As the dying light of another Saturday faded into oblivion, parents, devoted teachers and giggling school children began to head for the parking lot. The art fair I'd set up for my classes of elementary school children seemed to have been a rousing success. Since the fair had been my project, I suppose it was only to be expected for there to still be a crowd of people waiting to speak to me.
Okay let's face it, there were always people waiting to speak to me and there had been for all of what I jokingly call life.
As I looked at the people waiting to see me, it again struck me as very funny that neither the other teachers nor even the principal had nearly as many people waiting for them. In fact the principal was one of the people waiting for me. This didn't shock me since I knew what she wanted, or at least what she hoped for.
It was important for me to stay on her good side though, so I often did little things to keep her hopes up. Anna, my principal, was an attractive woman. She'd dedicated her life to teaching and working with kids only to find out that as her biological clock began to tick very loudly, she had none of her own. I guess that's where I came in. It was like something out of a romance novel. The mysterious new art teacher sweeps in and sweeps the beautiful maidenly principal off of her feet and they live happily ever after. Okay sorry...I forgot that this is, after all, the twenty first century.
Let's re-do that. It should be the mysterious new art teacher, who's obviously a bad boy with a hidden past, rides into town on his motorcycle and starts secretly fucking the beautiful principal. She ends up pregnant and helps him to get over the secret tortures and terrifying dreams of the past he's trying to escape.
It doesn't matter which version you prefer, they're both bullshit because I have no intention of ever touching another woman for as long as I live. Been there, done that, got the claw marks all over my heart to prove it. And I'm not like those modern theorists who believe that people can fall in love over and over again. They believe, I think, mistakenly that love is a simple equation that can be generated whenever the circumstances and people are within certain parameters.
In other words, if you take two reasonably attractive people, put them in the right situation at the right time, they will fall in love. I suppose with the number of divorced couples and the amount of cheating that goes on, it does tend to make sense. I, however, say thee nay. The theory is pure hokum and those who espouse it have simply created their theory to explain the lack of stability in the marital unit as of late. I believe that what happens a lot today is that people mistake attraction for love. They find someone they're attracted to, start fucking, enjoy the sex and then get married. A few years later, inevitably, the sex becomes mundane and sex was all they ever really had. They need someone else to stoke their fires and excite them, so they start having affairs or simply divorce.
Real, true love, may only strike a person once in their lifetime. Our problem is that we're so used to getting what we want instantly, that we no longer have the will or the ability to wait for it.
I've had mine. It ended tragically and I'll never go down that path again. I don't think I'm physically or mentally capable of going through it again. It was all I could do to walk away with part of my sanity intact. Real love takes you to the heavens, borne aloft on its wings. But there's always, always, always gravity lurking just beyond the tips of those same wings waiting to return you swiftly and painfully to the rocks below.
I flew...God damn it I flew higher and longer than I ever thought possible. So when I fell, it was from a higher altitude and far more painful than I ever thought I could endure. I should have died, perhaps like in one of those great Shakespearian tragedies, we both should have died. We both survived, but it was clear at least to me, that we couldn't both exist in the same world any longer.
See what I mean...artistic people should never be allowed to speak. I've just given you the boring broad strokes of my entire life without giving you any of the details to flesh it out. But don't worry, you're not alone. I never talk about who I was, to anyone. Not even to Anna and she really is my best friend in this chapter of my life, though she doesn't realize it.
My hackles are up this evening. It's almost as if I can feel something coming for me, a shadow of trouble reaching out to fuck up my life all over again. I scan the faces of the people waiting for me. Besides Anna, there are three women and a man. One of the women has a very angry face, the others are smiling. The man is one of my fellow teachers, Jim. We're somewhat friendly. I know what he's after so I take him first.
"Hey Larry," he says to me. It still takes me a while to realize that he's talking to me.
"What's up Jim," I reply. "Before you ask, I'm still on for our run tomorrow morning. Six a.m. by the trail in the park."
"Well I also wanted to know if you wanted to hit a couple of bars with me and the guys tonight," he asked. "Jeezus guy, you have to start getting out there sometime." He looks at the women standing around by my booth and smiles. "Maybe you've already picked your horse," he said, looking at Anna. Then punching me lightly in the shoulder he smiles and says, "It's dangerous to shit where you eat."
A few feet away, Anna blushes as she overhears a part of the conversation and looks away shyly. For a principal she's fairly easily embarrassed.
The two women who follow Jim are simply women from the neighborhood or school district who saw me and wanted to talk to me. I'm not even sure that they have kids in the school. They seem a little bit young to be mothers. I politely get rid of them and turn to the woman with the angry face.
"Mr. Martin, did you buy Melissa's painting?" she asks.
"Yes I did, Mrs. Crane," I told her. "It's brilliant and I wanted it."
"But she priced it ridiculously high so no one would buy it," said Mrs. Crane. "Her father was supposed to show up at the fair today. She was supposed to drop the price when he came over. Then he'd buy it. I can't believe that you'd pay a hundred dollars for a ten-year-old girl's painting. What the hell is going on here?"
"It's worth it," I said. "It was the best piece in the show and I know art."
"Just because you're a fucking art teacher doesn't mean you know anything about art," she snapped.
From, behind us a voice I'd never expected to hear again said, "Art teacher?" The voice was very loud and I looked up and recognized the man instantly. I was also sure he recognized me despite the pains I'd taken to change my appearance.
"None of these people know who you are, do they?" he laughed loudly. "Oh shit, this is rich."
"Anna, could you please take this gentleman inside the school to my office. I'll need to speak with him privately," I said.
I turned back to Mrs. Crane. "Mrs. Crane, your husband never showed up today did he?" I asked. She shook her head. "I really don't know what's going on in your family life nor do I want to. But I do know that your daughter has a monstrous talent. It should be nurtured and fed. She seemed so disappointed that people came by and bought paintings and flower pots and all of those other things that her classmates made. They looked at her painting a lot, but as you said no one was going to pay a hundred dollars for it. That made her feel worse. Most of my students made five or six little projects and just between us, on an artistic scale, most of them were worthless. Melissa has real talent. Her painting was so much more complex than anything else here that she only had time to complete the one painting."
"I bought that painting for two reasons. The first reason is because it really is worth a hundred dollars. The second is because I'd have paid anything to see her smiling the way she usually does. With all due respect, I don't want to see your daughter's talent quenched in the middle of your marital flames. If your husband had showed up he could have bought the painting back from me. But he never showed. Right now you have a very happy daughter. She's thinking of all of the things she'll do with the money she got for her picture even after the school takes its cut."
"I think that you're really pissed at your husband for not showing up and trying to take it out on me. Is that even a little bit possible?"
As a few tears started to fun down her cheeks, she nodded her head. "I'm sorry, Mr. Martin," she told me and hurried away. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that there are problems in that family. Her husband was either so engrossed in his work that he didn't see what was happening to his family or already fucking someone else. In either case, if things didn't change, she would be doing someone else very soon too. Whoever it was, it would not be me."
I turned and hurried into the school. I quickly walked through the deserted building towards my classroom with its large work area and small office. The light was on in my office. Anna stood there looking nervous. The mysterious man had removed his hat. The balding and older man sat there smirking and shaking his head.
Anna was worried. I could tell by the way she was wringing her hands. Her senses were telling her that she was about to find out something that she really didn't want to know. I think she thought that she was about to find out that she'd hired and was attracted to a criminal or worse, though nothing could be farther from the truth. The only crime I'd committed other than changing the name I worked under, which wasn't actually a crime, was to walk away from a bad situation.
"Legolas, what the hell are you doing here, pretending to be an art teacher?" asked the man furiously. "We've been looking for you all over the fucking world for almost five years. Do you know what's happened to Kerri since you left her? Do you even care? I know that artists are supposed to be eccentric but this is my daughter we're talking about. God damn it I ought to..."
"Wait...wait, please!" said Anna. Her eyes were huge and she'd become very pale. She crossed the room and looked at me. I could tell she was imagining me without the trimmed beard and facial hair. She was imagining me with my hair cropped very short. She even took off my glasses and looked through them.
"These aren't prescription lenses," she said slumping down in a chair. "You're...you're not Larry Martin are you."
"Of course not," snapped my father in law. "He's..."
"Legolas Ambrose," finished Anna.
"That's right lady," snapped Dan Connors, my father in law, who'd known me all of my life. "But I haven't the faintest idea why he's here pretending to teach art to preschoolers."
"In the first place Dan, I'm not pretending. I do have a Masters Degree in fine arts and graphic design as well as a number of other subjects. So I'm more than qualified to teach art anywhere," I said.
"But why not in a college somewhere if you have to waste your talent?" he snapped. "You shouldn't be teaching at all. You should be doing what you do best. And you should be with your wife. She really hasn't done well since you deserted her. I have to insist that you come home immediately so we can work this out."
"There's nothing to work out," I hissed. "That part of my life is over."
"You asshole," he hissed back at me. "My daughter went fucking nuts when you walked out on her with no reason and no warning. I'd always told her that you were off your fucking nut. All of that bullshit about Mustangs and swords, cowboys and Samurai, I never understood any of that shit. She spent nearly all of her money trying to find you. She sent private investigators and agents all over Europe and South America trying to find you. She languished away drinking herself nearly to death over you, you fucker. It was all over the news when she had to be put into a treatment facility and you have never even so much as written to her. Lately it had gotten so bad we had to put her, your wife...my daughter in an institution. She tried to kill herself twice, God damn you. And all the time you're here in fucking Arizona, playing art teacher with this Bimbo."
"I can't believe you're less than two hours away from us by plane and we're searching all over the world for you. Kerri went out of business and went through all of her money. Her reputation was ruined and she lost all of her clients because she spent all of her time trying to find you. She's told me more than once that whether I like it or not those are her only choices. My own fucking daughter told me that her only options were to find you or die. She loves you so much that she simply can't live without you."
"Then when we needed money, she decided to sell one of two of your smaller pieces from your collection. She didn't want to, but she has to have money to live on. Do you know what she found out?" he screamed.
"Yup," I said smugly. "She found out that she couldn't."
"You did know," he said incredulously. "You knew!"
"Well duh," I said. "I did it."
"So there was no trickery...no legal manipulation?" he asked.
"I left the rights to manage and protect all of my unsold pieces to Dana," I said. "I also turned over management and rights to my name and image to her. I also gave her the money to start her own agency. I truly believed that she'd be great at it."
"Dana gave up running her agency soon after you left," he said. "We can talk about that and what she left you later."
"What do you mean what she left me?" I asked. "I haven't heard from Dana in about a month. But we do sometimes go weeks without speaking to each other. Dana is a part of the art world and I'm not any more. I knew that she'd given up the agency. I also knew that she'd been renting out some of my pieces to museums. I was fine with it. Has she run off or something? I don't believe it, Dana wouldn't do that. She's not like..."
"Don't say it," he snapped.
"So tell me what's going on with Dana," I snapped back.
"Legolas," he said sadly. "Dana died last month. She was in a car accident. She was in the hospital for three days fighting for her life. She had no family other than..." he stopped and looked at me.
"I forgot," he said. "You really don't know do you. God damn it this is fucked up. Some of this is beginning to make sense."
"I don't know what," I screamed. There were tears running down my face. I couldn't help crying. Anna was immediately on her feet coming over to comfort me. She got down on the floor where I'd slumped and cradled my head in her soft breasts.
"Legolas, what the fuck is wrong with you?" he asked. "You didn't even bat an eyelash when I told you how my daughter, the supposed love of your life, tried to kill herself twice. You don't seem to give a half a God damn that she's practically destitute. This is the woman you've loved for most of your life, or so you claim. But you start crying and can't even stand up when you find out that your fucking secretary died?"
"I'm not getting any of this shit," he said. "You were doing what you wanted. You were on top of the fucking art world. I know that you were under a lot of pressure and you artists are weird but what the fuck? I mean all of that shit with you and all of those swords and the cars, it didn't make any sense to me but you and Kerri were happy. You both worked way too hard, but you were happy and rich so what could I say? I also had to admit that you loved her more than anyone else could have, probably even more than I did. Shit, in her own way Kerri was a little weird too. So maybe the two of you belonged together. Then out of the blue, wham, bam, thank you ma'am. You were fucking gone. Kerry didn't say a fucking word, she just spent all of her time crying over you, trying to find you and drinking herself into oblivion."
"It took me a while to figure out that you'd cheated on her," he said. I looked up when he said that, but I didn't say anything.
"It took me even longer to figure out that you'd cheated on her with Dana," he said. "It still makes no sense. We still don't know why you just ran off. I'm sure it was because of all the guilt you felt about betraying my daughter, but God damn it Legolas, you should have faced it like a man. Kerri would have forgiven you a thousand times over. She, more than anyone else, knew the pressure you were under. And there were always women parading around in front of you like cats in heat. Why the fuck did you leave?"
"Making one mistake wasn't enough to bail on a lifelong love, no matter how much guilt you felt," he said sadly. "I'm just glad I found you now so we can put this whole thing back to the way it should be."
For a long time no one said anything. Anna just held me against her breasts, telling me that everything was going to be fine.
Then I finally recovered enough strength to sit up and to speak. "No," I said.
He looked at me as if I had snapped. "No, what?" he asked.
"No, we're not putting anything back together," I said. "We couldn't put this shit back together with God's personal tube of super glue. None of what you said is right anyway. In the first place I didn't cheat on Kerri. That isn't why I ran."
"Legolas, you aren't a man who's known for lying," he said. "So that's probably why you suck at it. I know you slept with Dana, dumb ass. I can prove it."
"Let me guess," I said. "She video-taped it for her memories and you have a copy of the tape."
"No son," he said seriously. "You got her pregnant and I have your almost five year old daughter living in my house. When Dana died and we found out about her, the court gave temporary custody of her to Kerri and me. It had to be both of us because Kerri just recently snapped out of her funk. Dana asked us to find you and bring your daughter to you. We've been looking for you since she passed. We found you by going through her records but it still took us a month. Kerri is trying to adopt her. That way the three of you can be a family and everything will work out."
"No the fuck she isn't," I snapped. "I will not have my daughter raised by..."
I pulled out my iPhone and started to make a call.
"Who are you trying to call?" he asked.
"My lawyers," I said.
"Son, Kerri isn't trying to take Aria from you," he said. "She's just trying to find a way...any way that she can become a part of your life again. Anyway she's on her way here now. Her plane should be landing in about an hour. Can't we all just sit down and talk about this then. I still don't understand any of this. Why won't you just accept the fact that Kerri still loves you and wants to forgive you? She's even willing to raise and love another woman's child to get you back. Why can't you just accept her forgiveness?"
I had intended not to say a word about it. I hadn't ever told anyone anything about the situation. Before then the words had never escaped my lips but I was so angry at the way things had turned out that I couldn't help it. I had contingency plans for what I'd do if Kerri ever caught up to me. I already had another name change and another life set up, but I hadn't foreseen this. I had no idea that I had a daughter. Her, unlike Kerri, I couldn't walk away from.
My frustration at having to face Kerri, at her father's stupidity and at all of the pain that was welling back up in me finally erupted and I couldn't help it. The words came out of me faster and angrier than I'd intended. "BECAUSE I WASN'T the one who CHEATED!" I screamed.
He shrank back against the fury of my words. I grabbed a piece of paper off of my desk and scribbled down my address. "When she gets here, bring my daughter to my home so we can settle this once and for all," I said. "It's time for us to get this out of the way once and for all."