I was sipping my morning coffee, looking out at the rain falling on my patio. "What a depressing morning," I thought. Of course most mornings were depressing of late. Sometimes I wondered why I even bothered getting up. Sometimes I wondered why I even bothered to go on living.
My world and my happiness had ended three years ago when a drunk driver had run a red light. The police said he was going around sixty miles per hour when he plowed into the side of my wife's car. Neither my wife, Ruth, nor my daughter, Kathy, had survived the accident. Both were pronounced dead at the scene.
I'm Ed Delaney, by the way. My daughter Kathy had been sixteen years old and had been the apple of my eye. She had been absolutely beautiful. She was popular with out letting it go to her head and she was smart enough I was sure she was going to get an academic scholarship to a good college.
Ruth... What can I say about Ruth? We had been high school sweethearts. We got married when we were nineteen. We were both madly in love with each other. Things were tough at first, especially while I was in the air force. Kathy came along when we were twenty and she made things even harder for a while. We never regretted having her though.
While I was in the air force, I started taking college classes. I really didn't have an idea at the time of what I wanted to do when I graduated, so I took mostly classes that would be required, whatever my major turned out to be. By the time I got out, I had over thirty semester hours of credit racked up.
One of the first classes I took after I was a civilian again was a computer science class. I was hooked. I also loved the electronics classes I took, so I ended up with a double major in electronics and computer science. This turned out to be a very profitable choice.
I worked for a couple of years after graduation with a firm that did automation systems for warehouses. It was interesting work, but after a while I started to get frustrated with the company policies concerning how we could approach a new system. The company had a lot of older people in management. If "we haven't done it that way before", they didn't want to try it.
It finally got to the point where I decided I wanted to go out on my own. Thus, Delaney Automation Consulting was born. Ruth went to work to help out. The first year the company didn't even break even. We ate a lot of beans and tightened our belts. The second year was better and I started getting a reputation.
At the end of the third year, Ruth quit working. By the end of the fourth year, I had two young engineers and a secretary working for me. Things had just kept getting better from there. By the time of the accident, my involvement with the company was to look over new projects and give them my ideas of how I'd like to see things designed. One of my design teams would look the project over then tell me why my approach would or would not work.
Ruth and I were still just as much in love on the day she died as we had been when we were first married. After the death of my family I had just kind of pulled into myself. I continued working with the company, but I did most everything from home. Someone from the sales department would bring me a description of a system a company needed. I would look it over and write up my suggestions. Someone from engineering would pick my ideas up and would take it back to work on.
If my concept was agreed upon by the design team, they would make an estimate as to the cost of doing the project. I'd look it over, and then the sales person would take it back to the customer for approval.
About the only people I'd seen over the last three years were the engineering manager and someone from sales. I talked to a lot of people over the phone, but for some reason, I just didn't feel like getting involved with the people from work.
Sam Miller was our engineering manager and he was one of the first engineers I'd hired to work for DAC (Delaney Automation Consulting). He now had over forty engineers working for him. Sam and I had become friends over the years. He told me a couple of years ago that he was worried about me. He said I should get out and experience the world. He reminded me that Ruth would have wanted me to be happy. I knew he was right, but I just couldn't force myself to take his advice.
Another person I'd become friends with was Christina Toliver. Tina was in sales and had been the primary person to bring new opportunities to me for the last six months. She had come to our company right out of college, about a year ago. Our sales manages said she was a ball of fire and I believed him.
At first Tina would just drop off the documents and leave. After the sales manager had told me about how knowledgeable she was, I started pressing her for more details about what the customer really wanted. This evolved into her sitting down with me over coffee and discussing each potential project.
She'd tell me about the way the customer's system worked now and about how they wanted it to work in the future. She'd fill me in on the condition of the customer's plant and their maintenance department. She'd even discuss the personalities of the people who ran the company and of the people we'd be working with as the project was installed.
When you have information like Tina was feeding me, it is amazing how well you can tailor a system to fit a customer's needs. This helped to improve DAC's reputation even further.
For the first few months Tina was coming around, our conversations were only about work related items. Then one day, I noticed that she seemed really down.
"Tina, is something bothering you?" I asked.
"Don't worry about it, Ed. It's just a personal problem. I'll get over it," she told me.
"If it's something you need to talk about, Tina, I guarantee you that anything you say to me will not go any farther," I assured her.
She looked thoughtfully at me for a minute, then she said, "I just broke up with my boyfriend, Ed. I don't think it would be appropriate for me to bring something like that up to my boss."
"I may be your boss, Tina, but I feel like we've become friends over the last few months. If you need to talk to someone, I'm here."
"Yeah, I feel like we've become friends too. Okay, you asked for it. The bastard was cheating on me. We were pretty serious. At least I thought we were. He told me he loved me and that there'd never be anyone else but me for him. We were even talking about moving in together. Then I found he'd been cheating on me for months."
Tears were running down her cheeks as she told me this. I reached across the table and squeezed her hand. "Let it out, Tina. You'll feel better afterwards."
"Ed, I don't know what to say. I loved the bastard. At least I thought I did. I trusted him. Now I feel like I can't trust anyone."
"Tina, I don't know what to tell you. You are an intelligent young woman, so I'm sure you know intellectually that there are men out there that you can trust. My wife and I were married for seventeen years and I never even considered cheating on her."
"I'm sorry, Ed. I didn't mean to bring up painful memories for you. I heard what happened to your wife and daughter and I'm so sorry."
"There's no reason for you to be sorry, Tina. What happened, happened. I won't say it doesn't still hurt, because it does. I will say the pain is a little less now than it was. Maybe someday I'll even be able to start enjoying life again. You're young, though. What are you? Maybe twenty-three or twenty-four?"
"I'm twenty-three, Ed. I know I'm still young. I just thought Mark was the one. I know I'll get over him, but I think it's going to take some time."
It was about a week later when Tina came back with another new project. We sat at the table again and she went over it with me. I had always been impressed with her thoroughness. When she worked up a new customer, I felt I knew exactly what he wanted.
This time was no exception. After she had told me everything she knew about the customer and their wants and needs I told her how impressed I was. "You seem to be in a much better mood today," I told her after I had complimented her.
"Yeah, I managed to get a little revenge a couple of days ago," she grinned. "Mark's other girlfriend dumped him, so he came back trying to make up with me. I sent him packing pretty quickly."
"Good for you," I said. "You deserve a lot better than him. Maybe now you can get on with your life."
"Maybe. I still have a problem with trust though. I don't know if I'll ever be able to completely trust a man again."
"Give it time, Tina. I know it sounds cliché, but try to get to know the guy first. If you know the guy and like him as a friend, it's less likely that you'll end up in a relationship that's based on sex."
Tina blushed then asked, "Are you saying there's something wrong with sex?"
I had to laugh. "There is absolutely nothing wrong with sex," I said. "There is something wrong with a relationship that is based only on sex. Look, even if you're madly in lust with each other, how much of your day is spent having sex? Maybe an hour or even two hours?"
Tina looked thoughtfully at me then said, "Yes."
"If you're in love with someone. If they're your best friend. You don't have sex with them. You make love with them. A couple who are truly in love with each other can make love twenty-four hours a day."
"What do you mean?"
"The touch of a hand can be making love. A gentle kiss as one of you leaves a room or a smile can be making love. This builds all day and when you are in bed acting like mad rabbits, it carries over and makes the actual sex act something far more than just a recreational coupling."
"But... Mark and I never had that."
"Then you weren't really in love."
"And you did have that with your wife?"
"Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week," I said.
"Wow!" Tina said reverently.
It was a couple of weeks before Tina was over again. After we'd finished our business, she asked, "Ed, can I ask you a personal question?"
"Sure, you can ask," I laughed. "I won't guarantee I'll answer though."
"Are you dating anyone?"
"No, Tina, I haven't been on a date with anyone other than my wife since high school."
"Why not? Do you think your wife wouldn't want you to?"
"No, it's not that. You're going to find this out too. It's not easy to meet someone you might be interested in. I don't normally go to bars, so if I did go to a bar to try to meet a woman, I would be out of character. I wouldn't be meeting a woman who liked the same things that I do. I'm thirty-nine years old. Most of the women at work are about your age, so that leaves them out. I don't normally attend church, so if I went to church to meet a woman, it would be like going to the bar."
"Why do you just automatically rule out a younger woman?"
"For a couple to be best friends, they have to share a lot of the same values. They have to like the same things and dislike the same things. They have to respect each other. I just don't feel like that would happen if there was too great an age difference."
"I can understand what you're saying, Ed, but I don't agree with you. My grandfather was one of the best friends I'll ever have. We could talk about anything and we did. He was the one I went to when I had questions about sex while I was growing up. He was also the one I told about my hopes and dreams. He told me about his as well. We just naturally liked to be together. So, I think you're full of shit if you just blow off the girls at work without giving them a chance."
I cracked up laughing. When I was under control again I said, "Boy, you've come a long way in a few weeks. It wasn't long ago when you were too shy to talk to your boss, now you're telling him he's full of shit."
Tina blushed, then she laughed too. "I guess that's what you get for becoming my friend."
Tina was over frequently over the next couple of months. We had a lot of small projects come up and she was doing all of the liaison work between me and sales now. We had become a lot more comfortable with each other and teased and joked with each other a lot.
This time, when we finished with our work, Tina asked me a favor.
"Ed, my high school class reunion is next month. It's the fifth reunion, so I'd really like to go. The only thing is, I don't want to go alone. I wasn't very popular when I was in school, and I don't want all of those snooty bitches looking down on me because I don't have a boyfriend."
"And you want me to do what?"
"I'd like for you to be my escort. If you could pretend you're my boyfriend it'd be even better."
I laughed. For some reason I didn't feel uncomfortable about this, so I agreed. "I think we could work that out. Why weren't you popular and who are the snooty bitches?"
"I guess I wasn't popular because I was a late bloomer. I hardly had any boobs at all until I was a senior. I was also a little bit of a nerd. I got good grades and that caused a lot of jealousy. As for the snooty bitches, they were the IN clique. They were always making fun of me because I had no tits or because I wasn't dating some jock."
"Well, I see the tit situation has rectified itself," I said with a leer.
Tina hit me on the shoulder, then laughed. "Sometimes I wish it hadn't rectified itself quite as much."
"I'm not a jock though, so are you sure I'll be an acceptable substitute?"
"Most definitely. You are a successful businessman. I'm sure by now that the bitches are more impressed with money and status than they are by high school football prowess."
"So, is this thing going to be formal or semi-formal or what?"
"The invitation said semi-formal, but I'm going to dress up for it."
"Would it be out of line for me to wear a dinner jacket?"
"Oh, my. I don't think that would be out of line at all. If we're over dressed, we can just look down our noses at the rest of them."
"Great. Do you need any money for a dress?"
"No, I'm good for that. I really don't spend a lot of money, Ed. I like to read, so I spend a lot of time reading. I get most of my books from the library or from the Internet, so they don't cost me anything."
"I've always been a reader too. I guess I spend more time reading than I do anything else."
Okay, so I went all out for Tina's reunion. I had my tux cleaned and I hired a limousine for the evening. I even bought Tina a nice corsage. Tina's mouth fell open when I went to pick her up in the limo.
"This is the first time I've ever ridden in a limousine," she told me. "I just hope some of my old 'friends' find out that's how we arrived."
"I'll make sure they do," I told her with a big smile. "Trust me."
"I do trust you, Ed," Tina said seriously.
When we pulled up in front of the restaurant/lounge where the event was being held, there were four cars waiting in line for valet parking. "Are those some of your old 'friends'?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah. The last one in line is Theresa Arrington. She was one of the worst."
"Good. Then it should get around that we arrived in a limo." The driver opened the door for us and all of the couples in line for parking were already looking at the limo. I got out first and extended my hand to Tina.
I'll swear Tina looked like the First Lady as she stepped gracefully from the limo and put her hand through my arm. We didn't even look at the line of gawkers as we strolled to the door of the restaurant.
Tina explained to the maitre d' that we were here for the reunion and he took us to our assigned table. There were eight places at the table and only one couple sitting there when we arrived. Tina looked at the woman sitting there and asked, "Janice?"
The woman nodded, but looked puzzled. "I'm Tina, Tina Toliver and this is my boyfriend, Ed Delaney."
"Tina? I'd have never recognized you," the woman said. "This is my husband Bill Wilson."
Bill and I shook hands and sat there feeling a little out of place as Tina and Janice started talking. They hadn't gotten much passed Janice and Bill's marriage when Theresa and her husband showed up. Right behind them was Wanda and her boyfriend.
After introductions were made all around, Theresa asked, "Tina, was that you I saw getting out of the limousine outside?"
"Yes, Ed wanted to make this special for me. Of course, just being with Ed is special enough," Tina said.
"How did you two meet?" Theresa asked, turning to me.
"I work for Ed," Tina said before I had a chance to answer.
"Oh, my. Dipping into the company inkwell," Theresa said to me. "Better hope your boss doesn't find out."
I just smiled. "Theresa, Tina is the Regional Sales Manager for Delaney Automation Consultants. I own the company."
Theresa looked impressed. "Is this a big company?" she asked.
"I wouldn't say it's big," I said. "Tina, do you know how many people work at DAC now?"
"They last I heard there were just over a hundred full time employees. That doesn't count the contractors and their people. There are over two hundred of them."
"Oh, my," Theresa said.
"The company has doubled in size in the last three years," I told them. "A big part of the reason for that is sitting here with you. Tina has really been an asset to the company."
The conversation was at least interesting, if not stimulating during dinner. It seemed like everyone there was trying to out brag everyone else, but I guess that's what reunions are for. I don't think anyone managed to top Tina.
After dinner there was dancing. Ruth and I had taken dancing lessons a few years before so, even though I was rusty, I wasn't afraid I was going to make a fool of myself. As soon as they started a nice song I knew I could dance to I asked Tina if she'd do me the honor.
I don't think Tina had ever had a dance lesson, but she followed my lead like she had been dancing all of her life. We glided around the floor and we certainly got a lot of attention. "Ed, did you mean what you said about me being an asset to the company?" Tina asked.
"I most certainly did," I told her. "I also meant what I said about you being Regional Sales Manager."
"What? You can't be serious, Ed."