I sat in my office thinking. I noticed the last couple of days that my twins, Matt and Mattie, aged fifteen, were unusually quiet and uneasy around me at home. They had always been open and looked me in the eyes when I talked to them. Matthew and Matilda were the ones that made my existence possible. This wasn't the case yesterday and this morning. There was so much different about their actions, I decided to go home early. They were usually home from school soon after three. I'd meet them and try to find out what the problem was.
I had a surprise when I pulled into the garage. Joan's car was parked in the driveway. Joan was never home this early and when she did come home, she always pulled inside and shut the garage door. I wondered to myself if these two events, my wife being home and the twins unease were related? I entered and could see Joan in the kitchen. She never prepared the evening meal leaving that chore to me and Mattie. Her hours usually kept her in the office until six and often she wouldn't be home until much later.
I stepped into the kitchen. "You're home early? How about the kids, where are they? Shouldn't Mattie be helping you?"
"Things are changing at the office. I came home to tell you all about it. The kids are upstairs and I didn't ask her to help. She has been acting strange and I didn't want to bother her. How about you? You're early too."
"I noticed that something was up with the kids the last two days. I came home to find out what the trouble is. You want me to pump them now or wait until dinner?"
"Why don't you wait? It probably isn't anything."
I stood watching my wife and wondered if I still loved her. At thirty-five she was still very lovely to look at. We had married when she was barely twenty. I was six years older and working my way through college. We met in a bar on a rare night off from my studies. I knew she wasn't old enough to drink, but she seemed mature so neither one of us worried about it. I purchased some beer and we went parking which was our usual activity. I saw her weekends, going so far as to skip some of my jobs that I needed to finish paying for my schooling.
Six weeks later she informed me she was pregnant and her parents insisted that we get married. I will say they were good about everything and invited me to move into their home with Joan until I graduated and found a job. Two months later I graduated and went to work in the personnel office at a large factory. It did not make much sense to move away from her folks. They were willing to have us stay until after the baby was born.
The twins were a surprise to us and my mother-in-law doted on the babies. She was actually a better mother to them than Joan was. Our love life--that sucked. When an apartment opened across the street, I signed a lease. Joan found that not living with Mommy was a lot more work for her. Our first real serious fight came over her wanting to get her tubes tied. I didn't want her to because if something happened to the kids we wouldn't have any way to have more.
"I'm leaving then. I don't even want to care for these I have, why would I want more?"
We compromised by her having what she wanted with the promise that she would give the kids her utmost attention until they were old enough for school. She kept her bargain and I kept mine. Joan enrolled in college and eventually earned a law degree. Smart, she was able to pass the bar exam soon after she graduated.
I was advancing in my chosen field, so I was able to pay for her education. I was hoping that when Joan found work, her wages would make us able to hire help to keep up the house and do more for the kids. No, that was her money, she earned it, it was hers. I wouldn't beg so I worked vacations and sometimes picked up outside work. I still made time for Matt and Mattie and we had a special bond together. One that they and their mother would never have.
You wonder about our love life. Well it was better and a lot more frequent before Joan and I were married. I hated it when I would hear the kids talk about their friends. Some had divorced parents and I did everything to avoid going after a divorce, so I suffered. I never knew if Joan cheated on me. She could have and probably did. I didn't--hell I was too burdened keeping food on the table and guiding my children through school, sports and their personal problems.
We sat at the table and Joan brought in the food and served us. We ate silently and Joan cleared the table and came back in and sat down. I knew something momentous was coming. She hit me with it without preamble.
"Ben, I'm sick of family life, so I'm just moving out. You make good money and the twins are fifteen. They can take care of themselves. You will be getting papers from me in a few days. I'm not asking for alimony or anything, although working as an attorney, I probably could get some." She waited to see what I was going to say.
"You've been cheating on me, I assume. There is someone else, isn't there?"
"Of course not, what do you think I am?"
Mattie, with her face flushed, stood and looked ready to run. "I know what you are, Mother. You are a whore and I know that for sure."
I started to tell Mattie to be quiet and not show her mother such disrespect. Joan had a few nasty words for her daughter. "Liar. You don't know what you are talking about. It is none of your business anyway!"
"Mattie, you and Matt go to your rooms. She is your mother and I won't have you accusing her of something like that."
"Go, now! I will talk to you later."
Joan was so mad she was shaking. I looked closer and there was some fear in her face too. Maybe there could be something the kids did know about her. "I'm not staying here another minute to be insulted by those brats. God, I've waited years to get away from them, and you too as well, Ben. All I can say is have a good life."
Watching her go up to her room to pack, I contemplated living without her. Hey, maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all. Joan never looked at me when she struggled past me with her two suitcases. Before she was out of hearing, "Hey kids you can come out now. Your loving mother has left." I heard Joan's car door slam and she burned rubber all the way up the street.
"Dad, that last remark was pretty disrespectful. Maybe you should go to your room."
"Okay, give me the details. What do you know about your mother and what she has done? You must know something to stand up to her like you have."
"I think I have everything you need Daddy to come out of this divorce and have the good life Mother just wished you would have with us. You know Matt and I weren't born of a lawyer for nothing. You will have to get a lawyer of your own to fight Mother. Matt and I have polled all our friends whose parents have been divorced. See if you can get Betty Bumgarten. She is a shark and always wins in court. She doesn't even mind phone calls at home in the evening. Honest, we know. You could even call her now."
An hour later I was being represented and my own suit was to be filed. I was to meet the attorney in her office tomorrow after school let out. She wanted to talk with the twins also. She wanted to establish what home life had been recently for them. This would have a bearing on what Joan would have to pay for child support. I hadn't thought about getting help in any financial way. Of course it would be up to the court, but it was up to my attorney to see that her client was treated fairly.
Mattie's face was flushed when she sat down to tell me what she knew. She seemed reluctant to tell me everything, but warmed to spilling her evidence. "Daddy, Mother has been having sex with somebody in her room on Thursday afternoons. I came home three weeks ago, not feeling well. I heard her upstairs when I came in. She didn't even have her door closed when I went to my room. I think the guy is someone she works with. I hid in my room until after they showered and left." Tears were running down Mattie's face.
Matt spoke up, "I saw them too, a week ago on a Thursday. It was an in-service day for the teachers so we had the afternoon off. Mother and that guy were at it, just like Mattie told you. They were so busy they didn't see me take some pictures on my cell phone. The pictures aren't very plain, but you can tell it is Mother."
I looked at my kids. "Is this what has been bothering you for the last few days?"
"Yes, we were trying to figure out how to tell you, and that is why we were acting odd. We didn't want to hurt you."
"I guess I haven't much love left for your mother. Actually I am kind of relieved. I'm sorry for you kids though. There was always the hope she would change. I can see now that she was just waiting for the best time to dump us."
"Daddy, I have more. Did you know Mother is worth thousands of dollars? When Matt was daring to get Mother's picture, I went through her briefcase and found some bank statements and papers. I scanned them through our home printer and put them back. The timing was close and I almost got caught. I wonder what she would have done if she had caught me. I was awful scared."
"You did all this while your mother was upstairs having sex?" Mattie just nodded. "Why don't you give me everything you have. I'll show it to Mrs. Bumgarten when I talk to her tomorrow. How did you know about her anyway? I can't believe the story about polling for a lawyer."
"She lives down on the east end of the street. I mow her lawn in the summer and shovel her walk in the winter. You know Dad, all the neighbors think you are the best dad going. Mattie even has a statement from Mrs. Garland next door that Mother always comes home for two hours on Thursdays. She always wondered if you knew about it."
We sat together and watched a stupid sitcom this evening. It was weird knowing that Joan wasn't coming home tonight. However little love we had for the wife and mother, she was something to be missed. Joan had never mothered the twins, but she was at least on the surface there for her daughter. Now there was no female presence for Mattie here at all.
I would have to do something to change that. "Kids, I think I will have to hire a housekeeper of some kind. Would you ask around for someone suitable? You two know more about running this home than I do, so the person we choose will have to be someone you can get along with. You have been wonderful in all that you have been doing around here so far. Now it is time to ease up a little. I know you have been working for the neighbors, doing baby-sitting and chores for whoever needed you. I'll see if I can't find some spending money so you won't have to work so much."
"But we like working for the neighbors. They treat us just like we were their own kids. All of the seniors depend on us for a lot of things. We couldn't stop helping them."
"Okay then, that is your choice. If I get someone to help us here at home, we will have the time to do some things for fun."
The meeting with my attorney went well. She took all of the information that Matt and Mattie had collected. She was quite interested in Mrs. Garland's statement that was written and signed. I was also questioned about the circumstances of the last evening. What was said and especially how Joan announced she was leaving.
"I think you are in a good position to retain custody of your children and your wife may have to pay support for them until they come of age. I would like to have her served before you are. Would you trust me enough to watch out for your interests and to sign a blank form? I will work on it tonight and have it filed first thing in the morning. There is a distinct advantage for the aggrieved party to file first."
"Whatever you say. The twins trust you and so far they haven't disappointed me."
"They are great children. I could wish that their generation was all like them."
That afternoon my secretary announced that I had a call on line two from some woman that sounded terribly mad. She thought it might be my wife. "Hello Joan."
"Ben, you son-of-a-bitch. You had me served right here in my office. What are you trying to do to me? Where do you get off charging abandonment, and with having adulterous sex in the presence of underage children? You know that isn't true."
"And you hired Betty Bumgarten to represent you. You know we don't get along. She'll rip me apart in front of the judge."
"Joan, you always claimed to be the best attorney in town. I paid enough to make you one. It doesn't seem that I can win either way. If I paid to make you the best, I'm sure it will cost me everything I own if you win in court. If you fail to come out on top and don't get everything you want, well, I'll have to live with that too. You have a good day now. I have a busy schedule and can't talk any longer." I hung up.
I had to work late that afternoon. This was unusual and couldn't have come at a worse time. My concern was with the twins and how they were handling being motherless. I needn't have worried. When I opened the door, the smell of pot roast was wafting from the kitchen. Mattie was bustling around setting the table. Matt was tearing up a lettuce head, making a salad at the sideboard.
Before I turned back to the kitchen an unknown voice said, "Mr. Jones, I'm Persis Swartz. Matt asked me to come in and interview for the housekeeper position."
I faced this woman. I could see immediately that she was considerably older than I was and tall. Her hair was still raven with touches of gray. It was nicely coiffured. Little diamond pendants hung from her ears. As she removed her apron, I could see a matching larger pendant laying on her ample chest, held there by an almost invisible gold chain. She was probably a little thicker in the middle than she would have been twenty years ago, but not by much. Her slacks emphasized her long legs and I could tell her clothes didn't come from a discount store.
I was speechless. How in hell would my son know somebody like this and why would she consider a position as a housekeeper? I stammered, "I'm pleased to meet you."
"Good, now that we have met, seat yourself and I will put the food on the table. There is wine in the cooler by your chair. Would you pour a glass for us and Mattie and Matt can get themselves a bottle of pop. We can talk when we relax after dinner. Then would be a good time to discuss what your needs are." The dinner was superb. Matt and Mattie sat there with smug looks on their faces.
Later, "Daddy, I need new underwear. I can walk to the mall and Matt said he would go and stay with me. Would you pick us up in a couple of hours? He has his cell and will call you when we are ready."
"You can and I will pick you up, but don't you think you have some chores to do before you go?"
"Of course. I'll get them done and then we'll go." She popped up and stacked the dishes in the washer. Matt was right beside her when they went banging out the door.
"I like your daughter. I've known Matt for years and I'm not surprised that she is as nice as he is."
"I've never heard him mention you. Where did you meet him?"
"At home. He used to come by and play cards or checkers and later chess with my husband Bernie. Bernie and I have only one daughter. Unfortunately we had a falling out years ago and she left. We haven't heard from her for years. I say we. That's a habit. Bernie died six months ago and I've been alone ever since.
"Matt, thoughtful as he is, thought of me when you discussed needing someone. So here I am. Mattie filled me in on your situation while I was preparing dinner. I will only be available for about six months. I have sold the home Bernie built for me and I have purchased a condo in Arizona. It won't be ready for that long or maybe a little longer. This can only be a short term position for me. By that time you will be divorced and will want to start looking for a new mom for your children."
I smiled at this and she saw me. It had been a sad smile.
"What's the matter? Isn't that your plan?"
"It's a nice plan. Unfortunately it has some holes in it. First of all I'll be forty in a month. I've got two teenage kids. Everyone knows teenagers are trouble. I'm a personnel officer in the factory where I work and I have people skills. The big 'but' in that is I wouldn't even know how to approach a woman for a date. What would she think if I brought her home for a sexual encounter and all I could do was fumble around? The word would get out about what a klutz I was. I might as well give up now before I suffer that embarrassment."
"I can assume you like sex all right or you wouldn't have mentioned it to me. I also can assume you haven't had much of it lately, knowing your situation as I do. What you need is someone to teach you. As long as you have the equipment you'll be fine."
My face was a bright shade of red. She continued. "It has been almost a year since I have had sex. I could use some. Bernie and I used to get pretty wild before he was sick. I'd love to teach you what I know--and I know a lot. How about it, am I hired as your live-in housekeeper with benefits?"
I had to laugh, this was unreal. She sat looking at me with a delightful little smile on her lips. "Sounds like fun doesn't it? Sex should be fun, that's why people enjoy it so much. Okay we'll plan on having sex before very long. We should get used to each other for a few days first.
"To build up for it, I want to have your eyes on me, discreetly watching me. I like to have a man look at me. I can feel it even when I can't see it. When we are alone, don't be bashful. I'm assuming you find me attractive, so do things so I know you admire how I look. Think about how it will be to be with me. The twins will get onto it eventually and they won't mind, I promise."
I just had time to tell her how attractive she was before the phone rang. It was the police station. "I have two kids here that say they live at this address. Are you Benjamin Jones?"
"Yes and if their names are Matt and Mattie, they are mine."
"The girl Mattie was slapped by a woman that says she is the girl's mother. I have the woman in detention until we get this sorted out. The girl would like to have you bring your housekeeper to be with her until she can come home. So would you come down to the station?"
"Yes, it will be a few minutes though."
"That's okay. Nobody's going anywhere."
I gave Betty Bumgarten a call and told her what little I knew about the situation. She said she would meet us at the station.
It was slightly crowded when we went into the room with Matt and Mattie. Betty, Persis and I stood just inside the door.
"Are you okay Mattie? What happened at the mall? Why did your mother slap you?"
"I'm fine Daddy. Matt and I were walking by this jewelers when I recognized Mother and a man standing looking in the window at rings. It was the same man she was having sex with in her room at home the time I saw her. It made me awful mad. When Mother turned around, I called her the same thing I did last night and then she slapped me. Mother never hit me before. It surprised me and I fell down. Matt had been taking pictures of Mother and that man. When I fell down Matt started for me to help me up. I think the man thought Matt was going to hit back at Mother. He went after Matt, but there was a security guard and he prevented Matt from being attacked."
She was watching me to see how I was reacting. I wasn't pleased. "I did wrong, didn't I?"
"I guess it was something you felt you had to do. I wish you hadn't. It is all right to say something like that in the privacy of home. You did this in public. We may not love your mother as much as we used to, but I don't think you wanted to destroy her. Maybe we can find her and you can apologize. Where is she, anyway?"
"She is watching us through that window over there." I looked off to the side of me. Persis had been blocking my view of the glass partition.
Joan sat in the room. My father-in-law, Percy, was in there with her. She evidently had called on her father in case she had to be bailed out or something. Percy and I had always had a fine relationship going back to the time Joan and I were first married and living in his home. The twins adored him. When Emmaline died the kids often stopped over to see their grandfather, because he missed his wife, their grandmother, so much.
"Come Mattie, I'll go with you and then maybe we can all go home. When you apologize, try to sound as if you mean it. Otherwise you might as well not do it at all."
Betty spoke, "Ben, I take it you don't want to press charges?"
"No, of course not. Both Mattie and Joan reacted in anger from a perceived hurt. Mattie from the loss of her mother and Joan from trying to stop her children from labeling her."
"That's pretty perceptive, Ben. I think you are doing the right thing."
Mattie and I went to the door of the next room. They could see us of course. I knocked anyway. Percy jumped up and came out. Mattie and he hugged with a "I love you, Gramps." I was watching Joan seeing the affection between her father and her daughter. I could also see sadness there. She caught me looking at her and her face changed immediately to a defiant look.
Percy turned and shook my hand and went on to find Matt. We entered. "Mother, I came to apologize for what I called you in public. It was a wrong thing to do and I am sorry."
"Thank you, Mattie. I'm sorry I struck you. I felt embarrassed and reacted too quickly. I will never hit you again, I promise."
"Thank you, Mother. I'm going to find Matt now." She went slowly out the door.
Joan was just waiting for the right time to ask me something. I read her mind. "I know, Joan you want me to tell you who the older lady with me is. Her name is Persis Swartz. She is a widow. I have engaged her to be my housekeeper and a female presence in the house for Mattie. It is a short time arrangement as she is moving to Arizona in a few months where she has bought a condo after selling her home here in town."
"Where will she be sleeping?"
"I haven't got that far yet, as we were discussing that when the police called. Most likely at her home if she still lives there or at a motel until you move the stuff from your room. I'd like it to be moved soon though. I can put your belongings in storage if you don't have a place for them. You have those antique items from your grandmother that you should find a place for."
"I thought you would hold them hostage."
"No, they meant a lot to you and you should have them with you."
"That's generous of you, Ben. I'll have somebody get them in a couple of days. How come you chose Betty for an attorney?"
"She is someone Mattie knew. That is the same way I found Mrs. Swartz. Matt used to play cards with her husband when he was sick and helped her out occasionally. I'm finding out the twins are pretty popular up and down our neighborhood. They have worked for pocket change since they were little kids. I never could give them any and you didn't seem to have any to spare, so they worked for it."
"I didn't mean it that way. I was just telling you what they did."
"Is Mattie pressing charges on me? She has a good case."
"No. That was my decision. Betty approved. You should be able to go soon."
"Thank you Ben." I turned and left.
Percy met me and said he had been informed that Joan was free to go. "You know Ben, when you and Joan are divorced, that doesn't mean you aren't still my son-in-law."
"We'll always be close Percy. You can count on it."
I dropped Persis off at her door. I hadn't known where she lived and it wasn't that distant from home. I was going to have to get out more and visit with my neighbors in the future. I'm sure the twins could introduce me around. As we passed down the street, Matt told me the names of the people that lived in each house.
Mattie was silent on the way home. When we sat for a few minutes before bed she brought up what was bothering her. "Daddy are you mad at me? I caused a mess didn't I?"
"No, I'm not mad. In the future you will have to stop and think before you do something like you did tonight. Remember, your mother did the same thing. She is older and should have known better. That doesn't excuse you, but you won't be blamed as much as her. Now, if I find out you saw your mother and said to yourself, 'There is my mother, I'm going to cause her some trouble and embarrassment and if she slaps me that is even better, ' I'd be mad. Do you understand the difference?"
"Matt, what happened to the pictures you took when Mattie and your Mother were embarrassing each other?"
"Mrs. Bumgarten has them. She said she wouldn't use them if Mother gave you a fair divorce settlement. That is if she doesn't go for custody of Mattie and me. She said just the expression on Mother's face would win you custody. She is going to give me back my cell tomorrow after she downloads them."
"Good, let's go to bed. I'm bushed."
"Daddy, I didn't get any new underwear." For some reason that cracked us all up.
Things settled down for a little while. It took Joan a week to come and remove what she wanted. Betty thought I was being way too generous with my wife. I let Joan take most everything she wanted, some of which had considerable value. Betty wondered if I still loved my wife. No I didn't. I said I wasn't doing it for her. I was doing it for her father. I wanted to keep him as a friend. He had always been close to me and the twins. Besides, Joan would have to declare the items when the assets were counted up for the division.
Persis moved in and the first night she was there, my education began. When Joan and I purchased the house, the two bedrooms upstairs on one end of the house each had their own bath. Both had entrance to the hallway and had an adjoining door between which could be locked. For years, I checked the door every night. I rarely found it unlocked and for the last year, never. A foolish way to live, but I had resigned myself to the situation.
It was an hour after the twins were in bed that Persis and I retired. I took my shower and crawled into bed. I wondered if she would come to me. Maybe I should go to her? Damn it, I was acting like a school kid. I had, as she requested, watched her as she walked by, or away, or coming to me for a week as she worked around the house. I could see the appreciation as she basked in my looking at her. Maybe tonight was not the night.
I was almost asleep when she landed on top of me, literally. She was giggling like a school girl. "Are you ready to make love? Honest I'm going to show you how to make love. Anyone can have sex. You can have sex anywhere, but to make love you need a bed. Somewhere you can rest and relax and show your appreciation of what is being done to you. Where you can see and feel the appreciation in the one you are loving. Now hold me and kiss me. That is where we start."
The first part of the night was intense and I knew it wasn't love. It had been too long for both of us. Our last act was to shower and then lie together basking in the feeling of satisfaction. I turned on the bedside lamp so I could look into her eyes. "Persis, I don't know how to thank you. You are wonderful."
"Pretty good aren't I? It will get better too, when we get more attuned to each other and we can read our bodies. Tonight I was too demanding and that is what we both needed. Tomorrow night we will begin on some of the things that are more subtle but fully as satisfying. Goodnight Ben, you are going to make a wonderful lover. I'm glad I found you."
It took the twins over a month to catch on. I thought that I was being so careful, but I guess my whole personality changed. I was totally happy for the first time in my life. One Saturday morning Persis had gone grocery shopping, and Mattie had declined to go with her. This in itself was unusual for Mattie doted on Persis. Persis had become the mother that Joan had never been.
Matt and Mattie came in while I was finishing my last cup of morning coffee. Mattie came right out with the question I think to shock an answer out of me. "Daddy are you and Persis having sex? Matt says you can't be, but I just know you are."
I put off answering by asking the question of my own that bothered me. "Would you object if I did?"
"I wouldn't. Matt thinks she is too old anyway, although he is proud he was the one that found her for us."
"Matt, so you would object? Couples have sex well into their seventies and eighties. That's a scientific fact."
"I would object if it changed the way things are now. I love having her here. She was my friend before either of you knew her. I don't want her hurt. I would go live with Mother if you did that. I can't stand Mother so you can see how serious I am."
"You know that Persis is going to be here only a few more months. When she leaves, I am going to start going out with other women. We talk a lot and she tells me ways to make a woman think I'm something that they might want to marry. So she is helping that way. She has brightened my outlook on life. Matt, if you have to know the answer to Mattie's question about me having sex, ask Persis."
"I couldn't ask her that. She wouldn't be my friend anymore. It would be prying."
"Aren't you prying by asking me?"
"You are right, Dad. What you are telling us is it isn't any of our business. I'm sorry." He shot daggers at his twin sister. She was the more curious of the two and needed to find out about their father.
"I'll tell you what. You two start looking for a wife for me. You have done wonders with Persis in making me happy. You find Persis' daughter, Ellen, and if she isn't married and will have me, I will marry her."
"Why don't you marry Persis?"
"I have asked her. She is looking to the future with me in mind. She says when I'm sixty-five she will be eighty. That's too old, and she won't be convinced otherwise. Matt thinks she is too old for sex now, what about then?" This conversation had to cease when Persis arrived with a trunk full of groceries.
All of this talk about sex and growing old had depressed me. Not for myself. I was gaining confidence in myself everyday due to Persis' tutelage. What about her though? I wanted her to be happy as she aged. I loved this woman. I knew that a person had many ways to love. I didn't know what I had for Persis, but it was definitely some kind of love. I now had an agenda for Persis to be happy just as she was working on the one for me.
I started inviting Percy over for dinner on Saturday nights. Then I switched it to Sunday dinner. This was so he didn't feel he had to go home right away. The fifth time he was over, he left a little earlier than he was wont to do. That night when Persis came to me in my room, she acted a little different. "Ben, are you tired of me?"
"No, Persis I love you. I'll never be tired of you. What made you ask that?"
"What are you trying to do by throwing Percy at me? You must have a reason. I wish you would explain."
"Look Persis, I have never loved a person more than I love you. I asked you to marry me. You turned me down. Is that still your decision?"
"It is. I haven't changed it. I love you too, Ben, but it wouldn't work and I won't attempt to make it work."
"Okay I'll give you my reasoning. Percy is fairly young, no more than two or three years older than you. He is one of the finest, truest men I know. I would like to see him happy and more importantly, I'd like to see you happy too. I don't want you to leave and go to Arizona where I can only see you when I'm on vacation or something. I can't bear to have you so far away. I'd give up having you in my arms like tonight if you would stay here where I could see you occasionally when I wanted to."
We were lying side by side in bed with the lights out. Persis was very quiet, and motionless. I turned on the light on her side of the bed. She was lying there with tears coursing down her face. She turned out the light and turned to me. "I've had two loves in my life. Bernie of course and now you. I don't want to go to Arizona anymore either. I wish I wasn't so old, so I could in good conscience marry you. Percy did ask me for a date tonight. He wants to take me to a concert Saturday evening. I think I better tell him yes."
I hugged Persis as tight as I could and cried a little so my tears could mingle with hers. Later we joined together in ways that could only be called a symphony of love. I knew there might not be many more of these nights and in my head I knew this was right. My heart though, was bleeding--but I suppose that would heal in time.
Betty Bumgarten had worked on the divorce diligently. She had enough evidence to make Joan almost a pauper, if I would have agreed. As we negotiated I got what I most wanted in the first round. That was custody of the twins. The next session brought a liberal child support for them from her. During the division of our assets, Betty had to bring out everything that would have given most of her assets to me. The most damaging was the hateful look that Matt had captured during the mall incident when Joan slapped Mattie.
Joan knew it as soon as she was shown the picture. "What do you want, Ben? Leave me something. I have to live too."
"I know that Joan. I want to tell you how I feel you treated me for all of our married life. I also would like to know why. Even now, I don't hate you although most people would say I should. I don't love you in any way either, and I guess that is the saddest part. If it wasn't for the twins I would say our marriage was a waste. They make the difference. The why of it and how I feel has no bearing on this, so sometime in the future if we can become partial friends, we can explore it then.
"As far as wanting a fair share of your assets. You make a good salary. There will be only three years of child support, so that isn't going to kill you over the long term. I paid for you to go to school and become an attorney, and you turned around and refused to help even with the household expenses. Also you withheld your salary from me for the length of our marriage. This has not only been a severe burden on me, but also to our children. They derived no benefits from you while you were away from home working. You neglected them and their care while you were stockpiling these sums. Look into your soul and if I'm not right we can start this negotiation over again."
Joan's attorney asked, "What percentage of her assets are we talking about?"
"Fifty percent and that is nonnegotiable."
Joan and her attorney conferred, while Betty whispered to me, "You're a pussycat, you know."
"I know, but I plan on sleeping tonight, too." She just smiled. I think she liked my reasoning, shark that she pretended to be.
The attorneys agreed on the division and the language, so over a period of time my marriage to Joan was to be dissolved.
Matt and Mattie were working on some project on the computer, spending hours on the Internet. I questioned what it was about and was informed that it was nothing illegal, they were looking up different personages and tracing their roots. The twins were always truthful so I never questioned, but what they were doing was in fact, just as they said it was.
I knew the night Percy was successful in getting Persis into bed. I heard her come home and the shower run in her bath. I waited but she never came through the door. It was very difficult in the morning for me. Maybe it was for her too. Neither of us brought the subject up and that is the way Persis wanted it to be. I was thankful and had no real regrets. Persis and I would have been happy for a long time, but as she said, not long enough. When I saw how happy Percy was, I knew just how he felt. I looked back. I had received almost four months of wonderful love and it was something to treasure.
Percy came to me one day. "Ben, I know Persis is your housekeeper but I want to spend much more time with her. I have asked her to move in with me. She said if you would agree she would do your housework during the day but live with me so we could have the nights together. She is her own person but for some reason she feels obligated to you."
"Has she given up plans to move to Arizona?"
"Yes, she wants to be close to the twins and she said close to you too."
"Will you be asking her to be your wife sometime in the future?"
"That is a definite yes!"
"Good. Let's make it happen as soon as possible. How does Joan feel about having a stepmom?"
"I haven't told her yet. I don't see much of her. She knows how displeased I was with her when she walked out on you and the twins, so we don't talk much. I do know that man she left you for didn't last. That nest egg that Joan tried to squirrel away from you was the major attraction. When she had to give you some of it, he left."
"What is she doing now?"
"Just working I guess. Believe it or not, I think she misses the twins."
"Well, she shouldn't have tried so hard to push them away."
The twins' sixteenth birthday was coming up soon. What a change since their last birthday. I had been divorced for a couple of months now. Joan and I did not travel in the same circles so we rarely saw each other. The twins saw their mother on occasion and sent an e-mail thank you when cards came in the mail. They had placed the blame squarely on Joan for the breakup of the family.
I dated a few times, but after having Persis, all my dates paled in comparison. I did see Joan at Percy and Persis's wedding. I suppose it was ironic, for Persis asked me to give her away when she married Percy. The twins had a grandmother again and it was someone they loved with all their hearts. They spent as much time hanging out now with their grandparents as they did with me.
I don't think Joan ever forgave Persis for moving in the day after she moved out. Not only that, Joan was a little (lot) vindictive and when she saw how happy we were with Persis, she couldn't warm up to her under any circumstances. Then Percy chose Persis for a wife and that grated on her too.
I was home alone one evening when the door chime rang. It was Joan. "Hi Ben, you are looking well. May I come in?"
I let her in and she brushed close by me. Joan looked around. The house was sparkling which was something it never had been when Joan managed it. Joan had taken some furniture out of the dining room and I had replaced it with some that Persis didn't want to store. "I guess I didn't hurt you much by my leaving did I? You seemed to have coped fairly well."
"Yes, it seems that way, doesn't it? Did you want something specific?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact I do. I want to talk about the twins' birthday. Sixteen was a big deal for me. Do you have anything special planned for them?"