Replacement Therapy Ch. 06bycoaster2©
Chapter 6: Clearing Space
The next morning I vowed to have a private session with Georgia. I intended to lay down my cards, and I was pretty certain she wasn't going to like what I said. I had been taken advantage of by her, and I wasn't in a very forgiving mood. I had quite a dynamic conversation with her last night ... in my dreams.
I was in a surprisingly good mood, considering how uptight I had been the night before. The catalyst for that mood was the children. They merged like they had known each other all their lives. Within hours, they formed alliances; Terry became Kirk's protector, while DeDe and Matt were pretending to be girlfriend and boyfriend. They plotted their day together as if it was the most natural thing in the world. I saw the looks of relief and pleasure on everyone's faces and breathed a sigh of gratitude.
DeDe and Kirk knew the "lay of the land" around the house, and took it upon themselves to familiarize the two boys. It was important to know where the cereal was kept, along with the peanut butter, and other essential food supplies. They also needed to know that Grandma Meg's room was out of bounds unless invited.
After that bit of soul-lightening drama, I wasn't in such a rush to confront Georgia. I took my second cup of coffee out on the front porch and sat in my now-favorite wicker rocker, wondering just what I wanted to accomplish. One thing was certain, the boys were staying here and that was non-negotiable. I would use whatever leverage I had to make sure of it. I knew Yolanda understood, as did Meg. I was certain I could count on their support.
I had been sitting for about ten or fifteen minutes when I heard the screen door open, and saw Georgia walk out onto the porch. She stepped to the railing in front of me and leaned back on it.
"I think we need to talk, Aaron."
"Yes ... we certainly do."
"I know you're angry with me ... I understand that. I'm not very proud of what I've done to you. I'm sure an apology will sound pretty hollow, but ... I am sorry."
I said nothing, just looking at her with what I guessed was a non-committal stare. It was her platform.
"I'm not sure what's going to happen with Leonard, but I can't put the boys in any more danger. I would like to leave them in your care ... if that's alright with you."
To say I was surprised would be an understatement. My face must have shown it.
"After all I did to keep them away from you, I know it isn't what you expected, but ... it's the right thing for them. I love them dearly, but I know you do too. The truth is, they would rather be here with you than with me in Chicago. Leonard tried to make contact with them ... get close to them ... but it never really happened. He was always going to be an outsider. After a while, he quit trying."
It was time to say something. "I was never going to let you take them away from me again, Georgia. You must have realized that."
She nodded. "Just don't do what I did, Aaron. Don't shut me out. I love them and I know they love me. I need some contact with them ... a mother always needs contact with her children."
"How can I trust you? I did once and look what it got me. I won't let you run off to some far away place with them."
"I'm not going anywhere. I'm either going to find a place here, or in Sacramento. I've still got my real estate license, so I'll find a job somewhere."
I don't know what possessed me to say the next thing out of my mouth. "We've got a house for rent nearby. Talk to Yolanda. She might be willing to show it to you."
The second I said it I wondered if I was going to regret it ... big time!
Georgia looked at me as if I was an alien. "You'd do that?"
I waved my hand in dismissal. "Talk to Yolanda. It's her house. She decides."
I could see Georgia's eyes watering, and I looked away, finishing the last of my coffee. I think we were both trying to figure out the other. My taste for revenge had seemingly disappeared. I just wanted my boys nearby. I wasn't worried that she would take good care of them. We could probably come to some arrangement for sharing them. Probably.
I decided to go to work later that morning. They might not be expecting me, but Doug and "my girls" had been more than understanding as I went through the toughest period in my life. It looked like it might be over now. I was 99% healthy, and I had my boys back. I was feeling energized and I wanted to share it with the people who had covered for me during the dark times.
"What the hell are you doing here?" was the first thing out of Doug's mouth.
I laughed. Typical Doug. "Well ... let's see. I'm feeling good. I got my boys back and they're staying at the house, and ... my ex-wife isn't going to run off with them again. What else would make me feel this good?"
Doug whacked me on the shoulder in glee. He never did have a light touch. He was happy for me.
The girls all trooped in after I settled into my office. They had heard the rumors about my boys and ex-wife coming out unexpectedly, and wanted to hear all the news. I told them about it with a big smile on my face. Every one of them was happy for me. It took a few minutes before things settled down, but by lunch time I was back to my usual routine.
When I arrived home that afternoon, I was greeted by a big kiss and a loving hug from Yolanda. She leaned back and smiled at me, the hint of a tear in her eyes.
"You are a big man, Aaron ... a very big man. I am so proud of you ... and I'm so very lucky you are mine."
"I take it Georgia said something to you?"
She nodded. "I showed her the house this afternoon. It will be perfect for her if she decides to stay in the area. She's already made a couple of phone calls to local realtors. She's going in for interviews tomorrow.
"Good. Now we'll just wait and see what happens. I'm glad I did what I did. I feel better about it than punishing her. She knows what she did was wrong ... and she can't undo it. If she's sincere, we'll just push on from here."
I got another big kiss and hug. We walked into the house together. I could hear the kids. They were off in the back of the house, playing together I assumed. Meg looked around the entrance to the kitchen, confirming it was me, I guess. She gave me a big smile and went back to doing whatever she was doing.
We'd put the last extension into the dining room table, as feeding eight of us was going to be a bit of a production number. If it was a strain on Meg, it didn't show. In fact, she seemed to be having fun with all these house guests. I assumed she was getting some help from Yolanda and Georgia, and it turned out I was right.
It was back to my normal workday on Friday. I wasn't first at the breakfast table, however. My boys were still operating on partial Chicago time, so they were up early and sitting at the table with their cereal and orange juice. I started the coffee, and was off to the office before eight. It felt good to be back in some kind of normal flow once again. It had been a while.
On Saturday, I went over to Yolanda's house to cut and trim the grass, and generally make sure the property was in good order. No one had been living there for a month, although we had visited now and then for one reason or another. The thought of Georgia living there wasn't bothering me. I had come to accept our new relationship.
DeDe and Kirk introduced the boys around the neighborhood, and they soon found some new playmates. I bought them new bikes on the weekend. They were quite happy with that, even though they had dirt bikes back in Chicago. All the other kids in the area had regular bikes, so they weren't at a disadvantage.
After all the years of living in the Yuba City area, I had become used to the late summer heat. The temperature often rose above one hundred, and despite the fact that it was the fabled "dry heat," it was still damn hot. I pondered suggesting a pool for the back yard, but was afraid to broach the subject with Meg for fear of interfering in her affairs. I know she explained that it was all "our" property, but in my mind, and in Yolanda's too, we thought of it as Meg's.
My salary was going into what was now a joint account with Yolanda. Her business had tapered off, as was typical during the summer. Meg refused to accept any payment for our presence in her home, other than to allow us to buy groceries now and then. I know it wasn't putting any economic strain on her, but just the same, we weren't comfortable with being "freeloaders."
"Oh, nonsense, Aaron!" Meg said with disdain when I brought the subject up. "You have no idea how happy you have made me just being here. Yolanda's alive again, and I have two new grandsons to spoil. What more could I want?"
It was a futile argument, but I had to at least let her know we were ill at ease by not contributing.
"If you want to do something, then why don't you save your money and see what it would cost to put an in-ground pool in the back. With four young children, it would be a valuable addition to this house, and great fun for them. Why, even the adults could use it now and then," she smirked.
"I think that's a terrific idea. Leave it to me," I volunteered. I got a big smile from Yolanda, so I knew I was on solid ground. I did pause to wonder how Meg came up with the idea.
It turned out to be an "off-season" project. The wedding was scheduled first, with the reception in the back yard, so by the time the contractor could begin work, it would almost be November. I thought that would be great timing, the pool easily being ready for next spring. We decided not to discuss it with the children or we'd never hear the end of it. They'd figure it out soon enough.
Yolanda had been going back and forth between her house and our home to continue her dressmaking. There was no room available to place the ping pong table other than in the workshop, and that was not a suitable environment for her.
It would appear that Georgia and Yolanda were getting along quite well together. I didn't know whether to be pleased or not. I was still suspicious of my ex-wife's sudden turnaround in attitude. I was hoping it was genuine, but I had lingering doubts without any substance to back them up.
Meg and I were in the kitchen cleaning up after supper one evening. Georgia and Yolanda had gone to the other house for an hour or so to get some alterations on two of Georgia's business suits. She had apparently lost weight in the past few months, and needed them taken in for her prospective new job.
"Meg ... what's your take on Georgia? Do you think she's really changed?"
"I never knew her before she came here, Aaron, so I can't answer the last question. She seems sincere. If she's hiding something, she's doing a good job of it."
"She hid her affair with Leonard for some time, so I wouldn't say it was beyond her capabilities. I wish I knew more about this Saunders guy. He barely shows his face and they're off to Chicago the minute the custody order is granted. I never did figure out what the big rush was."
"Why don't you let me see what I can find out through my sources? If he's got any track record at all, we'll find it."
"Thanks. I keep wondering if he's still alive. If he's been playing with the kind of people Georgia thinks he has, he could easily be dead. I guess I'd like to know just for some peace of mind. I don't like looking over my shoulder wondering if someone else is looking for him, or her, or even the boys."
"I understand. Leave it to me," she said with conviction.
It was three days later that Meg signaled me that she wanted to talk ... in private. We met on the front porch.
"There is a bench warrant out on Leonard Saunders for failure to appear. He's facing charges of fraud in connection with a land deal in Roseville. Apparently he extracted something like a quarter of a million dollars from some investors, then disappeared."
"Well, that certainly explains his haste in getting out of town. I guess I'm not surprised. I thought he was sleaze right from the get-go."
"You've got good instincts, Aaron. Too bad Georgia doesn't. Apparently he couldn't get conventional financing for another land development scheme when he arrived in Chicago. I'm guessing that he went the 'unconventional' route, but there's no way to know for sure."
"Jesus ... either this guy has balls of steel, or he's a dumb as a sack full of rocks," I offered, shaking my head.
"Maybe some of both. Too stupid to be frightened," Meg grinned.
"Any sign of him anywhere else?" I wondered.
"Nothing we've detected. I've got someone keeping an eye out for him via electronic monitoring. If his name shows up on a credit card, any government document, loan application, credit check ... you name it, I'll get a call."
"How much is this costing?" I asked, slightly alarmed at the resources that were being brought to bear.
"Nothing. My 'friend' issued the bench warrant. He wants him too."
"Meg ... you are amazing. I've never met anyone like you. I think I got double lucky when I met Yolanda." I meant every word. She was something special.
She responded with one of her lovely, warm smiles.
It was three weeks to our wedding day. It went without saying that Meg, Yolanda, and to some extent Georgia, had everything in hand. Aside from the final fitting on my new suit, I was ready. I had successfully argued against a tuxedo, thinking it was just a little too over-the-top for a garden wedding and reception.
I was sitting at the kitchen table with DeDe, Matt, and Terry that evening, helping them to finish their homework. They had been back to school for a month and it was a challenge to get them to focus on the discipline that had vanished over the summer holidays. Kirk was finished first, and was up in his bedroom, getting ready for bed.
Yolanda and Georgia were at the 'old' house, working on the wedding gowns. Georgia had been invited at the insistence of Yolanda as a gesture of good will. I thought it was overly generous, but my future bride was very persuasive. Along about ten o'clock I noticed they hadn't returned yet. Probably got themselves wrapped up in the work and forgot the time. I picked up the phone to give them a call.
There was no answer after five rings, so I called Yolanda's cell number. Still no answer. I assumed they were on their way home, but after twenty minutes and no sign of them, I began to worry. I tried both phones again, and still there was no answer. I told Meg what was happening and that I was going over to the house to see if everything was alright. I guessed it was too far to get upstairs to answer the house phone and that Yolanda had turned off her cell. It was the only reasonable answer.
When I arrived at the house I was relieved to see Yolanda's car in the driveway. There were no lights on upstairs, but I assumed that would mean they were still downstairs. I used my key to enter and flicked on the front hall light. I heard nothing, so I headed through the kitchen toward the door to the basement stairs. When I opened it, I could see the light was on in the big room, so I walked downstairs.
As I cleared the ceiling and took in the room before me, I stopped immediately. Sitting in the rocking chair was a man. A gray haired man. A gray haired man with a gun. He didn't look anything like he had the last time I saw him almost three years ago, but there was no doubt it was Leonard Saunders.
Huddled in the far corner was Georgia, curled up in a ball, her eyes staring off into space, apparently unaware of my presence. Yolanda was pressed up against the adjoining wall, her eyes wide in fear, too frightened to say anything.
It took me a minute to regain my wits and take the last three steps into the basement.
"That's far enough, Prentice," Saunders growled. He looked like hell; disheveled, unshaven, gaunt. He held the gun loosely in his hand, not pointing it at anyone. He looked beat, in more ways than one.
"What's going on, Leonard?" I asked, trying to sound calm and confident. I wasn't too sure I pulled it off.
"What's it look like? I'm moving in. I need a new address. This will have to do."
"That's not going to work ... and you know it. Your best bet is to give yourself up to the local authorities. They have a warrant out on you."
"Are you crazy? Why would I do that?"
"Self preservation. The other people looking for you won't treat you quite as well as the locals."
"What do you know about 'other people'?"
"You've borrowed a lot of money from some dangerous sources. Word out of Chicago is that they want to have a talk with you ... soon," I bluffed.
If he could have looked any grayer, he managed it. I'd never seen a man so defeated.
"It's your safest option, Leonard. Harming any of us is your worst option. Trying to run from the mob is an iffy proposition at best. Anyway you look at it, sliding that gun across the floor and letting me call the police is your best bet."
His body language told me that he had surrendered. The rest was just a formality. I watched him carefully and he put the gun down and slumped back in the rocking chair, closing his eyes. He was exhausted. Exhausted and beaten.
I walked slowly over and picked up the gun. It felt very light. I ejected the clip and saw that it was empty. A quick check confirmed there was nothing in the chamber. I took out my cell phone and called Meg.
"Meg ... please call the police and an ambulance and send them to Yolanda's. Leonard Saunders is here and has agreed to surrender. The ambulance is for Georgia. She appears to be in shock. Ask them to refrain from lights and sirens, please. There's no need."
I closed the phone after Meg's acknowledgement, confident she would know how to handle the situation. I went to Yolanda and held her. She was trembling, but there were no tears. She buried her head in my shoulder and hugged me tightly.
"It's alright, sweetheart. The gun wasn't loaded. Everything will be alright now," I soothed.
I felt her head nod weakly as I relaxed my hold on her. I looked over to Georgia, as she was still wrapped tightly in her own little ball. I would leave it to the paramedics to examine and treat her. Leonard, on the other hand, lay flopped back in the rocker, glassy-eyed, immobile.
In less than ten minutes, there was a knock on the door and I quickly went upstairs to answer it. I ushered the police in and identified the lone male as Leonard Saunders, wanted on a warrant issued in Sutter County. The paramedics were only a minute behind, and I led them to the basement room, asking them to examine Georgia.
The police read Leonard his rights, cuffed him, and walked him upstairs and out of the house, presumably to the police station. Georgia, on the other hand, was still unresponsive, and they strapped her to a gurney and took her upstairs and out to the ambulance.
It was over. A brief, frightening, unexpected encounter with danger. In truth, there was little danger, but no one but Leonard knew that at the time. I led Yolanda upstairs, turned out the lights, locked the door, and drove her home. I'm sure she felt like I did. That was quite enough for one day.
Leonard was charged and remanded in custody as a flight risk. He couldn't have made the bail even if he wanted to. I suspected he was happier to be in the safety of the Sutter County Jail than out on the street, an open target.
Georgia slowly recovered from the trauma of having Leonard turn up unexpectedly. He had gone to our old home and the new owners had obligingly let him know where I had moved to. From there, it was only one more step to follow my trail to Yolanda's home, and after staking that out, didn't have long to wait for Georgia to appear.
I visited Georgia in the hospital where they had kept her under observation for two days. She was looking better, but I could tell she was depressed. She had already mentally divorced Leonard, and realizing the mess she had made of her life, she was having a great deal of trouble reconciling it. She had no idea what she was going to do next.