Spencer's Choice

Spencer Higgins pulled his car into the driveway and squinted at the woman unexpectedly sitting on the front porch steps of his house.
"Jodi?" He asked with surprise apparently recognizing her as he climbed out of the car and walked toward the porch.
The intruder smiled and gave the arrival a wave. "Hi, Spence."
A wide grin came over Spencer's face. "My God, look at you!" He marveled.
She stood and gave him a hug as he reached the bottom of the stairs. She was standing two steps above him and because of that was taller than him as they embraced.
"How long has it been?" Spencer asked.
"Eight years," Jodi answered.
"That's an awfully long time," Spencer said with amazement. "What are you doing here?"
"Running away," she stated.
"What are you talking about?" He frowned.
"Can I at least come inside?" Jodi asked, glancing around hoping nobody could hear their conversation.
"Oh sure, of course," Spencer laughed. "Come on in!"
Spencer walked by her and up the porch steps, unlocking the front door and opening it, letting Jodi follow him inside.

"Boy, a lot has changed in eight years, huh?" He asked as he led her into the living room.
"Yeah," she agreed.
"So," he said, gesturing toward the couch. "What's going on? The last I heard you were in Tampa."
"I finished college there," she reported as she took a seat on the couch. "Moved with my boyfriend to Dallas."
"Well, you're a long way from Dallas now!" Spencer noted as he took a seat in the chair across from her.
"I know," she sighed, her tears watering up. "We had a huge fight. We broke up." "Must have been serious," Spencer said with sympathy.

"He was having an affair," Jodi revealed, her voice shaking.

"Oh, kid, I'm so sorry," Spencer said with true understanding. "I know that feeling."

"I heard you and Lena divorced," Jodi acknowledged with a nod. "That's really too bad."
He shrugged. "Life goes on."

"Anyway," Jodi sighed. "I needed to get as far away from there as possible. I jumped in my car and here I am."

"Hillsboro?"

"Why not?" Jodi shrugged. "It's a good a place as any."

"Why not go home to your mother?" Spencer asked. "Isn't that what all daughters do when they break up with their boyfriends?"

"Oh, she'd smother me to death with her motherly drama," Jodi complained. "I don't want to have to go through that!"

"I guess you're getting a little old for that sort of stuff," Spencer acknowledged with a chuckle. "Your mom always was overprotective."
"So, do you think I could lay low here for a while?" Jodi asked hopefully.
"Sure, no problem," Spencer said easily. "Plenty of room."

"Thanks, Spence, I really appreciate it," Jodi said, letting out a long breath. "Maybe I'll get a job or something."

"You do whatever you want," Spencer told her. "It's free room and board."

"Great, thanks," she smiled, catching her breath. "You still teach at Green College?"

"I'll die there," Spencer laughed. "Just came from my afternoon creative writing class."

"Dad once told me he should have come back here and joined you on the Faculty," Jodi said with sentimental nostalgia.

"It would have been fun," Spencer smiled. "What'd you get your degree in?"

"Social work," she answered. "Been thinking about going back for my Masters."

"You should," Spencer encouraged her. "Green College has an excellent Master's program by the way."

"Oh really?" She smirked. "Interesting."

He tried not to stare at his dead friend's daughter but it was hard not to. She looked amazing. The last time he saw her she was a basket case mess at her father's services, a daze of three days Spencer barely remembered these eight years later. He had flown to Iowa for the funeral, trying to comfort Ross' widow Myra and her three children after Ross's unexpectedly bizarre mistaken identity death when a deranged former student attempted to kill a former professor and mistakenly killed Ross instead.

Jodi was seventeen then, just a kid, but now here she was a beautiful young woman, a college graduate with a nice body, sexy smile and curly black hair that hung on her shoulders.

Spencer and Ross had grown up together and attended Green College, both majoring in English. Ross went off to the University of Iowa for his masters, met Myra, fell in love, married, and became a tenured professor there while Spencer remained in Hillsboro, taught high school English for a few years, got his master's, and then joined the Faculty of Green College.

Ross came home for summer visits every two years, each time with a new kid in tow – Jodi, followed two years later by Jimmy and then finally Jenny three years after that. Spencer and Lena ventured to Iowa every other year for visits, bringing along their son Jake who was around Jimmy's age.

Spencer watched Jodi grow up and to find her sitting in his living room as a grown woman all these years later felt strangely awkward for some reason. Maybe because he was divorced and lonely. Maybe because she was dead Ross' daughter. Maybe because he found himself having surprisingly inappropriate thoughts about her as a woman when he knew her as a kid.
"Is Lena still in town?" Jodi asked, pulling Spencer out of his thoughts.
"She lives in Springdale now."
"With the guy?"
"Yeah," Spencer sighed.
Jodi nodded in sympathy. "I'm sorry. I always liked her."
"She woke up one morning and decided she was leaving," Spencer said, sounding like he still couldn't believe it even though it happened nearly four years ago. "Said she was in love with someone else and that was that."
"That really sucks," Jodi said sadly.
"Oh well," Spencer shrugged. "I guess I wasn't what she wanted."
"It took her twenty years to figure that out!?" Jodi asked cynically.
"Mid life crisis, probably," Spencer smirked. "Who knows what she was thinking?"

Jodi examined him for a few minutes. In the family photos of him and her Dad (going all the way back to Kindergarten), Spencer always had that mischievous grin on his face. Her memories of him were all good and she had especially fond memories of her visits to Hillsboro to see her grandparents and other relatives and of course their times with Spencer, Lena and Jake.
Spencer was always laughing and having a good time, funny and attentive with the children, interested in what they had to say, helping out and participating in whatever they happened to be doing. He was better than a favorite uncle and more fun too!
Jodi knew that Spencer was her dad's best friend from childhood. 'Hig' her dad called him and Jodi was thrilled to be with him again. Spence made the kids feel like they were more important than anything else going on. He took them for swims at Sun Rise Lake and ball games at Beano Field and for ice cream at Red's Tastee Freeze. He loved Johnny C's Diner (Jodi's dad liked the fancy cafés and bistros by the Green College campus) and Spence brought the kids there too.
Spence didn't look all that much different from the way Jodi remembered him growing up. His brown hair had streaks of gray in it now and his glasses appeared to have thicker lenses in them. He put on a few pounds around the waist but he still looked to be in good shape. She noticed that his smile wasn't as pronounced as it once was but with a dead best friend and a wife who deserted him it was easy to understand why.

"Do you still have your students keep journals in creative writing?" Jodi asked with a smile.

"Yeah, if the system works, why break it?" Spencer remarked.

"I still have mine," Jodi giggled. "'member how you always gave me one every time I came to visit?"

"Sure," Spencer smiled. "I thought it would be good for you to write down your vacation memories."

"My own daily journal," she grinned proudly. "I think I have like six of them."

"But you didn't follow in your old man's or my footsteps!" Spencer teased.

"Oh, I love to write," Jodi said happily. "But I think I can do more good trying to help people one on one."

"I'm sure you can," Spencer agreed sincerely.

Jodi smiled and Spencer was surprised at how taken he was by her. She wore a white blouse and a dark blue skirt that highlighted her shapely legs. He knew he shouldn't be noticing but he couldn't help himself.

"Wow," he said with a laugh. "Look at you!"

"Yeah?" She asked, raising her eyebrows.

"I mean, it's really great to see you after so long." Spencer tried to recover smoothly.

"I knew you'd let me stay," Jodi smiled. "You were always so kind to us."

"You were great kids."

Jodi grinned. "I'm not a kid anymore, Spence."

"I know," he sighed. "Which means I'm getting old!"

"Nonsense!" She laughed. "You look terrific. Forty-six right?"

"Almost forty-eight, he groaned.

"Oh yeah, that's right, Dad was a year older than you."

"I can't believe you're twenty-three!"

"Twenty-five," she corrected with a giggle.

"Oh, God," Spencer groaned, feeling his stomach flutter. "So, you have luggage?"

"Out in the car," she said. "It took me a while to remember how to get to the house from Beano Field," she laughed. "All the streets look the same."

"Glad you found it," Spencer replied, standing. "Let's get your stuff."

Jodi followed as they walked out of the house and she pointed to a seven year old compact Chevy sedan parked across the street.

"Why don't you put it in the driveway?" Spencer suggested. "Just go around my car and park on the grass next to the garage like Jake used to."

Jodi nodded, got in the car and drove it into the driveway, parking it on the side of the garage. Her backseat was full of luggage, bags, and boxes.

"I took everything I could," Jodi explained when Spencer noticed all the clutter. "I wasn't leaving that bastard anything!"

"Good for you," Spencer replied proudly. "You can stay in Jake's old room," he said as they took the first load into the house.

"How is Jake?" Jodi asked. "Haven't seen him in ages either!"

"I think he'll probably make the Army a career," Spencer replied. "He just got married a few months ago. Nice girl from California. They're stationed at Fort Dix right now."

"Did he see duty in the war?" Jodi worried.

"Just one tour so far," Spencer replied as he dumped the first load in Jake's old room which still had some of his high school sports trophies and other memorabilia on the shelves. "Feel free to fix this room up any way you want," Spencer told her. "Jake won't mind."

"Thanks," Jodi smiled.

They finished dragging the rest of her stuff in and Spencer told her he'd made dinner while she freshened up. Jodi tried to arrange her belongs as best she could, took a quick shower, and changed into a pair of sweats and a tee shirt. By the time she made her way downstairs Spencer had ginned up an impressive chicken salad and he had poured two glasses of wine.

"Looks delicious," Jodi smiled as she took a seat at the kitchen table and watched Spencer serve the food, having flashbacks to when she was a kid and he would grill burgers for them or make them his special meals.

"I don't get to cook that much anymore," he replied. "I kind of miss it."

"Well, you can cook for me anytime!" Jodi laughed.

"So, how's your mom doing?" Spencer asked as he took the seat across from her at the table.

"She finally met someone who I think is going to last this time," Jodi reported. "She's living outside of St. Louis now."

"And your brother and sister?"

"Jim works for a construction company in Illinois and Jenny just graduated from Columbia University in Missouri," Jodi said proudly. "I think she's going to become a nurse."

"Great," Spencer smiled. "Can't believe everybody's all grown up. And how 'bout your grandparents? They still in South Florida?"

"Yes, and loving it," Jodi laughed. "I saw them a lot when I was in Tampa. I don't think Grammie ever got over Dad's death though."

"Who has?" Spencer sighed.

"I suppose I should check on my Aunt while I'm here," Jodi said.

"I see her at the farmer's market once in a while," Spencer said. "She's still kind of out there."

"I work in mental health, Spence," Jodi reminded him. "You don't have to sugar coat it. I'm sure Aunt Lucy is either bi-polar or manic-depressive."

"She misses your Dad too," Spencer remarked.

"Do you miss him as much as I do?" Jodi wondered.

"It's been eight years and I still wait for the phone to ring on Sunday nights," Spencer replied. "We used to call each other every Sunday night - him one week, me the next."

"Really?" Jodi asked. "I didn't know that."

"We'd talk politics or what was going on at our schools or with our family," Spencer explained. "Sometimes it was about sports or music. But we'd chat for a couple of hours every week."

"Wow, I never knew that," Jodi said with fascination. "You know, not many people meet in kindergarten and stay friends their whole lives."

"Yeah, I was pretty lucky," Spencer agreed.

"It's been weird ever since Dad died," Jodi sighed. "It just hasn't seemed the same."

"So much has changed these past eight years," Spencer said. "My Dad died. I got divorced. All you kids grew up all of a sudden."

Jodi laughed. "We weren't going to stay kids forever, Spence!"

"No, I suppose not," Spencer replied, giving her the eye once again.

If only she wasn't Ross' kid. Maybe he'd flirt a little. He tried to avoid getting to close to his students (even after Lena left) but Jodi was different for some reason. Maybe it was her smile or those wonderful blue eyes of hers, or the way she looked at him. He wasn't sure what it was but he knew he needed to be careful.

Spencer tried not to think of that stuff as they finished the meal and cleaned up, talking about old times, sharing family stories, and catching up on recent events.

"So, what about you, Spence?" Jodi inquired as they dried the dishes.

"What about me?" He replied.

"Are you seeing anybody?" She asked.

"Not really," he sighed. "I mean, there is this one woman from church..."

"Oh?" Jodi asked with interest.

"She's a widow still in love with her dead husband," Spencer half laughed. "Wanda. She just became a grandmother for the first time a couple of months ago. She's got four kids, a son in law, and now a baby all living under one roof. It's sort of chaotic over there. Some of us from church have helped them out a couple of times. She's obviously not ready for a new guy but I think she likes my company."

"Well, I like your company too," Jodi smirked.

Spencer smiled, glad that she was so receptive and warm toward him.

"Geez, I'm pretty tired from my long drive half way across the country," Jodi announced. "I think I'll turn in early."

"You should," Spencer said.

"Good night, Spence," Jodi said, kissing him on the cheek. "Thanks for everything."

"Good night," Spencer said as he watched her leave the kitchen.

He liked the feeling of having someone in the house again and he had a smile on his face, not feeling quite so lonely anymore.

### ### ###

Jodi wasted little time making herself at home. She gave Jake's room her own look, dragging most of Jake's stuff down to the cellar in boxes. Spencer smelled her perfume and other scents every time he passed the room. He gave Jodi her space and allowed her to settle in comfortably at her own pace. If their paths and schedules crossed, they'd share breakfast or dinner but Spencer had his classes and other faculty commitments while Jodi visited her aunt and job searched.

Spencer wasn't into her music choices of punk and rap and he had no interest in watching the reality TV crap she liked but Jodi was well read and up on politics so they could have mutually satisfying conversations in that area.

Only three days had gone by when Jodi announced that she had landed an outreach worker position with The Blue County Mental Health Agency.

"Wow, that was quick!" Spencer said as they shared dinner in the kitchen.

"There's a lot of burnout in this field, Spence," Jodi replied. "People come and go all the time."

"How long do you think you'll last?"

"I have a no idea," she admitted. "But I have to be doing something while I'm staying here."

"You've never been in Hillsboro longer than a few weeks at a time before," Spencer pointed out.

"I know," Jodi smiled. "But this time it feels different."

Saturday morning, Spencer drove Jodi around Hillsboro, showing her some of the hangouts he and Ross enjoyed in their childhood, telling stories about some of their adventures, and even stopping at her grandparent's old house to reminisce about the old times. Jodi remembered the house as her grandparents' home but for Spencer it was really Ross's house and the memories he most cherished were those spent with his long time friend.

Now he was spending time with his dead friend's daughter and while it felt like old times with him in the parental role, sometimes Spencer felt like he was a perverted sicko if he smelled her scent or noticed her figure, felt excited when she teased him, or thought about how she might look naked or feel on his lips. What was he thinking? And how could he having such disgusting thoughts about a woman who was practically his daughter in the position he held in her life?

Spencer chalked it up to being a middle aged divorced man presently on his own. He liked Wanda and he felt attracted to her but he knew sex, commitment and a relationship was the furthest thing from the widow's mind right now. Except for a short-lived relationship with a colleague from Green College and a brief fling with a friend of a friend, Spencer had been on his own ever since Lena left and he was unexpectedly lonely. It didn't help that he taught college co-eds or that he surfed the net to the occasional porno site once in a while to help combat his sexual frustration.

Was Jodi's presence simply a responsibility and obligation for Spencer to fill in for her Dad and be a good father figure and parental role model? Was that all she was looking for? All that she expected? Or was she looking for something extra too? Could she possibly be interested in Spencer in a sexual way? Or would that be too sick and perverted to even consider? Was Spencer willing to risk ruining their relationship by pursuing a more intimate opportunity? Would Spencer be dishonoring the memory of Ross and the special friendship they shared if he actually hit on his friend's daughter?

Spencer tried not to think about his sexual thoughts and he decided that he would let Jodi take the more assertive and aggressive role if she was so inclined. The problem for Spencer was that he was never quite sure if Jodi was subtly coming on to him and flirting or just being herself. She was funny and she liked to tease him but was that just friendly banter or an invitation to take the next step?

The weather was becoming warmer as spring rapidly clicked off the calendar and this meant that Jodi was wearing more revealing clothing around the house. One Saturday afternoon she came downstairs in a bikini to sun herself in the warm late spring sun in the backyard. Spencer found himself standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window for a long time on that day.

Jodi was all smiles when she came in from her sun bathing.

"Did you get tanned?" Spencer asked as he sat in the living room watching the ball game on television.

"You tell me," Jodi giggled, peeling down her bikini bottoms enough for him to see her ass crack as she flashed him her white skin.

"You definitely got a tan," Spencer confirmed.

Jodi laughed as she hopped up the stairs and for a moment Spencer wondered if he was supposed to follow her. He waited to hear an invitation but when none came he tried to focus on the ball game instead.

Sunday mornings meant church for Spencer and recently he volunteered his time as part of the morning social hour set up committee with Wanda. They bought the donuts and other pastries, made the coffee, put out the orange juice and other drinks, and greeted the parishioners in the church basement after services.

Wanda still seemed guarded and reserved as far as their 'friendship' went. They talked and socialized but Spencer felt that there was a real and pronounced boundary between them and he respected her need to grieve her husband and concentrate on her role as mother and primary caretaker and breadwinner.

Wanda was an attractive middle aged woman with strawberry blonde curly hair that cupped her face, her forehead completely covered by the thick full curls. She was nearly as tall as Spencer and she was burly and full figured in a sensually attractive way. Spencer was willing to wait until Wanda was ready to pursue more than a friendship (if that ever happened) and, in the meantime, he was happy to chat and socialize with her as best he could.

"My sixteen year old fried my crock pot," Wanda was telling him as they manned one of the tables.

"How'd she do that?" Spencer laughed.

"She wanted to warm up her make up for a facial," Wanda said, shaking her head with disbelief. "Fried it like burnt toast."

"I have an extra one if you want it," Spencer told her.

Wanda accepted his offer and when they were done with their church commitment, Wanda followed Spencer in her car to his house for the first time. Spencer gave her a brief history of the house as they stood out front and then he led Wanda inside. It was nearly noon as they stepped into the kitchen where they found a scantly dressed Jodi bent over looking in the refrigerator for something to eat. Her short shorts were hiked up to the bottom rim of her ass cheeks as she bent over.

Wanda did a double take when she saw Jodi and Spencer bit his lip knowing he had screwed up by bring Wanda into the house without warning.

"Oh," Jodi said with surprise, caught off guard seeing Wanda peering at her with disgust once she stood.

With her short shorts and sports bra Jodi might as well have been naked the way Wanda was staring at her.

"Wanda, this is Jodi," Spencer said nervously. "Jodi, this is Wanda who I believe I mentioned before."

"Yes," Jodi confirmed with a bright smile. "From church. Hi, Wanda."

"Hello," Wanda replied coldly, clearly dumbfounded and taken aback and frowning with a suspicious look on her face.

"Jodi is Ross's daughter," Spencer explained, clearing his throat.

"You're staying here?" Wanda asked.

"Yeah," Jodi replied. "Spence is so nice to put me up."

"Oh, I see," Wanda said and suddenly there was a cold chill in the air. "Well," she said with a forced smile. "I should be heading home."

"Let me get the crock pot!" Spencer said, rushing to one of the cupboards and pulling out his best one (Lena tended to have two or three of everything).

"Thanks for letting me borrow the crock pot, Spencer," Wanda said politely but flatly as Spencer handed her the appliance.

"Ah, yes, of course," Spencer said, walking her toward the door.

Jodi noticed the Wanda never took her eyes of her as she crossed the room and Jodi gave her a friendly smile but there was no return smile from Wanda.

"I'll see you in church next week," Spencer was telling Wanda at the front door when Jodi stepped out of the kitchen to see what was going on. "Call if you need anything before that though!"

If Wanda said anything in reply Jodi didn't hear it.

"Boy, that was certainly awkward!" Jodi remarked once Spencer closed the door.

"What do you mean?" Spencer asked with worry.

"That woman hates me!" Jodi laughed. "Did you see the look she gave me!?"

"Oh, I don't think that's true," Spencer replied as he sheepishly went into the kitchen, mostly to avoid Jodi's gaze. "She was just surprised to see you here."

"I've been here a month and you never told the woman you had a house guest?" Jodi wanted to know as she followed Spencer into the kitchen.

"I guess it never came up," Spencer admitted with a shrug. "I mean, we're really not that close. It's really none of her business anyway."

"You gave her your crock pot," Jodi commented.

"I was just being nice," Spencer insisted as he opened the refrigerator and peered in there so he wouldn't have to look at Jodi and feel exposed.

"You'll never get anywhere with her if you lie to her, Spence," Jodi advised.

"I told you, Wanda's in love with her dead husband and she has a family she's dealing with," Spencer explained. "We barely know each other. I see her at church. I've been to her house a few times. There's nothing going on."

"Do you think she thinks we're having sex or something?" Jodi worried. "Is that why she got so stone cold?"

"Of course not," Spencer lied as he took out some lunch meat and started to make a couple of sandwiches for them.

"What if she likes you?" Jodi asked. "What if I just ruined any chance you have with her?"

"Look, if she's going to assume the worst right off the bat maybe we wouldn't get very far together anyway," Spencer reasoned.

"On the other hand," Jodi smirked as she gave it some thought. "Maybe she'll get jealous and want to fight for you."

Spencer stopped slicing the meat and glanced at Jodi. "You think that could happen?" He asked with interest.

"Trust me, if Wanda has any intentions with you, she'll be over here a lot more now that she knows I'm hanging around!" Jodi laughed.

"I don't want you to be thought of in the wrong way," Spencer said as he went back to making the sandwiches.

"Listen, people are going to think what they want no matter what the truth is," Jodi argued. "Besides, I don't care what she thinks anyway. She doesn't know me. She has no right to judge." Jodi waited a beat then added: "But you should have told her I was staying with you."

Spencer nodded in agreement, hoping Jodi wouldn't ask the next logical question: Why hadn't he told Wanda about Jodi? It would have been perfectly legitimate and up front for Spencer to tell Wanda all about Jodi, his dead best friend's daughter who he was looking out for now. Spencer had told Wanda all about Ross in an attempt to connect with her as she endlessly went on about her dead husband Danny, barely able to have any conversation without bringing up the guy at least once, either in the context of her marriage or her children's father.

Spencer had plenty of opportunities to tell Wanda about Jodi but he never did. In fact, he purposely avoided the subject and now he felt kind of icky for being found out. While he liked the idea of Wanda being jealous, Spencer was disappointed that Jodi didn't appear to be a little more threatened by the older woman. Wouldn't it be nice if Jodi acted a little jealous about Wanda!?

What a moron, Spencer thought to himself as he put the sandwiches on the table and brought some chips and iced tea too. Why would Jodi possibly be jealous? She obviously didn't think of Spencer in that way and he needed to stop thinking of her as anything other than Ross's daughter and his present house mate.

"If you're interested in Wanda you should pursue her," Jodi advised as they ate.

Spencer wanted to ask: "What if I'm interested in you!?" but he knew better than to say it.

Did he really want to be lovers with Jodi anyway? Even if she agreed and they were discreet, people would talk. Hillsboro was a small town. Hell, they were probably already talking anyway. The neighbors had been watching Jodi come and go for a month now. Surely there was gossip. Did that bother him? Did he care? Did he want people to think he was with a younger woman? That a younger woman would be interested in him? He watched Jodi chew on her sandwich across the table from him and he smiled. She opened her mouth to show him her mangled sandwich and then she laughed, as if she was some kid playing a stupid game.

### ### ###

Green College finished the semester and summer arrived. Spencer would be holding a couple of writer workshops during the summer like he usually did but he had no other plans other than to paint Wanda's garage with her eighteen year old son Denny as one of the many projects around the house Wanda was hoping to complete.

Spencer had agreed to the task before Wanda "met" Jodi so it would have been awkward for her to tell him never mind but it was clear that Wanda remained icy toward Spencer and he felt bad about that. Apparently, Jodi's theory about Wanda pursuing him now was false.

Spencer still volunteered at Church on Sunday mornings with Wanda and while she was polite she was definitely not as friendly as she had been toward him before she found out about Jodi and Spencer knew it was his own fault. Neither of them brought up the subject of Jodi of course but the girl from Texas might as well have been standing between them in person.

The Higgins family had a traditional beginning of summer Memorial Day gathering at Spencer's sister's house and Spencer invited Jodi along.

"You should invite Wanda," Jodi suggested.

"She has her own family thing going on and she didn't invite me," Spencer replied.

"Oh," Jodi said. "That's too bad."

But Jodi was game to tagging along with him and the picnic was loud, noisy, and full of activity. Spencer's sister Genie lived in an upscale house with a huge backyard and a built in swimming pool. Her husband Rick did the barbequing and the three generations of family were in full attendance to get the summer rolling. Most remembered Jodi as Ross's daughter although some were surprised to see her hanging out with Spencer and when word got out that Jodi was actually living at Spencer's house a few eyebrows were lifted.

Some made a few sly innuendos as the afternoon went on which Spencer mostly ignored (although he liked being thought of as a stud and a Casanova!) but he was taken aback when Genie confronted him in the kitchen when nobody else was around.

"You're not sleeping with her, are you!?" Genie demanded, her face as red as her hair.

"What? Huh? Who?" Spencer asked innocently.

"Don't give me that shit!" Genie said with annoyance. "Please don't tell me you're sleeping with your best friend's daughter."

"Of course not!" Spencer snapped, trying to sound offended and insulted, although a part of him felt disappointed and let down. "How could you think such a thing?" He asked with fake horror, trying to turn it around on his sister.

"Well, I was just checking," Genie said, sounding calmer now. "It kind of looks like the two of you are together the way she acts around you."

Spencer was surprised by her observation. "What do you mean?"

"Well, it's obvious she likes you," Genie said with a shrug. "She's always looking at you and she's to be happy when she's with you."

"She's just happy to have a connection to her Dad," Spencer explained. "Trust me, nothing would ever happen between us."

"Promise," Genie said seriously.

"What?" Spencer frowned.

"Promise me that no matter how tempted you become or if she tries to seduce you that you don't take advantage of the situation," Genie said.

"How could you possibly think I'd be tempted?" Spencer asked, trying to feign shock and disbelief at his sister. "And how could you insult Jodi like that? As if she'd ever try to seduce an old geyser like me!"

"Look, I know how lonely you are with Lena gone and while it's true I don't really know Jodi except for when she used to hang around with you guys when she was a kid, I know you're both human. Doesn't she have a boyfriend or anything?"

"They broke up," Spencer replied. "He cheated on her."

"Oh great!" Genie moaned. "She'll use you as rebound to mask her pain and rejection."

"It's been six weeks and nothing like that has even remotely happened," Spencer said. "I think you've got it wrong." (Even though he wished she had it right).

"Alright, if you say so," Genie decided, letting out a loud sigh. "You just be careful. And don't do anything stupid. And really think long and hard about if letting her stay with you is really a good idea."

"Relax," Spencer said, watching as Genie left the kitchen to return to the backyard party.

Spencer felt a total slime for chastising his sister when everything she said was pathetically on point. Luckily, there were no other scenes (just a few curious looks) as the day went on – Spencer and Jodi were on the same volleyball and whiffle ball teams and they took a swim together in the pool later in the day, Jodi looking amazing in her scantly bikini. The two also sat together while eating and they stayed at the party well after talk, drinking wine and beer while chatting with various family members.

Spencer hadn't been paying that much attention to how much Jodi was drinking but she was pretty liquored up, giggling and laughing over nothing in particular and getting funny looks from some of Spencer's family as she hung all over him as he walked her to the car when it was finally time to go home. Spencer had never seen Jodi drunk before - she was one of those silly giggly drunks who talked in a high pitched voice and said stupid stuff and then laughed hysterically as if it was the funniest thing she had ever said.

But then she sighed heavily and wiped a tear from her eye as Spencer drove them home. "I never get to hang out with family anymore," she said sadly. "Dad's dead and the rest of the family are spread out and not really all that close anymore. We never get together. But your family all live within ten miles of each other."

"That's not always a good thing," Spencer noted.

"I'm sure everybody in your family has their issues and a few probably have a screw loose or something, but they're fun and funny and it's obvious that everybody's close to one another and like being a family together."

"I guess," he admitted.

"I miss that," Jodi sighed. "I realized today that's one of the reasons I loved coming to Hillsboro when I was a kid. Because I felt like I belonged."

"You still belong," Spencer assured her.

"Oh God," Jodi sobbed. "I feel so alone."

Spencer looked at her with surprise. "I thought you liked it here."

"I do," she replied, wiping more tears from her eyes. "But I know it isn't real."

"It's as real as you want it to be," Spencer assured her.

"How real do you want it to be, Spence?" Jodi mumbled and he wasn't sure what she meant by that.

Spencer had to help her from the car and he half carried/half dragged Jodi into the house.

"I'm sorry, Spence," she moaned. "I usually don't drink so much. I was just having a great time. I couldn't help myself."

"It's okay," he said, helping her up the stairs.

He brought her into her room and she flopped onto the bed on her back, staring up at him like she was a helpless waif. Spencer swallowed as he stared at her.

"You have beautiful blue eyes," he told her.

"Thanks," she smiled and they looked at each other for a long time until Spencer finally took the chance he was waiting weeks for and leaned down, kissing her gently on the lips.

Jodi closed her eyes and breathed in longingly before she gently reached up and pushed him away. "No, Spence," she whispered. "It would be wrong."

"I know," he said with a sigh of his own.

He started to get off the bed but she reached out, grabbed him and pulled him back to her. "Don't go," she pleaded. "Just stay with me for a while."

Spencer nodded and fell onto the bed next to her, lying on his side and staring at her as she stared at the ceiling. Then she turned her head and gently kissed him while brushing her hand across his face.

"Let's not make things complicated between us," she said quietly as she fell back on the bed and stared at the ceiling again.

Spencer rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling too while listening to her breathe.

"Nothing's gone right since Dad died," Jodi said after a while. "Mom was angry all the time and drinking too much. Bringing guys home trying to find a replacement. I went off to college and fell in love with a guy who everybody said was an asshole."

She turned and looked at Spencer. "I told them it was none of their damn business but it turns out they were right. He was a cheating asshole and I wasted six years of my life on the jerk."

"I'm sorry," Spencer said gently.

Jodi kept staring at him. "How could I be so stupid?"

"You were vulnerable, that's all," Spencer replied.

"He didn't even have the decency to apologize," Jodi sighed. "I caught him red handed and he didn't even deny it. He practically acted as if it was my fault. And he didn't try to stop me when I left. It was as if he wanted me to leave."

"Sounds like a great guy," Spencer said sarcastically.

"He acted like he did nothing wrong," she sighed before bursting into tears.

Spencer held her tight and let her sob into his shoulder, crying like a baby until she finally drifted off to sleep. When Spencer was sure she was asleep, he gently slipped out of the bed and went into his own room, feeling sad for her and sorry for himself.

Spencer awoke some time later to the sounds of vomiting coming from the bathroom and he went to investigate, finding Jodi on her knees, hugging the commode and emptying her stomach into the bowl. He knelt down beside her and held her hair back as she puked whatever was left in her gut into the bowl.

"I don't drink often," she explained once she was done with the upchucking.

"You okay?" He gently asked.

"He was my first love," she sobbed. "I thought we were going to be together forever."

"It doesn't always work out that way," Spencer told her.

"Yeah," She sighed. "You wanna know the saddest part? I would have forgiven him if he had asked for a second chance. But he never did."

She burst into tears and Spencer hugged her as they knelt on the cold tiled floor.

"I feel so hurt and betrayed."

"I know."

"Oh God," Jodi groaned when she realized there was puke on the front of her tee shirt. "I'm a mess."

"Tomorrow is another day."

"I've got to get cleaned up," She said, struggling to get to her feet.

Spencer helped her stand and he wasn't sure what to do when she started to peel the tee shirt off over her head. She wasn't wearing a bra and her small but lovely breasts fell out for him to see. Before Spencer could react, Jodi was pushing down her shorts and suddenly she was completely naked as she stepped into the shower stall.

"Please stay," she said. "I don't feel so good and I'm dizzy."

Spencer reached in and turned the water on, trying not to look at her nudity, but noticing her black splotch of pubic hair and her round fanny cheeks when she turned her back to him and rested her head against the tiled wall. He waited while she washed off under the spray and when she turned the water off he wrapped her in a towel and helped her out of the stall.

"Thanks," she muttered. "I promise I'll never drink again!"

Spencer walked her into her room and helped her into the bed.

"Don't go," she whispered once he put her under the covers.

Jodi pulled the towel out from under the sheets and tossed it on the floor.

Spencer nodded and lay down on top of the sheets, dressed in shorts and a white tee shirt. She nestled against him and quickly fell asleep. Spencer tried not to stir as he closed his eyes and he hoped to fall asleep without disturbing the passed out Jodi.

Morning came quickly and it was Jodi who stirred first. Spencer opened his eyes in time to see the still naked Jodi walking out of the room to use the bathroom and he was surprised when she returned a few minutes later equally as nude. Apparently, she wasn't a shy person nor did she mind showing off her lovely body in front of him.

She slipped under the covers again and peered at him. "Sorry about last night," she said with some embarrassment.

"You okay?" He asked.

"Humbled, humiliated, and hung over," Jodi sighed. "I don't know what I was thinking drinking like that."

"Well, you probably needed to let it all out," Spencer theorized.

"I definitely did that, didn't I?" Jodi asked before she pulled him toward her for a soft kiss. He smelled toothpaste on her breath. "Thanks for being so understanding."

Spencer gave her a small smile. "Glad to have helped."

Jodi glanced around. "What now?" She asked.

"I'll leave you to your privacy," He said as he started to get off the bed.

"You don't have to do that," Jodi told him softly.

It was another one of those moments when Spencer wasn't sure what she meant or what he was supposed to do.

"I probably better," he told her knowingly.

"You're much too respectable for your own good, Spence," Jodi remarked as she pulled back the covers and he saw her one more time exposed as she stood and wrapped herself in the same towel from last night.

"I don't suppose you're interested in breakfast," Spencer remarked, changing the subject before she could push him on it some more.

"God no!" She groaned.
"I didn't think so," he grinned before leaving the room.

Well, now he knew what she looked like naked, Spencer thought to himself as he returned to his room where he let out a long sigh. His sister would be proud of him for resisting temptation and not taking advantage of a vulnerable exposed drunk young woman. For some reason, Spencer felt lonelier than ever doing the right thing and being a noble, honorable and moral gentleman. He also knew that he would never be sleeping with Jodi and that made him feel both sad and relieved.

### ### ###

Memorial Day weekend kicked off the Serguci Amateur Baseball League at Beano Field a few blocks from Spencer's house. He and Jodi went to a few games for old times sake but the big news was that Denny – Wanda's garage painting son – played for the Beansboro Beansters so Spencer saw plenty of Wanda as the summer progressed.

Wanda didn't seem all that pleased to see Spencer around the park, even if he and her son were painting together and had become friendly. It struck Spencer as stupid not to sit with Wanda while watching Denny play and she didn't protest when he sat with her although she wasn't very personable either.

Spencer kept the conversation focused on baseball and Denny and after a few games Wanda lightened up some and his church volunteer time with her started to become fun again. Spencer noticed that Wanda wasn't mentioning her dead husband by name as often anymore and when Denny and Spencer finished with the garage she asked them to paint the house trim which Spencer was happy to do.

Wanda's family was getting used to seeing Spencer around and because Denny was friendly with him, the others started to warm up a little too. There was twenty year old daughter Laura with her twenty-one year old husband Tim (and their infant daughter April), Denny, sixteen year old sister Maggie, and thirteen year old sister Angie.

Wanda wasn't all that pleased that Laura dropped out of Blue County Community College to have the baby or that she and Tim (who had a menial entry-level job at a local factory) couldn't afford to live elsewhere. Denny just graduated from Hillsboro High and was getting ready to start classes at Blue County Community College. Maggie would be a high school junior in September, Angie a freshman. They were good kids and it was obvious that Wanda did a good job as mother although she struck Spencer as semi-paranoid when it came to the sex stuff which was probably one reason why she didn't approve of Jodi, even though Jodi was a grown woman.

With Laura's unplanned pregnancy and "shot-gun" wedding and two teenaged daughters in the house, Spencer understood Wanda's concern. That, combined with Wanda's religious beliefs and her grieving for her dead husband, convinced Spencer that he wouldn't be getting anywhere near the sack with Wanda any time soon (if ever) but he enjoyed her company, found her to be a very likable person, and he identified with her, actually feeling more comfortable with Wanda than he did with Jodi who was willing to be naked in front of him and all but invited him to seduce her. Spencer had (finally) come to the conclusion that he couldn't do that to Ross's memory.

But that didn't mean that Jodi still wasn't around (or tempting). She and Spencer swam in Ross's favorite old spot on the Blue River a few times (Spencer was nervous that Jodi was going to want to skinny dip but "luckily" that issue never came up.). They went out to dinner on occasion and when the Fourth of July rolled around, Jodi accompanied Spencer to another Higgins' family gathering in Genie's back yard although, true to her word, Jodi didn't drink this time.

That night, Spencer sat with Wanda in Beano Field watching the fireworks with Maggie and Angie after Denny played a baseball game with the Beansboro Beansters. They all went out for ice cream afterward, the first time Spencer was invited along on a family outing.

It occurred to Spencer that he could treat Wanda's kids the same way he treated Ross's kids when they were growing up – with respect, friendship, interest, involvement, humor, and mentorship. Wanda's kids would always be Danny's children just as Ross's kids were always Ross's kids no matter how much Spencer was involved in their lives and suddenly Spencer no long worried about how Wanda's kids might perceive or treat him. He just needed to be himself and if he treated Maggie and Angie the same way he treated Jodi and Jenny when they were that age he'd be fine.

The evening was an enjoyable experience and after the kids went into the house, Wanda and Spencer stood under the large oak tree in Wanda's front yard.

"Can I trust you around my kids?" Wanda bluntly asked.

"I've been hanging around with Denny all summer," Spencer remarked.

"He's not a girl," Wanda replied.

Spencer was taken aback by Wanda's implication and then he realized she was referencing Jodi.

"Nothing's going on with Jodi," he assured her. "She's my friend's daughter. I'm just helping her out."

"For how long?" Wanda wanted to know.

"I don't know," Spencer answered truthfully. "You know, if you talked to her, you'd find out that I was a pretty good role model and parental figure when she was growing up."

"I don't want to talk to her," Wanda informed him coldly.

"Okay," Spencer replied, trying not to feel offended. "Look, there's nothing I can say to convince you about anything. All I can offer is my example and my character. You'll have to decide whether you trust me or not."

Wanda folded her arms across her chest and gave him a frosty look, putting a damp end to an otherwise enjoyable evening.

"Happy Fourth of July," Spencer said with sincerity. "Good night, Wanda."

"Good night, Spencer," she said before turning and heading into her house.

### ### ###

Spencer came home from one of his summer workshops to find Jodi sitting on the living room couch playing touchy feely with some guy he'd never seen before.

"Oh, Hi Spence," Jodi said with a giggle, as she nestled close to the guy. "This is my friend Steve."

"Steve," Spencer said politely, not wanting to come across as rude or judgmental like Wanda. He reached his hand out to Steve and they shook. "Nice to meet you."

Steve was tall when he stood with a bushy red blonde beard, long blond hair pulled back in a pony tail, and more tattoos than a veteran Sailor. He was wearing shorts that were too small for him and a tank top that revealed his muscular arms.

"We work together," Jodi explained.

Spencer nodded with understanding and went into the kitchen to give them privacy. He was surprised by how annoyed he was that Jodi was with somebody new but was that in his role as parental protector or jilted would be lover!?

After Steve left, Jodi went out onto the back deck where Spencer was reading the paper in the evening sun.

"So, what are the rules about overnight guests?" Jodi asked as she took a seat at the table where he was seated.

Spencer looked up over the top of his paper. "How long have you known this guy?"

"Since I started working there," Jodi replied. "He sort of took me under his wings and showed me the ropes."

"And now you're serious about him?"

"I don't know," Jodi said with a shrug. "But it's nice to be noticed."

"I've noticed you, Jodi," Spencer told her.

"Have you?" She asked with raised eyebrows.

"All I ask is that we respect each other's privacy and rights to a safe and peaceful home," Spencer told her. "I'm not going to stop you from bringing people into the house."

"But you don't like it," Jodi realized.

"You have a right to live your life the way you want, Jodi," he replied. "I'm not here to stop you."

"Well, I can't wait on you forever, Spence," she grumbled as she pushed away from the table and stormed into the house.

Spencer was caught by surprise from the remark and he went back to his paper with his heart beating rapidly in his chest. Was she really waiting for him? Was he a fool not to see it, respond to it, or act upon it? Was he making the wrong choice not to seduce her as she just inferred?

After that conversation, Jodi started acting strangely when she was around Spencer, one moment flirting with him and the next being sarcastic and almost mean in her words and attitudes. Spencer didn't ask about Steve and he stopped taking Jodi swimming and to Beano Field ball games. It was almost as if they had a fight without really having a fight.

One afternoon, Spencer decided to boldly call Wanda at work (she was a real estate agent) and ask her out on a 'date'. The Military Band was playing a concert at Hillsboro Park and he thought it would be a nice way to spend the evening. Spencer was pleasantly stunned when Wanda agreed to the outing!

They walked from Wanda's house to the park and while Spencer debated as to whether or not he should hold her hand he decided against it. They told stories about Hillsboro – Spencer born and raised, Wanda brought here by marriage. They sat in the bleachers at the park and listened to the outstanding military band and Spencer couldn't help but think about his son Jake, off wearing the Army uniform, defending the country and everybody's freedom.

"I won't let Denny join," Wanda was saying as they walked home and this time Spencer took her hand in hers in the dark and she didn't pull away. "I already lost one man and I'm not about to lose another."

"He's eighteen," Spencer remarked. "He can do what he wants."

"He respects my wishes," Wanda replied.

"I wasn't thrilled when Jake enlisted but I wasn't going to try to stop him."

"And what if something happens to him?" Wanda wanted to know.

"Something could happen to him here," Spencer reasoned. "He could hit by a Blue County Regional Transit Bus. Life is full of chances and choices and fate and lessons and who knows what tomorrow is going to bring?"

"I just worry so much," Wanda sighed.

"It's hard when you lose somebody," Spencer agreed. "I suppose that's why I tried to help Jodi. Out of some sense of loyalty and obligation to Ross, who's been dead for eight years now. But do I really owe him or Jodi anything?"

She didn't answer and they walked quietly for a few minutes.

"You haven't slept with her?" Wanda asked.

"No," Spencer replied truthfully, knowing there was no need to add 'but I wanted to' or "I wish I did' or "I saw her naked though'.

They stopped walking and Wanda looked at him. "I'm scared," she admitted.

"Me too," Spencer replied.

"I just never saw myself in the position I now find myself in," she sighed. "I never thought I was going to have to start all over."

"I know. When Lena left, I was thinking 'I'm too old to start dating again'," Spencer told her. "And, to tell you the truth, I really haven't. It's just too hard trying to meet new people after having your own routine with one person for so long."

"Yeah," Wanda agreed as they started walking again. "And, of course, the guilt that goes along with it. How can I betray my children's father? My husband?"

"If the roles were reversed and you were the one who was gone would you want Danny to be alone and lonely, raising his kids on his own?" Spencer asked.

"Probably not," Wanda admitted with a sigh. "But that doesn't make it any easier."

"I know."

They reached her house which was unusually quiet for a change, but it looked good thanks to Spencer and Denny's trim paint job!

"Well, thanks for a lovely evening," Wanda said happily.
Spencer leaned in and softly kissed her while brushing his hand through her curly hair. It was their first outward sign of affection and he was relieved when Wanda didn't fight it. She quietly returned the kiss and he liked how it felt. He wasn't paranoid or guilt ridden like he was with Jodi knowing the baggage, scandal and questioning that came with crossing the line with a former child he helped raise.

"Who do you think you are, Woody Allen?" his sister Genie had accused him on the Fourth of July when she briefly brought the subject up again, unhappy to see that her brother was still "hanging out" with Jodi and that Jodi was clearly still intrigued by his attention and interest, even if it was only as a host and favor to a dead friend.

Spencer didn't owe dead Danny anything and he was convinced that Wanda deserved to be happy as she tried to put her life back together so he enjoyed their first kiss. Sadly, it didn't last long as Wanda broke the kiss and stepped away.

"Good night, Spencer," she said, sounding slightly flustered.

"Good night, Wanda," Spencer replied with a smile as he watched her disappear into the house almost like a school girl.

Spencer went home feeling more hopeful and relaxed then he had in a long time.

### ### ###

Spencer came home a few days later to find a pick up truck parked in the driveway. Steve and Jodi were loading boxes into the back from the house.

"What's going on?" Spencer asked with surprise when he saw the activity.

"I'm moving out," Jodi announced, not looking Spencer in the eyes.

"Just like that?" Spencer asked with confusion.

"Give us a few minutes, Steve," Jodi requested.

"Sure, we're done anyway,' Steve replied, giving Spencer a suspicious look before climbing into the cab of the truck.

Spencer and Jodi walked up the driveway toward the back of the house.

"So, you were just going to take off without saying anything?" Spencer asked.

"I was going to leave a note," Jodi mumbled.

"You're moving in with that guy?" Spencer frowned.

"No, not yet anyway," Jodi said. "But he doesn't like me living with another guy. I'm moving in with his sister. She needs a roommate."

"I liked having a housemate," Spencer told her.

"You going to ask me to stay, Spence?" Jodi tested.

"No," Spencer admitted, glancing away.

"I didn't think so," she said with a tone in her voice.

"Don't be like that," Spencer complained.

"Maybe if you acted on how you feel instead of worrying about what people think I wouldn't have to leave," Jodi remarked.

"I'm sure your father wouldn't have any complaints," Spencer said.

Jodi sucked in a breath but didn't say anything.

"I did what I thought was the right thing," Spencer said quietly. "I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings."

She tried to force a smile but then she look horror stricken. "I've really made an ass of myself, haven't I?" She realized.

Spencer smiled. "Not at all," he assured her.

"I guess I was chasing a fantasy," Jodi said.

"I made sure you didn't catch it," Spencer replied.

She fell into him and gave him a meaningful hug. "Thank you for taking me in, Spence," she sighed, holding him tight. "Thank you for taking care of me and protecting me and doing the right thing." Her voice was shaking. "I guess I was more messed up then I realized."

"You're going to be okay," Spencer told her. "Hillsboro can be good to you if you let it."

"I'll never forget your kindness, your compassion, and your wisdom." Her voice broke and Jodi leaned up and planted a kiss smack on his lips before she trotted back to the truck.
Spencer watched her go and then he looked up toward the sky. "I made the right choice, right Ross?" he said.

### ### ###

The Beansboro Beansters had a game at Beano Field the next night and Spencer caught up with Wanda there. Maggie and Angie were down at the small concession shack and Spencer had a few minutes alone with Wanda before the game started with Denny in right field.

"Jodi moved out," Spencer announced as he took a seat next to Wanda on the third base side of the field. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you when she moved in."

Wanda glanced at Spencer with surprise. "You kicked her out?"

"No," Spencer said. "She left on her own accord. It was time."

Wanda didn't say anything as she watched the players warm up on the baseball diamond and because she was wearing sunglasses Spencer couldn't tell her true reaction. Maggie and Angie returned to sit with them and the game soon started. Wanda didn't say much as the game progressed but there seemed to be a relaxed feeling as Spencer sat with her and her two daughters watching Denny and the Beansters play. Ten years ago it was Jodi, Jimmy and Jenny sitting here with Ross, Myra, Spencer, Lena and Jake and while everything was different now strangely they felt satisfactorily the same too.

The Beansters won and his family congratulated Denny for his performance after the game. Spencer walked Wanda and the girls home and when Maggie and Angie ran into the house, Spencer turned to Wanda and smiled.

"That was a nice evening," he said.

"You didn't sleep with her?" Wanda asked for a second time.

"No," Spencer assured her.

"I'm glad she's not there but this doesn't necessarily change anything between us," Wanda warned.

"Right. No promises."

Spencer gently brushed her hand with his where it rested against her leg as they stood on the sidewalk.

"I know you're a good person," Wanda told him. "I just don't know if I'm ready for any of this."

"Don't worry about it," Spencer said. "There's plenty of time to figure it out."

He squeezed her hand and gave her a peck on the cheek before he walked away, leaving her to think about what she wanted to do. Spencer realized that he was now in the Jodi role and Wanda was in his place, trying to figure out what she wanted and what was the right thing to do. Now it was Wanda's Choice instead of Spencer's Choice.

The dog days of August slowly rolled by. It took a few days for the scent of Jodi to fade away in Jake's old room. Spencer returned a few of Jake's old items to the room but kept its appearance more of a guest room than a shrine to Jake's childhood. Spencer would occasionally see Jodi here and there and he would give a wave or they'd stop and have a brief chat. Aunt Lucy was hanging in there, the job was going well, the new roommate situation was working out, and things with Steve were progressing nicely.

"How are things with Wanda going?" Jodi asked with genuine interest.

"Slowly," Spencer answered truthfully. "But that's okay."

The Sunday morning joint volunteer church commitment continued for Spencer and Wanda and a few times Spencer took Wanda to Johnny C's diner afterward for lunch. They continued to meet for Beanster games at Beano Field when Denny played and Spencer showed up at Wanda's house during the day to check on things when Wanda was at work. Angie was always happy to tag along with Spencer for an ice cream or take a ride and it made Spencer think of Jodi and Jenny when they were that age.

Wanda agreed to a movie one night and on another occasion the entire family loaded up the car and went to a double feature at the outdoor drive in! Spencer brought Wanda to The Bullpen Tavern next to Beano Field for the first time one night and they watched that night's game from the tavern's "cage" down the right field line while enjoying dinner.

In no time, summer was over and the Labor Day weekend arrived. The Beansters were out of the Serguci League championship race but it had been a good season for Denny. Wanda and Spencer were in the stands for the last few games of the schedule.

And of course there was the traditional Higgins family end of the summer Labor Day picnic bash at Genie and Rick's house to close out the summer season. Wanda agreed to attend this year's festivities and Denny, Maggie and Angie were surprisingly willing to attend too.

Most of the Higgins' clan was amused to see Spencer arrive with a new woman and three kids in tow and Genie was relieved to know that Jodi was out of the picture.

"You sure you didn't sleep with her?" Genie demanded when she caught her brother alone.

"How many times are you going to ask me that?" Spencer groaned.

"It's good to see you with somebody your own shoe size," Genie teased.

Wanda's kids hit it off with the various Higgins cousins, nieces and nephews and Wanda was able to relax and have a good time getting to know Spencer's large and somewhat crazy family. She played volleyball and whiffle ball as required but she passed on Spencer's invitation for a swim in the built in swimming pool.

"Nobody's seeing me in a bathing suit!" Wanda said.

"Nobody would mind," Spencer argued.

"I would!" Wanda replied.

The day went well and Spencer's family had the good senses not to mention Jodi in Wanda's presence. Wanda was happy to be accepted by the Higgins clan who were all nice people and for the first time in a long time she didn't think about her late husband constantly. She was actually comfortable being with Spencer and his family.

"Having fun?" Spencer asked Wanda as the gala began to wane.

"I am," she admitted with some surprise.

"The kids are having a blast," Spencer observed as they watched Denny flirt with Genie's daughter Gwen, Maggie giggling with a group of the Higgins girl cousins, and Angie playing badminton with some of the other youngsters.

"They deserve it," Wanda said with a sad smile. "It's been a long time since they've been able to cut loose. I suppose my grieving has kept them down too."

"They're doing fine," Spencer assured her. "And they want you to be happy too."

She nodded. "I'm trying," she said. "Thanks for being so patient with me."

Labor Day ended and school began again. Spencer was back at Green College for another year of creative writing classes. He was sitting in his living room late one afternoon reviewing some of his student's first assignments when the doorbell rang. Spencer opened the door and was pleasantly surprised to see Wanda standing there with his crock pot in her arms.

"I thought I should return this," she said cheerfully.

"Don't you need it?"

"Angie got me one at a tag sale," Wanda explained.

"Come in, come in," Spencer said, standing back and Wanda smiled as she stepped inside.

Spencer took the crock pot from her and brought it into the kitchen, returning it to its original place. When he turned around, Wanda was standing right behind him and he laughed but she had a serious look on her face.

"Something wrong?" Spencer worried.

"I actually have some time to myself with no obligations or responsibilities," Wanda said. "Laura and Tim are visiting his folks with the baby. Denny went off with friends for the weekend. Maggie is sleeping over a friend's house and Angie is off on a school camping trip."

"That's great!" Spencer grinned. "Want to go out to dinner or something?"

"No, I don't want to go out," Wanda said softly before leaning into him and kissing him.

Spencer gladly returned the kiss and he was happy when she wrapped her arms around him. They both deepened the kiss and after a few minutes Spencer decided to get bold as he licked her lips with his tongue. He was stunned when Wanda opened her mouth to accept his tongue and their kisses grew in pleasure and strength. Spencer dared to slide his hands down to feel Wanda's backside.

"Would you like to eat in?" Spencer asked between the kisses.

"Yes," Wanda whispered. "Do you think we could eat in the bedroom?"

"Oh, I think that can be arranged," He grinned happily.

The thing was they didn't bring any food with them as Spencer escorted her up the stairs. Wanda was understandably nervous and timid, shy almost as they resumed their smooching and she allowed Spencer to slowly undress her.

"You can see why I didn't want to be in a bathing suit in front of your family," Wanda sighed when Spencer eventually removed all of her clothing.

"I think you're beautiful," Spencer told her.

They were lying on his bed now, both naked, exploring each other's bodies with their hands and mouths and Spencer happily came to the conclusion that he definitely had made the right choice when he and Wanda began to make mature, experienced, grateful and meaningful love.