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My fiancé is taking a nap with Luna, after spending most of the day on a ladder painting our house. Luna is a five week old female beagle puppy we bought for each other to celebrate our engagement.

My divorce has been finalized: my ex-husband a defrocked Baptist Minister is now hiding in Mexico after embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from his church.

I am originally from Mississippi. I met my husband Luke at a Born Again Christian revival meeting at the fair grounds when I was just seventeen years old, a virgin saving myself for marriage; he was twenty -three.

Luke was so handsome, thick wavy black hair, blue eye with such wonderful long eyelashes, and a dimple in his chin.

Such a charismatic speaker behind the microphone in his white linen suit; he had his audience eating out of his hands in joyous rapture praising the Lord, women fainting and men crying, and I was in love.

I was introduced to him at a church social afterwards. He was wearing his trademark white linen suit and when I shook his hand it was cool and smooth, never knowing manual labor; his nails freshly manicured.  Luke was being groomed to take over when
Reverend Scott retired in the spring.

We walked over to the refreshment table for punch, Luke’s hand lingered on mine, he told me I was a very pretty girl and complemented me on my dress, causing me to blush.

Luke and I dated for two years; we were never alone together, as is proper; always with a chaperone or with other couples, all members of our church. As far as my parents were concerned, both elders in the church, we were the anointed couple, perfect for one another.

On our wedding night, I went into the bathroom, as all new brides do, to make myself sexy for my husband. I took my hair down out of my bun and brushed out my long honey blond hair until it shone, soft and thick, falling to the middle of my back; I was going to grow it waist length for Luke.

Since the revival meeting, I imagined over and over how our lovemaking would be on our wedding night.
Luke would take me gently into his arms and kiss me.

He would tell me how beautiful I was and how much he loved me.

I would feel his hands gently caress my breasts, tasting his lips for the first time. Luke would gently break my hymen with his manhood, kissing me and slowly bring me to orgasm spilling his seed into me.

Then would lie there talking about our future. Before marriage, we talked about having a big family; Luke wanted at least six children.

When I got out of the bathroom, the curtains were drawn and Luke was waiting for me. I got into bed next to my sexy husband.  Luke reached over and turned off the table lamp throwing the room into complete darkness.

I rolled over on my back awaiting my first kiss. Luke roughly… perhaps roughly is not the right word; mechanically would be better.
Luke pushed his Vaseline covered fingers into my vagina forcefully tearing my hymen causing me to cry out in pain.

We had intercourse in the missionary position that lasted a good sixty seconds, Luke lying on top of me, his full weight pushing me down, smothering me, grunting and groaning with a terrible grimace on his face as if he were in pain.

When he was done, Luke kissed my mouth once, rolled over and went to sleep. That was our love making while on our honeymoon…. to make babies. And remained our love making every night for three years.

On the last night of my honeymoon, such as it was, we were returning home and decided to stop around midnight at a gas station- convenience store to get a cup of coffee and then to use the bathrooms.  I was out the ladies room first, and went to sit in the car and wait for Luke.
A slovenly young man in filthy blue jeans and a Heavy Metal Tee Shirt, driving an old rusty pickup pulled in beside our car and got out.

He spat a stream of chewing tobacco juice on the ground, drank the last of his beer, crushing the can in his hand and throwing it on the ground, farting and belching while stuffing more chewing tobacco into his mouth.

I was frightened by him and didn’t look at him, hoping that Luke would return soon so that we could leave.

Looking in my direction, he pushed his lank greasy hair out of his eyes and smiled at me, showing tobacco stained yellow teeth.

He sauntered over, sticking his head in the driver’s side window.

"What’s a pretty little thing like you doin he-ah all alone this time ah night?  I could smell the alcohol on his fetid breath, as well as his reeking unwashed body.

"Do you yah all want some company."  He added, turning his head spitting another stream of tobacco juice to the ground.

I was too frightened to answer and stared straight ahead hoping he would go away.  Leaning farther in and reaching with his arm,

"You sure have pretty hair.  He said as he stroked my long ponytail. "What do you say about you and me going to the roadhouse and get better acquainted"?

Just then Luke came out of the store carrying two cups of coffee.
"What is going on here, stop bothering my wife."

The redneck pulled his head out the car window, sized up Luke and spit again on the ground.

"Your wife you say preacher boy." "I thought she might like to be with a real man for a change." "What do you say about me borrowing her for an hour or so?"  This time spitting on Luke’s pants legs, staining the white linen fabric with tobacco juice and smiling through his missing front teeth.

Still hanging on to the coffee cups Luke said, "You had better leave us alone, or else. "Or else what, you’ll pray for me?"  The redneck said sneering, and knocking the coffee cups from Luke’s hands.

"I’ll tell you what."  He added, taking a crumpled dollar bill from his jeans pocket and stuffing it into Luke’s white shirt pocket. "I’ll even pay for it and let you watch."  Luke just stood there with his head down as if he was praying.

A county sheriffs car pulled into the parking lot near the bathrooms and seeing it Luke straightened his back and stood up to his full height of six-four. "If I were not a man of God, I would beat you to an inch of your miserable life." "The Lord has answered my prayers asking him to give me strength to turn the other cheek."

Like pushed past him and got into the car and we drove away.

Luke turned to me and said, "He should thank the Lord that the law showed up when it did."  "My prayers were answered Mary-Beth."" There is no telling of what I would have do to him in my righteous anger."

Like the blind fool that I was then, I wanted to believe him and leaned over putting my head on his shoulder. Luke puffed out his chest, sitting up straighter in the seat, putting his arm around me; I was content.

After all, I thought to myself, The Bible says "But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also".

We were home a week, and it was a Sunday morning.  I was up early to make him a breakfast of pork sausage, fried eggs and grits and my famous biscuits with sausage gravy.

As we were sitting at the table eating, Luke looked at me, a thoughtful look on his face and said, "We need to do something about your hair."  I had fixed my hair in pretty bun as my mother’s suggested as is befitting a minister’s wife.

"You don’t like my hair, what is wrong with it, I have it pinned up for you." "Nothing is wrong with your hair, but you are a married woman now." "I was thinking a shorter, more conservative style would be nice." "Toning your blond hair down a little, to a nice brown perhaps." 

"Something that is easier to care for on our busy schedule, especially when our babies arrive."  
"Remember how that sinner was tempted in the parking lot, touching your hair?" "I know it was not your fault, but only God knows what would have happened if I didn’t show up when I did." "You are a pretty woman and pretty women turn men’s heads." "It is best to remove the temptation in the first place." "I have made an appointment for you with one of our parishioners."

Touching my hair and wanting to please him, I foolishly agreed to keep the appointment on Wednesday. The Bible says a wife shall obey her husband in all things; and I still loved and believed in him.

I arrived at the salon thirty minutes early to browse through the pictures in the hairstyle books.  I chose a simple chin length bob cut with eye framing bangs selecting a hair model with rich dark brown hair that complemented the cut.

Mrs. Sullivan the salon owner and my stylist escorted me to her cutting station, and sat me in the chair, putting the cape around my neck. Showing her the open book and pointing to the picture, I said to her, "I really like this one, I think it would look nice on me."

Taking the book from me, Mrs. Sullivan said, "You are so right dear that style would suit you just fine."  Setting the book aside.  Mrs. Sullivan took the hairpins out of my bun, letting my hair drop down into a cute sassy ponytail.  I loved wearing my hair this way the best.

"You have beautiful hair Mary-Beth, would you like to donate your ponytail to Locks Of Love? "I just nodded, daydreaming about how I would curl my hair for Luke when I got home, after I bought a styling wand of course, thinking maybe being a brunette would not be so bad after all.

I assumed that Mrs. Sullivan was going to reposition my ponytail lower at the nape of my neck; instead she took the scissors and started chewing through my medium high ponytail just above the elastic hair tie. "Mrs. Sullivan, what are you doing?"  I cried out in alarm. "I thought we agreed on the bob, now the back will be to short."
Mrs. Sullivan stopped a puzzled look on her face, but then smiled, replying, "No dear, you misunderstood me, I agreed with you that that style would look nice on you, not that I was going to cut it that way." "Your husband picked out a nice short haircut on Tuesday, I thought you knew that."
After she severed my beautiful ponytail, she held it up for me to see, then placed it on the shelf of her cutting station, saying she would braid it later.

Taking up the scissors, Mrs. Sullivan cut my hair in a rough bowl
cut just above my ears.  I started tearing up and Mrs. Sullivan stopped and brought me a box of tissue. Patting my hand she assured me that I would look cute in my new style. She then turned the chair around, facing away from the mirror.

Picking up the electric clippers and snapping a 3/4"(13mm) guard in place, she ran the clippers up the sides and back right up to the bowl, lifting it with a comb and stopping.  She changed the clipper guards five times: 5/8"(16mm), 1/2"(13mm), 3/8"(10mm), 1/4"(6mm) and finally 1/8"(3mm.), running the clippers up the back and sides, tapering and blending, 1/8"(3mm) at my hairline, 3/4"(13mm) long, at the bottom of the bowl.

Taking me over to the sink, Mrs. Sullivan washed my
remaining hair and then she applied the color while telling I would have to wait twenty minutes for the color to set.

I asked to be excused to go to the ladies room and locked my self in. I put the cover on the toilet down and sat down, crying my eyes out, hating Mrs. Sullivan, hating my husband and the filthy redneck for touching my hair.

Then I prayed, calming myself asking for forgiveness for hating them.
I lost track off all time; Mrs. Sullivan knocked on the door reminding me my time was up. I washed my face, and then exited the restroom.

After the excess color was rinsed from my hair, it was back to the chair, again facing away from the mirror.

Mrs. Sullivan again picked up the scissors and started cutting the bowl, further shaping and blending it into the sides and back.

She combed my hair forward and cut short blunt bangs.
Watching her, I was thinking that I have not had bangs this short since I was three years old or any bangs since then; I remembered the picture my parents took of me after I cut them myself.

I always took good care of my hair, getting it trimmed regularly,
and hot oil treatment to keep it soft and shiny.

When I was first married, it was blunt cut all one length with no layers. I wore it center parted or parted off to the right, depending on my mood.

From the time I was a little girl, my mother used to brush my hair and braid it for me, just before bedtime. It was our special time together. We would talk and tell each other secrets.

Finally we would pray together. We had a special prayer…a simple prayer that we both said together, when it was dark and the moon was out; the first prayer that I ever learned and still will say to myself on moon lit nights: "I see the moon and the moon sees me. "God bless the moon and God bless me."

My mom brushed my hair the night before my wedding and then braided it for me.  That night is was a full moon… We said our special prayer.

I cried as she finished my haircut, parting it on the right, adding layers and finally thinning the top with thinning shears.

She turned the chair around to face the mirror. I did not recognize the person staring back at me. Mrs. Sullivan was absolutely beaming. "You look so cute with short hair Mary-Beth, so youthful." "Just shampoo and blow dry your hair; ten minutes at the most."

I was no longer beautiful blond woman; with my hair pinned up in an elegant bun or in a sassy ponytail; I was a cute brown haired girl with a short boys haircut.
If I were not wearing a dress, or wearing makeup, I was sure to be mistaken for a teenage boy.  "No charge dear, the Reverend paid in advance and left me a nice tip."

As I was driving to my parent’s house to get my telescope, astronomy books, it occurred to me that my hair was even shorter then my husbands.

When I was eight years old, my father bought me an expensive
telescope. It came with a heavy gauge aluminum case with compartments for the various eyepieces needed for photography or viewing wildlife.

Dad and I would go to Merkle’s Hill on mild clear nights with my telescope to view the heavens.  I used to take that telescope with everywhere, Dad referred to it as my "security blanket".

When I arrived at my parents, they comforted me as best they could. I knew that my father was very angry, but he explained that it was not proper for Mom and he to interfere, but their door was always open for me to talk.

I always felt very safe and secure around Dad, a retired Marine Corps Major. Dad was fearless and would not back down to anybody.

He was so kind and gentle with my mother and I, never raising his voice to us. When I was thirteen, we all went Christmas shopping. After we pulled into our parking space, I opened my car
and accidentally bumped the car next to us.

The occupant, a young man waiting for his girlfriend jumped out his car and started screaming and cursing at me. Dad stepped in front me and said to him, "Son, there can’t be more then one hundred dollars damage to your car if that." "I can give the cash or we can exchange insurance information and settle that way."

"But first, you will apologize to my wife and daughter!"
"Fuck you old man, and them too!" I didn’t know he could move so fast; Dad hit him twice in the stomach knocking the wind out of him and doubling him over. Then he grabbed the man’s wrist pinning his arm behind his back, applying pressure until he apologized over and over to Dad’s satisfaction.

I tried everything to become pregnant. Finally after three years of trying, and with the help of Dr. McCarthy my fertility specialist, I was finally blessed, my tests showed I was three months pregnant.

Mom and I were decorating the baby’s room turning it into a nursery during my fifth month.  I left Mom stripping wallpaper while I went to the paint store to pick up and pay for the wallpaper I selected.

On the way, I was rear-ended at a stoplight by a delivery truck, my car mostly demolished.  There were complications, I had a miscarriage and as a result I would never be able to have children.

After I returned from the hospital, more then anything I needed the support and love from my husband. I so desperately wanted him to make love to me.  After my miscarriage, Luke lost all interest in sex. Luke went through all the motions, put up a good front for my parents and his congregation.

Luke was spent less and less time at home. Always attending meetings, or some other church business.  When he was home he spent a great deal of time locked in his office.  Under Luke’s guidance, our little church grew over the years.  We added a full time daycare center and recreation hall. Luke even had a half-hour radio show on our small local AM radio station.

I was a dutiful wife, attending all of the Church functions, the fundraisers…the charming hostess, gracious public wife; we slept in separate bedrooms.  I went back to my natural hair color and started growing my hair out.

I remained married to Luke for fifteen years.  I attended collage part time, graduating with a B.A. in Astronomy; Luke considered the time I spent in college a waste of time and money. I celebrated my graduation by getting a dog to keep me company…. to love and return my love.

I saw beagle puppies for sale in the local paper and answered the ad. Brandy was a little female beagle puppy, a red brown and black with white feet. She was a smart, sweet little thing, and I had her house broken in a week. Brandy followed me everywhere and slept with me on my bed.  Luke ignored her and Brandy soon learned to stay out of his way.

As all puppies are, Brandy was a chewer. When she was eleven months old, she chewed on one of Luke’s belts; I was not home at the time; when Luke came home and caught her; in a rage he kicked her in the stomach.
When I got home, I found Brandy in my bedroom crying in pain; she died on my lap on the way to the vets; I left Luke a week later, filing for divorce.

I received a substantial insurance settlement six years after my
accident, opening a bank account under my maiden name. I used a portion of the money to pay for my college. Luke did not have access to this account.

After living with my parents for a month, I rented a small house with the option to buy, fifty miles from my hometown; my father helped me move.

I found a full time job waiting tables’. The tips were good and I received a small monthly dividend from my investments of the insurance settlement. I had sent my resume to the R. L Wiley Planetarium in Cleveland hoping eventually to get a job there when there was an opening

Now at thirty- five years of age, I was still considered a very pretty woman, my figure had filled out over the years. Ben refers to my figure as buxom and tells me I am a much-improved version of Marylyn Monroe. My blond hair is almost waist length now and I wear it up in a bun most of the time.

I had being working at the Pegasus Dinner on the day shift for about five months, when my boss asked if I would do him a favor and work the midnight shift for two weeks, and I agreed. That’s when I first met Ben.

After the bars close we generally get very busy in the early morning hours before it slows down to a crawl.  I live two miles from work and I always walk to work during the day, but I drove those nights.

I had a table of college boys, jocks; they have been coming in the past three nights always sitting in the section of tables assigned to me.

One young man in particular, John who obviously thought he was God’s gift to women was constantly flirting with me, trying to get me to go out with him, I always declined; and when I did, his buddies made fun of him; I believe they had some sort of bet going on involving me; John obviously was used to getting his way and didn’t take well to the teasing his buddies gave him.

Not that he wasn’t good looking, he was gorgeous at six-two or three, slim, muscled, with thick blond hair and blue eyes; but also vain and obnoxious. I was not sure if I ever wanted a man in my life again…except for my father.

Every time I walked by their table John kept asking me to take my hair down, and his buddies encouraged him. Then he actually offered me money to do so if I did it in front of his pals. As time progressed, he kept upping the ante; Insulted, I kept refusing.

One night, tired of their game, all of John’s buddies left except for one huge hulk, the jocks nicknamed Diesel, the loudest and largest of the bunch.

Besides the two jocks, and me the only other people in the restaurant were Alice, the other waitress, and a man drinking coffee in her section.  Dressed in non descript clothing, average build and height; the poor dear was walking with a cane; at least that is what I assumed to be the case. Sitting at a corner table he seemed to blend into the background.

Come to think of it, I do not remember him coming in, or how long he had been there

I was sitting in a booth on break, eating, and Alice was covering, when John walked over and sat down next to me, uninvited; placing five hundred dollars on the table, while his buddy, Diesel sat down across from me, smirking.

"There are five one- hundred dollar bills here, more then a low class stuck up bitch like you makes in a week."  John announced. "You should have gone out with me when you had the chance."  I might even have done you a favor and let you give me a blowjob."

"I have already asked you nicely to take your hair down." He said, putting a pair of hair cutting scissors on the table." "It is to late for that now." "I have decided that you are going to sell me your ponytail." "Shall you cut it off or shall I?"  He asked, as he reached for my bun. I could see the lust on his face and was afraid he wanted more then my hair.

Suddenly there was a loud bang coming from the booth next to us; startled, we all looked in that direction. The handicapped man had walked up to us quietly, unnoticed, and hit the tabletop with his cane to get their attention.

"Now that I have your undivided attention, I strongly advise you boys to leave now."  The man said; the one I now recognized from the corner having coffee.

"But first, you will apologize to the Lady." He added, leaning on his cane. I could tell from his accent that he was not from Mississippi.

" Fuck off Yankee, this is a private party, and you’re not invited"  "This bitch is interested in real men, not some old cripple like you!" Diesel said. "We are conducting a business transaction; it’s none of your business."  John added.

With practiced ease, Ben slid his hand down the shaft of the cane almost to the ferrule; with one quick motion, using the rounded handle, pulled the money and scissors from the table to the floor; again sliding the cane through his hand and grasping the shaft in the middle.

Diesel got out of the booth saying, "I’m going to stick that cane up your ass Yankee!"  As he threw a roundhouse punch at Ben’s head.

Ben moved to one side avoiding the fist, and taking advantage of the Jock’s imbalance and momentum from the wild punch hooked the jock’s ankle with the cane, pulling him off his feet.
Mr. fuck off Yankee crashed to the floor hard, dislocating his shoulder.  Using his good arm for support, the jock managed to stand, his right arm hanging limp and useless at his side, only to have the tip of the cane driven into his solar plexus, doubling him over and knocking the wind out of him.

"Have you had enough?"  The stranger asked.  Diesel had turned, holding his stomach with his left hand, his eyes pleading with his friend John for help, gasping for breath.

John was looking at his hands, refusing to make eye contact with him. I observed he had the same expression on his face, as was Luke’s; fifteen years ago when the dirty redneck confronted him in the parking lot, when I just sat there doing nothing.  This time, there was no sheriff’s car in the parking lot to save me and Alice had locked herself in the Ladies room.

Ashamed of myself, I pushed John out of the booth, and then walked past him and his friend, to stand next to the handicapped stranger and to help him if necessary.

Ben glanced back at me and smiled.  Then turned his attention to them. "I won’t ask again, have you had enough?"

Fuck you Yankee turned and nodded yes, the looked down. " Put your drivers license on the table" And, Diesel did. "Good boy, now go stand in that corner and face the wall."  Ben said, pointing with his cane; Diesel meekly complied.
Ben sighed, and leaned on his cane, shaking his head, "We are waiting?" Was all he said?

"Listen dude. I…"That’s Mr. Yankee to you…boy!"  Ben interrupted.  I couldn’t help myself and I stifled a laugh, covering my mouth, thinking, "Mr. Yankee?"

"You wouldn’t be so tough without your cane."  John the jock said with false bravado. "You have a weapon and I don’t." "It wouldn’t be fair fight."

The stranger straightened up and stretched. Then he smiled and tossed the cane at the jock’s feet, ordering, "Pick it up!" John looked at the cane not moving.

Sighing again and shaking his head, The Yankee said in a mocking southern drawl, "Boy! The best part of you ran down your mama’s legs."  "And, your daddy wasn’t even there at the time!"

Then reverting back to the way he really talked. "Under the circumstances, I decided that I’m not going to allow you to soil this Lady’s ears with an apology." " If that is all right with you?"
He added, taking my hand and squeezing gently.  His hands were warm and callused; I didn’t want him to let go, I just nodded, yes no longer frightened, waiting to see what would happen next.

"Put yours driver’s license on the table next to your friend’ and sit down."

Diesel let out a loud moan and fainted, sliding down the wall to his knees.

My Yankee went over to Diesel and rolled him to a sitting position, leaning him against the wall, which woke him up.
"I’m going to put your arm back in place and it’s going to hurt."  My Yankee advised him; Diesel just nodded.

Placing his arm on the jock’s shoulder, and pulling with the other, he popped it back in place.

Walking back to where I was standing, My Yankee took my hand again, and I let him." You both can leave now."  "Remember, we know who you are and where you live. Diesel just nodded and got up slowly to from the floor.

Walking over to the cane, he put one hand up in the air as if asking for permission, and then he bent down and picked it up slowly with great deliberation and put it on the table. With a serious look on his face he nodded and my Yankee nodded back.

As they were walking toward the door, John bent over reaching
for the money. His friend took it away from him and put it on a table. "Hey what about my money!"  John exclaimed.  "Leave it."
His friend barked, pushing him toward the door.
"But he still has our drivers licenses!" John whined.
"Shut the Fu… Diesel stopped not finishing his sentence, then raised his hand again "Shut your mouth, it is over and so are we."

"Diesel you don’t understand, I…. Diesel backhanded him in the mouth with left hand, and John staggered back, holding his mouth and nose, blood dripping between his fingers, a shocked look on his face.

"I understand all right, you didn’t help me." "You aren’t even worth a punch in the face." "I heard what he said about your mother."  "You wouldn’t even fight him without his cane."" She really must be something special." "Her boyfriend was willing to take us both on."

Diesel grabbed his former friend by the shirt and headed for the door.  "Diesel."  I called after him.  "Apology accepted." He nodded his head, closing the door behind them, and my Yankee let go of my hand.

We watched Alice come out of the bathroom as if nothing had happened and go into the kitchen to clean the grill.

Turning to really look at him for the first time, I saw that he was around my age, in his mid-to-late thirties. I would guess his height to be five-seven, a good inch shorter then I was and weighed about one hundred fifty pounds; Both of the jocks were at least 100 lbs. heavier and 5 to 6 inches taller.  He had a receding hairline, much like my father’s, and sensibly had it cut short to the scalp.

The Yankee, who Diesel mistook for my boyfriend, was not what you would call a handsome man, he was plain bordering on homely. Most women would not have given him a second glance; I used to be one of those women; when I was seventeen, not even a glance. Perhaps his nose is a bit large; but his light gray eyes were warm and kind, and wrinkled on the sides now that he was smiling at me.

Ben is somewhat shy around women, until he gets to know them. Strong and assertive around other men, I still can make him blush, even when we are alone. I love it when he hugs me and I still have to remind him that I won’t break and he loves to be touched and touch me…something I never got from Luke. Ben is a thoughtful gentle lover will always pleasure me first, and he loves to cuddle

After they left I thanked him for what he did. "I am pleased to meet you kind sir."  I said smiling, unsure how to thank a strange man from saving me from God knows what. " Do you make a habit out of saving strange women in distress?"  I felt a little foolish after I said that, but I couldn’t just continue to just stare at him.  He blushed and smiled, looking down and then up. I could see then he was a little shy and not accustomed to being praised and I found this to be so sweet.

I watched him gather his courage; he held out his hand and introduced himself. I noticed how his eyes wrinkled at the corners as he smiled, a glad to meet you smile, genuine and warm. But mostly it was his eyes and the way he was looking at me, such expressive eyes, as if he was looking into my soul, but sad at the same time.

I have never met a man who could convey so many thoughts or emotions just with his eyes.

But they were so cold…. like a glacier, cold, overwhelming, unyielding when he confronted those boys; now they were melting like a spring thaw; pure, clean water washing over me.

"I pleased to meet you Mary-Beth." My name is Ben Ward and you are my first since I retired."

We sat and had coffee together. Ben was originally from New York City, retired fireman, and currently a certified EMT. He told me he bought his house with five acres for the taxes two months ago.  Having lived in apartments all of his life, he was looking forward to a slower, laid back lifestyle.

" The place needs a lot of work, but the price is right." "I gutted the inside, everything is down to the bare studs. "Next week, I will be hooked up to the city water."

He told me his address, and I was surprised to learn he lived two roads over from me. I told him a little bit about my divorce and how I loved astronomy and that this job was only temporary.

I found out he was never married, and I asked him why.
"I guess I never found the right girl." "I’ll know when I find her and she will know it too."  I saw the sadness in his eyes, but that passed when he changed the subject, talking about his dog; then his face lit up

"Sophie has been with me 13 years now. "Sure she’s slowing down a bit, but that’s all right." "She is eating good and is still able to get around." "What kind of dog is she Ben?"  I asked.

"Sophie’s a beagle, a stray that I got at the animal shelter."
"I guess nobody wanted her… Much like me." He laughed.
"But I really love the old girl……………………..…………………….."

"Did I say something to upset you?"  He asked. I was thinking about my Brandy and he must have seen it in my face.

"No, it is nothing, will you look at the time, and I have been sitting here almost 30 minutes." "The boss will be here soon."  I said, getting up.

"Mary-Beth wait!"  I turned to look at him. Ben swallowed, and stood up, and then, taking a deep breath, "Do you think we could have dinner together? " "It does not have to be here." "But it can if you want it too."

"I’m sorry Ben, I am not ready for that yet, I don’t know if I will ever be."  I could see the hurt in his eyes, even though his expression did not change, except for the wrinkles near his eyes; damn him, why did he have to be so nice.

"Of course, I understand perfectly, with your divorce and all."
"It must have been really hard on you." "I hope you get that job at the planetarium."  He said extending his strong, warm callused hand for me to shake, when he deserved a kiss on the cheek, at the very least. I took his hand shaking it.

"It was a real pleasure meeting a fine Southern Lady like you Mary-Beth."  Ben said, picking up his cane and rapping the tip once, sharply on the floor; I watched him walk out the door.

A couple of weeks had gone by since the incident at work.
Out of curiosity I took a different way home and drove out to Ben’s
place, just to look mind you, I told myself, and besides I was not ready yet and we couldn’t possibly have anything in common.

There was no car in the driveway; good he probably was not home.
It was a large house set back about 400 yards from the road; two and a half stories and it was not much to look at; weathered gray, no paint to be seen.  The wrap around front porch was sagging, it’s roof falling in with columns missing and the front steps were gone.  Most of the windows were boarded over and there were holes in the roof covered with plastic tarp.
Ben’s property was overgrown with vines and weeds; although I could see he had started to clear a small section around the house. His barn had collapsed and was overgrown with vines. No wonder Ben bought the property for taxes; nobody wanted it, the house was probably vacant for years.

I never saw Ben again in the restaurant after that day; seven months later I was interviewed for a job at the planetarium and then finally got my dream job.

I made some female friends and a few male acquaintances at my new job.  One of my male coworkers made a pass at me on my first day.

A year had gone by since leaving my husband; I decided to test the waters. I went out on my first date; Dutch treat with a man one of the girls from work fixed me up with.

>From the start, I let him know that I was not ready for a relationship and only wanted to be friends and he agreed.

We went for coffee and desert. On our next date, we went out for lunch; Dutch treat, of course.  Then it was dinner and a movie; he paid for dinner, and I paid for the movie. It was late when he dropped me off home, I invited him in for tea, and that is what I meant, a cup of tea.
I had just closed the door and he was all over me. I told him to stop and he wouldn’t, telling me  "You know you want it." "Stop being a tease."  And I screamed the first thing that came to mind. "Ben, get in here!

When Marcus turned to see whom I was calling, I kneed him in the groin and pushed him out the front door, locking it.
"Leave or I’m calling the police."   I shouted through the door as he staggered to his car.

I took a hot shower and went to bed. The next day, I confronted
Rosie and told her about her brother. "That’s not the story I heard,
he told me that you were all over him and then changed your mind." "If you didn’t want it, why invite him in?"

"I invited him in for tea!"  I exclaimed. "Right!" Miss innocence."
"So pure and Lady like." "Married to a minister." "You are nothing more then a holier then thou cheap tease." "I bet you never put out for your husband either!"." "No wonder you are divorced."

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was so upset; I went to my supervisor and asked to take the rest of the afternoon off.

I drove to Ben’s house intending to talk to him and apologize.
Again there was no car in the driveway and I was having second thoughts. I parked the car on the road and walked up the driveway, admiring the complexity of its pattern.

You wouldn’t know it was the same house. Ben had removed the rutted hard packed dirt driveway and replaced it with a brick driveway, two cars wide that extended right up to and wrapping around the front of the house up to the huge restored porch, which now had wide brick steps and heavy wrought iron railings leading to the front door. The restoration to house was complete; roof to basement and the wood was primed ready to be painted.

I noticed that there was nothing on that magnificent porch except for one oak rocking chair and a folded red wool blanket.

The old barn was torn down and there was a ditch around the field stone foundation, which was being repaired and restored.

I got into my car and drove over to the next road and parked.

Getting out of my car, I walked through the field, and into the tree line, until I could see Ben’s house through the trees, finding a fairly level piece of ground for a tripod…. perfect, I had a clear view to the front of his house.

For the next two weeks, I drove by his house, always at a different
time until I determined his schedule and routines.

One late afternoon, an hour before dark, I set up my telescope to watch the stars, but mostly to watch Ben.

I observed that Ben worked hard at cleaning his property in the
late afternoon when it was cooler, right up until dark.
His little beagle followed him around the yard. It was obvious that she was having trouble walking; at the end of the day Ben picked her up and carried her up the front steps, putting her down on her blanket.

He would bring out his dinner and hers and they would eat together, always saving something from his plate to give her.
I started bringing my dinner with me and waited to eat with them.

Then they would sit on the porch listening to the radio until about midnight. I watched them for about a month, wishing that I had gone out to dinner with him, just once; wishing that I were sitting on that porch; wishing…………………..…………….

It was overcast and Ben was not following his usual routine. The weather forecast predicted a 40% chance of rain by midnight.
Ben was working in the yard, but he didn’t seem himself; perhaps he was ill and Sophie wasn’t outside with him.  Watching him for a month it was obvious that he enjoyed the hard manual labor of clearing his property. This evening he seemed to be dragging his feet as if he were tired or his heart was not in it, and he would pause often, looking at the house.

Around 10:00 PM he went into the house and came back outside.
Ben was carrying a small bundle in his arms, wrapped in a red wool blanket as if he were carrying a baby or a small child.

I watched him kneel and put his bundle gently on the ground; he left and returned with a shovel; He started to dig his beloved Sophie’s grave.

My heart was breaking watching him; I thought about my loveless
marriage and the time I wasted with Luke. I realized how lonely
I was; how lonely he was, and now everything that he ever loved was gone; I started to cry.

It was raining now, lightly; the wind was starting to pick up and
I still watched, wanting to comfort him and share his grief.

I watched him kneel and place her gently into her grave and then stand. It was raining harder now, but at least it was a warm Mississippi rain.

Ben picked up the shovel and walked over looking down into her grave.

The telescope was useless now, the rain coming down in buckets
distorting the image in the eyepiece.

I hurriedly started putting things away watching him stand there; everything wet and slippery.  I slipped and knocked over my telescope tipping the case and spilling the various eyepieces to the ground.

I was on my knees, sobbing in the dark, groping for the last eyepiece, when there was a roll of thunder and a flash of lightning followed by another flash.

Crying out his name, I looked in Ben’s direction. The lightning flashes illuminated him as he dropped to his knees and reached down into the hole, coming up with his Sophie wrapped in her red blanket. He held her tight to his chest; still on his knees, rocking, with his face pressed against his precious bundle, Sophie was no longer there to return his love.

Sobbing uncontrollably now, I fled the stand of trees, the branches hitting me as I frantically pushed through them, trying to get to him and leaving my telescope behind; praying as I ran.

I ran up his driveway falling on the slippery bricks, skinning my hands, oblivious of the pain, praying. When I finally reached him, I felt as if a burden had been lifted from my soul. I calmly knelt beside him in the mud touching his shoulder  "Ben, it’s me Mary-Beth" "Let me help you Ben, as you helped me." "She’s gone Mary-Beth." "I am truly alone now."

Moving to the other side of the grave, and reaching out with my arms, I said, "Let me help you Ben." "Let me help you put Sophie to rest."  Ben lifted his head looking at me and extended Sophie in his arms for me to take across the way. Putting my hands under his we slowly laid his precious Sophie to rest, then I took his hands and squeezed them, looking at his beautiful, homely face.

Letting go, I started pushing the wet soil and mud into the grave with my hands; discarding the shovel, Ben did the same; we finished by smoothing the top and patting it level, our hands touching as we worked.

Taking his strong hands in mine, I said "I never really thanked you properly for saving me."  I leaned forward and kissed his cheek.

"I’m afraid Mary-Beth." "What are you afraid of Ben?"
"I’m afraid of being alone."  He said softly.

"Not you Ben." "You are not afraid of anything." "I won’t let you be afraid… my brave Yankee."   I said kissing his mouth.

"Will you spend the night?"  He asked. "I have a spare bedroom."
"Just having you in the house with me tonight will be enough."

"Of course I will stay Ben."   Looking up I noticed for the first time that it had stopped raining the full moon was peeking through the clouds. "Look Ben, a harvest moon!" "Isn’t it beautiful?"

"Not as beautiful as you Mary-Beth."  Now it was my turn to blush.  "Mary-Beth, there is something I need to say so that I will know…so you will know."  He said, putting his hands around my waist and looking into my eyes.

"I see the moon and the moon sees me…………………….
I reached up and touched his face finishing the prayer "God bless the moon and God bless me."

"And we knew……………………..………………………………………….."

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