Her demeanor gave me my first clue. You see, our daughter Patti was here at home crying on Barb's and my shoulders. It seems that Patti had been slightly unfaithful (her words) to her husband, Bill. She was here wanting me, her father, to intercede on her behalf and talk Bill into taking her back. After all, nearly ninety percent of men were unfaithful to their wives. Bill probably had been, as he was always flirting and having women touching and fawning all over him (her words again).
"Have you ever caught him doing anything other than being faithful? He is handsome and most women want to be near him. What in the world possessed you to cheat on him, anyway?"
"Well I didn't mean to. We were at that party and Bill had to leave to fix something at the factory. I had a little more to drink than I should have and he did say he wouldn't be coming back. He told me to catch a ride with one of my friends."
"The friend that took me home was Rob Dunklee and he kept telling me how much he adored me. He started kissing me and when we got to our driveway he started feeling me up. It felt good so I let him and I guess I was a little drunk. I didn't know Bill was home already. The next thing I knew Bill had flung the car door open and saw me with my top unbuttoned and my bra off with Rob's hands on my breasts. I was sitting on Rob's lap and he was--" She stopped there. Patti was crying and sobbing as she was telling us this.
"Patti, if you think I'm going to side with you or interfere, I'm not. I thought your mother and I taught you better than to cheat on your husband. Your mother and I have been married for thirty years and if she did that to me, I'd toss her butt out. It would rip me apart, but I would feel I had to, just to keep my self-respect."
"Come on Daddy, you must have been tempted in the last thirty years, haven't you?"
"Sure. Several times tempted, that is. But there has to be mutual respect between loved ones. Do you think your mother has ever gone out and got laid and been unfaithful to me?"
There was total silence. I hadn't looked at Barb while I was berating Patti. The silence brought me around so I was staring at my wife. She was pale and looking at the floor. "Barb, look at me." She couldn't. I got up and left the room.
I went out into the kitchen. Patti was still crying when she came to get her coat. "Patti, did you know your mother has been unfaithful to me?" Now Patti wouldn't look at me. So, I could conclude she probably did know. "Like mother, like daughter. Get the hell out of here. I know just how Bill, that poor bastard, feels. I hope he kicks your ass out for good."
I went back into the living room and this time Barb looked at me. "I'm sorry Mark. Can you forgive me?"
"I think you are sorry I found out. Evidently Patti knows what you've done. Can you imagine how I feel about that. Every time she came over, she probably looked at me with pity. Well I know about it now, so all we have to figure out is what is going to happen next."
"Can't we go on just like we have been? I still love you."
"I can't. There are too many that know about it. You, Patti, probably Bill, your lover and all of those he most likely bragged to about getting into your pants. No, no, no!"
"I have never denied you anything. I've given you all the sex and love you wanted. I've raised your children, kept your house, attended your functions and been by your side whenever you needed me."
"How about trust, honor and commitment? Did I have those too? I thought I did, but apparently I haven't. I guess the only thing for me to do is leave. You had better get an attorney to represent you. I will try to be as amicable as possible through all of this. If you could read my mind right at this minute, it would make you afraid of me."
I walked upstairs and started packing a suitcase. I had traveled quite a lot, so it only took me a few minutes to decide what to take. When I came back down, Barb was still sitting where I left her.
"Don't you want me to tell you about it and how it happened?"
"No, I don't. You must have been willing, because I know you don't drink, so you can't even use the same excuse that Patti has. I'll have my lawyer call you so you can tell him who you have retained. God Barb, I admit I have been happy with you, but I don't see where I could ever be again. You better tell Pete. Patti most likely will, but he better hear it from you. Boy is he going to be hit hard when he finds out both his sister and his mother have been screwing around." I left before Barb could say anything more.
I sat in the motel room thinking back over my life. I suppose I had an easy time of living up until now. My folks were upper middle-class, so I had been able to have a good education. Everyone always said I was too serious, but people knew where they stood with me. Not that I am overly righteous, and I didn't feel that way about this situation with Barb. You had to have some rules to live by, though. Marriage to me was a solemn and serious affair and when I took the vows, I knew I would keep them and everyone else should too.
What made Barb think she didn't have to? She was a grade school teacher. Christ, she taught the kids to adhere to rules everyday. If they didn't they were punished. This guy that she didn't deny having an affair with must be something. Did I want to know about him? That was a definite no. I might find out he had a bigger dick, gave her better orgasms, or treated her better than I did. I don't see how he could, though. All the time we have been together, I have thought of Barb first in everything, including sex.
My thoughts turned directly to Barb. She was an attractive woman forty-nine years old, keeping herself toned and groomed. But then I kept myself that way too. Neither one of us would have any trouble finding another companion. Wait, she had already found hers. It was only me that would be looking. As I sat there still thinking about her, I decided that I didn't feel the same about her as I did just two hours ago. It was a big loss and it left a hole in my heart, but I hoped that would close after awhile. The love I had for her would last for a long time, it just wasn't as strong as it used to be.
Pete and Patti, our kids, I'm sure would pressure me to stay married to their mother. Maybe not though, Patti at least knew of her mother's affair. Maybe she thought Barb was traveling down a better road away from me, instead of with me. Well, I would deal with this the same way I did everything, wait and see what developed and then choose the best alternative.
I called Jim, my attorney, Monday morning and said I wanted a divorce from Barbara. He questioned me extensively as he was not only my lawyer but a friend of both of us as well. I told him I didn't have any proof. He said whoever Barb chose for a lawyer would advise her to fight the divorce. I said there was no way that Barb could get my love back no matter how hard she fought for it. I said I would be fair in any settlement and would split everything down the middle, so besides the paperwork that was the main goal for him.
My secretary took calls from Jim, Pete, Patti and Barbara in the afternoon. I had directed her to tell them to call my motel in the evening if they wanted to talk to me. Pete, Patti and Barb were waiting for me when I reached my motel. "Dad, can we talk in your room? Mom knows she has wronged you, but she is hoping you can get beyond this."
"We can talk, but she is going to be disappointed." We went up to my room on the second level. "Did Bill take you back Patti?"
"I begged him to and he said I could come back, but I would have to stay in the guest room until he makes up his mind. He won't sleep with me either." Tears were in her eyes.
"Well good luck. If you beg hard enough and really intend to remain faithful, he might." Barb was given some hope over what I said to our daughter. I soon dashed her hopes. "You made a mistake. Maybe Bill can live with that. I can't though. I'm just not made that way."
"Mark, if you come home and I sleep in the spare room, can't we resolve this?"
"I haven't made up my mind yet. First, who did you have an affair with?"
"You don't know him, so you don't need to know his name."
"Where did you meet him?"
"At the teachers' convention."
"Twenty-seven years ago."
"How many times have you been in his bed?"
"I'm not going to answer that. Haven't I told you enough? I admit I had sex with him. What more can I say?"
I sat there looking at my wife. Then the thought struck me. There is a teachers' convention every year and Barb went to them all. Was that why she wouldn't answer? I had to know. "So you have had sex every year for the last twenty-seven years with him at the convention. Is that right?"
Her head came up with that. "Not every year. If you must know I missed two. It looks like I am going to miss this year too. I'm so ashamed of all of this. I didn't realize what it looks like until it has been brought out into the open. Mark, come on, you were never hurt by this. Remember the great sex we have when I get home from the convention? Both Pete and Patti were conceived in those sessions."
I wanted to hurt, suspecting that great sex with me was her remembering the time with her lover only a day before. "Or they were conceived a few days before you got home. It looks like that could be a distinct possibility."
That got to her. "We took precautions. It did not happen. Pete and Patti are yours."
"You have to admit I have reason to doubt you. Right now I don't even know why I'm talking to you. I've got a whore for a wife and you want me to forgive you and for me to forget about what you have done. Bullshit!" I said to Pete, "I hope you are my son. I don't know what I would do if you aren't."
"What about me Daddy? I'm your kid too. I know I am."
"Well why don't you act like it then? Patti, you know I love you, but what you've done to Bill breaks my heart."
"I'm sorry Daddy. Please talk to Bill and make him forgive me. I couldn't do to him what Mom has done to you. I promise I'll be true to him forever."
"Okay, Pumpkin, I'll talk to him. You two kids go along, I want to talk to your mother. I'll see that she gets home." I got a hug from Patti and a handshake from Pete.
Barbara sat very still on the bed watching this. When they left and I could see their car leave the parking area, I turned to my wife. "They are great kids. I hope Patti does what she says she will. Two whores in the same family would be too much. Even if the kids aren't mine, I love them."
"Mark, stop calling me a whore. Three nights out of a year does not make me a whore."
"What am I supposed to call you? Maybe a loving wife that only cheats a little. How would that be?"
"You might as well take me home if all you are going to do is call me names. We've always been able to talk without being nasty to each other."
"Okay, I'll try. You have to know how I feel about this and realize how much you have hurt me."
"I didn't realize before, but I'm beginning to. I was crushed when Patti came and told me what she had done. She and Pete knew about me. I thought her knowing about me would keep her from doing the same thing."
"How long have they known?"
"Two years ago, they came to the convention to visit. They found a man in my room and I couldn't cover up what we had been doing. I made them promise to never tell you. As far as they know I haven't had him in my room since."
"What should I know about this man? If you have been cheating with him for twenty-seven years, he must be really something."
"Mark, I was twenty-two at the time I met him. Teachers flirt just the same as any other group. He and I were flirting and we both got too hot. It happened, and we had sex. This occurred the last night of the convention that year. I came home and you and I had wild sex. I found out shortly after that I was pregnant with Patti. The next year I didn't go to the convention because Patti was a baby. The year after that there was no question. I spent all three nights with him. I missed my monthly after I came home and Pete was born. I honestly don't know who the father is, but if you could see him, you would know both are yours. I didn't go to the convention the year Pete was born. I have been with him every year since."
"Why? What is the attraction?"
"It isn't the actual being with him. It is the excitement as convention time gets closer. I'm going to be doing something that nobody would approve of. Nobody would expect it of me either. You didn't and the kids didn't and they think I stopped when they caught me. Christ, last year I almost went wild when I thought you might come busting the door down, because maybe they squealed on me to you."
I looked at this woman who I thought I knew so well. She just told me that I not only didn't have all of her body, but she was thinking about this lover of hers a good part of the year too. "With me out of the picture maybe it will be ten times more exciting. Let's see, you've been in bed with him--what seventy-five times in the last twenty or more years? You want me to forget all of that? Come on, get your coat. I will take you home."
"This is the end of us isn't it? You are a good man, Mark. I'm truly sorry I haven't lived up to your expectations. You wouldn't know what it is like unless you have been in the same situation. I'm sorry you've missed that too. It makes you so much more alive."
Barbara was killing what love I had for her every time she opened her mouth. I looked at her with disgust. It didn't seem to bother her. Maybe she felt she wasn't a whore. I could think of other words that came to mind--cheating slut.
I talked to Bill about Patti. I said I couldn't advise him. Once trust was gone in your wife, you might never get it back. I told him everything about his mother-in-law. I said if she had come and confessed after sleeping with the man the first time, I might have kept her and tried to rebuild the trust. After twenty-seven years of her cheating it was impossible for me to even consider it. We got drunk and it was me that half carried him home that night. He slept on the floor and I slept on his couch.
Patti had evidently called her mother and cried on her shoulder, for Barb was there for breakfast in the morning. She really lit into me and had a screaming fit, saying I was not helping to get things squared away between the young folks. I just got up and left. I didn't even answer her.
Weeks went by. Bill did let Patti back into his life. I was glad for them. A few months later Patti told me she was going to have a baby. Both Patti and Pete kept close watch over me. They were uncertain who their father really was, me or their mom's lover. It made me feel good that they wanted me to be the one and I became closer to both. Pete found a girl and she is a lovely thing. They make a cute couple and are so much in love. I look forward to her being my daughter-in-law.
I see Barbara rarely and always go out of my way to be civil to her when we do meet. Pete told me that she didn't go to the teachers' convention this year. I told him it was nothing to me either way. Barb and I did split our assets pretty fairly. The house where I had spent so many happy years with Barb was sold. I almost made a bid on it, but then I thought of living there and remembering that when Barb was with me, she probably had her mind on her lover.
Patti and her mother talk a lot. Patti told me that the man Barb shacked up with was married and had a family just like she did. They had made a pact to never contact each other during the year, waiting for convention time to come together, and only then.
There were times when being divorced from Barbara would come back to hurt and haunt me. We had three restaurants that we had frequented as a couple through the years. The first time I saw her there at dinner with another man, compounded all of the pain of her unfaithfulness. I controlled my feelings and spoke without rancor and was pleasant when introduced to her date. It was an uncomfortable situation and I was glad when dinner ended and I could escape. I hated her more right then than I did all through the process of our divorce.
It was different when I invited one of the teachers she worked with to dinner. We were placed at the table next to where she was seated with a female friend. Barb couldn't handle the situation as well as I had and never finished her meal, going to the powder room and never coming back to her table. Odd, but I didn't derive much satisfaction out of the pain I knew she must be feeling.
I guess we both picked different establishments to dine at, for we never ran into each other at a restaurant again. We did of course meet at family get-togethers and over time we came to be at ease with each other, but the memory of cheating lingered.
My life took a sudden turn. I was in the grocery store. I was going through the checkout behind a boy that had two candy bars. I saw him pocket a pre-paid phone card. He paid for the candy. He was going to walk out without paying for the card. "Son, you have to run that card through the checkout. Give it to me and let me pay for you. You wait for me and I'll walk out with you." His face was bright red, but he waited for me.
That's how I met Mike Howland. When we got outside I handed him the card. "Tell me about it? You were going to steal that card. There was a clerk on the next counter that was watching you. You would be going to jail right now if I had let you walk out."
"Thanks Mister. I know better, but Mom is in the hospital with a broken leg. I wanted to talk to her. I don't have any money to go see her and I thought I could call her."
"The one on the other side of town. Mercy Hospital, I think. Sis cries every night because we know Mom is worried about us but we have no way to see or talk to her."
"How old are you and your sister?"
"I'm sixteen and Mitzy is fourteen. She is really afraid of staying alone, but so far no one has bothered us. Mom won't be home for another week or more, the last we heard."
These kids were up against it. "Where is your father?"
"He was killed in Iraq. Mom is waiting for the government to send us some money. I just hope it comes before we lose our apartment."
"Would you like me to take you and your sister to see your mother? I can tonight if you want."
"I don't know. Mom doesn't like us talking to strangers."
"Why don't you call her and you can tell her my name. I'll give you my wallet so you can see for yourself who I am. Here take my cell phone. It already is programmed for 911. If you think I'm doing anything wrong, just hit the button. I really would like to help you."
"Okay, I guess I can trust you. We have to go to Tamarack Street to get my sister. She will have the door barricaded. I wish we didn't have to live there. Mom broke her leg falling through the porch and it is a compound break. She is also worried how she is going to pay her bill at the hospital."
We found his sister Mitzy, just as Mike said we would, with the door locked. Mike explained to her that his friend was going to take them to the hospital. Mitzy was a shy little girl just beginning to bud into womanhood. I thought back to when Pete and Patti were that age. How would they have coped with the dire situation that these kids found themselves in? Not well, I guessed.
The two kids were quiet on the way to see their mother. I asked who rented the apartment to them. Mike said some management company handled the property. He didn't know who owned it. When we got to the hospital and found which room the woman was in, I stayed out in the hall until Mike explained how they were able to come to see her.
In a few minutes the woman, whose name was Margaret, asked Mike to find me so we could meet. I came into the room to meet Peggy Howland. She appeared to be ten years younger than me. I couldn't tell much about how she looked, lying in the hospital bed as she was. She did have beautiful raven hair. Mitzy was combing it as she talked to me. "Thank you so much. I worry about Mike and Mitzy and I'm lying here and can't do a thing about it. Mitzy is so scared living where we do. It is the most terrible place to be in."
"I'm Mark Henderson." Finding out how bad her situation was, I made a sudden decision. "I can see why you are worried. Look, I have an empty camp that is livable and in a better section of town. When Dad bought the cabin, it was a hunting camp. Now the city has grown up around it and it is right in the middle of a working class neighborhood. You are welcome to use it until you get well. It is still a camp, but it has everything except bedrooms. The sleeping quarters are two double bunk beds in two different rooms with one other room with a single bed. So it sleeps eight people comfortably, plus one. It has a big kitchen-living room combined. It looks kind of rustic from the outside but is nice inside.
"My family all use it as a place to get away. I have two kids. Patti is twenty-four and pregnant with her first child. And there is Pete, he is twenty-two and has a fiancée." I hesitated.
"No wife?" This from Peggy.
"No, but I do have an ex-wife. We get along pretty well and she is often at the camp with the rest of the family. She teaches school over on South Street." I could tell this woman was interested.
"The kids would have to attend a different school. How could they get switched over? I would love to have them get out of the ghetto district."
"That shouldn't be a problem. I am well-known to most of the administrators, mostly through my wife. I could take Mike and Mitzy around tomorrow and explain the situation. A few phone calls and they should be all switched."
"How much is this going to cost? I don't have any money and I always pay my bills. It will take me forever to pay off the hospital as it is." Peggy looked worried, but didn't shed any tears, so I knew she wasn't one to play on another for sympathy.
"Let me tell you a little about my situation. I'm fifty and I live in a two bedroom apartment. I'm a financial advisor at one of the major banks here in town. I don't have many expenses for I haven't started dating since my divorce, so what it would cost to help someone out wouldn't hurt me at all. If you wish I can keep track of what I spend and when you are in better financial shape we can talk about it then."
"You said you are divorced. Is there anything in your past that I should worry about? I mean with Mike and Mitzy being young and all?"
"You're asking if I'm a pervert. No I'm not. You can call anyone in my family and they would say I'm too straight, if anything. That includes calling my ex if you want to. I'll leave all the numbers with you anyway. That way if you need to get in touch with me sometime, you can call them. If I'm not at my apartment, I'm usually over at my daughter's. I'm the one going to Lamaze classes with her. Bill, her husband, kind of shifted that duty onto me."
"Why are you taking the trouble to do this for us?"
"To be honest I don't really know. I don't know why I spoke to Mike earlier, either. When he told me what kind of a situation you are in, I decided to help. I have raised two children of my own and sometimes they made mistakes. I'm thinking I showed them the right way to go. Yours are at a crossroads. I'd like to see them take the right fork."
"People like you don't help someone like me very often anymore. They are out for something for themselves."
"Let's just say I may be a throwback to an earlier and better time. That is what my ex-wife would tell you. I'd like you to trust me. I'm going out to the waiting room. You can talk it over and Mike and Mitzy can give me your decision. Anyway, Peggy Howland, it has been a pleasure meeting you." I reached over and grasped her hand, saying good-bye.
Mike and Mitzy joined me almost an hour later. It was getting time for visiting hours to close. "Mr. Henderson, Mom would like one more word with you before you go."
I went back to Peggy's room. "Mr. Henderson, I'm putting my trust in you. Mike told me what he did and what you did to save him from all kinds of trouble. If you would do as you said you would do about finding a safe place for them, I will be very grateful."
"Okay then, this is good. I'll tell you what I'm going to do tonight. I'll swing out by the cabin so they can see where they will be staying until you get out of here. Then I'll get them something to eat. It will have to be fast food, as it is late. I'll take them to my apartment and give Mitzy a room and settle Mike on the couch. Mike or Mitzy will call you from there before they go to sleep. Mitzy can have my cell in case she wants to call anyone. I'm telling you all of this so you don't have to worry. Will that be all right?"
"That's great. I am putting a lot of trust in you and for some reason I feel I can. Thank you."
I heard Mitzy talking to her Mom again in the morning. When she came out of her room I looked at her and then at Mike. "You two need something better to wear to a new school. We'll go by WalMart and get a change of clothes for you. Then we'll get you into school. I'll pick you up this afternoon and we can go get some of your things from Tamarack Street."
I was glad to see that Mitzy chose some attire that was as conservative as I could wish--a simple blue skirt and white blouse. Mike had new jeans and a tee shirt. I had them enrolled and into a class by ten o'clock. I got on the phone to Jim, the attorney who handled my divorce. "Jim, would you find out who owns the slum tenement on 239 Tamarack Street." I gave Jim the story of the Howlands. "When you find out who owns the building, threaten them with a lawsuit if they don't pay Mrs. Howland's hospital bill. She does have a good case. If that doesn't work tell them that I will have the city health and fire inspectors in there and have the building condemned. They can balance that against one hospital bill."
"Damn Mark, are you turning into a bleeding heart liberal and going to save all the down-trodden of our poor city?"
"No, just one poor war widow with a couple of teenagers. I may have something else for you to do for her. It seems unreasonable that she should wait for the death benefit of her husband from the government. But that can wait for now."
"Okay Buddy, I'll see what I can do."
Mike and Mitzy came bouncing out of school looking for my car. I again handed Mike my cell to carry and we headed for Tamarack Street to get some of their things to move to the cabin. The kids were excited about having a safe place to live again. They were also excited to think their mother wouldn't have to worry about them so much either. I promised to take them in again to see her tonight.
I pulled my Impala up in front of the tenement. For a moment I wished I had brought Pete with me. I never went down into this section of the city. It should be safe enough in the middle of the day, but you wouldn't catch me here after dark.
I was helping Mike and Mitzy pack stuff in garbage bags as we didn't have enough boxes. When we had most everything except a few clothes, Mike and Mitzy started carrying the bags out and filling my car. The second trip they took, I heard a commotion and Mitzy screaming. The door was open and I could see her struggling with a good-sized youth or young man. There was a baseball bat beside the doorjamb that Mike had pointed out to me when we first arrived.
I picked it up and flew out and down the steps. I could see that Mike was down and was being pummeled by another boy. There were three boys or men that were concentrating on trying to get Mitzy into a beat-up old car. I launched myself at the nearest kid, flailing at him with the bat. I actually heard his ribs break when I connected. I got in a glancing blow at another one's head and he dropped like a dead ox.
The other kid that had Mike down climbed onto my back, hitting me with his fists. Mitzy had lost her top and was trying to get away, losing her skirt in the process. I kept coming at her abductor and I got in one more blow before I stumbled. It was enough to make him let go of Mitzy. That one turned and headed for the car. I swung with all my might and connected with one of his knees. He was the one screaming and down now.
The boy that was riding my back figured that he had enough and scooted around and into the car as I stood up. He had one more thing to do. Evidently he had a gun on the car seat and as he pulled away he fired out the window. I didn't go out immediately, but I went down. The bullet hit me in the right side. Mitzy was screaming for someone to get the Rescue squad and the cops. In just a few minutes there was a police car pulling up. Mitzy was crying over me. All she had on now was a skimpy bra and her panties. She was hugging me and she had more blood on her than I did.
I guess I passed out, for when I came to, a medic was working on me. He was smiling and telling me the wound wasn't life threatening. The first thing I asked was for the police to call Peter Henderson to come get my car and the two kids. If they couldn't get him, then call my son-in-law, Bill Williams at the Acme factory and have him do it. A neighbor volunteered to watch out for Mike and Mitzy until one of my sons showed up. A cop said he would stick around too.
I was transported to the same hospital where Peggy Howland was. I was in the emergency room forever it seemed, and then I went into surgery. I woke up in ICU. A few minutes after that Patti came in. "You're crazy, Daddy. I couldn't believe it when Bill called me about what happened. What were you thinking?"
"Are Mitzy and Mike okay? You are taking care of them aren't you?"
"Daddy, you didn't answer me, but yes they are okay. Both of them are outside and can come in a minute. That Mitzy is the sweetest little thing. Where on earth did you find her?"
"Oh, I get around. She reminds me of you when you were that age and she is in trouble so I just had to step in. You are all grown up and soon going to have a baby, so I just had to start over. Look, after they see me for a few minutes, would you take them in to see their mother? I promised I would, but after that gun battle, I can't." I tried to laugh, but it came out more as a groan.
Levity was never my strong suit and Patti didn't know what to make of it. Mitzy came in with tears in her eyes and cautiously came up and kissed my cheek. "Mr. Henderson, I'm so sorry you got shot, but you saved me from those boys. They have been trying to get to me forever. That is why I was so afraid to stay there. I talked to a newspaper reporter and told him all about what happened and how you saved me and Mike. He said it would be in the paper tomorrow. Was that okay?"
"Of course it is. Is my family taking care of you okay? Patti is going to take you to visit your Mom."
"I'm staying with her tonight and Mike is going to stay with Pete. They are as nice as you are."
Pete came in. "Christ Dad, what were you thinking? You can't go down into that section of the city alone. You've lived here long enough to know that. What's with the kids anyway? All they will tell me is that you saved them."
"Well I did I guess. Their whole family needs a hand for awhile. I think we can do that. How bad is this gunshot? The doctor hasn't talked to me."
"Not too bad really, considering. Oh, and you don't have to worry about the guy that shot you. He died in a car crash while being chased by the police. It'll be in the paper tomorrow. The other three have various broken bones. When did you get so violent anyway? I never have seen you like they say you were. Even when you were the maddest at Mom, none of us suspected you could do what you did today."
"I thought of Patti when I saw Mitzy being manhandled. I like to feel I did what I had to--no more."
"Well I'm sure you have. Boy, this is going to open Mom's eyes. You know Mom never thought you would divorce her. She thought she could talk you into keeping her, no matter what she did. Actually she has more respect for you now than when you two were married. Bully for you, anyway."
Mike just came in and shook my hand. "Mr. Henderson, I punched in 911 before I was knocked down. Was I right in doing that?"
"You both did everything right. You both fought as hard as you could and it paid off. Your Mom is going to be proud of you." The staff came in and said I was ready to be moved to my room. I was settled in for the night. I still didn't know how bad my wound was.
I knew it was bad enough before morning. I kept asking for pain killers. And then I was served breakfast and that was hardly edible. They did give me some coffee. The doctor came in and said I was minus some rib bone. It was smashed so badly they had to take part of it out. There were no internal injuries except for some bruising. I would be on a normal diet by evening. The police were here to take my story. They said there was nothing I would be charged with, although I raised havoc and broke several bones with the bat.
A newspaper reporter came in and asked if I would talk to him. I said I would, but didn't have much to say. He handed me a paper. Front page and center was this headline:
Not all heroes are in the service
Hometown man saves
fourteen-year-old girl from
abduction, rape or worse
Saves sick war widow
from more heartbreak
It was a long article. Most of the story was a quote from what Mitzy told the reporter. She made me sound more of a god than the normal person I really am. There were quotes from the neighbors about how tough it was living in this section of town. Then there were some crime statistics listed.
The photographer did even better. There was a full page spread in the centerfold. He caught Mitzy hugging me while I was unconscious. She was standing in her underwear with blood smeared from where she had hugged me. There was one of her crying while I was loaded into the ambulance. One shot was of Mike being treated by a medic for a bruise. There was a three shot montage of the three perps I had knocked down. The last picture on the page was of the crashed car of the one who shot me.
I looked up at the reporter as he asked what I wanted to add. "I didn't realize how tough it is to live in that section of our city until a couple of days ago. I avoided going down there because I had heard it was rough, but I know how bad it is now. There has to be a lot of good people trapped in the same situations as the Howlands are. I saw a chance to help a couple, but what about the rest? It is sad that the city condones such situations. These two kids are willing to work to earn a little money, but when they are afraid to come out of their house, they can't.
"Do I have anything to add to your article? Not really. I just saw a chance to help someone and I was able to. Maybe someone else will see a way to help someone. If they do, seize on it. It is a great feeling."
The photographer came in and snapped my picture and the reporter said congratulations and hoped my recovery was swift and painless. Yeah, right! There was a light knock on the door and it opened wide admitting first a leg in a cast and then Peggy sitting in a wheelchair. She was all smiles when she saw me sitting up and wide awake.
"Hi Mr. Henderson, when you set out to protect me and my kids, you go all out don't you? If I could reach you I would kiss you. Consider it done anyway. I read the paper and you are some kind of giant in my book." Tears of happiness filled her eyes.
"I thank you, but you have to remember that what you read in the paper was taken from an impressionable fourteen-year-old girl."
"The result is the same isn't it? No matter who wrote the story the results are in the deed. Anyway, I'm thankful. I was very doubtful of you at first. I'm glad you convinced me otherwise."
"You wouldn't be a parent if you didn't have concerns. It shows how you feel about your children's welfare. I am the same with mine."
There was another little knock on the door. I looked up as Barbara came in, looking concerned. "Hi Mark, how are you?" She came over and pecked me on the lips. "Damn you, what were you thinking? (All of my family used the very same words.) If you're going to save humanity can't you find some place where you aren't going to get a bullet in your butt?"
This made me want to laugh, but I knew it would hurt too much. "Barb, may I present Peggy Howland. It was her kids that were with me when I got shot. You will have to meet them, they are as nice as Pete and Patti. In fact I think Patti had Mitzy with her last night and Mike stayed with Pete. Peggy this is my wife--I mean ex-wife, Barbara Henderson."
I watched as the two women examined each other as women the world over were wont to do. Barbara was tall, thin, and well put together. I didn't know what Peggy looked like yet, but I liked what I could see. For a minute I could see into Barbara's mind. (I wonder if this woman, Peggy, is someone that Mark will fall in love with. Mark has changed so. I wish that I had been true to Mark. I sure screwed up big time. I thought for years that Mark was just a man who would plod along until he died. Now look at him, Christ, I'd love to take him to bed. Damn, I have to get out of here before he realizes how I feel).
"Mark, I had someone take over one of my classes so I could come see how you were. I have to leave and get back to school. I still think you were crazy, but I'm glad you are going to be okay."
This was the woman that I had been married to for thirty years. The kiss she gave me was more like the one I would have received if we were still together. Peggy turned away so as not to be intrusive for what she knew was going to be an intimate moment between Barb and I. Peggy followed Barb out of my room. Before they were out of my hearing, she told her what a lovely daughter we had. She hoped that Mitzy would be as nice as Patti was when she matured.
Patti came in with the two kids after school. Peggy wheeled in with them. Mitzy came right over to me and kissed me. "Do I have to call you Mr. Henderson? I would like to call you Mark. May I?"
I looked at Peggy. "It is up to your mother. I am a little old for you to call me Mark, but Mr. Henderson puts me off, so I will leave it up to her. If you call me Mark then she will have to call me that too. How's that?"
Peggy laughed. "Okay all of us will call you Mark."
"Good. So Mitzy and Mike, how did it go in school today? Did anyone recognize you from the newspaper?"