“He was so bad that a couple of us wanted to commit him,” the attorney said, “but we couldn’t brin
g ourselves to do it. Dave stayed in the house in the dark—he couldn’t bear any light in the house—ate only enough to keep alive and saw only Samantha. She was his little substitute wife, doing all the cooking and cleaning. The poor kid gave up everything that a kid does. Dave had some savings so he didn’t have to go to work, and he couldn’t stand for Samantha to be out of his sight except to go to school. Poor, poor kid. If she’d grown up in a mausoleum she would have had more fun that she had in that house with Dave.”
“When did it stop?” Mike asked.
“Dave never did get back to what he was before Allison died, but his savings ran out and he had to go back to work. By then Samantha was a teenager, and Dave was so dependent on her that she continued taking care of him and the house until she got married. All of us were glad to see her get married, see that she would at last have some life of her own.” He hesitated. “But her marriage didn’t work out, did it?”
“No, her marriage didn’t work out,” Mike said softly, then thanked the attorney and put down the telephone, feeling that he understood a great deal more now than he had. He now understood Sam’s fascination with his family. He understood her pleasure at the smallest bit of attention; he understood why she sometimes seemed as though she were seeing the world for the first time.
As he thought of Sam, he remembered seeing her in Dave’s apartment, remembered the look she had given that plaid chair. In the next moment he picked up the phone and called his sister in Colorado. Jeanne lost no time in getting to the point: Samantha. Eyes rolling skyward, Mike had no doubt that Samantha was a major topic of conversation with his family.
“What’s this Samantha look like?” Jeanne asked, not trying to hide her curiosity.
Mike didn’t hesitate. “A modified Bardot; skin like cream; eyes the color of Kit’s ’57 Chevy; hair the color of that palomino you had when you were fourteen; a body that belongs on the cover of Sports Illustrated.” He stopped because Jeanne was laughing, but he grinned into the telephone.
“Mike,” Jeanne said, still laughing, “does she have a brain?”
“Yeah and a real smart mouth.”
“I think I like her already. Tell me what you need.”
“You still have the floor plan for the top two floors of my house? The apartment you did for Dave Elliot?”
“Yes. Mike, I was sorry about his death. I know you liked him a lot.”
“Thanks. I want you to redecorate the apartment and I want it done fast—real fast.”
“Overnight. I take Sam out for a day, say next Monday, and come back to a new apartment.”
Jeanne didn’t say anything for a moment as she thought of her sources in New York. She could buy most of the furniture off the showroom floor, a lot of it at Tepper Galleries, put it in storage, then move in a day. “I can’t get curtains made or paintings done, and you’ll have to pay retail for some things.”
“All right,” Mike said without hesitation.
Jeanne gave a low whistle. “You must be in love.” When Mike was silent, she asked, “What style is she?”
“She lives with me, but she’s only let me kiss her a few times, no hands.”
“Ahhh. Old fashioned. English chintz. Rose silk cushions. Aubusson rug. A four-poster bed draped in slate blue damask. Tassels. Eighteenth-century antiques.”
He interrupted her. “Sounds good to me. Hey, Jeanne,” he said as he was about to hang up, “make the bed big.”
Laughing, she hung up.
Samantha awoke in the morning and, half asleep, staggered into the bathroom, only to be brought up short by the sight of Mike standing before the mirror wearing only a towel about his waist and shaving lather on his face.
“Sorry,” she murmured and started back into the bedroom.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I’m decent. What do you want to do today?”
Turning back toward the bathroom, she blinked to clear her sleepy vision. He was certainly something wonderful to see so early in the morning, with his broad back and that tiny towel barely hanging onto his hips. One tiny tug and…
“You’re going to get into trouble if you keep looking at me like that,” he said, watching her in the mirror.
Samantha smiled at him, but instead of going back into the bedroom, she went to stand by him to watch him shave. Both her father and her husband had used electric razors, so it was new to her to see a man shave with lather and a blade.