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Endear You To Me

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Jessica and Franklin Black were surprised when Donald opened the door - Margery was usually on greeting duty as she was a bit more mobile.  The twins, taught to be aware of the physical infirmities of their older relatives, waited till the door was open all the way before dashing through in search of their aunt.

“Hi, Uncle Don,” Jessica greeted sheepishly, stepping inside and hugging the tall man.

“Hello, Jess.  Franklin.”  Donald shook Franklin’s hand; he wasn’t a big hugger.

“Hey, Uncle Don.”  Franklin jerked his thumb back out the door.  “I’m going to go grab the bags.  I’ll be right back.”

“So what’s she like?”  Jessica asked, kicking her shoes off into the pile next to the door.

“I have no idea to whom you are referring, dear,” Donald answered coyly.  He knew the entire family was curious about Brenda - he did not envy her the scrutiny she would face in the next few days, but he also knew Sharon wouldn’t let her get overwhelmed.

Jess spluttered in protest: “Uncle Don!”  Chuckling, Donald turned back towards the den; Jessica followed.  He lowered himself onto the couch and Jess perched in front of him on the large square wooden coffee table.  “Come on!  Give me the scoop!” she begged.

“Brenda is lovely - she really adores your Aunt, Jess.  And Sharon proposed to her, so she’s going to be family.”  Jessica felt her jaw drop; she was stunned.

“Wow.  That was kinda fast, wasn’t it?”

“They have known each other for nearly four years.  And they fit together well.  They’re in the kitchen with Margery getting the pies ready for the oven tomorrow.  Why don’t you go help your husband and then join them,” Donald suggested.

“Why aren’t you helping?”

“I was kicked out for stealing too many apples and sticking my fingers in the chocolate mousse.”  Jess gave him an arch look and he grinned.

“You’re terrible.”

“I try.” 

Brenda and Sharon were working diligently at their pie-making - Brenda peeling, coring and cutting apples, Sharon making pie crusts - when the first of the Raydor cousins arrived.  Two small dark haired children pounded into the kitchen screaming: “AUNT SHARON! AUNT SHARON!” at the top of their little lungs.

Brenda cocked her head and watched the two munchkins throw themselves at Sharon, heedless of the flour coating her hands and forearms.  She lifted both of them, sitting the curly haired little boy on the counter and slinging the girl onto her hip.  The children squealed as Sharon peppered their smiling faces with sloppy, silly kisses. 

“Someone’s the favorite,” Brenda murmured to Margery, who was ‘helping’ (aka chatting while the less arthritic did the food preparation).

“She has a peculiar magic,” Margery stated, stealing a piece of Honeycrisp from Brenda’s bowl.

“Could it be the hair?  I’ve always thought it could be the hair.”

Margery popped a bite of apple into her mouth and chewed contemplatively.  “It’s possible.”

“Does she have the same effect on teenagers?” Brenda wondered.

“Less effusive, but they appreciate the fact that she doesn’t talk down to them.”

“Huh.”  Brenda cranked the handle of the apple peeler a few times.  “So who are these munchkins?”

“Sam and Sarah - twins.  Jess and Franklin’s kids.  She’s closest to Jess and Alexandra, out of all the cousins.”  Brenda was aware of this; not only because Sharon had told her, but through the murmurs of Sharon’s halves of phone calls, and pictures in emails and tentative plans for summer visits.

“You think we could get everyone to wear name tags?” Brenda groused, cranking a little more vigorously on the apple peeler.

“But it’s so much more fun to watch you flounder, dear.”  Margery only laughed when Brenda pouted at her.

It was lucky that using the apple peeler didn’t require much concentration, because most of Brenda’s focus was on Sharon’s interaction with the twins.  She was guiding their little fingers in pressing dough into pie tins.  They had flour on their faces and on their once neat outfits, and their giggling was infectious and made Brenda’s heart swell.  Jess and Franklin hadn’t come looking for their offspring - Aunt Sharon must be an acceptable steward of children in the Raydor family.  Not a surprise, really.

Sharon looked up from the babies and caught Brenda staring.  Their eyes met and they shared a significant look and a smile.  Even separated by the counter, Brenda felt very connected to Sharon just then - after the ring and the moment they had made for themselves on the quay - beyond the potency of their eye contact, these threads of awareness, of knowing, pricked at her skin and made her shiver.

Back in their room, Brenda had found a number of excited messages from Charlie, wanting to know the particulars of the proposal and the ring.  Brenda guessed she could tell Charlie about the conversation on Saturday - Sharon’s incredibly detailed proposal probably wouldn’t be very romantic to a 19 year old (it gave Brenda a thrill that Sharon had been thinking about all those things, and she suspected it always would).  She certainly wasn’t going to tell Charlie just how Sharon had given her the ring.  That was just for them - like the circumstances of their first date was just for them.  Brenda had replied, promising pictures of the holiday soon and more details about her engagement when Charlie came to visit in January.

Sharon, still looking at Brenda, leaned in and whispered something in Sam’s ear.  He giggled, his little hands flying to his mouth and looked over at Brenda.  He grinned at her and waved.  Brenda waved back.

“You think she’s tellin’ secrets about me?” Brenda faux whispered to Margery.

“Probably,” Margery affirmed.

“Shari, are you tellin’ tales on me?”

“Maybe,” purred Sharon.  “I’m pretty sure you deserve it, though.”

“And I’m pretty sure you’re causin’ trouble, missy.”  Brenda scolded, waggling a finger at Sharon.  Both the kids laughed and Sharon stuck her tongue out at the blonde across the island, causing Sam and Sarah to squeal with glee, Brenda to giggle in absolute delight, and Margery to roll her eyes.

“Sharon Marie!” she barked at her playful daughter, her own eyes twinkling.  “Don’t stick your tongue out at your fiancé!”  She turned to Brenda.  “Are you sure you want to marry her, Brenda?”

“Oh, yes,” Brenda answered breathlessly, too charmed by Sharon’s interactions with Sam and Sarah to play along with Margery.  Margery chuckled, and Brenda blushed, but Sharon was beaming at her, so Brenda smiled back, eliciting grins and chortles from the children.

Jessica followed the sounds of her children’s laughter to the kitchen and paused a moment in the door to watch.  Sam and Sarah had been eagerly anticipating Thanksgiving with Aunt Sharon since the last time they had seen her - a visit to LA in August.  It had been much the same for Jess as a child; spending holidays with Sharon and Jackson and Margot were some of her fondest memories.  Nearly all the cousins loved Sharon, and they were all nervous about the new significant other.  Sharon was special to so many of them for so many reasons, and she deserved someone as amazing as she was.

Even though Sam and Sarah and Sharon were lightly dusted in flour, Jess was heartened by the scene in the kitchen.  Everyone was all smiles, including the slight woman standing next to Margery.  Flaxen curls were piled messily on top of her head, a few tendrils framing a pretty, angular face.  Her broad mouth was curled up in a grin, and a pair of liquid coffee eyes sparkled merrily at the antics of Sharon and the children.  The diamonds on her finger shone as brightly as her eyes, and proclaimed her status - the whole family knew that ring, and many had coveted it.  Beatrice’s ring wasn’t quite an heirloom, but it was piece of Raydor history that had been bequeathed to Sharon upon Beatrice’s death, and had been sought after by sons of the family for the fingers of their brides ever since.

Sam caught sight of her first.  “Mommy! he screeched.  “We’re making pies!”  Jess almost admonished the four year old for volume control, but he was excited, and she didn’t want to spoil the mood.

Sharon looked up at Jess and smiled.  It was a familiar expression, but different, somehow, than the smile she had known for 29 years; like it came easier - perhaps Sharon didn’t have to disengage her brain in order for the smile to effect her whole face.

“Hi, Jess,” she greeted, and Jessica entered the kitchen to kiss her aunt on her floury cheek.  Sharon smelled like she always did - clean skin and a faint tang of pool chemicals.  Jess wanted to hug her, but she was wary of the white dust that liberally coated her aunt’s forearms and obscured the deep blue of her shirt.

“Hi to you, too.  I see you’ve already made a mess of my children.”

“You sound as if you expected something else?” Sharon sassed, with a wink to her little coconspirators.   

“I guess I should know better by now,” Jess sighed resignedly.  “Can I help?”

“We’re almost through, actually.  The pumpkin filling is in the fridge, chilling with the chocolate mousse.  As soon as Brenda finishes with those apples…”

“Hey now, ya’ll keep stealing the finished product,” Brenda protested.  Jessica was struck by the blonde’s soft drawl.  “But I’m almost done - this is the last apple.”

“Brenda, this is Jessica Black, my cousin,” Sharon proffered, and Brenda gave the tall, sable haired woman a wave; no handshakes with sticky hands.  “Jess, this is Brenda Johnson, my fiancé.”

“Nice to meet you, Brenda.”  The smart remark Jess was going to make about Brenda already being put to work was forestalled by Franklin darting into the kitchen.

“Heads up, the Ice Queen cometh” he hissed, then smirked at the sight of his children.  Jess had bath duty tonight.  Lucky her. 

“Franklin!” his wife admonished, but Franklin was of the mind that the moratorium on unflattering nicknames around little pitchers (with big ears and bigger mouths) should be suspended when it concerned Constance Raydor.  Maybe a little actual offense, beyond that which she manufactured out of the most innocuous of circumstances, would keep Constance away from family functions with more regularity.

The mood in the kitchen deflated a bit; Sharon helped Sam and Sarah cut dough into strips for lattice, Brenda tossed the apples with a bit of lemon juice to prevent them from browning, and Jess, despite Sharon’s assertions, took up the recipe card from Margery and set about mixing the spices for the apple pie filling.

While they were taking their leisure on the quay, Sharon had related a bit about Constance - the second wife of her late uncle - to Brenda.  A wholehearted east coast WASP, while marriage to Sean Raydor II had mellowed Constance a bit, widowhood had magnified her less desirable traits.  Brenda had been told to expect not-so-subtle jabs at their sexuality and relationship, and was encouraged (by Margery as well as Sharon) to jab right back, so long as it wasn’t in front of the children, though Constance didn’t always restrain herself.  Brenda figured after dealing with Denise, who Sharon had once counted as a close friend, she could handle Constance, whom Sharon alternately seemed to dislike and pity, especially since the rest of the Raydor clan seemed to feel the same.

Constance swept into the kitchen as if she were displaced royalty, untying the silk scarf that covered her neat, silver bob.  She was out of place in the previously homey, domestic scene.  Immaculate in black trousers and a crimson cardigan with loud, gold buttons, Brenda thought Constance as pinched and tight as some of the Hollywood wives she sometimes had the misfortune of interacting with.  She cut her eyes away, and slid the bowl of apples in front of Jessica, who quirked her lips and busied herself undertaking the next step of combining the apples with the mixture of nutmeg, brown sugar and cinnamon.

“Constance.”  Margery greeted with what Brenda could tell, despite having known Sharon’s mother for less than a day, was false cheer.  “Glad to see you safe and sound, despite your predictions of disaster.”

As she turned away to wash her hands, Brenda felt Constance’s eyes jump to her, her gaze rasping at the edges of Brenda’s awareness like sandpaper.

“I don’t see why you don’t have the help answering the door, Margery, instead of leaving it unlocked for all and sundry,” Constance stated, still addressing Margery while referring to Brenda, who she clearly thought was ‘help’.  Brenda forced herself to remain relaxed, carefully washing the stickiness off her ring, twisting it around on her soapy finger to be sure none lingered.  She took a moment to admire it; the delicacy of the metal and the cut of the stones looked nice on what she knew were rather stubby fingers.  Leave it to Sharon to choose a ring that not only looked nice, but was a piece of her history, and had another layer of meaning besides. 

“Am I expected to bring in my own luggage, too?”

“I’m sure if you ask nicely, someone will help you with your bags, Constance,” said Margery evenly.  Brenda turned off the water and dried her hands on a paper towel.

“Why do I have to ask nicely?  Isn’t that young woman paid to do such things?”  Constance gestured dismissively towards Brenda, who was biting her lip, though she didn’t know if it was to keep from laughing at being called a ‘young woman’ or to take a few stripes out of the old snob.  What a first impression.  She shot a glance towards Sharon, who was still patiently helping the twins, her jaw clenched, one hand white knuckled where she was gripping the edge of the counter.

Margery’s tone was cold now.  “You know very well that hired or no, we treat people with common courtesy and respect in this house.  And this ‘young woman’ is Brenda, Sharon’s fiancé.”  Constance’s face twisted into a moue of distaste, nostrils flaring.  Brenda had never been in a situation where someone reacted with disgust to her romantic relationship.  The realization struck her that this was probably something Sharon had been dealing with for a long time, and she bit back a snarl.

“Well you can excuse my confusion,” sniffed Constance primly.  “Raydors don’t usually dress like ragamuffins.  Although Sharon clearly isn’t setting the best example.”  She said this last bit wryly, like she was expecting a chuckle.  No one laughed.

“Seeing as how both Sharon and Brenda work extremely long hours at stressful jobs, I think they are entitled to dress however they like on their vacation, Constance,” Margery countered, wondering if the woman would ever take a seat at the table and shut her mouth.  Luckily the children were oblivious to the tension in the room, happily helping their aunt flatten and cut the pie crust.

Brenda removed the bowl of pumpkin pie filling from the refrigerator, determined to act as if Constance didn’t effect her.  She wasn’t going to let some miserable old woman bring her down; she could treat her like she treated high profile suspects - pretend deference, but bull right over them when it mattered.  And right now Brenda felt that reassuring Sharon mattered, so she sidled up behind her, setting the bowl of pie filling down on the counter, and placed hand in the small of the brunette woman’s back.  She could feel the tension radiating from under her palm, the muscles supporting Sharon’s spine were so tense that Brenda thought they might snap at the next provocation.  She rubbed soothing circles there, once, twice, thrice, then slid her hand around to cup the curve of Sharon’s hip.  Leaning in, gaze locked with Constance’s, daring her to say something, Brenda rested her chin on Sharon’s shoulder, and her lover relaxed into her touch.  Color suffused Constance’s cheeks and she turned on her heel and stalked out of the kitchen, muttering something about luggage under her breath.  Brenda - 1, Constance - 0

Brenda decided then, holding the large glass bowl while Sharon helped Sarah spoon pie filling into a crust, that she could be strong in the face of this kind of hatred.  The love that she and Sharon shared, and the trust that was evident to Brenda in Sharon’s ability to unwind in Brenda’s hands, was special and worth protecting, and Brenda resolved to do so.

The pies were done, ready to go into the oven tomorrow, and the kitchen spotless as Sharon and Brenda and Franklin working in concert could make it.  Task completed, Franklin wandered off to find his children, who were taking a swim in lieu of the bath they usually had before bedtime.  Only Margery remained in the room with Brenda and Sharon, idly flipping through a home and garden magazine, so Brenda pulled Sharon to her, heedless of the brunette’s flour covered clothes, and wiped a smudge of dust from the angle of Sharon’s jaw.

“You’re absolutely covered in flour, Shari,” she husked.  “Worse than the kids.”

“I try.”

“And they love you for it.”  She leaned in to place a precise kiss on the tip of Sharon’s nose, and then another on her finely drawn lips.  She wiggled happily when Sharon’s arms slid around her waist, trying not to vocalize the purr that wanted to bubble up at the feeling of Sharon’s curves against her body.  Mindful that they had an audience, they took a moment to relish their connection, Brenda resting her head against Sharon’s shoulder.  It was odd for Brenda, being so close and not taking the opportunity to pay homage to the parts of Sharon that fascinated her; that spot between her ear and her hairline, the line of her neck leading to her collarbone, the little wrinkles under her chin.  She inhaled noisily through her nose; Sharon smelled fantastic even when she smelled like the pool.

“I need to go call my mama,” Brenda sighed, not really wanting to drag herself away from Sharon.   “I’ve been puttin’ it off since Sunday.”

“Alright.”  She kissed Brenda’s temple.  “There’s an emergency truffle in the zippered pocket in my purse, if you need it.”

“So thoughtful,” Brenda husked, leaning in to very deliberately, but briefly, capture Sharon’s upper lip between her own.  Pulling away reluctantly, Brenda sashayed out of the kitchen.

Margery couldn’t help but chuckle at her daughter’s slightly poleaxed expression.  “She’s very affectionate, isn’t she?”  She chuckled again when Sharon flushed scarlet at her observation.  “Oh, honey, don’t be embarrassed; Brenda is a lovely girl and I’m very happy for you.”

Brenda fished the tiny treat from Sharon’s purse and peeled back the wrapper.  She sniffed it - semi-sweet chocolate and raspberry - then used her front teeth to shave off a bite, letting the sliver of confection melt on her tongue.  The perfect prelude to what would probably be a fraught conversation with her mother, especially considering she had two missed calls in the last hour from the Johnson household.

Leaving the rest of her truffle for after, Brenda took a seat on the chaise beneath the large bay of windows overlooking the ocean and dialed her parents’ landline.  Willie Rae picked up after a few rings, and Brenda breathed a sigh of relief - at least she wouldn’t have to deal with her father, too.

“Johnson residence.”  Willie Rae never checked the caller id on any phone, and she thought call screening was unspeakably rude.  Brenda thought it necessary to her survival and sanity.

“Hey, mama.”

“Oh my goodness!  Brenda Leigh, we were starting to worry!”  Willie Rae exclaimed, loudly.  Brenda held the phone away from her ear a little.

“Why would you be worried?  I told you ages ago I wasn’t comin’ to Atlanta for Thanksgiving.”

“Fritz called and said he went by your place, and it looked like you had moved out and the landlord wouldn’t tell him where you had gone,” her mother was off and running in her narration of how distraught Brenda had managed to make her without even lifting a finger, and Brenda was looking for the nearest flat surface on which to bang her head.  She was going to kill Fritz.  Or at least let her boys take a few stripes out of him.

“And then he went by the office and those boys of yours wouldn’t tell him where you’d moved or where you were, only that you’d be back on Monday,” she finished with a huff.  Brenda said nothing, knowing that the second she made a sound, she’d be cut off and on the defensive.

“Brenda Leigh, you can’t keep the people that love you in the dark like this,” her mother admonished dolefully.  “How are you supposed to reconnect with Fritz if he can’t find you, honey.”  A growl escaped Brenda before she could stop it.

“Mama, I don’t know why you and Fritz are havin’ such a hard time with this, but let me spell it out for you: I will not be reconciling, reconnecting or any other such thing with Fritz Howard.”

“But Brenda Leigh, he’s a good man and he loves you.  Isn’t that worth preservin’?  Can’t you figure out some way to accommodate his needs?”  Brenda sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose.  For what she thought were unselfish reasons, she had tried so hard to keep her parents in the dark about the wherefores of the divorce.  Fritz loved her parents, and her parents loved Fritz and she thought that didn’t have to change even with their separation, but apparently Fritz wasn’t above using her parents to manipulate Brenda into yet more pointless, circular arguments.

“Mama,” Brenda began softly.  “I don’t want to have Fritz’s children.  There is no way for me to accommodate his desire to be a parent without completely subsuming my needs.  Furthermore, I don’t want to give up a career that I love to satisfy his concerns about my safety.  Would it be alright for me to ask him to give up his career in the FBI for the same reason?”  She sighed again, waiting for Willie Rae to take the bit between her teeth and take off heedlessly into the conversation once more.  It was a surprise when she didn’t.

“Fritz knew who I was and what I was about well before he married me, Mama.  And I don’t know if he expected that I’d change or what, but there was a monumental miscommunication there, somewhere.”

“But Brenda Leigh,” Willie Rae protested, “he’s your husband.”  Brenda was convinced that this conversation could travel around in circles ad infinitum if she didn’t stop it short.

“Not anymore, he’s not,” she said adamantly.  “I’ve moved on, and I’m happy, and I wish you and Daddy would just get over it so we can get back to our regularly scheduled family stuff.  I’m awfully tired of having to avoid you because of all the nagging, and the silent treatment from Daddy isn’t going to change anything.”

“So what you’re sayin’ is that you’re seein’ someone else,” Willie Rae queried in a flat voice.

“Yes, Mama, I am.  And I’ll tell you all about it when you and Daddy stop mournin’ my divorce like a couple a’ teenage girls breakin’ up with their first beaus.”  It took some effort for Brenda to choke back the frustration and imbue her voice with some sincerity.  “You’re allowed to love Fritz.  I’m not sayin’ that you can’t or shouldn’t, but maybe if you could look at the situation from my point of view, you would see that our relationship was makin’ both of us unhappy for reasons we couldn’t or wouldn’t change.”

“I guess,” Willie Rae groused after a gusty sigh.  Brenda couldn’t tell if she’d really brought her mother around to toning down her campaign for reconciliation, but it was a start.

“Alright then!” Brenda poured on the faux-cheer.  “Ya’ll have a good holiday, now, and I’ll call again this comin’ weekend, ok?”

“Wait, Brenda Leigh!  You still haven’t told me where you are, or where you are livin’!”

“Well, mama, right now I’m in Santa Cruz in a big ol’ mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  And I’m livin’ in a gorgeous three bedroom house over in Silverlake - it has a big backyard and a pool and a hot tub!”  Willie Rae would think she was fibbing.

“Ok then, Brenda Leigh,” her mother conceded after a resigned silence.  “I hope that wherever you are, you have a good Thanksgiving.”

“I am, Mama.  Give my love to everyone.  And give that ol’ Charlie a hug from me, ok?”

“I will.  Bye now.”  The line went dead, and Brenda groaned and flopped back on the chaise.  What in the hell was she going to do about this?  There was no manual or help line for dealing with parents who were more fond of their child’s ex-spouse than their own child.  She fished the remainder of the truffle from the pocket of her cardigan, unwrapped it, and popped it in her mouth, biting down to let the sinful combination of raspberry and chocolate flood her senses and chase away the desire to throttle Fritz.  And her parents.

Letting the chocolate melt on the back of her tongue, Brenda settled back comfortably on to the plush lounge.  She felt a little selfish, wishing Sharon were here with her to cuddle her up and help her to get a rational hold on this issue.  It wouldn’t be right of her to tear Sharon away from her family - she could deal with this for the moment.  There was at least one person she could use as her eyes and ears, conveniently already in place at ground zero in Atlanta.

TO: Charlie

Hey Charlie-girl.  Gimme a call when you have a minute.

They had just over two hours before they were supposed to leave for dinner and she still needed to shower (and didn’t know what dress she was going to be wearing), but Brenda still had some time.  She checked her email and scanned some emails related to the case they had caught mid-day on Monday - the boys seemed to be wrapping it up fine; Provenza had brought in DDA Hobbs to wrangle with the perpetrator’s defense attorney and it looked like a plea bargain was in the works.  Brenda was ok with that; she had learned over the years that confession or no, circumstantial cases didn’t always play well with a jury, and just as Brenda was good at wrangling confessions from criminals, DDA Hobbs was good at wrangling maximum sentences out of reduced charges.  The most recent message in her inbox was a short note from Andy detailing Fritz’s visit to the murder room.  Nosy ex-husbands and meddling mothers would be the death of her.

Her email vanished and the screen prompting Brenda to answer or ignore an incoming call from Charlie popped up.  She answered.

“Hey Charlie.”

“Ohmigod Aunt Brenda that is the prettiest ring I’ve ever seen.”  Brenda chuckled at her enthusiasm.

“I know - I love it too.”  She spun the ring around with her thumb.  “It was Sharon’s grandmother’s.”

“You sound like you’re smiling.  I take it you’re happy with this development.”

“Oh yes, very.  I was so excited when she asked me to move in with her, and now I’ve got a gorgeous ring, and the best part is, for the first time in my life, I’m not freaked out about any of it.”  Brenda cringed a little at her words - she probably shouldn’t sharing this with her 19 year old niece.

“You really love her, don’t you?” asked Charlie quietly.

“I really do, and that’s why I need your help.”  Brenda said with absolute earnesty.

“My help?”

“Your grandmother is pushing me so hard to reconcile with Fritz, and I can’t figure out why.  She won’t give me a straight answer - just platitudes about marriage and blah blah blah.”

“They talked a couple of times today, Aunt Brenda.  I don’t know what about, though.”

“Fritz found out I moved and is having a drama moment.  I’ll deal with him, but I need you to talk to your grandmother and see what you can find out about why she’s unable to let go.  I don’t want you to push, and if she gets upset with you, just leave it and I’ll figure something out.”

“Please,” Charlie scoffed.  “I’ll have her singing like a birdie and she won’t even realize that I’m pumping her for information,” she finished confidently and Brenda laughed.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to pull some strings for you at the CIA or FBI after you graduate, honey?”

“Nah, I’m not into the whole ‘guns’ thing, but I do have this parking ticket…”

“Well, since it isn’t a moving violation, I think I can make a call, since you’re helping me out with this.  Unless it was on campus; if that’s the case you’re SOL.”

“No, it was downtown.  I was trying to find a place to park to do this court observation thing and the lot I’d been directed to was not showing up on my GPS.  I walked around after and found the right place, but I already had the ticket by then.”

“Oh, Charlie,” opined Brenda.  “Give me your plate numbers and I’ll take care of it.”

“I’ll text it to you.  And I’ll let you know what I find out from Grandma,” her niece promised.  “So what’s Sharon’s family like?”

“There’s one misfit, but so far everyone else is very pleasant.  Especially Sharon’s mama and daddy.”

“Is their house nice?  Is it close to the ocean?”

“It’s on the ocean.  I’m looking out the window at it right now - the view is pretty spectacular.” 

Charlie sighed wistfully.  “Take a few pictures for me, ok?”

“Of course I will.  Have a good Thanksgiving.  And don’t forget to send me your plate number!”

“I will.  Love you!” Charlie signed off, and Brenda debated her next move.  Should she call Fritz or resort to more passive aggressive measures.  But wasn’t that Fritz’s whole angle in stirring up trouble?  Forcing her to come to him asking for something (even if it was for him to leave her alone).  She would consult Sharon and then sleep on it - it definitely wouldn’t do for her to be riled up if she did end up contacting Fritz.