To the reader:
There isn't any sex in this story so if that's all you want then this isn't going to be for you. But if you enjoy a story about the ending of one life and the beginning of another then read on.
Thanks to jo for editing. Any errors are mine and not because of poor editing.
© Copyright March 2013, by the author.
Fair-weather friend -- A friend who is only a friend when circumstances are pleasant or profitable. A friend who is only around when they need you. A friend who only sticks by you when things are going well. At the first sign of trouble, these capricious, disloyal friends will drop their relationship with you.
I had a visit from my daughter today. It wasn't pleasant for either of us and I don't think she left happy. Oh, she was all nice and friendly and amiable, but it's been too long and the wound too deep for me to return any of her affection without considerable thought and soul searching. She said what she wanted to say and left without getting what she came for. What she wanted was me back in her life. I told her I'd think about it.
And when she left I cried.
Megan is a grown woman with children of her own but at the same time she's the little girl that I bounced on my knee when she was three. She's intelligent, articulate, attractive, and from what her sister says a good wife and mother. I have to believe she is because she's the image of her mother. She even has her mother's stubborn streak. She's everything a parent could dream of.
So if she's so wonderful then why haven't I spoken a single word to her, before today, for five years? It started with something her mother did.
I remember the last words I spoke to Megan like it was yesterday. It was five years ago at her mother's funeral and after one of the most emotional days of my life. I walked up to Megan at the grave site and told her, with all the bile I could muster, that she was just as dead to me as the woman we just laid in the ground. Then I put my index finger in my son Stuart's face and said the same thing to him. Scanning the crowd of shocked onlookers, I scowled at each one with an expression that made it extremely clear that my words included them too. The stunned reaction of my family and friends, along with their bug-eyed expressions, will burn deeply in my soul for the rest of my days. It was that pain that I will take to my grave: A pain born of the destruction of our family, the death of their mother, and the loss of their father. I walked away from everything that day, arm in arm with my youngest daughter Faye.
I loved Connie almost from the first moment we met. It was as though we had been together all of our lives. We've loved and had been in love from that moment on. God must have used us as the model for perfect matches because we were like apple pie and vanilla ice cream, great separately but absolutely the best together. Even before we said our vows we were so much of a twosome that everybody said we were 'old married folks' already. That was way back in high school. We married after college and just celebrated our 25th anniversary. Then things happened that to this day I still can't fully explain.
Our 25th wedding anniversary was a gigantic affair. It was a beautiful sunny June day and all of our family and friends were there to celebrate with us. My father was in his wheelchair and sat at the head table with Connie's mother and father and all three of our children. Every friend and neighbor congratulated us and showered us with more gifts than we could ever use. Even the town mayor stopped by to give us a little gift from him and our friends on the town council; a plaque declaring June 14th as Connie and Marc Jenkins Day. There were over 200 people under that large circus tent, laughing, eating, and dancing late into the night. When it came time to reaffirm our vows I don't think there was a dry eye anywhere. I know for certain that Connie's and mine weren't. But I didn't see anyone else's. I didn't see our children standing beside us at the altar, I didn't see our families holding hands in the front row, and I certainly didn't see our Golden Retriever, Beau, curled up at the feet of the preacher. I didn't see anything but Connie, the woman who completed me, the woman I loved and have always loved, and the woman I planned to spend the rest of my life showing just how much I did.
Our oldest daughter Megan had gotten married a month before our little fete and had just returned from her honeymoon a week earlier. Stuart had just finished his sophomore year at University and our youngest Faye her freshman. It was good to have everyone back at home again. I would never say this out loud but I missed the noise and the pandemonium of the kids at home. I think Connie did too. For a little while at least we were a family again.
A few days after our anniversary party I was returning all of the chairs and tables and other party equipment to the rental place when I had a little fender-bender with my truck in the parking lot. I turned the corner a bit too sharply and mangled the headlight of a nice new Lexus. The police officer who took the accident report was one of the kids that grew up with Stuart and had played on many of his sports teams. Greg was no longer a kid though; he was taller than me now and with his uniform carried an air of authority that made him even taller. I watched him mature and was as proud of him as I was of my own children. After our business was finished we just stood around and talked about nothing. The end of the conversation planted a seed that grew like a weed in my fertile mind.
"Well Mr. Jenkins," Greg said holding out his hand to shake mine. "I've got to get back to the station. It was really nice to see you again and I'm sorry I couldn't make it to your anniversary party. My parents told me I missed a really good time." I shook the hand of the man that I watched try to steal second base in nine and under baseball. He always got thrown out, but grew into a man that I was proud to call friend.
"Oh, and tell Mrs. Jenkins to be careful and stop at stop signs from now on," he said with a mischievous little smile. "I'll have to give her more than a warning ticket next time."
I'm sure my confused expression told the tale.
"Oh crap, I didn't mean to say something out of turn." Now he looked embarrassed.
I picked up on his discomfort right away and tried to help him out a bit. At the same time I was trying to figure out what he was saying. "That's all right Greg. Connie doesn't always tell me when she gets a ticket. She thinks I'll get mad at her and take away her driving privileges. I won't, but I let her think that. Now, so I can have the upper hand at dinner tonight what did you cite her for? I may want to tease her a little about it, that's all."
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything, I don't want to get anybody in trouble. It was nothing really."
My smile got bigger and I pleaded, "No, nobody's in trouble. Just a little friendly teasing, that's all. Now what happened?"
"It was a couple weeks ago, Saturday the 31st I think, your wife turned coming out of the Holiday Inn parking lot up on route 40 without stopping at the stop sign. She didn't hit anybody or interfere with traffic but she sped away so quickly that I had to stop her and tell her to slow down. I should have given her a citation for missing the stop sign but there was no harm done so she got a warning. It was no big deal."
"Yeah, no problem Greg, you did the right thing. I'll make sure to tell her to watch her driving and get in a little jab at the same time. Thanks, it was nice seeing you again."
I unloaded the chairs and tables and afterwards sat in the truck thinking about the little conversation with Greg. Two weeks ago, on the 31st to be exact, I was at my father's house for the weekend helping with some chores that he's no longer capable of doing by himself. It was also two weeks after Megan's wedding. I remember that day taking Dad to an adult living facility to look around and see if he was interested in finally getting rid of the old house and moving into something smaller. He wasn't, and I knew that he wasn't going to be, but I had to try. I spent all day Saturday with him and returned home around nine Sunday night. I didn't notice anything strange and Connie didn't mention anything about the ticket she got from Greg. She said she spent a quiet day at home catching up on some reading. I thought that Greg must have remembered things wrong because Connie would never lie to me. So I filed it in my mind under strange and unexplained.
About a month after the anniversary bash my sister called and said she found my father on the floor of his kitchen when she came for her bi-weekly visit. He had fallen that morning and couldn't get back into his wheelchair on his own. She said that he wasn't injured, just embarrassed. I immediately made plans to go and stay with him on Saturday and try to convince him that moving to a smaller place where people could be around to help him would be in his best interest. Maybe he would be scared enough to listen this time - probably not. He's a hard-headed old cuss. Since Stuart and Faye were now home for the summer I asked, no I kind of coerced them into coming with me. I played the guilt card. "You guys haven't seen Grandpa in a long time and he won't be around forever." They agreed to go. Connie said that she would enjoy a day of quiet and was looking forward to finishing her book.
During the hour long drive Stuart told me about a girl he met in his Philosophy 101 class that he liked a lot and Faye said that she was going to finish college without the hassle of a boyfriend. "There's plenty of time after school to hook up with a guy." We had a pleasant discussion of the merits of both positions which inevitably led to my telling, probably for the hundredth time, about how their mother and I met and became a couple. My father was more excited than I had seen him in a long time when the kids hugged him and sat down to listen to his old, often repeated stories. We had brunch and talked and just generally enjoyed the morning. Around noon he fell asleep in his chair and we all wandered away to let him rest.
"Hey, you guys stay here and watch Grandpa; I'll be back in a bit, I what to go get something to take down that old, dead tree in the backyard before it falls on the house."
Stuart and Faye went into the living room and watched TV while at the same time keeping an eye on their grandfather. My intention was to drive home and get my chainsaw, ropes, and everything necessary to take down a tree. I don't know why I turned when I did but I took the interstate exit onto route 40. At the bottom of the hill I could see the entrance to the Holiday Inn across the way and again, without thinking why I was doing it, I turned into the motel parking lot. When I stopped and looked around I could see the stop sign at the bottom of the hill that Connie ran and how easy it would be for anybody to miss, even me. I drove around the parking lot to leave when I saw something that shouldn't have been there - Connie's car. I stopped and looked to be sure I wasn't seeing things. I know that there are a lot of silver Toyota Camrys out there but only one has her special license plate - CONWOMN. I got out and looked inside and saw nothing out of the ordinary. The doors were locked. I couldn't think of any legitimate reason why she would be at the Holiday Inn since she told me she wanted to curl up with a good book so I thought I'd better check to see if she knew where her car was. I called home and got the answering machine. When I called her cell phone she answered.
"Hi honey, what's up?" She sounded all cheerful and happy.
I don't know why I lied because it wasn't something I've ever done before, but I did. "Oh, nothing. I was out picking up some stuff at the grocery store for Dad and thought I'd give you a call. I called home and since you didn't answer I thought I try your cell. Where are you?"
"I'm at the mall. I finished my book and thought I'd do a little shopping. You don't mind do you?"
Wow, she just lied to me; well at least I think she did. "No, just don't spend the kid's college money. What time are you going to be home?"
"Probably around six. Do you want me to make dinner?"
"No, I don't think I'll be hungry, I'm starting to not feel too good. I may just stay at Dad's tonight and send the kids home. I'll let you know."
"Well okay, just call me when you decide," she said sounding sad.
"Oh, did you drive to the mall or did you go with someone?" I asked hoping not to hear another lie.
"I drove. I'm by myself. I just got here a few minutes ago. Why?"
"Just wondering. Well, I've got to go. You have a good time and don't let Greg catch you missing that stop sign at the Holiday Inn when you leave today. Bye."
I hung up and waited. I didn't know what I expected to happen but it certainly wasn't what did. I heard a muffled scream coming from the direction of the hotel. I looked around I didn't see anything, especially the source of the scream. I sat on the hood of Connie's Camry and scanned the area. A few minutes later a police car drove up and out stepped Greg.
"Hi Mr. Jenkins. Did you call 911?"
"Uh no Greg, I didn't."
"Well someone called and said that someone was breaking into a car in the lot. I'd better go inside and talk to the manager."
"Greg, can you do me a favor?"
"Sure Mr. Jenkins, anything."
"When you go inside can you ask if Mrs. Jenkins is in there and who she's with? I'll be right here."
"Uh, okay, wait... Oh... Oh shit! I'm sorry Mr. Jenkins; I'll be back in a bit. I'll find out what's going on and come back and talk to you. I'm really sorry."
He got back in his cruiser and drove over to the entrance. I waited and waited with nothing happening. Finally, off in the distance, I heard the wail of a siren. It got closer and closer and finally ended as it pulled up to the entrance to the motel. The attendants got out and in a few minutes loaded someone in the back and drove away. Greg came out and drove over and walked up to me with the saddest expression I've ever seen.
"I'm sorry Mr. Jenkins. There was a bit of a problem inside. The ambulance transported your wife to County Hospital. It appears she tried to run through a sliding glass door. Now, the door didn't shatter but she's badly bruised, there's a cut over one eye, and she's quite hysterical. The, uh, gentleman that was with her left when the ambulance drove away. I have his name and address and his statement of what happened. I'm sorry I can't give you any of that information but you can come down to the station tomorrow and fill out a Freedom of Information Act form and get it. Again, I'm really sorry this happened. I've always thought of you and Mrs. Jenkins as family."
He extended his hand to shake mine but all I could do was stare at it. The tears didn't start until after he drove away.
I don't know how I did it but I drove back to Dad's house and stood in the driveway not knowing which way to turn. Faye sensed that something was wrong when she saw me standing there and came running out. She asked "What's wrong" but I was too numb to talk. She started getting louder and louder until I broke down and cried in front of her. I have never cried in front of my kids. She started crying too when she saw her father disintegrate right in front of her. When Stuart came out I told them through the tears that their mother was in the hospital and that they needed to go help her. I didn't say anything more or tell them what I had just gone through but within a few seconds they were in the car and ready to go. I tossed the keys to Stuart and said I wasn't going. "I'll stay here tonight." They looked at me like I was a three-headed snake but drove away anyway. I made sure that Dad was okay before collapsing onto the couch, feeling my heart beating out of my chest. I just stared at the floor and cried.
Dad rolled out and sat beside me.
"What's wrong Marc? What's bothering you?"
I've never been able to talk about intimate things with my father. He's an old school dad and always kept his emotions bottled up and under control and I guess I was a lot like him. Whenever I had a problem growing up he would just say "Act like a man and everything will be all right." I half expected the same advice this time so I didn't say anything. But he did.
"Let me tell you a little story about your mother and me, something I've never told you or your sister or anyone else for that matter. Just after you were born I got into trouble with the law. I stole something from work. Your mother wanted this fancy red dress and I didn't have any money to buy it for her so I stole a tool and sold it. I got caught. In the end I paid the company back but they fired me anyway and then turned me over to the police. The authorities put me on probation for a year. That was the easy part. Your mother was angrier at me than at any time in her life. She was probably more disappointed in me for what I did. It hurt our marriage, a lot. She was cold toward me for a long time. One day she came home and told me that she may have found me a new job next door to where she worked and I could go down there and interview in the morning. Then she put her arms around me and looked me straight in the eye and said that she forgave me. Son, she forgave me for almost wrecking our marriage. She put aside her pride and let me back into her heart. From that day until the day she died I never did anything that she wasn't proud of. I was a better man because your mother loved me. Sure she was hurt for a while but she was a better person than me and we got past it.
Now Marc, I don't know what happened but you seem to be in the same boat I was. Maybe you need forgiveness and maybe you need to forgive like your Mom did, but then maybe whatever happened can't be forgiven. Whatever the problem is I know in my heart that you will do the right thing, and the smart thing. I just hope to God that everything works out okay for you. I may not have told you this too often but I'm very proud of the man you've grown up to be and I love you very much."
He put his old arthritic hand on mine and bowed his head in a silent prayer. When he finished he quietly turned and rolled into his bedroom. I stayed on the couch as the sun passed below the horizon.
During the night the phone rang, but I didn't answer it. The same thing happened with my cell phone. I heard them because I was awake all night. I just lay curled up in a ball on my father's drab, old sofa listening to the crickets outside the window.
Morning is supposed to be a new start: Yesterday's gone and today's a new day. But I still felt like I was on the edge of an abyss. After making breakfast for Dad, I went out in the backyard by myself and moped. Around noon I felt a hand on my shoulder.
"Hey Dad, are you okay?" Faye said looking down with tired, red eyes.
I just shook my head 'no.' Faye sat next to me and put her arms around my neck, hugging me like she was three years old again. She was also crying. We sat like that until it was time to talk. I didn't want to say anything because I wasn't sure I could without breaking up so I let Faye start.
"Dad, Mom's okay. She has a concussion, four stitches over one eye, a broken nose, and some assorted bruises, but she'll be okay, physically. Emotionally she's a train wreck. The doctor gave her something to help her relax and sleep but she wakes up screaming your name and it starts all over again. Megan showed up at the hospital so we were all there for her. All Mom did was ask why you weren't there and cried.
Dad, she told us what happened and she told us what she did. You probably already know everything so I won't repeat what she said. I want you to know I ripped her a new one. I told her that it was the worst thing anybody could ever do to another person, especially someone they said they loved. I said I hated her. She..."