500 Annies
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2014 by qhml1

"Hi, this is Barbara Barnes, host of Book Report here on WORD, 86.7, Your NPR station. Please join us next week when we present a series of interviews with Joe Williams, author of the runaway bestseller '500 Annies'."

"These interviews were taped in one session last week when he appeared at the Alumni Hall here on campus. Originally scheduled for 90 minutes, the interview lasted a little over three hours. When we tried to edit down to 30 minutes we realized there was no way to do it justice, so we took out the applause and some variations of similar questions, and came up with four shows, to be aired Monday through Thursday at 8:00 p.m."

"I say without reservation this is the best interview I've ever had the pleasure of conducting. It paints a picture of the man and the author more intimately than I thought possible. It was, in a word, spellbinding."

"So please, join us next Monday through Thursday, and tell your friends."

Barbara took off the headphones and looked at her engineer.

"How's that Mike? Think I need another take?"

He grinned. "No, that pretty well nailed it. But really Babs, don't you think you're overselling it? I mean in all the years we've done this, they fall into two types. Guys who think they're the new Hemingway or King and are arrogant and condescending, or quiet bookish types who despite their brilliance come off as exciting as dirt.

Publicists and life coaches have helped, but not much."

She grinned back. "You weren't there. When you hear it you're gonna regret letting Ed engineer it. I'm not kidding, this has got award written all over it."

The Interview Part One

"Hi, this is Barbara Barnes, welcome to our show. Before we roll the tape allow me to set the scene.

This interview was taped two weeks ago in the Alumni Hall during the last week of our spring pledge drive. Mr Williams donated all the ticket sales to our station. The hall seats 2500, and it was standing room only. Once the show started the audience was very quiet, perhaps sensing they were part of an unusual and unique experience. Now, roll tape."

"Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Mr. Joe Williams to the stage!"

There was a brief but very loud round of applause.

"Thank you Barbara, and thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for coming out to support your station.

Your presence is appreciated."

"You're welcome Mr. Williams. Members of the audience, in case you don't know, all ticket revenues for this evening are being donated to our station. In addition, Mr. Williams has signed and donated 500 copies of his book to the station to be used as awards in our fall fund drive. Thank you Mr. Williams!"

More loud applause from the audience."

"You're most welcome. I've supported NPR for years, and am just grateful I can do a little extra now, in these lean times. And Barbara, please call me Joe."

She smiled. This was going well.

"Thanks Mr-er, Joe. So tell us, have you always been a writer? Besides your bestseller, are there anymore novels or short stories of yours out there waiting to be discovered?"

He smiled briefly. "No, this is my only novel.

I'm a mechanical engineer by trade. But to be honest I've been publishing pieces for the last twenty years. Part of my job description was to write from scratch or rewrite technical manuals for our customers. So if anyone out out there has read "Operating and Troubleshooting Guide for Intertech Hot Glue Labeler 6500", you've been reading my work for years."

There was an appreciative chuckle from the crowd.

"Well, that certainly explains your methodology for writing your novel. I feel most of us here are familiar with the book and its' back story, but for those in our radio audience, could you share a little."

Joe sighed slightly and said "Sure. It's been over three years since it happened, and fifteen months since I finished the book, so I've learned to deal with it."

He turned to look at the audience, and taking the microphone from the stand, strode to the front of the stage.

"Look at me. What do you see? Nothing. And do you know why? Because I'm as average as meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I'm 5'10" tall, average height.

Weigh about 170, not pudgy but not built, average weight. Brown eyes, mostly gray hair, average. In essence, if you passed me on the street you wouldn't recoil in horror, but on the other hand you would forget me as soon as you rounded the corner."

He went back to his stool and replaced the mike in the stand.

"I didn't have a problem being average. I was just an average 50 year old man that lived in a nice but average middle class home in an average midsized town. And I was happy with that. But, I was above average in some important areas."

"One was my wife of 27 years. She was, in my opinion, way above average in looks and intelligence. Another was my only child, a daughter, a younger version of my wife, 24 years old, with a shiny new husband any man would consider a fine son in law. And lastly, I had my job, working for the same company for 28 years, the only real job I had ever had. I had it all, a dream life."

"So what happened? Well, first the economy collapsed. My office closed, we were downsized. I could have transferred across the country, but my roots were here. The severance package was very generous, so I had a cushion. Plus, if something didn't turn up soon I could file unemployment for awhile. Then my son in law got downsized. He and my daughter were just starting out, she was six months pregnant, and they couldn't afford to lose the insurance, so they had no choice to relocate."

Joe stopped for a minute and drank some water. Then he continued in a voice full of emotion, barely above a whisper.

"Then, something so unexpected, so painful, so unexplained happened. My wife, the only woman I had ever loved, left me. Not only left me, she left the country, leaving a two page letter and a divorce petition. So, in less than three months, two of the most important foundations in a persons' life, career and family, were taken from me."

"What a piece of shit! Damn the Chinese anyway, the sneaky yellow bastards have found a better way to destroy us than war. They write junk like this and aggravate us to death."

I had tossed a manual for a piece of equipment our customer had purchased as part of a new production line in the trash. It was written in, well, Chinese. Not literally, but the translation was pretty much useless. We had fought our way through the manual, only to find gaps, duplication, misinformation, missing schematics, etc. I worked for Motion Inc, an engineering firm specializing in designing, installing and upgrading production lines. The founder chose the name because as any engineer can tell you, it's all about flow and motion. If you have a delay or breakdown, you automatically start losing money. Companies don't like that. That's why they hire us. And we have a very good reputation.

It was the early eighties, and the exodus to China was just starting. It wasn't enough to take

our manufacturing jobs, the products we imported back were inferior and poorly made. Of course, they got much better later on, but that didn't help me then.

I had been with the company for a little over three years. I was a pretty good employee, got good reviews, and was generally liked. Not much on public displays of emotion, my outburst surprised my boss, who was walking by my office at the time. He walked in and sat down.

"What's up, Joe?"

"It's this damn manual. I think whoever wrote it was smoking opium. Sorry about the outburst, but this thing is junk."

He shook his head.

"You don't have to tell me, you should hear what the guys in the field are saying."

He was stroking his chin, a sure sign he had something on his mind.

"You know Joe, one of the reasons I have you do so much desk work is because you're much better at it than any of the others. Your reports are always clear and concise. You don't press an agenda, don't try to inflate your contribution, just relay the facts. Tell you what, let's let Ed handle the field work on this. I want you to rewrite this manual. I know you've already redone at least half of it already. Take three weeks and see what you can come up with."

And so with a short conversation, my career changed course, and I spent the next twenty four years being a technical writer.

I spent fifty to sixty hours a week for the next three weeks redoing the manual. I had already done the bulk of the work before we talked. Basically I simplified, removed redundancies, expanded a few section where there wasn't enough detail, etc. It wasn't exciting reading when I was done, but it was understandable. I had five copies professionally printed and dropped them

on my boss's desk just before I left for the weekend.

Bill[my boss]came into my office the next Wednesday.

"Damn good job, Joe. Ed said thanks. We want you out there Monday for the shakedown. Shouldn't be more than a couple of days."

"Good, that way I can spot glitches and rewrite if I have too."

The shake down went well. We ran into some problems, but they were minor. I talked to the operators, took some notes. When I got back I did a rewrite and including a trouble shooting guide for new operators.

It was so well received I rewrote manuals for two additional pieces of equipment. Ed and I spent another three days four weeks later at the facility, making sure little problems didn't bloom into big problems. The day I left, corporate was there to observe the line. I was in a small conference room going over some minor details I thought would improve the system, when I got a surprise.

Out of the blue, the chief engineer for our client asked my if I was happy with my job.

"Yes, I am. It's a pretty decent group to work for. Why?"

"We're impressed with you work. You know we have eleven plants, and my staff is a little stressed right now. We could use someone like you, a trouble shooter so to speak. You would be assigned to the main office, and be sent where you would be needed most. Interested? We're sure we could put together a package that would please us all. Think about it a few days and get back to us. Thanks for the good job."

Their tentative offer was very nice. But it would mean relocating, and a lot of travel. I had only been married for two years, and I really didn't like to be away from her. She knew when we got married I would have to travel, bu this would be far more often and much longer at a time. I decided not to take it.

I had been back in the office for a week when Bill came storming into the office.His face showed his emotion. He shut my door.

"Damn it, Joe. I thought you liked it here. Why didn't you tell me you were looking instead of going behind my our backs? Is it more money, better benefits? Where's your loyalty? What was their offer?"

His anger surprised me.

"I didn't go behind your back. I wasn't looking, they approached me. I do like it here. But tell me Bill, is this the only job you've ever held?

If I decide to change jobs, it will be for the betterment of my family. If I think this job will benefit my family, I'll take it. Who do you put first, Bill? You're family, or your job?"

I don't think he expected me to react so strongly. He put his hands up.

"Calm down Joe. Of course you should do what's best for your family. Just don't accept anything without discussing it first, please?"

I was still pissed.

"I'll keep you in the loop. But just so you know, it was a very attractive offer."

Things were a little tense the next few weeks. Bill asked me to stop by on the way out Friday. When I came into his office he surprised me by closing the door. This was a bad thing, usually a closed door meant an ass chewing or termination.

The grim expression on his face did nothing to reassure me.

He handed me an envelope.

"Read this."

It was a letter from the home office congratulating us on a job well done. Included was a bonus check for roughly two months' salary.

There was a flash and I looked up to see Bill holding a camera. He was smiling.

"Just wanted to record this moment. Job well done, Joe. You know the client has eleven factories, this was a test to see how the upgrades worked and how hard it would be to get them on line. It went so smoothly they signed the contract Monday to do upgrades on every facility.

They singled you out for the extra effort on the manuals."

"Now, take that lovely wife of yours out tonight and celebrate. Take Monday off too. I know how many extra hours you worked on this, think of it as comp time. Expect a representative form corporate HR to see you Tuesday, and relax, it'll be good news. Now go on, enjoy your long weekend."

I was walking on clouds when I left. Stopping by the bank to deposit the check, I decided to take Bill's advice to heart concerning my wife.

There was a new Italian place she had been wanting to try, but it was expensive and had a waiting list three weeks long. Just for luck, I checked to see if we could get in tonight. Fortune smiled on me, they had just received a cancellation. Mr Franklin and I persuaded the manager to bump me to the top of the list.

To add the finishing touch I got a nice bouquet to present to Annie when I got home.

"What are these for?" She asked, both surprised and pleased.

"For no other reason than I love you and I've had a great day. Too great to have you cook. Let's eat out tonight. And honey, wear something really nice, okay?""

As all women can tell you, when in doubt, go to the SBD. A simple black dress fits any occasion and social situation. She knew hers was one of my favorites, sightly clingy, just above her knees, simple but very sexy.

Her eyes got huge when we pulled into the parking lot.

"There's no way we'll get in. You know we've tried before and it was three weeks minimum."

"Don't you trust me honey? Maybe I've planned this for months. Maybe we'll get lucky and catch a cancellation. Let's see, shall we?"

The doubts vanished when I gave them our name and was escorted to a table.

She looked at the prices on the menu and was taken aback.

"Honey, look at these prices. Can we afford this?"

"Relax honey. Tonight we can. I had some good news from work today. Let's enjoy our meal and then I'll tell you about it."

She relaxed and gave me a secretive, happy smile.

"All right. I have some good news to share also. But first, I've always wanted to try calamari."

The meal was one of the best I've ever had. The atmosphere, the companionship, the general mood of happiness stays in my memory to this day.

Oddly, Annie refused when I suggested wine. She preferred wine to beer or liquor. She said it wouldn't be good for her to drink tonight. That should have told me something, but, let's face it, men can really be clueless at times.

Relaxing over coffee and dessert, I told her about the work I did rewriting the manuals and how pleased everyone was. I told her about the recent job offer, my interview with corporate HR Tuesday, and how I was fairly sure a good raise was in my future. She was very pleased.

"I'm so happy for you, it's deserved. I always told you I thought they didn't appreciate you.

The raise is a good thing, I did a little shopping after my doctor visit this afternoon. I had no idea nursery furnishings were so expensive."

"Nursery furnishings?"

"Yes, nursery furnishings. We need to start this soon, we only have about seven months to get it ready, and I figure in another four I'll be pretty much useless."

I looked a little confused. She was enjoying it.

"Joe, don't you get it? We're pregnant, about two months according to Dr. Roberts. Aren't you happy honey?"

We had been trying for nine months, was I happy? I did what any manly man would do, started crying.

Going round the table, I dropped to my knees and hugged gently, like I was holding fine china.

She was laughing and hugging back.

"Baby, I won't break, give me a real hug."

People were looking at us.

"Engagement?" queried the older couple at the next table.

"Pregnant, our first." Answered Jamie proudly.

The woman got up, followed by her husband. She gave Annie a nice hug and he shook my hand.

"We're so happy for you. Congratulations. Remember this in years to come. Oh, and wait until you get grandchildren. It just gets better."

By then everyone in the restaurant knew, and we thanked many well wishers. It was indeed a night to remember.

It was a difficult pregnancy. At seven and a half months she was put on bed rest, by eight months she was going stir crazy and was extremely irritable.

Labor lasted twenty one hours.

After out daughter, Amber June, made her appearance, the doctors asked me into an office.

"Mr. Williams, we hate to tell you, but we found some abnormalities in your wife's womb. Nothing life threatening now, but it would be extremely dangerous for her to conceive again. She probably wouldn't make full term. Please discuss this with your wife. If she wishes to have her tubes tied, we can do it while she's here. Or, if you prefer, we can schedule a vasectomy. Please think about it. This would be simpler than birth control, every form has a failure rate. Think about it."

Annie was devastated. She was an only child and wanted at least four. I suggested adoption but she said it was too soon to talk about it.

I gave her the choice, and she said since she was already in the hospital and in pain, a little more wouldn't matter. The next day she had her tubes tied.

She was despondent and cried off and on for about a month. The only thing that would cheer her up was our daughter. Regardless of the mood she was in, when I handed her to her she would start smiling.

When A.J, our pet name for her, was three, I brought up adoption again. The idea was shot down immediately, when she was six, eight, and eleven I asked again and was told no forcefully. I stopped asking.

I did get a nice raise, and I hardly ever went out in the field for more than overnight. Over the years the workload increased, and they added personnel as needed until I looked around one day and realized I was heading a whole department. I was officially in middle management.

Our reputation grew. Problem with a manual? Throw it out and we would write you a new one. Oddly, I found myself spending more time in the field, mostly doing reviews and updates, just a bit of trouble shooting.

Annie had done well, moving up from receptionist on a large dental office to office manager. Her hours were much more regular, so she became the primary caregiver. I never traveled unless necessary, preferring to stay home with my family.

Travel is what ended our marriage. Annie loved to travel, always eager to explore new places. I traveled too much, always enjoying time at home.

She would be planning our next vacation before we got home from the one we were on. As soon as AJ was in her teens Annie included her in the planning phase, even letting her pick a destination once in a while. We went to beaches, skiing, rode a mule into the Grand Canyon, spent a week in Washington sightseeing and visiting museums. We were up for anything.

We had a major project at work, so big it required three offices working jointly to maintain the schedule. I was named coordinator, it was a real honor. Unfortunately, my travel increase dramatically. I fell into a rotation of one week gone, one week home. AJ was fifteen with her own priorities and friends, so Annie was left alone often. She was frustrated and lonely. I could see it, but didn't know what to do to make it better.

A group of us were talking about it one night in the hotel lounge because a man from another office was separated from his wife. She claimed he left her alone too much while he traveled.

He was complaining that if she was frustrated by him not spending time with her, how separating and not seeing him at all was helping.

One of the older men spoke up.

"Might as well get a good lawyer now. Sounds like she's not coming back. Sorry, son."

One of the others spoke up.

"You travel as much as the rest of us. Didn't you just celebrate your thirtieth anniversary? How have you managed to stay married?"

"Thirty fifth. The trick is not to let them get bored. We had five kids, and I have to stop and count up when I talk about grandchildren to make sure I don't miss any when I brag about them. I was lucky, when she gets bored she sees one of the kids. Then she has her quilting club, her book club, and her dancing lessons. She stays busy and she stays happy."

"It also helps if you treat them like the queens they are when you're at home. Sure, there's a lot of stuff I'd rather do at times, but nothing is as important to me as her. That's why I take dance lessons, when I'm at home. I want all her dances for the rest of my life, and I want to measure up."

That made a lot of sense. But, we didn't have a large family, and she already knew how to dance. I needed to find something she really enjoyed and encourage her. Then it hit me.

Travel. She loves it better than anything in the world. I researched it. It's amazing how many travel companies there are. I found two in our area that specialized in short two or three day trips in our area. Bus tours, and the cost was very reasonable. One of the trips really stood out. It was a three day trip, Friday morning until Sunday evening. The main focus of the trip was a tour of the Biltmore House in western North Carolina. Built by the Vanderbilts over as hundred years ago, it was billed as the largest castle in America. Jaime had always wanted to see it. There was also a side trip to see the home of Thomas Wolfe in Asheville, and a short shopping excursion to a local outlet mall. It was a perfect woman's trip.

Best of all, it was for a weekend I knew I would be away, arriving home basically the same time the tour did. I booked two tickets, to be delivered to my office.

It took a little planning, a quiet talk to her bosses to assure she could get that Friday off, Bringing AJ in to smooth it out, I was ready.

I purposely didn't tell Annie when I left that Monday, AJ was supposed to tell her just before I called Thursday night. It was a thing of beauty.

She came home from work to find AJ packing a small suitcase.

"What are you doing?"

She gave her mom a look that only teen age girls can get away with.

"I'm packing."

"Let me rephrase that. Why are you packing?"

"Gee mom, maybe I'm packing because I'm going somewhere."

"Where do you think you're going? Wait, never mind, enough with the twenty questions. What's going on?"

At that exact time the phone rang. We had timed it almost to the second. AJ looked at Jaime and said "I'm pretty sure it's for you."

"Hello? Hi honey, yes, I miss you too. Look, did you give AJ permission to go somewhere? What! Three days? Have you lost your mind? What in the world is going on?"

"No, I haven't lost my mind. I just wanted to tell you to take a raincoat. Why? Because it's supposed to rain this weekend. No, not there, in Asheville. Why should that matter? Because that's where you're going to be, at the Biltmore House, downtown Asheville, and a shopping spree at the big outlet mall. I know you hate sitting at home alone, so AJ and I got together and planned this trip. She's going to chaperone, we can trust you everywhere but the outlet mall."

"Then again, two women with credit cards at an outlet mall might not be the best idea I've ever had. Take it easy, honey, please. Love me now?"

She was crying, I could hear AJ laughing in the background.

"Love you? If it were possible I'd send my tongue through this telephone line and so far down your throat I'd know what you had for breakfast this morning. But since I can't, I'm gonna have AJ pack an extra outfit and drop her at grandmas' house Sunday. Then I plan to really show you how grateful I am."

I could hear AJ screaming and laughing in the background.

"Mom! Way too much information for a teenager. Tell dad we both love him and start getting packed."

She did just that.

The trip was a huge success. She was just as excited when she got home as she was when she left.

She spent about two hours telling me all about it. What she saw, the people she met, the restaurants, and the shopping.

That was the only time I thought maybe I'd made an error in judgement. She just kept on pulling bags out of the trunk. But most of it was for AJ, clothes and shoes for the upcoming school year. She said she got really good deals so I let it go.

She pulled one more bag out.

"I got you a little something. They had the sweetest little lingerie shop. I'm going to take a shower, don't come into the bedroom until I call you. If I remember correctly, I've got a little gratitude to express."

It was possibly the longest the longest forty five minutes in the history of time, but when she called me, it was worth the wait.

Lavender bustier with a black accent stripes. A boa to match. Black seamed hose attached to the bustier, and the tiniest panties I've ever seen.

She had done her makeup, and had her highest pair of heels on.

"Would you like to unwrap your present?"

"I almost hate to, it such a pretty package."

"We'll compromise, I'll leave the boa on."

I wasn't very productive the next day at the office. About all I got done was arranging for a box of his favorite cigars to be delivered to Will, the engineer whose advice sparked the whole thing.

This started a pattern of trips, usually about once a month. Unless it was somewhere AJ wanted to go, Annie went alone. She wasn't actually alone, she had made friends with several ladies about her age who liked to take the little excursions, and usually one or more of her friends arranged to be on the same bus. I thought we were going to run out of memory storing pictures.

AJ did what all kids do, she grew up on us. One day we're looking at college brochures, the next we were watching her wave bye as she went into her dorm room.

Annie took it hard. I was still traveling, not as often, but at least once a month. About every other month she would take a trip to see AJ, or take a tour somewhere new.

She seemed withdrawn, sullen. Where she used to greet me with a big kiss and hug, now it was a peck on the cheek. Lovemaking became more spaced out, and hot, down and dirty sex disappeared almost completely. It got so bad I felt we needed to address it.

She admitted she hated an empty nest, especially when I was gone. She was lonely, bored, said she felt useless. I was stunned.

As much as I loved my child, I was looking forward to alone time with Annie. Foolishly, I was hoping for the passions of our youth to reignite.

"Honey, I love you more than anything in the world. You're thinking all wrong, this isn't the end, it's a new beginning. Think of all the things you've wanted to do but couldn't because you had to take care of AJ. Now you can. You've always been interested in art, doesn't the local community college have classes? You've also expressed more than a passing interest in pottery, why not give it a try? Don't sit around brooding on the past, move forward! You have too much life ahead of you, ahead of us, to just sit down. Move forward, honey, before the past swallows you up."

I had become more impassioned as I spoke, nearly shouting at the end. She looked stunned. Then she smiled.

"Thanks honey. That kick in the ass is just what I needed. I love you!"

Then she leered.

"you know, there are some things I've always wanted to try, but I need to order some things first. But right now, I'm the mood for some hot, nasty, loud sex. Want to?"

Probably the dumbest question I'd ever heard.

I didn't know it at the time, but it was the beginning of the end.

For about a year things were great, then she slowly started withdrawing from me. She was taking art classes, at first at school, then private. She said she did better with one on one interactions. She also started traveling more.

Money was never an issue with us. After we found out AJ would be an only child, we kept our two bedroom house instead of trading up. We didn't have to spend the money we had in her college fund because she got a full scholarship.

As she rose to office manager, my department continued to expand, and the pay rose with my responsibilities. I also got some really good bonuses, which went straight into savings.

We both had good 401 plans that we contributed the max to. All told, we were very comfortable.

Then the economy went south. People weren't expanding or upgrading, so they didn't need us.

First one branch closed, then another. We were nervous, rumors were flying. Finally the ax just fell. We were being downsized.

A few, me included, were offered transfers. My whole life was here, and as much as I would miss my job, I wasn't leaving. They were kind to us and we got very good severance packages.

Annie took it a lot harder than I did.

"Are we gonna be all right financially? Think there are jobs out there?"

"Relax honey. The severance package lets me draw a full salary for six months, and they will still carry insurance on us until it runs out. By that time the economy should be better. Even if it's not I'm eligible for unemployment benefits. Every thing we have is paid for anyway, stop worrying."

She did worry, though. I just wanted to take a few weeks off and relax, but she pushed me into sending out resumes to almost everyone in driving distance. Nobody was hiring, and if they were they could get a kid right out of college for almost minimum wage.

Annie was acting more distracted everyday. I felt something wasn't quite right, but put it down to economic insecurity.

She became snappish, getting offended easily. She worked, went to art lessons twice a week, and despite being worried about finances went on two trips. I offered to go with her and she laughed.

"All right. This trip is to an expo and seminar on quilt making. Some of them are quite beautiful, it's art with fabrics instead of paint.

I've been thinking about trying it, Ramon says it will help me with composition and color coordination."

Ramon was her art teacher. I didn't want to tell Annie, but she really wasn't a very good painter, maybe he was right. Two days of looking at quilts, even if they were as lovely as she made them sound, didn't appeal to me. Top that off with lively discussions about fabrics and new sewing machines and I knew I would be ready to kill myself or someone else. I declined her kind offer.

By now AJ had graduated, found the man of her dreams, and married. Planning the wedding perked Annie up, but when it was over she realized AJ was gone for good. She was over the moon when AJ told her she was pregnant. They lived less than an hour away, and she was over constantly.

When she found out they had to transfer across the country, she went into a depression, rousing only when she took two weeks to spend with AJ while she delivered. I made it to the birth with two hours to spare, and we found ourselves the proud grandparents of a boy.

Back home she resumed her subdued, sullen attitude.

I finally snapped one night and unloaded.

"What the hell is wrong with you? We're still fairly young, there's a lot out there we could see and enjoy together. Yet nothing I suggest interests you. You make me feel like I'm a distraction, that I'm in your way. Are you trying to shut me out?"

She slowly went pale under my outburst, and when I got to the last part her eyes went wide. Instead of responding she rushed from the room.

I could be just as stubborn as she was. Let her stew. I was packing for an overnight trip, seems I had started a new career and had to meet a client. The whole argument started because I wanted her to go with me.

Seems one of our former clients wasn't happy with the new regime, and contacted me. Would I be interested in some free lance work? He had a few glitches in his production system he wasn't happy about.

I was going to fly in, observe, make suggestions, and take his operator manuals and go over them.

It was perfect for me, I would travel rarely, and could do most of the work from home. I even had plans to turn AJ's old room into an office.

We were barely civil to each other the rest of the night, and she seemed reluctant to kiss me goodbye the next morning.

I issued an ultimatum, something I never did.

"When I get home, expect to have some serious discussions about our future. I'm not happy, you're not happy, and I don't know why. Don't make any plans, I want the whole weekend with you to sort this out."

When I got back she was gone.

There was a letter on the kitchen table.


Not Dear Joe, just Joe.

"By the time you read this I will be gone. I've thought about this for awhile. I'm not happy, haven't been since AJ went to college.

My life is stale. The excitement we had has slowly evaporated, and you didn't even notice it.

I know you've tried to get it back several times lately, but it was too little, too late.

I know this confession hurts you, I'm sure you didn't see this coming. But I want to be happy again, and I'm just not happy with you.

Ramon and I have been sleeping together for about two years. Two years and you had no idea! That should tell you how far apart we've drifted. It was easy to fool you, you had absolute trust in me.

All the trips I've taken in this time, even the quilt trip, I've taken with Ramon. You were my husband, but he is my soul mate.

Don't think I wasn't remorseful, I spent many nights in anguish, but in the end I just can't do this anymore.

I've already filed for divorce, the lawyers' card is on your desk. He can fill you in on the details, but I've given him a power of attorney and a quit claim for the house. In return, I've taken half the estimated value out of our savings and retirement account, then took fifty percent of the remainder. You keep your 401, I keep mine.

Please don't fight it, it's as fair as I can make it.

I quit my job last week and cashed out my retirement. By the time you read this I'll be in Europe, primarily in Spain and Italy. Please do not try to communicate with me except through my lawyer.

This is a cowards way out, I know. I just couldn't face you. If it's any consolation, I am sorry. Even worse, you're going to have to tell AJ, another cowardly act.

Please don't try to find me, I wouldn't talk to you if you did. Try to remember me fondly after the anger fades.

You didn't deserve this.

I'll always remember you with love.


The audience listened, spellbound, as Joe finished his narrative of the rise and fall of his marriage. As Barbara looked out over the crowd, she could see tears in the eyes of a few women.

"So there I was, ladies and gentleman, starting what I thought would be a glorious time in my life, suddenly alone."

"Was it painful? Extremely. Did I fall apart?

To quote my grandfather, "like a flea market watch."

"Did I get it back together? Sort of, it's a work in progress."

Barbaras' voiceover broke the spell over the radio.

"That concludes this segment of the Joe Williams interview. Tune in tomorrow when Joe talks about how he rebuilt his life, and came to write his book. Good night, ladies and gentlemen."

Mike listened raptly through his earphones, and as Babs left she gave him an "I told you so" smirk. He had a bad feeling he had made a mistake.

Chapter 2 »