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my girlfriend Isabel

she missed dinner but I know she did have fun

"Love," she says, turning back to me. "It is raining."

"And quite heavy it sounds like," I agree as I step through the door. ”I could smell the rain the moment the door opened."

"This is more than just a rain," the doorman tells us. "There are thunderstorms all around us and I have been watching the lightning show, it's beautiful. But why do I tell you, you will be driving right through it."

"I guess I will drive right into the center," I answer him. "I will be okay as long as the windshield wipers will hold up."

I turn to Isabel. "Why don't you stay here under the entry while I get the car, okay?" Asking Isabel to stay behind is like asking a stone wall to fly to the moon. I act as if I expect her to give me an answer and wait before I take the first step to get the car.

Her answer is what I had expected. "You should know me better, love, let's go."

I change my mind and try one more time to convince her to stay back and wait for me. "Sweetheart, you will be soaked all the way through by the time they get to the car."

As an answer she puts up the hood of her hiking parka and steps into the rain without a further word. I cannot see her face but there's no question in my mind, she is laughing despite her concerns. I click the fob to unlock the door and hurry past her to open it for her.

I will try to calm her down a bit, I say to myself, as we are leaving the parking lot to drive her home to Newport. As I wait for the traffic light to change to green I can feel her apprehension, it is almost palpable.

"Sweetheart," I start. "I can almost physically feel how much you worry and I understand. But as I said, there can be many reasons.

Let me give you one example of the many reasons. Your mom goes to the library to pick up a book to read while she is waiting for your dad to come home next week. She accidentally leaves her cell phone in the car. She searches for the right book all over the place. She puts her keys down someplace and when she is ready to leave she misses her keys but cannot remember where she had put them down. Someone finally finds them and mom returns home late. And that's only one of the many reasons why she has not answered your phone calls.

Isabel puts her left hand on my knee and squeezes lightly, which means I love you, but I don't buy your story. "I'm still worried sick," she says, "that something might have happened to mom." Driving on in silence I have to admit to myself that I am worried also, but I don't want her to know that, I want to appear up beat.

After a while she breaks the silence. "You know Bill," she says, "I love my mom dearly. But I wonder how long it would take her to make her peace with you being a bit older than me. We had a big argument about that again just a day before yesterday, and it was a big one. I'm just a silly girl that's being used as a plaything and no good will come of it. This went on for at least twenty minutes before she ran out of breath. I listened to her and didn't say one word until the end. I stood up, looked her straight in the eye, and said, "Mom, I love him."

I had not met her mother but I could see the scene before my eyes. Isabel getting up and making a final statement, "I love him." That was typical Isabel, independent, headstrong, honest, and speaking her mind, no matter what.

The doorman was right; we are driving right through the middle of this mess. The windshield wipers are having a tough time keeping up with the onslaught of water. I am fully concentrated on the road, driving well below the speed limit. Then something makes me take my foot off the gas pedal and slow down even more.

"Isabel," I say, "I think I saw a car on the other side of the road and I think I saw someone standing next to it. I might be wrong but we should look just in case I am right." By now I have slowed down enough to make a U-turn and drive back. And I was right, there is a car and somebody is huddled close to it. When I stop and roll down my window a barrage of water hits me. "Hurry up and get in the back seat," I shout at the dark figure next to the car.

The figure does not hurry, and slowly takes two steps when a burst of lightning shows me why; this is a woman, drenched to the skin, frozen down into the narrow, and utterly miserable.

My door flies open and I am out of the car in a flash. She does not protest when I put my arm around her to lead her to my car. When I open the door I almost have to push her inside.

I return to the driver's seat and roll up the window. Water is everywhere, my seat makes a squishy sound as I sit down, my feet are in a huge puddle of water on the floorboard and water is dripping from my hair across my forehead into my eyes. Isabel reaches me a flimsy ladies handkerchief which lasts about two seconds.

Isabel has already cranked up the heat to the max. She reaches over and puts her hand on mine. "I'm proud of you, love," she says, and then she laughs. “What an adventure." She had forgotten, at least for a few moments, her concern about her mother.

Now I regret having procrastinated and not installed a new light bulb in the dome light. The only lights we now have are the constant flashes of lightning all around us. I turn back to the lady behind me and ask her to remove as many of her wet clothes as she dares and still feel decent. "My sweetheart has turned on the heat full blast," I tell her, "so you should feel much better shortly without your wet clothes hanging on you."

Isabel and I remain quiet and sit still. I am waiting for the lady to take off as much as she will dare before feeling indecent. When I feel that she has taken off as much as she is willing to take off I ease my car back onto the highway and make some light talk about the weather. Then I ask, "Let me know where you live, so we can drive you home where you can take a hot shower. And by the way, my name is Bill."

"I'm so thankful Bill," she says, "that you stopped for me, more thankful than I can tell you. And if you drive me home I will have to thank you again. I live in Newport." And then she adds, "My name is Amy."

Newport is south of here but I'm driving north, the way her car was headed when we found her. So I slow down and make another U-turn, this time heading south for Newport. As I drive past her stranded car I wonder. She probably had made a wrong turn somewhere. It's easy to get confused in this kind of weather, with poor visibility and lightning flashing around you. And now I am doubly glad we found her, she would have driven on it the wrong direction for many, many miles.

"It's none of my business," I apologize, "but when we found you, your car was pointing in the wrong direction and so I must assume that you somehow became confused in this impossible whether, maybe took a wrong turn someplace. Now I'm twice as glad that we found you."

There are several moments of silence and then I hear her next to my ear. "No, I was not lost, I was driving to the airport to pick up my husband and now my keys and my cell phone are in the car. I cannot even call him to let him know that I locked myself out of the car."

I slow down again and hand her my cell phone. "Call your husband and tell him that you are on the way to pick him up but will be driving a different car." A third U-turn puts me in the right direction to the airport.

"You are really lucky that we saw you because my girlfriend and I usually have a very animated conversation going while out driving. I guess that this is typical for young people, especially for those in love."

She taps me on the shoulder. "I judge you young all right, but not really young, I would say about twenty-four. Did I get that right?"

"You are hitting it almost right on, I am twenty-three, and my girl is sixteen."

"You introduced yourself but you didn't introduce your girl. Does she have a name also?"

"Why yes," I say, "she has not just one name, she has many."

"You are either kidding me or she is Italian who have three, four, or even five first names." She had framed her answer as if it had been just a statement, but there was a hint of a question mark embedded in it.

"No, really," I say. "I call her Sweetheart, Honey, Darling, Love, Precious, Princess, and many more."

"May I ask," she wonders, "how do your parents feel about the age difference between you and your girlfriend? Do they feel comfortable about that? Have they ever met her?"

"The age difference does not bother my parents, they love her. The four of us spend at least two evenings together every week. And my sister, who is a little younger than me, has really bonded with her. The two are inseparable. I'm very lucky to have parents and a sister like that."

She remains silent for several miles before she speaks up again. "You are lucky indeed; I would welcome a young fellow like you into my family any time. In fact, I will ask you for your phone number so I can invite you and your lady for dinner some evening if that is alright with you."

"I would love that," I tell her. "I will give your husband my phone number at the airport, there is nothing dry in this car, especially paper. And since you mentioned dinner, dinner was exactly what we had in mind. I had invited her for dinner at the Rusty Monkey restaurant but we never got past my vodka martini."

"What happened, did you get sick?"

"No, my sweetheart is sick with worry about her mom. We have been trying to reach her to tell her that we are having dinner together but her mom does not answer her landline or her cell phone. We are worried that something might have happened. That's why we decided not to have dinner and drive home instead."

"That is a rather exclusive restaurant Bill; most guys your age take their girlfriends out to something not quite as special as the Rusty Monkey. We are talking high class here."

"Amy, my sweetheart is very special to me and deserves to be treated that way. And I will drive her home as soon as we have picked up your husband in another two or three minutes. We are almost at the entrance to Airport Drive."

I must look a mess as I step out of the car and walk to the back to open the trunk before I approach Amy's husband to tell him that his wife is inside on the left back seat. He gives me a strange look but then walks around me to the door I point at.

"My God, what happened to you, Amy?" I hear him say while I load his suitcases in the trunk. Then I open the right rear door and wave him over. "I am in a hurry, Sir," I say, and then apologize. "I'm sorry for the way everything looks inside but that is the best that this taxi can offer."

Isabel and I understand only small fragments of the conversation going on behind us. Amy is telling her husband of her ordeal and her rescue. Then she tells him of my sweetheart's concern for her mom and that we interrupted our dinner at the exclusive Rusty Monkey restaurant so we could get her home as fast as possible.

The rain slackens off a bit as we approach Newport. "Entering Newport," I announce, breaking into their conversation. "I'm going to drive my girl home first; she is beside herself with worry about her mom. Then I will drive you home next."

One block before I have to turn to where Isabel lives I hear Amy's husband say, "oh my God, my keys are in the briefcase that is in my office. How the heck do we get in the house?"

"Sir, if that is the case,” I tell him, "I would like to invite you as my guests for the night. We have a guest room for visiting relatives and I speak for myself as well as for my parents when I say that you are most welcome. There is a hot shower and a comfortable bed. And then we will take care of your car tomorrow."

They are quiet for a while, probably thinking it over and then they talk to each other excitedly and don't realize that I turn the corner to my girlfriend’s home where I drive up the short driveway and stop under the carport. My sweetheart jumps out with her keys in her hand, unlocks the door and turns on the lights. And suddenly a piercing shriek fills the car.

"My God. We are home. That's Isabel."

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