I arrived just minutes before Rose breezed in the front door. Hugging her I asked, “Want help carrying in your things?”
We walked to her car. I grabbed the cage that housed Oscar, her gerbil. Rose brought him along to our mountain cabin where we planned to soak up the fall colors. Oscar probably didn’t give a hoot about the changing leaves, but he had to come along since Rose didn’t have a pet sitter.
I had just carried Oscar to Rose’s bedroom when someone knocked on the door. Rose looked at me.
“I’m not expecting anyone.”
Seconds later we were facing our brother, Chuck. He wasn’t alone. A slender black-haired woman stood beside him. Her white leather jacket was undoubtedly expensive and her make up was impeccable.
I spoke to Chuck. “You’re supposed to be in Europe.”
“Came home early. Aren’t you going to let us in?”
“Of course.” I caught Rose sneaking glimpses of the woman.
When they came inside, Chuck‘s friend looked around, wrinkling her nose. “How…quaint. I don’t see a spa.” She eyed Rose. “Are you the maid?”
Before we could answer, Chuck addressed Rose and I. “Leslie, meet my sisters Nadine and Rose. Girls, this is my fiancee, Leslie.”
Rose’s mouth gaped open. I kept my composure and extended my hand. “Hello.”
Leslie stared at my hand as if it was a snake, and limply shook my fingertips. “You must have been cleaning. You’re wearing your old rags.”
Self-consciously, I touched my worn sweater.
Chuck interrupted. “Leslie’s a photographer. She’ll be taking pictures of the autumn scenery while we’re here. It‘s okay if we stay, isn‘t it? I thought Leslie could bunk with one of you. I’ll take the couch.”
Rose nodded. “Nadine’s room is bigger. Leslie can stay there.”
I shot her a warning look.
Leslie sniffed. “I absolutely must sleep by a window, and I can’t lift my head from the pillow in the morning until someone brings me a cup of tea. And I hope you don’t snore.”
Chuck steered her toward the back yard. “Let’s look at the view.”
When they were out of earshot, Rose snorted. “Maybe a house will fall on her.”
I giggled. “We won’t be that lucky.”
We decided to join them outside. Leslie was bent at a funny angle underneath a tree, her camera pointed up.
I had to ask. “Isn’t that uncomfortable?”
She didn’t look at me. “Shh, I’m working.” The chill in the air wasn’t just from the autumn breeze.
My brother intervened. “She wants to get the sunset through the gold leaves.”
I wagged a finger at Chuck. “We‘re going back in, but we need to talk.”
When they returned, Leslie excused herself to the ladies room. About ten seconds later, we heard a scream that would have made a banshee envious. She came running back and grabbed Chuck. “There is a rat in this cabin. It’s in the bedroom.”
Rose’s look of concern turned to smiles as the realization spread across her face. “Is the rat in a cage?”
Leslie glared, not answering her.
I went and got Oscar. Leslie pointed at him, shuddering. “That’s the beast.”
“This is Oscar, Rose‘s gerbil. He’s a sweetheart.” I opened the cage and scooped him up.
“How revolting.” She backed down the hall, presumably to actually find the ladies room this time.
While she was gone, I cornered Chuck. “Why her?”
Chuck puffed up. “She’s beautiful.”
I had to give him that. “You’re over fifty. Why do you want to get married now?”
“That’s just it. When summer ended and fall arrived, it made me think. I realized I’m in the fall of my life, and I want a companion. She may not be what you think I need, but I want to marry her.” He set his lips. “Don’t judge.”
Choosing my words carefully, I spoke. “You’re a big boy. I’m not sure she’s right for you, but we’ll adjust.”
“Just get to know her.”
Rose took Oscar from me and smiled sweetly at Leslie who reappeared from the hallway. “I’ll put him back and shut the door so you won’t see him.”
Facing Leslie, I suggested, “Bring your camera out to the deck. It’s the perfect time to see deer.”
Just as we settled ourselves on the deck, a doe appeared. Leslie got a flawless shot. She had beauty and talent. Maybe Chuck was onto something. If he wasn’t, I couldn’t guarantee Oscar would remain out of sight.
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