tagRomanceScrew Up's Second Chance on Family

Screw Up's Second Chance on Family


My name is Jack Thomas and I'm a screw-up.

It's my own fault too.

I currently work at a local grocery store here in Fort Wayne Indiana. It's almost as bad as a Wal-Mart. I got a uniform (which is a wonderful shade of shit-brown that you'd expect out of a UPS man) , a name tag (which some clever jackass, wanting to be funny, had made out to read "Jack-O-Tom") and more lovely such shit. But it provides two things I want:

Money to pay the bills.

And it's in a place where nobody know who I am.

That second one matters the most to me.

It's the slow hour right now. I'm 6'3, 180lbs, brown hair, brown eyes, slender build. I'm thirty-eight years old but most people who see my face think I'm older. It's not premature greying hair or lines. Those are about normal for someone in their late 30s. No, it's my facial expression that tends to make people think I'm older than I actually am. It's that kind of long, weary looking face that tells of vast experience, most of it bad. And that face is dead-on too.

My bag guy, Tito, yawns. Tito is about 5 foot nothing, 100lbs maybe, looks like a good gust of wind could blow him off his feet. But the little bastard bags faster than anyone else in the store. He's not Hispanic either, which shocked me when I first heard his name. He's white as a sheet, with muddy colored hair. He looks more like Irish or Scottish 'Mc' Something than a Tito. Is that racist to think? Probably. It's currently after lunch. The morning rush is over, the after school rush hasn't begun so there's nothing to really do. 'Cept wait.

Why do people think my face betrays hardships? Because I've endured hardships. All of them self inflicted.

Okay, time for a rewind. Eighteen years ago, I was out on my own, enduring the same struggle that all young people endure. I never had the grades or the desire for college, much to my parents chagrin. So out into the big world I went. The big world was a rat infested dump in Manhattan's Lower East Side. With about three other guys who were all in the same boat as me. I was working a dead-end job as a delivery man for one of the God-knows how many pizza places in NYC. You remember the Spider-Man 2 movie, when Peter Parker is riding that stupid scooter working as a pizza guy? That was me, only without secretly being Spider-Man. If only that were possible. Anyway while working that dead-end job, I delivered a pizza to some fancy high-rise in the Upper West Side. I went to that door hoping to get a good tip for once! What I got was better than any money ever could be.

Answering the door the was some willowy, redheaded goddess, about my age. Average height, the kind of red hair that Scarlett Jo has to use dye for in the Avengers movies, with the pale body and green eyes to match. I stuttered out the total for the pizza. She gave it to me with a decent tip and closed the door. Seeing that hottie was worth the entire day to me. Only it wasn't the last time I saw her. Two days later I delivered a pizza to the same address. This time I managed to give the hot redhead a smile. Didn't improve my tip but it was worth it to see her again. I delivered three more pizzas to her in that two week period. How she ate so much pizza and never seemed to gain an ounce of weight, I'll never know. Maybe she went to a gym. I got her name the third time I was there. Vanessa Robinson. Ooh I was in love. Or lust with her hot body. Probably both.

One night I was out drinking with the rest of the struggling young losers and she walked into the bar. (The bar, by the way, had a terrible reputation of not checking ID's which is why we were there) Now a girl with money to live in a high rise in the Upper West Side out in some shitty bar on the Lower East Side was about the last thing I expected. I pointed her out to my friends. They were shocked to see I wasn't making anything up about her looks. We all wondered why she was there. Maybe she wanted to drink and knew the place didn't card people? Anyway, they dared me to go try and pick her up. I refused. She was out of my league, I knew it from the first delivery. So I dared them to. If she shot each one of them down, I'd finally do it.

So one by one, my friends and room mates went up to this hot girl, and one by one she shot them down like an anti-aircraft gunner. I managed to get a few more drinks into before it was my turn (this was intentional) and then after the last of them went down in flames, I stood up. Those assholes started humming "Shot Down In Flames" by AC/DC just to piss me off but the booze helped me ignore the jitters.

And to my complete shock, she responded well once she recognized me. We talked. And talked. At one point she had to take a call and while she wasn't looking I promptly flipped off all my loser friends, who were clearly pissed that she was talking to me. I got to walk her to her taxi. Got her number. And the rest is history.

At least, that's the good part of it all.

Well there's more good first. We started dated. Oh my God, she was the best sex I'd ever had. Best body I'd ever banged. We dated for a year, then one night after way too many drinks, we fucked without protection. I'm sure you can guess the rest. Fast forward nine months, we were two twenty-somethings with a baby. So what did we do next? We got married.

I wanted to support my child. That's more than some. And I never saw Vanessa as a meal ticket, a sugar mommy. Turns out her parents were rich. And they loathed me at first sight. I understand why, they probably thought I knocked her up on purpose to get hitched to her and then get access to all her money. She was studying to be a real estate bigwig. We moved to a nice house in Queens. And everything was going to be great!



Now fast forward three years. Our baby girl, now a toddler three years old named Jessica Robinson (I'd not argued when Vanessa didn't want to take my name nor when she wanted our girl to have her's) was an absolute joy. But everything else was shit. I was the stay-at-home dad while she worked. Now I had no problem with that except when she got after me for shit. Vanessa reasoned that if she worked and made the money, I should be the one who keeps up the house, does the dishes, walks the dog, takes out the trash. Now again, none of that bugs me. It's the bitchy way she assumed it was automatically my job. By the end, she would get mad at me for the slightest things that weren't done. A sock left in the dryer. Forgetting to pick up after the dog in the backyard. Not getting Jessica to day care on time (that last one really got to me, I was home all day why did we need day-care?) and so on. I started drinking a lot to deal with it. Here comes the real bad parts.

She stared getting after me for drinking because Jessica was beginning to notice it. The more I drank, well, you can guess the results. We, meaning me and Vanessa, fought a lot especially that last year. One night she came home after failing to sell some multi-million dollar estate outside the city and I'd started drinking at 3PM and subsequently forgotten to mow the lawn. And for whatever reason, she lost it. Screaming. Swearing. Comments like "why did I marry you?" you know, all that shit. I drunkenly fought back, calling her a stuck-up bitch (which she kinda was) and a rotten mother than worked all the time and didn't care about our girl (which was completely untrue, Vanessa used to agonize over leaving Jessica to go sell homes when all Jess wanted to do was play dolls with mommy in her home) and it just got worse and worse. Until she decided to kick me out. I wouldn't leave. My name was on the house so she legally couldn't kick me out. But she was going to call the cops anyway, saying they would get rid of her useless, dead-beat dad husband.

That made me snap. I'm a lot of things and I own up to them all, but a dead-beat dad I am not. I hit her. Several times. It was textbook, domestic violence 101. The cops came and arrested me. I was charged with assault and battery, domestic violence, terrorizing (which was bullshit I never terrorized anyone) and spousal abuse. I was served with divorce papers the second I was let out of lockup. She burned everything that was mine, and told me to never come near her or her daughter again. I went to court. Pleaded guilty before her family's very expensive lawyer could ruin me in front of a jury. Got eight years in prison but only served three years due to good behavior. Then five more years probation after that.

When I got out and got settled, I filed for custody. Again, I was many things but I'd never not be Jess's father. And I was blocked. Vanessa had married again, this time to a lawyer, a federal prosecutor who would later become a judge. And he very clearly informed me he'd make sure I went back in the slammer if I didn't back off. Real crooked cop stuff you know? I thought about saying something but who the fuck would've believed me? I'm an ex-con with a domestic abuse record and she's a rich real estate agent with a federal prosecutor husband. I would lose. And did. Every time.

I lost custody, I lost visitation rights, hell they made it so I couldn't even talk to Jessica. And that was it for me. I packed up and left. Came out to Fort Wayne, a place nobody would think to look for me, and just kept my head down. My probation wouldn't allow me to drink and when it ended, I found myself not wanting to pick up the bottle again. I became clean in Fort Wayne. Then I tried to get a job.

Getting a job as an ex-con is no easy thing. Especially with domestic violence on your record. I bounced around jobs right up to this one. I am ashamed of myself that I didn't fight harder to see my daughter. But in all honesty, Jessica had been through enough because of me and her mother. I didn't want to drag her into the courtroom for endless custody battles. Her childhood had taken enough hits. So I bowed out and faded out of her life. I've learned to live with it.

Jessica will be eighteen this year. Wow, where the fuck does time go? I try not to think about all that shit. I put it all behind me. I'm clean, making ends meat, and not standing out from the crowd. Which, when you're an ex-con is all you want out of life. I haven't had many relationships since I got out here either. A domestic violence record tends to keep women from being interested in you.

So here I am.

Tito makes a sign at me that draws me out of my memories and I start taking care of some old biddy's groceries. I say all the usual friendly grocery store cashier cliches. Then she goes on her way, and I cash out two more people. I'm here all night sadly, my boss called me and asked me to do a double shift because someone else called out. I need the money so I said yes.

The day is still slow, and I get lost in thought once I'm not ringing shit up. Then, out of the corner of my eye, a redheaded woman with a cart full of groceries stops just outside my checkout, doing to final check to make sure she has everything.

Then I recognize it's Vanessa.

She's in her late thirties now, like me, but she is still the hottest thing I've ever seen. Body is a little thicker, her hair is shorter, and her breasts are larger than I remember. But otherwise she's the same.

God Almighty, do not let her recognize me.

She wouldn't, would she? It's been more than a decade since she last saw me in person. I ripped off my name tag. Tito looked at me in confusion but I ignored him. Keeping my head down as she approached I said, "find everything you need ma'am?" I made my voice deeper on purpose.

"Oh yes, thank you," she said in return. No recognition. Good. Now just ring her through. She didn't have much, some butter, some shredded cheese, some salsa. It looked like it was taco night for her. I rang her things through in silence.

I was almost done when Tito spoke. He has a nails-on-chalkboard kind of voice so when he speaks, it grinds on your nerves. "You doing a double Jack?" he asked.

"Sadly yes," I replied. Jack was one of the most common names in the world, hopefully she wouldn't react to it.

No such luck. In the act of pulling out her wallet, she was now looking at me, head cocked to one side. Not meeting her gaze I said in my false deep voice, "Total comes to 17.42 ma'am."

"Jack?" she asked me in a tone of wonder.

Fucking fucking fuck! God damn you Tito, you little Mexican named Irish midget! "I'm sorry?" I asked playing dumb. But I had to look her eye-to-eye to answer and then I saw the light of recognition I'd been dreading.

"It IS you!" she cried.

"Is there a problem?" I asked, still playing dumb.

"Why are you acting like you don't know me?" she asked.

"You know him?" Tito asks.

Tito, I'm going to run you over during my break! I promised myself mentally.

"Jack I know it's you, don't act like you don't know me," said Vanessa. She still had that bossy tone of voice.

"Ma'am," I dropped the deep voice but still didn't acknowledge her. "You're holding up the line." Indeed she was, there were two others with full carts waiting.

Her beautiful green eyes glared daggers at me but she paid and left without another word.

"You know her?" Tito asked.

"Shut the fuck up," I snarled at Tito.

"Hey, don't swear in front of the customers!" He protested as my next customer was unloading her cart.

I passed the rest of my double shift in huffy silence, ignoring Tito every time he asked me about the redhead. Fortunately he was not working a double and left before 5PM so I was able to spend the second half of my shift in relative peace.

Why in creation was Vanessa in Fort Wayne? Her reaction to me clearly showed she hadn't know I was here. So why? Vacation? That couldn't be it, she had the money to vacation anywhere in the world! Ugh, this was going to torment me all night, I could already tell.

I finished my shift at 930PM. I was not staying on for overnight stocking, thank fuck. My boss had promised me tomorrow off too, so I wouldn't have to deal with Tito or anyone else's annoying questions for a while at least.

I felt the familiar urge to go get a bottle of Jack or Captain Morgan but I sternly ignored it. My unwelcome encounter with Vanessa was not going to be the reason I fell off the wagon!

But the demon alcohol, as Ozzy Osbourne's song once called it, wouldn't go away. And it got louder when I heard a voice calling my name.

A female voice.

I looked up from my car and there she was. Vanessa.

This time there was no playing dumb. I heaved a weary sigh and look at her. As beautiful as ever. "Seriously?" I asked her. "How long have you been waiting here?" It was almost 10PM for fuck's sake! Had she waited for me to leave all day?

"You didn't give me choice after pretending not to know me in there this afternoon," she said.

I groaned loud. "Excuse me if my ex-wife suddenly turns up in my place of work after God knows how many years and I didn't wanna be recognized." I said.

"I suppose that's fair," said Vanessa appraising me.

"What do you want Vanessa? Why are you here?"

"I live in Fort Wayne now."

Oh this could not be happening! "Since when?"

"Since I got divorced from Richard and moved here two months ago."

"You divorced Judge Dick?" I asked using the typical nickname for the Richard name.

She actually laughed. "Yes I did. He...oh hell why does it matter? I'm not here for me. I'm here for you."

"For what? What did I do wrong now?"

"Nothing you jerk! I, I don't know why I waited!"

"So you live here now, joy to the world. Well Fort Wayne may not be as big as the Big Apple, but it's big enough that we hopefully won't see each other much. Goodnight," I made for my car door.

"It's about Jessica!" she cried.

"What about her?" I kept my voice empty of any emotion.

"She's eighteen now-"

"I'm aware, I know how many years it's been since I last saw her. Judge Dick as very clear on that matter."

"Judge Dick is not part of my life anymore other than him being the father of my sons."

"Oh he got to stay in your life because of his kids? Must be nice when you're actually given that courtesy, you know, to be in the life of your child."

That struck a nerve with her. I could see it on her face from my driver side door mirror. "Jack, please, let's not be waspish," she pleaded.

I had more than enough reason to be so waspish she would have felt like she was stuck in a hornet's nest! But all I wanted to do was get away from her at this point. "Go home Vanessa. I don't want to talk to you." And ignoring her protests I got in my car and drove home.

Home was a small apartment in downtown Fort Wayne. Not much bigger than the dump back in the Lower East Side really, but at least I had the place to myself. I locked my door, bolted it, then bolted the top and bottom corners off the door too. Years of living in New York City made me security conscious in a way that never wore off. I didn't even turn on the light, I just went to my bedroom and fell face down. I was asleep in moments.

My alarm went off the next morning. I stopped it and stood up. 10AM. I'd slept like a stone. In my shit brown uniform too. Lovely. I stripped off the uniform and tossed it into the dirty laundry, threw on shorts and a T-shirt, then planted my ass in my favorite chair with some Pop-Tarts and flipped on the TV.

As I watched the end of some stupid morning talk show, I couldn't help but wonder about Vanessa. Now living here? With my daughter whom I hadn't seen since she was a first grader? Vanessa had had two more kids and divorced Judge Dick? What was going on and why the fuck did she have to happen upon me?

There was a knocking my door. I growled. My neighbor below was a retired old bitch named Molly Henderson, who's soul mission in her retirement was to complain about her neighbors both above and below. She filed two complaints in my first month here just because I watched TV past 11PM. I was in no mood for the old cunt today and if she had decided to haul her ass up here, she was going to get thrown down the stairs. Or out the window.

I got up, walked to the door, filled my lungs with air so I could yell at Molly, and wrenched the door open.

Vanessa. Again.

I stared dumbly at her, then managed to recover. "You're approaching stalker like behavior now," I growled.

She only smiled. Today she was wearing tan colored pants and a red blouse, both of which emphasized her lovely body. "I called your work. Told them I was the mother of your daughter. Your boss gave me your address without much effort after that."

Great! So now tomorrow when I went to work, they'd all be asking me about her! Exactly what I wanted to avoid! I slammed the door in her smiling face.

"Jack come on!" she protested knocking loudly.

"Go away or I'll call the cops."

"Jack we both know that's bullshit, you wouldn't call a cop if you were at gunpoint!"

That was true. No ex-con would willingly call the cops. I was no exception. I sighed and opened the door. "I knew you enough to know when you won't let something go," I said to her. "So you can come in. Only on the condition that whatever reason you're here, we work it out."

She came in without a word and then turned to face me as she stood smack dab in the living room. I walked back to my chair and sat in it. "Go on Vanessa. You have to lead."

"Jessica started asking about you several years ago," she said. "She wanted to reach out but Richard wouldn't allow it. Judge Dick was her father, as far as he was concerned. And there was no room for you."

"He said as much to me the day he promised to bury me if I didn't go away."

"I'm sorry," she looked like she truly meant it.

"Why'd you divorce him?"

"He cheated on me. With a teenage girl. Barely legal."

I had a hard time believe anyone could cheat on Vanessa with her body and skills in the bedroom. But it took all types. And Judge Dick was an egotistical piece of shit anyway so I nodded. "I left him a year ago. Took his sons. Won custody despite him being a judge. He has visitation but that's all."

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