"Did you hear that Jason Benson is going to be in town for the Fourth?" asked my friend, Jeff. "It was short notice, but the town fathers decided to make him the grand marshal of the parade. They figured Mayor Kane did it last year and he'll probably do it again next year. What's more American than a war hero in your town's Independence Day parade?"
"No, Jeff, I hadn't heard that," I replied quietly. "He must be pretty high up the military ladder by now. He was a captain years ago."
"He's a colonel and in line to climb even higher pretty soon," agreed Jeff. "He was wounded in Baghdad a year ago and has all kinds of medals and citations. He'll be running the Pentagon before he's done!"
I mulled Jeff's news over for a minute. Jason Benson had been our town's version of Jack Armstrong, All American Boy. He played quarterback on the high school football team and shortstop in baseball. He made all-state in both. He graduated first in his class and had division I universities competing for his attendance at their institutions. He received an appointment to West Point and graduated near the top of that class there, as well as played football and baseball.
This was all very good, for him. He was an accomplished, extremely capable athlete, soldier, and citizen. I had to concede that. He was many things that I wasn't. Normally, it wouldn't have mattered very much to me. If it had been anyone else, I would have been truly happy for his success.
You've probably guessed my problem. He dated Sarah, who was now my wife, while they were in high school. Back then, everyone seemed to feel that Sarah was his perfect match. She had also been an amazing athlete, salutatorian in her class, coming in just behind Jason, and the most beautiful girl Williamsport had ever seen. Somehow, they separated after Jason left for West Point and Sarah for Temple. They never got back together.
I was two years ahead of them in school. I wasn't the class genius, but I did okay. I majored in engineering at a state school. As computers became more a part of every day life, I gravitated to software programming. I worked for a few companies before I got up the nerve to start my own.
I still haven't figured out exactly how I conned Sarah into marrying me, but I did. That was the single greatest accomplishment of my life, or at least the best I ever managed on my own. Our two daughters were a joint effort and the source of tremendous pride for us both.
Sarah never spoke much about Jason. She knew I wasn't comfortable with that part of her life. Invariably, well meaning people in the community would bring his name up from time to time. I always marveled that these people seemed to think I should admire and idolize Jason and admit how great he and Sarah would have been together. It was like I had no feelings, or worth, when Jason was discussed. No one seemed to have any doubts that Sarah would have been far better off if she had only managed to hang on to Jason.
To their credit, Sarah's parents never suggested anything remotely close to that scenario. I had even seen Sarah's mother become quite annoyed at a family picnic years ago when a cousin implied that Sarah should have married Jason.
"Only a fool would say something so hurtful and ignorant!" she admonished the stunned cousin in front of a suddenly silent gathering. "If you had any idea what a wonderful husband and father Greg is, you'd never make such a stupid statement!"
Sarah had smiled at her mom's sudden outburst and squeezed my hand under the picnic table. Sarah always treated me with love and respect and never acknowledged any suggestion that I wasn't the best possible husband she could have found. So, what was my problem? It was the long shadow of Jason Benson, hero and all around great guy. It seemed like I was always compared to him and found wanting, both in my mind, and the minds of the madding crowd.
My conversation with Jeff ended when my daughter, April, stole the basketball from the other team's guard and outran everyone for an easy lay-up. My daughters both played basketball in a summer league. April was sneaky fast and aggressive as hell. The girls handling the ball on the other team really hated to play against her. I had only seen one girl that could dribble a basketball past her without having it stolen, and that was my older daughter, June.
June was long legged and moved with an easy grace that made her appear to be letting up when she played. She was going to Temple in the fall with a scholarship in volleyball. It could have been basketball, but she just preferred volleyball. April was going into her junior year and was the main cog in the basketball team that hoped to win districts and try for states.
I never tired of watching my daughters play sports. They were good at whatever sport they played. They always gave it all they had. That is how competitive sports are intended to be played. Combined with the speed and athleticism they had inherited from Sarah, they were simply the best. June had recently graduated top in her class. That had really helped the Temple coaches decide to award her a scholarship. April was in a three-way battle for top honors in her class.
I climbed out of the bleachers as they game ended. The girls were shaking hands with, and hugging, their opponents. I waited for them before I made my way to the parking lot.
"Pretty good game, wasn't it, Dad?" grinned June. "April wouldn't even let them get the ball past half court. The coach finally asked her to give their guards a break and back off a little."
"Yeah, she sounded like you, Dad. She said that we were playing for fun, as well as to win. She didn't want us to ruin the other team's morale by crushing them too badly," chuckled April. "June pretty much stopped shooting after the first half to give them a chance to get in the game, and she was still the high scorer."
"Well girls, the summer league is supposed to be a good time for all the kids. When we started it, we discussed what the goals were going to be and we decided to promote sportsmanship and team play," I recalled. "Coach Simons did an excellent job tonight."
"You're always trying to make everyone happy, Dad, except when you're playing against us in the driveway. You've never let up on April or me when we play at home," observed June.
"That's because you two are mentally and physically tough. I wanted you to learn to never give up and play as hard as you can. In league games at school, no one takes it easy on you, do they?" I asked. "You have to know what type of competition you're in and play accordingly. Do you think I'd do as well in business if I didn't let my clients win at golf most of the time?"
"That's a tough one, Dad! It probably does help that you lose to your clients, but June can whip your butt in golf. I don't think you're letting them win," laughed April. "You're not the world's best golfer."
"Regardless, young lady," I admonished April; "I know enough to look like I'm trying as hard as I can and I'm gracious when I lose. That's the secret to winning at business while on the golf course."
"It's a good thing you explained that to June, Dad, because she'd be kicking butt and losing business all over the place. She does the opposite from you. She looks like she isn't even trying and plays great," boasted April about her sister. "She needs to watch you closer so she can learn some of your techniques, liking slicing all the time."
We were pulling in the driveway so I didn't bother trying to frame a suitable response. I had always been able to coach and teach the kids in sports better than I ever actually played them. Sarah was the natural athlete and the girls inherited it from her. I was the one that had to learn every trick of any game to even try to compete.
Sarah drove in right behind us. The girls started in telling her all about their day and how their game went. As I followed them into the house, I shook my head in amazement. How did I manage to have three such incredible women in my life?
Sarah was the top honcho at the local hotel and convention center, which was part of a major chain. She had started there after she graduated with a degree in hotel management. Her parents wanted her to be a lawyer, but Sarah knew what she wanted and she went for it. Like everything else she tried, she was very good at it. Two years ago she had reached the top and had even turned down a promotion recently that would have required moving to Kansas.
"Was anything special going on today, Sarah?" I asked. "You looked a little more dressed up than usual, and you had to stay late. Are the corporate big boys in town for the holiday?"
"No, but you certainly are observant, Greg," admitted Sarah. "The day after tomorrow is the Fourth and we always sponsor the grand marshal's float, as you know. This year the paper wanted to get some pictures to print before the parade."
Why did I suddenly get a queasy stomach? I realized that it was what Sarah didn't say that gave me cause to worry.
"Was our golden boy and war hero there for the pictures, Sarah? You seemed to have forgotten to mention that he was going to be in town, as well as be the grand marshal at the parade. Any chance he'll be in the pictures with you?" I probed.
Sarah played with her hands and looked to see if the girls were in the room. She seldom showed any nerves so this caught my attention.
"Jason was there, Greg. Our hotel has donated a suite for the use of our local military hero. It's just good public relations. His parents moved away from Williamsport a few years ago. He had no place to stay. We decided to donate a suite to a local man that had been wounded in service to our country and is serving as grand marshal at the Fourth of July parade," reasoned Sarah as her voice rose slightly. "It's just good business and there's no reason to get all worked up about it."
"Then why are you getting worked up?" I responded immediately.
"I'm not! Well, maybe I am a little," conceded Sarah. "It's just that we have always tried to avoid the subject of Jason. I know how you feel about our dating back in school, and how annoying it is when people, even after all these years, keep throwing his name at you, and me. This is strictly business, Greg. You are my husband and the only man I love, or have ever loved. You need to believe that."
"It's sure good to hear you say it, Sarah, and I want to believe you. The question that comes to mind is this. Why did you feel it necessary to keep the information about Jason's return from me?"
"I just told you that I know it's a sore subject and I didn't want you to worry, or get upset," reasoned Sarah. "He simply doesn't mean anything to me."
"In that case, there should be no reason for me to be upset and certainly no reason for you to keep any information from me, is there?" I asked.
"Well, no, there really isn't, Greg. I'm so glad we have this out in the open and are discussing it. It seems like the specter of Jason has hung over us ever since we were married."
"Or longer," I added. "So, do you have any more activities scheduled that include the General?"
"Colonel Benson will be the grand marshal at the parade and then feted at an informal affair at the hotel on the following day," confessed Sarah. "There will be some snacks and beverages provided by the hotel and folks will have the opportunity to fawn over him."
"Can I assume that you will be the hostess of this fawning?" I asked.
"Yes, Greg, I am the fawn overseer. That is part of my job. If someone is going to reap goodwill and press from this, it had damn well better be me," asserted Sarah. "Do you have a problem with it?"
"I don't see that it would matter, Sarah. The die is cast and the plans are made. I wasn't privy to them, but I'll survive, as long as what you tell me is true. He means nothing to you, right? You won't get all doe-eyed at the fawning?"
Sarah was showing the telltale signs of being annoyed at my statement until she caught my little pun. Then she broke into a grin and hugged me.
"Greg, I love you so much! You're the only buck that ever attracts this doe's eyes, or any other body parts," she laughed.
"I hope that applies for everything of yours that comes in pairs and not just your eyes, Sarah, and as well as anything that may be one of a kind," I smiled.
"You know that's all I have, Baby," cooed Sarah. "It's all one of a kind and it's all yours!"
As we passed through the living room, we explained to the girls that we were both too tired to eat and were going to bed. They would have to get by on eating what was leftover from yesterday's roast beef.
"Too tired?" laughed June. "Then we'd better not hear any noises coming from your room! Last time you guys were this tired, you kept us up half the night!"
"Oh dear!" blushed Sarah as I closed our bedroom door. "Maybe we'd better wait until the girls are asleep. We don't want them to think we're doing it."
"They already know we're "doing it" as you put it, Sarah," I pointed out as I freed her breasts from her low top and began to nibble on them. They think we're in love."
"Well, as long as we don't mislead them," sighed Sarah as she worked on my shirt buttons. "Just don't make me moan so loud this time!"
The next evening I casually asked Sarah how her day went as she was making dinner. She knew that I was really asking about Jason and if anything happened between them.
"It went well, Greg. Jason is even more dynamic and forceful than he was in high school. I guess being an officer and going to war has sharpened his natural leadership skills," replied Sarah.
"Sarah, let's get something straight right now," I quickly responded. "When I told you that I expected you to be open and honest about Jason, I sure as hell didn't mean for you to tell me what an incredible guy he is! I want honest opinions about what a pompous ass he is and how glad you are that you married me. That's the kind of honesty I'm looking for here."
"Greg, the guy may be an army ranger and a war hero, all tanned and lean and tougher than an old hunk of rawhide, but he can't compare to you!"
"That's more like it. Tell me more," I prompted.
"Sure, Jason had to take a call from the President of the United States this afternoon, congratulating him and thanking him for his meritorious service, but you served as vice president of the Elks Club two years ago. Jason isn't even a member!" stated Sarah with a straight face.
"It figures," I nodded. "The damn guy probably thinks he's too good for the Elks. He'll certainly never attain the status of treasurer of the soccer club, either. What a freakin' loser!"
"Exactly what I was thinking, Dear," agreed Sarah. "He'll probably botch up his interview on Fox News after the parade tomorrow, too. The book he's working on will be dull as hell. There's a real good chance he won't make general before he's fifty."
"That's what I'm talking about!" I almost shouted. "The damn pussy probably hasn't ever changed a diaper in his entire life, either. That's the real acid test. Medals should be awarded for that! Anybody can take a bullet in the ass."
"I have to admit it, Greg. It does help when we speak the truth and discuss everything like adults," laughed Sarah. "No guy can compare to the guy I have!"
"Don't you forget it either," I warned. "If you want to be there when my troops surge, you'd better play your cards right. My plans for their deployment can be changed right up to the last second."
"Those troops had better not surge prematurely or they'll be bivouacked out in the cold, Buster, and so will their reinforcements," retorted Sarah. "You'll know when it's safe to deploy the whole brigade. I'll decide where and when that surge will occur."
"You always get to decide," I whined. "Why can't I be the one to determine where my troops get stationed?"
"Oh, you can, Dear," countered Sarah. "You decide if you want them in a tissue, or someplace of my choosing, but more to the little guys' liking. You've demonstrated over the years that I can't trust you to make that decision. If I turn my back on you for a second you're trying to deploy them where no man has gone before."
"It's just that the troops want to explore that final frontier, Sarah. They're courageous little soldiers and they're willing to travel anywhere in the universe, including black holes," I suggested with a smile.
"Believe me when I tell you that anything that enters that black hole will never survive, Greg. It will simply cease to exist. It would be the end of your army, as well as the rocket in which they travel," cautioned Sarah.
"Okay, Sarah. I understand," I conceded. "It's just human nature that when they can travel anywhere in the solar system except Uranus, that's where they want to go."
"Sweetheart, be damn glad that Venus is available for them. That's a planet any normal man would love to visit and it's really under explored and under-utilized. I don't think your guys would be too happy to be banned from there, or to arrive and find other troops already in control," warned Sarah with a wicked grin.
I grabbed Sarah and brought her against my chest and held her tight. When she raised her head up to look at me, I placed my lips over hers and pressed them down firmly. Sarah was responding and her mouth began to open slightly to allow me access.
"Why don't you two get a room!" groaned April as she wandered into the room. "This is the kitchen, where my food is prepared."