still learning."
"Ain't that the truth!"
"Besides, I didn't mind all that much," he replied with a smile.
She blushed and then gave him a long look. "I've been thinking about what you said," she revealed. "I've been talking to my sister. I think getting out of town might be good for me."
"Make sure you tell your mother," Webster advised.
"I will," she vowed.
"You're not taking Lungar are you?"
She laughed. "Isn't the whole point of getting out of town and starting over to get away from him too?"
"Yes," Webster replied. "Definitely."
"So, what's the story with you and my mom?" She wanted to know.
"We went to the game together," he replied.
"You certainly are the gentleman," Lenore remarked.
He nodded in agreement.
"It would be okay with me, just so you know," she whispered. "You'd be good for her."
Webster gave her a look before she wandered off to talk to some of her cousins.
By the time Ellen and Webster left Dye's house after hours of eating, talking, and football game watching, it was after nine. It took them nearly a half hour to actually leave the house as it took that long to say all the goodbyes and farewells. People were genuinely glad to have had Webster with them and they were happy to finally see Ellen with a potential date.
"That was a fun Thanksgiving," Ellen said happily as she drove them home. "I hope the tribe didn't overwhelm you too much."
"It was great," Webster assured her. "I remember some real bummer holidays on the ship."
"You probably miss your own family on days like this," she remarked.
"I joined the Navy to get away from my family," he replied.
"It was a family always in chaos and crisis and dysfunction," he explained. "I didn't realize how bad it was until I went away and every time I went back I felt even more detached and disassociated from them. The Navy became my new family. People like your brother became my new mentors and role models."
"That's good," Ellen said.
"Ironically, I turned out just like my family," Webster sighed. "A jail bird."
"My brother never would have brought you here if he thought that," Ellen said. "Look what you've done for The Hillsboro Weekly. And just today Lenore told me that you gave her some great advice. You're a man of character if you ask me."
"Well, thanks for saying that," Webster said with true appreciation. "My biggest fear has been that people would find out about me and run me out of town."
"Everybody respects you," Ellen let him know as she pulled the car into the driveway of her house.
Webster wasn't sure if he should entered the house through the kitchen with Ellen or go around to the side entry to the cellar.
"Are you waiting for her?" Ellen asked as they stood in the driveway after they got out of the car.
"Who?" Webster asked.
"The girl in jail."
He shook his head no. "You have to leave the past in the past, Ellen."
"Yeah," she replied knowingly. "Well, Happy Thanksgiving, Rob."
"You too," he said before heading around to the other side of the house and his entrance.
She watched him go, wondering why she didn't invite him inside with her.
It was a week after Thanksgiving. Webster was lying on the couch dozing into the night with a basketball game on the television. He didn't hear the cellar door open and he wasn't aware of Ellen's presence until he opened his eyes and saw her standing in the flashing light of the television.
"Lenore made it to Texas safely," she announced with relief.
"Good," Webster replied.
"I don't know if I should thank you or punch you," she sighed.
"It will be good for her," Webster rationalized.
"And what about me?" Ellen wanted to know. "I'm all alone."
"Are you?" Webster asked, looking up at her.
She stared down at him for a long moment. He was wearing sweats and a long tee. Even with the heat turned up, the cellar apartment was drafty and the heat tended to rise up the stairwell. She was wearing her old fuzzy slippers with her robe over her 'old ladies' nightgown. It was after ten o'clock on a Saturday night and here they were – old fogies in a cellar apartment.
"Thank you," she said quietly. "For helping Lenore."
"Just paying it forward like your brother does," Webster said.
She took a seat on the edge of the couch and continued to look into his eyes. She slid her hand up under his tee and rested it on his stomach.
"How can I pay it forward for you?" Ellen asked, taking his hand in hers and lifting it up and into the inside of her robe.
"Any way you want."
She fell on top of him as her mouth found his, kissing him chastely at first but then before long her tongue was probing inside his mouth and her hands grabbed at his tee, pulling it up so she could feel his bare skin.
"Ellen," he mumbled, groaning when her groin rubbed against his as she began to kiss him harder.
She lifted his tee up over his head and then nuzzled his neck before she sat up and unfastened her robe, letting it fall off her shoulders to the floor. She pulled her nightgown off over her head and just like that she was naked having not bothered to wear panties or a bra underneath her nightwear. A necklace with a cross on it swung between her amble breasts as she straddled his legs, sitting on his stomach with her hairy triangle inches from his face. He put his two hands on her not so flat stomach and gently rubbed along her tummy. She grabbed his hands and put them on her breasts and then she leaned over and kissed him while moving her hips into his while moaning into his mouth.
Webster squeezed her nipples while kissing her and he could feel his erection rubbing against his sweats, begging to be released. Sensing this, Ellen rubbed her hand between his legs and then she lifted herself up and off of him and slid the sweats and his briefs down his legs in a quick tug.
"There," she whispered, remounting him while reaching down and squeezing his member.
"Ellen," he pleaded as she leaned over and allowed her breasts to rub against his sternum.
"How long has it been for you?" She wanted to know.
"A long time," he admitted.
"Longer for me."
He thought she was going to start crying but she smiled happily instead. He could feel her belly and breasts rubbing against his skin while her hand kept hold of his erection. Then she spread her thighs and led him inside of her with the help of her hand.
Webster's hands made their way to her backside as they both began thrusting and Webster felt himself deep inside of her.
"Oh, Web!" Ellen cried as he watched her breasts bounce above him, her hands rubbing her nipples. "Oh, baby, yes!"
She rode him for as long as it took, murmuring, moaning, groaning, laughing, sobbing, screaming, yelling until they both exploded in unison and Ellen collapsed on top of him.
Once they collected themselves, Webster looked at her with amusement. "Are you okay?"
"Yes," she answered with a contented smile as she lay on top of him. "That was a long time coming."
"Agreed," he replied happily.
She climbed off of him and reached her hand out. "Come upstairs with me," she said.
He followed her, his eyes glued to her naked behind the entire way and it occurred to him that he had seen two Issotti women naked in much the same way. She took him to the master bedroom and they fell on the bed together.
"It's about time you got out of that cell," she said, kissing him with affection.
"You mean the cellar," Webster replied.
"Do I?" She asked in return, lifting her eyebrows.
"We should call your brother," Webster said, burying his face into her shoulder.
"And say what?" She asked as he kissed her skin.
She smiled and kissed the top of his head. "Do you think that was his plan all along?"
"He was paying it forward," Webster replied.
"Yes, we should thank him," she agreed, pushing Webster back on the bed and laying on top of him once again.