The Hole In the Hedge

Toni (O'Reilly) Franklin's routine including stopping by her childhood house on her way home after work each day to check on her aging father who had been slowed in recent years by a stroke. Home Care Aides assisted in the daily care of her Dad but it was important to his daughter to physically have a daily check in to make sure her dad was in good spirits and doing as well as could be expected.

Toni hadn't lived in her father's house for twenty-five years but she still felt comfortable, safe and secure every time she stepped through the front door. Her upbringing in this familiar abode and this particular neighborhood was a truly joyous gift and Toni recalled her innocent days of youth with nostalgically sentimental appreciation. Her parents raised her in happy surroundings and Toni had nothing but warm and happy memories of her younger days and sometimes - in weird ways – she missed it.

This sense of missing surprised her sometimes. Toni O'Reilly Franklin was a successful Vice President at the Greenville Savings Bank married to Larry Franklin, a successful businessman. They lived in a large house in the Hilltop Section of town with two popular and successful older teenage sons. Toni's life was active, busy, fulfilling and contented yet there were times when she wished she could go back and do it all over again exactly the same way. She loved her parents, she loved her girlhood bedroom, she loved her memories of youth and now that her mother had passed and her father was ill, Toni felt like the past was slipping away from her forever.

Sometimes when she was in her father's house, Toni would glance out the window at the Olsen place. She loved growing up next door to her best friend, Sally Olsen. They remained the closest of friends until Sally married and moved to Idaho when her husband accepted a great career opportunity. So many happy memories and so many good times.

Occasionally, Toni noticed Sally's older brother Scott when she glanced out the window. He was divorced now and he had taken over the Olsen house when his widowed mother retired to Florida with a "gentleman friend" a couple of years earlier.

Scott Olsen was like a big brother to Toni, a platonic male friend who Toni often sought out for advice, support and companionship. She and Sally often invited Scott (and sometimes whoever he was dating at the time) out with them. In younger days, Toni was welcomed along on various Olsen vacations, day trips and other adventures so she spent plenty of time with Scott growing up. He married Lillian Saunders when Toni was still in college. Toni went to that wedding and she invited Scott and Lillian to her wedding a few years later. Toni was also in Sally's wedding party as was Scott.

Toni bumped into Scott from time to time in the ensuring years. He was helpful when Toni's mother died, he had Toni's sons as student in his high school classes, and when he moved back into his childhood house Scott became a part time caretaker for Mr. O'Reilly which was very helpful for Toni. Scott occasionally checked in on Mr. O'Reilly as a good neighbor, brought in the mail, mowed the lawn, and shoveled the snow but Toni and Scott didn't really see much of each other, mostly because Toni was always on the go.

But whenever she glanced out the window and saw Scott getting out of his car in the driveway, or sitting on the back porch step reading a book or newspaper, Toni would remember the good ole days and she'd realize how much she missed hanging out and talking with him.

The routine with her Dad was usually the same. Toni would find him seated in front of the television watching ESPN or the Golf Channel. She'd ask him how he was doing or if he needed anything and she'd spend time sitting with him until she needed to head home. Sometimes her Dad was in the mood to chat but usually he was preoccupied and fascinated with whatever was on television. The stroke had left him partially paralyzed and mentally dopey, forgetful and unfocused and his condition saddened Toni. Her healthy Dad of the past was enthusiastic, involved, funny, interesting and connected but her present day Dad was sad, boring, detached, and disconnected which, in some ways, was worse than him being dead.

One afternoon, Toni went to the kitchen window and she glanced out at the outside world to notice that Scott once again sitting on the back porch steps of his house in the afternoon sun. Toni knew she should be heading home but for some reason she felt the urge (need, even) to say hello to her old friend so she stepped out the back door, hesitated for a moment, and then walked off the back porch and headed through the opening in the hedges that led to the Olsen yard. Toni must have walked through that natural gate 528,393 times in her life but it had been a while since her last visit.

Scott glanced up and he did a double take when he realized that it was Toni O'Reilly Franklin approaching. He started to stand but Toni motioned for him to stay put as she reached the back steps, taking a seat next to her childhood friend and letting the late afternoon summer sun warm her face.

"I notice you're not reading Mad Magazine," Toni grinned, motioning at the paperback novel in his hand.

Scott smiled, remembering their days of youth when they'd read Archie Comics, Mad Magazine and other pap together. "How's your Dad doing?" He asked.

"Hanging in there," Toni replied. "Thanks for asking. And thanks again for helping out the way you do."

"He's a nice guy who was always nice to me," Scott replied.

"It's so sad to see him like this," Toni sighed.

"I know," Scott agreed. He glanced at her. "How are you doing?"

Toni sucked in her breath. "Okay, I guess," she said after a moment's thought.

"You sure?" He questioned, studying her for a moment.

"It's just tough being Between all the time," she admitted.


"I'm always in the middle, it seems," Toni said. "I'm between my aging ailing father and my growing transitioning kids. I'm between my work obsessed husband who just opened another store in Vermont of all places and my own career. I'm between my marriage and my middle aged blahs. It just all gets so overwhelming sometimes."

"You'll be okay," Scott told her. "You'll get through it. You're doing fine. It will all work out."

Toni laughed out loud.

"What?" Scott asked with confusion.

"Oh, nothing," she smirked. "I'm just remembering why you were always my hero," she smiled. "You always believed in me. You were always encouraging me. You were always motivating and coaching me."

"You were great all on your own," Scott assured her.

Toni smiled with appreciation but then she turned serious. "So what happened with Lillian?" She wondered.

"I guess I wasn't her hero," Scott replied with sadness in his voice.

Toni chewed on her lip for a moment. "So, you're off for the summer, Mr. School Teacher?"

"Yep," he smirked. "I decided I deserved to take the summer off. Catch up on my reading. Help out your Dad. Paint the garage maybe. No real plans. I haven't done nothing in a long time."

"Well, good for you," Toni smiled. "I can't remember the last time I took more than a week off at once."

"With Larry opening what - his tenth store - I figured you'd guys could afford to vaca in the Bahamas for a month."

"The problem with owning and operating ten stores is that you always have to be around," Toni pointed out. "I thought as he approached fifty Larry would be slowing down but he seems to be even more involved than ever."

"What about you?" Scott wondered. "Any chance you'll be named Bank President when Jay Austin retires in a year or two?"

"I don't want it," Toni freely admitted. "I'm starting to think about retirement, not a promotion."

"You're only forty-five, Tone," Scott reminded her. "You've got twenty-years to go."

"I could afford to retire soon if I really wanted to," Toni revealed.

"And do what?"

"What you're doing!" She laughed.

"You can't afford to retire after all the work you put into your mansion on the hill!" Scott teased.

"You know, Dr. Rogers had six kids and a live-in maid and that's why he lived in that fourteen room dinosaur," Toni moaned. "We've been in there for twenty years and I still ask myself what in the hell we're doing there."

"Well, it looks good from the outside."

"We gutted the insides twice over and Larry's still talking about more renovations," Toni said, shaking her head with annoyance. "The boys are practically gone as it is. We should be getting rid of that ghost and moving into one of Boone Reynolds' riverfront condos but Larry won't hear of it."

Scott gave her a long look. "You okay?"

Toni stared at him with an almost vacant look on her face. "I don't know," she confessed. Then she sucked in her breath again. "I've got to go," she sighed, standing. "Nice seeing you again, Scotty."

"You're more than welcomed here any time, Toni," he said, giving her a serious look.

"Thanks," she smiled before heading for the hole in the hedge. "How come you never filled this in?" She asked, looking back at him, a smile on her face.

"I always hoped it would be used again," he replied.

Scott stared after Toni long after she disappeared through the hedge. She hadn't aged or changed at all, still as beautiful as ever. Toni was a couple of years younger than him, his sister's best friend so romance never seemed to be an option even as she matured. Scott was popular enough to date easily so it wasn't as if he pined for Toni but he had to admit that deep down he was always attracted to her. But then he met Lillian and Toni became serious about Larry and it all became mute anyway. He was divorced now, of course, but Toni was married with a family so all options were still off the table in his mind.

Returning to her father's house, Toni sucked in her breath. She never understood why she and Scott never broke the platonic friendship barrier when they were between relationships in their teen years and she sometimes wondered how her life might be different had they started a romance back then. Would she be living next door to her father with Scott now had that happened? But then Toni thought about her two sons and she immediately dismissed such fantasies.

When Toni stopped by the next day to check on her Dad, Scott was seated in the arm chair next to him watching LPGA Golf. Scott was rarely in the house when Toni was there so she was caught off guard by his presence and she wondered if their conversation from the previous day had sparked his interest. Toni brought some groceries into the kitchen and Scott followed her.

"I was thinking that I could spend a little more time actually being over here," he said. "That way you wouldn't feel so pressured and haggard to get over here all the time."

"Oh, I don't mind," Toni replied. "I'd feel guilty if I didn't see my Dad every day."

"Even though you have a million things going on in your life?" Scott asked.

"It's alright, Scott," she said, smiling at him as she put the groceries away. "If my father isn't a top priority I've really turned into a lost cause, haven't I?" She put her hand to her face. "Why, do I look that exhausted?"

"Oh no, you look great as always," Scott grinned, noticing her wavy blonde hair. She wore it straight and long in her younger days, now it was more styled and barely reached her collar. "I just want to help out in any way I can."

"You're already doing a lot," Toni assured him with appreciation. "I can't thank you enough for being such a good neighbor."

Toni's back was to Scott and as she reached up to put some of the groceries on a higher shelf her khaki skirt hitched up to show more of her smooth long legs and just a hint of her meaty thighs and Scott smiled to himself enjoying the sight. Toni finished what she was doing and she turned to face him and he was reminded of how beautiful she really was. Toni must have realized he was ogling her because she had a funny look on her face for just a moment.

"Well, I should get going, I guess," Scott said quickly.

"Sure," Toni smiled, feeling her face flush ever so slightly.

"See you around," Scott said as he made a quick exit out the back door but Toni couldn't help but smile to herself. It had been a long time since she caught a man looking at her like that.

The next afternoon Scott was seated at his kitchen table finally getting around to reading the paper when he heard a knock on the back screen door. He glanced up to see Toni standing on the back porch with a pizza box in her hand.

"Hungry?" She asked.

"Come on in, Toni," Scott smiled.

"Hillsboro Pizza screwed up and made me a large instead of a small," Toni explained as she stepped into the kitchen. "Dad can only eat a slice or two."

"You should bring it home for the boys," Scott said, standing from his chair.

"Oh, it's date night for them," Toni replied. "And who knows when Larry will get home." She put the pizza carton on the table and Scott headed for the refrigerator.

"Beer?" He asked.

"Sure," she smiled.

Scott grabbed a couple cans of Bud and returned to the table. She took a seat opposite from where he had been sitting.

"Budweiser okay?" Scott asked, holding up one of the cans for her to see.

"Sure," she agreed.

"Need a glass?"

"Na," Toni replied. "You okay with plain cheese? Dad can't handle pepperoni anymore."

"Plain cheese is fine," Scott let her know.

Toni handed Scott a slice. "How many pizzas have we eaten together over the years?" She asked with warm nostalgia.

"A thousand," he predicted.

"Do you hear from Sally much?" Toni wondered as she took a bite from her slice.

"E-mail and Facebook mostly," Scott reported. "You?"

"Christmas cards," Toni sighed sadly.

"Idaho is a long way away," Scott reasoned.

"How 'bout your mom?"

"I call her every few weeks," Scott let her know. "I'll probably go down there for Thanksgiving."

"Give her my best," Toni smiled.

"I will," Scott promised. Then he gave her a long look. "This is nice," he said warmly. "Weird, but nice."

"Weird?" Toni pouted.

"You know what I mean," he said.

"Seems like old times to me," Toni said innocently but they both knew she was lying.

Both had been thinking about the other in recent times, not just in context to the sentimental past but more and more in the present sense as well. Everything they had liked and enjoyed about each other came back to them as if they had been hanging out together last week instead of twenty-five years ago. It was only sharing a slice of pizza but they both knew it was dangerously tempting fate to spend time together like this. Toni was a married woman and there was no point for Scott to get to familiar with her given those circumstances.

"So, your youngest just graduated from Hillsboro High," Scott said to make conversation (and change the awkward subject).

"He's going to go to Blue County Community College until he figures out what he wants to do," Toni explained. "The oldest will be a junior at Green in the Fall. He's never home."

"Won't both end up working for their father?" Scott asked.

"Probably," Toni agreed. "They work with him now part time anyway. There's definitely enough stores for all of them!"

Scott laughed at that remark but then his gaze fell upon her again as they ate their pizza slices. Toni was wearing a sleeveless white blouse and a different khaki skirt than the last time. It was warm enough in the kitchen from the afternoon summer sun and heat to make her skin appear shiny. Her hair was pulled back in a small pony tail and her skin looked slightly parched.

"You okay?" Scott asked, looking at her with concern.

"Why do you keep asking me that?" Toni wondered.

Scott shrugged his shoulders. "You just seem sort of distracted," he said.

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, distracted would be one way to put it."

Scott told her some silly story about a co-worker who ate pizza without tomato sauce and that made her laugh and she told him about her father's home made pizza concoctions when she was a girl.

"I remember them!" Scott grinned with nostalgia. "First time I ever saw square pizzas."

They finished the slices. Scott threw out the carton and the beer cans while Toni stood in his kitchen window looking out at the back yard. "Remember One Two Three Red Light out there?" She asked.

"Yeah," Scott answered as he stood next to her at the sink, so close that he could smell the light scent of her almost expired perfume and hear her breathing.

"I wish…" she whispered although Scott wasn't sure if she was talking to him or herself.

"Me too," he replied softly.

Toni turned to face him, her breaths becoming louder and suddenly she reached out and stroked his forearm with her hand. Scott hesitated for a moment, not sure if he should pull his arm away but before he had a chance to react Toni closed whatever distance was left between them, leaned in and landed her lips on his. Scott was too lonely and alone to resist her first move, raising his hands up to cup her face and passionately return the smooch. Toni wrapped her arm around the back of Scott's neck and pulled him into her lips while placing her other hand on his chest while Scott dropped both his arms down around the back of her waist and pressed her close to him while they continued to kiss. Toni could feel his fingers rubbing her back and somehow they found their way up under her blouse to brush against her soft naked skin. Their tongues began to mate through their opened lips and Scott wondered how long the exchange would endure.

"I can't believe I did that," Toni announced, pulling her lips from his to catch her breath.

"About twenty five years too late," Scott sighed, keeping his arms tightly pressed against her back.

Neither took their eyes off of the other. "You never expected this?" Toni inquired with interest.

"Only in my dreams," Scott admitted.

Toni smirked while staring into his deep eyes. "This is wrong, right?" She sighed.

"We shouldn't," Scott agreed. "You'd get into trouble and I wouldn't want to be the cause for a scandal."

Toni gave him a 'please' look. "I'm responsible for my own choices and actions, Scotty," she said. "I've wanted you for so long I can't even remember when I started fantasizing about you."

"Really?" Scott said in surprise. "Why didn't you ever do anything about it?"

"That was your job!" She groaned as she gave him another kiss.

"You're smart, talented, wonderful, beautiful, sexy and…married," Scott sighed.

"Ah, I thought you were going to say perfect!"

"That too," Scott smiled.

"I like being here with you like this," Toni told him.

"We could never make this work, Toni," Scott said.

She looked at him with pleading eyes. "Not even for a little while?"

Scott sighed. "You know how I feel about you."

"The same way I feel about you," Toni replied.

"Are you really willing to risk everything?" Scott asked.

"Yes," she answered truthfully. "I need this right now."

"Because everything isn't okay," Scott guessed.

She nodded her head yes, her eyes watering with tears. "Everything sucks," Toni admitted.

Scott kissed her in understanding. "You're in charge," he told her. "You know where I am. You know where you can find me. I'll be here."

"Okay," she said, kissing him back.

Toni broke the embrace and she started for the door. "I'll be back," she let him know over her shoulder before disappearing from the kitchen.

Scott stepped to the window and he watched her leave the yard through the hole in the hedge still smelling her scent in the air. He lifted his hand and felt his suddenly sore and rarely worked out jaw. He knew making out with a married woman was beyond pathetic but he couldn't help himself. He wondered if Toni would ever come back when she realized what they had done and how dangerous it would now be for them to be together.

Toni entered her father's house to say goodnight to her dad feeling absolutely no remorse, guilt or shame. Kissing Scott after all these years was a dream come true and she wasn't about to second guess herself. It had been a long time since a man kissed her with the passion she felt from Scott and she couldn't stop thinking about the way he looked at her and made her feel. Larry barely gave her the time of day these days, always focused and preoccupied on the stores, the house, his various organizations and events and that left little time to pay attention to his wife.

Much to Scott's relief, Toni did return - just about every day, coming through the opening in the hedge to sit and talk with Scott, sometimes on the back step, sometimes in his kitchen. Maybe they'd have a beer and a few times she brought a bottle of wine. And talk is all they did (except for the occasional peck on the cheek or quick smooch when they said goodnight). Talking allowed them to get to know each other again after the long break in their friendship and to reconnect their shared past experiences.

Toni told Scott about how unfair she thought it was that after losing her mother at a relatively young age she now had to deal with her father's prolonged progressive illness on a daily basis. She expressed her frustration at her husband who was seemingly obsessed about his chain of appliance stores and keeping them the premiere business in the tri-county area ("Franklin First!) at the expense of their relationship and the family's welfare. She admitted that she was feeling anxious and sad about the impending empty nest syndrome as her sons transitioned into the next phase of their lives. She had become resentful living in a fourteen room house that was empty most of the time.

"What's the point of having a lovely house when nobody's ever there?" Toni asked.

She said she was burned out and unsatisfied with her job, ready to quit banking half way through her career.

"I'd like to work in a florist shop creating flower arrangements," she answered when Scott asked Toni what she'd rather be doing.

"So go ahead and do it," Scott urged.

"Larry would shit," she sighed. "He likes our hefty combined income."

Scott told Toni about his feelings of loneliness and abandonment. His father left him by dying. His sister moved to Idaho. His mother escaped to Florida. His wife left their marriage.

"And here I am spending time with you when it's obvious we have no future," he said, well aware of the ironic situation of their would-be affair.

"This is a continuation, Scott," Toni explained.

Scott showed her some old photographs from their younger days she hadn't seen in years. They looked through old yearbooks. They told stories of their favorite memories. It was interesting to be having an affair that hadn't involved sex. It was an intimately emotional connection that made them both feel special, wanted, and secure even if they knew it couldn't last.

Toni didn't come through the hedge for a talk for a few days and Scott sadly assumed she finally gotten real and decided to get off the thin ice of spending time with him even if it was only to talk. Scott was lying on his couch one night watching the ball game on the TV when he heard the kitchen screen door squeak and a moment later Toni appeared from the shadows of the kitchen wearing nothing but a nightie she had found in her old bedroom.

"Dad's been dehydrated the past few days so I've been busy with that," Toni said with a smile. "Did you miss me?"

"Is he okay?" Scott asked starting to get up from the couch.

"I'm staying with him tonight," she said, putting her hand on his chest and pushing him back onto the couch. "I just came over to say hi."

"Hi," Scott grinned.

"Hello," Toni replied, bringing her hands up to the collar of the nightie and pulling it over her head, revealing herself in all her wonderment, an obviously planned event since she had no undergarments on beneath the old nightie. "I can't stay long."

Scott marveled at her natural beauty, something he had wondered and dreamed about for many years. She was as lovely as he had imagined. He noticed the sparkle from her navel.

"You have a belly button ring?" He grinned as she lay on top of him on the couch.

"Makes me feel young," Toni explained.

"You look young," Scott told her.

"You're too nice," she said with appreciation, giving him a kiss before laying her head on his chest.

Scott used one hand to brush through her hair while his other hand made its way down her curvy back to the roundness of her exposed fanny. He heard Toni sigh.

"You okay?" He had to ask.

Toni lifted her head from his chest and stared into his eyes. "It's nice to be touched," she whispered, caressing his face with her hand.

"Yes," he agreed as he continued playing with her hair and caressing her naked backside with his other hand. "You're very beautiful," he told her, giving her a meaningful kiss.

Toni pressed her body against his, mashing her breasts into his sternum. "I wish I could stay," she told him.

"This sneak preview will keep me going," Scott told her.

Toni giggled and gave him a kiss. "I'll be back," she whispered before she slowly climbed off of him, turning her back to find her nightie and he got to see the shapely buns he had been rubbing. His heart raced with excitement and appreciation, touched that she trusted him enough to show him everything. She turned to face him one more time, smiling before slowly putting the nightie back on over her head.

"I'll see you, Scott," Toni promised.

"Goodnight, Tone," he replied, watching as she disappeared into the shadows of the kitchen.

He heard the screen door squeak and he let out a sigh of contentment mixed with want.

Scott wondered how long Toni would continue with their little secret rendezvous. He was lonely enough to welcome every visit but he knew he was a temporary distraction for her and that sooner or later she would figure out how to get her life back on track and he was pretty sure he wasn't in her long term plans. She would have moved in with her father by now if she was serious about leaving Larry (even before she started talking with Scott).

Sometimes Scott would stand in his front window in the late afternoon and wait for Toni's Volvo to come down the street and pull into the O'Reilly driveway and he would smile knowing she would soon show up through the hedge. They had seen each other a few times since her 'sneak peek' but only to talk, usually on his back step.

Scott wasn't quite sure what Toni had in mind but he had decided not to question it. Anything was better than the lonely emptiness he felt inside since Lillian left him. He knew Toni would leave him too - but not today. Tomorrow could wait.

Scott still argued with himself about doing the right thing. That's what he always told his students in the classroom and on the athletic fields but with Toni he had no idea what the right thing to do really was. Should he just follow her lead until she was done with the rouse or should he tell her he didn't want to see her anymore because it was wrong to go behind her husband's back? Maybe he should tell her how he really felt about her and how much he enjoyed spending time and talking with her but maybe that would scare her off and she'd stop coming through the hedge. Maybe he should just be grateful for her friendship and not give her the chance to reject him by being truthful. Why ruin everything they shared in the past and were presently enjoying?

Scott was seated on the back step at the usual time when he saw Toni coming through the hole in the hedge. She happened to be brushing her hair back out of her face and Scott couldn't help but stare at her, amazed by her middle aged beauty. Scott sucked in her breath and smiled at her lovely face.

"Hi!" Toni said cheerily as she took a seat next to him on the step.

"Hey," Scott replied, grateful that she had returned. "How's your Dad doing?"

"He's hanging in there," Toni reported.

"I stopped by this morning to make sure he was drinking his water," Scott let her know.

"Thanks," she smiled. "I appreciate that."

A soft summer breeze blowing across the yard filled Scott's nostrils with Toni's scent and he gladly sucked it in as if it was a magic potion and he felt his heart skip a beat. They sat in silence for a few minutes enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun on their faces. Sometimes they didn't have to talk. Just being here like this - side by side on the step - was enough communication between them.

"Are you going to stay here?" Toni finally asked, glancing around the yard of their youth.

"Lillian and I sold our house as part of the divorce decree," Scott explained. "I don't think my mother's coming back, so, yeah, I'll probably stay here."

"Have you gotten over the breakup?" Toni asked, glancing at him.

"It's a process," he shrugged. "I miss her still, sometimes. Miss what we had. What we shared. But she's gone and I'm getting used to the reality that she's not coming back."

"I'm sorry," Toni offered with sympathy, rubbing his thigh.

"Yeah," Scott sighed. "Me too."
More quietness between them.

"I'm going to miss you too," Scott said boldly.
Toni looked at him with a tear in her eye. "Do you want me to go now?"

"I know you'll leave when it's time," he answered softly.

Toni put her head on his shoulder. "I'm going to miss you too," she whispered.

They sat there like that for a long time, feeling like two eight year olds instead of two forty-somethings.

"I should go," Toni finally said when it was time.

"Will you be back?" Scott asked.

"I'll be back," She promised, giving him a kiss on the cheek.

Scott once again watched her disappear through the hole in the hedge like the characters in Field of Dreams and he knew the day was coming when she would not be reappearing.

It was a warm summer's night. Scott's bedroom window was open to allow the evening breeze to refresh the room. He was in a semi-dream state when a noise downstairs pulled him from his unconscious state. He wasn't sure if what he had heard was real or part of his sleeping imagination but then he felt a presence. He rolled over and peered at the doorway, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkened shadows. It looked like there was a form in the doorway.

"It's Toni," came the whisper.

Scot could see her now, wearing old plaid cloth bathrobe that was probably her father's thirty years ago.

"Your Dad okay?" Scott asked, wiping his eyes.

The old man had been hospitalized a few days earlier to receive some fluids and to have some tests done.

"He's home," Toni reported. "Getting better. I'm staying the night." She lifted a baby monitor transmitter out of her bathrobe pocket. "I think it will still work over here."

"You want to stay a while?" Scott asked.

"For a while," She smiled, putting the monitor on top of the dresser. "If that's okay."

"Of course," he said, taking in a deep breath which allowed him to suck in the scent of her.

Toni slowly walked toward the bed and when she passed in front of the window Scott could see her beauty from the illumination of the moon in the night sky. Her hair had fallen across her face and her mouth was slightly open, giving him a smile he had never seen before.

"That would be okay," Scott whispered, his gaze trained on her eyes.

Toni nodded and unfastened the wrap of the bathrobe which fell open to reveal her round breasts and patch of pubic hair before she slowly pushed the robe off her shoulders and let it fall to the floor. Scott pulled back the sheet, inviting her into his bed. He was wearing an old pair of boxers and a faded Hillsboro Hurricanes tee shirt.

Toni knelt down on one knee on the bed and smiled before she fell on top of Scott and pressed her lips to his, sending electric currents through his body. He was never sure if this moment was ever going to happen but now that it had he realized it was meant to be no matter what the circumstances were. He lifted his hand to her face and he rubbed her cheek with affection.

"Let's pretend I'm eighteen and you're twenty," Toni told him. "You came home from college to take me to my high school prom and now we're home after a lovely evening at the Sun Rise Lake Inn."

"Who'd you go with in real life?" Scott asked.

"Jerry Temple," she sighed. "I'm not sure if I've ever picked the right guy."

"Well, it would have been the prom to remember if I had gone with you," Scott let her know.

"I wish you had," she replied before positioning her opened mouth over his lips and sticking her tongue inside his mouth.

Their tongues mated and Scott brought his hand down to her hips, caressing the small of her back and the roundness of her backside. Toni held Scott's other hand inside hers while rubbing his chest with her other hand, pushing her breasts tight against him and pressing her hips into his groin, keeping her long legs parallel with his. He could feel her belly button ring pushing against his stomach and the intensity of their breathing filled the otherwise quiet room.

Toni lifted her weight off of Scott long enough to tug his boxers down his legs and finally years of feelings, emotions, fantasies, desires, wishes and imagination became reality. She resumed kissing and tonguing him passionately, their mutual desire and want matching the other's perfectly. Toni never took her eyes away from his through the kissing and mouthing. Her hair hung in his face and now both of his hands were back on her fanny and there came a point when they were finally mated.

There was little motion, just a docking of two people who had just come home from their pretend prom. Toni made musical hums and purrs as she lowly rocked her hips and Scott mostly matched her rhythm with very little effort or force. It was as if they were in slow motion as Toni continued to purr into his mouth. Their skin became clammy and the scents in the room began to change. Toni murmured and purred, hummed and musically moaned, perhaps even panted from time to time but neither spoke as they continued to stare into each other eyes while making quiet but intense love. It was the most understated and gentle lovemaking Scott had ever experienced and he was amazed that it went on for so long with Toni lying on top of him gently rocking her hips as if she was being massaged. Scott's hands remained glued to her backside as he helped guide the subtle rocks of her hips and her musical moans, purrs and murmurs were gifts to his ears.

Scott almost found it amusingly ironic that they had spent the past six weeks talking but now no words were being spoken as they stared into each other eye's in a prolonged moment of shared intimacy that didn't need words to describe the moment. They were together, they were one, and they had finally brought their past full circle to their present in a beautiful middle aged sexual experience.

Toni eventually shuttered and quested and Scott also physically expressed himself in such a subtle motion that at first he wasn't sure if anything had happened and then Toni stopped moving, humming, purring and murmuring as she placed her head on his chest and lay on top of him for the longest time, her nakedness against his nakedness, the room smelling like sweat and sex.

"I should go," she finally whispered.
"Not yet," Scott pleaded softly, knowing that this time she would not be back.

"Maybe a few more minutes then," she agreed.

"I had a nice time at the prom," Scott told her after a few quiet moments.

He felt her tears falling onto his face as Toni lifted her head off his chest and stared into his eyes. "I had a wonderful time too," she sobbed. "My only regret is that we didn't do this at my real prom."

"I already miss you so much," Scott sighed.

Toni kissed him and then she slowly lifted herself off of him, glancing around looking for her discarded robe on the floor. Scott covered himself with the sheet while getting one last appreciative look at her naked beauty. She picked up the robe and folded it over her arm, remaining naked as one last departing gift for him. Her body shined in the moonlight from the window and her belly button ring seemed to glisten too.

"Goodbye Scott," Toni said, her voice breaking.

"Goodbye, Toni," he replied.

She turned and walked naked from the room, taking the baby monitor off the dressed as she passed and then she was gone - from both the room and his life.

# # # #

Three weeks following their secret night of intimacy, Scott rose on a Sunday morning to see a police car and hearse in front of the O'Reilly house and he knew that Toni's Dad had passed. Scott had seen him several times while bringing in the mail and checking on him from time to time but never when he knew Toni would be visiting. In recent days, the old man had looked pale and frail in his slow fade.

Scott walked across the front yard where Toni's older son met him in the driveway and he told Scott that his grandfather had died in his sleep, found that morning by Toni. Scott glanced at the house and he saw Toni standing in one of the upstairs windows looking out at him. He subtly nodded to her and then he returned to his own house.

Scott felt sad for Toni and her family and for himself too. Mr. O'Reilly's passing ended a forty-seven year history as no memory of his childhood would be complete without Mr. O'Reilly being part of it. Scott attended the wake, representing his mother and sister in absence and seeing Toni for the first time since that memorable night. He tried to act non-nonchalant and natural as he gave Toni a hug and a kiss on the cheek and he expressed his condolences before moving on the line, guiltily shaking Larry's hand although (luckily) Larry was obviously oblivious to anything between Scott and his wife.

Scott attended the funeral as well but he skipped the reception. School started the following week and Scott would be getting back into a more normal routine that would keep him busy and away from the house and thoughts of Toni. The next weekend a large yard sale was held at Mr. O'Reilly's house with much of the belongings being sold. Scott couldn't pass up the opportunity to wander over into the yard and pick out a few items that reminded him of his youth and Toni but except for a brief head nod he and Toni avoided each other.

A few days later, a U-Haul truck pulled into the driveway and Larry Franklin and his two sons' dragged furniture and other belongings from the house. Scott heard Toni barking out orders but he stayed in his own house knowing his presence would only create awkwardness for Toni if he showed up to help.

A few days later, a for sale sign appeared the front lawn of the O'Reilly property and Scott knew that his hopeful fantasy that Toni might move into her father's old house had been crushingly ended once and for all. A few days later, Scott came home from work and saw a 'sold' sticker slapped across the For Sale sign in the O'Reilly yard and he knew an era had ended. Toni would not be walking through the hole in the hedge again.

Two women came out the front door and Scott realized one of them was Toni. The real estate agent left while Toni lingered for a few moments so Scott decided to walk into the O'Reilly yard one last time. Toni smiled when she saw Scott approach.

"You're going to like your new neighbors," She said with glistening eyes. "Young couple with a couple of young kids."

"It won't be the same," Scott replied.

"I know," Toni sighed, looking at the house lovingly. "I told Larry the day Daddy died that he had to cut back on some of his business commitments or I was going to leave him and move in here," she told Scott.

"I gather he agreed," Scott said, trying not to sound disappointed.

"He's going to sell three of the stores," Toni said triumphantly.

"Congratulations," Scott smiled.

"And he's letting me quit my job," Toni smiled. 'I can use the profits from selling Dad's house to augment my loss of income until I decide what I want to do next."

"That's great!" Scott grinned. "That's good news."

"And we're going to sell the house on the hill too," Toni announced. "Move into one of those condos down by the river."

"Sounds like you got everything you wanted," Scott said.

"Almost," She said, giving him a long look.

Scott gave her a knowing nod.

"Thank you, Scott" she whispered offering him a meaningful hug as a tear ran down her cheek. "You gave me a new jump start, a renewal of my being, and a rejuvenated confidence to finally tell Larry when I wanted."

"I'm just glad the hole in the hedge was there when we needed it," Scott said.

"Don't you forget our special prom," she said, squeezing his hand before breaking from him and heading for her car. "I'll miss you," she said before she disappeared into the car.

Scott watched her drive off before turning and looking at the O'Reilly house one more time. He had the hedge filled in where the hole used to be before the new family moved in.