Web Site: Sensual Romances by Lois Bonde
Lori does her best to raise her small daughter alone. An envelope she finds left on the bus leads her to a brighter future for both of them.
“How are you doing back there, honey?” Lori Blake called as she switched off the red flashers, retracted the stop sign on the side of the school bus she was driving, and accelerated, setting traffic back into motion.
“I’m glad we’re almost done,” her daughter Kelly, the only remaining child onboard, responded.
“Me too,” Lori agreed.
As Lori drove the final leg toward the bus garage, the din of children’s voices had disappeared, but not her dull headache. It had only been a few weeks since school had started. Soon she would get used to the noise like she had the last two years since she began driving the bus each day. She sighed.
“We can both be thankful this was Friday,” she told Kelly. Lori smiled thinking of the two days of peace and quiet before she returned to work early Monday morning.
She took the job so she would not have to hire a babysitter for Kelly. By driving the bus, she could see her daughter safely to and from school. But that meant she held down two jobs. And unfortunately, school bus driving and her part-time job during school hours barely made ends meet. But so far, they had been able to keep the house they lived in before Lori’s husband died. Until Kelly was older and better able to care for herself, that had to be enough.
“How old do I have to be to go home alone instead of riding to the garage, Mom?” Kelly asked from her seat a few rows back.
“I don’t know, honey. Several years older, at least. You’re only just starting second grade now.”
“I could be good if I was home alone,” Kelly insisted. “Susan gets to be by herself with just her brother and their mom isn’t home.”
“I know, but her brother is in eighth grade. You don’t have a big brother or sister to keep an eye on things.” Lori frowned, not liking the idea of any children being home alone on a regular basis.
“Won’t be long now. We’ll be home before you know it.”
Lori threw her daughter a big smile in the mirror and steered into her parking spot in the long row of buses behind the school district garage. Kelly jumped out of her seat and started forward as soon as the diesel motor stilled.
“Give me a minute to check that no one’s left anything.” Lori pushed the lever to open the door and slid out of her seat. As she passed Kelly, she leaned down to kiss her on the top of her head. “Then how about getting pizza and salad for dinner?”
Kelly cheered her approval as Lori checked each row of seats, picking up trash. She would have to remind the kids again not to litter.
When she returned to the front, Kelly was sitting in the seat next to the open door. She held up an envelope. “Here. Pam says to throw this away, too.”
Lori knew that Pam was the new girl in Kelly’s class who always sat beside her on the bus until the second to the last stop. Lori was happy that her daughter had made friends with the new girl. she remembered Pam’s good-looking father at parents welcome day at school, but not her mother. She had been meaning to call to ask if Pam could come over to play once in a while, but had not gotten around to it.
Lori took the crumpled business-size envelope and saw that it was addressed to Pam’s father. The return address was the grade school.
“I can’t throw this out, peanut. We’ll have to see that Pam’s mom and dad get it.”
“Pam doesn’t have a mom. She went to heaven like Daddy. And Pam says that when she brings letters from school to her dad, he gets upset. Now she throws them out instead.”
Lori sat down beside her daughter and explained that they couldn’t be a party to Pam’s deception. “I’ll have to give this to her dad,” Lori told her. Kelly frowned. “I tell you what,” Lori added when Kelly objected. “We’ll stop there on our way for pizza tonight and I’ll talk to Pam’s father myself, so he won’t be upset with Pam. Okay?”
“I guess so,” Kelly allowed reluctantly.
Lori was wary of what she had gotten herself into when, after ringing Pam’s doorbell a second time, she heard an annoyed male voice shout that he was coming.
Kelly moved closer to Lori. “I told you he would get upset,” she said, her shoulder touching her mother’s hip.
The door flew open and the tall, dark-haired man Lori remembered seeing at school stared at them with hard steel-gray eyes. His gaze went from Lori to Kelly and back again. “Well?”
“Ah, I’m sorry to disturb you. I drive the bus your daughter rides on after school and she...”
“Okay. Okay. What’s she done?” he asked impatiently.
“I beg your pardon?”
“What did she do?” he asked, raising his hands to his hips. “Throw something? Say a naughty word?”
“Ah, no, you don’t understand. She’s quiet and no trouble at all.” Lori held out the envelope. “She just left this on the bus. We live nearby and I thought I’d drop it off.”
Pam came running down the hall and saw them standing at the door. “Kelly! Dad can Kelly come see my room? Can she?”
The moment Pam appeared, her dad’s facial expression went from hard to soft. He ran his hand through his hair leaving the same mussed appearance, evidence he had done it often during the afternoon. “Sure. I mean, can she?” he asked Lori. “Can you both come in--for a few minutes?”
Lori nodded and stepped inside. She introduced herself and Kelly, who was already running down the hall with Pam.
“Jake Green.” He extended his hand.
Lori was surprised by how warm his hand felt wrapped around hers--how warm it made her feel all over. “Mr. Green, I...”
“Call me Jake. I’m not a Mr. Green type of guy.”
“Okay,” Lori said with a little laugh. “Jake, ah, I think you should know that there may have been other letters from the school that you didn’t get.”
He frowned and read the letter he had taken from her. “You’re right.”
“I think Pam has been throwing out the letters because the ones she brought to you only seemed to... to upset you,” Lori offered.
“Damn. I’m not upset with her,” he said, holding the letter out toward Lori. “Here. You read this.”
In the letter Pam’s teacher requested that Jake explain why nothing had been done about getting Pam’s eyes checked. Her participation in class was suffering because she could not see the blackboard from her seat.
“She brought a letter home the first week of school that said she should get an eye exam, but when I tried to make the appointment, Pam said she didn’t need one. She said the teacher sent everyone that letter in case someone needed the checkup.”
Lori smiled. “I’d say your daughter is very smart to figure all that out just to keep from wearing glasses.”
He nodded. “I... My wife used to handle things like this. She died just over a year ago and I’ve got to admit, if something doesn’t absolutely need to be done, I have a tendency to put it off. Other than caring for Pam, I put every free minute into getting my home-based accounting business going so I can stay home with Pam.”
“I can sure relate to that. Being a single parent means there’s never enough time to do all you have to do,” Lori agreed.
“Yeah.” The steel in his eyes softened further to white gold as he looked at Lori. “Pam told me that Kelly’s father passed away, too. I’m sorry.”
Lori nodded. “Thanks. But I’ve had three years to get used to it. Believe me, things will get easier for you, too.”
Kelly and Pam bounded down the hall to where the adults stood.
“Mom,” Kelly said, her voice filled with urgency. “I told Pam we’re gonna get pizza for dinner. She likes pizza. Can she come? Puleeeease?” Pam held Kelly’s arm and jumped up and down at her side.
“Well, we’ll have to ask her father.” Lori turned to meet his gaze.
Pam hugged him and said, “Please, please, can I, Dad?”
Jake laughed suddenly and the happy sound gave Lori goose bumps. It had been a long time since she had heard a man laugh like that.
“I think that would be fun,” he said. “So much fun, in fact, that I want to come, too.” He hunkered down to his daughter’s level. “Is that okay, peanut?”
“Sure, Daddy.” The girls hugged with joy.
“Is that all right with you, Lori?” Jake asked as he rose. “My treat.”
Lori shook her head. “No. I mean, yes, it’ll be fun to have an adult along to talk to, but we’ll split the bill down the middle.”
Jake smiled his agreement. “How about that pizza place in the mall with the game room for kids?” Jake suggested.
The girls shouted their approval.
Lori hesitated only a moment before she dared to ask, “That’s the place just down the mall from where you had your eyes checked, isn’t it, Kelly?”
“Yeah. They gave me a pair of sunglasses for being good. They’re at home. You’ll have to come over so I can show them to you,” Kelly told Pam.
Jake gave Lori a quick smile of thanks. “Maybe we should take you there, Pam,” he suggested casually without referring to the letter. “Then if your teacher ever asks again, you can say you had your eyes checked.”
Pam didn’t look as if she liked the idea, but she said, “I suppose.”
Kelly tugged on Pam’s arm. “Then you can have a pair of sunglasses just like mine.” With a glance at Lori, she asked, “Can we sit on the front steps until we go?”
“Sure,” Lori told her.
“Put on your coat,” Jake called to Pam.
Before the screen slammed, Kelly was telling Pam all about the eye exam.
“Thanks,” Jake whispered as he got his jacket from the closet by the front door. “I think that may have done the trick. In fact if we go now, we’ll be early enough to make the appointment before dinner. If you don’t mind taking the time there first?”
“Not a problem.” Lori felt a happy glow seeing Jake look so pleased. His smile was mesmerizing. She couldn’t help but watch as he pulled his jacket on over his broad shoulders.
“May I consult with you from time to time about raising a second grader?” he asked. “Just when I think I have parenting aced, something like this comes up to make me feel like a failure.”
“Welcome to the real world,” Lori said with a laugh as she crossed the door.
With his hand on the back of her waist, he ushered her out onto the porch.
“Come on, girls. We can take my car,” Lori offered. “It’s blocking the driveway anyway.”
“If you let me drive next time,” Jake said easily.
Lori nodded, but she felt an unfamiliar heat rising into her cheeks as she contemplated seeing him again. “Sure.”
Lori and Jake each opened a front door and allowed the girls to climb into the back seat. They saw to it that they were seatbelted in and then did the same themselves in the front seat.
Lori felt that Jake sitting close beside her in the small sedan was distracting to say the least.
When she discovered she had to share one side of the restaurant booth with him because the girls wanted to sit side-by-side, she realized her hands were shaking. But they were soon talking and laughing and she found it easy to relax.
“Mommy, I’m stuffed,” Kelly admitted later as she pushed away her dish.
Jake paid the bill, insisting that he put it all on his credit card instead of splitting it. “You can get it next time. Unless, of course, you’d rather invite us over for an actual 24-carat, honest-to-goodness, real-life, home-cooked meal!”
He had such a dopey hopeful look on his face that Lori had to laugh. In fact, she could not remember an evening in which she had laughed so much before.
“Mom makes great spaghetti,” Kelly testified.
“Oh, goody. I love spaghetti,” Pam announced. “But I don’t like spicy meatballs with it.”
“I don’t make spicy meatballs with mine. So if that’s okay, I guess it’s a date,” Lori said to Pam before she looked up at Jake and realized what that phrase more commonly meant. Her cheeks warmed.
His gaze held hers. He stepped closer and his hand returned to the back of her waist as they followed the girls into the mall.
“No fair changing your mind now,” he told her. “It is a date!”
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|Reviewed by Jean Pike
|Lois what a beautiful story! I loved your descriptions of the old couple, and the selfless love they had for each other even after sixty years. As Leonard said, it brought a tear. Simply lovely.
|Reviewed by Leonard Vanek
|That was beautifully written it brought a tear to my eye's|