Ambrose watched Barbara as they walked back to town. His watching quickly escalated to admiring.
This is the woman I will spend the rest of my life with.
For better or for worse.
For richer or for poorer.
In sickness and in health.
Till death do us part.
She looked at him. “Are you all right?”
I will vow my heart and my life to her and I will always honor that vow.
He tucked her long sideburns behind her ear. “So, what do you want to do when we get back to town?”
“Whatever you want.”
She fell into a long block of silence.
He smiled at the intent, serious expression on her face. Does she know how much I love her? Have I made it clear? Can she feel it in my touch? Can she hear it in my voice? Does she understand that when I say I love her I mean it with all my heart?
“We never did go out to eat with my dad.”
“Do you want to do that now?”
“If you’re game.”
He kissed the tip of her ear. “I’d be honored.” He stopped walking and pulled out his cell phone. “Where should I tell him to meet us?”
“The Gendarme Kicker Café.”
He frowned. “I don’t want to go there.”
“Ambrose. She won’t be there.”
“I know that. It’s just…I messed up so badly when we were there last time. I’m sure your father hasn’t forgotten it. I don’t want him to sit there thinking and remembering how much I hurt you.”
“He has seen us together since then. He knows that you won’t do that again. And so do I.” She stroked his hair out of his face. “Besides that, it’s time we put an end to that ghost. This is our city, not Elsie Vansing’s.”
His expression softened into a gentle smile. “You are an extraordinary young woman.”
“And you are a wonderful old man.”
“Ha! You brat.”
“You need a shower.”
Hidreth looked down at his sopping clothes and shrugged. “I was going to take care of that when I got home.”
“And, let me guess, you were planning to walk home.”
“Uhh. Yeah? I don’t want to sog up your car.”
“Figures. I swear, you’re trying to make yourself sick. Walking around in this kind of weather soaked to the skin. Into the shower. Now.”
“Whoa! Els, I don’t know if you haven’t noticed, but I didn’t exactly bring a change of clothes.”
“I was going to wash your clothes while you shower.”
He laughed. “Baby, I don’t take hour-long showers. I hop in, soap myself up, sing a little, rinse off, ta-da! All done.” He grinned playfully. “Ohh. I see. Now it makes sense. You’re trying to get me all naked. Whee-hoo!”
“You want to get me all naked, so we can—”
“I don’t know why you keep trying to put pervy thoughts into my head.”
He stopped. “Oh?”
She blushed. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I meant to say—-”
“—trying to make me—-”
“Elsie Vansing loves me.”
“—sound like an utter—”
“Elsie Vansing wants to get naked with me.”
“Am I wrong?”
“You’re incorrigible. That’s what you are.” She uncorked his hands from the doorframe and wrapped her arm around his waist. “And you aren’t wrong.”
“I want to ‘get naked’ with you, but not right now. Come on. Let’s get you to the bathroom.”
“Hm. Fair warning: I will need some help in taking my clothes off.”
She guided him to the bathroom. “All right. Lean just so against the counter. There.” She released him. “I’m sorry I don’t have any guy scented soaps in here. You’ll have to deal with baby’s breath blossom soap and lavender shampoo.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll deal. Elsie.”
A moment passed between them.
A moment full of unspoken words and undeniable heat.
Elsie’s ears burned as if he had whispered those words into them. She turned and left the room.
She closed the door and leaned back against it.
Hildreth waited several minutes.
He counted to three hundred and twelve.
She did not reenter the room.
He smiled slightly and removed his clothes.