When Words WanderbyJoesephus©
This is NOT a stand alone story! There is no sex in the story. I've tried to make it realistic, so don't expect Jonathan to have been a former SEAL able to visit vengeance on Susan and Rich. While I'm going for a different ending than Nici in her "Something to talk about" and "Between Two Lovers" I've tried to keep the characters as she wrote them. That doesn't mean I see their actions the same way. I have the Nici's permission to write this ending. Indeed, she's been a wonderful help in understanding the characters involved. I've done my best to keep them as she created them. I have made a few minor changes, for example Joey is a girl and the location is Austin, Texas and not Denver, Colorado. If you haven't read the story, "gird up your loins," because it's a heart breaker. Mine begins after Nici's "Between Two Lovers Chapter Two."
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From Between two lovers:
... "Jonathan, there's something we have to talk about," she said again, but this time with a deep sadness, without hope.
In her hands she held a large manila envelope, which she slid over the table towards him. "I've filed for divorce."
** ** ** ** **
Jonathan looked at the envelope, grunted, nodded, and headed back down to his lair in the basement. As he entered his room he locked the door behind him. With a sigh that was close to a sob, he sat on his bed. His shoulders slumped and his head drooped until he cradled it with his hands between his knees. He couldn't make sense of all the emotions roiling through him. An almost impenetrable curtain of fear smothered everything. He didn't fear the dissolution of the marriage... that had happened six months ago when she told him she'd been having a year-long affair, and it wasn't "just sex."
No, the fear that turned his bowels to water was how he could continue after losing his children. He'd thought his life was far better than most, like one of those paintings on the Norman Rockwell plates his mother collected. Now it seemed more like one of those pictures for kids where, when you looked carefully, you saw the outline of monsters hidden in the ordinary. Nothing resembled what he'd thought. Susan was like one of those people on TV who pull off a skin like face mask to reveal a different actor.
When Susan told him about her lover, his world had dissolved and all he could see were the monsters. Everything he'd thought he had was gone, except the kids. He'd always believed that if you worked hard, put your family above yourself and were honest and loyal you'd realize the American dream of a wife, two kids and a nice house with a white picket fence. He thought he'd had all that. Now Susan was going to take it all away.
He didn't mind losing the house. He wanted to lose Susan, but what would his life have meant if it weren't for the kids. They were the meaning of life. What happened to you didn't matter; you built for the future, you built for your kids. No, being shed of Susan was would be like getting rid of a bad debt. Losing the kids would make him like a new car without an electrical system. Pretty and even potentially powerful looking on the outside, but useless.
It was when she'd told him what would happen with the kids that his blood turned to stale piss. At one point he'd thought about getting DNA tests. A drunken "friend" had suggested, "Maybe if they aren't really your kids." For a heartbeat he had wondered if that would make it easier. Perhaps he could stand the pain of losing them, if they weren't "really" his. But in his gut he knew that the source of the sperm didn't matter: they were his kids and he would do nothing that might damage them or their relationship with him. If they weren't his, he never wanted them to go looking for their "real" father.
These last six months had been both the most painful and the most rewarding of his life. Seeing Susan, especially when she was leaving or returning from a bout with her asshole lover, was chewing him up inside rather like a turtle with a piranha trapped inside his shell. The assault on his manhood was a feather blow short of unbearable. He'd never understood the real meaning of hate, the kind of hate that lasted generations, until the last few months.
He'd also never understood the balm that spending time with his kids provided. Even though Jonathan constantly berated himself for being a wimp by allowing Susan and her lover to continue breathing, spending time with his children confirmed his core belief that a real man always put his duty to his family first.
That's what Jonathan had always done with his marriage. He was not an articulate man; he didn't have the pretty words that he'd come to understand were so important to Susan, words that her lawyer lover spewed like a sewer terminal. It was what a man did, not what he said, that had always been important to Jonathan. He'd practically killed himself working overtime to provide for his family. When the female attorney he'd visited told him that his overtime might make his alimony payments higher, she'd asked him to find out how long he'd been working so many hours.
Checking his pay history, he discovered that in the last six years, as far back as his boss could give him records, there were only three non-holiday weeks where he'd worked less than sixty hours. One was when he was in a car accident. The jerk had to talk on his cell phone, putting Jonathan in the hospital with two broken ribs and a deflated lung. It had hurt like hell, but he'd checked himself out "against medical advice" and had gone back to work because they were trying to close on the land to build this house, and needed the money to make the down payment.
The second time was one of the times he'd been sick. He'd usually never let a cold or flu keep him from earning a living. This time, his boss had caught him. He'd been working with a fever of around 101 for three days when his boss sent him home. He'd gotten a tongue lashing about trying to be macho and spreading flu to everyone in the shop.
The third time was when his father died. He remembered almost losing a finger that week when eye sweat blurred his vision. Still, he'd only taken off the minimum days necessary to fulfill his obligations as a son at the funeral.
Jonathan snorted as he remembered something Susan had yelled recently when she tried once again to explain her adultery. "You loved your job more than you love us. You used it to hide from your family and your duties."
What a joke. Jonathan had never loved his job. It was hot, sweaty and dirty in the summer, and cold, sweaty and grimy in the winter. It wasn't boring, but it wasn't fun. There was satisfaction in doing it well, and he was very good at it, but he didn't want to spend his free time working on cars either. It was something he did to support his family.
He knew he'd never been very good with books and school. He could have probably graduated from a third-rate college. But that sort of school, and the grades he would have made there, would never have equipped him to make the kind of money he made working in the un-air-conditioned heavy equipment shop in the sweltering heat of Austin summers. At one point he'd thought about sales. Salesmen frequently called him to use his know-how to close a sale. The salesmen made the flow of words seem so easy. Jonathan would stand there in mute admiration of their talent, and know that it was beyond him.
So, he always worked as much overtime as he could, and as a result he made more than many middle managers in the big corporations. Looking down at his hands and the hundreds of little scars that marked the gallons of blood he'd lost over the years fixing the big beasts, he sighed. No one said life was supposed to be easy, but a man did what he had to do for his family. That's what real love was, doing what you needed to do, not what you wanted to do.
Jonathan put his head in his hands and tried to keep from being unmanned again by sweating eyes. He'd only cried that once, but tears seemed to be his body's involuntary response to the hollow pain inside him. Unbidden, his mind once again replayed the putrid words Susan had used the night she'd destroyed his world:
"If you divorce me now Jonathan, I will be taking you to the cleaners. I will protect my children and me, first and foremost. Your welfare will not be a concern of mine. You would be paying me not only child support; you would be paying me alimony, the court costs, my car payment and this house. Not even with the amount of overtime you have been making lately would you be able to afford anything but a cardboard box to live in. You'd be sleeping in your car or at work and eating spam and macaroni and cheese for at least the next ten to twelve years."
If that had been all there was to it, he'd have divorced her that week, but it was what she told him about losing the kids. Even the attorney he'd talked to had told him,
Jonathan had seen enough men with "joint custody" to know that it was an empty phrase. The wife would pay lip service, perhaps even mean it, but in her heart what she'd want was a complete home, with her new husband replacing her ex as the father as sure as if he'd died. No matter what the courts said or what she promised, within a few months she'd start making it harder and harder to see the kids... always for the best of reasons. It would go on until the kids believed that their father didn't really want to be with them.
He might have trusted the Susan he thought he'd married, but the monster beneath her skin would probably do everything she could the shut him out of his children's lives. She'd told him that her lawyer lover had broken up with her because he didn't want to "hurt her family," but once she was divorced she'd get him back. She was still a fine looking woman... didn't he read someplace that Satan was beautiful too? Hell, Susan could give old Beelzebub lessons.
Jonathan sighed again, he'd done everything he could to make this insane situation work. He'd tried to make himself his number one priority, but he couldn't. His kids' happiness was the most important thing in his life and he'd failed there too.
His thoughts flashed back to an article in a magazine that Susan had "accidentally" left open recently. It talked about how much better and easier it was on the children if one parent died instead of losing one to a divorce. Not even realizing what he was doing, Jonathan reached under his mattress and removed the pistol he kept hidden for home protection. On auto pilot, he removed the trigger lock and put the gun into his mouth. The barrel was cold and uncomfortable on the roof of his mouth.
The metallic click of the hammer hitting an empty chamber caused such a massive startle reflex, that he was flung back on the bed. Jonathan's brain felt like it had when he'd been in the hospital with all those pain killers. His thoughts felt slow, fuzzy somehow. It took a long time before he realized what he'd almost done. With a snort Jonathan thought, 'I'm even a failure at killing myself.' Someone had removed his bullets. Suddenly, his whole body began to tremble as adrenalin flooded every system. He'd almost killed himself! How could that have happened?
He'd tried to take the coward's way out! He flashed back to the last time his father had used a belt on him. He'd run away from a schoolyard fight because he'd been afraid of getting hurt. His father had said, "A man would be a bully to go looking for a fight. He'd be stupid to stick around in an unfair fight. But not only will he be a coward to run from a fair one, but a fool as well. Listening to your fear will hurt you more in the long run than any knocks or bruises you'd get on the schoolyard. Some men never learn that lesson, some have already ruined their lives by the time they learn it. You're going to learn it now. This is going to hurt you more than if you'd been beaten today. Next time think, count the cost, but don't listen to your coward inside." Jonathan had never gone looking for fights, but he also learned that if he didn't run from them, there were fewer he had to actually fight.
Looking at the gun in his hand, he couldn't understand why it wasn't loaded. The gun was for defense, and what good was an unloaded gun. As he loaded it, he thought, "It might be true that kids are better off with a dead parent than a divorced parent, but not with a dead coward. If anyone's going to take a bullet, it ought to be Susan or her boy toy! She's the one...
Right on cue the phone rang. "Daddy? Did you forget that you promised to help me with my pitches? I tried to tell mom that I needed your help today if I was going to make the softball travel team, but she said the two of you need to talk alone. Daddy, please come get me. This is important. If I don't make the club team this year, I'll never be able to make the high school team."
Jonathan's whole body was still trembling with the after effects of the adrenalin flush. Sitting silently, a distant part of his mind wondered if his words would be as jumbled as his thoughts. Could he manage a simple "hello?"
"Daddy, this is important! I've been calling your cell ever since Mom dropped us off here. I guess you forgot it again. Please, if you don't feel like coming to Grams, I'll get her to bring me home. Please Daddy, I need you, this is soooo important."
Jonathan's mind was a maelstrom of discordant thoughts swirling around a core conviction 'Someone needs to die!' If not him then... Susan or her asshole, but somebody! Only a tiny voice wailed that his kids still needed him; no matter how minor the role he'd be allowed to play, they needed him. Murdering someone else would take him from their lives as surely as if he'd just killed himself. 'If I'd killed myself what would have happened to the girls? What sort of example of a man would I be leaving them? What sort of man would they end up marrying?'
As he shook his head to try to clear his thoughts, something in Cindy's tone penetrated. Was it fear? Was she in danger? His daughter was in danger! What sort of man would wallow in his own muck when his daughter needed him? The voice, now thundering in his head proclaimed, "A man took care of his family, no matter what it cost him!" That was the bedrock of Jonathan's understanding of life. As Cindy continued to make sounds his mind slowly retreated from the brink of darkness.
Trying again to clear the chaos in his brain, he shook his head. He couldn't remember promising Cindy to work on her softball. It sounded like something he'd do, but softball hadn't seemed that important to her the last when they'd talked last night. Jonathan sighed again; not knowing how important a sport was to his fourteen-year-old daughter was just another sign of his incompetence as a father. Just another monument to his failure at everything that was important to him.
"Daddddddy! You're scaring me, talk to me please! Daddy, I need you daddy, please!"
Jonathan's eyes blinked and while his body continued to tremble and the darkness still beckoned, Cindy's voice held him like a mountain climber's safety line.
"I'm sorry baby, I was distracted for a second. I'll be there to take you to softball practice in just a few minutes. What time does it start?"
"Where are you, daddy? Are you home? Have you seen Mom? Did you talk? Did she tell you?"
The questions were too fast, too strange. All his kids had gotten Susan's brains instead of his, thank God. It made him proud, but sometimes it was hard to follow their nimble skipping from topic to topic. Unable to comprehend or deal with what she was asking he said, "I'm okay, I was just in my own little world for a bit. I'm heading for you now. I'll be there in less than a half hour, we can talk then. You know I hate to visit on these little phones."
** ** ** ** **
It had taken more than a half hour get himself together to drive to his daughter. During that time he figured out that Cindy knew about the divorce. He'd felt a surge of renewed anger that Susan took it upon herself to tell the kids without including him.
Thus, he was surprised when Cindy told him she'd figured out what was happening when she'd seen a "do-it-yourself-divorce-kit" in her mother's room a few days ago. She'd been scared, but wasn't sure Susan was going to go through with it until today, when she announced she was going leave the girls at Grams' house for "at least the night."
As Cindy talked, he could see the pain this mess was causing her. The pain in her eyes spawned deadly icicles in his heart. Cindy's plea that he fight to stay in her life, were body blows to his manhood. In any sort of physical fight he knew how to protect his vulnerable parts, but he had no defense against the women in his life.
Finally Cindy had taken his face in her hands, and while looking into his eyes said, "Daddy, I know that the courts will probably give us to Mom, but there's another way. Since she doesn't have a lawyer, you can go to a mediator. The parent of a friend of mine at school did that and she said her parents actually get along better now than when they were married. It was so good that they still get together as a family on occasions. Please Daddy, I got the man's name. Please will you fight for us by taking Mom on about this? Please Daddy!"
** ** ** ** **
So now, two weeks later, Jonathan found himself seated at a lush conference table with his new lawyer. The walls were covered with "trophies." The attorney saw Jonathan eyeing them and said, "Yeah, I've 'won' some big divorce cases. They use several of my cases for moot court at UT Law School.
"The reason I have those plastered all over the walls in here is to remind both of us what can happen if the cooperative process doesn't work. A few years ago I tried to sit down with a couple and serve as an arbitrator, but the Bar doesn't really like that approach. The danger of my getting sued for conflict of interest is too high, so now I do "Collaborative Law." Your wife will have to find an attorney who has experience in this process so you will both have advocates. You and your wife will have to sign an agreement never to take any of these issues to court. Then we'll sit down at a table across from each other and we'll hammer out an agreement that will be acceptable for both of you.
"Of course, either party can withdraw from the agreement not to go to court, but if they do, both lawyers will have to withdraw, and the party that drops out will probably be viewed with some prejudice by the court."
Mark, a big imposing figure, leaned back in his chair, "You have a pretty good case. I know the woman attorney you talked to, but she practices in Austin, and the judges in our county are much more conservative. Also, while she's good, her husband recently turned her in for a new model and I think she'd be better off representing only women for a while.
Even if you draw the worst judge in this county, the financial part wouldn't be as bad as she told you. With all the kids in school, your wife probably wouldn't get the maximum three years of spousal support Texas law allows. What's more, she's just flat wrong about the custody. I know at least two judges in this county who will always award full custody to the husband if the wife has committed adultery. It doesn't matter what the other circumstances are or even what might be best for the kids. Now, if you lived in Austin it might be a bit different. Some of the judges there aren't as concerned about adultery as are the judges in this county, but even in Austin, I can only think of one, perhaps two, that wouldn't give adultery some 'unofficial' consideration when deciding custody.
"Sill, even with those judges, "what everyone knows" about how men get screwed in a settlement isn't always true. The courts are very aware of all the new studies that show how important it is to keep the father in his kids' lives. The studies also show that when the dad doesn't have any physical custody, he generally doesn't continue to be involved. If the dad wants some sort of physical custody and isn't equally guilty of cheating, drinking, or abuse, our county courts will generally give him at least half. That also helps keep both parents physically close. Things can turn ugly when one parent moves to a different state.