tagNovels and NovellasGame of Life Ch. 03-04

Game of Life Ch. 03-04


Copyright© 2008 by Denham Forrest, The Wanderer

Chapter 3: Complications of Life as a Divorced Man

Things didn't go as easily as all that, though. Vivian and I did have to see some arbitration or counsellor guy, not that it was much more than a waste of time. There were some uncomfortable confrontations between us, but not in front of the children.

The divorce took six months to go through and all that time the children were trying to talk me into going back home again. The poor little sods had no idea why their parents had broken up and weren't to know for several years. I believe both Vivian and I, told them that we'd just drifted apart, not that the children bought that story for a minute. Kids aren't daft nowadays and Katie - at least - put two and two together successfully within the year; or so she was to tell me later.

I stayed sharing Grace's flat for over a year, actually until she found a fella who asked her to marry him. He had plenty of cash and she promptly moved in with him, which allowed me to take over the lease of the three bedroomed flat from her. It was plenty big enough for the children to stay over with me when they wanted. As a matter of fact, they had stayed over even whilst Grace was living there, with James bedding down on the sofa in the lounge.

I liked the guy that Grace married. He was a big shot at one of my company's clients and to be honest he suited Grace down to the ground. I got the feeling that Grace had known him much longer than she ever let on to me; it could be that he might have visited my office many years previous, before I worked there and whilst he was lower in the pecking order at his own company. My suspicion always has been that he must have run into Grace back then, but they both would have been married at the time.

Whether she actually loved him — or he loved her - is another matter, but they had something special going between them. They were two fifty five year olds who had little to worry about but growing old together. Which they did rather extravagantly; you say it, they did it. World cruises, a holiday home in Florida and all that kind of thing.

Grace of course retired when she married her new man, and Dizzy Lizzie replaced her as my secretary come PA. That's slightly unfair way to refer to her because although Liz (actually Elizabeth) had the air of chaos about her and everyone seemed to be under the impression that she was a dizzy blond. I believe most of it — if not all - was an act. She has always been extremely intelligent, and she surprised me with her efficiency the first week she stepped into the breach.

I should have known that Gracie would never have dropped me in the apple-cart; Grace hired Liz whilst I was away visiting our French operation for a month. Being single again, had the drawback of making me the first guy on the list to be sent — or rather asked to go - all over the place at the drop of a hat. Grace must have decided that I needed someone who could inject a little fun into life in the office when I was there, and Liz was fun to have around the office and really played the dizzy character to the hilt.

The nearest parallel that I can draw, is to the kind of thick dizzy blond character Marilyn Monroe used to play in some of her films; there was a remarkable resemblance between them, even down to that voice. She looked sexy, she dressed sexily and nearly every other guy in the office envied me my secretary. Quite a few guys in the office asked Liz out on dates, I do believe assuming that they were going to get lucky. But as it turned out, Liz wasn't that kind of girl. In fact we soon learnt that Liz packed one hell of a left hook, and more than one of my - would be Casanova - colleagues walked around the office sporting dark glasses for a week or two, after they had taken her out.

"Liz, you really must stop beating all the guys up. It really hurts their ego's and you could finish up giving them a complex." I jokingly said to her one morning. After yet another Casanova entered the office wearing a large pair of sunglasses.

"Bugger Jim, what do they expect? Just because I enjoy the messing about and flirting, that doesn't mean to say that I'm easy. They want a laugh and a joke, I don't mind. But if they think that a meal and couple of drinks will get them into my knickers; then they've got another think coming. I'm very choosy about who I go to bed with."

No, I didn't ask! I needed a reliable PA behind me and I had no intention of letting my life around the office get any more complicated than it already was. It was complicated enough outside the office, as it was anyway.

When I was in the country, Katie and James would spend most weekends with me. Although I would have been happy to pick them up from Vivian's house; generally I found them waiting in reception at the office when I left work on Friday evenings - or even coming up to my office to find me if I was running late.

One thing that I thought was funny was that after Grace had left and Liz came on the scene, James took to arriving very early on Fridays and sitting in Liz's office with her until I was ready to leave. That was providing that he didn't have Frankie in tow, because I'm pretty sure she'd had chewed his balls off (hypothetically); tease that she was, Liz had the poor little bugger's tongue hanging out most of the time.

And yeah well, Liz would play dizzy Lizzie and wind the little bugger up just as much as she wound every other male of the species up, except me. As I've said, Liz had a great sense of humour and was also a great tease; but we had a good working relationship, she never, ever, teased me. Well except maybe for one or two times, and the truth be known I didn't know it was really Elizabeth anyway. I'll explain all that later.

Anyway, for a long time, I totally misunderstood what the children turning up at my place of work on Fridays, instead of waiting at home for me to collect them, was all about. I assumed that it had something to do with their mother having another boyfriend around and either the children not liking him, being embarrassed to see her with him, or Vivian not wanting me to spot him. But I was completely on the wrong track.

It took a very long time for the information to get back to me that Katie had sussed just about everything out. Because I'd blanked both the children on their requests to bury the hatchet and get back with their mother, they'd eventually dropped Vivian as a regular subject of conversation. I have no idea why I got the idea that Vivian was dating other guys into my head, but I had assumed that was the reason the children stopped bugging me about getting back with her.

But then one day Katie mentioned something about memory cards and recovered files — I can't remember exactly how she phrased it now, because I wasn't paying close attention to what she was saying — but when I reflected on what she'd said later, I realised that Katie knew almost all there was to know about her mothers indiscretions, the who, and the when; even if she didn't know the why.

Exactly how Katie had worked out how I had found out what had been going on between Vivian and William Banks - which by the way, I believe is something that her mother has never discovered, to this day — I didn't know. I had told no one about that memory card and what was on the file I recovered from it, except Grace and my solicitor, neither of whom would have told Katie. The who, and the when, I believe she worked out from snippets of overheard telephone conversations of Vivian's.

I had never questioned Katie on what she did or didn't know, because that would open the way for Kate to demand that I was completely open with her, I'd vowed to myself that I would never bring the children into the fight.

Anyway, that day, I also discovered the reason they were spending every minute they could at my place was to punish their mother for breaking up their once happy(?) home. I learnt that both my children spent nearly every evening out with either friends or at Frankie's parents house just a couple of doors down the road to their home. For Katie to spend evenings with her brother and his girlfriend by choice, says a lot more to me, than it does to most folks. They were never that close, were forever trying to score points against each other at home and fought like cat and dog before the break up.

It all came to a head when I was having one of my regular medicals with the company doctor, who just by chance was also our family NHS physician. After he'd finished my medical and told me that I would safely live until next year's check-up — and the exorbitant payment he'd get for doing it - he asked me if I would mind having a little chat about the family's health. I thought he meant the children, so I said of course I wouldn't mind; but it soon became apparent that he wanted to talk about Vivian.

I had little or no interest in Vivian or her health by then, - except for the fact that the children lived with her and I was about to tell him so - but before I could stop him, he'd informed me that he was worried that Vivian might be heading for a serious mental breakdown. Once he'd told me that, I had to let him carry on.

The Doc informed me that, in essence the children and almost all of Vivian's family were treating her as a pariah, and it was placing her mind under more pressure than the doc thought it could take. He beseeched me to investigate, and intervene if I possibly could.

"Look, Jim, I don't know what happened to break up your marriage to Vivian. But the way you, your children and even her family are treating her, she's going to have a nervous breakdown before very much longer. I'm worried about her, Jim; can't you cut her some slack, or at least get the kids to lighten up on her a little."

I told him that I hadn't actually clapped eyes on Vivian since our divorce. I had no idea that her family or the children were giving her any grief, and that I would investigate what was going on.

My investigations started the following Friday evening when I tackled Katie. James had gone off with Frankie somewhere.

"What's this I hear about you giving your mother grief?" I asked her at an opportune moment, during the TV adds.

"Don't know what you mean, dad."

"Katie, I was at the surgery this week for my annual check-up and Doctor Bridger told me that you mother is not well, she could be heading for a nervous breakdown! And that the way you and James are behaving at home could partially be the cause of it. So what have you two been getting up to?"

For a few moments I saw a look of embarrassment on Katie's face, then she looked me right in the eyes and said.

"What does she expect? She cheated on you with Uncle Bill and drove you away! She destroyed our family. James and I don't want to live there with the slut any more, we want to come and live here with you."

"Jesus, who in the world told you and James about your mother and Bill Banks?"

"No one, it wasn't hard to work it out dad. First you suddenly leave home; there were no rows or arguments or anything at home, you were just gone one day. Then a few months later and somewhat strangely I thought at first, Gran and Granddad Keats aren't talking to Mum any more when they call, they only ever want to talk to James and me. James and I soon realised that it was something mother had done that had caused you to leave home, but it must have been something bad that would make them be nasty to mother; after all she is their daughter.

The next thing we discover is that Aunty Stacie and Uncle Bill are getting a divorce, and then when I was on the telephone to Gran one day, I heard Aunty Stacie talking to granddad in the background; she was very angry with mother about something, but Gran wouldn't tell me what.

"So I put it all together, Mum had been making all those trips to Aunt Stacie's house when she was pregnant. Although where she found the time or opportunity while she was there I have no idea. But I figure that something had to have gone on between Uncle Bill and mother and you eventually found out about it. Oh yeah, I'm pretty sure now, that you finding out had something to do with the missing memory card turning up again; it was less than a week after it did, that you left home. What did she do, leave pictures of her and Uncle Bill together on it?"

"Katie, whatever your mother did, is strictly between her and me. You and James are being very silly, by taking sides."

"But she destroyed our happy home dad."

"Technically I suppose you could say that she did, but it was me who walked out. So as far as you children are concerned, you should blame both your mother and me equally."

"Don't be silly, dad, you didn't cheat on mummy!"

"How do you know what I did, can you ever be sure that I haven't had a girlfriend tucked away somewhere for years."

"No dad, you wouldn't do that, why are you even suggesting that you might have."

"Because I could have had one for all you know. I haven't asked you to get involved in my argument with your mother. Maybe I haven't told you about the whys and wherefores of your mother and my divorce, because I'm as guilty as she is."

"Why are you saying that?"

"Look Katie, whatever your mother or I, did, or didn't do, you only have one of each of us. One mother and one father, and we both love you and James equally. If you don't return that love now, then before you know it, it could be too late. Accidents happen you know; what are you going to tell your own children when they ask you about their grandmother. That you ignored her until the day you had to stand at her graveside?"

"But mother's not going to die."

"Of course she is, Kate, the same as I will one day. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but one day your mother won't be there any more; the same as one day I won't be here any more either. We all have to go at sometime Kate ... and accidents happen all the time. Life is far too short to hold grudges, especially when they have nothing to do with you."

I didn't want to tell her that a friend of mine had had a nervous breakdown some years before. He never recovered fully and had become what was known at the time as a manic-depressive; eventually he'd driven his car into a tree and killed himself.

"But you hold a grudge against mother."

"That's a little different Katie and you know it. Your mother made a sacred oath to me and she broke it. Anyway ... I don't really hold a grudge against her; I just couldn't remain married to her. If I met her in the street tomorrow, I would be completely civil to her."

"Dad, are you telling me that if we didn't come to the office on Fridays. You'd talk to mother without arguing when you picked James and me up from the house."

"Of course I wouldn't argue with you mother, there's nothing left for us to argue about."

"We ... James and me, we thought that you and mother would argue if you came to the house and that would put you into a bad mood for the weekend."

"Well I can assure you that would not happen, Katie. Now will you please tell me what kind of a social life does your mother have?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, does she go out in the evenings with friends."

"No, mother never goes out ... unless it's to work or shopping. Oh, I see where you are going, mother's life must be pretty empty. She doesn't go out in the evenings now that you're not there to take her, and I'm not even there for her to take shopping on the weekends most of the time. When you're away she used to ask me if I wanted to go shopping, she's stopped now because I always told her I was meeting my friends from school."

"Well that's all got to change, Kate. I'll talk to your brother when he and Frankie get back, Frankie had got into the habit of sharing Katie's room on Friday and Saturday nights. Your mother needs you two and you might find that you need her in the future as well. I'm not immortal, who knows what could happen to me in the future."

When James and Frankie came home later that evening, I discovered that I had an unexpected ally in Frances. I know that the girl played one of her parents — and their new spouses - off against the other, but she appeared adamant that Katie and James had been behaving appallingly towards their mother. I got the feeling that James and her had had words on the subject before.

Saturday morning saw all three children and myself stopping at the florist, so James and Katie could buy flowers for their mother, which I paid for. Surprisingly Frankie bought a bunch of flowers for Vivian as well.

"I feel rotten because I knew what they were doing was wrong and I should have done something about it." She told me, when I caught her eye as she ordered the flowers.

"You spoke to James, what more could you have done Frankie?"

"Spoken to Mrs Sanders more, or even come to you about how things were going. My dad almost had a breakdown after mum walked out the first time, I should have seen what effect all this was having on Mrs Sanders."

That was an interesting thing for Frankie to say, because I didn't think that I'd actually mentioned that the Doc thought Vivian was heading for a nervous breakdown to the children. That had been my reserve ammunition.

Another stop - at a cash machine - and I handed James fifty quid as I got back into the car.

"What's this for dad."

"Tonight you and Katie ... and Frances if she wants to go, are taking your mother out to dinner at Bailey's; your mother likes it there. I'll ring them, book a table and organise for the evening to be charged to me. Don't forget that your mother likes to dance either. That money's for the taxis; I don't want your mother drinking and driving, you hear me!"

"You're the boss dad."

"Why don't you come along as well, dad?" Katie asked.

"Regretfully that ain't going to happen, Kate."

"But you still love mum, don't you?"

"Of course I do, Kate. We were together for a long time. But that doesn't mean that I can live with her if that's what you are thinking. Your mother and I will never get back together believe me. And anyway, today is about you and James repairing your relationship with her. If I was there it ... Look, you just convince your mother that you still love her, that's all I ask. Besides I've got somewhere else to go later today and I won't be back until tomorrow."

After calling Baileys and arranging everything I dropped the three youngsters off at Vivian's house, then headed north towards my ex-in-laws house, up in Lincolnshire. It was late afternoon when I arrived and found Vivian's father working in his front garden. He looked pretty shocked to see me there.

"Hello Jim, what brings you to this neck of the woods?" He asked with an embarrassed look on his face. I hadn't seen or spoken to the man since before the divorce so I could understand his surprise at seeing me.

"Hi, Dad, I need to have a word with you and Mum." Although not my favourite people, I had always called Vivian's parents Mum and Dad since before we had got married.

The old codger led me inside the house and for the next two hours we had a real old ding-dong of an argument. By the time I left - on reasonably amicable terms - I think I'd successfully drummed it into their heads that all three of their daughters needed them.

So what if Stacie had a justifiable beef with Vivian and Janice. I figured I'd convinced them, that as parents, it was their duty to a least try to stay neutral and treat all three daughters the same. They could be annoyed about what the girls had done, but I thought it was a big mistake to cut Vivian and Janice out of their lives. I gave them the same warning that I had given the kids; if anything happened to Vivian — or Janice come to that — then it would be too late to put things right.

I'd also added into the mix that they were unlikely to see much of Jamie and Katie in the future as well, and that punishing the children for the sins of their mother was not very Christian of them. I felt reasonably confident that they'd change their attitude towards Vivian when I left and pretty pleased with myself, as I drove to the hotel I'd booked into later that night.

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