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BEST FRIENDS FOREVER--Part Eleven of Thirteen

Friends in need are friends indeed.

CHAPTER 21:

“So he seemed to soften a little? Is that what you’re saying?” said Claire.

“Yes, sort of. He said he’d think about things. And I think he will. He has her to think about now too not just himself. That little wrinkle might just be what he needs to get him of the dime,” said Rodney.

“My God I hope so. It sure as hell is time, no fucking doubt about that,” she said.

“You have never been more right,” he said.

“So where do we go from here,” she said.

“We wait. We can’t push the guy. He’s just too independent to accept anything from anybody. I did give him food for thought; I’m sure of that. And, I did kinda push him a little bit as it was. I did it nicely, almost pleadingly, but I did kinda push the envelope. Now, the ball’s in his court.”

“Man!” she said.

“I think if we’re just patient. He’ll come around. He’ll likely come to visit pretty soon, and she’ll be with him. When that happens, he and I will adjourn to the patio and I’ll make some off hand offer of something small and hope that he’ll bite. But in the end it will have to be him that breaks the ice if that’s the way to say it,” he said.

“Yes, I think you’re right. Just let him make the decision. Let things just take their natural course, well, hopefully,” she said.

“That’s about the size of it. And one other thing,” he said. “I let him know that we’d be willing to help his friends out if he’d allow.”

“Sammy and Henry?” she said.

“Yes, and those two fellas that hung with him when he was on the street. “Mack and Roy are their names.”

“Really? Well, okay if that’s what it takes I guess,” she said.

“Yes, and that might be the nudge our guy needs to be getting it together,” he said.

******

“Rebecca!” I said, answering the door.

“Hi dad,” she said, “I hope it’s all right. I just decided to come over.”

“Well okay, good,” I said. “Ann’s in the back. I’ll have her join us. How long can you stay?”

“No time limit. Whatever works,” she said.

“Okay, have a seat and I’ll be right back,” I said.

I headed out to the patio in the back. My intended was sweeping the damn thing. She was good at moving around on one crutch when doing housework. She was able to manipulate the broom and get the leaves that continually piled up on the patio during this time of year. I smiled at her industriously as I skittered out to her.

“We’ve got a visitor,” I said. She turned toward me.

“A visitor?” said Ann.

“Yes, Rebecca. I guess she decided that she could just drop by and demonstrate her new found independence, she’s got a car of her own now,” I said. Ann smiled.

“Yes, a license ‘and’ a car are a teenager’s first taste of independence, and she is eighteen,” she said. “Anyway, let’s not keep our guest waiting.”

We headed back inside to the living room.

“Well, hello, Rebecca,” said Ann going to the younger woman and hugging her.

“Yes, for sure, hello,” said Becca.

“Your dad says you’ve got a car,” said Ann.

“Yes, a couple of days ago actually,” said Becca. “Thought I’d come by. Hoped you’d be in. And, I have some other news too.”

“Yes, well that’s very nice of you to come by,” I said. “News?”

“Yes. Dad, I’m starting college next week. I’m going to be studying business,” she said.

“Wow!” I said, with sincerely expressed enthusiasm. “That’s great Becca.”

“Thanks Dad. Dad you know, now that I have my car I hope you’ll call me and I can come get you to visit us at the house too. Would that be all right,” she said. “I know that dad and mom would like it. I only have classes Monday and Wednesday.”

I knew that she was calling both me and the wife stealer dad, but for some reason or no reason it no longer bother me as much as it used to, well, before there was an Ann.

“Well, I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t want to be putting you out any.”

“Dad, it would be no bother and you wouldn’t be putting me out. You have to know that,” she said.

“Hmm,” I said.

Just then Ann returned with a platter loaded up with three iced teas that she was able to handle with just the one arm. She was in pretty good shape given her injuries; well, the Army had done good by her in those respects. She still worked out at the house. She had a set of dumbbells and some other stuff she used to keep up her strength.

“Thanks,” I said. “I really was kinda thirsty.”

“Me too,” said Rebecca.

“Well, good,” said Ann. “Hope it’s not too sweet.” She was addressing Becca.

A period of silence ensued that Ann looked askance at.

“Honey?” she said, speaking to me. Becca was kinda looking away, but not obviously so.

“No, nothing. Becca says she’d be willing to pick us up so we could visit her mom and dad at their house,” I said. Becca’s head snapped around.

“Dad, I didn’t mean...” she started.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I know you call him dad. I mean you’ve lived with him your whole life, so I guess it’s kinda natural that you call him dad. I understand your situation. Really. I came to the show kinda late. It is what it is.”

“Yes, well, that is very nice of you to offer,” said Ann. “I think your dad here and I would be grateful for you to pick us up from time to time. I mean if it won’t be any trouble for you.”

“No, no trouble at all,” said Becca. “I want to.”

“Okay then,” said Ann.

The two of them talked and I smiled a lot and nodded a lot and added an affirmative grunt now and then as the two of them continued on. My woman and I would be talking in the near future, the near future being as soon as my daughter left. My woman was the boss, but I was going to be demanding the right to have input in this particular case, oh yeah!

And then it was a couple of weeks later. Ann told me to get myself dressed up; we were gonna be going visiting.

******

Becca did come to pick us up to deliver us to her house, the Pollard’s residence. She was driving the fancy dancy van with the elevator-assists for me. I frowned, but Ann didn’t. She saw it as a useful help, and wasn’t brooking any negativity from me.

It was Saturday morning, 8:00 Saturday morning. I was riding in the back seat which was also accessible by the elevator. Ann rode shotgun in the front.

“Wow!” said Ann, “this is some car!” I see it has hand controls for the likes of your dad.” This was new; it hadn’t had those controls before. Good ‘ole Rodney was going first cabin to get his program accepted.

“Yes, dad, I mean my mom’s husband bought it and had it fixed up for dad, your husband,” said Rebecca. I had to pipe in.

“Becca, Ann and I aren’t married. And stop worrying about calling your mom’s husband dad. It’s okay. Really, I understand. Okay?” I said, and I said it emphatically. “If it gets confusing when I’m around we’ll just explain who’s meant and that’ll be it. Okay?”

“Okay, dad,” she said. Ann laughed. I sure did love this woman. I was going to marry her and that as soon as I could. I just needed to be able to buy the rings. We’d been spending most of our money on things that needed to be done at the house since I’d moved in. But I was almost at the point where I could afford them now, the rings. It would only be an engagement diamond and a band, nothing fancy, but I knew she’d be okay with that. I was certain of it. She knew my situation.

Claire met us at the stoop when we arrived. I was on my skitterboard after exiting the car. Taking the elevator up to the tenth floor was a snap and Rodney was waiting for us when we got there.

“Glad you could come visit,” he said. “We’ve got the coffee on, and it’s the expensive stuff,” he said, laughing.

“Yeah, well, I’d expect nothing less,” I said, and I wasn’t laughing. “And, I will have a cup of coffee. I need it.”

“Have a seat, have a seat,” he said, motioning me to power myself up and onto the couch. Ann was already on it waiting for me. I did as directed.

He went to get the coffees.

“So, whaddya think of our daughter and her driving,” said Claire addressing me.

“She’s doing good,” I said.

“For sure,” said Ann, and she is real good at using those special controls.”

“Yes, I got those special made,” said Rodney arriving with the coffees.

“Yeah, wish I could afford something like that,” I said.

“You can,” he said. “I mean if you want it, you can have it, and you can pay me back over time. I mean if you still insist on being stubborn about stuff.”

“I remember you said that it cost you $200,000,” I said. “You know I can’t afford something like that, Rodney old man.”

“You could if you took the job I’d like to offer you, but no pressure. I know you don’t want any handouts, even though in point of fact they wouldn’t be handouts in any real sense of the word,” he said. “I mean either the car or the job.”

“Let’s change the subject if that’s all right with you,” I said.

“Fine,” he said. He seemed a little exasperated, but he didn’t push it and neither did I.

Over the next hour we talked about everything that was going on in our lives. And in the doing so I got me an idea; I was going to be running by my future bride real soon.

And then the bunch of them ganged up on me, and we got ourselves committed to going to the Gray Goose Inn for dinner that very night. It was Becca who actually chose the place. It seems that her tastes ran to the expensive side of things.

******

“Well, it’s been a year since he’s been with Ann. Think he might finally decide to marry her. Her sister tells me she wants to get married,” said Rodney.

“He will. The man’s in love, thank God! Now if he’d only lighten up about you and me,” said Claire.

“Yeah, well, he has. He, they, maybe don’t come over much, but according to Becca who goes there sometimes the rancor is no longer as obvious as it used to be,” said Rodney.

“Don’t come over much? Rod, they haven’t been over in six months. And they’ve only been here twice since that night at the Gray Goose,” said Claire.

“Hmm, yes, and Denise has been kinda of quiet about the two of them too. I asked her about that, and she says that her sister has told her not to talk about them. They want their privacy, and are not into socializing much,” said Rod. “She, Denise, did say that they’re doing okay financially and all.”

“You know, Becca doesn’t say much about them either. I’m gonna ask her about that tonight,” said Claire. “She apparently has no problem going over there. I know she’s gone there any number of times over these last months. I’ve been kinda lax in asking her about how they’re doing and all, but I will tonight.” Her husband nodded.

“Yes, I think you should,” he said.

******

“Mom, Dad, my bio-dad, has told me that he doesn’t want me to talk about him. I mean and after everything . . .”

“Yes, after what he heard us, all of us, say about him; I understand what you’re saying. But, I’m not asking you to tell me anything bad. I’m just concerned about him is all. He does have a girlfriend now and one of these days he’s likely to marry her, and when he does . . .”

“Mom . . . that’s kind of wrong,” said Rebecca.

“Huh? What? You mean they’ve broken up!” said her mother; she looked terrified.

“No, no, no, not that,” said Rebecca.

“Okay, then what?” said Claire.

“Mom, dad Jimmy is already married,” said Rebecca.

“Huh? What did you say?” said Claire.

“Daddy Jimmy and Ann are married,” said Rebecca.

“Oh my,” said her mom. “But how did you know? I mean your dad and I didn’t know. I mean how...” said Claire.

“Mom, it was on my nineteenth birthday last month. Dad called me to wish me happy birthday. And well, he asked me for a favor. A couple of favors actually,” said Rebecca.

“Favors? What favors!” said Claire Pollard.

“Well, he was at the courthouse. Ann’s friend who was supposed to be Ann’s maid of honor didn’t show up. Anyway, he called to wish me happy birthday and then asked me if I would be willing to stand in for the friend. I really didn’t have a choice mom, I mean after...” she said.

“Yes, yes, but why haven’t you said anything to me or your dad?” said Claire.

“Well, that was the second favor. Dad, I mean dad Jimmy, asked that I not say anything that he wanted to be the one to tell you and dad,” said Rebecca. “I said okay, and so . . .”

“Oh boy,” said Claire. “Your dad is going to be upset, but I guess the man has a right to do what he wants, but this . . .”

“Mom, I wanted to tell you, but dad Jimmy said he wanted to surprise you. There wasn’t any big wedding. No one was there but me and Mister Sammy, and Dad of course and Ann; well, and the justice of the peace.”

******

“They’re what! And Rebecca did what!” Rodney Pollard didn’t quite scream.

“They’re married, and our daughter was maid of honor and no she didn’t tell us anything about it either before or after. She evidently was asked by the man to not tell us. She said he wants to tell us himself which I’m absolutely sure is the truth,” said Claire.

“Right, so he could rub our noses in it,” he said.

“Yeah, a little revenge is what I think he has in mind,” said Claire. “We kept a couple kind of important secrets from him and now he’s returned the favor. So what do we do now?”

“Yes, I guess that’s so,” he said. “And there’s not much we can do. We wait for him to make the big announcement and rub our noses in it like I said.”

“Maybe a big ass wedding gift?” she said. The man smiled.

“Why yes indeed,” he said, suddenly conspiratorially smiling. “Of course! And in front of Ann. He’ll have a harder time turning us down if she’s there to witness things. Oh my yes, I like the way you think, Claire.”

His wife smiled broadly “Maybe this is the true turning point,” she said.

******

I was on my skitterboard watering the potted plants on the porch when the two vehicles pulled up in front of the house. What was strange was that my ex-best friend got out of one of the vehicles and my ex-wife got out of the other. I watched as they made their way up to the porch.

“Well,” I said, “this is a surprise.”

“Thought we’d drop by and congratulate the happy groom and hopefully his happy bride,” said Claire, not even waiting for the echo of my greeting to die out before getting to the point of their visit.

“Rebecca?” I said. The two of them nodded simultaneously. I nodded back at them.

“I was kind of hoping that she could at least do me the one favor I ever asked of her. I guess that was too much to hope for,” I said, and yes I was being snide.

“Don’t be too hard on your daughter,” said Claire. “It just came out when I mentioned that you and Ann might be tying the knot one day and wouldn’t it be nice ‘if’’ and all of that.”

“Yes, and just when were you planning to let us in on the happy news,” said Rodney.

“Soon. We wanted to have our own car and be able to come over without calling you or Rebecca or the cab company to come get us. We’ve saved enough now, or almost, to get the one we want,” I said.

“Well, okay, so are you going to ask us in?” said Claire, “and is your better half here if I may be so bold as to ask?”

“Yes, yes, of course come in,” I said. “And yes, Ann is in the back tending to the plants on the patio. We kind of split duty on some of these kinds of things if you know what I mean.”

“Well, that’s nice,” said Rodney.

We adjourned into the house. It was the first time the two of them had ever been in it. I could see that they were appraising it. They could clearly see that it was nothing compared to their outrageously expensive digs, but it was clean and comfortable and not by any means something to sneeze at.

“Nice place,” said Claire, and no she didn’t sound condescending. It was clear to me that the two of them were doing their best to be supportive if that would have been the way to say it.

“Thank you for that. Have a seat,” I said, indicating the couch which was our best piece of furniture. “I’ll go get Ann.” They sat and I skittered out back to get my wife.

I surprised her coming up behind her as I did. “Honey,” I said. She jumped.

“Gimminy Cricket! Husband mine. You scared me,” said Ann.

“Sorry, honey, but we have guests.” I said. She gave me a look.

“The Pollards,” I said. “And, they know we’re married. Rebecca.” She nodded.

“I’m surprised they haven’t been here sooner if the truth were known,” said Ann. We headed inside.

The greetings went on for a full five minutes. And though I thought some of their remarks a trifle disingenuous, they did say more than once how nice and homey and comfy our digs were. The upshot was that I had to agree with their assessments: I thought they were all of those things too.

And then we were eating way too many tacos put together by my wife with some assistance by my ex-wife: well, she helped stuff them.

“I will say, Jim, you not inviting us to the wedding was a little bad of you,” said Rodney.

I didn’t hit back with the obvious: that it was kind of bad of him not to invite me into bed with he and my wife while he was doing her for three years behind my back and making me a fucking cuckold. What would have been the point.

“We did it on the spur of the moment. And, since you’ve had virtually unrestricted influence and control of my daughter for her entire life, I thought it fair that she help out my fiancée in our marriage ceremony. I hope that didn’t upset you overmuch,” I said, and I was being ever so slightly disingenuous with my words, so I guess we were even for the day.

“No, no,” he said. “It’s all good, Jim. And Claire and I wish you both the best and would like to say that we will always have your backs, yours and Ann’s. I hope you believe me when I say that, Jim; we mean it with all our hearts.”

“Okay, sure,” I said. Well, I’d gotten the look and the nod from Ann while he was talking.

“There’s one other thing, Jim, Ann,” he said.

“Mister Pollard?” said Ann. Why she was being so formal with him was a mystery to me. We’d talked about that. But, at any rate, she was.

“Well, we have a wedding gift for you two. And, Jim, please don’t do what you usually do and tell me to go to hell. It’s actually kind of a used gift, but, not that used. Okay?” he said.

“You don’t have to give us anything, Rodney...” I started.

“Jim,” said Claire. “While Ann and I were putting together the food. We talked. I kinda went behind your back for this one.”

I looked over at my wife. “Ann?” I said.

“It’s all good, honey. I said okay to the gift. I mean it is our wedding, marriage. Okay?” she said.

She knew I couldn’t deny her anything; hell, when it came to that Claire knew it too. The women ruled us men of that there was no damn doubt or getting around it. I nodded my submission.

“Okay, what’s this slightly used gift then?” I said.

“We came in two cars for a reason, Jim, the van is yours. You need it and we need you to accept it. Okay!” he said, with a nod toward the street.

“I...” I started.

“We accept,” said Ann, reinforcing what Claire had said but moments before. I gave her a disapproving look, but she was indeed the boss. We’d be accepting the way too expensive for us, gift, the van.

“Okay, if my wife says it’s okay; then, I guess it is,” I said.

Rodney could see I was not real agreeable to something that big. Oh he could afford it for sure, but for me that was never the issue: I didn’t want to owe him anything, not after what he’d done to me, let alone what Claire had done to me. Yes, the car would be real useful, maybe the one thing that was most useful to me. That fact made it the one thing I would have rejected outright if it had not been for the new love of my life.

“Wonderful,” said my ex-wife.

“Great,” said my ex-best friend. “Oh, and we had it washed before we brought it over. It’s in primo shape. It and everything in it is yours. Okay?”

“Yeah, yeah sure,” I said. “Thanks, it’s a nice present.” My ex-best friend smiled the smile of someone who had just won the marathon; and, I guess in a way he had.

“Rebecca had not accompanied the cheaters on their visit to us. Something about one of her friends having need of her company. We’d find out later that her friend was one Gerald McCready, nineteen and boyfriend of our daughter.

Mister McCready would turn out to be a very nice fellow, and someone who would be around for a long time, oh yeah, a long time.

It was coolish outside but our patio was enclosed with Plexiglas, well, the half nearest the house was, and we adjourned there with our drinks.

Things were pleasant I would have to say. I was actually having fun, that primarily because I had me a woman who was every bit Claire’s equal in all ways, her wounds and injuries notwithstanding.

Rodney had cornered me after our third round of drinks. He had one more ploy he intended to lay on me.

“Really glad you accepted our gift to you, Jim, and it, the gift, is little enough. I know it, and Claire for sure knows it. Please,” he said.

“Yeah okay,” I said. “Ann’s good with it so, so am I.”

“Yes, and I am so glad you found such a wonderful woman to be yours. But, I have one more request I’d like to throw your way. Would that be all right?” he said. My eyes narrowed. His tone of voice made me uncomfortable.

“Okay,” I said, “what?”

“A job, a damn good one. Whaddya say?” he said. I snickered.

“Don’t be pushing your luck, Rod, old buddy. When it comes to jobs, I get my own and on my own,” I said. He nodded, but I’m sure he expected my response and no more was said.

The rest of the evening was pleasant and then they were gone and we had our place to ourselves once again. I did take the time to repark the van in the driveway. It was then I discovered what the man had meant by everything that was in the van would be mine. The $20,000 wheelchair was in it. Was I pissed off at what I saw as them snookering me? Oh yeah, but apparently my wife was good with it, so I gnashed my teeth, swallowed my pride, and sighed my acceptance of yet another present from the cheaters.

CHAPTER 22:

And then it was nine years later and we were solidly middle aged and on the cusp of seniorhood. I was 54 years old, my Ann was 45 and I guess we were doing good. And yes, she had trained me as to how to please her; and, I can say with some confidence that I had learned and had as well determined to never disappoint my woman no matter what. Yeah, I was in love, serious love. I never argued with her, never. If she said to do it this or that way, whatever it might have been, that is the way it was going to be and there was no discussion. The good news for me was that she made it her business to keep me happy, and, she loved me back. Man, was I a lucky sonovabitch or what!

All of the above having been said, that I’d gotten my wife because of the machinations of Mister Pollard still rankled. Though peace in the Valley reigned, I had never quite gotten over all of the betrayals and bad stuff that the Pollard clan had heaped upon me.

We were not all that communicative with them over these last years though we did see each the other on the big holidays and a few other times since my marriage to Ann. And Ann, though more amenable to having closer relations with the Pollards than was I, never pushed things. She, Ann, had however forged a better relationship with Rebecca than with any of the rest of them and I suppose it has to be said that so did I. We saw her, Rebecca, no less than once a month and sometimes more than that. I think I could claim that she and I did have a somewhat improved father-daughter relationship than had been the case before; but, there was no doubt that I was still in second place in that regard, and that’s just the way things were. I was going with the flow.

And, I guess it’s necessary to point out here that she had finished college with Magna cum Laude honors. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but it was a matter of “honors” so I knew it was good. I was proud of her for that. And, she had gone into business with her dad, her other dad. And, the money I’d gotten from the Marcort settlement, half a million plus the interest accrued over the years had been delivered to her the day of her graduation. We hadn’t been there, Ann and I, but we heard about it after the fact. She was enormously impressed and grateful. Claire on the other hand was kind of sour in her approbation. It was her feeling as it had been at the time, that I should’ve used the money to set myself up since it was clear that none of them needed my help financially speaking. Anyway, my kid was thrilled that meant way more to me than the money ever could have.

******

“Okay, I know you haven’t forgotten,” she said. “So what are the plans? Don’t just be springing them on me. Okay?” She was of course referring to our tenth anniversary which was but a month off.

“Okay, okay,” I said. “We’re going to be staying in Vegas for the whole week. The boss has given me the green light on taking the time off. Sammy will be covering for me.”

I had gotten a job with my old company, Allied, and no not driving; I was now a dispatcher. Henry had been instrumental in that. He was now head of HR and had run interference for me and gotten me back on a year after my marriage to Ann. Hence, I was back to working with my buddies and on my old stomping grounds. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Ann too, had gotten a better job at a company that Rodney had an in with; she was doing even better than me; well, she had her military DI to add in to the mix.

“That’s wonderful, honey,” she said. “I can’t wait!” I was glad that she was glad. Vegas was a fun place.

“I’m glad you’re glad,” I said.

“Yes, well, and I’ve scheduled a dinner for the weekend too,” she said.

“A dinner?” I said.

“Yes, you, me, Becca, Sam, Henry, and the Pollards,” she said. “And, I also invited the Traynors but they haven’t RSVPed me yet. I frowned, but didn’t object. The dinner was fine with me but part of the guest list was another matter. I would never really forgive the cheaters for what they’d done to me, long in the past though it all was, and getting along okay as we were.

******

“So, you’re sticking me behind a desk to cover for your little vacation,” said Sammy, but he was smiling.

“Yeah it’s our tenth. So you’re coming to the party Saturday night?” I said.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” said Sam. “Sounds like a lot of folks.”

“Hmm, yeah maybe ten or so,” I said.

“The Pollards?” he said. He saw my look.

“Yeah, they’ll be there. Well, they’ve been invited. I haven’t talked to them myself, Ann has, but I haven’t,” I said.

“Jim, you really do have to let all of the old bad stuff go. It’s been fucking forever,” said Sam.

I sighed. “Yeah, I know you’re right. Ann says the same thing. Hell, I tell myself that too. It’s just—I don’t know. I just can’t seem to quite get over the truth that a wife, my wife, would do something like that to me. And, I am over her, but... well, but not over ‘it’: her yes, it no. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s the way I feel,” I said.

He nodded, “I guess I understand, but it’s been more than twenty-five years, man. You really should be able to dump that shit by now. Plus, I know they are regretful about what they did. Hell, I think I’ve talked to them more than you have about it all,” said Sammy.

“Yeah, well maybe,” I said.

“Do you see them much? You haven’t said much about them for quite a while. I was beginning to think you were over it all, but I guess not,” he said. I shrugged.

“I’m sorta over it,” I said. “But then again, no. I just don’t think I ever will be completely over it. I never did anything to them, either of them; hell, I loved them, still do. And, that makes it worse because I know that they don’t have the same kinds of feelings or respect for me that I have always had for them. So them doing me the way they did, well . . .”

My friend nodded. We talked a little bit longer then got our asses back to work. I liked my job, and my way too expensive wheel chair was really useful even though I had only minimal need to do much moving around during the work day. My forty grand annual added to the sixty Ann made, counting her military disability, allowed us to do very well. I didn’t get any disability anymore because social security didn’t allow if I worked full time. Ann’s job, one that the black hat had indeed finally gotten for her was a pretty good one. She was an office assistant at Harcort Industrial: deliverers of oil and gas to wholesalers around the state.

And now we had a party to host. I was determined to make sure my wife was happy with the outcome. I knew for a fact that she’d done her best to set it up.

******

The party was slated to start at 2:00, but Rebecca arrived at noon. She was helping Ann get things ready. I’d already made two runs to the store for last minute items: drinks and freakin’ watermelon.

“Everybody’ll be here soon, honey, you need to get dressed,” she told me. I muttered something that might have been construed as an objection and went to do as I was told.

It was straight up 2:00, and there was already a parade of partiers arriving at the front door. And first in line? The Traynors.

“So, how ae you doing, James?” said Capt. Dora Traynor.

“Good, Ann and I are doing real good. Got jobs, a house, and each other; hard to beat a parlay like that one,” I said.

“For darn sure,” she said.

The Captains after initial greetings had marched past me and over to Ann who was, along with Becca, cloistered with Sammy and Henry who’d actually arrived right on the heels of the Traynors. They’d only waved to me as they had also headed for the two female organizers.

Surprise guests, though Ann had mentioned them as I now remembered, were Mack and Roy from my days on the street. What was also an even bigger surprise was the fact that the Pollards had not arrived.

“It’s almost 3:30,” I said.

“Hmm, yes, and yes I noticed that they haven’t arrived,” she said.

“Maybe they decided not to come. I mean it is our wedding anniversary, and they were not invited to the wedding which fact I’m sure ruffled their feathers,” I said.

“I doubt that. They’ll be here, probably bearing gifts,” said Ann.

“Hmm,” I said.

It was almost 5:00 and I noticed Rebecca on her cell. I didn’t have to guess who she was talking to. She was frowning and nodding at the same time. So, I thought, the cheaters weren’t coming. Well, there’s an upside to everything.

Ann came up to me. “Rebecca called them?” she said.

“I think so. I doubt they’d be coming now,” I said. “Too bad, I’ll miss them.”

“You don’t have to be so snide, my husband. They’re good people. They made mistakes for sure, big ones, but they’ve done their penance. If they do come, you need to sit down with them and bury the fucking hatchet. It’s time,” she said. “I mean forever bury the hatchet.”

“Hmm, maybe,” I said.

“No maybe about it. I need to have you do it. Okay Jim. I really mean it,” she said.

“All right, if it means that much to you,” I said.

“It needs to mean that much to both of us,” she said. “Jim, we’ve been married for ten years and I’ve put up with the bitterness, your bitterness, all of this time. The next ten years are going to be sans the bitterness. You hear me!” she said.

“Yes ma’am,” I said.

And then they arrived. I wondered at their excuse, what it would be.

******

“I know what you’re thinking,” said Rodney.

Hah! not even hello. That was my ex-best friend: the best defense was a full court press and a brace of really well thought out fibs!

“And hello to you too, Rodney,” I said. “And to you too, Claire.” My ex-wife for her part had not uttered a word. Something was going on. I was getting a real hinky feeling.

“Uh-hello, Jim,” she said, finally. “And congratulations on your anniversary, yours and Ann’s.”

“Well, thank you for that. And we’re just glad you were able to make it. No explanation necessary, really. Just make yourselves at home. Everybody is kinda everywhere. So . . .”

“Thank you,” said Rodney.

I saw Ann break away from Mack and Roy who had arrived around fourish. I should maybe give a little bit of explanation relating to Mack and Roy’s situation. Both of my street buds had been laid off when their plant, a garment manufacturer, shoes actually, went to Mexico. They’d not been able to find work, both likewise having been high school dropouts and had ended up on the street where we’d met. But, as a result of knowing me, Rod had hired them soon after my meeting up with and settling in with Ann. I say Rod had hired them, but in actuality he’d arranged for them to be hired at a high rise he’d been investing in. They got jobs and training for the job which was building maintenance and repair. They made half again what they had at the shoe factory. They loved Rodney.

At any rate, I saw Ann come over to us. “Hello Mister and Missus Pollard,” she said, in her friendliest tone. Exchange of greetings consummated she pulled Claire aside. Their demeanors were ultra-serious. I wondered at that.

“So, Rodney, how is everything at your house?” I said.

“Fine, good,” he said. There was something in his tone that belied his words.

“Rod... ?” I said.

“He deflated. “Not so good. I made a mistake,” he said.

“A mistake?” I said.

“And, she caught us,” he said. “Earlier today she caught us. Actually, she’d lain in wait for us. ”

“Oh,” I said. “So, are you talking?”

“Not to each other, not yet. She said she wants to talk but later after she has time to think, or words to that effect,” he said.

“Oh, well I hope it works out for you, for her,” I said. This put a whole new slant on things. He’d cheated on her as the two of them had cheated on me. The irony was truly weird.

“Yeah well, that’ll kind of depend,” he said.

“Huh?” I said. “Depend?”

“Yeah whether or not things work out between us depends on . . .” he stopped. Whatever he needed to say he didn’t want to say.

“Depend on?” I said.

“On you,” he said.

“On me? How could any of that have anything to do with me? Neither Ann nor myself have been around that much, I mean around you guys,” I said.

“No, but Claire wants to talk to you,” he said.

“And my wife is talking to her now about talking to me, is that it?” I said.

“I think so, not sure. I know they were on the phone for a while yesterday. I don’t know why, not exactly,” he said.

“And you’re telling me this why. I mean if she’s the one that wants to talk to me,” I said.

“I’m not sure. I guess I needed to talk to somebody, and well, you’re still my best friend in spite of what you think,” he said.

“Hmm, am I?” I said.

“Yes, you are,” he said. And he said it with finality. “I think I’ll get me a drink, okay?” he said, clearly wanting to break it off with me at least for the moment.

“Yeah, sure,” I said. I nodded toward the impromptu bar we’d set up on the patio. He headed for it.

I had my back to her and didn’t see her stride up to me. I was sitting in my Pollards’ supplied gift chair.

“James,” she said, announcing herself. “I saw you talking to him. I hope he, we’re, not throwing a wet blanket on your tenth anniversary.”

“Uh-no, we’re fine,” I said. “But you and Ann?”

“Good too,” she said. “Uh-James, can we talk you and I?” I nodded.

“Sure, I guess,” I said.

She looked around, presumably for a place with a little less activity.

“The den,” I said. “I don’t think anyone’s in there at the moment.” I nodded down the hall of our little three bedroom hovel one of which rooms had been converted by us into a den.

She nodded back at me. I led her down the hall.

Arrived, I nodded toward the swivel chair in front of the computer set up we’d gotten for ourselves. I of course was in my chair.

She took her seat and was making to study the design of the floor tiles. “Claire?” I said. She didn’t look up, but she did start talking.

“Did he tell you?” she said.

“He said you’d caught him, but that was about it, and that for some reason you wanted to talk to me,” I said. She nodded.

“Yes, yes I did, do,” she said.

“Okay,” I said.

“James, I am so sorry for cheating on you all those years ago. I now know how you must’ve felt. And I am sick at heart over it. More about that than about catching my husband doing that girl today if you can believe it,” she said.

“Okay, and I appreciate you saying that,” I said, and I did.

“Jim, if you can find it in your heart to forgive me; well, then I will forgive that masher of a husband of mine,” she said. “I guess you could say if it’s possible for you after everything I did to you then I can see my way clear to forgive my personal asshole too. I mean as far as I know it’s just the one time, and yes, I am fully aware that it probably isn’t. I’d gotten a hinky feeling this past week, and well... But, I can damn sure guarantee you that it will be the last regardless!”

“Okay?” I said.

“So?” she said. “Is it possible to forgive an old whore like me? Can you Jim? I mean really and truly?”

This was a wrinkle I could never, I mean never, in any possible universe have anticipated. I didn’t respond, not for a long minute. She waited me out.

“You know, Claire, I actually think I can. I couldn’t have before hearing you just now. I mean no way. But now? Yes, I think I can. Claire, I forgive you,” I said.

The look of joy my words engendered in her look, her face, her body language would remain with me for a lifetime. I knew that as a great truth! And then she busted out in sobs.

She came to me in my chair and kissed me, sensually kissed me, on the mouth. I know my eyes shot open at the shock of it. “Thank you sir. I think you just saved my marriage.” She turned and headed out of the room without so much as a by your leave. I knew where she was going anybody would have. Mister Pollard was about to get a second chance. One he sure as hell didn’t deserve.

******

The party was in full swing and Rodney, my used to be best friend for life, was in deep, one might almost say profound conversation with my ex-street bud Mack Keys. Mack was fifty and claimed to have discovered the meaning of life. What was good about that was that he didn’t proselytize. He was a proud member of the church of “You Figure It Out for Yourself.” Nevertheless, Mack was one of those people who others generally took seriously; there was just something about the way he carried himself. He and I had shared many bottles of cheap wine while we were on the street, and I had come to respect the man for his lack of pretention and his willingness to share, especially his wine cache. I came up to them.

Looking around for Claire I didn’t see her, not immediately. Then I did. She was in the kitchen just behind the jamb. She was watching the man; I wondered at that. I had thought that she was going to go back to him after our confab, and pin him. But she hadn’t, she still might, likely would, but she hadn’t quite yet. She saw that I saw her. She smiled, and made to come to us.

Rodney finally saw her and appeared nervous. “Hi, honey,” he said. She eye’d him and crooked a finger at him beckoning him to follow her which he did as she led him back down the hall toward the den where she and I had spent time together.

I saw them disappear behind the door and heard the door shut. “I sure was glad it was him in there with her and not me.

I rejoined my guests. Ann joined me and we toured the place making small talk among the assembled.

The party began to wind down sometime around 11:00. The dynamic duo was still in the den. It was pretty much impossible to ascertain what was going on in there. Did she rip him a new one or did she forgive the cheater for what he’d done. I didn’t think she was hypocritical enough to call him on his infidelity, but who knew for sure.

“We were saying our goodbyes to the last of our remaining guests just as the two of them emerged from the den.

Claire led Ann apart from me and the man. It was clear to me that Rodney wanted to say something to me, or, maybe it was Claire who wanted him to talk to me.

“Thanks,” he said. “I know you didn’t do it to save me. I have to believe that you did it for her.”

“Well, you’d be wrong,” I said. “I did it for me. She may or may not benefit from my doing it, but I never would have done it just to save her or you either. It was a matter of her making her case, and, for the first time I believed her. That made it possible for me to move on I guess would be the way to say it. And, I guess now I have.”

“Well, whatever your motivation you did good as far as I’m concerned. After everything I did to you. I mean taking Claire away from you, raising Rebecca the way I did, have, and the way I acted after you saved us. Well, I couldn’t, wouldn’t have blamed you if you’d shoved your middle finger four feet up my ass. It’s what I deserve,” he said.

“Just let it go, Rodney. And don’t ever cheat on her again. I don’t want to see her hurt. And, I do wish you both well. But in the end it’s going to be a matter of how you treat each other that will determine that I suppose,” I said.

“Okay, I will do as you say. If you ever need anything, Jim, there isn’t anything I won’t do to help you out. Just say the word,” he said.

“Yeah, yeah,” I said, and I hated saying it.

******

Our anniversary had apparently changed the level of angst, if that was the way to say it, that I had long felt in dealing with the Pollards even including my daughter. And what about my daughter, well, Claire’s and mine.

I didn’t really have all that much to do with Rebecca. She came over to our house a fair amount, maybe once or twice a month. But for all of that, I never felt that she was actually mine. She was kind of a faux daughter is how I thought of her. Oh, she was grateful that I’d saved the family Pollard right enough. And, she was more than sensitive to the sacrifice I’d made in the doing of it. But that was the thing; she was part of the family Pollard not the family Clausen. That reality had hurt a lot and it still did in spite of the new level of rapprochement between us.

At any rate, would there ever come a time when I could actually see my old bud the way I had in olden times? Doubtful. But then the gods intervened and changed everything. For the better? That question would be answerable but not for a long time.

******

I was at work. It was almost lunch time. I usually ate right at my dispatcher station. I was in my outrageously expensive chair. The trucks were all out on the road. I’d only gotten one call announcing that a delivery would be late: the drivers were required to keep dispatch informed of problems when they were on the road. A truck breakdown was just such a problem, and we’d had one across town. I called the outlet and let them know that the delivery would be late. Then I got another call, a life changing call.

I screamed! Two secretaries nearly fell out of their chairs.

“I need to go!” I said. “I need to go now! My wife! My wife is hurt!” Janie, the boss’s secretary, was out of her seat and opening the door for me even before I got to it, and I’d powered my chair to its fastest.

“You need someone to go with you, James?” she said. My tears were already running down my cheeks. I nodded.” Go ahead on to your car. I’ll let the boss know and be right with you. I’ll ride with you.”

She was back and running alongside me before I even got to the car.

I drove, Janie was in shotgun.

We arrived at Grayson Memorial in twenty four minutes. Janie took care of the stuff at the receptionist’s. I headed for the nurses’ station on the sixth floor—the burn unit.

“Yes, Mister Clausen, but she can’t have visitors even family for a little while. The doctor will be out to see you shortly. Please have a seat,” said Nurse Joan.

I was mentally pacing in the waiting room for news, any news, about my wife. Janie stayed with me for a little bit making sure I was okay. She was almost as nervous as I was.

Nurse Joan came up to me. I guess she felt sorry for me being in the wheel chair as I was. Most people had that reaction until they got to know me and what an asshole I was. Well, that’s how Sammy and Henry referred to me.

“Can I call someone for you, Mister Clausen?” she said. I was about to blow her off; I only wanted to talk to the doctor. But then I had a thought. Janie had left having given me orders to let them know what was happening as soon as it was good for me to do so.

“Uh, yes,” I said. I gave her the number. I knew he’d respond. Oh yes, I was sure of it, and this time nothing else mattered but his response. I knew my wife, my wonderful life’s partner, was in tough, and that had to be fixed and I would do whatever it took to get the help she needed. My God I would, no question.

******

 

 

 

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