Down by the Lake Ch. 06byBogartsBoss©
At home, Madge quietly went about her business. She was pensive, moving through her routine, mind obviously elsewhere. About ten, I found her sitting on the deck, her back against the house. Bogart's chin was in her lap, and she was gently stroking the dog's head. I sat next to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. She looked my way, tears glistening in her eyes.
"Are you ok, Honey?"
"Josh, will she be alright? The arthritis I mean."
"Some of that depends on how far along she is. Also, how well she's taking care of herself. And strangely enough, how much, tension she has in her life."
"What can I do?"
"You've started. She knows you are alive and well. She was watching the interaction between us, and, I think, reassured that you're safe. Next week, she'll see you here, in your home."
"But what about Jeannie? The boys? What will she think then?"
"Let her watch us, see the love we all have for each other. If she has questions, answer them. Even if you think the answer puts us in a bad light, or if you don't have an answer, be truthful. She'll be more accepting if she senses you're being honest with her."
Once again, we were busy all week. Thursday, I ran Carl out to American Lake (neither of us wanted to deal with Seattle traffic), I sat in a waiting room while he talked with a counselor, saw a magazine dated 1996. Sure glad I brought a book. Two hours in, Carl finally shuffled out to me. "Thanks, Murph. C'mon, I'll buy coffee."
Over coffee, I learned he was looking at two or three weeks, when a representative from the chair company could come to his home for a fitting, then it was a matter of waiting for delivery. At Carl's request, we took the long way home. The Mustang enjoyed the run, and he was content to sit back, watching the scenery go by.
Carl used to be very active, a hunter, fly fisher, drove his pickup everywhere. Now, he relied on others to get around. And he's my age.
We drove in silence, Carl with his thoughts, me unsure what I could possibly say. Eventually I pulled into his drive way. He shook himself, then said, "Thanks, Murph. I really appreciate you taking the time. You know Marie can't leave the Post Office unattended. It'd have been a bitch trying to get over there on my own."
"Hey, always willing to help a fellow Navy guy."
"NAVY? No fuckin' way."
"Bud, last I looked, Marines are a branch of the Navy. Welcome aboard Gyrene"
"Arggh, get the fuck outta my face squid."
"See ya bud."
Friday started out sunny and warm, with a promise of only getting better. After our morning routines, Madge and I went down to the lake. We had found a spot under a tree where we could sit comfortably and meditate. She had picked the technique up easily. After half an hour I handed her the picture we had brought home. "Look into the face before you. Do not try to form thoughts, only let the face be. We shall do this exercise every day until you are ready ."
"How will you know I'm ready?"
"You will tell me."
She sat, looking into the picture for about twenty minutes, then came back to me with a shake. "I felt 'something' towards the end, but, I don't know..."
"That's ok, don't expect great breakthroughs. Forcing this only hinders progress."
"How did you learn this?"
"Naomi and I got into it years ago. After Claire and Wally. We had been having problems communicating and she thought this might be a way to get back to us. I was skeptical at first, but rather than chance losing her I stuck with it. After a while we were back in sync, picking up each other's thoughts, completing sentences, things like that."
"Is that why you say you sense her?"
"Um hmm. I don't get 'thoughts', just a feeling of awareness, approval of us, and Jeannie too. Probably wishful thinking, but I prefer thinking it's her."
Saturday, and again Sunday, we returned to our meditation spot. Looking around I realized this had been where Naomi and I had also meditated. I guess in my mind, this had become a 'Sacred Spot'. Each day we sat, going through our routines, releasing our thoughts. Some gurus call it staring at your naval, I see it as looking within yourself. Each day Madge would look into the picture, then come back out with a shake.
Monday, even though we had a boat load of people coming, I insisted we maintain our meditation routine. We had just settled into our breathing, when Madge whispered, "Josh, they're here."
"Naomi is smiling, she say's I've chosen well. I'm surrounded by love. Treasure it...she's gone. Now it's Dad...he knows I'm sorry. He knew I didn't mean it. He's sorry we couldn't...he say's watch over Mom...She'll be ok...she missed me...raise the boys as if they're my own...he loves me...he's gone now."
I'd watched through the whole episode. Tears were running down her cheeks, but a smile was on her face. A burden seemed to have lifted from her. "Josh, he knew about the boys. Has he been watching me? Like Naomi has been watching you, us?"
Returning to the house, I asked Madge if she would mind my inviting Shelly and Carl over for the barbeque. I had a thought that mixing in some of the neighbors would ease tensions between us and Jeannie's folks.
"I had the same thought as we came up the hill!"
Shelly was all for it, she truly liked Madge. I asked if she could pick up Carl, as Marie would be at work. "Should I take the MG?"
"Only if you want to make another trip. He can't get that low anymore."
People started arriving about eleven. First up the driveway were Shelly and Carl. She gave me a big hug, and a bigger kiss on the lips. Way more of a kiss than she used to. I looked over at Carl, who held up his hands saying, " I ain't never kissed a squid before, not goin' to start now."
"Hi Carl, glad you made it."
"Changed my mind after you called, was goin' to tell Shelly 'Go on without me'. Damn that woman is persuasive. And what's with you and these women all of a sudden? Shelly tells me you've got another one comin' up the hill today?"
"And her mom and dad too. Oh, and Madge's mom as well."
"Shelly says you want us to play interference?"
"Not quite. I'm thinking if you're here things will stay a little calmer. I met Madge's mom the other day. Nice lady. I think she'll be fine. Jeannie's folks, on the other hand, I haven't met yet. I'm worried they may have the wrong thoughts about me, and Madge too."
"Alright, got your back."
Shelly and Madge were over on the deck, talking, when the next car came up the road. Shielding her eyes, Madge jumped up to greet her mom. I gave them a couple minutes then strolled over and welcomed her. We'd barely exchanged hellos when two more cars arrived; Jeannie leading her parents.
Madge ran over, hugging Jeannie as she exited. "That's Jeannie." I explained.
"My goodness, they are close, aren't they?"
"Very much so. I hope she has her kids with her, you'll like them, she's doing a great job as a single mom."
"And the other car?"
"That should be her folks, I haven't met them yet. Now, if you'll excuse me?
"Hello Lover, We've missed you. Where are the boys?"
"They rode up with Mom and Dad. My car is loaded."
"Oh, planning on staying? You haven't even hugged me."
"Madge! He's picking on me."
"Sorry Love, he's right. Not even a hug, let alone a kiss."
Bam! She was in my arms! The kiss she delivered curled my toes. Again. That girl can kiss.
Here came JD, with Clark right behind him. They wrapped around me, chattering on about what they had done all week, when could we go fishing..."
"Boys, boys. Let me do my duties as host, we'll have lots of time later."
I turned, holding out my hand to the tall gentleman approaching. He looked disapprovingly at me, and started out wrong, in my book, "I'll tell you right out, I don't like the idea of my daughter or my grandsons living with you!"
"Mm hmm. Look around. You are a guest on my property, all twenty five acres. I greeted you with outstretched hand. If you want to start this way, fine. Or, you take a deep breath, introduce me to the lovely lady next to you, and we get to know each other. Form an opinion of me once you know me. That's what I plan on. Otherwise, I go with my first impression; you're an ass hole"
I turned to the lady I was certain was Jeannie's mother, "Good afternoon, I'm Josh Murphy. I love your daughter. I think the kids are the world's best."
Smiling back, holding out her hand, "Well, you know how to silence my husband. I'm Mary James, and this obnoxious person is my husband Ronald. He just worries about our Jeannie...they've always been close. He didn't really approve of her first husband. Be patient with him will you? Jeannie has told me everything about you and Marjorie. And I saw how the boys were when they came home last week. Did you really teach them how to fish? And paddle a canoe?"
"It wasn't so much teaching, as demonstrating, and they just picked it up. They're smart kids. I understand you two have had a lot to do with them over the last few years."
I turned back to Ronald, stuck my hand out again. He took it this time giving me a firm grip. I felt a ring on that hand, looking down I caught a brief glimpse of a familiar looking ring. "Marine?"
"No, but if you'll come with me I'll introduce you to Carl. He's been a curse on the neighborhood for years."
I looked around as we strolled over to Carl, the women had all gathered on one end of the deck, I could see Madge and Jeannie exchanging introductions. Carl was sitting in the shade at the other end, watching everything going on. "Carl, I hate to impose on you, seeing as you're working on your tan. This is Mr. James, Jeannie's father. Looking around it would appear you two are the only Leathernecks in the county. Do you want to swap lies with him?"
"Squid, you gotta show respect."
"Yeah, that'll be the day. Can I get you something? Mr. James?"
"Murph, I'd love to have a beer, but Marie would kill me. I'll take my usual coffee."
"Done. Mr. James?"
"Ron, call me Ron. I'll have coffee too."
Turning to Carl, "Marine?"
"3rd of the 3rd. You?"
"2nd of the 9th."
"Oh God. You guys have fun. I'll get your coffee."
As I walked away I heard, "What's with him?"
"Squid. But he's ok any way."
I took them their coffee. They were sitting head to head, rattling off arcane terms that must have been Jarhead speak. They were having a good time. I wandered over to the women. Jeannie and Madge kissed me, their moms looking on. Shelly circled around, volunteering I owed her a kiss also. Not one to say no to a woman, I puckered up. (Probably looked like a goldfish) She laughed, saying, "Oh no you don't. You give me a proper one."
So I did. A minute or so later I turned her loose. She looked over at the girls. In unison they said, "Told you so." then busted out laughing. Nancy and Mary just stood their mouths half open. I turned away, only to see Carl and Ron looking my way. Carl just smiled, flicked a thumb up.
I went looking for the boys, found them throwing a ball over by the barn, Bogart watching. I suggested some three-way. Forming a triangle, we tossed the ball around, I noticed JD was using his left now, and throwing pretty good for his age. Clark was holding his own, being just a little wild. The kids were having fun, shouting back and forth, encouraging each other. Ron came around the corner of the house, probably drawn by our noise. He watched for several minutes, then asked if he could join in. "Boys, what do you think?"
"C'mon Grandpa, this is fun!"
After a while, I excused myself, leaving Ron having a good time with his grandsons. It was time to fire off the BBQ. I used to use charcoal, but this is one area I don't have the patience for it to come up to temp, so I use gas. I put burgers and dogs on, Madge had a huge potato salad made up, and we had corn on the cob steaming.
Every one loaded up, I was pleased to see Nancy eating a healthy amount, and Ron seemed to be enjoying my cooking. I reminded everyone to save room for watermelon, then dug into my plate. It was, as usual, exceptional cooking, if I say so myself. Carl was happily munching on a burger, a mixture of mustard and mayo on his chin. I gave him a 'wipe your chin' sign, he just smiled, took another bite. The boys had opted for 'dogs', and were sitting on the edge of the deck, their grandfather next to them. He smiled over at me, nodded, then turned back to the boys.
When it looked as if everyone had reached saturation, I dragged out the ice filled wash tub with two watermelons and a couple cantaloupe. I actually heard moaning! Pointing out I'd told them to save room, asked who was first. ( I really didn't expect anyone just yet) Carl just waved me away, Mary, Nancy and Shelly, just shook their heads. The boys and Ron were stretched out on the deck. Madge and Jeannie, smiled, shook their heads, Jeannie saying, "You're a cruel man, Josh Murphy. Cruel."
"Ain't no one leavin' ma table hongry, ma'am."
The boys fell asleep on the deck. Ron and I scooped them up, he followed me to their room, we put them both on the lower bunk. I didn't want one of them rolling off the top bunk. We rejoined the group on the deck, where Madge was telling them about our plans for the spa and pool. Ron listened quietly then turned to me, asking, "You can afford this?"
'Yeah, my expenses haven't been too much the last couple years."
Soon the girls were busy telling everyone how we had all met, how we all loved each other, what the plans were for the boys. I swear I got tired just listening to what they had planned for me. And they weren't even mentioning the sex.
Nancy was pretty quiet, just watching everyone. My sense of her was a person that didn't say much, but heard everything, then made a judgment. Ron and Mary asked a lot about us, the kids, school, other kids. They really wanted to be reassured. Shelly and Carl were sitting back, taking it all in. Most of this was new to them too.
The boys shuffled out, rubbing their eyes. Clark climbed into his mother's lap, JD looked around, went to his grandmother. I'd held my breath. I really didn't want them coming to me, I'd have lost all the ground I'd made with Ron and Mary. When they looked a little more awake, I asked if they were ready for watermelon. Nodding vigorously, they followed me over to the tub. With their help, we decided which one to cut into first.
Cutting chunks, and placing it on plates, JD and Clark delivering to everyone, soon everybody was happily munching away, juice running down chins, napkins rising and falling, comments about the melon's sweetness.
Just as we were nearing a climax of melon eating, Marie came up the drive, honking, asking if we'd saved any food for her. Carl kind of waved at her, melon in hand. She was introduced around, handed some melon, promised a burger later.
Near eight, Ron pulled me aside, "I've been watching all afternoon, and Carl has told me a lot about you. Let me ask a question, did you have him here to distract me?"
"Yes and no. Carl is suffering from Agent Orange induced problems. He doesn't get out much, Shelly is a good friend, lives up the road. She stays so busy she doesn't socialize as much as she should. But yes, I also thought about you having someone to talk with. It wasn't a setup though. I didn't know you're Marines. And I didn't ask him to speak for me..."
"He told me about your wife. How did you cope?"
"Not well. Marie and Carl, Shelly, and a few others helped me get through it. I think I might have killed myself, left on my own."
"Carl said he worried about that."
"I didn't realize it was that obvious."
"He also said you've helped him and Shelly, and a few others around here."
"Do you love my daughter?"
"And Madge too?"
"How? How can you love two women? More importantly, how can you get them to accept that?"
"Let me turn that around. You've been watching Me, Madge, and Jeannie. Just thinking about the two of them, how can I not? They are different enough that I will never mistake one for the other, yet they are both loving women that hold nothing back in their loving. You and Mary must have set quite an example for Jeannie."
"But two? Isn't that illegal?"
"Unfortunately, yes, if I tried marrying them both. I'm not certain how this will shake out, but if it's long term, I'm determined to make it as close to legal as I can."
"And... if they outlive you?"
"They almost surely will. I'll see to it they are protected."
"How can you get them to accept each other as your wife?"
"I'm not revealing any secrets when I say they love each."
"You didn't pick it up?"
"Thinking about it, maybe I did, at least a bit. What about the boys? What do you have in mind for them?"
"We have an outstanding school here in town. The kids come from ten miles around. There is a tradition here, the older kids look out for the younger. The classes are relatively small so they get plenty of attention. I have satellite hookup for internet, I'm going to get them started on some online classes right away."
"You've been thinking this through."
"Man, a guy looking at having two wives, better be thinking ahead, or he's always going to be behind."
He laughed, "You got that right!"
"One thing we need to have clear. You and Mary are welcome up here any time. All I ask is call ahead."
After everyone else left, Nancy indicated she wanted to talk. I asked if she wanted just me or all of us. "All of you."
"Let me put the boys into bed."
"I'll make us drinks. Any requests ladies?"
On the deck, drinks in hand and awaiting sunset, Nancy looked around at us, and began, "Earlier, I could see your father, Ron?, was anxious to talk to Mr. Murphy about this situation, so I thought I would wait, say my piece now. This is hard for me to say, being raised in the Church and all. But looking around, unless you've all been acting, and I don't think so..."
She was wrestling with her thoughts, that everyone could see, so we waited. Madge held her mother's hand, reassuring her wordlessly. "I'm ok. Mr. Murphy, last week at my house, you asked after my health. Why? What did you see that you would ask?"
"Please, just call me Josh, or Murph, or even Murphy if you want, but drop the Mr., we're equals here. Now, in answer to your question...my wife, Naomi, had RA. It didn't kill her, but it was one of several diseases that wore her down. I suspect, but no doctor would ever agree in so many words, it debilitated her enough that cancer was able to gain a hold within her. I saw the same look of fatigue on you, as I saw on her during the RA stages. Of course later, she was much more worn down."
"Do you think I'm a candidate for cancer?"
"I have no idea. And I'm not trying to link you in that way. I'm just saying I saw fatigue."
"Thank you. Marjorie, I was so shocked, and so happy to see you. I didn't tell you before, but I must now, you've grown so much. And from the way you carry yourself, and the way you are with...Josh...I think you are with the right person. He so obviously loves you, it took me several minutes to truly realize your age difference. I see the way you are here, this is your home."
"Shh, I have more to say. Jeannie is it? You are a beautiful woman and your boys...I envy your mother having such great grandchildren. Can I consider them mine also? I understand you'll be living here also, apparently as a wife, and I'm not sure how I feel about that yet, the Church be damned. I'm looking at three people, one I dearly love, and have missed, and don't want to lose again, I see three people in love and inside , I know it must be right."