Replacement Therapy Ch. 05bycoaster2©
Chapter 5: Back in the Fold
Our bedroom contained a bookcase which I had only perfunctorily examined when I first moved in. Yolanda and I were lying in bed one Sunday morning, talking about her family, or more precisely, Margaret McCarty's family. It seems they were some of the original founders of several of the towns in the area, after the gold rush of 1849. They came from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada down onto the fertile plains of the Central Valley. They farmed, they built stores and businesses, and they brought in settlers to build a new life.
Yolanda slipped out of the bed and went to the bookcase, pulling out an old, leather-bound volume. She opened it, and revealed a written history of Meg's family, all the way back to their emigration from Massachusetts. The original family name was Reardon, and it had carried on for generations until it almost petered out after WWII.
Yolanda pulled a separate piece of paper out of the back cover of the book and opened it. It was the update of the Reardon family tree, showing Margaret Reardon's birth in 1952, marriage to Angus McCarty in 1974, and the death of Angus in 1999. There were two other Reardons still alive, according to the chart.
Seamus Reardon, born in 1933, and Donald Reardon, born in 1948.
"Seamus Reardon is retired and living in Arizona. He never married, as you can see from this chart. I think he might have been gay. The family never mentions him. But Donald is a state representative in Sacramento. He was a lawyer and a judge. There are rumors he's a candidate for a Congressional Senate seat when one comes available. He's a good Irish Democrat, and a good friend of Mother."
"Wow, your mother knows someone in power, then," I observed.
"That's not all she knows," Yolanda giggled. "Mother has a couple of powerful men friends that she visits now and then."
"Don't look so shocked, Aaron. She's still alive and kicking. She's only fifty-seven."
"Of course ... I didn't mean to suggest she wasn't entitled to her own life. I just hope they treat her well."
"Oh, they treat her very well, from what I've heard," she giggled. "They can't afford not to."
"What's that mean?"
"Just that they are important men and don't need bad publicity. Mother represents the ideal escort. Mature, sexy in a more adult way, and very knowledgeable. She can hold a conversation with anyone."
"I don't doubt it for a second. I'm just surprised at her secret life, that's all."
"How do you think that addition to the house was approved so quickly? It helps to know the right people in the right places."
I was learning a great deal about the mother of my intended. It would appear that there was a lot more to her than met the eye. I wondered what other secrets this family held. For one thing, Yolanda was turning out to be quite unlike the woman I thought she was. It was confusing. I was hoping I hadn't misread her. At times she was radically different from the shy, quiet woman who would barely talk to strangers. I wondered what secrets she was still holding.
"Meg, can you spare me a few minutes. I'd like to talk to you ... in private."
She looked at me quizzically, wondering I suppose just what this was about.
We walked into the now almost reframed wood room that would be her new suite. It was Sunday, and the workmen were off for the weekend.
"I've been mulling over how to approach this subject. I don't want you to over-react, so please be patient with me. It's about Yolanda. I think she's holding something back from me. Our wedding is only two months away, and I'm worried that I'm marrying the woman of my dreams without knowing something important about her. I need your help."
Meg looked at me as only she could -- clear-eyed and expressionless.
"What do you want to know?" she said in a low, calm tone.
"First of all, she seems to have two personalities. There's the reticent, nervous, quiet, housewife. A woman with a protective wall around her, unwilling to let anyone in. Then ... more recently, there's a more ... adventuresome, uninhibited, aggressive Yolanda. So completely different from the woman I thought I knew. Can you tell me what that is all about?"
Meg sat quietly, staring at me, her eyes not blinking, not wavering from her fix on me.
"My daughter is a complex woman, Aaron," she said at last. "When she was young, she was a very free-spirited teenager. She loved to flaunt authority. My husband, Philip, indulged her. It was up to me to instill some discipline. In short, he was the good guy, I was the bad guy. I resented that role. It made it very difficult for Yolanda to show me affection."
I nodded. I could understand the conflict. "But it doesn't explain the behavior when I first met her."
"She married Ryan Michaels when she was twenty-three. She had been a bit of a ... reckless girl. Apparently many lovers, but none that kept her interest for long. Her reputation wasn't very good, if you know what I mean."
"Ryan was a big, tough, confident man. Maybe the first she had been involved with. He dominated her. He told her when they would go out, what she would wear, and when they would come home. She seemed to respond to that. Perhaps, for the first time in her life, a man was giving her orders and she was following them. Ryan, as it turned out, replaced her father.
"I have to admit, I thought Ryan was good for her. He seemed to put a stop to her wayward lifestyle. He virtually controlled her. As I understand it, he didn't ask Yolanda to marry him, he told her she would ... and when ... and where. She simply was expected to agree ... and she did."
I shook my head in disbelief. It seemed so bizarre that she would simply follow the forceful direction of a man. But then again, when I thought of who she was when I first met her, maybe the submissive role wasn't so far fetched after all. I looked up at Meg, and I could see the small smile acknowledging my confusion.
"When my two darling grandchildren were born, no one was happier than Yolanda, perhaps with the exception of me. She was a natural mother, and nothing that has happened in the past eight years had led me to think any differently.
"When Ryan died, Yolanda changed, but not in the way I expected. It was as if she had suddenly grown up. One day she was an obedient wife, the next a responsible single mother. She refused any help from me. She was determined to forge a life for herself and her children. She never denied me access to them, or my help when it came to caring for them, but as far as running her household, that was her domain ... and hers alone."
I was transfixed at her story. Yet, I really hadn't figured out just what had brought about the changes in Yolanda. What was I missing?
"Aaron," Meg said softly, "Ryan was a tyrant. Yolanda would never admit it, but although he never hit her, he dominated her in so many ways that ... I think ... beat her down. He would never do that around me, perhaps because he sensed I wouldn't tolerate it, but ... I think he demoralized her.
"When he died, Yolanda was set free, but there was no celebration. She was so used to being told what to do and when to do it, that it took an enormous shift in her personality to take over the running of her family. I think we are close now because she knows just how much I admire what she has accomplished.
"Now, you've arrived on the scene. You, Mr. Prentice, are quite a different kettle of fish. You dominate her in a very subtle way. You carefully insist. You're a subversive, worming your way into her confidence. You lead her to the destination you want her to arrive at, then stand back and pretend it was all her idea. She doesn't know quite what to make of you, but ... she doesn't feel threatened or bullied."
I laughed, but it wasn't with humor. "You're making me out to be very Machiavellian, Meg. I can assure you, that was not how I approached your daughter. I admit, I was careful with her, but that was more about her reaction and behavior when I first met her, not about some plot to seduce her."
"I'm sure you believe that, Aaron. And don't be upset with my analysis. I'm not casting aspersions on your character. I think you're a delightful man, and an absolutely perfect husband for my daughter ... not to mention a great father for my grandchildren. Rest assured, I'm not unhappy with your becoming a son-in-law, I'm simply trying to draw a comparison between Ryan and you. You don't have to worry about Yolanda. She is deeply in love with you. That much a mother knows for certain."
"Well, that's a relief," I said in mock sincerity. I was a little irritated with this conversation, but when I gave myself a chance to think about it, I began to understand some of Yolanda's behavior.
"Do you think she'll revert to her pre-Ryan personality?"
"No. She's a different woman. The children have changed her. Her driving need to provide for herself and them has changed her. And now ... you've changed her. She won't go back to where she was. She's too happy where she is," Meg smiled.
I walked to Meg and embraced her. I couldn't have picked a better mother-in-law if I had tried.
"Thanks, Meg. This has been a big help. I'm not sure I understand it all, but ... the one thing that you've said that means the most to me is how sure you are that she is in love with me. That's all that really matters."
"Yes ... you're right ... that's all that really matters," she smiled, and kissed my cheek.
The addition to the house was taking a long time, in my opinion. I'm sure the contractor thought that if a job was this expensive, stretching it out would permit some additional costs to be added. I approached Meg once more.
"Meg, these guys working on the new suite are spending your money and doing damn little. I'd like your permission to chew the ass out of their head honcho and get them moving. They seem to think this job is a license to print money."
Meg laughed -- a not unexpected reaction. "No ... no ... that's my job. Are you certain you're right?"
"Would you like a list of the games these guys have been playing?"
"Not necessary, but I would like you to accompany me when I confront Mr. Keezar about the situation."
"I'd love to," I grinned.
A few minutes later and we found Mr. Adolphus Keezar snacking on a rather large sticky bun.
"Mr. Keezar, I'm very disappointed that you think you can take advantage of a widow. I'm sure you don't realize that I'm aware of the half-hearted effort you and your men are putting into this job. I would be further disappointed if I found it necessary to discuss the matter with Judge Beltran. You don't need any more trouble from him, do you?"
Keezar nearly choked on his snack, turning red in the face before beginning to sputter a denial.
"But ... Mrs. McCarty ... we're doing the best we can," he finally pleaded.
"Bullshit!" I spat. You've been sitting on your ass and doing as little as possible, hoping to run up the bill. Here's the bottom line, pal. Get going and get going quickly, or Mrs. McCarty will have you replaced. That wouldn't be very good for you reputation, now, would it?"
"Thank you, Aaron. I couldn't have said it better myself."
With that, the two of us strode back into the house and once out of earshot, had a good laugh.
"You put the fear of God into him, Aaron. Thank you. I hereby pronounce you to be site supervisor. I will instruct Mr. Keezar to report to you daily when you return from work. That way, he won't be able to sneak away at three o'clock like he has been. That was fun!"
"We should have kicked his ass a little sooner. I'm sure he's two weeks behind where he should be by now. Maybe with a little incentive, we can get him caught up," I grinned.
"What kind of incentive?"
"Oh ... I don't know ... maybe I'll suggest we should have Judge Beltran drop around now and then to make sure everything is on the up-and-up."
Meg roared with laughter. "That ought to do it. Adolphus spent a night in jail when he drove his truck into Judge Beltran's new Lincoln after spending too much time at the Cantina. The judge isn't his biggest fan."
"Well, I guessed it was something like that. He jumped when you mentioned the judge's name. That should be a pretty good motivator."
"Damn, Aaron, but aren't you going to make a great son-in-law," she said, giving me a big kiss.
Yolanda and I were sitting at the kitchen table trying to decide what to do about her house and the upcoming Fourth of July holiday.
"Why don't you rent it out?" I suggested. "It would be an income source and you'd still benefit from the appreciation in the market. It might be ideal for a young family just starting out ... or even a retired couple. It isn't too big, but it is in good shape."
She nodded. "I guess I could do that. Do you think it would be a lot of hassle? You know ... worrying about damage or other problems with the tenants?"
"I think if you're careful about who you rent it to, you should be okay. Ask for references. That usually puts a stop to any dubious types."
"Do you think I should do that, then?"
"It's your house, you decide," I smiled.
She leaned over and kissed me. "Then I guess I'll go with renting. How do I do that? Put an ad in the paper?"
"You could check with your mother and see if any of the local realty people handle rentals. That way, the onus is on them to do the background checks."
"Good suggestion, Aaron," Meg said and she walked into the kitchen from her almost completed new suite. She had obviously overheard our conversation. "I can get hold of Tim Chancellor and let him assign someone from his firm if you like, dear?"
"Yes, please. The less fuss the better. Almost everything personal is already here. We should time it so you are moved into your new suite, though," Yolanda suggested. "How much longer, do you think?"
"Not much. Tile in the bathroom, some trim and painting, the wood floor. I'd guess a week, wouldn't you Aaron?"
"No more. Are you happy with the custom moldings and millwork?"
"Very. When they are painted, you won't be able to tell them from the originals. All the gingerbread on this house ... it was just amazing how detailed it was," Meg said, looking around at the elaborate cove, wainscoting, casing, and baseboards in the old house.
I agreed. It was great that knives could be cut to reproduce these moldings exactly to the original. The suite would look like it was built as part of the original house, inside and out.
The next day, my life got turned upside down once again, and it all came as a result of a phone call at work.
"Hello, Aaron ... it's Georgia," the once-familiar voice came. I was caught by surprise of course, but managed a reply.
"Georgia? Why are you calling? Is there something the matter with the boys?" I asked, anxious now.
"I need your help, Aaron. The boys are alright, but I'm worried. Leonard has disappeared."
I couldn't help myself. "Maybe he's found a new bimbo," I sneered.
"No ... you don't understand. All his personal things are still here at home. Just he and his car are missing."
"How long has he been gone?" I was beginning to wonder where this conversation was supposed to go.
"Five days. I've called the police and reported a missing person. I've checked on-line, but he hasn't used any of his or my credit cards. I think something bad has happened to him." She sounded genuinely worried.
"And you called me because?"
"Leonard has been dealing with some people that make me nervous. It was something to do with a land deal, and he was raising financing for a development. Something went wrong, but he wouldn't tell me what. The people he was dealing with ... I think they might be gangsters."
"You've been watching too many Robert De Niro movies. What makes you think they're gangsters?"
"I've seen them. They carry guns. They act like thugs. They make crude remarks around me and Leonard is afraid to tell them to stop."
"Okay, Georgia, I don't want my sons anywhere near that kind of danger either. What do you want from me?"
"I have to get out of Chicago for a while. At least until they find Leonard. I need the boys and me to be safe. I'd like to have the boys stay with you ... for their safety."
"After all this time, after doing everything humanly possible to prevent me from seeing my sons, you now decide you need me. Jesus Christ, Georgia! You really are one selfish bitch!" I snapped.
"Aaron, please. I know you won't turn the boys away. I know I've hurt you ... keeping you away from them. But please, this is important. Don't turn your back on them, please."
"Of course I won't. What are you going to do?"
"I have a friend in Sacramento. She has room for me, but not the boys. I'm going to stay with her until this dies down, or until Leonard shows up again. I've got enough money to get plane tickets for the three of us, but not much more."
"Alright, Georgia. You get yourself and the boys packed and out of that place immediately. I'll see what flights are available and book the tickets. I'll send an e-mail with the flight information to Terry. Understood?"
"Yes, understood. I'll get the boys to start packing immediately. And thank you, Aaron. Thank you."
We exchanged cell phone numbers and I promised I would be waiting at the airport for their arrival. I got lucky. It took less than thirty minutes to find a flight from O'Hare to Sacramento. There was a Delta flight leaving at three o'clock and arriving just after seven in the evening, and I booked three tickets in their names. They only had a couple of hours to get to O'Hare. I called Georgia back.
"Okay, Georgia. You don't have much time to get to the airport. Your flight leaves at three this afternoon. It's almost noon there now. Are you going to be able to make it?"
"Yes. We'll make it. I'll arrange for a cab. What about the tickets?"
"Do you have an active credit card?"
"Okay. Go to the airport and use your credit card to identify yourself on the automated machines. They'll have someone there to help you if you have a problem. You can get your boarding passes printed right there. Then, all you'll need to do is check your bags and go through security. Understood?"
"Yes. And thank you again, Aaron. We'll see you in Sacramento."
We signed off and I hung up the phone, leaning back in my chair. My office door was open, but I didn't see any indication anyone had overheard much of my conversation. I hoped not. I didn't need to feed the gossip mill. I took a deep breath, got up, and headed for the coffee room.
Coffee in hand, I walked up the hall toward my boss's office in the front corner.
"Doug, can I talk to you for a minute? It's personal."
"Sure. Come in and close the door."
Doug Howell was general manager of Big Valley Box. He was my mentor, always making sure I was treated with respect and kept well informed. I was on the management team and the salary committee, so I had equal status with all the other managers. Doug had been a real tower when I was off recuperating from my beating earlier in the year.
"Doug, I just got a very strange phone call from my ex-wife. Apparently her husband has gone missing and she is concerned about his safety. Looks like he may have been trying to do business with some dangerous people. I've got her on a plane this afternoon with my two boys and they're coming into Sacramento early this evening.
"The boys are going to be staying with me, while Georgia will stay with a friend in Sacramento. I have no intention of letting her take those boys away from me again. They are staying here unless they choose to go. I doubt that will happen. I'm going to have to get them registered in school and settled. I haven't discussed this with Yolanda or Meg yet. I may need a bit of time, off and on, to handle this situation. I'd appreciate it if you could give me some flexibility to get this out of the way. I promise it won't interfere with my doing my job."