Linny and Blake (Part II)

It wasn't Linny's regular department but she was doing a favor for Carol who was out for a few days. Sylvia the head nurse handed Linny the next chart and Linny was already through the door to the waiting area when she glanced down and read the name.

"Blake Lawler," she said aloud before she had a chance to stop herself.

She looked up to see Blake pulling himself out of one of the waiting room chairs and he stopped when he saw her standing in the doorway. Their eyes briefly met and Linny could see that Blake's shoulders were slumped as he walked toward her.

He looked beaten, defeated and sad. He was burly and his hair was long and scraggily unkempt, streaked with gray. She detected a slight limp as he walked and it looked like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. He was wearing faded jeans and an out of date suit jacket over a flannel shirt.

"Right this way," Linny said, deciding to keep it professional.

"Whatever you say, Nurse," Blake replied with a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

Linny ignored the tone but she could feel his eyes on her as he followed her down the long hallway past the nurse's front desk and toward the examination rooms. Linny hoped she didn't look chubby in the maroon scrubs she was wearing.

"Okay," Linny said as she stopped at the weight station. "Up on the scale. You're allowed to take your shoes and coat off."

"As if that's going to make a big difference," Blake said, rolling his eyes as he kicked off his sneakers and tossed his jacket on a nearby chair before stepping on the scale.

"Two-o-nine," Linny announced, writing her findings on the form on the clipboard she was holding.

"What's that, about thirty pounds overweight?" Blake sighed.

"Height too," Linny said, gesturing to the measurement scale on the wall.

Blake stepped under it and let her adjust the bar on his head. He could smell her perfume as she stepped close to read his height.

"Five-eleven," she said, recording the findings on her pad. "You can put your shoes on," she told him.

Blake slipped his feet into the sneakers and picked the coat up from the chair before following Linny further down the hall.

"Okay, stop at the black line," Linny instructed as she continued to the end of the hall and pointed to the traditional white eye chart on the wall with the black letters. "Cover your right eye and read the smallest line you can clearly," she told him.

"Jesus," Blake groaned as he squinted to read. "P….Q…..R….S…U….T…?"

"Now cover your left eye and read the smallest line you can clearly," Linny said.

"Oh, Man," Blake laughed. "Same Line…..R…..O….P….S….V….T….?"

Linny didn't say anything as she recorded her findings on the chart. "You can come with me," she said and Blake followed her down another hallway and into Exam Room 7 which consisted of a doctor's desk, three chairs, an examination table and a couple of posters on the wall, along with a magazine rack.

Blake stepped past Linny into the room, taking a seat in one of the chairs and folding his suit jacket across his lap.

"I'll be right back," Linny said cheerfully before closing the door.

But she leaned against the wall in the hallway and sucked in her breath. She couldn't believe she was the nurse for a guy she once loved more than anybody in the world. Linny gathered her thoughts and her bearings and went to the nurse's station to retrieve a lap top.

"You okay?" Sylvia the Head Nurse asked when she saw how pale Linny looked. "You seem flustered."

"I'm fine," Linny smiled. "Just doing my job."

"Okay," Sylvia replied. "Go at it."

Sylvia was a tall middle aged woman with her fading blond hair pulled in a bun on the top of her head. She wore a white smock over her gray skirt and her high heels added three inches to her already lurch-like appearance.

The last person Blake expected to see at his medical appointment was Linda "Linny" Spaulding – or was it still Brown – or did she go back to her maiden name? He hadn't thought about another woman since Debra died but Blake had to admit that seeing Linny again after all these years gave him a jolt of emotion he hadn't felt in a long time.

Linny was the first girl Blake loved but he had blown the relationship big time and he still carried regrets about how he humiliated and embarrassed Linny all these years later.

The door opened and a smiling Linny stepped into the room with a black lap top computer in her hands. She took a seat at the desk and turned the computer on. "We just have to review your medical history and then Paul will see you," Linny said.

In the modern day world of medical care, "Paul" was Physician's Assistant Paul Bergeron representing Dr. Aberson whom Blake rarely saw anymore. Blake observed Linny as she waited for the computer to flick through its stages. She wore her brown hair curly and relatively short when they dated in high school but now it was straight and longer, pulled up in a pony tail. Her hair was also much lighter than back in the day. She had put a few pounds on her frame but she was tall enough to hide it well. Her face was smooth but Blake noticed her hands were slightly wrinkled.

"Okay, you've already answered most of this stuff, I just need to update a few sections," Linny said. "Please bear with me."

"Alright," Blake replied, knowing the deal in the medical clinic.

"Have you been diagnosed, treated, medicated, and/or monitored for any of the following conditions - AIDS or HIV?"

"No."

"Cirrhosis of the liver?"

"No."

"Inflammatory bowel disease including Crohn's disease?"

"No."

"Leukemia – including Hodgkin's disease, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma or another other forms of cancer?"

"No."

"Heart disease?"

"No?"

"Head injury?"

"Nope."

"Depression or any related mental illness?"

"Well, I saw a therapist for a while after my wife died," Blake answered.

"I don't think natural grief mourning applies here," Linny offered with a understanding smile. "Have you had sex with more than one partner in the last three years?"

"No." Blake felt himself blush, not comfortable talking about his (non) sex life in front of his ex-girlfriend.

"Have you had any benign tumors such as abdomen, adrenal gland, anus, back cyst, basal cell growth, colon polyp, cystadenoma of the pancreas, esophagus, fatty tumor, genitourinary system, hyperplastic polyp, intestines, perianal cyst, parotid gland, pseudopapillary tumor of the pancreas, rectum, rectal cyst, seborrheic keratosis, skin, or Zollinger-Ellison syndrome?"

Blake looked at Linny as if she was crazy. "I have no idea what any of that means!"

"Have you had any anemia issues?"

"No."

"Arterial diseases such as abnormal connections between arteries and veins, abnormal narrowing of the arteries, fistulas, hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia, renal hyperplasia, vericous veins, or hardening of the arteries due to a build up of plaques?"

"I don't think so," he mumbled.

"Congenital cardiac disorders? Any Embolisms? High blood pressure? Hypertension?

"No."

"Hepatitis?"

"No."

"High cholesterol?"

"No."

"Bowel obstructions or blockage? Acid Reflux disease? Gall stones? Gastritis? "Hernia? Irritable Bowel Syndrome? Rectum or anus infection? Ulcers or other gastroenterological conditions?"

"No!"

"Diabetes? Thyroid conditions?"

"No."

"Arthritis? Lupus? Bursitis or tendonitis? Joint and other soft tissue inflammation? Any Orthopedic deformities or skin ulcers?

"No."

"Brain trauma? Epilepsy? Meningitis? Migraines?"

"No."

"Sexually transmitted diseases?"

"Seriously, Linny?" Blake finally broke the cadence.

"I guess that's good enough," Linny agreed. "I just need to take your blood pressure and temperature."

"Now that you got me all worked up?" Blake frowned.

"Sorry, some of your info was kind of out of date," she explained.

The nurse wrapped the black strap around Blake's arm and she pumped up the machine to read his BP which was in range for his weight and age. She also stuck a thermometer in his mouth and took his temperature.

"Okay," Linny said when she was done. "I guess you're all set. I'll go get Paul. Thanks for your patience. I know this can be awkward."

"You think?" Blake replied sarcastically.

Linny stood and started for the door but then she stopped and glanced at Blake. "I was really sorry about Deb," she said. "She was a nice girl."

"Thanks," Blake said quietly.

"You doing okay?" Linny wondered.

"It's been tough," he replied. "On the kids especially. But I guess things are slowly getting back to normal, although they'll never be normal again."

"I wanted to do something but..."

"It's okay," Blake said with understanding. "Thanks for asking."

"I'll get Paul," Linny said politely before opening the door and leaving the examination room, closing the door behind her.

Blake sighed. Deb was in the same class as Linny and Blake. He started dating Deb senior year after his brutal and ugly falling out with Linny near the end of junior year. He hadn't seen Linny since graduation but he still had plenty of guilt and regret about what happened between them. Once he got serious with Deb there was no point in looking back but now Deb was gone and there was Linny asking him all sorts of embarrassing personal medical questions. But it was nice to see her again and Blake debated as to whether he should apologize to her after all these years or just let it go.

An undetermined amount of time passed before Paul the Physician's Assistant entered the room. He was tall and lanky with curly black hair and a neatly trimmed beard and Blake was amused because the guy was younger than him. Now that he was on the other side of forty Blake noticed that many professional people were younger than him and that took some getting used to.

The two make polite small talk for a few moments before the PA reviewed the same questions Linny had asked. Blake answered truthfully and even though he had been through hell for the past three years he actually felt pretty good health wise. After Deb's sudden and surprise illness, Blake wanted to make sure he kept on top of his health so his kids wouldn't have to endure another tragic loss of a parent.

Paul listened to Blake's heart beat, scanned some of his skin surfaces, looked in his eyes and ears with a light stick, took his pulse, checked his reflexes and felt his throat. After asking a few more questions and making sure Blake didn't have any specific concerns, Paul scheduled some blood work in the computer and then told the patient that Linny would be back in to give Blake a couple of shots that were out of date.

"Thanks for your time," Blake said.

"We'll see you in a year unless the blood work turns up something," Paul replied with a smile before leaving the exam room.

Linny showed up after a few moments with two syringes. She rubbed Blake's arm with alcohol and gave him the two shots, Blake trying not to react even though he hated needles. Linny smiled when she picked up on his uneasiness but she didn't comment on his jitters.

"Okay," Linny said when she was done. "That's it. You're free to go."

"Sorry things didn't work out with Brownie," Blake awkwardly blurted out as he stood.

Linny was surprised Blake brought up the subject of her ex. "You invest twenty years in a marriage and suddenly its over," she said sadly.

"Yeah," Blake replied, knowing exactly how she felt. "It was nice seeing you again, Linny."

"Take care of yourself, Blake," she said warmly.

Blake left the examination room and went to the check out station for the final processing before heading back to work as a supervisor at the electric company. He still kept a photo of Deb on his desk and the void of her absence in his life was huge. The kids were sixteen and fifteen when she died and that made for a tough high school run. Now Rob was about to start his second year at Blue County Community College and Sarah had just graduated from high school. With the kids growing older, Blake realized that he was basically on his own without his wife.

The house in West County he and Deb built early in their marriage sat on a large hill in the countryside overlooking a wonderful valley and the mountains beyond felt uncomfortably big and empty now. Rob had a girlfriend that he spent most of his time with and Sarah was always coming and going (mostly going) so there were many nights when Blake sat in the house alone. A couple of buddies and work pals tried to keep him engaged and active but the grieving period had been long and only now was Blake starting to feel like he was finally coming out of the deep freeze although he still wasn't interested in doing much.

Blake loved being a married man raising his family. Now he was a lonely widower with kids who really didn't need him as much anymore. The things he used to do with Deb felt different now if he tried to do them alone. She loved to garden but Blake had lost l interest in that activity. She was involved in community theater but Blake hadn't been to a production since Deb died. They used to take Sunday afternoon rides but now Blake sat on the living room couch staring mindlessly at the television. His routine was work and that was about it. He used to hate the extra shifts and overtime in times of storms and other disasters but now Blake volunteered for extra shifts when the need arose.

Linny couldn't stop thinking about Blake after seeing him at the clinic that day. She was surprised by how sad he seemed to be. It had to be hard for him to watch his wife suffer from her fast moving cancer. Linny heard that Deb died less than ten months after being diagnosed. Linny knew it was different for Blake losing a spouse to cancer than it was for her losing a spouse to divorce but she still knew how it felt for a marriage to end.

Linny would always love Brownie in her own way but things became so strained, tense and troubled between them that she simply couldn't live with him any more. Surprisingly, it came as a relief to the kids who now had a better relationship with their parents than they did when the family unit was still intact. Danny was off in the military and Paula was living with her boyfriend. Brownie kept the house while Linny moved into a small condo and whatever sadness and guilt she felt about the failure of her marriage had given way to a budding sense of new beginnings and hope.

Linny saw her life as a divorcee as the opportunity to start a new journey in life but strangely, after spending time with Blake in the examining room, she suddenly found herself thinking about the past.

Linny was happy to leave high school behind. She had no regrets and she adjusted quite easily to nursing school and her new life although her dreams of moving to some new place never happened when she committed to Brownie while still in college. He was destined to take over his father's paving company and that meant staying in Blue County and that's what Linny did too. She loved being a nurse and the early years of their marriage was as wonderful as she had hoped but life rarely remains perfect. The paving business struggled from time to time, there were disagreements in how to raise the children, Brownie liked to have a belt (or four or five) with the guys on the way home from work, and Linny had her suspicions about Meredith, the girl in the office at the paving company. Brownie was five years Linny's senior and while the age difference was romantic and fun early on Brownie seemed to turn middle-aged much quicker than Linny had anticipated and the marriage fell into a stressful rut that grew wider with each disagreement.

Linny hadn't seen Deb since high school but suddenly the girl who married Linny's first boyfriend was in the clinic on a routine basis, sometimes with her daughter accompanying her and that sight left Linny feeling incredibly sad. There were also times when Linny saw Blake accompanying his wife. She avoided being seen by them and she deferred if asked to assist on the case but Linny could see how quickly Deb was fading and how defeated Blake looked.

Linny had been a nurse for nearly twenty years and she had experienced death many times, especially during her six year stint at the Greenville Nursing Home. She was a professional but for some reason seeing Deb wasting away and how hard it was on Blake tore at her heart strings which surprised her greatly because although Blake had been her first love he was also the one guy she hated more than any other guy (at least for a while).

Blake and Linny were acquaintances in high school until Homecoming Dance sophomore year when Blake asked her to dance. Linny said yes to be polite but something felt special when Blake held her for the first time and they ended up dancing together for the rest of the night. By the next week they were officially an item, going steady.

It was the first real relationship for the young people and they took it slowly, excited by the attraction, grateful for the interest, and happy to be together. Blake respected Linny and treated her with reverence and appreciation. Linny was flattered by Blake's attention and she enjoyed being a couple. It was their first taste of intimacy although the relationship never advanced beyond hand holding, kissing, and the occasional grope.

And that's how Blake blew the relationship. Stressed by peer pressure and locker room banter, Blake felt ostracized for not being more of a Casanova with Linny and when he finally got tired of the razzing from the guys he started to stretch the truth about his relationship with Linny by embellishing on certain aspects of their romantic life and before he knew it Blake had blatantly lied to some of the guys, telling them that he and Linny were naked together all the time and they did the dirty deed just about every night.

All of it was bullshit, of course, but at least as a junior Blake felt like he was cool and experienced in the eyes of the guys even though he felt guilty as hell for lying and saying such vulgar things about Linny who he truly adored and cared about. Even now, all these years later, his behavior remained Blake's biggest regret especially when word got back to Linny that all sorts of rumors had been spread about her virtue, her character, and her Chastity. When Linny found out that it was Blake who had fueled most of the untruths she felt victimized, violated, betrayed, and deeply hurt. She called Blake all sorts of insulting names, broke up with him, and refused to speak to him for the rest of their high school careers. It didn't help that rumors persisted for months that Linny had been pregnant and either had an abortion or a miscarriage.

Blake wished he hadn't let his ego and pride succumb to peer pressure and he never forgot the look of pain and devastation on Linny's face when she found out what he had said about her. He never lied about a person again and he vowed to avoid gossip and rumor spreading. Blake didn't feel he was worthy of a second chance at dating and he didn't blame girls for having doubts about his character and trustworthiness after what he did to Linny.

When Deb showed an interest in him senior year, Blake saw it as a chance for redemption and to do a relationship right and he was grateful for the opportunity. His involvement with Deb was based on mutual trust and respect and Blake vowed never to hurt Deb like he had hurt Linny. They married not long after high school and enjoyed twenty happy and successful years together before Deb passed away.

Linny remembered how sad she felt when she saw Deb's obituary in the Greenville News and Dispatch. It surprised her because she really never knew Deb that well but she knew Deb was the one that Blake loved and married and now he was all alone. Ironically, Linny was alone too with her marriage over.

Linny thought about attending the wake or funeral but that felt awkward. She considered sending flowers to the service but she feared that might be presumptuous of her. She wanted to mail Blake a sympathy card but she didn't know what to write. So she did nothing and it wasn't until she was reviewing Blake's medical history in the examination room three years later that Linny finally had the chance to express her sympathies to the guy.

A week after his medical appointment, Linny saw Blake coming out of the blood clinic. She was strolling down the hallway and she could have ducked into one of the offices and avoided him but seeing how sad Blake looked made her feel like she should be willing to be nice to the poor guy.

"Hi Blake," Linny said cheerfully as Blake approached.

He'd been looking down and hadn't noticed Linny until he was almost on top of her. "Oh," he said with surprise, glancing up. "Hi Linny. How are you?"

She smiled. "I'm doing okay. How are you?"

Blake suddenly felt a sliver of reprieve from his continuous sorrow and he actually spontaneously smiled. For some reason, seeing Linny again made him feel good. 'I'm doing okay too," he semi-lied.

"Why don't I believe you?" Linny asked with insight.

"You have every reason not to believe me," Blake sighed, remember his mortal sin from so long ago.

"No, that's not what I meant," Linny blushed, knowing exactly what he was referring to even after all this time.

"Do you forgive me for that?" He boldly asked.

Linny was surprised by the tone of desperation in his voice.

"Yes, Blake, I forgive you for that," she said, taking him by the arm and leading him toward the exit door so others wouldn't overhear their conversation. "When are you going to start living your life again?" She asked once they were outside and in the cool morning air.

"Huh?" Blake asked with confusion.

"It's been three years, right?"

"Just about," he acknowledged sadly.

Linny noticed the tears in the corner of his eyes and she was amazed that he still got emotional about his dead wife. He must have truly loved her and that made Linny feel appreciation for the depth of his emotions. She reached up and gently brushed the wetness from the corner of Blake's eye.

"It just makes me feel sad to see you looking so defeated," she told him.

Blake hugged her briefly and then broke from the embrace and disappeared into the parking lot. Linny had to fight her own tears from streaming down her face as she watched him go and never before had she felt so much pity and sympathy for a person than she did at that moment for her first love.

Linny was in the Greenville Shop and Save a week later when she heard someone say 'Hello there' in a deep voice. She looked up from the items she was looking at on the shelf and she was surprised to see Blake standing in front of her cart with a smile on his face. She was pleased to notice that he seemed to be much more upbeat that he had been in their last few meetings.

"How are you?" Linny asked pleasantly.

"I'm doing better, thanks," He smiled warmly.

"I'm glad."

He was holding a small basket with a few items in it. "This is what I do for fun," He joked, holding the basket up.

"You need to get out more," Linny teased.

Blake stared at his first girlfriend knowing she spoke the truth. He had been doing nothing for a long time. At first, he was too grieved to get himself out of the house. Then he felt weird being out in public, wanting to avoid the chance of bumping into somebody he knew who would want to talk about Deb or pump him on how he was feeling or doing. He just didn't want to have to deal with it. But bumping into Linny felt different for some reason and as he stood in the grocery store aisle looking at her beaming face and all of a sudden Blake felt young and alive again.

"Would you like to go out sometime?" He asked without even thinking about what he was saying.

Linny's eyes went wide but she quickly recovered. What were the rules about going out with an ex-high school boyfriend you dumped for being a completely inappropriate asshole more than twenty years ago? Were the statues of limitations over for bad behavior? Did a dead wife make up for past mistakes? Linny had a few brief flings with a couple of men after her divorce who weren't serious about a long term commitment but standing in front of Blake in the grocery store suddenly felt right and even soothing.

"Sure," Linny replied openly. "That sounds nice."

She could see the look of panic flash across Blake's face when he realized what he had done and she couldn't help but laugh out loud.

"How 'bout the Greenville Grille?" Linny suggested. "Friday? Seven?"

"Um….er…..ah, okay," Blake stuttered nervously.

"Great!" Linny smiled. "Now don't you stand me up!" She warned before turning her cart and heading in the other direction.

Blake watched her disappear before heading for the cashier check out counter in a daze. He hadn't thought about going out with anybody since he and Deb first started going steady senior year and now he was going to meet his first girlfriend for dinner? Was that even proper? Acceptable? Blake figured he should ask his daughter if it was okay with her. Sarah was a mirror image of her mom at that age and it was hard sometimes for Blake to even look at her without feeling sad.

Sarah was amused when her nervous father asked her for permission to go out to dinner on Friday night. She gave him a hug and assured him that it was okay with her. Sarah had seen how sad, lonely and miserable her dad had been in his grief and she worried about him. Going out to dinner with a woman was the first sign of life her dad had shown since her mom's death so it was a good sign as far as she was concerned.

Sarah and her brother Rob had gone through a tough time after their Mom died but they were managing to get on with their lives now although they both worried about their Dad who had yet to recover from the loss. That was a great testimony to the love he felt for their mom but they didn't want their father to be marred in an ongoing depression forever because of it.

"Have a good time, Dad," Sarah urged her father. "You should be living your life."

Blake was thunderstruck to hear his daughter tell him the same thing Linny had said. And he was relieved to get the blessings of his children although he had no illusions about any sort of future with Linny. High school was a long time ago and romance was the last thing on his mind as a forty-something widower. Still, going out to dinner with a woman was something he hadn't done in years and it felt excitedly fresh to give it try.

Linny didn't bother telling her kids about her dinner date with Blake. They were aware of her previous liaisons and because it was no secret that Brownie was sleeping with Meredith these days Linny didn't feel any guilt about having a social life. She did worry that Blake would stand her up though. She wouldn't blame him, really. It was clear that he was still a grieving widower even after three years and maybe going out to dinner with the first girl he had been dumped by wasn't the best way to get back into the game.

But Blake was waiting for Linny when she arrived at the restaurant, standing in front of the Greenville Grille wearing khaki pants and a polo shirt. He had combed his long bushy hair and he was clean shaven. Linny had opted for a white printed summer dress.

"Thanks for showing up," Linny teased when she reached him.

"Likewise," he smiled with relief as he led her into the Grille.

Why wouldn't Linny show up? She had nothing to lose.

They were seated and for a moment there was silence between them but then Linny began updating Blake on her life, her marriage, her divorce, her job, her kids, her condo, and her parents who Blake fondly recalled as being nice to him back in the day.

"It was strange to go from a three bedroom house to a four room condo," Linny told him. "I've got more stuff than I know what to do with and no where to put most of it."

Blake slowly opened up too, talking about his job and how hard it had been adjusting to life after Debra died. From the sound of his voice as he described their house, Linny could tell how much he liked the place he and Deb had built on the hill in West County.

"It's out in the countryside and you can see the stars so clearly at night," he said. "And the countryside is so green in the summer and so white in the winter. We watch the storms come over the mountains from the west. It's quite the sight."

"Sounds nice," Linny smiled. "Maybe I can come up some time."

Blake looked horrified, like the idea of bringing another woman into Deb's house was so scandalous that he couldn't fathom it. But he recovered quickly and smiled. "That would be nice," he said.

They certainly didn't talk about why they broke up back in high school although it still weighed heavily on Blake's mind. Linny was a nice girl and she didn't deserve to be shamed by the terrible things he said about her. There were probably some kids out there who still believed Linny Spaulding had been impregnated by Blake Lawler when the truth was they never even got naked together.

"How'd you get the limp?"

"Work, about eight years ago," Blake answered. "Pole split in half. Shattered my ankle coming down."

"Oh, that's awful!" Linny exclaimed.

Blake shrugged. "Got me my promotion," he replied. "They figured I wouldn't sue if they gave me a better job!"

It was a nice dinner and a comfortable 'date' and Blake and Linny were both smiling contently when they left the Grille at the end of the meal.

"Thanks for the nice time," Blake said politely.

Linny knew he wasn't going to make any sort of move as they stood in the parking lot behind the Grille saying good night so she leaned into him and kissed him which came as a big surprise to Blake. He nervously broke the kiss and looked at her with uncertainty. Linny knew he was thinking about Debra.

"I'm not sorry I did that," Linny told him. "And you shouldn't be either," she advised. "It's okay."

Blake stared blankly at her and he was unable to form words so she kissed him again before turning and heading for her car as Blake became overwhelmed by a sense of guilt for being unfaithful to Deb.

But Blake found himself thinking about Linny often during the next few days. He enjoyed their evening together and he was especially warmed by her kiss. It felt good to have human contact again on so many levels and when Sarah encouraged her Dad to give his date a follow up call to thank her Blake realized that he didn't have Linny's number.

Blake stopped by the clinic one afternoon instead in search of Linny and he was amused to see her in the parking lot walking toward her car in her standards scrubs. He climbed out of his truck and walked toward her and Linny stopped short when she saw him approaching. She honestly didn't think she'd ever see or hear from Blake Lawler again after the way he reacted to her kiss the other night, obviously not ready to move on from Deb yet.

"Hello," she said with surprise. "What are you doing here?"

"You were telling me the other night at dinner about how your condo doesn't have a garage and you're tight on storage room," Blake recalled.

"Yeah?" Linny asked. "So?"

"How 'bout I get you one of those outdoor storage sheds at Home Depot and come over on Saturday and put it up for you?" Blake offered.

Linny smiled, touched by the gesture. "That would be nice of you," she said. "Thanks!"

Linny told Blake where she lived and it was easy for Blake to find her place on Saturday morning because as a worker for the electric company he knew every street in Blue County. Linny spent the week wondering if Blake was really ready to move on from Debra's death while at the same time wondering if getting involved with him was a good idea. Maybe she would be better of letting the past stay in the past but on the other hand she wasn't exactly meeting a lot of new people she was interested in either. At least she had a shared bond with Blake and they knew each other's life stories.

When Linny thought about their relationship back in high school she remembered how sweet and nice Blake was. They got along well, they had plenty in common with each other, and they had fun as a couple. Linny never understood why Blake said the awful things he said about her but she was willing to attribute it to the foolishness of youth and move on.

Blake spent the week second guessing himself about seeing Linny again. Would Debra approve? Was he ready to spend time with another woman after so many years with one woman? Had Linny really forgiven him for the things he said that ended their romance?

Blake was waiting at the Greenville Home Depot when it opened on Saturday morning. He could tell it was going to be a scorcher of an August summer's day. He purchased the modest sized wooded shed (to be assembled) and loaded it in his truck. He stopped for coffee and donuts on his way to Linny's house and he was pleased that she was waiting for him on her front stoop when he arrived. Blake backed the truck into the back yard and after making small talk with Linny over coffee and donuts he went to work on the project.

The condo was a wooden building so the new storage shack would blend in nicely in the small back yard. Unfortunately, building the shed was a lot more complex and time consuming than Blake had anticipated. He had to go to the electric company building to retrieve extra tools and Linny forced him to stop for lunch, sitting on the back steps together eating ham sandwiches and nursing a beer.

It took most of the afternoon to complete the shed construction and then fill it with the boxes and other belongings Linny had piled throughout her condo. When they were finally done, both of them were soaked in perspiration from the heavy physical work in the hot August sun.

"I really appreciate you doing this for me, Blake," Linny told him with sincerity, grateful for the thoughtful gesture.

"My pleasure, Lin."

She smiled. Nobody called her Lin anymore. It had been Blake's pet name for her when they were dating. Linny was her nickname growing up and most people at work called her Linda now so it was nostalgic to hear 'Lin' coming from Blake's lips.

"Why don't you come inside and get out of the hot sun?" Linny suggested. "The central air conditioner works pretty well."

"Okay," Blake agreed, following her into the house.

Linny poured Blake a tall glass of iced tea and they stood in the kitchen drinking from the glasses but Linny was feeling a chill from her body sweat being cooled by the air conditioner.

"I think I'll take a hot shower and get out of these smelly clothes," Linny announced after a few minutes of discussing how great the new shed looked.

"I'll get going," Blake replied, setting the ice tea glass on the table.

"You don't have to," Linny told him with a serious expression on her face.

Blake looked at her with confusion.

"Wasn't one of the complaints you had about me back in high school was about me not letting you see me naked?" She asked, raising her eyebrows.

Blake blushed, embarrassed by the adolescent things he had once so foolishly said.

"Let's strip and take a shower," Linny seductively suggested.

Talk about role reversal. When they were dating, Blake was the horny perverted one trying to tempt, beg, bribe, guilt and seduce the prudish, shy and not ready for prime time Linny into some extra curricular sexual situations. Now Linny was being slightly outrageous, seductive, sexy and bold and it was Blake who was turning red faced and priggish.

"Come on, you could use a shower!" Linny laughed.

"I don't think we should," Blake replied nervously

"We're not sixteen anymore, Blake," Linny giggled. "There's no danger of my parents catching us if that's what you're worried about!" She added sarcastically.

"What about your kids?" He mumbled with worry.

She laughed out loud. "Don't worry, they won't be dropping in."

Deb was the only woman Blake had seen nude up close and personal. He had been loyal to her always and saw no need for visiting strip clubs or partaking in other such nonsense. Now here was Linny standing before him peeling off her sweat-soaked tee shirt to reveal her low cut bra barely holding her amble breasts inside. Blake swallowed but he didn't protest when she reached behind her back and unsnapped her garment which fell to the floor. Linny smiled knowing Blake was finally seeing what he had spent more than twenty-five years waiting to see!

Linny unsnapped her shorts and let them fall to the floor, tugging down her white thong too and finally Blake got to see what he had longed to see so long ago.

"Come on," Linny urged as she turned and headed for the bathroom, her full rear end shaking as she walked.

For a moment, Blake considered bolting for the kitchen door and getting the hell out of the condo. He glanced down at his ring finger which still featured his wedding ring. But Debra was gone and Blake was still a man with wants, needs and desires. He sucked in his breath and followed Linny down the hall feeling sixteen again.

Linny was standing naked by the shower having pulled out her pony tail and letting her brown hair fall onto her shoulders and beyond. She stuck her hand under the running water that she had started. She gave Blake the waiting eye and he peeled his sweaty tee shirt over his head and unfastened the belt to his jeans. He hesitated just for a moment realizing that Deb was the only woman to see him naked too before discarding his clothes and standing naked before Linny who smiled with approval.

Blake crossed the room and stood behind Linny who was facing the shower, wrapping his arms around her waist and stepping with her into the shower stall. He continued to hold her in his arms as the water fell on them. Linny reached for the soap and she rubbed it all over her body before handing the bar to Blake who did the same. She turned to face him and they watched as the spray washed the soap suds from both their bodies. Linny reached for the shampoo bottle and she handed it to Blake before turning around, waiting for him to shampoo her hair which he gladly did, watching the soap suds slide down her back and along the crack of her buns.

When Linny finished rinsing her hair out, she turned off the water and stepped out of the stall, grabbing a towel from the rack and handing it to Blake who was still in the stall before getting a second towel for herself.

"That was fun," Linny smirked as they watched each other dry off with their respective towels. "We finally took a shower together. I bet that was one of your secret fantasies way back when."

"It was," Blake admitted sheepishly.

"Too bad I'm all fat and saggy now," Linny sighed.

"No you're not," he assured her.

She smiled. "You're kind."

There was no denying that Linny had 'filled out' since their high school days, perhaps twenty pounds beyond her high school weight but that was more than twenty years ago so a pound a year didn't sound all that bad to Blake. Besides, he thought she looked just as sexy and appealing as ever.

They wrapped their towels around their bodies and returned to the kitchen. Lindy put their smelly clothes in the washing machine and started the load. They stood by the machine as it whirled but Blake had no idea what to say so Linny reached her hand out and touched him on his arm.

"Please don't feel guilty," She whispered.

"I don't," he semi-lied (again).

"Are you okay?" She asked.

"I feel like I'm cheating on Deb," Blake freely admitted.

"It's okay," Linny said with understanding. "I felt the same way the first time I was with a guy after Brownie."

It never occurred to Blake that Linny had been with other men after her divorce but it made perfect sense. She was an attractive available mature woman and what guy wouldn't want to be with her? Hell, he wanted to be with her!

Linny ran her hand through hair while looking into Blake eyes wondering if she would always have to be the aggressor if anything was going to happen between them. She thought getting naked for him would get him kick started but Blake looked tentative and unsure as they rested their towel-covered backsides against the vibrating washing machine standing next to each other wrapped in bath towels. It was sort of high school, wasn't it?

Linny turned to face him and she wrapped her arm around his neck and gently pushed herself against him as she kissed him. Blake seemed to resist for a moment but then he kissed her back and after a moment Linny stepped back and smiled at him.

"I've never seen you so shy and timid," Linny giggled.

Blake shrugged, feeling both tempted and restrained. He wanted to rip the towel off of Linny and take her to the floor for some passionate lovemaking but he felt his wedding ring rubbing against his finger and even though he was a widower he still felt apprehensive about breaking his wedding vows.

Linny must have read her potential lover's mind because she leaned in and kissed him again, passionately and with meaning. Blake wrapped his arms around her and kissed her back and it was Linny who reached her hand up between them and purposely loosened her towel so it fell to the floor, leaving her naked once again. They made out for a while like two high school kids and Linny finally broke away from Blake to catch her breath and stare intently into Blake's wide eyes.

"I'm accepting your apology," She explained.

Blake returned her stare while also appreciating the rest of her. "Thank you," he replied.

Linny nodded and smiled at him knowingly. But the washing machine cycle had ended so she turned to fetch the clothes from the machine and move them into the dryer. She sensed his eyes on her as she finished the chore and she couldn't help but smile happily knowing he was seeing her in the nude after all these years. She enjoyed the kissing too and she hoped Blake felt at comfortable as she did with it too.

Linny smiled at Blake. "We're all grown up now," she observed.

"I'm not sure if I should be doing this," Blake sighed with guilt.

Linny couldn't help but groan with exasperation. "Why not, Blake?" She challenged, not feeling embarrassed whatsoever being nude in front of him which was ironic because there was a time when she was totally petrified of getting naked for him which ultimately led to the end of their relationship.

Blake appeared hesitant to reply. "I'm not sure if this is right," he finally stated.

Linny sighed with pity as she stared at him. "She's gone, Blake," she said softly and with compassion.

"I know," he replied. "But I'm still torn."

"Didn't you two talk about it at all when she was sick?" She wondered. "About what would happen afterwards?"

"Mostly about the kids," Blake revealed.

"Don't you think she would want you to be happy?" Linny asked. "To go on with your life?"

"I don't know," he admitted.

"I doubt she would expect you to grieve her forever," Linny reasoned. "I remember her as a girl who liked to have fun and enjoy life."

"She was," Blake concurred.

"So there's nothing wrong with you having fun and enjoying life too," Linny told him. "Don't beat yourself up."

Blake smirked when he realized that she was lecturing him while naked. .

"What's so funny?" She frowned.

"Maybe if we had disagreements while you were naked when we were together we wouldn't have broken up," Blake grinned.

She giggled. "We broke up because I wouldn't get naked, remember?"

Blake leaned into her and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her into a hug. "I'm sorry about all of that."

"Me too," she whispered into his chest. "I just wasn't ready back then."

"I shouldn't have pushed you," Blake replied. "I shouldn't have gotten frustrated. I shouldn't have said those disgusting things to those assholes."

Linny wrapped her arms around him too and then she playfully tugged on his towel until it fell to the floor too. "I forgive you," she smiled.

"I think I'm going to be okay," Blake decided.

"I'm glad," Linny whispered.

A feeling of warm acceptance spread though Blake's system. It was finally time to start living his life.

Linny broke the embrace, took him by the hand and led him toward the bedroom with the sound of the dryer still turning behind them.

"Let's do all those disgusting things you said you were doing to me," Linny purred as she pulled him down the hallway.