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Dear John--part 4 of 15

To trust or not to trust "that" was the question.

CHAPTER 10

Her tears ran riot for the entire hundred miles back to Phoenix. Her husband would be out of town for the next two days—a sudden business something or other—but he was on the cell and ready to join her on a moment’s notice if she needed him. He’d promised her that. She would wait to talk to him though. She very much needed to talk to her parents first anyway, and Sam’s dad too. When she talked to her husband she wanted all of what she had to say, all that she now knew, to be vetted and clear in her head. Owen was the only one who had a hope of being able to help her Sam: her children’s dad.

It was 7:30 when she pulled up in front of the man’s house: she’d had to pull over to control her sobbing more than once. Getting out of her car she walked purposefully up the steps to the middle class ranch style she’d visited just the day before.

She waited. The man was ill; it might be a moment.

The door opened. “Abigail! You found him didn’t you?” he said.

“Yes, Aaron, I did. I came as soon as I got back so I could report to you. I haven’t even been home yet,” said Abigail.

“Come in, come in,” he said. She slid by him and took a seat at the dinette table across from the living room. “What did he say?” said Aaron Bradshaw.

“Aaron, I need to get this out before I start bawling again,” she did. “Aaron, our Sam is injured, badly injured and disfigured. He’s not the same man we all once knew.”

He fell into the chair across from her. “His face?” he said.

“Yes,” she said.

“What did he say?” he said.

“Mostly he just railed at me and Owen for our sins. I don’t blame him for any of that. I tried to get him to go to dinner with me to talk things over, but he just flat refused,” she said.

“Did he ask about me?” he said.

“No, he didn’t give me the chance to even bring you up. He didn’t even want to talk about the babies. He thinks, erroneously thinks, that Owen has taken his place with them and that we are intent on cutting him out of their lives. I tried to tell him that he was wrong, but he’s not into listening to anything I have to say. And Aaron, he has to. He just has to. We can help him, all of us: you, me, Owen.

“I’m going to be talking to Owen and we’re going to come up with a plan to help the man. Aaron, I know you are on Sam’s side, but I’m going to ask. Can we count on you to back us in this effort? The man needs a lot of help, and it’s going to cost a lot of money. And Aaron, money is the one thing we’ve got going for us. Damn little else, but we do have that,” she said.

“Yes, sure, anything I can do,” said the older man.

“Thank you, sir, it is more than appreciated, and I might add going to be more than necessary, your help I mean.”

They talked a bit longer and then she left.

****

The door closed behind his ex-daughter-in-law. Or, maybe she still was his daughter-in-law at least on some level. He could see she was sincere in her desire to help his boy. Yes, he was going to do what he could to help her get through to his baby boy; he was determined in that regard. He started to cry. He was too old for this. Daddies needed to be there for their hero sons and daughters; yes they did.

He made the decision. She’d given him his boy’s address and where he hung out, that bar, the one she’d found him at, the VFW. He would go there and talk to him. One thing Abigail Cord was more than right about: Sam Bradshaw was going to need help and he was going to get it, accept it. This was no time for false pride or even desperately crushed hearts.

Yes, he was on his son’s side, as Abigail had noted, correctly noted. But, he also knew that life was not always a simple matter of first choices. Sometimes life just sucked, and people got hurt or hurt each other. One had to go on and hope for better things to come along down the line. What Sam really needed he knew was his mom. She was gone, but Aaron Bradshaw was pretty sure he knew how she would have handled things were she still alive and with them. That she wasn’t was the sad reality, but he felt, Aaron Bradshaw felt, that she was there with him in spirit; yes he did.

He would go to his son, their son. He would get him to listen to reason no matter what. That was his mission in life. He just had to make sure that he didn’t die first or his son either. That would not be acceptable, no sir, that would not be acceptable.

****

Abigail Cord was distraught and wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, say, any of it. But talking to her dad and her mom was the second step in the process of figuring that out. The first had been to go to see her ex-father-in-law. The last would be to talk to her husband two days hence.

It was getting late, almost 8:45. She didn’t knock. She just went in and hollered.

“Abigail,” said her mom.

“Yes, hi, Mom,” she said.

Her dad walked into the room. For a moment he just stood across from her not saying anything. He could see something was wrong, very wrong!

“Honey?” said her dad.

“Daddy, it’s very bad. I mean my ex-husband is in very bad shape and he hates me!” She fell to her knees on the floor and sobbed.

“Daddy what am I going to do?” she said, not even looking up at him.

He knelt down beside her. “Come on, honey girl, let’s go into the front room. You need to tell us all about it,” he said.

In the front room, the mood was dark, and no one was sitting, not yet at any rate.

Abigail was pacing back and forth in front of the coffee table and literally wringing her hands. The table itself was almost an antique. It had belonged to an uncle, one who’d been a ball turret gunner on a B-17 that went down over France during War II; the story was that his plane was blown out of the sky by German flak in August of 1943.

“Abby, tell us,” said her mom.

“Mommy our Sam will never walk again. He’s in a wheelchair for life. And . . .”

“Baby?” said Greg Williams.

“Daddy, he’s ugly! His face . . . Daddy, his face is gone, half of it anyway. And he’s only got one eye. Daddy, he is so ugly. My Sam is so ugly. No woman . . .” she burst into uncontrollable sobbing.

Her parents came to her and held her tightly or she would have fallen.

“Honey, wasn’t he working at headquarters or something?” said Cecilia Williams. Abigail nodded.

“Yes, but he said that there was no safe place in that country,” she said.

“Oh my,” said her mom.

“Honey, I almost hate to ask, but didn’t the Army do any plastic surgery or stuff for him?” said her dad.

“I don’t know. He didn’t say and I didn’t ask. He kinda kicked me out. He doesn’t want to see anyone. He’s afraid to see anyone, even the children. Daddy, it’s all my fault. I’m the one that almost forced him to join up. I wanted him to make more money and there was the Army bonus, and I don’t know what to do.

“I wanted him to make more money so he joined the Army. Then I dumped him for a guy with lots of money. I know what he must be thinking. Heck Daddy, I’m thinking it too,” she said. “I know he hates me, and he should hate me. I’m sure he hates Owen as well even though he’s never met him. Daddy, he’s got no life. He just hangs out at the Army bar thing drinking.

“Daddy what am I’m going to do?” she said.

“Have you talked to Owen?” said her mom.

“Not yet. I will tomorrow or the next day or when he gets back. I stopped and talked to Mister Bradshaw first; then I came right over here,” she said.

Her mom looked thoughtful. “Gregory?” she said.

“Yes, I’m going to go see him too. He and I always got along good. I’m pretty sure, even given everything that he’ll talk to me.” He turned to his daughter.

“Abigail, you say he has no life. The fact is he can have a life, lots of servicemen who’ve given so much to their country find a way. There are support groups and even women who don’t see the ugliness in a face just the hero in the soul. Trust me on that one.

“You need to talk to Owen. Find out if there is something he’d be willing to do to help our Sam. Okay?” he said.

“Yes, Daddy, I’m going to. I know Owen will be willing to help. But will Sam let him, us, help him?” she said.

The talk went on a little longer, but it was getting late and she needed to get home to the children. The new housekeeper was sitting with them, but she had to get home to them. And she had to talk to her man. There would be little sleep until she had talked to her husband.

****

He passed a bank building and the clock on its crest declared that is was a little past noon. It was already pretty hot outside. The warm days were good in the main, but some days it could get to be a little much if one had to be out in it for any length of time.

A bit farther down the street, he saw the building, the Gloria Arms Apartments. Pulling in, he saw how the units were numbered and spotted his goal almost immediately, number 104. He hoped he’d be home. He’d go to the VFW if he had to, but he was preferring to be able to talk to his boy in private; there might be some arguing. Arguing was better done in private.

Getting out of the car, the 103-degree air temperature was a bit of a shock: the car’s air-con had made the hundred mile drive tolerable. The sudden change in temperature was stunning. He stood beside the car door and leaned back onto it for a short minute. The heat was dizzying. Gathering himself, he made to go to where his son’s apartment was

Passing through a low gate and into the walkway was good. The walkway was shaded by the roofing above it. Arriving in front of the door he knocked. He waited. He waited a full minute. The heat was getting to him. The door opened.

“Dad!” I said.

“Son,” said Aaron Bradshaw.

The older man had been forewarned; he didn’t flinch when he noted his son’s disfigurement.

“I know what you’re going to say,” I said.

“Yes, and the next words out of your mouth need to be expressing profound apology,” said Aaron.

“Okay, and I do apologize,” I said, “But Dad . . .”

“Son, I know you’ve been served up a busload of raw deals. I mean the divorce, your daughters, your battle wounds. That’s why I’m not yelling at you right at this moment,” said Aaron. “And believe me when I say I do want to yell at you.”

The younger man nodded and looked away. “Yeah, I guess,” I said.

Then began the verbal exchanges, sometimes heated sometimes melancholy sometimes productive.

They talked for hours. In the end, the younger one agreed to keep his father in the loop and that regularly.

“And the Cords?” said Aaron.

“Dad, I don’t know. But I will think about it like I said. They, the two of them, have dumped a busload of stuff on me, and I don’t trust them, but I will consider things and let you know, like I said,” I said. The other man nodded.

He’d be staying the night, but he’d be gone early. He had a doctor’s appointment that he had not shared the reason for with his son; what would have been the point.

CHAPTER 11

From across the room, he watched the man, his daughter’s ex-husband. He was a man whose body was clearly ruined if not his spirit. He didn’t seem as depressed as his Abigail had indicated. Of course he was among fellow warriors for the most part here in the VFW “party” room.

He made his way to the man. This would be a test for sure, thought Gregory Williams.

“Hello Sam, I hear you’ve been getting a lot of visitors,” he said coming up to him from behind. The wheelchair spun around at the sound of the familiar voice.

“Greg! Greg Williams,” I said. “Uh-yes, a few.” I was not exactly stupefied, but I guess for lack of a better term I was stupefied. First my ex-wife, then my dad, now her dad, and all within the same few days: clearly word about my return to the USA was getting out. Not sure how I felt about that. What I didn’t need is what the bunch of them all had in common: their sympathy. What I did need was to be left the hell alone to drink, grow old, and eventually die. There wasn’t anything else left for me.

“My daughter came to see us. She told us she’d come by to see you,” he said. I nodded.

“Yeah, she did. Her big money husband hired a PI to bother me evidently. Don’t know why. No offense, Greg, but she dumped me. There’s nothing left for me and her now, nothing,” I said. “Hell, there’s nothing left for me period. Her new man has taken her from me and my children along with her. Like I said, there’s nothing left for me back there, nothing.”

“Sam, could we, you and I talk for a bit. My daughter may have divorced you, but Cecilia and I haven’t,” he said.

“I don’t know, Greg, what would be the point,” I said.

“The point is that you and I are still friends. Maybe not son-in-law and father-in-law in a legal sense anymore, but as far as I’m concerned . . .” he stopped in the middle of the thought.

“Okay, Okay,” I said. “Have a seat. So how is your wife?” I said. I really did like my ex-in-laws; they’d always been good to me and to us, me and Abigail, as a couple.

The man took the proffered seat and smiled.

“Thanks,” he said. “Cecilia’s good. But, she’s worried about you believe me; we all are, and yes including Abigail. Sam she has a new man now, but that doesn’t mean that she’s written you off. She hasn’t . . .

“Sam, Abigail told us about your injuries, war wounds of course. I can’t tell you how sorry all of us are about those. And, now seeing you, in person, well . . .”

“Yeah, well thanks for your concern, it is what it is. I’m stuck like this forever I guess. Not much I can do about it,” I said. “A lot of other guys have it worse.”

“Couldn’t the Army do more about getting you back to something more approximating the old you?” he said.

“They did all they could I guess. They told me I was lucky to be alive actually, as if this is anything that can even remotely be considered lucky,” I said. “A couple of guys who have similar wounds said there were things that might be done, but the cost . . .”

“The cost?” he said.

“Yeah, stuff could be done, but that the military couldn’t do it. It’s like a million bucks and only some guy in Germany is doing it for the select few—their rich families and relatives being the ones paying the bills for the few. Anyway, way beyond this poor guy’s ability to consider,” I said.

“Sam, I don’t want to be in the middle of a big to do here, but Abigail wants to help you. She and her current husband have a lot of money and influence. They will help if you’ll let them. Abigail came to us and broke down. Says you wouldn’t talk to her, I mean well, you know what I mean,” he said.

“Greg, it’s hard even being around her. I love her still and I always will, I guess. But she’s with another guy who stole her from me. Kinda hard to get my head around accepting anything from them. The humiliation would be just, well, worse than my wounds. I don’t expect you to understand. But it’s the reality for me,” I said.

“Sam, I guess I sort of understand, but like you, I see this whole situation as kind of a real tough nut. On the one hand there’s the two of them. They did you wrong. But Sam, love is a weird ass thing, It can come and go without any rhyme or reason.

“Her husband’s an okay guy, actually a good guy. But, he did steal her from you and that was and is reprehensible. On the other hand there’s you, a genuine American hero. You deserve a whole lot better than you’ve so far gotten, and that’s deserve, Sam, not just want or need.

“And, then there’s the wild card, your children. They need to have their daddy, their real daddy, around to help them grow into the women that they one day will be. And Sam, the truth is, you owe them that,” said Greg.

“Their real dad? Think that they see me that way, Greg. I mean me and not him?” I said. “Or better, how do you think they’ll be seeing me if I did try to impose myself in their lives: ugly, crippled for life, broke, nothing to recommend me whatsoever? How do you think they’d react to me, Greg? Tell me.”

“I won’t kid you, Sam. He’s been good to them. I’m sure that they do see him as their dad. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t learn to see their hero dad as their real dad if you know what I mean,” he said.

“No, I don’t know what you mean, Greg?” I said. “What’s a hero dad? Some guy that trots out his medals on the big holidays? No, I don’t see them as ever accepting me as anything but an interruption in their lives. And that goes double for Abigail. I’m sure that at best I’m nothing but a nuisance as far as she’s concerned. I know you don’t want to hear that, but it’s the reality, Greg. So no, I don’t see my girls as wanting to complicate their lives with a second daddy who looks as awful as I do.”

“Son, you have to give those girls of yours a chance. You just do,” he said.

“Greg, let me ask you. The girls are what now, six?” I said.

“Eight,” he said.” I nodded. I guess I’d lost track, not that it mattered an iota.

“Greg, they’d be in school now, I know. Who do you think it is that’s going to be doing those father daughter things with them? Who do you think that they’re going to want to have walking them down the aisle and giving them away at their weddings?” I said.

“Well I . . .” he said.

“Yeah exactly,” I said. “And how do you think I’m going to be feeling when he does those things with them?”

The conversation went back and forth for a long while, two pitchers of draft worth. For all of the intensity that the conversation was fraught with, the atmosphere remained cool and calm.

“So you’re willing to come visit me and Cecilia?” he said.

“Yeah, I guess. Labor Day’s only a couple of weeks off. But at your house, not hers and that other guy’s,” I said.

“Can I invite them?” he said.

“I don’t know . . .” I started.

“Sam, let me do the leading here. I’m going to be calling your dad too to see if he’ll come by. And don’t worry, I will have the two of them briefed and fully understanding that the twins will be reintroduced to you as their real daddy and not the other guy,” he said. I was tapping my fingers on the table’s surface and eyeing my visitor very intensely.

“Okay,” I said. “If they’ll go that far, I guess I can bend a little. But make no mistake, that has to happen or it’s a no go, and I will know immediately if they’re playing me. And, I’m dead-mortal-lead-pipe-cinch certain that they’re going to be thinking of trying to.”

“Understood,” he said. “And, I’ll be doing my level best to make certain that they ‘don’t’ try.” I nodded, but it was a nod laden with dubiosity.

****

The couple at the door knocked and the knock was answered.

“Mom! Dad! I’m surprised. Dad, I thought you were in Tucson,” said Abigail. She waved her parents inside, well the night was cold, summer’s end notwithstanding.

“I was, Abbs. I’m back. And we have some serious stuff to talk about,” said Gregory Williams. “Is Owen around?”

“No not yet, tomorrow I think; he called to tell me that,” said Abigail. Her look reflected her father’s tone of voice. The conversation was going to be serious as hell.

Five minutes later, coffee poured, first sips taken, the three of them: parents, and daughter, settled in at the formal dinette table down the long hall of the plush two story Cord residence.

“You went to see him then, and so,” said Abigail, her low voice breaking the ice.

“Yes, and you certainly didn’t exaggerate,” said her dad, “the man is seriously in tough. He will for sure never be the same, the same as he was before he went over there to serve his country. He was on the verge of crying the whole time I was with him. But, being the man that he is he didn’t. And trust me, Abby, I wanted to cry right along with him.”

Abigail Cord began to cry, quietly cry. “I know,” she said. “I absolutely know what you’re talking about. Daddy, he’s my hero. He is. He’ll likely never believe me but he is. Daddy, I don’t know what to do. Owen and I have talked about him a lot, but nothing we’ve come up with is likely to work. And Owen doesn’t even know the worst of it yet. He will though when I do talk to him.

“Sam needs a woman, and yes, I know he wants me. But, Daddy, mom, I’m with Owen now. And, well, I need and love Owen. Sam is never going to be okay with that, I know it, hell anyone who knows our situation would know it.”

“Abby two weeks from now is Labor Day. In talking to Sam, I got him to agree to coming to our place for the holiday,” he said.

“Daddy? He’s coming here, to Phoenix!” she said. “I mean really!”

“Yes, but to our place not yours, okay?” he said. He could see the hope in his daughter’s eyes.

“Are we invited, Owen and me?” she said.

“Yes and no,” he said. His daughter’s look morphed from one of hope to one of questioning desperation.

“Honey, your dad and I talked. He’s told me everything that went on with him and Sam. You and Owen are invited, and the kids, but there is a condition.” said Cecilia Williams, speaking for the first time since sitting down.

“Momma? A condition?” said Abigail. “Momma anything. Anything within my power and it’s a done deal!”

“He’ll come, and he’s fine with you and Owen coming too, but he insists that the children be reintroduced to him as their true and ‘only’ daddy and none other, and specifically not Owen,” said Cecilia.

“Huh?” said Abigail. “But Owen’s been . . .”

“Yes, honey,” said her dad. “Sam feels that he’s been dumped on enough and that, well, if you two, you and Owen, can admit in front of the children who their real daddy is, well then, he can bend a little too—his exact words actually—otherwise it’s a no go.”

“Daddy, Owen and I never intended to cut Sam out of his fatherhood. But when he disappeared like he did without a word and without any way to contact him, we finally had to find him by using a private investigator; and well, we had already begun the legal process of having Owen adopt them. In fact the process is complete we’re just waiting for the papers to come through, a few days at most,” she said.

“Oh my,” said Gregory Williams. “That does throw a log on the fire.”

“And dad, Owen is their father too, not their only one, no, but one of two. He’s been there for them . . .” she started.

“Yes, since you dumped Sam,” he said, “while he was over their fighting for his country. You two were having a gay old time cuckolding that good man.” The man’s tone was reproving.

“Daddy?” she said. “It wasn’t like that, really it wasn’t and isn’t.”

“Really? Did you and Owen make love before you divorced Sam?” he said.

“Well, not at first. It was quite some time actually before we did anything like that, anything that could have been construed as romantic,” she said.

“But you finally did, right?” he said. His daughter looked down essentially answering his question.

“Then you did. And when you did, you made Sam your cuckold, and that’s the only word for it, Abigail.

“Abigail, I like Owen. He’s a good man. But you were married to Sam. You had children by him. He got to know them some even before he left for the war. Then he comes home ruined in body and spirit and desperately trying to find some meaning in his life. And Abby, there is no meaning in his life other than those children. You take them away on any level . . .

“Abigail, I don’t care what you and Owen have to do, but you figure out a way to make damn sure that our Sam gets what he needs out of this mess. You, we, have two weeks to figure a way to make things right. Okay?” said her dad.

“Okay Daddy, I’ll talk to Owen. We’ll figure out something. I agree we, and especially me, do have to make things right by the man,” she said.

“Yes, and if you don’t you might as well kill him; it would be kinder,” said Gregory Williams. The look in his daughter’s eyes was the purest of fears.

“Daddy, I won’t pretend that this whole thing isn’t going to be very hard to deal with and find a way fix, but if it can be fixed it will be,” she said. Her dad nodded.

“Abigail there is one other thing that you might want to consider. I don’t know if your Owen would be willing to consider it, but . . .” he said.

“Daddy?” she said.

“Well, in talking over things as we did, I asked if there was any way that the Army still might be able to fix his face, at least that. Sam kinda laughed and told me that he’d heard other guys in his situation talking about a way, but that it was hugely expensive and the Army wouldn’t or couldn’t sign off on stuff like it for a single soldier,” said Gregory Williams. “He wasn’t even sure if the guys he heard talking knew what they were talking about, but it is what he heard.”

“Daddy what are you saying. Are you saying that there is a way to fix my man’s facial injuries?” she said.

“Yes, well maybe, but the cost would be upwards of a million dollars, and it would have to be done overseas, Germany actually,” he said. “Supposedly there is only one guy who does stuff that complicated, but . . .”

“Daddy, if that is true, we will get it done. I mean if Sam will allow us to,” she said. “I’m sure I can convince Owen to fund the operation. He really does want to help Sam out. And, yes, I know he hasn’t even met the man. But Owen is a good man, and money will not be a problem.”

“Before you go making promises, Abigail, you have two things to consider. One, will Owen actually be willing to fund something that could cost more than a million dollars for your ex-husband. And two, is the operation even really possible. Is it a real thing? I mean all we have right now is hearsay among some recruits that have an interest in selling themselves on hope.”

“Daddy, if there is a chance to help Sam, Owen will find out if it’s for real, and if it is, how to go about it. Funding the operation, if it is a real thing, will not be a problem, not at all,” she said.

“Okay then, talk to Owen and see for sure what’s what. And the other thing?” he said.

“The matter of fatherhood,” she said.

“Yes,” he said. “Regardless of any hope, real or imagined, of fixing some of Sam’s injuries, he will not even begin the process of coming back to us without that matter being taken care of to his satisfaction.”

“Okay, Daddy, I understand. I will be talking to Owen soon,” she said. “Like I said, he called and told me he’d be back later today or tomorrow latest.”

CHAPTER 12

They’d been talking for a while, but the big man could sense it was crunch time.

“Abigail, you know that whatever you want is what you are going to get. So tell me, what is it that you need, want, what all,” he said.

“Like I mentioned: I went to see him, his dad went to see him, and then my dad went to see him, all in the last few days since you’ve been gone, a regular parade,” said Abigail. Her husband smiled.

“Yes, seems so,” he said.

“Everyone, including me, had the same revelation if that’s what it was. I mean seeing him like that! Owen, the man has no hope of any kind of a life, not even a bad one,” she said.

“But? There’s a but in there somewhere, right?” he said. She gave him a look. She swallowed. He noticed.

“Yes,” she said.

“Abigail?” he said.

“Actually a couple of buts, as you say,” she said.

“Okay,” he said. “What are they?”

“There may be a way to fix his face. When he was in Germany, there were rumors or something that there was a doctor who could work miracles of reconstruction of faces disfigured by war,” she said.

“Okay, but you say rumors. So . . .?” he said.

“Yes, apparently some of the soldiers that were in the hospital at the time with him had heard of this guy that could do the job, but that the guy was about the only one on the planet who could, and he was costly, very costly,” said Abigail.

“How costly?” said Owen.

“Upwards of a million dollars,” she said. They were in the kitchen, and her husband, who had been standing, took a seat at the breakfast bar.

“Okay, we were going to offer him half a million anyway. So a million, while it’s a lot more, it’s still not a deal breaker,” he said. “But, you said this guy may not be the real thing, right?”

“The fact is I don’t know. I don’t even know if Sam actually believes whether it’s true or not. It’s just what he told my dad he’d heard somewhere while he was in the hospital,” she said. “I guess we’d have to find out. Does Velma speak German by any chance?” He snickered.

“Oddly, she does, and four other languages as well,” he said. “Okay, I’ll put her on it. It’s going to drive up the cost, but if it can be done, it’ll be done.”

“Thank you, my husband, thank from the bottom of my heart,” she said.

“Is that all?” he said. She looked away.

“Abigail? Is there something else?” he said.

“Yes. It’s about the children,” she said. “Well, their fatherhood.”

“Okay, and . . .” he said.

“When my dad went to see him, he talked with him long. Dad tried to convince him to come home and accept help from all of us. Kind of bring him into the fold so to speak. But he wasn’t having any. Then he apparently asked a question, that is Sam did?” she said.

“A question?” he said.

“Yes, he wanted to know how the children referred to you. Meaning did they call you dad, or stepdad, or what,” she said.

“What did your dad tell him?” said Owen.

“He told him the truth, lying to Sam is definitely a nonstarter,” she said. “But, he did tell him that neither you nor I wanted to separate him from his children that we wanted them to have a good relationship with him too, and that as one of two daddies.”

“How did he react?” he said.

“Not how you might expect. He expected that the children would be calling you daddy. Dad said he actually smiled even laughed a little when he told him. Then he came up with his demand, I guess would be the way to say it,” she said.

“Demand?” he said.

“Remember, Owen, I broke his heart. We, you and I, have been living well while he hasn’t even been living, not in any real sense of the term,” she said.

“I can relate to that. What does he want, Abigail, spell it out?” he said.

“He realizes that the children will be living with us, and he accepts it, things being what they are. But, he wants them introduced to them as their daddy—their only daddy,” she said.

The man across from her paled. “Huh?” he said.

“We’ve adopted them,” he said. “They are legally ours. I want and need to be their daddy, Abigail.”

“I know. I’m open to suggestions,” she said.

****

I’d arrived early, and I had an ulterior motive. I was making sure that my ex-father-in-law had had it right and that the cheaters were willing to do and say what he’d said that they would. I trusted Gregory Williams, but he was not one of the principals in this particular saga nor was his wife Cecilia; their daughter was, but not them.

“So they are actually willing to ‘allow’ me to take my rightful place as their daddy,” I said. The question was sort of rhetorical.

“Yes, I have Abby’s word on that one. But, that said there are a couple of wrinkles that they are going to have to iron out with you,” he said. I know my look was challenging.

“Wrinkles? What wrinkles?” I said.

“Like I said, they have to deal with you one on one on those, or actually two on one I guess,” he said.

“But I get to be daddy, the only daddy, right?” I said. “That’s set in stone?”

“Yes, like I also said, I have her word on that. I haven’t talk to Owen, but she assures me that he will not be a problem in that regard,” said Gregory.

“Okay, then,” I said. I was nodding, but it was a challenging nod.

****

I was early but not that early. A half an hour later the first of the guests arrived, my dad.

“Hi Dad,” I said. He seemed out of breath to me, but okay otherwise: I wondered how far down the driveway he’d parked.

“Son, good to see you today, especially today I guess,” he said. “Greg clued me about the importance of this little party if that’s what it is.”

“That is exactly what it is,” said Greg, joining us.

Cecilia pulled me aside. Well she was the only one of the three seniors who hadn’t as yet prepped me as to how I should act or react during this more than strange party, meeting, conference whatever it was. I figured this would be her contribution to the cause. I was right.

“Sam, I know you’re jittery, all of us are. And, I can assure you that the Cords are going to be even more jittery than any of us.

“Tonight old problems may or may not be resolved. New ones may present themselves. But none such should be a reason to just dump all hope of developing a rapport among all of you, and yes, I mean especially the children,” she said.

“Cecilia, I understand what you’re saying. I won’t be rocking any boats tonight. Tomorrow might be a whole different issue, but this afternoon and tonight, well, not,” I said.

“Good,” she said. “Sam, a little bit of a heads up maybe, okay?”

“Okay,” I said, “but, a heads up?”

“Yes, about Owen, he’s not the wicked warlock of the East. Yes, he took your wife away from you and that was wrong, bad. But it happens sometimes. Half of all marriages end in divorce. Yours is one of those in the divorce half.

“The man’s actually a good guy. He has done well by Abby and the kids and has never said anything bad about you or any of that. He actually wants to do right by you. He knows that that’s going to be a hard sell. But he hopes you’ll be willing to listen and to give him a chance,” she said.

“Cecilia, all I’ve got, and I haven’t gotten it yet is my fatherhood. If he’s good with that, if they all are; then we won’t be needing to talk or any of it. All will be good.

“I know I will never have Abby’s love again. She’s given it to another. But, I want and need the love of my children, and I do mean as their undisputed and only daddy. I get that, like I said, it’ll all be good,” I said.

She looked dubious, but she nodded her agreement.

****

We all continued to talk for a bit. My dad was the first to hear the car pull up.

“They’re here,” he said.

The older man noticed the younger man swallowing and sweating. He’d seen cases of nerves like his son’s before, and there was not a thing one could do to put an end to them, not a thing. He was really hoping that his daughter and her husband would have settled things and come to the right decision: the promised decision.

“Hello, everybody,” said Owen. He was positively ebullient. Apparently jittery nerves were not part of his persona on this early September afternoon, thought Aaron Bradshaw. He’d never met the man, but as first impressions went he seemed okay. He wondered what his son was thinking.

The moment of truth had arrived. I was in my chair across the room from the new arrivals. I’d never met the man, never even seen a picture. All I knew about him was the snippets of conversation that referenced him when talking to either Abigail or our respective parents.

Abigail approached me. Her new man, well not all that new actually, followed a few feet behind her. He looked—strong, confident, intimidating. Still, I had to wonder, if under the apparent veneer, he wasn’t as nervous as I was. I doubted it judging by his entrance, and that bothered me.

“Sam,” said Abigail, “this is Owen, Owen Cord.” He stepped forward and offered me his hand. Well, my arms weren’t paralyzed, just my legs, so after a tentative pause, and an accompanying stare, I reached out and shook hands with him—weakly. It was a “very” tentative shake and weird. He’d stolen my wife, was no doubt in tight with my children as their dad, and I was shaking hands with the man. That had to be the very definition of weird.

“Nice to meet you, Sam,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said, very quietly and totally insincerely.

I noticed that the children, who’d come in behind the senior Cords were kind of hanging back. I was sure that they remembered who and what I was: they’d been three at the time. But the looks I was getting told me that my face, which had not been overtly paid attention to by any of the adults, was being paid attention to by them. Well, and they were bare eight years old.

Abigail motioned the twins to come to her. Her husband backed up a bit giving her space. It was another moment of truth.

They came close and huddled close to their mother. They were eight years old, but clearly as nervous as could be. I was smiling. It was a contrived smile, and not very pretty I knew, but I was trying.

“Sarah,” Abigail nodded to the girl on her right, then turning to the other waif she smiled, “Mia, do you remember your daddy?” she said. I breathed a small sigh of relief. I knew that that, my feeling of relief, could change in a heartbeat, but for the moment I was more or less satisfied. The children nodded but didn’t immediately say anything.

It was tense for the next minutes while nothing of consequence was said by anybody and virtually nothing at all by me or by Owen. Cecilia took up the slack.

“It’s a nice day,” she said, “I’ve taken the liberty of setting things up out on the back patio.”

“It was a nice day, though the temperature was in the nineties. Well, it was still early September, and it was Arizona.

There was an immediate hubbub of agreement. Everybody seemed bent on getting out to the patio before everybody else. I had the feeling that the reason for the interest in moving outside was to avoid having to talk about anything meaningful any sooner than was necessary. It kind of amused me in a tragic sort of way.

The children were seated beside me, me in my chair them on the patio table’s bench. The symbolism was clear. They, the Cords were giving me what space and position that they could, well, so far they were.

Dinner was real good. Cecilia and Greg had put together some good barbecue with all of the fixins. Everybody including me complimented them.

Dinner over, the children joined me, apparently of their own accord. I wondered at that. They were clearly seriously put off by my ugly face. But they were also clearly curious.

“Mister Bradshaw . . .” started Sarah. “Daddy,” corrected Mia.

“Oh yes, Daddy,” said Sarah.

“It’s all right girls,” I said. “I know calling me daddy again is going to take some getting used to, right?”

The two of them nodded in unison.

“I know you girls might not remember me too good. You were younger. That was some few years ago now,” I said.

“We know, Daddy. We kinda remember. Momma said you were an important soldier for America,” said Sarah.

“Yes, she said some bad guys shot you with a gun,” said Mia.

“Yes, well sort of,” I said.

“Can’t you go to the doctor and get your face and stuff fixed?” said Mia.

“I’m afraid not,” I said. “Am I too scary for you girls?”

“No,” said Sarah, but she was clearly not being totally truthful. In her case, I could understand her being disingenuous. I just smiled.

My God how I loved being with these two beautiful little hearts, my little hearts.

The evening progressed and so far no one had said anything worth mentioning. I’d met the man, but apart from the initial greetings had not spoken to him the whole afternoon or now evening. I wasn’t actually avoiding him, but I wasn’t hunting him down to engage him in conversation either. I just could not think of a thing to say to the man that meant anything. Conversely, I suppose the same could have been said of him; well, he hadn’t made any attempt to engage me in conversation either.

“Sam, I know that tonight seemed a little bit—something,” said Abigail, coming up to me. I nodded.

“Yes, but maybe a beginning,” I said. She gave me a look that was not really supportive.

“Abby?” I said, my tone rising, challenging her. She looked away. I was getting a seriously hinky feeling. “Is there something going on here that I’m not going to like? If so please get it said and done. If you and your husband are playing me, I swear . . .”

“Sam, we have a lot more talking to do, but not tonight; it’s getting late. Okay if I come by soon to talk or maybe bring you to our place so you can be with the children; and, so that you and I and maybe Owen, if you want, can talk?” she said. She hadn’t answered me, not yet.

“Maybe. But I can’t drive so if I’m going to get to your place to see ‘my’ babies . . .

“But anyway, I still want an answer to my question.”

“Question?” she said. She was clearly and consciously avoiding answering me. It was so obvious.

“Is there something going on here that I am not going to like? Kindly be straight with me,” I said.

“No,” she said. “But, there are a whole lot of things that need to be discussed and talked out and understood, by us more than by you; but just not now, not this late at night. Whaddya say?”

“Okay, I guess I understand that we will have things to talk about. But what about him? Do I gotta talk to him?” I said.

“We’ll play that one by ear, but in practical terms, Sam, I don’t know how we can avoid talking to each other and not include Owen. Look, Sam, Owen is not a bad guy. I understand you not wanting to be close to him and all. And yes, I have noticed that neither of you has made any effort to talk to one another today, and nobody’s pushing it. But in the future . . .” she said.

“Okay, okay, so long as it’s recognized that I’m the girls’ daddy, their only daddy, I guess I can bend a little. I will bend a little. But if my fatherhood is going to be watered down . . .” I said.

“It will not be. I can promise you that much. You are their father, period. Promise,” she said.

“Okay then, but you’ll have to pick me up if we have to meet here in Phoenix. I mean if it’s not too much trouble. I will say at some point I would like to be discussing custody and residency with you, I mean concerning the girls. I know right now it would not be practical for them to be staying with me considering everything. I mean I don’t have a car that I can drive them to school with, and my place is just a one bedroom hovel; but sooner or later I will be getting a job and a car I can drive, I know they make ‘em, and a better place; and then it will be another matter. I mean residency,” I said.

She was nodding but it, her nodding, was dubious. She clearly didn’t think that I could get done the things I was saying I was going to get done. Truth told I wasn’t sure either, but it wouldn’t be for lack of trying that was for damn sure.

 

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