University, you know the place where you go to learn how to face the rest of your life. There is a lot going on there in the four years you attend. Wine, women and song. You make relationships and yes, break some. You try out this and that, find friends and lose them. This is the story about how I should have lost one, but didn't, for way too long anyway. I hung on until it got so bad that he wasn't my friend anymore--but that was his fault, not mine.
Pal (Paladin) Stevens was my roomie for the first year and each one thereafter. He was everything I wasn't. Good looking, gregarious, made friends easily and made everyone think you were doing yourself a favor by being associated with him. I felt that way. I was the opposite of him. I was small, dark and a loner. Tongue-tied around women, I have to mention that. He played on my weaknesses, I know that now. I did have more money than he did and I think I had more brains. He never applied himself in his studies and never seemed to worry about where his next dollar was coming from. But he was smart enough to use my brain to pass the courses and when he needed a dollar, it usually came out of my pocket.
You wonder why I let him do this? I don't know. When we went to a party on my dime, he always picked out the best looking girl for his own, but he made sure I had a woman by my side shortly after we reached the festivities. So some of them were skags, but often those that were, I enjoyed being with and sometimes we became friends. After awhile it became a joke around campus. Pal was taking advantage of me, but I laughed it off. I was making good solid friends. His? He claimed to have a million, but none of them seemed to stick with him too long. He was just "good old fun to be around" Pal.
Sheepskin time, he asked me what I was going to do. "I have a position in a large construction firm as a site engineer. Bridges and buildings mostly. I get the site ready and then the construction crews come in and I turn it over to a different engineer. What about you?"
"I'm going to find me the richest girl I can and have some fun with my life. If you need a good word from me, just say so. I've made a million connections in the last four years. It should pay off now."
"That's alright. I think I'm set. No, I'll make my own way. We've been associated for four years, but this is the end of it. So I'll see you around. Good luck finding that rich pigeon."
I was severely challenged when I arrived at my new employers. The old man believed in new hires getting their feet wet immediately. I was given a site to prepare for a seven-story parking garage on the edge of a small sized city where the company was located. I was nervous but had to act confident. I was authorized to do thirty foot test borings to find out what we would need for the foundation. When we reached that level we had not found any kind of solid footing.
It was early Friday afternoon and the drill rig was pulling out on Saturday. I had the authority to stop drilling, but not to continue beyond that depth. No way was I going to okay a building based on the test borings that were coming up. We were in the last hole. "Keep going. You have time for another fifteen feet."
"Okay, but we had better get paid when we send in the invoice for the extra footage."
"It's on me. Don't worry about it."
Three feet later, a level of sand and mud showed. I was standing right there. The drill chief looked at me. I gave the signal to keep going. He shrugged. The drill went down through eleven feet of the same stuff and at forty-four feet the bit started in on solid granite. The crew chief said to me, "That was shit-ass luck. You get the okay for overtime and we'll map the rest of the site."
I tried the company headquarters and found everyone had left for the day. I had never met the owner, although his private phone was listed on the call sheet. With trepidation, I rang. "Mr. Burdock, this is Tim Schwan. I'm the site engineer on the garage project here in Halleckville. I need an okay for some overtime for the drilling crew who are doing the test borings. I hit crap at thirty-three feet and there is eleven feet of it. I need authorization for the drillers to go back into three holes for a more accurate picture of what is down there. We came to granite at forty-four and I want to find out if it holds true for the corners."
"I thought the specs called for a thirty-foot bore. What are you doing below that?"
I didn't answer that at first. I got brave. "I'm not putting a building on eleven feet of mud. Look, those three holes are at thirty feet already. It will mean only six hours to reset and finish those holes down to forty-five, and then we'll know for sure."
There was silence. I had exceeded my authority, but if this company was responsible and was one I wanted to work for, I was going to get the okay--or walk--or be fired.
"Go ahead. You've got my okay. I do want to see you in my office on Monday morning. Bring your report and an explanation of why you went beyond specifications." He hung up.
I dozed in the company pickup until the drilling rig was buttoning up. The drilling chief came over. "You are one lucky son-of-a-bitch. Just imagine what would have happened if you had stopped at thirty feet and put a garage on what would have turned out to be a virtual sink-hole. What made you give the order for us to go down further? How long have you been at this? You look pretty young."
"This is my first job. I don't know why I had you go down further at first. Just a feeling I guess. Now I think about it though, I looked around before it got dark. This is a level valley about five miles across. We have ridges on both sides of the valley. It stands to reason that eons ago the topographical picture was much different than it is now. There had to be bedrock down there. I needed to see if I could find it for this is going to be a big building."
"Damn good call. If your boss gives you any trouble, have him call me. He may anyway when he gets the bill." He laughed and swung aboard as his rig went by.
I knew that I was going to have to answer a lot of questions and that most likely this project might even be stopped because of the extra costs for the foundation. I hoped in a way I would be involved when the job was estimated. I had a few ideas that might even cut the cost below what the original projections were.
I didn't sleep much that night. I was worried about facing the big boss on Monday. I was walking around the lot after a late breakfast. An old beat-up Chevy wagon came dusting onto the site. I could see a man of about fifty driving and a young woman sitting in the passenger's seat. The man got out and walked over to the nearest hole. He looked at the dirt and the mud and finally, the eighteen-inch core of granite lying beside it. He ignored me. The Chevy was only a few steps away. I went over to the passenger. "Hi, I'm Tim Schwan. Is that Mister Burdock?" She nodded, but didn't say anything. I stood there until I was uncomfortable with the silence. I walked over to Mr. Burdock.
He acknowledged me with a glance. "I'm Tim Schwan. I talked to you last evening."
"Yes, I remember. In a way this is a setback for us. I didn't anticipate the job being held up. It's going to be more costly to build and the city may trash the project because of it." He looked as if it was my fault.
"It wouldn't have to be. Your design engineers would know that."
"If you've got some thoughts on the subject, what would they be? How would you build it knowing the situation here?"
"I'd double the pins in the bedrock to set the foundation on. They will be shorter than if they went to thirty feet as originally planned. Excavate and put two of the seven levels below ground not too far above the mud. The mud in a way is a disadvantage for it is unstable, but then it would act as a buffer and absorb the vibrations coming from the stories above it. This will give a longer life to the building. The ventilation system will have to be well-designed, but that is just some equipment. Selling points would be a lower profile against the skyline and that should please those that oppose an ugly square building. Also this is tornado alley. There would be no safer place for people to go if the warning was long enough."
"I can see you have thought some about it. All of this since yesterday afternoon?"
"Well I admit I didn't sleep much last night. I did exceed what the specs called for. I'm not sorry that I did, but I'd hate to be terminated for it."
"I guess I can overlook it this time. You did ask for authorization when you discovered the problem. I will see you Monday morning at ten. Have a good day."
I was new in town and lonely in a single rented room. That evening I dropped into a little country bar and dance hall for a beer. I nursed the first one for an hour and had just ordered a second when a group of five girls came in. The place started jumping then. The band started with several two-steps and then played a waltz. I had my eye on one of the women. Pal wasn't around and I was going for something first-rate for myself now. I asked the prettiest one of the girls to dance and she came into my arms, saying her name was Pam. Her perfume was somewhat hidden by some of her previous exertions on the dance floor, but it was a scent I would never forget.
Before the set was over, I asked her for a date the following Friday night. She said she already had one, but if I would like to pick her up on Saturday, we might go dancing again. She scribbled her address on a napkin. I asked for her name, giving her mine and where I was working. "Just come to the door and ask for Pam. I'll be waiting." I danced some sets with her friends and then they all got up to leave. As she went out she passed near me and thanked me for dancing with her. I left shortly afterwards as the club was dull again.
Sunday, I sat in my room and put my thoughts about the garage down on paper, ready for the meeting with the boss tomorrow morning. When I reached the company headquarters, I sat in my cubicle and drafted a diagram to go with the report I was typing up. I took it to the copier and made a couple of copies. My immediate supervisor, Corning, came by my desk and asked how things went at the site on Friday. I handed him my report and he read it as he stood leaning against my desk.
"Good clear report. I understand the old man wants to see you about it. I'll go up with you. You kind of overstepped a little, but he probably will forgive you this time." I didn't tell him I had seen Mr. Burdock on Saturday. Corning left, saying he would return. I got busy drafting on paper what I thought in my own mind the design engineers could do to revise the plans. I had time to make a couple copies of this to put in my folder before Corning was waiting on me.
The conference room seemed full of people when Corning and I entered. Immediately as we closed the door, Mr. Burdock started speaking. "Gentlemen, we have a problem with the proposed parking garage. The drilling shows that we will have to go down further to find a solid base for it. We are going to have to revise our estimates considerably before we present the plans to the city. Tim, do you have your report of what you found?"
"Yes. I didn't realize I would need more than two copies. Do you have an overhead available?" It took a few minutes for the staff to set it up. While that was taking place I was introduced to the design engineers and the staff that would be doing the estimates and would be writing up the proposals to take to the city. Everyone studied my diagram intently when I flashed it on the overhead.
"Tim, did you suspect that there would be a problem in finding a solid base for the foundation?"
"Not really, it had to be down there somewhere. What I was finding at the level the specs called for wouldn't support the size and weight of the building the city was asking for. I gave the go ahead for the drill to go down in the last hole and find bedrock. When they hit a strata of sand and clay, I knew something solid had to be near. It was actually deeper then I surmised, but if the city gives us the go ahead, we will know where we need to start from."
"That's fine Tim. Explain why that strata of mud is where it is if you can?"
"I wouldn't know really, but it may have been as recent as the flood spoken of in the Bible about Noah and the ark. I doubt it though, as with thirty feet of subsoil above it, it has to be longer ago than that. I believe it covered a worn-down riverbed. Whether there is a shallower section or not couldn't be determined without more mapping. Maybe at the foot of the mountain slopes."
"I think you have read it correctly. Now men, we are faced with how to proceed." Mr. Burdock asked for suggestions. I think he knew his men very well. When no one came up with the same idea that I had when we talked on Saturday, he turned to me. "Tim, do you have any ideas?"
I put forth my suggestions and backed them up with reasons why the cost wouldn't be any more and why the building would be as strong and more esthetic. "I admit, I'm not a construction engineer and I'm just out of school, but the theory has been put forth recently that under certain conditions it is cheaper to go down than up. This situation seems to meet that criteria." I sat down.
"Okay, that seems to be sensible enough and worth exploring. I don't expect you would have at hand any idea of what the sub foundation would be like?" I walked over and put my diagram on the overhead and answered questions as they flew at me. One more question from Mr. Burdock when I finished. "I suppose you'd like to have the building of this project?"
"God no! That's not in my area of expertise. I'd have no idea how to go about it. I can try to figure out what to site a building on, but the building project itself, I'm lost."
"Well, thank you Tim. Your suggestions will be looked at. That concludes today's meeting. Thank you all."
I was rung out as Corning and I went down in the elevator. "Tim, you did very well. I'm glad you are working in my section. We probably won't hear anymore about this project until we see something in the paper about what the city decides to do. Billing will have some questions about the cost overrun on the drilling. When they do, just refer them to me."
Thursday I was sent out of town on a project where I wouldn't be able to return for my date with Pam on Saturday. I didn't have time to go to the address and I didn't have a phone number. "Corning, I have a problem that I need your help with. I met a woman last Saturday and made a date for this weekend. Would you deliver a note to this address making my excuses? All I know about her is that her first name is Pam and she is quite beautiful. You might wait for an answer to a couple of questions I put in the note."
Corning looked at the address and smiled. Then he said, "Why don't I just have her call you here when you return on Wednesday? I'm sure she will if she is interested."
"Okay, thanks." This was a taste of what my life was going to be like in the future. When I married, if I ever did, it looked as if I would be away on many occasions.
Wednesday, when I returned, Corning handed me a note from Pam saying she was sorry I missed the date with her. She had reserved this Saturday evening to make up for it and would see me at seven. There was still no last name or phone number. All Corning would say was that he was impressed with my choice of women to date.
I found the city street directory and could see that the address was in a nice section of the city. That seemed right to me for the girls I had seen at the dance appeared to be of some class, although a tad wild. I was busy both Thursday and Friday with reports to write and file. Saturday I could relax and think about my upcoming date. Dinner and dancing. I didn't want to appear overdressed so I wore much the same as Pam had seen me in the first time. I did wear a coat in case the place we chose to dine called for one.
One of Pam's friends that I had danced with opened the door and asked me in. I was informed that Pam was just finishing putting on her face. "There are three of us that live here. We haven't been here long. In fact this is the first time one of us has had a date since we all moved from our parents' houses." It was a little awkward and the girl, Shelly, ran out of conversation.
I was never that great at repartee with women and I was beginning to feel uncomfortable. "Hey Burdock, your date is waiting. Get a move on or I will take him out myself." Shelly smiled at me.
"Startled I asked, "Is her name Burdock? Her father isn't Hamilton Burdock is it?"
From across the room. "Yes it is. He is my father."
"Oh, crap. He isn't going to like me going out with you. I work for him."
"I know you do. That is why I haven't given you my last name. I thought you wouldn't ask me out if you knew. You have to remember that you aren't dating my father. If you can forget that, we will have fun. Come on, where are we going?"
"I have reservations at the Nightlite for dinner. You know the city better than I do, so you get the chance to pick where we end up dancing. Would that be agreeable?"
"Sounds like a plan."
Over dinner we talked about our lives. Pam was a year younger than me. We had both been to university. Pam would be teaching grade six at the local school in the fall. We laughed at some of the experiences we both had and even some of the foolish things we had done. I even mentioned Pal Stevens, my roommate of four years.
"Do you miss him?"
I thought a minute before I answered. "Not really. I was always in his shadow. He seemed to twist things around so I did everything he wanted me to. I admit life was full of fun being around him, but now that I look back on it, I don't think I like him very much. Too much difference in our outlook on life."
"I guess I'm more serious. I want to excel in whatever I do--my work especially. I want a woman who loves me and, of course, at least two kids. I want to earn enough money to be comfortable. I don't have to be rich. Trust, I want my wife to have trust in me and I want her to be trustworthy and faithful herself. That comes from having an aunt whose home broke apart when I was fifteen. Enough about me. What about you?"
"I guess most of the same things. I'm not ready to settle down yet though. Going out and having fun like we are doing tonight is right up there near the top of my priorities. I like a few beers on occasion and I have been known to get inebriated. Not tonight. Tonight I want to dance and I know just the place. You'll love it."
We danced the evening away. We elaborated about our families between sets. The woman I saw with her father was her sister. Pam said she hung out with her father a lot. She had a problem with speech and stuttered unless she was absolutely calm. Her name was Sharon and she was two years older than Pam. She very rarely went out except with her folks. When we ended the evening, I kissed Pam and asked if I could call for another date when my schedule was free.
"Of course. I can even help with your schedule. Daddy will do most anything I ask of him."
This shocked me. "God no! Don't do that. If the guys I work with find out I am dating the boss's daughter, they would make my life hell. Especially as I'm so new here. I have to earn their respect and I couldn't do it if they knew."
"Okay then, I won't interfere. Do call me. One more kiss then I should go in. Goodnight."
I truly liked Pam, but I had the wish she wasn't connected to my work the way she was. I guess we averaged a date about once a month. We kissed and did some light petting. After I leased my own apartment, the three girls often spent a Sunday hanging out at my place. Pam dated others and a couple of times I took one of her roommates out for an evening. Pam was a dedicated schoolteacher so I very seldom saw her during the week.
I bought Pam a pair of slippers for Christmas and received a pair of leather gloves in return. The company sprung for a New Year's bash and I met Pam's mother and sister. Her mother was an older version of Pam. Sharon was present but kept very far in the background. I had two dances with Pam. I did my duty by asking my hostess to dance a waltz. Mrs. Burdock commented that she knew Pam and I had been out on a date and that she liked me.
Sharon was sitting alone in a darkened corner. I sat down beside her. I turned to face her. "I'd like to have a dance with you. If you'd smile at me, I would take that as a yes." I tried to convey that I knew of her affliction and didn't want to embarrass her by requiring her to speak. I received the smile and we were soon dancing. I was only five-ten and Sharon was shorter by three inches. We fit together nicely. When we went by her mother, I saw a surprised look and then a smile come over her face.
I carried on a light conversation doing all of the talking myself. I made a running comment on how much I enjoyed my job and had dated Pam and her friends. I even commented how I thought she, Sharon, was stuck up the first time I had seen her when she didn't speak. I apologized for thinking that and received a little squeeze indicating it was accepted. When I returned her to her seat, I asked if she would dance the last dance with me. Her smile again was her answer.
Pam came over to my apartment New Year's late afternoon. "You're in trouble, you know. You were worried about dating me and how Dad would feel about it and now you have gone and danced with my sister. She has been so sheltered by Daddy, she has fallen in love with the first person that is kind to her. Daddy is about wild. Sharon questioned him and me all day about you. He is overly protective of her and he doesn't want her hurt. He thinks she is already in love with you. Your job may even be on the line.
"I know you wouldn't hurt her intentionally, but it could easily happen. What are you going to do about it?"
"I guess I'll just have to fall in love with her. That ought to even things up, don't you think?"
Pam stood looking at me. "You're serious, aren't you? What do you want with her? You can't even communicate."
"I didn't have any trouble last night did I? Pam, I thought you might be the one I would fall in love with. You are a lot of fun to date, but the spark I am looking for just isn't there. Besides that, you're pretty wild for my tastes. Don't you think I'm good enough for her? Don't think I feel sorry for her either. I look at her as a beautiful young woman that is old enough to fall in love. She has been sheltered and protected and can't communicate--your words. You have known me long enough to know I'm a pretty honest person.
"What happens if I fall in love with her and she gets over her little crush on me and doesn't return my love? Aren't I taking a chance as much as she is to have my heart broken?"
"You still have to get by Daddy to see her. I know he likes you, but that won't stop him in getting rid of you to protect her."
"You are my very good friend. I guess you will have to help me then. You know me about as well as anyone. You're going to have to go to your father and tell him you and I have had about twenty dates since I've known you. You're going to tell him that sometimes you drink too much and I've been there to protect you. I've put you into my bed and undressed you and you've woke up in the morning just as pure as when you went to bed. You've got a beautiful body and it has been hard not to take advantage, but I haven't. I respect you. Can't you trust me to treat your sister with the same respect and convince your parents to at least give me a chance?"
"Sharon is twenty-five and has never had a date. I've offered to find a date for her so we could double. She has always refused."
"If I ask her out and she refuses, there isn't any problem then is there? I've been turned down before. If I ask her and she says yes then the only thing standing in our way is your father. I'll just have to play my trump card--you. If that doesn't work then I'll play another."
"What would that be?"
"It would be your mother. I saw her smile when she saw Sharon and I dancing. Tell me your mother doesn't want Sharon to have a date?"
"Okay I'll admit that part, but Daddy is all powerful at home."
"I can't believe that. Your mother has the power and I bet she would use it."
"What power?" It hit her what I was referring to and she went from giggles to outright laughter.
I picked up the phone and as I was about to call Sharon anyway before Pam arrived, I had the number at hand. "Hamilton Burdock residence."
"Mr. Burdock, this is Tim Schwan. May I speak to Sharon, please?"
"It is a personal question, however if she has trouble speaking, would you stand by to relay her answer?"
There was silence for a period of time. "Just a minute."
It was three minutes before, "I'm handing the phone to her."
"Hi Sharon, this is Tim, we danced last night. I enjoyed it very much. So much, I would like to ask you for a date this Friday for dinner and afterwards a dance place that Pam and I go to sometimes. Would you be so kind as to go with me?"
"Fine. I'll pick you up at six-thirty. Dinner won't be until seven and it is nearby. That will give me time to come in and say hi to your parents before we leave. Thank you so much for agreeing to go with me. Good evening."
I turned to face Pam. "You actually talked to Daddy and told him what to do. How did you dare do that?"
I was laughing. "I have a sister and I figured out how a boy got to go out with her. You think your father is protective? You should meet my Dad."
"You have a sister? You never mention her. How about other family members?"
"I have the traditional family I guess. You know, father, mother, sister and brother. Dad runs a family-owned hardware store. I even own some shares. They all work in the store including my sister's husband. We're pretty close and I get letters all the time from them. I wasn't interested that much in the store. I chose my line of work in engineering for that is something that is hands on and gets me outdoors a lot."
"You're not poor then?"
"I wouldn't say so. What gave you that idea?"
"You said you worked your way through school."
"That was by choice, not because I had to. I guess you could say I was pretty introverted and shy. I let my roomie lead me around for four years and I watched him. When I got out here, I was ready to change and I have."
"I guess you have. You took on my father when I didn't think you had one chance in ten of him letting Sharon go out with you."
"I might get a call to go up to his office yet, or he may send me out of town by Friday."
"He better not. I'll tell Mom and she has the power." Pam went into gales of laughter again.
Hamilton Burdock never did speak to me about my dating Sharon. Pam indicated that her mother, Celia, and he had words, but to me he never showed he minded. She blossomed and over time as she became less nervous when I was around, we could carry on a conversation, although haltingly. By our second date, I knew I wanted her to be my wife. I took it slow, just brushing her lips when I took her home after our first date.
Our third date was on a Sunday afternoon and a trip to a museum. As we left there I asked, "Would you like to see the apartment where I live?" Sharon immediately started stuttering so bad I couldn't understand her. When she gave up trying to form a word I said, "I promise I won't touch you. I would like to have you see where I live, that is all. Pam hangs out there all the time and some of her friends do too." She nodded okay.
When we reached there I asked her if she would stay for the evening meal. I had loaded a crockpot with a chicken and knew the cacciatora would be ready. I had garlic bread and noodles. I had a lemon pie for dessert. Sharon helped with dishes and we settled down on the couch with my arm around her. There was a pad and pencil on the coffee table. She picked it up and scribbled an apology for her affliction. "I wish there was a way I could speak. You have to do most of the talking and you must be tired of it by the time you take me home."
"I don't mind really. I like being with you. You know a lot of people have overcome it. Look at Clarence Page, the newsman, who is on the talk shows. He stutters. How about Mel Tillis, the country singer/songwriter? He stutters real bad, but when he sings you aren't aware of it at all. I know kids must have picked on you when you were young, but now at our age people are too polite to be mean. We get along great, don't we? Don't drive me away. I'm totally comfortable with you and want to be with you."
This earned me a kiss and then another and soon we were necking. "I promised I wouldn't touch you. I think I just broke it."
Sharon picked up the pad and scribbled, "I didn't make any such promise." As soon as I read this she started kissing me again. We knew this was not going any further today, but we knew some day it would.
The winter slipped away. I called my family and told them that I had found the woman I was going to propose marriage to in the not too distant future. I had to describe her. "Sharon is five-seven, reasonably thin although she has a nice shape, meaning she is perfectly proportioned. She has dark brown hair and wears it short so that her ears peek out under it when she moves quickly. I think she will tan easily for I can see some freckles across the bridge of her nose. She has a small nose and full lips and a little dimple in her chin when she smiles, which is often.
"She wears little make-up. She has a nice long stride if she is confident about where she is and what she is doing. I'm hoping to get a few days off next month and I'll bring her to meet you. I want to show her where I grew up. You'll love her. One other thing, she doesn't talk much. She has a problem and stutters some. It doesn't bother us now, and we get along just fine."
"That's what counts, son. No one can be perfect. Lord knows your father has put up with me all of these years and still loves me as much as he ever did."
Sharon and I had a small blip in our relationship. The old man had come in early one Thursday morning. He had left a note in my cubicle requesting my presence in his office. Corning looked uncomfortable when I passed him on the way to the elevator. I was puzzled and couldn't think of a single time I had screwed up.
"Tim, I knew when you started going out with Sharon there would be some conflict that would arise. You know we bid on a housing project a few months ago. Well, all the permits are in place and we are ready to get the site prepared for the houses. I planned on Corning bossing the job, but I have another project that needs him. This job is time sensitive and I need someone there on Monday. You are the only one available. I have full confidence in you doing the work. The problem that arises is more personal. You are going to be away from Sharon for the next two months. Sharon was crying when I left this morning after I told her. I really hate to do this to both of you, but I need you out there in Arizona."
"Mr. Burdock, Sharon and I have already talked about the possibility of this happening to us when we would be pulled apart for some length of time. I can't see where that will affect our relationship. You know, I'm planning on asking her to marry me. We'll just savor the time we have before I have to leave."
"Christ Tim, don't call me mister when we are alone together. Call me Hamm or Hamilton. Back to business. I have a construction trailer on the grounds and all that you will need is already out there. All you have to do is appear. You may have to hire some pick and shovel men, but you can do that. Don't scrimp on using what you need to get the job done, money or otherwise.
"Corning has a briefcase of papers outlining everything. Pick that up on your way home this morning. Sharon is already there, I believe. She was packing an overnight bag as I was leaving the house. This would be a good time for that proposal if you are serious about it. Now get out of here." I didn't say anything except "thank you" when I shook Hamm's hand.
I picked up a few items from my desk and shook Corning's hand. He wished me luck after asking if I was okay with this. I said I was. My girl's car was parked by my apartment. I opened my door and could hear Sharon in the bedroom. I could even make out the words she was singing. "I love you Tim Schwan, I love you Tim Schwan." It was a refrain being sung over and over.
I set my papers down and quietly walked to where Sharon was singing. She had showered and was drying her hair. There was a velveteen robe encasing her. I sang, "And I love you too Sharon Burdock. Will you marry me? Will you marry me?"
Sharon turned, startled. When she saw I meant it, she sang, "I love you Tim Schwan and yes I will marry you." After our first passionate kissing, she sang out the explanation that if Mel Tillis could sing and not stutter, then she could too. She had been practicing ever since I had mentioned it months ago. She sang that she couldn't do it all the time, but had been practicing those words especially.
A man and a woman could only dream about the wonderful four days we had before I had to leave. We lived them, they didn't. Friday afternoon we went out to a jewelers and I purchased a diamond for my love. We took time to go over and show Hamm and Celia. We went by Pam's apartment where there were tears and kisses of happiness bestowed all around. I left for Arizona and Sharon returned home. We carried each other's love in our hearts.
My project went well. My phase of it went extremely well and I actually came in under the projected cost of what was budgeted. Hamm had arranged for me to have the next week off and I could take Sharon to meet my family. During the two days before we left, we didn't see Pam. Her friends said that there was a man in her life and she spent all of her time with him. It was someone that worked for her father. Sharon didn't even know his name.
As we pulled into my parents' driveway, I told Sharon that my mother had been crippled in an auto accident eighteen years ago and was tied to a wheelchair. My father took care of her from the time their bedroom door closed in the evening until it opened in the morning. She worked in the office at the store everyday, being transported in a specially equipped van. Everyone still lived a normal life, even with the trouble that had landed on our family.
It was a wonderful week for all of us. My sister and brother-in-law had just had a child. Sharon watched how my father took care of my mother. Mother wasn't one to play on her disability and was as independent as her body would let her. That didn't mean that when she needed help, she didn't ask for it. Sharon forgot and sang something to me. I explained, which embarrassed her. My family listened and for the rest of the visit everyone was singing their conversation--that is when we weren't laughing about it. Sharon ended up feeling as much at home with my folks as she did with her own.
Sharon and my mother talked about a date that would be best for her and I to get married. It was to be during the Thanksgiving holiday, which I thought appropriate. The last day before we were to leave, Fed-ex stopped at the house. My soon-to-be-wife was all smiles as the driver came to the door. He had a package that was 2x3 feet and almost four inches thick. It was addressed to my mother, Amelia Schwan.
As my mother was peeling away the wrapping, Sharon sang, "I dabble a little in painting. I thought you might like to have a portrait of Tim. He hasn't seen this so it will be a surprise to him too." The portrait was of me in a hard hat and had evidently been painted from a photograph. I remembered when Pam snapped it and that was long before Sharon knew me. The portrait was excellent and mother was thrilled to have it hanging on the wall to look at.
We returned home, the vacation over. Plans went forward for our wedding with Celia, Pam and Sharon having their heads together at least twice a week. There was one thing that upset me and it had nothing to do with the wedding. Hamm had hired a new engineer while I was setting up the building site. I met him my first day back at work.
"Tim, I think you will be glad to meet our newest hire. He used you for a reference and said you knew each other very well. He is fitting in extremely well with us here. In fact he met and has been dating Pam."
"Hey, long time no see. It will be fun being together again just like we used to be."
I can tell you I was less than thrilled. "Hi Pal. I wondered where you ended up. I know now. How are you doing? Mr. Burdock found a place for you, did he?"
Hamm's head came up when I used the formal address. Pal answered. "Yes. I haven't done much yet. Just getting familiar with how things work. Hamm tells me you are almost married. I'd like to meet her. I understand she is Pam's sister. Who would guess you and I would end up dating sisters." I passed his comments off and appeared friendly and agreed to have him and Pam over for dinner.
Hamm picked up on the fact that I might not like Pal as much as Pal figured I did. After some general conversation, Pal went back to his desk. Hamm said to me, "Come up to my office Tim and tell me how things went the last couple of months."
I went up in the elevator with him. We didn't say much except he asked how I found my folks. When the office door closed Hamm said, "All right, I read that you aren't very happy with Pal Stevens working here. Tell me about it."
I hesitated to collect my thoughts. "I lived with Pal all four years that I was in engineering school. He is one of the most likable people you would ever meet. That said, the day we received our diplomas I hoped it was the last time I would see him. We talked about what the future held for us. You had already hired me to work here. He stated he was going out and find a rich woman, marry her, and be set for life. I guess he thinks he has found that person in Pam.
"It makes me sick to think about it. I love Pam as much as I do my own sister, and I wouldn't let him near her if I could prevent it. If he and Pam get serious she is going to be in for a lot of heartbreak. One other thing, I don't want a project to work on if he is any way involved, either before or after. You say he used me for a reference? Why in God's name didn't you check with me?"