By:  Kenda


*There’s a reference in this story to a fan fiction story entitled, A Journey Into The Past, by Brenda A.  To the best of my knowledge, A Journey Into The Past isn’t housed anywhere on the Internet.  It was an excellent story, and was based on the theory that A.J. was ten years old when his father died, and in the car when Jack Simon passed away as a result of injuries incurred that night.  Brenda wrote her story several years before the episode May The Road Rise Up aired.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


     Cecilia Simon's kitchen was filled with tantalizing aromas on this Monday evening in early June.  She removed the hot casserole from the oven and replaced it with a small loaf of bread, then adjusted the temperature.  She bustled over to the table and set two places, then opened the refrigerator and pulled out the necessary items for a fresh garden salad. She washed her hands at the sink, then began to tear lettuce into a large wooden bowl. 


     The doorbell rang in the midst of all this activity.  The woman wiped her hands on a dishtowel and hurried to answer it. 


     Cecilia opened the door, smiling at her dinner guest.  "I'm so glad you could make it.  I was afraid you'd get tied up at the office."


     Abigail Marsh shook her head as she entered Cecilia's home.  "No.  I actually snuck out early for a change."


     Cecilia reached out for the pan Abby was carrying.  "Here, let me take that.  You shouldn't have brought anything.  I told you not to."


     Abby laid her purse on the small table that decorated Cecilia's foyer.  "I know you did.  But I wanted to anyway.  Besides, I don't get a chance to put my culinary skills to the test very often.  I enjoy whatever opportunities I get."


     Cecilia lifted the lid on the pan.  The brightly colored gelatin salad smelled of fresh strawberries and whipped cream.  "It looks delicious.  Sinfully delicious, as a matter of fact."


     The women walked to the kitchen.


       "It is.  I'm not even going to tell you everything that's in it.  It's hard to believe it's not a dessert.  It's that rich."


     "Well, one night every month or so doesn't hurt us," Cecilia dismissed as she set the salad on the kitchen counter.


       The friendship between Abigail Marsh and Cecilia Simon had grown to be a strong one despite their age difference, and despite the animosity that often existed between the police lieutenant and Cecilia's sons.  Cecilia had come to look upon Abby with fondness as the daughter she never had, while Abby viewed Cecilia as an experienced friend and confidant.  She was also willing to admit that she sometimes used Cecilia as a surrogate mother, considering her parents lived in Colorado and she didn't get a chance to see them more than once or twice a year.  The two women made it a point to meet once a month for either a girls’ night out, as they referred to it, or to have dinner at Cecilia's home or at Abby's condo.


     "What can I do to help?"  Abby asked.


     "You can finish making the salad while I check the bread I put in the oven a few minutes ago."


     Abby took over where Cecilia had left off with the salad, tearing the lettuce, then dicing tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots.  She tossed everything thoroughly in the wooden salad bowl while Cecilia began carrying the rest of the meal to the table.  Serving spoons were sought out and glasses were filled with iced tea.  The women then sat down and began to converse with great animation in-between bites of their dinner.


     When they had both had their fill of the first course, Cecilia cleared the table of their dinner plates.  She uncovered a large chocolate cake iced with fudge frosting.  When she cut into it cherries oozed out the sides. 


     "Oh, Cecilia.  Black Forest cake," Abby practically drooled.  "You shouldn't have gone to all that trouble."


     Cecilia smiled while licking frosting off one finger.  "I don't mind.  Goodness, I haven't made one of these in years.  Not since Jack was alive I'll bet.  It was his favorite.  When you mentioned one day how much you loved it as well, I decided I'd look and see if I still had his mother's recipe."


     Abby accepted the plate Cecilia handed her.  "You must have found it."


     "I did," Cecilia confirmed as she poured coffee for both Abby and herself, then sat back down at the table.  "Jack's mother, Reba, was a wonderful cook.  When the boys were small we all used to gather at her house every Sunday after church for a big family meal."


     "Good memories?"  Abby asked.


     A soft smile touched the corners of Cecilia's mouth.  "Very good memories.  I couldn't have asked for a better mother-in-law.  Or a better grandmother for my sons.  When A.J. got to be, oh about sixteen or seventeen, he used to say, ‘Even though Grandma Simon has twenty-five grandchildren, she always makes each one of us feel as though we're special to her.  Like we're the only grandchild she's got.’  I thought that was a very fitting tribute to a very fine lady."


     "Wow.  Twenty-five grandchildren.  The Simon family is very prolific."


     Cecilia laughed.  "Jack was one of seven children.  His younger brother, Ray, was the only one who never had a family.  And, his oldest brother, Will, tipped the scale a bit.  He and his wife had ten.  Everyone else had either three or four.  Jack and I had the smallest family of them all with just Rick and A.J."


     "You told me one time that you had wanted more children.  If you don't mind my asking, why didn't you have any more?"


     Cecilia took a drink of warm coffee.  "I don't mind you asking.  Rick was born while Jack was in Europe during the war.  When he came home Rick was twenty-two months old.  There was quite a period of adjustment that all three of us had to go through as we tried to blend together as a family.  Jack and I had only lived as husband and wife for a month before he was shipped back to France.  I had hoped to get pregnant again not long after he returned home, but as time passed I came to realize that would be a mistake.  To Rick, Jack was a stranger who had intruded into his safe little world.  He kept telling Jack to go away."


     Abby laughed, matching this scene up with the headstrong Rick Simon that she knew today.


     Cecilia smiled.  "I can see that you understand what we went through.  Also, Jack's parents had owned a large two story home in what once was a very stately neighborhood here in San Diego.  They made a small apartment out of part of the upstairs for me when Jack went overseas.  They knocked the walls out of two bedrooms to make a combination living room, kitchenette and bedroom.  It afforded me some privacy, but basically Rick and I lived with them as we didn't have more than a hot plate in the tiny kitchen area, and the only bathroom available to us was in the main part of Mom and Dad Simon's home.  As you can imagine, Jack's parents tended to spoil Rick, as did Jack's brother Ray, who was only twelve when Rick was born.  So, when he came home from the war Jack had a son he didn't know who wanted no part of him, a young bride he hadn't seen in over two years, and to top it off we were all living in his parents' home.  Jack had a lot of pride.  Like Rick and A.J.  Living with his parents didn't set well with him.  He and his father could really get into it sometimes let me tell you.  We were fortunate in that Jack got a very good job.  We scrimped and saved for over a year to buy this house.  Of course, it didn't look like this then.  Actually. it was rather rundown and in need of a lot of work.  But, Jack fell in love with it and the big backyard, and insisted that it would be the perfect place to raise a whole houseful of children.  I had my doubts, but went along with it simply because I knew he and I and Rick had to get out of his parents' home and start our own lives together."


     "How old was Rick when you moved here?"


     Cecilia thought a moment.  "We moved here in August of 1947.  Rick would have been almost three and a half.  As the months passed, things began to get better between Jack and Rick.  Jack and I also finally had the privacy we had craved ever since he had returned from the war.  He became noticeably more relaxed and carefree.   Prior to moving here he had been so tense all the time, just like A.J. gets when he's upset over something.  So anyway, between those things, and with the new house and all, I felt it was time to work on giving Jack the houseful of children we both wanted.  In December of 1948 I found out that I was pregnant with A.J."  Cecilia smiled at the warm memory.  "I couldn't have given Jack a better Christmas present that year.  Or so he told me."


     "But then you never did have that houseful of children you wanted," Abby reminded.  "Don't tell me, let me guess.  You quickly came to the conclusion that the two you had were more than enough."


     Cecilia laughed.  "On many days they were, Abby.  Believe me.  But yes, I had planned to have more children after A.J.  As a matter of fact, I was hoping to be pregnant again by the time he was a year old.  But, the reason I never had any more children was because A.J.'s birth was a very difficult one.  I lost a lot of blood among other things.  The doctor thought for a few minutes that he might not be able to save either one of us.  A.J. was eight days old when he and I were released from the hospital.  My doctor came in to see me just as I had finished feeding A.J. on the day Jack was to bring us home.  It was the first time he broached the subject with me of not having any more children.  He strongly advised against it, saying I very likely would lose my life if I went through another difficult birth.  Of course, they didn't have the technology in those days that they do now you have to remember.  They couldn't predict as easily as they can today what might go wrong with a pregnancy.  After Bob, my doctor, left the room, I sat there in that rocking chair and literally sobbed my heart out while A.J. slept in my arms.  Well, after I'd had a good long cry I realized how foolish I was being.  Here I had a healthy, beautiful week old baby in my arms, and a healthy, handsome, precocious five-year-old waiting for me at home.   That was the last day I ever cried over what I couldn't have, and instead gave thanks for what I had."


       "And that's how you've lived your entire life," Abby stated with admiration.


     "That's how I've tried to live my life, Abby.  There's been times when it hasn't always been as easy as it sounds.  But, one thing I have learned in my sixty-six years on this earth is that everything happens for a reason.  When Jack died I was left with a ten-year-old and a fifteen-year-old to raise by myself.  If I'd had two or three more children like I had wanted after A.J. I would have been overwhelmed, both financially and emotionally.  A.J. had a very difficult time coping with Jack's death as I've probably told you before. He needed a lot of my time and attention.  And just by virtue of being fifteen, Rick needed a lot of my attention.  I was bound and determined my teenager wasn't going to run wild after his father's death like so many boys do who are raised by just their mothers.  I kept a tight rein on him.  But, of course, that took a lot of effort on my part.  It wasn't an easy job to do alone."


     Abby had seen enough heartbreaking results in her line of work of boys raised by a single mother.   "No, it's not an easy job to do alone," she agreed.  "I admire your strength, Cecilia."


     "Strength had nothing to do with it.  The fact of the matter was; I didn't have a choice.   That was the hand dealt me.   I had to play it out the best way I knew how."


     "If you don't tell your sons I said this I'll add, and with results you should be pleased with.  You raised two fine men, Cecilia."


     "I tend to think so.  Their old mother is quite proud of them."


     Abby smiled warmly.  "As they are of you.  You deserve all the credit for the close family you have today."


     Cecilia lifted one shoulder in a shrug.  "Oh, I don't know about that.  Sometimes, Abby, I think it was just plain old-fashioned good luck."


     "Well, I don't.  Parenting is hard work.  And single parenting even harder."


     "I can't deny that fact, dear.  As a matter of fact, I won't even try."


     Cecilia started to rise, but her friend motioned her to remain seated.   This time it was Abby who gathered up the dirty plates and silverware.  She rinsed them off in the sink like Cecilia had done earlier with the dinner dishes, then stacked them in the dishwasher.  Next she reached for the coffee pot and refilled both their cups before reseating herself.  The pot came to rest on a hot pad in the middle of the table so it would be available for further refills.


     "Let's sit and relax for a few more minutes," Abby suggested.  "We can clean up the rest of this mess in a little while."


     Cecilia was more than willing to go along with that.  She enjoyed it when she had a dinner guest to linger over coffee with. 


     The women skipped from one topic to the next for a little while before Abby asked, "Are you still seeing Doug?"


     Doug was Douglas Charles McKenna, a prominent San Diego attorney whom Cecilia had been dating on and off for over a year now.


     "On occasion."


     Abby eyed Cecilia over the rim of her coffee cup.  "What's that mean?"


     "It means we still enjoy one another's company, but haven't quite made it back to where we were before all that trouble between Doug and Rick."*


     "I thought you two had worked that out."


     "We have.  We're just not as...comfortable with each other as we once were.  Perhaps, with time, we will be again."


     "Do you hold it against Doug?  What he did to Rick in court that day, I mean."


     "No, Abby, I don't hold it against him.  Doug was doing his job as an attorney.  I understand that.  But he did bring up a subject that's a very sensitive one for Rick.  No matter how old my children are, I'm still their mother.   It hurts me when one of them hurts.  Regardless if that hurt is of a physical nature, or an emotional one as it was with Rick that day in court.  It's difficult for a mother to completely forgive someone who has caused her child pain."


     "But you did tell me Doug and Rick had made their peace over the entire issue," Abby reminded. 


     Cecilia nodded.  "They have.  The few times since that incident that Rick and Doug have been here together they've both been on their best behavior with one another."


     Abby hesitated a moment before asking, "Do you think that you and Doug will someday be as close as you once were?"


     Cecilia gave a teasing smile.  "Now just what are you trying to get at here, Abby?"


     Abby laughed.  "Well, you did tell me that you thought Doug was going to propose to you shortly before he and Rick had that falling out."


     "Yes, you're right.  It was a few weeks prior to that.  Right about the time the boys took the case that wound them and Doug up in court together.  Doug had made it a point of asking me to make dinner one evening and emphasized that I needed to invite the boys over as well.  When he arrived he was carrying a bottle of very expensive champagne, and wearing a silly little smile on his face.  He helped me finish up my supper preparations, and then we sat on the couch and relaxed a bit while we waited for Rick and A.J. to show up.  They were running late as usual, due to some job they had.


     "Doug and I were making small talk when suddenly he grew very serious and uncharacteristically nervous.  He kissed me, and then said, "Your boys being late gives me a chance to ask a question I don't know the answer to..," and that's when the door flew open and Rick and A.J. burst in apologizing and looking like they had just come from a Hawaiian luau."


     Abby couldn't help but laugh as she drew her conclusions.  "And so your sons, with their ever present knack for bad timing, interrupted a perfectly good marriage proposal."


     Cecilia began to laugh as well.  "I don't know for certain, but I surmise as much."


     Once the women's merriment had died down Abby said carefully, "You know, Doug's a very nice man.  You and he have a lot in common.  You move in the same social circles.  You have a number of mutual friends.   You're both very active.  Love to travel.  Share many of the same interests and hobbies.  And he seems to think a lot of Rick and A.J., and overall, they seem to think a lot of him."


     Cecilia's eyes twinkled.  "If I didn't know better, I'd accuse you of trying to coerce me into marriage."


     "No, no.  That's not it.  I'm just pointing out how much you two have in common.  I'm just saying that, maybe given some time, you can be as close as you once were."


     "I'm perfectly happy being single, Abby," Cecilia stated candidly.


     Abby fiddled with her coffee cup.  "Jack's been gone a long time, Cecilia.  Haven't you ever..."


     "Been lonely?"  Cecilia asked.  "Certainly I have.   But, I've been by myself for many years now.  I'm not sure I want to have to adjust to the whims and ways of another person.  I'm not sure I can."


     "I think you could."


     "Oh, probably," Cecilia gave in and acknowledged.   "If I really wanted to.  But marriage isn't easy, Abby.  A woman gives up a part of herself for the man in her life whether she wants to or not.  No matter how independent you are, it seems as though his wants and desires take precedence over yours.  Don't get me wrong. I'm not disavowing the union of marriage.  Jack was a wonderful husband and father.  But we had our ups and downs like most couples do.  He wasn't an easy man to live with at times.  Yet, I loved him very much.  As I know he loved me.  But, I haven't carried a torch for him all these years.  I'm not that foolish.  If I had really wanted to marry again I would have."


     "So, had Doug had the chance to ask you that night you would have turned him down?"


     Cecilia thought a moment.  "To be quite honest with you, I don't really know.  Actually, I was hoping a marriage proposal wasn't up his sleeve, although I knew perfectly well it was.  The champagne and the fact that he wanted the boys to be here so badly for dinner pretty much gave it away.  I know one thing. I wasn't ready to give him an answer right then.  As much as I would have hated to disappoint him, I would have had to tell him that I needed time to think on it.  What my answer would have ultimately been, I don't know.  I've often wondered that myself."

     Abby nodded thoughtfully. 


     "And what about you, Abigail?"  Cecilia gently teased.  "How many proposals have you turned down?" 


     Abby's face flushed pink.  "Oh...two or three.  And one of those was a very hard offer to refuse.  But, I realize now that it was for the best.  Someday...someday maybe there will be someone special whom I can't refuse."


     "There will be," Cecilia confirmed as if she knew something her friend didn't. 


     Abby refilled the coffee cups again, then turned the tables on Cecilia.  "And, Mrs. Simon, just how many proposals have you turned down over the years?"


     Cecilia gave a little chuckle.  "Oh, I've turned down my share.  As I get older and the male half of my peer group become widowers, my offers of marriage have drastically increased.  But believe me, most of them aren't worth mentioning."


     Abby laughed.  "So in all the years before Doug came along there was never anyone you were serious about?"


     The twinkle left Cecilia's eyes.  She looked off at some distant point beyond Abby's shoulder.  It took her a moment to reply. 


"As a matter of fact, Abby...yes, there was someone I was serious about one time.  Someone I was very serious about.  Someone I came very close to...marrying.  Someone I haven't thought about in years."


     Abby immediately noticed the change in her friend's demeanor.  "Cecilia...I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to bring up painful memories.  If I've intruded into territory that's none of my business I apologize for—“


     Cecilia came back from wherever in the past she had momentarily journeyed to.  She reached across the table and gave Abby's hand a motherly pat.  "The pain of the memories has eased with time, sweetie, like all painful memories do.  For the most part they're good memories now.  It's just that...like I said, I haven't thought of him in years."


     "He was special then?  You were in love with him?"


     Cecilia smiled softly and nodded.   "Oh, yes.  I was in love with him.  Very much in love with him."




Fall - 1966



     Though it was seven o'clock on a Thursday evening, the halls of Mission Bay High School were buzzing with activity.  It wasn't teenagers that filled the halls and classrooms tonight, however, but rather their parents.  This evening's parent-teacher conferences marked the end of the first quarter grading period.


     Cecilia Simon was wearing a casual, but becoming blue dress with a string of pearls at her neck.  She moved from classroom to classroom, spending time with each of A.J.'s teachers.  As usual, the reports on her youngest son were glowing.  His senior year was looking to be one of promise and great reward.  He was president of his class, in more sports and school activities than Cecilia could keep track of, and he was pulling A's in all his classes.  Cecilia couldn't have been more pleased or proud.


     Cecilia knew many of the parents in attendance tonight.  A.J. had gone to school with most of their children since kindergarten.  Time and time again her progress was stopped as she navigated the hallways.  She spent a few minutes visiting with friends and acquaintances.   Sentiments were running high that night as the parents of the seniors reminisced about the children they had watched grow up together. 


     "It seems like just yesterday we were sending them off to school for the first time.  And here they are, young adults already.  Where does the time go?"  Cecilia heard, and said herself, more than once. 


     Cecilia looked down at the little itinerary she had been given when she entered the building.  She strained to see the numbers above the doorways as she weaved her way in and out of the crowd.


     She stood on her tiptoes and craned her neck.  "Room 204, Room 204," she mumbled as she searched.


     "Excuse me?"  A deep voice intoned from behind.  "Are you looking for Room 204?" 


     Cecilia turned around.  She looked up into a pair of the palest blue eyes she had ever seen.  The handsome face was accented by a straight nose and strong, high cheekbones.  There was deep cleft in the man's chin, giving him a boyish appearance.     


     "Yes, I am," she smiled.


     An impish grin touched the corners of the man's mouth.  He pointed upward with an index finger.


     Cecilia followed the finger to the numbers above the doorway. 


     "Oh, I guess I've found it," she laughed.


     "I guess you have," the man smiled.  He held out his hand.  "I'm Bradford Holden, the keeper of this room, so to speak.  And also the calculus teacher.  And you are?"


     Cecilia shook the offered hand.  "Cecilia Simon."


     Mr. Holden's smile widened.  "You must be A.J.'s mother then.  Well, Mrs. Simon, it is a pleasure to meet you."  The man moved out of the doorway and indicated the way inside with a sweep of his hand.  "Please, come in and have a seat."


     Cecilia sat in the chair that had been placed next to the teacher's desk.   She subtly studied Bradford Holden while he turned the pages of his grade book and looked through the pile of student folders he had on his desk. 


     "I apologize for my disorganization," he said distractedly.  "I was running late tonight in getting back here.  I had to prepare supper for my daughters."


     "That's all right," Cecilia smiled at the bent head.    Curly hair the color of winter sand covered the bowed head.  Cecilia couldn't help but take note of the broad shoulders and chest that nicely filled out the tan corduroy sport coat, then tapered down to a trim waistline.


        "Ah, here it is," Mr. Holden said, finding A.J.'s folder near the bottom of the stack.


     Cecilia listened attentively for the next few minutes as the teacher showed her several of A.J.'s papers, then discussed his first quarter grade with her. 


     "Right now A.J.'s carrying an A average in calculus, Mrs. Simon.  Now that's quite an achievement on his part.  As you probably know, math is not one of his favorite subjects."


     Cecilia smiled.  "No, it's not.  It never has been.  My oldest son was the one who liked math.  Especially the more challenging equations that geometry and calculus brought.  A.J. works hard to keep his math grades up."


     "That says a lot for A.J.  Most kids, if they don't like a particular subject, will fail to try their best at it.  But A.J.'s not like that.  It seems to make him try even harder."


     Cecilia nodded.  "He expects a lot of himself.  Sometimes I'm afraid he's too hard on himself even."


     "Most overachievers are."


     "And you consider A.J. to be an overachiever?"


     "Yes.  Don't you?"


     "Yes," Cecilia agreed,  "I guess I do now that you ask." 


      "Don't get me wrong, Mrs. Simon.  That's not a bad thing.  Not by any means.  It's just that students like A.J. tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves.  They tend to need a bit more attention from their teachers and their parents than most other students do.  Sometimes they need to know it's okay to screw up once and a while if you will."


     Cecilia smiled.  "Believe me, Mr. Holden, I tell A.J. that all the time."


     The teacher returned Cecilia's smile.  "I'm glad to hear that, because I tell him the same thing.  But seriously, he's a great kid.  He's going to go far.  I wish I had more students like him.  He's very bright and inquisitive.  He's got a good sense of humor, and he's a joy to have in the classroom.  He's the kind of kid I went into teaching for."


     "Thank you, Mr. Holden.  I'll take that as a compliment."


     "Good, because it's intended to be one.  I'm sorry Mr. Simon couldn't be here tonight.  Make sure you tell him what I said.   Any father would be proud to have a son like A.J."


     "I'm sure my husband would be proud of A.J.  But he's no longer with us.  He was killed in a car accident seven years ago."


     The teacher's face flushed at the way he had put his foot in his mouth.  "Oh...I'm sorry.  I didn't know.  I--"


     Cecilia put the man at ease.  "You don't need to apologize, Mr. Holden.  As you said, you didn't know.  And you're right.  Jack would be very proud of A.J."


     "You've done a wonderful job of raising A.J. all by yourself," were the man's next words.  "How many other children do you have?  You said something about an older son?"


     "Yes.  Rick.  I just have the two boys."


     "Rick...Rick?" The man repeated as if in thought.  "I know I never taught your oldest son, but his name sounds familiar for some reason."


     Cecilia chuckled.  "Believe me, Mr. Holden, if you'd had my Rick, you'd remember him."

     "Oh...I see."


     "You'll have to ask Mrs. Bartlett about him sometime," Cecilia said with a twinkle in her eye.


     "Oh...that Rick Simon?   The Rick Simon who almost caused Elvira Bartlett to end her teaching career prematurely?"


     "So you do know him."


     "No, I don't.  But I've heard stories.  Your oldest son's name is still whispered in the teachers’ lounge.  Rumor has it that if you want to see Elvira Bartlett come down with a bad case of nerves, you just walk up behind her and utter, ‘Rick Simon,’ in her ear.  They claim that if you do that you have to peel her off the ceiling."                       


     Cecilia laughed again.  "It's a good thing for you that I possess a strong sense of humor where my oldest in concerned."


     "I guess it is," Mr. Holden laughed. 


     "How long have you taught here, Mr. Holden?  I don't recall you being here when Rick was a student."


     "I wasn't.  I spent most of my teaching career at Crestmont High.  This is my first year here at Mission Bay.  And call me Brad, please."


     "Only if you'll call me Cecilia."


     "Okay, Cecilia, you've got yourself a deal."


     "So what brought you to Mission Bay from Crestmont?" 


     "My wife died last January and--"


     "Oh...I'm so sorry to hear that.  You have my deepest sympathies."


     Brad gave a small, sad smile.  "Thank you.  It was...very sudden.  She had an aneurysm.  We didn't know, of course.  I left for work one morning and got a call at two o'clock that afternoon.  One of our neighbors saw her collapse as she walked out to get the mail.  She died the next day."


     "That must have been very difficult on you," Cecilia stated.  "You said something about daughters?"


     Brad nodded.  "Yes.  I have three.  They're the reason why I came here from Crestmont.  We only live a few miles from here, while Crestmont's clear across town.  In order for me to be closer to home I made the change in jobs."


     "How old are your girls?"


     For the first time since he mentioned his wife's death, Brad smiled.  "Linda's thirteen.  She's been a great help since her mother's death.  But I worry, you know?  That she's being forced to take on too many responsibilities for a girl who's only in the eighth grade.  But yet I need her to care for her younger sisters for me until I get home from work."


     "And how old are your younger daughters?"


     "Kathy...Kathleen is nine, and Susan, we call her Susie, Susie is six."


     "Just little girls," Cecilia said with sympathy.


     "Yes.  But here you are feeling sorry for me when you've been through the same thing.  How old were your sons when you lost your husband?"


     "A.J. had just turned ten and Rick was fifteen."


     "So you know exactly what I'm going through."


     "Yes, I do. I know how hard it is.  And I understand the worries and concerns you're facing.  Believe me, Brad, I've been there.  I used to worry that my Rick was being forced to take on responsibilities that no fifteen-year-old should have to shoulder.  He became the man of the family long before he should have.  And like your Linda, to a certain extent he took on parenting duties in regards to A.J."


     Seeking reassurance, Brad asked, "But Rick turned out all right, didn't he?" 


     Cecilia chuckled.  "Well now, that depends on who you ask.  Mrs. Bartlett might tell you otherwise, but yes, in my opinion Rick turned out just fine.  He's a very different personality from A.J.  No one would ever accuse Richard Simon of being an overachiever, but I couldn't love him more than I do.  I'm just as proud of him as I am of A.J."


     "And A.J.?  He seems to have adjusted fine.  I mean, for being just a boy when his father died."


     "He's had a hard time of it.  I won't lie to you.  You see, A.J. was in the car with his father when the accident occurred."


     Brad's eyes clearly reflected his pain at this statement.  "How tragic."


     "Yes, it was.  The car went down a ravine.  It was several hours before it was spotted and help arrived.  Jack was...killed instantly.  A.J. was trapped in the car with his father the entire time."


     "And he knew?  That his father was--"


     "Yes.  He knew.  It's taken him a long time to work through that.  Sometimes I think it still bothers him, though he rarely talks about it.  For over a year after Jack's death he was plagued by nightmares and severe headaches.  Fortunately, I was able to keep myself together for his sake and give him the attention and time he needed.  Rick was wonderful with him, as well.  Somehow we all got through it, though when I look back now and recall those dark days of that first year I wonder how we ever did it."


     "I know just what you mean.  Jean's been gone ten months now.  It's been ten months of hell.  My Kathy still cries for her mother, and Susie just doesn't seem to understand that Jean will never come back.  She often asks when Mommy's coming home.  Linda...well, Linda seems to have lost her childhood.  She's so quiet.  So concerned about me.  I wonder if it will ever get better for any of us."


     "It will," Cecilia assured softly.  "You just have to give it time.  If I can give you any piece of advice, Brad, it's don't deny yourself or your daughters the right to grieve.  Don't let anyone else tell you when the mourning period should officially come to an end.  Each one of us decides that in our own time.  Including the children.  Someday you'll hear them laugh again like they laughed before their mother died, and you'll find yourself laughing with them.  When that day comes you'll know that you've all taken a little step closer to healing."


     Brad stared into Cecilia's face for the longest time.  He found sympathy, sincerity and peace there.  


     "I believe you," he said softly. 


     The two held each other's eyes, neither one growing embarrassed or uncomfortable with the other's scrutiny.


     Voices at the door broke the spell.  Several parents were waiting to see Mr. Holden.


     As if her hand had been caught in the cookie jar, Cecilia quickly rose. 


     "Thank you for your time, Mr. Holden.  And for your nice words about A.J."


     Brad stood on his lean six foot tall frame and shook Cecilia's hand.  "My pleasure, Mrs. Simon."   Just above a whisper he asked hesitantly,  "Can we...talk some more sometime soon?"


     "Well...yes," came Cecilia's hesitant reply.  "I guess so."


     "How about Saturday night?"


     "This Saturday night?"


     "Yes...unless you have plans, of course."


     Cecilia shook her head.  "No...no, I don't have any plans.  This Saturday night would be fine."


     "I know of a nice quiet restaurant down on the bay.  The food's good and the atmosphere is conducive to private conversation."


     "That would be fine."


     "I'll call you tomorrow night to set the time."


     "Okay," Cecilia nodded.  "I'm in the phone book.  I should be home all evening."


     "I'll call you around nine o'clock.  Things are usually pretty quiet around my house by then.  The younger girls will be in bed, and Linda has a slumber party she's going to."


     "That's fine.  I'll look forward to hearing from you," was how Cecilia left things right before she exited the room.  She wondered if the look on her face gave away the fact that she'd just made a date with her son's teacher. 


     Don't be silly, Cecilia admonished herself as she slowly jostled her way through the crowd toward the exit.  Goodness, it's just an innocent evening out.  He's a recent widower and he's found someone he has something in common with.  Someone who can understand the pain he and his children are going through.  You've dated handsome men since Jack died.  You've always had a nice time and that was the end of it.  That's all this is going to be, so quit acting like a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl. 





     Brad picked Cecilia up promptly at seven thirty on Saturday evening.  She had him step in for a moment while she gathered up her purse and coat.


     The teacher's eyes roamed the large formal dining room, living room combination that made up the front of Cecilia's house. 


     "You have a lovely home," he complimented.


     "Thank you."


     His gaze came to rest upon the stairway that he presumed led up to the bedrooms.  "Is A.J. home?"


     "No.  He left about an hour ago.  He's got a date this evening too."


     Brad took Cecilia's coat from her and held it open.  "Did you tell him that you were seeing me?"


     Cecilia turned in the act of slipping her arms into the sleeves.  "I didn't put it in quite those terms.  'Seeing' tends to imply a serious, long-term relationship.  Wouldn't you say, Mr. Holden?"


     Brad felt his cheeks grow warm at his obvious guffaw.  "Uh...yes.  I guess you're right.  It does."


     Cecilia took pity on the uncomfortable man.  "I was just teasing you, Brad.  But in answer to your question, yes, I told A.J. I was going out with you tonight."


     "What was his reaction?"

     "He grinned from ear to ear and said, and I quote, "Cool, Mom."


     Brad laughed.  "I take it I got his stamp of approval then."


     "Definitely.  He admires you very much, you know."


     "No. I didn't know that."


     "He thinks you're a great teacher.  He loves your class."


     "That's nice to hear.  Every teacher needs the satisfaction of knowing that every now and then they actually do make a difference."


     "Don't sell yourself short.  I have a feeling you've made a big difference in the lives of many of your students over the years."


     Brad shrugged.  "I don't know.  There are days when I wonder.  But enough shop talk.  Shall we go, Mrs. Simon?"


     Cecilia led the way out the door.  "I'm ready."


     As the couple walked to Brad's car he asked, "Do you have a curfew I need to be aware of, madam?"


     "No.  Though my seventeen-year-old son has a curfew of midnight.  I'd like to be home shortly before then if it's not an inconvenience.   I need the peace of mind of knowing that he arrived home safely."


     "I understand completely," Brad nodded.   He opened the car door for his date.  "I'll have you home before A.J.'s due to arrive."


     "Thank you," Cecilia said as she slipped into the passenger seat.


     The couple spent the entire evening at the restaurant Brad had told Cecilia about on Thursday evening.    The pair sat elevated above the bay in a glass alcove that jutted out over the rocks.  They had a spectacular view of the water.  True to Brad's word, the atmosphere was quiet and conducive to private conversation. 


     The meal was delicious, the conversation lively.   Cecilia learned that Brad and his wife Jean had both been born and raised in a small town in upstate New York.  When she asked him what had brought them to California, he told her that he had joined the Navy at eighteen and had been stationed at the naval base in San Diego for much of his four year stint.  He had returned to New York halfway through his tour of duty, married his high school sweetheart who had just turned eighteen, and returned to San Diego with her after a brief honeymoon.  Like Brad, Jean fell in love with the Pacific Ocean and mild, Southern California weather.  Much to the disappointment of their parents, the couple decided to make the city their home when Brad's military time was up.  He had always wanted to be a teacher, so went to college on the G.I. bill and pursued his degree in education.


     Cecilia and Brad discovered they had many common interests as the night progressed.  Brad had two older sisters and a younger brother, much like Cecilia had two older brothers and a younger sister.  They both liked to read, and play tennis, and ride bikes.  They both enjoyed movies or a day at the beach.  But most of all, they were both widowed and totally devoted to raising their children. 


     Cecilia spent a lot of time that evening patiently answering all Brad's questions regarding single parenting.  She sympathized with him when he conveyed how lonely he was.  How much he missed his wife.  How angry he was at her at times for leaving him and the girls.  She nodded her head in understanding when he talked of the changes he had seen in his daughters over the past ten months.  He talked of children with short tempers, and mood swings, and tears for no apparent outward reason.  He told Cecilia how angry Kathy was, while Linda was quiet and withdrawn, while little Susie just seemed to be confused.


     Long after dessert had been served and the coffee had grown cold, Cecilia listened attentively.  She offered up the wisdom seven years of widowhood had brought her.  When she didn't know what to say, she simply nodded her head and softly sympathized, "I understand what you're going through.  It's not easy.  Don't be so hard on yourself."


     It was eleven p.m. before the couple left the restaurant.  Brad chose a longer route back to Cecilia's house to allow them more time to visit.  It was eleven-forty when they pulled in her driveway. 


     Brad shut the ignition off.   The two sat in the silence of the car for a moment. 


     The teacher looked across the seat at the attractive tiny woman.  "Cecilia..."




     "Could I...can I...see you again some time...soon?" 


     Way to go, Brad. You sound like one of your teenage students.  Get a grip, man, 


     Cecilia smiled.  "That would be nice."




     "Tomorrow?"  Cecilia questioned with surprise.


     "Yes.  In the afternoon.  For a movie maybe.   All three of my girls have been invited to a birthday party at the home of close friends.  I think I can arrange for them to stay there a while if I'm running late."


     "Tomorrow would be fine," Cecilia found herself saying, much to her amazement.  She hadn't expected the evening to extend beyond dinner.  She couldn't deny that she was pleased at the turn of events, however.  She and Brad had a lot in common.  She was finding him a very enjoyable man to spend time with. 


     "I'll call you in the morning,"  the teacher said.


     "I'll be here." 


     Brad got out of the car and walked around to open the door for Cecilia.  He helped her out, then left his hand resting on her arm as he walked her to the front door.


     They stood under the glow of the porch light for a moment.  The petite woman looked up at her date, smiling.  "I had a nice time this evening.  Thank you for dinner."


     Brad smiled as well.  "I had a nice time, too.  You're the first woman I've been out with since Jean died that wasn't a fix-up by well-meaning friends."


     "I understand," Cecilia nodded.


     Brad shuffled back and forth nervously for a moment, then bent down to hesitantly kiss Cecilia on the lips.  With much less hesitation, Cecilia returned the kiss.


     The headlights of A.J.'s Woody station wagon shined on the couple, quickly terminating their display of affection.


     Brad hastily took a step away from the woman.  "Well...uh...good night, Cecilia.  I'll call you...uh tomorrow."


     The teacher practically raced down the sidewalk to his car.


     A grinning A.J. greeted, "Hi, Mr. Holden!"


     Brad gave a wave of his hand as he got in his car.  "Hi, A.J.!  Good night!"


     "Good night!"  The teen called.


     The embarrassed Cecilia was fumbling around in her purse for her house key when her son approached.  He smoothly pulled his own key from his pocket and let them both in.


     "So, Mom," the smiling A.J. stated once they were in the lighted foyer.  "I take it you had a good time tonight." 


     All business now, Cecilia replied, "Yes, I did.  Mr. Holden is a very nice man.  As a matter of fact, I'm seeing him again for a few hours tomorrow afternoon."


     A.J. crossed his arms and leaned against the wall as his mother put her coat away.  "You had a good time then, huh?"


     "Yes, son.  We had a good time."


     "That's nice," A.J. stated.  He kissed his mother on the cheek.  "I think I'll go up to bed."


     "Good night, A.J."


     "Good night, Mom...oh, and, Mom?"




     "The next time Mr. Holden brings you home I'd appreciate it if you didn't stand out on the porch and neck for all the neighbors to see.”




     “Well, isn't that's what you always tell me not to do when I take my girlfriends home?"


     Cecilia picked up a throw pillow off the couch and hit her son squarely in the back with it. 


     "Very funny, A.J.  Now go up to bed."


     A.J. laughed, taking the stairs two at a time.


     "And A.J.?"


     A.J. turned.  "Yeah?"


     "Please keep what you saw to yourself.  I don't think your Aunt Edie or Aunt Pat, or anyone else for that matter, needs to know about Mr. Holden at this point in time."


     "Sure, Mom.  Whatever you say.  Good night."


     "Good night," Cecilia said right before she collapsed on the couch in a fit of giggles. 




     Over the course of the next few weeks Cecilia and Brad saw each other as often as time would allow.  It didn't seem to bother A.J. at all that his mother was becoming seriously involved with one of his teachers.  On the contrary, he was thrilled that Mr. Holden was the man Cecilia had chosen.  The teacher pulled his student aside one day after class and spoke to him about the situation.  Brad told A.J. that he knew it could be awkward for him if the other students found out that he and Cecilia were dating.  A.J. simply gave his shoulders a shrug and said, "My friends already know.  They don't care one way or the other.  As for anyone else, well it doesn't matter to me what they think."


     Mr. Holden told A.J. that he was wise beyond his years, then said that he hoped A.J. would understand that while they were in the classroom together their relationship must strictly be one of student and teacher.  Outside the classroom was a different story however, and he hoped A.J. considered him a friend.  A.J. readily acknowledged this fact before

rushing off to his next class.  It was just a few days later, when he arrived at the Simons' one evening to pick Cecilia up for a date, that Mr. Holden asked A.J. to call him Brad when they weren't at school.


     It took A.J. a while to get used to calling a teacher by his first name, but he was pleased that Brad had made this request of him.  It made them seem more like friends.


     Cecilia was happy to see Brad and A.J. getting along so well.  She only wished she could say the same for herself and Brad's daughters. 


     Several of the couple's dates had involved the girls.  There had been picnics at the beach, and movies, and dinners at Brad's home.   Cecilia was the first woman Brad had been serious about since his wife had died, and the girls immediately picked up on this fact.  They all made it quite clear, in their own ways, that they didn't like this situation in the slightest. 


     For her part, Cecilia tried to be understanding.  She recalled Rick having a very difficult time with her dating again after Jack had died.


     On Thanksgiving Cecilia and A.J. spent the day with her family at her sister's home.  Rick was working on an oilrig off the Louisiana coast and didn't make it home for the holiday, though he promised his mother he'd be home for Christmas.


     Brad and his daughters were spending the holiday at the home of close friends of his and his late wife's. Cecilia and Brad wanted to be together for part of the day however, so Cecilia had come up with the solution of having Brad and his girls over for pie later that evening.


     Cecilia and A.J. returned home from their family gathering at six o'clock that evening.  Cecilia had her son cover the dining room table with a cloth and set out her best china while she rushed around the kitchen getting coffee on and warming dessert. 


     The girls were still dressed in their holiday dresses and Brad in a sport coat and tie when they arrived at seven.  This was the first time the girls had been to Cecilia's house, and they looked around with open curiosity.  The spacious, stately one hundred year old home was far different from the three bedroom ranch style house their father owned in a new suburban neighborhood filled with identical three bedroom ranch homes.


     "Man, this lady must be rich, huh, Daddy?"  Six-year-old Susie asked, round-eyed.


     To Susie, Cecilia was always, ‘this lady.’


     "Susie, shush," Brad scolded.


     Cecilia ignored the child's remark and ushered everyone into the living room.  "Don't you girls look lovely," she smiled.


     Linda gave her a half-hearted smile in return, while Kathy simply scowled.


     "Girls, this is my son, A.J.", Cecilia introduced her teenager who was standing by the coffee table.  "A.J., this is Linda, Kathy, and Susie."


     "Hi, girls," A.J. greeted in a friendly tone. 


     Kathy looked up at the blond teen and sneered.  "A.J.?  What kind of a name is that?"


     "Kathy!"  Brad exclaimed.


     Like his mother had with Susie, A.J. overlooked the rudeness of this remark.  "It's a nickname," he replied with a smile. 


     "What's your real name then?"  The girl asked.


     "Andrew Jackson."


     "That's stupid." 


     "Kathleen!"  Brad scolded again.  "That's quite enough now!"


     Cecilia gave A.J. a little push toward the kitchen.  "We'll go get the dessert.  I hope everyone saved room after the big meals today.  Brad, you and the girls make yourselves comfortable on the sofa."


     As soon as the kitchen door shut behind them A.J. burst out laughing. 


     "Boy, Mom, you've got your work cut out for you with that one."

     "She's not my child, A.J.," Cecilia stated firmly while slicing warm pie.


     A.J. looked over from where he was pouring milk into glasses.  "I know.  But I just thought..."


     "Thought what?"


     "Well...you know.  That you and Mr. Hold...Brad...well that things are kind of seri--"


     "Honey, we've only been seeing each other for a month.  We enjoy each other's company, but for right now that's as far as it goes.  Okay?"


     A.J. nodded.  "Sure, Mom.  Okay."


     Cecilia had everyone sit at the dining room table as she and A.J. carried out pie, coffee and milk. 


     "Yuk!  Pumpkin!  I hate pumpkin!"  Kathy declared.


     "Kathy, you ate pumpkin pie at Aunt Judy's today," Brad reminded.  "As a matter of fact, you ate two pieces of pumpkin pie."



     Kathy glared at Cecilia from across the table.  "Well, I don't like her pumpkin pie."


     "How do you know?"  Brad attempted to reason.  "You haven't even tried it yet." 


     The girl with the long brunette hair crossed her arms over her chest.  "I just know."


     A.J. and his mother exchanged uncomfortable glances.  Cecilia was surprised when Brad didn't scold the girl further and make her apologize.     


     Then again, I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  I have yet to see him be strict with these children, even when they deserve a good spanking. 


     Cecilia understood perfectly well how hard it was to discipline a child who was acting up as a result of a parent's death.  Which was what she had no doubt was the source behind Kathy's anger and misbehavior.  Nonetheless, discipline had to be dished out when it was deserved if Brad hoped to maintain order over his household.  Cecilia had been tempted to give him some advice a time or two in the past month, but had so far kept her peace, as this was the one area he had never asked her for help with.  


     As was his usual habit, Brad apologized for his daughter.  "I'm sorry.  She's tired.  It's been a long day.  Maybe this wasn't such a good idea."


     Cecilia was determined that this evening wasn't going to be ruined by a nine-year-old child.  "Let's all just enjoy our pie.  If Kathy doesn't want hers she can just drink her milk."


     "I don't want the milk."


     Cecilia gave the girl a long meaningful look.  "Then don't drink it." 


     The two adults and A.J. carried on as pleasant a conversation as possible considering the circumstances.  Susie got up and left the table after a few minutes, more interested in her surroundings than she was the pie.  Cecilia was rather shocked when Brad didn't stop her as she roamed freely from room to room, picking up whatever objects struck her six-year-old fancy. 


     Probably trying to determine how much money I have, Cecilia thought wryly.


     Kathy sat with her arms crossed and a permanent scowl etched on her face.  She defiantly kicked at one leg of the table.  Again, her father didn't put an end to the action that was causing the beverages to slosh about in their glasses and cups.


     At least Linda sat quietly and politely while eating her pie.  It wasn't lost on Cecilia that the thirteen-year-old was enthralled with A.J.   She threw shy little smiles A.J.'s way and glanced demurely down at her plate whenever the handsome teen would happen to look at her. 


     "What are you making goo goo eyes at him for?"  Kathy's loud question interrupted the adult conversation.


     Linda turned on her younger sister.   "Shut up!"


     "Girls," Brad admonished.


     "Well, she is, Dad.  She's making goo goo eyes at that boy there."


     "Kathleen.  That boy, as you put it, has a name."


     "Yeah.  Whatever.  Alexander Graham Bell or whatever he said his name was."  Kathy turned on her sister.  "What ya' lookin' at him for, Linda?  Are you in love?"


     Linda forgot all about the grownup, ladylike air she was maintaining to impress A.J.  Her fist shot out and landed a resounding punch to Kathy's shoulder.   "Shut up, brat!"


     Kathy gave her sister a shove.  "Make me!"


     "Girls!"  Brad ordered.  "Stop it!" 


     Brad's daughters ignored him as Linda hit Kathy again.  When Kathy swung her arm out to hit her sister back, she knocked over her full glass of milk, which in turn knocked over Susie's. 


     "Oh, no!"  Brad exclaimed, jumping to his feet.  "Girls..."


     With that a loud crash was heard overhead from Cecilia's bedroom. 


     "Ah, oh!"  Came Susie's cry of despair.  "Daaaaaaady!" 


     The evening ended in a total shambles.  Spilled milk soaked through the hand crocheted tablecloth that was a Simon family heirloom, and dripped down onto the carpeting that had been installed only two months prior.   A.J. took charge of cleaning up the milk while Cecilia and Brad ran upstairs to see what Susie had gotten into.  Shattered on Cecilia's bedroom floor was a picture frame that contained a shot of Jack in his military uniform taken many years earlier.  The picture itself was unharmed, but the glass was broken and the silver frame bent.  The unique, hand-crafted frame that Jack had purchased in France and sent, along with the picture, to his new bride soon after he went overseas.  The frame itself was worth a good deal of money, but more importantly to Cecilia, in terms of sentiment it could never be replaced.


     Cecilia had to bite her tongue as she bent to assess the damage. 


     "Susie, why did you do this?"  Brad demanded.


     Susie, ever the academy award winning actress, bent her head in shame.  "I'm so sorry, Daddy," she apologized softly.  "I just wanted to see who that man was."


     "He's A.J.'s father," was all Brad offered in way of explanation.  "And if you were curious, you should have asked.  Not touched."


     Tears slipped out the corners of the girl's eyes.  "I'm sorry, Daddy."


     As soon as Susie started crying Brad stopped his scolding.  He wrapped his arms around her and patted her back.  "There, there.  Don't cry.  Daddy knows you didn't mean to break it."


     What Brad didn't see was the smile of victory that touched Susie's mouth from where her head rested on his shoulder.  Cecilia's own mouth set in a grim line as she watched this scene from across the room.


     Brad released his daughter, dried her tears with his handkerchief, then turned to Cecilia.  "I'm sorry, Celia," he apologized, using his pet name for her. "I think today's been a bit too much for the girls."


     "I think so too," Cecilia agreed.


     "I'd better take them home.  I'll pay for any damages that have been caused."


     Cecilia followed Brad and Susie down the stairs.  "There won't be any need for that, Brad.  I can have the tablecloth cleaned, and the carpet as well.  As for the picture frame...I can buy another one easily enough."


     Brad stopped and faced Cecilia when they reached the living room.  "At least let me pay the cleaning bills for the tablecloth and carpet.  Deal?"


     Cecilia couldn't resist the charming smile that dominated the handsome features.  "Deal,"  she finally agreed.


     Brad reached out to embrace her.  "You're a wonderful woman, Celia.  I couldn't find one bet..."


     Brad and Cecilia halted in mid-embrace, suddenly aware of three pairs of eyes on them.  Susie looked up with confusion from where she stood by her father.  Linda looked on with surprise from where she was crouched over the carpeting helping A.J. clean up the spilled milk.  And Kathy looked over with cold, hard anger from where she stood in the foyer with her coat on. 


     "Come on, Dad," Kathy whined.  "Let's go." 


     "Uh...yes, girls.  We're leaving now.  Susie, Linda, go get your coats on please."  


     He laid a chaste hand on Cecilia's arm. "I am sorry about the way tonight's turned out," he apologized softly.  "I'll call you tomorrow."


     Cecilia smiled as best she could.  "That will be fine."


     Brad said his good nights to A.J., then ushered his daughters out the door.


     A.J. tactfully kept his opinions to himself as he helped his mother clear the table, then gather up the stained tablecloth.  By the firm set of his mother's jaw it was evident to the teen that there was a considerable amount of anger brewing just under the surface of the calm exterior.


     When the dishes were done and put away A.J. kissed his preoccupied mother's cheek and told her he was going up to his room to read a while before bed.




     Cecilia turned from where she was putting the glasses away in the cabinet.




     "I'm sorry about tonight.  About the way it turned out.  I know how much you were looking forward to having Mr. Hold...Brad's family here."

     Cecilia smiled at A.J.'s compassion.  "Oh, honey, you don't need to apologize.  Rather than you apologizing to me, I should be thanking you for being such a help tonight.  And also for being so polite in the face of such formidable adversity."


     A.J. lifted a shoulder in a shrug.  "It's no big deal.  I understand what the girls are going through with their mother's death being so recent and all."


     Cecilia laid a tender hand on the side of her son's face.  "I know you do, A.J.  I know you do," she said softly.  She let her hand linger for a moment before dropping it and turning to put the remainder of the dishes away.


     "But still...I know you're upset," A.J. pressed on.  "Mad about the way they behaved." 


     "I'm not really mad, A.J.  But yes, I'm upset.  I think Brad is making a mistake by not disciplining the girls when they act up, but that's just my opinion.  I do realize how difficult things are for all of them right now.  And maybe I'm wrong in expecting Brad to raise his daughters the way I raised you and your brother."


     "What do you mean?"


     Cecilia turned to face her son, idly fingering the dessert plate she still held in her hands.   "After your father died I didn't let you and Rick get away with things you wouldn't have been allowed to when he was living.  Yes, it was hard for me to be stern with either of you boys those first few months after the accident, but I had to be.  Do remember what I made you do when you got so mad at Uncle Ray that time for calling you Andy?


     A.J. smiled in remembrance.  "Yes.  You talked to me and told me you understood how I felt...how Uncle Ray calling me Andy reminded me of Dad, but you also demanded that I apologize to him and you told me in no uncertain terms that it better not happen again."


     Cecilia nodded.  "That's right.  I let you know that you had done wrong, and I didn't do your apologizing for you.  I made you set things right with your uncle.  It was hard for me to be strict with you at times like that, but I think we're both the better for it."


     "And you think Mr. Hold...Brad, is making a mistake with his girls?"


     "I don't know.  I certainly haven't cornered the market in child rearing if that's what you're asking.  But, yes, to be quite honest with you, A.J., I do think Brad is making a mistake by being so lenient with the girls.  Someday on down the road he may find himself paying a heavy price for that leniency."


     Cecilia turned back to the open cabinet to finish placing the clean glasses on the shelf.


     A.J. looked thoughtfully at his mother's back for a moment before saying simply, "Night, Mom."


     Cecilia turned around and smiled at her son.  "Good night, honey.  Sleep well."


     A.J. leaned over, kissing his mother's cheek.  "I will.  You too."


     "I will, son," Cecilia promised, though hours later she found herself tossing and turning restlessly in her bed, unable to banish the lingering memories of the disastrous evening from her mind.






     As it does for most people, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas passed swiftly for Cecilia Simon that year.  Despite the obvious displeasure of Brad's daughters, especially Kathy, Cecilia and Brad were seeing each other with more frequency then they had been the month before.  Cecilia tried to explain that away by telling herself it was simply the upcoming holiday season that was bringing the couple together several nights a week.  There constantly seemed to be a gathering at the home of one of her friends, or one of his.  The couple also went on numerous shopping trips, Cecilia helping Brad pick out just the right gifts for his daughters, while the man was more than thrilled to have a hand in helping Cecilia buy gifts for her two sons.  It was very apparent to the woman that the feelings Brad had for A.J. as a teacher and a friend, were rapidly taking on a paternal quality.  He had mentioned on more than one occasion how he'd like to have a son just like A.J. someday.  And he often spoke, as well, of how he was looking forward to meeting Rick.  That desire prompted Cecilia to smile and gently remind her beau that her oldest son was, in many ways, very different from her youngest, and that if he was expecting a more mature version of A.J. he was going to be sorely disappointed.


       Brad laughed and wrapped his arms around Cecilia's waist right in the middle of the Sears and Roebuck tool department.  "Quit worrying, Cecilia.  I know Rick and I will hit it off just fine.  After all, he's your son, isn't he?"


     Rather than live through a repeat of the unpleasant events surrounding Thanksgiving evening, Cecilia and Brad decided to avoid putting undue pressure on the teacher's daughters during the exciting, and often hectic days of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Cecilia instead extended an invitation to the man and his girls to join her and her sons for a quiet holiday meal on the evening of the twenty-third.  Brad would be dropping in at Cecilia's home for the annual Christmas Eve open house that had been started by Jack before A.J. was born, and had been continued after his death by Cecilia and her sons.  Cecilia was expecting a full house this year, as she knew many well meaning friends and relatives were anxious to meet the new man who was occupying so much of her time. 


     Cecilia and her sons planned to spend Christmas Day at the home of Jack's sister, Pat, surrounded by Simon relatives of all sizes and ages.  Brad and his daughters would be with the same family friends, Jim and Judy Mason, with whom they'd spent Thanksgiving Day.  Cecilia and Brad hoped that somehow, on Christmas evening, they could get together for a brief hour or two by themselves.  Brad was already working at making arrangements for his girls to stay at his friends' home while he slipped away for a while to meet Cecilia.


     Rick's Harley Davidson roared into his mother's driveway shortly after noon on December twenty-third.   Cecilia stood on tiptoes to look out the window over her kitchen sink.  She saw the familiar lanky figure of her oldest disembarking from his cycle.  Cecilia hurriedly wiped her flour covered hands on a dishtowel, threw open the kitchen door and ran out to greet her wandering boy.      


     Cecilia fell into the waiting arms of eldest.  "Rick!  Oh, Rick!"


     Rick hugged his mother tightly against his worn, dusty leather jacket.  He looked down and gently cupped her head to his chest.  "Hey, what's this?  Why are you crying?"


     Cecilia looked up at her son, self-consciously wiping at the tears on her face.  She made a sound that was a cross between a laugh and a sob.  "I don't know.  I'm just happy to see you.  I was so worried that, for some reason, you wouldn't make it home for Christmas."


     Rick brought his hand up and gently grasped his mother's chin.  "Haven't I always promised you that, no matter what, I'd be here for Christmas?"


     "Yes, I guess you have."


     "And I haven't let you down once in the four years I've been travelin', now have I?"


     Cecilia chuckled.  "No, you haven't."


     "So, there.  It's nothin' to cry over."


     Cecilia hugged her son's middle once again.  "I'm your mother.  I reserve the right to cry over you whenever I so choose."


     Now it was Rick's turn to chuckle softly.  "I guess I can't say much to that, can I?"


     Cecilia shook her head against Rick's chest.  "No, you can't."


     Mother and son walked to the house with their arms wrapped around one another's waists. 


     Cecilia pushed her son toward the stairway.   "Go put your duffel bag up in your room, honey.   Have you eaten yet?"




     "I'll get something ready for your lunch then, while you shower and change clothes."


     "You don't have to do that.  I can make myself a sandwich when I come down."


     "I know I don't have to do it.  But I want to."  Cecilia gave her son another forceful shove.  "Now go on with you.  Get cleaned up.  I don't want road dust all over my new kitchen chairs."


     Rick grinned as he took the stairs two at a time. "Yes, ma'am."  Some things would never change. 


     Within forty five minutes Rick sat down to a bowl of hot soup and two roast beef sandwiches.  In between bites of his lunch, Rick filled his mother in on the happenings in his life since she had last seen him the past August.  Cecilia did likewise, telling Rick of family and neighborhood gossip, and bringing him abreast of the active teen life of his younger brother.


     When Cecilia had run out of things to relay, Rick prompted, "So, are you going to tell me about this new boyfriend of yours?"


     "A.J. told you?"


     "Yeah.  He's mentioned the guy several times when we've talked on the phone recently."


     "Why that little...well, I guess I didn't specifically request that he not tell you, only your Aunts Edie and Pat."


      With a sly smile, Rick correctly guessed, "Didn't want everyone to know, huh?"


     "I didn't think it was necessary," Cecilia stated honestly.  "They'll all know soon enough."


     "What's that mean?" 


     "It simply means that Brad and I are seeing a lot of each other, and he'll be introduced to everyone at the open house tomorrow evening."  Cecilia rose to clear the table of the remains of lunch.  "You, of course, will meet him tonight. Brad and his daughters are coming to share an early holiday meal with us."


     "I hope I'm not expected to have presents for everyone," was the only remark Rick made.


     "No, you're not," Cecilia assured from where she stood running water in the kitchen sink.  "No presents.  Just dinner, and then a quiet evening of all of us getting to know one another better." 


     I hope, Cecilia prayed, recalling the tumultuous events that occurred Thanksgiving.


     Rick rose to head upstairs.  He'd driven most of the night in order to get home for the holiday and was bin need of a nap. 


"I'm gonna go lay down for awhile.  I'd better get what sleep in I can before A.J. gets home from school.  I've got a feelin' I won't get a minute's rest after he arrives."


     Cecilia cast an affectionate smile at her son's retreating back.  "I can assure you of that fact, Rick."






     Rick was woken out of a sound sleep by the staccato beat of tennis shoes running up the stairs.  He slipped off his bed and stood pressed against the wall so that when A.J. entered the room he'd be hidden from view.  Rick didn't anticipate that in his excitement to greet his older brother, seventeen-year-old A.J. would allow the door to fly open. 


     "Ow!"  Rick cried.  "Ow!"  He reached up to cover the tender nose that had received the full force of the swinging wooden door.


     A puzzled A.J. grabbed the doorknob and swung the door back toward its frame and away from his brother.  "What are you doing standing back there?"


     In a nasally tone wrought with pain Rick stated, "Holding my nose.  What does it look like I'm doing?"

     "Why are you holding your--"


     "Never mind," Rick said as the throbbing slowly began to abate somewhat and he was able to let his hands drop. 


     "I didn't break it, did I?"


     Rick smiled at the concern that washed over young A.J.'s voice and features.  "Nah, A.J., you didn't break it.  I've been hurt a lot worse in bar brawls...but don't tell Mom that."  Rick grinned as he reached for his brother.  "Come here, you."


     He pulled the young man into his arms and hugged him for all he was worth.  A.J. reciprocated the hug in kind. 


     "Okay, kid, loosen up there a bit," Rick gasped breathlessly.  "Besides bustin' my nose, I think you're workin' on crackin' a few ribs too."


     A.J. laughed as he released his sibling.  "It's just so good to see you."


     "Good to see you too, buddy," Rick stated sincerely.  He moved back to his bed where he returned to a reclining position on the wrinkled spread and laced his fingers casually behind his head.  


     A.J. walked over to his own bed and perched on the edge of it.  Rick readily anticipated his younger brother's first question.  It was the same one he was asked each and every time he came home for a visit.


     "How long are you gonna be here?"


     "I'll have to leave New Year's Day.  I've got to be back to work two days after that."


     A.J.'s blue eyes sparkled almost as brightly as the lights on the Christmas tree down in the living room.  "Really?  That long?  An entire week?"

     Rick smiled fondly at the teen's unhidden pleasure.  "Yep."




     The brothers fell into easy conversation, exchanging news about Rick's job, mutual friends, and A.J.'s school activities.


     Rick rolled over on his side to face his brother, bent his elbow and propped his head up in his left hand.  "So tell me all about this new boyfriend of Mom's."


     "You'll really like him, Rick.  He's a cool guy."


     "How'd she meet him?"

     "At parent-teacher conferences.  He's my calculus teacher."    


     "Ah, calculus.  Your favorite subject."


     A.J.  wrinkled his nose in distaste.  "I know.  But Brad...Mr. Holden is different.  He makes it fun."


     "Brad, huh?"  Rick questioned pointedly.


     The blond boy lifted a shoulder in a casual shrug.  "He asked me to call him that...outside of school, of course."


     "Of course," came Rick's answer.  The subtle sarcasm in his tone was lost on A.J.  "Do you know how old this guy is?"


     "I heard him tell Mom he's thirty-four."


     And Mom's forty-one, Rick thought.  I wonder if this guy's really serious about her, or if he only sees a wealthy widow who could make life a lot more comfortable for someone who's makin' ends meet on a school teacher's salary.


     "You said something on the phone about the guy bein' a recent widower.  Does he have kids?"

     "Yeah.  Three girls."

     "How old are they?"

     "Thirteen, nine, and six."


     Not only would the guy get instant wealth if he married Mom, he'd also get an instant mother for his kids.


     Rick was brought out of his dark musings by the sound of his brother's voice.  He had to look around the room before he located his sibling, who was half submersed in their shared closet.


     "What was that you were saying, A.J.?  I couldn't hear you."


     "I said you'd better get your clothes changed."


     "I already changed my clothes when I got here."


     A.J. threw a pair of Rick's navy blue dress slacks at him.  "Mom said to tell you no jeans tonight.  It's a holiday."


     "It is not a holiday!"


     "By her standards it is," A.J. informed his brother while tossing a white shirt in his direction.  "She said you don't have to wear a tie, but she wants you to make a good impression when Brad's family gets here."


     Rick watched as A.J. pulled out a pair of tan slacks for himself, a dark brown dress shirt, and a pullover sweater in brown and beige tones. 


     "I'm going to take a shower," A.J. informed his sibling as he headed for the bathroom.  "Then Mom wants us downstairs to help her get the meal ready.  You can borrow one of my sweaters if you want.  They're folded up on the top shelf of the closet."


     "Yeah...yeah I'll do that," Rick stated as he reluctantly rose to his feet.      


Geez, I hope this Romeo is worth all the hassles I'm goin' through for him and his kids. 


     A.J. tossed a grin his brother's way.  "Don't look so glum.  It won't be that bad.  You'll like Brad."


     "Sure I will, little brother.  Sure, I will," came the agreement laced with sarcasm.  "After all, I've never met a school teacher I didn't like, now have I?"


     A.J. laughed as he dodged the balled up socks that came sailing through the air aimed for his head.  The teen picked the missile up off the floor and tossed it back to his brother, then retreated to the bathroom.  Rick shook his head fondly before rummaging through A.J.'s sweaters until he found the navy blue V-neck pullover he knew was there.


     Rick held the item up and studied it with a critical eye.  "It's not my style," he mumbled, "but if nothing else I guess it will make Mom happy."






     The doorbell rang precisely at six o'clock that evening.  Cecilia quickly untied her apron, hastily folded it, and threw it in a kitchen drawer.  She gathered up her sons and ushered them to the living room.  Rick and A.J. shared twin glances of amusement over their mother's excitement.


     Brad and his daughters stepped in the house.  Cecilia made a fuss over the girls, who were all wearing new holiday dresses.  Despite Kathy's glare, the teacher greeted Cecilia with a kiss on the cheek. 


     Cecilia turned and beckoned Rick forward.  "Girls, Brad, this is my oldest son, Rick."


     Before Rick could even extend his hand to the teacher Kathy volunteered loudly, "Dad, he's a hippie, and you said all hippies are worthless bums."


     Bradford Holden didn't even attempt to dispute his daughter's remark as he studied the lanky young man before him.  Though dressed respectably enough, his hair hung half way down his back in a ponytail.  His sideburns had been allowed to grow long and bushy as well, in a style that was now being referred to as muttonchops, and he sported a moustache and scruffy beard.  Even with all of Cecilia's warnings that her oldest son was quite different in personality from her youngest, Brad hadn't been expecting this.  Kathy had not been exaggerating when she'd so willingly voiced the teacher's opinion regarding hippies only moments before.  The high school was just starting to feel the effects of this new rebellious youth movement.  Brad didn't have any use for it, or for the so-called hippies who seemed to be so much a part of it.   


     For now Brad simply took the hand Rick offered him and murmured polite words of greeting.  It was not lost on Rick that the greeting he received wasn't nearly as warm or as friendly as the one given A.J. mere seconds later. 


     In an effort to overcome the sudden tension that Cecilia sensed in the room, she urged Brad's family to seat themselves at the dining room table. 


     "The boys and I will have dinner on the table in just a few minutes," she said with a brave smile.  "The four of you just sit here and relax."


     As Cecilia walked toward the kitchen she heard Kathy whisper loudly, "He is, isn't he, Dad?  He's a real live hippie."


     To which Susie added, "I don't like him.  He looks mean."


     "That's enough now, girls," Brad admonished, though without much force behind his words.  "Let's get to...know Rick before we make any judgments of him."


     "But, Dad, you always say boys with ponytails are no good bum--"

     "That's enough, Kathleen," came the stern retort.


     Cecilia was thankful Rick was already in the kitchen and hadn't heard the girls' remarks.  She prayed that Brad would keep them in check for the rest of the evening.


     The happy holiday meal Cecilia had been envisioning where her family and Brad's blended together in harmony was not destined to occur that evening.  As usual, Kathy was bent on giving Cecilia a hard time, while Susie clung to her father and whimpered about being afraid of Rick, who was sitting across from her.  Cecilia knew perfectly well Susie's display was nothing but a ploy for attention from her father.  Linda was the only child who was well behaved, seemingly satisfied to gaze upon A.J. with a tender smile.


     With a scowl Kathy announced, "I don't like ham."


     "Oh, Kathleen, you do, too," Brad admonished.  "It's one of your favorites."


     "Well, I don't like her ham."


     Rick didn't miss the look of utter contempt the nine-year- old threw his mother's way. 


     The meal went from bad to worse as Kathy refused every dish that was passed her way from potatoes to corn to salad.  Susie continued to make a great production of being fearful of Rick, finally hiding her face completely in her father's side and refusing to eat as well.  Rick grew angrier and angrier as each minute passed and he was forced to watch Brad allow his children to spoil the meal his mother had put so much work into. 


     When the miserable dinner came to an end, Cecilia rose to return to the kitchen to retrieve dessert, taking Brad with her. 


     With his mother out of ear shot Rick said to Kathy,  "You know, my dad woulda' tanned my rear end if I was behaving like you are tonight."


     Kathy's only reply was to stick her tongue out at Rick.  Not to be outdone, Rick stuck his tongue out in return.  A.J. had to cover his mouth with his napkin to keep his laughter hidden.


     When Susie ventured a glance Rick's way he curled his upper lip and growled at her.  The little girl ran from the room screaming, "Daddy!  Daddy!  That hippie made a scary face at me!"


     "Rick...you really shouldn't have done that," A.J. admonished.


     "Aw, who gives a shit.  The kid's a brat anyway."


     "I'm gonna tell my dad you said a bad word," Kathy declared as she jumped up from the table and raced for the kitchen.  "Dad!  Dad!  Rick swore.  He swore right at the dining room table in front of us!"


     By the time dessert was finally over Cecilia was wishing she'd never suggested this little family get together.


     Cecilia enlisted the help of Linda and A.J. with washing the dishes, and got Kathy and Susie involved in a board game at her kitchen table.  She insisted that Brad and Rick seat themselves in the living room, saying, "I want the two of you to have a chance to get to know each other."


     She gave both men a meaningful look that said, "Please, for me, try to set aside your differences and get along."


     And because of the vast amount of love and respect the two men felt for Cecilia Simon, they did both attempt to set aside their differences long enough to get to know one another.  Their differences, however, soon outweighed anything that they might have had in common.


     Brad crossed his legs and leaned comfortably back against the couch.  "So, Rick, your mother tells me you've traveled a lot since you graduated high school."


     "Yeah, I have."


     "Where to?"


     "Oh...you name it and I"ve been there," came the reply.


     The succinct manner in which that reply was given irritated Brad for some reason.  "And what do you do?  To earn money, I mean."


     "This and that.  Whatever comes my way."


     Brad took a deep breath and counted to ten.  "I see.  This and that.  That doesn't sound too ambitious to me."


     Rick studied the man from across the room.  "Look, professor, I'm not one of your students, so save the lecture on ambition for some bright-eyed kid who's in need of it."


     "Like A.J.?"


     "You'd be wise to leave A.J. out of this discussion," Rick advised.


     "Why?"  Brad baited.  "Because you're jealous of him?  Of his successes?"


     The teacher was taken aback when Rick gave a snorted laugh.  "I think you'd better quit practicing dime store psychology, professor.  If you knew anything, anything at all about my relationship with A.J., you wouldn't have wasted your breath askin' that question.  I've never been anything but proud of my kid brother.  But I also knew a long time ago that we're two different people.  I've had successes in my life that I'm proud of, and that my mother's proud of," Rick emphasized for the man's benefit. "They just aren't the kind of successes that can be easily displayed in the form of trophies and grades like A.J.'s can."


     "That may be true," Brad acknowledged, recalling the many times Cecilia had told her how helpful Rick had been to her after she'd lost her husband, "still, your mother would like to see you go on to college.  She tells me that you're a very intelligent young man."


     "You look like you don't believe her."


     The teacher shrugged.  "I guess you'd have to prove that to me."


     Rick leaned forward in his chair. "Listen, pal, I don't have to prove anything to you.  You're nothing to me but the guy  my mother happens to be unlucky enough to be dating at the moment.  I--"

     "Rick...Rick, I'm sorry," Brad swiftly amended.  "I didn't mean for it to sound like it did."

     "Oh, I think you meant for it to sound exactly like it did," Rick countered.  "Like your kid said, in your opinion I'm nothing but a worthless bum.  Well, I don't much give a damn about your opinion.  But I will tell you one thing.  If you hurt my mother in any way...any way at all, you'll answer to me."


     Brad was caught off guard by Rick's vehemence.  "And just how do you think I would hurt your mother?"


     "Don't lay that innocent act on me.  What more could you want but what you'll get if you marry my mother?"


     Brad arched an eyebrow.  "And that would be?"  


     "A financially well-set widow who will be an instant mother to your children."


     "Rick...believe me, those things don't even begin to play a factor in my feelings for your mom."


     Rick mumbled under his breath.   "Yeah, well we'll see about that, won't we?"  With more volume he said, "And I’d advise you to teach your kids a little respect.  I don't like to see my mother treated in the manner I observed tonight."


     Any hope Brad had of learning to like this young man ended right there.  "There's nothing wrong with my girls or their manners," he informed Rick tightly.  "They're going through a hard time right now because of their mother's death."


     Rick wasn't about to accept such an excuse.  "A.J. and I went through a hard time because of our father's death, but we sure weren't allowed to act like those two little ones of yours.  My mother woulda' taken a wooden spoon to my behind if I had ever acted like that in someone else's home."


     Speaking of manners, Brad wasn't too impressed with Rick's right at the moment.  "Maybe she should have taken a wooden spoon to your behind on a more frequent basis.  I hardly think you, with your long hair and shiftless ways, should be telling me how to raise my kids."


     "Yeah, well I think somebody should.  And I don't think that job should fall on my mother."


     A female voice asked,  "You don't think what job should fall on your mother?"


     Cecilia entered the room with a smile on her face and moved to sit next to Brad on the couch.  Brad threw a triumphant look Rick's way as he wrapped an arm around Cecilia's shoulders and pulled her close. 


     "Cleanin' up," Rick quickly covered.  "I don't think you should have to clean everything up after all the work you did today." 


     Rick rose and headed for the kitchen.  "I'll go help A.J. and Linda."


     "You don't have to do that, Rick," Cecilia negated.  "They have everything under control.  Stay here and visit with Brad."


     Rick smiled at his mother, then turned his attention to the teacher.  "I think Brad and I have about visited one another out, wouldn't you say...Brad?"


     "Yes...uh...I think we've had a very...nice visit.  I've...enjoyed the opportunity of talking with you, Rick."


     "Same here," Rick agreed before heading to the kitchen.


     Cecilia's eyes watched her oldest exit the room.  She turned to Brad. "Did you two really have a nice discussion?"


     "We had a few bumpy moments," was all Brad would admit to, "but I think given enough...time, Rick and I will get along just fine," he finished with a lie.


     Cecilia laid her head on the man's chest.  "I'm glad to hear that.  I want all of us, myself and your children, you and my children, to grow to like one another."


     This was the first time Cecilia had indicated to Brad that the two of them might have a very serious future together.   The thought made his heart beat faster in his chest.  He kissed the top of Cecilia's head.  "I know you do, Celia.  I know you do...and so do I."    






     The remainder of the holiday week passed without further incident.  Cecilia didn't see very much of either one of her sons that week.  If they weren't off together having fun somewhere, then Rick was visiting his buddies that still lived in San Diego while A.J. was with his high school friends.  


     Cecilia planned a quiet romantic dinner for Brad and herself on New Year's Eve.  Rick and A.J. had been invited to an all-night party at the home of one of their recently married cousins.  Cecilia was not expecting them back until sometime during the afternoon of New Year's Day.  In light of this fact, Brad had made arrangements for his girls to sleep over at various friends' homes that night.  


     The couple ate supper by candlelight, then snuggled up next to one another on Cecilia's couch, each with an expensive glass of red wine in hand.  The only light in the room came from the glow of the logs in the fireplace.   


     If only it could always be this peaceful, were Cecilia's thoughts as she leaned against Brad's chest and reflected back to the many meals ruined by his daughters, and now the discord she sensed between Brad and her oldest son. 


     Cecilia didn't dwell on those disheartening thoughts too long as Brad turned to take her in his arms and kiss her.  His hands began to tentatively roam over her body, caressing places that hadn't been caressed in seven long years.  The passion between the two soon escalated beyond any level it had ever reached before.  Cecilia didn't offer the slightest protest when the teacher scooped her up in his arms and carried her to her bedroom. 


     Cecilia had been a virgin when she'd married Jack Simon at eighteen years of age, and had not slept with any man since his death.  Somehow that night, she knew Brad was the right man for her to take this new and exciting step with.  They made love twice before drifting off to sleep in each other's arms.   Cecilia woke up three different times throughout the night simply to stare in wonder at the handsome man sleeping beside her.  If she had missed anything in the years since Jack's death, it was this - the bedtime companionship of a man and woman in love.  The companionship found in whispered pillow talk, gentle teasing, muffled laughter, and lovemaking. 


     Cecilia hated to see Brad leave the next morning almost as much as he hated to go.  For the first time she began to seriously consider what Brad had been considering for over a month - marriage. 






     Rick left for New Orleans late New Year's Day afternoon as he had planned.  The following day A.J. returned to school and Cecilia's household returned to its normal routine.  Cecilia and Brad saw even more of each other that winter.  Every Saturday night was reserved for just the two of them, while on Sunday's they did things with Brad's girls.  Some Sunday's A.J. would join them on these so called family outings, but more often than not he was busy with his own friends so Cecilia didn't demand that he attend the trips to the zoo, roller rink, beach, and movies.   Besides, A.J. worshipped the ground Brad walked on, so there was no need to try to win him over the way Cecilia had to constantly work at winning over Brad's girls. 


Cecilia’s relationship with Linda soon flourished, and she grew to have great affection for the quiet, sincere girl.  Susie began to slowly come around as well, and though still very much in need of her father's attention, began to accept Cecilia in the role of surrogate mother.  Kathy was another story all together.  Though Brad vehemently denied it, Cecilia was aware the girl had a deep dislike for her that bordered outright hatred.  Kathy did her best to sabotage Brad and Cecilia's relationship, and more often than not ruined the carefully cultivated harmony of their Sunday outings.  Cecilia often thought the child was in need of good spanking and stern talking to, but Brad couldn't seem to bring himself to do that.


     Because of Brad's three girls and A.J., stolen moments of unbridled passion like had occurred on New Year's Eve didn't come along as frequently as the couple would have liked.  When such pleasures did come to pass between them those pleasures were always intense and satisfying, and usually occurred in Cecilia's home simply because her teenage son was out of the house on a date or with friends.  One weekend in February found A.J. gone to a basketball clinic in Los Angeles.  Brad made arrangements for his girls with various friends once again, then treated Cecilia to a get away trip several hours up the coast.  They stayed in a quaint motel right on the shore, walked the beach, tried every restaurant in town, and made love twice each day.  Cecilia's actions bothered her just a little bit.  She couldn't help but wonder if she was behaving as a forty-one-year-old mother should.  Brad laughed at her and assured her they weren't doing anything wrong, while reminding her they'd always been extremely discreet in regards to their sexual relationship.  Then he winked at her and told her he guessed he'd have to make an honest woman out of her.  Cecilia could tell there was an underlying seriousness to the comment, but chose not to reply.  If the man was going to propose marriage, then he'd damn well better do it the old fashioned way, down on one knee with an engagement ring in hand.  Nothing less would do for Cecilia Simon and she told him so.  He laughed and told her he'd keep that in mind.


     If A.J. realized his mother's relationship with his teacher had moved beyond chaste kisses on the doorstep of an evening after a date, he never let on.  In truth, he was still just a little too young and naive in the ways of an adult sexual relationship to see what would have been so obvious to Rick had he been living at home during this time period.  All A.J. knew was that Brad was a great guy, and that the relationship between his teacher and mother seemed to be intensifying as February turned to March.  A.J. began to wonder if they were talking of marriage.  He spent a lot of time thinking of this, weighing his loyalties to his dead father and the great love he'd had for Jack Simon, against the affection he felt for Brad.  When A.J. finally came to terms with it all he decided a guy couldn't ask for a better stepfather than Brad.  A.J. would have no qualms about welcoming the man into the family with open arms.


     Brad's mother and two older sisters visited him and the girls for a week late that March.  The three women were curious to meet this Cecilia they'd heard so much about over the phone and in Brad's letters.  Admittedly, Cecilia was nervous the first night they were in town.  She'd invited the entire family over for dinner and prayed for all she was worth that Kathy would be on her best behavior. 


     The evening went far better than Cecilia had expected.  The minor incidents with Kathy were quickly put to an end by Brad's no nonsense mother.  Without intending to, Cecilia charmed her guests.  By the end of the evening she had the stamp of approval from all three women.  They found her to be a lovely, intelligent lady, and could easily see why Brad was so taken with her.  They were also impressed with A.J. and his manners as he helped them remove their coats and held their chairs away from the table so they could seat themselves.  As the week passed and Brad's mother got to know Cecilia better, she was of the opinion that this was the woman Brad needed in his life and household.  She didn't hesitate in telling her son that either.  She was quite pleased when Brad acknowledged that he very much felt that way as well. 





     Spring passed swiftly that year as Cecilia Simon sailed along on a sea of love...and prepared for her youngest son's high school graduation.  Rick arrived home the day before the June 3rd ceremony.  Other out of town relatives arrived, too, like Grandma and Grandpa Simon who had retired to Pirate's Key, Florida, several years earlier. 


     Cecilia cried through most of the ceremony as she watched the Mission Bay High School Class of 1967 one by one receive their diplomas.  She glanced over at Rick who was seated next to her.  Her eldest beamed with pride as his popular younger brother stepped up to the podium.   Cecilia could hardly believe that she was now the mother of two adult sons, and wondered nostalgically where their childhoods had gone. 


     Two hours after the noon graduation a party was in full swing in the Simons' backyard.  Many of A.J.'s classmates were in attendance, as were a large number of Rick's friends.  Relatives and friends came and went throughout the afternoon.  Cecilia lost track of how many hamburgers and hot dogs Rick had cooked on the patio grill.  When evening came and the young people showed no desire to go home, Cecilia gave her oldest a break and ordered mass quantities of pizzas to feed the hungry teens.  Thankfully, the neighbors were generous enough to ignore the music blasting from the stereo speakers that Carlos had set up outside.  Laughter and shouts drifted into Cecilia as she spent some time picking up the kitchen.  Most of the adults were gone.  Those that remained were sitting out front in lawn chairs away from the music and the lively volleyball match that was occurring in the backyard.


     Brad burst in through the door amidst shouts of, "Hey, Mr. Holden, where are you going?"  and,  "Don't be gone too long, Mr. Holden!  We'll save your spot."

     Cecilia smiled with amusement as the teacher threw himself across her counter top with exaggerated weariness.  He had long ago changed out of the dark suit and tie he'd worn to the graduation ceremony and now, in cut off jeans and a sweat stained U.S. Navy T-shirt, didn't look much older than the teenagers he had just been playing volleyball with.  The heat and humidity had caused his already curly hair to kink up even tighter.


     With relaxed familiarity the man walked over to Cecilia's refrigerator and poured himself a glass of ice water. 


     "Those kids are gonna kill me yet," he panted after three big gulps.


     Cecilia smiled up at his red face. "You love every minute of it and they love you."


     Brad shrugged.  "They're good kids.  Every so often a class will come along that touches a teacher's life in a very special way.   Long after they're grown you'll wonder how each one of them has turned out.  What successes have come their way.  I'll miss a lot of those kids out there."


     Cecilia wrapped her arms around the man's waist.  "I know you will," she acknowledged with pride.


     Brad hugged her tightly in return.  When they broke their embrace Cecilia buried herself up to her elbows in dishwater. 


     "What are you doing those for?"  Brad asked.


     "Nobody seems to be in need of my hostess skills right at the moment, so I thought I'd get them done."


     Brad reached for a dishtowel.  "Let me help."


     The bulk of the food had been served on paper plates and eaten with plastic utensils so there wasn't much for Brad to dry except spatulas and serving spoons.  As he put those things away he commented, "That crowd Rick hangs out with looks pretty tough."


     Cecilia glanced up at Brad, then, returned her attention to her dishes.  "A number of them are...colorful characters to say the least, but for the most part their bark is worse than their bite.  They're not bad kids, not bad at all actually, once you get to know them."


     "I see," was all Brad would say on the subject.  Cecilia got the impression he didn't believe her.


     "A.J.'s a special kid though," Brad went on to say.


     "Yes, he is,"  Cecilia acknowledged neutrally.


     Brad crossed over to the patio doors and watched the volleyball game for a few minutes.  Even from the across the room Cecilia could tell his eyes were only on one player - the blond young man who happened to be her youngest son. 


     "He's a great kid, Celia.  I'd love to have a son like him someday."


     Cecilia didn't mean anything one way or another when she replied, "Maybe you will."


     Because her back was once again to Brad, she didn't see the light that shone from his eyes as he turned to look at her.   He walked up behind her and circled her waist with his arms.  "I love you, Cecilia," he declared to the woman who was elbow deep in dishwater.


     Cecilia laughed.  "I love you too, Brad."


     Brad couldn't wait any longer.  His love for this petite, classy lady was so enormous it could no longer be contained.  He dropped down on one knee.


     A puzzled Cecilia cocked a skeptical eyebrow at him.  "Bradford Eugene Holden, have you lost your mind?"


     He reached up and grasped her warm, soap-covered left hand.  "No, Celia, I haven't.  I haven't lost my mind at all.  You...you mean everything to me, Cecilia.  I love you with all my heart and soul."


     Brad reached into the deep pocket of his shorts and pulled out a red velvet box.  He opened it to reveal a diamond engagement ring.  He looked up into startled blue eyes.  "Cecilia Simon, will you marry me?"


     "Will I what?"


     "I said will you--"


     "I heard you the first time," Cecilia interrupted. "Brad...I'm covered with dishwater, I'm standing at the kitchen sink, my hair needs to be come, my makeup--"


     "You're beautiful,"  he finished.


     Brad rose and took her in his arms.  "I'm serious, Celia.  I want us to get married.  Granted, this isn't exactly the place I had planned to propose, but when I saw you standing here I just...well, I just couldn't wait another second."


     Cecilia couldn't help it, she laughed.  Here she was with soapsuds drying on her hands and elbows, wearing an apron splattered with greasy dishwater, most of her makeup worn off, and her hair a mess.  And the man who had just proposed marriage had perspiration stains under the armpits of his T-shirt and had sweat trickling down the side of his face.


     "Well?"  Brad asked with trepidation.


     "I...yes," Cecilia laughed and cried at the same time.  "I guess my answer is yes."


     Because of the music and the volleyball game none of Cecilia's guests heard Brad whoop for joy, nor saw him pick her up and twirl her around the kitchen.  He didn't come to a stop until they'd reached the living room.  He gently set her on her feet and backed her up against the wall.  He leaned over her, placing his lips on hers.  The kiss went on and on, until it was interrupted by a deep voice.


     "Oh...excuse me."


     The couple broke apart like guilty teenage lovers.  Cecilia flushed with embarrassment as she came face to face with her eldest son.  She couldn't quite read the look Rick shot Brad before he turned sharply on his heel and made a hasty departure. 


     The two collapsed into a fit of giggles when they were alone once more. 


     "That just proves it, Mrs. Simon," Brad's eyes twinkled.  "I must make an honest woman out of you yet."


     Cecilia leaned against Brad's chest and chuckled.  When she pushed herself away from him it was to broach carefully, "Brad...I think we should wait awhile before announcing our engagement to anyone."

     "What do you mean?"  Came the disappointed question.


     "We...our families...children, will have some adjusting to do to this situation."


     Brad's eyes narrowed.  "You mean Rick."


     "No, I don't just mean Rick.  I mean Kathy, too.  And Susie, for that matter. You and I would be lying to one another if we don't admit right now that the only two who will be overjoyed by this impending marriage are Linda and A.J."


     "That's true, I guess,"  Brad admitted.


     "I need some more time to...work with Kathy and Susie.  To get them to accept me.  And as for Rick...well, Rick's a grown man and I want you to know right now that his opinion won't stop me from marrying you.  Nonetheless, I want him to accept you.  I'm well aware that he'll never look upon you as a father figure like A.J. will, but if nothing else I want you and Rick to be friends.  I think, given a little time, that can happen, don't you?"


     Brad wasn't about to squash the hope he saw in Cecilia's eyes.  Though he highly doubted that he and Rick would ever be friends, he was willing to try harder at it for Cecilia's sake. 


     "Yes...I think given...time, that might happen between Rick and myself."

     Cecilia smiled.  "Good."


     "So, when do we tell them?"  Brad bubbled over with enthusiasm.  "When do we set a date?" 


     Cecilia thought a moment.  "We'll tell them at the end of the summer.  Before A.J. goes off to college and the girls go back to school.  As far as a date goes, what about during the Christmas holidays?  A.J. will be home then and Rick will be here, too."


     "How about Christmas Eve?"  Brad suggested.


     Cecilia laughed.  "You're such a romantic."


     Brad leaned over to gently nip at Cecilia's neck while running a frisky hand over her body.  "You bring out the romance in me, Mrs. Simon."


     Cecilia pushed his hand away.  "Well you'd better cool it with the romance for a while, mister.  I've got a yard full of guests, and I can guarantee you that if Rick walks in on us when you're taking these kinds of liberties he'll deck you for sure."


     It was Brad's turn to laugh as he stole one more quick kiss.  "I’ll keep that in mind."


     Before the couple parted for good Brad hugged the tiny woman to him.  "I love you.  You've made me the happiest man alive."


     Cecilia didn't know what to say to that.  She simply wiped the tears from his cheeks and hugged him back.             






     Things changed rapidly that summer in more ways than Cecilia Simon could have ever imagined. 


     Only two days after A.J.'s graduation Rick announced to his mother and younger brother that he had joined the Marine Corps.  In grateful appreciation, Uncle Sam was kind enough to give him a one-way ticket to Vietnam.


     Within a short time after that, tragedy struck the life of A.J.'s steady girlfriend, Anita, in the form of her beloved brother's death.  Anita immediately withdrew from the world around her, and in so doing broke off her steady relationship with A.J.  Cecilia's youngest son was broken hearted.  The teenage romance evidently went a lot deeper than Cecilia ever suspected.  She found an engagement ring hidden in A.J.'s dresser drawer one day when she was putting away laundry.  Though she wasn't at all pleased to find out that her college-bound son had been seriously thinking of marriage, she never mentioned it to him.  He was torn up enough as it was, so why bring up something now that was never going to come to pass?  A.J. was like a lost soul that summer as he wallowed in the pain of his girlfriend's abrupt departure from his life, and worried about his brother's impending military service. 


     The relationship between Cecilia and Kathy didn't improve that summer either.  In fact, it only seemed to get worse.  Though none of the children had been told of the engagement, and Cecilia only wore the diamond ring on evenings she and Brad went out alone, Cecilia was sure Kathy sensed that something was in the works.  The girl tried her hardest to cause friction between her father and Cecilia, and quite often succeeded. 


     Other things seemed to suddenly get in the way that summer, as well.  Cecilia turned to Brad when she was distraught over Rick's announcement of his decision to join the Marines.  Without realizing it the teacher hurt her deeply when, instead of comforting her he said, "Military service will do Rick good.  It will make him grow up.  Give him a purpose.  He'll come out a new man.  A man you'll be proud of."


     Cecilia wanted to tell Brad that Rick might not get a chance to come out a new man.  She wanted to remind him that young men were dying every day in that God forsaken place called Vietnam.  She wanted to tell him that Rick was already a man she was proud of.  But she didn't, because Brad would never understand.  When he looked at Rick all Brad saw was what he deemed wrong with this country.  Hippies.  Young shiftless men and women from good families who were choosing to live an unconventional lifestyle. A lifestyle that conservative schoolteachers couldn't agree with or understand.


     And Brad began to talk more and more of having a son like A.J.  Just like she had that day of the graduation party Cecilia, at first, misunderstood him.


     "You will have A.J. as a son when we get married in December," Cecilia gently reminded one July evening when the two of them were alone and sitting together on her patio. 


     "No, Celia, I don't mean A.J.," Brad stated, then swiftly corrected, "not that I won't be thrilled to have him as a son you understand, but I mean a son of my own.  My own flesh and blood.  Jean and I...we had been trying for another child when she died."  Brad gave a soft sad smile.  "She had promised me a boy.  Of course, I would have loved a girl just as much as I love the three I already have, but a boy...well, I really wanted a boy and Jean knew that.  I guess that's why she was willing to give it one last try."

     "Brad...I didn't realize this," Cecilia stated carefully.  "That you wanted more children."


     Brad reached over and took her hand, looking deeply into her eyes.  "I do, Cecilia.  I do.  I'd love to have a son."

     "Brad, I'm afraid my child bearing days are long over."


     "What do you mean?"

     Cecilia was shocked that the man even had to ask.  "I’m forty one years old.  Soon to be forty two.  My oldest son is twenty three."


     "I know...but you were young when you had Rick.  Forty two isn't that old."

     "It's too old for having babies as far as I'm concerned," Cecilia stated firmly.  When she had first started seeing Brad, Cecilia had been somewhat concerned, and embarrassed, over their age difference.  Women of her generation generally married men older than themselves, not the other way around.   However, she'd long ago come to terms with the five years that separated her and Brad, and had never imagined it would come between them in quite this way.


     "But, Celia--"


     "Regardless of my age," Cecilia interrupted, "I had a lot of serious complications when I had A.J.  That's why Jack and I never had anymore children, Brad.  My doctor advised me not to."


     "But...but things have changed drastically...medically speaking, in the years since A.J.'s birth.  If we talk to a doctor maybe--"


     Cecilia shook her head.  "No, Brad.  I will not be having any more children.  I'm going to be taking on enough with the raising of your three girls."


     There was an edge to Brad's voice when he asked, "What's that supposed to mean?"


     "It simply means that until I met you I thought my child rearing days were almost over.   Once you and I marry I will have that responsibility once again for the next twelve years."


     "What about adopt--"


     "No," Cecilia negated firmly.  "I am definitely beyond the baby stage.  The only babies I want to rock and change are the grandchildren that I can return to their parents when they get too fussy."


     Brad let the subject drop there for that particular evening, but continued to bring it up on and off in the coming weeks, as if trying to prepare Cecilia for what he eventually intended on having.  Whenever Brad went on and on about what a great kid A.J. was, Cecilia couldn't help but wonder if that was his way of buttering her up to give in to his demands for a son of his own.


     It was only a few short weeks after that when Brad arrived one Saturday evening to pick Cecilia up for a date.  It was the second week in August, and Cecilia was getting ready to see Rick off to boot camp and A.J. off to college.  Rick had chosen to stay with his mother and brother in San Diego that summer and had taken a job working at a factory.   Cecilia's sons were off somewhere together that evening, enjoying what precious little time they had left for brotherly outings before their lives changed in a very drastic way.


     Brad's face was glowing with excitement when Cecilia let him in.  He immediately took her by the hand and led her to the couch, urging her to seat herself. 


     "Brad, what's going on?"  She asked.  "I thought we were going to--"


     "We'll leave in a few minutes.  First I have to tell you something.  Or ask you something rather."


     "Ask me what?"


     "Celia...can we get married in two weeks?"


     "Two weeks?  Why in the world do we need to get married in two-"



     "Because I've taken a job back home."


     "Back home?" 


     "Yes," Brad announced, quite pleased with himself.  "In New York."      


     "New York?  But, Brad...why?  Why didn't you say any--"


     "Because it came up at the spur of the moment.  I was offered a teaching position yesterday at the high school I attended.  It will be great for the girls, Celia.  Just what they need.  Canter is a small town...six thousand people.  I think the girls will benefit from the rural environment.  Especially with the way things are changing in this country...and in this state.  Everyday I see more and more hippies and Hare Krishna's on the street corners.  You hear of more and more kids getting involved in drugs, and girls Linda's age running off to join communes.  I want to get my kids away from all this.  Besides, since their mother's death they need more of a sense of family.  Need to live near their aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  Jean's family still lives out there, as does all of mine.  I think such a change will do my kids good."


     "That may be so, Brad, but what about me?"  Cecilia asked.  "What about my kids?" 


     "What do you mean?  Your boys are grown.  They--"


     "They may be grown, but San Diego is their home.  And it's my home, too.  I was born and raised here.  I've never lived anywhere else.  All my friends and family are here.  I'm not sure I can just pack up and move clear across the country on only two weeks notice.  I'm not sure I'm willing to do that.


     "Besides, A.J. is starting classes at UCSD in three weeks.  With everything that's happened this summer...Anita, and Rick's upcoming tour of duty in Vietnam, I wouldn't feel comfortable leaving A.J. here alone.  He and I...well, I have a feeling we're going to need each other very much during the coming year."


     "He can transfer out to New York," Brad stated.  "There are a large number of excellent colleges out there.  He can pick whichever one he wants to go to."


     "He just went through the hassle of transferring from Oregon State," Cecilia reminded.  A.J. had been slated to attend the University of Oregon, but upon finding out that Rick was going to be spending the next year in Vietnam decided to attend college in San Diego to be closer to his mother should she need him.  "I'm afraid it will be too late for him to transfer again now."


     "Then he can transfer at semester time.  I can see what strings I can pull," Brad stated earnestly.  "I want this to work for us, Cecilia.  I want us to buy a home together in Canter.  A big home.  One with enough bedrooms to accommodate my three girls and your two boys.  I want all of the kids to feel like it's their home."


     But Cecilia knew it would never work.  She knew if she made a change like this, married and moved clear across the country to start a new life, that she'd lose Rick for certain.  Oh, he'd come visit her now and then when he was passing through, but he'd never come to stay, and he'd never feel at home.  And Brad and he would remain strangers forever.  At least in San Diego there was some hope of that situation being rectified with the passage of time. 


     And she was afraid she'd lose A.J. too.  Not for the same reasons she'd lose Rick, but simply because he was eighteen years old and starting his life anew.  She had a feeling he'd have no desire to attend college in New York.  She had a feeling he'd choose to stay right here in San Diego.  And when his college years were through he'd marry and have children, and again, all that would happen in San Diego.  If she were in New York, she'd miss it.  Every single minute of it. 


     "I...Brad...I'm going to have to think about this.  It's a big step."


     Brad reached over and picked up Cecilia's left hand. The one garnished by the engagement ring.  "I know it is, Celia.  I know I'm asking a lot of you.  But I think it will be good for all of us.  It will give all of us a fresh start."


     But I don't need a fresh start, Cecilia wanted to point out, but knew it would do her no good. 


     Cecilia said no more about the subject as the couple sat through dinner that night at a favorite restaurant.  Brad said enough for both of them, describing the town he had grown up in and dreaming of the large six bedroom farmhouse he would buy to accommodate their combined families.  He didn't say it to Cecilia, but he knew perfectly well that Rick would never live with them.  Therefore, that sixth bedroom would be free for the infant son he was bound and determined to charm Cecilia into giving him.  And if that son turned out to be a daughter...oh well, they'd just try again, he thought with glee.  After all, half the fun of having babies was making them.






     It was one week later when Cecilia arranged for Brad to come to dinner on a Saturday night.  Rick was due to leave for Camp Pendleton the following Thursday.  Because of that fact, Cecilia's sons decided one last brotherly weekend was in order and had gone, with her encouragement, on a camping trip.  She thought the time spent alone together would do them both good, especially A.J., who was trying hard not to show how scared he was about the prospect of Rick's military service.  She knew that somehow Rick would ease those fears for his younger brother.


     After dinner was eaten and the dishes were put away Cecilia had Brad sit on the sofa.  He must have had a premonition of what it was she wanted to discuss with him, because before she could open her mouth to speak he said, "I realize I laid the move to New York on you rather quickly.  I suppose it's unfair of me to ask you to be ready to get married so soon.  Therefore, I was thinking that you could stay here, get A.J. settled in school, and put your house up for sale.  If we're lucky your house will sell by Christmas and you can join the girls and me in New York.  We can go ahead and be married on Christmas Eve as we planned.  If A.J. decides he wants to stay out there with us, I can start making arrangements for his transfer just as soon as you give me the word."


     "So I guess this means it's final?"  Cecilia asked.  "You're going?"


     "Well...yes.  I thought I made that clear last week."


     "I'm sorry, Brad, but no, you didn't.  You told me about it, yes, but I assumed I'd have more of a say so in the matter.  I didn't realize that you thought I'd pack up and follow you at a moment's notice without giving this a lot of consideration."


     "Oh...well I thought...I thought you loved me, Cecilia."


     Cecilia felt like someone was squeezing her heart as she heard the hurt in his voice.  "I do love you, Brad.  You know that.  I love you very much.  But...I'm sorry, I won't be moving with you to New York."


     It took Brad a minute to get his breathing under control.  He fought to hold back the tears that filled his eyes.  "Why, Cecilia?  Just tell me why?"


     Cecilia reached down and took Brad's hand in hers.  "San Diego is my home, Brad.  It's where A.J. is going to college.  Someday it will be where A.J., as well as Rick, settle down for good."


     "You don't know that for sure."


     "You're right.  I don't.  But I have a feeling.  Call it mother's intuition if you want.  Or call it foolishness.  I don't care what you call it, I only know it's the truth."  Cecilia smiled sadly as she squeezed the man's hand.  "And you, Brad...you want things I just can't give you.  You want more children, and with me you won't have that.  It's not even a remote possibility.  And Kathy...well, Kathy hasn't accepted me and never will.  I'm afraid we'll only have more problems because of that fact if we marry."


     "But, Cecilia...I love you.  I really, really love you," Brad beseeched.  "We can make it work.  I know we can."


     Cecilia shook her head.  "We're not on common ground anymore, Brad.  We're not even close to meeting in the middle.  It won't work.  It just...won't work."


     "And that's it?  That's your final decision?"  Brad questioned as tears ran down his cheeks.  "There's no hope of me getting you to change your mind?"


     Cecilia held her own tears at bay.  She'd cry later that night in the privacy of her bedroom, but she wouldn't break down in front of this man.  If she did, she was afraid he'd convince her to do something that she knew would only end in disaster for both them and their children. 


     "No, Brad," she shook her head sadly, "I won't be changing my mind."


     Brad leaned back against the couch and swiped at his tears.  He sighed heavily, then stood.  "I'd better be going then."




     The man turned.  "What do you want me to say, Cecilia?  You've already made it clear that it's over.  There's no point in me hanging around, is there?"


     Cecilia hadn't wanted it to end like this.  Not in bitter words and anger, but it looked like that's how it was going to be.  "No, Brad...I don't suppose there's any point in you hanging around."


     Cecilia walked her guest to the door.  Right before she opened it she took the red velvet box out of her skirt pocket that held the engagement ring Brad had given her two months earlier.  She slipped it into the pocket of his suit coat. 


     Brad didn't comment on her gesture.  He opened the door and then stood in the threshold for a moment, just gazing down at her. 


"Goodbye, Cecilia."


     Cecilia swallowed past the lump in her throat.  "Goodbye, Brad.  Tell the girls goodbye for me, too."


     "I will.  And tell, A.J...tell him I said to study hard and that I'm counting on him to be a successful attorney in a few years."


     "I will," Cecilia nodded. 


     The man turned to go.




     Brad halted his progress out the door and turned to face Cecilia once more.




     "Good luck."


     The teacher hesitated before answering.  "Thank you.  And...good luck to you as well."


     And with that Bradford Holden walked out of Cecilia's front door, and forever out of her life.  Tears streamed down her face as she watched his car pull away, but despite that fact, she knew in her heart she had made the right decision. 



S&S     S&S     S&S     S&S      S&S




     "And you never heard from him again?"  Abby asked.


     The two women had been talking for hours.  For the first time Cecilia realized that the coffee in their cups had long ago grown cold. 


     "What was that, Abby?  I'm sorry.  I guess I was...lost somewhere in the past."


     Abby smiled gently.  "That's okay.  I asked if you'd ever heard from Brad again?"


     "I heard of him about ten years after that.  I ran into his old friends, Jim and Judy Mason.  Judy told me he had remarried in 1970, but that the marriage ended in divorce three years later.  She didn't exactly say why, but alluded to the fact that Kathy had caused her stepmother a great deal of problems.  At the time I saw Jim and Judy, Linda was fresh out of college and had just begun a teaching career of her own.  Susie was a junior in high school, and Kathy...well, Brad didn't know where Kathy was.  She had run away several years earlier.  Evidently things had gone from bad to worse with her and she was on drugs."


     "That's too bad," Abby sympathized. 


     "Yes, it is," Cecilia agreed.  "Brad didn't deserve that.  I might not have agreed with all his parenting methods, but nonetheless he did the best job he could and he loved his children very much."  Cecilia fingered the handle of her coffee cup a moment.  "Then three years ago, in 1986, I heard from him directly."


     Abby was surprised.  "From Brad?"


     "Yes.  He had kept in contact all these years with one of his former students.  A girl from A.J.'s class.  She periodically sent him news of other students he had been close to.  Evidently she sent him several newspaper clippings, favorable ones I might add," Cecilia smiled, "regarding A.J. and Rick and their business.  Brad wrote A.J. a letter and enclosed it in an envelope addressed to me because he didn't know A.J.'s address.  He included a very nice, but formal, note to me that brought me up to date on his life.  Linda was still teaching and was the mother of two children.  Susie was an accountant and the mother of one.  He never mentioned Kathy or his second wife.  He did say he had married again in 1979 and has since had two sons with his current wife." 


     "Did you write him back?"


     Cecilia shook her head.  "No.  To be honest with you, Abby, I didn't have anything to say to him.  I had loved him very much, but that was a long time ago.  A.J. wrote him back, so I had him send Brad my regards and asked him to congratulate Brad on my behalf on his marriage and sons."


     "And you didn't hear from Brad after that?"




     "Did you ever tell Rick and A.J. that you were engaged to him?"


     "No, I didn't.  Though I imagine that they both have figured out the two of us had talked marriage.  I suppose I would have gotten a lot more questions from them regarding Brad's sudden disappearance from my life, especially from A.J., had it not been for the fact that five days later Rick left for boot camp, and three weeks after that A.J. started college.  Our minds were on a lot of other concerns at the time.  The only explanation I ever gave A.J. was that Brad had been offered a teaching position back in his hometown and had decided that it would benefit his girls if he moved.  A.J. accepted that and never asked any more questions.  It was years afterwards that I found out A.J. did go see Brad the next week to say goodbye.  It's my understanding that Brad didn't offer him anymore, or any different, of an explanation regarding his departure than I did."


     "And have you ever had any regrets?"  Abby asked.  "That you didn't marry him?"


     "Sometimes," Cecilia admitted.  "When I'm lonely for the companionship a good marriage brings. But then I think of the roadblocks we would have encountered, and all the trouble he had with Kathy, and I'm at peace with the decision I made."


     With great admiration Abby stated,  "You're quite a lady, Cecilia Simon."


     Cecilia laughed.  "I wouldn't go that far, Abby.  But I am proud of my sons, my home, and the accomplishments I've had in my life.  I can't ask for anything more."


     Abby gave a sly smile.  "Except perhaps...someone to share all that with?  Someone like...oh, shall we say Doug?"


     Cecilia laughed again as she rose to clear the last of the dishes.  "Don't you start playing matchmaker with me, Abigail Marsh."


     Abby laughed along with her friend as she, too, rose to help clean the kitchen. 


     Abby didn't see the fleeting look on Cecilia's face as she reflected on the memories of Brad Holden that she thought were long buried in the past.  For just a moment she wondered what might have been.  Just as quickly Cecilia pushed that thought aside, knowing that was one stone better left unturned.  She knew she really couldn't ask for anything more in her life than what she was already blessed with.  And with that fact she was content...or at least most of the time.  


     Maybe Abby didn't have such a bad idea after all.  Maybe she would call Doug. 


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


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