Lobster Fra Diavolo


Rose's declaration of love, when it came, sounded to George like a concession, one that was prompted largely by circumstance. The setting was hardly romantic. George was driving Rose home from the medical center. The timing, too, was abysmal. Less than an hour before, Rose's doctor had told them that her latest scan had shown a tiny lesion. Three months before, her scan had been "clean."


"You know, of course—or you should have figured it out by now—that I love you," Rose said. "Very much."


She paused, apparently expecting an immediate reply from George, but when he said nothing, she added, "Not from the start perhaps, but isn't that what they say about true love, that it takes time to develop?"


George didn't have a ready answer for Rose. He wasn't sure whether it took true love time to develop, and though he was fond of Rose, and she seemed to care deeply for him, he had hoped that their relationship could have maintained the same airy, jokey feel it had when they first met.


Back then, Rose and George had laughingly likened themselves, roughly speaking, to those stock characters in low-budget porn films, the hunky but scruffy repairman and the busty housewife in a half-open bathrobe who end up, predictably enough, engaged in loud and boisterous sex.


Amusing as that may have been, it required both of them to ignore certain differences between themselves and that staple setup of porn films. George, the manager of a toney condominium building in Boston's Back Bay, hardly resembled in dress or appearance a repairman. His usual attire was a navy blue blazer, grey flannel trousers and white button down shirt set off by a red and blue striped tie. Standing in the lobby or making his rounds, he had the bearing of a captain of a great ocean liner.


Rose, likewise, was hardly the randy housewife with a plunging decollatage. Fiftyish and a widow, she kept her hair gray and in a stylish buzz cut once it grew back in after her chemotherapy treatments, and though her body had thickened slightly, it was still firm and well toned due to the regimen of exercise supervised by her personal trainer. Her hair style aside, Rose blended in quite nicely with the other well-preserved, tastefully dressed women of similar age and background who lived in the condominium building.


Rose and George's first meeting, too, had been decorous and businesslike. Rose had just moved into her condominium when she asked George for advice about replacing light fixtures she found to be too bright. George, brisk and efficient as always, recommended what light fixtures she should install and the electrician who was best suited to do the job.


In that brief meeting, Rose, more outgoing than George, managed to wheedle from him that he was divorced and had a teen-aged daughter. She used a baseball analogy in describing her own marital background, recounting how she had "whiffed" on her first two marriages, struck out swinging, as she put it, but the third time, oh, that third time, she said, letting loose with a swoon, and placing her hands over her heart, she had hit a grand slam. Alas, that marriage came to an end because her husband had a stroke and died a year later, just before his sixty-second birthday.


"George," Rose said, "I just told you that I love you. Either you didn't hear me, or what I said doesn't matter to you."


Then, with a smile on her face, and reaching over to pat his knee, she said, "Or maybe it's an old story, widows and other men's wives falling in love with you. Ho hum, another day, another dame chasing after me."


That didn't wrest a response from George either, mostly because he was preoccupied with trying to ease his way into the lane that would allow him to exit from the expressway and head off towards the Back Bay. With a deft move, he was able to shift lanes, but not without the cab driver behind him blowing his horn and shaking his fist. Only when the lane change was completed did George turn towards Rose and give her a big smile. At the same time, he reached over and placed his hand on her knee.


"Oh come now, don't you think I deserve more than a smile and your hand on my knee?" Rose said.


Rose was prepared for George's answer. She knew it would be a slight variation of the one he had given her when she first accused him, in her words, of being all bottled up. This time, however, when he began to describe the shock and humiliation of his wife running off with another man (her second cousin no less) and the custody fight over his daughter and how the judge, clearly biased, awarded his wife full custody, Rose cut him off.


"Please, George, how many times have I told you? You should be more like me. Unlucky in love? Bounce back. Unlucky again? Try once more. Sooner or later, your luck's bound to change. Look how it worked for me."


She then let loose with that throaty laugh she used when she delineated for him the good and bad points of each of her three husbands, including, if she'd had an extra glass or two of wine, which of them, and under what circumstances, failed or achieved the level of performance she expected from a lover.


"I'm not as bouncy as you are," he told her, still smiling but taking his hand away from her knee because they were approaching one of those Boston intersections in which cars and trucks and buses compete for precious space with daredevil bicycle riders and hordes of college students unable apparently to understand the difference between Walk and Don't Walk signs.


With some care, and only one close call—a motor scooter cutting in front of him— George negotiated the turn onto the street that led several blocks later to the entrance of the parking garage beneath their condominium building. When they arrived, and he had parked his car, he hurried around to open Rose's door for her.


"Oh, really George," she said, "I haven't reached that point yet. I'm still able to open a car door. Now, if you want to be a gentleman, you'll come up to my place with me. I have something else I want to tell you."


George glanced down at his watch, and when he did, Rose grabbed his wrist with her hand, covering his watch.


"No," she said, tightening her grip on his wrist, "this isn't going to take that long, and believe me, you won't think of it as a waste of time."


Prior to that day, Rose and George had never been seen leaving or returning to the building in each other's company. George wasn't breaking any official rule by consorting with Rose, but he was careful to keep his distance from her in public because he didn't want any resident of the building to perceive him as favoring one owner over another.


To get to Rose's apartment, for example, he followed a variety of circuitous routes, taking an elevator to one floor, circling around to the rear stairs to walk up to another floor, where he used an emergency exit (the alarm of which he deactivated) to get to the next floor and so on up to the rear door of Rose's apartment on the sixth floor. There, he would knock twice softly on Rose's rear door, wait five seconds, and then knock two more times. He followed a similar route, only in reverse, when he left Rose's apartment and returned to his own in the basement of the building.


But that day George sensed (as did Rose) that her doctor must have had a reason for wanting to see her so soon after her scan. Thus, gossip be damned, George had escorted Rose from her apartment to the parking garage and drove her to the medical center in his car. He also realized, once prodded by Rose, that he should indeed accompany her back to her apartment. So, he not only apologized to Rose but grabbed onto her arm and held her close as they walked through the parking garage to the elevator that would bring them to the sixth floor. He was relieved, nevertheless, that he and Rose hadn't run into any of their neighbors, either when they had left for the medical center or upon their return.


After they entered Rose's apartment and he helped her off with her coat, George offered to make Rose a cup of tea. "Just what I was thinking," she said. "I'll be in the dining room when its ready."


When he had prepared the tea and brought it, along with a tray of cookies, to the dining room, he found Rose seated at the dining room table, with a pile of legal documents in front of her.


She waited until he sat down in the chair across from her before explaining the documents.


"I'm not going to beat around the bush," she said. "Not long ago I went to my attorney and reworked my will. You can probably tell that from all this paper. Well, to get to the point, I want you to know that you are now one of my beneficiaries."


George had been sipping from his cup of tea, and when he put it down, he took a moment to take a deep breath and then exhale before replying with a simple thank you.


"You could be a bit more enthusiastic," she said.


"Well, I'm a little surprised," he said. "This is very kind of you and I appreciate it, but I need a moment to absorb what you've just told me."


Then, rising half way from the chair and leaning across the table, he gave her a kiss.


"That's more like it," she said.


"Can I say just one thing?" he said, lowering himself back into his chair. "I hope this is all legal and aboveboard, with no questions left unanswered."


"Why, what a funny thing to say," she said. "Of course it is. My lawyer is one of the top people in Boston when it comes to drawing up these things. He delivers lectures on this stuff at law schools all over the country. This isn't some whim, you know. It's been pretty obvious this past year that I had to get my affairs in order."


"I understand what you're getting at," he said, "but that's me, I worry all the time. Right now, for instance, I'm thinking about what might happen if other residents ever got wind of this. What about the condominium board? You never know how they'll react to something like this."


"You know, George, this is when I realize all over again why I was drawn to you— and why I've come to love you. You look so strong and stable, standing there in the lobby, all decked out. Neat and well groomed, every hair in place, you're the perfect picture of the man in charge. But underneath you're this mess of anxiety and worries. I tell you I'm putting you in my will and all at once you're as nervous as a teenager who's about to go out on his first date. So, yes, I've caught you by surprise, twice today, it seems. But consider this a done deal, a fait accompli, as they say. Of course, you can always refuse, but who the hell would ever do that?"


"You know what?" he said, "You're tired. I have a thousand things to check on. We'll talk about this later, when I've had more time to think about it."


"Not too much later," she said. "You saw the doctor's face today. He couldn't hide what he was thinking. Then he had to go and use that horrible word, lesion. I hate that fucking word. It's so ugly, but I guess doctors use it so they won't have to say, tumor, which really scares the hell out of people. Personally, I think they should use some word that isn't so medicinal. What about daffodils? Wouldn't it be better if the doctor said, 'We've just found some daffodils in your colon?' Or maybe, 'Whaddya know, we were looking at your liver and we spotted a lovely bunch of gladiolas.'"



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Two weeks after Rose moved into her condominium, she had invited George to come to dinner. She even managed to make it seem as if the invitation was spontaneous, something she thought of simply because she and George happened to have entered one of the building's elevators at the same time.


No, not some other night, she said, when he demurred. Right now, she said, as she lightheartedly jabbed her finger into his shoulder.


As Rose explained it, she had spent half the day preparing lobster fra diavolo for her stepson, Danny, who had just called and cancelled because of a crisis at his law firm. The way she said crisis made it unnecessary for her to add air quotes with her fingers, but she did so anyway. George already knew by then that Rose and Danny were not always on friendly terms.


George had wondered from the start whether the lobster fra diavolo, along with its accoutrements—champagne, hors d'oeuvres, dessert, brandy—was really intended for Danny. But by the time, dinner was over, and he and Rose were enacting, in real life, the scenario from that porn film, it had all but slipped his mind that Rose may have fibbed in order to lure him into her apartment.


But three weeks later, George was reminded of his initial suspicions about the dinner invitation when he received a call from Rose's stepson Danny. He began by thanking George for helping Rose to get settled in her new apartment.


"Rose tells me that you've been indispensable," Danny said. "She said that everyone in the building feels the same way about you."


George thanked Danny for the compliment and said that he was only doing his job, helping in whatever way possible to keep the condo owners content.


"For the money people pay to live in this place," George said, "they expect first class service, and it's my job to see that they get it."


He then told Danny how much he enjoyed getting to know Rose. "She's such a gracious lady," he said.


"Oh, that's for sure," Danny said, "And generous too. But then again, why not? It's not her money."


George decided to let that comment pass since he wasn't sure what Danny was getting at. He also knew enough about the tenuous relationship between Rose and Danny not to say anything that could be misconstrued by either one of them.


"Danny thinks of me as some kind of fortune hunter," Rose had told George about her stepson. "If you listened to him, you'd think that I stalked his father until I got him to marry me. Mostly though, he's never thought of me as a suitable replacement for his sainted mother. That little snob holds it against me that my second husband appears in all those television ads, bellowing in that loud voice of his about the cheap, cheap, cheap prices at his tire stores. So just because my former husband is a huckster, I'm not supposed to be able to marry his big time lawyer father, who, by the way, adored me?"


"Has she made lobster fra diavolo for you yet?" Danny asked. "What kind of question is that?" George said.


"She always does," Danny said. "That's Rose's trademark dish. My father just loved it. You get in an argument with Rose and the first thing you know she'll try to win you over to her side by making you lobster fra diavolo. God knows, how many times she's done that and for what purpose."


"It sounds to me like you have a problem with Rose," George said, quietly. "If you do, take it up with her, not with me."


George was about to end the call, but before he did, Danny was able to make one more comment. "Be her friend if you want. Help her if she asks you to replace a light bulb. But I'd watch myself if I were you. Don't get too friendly. And don't think that getting into bed with her entitles you to anything else."


George promptly hung up without even saying goodbye. He said nothing to Rose about the call from Danny, and he was cautious, extremely so, when Danny called a month later and a month after that. Both times Danny began by asking about Rose and how she was adjusting to living in an apartment in the city after spending so many years in the suburbs, always in a large house. Then he usually drifted into talking about the condominium building. Was there much of a turnover in owners? How many people did George have working for him? He heard the sales prices of each unit had gone up astronomically. Was that so?


George patiently answered Danny's questions and assured him that Rose, once she had renovated her apartment to conform with her own tastes, very much enjoyed living in the Back Bay. But the third time Danny called him, George asked him bluntly what he was getting at.


"I'm not naive. I know that you and Rose have had some differences," he said. "but don't make me part of it. So, please, if you don't mind, no more calls."


Danny never had a chance to respond before George hung up on him. Several more months went by without George getting any calls from Danny, but once Rose was diagnosed and had begun treatments, Danny called George again, asking for his opinion of how Rose was doing.


"She tells me everything's fine," Danny said, "but that's Rose. Blue skies and sunshine, no matter what. I'll say this, though. Rose is right when she says she's going to win this battle. She's a scrapper."


George agreed that Rose was approaching her illness with a positive attitude, but seconds later, Danny switched the conversation away from Rose's medical condition to a matter of greater importance to him, the growing friendship between Rose and George. When he did so, he also lowered his voice so that it was gravelly and husky, which made him sound like an actor playing a Mafia mob boss.


"I understand that you haven't paid any attention to what I told you the first time I called," he said. "So let me be more explicit. A, don't think this great friendship you have with Rose gives you special privileges. B, you should understand that Rose has certain obligations. Yeah, I'm talking about my two daughters. My father fell hard for Rose, too hard in my opinion. Right after he had his stroke, the first thing he did was to make sure Rose would be taken care of when he died. Fine. That was his right, and that was my father, an incredibly decent guy. And yes, Rose stood by my father, night and day, until he had his second stroke and died. In fact, she did a fantastic job of caring for him. Great. Thank you, Rose. You deserve everything my father left you. But now—"


"Danny," George said, "are you saying that I'm some kind of gold digger, that I'm trying to get something out of Rose by being her friend?"


"I'm telling you that my father was very generous towards Rose. But as God is my judge, if my father was standing here today, he would agree l00 percent with me. Rose has no kids. When she dies, whatever she leaves, or a good part of it anyway, should be returned to my father's rightful heirs. That means me, or more specifically, my two little girls. So, consider yourself warned. Don't even try to weasel your way into getting your hands on Rose's money."


Since George at that point had no idea that Rose planned to include him in her will, it seemed to him that Danny was talking nonsense. His response, accordingly, was brief and to the point.


"Danny, why don't you go fuck yourself," he said, slamming the phone receiver down.


That was the last time George heard from Danny until Rose, whose condition had improved—and whose hair had begun to grow back—decided to celebrate the occasion by combining it with a Christmas party. She invited old friends, a good number of her new neighbors, along with George and Danny and his wife and their two daughters.


The party was a festive affair, with a lot of hugs and kisses for Rose from her many friends. A loud cheer went up when she announced to everyone that her doctor was pleased with her progress, and she then toasted not only her doctors but everyone who had helped her cope with her illness. At George's request, she did not single him out for the moral support and all the other assistance he had given her during her treatments.


George, grateful that Rose's condition had improved, and caught up in the celebratory mood, greeted Danny as if he were an old friend when Rose introduced the two of them. Danny, too, was extremely cordial towards George when introducing him to his wife and two daughters.


George was intrigued that Danny, at the party, had a different voice from when he had called him. Instead of that gruff sound he talked softly, almost too softly. George was also struck by Danny's odd appearance. He was slim and had narrow shoulders, but he had this heavy beard, the kind that left a shadow on his face even after he had shaved, and though he was still in his thirties, he was quite bald. It looked to George as if one part of Danny, his neck and head, belonged to an older man while the rest of him could be mistaken for a teenager.


The exchange between Danny and George was mostly about Rose and the remarkable progress she had made and how fortunate she was to have had first- class medical care. But later on, when George was coming out of the bathroom, Danny made a point of standing in his way. It was a narrow hallway and when George, excusing himself, tried to walk past him, Danny extended an arm, which prevented George from getting by.


"In here," Danny told George, placing one hand on George's chest and nudging him towards the bathroom. "This will only take a second."


George was tempted to push Danny aside, but he didn't want to start a scuffle so he went along with Danny's suggestion. Danny, following behind, closed the door and locked it.


"We need some privacy for this," Danny said. "So here goes, one more time. You know the statistics for the kind of cancer Rose has. What I've called you about before is no longer theoretical. She's mistaken if she thinks that what she inherited from my father belongs to her forever and ever. I've always thought of it as a loan. I bet he did, too. So when Rose no longer needs the money, she returns to me whatever is left over from everything my father gave her. It's that simple. No outsider is supposed to get in between."


"Look, my friend, it's Christmas. Rose is feeling better than she has in months. Let's celebrate the season. Let's celebrate Rose. Now, I'm going to give you about three seconds to get the fuck out of my way. Then, as soon as I walk out of here, I'll try to forget this bullshit you've been trying to peddle. What Rose does with her money is her business. It has nothing to do with me. And personally, I don't think there's any need for you to poke your nose into her affairs either. Now, move, before I break you in half."


There was a moment when Danny looked as if he was about to stand his ground, but he was realistic enough to know that he was no match for George, who was solid and compact and seemed not to have an ounce of surplus flesh anywhere on his body. Even his ears were so flat against his head that they were barely visible and his hair, too, was just long enough to have a part in it, a part that was more distinctive because the hair on the left side of his head had more gray in it than the right side. He was, in short, primed to spring into action and to do so with the strength and agility that came from the vigorous exercises he put himself through each morning.


George said nothing as he brushed past Danny, and when he arrived back in the living room, he told Rose that his beeper had just gone off, which meant there was something he needed to tend to somewhere in the building. He didn't say a word, then or later, to Rose about the incident in the bathroom.


After Rose's party, George was fairly certain that he was unlikely to hear from Danny again about the disposition of Rose's estate. He thought it ghoulish, quite frankly, that Danny was even thinking in those terms. But three weeks later, he was driving up the ramp that led from the condominium building's parking garage, on his way to his weekly polka game with his brother-in-law and two of his boyhood friends, when a black SUV suddenly blocked the exit. George slammed on his brakes just in time to avert a collision and blew his horn, but the driver of the SUV refused to move, making it impossible for George to continue on to the street. George then got out of his car and walked over to the SUV. When he got there, and the driver of the SUV lowered his tinted window, he saw that it was Danny.


"Greetings," Danny said. "I was in the neighborhood and I thought we might be able to continue that little talk we were having. By the way, I'd like you to meet my friend. His name is Hubie."


Hubie, seated next to Danny, was broad shouldered and had a bull neck and seemed to take up most of the vehicle's front seat. He was wearing wrap around dark glasses and his black knitted cap was pulled down over his ears. When Danny introduced him to George, Hubie smiled and waved at him.


"Hubie, here, is my helper. He gets people to understand certain things they don't seem to understand at first. I thought you might keep Hubie in mind when you're trying to charm some old biddy into giving you something that doesn't, by right, belong to her, or to you, either. Need I say more?"


Before George could answer—though he was inclined not to—Danny said, "Bye, bye—for now."


Hubie, still smiling, had just enough time to wave again at George, before Danny lowered the window, and gunning the engine, drove away.



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Rose liked to chide George about the great care he took in getting to her apartment and his insistence on leaving her bed while it was still dark outside.


"Do you really think people in this building are keeping track of where you spend your off-duty hours?" she said. "Not a chance. All they know is that they have the best damned building manager of any condominium in Boston. And whatever you do to relax, you more than deserve it."


"There's no such thing as off duty in this job," he told her, pulling back his jacket to reveal the pager clipped to his belt.


George frequently reminded Rose that certain condo owners seemed to think of themselves as his immediate supervisors. Most of the residents, most of the time were well mannered and likable, but he was well aware, as he often told Rose, that he had "one hundred and twelve bosses, sometimes more if children and grandchildren are visiting."


He had recounted to her how a few years back some residents, mostly older women, raised the question of whether he provided additional services to those owners who rewarded him with particularly generous gifts at Christmas.


"I was bullshit when I heard about it," he said, "I have never done that and I've told the people who work for me never to do that. I made that quite clear to the board, too. I didn't threaten to leave, but the board knew I wasn't going to put up with that crap."


His outburst, according to George, caused the board to put in place a new policy. Owners were asked to refrain from giving Christmas bonuses to the building staff. Instead the board took over the job of distributing year-end bonuses, using money from the building's reserve fund to compensate George and the rest of the staff.


"That was the smartest thing the board has ever done," George said. "Now I help someone, and it doesn't look like I'm hoping for a little something extra in my Christmas envelope. Plus, I know the people who work for me aren't playing games, being extra nice to generous tippers and skimping on those who don't give them as much."


Rose agreed that because of his position it was wise for George to be discreet about his friendship with her, but she bridled at some of the constraints he imposed on their relationship.


"You really should enjoy the fringe benefits that come to a man in your position," she said. "Most of all, though, I think you have this hangup about me being one of the hundred twelve or so bosses you worry so much about. Forget it. You and me, we're equals. We aren't playing upstairs, downstairs."


"I can't help it," he told her, "I care what people around here think—and I'm the kind of person who feels you can never be too careful. I'm a belt and suspenders man. My father was, too, literally."


Somewhat good naturedely at first, but less so as time went on, Rose went along with the procedures George devised for keeping their relationship a secret. On Sundays, when they went off to a movie or to dinner, or maybe in good weather to have a picnic, she would drive her car to a predetermined spot where George was waiting for her. Then, with some grumbling, she would transfer into his car for the trip to their destination, which was usually far enough away from Boston so that they were unlikely to run into a fellow resident of their condominium building.


Rose felt a long weekend she and George spent in Maine was less enjoyable than it could have been because she had to make sure practically everyone in the building knew she would be visiting her old college roommate in Connecticut. Likewise, George went out of his way to let residents know that he was driving up to New Hampshire to go fishing with his brother.


Then there was the time they had to cancel a planned trip to the Bahamas because of a minor but smokey fire in the condominium building's basement. George had already told everyone that he would be visiting friends in the Berkshires, and Rose made sure that several of her neighbors knew she would be flying to Florida to attend her high school class reunion. They had even agreed that George would return a day earlier than Rose lest anyone notice that their departure and return seemed to coincide. But in the end, George didn't feel that he could trust his assistant to oversee emergency repairs to the building's heating system.


Once Rose was diagnosed, but before she began chemotherapy, she complained more frequently, and more pointedly, about having to follow rules that made her feel, she said, as if she was back in high school and her parents wouldn't allow her to date on school nights. Back then, she told George, she was young enough, and limber enough, to climb out her bedroom window to meet her boyfriend.


Rose's underlying frustration with George's rules of engagement was more pronounced than usual one Sunday when they were on their way back to Boston after having had dinner at a country inn an hour west of the city. Rose hadn't enjoyed her dinner, which seemed to have sat too long in a warming oven, and then an accident on the turnpike caused a traffic tie up that extended some five miles or so. As they sat there, inching forward for a moment, then waiting another few minutes to move a car length or two, Rose grew tired of hashing over again and again the shortcomings of her dinner, including the way the surly waiter had ignored her when she lodged a complaint. Suddenly, without any warning, she switched to a new topic.


"Melinda," she said, referring to George's daughter. "I've told you before how much I'd like to meet her. So why not take me along some Saturday, when you two have your weekly get together?"


There was something in the tone of the question, and the way she had sprung it on George, that made it seem as if she were testing him, trying to see what his reaction would be.


George was caught off-guard, but he knew enough not to reject Rose's suggestion outright.


"Sure," he said, "but not this next Saturday." He had a sheepish grin on his face when he confessed that he hadn't yet told Melinda about her.


"I'll need to talk with her first," he said.


"That doesn't surprise me," she said, "but I can understand why you think you need to prepare her for meeting me. Otherwise, imagine Melinda's reaction when you introduce me and the first thing she notices is that your friend is—well, let us say, a bit on the mature side. 'Oh oh,' she says to herself. 'I guess the old man can't attract sweet young things anymore.'"


Though Rose flashed a coquettish grin when she said that, George didn't seem to think it was worthy of a reply. Rose, who was more upset than she let on, promptly came up with another reason why George hadn't told Melinda about her.


"Then there's this," she said. "Melinda sees you with another woman and suddenly she realizes you've recovered. Your broken heart is mended."


"I'm going to be polite enough not to tell you what I'm thinking," he said, "but that's only because my mother told me to watch my language when there's a lady present."


"Oh, feel free to say what you want," she said. "But before you do, I've got another idea. You take me along to see Melinda, but when you introduce me you say that I'm Auntie Rose, a long lost relative. I've always thought I'd make a great maiden aunt."


Rose laughed when she said that. George didn't seem to find any humor in it, and for a moment, Rose thought that she might apologize to him, particularly about the broken-heart remark, but she decided she wasn't going to back away from anything she had said, which made for a very quiet ride back to her car. In parting, they exchanged a perfunctory kiss, and when Rose said she was tired and would be going straight to bed as soon as she got home, George said that he, too, was going to turn in early.


The next morning, Rose decided to make amends for the testy exchange with George. She called him early and invited him to dinner, and though George was too busy to take her call, she left a message saying she wanted to take back the comments she made the day before.


"There's no need for me to drag your little girl into the private business of adults," she said.


George, too, when he returned Rose's call, was contrite. "I shouldn't let stuff like that get to me," he said. "I'll try to do better from now on."


To show how much he regretted his behavior, he also hurried out late in the afternoon to a jewelry store and bought Rose a pair of stylish gold earrings that he was carrying in his pocket when he arrived at her rear door. He was somewhat surprised that Rose didn't answer her door when he first knocked so when he knocked again he did so more forcefully.


A moment later, Rose opened the door, and in a reasonably good imitation of a sultry temptress, she said, "Hey, what's your hurry, big boy. Did you think I wasn't going to answer?"


In one hand she was holding aloft a bottle of champagne, and with her other hand, she was barely holding together the top of the negligee that would have been well suited to any actress in a porn film. She had prepared, of course, lobster fra diavolo for their dinner.



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When Rose was first diagnosed, and George was frequently on hand to help her, even during the work day, she thought that he might begin to be less secretive than he had been about their relationship. Indeed, the day she went to the doctor to find out about her latest scan, she was quite delighted—and moved also—that George didn't seem to care, at last, whether any of her neighbors saw them driving off together. Then, after the doctor told her what he had seen on her scan, she decided that the time had come to tell George as explicitly as she knew how that she was in love with him. She didn't see any reason, either, to put off telling him that she had included him in her will.


She could understand why George, driving through rush-hour traffic, couldn't pull over and give her a passionate kiss when she proclaimed her love for him, but she was puzzled, completely dumbfounded, when he didn't give her a big hug and dance her around the room when she told him that he would be coming into a sum of money after she died. And that question he had asked about the legality of her will, that, she kept telling herself, was inexplicable, even for a belt-and-suspenders man.


But by the next morning, she had persuaded herself that George, always so courteous, would soon get around to expressing his gratitude. By noon, however, when she had yet to hear from him, she assumed that he was probably tending to some emergency. In the afternoon, on her way out to do some errands, she stopped by his office, but found that he wasn't there. Later, back in her apartment, she called him, twice. Both times her calls were directed to his voicemail. That in itself was upsetting to her, since even when George was busy, he always found time to let her know when he would call her back.


By early evening, when George still hadn't returned her calls, she had a light supper and then decided to go to bed, but not before turning off the ringer on both her home phone and cell phone. Not only was she tired, but she knew that she was too perturbed to talk with George that evening.


George knew that he should have answered Rose's calls, but he was still uncertain about what he wanted to tell her. She would have made it easier for him, he told himself, if she had let him know, even in vague terms, the size of his bequest. Was it something like the year end bonus he received from the condominium board? If so, that was acceptable to him.


But what if it was more than that, what if it was a significant amount? Such a gift, he feared, might have important and untold ramifications if it became known that he had inherited a sizable amount of money from a resident of the building. That would undoubtedly lead to speculation about the type of relationship he had with Rose. Would that be deemed acceptable by the condominium board? Yet he didn't think he could ask Rose what the amount of her planned gift was. No, that was out of the question.


During a mostly sleepless night, he kept reminding himself that he should be more thankful for Rose's gesture, no matter how much she planned to give him. But he was irked, not angry by any means, but noticeably irritated with Rose because she didn't realize how disruptive her bequest might be. He didn't like the idea either that Rose might be paying him in advance for the care she would most likely need once her condition worsened. It was as though she wanted to make sure he would remain by her side, always at her beck and call, as he thought of it. Did she really think that she had to dangle cash in front of him, that he expected to be paid for his loyalty and devotion?


He also wished that Rose understood better how she might be jeopardizing his standing with other residents in the building. He assumed, from the day he had taken the job, that any resident, no matter how friendly and good natured, could always find some reason to go to the condominium board with a complaint about his level of performance, even if it were a matter of little significance.


What if some owner, out of sorts, didn't think his janitors had been prompt enough in clearing snow from the front entrance of the building? And what if that owner then got several other owners to join him in sending a letter of complaint to the condominium board? No doubt, a few more residents would hear of the complaint, and sooner or later there would be some talk about how the building manager didn't seem to be as attentive as he once was.


George could see such a discussion picking up even more momentum, barreling along until someone ventured the thought that he or she had always wondered about the very friendly relationship the building manager seemed to have with that woman on the sixth floor, Rose. Oh, there, that's it, says one owner to the other, with a little chuckle added, how can the poor man keep his mind on his job with so many widows around here for him to carry on with?


His more fevered imaginings George could shunt aside. Not so easy to dismiss were the threats he had received from Danny, which hovered over his thinking like some ghost-like presence. He hated himself for allowing the specter of Danny to enter into his thinking, but he knew that it would be foolish to ignore him completely.


Particularly troubling to George was Danny's area of legal expertise. Danny was a partner in a law firm that dealt primarily with medical malpractice suits and he had heard from Rose how Danny boasted of his ability, and that of his colleagues, to plant news stories about the terrible harm done to their clients by a doctor or hospital of some renown. According to Danny, or according to what Danny had told Rose, the newspaper stories almost always caused doctors and hospitals to agree to generous out-of-court settlements in order to avoid the prolonged coverage likely to accompany a full-scale trial.


George could well imagine Danny doing something similar to him. He believed that the possibility of Danny bringing a legal suit, and going public about it, was more likely than utilizing Hubie's services. He could even picture the Boston Globe headline, "Back Bay Building Manager Receives Large Bequest, Romance Alleged by Widow's Stepson." How was he supposed to defend himself against the charge that he had preyed on a widow who was seriously ill, one he had taken advantage of by becoming first her lover and then her heir?


By the morning of the second day, George had determined that Rose's kind gesture might be more trouble than it was worth. But he hesitated at going to her apartment to tell her that he wanted to be left out of her will. That, he feared, would cause Rose to break up with him, right then, right on the spot. Then again, he was well aware that an inheritance from Rose could be helpful to him now that Melinda was sixteen years old and would soon be going off to college. Did he have any right, he asked himself, to refuse a bequest that might give his daughter the chance to attend a first-rate, but expensive college?


During the day, whenever he thought of what Danny could do to embarrass him publicly, he found himself once again becoming upset at how Rose's grand plan could disrupt his quiet, relatively untroubled existence. Didn't Rose realize that she, unwittingly, and Danny, quite consciously, might force him into dealing with lawyers and depositions and judges and all the rest of the legal machinery he had come to hate when he tried to gain custody of his daughter?


After that custody battle with his wife, he had vowed (as Rose well knew) never again to go near a courtroom, not even if his life were at stake. The likelihood that Danny might drag him into a legal battle was enough, by itself, he decided, to make him reject Rose's offer. Still, he put off for a few more hours expressing his misgivings to Rose. He wanted to make sure, when he talked to her, that she wouldn't be hurt by his reservations about accepting her offer.


By noon, when Rose still hadn't heard from George, she told herself she had made a mistake in informing him within the same hour that she loved him and that she had decided to include him in her will. Maybe she should call him, she decided, and try to explain herself more fully. She was willing to do just that, even though she was still smarting from the two calls he hadn't yet returned.


In her first call, she simply said, "Call when you have a minute." In her next call, an hour later, she said, "Hey lover boy, what's up with you?" But in her third call she said, "George, I am not amused. I never imagined that this would be a problem for you. What's there to think about? What's so hard about accepting a gift from someone who loves you?" Her fourth call was brief and exceedingly direct. "Yes or no, I want an answer from you about this—and now, not later."


The last call worked, but George waited until early evening to return it. When he did, he apologized to Rose, and then, quickly before she could say anything, he told her that he had needed time to decide whether he wanted to accept her offer.


"I'll be honest with you," he said, "I'm thinking it might be best for me not to get involved."


"Honesty is always the best policy," Rose said. "Nobody can argue with that. And it's the least that I expect from someone like you. But why are you making me feel that I've done something wrong? And please, I hope Danny hasn't been bugging you about this. He's hinted more than once that anything his father left to me should be passed on to his daughters. Hinted? Hell, he's all but demanded it. Well, who the hell cares what that little twerp thinks? I don't and I never will—and you shouldn't either."


"No," George said, "it goes back to what I decided after my wife ran out on me. It's best not to get too involved, in this or anything else for that matter. I have a good life, a good job. I'm able to take care of my daughter. I don't need complications."


Rose, without bothering to respond, hung up on him, and when he called back he got only a busy signal. George went to her apartment, forsaking the usual circuitous route, but when he knocked there was no answer. He was tempted, since he had a key, to let himself in, but that would be a serious breach of condominium policy. Except for an emergency, neither he nor anyone else on the maintenance staff was allowed to enter an apartment without permission from the owner. As badly as he wanted to see Rose, he was not about to violate condominium rules.


In the morning he couldn't get to talk with Rose because he had an early meeting at the office of an interior decorator who was designing an extensive upgrade of the building lobby and reception area. Twice he excused himself so that he could go outside to call Rose, but both times his calls went to her voicemail. Then, when the meeting finally ended, and he went directly to Rose's apartment, there was no answer when he knocked on her door. That's when he decided to ignore, just once, the condominium's rules. But when he entered Rose's apartment, he found that it was empty. Calls he made to her during the afternoon were not returned, nor did he find Rose in her apartment when, twice that night, he used his key to let himself in.


George had an even more restless night wondering where Rose had gone. Then, early the next morning, he received a call from the chairman of the condominium board to discuss estimates they had received for roof repairs, but just as the chairman was about to hang up, he said, "Hey, did you hear? Rose is putting her condo up for sale. She's gone off to Florida to visit her sister just now, but the real estate broker she's using told me that she's planning to move there. I guess with her health issues, she's decided that's the best place for her. Too bad. She was quite a lady. I always got a kick out of her."


George arranged to be on vacation when Rose's sister came, along with movers, to pack up and ship Rose's furniture and clothes and other belongings to Florida. He had a brief meeting, just once, with the broker who was selling Rose's apartment, and in his official capacity he inspected the work done by the crew the broker had hired to prepare the apartment for viewing by potential buyers.


All the while he debated with himself about whether he should try to get in touch with Rose. He knew where her sister lived, and there were several nights, when he had the phone in his hand, ready to call Rose, but always at the last minute he decided against it. He didn't want Rose to think that he was trying to make up with her because he had changed his mind and now wanted to accept her offer.


Never once was Rose tempted to get in touch with George. Her resolve might have softened over time, but her condition worsened more quickly than her doctor anticipated, and she died eight months after she left Boston. Not long after that, George's daughter received a letter from Rose's attorney, informing her that a sum of money, large enough to pay for her college education, had been left to her by a distant relative, someone the attorney would only identify as Aunt Rose.  End of Story