Chapter 1

Hi, I'm Jim Ryan. I work for an energy company that my grandparents started more than forty years ago. He passed away a few years back. Gram now holds the company in her hands. She is grooming me to take over when I have learned enough and she feels I am capable. She has had me starting at the bottom. I've been in sales, procurement, personnel and transportation. For the last month I have been troubleshooting. Next month I am going to be working with equipment. That scares me a little. Gram says when I learn the inner workings of the company, it is then time to learn how to hire managers to oversee the actual work.

What worries me is the selecting of the perfect person for a particular job. Case in point: I've not been too successful in the women I have been interested in. Pat, the first woman I was engaged to, one I felt I could spend my life with, turned out to be a gold digger. Then, while attending college, I found Kate. She now works for a small company here in town as a finance officer. She is smart and reasonably attractive. I thought when I married her that she would be the ideal mate in helping me run the company that was coming to me.

I've been reticent in telling Kate what my job is, the reverse of how I handled Pat, with whom I had been very open. I also have neglected to lay out how much time I've had to give to the company. This has led to a contentious relationship.

The fight this time was a doozy! I called Kate about 3 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon and told her I had made dinner reservations for us and a guest I very much wanted her to meet. I also said I had to go out of town on business Friday morning, but would be back to get ready for our vacation trip to the mountains.

"No! I am not going to dinner with you and I definitely am not going to the mountains! I'm going to the Red Lion for drinks after work and I'll just stay for dinner and dancing. I'm sure I can find someone to entertain me better than some stuffy old guest of yours."

"But Kate, remember you made the vacation reservations last year and you agreed that we would not go to the beach again until I had a chance to show you the mountains. I have booked us into a nice log cabin in West Virginia near my home town. You'll love it. Gram is my only living relative and she wants to meet you. She still can't understand why I haven't brought you to see her. We've been married for two years, and I can't make anymore excuses about why you haven't met her."

Kate and I were having some problems in our marriage. A lot of it was my fault as I was working long hours and was out of town on business often due to my job as troubleshooter. The energy company had interests all over the United States. It seemed that Kate and I never talked anymore without fighting. I was fast getting fed up with her being, in my mind, so unreasonable. I hadn't been totally open about my life and prospects, but I felt justified in keeping a few facts from her. She did not know what my grandmother did or how I was tied in with her.

My wife, for some reason, had a real dislike for anything she thought was connected to, or considered "hillbilly." She stereotyped the people, the music, and even their cuisine from the different parts of the country that she felt were hillbilly. This was one of the reasons I never pushed having Kate and Gram meet. Gram and I met and talked all of the time, but I always did this during working hours.

Anyway, this unleashed a firestorm from Kate. She told me that no way was she going to spend time with a pipe smoking, tobacco spitting old lady named Maudie, sitting in a rocking chair on some dilapidated old porch, even if she was my grandmother. Kate had always denigrated the name "Maudie," and I never knew why.

This pulled my chain as this was the most unlikely description of my grandmother you could imagine. My grandfather, as a young man, was a wheeler-dealer and astute enough to grab up thousands of acres of land in West Virginia. When the coal barons began prowling through the hills, he signed his first lease, took his money and went to Philly a-courting.

Gram, the only daughter of a dry goods store owner, fell in love when Gramp first came to the city. She was twenty-five and pretty much resigned to a life of spinsterhood. Her father wanted a free manager to manage his store and various other endeavors. All of her friends were married before they were twenty so she felt life had passed her by and she would never marry.

The story goes that Gramp could be a joker, especially when he was in unfamiliar situations. After buying a suit off the rack, Gram asked him where he was going in his new duds. "Well, I'm in town a-courtin'. Do you know of any likely lookin' gals that want to get hitched up? I'm from the hills, and I own a bit of land, I'm honest, and anyone who knows me would say my prospects are pretty good."

Gram, whose day with her father hadn't gone well, answered with a gleam in her eye. "I'm twenty-five, I'm honest, and I would like to own a bit of land. If you want to see what you would be getting if you married me, just follow me." Gramp followed her into the office and watched as Gram took off her work smock, unbuttoned her dress far enough so she could pull her chemise up and bared her breasts. "If you like what you see, we'll be married in two weeks. If you don't like it, get out and never set foot in the store again." Then Gram blushed red and near tears of shame at what she had just done, proceeded to cover herself.

Gramp stood there with his mouth open, turning red himself. Two weeks later Gramp made the trip back to the hills with his bride at his side. He and Gram lived and loved each other and never stopped courting as long as they were together.

There is more of my family history. I'll tell you that my dad, Ted, was born less than ten months after Gramp returned to the hills. He was the only child to bless Gram and Gramp. Dad married my Mom when he was twenty and Mom was eighteen. Mom came to the hills to teach school in our village, and met my father. They were married before her first year as a teacher was completed. Before her third year was out, tragedy struck. There were seven adults and eleven little ones swept away in a flash flood. There would have been more children dead if my Mom and Dad hadn't died saving the ones they could before they were swept away themselves. This left me, Jim, an orphan before I was a year old.

Gram and Gramp raised me and saw to my education, with Gramp passing away the year I entered college. The company I worked for was wholly owned now by Gram and privately held in her hands. As her only living relative, I was being groomed to take over in a few years. Gram, far from the stereotype that Kate had of residents of the West Virginia hills, was a beautiful, elegant and intelligent lady. She had what people would describe as "presence." You know, when you enter a crowded room full of people, your eyes just naturally are drawn to certain ones that stand out. That is "presence" and Gram had a full measure of it.

In the second year of college I met Pat and fell in love. I was open about my future, maybe bragging some. The sex was good and she was a beauty. I asked her to marry me. She agreed. I was happy until I overheard her and her roommates laughing about how she had snagged a good one. She told them that what was between her legs was what caught me. Who needed love if the sex was good and "dumb Jim" was going to have all of that money. I had been made a fool of, but not for long. After college my attention centered on Kate, whom I ran into at a reunion. She had been behind me in college and had been in a few of my classes. She was lighthearted and upbeat most of the time. Kate, tall and statuesque, had long auburn hair. Also she was proportioned to give any red-blooded male night dreams. You just naturally were drawn to her. I could have kissed the moon when Kate agreed to a date with me, I was that high off the ground. After a period of a few months, we started dating each other exclusively.

The first year that Kate and I were married, we were as blissful as could be. We had a simple ceremony in front of a justice, with a few friends. Kate has claimed to have no family, and Gram wasn't present as she was at an energy conference in Washington. Gram sent me the title to a fairly large house for a wedding present. She thought I should tell everyone I was renting, because she knew about my former fiancée. I couldn't have been happier.

We had some trouble that started at a party that was thrown when I got my first promotion at work. Some of my co-workers had grown up with me. Gram always made sure that any of my friends with promise would have a good education and offers of jobs after school. This party where things started going downhill had a theme, a Sadie Hawkins dance. Everyone came dressed as hillbillies and brought costumes for Kate and me. We were supposed to dress as Li'l Abner and Daisy Mae.

Kate would not participate at all and soon left the dance. She did say she was sorry when I got home, but the whole thing was a downer for me. I tried not to resent her actions and said I forgave her, but I suppose I didn't really. She had spoiled what should have been a happy time for me.

I pressed her for an explanation for what I considered an unreasonable hang-up. She would not discuss it at all. After several arguments I avoided the subject altogether. Bigotry and racism were things not in my make up. Kate seemed to have more than a smidgen of both. I felt if I confronted her with my feelings, I might soon be without a wife, so I let it pass. My friends at work resented her non-participation at the party, and delighted in calling me Li'l Abner where she could hear them. Needless to say, it made for strained relations, and I soon learned to avoid situations where Kate and my friends would come together.

I did not see Kate that Thursday night until much later. My guest for dinner was my grandmother. Gram expressed disappointment that Kate wasn't to dine with us. I had now reached the point where I didn't think my marriage would or could continue. I told Gram all about my home life when asked.

I confessed that I still loved Kate dearly. I was in a quandary as to how to repair the rift in our marriage. As far as I knew Kate had been a faithful wife, and I had been faithful to her. "Gram, would you come home with me, stay over and talk to Kate in the morning? You need to meet her. If I can't bring her to you, you will have to come to her. In many ways she seems a lot like you. That is what attracted me to her. She is smart and attractive much like you and carries herself well. I just can't understand this hate she has for the mountains and the people who live there." I even told Gram what Kate imagined she (Gram) was like.

"Jim, how much do you know about your wife?"

"Not much really. I know that she is an orphan like me, adopted out when she was twelve and had a pretty lonely upbringing with her adoptive parents being quite elderly. They paid for her schooling and she really worked hard to be a credit to them. Kate blossomed in college and I guess that's what made me notice her. Her adoptive mother now lives in a nursing home. She has Alzheimer's and her father has passed away. There is not much in their estate but Kate manages it. She sees that her mother has what she needs to be comfortable."

"Jim, take me home now and we'll have coffee. I probably know more about your wife than you do. When you were talking about getting married, I had Kate checked out. I think I can explain what some of Kate's problems are. As long as you two were doing okay and happy, I wasn't going to interfere. Maybe I should have interfered sooner. I guess it is time to tell you what I know."

Kate wasn't home when Gram and I got there. I took her bags up to one of the guest bedrooms. I came down and made coffee. While it was brewing she sat back in a recliner in the living room. I was shocked at how much she was showing her age. "Gram, I never asked, but how old are you?"

"Well, Jim, I'll be sixty-eight in a couple of months. I'll admit I am getting tired of running this business. If I didn't have you to take over before I'm seventy, I would sell out and retire now. That is why I have you in such intensive training programs. Maybe it hasn't been such a smart move. After talking to you tonight, it looks as if it has caused a lot of your problems. I hadn't intended this to happen and I do want you to be happy.

"As I told you, I had someone run a check on Kate before you married. Catherine O'Toole is not the name Kate was born with. The person I had check, said her name was Hattie Mae Gruber before she had it legally changed the day she came of age. You have heard Jeff Foxworthy make jokes about red-necks. I was told that could be a description of her parents. They are still alive. Her father's name is Billy Bob Gruber and her mother's name is Daisy Mae. She has two brothers and two sisters, she being the youngest of the family. She often was made to stay with an old lady named Maudie. Whether she is a relative or not, I don't know.

"Kate was a problem child, running away from home as she got older. Child services finally stepped in, made her a ward of the state and had her put up for adoption. So you see she grew up in a cracker family with all of the typical connotations. When she imagined what I was like up in the mountains, she was just describing her own family who are still living. What a shock it must have been to find out you had someone named Maude for a grandmother."

I guess both Kate and I had kept secrets from each other. I had never told Kate about the future that was planned for me. Theoretically I was worth millions, or would be when Gram retired and I took over. I wanted Kate to love me for myself, not for money. I just never found the way to tell her what my future held. Finding out about Kate's family seemed to answer some questions about her hang-ups on hillbillies.

With the decision to level with Kate and what I had learned about her, I felt we would somehow work things out and become the loving couple we were when we first married. Gram went up to bed and I curled up on the couch to wait for Kate to come home.

The phone woke me up. I glanced at my watch. It was after midnight and I heard, "Jim, this is Alice. I'm at the Red Lion with Kate. Can you come and get her? She is passed out in the ladies room. The management was going to dump her out on the street because she has caused some problems here. I told them I would take care of her until someone came for her. Please hurry!"

Alice, I knew, is a friend of Kate's from work. She hung up before I could question her. I left as soon as I got my jacket on. It was only a fifteen minute drive to the Red Lion. I was puzzled as Kate never drank enough to lose her senses. It seemed so out of character. Maybe she was sick.

The Red Lion is quite a large establishment, with live music Thursday night through the weekend. It catered to a loud, fun-loving clientele. It had a decent restaurant, but its accent was the bar, having tables near the small stage and booths along one wall in the back.

I was able to park near the front door and was directed to the ladies room. After informing the hostess what I was there for, she escorted me toward the restroom at a fast walk. She said over her shoulder that she didn't want that woman in here again. The Red Lion would not stand for the disturbances that had happened here tonight. I was totally mystified as to what she was talking about.

Alice was standing by the door when we got there. The hostess said again that Kate was never to come in again and left. Alice said to me, "Good, you have your jacket. Let me have it. Hold her bag while I see if I can get her."

I could hear Alice trying to get Kate to stand, finally shouting through the door for me to come in and help. Pushing the door open, Alice was trying to put my jacket on Kate, who was totally passed out. The first thing I noticed was that Kate was half-naked and her dress was torn. From her undressed state I could see that she didn't have a bra on. She definitely needed my jacket! "What happened?" I said to Alice.

"Let's get her out of here and I'll tell you later." I finally got Kate covered up. I also noticed that she had a nosebleed and had an eye that was fast closing up. She was going to have a beautiful shiner. Immediately I was concerned.

"Is she all right? Does she need a doctor?"

"No, she is just drunk. She was really putting them down tonight. Too bad she didn't pass out earlier. Or maybe not. She might have had more than a black eye to worry about."

I grabbed some wet paper towels and soaked her head for a few minutes. The cold roused her enough so she could stay on her feet with Alice and I both holding her. Being as inconspicuous as possible we finally made it to the car. I asked Alice if she had a ride home. She didn't as she had come with Kate. I asked her if she was able to follow me home with Kate's car. She said she would.

Wouldn't you know, Kate got sick and barfed all over my car as soon as we started moving. This wife of mine sure had some explaining to do! Alice helped me get Kate out of the car and up the stairs into our bedroom. Gram heard the commotion and stuck her head out of her room. I just said Kate had got sick and her friend brought her home. I didn't clean Kate up at all, I just dumped her in bed. I did make sure she was breathing okay before I drove Alice home in Kate's car.

I asked for and got a rundown on what Kate's evening was like. Kate and Alice and two of their friends went to dinner at the Red Lion. They were all at the bar waiting to be seated, when John and Tim from work stopped by. Drinks were bought and refills were at hand. More drinks were consumed at dinner. John, whom Alice thinks is a sleazeball, started to do some heavy flirting with Kate. She knows he is married, but for some reason tonight she seemed more receptive to his advances.

After dinner when John suggested that they all move to a booth, Alice said no. John was not with his wife and Kate wasn't with her husband. Alice said it wouldn't look right. Kate told Alice to mind her own business, if she wanted to sit in a booth with a friend, she would. Tim left shortly after that, and the two others left an hour later. Alice loved to dance and was on the floor most of the night with different partners. As the evening progressed Kate was getting bombed and too drunk to dance. John and Kate continued necking and petting. Alice saw Kate put her panties in her bag and knew what was going to happen if things continued. Alice said she went and looked up John's phone number and called his wife.

"When John's wife answered, I just told her that John had some bimbo he was making out with in the Red Lion. Fifteen minutes later, John's wife showed up swinging. She pulled John out of the booth and clobbered him with her handbag. Then she reached in the booth where Kate was cowering in the corner. Grabbing Kate by her dress she pulled her out and socked her in the face. Kate, being pretty drunk, flopped on the floor. John's wife didn't let go, she tried to kick Kate and rip her dress off.

"By this time there were Red Lion people all over, trying to contain the fight. I asked them to put Kate in the ladies room until I could get someone to come for her. That is when I called you. Did you guys have a fight or something? I'm not Kate's confidant or anything, but she was really mad at you. It seemed like she had given up on you and didn't care what happened to her. You know if I hadn't stepped in, Kate probably would have been screwed tonight--and not by you either. As it is, she got pretty well fingered up."

"Thank you for helping, Alice. I guess I have been insensitive to Kate lately. But she has been pretty damned unreasonable herself. Thank God things stopped when they did. I don't know if I could handle it if that sleazeball had got any further."

I dropped Alice at her apartment and headed home. I knew that I wouldn't be able to talk to Kate before I left in the morning. Damn, why did I have to go. Well, I would smooth things over when I got back. Maybe I wouldn't insist on us going to the mountains after all.

Gram apparently was still sleeping. I decided since the night was most gone, I'd just clean Kate up a little and leave early. I went up to our bedroom and found Kate still out of it. Stripping the torn dress off, I could see where that sleazeball had marked Kate. She had hickeys all over her neck and breasts. Her eye had already turned black from his wife's punch. She also had a huge red mark on her thigh. John's wife must have landed at least one good kick.

Kate didn't have any panties on. Alice had told me Kate had taken them off. It still made me mad. My resolve to be forgiving was gone when I saw how red and puffy her privates were.

I left Kate a note on the night table for her to find when she woke up. I was still pretty pissed, so didn't show her much kindness.

Kate, I borrowed your car. You puked in mine on the way home last night. When you get up, look in the mirror. You had better put some ice on your eye, as it is still swollen. Your privates looked well used when I undressed you. Your panties are in your handbag. I never found your bra. Needless to say I am pretty upset. Oh yes, you may not believe it right now, but you have a friend that really took good care of you. I wish I didn't have to leave, but we will talk when I get home tonight. Love, Jim

I hoped the note didn't drive Kate away from me. The more I thought about it, I wished I had just said I would see her tonight and not put in the crack about her physical condition. Oh well, I didn't see much I could show her respect for.

Gram met me at the door when I arrived home. "You better talk to your wife, and I mean now! She may have deserved it, but that was a pretty nasty note you left. Why didn't you tell her I was here? If you love that woman, you better start thinking of her instead of yourself all of the time."

I looked at Gram. She looked disgusted with me. "Where is she?" Gram pointed upstairs.

I went along up. I guess somehow Kate and Gram had bonded and that left me as the bad guy. I opened the door to our bedroom, finding Kate sitting on the edge of the bed waiting for me. Kate had on slacks and a turtleneck sweater. Except for the black eye which was disguised somewhat with makeup, Kate appeared quite normal. I was speechless. I figured I would find my wife in tears begging for my forgiveness, instead of appearing defiant.

"Kate, you're looking better than you did this morning." I let the statement hang there.

After a few seconds of silence, Kate, contrite now, burst out, "Jim, I've been stupid, really stupid! Yesterday when you told me you had vacation plans for the mountains, I lost it. I'll admit now that I was being unreasonable and I think that can be explained. However, last night I didn't care what happened and it looks as if things have happened that I can't take back.

"God, I wanted to die this morning when I woke up. I was hung over and then I read your note. I threw up before I got to the bathroom and then I looked in the mirror and barfed again. You saw me and you know what a mess I am. I so regret being unfaithful. Believe it or not our marriage vows mean a lot to me. Why I fight with you and put myself in a position to possibly lose you, I'll never know. I would like for you to forgive me, but I will not beg. I've lost respect for myself and I don't even know what I did last night. Not knowing--that hurts me almost as much as I have hurt you. I do love you, please believe that."

We kept our distance and looked at each other. I guess I was almost ready to forgive her, but not yet. I could make it easier for her to accept by having her call Alice. I was dying to find out about her and Gram. "I guess you finally met my grandmother."

"Of course. I wish my grandmother was like her." Kate looked shocked to have admitted she had a grandmother, maybe hoping I wouldn't pick up on it. I let it slide for now.

"She scared me out of my wits. I was in the bathroom trying to pull myself together, when I smelled coffee. The door was open. I turned and here was this elegant lady standing there holding a cup of coffee.

"She said, 'Would you like your coffee now or after you put on your face? Actually you better have coffee, because it's going to take awhile to fix your face. Don't look so shocked. I came in earlier to see what you looked like. You definitely are a mess and it's going to take some major work to make you presentable before my grandson gets home.'

"She is a dear! To think I have lost two years in knowing her. All because of my stubbornness. I can't understand why you didn't make me meet her."

"Kate! Come on! You have been so obtuse when I have mentioned my grandmother. Lately I have had to avoid talking about her altogether. Yesterday I was going to take you to dinner and surprise you. I knew you would like her when you did meet. I'm sorry you aren't at your best, but don't lay the blame on me."

"Oh, I've made such a damned mess of my life. I could kill myself. I can't go back to work after messing around with John. I went and told my best friend Alice off. She'll never speak to me again. I've been unfaithful to my husband. To top it all off, I've ridiculed your grandmother to you and she is such a dear. This all in twenty-four hours."

"You might want to include the fact that you can never go to your favorite club again either. You've been banned." I said this last with a smile, trying to ease her pain a little. "Why don't you go give Alice a call? I'm sure she'll talk to you. She will fill in what you can't recall about last night. Remember I said in that note that you had a friend who took care of you. Also don't forget how that note was signed. Now go call Alice."

I went downstairs to Gram who was getting a meal on the table. "I didn't hear you screaming at her."

"No, I didn't, I love her too much. She is calling her friend now to find out what she did last night. Myself, I know how far she strayed. She has a friend that saved her from doing some things that I couldn't live with. Maybe with you here we can get our life straightened out. I realized today that I should have trusted her more. I just was never open about a lot of things. I was open with one girl I thought the world of, until I found out she was out to take me. I realize now that Kate isn't like that."

"No, she isn't like that. This morning while I was getting her to eat a slice of toast, I told her I was rich. I offered her twenty-five thousand dollars to get a divorce. She turned me down. She said she had messed up but still loved you. She hoped you would forgive her, but if you didn't, she would go on with her life much wiser. If she ever found someone to love her again she wouldn't make the same mistake, but hoped it wouldn't come to that. By the time I raised the amount to a half million and was still turned down, I believed her.

"I have found out a lot about your wife today. I'm impressed with her intelligence. She is basically taking care of her ill adoptive mother. She has worked her way up in her job, rising to assistant financial officer. She would have been chief in a couple of years if she hadn't screwed up last night. Now she says she would be too humiliated to return to her job. She knows the company she works for wouldn't trust the books to a person that goes out, gets drunk and runs around on their husband. As I say, she is smart enough to realize that.

"I admitted to her that I know a little about her birth family. Kate is shocked that someone knows of her past. I think some of what is bothering her is guilt. Escaping the 'red-neck' tag and feeling that she has abandoned her family, she wonders if she has done the right thing in disowning them. How she is going to resolve that, I don't know."

I could hear Kate coming down the stairs. "Gram, I know how much you are interested in our lives. Thank God you were here to see Kate today. I am especially glad you were because it has kept me from venting my feelings about Kate's actions last night. There was a short time I felt like throwing her out. I'm glad I didn't and it's all because you were here. I do think though, it is something we have to settle ourselves."

I didn't want to tell Gram to leave. I didn't have to.

"Kate, I'm going upstairs and lie down for awhile. Jim and you must have a lot to say to each other. I'll get a slice of toast and a cup of tea later." Gram walked over and gave Kate a brief hug before going upstairs.

Kate turned to me saying, "She's so wonderful. I love her already." Then she came and put her arms around me. "I have hurt you terribly, haven't I?"

"Yes you have. I can't understand why you set out last night to let someone else play with you. Have I treated you that poorly?"

"How you treat me is a matter of perception. If you had asked me that yesterday, I would have said I was being treated badly. Today--well after last night, I think I'm being treated very reasonably. You haven't thrown me out. You are still talking to me without calling names, like tease or slut or even whore, which I guess you have a right to do. I'm sure those people who saw me at the Red Lion think that's what I am.

"I overheard at lunch yesterday that you were going to be rich and I was just a trophy wife. You only brought me out when you went to dinner with someone you were trying to impress. You have to admit we don't go out much and when we do, your business is the topic of conversation. You are always going somewhere on business and saying you can't get out of it.

"Then you called in the afternoon. Same o! Same o! I lost it, and here we are today. I don't want to lose you and I really do love you. I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am." Kate paused, "So where are we? Please tell me."

"Kate, I'll admit that I haven't trusted you with a lot of things going on in my life. However, I never ever thought of you as being unfaithful. I was confident in that and I guess that is why it has hurt so much." I paused before continuing. "You just talked to Alice. What did she say?"

"She said I was acting like a slut last night. I was really out to hurt myself and Alice wasn't going to let it happen. She wished she had called John's wife sooner to stop what I was doing. She's sorry I got a black eye, but maybe I should realize that there are consequences to every action. Alice also wanted to know how you were taking it. I said you and I haven't talked yet, but I would let her know."

"Please call her tomorrow. Let's see if she will come for dinner Sunday. You and I should have everything settled by then. If you don't decide to go back to work, Alice can be the center of attention at the water cooler."

The meal that Gram had prepared had cooled. Neither Kate nor I were hungry. "Don't you think you should tell me about your job and why you have kept me out of the loop? This is what has been bothering me. At first I thought maybe you had something illegal going on. I prided myself that I knew you better than that, but I didn't know what. So please tell me."

"Okay, I mentioned Pat, the girl I was engaged to before you. She wanted me for my money. When I found that out from an overheard conversation, I dumped her. I swore that I wouldn't tell any girl I fell in love with how bright my future is. I swore every girl would think I was making it on my own. Then I met you. I wanted to tell you but kept putting it off.

"The situation I am in is this: Gram wants me to take over her company. I have been training desperately to fill the shoes that Gram has set out for me. I am getting to the point that I don't think I can handle it. This is why. When Gramp and Gram started their company, they dealt with one person that was looking to lease land to develop a coal mine. It turns out that a major portion of land they owned was coal bearing. They reinvested the money as the mines were developed and now the company employs hundreds of workers. The holdings are spread out over several states in different parts of the country. Just the paper work for the government regulations is mind-boggling.

"Gram is a master at finding and delegating personnel to run her company. Many are near her age and when Gram gets out of direct management, these people are naturally going to leave. I've met all of them. I know that as young as I am, I can't command their respect in running the company as efficiently as it is now.

"I have come to realize that I have been neglecting you too, or we wouldn't be having this conversation right now. I do love you so much. I feel I am going to disappoint either you or Gram. What I would really like to do is start or buy a small company and make it grow into a decent living for you and me. I've had good training and you know finances. We have talked about starting a family. We could make it all happen and be happy."

"Oh Jim, if we only could. What about last night though? What I did is inexcusable."

"I feel that Alice saved you by putting a stop to what you were going to do. That saved our marriage. I don't want to dwell on it or even think about it. Let's say it was a mistake and put it behind us."

"You're wonderful!" Kate's words were happy, but she didn't look that way.

"What's the matter?"

"I think it is time I tell you a little more about me and how I grew up. I've kept it a secret since I was twelve. I didn't dare tell you. I married you under false pretenses. It was all totally legal, but you should know. Especially since you are being so good to me.

"My name wasn't Catherine O'Toole when I was born. It was Hattie Mae Gruber. I had it legally changed. My birth family live in Kentucky and if you ever saw a family of red-necks, that is a perfect description of them. From what I can remember about my family, Mama and Papa are first cousins. Bethanne is a whore. Papa grows weed. He used to make 'shine but there is more money in weed now. My two brothers are old enough to work, but said they guessed they would grow weed too. They are probably all in jail now. Papa used to take me to see an old lady that he called Gram. Her name was Maudie and she smoked a pipe and chewed tobacco. Also she smelled. I don't think she ever took a bath.

"I was lucky. Somehow the state took me and I was adopted by the O'Tooles. The only one I really miss is my sister, Katie. She is the reason I took the name Catherine. Every time someone calls me Kate, I think of her. We used to plan how we would go and live in a big city and meet a handsome prince. I got my prince, but I often wonder about Katie. Was there something in my genes that let me go off like I did last night? I worry about it. It will never happen again, make no mistake about that."

"I believe you." I looked at the clock. It was too early to go to bed, but I was beat. "Let's go out on the porch and sit where we can watch the sunset. I need to think about you, my life, and our life together. Gram has to be considered also, as she is a big part of our lives now that you have got to meet and like her."

"Okay, you go out. I'm going to pick up and then I'll be out and sit with you."

I left Kate in the kitchen and settled down on the porch swing. My mind was in a turmoil. I wanted things to work out for Kate and me, but in the present situation, it didn't seem possible. I wondered to myself how Gram would feel if I left the company and went off on my own.

What would Gram do? I knew she had several lucrative offers for the company, but she turned them all down. She just gave the reason that she was saving it for her grandson. Also she feared if she sold to a major corporation a lot of the people that had supported her after Gramp died would lose their employment. I sat there swinging and thinking. It wasn't long before I drifted off to sleep.

I finally became aware that it was dark and it was quiet except for the murmur of voices coming from the kitchen. I stood in the doorway observing my two loved ones sitting close together at the kitchen table. Gram looked rested and Kate's eye was blacker than ever. I smiled at her saying, "Boy that's a beaut'."

Tears welled up in Kate's eyes. I realized that my attempt at humor fell flat. I walked over and pulled my wife to her feet giving her a hug. "Come on Hon, you are going to be wearing that for awhile. You might as well get used to people staring at you and making comments. Just use the standard answer that you ran into a door. That works every time. Ten to one, people will think you're married to an abusive husband, so the less said about it the better."

"Oh Jim, I'm so sorry. I didn't consider that people might blame you. I have so much to make up to you. Can you ever forgive me?" Kate looked into my eyes searching for a sign that I would do what she so desperately wanted.

She found it as I hugged her tight. "Of course I forgive you," I said as I kissed her.

Gram broke in with, "It's getting late and we have been under a lot of stress. Why don't we go to bed now and we'll get up late. Things will look different tomorrow."

"All except somebody's eye, I'll bet!" Kate was smiling again.

We went up to our room. I went in and took a shower letting the hot water slowly calm me down. I didn't realize how tense I was. My mind drifted to thoughts of Kate. I forgave her, but it would take awhile for me to forget. When I came out with a towel around me, Kate was sitting at her vanity brushing her hair. I couldn't believe that she had on pajamas. She hadn't worn pajamas since the electricity had gone out last winter. It wasn't winter now.

She turned and with a red face said, "Jim don't say anything, please. I've got marks all over me and I'm so ashamed. I don't want you to look at me. I wish I didn't have this black eye. The next time I want you to look at me is when the black has faded. The other marks on me should fade faster than the eye, so then I will be all yours again. Please?"

"Kate I want to hold you. I've seen the hickeys and the other marks. They are in my mind's eye. How on earth do you think having pajamas on is going to make me forget? If it bothers you that much, tonight, and only tonight, I will turn my back while you get under the covers. We'll see about tomorrow night then."

I turned out the light and got into bed next to Kate. She was extremely tense. I heard what sounded like a sniffle. Running my hand over her face, I could tell that she was crying. I pushed her over onto her side facing away from me. Putting my arms around her, I reached up and cupped both breasts. Then I drew her just as close to me as I could. I whispered, "I love you."

"Oh Jim, I feared so much that I never would hear you say that again." She wiggled as close to me as she could. It had been a week or more since we had time for sex. I thought both of us would avoid sex given what had transpired, but when Kate said, "Is that what I think it is poking me?" I realized that being this close was definitely having an effect.

"Kate would you like me to make love to you?"

"Oh, yes! Please! In another time a husband would beat his wife if she acted like I did. I'm surprised that you haven't."

"Well I felt like beating you last night when I first saw you with your dress most off and your breast hanging out. I wasn't too happy when you barfed in my car either. Then when Alice explained what happened, I began to wonder if maybe I wasn't partly to blame. I think we better talk this through when we start our vacation a week from today. Tonight let's just make love."

Kate didn't answer. She just reached between her legs and guided me into her. Passion took over and I thrust into her hard and fast. Maybe I was even a little brutal, but Kate seemed to like it that way. I was soon bathed in sweat and Kate was too. She started to shudder as her orgasm started to build which worked like a catalyst on my own.

Kate, never vocal, was uttering, "Oh God, Oh God, Oh God." After we climaxed I wanted to go take a shower but Kate insisted I stay in her. It wasn't long before I felt the urge to begin moving again. I was soon partially erect. This time we didn't act like animals, but like lovers showing their love for each other. Entwined, we fell asleep.

I lay in bed in the morning while waiting for Kate to finish her shower. I lay there thinking how I, or we, could make our life better. Gram was going to be a major player in our plans. I just hoped that any decisions I made wouldn't hurt her too much. I had no definite plans, but a general idea of what I wanted to do. It involved Kate as a partner and wife, not just as a wife. Gram, whom I revered, I wanted as a mentor and advisor. I was going to broach the subject at breakfast. I knew that it wasn't going to be easy. Kate, I could count on, but Gram was the unknown.

It was after eight in the morning before Kate and I went down to breakfast. Gram, sitting at the table, got up and poured our coffee. "I guess God answered your prayers last night. You both look pretty happy on this bright Saturday morning."

Kate looked puzzled. "What do you mean, Gram?"

"Well I heard you praying and you look happy so I assume they were answered."

I burst out laughing, catching on to what Gram was referring to. I whispered to Kate, "She heard you saying, Oh God, Oh God, Oh God, while we were making love last night."

Kate's face turned bright red while she remembered. "Oh, He answered all right. He certainly did!"

Gram laughed as she slid plates of bacon, toast and scrambled eggs onto the table. She also put a big bowl of grits next to my plate. "You don't care for grits, Kate?"

"I don't know. I haven't had any, or wanted any, since I was adopted. Where I grew up, that is often all we had to eat. I swore that I would never eat them again. Maybe I will try just a little bowl of them this morning." Kate ate most of what Gram had prepared.

Kate cleared the table while Gram and I had another cup of coffee. "Gram, I have something on my mind and it involves you and my future. I know that you have always had plans for me to take over your company when you retire. You have taught me everything I know and up until a few months ago I was highly motivated to do just that. However I've come to the conclusion that might not be the best thing for me--or you for that matter. It certainly wouldn't be best for me and Kate. The last couple of days have only solidified my feelings. I almost lost Kate because I wasn't here to pay attention to her. Kate isn't blameless by a long shot, but we haven't had a fair chance of working through any difficulties that arise."

"Well Jimmy, tell me what's on your mind. We have always been able to talk. I'd like to hear what you are thinking."

"First I would like to know if some rumors I have heard about the business are true? I have heard that you have received many lucrative offers for your holdings."

"Yes there are several corporations that have evinced an interest in owning the company. Some offers have been for more than I imagined in my wildest dreams. If I ever decide to sell and with the right negotiator, even those offers could be topped." She paused here and looked at me. "Are you thinking of leaving the company? If so, why?"

"There are several reasons. One thing I think you will agree on. You and Gramp started this company with land he owned. You were lucky when coal was found underneath most of it. Was it luck when you wanted to put your profits back into land out west? You invested in wheat land and damned if there wasn't coal under that land too. I'll bet the fun you have had was not what you owned, but in building and managing a profitable company.

"Well I would like to build something too. I would lose the fun if I had a big company to manage. I feel also that I am too young and inexperienced to ever take over and keep a handle on everything. Haven't you had a few doubts about my ability?"

"Well it is going to be difficult for you."

"Gram, another thing. Kate and I want to have some kids. I want them to know their father and especially their great-grandmother. To do this I can't be running all over the country seeing to problems. I want a small company which will grow. One that Kate and I can build up to be as well run as your company. By starting small I can use the knowledge you have taught me and put it to use. Does this make sense to you?

"You lost the joy of being a grandmother when Dad and Mom died. You had to revert to being a mother again when you chose to raise me. Won't it be nice to be able to do grandmother things and let Kate and I do the parenting?"

"You can definitely earn a living as a salesman. Everything you have said makes sense. You almost have me sold on your ideas. I do see a lot of complications in acting on them. However, let's say I will give it some very serious thought. Nothing needs to be decided today."

Saturday was a relaxing day after our conversation of the morning. Kate and I took Gram out to our favorite nightspot. We had both been too busy to frequent it as often as we liked in the past few months. Kate's eye was very noticeable, but we only had to use the excuse of running into a door once when asked. I danced most of the dances with Kate, but I managed to get Gram on the floor for a couple of slow ones.

Gram asked while we were dancing, "Can you persuade Kate to start her vacation early next week and go to the mountains with me? You can follow in a week. I really want more time with her. Getting to know her well will give me a little insight on how I am going to follow up on your ideas."

I answered, "I think Kate is planning on leaving her job anyway, using her accumulated vacation time in lieu of notice. She is just too uncomfortable being around her co-workers after Thursday night's debacle. I think she will go with you by Monday afternoon. I'll talk to her later."

Later that night Kate and I talked for a long time. We discussed her coming off the pill and us starting a family. I ended up talking about my childhood and what it was like having parents who were twice as old as my playmates' parents. I think this is why I am of a more serious bent. Of course there were no money worries growing up, as Gram and Gramp were well-to-do by the time I came along.

Kate then opened up about her own childhood. Her father did own quite a bit of land, she thought. She couldn't remember how much, but a lot. A lot of it was hilly and even the flat land was unproductive, being mostly a heavy clay soil. She said she adored her father until she started going to school. She and her brothers and sisters were all looked down on. Outside of growing marijuana to pay the taxes, she thought the family was honest, but certainly very poor.

Her sister Katie was the nearest to her in age and she still missed her. Bethanne, her older sister by six years, liked boys and flaunted her body. This caused many fights between Bethanne and her father. Her mother was very quiet and definitely under the father's thumb. As far as her two brothers, they never paid much attention to her and she hardly remembered them, they being the oldest kids in the family. It has been fourteen or fifteen years since she had seen any of them. She said it had been so long and she was so young when she left, her memory probably was distorted.

We hugged and snuggled together until Kate said, "I'm still on the pill, but how about practicing making a baby?" That's what we did, as I was more than willing, and believing that practice makes perfect, we practiced at it until the wee hours. It was a joy!

Gram had us go to church in the morning. We enjoyed being in Gram's company as now we both seemed to enjoy ourselves with her. Believe it or not, the sermon was "Be true to those that love you, and they will be true to you." I wondered, was the sermon a coincidence or was it a sign?

Monday I was off to work. Kate planned to go to her job and give her notice. She hoped to be home by noon. Gram had business most all day and then she and Kate were heading north to the mountains. I was working all week, but planned on leaving Friday night to join them. I had three weeks' vacation and I planned on doing nothing but think and maybe practice more of that baby making.

I was surprised to see Kate in my office at one o'clock. This was the start of my lunch break. She had to tell me what happened when she went into work. "I was going to try and cover my black eye, but then I figured everyone would know about it anyway, so I let it all show. I drove in and parked in the lot. A really mad woman came up to my car and told me to get my ass out where she could talk to me. She wasn't very big and I really didn't know her, I thought. Then it came to me that this had to be John's wife and she was still pissed from Thursday night. "When she saw my black eye, she asked if she had done that. I nodded and pulled up my skirt and showed her that big softball sized black mark where she had kicked me. She suddenly wasn't so mad anymore. She started crying and told me that John had been fired Friday. They had two kids and she didn't know how they were going to survive. The only income they had now was some part time work that she did in a grocery store. She couldn't work full time because of the kids. Then she said she was sorry and went to her car and left the lot.

"I hated to enter the building. Apparently all of those on the parking lot side of the office had seen John's wife confront me. They were curious as to what had been said. I just put my head up and went into the office I shared with Herb, my boss. He had always treated me nice and with respect, but I wondered what he thought of me now. I'm sure the rumors made things a lot worse than they were. He asked me to sit and if I wanted coffee. I didn't."

"Well Kate, I'm a little surprised to see you," Herb said.

"Herb, I guess you have heard all about Thursday night. John's wife tells me that you fired him. Why was that?"

"I can't have the things I have heard about going on in my office. John admitted to coming on to you when I confronted him with it, but only because you seemed so willing. He said that you were more than willing and egged him on. That I didn't believe. You have always been the soul of discretion as long as you have worked here. I just didn't believe him at all."

"Why didn't you wait and have us into your office together? Sometimes things are different than they appear. Tim was there. What did he say?"

"I didn't ask Tim. Anyway he would have lied for John because they are buddies. Doesn't matter. You are my assistant, and I can't have office gossip interfering with our job."

"Herb, I hate to disillusion you, but a lot of this was mostly my fault. John does have a wandering eye, but never would have made any advances toward me if I hadn't given him some kind of opening. You really fired the wrong person. Truth is, I was having some difficulties at home with my husband. Right now I seem to have them resolved.

"The thing is, my husband has asked me to resign my position here. He has forgiven me any indiscretions I may have been a party to, and we are moving forward together. Herb, I'm resigning as of right now. I was going on vacation next week anyway, and I want to use my accrued vacation time as notice."

"God Kate, you can't leave me this short-handed! With John gone, it leaves too big a hole in the office. I was going to persuade you to put off your vacation until I could train someone to fill his job. You just can't leave now." I sat there shaking my head. "Call John. He didn't deserve to be fired over what he did, especially because it was mostly my fault. I feel so bad for his family, so please call him."

Herb rang his secretary and asked her to contact John to come in about some paperwork that needed doing. Urge him to come as soon as possible. When she left he turned to me and asked what my plans were.

"I don't know really what we are going to do. Jim has had things buzzing around in his mind for awhile. I am just so thankful that he wants to include me in them. He is making a major readjustment in his life, so things really are up in the air. I just know that I am going to be at his side."

When I left Herb's office I stopped by Alice's cubicle, and told her I was going on vacation as of now. She commented on my eye and I just said I deserved it, so I might as well show it. She asked how Jim and I were. I told her that "thanks to her," things were fine, and I would fill her in at a later time.

The house was empty when I got home, as Gram and Kate had gone north as planned. Kate called me in the evening. My phone rang again shortly after we hung up. It was Alice and she wanted to talk to Kate about what had transpired at the office that afternoon. Herb had made an announcement to his staff. He told them that Kate had left the company and that because he was so short-handed he had rehired John. I gave her Kate's cell number.

Almost immediately the phone rang again. It was John's wife, wanting to speak to Kate. I informed her that Kate was unavailable, but that I would take a message. She, I guess, didn't know how much I knew about the previous week. When I mentioned that Alice had cleared everything up, she wanted to talk. She then apologized for marking Kate up so badly. I told her that Kate felt any marks she had were well deserved.

She went on to tell me that John had his old job back--and with a raise too. She also said that even though Kate had taken the blame for Thursday, she knew John. He was at least partly at fault and had used up his one free "Get Out of Jail" card with other women. She would be watching him from now on. She closed out the call with wishing Kate and I the best in the future.

I had to tell Kate about both Alice and John's wife's call, so I rang her. She was so pleased to hear from me again this evening. We talked until I reminded her I had to work tomorrow.

I didn't get to call Kate until very late every night the rest of the week. I was going to be leaving for vacation, and wanted to make sure that the people covering for me were up to date on my duties. It was a long week, but I survived. I would be seeing Kate at the end of the week so I didn't mind too much.

Gram was so glad to be home. She liked to travel and did a lot, but she was only really happy when she got home to her mountains. Kate was the most relaxed that I had seen her in a long time. I was glad to be here as it had been my home while growing up. After high school and going off to college, my visits had been rare. Two days later Gram, Kate and I had our talk.

Before I tell you of our conversation, let me describe the home that Gram and Gramp built. It was a massive log cabin high up overlooking the valley where the nearest village was. This was the same little town where my father and mother were killed in the flood that made me an orphan. It also brought a lot of sadness to the other people who lost loved ones at the same time. Since that time several dams and floodgates had been built to tame the rushing waters. Gramp had seen to this, by buying various strategic parcels of land, then donating them so all of these projects could go forward.

Gramp's memory was revered for not only making the town safer, but because the mines that he opened up over the years had the highest safety work records in the state. The townspeople even tried to officially name the town after him. He wouldn't hear of it! The people, however, circumvented him by having all the businesses in town have the name "Ryan" in them. There was Ryan's Drug Store, Ryan's Diner, Ryan's Hotel, etc.--you get the picture. The town's name was "The Gap," but soon it became unofficially known locally as Ryan's Town, and that is what everyone knows it as today.

When Gram, Kate and I sat down to talk, Gram asked me to explain further why I wanted to leave the business.

"First I think I am reasonably intelligent. Having said that, I know what I am capable of. There is no way I can get a handle on all aspects of the company and its far-flung interests. If you had a corporate structure, it might be possible for one person to manage it. That is what will have to happen eventually, if only for tax purposes. Right now you have a whole bunch of companies under your direct control. All have been profitable for you, and you have avoided too high a tax on the profits by astutely making acquisitions and putting the assets back into the company. Now when you sell, you are going to have a real nightmare avoiding giving the government most of what you have in capital gains."

"Jim, my money managers have been warning me about this since Gramp died. I just carried on as he did. You know how he was, if he owned something, he wanted it under his direct control. He wasn't about to give up any control to people that owned a bunch of shares in his company. I know it was shortsighted of him, but that is the way he was. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with this?"

"Not really, but why don't you pull in the best tax lawyers you know. Have them solve your problem, even if it costs you a lot. I do have a couple of ideas. One, when and if you sell, give bonuses to all of your employees. Base it on length of service, not just on positions in the company. Two, put all that you won't ever need into a nonprofit trust. It works for Bill Gates and it can work for you.

"You could be the titular head. Inevitably whoever buys you out will let many of your managers go. Take the best of these and install them in running the trust. That way some of your oldest and best employees won't have to go job hunting at their advanced age. These are just some thoughts I've had while worrying about taking over from you as you wanted. I must warn you that Uncle Sam is going to take a big bite, whether in payroll taxes on the bonuses, or in capital gains.

"But I wouldn't worry about that, as I suspect you have had a good run in building this company and enjoyed it a lot. You have also given a lot of people a good and fair living and they are loving you for it. There probably never will be such a successful well-run energy company in the United States ever again."

"Jim, you make a lot of sense. I can understand your reluctance in taking over from me. I was worried that I was putting an undue burden on you. Kate, too, for that matter. I knew that Kate would have to be an exceptional person to let you give what you had to give in taking over and still love you. I think tomorrow I will start pulling this together. It is going to take a long time before this is all settled and I might as well get started.

"While I am doing that, what are you two going to do? You are on vacation and should be doing something fun."

Kate spoke up finally after being silent while Gram and I talked. "Jim has made me realize that family is something to be cherished. We are heading to Kentucky to see if I can find my family. He has felt that I should at least reconnect with them. Maybe they won't be anyone we want to know, but maybe they aren't as bad as I remember. I do remember that my papa loved me and I surely do wonder how my sister Katie is. I wonder if she ever made it to New York and became a singer as she had dreamed.

"We are leaving shortly so by tomorrow night I should know something. I really am awfully excited. Who knows, maybe it was my attitude and not theirs that tore me from them. Remembering more, I guess I was a little brat when I was twelve. That sure changed when I was placed with the O'Tooles. They were nice and really loved me, and brought me up to be nice. It was beautiful being the center of attention with them, but I missed the camaraderie of a big family for a long time.

"I guess I still must have an attitude, or I would have tried to see my family before this. Jim and I are leaving before daylight, so we won't see you in the morning."

I had never seen Kate this excited, so I said, "Why don't we leave after lunch today? Gram has some calls to make, and I can see she is anxious to get started." Gram laughed as Kate flew up to our room to pack. "Is that all right with you Gram, us leaving early, I mean?"

"Sure, go ahead. You are doing the right thing. I suspect that you might find her family to your liking. If they are anything like Kate has turned out, there must be a lot of good in them. So go on and have fun. Keep me posted, though, for you and Kate are all the family that I have."

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