That Incident - A Lover's Quarrel
That incident, six months ago, brought me to this moment, and I'm scared. My palms are sweaty, my heart palpitates wildly, my knees are weak and this unfamiliar jacket confines my movements. In a few moments I will be making my final walk, escorted by others, purportedly for support, but I know better. My freedom has been restricted and soon will be completely taken from me.
I stare at the block cinder walls, painted white and glance to the high windows which offer no escape. Although I cannot see them, I know others have gathered to observe; seated, and perhaps happy to witness my downfall. Inwardly I shudder.
I won't be going alone, for another will be joining me. We had been a team, laughing, playing, planning . . . Yes, the planning, which brought us to this moment. Could we not have seen how our lives would change, leading us here? Could we not have stopped events before they . . . No, it was inevitable. We made our choice; the decision was made; now there is no going back.
There are only minutes remaining, so let me tell you my story. Perhaps you need to hear this tale before my fate is thrust upon me.
"Do you know what day this is, Mike?"
Deciding to play along, "Thursday, I think."
"Don't you remember?"
Shrugging shoulders and a furrowed brow continued my charade.
"It's our first anniversary. We started dating a year ago. You asked me to go to the movies . . ."
Then she saw my grin and slapped my arm playfully. "Oh, you," exasperation dripping from her voice. "You're teasing me."
"Who, me?" I respond good-naturedly.
"Yes, you. You big jerk."
Giving her a quick kiss, "I love you, Penny. I couldn't forget this day, it's special. Let's celebrate tonight?"
"The kids, Mike. I'll need to find a sitter." Though she looked concerned, I figured we could find one on short notice, we'd done it before.
Handing over my cell; "Call my niece. I can pick her up if necessary." She was always looking for ways to earn money and despite it being a school night; I was certain she would jump at the chance.
Penny punched in the numbers and was soon talking; I watched. She was lovely. Her clothes were clean and pressed, not stylish, but always practical. Despite her short stature, she refused to wear heels and my six foot one inch frame would tower over her. She said it made her feel loved when I wrapped her in my arms.
Her husband, Jim, had died eighteen months ago, leaving her with the daunting task of raising three children. James Jr., five, was attending Kindergarten, Jane was a precocious three, and Jeffery was one, born just before Penny and I met; his father never having seen him.
I adored her children and had become their surrogate dad ever since I had bumped into her during the Singles party at church. It wasn't unusual for me to pop over to her apartment for an evening meal and play with the kids afterwards. We tried to reserve one weekend each month and spend time at the park, the zoo, or walking the mall. It was a running joke between us that I loved the kids more than her.
So where was our relationship headed? I hoped to get that settled tonight.
"Well, can she?" I asked as she set the phone down.
"She threatened to charge us double because of it being school tomorrow." Penny grinned.
"Wait until I take her over my knee. She may be thirteen and my sister's daughter, but I won't let her take advantage of me." I retorted with a twinkle in my eye.
"All joking aside, what did you have in mind for tonight?"
"Oh, nothing special, just spending time with the woman I love. Maybe a walk along the river, the weather's supposed to be nice."
"That sounds enchanting." And she stretched to give me a quick kiss.
The sun had set, but the stars had yet to appear; and I could hear the locusts from the trees across the water. We held hands, walking silently along the path; a fish splashed along the bank as we passed, sending ripples into the rocks. The trail took a slight bend and I helped her up the rise to the bench which overlooked the river. From here we could view up and down stream.
"It's lovely . . ."
My finger touched her lips, to maintain the natural quiet and we took a seat, she cuddled close, keeping her hand in mine. A boat passed in front of us, churning the water as it chugged upstream.
Looking skyward, I watched and waited, and then I saw it, the first twinkling in the night.
"Star light, star bright. First star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might To have the wish, I wish tonight."
She looked at me. "What do you wish for, Mike?"
"You have to guess, I can't tell you; otherwise, the spell will be broken."
"Am I involved some way with this wish?"
"The kids too?"
I nodded my head. The crickets began to chirp, one not far from where we sat.
"Would it involve me changing my name?"
I smiled and reached into my pocket, withdrawing a small box, and opened the lid, revealing a ring.
"Will you marry me, Penny?"
"Yes, you big lug; I will." And I slipped the ring on her finger.
When I leaned to kiss her, she drew back. "I come with some extra baggage; you know that, don't you?"
"If you are speaking of a ready-made family, I more than gladly accept that responsibility."
She grinned and then we kissed. No, that's wrong. We KISSED. When we parted, the sky was completely black except for the countless stars, twinkling overhead.
"Call it woman's intuition, but I knew you were up to something, Mike."
"Are you disappointed?"
"Not in the least. Only wondering what took you so long."
We held onto each other, kissing, talking, and planning. It was decided that I would get a three bedroom apartment. We could get things ready and they'd move in after the wedding, several months away. The kids would be excited at getting a new father, but not as excited as the two of us.
It took a month to get the apartment and, over the weekend, we moved the large furniture in. During the following week, while I was at work, she carted the smaller boxes and began arranging things. The kid's rooms would be empty till after the ceremony, but the rest of my stuff and much of hers could be put into place. She'd be setting up a new house and I could see the excitement in her eyes.
Our worlds were changing and slowly merging together. Mentally I was planning our finances and how to handle the money for our new life. Well, it was time to stop thinking and start putting some numbers on paper.
I'd driven home after an exhausting day at work and hoped for a relaxing evening. Jeff was crawling across the living room floor towards Jane, who was playing with a doll. Little Jim had a book, thumbing the pages.
"Hi kids. Where's you mom?"
Jim pointed to my room and I stepped through the door, noticing Penny, busy emptying boxes, putting items on shelves and in drawers.
"Hi, beautiful. How's it going?"
"Slow, but I'm making progress," she sighed. "Rough day at work? You look fatigued."
"Yeah, I am."
"Are we eating in tonight, or planning on going out?"
"Don't know yet. I want to check my bank statements and see exactly where I stand. Looks like you are doing a good job."
I strode to my dresser. My papers weren't in their usual spot; they must be in the other drawer. Opening it, I found nothing akin to bank records, only socks and underwear. Now I'm meticulous with my financial information, always making payments on time, watching that my bank account is never overdrawn, and staying on top of re-occurring bills. Everything was sorted and organized, yet they weren't here; so where were they?
"What are you looking for?"
"My financial papers. They were right here," aggravation tinged my voice.
"Oh, I put them in this cupboard. Your dresser is for your clothes . . ."
I was TICKED, and in one step, stood before the cupboard. Everything was tidy, but the checks were not in order, the bank statements were out of sequence, I couldn't find the binder with my work sheets, and my investment portfolio . . . where was it?
"PENNY, what have you DONE?" my tone rising.
"I'm trying to organize everything." She said defensively.
"EVERYTHING is out of ORDER. I'll NEVER find what I'm looking for."
"It's all right there. I want to make it nice for you."
"Well, don't TOUCH my financial stuff."
"I was just trying to help."
"I DON'T WANT YOU HELPING ME." My fist slammed down.
"FINE. Have it YOUR way."
"It will take me a week to put it in order again." I shouted.
"Don't shout at me. I didn't do anything wrong."
Anger was in my voice, disgust was in my mood, my arms were tense, my stomach tight. I interlocked my fingers, placed them on my head and turned to walk out of the room. With two steps I was at the door, but stopped in mid stride. There were three tiny pairs of eyes watching us. Jeff was crawling towards a plastic toy, his head was turned looking. Little Jim still had the book in his lap but his mouth was open and his eyes wide. Jane was not two steps from me, clutching her doll, and backing hurriedly as I'd been moving towards her.
In a flash, those financial papers meant nothing, they no longer had significance. The important things were, the three children watching, and the woman behind me. My hands were lowered, two deep breaths were taken, and I turned to face Penny. Her face was flushed, fists clenched and her eyes defiant.
"Penny?" I say softly.
The intensity of her look faded, and I raised my hands, palms outwards, fingers spread. "I'm sorry."
Her fingers unclenched and her color returned to normal, but she waited, it was still my move.
"I had no call to yell at you like that. Forgive me, I'm sorry."
She didn't move except to fold her arms for a moment, and then dropped them to her sides.
"I warned you, I get cranky."
The corners of her mouth turned up as she remembered a talk we'd had a few weeks ago. Her eyes softened and I caught a sparkle in them.
"I'm so very sorry." I said again. "I'm tense, tight. I . . ."
In a flash she was in my arms. "Mike, I shouldn't have touched your things without asking. I was only trying to help."
"I know you were. It's not your fault. It's mine."
We stood there with our arms around each other, and then we felt two sets of hands pulling on us. Jim and Jane were standing, holding to my trousers and Penny's skirt. Jeff is busy crawling towards us, as fast as he could. I bent down to pick up the two older ones, Penny scooped up Jeff and together we hugged each other.
These children had seen the two grownups in their lives have a fight. It was more important that they witness us 'making up'; our differences had to be patched, so the kids could feel secure.
That's my story and as you can see, it's not pretty. Today, I'm making payment to a promise and I will be making my final walk as a free man.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God and in the presence of these witnesses, to join this couple in holy matrimony . . ."