The Making of a Gigolo (4) - Prudence Harris

by Lubrican

Chapters : 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Foreword

This is the fourth in a series of stories about how Bobby Dalton was transformed, from a normal teenage boy, into a man sought after by many women. His story starts with "The Making of a Gigolo - Tilly Johnson", and there is much information in that first story that will be useful to you in understanding what happens in this story. Please read the stories in order, for your fullest enjoyment.

Bob

Chapter One

April, 1970

Bobby surveyed the back door of the Harris residence, and frowned at the long stretches of rotten wood in the jamb. The whole thing would have to be replaced, frame and all. He' have to use Mamma’s pickup truck, or get the lumber yard to deliver all the pieces. He'd never had to buy anything he couldn't carry away with him and, despite being twenty-one years old, and a master repairman, there were still things he was unfamiliar with. The policies of the lumber yard were among them.

"What do you think?" asked the woman standing beside him.

He turned to Prudence. The blackness of her hair, and the dark clothing she habitually wore, made her skin look almost luminescent white. She didn't get out much, at least not out in the sun. She was a teller at the bank, and when she wasn't at work, she stayed close to home. As far as he knew, Bobby was convinced she didn't socialize with anybody, male or female.

That was a shame, he decided, as he looked at her. Her black hair was up in a bun. It had always been, any time he'd ever seen her. Her husband had died when Bobby was just a boy, but she still favored dark clothing that gave the impression she was still in mourning. Even her stay-at-home comfortable clothing, which Bobby assumed the dark gray sweat shirt and sweat pants she was wearing were, seemed somber. The only thing that relieved her strained, sober appearance were eyes that were so startlingly blue that they looked completely out of place in her face. It was like looking at his own eyes in the mirror.

Bobby had never seen her smile. Even when she thanked him, and paid him for fixing her gate and painting her fence, her face had been almost stern.

"I think that it would be a very good thing if the lumber yard delivers," said Bobby, smiling himself. Her almost sad visage practically required that he smile for both of them. "Once I have the materials, it shouldn't take but half a day to install.”

"Well, then," said Prudence. "I'll take you down there and we'll get things moving."

Bobby still didn't own a car. He was working for various people, saving up for one. The farm took all the proceeds it produced. His mother had done a wonderful job raising eight children without a husband, for all practical purposes, and he wasn't about to cause a bump in the road by diverting family funds for something that was, as far as Bobby was concerned, a luxury. Mamma had an old truck. It worked well, thanks to him, but it was old, and didn't need the extra miles that would be put on it if he or his sisters gadded about in it. Bobby, despite being a man, still got around on his trusty old bicycle.

They rode with the windows down. Prudence had a fairly new Chevy Malibu, and it had a motor in it that would have appealed to a young man when it was new in 1966. She didn't rod it, though, driving sedately. Everything Prudence did was calm. She wasn't much of a talker, either, so Bobby just watched her drive, when he wasn't looking out the window.

An errant breeze pressed the cloth of her sweat shirt against her body, and Bobby realized she was in better shape than he'd thought. Largish breasts rode high on her chest, and there was no bulge below that, to indicate extra fat. He'd never been to the bank, or seen her dressed for work, and everything she wore at home was baggy and comfortable.

Fortunately, the lumber yard did deliver, and all the arrangements were made.

"I should have had you look at the down spout before we went," said Prudence, as she drove them back to her house. "There might be something you need to fix it where we just were!"

"It's a small thing," said Bobby.

"I hate to waste your time," said the woman.

"You're not wasting my time," said Bobby. "I like making new friends."

She stared straight ahead. "I'd think you'd prefer making younger friends."

"Why?" he asked. "Everybody is interesting. It doesn't matter how old, or young they are. I guess I just like people."

"There's nothing interesting about me," she said softly.

"Ah," said Bobby. "That's where you're wrong. I know there are lots of things about you that are interesting."

She snorted. "How could you know that?"

"You had to come from somewhere. You grew up and did things ... saw things. You've lived at least thirty years, based on your appearance, and at least one interesting thing happened to you each of those years."

"You think I'm only thirty?" she asked, expression pulling her brow in to lines. "Are you trying to flirt with me, young man?"

Bobby laughed. "No ... not unless you want me to. I guess I'm not all that good at guessing ages. Ages don't make that much difference to me, so I don't pay that much attention to them."

Prudence turned her head, and looked directly at him. "Why would I want you to flirt with me?"

Bobby looked right back at her. "You're a woman. Don't all women like to be flirted with?"

"Some women," she said, peering intently at him. "Others know how destructive it can be."

"Destructive?" Bobby looked confused. "How could a little harmless flirting be destructive?"

"You have no idea," said Prudence. She looked ahead, wishing she hadn't said anything. She had flirted with her brother-in-law, at a family picnic. She'd thought it was harmless, like Bobby had characterized flirting. But her husband had gone into a jealous rage, and raced off in the car. He'd never come back. The car, with him still in it, was found wrapped around a tree. The police estimated it had been going almost a hundred miles an hour, when it left the road, on an unmarked curve. Prudence had held herself responsible, both then, and ever since. There wasn't a day she woke up in an empty bed, that she didn't remember how her flirting had killed her husband.

Once back home, she showed him the downspout, which had only come loose, up where the gutter was. He climbed her ladder and put a new screw in it, from a jar of them he carried in his tool bag.

"You make that look so easy," Prudence commented.

"It is easy," he said. "You could have done it."

"Nonsense," said the woman. "Women don't fix things."

"Please don't tell my Mamma that," said Bobby, grinning. "If she didn't fix half the things that go wrong on our farm, I'd never get away. My sisters fix things too. I'm even teaching Mary - she's my oldest sister - how to rebuild the motor to the lawnmower."

"Surely, you're teasing me," said Prudence, actual surprise on her face.

"Why on Earth would I tease you?" asked Bobby. He had been folding up the ladder, but unfolded it again. "Here," he said. "Take this screwdriver and climb up there."

"I couldn't do that," demurred Prudence.

"Come on," said Bobby, reaching out to grasp her elbow, and exerting force to move her a step closer to the ladder. "I'm going to prove it to you."

"This is silly!" said Prudence, looking up at the gutter.

"Climb up there, and I'll tell you what to do."

"You've already fixed it," said the woman.

"You're going to break it again, and fix it yourself," said Bobby.

"This is ridiculous!" she insisted.

"You get on up there, or I'll start flirting with you again," said Bobby, having no idea how negatively that might be received.

It wasn't received negatively ... at least not in terms of making her feel guilty again. It had been, in fact, over a decade since any man had paid more than ten minutes attention to Prudence Harris. That was because most men saw immediately that she was not interested in being paid attention to. Her appearance raised a very effective barrier to friendly overtures. But Bobby had passed that ten minute point, and Bobby was just being ... Bobby. Prudence put her foot on the bottom rung of the ladder, because, in truth, a man had told her to.

"I'll fall," she said, testing the ladder with her weight.

"I'll hold the ladder. You won't fall. Go on ... climb."

She did, feeling something that she hadn't felt in a long time ... excitement. This, little as it was, was something different than she usually did. If she needed to change a light bulb, she just climbed on a chair. Ladders were for men. Yet, here she was, actually climbing one. She looked down, and Bobby was braced, both hands on the ladder, which trembled a little, because Prudence's knees were trembling a little.

"Now," said Bobby, when she was high enough. "The screw I put in has a slot on it. The tip of the screwdriver will fit that slot. Put it in there, and turn it counter clockwise."

She did, and found that the tip of the screwdriver seemed to slip out of that slot a lot. She had to push toward the screw, and then it moved.

"It's moving!" she said, her voice higher than normal.

"Keep going," said Bobby. "As it starts to come out, grab it with your fingers, so it won't drop on the ground."

She didn't judge it well, and the screw suddenly leaned, and popped out. The down spout fell three inches, to where it had been before Bobby had fixed it.

"I lost the screw," she said, petulantly.

"I have more," said Bobby.

She looked down and her heart lurched as she saw he'd left the ladder, and was bending over his tool bag.

"You're not holding the ladder!" she said, breathlessly.

"You're fine," he said, not looking up. "Just stand still."

He stood up and handed her a screw. Then he went to the downspout and pushed up on it, until it slid over the projection on the gutter.

"Tell me when the holes for the screw are lined up," he said.

Prudence looked, and saw the outer hole slide by the inner one. She told him about that, and he moved it.

"Stop!" she yelped.

"Now, thread the screw in with your fingers. Remember, clockwise, this time."

She did, and the screw went in easily.

"Now, tighten it with the screwdriver," he said.

She did, until the screwdriver slipped out of the slot again.

"Come on down," said Bobby. "You just fixed your first downspout!"

Prudence, who could give a math teacher a run for her money, came down the ladder feeling a lightness she hadn't experienced in years.

"I did it!" she said. "I really did it!"

"Yes, Ma'am, you did," said Bobby, grinning. "You're an honest to goodness tool-using woman."

She looked at him, and saw him staring at her face.

"You should smile more often," he said. "You have a beautiful smile."

Prudence realized she WAS smiling. She hadn't done that in a long time either.

It was bound to happen. Mary had extended her "kissing lessons", as she called them, beyond bedtime kisses, which had turned into bedtime mutual masturbation, if the truth be known. What had started with kisses, a year and a half ago, had eventually turned into half hour or hour sessions of petting. She was, to be honest, a little worried about their "bedtime kisses". She'd been feeling the urge to do things with Bobby that sisters don't do with their brothers. She didn’t count the kissing and mutual masturbation, which she had somehow rationalized as "lessons", in her mind.

She went on dates, and used what Bobby had taught her, and now she was pretty serious with one boy, named Fred Brogan. She had spent hours kissing Fred, who was beginning to affect her almost as much as Bobby did when he kissed her. She had let Fred slide his hands all over her breasts too, both outside and inside her clothing. But she had never let him touch her anywhere else … like Bobby routinely touched her … after those dates. Bobby never put a finger in her. He'd started to one time, at which point her maidenhead had complained, and he'd never done it again since then.

That was the problem. Mary had the strangest urge that seemed to want something inside her, down there. She just knew it would feel wonderful. She knew girls who admitted they had sex, and they all claimed it was wonderful. She couldn't figure out how to proceed, or even WHETHER to proceed. She avoided making that decision by letting only Bobby touch her down there, because, when she was with him, she was sure that nothing else would happen. She also delighted in long kisses, exchanged in the chicken coop, or barn, while she helped Bobby with some chore.

Bobby didn't really mind. The only woman he was currently fucking was Sherry Winston, who had had his daughter, Jessica. She was breast feeding Jessica, and her husband, Sam, had gone on some longer trips lately, to make up for the time he had spent at home, while she gave birth to the child he thought was his, and his wife recovered from the ordeal. Anyone who looked at Jessica, though, if Bobby was standing nearby, would instantly see the resemblance. Her hair was light, but her facial features resembled him.

Sherry entertained him … and herself … about once a week, but what had been hours long lovemaking sessions were no more. Jessica slept, but not for more than an hour or two, usually. Bobby had to satisfy Sherry during those times. Then, when Jessica woke up, usually hungry, she fed her ... and Bobby ... both breasts spurting milk that both hungry humans delighted in sucking up and swallowing.

Still, it was only once a week, usually, so Bobby didn't mind at all when Mary wanted a long, tongue-swapping kiss in the chicken coop.

What was inevitable, was that sooner or later, one of his sisters would walk in on them.

That sister happened to be Beverly, who was, at the time she walked in on them kissing, sixteen years old.

"WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING?!" was the first indication to Bobby and Mary that they weren't alone.

Mary blanched, and pulled back. She was a senior in high school, but she wasn't prepared to defend her actions.

"Kissing," said Bobby, completely calm. "What did it look like we were doing?"

"Kissing?" asked Bev, her eyes wide. "Why?"

"Mary told me she likes Fred a lot," said Bobby easily. "I was giving her a few pointers on how to kiss him."

Bev turned to her older sister, her mouth open. "You haven't even KISSED him yet?!"

She took Mary's extreme embarrassment for an answer to her question, instead of the mortification of being caught with her tongue in her brother's mouth.

"YOU HAVEN'T!?" squealed Bev.

"Of COURSE I have!" blurted Mary, suddenly feeling ten years old. "Just not like that."

"You've been dating him for six MONTHS!" yelped Bev, who had entered puberty about the same time the U.S.A had entered the sexual revolution, and saw things a lot differently than her older sister.

Mary reverted to big sister mode, mostly because she didn't know what else to do.

"If you tell anybody about this, I'll tan your hide!" she yelped.

"You can't tan my hide anymore!" said Bev, sticking her chin out. "I'm too old for that!"

"You'd better not tell!" squealed Mary.

"I'll tell if I WANT to!" shouted Beverly. "In fact, I'm gonna go tell Mamma RIGHT NOW!" she squealed, grinning.

She turned, but hadn't counted on her big brother's strength or speed. She was suddenly grasped, around her waist, and lifted, kicking and squealing, off the ground. She watched the world spin, confused, as he lifted her upwards, and then twisted her. Her breath whooshed out of her as her stomach hit his shoulder, and she was suddenly suspended, draped over his shoulder like a sack of seed.

The chicken coop was too small and confined, for what Bobby wanted, so he carried Beverly, who was trying to get her breath back, and was kicking feebly, twenty feet to the barn, where there was a hay bale sitting on the ground. Bobby sat down, manhandling his sister until she was draped over his lap, instead of his shoulder.

"I'm big enough to paddle you," he growled, and he brought his hand down on her jeans-clad butt with a crack.

The breath she'd just gotten, to scream with, came out in an agonized "OWWWWBOBBEEEEEE".

"DON'T HURT HER!" yelled Mary.

"I'm not hurting her," said Bobby, giving the other side of her butt a slap that was just as hard as the first one.

"OWWWWWW" wailed Beverly. "STOP BOBBYEEEEEE"

"Will you behave?" he asked, grabbing her waist as she struggled.

"OK, OK!" she cried.

Bobby knew better than to trust her, though, and as soon as she struggled up, he pulled her down on his lap.

"OWW!" she complained, her sore butt hitting his hard thighs. "Why'd you do that?" she whined. "I didn't do anything!"

"You were going to cause trouble," said Bobby, holding her on his lap while she tried, half heartedly to get up.

"I said OK!" she complained.

"OK isn't enough," said Bobby. "Mary wasn't doing anything she should get in trouble for. She just needed a little help, so I helped her. If I let you go, you'll go in there and tattle just for spite because I paddled you."

"Will not," she said, sullenly.

"Will too," he said.

"Will not," she repeated.

"I'm not going to take the chance," said Bobby.

"What are you gonna do?" asked Bev, looking fearfully at him sideways.

"Look at me," he ordered.

She turned, and his hands left her waist, to come to her head.

Then he kissed her, like he had kissed Mary.

Like it had been with Mary, this kiss - the first from her brother - rocked Beverly's world. She thought she had a lot of experience at kissing. She had kissed a dozen boys, at school dances, or between classes, under the stairwells in school. She'd had two dozen "boyfriends" by this time in her life, and she was, in reality, more experienced than Mary had been the first time Bobby had kissed her. But she'd never been kissed like this. This kiss took her breath away. She could feel the hunger in it, clear down inside her. The kisses she stole with her boyfriend’s were exciting, but this was devastating.

Like Mary had, she just went limp as Bobby's lips crushed hers, and his tongue lashed against hers. She'd never opened her mouth during a kiss, even though boys tried to get her to. She'd been caught off guard, by Bobby, though, and the sensuous feelings his slippery tongue caused, brushing against hers, coursed through her body and left her helpless.

Then it was suddenly over, and she was, somehow standing, as Bobby stood up.

"Now you've done the same thing," said Bobby, looking intently at her. "If you tattle now, you'll be tattling on yourself."

"Wow!" said Bev, licking her lips to make sure they were still there.

"Are you OK?" asked Mary, hovering around her little sister.

"I think so," said Bev. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and looked at Bobby. "Wow!" she said again.

"We have some eggs to gather," said Bobby.

Beverly jumped.

"That's what I came to tell you! Supper's ready, as soon as you get back!"

"Then we'd better work together," said Bobby.

Bobby carried the basket, while Mary and Beverly hurried on ahead, toward the house. Their heads were together, but Bobby couldn't hear what they were talking about. It didn't take a rocket scientist, though. He sighed. This might complicate things at bedtime.

Prudence had almost smiled at him, when she opened the door. Almost. He was sure of it. The materials were all there, delivered the day before, and lying on the ground by the back door. Bobby had brought a nail puller and two hammers with him, along with a pry bar and some other tools.

Forging on with his new relationship, he calmly announced that he'd need some help. Prudence, though she looked nervous, didn't say anything.

He explained how the door was held in place, and used a screwdriver to scrape at the paint and putty that covered the nail heads. Several nails could be seen, plainly, through the gaps in rotted wood.

They had the old door out in less than fifteen minutes. It came out in pieces.

"That thing could have fallen out any day!" said Prudence, staring at the wreckage.

"Just about," said Bobby, grinning.

He covered a patio table with newspapers, held down with left over bricks that had been piled by the garage for twenty years or more. Then he laid the pieces of the new door out on that, and opened the paint.

"What are you doing, Mother?" came a soft voice, from the gaping doorway.

Bobby turned to see Constance, who he knew was in Beverly's class at school.

"Hi," he said, smiling.

She looked at him. Just like her mother, her face stayed flat, and emotionless.

"We're replacing the door, dear," said Prudence, a warmth in her voice that Bobby had never heard before.

"You're helping?" Constance sounded skeptical. She was, after all, her mother's daughter.

"Yes she is," said Bobby. "You want to help too?"

"I don't think so," said the girl. "Can I watch?"

"Of course," said her mother, sounding surprised. "This is Bobby," she added, in belated introduction.

"I know," said the girl. "He's Beverly's brother."

"I am indeed," said Bobby, laying out the last of the pieces on the table. "She's in your class, at school, isn't she?"

"Yes," said the girl, shyly. "She's so pretty. All the boys flock around her."

"My sister?" Bobby asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Yes," said Constance. "She's very popular."

"Well I guess you'd know about that," said Bobby, grinning. "I don't remember there being all those pretty girls, like you and Bev, when I was going to school. Boys nowadays are lucky."

He had just meant it as a generic compliment, but her reaction to it was not what he expected. She didn't smile. Instead, she turned and almost dashed back into the interior of the house.

Bobby looked at Prudence, who was frowning.

"Did I say something wrong?" he asked.

"You flirted with her," said the woman, her frown deep. "She's sensitive about her looks."

"Why on earth would she be sensitive?" asked Bobby. "She's the spitting image of you."

Prudence's eyes widened, and her face went slack for just an instant, before going back into a scowl.

"Young man, I don't appreciate you teasing either of us. I lost my husband because of that, and my daughter's crooked teeth are no laughing matter. I'll thank you to do what I called you here for, and nothing further!"

Bobby stopped working and looked at the flustered woman.

"Mrs. Harris, I was only paying a compliment. I wasn't teasing anyone. I'm sorry if I've opened an old wound, but surely you can't object if a man thinks you're a nice looking woman."

Prudence Harris saw only honesty in his face. There was no leer, or innuendo there. She hadn't been paid a ... compliment ... if that's really what it was ... in as long as she could remember. "I'm old enough to be your mother!" she said, nervously.

"That has nothing to do with whether you're a nice looking woman or not," said Bobby. "And I wasn't aware of your daughter's crooked teeth. I guess I just didn't notice them." He opened the can of paint. "I'll apologize to her, and I certainly apologize to you, if I offended you." He picked up a brush. "Now, if you'll paint these pieces, I'll get the door ready to paint."

His businesslike attitude and calm demeanor caused Prudence to feel like she had overreacted. She wasn't used to talking to anyone, much less a handsome young man who paid her unsolicited compliments. She realized her hand had gone to her hair, and she jerked it down. The last thing she needed was to have those kinds of feelings. She was a widow because she had flirted with a man. She had no business being "nice looking". She started dabbing paint onto a strip of lumber.

"If you don't mind," said Bobby, coming to stand beside her, "I'll show you how to do that."

He reached for her hand and held it, while he made the brush, and her hand, go in long strokes. He explained how the paint needed to be smooth, and in line with the grain in the wood. She paid half attention to that, and half attention to the feel of his hand, on hers. Other than her daughter, she couldn't remember touching another human being in years. The feel of his skin on hers made her nervous.

"I think I have it," she said, slightly out of breath. He let go, and she had a momentary sense of loss, quickly squelched, as she determined to pay attention to the paint, and not the young man.

He got another brush, and began painting the door, which he had stood up against the wall, with papers under it.

"You want to talk about it?" he asked.

"About what?" she asked, confused.

"How you lost your husband," he said, his attention on the door.

"Why would I want to talk about that?" she asked, the paint brush suspended in her hand.

"It's been a long time, but you just brought it up," said Bobby. "It seems to still be bothering you."

"Why shouldn't it?" she asked, almost angrily. Who did this man think he was ... prying into her most painful memories?

"I lost my ... father," said Bobby, thinking of Joe. "He was killed by a man with a gun."

"That's horrible!" said Prudence, meaning it.

"Yes," he said. "But life goes on for those left behind. I still miss him, but I have to live my life."

"I can't do that," she said softly.

"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked. He hadn't looked at her once. All his attention seemed to be on the interface between the brush in his hand, and the door that was steadily becoming white.

"No," she said, but with no heat in her voice.

It was quiet for a few minutes. Both painted. Prudence couldn't tell what was on his mind, but hers was roiling. It all came back to her, just like it had that morning, when she woke, and the other side of the bed was empty for the first time.

"There was a party," she said suddenly, not meaning to say it. It just bubbled out of her mouth. Once that was out there, she had to go on. "His brother was there. He was so funny ... telling stories and jokes. He always made me laugh."

She stopped, expecting Bobby to say something, but he continued to paint. The silence seemed to require more.

"I flirted with him," she admitted, tears coming to her eyes. "Harry saw, and got mad. He took off in the car, angry, and ran off the road. They didn't even find him for two days." Tears dripped down her face, and fell onto one of the strips of wood she'd been painting. A round circle marred the surface, and she swiped at it, almost angrily, with her brush.

"And you think it's your fault," said Bobby, finally, still looking at the door.

"Of course!" she moaned, impatience making her push the brush at the board so hard that it moved.

"I suppose you're partly to blame," he said, his voice even.

Prudence stopped painting, her mouth open. Everyone else had always pooh poohed her guilt, and told her she was being silly.

"I mean, if you knew how jealous he would get, and flirted anyway, I guess you could say you drove him to it."

"I DIDN'T know!" she whined. "I had no IDEA I was even flirting! He just made me feel so good that I hugged him!"

Bobby turned around, finally, and looked at her.

"Let me get this straight. You hugged your brother-in-law, and that made your husband jealous."

"He screamed at me," she moaned. "He called me a slut."

"No offense, Ma'am," said Bobby, still looking at her, "but I have to change my mind. If all you did was hug another man ... his brother ... I think he went way overboard in getting mad about it. I mean come on! You're SUPPOSED to hug family! I hug all my aunts, and even my uncles and cousins, but I'm not flirting with them. Why do you think you were flirting?"

"He made me feel good!" moaned Prudence. "I laughed at his jokes!"

"Were they really funny?" asked Bobby.

"Oh, they were the best jokes, and the best stories," sighed Prudence.

"Then, to my mind, you were just being honest." He looked back at the door. "Did you ever cheat on your husband?"

"Of course not!" she snapped, instantly angry.

"Don't get all upset," said Bobby, glancing her way. "I just thought that maybe he had some reason to suspect that you'd be unfaithful to him. I can't figure out why he got so mad because you liked his brother's stories."

"We'd only been married for two years!" said Prudence. "I never even looked at another man. I loved Harry!"

They painted for another few minutes, in silence. Bobby stood back and surveyed the door, which was done. He looked over at the pieces Prudence was working on. She'd done less painting, while they talked, and was only half done. He joined her, standing across from her and starting to paint a jamb.

"Do you have any pictures from your wedding?" asked Bobby, suddenly.

"Yes," she said. "Why?" she asked, curiously.

"Would you mind if I looked at one of them?" he asked, not explaining.

"Why would you want to do that?" she asked, again.

"Just an idea I had," he said, carelessly.

"What kind of idea?" she asked.

"I had a friend, in school, when I was much younger. He had a girlfriend. She was the most beautiful girl I ever saw in my whole life. He couldn't believe she was really interested in him, because he was so normal, and she was just so beautiful. He used to talk about it all the time. She said she liked him, and she held his hand and everything, but he never could quite convince himself that she really liked him. He kept expecting her to break up with him and choose a different boy ... one of the more popular boys."'

Bobby painted, as if he were finished with the story.

"What happened?" asked Prudence, her curiosity piqued.

"She did break up with him," said Bobby.

"Because she wanted a more popular boy?" asked Prudence, disappointed.

"No," said Bobby. "She told me she couldn't stand him always assuming that some other boy would take her away from him. She wanted him to have faith in her, and he didn't. He was jealous for no reason, and she got tired of it."

"What does that have to do with me?" she asked, confused.

"If you looked anything like your daughter, you were a very good looking woman indeed," said Bobby. "You still are, underneath that scowl you wear on your face, and those baggy clothes you wear to mourn in. Some men might not be able to live with a woman that beautiful; simply because they believed they didn't deserve her."

"That's ridiculous!" snorted Prudence, who did not think of herself as a beautiful woman of any kind.

"It was just an idea," said Bobby.

Prudence dropped the brush, wiped her hands on her sweat pants, smearing them with white, and stalked into the house. She came back five minutes later with a binder in her hands. She had it open to one picture, of her, standing with Harry, in their wedding finery. Her veil had been removed, and she was smiling in that picture. Harry looked stiff and uncomfortable.

"There!" she said, reversing the book and showing it to Bobby.

Bobby looked at it for a long moment, and his dark eyes came up to her light ones.

"Ma'am," he said softly. "I don't mean you any disrespect, but I have to say there wasn't a man at that wedding that didn't wish he was in the groom's place. I can see how he was a bit worried that some man might try to steal you away from him."

The flush of anger drained from Prudence's face. She felt suddenly exposed, as she realized hair had escaped from her bun, and was flying loose. She had dried paint on her hands, and smeared on her sweat pants. She knew she looked a mess, and yet this young man had paid her an enormous compliment. She felt her heart thudding in her chest.

"What you said," she gasped, weakly. "That's not flirting?"

Bobby grinned. "I'm just being honest," he said with a shrug. "Of course, if you think it's flirting, then I s'pect it is, Ma'am. You were right pretty as a bride. Still are, as far as I'm concerned. I guess I am flirting just a little, no offense."

"But I can't help what I look like!" she moaned.

"Exactly," said Bobby, putting the lid back on the paint can. "You were just being you. Personally ... I think it was Harry who read all that stuff into your actions. I said what happened might be partly your fault, but the other part was his. He could have talked to you. He could have offered to fight his brother for you. He could have done a lot of things, but he didn't have to go off and get himself killed."

"But he did it because of me!" she whined.

"No, Ma'am," said Bobby. "He did it because of what he THOUGHT you were doing. Was there any chance that you'd be unfaithful to him, with his brother?"

"NO!" yelled Prudence.

"Then he went off and killed himself over nothing ... didn't he?"

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