Molly & Marilyn & Me Ch. 03bycoaster2©
She was gone. I thought briefly of pulling on some clothes and chasing after her, but I knew it wasn't going to change anything. She was going back to Chicago. Back to her whirlwind lifestyle. A lifestyle that now included stimulant diet pills. I could see what Molly was referring to when we talked earlier that Spring.
She had lost more weight since we had finished the program. I could see it in her face and in her torso. Her ribs and hip bones were more defined, her face more chiseled. As beautiful as she was, there was something to remind me of Molly's words two months ago. She looked ... hardened.
I lay on the bed for a while, feeling sorry for myself. After a while, I rose and went to the bathroom. I hoped a shower and shave would help, but it didn't. I pulled on yesterday's clothes, took the elevator to the parking garage and drove to my motel. I changed, packed my overnight bag and checked out, beginning the long drive home.
There was plenty of time to think along the way. I tried to understand what might have happened between our lovemaking and this morning, but I couldn't come to any reasonable conclusion. It was as if she was a different person. Cold. Self absorbed. Temperamental. Not one of those emotions would I have ascribed to the Marilyn I thought I knew. What happened to the shy, self-effacing woman of two years ago?
She admitted to be addicted, as she called it, to the celebrity limelight. She was feeding on other people's admiration and envy. It was the other drug she was accustomed to.
I'd lost her, and there was no point in thinking there would be a tomorrow for us. It wasn't going to happen. I was going to have to accept it and move on. I was a thirty-four year old bachelor with a great job, a great future, and no hope.
I returned to my routine. The first week of July, I got a call from Mrs. Molly Larkin, nee Ransom, now of Seattle, Washington. She was all bubbles of enthusiasm as always.
"Hi Tory ... how are you?"
"Fine, Molly. How was Hawaii?"
"Wonderful. Oh, Tory, the beaches and the weather and ... just everything was great. It was a terrific honeymoon. I couldn't have wished for more," she gushed.
"I'm glad, Molly. I'm very happy for you. So what's next? You going back to work?"
"Nope. I'm going to be Mrs. Grant Larkin, housewife and, with any luck, mother," she exclaimed.
"Wow ... Ma Larkin! I'd never have guessed. Both you and Grant want this?" I asked carefully.
"Oh yeah ... we've talked about it a lot. I'm not getting any younger, Tory. Besides, I want kids. I love kids and I'll love ours when they come along."
She was the same Molly that I remembered. Full of fun and enthusiasm ... except if you crossed her. I'd already felt the Wrath of Ransom when she thought I was trying to deceive Marilyn and her when we were first starting our fitness program.
"So tell me, Tory. What happened after the wedding reception with you and Marilyn? Did you two hook up?" she asked boldly.
"Uhhhmmm ... yeah ... sort of," I stammered.
"What's that mean?" she demanded.
I told her. I told her all the gory details, including the ugly finale the morning after. Molly was silent for several moments when I finished.
"Do you think it's the pills?" she asked quietly.
"I don't know. It could be. They have all kinds of side-effects. None of them good."
"Do you think it's over for you two? Oh god, I hope not. You are so right for each other." I caught the note of desperation in her voice.
"She not the same girl any more, Molly. She's changed and not for the better. I just have to accept that and go on," I said as calmly as I could.
"Oh Tory, I'm so sorry. She is so fucked up. I'm going to call her and give her shit, the stupid bitch," she snarled. I didn't doubt for a moment that she would.
"No ... no ... don't do that. It's not what she needs right now. I think she knows what she's doing to herself. She just has to come to the right decision. I hope that happens soon before something ugly catches up with her."
"Just the same, I'm going to call her. You should too, Tory. You two need to stay in touch and I don't think she's going to make the effort. You have to do it," she said firmly.
"I don't have her number," I replied, feebly.
Within seconds, Molly was reciting her home phone number. She also gave me the address of her apartment in Chicago. It was on Lake Shore Drive and my recollection was that it was a very expensive neighborhood. I dutifully wrote everything down and later would transcribe it into my contacts list on my laptop.
"Promise me you'll call her," she demanded.
"Yeah ... yeah ... I'll call her," I agreed reluctantly. I didn't say when.
I was sitting in my office when the phone rang. It was Monday morning and I was getting ready to fill my coffee cup for the third or fourth time.
"Hello, Tory. It's Margaret Lee," came the pleasant voice.
"Hi Margaret. How are you enjoying your new kitchen?"
"It's wonderful. I think it's even better than I was hoping for," she enthused.
"Good. I always like to hear from a satisfied customer. How can I help you today?"
"Do you remember we talked about the other renovations?"
"Yes, of course. Are you interested in looking at some proposals?"
"Yes, we are. I have a suggestion. Why don't you come to dinner on Thursday evening and we can talk about the possibilities then?"
"That sounds very nice, Margaret. I'd love to," I said, meaning every word.
"Wonderful. Let's say six o'clock?"
"Six it is. I'll see you then."
Promptly at six o'clock on an early August Thursday evening, I rang the Lee's doorbell.
"Come in, Tory," Walter greeted me.
"I'm looking forward to this," I said as Margaret joined us. "A bachelor doesn't get that many opportunities for a home-cooked meal."
"It's the least we could do for you coming out after-hours," he said.
We each had a glass of wine and sat at the new kitchen island counter while Margaret continued with the dinner preparations. I had suggested it since the natural congregation point for most house guests was the kitchen. The two level top with four stools around the outside would be very useful. Margaret confirmed that it was.
"I'm no longer excluded from the conversations and yet no one gets in the way of the meal preparation," she said brightly.
"Glad you like it." I do love a happy customer.
"You heard anything from Marilyn," I asked as casually as I could.
"No ... not for a while. She called from Boston just before the Fourth of July, but she didn't have much time to talk. I'm afraid our conversations are pretty short these days. She talks about her job and nothing else. It's all she seems to have on her mind," Warren said sadly.
"I saw her at Molly's wedding. In fact, we uh ... got together ... after the reception," I said, wondering how they would react to my confession.
Margaret didn't react, but her back was to me as she was tending to something on the stove. Walter looked at me briefly, but I couldn't read anything into his expression.
"At least you got to see her and talk to her. That's more than we've been able to do," Margaret said harshly.
I considered telling them about the diet pills and decided they didn't need to hear about that right now. I was hoping that Marilyn would get past them at some point before they would do any damage. I was kidding myself, of course.
"I ... I told her I was in love with her," I blurted.
Margaret froze and then slowly turned toward me with a surprised look. Warren was staring at me as well.
"What did she say?" Margaret asked quietly.
"Well ... for a while, I thought she was going to ... I don't know ... throw it all away and stay with me. I thought I might have got through to her. But ... it didn't work out that way," I said sadly.
"What happened?" a startled Margaret asked.
"One moment it looked like I was getting to her ... and the next ... she left. It was like she was two different people. I don't think I've ever been that deflated before."
"Did she say anything?" Walter asked.
"Just that I didn't understand that she had responsibilities and obligations ... or something like that. She got angry when I challenged her about her lifestyle."
"Oh, Tory. I'm so worried about her. This isn't anything like our Marilyn," her mother said, shaking her head.
"It isn't the Marilyn I knew either," I stated.
The meal was excellent and improved our mood markedly. We talked about what renovations they thought were the priorities and then set about discussing the kind of house they would like to have. Again, they had some clear ideas of what they wanted and it made my job so much easier. I would be back to them in a few days with some graphic depictions of possible changes.
At the beginning of September, I scheduled a meeting with Jerry Redekop, my boss. It was time to tell him of my plans. I was going out on my own, but I wanted Jerry's blessing and in return, I would promise him the same kind of support he had always enjoyed from me. I would be one fewer expensive guy on his payroll and he would still get the benefit of any business I could pass his way. I planned to make the jump in the New Year, almost four months away.
Jerry was upset at first. He wanted to know if I was unhappy or if he could talk me into staying. I gave him my well-rehearsed pitch. After an hour, he finally accepted the fact that I wanted to do this and while I wouldn't be an employee any longer, I would still be an important part of Redekop Lumber. He wasn't happy, but he was resigned to it happening. The last thing he said to me that afternoon was good luck and reminded me that if it didn't work out for any reason, the old job would be there. I thanked him, shook his hand, and left for the day.
The Pickled Pumpkin wasn't particularly busy that Monday afternoon. I sat in my usual place and ordered my usual dark ale. I picked up the morning tabloid and scanned the headlines. Nothing much different. As I thumbed through the pages, a supplement fell out and I picked it up. On the front page, in full color, was Marilyn, modeling winter wear. I felt my gut contract as I looked at her. It was the first time I had ever seen her in print. I was upset at its effect on me. This wasn't helping me get over her.
In November, Jerry asked me to visit a prospective new hardware supplier. Their office was located in Carpentersville, Illinois, about thirty miles west of Chicago. Their plant was in the Czech Republic and they were looking to break into the high-end kitchen and bath hardware market in North America. I had tipped Jerry to this company when I was in Europe and this time, he wanted to come with me. I was all for it.
We arrived on a cold, wind-swept, ugly day at O'Hare, freezing as we stood in line for a shuttle to a nearby Embassy Suites. The suite came with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, which suited us fine. Our hosts would be picking us up at nine the next morning and taking us out to their offices. I thought that was pretty classy of them considering we were just a local, independent retail yard. Apparently they knew we were trend-setters in our area, and saw us as an ideal target for their regional aspirations.
I fretted all the way down on the plane whether or not to call Marilyn. There were a hundred reasons why not and very few why I should. How the hell was I ever going to get over her if I couldn't let go? Calling her wasn't going to help me accomplish that. It would likely set me back.
After we checked in, we spent an hour or so at the hotel's courtesy happy hour, then headed to a nearby steak house that had Jerry searched out. We had a couple of drinks at the hotel, then another when we got to the restaurant and then shared a bottle of wine. We were feeling no pain, but not completely drunk when fatigue finally hit us and we walked back to our hotel. It was only a few minutes after nine and in a moment of recklessness, I decided to call Marilyn.
I went into my bedroom and closed the door. Sitting on the bed, I dialed her apartment and got her answering machine. I stumbled for a moment, not knowing just what I wanted to say.
"Hi Marilyn, it's me, Tory. I'm in Chicago on business with Jerry. I thought I'd give you a call and see how you were doing. You can reach me on my cell if you want to talk." I gave her my cell number and signed off. I put my head back on the pillow and breathed a sigh of ... relief? I wasn't sure what I felt. I might not have called if I were sober. Not very brave of me, I thought.
Jerry and I decided on a buffet breakfast in the courtyard just before eight. I had brought my laptop and the brochures from my European trip, and by nine we were waiting in the lobby for our hosts. They arrived right on time, guessed correctly that we were the two men they were expecting, and we were off for our day in Carpentersville.
They planned a full day for us, including a couple of visits to installations they sponsored in nearby new homes. It gave us a chance to evaluate their products in actual applications and that was a real benefit. By early afternoon, Jerry and I agreed that they had a solid product with enough unique features and original designs that they would be a good addition to Jerry's product lines.
Jerry went off to work on the contract and distribution agreements while I chatted with a couple of the employees, one of whom was a particularly attractive woman. I was in the middle of flattering her when my cell phone rang. I excused myself and I walked away from the desk to a vacant corner and answered.
"Tory ... Hi ... it's me, Marilyn," came the uncertain voice.
"Hello, Marilyn. How are you," I said in my calmest tone.
"I'm fine. How are you? You said you were in Chicago. How long will you be there?"
"Oh ... we're leaving tomorrow afternoon. We're just finishing up our business this afternoon. Are you at your apartment?" I asked.
"No ... no. I just phoned in for my messages. I'm in Florida. We're doing a summer-wear shoot this week." She sounded subdued and perhaps tired.
"Still working hard then."
"Yeah ... non-stop."
"Are you OK? You sound so tired," I asked.
"I am tired. Long days. I wish I could be there, Tory. I'd love to see you again. I'll be back on Wednesday afternoon. Can you stay?" she asked. It almost sounded as if she was pleading.
"No ... sorry ... I can't. I'm getting ready to start my new business in the New Year and I've got lots to do. Sorry," I trailed off.
"Yeah ... me too. Maybe next time," she said in a hopeful tone.
"Yeah ... maybe next time." I held no expectation that it would ever happen. I did my duty and kept my promise to Molly by calling her. I didn't get any impression that she had changed. I didn't expect any, so I wasn't disappointed. Or so I told myself.
We promised to talk again, but when Jerry appeared I quickly signed off. I thought I heard a sniff on the other end, but I couldn't be sure. I put the phone back in my pocket and left with our hosts for the return trip to the hotel. As Jerry and I sat in the back seat, Jerry turned to me.
"Was that Marilyn?" he asked in a quiet voice.
"Yeah ... how did you know?"
"Who else would it be?"
"She's in Florida. Won't be back for a couple of days," I said simply.
"You could always stay for an extra day or two," he said, looking at me with a steady gaze.
I looked at him. "I don't think it would change anything. I didn't hear anything different from her. No point," I concluded.
"Too bad. But at least she returned your call," he said.
"How did you know I called her?"
"A guess," he admitted. "You've got it bad, Tory. This woman has you completely in her power and there isn't a thing you can do about it."
"And if you're right?" I challenged.
"Well ... if it was me ... I'd be tracking her down and taking her prisoner. I wouldn't be taking no for an answer. Mind you, that's just me," he grinned.
"I wish it was that simple," I said forlornly.
"You never know 'till you try."
I pulled out my cell phone and looked at the recent call listing. I now had her cell number. I had no excuse. I could find her no matter where she was. It was just a matter of having the courage to do something about it.
The two gentlemen who brought us back to our hotel had planned a night out on the town. Jerry was all for it, but I have to confess I was less than enthusiastic. I wasn't, however, going to let Jerry down after all he'd done for me and I agreed we would join them. It turned out to be a lot of fun with an outstanding but outsized dinner at Ditka's and a great floorshow at one of the "gentlemen's clubs" that our hosts booked. I'm sure it wouldn't have been any better in Las Vegas.
We were in no rush the next morning. I hung the Do Not Disturb sign out before we retired. Our plane didn't leave until one that afternoon and after a long night out on the town, both of us slept in. Our flight home was uneventful, but gave me too much time to dwell on my conversation with Marilyn, as brief as it was. At least she returned my call. That was something, however small.
When I got home, the message light was flashing on my phone and after dumping my bag in the bedroom, I pushed the play button.
"Tory, it's Margaret Lee. I wonder if you would call me please. Thank you."
I hadn't talked to the Lees since I had presented them with my renovation proposals. They wanted to think about them and decide on priorities. I guessed that they had made up their mind and wanted to either go ahead or defer the project.
According to the answering machine, she called on Sunday afternoon, several hours after I left for Chicago. I checked the rest of my messages. Nothing of a personal nature, a couple of business calls and the inevitable charity fund-raiser. I deleted that and walked to the kitchen.
After retrieving a beer from the fridge, I picked up the phone and dialed the Lee residence.
"Margaret, its Tory Payne. I'm returning your call," I said.
"Oh, Tory. Thank you for calling me back. It's about Marilyn. Her father and I are quite worried about her. I wonder if you could find the time to meet with Walter and me?" she asked.
I was puzzled, but I could imagine what might be on their minds.
"Yes, I can. When would you like me to come over?"
"Would tomorrow evening be too soon?"
"No ... not at all. I've just arrived back in town, but I'm sure I'll be OK for tomorrow."
We set a time for seven-thirty and hung up after our goodbyes. I knew there was a decision to make: I still hadn't told them about the diet pills.
I was undecided about what I would or wouldn't reveal to Marilyn's parents when I rang their door bell. I was just going to play it by ear and see what happened.
Margaret answered the door
"Good evening, Margaret," I said as she welcomed me.
Walter walked in from his study and we shook hands.
We sat in the living room after Margaret offered tea. When she returned from the kitchen, she sat and cleared her throat.
"Tory ... Walter and I are very worried about Marilyn. We haven't heard from her in quite a long time. We were wondering if you had talked to her and if she was alright?"
"As a matter of fact, I talked to her yesterday afternoon on the phone. I was in Chicago and I left a message on her answering machine the night before. She called me from Florida where she was working."
"Is she all right?" an obviously worried mother asked.
I paused for a moment before answering.
"She's working very hard and she's very busy. She isn't home very much," I tried.
Margaret looked at me with disappointment.
"That's not what I meant," she said with a frown.
I sighed and leaned back in the chair. It was time to tell them the truth.