I opened the registered letter after signing for it. It was from the family court clerk requesting my presence before a judge two weeks hence at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. The purpose was for a hearing about a change of custody. Maybe, just maybe, I might be getting back a little of what I had given away.
I parked in the driveway of my former home. Elizabeth had kept the place in fine shape. I could see the pool sparkling out at the side of the house. Not for me to go in through the front door, so I went in by the garage and the entrance into the kitchen.
Madie looked up and dropped the pot she was washing, rushing to me. I was always a favorite and a friend. It was not just a hug I received, but a kiss as well. She wasn't old enough to be my mother, but I loved her as if she were. "Land's sake, Mr. Rheingold, you do startle a body. It has been forever since I have seen you."
"I know, Madie, but I haven't forgotten you. Quick, tell me, what is going on?"
"Simple. The Missus has a new fellow and wants to go to Paris with him. They plan on being gone for six months. She knows it would not be right for me and Will to watch over the boy for that long. What you fought for is finally coming true. She wants you to take Jimmy to live with you."
"I suspected that might be it. It is still all about her isn't it?" There was a noise of someone behind me. I turned to face my ex-wife.
"You're still bitter, aren't you John? Well, I am not surprised. Maybe a little bitterness will help you get over me. Personally, I think you have no reason to be bitter. I picked you up in college and you will have to admit I gave you your start in life."
"Maybe, but in so doing, you stepped on my heart and ground it beneath your feet. Really though, I was just making an observation. I am over you. Tell me what your plans are, before we get to court? I want to know if I am going to need my attorney for this."
"You don't. I'm handing you the custody of Jimmy. You do still want him living with you, don't you?"
"I do. This is just so sudden. For the winter vacation, you wouldn't let him come to me and would only let me see him for two days when I came here to visit. Why the big change?"
"I guess I can tell you. I've fallen deeply in love. Jimmy resents my new interest and has been very difficult. I suppose you could say Brian gave me a choice, him or Jimmy."
"Where is Jimmy? I'd like to see him."
Elizabeth looked at Madie. "Do you know where my son is?"
"Of course. He always tells me where he will be. He took some food down to a house at the end of the street. Mrs. Waters and her two children are being evicted today. They are his friends and he is worried he won't ever see them anymore."
"I didn't say you could let Jimmy take some poor trash our food. I want you to stop letting Jimmy do this. I don't believe it. Someone is being evicted on this street. The neighborhood is certainly going down hill."
"Yes, Miss." My ex turned back to the living room. Madie rolled her eyes at me.
"I still have a couple of hours before court. Tell me where I can find Jimmy."
"It is the little bungalow on this side at the end of the street and the last place before the city playground. If Jimmy is not there, he will be at the playground with two little girls. He is their protector."
"I'll find him. Is there anything else I can take to the woman?"
"I'll bet she would like some hot coffee. I'll put it in a carafe for you. Here are some sweet buns to go with the coffee. I think her power was turned off so I'm sure she'll appreciate something hot."
Madie put the hot coffee into a camping thermos and the buns in a bag. There was a full dozen of these. The end of the street was eleven houses away. It had been two years since the divorce and I wanted to walk by my neighbors, some of them who had been my friends. I guess it was too early for anyone to be out, for I didn't see anyone.
When I approached the last house, I could see my son sitting on the front steps with two others, both girls. One looked to be his age of eleven and the other was smaller. He glanced up at me and ran toward me screaming, "That's my Dad," and ran into my arms. The two girls hung back.
Little gentleman that he had been trained for, he introduced me to Kathy and Sandy Waters. "How long are you going to be here? It has been so long since I have seen you. Can I go home with you this time?"
"Maybe you can, son. Your mother is considering it." The two girls looked dejected and started edging away toward the playground.
"Dad, Kathy and Sandy wanted me to go with them to say good-bye to their friends at the playground. They are having to move today and wanted me with them."
"Go with them if you wish. Kathy is your Mom home?"
"Yes, she is using the last of the hot water for a shower. The electricity got turned off."
"Is it okay if I go in and talk to her?"
"Sure, just open the door." Curious, she asked, "What do you have in the bag?"
"Buns. Would you like some?"
A shy yes came forth. The three kids took a couple each and went on down to the playground. I turned and went up to the steps into the house. I opened the door and found the kitchen almost empty with no chairs or table. I set the coffee and buns on the counter and advanced into the next room.
Near the far wall across the room, there was a woman bent over poking into a box, which was sitting on the floor. Her back was to me and I don't think she heard me enter. I was in a quandary. Could I escape back into the kitchen before she knew I had seen her? She being naked, that is.
I tried. I wasn't successful. She screamed and then told me to get out or she would call the cops. I ignored her outburst and started talking over her. "I have coffee if you would like a cup. Your daughter Kathy said to come right in. You might put some clothes on before you do, though." I grinned as she whirled and disappeared into another room.
It was just a few minutes before she was facing me. "Who are you?"
"Jimmy's dad. He and your girls are down to the playground. Madie said you were moving today and I brought coffee and some buns. The kids took most of them."
"Let me find cups. Yes, we are moving, but not by choice. The sheriff is coming about noon. We are going to a shelter for the homeless. Thank God, we found a room there today. Otherwise, we would be sleeping in my old car."
"Up against it are you?"
"You could say that. I begged my landlord to let me stay here until school was out or we would have been out a month ago. He has been pretty understanding, but he depends on the rent. Jimmy has been really nice. He even brought us milk and cereal for breakfast this morning."
"So what happened to put you in such a hole?"
"Ex-husband won't or can't pay child support. I lost my job as an accountant. My ex works as a carpenter but it doesn't seem as if it is steady. I'm not sure if it is him or the men he works for where the problem lies. Eventually I'll find work and we'll be okay."
The woman was as attractive clothed as she was without. Her hair was a dark gold, her features regular, lips maybe a little wide and full and her shape, well no need to go there. I had seen it all. I felt it was time to apologize for walking in on this woman. "I'm sorry about seeing you in dishabille."
"Are you really? Actually, you have the word dishabille wrong. That means partially undressed. I do believe I was totally naked."
"I do believe you were too. Can we change the subject? How about your family? Can't they help you out?"
"My father is helping all he can, but he lives so far away. Mom calls and tells me to keep my spirits up. I have to, and I do act it for the girls. They feel terrible about being so poor. This last year Jimmy has been their friend and he shares his toys and games. Both girls have had the use of his laptop and he has taught them a lot."
"He's down here often?"
"All the time. I think it is because he is so lonely at home."
"You mean because his mother doesn't pay any attention to him?"
"You said that, I didn't."
"Um yes, I did didn't I? Look I have to be in court in a half hour. Can I come back and be with you when the sheriff comes? It might make your daughters feel better. I will even take you all out to dinner. It may just be postponing the inevitable, but you have been such a good friend to Jimmy, I'd like to do something."
I paused and then grinned. "I'll even knock on the door this time."
"Was it that bad what you saw of me?"
This time I looked into her eyes. "No. No, it wasn't bad at all, but I only had a glimpse before I retreated. I did not want to embarrass you. " I escaped out the door. I ran down to the playground.
"Jimmy, stay here with Kathy, Sandy, and their mother. I'll come by and pick you up later." I really had to beat it to my car and I made the court just as the judge was entering his chambers where we were to meet.
One thing about Elizabeth, she could manipulate most anyone she came in contact with. I knew this. Hadn't she done this to me for nine long years? The judge was no exception. The only question was who I would have to look after Jimmy if I was granted the custody of my son.
When questioned, "Your Honor, I have just this morning interviewed a lady who I believe would accept employment to care for my son while I am working. She knows him already and is very fond of him."
The looks were daggers I was receiving from Elizabeth and she stuck in her two cents by asking, "Is this the woman who is being evicted?"
"Yes she is. I understand Jimmy has spent more time with her and her two children than he has spent in his own home since you and I were divorced. Madie, your own housekeeper tells me this. She has been a second mother to him while you weren't always there for him."
The judge asked Elizabeth, "Do you believe your ex-husband will care for his son in a way that is good for the boy?"
"Yes, I do. I firmly believe it or I wouldn't have considered giving him sole custody."
"Mr. Rheingold, if I can be assured of him being under a suitable woman's care, I will give you custody. When can I meet this person?"
"I think I can arrange it by three this afternoon."
"Good. Be here in my office at that time. We will discuss it then."
The only thing Elizabeth had to say to me was, "You've changed, John. You're much more decisive than you used to be."
"Maybe dear, I had a chance to grow new wings. Wings that were not always being clipped by you. I'll have the judge call you after I meet with him. Or should I have him call your attorney with his decision?"
"Have him call me."
I wanted custody of my son and I was determined to have him with me. I was figuring out how to enlist Jimmy in helping me. I decided I would play it straight or nearly so.
When I arrived back at the Waters' residence, an old gentleman was introduced as the landlord. He was waiting to take possession of his property when Mrs. Waters was evicted. I got into a conversation with him. "May I rent this house just as it is as soon as you receive the keys back from Mrs. Waters? I'll only need it for a week, I think, but if I pay you up front, maybe the second week as well."
"Sure, I can do that. Why though?"
"Mrs. Waters is a friend of mine and may not be able to move her stuff for awhile."
"Rent it as long as you want as long as I get my money." I made out a check for two weeks' rent. Jimmy was standing with me while I was doing the negotiating. He was puzzled. The two girls and their mother were inside just waiting.
The sheriff did arrive and formally evicted Mrs. Waters. When he started to move their possessions, I said I had arranged to store them for the next two weeks and would see about having them removed at that time. The landlord verified what I was saying. He left soon after the sheriff with a check I wrote in his pocket.
I went inside. "Come on ladies, Jimmy and I are taking you all out to lunch. I have something I want to discuss with everyone."
It took an hour to convince Mrs. Waters to work as my housekeeper. She would be moving to my home. I think it was the kids who convinced her. Her children were overjoyed to think that they would still have Jimmy to hang out with in his new home. Sandy was especially happy about the change that would keep her with Jimmy.
Jimmy of course had been concerned he would have to return to the days when he would be alone most of the time. Especially if he was moving to live with me and not knowing anyone.
Elizabeth was waiting at the courthouse when we arrived to meet with the judge. I knew she was curious about Mrs. Waters. I introduced the two women. I couldn't give Mrs. Waters' name because I had not heard it.
"Shelly is my name. Jimmy still calls me Mrs. Waters and that is why John doesn't know it. You have a great child Ms. Rheingold. I love him a lot." Elizabeth wrinkled her nose.
Shelly gave the judge a short bio of herself. "I was married. Divorced, but still have some love for my former husband. He is ordered to pay child support, but is unemployed so he is behind in payments. I became unemployed and am behind on my rent. Mr. Rheingold has offered me the position as his housekeeper to keep his house and care for his son while he is working.
"I have two girls who met and became friends with Jimmy Rheingold and that is how I know him and more recently met Mr. Rheingold. This will solve some of my problems in providing for my family and hopefully do the same for Mr. Rheingold."
Shelly gave the judge the name of her former employer and the judge called to see what that person would have to say about her. He listened and when he hung up, he immediately signed the order giving me custody of Jimmy.
Elizabeth had a few words for Jimmy when we came out of the judge's office. I think she was looking at our son with opened eyes. I suspect he had been growing up without her really knowing him, even though she was the one in charge of him.
I had a few words for her, telling her that although Jimmy would not be living with her, he was still her son and she was still his mother.
"Thank you John. I won't forget our son. I will be gone for a while, but I will think about him often. I'll think about you as well. I guess we are from two different cultures and never should have been married."
"We were happy for awhile. I can't say I regret being married to you, but I knew long before we divorced that our marriage wasn't working. I think now I am happier than I was when I was married to you. I hope you find happiness as well."
"I'm sure I will. I will see both of you when I get back from Europe in the winter. My plans are I'm leaving in two days. While you are in town, you may have the use of the guest room at the house. Jimmy of course can stay in his own room until you leave.
"I'll be going out tonight so make yourself at home."
This had been my home. I certainly knew my way around in it. It did not feel like home though and hadn't for quite some time.
Shelly and the kids got into my car and I transported us back to what had been her house. It was now being rented by me. I went inside. The beds had gone the way of the kitchen set and had been repossessed by the rental store yesterday. The family had slept on the floor last night.
I looked around me. "This won't do at all. Jimmy, you let the two girls sleep in your bed tonight. You can sleep on one of the couches. I'll crash in with Madie and Will. They won't mind. Shelly you get the guest room."
"Oh no, I can't do that."
"Sure you can. Elizabeth said I could use the guest room and I'm having it occupied. She probably won't even notice. If she does, well she owes me big time. It will be just for tonight anyway. Have you met Madie and Will yet?"
"Not yet, but Jimmy has told me how great they are."
"They are just as great as he has said. We will go out and have dinner somewhere and then we'll all go in and see Madie. She'll think it fun to put one over on Elizabeth. We will have breakfast in the kitchen and then we will get ready to move things to my place. It is a seven-hour drive."
"How are you moving Jimmy?"
"I'll be renting a U-Haul and hiring someone to drive it."
"I can drive it if it isn't bigger than a twenty-footer. I used to drive some for my father."
"There you go. As of seven tomorrow morning you are employed as my truck driver."
The family dressed as best they could and I took them to a mid-sized restaurant. The two girls had never been to as nice a place as this and were looking all around at the people. Jimmy of course took them in hand and kind of led them through the meal.
Elizabeth's car was gone when I took us all into the kitchen where Madie was finishing her chores for the day. She fell right into my plans and thought it a great joke on her employer. The little girls were in awe when they saw where they were sleeping in Jimmy's bed.
Shelly said, "His bed is big enough and they are all tired. Let Jimmy sleep in the same bed with them. It will be okay. Is the bed in the guest room the same size?"
"Yes it is."
"Well, I don't see any reason you can't sleep in bed with me. Just don't be getting any ideas though."
"I think I will be taking you up on the offer and don't you be getting any ideas either." We stood there grinning at each other. I thought, "Not tonight, but maybe someday."
I'm sure Madie and Will were going to be sharing a laugh when they retired.
I was rudely awakened sometime during the night. Elizabeth was shaking me. "John, I didn't tell you to bring your whore into my home with you. Tell her to get out."
"Elizabeth, get out of this room. You offered me the use of it, so in essence it is mine for the duration. Go out into the living room and I will be right out. We'll talk about it. The woman is tired so let her get some rest." My ex whirled and left the room, not even closing the door.
Shelly whispered, "We can leave if you want."
"Go back to sleep. I can handle this." I closed the door behind me as I left.
Elizabeth was fuming when I reached the living room. I attacked. "We were sleeping before you woke us up. I have not been in bed with a woman for a while, but tonight it was just for rest. If you must know, Jimmy is sleeping with those two sweet little girls in his bed as well. We will all be leaving in the morning.
"Now I'm telling you not to go into his room and make a scene. You are his mother and believe it or not, he loves you. You have not shown much affection to him lately and the jury is out in his mind whether you love him or not. He feels as if you are dumping him on me. Oh, he loves me and is glad he is coming to live with me, but he feels abandoned just the same."
"He shouldn't feel that way. How are you going to move his stuff anyway?"
"I'll lease a truck and Shelly is going to be driving it for me. She doesn't have much but that will be loaded on the truck as well."
"She's driving a truck? What kind of person are you getting mixed up with now? Have you lost your senses? Why are you exposing Jimmy to someone like them?"
"Elizabeth, those people as you call them, are my kind of people. Sad to say, I forgot that for a while. I am forever thankful that you asked for a divorce, which freed me and made me open my eyes to what I was when I was married to you. Looking back, I don't think I was even a man. I was so enamored by your looks and your wealth, it was easy to be seduced.
"You know what? I was bored the last few years I was with you and I didn't know why. It was because I wasn't being productive. Every person should be productive. I learned how to make contacts in the business world from listening to them about what they did and how they did it. One day I woke up and knew the easy life wasn't for me. They might not have shown it, but in one way or another, they were all productive. I have tried to emulate them and I have succeeded.
"I'm an up and coming man in the business world I now live in. I am respected more than I ever was when I was your husband. It feels wonderful."
"What a bunch of bullshit. You loved being with me every minute."
"At first, maybe, but it was always all about you and your wants. I gave in to you to hide the guilt I felt about myself for living your life. Eventually there wasn't anymore in me to give. When you asked for a divorce, that is when my life began."
"I don't believe you."
"Believe what you want. Look, this conversation is senseless. I'm going back to bed. As I said, I'll be out of here in the morning."
"John, what about Jimmy? I gave you custody, but he is still mine."
"Jimmy is your son and maybe if you showed him love he would return it. I am not turning him against you. I want to have him grow up and someday with the values I'll be teaching him, you will be the winner. I'll teach him to love you in spite of how you treat him."
"You are a hard man, John and different than you were before."
"Yes, I guess I am. Goodnight, Elizabeth."
Shelly was still awake when I crawled back into bed. "I heard you raise your voice."
"I did. Nothing has changed though. We are still headed for my hometown as soon as we wind things up here and get the truck rented and loaded. Are you sure you want to drive it?"
"Yes, of course."
Shelly was in Jimmy's room helping him pack his things. She had just said, "Take only what you will be using in your new home. Leave some of everything here, for you will be coming back and staying with your mother sometimes after she comes back from Paris."
"I won't either. She doesn't want me."
"Oh, I'm sure she will. I suspect she will miss you more than she thinks she will."
Just then, Elizabeth entered. "This should be Madie's job in packing Jimmy's things." Jimmy looked at his mother and bugged out leaving the two adults alone.
"Well, she is watching my children for a minute and I wasn't busy. My things are all packed and John wants to get to the rental place and pick up a truck. He wants to be all loaded tonight and we will be starting early tomorrow morning." Shelly kept sorting clothes.
"You know Mrs. Rheingold, many of these things will be too small for Jimmy in six months. Will you be purchasing new things for him when he comes to stay with you, or shall I send clothes with him?"
"I guess you had better send things with him." With a little bitterness, "You are pretty much taking over with Jimmy, aren't you?"
"Yes, I am. John has hired me to take care of the boy."
"Are you going to be living with him?"
"Same house, yes. John has a small apartment in the back where he will be staying. I am to have the main house for the children and myself. It has three bedrooms and the other only has one. The previous owners used it for the husband's mother."
"Convenient for you isn't it. I mean for a man to give up his home for someone with a bunch of kids who he has just met."
"Yes, isn't it? In reality, John has listened to Jimmy and what Jimmy has wanted. The boy did not want to give up my girls. This wouldn't work out very well if I had the small apartment to sleep in and John had the three children in his home. We agreed this was a much better arrangement."
"Why doesn't he just sleep with you?"
"It wouldn't be right. John wants Jimmy and yes, my two as well, to know right from wrong. John has also agreed that my ex-husband, Ronnie, can sleep on the couch in the smaller apartment when he comes to visit our children.
"You know this is going to be so convenient for me. Ronnie only lives about forty miles from John's house. My in-laws are even closer, so the kids can see their grandparents almost anytime they want to. When you come to visit Jimmy, Jimmy will bunk in with his father and you can have your son's room."
"That will be so cozy, won't it? All of us sleeping in the little house all together."
"It could be, Mrs. Rheingold, it could be. I really do want to thank you for letting us stay here last night. May I ask for you to extend your invitation by one more night?"
"I don't seem to have much say in the matter, do I?" Elizabeth thought a minute. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. Of course you may. There are more rooms here you can stay in if you prefer for your children."
"No need, they will be fine as they were last night. You have a beautiful home here."
"Yes, well it is, and I'm proud of it. Sad to say, it did not appear to be good enough for John. He told me last night he was bored living here. He has some kind of cultural issues. I do not understand. I gave him everything."
"That might have been the problem between you two. I only met John yesterday, but he seems to be a person that feels if he has something, he should have had to earn it. I feel the same way myself. Right now, though I don't have much, but it is because I don't have a chance to earn anything."
Shelly kept working and turned to face Elizabeth when she finished packing the last suitcase. Elizabeth had been just watching and saying nothing. Shelly took up the conversation again.
"I shouldn't say I don't have a chance. Yesterday I didn't, but today I do thanks to John. John has hired me and having an honest job to provide for your family, makes a person feel so rich." Suddenly, Elizabeth left the room ending the verbal exchange.
An hour later John drove the sixteen foot U-Haul around the circle drive and backed up to the four-car garage. All of Jimmy's toys were stored in one stall. There were bicycles of about every type and description.
"You may take three of them. Your skis and equipment can go. I don't think you will need your kayak."
"How about taking my four-wheeler?"
"I don't think so. If I think you will be using it, I can have Will send it out by truck. You'll be in touch with him and Madie about every week. They love you like a son."
"More than Mother does, that's for sure."
"Don't talk against your mother. She loves you. She just doesn't show it."
"You should know all about that, Dad. Mom still claims she still loves you, but it is so false. One day she said this when I was crying about missing you so much. An hour later she left with that asshole she is going to Paris with."
"That is something between her and me. I still love her a little myself. After all, she gave me you. Twice, as a matter of fact. You had better watch your language, son. Do you want your friends talking like you just did?"
Shelly came out and said as soon as I had Jimmy's things loaded, she would drive the truck down the street to her former home to load up her belongings. I let her drive. She backed into her driveway perfectly. This relieved some of my concerns about her abilities.
Her old car was still in the driveway behind the truck. Her landlord came around the corner about then. "What are you going to do with your old car?" he asked Shelly.
"Junk it, I guess. I was about to call a yard to come look at it."
"They won't give you more than fifty bucks for it. Tell you what, Mrs. Waters, I'll allow you two hundred against your back rent." That still leaves you owing me $2,000. That you can pay me when you can."
I couldn't believe this. The landlord was trusting Shelly to pay when she was moving almost five hundred miles away. "I will pay and thank you for allowing so much on the car. I will pay you interest on what I owe, too. I promise."
"I have no doubt, because your word has always been good. I really am sorry about you leaving." The old man was helping carry out the packing boxes.
When we were almost done, the old guy took the kids down to the park to buy them a good-bye ice cream. "John, I don't suppose you could lend me what I owe could you? I hate to make him wait. He really is a nice person and has been so good to us. You can deduct half my wages until it is paid."
I guess if the landlord was willing to trust her with living so far away, I could trust her living at the same address with me. I walked back up to my former home and got my checkbook. Shelly gave me his name and I made out the check for her to give to him when he came back with the kids.
The old person looked at the check and there were tears in his eyes. "Thank you so much. I really did need this pretty bad, but I knew you didn't have it. Bless you, Mrs. Waters."
Elizabeth usually made Jimmy dress for dinner, but as she wasn't there when Madie had it ready, I said it wasn't necessary. We decided we would eat in the kitchen with Madie and Will. The kids got silly relating things that had happened when they were on the playground. This had been going on for a little time, when I looked up and saw Elizabeth watching us from the dining room.
She had come in and we were too involved to hear her. Her place was set in the formal dining room as usual. "Join us Elizabeth. This is Jimmy's way of saying good-bye to Madie and Will. You won't be seeing him for awhile either, so he can say good-bye to you at the same time."
Madie set another place at the end of the table. My ex-wife was quiet. In fact, we all were at first, with her here to put a damper on the gathering. With three juveniles though, it didn't take long to get back to having a good time again. Shelly broke loose, by asking what I did for work.
"I really don't know how to explain what I do. There are several small things and pieces that put together make up a whole." I did not know as I wanted to explain fully, so I paused.
"I know some things about what Dad does. He owns part of a franchised convenience store and he owns part of a pig farm." All attention was on me.
"That's true, but only part of it." Again I stopped.
Kathy looked at me with a wrinkled nose. "A pig farm. Ew!"
This made me laugh. "Kids, it isn't that bad. That is what is on each end of what I do for work. In the middle is where it is interesting, to me anyway.
"When I moved to where I live now, I knew I had to find something to do. I was in this particular little store and was stocking up my pantry. I overheard the two owners figuring out how to survive against the bigger grocery stores.
"I took a walk up and down their aisles and could see there were seriously under-stocked. I made them the proposal to put in more stock in return for a percentage. At the time, I didn't have anything else to do, so I worked right along beside of them and learned the business. It wasn't long before they had to hire two more workers for they stayed open three more hours to catch the late evening trade and the early morning patrons on their way to work.
"Remember, I went to college to get an MBA many years ago." (I was talking to Elizabeth now.) "I identified several ways to better their bottom line. One of which was to capitalize on out of, or near out of date goods that were sold in the store. About half of just the bakery products were leaving the store one or two days before the 'sell by date' and going back to the warehouse or distribution center to be destroyed.
"I thought to myself, why couldn't these goods be resold at a discount as long as they were under the sell by date? I talked to the storeowners and we started a pilot project not far from the store which I'm renting. This place was a former factory and had a large office and a loading dock.
"Our own store got credit for goods returned and the bakeries we dealt with didn't have the problem of disposing of the returns. Of course, we had a lot of out of date items as well. It was not long before the discount store became an outlet for cheap food. This is a depressed area with many people out of work so we were actually providing a service.
"This did cut into our first-run line of product, but overall it balanced out and between the two stores, our bottom line is still better than before. Sadly to say, at first we were left with a mountain of un-salable product. Most usually, this would go to the landfill. What a waste.
"I went searching for someplace where it could be disposed of and make a little money on it. I found it at a pig farm. One not very large, but with the dream of getting bigger. The laws that regulate a pig farm and what they can be fed are as stringent as those of what humans are fed. The owner of the farm was willing to take the out of date returns if he could still work within the laws. It took some doing but he figured it out with my help. The biggest problem is removing the packaging in which encased the bread and doughnuts. All those twisty-ties, boxes and wrappings have to be removed.
"I asked a couple of homeless women if they wanted some doughnuts. All they could eat, in fact. They were willing. I then showed them what my problem was. The loaves of bread proved to be easy. A pair of scissors cut just below the tie and you shook the bread out, throwing the wrapper into the trash.
"Then we automated it by having scissors fixed so they were stationary, opening and closing sixty times a minute. The worker holding the top and the bottom in each hand guided the loaf into the scissors. When they got used to the motion needed, they could do twenty loaves a minute. That is a lot of bread.
"Bagged items such as rolls, cookies or doughnuts worked the same way. Individual wrapped items took more ingenuity and at least two operations. However, one way or another, we solved each problem. Think of all the calories in a doughnut or pie? It was worth it to the farmer."
"How does he feed this stuff?"
"He purchases it by the ton. When it gets it to the farm, he mixes it with sugar beet pulp or some high protein feed and makes pellets out of it. He figures he saves 20% on each ton of pellets he feeds to his hogs."
Elizabeth questioned, "You don't get tons of waste food out of your one store, do you?"
"No. When we had our system in place, I went to all the stores nearby, including the large grocery chains and looked for their suppliers. I have made deals with 90% of them to take this out of date food off their hands. I neglected to say I sort out the product that is still good and if the packages are undamaged, they are sold in our discount store. Each evening what is left is transported to food kitchens all over the city."
"Jimmy said you owned part of the pig farm. How did that come about?"
"Blackmail." I grinned as I said this. "Seriously, I asked the farmer if I couldn't buy in, mentioning at the time that there were other farmers in the area that would take what I had to offer."
"You couldn't have earned much money from this operation in the short time since you were divorced from me."
"No, Elizabeth, I still have some left from the divorce settlement. It was you who bought it for me." I thought my ex would be pissed at my revelation. Instead, she did not say anything and I went on to tell of the people who I got to work for me in my operation.
"Most are poor people willing to work for minimum wage and they take some of their pay in discounted food. All are thankful and I have a waiting list of those wanting to replace any who leave. I am fair and I am liberal in my dealings. I can afford to be. Best of all, I'm busy and productive at the same time.
"Paperwork is almost in place to make this middle operation a non-profit corporation. When we get it approved, I can look for grants from different entities to integrate other types of green savings into this corporation. By showing it works in a for-profit environment I have one step up for success."
"Where did you get so intelligent?" This was my ex-wife speaking.
"I think, Elizabeth, I have always been fairly intelligent. If you remember, I never embarrassed you in front of your rich friends, even though I was not much more than a paid gigolo. I have always been a fast read and kept up on any topics for discussion that might come up when I was with your rich friends.
"Don't forget, it was I who tutored you all through college so you could at least get a passing grade while you were partying. Anyway, all these things I read about to keep you from being embarrassed by me, has stuck in my mind and has been extraordinarily useful after our divorce."
"Yes, well I'm glad you found some way to entertain yourself. I worried about you and the only contact we had is when you kept asking Jimmy to go off with you for God only knew where. I had to protect him the best way I knew how."
"Thank you for worrying about me, but you needn't have."
"Maybe. I have your address and Jimmy will be hearing from me quite often. I wouldn't be leaving him with you, but Brian may decide to take up temporary residence in a villa somewhere."
"You will keep in touch with your attorney won't you? If Jimmy gets sick or injured in someway, I would think you would want to know as soon as possible."
"I can do that. Good idea." She said this as if it was the first good idea I had ever had.
Shelly started marshaling the kids ready for bed. "Showers everyone. We will be leaving early in the morning. Madie said she would fix us something light for breakfast. We will stop somewhere about nine for pancakes or eggs. Now who wants to be first to ride in the truck? You have to take turns. I can have one at time with me." Sandy, the youngest, drew the long straw and would ride with her mother to start.
I walked into the living room with Elizabeth behind me. "You will make sure Jimmy says goodbye to me in the morning won't you?"
"Yes, but it might mean more to him if you were up to see us off."
"John, you know I can't believe you and I were ever married. You are so different. I don't know you at all."
"It could be you didn't take the time to know the real me. You were too busy trying to make me into something I was not. I went along thinking you were what I wanted, but one day I grew up. Elizabeth this is all on my head, you are the same as you have always been."
Elizabeth stared at me. Then she smiled. "I taught you one thing John. That is how to couch a less than complimentary remark in pleasant words. I guess we are who we are. You just did it to me again and that is to remind me why I wanted you to marry me those many years ago. Tonight, when you crawl into bed with that woman, I'm going to be wishing it were I. Good night John."
Elizabeth was up in the morning to see Jimmy off. She hugged him to her with tears in her eyes. "I'm going to miss you so much. You're my little man going off on an adventure."
"No I'm not, Mom. I'm just going to live with my father." He looked up at her and saw the tears. "Mom, I am going to miss you too. You will write to me, won't you? I want to hear all about your travels." This just about made his mother's day.
Shelly and Sandy drove off in the truck. Kathy and Jimmy wanted me to get going or we would lose them. I took time to hug Madie and shake Will's hand. "I will be seeing you in a few months, is that right Elizabth?"
"Yes." She looked a little sad as I slid behind the wheel of my car. Jimmy looked out the rear window and waved at his mother.
We caught up to the truck within a few minutes. I let Shelly set the pace and we hit the thruway and speeded up. It was two hours later and we had several exits to go before we would be turning off for breakfast. We were within fifteen minutes of our exit when I noticed a car traveling alongside the truck. Then a man hung out the side and I could see him rap the door panel to get Shelly's attention.
I called Sandy who had Shelly's phone and asked what was going on. "Mom says those guys are making indecent gestures, whatever that is. She wants to know what she should do."
"Tell her to pay no attention to them. Get off at the next exit as planned. I'm right behind you. I'll take care of them if they get off at the same time."
"Mom says okay." The driver of the car was playing games. They passed her and swung in front of the truck. They then slowed down so Shelly had to swing out to pass them. They speeded up then and let her swing back into her travel lane.
Signs came up for the exit. Shelly put on her blinkers to turn off. The car slowed down and pulled in front of me between the truck and us. "Shelly, pull into the first fast food place. Stay in the truck with the doors locked." The three vehicles slowed and stopped. I told Kathy and Jimmy to lock the doors when I got out.
The two men in the car ahead of me were out and striding up to the truck door. The driver was one big man, and the man who had pounded on his door was a smaller person. I was right behind them when they came up to Shelly's door. "What's going on?"
"Back off Dude, we just want to get acquainted with the babe driving the truck."
"Not going to happen. That's my wife and we're traveling together."
"So, you'd let your wife handle the truck while you're tooling along in your little old foreign jobby?"
"Wimp." Right then he headed for me. Maybe I did not look dangerous, but I had taken several courses in defense back when I had too much time on my hands. I bowed slightly, but he didn't recognize the move. I balanced and as he came within range, I whirled and my left Boston connected about where his kidney was located. I came around facing him and advanced. I clipped him as hard as I could with my right just behind his jaw and under the ear. He went down.
The big man stood there. I don't think he appeared as intelligent as the one on the ground, but he made a wiser choice. He listened to me. "Get that piece of shit into your vehicle and get out of here pronto. Just so you know how lucky you both are, the woman you called 'Babe' is a trainer for the Black Ops. She just came home from Iraq. She taught me that move."
Five minutes later, the car with the two men disappeared around the corner of the diner. We could see them headed for the on ramp in the distance. "Let's get something to eat, I'm hungry." Jimmy looked on me with pride. Kathy came up and took my hand and Sandy took the other one.
"You said you would handle any problem we had with them. You should have added, with dispatch!"
The rest of the journey was without incident. It was seven that evening when we turned into the driveway of my home. The kids thought we would never reach here. They each had taken turns riding in the truck, twice. After the last stop, they guessed they would ride in the car with me. I offered to change places with Shelly, but she declined and was having a ball.
When I left home, I was unaware I would be returning with anyone, so the beds had to be made up. I let Sandy and Kathy pick which room they wanted to sleep in. Shelly took my room, of course. Jimmy had a room that overlooked a small brook and when I told him I occasionally saw a deer come down to drink, he was happy to have that one.
This was farming country and we were on the outskirts, the city lying off to the south six miles. My convenience store was about four and a half miles away. Where we processed the out of date items was nearer the center of town in the old manufacturing section. I explained all of this to Shelly as we prepared everyone for bed. She offered to come into the back apartment and make my bed, but I said I could handle it.
"John, would you mind if I took time to call my ex-inlaws? They will be thrilled we will be living so near."
"Call them. Is your ex-husband living with them?"
"I expect he is. He should know that Sandy and Kathy are here. He misses them."
"Let him know. I know how he must feel. I missed Jimmy when I moved away from Elizabeth." I went to ready my room while she was dialing.
When I returned, I caught just the end of her conversation with her ex-husband. "Ronnie, it is a job keeping house and caring for Jimmy Rheingold. John will not be sleeping with me and he has his own quarters in the back. I owe him for my back rent anyway and I have to pay that off before I get a different job." She paused. "You can come over to see Sandy and Kathy. You can meet John then. Goodnight Ronnie." Shelly looked a little exasperated.
"Not really. About like your ex-wife when she saw you and I in the same bed. Jealous, that is all."
"How do you feel about that?"
"I think I'm a little glad he is jealous, but I'm sad too. Sad that we aren't still together for the kids' sake."
"What happened between you two if you don't mind telling me? Did he cheat on you?"
"No, there was no cheating by either of us. There were several little things. I guess I nagged him about him not looking for work harder than he did after he got layed off. I was working and sometimes he took money we didn't have and went and got drunk. Not often, but it always triggered an argument.
"He hated doing the housework and I was on him all the time about not helping out more. I think he still loves me and I know I still love him some. Anyway, I am glad he is where he can see the kids. Let's watch the news to calm down and then I am going to bed. Just think this morning I was more than 400 miles away."
Twenty-five minutes after the news came on Shelly was asleep leaning against me. I was tired myself. As gently as I could, I laid her down on the couch and covered her with a light blanket. I could have wakened her or I could have taken her in and put her on her bed. But then, I might have wanted to lie down beside her. She was a lovely woman and I knew I was going to have problems forgetting just how beautiful she was in the future.
I was taking my meals with the kids and my new housekeeper. She apparently slept in, for the house was quiet in the morning. I went along to the store and had coffee and doughnuts there. I called home at ten and told Shelly I would be home for lunch. "I'll have it ready for you. Where did you say your store was?"
I told her. Twenty minutes later the truck she had driven pulled up outside and she came in. "Mr. Rheingold, I promised you lunch, but there is nothing in the house to feed you. Load me up with something. I'll drive your car home and you can bring the truck. When are we going to unload it, anyway?"
"Tomorrow. How are the kids doing?"
"Good. I have to get back before they get into trouble. See you." I had questions to answer by my workers when she drove off in my car. Dinner wasn't much more than another lunch. We would go shopping tomorrow after we unloaded the truck. The bicycles came off. All three kids took off up the dirt road behind the house that followed along the brook.
I met Shelly's in-laws when they came driving in to see their two grandkids. I could see why Shelly liked them. They were pleasant folks and reminded me of my own who had died when I was just married to Elizabeth. Grampa was a beer drinker just like dad and me. No cocktails for us. My ex-wife would have insisted I serve a whiskey. I smiled when I thought about this.
Pa Waters said they came along today to see the kids, and wanted to see if it would be all right for their son Ronnie to come tomorrow. "Tell him yes. Tell him to come at noon and I will have Shelly do a roast. The kids are anxious to see their father."
Later after the older folks had left, Shelly asked me, "Are you sure you are okay with him coming here?"
"Of course. The kids need to see and know their father. You need to see him too."
"Why would I need to see him? He's my ex."
"Yes and you haven't seen him for several months. You need to see if there is still any fire left or if the spark has totally disappeared."
"What makes you think that?"
"Shelly. I was in the same position with Elizabeth as you are with Ronnie. Being away for a length of time makes you wonder how you will feel when you see your ex. If there is nothing then you have made the right decision in divorcing. If a feeling of gladness washes over you at first sight, then you have to explore how he feels about you.
"You're divorced, but that may have come about by exterior forces pulling you in opposite directions until you felt divorce was the best option. You have been apart long enough to re-evaluate your true feelings."
"I don't know as I understand your thought process, but thank you for inviting Ronnie so the kids can see their father." She couldn't see into my mind. If she had, she would have seen me hoping the spark had gone out for Ronnie. I was that taken with my housekeeper. I just wanted to be sure that there was no love still lingering between them.
Jimmy said as I was saying goodnight to him, "I suppose Mom is on her way to Paris. I wonder if she will write to me."
"I think she will, son. I'm sure she misses you."
"I wouldn't bet on it." When I heard from Elizabeth and if she hadn't written Jimmy, I was going to land all over her.