I was sitting at the table gossiping with my friends when Hilda looked at the entrance.
"Well look at that! Benny Henson. I thought when his wife left him he shriveled up and blew away."
His breakup was pretty. Pretty ugly. Pretty painful.
Pretty much her fault, and it pretty much destroyed him.
She "traded up', taking off with a banker. Tried to rape him in the divorce. Had everything pre-prepared, sign here, sign here, initial this. I'm being fair honey, just sign. Bob says it's very fair. He'll get it notarized, just sign.
Benny was quiet, and people assumed because he didn't talk much, he didn't think much. He thanked her for trying to help, turned around, and beat the hell out of Bob.
He dragged him out of the house and threw him over the porch railing into the rose bushes. When his soon to be ex wife protested, he threw her into the rose bushes beside him. Then he decided the roses needed irrigating, so he pissed all over the happy couple trying to get out of the bushes.
Then he leaned over the rail and told them if he heard the first word about pressing charges, he would hunt them down, shove a thick piece of rose briar up their ass until it stuck out their mouths, and saw it back and forth until he got bored. They never said a word.
Unfortunately, a next door neighbor saw and heard it all, and it was just too good a story to keep quiet. His wife worked for Bob at the bank, and it wasn't long until bundles of briars started showing up on both desks. If his father hadn't owned a big chunk of the bank they would have both been out the door.
Benny had a third cousin that turned out to be a hell of a divorce lawyer. When the smoke cleared, since she made more and cheated, she had to pay him maintenance for three years, or until he got married. When they filed papers on the bank for violation of the ethics clause of their employment policy, a quiet settlement for an undisclosed amount was reached. She desperately wanted the McMansion she had forced Benny to buy, so she had to give him half of full market value to keep it.
Benny walked away with a big chunk of change and a nice monthly check.
What he didn't walk away with was his pride. He didn't have a clue, and it shook his self confidence badly. When she found out she was going to get hosed in the settlement, she started a smear campaign about his character, his size and stamina, even his sexual preference. Only the threat of a lawsuit shut her up, but by then it was too late.
He held his head high, but it hurt and he withdrew into himself, disconnecting from any social interaction. Taking a delivery job that kept him on the road a lot, he all but disappeared from the local social scene.
Yet there he was, striding right towards us.
'Us' was the usual bunch of gals who got together every other Thursday at the local pub to let off a little steam. A little flirting, a little dancing, a good bit of drinking on occasion. Housewives, professionals, factory workers, our binding factor was a shared history going all the way back to grade school. No social distinction here, we were just 'the girls'. Some were married, some were divorced, and everyone knew who was who.
He stood before me awkwardly, before speaking rapidly.
"Bonnie, can I talk to you for a minute? I'd like to ask you something."
He caught me on my fourth whiskey sour, and I was feeling pretty good. I had known Benny since we moved into the house next door when we were five years old. We were inseparable until the start of junior high. Then biology took over and we went separate ways.
Benny didn't belong to any particular circle, but got along well with everyone. He was mostly a loner, but a friendly loner. I was in the cute girl club, and had the A list of boys swirling around us. Benny dated but strangely, never expressed interest in me. I always wondered why.
And here he was, out of the blue, wanting something from me.
The whiskey made me mouthy, honestly, I was just having a little fun.
"Ask away, big boy, but the answer will be yes. I knew you always wanted me."
The girls were smiling ear to ear, enjoying his discomfort. He seemed a little shocked.
"No, no. I need some professional assistance. On something I know you're skilled at. I'll pay you."
I couldn't help getting one more dig in.
"Benny, honey, I just said you can have it for free. And I am pretty skilled."
Giggles and light laughter swirled round the table. Benny got red, said just forget it, and headed towards the door. I jumped up and grabbed his arm, tugged him towards the dance floor. Luckily, it was a slow song.
He was stiff at first but gradually relaxed, even seemed to enjoy it a bit. I leaned in and whispered in his ear.
"Relax, Benny. It was all in good fun. Surely you remember what a tease I am."
"I remember. You spent your junior year in high school trying to give me a permanent blush."
"I couldn't help it, you were so serious all the time."
The song ended and we stood awkwardly for a second.
"Come back to the table," I urged him. "tell me what you need. You know I'll help if I can."
He was back to looking uncomfortable.
"This needs to be a private discussion. Why don't I call you sometime in the next few days. Still in the book?"
"No, I cancelled my home phone, couldn't see the point when I use my cell constantly. Here, give me your phone, I'll program it in."
I was surprised when he handed me the latest, top of the line Iphone. I know it showed.
It was his turn to smile.
"Can't be a technophobe forever, Bonnie. When would be a good time to call?"
"Right now. Saturday, 6:00. I'll be at your house. But I want fed, a rack of your ribs to be specific. All the trimmings, including dessert. Then I'll probably be more willing to give you help, whatever it is."
This threw him.
"Uh, Bonnie, I'll be glad to, but I don't want to mess up your social schedule. You sure you don't want to do it on a week night?"
"Honey, honey, look around you. When it comes to possibilities in this small town, I'm fishing in a pretty shallow pool. Everything available has been caught and tossed back so many times they have hook mouth."
"It'll be nice to spend an evening with someone I actually like."
I still made him come back to the table and sit with us until another slow dance came up on the jukebox. He felt really nice, I was sad to see him go.
And me? I had one more, a cup of coffee, and went home to my big divorce house and my little divorce life.
I was a lot like Benny, I didn't see it coming. We had our lives all planned out. My husband was going to climb the corporate ladder, while I was going to be the best high school English teacher in the state. Judging by the awards hanging on my den wall, I accomplished my end of the deal.
He made it to VP, then decided an almost fifty year old wife wasn't the correct arm candy for his social functions. I got traded for a twenty something, cute as a bug, and dumb as a rock. He was slick though, taking a West coast assignment and most of the money. I ended up with the house free and clear, a little cash, my car, and bad memories.
I had just retired from teaching when me left. It was too late to go back to full time, so I did substitute teaching from time to time. It helped financially and relieved the boredom, but it wasn't the life I expected to be living.
Without embellishment, I was still a good looking woman. I exercised on a regular basis, ate right, and took care of myself. Most women will admit that at our age we agonize over every new wrinkle and blemish, and the ravages of gravity, but overall I was holding up quite nicely. Men from forty to sixty thought so, anyway.
I dated fairly regularly, but not seriously. Couldn't seem to find one that held my interest. Perhaps that was why I was looking forward to dinner with Benny so much.
I often wondered why Benny never asked me out. My marriage collapsed about six months after his, and we would see each other from time to time around town. He was always friendly but never made overtures. If you're female, this piques your interest and assaults your vanity.
Benny was a lot of things, but first and foremost he made the best barbeque in the area, maybe even the state. He was always in demand for private parties and fund raisers as a cook. The local Republicans almost canceled a rally last year because he wasn't available. This was why I pushed him into fixing those ribs. I knew from experience they would melt in your mouth, with the perfect blend of vinegar and spices.
I wasn't disappointed. Ribs just right. His secret recipe dressing coleslaw. He had a thing about that. Any fool can pour barbecue sauce over cabbage, he was fond of saying, but very few people could make good coleslaw. Potato salad with the same dressing. Cornbread pancakes instead of hush puppies, another one of his trademarks. Baked beans with shredded barbecue and large chunks of red onions mixed in. His wife was a fool to walk out on meals like that.
I told him so as I slid back from the table.
He grinned, "She didn't like barbecue that much, not high toned enough for her I guess."
I patted my stomach, so glad I had worn a loose fitting sundress instead of jeans.
"Good. More for me."
I'm glad you said that. I haven't brought out dessert yet."
"Let's give it a little while. If I take one more bite right now a Bonnie bomb will explode all over your dining room. Take me for a walk, this is the first time I've been to your new house."
.... There is more of this story ...