Shania Taylor was too damned young to be a widow. But, that’s what she was. Her husband had been killed in one of those idiot drunk driving accidents. Unfortunately, he’d been the one drunk. Fortunately, he’d lost control and slammed his truck into a tree. The impact broke his neck, and left his 27-year-old wife a widow.
She looked stunning in black. Her blonde hair and pale skin contrasted with the dark fabric. As much as I pitied her situation, the vision of her in the short black ensemble stirred my ancient libido. I shook my head at the paradox of the situation. Shania Taylor was too damned young to be a widow and too damned hot to stay one for long.
My own life had eased into a relatively serene routine that I accepted with an ease atypical of my natural tendency to seek out some adventure or another. I’d never married, preferring the tranquility of occasional flings to the predictable drama I’d witnessed so frequently among my associates. At the age of forty-four I had been able to settle into a pattern of eat, sleep and work that satisfied my need for regimentation, yet still finding an occasional outlet for the intermittent craving for adventure.
Shania Taylor was younger than my infrequent female companions. Most of them were married women, seeking an off-and-on bedding situation as their husbands traveled or strayed. I never brought them home, preferring the anonymity of hotel and motel rooms and the separation of my personal life from recreation. Shania and I had crossed paths occasionally. I was in 2B. She and her husband lived in 3C. They had to pass my door on the way to the parking lot.
It had been a warm July, with temperatures generally in the upper 90s. This particular day, the humidity hung heavy, although the thermometer registered a temperate 86. I literally backed into Shania as she hustled past me while I bent to lock my door. I looked up into her cool, green eyes and gave her a half smile of recognition.
“The fucking elevator is broken,” she said. “Had to use the stairs.”
I nodded. Usually comfortable in my own skin, I was really outside my comfort zone here. I didn’t like dealing with death. So I sort of mumbled to her, “Look, I’m really sorry…”
She cut me off. “Shut up, just shut up.”
“Okay,” I said slowly.
“He was a prick and a drunk,” she snapped. “I didn’t want him dead, but I did want him out of my life.”
“Really,” I said, taken aback at her forward nature. I hadn’t expected her to be so open with me.
She stared at me. Finally her shoulders slumped. “Oh, shit,” she slammed out. “I said too much, didn’t I?”
“It’s okay. Just between you and me. A little venting is good for the soul.”
She leaned back against the wall across from my door, hiked a high-heeled foot up so her knee cocked toward me. She scanned my face.
“Come to the funeral for me. Two o’clock tomorrow afternoon. I’d like to have you there.”
“I don’t know,” I mumbled, shaking my head. “I don’t do too well with that kind of stuff.”
She scoffed. “Yeah, well I’m having a blast,” she sneered sarcastically. Then she softened. “It’s not for him, Eric. Be there for me. I’m doing all this shit myself. He’s got no family close, so it’s all on me. Besides, I may need to vent some more.”
“Shania,” I said. Then I stopped. “Oh, what the hell. Yeah, sure. I’ll be there for you.”
“They’re sending the car for me at twelve-thirty. I’ll bang on your door.”
“I thought you said two?”
“That’s the service. Viewing is at one. I’ve got to be there for all that. I’d like you to be there with me. Ride with me.”
I knew I’d be trapped. Having no vehicle, I’d have no escape route. It would be hell. But, maybe I could count it as my good deed of the week.
“All right,” I told her. “I’m all yours from noon tomorrow until you turn me loose.”
“You’re a good friend, Eric. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I wasn’t though. Shania and her husband weren’t really my friends. We were acquainted. But, the term “friend” was really stretching the concept. As I drove toward my office I thought about the commitment I’d made. Why had I done it? A healthy dose of pity certainly had a lot to do with it. I didn’t consider myself particularly philanthropic. Still, once in a while I got the urge to do something outside my own skin, something that benefited another human. I guess it helped keep me feeling a part of the species. Shania was hurting, in spite of her protestations. She was too beautiful and young to suffer like that. Maybe I could help.
A soft tap on my door brought me out of the reverie in my easy chair. I was dressed, except for my dark jacket. I grabbed it off the back of the sofa as I headed toward the door. When I opened it, Shania strode confidently past me into the apartment. She looked stunning in black. She scanned the apartment as she spoke.
“You’re my Uncle Eric,” she said, “in case anybody asks.”
“Okay,” I agreed.
“You got anything to drink here?” she asked.
“I do,” I admitted. “Do you think that’s a good idea?”
“I’ve been sober all day,” she said, twisting on an incredibly high heel to look at me. “Just give me one. I need a bracer.”
I took the bottle of good bourbon from the cabinet that served as by bar stock, pulled an old fashion glass from the next shelf over, and poured a healthy two fingers in it.
“Water?” I called. “Ice?”
“Neat,” she called back.
I shrugged, pulled down another glass and poured one for myself. No point in making her drink alone. Besides, I could use the bracing, too. I walked into the sitting room to find her strikingly gorgeous, standing by the window, looking out the large window with at the promise of a sweltering day.
“Gonna be hot,” I remarked as I handed her the glass.
She looked closely at me as she took the amber liquid. She half-raised it to her lips. Then she pushed it toward me to clink the edges. “To future prospects,” she said softly.
I gave her a sad half-grin, nodded, and we both sipped at the bourbon.
“Nice,” she commented, holding her glass up and inspecting the liquid.
“So,” I said, “do you have any?”
“Any what?” she asked.
“Future prospects,” I responded.
She gave me a long look. She took an equally long pull at the bourbon and looked back out the window. “Have you ever been in love?” she said.
“Yeah, sure,” I told her with a soft chuckle. “A couple of times.”
She fixed me with a look from her stunningly green eyes that said she didn’t believe me, and made a little scoffing sound in the back of her throat. “I fell fast and hard for him. What I realize now is that it was the image of possibilities I fell for. I envisioned the two of us together, life partners, sharing everything. We’d laugh together, love one another, and be totally absorbed in our relationship.” She took another shot from her glass. “Didn’t turn out that way.”
“Life,” I observed, “has a way of getting between us and our aspirations.”
“Helps if both of you are committed to the same vision,” she said.
What fool wouldn’t want to share the vision of this stunning, and apparently intelligent woman.
“He didn’t have it?” I asked. “The vision?”
“His vision was bikes, beer, and his buddies. I was an accessory.”
I shook my head and emptied my glass, feeling the liquid burn a warm path to my belly. “That’s pretty harsh. I can’t imagine he didn’t love you.”
“Oh, he loved me,” she said, a definitive sneer in her voice. “He loved the hair, the tits, the ass, the screwing, and the dinners made on time. That was pretty much the extent of it.”
She set her empty glass on the window sill. “Shit!” she said. “Speaking ill of the dead.”
“Shania,” I spoke softly, my eyes focused on those incredibly pointed toes of her black shoes, “you’re just telling the truth, in confidence, to a friend.”
There was a long silence. Her voice was just a whisper. “Tomorrow,” she said. She paused. “Will you still be my friend tomorrow, when all this is over?”
“Yeah, I will,” I told her. “No matter what happens today, I’ll be here for you tomorrow.”
“Will you take me into your bed tonight?”
My breath caught in my throat. I shook my head slowly. “I would absolutely love to. But I won’t do it, Shania,” I said as gently as I could. “You’re too open, too vulnerable. It really is not a good idea.”
“The car’s here,” she said, looking down into the street. She turned and moved purposefully toward the door. “Come with me,” she commanded.
I set my glass down next to hers and grabbed my jacket. I locked the door and we stepped down the two short flights to the ground level. The chauffeur held the door open for her. I walked around the car and slid into the seat beside her, leaving the door for the chauffeur to close.
Throughout the tortuous afternoon I managed to play the Uncle Eric part with proficiency and composure. The dead husband’s biker buddies paraded through in various states of dishevelment. The funeral home had provided a stool for Shania. As the former friends of her mate passed, some murmured words of condolence, while a few others said things like, “You were too good for him,” or other inappropriate comments. One boorish thug had the impudence to suggest he’d replace the deceased in a heartbeat if she wanted. I signaled to the staff who graciously escorted the moron to the door.
Occasionally I would catch Shania’s eye. I tried to convey an attitude of confidence and comfort for her. To her credit, Shania managed to maintain her composure. Not a single tear rolled down her cheek.
When the viewing had been completed and the doors closed, she looked at me wearily.
“You’re doing great, babe,” I said. “Your Uncle Eric is proud of how well you’re bearing up.”
“Can it,” she ordered curtly.
As the staff rolled the casket out of the room, Shania grabbed my arm. “This ought to be entertaining,” she said. “A funeral service for a guy who never once expressed a thought beyond his own limited existence.”
“Shhh,” I hushed her quietly. “You’ve shown real dignity and class. Just hang on to me and we’ll get through this.”
“Chapel’s this way,” she said, entwining her arm with mine. “Come with me.”
We sat in the first row.
Some guy with a mournful look stood at a podium and mouthed platitudes about death being a passage and that the dead guy, he looked at the program to find his name, would be waiting on the other side. Shania leaned into me and clutched my arm.
After about fifteen minutes of chatter and some sad music, everybody was invited to trek to the graveside for the burial. Most of the guests, about fifteen of them, had to walk. The funeral guy led Shania and me to a limousine. We followed the black station wagon with the casket through the narrow roads until we arrived at the tented grave site. The pile of fresh earth was covered with a black tarpaulin. Six of the biker guys pulled the casket out and rolled it on an expandable cart toward the open hole that awaited it. Shania and I were ushered to a row of chairs right next to the railing that surrounded the hole.
“Ten more minutes,” I whispered into her delicate ear.
She nodded slightly, gripped my hand with her own, and didn’t let go.
The sad-faced guy mouthed some more words about resurrection and commending the body to the ground. A couple of the dead guy’s buddies passed by and put cloth patches of various biker clubs on the box. One guy set a can of Colt 45 on it. The last guy actually had a half-helmet that he laid on the casket. The funeral guy looked at Shania, who nodded, and the casket descended slowly into the hole. Shania stood up, took a handful of dirt and tossed it on the box. She turned quickly, grabbed my hand and pulled me away from the grave-site and back to the limo.
The driver had to scurry to catch up. He closed the doors, slid behind the wheel and looked into the mirror. “Back to the funeral home?” he asked.
“No,” Shania said firmly. “Take us home.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the chauffeur replied and motored smoothly out of the cemetery and onto the city streets.
“You can breathe now,” I whispered to Shania. She looked at me, and, for the first time that day I saw tears well up in her eyes. I pulled her close to me and put her head on my shoulder. “It’s okay, baby,” I whispered. “You’re allowed to cry.”
Apparently not one to wallow in her own sorrows, Shania collected herself within about three minutes. She sat upright in the seat, pulled a compact out of her clutch, dabbed under her eyes for a few seconds, snapped the compact closed and replaced it in the tiny black purse. She stared straight ahead for the remainder of the ride to our apartment complex. When the driver opened her door, she swung her legs out and was gone. I grabbed my own door latch and launched myself out of the limo. I slipped the driver a twenty and chased Shania up the stairs to the landing.
“Shania,” I called. She swiveled on a heel and looked at me. “Shania,” I repeated, not exactly sure what I was going to say next.
“I would like to go to our apartment, please,” she said, “and finish that bottle of fine bourbon you have.”
“We can do that,” I replied. I pulled open the door and held it for her. She stepped through the door and I watched entranced as her shapely calves flexed while she climbed the stairs.
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<a href="https://www.lushstories.com/stories/love-stories/shania-pt-1.aspx">Shania, Pt. 1</a>