tagNovels and NovellasOnce Upon a Fantasy Ch. 05-06

Once Upon a Fantasy Ch. 05-06


Chapter 5 Picking up the Pieces

"I'm still having a hard time believing her lawyer agreed to these terms, Norman," Margaret Shadbolt said shaking her head after once again having read the separation agreement. "I have to assume Andrea dictated these terms. They have guilt written all over them."

I nodded. "Yeah, that was my interpretation too. I guess I should count myself lucky. All that planning and guessing that Emilio and I did seems to be for nothing."

"Well, not nothing," Margaret said, still examining the document. "But certainly not as aggressive as I expected. As far as the business goes, you will retain full ownership until or unless you sell it, in which case she will receive one-third of the value as of the date of the divorce. That amount will be fixed as part of the agreement. In the interim, in lieu of alimony, you will pay her ten percent of the previous year's net profit, distributed monthly. From what Emilio told me, that would amount to something over two thousand dollars a month.

"Since she and Mr. Howell intend to marry as soon as the divorce is final, the issue of the profit share is moot. You keep the house and most of the furnishings. If you sell it, the net gain is divided equally. And the biggie, of course, is that you get sole custody of the children. Have you worked out a visitation schedule for Andrea yet?"

"No. I'm going to leave it to her to decide. The separation from the children was very hard on her and them. I think they booth need a cooling off period. I guess the good thing is that Brandon and Candice both seem to be back to something resembling normal. Brandon wants to be in on the hiring of a housekeeper and Candy is trying to set me up with some of her friends' single mothers."

Margaret laughed. "Well good luck with that. What about you? What are you going to do with yourself?"

"Spend as much time with the kids as I can. I want to make sure I'm really in their lives. They're at a vulnerable age, I think. I want them to feel secure and I want them to feel a part of the family decision-making."

"Sounds like a sensible idea, but let me give you a bit of advice from someone who's been there. Don't smother them. They value their independence and each year they get the reward of a bit more when trust is there. It's very important that they know the rules, but it's also important that they get a chance to make some decisions for themselves. They won't always be good decisions, but you can't control every minute of their lives."

I nodded my agreement. "I think I know that, but I guess time will tell if I can live up to my self-promises."

That was the end of our last meeting. The divorce would be final in three months since it was uncontested. I wouldn't say I felt good about it, only relieved. It could have been much worse. There was no acrimony, no threats, no arguing over assets.

We never even had to propose a settlement. That was Margaret's strategy since she detected Andrea's sincerity in making the process as painless as possible. We would have proposed giving her much more than she asked for. As Margaret said, there was guilt written all over that document. When the conciliator received her settlement offer and we accepted, his job was done.

I'd made it a habit that come hell or high water I would be at the kids' school events. I'd begun that long before Andrea and I had split when Brandon made the middle school football team. He was never the best athlete, but he was probably the most dedicated. He was a part-time player to begin with but played himself onto the first team through hard work. I was immensely proud of his attitude and effort.

He made the first team in his first year of high school despite not being very big or fast. He was, however, a tireless worker and a demon tackler. He played several defensive backfield and linebacker positions. In his junior year, the coach made him a co-captain as a reward for his hard work. From Brandon's point of view, it wasn't that big a deal. He just wanted to play.

In his senior year, he made the district all-star team as a cornerback, even though he also played linebacker and rover-back. His sure tackling and endless energy was visible to anyone watching, especially me. But his biggest cheerleader was Candice. His sister came to every game and afterwards critiqued his play. It was fun to listen to them argue, win or lose, about some play or other.

He also played baseball in the spring and once again, showed his determination and versatility. Having already made a name for himself with the coaches, he worked hard to contribute whatever he could to the team. As a result, he played several different positions including, catcher, third base and outfield. His hitting was in the middle of the pack bouncing around the .300 mark. It was his hustle that once again made him visible. As it was with football, he loved to play. And as it was with football, Candy was at every game.

Candy had tried out for cheerleader the first year she was in high school, but didn't make it. She was upset, of course. It was the perfect way for her to be at all the events and get some recognition too. She tried again during her sophomore year and this time she succeeded. She was delighted with her success and new status with the boys. Being a cheerleader was a very big deal.

When Andrea and I divorced, Candy was sixteen and Brandon had just celebrated his eighteenth birthday. She was finishing up her sophomore year and he was completing his senior year. I didn't want them to be on their own during the summer.

I had hired Frances Ormstead as housekeeper and she proved to be a good choice. Each weekday she would arrive at ten in the morning and leave at seven or thereabouts. She would never take the place of their mother, but she would turn out to be quite firm with them when she needed to be. Naturally, both of them tested her to see what the boundaries were and quickly found out they were not any different than their mother's or mine.

I didn't ask Frances's age, but I guessed it to be something close to fifty. Her husband had been badly injured in Afghanistan and his disability benefits were not enough to maintain his assisted care and their standard of living, modest as it was. She needed permanent work and I offered it. Even when the children were grown and gone I could see the need for someone to cook and clean. I had no thoughts about getting married again, so I felt comfortable offering her the job.

My plan was to take a family vacation sometime in late July or early August. We had some long discussions on where to go and what to do. I didn't try to lead the discussion or influence them, but it was obvious they were at opposite ends of the spectrum. I did what all parents do in that situation, I made an arbitrary decision.

"Okay, here's how it's going to go. Brandon, you can go to football camp the first two weeks of August. Candy, you can go with Deb and her parents to Quebec assuming they still intend to invite you and I approve. It won't hurt you to learn a different language, even if it is only for two weeks."

One millisecond later they were high-fiving each other. I apparently had been set up. I should have known better, looking at the grin on Mrs. Ormstead's face.

"I suppose you two think you're clever. Well, in early July we are going to spend one week together in New York City. Mrs. Ormstead, I'd like you to accompany us. Do I hear any objections?"

I had already discussed this with our housekeeper and while she felt I was being overly generous, she agreed to be Candy's chaperone when needed. Through Social Services, she would arrange for care for her husband while she was away. I got the impression she was thrilled about being in the "Big Apple" since she'd never been there before. For that matter, neither had any of us and I got nothing but enthusiasm from my children. It was going to be a great summer, even if I was only taking one week off for myself.

Brandon had selected a college that specialized in business and technology. He was interested in business administration and this school appeared to be exactly what he wanted. Unfortunately, it was three hundred miles from home and that meant he would be gone for most of the year. He wasn't eligible for any assistance or scholarships but our college savings plan would look after his needs.

His graduation present was a four-year-old Volkswagen Golf. I knew the dealer and it carried a one year warranty due to the low mileage. It was a sensible, economical car that should last him the entire four years and more. He was delighted, to say the least. It was silver and it was shiny and it was all his. I got a teary-eyed thank you and a big hug when I gave him the keys. That was all I needed as a thank you.

I also upgraded Brandon's cell phone to something approximating a Blackberry which also went over very well. I expected him to keep in touch with his family, and that included his mother. He promised he would and I didn't have any reason to doubt him.

That, of course, initiated Candy's lobbying for a car as well. She had a couple of years to wait, but I knew I wouldn't escape having to get her something when the time came. This summer was going to push the limits of my budget, but considering all that had happened in the past few weeks, it was necessary.

Brandon had taken our divorce pretty hard and I realized he was closer to his mother than his sister was. He didn't show his affection that openly but it was there and it was felt by her and the rest of the family. Even Mrs. Ormstead recognized it and commented on it.

When Margaret Shadbolt had talked to the two children during the divorce proceedings, I never knew what it was about. It was in confidence and both she and the children kept that confidence. I guessed that it was to determine how they felt about what was happening and how they were reacting to this upheaval in their life. I'm sure part of it was to assure herself that they really did want to be with me rather than their mother.

When all was said and done, I was very pleased with the way Margaret had handled this difficult time in our lives. She was very straightforward and yet mindful of the sensitivities of all the parties. She wasn't out to wreak havoc with Andrea and spent a good deal of time making sure I was certain of my wants and needs. That it turned out better than we had hoped was just good luck, I suppose.

I was invited to meet Deb Penny's parents a few days later. They lived a short distance from us and I drove over after supper one Thursday.

"Hi, I'm Norm Tyler," I said to the man answering the door.

"Nice to meet you. I'm Lou Rampling. Come in and meet my sister, Kim Penny," he said with a welcoming smile.

Sister? This wasn't what I was expecting. I was about to ask when a tall, statuesque blonde woman entered the room. I'm not sure if my mouth was hanging open at the time, but I wouldn't have been surprised.

"Norm, this is my sister, Kim. Kim, Norm Tyler."

"Hi, Norm. Nice to meet you finally. I've heard a lot about you from Deb and Candy."

"Oh," I finally managed.

The woman was stunning. Almost as tall as me, but with a body that was hard to describe. Incredible? That was one way to categorize it. That wasn't good enough, in my opinion. Maybe it was the blonde, swept-back hair, the sparkling blue eyes, or the big breasts that were impossible to ignore. She was a big woman but everything was in proportion. I was having erotic thoughts just standing there until I realized someone was saying something and I hadn't been paying attention.

"As I was saying," Lou grinned at me, "we wanted to meet you and let you know what this trip was all about and hope that you would feel confident we would look after Candy properly."

"Yes ... yes ... good idea. I'm sure you're responsible but we don't know each other at all." I was having a hard time keeping my eyes off Kim Penny.

"As you probably heard, Kim's husband was killed three years ago in a freak accident. I'm single and have the time that I can act as part-time chaperone to give her some support and relief from being the only parent in the family."

"No, I didn't know," I said, turning to Kim. "I'm very sorry for your loss." I didn't know what else to say.

"Thank you. I'm getting used to the idea now. Lou is a great brother and I know I can count on him when I need some help, even if it's just doing the odd repairs around the house. This trip is kind of a thank-you to him and a great way for Deborah and Candice to learn about a different culture. Fun with education I guess you could call it."

"I think it's a great idea. Thank you very much for inviting my daughter. I know she's very excited about the trip."

"She was Deb's first choice to come with her on the trip. They are very close and I like Candice. You've raised a fine young girl, Norm. You should be congratulated."

"Thank you, but a lot of credit has to go to her mother too. Teenage girls and old guys like me are not always compatible. To be honest, they scare the daylights out of me."

Kim chuckled and gave me another of her wonderful smiles. She was amazingly beautiful for such a big woman and her face literally lit up when she smiled. I was going to be dreaming of this woman tonight and they weren't going to be family-rated dreams either.

I was offered some coffee and we talked and got to know each other. Deb and Candy were off somewhere together, allowing us to talk without worrying about them hearing everything.

"I suppose you heard that I've been going through a divorce," I said, not sure it was a good idea to bring this subject up.

"Yes, Candice told us," Kim said. "She was very upset with her mother and worried about you. It must be a very difficult thing to deal with when there are children involved."

"The kids have been great and that's taken a lot of pressure off. I was relieved that their mother allowed them to stay with me in our home. I thought that would be the stable base they would need. I have a very good housekeeper to take care of things when I am working."

"If Candice is any indication, I'd say you're doing fine. She doesn't seem to have let the divorce become a big factor in her life. Around here she's upbeat and a pleasure to be around. She and Deborah have a lot of fun together."

The conversation seemed to be just between Kim and me at that moment. I'd almost forgotten Lou was there.

"What do you do for a living, Lou?" I asked, breaking the connection.

"I'm a building inspector for the county. I supervise actually, rather than do the inspections. I've been at this for nearly twenty-five years, right after I got out of school."

"Sounds like important work. Do you enjoy it?"

"Most of the time. Occasionally I have to deal with problems when someone wants to take a short-cut and I have to tell him I won't go along with it. Otherwise, I do like my work."

I'd run out of things to talk to Lou about and before I embarrassed myself by focusing on Kim again, I stood and got ready to leave.

"I'm very thankful that my daughter will be in good hands on her trip. Thank you very much for inviting her. I know she will enjoy it and get a lot out of it. I'm anxious to hear all about it when she gets back. Thank you for meeting with me tonight. It was a pleasure meeting both of you."

Lou and Kim stood and followed me as I made my way to the door. We said good night and I stepped out onto the porch and headed toward my car. As I was getting in, I could see Kim standing in the living room window, watching me. I gave her a small wave and she returned it along with a smile. I wonder if she knew the effect she had on men. How could she not?

"I met Deb's mother and uncle last night," I told Candy the next morning. "They seem like very nice people. I'm sure you'll have a good time with them in Quebec."

"Yeah. Mrs. Penny is really neat. I don't see her brother very often, but he's a nice guy too. Deb says he's kind of Mr. Fixit when things need doing around the house. Did they tell you what happened to Deb's Dad?"

"No, just that he was killed in a freak accident. I didn't know that."

"Yeah. You remember that big construction crane that collapsed and fell off the new tower downtown?"

"Yeah ... sort of."

"Anyway, Mr. Penny was in his car when the crane and a big steel beam it was lifting came crashing down right on his car. He was killed instantly. It took them hours to get him out of the car. I didn't know Deb real well then, but she was really sad when it happened. I think she's okay now but she probably still misses her dad."

"I'm sure she does. Her mother and uncle seem like good people. I think you'll enjoy being with them for a couple of weeks."

"Oh yeah. I can't wait. We're going to lots of different places. Montreal, Quebec City, and a bunch of other places I've never heard of. I'll have to write them down sometime and look them up on the map."

"Good idea," I grinned. "Too bad you chose Spanish for your foreign language in school. French would have really helped."

She shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe I'll learn both."

We sat quietly finishing our breakfast. I had already been to the exercise center for my early morning workout. I would be off to work before nine o'clock and Candy would be off to school for her last two exams before the end of term. She seemed completely unconcerned about them and I took that to mean she was well prepared. At least, I hoped so.

"Hey, Dad, Mrs. Penny is really good looking, isn't she?"

That wasn't what I was expecting, but I fielded the question.

"Yes, she is very attractive."

"You could date her, you know."

I stared at my daughter and shook my head.

"So ... do you think you could fix me up?" I asked, trying to be a smart-aleck.

"No problem. I know for a fact that she's not dating anyone."

"I think you better leave the matchmaking to someone a little older, young lady."

"Hey, I'm just trying to help you out, Dad. I could put in a good word for you if you like."

"No ... please don't. I'll look after my own dates, if that's okay. Thank you for thinking of me, though."

"I wasn't just thinking of you," she said, waggling her eyebrows. "She's been three years without a guy."

"Thanks all the same, but I'll choose my own dates. Besides, I'm not ready to date anyone yet. Technically, I'm still married to your mother."

"Let me know when you are ready. I can tell you about all the single women your age that I know of."

I laughed. If it was anyone other than my daughter, I would be offended. But she was thinking of me and that gave me a good feeling. No one wants to be lonely and I knew that sooner or later it would catch up to me too. So far, I'd had too many other things on my mind to keep me occupied. But sometime in the future I'd be thinking about myself and companionship. It was inevitable.

The time that Brandon and Candy were away on their special vacations overlapped by a week. That left me and Mrs. Ormstead on our own. I had no idea how much I would miss my children during that period. Candy was gone first and then a week later, Brandon left. I hadn't been on my own since before Andrea and I were married. If it hadn't been for my housekeeper, I don't know what I'd have done for that week.

"You really miss them, don't you?" Frances Ormstead said on the Monday following Brandon's departure.

"More than I expected. I'm so used to them being here every day. I was thinking that I'd better get accustomed to it. Brandon will be away at college in a month and it won't be long before Candy is on her own too. I guess this is a short rehearsal."

"It takes some getting used to," she said. "I had Bob around most of the time when our children left, so that helped. This job is what keeps me sane. It gives me a purpose and I can spend some time with Bob when I go home in the evenings and on the weekends. He's never going to get any better. I've resigned myself to that. At least I'll have him with me. The assisted care people take some of the burden off and that's a big help."

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