Looking Through The Window

Tully parked his pickup truck down the street, partly because there were already several cars in front of JoEllen's house but also because he wanted to be able to make a quick and easy exit when the time came. He walked toward JoEllen house with the gift present bag in his right hand watching as parents and young children walked up the driveway for the birthday party. JoEllen's daughter Kylie was turning five and Tully was invited to attend as the step-grandfather.

Tully felt like a third wheel as soon as he walked through the backyard gate and saw all the twenty-somethings (okay, maybe a few in their early thirties) yuppie suburbia parents and their various children gathered for the celebration. He guessed there were maybe a dozen kids and about twenty parents present in the yard, along with a singing cowboy, a rented bouncy house, and all sorts of organized activities. The weather had cooperated – it was a warm and sunny mid-May Saturday afternoon.

JoEllen greeted her step-dad with a smile and she thanked him for coming as she directed him to the present table under a canopy where guests were leaving their gifts. Tully was amazed at how grown up and womanly JoEllen looked these days. At twenty-seven, she was a beautiful woman although she had struggled with her weight since Kylie's birth. She had cut her hair shorter in recent years – brown with bangs (covered by the ball cap she was wearing today) but she still looked a lot like her mom and that left Tully feeling sad.

Jo-Ellen called the birthday girl over and – bless her heart – Kylie gave Tully a spontaneous hug around his legs when she arrived.

"Grand-Tully!" She exclaimed. "Hiya!"

Tully laughed and gave the girl a pat on the head. "Happy Birthday, Kylie," he said and then she was running back to join her friends in the middle of the yard.

Tully said hello to a few of JoEllen's friends whom he recognized from her high school days. JoEllen's husband Skip was occupied monitoring the various situations and making sure the guests were contented and satisfied. Skip waved his hello to Tully from a distance, a handsome young man who had done right by JoEllen and seven years of marriage had only made their bond stronger.

Tully saw JoEllen's father Bruce and his second wife Amanda sitting in comfortable chairs in the shade of a large tree in the corner of the yard and he nodded his acknowledgement but he wasn't interested in socializing with the couple.

Instead, Tully took a seat on a bench by the back of the patio and he watched the activities going on around him. JoEllen and Skip were trying to be good hosts and supervisors as they monitored the children and led in some of the games to keep the children occupied. Tully listened in on various conversations going on around him – several mothers were seated in lawn chairs not far from him while other parents were a little farther away sitting around a table under an umbrella. Tully heard discussions about pre-K and next year's kindergarten classes. He heard about pediatricians and the best kid parks in the area. He heard about what was on sale in the cereal aisle at Fontaine's Family Grocery Store and about the latest Nick Jr. television shows. He heard about neighborhood gossip and who was pregnant again. He watched as kids bounced in the bouncy house and sang with the singing cowboy and he couldn't help but feel old compared to the company around him.

Skip handed Tully a beer in one of his passings but it was in a large plastic red cup so not to send the wrong message to the kids. Bruce stopped by on his way to the house and asked Tully how he was doing. Tully was polite in his response but he didn't want to engage Bruce in a long conversation – he didn't like the guy and Bruce was a talker who could go on for a half hour about nothing important. Bruce was about ten years older than Tully, dressed in slacks, a polo shirt, and a yachting ball cap with expensive sneakers and designer sunglasses. Tully wondered if he was underdressed in his jeans and a clean 'Tully's Windows" tee-shirt.

Thankfully, Bruce was more interested in chatting with a couple of JoEllen's friends so he quickly excused himself and moved on.

Tully made a few trips into the house and he bumped into people he recognized but mostly he felt awkwardly out of place. Kylie was content being a kid with the other children and JoEllen and Skip were busy hosting the party and socializing with their friends. There wasn't anybody else Tully felt comfortable hanging out with and he wondered if he should have come in the first place.

If Lynn had been there, Tully would have simply shadowed her and let her lead in the conversations and interactions but without her presence he was adrift in social ineptness and disinterest.

Tully was thinking about making a quick exit – even though the cake and ice cream hadn't been served yet. Nobody would notice his absence and Kylie was preoccupied enough with all the activities with her friends not to have her feelings hurt by Grand-Tully's departure. But then Tully noticed JoEllen talking to a woman around his age whom he had never seen before. She looked pleasantly attractive and she had a huge smile on her face as she chatted with Jo-Ellen.

Normally, Tully wouldn't have been interested in whoever the person was but there was something intriguing about this woman and her radiance captured Tully's attention. He had barely looked at other women since Lynn died but he found himself walking toward Jo-Ellen and the stranger.

"Oh, Hi Tully," Jo-Ellen said when she noticed her step-father's presence. "Have you met Hannah yet?"

"No, I haven't," Tully said with a rare smile.

"Well, this is our next door neighbor Hannah Bitzer," JoEllen explained. "We call her Hannah Banana and Happy Hannah! Hannah, this is my step-dad, Tully Tullison."

Hannah and Tully shook hands and Tully couldn't get over how wide and cheerful Hannah's smile was. She was wearing a simple smock-style light blue dress over a white tee shirt and a straw hat sat on her head, with blond hair that fell to about the bottom of her ears sticking out from under the hat. Yellow flip-flops were on her feet and her toenails were painted a bright pink to match her fingernails, Tully noticed.

"It's nice to meet you!" Hannah said with her infectiously bright smile, not having let go of Tully's hand yet.

"Nice meeting you too," Tully replied with a grin so wide that even JoEllen noticed.

"Well, I'll leave you two on your own," JoEllen said, giving both of them a long look as they seemed to be staring into each other's eyes.

"You do that, Jo-E," Hannah smiled.

"I think we'll be okay," Tully agreed.

JoEllen laughed at her unexpectedly sparked introduction and she wandered off to tend to the other guests.

"She's a great neighbor," Hannah said with affection as she watched JoEllen mingle about in the yard.

"I'm glad she and Skip were able to move into this nice neighborhood," Tully replied.

"But it took her mother's life insurance money to do it," Hannah sighed, her perpetual smile disappearing for just a moment. She saw the look of surprise on Tully's face by her revelation. "JoEllen told me," she explained.

"Lynn would be happy to know they have a nice place now," Tully said. "They were living in a starter upper fixer upper but they didn't have the money to fixer it upper!" He glanced at the attractive one story three bedroom brick ranch. "Now they can afford to live comfortably and not have to worry."

"JoEllen's father could have helped out," Hannah noted with annoyance

"Bruce is one of those 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps' kind of guy," Tully explained. "He doesn't believe in 'handouts'."

"Helping your own kid isn't giving a handout," Hannah protested.

"I know," Tully smiled.

"JoEllen and Skip are happy here," Hannah said. "And they have you to thank for that."

"I'm happy for them," Tully said.

"I know Jo-E misses her mother," Hannah observed, catching a glimpse of JoEllen across the yard with a group of the kids.

"We all do," Tully said, leading Hannah to the bench where he had been sitting earlier. "How long have you lived here?" He asked.

"Twenty years," Hannah answered, gesturing toward the half-brick-half wood ranch next door. "I stayed when my husband left."

"Where'd he go?" Tully wondered.

"Away from me," she said as she took a seat on the bench.

Tully joined her and they watched the activities for a few minutes.

"Kylie is a doll," Hannah determined.

"She's a cute kid," Tully agreed.

Hannah glanced to where Bruce and Amanda were seated in the shade. "JoEllen's Dad is certainly interesting," she said with a grin.

"He likes to talk," Tully remarked.

"Mostly about himself!" Hannah laughed. "And I doubt Amanda is anything like Lynn was."

Tully wouldn't go so far as to call Amanda a trophy wife but she was ten years younger than him which made her twenty years younger than Bruce. She was tall and thin and pretty and she didn't work – Bruce was the bread winner as a successful doctor and surgeon. Amanda had been his receptionist and when Lynn learned of the affair she moved out of the couple's expensive Green Hill residence in Greenville and into her parents' house in Hillsboro with then three year old JoEllen.

"Amanda is all about shopping and image and money and expensive cars," Tully said. "Lynn came from a middle class family and she cared about the simple things in life. If we got to the beach once a year she was content."

"Where'd the two of you meet?" Hannah asked with interest.

"We knew each other from high school," Tully said. "Then we bumped into each other at a Serguci League game at Beano Field – one of our old classmates was retiring from the Browns and they were having a ceremony. Hadn't seen her since graduation fourteen years earlier. We got to talking and then dating and then we married. JoEllen was around thirteen or fourteen. They were still living with Lynn's parents. I have a bungalow in the flats and they moved in there."

"Didn't Lynn's parents want to come to the party?" Hannah asked.

"They're kind of quiet and private people so things like this are too much," Tully explained. "But JoEllen is still very close to them."

"She talks about them all the time," Hannah smiled. "I see them over here a lot."

"They had a private party last night," Tully said. "They'd rather avoid Bruce when they can."

"I'd rather avoid Bruce when I can!" Hannah joked.

Tully gave her an appreciative glance. "I'm sure JoEllen enjoys having you as a next door neighbor."

"I could tell there was something sad about her," Hannah said. "Moving into a nice house. Beautiful little girl. Wonderful husband. But something was missing."

"Her mother."

"It must have been terrible to lose her so soon after becoming a mother herself," Hannah remarked.

"It was just one of those bizarre freak things," Tully sighed.

"Stopped at a traffic light only a few hundred feet from her house and a huge branch breaks off a tree and crashes down on her car?" Hannah commented with disbelief. "I'll say."

"It's still hard to think about," Tully admitted. "But I bet it's helped JoEllen having somebody like you nearby."

"I always wanted a daughter," Hannah confessed with a forlorn smile.

"Do you have any children?"

"Two sons. One is working in New York, the other is touring the country with a theater production company."

"Interesting."

"It was very kind of you to give JoEllen the insurance money," Hannah remarked with sincerity.

"I kept enough to cover the funeral costs," Tully said with a shrug. "They needed the rest more than I did."

"JoEllen thinks you should have sued the town for negligence," Hannah said.

"I have to live here," Tully responded.

Hannah looked at him with fascination. "You're a good dube," she decided.

"I'm just trying to survive," Tully admitted with surprising honesty. "I found love with Lynn relatively later in life and I lost her relatively young in life. My life feels like it's in shambles."

"I'm sure it does," Hannah said with sympathy.

"So," Tully said, sucking in his breath feeling the need to change the conversation. "What do you do?"

"Director of Activities at the Greenville Nursing Home," she revealed.

Tully nodded his head in approval. "That sounds interesting."

"It's very humbling," Hannah clarified. "I like making people feel good."

Tully glanced at her and smiled. He was about to say something to her when JoEllen yelled out that it was time for cake and ice cream. The kids started cheering and yelling as they gathered around the outside table waiting for the birthday treat. Hannah and Tully joined the others around the table and everybody sang 'Happy Birthday' to the happily smiling Kylie. Hannah and Tully took their plates of cake and ice cream back to the bench they had been sitting on previously.

"I really don't need to be eating this," Hannah said with her standard wide smile on her face.

"It's a party," Tully reasoned. "It's okay."

"It's good that JoEllen keeps you involved with the family," Hannah remarked.

"It's still weird for me," Tully admitted. "I always had to play second fiddle to Bruce even though Joey lived with us. And his parents have more money than God so Lynn and I always felt second class. My window business is sort of by the seat of my pants and Lynn worked thirty-two hours a week eight months out of the year pushing ice cream at Red's Tastee Freeze so we were always behind the eight ball financially. Lynn's parents helped out but it was still a struggle."

"I'm sorry."

"I think Skip is going to do well in the business he's in," Tully said. "So I don't worry about him and Jo-Ellen, especially now that they're in this house."

"Thanks to you."

"Thanks to Lynn," Tully sighed.

"I had Skip rewire my house for my computer and internet system," Hannah said. "He did good work."

"I think things are going to work out okay for them," Tully said with satisfaction, stealing a glance Skip and JoEllen's way as he finished his cake and ice cream.

"But what about with you?" Hannah asked with interest.

"I'll be okay," Tully predicted.

She studied him for a long moment wondering if that was true.

The guests began to dwindle once the cake and ice cream had been devoured. JoEllen and Skip were happy that the party had been a success and Tully was amused that he had actually made it through the entire thing without sneaking away. He and Hannah went into the house and watched Kylie open some of her gifts. They sat together on the living room couch as if they had always been together instead of just meeting each other a few hours earlier. Hannah had a look of comfortable contentment on her face sitting with Tully and watching Kylie opening her presents.

In the end, Hannah and Tully were the last of the guests still at the house. Tully had been helping Skip put one of the presents together (a complicated mess of directions) and he had lost track of time. It wasn't until the toy was assembled that Tully realized he and Hannah were the only ones left.

"What happened to your father and Amanda?" Tully asked JoEllen with surprise, looking around to see if they were elsewhere in the house.

"They're going out to dinner tonight so Amanda needed to start getting ready," JoEllen replied sarcastically.

"Well, I should probably get going too," Tully said, picking himself up off the floor where he had been assembling the large toy.

"So soon?" Hannah asked, getting off the couch.

JoEllen laughed at that line and Hannah blushed slightly.

"Thanks for coming to my burthday party, Grand-Tully," Kylie said, giving her step grandfather a squeeze (she only came up to his thighs).

"Thanks for having me, young lady," Tully beamed.

"Could you walk me out?" Hannah asked. "We should let these three relax after their long day."

"Sure," Tully said politely.

Actually, JoEllen and Skip walked the two guests to the front porch, grateful for their attendance and amused by their joint departure. The four exchanged goodbyes on the porch and Tully escorted Hannah to the town sidewalk in front of the house.

"Will you do my windows?" Hannah asked.

"Your windows?" He asked.

"I had my done a few years ago but I never had the cellar windows replaced," she said. "I'm thinking maybe it's time."

"I could take a look and give an estimate if you want," Tully offered.

"You have time now?" Hannah asked hopefully.

"Sure," Tully said after a moment's hesitation. "It shouldn't take long. Let me go get my sample book out of my truck."

"Okay," Hannah agreed, watching as he walked to where he had parked his truck several houses away, admiring his gait as he walked.

Tully drove the truck to the front of Hannah's house, parking it at the curb and climbing out of the cab with a large sample book tucked underneath his arm. Hannah walked him into the house - a two story ranch with a brick front, the rest of the wood frame painted green, the interior neat and tidy and perhaps too large for her to be living alone. Tully's bungalow felt small even now when he was alone – never mind when Lynn and JoEllen lived there too.

"My ex has money," Hannah explained as if she could read his mind from the expression on his face as he glanced around the handsome house.

"Everybody seems to have money except for me," Tully replied.

"I wasn't going to let him leave me with nothing," Hannah remarked. "Our sons deserved a nice place to grow up in." She had no bitterness or rancor in her voice. In fact, that same happy smile remained, an almost memorizing facial feature of hers.

"How long have you been divorced?" Tully asked.

"Oh, wow, golly, going on what twelve years now?" She laughed. "Hank was fourteen and he's almost twenty-six now so….gee, yeah, twelve years."

"I'm sorry," Tully said, mostly to be polite.

"Oh, don't be," she said, waving her hand. "It's all good. We've actually remained pretty good friends. We were high school sweethearts. It's hard to give up on all that history."

"Why'd you divorce then?" Tully asked dumbly.

"He's gay, Tully," Hannah revealed openly. "Took him awhile to figure it out and I forgave him for that. Life is too short to get caught up in disappointment, sadness and anger. We have two wonderful sons and I'm grateful for everything positive in my life."

Tully looked at her with amazement. Here he had been dragging himself around for the past three years grieving his dead wife and feeling left out of JoEllen's family without Lynn as the mediator, convinced that life sucked and here he was standing in the living room of this eternally positive and cheerful woman who refused to let anything get her down.

"Let's take a look at those windows," Tully said.

"Sure," Hannah said pleasantly as she led him down the cellar stairs off the kitchen into a remodeled basement that took up most of the cellar, along with a wash room and the furnace area.

Tully took a look at the six windows high on the walls and he took some measurements too.

"The seals aren't too good," he observed. "There is some rot and age. You'd probably save on heating costs getting new windows that can better retain the heat and keep the elements out."

"That's what I was thinking," Hannah agreed as they returned upstairs.

Tully opened the sample book on the kitchen table and made a couple of recommendations. Hannah asked a few questions about instillation time and labor costs as well as the price of the windows. She seemed satisfied with Tully's answers and she picked out the style, type, color, make and brand of the windows she wanted. Tully pulled out an order request from a clipboard he had brought with him and he filled it out as they both sat at the table.

"That was easy," Hannah said with her usual friendly smile when they were done with the paperwork.

"The order should take about a week or ten days to arrive," Tully said, as he stood. "I appreciate your business."

Hannah laughed as she stood too. "Thanks for helping me out," she replied.

"You're welcome," Tully said as he started for the door.

"I have a clear view of JoEllen's backyard from my bedroom window," Hannah blurted out.

"Oh?" Tully asked.

"I've seen you before," she admitted sheepishly. "When you've been visiting. Sitting out back with JoEllen and Skip and playing with Kylie."

"I don't get over as much as Lynn would want me to," Tully revealed. "I kind of want JoEllen to have the chance to enjoy her family without feeling like she owes me anything. Or that she's responsible for me."

"It must be lonely for you," Hannah said.

"Sometimes," Tully said. "I try to stay busy."

"Maybe you should get a dog," Hannah suggested in perfect sincerity.

"I had one when Lynn and I got together," Tully revealed. "Mack. A stray I found on a job site. JoEllen liked him but it was traumatic when he died so we didn't get another one."

"What about now?" Hannah asked.

Tully shrugged. "Haven't thought about it," he admitted.

"Or perhaps something else to occupy your time," Hannah suggested.

Tully stared at her for a long moment and suddenly he was overcome with the unexpected urge to kiss her, the first time since Lynn died that he had such a spontaneous desire.

Hannah held her gaze upon him with a tickled look on her face and Tully became aware that his breathing had become irregular as he stared at her with wonderment. He felt a rare pang in his heart.

"It was nice spending time with you today, Hannah," he said with total honesty.

"Yes, it was," she agreed.

Tully started for the door and Hannah walked with him.

"I'll call when the windows come in," he said as she opened the door for him.

"I'll be waiting,' Hannah said warmly.

Tully nodded his good night and walked to the truck. He placed the window order as soon as he got home, eager for the windows to arrive ASAP so he could return to Hannah's house and see her again. He thought of excuses to stop by JoEllen's house in the meantime but he usually waited until JoEllen or Skip invited him and he rarely dropped in unannounced out of respect for their privacy and family time. Was it wrong for him to be thinking about Hannah? He wasn't sure.

The bungalow was in good shape and in presentable condition. Lynn did a good job improving its appearance when she first moved in and Tully tried to maintain those standards in her absence. The garage – which served as his work area – had become more cluttered than Lynn allowed with old windows and other salvageable parts from various jobs stored there but he kept most of it hidden inside or behind the structure. The home was familiar and comfortable but hopelessly lonely.

Tully walked to the second floor and stood in the doorway of JoEllen's small room that had been fixed up by Lynn for the anticipated Kylie sleepovers but there had only been a couple before Lynn died and none since then as Kylie went to her "real" grandfather's house for such special occasions or to her maternal grandparents' familiar house.

Lynn's presence was still all around the bungalow but JoEllen rarely stopped by anymore which only made it all the more empty.

Tully had a few dreams about Hannah during the next several night, one of a profoundly sexual nature that caused Tully to awake with a stiff erection and his hand wrapped around his member. That hadn't happened in a long time. In the surreally real dream, Tully was at Hannah's house putting in her new cellar windows but when he looked through the window he saw Hannah at the nursing home performing her Activity Director responsibilities – in the nude!

Then Tully was climbing through the window – also naked – and he pinned the naked Hannah against the Bingo table and made love to her while the elderly residents hollered out "Bingo! Bingo! Bingo!"

It was hard to get that imagine out of his head when he showed up at Hannah's in real life to put her new windows in the next week. Tully called Hannah the moment the delivery was made and Hannah told him she was off the next day if that worked for him. Tully was self-employed and he could alter his schedule as he wished so there was no problem arriving at her house at 8:00 the following morning to install the new windows.

Hannah greeted him with her usual broad smile and happy dancing eyes but she left him unbothered to do his work. Tully had to remold and rebuild some of the rotted window frames which added time to the project.

He usually brought his lunch to jobs and ate in his truck or outside under a tree out of sight but Hannah insisted that Tully join her in the kitchen and she served him some cold fresh ice tea to go along with the sandwich he had brought.

"Lynn used to make me lunch," Tully said, remembering his tasty lunches of old "Those lunches were much more tasty then the stuff I throw together."

"That's because she made them with love," Hannah said with a smile.

Tully couldn't help but sigh sentimentally at the fond memory as well as Hannah's kind sentiment. He returned to the window work when they were done with lunch and later in the afternoon JoEllen strolled into the yard when she noticed Tully's truck in the driveway. She was amused to find her step-father working on her neighbor's windows and she invited both of them to a cookout that evening. Hannah was more than happy to accept on behalf of both of them before Tully had a chance to respond.

Tully had the six windows fully installed by the end of the day. He told Hannah he was going home to shower and change and would be back soon.

"I'll be at JoEllen's," Hannah replied with her standard wide smile.

Tully drove home trying to figure out if the cookout at JoEllen's was supposed to be some sort of unofficial 'date' between him and Hannah or if it was just two people enjoying time with JoEllen and her family. Lynn's death had been so sudden and shocking that it took the widower Tully this long to come out of his emotional deep freeze coma to even ponder the possibility of being with someone else besides Lynn. It had been nearly three years now and maybe he should stop being a socially reclusive hermit and start to consider his romantic possibilities.

Tully was feeling surprisingly relaxed and perhaps even excited as he showered and changed for the evening gathering. He wore some khaki shorts and a Serguci League Baseball tee-shirt with sandals and he returned to JoEllen's with no real expectations or idea how he should approach the evening – as JoEllen's visiting step dad who happened to be dining with the next door neighbor or an interested guy in the presence of a potential romance?

Hannah greeted him as Tully entered the yard. She was wearing a strikingly pretty summer dress and that same straw hat of hers. Skip had already fired up the grill and Kylie was the star of the show as she showed the adults some of her favorite "outdoor" toys and displayed her drawings from earlier that day.

Tully always got along with Skip – they shared similar sports interests and they could always talk about the Red Sox, Bruins, Patriots or Celtics or even the local Serguci League baseball team (they had even gone to a few Browns games together) if other conversational topics lulled.

JoEllen tended to rant and rave about her father more often than not – especially with a new audience present (that being Hannah on this evening) but it was Hannah who kept redirecting the conversation in other directions by asking JoEllen about her life with Tully as her stepfather. JoEllen admitted that at first she was resentful of Tully. She liked living with her grandparents and she didn't like Tully's small bungalow, especially compared to her father's huge house on Green Hill in Greenville where she stayed every other weekend. JoEllen was close to her maternal grandparents and she missed them when she first moved into the bungalow with her mother.

Tully didn't say anything about JoEllen toning down the accounts of those early years but it was brutal for him in his step-fatherhood role and it almost ruined his marriage with Lynn. JoEllen had been spoiled and overprotected after her parents' divorce, dotted on by her grandparents, spoiled by her absent father, and smothered by her guilt-ridden mother. Tully's presence was not welcomed and the moody teenager hated him for making her move into his dumpy little house. The two butted heads and Tully made more than his fair share of mistakes trying to be a step-parent, often overcompensating with discipline, rules and boundaries to counter some of the spoiled princess part JoEllen played so well. Her father was a bastard but JoEllen adored him and she longed to be with him. She must have told Tully a thousand times "You're not my father!" – angrily throwing it in his face and it was the most hurtful thing she could have said to him.

It took her a while to figure it out, but JoEllen finally got over her teenaged drama and angst to realize that her mother was happy and that she finally had a life other than mother, daughter and Red's Tastee Freeze worker being with Tully. It was obvious that the two were crazy about each other and, in retrospect, JoEllen realized that Tully had been more of a father figure to her than her own father. Bruce liked to talk the game but he was mostly an absentee father even living only one town over. He rarely showed up for JoEllen's field hockey or softball games or her dance recitals whereas Tully was present for all of them, often driving her to practices and rehearsals.

"My father has more money than he can count but he wouldn't even loan us the money for the down payment on our first house," JoEllen complained as they sat around the patio table drinking wine and beer and eating grilled chicken and a tasty tossed salad. "Same thing with the wedding. It was my mother and Tully who helped us out," JoEllen told Hannah. "My father doesn't think he owed me anything beyond child support until I turned eighteen. I had to beg him to help out with my community college tuition."

As was often the case, the more wine JoEllen drank, the more emotional, sentimental and weepy she became, mostly about her mother – how much she missed her and how unfair it was that she wouldn't get the joyful opportunity to watch Kylie grow up, although JoEllen was grateful that the little girl had two years with her grandmother – even if Kylie didn't remember her. That made Tully feel sad too knowing how much Lynn looked forward to being a grandmother.

Tully got along reasonably well with JoEllen now but the past hurts couldn't be denied and that kept an invisible barrier up between them even now. The insurance money helped JoEllen bury most of her resentment toward her stepfather but she was still trying to prove herself to her real father and Tully had given up a long time ago trying to prove himself to his dead wife's daughter.

Tully had (understandably) drank more than usual and Hannah had a little bit too much wine too so they were both a bit tipsy when they walked to Hannah's house at the end of the evening. JoEllen had turned into a blubbering mess by then and Skip led to her bed.

"It's a very sad story," Hannah remarked as she stood with Tully in her driveway.

"Lynn got a raw deal," Tully complained. "First she marries that asshole Bruce who dumped her and just when she's living a happy and contented life with the joy of a grandchild in her life she gets killed in a bizarre accident."

"She got JoEllen out of the deal with Bruce and by extension Kylie too," Hannah reasoned. "And she was lucky enough to find you and that gave her happiness too. She was happy when she died, Tully. That's all you can ask for."

Tully knew he was drunk because he could feel his eyes watering up. Hannah smiled that remarkable smile of hers.

"I don't think you should be driving home," she said knowingly. "Why don't you come inside?"

Tully didn't bother to argue. He was drunk and he wanted to go inside…with her.

#### #### ####

Tully awoke the next morning with the sun warming his face which seemed to be toasting his hangover headache. . He groaned but then he became accurately aware of warm naked flesh and a heavy weight crushing his chest. He opened his eyes and found himself lying naked on a bed, deducing that he was in Hannah's bedroom. And there was the nude Hannah lying on top of him, sound asleep. Had they fallen asleep making love? Was this the last position they had been in before losing consciousness?

Tully was stunned to find himself in this situation. He hadn't expected things with Hannah to move so fast and for a second he panicked, wondering how Hannah was going to react when she awoke and found herself in such a compromisingly exposed and vulnerable position. Tully could feel Hannah's breasts pressed against his sternum and the warmth between her legs was keeping his groin comfortable.

He tried to remember what transpired the night before. Hannah and brought him inside. He was feeling emotionally raw and incredibly lonely. He didn't want to think of the word horny but he was definitely longing in the loins for companionship and the gentle touch of a woman and Hannah appeared to know this because she was very soothing and gentle. She made no pretense of the situation, leading him directly upstairs to her bedroom without explanation or even rationale.

"I had to be discreet raising my boys, Tully," Hannah explained as Tully sat on the bed watching her slowly undress in front of him as if they were a comfortably married couple used to such moments between one another. "I rarely brought men home and my few sexual trysts happened elsewhere. Later, when the boys were older I was too and the opportunities didn't present themselves as much. I wasn't much into dating. I had an affair with Bud Taylor for several years and that kept me satisfied."

"Who's Bud Taylor?" Tully wondered.

"That's who Skip and JoEllen bought the house from," Hannah revealed. "He was divorced too, with three kids. I always thought one of my boys might hook up with one of his girls but instead he and I were the ones who did the hooking up. Nobody ever knew. I'd sneak over in the middle of the night or he'd come over here. It was all quite secretive and exciting."

"Why'd it end?"

He wanted to start a new chapter in his life once his kids were out of the house but I was happy with what I had so we agreed to end it," she sighed. "He sold the house and left the area and I haven't been with anybody since."

She was naked now, having hung up her dress and placed her undergarments in the hamper. She knelt down in front of Tully and began to slowly and methodically undress him and he didn't resist mostly because he didn't want to. He needed this and he was ready for it, drunk or not. When she had him disrobed, Hannah pushed him back on the bed and she climbed on top of him and she gave him a happy kiss, that wonderful smile of hers filling her face and warming his heart and he had no regrets about making love to her.

And now he stared at her beautifully peaceful face as she slept on his chest. She had the same smile on her face even while she slept.

Tully wasn't sure how long he lay awake listening to Hannah's breathing while thinking about what took place between them. Was it simply a needed and necessary one night stand? Would he disappear like Bud Taylor? Would JoEllen be troubled if she knew her step father had slept with her next door neighbor? Was Hannah interested in him beyond a quick fling? Did she want the baggage of dead wives and next door neighbor step daughters?

Hannah finally stirred and when her eyes popped open her smile became even more expressive as she lifted her head and stared into his wide eyes. "Good Morning, Lover," she grinned.

"Should I be apologizing?" Tully worried.

Hannah laughed a school girl's laugh. "What on Earth for?"

"Maybe I took advantage of you?" He theorized.

She rolled her eyes. "If anything, I took advantage of you," she said knowingly.

Tully smiled in return. "I haven't felt this serene in a long time."

"Serene?" She grinned.

Tully sucked in a deep breath. "Is that bad?"

"No," she said smugly. "That's not bad at all."

"You okay with this?" He asked with concern.

"More than okay," she assured him with that entrancing smile of hers. "What about you?"

He bit his lip and let out a sigh.

Hannah gave him a sympathetic look. "This is weird for you, huh?"

"It's new," he admitted.

She reached her hand out and brushed his hair back. "And different."

"But nice," he assured her.

Hannah smiled with satisfaction and she finally rolled off of him, landing in a sitting position on the side of the bed while glancing back and admiring his manhood. "I'll be right back," she said before getting off the bed and heading for the bathroom without being self-conscious about her exposed middle aged body.

Tully pulled the sheets up to cover his nakedness and he waited for her to return. He was surprised that she was still naked when she re-entered the room, giggling with amusement at the look on his face and Tully felt turned on all over again.

"You hungry?" Hannah wanted to know as she climbed back onto the bed. "I can make some breakfast if you want."

"Okay," he agreed.

She kissed him. "It's going to be okay, Tully," she said with gentle compassion. "Freshen up and come downstairs when you're ready." She got off the bed, grabbed a robe from the closet and left the room again.

Tully found Hannah in the kitchen when he was done in the bathroom. He was dressed in last night's clothes. The smell of pancakes greeted him as he entered the room. Her back was to him as she stood at the stove in her pink terri-clothed robe. He stepped up behind her and put his hands on her hips. She wiggled her backside to acknowledge his presence. He blew his breath against her ear and Hannah finally turned around and looked into his eyes. She leaned in and pressed her breasts against his chest, her eyes gleaming with happiness.

"I made blueberry pancakes," she let him know.

"They smell great," he told her.

"Sit down," she said warmly. "They're ready."

Tully sat the breakfast counter and Hannah soon joined him with two plates of pancakes, along with locally produced maple syrup, orange juice and coffee.

"You like to keep your windows closed, don't you?" Hannah asked once they began eating

"I don't follow," Tully said with confusion.

"Your personal windows," Hannah clarified. "The windows into your heart and soul."

Tully didn't say anything as he ate the pancakes.

"You lose your wife under tragic circumstances and now you have this sort of quasi family that really isn't your true family because you married into it and you're feeling like the adoptive uncle or something," she theorized.

"It wasn't always sugar and spice and everything nice with JoEllen," Tully admitted sadly. "We had some real battles and drag out confrontations."

"It must be frustrating knowing that you were a much better man and father than Bruce could ever hope to be yet you're always going to be in the shadows because you're not a blood relative," Hannah remarked.

"Something like that," Tully muttered.

"Well, I think you're the kindest and most giving man I've ever met," Hannah said. "Don't you think it's time you opened your window with me?"

"I thought I did last night," Tully remarked, tossing her a look.

She smiled as always. "Yes, but what about all the rest of the nights?" She wanted to know. "Are you ready to be with me? Are you worried what people will think?"

He had finished the pancakes. "I have some jobs today," he let her know.

"Me too," she told him. "I hope I'll see you again – soon, Tully."

"Thanks for breakfast," he said, giving her an awkward kiss on her lips.

"Anytime,' she smiled.

Tully felt like he was a teenager covertly sneaking out of a girl's house as he quietly walked to his truck, hoping JoEllen hadn't noticed it from next door. He wasn't sure why he was so concerned about what she might think. He was a consenting adult with a right to live his life but somehow he felt guilty, as if JoEllen would think he was cheating on her mother spending the night with Hannah. Tully drove away feeling all sorts of emotions and wondering if he had made a mistake sleeping with Hannah. It was wonderful – but was it right?

Tully stayed busy for the next few days and while he wanted to call Hannah or stop by her house something prevented him from doing so. Was it because he didn't want JoEllen to know? Because deep down he felt like he was cheating on Lynn or betraying JoEllen in some way? JoEllen's father had cheated on her mother all those years ago – was Tully any different with his own behavior?

Tully was watching a ball game on the television a few evenings later when he heard a knock on his door. His heart skipped a beat when he saw Hannah standing on the other side of the screen door.

"I see into the window of your heart and soul," she said through the screened, reading the surprise on his face. "You can't fool me, Tully."

She should have been mad, insulted and hurt but she was standing on his porch with the familiar wide smile on her face. He wasn't sure how he was supposed to respond.

"I want to be in your life, Tully," Hannah announced.

"I'm sorry for being a jerk," Tully replied sheepishly "I'm just worried…..about stuff."

"I know," Hannah replied, opening the door. "I'm here to unworry you."

She stepped into the house and looked around. "Nice place," she said.

"Thanks," he mumbled, looking at her with a mixture of bewilderment and appreciation.

"I know you're all hung up on all of this," Hannah said. "But I know you're interested in me too."

"I am," he professed.

She looked into his eyes. "Well then?"

"I apologize for being a bastard," Tully said. "You don't deserve that."

"Thank you," She smiled.

"Hannah, you and I…." His voice trailed off.

"You and I what?" She pressed

He walked to the bay window overlooking the front porch and yard beyond. "It's complicated," he sighed.

"How so?" She asked, still standing behind him.

"There are things in my past."

"Everybody has a past."

"My past is all around me," he said, turning around and gesturing to the surroundings of the room and house.

"Tully, it doesn't matter what your past is," Hannah said. "I want to be with you. I can handle dead wives and confused step daughters and dickhead ex husbands if that's what you're worried about."

"That's some of it," he admitted.

"Well, what else is there?" She wanted to know. She paused for a second and then understood. "Oh," she smiled. "My past. My kids. My gay ex."

"I don't care about any of that," Tully rebutted, taking a step toward her and pressing himself against her.

"Good," she said with relief.

"You smell and feel so good," he sighed.

Hannah relaxed against him. "Are you ready to do this?" She wanted to know.

"Yes," he said, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her tight against him.

Hannah could feel his heart beating as she rested her head against his chest. She lifted her head up and looked into his eyes. Tully ran his thumb along her lips and then he leaned in and kissed her passionately (not chastely like when he last left her after the pancakes).

Her smile grew wider. "It's going to be okay," she assured him.

"I want you in my life," he told her.

"I am in your life," she said warmly as she pressed her lips against his.

Tully smiled when Hannah shoved her tongue into his mouth like they were eighteen instead of forty-eight. Her kisses were assertive and they stirred feelings within Tully that he hadn't felt in a long time. He kept her wrapped in his arms and she continued kissing him as her hands pressed against his chest and then worked their way around to his back. Tully kissed her in return as he began caressing her back. Hannah moved her arms up his back until her fingers found his hair.

"Tully" she whispered.

Tully tightened his arms around her. "You've opened my windows," he said happily. .

Hannah smiled in return.