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Hard Luck, Harlan Lawton - Chapter 2 of 2

Sometimes getting the good stuff takes for-freakin'-ever!
Sitting in a bar and crying in one's beer is a less than delightful way to live a life. That said, it is a primo way to think things over.

So here was Jennifer allowing me, an old flame, an ex-husband, a complete loser the opportunity to get his rocks off, occasionally, and that for free! That there was a downside to that kind of favor does not seem to have occurred to her. My ego was crushed, but my balls were emptied out. My self-esteem, what little I’d had, was reduced to a vague mist in the ether of the eternal cosmos. Did the woman think me that low? Did she love me? The answer to both questions seemed to be yes.

Still, that Jennifer no longer had any respect for me was clear; she felt sorry for me. And, again, I think too, that she still loved me a little and maybe even felt a little bit guilty about what she'd done to me. Questions answered, but now there were other questions, new questions. Should I bite the bullet and accept that I was a loser and take what I could get? Was there a way that I could redeem myself at least in my own eyes if not in Jennifer's or for that matter anyone else's? Yes, bars were good places to ruminate and plan and make choices; and oh yes, to drink.

******

"You play very nicely," she said.

"Thanks, that's nice to hear," I said. "Can I get you another one of those?" The woman eyed me warily.

"Sure, why not," she said. I signalled to Richard, who was on duty himself that night, pointed to her wine glass and smiled. He nodded and brought the replacement Chardonnay moments later.

She was tall, maybe five-nine; she was a hard body, and she was Natalie Cummings currently active U.S Army. Why couldn't some of the women that I tended to meet be shorter than me, I thought. But, what the heck, as Frank Sinatra once sang: "The taller the tree is the sweeter the peach."

"No boyfriend tonight?" I said. Okay, I was fishing.

"Broke up. A couple of weeks now. Thought I'd get out and socialize a little," she said. I smiled again; this was looking good.

We talked for the rest of my break, and when the last set was history, she was still there listening and sipping her wine. I went over to her.

"Hi, again, I guess you must really like jazz," I said. "Any chance a guy like me could hope to have dinner with a looker like you sometime?" I said. She was a looker too. Brown hair, green eyes, bright smile, wide female hips, 34Bs—if I was any judge. Yes she was a looker for sure.

"Are you asking me for a date?" she said. I sighed expecting a turndown.

"Yeah," I said. "But, I'll understand if . . ." My insecurity was showing, I knew, but I was helpless to do anything about it.

"The answer is yes," she said, and laughed out loud. "Why so tentative? You're a nice looking man. Of course I'll have dinner with you." She clearly had no problem lying. But, I was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. After what Jennifer had done to me, again, I was hoping to get at least a smidgen of my self-esteem reestablished.

We met at the Huntington; it was Saturday night. The Huntington was a classy little restaurant downtown. The food was good, the wine better, and the company super. My hopes were rising. We danced a little, and I felt the old rhythm coming back into my feet. A little jumpin' and jivin' and I was in the groove again. It felt good, and my partner was good.

We didn't quite close the place, and on the way home she moved in close to me. "You're a very nice guy," she said. "You can ask me out again." I was feeling real good.

At her door she kissed me. Now children, if there ever comes a time, when I, as a man, could relive a moment in time; I pray, I mean I pray, that it will be the moment of that kiss; it was definitely that good. The softness, the emotion, the smell, the taste: I'd never experienced anything like it.

Pulling away, she looked me in the eye, "I'd invite you in, Harlan, but not this first time. But, you can get your hopes up for future opportunities," she said.

"Harlan?"

"Huh?" I said.

"What's your middle name?" she said.

"Andrew," I said.

"Hmm, HAL," she said.

"Hal?" I said.

"Yeah, Harlan Andrew Lawton," she said.

"Oh, yeah, I wasn't thinking," I said. She laughed.

We dated at least once a week over the next month, and I did finally get into her pants on our sixth date. It was great for the first half hour; then we had a visitor, and it was no longer great.

******

"Paul!" she screamed at the newcomer. "What are you doing here?" she said. "Get out!" He snarled.

"Whaddya doing with this twerp," he said. "He" turned out to be Paul Higgins, Natalie's ex-boyfriend.

"I'm fucking him! And why not, he's better than you, and trustworthy, unlike you," she said. He snarled again.

"Get the fuck outta here, asshole," he said, moving toward me menacingly. I stood my ground which proved to be a less than brilliant move on my part.

"You get out," I said, "like the lady said."

I guessed him to be maybe six-two and two-thirty. He was young, maybe late twenties. He was clearly in shape, and I knew him to be Army strong, that from my conversations with Natalie.

Of course I was right up there with him: age fifty, mid-fives tall, 160 as of my latest weigh in, and not entirely a physical disgrace.

Yeah, that oughta make the fight about even, not!

I was naked, but oddly, not embarrassed. But, I think he was, and it was making him mad. I never saw the strike coming. It landed square on my jaw. After that I wouldn't be feeling anything until a little later. Evidently he beat the living daylights out of me.

I thought I could hear Natalie screaming, but there was no comprehension of her words. The paramedics and the cops arrived at roughly the same moment. I was only half conscious, but I remember wondering why there couldn't be a cute nurse or two trying to save me; instead I was being saved by a couple of black guys who seemed to consider my condition more than a little dubious. That was all I remembered, until noon the following day when I finally awoke.

Finally, a pretty nurse. "How are you feeling," she said.

"Not sure," I said. "Am I going to live?"

"Probably, but you'll need to be here for a few more days," she said, smiling. "There's somebody here to see you if you're up to it." I nodded, I figured I knew who it was. I was right.

"Hi, Harlan," said Natalie. "My God you took such a beating. I blame myself, my little man." She had to say that, I thought wistfully. "Paul really isn't a bad man; he just lost it. I hate what he did too you, really." There was something in the way she said this last that bothered me, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

"Well, that's okay. So long as I get the girl, it was worth it," I said. She looked away, and I had a sinking feeling. I just knew it. I knew it. It was going to happen again. "What's the matter, Nat?" I said.

"Harlan, I'm, I'm getting back with him. I know it seems like a slap in the face to you. But, it isn't really. He and I belong together. If I hadn't caught him, well caught him with another woman, well . . ."

"Oh, I see," I said. "I guess if it makes you happy . . ." I started. I was starting to cry. Not about her breaking off with me, but because I just couldn't seem to break away from the acute case of loser-itis that seemed to envelop me.

She spent the next hour trying to console me. She was a great gal, but, I guess I knew all along that she was never really going to be my gal.

Natalie visited me once more. It was on the day before I was released. We promised to remain friends and keep in contact. I knew we wouldn't of course, but it was what was necessary to say at that time and place. She kissed me lightly on the lips one last time and left. It was the last I would ever see of my Army girl.

Her boyfriend, I'd heard, had spent a few days in jail, but was released when I didn't press charges. I had intended to, but Natalie had asked me to think about it, and she had been so good to me while we had been together that I did her a favor. I had rarely been respected as she had respected me; it had meant a lot.

******

"Okay, mister Lawton, but take it easy for a few more days. Nothing was broken, but you have some very severe contusions and that concussion is nothing to sneeze at," the doctor said.

A male nurse wheeled me out to the curb where I'd called a cab to come get me. Richard'd said he would've come, but I waved him off. A cab would be fine. I did intend to rest for a few days, and I didn't want to answer a lot of simplistic questions. A voice behind me and to my right got my attention.

"Waitin' for a cab, big boy?" the voice said. I winced. "I sent him away."

"What are you doing here, Jennifer? Here to gloat or laugh or maybe offer me another mercy fuck," I said. I could feel her frown even though I had not turned around to see her.

"I can't do anything right by you, can I? She said.

"Sure you can. How about leaving me alone," I said. She ignored me.

"You're taking me out for coffee, and we're going to talk. Then, I will drive you home and help you get settled back in. I can see you need a bit of looking after for now. Oh, and don't figure on getting lucky either. One you're not in any shape to do me properly, and two, I'm pissed at you," she said.

"I don't want to have coffee with you, and I can still call a cab, so back off," I said.

"No." With that she wheeled me over to her new car, another Caddy; it looked real nice. She wasn't actually rough, but she wasted no time getting me out of the mandatory wheelchair and into the car. The ride to Denny's was absolutely silent for the first half of the drive.

"You might as well surrender. I need to talk to you, and you need to listen. Don't worry, I promise not to humiliate you, again. And, for what it's worth, I get it now. I never meant to before, but I understand that I did," she said.

I looked at her like she was something out of a bad novel. "Whatever," I said.

Of course I surrendered. Seated at Denny's, she got right to it. "You need to let me come see you from to me to time. We may be divorced, but I still have feelings for you. I can't help it but I do."

"Yeah, like I believe you," I said. "You couldn't stand to have me around when we were married. Hell, I think you were actually ashamed of me." She looked at me like she couldn't believe what she heard. Then, a light seemed to come on in her head.

"My God! Is that what you think?" she said.

"Come on, Jennifer. We've been over this. We went over it during the divorce," I said.

"No we didn't. You whined about me ignoring and neglecting you, but not that I was ashamed of you," she said. "I never was. I mean never."

"Then why did you abandon me on all of those weekends with Marie. The truth and nothing but, please," I said.

She sighed. "Let me start with a question or two of my own first, okay?" I nodded for her to go ahead.

"It's complicated. But, didn't I treat you good at home?" she said.

"You didn't nag or throw things, but the sex . . ."

"But we cuddled and kissed some and stuff, and once or twice a week I let you do me, as I recall. Right?" she said.

"Yeah, so what?" I said.

"Okay." She paused. "Oh this is going to be hard." I waited. More of the same old shit I figured was coming.

"Harlan I thought you were bored with me and the sex we had when we did do it. I figured it was just us getting old and losing interest in stuff, well, sex; that's all," she said.

I snickered but kept my mouth shut for once.

"Harlan, I was having an affair. I'd been having it with a younger man for a long time. Frankly, I needed it. I needed to be, well, fucked and fucked good, and you weren't getting it done," she said.

My face must have betrayed my feelings. "Oh, don't; don't cry for goodness sakes, Harlan. Frankly that's been part of our problem. For a man who has seen killing and tragedy and all of that stuff in the war zone, you are such a whiny little wimp," she said.

"So, it is true; you were fucking around on me, behind my back. I was nothing but your cuckold," I said, my bitterness showing through. "Well, hell, water under the bridge now, I guess." I paused.

"Harlan , I’m sorry. I was a shit and a selfish one . . ."

"So I'm just a whiny little wimp, huh? What happened to, 'I promise not to humiliate you today’," I said. She flushed.

"I'm sorry. I did it again didn't I," she said. The question was rhetorical.

"Yeah, I guess," I said. "Can we go home now? I need to rest. I'm actually under doctor's orders to do just that. And, oh, I promise not to put the make on you. Really, you can trust me." She scowled.

"Almost," she said. "I have a couple of things that I'd planned to say, and I'd more than appreciate it if you would indulge me. Okay?" I was exasperated, but I figured what the hell; what else could she do or say to me that she hadn't already. I was about to learn just how in error was my thinking.

"Harlan, I love you. You're short, really too short for me to dance with except to the faster stuff. You whine like a little boy all of the time. We don't like the same kind of nightlife. You're into old people's music: jazz and stuff like that; I prefer the modern stuff. You like rye whiskey, I like white wine. You have no serious ambition; you're depending on your 'way too early' military retirement; I'm a go getter in the business world; what kind of man let's his wife make most of the money for chryssakes. And your cock, all five inches of it, you get me off maybe one in twenty times.

"In short, Harlan, you need to get a grip and learn how to be a man. A man that a woman can look up to and take pride in.

"I cheated to feel like a woman. Harlan, if you don't want me, find yourself a woman who can love you like I do, and treat her like a treasure; make her feel like a woman.

She paused, "Harlan, even after all of the above, I tell you I love you more today than I did the day you went off to war to serve our country. You are a gentle, trusting, sensitive and faithful man." She paused again.

"Well, there," she said, "I've said my piece." She looked at me with a wrinkled brow. I could not, for the life of me, decipher what her look was telling me. Nor could I imagine the mindset that had prompted her to unload on me as she had.

"Well, I can see that what you'd planned to tell me, as in fact you just have, was couched in such a way as to spare me even the slightest vestige of humiliation.

"Are you fucking crazy, Jennifer! We are fucking divorced!

"You love me? Excuse the fuck outta me if I find that hard to believe! Now, can we go home! I need to rest and hopefully die! Okay?" I said. Oddly, I didn't feel bad, well, not as bad as one might think should have been the case after hearing a monologue like the one she'd just delivered.

We drove in utter, thunderous, freezing silence. I was surprised to see that she seemed to be fighting back tears. Well hell, I'd shed enough of them because of her. Excuse the hell outta me if I was a little short on empathy.

She did help me get settled in, in spite of my once again killed ego, and after an uncomfortable half hour she left. I wasn't to see her again for a while, a long while.

******

My fiftieth came and went. I'd met a couple of women over the year since my last meeting with Jennifer, and things had seemed to be going my way for once. But, for guy like me, that kind of luck couldn't last; I knew it and I was right.

I was sitting in Richard's sipping a Corona when someone took the stool right next to me. I looked over and my heart sank. "Hello, Harlan," she said.

"Marie! What are you doing here," I said.

"Talking to you. You got a few?" she said.

I kinda stared, and she took it wrong. "I'm not here to make you feel uncomfortable, Harlan. I just would like to talk to you for a few minutes," she said. "Would that be all right?" I nodded, and we headed for a table against the far wall.

As we settled in, I surveyed the woman. Marie was a still a tight little maid for sure. Five-seven, one-ten, short dark hair, and small breasts that gave her a little girl look. She smelled great too.

"So, how are the children?" I said. "Growing, I'd expect."

She smiled. "They are that. Jenna's ten now and Willy's eleven. They're good babies. They miss you. It's been a long time. You really owe it to yourself to come see them sometime. In fact, I'd appreciate it if you would.

I didn't say, yeah so I could babysit for you, that would have been out of line at that moment. "So, what does bring you to this part of town, Marie?" I said.

"I thought you should know; Jennifer's in love. She's found a man. You waited too long, Harlan. She could have been yours, you know, she waited a long time for you to get your head outta your ass," she said. I looked at her wistfully.

"She never loved me, Marie. No, that's wrong. She loved me like one loves a helpless puppy. That won't do for me. I need respect and specialness. She was not ready to let me have those. But, for what it's worth, I still love her. Tell her that, and tell her I wish her every happiness," I said.

"I will, Harlan. Well, I will let you go. Please, do stop in and see the children soon, okay?"

I nodded and said I would. And I did, a month later. And I was stunned by what I learned.

******

"Marie, what's the matter," I said, as she ushered me inside. "The children okay?"

"Huh? Oh, yes, Harlan, they're fine. They're in the back on the computer playing some game or other," she said.

"Marie, come on, what gives? You look like someone who’s had some very bad news," I said.

"It is bad news, Harlan. Very bad news." I looked at her and waited.

"It's Mike Longstreet, Harlan. He's very ill. If he doesn't get a kidney transplant soon; he'll be gone," she said. "His own system is poisoning him. I don't know the details, but that's pretty much the long and the short of it."

"Kidney transplant? Mike who?" I said.

"Yes, both of his kidneys failed. Oh, you don't know do you. Mike is Jennifer's fiancé," she said.

"Wow!" I said. "Jennifer must be a wreck. Let me know if there is anything I can do." I was uncomfortable with Jennifer on two counts. One, she was getting married. Two, the guy she was apparently in love with was in bad shape. I wasn't asshole enough to want to see the guy die, but it was clearly none of my business, or so I thought.

Marie and I talked for a few more minutes before I was reintroduced to my old favorite audience. I played their keyboard for them, we did a couple of sing-alongs to some of our old favorites and hugged and got reacquainted with each other. They had grown a lot and Jenna showed signs of becoming a carbon copy of her beautiful mommy. Helluva thing.

As I was leaving Marie's house and giving the children my word that I wouldn't be a stranger, I was stung to the core.

"So, anyway, Marie, don't forget to give my best to you sister, okay?" I said.

"I will, but unless that new man of hers can find a blood match things are going to be very bad for her. You know the guy has one of the rarest blood types around?' she said.

"Really?" I said.

"Yeah, I think it's AB-negative, if I have it right. Only about one half of one percent of the population has it. Very rare.

"Anyway, please come back. The children love you, Harlan," she said.

"I will," I said, rather quietly. She didn't notice.

I was sick, sick to my stomach. My blood type was AB-negative. I didn't even know if Jennifer knew it, that in spite of our relatively long association and marriage. It's not something that comes up unless someone is ill. The only reason I knew mine was because of my stint in the military. I didn't know what Jen's blood type was, so it is likely she didn't know mine.

******

"Michael Longstreet? No he's not here. He's an outpatient. Are you family?" said nurse Joan.

"Yes," I lied. "Any chance of seeing his doctor?"

"Doctor Linz. Yes, she's on duty. Let me see," she said. She headed over to the nurse's station across the annex and made a call. I could see her nodding and looking over at me. I was surprised when a short, maybe five-two woman, of middle age emerged from a doorway ten feet from me. Nurse Joan pointed at me.

"Mr. Lawton?" she said.

"Yes. I'm here about Mr. Longstreet," I said.

“And, you’re family?” she said.

“No, I lied about that. I had to see you,” I said. She gave me a look, but turned back toward the door through which she had come.

"Come with me," she said. We retreated to the room, office, she'd just emerged from. "How can I help you, Mr. Lawton?" We both took seats and faced each other six feet apart.

"I may be able to help," I said, "I'm AB-negative." She gave me what can only be described as a look of relief.

"Mister Lawton, if that is so, you may indeed be able to help. You may be in a position to save the man's life," she said.

I handed her my military records. They were old, but they had the kinds of info that a doctor like Hilary Linz had to have to make judgments. She looked up at me as she closed the folder.

"Clearly, Mr. Longstreet has a guardian angel, Mr. Lawton.

"And you are willing to donate a kidney to him? How long have you known him?" she said.

"It's complicated, doctor, and here's the deal. To answer your first question, yes, I am willing to donate a kidney. The answer to your second question is that I have never met him, and I don't want to, ever," I said.

"Would I be out of line to ask why?" she said. I hesitated.

"His fiancé is my ex-wife. She must never know. If that can be arranged, I am willing to donate my kidney to save the guy." She looked at me and smiled.

"I see," she said. "Obviously, you and your ex had an amicable divorce. How long ago?"

"Something over three years now," I said. She nodded sagely.

We talked for some minutes and she assured me that she could arrange the anonymous donation.

It was but two weeks later that I went under the knife. It was but two days after that that I was released by Dr. Linz. As I was being wheeled out the front door, she came up to me.

"You'll need some attention, Mr. Lawton. You need to go slow and be careful what you intake in the next little space; you know, as I've mentioned to you before. That said, how's your schedule tonight?" she said.

"Huh?" I said.

"I need to take you out to dinner. I want to talk to you," she said.

I looked at her with a cocked eye. "Dinner? With me?" I said. She smiled.

"Yes, I promise not to talk shop, not too much anyway," she said.

"Okay," I said. For the first time, I saw her as woman and not a medical professional. Could she actually be interested in me. She was a very female type. Not especially runway gorgeous in the face, but all of the parts were assembled in good order. The cab ride home was a time to think.

I wondered at the scene in Mr. Longstreet's room after his surgery which had occurred on the same day as mine. I knew Jen was happy, one of the nurses let me know a little bit of what went on. The man was still out of it at the time, but it was for her I'd done it if the truth were to be known.

"I'd gotten home at about three in the afternoon, and there were several messages on the phone from Marie. Essentially, they notified me that Jennifer's man had been saved by some anonymous donor. I smiled; it made me feel good.

It was almost 6:00 when I got a call.

"Harlan? Where have you been? I have been calling you for the past several days," she said.

"Oh, I was out of town," I lied. "I did get your messages. I'm glad Jen's man got the operation. How is Jen doing?"

"She's great. She still can't believe it, but she's great. She cried for two days after the doctor told her, them, the good news," she said.

"Well, I'm happy for her," I said. "Please give her, them, my best." We talked for a couple minutes more.

******

The good Dr. Linz picked me up at 7:00. I could walk okay, just real slow. The fact that I was in generally good shape worked for me.

We headed for the Red Barron. The doctor knew my economic status and insisted on paying and ordering. I submitted. I happened to be broke at that particular moment and McDonald's was about the best I could have done. The hundred bucks or so the Red Barron was going to hit us with was not happening if I'd had to pay.

Drinks in front of us, water, she started. "You did a wonderful thing for that man, Harlan." she'd taken to calling me by my first name in the days since our initial meeting. "Have you heard how his fiancé, your ex, reacted?" she said.

"A little, her sister called me to let me know how happy she was," I said, minimizing what Marie had told me.

"Happy? Oh, yes, she was happy. She actually fainted in my office and cried non-stop for the entire time she was there after I told her. The relief for the both of them was enormous.

"He was there too, as I say, it was after his dialysis session. He was stunned. He'd actually been prepared to, well, you know. He had all but despaired of finding a match. You can feel real good about him and what you did," she said.

"They don't . . ." I said.

"No, they don't know. No one does. I saw to that. If they ever find out it will have to be you that tells them," she said.

We talked for some time before the absolutely marvelous prime rib arrived. Talking to her, during dinner, I considered that here was yet another female who was way out of my league; I just couldn't seem to win or get into sync with nature. So one could well imagine my shock, not surprise but shock, when having driven me home, she asked to come in.

I had some herbal tea and she, my doctor, allowed it. We drank, talked some more, and flirted. Well, she flirted with me. I hadn't the nerve to reciprocate. We, she really, made a date for us for the following Saturday. We would be spending the day at her house.

We'd talked and shared and learned a lot about each other that night. She wasn't married, but had been some twenty years earlier. She was forty-eight and looking. She was very straight up about it. This was definitely a no nonsense woman who was used to making decisions, and she seemed to be in a hurry. Well, the truth is that I was too. A month later we were engaged three months after that we were married and settled into a new home.

The difference in our incomes was never an issue. She made a half-mil annual, I made around 35K. It never came up. She paid the bills, and I played the piano five nights a week at Richard's and kept the house up. I had put my foot down about having a maid, and she'd acquiesced. The sex was good, the mutual emotional support even better, and I fell head over heels in love with this wonderful creature.

My history of hard luck had run its course, and I was finally coming into some of the good stuff.

******

We were at the Hard Hat some few months later, when they came in. Well, you had to know that that was going to happen.

The look on Jennifer's face when she saw us was precious. The two of them came over. "Well, Dr. Linz, Harlan, I'm surprised," she said. "Uh, sorry, Harlan this is Mike. Uh, my husband." It was clear that she was doing her best not to embarrass or humiliate me once again. She was finally getting it.

"Hello, Jen," I said. "How have you been?" I said.

"Really good, Harlan. Mike, this is Harlan my ex-husband; I've told you about him," she said. She looked a little uncomfortable introducing me.

Her husband, Mike, looked unimpressed, if I had it right. He was clearly not thrilled to meet me; I had to wonder why. A big guy, handsome, likely used to having people fawn over him: but those were not reasons to take on an attitude, or so I considered. Still, he was on his more or less good behavior at the moment; he was in the presence of the doctor that had engineered his salvation.

"Nice to meet you," he said, I thought a little insincerely, but I let it go. I was happy and his attitude wasn't going to dampen my spirits. We talked for a minute or two more and Michael led his new wife away to their table.

Alone with my wife again, she smirked. "Remember," she said, "he doesn't know anything. Guys like him always think that they're the cat's meow. The good news is, if I am any judge, that his wife will give him hell when they get home." I laughed.

"Yeah, she probably will," I said.

******

“Michael, what were you thinking acting like that in front of Dr. Linz! And, just for the record, Harlan is a good guy. I’d really appreciate it if you would dump the attitude. Okay?” she said.

“Okay, okay,” he said. “It’s just . . .”

“Just what?” she said.

“I just can’t believe that you were ever married to a shrimp like him. I mean . . .” he said, smirking.

“You know, love of mine, you can be a serious asshole when you put your mind to it,” she said.

“Okay, okay I apologize,” he said. “He must have some hidden qualities that made it worth your while to marry him. I’ll lighten up. Okay?”

“Yes, do please,” she said.

******

Dinner done the band struck up some romantic airs and we headed for the crowded dance floor. One thing about being short, one could almost hide behind the larger bodies floating around dancing like we all were.

It happened that at one point we were within a few feet of Jennifer and her man, and they didn't see us. We were close enough to overhear one of his comments.

"Jen, I still can’t believe you were married to a shrimp like that?" he said, and he laughed. Hilary heard, as did I, and she frowned.

"I'm not letting that go," she said, looking at me. "He's about to learn one of life's most important lessons. Okay?" she was asking my approval. I nodded.

About twenty minutes later, my wife excused herself to the ladies room. She literally followed Jennifer in.

It was a long ten minutes before they emerged. They came to our table. I looked from one female to the other. Jennifer took a seat. “Harlan—I don’t know what to say. I am so grateful to you, sir. I am so fucking grateful. I will never, never be able to forgive myself for all of the . . . Never mind."

“Harlan, I know you’re married to this wonderful woman,” she nodded to my wife. “But for you to have done what you’ve done, for me and for my husband, had to have been born of love for me if not for him. Harlan, I never deserved a love like yours. Thank you with from the bottom of my heart, dear man.” She rose, looked at me and then my wife and motioned for us to follow her.

"Harlan, please follow me. You too Dr. Linz, please," she said. We rose to do her bidding. Approaching their table, I thought I saw a scowl that quickly faded as Jennifer pulled us to a stop in front of him and indicated that we should sit. We did.

"Mike, the Lawtons are coming to a barbecue at our house this weekend. Isn't that wonderful," said Jennifer.

"Huh?" he said. "Jen, I think that this weekend we might be . . ." he was clearly looking for a way out. I was howling inside, but outwardly remaining passive. My ex-wife, on the other hand, did not try to hide her glee.

"Did you know," she said interrupting him," that Harlan is AB-negative."

"Huh? Hey, I'm AB negative too," he said, finally interested in me as a fellow rare bird.

"And, he's here with Dr. Linz," she said. He looked at her as if trying to process her meaning. Slowly a smidgen of clarity seemed to be seeping into his consciousness. He looked directly at me.

"Harlan, my man, you are going to have the best barbecued steak you ever ate this weekend. You don't even have to bring the drinks," he said.

We all laughed. It turned out to be a really good steak, too, just like my new blood brother had promised.

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