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The maintenance Man Chapter Two

He would do anything for her, and that means anything.
It felt a little strange being back after the honeymoon. I had moved into her condo because it was larger, and things went well for a time. We were in love, and each of us was considerate of the other in terms of our jobs. I was a little uneasy about all of the travel that Marylou's job required, but I knew it was part of the package, so I didn't complain.

She for her part made an effort to respect my job and the work it entailed, though every single one of her peers thought it was way beneath her and certainly any of them. Still, all was well with us.

I was a realist. I knew that even though we were married, she was going to get pressured by many on the twentieth, by many, I mean by the men. All of them thought that they were better than I was because they had gone to college. I chuckled at that. I'd heard them talking in the caf on a million occasions, and apart from the, how shall I say it, the mechanical stuff related to lawyering most of them had about as much culture as a fist full of sand.

During the first year of our marriage the two of us attended any number of luncheons. I still adamantly refused to go to any of the big formal soirees' that the firm committed to; one stint in jail had queered me on them. Luncheons didn't have the same bad aura for me. There was less drinking and less sexual harassment of my wife, and I could live with the inane conversations.

Because I refused to go to the formal dos, Marylou felt obliged not to attend either. Eventually, I figured out that Marylou's not being available for all of the company events was making things tough for her. Her friends weren't exactly shunning her, but they weren't cozy with her either. She never complained, but I could see it in her face whenever I knew the 20th was going to be partying. I knew she missed the camaraderie. But I didn't waver: no major galas for us!

There were moments though, when I sensed something was amiss. I couldn't finger it, so I let it slide, but it was always there always in the back of my mind.

She knew my feelings on the matter of the big nighttime parties and she respected them. Or, at least she did until a particular Saturday night.

Marylou had just gotten promoted to junior partner in spite of not playing the game. She was actually proud of the fact that her sex and good looks had evidently not been the only things that she was recognized for. The new position meant more money, and more prestigious clients and less paperwork; paperwork was always the worst for her. She now had a crew of two paralegals who worked solely for her. Her boss, Christopher Mandel, asked her to attend the dinner that would honor her and two others who had been promoted.

When she got home she laid it on me. "Charlie, we have to go to the dinner. We just have to. It's for me, well, for me and Brad and Henry. They were promoted too."

At the mention of Brad's name, my hackles bristled. "No," I said. "I will not subject myself to the stares and asshole remarks of those people."

"Charlie, it's just a dinner," she said.

"Just a dinner? Will there be music? Will there be dancing? Will there be heavy drinking?" I'd asked the series of questions that we both knew the answers to.

"Well—yes, but it's not about that," she said. "It's about me. It's my job. Surely just this once . . ."

She was pressuring me and I didn't like it. Still, I had to admit, that even I thought that I was being unreasonable. She'd sure as hell earned her party. But, what had kept me from giving even an inch was the suspicion that if I gave in our marriage would become vulnerable, and the thought scared me. So, I said so.

"Marylou, you know how those people are. I am just afraid that if we start partying with them that our marriage could become a casualty. How many of your associates have been divorced?" I asked.

"Charlie, that's ridiculous," she said. "What do they have to do with us?"

"Answer me," I pressed.

"Okay, all of them," she answered. "But, Charlie they are not us."

"And I don't want to be them.

"Okay," I said, "I'll go this far. You can go without me. Get yourself honored, and then come home. Please don't stay out late. If you do I'll be worried sick. Can you do that? Is that enough? I just can't go to any more of those things; I just can't."

She looked at me. She was obviously exasperated. "Okay," she said, "I guess I understand. I do have to go. The dinner really is for me. I will be home early, but early I mean maybe 10:00 or so. I'll call you if things look like they'll take longer."

"Thank you," I said.

I didn't say any more about it, but Saturday came too soon for me. As she was getting ready I noted that she was dressing especially nicely. The fact is she was stunning. The black chiffon dress she had chosen was a little too short and the neckline a little too plunging to suit me, but I kept my mouth shut. As it turned out, I probably should have said something to her about my concerns. But I didn't.

"How do I look, baby," she said and she twirled in front of me.

"Gorgeous," I said, and she did.

She giggled, and placed a kiss on my cheek in appreciation. "I'll be home early," she said. Five minutes later she pulled out of the driveway and was gone. I had an uneasy feeling, but I suppressed it.

I was watching the news, the 10:00 news. She still wasn't home. I wasn't worried, not much anyway. I figured she'd be coming home later than she'd said. How right I was. But 3:00 o'clock in the morning was not what I'd figured at all. I was asleep on the couch when she came in.

I awoke when I heard the door to the kitchen open and close. She came in and saw me trying to shake the sleep out of my eyes.

"Honey, I'm sorry. I know it's late . . ." she stopped. She could see me looking at the clock.

"Late? Yeah, it's late. How come?" I said.

"Everyone was talking and dancing and drinking and time just got away from me," she said.

I noticed the disarray of her clothes. There was white spatter near the hem of her dress; it was dried. I tried to not believe what I thought that it surely was.

"Time got away from you?" I said not quite sarcastically.

"Yes I . . ."

"I'm going up. Coming?" I said.

"Uh-yes, I'll be there in a minute," she said.

I was sick. I knew, or thought I knew, what had gone down. Somebody had been banging her. I knew I had to find out for sure, and who might be involved.

I readied for bed, brushed my teeth and got undressed. I noted that Marylou was taking a long time coming up. I went back downstairs. The shower was on in the downstairs bathroom. I wondered why she would be showering down there, and at 3:00 in the morning in any event. The obvious was not acceptable. She was destroying the evidence!

It was not time for confrontation, and anyway, I had nothing concrete with which to confront her. I went back upstairs and waited for her to come up. It was maybe twenty minutes later that I felt her slipping in bed beside me. She spooned me, and I let her. I needed to sleep and I am sure she did too. Tomorrow would be another day, and maybe a day of reckoning.

Just before my eyes closed for the night, I thought I felt her sob, but I couldn't be sure. Then, I slept the sleep of the weary.

******

I awoke Sunday morning to the sun filling our bedroom window; it was 6:35. The place beside me was empty. I went into the bathroom and splashed water on my face. The events of the previous night came back to me. I wondered where she was. Still in my boxers, I went downstairs. I could smell the bacon; it was mildly comforting.

"Good morning," she said. "Sleep well I hope?"

"Okay, I guess," I said. She was evidently avoiding the fact that she had come in so late. I had to decide if I was going to let it slide. I'd eat first and then decide. Decisions on an empty stomach were seldom well made.

We ate and talked. She said that they'd complimented the three honorees and each had been asked to speak. Then, the party had begun and the booze had flowed and the clock had gotten away from her. She defended herself.

"I know I said I'd be back by 10:00," she said; "but it was my night and I was so happy and it was—good.

"Will you forgive me for being so late, Charlie? Please?"

I breathed deeply and nodded. "I guess if all you did was have a little fun I can't be angry with you," I said. "But, I was worried. You could have called."

"I know, I should have, but—"

"Okay, we'll just drop it, but no more of these things, okay?"

"Okay. I understand," she said.

I still suspected that there was more to the evening at the Sands than she was telling me, but I wasn't sure that I still really wanted to know. Part of me did, but part of me was afraid.

"Good," I said.

******

The next day I was finishing up organizing our cart after cleaning the women's head on the fourteenth when Brody approached. He motioned me to follow and to be quiet. We were just outside the men's room. I heard voices. My face went dark; one of them was Brad Carlson.

"We gotta back to the office," said Brad. "We can't stay down here and argue with them forever. We'll call in Broderick tomorrow and see if these buttheads can be brought to heel. We need those records and we need them now."

The two men were talking about business, their voices were kinda faint: records or something. Then, the topic changed.

They must have moved closer to the entrance because their voices were clearer now. "I gotta tell yuh, Henry, that was one helluva party Saturday night," said Brad.

"Yeah, I know. Did you get into her pants?" said Henry.

"No, not exactly. She let me feel her up though. And I did get to finger her down there. Is that getting into her pants? I did finally get her to get me off with her hand under the table; but, she cut me off after that. Feeling guilty, I guess. But, I haven't given up. I am going to get some of that sooner or later. That asshole janitor husband of hers ain't gonna be able to stop me." They laughed.

"Sorry, Charlie," said Brody. I just nodded.

We pushed the cart back into the Ladies head, and took a break on the ground floor. I didn't want to be seen by Mr. Carlson. I had to think.

******

I got home at the usual time. Marylou was already there. I wanted to confront her, but I was chicken. I made myself a drink, straight vodka and got myself a beer to chase it with. I finished it, and got me another. An hour later I wasn't chicken anymore.

She'd been watching me drink, something I rarely did when I was at home, at least not during the work week.

"Honey, don't you think you've had enough," she said. It was clear she was concerned, and not just about the amount of booze I was putting away.

I just smiled and made me another. I was getting downright courageous. "No, not yet, but close," I said, finally.

"Honey, is something wrong?" she said.

"Well, now that you mention it. Today I ran into Brad, and he was saying . . ."

"Oh my God! No!" She burst into tears and ran up the stairs. The bedroom door slammed behind her.

Suddenly I was as sober as a Tibetan monk. I sat and waited. I knew, if nothing else, that sooner or later hunger and thirst would force her to come down. The sticky part was I didn't know how I was going to handle it. The only thing I was certain of was that I could not let it go. Something had to happen; I had to do something. It wasn't just a matter of male ego either; it was a matter of self respect.

It was about two hours later that I heard the door to the upstairs bedroom open. She appeared at the bottom of the stairs and looked over at me. "I'm sorry. I know I don't deserve forgiveness, but I am begging you to forgive me anyway. But, if you kick me out, I'll understand," she said.

I looked over at her. "Do you love me? I mean only me?" I asked.

"Yes."

"Then I'm not going to kick you out."

"Really?" she said. The hope in her voice was palpable.

"Really," I said.

"I don't understand. Why aren't you mad at me? Why aren't you looking for revenge?" she said.

"Because I love you; it's that simple. What I am going to do is to let you tell me what 'you're going to do about it?"

"Huh?" she said

"Yes. You get to engineer your own punishment. Or do nothing. It's up to you," I said. I was surprised at my own brilliance. She on the other hand was stupefied. I knew that she would be harder on herself than I would ever be, than I ever could be.

"But, I don't know . . ."

"It's up to you. Just let me know what you decide," I said. "Now, let's go to bed. I'm feeling frisky."

"It's the middle of the day!"

"Can't fool you," I said, "but I'm still frisky."

The next three hours weren't punishment in the truest sense of the word, but I punished the hell out of her pussy, and that was a blood mortal fact.

******

It was three days later that I saw Marylou talking to Brody. He pointed toward the end of the hall where I was messing with a shorted out light fixture. She came toward me.

"You here on the 10th in the middle of the day?" I said.

"I wanted to see you. I've been thinking about what I did, and what I intend to do about it," she said.

"'kay," I said.

"Can we get coffee or something," she said.

"Okay, but it'll be a minute. I can't just leave these wires hanging here. Tell you what, head on down to the caf, and I will meet you there in ten. Okay?" I said.

"Okay, in ten then," she said.

I tied off the wires, screwed the fixture back into the wall, put the tools away into my leather belt rack, and headed back down the corridor to the elevators.

I stopped momentarily to inform Brody that I was taking a break. He just smiled at me.

"If I had a beautiful chick like her waiting for me, I'd be taking a break too," he said. I grimaced and punched him in the arm.

Brody was the only guy who could get away with making jokes laced with innuendo about my wife. I was pretty sensitive when it came to her, but Brody was my best friend; he got some latitude.

I saw her sitting at a table along the far wall. She already had a coffee cup that she was sipping from. She motioned me to get mine. I headed for the bank of nearby urns.

I got me a cup and joined her. "So, and what's the deal," I said. "You know, I told you, and I meant it, that you didn't have to do anything. I'd have been okay with that. I just wanted to make the point that I know people make mistakes, and so long as you really mean that you love me and only me . . ."

"Charlie, shut up. I'm a lawyer, and a damn good one. I know perfectly well that you knew I could never live with my guilt for betraying you. You did the worst thing you could to me: you left my punishment up to me!" she said. "Now, I am ready to sentence myself for my wrongdoing." I nodded for her to go on.

"You know, all of the shit they, my so called peers pile on you is meaningless. You're smarter than any ten of them. The interesting thing is none of those educated assholes is aware of it. You should have been a lawyer."

"Not a chance, I have to sleep at night," I said. "In my job, nobody hates me. I like having real friends."

She frowned at me. "You're saying I don't have any friends?"

"You have Brody and me. But up there? Probably not," I said.

I could see she was not pleased with my assessment. "Charlie, I promise you I will never cheat again. That night, well, never again. I also promise, no more parties that you don't escort me to and stay with me at. Of course Brad is history; I have told the boss that I cannot work with Brad anymore and to not even ask. He understood.

"Finally, I am done with road trips unless you're with me. There must not even be the slightest doubt in your mind about where I'm at. There may be times when I have to work late, but if so you will get a call, and you will know it; and you can pop in on me any time. I worked that one out with the boss too." She paused. "I guess that's about it."

"Marylou, that's fine. All of those things will make it easier on me mentally, I guess. But, I love you, and the thought of living without you is not an option for me. You really have me completely pussywhipped and I love it, I think" I said.

She cradled my cheeks in her hand and kissed me. "I love you too my strong man," she said. "A boatload of Brads could never be your equal." I restrained myself from telling my latest "boatload of lawyers" joke, the timing was bad.

******

For the next several months everything was more or less back to normal between me and Marylou. Eventually Cass Walters changed the shifts as was done periodically. My team, except for Brody were shifted to swing; I now worked 3:00-mindnight. This was good for me in terms of workload, but bad for my relationship with Marylou.

Brody was happy; he had been promoted to crew boss, and got the day shift that I had just been pulled from. I was glad for him, it meant another ten grand annual; he and his wife, Merle, were expecting, and the extra money was a godsend—Merle's words—at a time when the need would be there.

The upshot of Brody being on days and me being on nights was that he talked to Marylou more often than I did during the day, and in fact saw her damn near every day, which made me jealous as hell. Still . . .

Even with good 'ole Brad still around and panting after her, I no longer thought that I had anything to worry about. That was a mistake. With a wife like mine there is always the threat of infidelity; the pressure on her to spread her legs would always be enormous. It was this reality that would come back to bite me in my wishful thinking ass.

One night late in May Marylou came home looking down and depressed. I asked her about it, but she just said she'd had a tough day. I let it pass, but whatever it was that was affecting her seemed to me to be more than just a long day at the office. Several days later we were sitting out on the back porch watching the sun go down. We nursed our drinks.

"Charlie, I have to go down to San Diego for a few days. A big deal, a potential client is insisting on personalized service. There's a million dollar annual retainer for the firm on the line. I'm liaison for the account," she said.

I looked at her. She knew what I was thinking.

"I was the one who sought the account out and got them to commit, almost. Anyway, I have to go down there and finalize things. Would that be okay? I mean this once to go out of town without you?"

Even I was impressed. "A million bucks! What kind of client pays a million bucks as a retainer for goodness sakes?" I said. I thought about maybe going down with her. But, then I thought about the kinds of people she would be dealing with and the stress and all and didn't want to go.

"A labor union, The Retail Clerks Union," she said.

"Oh. Well, how long is a few days?" I asked. I wasn't feeling good about her going out of town, but I sensed that this was really important to her. I decided not to make an issue of it sick stomach or not.

"I'll be leaving Thursday. I will be flying back Sunday night. Don't bother picking me up though; I'll just get a cab back here," she said.

"Okay, but I don't mind picking you up if you change your mind," I said.

"Thanks, hon, I love you," she said.

"I love you too," I said, my stomach was churning as we touched glasses across the space between our chaise lounge chairs.

"Charlie—"

"Yes?"

"Thank you for not holding me to my promise not to go out of town without you. If you had said no, I wouldn't have gone. It would have been bad for me on the job, probably, but I would not have gone," she said.

"I know," I said. "That's why I didn't object. Just take care."

"I will. And, please try not to worry, okay?"

"Okay." I said.

San Diego was five hundred miles away. I had a shitload of vacation time. I was torn. I'd half made up mind to follow her down. It said something that I still wasn't sure enough about her to trust her on a trip out of town.

"Where you gonna be staying?" I said.

She looked me askance. "The Royal," she said. "It's downtown. The union has its offices nearby."

I nodded.

Thursday morning I went to see Cass. "Mr. Walters?"

"Yes," he said, turning towards me. "Oh, Charlie, how yuh doin' young man," he said.

"Good, Mr. Walters. But, I would like to take some time off if you could spare me for a few days," I said.

"Oh, when?" he said.

"Well, actually I'd like to take off today. If it's all right. I'd be back Monday though ready to work," I said.

"Kinda short notice, Charlie. Something wrong?" said Cass.

"No, no, just something I have to do. It's pretty important," I said.

We talked for some minutes, and in the end I got the time off.

I decided to take the train down. It was cheaper, and it was something that appealed to me. And besides, I wasn't in a hurry. I wasn't even sure if I wanted to go. No, I was sure. I was sure I didn't. But, I was equally sure that I had to if only for my peace of mind.

I got into town at almost 6:00PM. I caught a cab to the Royal. I was cautious entering; Marylou could be anywhere.

I had taken the precaution of wearing a suit and tie and dark glasses, not my usual raiment. It was still light out, so I could justify the glasses. I definitely did not look like me, at least not to me I didn't. I entered the lobby and looked around. No Marylou.

I went up to the desk and asked for Mrs. Flowers' room.

"Hmm, sir, we don't give out that information," the clerk said.

"It's okay, I said, "I'm Mr. Flowers." I hoisted my ID in front of him and he relented.

"That'd be room 612, sir. Shall I announce you?"

"No, I want to surprise her," I said. I realized that I hadn't a clue as to what I wanted to do. I was just interested in seeing if she was playing it straight or not. I thought about getting a room, but I had already told him it was my wife in 612, so why would I need a room.

I began to walk toward the bank of elevators I'd seen on the way in. I was about half way to my goal when I saw her. My blood ran cold. She was in the arms of some big guy and she was kissing him—hard! They had just gotten off the elevator. I ducked back behind a column. I prayed she hadn't seen me. I peeked around the other side and saw them heading for the entrance. I decided to follow them. The marriage was over, but I wanted to get it all. My cell was a camera, and I knew how to use it.

Outside, they walked like lovers, arm-in-arm down the street. I wondered where they were headed. Maybe a restaurant I surmised.

They turned the corner. I hurried to catch up. I almost gave myself away. I was only ten feet away from them, when I rounded the corner. They had stopped to kiss yet again. The motherfucker had his hands all over her ass.

Just as I was sure I was about to be spotted they turned to cross the street. They were oblivious to all around them. The dark van came at them at what had to have been sixty miles an hour. I had no choice. I ran full tilt tackling them and shoving them out of the way just before they would have been hit.

I heard a scream and what sounded like someone yelling my name; then, all was black.

******

The light was very bright, I thought. I wondered why I hadn't turned it off when I went to bed. But, then . . .

"Doctor, doctor!" I heard someone yell.

It could not have been more than a minute and I was surrounded by a corps of white clad and very interested men and women.

One, who seemed an authority figure, shined a small light into my eyes one at a time, like I needed another light shining in my eyes. "You hear me Mr. Flowers?" said the man with the light.

"Yes—I think so—yes—I do," I said.

"Mr. Flowers, you had us worried. That car hit you pretty good. But, I think that you are out of the woods now. Your wife is here, Mr. Flowers. I'll let her in, but only for a few minutes. You're still pretty weak from the operation."

My brow wrinkled. "Huh?" I said.

The doctor looked serious. "We had to take your leg Mr. Flowers, it was just too messed up to save. I'm sorry."

The news stunned me. I vomited.

"Nurse!"

Two nurses came in and tended to my nausea. A minute later, still nauseous, I saw her. She came in and held my hand.

"Charlie. What? Why? Charlie, I will never be able to forgive myself."

"Do you love him, Marylou?" I said. My conscious memory had returned. The image of them embracing and kissing and being lovey-dovey tortured my heart.

"Charlie, I . . ."

"I guess that's all the answer I need. Please leave me, Marylou. Please, before I embarrass myself. Please!"

I could see she was crying. But the last thing I needed was an unfaithful wife hanging around feeling guilty and sorry for me. My dancing days might be over, but I still had my pride, and I wasn't going to give it up to her and her lover. Hell, I'd already given up my leg; that was enough.

She backed out, turned, and left. I had never been so low in my life. I likely would never be this low again.

******

I didn't see Marylou the next day or the next or the next. I had left instructions that she was not to be allowed near me. When flowers arrived, I almost threw them out, but then I decided to read the card first. They weren't from her. They were from the boys at the Hobbs. I smiled at that. At least I still had my friends, my real friends.

It was a month later that I was released, and Brody and Kilpatrick were there to meet me.

With the help of my new fiberglass and aluminum leg, I was able to return to work after some six months and a heckuva lot of physical therapy. I was slower, but I could still get it done.

I was concerned that I would be bumping into her when I started back, but what the hell; it was my place of work too. I needn't have worried. She had evidently had the same thoughts. She had transferred to San Diego. I still missed her, but what could I do; she loved someone else. I guessed I was old news as far as she was concerned.

******

About three months after returning to work, I filed for divorce. Six months after that it was final. I did not go in for the final chapter. I had my lawyer do it for me. I heard she was there with her new fiancé. Well, life goes on, right?

I settled into my old routine. Things weren't too bad, except late at night. She was always on my mind then, damn her for it too.

Life did indeed go on.

******

Several years passed since the blow up in my life. My fortieth birthday was a day to celebrate for sure. My salary had almost doubled a couple of weeks before when I inherited Cass' old job. I was the boss now. He'd been almost seventy. The party for him had been a pretty good affair. Even old Brad Carlson was there for that one. He pulled me aside for a minute. He'd changed. "Charlie, you got a minute?" he said.

"Yeah, I guess," I said. "Whatcha got, Brad. I was wary, but not worried if that makes any sense.

"You know we haven't spoken in years. I've seen you every now and then, but we've not spoken since forever."

"And, so," I said.

"Well, I just want you to know I envy you and admire you," he said. "Hokey, okay, but it's the truth."

I looked around to see if anyone was snickering behind my back. They weren't. "Okay, I'll bite, Brad, what gives?"

"Nothing. It's just what I said. I'd be glad to call a man like you a friend," he said.

"Okay," I said. I was still suspicious, but I was getting the feeling that he was not pulling a fast one. He offered me his hand, and we shook.

"You know, you saved their lives that day: the both of them. I heard all about it," he said.

"Yeah, well that's old news," I said.

"Well, maybe, but the two of them never could live it down," said Brad. "I hear that she wanted to come and see you, try to get back with you, but the guy wasn’t; well . . ."

"No biggee, it wouldn't have made any difference. I saw them. It was clear to me that I was old news," I said.

"Anyway, the way I heard it, every time they looked at each other they realized it was only because of your sacrifice that they were able to look at anything but dirt covering their faces.

"They got married though, finally. But, I guess Marylou's heart wasn't in it. They divorced within a year," said Brad.

"How do you know all of this?" I asked.

He looked at me like I was a dummy. "I see her from time to time. We work for the same firm, just different branches. We talk a little. She doesn't date a lot, not like she used to. You know, there was the divorce from you. Then, there was the divorce from that other guy. She's come to be a little bit skittish, I guess. She hasn't turned into a nun exactly, but she's definitely more, how shall I say it, more conservative given all that happened and how she used to be and do and all.

"All that may be true, Brad. Hell, I'll even grant that it makes sense on some level, but what really makes me wonder the most is you, not her. I'm surprised you haven't picked up with her. I know you had the hots for her in the old days," I said.

He snickered. "Yeah, I guess. But well, I had an epiphany of sorts."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. You really don't know much about me, Charlie. I lost my dad when I was young. It was just my mom and me. He, my dad, died in 'Nam; he was a tunnel rat. One day he, well, he didn't come out of the tunnel. My mom couldn't, at least didn't, talk about him much. She just said he'd been a hero, and I should always remember him that way. And I did. Until last year."

"Oh?" I said.

"My mom was dying; it was cancer. One day she called me in to the kitchen while I was visiting. The cancer was under control at the time; you know, with all the meds. She made me sit down. She poured me some coffee, and handed me a letter. And a small box."

I leaned back against the wall and waited to hear him out.

"I opened the box first; it was his posthumously awarded silver star. There was a letter from the Secretary of the Army with the details. That was a pretty tough moment for me. But it was only the beginning, as I soon found out.

"My mom waited for me to open the other letter, the personal one. I did. It took me a while to read it. It was a dear Jane letter written the week before my dad was killed. He had written mom saying that he was leaving her for a Vietnamese girl and that she, my mom, should start divorce proceedings. He said he wasn't going to be coming home. Oh, and he had a paragraph in there for me. He told me to always be honest and to work hard and love my mother. There was more, but you get the idea.

"My mom told me that dad was always chasing the skirts; he was very handsome she told me. This Viet girl was just the last in a long string of them. I realized then that I had become what I guess my dad always was, a philanderer. Anyway, that made me take stock of my life and the things I did and the way I thought. So, now, I am what I am, different."

I nodded. "Sorry, something like that could change a person for sure."

"It did me. Anyway, I'm not the asshole I once was," he laughed.

"Well, there might be two schools of thought on that one," I said, and we both laughed.

"Yeah, maybe. You ever think of trying to see her again, talk to her? I mean Marylou?" he said.

"Naw, not really. I mean I miss her, guess I always will. I think about her lot especially at night. But, she didn't love me. The thing about it was that I knew it would never work. She was way out of my class, and I fucking knew it. I guess I just fell under her spell. I believed her when she said she could love me and only me. I guess I wanted to believe it. Well, she burned me in the end didn't she," I said.

"I suppose. Well, in case you change your mind. You know, you should maybe give her a chance to talk to you," he said.

"She wouldn't talk to me, not really. She might think she had to because of, well, you know. But, I don't need sympathy or gratitude. I needed her love. I thought I'd had it, but, well, life is full of nasty surprises," I said.

"I'd talk to you, Charlie, and not out of pity or gratitude, but out of love."

I spun around. I looked back at Brad.

"Sorry, Charlie, I thought you needed to hear the truth," he said. "It ain't pretty, but it's not as unpretty as you thought it was either. Hear her out."

I turned back to the woman. "Hello, Marylou. You look—well."

"You look good too, Charlie. I know it sounds weird, but Brad is responsible for me being here. He seems to think we should talk. Or, more accurately that I should talk to you, tell you the whole of it." She turned and started walking. It was clear to me that she was heading for the elevators, and she wanted me to follow her. I guessed we’d be going down and to the cafeteria.

******

"I'm sorry, Charlie. Let me start with that. I'm sorry for a million things. I'm sorry for betraying you; it was not planned, not really. Ronald was an old flame. When he kissed me hello, I don't know, it touched something off inside of me.

"You never knew, but before we hooked up, I was quite the girl about town. Fact was I was everyman's favorite date. Never anything serious, just a lot of sex and restaurant food. By serious I mean none of my dates were ever going to get a ring on my finger; you were the only one until our divorce to do that.

"I'm sorry I wasn't there for you while you were recuperating. I'm sorry, for not being home to take care of you and love you and feed you and bathe you when you were having your hardest days with your leg. And well . . .

"When I ran into Ronald in San Diego that day; again, it was like old times. I wasn't thinking. I guess I really was ready for a fling and he was there, and he was a known quantity, and we did it. The biggest mistake of my life. I know that now."

I listened. I couldn't think of anything to say. I loved her and hated her and admired her, the last for her candor. I nodded.

She started to cry. Jesus these women, always crying.

"Then all of a sudden you saved me. You saved him. And you—"

"Yes, yes I know I was damaged goods," I said. "Well, I get along just fine thank you very much. I don't dance anymore, but I do okay otherwise.

"Marylou, the last fucking thing I need is sympathy, okay. Just don't do it! That I could not deal with!" My voice had been rising. It was beginning to look like the exact conversation that I always feared would happen, and I was not going to stand for it.

She nodded her understanding. "I know," she said. "You are far too much of a man to put up with any emotional female nonsense. I was just going to say, that the guilt; well, it was overwhelming.

"That day in the hospital, when you asked if I loved him, I wanted to tell you I didn't. And, I really didn't. What I did not want though was to be with you and have to feel the guilt day in and day out for the rest of our lives together. That would have done neither of us any good, and I knew it. So, I misled you. Let you think I loved him. It would be easier, so I thought, for the both of us."

"But you married him," I said. "Why did you marry him?"

"I had to, sort of. That day at the hotel, he'd knocked me up. I just took the easy path. But it didn't last. We were divorced within a year."

"How about the baby?" I asked.

"I miscarried five months into the pregnancy. It hurt me real bad, I have to tell you. I almost came back and threw myself on the ground at your feet, Charlie. I needed you so bad then. Selfish of me huh," it was not a question.

She was sobbing now big time. Her chest was heaving and never had I seen a forty year old woman look so like a fourteen year-old who'd been stood up by her first boyfriend.

I was about to take the biggest risk a man could take. I reached out and placed my hand gently on her shoulder. I knew then that I was lost. The feel of her, quivering like that, was more than I could bear.

The power of a woman in trouble was beyond my power to resist. Add to that the fact that I had never stopped loving her; and well, dear reader, I might be the first citizen of wimp city, but that's just the way it is, so deal with it.

We were remarried within three months of that day.

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