I turned off the car, letting it work its way to silence, and then stepped from the car, trying to smooth my windswept hair and brush the road dirt from my face. I should have brought a brush. Knowing Brad, this woman would be dressed to the nines with her br**sts on full display while I looked like a bedraggled homeless girl. I gave up on my appearance and joined Brad on the front porch. He rang the bell and we listened to its chimes ring through the home.


Thirty seconds later, the door opened.

---

I found myself staring at Betty Fucking Crocker. Or, at least, her identical twin. I expected for this old woman's 20-something daughter to pop out from behind a ceramic rooster, but Brad greeted the woman heartily enough that I understood her to be the "old friend" that we were visiting. I hadn’t realized that the man had literally meant "old".

I stood quietly on the front stoop, waiting for the woman to stop gushing over Brad; finally, her eyes turned to me. Behind her delicate gold glasses sat razor-sharp blue eyes, and I understood immediately that this woman was neither senile nor unintelligent. "Brad, introduce me to your friend." she chided him, placing a slightly shaky hand on his shoulder.

Brad turned to me with a smile. "Evelyn, this is Julia. She's a friend of mine from home, and came along with me this trip."

"She looks awfully young." Evelyn sniffed disapprovingly.

Tired of being talked about like a slab of meat, I stepped forward onto the threshold. "I am young, and he’s practically ancient. But he has managed to make this trip so far without his walker, and I am still fresh-faced and innocent, so there is hope for us yet." I kept my face blank and eyes innocent and hoped she wouldn't smack me with a spare oxygen tank.

She burst out laughing, her face a sea of delighted wrinkles. "Now where are my manners, come in!" She held open the door and a burst of wonderfully cool air hit my face. I walked through the doorway; she energetically shook my hand as I passed and introduced herself as Evelyn. She scurried around us and told us to go to the living room, an older room with plain cream sofas and lots and lots of afghans lying around. The woman apparently crocheted in her spare time, and apparently had lots of spare time. The huge TV, an impressive flat screen that made mine at home seem pathetic, was on a cooking show. She picked up a gigantic remote and turned it off.

"Brad, I have Coke for you. Julia, what can I get you to drink? I have tea, water, and Coke."

"Water will be fine, thank you."

She turned and entered the kitchen, a lemon-yellow room with grayish-green linoleum just off the living area. I looked at Brad. He had settled in the only recliner in the room and already had the leg rest up and was turning back on the TV.

"She just turned that off!" I whispered, not wanting to piss off Mother Hubbard.

"That's because she wants to “visit”. I don't visit; she knows that. The woman pays $8 extra a month to get ESPN just for me. I'm not going to insult her by not watching it when I come." He found the channel he wanted, and sports babble filled the quiet house. At the sound of Brad's voice, a series of high-pitched yelps came from a back room.

"Brad, will you let out Mitzi and Richie?" Evelyn called from her place at the counter. Brad groaned, swung the recliner shut and heaved to his feet, a loud sigh escaping his lips.

"Now don't you give me that! They've been waiting all morning to see you!" Evelyn carefully walked into the room, balancing a plastic tray on which she'd painstakingly placed three glasses, baby white napkins, and a collection of lemon squares, sprinkled with powered sugar.

"Thanks Evie," Brad said, snagging a lemon square and heading down a side hall. She set the tray down on the coffee table and turned to the TV with a glare. "That boy! Him and his ESPN…" she gave an exasperated sign and starting straightening a few pillows, but I could see a small smile on her face.

"Have you lived here long?" I asked, leaning forward and picking up my ice water and a napkin.

She settled into the loveseat, cater-corner to me, and looked upward, her face burrowed in concentration. "Why, about 18 years I guess. Moved in here when this was the only house on this street. You see it now, all grown up and crammed together." Her reflection was cut off by a clamoring of tiny clicks and two dachshunds burst into view, fighting each other around the corner and jumping on me like I was a new toy.

"Richie! Mitzi! Get down!" scolded Evelyn, reaching forward and smacking their butts. "That is no way to greet a guest!" Brad came in and collapsed again on the recliner, it creaking a bit in protest. The dogs seemed intent on covering me with kisses, and I moved to the floor so that they could have easier access to play. The girl dog immediately ran off and brought me a pink chew toy, and I begin to play tug of war with her. Silence fell.

"Now Bradley, don't think you are going to stare at that TV and not give me any news. What is going on with the club?"

Brad closed the recliner and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, gaze level on Evelyn. All business now; ESPN forgotten. "The club is strong. Covers are increasing due to cross-promotion with area casinos. We have a new marketing program geared at Bachelor parties and have had a 20% increase in group events since last year. The-"

"How much is the marketing program costing? The Bachelor one, I mean."

"About three percent. So the twenty percent increase is more than covering it."

"And the girls? Why did Vicky leave?"

"She's pregnant."

"Are we covering her health expenses through the birth?"

"If she returns within two months."

"Make it three. Brad, you don't know what's it's like for a new mother."

He grinned. "No, I don't. Neither do you."

She waved that off. "What about Harmony - she left too."

"Heather was into drugs - we caught her twice at the Club. Told her to leave them or us. She choose them, and is at Painted Horse now."

The old woman harumped and sat back. "Okay then. I guess it's under control."

"Janine is supposed to be having weekly calls with you regarding all this. Has she not been calling you?"

"You know me - I don't like the phone. I like this better - face to face. That way you can see how someone really is. Besides, I'm not crazy about Janine. Too stiff and numbers orientated."

"Which is exactly why I hired her. Those girls will walk all over someone if they don't keep a distance. And I don't recall you complaining about the numbers last quarter?"

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