In the morning, he woke up still thinking about her. He was so engrossed in his thoughts that he didn't even yell at Brit for taking the bathroom before him. Their bathroom separated their two bedrooms, and was not otherwise accessible from the hall. Lissa, being the oldest, had one to herself. Brit had never quite gotten it into her bratty head that since she took at least three times as long in there as Jeff did, that he should be allowed to take his shower first. She almost treated it like a contest, to see who could get in it first. And since both doors locked from the inside, he had no choice but to wait for her.
He headed instead downstairs for breakfast, though he wasn't particularly hungry. He ate in silence, still thinking about Allison.
His father watched him, wondering about his thoughts. Jeff had taken the loss of his mother surprisingly well. Lissa had adopted a mature attitude about it, Brit had cried several times, but Jeff seemed to just shrug it off. He rarely spoke about it, but then, he rarely spoke about anything. The boy liked to read, play computer games, and watch TV. He wasn't much of a social person.
Still, there was nothing unusual about that. He just seemed particularly quiet this morning.
Lissa joined them a few minutes later, then Brit, with a cheerful smile on her face. It was the type of smile that was just meant to annoy Jeff, knowing that he was probably mad at her for taking the bathroom first. But he just ignored her and continued to eat in silence. Brit seemed almost taken aback that he wasn't trying to yell at her. One could always tell what Brit was feeling; she rarely tried to hide her emotions. When she had a good day, she beamed from ear to ear, and when she didn't, she scowled or cried. Today she just looked a little confused that Jeff wasn't trying to pick on her.
After breakfast he went back upstairs, took a shower, and got dressed. He finished just in time; the others were waiting for him so that their Dad could drive them to school. That used to be their mother's job, until she had left. Now Dad had taken over. It worked out fine; that left him plenty of time to head downtown to his office.
All through school, Jeff continued his pensive mood. He didn't listen to the lectures, he didn't look embarrassed about being chosen last again for teams in P.E. class and he didn't even try to sneak glasses at Kari Williams when he thought she wasn't looking. People observing him might have thought he was depressed, but in fact it was just the opposite. He was actually happier than he had been since his mother had left.
He boarded the bus after school, so lost in thought that he actually sat down next to Brit, who had gotten on earlier when the bus made its stop at the elementary school. Despite the fact that she was his sister, he never sat by her, mainly because he didn't enjoy her company. "Ew, get away from me!" she complained teasingly, making it clear that she didn't enjoy his company either. But he made no move to change seats.
They had only started riding the bus home this year; their mother had faithfully picked them up from school every single day since they had started going to school. Jeff didn't particularly like riding the bus, but there was nothing to do about it now. Unless Allison...
Once again his thoughts returned to her, not that they had every really left. She was going to take the place of their mother now. That was both exciting and a little strange. He wondered if she would start picking them up from school. Wouldn't that be fun, to see the looks on his friends' faces when he got into the car with that gorgeous woman! He couldn't help smiling a little at that.
The bus then headed to the high school, which was just down the street. Lissa joined them, though she had to sit across the aisle from them this time. Normally she sat with either Jeff or Brit, depending on her mood that day. Since Jeff was not talking and Lissa was too far away from Brit to make any kind of conversation, the girls remained as silent as him.
Tuesday he was a little better, and by Wednesday he was back to his usual self, talking again with Lissa and his dad, picking fights with Brit, and actually advancing the pages in the current book that he was reading. There were only so many things one could think about a particular subject, even when that subject was a beautiful woman. And Jeff had just about exhausted all of the possible thoughts.
When his father came home that night, he had Jeff help him carry in the bags of groceries, which were mostly the food for their picnic and some last-minute things for Thanksgiving. Greg had decided that they would make submarine sandwiches with the works, so he had bought half a dozen different types of deli meats, four different kinds of cheeses, and of course, sourdough French bread, which was Brit's favorite. He then sat down with the three of them and made plans for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Even if it hadn't been Thanksgiving weekend, he still would have spent his days with them. Greg had made a decision since his wife had left that he would never work another weekend, since the kids were now seeing their parents less than before. Saturday and Sunday he reserved for his family.
On all three days, the plan was to leave at 9:00 in the morning and drive up into the mountains. Fortunately, in northern California where they lived, the weather was mild enough even in November to picnic in the mountains, and furthermore, the weather report said that it was going to be unusually warm this weekend, with no chance of snow. There was a nice picnic spot that they used to go to all the time with their mother, but it was at least a three hour drive away. Since the whole point was to give Allison time to be together with one of the kids, it worked out perfectly. Jeff, of course, didn't relish spending that much time in the car with Brit, but then, spending the next day alone with Allison would be more than enough reward for the ordeal.
That night, Greg had the children help him cut up vegetables, chop lettuce, slice the bread, and put it all in plastic bags to be assembled on-site. They also prepared a few things for Thanksgiving dinner in advance. It was actually kind of fun, especially with the anticipation to keep their excitement level high. For about half an hour, Jeff even completely forgot all about Allison.
Then they had dinner, finished their homework, watched TV, and finally went to bed. Allison returned to his dreams again that night, and he slept happily.
When he woke up the next morning, he could hear voices talking downstairs. It sounded like Allison! Trying not to seem too eager, he forced himself to shower and dress like he usually did, fighting back the urge to run down the stairs right away. Only after he finished making himself look as presentable as possible did he slowly and, at least outwardly, calmly make his way downstairs.
Greg, Allison, and Lissa were in the kitchen, about to put the turkey in the oven. As before, Allison looked absolutely stunning, though this time somewhat less formal than before. She wore a plain green tee-shirt and jeans that made her look a lot younger than she was, especially with her hair tied back in a ponytail. Of course, the apron that she had borrowed while working with the food made her look five years older, so in the end it all evened out. When Allison saw him, she came over and gave him a hug, which thrilled him so much that he couldn't help but grin.
"Looks like someone enjoys Thanksgiving," she said upon seeing that grin.
"Oh, Jeff likes anything to do with food," said his Dad, but Lissa flashed Jeff a knowing glance.
"As it turns out," said Allison, "your father doesn't have the faintest idea how to cook a turkey. That happens to be a specialty of mine, so I figured I could help out there. And Lissa's got to learn too, to carry on the tradition some day. It's just too bad you weren't up a little earlier or you could have learned as well."
Right now, Jeff was happy to learn absolutely anything from her, as long as it meant spending time with her.
When Brit joined them a little later, they all set to work on the various dishes that they would eat that afternoon. Thanksgiving in the Primdale household was no small affair, even when it was kept in the family. Candied yams, three different kinds of pickles, squash, salad, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, green beans in cheese sauce, cranberries, and some of the cheeses that they had bought for the picnic all complemented the meal. Instead of the usual packaged stuffing, Allison had prepared a real stuffing inside the turkey using her not-so-secret recipe. Seasoned with rosemary, thyme, sage, and several other herbs, it soon filled the house with a wonderful aroma.
"So do you like to cook then?" Lissa asked her as they were cutting up some more vegetables for a salad.
"I love it. It's nice to go out to a restaurant, of course, but there's always a little worry that I may never taste that particular food again. What if the restaurant shuts down, for instance? Or what if they change their menu? It's not enough to spoil the meal, but the thought just makes me a little sad. If I cook it myself, though, I know that I can have it again any time I want. I don't know if I'm making sense or not--"
"Oh, you're making perfect sense," Lissa agreed. She was liking Allison more and more with every minute she spent with her. The Primdales' mother had been a decent cook, but she never really enjoyed it. Lissa was taking a Home-Ec class in school and learning to cook because her mother had never really had the motivation to teach her. If Allison could teach her, that was a big point in her favor.
Soon there was nothing left to do but wait for the turkey to finish, so they all retired to the living room to talk. This was really the first time the kids had the chance to learn about her, so she was happy to tell them about herself. She mentioned how she used to teach math in high school, and would be happy to give them private tutoring if necessary (Jeff wondered for a moment whether anyone would catch on if his math grades suddenly began to slip and he needed the tutoring). Her father was an ex-Army officer, a real outdoors type, and would often take them on camping trips while they were growing up. She learned to enjoy the outdoors, and offered to take them all camping the next summer. She also liked photography; in fact, she had considered majoring in it in college and becoming a professional. But she decided she was too much of a nerd (Jeff laughed out loud when she said this) and decided on Math instead. Greg was interested to hear that she liked photography, as it was one of his own hobbies. His children had all posed for him at one time or another, and he had their portraits on some of the walls. Allison had taught high school for a couple of years, then lost her job. When the children asked her why, she merely said that she did something she shouldn't have, but she would not elucidate further. She also had a little sister named Rachael who had just graduated high school and was starting her first year of college. Greg suggested she come to visit some time, and Allison replied that she thought Rachael would love it.
The question came up again as to why she and their father were getting married, but she gave the same answer as before: to help him get over his ex-wife. Greg added that she had been very clear from the beginning that the two of them weren't in love, that it was simply a way for them both to get what they wanted.
"But now that I've met all of you," she smiled, "I'm happy that I'm going to go through with it. I'll admit that I was nervous at first, but now I almost feel like a part of this family already. You've all made me feel so welcome."
"Except me," mumbled Lissa with a frown.
"You too," Allison insisted. "You said yourself that you're just cautious, but actually I'm glad. Because you're willing to state your true feelings, I feel I can trust you. And because you're so smart for your age, you're a person I can talk to."
Lissa couldn't help smiling at the compliment.
She talked to the kids to find out what kinds of activities they enjoyed doing, making a mental list of the ideas for the next few days. Even though she knew she was under the microscope, she figured she might as well make it fun.
Once again, Allison reiterated what she wanted her role in the house to be. "Even though I'm marrying your father, I don't want you to think of me as his wife, or your mother. What I want is just to be a part of the family, like any of you. If it helps to think of me as a big sister, that's fine. I know that sometimes I'm going to have to take on motherly responsibilities, but I don't want you to think of me as some kind of authority figure. You've already got your dad for that. I'd rather just be your friend. And I want you to be open and honest with me. I'm bound to make mistakes, but I hope you'll be willing to help me correct them, okay?"
"Okay!" said Brit and Jeff enthusiastically, and Lissa nodded.
"So, since you're just a friend," said Jeff, "do you want to go downstairs and shoot some pool?"
"I'm afraid I'm not very good at it," she replied.
"That's okay, Jeff isn't either," Brit giggled.
"Shut up!" he told her.
"Kids, let's not act up when Allison's here," Greg said firmly.
"Why not?" asked Brit. "She's part of the family, so she might as well know what we're like."
"That's enough, Brit."
"So do you like playing pool, Brit?" asked Allison.
"What about you, Lissa?"
"Okay, so why don't we do teams? That way I won't feel so self-conscious."
"Can I be on your team?" asked Brit. Jeff was about to say something, but held his tongue. In truth, he was going to ask the same thing, but unfortunately he couldn't afford to sound as enthusiastic as his little sister. Well, it really didn't matter.
"That's fine, dear," Allison replied. "What do you say, Lissa?"
The five of them headed downstairs to the rec room. Greg sat in one of the couches, just watching. Jeff explained the rules of the game and demonstrated how to shoot. He helped her take a few practice shots, adjusting her hands and posture (and she was very nice to touch) until she got the hang of it. Then they racked up the balls and started the game.
Jeff and Lissa won, of course. With Allison's inexperience and Brit's lack of skill, it wasn't even a contest. Then Allison suggested they switch teams, asking Jeff if he would mind a beginner like her on his team. He agreed immediately.
This game was much closer. Allison was learning well; she even sank a few balls, though she also scratched a couple of times. Lissa and Jeff were about evenly matched, so in the end it came down to whoever sank the 8-ball first. Miraculously, it was Allison. It took everyone by surprise, herself included. She was so excited that she grabbed Jeff and gave him a big hug. He seemed more startled by that than he had been by her winning shot, and spent the next few minutes in an apparent daze.
Then they switched teams again, and this time it was a disaster. With Jeff and Brit on the same team, it was only a matter of time before the whole thing blew up in their faces. They were only five minutes in when Brit missed an easy shot, Jeff called her an idiot, and she burst into tears and ran upstairs crying.
"I'll handle this," said Allison, and followed her.
The three remaining people stood in silence. Jeff was mad; his bratty little sister shouldn't have been so sensitive in the first place. And it really was a dumb shot. But everyone else was probably blaming him for it when it was her fault.
Ten minutes later, Brit and Allison returned. Though Brit's eyes were still a little red and puffy, she wore a smile on her face.
"How did you...?" Greg asked, astounded.
"Simple," Allison replied. "I just asked her to tell me all of the things Jeff does that show that he loves her."
"And she actually had an answer?" asked Lissa.
"You'd be surprised at how long the list was," Allison said. "It brought back a lot of happy memories for her. Believe it or not, Jeff does love Brit, and she loves him. And a little argument like this isn't going to change that. Now Jeff, I want you to do something for me."
"I want you to tell Brit why it wasn't her fault for missing that shot."
"Don't argue. Just tell her."
"Fine. Brit, it wasn't your fault for missing the shot because you didn't do it on purpose. Sometimes it just happens, even to the best pool players in the world. Okay?"
Brit nodded. Then she came over and threw her arms around him. "Thank you, Jeff," she said.
Jeff just rolled his eyes. "You're welcome," he mumbled.
After that they were all friends again. They decided not to play any more pool, which was just as well, because the two younger kids were likely to get into another fight. Fortunately, the turkey was getting close to being finished by this point, so the family headed back upstairs.
Allison insisted on changing her clothes; since it was a formal meal she wanted to look a little more formal. Greg agreed, and told the children to dress up as well. Grudgingly, they headed upstairs to change.
The dinner was excellent. Allison had done a wonderful job with the turkey; it was moist and flaky, slicing easily and almost melting in the mouth. The rest of the food was delicious as well. Surprisingly, Jeff and Brit didn't fight at all, but were very polite to each other. Maybe it was the formal attire. Perhaps it had a subconscious effect on their manners. Or maybe it was just that they were both embarrassed about fighting in front of Allison and didn't want to do it again.
After dinner they headed back out to the living room, but after such a big meal nobody was in the mood to talk. They just wanted to sit there and rest.
Allison was the first one to fall asleep. As she was sitting next to Greg, she lay her head down on his shoulder and closed her eyes. Five minutes later they could hear her heavy breathing.
It was contagious, almost hypnotic, and one by one the rest of them drifted off to sleep as well.
Later that evening they went over the plans for tomorrow. Allison would go home tonight and come back at 8:30. Greg and the children would leave at 9:00 and return some time before dinner. They would repeat it Saturday and Sunday as well.
It was getting late, so Allison kissed Greg goodnight, gave each of the children a hug, and drove home. Greg insisted that the children go to bed early so as to be able to get up on time, so they all went upstairs to their rooms, excited for the days ahead of them.
Lissa was the first to wake the next morning. She went through her morning ritual of showering, dressing, and doing her hair, all the time thinking about everything that had happened in the last week. Despite her misgivings, she did like Allison. She thought the woman was intelligent and charming, exactly the type of person she would want for a mother. In fact, the reason she hadn't immediately jumped at the chance was that she thought it was too good to be true. Why did this family deserve someone as perfect as that? Was there some higher force at work? Was it luck? Or was she just reading too much into it? Her dad had admitted she was marrying him for his money, which explained her motivation, and one needed only to look at Allison to see his motivation, so maybe that was all there was to it. The only question left was how she would treat the three of them, and today she would have her answer.
She was the first one downstairs for breakfast, so she just poured herself a bowl of cold cereal. Sometimes her Dad liked to make pancakes and eggs on the weekends, but there wouldn't be time today. She knew him too well; even if she offered to do the cleanup, he would insist that today was her day and that she shouldn't have to do any of that kind of work.
The others joined her a little later, and they talked about the upcoming trip. Surprisingly, Jeff and Brit hardly argued. Maybe they were learning to get along after all. Or maybe they were just too excited to fall into their usual roles. Their dad opened the fridge and loaded the goods from last night into a large cooler.
Allison showed up at 8:30. Jeff, of course, rushed to answer the door. Lissa was not surprised; it was obvious he was smitten with her. Last weekend and all Thursday she had caught him staring at Allison, especially from behind. Well, Allison did have a little swing to her step that boys might find sexy. In fact, there really wasn't a single thing about her that boys wouldn't find sexy.
Of course, that was another reason why Lissa was a little wary. If it was a phase that he would get over, fine, but it wasn't the healthiest thing for a boy to have a crush on his stepmother.
That couldn't be helped, however. It wasn't Allison's fault for looking the way she did. Lissa decided that she would ignore that point when making her decision; she would decide solely on the basis of Allison's merits, not on the reactions of people that she couldn't control.
As usual, the woman looked absolutely perfect this morning. She wore a pastel blue button-down blouse, a navy blue jacket, a pair of denim jeans, and white tennis shoes. She wore her hair down like she had before, which suited her well.
"Hi, Jeff," she greeted cheerfully. "Are you guys all ready for your picnic?"
"Sure. It's just too bad you're not coming along."
"Oh, I'm sure I'll have plenty of opportunities. Maybe I can convince your dad to take us all camping next summer."
"That sounds like fun."
"Well, may I come in?"
"Oh, sorry. Of course."
She stepped into the house. Upon spotting the others in the dining room, she came over and sat down next to them.
"You look lovely, Allison," said Greg with a smile.
"Thanks," she beamed. "You're all ready for your picnic, I see," she said, indicating the open cooler.
"We're going to have a lot of fun, aren't we, kids?"
"Yes we are, even if Brit's coming along," said Jeff. Brit slapped him on the shoulder, a pouty look on her face.
"Okay, let's not start that just yet," Greg told them. "No fighting until we leave the house."
"Fine, but then we get to make up for it," Brit said, and Greg rolled his eyes.
"You see what I have to put up with around here?" Greg asked.
"Well, maybe I can do something about that," Allison replied.
"If you can get Brit and Jeff to stop fighting, it will be a miracle."
Eventually 9:00 came around, and Greg had Jeff help him carry the cooler out to the van, then they came back inside to say their goodbyes. Allison kissed Greg, then hugged Jeff and Brit. Jeff was ecstatic, Lissa noticed, not that that was surprising. Then the three of them climbed into the van.
As soon as her Dad drove off with Jeff and Brit, Lissa turned to Allison. "Okay, so what are we going to do now?"
"That's up to you," said Allison. "What are your favorite things to do?"
"Well, I like to go shopping," she said. "Mom always used to take me shopping."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Allison said. "I didn't mean to bring up any painful memories."
"Never mind that. Those days are over, and it's time to put it behind me and start making new memories."
"Sounds like you're facing this with the right attitude. Good for you. So let's see... Do you think you could accept a rain check on the shopping for a while? At least until you've decided whether to keep me. I like to shop too, sometimes too much. I'd probably end up spending a lot of money on you, and I don't want to seem like I'm buying your vote."
Lissa nodded. "That makes sense," she said. Allison was actually pretty smart. Once again Lissa wondered why she and Greg were getting married.
"So what's your favorite thing to do around the house?" asked Allison.
"Um, the hot tub?"
"You have a hot tub?" Allison exclaimed with delight. "Perfect! Where is it?"
"Downstairs in the rec room."
"Oh, your father showed me the rec room, but I didn't see the hot tub."
"He had it installed a couple of years ago. It's in an alcove to the side."
"Come on, then."
Lissa led Allison down to the rec room and pointed out the accordion-fold plastic screen in the wall opposite the entertainment center, hiding a separate section of the room. Lissa unlatched it and drew it to the side, revealing a room with a hot tub. The tiled floor was lowered about six inches to keep any accidental spills from seeping into the carpet. In one side of the alcove, a door opened up to a small bathroom with a shower. It actually had a second door leading out to the main section of the rec room so that people wouldn't need to open the screen in order to use it. In the other side of the alcove were cupboards full of towels, and a broom closet with a mop. Lissa's Mom had one rule about using the hot tub-- that the people who used it had to mop up any water that got on the floor.
Allison took off her jacket and tossed it on one of the nearby chairs. Then she began to unbutton her blouse.
"Er... what are you doing?" asked Lissa.
"I'm taking my clothes off," Allison explained casually. "You wouldn't want me to get in fully clothed, would you?"
"We... usually use the bathroom to change," she said, pointing to it.
Allison glanced at the door, then back at Lissa. "Oh. Well, it would be kind of pointless since I don't have a swimsuit."
"What?" Lissa asked. Then she remembered that Allison hadn't brought anything with her when she came over.
"Let me guess," said Allison. "You were going to put your swimsuit on, right?"
"Well that won't do at all. My family had a hot tub too. My sister Rachael and I would always go naked in it when it was just us girls, ever since we were kids. It's no big deal, really."
"I don't know..."
"Come on, Lissa. It feels so much better that way. Tell you what. You try it, just this once. If you don't like it, you can go put your swimsuit on, then I'll never bug you about it again."
"Oh, all right," she agreed.
Still a little self-conscious, she began to undress as well. She tried not to look at Allison, but couldn't help stealing at least one glance once the woman was fully nude. Allison's body seemed every bit as perfect as her face. Her boobs were fully developed, but quite firm. She had a slender waist that gave her a graceful curve. It was that curve, perhaps, that added that bit to her walk that Jeff found so sexy, though Lissa didn't really understand her brother's fascination with staring at a woman's rear end. Then she noticed something else that surprised her. Allison had no hair between her legs.
Lissa didn't think it polite to mention it, so she kept silent as she finished undressing herself. She felt all-too exposed in front of this strange woman.
It didn't help that Allison seemed not the least bit bashful. "Come on, then," she said, "let's have a look at you."
"What?" Lissa demanded, throwing her arms around herself.
"Oh, don't be shy," said Allison. "Here. You can look at me first if you want." She faced Lissa directly and put her hands on her hips.
"Why would I want to look at you?" asked Lissa, starting to grow red.
"Because you're way too uncomfortable. Let's just look at each other's bodies, get it over with, and then you can focus on more important things, like enjoying the bath."
Still hesitantly, Lissa turned her head and gazed at Allison's nude body. As she looked, she realized that it really was just silly on her part to feel that embarrassed about it. If Allison was all right about it, Lissa might as well be too. She dropped her hands to her sides and let the woman see her.
"There, now, that wasn't so bad, was it?" asked Allison.
"I suppose not."
"Good. There's no need to be ashamed of your body. Especially when you have a body like yours. I'll bet all the boys at school are dying to see it."
"Allison!" said Lissa, growing red again.
"What? For a girl your age, you've got a great body, and you're really pretty, too. If I know teenage boys, I'm sure they all have their fantasies about you."
"Come on, Allison. You're embarrassing me."
"Oh, all right. If you don't want to talk about boys, we don't have to. So let's get in the tub."
As it turned out, Lissa's apprehensions turned out to be unfounded. It really did feel nice to soak there in the water, completely unrestrained by any kind of clothing.
The two of them sat and talked about nothing in particular. Later Lissa couldn't even recall the topic of conversation; she just remembered that Allison was really easygoing and nice to talk to. She was intelligent, but so was Lissa, so they seemed to get on very well together.
"So what's the story with Jeff and Brit?" Allison asked her at one point.
Lissa shrugged. "They've been teasing each other and fighting since they were kids. Brit can really be a brat sometimes, and Jeff just encourages her. Mom and Dad have been trying to get them to stop for years, and it hasn't worked yet."
"Sounds like they just need to learn to have fun together," Allison commented.
"Good luck on that."
"So what about you, Lissa? You seem to be the peacemaker of this family. Both Jeff and Brit like you."
"I just... I just suppose it's up to me to be the mature one. Especially now that they don't have a mother any more. I can't afford to play those childish games."
"I'm sorry, Lissa. This whole thing must have been particularly hard on you. You've had to grow up too fast. Jeff and Brit could always come to you when they needed someone, but you had no one you could go to with your problems."
"I have Dad."
"I know, but there are some things that parents can't do for you. You need someone like a big brother or sister. I hope that even if you decide you don't want me in this family, you can still think of me as a friend, and come to me whenever you need to talk to someone."
"You would still be willing to do that even if I decided against you?"
"If you decided against me, I wouldn't be mad. A little sad, maybe, but I would respect your decision, and I would still want to be your friend. Whatever your decision, I don't think I could ever let you guys go completely, now that I know what you're like."
"But I do want you in this family," said Lissa. "That's just it. I think you're perfect."
"Me? Perfect? Hardly."
"Well then at least you're very good at hiding your flaws. But that's the problem. We've just gone through a tough time. Why should things suddenly turn around just like this? It sounds too good to be true."
"But it is true, Lissa. I promise you that. I think I'm falling in love with this family. I would never do anything to hurt any of you."
Lissa just stared at her for a moment. "No, I don't think you would," she said. "It's not about that. I just think... things just don't get this good so suddenly."
"I'm not sure I understand."
"I'm not sure I do either. What if... what if in three months you get hit by a car and die? What if Dad decides after all that he doesn't want to marry you? A lot of things can go wrong, and I would hate to get my hopes up just to have it all fall apart."
"And you think that because everything seems to be perfect right now, something has to come along and spoil it. You're just afraid of what that might be. Right?"
"Well, sort of."
"Lissa, first of all, I don't believe in any sort of cosmic justice. Things just happen when they happen. Bad and good. Besides, even if there is some kind of justice, maybe my showing up is to counterbalance your mother leaving. I think you've learned to accept the bad things in life, and that's a sign of maturity. You've had to, for the sake of your siblings. But do you think, just maybe, you haven't learned yet to accept the good?"
Lissa thought about that for a minute. It did make some kind of sense. She had just been through a traumatic experience with her mother leaving, and she had learned to deal with it. But maybe she had dealt with it by becoming a bit of a pessimist, by not recognizing good things when they literally walked up to her front door.
But there was still something nagging her, something she had to know. "Tell me one thing," said Lissa. "You're smart, you're friendly and kind, you've got everything you need to have a good career. So why choose this other path?"
Allison nodded. "I can see there's no fooling you, Lissa. You're right, there's something in my past that I'm not proud of. I'm perfectly willing to tell you, but I never got the chance until now because I didn't want to mention it in front of the other kids. Jeff may be old enough to understand, but certainly not Brit. I believe you're mature enough to hear this, but do you really want to know? Even if it tarnishes your image of me?"
"Yes. I think it's important if I'm going to make the right decision."
"All right. In short, I was fired from my teaching job for having sex with one of my students."
"I know. It's not the sort of thing you want to hear. But you wanted the truth. So because of that one little indiscretion, I'll never be able to teach again, at least formally. So I decided to do something a little different, and marry a rich man. I looked for a recently divorced man and happened to hear about your father. When I did a little research, I found out that he had two teenagers and one preteen, and I decided this was perfect. After all, I like to be with kids your age. That's one of the reasons I started teaching in the first place, and that was the hardest thing for me to get over when I realized I wouldn't be able to teach again. Anyway, I was prepared to go through with my plan even if I hated the family, but it's turned out just the opposite of all my fears. You've all been so kind to me, I decided that this is what I really wanted. This is like a dream come true for me. So what do you think? Do you think I'm a terrible person?"
"Oh, Allison, of course I don't think you're terrible! I'm glad you were willing to share that with me, as painful as it is. Now I understand everything, and I know I can trust you."
"Thank you, Lissa. It means so much to me to hear you say that."
Lissa smiled. So there it was. She realized she had been looking for some kind of flaw, some imperfection in Allison. People were just not that perfect, and Lissa was afraid of discovering Allison's weaknesses later on down the road when it was too late. Ironic as it seemed, a lack of weakness was the only weakness Allison had. In Lissa's eyes it was all that the woman was missing. She needed to be human, to make mistakes. Without that, she wasn't real; she was just a fantasy. And that fantasy could end at any time. Now that she knew of Allison's past, Lissa could finally accept her.
Later, after they had gotten out of the hot tub and sat together on the couch continuing their conversation, Lissa knew there was something she had to tell her.
"Allison, I'm changing my vote from maybe to yes."
The woman's eyes lit up, and began to grow misty with tears. She threw her arms around Lissa and hugged her. "Oh, thank you!" she said, choking back the tears. "That means so much to me. I'll try my hardest to live up to your expectations."
"No, don't do that," said Lissa. "I just want you to be yourself. You're going to be with us for the rest of your life, after all, and I don't want you to have a nervous breakdown from trying to be perfect all the time. It's okay if you're not everything you seem. Nobody is."
"That's why I like you so much, Lissa. I'm the one marrying your father, and yet you've got more motherly wisdom than I do. Do you mind if I come to you for advice sometimes?"
"Only if I can come to you for advice too."
"It's a deal," Allison grinned. "And now, I have a great idea. Now that I already have your vote, you won't be able to accuse me of trying to buy it if we go shopping. What do you say?"
"Let's go," said Lissa enthusiastically.
They spent the rest of the day at the mall, visiting a multitude of stores. They had lunch at the new salad bar that had just opened up, and then got down to the serious task of shopping. Allison seemed to enjoy spending money on Lissa, but to keep it under control, she said she would match whatever Lissa spent on herself, which worked out well because when Lissa couldn't decide between two different blouses that she wanted to buy, she just bought one and Allison bought the other for her. In the end, Allison paid slightly more than Lissa did, but she said, "I won't tell anyone if you don't."
When they returned home, Greg and the other kids were already there. They had had plenty of fun themselves, although admittedly Jeff and Brit had fought a good portion of the time.
"I have an announcement to make," said Lissa. "I've decided I want Allison to join our family. So unless any of you have changed your minds, it looks like it's unanimous."
"Yay!" shouted Brit, running over and hugging her big sister.
"Remember, Lissa wasn't the only one who voted for me," said Allison. "I think your dad and brother deserve hugs too."
Brit immediately hugged Greg, then turned and looked at Jeff.
"Do I have to?" she asked.
"No," said Jeff. "You can settle for this instead." He immediately grabbed her and began to tickle her. She laughed and slapped him, then managed to get free and bolted out of the room.
The atmosphere was jovial as they all ate dinner together. They talked about their day, Lissa mentioning that they spent the morning in the hot tub but conveniently leaving out that they had been naked. Jeff and Brit talked about the picnic, and how nice the weather was, even in the middle of November. The weather was expected to stay that way all weekend, so they made no change to their plans. They would do exactly the same thing again the next day.
After dinner, Allison said she had to go home, to their disappointment. She gave them all hugs again and headed out the door. Jeff went to bed early, deciding that the sooner he fell asleep, the sooner his day with Allison would come.