A Cautious Man Ch. 17-20bycoaster2©
She never developed true friendships because she was never looking for them. She simply looked for more power opportunities. As she aged, she felt some of the power slipping away. Even though her husband was wealthy and important in the community, she didn't feel as though she was as powerful as she once was. Part of it was her misconceptions about her beauty, and part of it was her inability to influence anything outside her family. Her frustration led her to Douglas Bingham. He represented a new opportunity, and she was desperate to grab it.
Bill accepted Dr. Wasserman's explanation, and in a way, it helped him get past the loss of Marion. By definition, she was ill, although it wasn't evident to anyone close to her. Her lust for power made her easy to manipulate, first by Mark Dreesen and then by Douglas Bingham. That it all came crashing down on her was merely a consequence of her disorder. Bill never felt better about knowing this, but at least was able to believe that he was not the catalyst for the breakdown of the marriage.
In other circumstances, Bill might have thrown himself into his work and buried his personal life in CSI. He didn't do that, however. He was about to lose Lexi, at least for the first semester of university. She would be living on campus, more than two hours drive from Cambelltown. He would miss her terribly, but Junior was still at home, and they would begin to spend a great deal of time together. In Junior, Bill saw some of himself at that age. He was naturally curious, and just as his father had, Bill Senior fostered and nurtured that curiosity. They spent many hours together, and no father and son could have been closer.
Lexi phoned every Sunday evening and both men would talk to her about what was going on at university and how she was finding life on the big campus. She saw Clem almost exclusively on weekends, since his courses were very demanding and he was living in a different dorm on the other side of the campus. In the early days, Lexi was lonely. It was the first time she had been away from home for any length of time, and she wouldn't be home again until the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. Dad and Junior drove to the campus to pick up both Lexi and Clem and bring them back home for the holidays. Both looked forward to having Lexi around, even for a few days.
As they passed into the new year and March approached, Junior began his campaign to have dad buy him a car. After all, he would be sixteen on St. Patrick's Day, and when he had earned his driver's license, he would be able to perform all manner of services if he had his own transportation. Father was unmoved at this blatant crusade, but had to admire his son's persistence and inventiveness. It was a contest of wills and Bill was enjoying it as they jousted back and forth, neither of them giving an inch without expending every last ounce of effort to defend their position. In his heart, Bill Senior knew he would give in, but he wouldn't make it easy for Junior.
In April, both Bill and Junior went shopping one Saturday. It was a common occurrence and they would do the dry goods shopping first, leaving the groceries to the end. As they drove toward town, Bill pulled into the lot of a major Ford dealer who just happened to be a client of CSI. At first, Junior was surprised and wondered why they were stopping here. When his father pulled up to the showroom parking area, Junior climbed out and followed his father into the big display area.
As Bill and Junior walked into the showroom, they were approached by a middle-aged woman wearing a badge with the name "Clarissa" and "Customer Assistant" printed on it.
"Can I help you?" she asked the elder Orton.
"Yes, I'm looking for Don Stephens. Is he in?"
"Just a moment," she smiled. "I'll get him for you." With that, she turned and strode to the row of offices along the back wall of the room.
Junior was nervously watching this, wondering if this was his big moment. Why else would they be at a car dealership, he asked himself?
Another middle-aged man appeared and walked briskly toward them with a big smile on his face.
"Hi, Bill, good to see you. And this must be Bill Junior," he said in his best salesman's voice.
"Yep. Your boss said you could help us find a vehicle for my son. He thinks he needs one," Bill laughed.
Junior almost exploded on the spot. On the outside, he had let go a big whoosh of air as he had been holding his breath in anticipation. On the inside, he was jumping and high-fiving and shouting all manner of whoops of joy. His big day had come.
"Sure. I guess we should start with what kind of car or truck he had in mind."
"Good question? Anything reasonable except a Mustang," he said with a stern look at Junior.
Junior was not going to be unhappy. He was just grateful he was getting some "wheels" and would be mobile at last. "Uh ... Dad ... uhmmm ... I was thinking maybe about ... like ... a pickup?" It was a pretty tentative stab at what he was hoping for, but he began to relax when he saw the nod his father gave him.
"Well, that's OK, I guess. That was my first set of wheels too," he said, thinking of the little red truck from twenty-plus years ago.
"Well, we have a good selection, but I've got a couple of almost new ones on the used lot that are on special this week. Why don't we go have a look," the salesman said, pointing to the lot adjacent to the showroom. The three walked over to the used car area and Junior was shown two very shiny, well cared for mid-sized trucks. One of them was in red and Bill Senior had a flashback as he noticed the shell on the box.
"These were returned early from a lease when the company went under. We can make you a really good deal on them." It was the old familiar line from every car salesman's repertoire. Senior turned to Junior and looked for a reaction. Junior had his eyes fixed on the red one and he was busy opening the door to see what the options were. It was a V6, with a standard transmission and rear wheel drive. It was about as conventional as you could get.
There really wasn't any bargaining. Junior had found what he wanted almost immediately, and Dad was just along to endorse the purchase and pay the invoice. Senior smiled, thinking his son had grown up quicker than he had realized, and was probably more mature than a lot of his fellow sixteen-year-olds. An hour later, Junior proudly and carefully guided his "new wheels" off the lot under the smiling gaze of his father, and made a beeline for his best friend's house. It was time to show the "gang" his machine.
Bill walked into the dealership once more and sought out his friend and business associate, Ken Lee. Ken and Bill had met at the Chamber of Commerce meetings and Bill had taken an immediate liking to the affable young man of Chinese ancestry. He had inherited the dealership from his mother's side of the family, and his straightforward business style and reputation for honesty had helped the Ford dealership thrive.
"Hi, Bill," came the familiar voice and Ken came down the stairs from the upper office. "Did you find something for Junior?"
"Yah ... I don't think it took five minutes and he had his eyes on a red pickup. Don looked after it just fine."
"Great, I'm glad. Now you just have to hope he'll drive it responsibly," Ken grinned. They had both talked about their fears of kids with cars showing off to their friends and getting themselves in dangerous situations. Ken's daughter was almost eighteen, and she had already had an accident that could have been prevented. It had taught her an immediate lesson and she had quickly changed her driving habits.
"Well, I just have to hope that Junior is as mature as I think he is," Bill said with a concerned look.
They chatted together for a few minutes and then parted. As Bill turned to go, he caught a glimpse of someone. It was a familiar face; a face from a long time ago. For a moment, he couldn't be sure it was her. He stood gazing at her, and then, his mind made up, he began to walk toward her.
Zena Wildman was studying something on a chart she was holding, and hadn't looked up until Bill was almost in front of her. When she finally became aware of someone approaching her, she lifted her head and automatically smiled. The smile lasted for about one second when recognition took over and her jaw dropped and her face now registered surprise.
"Bill ... is that you?" she asked in genuine shock. They stood in front of each other, looking intently without moving until Bill's face cracked into a big smile.
"Hi Zena," he said softly. "How are you? You look wonderful. You haven't changed a bit."
Zena seemed unable to respond. Her eyes searched his face and her mouth was open, but no sounds were forthcoming. Finally, she gathered herself and responded.
"How long? Has it been twenty years? I can't believe it. You don't look much different either," she finally managed.
"All of twenty years. Time has been very kind to you, Zena. You look as lovely as you ever did." He hadn't taken his eyes off her since he'd first spotted her. "Can you spare a few minutes? I'd love to catch up."
She looked up at clock on the wall and turned back to him. "Let's go the lounge upstairs and we can talk there." She led him to the stairs and he followed her, admiring the still trim, yet clearly more voluptuous figure of Zena.
"I gather you work here?" Bill asked as they sat, removed from the other staff.
"Yes, I've been here for a few months. I just came back to town last fall. I'm doing some of the account management for the lease department."
"Wow ... that's a long way from the dress shop," he said, surprised.
"Yah ... I took some accounting courses and decided I needed a career, not a job. It was a bit of good luck that Ken Lee was looking for someone to get a handle on his lease programs. It was a mess and was costing us money hand over fist. Luckily, we've got it under control now and things are looking much better." She talked modestly and yet with some sense of pride at her accomplishments.
"Congratulations. I'm really pleased for you." Bill was staring at her and Zena was becoming a bit uncomfortable.
"What brings you here today?" she asked.
"I brought my son Bill Junior in, and we bought a pickup truck for him. It's his first. He just turned sixteen."
"You have a son? Any other children?"
"Yes, Alexis. She's eighteen and in first year university in Springhill. She lives on campus."
"Oh ... that sounds great. You and your wife must be very proud," she said brightly.
"Ah ... well ... my wife and I ... we're divorced. The kids are with me," he offered simply.
"Oh, Bill ... I'm sorry." She looked down and wondered how to continue.
"Nothing to be sorry about anymore. Besides, the rest of my life is pretty good. The business is doing well and Junior and I get to spend a lot of time together," he said with a forced smile. "How's ... uh ... Maureen, was it?"
"She died five years ago, Bill. Cancer. It was terrible. It took a long time," she said sadly.
"Oh Zena, I'm so sorry. That must have been very hard on you. I know you loved her very much."
"It's taken a while to get used to being on my own again. I guess you know the feeling too."
"Yah ... a lot of lonely periods. I take there isn't anyone else in your life right now?" he asked carefully.
"No ... no one. What about you. From what I read in the papers, you're a very well known man in this city now."
"No ... just like you, I guess. I only ever fell in love with two women in my life so far," he ventured.
Zena looked at him quizzically. "I guess that's true for me too. I've only ever loved two people in my life as well."
The silence between them was laden with anticipation. Who would say it first? Which of them would acknowledge their past and the possibility of a future? Uncharacteristically, it was Bill.
"This is crazy, Zena. I never stopped loving you. I just parked it to one side while I was married to Marion, but how I felt about you never changed. I can't tell you how many times I wondered if I hadn't made a mistake in refusing to share you with Maureen. What if I had said yes?"
"No ... no Bill. I never stopped loving you either, but you can't think that way. You have two children you love very much. You can't imagine what might have been and not include them. Our lives went the way they did for some reason. We might not understand it, but somehow, there was a reason." She was very passionate in her belief.
"It's not too late for us, Zena. Neither of us has any commitments right now. We could try again," he said hopefully.
She smiled and shook her head. It wasn't a rejection, it was something else.
"You're still a romantic, aren't you? You still believe the best in people. It's what makes you special," she said with admiration.
"So, how do we start? Can I ask you for a date? I hate to tell you, but Ambrosia is gone," he chuckled.
"A date sounds OK ... as long as you don't get any fancy ideas." She was teasing him and wanted him to know it.
"Well, I'm not too old for that, but I promise to behave myself ... at least on our first date."
Zena pulled a business card out of her vest pocket and handed it to Bill. "Call my cell. It's all I use now," she said simply.
"OK ... I'll have to dream up something special that will be a good as our first date all those years ago."
Bill was aware that his heart rate had increased, and his sense of excitement was elevated at finding his former love. He reached for her hand and held it for a moment. He wanted her to know that he still felt deeply for her. She squeezed his hand in return and smiled as they parted. Bill left the showroom feeling buoyant for the first time in a long time. He was rejuvenated. It was like turning back the clock twenty years.