Closing The Book On Brooke

Charlie stood by the side of his backyard above ground pool barefooted in a pair of shorts and a tee shirt skimming the leaves off the surface of the water with a long handled net. It was a pleasant summer Saturday afternoon and he enjoyed the peaceful quietness of the moment. His life had slowed down so much in the past year that he had gotten used to the turtle pace. The yard was well camouflaged by trees, brush, and fencing, with woods to the back, so it was easy to be one with the world in the private setting.

The retired Robinsons lived in the gray house to the left and the divorced Natalie Phillips lived in the yellow house to the right. Charlie's house was a single story green ranch, a bit older and more run down than the other two houses on the small dead end street. The sounds of the interstate could be heard beyond Natalie's house and the tree line that separated the neighborhood from the highway. He was pondering selling the house but the kids told him not to rush into any decision, at least for another year or so. Easy for them to say – they weren't living there anymore!

A hornet landed on the water surface and Charlie tried to smack it with the net which made an echoing splashing sound across the yard but he had submerged the hornet in the process so his attempt was a success, although he ironically had to save the hornet from drowning and flick it with the netting into the brush not far from the pool.

"Charlie?"

He turned to see his neighbor Natalie coming through the gate from her yard. "Everything okay? I thought somebody was drowning over here!"

Charlie laughed. "I just saved a hornet," he reported proudly.

Natalie smiled as she walked across the yard. She was wearing flip flops, short shorts, a white blouse tied off at the waist, and sunglasses and her blonde hair bounced on her shoulders "Haven't seen you in a while," she said. "How you doing?"

"Not sure why I opened the pool this year," he sighed, turning back to the pool and resting the net on the edge. "Nobody around to use it anymore. Waste of money keeping it going. I should probably get rid of it."

"Don't you use it?" She teased, joining him at the side of the pool and dipping her hands into the water.

"Not anymore," he admitted, resting his arms on the rim of the pool. "Seems like only yesterday I was out here with the kids almost every weekend and most nights too."

"Lizzie enjoyed it," Natalie smiled.

"How's she doing?" Charlie asked, glancing toward Natalie's house.

"She's with her father for the next month," Natalie reported. "I hear Colorado is nice this time of year."

"So, you're on your own too?" Charlie realized.

"After five years as a divorcee, I guess I'm getting used to it," Natalie remarked.

"Where does the time go?" Charlie wondered. "Could it be that long ago that we were having the backyard BBQ pool parties with you, Scott and Lizzie coming over?"

"Brooke sure could put out a spread," Natalie smiled nostalgically. She gave Charlie a look. "How are the kids holding up?"

"Life goes on," Charlie said with a shrug. "Audrey's busy being a wife and mom. David is off saving the world, and Kat is living with her boyfriend over in Hillsboro. She starts her second year at the community college in September."

"And what about you?" Natalie asked.

He glanced at the house. "Sure does seem lonely," he admitted. "Can't get used to the quiet house."

"I'm surprised Kat moved out."

"I wasn't going to stop her from living her life," Charlie said. "That would be selfish of me."

"You're a good Dad," Natalie smiled.

"I suppose the only final way I'll be able to close the book on Brooke is to sell the place," Charlie sighed.

"There's no rush," Natalie told him.

"That's what the kids say," Charlie remarked. "I guess letting go of this place will be the final chapter."

"You guys were here when we moved in," Natalie said. "It wouldn't be the same if you left."

"Ever think of selling your place?" Charlie asked. "It's pretty big for just you and Lizzie."

"I'll wait until she's done with high school," Natalie replied. "Then we'll see."

"Hey, congratulations on your promotion!" Charlie grinned. "I saw the article in the paper a few weeks ago."

"Thanks," she smiled. "I'm not sure if you're allowed to be a Vice President of anything if you're not forty yet though."

"You're getting close," he ribbed.

"Shut up!" She laughed. "Scott wanted me to give up my career so he could chase his pipe dream so now that I have the position I'm glad I didn't go."

"I guess we have to admire him for giving it a shot," Charlie shrugged. "Joining a rodeo sounded nuts to me but what do I know?"

"He's either going to go broke or kill himself trying to be the best rodeo performer out there," Natalie sighed, shaking her head with disgust. "How's your job going?"

"Still trying to find the new normal," he admitted. "They've been very patient and generous so I feel like I owe them but it's still hard trying to care."

"It'll get better," Natalie predicted. "Time is always the great equalizer."

"They renamed the school library in her memory," Charlie said.

"I read that in the paper too!" Natalie beamed. "Very nice gesture."

"That was my first time back since she died," Charlie revealed. "It was kind of hard."

Natalie put her wet hand on top of his where he rested it on the side of the pool. "It's supposed to be," she said.

"Sometimes I sit on the back deck and just stare out at the yard," Charlie said. "The other night I didn't move until it was well past dark."

"You should come over to my house on tough nights like those," Natalie said.

"You have your life too," he pointed out.

Natalie gave him a spontaneous hug as they stood by the side of the pool. "I miss her too," she admitted sadly. "I'm not sure if I would have been strong enough to have stayed if she hadn't convinced me I could do it without Scott."

"She didn't like rodeos," Charlie quipped.

They held their hug just a little longer then protocol dictated before Charlie broke free.

Natalie kept one of her arms wrapped around his waist and she made a point of bumping her hip against his as they both stared into the pool, watching a small bug hopping across the surface of the water.

"How 'bout if I take a swim with you? Natalie suggested after an awkward moment. "It's a nice warm afternoon and that way the pool won't be being wasted."

"It was the kid's pool," he reminded her.

"It's big enough for us," she assured him. "What is it, five feet deep in the middle?"

'Yeah."

"I'll go change," Natalie announced, turning and heading for her house before Charlie had a chance to protest or argue.

He let out a sigh and headed for the house to put on a pair of swimming trunks. It had been years since he'd been in the pool. Audrey and David aged out years ago, of course, and Kat only used it with her friends after a certain age so there was no reason for Charlie to use it, especially since Brooke had no interest in it either.

Charlie walked through the empty house which was full of memories and ghosts but not much else. He tried to keep up with it and keep it the same as Brooke had managed it, but he wasn't as cleanliness observant or decoratively savvy and the rooms had taken on a bit of a sad appearance to them. \

A thin layer of dust here and there, dust mites under the furniture, chairs out of line, couch cushions un-fluffed, clutter about – old newspapers, unread magazines, a jacket tossed over the back of a chair, window shades half askew, curtains half closed.

Charlie went into the master bedroom. Audrey and Kat had been kind enough to clear out their mother's belongings, taking the jewelry and clothing they wanted and donating the rest to charity, so it was hard to remember Brooke ever being there.

One side of the closet was empty, he rarely made the bed anymore, and he kept the shades drawn, almost as if he was trying to hide her absence. He dug out a forgotten pair of green swimming trunks which he put on, tying the string around his increasingly pot-bellied waist. He ate mostly crap these days, too lazy to cook for himself and relying on take out and frozen dinners unless he drove down to Audrey's in Springdale for a Sunday afternoon meal with her husband and young son, or took Kat out to a nice restaurant on occasion.

Charlie stopped at the dresser mirror for a minute. His brown hair was streaked with gray. His moustache and beard – which needed a trim – suffered from the same fate. He sighed as he left the bedroom and walked through the silent house and out the back sliding glass door to the deck that led down to the yard. He took a seat on the bottom step and waited for Natalie to return. He had been friendly with Scott and he enjoyed Natalie's company as a neighborhood couple, but she was seven years younger than him, a 'dog year' he thought to himself and she had been closer to Brooke than him for natural reasons.

When Scott left, Charlie tried to compensate with Lizzie to help out. She was two years younger than Kat but they still hung out some and Brooke would invite Natalie over more often, even though both women were busy with their careers and family commitments. Charlie had no reason to notice other women in a sensual or sexual way since he was totally committed and devoted to his wife but he'd be a hypocrite if he tried to deny that he ever noticed Natalie's shapely figure and feminine attractions.

And now she was walking across his yard again, wearing a modest two piece bathing suit, the blouse she had on earlier now untied and unbuttoned over the red bathing suit. A yellow towel was flopped around her neck.

"Are you ready for this?" She grinned, gesturing toward the pool.

"Yeah," he answered, standing and heading to join her.