Saturday, June 12, 2010

Interlude - Jerry

“Yes, dear,” Jerry said for the sixth time before leaving the house that morning. He said it so often it had become rote. His wife Sheila was reminding him of things she wanted him to get done before he came back home that night. Long past were the days when she would be up to fix him a decent egg for breakfast, or even a good cup of coffee.
Now it was her orders for food, a late night snack, some cleaning that had to be picked up or something for one of her (no, “our”) daughters.
He felt like a pack mule…a load thrown on his back and ordered to carry it.
He picked up his faded windbreaker off the hook next to the front door of their three-bedroom duplex and slipped it on. It was supposed to be in the 40s this morning and Jerry hated the cold. He told himself if he were rich, he’d move to one of the warmer states, not the one where old people go to die, but maybe Arkansas or Arizona.
But he wasn’t rich, and unless one of the lottery tickets his wife bought hit it big, he never would be. Jerry was just the manager of the local “big box” store’s delicatessen. Sure the title sounded good and the position got him a couple trips a year to deli conferences, but there was really no money in it.
The three-bedroom duplex he lived in was a testament to how well he was doing in life. He and Sheila started renting it nearly seven years ago, thinking they could buy it a few years later, rent out the other half to make most of the house payment, and his income and hers would allow them to live the better life.
Things didn’t work out quite like the two had planned.
Sheila, his “fluffy little sweetheart” of 10 years, injured her back while working on the line at the air conditioner manufacturing plant where she’d been for seven years. She was off work for months, visited doctors and chiropractors by the score and eventually settled with the company to go on permanent disability at 50% of the rate of pay she had been making when injured and $20,000 cash.
With Sheila’s pay cut in half, and no possibility of her getting another job, the extra income dried up quickly. The two girls from Sheila’s first marriage, Sandi and Jolene, went through a lot of money and the $20,000 went right into a college fund for the both of them.
Sandi was 19 and attending the community college while living at home, even though she spent most of her time being dated by any good-looking guy with a cool car and money to flash.
Jolene was a stand-out on the high school’s soccer team and track and field squad, as well as being one of the smartest kids in the class, most popular, most attractive and most often heard about when gossip was being spread.
Jerry knew the girls must have inherited their looks and brains from their dad, who he'd never met because Sheila was no looker. Since she had gone on disability, she had even fluffed out more, gaining another 30 or 40 pounds and one chin at least.
There were times when Jerry thought it would serve her right if he just packed up and moved out, leaving her to wallow in her own self-pity and sorrow.
But he couldn’t. He’d lived the single life before and he hated it. He needed to have a wife, even if she were over bearing and over-weight. Part of him even loved her and enjoyed the way it felt when the two of them were alone in their room, snuggled up to each other. Her strong hands caressing the tight muscles in his neck, the weight of her heavy body covering his slender frame and the way she moved him the way she wanted him to move in their love-making.
She controlled him and he was too weak to change.
“And don’t forget to that Jolene needs a case of bottled water for tomorrow’s track meet,” was her last instruction to him as he zipped up his jacket.
“Yes, dear,” he said back to her. “I’m going now. Love you!”
He waited to hear her respond, but all he heard was Sheila’s talking on the phone with Sandi and she’d already forgotten about him.
He climbed into his 1992 Park Avenue, it years showing as well as the rust on the quarter panels and around the edges of the doors. He sometimes had to slam the driver’s door two or three times before it would stay closed, but the engine started every time.
So what if the air conditioning didn’t work, or the power windows for two of the four windows didn’t work, or the radio was just a radio with no cassette or CD player? The car was paid for and the insurance on it wasn’t so bad.
Sheila had sold her vehicle, the stylish-challenged Astro van after she found it hurt her back to drive, so gave it up and had Jerry drive her everywhere she needed to go. There was no need for Jerry to support two vehicles when the van would sit for months without being driven and neither of the girls would be caught dead driving the POS.
His commute to work was Jerry’s favorite part of the day. It was just 14.9 miles, 22 minutes on a good day, 25 minutes on a bad day, including the stop he always made. He’d stop at the Amoco station for a 20-ounce coffee, a packet of sugar stirred in and as much cream as he could pour without overfilling the cup.
At the counter, he’d get a pack of Marlboro Lights, because he knew Sheila would want them when he got home and a Snickers bar which would be his breakfast in the last five minutes of his morning commute.
But what made the drive the most important was it was “his’ time. It was the half hour of the day Sheila was not nagging him, his work was not demanding him, where bills were not needing to be paid, house work requiring to be completed or any other of a hundred details in his life begging for his attention.The drive after work would have his head filled with problems from the day, employees who didn't show up for work, or worse, would show up and not work but hang around the deli looking busy but getting nothing done.
No, the morning drive was all Jerry's and no one could change that. Many times Sheila had told him he should find someone to commute with, but Jerry would always never find anyone to share the ride. He needed his time alone and to hell with what sheila wanted on this issue.
In his car, radio playing from the oldies station, Jerry could relax and be himself and day dream of the life he should have.
Sometimes he would think of his first wife, the lovely Kady who he’d married when the two of them were finished with their first year at the same community college his step-daughter attended now. They were going to do something with their lives until midway through their second year, Jerry’s dad died of a stroke and he had to quit school to help his mom run the family catering business until it too collapsed and folded.
That kind of setback was too much for Kady and she left Jerry for a man who could give her more in life than an ailing mother-in-law, an openly gay brother-in-law and a man with no future plans in his back pocket.
Not unkind, Kady came out and told him the truth. She didn’t love him any more and she was moving away. Jerry liked to believe she really did love him at one time in their life and believed she didn’t cheat on him, but he would never know and he really didn’t care. Surely he loved her on some level, but he never really thought he and Kady were right for each other. His mom and dad did and that’s what motivated him to ask her to marry him, but with dad gone and Kady feeling the need to move on, the hurt wasn’t as bad as people supposed it might have been.
Last he heard of her she was married to a successful business man and the two of them had moved somewhere swanky on the east coast. He was happy she had found what she needed because she was a good friend when he needed one and had made his life easier for a time.
Sometimes Jerry would think about Marcus, his younger brother with all the creativity and imagination the family genes could provide him. Marcus had come out of the closet to his mom a little more than a year after dad had died. It wasn’t as difficult for him as he’d thought it would be as their mom loved each of them with all her heart and was not judgmental like dad had been.
He lived with his partner 30 miles away, in a much bigger city than this one, where it was less unacceptable to be gay and there were more people who lived the same life style who Marcus and Stevie could socialize with. The two ran a very successful advertising business and when Jerry got the chance to visit his brother, he’d see some new award hanging on their gallery wall, or pictures of local and a few minor national celebrities hanging in Marcus’s office. He was proud of his younger brother, even if he couldn’t understand the lifestyle.
Jerry would sometimes let the miles pass him with almost empty thoughts. There’d be a flash of some long ago memory of simpler times or he might remember the time he walked in on Sandi in the bathroom, her lithe, well-carved body barely covered with a towel. Her long, tanned legs stretched out and nearly perfect from a fresh shave and being conditioned with some type of conditioning oil. He would recall her scream of surprise when Jerry walked in and the loud protest of “Don’t you knock?” as she tried to grasp a bathrobe for dignity only to have the towel fall to the floor leaving her completed naked for over two whole seconds. His retort of “Can’t you remember to lock the door?” and the mess that had become of the mishap became a lesson in hierarchy in the home.
After that incident, a new lock was put on the bathroom upstairs, the only one near to the three bedrooms, and Jerry was relegated to using the one downstairs by consensus of the three women living in the house. He hated having to take his clothes downstairs every morning to shower and shave, even if no one else in the house was awake.
Jerry, who only in the deepest recesses of his mind would he ever admit, thought  the incident was way overblown because if the women living in the home knew what secret he kept so well hidden, they'd have not made such an issue of Jerry seeing his step-daughter in such a state of undress.
Sheila had been awaken today by Sandi's call, from where ever she was staying last night, and not by the alarm clock that woke Jerry every morning at 7:30 a.m. He wished Sandi would not call so early because it was always easier for Jerry to get out of the house without Sheila ordering him around and dictating instructions. It also tended to make Jerry grumpier starting the day with Sheila reminding him of all the things he had to do, just as she'd done the previous night, when he got home from work.
This morning, however, it was a most pleasant drive for Jerry. It was Friday and tomorrow morning, instead of going to a track meet for his step-daughter, having to help his wife into the car with her cane, driving to the school, helping his wife out of the car then walking the 500 or so yards to the stands where handicapped people were allowed to sit and watch, walking at a pace slower than sap dripping down a pine tree because of Sheila, and then sitting on the hard seat for three hours of painful boredom and pretended interest, Jerry would be driving to Toledo for a Deli convention for three days.
Jerry would have three full days and two nights away from his family, to do with as he pleased. There would be no one there he knew well enough to be chums with, who would ask him to the bar or a night at a movie. Jerry would be on his own without supervision of anyone.
It was a convention of Deli managers and Deli owners and Deli this and Deli that. All the new food preparation ideas would be trotted out and vendors would be hawking their ideas and utensils not unlike the open desert markets from 2,000 years ago.
And Jerry would attend the convention, sit in on a few forums, speak with vendors, allow himself to be made to feel important and sit in on several demonstrations. He’d do all this because the store manager would ask many questions when Jerry got back to work on the following Tuesday about the convention and how the store could improve its delicatessen department. Jerry would speak knowledgably about some of what he saw, recommend some ideas brought up by others and make it seem to the manager that the trip was well worth the price the store paid to send Jerry. This would insure that another convention would be in his future six or eight months down the road.
But the convention was just another convention. What Jerry really wanted when going to the conventions was not in the convention hall.

Friday, June 11, 2010

interlude - Aaron

Popping the Jake brake on his 1999 Peterbuilt, Aaron pulled his big rig, minus the trailer, into the special parking space he had graded out beside his house. He knew the neighbors bitched about the noise, but there was nothing they could do about it, so he did it just to annoy them.
He knew the house would be empty, but that was okay with him. He didn’t need anyone there when he got home. All he needed was a hot shower, several cold beers and some take-out from the local Appleby’s he’d picked up coming through town.
He’d been on the road for two weeks straight and would be home for four full days before heading back out. His beagle dog Jesse climbed out of the cab, jumping down with a youth only a seven-year-old beagle could muster after 10 hours on the road that day.
Aaron collected up his log book, some receipts he had thrown on the dashboard, the wallet which he kept in the center console and the keys to his house which he kept on the emergency brake knob.
He’d grab his dirty clothes and toiletries later, before he went to bed and clean the cab in the morning, like he’d done for the past four years since he started the regular two-week run from Michigan to points west.
It was a good life for “Baron Aaron” as he was known on the CB radio. He had nothing to tie him down. He lived his life free of the encumbrances of a family life which tied so many men down. He’d tried it a couple of times, but no woman had managed to get him to say those magic words “I do.” A few had gotten him to utter the three words which began man’s slide down that slippery slope to wedded hell, but none had gotten him to the alter.
Jessie, a woman in West Wendover, Nevada had come closest to tying him down to a home and a family seven years earlier. Aaron had busted his rig just off the salt flats and limped into the dust bowl of a town. There were three operating casinos and Jessie worked at two of them as a waitress. She was as pretty as Aaron was ruggedly handsome and in the five days he was there, she slept in his cab four nights.
She had been fun and athletic and he promised to keep in touch as he pulled out of town. She contacted him a month later with news of his impending fatherhood. Aaron was pissed at her for not being more careful. He was so pissed he bought the beagle pup in Columbus Ohio and was going to name it Jessie after her, but it turned out the dog was a boy so he got the name Jesse.
Nine months later he picked up his mail at his post office box and found he had a daughter named Christina Anne Robinson, on whom he would be paying several hundred dollars a month for the next 18 or so years.
He gave serious thought to moving out west to be with Jessie. She was pretty fun, attractive enough, good in the sack and had a job, but he didn’t want give up the job he had, or the house he had, or the cool boat in the back shed, or the two quads in the garage or the 1972 GTO which he drove around locally. Aaron drank quite a few beers that night and Diamond Lil’s Suds and Sandwiches with his friends and bitched about how she tried to trap him. He bragged about how smart he was to avoid the trap of marriage and would pay the child support grudgingly.
Every summer he’d spend two weeks hauling the kid around in his truck once she got old enough, but until then, he sent the money, an occasional card and pretty much forgot about her. One day, he told himself, he’d go out and introduce himself, but he thought it best he wait until she was old enough to be able to do more than play with dolls, watch that mind numbing children’s crap on TV and cry for mommy.
He took home one of his regular girls that night and forgot about Christina.
Unlocking the house, Jesse did his business in the yard and sniffed around the garden that was getting a little over grown. He’d have to have that neighbor kid who mows his lawn do a better job or find someone else. He paid the kids $25 a week to keep things clean and trimmed while he was away, but if he was going to do a half-assed job, Aaron would find someone else.
Turning off the alarm system first, Aaron dropped the rest of what he was carrying on the plush blown-leather sectional that took up two sides of the large living room. The 54-inch TV and entertainment center took up the third wall of the room and the remotes were where he left them, the three-foot square foot stool that came with the sectional.
With the alarm off, Aaron turned on the lights.
Breathing deep, he hollered at Jesse to get his ass into the house. Once the dog was in, Aaron went back out to his rig to grab his cell phone, the leather bag which he kept his personal information, the bed sheets from his bunk and everything else he needed to put in the washing machine the next morning and the take out bag of supper.
Climbing down, he locked up the cab and said good night to “Freedom,” the name he’d given his big rig.
Back in the house, he dropped the laundry on the floor, threw the leather bag on the sectional and put the cell phone on the charger and headed for the kitchen with his supper. He knew the refrigerator would be empty of food, but one shelf would be filled with Budweiser.
Opening it up, there they were. Fifteen bottles of Milwaukee’s best, just waiting for him. The first was opened and half finished before he even got out of the kitchen. He opened up the take-out Styrofoam containers, added a little salt, finished off the first beer and grabbed two more out of the fridge.
He took it all to his favorite seat in the living room, he set it down carefully on the stand then lowered himself into the reclining end of the sectional, put the foot stool up and settled in for the evening.
“This is the good life,” he said to Jesse, who was sniffing at the food. “What could get better than this, puppy dog?”
Halfway through his meal, his cell phone rang, but Aaron was too comfortable to get up and look at it. If it was important, which nothing ever was that important to Aaron, he’d see who it was in the morning.
Meal completed, a full belly, a leftover bone that Jesse was knowing on in the corner, TV had the second half of a twi-night double header between the Tigers and Twins going on and Aaron could not think of any place he’d rather be right now. He gathered up the leftover trash from his meal and tossed it in the compactor in the kitchen. The silverware he put in the dishwasher and the three empty beer bottles went under the sink.
Grabbing beers four and five, which should be enough to get through the game unless there were extra innings, Aaron headed back to his chair. He accidentally looked at his cell phone and saw it was Carl Craven, his boss at trucking company, who had called him. There was a voice mail which he was about to listen to when the phone started ringing again. It was Carl again. “Damn, the man must really want me,” he said to himself.
Unplugging the cell and flopping it open, he said “Ahoy, hoy, Carl! Why are you bothering me on Friday night when you should be home banging your wife?”
“Shut up, stupid ass,” Carl said in a no nonsense, angry voice. “What’s this I hear about you getting another ticket?
“It wasn’t my fault,” Aaron said, sobering up quickly. “That son of a bitch bear caught me coming down the Lukachukai Pass and I was only doing, 70. The cop said I was doing 80, but I swear he had the car next to me in his sights, not me.”
“I don’t give a shit Carl. That’s six points in one year. You get a week off without pay and I want your rig in here tomorrow morning by 7 a.m. for annual maintenance,” Carl ordered.
Aaron tried to talk his way out of it, but Carl wasn’t the boss for nothing and didn’t give an inch. “7 a.m., Aaron. I’m not screwing around,” he said then hung up.”
“Dammit all to hell,” Aaron said as he slammed the phone down, breaking it on the table. “Dammit Carl, now look what you made me do.”

Interlude - Tommy

Tommy put the rest of his tools in his work bag and cleaned up the remaining wires on the floor. The new wires and plumbing he put in for Emma’s dishwasher would keep her in this old house for another few years without having to have someone come in to live with her.
“There you go, Emma. You’re good to go,” he said to her as he threw the leftovers of his work into the trash can in her kitchen.
“Thank you, dear boy,” the older woman said. “Ever since Marvin died, things just haven’t been getting done around here.”
He knew she would go on for hours about her late husband, Marvin, if he let her, but Tommy had three teen boys at home who he would like to get back to before they tore out walls or something. He’d spent the past two hours installing the dishwasher for Emma, one of the older people in the congregation at the church he attended and it was Saturday morning still.
Pastor Chuck, as he preferred to be called over Pastor Angelopoulos, had asked Tommy if he could take some time to help Emma and Tommy could not say no. A local charity helped with the funding for the dishwasher, but someone had to take the dishwasher out to the woman’s house, plumb it and install it.
Pastor Chuck asked Tommy and Tommy couldn’t say no because Pastor Chuck knew Tommy had the truck, had the tools, had the knowledge and loved helping others.
Tommy seemed to never say no to anyone asking for his help. It had probably cost him his first marriage to Missy and most certainly his second marriage to Karen. He had loved both women, but they eventually got so upset that he would give others his time, they would drift away from him.
Missy was the mother of his three sons, the oldest two, Ben and Ken, were 14 year-year-old identical twins, average in everything, but good boys, and Sam was the spoiled younger child at 12. He was spoiled because he was the youngest and because he was probably smarter than the rest of the male population of the family put together, taking after his mom. He was straight As every year and despite being more than two years younger than Ben and Ken, he was just a year behind them in school and was in two of their junior classes.
Secretly, Tommy knew one of the reasons Karen left was because she felt inferior, mentally, to Sam.
Tommy had met Karen while on a construction site a few years earlier. She was attractive in a farm-girl kind of way and had flirted with him every time he came out to check on his work crew. She was the daughter of the client who’d commissioned Tommy’s Contracting & Repair, LLC to build an insulated horse barn for some special racehorses the man owned.
Just 18 months out of his marriage with Missy, Tommy appreciated the prettiness of Karen, but she was almost 10 years his junior, so he didn’t take her flirtations seriously. Four weeks into the project, he was inspecting the wiring for the primary grooming area and Karen, dressed in a brief sundress, nearly danced into the room. It was just the two of them and Karen was not shy about making her intentions clear.
Tommy was flattered, as he was neither a handsome man, nor a very wealthy man anymore, but here was a 25-year-old woman making it clear she would enjoy time with him. She wasn’t a challenge to his intellect, but she was pleasant to look at and willing to spend nights sitting on bedrolls at the state park with him and the boys, and sometimes without the boys.
And enjoy they did and four months later he married his little kitten Karen and fourteen months later he divorced her. It was too much for him when she began spending more time away from him and his boys than with them.
Before he divorced her, he tried to get her to understand the importance of the family unit to her, but she would begin crying and complain about Tommy spending his free time helping others rather than taking her dancing or to dinner or on some romantic vacation. She’d complain that others took advantage of him and he didn’t see how he was being used. Tommy said he did it because he felt the desire to help others and it was his way of giving back to others, but she said he was being used.
As the arguments progressed, she would complain Sam was always getting the better of her in every game they played, that he knew the answers before she did on every game show and Sam was a better cook, and on and on.
Tommy was trying to rebuild his life and the drama of Karen was too much for him. He didn’t want to hear any more about Sam being smarter than everyone else, didn’t want to hear her complain about Ben and Ken eating her energy bars, and didn’t want to hear her complain about the money he donated to an African village he would never see.
Sam was Tommy’s son, Ben and Ken were Tommy’s sons, the food was bought for the family and somewhere tonight, a child in Africa was drinking clean water for the first time in his life and Karen was now just an expensive ex-wife.
Missy had been another story altogether. He’d married her because she was smart, pretty, hardworking, industrious, and frugal and had a sense of humor that paralleled his own. She was, or so he thought, a perfect match for him and his developing business. She had a degree in business administration and ran the office side of Tommy’s business and kept the books for him as well as being a CPA with a side business on her own.
They had been an up-and-coming couple for 10 years, the envy of her brothers and sisters, seven in all, and the rest of her family. Tommy’s mom had been very proud of him until her passing shortly after Sam was born. Tommy’s dad had moved with his wife to another part of the country and didn’t visit but once every couple of years and called only when he needed money for some damn fool idea he had. Tommy would give it to him, to Missy’s disgust because he never paid it back.
Her family became his surrogate family and he loved her brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and parents-in-law more than his own.
Until Missy came home one Saturday morning from her office in town and said she couldn’t handle it anymore.
That was pretty much it.
“I can’t handle it anymore,” was all she said. Six months later, their friends wouldn’t talk to him, her family stopped talking to him, everyone who knew them as a couple stopped spending time with him.
He was pissed at everyone except his sons, who lived with him most of the time because Missy was off doing whatever it was she wanted, while he tried to run a business and keep what was left of his family together.
Missy hooked up with a wealthy realtor and moved into a beautiful five-bedroom house in the city and fought for the boys, winning custody because she could provide better for them. It cost Tommy the 15 acres the two of them had bought together with the four-bedroom ranch house and three-stall garage.
After all was said and done and the final papers worked out, he shared custody of his kids with her and paid about one-quarter of his yearly income toward child support and insurance, while she became a stay-at-home mom who volunteered her time to his realtor business, so as not be to on a payroll.
Tommy had gotten taken to the cleaners, as his attorney had put it, but he didn’t get bitter, didn’t seek revenge against her, and didn’t make her life as difficult as she’d made his.
He did what his faith told him to do and he turned the other cheek. There were times he wanted to lash out. He wanted to scream at her for destroying his life. He wanted to be angry at her for all the lies she’s spread about him. He wanted to explode because the great family he’d had was now just memories he experienced less and less often.
He couldn’t talk to her brothers and sisters, couldn’t go out to her dad’s lakeside cottage and fish, couldn’t sit down and talk with her mom like he’d done so many times since his mom had died.
Tommy was alone.
As alone as he’d ever been and it nearly drove him over the edge.
But Pastor Chuck had brought him back from the edge of the Chasm of Long Sleep before Tommy could do too much harm to himself or business. Many prayers, many people from the church he started attending, and many nights spent sleeplessly thinking about God got Tommy through the “dark times,” as he called them.
He survived his first divorce just barely and had to work harder than he’d ever worked in his life to rebuild his business to something respectable.
It took a few years, but Tommy was coming back and he had the people at the church and Pastor Chuck to thank.
He wanted to give back to the people who helped him in his time of need and the only way he had of doing that was his skills at building and repairing things. He had a knack with automobiles and his contracting business often had 10% of scrap which Tommy and his boys would carefully stack and store in the small garage beside their new, smaller, home on one acre of land near the city limit sign.
Tommy spent a lot of time helping others and less time focusing on being the rich contractor he thought he wanted to be. He took great pleasure in helping others and felt better than he had in many years in knowing he could.
It fulfilled him, but it also was another reason Karen left him. Karen would have liked to live in a house the size of the one Tommy had built with Missy, but Tommy wasn’t driven for that anymore. Now he wanted to raise his kids and help others, not collect wealth.
So while Tommy was alone in his bed, he slept better knowing he could help others in need and instead of having a family of 10 or 12, he had a family the size of a congregation.

Interlude - Casey

“I can’t take it anymore, Mark. I’m leaving and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Casey said, throwing the hand-written letter he had just given her to the floor. “Your words don’t mean anything to me anymore.”
Mark, for all the love he had for Casey, saw the note he’d worked on most of the night hit the floor. Talking to her, he could not make her believe that he loved her more than anything else in the world and they belonged together forever. He’d hoped by putting his thoughts into words she could see and hold it would soften her some.
It didn’t. She was cold inside now, not the loving woman he’d been with through two sons and more than 12 years.
Something was different about her. He suspected she was seeing someone else for the first time and she saw it in his eyes. He didn’t know she wasn’t, but the way she was acting was an indication she might be and the world Mark lived in began collapsing like so many stories in a house of cards. She let him believe what he wanted to because she didn’t care what he thought and if he wanted to believe she was cheating on him, it might push him to make mistakes or compromises in the coming weeks and months to give her more advantages.
What she was clear in making sure of was she did not care about him anymore. She didn’t care about anything he thought anymore. She’d spent 12 years married to Mark, and at first she believed she loved him. She’d dated him, shared with him, cared for him, and bore him two sons. For 12 years they made friends, played sports with their sons, enjoyed romantic weekends together, camped under the stars, and live the life others envied.
But there was something inside her, hidden from everyone, something she never let see the light of day and something she seldom allowed herself to think about that had finally pushed her to the point where Mark could not be a part of her life anymore.
She was through with him.
She thought about it a few weeks back and it was what she was going to do. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought or said. She was now going to do exactly what she was going to do.
Casey was not stupid. She’d spent a lot of time thinking and reading and studying and watching others in her life. She was keen at watching people and how they reacted to situations. She’d seen her brother go though his divorce a few years earlier and how her ex-sister-in-law had reacted to finding out her brother was sleeping with his high school sweetheart. She was pretty sure she knew how Mark would react to being told the news she was now sharing with him.
Today, she was going to the divorce lawyer.
Joseph and Joshua, their two sons, age nine and 11, were spending the weekend with Casey’s parents. They’d been there since the previous night when Casey dropped them off while Mark was at work, finishing up another week at his insurance company and looking forward to what he hoped would be a drama-free relaxing weekend of shoveling snow out of the driveway, bringing firewood in for the fireplace and maybe a night out with their friends.
When he’d arrived home, Casey was packing up some clothes in her big suitcase.
Mark asked her what was going on and she told him she needed to get away for a while. He was curious as things seemed to have been going well the last few months for the two of them. The counseling seemed to be working for them as both had compromised and adjusted and their lovemaking had been regular, if not inspired, but he thought it was working.
She’d said she’d been leaving before in their marriage and he’d talked her into staying, or had talked her into coming back after being away for a few days. Each time they’d worked things out and moved on to the next day in their marriage.
One time, after they’d been apart for more than a week, when the kids had been six and eight, they had agreed to attend marriage counseling through his church. She never considered the church hers, even though she attended with him regularly during their marriage.
The counselor had talked about respect and communication, about faith in God, the Covenant of Marriage, the rolls of each person in a family unit, the vows they’d spoken and blah, blah, blah ad nausium. She tried to keep it working, to make the marriage work, but inside her head, she planned to leave Mark as soon as she thought the boys were old enough or until she couldn’t take it anymore.
At the end, she was just going through the motions until she could plan her exit from the marriage.
Casey slept in Joseph’s bed that night and Mark spent most of the evening, well into the early morning hours, writing in the den. He finally crept into Joseph’s room, Casey cursed herself for not putting a lock on the door, in the wee hours of the morning, kissed her on the forehead and whispered “I love you” and went back to their room.
Casey was feigning sleep when he came in. She didn’t care how he felt anymore and tonight was probably the most honest she’d been with herself about that. So he loved her? That was his problem now because she had other things on her mind.
She’d tried to sleep, knowing she had a lot to do in the morning. First she’d eat some breakfast, there was no reason to starve herself, then she was going to her mom and dad’s to talk to them, and then break the news with her boys.
Her parents had known there were problems in her marriage and they encouraged her to continue to seek counseling and try to work things out. They told her some of the problems they’d worked through in their 46 years of marriage and how happy they were they’d been able to get through them.
In the morning, Casey knew they would ask her if she’d done everything she could to save the marriage and she’d finally tell them she no longer loved Mark and never would. She’d tell them stories of how he’d psychologically been abusing her. She’d embellish the stories to put him in the worst light and her parents would believe her. She’d cry the fake tears she’d learned to shed for Mark and her dad would hug her and offer any support he could. Then she’d tell her sons who would take it hard, but they’d have to get over it. They were old enough now that they could handle the facts of life. Sure they’d get mad, maybe cry, but they’d get over it. She had to do what she had to do and divorcing their father would not kill them. She’d comfort them and answer questions that suited her ends, but she’d also tell them it was between her and their father and had nothing to with them.
Then she’d be off to see her attorney in town and tell the same stories and put the paperwork in motion to divorce Mark. After that, she’d go look at a couple of places to live on the income she had available to her as the County Treasurer and find the best way to get as much child support as she could from Mark.
It’s not that she wanted to screw him, but she wanted her life to be as comfortable as she could make it. She knew his love for her would work to her advantage if she played him right. She’d leave the door, seemingly, open for a possible reconciliation, but she knew in her heart that she was going to play him for all she could.
She was living for herself now, what she wanted, not what Mark wanted, not what the kids wanted, not what was expected of her. That had come to an end.
Eventually sleep had come to her and her dreams were flashes of happy times she’d had, the good times she’d shared with Mark and the boys. There were bits and pieces strung together that she’d only half remember in the morning and then those memories too would be banished as inconsequential because they were no longer a part of her life she wanted to have.
Joe’s alarm went off at 8 a.m. and Casey was up and out of bed, still wearing the clothes she’d worn yesterday. For some reason she felt safer sleeping fully clothed. Not that Mark would do anything, but she might want to let “slip” that she felt safer sleeping fully clothed when she was in the house. That would be a nice touch to any story she told to others.
She had a clean set of clothes already laid out so she could shower and make herself presentable. She used the kids’ bathroom instead of the one off the master bedroom so as not to tempt Mark into one of his sly moves of sneaking into the shower with her. That was something he’d done many times and she’d told him how much she enjoyed it, but not anymore.
She locked both doors to the kids’ bathroom before starting the shower. She’d forgotten to get her razor out of the master bath, but she’d shaved her legs in the bath just two nights earlier so she wasn’t really concerned. She used the boys’ shampoo and conditioner and toweled off with a towel of questionable cleanliness, but she no longer cared enough to think about it.
She dressed and applied her makeup from the pack she carried with her in her purse which she’d thought enough to keep with her. Looking as good as she could with the materials available she unlocked the door to the hallway and headed to the kitchen.
Mark was there at the table. It was obvious he hadn’t slept much if at all. There was a sadness hanging about him and tear salt on his face from the night before.
He didn’t say anything, just handed her the love note he’d spent the night writing. In it he offered her everything he could and many things he couldn’t. He begged and pleaded, spoke often of the fun they’d shared, reminded her of the love they’d shared and the promises she’d made.
She looked at the pages without reading the words. It was just another chit she would use against him.
“I can’t take it anymore, Mark, I’m leaving and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Casey said, throwing the hand written letter he had just given her to the floor. “Your words don’t mean anything to me anymore.
“This is just more of your words and I can’t believe anything you say anymore,” she said with the calm sultry voice that had first attracted him to her. “You’d say anything to try to get me to stay and it’s just more of your game to control me.
“I’m seeing a lawyer today. I’m going to file for divorce.”
Mark’s eyes widened. He couldn’t believe the words coming from her. “Control you? What are you talking about? I never tried to control you!” he said emphatically, ice blue eyes, something she’d always found attractive in him, started to glisten with tears. “Divorce? What do you mean? Why?”
She didn’t want to continue this conversation. She’d just laid out her reason for leaving, not the real reason, but the reason everyone would believe, and that was good enough for now. She went back to Joe’s room, pulled the handle out of the suitcase and wheeled it and herself out of Mark’s life.
Casey left him sitting at he kitchen table, head in his arms, body wracked by the crying. She didn’t care. She’d seen him cry before. He was a sensitive man and she was tired of sensitive men. If he was a real man he wouldn’t be crying now, he’d be thinking of a way to protect his income from her, be thinking of a way to keep her from getting child support, and be thinking of a way to move on with his life.
He should be thinking of himself like she was. She was already laying the groundwork for the stories she would tell their friends and her family. It would be difficult to convince them how much she hated Mark and how much went on behind closed doors. She’d need her family’s support and she didn’t want to lose her friends so she needed to get her story to the friends she really wanted to keep before he could.
Right now he should be calling their friends, telling them how she’d been acting, maybe sprinkle some suppositions about her infidelity, let slip some conflicting  information about how she’d been so passionate just nights before she left and how he had no idea this was coming.
If he was smart, he’d make sure her parents and his parents, all who knew him very well and loved him, knew how kind and gentle he was and make sure they knew he’d do nothing to ever hurt her and never had.
But instead, he sat there crying like a baby.
It was pathetic and she would use it against him.
Stupid Mark was so easy to use.
Casey smiled as she took her car down the drive. Mark was so easy to manipulate, it was almost unfair to him.

Lies, Spies, Sneaks and Betrayal

20 years ago

Sitting in the pew of the old church, Tommy thumbed through the hymnal, looking for anything to draw his attention away from the boredom he felt. He came here because his mother insisted he attend church with her on special occasions and over the past year, it’d become a Sunday morning ritual for them.
His mom was sitting beside him, tissue in hand, listening to the story of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ for probably the 45th time in her life. Tommy had heard the story every year of his 15, except of course he surely didn’t remember the first few times he’d heard it, being a babe in arms, or as a toddler who didn’t hear anything of interest except the clashing of toys in the toddler’s room.
Tommy was a farm boy with a city-boy attitude. He was the requisite tall, but not too tall, lanky, but not skinny, with a pleasant friendly face, though not too handsome. His arms were strong from working part time at the granary three afternoons a week and on Saturday mornings, when it didn’t conflict with baseball practice.
Tommy’d had a relatively easy childhood, as childhoods went. His parents had divorced when he was still young enough not to realize visiting his dad every other weekend wasn’t unusual for his family. His dad lived less than a mile from his mom and both had moved on with their lives. Dad remarried a woman Tommy didn’t like very well, but tolerated. His mom did not remarry, but she dated often enough to give Tommy a free night on his own when his friends could come over to watch videos and eat junk food.
He was the only child of Doris and Kevin, his mom having medical issues that didn’t allow more kids. It was the pivotal reason for the divorce, or so he’d gathered from dropped comments from his parents over the years. He didn’t much care as his parents, while he loved them, weren’t a big part of his life. Tommy carried his life in his head.
He began attending church when his mother decided it was important for her to start attending again. He was dragged along at first, until his best friend Aaron started showing up too. It wasn’t a bad way to spend Sunday morning, and once in a while he actually heard what the pastor was trying to tell him and the rest of the congregation.
Tommy was not a religious boy. He did not succumb to the preaching of anyone, whether it be a minister who presumed inside knowledge of what God wanted, a teacher who acted as if the answers were all in the textbooks he carried to class, or a parent, who had the first three years of his life to teach him everything he needed, then let him learn on his own. Tommy believed in a God, he just didn’t think others could think smart enough to tell him what God wanted of him.
Sitting next to his mother now however, he was as far from this little church as his mind could take him. He wanted to be home right now, sleeping in because it was his day off from everything and his mom had badgered him into coming to church with her like she did every Sunday morning. Mom was good at throwing a guilt trip on him, then heaping on more guilt until he succumbed to the weight. 
He’d expected, for whatever reason, probably the recitation of the previous 15 years of the Resurrection of Christ, that today would be a milquetoast sermon, similar to many years before.
This Sunday morning however, the new pastor, Rev. Jacob Callahan, was emphatically preaching the resurrection with a gusto seldom heard in the little church. Glancing around congregation he could see several “blue-hairs” holding tight to the handles on their canes, either because they were looking forward to pinnacle of the story, Mary falling to her knees when Jesus reappears and says “I’m back!” or their backs had finally curved enough that they had to prop them selves up.
No really caring, what he did hear from the pastor did seem to energize the story more than Tommy had heard before.
Rev. Callahan was his mother’s age and had come from a large city in the southern part of the state, replacing the 80-year-old Rev. Wayne Portman just after the first of the year. Portman had been very much loved in the little church with an average congregation of 54, but today had a swell of nearly 75 people.
Portman had told the congregation he was going to retire midway through the previous year and a search was done for his replacement. A big deal was made by the congregation of choosing what type of minister would fit best in the conservative, backwoods church and two men and one woman made the final selection and were asked to come in for an interview with the three-member advisory committee just after Thanksgiving.
The woman, in reality, never had a chance, but the church wanted to look progressive to the younger members. Of the two men, one was in his early 30s and divorced, and then there was the 48-year-old Jacob Callahan. Callahan was a passionate Christ follower with a gentle speaking voice and a convincing baritone preaching delivery. He’d been married for 19 years to the same woman and had three children, a son 18, a daughter 15 and another son who was an impish nine years old.
The committee recommended him to Portman and Portman agreed to officially retire the third weekend of January and hand over the pulpit of the small church in the backwoods of Michigan to Callahan. A ceremony had been planned and Callahan drove regularly the two hours from his home to spend time with Portman and the church through the holiday season.
He’d been scheduled to start just after the first of the year, but Portman passed away just before Christmas and Callahan offered to fill in. The church mourned through holidays and the transition went as smooth as it could have.
Callahan began his first regular sermon speaking about the Sermon on the Mount from the book of Matthew, a good solid sermon subject to start off his career with the church and it endeared him to the older generation who frequented the church, and people like his mom.
Tommy didn’t much care. He was biding his time until the after-service get together. Callahan usually went on for about 45 minutes, then there’d be a hymn, and closing prayer. In and out was about an hour and 20 minutes of his Sunday morning.
The best part of the Sunday however, was for about a 15 minutes after the service, while his mom talked to her friends, Tommy, his best friend Aaron, the pastor’s daughter Casey and the hanger-on Jerry, would meet each other out back of the church and tell the same old lies of how much they were going to do with their lives after they graduated.
They’d toss about a Nerf football Jerry always seemed to have and gossip about other kids in school, who was dating whom, which girls were putting out, who was failing which class and other things teenage boys talk about when free of adult supervision.
The three boys usually spent 15 to 20 minutes after church together. Since they were too young to have a regular job, and too old to be babysat, and just barely not old enough to back talk to their parents, the three were often asked to help with church functions, like hiking trips, clean-up Saturdays, fund-raising efforts and such. They spent a lot of time together and became good friends despite their very different personalities.
Casey had been coming along to the after-church bull sessions shortly after her dad took over the pulpit and at first the boys treated her as a decently attractive someone to look at, but not a real part of their trio. They were nice to her, but Tommy and Jerry knew she was much too pretty for them to have a chance at and Aaron’s advances were rebuffed with enough regularity, he too gave up and just thought of her as one more girl who populated the earth.
She’d entered into the boys’ life just by being one of four people attending the church about their age. There were no girls in the congregation the same age as her; they were either much older or much younger. Casey, not a big fan of kids, didn’t volunteer with the toddlers or nursery, and just wandered out of the church and saw three boys standing in the snow pack, slapping their hands together to keep them warm. She’d seen two of them in school, one was a minor celebrity on the wrestling squad and another was in her math class so she walked down the hill and introduced herself.
Casey was not an unattractive young lady, yet she wouldn’t be considered top-cheerleader material either. She was slender but athletic, intelligent eyes, a smooth, kind face and although it had a simian architecture to it, it wasn’t ugly to look at even though she had a full set of braces, and her blond hair, which was usually tucked up in a bun, hung well over her shoulders on Sundays. Her voice was sultry without the usual annoying teenage cracking that girls of her age go through as they mature. She was also not a gabby girl. When she spoke, it was almost song worthy the way she phrased things and she wasn’t filled with gossip she felt she needed to pass along. Too many girls her age had the ability to talk faster than their brains worked, but Casey seemed to think about everything she said before she said it.
She had a good sense of sarcasm and humor, which the boys found out the very first day and they found she could take a joke without breaking into tears. They found after a few weeks, she gave as good as she got in their little group and they began to accept her as just one of the guys.
Tommy enjoyed her presence and looked forward to the Sundays when she joined them after church. He knew he never had a chance of reaching even first base with her, but he liked her anyway. There was a special way about her that he liked even though he couldn’t point to one thing and say “This is why I like you.”
Aaron accepted her as a necessary evil and talked with her and treated her as one of the guys after being shot down with kind words and rolled eyes. He’d even gotten comfortable enough, or unconcerned enough, he’d even talk about his latest girlfriend within earshot of Casey, and what base he was hoping to achieve before moving on. Casey would either roll her eyes, something she did often when Aaron was bragging, or simply smile that smile she had that said nothing and revealed nothing.
Jerry also treated her with indifference, but not unkindly. It wasn’t that he didn’t like girls, it was just that he’d rather spend time with guys. Tommy and Aaron both suspected Jerry would end up gay, but they didn’t care. Jerry was a classic side kick with a good throwing arm from the outfield during baseball season and wrested for the high school in the winter.
Aaron had Casey in Sophomore Algebra and they sat near enough to each other to talk before and after class if Aaron wasn’t schmoozing some other girl.
Two or three times a week, Tommy would see Casey at her locker and would stop to talk with her briefly if he had the time and she didn’t have one of her girlfriends hanging with her. He considered her good a friend, but didn’t want to share that friendship with others and he believed she felt pretty much the same way. He also didn’t want anyone to draw some conclusion about the way he really felt about her, instead of the surface “lite-friendship” they had.
Tommy didn’t want himself to become a topic of discussion among her and her friends and he knew one of her girlfriends as one of the school’s top gossip mongers, so if they were with her, a passing nod was good enough for the both of them. He didn’t think Casey talked about their Sunday get together because he hadn’t heard about it from his friends on the baseball team, because as sure as God made little green apples the guys on the team gossiped as much as any trio of teenage girls, or the regular guys he hung around with at school.
It seemed to have become an unwritten rule among the four that the Sunday meeting was theirs alone to share. It was something they alone knew about because the church they attended was small and removed from the big town they lived near. It was the lone building at the T of a dirt road and a barely paved road. The people who attended the church were mostly older people who’d been coming to the church for dozens of years, or the offspring of the older folk who hadn’t moved away with their lives and continued to show up every Sunday because of it’s proximity to their homes.
With just the four of them being in the same age group, there was no clique to be a part of, no one-upmanship games to be played out, no others of their own age to look up to or down upon.
“…and with grateful hearts, we offer you our thanks, amen,” Rev. Callahan said to finish the sermon. Everyone started standing and moving to the aisle. Groups of two or three old women stopped to talk with each other, his mom headed off to talk with Mrs. Callahan and Tommy worked his way out to the side door, next to the alter and large basin the church used for baptisms.
He knew Jerry and Aaron would leave out the big double doors in the back of the church as their parents always sat together in the rear. Jerry’s parents would head upstairs to grab his younger brother Marcus and Aaron’s parents would head home without him. They lived a quarter mile down the dirt road and Aaron often walked it after church.
The side door creaked open as always and a brisk breath of cold air caught Tommy in the face. The snow had completely melted and today’s temperatures would reach into the high 60s at least.
As he went down the cracked steps, that went down to an equally cracked sidewalk, the stairs shook side to side, showing the number of years since serious maintenance was done on that side of the church building. A caterpillar was on the cold steel handrail, rusting where the paint was peeling, and died by accident as Tommy moved his hand down the rail. He wiped off the smear on his pants and didn’t give it another thought. He could see dozens of other caterpillars climbing on the chipped white paint on the side of the church, so was sure he hadn’t endangered a species to eternal extinction.
Jerry, he saw was reaching into the back of his dad’s Grand Cherokee to grab the football he knew was always there and Aaron was talking to one of the older girls. She was probably 19 or 20 and way out of his age group, but Tommy knew Aaron would try anyway because it was in his nature.
Working his way carefully down the hill, avoiding the muddy spots where no grass ever seemed to grow, Tommy found Casey already behind the church. She’d obviously gone straight downstairs and out the back door next to the classrooms in the basement. She sat in the front row every weekend with her mom and younger brother.
“Hey,” he said to her and she smiled at his arrival. It made him feel good that she smiled every time she saw him. It was a real smile, not one of the fake smiles many girls gave him. At 15, nearer to 16 now that spring was well underway, he knew how girls could fake a smile, but Casey never did.
“What up, chicken butt?” he asked her, noticing the slight wind was swirling around her legs and that she was shaking a bit from the chill. The black and powder blue dress she wore was covered now by a mid-length coat, but from her knees down, Tommy noticed her athletic legs for the umpteenth time and really liked what he saw.
“Not much, but it’s colder than a witch’s tit out here this morning,” she replied as she hugged her arms around herself. Tommy smiled at the comment as it was the same one said by Aaron less than a month ago when he showed up out back without his jacket and there were still areas where snow drifted to six or seven feet deep that hadn’t melted. “Where’s Jerry with that football?”
“He’s coming. I just saw him,” he answered. “He’ll be here in a minute.”
There was a silence between the two as Casey looked to the opposite side of the building, probably looking for Jerry and Tommy checked out her legs again.
“You sure look nice today,” he blurted before he could stop himself. He was saved from her response when the football bounced off his back and he turned to see Jerry and Aaron coming from the same hill he’d just walked down.
“Hey losers…and you too Casey,” Aaron said, his smile wide and infectious and what got him so many girls. Casey smiled at him too and responded in kind as Tommy went after the errant football that was now rolling down the small incline behind the church.
“Well if it isn’t dumb and dumber. What took you so long? I’ve been freezing my ass waiting on you two.” The football Tommy retrieved came flying back up the hill at Aaron and he caught it with one hand.
“I was scoring points with Chelsea. I think she wants me.”
“Yea,” Jerry finally chimed in as Aaron threw the football at Casey’s head and she nimbly grabbed it before it could hit her in the face, “wants him to keep away from her until some place we all know about freezes over.”
All four laughed and Casey tossed a decent spiral to Jerry, who caught the ball with feigned trouble and tossed it on to Tommy. The ball went between the four of them for a few throws and each had some little small talk to the others, but it was the normal after-church-on-Sunday get together. It was a time cherished by the four of them because together the way they were now, they were safe from the drama of high school, the demands of their parents and far away from the future that was running toward them.
All was right in the world until Aaron received a good throw from Casey.
“We’re moving,” he said to the other three as he hauled the ball in to the crook of his arm. “Dad told me this morning.”
“What? When? Where to?” his three friends asked all about the same time, and walked up to him, looks of disbelief on all their faces. Each was trying to get their questions answered first.
He held up his hand to shut them up.
“Yea, the first of July,” he said, slapping the football into his left hand, “down to Alabama. Dad said he has to move or become unemployed.”
The three were shocked.
It was the last time the four of them would spend their Sunday morning after church throwing a ball around, but none of them realized it.
Tommy stood dumbfounded. He and Aaron had been in school together for his entire life. He didn’t want to believe that Aaron would be gone.
Casey looked sad. She had a look on her face Tommy had not seen before and it looked like anger, but he wasn’t sure. Jerry was looking down, drilling a hole in the soft ground with his heal.
“Shit,” Tommy said. “That sucks.”
The four stood around for another 10 minutes bitching about Aaron and his family moving before Tommy’s mom opened the door Casey had come out of and told him it was time to go. They’d see each other again many times before the move, but never again would their Sunday morning be the same.
Tommy punched Aaron in the shoulder and Aaron let loose some pent up gas in response. Jerry gagged and Casey called Aaron a gross pig.
That was the way of teens showing friendship.