A Cautious Man Ch. 21-24bycoaster2©
These are the final Chapters in the story of Bill Orton. As I said in the beginning, it was initially inspired by an old Bruce Springsteen song. Bill isn't a perfect man, but he is a decent man. He deserves a better fate than has befallen him to this point in his life.
As always, I am grateful to ErikThread for his careful and prompt editing. Any errors or omissions are entirely my responsibility.
"Do you still have the lovely black dress you wore on our first date?" Bill asked Zena when she answered the phone.
"No Bill, I don't keep my clothes that long," she laughed.
"Too bad. It was very sexy and it made you look even more beautiful. That's the dress that made me fall in love with you," he said seriously.
"Well, it wouldn't fit anyway, but I do have another one that isn't too different. Maybe I'll wear that one."
"Excellent idea. I have another restaurant in mind. I want to show you off. I want everyone to see the beautiful Zena Wildman."
"Easy now, Bill. It's just a date and it is twenty years later, remember."
"They have a dance floor, Zena. I've even learned to dance since we first met. I'm sure I won't step on your toes."
"OK, Bill. That does sound like fun. When do you want to go?"
"Well, I was going to suggest now, but it's a bit early. How about I pick you up at seven at your place? I'll borrow Junior's new red pickup and we can recreate our first date." He was still on the high that seeing Zena earlier in the day and wanted to be with her right away.
"You're not going to take no for an answer, are you?" She smiled, knowing it was a statement of fact.
"Nope. Don't tell me you don't really want to go out with me?" He was only partly kidding. They had just been together for a few minutes earlier in the day, and it dawned on him that he may be putting too much pressure on her.
"Alright, Bill. Seven o'clock and I'll wear the black dress. See you then." Her voice sounded upbeat and he breathed a sigh of relief.
Junior happily swapped his new truck for Dad's Lincoln for the evening when this father explained that he too had a date and it was with someone he had known for a very long time. He showed Junior a picture of his first truck and explained it had been his "wheels" when he was dating this lady.
"Just don't hit anything, Dad. Are you sure you can drive a stick shift?"
"Yes, Junior, I'm sure," he said in weary voice. "Just make sure you don't mess up my car, either."
Bill arrived on the doorstep of Zena's townhouse just before seven. He had a bouquet of dark, red roses and a corsage featuring one of the fresh beauties. He loved the deep red because it was a perfect compliment to her natural coloring. He pushed the chime button and waited.
Zena opened the door and Bill was struck once again by her stunning appearance. She had indeed chosen a dress almost identical to the one he remembered from that night long ago. Her lovely black curls fell gracefully down below her shoulders, and her smile was a welcoming one. It was a flashback, but if it was possible, she looked even more beautiful tonight than he remembered.
"Hi ... come in. I'm almost ready. Would you like a drink before we go?"
"No ... I'm fine. I'm getting all the intoxication I can handle right now," he grinned.
"Thank you for the flowers ... and the compliment." She moved into the kitchen and began to fill a vase for the roses. A moment later, she returned to the living room. "Can you help me with the corsage?"
Bill almost jumped to his feet, forcing himself to calm down. If it was possible, he felt even more nervous than the night he had first dated Zena. She showed him where she wanted it pinned and he carefully attached the simple corsage and then looked up at her. He couldn't resist. He leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on her lips. Zena's smile told him what he wanted to know, and he moved to her again, this time holding her and the kiss. As he slowly moved away, he uttered a soft moan.
"I'd forgotten how lovely that was." He was looking at her with desire. His longing for her had been in suspension for so many years and now ... now ... it might be possible to have her back. Could he make that happen? Would she want it to happen? That was the question, he thought. What did Zena want? What had changed in the last twenty years? He had to know the answers to these questions.
Bill surprised her by taking her to his club. It was very elegant and not as busy as one would have expected on a Saturday evening. The patrons were clearly of middle age to senior. Happily, the menu was similar to their recollection of Ambrosia. There was a three piece combo playing light jazz and the atmosphere was exactly what Bill wanted. His courting of Zena Wildman had resumed.
It had been a quiet Bill Orton at dinner. He thought she might talk about her life, but held back, seemingly waiting for Bill to set the tone. He hadn't yet, and their meal was eaten almost in silence. Strangely, it wasn't uncomfortable. He sensed both of them had many questions to be asked and answered and it was best to wait. Right now, she appeared to be happy just to be in his company after all these years. He felt a sense of peace that he hadn't experienced in a long time. He wasn't in any hurry to have that end.
Bill was lost in his thoughts ... or more correctly, his memories. A number of times he had wanted to talk to Zena, to find out what had happened in her life in the past years. He wanted very much to tell her of his life and his marriage, children, how he had changed and how much he regretted losing her. He didn't really know how to begin and Zena seemed happy to leave it for now. Perhaps when they were dancing and he was holding her once again in his arms. Perhaps then.
Their recreation of their first date included sharing a dessert, but that's where it ended. Bill still had vivid memories of that night and its amazing conclusion. Was it too much to hope for that to happen again? As the music began again, they joined three other couples on the small dance floor and as Zena moved into him and he held her close, he wondered if he would remain conscious. Her perfume, the softness of her skin, the deep dark eyes as she looked into his, all of these were conspiring to make him light-headed, almost dizzy. He had to stop for a moment to regain his composure.
Zena was waiting for Bill. He was disoriented for a moment before they began to dance. As he held her, and as his smooth movements across the parquet floor began, he could feel her relax. The distraction had passed and despite his rapid heartbeat, he was able to calm himself. He caught her smiling. He was excited to be with her and his emotions were genuine. She had also relaxed. That old feeling was coming back. It was Zena, and she was as beautiful and captivating as ever. He began to think everything was going to be fine.
It was an unusually warm spring evening and after they had danced for a while, Bill led Zena through a pair of French doors out onto the patio area. There was no one around and as they held hands, he turned to her.
"I can't tell you how much this means ... how good I feel about finding you again. I think I can start to live again if you're here," he began.
Zena remained silent, listening intently to him as he summoned his courage.
"I want to tell you all about me. I want you to know me again. There is so much to explain and I don't know where to begin. You must have questions. There must be things about me you want to know, just as I have questions for you. Where do we start?" His voice had been low and soft and almost pleading. There was a hint of desperation in it as well.
"What happened to your marriage, Bill? I don't mean to pry, but perhaps that will answer some of my questions."
"Marion and I were fine for the first twelve years. Everything was great. She was very beautiful and a wonderful mother. I thank her for the way our children turned out. About five years ago, she had a brief affair with a young man. It was all about her getting older and feeling less beautiful and this guy took advantage of her. I found out about it and she stopped right away. To make a long story short, I forgave her and we did our best to carry on as before. But it wasn't the same. I had lost trust and I guess it was just as well, since she continued to lose confidence in herself and ultimately sought out another man, someone she hoped who could give her back the power of her beauty.
"She had deluded herself into thinking he would marry her and make her young again, but it was just an illusion. Once again, I found out about the affair and this time, I knew there was no going back. She had changed and she was unrepentant, even threatening, when I confronted her. The divorce was inevitable and worse yet, she lost the love of her children because of her behavior and attitude. She had become completely self-centered and alienated from us. I spent some time in therapy to reconcile with what had happened, but in the end, it was her inability to come to terms with her aging and her loss of power and self-respect that caused the breakdown. She's been out of my life for several months now, but still not out of my thoughts."
Zena's could see the pained look on Bill's face as she listened to his recounting of the marriage and its unfortunate ending. She could almost share the pain. It must have been as debilitating as her watching Maureen waste away, each day pushing hope further from them. She realized she had been squeezing his hand as he had been speaking. There really wasn't any need to say anything. She stepped to him and held him tightly in her arms. It was her way of telling him she understood the pain.
The stood silently together for a minute or so until Zena stepped back and looked up at Bill.
"There's something you should know about me, Bill -- something that will affect where we go from here." She paused for a moment, looking down at her hands and then, back into Bill's eyes.
"After Maureen died, I was lonely and I met someone. He was nice and very smooth and I guess I was vulnerable. We started dating and pretty soon we were ... intimate. His name is Roger Traubel and he was new to the city, and I let him move in with me. About two months after he arrived, he started to change. He became very demanding and then abusive. He wasn't drinking, but he would lose his temper over the slightest thing. I tried to get him to leave, but he refused. As far as he was concerned, it was his apartment and I was his property."
"That sounds very dangerous, Zena. What did you do?"
"I went to the police, but they weren't interested. As far as they were concerned, unless he put me in the hospital or threatened me in public, they couldn't do anything. I was desperate. I went home and resigned myself to living with it until I could find a way to get rid of him. In the meantime, he was getting nastier and meaner. Finally, he really lost it the night he got fired from his job and he hit me so hard, he broke my jaw and cracked two ribs. I was in the hospital for almost a week.
"When I could, I signed the police report and they arrested him for assault. I guess he went crazy when they came for him, and he got charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer on top of it all. They finally believed me!"
"Thank god for that," Bill sighed. "Are you OK now?"
"It took a while and I had to have reconstructive surgery on my jaw, but I'm pretty much OK now."
Bill looked carefully at her, and could see no evidence of the damage the live-in lover had caused. Was there more, he wondered?
Zena had anticipated his thought. "About five months ago, I moved here when I got a job with City Ford. I thought I could leave this nightmare behind me. He had been sentenced to two years on the charges and was safely put away in another city. Last month, I had a call from the police in Darion, where I had been living. Apparently, Roger's sentence would be up in ninety days and there was a rumour he wanted to find me to get even for what happened to him. Because there weren't any witnesses, they couldn't arrest him again, so I was warned to beware."
"Oh god, Zena, what can I do to help?" Bill was now deeply concerned. This was serious, and he was certain he would be getting involved.
"Nothing, Bill. It's not your problem ... it's mine." She appeared to be resigned.
"No, Zena! It is my problem. I'm making it my problem! Better than that, I have people who can help put an end to this guy's antics once and for all!"
Zena was taken aback with the vehemence in Bill's voice. She could not recall him ever raising his voice, much less with the authority he displayed at this moment. This was not the same Bill that she remembered from her past. For an instant, she was given a glimmer of hope.
"Bill ... I can't let you risk yourself on this guy. He's not worth it. You could end up in jail instead of him," she pleaded.
"You are right about one thing, Zena. He's not worth it. Don't you worry, I'm not going to risk losing you again for anything, but ... I am going to make sure he never bothers you again. I promise you, it won't be violent or illegal, but he will get looked after."
He said it with such strength and conviction that Zena didn't for a second doubt him. She pulled him to her again and held him tightly. He felt her shudder as his arms went around her and hoped it was a sign she could count on him. He had no idea how he would deal with Mr. Roger Traubel, but he had Tex and Tex had friends and contacts and somehow they would help him protect Zena. He wasn't going to lose her again. He would not let that happen, period!
Tex Langhorn came striding into Bill's office late Monday morning and stopped short as he saw a second guest in the room. He had never seen the woman before, but she was "a looker" for sure.
"Tex, this is Zena Wildman, a very special friend of mine," Bill began. "She has a problem that we need to help her with."
"Hello, Zena, nice to meet you," the big security man offered. Zena nodded and smiled at the friendly face.
They sat, sipping coffee that Vera had provided earlier and making small talk for the first five minutes. Tex got the immediate impression from Bill that Zena was a very important person in his life, and with his unfortunate experience with Marion, something special was required. He would wait for Bill to fill him in.
"Zena, why don't you fill Tex in on Roger Traubel. Just tell him what you told me on Saturday night," Bill finally said, getting down to business.
Zena retold the story of her "boyfriend" and his abusive behavior as well as his troubles with the police. She also told him of the call from the Darion Police to warn her of the rumor of Roger's threat. It was at that point that Bill took over.
"Tex, I need to know everything there is to know about Roger Traubel. We need to find a way to neutralize him and do it in such a way as there is no tie to Zena, or for that matter, to you and me."
"Got it. I'll get started this morning. Zena, can I ask you some questions about this guy. You can probably help me cut my search short with some information."
"You're not going to kill him, are you?" she asked in alarm.
"No, nothing like that," Tex answered quickly. "We're pretty sure guys like him have history with other people and that's what we'll be looking for. He didn't just become a monster when he met you, I can assure you," he said with a big smile.
Zena relaxed again. She was feeling confident that these men could help. She wanted Roger out of her life and never to bother her again. She just didn't want him killed or even have something violent happen to him. It would be committing the same crime as he committed against her.
Tex and Zena talked for another ten minutes with Tex taking notes as he probed her for information on her tormentor. Bill watched and listened without interrupting them. Finally, Tex leaned back in his chair and looked at Bill.
"I think I've got everything I need to get started, Boss. I'll keep you posted with everything I learn."
"Do we need to move Zena?" Bill asked.
"Maybe, but let me find out what's up with Traubel first. No need to cause Ms. Wildman any more stress than necessary. I'll make sure she's protected in the meantime," he promised.
"Thanks, Tex. I'll look forward to hearing whatever you can find out," Bill said.
Tex left the office and Bill came around his desk to Zena. He crouched before her, taking her hands in his.
"It's going to be OK, Zena. Tex is an expert. He'll find out what Roger is up to and put a stop to it. You can count on him."
"I can count on you too, Bill, can't I?" she asked hopefully.
"Of course. You're too important to me to have anything happen to you." He pulled her to him and, on his knees, he embraced her, kissing her passionately. It was their first truly private moment together, and it brought back all the memories of the past that Bill had saved in that hidden place in his heart. Their dinner on Saturday evening had ended awkwardly when he took her home and they held each other, not knowing what the other expected at that moment. A soft kiss and a promise to see each other soon -- it ended there. The recreation of their first date was incomplete.
Bill drove Zena to her office at City Ford and walked with her, holding her hand as they crossed the showroom floor. She stopped as she entered her office and turned to him.
"Thank you, Bill. I feel better now. I was frightened and I really didn't know what I would do if Roger came back ... if he found me. I don't think I can put my mind to another relationship until this is resolved. I can't seem to think about anything else. I'm sorry, Bill. I wish I could just let go and we could start again, but until this ... cloud is gone, I can't relax and be myself. I hope you understand."
"Of course I can, Zena. You have every right to be upset. I have one thought right now and that is to remove Roger Traubel from your worries and your life. I'm going back to my office now. Are you going to be OK?"
"Yes ... I am now. I'm so grateful for your help. Thank you, Bill."
He leaned forward and kissed her softly, smiling as he turned and began to walk to the front door.
"Hi Bill. What are you doing back here? Nothing wrong with Junior's truck I hope." It was Ken Lee, walking across the floor toward him.
"Hi Ken. No, Junior's truck is just fine. I was just bringing one of your employees to the office," he explained. "Zena Wildman is a very old friend of mine and I met her here on Saturday just after we bought Junior's truck."
"You know Zena? Well, how about that. Good luck, Bill. She's a lovely woman. If I weren't married, I'd be after her myself," he laughed.
"Yes. I lost track of her twenty years ago and then she pops up here. It was a big surprise." He paused for a moment.
"Look, Ken, she's had some problems with an abusive boyfriend and I'm keeping an eye on her to make sure nothing happens to her. I don't expect anything to happen here, but just in case ... if you see anything that makes you suspicious, please don't think twice ... call me."
"Of course. She's a valuable employee and I don't want anything to happen to her either," he said seriously. "She's done a great job of straightening out our lease department. I hope you aren't planning to steal her away from me ... are you?"
"No, no, nothing like that. I just want her to be happy. She's had some rotten things happen to her in the past few years. I'd like to help her find some happiness." He had been thinking out loud more than explaining his relationship to her.
Ken smiled knowingly. The signs were obvious. Bill was falling ... or had fallen, for Zena Wildman.
"OK, Bill. I'll keep my eyes open and let you know if anything strange happens. Take care, friend," he said, turning to walk back to his office.