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Dorsai

A good neighbor

I make a pretty good living as a free-lance programmer. I sort-of specialize in writing assembly-language code for microcontrollers, and I'm damn good at what I do — the people I work for are always happy to give me a reference when I need one. That I'm able to meet tight deadlines, too, makes customers glad to pay my only slightly outrageous fees.

Because I can make the income I do, I've never had to go out and get a 'real job'; I get to work from home, instead of slogging in to some beige corporate environment. Another benefit is that because I don't have to punch any kind of time clock, and my only job requirement is to deliver good code by the deadline, I'm free to work whatever schedule makes me happy… if I want to take a couple hours off to go play golf on a nice day, there isn't anybody to tell me 'no'. It also means that I've been able to get to know my neighbors pretty well. The couple in the place south of mine are a couple of retirees that aren't visited by their kids as much as they'd like, though they get to spend plenty of time with their grandkids. Every so often, they'll ask me to come over and deal with some technical issue that they can't figure out; stuff like programming numbers into their cell phones, or hooking things back up whenever she decides their TV/stereo stand has to be rearranged, and that kind of thing.

Across the street is a middle-aged couple that both have to work more time than they'd like to support their keep-up-with-the-Joneses lifestyle. They're a nice couple, and doing the best they can, but argue over money that they don't have, to pay for stuff that they don't need… or even really want.

To my north, a younger couple moved in a few years ago. Bill and Andrea Patterson were just a few years younger than me, with two daughters — Emma, then 3, and Gail, 2, both of them cuties. He was an office drone with some big company, worried about his job more than he should, and had to travel a lot. He made enough money that she didn't have to work, but she had a part-time job mostly for something to do after their girls started school. Bill was about my height, though a little heavy from not enough exercise, with dark hair and brown eyes. Andrea was a couple inches shorter, and somewhat slender, which made her bust look larger than it really was. With pale blond hair that she usually wore in a loose pony tail, and lovely blue eyes, she was always nice to look at. Them being close to my age, and living right next door, I got invited over for back yard cookouts and the like fairly often. In exchange, I gave their daughters permission to use my above-ground pool any time they liked, once they got old enough. They were well-behaved, and intelligent and vivacious enough that I actually didn't mind having them around; I'm usually not much on other people's kids. As a result, they grew up knowing me; I was even closer to them than some of their blood relatives.

All of that changed a couple of years ago when he told his wife that he'd met someone else, and wanted a divorce. She was heartbroken, and tried to find some way to salvage their marriage, but he didn't want any part of it. When she finally got the whole story from him, it turned out that he and one of the female execs at his company had been on a business trip and ended up spending more time together than was necessary. From there, things quickly escalated to the two of them having an affair; he wanted the divorce so that he could go live with his mistress. Realizing that she was fighting a lost cause, Andrea finally agreed.

Their divorce wasn't particularly nasty or vicious, but there was still a fair amount of upset and ill-will by the time it was done. I know, because Andrea would come over to cry on my shoulder… figuratively and literally. After Bill bailed out on her, Andrea didn't have anywhere near the financial resources she did before; she even had to get a regular full-time job to make ends meet, despite the alimony and child support she got from Bill. That meant that Emma and Gail weren't able to do the things that they wanted as much, either — which had them coming over to swim in my pool more than they had before. I said that both of them were cuties, and that was true when they were younger. But shortly after the divorce, first Emma, then Gail, hit puberty and started to grow up — and out. With them coming over to use the pool more often, I got more and better chances to appreciate their developing bodies, and how pretty both of them were getting. I've always thought that pubescent girls had an innocent beauty, and seeing the blond Emma and Gail starting to grow more womanly shapes didn't do anything to change my mind.

One of the things that developed before the divorce was that both of the girls knew that they could come over to my place if they needed help with something when their parents weren't home. It didn't happen very often, but there were still a few times that I'd go over to deal with an overly-aggressive spider or other bug, or they'd want to stay at my place for comfort and reassurance when there was a particularly enthusiastic thunderstorm going on.

After the divorce, with Andrea working full time, they gradually began to turn to me more and more. Not for dealing with bugs (Emma was quite capable and willing to dispatch them by that time), but more as a substitute father figure. I'd brought it up with Andrea, and while she wasn't happy about it, she realized that they needed SOME adult male figure in their lives after losing their father. She did tell me that if they ever got in the way of my work, or became nuisances, that I should send them home; otherwise, she was just grateful that I was willing to give them the attention they needed. I asked if there was any subject she needed or wanted me to stay away from with them, and she managed to give me a half-grin before answering 'If you're asking that, then I think it would be a good idea if I said 'no'.' I quickly assured her that neither of them had brought up anything special; that I was just trying to find out ahead of time. I could see that she was relieved, but she still told me 'Even so, it still seems like a good idea for them to have someone I can trust to go to. I'm only going to ask that you let me know if anything comes up that you think I need to be aware of, and that you don't say anything bad about Bill — he's still their father, and he does get custody of them sometimes.'

After I assured her that I'd be happy to comply with both requests, she just smiled and said

'Thanks, Gary. I appreciate that.'

Several weeks after that conversation, Andrea came over one evening. Even though I was always glad to see her, I could tell that there was something on her mind as we idly chatted. I finally just came out and asked her 'Andrea, I can tell that there's something going on with you tonight. You want to tell me what it is?'

Realizing that she'd been busted, Andrea blushed before telling me 'My boss talked to me the other day, and told me that he'd like to promote me a level at work — but that he can't until I get this one certification; something I have to take care of on my own. I've checked around, and there's a place not too far away where I can get it. I've got the money to pay for getting there, and the test, and everything; there's just one problem that I can't seem to get around.'

From the way she'd acted, and how she was telling me all that, I pretty much knew that I had to figure into whatever solution she'd come up with. 'What is it?', I asked, 'You know I'll help, if I can.'

Somewhat nervously, she told me 'There isn't any way I can take the test for the certification without spending at least ONE night away from home. Would… would you be okay with watching after Emma and Gail? For just one night? It could be here or at my place; either one would be fine with me, and I'd be glad to give you some money for a pizza or something so you didn't have to worry about feeding them. I know they wouldn't be any trouble, because both of them like you so much. And…'

Waving my hands in the air, I interrupted her to say 'Sure, I can keep an eye on them for a night; that's not a problem. Don't worry about getting them fed, either. Go take your test and get certified for whatever, so you can get that promotion and start making a little more money. I know you have a hard time keeping up with everything, sometimes.'

From the look on her face, I knew that she still thought she was asking me a big favor (she wasn't), and that she was grateful that I was willing to help her out that way. It didn't take us long to work out the details; I had only my bed at my place, so me going over to her house so the girls could sleep in their own beds was a no-brainer. I agreed to let Andrea cook supper for us before she left, so that all we'd have to do would be heat it up when we were hungry. Despite her assurances that it was fine for me to use her bed, I told her I'd just sleep on the couch, since it was easily large and comfortable enough for me. Emma and Gail would be informed in no uncertain terms that whatever I said was law until she got home, just to make sure they behaved themselves; I knew they would, anyway, but it made Andrea feel better to tell me that she'd say it. There were a couple of other things, but they were fairly trivial and easily dealt with. Andrea was going to call to make her appointment to take the test the next

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