Chance: A Day in May Ch. 11bythe Troubador©
The ride to the local airport the next morning was glum. Helen boarded at the airport in Wenatchee. It was a commuter flight servicing a number of small cities between Wenatchee and Boise. She would have stops in Yakima, Pasco, Walla Walla and Lewiston before arrival in Boise. With all the stops it would be mid-afternoon before she arrived home.
With many promises and a chaste kiss for Duncan, Helen boarded. Duncan stood, a forlorn sight, watching until her plane was out of sight.
Driving back to Chelan he decided the smartest plan was to drive his RV to Boise, towing the little BMW. They'd been planning on towing it on the now aborted photo safari so he already had the tow equipment on hand. It would only take a few minutes to hook it up. He would store his own small car in Chelan and pick it up after he left Boise.
He was on the road by late afternoon, feeling blue. His cell phone rang as he was crossing the Columbia River at the Pasco/Kennewick bridge. There was no traffic on the bridge so he answered it. It was Helen and he told her he would call her back as soon as he found a place to park. He hadn't got this old by splitting his attention between a call to his sweety and jockeying the RV down the road.
The news on Gerald was not good. Helen had talked to the Doctor, finally convincing him nothing he told her could be worse than what she was imagining. She was glad to find out what was wrong, but what he told her wasn't much better than what she had been imagining.
The Doctor suspected a brain tumor, which would be bad enough in any case but there was more. Without further tests he couldn't be sure but he feared it was cancerous. They would know more the next day and the Doctor didn't want anyone flying apart before they knew for certain.
Helen had gone home and immediately gone online to discover what she could about Brain Cancer. None of it was good, most of it was terrible.
Depending on the tumor's location and on how extensive it was, the prognosis was anything from possible minor mental impairment to an unpleasant death. The worst case scenario had Gerry dying within weeks.
It was possible to surgically remove a tumor, depending on where it was in the brain. Brain Surgery was never easy; there was no need to explain what a minute slip of the knife might do. If it was cancerous however, even removal was questionable. Cancerous tumors sent tendrils throughout the brain, making removal impossible.
The Doctor, who admittedly was no an expert in the condition, was very pessimistic. To him the symptoms indicated an advanced tumor in an inoperable area of the brain. If it was cancerous he feared the tumor had already sent out tendrils. If this was the case he expected personality changes and loss of motor skills at the minimum.
It was possible the tumor had been there for years. Gerald had complained of headaches for years, refusing to see a doctor for such a minor everyday problem.
Like plotting a Hurricane, each such tumor had its own life to run. What scared Helen was reading that some tumors might grow slowly for years, then suddenly explode. Like all cancers, if it was detected in time they can be defeated. Helen feared, believed, this had been growing for years. If so, that would account for the slow changes in her husband's behavior.
As Duncan expected Helen was terrified. He promised to be in Boise sometime the next day, planning to make the drive only stopping for naps and meals. If there were any kind of delay he would call, but she was to look for him sometime tomorrow evening.
For the first time he confessed his love for her. Then he promised that he wouldn't let it get in the way of any decisions she needed to make about her life. He agreed her marriage was and should be currently the center of her life. He told her this so she would know he would be there for her and hers as long as she needed him, she had no worry about him being there for her, at least until this nightmare was handled. There were no strings attached to his help and he would not get in the way of what she saw had to be done.
He pulled into a rest area soon after, made a meal, then took a nap. He was up and on the road again well before midnight. Driving carefully and taking a break every hour or so to eat and in some cases nap he called as he neared Boise to ask for directions to her home. It had been a fast trip with the RV, and he planned to stop and make dinner in the RV, eating before he arrived.
Arriving at the address for the Conningham home he saw a large two story white colonial. From its size Duncan guessed it had five, maybe more bedrooms. Helen opened the door as he stepped onto the porch. Drawing him inside she introduced him to her daughter Holly and to Conrad, her son. Neither of the young adults took askance at a strange man delivering their mother's BMW. Instead they took their cues from the way their father had reacted when he heard Duncan was coming. The unexpected, obvious near hero worship with which Gerald had greeted the news he was coming smoothed over what Duncan had feared would be a tense situation.
Gerry wasn't there to greet him when he came in. He had been too exhausted to stay up and was sound asleep when Duncan drove up.
Conrad had graduated in Accounting that winter from Idaho State University there in Boise. Holly had picked Idaho State and would be living on campus. She planned to major in Psychology. This would be her first year. Neither one lived at home.
It was later than Duncan had expected arriving and he was glad he had stopped to eat. Under the circumstances he pled being tired and was soon bedded down in the guest room for the night. He had no chance for talking alone with Helen that night and hadn't expected to do so. Much worse, under the circumstances he didn't know what to say. It certainly was no time to discuss their relationship. She didn't need that kind of pressure now. As he settled in for a troubled sleep he wondered if there would ever be a time for them now. He would try to speak with her privately the next day.
The next morning was hectic. Helen made breakfast for Conrad, who had spent the night "home" along with his sister who had moved into a dorm that week. Helen managed to get him off on time to his new job, assuring him she would call him if his dad took a turn for the worse.
Holly slept in, exhausted worrying about Gerry. Her first University class would be next week. She was starting with the Summer Quarter and she figured this was her last "sleep in" until that was over. She was hoping to be far enough along in her studies to go for her Master's Degree in three years. Duncan thought it very daunting, considering she hadn't yet attended her first lecture.
When Gerry pulled himself out of bed he was obviously hurting. He knew Duncan was due in last night and wanted to thank him for his kindness and didn't allow himself the extra time in bed his condition asked for.
Duncan came downstairs soon after Conrad left, showered but not particularly rested. Helen suspected that like herself, sleep hadn't come easy or early. Duncan discovered Gerry sipping coffee at the kitchen table and reading the paper with Helen sitting across from him.
Looking up when he entered the kitchen Helen couldn't help the frisson of love chasing through her at sight of him. Helen prayed her husband didn't pick up on some of the strange vibes filling the room.
It was a strange situation; now that she had an idea what had been happening with her husband she understood his changed behavior. With that understanding much of her affection for him had returned.
But even with that her strong feelings for Duncan had not eased. For the life of her she couldn't set one aside for the other. It was very difficult. For the first time she understood how a woman could love two men at the same time. The feelings for Duncan were different from those she had for Gerry. Different but just as strong.
Breakfast was quiet, Duncan obviously deep in thought, Gerry obviously slightly punchy from the pain medication he was taking. Helen bustled around, trying to pay personal attention to both men despite Duncan's poorly hidden wish for her not to fuss over him. That was enough to give her a headache.
When Holly finally joined them it was only long enough to eat some toast. Then she too was off to do her thing, this time an afternoon at one of her friend’s house to bask for the last time in the idea they had graduated from the public school system. Most of them were going on to college of course, but that just wasn't the same thing. With her going the three adults were left alone with their long thoughts.
The day passed slowly, conversation stiff and formal. Early afternoon Gerry begged tired and went to lie down. Duncan had been looking for this opportunity to talk privately with Helen, both dreading and anticipating the talk. That was when Holly called needing her mother's immediate help and she was off, with a quick apology, to help her daughter. So much for a private chat.
Sometime after 4:00 Helen returned, going upstairs immediately to check on Gerry and get their bedroom straightened up. When she stepped in the room she found him in bed, propped up on pillows.
He greeted his wife with a small wave, "Helen, I was hoping you'd be up soon. I need to talk, honey. The sooner the better."
Helen answered guardedly, "Sure Gerry. How you feeling?"
"Good at the moment, but that's not what I want to talk about. I've had a lot of time to think since I left you in Ritzville. Some things have happened that opened my eyes, woke me up to myself. If you have the time… If this is a good time… I need to talk, Helen. Do you have time, honey?"
"Of course, dear."
After a short pause Gerry continued, "I don't know exactly how to say what I have to say. Guess the best way is to just get started and let things fall where they may." He paused a moment, "Somehow the last few years I've lost touch with myself. That's the only way I can explain it. I've done some things I don't feel proud of, not at this moment."
Silence stretched in the room. Helen didn't know what to say, and when she opened her mouth to speak her husband held his hand up to stop her. "Wait Helen, let me talk for awhile, you listen, just listen. This isn't going to be easy for me, and it grieves me to know it won't be easy for you either."
"Five years ago, more or less, I began understanding what it would be necessary for me to do, to become… to reach the next level in the company I've been working for all these years. I'm ambitious as you know, and decided I had to change my "style" and become the man management wanted. Don't worry; I never became a hatchet man. But I bottled up and put aside any compassion I had for the people working with and under me. Where before I would make allowances for personal situations my people may be in, I quit doing that. In plain words I became a complete bastard. The friendships I had with the people I worked with began withering but the production of my department increased markedly. Well, being completely honest, it increased in the short run." He paused again before adding, "That's also about the time those headaches started."
"What happened to me was interesting and not good looking back on it. With my new attitude and the increased production my new attitude forced out of my people upper management began promoting me rapidly. The areas I left soon faltered and returned to the production levels that were more natural. The new managers were blamed for the fall. Understand, the "improvements" I had brought about couldn't be sustained over the long haul. Looking at it now it's easy to see. People aren't machines, but like machines they do break down with enough pressure. I was gone, so the new boss was blamed."
"When I saw how my new attitude was pushing me up the ladder I got greedy. And worse yet, I became an egotist. The success I was having at the expense of the health of my employees, both mental and physical, I attributed to my brilliance."
There was a long, loud silence. Helen tried to speak several times only to be motioned to silence by her husband. With his eyes fixed on his hands, Gerry began again.
"With my new attitude came a belief that the people working for me were little more than tools for my use." Helen found herself caught in her husband's anguished stare, "Honey, I used them! And not just in the job. If a woman was attractive I considered her to belong to me. I seduced several of my employees. To my everlasting shame, I did things I have always believed despicable, excusing myself because I "deserved" the attention. They were despicable, but they "felt" good."
Helen was caught in his misery, while horrified at his confession at the same time. His voice dropped to a bare whisper, "So I did them. I did whatever felt good to me. I pray now that those good ladies were strong enough to keep their self respect and mental health after I tired of them."
Helen's knees gave out and she found herself plopping down on the foot of the bed, her hands covering her mouth. Gerry could see the unshed tears in her eyes.
"Lordy, Helen! It hurts so bad to tell you this. If there was some way you didn't already know of this or I could be sure you would never hear of it I would never have told you. I love you, Helen. Despite my selfish, hurting ways I do love you."
Through her tears Helen saw her husband's tears streaking his cheeks. "Gerry, I love you too. I do!"
Before she could add anything, Gerry held his hand up to stop her talking. "I know you learned of my trip, Helen. Maybe not all of it, but you must know enough to doubt me. And I know Duncan has been supporting you after I abandoned you in Ritzville. When he looks at you it is plain to me he would like to be more than a friend. But I know the man, even if mostly by reputation. He wouldn't make a move on another man's wife.
"It hurts me to see this. It really does. Watching how you look at the man hurts, too. You are my wife and I know you love me. But when I was wandering the streets of Singapore I realized how badly I've treated you. You have stood by me unswervingly all these years and instead of appreciating it, I took it as giving me freedom to do whatever I wished."
There was silence in the room again, broken only by Helen's muted sobs.
Then Gerry spoke again, "I was listening to the Doctor's explanation, honey. It explained some of the things that have been going on with me the last few months. Before I left Singapore I did some heavy thinking. There have been "aberrations" in my behavior the last few months, maybe... probably longer. The Doctor's comments gave me an explanation for some of my actions. My thinking gets twisted every once in a while. There have been times when I have looked back at something I've done or the way I've behaved and wondered how I could have done them. The brain tumor would explain these. And I heard when he was tiptoeing all around his prognosis and my longevity."
Gerry picked up a manila folder Helen hadn't noticed, handing it to her. "This afternoon, instead of taking a nap I went online and did some research on brain cancer. And have no doubt, the Doctor thinks that's what I have. He won't be sure until he gets his laboratory tests back but if I were a betting man I wouldn't bet against it."
"Honey, I've been humbled the last weeks. There are a lot of regrets I have, the biggest is the way I began putting myself on a pedestal. You have been and continue to be a wonderful wife. Don't ever question yourself girl. You have done and stood for more than I had any right to expect…"
Gerry tiredly lay back against his pillow, "Now, I DO need to rest. Call me for dinner, hon." Then he turned on his side and settled down.
His wife sat on the bed for some time, watching him. It took only a few minutes before she knew he was indeed asleep. She continued to sit thinking while she watched him. Then she got up to begin preparing dinner.
- - - - -
Duncan watched morosely as Helen headed upstairs to see how Gerald was doing. He had wondered if conversation between Helen and himself would be strained in the home she shared with Gerald. Obviously it was true; hardly a surprise with her husband diagnosed with cancer. With everything that had happened the past few weeks it would have shocked Duncan if it hadn't been the case.
He had no personal experience with this dealing with cancer among his friends and acquaintances. Therefore Duncan checked the internet the night before last. He discovered recovery rates were terrible. The worst he had heard of.
He felt restless, staying under Gerald's roof the way he felt about his wife. Sure, Gerry had turned into a jerk but that was no excuse to pursue his wife. On the other hand Helen needed someone to lean on. She confessed she had no close family other than her children and a few of Gerry's relatives, none of whom she felt close to. He decided he would hang out here as long as it looked like his presence was needed. However if things became strained here in any way it would be best he return to Seattle. He could return to Boise within hours if he was needed.
As he pondered he realized he no longer thought of the man as Gerald. Somehow his view of the man had changed, now when he came into his mind it was as Gerry. Despite the circumstances that had introduced them Duncan had gained some rapport and respect for him.
At the moment Duncan feared Helen's need for his comfort was dissipating. Yet wasn't that what he wanted, having her regain her strength and the ability to stand on her own?
Lost in these gloomy thoughts he almost missed the call coming in on his cell phone. Answering it he found himself talking to Daryl, his friend from the private investigations company.
"Duncan, I've been following up on the Gerald Conningham matter. We have some additional information you may have some interest in. Want me to give you a quick run down before I mail the report?"
He sat up, wondering what else Daryl may have gathered. "What do you have? Oh, and before you begin, I know Conningham returned to the states. Actually I'm sitting in his living room as we speak. What else do you have?"
"Well, there went part of my surprise. We kept track of him, even watching him transfer planes at SeaTac Airport on his way home to Boise. But we do have some disturbing news about the Administrative Assistant." He waited a beat, not hearing anything from Duncan he continued, "She showed up in Bombay, and we put a tail on her to see where she was going. We lost her there, and I don't think we'll be seeing her again.
"Thanks Daryl, one question before you go, she was believed to be carrying a very large sum of money. Did she store it somewhere, or was she carrying it when she disappeared?"
"No sign of the money, Duncan. She certainly wasn't carrying it with her, and there was no sign of such in her luggage. She may have sent it to some "off-shore" bank. Since the banking changes in Switzerland it isn't as popular as it used to be, but you knew that. Where do you want the report sent?"
"Hold it in your files. I'll pick it up when I get in town. I don't see any reason to rub these folks noses in the mess. You did a good job, Daryl. Thanks."
At dinner Duncan told Gerry and Helen he would be heading home the next day. To his surprise Gerry was visibly upset, "Duncan, I'd like to talk to you tomorrow. I can't do it tonight; I seem to be running out of energy entirely by 6:00 or 7:00 every night. If I can talk you into staying over at least one more day, I'd like to talk tomorrow. Can you do that?"
Duncan was caught off guard but there was nothing important he had to see to in the next few days. The men running his company were handling it as competently as he ever had. "Sure Gerry, I can stay around another day. I've got no schedule."