tagNovels and NovellasSouthbound Ch. 13-14

Southbound Ch. 13-14

bycoaster2©

Originally edited by ErikThread and DaveT with my thanks. I've subsequently made some modifications, so any errors are mine alone.

*****

Chapter 13 Meet the Family

We were seated three abreast on the Alaska Air flight to Vancouver. Tina was in the window seat while Fiona occupied the middle and I was on the aisle. Fiona was nervous and had been hanging onto my arm the whole flight.

"Are you uncomfortable flying?" I asked.

"No ... not at all. I'm worried about meeting your family. I wonder how they're going to feel about me replacing Carla and you marrying a foreigner."

"A foreigner!" I laughed. "They are going to love you, just as I do," I assured her. "They want us to be happy and I know that for a fact."

She nodded and forced a smile. "I guess it's just fear of the unknown."

Tina was missing a couple of days of school to make this trip, but she assured us that she was ahead in her studies and if her report cards were any indication, she didn't have a thing to worry about. She would fly back to California on her own, taking her mother's car home from the airport. I was taking a working break, if there is such a thing. I would be in meetings with Leo and Dave to discuss our progress to date and go over the financials.

One thing on my mind was when to order the second press. It would be the final big expenditure of our plan. I didn't think it would be this year. We had no trouble filling two shifts on the first press and when the pouch machine was installed we would take a big load off Langley, opening up additional capacity in both locations. The new coffee lidding business was separate and distinct, not taking up any of the existing Tracy manufacturing resources. We were even able to find a couple of experienced press operators for it.

But it was the bottom line that I wanted to talk to Leo and Dave about. Lucas was assuring me that we were in good shape and turning a nice profit already, notwithstanding our debt. You don't spend over eight million dollars of the boss's money and get away scot-free. I wanted Leo and Dave's opinion of where we were. I knew sales were ahead of plan and I knew we had been able to install the equipment on time and within budget, but what did it mean in the "big picture" to Flex-Tek.

It was a nice, clear, late-April day when our flight rounded out over Surrey and began the final descent into Vancouver International. Tina was glued to the window, trying to take it all in. I don't know what she was expecting, but this was her first time out of the United States and she was excited about it. My parents were going to take her sightseeing while Fiona and I did our thing. I was pretty sure my fiancée would find some time to join Tina and her soon-to-be in-laws for some sightseeing as well.

The reception committee was waiting for us as we exited the customs area. I saw my parents first, then Neal and Phil.

"Hi Mom," I said, hugging her.

My mother had tears of happiness in her eyes and, while speechless, gave me a warm kiss on the cheek.

"Good to see you, Dad. How are you?"

"I'm fine, son," he said as we shook hands. "It's good to see you too."

I then greeted Neal and Phil before addressing them all.

"I'd like to introduce you to Fiona Alexander, my fiancée, and her daughter, Christina."

"Tina," the young girl quickly corrected.

My mother hugged both women and welcomed them to Vancouver. My dad was a little more circumspect, giving Fiona a brief hug and Tina a handshake. When I looked at the boys, Neal was smiling at the scene while Phil was checking Tina out as inconspicuously as possible. He wasn't that good at inconspicuous. As I watched the scene of the "meet and greet," it looked like everyone was pleased to see us.

I took Fiona's hand and I could feel much of her previous tension had disappeared. I think my mother's welcome and perhaps the boys' as well had put her mind at rest.

Neal and Phil volunteered to take Tina while Fiona and I rode with my parents. I had given my RAV4 to Neal to replace his dilapidated Cavalier, and he was using it to transport Phil and Tina. She had happily agreed to ride with them. I knew that in a couple of months, I would have to deal with getting a car for Phil, assuming he was heading off to college in September. In any case, he would need a car and I could afford to buy him something sensible and reliable.

When we arrived at my parents' home, Tina, Neal and Phil were getting out of the Toyota, laughing and clearly having fun. That was good news to me and Fiona noticed and smiled as well.

"Since we're not actually brother and sister, Phil and I decided to get engaged," Tina taunted her mother.

"That was quick," Fiona said with a raised eyebrow as I stood there with my eyes bulging and mouth open.

"You're catching flies, Dad," Neal laughed.

They were having fun at my expense and I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. My father thought it was funny as hell and for one of the few times I could ever remember, produced a belly laugh. That wasn't at all common coming from him. My mother just threw up her hands in mock surrender. She was used to Phil's idea of humour. It was something he and Tina had in common. Those two could be trouble together.

The boys would be staying for dinner before heading back to my former home. My parents were modern people and had no concerns about Fiona and me sleeping together. Tina would have the third bedroom.

The "getting to know you" part of the evening went better than I could have hoped. Fiona and my parents got along very well indeed. Tina, entertained by both Phil and Neal, was relaxed as the trio traded stories about school and life in general. I found Phil alone in the kitchen after dinner and took the opportunity to talk to him.

"How's your mother?"

"She's okay, Dad. She's had a couple of dates in the last month, but nothing that looks like it might be serious. I think her job keeps her mind off what happened between you two."

"Any feedback from her about my marriage?"

"No ... I mean ... she was a bit surprised that it was happening so soon, but she told me she hoped you would be happy now."

"And how are you doing, Phil?"

"Marking time, Dad. When I thought about choosing a school for next year, I wondered what would happen to Mom if it was out of town or I lived on campus. I know my being at the house seems to be important to her."

"Would you like to come south with us?" I asked, wondering if that was on his mind.

"I've thought about it. I'm almost afraid of how Mom would react."

"Why don't you talk to her about it? Sooner or later, it's going to happen."

"I know. I just don't want to hurt her. She's putting on a brave face, but I'm not so sure she's feeling very good about what happened."

"What does Neal think?" I asked.

"He's a bit less worried than me, but he doesn't see her every day. Hell, he sees her about once a month. He'll be working up north this summer, so he won't be around at all."

"Have you thought about where you want to go to school?"

"Yeah ... I'm thinking Douglas College. They have a campus nearby and I could commute and live at the house. I think that's what Mom is hoping for."

"And after two years at Douglas?"

"BCIT."

"You still interested in computers?"

"Yeah. Douglas has some courses that get me ready for the heavy stuff at BCIT."

"Make a decision that's best for you, Phil. Do what you think will help you the most. Don't worry about anything else. Your mother and I will support you, no matter what you decide."

"Thanks, Dad. I think I'll be happier up here. I've got my friends and I know what to expect at school. Maybe when Mom gets her life together it'll be easier to make a change."

"Okay, whatever you think best," I said, clapping him on the shoulder.

"Dad ... Mom asked me to ask you if you and she could have a talk."

"Okay," I paused. "Do you want me to call her?"

"Yeah ... please."

I wondered if Carla needed some financial assistance. She had been very generous with the divorce settlement considering what the courts or an aggressive lawyer might have extracted.

"I'll call her tonight," I promised.

I moved to our bedroom and used my cell phone.

"Hi, Carla, it's Andy. Phil said you wanted me to call you."

"Oh, thanks for calling, Andy ... and congratulations on your wedding. I hope you'll be very happy."

"Thank you, Carla. I'm sure Fiona and I will be. Would you like to get together to talk or is the phone good enough?"

"No ... I wonder ... could you come over here some evening. I didn't want to do this over the phone."

"Uhhm ... sure. Let me check as see what's been planned and I'll let you know when I can make it."

"Thank you, Andy. I'll look forward to seeing you."

After I hung up I was left no wiser than before I called her. It didn't sound threatening, so I assumed it wouldn't be a confrontational meeting. I would let Fiona know what I planned before confirming the meeting with my ex-wife.

Naturally, Fiona was curious. "What do you think she wants?"

"I don't know. Maybe she needs more money ... or some other kind of help. She didn't say."

"When are you going?"

"I think sooner is better than later. I'll go over there tomorrow evening. I don't expect to be too long. Is that okay with you?"

"Yes, of course," Fiona said unhesitatingly.

I called Carla and set the meeting for eight o'clock the next evening.

"Come in," Carla smiled vaguely as she opened the door.

I sat in my usual place on the sofa.

"Can I get you something? I think Neal has some beer in the downstairs fridge."

"No ... I'm fine thanks. What would you like to talk about," I asked, getting straight to the purpose of the meeting.

She looked somewhat uncertain and I waited until she had composed herself.

"I wanted to apologize in person, Andy. I know you were shocked when I announced I wanted a divorce. I know you weren't happy with our relationship and I also know you tried very hard to fix it. That's what the new house and the renovation idea was all about, wasn't it?"

"Yes. I was hoping it was just a phase you were going through and maybe a change in scenery might bring you out of it."

She was shaking her head. "I had already made up my mind some months earlier. It was just a matter of gaining the courage to tell you. I think if you're honest with yourself, you knew we weren't a good match ... at least ... not in the past few years. Our interests were so different and as the boys grew more independent, we had less and less to hold us together."

"How long had you felt this way?" I asked.

"Two or three years. As you became more important in your business life, I became less important. I wasn't needed for emotional support the way I once was."

"That's not true," I said emphatically.

"You may not think so, but it was true. You became much more confident and dedicated to Flex-Tek. Most of our social life revolved around the people you knew there or who were associated with your business. How many friends did we have outside of them?"

That stopped me cold. When I thought about it, she was right. Most of our social events did revolve around Flex-Tek. I hadn't really thought about it until she mentioned it.

"You're right," I admitted, shaking my head. "Those were the people we knew. I don't think it ever even dawned on me."

"Don't feel too guilty, Andy. I could have done or said something that might have altered it. I just went along with it because a lot of the people we were with were nice people. It wasn't hard to spend time with them. There wasn't anyone that we wanted to avoid."

"I'm sorry, Carla. I wish you had said something sooner. Maybe we could have saved the marriage."

Again, she was shaking her head. "No ... I don't think so. Your interests were completely different than mine. I knew that right from the beginning, but I thought things would change over time. They did, but not for the better. We drifted further and further apart and hardly even noticed it. By the time I saw my fortieth birthday just around the corner, I knew I had to do something or I would go crazy."

"It was that bad?"

"In my head, yes. Anyway, I wanted to have you understand that I didn't mean to belittle you or hurt you when I asked for the divorce. I know I said some hurtful things and I wish I could take them back. You are a good man and you were a faithful and devoted husband and father. We were just a bad match, probably right from the beginning. The best thing we have from those years is our two sons. They are good young men because you and I put the effort into raising them in a loving environment. Of that we can both be proud."

I nodded. She was right once more. "I talked to Phil last night. I think he plans to stay here and go to Douglas College before switching to BCIT. When he graduates this spring, I'll help him get a car so he can commute. It will be good for you to have someone else in the house."

"Thank you, Andy. I really appreciate all you're doing for the boys. Giving Neal your car was very generous and very much appreciated. I know Phil will be delighted the day he quits borrowing my Corolla," she smiled.

"Are you all right for money, Carla?"

"Yes, this house is almost free and your support and my income are plenty for now. If Phil goes to Douglas, we have more than enough money in the education fund to support him."

"You won't hesitate to call me if money does become an issue, will you?"

"No ... and thank you again. I guess as divorces go, this one is one of the better ones. Now ... it's time for you to go back to your fiancée and tell her there isn't any problem," she smiled.

"How do you feel about me getting married so soon?" I asked, wondering if I really wanted to hear the answer.

"A bit surprised, but Phil has told me about her and it sounds like she's a perfect match for you. She's dedicated to your business, loves sports, is a good cook, and by the sound of it, made the move on you first. Does that sound about right?"

I nodded. "Exactly right. We are a good match. I think I've landed on my feet."

"Good, I'm glad and I'm happy for you," she said as we stood. "Please don't invite me to the wedding ... even as an afterthought. I don't think I could handle that yet."

I nodded agreement wordlessly.

She came to me and we embraced one more time as she kissed my cheek.

"How was it," Fiona asked as I sat in my parents' living room.

"Okay, but a bit sad. She wanted to apologize for how things ended. She felt she hadn't been honest with me about the state of our marriage. She acknowledged that I had tried several times to make things better, but she couldn't bring herself to tell me what she was really feeling. Basically, she said we had so little in common that we didn't even have friends outside of my business associates. She was right, too. I think we need to make sure that doesn't happen to us."

I watched my parents, listening intently to our conversation. When I thought about it, I realized they had several friends who had nothing to do with my father's business. There were neighbours and old friends from associations and clubs they had belonged to and friends they had met on vacation. It was a message I needed to hear. I would talk to Fiona about it later, but I wouldn't forget what I had learned tonight.

Chapter 14 The Shindig and Harassment

From the practical point of view, it made sense to have the wedding in Langley and luckily, everyone agreed. It meant only five of us travelling north, since Fiona's grandmother was too frail to make the trip. This was my bride's first wedding and her parents had waited patiently for this day. There would be no new children as I had undergone a vasectomy a few years earlier when Carla developed problems with birth control pills.

My parents and grandparents would all be present, not to mention my brother Jamie and his wife, Kate. Naturally, many of my business associates would be at the wedding and reception. I was surprised and delighted that Carla's sister Ruth accepted our invitation. I wanted to stay close to Ruth in order to know what was going on in Carla's life. You can't be with someone for almost twenty-five years and not have some feelings left, especially with the way she was handling our divorce. Ruth and Phil would be my conduit.

Fiona's father, Angus, would walk her down the aisle. She would be wearing a dress I had yet to see. Her mother, who could barely contain herself with happiness at her daughter's wedding, couldn't be counted on for much more than smiles and tears. I guess I could partly understand how she felt, but this was over the top. However, it wasn't a bad thing. I was accepted unequivocally by both parents and the feeling was mutual between my parents and Fiona.

Tina was enjoying the whole process, watching her mother dither about the big day. Manicures, hair appointments, final dress fittings, and other essentials were all part of the longer range plan for them both. Tina was the natural choice as bridesmaid and that made it easy to select Phil as best man. The two of them had been thick as thieves right from their meeting at the airport.

Neal wasn't put out by the choice. His latest girlfriend would be at the wedding and although he said very little about her, that led me to suspect she might be someone special. Neal was very selective in his dating habits and tended to be cautious with his choices.

Fiona was a bit nervous before Leo and Bernice's party, but the number of familiar faces and the welcome she received put her at ease quite quickly. I had taken a cab, sensing I might be tempted to have more than a couple of drinks. It was mid-spring and sunset would occur about 8:30, allowing the group to use the patio to lessen the crowd in the house. Luck was with us and it was a nice evening, allowing many of us chose to be outside.

"Your fiancée is quite a remarkable woman, Andy" Leo said, not for the first time.

"She is indeed. I feel very lucky. I have a new partner in my private life and a new partner in business. As you've already seen, she is very driven to succeed. My job will be to try and keep her satisfied ... and I do mean with the job," I chuckled.

"She must have been very frustrated at Statewide, being held back as she would have been."

"She doesn't talk about that at all, Leo. I think our giving the entire group a sense that tomorrow was going to be a lot better, and that they would have a business that was going to be around for a long time was a huge motivation for them.

"My biggest worry," I continued, "was that I would lose her to someone else. She's good and I'm sure word would have got out that she was available. Sometimes timing is everything. I think we arrived just at the right moment as far as Fiona goes."

"If we'd been any later, we probably wouldn't be having this party," my boss said solemnly. "That's a sobering thought."

"More so for me than you," I mused.

"Have you talked to Paul tonight?" he asked.

"No, not yet."

"He's got an idea for packaging the generic coffee cups. He wanted to talk it over with you."

"No problem. I can get him an audience at East Bay quite easily."

"Maybe you can let him know I talked to you and the two of you can get together before you head back south."

"Sure. I'll do that."

I looked around and saw Fiona surrounded by several women, including Bernice Cornell, Mike Knowlton's wife, Pam, and Dave Charles' wife Rhonda. She looked comfortable and was chatting amiably with the women, probably being quizzed about us. I found Dave and Ralph chatting with Mike, so I moved over that way.

"Shop talk at a party, you guys?" I chided.

"It's all we know," Dave shot back in typical form. He had a quick wit and used it often.

"I owe you thanks for that coffee lidding move," Mike said. "It'll add some decent volume to the territory."

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