Reunion

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Judson sat quietly on the porch swing, rocking gently, softly stealing a gentle breeze from the spring Alabama night. Another day had come and was winding down. Business had been slow at the little hardware store he owned and operated, but that was to be expected. Summer was here, and all the self-made handymen had completed their spring repairs and had moved on to the pursuits of summer. About the only regular customers now were the local builders, and most of them bought from him only when the purchase was too small to justify the half hour drive into the next town where the large hardware chain store continued its ongoing conspiracy to destroy small local businesses. Still, Judd couldn’t blame the builders for shopping there. The variety of merchandise available dwarfed his meager inventory and his prices were higher, despite his efforts to cut his margins and remain competitive.

Still, he had a steady stream of traffic, though most of it came from the old-timers who shopped here either from a sense of obligation, or because the trip into Carson City seemed like more trouble than it was worth. And, as far as they were concerned, if a fellow couldn’t find it at the local hardware store, then he probably didn’t need it. But, if the truth were known, when they did come in, they often purchased only a soft drink and a pack of crackers from the rack beside the cash register. About the only thing that would really boost his business might be a good ice storm to do enough damage to create a short-term emergency and to cause the large store in Carson City to exhaust its stock so that he got the spillover traffic. And, here in late June, that was a bit unlikely.

But Judson didn’t mind. As long as the store did enough business to cover its expenses and to pay his three employees, he would be satisfied. His grandfather had opened this store more than sixty years ago and two generations had earned a better than average livelihood from it. Judson had taken it over a few months back after returning to his small hometown of Genoa following a stint in Chicago. Twenty-four years ago he had graduated from high school here. Three months later, he left the store and the town behind, jumping at the chance to attend a reputable university on scholarship, with no intention of ever returning.

Despite an early interest in literature, he had, at his father’s insistence, majored in finance. This had served him well financially, allowing him to obtain a job with a large investment banking firm. His skills, combined with a good run of luck, took him quickly up the corporate ladder. After assisting a few conglomerates in the buying and selling of companies at a hefty commission, he accumulated a significant reserve of cash and available credit. These he parlayed into a small fortune as he bought and sold a series of small companies, many of them culls from the larger corporations who dropped them into his lap for a song. There was a lot of truth to the old adage that one man’s junk was another’s treasure. Judson’s sizable portfolio was proof.

If the truth were known, Judson loved what he was doing. Only after his dad’s stroke had he agreed to leave the fast life of Chicago and return to this small town. Even then, his original plan had been to return just long enough to persuade his dad to either close the store or let him sell it. He believed the large chain would buy the store simply to eliminate the nuisance of competition. Even if they didn’t, the building was located on prime commercial real estate. The family had had numerous offers from developers who wanted to purchase the store and the adjoining 33 acres, much of it on the nearby river, to develop into an upscale residential neighborhood.

Judson sat in the swing and read until dark, which came late this time of year. When the dusk took over completely, he laid his book aside and continued to rock gently, waving at the occasional car that would make its way past his house, oblivious to the fact that it was dark and that the passers-by could not see him, sitting alone on his porch. He wondered if there was an element of fate in the series of events that had brought him back to his hometown. He doubted it. If there was, he had missed the significance of it.

A car horn from down the street jarred Judson back to reality. He hit the light on his sports watch and realized he had dozed off. It was almost ten o’clock so he had slept for well over an hour. Since he had to open the store at seven every morning, Judson went to bed early, just like his father had done. What a change from his lifestyle in Chicago. Picking his book up from the swing, he made his way inside, and without ever waking completely, made his way to bed.

Arriving early the next morning, Judson sipped coffee as he reconciled the previous day’s receipts. He smiled as he realized that he put as much effort into reconciling a few hundred dollars in sales as he had in analyzing the multimillion transactions that made bahis siteleri up his prior life. Oh well, everything was relative. And, as was becoming the routine, the day was filled with a slow, but steady stream of locals who wanted to chat more than anything else. But it helped pass the time. Pete, the old hand who had worked for Judson’s dad for years, dropped in to chat as he was prone to do on slow days. Today, he had picked up cheeseburgers for himself, Judson and Josh, a part-time college student who showed up each day around noon and worked afternoons. The three ate their cheeseburgers and the lunchtime conversation spilled over into the afternoon as they whiled away the time discussing sports, politics and what they didn’t know about women. From time to time a customer would drop by and join the conversation, pick up a few items and then leave the threesome to their discussion. And, finally, like those before it, the afternoon would produce the rattling of keys as Pete and Josh began to help Judson close shop for another day.

Pete said his goodbyes and went to lock the warehouse. Josh headed out to make a final stroll through the store to make sure that all the customers were gone and that nothing was in the floor that might be tripped on tomorrow morning. It was amazing how customers would remove merchandise from the shelf or storage bin, and just leave it. Judson recalled how his grandfather would always wonder aloud if those folks left things lying around like that at home. He assumed most of them did. Judson had a lot of memories in this hardware store, and he was continually amazed at how they made their way back into his consciousness at an almost measured pace.

Making his way back to the front of the store, Josh grabbed his backpack from the shelf underneath the cash register, said goodbye, and made his way out the door. Continuing another almost daily ritual, Judd traced Josh’s steps down the aisles, rearranging and checking prices. Yes, life had changed for Judd. And, if he were honest, he would admit he didn’t know if it was for better or worse.

“Hey, Judd.”

Without looking up, Judd recognized Libby’s voice. She had become another regular fixture here, albeit one of the more pleasant ones. Libby looked to be not a day over 18, although she had just turned 24. Judd knew because she had produced her driver’s license the day he had laughed at her. And, though Judd knew better, he had to admit a bit of relief upon seeing that she was well beyond high school. Judd was attracted to her, and even though he found the young woman incredibly attractive, he did have his standards. And fooling around with anyone under 21 violated those standards.

Not that anything had happened with Libby. Their relationship was mostly mild flirtation. But, it was not because she was not available. She had sent unmistakable signals that she was interested. She went on and on about how the guys her age were not mature. She even went so far as to comment on Judd’s youthful appearance. And he knew she was not blowing smoke. Judd had taken care of himself over the years, and despite the graying around his temples, he looked ten years younger than his 42 years.

“Hi, Libby. You doing OK, today?”

“I’d be doing better if you’d take me into town this weekend and buy me dinner.”

Judd smiled.

“Judd, we wouldn’t even have to come back.”

Now she had his attention. “Oh, so we can leave this part of the world, Libby?”

“No, silly. I meant that night. We don’t have to come back that night.”

“Don’t you live in Carson City? Didn’t you tell me that you lived with your Mom downtown near the college?”

“No I don’t live with my Mom. I told you she lived near the college. I have my own place. But that’s beside the point. I’m talking about you, me and a hotel room. Of course, that would be after a nice dinner and maybe a movie. Who knows what I might be inclined to do.”

“The thought of you inclined in any manner makes me a little nervous.”

Libby laughed, not a girlish giggle, but the laugh of a confident woman. “What do you think? Is the offer tempting enough?”

Judson smiled at Libby, and made his way into the adjacent warehouse area. He didn’t realize Libby had followed until he turned and found himself staring into Libby’s blue eyes. Before he could react, she kissed him. Judd pulled away.

“Libby, I don’t think this is a good idea.”

She backed toward the door. Judson expected her to make her way back through it, into the store and out the front door. He was certain he had embarrassed her. Instead, she smiled at him, reached for the door and closed it. Judson watched. Aware that she had his attention, she deftly reached for the bottom of her shirt, holding her hands there, threatening to pull it up to expose her breasts.

Judson strained to breathe. He had fantasized about Libby, but he knew this was a mistake. She was incredibly beautiful and had the body as supple as that of canlı bahis siteleri a woman her age, but as alluring as that of a woman ten years older. He wanted her. There was no question about it. Instinctively, he took her hands to stop her.

“No. No, Libby, I can’t do this, and neither can you.”

“Do what?” she asked innocently. “It’s a little warm in here and I was just going to take off my shirt. Don’t you want me to?”

It took every ounce of Judson’s strength to shake his head. He knew he really did want her to. He’d like to lock the door and take her here in the warehouse. “Please, Libby,” he thought. “Please don’t give me a chance to reconsider.”

As if hearing his plea, Libby pulled her hands back from the shirt, her hands still restrained by his. She could not resist teasing him by sliding her hands across her breasts, forcing his to make contact with her ample bosom. Finally, she dropped her hands to her waist. Judson breathed deeply and sighed, releasing the hold he had on her hands..

“I know what you’re thinking.” Thankfully, Libby broke the silence. “And I admire you for it. You’re not the kind of guy who would take a girl for a quickie in the back of the store. You want to wine and dine me before you bed me, don’t you, Love?”

Judson stared at her, unable to stop the smile that captured his face.

Libby was again in his face. “So, how about this Friday? Let’s go out and have some real fun. Just you and me!” She placed her lips on his in a featherlike kiss. Judd’s mind was about to say no, when his libido got to his lips first.

“OK, if you want. Yea, it’ll be fun. But one thing.”

Libby beamed. “Anything, Judd, and I do mean anything.”

“Wait, I’m sorry. I almost forgot. I already have plans for this weekend.”

An expression somewhere between a frown and a pout came across Libby’s face.

“Sounds like an excuse to me…”

“No,” Judd interrupted. “I’ve had this planned for a few weeks. I guess I got, uh, preoccupied and forgot. I’m really sorry.”

“Is it another woman?”

Judson could not help smiling. “Yes, but she’s just a friend. Actually an old high school friend that I ran into. We decided to get together and catch up on all the news and gossip.”

“An old girlfriend?”

“Libby…”

“OK, Juddie, I’m sorry. I won’t tease you. How about Sunday?

“Nope, that won’t work. I promised Dad I’d come out to his place for dinner.”

“O.K. I get the picture.”

“No, I’m really not putting you off. Tell you what. How about next weekend?”

Libby pursed her lips, trying not to appear anxious.

“Umm, I suppose.”

“Great!” Judd exclaimed.

“So you really do want to go out with me? You really want to date me?”

“I want to take you to dinner. That’s all I’m going to say.” Judd tried to be serious, but the smile in his voice made its way to his face.

“Well, let me assure you, it’ll be an evening that you won’t forget. I promise you that.”

Judson laughed out loud.

“Libby, can I ask a favor?”

“Sure, Judd. Anything.”

“Let’s keep this between us for now. What do you say?”

“Sure. It’ll be our little secret.”

Throughout the remainder of the afternoon, Judson rationalized his decision to have dinner with a woman half his age. As far as what else the evening might hold, he was in complete denial. What was wrong with a man having dinner with a younger woman whose company he enjoyed? After all, she was an adult. He was not doing anything immoral. And who said that the evening had to involve anything other than dinner and good conversation.

“Yea, Judd,” he thought to himself. “Just keep thinking that. You may actually convince yourself.”

That night Judson thought of Libby long after he went to bed. The memory of their afternoon encounter left him restless. Why, he wondered. But Judson knew why. He wanted Libby and the realization that he would be with her gave him feelings with which he was not totally comfortable.

Judson awoke the next morning, glad it was only Friday. He was anxious to see Abby, but needed another day to compose his emotions after his encounter with Lib. And though he was not quite ready for his adventure, he was glad it was only a day away. What he had not told Libby was that his date for tomorrow evening was indeed his high school sweetheart, a woman Judd was sure he had loved at one time in his life. Abby was everything he would have wanted in life, and one reason he was still a bachelor. Subconsciously, Judd still gauged every woman he dated by Abby. And though his chance encounter with her a couple of weeks back was unplanned, it was something Judd had hoped for since he returned to Genoa. The memory of their first words in 20 years still lingered.

He had gone into Carson City for a movie and stopped by a bookstore on the way home. He was browsing the new paperback releases, hoping to find the new John LesCroart thriller. His frown of disappointment canlı bahis at not seeing it there must have been obvious. A voice from behind had spoken.

“Can I help you…Judson, is that you?”

Judson had felt a chill at the sound of her voice even before he turned and recognized her. Gosh, she was beautiful, just the way he remembered her. The lovely dark hair, the deep brown eyes and the full red lips, all so familiar, but the shock of this chance meeting took his breath. Abby, sensing his feeling of awkwardness, stepped toward him and gave him a warm embrace.

“You’re as handsome as ever.” She kissed his cheek. “So good to see you Juddie. I knew you’d moved back, but I just haven’t had a good opportunity to drive out to the store.”

Judson struggled with the mangle of emotions. He kissed her on the cheek, which brought a smile and then a laugh.

“I’m sorry, Abby,” said Judson.

“For what, Juddie?” She again laughed that infectious laugh that brought a flood of memories. “It is a little awkward, isn’t it? I’m sorry if I embarrassed you.”

“No, no,” said Judson. “I just feel foolish, like a high school kid trying to say the right thing to the prettiest girl in school.”

Judd relaxed. “And you’re just as beautiful as you were then. You haven’t changed at all.”

“Thanks. That is sweet, but you never were a good liar.”

“No, really, I meant it, Abby.”

“Then, thank you. Do you have time for a cup of coffee?”

“Uh, yeah, of course.”

Judson followed her to the coffee shop, and found himself admiring her slender figure as she led the way. He was surprised, and embarrassed at his initial reaction to seeing her. He could not believe that she was still so beautiful.

After they had gotten their mugs filled, they sat at the table in the corner. For a while, they looked at each other and smiled.

“Been a long time, Juddie.”

Judson smiled. “You can call me Judd. I left Juddie behind when I moved to Chicago.”

Abby laughed. “Sorry…Judd.”

“So how have you been? And how is your family?”

“Oh, they’re fine. Dad still likes to fish the river. Remember when you used to go with him in the spring?”

“Of course I do. He always caught more fish, which meant I had to do most of the cleaning.”

Judd and Abby spent the next few minutes asking general questions, both avoiding anything that might sound too personal. Finally, Judd took the lead.

“I heard you married.”

Abby grew suddenly quiet, the smile diminishing slightly, her eyes suddenly staring straight ahead into the distance.

“Yes, Judd. I married a wonderful man. A loving husband, a great father.”

“That’s great. You deserved someone like that.”

“Actually,” Abby paused. “ I lost him eleven years ago. He was killed in an automobile accident.”

Judson closed his eyes. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s OK. I can deal with it now. It was hard at first, and if not for Shannon, I’m not sure I could have survived, or would have wanted to.”

“Shannon?”

Her eyes returned to his, and her smile returned to her face. “Yes, Shannon, my beautiful daughter. You’ll have to meet her. She is so wonderful. She’s the light of my life.”

“That’s wonderful. I’d love to meet her.”

The two chatted for over an hour until a clerk interrupted Abby to take a phone call. Judson told her to go ahead, assuring her that he had to leave.

“Call me sometime, Judd.”

“I’ll do that. I don’t mean to be forward, but if you aren’t seeing someone, could I take you to dinner sometime?”

“I’d like that. I really would.”

Judson practically danced across the parking lot, feeling giddy and foolish. What was wrong with him? Was he naïve enough to think that the feelings were still there after all these years? Judd, keep your heart intact, old boy.

What he didn’t see was Abby looking out the window, smiling as she watched him make his way to his vehicle.

Judson waited as long as possible to call her. Finally, 18 hours after their chance meeting, he called her again at the bookstore, after kicking himself for failing to ask for her home number, and made the dinner date. Abby had work commitments for the coming week, but the week after would be fine.

“I’ll call again to confirm it, Abby.”

“Call anytime, Judd. Let me give you my home number.”

Stepping back into the present, Judd tried to focus on the work at hand. He did have a business to run. And if he didn’t relax, the anxiety and lack of sleep would take its toll. Still, his mind was filled with pleasant thoughts of the lovely Abby. He heard tires squeal and looked up to see Libby drive into the parking lot. He expected as much. Even though Judd found her to be extremely tempting, he also knew he had a business to run and a reputation to consider. He instinctively made his way to the back of the store, near the warehouse door. She spotted him and made her way back.

“Let’s go into the back room, Judd!” Her mischievous eyes twinkled.

“No, Libby. That would be a bad idea. And, now that we’re on the subject, our meetings and conversation here at the store are going to have to be on the up and up if you know what I mean.”

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