It Just Happened Ch. 03byREGade©
Chapter 3: Calling it Quits
On Saturday Ed took me to see our parents' burial spot. It was as I had pictured, quiet and serene. That's when he broached the subject. "Want to work for me while you get your feet on the ground?"
I thanked him, but declined his offer. How could I live in the same house with them, watch them send each other eye-contact messages, listen to the pet names they used, sleep across the hall from their room, wonder if they were making love and worst of all, share the bathroom with her? Didn't he know I loathed them?
Ed tried again on Sunday. "Ben, I'm not asking you to make it a career, but you have more experience in the trade than the kids I have working for me." He made it sound more like a plea than an offer.
What was I going to do, lounge around the house while they went to work? "As long as you know it's only until something comes up."
"Did you hear that, Honey? Ben's going to work for me. It'll be like old times."
Jen smiled and reached for my hand. "Come to my office. We need to add you to the payroll," she said. Her hand felt the same as I remembered, small and soft. I tried to hide my sigh when she let go.
The guest room had been transformed into an office/workroom. On one side were the computer, printer and a file cabinet. On the other side were a drafting table, rolled up blueprints and more file cabinets.
"I only need your social security number. I remember everything else," Jen said as she booted the computer. "First, you'll need to sign an employment agreement. I'll print that out..." she stopped talking when she saw me looking at the space where the bed had been.
"That was a long time ago, Benny," she said, using the name she called me back when we were seniors in high school and came to this room for the first time, nervous as hell, wanting to take advantage of having the house to ourselves.
"Yes, it was," I agreed, noticing the printer running.
I read the employment agreement hurriedly, signed it, wrote down my social security number and backed toward the hallway, ready to leave the room. Jen looked up from the screen. Our eyes locked.
"'It just happened,' Benny. We're very happy together," she said, moving her eyes back to the computer screen.
"Yeah, I can see that," I said, practically leaping into the hallway and darting into my room, clutching my chest to try to stem the artesian pump within.
I was glad when Monday morning came. Ed introduced me to his crew, two graduates of the tech school, as Ben. They looked me over, saw that I was wearing jeans, one of Ed's work shirts and a pair of high-top work boots that he had insisted I purchase. It was a fall day but I wouldn't need a jacket, yet.
The job was re-roofing a large home. Ed got us started, removing the old shingles from one of the back sections of the roof, and then left to quote on another job he hoped to get.
The younger member of the crew, Josh was his name, appointed himself my supervisor, calling me the new guy. "New Guy, pick up those shingles around the dumpster. Ed's a neat freak."
I had seen him toss the removed shingles and knew he had intentionally missed the dumpster. I climbed down the ladder and followed his instructions, cleaning up around the dumpster.
"New Guy," Josh said, "Don't let your shingles hit the shrubbery. The owner won't like it if you damage his shrubs."
When Ed returned he could see that I was livid, but he just smiled. That made me remember how he was when we were kids, never interfering, letting me fight my own battles. "Work through it," he would say. This was my initiation back into the workman's fraternity. I tuned Josh out and concentrated on the job. It was Rob, the other member of the crew, who recognized that I knew what I was doing. Everything that I had learned while working summers for my father was coming back to me.
Jen and I gave each other a wide berth. Ed and I left the house early, before she got up and I stayed in my room as much as possible. I didn't trust myself to be near her. Did she harbor the same fears as me?
By the end of the second week my body was becoming accustomed to the hard work and the cold outside air agreed with me. I was feeling better than I had felt in years. We had completed another job and were packing up to leave when Jen dropped by.
"Mrs. Crumbly, do you know Ben?" Josh asked. He had dropped the 'New Guy' moniker.
"Yes, we're acquainted," she answered; glancing at me, realizing that Ed still hadn't told the guys that I was his brother. She had a camera and was snapping pictures of the house and the new windows we had just finished installing. "Huddle up, let me get a picture," she said and Ed, as if it were planned, wrapped his arm around Rob and I did the same with Josh. Jen told us to smile and we complied. I forgot about the pictures she'd taken until a week later.
It was Saturday afternoon, November the fourteenth, four years to the day since their 'it just happened' letters arrived in my mail. Jen and I found ourselves alone in the house for the first time since I had arrived. We surprised each other as neither of us was supposed to be there. I had worked that morning, finishing a job earlier than expected. She had been shopping.
"Where's Ed?" she asked, holding an armful of packages.
I looked at her, waiting to see if she would remember that he had told us the night before about his golf date.
"Oh, golf," she said, embarrassed that she had forgotten.
"Is there anything else in the car?" I asked, hoping to put some space between us. Being near her was just too uncomfortable, never knowing what to say.
"No, this is everything," she said, heading toward the stairs with her packages. She turned suddenly, looking back at me. "You need a haircut. Take my car," she said, opening her purse, searching for the keys.
I caught the keys and thanked her, not for the use of the car, but for her quick thinking. I did need a haircut, but I knew she was uncomfortable being alone with me. I was happy to have an excuse to get out of the house.
"Benny," she said, making me turn back to her. She was in the same place on the stairs. Did she need help with her packages after all?
Jen had called my name for a reason, but I felt comfortable looking at her, taking her in, filing a photograph of her in my mind. Her lips were parted, as were her feet, one on the third step and the other on the second. Although she was fully clothed in slacks, sweater and a jacket, my x-ray eyes examined her body from memory. The mind-photo I was taking was for future reference.
"I'm sorry...," the pause spanned several seconds and thinking that she was about to apologize for the 'it just happened' letters, I was forming a response. "I'm sorry you were treated so badly by that girl. She must be a despicable person to hurt you."
Shocked by what she was saying, I could only laugh. "You know nothing about what happened, Jen," I said with more annoyance in my voice than I intended to show. I had meant to sound indifferent, like it was none of her business.
"I know you and I saw her picture. She used her beauty to take advantage of you."
"It wasn't..." I paused, not wanting to argue with her. "You have it figured out," I said, backing out of the room, leaving her standing on the stairs.
The car was a new Mustang, red paint with matching interior. I drove around town for an hour, not caring that I was breaking the speed limit.
What right did Jen have to blame Veronica? Her assumption that Veronica had used her beauty to take advantage of me was incorrect. Veronica didn't use me, except for sex. She gave of herself freely; she made me feel important. So what if we lived beyond our means? It was my way of paying her back for keeping my mind off being jilted by Jen. Veronica never cheated on me, something I couldn't say about Jen.
After graduation, I got a job and Veronica accompanied me to the new city. We got an apartment and found sleeping together every night a big improvement over Friday nights in the motel room. That was the Christmas I sent the photograph of us to my parents. I wanted them to see how well I had done. I guess I knew they would show it to Ed and Jen.
When my mother died we were on an Alaskan cruise. I telephoned my dad to apologize because I couldn't possibly make it to the funeral. Surmising that I wanted to avoid seeing Jen with Ed, he said he understood. I didn't tell him I was broke.
The following year I was promoted, which required a job transfer. We, actually Veronica, found a luxurious apartment and she promised to curtail her spending if I would sign the lease. She could be very convincing in bed and when she vowed things would get better, I believed her. I was making the minimum payments to three credit card companies.
When Dad passed away a year later it took two days for Ed to track us down. He spoke to Veronica.
"I don't want to talk to him," I said. "You call back and say I can't come to the funeral."
"What reason should I give for us not going?" she asked.
"Make up something. Just don't tell him our credit cards are maxed out."
Though she had been turned out of her own home, Veronica yearned for a family connection, even if she didn't know the family. "Will you take me with you if I can borrow the money?"
"No one is going to loan you more money and anyway, I'm not going so forget it," I said, angry at myself for being stubborn.
Veronica knew all about my family troubles. She wasn't ready to give up.
"There may be inheritance involved. Aren't you interested in finding out?"
"Is money all you think about?" I asked, accusingly. "I'm not taking anything else from my brother."
Veronica looked hurt, near tears. I wasn't sure what set her off, my accusation that she only thought about money or my declaration that I wouldn't take anything else from my brother. Either way, it worked perfectly. She made the call to my brother and was very convincing.
My refusal to accept my share of the inheritance was what drove the wedge between us. I returned the attorney's letters unopened and Veronica resumed her spending habits, charging my credit cards for her extravagant purchases. Finally, I signed an affidavit, relinquishing my share of our parents' estate to my brother.
I had our telephone disconnected to avoid annoying calls from collectors, but they caught up with me at the office. My financial matters were causing problems at home and my work became sub-standard. The final straw came when they took my car and garnished my wages. Frustrated, I quit my job. My boss said he understood. He didn't try to dissuade me from leaving, nor offer me a letter of recommendation. .
Breaking up with Veronica was hard. She said she understood my reasons and we did our best to make our parting amicable. I gave her as much cash as I could spare and she left, taking all the expensive items she could carry. I hocked my watch, a gift from Veronica, and bought a bus ticket home.