A House Divided
Copyright© 2007 by Coaster2
Sex Story: Chapter 1 - When the wife of a successful businessman is offered a promotion that means moving to another city, big decisions force them to examine their lives.
I don't want to hear what I don't want to hear!
I remember the day that it all started to come apart. My wife, Jo, had come home earlier than usual and she had a look of excitement about her that I hadn't seen before. She virtually bounced into the house, coming in from the garage, through the laundry room and into the kitchen; our normal family meeting room at almost any time of the day. I was standing by the refrigerator having just extracted a beer when she arrived, wrapping her arms around me, and giving me a big kiss and a strong squeeze.
"Guess what happened to me today?" she chirped.
"You won the lottery." I kidded.
"No, but almost as good." she gushed.
"Wow, what could it be?" I said with exaggerated curiosity.
"I have been offered a big promotion. I mean a really big promotion. You're talking to the next V.P. of Market Development... tah tah!" she cried with hands spread wide in a "look at me" gesture.
"That's great honey." I said sincerely. "You've earned it with all the hard work and long hours you've put in."
"Oh Mark, it means a huge salary with bonuses and even stock options. I've really hit the big time. God, it feels great." she enthused.
"Well." I said. "This calls for a celebration!" I went to the wine closet and took out a bottle of a very good Cabernet that I'd been saving for a special occasion. This clearly qualified. "When do you start?"
"Well, that's a bit complicated." Jo said with a less enthusiastic tone. "I haven't accepted the job yet. I have to give them an answer by next Monday." she explained.
"Well, it doesn't sound like that's a tough decision, Jo. What's the complication?" I asked, suddenly curious.
"Uh... the job is in Chicago." she said quietly.
"Oh... yah... that is a complication." I agreed.
"I've given it some thought, Mark. You can move your agency to Chicago and we can move there in a month or so." she said tentatively.
"When did you have time to give it some thought, Jo? On the way home this afternoon?" I'm sure she could detect the irritation in my voice.
"Oh, Mark. Be happy for me. This is huge. I'll be making more money than I ever dreamed of. I'll have a big staff and all kinds of perks."
"Jo, this is our home. We've lived here almost since we've been married. I've spent twenty plus years building my agency. Surely you remember those days. We worked our asses off to make a go of it. I can't just walk away from it." I must have sounded pleading or even a bit desperate. I had to make her see that it wasn't just as simple as pulling up stakes and heading off to Chicago.
"You can start a new agency in Chicago, honey. You've got lots of time to do that. What's even better, money won't be a problem. I'll be making more that enough to let you get it up and running." Now she was pleading.
"Jo, I think we need to discuss this more thoroughly. It's going to have a big effect on us. It isn't as simple as just picking up and leaving Minneapolis. This is our home. This is where we grew up. This is where our kids were born. It just isn't that simple."
"I have to give them a decision by Monday. That gives you five days to make up your mind, Mark." She was using a tone of voice that I didn't like very much. It was more like I was being an obstacle to her ambition and I had better get out of the way.
I didn't say anything for a few moments; taking a couple of pulls on my near empty beer as I thought about the implications of this conversation. My wife Joanne was being given an enormous opportunity for advancement. She had only gone back to work six years ago when our daughter was firmly ensconced in school at age nine. She had risen rapidly in the local office and was earning almost as much annually as my insurance agency was generating for me. We had no money worries at all. We had paid off the mortgage, had a substantial college fund for our two children and we were able to take wonderful vacations. In short, we had what I would have described as the perfect life.
Jo and I were still sexually active. We were in our mid forties, but both of us had maintained a reasonable level of fitness and to be honest, Jo was still a very attractive woman as I was constantly reminded when we were out with other people. We had, I thought, a great marriage and it went without saying that I thought each of us was deeply in love with the other. Jo's last remark about her decision and my need to make up my mind hit me like a punch to the solar plexus.
"Jo, don't you have it backwards?" I replied carefully. "This isn't my decision, it's yours. I wasn't offered the job, you were."
"Fine." she said abruptly. "I've decided to accept the job."
There was a long silence in the kitchen. Finally, I said: "Do you care what I think?"
"Of course I do. You're my husband. We always make decisions together..." Her voice had trailed off as she realized what she had said.
"Jo, my agency isn't portable. It's based on referral business and my twenty years of associations and relationships in this town. That's not something I can just put in a briefcase and take to Chicago. It would mean having to start all over again. Do you remember how hard that was?" I asked seriously.
"Yes, I remember. But you don't have to do that anymore. You don't even have to work if you don't want to. My salary will look after us all with no loss in family income." She had convinced herself that my business was not an obstacle. "You can sell your agency. You can do something else. You don't have to sell insurance for the rest of your life."
"Did it ever occur to you that I like what I do? Have you forgotten that all that work in past was rewarded with loyal clients and many good friends. Are they that easy to dismiss?"
"Don't start laying a guilt trip on me, Mark." She had raised her voice for the first time. I could tell she was getting frustrated that I wasn't going along with her grand plan as easily as she had hoped. "I'm going to go have a shower. I suggest we go out to dinner tonight. I don't feel like cooking." With that she turned and, I want to say, almost stomped out of the kitchen.
I needed time to think. She didn't have to give them an answer until Monday, but it was now becoming clear she had already made up her mind. My mind was reeling. I couldn't come to terms with what the implications for our family, our marriage, our life together might be. This was a bigger crisis than I had ever faced before. I really didn't know what to do. I really needed time to think.
I had been an aimless youth when I enrolled as a freshman at the University of Minnesota, but somewhere along the line I had been bitten by the Business Administration bug and by the second year, I knew what I wanted to study. I was also a virgin when I graduated from High School; not something I was likely to brag about. I lost my virgin status that first year at U.M. with a somewhat plain young lady who had chosen me at a social mixer and had decided that she badly needed sex that particular evening. She was not a virgin, although I wouldn't have known the difference. She had earlier consumed copious amounts of punch and somehow had selected me to be her personal erection of the evening. She dragged me to her aging automobile (I suspect this truly was her father's Oldsmobile) and we consummated our brief romance in the back seat. It was done and over with in a matter of a couple of minutes and she promptly fell asleep. I did the gentlemanly thing and rearranged her clothes, laid her in a more comfortable position and left, locking the doors behind me. I have no recollection of her name whatsoever. And such was my introduction to Sex at the University; Chapter One.
During the next four years, I was considerably more socially active. I found my studies to be largely unchallenging and I had no trouble maintaining an acceptable grade in my courses. That left me a good deal of free time to take advantage of the social opportunities with the many attractive young females on campus. I took this responsibility quite seriously and had a very happy and comprehensive sex education during that period.
I met Joanne Thorlakson shortly after I had graduated from the University of Minnesota. My hometown was Eden Prairie and she was from nearby Apple Valley, a few miles to the south-east. Both were smaller, more countrified suburbs of Minneapolis and the experience of going to University in the big city was both enlightening and, for me, somewhat intimidating. Joanne was pure Nordic beauty; flaxen haired blonde, cornflower blue eyes, lightly freckled fair complexion and a sturdy, if not voluptuous 5 foot 7 inch frame. To me, she was dazzling and I set about capturing her from the moment I first saw her.
I was a junior clerk at a national insurance agency in Bloomington, barely a year into my first job and she worked as a secretary in an office building just down the street. I first saw her in the small diner I frequented at lunch as well as on the occasional coffee break and I knew I wanted to meet her. When I saw her alone at a small table one morning, I sucked up my courage and walked over and said hello and introduced myself. She had one of those killer smiles that can reduce a guy to silly putty in half a second and I must have sounded like a compete idiot for a few seconds until I recovered from our first encounter. The girl obviously either didn't notice or didn't care and within a few minutes we were chatting away about our hometowns and school experiences and our jobs. I learned that she ate lunch a half hour after I did, so I arranged to switch with another junior to get a later lunch. We seemed to hit if off and when I asked her for a date, she readily agreed and thus began my courtship of my future wife.
It didn't happen quite that quickly, mind you. The salary of a junior in the insurance agency was pitiful and it wasn't until I had a territory and was earning some commissions as a sales representative that I was able to feel somewhat financially secure. I discovered I liked selling insurance. Yes, I know, somebody has to like it or no one would do it; but somehow, I enjoyed the job and as a result, I did quite well. As my career progressed, so did my relationship with Joanne. We had been 'going steady' for a couple of years and had finally progressed to where we were having sex once in a while. For a guy who had feasted on a steady diet during my college years, the past three years had been a massive drought! Joanne was very innocent and yet willing and our sex life progressed through the usual back seat stages to more adventuresome weekends at my tiny bed-sitting room. I never had the sense that she wanted to date anyone else and despite the fact that I had virtually given up sexual relations in order to be with her, I didn't even consider dating anyone else. It seemed we were destined to be together.
At the end of my second year of sales I received a very nice bonus for hitting all my targets and exceeding a few as well. I sucked up my courage, bought a ring and asked Joanna to marry me. I was delighted when she said yes without a second's hesitation. I was 26 years old and she a year younger. I was on top of the world and I knew it could only get better and I was right. Within two years we had saved enough money for a down payment on a lovely older home in Eden Prairie and we set about fixing it up in our spare time and on the weekends. Both of us continued to work until a year later when Jo became pregnant with our first child. Our son, Peter, was born the day before our fourth anniversary and our daughter Lindsay, two and a half years later. My career continued to progress steadily and Jo was able to quit her job and be home with the children. We were living the American Dream; a house in the suburbs, two kids, two cars; we had it all.
When Peter entered Junior High School, Jo said she wanted to go back to work; specifically to work in an advertising agency that was setting up a branch office in Bloomington. She had studied Advertising, Marketing and Promotion in Junior College and there was a junior position available to her. We discussed the work roles around the household and it was agreed that with some changes in our routine, Jo would try this new career. She was just approaching her fortieth birthday and she was, in my opinion, even more beautiful than when I married her. She had kept herself in shape with exercise and discipline and with her renewed self confidence, I was sure she could succeed in this new venture, and of course, I was right. She more than succeeded; she rocketed to the top of her group in the Bloomington office and several times was offered a transfer to a larger office. She turned them all down, stating her commitment to the family as the reason. In the meantime, my clientele had matured and my income began to stabilize. I was earning more than we needed to live on and with Jo's salary, we had been able to fix up the old house to an almost fully restored state, put money away for the kids' education and live very comfortably. And then, Jo decided to go for the big brass ring!
The kids took a pass on going out to dinner that night and I was just as happy. Pete had a baseball game and Lindsay was happy with a small frozen pizza and a salad. I was hoping that Jo and I could avoid the topic of her promotion, but I guessed that it was too heavy a subject to ignore. I was not looking forward to this dinner. I went upstairs to our bedroom to shower and change. Jo was sitting on the bed putting in her earrings and looked spectacular as always.
"Where would you like to go tonight?" I asked in the brightest tone I could muster.
"I don't know. You choose. Just so long as it isn't noisy." she said in a somewhat snappish voice.
"How about La Trattoria? It's usually pretty quiet on a weeknight and the foods always great."
"Fine." End of conversation.
I undressed to my shorts and went into the ensuite, closing the door quietly behind me. The mood in the bedroom wasn't very celebratory and I suspected that dinner might be more of the same. Jo had decided to sulk; something I hadn't seen her do in a long time. I spent a little extra time in the shower to try and get a grip on my emotions and see if I couldn't find a way out of this mess. Unfortunately, no fresh inspiration came my way. I toweled off and dressed in slacks and a collared shirt with sport jacket and headed downstairs. I hadn't bothered with a reservation since it wouldn't be busy at 6:30 on a Wednesday evening.
We drove to the restaurant in silence and I had a feeling of dread creeping up on me. The only way to get past this was to have Jo talk it out. Let her see if she could put a plan together that wouldn't tear the family structure apart. I was remembering a management course my company had sent me on many years ago and the main lesson I took from it was not to take on someone else's burden. If it's their monkey on their back, they should deal with it. Right now, that's how I felt about Jo's promotion.
We were seated immediately and I ordered our usual two Manhattans, straight up. Jo still hadn't said anything and was now avoiding eye contact with me. I waited until the cocktails arrived and I raised my glass toward her:
"Well, congratulations again, Jo." I said it with a smile, hoping I'd get a response.
She looked at me for a moment and raised her glass to mine. "Thanks."
I waited a few more moments in silence before I knew I had to beard the lion.
"You don't seem very happy. Are you sure you want to be here?" I asked
She stared at me before answering. "You didn't exactly jump for joy over this announcement, did you?"
"No, I guess I didn't. I wasn't prepared for it for one thing. I don't think you were either. I don't think you've had time to think through what this means to all of us. You've had a massive surprise boost to your ego and you've been overwhelmed. I'm guessing that when you've had time to absorb it all, you'll see some of the things that I see." I had spoken in an even and quiet tone.
Jo stared vacantly at her cocktail glass and seemed lost in thought. "It seems pretty simple to me, Mark. I've been offered an important job and you don't want me to take it."
"Jo, don't put words in my mouth. All I asked you to do was to think about the affect that this move would have on all of us. It isn't as simple as just pulling up stakes and moving." I tried desperately to keep my voice even and rational.
"I want you to do the same thing, Mark." she said forcefully. "I want you to try and find a way to make this work for me. It's that important."
Thump! There it was, the monkey was on my back.
"And if I can't?" I asked.
"I don't know. I'll have to think about what that means for us."
"Are you suggesting that you'd sacrifice our marriage for this?" I asked incredulously.
"Mark, I'm not hungry. I want to go home. This was a bad idea. I'm not in the mood and this isn't a celebration."
I put a twenty dollar bill on the table and we left quietly. The drive home was as silent as the drive to the restaurant and when we got there Jo went directly to our bedroom and closed the door.
Lindsay had witnessed our arrival and looked at me curiously.
"What's wrong with mom?"
"She a bit upset right now, princess. She had a big surprise at work today."
"What kind of surprise?" she asked innocently.
"Well, they offered her a new job but it's in another city. It's complicated. We'll talk about it tomorrow, OK?" I tried to keep my tone nonchalant and not raise any alarm with our daughter.
When Jo didn't reappear by nine, I went upstairs and carefully opened the bedroom door. She was lying on the bed facing away from me and seemingly asleep. She was still fully dressed from our abortive restaurant trip. I went back downstairs to the kitchen and made myself a sandwich and washed it down with a beer. No matter what I did, I couldn't shake the deep sense of foreboding I was feeling about this whole issue. I had to hope that Jo would be more rested and willing to talk tomorrow. I had no idea if she was planning to go to work, but if she didn't, I would stay home as well and we could begin to work on a solution for our dilemma.
I slept in the guest room, assuming Jo would be more comfortable by herself. I rose at my usual hour of seven after a fitful night's sleep. Jo was already in the kitchen, dressed in her work outfit. I poured a coffee.
"You're obviously going to work today." I said.
"Yes, I've got a lot to do. A lot of things have to be taken care of before..."
"Yes, I'm sure you do. Am I to assume that we have nothing more to discuss?"
"Don't be snarky with me, Mark!" she snapped.
"Well, I can see a night's sleep hasn't tempered your opinion of me." I shot back.
"I'm... sorry. I shouldn't have... I didn't sleep very well." she said not looking at me. "We'll talk when I get home tonight. Maybe my head will be a little clearer then." she offered.
"Sure. That'll be fine. Don't you think we need to sit down with the kids and talk to them about this as well?"
"I think we need to get the big stuff out of the way before we can deal with them, Mark. I don't mean they're not important, I just mean... oh, hell, I don't know what I mean." She finished her coffee, gave me a peck on the cheek and walked to the garage without another word.
She was clearly stressed out very badly over this. I was beginning to get the impression that only now were the implications of her decision starting to dawn on her. If I needed time to think, she needed it too. I just hoped she wouldn't make any rash decisions before she had that chance.
As I lay in bed last night, I realized I needed a fresh pair of eyes to help me with this problem. Someone whose judgment I trusted, someone who was a good listener and most importantly, someone who wasn't too close to us to have previously formed opinions. That someone might be Dave Wainwright. Dave was the area supervisor for one of the insurance companies that I represented. They were specializing in industrial technology insurance and they were pioneers in the field. I had known Dave for just over three years, but in that time we had become good friends and I really enjoyed his common sense approach. He had only met Joanna once and that was at a social gathering I had organized for my top clients and my suppliers. I hoped Dave would be available to give me some of that common sense guidance.
As luck would have it, Dave was out of town, but due back tomorrow, Friday afternoon. I left a message on his phone to call me and I hoped I would hear from him before it was too late. I had boiled down my real alternatives to two: Don't go and risk dissolving the marriage or go, knowing that it would mean the end of my business and the loss of our lovely home. I had no illusions about selling the business. I would have to virtually shepherd a new owner through the client and supplier list and make sure they would be able to convert my customers to their agency. There was no guarantee that they would be successful at this conversion. I would have to choose a potential buyer very carefully. The value of the business was my client list. How would someone else view that value? My only equity was my reputation. That was not for sale.
I realized I had to think first and foremost about my marriage and our children. While I viewed Jo's decision as selfish; it might be said that I was also being selfish if I refused to support her just to protect my status quo. It didn't matter what I did, somewhere along the line there was going to be some hurt. I finished my coffee and headed for the garage and off to work.
I didn't concentrate very well that particular Thursday. I was unable to shake the two doomsday scenarios from my mind. Go or Stay. Stay or Go. I spent a bit of time looking for an unsolicited letter of interest I had received a couple of years ago. One of the big boys was sniffing around, suggesting they might be interested in buying me out. I had no interest at the time, but it wouldn't hurt to remind myself who they were and take note of the contact. It took me an hour or so, but I finally found it. I put it in my briefcase and tried to get back to my daily routine. By three that afternoon, I gave up; put the phone on call-forward and headed home.
Jo arrived just before six; pretty much her normal time. She seemed in a better mood and I was hoping that we could have a more rational discussion after dinner. I couldn't see any more options than the two I had already identified. Both Pete and Lindsay were home tonight, so if we wanted to let them in on what was going on, this would be the night. Friday was baseball for Pete and Lindsay usually hung out with her friends on Friday until curfew at ten. Saturday was no better and leaving it until Sunday was pushing things to the limit.
"How was your day?" I asked.
"Busy. Too much to do in too short a time. How about you?"
"Not very productive. I was pretty distracted. I left early and came home."
She looked at me, probably wondering what I was thinking. "We should talk after dinner." she said.
"I agree. I also think we need to tell the kids what's going on. They are going to be out tomorrow and you know what Saturday is like. Sunday would be leaving it very late."
"OK. We can at least fill them in on the basics." she said a bit more positively.
Our evening meal was a lot more sociable than the previous night's and the kids kept the conversation light and moving.
"Family meeting after dishes tonight, gang." Jo announced.
Pete and Lindsay looked up with questioning glances at their mother and then me.
"What's up?" Pete asked.
"We'll talk about it then." Jo said firmly. She didn't leave room for further discussion.
Shortly after the dishes were washed and put away, I rounded up Pete and Lindsay and we all met in the kitchen. It was our traditional place for 'family meetings', although I don't think we'd ever had one with the implications of this one.
'Your meeting, mother." I said.
Jo looked at me and turned toward our children. "I have been offered a very important job with the agency. I will be a Vice President of Market Development for the whole corporation. It's something I didn't expect and I have to give the company an answer on Monday morning."
"Wow, that sounds great mom." Pete enthused. "When do you start?"
"Right away, but... there's a catch. I... I mean... we would have to move to Chicago." she said uncertainly.
Lindsay's eyes opened wide. "You mean we'd have to move? Oh no, I can't. I don't want to. Do I have to go too?" she asked in a plaintive voice.
"Of course you would. Don't be silly. Lots of people move to different cities." Jo was being dismissive of Lindsay's concerns. I thought it was time to temper the conversation.
"Well, obviously, we wouldn't be moving until the school year was done at the earliest." I offered.
"Are you just going to go and leave us mom?" Lindsay asked, tears beginning to form.
"Of course not.! I'll be home on the weekends until you finish school and we can find a new home." she said abruptly.
"Are you going to be around for my graduation?" Pete asked, not looking at his mother.
"What kind of a question is that?" she spat. "Of course I will!"
"I guess that means I won't be going to U. of M. then." Pete said sadly, looking at me.
"Don't get too far ahead of yourself, Pete. We can discuss these kinds of things as time goes on. Nothing is written in stone yet." I said quietly in what I hoped was a conciliatory voice.
"Your father's right. None of that is important right this minute. There are other more important things to consider." she said offhandedly.
"Like what." Pete snapped.
"Like what happens to your father's business. Like selling this house. Like finding a new house. Like that!" She had increased her volume and shortened her temper all at the same time.
"Let's all take a breather." I suggested. "This is a stressful situation and I know it's going to be hard on everyone. It can't be helped." I had hoped this would diffuse some of the building hostility I could feel in the room. I walked to the fridge and pulled out the water jug. "Anyone want some water?" No answer. I poured myself a glass and returned to the table.
"Look, we can't know all the answers tonight. There's a lot to be decided yet and we'll need time to sort it all out. We just wanted you to know that your mother has been given an amazing offer of promotion and that means changes for us no matter what. Don't go getting all knotted up over it just yet, OK?" It was my best effort toward diluting the tension.
"Your father's right. Let's just sleep on it and see what happens next." Jo said more optimistically.
The meeting adjourned but I wasn't sure our son and daughter were very convinced that everything was going to be OK. The rest of the evening went more normally. Jo and I watched a bit of TV until our regular bedtime and we went through our normal routine preparing for bed.
As we lay beside each other in the dark, I knew neither of us would be asleep anytime soon. The turmoil and tension had returned from the previous day and I knew we would have to talk about it. Surprisingly, it was Jo who opened up.
"You handled the meeting really well, Mark. Thank you. I was close to losing it for a minute." she confessed.
"They're scared, Jo. They don't know what to expect and it's all a surprise. They haven't had any time to absorb it." I explained. "Unfortunately, neither have we." I continued.
"I know. I can't think of how to make this work for both of us. They haven't given me any time to try and work out a solution." She was speaking quietly and I could hear the concern in her voice. "I'm afraid Mark."
"Of what, Jo?"
"Of us... our marriage." She was close to tears. "This isn't going to be easy no matter what we decide."
"What would happen to your career if you turned down the promotion?" I asked
"Nothing, I guess. We'd just go on as before." There was a silence for a moment. "Are you asking me to turn this job down?"
"I wouldn't do that to you, Jo. It's your decision. I just want to make sure you think about all the consequences that come from this decision, no matter what you decide."
"There aren't any consequences if I turn it down." she said softly.
"Yes there are. You'd be disappointed and you'd always wonder 'what if'."
"Why did you ask me then?" she asked, her head turning toward me.
"I wanted you to understand that no matter what, there are always after effects. They can't be avoided."
"I suppose." she sighed wearily.
"I left a message for a friend of mine; you might remember him; Dave Wainwright." There was no response from Jo. "He's always someone I can count on for common sense advice. Maybe he can see something I can't that will help us out of this problem."
"When do you expect to talk to him?" she asked unenthusiastically.
"Maybe tomorrow night or Saturday."
We fell silent for a while. I knew she was wide awake, just as I was.
"I'm going to take the job, Mark. If you love me, you'll find a way to make it work." she said in a quiet level voice.
Kerblammo! The monkey on my back had just turned into a gorilla.
"I guess there isn't much more to be said then." I said sadly.
"Do you love me, Mark." she asked with what sounded like tears. "You know I love you."
"Of course I do. Why would you think anything else?"
She turned toward me and her arm pulled me toward her as she kissed me. There was a desperate sense about her implied passion and it was clear she wanted me to make love to her to prove... something. I loved her deeply and that would never change, no matter what she decided. I could only hope she truly loved me and was prepared for the future that would test that love to its breaking point.
We made love in a slow and almost sad way; as if we were already parting. I could feel and taste the tears she was shedding and I was close myself to joining her. When we had finished and we lay in each others arms, I had a sense that it would be a long time before we would share this intimacy again.
On Friday morning I was up a little earlier than Jo and I had awoken with the realization we had not discussed the move with our parents. Jo's parents still lived near Apple Valley and mine were still in Eden Prairie. They were used to seeing us on a regular basis and the thought of their only two grandchildren moving several hundred miles away would not be easy to accept. When Jo walked into the kitchen I suggested we each call our own parents and she readily agreed. She said she would phone her parents from her office today and I told her I would do the same with my folks.
I had slept better than I expected considering I now knew my fate. Jo was taking the job and it was my decision on how to handle this change. She had successfully shifted the responsibility onto my shoulders and there wasn't a thing I could do about it that wouldn't result in chaos. I truly loved her, so now it was up to me to find a way to live with this major change in our lives.
I phoned Mom and Dad just after ten Friday morning and broke the news to them. Dad immediately understood the implications of the decision and asked a number of direct questions about my business. I did my best to be optimistic to both of them, but I could tell they were hurt and disappointed. I doubted my father would tell my mother what it would mean to me in terms of my business. I had assured them we would be here at least until the end of the school year in June and then with the sale of the business and the house, probably some weeks if not months beyond that. I think they recognized it was delaying the inevitable, but Dad was somewhat less upset since he could drive to Chicago in a day; the distance was barely 400 miles.
Dave Wainwright phoned just after four and we agreed to meet for a beer at a local pub at five. I phoned home and left a message with Lindsay that I would be a few minutes late getting home for dinner. I hoped that Lindsay would remember to tell her mother. I met Dave at The Blarney Stone, an Irish Pub not far from his office and we each ordered a pint of Harp and sat in a small corner booth. It was a typical Friday afternoon and the place would soon be full and noisy. I told Dave of Jo's promotion and the way the decision had been dumped on my shoulders and waited for him to do his usual thing; ask pertinent questions. What I like about Dave is that he doesn't dance around the subject; he gets to the heart of the matter.
"Well, she's already decided to take the job. She probably decided that about one second after they offered it to her. So, given that you both swear you love each other and don't want to destroy the marriage, you need to do a couple of things. First and foremost, you need to sell the business. That's going to be the most time consuming and stressful action. Secondly, you need to help Pete decide which college he wants to go to. Third, you need to find time to get to Chicago and help Jo find a place to live. My guess is that she is going to be more than very busy with the new job and she isn't going to have a lot of time to work on finding a home. You're also going to have to find someone to look after the kids while you are away. Maybe your parents can help temporarily. They aren't little kids so it won't be so demanding on the grandparents."
As usual, Dave had summarized the situation in simple terms and stated the obvious. I knew all the things he had pointed out, but he at least confirmed I hadn't missed anything. Well, almost nothing.
"I also have to sell the house and that's going to hurt the most. We put our heart and soul into that place and I don't know how I'm going to find anything like it anywhere." I said sorrowfully.
"Maybe not. Why don't you keep it. You don't owe any money on it and you could rent it out to a responsible family and it would still be yours." Dave said looking at me thoughtfully.
"Hmmm... that might work. It would provide some income that would pay the taxes and upkeep plus a bit more. It would still be in the family, but god knows when we'd ever live there again." I said.
"You never know, Mark. This job Jo's taking isn't going to be a piece of cake. She's working for a public company and they are going to be under pressure to grow both the top line and the bottom line. Her job is to find new markets for growth and the competition in her field is fierce; it isn't going to be easy. They're a national company and that means they're going to be looking for business everywhere and that means travel. People in those jobs often burn out just from the stress and the promises that other people make to the shareholders that she'll end up having to keep. She may find this job isn't what she thinks it is."
I looked at Dave and saw that he was serious. If it didn't work out for Jo, we would need a place to live and the house would still be ours. But I also knew that if his description of her likely responsibilities were right, we would be seeing little of her for some months. I could only hope the worst of it would be over by the time we got to Chicago.
"I don't think I'll say anything about not selling the house to Jo, Dave. She might interpret that as a lack of faith or maybe that I didn't expect the marriage to work or something like that."
"I think that's wise, Mark. You've got lots of time to assess what's happening before you have to finalize that decision."
"Well, as usual, you've been a big help. I didn't miss anything except not selling the house and that's a super suggestion. I really appreciate your lending me some time, Dave."
"You're going to be missed around here Mark. There's a hell of a lot of people who don't know anyone else to call in your business besides you. That's going to be hard to give up."
"Thanks for cheering me up, Dave!" I laughed.
"No problem." he laughed back at me.
We finished our beers, shook hands and headed off to our homes in the usual Friday night rush hour traffic.
Our weekend was more or less typical. The kids had lots to do on Saturday and I had my usual collection of repairs, maintenance and errands to look after. The lawn was cut by Pete, but the rest was up to me. Jo had called her parents on Friday morning and they were quite upset that she would be moving. Despite the fact that it was only a few hundred miles, they felt like it was a long way away and they wouldn't see us very much any more. I didn't suggest to Jo that they were probably right. She had recovered her usual pleasant disposition since she finally admitted her decision to me. For my part, I had decided that the best time for us to discuss these issues was in bed. I had resigned myself to my course of action. I would begin almost immediately to seek a buyer for the business. Tonight, Jo and I could discuss Pete's plans for college. I knew he had his heart set on U. of M. and I didn't see why he shouldn't enroll there. He would have to live on campus, but we had the financial wherewithal to make that happen and Pete was responsible young man. We trusted him and being away from home at school would be a maturing experience for him. I didn't expect resistance from his mother.
I was more worried about his sister, Lindsay. Unlike most siblings, Pete and Lindsay were close. Pete was her protector and I can recall many a time when Lindsay would go to Pete for help or advice before she went to her mother or me. She was going to lose her home, her friends and her brother all in a short period of time. A young fifteen year old girl has enough angst in her life without compounding it with all these stresses as well. I was ill equipped to deal with a difficult teenage girl and I was pretty sure her mother was not going to be regularly available to manage the situation. I decided not to burden Jo with my concerns on Lindsay quite yet, although I would mention the compounding changes she would be facing and then hope her mother picked up the vibrations.
That night, in our bed, I thought I had better find out Jo's immediate plans.
"When will you be going to Chicago?" I asked.
"Monday afternoon, I think." she said quietly.
"Where will you stay?"
"The company has an apartment near the office downtown. I'll be there for a while."
"I'll miss you. It won't be the same here."
"I'll miss you too."
"You think we have a chance to make this work?" I asked without thinking.
"We have to." was her simple answer.
"Yah, I guess so." We lay silently for a minute or two. "I'll start looking for a buyer for the business on Monday. I'm hoping there will be a lot of interest. It's a good territory."
"I think you're right."
"You know Pete wants to go to U. of M. I'm OK with that if you are."
"He'll have to live on campus. It'll be expensive."
"I didn't think money would be an object. I can always pay for it out of the sale of the business."
"You don't have to do that. We can afford it now."
"Lindsay's really going to miss him."
"I suppose. She knew he was going to University, so she must expect him to be gone sooner or later."
"A penny for your thoughts." I said after another long silence.
"I don't know what I'm thinking. I don't know what to expect. It's all going to be new. I expect a lot of pressure and long days for a while. I hope the worst of it will be over by the time you, Pete and Lindsay get there. I'm a bit nervous about it to tell the truth." she finally admitted.
"That's understandable. It's a public company and the pressure will come from the shareholders. They always want growth and they always want better profits. A lot of that growth will fall to your department I assume."
"Yes, it will. That's why they gave me the job. They want to almost double their size in the next three years."
"Wow, is that reasonable?"
"I don't know. I guess I'll find out in the first six months. I haven't got a clue what kind of a staff I have. I may have to make a lot of changes if they can't cut it."
"Don't forget. Somewhere along the line, it's supposed to be fun." I reminded her.
"I don't think these guys are into fun; except maybe after hours." she said cryptically.
"Watch yourself, Jo. You're going to be a target for some of these guys."
"What do you mean by that?" she said with a slightly cross tone.
"I mean, you're a beautiful woman and you'll get hit on regularly by guys who think they can use you or who don't think women belong in the 'big jobs'. Not every workplace is as enlightened as your office in Bloomington. The further up the ladder you go, the bigger the target on you; man or woman."
"That's a cheery summary of my future. You don't have much faith in me, do you." she said with more irritating voice.
"I have lots of faith in you Jo. I'm just telling you what to expect from some of the less principled members of the profession."
"So you have a low opinion of my industry too, do you?" Now she was angry.
"I'm trying to tell you what to expect. It isn't exclusive to the advertising industry. It's a fact of life in big corporations with big marketing departments. I'm speaking from experience." I tried hard to use a conciliatory tone.
"You have no bloody idea of what our industry is about. You're just spewing the usual bullshit you see on T.V. From now on, keep your opinions to yourself." With that she rolled over, facing away from me and I knew our discussion was over. If I had been wearing boots, I would have kicked my ass downstairs for being stupid enough to start the discussion in the first place. I didn't get any medals for smooth talking tonight.
Sunday went by without further flare-up. We went about our usual routine and with the sunny warm afternoon, we had a barbeque dinner. Lindsay was unusually quiet and the conversation at dinner was limited. Everyone knew this would be our last day together for an unknown amount of time. Jo had promised that she would be home every weekend she could but I had no unrealistic expectations that there would be many of them in the near future. I promised myself we would make our last night together a loving one. I wanted her to leave knowing that she would be missed.
Indeed, we made love that night, but there was something missing and it lacked that comfort and familiarity we had become so used to. There was an air of desperation and probably neither of us felt fulfilled when it was over. I slept a troubled sleep that last night and I suspect Jo did as well. I had a feeling of foreboding that came from nothing I could identify except fear of the unknown. I was afraid for Jo, but I didn't know what I should be fearful of.
I arranged to take Jo to the airport on Monday afternoon for the short commuter flight to Chicago. We hardly talked at all while we waited for her flight to be called and when it finally was announced, I pulled her to me and kissed her deeply and with all the love I knew I felt for her. We both had tears and promised to call each other every night and then she was gone. I stood watching her walk to the gate and disappear down the boarding tunnel and then turned and headed out to the parking lot. I felt an emptiness I could never recall feeling before. It was as if she was leaving forever, rather than for some indefinite period. That empty pit in my stomach was telling me all was not well with me.