As always, I need to give credit where it is due. My editor is Papakilo14. Hal gives us a second edit and they are both awesome. My beta readers are Pixel the Cat, Olddave1951 and GeorgeAnderson. You make all the difference in the world. I owe you guys and I love you all. Without my team, I'd stumble around and make a mess of things. I supply the story; you give it the shine. A special shout out to Harddaysknight. You helped me when I was stuck. It's like having Babe Ruth come in and give you batting advice in the sixth inning. Love you, and thanks.
Jack watched his tee shot sail exactly down the middle of the fairway. He always hits the same shot. It isn't long; it's just straight down the middle of the fairway. The other two guys had already teed off and it was my turn. I got it set up and took a little practice swing. This was a par five, pretty long and pretty wide open. I would just take a rip at it and see what happened.
I'm a big guy and I power lift four days a week. My bench is better than it was in college. I can do reps with 225 pounds that make the steroid freaks at the gym jealous. I had a new driver, one of those graphite composite ones that I felt pretty good about. I got the sweet spot and Jack's jaw dropped.
"Jesus Christ, Eric, you hammered that. That's three hundred and fifty fucking yards if it's an inch. It's farther than that. You get up and down and you've got an eagle."
I've had two eagles in my life. I felt pretty good about this one. We started down the fairway and Jack hit his second shot. It still wasn't to my first one. I heard his phone buzzing in his bag. He's a little hard of hearing so I told him he had a text. He got his phone out and his face went white.
"Eric, I've got to go," he said.
"What's wrong?" I asked him.
"Something back at the office," he said. "Take me back, Eric. I'm sorry but I can't tell you about it yet. You can have the rest of the afternoon off after you take me back."
Jack is my boss. He also owns Whitman Enterprises. I've worked there since I graduated from college. They recruited me from the time I was a sophomore and I'm the number two guy there. It's a family business. We make pumps, all kinds of pumps. They're one of a kind, designed for specific applications. We have a foundry, a machine shop and we make them from the blueprint to the finished product. I'm the VP of production and I pretty much run the place. Jack's daughter, Allison, is my counterpart in sales. I knew there had been some noise about us being bought out by a Swiss company and I figured it was about that.
I took him back to the office and started home. I was sitting at a traffic light. The street downtown is one of those old cobblestone streets and there was an elderly lady crossing the street in front of me. I watched, horrified, as her toe caught on one of the cobblestones and she tripped. She tried to keep her balance but she was staggering forward now. She dropped her grocery bag, tripped again and she went down. I heard her cry out as her arms hit the street, trying to save herself. I slammed the shifter into park and jumped out, running around the truck and kneeling beside her. She was crying and I felt awful for her. Her hands were bleeding and her arm was clearly broken.
I gathered her up in my arms. "I'm so sorry," I told her. "I'm going to help you. It's going to be okay. I'll take you to the hospital. Are you hurt anywhere besides your hands and arm?"
"No," she sobbed, "but I think my arm is broken. I dropped my groceries and I'm afraid my eggs are broken, too. Well, my knees are bleeding too, honey. My arm hurts so bad!"
She was breaking my heart. I had tears in my own eyes. This sweet little lady didn't deserve this! "I'll get you some more eggs," I told her. "Let me help you get in the truck. I'll take you to the hospital."
That made her cry even more. "Thank you, but I can't go to the hospital." Her breath was coming in gasps. "I don't have any insurance. I can't afford to go to the hospital."
I felt like shit now. She was a tiny little black woman, probably seventy or so, and you could tell she had been a stunner. She was still very pretty and I felt really bad for her. I thought about my mother. She had passed away from a stroke two years ago. If she had fallen like this I would have wanted someone to take care of her.
"I'm taking you to the hospital," I told her. "I'll take care of it. My wife works there and we'll work something out. You look like someone's mother and I would want someone to help my mother. I'm taking you now. Let me help you up, I'll get your groceries and we'll go, okay?"
"It hurts really bad," she said. "Thank you, young man. I'll never forget this."
I got her up and into the front seat of the truck. It was higher than she could comfortably get into so I lifted her. I gathered up her groceries and put them in the back seat.
On the way to the hospital she told me her name was Samantha Groves and that she was a widow. It was only about a mile and I pulled up at the emergency room door. Cindy, my wife, was on shift, and I helped Samantha inside. I took her to the desk and Kirsten was working. I told her what was going on and that I would be taking care of any bills. She took Samantha right back to a bed and Rachael, the RN, cleaned up her hands and knees while we waited for the doctor.
They tried to shoo me out, but Samantha wasn't having it. She wanted me to stay and that was that. I asked her if she wanted to call someone. She said her phone was in her purse so I went back to the truck and got it. She needed her ID anyway, and when I got back, I gave it to Kirsten. She got her phone out and it was one of those cheap flip phones that you buy minutes for. She dialed and then started crying again.
"What's wrong, Samantha?" I asked.
"I'm out of minutes," she sobbed. "This is just a terrible day!"
"Here, use my phone," I handed her my Android. I had to show her how to use it and she talked to someone female on the other end.
"Cecilia, I fell and hurt myself," she said. "I'm at the hospital. No, a really nice white man is helping me. Please, Honey, would you? Okay, please don't worry."
I wondered where Cindy was. She worked the emergency room. She's a physician's Assistant and she should be handling this. I poked my head out and saw Rachael.
"Where the hell is Cindy?" I asked her. "This lady is hurting and she needs attended to."
Rachael flushed. "She went to lunch. I called her and she'll be here any minute."
"What do you mean, 'she went to lunch'? She just got here!" Cindy works three to eleven. Her lunch hour is at seven.
Rachael stammered around for a minute and finally she just left. What the hell was going on? I went back to Samantha and she was still crying. I sat down by her and hugged her.
"It's okay, Samantha," I told her. "Who did you call?"
"My granddaughter," she said. "She's going to college. She just got out of class and she'll be here after a bit. You can go then. I know you don't want to be here."
"Nonsense," I told her. "I'm off work. This isn't going to be such a bad day, Samantha. You made a new friend today, you're going to be fine, your granddaughter is on the way and you won't have to do a lick of work for a while because you'll have a cast on your arm."
She chuckled and hugged me back. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and I heard a voice behind us. It was low and husky and sounded like smoky jazz. "Who's your new lover, Grandma?"
I looked back and there was a vision framed in the hospital curtain. She was little, brown and as cute as a newborn kitten. She stepped around to the other side of the bed and kissed Samantha.
"I don't know his name," Samantha said. "I've been so flustered I forgot to ask. I think he's the Good Samaritan. He's been taking care of me. I don't know where he came from but he's a gift from heaven."
"My name is Eric Hollister," I told them. "You must be Cecilia. I was sitting in my car at the crosswalk and I saw Samantha fall. I couldn't do anything but bring her here where the doctor should have been here by now!" I raised my voice. I knew I was being passive/aggressive, but I was starting to get pissed off.
I poked my head out of the curtain and saw Rachael avoiding my eyes. "Go get Pierce," I told her. "If someone isn't here to take care of this lady in five minutes I'm going to raise hell at the next board meeting! Where the hell is Cindy?"
"Dr. Pierce went to lunch with her," she said.
"Well, that's just freaking great," I was disgusted. "Call Olivia."
"Your daughter is just an intern," Rachael said.
"Can she prescribe medicine and order a cast for this lady?" I asked.
"Yes, she can do that," Rachael admitted.
"Then page her," I told her.
I went back to sit in the chair by Samantha. "My daughter is an intern here," I told her. "She'll be here in a minute."
I thought about Cindy and that creep Pierce being out to lunch together. What the hell was going on? Cindy knew very well I wouldn't like that. I had made that perfectly plain on a couple of occasions.
We had been dating about six months the first time. I had met Cindy when we were assigned as lab partners in biology. She was drop dead gorgeous. She's a tall, plush woman with dark hair, fair skin and the bluest eyes you've ever seen. I asked her out after our second lab on a Thursday and she accepted. We went to dinner and a movie, I know, not the most imaginative date in the world, but I was nineteen years old. She kissed me good night at the door of her room and I asked her out again. It took about four dates before she let me feel her breasts and they were amazing. She had very large breasts and they were very sensitive. I think she came twice just from me playing with them. She had been raised by very religious parents and I think I was the first guy to ever get his hands on those luscious mounds. It took me three months to talk her into my bed and she never left it.
We had been going out for six months and I was coming out of the electronics store with a new video game when I saw her and George Cooper going into Chili's next door. I walked in and they were sitting together in a booth in the back. He had his arm around her and she was laughing up into his face. I turned around and went home. I had an apartment across the street from the school and I just picked her stuff up, put it in a box outside the door and went to class. I didn't go home for two days or talk to her. She called me about a dozen times and sent me a bunch of e-mails, but I never read them or responded. Twice, she was waiting outside class when it was over, but I went back in and told the professor I needed to talk to him in his office. We were talking when we came out the door and she had no opportunity to say anything. I skipped biology lab.
When I got up Saturday morning, she was curled up, sleeping in the hall outside the door. I stepped over her and started down the hall. I must have made some sound. I was trying to be quiet but she jumped up and ran down the hall after me, throwing her arms around me from behind. She spun me around and her eyes were blazing.
"What the hell is wrong with you, Eric?" she yelled. "Why did you put my stuff out in the hall? Why won't you talk to me? Why are you avoiding me? Have you met someone else?"
"No, you have," I told her. "I heard Cooper has an opening, maybe you should give him a call. I know third string running backs have busy schedules."
"Is that what this is about?" she was incredulous. "You know I went to school with him, right? We dated for a while, but we're just friends now. What did you think, we were lovers?"
"I didn't think anything," I told her. "I was coming out of the store and I saw you go into Chili's with him."
"We're just two old friends having lunch," she shouted. "What the hell is the matter with you?"
"My girlfriends don't have lunch with other men by themselves," I told her.
"You jealous prick," she started crying and walked away. It was two more days before I saw her again. She knocked on the door and I looked out and saw her in the hall.
"I don't want any," I yelled through the door.
"It's me," she said. "Can I talk to you?"
"I don't think so," I said. "I'm a jealous prick, remember?"
"I'm sorry I said that," she said. "Please let me come in and talk to you for a minute."
I opened the door. She just stood there for a minute. She wouldn't meet my eyes. "I'm sorry, Eric. I didn't know you would care. I know now and it won't happen again."
"You didn't know that people that are in relationships shouldn't have dates alone with members of the opposite sex?" I asked her. "You read the wrong relationship books, Cindy. That one is out of the cheater's manual, not the relationship manual."
"I'm not a cheater," she said. "It was lunch. I've known him since I was in the fourth grade."
"All the more reason not to be alone with him," I told her. "Why didn't you tell me you were having lunch with him? If you never have lunch, you never cheat. That's my rule. I don't do it and no one I'm in a relationship with does it."
"Okay, I get it. I'm sorry. It won't happen again."
"Okay, I forgive you," I told her. I started to walk away and she ran after me.
"That's it?" she was incredulous. "You're going to just walk away from me?"
"I'm a jealous prick," I told her. "I don't think we're on the same page, Cindy. The fact that you didn't see anything wrong with going to lunch with that asswipe and not telling me about it says that this is not going to work out."
"Jesus Christ, Eric," she burst out. "Okay, I'm sorry I said that. I'm sorry I did it. Don't I mean any more to you than that? God damn it, I've been sleeping with you for months. Don't you know I love you? Are you just going to throw me away for having lunch with a guy I've known all my life?"
I thought about that for a minute. "No, I guess that would be an overreaction. I'm still as mad as hell about it, but we'll see if we can work it out. If you're going to have lunch with a man besides me, you should tell me about it in advance. I'll do the same for you."
We eventually did work it out and it was just a blip on the radar until our senior year. I wasn't much into the campus life thing. I went to school to get an education and most of the students were just assholes with whom I would never voluntarily associate. I did have a few buddies with whom I hung out. Patrick Kelly was one of them. He was a big football fan and we had a pretty good team that year. He kept after me to go to a game until I finally gave in and went. We didn't sit in the student section. His dad had season tickets and we used them to get a seat on the fifty-yard line. After the game, we were getting ready to leave and I saw Cindy in the student section. I didn't know she was going to the game or I'd have asked her to join us.
She was talking and laughing with a group of friends and I started to go over. Then she started walking down the steps and there was a guy with her. She was holding on to his arm and laughing up at him. I froze in place. It was George Cooper. He had an injury and they redshirted him that year. I was just standing there and she glanced my way. Our eyes locked and she froze in place. I turned and walked away and I heard her calling my name. I left Patrick there and kept walking.
She caught up to me in the parking lot and grabbed hold of my arm. "Eric, oh my God, Eric! That wasn't what it looked like. I wasn't..."
I cut her off. "I don't care, Cindy. Let go of my arm."
"Talk to me, Eric," she started crying. "Let me..."
"I asked you nicely to let go of my arm," I told her. She dropped her hand and I started walking. She ran around and stood in front of me. "You're not leaving until you give me a chance to explain," she wept.
"Goodbye, Cindy," I walked around her and left her there crying. She called me about ten times a day until the semester was over and I never answered or listened to any of her messages. She did her camping out thing in the hall outside my apartment but I just packed some things, crawled out the window and stayed with Patrick until the semester was over. I went and stayed with my parents over the Christmas break and she came by a couple of times. I told Mom and Dad not to let her in and I refused to go to the door. I transferred out at semester and went to school fifty miles away. Mom and Dad were pissed at me. I didn't give a damn.
When I graduated, I got a job near Austin and moved into an apartment. I heard about her sometimes when one of my friends would mention her but I never saw her. I'd been back in Central Texas for about six months when her Dad showed up at work one day when I got off. I saw him standing by my car and started to go back in. I thought about it and just decided to bite the bullet. This was going to suck.
I walked up to my car and he looked up when he heard me. "Eric, I know I'm the last guy you want to see, but I'm a father and I don't have a choice. I love my daughter. I know she did something really stupid. I know she did it twice. The problem is, she really loves you, Eric, and she's miserable. She's lost twenty pounds. The first five didn't hurt, but she doesn't sleep, she hardly eats and she never leaves the house except when she hears you're back home and thinks she might see you somewhere. Put us out of our misery, Eric. At least talk to her. Maybe we can put this behind us and she can move on. Please, our whole family is suffering."
Well, this sucked as much as I thought it would. I felt really sorry for him. None of this was his fault and he had been my little league baseball coach in the sixth grade. I always liked him and his wife a lot.
"Okay, Mr. Peterson," I told him. "I don't know what good it will do. Cindy did this to me once and I thought I made myself very clear. I never dreamed it would come up again. She doesn't think like me. I don't know how to get around that."
"I understand," he nodded. "I even agree with you, but please, just talk to her. Listen to what she has to say. That's all I'm asking. Thank you, Eric. I owe you one."
"You don't owe me anything, Mr. Peterson," I told him. "You taught me how to play first base. I'm the one that owes you. Tell her I'll be back home and pick her up at six on Friday, okay?"
We went to Cheddar's and I bought her dinner. I'd heard it before, several times, I didn't want to hear it again. I knew I was going to hear it whether I wanted to or not.
"George is a really nice guy," she said.
"Cindy, were you going out with me or not?" I asked.
"You know I was, honey," she tried to sweet talk me.
"There seems to have been some doubt in your mind," I told her. "I saw you together at Chili's. You were sitting together in the same booth and he had his arm around you."
"We're very good friends," she said. "If you'd get to know him you'd like him. I want the two of you to be friends. We talked about that and I didn't do it again. I want you and him to be friends."
"We're not going to be friends," I told her. "We're not going out because of your 'friend'."
"What? What do you mean?" she stammered.
"I'm not getting back together with you," I told her. "The first time it happened I told you that if you were ever alone with him again we were done. I guess you didn't believe me."
"Why are you being such an asshole?" she snapped. "It was just lunch and a ride home from the football game. He's a nice guy."
"No, he's the asshole," I told her. "You're an asshole, too. I don't know what I ever saw in you. This was a bad idea."
I got up and threw money on the table. I didn't need the change. I walked out the door and to my car. I didn't realize she was following me until I hit the remote. Luckily, I only hit it once and the passenger door stayed locked. She tried to open it but I just got in and started the car. She ran around and opened my door.
"Are you just going to leave me here?" she yelled.
"I'll call you a cab," I said.
"We need to talk," she said.
"No, we don't," I told her. "Maybe you can talk to Cooper. He's such a nice guy."
"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't realize you were going to be such a prick about it. I won't be alone with him anymore."
"Too late," I told her. "That should have happened last time. You have no respect for me or anyone else but the 'nice guy'. I'll just take my prick self and find someone that likes my kind of prick, not his. Have a nice life, Cindy."
I did call her a cab. See, I'm a nice guy, too, for a prick. I didn't see or hear from her for three weeks. When I finally went back to my parents to spend the weekend I got ambushed. I think they had seen too much "Intervention" or Dr. Phool. Mom had called me on the way home and asked me what time she should plan dinner. I was totally ignorant of any nefarious plans and like a dummy, I told her. They even had the sneakiness to park their cars on the next block.
When I got home, I got my suitcase and my laptop and headed inside. Dad met me in the entry and took my suitcase. We went upstairs and put my stuff down and he said Mom and my sister were in the den. They were in the den all right, so were Cindy and her parents and Mom's pastor.
I guess I must have looked like a total idiot, standing there with my mouth hanging open. They had the furniture arranged around in a cute little circle with an empty chair at which everyone could stare. My little sister jumped up and ran over. She hugged me, kissed me and touched me all over as she always does. I love Chris. She was fifteen and the cutest thing you've ever seen. She took me and led me by the hand over to my throne. It was either that or an electric chair.
Pastor Robbins was evidently the spokesman. I always thought he was a pretentious creep that stood too close to you when he talked.
"Eric, we all have something we want to say to you and we're here to listen to you, too. We know you're upset and we understand, but we think you're being unreasonable."
I looked around and they were all smiling and nodding at me.
"I love you, honey and I want us to be together for the rest of our lives," Cindy gave me her softest, sexiest voice. "Just listen to what we have to say and then we'll listen to you."
It was Dad's turn. I wondered if they had planned who spoke in which order. "Son, do you know that your Mother has friends that are men and I have friends that are women?"
There was a silence. "Do you want me to speak?" I asked.
They all smiled and nodded. "I wasn't aware you had an open marriage," I said. "You concealed that from me so carefully all my life that I was in total ignorance." The smiles faded a little. I think I got off the script. "Are you hanging the horns on Dad, Mom? I never suspected a thing."
She had the grace to blush. "Why are you talking like that?" she asked. "There's no need to be crude. That's not what your father meant. We have friends of the opposite sex. Everyone does."
"Okay, well, this has been enlightening. Is it my turn now?" I asked.
Cindy's Dad spoke up. "Robin and I care about you very much, Eric," he got the smile back. "Cindy loves you with all her heart. She's devoted to you and for you to ask her to give up her friends is just unreasonable. You aren't really going to break up with her because Cindy has friends, are you?"
There was another small silence. "Is it my turn?" I asked.
They all smiled and nodded. "Okay, this has been real fun," I said. "I appreciate you all being here to explain things to me. I can see how unreasonable I've been. I just need to go up to my room and think for a few minutes. You all wait right here. I should be back in about ten minutes." Oh, the bliss on their faces was excruciating. I got up and Cindy came and kissed my cheek.
Chris was looking at me funny. I stood up and climbed the three stairs out of the den and then the seven upstairs to my bedroom. I got my suitcase and Chris got my computer. She had followed me.
We went outside and put them in the trunk. "You aren't coming back, are you?" she asked.
"No, baby," I hugged her. "I love you, but I'm done with this bullshit. Call me and I'll come pick you up. We'll go somewhere, just you and me."
"Okay, Eric," she kissed me. "I love you, too. I'm sorry they embarrassed you like that."
"Not your fault, sweetheart," I told her. "See you." I gave her one last squeeze and backed out of the driveway. I rolled the window down. "Take a walk, honey," I told her. "Give me a chance to get out of town."
She nodded and started off down the street. Twenty minutes later, my car told me I had a call. It was Mom.
"Hi, Mom," I said.
"Where are you?" she asked. "Where is Chris? Is she with you?"
"She's taking a walk," I said. "I'm just passing through Hillsborough."
She sputtered for a few seconds. "But ... you said you would be right back."
"Well, yeah, but I decided not to," I said. "Please, feel free to carry on without me. Oh, Mom, from now on, Chris is the only one of you from whom I'll be taking calls. Don't write, don't come to visit, don't use your telepathic abilities you evidently have that tell you how unreasonable I am. Bye, Mom."
"Eric, wait," she said. "I love you, honey. I'm sorry; I only want what's best for you. Just let me talk to you."
"Don't you think I'm the one to decide what's best for me?" I asked. "Bye Mom, maybe you can talk to some of your friends that are men." I ended the call.
In a minute, I had another call. I didn't answer. I had five more calls in the next five minutes and I didn't answer. The sixth one was from Chris.
"Hi, Kitten, you in trouble?" I asked.
"Kind of," she said. "They made me call you, Eric."
There was a noise and Dad's voice came on. "You should be ashamed..." I cut him off. Maybe my family would be interested in marrying Cindy. They were all so reasonable; maybe they could all have a big group marriage, except for Chris, of course.
I must have got a hundred calls over the next three days. My secretary at work left stacks of messages on my desk every day in the morning, after lunch and at night. I listened to all the voice mails, read all the messages and all the e-mails. There were very entertaining.
Cindy's family was pissed off and so was she. My parents were, too, at first. I didn't hear much from Dad but Mom wasn't pissed off after the first five messages or so. She was crying on the voice mails and her messages and e-mails were taking on a note of desperation. She was apologetic after the first hour or two. Cindy also became increasingly weepy and apologetic. She pleaded with me to talk to her, see her, meet with her, call her, anything. She was going to change; she was going to make it up to me. Everything was going to be different. If I didn't like someone that was her friend, she'd never see them again. All I needed to do was give her another chance and all this magic was going to happen.
She just didn't get it. I guess none of them did. I have a code. I have friends that are women, too. Since I had been in a relationship with Cindy, I didn't spend time alone with them. That's just asking for trouble. Sure, there were business and social interactions with women besides Cindy, but I sure wasn't taking them to lunch or dinner and I didn't put my arms around them. If they had significant others, we hung out together. If they didn't, we didn't hang out. Why put yourself in a compromising situation?
Dad had told me this all my life. You date the people you know. You marry the people you date. You have sex with people you are alone with and with whom you make relationships. It's a conscious choice. All this bullshit about "I didn't mean for it to happen," or "it just happened," makes me want to puke. It's a matter of a conscious choice. I chose to be a one-woman man and I chose for my partner to be a one-man woman. If it sounds like I'm inflexible, you're damn right I am. Sue me.
I went on a couple of dates over the next week and had a good time. It was kind of a relief not having Cindy around. It was especially liberating not to have to wonder where she was or with whom she was having lunch. I drove back up to McKinney and stayed in a hotel that weekend. I picked Chris up to take her to Six Flags. She came running out and jumped in the car when I pulled up.
"You should go quick," she said.
It was too late. Mom came running down the sidewalk as I started backing out. She jumped on the hood of the car and I just couldn't drive off. I rolled down the window.
"What do you want, Mom?" I asked.
"Promise me you won't drive off till I tell you," she said.
I sighed. "Okay, I promise. What do you want?"
She got down and came to the window. She leaned in, hugged me and kissed me.
"I wanted to tell you I'm very sorry," she said. There were tears in her soft brown eyes. "I should have respected you more, Eric. I love you so much and you're killing me not talking to me. You're my only son and I'm asking you to forgive me. Don't shut me out of your life."
I petted her soft cheek. "What are you doing next Saturday?" I asked her.
She looked hopefully at me. "Nothing," she said. "Do you want me to do something?"
"Why don't I come and pick you and Chris up?" I said. "I'll take you to IKEA in Round Rock." Mom loves that place. "Then we'll take Chris to the outlet stores and have dinner."
Her smile was bright and happy. "Ten sounds like a good time," she said. "We'll be ready, right, Chris?"
Chris was very excited about the outlet stores, much less so about IKEA, but she wanted to go. We had a blast at Six Flags and I was looking forward to the next weekend. Work went well that week. I had just started and I had a pretty steep learning curve. I got some problems in the foundry sorted out and Jack had given me a huge pat on the back. That was also the week I met his daughter, Allison.
I drove up to McKinney and pulled up in the driveway. Mom and Chris came out all happy and bubbly and jumped in. "Eric, I want to apologize to you again," Mom started.
"Let's just forget about all this," I said. "Let's go shopping. All the clothes are on me. Mom, if you buy any of that crappy furniture, I'm not hauling it home."
She laughed and we drove away. We stopped for a burger and it was a good day. I did haul home some crappy furniture. It was just lamps, but I told her she was on her own putting them together. The instructions that came with them were written by professional obfuscators.
I stopped by my favorite bar for a beer on the way home Monday and when I climbed the stairs to my apartment, Cindy was sitting on the top step. I almost turned around and left. Then I got mad. This was my home and I wasn't going to let her chase me off. I sighed and kept climbing. I wondered what she was doing there in the middle of the week. She was in her last year of school to be a Physician's Assistant.
"Can I come in and talk to you?" she asked.
"What do you want, Cindy?" I asked. "I thought everything was pretty clear."
"It is," she said. "I want to muddy it up."
I had to smile at that. "I kind of like clear," I told her. I sighed. She was here so I might as well get it over with. I opened the door and stood aside so she could walk past.
I sat on the sofa and she pulled a chair up in front of me. "I want another chance," she said.
"Well, that's not going to happen," I said.
"Why does everyone but me get one?" she said.
"I wasn't going out with anyone else," I told her. "They felt bad about what they did and apologized."
"So do I," she said. "I've apologized a million times. I'm sorry, Eric. I had no idea you felt like you do. How can I fix this? I'll do anything."
"What the hell do you mean, 'I had no idea you felt like you do'?" I asked. "I told you exactly how I felt."
"I was stupid," she said. "I couldn't believe you really meant it. It sounded so unreasonable to me that I couldn't believe you were serious."
I threw up my hands. "Do you have any idea how sick I am of the word 'unreasonable'? Maybe I am unreasonable. That's just the way I am. I don't think it's unreasonable of me to expect my girl to not be having meals with other men alone or going to games with them. It seems like good sense to me."
"I understand now," she said. "What can I do to make it up to you? What can I do so we can be together?" Cindy didn't look good. Her normally vibrant hair was kind of dull and lifeless and she was gaunt looking. She looked like she was going to cry. Her eyes were all full of tears.
"I swear to God, if you start crying I'm going to get up and throw you out of here," I told her.
She sniffed a few times and dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. "Eric, I'm so sorry," she said. "I didn't plan for that to happen. I didn't go to the game with him. I went with some of my girlfriends and he was just there. We all talked and we were having a good time. He was going to give me a ride back to the dorms. That's all that happened."
"Okay, I believe you," I said.
"So why won't you talk to me, then?" she seemed puzzled.
"I'll talk to you about anything but me and you," I told her. "I didn't think you wanted to talk about anything else."
"I don't understand," she faltered. "I do want to talk about you and me. If you don't believe I went there to meet him, what's wrong?"
"You were leaving with him," I told her. "My girlfriends don't ride in cars by themselves with other men. I thought I made that very clear. I don't spend time alone with other women and I don't allow my girlfriends to spend time alone with other men. You've been reading that cheater's handbook again, Cindy."
"It was just a ride," she protested.
"How did you get to the game?" I asked her.
"With Julia," she said.
"Why weren't you riding back with Julia?" I asked.
She sat there stunned for a minute. "I don't know," she said.
"I do," I told her. "He was cutting you out of the herd and getting you alone. That's how it starts. You let him do it. You knew if you thought about it at all, I wouldn't like it."
"Okay, I see that now," she said. "I was stupid. I can learn though, Eric. I see what you're getting at now. I didn't understand. Do guys really do that?"
"How did we get together?" I asked her.
"You asked me if I wanted to get something to eat after lab," she said.
"Who were you with?" I asked her.
"Julia and Robin ... you cut me out of the herd, didn't you?"
"Exactly. That's how it works. I got you by yourself, just the two of us, and that's how it works. That's how romances begin. That's what Cooper was trying to do."
"I let him, didn't I?"
"Yes, Cindy, you did. I can't live with that. I can't always be around to make sure you aren't going off alone with some man. That's your job and you suck at it."
"I'm so sorry," she said. "I didn't realize what was going on. It all makes sense now. He's been calling me ever since. Eric, if you give me another chance, it will never happen again."
"I gave you another chance," I said. "You fucked it up."
"Yes, but I didn't understand," she said. "I couldn't figure out why you would react that way. I understand now. I won't allow that to happen anymore."
"Okay, let's say I believe you; what now?" I asked.
"Will you go out with me Friday?" she asked. She wouldn't look up at me.
"Okay, what time?" I asked. I still didn't trust her and that didn't change until I accidentally overheard a conversation.
I was on my way home from work and I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a couple of bottles of wine. The liquor section had tall racks you couldn't see over. I saw a couple of guys on the other aisle when I turned into the section I wanted. One of them was George Cooper. They were talking louder than they should have.
"Whatever happened to that hot babe you had on the line?" the guy I didn't know asked.
"You mean Cindy?" Cooper asked.
"Yeah, she was smokin," the other guy said.
"She has this prick boyfriend," Cooper said. "I was just about to seal the deal and he saw us together. He threw a fit and she won't even talk to me now. It won't last. I'll keep calling her and I'll eventually wear her down. I'm going to get some of that yet. She says she'll never talk to me again, but I'm not giving up."
That surprised me. Cindy was keeping her word and I was impressed. She'd had the chance and she passed the test. I felt a lot better about moving forward. I dealt with Cooper, too. It's hard to call women when you have your right arm in a cast. He had another red shirt year and lost his scholarship.
That was 27 years ago, and until about five years ago, she was as good as her word. Then, someone gave her a book. It was something about "Her needs, His needs," and Cindy was all gaga about it. All of a sudden, there was all this psychobabble coming out of her mouth about "getting in touch with our feelings." She explained it all to me. Men and women are different. I was shocked! Who knew? Who buys that shit? Do I need to pay $29.99 for someone to point out the obvious?
I was pretty sure I had known that since the first time I saw a girl. There was all this bullshit about how men didn't understand women, how they often lived lives of deprivation because their men didn't understand or care about their "needs" and how they could take charge of their lives by making us aware of their need for emotional fulfillment.
She had all these great ideas about what we should do. We talked about a lot of bullshit for hours on end in carefully "arranged" and set "bonding" meetings. We acquired a bookshelf that was loaded with the most inane and stupid books imaginable. We watched boring and stupid movies designed to make me aware of my callousness and insensitivity. She would highlight passages in the stupid books for me to read. The insanity got more and more extreme. Most of the sage wisdom she received and dispensed seemed to have one aim: Women need emotional fulfillment and their husband is incapable of providing it. However, if he truly loves her he will support and encourage her in her journey to discover her emotional security and only then, can she find true happiness. That had been her quest for the last five years. Her behavior hadn't changed, as far as I knew. She went out with groups without me, and spent a lot of time with her circle of other sympathetic women, but she was never alone with other men. I lived by the same rule. We both understood emergencies, work and family, but we never went anywhere alone with members of the opposite sex for entertainment. Until today, apparently. I really had no idea how long this had been going on.