Strange Bedfellows Part Seven: The Photographs

Links to parts 1-6 can be found here.

Shepard stared into space, ignorant of the antics Jasper and little Anissa were perpetrating. He’d left the restaurant nearly an hour ago, and Betty hadn’t texted him yet, as she promised she would. He finally looked up when the cat, Beowulf, jumped into his lap in a plea for protection. Jasper had found a scarf, and Anissa was trying to wrap it around poor Beowulf’s neck, in spite of his mewling protests.

“Hey there, girl, that’s enough. He doesn’t like it, sweetie,” Shepard held out an arm to Anissa. “How about you wear the pretty scarf?”

Shepard was just realizing that suggesting a toddler put a scarf on herself was a bad idea when the front door opened. The kids rushed to greet their Aunt Bea, and Shepard rose to reassure her that her sister–in-law would be fine and that he was sure it was all just a false alarm.

But his heart wasn’t in it; he couldn’t stop thinking about Betty, and the fact that she seemed to have forgotten about him.

***

Meanwhile, at Betty’s house, she gasped and put her hand to her mouth. “I forgot to text Shepard!” She shooed Oscar down so she could get up from her chair and rummaged through her purse, looking for her phone and the shred of napkin that hosted Shepard’s number. She finally came up with her phone, but still hadn’t found the number that she needed.

“It’s 743-6054, Betty,” said Ben. “Oof!” Oscar decided to hop on the couch next to him and flop over onto Ben’s lap.

She turned to look at him, surprised.

Ben shrugged. “I saw it, so I know it. It’s pretty easy for me to remember numbers–that’s the reason I got into accounting in the first place.”

“That’s impressive, Ben!” Betty tried to type the number in her phone. “Wait, did you say 783?”

Ben chuckled and corrected her. “743-6054. It would probably be a fun party trick if I ever went to parties, but it’s actually not as practical as it sounds. I mean, you can google anything you want in seconds, so remembering a number is  sort of, well, old-fashioned.”

“What a day, Ben, what a day.” Betty shook her head as she quickly composed a text to Shepard. “And you just topped it off with the realization that brainpower has become old-fashioned. There. I hope he doesn’t hate me for forgetting.”

“Betty, you’d have to do a lot more than forget a text for Shepard to hate you. He’s got a huge crush on you,” said Ben.

Betty blushed, and smiled a smidgen too widely to be able to hide it.

***

Shepard was on his way home when his phone chirped on the seat next to him. He heart leapt when he didn’t recognize the number–and he was right! It was Betty.

So sorry I forgot to text you! Hope everything’s well with your friend. -Betty

He didn’t respond immediately; he was driving, and it was enough to know that she wasn’t just blowing him off–maybe to hang out with Ben. A few minutes later, he pulled into his driveway and picked up this phone to text her back.

Thanks, I thought I’d have to give up on ya!

He put the phone in his pocket as he got out of the car and tried to put thoughts of Betty out of his mind. He’d see her again soon enough.

***

“Ben, you know, you’re really good at cheering me up,” Betty declared. “Like I said, I never told anyone the whole story before, but I just knew it’d be one heck of a lot harder than it was. Thank you for that.”

“Um, you’re welcome,” Ben ducked his head in embarrassment. “Hey, did you bring that box of old pictures in? Do you want to have a look at them?”

“Oh!” Betty exclaimed. “No, it’s still in my trunk from earlier. I’ll go get it.”

“I don’t think Oscar wants me to help.”

“No, he’s decided you’re furniture. I’ll be right back.”

The box was crumbling even more when Betty made it back into the living room, and she carefully placed it on the coffee table. Oscar hopped down to investigate, but a stern no from Betty sent him to his bed on the other side of the room.

“I didn’t get much of a look at these while we were at the storage unit,” said Betty. “So I’m not really sure what all we have in here. Not that either of us is likely to recognize anyone, though.”

“Let’s have a look and find out,” said Ben.

Betty grabbed a short stack of photos and returned to her chair; Ben took a similarly sized stack and leaned back on the couch to examine them. They flipped through in silence for a few minutes before Betty spoke.

“I have a lot here with the same three people, two men and a woman.” She held one up for Ben to see. “How about you?”

“Yeah, I’ve got them, too. I wonder who they are?”

“Wait a second, can–oh my, I think this is my uncle that Mr. Talmon was talking about! Hold on.” Betty got up and disappeared for a moment before returning with a large photo album. “It has to be him–look, this is a picture of my dad when he was around the same age as this guy.”

Ben agreed that the two men did look remarkably similar. “But wouldn’t that mean that this is Mr. Robinson? Was he married? I know Talmon didn’t say, but what do you think?”

Betty shook her head. “I don’t know, Ben. You’re as familiar with the man as I am. I wonder how many of our questions Mr. Talmon is likely to answer.”

“I wouldn’t think too many of them. He seemed pretty set that we’d never see him again after this afternoon. I guess we blew our chance to ask questions.”

“But we didn’t know enough about anything to have any questions to ask!”

“I know that, Betty, but still, he did give us the opportunity to ask, and we all declined. He probably thinks that’s enough. He is a lawyer, after all. That’s how they think.”

Betty looked back and forth between the two photographs of her father and his possible brother. “It just makes less and less sense the more we find out,” she muttered, mostly to herself. She looked up to see Ben tapping on a smartphone. “Ben, I don’t mean to pry, but how do you have a phone at all?”

“It’s okay. It’s a reasonable question. And the short answer is that I budgeted for it. It’s the one luxury I left myself, and to make sure I wouldn’t lose it, I prepaid two years. I’m kind of screwed if I break this one, but I try to be careful. And it’s old enough now that no one wants to steal it, so I don’t have to worry about that, at least.”

“Oh. I guess that’s fair enough. Anyway, looking at more of these photos, I don’t think the woman is Mrs. Robinson. If anything, she’s more likely to be Mrs. Mystery Uncle,” said Ben.

“That’s just what I was thinking. In group photos, she’s always a little closer to him than Mr. Robinson. And the candid shots show her smiling like she means it when they catch her looking his way,” Betty pointed out.

Betty left her chair behind to sit on the floor in front of the coffee table for easier access to the box of photographs. Ben slid off the couch to sit across from her, and Oscar trotted over to flop underneath.

Betty had switched the sound off on her phone, and didn’t notice it lighting up with a text from Shepard.

…to be continued.

Inspired by TBP.

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