We woke early the following morning, but could hear that we weren’t the only ones. There was activity in the kitchen and we decided to dress. Jennie walked upstairs while I shaved, dressed, and cleaned up the bed before joining everyone for breakfast.
I was on my third piece of bacon and my fourth pancake when Jennie asked Toni if they’d like to come for another visit before school started. The girls looked to their parents with pleading eyes. “I don’t know if I can get off work again,” Charlie said.
“How about if we take the girls for a week? They could fly down and back. Then you and Toni could have some time alone for a change.”
Charlie laughed. “That WOULD be a change, but I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable with them flying on their own, Jennie. They’d be on their own in the terminal and who knows what could happen.”
“I agree,” I interrupted, “but I’d see to it that they weren’t alone. I could fly up and take them back later in the day. Either that or arrange a charter.”
“What’s a charter, Doug,” asked Allison.
“Essentially, it’s like renting a car except in this case it would be a plane. You and Andrea would be the only passengers. That’s how Jennie and I came to New York the first time because I couldn’t see wasting two hours in Charlotte or Atlanta for what is essentially a two hour flight. We have some time so, if your parents agree I’ll investigate all the options.”
What happened over the next fifteen minutes showed me our future as parents. Andrea and Allison begged and pleaded while I chuckled silently, stuffing myself with even more pancakes and knowing that Jennie and I would have two teenage visitors in mid-August. It had been determined as soon as Jennie had asked if they might visit.
Charlie said good-bye, leaving for work at 7:35, but Jennie and I dallied. We’d be going against the traffic into the city, but we’d still hit huge traffic jams if we left before nine. I spent the time arranging and rearranging our suitcases in addition to Lady’s bed, bowls, and the small amount of Purina Dog Chow that remained in the bag. I thought it would be enough for tonight and probably tomorrow at best.
Finally, the time for our departure had come. We hugged and kissed Toni, Andrea, and Allison before loading Lady into the back seat behind Jennie where she could rest her head on Jennie’s shoulder. I had noticed that all three Blasi women were wearing their new earrings. We had spent more than $2,000 on their presents, but it was a drop in the bucket so far as we were concerned. The looks on their faces when they received their gifts from Jennie had made it all worthwhile.
We waved as I backed out into the street and again as I drove away. “I think of them as family, Doug. Is that silly?”
“Not at all, Jennie; I feel the same way and I’d bet they feel the same about us. It’s kind of funny that we only met them because of that woman’s detestable behavior. Too bad we can’t send her a thank you note.” Jennie laughed and I joined her. A minute later I pulled into the parking lot at 7-11. I bought four 20-ounce bottles of Coke, a gallon of water for Lady, and a small bag of ice. The soda and ice went into our small cooler; the water onto the floor behind my seat next to Lady’s bowls.
I drove south until I was able to get onto I-78, following that through Jersey City to the New Jersey Turnpike. We moved along at a steady pace and fairly quickly due no small degree to the E-Z Pass I’d kept after moving from New York to North Carolina. We didn’t have to stop to get a ticket or to pay at the southern terminus of the Turnpike, nor did we have to stop in the long lines at either the Delaware Memorial Bridge or at one of the toll booths on I-95 in Delaware.
Our first stop was about two hours after leaving, around 11:20, at the last rest stop on the Turnpike. I needed to put Lady out for a walk and Jennie and I needed a bathroom break, too. By now we had our routine down pat. Jennie walked into the restroom while I took Lady onto the lawn. I had already poured water into her bowl on the sidewalk when Jennie reappeared with unwanted attention from a guy who looked to be in his late thirties. Twice I saw Jennie try to walk away from him and twice he grabbed her arm to stop her. Bad move—Lady also saw him. I let go of her leash and she was bounding down the walkway less than a second later.
Lady stopped when she reached Jennie, but even 100 feet away I could see her anger at his touching her mistress. The hair on the back of her neck was up and I could see other travelers back away cautiously. Jennie calmly took Lady’s leash and it was clear to all that Lady was only a second away from taking down Jennie’s admirer. She was in attack mode—rear legs bent and ready to spring, fangs bared—a low guttural growl coming from her throat. Only her rigid discipline and training saved that man’s life. I could see Jennie explaining that to the man as she turned away, leading Lady back to me.
“Thanks, darling; he was making a real ass of himself. He stopped me on my way in and ignored my telling him that I was a very happily married woman. I couldn’t believe that he was still there when I walked out of the ladies’ room. What on earth did he possibly think—that I’d jump into a car with a total stranger for a quickie? Eeeww! Thank you, too, Lady,” she said as she ruffled Lady’s ears.
I left to use the facilities and on the way some guy told me that I had a dangerous dog. “Yes and no,” I replied. “She’s a danger to anyone who tries to hurt either my wife or me, but she’s extremely well trained. That man was a fool, but he was in no real danger unless he put his hand on my wife again. Neither my dog nor I would have accepted that a third time.” I turned away to enter the building. We stopped for gas before continuing. Gas prices in New Jersey are relatively low and there’s always an attendant to man the pump and wash your windshield. Jersey was the only place I knew of where that was the norm.
We stopped again around one that afternoon for a quick lunch and again around four before stopping for the night around 6:30. For the first time since getting Lady I had trouble with the motel’s registration. The clerk absolutely refused to allow us to register with Lady. “Have you ever heard of the ADA—the Americans with Disabilities Act,” I asked. “That’s why you have ramps and bathrooms that are handicapped accessible. Part of the federal law covers service dogs like Lady or dogs for the blind. You’d better check with your manager or owner. I’d hate to have to sue you for being turned away.”
He did phone the owner and from the little I heard he wasn’t too happy about what he was told. He tried repeatedly to argue his point, but apparently got nowhere.
Eventually, he hung up the phone and reluctantly told us, “I’ve been advised to apologize and offer the room on the house.” Instead, Jennie and I said, “No thanks,” turned away and walked out. We stayed instead at a Best Western just down the road. Not a word was said about our service dog.
This trip would normally take about ten hours. With Lady, I figured about twelve because of all the extra stops we had to make. That was why Jennie and I had driven almost eight hours that first day. We wanted to get home by noon so we could hit the supermarket. Other than the occasional can and a jar of peanut butter, there was nothing much in the house to eat.
That’s almost exactly what happened. We turned into the driveway at 11:43, remembering just in time to press the remote for the gate. I doubted that either of us was as happy as Lady. She ran around the back yard and in and out of the garage aimlessly until Jennie and I had removed everything from the SUV. I had to admit that the BMW was a good investment. It rode well and got great gas mileage, even if it needed premium fuel. Jennie told me that both her car and mine were twin-turbocharged, whatever the hell that means. I know a lot about computers, but almost nothing about cars.
We shopped most of the afternoon, spending hundreds to fill our refrigerator and pantry. Once we were done Jennie insisted we go to the range. I threw the clubs into my trunk and Lady climbed into the rear seat. The first time we’d taken her she raced out onto the range the instant I hit, thinking apparently that this was a game—some kind of fetch. Today she simply sat by our clubs watching and protecting us from the occasional vicious squirrel.
That night after grilling a thick steak that we ate with a salad I retreated to my study. There was something I needed to check on. I had a program that, when opened, showed a screen of text—not words or sentences, but line after line of random letters and symbols. When a certain password is entered the text dissolves leaving a series of email addresses and their corresponding passwords. Why go through all of this, you ask? Because as I mentioned earlier I’ve had some shady clients—clients on the wrong side of the law—and I can’t afford to be caught communicating with them. Once you go online you should always assume that everything you do is public and subject to scrutiny from the government or anyone else who might be interested.
Sitting at my keyboard I accessed my home page on the internet. From there I typed in the URL for the University of Chicago and from there a university in New Zealand. Most universities have decent security, but anyone like me can get through it without too much difficulty. Should anyone inquire it would appear as though someone in the University of Chicago library had hacked into the University of Auckland. From there it was safe to access the email I’d used to contact the motorcycle gang.
There was a message and several photos I thought Jennie would find interesting. I had no idea how they had managed to get a camera inside a state prison and I wasn’t about to ask, but here in all his glory was a severely beaten former sheriff from Waterloo, Iowa. I was laughing so hard as I called Jennie that I could barely get her name out.
She came in wondering what was going on so I explained then I showed the photos of her stepfather with his two black eyes, band-aid on his forehead, and his arm in a cast, bandages wrapped tightly around his torso—a sure sign of bruised or broken ribs. She took one look and joined me in laughter. “This was you, wasn’t it? Some friends or contacts you have?”
“I cannot tell a lie, but I do plead the fifth—a person does not have to testify if his answer might incriminate him.”
She leaned down to kiss me then whispered, “Thanks.” Then she kissed me again. I scrolled down the screen to read the text again—“What a complete fucktard this asshole is. He thinks he is still a hot shit, trying to boss everyone around. He has pissed off all the prisoners who have met him and more than half the guards. He’ll be lucky to live out his sentence. Doubt he will. Thanks for the upgrade. It’s working great. A friend” After deleting the message I went to join my beautiful wife on the deck.
Jennie and I spent the next three weeks having fun—going to Bird Island on the southern end of Sunset Beach in the boat with Lady, or playing golf, or going to the beach. The only other thing we did was prepare for our visitors. There were no direct flights to either Myrtle Beach or to Wilmington, North Carolina, roughly fifty miles north of us so I phoned Executive Jet to make the arrangements once I had checked with Toni for dates and times. I insisted that the attendant be a woman to make the girls more comfortable. Take-off was scheduled for 9:00 Saturday morning so Toni and Charlie had their daughters at the Newark Airport General Aviation terminal at 8:20, giving them plenty of time to meet the captain and crew and double-check the arrangements before departure. Two hours later they were safely in Myrtle Beach, riding in Jennie’s SUV with Lady seated between them and they were talking nonstop. I grinned toward Jennie, but she was into the conversation as much as the girls.
They ran into the house and up the stairs to the bonus room closely followed by Lady. She jumped and capered, playfully nipping at their feet, as they put their clothes into the dresser and closet. I couldn’t help but laugh. This was going to be some visit!
I grilled hot dogs for lunch and then we took them to Bird Island in the boat. We liked Bird Island for several reasons. First, we could take Lady, even in the summer. She loved the beach and often scampered in the waves with us. Dogs were restricted from the town beach between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Also, Bird Island was on the Little River Inlet so we had a choice of the waves in the ocean or the calm water where we and others parked our boats. Bird Island had ceased to be an actual island decades ago when the narrow inlet between it and Sunset Beach had silted in. Still, it was more than a mile from the nearest road so it was virtually deserted even on the busiest weekend. The only practical way to get here was by boat. We’d brought the Blasi’s here on their first visit and they loved it as much as we did.
Lady raced back and forth when I pulled her Frisbee from the beach bag. The many holes from her teeth showed clearly how much she enjoyed playing with it. I reminded Andrea and Allison about the heat and Lady’s need to rest and drink then sent them off to the ocean side which was completely deserted while Jennie and I set up our umbrella and beach chairs.
Jennie was five months into her pregnancy so her baby bump was obvious. She’d bought a new swimsuit, telling me how much she hated seeing women’s bare abdomens when obviously pregnant. “Some things should be private, don’t you think?”
I’d never given the idea much thought, but I could understand her reasoning. Some things should be private.
The girls and Lady returned after about a half hour. They hadn’t been in the ocean—not yet—because our rule was not to swim unless one of the adults was present. I’d read and heard of many idiotic things done by people at the beach. One of my roommates at Harvard had worked as a lifeguard at a state park near my home. I cringed at the stories he’d told me—how parents endangered their own children through things they’d never consider doing at home.
We sat under the umbrella enjoying a Coke from the cooler and some fresh sliced veggies with a cup of ranch dressing. We dug in, eating and laughing until we’d had our fill. We went for a swim, staying fairly close to the shore. There was a lot of boat traffic farther out in the channel, some of it involving fairly big ships, so there was danger in swimming out too far. We all jumped into the water at the same time—all of us, except Lady. Dogs can swim, but they tire quickly. The dog paddle is a very inefficient stroke, using a lot of energy to go nowhere. Jennie had read of several dogs drowning at one of the local beaches. I always forced Lady to “stay” under the umbrella. Yes, dogs can get sunburned, too. We picked up our mess around four for the twenty minute trip home. I had the boat on the hydraulic lift, washing it carefully while Jennie and the girls carried the umbrella, chairs, and beach bag up to the house. I followed a few minutes later, carrying the cooler. We were ready to go out for dinner by 5:15, driving into Calabash for pizza.
We were back about ninety minutes later and I fed Lady, noticing how quiet things were in the living room. “Everything okay in here,” I asked.
“Jennie, could we ask you something? It’s kind of personal.”
“Okay, Andrea; go ahead.”
“Mom told us that you ran away from home.”
“That’s right; did she tell you why?” Andrea shook her head “no.” “You’re so lucky to have wonderful loving parents. You should thank God for them every day. I had a wonderful father, but he died in an industrial accident when I was ten. My mother remarried almost two years later. She wasn’t married even a month when my stepfather—the county sheriff—made his first nighttime trip to my bedroom. I screamed the entire time he raped me, but my mother ignored me. I screamed every time he did it—two to three times a week—for the next five years. I hated that man—I still do. I hated him so much that I ran away when I had the chance. Anything was better than having to lie under his fat sweaty body almost every other day. I knew that I’d have to have sex with some of the men who picked me up, but most of them were nice decent people who just wanted to help me.
“I had sex with lots of other men, but I’ve only made love with Doug. Do you understand the difference?”
“I think so,” Allison said. “Dumb animals can have sex, but they don’t make love.”
“That’s true,” Jennie told them. “For me—I would lie down and allow men to use my body, but I was somewhere else. I never had an orgasm and I didn’t want one. With Doug I’m always an active participant because I love him. I want it to be good for him just as he wants it to be good for me. Are you guys ready for Monday at the doctor?”
“Oh yeah, Jennie—we’re looking forward to it,” Andrea replied eagerly. Jennie had realized that she had an appointment for a sonogram scheduled for the week they would visit. She presented three options to Toni: cancel the appointment; take them, but leave them in the waiting room; or take them in to experience the test with us. I wasn’t surprised when Charlie and Toni said they’d accept whatever we wanted to do, but thought that seeing a real sonogram would be an excellent and interesting learning experience for their daughters. Jennie and I agreed. Monday would be the day—a big day for all of us.
Sunday morning Jennie and I drove them to church and then to brunch at a nice restaurant in Myrtle Beach. We spent the afternoon at Farmstead hitting balls and practicing our putting. Andrea did quite well, especially considering that they didn’t have their own clubs and hadn’t practiced since their last visit. Allison, however, smoked the ball. “Gee Allison,” her sister commented, “watching you makes me wonder if Daddy is really your father.” Allison howled in laughter then she went to the putting green and smoked everything under eight feet. Jennie and I must have given her a dozen high fives and even more knuckle bumps.
Everyone seemed more than a bit nervous at breakfast the following morning. We were in my car before any of us had even spoken. It was Allison who broke the ice. “I bet you’re hoping for a boy, Doug.”
After laughing, Jennie replied for me. “You’d lose that bet, Allison. Doug wants a girl.”
“That’s right,” I joined in. “Girls tend to stay close to their families even after getting married although Jennie is an obvious exception. Boys don’t generally have much choice because their wives have made it for them…just like almost every other decision.”
Jennie laughed and the girls joined her. Then Jennie ended the conversation with, “And don’t you forget it!”
“Yes, boss!” Jennie giggled then leaned across the console to kiss my cheek. Thirty
minutes later we were in Dr. Cullen’s office, sitting nervously until we were called then I thought the nurse would have a cow. I guess she’d never had such a crowd follow her into the exam room.
Jennie was handed a gown and pointed toward the restroom. “You’ve got to be kidding,” she told the nurse. “Why would I want to hide a body like this?” She took off her top and bra and pulled the gown over her arms. I tied a bow behind her neck, but left the other undone as Jennie removed her shorts and lay on the exam table.
She was there about fifteen minutes when Dr. Cullen entered with a smile. “I heard this was going to be a theatrical production.” I introduced Andrea and Allison and Dr. Cullen told them where they should stand in order to get the best view. She rubbed some gel on Jennie’s abdomen and asked what we were hoping for.
“Doug wants a girl,” Allison blurted.
“How much do you girls know about sonograms?”
“We went online to Google when our mom told us about being here for Jennie’s test,” Andrea replied.
“Yeah, we must have read six or seven articles about it,” Allison added.
“And I bet we looked at four or five videos,” Andrea added. I just laughed; Jennie smiled. We loved their enthusiasm.
“Well then, can you tell me what we should look for to determine the sex?”
Allison giggled, but Andrea came straight out and answered, “A penis, but sometimes the umbilical cord gets in the way or is confused for a penis.” Dr. Cullen joined Jennie and me in laughing, but did ask if the girls were looking for work. “I’m hiring; I’d bet you know more than most of my staff.”
Then Dr. Cullen got down to business. She applied the sensor to Jennie’s skin, rubbing it into the gel, and all of us paid the closest attention. We could see the baby’s body and head. The umbilical was obvious, but we never did see a penis. “Well, girls…what’s the sex?”
“It’s a girl,” they shouted together.
“Another correct diagnosis; are you sure you’ve never done this before?” We shared a laugh then Dr. Cullen checked Jennie’s lungs and heart beat, reviewed her diet and exercise regimens and told us things couldn’t be better. We were out the door five minutes later, laughing and hugging each other before I treated to lunch.
We encouraged the girls to call home every day and they did, usually around 5:15 so their dad would be home from work. Every day after they’d spoken Charlie would ask to speak with me and he’d ask how his daughters were behaving. Every day I’d give him the same answer—the way I’d want my daughters to behave. Today’s conversation was more elated yelling and screaming than anything else. Andrea began with, ”IT’S A GIRL, MOM! A GIRL!! WE SAW HER INSIDE JENNIE. IT WAS INCREDIBLE.” Then Allison added that I had wanted a girl and the yelling started anew.
Once they had calmed down Charlie took the phone for his daily question. “Excited,” I replied, “and a bit noisy today, but that’s to be expected. It’s been an exciting day.” I ended the call and drove everyone down to Myrtle Beach to Captain George’s, an excellent seafood buffet where the food was almost as good as in a high end sit-down restaurant.
We spent the rest of their visit either at the beach or on the golf course or shopping for baby clothes and accessories. We were actually sorry to see them leave on Sunday—the day before Labor Day. We went shopping in earnest for furniture that week. One of the things we decided was that we wanted to buy a quality set that would last through her entire childhood. We decided on a dresser and crib with a matching twin headboard and desk (can’t plan too far ahead if you’re a nerd) in a washed blonde maple finish. We’d put the headboard and desk away for now in an air-conditioned storage facility about two miles away until it was needed.
The rest of Jennie’s pregnancy was uneventful, but she pouted something awful when Dr. Cullen told her to stop penetrative sex in her seventh month. “Don’t worry, Jen—I can still take care of you with my mouth and fingers.”
My Jennie kissed me then led me to bed. “It’s not me I’m concerned about. I know you’re accustomed to getting off every day. Will you be satisfied with my mouth and hand for the next five months?”
“Of course, we both knew this day would come. Having a family with you is much more important than an orgasm.”
Jennie had an evil smile on her face when she replied, “Then you won’t mind doing without for the next five months, will you?” She laughed like crazy when I gulped several times then she kissed me and whispered, “Like I’d ever make you do that. Plan on cumming every day just like you’ve been doing. I hear it’s really good for my skin. Maybe you’ll enjoy doing it on my titties. Huh?” I did; I enjoyed it very much, but I absolutely loved cumming within my beautiful wife.
All nerds know how to plan ahead. Let’s face it—that’s what we do best. I had a bag packed for Jennie and daughter by mid-October and had plotted alternative routes to the hospital in case there was an accident or construction. I had run several drills like the fire drills schools are required to hold. Jennie wasn’t due until the first week of December. I just wanted to be prepared. I’m a nerd—I admit it.
There was one thing I couldn’t plan for—overcoming my own nervousness. I was on the computer—where else would I be—when Jennie walked in. “Doug, do you think you could drive me to the hospital?”
“Huh? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, darling; it’s just time…you know, time for you to become a daddy. Turn your computer off. You’ll probably be there for hours. I’ve already phoned Dr. Cullen.” I put Lady out then locked up and helped Jennie into the SUV.
I was shaking when I climbed behind the wheel and Jennie noticed. “Close your eyes, Doug, and take a deep breath. Relax. Okay, now lean across the console and kiss me.” I did and Jennie broke it about a minute later. “I’m counting on you, Doug. Take your time and drive carefully. We’re in no rush. In fact, you’ll probably have to come home to feed Lady. These things usually take hours and hours.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you were having contractions?”
“Because I knew you’d react like this. You’re as nervous as a cat in a rocking chair factory. You’ve been doting on me for the past week. I know it’s because you love me, but we have a long road ahead of us so let’s just take it one step at a time. Okay?” I nodded and leaned over to kiss her cheek. Jenny smiled then asked, “Did we just have our first argument?”
“I don’t think so. You’re right…I am nervous, but mostly I’m terrified that something will happen and I’ll lose you and the baby.”
“You need to relax and have confidence in the doctor and the hospital. Women have been having babies for thousands of years. We have an excellent doctor and we’ll be in an excellent hospital. Even more important, you’ll be with me every second once the delivery begins. I know you’ll be strong for me when I need it. Now…don’t you think we should leave the garage?”
“Oh.” I put the SUV in gear and backed into the driveway. Then I began the drive down into Myrtle Beach to the hospital. I tried to drive normally, but there was nothing normal about how I was feeling. I doubted I’d have been able to make it if not for Jennie’s support. I felt an enormous sense of relief when I dropped Jennie at the hospital door, giving the keys to the valet. I had her in a wheelchair seconds later on the way to obstetrics. Then began the worst part of this ordeal—the waiting.
Dr. Cullen came in to examine Jennie roughly every two hours. For all I knew she might have gone back to her office between visits. Finally, after we’d been there almost six hours she told me we’d probably have another four to five hours before the birth began. “Go home, Doug. Feed Lady and put her out and grab a sandwich for yourself. If you do that you’ll still be back in plenty of time.” I was ready to protest when she pulled me down for a kiss. She whispered, “Please…do it for me,” when she broke it. I knew I was finished when she batted those long eyelashes at me. I kissed her again then turned to walk out the door.
I was at home with Lady about forty minutes later and I was determined to be back at the hospital with Jennie as soon as humanly possible. I put Lady’s dinner together while she was outside. She looked around for Jennie, even running to our room in search of her. Once she was finished eating I had a decision to make. How long would I be away? How long before our daughter would be born? What was the weather supposed to be like tonight? Once I knew the night would be relatively warm I made my decision, moving Lady’s bed to the garage and leaving the garage door open for her. I backed out and drove through the gate, making sure that she did not follow me. I walked back into Jennie’s room just as she was going through another contraction. I hated seeing her in such pain.
“Did you eat,” she asked with a groan.
I responded with a sheepish look. “I couldn’t. I’m too nervous.”
She pulled me to her for a long kiss. “I figured that so one of the nurses offered to make a PB and J sandwich for you. It’s here on the table. Would you go to the cafeteria and get two big drinks. Dr. Cullen told me not to get anything with caffeine, so Sprite or ginger ale for me. Okay? Please? You’re going to be the best dad ever!” I practically ran from the room, down the stairs and into the cafeteria by the entrance. I was back in about five minutes with the drinks and I was panting something fierce from the run.
I ate my sandwich and helped Jennie with sips of her drink. I had just finished when Dr. Cullen came in again. She looked my way after examining Jennie for what seemed to be the thousandth time. “It won’t be long now…probably two to three hours.” I breathed a sigh of relief and pulled my phone from my pocket.
Jennie and I had spoken by phone with Toni, Andrea, and Allison at least once a week, but more often when we could. They told us how school was going and we were pleased to learn that Andrea had applied to Villanova in addition to Rutgers. We knew that she’d hear from them sometime in January. Allison answered the phone this afternoon.
“Hi, Allison,” I began. “Looks like today is the day. I’m in the hospital with Jennie as we speak.” I could hear her calling her mom and sister. Soon they were chattering away and I was sure they’d continue when Jennie felt a huge contraction. I ended the call then, promising to phone when the baby was born regardless of the time.
Our daughter must have been impatient because she began to assert herself about an hour before Dr. Cullen expected her. Jennie was pushing and breathing and grunting when the doctor rushed into the room. I held Jennie’s hand and wiped the sweat from her brow. I gave her sips of Sprite and prayed like I’ve never prayed before—prayed for Jennie, prayed for our daughter, and—mostly—prayed that I’d be strong enough for both of them.
Someone must have been listening because at 10:13 that evening it was done. Dr. Cullen cut the cord, the nurse washed and weighed our daughter and handed her to Jennie. Damn! She looked just like my wife—light brown hair and clear blue eyes. She had her first meal, suckling at Jennie’s breast, and then she was taken to the nursery for a few hours. I hugged and kissed Jennie and told her how much I loved her about a hundred times before leaving. I knew Jennie was exhausted and needed to sleep.
Walking down the corridor to the elevator, I pulled my phone from my pocket. I was just leaving the building when I placed the call. Andrea answered. “She’s here—six pounds, nine ounces…Jennie’s hair and eyes. She’s beautiful just like her mother.”
(MOM, ALLISON—SHE’S HERE! JENNIE HAD HER BABY! What’s her name, Doug? Did you decide?)
“Yup! We decided on Andrea Allison.”
(OH MY GOD! MOM! MOM! THEY NAMED THE BABY AFTER ME AND ALLISON!) I was sure I could hear the celebration in progress up in Hoboken as though it was right in the parking lot with me. I hoped nobody in the neighborhood planned on sleeping anytime soon.
Eventually things settled down and Toni told me I was on speaker. “Yes, they’re both okay…better than okay. Andrea is a bit wrinkled, but, of course, I think she’s beautiful. Her hair and eyes are just like Jennie’s.” I could hear the girls begging to come for another visit and I could also hear Toni tell them that they’d imposed on us enough.
“Jennie and I have talked about another visit and we think it will be fine, but we also think it should be after Christmas. You should spend the holiday with your families. I’m on my way home now, but I promise we’ll call tomorrow when Jennie and Andrea are home.” We chatted for another five minutes as I spoke with Andrea, Allison, and even Charlie before I was allowed to end the call.
I phoned my mother, starting my end of the conversation with, “Hi, Grandma,” She agreed to come down to help as soon as she could get here. I was one tired nerd when I pulled into the driveway that evening and I’d had the easy part—by far.
Lady was on her bed when I approached the garage. Leaving the car outside, I opened the door to the house for her then pulled the car into the garage. Once again, Lady searched the entire house looking for Jennie. “Tomorrow morning, Lady…Jennie will be back tomorrow morning and she’ll have a tiny surprise for you then, too. C’mon, I need a shower and then it’s to bed.”
I slept that night, but I missed my wife terribly. I was accustomed to the touch of her arm over my chest and the sensation of her smooth skin against mine. I missed the sweet aroma of her shampoo. Hell, I just missed HER!
I must have been thrashing in my sleep because Lady was aroused, pushing her snout under my arm and barking several times. I wondered at first if there might be an intruder, but she calmed down as soon as I did. “I guess it was me, eh Lady. Was I disturbing you? Wait until tomorrow night,” I said with a chuckle. I wrapped my arm around Lady’s head, pulling it down to the bed, petting her and scratching her ears until I had fallen asleep once again.
I was told to be at the hospital at ten and nerds are always punctual. It’s part of who we are. I was just outside the door when I heard the nurse tell Jennie she thought I’d be late. After a brief chuckle Jennie told her, “That’s because you don’t know my husband.”
She asked me what the time was when I walked in about five seconds later. “Exactly ten, why?”
“Oh…just a little bet I had with the nurse. What was the reaction in Hoboken?”
“Guess.” I continued when I saw that Jennie was busy with our daughter. “Total pandemonium; Andrea was thrilled with the name and she asked if they could come for another visit.”
“I’ll bet Toni told her they’d imposed enough.”
“Exactly…word for word. I told her we’d already discussed it and you can offer this afternoon when we call them. I’ll have to email some photos, too.”
“Okay, but no flash; Dr. Cullen told me her eyes aren’t ready yet. Why don’t you take the bag? I’ll take Andrea as soon as I’m in the wheelchair.” I was thrilled now that I’d made all the payment arrangements more than two weeks ago. I thought I’d be a nervous wreck if I had to sit in the accounting office for even a minute now.
I went downstairs a few minutes before Jennie so I could have the car ready for her and Andrea. I took my daughter from her mother and placed her into the car seat with the utmost care, making doubly sure she was safe and secure then I helped my wife into her seat. I thanked the nurse and the valets and began the most careful drive of my life.
I drove five miles under the speed limit all the way home, even waving politely when some drivers honked their horns in frustration. I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally pulled into the garage. “I want to go in first, Doug. I’m sure Lady will be a little wild when she sees me. Leave Andrea here for a minute until I get seated then you can bring her in. She’ll be okay.” I was sure she was right. The fence was closed and secure, but just to be sure I closed the garage door with the remote.
I helped Jennie to the door and I could see the wisdom in her remarks immediately. Lady was never permitted to jump up at us or our visitors, but she raced wildly around the room when she first saw Jennie. I took her coat and helped her into an easy chair while she told Lady to “sit.” Only then did I put the jacket into the closet and return to the garage for our daughter.
I was holding her carefully, my hand under her neck, as I placed her into Jennie’s lap. Lady looked at Jennie then took a sniff and looked back at Jennie again. “Protect,” Jennie told her as Lady leaned in for another sniff. I knew the introduction was complete when Lady pushed her nose under Andrea’s hand and kept it there leaning against Jennie’s thigh.
Andrea slept for more than an hour then awoke crying. I took her into our room and changed her diaper and her onesie. Her head on my shoulder I returned to the living room where Jennie had already opened her blouse to expose one of her breasts. Andrea suckled as soon as her mouth found her mother’s nipple.
I sat next to Jennie to watch this timeless tableau—mother and child. “I don’t think that anyone could love more than I love you at this moment. I thought that I really loved you before, but now….”
“I know exactly how much you love me. Doug—just ever so slightly less than I love you. I’ve often thought how fate brought us together. Now I believe it was divine providence—an act of God—that brought us together. And I was right—you did want to fuck me.”
“Hell, I always want to do that, but, unfortunately, our sex life will have to be second now.”
“I don’t know—babies sleep a lot, you know.” I smiled and kissed Jennie. I did know that. Nerds know a lot of stuff like that.
I took a few photos of Jennie and Andrea, emailing them to Toni and Mom almost immediately. Mom called and told me she had reservations to Myrtle Beach tomorrow morning, arriving around one. Then she hit me with something out of the blue. “Would it be all right it Paul came down in a few days? He’ll have a reservation for one of the hotels just in case your father—I always cringed when she called that bastard ‘your father’—has him followed.”
I explained that we had invited our friends and that they had two teenage daughters. I ended the conversation by telling her I’d call her back tonight. I explained to Jennie when she woke from her nap. She’d told me that between feeding Andrea and the hard hospital bed she’d barely slept a wink. “I think I just missed you,” she said with a wan smile. My smile in return told her the same.
We phoned Toni and the girls around five. They said they would come on the 26th if that was okay and that Charlie would be able to join us on the 30th. Christmas and New Year’s Day were on Friday this year so the girls didn’t have to be back in school until January 4th, the following Monday. Jennie explained my Mom’s situation and told her that we wouldn’t have her “friend” visit if she or the girls would feel uncomfortable. “Don’t be silly, Doug—they may go to Catholic school, but they’re hardly nuns. Actually, it might be good for them to realize that people older than their parents enjoy sex.”
“Are there any people older than their parents?” We shared a laugh before I gave the phone back to Jennie. After walking into my office I phoned my mother about arrangements for Paul to join us. I had just ended the call when Lady rushed into the room. She turned and, making sure I was following, led me to the bedroom where Andrea was just waking up. How? How did she know that?
Jennie and I talked about that over dinner. The only thing I could think of was that Lady could detect some tiny change in Andrea’s breathing. We’d never know for sure, but Lady always seemed to know when Andrea was waking up. During the day she’d run to either me or Jennie. At night she pushed her nose under my arm and she was never wrong.
I met Mom in the airport as planned. She was almost as excited as I was. I was her only child and she’d long ago given up any hopes of ever having even a single grandchild to spoil. She had been completely surprised to learn that I’d gotten married.
Paul was coming in tomorrow and had a reservation at one of the oceanfront hotels in Myrtle Beach. I agreed to drive to the hotel that evening when he took a cab to one of the local restaurants. I would follow to ensure that he wasn’t being followed by either my father or some private investigator. If he wasn’t I’d pick him up at the restaurant’s parking lot and we’d return together to my home.
Mom was thrilled to hold Andrea and even to change her. She helped Jennie bathe Andrea in the kitchen sink. Andrea was safely and snugly in her bassinette with Lady on guard when Mom told us how her divorce was going. “He acts as though he was the innocent party even though I have depositions from four of his former students stating that he coerced them into sex with him. He has also been treated for STD’s twice while I’ve always tested clean. Those are county health records. I used them to track down his lovers. My attorney says that he can subpoena them if necessary. It’s not going as easily as I had hoped. That’s why I want to be careful with Paul. There’s no indication that he knows about us yet, but he’s totally irrational. We had one meeting with our lawyers and his had to restrain him. I won’t meet with him again and I’ll continue to refuse counseling. Incidentally, I’ll be getting another deposition from his current squeeze who described sex with him as ‘sleeping with a grunting pig.’” Jennie howled with laughter then caught herself. “Don’t worry. You’ll learn soon enough that she’ll sleep through a hurricane. That’s what babies do.” We said good night and headed off to bed.
Jennie and I were lying in bed, naked as usual when she whispered to me. “I miss making love with you. That’s the only part of having a baby that I don’t like. I can’t wait for these stitches to come out and for Dr. Cullen to give her okay. I always feel so…complete…fulfilled with you inside me.”
“I always feel so horny when I’m not. It’s clear we were meant for each other. You make me feel like I’m the luckiest man in the world.”
“That’s because you are, silly.” She leaned over to give me a kiss then settled in for…well, not the night, that’s for sure…for as long as Andrea would permit.
We were up an hour later, warned once again by Lady who seemed to enjoy her new job. I changed Andrea while Jennie prepared herself, pushing the pillows against the headboard and getting a cloth diaper for her shoulder—for when she burped our daughter. Back in bed twenty minutes later, I congratulated Jennie on becoming a pro. “Me? All I did was sit there while she suckled. I think you did all the work…Dad!”
She snuggled up against me and I pulled the blanket up to our chins.
All told, we were up three times that night so a nap was in order the following afternoon. I left at 5:30 for the drive to Myrtle Beach. Paul had a reservation at the Landmark and I saw him exit at exactly 6:12 with his suitcase. He was easy to identify because everyone else with a suitcase was going in the opposite direction—either checking in or going to their rooms.
I watched carefully as he entered the taxi, lying back because I knew where he was going—watching to see if anyone would follow. Myrtle Beach is usually pretty dead at this time of year. Even the snowbirds stay home for the holidays. There was no traffic even though I waited until they were almost a mile up the road before I put the car in gear. The cab pulled into the lot at Margaritas, an authentic Mexican restaurant. I picked it because the restaurant and the parking lot were small and I could get in from the back entrance, behind a jewelry store, but I doubted a private detective or my idiot father would know that.
Paul stood outside, calmly looking around as if waiting for someone to join him. I let him stand for about ten minutes before calling his cell. “I’m here…over on your left behind the jeweler. I’ll pick you up in another minute. You can put your suitcase in the trunk. I’ll have the passenger side door open for you.” I started the car and turned on the lights. Ten seconds later I pulled in front of the restaurant, the trunk already up. Paul was ready for me. I left and was back on the highway in less than ten seconds.
Mom ran out to the garage as soon as I pulled in. She hugged Paul then said, “Come meet my granddaughter. She’s beautiful, just like her mother.” Sounded just like my mom—bragging about everyone except me. There were a lot of reasons why I left Long Island. The weather, cheaper housing and living (like I had to worry), getting away from my father, and maintaining a comfortable distance from my mother; I was sure that she loved me, but she was never too expressive of her love. I’d learned not to take it to heart a long, long time ago.
Lady greeted me once I was in the house and she was followed closely by Jennie. Mom was right about one thing. Andrea was beautiful, just like her mother. Jennie’s beauty went far beyond her physical being. She was mostly a beautiful person.
We’d had no way of knowing what would happen tonight, so neither Jennie nor my mom had cooked and now it was kind of dark to grill so I suggested getting take-out pizza. Paul offered to come with me, but I thought it safer if he stayed here where we knew he wouldn’t be seen. We still had no idea if dear old Dad knew about him and Mom or if he knew about Paul’s trip near to where I lived. I had a listed phone so it would be child’s play to find me. Then again neither Jennie nor I were hiding. We no longer had any reason to.
I’d taken an online subscription to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier and I’d been rewarded with several articles on the former sheriff. The first told about how he was injured in a fight in the shower. I already knew about that. The second described another attack in the prison yard that had resulted in injuries so severe that he had been restricted to a wheelchair. There was conjecture as to whether he would ever be able to walk again. His attorney had appealed to the court to have his sentence reduced, but Judge Pepper steadfastly refused. I made a note to contribute to his reelection campaign. We needed more judges like him.
We had a wonderful visit with Paul. Jennie and I both liked him. Most of all we liked the way he treated my mother. “I don’t often run into your father, Doug. He’s in the school of science and I’m in humanities, but I have seen him often in the Faculty Senate. He has quite the reputation as a blowhard. We can always count on him to monopolize the meeting. He’ll go on and on until the president has had enough then he sits down and pouts for the rest of the meeting. He thinks he’s been discreet in his relationships with his students, but there have been rumors going around for years—almost as long as I’ve been trying to get Eleanor to divorce him.”
“You know, Mom—I’ll testify for you, if necessary. I have first-hand knowledge I can share. I’ll bet having his only child testify will drive him crazy.”
“I don’t want you to get involved, Doug.”
“Mom, I’ve been involved for the past twenty years. I’ll only be bringing my annoyance to an end. I’ll still hate him, though it could be worse. He could be Jennie’s step-father who repeatedly raped her when she was a child.”
About a week before Christmas Mom asked why we hadn’t decorated for Christmas. I was ashamed to admit that I hadn’t done anything last year when I was alone. We put some formula into a few baby bottles and Jennie and I took our first time off as parents to do some shopping, knowing that Andrea was in good hands with her grandmother.
Our first stop was Home Depot where we bought several wreaths—a matching pair for the stone columns at the driveway and another for our front door. We even bought one for the rear gate. We bought a tree—one with the lights already wired onto the branches and dozens of ornaments. Then we went to Lowe’s and we were almost there when I remembered the Christmas shop in Calabash.
The store was expensive, but had a huge selection of everything. We bought a nativity set and a big wreath for the large stone area over our fireplace. Most of all we had some ideas we would think about for next year. The good thing about this shop was that it was open all year around. The Christmas stuff at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and even Walmart disappeared by January.
We had a lot of fun decorating with but one problem—Lady’s tail. She must have knocked twenty decorations to the floor and twice almost knocked the tree to the floor, a problem I finally solved by placing a screw eye into the wall and connecting it to the tree with steel wire.
Jennie and I did all of our shopping online, and most of it at Harry Winston’s. Jennie suggested pearl earrings and necklace for Mom. We bought similar sets of small diamond studs and pendants for Andrea and Allison. For Toni we went a bit overboard, buying what Jennie thought was an exquisite diamond and emerald pendant with matching earrings. For Paul sweaters and shirts were all we could come up with.
Charlie was a fisherman and the girls had told us of a rod and reel combo that he just drooled over—a Shimano Stella reel and matching rod—exactly what I had on my boat. Jennie insisted that she didn’t want anything so, naturally, I bought her an expensive gold and diamond watch by Movado. I had the best presents I could imagine in Jennie and Andrea.
Christmas day began like every other with Lady sticking her cold nose under my arm to tell me that Andrea was about to wake up. Fifteen minutes later Jennie carried her out to the living room. I placed a blanket on the floor as I’d done almost every day. She seemed to enjoy watching the lights and she always reached out for Lady who always lay right next to her, her dangerous claws facing away. Several times we’d seen Andrea reach over to touch Lady’s fir and she’d laughed every time.
We exchanged gifts with Mom and Paul. Jennie loved her watch. She bought me a new watch, too—a solar powered Seiko. We spent a quiet day—as quiet as a day can be when there’s a three-week old baby in the house. The Blasi’s phoned around noon to wish us a merry Christmas and we discussed their visit.
I met them at the general aviation terminal and—wow—were they excited! They had several plastic bags with brightly colored boxes in addition to their suitcase. I drove into the garage not more than forty minutes later. After hugging Jennie and being introduced to Mom and Paul the girls ran upstairs to unpack. We had planned to exchange gifts at that time, but apparently Lady had other ideas. She took Andrea’s wrist in her mouth and led her to our room, stopping right in front of the bassinette with our sleeping daughter. Andrea, Allison, and Toni stood there for a good twenty minutes
They took photos and commented on how beautiful and how tiny she was. When she woke up they commented on how loud she was. The girls asked if they could watch when Jennie nursed and we agreed. Then while Andrea was still awake they gave her their presents. Andrea had bought her a pink bear with the softest covering. It became her favorite. Allison bought her rattle with several colorful bands on a plastic ring and was thrilled when Andrea was able to hold it. Of course, she tried to put it into her mouth. We gave them their gifts then and they were understandably pleased—more than pleased, they were ecstatic. “You shouldn’t have,” was what Toni said, but the expressions on her and her daughters’ faces said otherwise. I’d hear that expression several times over the next few months.
Charlie arrived as scheduled on the 30th and I met him in Myrtle Beach’s main terminal. The first words out of his mouth when he saw the gift from Jennie and me were—you guessed it!—“You shouldn’t have.” Yes; his face said otherwise.
We would have normally taken everyone out for dinner several times, but neither Jennie nor I were ready to take our newborn daughter out into crowds of coughing and sneezing people with colds or flu, or worse. Instead, Mom and Toni handled the evening cooking, Mom making pot roast and baked ham and Toni doing both homemade lasagna and spaghetti with homemade meatballs and Italian sausage. I handled most lunches, grilling hot dogs, homemade burgers, kielbasa, and bratwurst. We all wanted Jennie to take things as easy as possible.
The girls chipped in with caring for Andrea who we decided to call “Andi” to separate her from Andrea, her namesake. They changed her diapers and helped with her bath. They loved to hold her and did so often.
We had a great time New Year’s Eve, but when Lady ran out of the bedroom at 12:30 to get us we called it a night. All of our guests left two days later by limo. There were six of them and our largest car, Jennie’s SUV, could hold them, but not their suitcases, too. There were hugs and kisses aplenty and even a few tears, even though we assured them that we’d see them soon—Spring Break at the latest.
Jennie and I took Andi to her first doctor’s appointment about a week later. It was a well-care visit, one of many that would be scheduled over the next few years. She’d received her first shot and she wasn’t happy. Poor Andrea cried and cried even after we had left the office and were on our way home. We needed some baby powder and some ointment so Jennie asked me to drop her at Walmart. She’d go in while I waited in the car with Andi. I found a parking spot and stood outside the car so she’d be able to see me. Luckily, she wasn’t in the store too long. I waved, she saw me and we were back in the car less than ten minutes later.
I drove out toward the highway, paying keen attention to the traffic. Whoever designed this parking lot should be strung up by his balls. There are so many blind turns that anyone who does more than ten miles an hour is a fool. One of the exits requires a left-hand turn straight into entering traffic. I was almost out when I felt Jennie’s grip on my arm. “Doug!” I looked first at her then saw what she was looking at. Rather than driving to the highway I found a parking spot and walked up to the stop sign. Seated there with a homemade cardboard sign was a man—yes, it was a man this time—begging for help.
“What’s your story, Mister,” I asked as I approached.
“I lost my job…my career, actually. Then I lost my house. My family’s been staying at the city shelter for the last week. It’s dangerous there. I worry about my wife and my little girl every night. Even worse, if we don’t get there on time we have to sleep in my truck. I don’t even know if I have enough gas to get back to them.”
“What did you do for a living?”
“I was a roofer. Then I fell and broke my hip. I got workers’ comp and disability, but they’re nothing compared to what I was making. Then they dried up…fucking government—all they ever do is screw you. Can you help me? Will you…please?”
“I can and I will. It was about a year ago that I met a young woman at this very stop sign. We’re now married and we have a little girl of our own.” I reached for my wallet and pulled out ten fifties. Handing them to the man I told him, “Get your family out of the shelter and into a motel. There’s a gas station about two blocks down the highway. You might want to go there first.” I took a business card from my wallet and wrote on the back—Blue Ribbon Cleaners—with their phone number. “I spoke to the owner just the other day. They clean our house every week and they’re in dire need of people. You can tell them I told you to call. It’s only $10 an hour, but they’ll be happy to get you. Maybe your wife would like a job, too if you can find daycare for your daughter.”
He shook my hand as he thanked me repeatedly until I suggested his wife and child needed him. He grinned, probably for the first time in weeks then jogged across the exit to an old pickup truck. I returned to my wife, realizing for perhaps the millionth time how lucky we actually were. I was barely in the car when Jennie leaned across the console, planting a huge kiss onto my lips. “You’re such a wonderful man. How much did you give him?”
“Five hundred and the phone number of Blue Ribbon.”
“Oh…good idea; no wonder I love you so much. And to think it’s our anniversary. Yes, darling—it’s exactly one year since I met you here…the very best year of my life.” She kissed me again and I drove down the highway to our home and our future.
Jennie had offered me sex—her hand and her mouth--as soon as we left the hospital with Andi. I had looked at her with the total love she deserved, but turned her down flat. “Sex…excuse me, making love is about giving as much as it is taking. I can’t do anything for you now so I plan to abstain until I can--besides you need to rest. God, I never realized what an ordeal giving birth can be. I was wasted afterwards and all I did was watch.” Jennie laughed hysterically then took my hand. I knew that she’d find a way to tell me when she was ready--the very first second after she had her doctor’s okay. That day came in late January and it was well worth waiting for. We were back to a minimum of once a day from that day forward.
Andrea phoned us as soon as she heard—she had been accepted at Villanova and was given a full scholarship. We did our best to act surprised. We told her that we were extremely pleased for her. Later, we received a phone call from Charlie. “I know you had something to do with it. They told me at Rutgers that my income meant she’d get a partial scholarship at best.” I denied knowledge and responsibility repeatedly until Charlie rang off, saying, “Thanks. I really mean that—thanks so much.”
As promised we did see them at Easter when Andrea asked if we would come to her graduation. She explained that in good weather the rite would be conducted at the football field with unlimited seating. If it rained, only Mom and Dad could actually attend due to restricted seating. We assured her that we’d be there for her big day and we were. The weather was glorious—mid-eighties with a light breeze coming off the Hudson tidal estuary and the Atlantic. Jennie sat to my right, Andi on my lap looking as cute as a button in her little brimmed cap, and my service dog to my left. Charlie, Toni, and Allison were on the bleachers just in front of us. Charlie thanked me again after the ceremony, but I pleaded total ignorance. Andrea went on to med school, again earning a full scholarship. Allison wasn’t quite the student her sister was, but she also earned a full scholarship to Penn State where she studied Elementary Education.
We remained friends with Charlie and Toni long after their children became productive adults with families of their own. It was on one of our fishing trips that Charlie asked me for help one more time. I promised him that Toni would never lack for anything should he pass on. His thoughts that day seemed prophetic two months later when he suffered a fatal heart attack while at work. Our family spent a full week in Hoboken in support of Toni and his two wonderful daughters. I had mixed emotions when Toni asked if I would speak at the funeral.
“It’s funny how people meet,” I began. “I brought my wife to New York to buy her engagement and wedding rings and one night we went to see the musical ‘Hamilton.’ I had my service dog with me and a woman took exception to sitting next to her even though I had purchased a seat for my dog. Charlie and I struck up a conversation during intermission about that woman’s terrible behavior and I asked if he and Toni would like to join us for a drink after the show. They agreed and thus began the best friendship we’ve ever known. Charlie, Toni, and their daughters are a part of our extended family. Neither Jennie nor I have much of a relationship with our parents for reasons that aren’t important today.
“Charlie and I shared a love of fishing and good food. We also shared a love of our families. Charlie was an excellent role model for me and for his sons-in-law. He loved Toni with all his heart. He loved his daughters and grandchildren every bit as much and he was a man who believed strongly in his God. Good-bye, my friend. I’ll miss you more than I could ever say.” I returned to the pew and broke down, crying unashamedly while Jennie comforted me. We met at that tiny Italian restaurant later where we celebrated Charlie’s life. Only when everyone had left did I share with Toni the solemn promise I’d made to Charlie. I gave her fifteen million dollars. After taxes she’d have roughly half. That was invested in a tax-free mutual fund that would pay more than three percent—more than $200,000 tax free annually. The money would go to her daughters and their families when she passed.
Jennie gave me three children—Andrea, Brianna, and Jeffery—named after her father who had died much too young. I didn’t pray often, but I prayed then that our children would turn out just half as good as Andrea and Allison did. The schools in North Carolina are only fair. The teachers work hard and do their best, but their salaries are so low that the best and brightest either move to states that pay better or try other more lucrative fields. I didn’t know how a teacher in North Carolina could support a family without a second job. That’s why we looked for housing on Long Island when I went to testify at my parents’ divorce hearing.
Mom’s attorney took a lot of time establishing my intellect and achievements for the court before asking about my relationship with my father. “Essentially, there is no relationship,” I answered. “It died when I was sixteen--the day I walked into his laboratory and saw him engaged in sexual relations with a young woman. He had her bent over the lab table and was driving his erect penis into her even after I announced my presence. I haven’t spoken to him since.” His attorney tried unsuccessfully to discredit my testimony first by saying that I didn’t know what I had seen; I was too young to know. I laughed in response. Finally, he suggested that I hated my father. “How would you feel if you found your father screwing some woman other than your mother? Of course, I hate him, but not enough to lie about it. I have no reason to lie. I know what I saw. It was exactly what I described here today. He was fucking this young woman and he continued in spite of my presence.” My testimony ended, I got up and walked out the door, but not before hugging my mom and sneering at my so-called father.
Jennie and I spent the next week looking for housing, deciding at last on a large home in exclusive Old Field, the lot abutting Setauket Harbor where there was an old, but serviceable dock. We’d make this our permanent residence to take advantage of the outstanding public schools, but keep the Sunset Beach house for vacations and for use once our children were out of high school. Jennie hired a decorator and we bought all new furniture, carpets, and decorations for the walls and shelves. We moved in about six months later, establishing our residency well before Andi was ready to attend school. I also bought another boat, making good use of it during Charlie’s and Toni’s frequent visits.
Jennie planned her pregnancies well. Our kids were spaced almost exactly two years apart. I recall Charlie telling me that we had good planning for tax deductions since all of our children had been born near the end of the year. If he only knew; my investment program made money faster than we were able to spend it. Jennie and I met every December to review the year’s earnings and to decide what to do with them. I typically donated ten million every year to both Harvard and MIT. Jennie found several charities that taught homeless people new job skills, helping them to turn their lives around much as I had done with the homeless man I’d met at the stop sign.
We used my wealth productively in both Myrtle Beach and Long Island, converting older hotels into temporary housing for the homeless. We hired directors and social workers to provide the homeless with direction. The rules were simple—90-day maximum stay, required vocational training, no drugs or alcohol on premises. That last one resulted in forcing more people to leave than anything else. Our expenses came to a bit over five million dollars a year—an excellent investment in our opinion.
Lady had been a major force in the development of our children. I always thought that Andi learned to roll over and crawl because of her love of Lady. Unfortunately, big dogs tend to have severe physical problems as they age and Lady, once a power in our lives, went downhill fast after she turned twelve. The vet told us she was lucky to have lived that long. It was a sad, sad day for our family when she had to be put down. The kids were excused from school as we paid Lady a final visit before the vet gave her the fatal injection. Jennie took our sobbing children to the waiting room while I stayed with Lady—petting her head and soothing her--to the end. I felt it was the least I could do after all she had done for us. I also knew we’d find a new dog—a shelter dog this time--very soon.
Jennie’s stepfather surprised me. He actually did live to leave prison, getting parole after ten years for reasons of health. He was a broken man, restricted to a wheelchair and needing oxygen; he never tried to track down the woman he’d raped ruthlessly as a child. Personally, I thought he was lucky to be alive in any condition. I knew he’d been beaten at least twice a year on average as reported by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier online.
Jennie maintained her friendship with Amber, her rock during her five years on the road. They spoke often on the phone and emailed photos, especially of our children and hers. We traveled to Waterloo to participate in her wedding to a local lawyer and again when she had their first child, entrusting ours to my mother and her new husband, Paul. He told us that my father went berserk when he learned that Mom had married him. Too bad Jennie and I weren’t there to see it.
Jennie and I had more than enough money to last until the sun died, but we felt that our kids and theirs needed to understand the value of work. They always had chores as kids and summer jobs when they were older and they were always required to do well in class, not that any of them had to struggle. Physically, they took after Jennie, especially the girls, but intellectually they took after me. They all had nerd IQ’s, well above 140 which is considered genius level. We established trusts for each of them as we’d done for Charlie’s daughters and for Toni, fulfilling my promise. The largest trust was set aside for my wonderful Jennie, the woman who’d given my life direction. The rest of the money was given away.
The constant in my life through our years together has been my wife. No matter how busy she was with the children she always found time for me—time to show me her love. Being rich helped, I’m sure, but even if we’d been poor we’d still have our love for each other.
I’m a nerd. I think and I plan—that’s what I do. Nothing ever happens to me by accident—well, almost never. Yet, I never did fully understand exactly why I returned to the parking lot for Jennie. Nor did I understand why I took her shopping, to my home, or to dinner. Maybe Jennie was right about that, after all—she was sure it had been divine intervention. All I knew was that I had been blessed by every second we spent together and would be until the day I died. No—that’s wrong. A love like ours is eternal.
Note: While this story and all the characters are fictional, all of the places—the restaurants, stores, golf courses, and even the hotel/casino in Waterloo, Iowa—do exist exactly as described. The Walmart and Home Depot where Doug first meets Jennie are in the Gator Hole Plaza in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I used people from my past life as models for those in this story. Unfortunately, I’ve had too many models for homeless Jennie and the others described in the story.