I’m so sorry. Yesterday (Saturday) got away from me and I forgot to post the promised chapter in Todd and Ellie’s story. But I did remember today, so here you are …
Dust and grime clung to Ellie’s hair and clothes, and stuck under her fingernails. She shuddered.
Even though her entire body ached from scrubbing every visible surface, she smiled at the transformation. Mrs. Rosenblume and Kaitlyn had come in a few hours ago to oversee the changes, but they’d left again when Kaitlyn wanted to help. Under normal circumstances, Ellie would have welcomed the assistance, but she was using bleach to scrub the walls and floors and didn’t want the child affected by either the fumes or the caustic chemical touching her skin.
Todd came and stood beside her. “This is cleaner than when I moved in.”
“Good. I lived in a dump, but I did my best to keep my apartment clean. Thanks for doing this for me.”
He smiled at her. “My pleasure. Do I look as coated with grime as you do?”
“Well, I don’t know what I look like, but I know how I feel. You look as disgusting as I feel, yes.”
“Thanks. I think.” He winked at her. “Are you ready to move in your furniture?”
“Yes. Do you plan to back the truck in or are we carrying it from the driveway?” She really hoped he could back it in. Her aching muscles protested the thought of hauling the heavy pieces across the yard.
“I didn’t think about it, but yeah, I can pull it back here. It hasn’t rained in a few days, so the ground is dry enough. Great idea. I dreaded hauling everything so far.”
“Me, too. I haven’t used some of these muscles in ages. If ever.”
“Same. Let’s grab a snack and drink and rest for a few minutes, and then we’ll get to it. We should be finished before dinner and able to shower and enjoy whatever Mrs. Rosenblume has concocted for us.”
Ellie stretched toward the ceiling and then bent over to touch her toes. When she stood back up, Todd had a strange look on his face. It cleared. She picked up her bucket of dirty bleach water. “Where do you want to dump this?”
“I keep trying to kill the grass and weeds growing around my HVAC unit, but they tend to be persistent. We’ll dump it there. I’m not sure if it’ll do anything to the grass or not, but if it does, I won’t be upset about a splotch in my lawn.”
“Makes sense. I usually poured mine on the cracks in the sidewalk. Bleach water is a pretty good weed killer.” She headed out of the workshop. “Which side of the house is your unit on?”
“Go left. I’ll head inside and see what Mrs. Rosenblume will let me pilfer for a snack.”
“Okay.” Ellie rounded the house and dumped the water around the unit. When the bucket was empty, she refilled it from a nearby spigot, swished it around, dumped it, and repeated the process. She wanted all the dirt and grime emptied from the bucket as well as any leftover traces of bleach.
She sighed and stretched. Moving the furniture would tax her remaining strength. She hoped she could manage it without dropping anything and hurting Todd in the process. She didn’t care enough about the furniture to worry if it broke. She grabbed the cleaning supplies and took everything to the house.
Todd had apple slices, chunks of cheese, crackers, and peanut butter set out on a plate when she walked in.
“Where do you want the bucket?” she asked.
“I’ll put it away later.”
“Please just tell me. I will have to use it again if I’m to do what you hired me for, so it’s best if I know where things are now rather than have to look for them.”
“I’ll get it in a minute, Ellie. And we’ll have plenty of time for me to show you where everything is this week,” Mrs. Rosenblume said.
Ellie kept her gaze on Todd, raised an eyebrow, and waited for him to tell her what she wanted to know. They’d already discussed making things easier for his current employee.
He shrugged. “There’s a small linen closet in the hall bathroom. I installed a lock pretty high on the door to keep you-know-who out. That’s where all the cleaning supplies are.”
“Who’s you-know-who, Daddy? And why do you want to keep him out of the cleaning closet?” Kaitlyn asked.
“You-know-who is a special friend of mine. And I keep her out of the cleaning closet because it’s not safe. She doesn’t understand how dangerous some of the things in there are yet.”
“Oh. Can I have a piece of apple with peanut butter?”
Ellie headed to the bathroom as Kaitlyn continued to chatter to her father. Her hands needed a thorough washing anyway. Once she put away the bucket and washed her hands, she headed back to the kitchen and sat at the table, trying not to sigh as she did so. She took a bite of apple then stood. “We’d better get the furniture unloaded; otherwise, I might not be able to move myself much less my meager possessions.”
“I was thinking the same thing. Have a few more bites while I pull the truck around. Then we’ll get everything moved.” He shoved another apple piece in his mouth and grabbed a few cheese cubes as he sauntered out the front door.
She finished her apple slice and wandered out back. Todd backed up to the workshop like he’d done it hundreds of times. With a deep breath, she met him at the truck’s door. “Let’s do this. I’m ready for a shower and some rest.”
Thirty minutes later, they carried in her couch. After placing it next to the wall, she dropped down onto the cushions. “I never want to move again.”
Todd sat beside her. “I felt the same way when we moved here. However, the reality is that you will move again at least once. I can’t imagine you growing old while living in my workshop.”
“Yeah, probably not, but maybe by the time I move I’ll have forgotten how tired it makes me, or I’ll be able to afford help.”
Todd rested next to Ellie on the couch. If he didn’t get up soon, he might fall asleep. His body hadn’t worked this hard in quite some time, and he was exhausted. He sighed and stood. “I’ll let you get settled. If you need anything, let me know.”
Ellie stood. “Thank you, Todd. This means more to me than you know.”
“Don’t forget to come for dinner. I’m sure Mrs. Rosenblume made something hearty and filling. She usually does.”
“What time do you usually eat?”
“Around six. It’s about the time I get home from work each day. Jonathan will be here about then as well.”
She glanced at her watch and gasped. “It’s almost six now.”
“Is it?” He pulled out his phone and checked the time. “Let’s do six-thirty then. Will that be enough time?”
“You don’t have to change your dinner time for me.” She bit her lip. “I can just reheat whatever she made or make a sandwich.”
“Not going to happen. You worked as hard or maybe even harder than I did today. You deserve a good meal. How about you just come as quick as you can? We don’t do anything fancy here. Wet hair and no makeup with jeans and a t-shirt will be fine.”
“Yes. It’s what I plan to wear.”
He raised an eyebrow in her direction.
“Sorry. I just imagined you coming to dinner all dressed up with styled hair and makeup.” Another chuckle had her covering her mouth. “I’m too tired. I laugh at the silliest things when I’m tired.”
“I see. I’ll make sure to be careful of that in the future.” Except he liked her laugh and wanted to hear it more often. “I’ll let you get cleaned up. See you in a bit.”
She took a step in his direction, but then stopped as a blush covered her cheeks. “Thanks again.”
He nodded and let himself out of the workshop. He should start thinking of it as Ellie’s home, but somehow he didn’t think she’d be living there long. She deserved better than a one room workshop behind his home. But for now it would do and was a step up from where she’d been living.
He entered his home and found Mrs. Rosenblume on the couch, crying. Kaitlyn sat next to her, also crying, though Todd doubted she understood why. “Mrs. Rosenblume? What’s going on?”
“I’m going to miss you.”
After sitting next to her and wrapping an arm around her shoulders, he spoke. “You know you’re welcome to come back any time. And we’ll see you at church. Besides, you’ll be here for at least another week or more getting Ellie settled in.”
“Oh, I know, but I’ve loved every minute of caring for the two of you. I realize this is a new season in my life. I’m just not ready to be old yet.”
“But Mrs. R, aren’t you already old?” Kaitlyn asked.
Mrs. Rosenblume chuckled. “Yes, dear child, I am, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to be. On the inside, I’m still a vibrant, young woman. My outside is tired though, and that makes my inside sad.”
“Oh,” Kaitlyn said.
“I’ll let you girls cheer yourselves up. I’m going to shower. Ellie will be here as soon as she gets cleaned up. I’m sorry we’re late for dinner, Mrs. Rosenblume. You’re free to head out whenever you’re ready.”
“All right. I think I’ll wait for Jonathan to return your car.”
“Oh, I forgot to move his truck back to the front. I’ll do that before I shower.” He headed back outside and noticed the truck wasn’t in his backyard anymore. He took a breath, trying not to panic since he’d left the keys in the ignition. Picking up his pace, he rounded the side of the house and collided with a soft body.
Todd grasped Ellie’s arms in an attempt to keep her from falling, but the collision had unbalanced him, and they wound up tumbling to the ground. He managed to twist enough so she landed mostly on him instead of hitting the ground.
“I like a woman of few words, but really …” He stared into her beautiful blue eyes. “Are you okay?”
She giggled and plucked a piece of grass from his hair. “Yeah. You?”
“Not so much. See there’s this woman …”
Her face reddened, and she scrambled away. “I’m so sorry.”
He wasn’t. Having her lay mostly atop him, even for those few short seconds, had ignited desires he’d thought long dead. Desires he needed to dampen. She worked for him, and they barely knew each other. He closed his eyes and refocused his thinking.
“Here are Jonathan’s keys. I … obviously moved the truck for you.”
He opened his eyes and gazed at her still red face.
She held out the keys. “I’ll just go.” She dropped the keys into the hand he’d extended her way and then ran back to the workshop.
Dazed, he stared at his hand for several seconds before he understood that she might be as attracted to him as he was to her. His heart beat faster at the possibility.