Think of all the ways it might be possible to be incompatible with someone, and my wife and I are the poster children of such a list. Harken!
I'm five-six, and she's five-ten—and by the way she loves to wear high heels. Of late she's become a party animal, and I remain the prototypical bookworm. She, also of late, has become a dance aficionado while I'm more the organ-grinder's monkey. She likes TV and I hate the box. She's a beautiful woman, and I'm an average Joe in grave danger of losing my hair. All of the aforementioned being true, and as illogical as it seems, her liking parties and all, Desiree has been, again up till of late, a very insecure woman underneath.
Up until this past year or so, I had been her sole undisputed anchor. It was this latter that made it possible for a woman like my wife to love a guy like me, I guess. But, now things are different, a lot different.
About a year ago, I had the brilliant idea of trying to instill greater self-confidence and an increased measure of self-esteem in the love of my life. I succeeded beyond my wildest—nightmares! You thought I was going to say dreams didn't you. Well, as it turns out, nightmare fits a lot better. My wife no longer has any confidence issues, and her self-esteem now borders on arrogance. Okay, I have introduced you to the genesis of our situation more of which a little later. So who are we really.
Well, my name is Peyton Joseph Gillis, a direct descendant of one Lester Joseph Gillis and a prostitute. People knowledgeable of the 1930's might remember my notorious grandsire by his more common appellation—Baby Face Nelson. Not a chapter of the family history of which I am particularly proud. I mention him only because my grandma told me I looked like him, except for my being a few inches taller. I am a chemist, actually a chemical engineer: Ph.D. Cal Tech. I work for Metro-Tech a company dedicated to creating and producing products for the military, and, rumor has it, for certain unnamed clandestine black ops services.
Desiree Marie Gillis, my wife, is a sales agent for Sylvia Jordan cosmetics and women's accessories. In her teens her height worked against her and she became something of an introvert. It wasn't that she was completely unaware of her basic beauty, but too many boys wouldn't or couldn't see her as pretty, her being so tall. They'd talk dirty about her, but seldom asked her out on dates. Nevertheless her sandy brown hair was always a cascading around her shoulders. She had dark eyes and full lips that were so pink she almost didn't need lipstick. Her breasts were respectable B-cups. Still, her best feature was her butt; gawd her ass was prime cut! When a male, using his most disrespectful tone, calls a woman a broad, something like my wife's butt has to be on his mind.
As mentioned Desiree had had trouble with self-worth. She almost didn't get a date to her senior prom. I say almost; I asked her. She'd looked down at me, standing there in the quad that May afternoon, and thought for several moments before agreeing to go with little 'ole me. Oh, we both knew we were going to be looking a little strange as a couple, but I convinced her that what others thought was passé—I'm very good with words, a regular Winston Churchill. Convincing her of that, readers, got me the inside track to the altar with the girl of my dreams. After graduation I went directly to Cal Tech and she to USC. We graduated the same summer, four years later, with our B.A.'s. We married, and I continued on toward my doctorate completing it three very intense years later. During those three years, Des was our mainstay financially speaking: she worked and I studied.
At any rate, we got through the prom and our subsequent engagement and our wedding and the first nineteen years of married life with a minimum of problems. A major plus, two wonderful children, appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the game: Grace now 13 and Charlie 11.
We are now both aged 42 and more than merely healthy; we're in top physical shape. We got that way working out at Black Iron, a local gym owned and operated by an ex-Mr. America competitor, Jason Black. And Jason is black and Jason has lately been after my wife. Which brings me to one big ass problem, how can I get my wife back and Jason the hell outta the picture.
It was my idea for us to begin going to the gym together. I'd been going for years, and I knew what it could do for a person's mindset. It was part of my strategy to bring Desiree out of her introvertedness. And now it may have backfired on me. I mean how could I compete with a big shot body builder.
I have begun to notice little things and some not so little things too. She's started going to the gym without me at least once a week; these are usually nights when I have to work late or Saturdays when I have something I have to do or have planned. So far, no clear problem, right? But, add to that that her sex drive seems to have lessened, in terms of me. We still make love a few times each week, but not like in the past, and afterwards she's begun just rolling over and calling it a night after I cum; this, whether she cums or not; bottom line, she doesn't seem to care if she gets off! Finally, there have been the phone calls and the hang-ups before the speaker identifies himself or herself. I'm not a stupid man. Something bad is going on and it is all too clear to me what it is. I have to do something.
I stood at the door waving goodbye to Grace and Charlie. They waved back. They were excited to be going to grandma and grandpa's for the weekend. The promise of a picnic and a trip to the zoo had made their stay over at the grams something they'd looked forward to all week. I went back in and headed upstairs to the bedroom where my wife was again getting ready to go out without me. Entering the room she laid into me again.
"Peyton, it's no big deal. I'm just going to the gym with Megan and then we're going out for a bite to eat. I should be back by 10:00. Okay?"
"No it's not okay, Des. It's Friday night. We should be doing stuff together. What about us. That's the third time in a row you have shined me on for someone else, I mean as far as going to the gym. Hell, you wouldn't even be going if I hadn't forced the issue last year," I said. I was making sure she knew I was pissed.
"Yes, I know. And I am glad that you did. But you are smothering me. It's like I can't do anything without you or you get mad at me," she said. "Anyway, I'm going. Get over it."
"Get over it! Did you say get over it!" She didn't answer. She just picked up her gym bag, headed down the stairs and left. I stood there with my mouth open and fuming. I decided to do what I usually did when we argued; I got my wallet and headed for the Rusty Nail, our—my—favorite watering hole.
I sat at the bar staring into a half empty shot glass. "You look kinda down," said a voice from behind me.
I turned. "Oh, hi Sonia. How are yuh? Yeah, I am a little. Des has been dumping on me lately, and tonight it may have come to a head. I don't know; maybe it's time to move on."
"Wow, you are down. I'm sorry, Peyton. Really. You deserve better," she said.
"Thanks Sonia, I really appreciate your concern. Can I buy you a drink?" I was feeling like company, preferably female company.
"Damn straight," she said. "I never turn down a freebie."
I should explain that Sonia is a retired prostitute, and no I have never had her. I have a long held rule to never pay for something that I can get for free, and besides, she was taken—sort of. I motioned to Mel, the barkeep, to load one up for her. He delivered her usual white wine, and she took the bar stool next to me.
Mel owned the Rusty Nail and was Sonia's only squeeze now; they'd been an item off and on since she'd retired some fifteen years ago. I should note here, that at aged 45 Sonia is still a classy looking gal. Anyway, Mel and Sonia apparently never had the urge to get married, though I kinda suspect that Sonia would have said yes real quick if offered the opportunity.
"Wanna talk about it?" she asked.
"Yeah, trouble is, I have no idea what to say. I think she's cheating on me, and if I find out she is, it's over."
"For someone who doesn't know what to say you sure have a lot to say," giggled Sonia.
I smiled for the first time since Des had run out the door two hours before. It was 8:00. If Des was going to be back by 10:00, I had two more hours. I could think of worse ways to spend my time than with a pro like Sonia. She did have the knack of making a guy feel better.
"Whaddya thinking about doing?" she said. "I mean you got any ideas?"
"No, it's too new. I'm kinda down, as you observed, and a little numb," I said.
"You know who she might be doing it with?" said Sonia.
"Yeah, I think so. Jason Black. "Owns the Black Iron gym. I've mentioned him to you."
"Wow, Mr. America himself, huh," said Sonia.
"He was never a Mr. America. He was just a contestant one year, like twenty-five years ago," I said. I think my jealousy was showing through.
"Yeah, just a contestant. Let's see, what else: six-five, two-twenty or so, shiny black, probably got a foot long dick, and handsome as hell. Yeah, I can see why you'd not have to worry about him," she said laughing.
"What the hell!" I said. "I thought you were on my side."
"I am, but be realistic. If you're going to fight for your rights to Desiree you have to see things in perspective and deal with them using your strengths" said Sonia. "To do that, you have to know his strengths, and also his limitations; then, use the latter against him."
"So, you got any ideas! Please don't hesitate to share them if you do. I'm dyin' here," I said, still miffed at her complete disregard for my feelings.
"Look Peyton, the fact is guys like him are a dime a dozen. The worst thing that could happen to Desiree would be for her to dump you for him. She already knows he's capable of being in a cheating relationship; he'll cheat on her just as soon as the initial thrill wears off."
"How duh yuh figure," I said.
"Okay, he's got looks all over you. There it stops. He's got nothing else. I know for sure that his business is on a shoestring. He's been looking for partners to share the risk with him. Oh yeah, I know him; hell he's even asked me to back him. He comes in here a lot. Peyton, he's been in here with Des."
The look on my face must have been something to see. "Peyton, she's not let him have her. He just plies her with drinks hoping to get lucky," said Sonia.
"With Des!" I almost yelled.
"Control yourself. You go off half cocked and you lose—got it! Yes, they've been here together. I had to tell you. If you'd found out by accident—"
"Yeah, thanks, Sonia. I mean it, thanks," I repeated.
"Peyton, if she were to dump you for him, I guarantee you he'd be cheating on her within three months. He's a player and takes great pride in being one. Des is a babe in arms when it comes to someone like Mr. America. Your revenge would be watching her fall apart in the aftermath."
I finished my shot of vodka and motioned to Mel for a refill. Mel stood there staring. "Mel?" I said, at his apparent ignoring of me. He was looking toward the door. I turned. My wife was coming in the door on the arm of Mr. America. There was no mirror nearby to tell for sure, but I could feel my face darken.
"Peyton, not now," whispered Sonia. I paid no attention. I really didn't actually hear her anyway. My stomach was doing flip flops. It was clear that they were more than instructor and instructee. My anger took over. I made my way to them with Sonia trying to pull me back. I came up on them just as they seated themselves next to each other in the booth. Desiree was on the inside.
"Megan how you've changed," I said to the man pawing my woman. "You're so black and so tall and so such an asshole."
"What the hell!" he stood up. He was near a foot taller than me and eighty pounds heavier and I never saw it coming.
The light was so bright. What is it about hospitals that they have to have such bright lights, I wondered.
"You okay, honey," said Desiree. I looked to my left and focused on her. "Where's Megan," I said, as sarcastically as I have ever said anything.
"Peyton, you don't need to act like that. It wasn't anything," she said.
"I saw him pawing you. It was clear it wasn't the first time either. Get outta here. I don't want to be accused of smothering you. We're finished you and I," I said. "Go find your loverboy."
"Peyton! He's not my loverboy."
"Fuck off!" I said. I was getting really mad.
She ran out of the room crying. I felt like shit, but I felt good too. I wasn't mister-wimpy for damn sure. I also wasn't mister tough guy. Geezsus that dude could hit. My face felt like a well dribbled basketball.
As soon as Desiree had left a suit showed up. "Mr. Gillis?"
"Yeah," I said.
"I'm inspector Busby. I hear you were attacked."
"Yeah? Why? Is the guy suing me for being an inadequate punching bag?" I said.
"No, but you have a case for assault. Need to know if you wanna press charges?"
I snickered. "You know I oughta. The guy sucker punched me. But no, I just wanna get out of here, divorce my whore of a wife, and get on with living," I said.
"Well, if you change your mind, here's my card," said Inspector Busby.
"Yeah, sure. I'll call yuh," I said. My daddy always told me to fight my own fights; my daddy's advice on any subject was seldom in error. I'd take care of the asshole my way and in my own good time. By the time I was done; he'd be wishin' it was only the law that was after him.
I watched inspector Busby go. At the last moment he turned back unsure of himself. "Mr. Gillis, is it really true that you are the great grandson of Baby Face Nelson?"
I had to laugh. "Yeah, but so far I haven't killed anybody myself," I said. The inspector nodded, smiled, and left.
They kept me overnight for observation. Evidently I'd had a mild concussion.
I was released at 10:00AM the next morning. It was Saturday, at least I didn't have to go in to work. I called a cab. I didn't want to be in the same car as Des, and she probably wouldn't have come anyway, I reasoned.
I walked kinda slow up the steps, opened the front door and went in. I could smell cooking in the kitchen—roast beef—it was our favorite. Being quick on the uptake, I figured she was going to try and mollify me.
"Peyton!" she yelled seeing me as I came into the kitchen. "I was waiting for your call. I thought you'd want me to pick you up," she said.
"I took a cab," I said.
"Desiree, we need to talk. I know that, but not now. Your boyfriend got me a good one and I'm not feelin' too good right now. I'm going up to bed. I need to lay down for a while." She followed me up the stairs. I think she was hoping I'd fall so she could have a reason to help me up the stairs and to bed.
I made it on my own and almost fell onto the yellow comforter. She knelt beside the bed and stroked my forehead. "Peyton, I'm sorry. But nothing happened with Jason. Nothing," she said.
"Later," I said, "I'm tired. I mean it." Then, I added, "The roast beef smells good. Maybe tomorrow."
"Okay. Okay, I understand. You do need your rest. I know that. I'll be here if you need me," she said. She raised my head a little and pulled a pillow under it. She kissed me on the lips and left leaving me to my dreams. I was out in minutes.
I awoke at daybreak. I was alone in the bed. She had not slept with me, I realized. Then I saw her. She was asleep in the chair a few feet from me. She must have been there all night. Okay, I got it, she was pulling a full-court press. This was going to be one tough deal anyway I sliced it. I was mad as hell about her indiscretion. I was also madly in love with her. And, I had no idea how I was going to handle those two mutually exclusive realities. I was about to find out it didn't matter either way.
I rolled out of bed and went to the bathroom. I showered; I needed it. When I came out she was gone. I went downstairs and heard her in the kitchen.
"Hi, hon," she said. There was something strange in her tone of voice. I felt a sense foreboding. "Are you feeling better?"
I nodded. "Yeah. I'm okay. You shoulda seen the other guy," I quipped.
She allowed herself a small smile. She set a plate in front of me. Two hard boiled eggs, a slice of dry toast and a few grapes. Very healthy I thought. She poured us both a cup of coffee. She sat opposite me at the table.
I could see she wanted to tell me something, but she was nervous, maybe even afraid. I didn't like the feeling I was getting. I was chewing on a grape. I put the fork I was holding slowly down on the plate, swallowed, and waited.
"What Desiree? Something's wrong isn't it?" I said.
"Peyton, I love him."
Stunned doesn't even begin to describe the badness of what I was feeling. I was having hot and cold flashes at the same time. My throat was suddenly dry.
"I'm going to be with him, Peyton. I'm leaving you. I'm sorry, really, but I need to do this."
She could see the tears beginning to flood my eyes. But, I said nothing. I just sat their mute.
"The last thing I wanted to do was hurt you, Peyton. But, I know that if I just cheated on you behind your back, that you'd eventually find out and be heartbroken anyway. And then, Friday night, when he hurt you like that in the bar; well, I knew I had to get him and you apart. But, Peyton, I just can't give him up. I love you too, but it's different with Jason."
I finally found my voice. "Yeah, he's taller."
"Peyton, you know that's never made a difference to me. I—"
"Desiree, before I embarrass myself, I'm going to go out. Please, please be gone when I get back. I'll file for divorce tomorrow. I'll just set it all up fifty-fifty. Grace and Charlie will be with me of course. I will not tolerate another man in their lives. Is that agreeable?"
"The kids with you? No, Peyton. They'll be with me; I'm their mother. I am so sorry for this, Peyton. I seem to be doing everything to hurt you today. I really didn't mean for this to go this way..."
"Okay then we fight it out in court," I said, bitterness beginning to consume me. "I will not tolerate that man being around my children—ever! So get out your big guns Des; you just went to war."
"Peyton! You can't deny me the children. Their mine!"
"Correction, Des, they are ours, but they are not any part of that man's. Get that through your pretty head."
"Okay then, you leave me no choice. I will fight you on this, Peyton!" she said. She stormed out. I knew she'd be heading for my mom and dad's place. The kids were there. I made the call. I told dad to bring them here to the house immediately. I wanted Des headed in the wrong direction. If she was going to play with Mr. Black. I was going to do some playing of my own.
Waiting for the kids, I went online and made some major financial changes. Banks, credit card companies; even my stock broker, Greg Smithers: Wonderful what one can do even on weekends if one knows how to use a computer.
My last move was to call Clay Burns my friend from the job. He was not only a very highly rated attorney; he had power in high places. Well, after all we did do work for the black ops folks didn't we. I called and told him I needed to see him immediately. He said to come right over. I did. Mister Jason Black had no idea of the poop storm about to overtake him, and for that matter neither did Desiree when it came down to it. My job required a security clearance; Desiree knew virtually nothing about what I did or who I knew, and I was about to call in a whole bunch of markers.
"I don't know anymore, Clay. She's not like she was, and I don't think I like the new her. The killer is that it's mostly my fault she's like she is. I'm the one who introduced her to the asshole."
"I know. I remember. You were so proud of her starting up at the gym."
"Yeah, talk about shooting myself in the foot," I said. "So can I get custody?"
"Normally that's a tough one. But the kids are old enough for the judge to listen to what it is that they want. Also, I am sure that if I dig deep enough I can find something on mister body-beautiful that won't be too complimentary. Hold on a second."
He walked over to the phone across the room. He picked it up and dialed. I could see him waiting for someone to pick up on the other end.
"Hi, Rex ... yeah ... it's me ... well not that long ... okay yeah ... got a job for you ... uhhuh ... can you come right over I have someone I want you to meet..." After the usual goodbyes, he hung up.
"He's on his way," said Clay.
"And he is?" I said.
"He's a PI, the best. Mister Black has a very dark future," said Clay. "No pun intended."
The meeting with Rex Goodman was 2F: formative and fruitful. Mr. Black would be unknowingly under the microscope. It being an apodeictic given that everyone had things about them that they would not like to have become general knowledge, it only remained to discover what skeletons lurked in Mr. Black's background. We would not meet with Mr. Goodman again until he had something interesting.
It was some three weeks later that the children voiced their upset over their mother's apparent abandonment of them. "Dad, why doesn't momma want to stay with us? Why is she with that other man, dad?" said Charlie.
"Because she loves him now instead of daddy, said Grace. Sheesh, you don't know anything!" said my daughter.
"He's not a good man," said Charlie.
"No duh," said Grace.
I hadn't told them anything, but Desiree had. She had actually had the brass balls to tell our two children that she loved someone else instead of their daddy. She had made some feeble remark—to my mind feeble—that she still had feelings for me, but that she loved someone else too. Not trusting her, I had been in the other room listening. She had, over the past several days, lightened up on her demand to have the children stay with her. It seemed that Mr. Black didn't care to have them around. I wondered how that conversation had gone between them. Evidently, whatever might have been said, it hadn't upset her enough to drive her out of his bed. Well, one sets one's priorities, doesn't one.
It was the Monday, after my talk with the children—or more accurately theirs with me— that I heard from Clay that Rex wanted us to meet. I broke a couple of traffic laws to get there as fast as I could. It had been nigh on a month since Desiree had gone to be with ex-lax.
"Mr. Gillis, may I ask how bad you want this guy?" said Rex. Clay was leaning back smiling like a possum.
"He's taken my wife from me and their mother from my children. Does that give you some clue?" I said.
"Okay then. We, you, can nail him pretty good; actually, very good. There's an warrant out on him for grand larceny in Georgia. He's evidently ripped off the Mr. America pageant for more than thirty thousand dollars. He's a cinch to do a dime for that, and that's not counting the add-on for jumping bail. If your wife wants to hang with the guy; she's going to be limited to visiting days and the occasional conjugal visit," said Rex.
"I'm meeting with my wife tonight," I said, "it's her regular night to visit the children. I am going to lay it on her that she either scraps all of this crap with him or else. The or else is we nail her boyfriend and I go for divorce on the most stringent grounds that I can," I said. I looked over at Clay, and he nodded.
"Are you sure you want to be that straight up, Peyton," said Clay. "If you go the whole route she may never forgive you. So..."
"Her forgive me! I may never forgive her," I said. "I love her, but I am not going to be a cuckold wimp for that asshole or any other man, let alone her. I'll call you tomorrow Clay and give you the yea or nay."
"That's a roger-wilco," he said.
We talked about some of the other things Rex had discovered about Mr. Black. He was an inveterate womanizer. He had started up and rundown a dozen small businesses. He has a little girl by a waitress in a small town in southeastern Georgia, and he owed her a busload of back child support. The woman, an Audrey Mapes, would be more than grateful to know the whereabouts of deadbeat dad number one—at least he was that to her.
Grace had cooked a nice meal for us. She had even set a plate for her mother, though she doubted mom would be there early enough to eat anything. Desiree had developed the habit of coming in after dinner most of her two-a-week visits since she had left. The rift that was developing between her and the children was widening. The rift between she and I was now a gulf that almost couldn't be crossed.
I answered the doorbell. Des trotted in with several packages. Gifts of atonement for the children, I guessed.
"For me," I joked, mirthlessly.
"For the children mister man," she said, not losing her bright demeanor or mood.
"Grace cooked for you," I said. "It's getting a little cold by now, but we could reheat it." I'd made my point and it finally took away a measure of the joviality she'd brought with her.
"I wish I could stay," she said. "But I have a—meeting—I can't get out of."
"Yeah, a meeting," I said, the bitterness I still felt rising to the surface.
"You don't have to be snide, Peyton. I really do have a meeting." I didn't say anything immediately.
"Where are the kids?" she said looking around.
"Upstairs, it's their usual time to hit the hay," I said.
"Well, could you go get them? I have some things for them," she said.
"No, but you can. You know the way I believe," I said.
She gave me her thanks-a-lot-asshole look and proceeded up the stairs to their rooms.
She was upstairs for some minutes before returning to face me.
"You know you could make things a little easier for us, Peyton. I'm trying to be pleasant; it wouldn't kill you to try to be the same," she said.
"Sit down, Desiree. We need to talk."
"I can't stay..."
"Yes, you can. Because if you don't you and your boyfriend are going to be in a world of hurt," I said. She stared at me with brows knitted. Something in my tone seemed to get her attention; she seemed shaken. But, she recovered quickly.
"All right, but just for a minute," she said.
"I'll make this short and sweet. Please don't interrupt me. You can comment, ask questions, or just leave quietly, your choice, when I'm done. Okay?"
She nodded, clearly not liking my tone or the confidence that it was clearly rooted in.
"Des, you have this one chance to dump your boyfriend and resume your duties here as my wife and as the children's mother. I'm not even sure you're worth it anymore, but we did have nineteen years of love and respect until you decided to play games and cheat on me.
"I have your boyfriend by the balls. I will destroy him within twenty-four if you insist on siding with him. Additionally, you will not come out of this unscathed either. Desiree, this is your last chance. I am willing to try, but only this one last time. It's up to you; the ball's in your court. Now you may say or do whatever you might wish. I'm done."
"What are you talking about? Are you threatening me—us?"
"Well, it won't work. Peyton—I need this man. I've told you. Deal with it. You need to get a life and get on without me. I love Jason. He's never hurt you or said anything bad about you—well except for that fight in the bar that night."
"It wasn't a fight; he sucker punched me," I said.
"For the record, why have you backed off?" I said.
"Why haven't you said anything about wanting the kids to stay with you?"
"Oh, well that. His place is small..."
"He doesn't want them around. I know it and you know I know it.
"Did you know he knocked up a girl in his home town? Did you know he has a daughter that he owes a ton of back child support to?"
"Well, he's having a hard time financially right now..."
"Not too hard to afford taking you out," I said pointedly.
"This is getting us nowhere. I'm leaving," she said. But she hesitated.
"Okay," I said. I had decided not to wait till the next day to give Clay and Rex the high sign. I reached for the phone. She watched me as I dialed.
She saw I was waiting for someone to answer. Her confidence was wavering. "Yes, it's me. Do it. No, not tomorrow, tonight," I said. I hung up.
"Goodbye Des," I said. She picked up her wrap and headed toward the door. Her steps were uncertain.
"Peyton—I hope that—"
"Goodbye, Desiree. You've just thrown away your life," I said. My tone carried no emotion.
"Peyton? What have you done?" she was shaking.
"I told you already. You can go now. Go to your lover; he's gonna need you. Your life here is history," I said. I felt the chill of hate consume me. Hate for him and hate for her cruelty towards me. She picked up on it.
"Goodbye Peyton." She turned and left. The house was quiet. I didn't feel good. I knew that before the night was out; she'd be calling or maybe even trying to come back.
I got the call from Rex an hour and half later. He wanted to know if I wanted to be in on the show. I hesitated, and then decided that I did. But, I would stay in the background.
I arrived fifteen minutes later.
"So?" I said. Rex smiled the smile of the conqueror.
"They're in the bar. You wanna try and get her out of there before the shit hits the fan?" he said.
"Why would I?" I said.
"He's got drugs on him. I don't think she knows it. But, if she's caught with him when he's busted; well, she's probably going down too," said Rex.
"Oh shit!" I said. I headed inside. I saw them sitting at a table near the dance floor. I approached them. I had to try and be civil and it wasn't going to be easy.
"Jason, let me talk to my wife for a moment, please," I said stopping a foot from his chair.
"Just for a moment. I'll bring her right back and be out of your lives for good," I said.
"Peyton, you have really done it this time..."
"Des, if you have a little bit of feeling left for me, grant me these last few words. We'll just go outside for a few minutes, and then Jason can have you and you him forever," I said. My heart was beating so loud I was sure that they could hear it. I didn't want her to go to prison. I had to get her out of there."
"You'll leave us alone and get on with your own life if I talk to you?" she said.
"And no more nonsense about the children?"
"Yes." The two of them had to be true morons. It was so obvious that I was trying to separate them before something bad happened, but they didn't pick up on it.
"Okay then," she said. She picked up her purse, I hadn't thought of that. She followed me out the entrance. It wasn't any too soon. Just as we cleared the door the cops, six of them, were entering.
"Peyton, who are those men? Do you know anything about this?" She could see they were cops three of them were in uniform.
"They're here to bust your lover. He's got drugs on him. You, being with him, would mean you'd be going down too. I just saved your ungrateful ass," I said.
A minute later a cuffed and clearly distressed Jason Black was led out to a waiting patrol car. Desiree started to try and talk to him, but I held her back and kept her away.
The cops knew he'd had company at the table, but he was the only one they had a warrant for, so they didn't pursue it.
"You can go see him in the slam," I said. "But, probably not until tomorrow."
"Where am I going to go! Peyton. I don't have a key to his place. I only have about twenty dollars; I'm broke. I gave Jason my check this month to help with some of the bills. Where am I going to go?" I looked at her with a knowing look. The asshole was a user and she didn't get it. I figured I already knew the answer to the next question I was going to ask, but I asked it anyway.
"Where's your savings, Des. No money in checking. You've got an ATM card don't you? You used to," I said.
"I closed my account, Peyton. I put my money in Jason's account too so he could have enough money to keep the gym open. He—we've—had problems," she said.
"So, you really mean you're broke don't you," I said. I'd killed our credit cards and I knew she hadn't gotten a new one yet. "You can stay at the house, in the guest room if you want until your next paycheck. Other than that you're on your own."
"With you? In the house?" She looked nervous, undecided. "I guess I have no choice, do I," she said.
"You always a have a choice, Des. It's just you've been making some pretty bad ones lately. Make up your mind. I'm leaving." I turned and headed for my car. I heard her lurching after me in her high heels. I looked back at her. Gawd she was a beautiful woman. Tall and beautiful, and now, very unsure of herself in spite of her most recently found self-confidence.
It was Saturday morning, and the kids awoke to hearing their mother call them down to breakfast. It was not exactly a cheery scene, nor was it all that somber. It was—tentative.
I was still getting ready. I came down to a quiet kitchen. The kids were eating. Desiree was sitting at the table with them sipping coffee. I waited outside the entry way for a moment to see if I could hear anything.
"Mom, do you miss us?" said Charlie. He sounded hopeful.
"Oh yes, my baby, I have missed you a lot," she said.
"Then why did you move out with that bad man, mom," said Grace.
"You wouldn't—oh, I don't know, Grace. I just don't know. Your father and I—well—I just don't know. I wish I did," she said. I entered.
"Any coffee left?" I said. My wife—she was still my wife—got up and poured me a cup.
"Thanks for letting me stay last night, Peyton. I just don't know what I'm going to do," she said.
"You can stay here, Des, like I said until you can get some bucks together. We won't be throwing you out. But no boyfriends, especially that boyfriend, if he even makes bail," I said. I had a feeling that she was going to ask me to make his bail for him. I had no reason to feel so; it was just a—feeling. I decided to short shank any possibility of her asking me to help the bastard. "You may not talk to him on the phone, send him emails, nothing. If you're here you're here; if you're with him, you're gone. Are we clear?"
She nodded. She was clearly conflicted, and I didn't give a good goddamn. I'd save my wife, but her boyfriend wouldn't be allowed to so much as to lick the ass of my dog—if I'd had a dog.
"Want some toast and jam," she said. "I think there's some apricot jam in the frig."
"That would be nice," I said. She got up and put the bread in the toaster and got out the jam and a spoon to spread it with. Her getting out the spoon brought back memories of better times. Why would getting out a spoon be anything special? Well, it wasn't really. It was just that most people spread their jam with a butter knife. But, Des had always done it with a spoon; it was her—our—thing; a little homey family thing.
After breakfast, Des retired to her room. I almost went to her, but just outside the door I stopped. I could hear her crying inside. She was clearly trying to muffle it, but it was still audible. I left her alone and went to take care of the kids.
Two days later, Monday morning, she got a call from the jail. It was him. Grace had picked it up and called her mother to the phone. As she approached, she saw me and hesitated. Her hands dropped to her side. I made a decision.
"If you talk to him, you're gone," I said. She nodded and walked away.
I took the phone. "Mr. Black. Desiree is staying here and she is forbidden to ever speak to you again, or she's gone from here ... that's right ... I know why you called, or I think I do, and you can forget it. You've taken all of her money and now you want to be bailed out, right? ... no ... not a chance ... and lose this number." I hung up.
My wife looked at me with tears in her eyes. "You really hate us don't you, Peyton?"
"Who's us? He's not your husband I am. Deal with it," I said. Oh, how I had wanted to throw those words back at her, now I had. For some reason I didn't feel good about it. I wondered if she'd felt bad when she'd said it to me that day seemingly so long ago.
"He's a human being, Peyton," she said.
"Do you love him, Des. I mean really. He's exploited you, used you, and eventually he'd have dumped you just like he did his former girlfriend and his daughter. So I ask you again do you actually love this asshole?"
She ran from the room. I was so mad. This woman was totally brainwashed by him. I couldn't believe it. What seemed so obvious to me apparently wasn't to her. I decided it was time to push my luck.
I knocked gently on her door. "Come in," she said.
I sat on the bed beside her. "He's going to prison, Des. You know that right. This is a zero tolerance state."
"I know, I guess," she said. "It's just hard dumping on him when he's in trouble, especially when I know it is partly my fault," she said.
"It wasn't your fault Des. You're a victim here. You just don't know it. The man's a criminal," I said.
She started sobbing big time. I held her. It was the first time in quite a while that I had held her. It felt good. The problem is I wasn't sure why she was sobbing. Was it for me, her family, or for her lover? That was something I needed to get the answer to. The germ of an idea was coming to me. I just wasn't sure if I could get it done. It would cost me, probably, but it would also get me some answers, answers I absolutely had to have. I had the money; I was going to go for it.
I called Clay and made an appointment.
"A test! A fucking test," said Clay.
"Yeah, sorta," I said. "I gotta know, Clay. If she really is in love with that jerk, well—"
"Well what you idiot. That guy is a bad guy. You need to rethink this. Jason Black is a thief and the worst kind of user I have ever seen. And, you want to throw a perfectly good woman at him in order to test her! You're outta your freakin' mind," said Clay.
"Peyton, even if she is in love with the guy, she shouldn't be. You owe it to your kids not to let her get tangled up with the asshole," said Clay.
"I'll be there, Clay, to keep things under control. He'll think he's getting a freebie, but I'll be there. It ain't gonna happen," I said.