You Don't Say

Seth Holloway's innocence was lost the night of the Callahan tragedy. Before that horrible night, Seth didn't have a care in the world. Life was fun with little to worry about. He was naïve and inexperienced when it came to the harsh reality that bad things happen to good people and that life can change for the worse in the blink of an eye.

That was the lesson he took from the terrible accident that killed his best friend Danny Callahan and his father while maiming Danny's mom and kid sister, Gertie. The family was coming home from Danny's birthday dinner out when they were broadsided by a drunk running a red light, crushing the driver's side of the Callahan car where eleven year old Danny sat in the back seat.

Seth's mother's blood-curdling scream woke him from a sound sleep around midnight and his father came into his bedroom a few minutes later looking pale and stricken. He told Seth to pray for the Callahans' but he wouldn't let Seth go to the hospital with him and Seth spent the night tossing and turning unable to sleep as he waited word on his friend and the rest of the Callahan family.

It was a surreal moment in the morning when Seth came downstairs to find his teary-eyed mother sitting at the breakfast table with his father who looked like he had been up all night. That's when Seth found out that Danny and his Dad were both dead. Seth 'zoned out' upon hearing the news, unable to comprehend the tragedy. The next few days were a confused blur for Seth who couldn't come to terms with the loss of his friend. The two had celebrated Danny's birthday the previous day with cake and ice cream after school, served by Mrs. Callahan. Now Danny was dead?

It was Seth's first experience with death, his first realization that people die, that life can be taken from you, that life is fragile and all the other stupid explanations people tried to tell him during that awful time. Seth's parents were supportive and sensitive to their son's feelings and they allowed him to process his loss in his own way and time. Maintaining a normal routine seemed to be the best way to carry on but nothing would be normal again for Seth without Danny.

Danny was a year older and he played the role of Seth's mentor, teaching Seth what he needed to know and advising him how to get through the challenges of being a kid. Danny was the better athlete and student but he treated Seth as an equal and he was Seth's inspiration to do the best he could. Seth was lost without Danny by his side.

Dealing with Danny's loss was hard enough but Mr. Callahan's death made Seth think about his own parents' vulnerable mortality. Would his father die and leave him alone? Seth's older brother Kenny told Seth that he couldn't get paranoid about such things and that what happened to the Callahan family was a twist of fate and an uncontrollable abnormality that only struck once every millennium.

Ken, four years older than his brother, had been rough on Danny "to toughen him up" he explained but after the tragedy Ken never said a bad thing about the guy again.

Coming to terms with the deaths was more than Seth could handle but there were also the injuries to Mrs. Callahan and Gertie to contend with. Mrs. Callahan was unable to walk as a result of her injuries. The Callahan house was empty for more than a month following the accident and Seth wondered if he would ever see Mrs. Callahan or Gertie again. He heard words like 'rehab' and 'recovery' and 'physical therapy' and 'counseling' but nobody was specific or sure on whether or not the two would return to the Callahan house.

Seth learned from his mother that Gertie couldn't talk anymore. The head rest of the passenger's seat was jammed into her throat during the accident as Gertie sat in the back seat, crushing her voice box and trachea, preventing her vocal cords from vibrating thus leaving her unable to speak. It was the saddest thing Seth had ever heard. He had a specific memory of Gertie singing one Christmas Eve in front of the family's Christmas tree and it was beyond imagination knowing that her lovely voice had been silenced.

"The Callahans are going to need us to be there for them, Seth," his mother told him as he tried to come to grips with Gertie's situation. "That's what good neighbors are for."

Gertie returned home first. Her grandmother moved in to take care of both Gertie and Mrs. Callahan who came home in a wheel chair van a few weeks later. Seth wasn't sure how he was supposed to act or what he was supposed to say so mostly he avoided the Callahan house despite his mother's urging to be a friend for Gertie who was now home schooled and didn't leave the house much except to go grocery shopping with her grandmother.

"You need to go spend time with Gertie," Seth's mother told him several times but the truth was Seth was afraid to visit. It was too sad. Too weird. Too painful.

Danny had always been there in the past. How could Seth possibly return to the house knowing Danny would never be there again?

Seth's mother finally dragged Seth across the street practically by the ear when she realized he wasn't going to visit on his own.

"Danny would want you to take care of his sister," Seth's mother commented with authority, one of the few times Seth remembered her being angry at him. "You need to step up to the plate and do the right thing in times of crisis and tragedy, Seth. You can't run away when bad things happen."

From that moment on, Seth took his mother's commandment as Gospel and he decided to do what he knew Danny would have done had the roles had been reversed. Danny had always been braver and stronger than Seth but he knew now that he had to be like Danny.

Gertie's grandmother Rose was a nice lady but she was forcefully in charge and ran a tight ship. Seth was nervous meeting her for the first time but once she found out that Seth had been Danny's best friend she treated him like he was a member of the family.

Mrs. Callahan was a completely different woman from the friendly cheerful mom Seth knew before the accident. The new Mrs. Callahan was moody, dour, quiet, disinterested and depressed whenever Seth saw her which wasn't very often. She rarely wheeled herself out of her bedroom and on those rare occasions when Mrs. Callahan did make an appearance she didn't have much to say.

Gertie didn't have anything to say either, of course, but she usually had a pen and pad in her possession and she didn't hesitate to write down what she needed, wanted, or wanted to say and she was pretty good with hand and eye gestures, using facial expressions to let people know what she was thinking or feeling.

Seth missed the personable, giggly, and tomboyish Gertie who wasn't as spunky after the accident for obvious reasons. In addition to losing her voice, Gertie's right arm was permanently twisted in a semi-grotesque fashion that made her look odd. She was a pretty girl with long brown hair but her smile was gone and she rarely laughed.

Thankfully, Gertie welcomed Seth whenever he walked across the street to spend time with her. They played board games and watched television and after a while Seth learned Gertie's habits and likes and dislikes and he was able to respond without her having to write it down. Seth was never a big talker but he learned to become a conversationalist when he was with Gertie to fill in the silent gaps. She liked listening to him and she helped him develop a knack for storytelling and observation.

There was a thick sad cloud perpetually hanging over the Callahan house.. Danny and Mr. Callahan weren't mentioned very often. Gertie's grandmother moved into Danny's old room and most of his stuff was packed in boxes and stored in the cellar. Sometimes Seth forgot that Danny ever existed as he became accustomed to the new routine of a crippled depressed Mrs. Callahan and a silent sad Gertie being cared for by rigid grandmother Rose.

Seth always knew Gertie through Danny and with Danny so there was a permanent missing link now with Danny gone and the two youngsters always felt that absence whenever they were together. At least they had each other to silently mourn and grief with even if they didn't mention Danny by name.

Seth tried to keep Danny's legacy alive by playing the sports Danny would have played. Danny was a much better athlete who would have enjoyed popularity and success had he lived but Seth honored him by wearing his favorite numbers and playing as hard as he could.

Kenny graduated from high school and went off to college and Seth felt emptiness without Danny around to fill the void. There was a sadness about the Callahan house and although Seth enjoyed Gertie's quiet and comfortable company there was forever something missing between them – her brother and father.

Gertie wasn't interested in venturing out into the real world very much although she rode her bike with Seth and took walks with him on the path by the Blue River. They even went to Beano Field sometimes to watch the amateur baseball games played there in the summer.

Gertie was visually nervous in traffic and she was noticeably shy and timid around people, especially if a salesperson or waitress tried engaging her in a conversation. Seth became quite adapt at 'speaking for' Gertie and knowing what she wanted ahead of time so he could convey it to others.

For as long as Seth could remember, people would comment that Mrs. Callahan "wasn't doing well." That seemed to be her permanent prognosis from the moment she came home from the hospital and rehab center. She was never doing well.

"Carolyn isn't doing well today," Gertie's grandmother Rose would comment when Seth stopped by to visit with Gertie.

It would have become a running joke if it wasn't so sad, stressful and miserable.

"I hear Gertie's mom isn't doing well," Seth's mom would remark when he returned from the Callahan house.

"She seems the same to me," Seth would reply.

There were ongoing health issues – Mrs. Callahan would get urinary track infections and develop other conditions like bed sores as a result of her limited movement capabilities. In addition to her physical challenges, Mrs. Callahan also suffered from emotional and mental health issues that resulted in a few hospitalizations. Seth was grateful that Gertie's grandmother lived with them to make sure Gertie was taken care of especially when Mrs. Callahan really wasn't doing well.

Sometimes Gertie would come to Seth's house when she needed a break from the drama at her house. Seth's mother would drown her in hugs, kisses and special treatment, feeding her sweets and telling stories about Danny and Gertie's Dad. Seth knew his mom never got over the tragedy either no matter how tough and positive she tried to act. Sometimes Seth would catch her standing in the front window staring at the Callahan house with a pained look on her face and a tear in her eye.

Gertie eventually got her own cell phone (for texting) and a computer and that allowed her and Seth to communicate more easily and consistently. Seth was amazed at how talented a writer Gertie was – her e-mails were well written, grammatically correct, and interesting to read. Her thoughts were organized and well stated and she had a flair for sardonic and sarcastic humor that she didn't express in person (mostly because she couldn't express much of anything).

Seth became a prolific e-mail writer (and texter) too and he enjoyed his correspondence with his dead friend's sister. Gertie often e-mailed Seth after he visited, thanking him for spending time with her and then making comments and commentary on what took place while he was there, usually funny observations about her "Prison Warden" grandmother (meant with affection) and her mother's mood.

"I don't think she's doing well today," Gertie would write, usually in italics to let him know she was being sarcastic.

Occasionally, Seth would find a long e-mail in his in-box late at night when Gertie was in a vulnerably emotional or reflective mood and she would write about her father and how much she missed him or a favorite memory of Danny and how strange it was not to have him around anymore but she rarely complained or felt sorry for herself in her transmissions, even though it was hard for her to use the keyboard because of her malformed arm.

Seth knew that Gertie was a remarkable person to be able to function as well as she did given her physical condition and the limitations she found herself in, let alone the emotional burdens caused by the accident. She had survived a terrible car accident that killed her father and her brother and left her mother a shell of her former self. Gertie had lost her voice and the future she was destined for before the accident. She stayed at home, had few friends, and lived a sheltered life, overly protected by her grandmother who overcompensated in an effort to protect Gertie from further harm.

It took months after Seth got his driver's license for Gertie's grandmother to allow Gertie to ride with Seth and they were forbidden to leave town in the vehicle. Seth sneaked them up to the public beach at Sun Rise Lake a few times but for the most part he honored the grandmother's wishes because he respected her guardianship and he didn't want to do anything to endanger Gertie or violate the trust Gertie's grandmother had placed in him.

Gertie had physically matured into an attractive young lady even though the tomboy in her was always evident. She didn't worry about her appearance and she rarely dressed up or wore make up. Seth had a few girlfriends in high school which made him feel weird when it came to Gertie but she told him in an e-mail that he deserved to have a social life and that he shouldn't feel guilty.

"I'm not interested in that sort of stuff anyway," Gertie wrote in one late night e-mail. "My heart stopped pumping that night."

Seth felt conflicted about his friendship with Gertie, wishing he could get her out of the house more but then feeling awkward when he was in public with her.

"The girl who doesn't talk," was how many of his peers described Gertie and that didn't seem fair to Seth, yet he felt embarrassed if somebody he knew saw him at the movies with her or having a frappe at Johnny C's Diner. He wasn't sure if he was Gertie's friend, her surrogate brother, or a home health aide.

Seth's mother did help much either. As far as she was concerned, Seth should propose to Gertie and marry her.

"Aren't we a little young, Ma?" Seth would ask sarcastically.

"She's the girl for you," his mother insisted. "You don't need to look anywhere else."

As Seth's high school career drew closer to the end, he wondered what he was supposed to do with the rest of his life. He hadn't exactly been an honor roll student and college didn't interest him. He remember how proud Danny was of his father's military service and how Danny said he might join the military some day and that was the main reason Seth decided to enlist. His parents tried to talk him out of it, concerned with his safety with a war going on so he compromised by joining the Navy which seemed less likely to place him in a war zone.

Seth told Gertie about his quest to honor Danny and her Dad and she wrote him long e-mails at night saying how proud she was of him for being willing to wear the uniform and serve his country.

"I'll miss you while you're gone though," she wrote. "You're my best friend."

"I can't believe you're leaving that girl behind," Seth's mother grumbled once his enlistment became official.

Seth and Gertie corresponded when Seth left and Seth looked forward to hearing from Gertie during his long lonely tour on the aircraft carrier USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN. He was an internal communications specialist which hardly put him in harm's way.

Gertie kept Seth abreast of what was going on at home.

"My mom isn't doing well," she would begin every e-mail (as a continuing joke) but sometimes she would share that her mom really wasn't doing well and explain the latest physical complication or mental health crisis. "I often think my mother wished she died in that crash too," Gertie wrote on more than one occasion.

Seth felt guilty being so far from home. He also had a new life with shipmates and girlfriends and new adventures and experiences and sometimes months would go by between e-mails with Gertie. Seth's mother did not approve of any of the girls Seth dated, insisting every time that Gertie was the one for him.

"She doesn't talk but she has a lot to say," was his mother's favorite line.

When Gertie wrote about a 'boyfriend' – one of the home health aides that came to help with her mother – Seth wasn't sure if he should feel relieved or jealous.

Then word came that Gertie's grandmother had been stricken and was no longer able to take care of her daughter, leaving Gertie in charge of most of the responsibilities.

"Your parents are helping out," Gertie wrote. "They do the errands and grocery shopping since I never bothered to get my license. I still have accident flashbacks and I don't think driving a car will help me get over that either."

She also wrote that "Ron" (her home health aide romance) was a big help. "He spends the night sometimes," she explained which shocked Seth for some reason.

Seth had been thinking of reupping for a second enlistment as his six year tour came to a close but he wondered if he should get out and go home to spell his parents and help Gertie take care of her mom, especially when he learned that Gertie's grandmother Rose had passed away.

But then the freak accident happened. Seth was in the wrong place at the wrong time walking down a ship passageway when a steam pipe burst, burning him on the back of his neck and through his clothes on his back as well as bursting an ear drum. Pieces of scrap metal from the pipe also damaged his eye. The force of the explosion knocked Seth down an open hatch and he broke his neck in the fall. How ironic that the guy who joined the Navy to avoid the battlefield was maimed in a shipboard mishap.

There was fear that Seth might end up a quadriplegic from his injuries and he was medi-vaced from the ship in the Mediterranean for emergency surgery at an Army base in Germany. Seth wondered if he would end up as Mrs. Callahan's roommate if it turned out he'd never walk again!

When he was stabilized, Seth was transferred to the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Washington DC for further operations and rehab. He spent months in traction and several operations were necessary to repair nerve and bone damage that left his legs weak and him unable to walk. He was deaf in his right ear and partially blind in his right eye. He also experienced a severe depression and when he finally recovered from that malaise he had a deeper appreciation for what Mrs. Callahan had been going through since her accident.

Seth's parents visited him at the hospital several times, either driving or flying down from Hillsboro and his brother Ken, who worked and lived in Atlanta now, also visited when he could. Unfortunately, the girl Seth had been dating in Norfolk dumped him, unable to deal with his injuries and prolonged hospitalization.

It was nearly a year before Seth was medically cleared to be discharged from the Navy on a medical disability. He spent time seeing a therapist and psychiatrist to make sure he was mentally sound and it gave him a chance to talk about Danny and Mr. Callahan's death, Mrs. Callahan's disability, and Gertie's loss of her voice.

Having endured his own trials and tribulations, Seth was ready to return to Hillsboro with a new attitude and appreciation for what Gertie and her mother had been enduring. Other than some occasional numbness in his legs and limited mobility in his neck from the fusion operations, Seth was in pretty good shape physically, although he had to turn his head to hear sometimes and he occasionally wore a (flesh colored) patch over his eye when it gave him trouble with depth perception.

Seth's parents drove to DC to bring Seth home and while it wasn't the way he thought he'd leave the Navy he was glad to finally be out of the hospital. Seth hadn't had a whole lot of communication with Gertie since his accident, mostly because he didn't have access to a computer and texting was limited but he had kept in contact with her as best he could during his hospitalization and now his mother was updating him on the Callahan situation as they drove home.

"Mrs. Callahan isn't doing well," Seth's mother revealed but Seth didn't make a joke about it like he used to. He knew it wasn't a laughing matter anymore after his own experience.

Seth was grateful for his parents' involvement and concern, not just for his own recovery but for being involved with Gertie and her mom too. He sat in the back seat of the car observing them as they chatted during the long drive home and he realized just how special and important they were in his life. He wondered if Gertie felt cheated having her dad die so young and her mother left a cripple unable to function at any baseline level. Even with his own misfortune, Seth knew he was blessed to have such strong and involved positive role models in his life.

Seth did nothing besides sleep the first few days back in his childhood bed again and his mother gave him the space and freedom to recharge the batteries but after a few days she told him he needed to go visit with Gertie.

"She knows you're home and I don't want her thinking you don't want to see her," his mother explained.

"Why wouldn't I want to see her?" Seth asked. "We're friends."

"I'm glad to hear that," Seth's mother said sarcastically. "Go see your friend."

"Do you think she'll want to see me?" Seth worried.

His mother gave him a perplexed frown. "Why wouldn't she?"

Seth shrugged. "It's been a long time. Plus I'm damaged goods now."

"She's damaged goods too, Seth," his mom reminded him. "Trust me, you two belong together."

Seth wasn't sure why he was feeling so nervous as he crossed the street to the Callahan house, just as he had done so many times before. Was his presence still needed? Would she be glad to see him? Would Ron be there?

Seth rang the doorbell and when Gertie opened it and saw him standing there a huge grin captured her face. She gave him a hard hug and held on to him for a long moment. She smelled and felt good!

"Sorry about your grandmother," Seth told her.

She squeezed him and then broke the hug and took him by the hand, leading him into the living room. Gertie was wearing an attractive dress and she was barefooted. She took a seat on the couch and motioned for him to sit too and then she held her hands out, gesturing for him to start the conversation which was always his responsibility and role.

"I missed you," he admitted.

She nodded her head in concurrence.

Seth glanced around the room. "Where's Ron?" He wondered.

Gertie rolled her eyes and waved her hand in front of her as if she was swatting away a fly. She shook her head no and then pointed at him. She pulled out her cell phone from her dress pocket and texted him. He checked the screen.

"They fired him for sleeping with the client," she wrote.

"Ron slept with your mother?" Seth teased.

She punched him on the arm and pointed her thumb at herself. Then she texted: "He dumped me for getting him fired."

"What an idiot," Seth frowned. But then he smiled. "Makes it better for us though!"

She smiled and nodded in agreement.

"How's your mom?'

"She's not doing well," she texted and they both laughed.

"Anyway, it's good to be home," Seth said. "It's been a long time. I never expected to get hurt but being in the hospital for so long really gave me an appreciation for everything you and your mom have been going through all this time."

Gertie patted his knee to let him know she understood.

"Sorry I haven't been around much but I'm back for good now," he informed her. "I'm not going anywhere."

Gertie smiled.

"It's really great seeing you again, Gertie," Seth confessed. "I've thought about you a lot."

She nodded to let him know she had too.

He glanced around the room again. "It feels kind of weird without your grandmother here," he observed.

Gertie nodded in agreement.

"It's almost as if we're on our own for the first time ever."

Gertie shrugged and then held up her hands and bent her fingers twice and then she flashed one hand again, indicating their age. He was twenty-five, she was twenty-four.

"Yeah, I guess we're old enough," Seth laughed. "You doing okay?" He asked with concern. "You holding up okay with your mom and everything?"

"Home care comes in a few times a week and a visiting nurse too," Gertie texted. "It's manageable. Your parents have been great too."

"Well, I'm here now as well," Seth told her. "I'll be around all you need."

"What are you going to do?" she texted. "Get a job? Live at home?"

"I'm getting disability," he explained. "Maybe I'll get a part time job or something but for now I just want to regroup and help you out. You shouldn't have to do all this alone."

"I don't know how my grandmother did it," she texted.

"Well, you look great," Seth assured her. "You've always been beautiful."

Gertie blushed and glanced way. She pointed toward her mother's room down the hall and held her finger in a 'wait a minute' gesture before getting off the couch and heading for her mom's room.

Seth sighed and sat back on the couch, checking out the surroundings. The room didn't look any different from how he remembered it. The house seemed clean and well taken care of. He heard muffled talking coming from down the hall and a moment later Gertie appeared in the doorway, motioning for Seth to come with her.

He stood and followed her down the hall to the master bedroom where Mrs. Callahan was camped out with her wheelchair parked in the corner. There were all sorts of medical supplies and equipment in the room and Mrs. Callahan was sitting in the bed. There was a large flat screen television on the wall and several books and what looked like an IPAD on the bedside table.

"Welcome home, Seth," Mrs. Callahan said.

She looked weaker and smaller than he remembered her from the last time he saw her. Her hair was thin but nicely brushed out. But her face was lifeless with no smile on her lips.

"How you doing, Mrs. Callahan?" Seth asked.

"How do you think I'm doing?" There was a bitterness to her tone.

"You look well."

Mrs. Callahan stared at him for a long moment and then she shook her head with disgust. 'You can leave now," she said curtly.

Gertie tugged on Seth's arm and he followed her out of the room and down the hall.

"She's never in a good mood," Seth sighed as they returned to their seats on the couch.

Gertie shrugged.

"She's never going to get better, is she?" Seth realized.

Gertie shook her head no. "She's waiting to die," she texted. "She wants to die."

"And I get the impression you're waiting to live," Seth remarked.

Gertie's eyes watered up and she glanced down at the floor.

"It's been fifteen years but it feels like it happened yesterday," Seth said.

Gertie nodded in agreement as she wiped a tear away from her eye.

"What are you waiting for?" Seth wanted to know.

She looked at him with confusion.

"When are you going to start living your life?" He asked.

"I live my life whenever I'm with you," she texted.

Seth smiled when he read that and he took her hand and held it up to his chest. "I never should have left," He sighed. "I hope you'll forgive me. I'll always be here now so you can live your life."

She squeezed his hand.

Seth and Gertie established a new routine which was pretty much the same as the old routine had been back in the old days. They played board games and Cribbage together. They sat on the couch watching television. Seth helped Gertie with the chores and he ran the errands now so his parents didn't have to. He sat with Mrs. Callahan on occasion and when the homecare people were in the house he took Gertie out for a ride or to lunch. Sometimes his mom would spell them for a while so Seth could take Gertie to a movie in the evening.

"You should take her to a motel," Seth's mom said one time and Seth was shocked by her blunt remark. "What?" She asked innocently. "What are you waiting for?"

Seth took on a few projects around the house – re wallpapering the hall, painting the second bathroom, and fixing the linoleum in the kitchen. He cleaned Rose's stuff out of Danny's old room and retrieved some of Danny's and Mr. Callahan's belongings from the cellar, turning Danny's old bedroom into a semi-shrine for both of them.

It was one of the few times Seth saw Mrs. Callahan react in any way when Gertie pushed her wheelchair into the room so her mother could see all the remembrances of her husband and son. She wiped a tear from her cheek and she thanked Seth for his effort. Mrs. Callahan often wheeled herself into the shrine to remember her lost loved ones after that first day.

Seth was cleaning out the cellar one day when he came across some old family photos, including a framed 4 x7 color shot of a naked three year old Gertie sitting on her red tricyle. A large pink basket on the handlebars stragetically hid Gertie's vulnerables and Seth laughed at the image. He brought the photo upstairs and showed it to Gertie.

She rolled her eyes when she saw the embarrassing forgotten photograph.

"Nice basket," Seth grinned. "Maybe you've always been a nudist at heart!"

She punched him on the arm, took the photograph from him and left the room.

Gertie e-mailed Seth long thank you notes when he got home at night and she'd write about what she'd been thinking about during the day. How nice it was to be living her life again and how wonderful it felt to have him back again.

"But," she wrote one night. "Is this what our live is going to be from now on? Waiting for my mother to die? How could I possibly wish such a thing? And how can I expect you to put your life on hold to be here with me? You don't have to wait for me, Seth. You don't owe me anything. You have a right to live your life too."

"I am living my life," he wrote back.

Mrs. Callahan developed a kidney infection which required hospitalization. Gertie once confessed to Seth in an e-mail that as guilty as she often felt when her mom got sick, her semi-frequent hospitalizations afforded Gertie the opportunity to take a break and rest from the full time responsibility of caring for and watching after her mom.

Seth drove Gertie to the hospital twice a day for long visits but it was nice to have the house to themselves when they came home. One morning, Seth came over to take Gertie to the hospital but when he stepped into the house he didn't see her.

"Gertie?" He called out.

Seth heard the sound of a bicycle bell ringing from the garage. Confused, he walked into the kitchen and opened the door to the garage which had plenty of room since there hadn't been a car in there since Gertie sold Rose's car to some high school kid. Seth couldn't believe what he saw instead of the car. Gertie was sitting in the middle of the garage NAKED on the bicycle that she used to ride around the neighborhood with Seth years ago, haunched over so the handlebar basket covered her particulars. She was obviously modeling the photograph Seth had found of her naked on her tricycle. There was a huge grin on her face and she smirked even more when she saw the look on Seth's face.

"Geezo, Gertie!" An embarrassed Seth exclaimed..

She shrugged innocently.

"You shouldn't tease me like this," he protested.

She shrugged again with a seductive smile on her lips.

"I can't believe you got naked in front of me," he admitted nervously. "Maybe you really are a nudist at heart!" He laughed.

She lifted her eyebrows in a suggestive fashion before turning the bike around so her back was to him, exposing her lovely buns for him to see as she sat on the bicycle seat. She glanced over her shoulder and smiled, giving Seth another seductive grin.

"Nice seat," Seth remarked as Gertie got off the bike and turned to face him.

"Let me memorize you," he requested, taking in her naked beauty as she stood before him.

Gertie stepped toward him, took him by the hand and let him into the house. She motioned for him to wait in the kitchen and she went into her room to get dressed. When she returned nicely dressed in slacks and a blouse, Seth drove her to the hospital to see her mother without saying a word.

Seth ordered a pizza when they got home from the second hospital visit that day. Gertie changed into some gym shorts and a tank top, wearing a radiant smile too. They tidied up Mrs. Callahan's room until the pizza arrived when they curled up on the sofa watching a movie.

When she was done eating the pizza, Gertie leaned into Seth and lay her head on his chest. Seth gently wrapped his arms around her waist and smelled her hair. They were relaxed knowing they were alone in the house without grandmother Rose or Mrs. Callahan around.

"This is a nice way to watch a movie," Seth said.

Gertie nodded in agreement.

Seth dropped his hand onto Gertie's bare thigh and the she put her hand over his to let him know it was okay. She lifted her head and looked into his eyes as if she was waiting for something more and that made Seth smile.

"Is this the way it was always supposed to be?" Seth asked. "My mother has been saying that for years."

Gertie's eyes danced in response.

"You don't say," he grinned, raising his eyebrows.

Gertie sat up and kissed him. There had been platonic and safe kisses good night before and polite pecks on the cheek but this time it was different. Gertie pulled back from the kiss and then she started another one.

"You don't say," Seth moaned softly through the kiss but Gertie just smiled in return and continued to kiss him.

Seth's hands found their way to her sides and he pushed up her tank top to expose her midsection, wrapping his arms around her back while pulling her against him. This time he kissed her while she tugged on his shirt while she pushed herself harder against him.

"Are we going to live tonight?" Seth whispered.

Gertie smiled before pushing him off of her and standing, looking down at him with the sexist smile he'd ever seen. She grabbed the bottom of her tank top and pulled it over her head, tossing it aside without a care in the world as she shook out her hair causing her round naked breasts to shake as well.

"You don't say," Seth whispered.

Gertie motioned with her head for Seth to follow her as she led him into her bedroom which was neat and attractive, tidy and well decorated, quaint and peaceful. Standing in the middle of the room, Gertie pointed at his shirt which Seth quickly discarded. She must have seen the burn scars in the mirror behind her because Gertie's eyes went wide. She stepped closer to him and moved behind him, gently rubbing her hands and fingers along the burned skin and scar marks which she also kissed.

Seth turned and kissed her throat where her broken voice box was hidden. Gertie placed her hands on his stomach and then slid them up across his chest and then she draped her arms around his neck. Seth wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close so that her bare breasts rubbed against his bare chest. They made out standing up while Gertie rubbed her breasts against his sternum. He could feel her hard nipples pressing into his skin.

"You don't say," Seth breathed while he placed both hands on her hips and pushed her shorts and panties to the floor.

Gertie stepped out of them, totally naked now just like she had been on the bike in the garage. She helped Seth pull his jeans down and he stepped out of them, exposed to her for the first time when she tugged down his briefs too. Seth pulled her close so that their groins met and they kissed with their tongues dancing while rubbing their bodies against each other, Gertie's nipples sliding along his body.

"Let's live," Seth whispered before he walked her back to the bed.

Gertie grabbed her phone from the beside table and texted him something. Seth leapt from the bed and found his cell among his clothes on the floor.

"You don't say," was Gertie's text and Seth laughed as he glanced at the bed and saw her lying naked, waiting to start living her life. With him.

And so they did.