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Best Friends Forever - Part Two of Thirteen

Dante wrote: . . . all hope abandon ye who enter here--but . . .

CHAPTER 3:

Sammy was right; I did drink too much, but I didn’t give a damn. I needed to drink and to drink often. And why the hell not, John Daniels loved me. I wonder what they’d named the baby. I wondered if it were a boy or a girl. I guess it didn’t matter; I’d never be meeting it—him, her.

It was strange it was. I couldn’t get the kid out of my mind. I couldn’t get the two of them out of my mind either. The way they’d done me. Was I jealous even after a year? I guess I was and bitter too. I needed my woman. The kid should’ve been mine. My best friend? Well, fuck him!

Work was a pain. I hated my job, my nothing job. Well, maybe it wasn’t such a nothing job, just not the kind of job that meant anything to my gold digger ex-wife. I wondered if they ever thought about me. Probably did. Likely felt sorry for me. That was why the two of them had tried to get me to be friends again I supposed. Friends with my own wife, ex-wife! Would’ve been a first. Maybe one for Guinness.

At any rate, drinking was good, very good. And Marie and Jackie loved me. They were my friends. I’d talked to them a lot, maybe more than even Sammy. Hmm, well it was close that one. I did talk to Sammy a ton; Sammy understood my pain, and he did sympathize, sometimes too much.

“Let’s get a booth,” said Sammy and Henry coming up to me and nudging me off of my stool.

“Shit, Sammy, you scared the heck outta me,” I said.

“Come on, sport,” said Henry. “The seats are better over there.” I shrugged, picked up my JD and followed them over to the line of booths against the far wall that bordered the smallish dance floor.

I plopped down on the padded bench to the right; my buds took the one across from me.

“You guys interrupted what was working out to be a perfectly good evening of depression,” I said, not exactly smirking when I said it.

“Yeah, well, what the hey, we’re here to make your evening even more of a downer,” said Sammy.

“Yeah, well thank you for that,” I said.

“Let me interrupt this truly wonderful moment of morbidity,” said Henry.

I tilted my glass indicating he should feel free.

“Jimmy, you’ve gotta stop being late so much at work. Charlie’s been cutting you some slack these past months because he knows how hard your breakup with Claire has been on you. He went through the same thing and completely understands, but his boss is starting to ride him. Anyway, that’s why we are both here tonight,” said Henry.

“Hmm, passing along the message, that it?” I said. Sammy nodded.

“Yeah kinda,” said Henry.

“Okay, message received,” I said.

“There’s something else,” said Sammy.

“Something else?” I said.

“Yeah, Colleen saw your ex again the other day. She came in with her daughter for the kid’s periodic checkup I guess. Anyway that’s what Colleen said,” said Sammy. I looked down.

“Daughter?” I said. I’d wondered since I’d heard they’d had a kid whether it was a boy or a girl; now I knew.

“Yeah, a little girl,” said Sammy.

“She shoulda been mine,” I whispered. “She’d be what now, maybe a year old?”

“Jim, I’ll say it again, you’ve gotta get over her, them. There’s a woman out there just waiting for you to make her day. But no woman wants a guy with the baggage you’ve been carrying around,” said Henry.

I nodded, I knew he was right, but that didn’t change my mood an iota. “Yeah, I know,” I said. I took another sip of my JD.

The conversation turned to other topics over the next while. I guess I was paying attention. Every once in a while one or the other of my buds would laugh or slap one the other on the back. I smiled a lot, I was sure of that much. I contributed the truth that my USC Trojans were better than Henry’s Texas Longhorns; well, he was originally from Amarillo, so I guess he had no choice.

We got out of there, the Crossroads, at a bit past midnight and it was Friday night, actually Saturday morning now. I had my car, but I decided to walk home, again. One, I was seriously drunk; and two, I needed to think and walking did that for me. Hell, it was only four miles.

An hour and a half later I tried my key; it still worked. There’s an upside to everything.

I hated the idea of being around the woman, but at the same time, I needed to be, was desperate to be. What the hell was that about! I sure as hell didn’t know. I resigned myself to another night of being alone and lonely and desperate for a woman’s touch, a woman’s love. I needed those badly and I had no hope of getting any. Well, I had no hope of getting any from the woman I most wanted to get them from.

Sammy and Henry’s words came back to me. Go find me another fish in the sea? Maybe, I guess I had to try. Living like I was twern’t good, no good for anything or anybody. Yeah, I guess I had to make the effort. Who knows maybe down the line I’d have me a daughter or son of my own; wouldn’t that be the cat’s meow! I wonder what the two of them would think of that. I snickered, even though nobody was around to see me snicker, probably look down on me and mine; that was the probable answer to that question.

****

I’d just gotten done delivering a load to Franklin’s Super Store, a grocery outlet with sixteen locations throughout the state; it was actually near my apartment at the Randall, maybe half a mile away.

I was sitting down at Mary’s Diner across the street from the drop when he pulled up a chair across from me. I hadn’t even gotten my corned beef yet, and the sonovabitch was sitting across from me staring; well, I thought he was staring.

“And just what the fuck does my worst enemy in the whole world want now. And how the fuck did you know where to find me!” I said.

“In reverse order: I happened to be here for lunch too; pure coincidence. As for being your worst enemy, I’m not, you are,” he said.

”Hmm, I don’t believe your number one, and I sure as hell differ with you per your number two. So, now that we’ve settled those matters you can fucking leave. I need to eat and I need to make a living and you’re standing in the way of both,” I said.

“Look, Jim, let’s talk a bit. Would that be all right? I’m not here to cause you any trouble or grief. Really I’m not,” he said.

For whatever reason, I shrugged; it was shrug tinged with bitterness, and I’m sure he got the message, but it was a shrug nevertheless. “Get to it,” I said.

The man across from me sighed, as well he might. “Would it be all right if I bought me a cup of coffee?” he said.

“Yeah, but don’t plan on staying long. I really don’t feel good about you being here coincidence or not,” I said. He signaled the waitress who was just passing by.

My lunch arrived at the same time as his coffee. How fucking timely, I thought.

“We miss you, Jim. I know it sounds self-serving, but it’s the truth. And by we, I do mean the both of us. Yeah, me and Claire screwed up. But . . .” he said and paused.

“But?” I said.

“Jim don’t take this wrong. But Claire and I were meant to be together. You got there first and put in your bid. She was ready to be married and she, all too quickly, said yes; and then you were married, and you were my best friend, and I planned to stay the hell outta the way but . . . Then you two got back from your honeymoon and she was so beautiful, and well, I put a move on her.

“It turned out she wanted me too, Jim. Weird ass as it seems she wanted the both of us. She and I made a pact. I’d get to have her sometimes, and I’d be there to cover the both of you financially and such . . .”

“What the fuck!” I said.

“Let me finish, please,” he said. For the life of me I shut up for the moment, and no, I don’t know why. I shut up, but I could feel my face twitching in anger at the very sound of his condescending voice, attitude.

“Yes, we made a deal to play on the side and be all one big happy family and all of that. You’d get to be married to her and be there twenty-four-seven, and I’d be there in the wings in case either of you ever needed anything. And, if you had children, I’d have been their godfather, and well, that’s pretty much it except for one thing,” he said.

“Huh? What one thing?” I said.

“Well, this meetup, and it is a coincidence, is kind of fortuitous,” he said.

“Fortuitous? What? What are you talking about?” I said.

“Jim, I don’t know if you know it or not—we’ve been apart for more than a year now—but Claire and I have a daughter. Rebecca is her name. We’ve decided to have her baptized. We’d be honored if you would be willing to be her godfather. I mean for real, my friend,” he said.

I stared at him for a long moment. “Huh?” I said.

“It would be a real thing for us, not just some ceremonial thing if you know what I mean.

“We want you in our lives, Jim. The both of us want you in our lives. Claire especially wants to make good by you,” he said.

“Yeah, but you’ll still be in her bed and I’d still have my cold sheets to comfort me at night,” I said. “No, it won’t work. Some of the bitterness at what the two of you have done to me has faded, but the hurt and the emotional scars will likely never go away, not entirely no matter how much time goes by.

“In case there is any doubt in your mind ex-best friend, I still want and need my woman, the woman who is now your woman. And, I need her to be a one man woman. But, I can’t ever have her again and I know it. And the realization of that makes it all but impossible for me to even look at another woman, or, be around my woman, Claire. She was and always will be my all, my everything, my irreplaceable life’s love.

“So go back to her and sleep with her and, when you do, think of me wishing it was me. I want you to do that. And for that and for that alone I am so glad you happened to just coincidentally bump into me today. It was worth seeing you just so I could deliver that message. Yes, it was,” I said.

“Jimmy, you gotta cut me and Claire some slack. If not today, sooner or later you just have to. And, as for you not being able to be around other women, that’s just plain crazy. You’re a good lookin’ guy with prospects and friends and a good heart. Yes, a heart that Claire and I broke. We are fully aware of that. But you need to get it together and find that special girl the one that will make you forget your Claire and be your new heart’s delight.

“Anyway, when you’re ready please . . .” he said, leaving his meaning clear but hanging in the air.

“No,” I said. He nodded, rose, and left. I think he was breaking up. I’d finally made an impact.

****

Sammy, as stated before, had been more than happy to inform me, and that more than once, that I’d been drinking too much. But, after my meet up with my ex-best friend Rodney Pollard, I began to drink at truly Olympian levels. Yes indeed, if drinking were an Olympic sport, I would have been more than a candidate for a gold medal.

And, my venue of choice, you guessed it, the Crossroads. Well, it had a certain sentimental allure for me.

The problem of thinking is that it is not always possible to not think of the things one doesn’t want to think about. Trust me on that one; I know it as a great truth.

I was musing, which is another word for thinking, about what Sammy and Henry had said about finding me another fish in the sea to make my day. Similarly, I was musing about my recent—two days gone—run in with my worst enemy which had done nothing for me except remind me that I had no one to love and nothing I really gave a damn about. One might appreciate how the two musings complemented each the other.

I was nervous and not too drunk, not yet. I was going to go for it. I was going to ask a lady in attendance to dance. And, if I wasn’t turned down, I was going to ask the lady for a date. Did I say I was nervous? Well, I should have if I didn’t.

I hadn’t been part of the dating scene in some six years. The year when I first met and courted and married Claire; and, the nearly two, almost three, years now since our breakup. I was not quite twenty-nine years old, so that was a good thing, right? I wasn’t fat, a little on the short side at five-six, but okay looking for all of that, and I could dance pretty good. I knew for a fact I was a better dancer than my ex-best friend ever was: at six-three he was too tall to ever be all that good a dancer. The thought made me smile.

I perused the crowd. Most of the women were with guys, but a few were just hanging out like me. Well, maybe not exactly like me. I pushed my JD back an inch or two from me and made to walk over to a girl, woman, sitting at a table by herself. She was nice looking though a little on the chunky side, not fat, just, well, chunky.

She looked up when I approached her. “Miss would I be out of line to ask you to dance?” I said. I was forcing myself to smile. She looked me over, not too critically.

“I’m not into dancing tonight. Sorry,” she said. She went back to studying her wine essentially dismissing me. I went back to the bar my tail firmly cached between my legs.

A couple of sips later, I’d gotten up enough courage to make another foray among the unescorted ladies in attendance.

She was actually at the bar only a few stools away from my own. She was talking not too seriously to Marie who was handling counter duty at that moment while Jackie was touring the booths and tables that flanked the dance floor.

I slid off my stool and went over to them.

“Hi ladies,” I said. “Marie, I was wondering if I might ask your friend if she’d like to dance.” I cast my glance on the tallish and slender woman across from her.

Like the first of my trial balloons, the woman appraised me, smiled and shook her head. “Not right now,” she said, “maybe another time.”

“Oh, okay,” I said, “for sure, another time.” Once again with my tail planted firmly where it had been since my first turn down, I headed back for my station. I did notice the two women, Marie, and her conversation mate, talking animatedly after I made my departure from their presence.

Well, no balls and two strikes. I decided not to imitate Casey and just leave things at strike two. A third strike would definitely have left no joy in Mudville, not that there was any joy in evidence now!

****

I was only twenty minutes late, but “the man” called me into the office anyway. I really didn’t need this.

“Jimmy, I know you’ve had a hard time: I mean the divorce and adjusting and everything, and you have to admit that I’ve been pretty understanding about your problem. But Jim, the boss is on my case about attendance and tardies. You’re not the only one, but you are number one when it comes to tardies. You’ve got to cure that problem and you’ve got to do it now. Jim, if not, you’re gonna be gone. I can’t say it any plainer than that,” said Charlie.

“Okay, boss, I get it. Things’ll be different from now on,” I said.

“Okay, good. Go ahead on then and let’s get this stuff delivered,” he said.

I was sealing the doors on my rig when Sammy came up to me. “Boss give you shit this morning,” said Sammy.

“Nah, not really. Just told me to not be tardy anymore,” I said. My bud nodded.

“Okay, you gonna be at the usual place tonight?” he said.

“Yeah, I guess,” I said.

I had to get my act together. I was putting Charlie on the spot. The problem was I wasn’t sure that I could get my act together. It was my drinkin’ that was the problem. Stop drinking? Not happening. But I knew I had to do something. Hell if I lost my job I wouldn’t have any money to pay for my drinkin’, helluva situation that. It was definitely a case of damned if I did and damned if I didn’t!

****

I’d actually gotten done with my runs early, an hour early. Charlie looked happy. Of course, I hadn’t stopped for lunch which of course was the cause of the early finish to my day. Now if I could only manage to get outta bed in the morning and into the yard before Charlie, who I knew would be antsy and monitoring things. That was gonna be a challenge.

My talk with Charlie and the pressure, and it was pressure, from my buds at Allied got me off and on. I began to get to work on time, and I was drinking less. Charlie was happy, my buds were happy, I was less unhappy; and, I was planning on taking another shot at finding me a woman, any woman, to connect with. I mean if she was under a hundred-years-old and could stand to be around me I’d be good to go. I just needed a female to be with me at night. Yeah, nights, nights were the worst; well, they were for me.

I was once again musing, but this time I was musing while I was delivering yet another load to Franklin’s. The boss had put Franklin’s on my run whenever he could because it was close to my apartment. Convenience, that was the name of the game for me, I appreciated Charlie helping me out like that. I could arrange my deliveries on those days so that I could eat lunch at home; hey, it saved me some money, and I could catch the news on the Randall Arms gratis supplied TV.

The manager at Franklin’s had just signed off on the delivery, and I was in the produce aisle getting stuff I needed for the week; it would save me making a special trip after work. Her cart actually bumped into mine. I looked up to apologize but the words stuck in my throat.

It had been more than a year since the coincidence of bumping into my used to be best friend. Here was another one, another coincidence.

“Claire!” I squeaked, finally.

“Jimmy!” she mouthed. “Jimmy, this is a pure coincidence, really.”

The family Pollard sure was into coincidences, I thought.

“Yeah, like I believe that,” I said, sounding no doubt a little bit snide.

“Jimmy, I come here all of the time. We live near here now, maybe a mile and a half up the road, at the Crown Towers,” she said. “It’s just a coincidence. I know you don’t want us coming around you, so we haven’t. It’s just a coincidence.”

Ironically this time I believed the Pollard representative. If they lived nearby, maybe me bumping into the bad guy a year gone did make sense, I mean bumping into him at Mary’s.

“I see, well fine. Have a nice day,” I said, making to get out of there.

I pushed my cart rather hurriedly up the aisle to the row of registers at the front before she could say anything else. Man, I sure didn’t need to be reminded of how much I missed the woman. My dreams on this night were not going to be good.

I paid and was pushing my cart out the entrance when she came up to me just as I got outside.

“Jimmy, Mary’s across the street?” she said, nodding toward the diner’s entrance.

“Mary’s?” I said.

“Yes, Jim, I’d like to talk to you if you would please,” she said. I didn’t answer her immediately; I just stared for a long moment. I nodded.

I loaded the two grocery bags I had in my car and walked across to the diner. Jesus, I knew this was not going to go well, but like an addict with no sense, I followed the piper.

She’d beaten me in the door but not by much; well, I had stopped to put the bags of groceries in my car. The waitress came up to us.

“Table for two?” she said.

“Yes,” said Claire. She led us to a table near the window and put menus in front of us, and disappeared back into the kitchen.

“How are you doing, Jim?” said Claire.

“Don’t know,” I said. “I’m feeling very uncomfortable right now. I don’t know why I agreed to come here with you.” She nodded.

“There’s no reason to feel uncomfortable, Jimmy. I still have feelings for you. And yes, I know you still have feelings for me. We’ve have moved on the both of us, but we still have history and a lot of it is good. Okay?” she said.

“Whatever,” I said. “So, why this sit-down?”

“No reason really. I can see you’re working. It’s just nice running into you like this. But again, are you doing okay?” she said.

“Just working and getting by. Nothing to tell that you’d be interested in,” I said.

“I would be interested, Jim. It’s been a long time since we’ve talked. I was hoping just now, I mean since we bumped into each other over there,” she nodded toward the store across the street, “that maybe we could see if there might be any chance to find a little bit of common ground.”

“Can’t see the usefulness in any of that,” I said.

“Jimmy, we were married for three years. And yes, we’re divorced now, but like I said, I still have feelings for you and would like us to be friends still, trite as that sounds,” she said.

“I still love and miss you, Claire, and my dreams are actually nightmares of him and you in bed together and me alone forgotten and rotting. Finding common ground whatever that means would be a real hard nut for me. Well, you can imagine,” I said.

“Jimmy, you’ve got to find yourself another woman. It’s what you need; I know that. And there is no doubt in my mind that you know it too,” she said.

“I tried to find me another woman, Claire, no other woman wants me,” I said. Okay I was whining, and, having been turned down for dances by two women maybe didn’t exactly equate to me trying to find a replacement for the woman across from me; but it’s the only ammunition I had at the moment.

“Jimmy, frankly that’s bullshit. You could not have been trying to find a woman, not seriously or you would have. You have a lot to offer and you’re a good looking cuss at the least of it,” she said.

I decided to change the subject. “Do you love him, Claire? I mean more than you ever did me?” I said.

“I love him as much as I loved you, and love you, Jimmy. He’s very different than you, but that doesn’t mean he was or is better than you. I see and saw the both of you as equal,” she said. “That hasn’t changed and probably never will. One thing he does have on you, though, Jimmy, is a willingness to compromise to work things out. We do talk about you some, not a lot, but some. The both of us keep hoping that you’ll get off and on and come back to us.”

“My nights are too lonely for any compromise. Because we met today, I will be thinking about you tonight, and him, and for many more nights until the memory fades a little and I can be alone again without crying in my beer like some high school kid,” I said, putting it all out there.

“Goddamn, it Jimmy! Find yourself a woman and do it now! You need it, and to tell the truth ‘I’ need you to do it. So just do it! Got that young man,” she said.

****

After the meet up with Claire—and yes I did, after all was said and done, believe that it was a mere coincidence—I fell back into my state of gloom and depression. I really needed that woman, but the odd thing was I felt a little bit good about the meeting up with her too. Damn, I was confused, sad and depressed and confused. Freud would have salivated over the opportunity to study me!

Still, all said and done, my “not bad feelings” as to meeting up with her morphed into an emotional fire in my belly. That fire led to me needing to put it out. To achieve that lofty goal, I turned once again to my good friend John Daniels; I’d turned to him a lot in the not too distant past, and now would again.

CHAPTER 4:

“Well, she is finally sleeping through the night on a regular basis,” said Rodney.

She sighed, “Yes, but I still want to take her in to make sure her colic is really history,” she said.

“Yes, yes, do it,” he said. “She’s due for her second yearly checkup anyway, right?”

“Yes, that’s so, I’ll call Doctor Boze tomorrow and set up the appointment,” she said.

“Good, good, can’t be careful enough with our heart of hearts,” he said.

She smiled, “Yes sir, that’s true, for sure true,” she said. She was so happy that he was child oriented, so many daddies, as she’d heard and read, saw babies as more of a burden until they got old enough to throw a ball around with or the like. But Rodney had proved to be the perfect father. She wondered how Jimmy would have reacted if they had stayed together and had had a daughter or a son either one. Well, that was one thing that she’d never know, more’s the pity, she thought.

She was waiting patiently for the doctor to show up; the colic was a dead issue, but the doctor had some other information that he wanted her to wait around for. At first, she’d been terrified that the supposedly routine checkup had found something dreadfully wrong. But, the doctor had smiled and reassured her that nothing of the sort was happening. There were, however, some lab results from when the baby was born that had just now shown up; they, the results had been sitting in someone’s desk files for more than two years; Dr. Boze wanted to talk to her about those for a moment or two as he’d said. He’d been gone for some little time.

The baby was sleeping in the carrier beside her. The darn thing sure was heavy, she thought. She picked up a magazine from the end table beside her and flipped through it absently. She put the magazine down. The timing was good: the doctor came through the door with a quizzical look on his face.

“Missus Pollard,” he said.

“Yes?” she said.

“Missus Pollard, I had a quick look-see at Rebecca’s lab results,” he said, indicating the manila folder in his hand. Can we sit down over there for a moment, please?” She nodded, a new sense of worry showed itself in her demeanor.

“Doctor? What’s wrong?” she said. He looked over at her from the seat he’d taken across from her.

“Missus Pollard, I know you and Mister Pollard very well of course. Both of you as past patients of mine as well as the parents of little Rebecca,” he said.

“Yes,” she said, “that’s so.”

“Well, are you, the two of you aware of Rebecca’s blood type?” he said. She gave him a look. She had to think.

“No, I mean I’m not, but I’m sure my husband is, well, probably,” she said. The man across from her shook his head doubtfully.

“Missus Pollard, this is kind of embarrassing for me. It happens on occasion,” he said, “but it is almost always an embarrassment.”

“Doctor, what’s wrong? Please!” she said, urgency in her tone.

“Missus Pollard, Mister Pollard is not the father of little Rebecca,” he said. “I know you thought, the both of you thought . . .”

“Huh?” she said.

“Mister Pollard is type-O. The baby is AB+,” he said.

She sat there stunned. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t be! No way! The only other possibility would be . . .

“There’s no doubt,” he said. She’d paled. She felt faint. What was she going to do? She had to see her husband. She had to see him now. She rose, accepted the tendered manila envelope, bowed slightly in the doctor’s direction, picked up the carrier and the baby in it and left, hurriedly left.

****

Pollard Associates, her husband’s business name, was run from offices downtown. It was there where her man manipulated his interests in the housing market and the buying and selling of properties and currencies on the various exchanges worldwide. Rodney Pollard was one heckuva money man. Barely thirty years old and he was already a force in the financial community. He’d had to hire a staff of three secretaries and a couple of male gofers to help him keep things in a manageable state, as he said, most of the time. His fortune had grown from what he referred to as the paltry million-five he’d inherited at age twenty-one, to almost forty million now, nine years later. And that figured to grow exponentially over the next ten years, so he’d assured her.

Carrier in hand, she mounted the steps of the ten story office building and headed for the elevators and the ninth floor where her husband’s offices were situated. She’d likely be interrupting him, but this was important, and she was antsy, very antsy.

****

She scooted by the receptionist’s desk to the cubicle where her husband’s secretary labored. “My husband in?” she said to the twenty-something aide. The woman looked up.

“Missus Pollard, uh yes, he’s in. You can just go on in,” she said. Claire Pollard sighed and headed down the short hall to her husband’s den. She entered without ceremony or knocking. He was on the phone.

He looked up and then spoke into the phone. “John, I’ll call you back. Something’s come up.” He nodded at the phone and killed it.

“Something’s come up hasn’t it?” he said. “It’s written all over your face. The baby?” He glanced at the carrier. He knew she’d been to see the doctor: the baby’s checkup. It had to be that, and he was concerned and didn’t like it very much, actually at all.

“Yes,” she said.

“Okay,” he said.

“Rod, I don’t know how to even begin to say this . . .”

“Goddamn it, Claire, say it. Is Rebecca all right!” he didn’t quite scream. She quailed. She’d never seen him act like this.

“Yes, yes, she’s all right. Physically no problems at all, very healthy,” she said unnecessarily. He sagged back in his seat.

“Thank God!” he said with emphasis. “Claire don’t do that to me! You had me terrified there for a moment.”

“I’m sorry, Rod. I didn’t mean to scare you. But, we do have a problem,” she said.

“But you said . . .” he started.

“Yes, I said the baby’s healthy. No problems at all. But, Rod . . .”

“What!” he said, not too forcefully.

“Rod, Jimmy is Rebecca’s biological father,” she blurted out.

“What? What did you say?” he whispered.

“Some of the lab results from when she was born had evidently been misplaced, I guess, but Dr. Boze somehow found them and when he checked them to see if there was anything of consequence that he needed to tell us; well, there was. She’s AB+; you’re type-O. There’s no doubt, Rod. James is her bio-dad,” she said.

“Oh my God!” he said, still whispering.

“Rod, what are we going to do!” she said.

“What we aren’t going to do is panic. We’re going to think. We’re going to talk, the two of us. We’re going to consider before we do anything. This could be a major problem for us, or, maybe no problem. But, no matter what, we need to be calm and rational and slow. Yes, he’s going to have to know at some point; but Claire, it has to be at a time and place of our choosing. This is a problem, but not an insoluble one. Okay?” he said.

“Yes, yes, good,” she said.

****

It was 2:00 A.M. Hah! I thought they’re probably up changing diapers. I hope the kid craps all over the one who’s got duty. She had to be what two-years-old now, maybe a little more. The thought brought a smile to my face. I could feel it.

My thoughts relating to fecal disaster for one or the other of them notwithstanding, I was sad and jealous and angry and still bitter as hell. There just didn’t seem to be any justice in the world. The baddies, the two of them, always seemed to get more; and the screwed over, me, well, I just got screwed. Yeah, no justice, that was the reality. They say that God has a plan for everything. Well maybe, but I sure wish it would be a deal easier to figure out what those celestial blueprints were.

It was late; tomorrow was another work day, Tuesday. Another day working for nothing. Sammy had told me to get out and find me another woman. Yes, he had, about forty times. Though I was not by any means over the hill, I just couldn’t dredge up any enthusiasm for the chase. I didn’t want another woman; I wanted my woman. But, she wasn’t my woman anymore and that reality continued to leave me feeling hopeless and depressed.

****

It had been a long day and it was raining outside, outside being outside the Crossroads B&G. I’d made my deliveries, thereby ensuring that my bills would once again be paid on time, and I had been motivated enough to retake my seat at the best bar in town. And why the hell not? I had friends at the Crossroads. I looked down the length of the bar to where Jackie was in deep conversation with one of the local cowboy wannabes. I wondered if he’d score; Jackie was undoubtedly a sweet piece. I sighed, I needed a woman. Maybe I was thinking wrong. Maybe I should be taking the advice of Sammy and Henry. I looked around. Nothing, no women to be seen. Well, there was Jackie. Maybe I should try hitting on her. No, she’d shine me on. She knew about the baggage I was carrying around; she’d not want to be messin’ with any of that; she’d said as much if somewhat obliquely.

I felt someone tap me on the shoulder.

“Sammy,” I said. “You hangin’ tonight?”

“Yeah, I guess. It was a long day,” he said.

“Yeah, I’m familiar,” I said.

****

“I see,” said Bertrand Larabee. He’d been Rodney’s lawyer since he’d adjudicated his inheritance almost ten years before. “So the man, your ex-best friend has no clue as to his paternity.”

“No, and neither did we until two weeks ago,” said Rodney.

“Well, he’s going to have to be told or you could be opening yourself up to a lawsuit down the line, and he’d win,” said Mister Larabee.

“But?” said Rodney.

“But, you will be in the driver’s seat even so. I mean if you do tell him and don’t try to keep him in the dark. Your wife is the mother. You have the wherewithal to support the baby with far greater resources than the bio-dad. And, you have proven your ability to be active parents in your daughter’s life. But, I’ll say it again, do not delay informing the man of his paternity; that would not be good,” he said.

“Okay, I’ll be taking care of that right away,” he said.

“Good,” said Bertrand Larabee.

****

“We have to tell him and we have to do it right away,” said Rodney. His wife sagged back in her seat. She nodded.

“Yes, I was sure that that would be what he’d say,” said Claire Pollard. “And thinking about it now, lately, I have to say I want him to know. And yes, I am absolutely aware that it is just something else he’s going to be focusing on and blaming us and especially me for. But, on the other hand, it might get him to be a little more accommodating about reconnecting with us too. So, you tell me, are the upsides worth enduring the downsides for.”

He nodded. You know you make a very good point. I don’t know if I have an answer as to whether the good is going to outweigh the bad or not, but I guess we can at least hope for the best,” he said. “There’s no real alternative in any event.”

“For damn sure,” she said. “So when do you propose we lay it on him?”

“I’ll hunt him down at his shop tomorrow. Or, maybe lay in wait for him at the Crossroads. I hear he is pretty much a regular there since the breakup,” he said. She nodded.

“Yes, I’ve heard that too. So good, let’s do it. And let’s try the Crossroads first, together, you and me. This is one time I think that we need to gang up on him. He’ll be defensive at first; I’m sure of it. But, when he starts to think about things, I have to believe that he’ll come around.

“Before we broke up, I mean the months before, he and I had been talking about maybe getting pregnant, but then, well then . . .” she said.

“Yeah, then he caught us and screwed up everything,” he said. She nodded, but it was a hopeful nod, and, maybe a bit of a conspiratorial nod.

****

Well, they say things are only supposed to get better once a body hits rock bottom. Well, I don’t know about other folks, but for me, there doesn’t seem to be any getting better. But, there is more than proof positive that things can sure as heck get worse.

“James, I’m sorry but I have to let you go. You’ve done this to yourself. Too much drinking, even on the job. Too many times showing up late for work. Frankly, James, there’s just no upside to keeping you on the payroll. You’re fired, James. Please have your locker cleared out by day’s end,” said Mister Penniman.

I nodded. There was nothing to say. I’d done it to myself. I couldn’t even blame the cheaters. They were guilty of course, of ruining my life, but by any standard, I’d aided and abetted them in grand fashion. Oh yeah, I was guilty too, no doubt about that no doubt whatsoever.

I had some money, maybe fifteen grand in the bank. Well, I hadn’t been spending any of what I made on me. I’d paid the bills, and I’d cut up my credit cards, I’d done this last after the divorce. I could get by, find myself another job. I still had my car and my clothes and stuff. I’d be okay. I’d just have to lower my sights a little.

****

After my personal financial Armageddon, I decided to move out of my apartment, cheap though it was at $500 a month. I’d moved downtown since she’d kept the house in the divorce. I knew from talking to her that she wasn’t living there. But no, I wouldn’t be asking her if I could stay there; I wasn’t gonna be asking her for anything.

I moved over to the east side of the Valley, Yeah it was a blighted area right enough, but it was close to everything, including the Crossroads, and the fleabag hotel I moved into ran out right at $300 a month with utilities included, hard to beat a deal like that.

The good news was that I was essentially retired, No job, no woman, just waitin’ to die. Yeah real hard to beat a deal like that one. I wondered what the two of them would be saying if they found me dead. Probably go through some proper mourning period and then forget the hell outta me. Tell themselves how they tried to do right by me. Convince themselves how righteous they were, and how unfortunate it was that they couldn’t convince me to go along with their fuckwad plans to make me a willing cuckold! I’d been one anyway of course, but an unknowing one: the two things were not the same thing, not even.

Yeah, dyin’ was the ticket, no more suffering, no more loneliness, no more thinking up wild ass ideas about how to get even with the two of them. No, just eternal peace. Yeah, dyin’ was the ticket.

****

“He doesn’t work there anymore, and he hasn’t been to the Crossroads in a while,” said Rodney.

“My God! He can’t have just disappeared. He has to be working somewhere. I mean he has to eat, right?” said Claire.

“Yeah, maybe, but he is off the grid, as they say in the movies; hell, he may not even be in town anymore, in fact, that’s what I think is actually the case,” he said.

“You say Sammy’s not heard from him either,” she said.

“Yes, I chased him down at the Crossroads and he hasn’t seen him since right after he lost his job at Allied,” he said. “I did get the guy to promise to let me know if and when he makes contact with him. I think he will. I think he’s worried about him too.”

“Well that’s the hope, I guess,” she said. “Jesus, Rod, it’s been almost a year since we’ve seen him and now this! We gotta figure out something. Maybe a PI? Whaddya think?”

“I talked to Larabee again the other day, like I told you; he’s iffy about hiring a PI. I wanted to be sure that we were cool if we just couldn’t find the man, which we so far have not been able to do,” said Rodney.

“And, are you sure we’re okay. I mean if we can’t find my ex-husband?” she said.

“That’s what he said. So long as we make the effort to find him, a legitimate effort; we’re covered. And we’ve done that: talked to his buddies, inquired at his old workplace, even checked some of the apartment buildings close to where he used to hang out,” he said. “No, we’re fine, covered, as I say. We really don’t need to hire a PI, but it is something we may want to consider down the line.” She nodded.

****

Well, I finally figured out how long it took for a guy in my situation to hit rock bottom in an economic sense. I’d run through my fifteen grand, sold my car for another three, done some cleanup work at a few local bistros and restaurants, and now I was totally free and living the life of a healthy and happy hobo. I was on the fucking street, broke, and cold! Well, it was always cold in the Valley in December; well it was this year. Christmas? Fuck Christmas!

I am able to eat. The damn Salvation Army can always be counted on to save guys like me, and women too. The SA kitchen didn’t serve caviar, but I was always able to fill up the old abdomen in the morning. Once a day I was warm and fed thanks to them; it would have been real bad if they weren’t around that’s for damn sure.

For some damn reason, I kept thinking about the kid, Rebecca, their kid. The one that should’ve been mine. Man being married to her turned out to be a real downer. Thinking about it, maybe I was a ton better off not having to have lived a lifetime with her.

Working at Marv's Deli and café a few hours a week got me some much-needed cash: maybe fifty bucks on average. It figured to be a bit more during this cold snap: more people eating in restaurants than during the warmer months. If it went along like last year I’d be pulling down a cool hundred and a quarter every couple of weeks. If I was careful with my money I’d always have me a bottle in my backpack; the only piece of luggage I owned or wanted. I did need to get me a new coat, though, and maybe a pair of long-johns too; yeah, long-johns had to be at the top of the list. It was just too damn cold nights!

****

“How yuh doin’, Claire?” said Jenna.

“Jenna Courtland, you know exactly how I’m doing,” said Claire. “I’m doing questionable!”

“Claire, I’ve known you for forever, you and Jimmy. And now you and Rodney I suppose. And, I know you feel bad about Jimmy, but it’s not the end of the world for either of you. You both need to be moving on. I know you know that,” said Jenna.

“Yes, and you’d be right if it were not for the little problem that it was Jim’s best friend that did him injury the way he sees it. Kind of a double whammy, and we, you and I, have talked about this long and often,” said Claire. “And, now Jim is missing in action, probably having trouble trying to find female companionship to help him over the hump as it were. Well, that’s what Rod thinks; the fact is we really don’t know anything for sure.”

“Hmm, yes, I see what you mean. He probably does need a woman; I mean one he can hump, she said and laughed. But, you have lots of female friends. One of them might be persuaded to give the guy a look.”

“I’ve thought about that,” said Claire. “Rodney and I both have. But, he won’t have anything to do with either of us. So any of my old friends, all of whom Jimmy knows, are toxic because they know me; he wouldn’t trust any of them to be straight with him. No, if he ever finds another woman to hang onto he’ll have to be doing the finding on his own I’m afraid. It is what it is.”

“I guess,” said Jenna. “So anyway, how’s the baby?”

“Rebecca’s fine, she’s four now so not so much a baby anymore. And, she’s a handful to boot,” said Claire.

“Where is she now obviously not here in the house?” said Jenna.

“She’s in preschool. I pick her up in an hour. It’s only half day, but it gives me a break and research shows that children who do the preschool thing do better in the higher grades later on. It’s win-win,” said Claire.

“Yes, I’ve heard that,” said Jenna. “I take it her biological daddy still doesn’t know that he’s a daddy.”

“No, we’ve tried to find him and tell him, let him know so we could work something out so he could be around her, but so far no luck,” said Claire.

“No idea where he’s gone to at all?” said Jenna.

“No, after he was fired at Allied he just disappeared off the radar as they say,” said Claire.

“You know if he’s not working he could be on the street,” said Jenna. “I mean if he’s as depressed as you’ve said; it might be that he can’t even hold down a job let alone give a damn one way or the other,” she said.

“The street?” said Claire.

“Yes, skid row, girl. That’s where folks down on their luck or depressed sometimes end up. I have to believe that if he were working somewhere you’d have had a whiff along the line sometime. You might want to give a look see in that direction. He has to eat and he has to pay rent or something. Anyway, it’s just a thought,” said Jenna.

Claire shook her head. “No, I can’t believe he’d let himself fall that far. Maybe take a long vacation somewhere, Mexico maybe. I know he had to have had some money. Yes, Mexico or someplace like it is my best guess,” said Claire.

“Could be,” said Jenna, “could be.”

****

She watched as her husband put his briefcase down on the credenza and headed for the kitchen for his nightly snack. He was later than usual. He looked tired. Making money didn’t happen by accident, not the big money that her husband was always chasing. No indeed. But, there was a price to pay. There was a price for everything: large and small, and big money had a very big price tag in blood, sweat, and tears. She didn’t care about the money, not really. One needed enough to be secure and have the things one needed, but large money was nothing more than a pride thing and pride as everyone knew was the most capital of capital sins.

“You look tired, dear,” she said, coming to him and planting a gentle kiss on his unresisting lips.

“Yeah, it was a little rugged today, but we got through it me and the team,” he said.

He was always giving credit to the team: a half dozen souls making good livings because of him and willing to go the extra mile to do it. And there were a lot of extra miles in the bank already. He was a very good man was Rodney Pollard; she was proud of him and proud to be his wife.

“Let’s go upstairs and see if we can do a little stress relief,” she said. “Tonight I’ll do the work.” She giggled as she led him by his tie upstairs and into their room. He determined to just follow orders this night. The fact was that he followed her orders most nights. The thought brought a smile to his face; his first of the day.

“Sounds like something I can get my head around,” he said. “Oh yeah, yes indeed. I’m certain I can do that.”

 

 

 

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