Estelle's Legacy

Gene moved into the Hillside Acres Townhouse complex following the death of Betsy, his wife of nearly thirty years. Staying in their large home with the kids grown and gone felt like a burden with all the required upkeep and maintenance not to mention the memories of Betsy so downscaling to the two bedroom split level townhouse made sense.

Estelle was the older woman who lived next door and she made a great neighbor, sympathetic to Gene's unexpected life changes at fifty and she went out of her way to be kind and hospitable which he greatly appreciated. Gene returned the favor by helping Estelle around the house and checking on her from time to time.

Estelle and her husband Tony were among the first tenants to move into the then brand new Hillside Acres once their son Rob was out of the house. Sadly, Tony passed away from a brain aneurism and Estelle described her late husband as a 'caring and compassionate man who was the love of my life'.

The more Gene got to know Estelle the more he liked her. She was seventy but she looked and acted much younger. He found himself becoming attracted to her as they continued to get to know each other but when he brought her flowers and candy on Valentine's Day Estelle made it perfectly clear that she was not interested in a romantic relationship.

"I'm a married woman," she told Gene. "I'll be your neighbor and I'll be your friend but I won't be anything more," she let it be known in no uncertain terms and once Gene got over her initial rejection he grew to respect Estelle all the more for her convictions and her beliefs and she became his best friend.

Estelle's granddaughter Danielle visited her grandmother regularly, arriving in a beat up old sedan with her two children who looked to be about eight and six when Gene first noticed them. Danielle was only in her mid-twenties when Gene first moved in and over time Estelle provided him with the back story. For a woman who enjoyed nearly fifty years of wedding bliss and still loved her husband in absentia, Estelle's life wasn't as perfect as she had hoped and Gene could tell how difficult it was for Estelle to air her family's dirty laundry.

"Danielle is the illegitimate daughter of my son Rob, the result of an extra-martial affair," Estelle revealed with embarrassed shame one evening after her granddaughter left following a visit. "I love my son but I was never as disgusted with him as I was when I found out about his behaviors," Estelle said.

Danielle was raised by her relatively young biological mother Linda and although Rob disowned the girl Estelle refused to abandon the child and she went out of her way to spend time with Danielle even though Linda wasn't all that thrilled with Estelle's involvement.

"She couldn't understand why I was present when Rob was absent," Estelle sighed. "I couldn't change the sins of my son but I wasn't going abandon my responsibilities as a grandmother."

Linda lived in a small apartment in downtown Hillsboro and she struggled to make ends meet working a series of low-paying jobs. Linda also spent too much time in the local bars (which is where she met Rob who was experiencing marital difficulties and looking for an escape). Linda was only twenty three when Danielle was born (Rob was nearly thirty) and Linda wasn't in the proper emotional or fiscal position to be raising a child on her own.

Estelle was much better off financially and she was able to do things for Danielle that Linda couldn't. Naturally, Linda resented Estelle for those attributes even though she was quick to turn to Estelle when she needed a babysitter or some other assistance. It was Estelle who bought Danielle's back to school clothes and it was Estelle who paid for most of Danielle's school activities and other expenses.

"You know, we sent Rob to St. Anne's Catholic School," Estelle told Gene one night. "He could have gone to The Sun Rise Lake School for Boys because he was book smart but he was rebelling from the time he was twelve, constantly getting into mischief and breaking the rules. We let him transferred to Blue County Technical School his junior year because that's what he wanted to do but he never really got his act together in the attitude department even as adult."

Estelle seemed mystified by the failures of her only son.

"We were good people," Estelle said of her and her late husband. "We raised him right. I don't know why he turned on us and our values. Maybe he just resented us for being good people. I don't know."

Trying to compensate for her son's lack of parenting involvement, Estelle often had Danielle over for sleepovers, especially on Saturday nights followed by church on Sunday mornings (since Linda didn't go to services).

Danielle was close to her grandmother and she valued Estelle's influence but her upbringing with her struggling single mother who liked to party along with a hard ass absent father was not the best environment for the young girl who saw men come and go from her mother's life (and bed). Estelle did her best to instill virtues and values in her vulnerable granddaughter hoping that Danielle would not inherit her father's less than stellar qualities but Estelle couldn't be with the girl 24/7. Linda wasn't around that much either of course.

It was therefore really no big surprise when Danielle ended up pregnant at sixteen, knocked up by some older boy she met at a party somewhere. Carrie was born nine months later.

"Maybe it was me," Estelle said with defeat during one conversation with Gene. "Maybe I had something to do with the failing of my own son and granddaughter. I thought I was doing right and teaching right but she got pregnant anyway."

"You were her third line of defense, not her first," Gene reasoned. "You can't blame yourself for the failings of her parents."

Estelle retired from her job with the electric company and she was able to help out with the baby. Linda was not very supportive of the situation, horrified to be a grandmother before the age of forty. Against Estelle's advice, Danielle dropped out of school but Estelle insisted Danielle get her GED.

"I knew she'd never have a chance to break the cycle if she didn't," Estelle explained.

Danielle tried to be a good mother but she was young and inexperienced with limited resources and she didn't get a lot of help from her own mother. Estelle did what she could to help out financially, emotionally and physically, but it was still a rough row to hoe.

Two years later, eighteen year old Danielle met a guy at her job at the plastics company but when Danielle discovered she was pregnant again the guy bailed and Estelle was forced to repeat the same pattern all over again when Jenny entered the world. Now Estelle had two young needy great-grandchildren and Linda soon left town with some guy who got a job in New Mexico.

Danielle took over the lease of her mother's dumpy apartment and she raised her two children as a single working mom with little help or support from anybody other than Estelle.

"I cried myself to sleep on plenty of nights," Estelle told Gene. "But you have to give Danielle credit. She learned from her mistakes, she overcame her errors in judgment, she's been a great mother to those two kids, and she's the only one who visits with me regularly."

Gene saw Danielle often. She struck him as a nice person and a good mother, very attentive to both the girls and to her grandmother who she obviously adored. At first, Danielle was confused about Gene, not sure if her grandmother's next door neighbor was a 'gentleman friend' which Estelle quickly dismissed.

"I'm an old lady twenty years older than Gene," Estelle insisted. "Gene is a friend and neighbor, the kid brother I never had," she told Danielle. "His wife died unexpectedly and he's a lonely man," she explained. "I don't think he'd leave his house at all if I didn't keep him busy!"

Danielle was happy that her grandmother had a friendly neighbor and she enjoyed getting to know Gene who was often around when she was visiting. Estelle had Gene (and sometimes other neighbors) over when she was having a backyard cookout for "the girls" (as she called Danielle and her daughters). Gene was also invited to some of the birthday celebrations and holiday gatherings. He once gave Danielle a ride when her car broke down and he let her borrow his car another time when she was without transportation.

Gene worked mostly from home as a Human Resources Consultant with periodic road trips for conferences and presentations so he was around a lot when Danielle was visiting. Estelle and her family became sort of Gene's fill in family. The widower's daughter Kate was a married professional woman living in Atlanta and his son Ken was a Navy pilot presently stationed in San Diego so Gene didn't see his own children that much. Danielle was only a year younger than Kate and two years younger than Ken. Carrie and Jenny were cute kids full of energy and they made Gene feel young again. They also reminded him of his own kids when they were that age and he enjoyed a second chance at being around younger children.

Estelle and Gene's friendship was based on their mutual understanding and common experience of having lost a loving spouse and how difficult it was to carry on in the aftermath. They also compared notes about parenting (and, for Estelle, grand parenting). Estelle often spoke of her disappointment in her son Rob who not only cheated on his wife Rachel but did little to support Danielle. As far as Rob's three legitimate children knew, Danielle was their cousin and not their half-sibling and that deceptive secret made Estelle feel like a co-conspirator in the lie.

Estelle was alienated from her daughter-in-law Rachel who resented Estelle's involvement in Danielle's life and Estelle infrequently saw the other grandchildren as Rob and Rachel didn't go out of their way to include Estelle in their family life. Gene met Rachel only a few times on the rare occasions she visited Hillside Acres. She was overweight and looked much older than her stated years, probably worn down by a belittling cheating husband and an unhappy marriage. Gene tried to be polite but Rachel was bitter and angry and was she purposely rude to her mother in law's neighbor.

"Those two deserve each other," Estelle remarked to Gene one time when Rob and Rachel drove off after another stressful and unhappy visit.

Rob was a long distance truck driver who loved to play the role of the stereotypical red neck, beer-bellied brute. He'd pull the Rig to the curb in front of the townhouse to visit his mother on his way back from some long haul. The sight of the big truck in the complex didn't exactly thrill neighbors but Rob did it purposefully just to be an asshole.

Rob had moved out of town soon after his infidelity with Linda and he rarely visited his mother. Of course he saw Danielle even less and Gene had a hard time finding any redeeming values in the guy when their paths crossed. He was loud, obnoxious, rude, tough, and unsympathetic. He was usually annoyed or bored with his mother and he'd get pissed off whenever Estelle brought up the subject of Danielle and her two daughters.

"They're all illegitimate bitches," Rob foully complained one day which caused Estelle to break out in tears.

It was no wonder Danielle grew up with challenges in her life but it was pretty easy for Gene to figure out that Estelle had been the one constant soothing and influential presence in the girl's life and the closest thing to a parent Danielle would ever know. Gene himself was grateful for Estelle's council and friendship and he saw no reason why Rob could blame his mother for his issues.

Kate and Ken were great kids and outstanding adults but Gene hardly saw them anymore and he felt like an irrelevant Dad these days although whenever job opportunities took him close to Atlanta or San Diego he always scheduled in a visit to see his kids. Gene knew one of the reasons the thoughtful Estelle included him in some of her family gatherings was so he wouldn't feel so lonely and alone living at Hillside Acres.

With Estelle's help, Danielle survived the school of hard knocks and she was living a fairly stable life, able to put food on the table and raise her girls in a relatively safe and stable environment even if they weren't in the best apartment in the best part of town. Danielle often remarked to Estelle and Gene how proud she was to have come this far and to have a job that she liked and two girls that she adored.

"I'm very proud of that girl," Estelle told Gene on more than one occasion. "She had nothing and made something out of her life whereas Rob had everything and failed to take advantage of it."

### ### ###

Gene was watching a football game on television late on a Sunday afternoon when his phone rang. At first, he couldn't understand what was being said because there was a hysterical voice on the other end of the line but he finally realized that it was Danielle.

"I'm in the ER," she said when she was able to calm herself at Gene's request. "Estelle has been stricken. It's pretty bad."

Gene's heart sank. Even though Estelle was 76 years old now, she was spry for her age. She was active in a nearly non-stop way, looking after Carrie and Jenny for Danielle, running errands for the girls, and showing up at the school for various events and activities. Plus she had her own social life, breakfast with her girlfriends after Church on Sundays, volunteer activities at the church, and even a stint as a volunteer in the hospital's gift shop. Gene was amused because Estelle seemed to have more pep and energy than he did (and he was twenty years younger than her)!

Carrie and Jenny looked traumatized as they sat in the waiting room when Gene arrived in the ER and a frantic Danielle came out from the ER Bay looking as white as a ghost.

"They're moving her to the ICU," Danielle reported in a shaky voice. "She's had a massive heart attack at the church thing she was volunteering at. There's severe heart damage. She's not conscious."

Danielle's voice broke and she rested her head against Gene's chest. He took her into a hug and gave her a supportive squeeze. It was the first overtly affectionate physical display he had demonstrated toward the younger woman.

"I'm so very sorry, Danielle," Gene sighed. "This is the last thing I expected to happen."

"I know," Danielle sobbed. "She was stronger than an ox and healthier than me. I never though something like this could happen either. I figured she'd outlive all of us."

"She still could," Gene offered optimistically.

Danielle insisted on staying at the hospital so Gene volunteered to take the girls home. They were obviously upset about their great grandmother but they settled into their routine and once they were in bed, Gene was able to collect himself. The apartment was old with worn wallpaper, warped floors, and cracked wood frames but Danielle kept its appearance neat and clean even with its used furniture and sparse decorations. Gene recognized some of the presents and contributions Estelle had given over the years.

Gene lay down on the over soft shot living room couch and thought about Estelle as he tried to fall asleep. She had been such a wonderful friend and companion from the day Gene moved into Hillside Acres. He was a depressed mess trying to adjust to life as a widower but Estelle was positive, upbeat, and forward thinking even with the many challenges she had in her own life. Once she let him know that she wasn't interested in romance, Estelle became the older sister Gene never had, a good friend, a supportive adviser, and a mentoring inspiring influence.

Gene knew how important Estelle was in Danielle's life and he wondered how Danielle would deal with life without her grandmother if Estelle didn't pull through. No matter what happened, life had definitely changed for everybody. Estelle the rock and anchor wouldn't be able to play the same role as before if she did survive.

Danielle came home to take a quick shower at 5:30 the following morning. She was full of anxiety, fear, and almost manic and she said she'd be heading back to the hospital once the girls were off to school. Gene sat with Estelle until Danielle returned and Danielle was greatly appreciative of Gene's presence, support, and patience during the ordeal.

The routine became a lot of hurry up and wait. Estelle hadn't regained consciousness and the prognosis remained grave. Rob finally showed up at about two o'clock that afternoon with a detached and indifferent attitude, asking the doctor about 'pulling the plug' options which upset Danielle. Gene was struck by Rob's insensitive, unemotional outlook regarding his mother. It was sad to witness.

Danielle and Rob had several fights during the next eighteen hours but in the end Rob was Estelle's primary next of kin and when he instructed the doctor to turn off the ventilation machine against Danielle's wishes and in spite of her loud, angry, tearful protests, the peeping of the EKG and other machines slowed, Estelle's breathing became labored and she died an hour later with a crying Danielle holding her hand and Rob standing with his arms folded across his chest in the corner of the ICU cubical.

Rob had earlier banned Gene from the room but he was standing with the girls when a teary eyed Danielle exited Estelle's room fuming at her father.

"I'll never forgive you for this," she told Rob angrily.

"Hey, if she was meant to live she would have stayed alive without the machines," Rob reasoned. "Why extend her suffering if there was no hope?"

"Why let her die if there was any hope?" Danielle countered.

Preparing for the funeral was intense and stressful and when Gene drove Danielle and the girls to the service Danielle was a mess. Rob and his family sat in the front pew, banishing Danielle and the girls to the second pew with Gene who escorted the trio for moral and emotional support even though he was feeling his own grief for Estelle.

The Pastor knew Estelle very well and Danielle and her girls to a lesser degree but he had never met Rob and his family, although Estelle had certainly filled the Reverend in on her family's saga over the years.

It was a lovely service with a remarkable sermon from Pastor Rogers, a tall, skinny man with long gray hair and a drawn face but a perfect preaching voice and an insightful look at Faith, spirituality, life and death. He captured Estelle's essence perfectly.

The reception in the church basement after the service was awkward with Danielle avoiding her father and his family who were cold and rude in response. Gene tried to keep the peace but he was glad when Danielle decided to make an early exit and let Rob have the center stage with the fake grief platform.

"I don't know what I'm going to do without Estelle," Danielle sighed as Gene drove the girls' home.

Gene was shocked the next day when he learned that Estelle had named him Executor of her Will. He was honored and touched that she trusted him enough to be the arbitrator of her estate but he knew the moment he saw the document that shit was going to hit the fan. Estelle had left her Hillside Acres townhouse condo to Danielle and not Rob. She also left most of her savings to Danielle, Carrie and Jenny, with a small amount to Rob's three (other) children. She left nothing to Rob as a final statement of her disappointment in him. Danielle was also willed Estelle's car. Nobody was surprised when Rob contested the will but Gene told Danielle to move into the townhouse anyway because it would be months before the case was heard in court.

Gene paid off all the Estate's bills during the next few months and he worked with Estelle's lawyer to make sure the monies were paid out to Danielle and the others. He allowed the estate to pay for Danielle's move from the apartment to the townhouse. Danielle sold her aging car and drove Estelle's newer model. In addition to his role as executor, Gene also found himself taking over many of Estelle's responsibilities. He picked up the girls from school and gave them rides when Danielle wasn't available. He attended some of their school activities. He started dinner for Danielle when she was running late and sometimes he had the three girls over to his place for a meal. Gene felt he owed it to Estelle to take care of Danielle and the girls as best he could on her behalf.

Three months had passed since Estelle's passing. Rob consistently harassed Danielle with guilt trips and mean comments and he was downright rude to Gene whom he considered a gold digger who had taken advantage of his mother and was now preying on his daughter and grandchildren. Gene would have felt bad if Rob had a sliver of credibility or standing but Gene had seen enough of Rob over the years to know he was an insensitive, uncaring bullying absent father to Danielle and a disappointment to his mother so Gene had zero sympathy for the guy and he tuned out his endless ranting and ravings.

Gene lost his wife Betsy and now a good friend in Estelle. Danielle lost her dear grandmother so she and Gene were sharing their grief together. They both had similar memories, insights, stories, and impressions about Estelle and they were able to provide each other with emotional support and understanding as they weathered life without her.

Danielle found herself becoming dependent on Gene the same way she had relied on Estelle. She even took to calling Gene "Eugene" because she liked the E sound that reminded her of the E in Estelle. Gene was great with the girls and he was a terrific friend to Danielle. Even though he was old enough to be her Dad and often filled the father like role for Danielle and the girls who really didn't have father figures in their lives, Danielle didn't see Gene in the father role.

Danielle had been a single mom for more than twelve years and Gene was the first mature man she had never known. Her own father was a jerk and the two men who fathered her children were immature cads who abandoned her when she needed them most.

Estelle always spoke well of Gene and Danielle had seen for herself that he was a dependable, reliable, stable, gentle, kind and giving man. She really didn't care about his age. She liked being around Gene and she liked having him in her life.

Danielle was also proud of her job at the plastics company. She had worked her way up from line worker to shift supervisor and now she was a member of the management team which meant added responsibilities and time commitments which was why having Estelle's (and now Gene's) assistance was so vital to her ability to be a successful single working mom.

Gene noticed how affectionate and expressive Danielle had become toward him since Estelle died. He had to admit he enjoyed the attention and TLC but he also felt awkward about the new normal. Danielle was more than twenty-five years his junior, the age of his children. She was Estelle's granddaughter. She had a resentful father would certainly consider Gene a molester if anything happened between them.

Gene struggled with the premise that maybe he was nothing more than a perverted middle aged sicko for being attracted to Danielle in an emotional and maybe even sexual way. He hadn't been with another woman since Betsy's death and there was no denying that he was a lonely man longing for friendship which is why Estelle had been so vital to his life. But she was gone now and here was Estelle's granddaughter offering friendship, companionship and perhaps even more if he was interested. Would he be a fool not to purse a relationship with the woman if she was the one making the moves?

Gene played the fill-in father role for Carrie and Jenny. He was also Danielle's escort and companion for various social activities at the school and even around town, including dinners out. They took the kids to the drive-in movies a few times and it was almost as if they were a ready made family in some ways.

### ### ###

Gene returned from a four day round trip and made a late dinner for the girls as Danielle was running late. The townhouse still had Estelle's presence even though Danielle had brought her own flavor to the condo. It was hard not to think about Estelle whenever Gene was in the condo but he also liked what Danielle had done to put her own signature to the place as well.

Gene stayed for the meal and by the time he and Danielle were done cleaning up the two girls had gone to bed. Danielle stepped into the kitchen after changing into her lounge around the townhouse clothes to find Gene standing at the kitchen sink finishing with the dishes

She smiled as she stepped up behind him and Gene felt his heart rate increase when her arms went around his waist from behind. She rested her head against his back and sighed contently.

"I'm so lucky to have you, Eugene," she said happily.

"I'm old enough to be your father," he said quietly, suddenly nervous by her open display of affection.

"I don't care, Eugene," Danielle replied. "I'm attracted to you. You're the only man who's been a good to me in my entire life."

Gene stared at himself in the reflection of the window in front of him over the sink. He was a middle aged guy with visible age lines around his eyes. His hair was streaked with gray and he cheated by touching it up with a Just For Men highlighter. There was a bit of a pouch around his midsection and he had to watch what he ate to avoid stomach issues, gas, and other side affects.

"Your father would go nuts if we became lovers," Gene warned.

"He's not my father, Eugene," Danielle said. "He's just the guy who knocked up my mother. Nothing more. Besides, who gives a shit what he thinks?"

Gene turned to face her while drying his hands on the dish towel. "He could use anything against you in his contesting of the Will," Gene reminded her.

Danielle smiled, her green eyes sparkling. "Then we'd just move in with you!" She giggled. "Let him have this place if that's important to him."

"He just wants the money that would come from selling it," Gene replied, kissing the top of her head.

"I know," Danielle replied.

"This is a nice place for you and the girls, Dannie," Gene said. "I'd hate for you to lose it. Estelle wanted you to have it."

"I know that too," Danielle said. "But I'm not going to jump through hoops or cheat myself out of a life I'm entitled too just for a piece of property."

"You'd really give it all up just for a chance to be with me?" He asked with surprise.

"Yes," she answered truthfully.

Gene studied her for a moment. "You really are quite remarkable," he decided

Danielle rolled her eyes. "Not always," she admitted. "But the one thing my grandmother taught me was to never sell myself short. I made a lot of mistakes but I want her to be proud of me."

"She was," Gene assured her as he gave her a squeeze.

After a few peaceful moments, Danielle cleared her throat. "So, do you want to stay for a while?" She asked hopefully. "I know you're tired from your long day."

"I'm a little jet-lagged," Gene admitted. "But it would be nice to relax with you."

They ended up sitting together on the couch in the living room, pretending to watch the mindless dribble that was on the television but Gene kept eyeing Danielle as she snuggled close to him. She kicked off her slippers and slid her legs up underneath her rear while watching Gene out of the corner of her eye.

"Do you think Estelle would have approved of this?" Gene worried.

"Well, she always wanted me to be happy," Danielle answered. "And she thought you were a great guy. So, why not?"

"Our age for one," Gene replied.

"Ah, age is just a number once you hit thirty, Eugene," she laughed.

"But how appropriate would it be?" He wondered.

"I've been attracted to you for quite a while, Eugene," Danielle revealed. "And there's nobody stopping us from doing what we both want except for our own paranoia and insecurities!"

"What about the girls?" Gene asked. "Haven't they been through enough?"

"Don't you think they want me to be happy?" Danielle countered.

"I'm very nervous about all of this," Gene admitted.

"I know you are," she said gently. "I am too. But maybe that's a good thing because it means we both want something."

Gene smiled. "And what would that be?" He asked mischievously.

"Oh, I can think of a few things," Danielle laughed, elbowing him playfully. Then she rested her head against his arm. "Seriously though, the girls adore you," she told him. "Please don't worry about that. You've been great for them, especially since we lost Estelle."

"Thanks," he said. "You guys have been great for me too."

"I'm glad."

"But I'm much older than you, Dannie," he sighed. "I don't know if I'd be able to keep up with you."

'Oh please," she groaned. "We've been doing just fine so far, haven't we? I mean, we get along well, we know each other's stories, we share a lot in common…."

"Yes, I suppose we do," Gene agreed. "But I'm an old geyser and maybe I just can't handle it anymore."

"Handle what?" she giggled, tapping him on the chest. "Come on, Eugene, you're not that old."

"Yet."

"And I'm not that young either," she pointed out. "I had a kid at sixteen so in mother years I'm pretty old!"

"You definitely grew up fast," Gene remarked.

"We're both survivors," Danielle told him. "I've survived rotten parents and crummy boyfriends and a dead grandmother," she sighed. "And you're surviving the loss of your wife and a good friend."

"And old age," he joked.

Danielle leaped off the couch and began dancing in front of Gene. "You're only as old as you feel!" She laughed a she turned in a circle while rotating her hips and shaking her ass in a seductive way with a large smile on her face. Then she leaned in, grabbed his hand and yanked him up from the couch.

"There are some things you're never too old for, Eugene," she said. "You know that!"

Gene set his hands on her hips. "Oh yeah?" He teased, starting to sway his hips along with her.

She laughed with approval while she reached her arms out and placed them on either side of his waist, swaying in rhythm with him. "I'm willing to take a chance, Eugene," she said seriously. "Are you?"

Danielle was surprised when Gene leaned in and kissed her softly on her lips (just as she hoped he would). She was happy to discover just how good of a kisser Gene was and she gladly returned the favor with a much more meaningful and passionate exchange, almost desperate for the chance to feel like a sensual sexual woman after so long. There had been a guy here and there along the way but nothing serious and nothing for a while.

"Wow, Eugene, this is nice," Danielle smiled with a wink through the kiss.

"Yes, it is," he had to agree as he increased the intensity of the kissing as they continued to sway their hips in time with each other.

Danielle pressed herself against him and wrapped her arms around his neck. If there had been music, a band, and a dance floor, they would have been a couple slow dancing to a beat. As it was, they were in their own little world in Danielle's living room grooving to their own music, making it their own dance.

"I can't remember the last time I danced," Danielle admitted.

"It's been a while for me too," Gene said.

She looked into his eyes, studying him as they danced to a relaxing rhythm, his hands still on her hips and her arms around his neck. Gene could feel the butterflies fluttering in his stomach. He hadn't been this physically close to a woman in a long time and he wanted to be closer still. Danielle kept her gaze directly on his eyes, searching them for a sign that he was ready to take the next step while waiting for him to initiate it. She liked the way he was looking at her and she held her breath wondering if he was willing to be intimate with her. Was his desire as strong as hers?

Danielle sucked in a deep breath when she realized that Gene wasn't going to do anything more assertive then kissing her. It was going to up to her to convince him that getting together was the right thing to do.

"I don't want to continue denying this any more," she told him. "Why hide the truth?"

"Sometimes the truth is harder," Gene sighed.

"There's nothing wrong with how we feel," Danielle said. "We've both been alone long enough to know we're ready not to be alone any longer."

"There are lots of reasons why we shouldn't act upon our feelings," he warned

"I don't care," Danielle said. "We've been through so much. Don't we deserve something better now?"

He kissed her forcefully with lust and want and she returned his passion with her mouth open and his tongue inserted. She let out a moan as Gene squeezed her tight and they continued to kiss until their mouths became sore. They had stopped swaying their hips together long ago while focusing on the mouth action and Danielle had dropped her arms from his neck and was exploring his ribs and his chest with her hands. A few minutes later she pulled his shirt from the tuck of his pants and she pushed him back on the couch before falling on top of him.

Gene stared up into her eyes as her hair fell into his face. Danielle leaned down and kissed him while letting out a moan when she felt their tongues dance. She tried to wiggle his shirt out of his pants more but he put his hand down on top of hers to stop her.

"Are you sure?" He needed to know.

"I'm sure, Eugene," She told him a confident smirk. "Aren't you?"

"I'm too old for the couch," he confessed.

She giggled and climbed off of him, taking him by the hand and quietly leading him up the stairs. She had given the girls Estelle's larger master bedroom to share so she brought him into her small bedroom that barely fit her bed and a dresser. Danielle fell onto the bed and watched as Gene finished removing his shirt, kicked off his shoes, pulled down his blue trousers, and then peeled off his socks. He stood in front of her in his white striped boxers staring at her as she lay on the bed wearing her red 'Hillsboro Plastics' tee shirt and a pair of blue gym shorts.

"I think about you all the time," Danielle told him as she twisted her long brown hair in her hand. "More than anybody else besides my own kids these days."

He carefully knelt on the bed and Danielle reached out and pulled him down by the arm in order to kiss him again. Gene kissed her back with an open mouth and she let her head fall back as a happy moan left her lips. Gene dropped his mouth down to her neck and began biting and kissing her there as Danielle ran her hands through his hair and then up and down his back. She was happy when he finally became bold enough to use his hands a bit more erotically, rubbing her thigh and feeling her stomach under her shirt.

Danielle loved the feel of his hand on her bare skin and she helped direct his hands across her body hoping he'd explore her most secret and intimate features.

"I'm on the pill," she whispered. "I was so fertile when I was younger that I got knocked up every time I had sex."

"You could get knocked up again if you wanted," Gene told her.

She stared into his eyes with disbelief. "Oh My God, Eugene, really?" She asked, her eyes watering with tears.

"If you wanted," he said.

"Maybe not right now," Danielle said. "But who knows about the future?"

"Well, just don't wait to long," Gene deadpanned.

Danielle kissed him passionately. She smiled with contentment when she felt his hands move underneath the waistband of her shorts in a slow methodical fashion. As they continued to kiss and tongue, Gene began to pull Danielle's tee shirt up and he leaned in so his stomach was rubbing against hers. She loved the feel of his warm belly against hers almost as if it was some sort of mating ritual. She gazed into his eyes with a happy smile and she let him pull the tee shirt up the rest of the way to reveal her ribs.

Danielle held her arms above her head inviting Gene to remove the shirt all the way which he did, surprised to realize that she wasn't wearing a bra as her naked breasts became exposed for him to see.

Gene tossed her shirt aside but his eyes never pulled away from her chest which was revealed for him only. Danielle closed her eyes when Gene put a finger on one of her nipples while pressing his groin against her. She could feel his erection inside his boxers rubbing against her gym shorts and she opened her eyes when she felt him playing with the waist band of her shorts again.

"Go ahead," she dared in a half-whisper, smiling seductively.

She lifted her rear off the mattress to allow Gene to tug the nylon gym shorts down her legs with ease. She helped by kicking the shorts off and she was completely naked before him. He eyed her with loving appreciation and she was surprised to find herself blushing like a school girl. It had been a while since a man had seen her naked and she liked the excitement it brought.

"You too," she pleaded.

Gene nodded with understanding and he slowly pulled down his boxers to reveal his mature older self to her. She smiled with satisfied appreciation.

"Thank you, Eugene," she nearly sobbed as she eyed his manhood with anticipated want and waiting. She stared into his eyes and smiled hopefully. "Please, Eugene. I want you bad."

"Why?" He had to ask.

"Don't' tell me you don't feel the emotional connection we have," she said.

"I do," he admitted.

It's time to get physical with each other, Eugene." It sounded like she trying to convince him of the truth. "I'm attracted to you. I like you and more. I want to be with you. I need to be with you. I want you in my life totally and completely. Please don't make me beg."

"Okay," he said, lying on top of her and kissing her mouth while working his hands through her wonderful hair and caressing her cheek with his shaky fingers.

"Okay?" Danielle questioned.

"I feel the same way," he clarified.

Danielle laughed with anticipation as she felt Gene get ready to make love to her. She arched her back to give him easier access.

"It's been a long time," he sighed.

"For me too," Danielle told him. "But it's like riding a bike, right?"

"When you care about the bike," Gene agreed.

Danielle's eyes watered up as Gene kissed her neck. She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his hips to help him. It had been so long that she felt like she was going to faint from anticipation.

### ### ##

When they were done making love, Gene collapsed on top of Danielle short of breath and sweaty from the physical excursion.

"See what happens when you do it with an old man?" He sighed.

"Shhh," Danielle said, wrapping her arms around him and holding him close to her.

Danielle hadn't felt this blissful in years, if ever. She wasn't looking for great sex and she didn't care if Gene was slightly out of shape or not long in stamina. She just wanted a good man who loved her and wanted to be a companion and partner with her in life. Estelle had been her only constant and when she passed away Danielle realized that she was missing something big. She had no regrets about the girls or raising them as a single mom but now it was time for her to do what Estelle had always done for her: take care of herself since Estelle wasn't there to do it. And maybe Gene would be willing to help in that department too.

Danielle stroked Gene's hair as he rested his head on her shoulder. She was satisfied with what they just shared and neither said anything as they lay in each other arms. She could feel his heartbeat racing against her breast.

"Don't be having a heart attack on me like Estelle did," Danielle warned.

Gene finally rolled off of her but he snuggled close to her lying on his side while she lay on her back staring up at the ceiling while continuing to play with his hair. They had to be quiet with two teenaged girls across the hall so their lovemaking had been muted and also mimed but it felt good to Danielle to be held again, to feel like a woman, and to offer pleasure to someone else. She knew Gene enjoyed the experience even if he was probably thinking about his dead wife, his adult children, and wondering if he was a lousy lay.

Danielle was happy for the closeness as Gene snuggled against her. She closed her eyes and breathed in the moment while feeling the heat from both their bodies. Gene was resting his head on her breasts and she could smell the scent of sex in the air. She wanted to stay in the moment because she truly felt happy. She opened her eyes and smiled at him.

"You okay?" He worried.

"I'm way beyond okay," Danielle answered as she played with his hair.

Gene sighed with relief. "Me too."

Danielle smiled with satisfaction. "I'm glad."

"Can I stay?" he asked.

"You're not going anywhere," she ordered. "But you'll have to leave before the girls get up."

"Of course," he agreed.

"Everything is beyond wonderful," she whispered. "Thank you, Eugene."

He reached down and pulled the covers up to cover their nudity. She nestled into him and let out a sigh of contentment as she drifted off to sleep feeling peaceful, warm, complete, and wanted.

Gene's stirring awoke her and when Danielle realized that he was leaving the bed (and her) she reached out to stop him.

"No," she pleaded.

"It's after five," he said. "I should go."

She pulled him back onto the bed. "They don't get up until six," she said softly. "Stay a little longer."

Gene slipped back under the covers and Danielle felt his bare skin against hers. Danielle couldn't remember the last time she slept naked or the last time she had a man stay in her bed with her all night. She pressed her body into his and she tenderly kissed him while he ran his hands across her stomach.

"What are we going to do now?" Danielle asked.

Gene gave her a mischievous smirk as he moved his hand up to squeeze her breast.

"I meant about our lives," She said as she moved her fingers down his torso until she found what she was looking for underneath the covers.

She rubbed him for a moment, admiring how quickly he became hard.

"I think we should do this every night," Gene told her.

"Really?" She asked hopefully.

"If you'll have me," he said, keeping his hand on her breast.

"Do you really want me?" Danielle asked as she abandoned her hold down there and moved her hand up to rest it on his chest.

"Of course," he told her truthfully. "How could it possibly get any better than this?"

"What about all the other stuff?" She worried, knowing they both had the same concerns when it came down to it. "The age difference. My father. My daughters. Your kids. What will people think?"

"Who cares?" He wanted to know (repeating her earlier attitude), kissing her on the cheek.

"Okay, old man," she teased, kissing him on the mouth this time. "If you're sure."

"What do you want, Dannie?" He asked.

Danielle smiled contently. "This," she answered.

He kissed her on the mouth. "Okay," he agreed.

Danielle raised an eyebrow. "Just like that?"

"When I'm lying next to someone like you?" He laughed. "Are you crazy?"

Danielle sighed. "I come with baggage," she reminded him. "Two right across the hall. One suing me."

"I have baggage of my own," he said. "Why don't we help each other carry it?"

"I just hope it won't be too heavy," Danielle remarked.

They didn't spring anything on the girls but during the next few days Danielle began making subtle hints until finally Carrie looked at her mother and said – "We like, Gene, Mom, don't worry about it, do what you want, you're a grown woman, can I go to Millie's later?"

It was Gene who suggested they punch doorways into the walls between the two condos and make it one large living space instead of two smaller ones. Carrie and Jenny got their own separate bedrooms for the first time in their lives while Danielle moved into Gene's master bedroom. There was a door on the doorway of the second floor between the two condos but the archway on the first floor was wide and open.

Even though there were two staircases and two kitchens, the new blended family used Gene's kitchen as the master kitchen. The girls used their side of the condo as the party kitchen. Gene's dining area was also the formal eating place while Estelle's former dining area became a computer space. Gene's living room was the formal living room while the girls' side was more of a family room/hang out spot. They used Gene's front door as the main entrance and blocked off Danielle's main door with furniture to prevent teenaged boys from sneaking in late at night!

The new family unit got used to the new routine and the new living arrangements. Danielle had never shared a bed with a man for more than a few nights at a time so to have Gene sleeping next to her every night was new and different, but comforting and secure.

Gene liked the idea of 'a second family' and while there were always issues to deal with he felt more anchored in his life and of course much less lonely. Nobody was perfect, of course, and getting used to a new full time live in relationship with two teenaged girls in the mix presented daily challenges but all four worked hard to get along, compromise, reach consensus, and do the right thing. The girls liked having a male presence in the house although Gene saw his role as friend and advisor and not as an authority figure. He always deferred to Danielle when it came to discipline and other issues involving Cassie and Jenny.

Not surprising, Rob went ape shit when he found out Danielle and Gene were sharing the townhouses but his contesting of the Will was thrown out in probate court and that ended that drama.

"I'll probably never see him again," Danielle sighed as they left the court that day.

Ken and Kate were surprised to learn that their fifty-seven year old father was involved with a much younger woman with two teenaged daughters but they told their Dad that they weren't in a position to debate the issue since they were thousands of miles away.

"We just want you to be happy, Daddy," Kate told Gene over the phone.

Danielle and Gene tried to make sure they always had a conversation in bed before going to sleep each night, especially after hectic days, or when Gene returned from one of his road trips, or something happened in the household that merited a review or redress.

It was Danielle's favorite part of the day, being able to nestle up with Gene in bed, even when he was exhausted from a long day. He was proving himself to be a wonderful role model and he was great with the kids. Life was better than Danielle could have ever hoped.

Gene came into the bedroom one night to find Danielle lying in bed staring at the ceiling.

"Anything wrong?" He asked.

"Na, just thinking," She answered with a smile on her face.

"About what?" Gene asked as he crawled onto the bed, almost ending up on top of her.

"Us," she said happily as she pressed her forehead against his and closed her eyes, enjoying the companionship and the feel of Gene 's hand running through her hair. "Do you think Estelle would approve?" She asked.

"I think this was all part of Estelle's master plan," Gene answered. "I could have lived next to her all those years and never talked to her. But she was a friendly neighbor who included me in her world and that world included you and here we are. I think she would be very happy to know that we were together."

"I couldn't be more happy, Eugene," Danielle told him. "I vowed years ago to never get involved with another man again but here I am and it's the best thing that's ever happened to me. Perhaps Estelle really did know what she was doing all along."

Gene couldn't help but smile. He kissed her. "Perhaps," he agreed.

The family joke was that the shared house had "wings" – the "kid's wing" and the "adults' wing". Keeping the girls separated on the second floor by the door in the hallway had been a good idea. Gene and Danielle had their privacy on their wing of the house and even though the layout didn't have a bathroom in the master bedroom they were still free to roam about the small wing in various stages of undress.

Gene liked it that Danielle often scooted from the bathroom to the bedroom naked when she was in a hurry, especially in the morning when she was getting ready for work. Somehow, having a nude woman prancing around in his line of vision made Gene feel young again.

"You have the nicest ass," Gene told her as he lay on the bed watching her standing in front of the dresser stark naked putting her make up on.

"Thank you," she said although she was concentrating on what she was doing.

Suddenly he was standing behind her wrapping his arms around her waist, pushing his groin into her buns. She giggled and rested her head against his chest.

"I'm kind of busy here," Danielle said as they both held each other's gaze in the mirror in front of her.

Gene squeezed her ass. "You look great."

"I'm lucky to have a guy like you in my life who appreciates me," Danielle told him. "That's all that matters."

Gene kissed the top of her head and then let her get back to what she needed to be doing.

"You know I'd stay like this all day for you if I could, right?" Danielle asked as he returned to the bed.

"I do know," he said with appreciation.

Gene was worried when he first realized that he was attracted to Danielle and then that first night when they made love that he would be full of regret and guilt thinking about Betsy. But he had been able to successfully compartmentalize his life into two sections – his Betsy era and now his Danielle experience with six years of purgatory in between.

He remembered how Estelle remained loyal to her dead husband for the rest of her life and that struck him as a sad and lonely way to live, being a martyr for a dead person. Gene would have wanted Betsy to live a happy life without him if he had been the one who died first and he didn't believe he was disrespecting her memory or what they shared by enjoying a new relationship with Danielle.

There had been emptiness in his life in the years after Betsy died but now Danielle filled the void with her presence, her interest, her humor, her companionship, and her contentment being with him. He was happy for the gift and everyday he looked at the portrait of Estelle that Danielle had hug on the living room wall and he smiled with gratitude and thanksgiving for the gift she had given both of them.

Estelle's Legacy changed their lives.