Well, at least there’s a wall to keep lookie loos out, thought Marti entering the complex and looking around. Clean grounds and lots of trees. She liked that. As the road wound through the property she could see the palmettos lined up in front of the clubhouse.
Following Shirley around a curve, she saw her blinker turn on and she pulled into a short driveway beside a park model. Marti pulled in beside her. So far so good- not a single nude person, yet. Marti reached into the back seat pulled out her travel bag and the bag of tomatoes.
Walking into the small house with Shirley, Marti was immediately taken by the skylight and picture windows in the floor plan. "Wow," she said turning around to take in the interior. "Look what you’ve done with this space. It looked small on the outside but it’s perfect for you and a guest."
"Yes, I wanted something intimate that’s easy for me to clean and maneuver. My neighbor helped me add some custom features like a walk in shower with a long bench, and we made everything reachable for me in the kitchen."
"I love the water fountain outside the window and there’s the bird feeder you mentioned." Opening the sliding glass door, Marti stepped out onto a wooden deck lined with flowers.
"Chuck built this for me, too, so I can have privacy in my little backyard. He’s quite the handyman."
"You mentioned you had good neighbors. Who lives on the other side?" Marti asked pointing to the yellow casita with its bright white trim.
"Oh, that’s my dear friend, Paula. She’s a retired ICU nurse who’s been here for over five years. She persuaded me to give this a try. So, I have my handyman and my healthcare advisor right next door. My new boyfriend, Tom, lives across the park. He may drop by this morning to meet you."
"Should I go put on my sarong?" Marti asked. "I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable."
"Sure, honey. I’ll put on one, too. Maybe we can sit in the backyard and listen to the birds."
"I’d love to see the place. Can you give me a tour?"
"When Tom arrives he’ll give us a tour in his golf cart. That’s the best way to see this place."
Just as the ladies were settling into their lawn chairs, Shirley’s cell rang. Looking at the number, she answered, "Good Morning, sweetie." Marti couldn’t miss the twinkle in her eyes. "Sure, come on over and meet Marti. She wants your special tour. We’ll see you in a few minutes."
"You’ve got to tell me about Tom. I like a man who makes your eyes sparkle."
"Oh, he’s the best. I’ve traveled the world and met him right here two months ago. He’s a retired engineer who lost his wife to cancer. So, he sold their family home and moved here. It gave him a fresh start, he made new friends and now we’re together. Life is good."
"I told Dad it wouldn’t surprise me if you became a cougar. You need a younger man to keep up with you."
"Tom’s my age, sweetie, but he’s got a young spirit. You’ll see."
The tooting horn of the golf cart interrupted their conversation. And the birds took off in a flurry. "Our ride is here," Shirley announced heading back inside.
Marti took a quick glance around before she followed Shirley. Her first impressions were good, but she wanted to see the entire place. Try to stay objective. It’s good my aunt is happy but is she being taken?
Tom greeted Shirley with a quick hug and kiss on the cheek before turning to meet Marti.
"Tom, this is my favorite niece, Marti, whom you’ve heard me talk about."
"Nice to meet you, Marti," Tom said cheerfully. "It’s good to meet some of Shirley’s family."
"Tom’s kids know he’s a nudist and don’t mind. I haven’t told everyone in our family–just your Mom."
"And now me," Marti assured her as she shook Tom’s hand. She took in his character as she looked at his face. White hair and well-groomed moustache, warm brown eyes tan and fit. He could be an older version of Mario Lopez with that charming smile and good hand shake. And he wore shorts to make her feel comfortable. She liked that.
"I hear you give good tours of this place, Tom. I’d sure appreciate seeing everything."
"Well, come on, it’s a beautiful morning. Maybe the sandpipers will be feeding at the pond."
The trio bundled into the golf cart and headed toward the pond. Tom kept up a friendly commentary pointing out the petanque court, the fire pit and the dog walking trail. He slowed down and stopped as they approached the pond. Two sandpipers were wading near the banks with their long beaks pecking in the water.
"They are having breakfast," Tom said softly. When the golf cart started again, one of them rose in a flutter.
"We love to walk at sunset to see all the critters feeding at the pond," Tom explained.
Driving through the park, Marti noticed most of the people were over 50. "Is this an adult only park?" She didn't blink twice when a nude man pushed his lawnmower over his grass.
"No," Tom replied. "The kids that live here are at school today. There are more on the weekends when grandkids come to visit. They love to skinny dip in our pool."
"I guess we all have a skinny dip story to tell," Marti said trying to bond with Tom.
"Mine was in Nebraska after driving a tractor in the corn fields. We went to a local watering hole to cool off," he chuckled.
"Mine was on spring break in Key West with a bunch of college kids. Of course, it was midnight."
"A lady never tells," teased Shirley waving at a neighbor as they turned onto Tom’s street.
"Here’s my little slice of paradise," Tom said pulling up to an A-frame house that looks like a small mountain chalet.
"I love how each lot is so individually developed. It really shows the personality of the owner." Marti turned around to take in the small houses.
"What does my place say about me?" asked Tom curiously walking up to his front door.
Marti paused and gave the place a closer look. "Well," she began, "I can tell you like to work with your hands. Look at the detail in your window boxes, and you enjoy gardening."
"Very observant," Tom said. "Shirley told me you’re a TV reporter. I bet you’re good."
Marti smiled, "Thanks. Can we see inside?"
"Sure," leading the way Tom waved the ladies through the door. "I’m home, Winston," he called out. A big English bulldog raised his head to greet the visitors. Walking over to his basket, Tom stroked Winston’s head, "Meet my roommate. He rules this roost."
Bending down, Marti massaged behind Winston’s ear. "I just did a piece on our dog adoption center at home."
"Winston’s been with me a long time through thick and thin. He’s fourteen years old now so he sleeps a lot."
"Was he named after Winston Churchill who loved this breed?"
"Yes, he was." Tom turned to Shirley. "Want to see how my new painting is coming along?"
"Of course," She followed him to the back room that had good lighting. Marti followed along checking out the loft where he had a small library.
Peeking over her aunt’s shoulder, Marti could see the canvas, a sunset in oils. "O-oh-h, I see that outside my picture window in Jacksonville."
"Actually, this is from a photo I took with Shirley as we drove up the coast from Savannah."
"It’s beautiful, Tom," said Shirley admiring the detail in the waves.
"I thought it would look best in your place. Maybe in your bedroom," Tom said looking at Shirley for her reaction.
She beamed at him, "I’d love it. I’ll think of you every time I see it." She touched his hand.
Marti stepped back to let them have a private moment. She could tell they both had happy memories of Savannah.
Everyone was surprised by a loud knock on the front door. Since Marti was closest, she walked to the door to give Tom and Shirley another moment alone.
When she opened the door, she saw a tall, dark handsome man leaning against the door frame. They both stared at each other for a moment. He had on shorts but his chest was glistening from exertion. His face was almost stern from the serious look on his face and his eyes bored right into her – dark and intense.
"Hello, is Tom home?" he asked stepping back to put more space between them.
Walking up behind Marti, Tom said, "Hi, Chuck. Come on in. This is Marti, Shirley’s niece. I’m sure she’s told you about her."
"Oh, yeah, Hi," he extended his hand. When he smiled, his face looked friendlier. Then, he turned his attention back to Tom. "I’m working on my deck, Tom. Do you have a skil saw I can borrow?"
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