This story, unlike many of my others, is completely fictional. It derives from my story, "Rebecca," but only in that I received requests for a sequel, a Part II, or whatever. I release my stories when I consider them finished; but this seemed a good subject to take from a similar starting point, through a completely different plot, and end in fresh, new territory.
It contains no sex.
Things are a little confusing right now. I have decisions to make, some of them potentially life-altering, and mine is not the only life to which I refer.
I'm thirty-two years old, a CPA, and the father of two precious, precocious girls.
I am also raising them alone.
My story isn't so terribly sad, compared to the burdens others must bear. I'm thankful every day for all I have; I've suffered, and others have endured more. In short, it could be worse.
I married my college sweetheart, Ellen, the week after our mutual graduations. I'd majored in Accounting, she in Business Administration. Our life together was satisfying, sweetened by the arrival of our first child, whom my wife named Marcia, followed two years later by her sister Alexa.
Being parents suited us both. We'd both come from intact families, each of which overflowed with love and joy. There was none of the archetypal in-law in-fighting you see lampooned in sitcoms.
Our families always gathered, all of us, both sides of the family, at special occasions. Easter, Memorial Day, the Fourth, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years' saw us all gathered in a throng, a sea of bodies, all happy chaos and whimsy and much, much hugging and kissing.
Then there was Ellen's funeral.
We gathered as an extended group, but there was laughter only at her memory, happiness only in our memories of her. She'd been taken from us by an uninsured drunk with seven DUI convictions and not a hint of a license.
There was no justice, not for her; the driver served a year, and was released, only to harm others later.
My impotent anger could have consumed me, might have consumed, pardon my immodesty, a lesser man. I had two children, though, and they needed me, needed for me to focus on them, on the future, on the big picture ahead.
Oh, sure, I got involved in MADD, and prison ministries telling inmates how drunk driving affects the survivors, and fund raisers and on and on. These things I felt compelled to do for Ellen's memory.
My first duty, though, was to my children, my angels, my little pieces of Ellen still left to me.
I saw to my girls' needs, putting them in the best school I could afford, showering them with my time and time spent in the company of relatives, teaching them to become independent young ladies. It was never my intent to deprive them of the memory of their mother, but rather to force them to become what she would have wanted. We were happy, the three of us as well as the extended family, an army of support.
Tamara, my best friend at work, sat on the edge of my desk. "How they hangin', big guy?"
I sighed. Tamara was like that. "We are okay, Tammie," I replied.
"I have a lady I think you'd like to meet," she offered. "Carlie, she's a lawyer and a tax expert. She's never been married, a little younger than you, sharp as a tack. I think you'd hit it off."
"Tammie," I said, "I don't want to be set up."
"Just meet her at some public spot. Make small talk. Take her to dinner, like, Johnny Carino's or something. See what you think," she said.
"I assume," I said, "you've got it all arranged?"
"Four-ish, Saturday afternoon, behind the Pavilion at the Westerly. Bring the girls! She's bound to love 'em."
I thought. What could it hurt? The girls loved going to the Westerly, a mall / entertainment area on the west end of town. "Okay," I said, after a pause.
She smiled. "She's your height, a tad plump but nothing awful, and she'll be wearing a purple scarf."
"You DO have it arranged," I fumed, without heat.
Tammie walked away, smiling.
++++++ Saturday afternoon, I took my girls to the Westerly, accompanied by my cousin Betty. Three-fifty came and went; I was walking around with the girls, who seemed a tad bewildered, looking at the shops and grabbing a very late-afternoon (to my mind) Baskin-Robbins cone.
As we walked around the small pavilion, I noticed a woman roughly matching Tammie's description. We approached her cautiously.
"Carlie?" I said.
She turned to face me, then focused on the girls, and back to me. She held out a hand. "Jeff?"
"In person," I said, adding, "this is Marcia," I indicated my elder child, who proffered a hand, accepted, "and this is Alexa," and the process was repeated.
Carlie seemed a tad ill-at-ease, but walked with us back to where Betty was waiting. I handed the girls off to her, kissing each of them; I bussed Betty on the cheek, said, "I'll pick them up," and as they left, turned my attention to Carlie.
We ate at Carino's, as Tammie had recommended, driving to the location separately; and we had, to my perception, a successful date. We were roughly equivalent intellectually, and as went interests we were pretty well in sync.
The evening ended, as they alway do; and as I walked to our cars, she turned to me and said, "I really enjoyed myself..."
I felt the stretch at the end. "But?" I prompted.
"I just, I dunno, I have this thing about divorced guys. I mean, your kids were so sweet, but..."
My smile did not fade. "I think I get it."
She pushed on. "I'm so sorry, but I've dealt with ex-wives and all, and I can't do that again. Please, don't get me wrong, you're an awful lot of fun, but I think we should leave things as they are."
I said, "I thank you for a wonderful evening," got into my car, and drove away.
"Tammie," I muttered to myself, "stay outta my fucking life from now on."
I retrieved the girls; we went home, and as they peppered me with questions, I deflected them. "She was nice, girls, and that's that," I proclaimed.
Monday morning came. I was ready for Tammie to say a word, a fucking word, to me. I was pissed.
When she came into my cube, around ten-thirty, I was ready to let her hold it; then I noticed the ineffable sadness etched onto her face.
"Jeff," she said, "I'm sorry. I didn't now she'd run off like that."
"Yeah," I replied sharply, "you coulda mentioned to her I had kids. And she's not as friggin smart as you made out to me. She assumed I was divorced, and never asked me. Like, is she retahded or something?"
Tammie lowered her head. "I'm sorry," she repeated.
"Tammie?" I said. "You don't EVER play matchmaker with me again. You got that? NEVER. I will personally file a grievance against you. I love you, but you're a fucking busybody."
She repeated herself, and left my office. I'd probably lost a friend, and friends like that I did not need.
Three weeks later, on a Friday evening, I was busy in the kitchen fixing our family favorite Friday evening repast. The doorbell chimed, and though it broke a home rule, I called out, "Marcia? Can you get that for me, baby?"
"Okay," I heard her cheerful little voice call out. I heard the door being opened, I was desperately trying to get things into a state in which I could walk away for a few moments.
"Daddy! It's that lady!"
Lady? Was I expecting someone? "Well, invite her in. I'll be there in a second."
I placed the pork roast, pan and all, on an unused burner on the stove, removed my oven mitts, and walked into the living room.
There, to my surprise, stood Carlie.
"Hi, Jeff," she said softly, holding out a hand.
I took it, and replied, "Carlie, nice to see you. Please, have a seat." I gestured toward the sofa, where she sat. Marcia, little miss bold, sat right next to her; Alexa bounded up into my lap, as I sat in my recliner.
"I'd like to apologize for... things, and I wonder if it might be better, uh, alone?" she said, timidly.
I smiled lightly. "I have no secrets from my girlies. Well, no important ones," I said. "We can use euphemisms for the time being, but I'd rather not send them away."
"Okay," she said, wearing the same ill-at-ease look I'd seen before. "No one mentioned your, uh, situation. Only that you had two," she gestured with a finger, indicating the girls, "and were single."
"Which you concluded meant marital breakdown," I finished.
"What does that mean?" Alexa asked.
"It means they wanna talk grown-up stuff," opined Marcia.
Carlie and I both laughed, and the tension level dropped a few notches. I remembered dinner, and I didn't want to stay out of the kitchen long enough for things to ruin, so I said, "Let's continue this after dinner? If you'll join us, provided you like pork tenderloin?"
Carlie's face lit up. "I'll be delighted, if it's really not a problem. It's not like me to invite myself to dinner."
"It's really not a problem," I answered, hefting Alexa and plopping her on the ground, "but I need to get back into the kitchen. If you three can keep yourselves occupied for ten minutes, it'll be on the table."
There was a chorus of agreement. The womenfolk set the table while I finished whipping the potatoes and carving the pork. I set all the food on the table, served the plates, and sat.
I surveyed the table through unfocused eyes, just for a moment, and saw it surrounded by a family. A small wave of nostalgia washed through me; then it was gone, and we four had a splendid dinner. My girls and I always talk and laugh during meals; Carlie added a fresh voice, new stories and reasons to laugh.
Dinner was finally finished, and the kitchen returned to order. While dinner settled, we sat at the dining room table and played cards, as was our habit. Old Maid ruled the roost, though Fish was a close second. Carlie joined in enthusiastically, and again that feeling of family passed over me.
Finally it was time for baths. That's something I let the kids do themselves, thus freeing Carlie and me to sit and have our conversation.
"I can't remember a better evening," she said. "I cant help thinking I almost blew it."
"I understand," I said simply.
"You have a happy little home," she reflected. "And I can't make any excuses, I just assumed you... well, you know."
"Yes," I said. "You said you'd had trouble with exes before."
"Oh, yeah," she said, rolling her eyes. "I've been involved, to one degree or another, with three divorced men, and their exes were anywhere from cold to hostile. I've been threatened several times. One, the last one, even flattened my tires. After that, I said enough."
I winced. I could see her point.
"Look," she said, "you're a great guy, and those girls are precious. I'm not here asking for a commitment or anything. I just want to know you'll give me another shot."
I smiled. "I think I can arrange that."
So here I am, in a relationship with Carlie. It's been three months. We've never yet indulged in intimacies, mostly because I won't bring that morality into my girls' lives. She understands, and is fine with that. Impressed, even, in a way.
She's a fine lady. The girls adore her. She'd be a fine mother figure, and she's already passed the rest-of-the-family test. Flying colors, I might add.
In short, I have some thinking to do.
Oh, by the way, Tammie and I kissed and made up. As my Dad said to me, I'll never have so many friends I can afford to lose one.