Orchard Flower (Version Charlie)

by Lubrican

Chapters : Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8-16 Available On

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Chapter Three

That winter Buster died. He was curled up in his dog bed, and looked like he was still sleeping, but he was gone. He was old. They'd gotten him for Jill when she was four. He wasn't a puppy when they got him, but everybody kind of expected he had a couple more years left in him.

I was the one who noticed, because he always lifted his head and wagged his tail when I walked into the mud room, where his bed was. When he didn't, I investigated. I admit I freaked out a little bit. I'd never had a pet, and I'd never lost one.

But my freak-out was as nothing compared to Jill, who sobbed. I ended up holding her AND Lynne, who was also crying. We had a group hug for a good half hour. Then I disengaged myself and went about getting a grave dug. We had a little impromptu memorial service, where the women remembered things he'd done and talked about it and cried some more, but those were slightly happier tears. He'd been a good dog.

I lost it when I covered him up with dirt, and then it was the women holding me.

By this time I was a fairly accomplished mechanic, electrician and plumber. My tax business had expanded significantly. Agricultural operations are quite complicated when it comes to the tax code, and there weren't all that many people who wanted to specialize in that kind of service. The way I did things, I had my forty-seven agricultural clients give all their receipts and records to me and I kept them up to snuff so that when tax season got there the next year filing the return would be a piece of cake. I only had to spend maybe an hour a night keeping things up to date in the books I kept for them.

It was because of my contacts through taxes that I happened upon what I thought was the perfect birthday present for Jill. Her birthday fell right in the middle of apple harvest, which made it hard to give her a special day. Harvest took all our resources and we still had tons - literally - of waste. I kept thinking I should do some research into marketing the apples further out than we were, but I'd never gotten around to it.

Anyway, I was picking up receipts from one of my tax customers when I was almost bowled over by a very friendly black Labrador, who jumped up on me and left three bright red stripes of blood on my left arm, like I'd been attacked by that comic book character Wolverine.

"Damn dog!" yelled Don Rigsby, who ran the local co-op feed store. "I can't get him to settle down for shit! Everybody told me he'd be fine in a couple of years, but he's three now and I swear he acts more like a puppy every day. I can't spend the time with him it would take to train him up right." He looked at my arm, concerned. "Let me get you something to clean that up."

"It will stop eventually," I said. I'd been cut, scraped, nicked and bruised countless times by now. I rarely put anything on an injury. I might wash it off, but that was about it. The dog sat, tongue lolling from his mouth, bright eyes on me. Then he started jumping up on me again. It was almost like he had waited for me to pet him, but I took too long, so he reminded me again.

"I'm really sorry," said Don. "If he keeps that up I'm gonna have to put him down. I can't have him hurting customers."

"You can't kill him just because he wants attention," I objected.

"I can't leave him alive if he's going to get me sued," he said. "He needs to be out somewhere where he can run some of that energy off."

And that comment was what got me thinking about Jill, and her birthday, which was about two months away.

Which is how coincidence brought me to end up with a black Lab named Duke in the back seat of my car when I left the feed store. Once Don got the chance to get rid of a problem dog, he wouldn't wait for her birthday to get closer. He even threw in a hundred pounds of dog food in the bargain. Duke the black Lab would end up being an important mover and shaker in our lives, but I'll go into that later.

By this time I was making what for me was a comfortable living on my tax business.

Which is why, after the apple harvest was over that year and things settled down, I tried to pay Lynne rent one day. It happened to be just before breakfast. Why that was important will be explained later.

"You don't owe me rent," said Lynne.

"But I live here," I said, needlessly.

"For which you pay me by working," she said. "If anything, I should be paying YOU. Your labor is worth a lot more than just room and board."

"Nonsense," I snorted. "I'm homeless, and you're being kind."

She snorted. "If I didn't know better I’d SWEAR you were trying to get me in bed, Bob MacAllister."

That was out of the blue, until I remembered another time when she'd said something like that. That time I had stuck my foot in my mouth and she hadn't talked to me for a couple of days. Jill had patched things over, though. So I probably should have just smiled mysteriously or something and left it at that. But oh no ... I just had to try to tease her.

"You sure do talk about sex a lot," I said.

"I do not!" she snapped.

"This isn't the first time you've accused me of trying to get in your jeans," I said confidently. I thought we had the kind of friendship by now that could sustain this kind of give and take. Guys do it all the time, and I felt like one of the guys, you know?

"That's not what I meant and you know it!" she said, her voice rising. "Besides, that was ... FOREVER ago!"

"It was just last year if I recall," I said, smiling.

This, gentlemen, is where a lot of men go wrong. They think they're being clever and witty and, if they actually WERE talking to another man, they might BE clever and witty. But I wasn't talking to a man, no matter how much I thought of her as one of the guys. And what a WOMAN hears in that situation is: "I remember you talking about having sex with me, and it sticks out in my mind enough that I think of it often. That should be obvious since I just brought it up."

And yes, I know she brought it up. But there's no traction in pointing that out, boys. Believe me. I know.

In other words, her comment, which was designed (by a woman) to put me in my place, was responded to by my comment (designed to put her in her place) which meant I was interested in having sex with her.

She blinked at me and her cheeks got darker. Her mouth opened and then closed, and then she licked her lips like they were dry or something. I remember all this now, but it didn't mean anything to me then.

"I see," she said. Her voice was kind of flat, without any emotion.

Just so you know, I didn't pick up on that either.

"Yeah," I said gleefully, digging my hole even deeper. "Sometimes I worry about you, cause you're obviously frustrated. Maybe you should think about getting laid."

I grinned widely with that guy-to-guy grin that is sometimes augmented with a wink.

Which is when Jill walked into the kitchen, it being breakfast time. She obviously heard the words "getting laid" because she gaily asked "Who's getting laid?"

We both turned to stare at her. Mine was a guilty stare, of course. Lynne's was astonished. I knew Jill had a generic sexual nature. Everybody does. But I don't think Lynne had really thought about it all that much, probably because Jill hadn't expressed any real interest in dating yet. Whenever she went out, it was always with a crowd of her friends from school. There were boys in the crowd, but there was no boy's name that came up in Jill's conversation other than as an identifier.

The way she tossed off that question, however, made it crystal clear that Jill not only had a sexual nature ... she was both knowledgeable AND comfortable about the vernacular used to refer to it. The word "laid" just sounded so bizarre rolling off her lips like that.

We stood staring so long that she finally realized there was something wrong. She didn't know she had simply shocked us.

"Well it's not me," she said, holding up both hands as if to ward us off. "I'm a virgin!"

That pretty much blew our minds too. Not that she was a virgin, but that she would just come right out with that information so blithely. I was one of the guys, but the guys don't talk about who is and isn't a virgin. Not unless they're trying to mess with somebody. Her mother and I kept staring. Our mouths were probably open.

"Honest!" said Jill, her voice rising. "I swear!"

Lynne recovered first.

"We weren't talking about you, dear," she said.

With typical teenage adaptation, Jill relaxed. The danger was gone and she was bullet proof again.

"Well that's good," she said, moving forward again and pulling out a chair. "So who WERE you talking about?"

The ease with which she asked the question was what gave me the hard-on. I swear it was. She was SO willing to engage in frank conversation about sex, even if it was gossip, that she just suddenly exploded into my head as a sexual being. She was a virgin, who was saying "Hey, I'm interested in sex! Let's talk about sex!" I was glad I was already sitting down. I favored loose trousers, rather than the tough (and tight) jeans the women usually wore, and that meant that my sudden boner would have announced itself rather obviously had I been standing.

Lynne and I were the only other ones there, so Jill just looked from one to the other of us, obviously interested to see which of us was "getting laid."

"Never mind," said Lynne, almost gasping. I think she, like me, was still grappling with how much Jill had grown up while neither of us were watching.

Jill sat down and leaned back, folding her arms under her breasts. I stared at them. When had they gotten that full? My eyes went to Lynne's, which were only a little larger, maybe.

"Are you and Bob having sex?" she asked, her voice completely serious.

Well there you go. That's a question that just isn't welcome in the circle of guys. Which is about the time I realized we weren't all guys. Which sounds stupid, except it really was a paradigm shift in the way I looked at both of them. You can't sit there with a boner and perceive them as "one of the guys" any longer. Not unless you want to contemplate whether or not you're gay, and that wasn't even a flicker in my mind.

"Of course not!" gasped Lynne.

For once I sat, silent.

Lynne looked over at me as if she expected me to back her up or something. My mouth finally came unglued, but I still have no idea why I said what I said, which was: "This is SO weird!"

"Oh," said Jill. It could have been my imagination, but she sounded vaguely disappointed. "Well who ARE you having sex with then?"

Man! This girl was just chock FULL of surprises that day.

Lynne just spluttered, and I thought she was going to have a stroke or something, so I tried to help.

"Jill, you're too young to be asking about this kind of stuff."

"No I'm not," she said firmly. "I'm at the perfect age for concerned adults in my life to guide my curiosity and urge to explore sex."

Now I was the one spluttering. I didn't feel any chest pains, but I knew something was seriously wrong with me. There had to be. This girl sounded so mature it was scary.

I'm not sure whether it was just Lynne's inner strength that finally burst up to the surface to take in a deep breath of air, or whether Jill's comments were like a slap in the face that woke her up, but she finally started communicating on a level that was more efficient.

"Honey," she said suddenly. "I'm perfectly happy to talk with you about your feelings, but it's really none of your business who I'm sleeping with."

"So you ARE sleeping with somebody," said Jill.

"No," said Lynne with a heck of a lot more patience than I would have believed she could have. "But even if I was, it's none of your business. And it's none of your business who Bob is sleeping with either. You can't go around asking people who they're sleeping with."

"You're not people," said Jill calmly. "You're my mother." She looked over at me and apparently thought I felt left out. "And Bob is ... " she looked confused for just a second or two, and then finished "Bob."

I wondered what that meant.

"Where did all this come from?" asked Lynne, who realized she was holding a half crushed box of Cheerios and set it down on the table.

"Where did what come from?" asked Jill.

"This talk about sex," said her mother.

Jill rolled her eyes and threw one hand out away from her body.

"I just came here for breakfast. YOU two were the ones talking about sex!"

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