Thanks to the Hip and Knee doctor for editing assistance.
I should have known better. I wanted it so bad that I let it cloud my judgment. A guy like me never gets a girl like Marsha. Maybe in the movies, but not in real life.
Three years ago Marsha started work in the office of SSA, that is; the Safety and Security Affiliates. All of the male employees were aware of her presence, mainly because she was a notch above the other office girls. She wasn't smarter or better educated, but prettier and sexier. She didn't wear a wedding ring.
My infatuation with her quickly waned because I immediately knew that she was totally out of my league. Hell, I wasn't even in any league. The only girls, or woman, that I ever had any relationships with, were the ones that charged by the hour. I wasn't a virgin, but that was only because I worked up the courage on several occasions to approach one of the less ferocious looking ladies of the night. Actually, I found a few of the younger ones attractive, but all that they wanted from me was my money. I couldn't even find a whore that would want to spend any one-on-one time with me, if there was no cash involved.
I was raised by a single mother. I never met my father. I guess that might have had something to do with my lack of social skills with the ladies. My mother noticed the problem and really tried to help me. I spent almost two years going to ballroom dance classes with her, but all I got out of it was the ability to dance. I still lacked the confidence and courage to meet and relate to the opposite sex.
After I finished school, my mother married and moved to Florida. We talk several times a year, but that is the only contact that I have had with her.
I liked working for the SSA because it didn't require me to interface with too many people. My days were spent inspecting fire detection and alarm systems. The company was also active in installing security systems, for which I had no interest or involvement in whatsoever.
After work, I had no social life. In the evenings, I enjoyed working through logic problems and had subscriptions to all of the puzzle magazines. Although I had a home computer, I only used it when I had to. Most of my meals came out of the microwave oven. I was a fussy eater, and I guess that is why I never weighed over 150 pounds; light for my height, but healthy.
I didn't even own a suit, because I never needed one. During the day, I wore my work Dickies that were supplied by the company. I even wore them on the weekends when I wasn't working. There was a landline phone at the house, and I had a company cell phone. The cell phone had unlimited minutes, so I used it whenever I called my mother.
Contacts bothered my eyes, so I always wore glasses. They were not stylish, cool ones, but rather practical; as a nerd would wear. Actually, I think I was a nerd.
My interactions with people were always within careful limits. I didn't piss people off and I didn't excite them either. I had no opinions that were worth sharing, and I was the world's worst joke teller.
Now that you have a pretty good idea of what I had to offer the world, you can fully understand why I was surprised and stunned when Marsha Trent started casually chatting with me, on a daily basis. I was not the only one to notice her interest and after a few short weeks, I was getting teased about it, from the other office girls and some of the guys. I was flattered, but confused.
I remember how it all started.
"Dennis? Could you please do me a small favor?"
I was sitting at one of the tables in the break room having lunch. I assumed that she wanted to borrow a chair or ask me to move to another table. "Sure. Anything."
"Would you sit with me while I eat lunch?"
All I could do was nod. A few minutes later I was still trying to figure out what was going on. Other employees noticed and a few quiet comments were made. As was my nature, I did not speak. There was nothing that I could say that wouldn't make me look like an idiot, so I kept my mouth shut.
"I hope you don't mind, but this is a lot easier for me."
She seemed to be arranging herself before answering, as if she was getting ready to give a prepared speech. At that point, I should have realized what was going on.
"When I come in for a break or to have lunch, some of the other guys always sit with me. It makes me uncomfortable. They are either making crude remarks or undressing me with their eyes. It is better being with you."
Well, I didn't know if that was a compliment or an insult. I felt a little defensive.
"That is understandable. You are an extremely attractive woman and any man that didn't fantasize about you would be brain dead."
"Do you fantasize about me?"
"A little, but I try not to let it show."
"And you do an excellent job of it. That is why I need to sit with you. As long as I am with you, the other guys won't bother me."
That didn't make sense at all. There was nothing intimidating about me. How in the world would my presence discourage a low-life from making a remark or from even leering at her?
I finished eating and sat silently until she was done. Nobody bothered us, but we got a few unusual glances. As I got up to leave, she touched my arm.
"Can you sit with me again tomorrow?"
I smiled, nodded, and walked away confused.
A week later we started having conversations. It was difficult for me, but she made it a lot easier. I discovered that she was a single mother with two girls in grade school. Her working shift corresponded with their school hours. She never mentioned a husband, ex-husband, or father figure. I was too lame to ask.
My spirits were up, and I felt normal for a change. A regular guy was getting to spend time with a gorgeous girl on a routine basis. I didn't care that it was only lunch in a company break room.
Our contacts grew more frequent and I started to feel comfortable with her. At the same time I was feeling uneasy. Something wasn't right, but I couldn't put my finger on it. After a few weeks she invited me to her home to meet the girls and have supper.
Brandy and Brenda were cute little things, but a little too well-mannered for my taste. Children under ten are supposed to be rambunctious and noisy. I felt as if I was spending the afternoon with 'Stepford' children. Actually, Marsha was a little like a 'Stepford' wife. They were perfect; too perfect.
Marsha and I started to go on little outings together. Of course, the girls were always with us. We hit all of the parks, zoos, and other similar attractions within a day's drive. The more time that I spent with the girls, the more relaxed they became. Before I knew it, I was looking forward to seeing them every chance that I got.
I don't remember how it happened exactly, but one night after about four months, I found myself in bed with her. When I play the events of the night back in my head, it always comes out the same way. I didn't do a thing to initiate it. She took the lead and seemed to control everything: the place, the time, and what we did. Now, I am not complaining. It was the first time that I got any without having to pay for it. I can't say that it was wild passionate sex, but it was the real thing. After the first night, we started to enjoy ourselves on a regular basis. At least I was enjoying myself. I was never sure about her.
Marsha had small breasts, and even after having two children, they were still fairly perky. Of course, you have to remember that I am not an expert about such things. She didn't shave like the girls in the porno movies. Every time that I got to watch her walk to the bathroom naked, was a thrill. My life had suddenly taken a very different turn, but something wasn't right.
To everyone's amazement, Marsha and I married two months later. It was a small ceremony. My mother flew up from Florida to meet the daughter-in-law that I believe, she never expected to have. I paid for her ticket. Most of the people that attended the wedding were from work. Marsha's mother, in Mount Carmel, was not able to make it. I had never met her or any other members of Marsha's family. She never talked about them.
We found a small house to rent, just until I could get a twenty percent down payment saved up. I was always cautious when it came to financial matters. Marsha no longer had to work, and became a stay-at-home mom. We had sex on a regular basis which I always enjoyed. I had a perfect wife, with two perfect daughters. It was like the 'Twilight zone.'
After the first year, I had figured that things would mellow out for me, but that never happened. Every day was the same, and the longer it went on the more paranoid I became. I would sit quietly some evenings and try and figure out what was wrong. The problem was that nothing was wrong. Marsha was a great wife, a great mother, and a wonderful partner. I started to think that I was going nuts. I was messing with my own mind and I couldn't stop. Why? Why was this happening to me? Why did I insist on ruining my own life.
The best part of the marriage was the time that I got to spend with the girls. I think that they enjoyed it as much as I did.
I am a logical person. I like to analyze things and draw conclusions. It is my nature. There was no reason why I couldn't look at this situation and figure some things out. I had no intention of turning into some type of prying busybody, but I would have to start paying attention and looking into things.
I made a mental list of questions that needed to be resolved. Why had I never met any of Marsha's family? What was she really doing when she went to visit her mother in Mount Caramel several times a month? Why was the father of the girls such a mysterious figure? The one question that I needed answered first, was what she kept in the small locked file box on the shelf in her clothes closet? The only time I had seen her with it was when she registered the girls for school. I didn't even know where she kept the key.
Finding out what was in the locked box would be my first step. It was a logic problem; a real-life logic problem. All of a sudden, I found myself looking forward to something and not making myself paranoid. My attitude changed for the better.
Marsha had a standing hair dresser, s appointment at the Elegance Chic every Tuesday morning. It was an extremely expensive salon, but I never saw it come up on the charge cards. I guessed that she was paying for it with cash, but she never seemed to have a lot of cash on hand and I saw no evidence of any unusual cash withdrawals. Of course, I had no real idea of what a visit to the salon should cost. So I had no point of reference. It just seemed odd.
I had no trouble swinging by the house in the middle of the morning on Tuesday. I waited until just after she left to go into the house. While I was standing in front of the closet, I started to worry that she might have a 'tell' placed on or near the box. I thought about it for a few moments and then discarded the notion. She was confident in her position in the house and that her box would not be bothered. After all, I was the good guy. I was the one that she could trust. I would not pry under any circumstances.
I carefully took the box down and started working on the lock. It was a simple lock, that could actually be opened with a paper clip. It took me less than two minutes. Inside, I found her birth certificate. There was nothing special there. She also put our marriage license in the box. There were a few newspaper clippings and some photographs. One of them was her high school prom picture. She was as pretty then as she was now. Her date from the prom looked familiar, but I couldn't place him.
The last things in the box were the two birth certificates for the girls. They were both born at the Pottsville Hospital, but the most interesting thing was the name of the father. Hamilton Ryder was listed as the father of both Brandy and Brenda. Now I recognized the guy in Marsha's prom picture.
Hamilton Ryder was a State Assemblyman and had been selected to run for the United States House of Representatives seat at the next election. He was good looking and charismatic. The women voters all loved him and the men admired him. He was a shoo-in to be elected. He was married to Emily Wilcox, the daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the Northeastern part of the state. Some people had said that Hamilton's rise in the political world was based on the support that he got from his father-in-law.
Emily Wilcox was a paradox. Their marriage was a big deal, and at the time was in all of the newspapers and several magazines. When they got married, she was a dowdy, mousy little thing. Over the years, she seemed to change, and not for the better. At some point, she dyed her hair blonde and started to wear it in styles that did not seem to fit her. Her make-up slowly became a little over the top. Too much rouge, too much plucking, and too much lipstick. The worst thing that changed was her attire and her boobs. It looked like she had gone from being normal to a pair of grotesque double Ds. The whole thing was a little sad. Her personality did not fit her appearance. I had often wondered if she knew that people were laughing behind her back. Of course it was not my affair, so I didn't wonder too much; until today.
Marsha wouldn't notice that the box was moved or opened. I was quite careful. I really didn't believe that she accessed the box too often. From what I knew now, I didn't see why she would. Actually, it would have made more sense for her to keep the box at her mother's house.
So now I knew a little more than I had known before. Marsha had been friends with Hamilton Ryder in high school and she was the mother of two of his children. Actually, they were his only two, because he had none with Emily. It was interesting that Marsha put his name on the birth certificates. Under the circumstances, it seemed like something he would not want.
I was a good husband that evening as usual. I complimented my wife on her hair and asked the girls how school went. For the first time, I felt like a phony. It was a game. Marsha knew what the game was, and had been playing it for over a year now. Since I was new, I had to develop my own strategy, of some sort. Just the word 'strategy' implied that it would be long-term. I wasn't happy with that, but had no short-term, tactical plan in mind.
That evening, as my 'Stepford' family was watching TV, I ordered a Bug GPS Tracker from E-bay, a 'Buy-It-Now' for $139 with free shipping. I decided that it would be interesting to find out where Marsha was going when she went to visit her mother. The new tracker would go well with my Garmin GPSmap 60CSx. This was going to be fun. As a defensive move, I set up some new bank accounts to start protecting my few assets.
The next day, I quietly took two weeks of sick leave. The company was more than happy to see me take it for monetary reasons. Marsha never really made any friends at SSA, so I didn't have to worry about her finding out that I wasn't at work. Later that morning, I stopped in to see Seymour Schlamp. Seymour and I went to high school together. We were two of the 'out' kids who built a friendship based on not being part of the crowd. Seymour got a law degree, but had no job. He was on the state, county, and city lists, waiting for somebody to die, so that there would be a job opening. In the mean time he was supporting himself, and his mother, by doing mainly automobile renewals and transfers. He also did some notary work and wills. I needed some legal advice and Seymour was more than happy to help. We spent an hour together, and when I left, he was excited as a kid with a new puppy.
I drove over towards Allentown and had lunch at a MacDonald's. They had free WiFi and I had my laptop. An hour later, I had all sorts of data and information about Hamilton Ryder. Most of what I got was political rhetoric, but mixed in with it was some information that I could use. I also ended up with a long list of addresses that I would need later.
While I was surfing, I ran across an ad for a travel trade show that was being held in Philadelphia over the weekend. Marsha and the kids were going to visit her mother Friday after school, so I decided that the trade show looked good.
After supper that evening, I did something that I had never done before. While Marsha was taking her evening shower, I took it upon myself to look through her purse. I had never considered violating her privacy like this before, but now we were playing a game. Everything looked normal and I was about to close it up when I noticed something. Marsha used tampons when she had her period, but in the bottom of her purse was a small sachet like bag with Kotex printed on it. Like any normal man, I avoided handling it. I picked it up and gingerly opened it to find an old Nokia cell phone. It only took me a minute to figure out that it was a pre-paid cell phone with T-Mobile service. There was only one number in the call log. The phone was turned off when I found it, so I left it the same way. I would have no trouble finding out who owned that number. I think I already knew.
Seymour was in a good mood. He had several folders laid out on his desk in a neat row. He seemed anxious for me to sit down so that he could show me what he had done.
"Dennis. I know that you said you wanted a simple divorce, but under the circumstances you have some pretty good grounds for an annulment. The nice thing about that is that Marsha cannot contest it and there is no division of assets. You each keep what you brought into the marriage."
"Are you sure? That would make things a lot easier."
"A lot faster also." Seymour pushed the first folder aside.
"I had no trouble getting copies of the girls birth certificates. Legally, Hamilton Ryder doesn't owe you any support for taking care of the girls. If it went to court, we would get creamed in the first five minutes. However the court of public opinion will have a field day with it. I suggest that we file for it and make sure that the media is fully aware of it. That will be your responsibility."
"Why? I am paying you."
"For legal services, Dennis. If I get caught participating in a smear campaign, especially against a public official, my potential career as a lawyer is over before it is started."
"All right. What do I have to do?"
"It is all printed out on this top sheet. Memorize the instructions carefully and then burn the paper."
"That is a joke, right?" I heard a groan from across the desk.
"Yeah. Sorry, but I was just trying to make things a little easier."
The next folder was an alienation of affection charge against Hamilton. Seymour didn't feel that this one would fly either, but it could be valuable in the same manner the previous folder was.
The next one related to the recovery of expenses for supporting Marsha for the last year. It had nothing to do with the girls or his paternity for them.
The last folder was not directly connected to me in any way, but was a petition to have charges brought against Hamilton Ryder on six different civil violations that were very remotely related to the situation. In one of them, Seymour was actually charging Hamilton Ryder with prostitution. He was claiming that Hamilton forced Marsha to trade sex for room and board for herself and the girls. It was another long shot, which he had absolutely no chance of winning, but that would get a lot of saucy publicity.
There were still a few holes that needed to be plugged including at least one example of proof of any clandestine relationship between the two of them. I hoped that this one would be taken care of this weekend.
Marsha was surprised to see me when I came home for lunch later. I wanted to be there when the mail was delivered. She seemed happy for the company, and made us some grilled cheese sandwiches. I tried my best to make polite conversation until the mail came.
She noticed the Priority Package and commented on it. I told her it was a removable hard drive that I had ordered to back up the computers. She accepted the answer and I left smiling. For the next hour, I carefully read all of the installation and operating instructions for my new GPS tracker. It was going to be fun. I planned it that way.
That evening, while Marsha was cleaning up the supper dishes, I installed the new tracking device in her car. It was easier than I had anticipated. I had already installed the monitoring unit in my car earlier.
I was looking forward to the weekend. If everything went as planned, I would be able to attend my travel show in Philly with no problem.
Brandy and Brenda were watching Shrek for the tenth time and Marsha was halfway through the latest Danielle Steele novel. I just sat and wondered what might have been if the situation had been a little different. I thought that I had what most men wanted and then I discovered that it was all a farce. It was like a cruel joke and I was the punchline. I would have been happy with the situation the way that it was, but that never would have happened under normal circumstances. Marsha was not the wife who I always dreamed of having. She put out some bait and I grabbed it because I wanted it.
It hurt knowing that she didn't want me. She wanted what I could do for her. I still was not able to figure out exactly what that was. Hamilton Ryder could have just put Marsha and the girls up in an apartment or condo someplace. Why did the two of them feel that it was necessary to use me, in this elaborate scheme?
I imagined that she had some feelings for me, but if that was so, she would have realized how much I would have been hurt when the truth came out. She didn't care. It became apparent that I was disposable. The more that I thought about it, the madder I became. I excused myself, claiming to have a headache and went to bed early. I was still awake when Marsha slid in beside me, but I didn't let her know that.
The next morning I spent most of my time in Seymour's office. He had let his girl have the day off. I spent an hour making copies of the papers that Seymour had drawn up on the computer and two more hours collating and putting them into mailing envelopes. Seymour had made shipping labels to all of the local newspapers and television stations and several of the national ones. It was all pure crap. I knew it and Seymour knew it, but the media would eat it up; we hoped. He also made labels for all the state legislators and for everyone in Hamilton's family and the Wilcox family that we could get addresses for. I was expecting to get sued and I didn't care.
I was anticipating the evening trip, even though it was no longer necessary. I was going to go ahead with the dastardly plan no matter what happened tonight. It was more for my self-satisfaction than anything else.
The GPS tracker was nice because it took a lot of pressure off the one doing the tracking. I used the drive up to the coal regions as a test run. I knew approximately where Marsha was going, which made it easier. I was expecting her to go to Mount Caramel, but she never did. She parked at a shotgun house in the middle of Frackville and let the girls out of the car. A lady that looked as if she was Marsha's sister came out of the house to greet them. It was like old home week. It was 'hello' and 'goodbye' all within five minutes.
An hour later, Marsha got off of the Interstate near Pocono Pines. The GPS took me to the Pocono New Moon Cabins. The actually cabins were not as I expected. All of them looked as if they should be on an Aspen Ski slope, not tucked away in the Pennsylvania woods.
Marsha drove right past the office and went to the largest cabin at the end of the road. I was close behind, but instead of following her, I stopped at the front office. The desk clerk was quite accommodating even though there were no vacancies for the night. I picked up a few brochures and indicated that I would like to look around the grounds a little bit before leaving. He smiled and thanked me for stopping in.
I casually walked down by the small lake that was in the center of the compound. Marsha was still sitting in her car. It looked as if she was on her cell phone. I got comfortable on one of the lake side benches and wished that I hadn't left my jacket in the car.
About twenty minutes, later, a black Mercedes Benz pulled alongside Marsha's car. Hamilton Ryder and my wife got out of their cars at the same time. There was a quick peck of a kiss, like a married couple would do, and then they both went into the cabin.
My questions were mostly answered. There was no longer any doubt about what was going on. I still didn't know why, but I knew what. On the way back to the office, I passed by their cars. Marsha had a small travel bag on the back seat. I contemplated taking it with me, but changed my mind at the last minute.
About half way home, my cell phone rang. It was my wife. I didn't answer and she chose not to leave a message. I assumed that she was just calling to let me know that everything was okay. I didn't care.
Saturday morning came and I was on the Schuylkill Expressway going to the National Travel Expo show. I had an idea in mind and it involved cruise ships. Almost all of the vendors at this show were directly interested in people who wanted to be connected in some manner to the travel world. Some were selling franchises and computer programs. A few of them were trying to recruit people. They were my target.
I was able to sit with employment representatives from three different cruise lines. Only one of them expressed any interest at all in a licensed certified fire alarm systems inspector. Two of them insisted on a Merchant Marine Certification; something that I hadn't anticipated. The third line, Mediterranean Holiday Lines, was only slightly interested until I mentioned that I was an accomplished ballroom dancer. For some reason, they seemed to think that was more important than my fire inspection qualifications.
I left the travel show a little dejected. I was hoping for a better response than I actually got. I didn't plan too well and the results proved it. At home that evening, I got a surprise telephone call from Brandy and Brenda. Of course I didn't get to talk with Marsha, but the conversation with the girls seemed real and sincere. I didn't ask them where their mother was because I didn't want to ruin the moment.
Sunday morning I got a surprise call from the rep at Mediterranean Holiday Lines. They offered me a six month contract on one of their Mediterranean Island cruise ships. Although I was not qualified as a maritime inspector, they would be able to use me as a records keeper and report generator. I wasn't sure what of all that entailed, but they seemed fairly confident that I was up for the job. The big catch was that I had to spend my evenings dancing with the guests. Hundreds of elderly, single, women took the cruises every year and they all wanted handsome, charming men as dance partners. I never considered myself as handsome and charming, but hell, I was willing to give it a try. I was expected to bring a formal black tux and a white tux jacket with me.
I accepted and within the hour they e-mailed an employment contract for my signature. They had already scheduled a flight out of Philadelphia for me the next Friday. The tickets would be waiting at the counter. I always knew that I had that passport for some reason.
That evening, Marsha seemed to be a little quieter than usual. Normally when she came back from the visits to 'her mother' she was peppy.
Friday seemed like a long time away. I realized that I was not going to be able to fake it for that long. I decided that Tuesday morning, while the girls were in school and Marsha was at the beauty salon, would be the best time to make my move.
Monday was a quite a busy day. I took all of the prepared envelopes, from Seymour's office down to the post office. The earliest that any of them would be delivered should be Wednesday. I gave Seymour five thousand dollars to cover his fees and expenses. After giving my notice at work, I spent the rest of the morning closing accounts.
One of the local tuxedo rental shops sold used outfits. Luckily, I was able to find two that actually fit. Since I needed a place to keep my new work clothes, I ended up renting a cheap motel room for four nights.
I drove by the house as Marsha was leaving. I had no idea where she was going, but I figured that I would take advantage of the opportunity. After loading all of my things in the car, I realized that I didn't actually own much. I felt a little sad as I drove down the street for the last time. I was going to miss married life, even though it was a farce. It was a sorry situation. I felt hurt and betrayed, but not enough to blow up. The only way out for me, was to quietly disappear.
I rented a storage unit and pre-paid it for a year. Even though it was the smallest unit, the amount of stuff that I had looked pitiful.
That night, I went overboard at Taco Bell. I got all of the items on the menu that I had never tried before. I can't explain why I did it, except that I was feeling a little reckless. Of course, most of the tray went into the trash. I couldn't force myself to eat it all.
Later, sitting alone in the room, I was bored out of my mind. Just on a whim, I called British Air. A very agreeable young lady was more than willing to move my Friday reservation to Tuesday. Friday was the busiest day for the airlines and Tuesday was a little slow.
Seymour drove me to the airport the next morning. He was going to keep my car for me while I was gone. I signed the title and told him that he could sell it if he could find a buyer. It was almost fifteen years old, so we both laughed when I suggested it.
The check-in went very smoothly, and then I found myself sitting on a long plastic bench watching the departure times change. I was totally surprised when my cell phone started to buzz. I forgot to turn it off.
"Dennis? Is this you? This is Brenda."
I was not expecting any calls, let alone that one. "Yes it is. Why are you calling?"
"Brandy and I wanted to say 'good-bye'. We were sorry when we found out that you left."
"Brenda, is your mother there?"
"No. She is in the bedroom. She has been there all morning."
I didn't know what to say.
"Brandy and I wanted to let you know that we tried real hard not to be bad. Mommy said that it was important. We weren't bad, were we, Dennis?"
"No, Brenda. You and your sister were always perfect angels. You didn't do anything wrong."
"Then why did you leave?"
"I am sure that your mother would rather explain that to you. Did you ask her?"
"She has been in bed, crying since yesterday. We had to get our own breakfast."
I felt that I should talk to Marsha, but under the circumstances, it didn't seem like a good idea.
"Dennis. If Brandy and I did anything bad, we are sorry. Can you come home?"
"I don't think so, Honey. I have to go away for awhile."
I could hear her crying on the other end of the phone. I was looking for a way to end the conversation without acting like a perfect jerk, when they announced the boarding for my flight.
"I have to go now. You take care of your sister and your mom, okay?"
I clicked off my phone before she could say anything else. Then I turned the phone off. I wouldn't be needing it for the next six months anyway.
I found my life on the cruise ship to be fascinating. In the mornings, I was working with one of the ship's engineers, and I spent every evening dancing with enthusiastic ladies. Some of them were young, but most of them were as old or older than my mother. Since I learned to dance with my mother, that made things a lot easier for me. I actually found it to be fun. Most of them did not speak English, so I did not have any heavy conversational demands put upon me. I got by very well with a smile and an occasional peck on the cheek at the end of a dance. They all seemed to enjoy that.
Things changed as I started on my fifth voyage. The first day out, I was informed that I would be dining at the Captain's table that evening. The only crew members that ever got to sit with the Captain were high ranking. I was at the bottom of the food chain, so my invitation was unusual.
The only dress clothing that I had were my two tuxedos. I usually ate in the crew mess and attire was not a factor. Since I had no idea about protocol or proper table manners, I waited until everyone else was seated, before approaching. An empty chair was waiting for me. I addressed the Captain, as expected, and then gingerly sat down. I was, to say the least, extremely uncomfortable.
I glanced around the table trying to figure out why I was there. On my left, was a large, sweaty man who seemed to be speaking Greek. On my right, was a well dressed lady, my age, who seemed vaguely familiar. When I glanced her way, she was looking slightly at me and smiling. I quickly looked away. As the meal was being served, I tried to pay attention to what the guests were chatting about, but to no avail. I was a poor conversationalist to start with and the multiple languages didn't give me any confidence at all. This meal from hell would soon be done. I kept telling myself that; over and over.
As they were bringing the desert course, I felt a hand on my right arm. I turned my head and she started to speak. "Relax, Dennis. You seem awfully tense."
No one had ever introduced me, yet she knew my name. I realized that this must be the connection; the reason that I am at the Captains table. Who was she? How did she know my name? What did she want? It wasn't mysterious and exciting. It was scary and un-nerving. The meal from hell would be over soon. The meal from hell would be over soon!
When we finished, the guests started to wander off to do whatever they had scheduled. I was still sitting when the mysterious lady took my arm and walked me to one of the quiet bar areas. I was following her like a puppy dog and didn't know why.
"You have no idea who I am do you?"
I just nodded in the affirmative.
She laughed a little. "Imagine bleached, blonde hair, lots of make-up, and big boobs."
"Oh my God. You're Dolly Parton."
My poor attempt at humor got me a poke in the ribs and another small laugh, which was more like a giggle.
"You are not paying attention, Dennis. Think."
I knew what the answer was, but knowing it just generated more questions.
She smiled at my answer.
"I prefer to use my maiden name."
"Okay, Emily Wilcox?"
Neither of us said anything as a cute little Thai waitress set down our drinks.
"Mrs. Wilcox. I realize that we are sort of connected, but I don't understand how that would cause you to be here."
"Don't complicate things, Dennis. I am just here to thank you. You probably don't realize the impact that you have had on my life."
"You look a lot different than you did before."
"Good or Bad?"
"Good. Without a doubt, good."
"Thank you. Most of it was just hair and make-up."
At that moment, she caught me looking at her breasts, or what used to be her breasts. She couldn't help laughing at my discomfort.
"The doctor put them in and the doctor took them out. I was never so happy to get rid of those damn melons. It made me feel like a freak."
I didn't know what to say. Any comment would have sounded crude.
She continued with her explanation. "I simply had the double D's replaced with perky little B's. It took a little work, but he got paid well and I am happy."
I think I was blushing. There was a lull in the conversation, so we both took a sip of our drinks.
"Oh, before I forget. I have something for you." Emily reached into her purse and pulled out an envelope that had been folded in half to fit. She was smiling as she handed it to me.
"It's your marriage annulment. Daddy was able to get it processed with no problems. Not only are you not married, you never were. Isn't that great?"
Her words were bitter sweet. She seemed happier about the annulment than I was. It wasn't something that I wanted, but something that I felt I needed. I had gotten used to the idea of being married. I wanted to be married, but under different circumstances. I gave Emily a small smile and said, "Thank you."
"You don't sound very happy, Dennis."
"I am not. The whole situation was a little painful for me."
I waved to the waitress for two more drinks. I usually limit myself to one a night.
"I don't want to be poking my nose anywhere that it doesn't belong, but what is the status of your marriage? Are you, or will you be getting a divorce?"
Emily Wilcox squirmed a little, looked at her watch and smiled again.
"Dennis, in exactly twenty two minutes, I will be a widow."
It was an interesting statement. I tried to think of a clever response, but nothing developed. The impact of her statement finally reached my brain and I was numb. The waitress set down our round of drinks and mine was gone in one gulp.
"Don't look so shocked. It was a trade-off."
"What does that mean?"
"In seven more days, you. You were going to die in an automobile accident just South of Pottsville. Two days later, I was going to drown in a boating incident off of Long Island. It was all planned out."
The conversation was no longer light and casual. My drinking companion was no longer smiling, and the whole tone had become somber. I was absorbing the few bits of information that she had just given me and I started to feel nauseous.
"I am sorry, Mrs. Wilcox. I am afraid that this last drink was a little too much for me. Please excuse me." I got up and started to leave the room. She didn't try to stop me. I actually did feel upset in the stomach, but I didn't think it was from the drinks.
I didn't sleep well that night. Rather than eat with the crew, I waited until the first breakfast seating and then located Emily. She was at a table alone; a luxury reserved for only the most affluent guests. The waiter recognized me in my work clothes, and we got a quizzical look. Emily nodded to indicate that it was okay.
She slid her full glass of orange juice across the table to me as a gesture of welcome.
"Are you a widow now?
Emily gave me a telex that had been on the seat beside her.