Chapter 3: Temporary Bliss
The meal was simple. Spaghetti with tomato and meat sauce, a dinner roll and a tossed salad. I'd had this a hundred or more times before, but it was familiar, good, home cooking. I would only eat about half of what was in front of me and I needed to apologize in advance to Diane.
"Don't be upset if I don't eat a lot, Diane. I've got to limit my portions and make sure I can digest everything. I tend to eat four or five times a day."
She looked somewhat shocked at my comment, but nodded her understanding.
"Is that because of your stomach," Debbie asked, as only a child can, straight to the point.
"That's right. I love spaghetti, but I have to just eat a little bit at a time."
"That's okay, Dad. You can save the rest and heat it up in the microwave later before you go to bed."
"You're pretty smart, young lady. That's exactly what I do most nights."
When the meal was finished, Diane put some clear wrap over my plate and put it in the refrigerator.
"We can heat it up whenever you want, Doug," she smiled.
"Uhhm ... I need to find a motel, Diane. I wasn't planning to stay here."
"Well, now you are. Go bring your things in and put them in the master bedroom. We'll deal with the sleeping arrangements when the children are in bed."
I looked at her carefully and didn't see a moment's hesitation. It was a "done deal" as far as she was concerned. I assumed I'd be sleeping on the sofa.
I pulled out my travel bag from the back of the Subaru and brought it into the house. As instructed, I put it inside the door of the master bedroom, then returned to the kitchen. I assumed a well established pattern from our marriage, Diane washed and I dried. I needed her help to know where to put things, but it was a familiar and comfortable routine.
"Tell me about your job," I suggested as she began to make tea.
"I've been able to get a home business started and it's doing very well. I do billings for professional offices. Most are doctors and dentists, some are engineers or small design firms. I'm studying accounting at Brown Mackie College to gain accreditation and include those services as well. There are lots of businesses that can't afford full-time accounting and billing people, so I would be able to perform that function."
"Good for you. And it's becoming a good business?"
"Yes. It's ideal, Doug. I'm here for the children when they go to school and when they get home. I won't get rich, but with your help, we've got a nice home and the children aren't wanting for anything."
"I'm glad, Diane. I'm happy that you're happy," I said, meaning it.
"It hasn't been easy, but I can see that it's going to be okay."
"I'm sorry how all this turned out, Diane. I know you got fed up trying to get me to do something about my weight and my health. It took a near catastrophe to make it happen. I'm not sure it would have happened any other way."
"I'm just happy you survived it. The children are happy too, but when you leave, it will be difficult for them. Debbie understands, but I'm not sure Billy and Sandy will. They miss their father."
"Maybe I can find a job nearby. I have time to look and make sure it's something that I can enjoy and do well at. I want to be near the children too."
We spent the next hour or so with the youngsters telling me about their new lives in Louisville. They talked about their school (Sandy was in playschool) and their new friends. I liked what I heard. They were happy and enjoying their life. I hoped my leaving wouldn't be too traumatic for them. I promised, with fingers crossed, that I would see them more often. I hoped that I could keep that promise.
Sandy was first to bed, followed by Billie, and at eight-thirty, Debbie reluctantly agreed to go. All of them gave me a big hug and kiss after I assured them that I would be there in the morning before they left for school.
"You really miss them, don't you?" Diane said as we sat together on the sofa.
"Yes, I miss all of you," I answered, not daring to look at her and show my fresh tears.
I felt her hand on mine.
"You need to find a new life for yourself, Doug. This is your chance, just as our divorce was my chance. I don't mean that to sound like I needed the divorce for that reason. When we ... separated ... I was forced to find a way to look after the children and myself. I've been lucky and it's working out. I want you to be lucky too."
I nodded. "Thank you. I want that too. I wish ... I wish things were different, but they aren't. I'm going to do what I can to find something near enough that I can visit now and then. Stay in touch with you and the children. I promise you'll always have my support ... financial and emotional ... no matter what."
She leaned over and kissed my cheek.
"Thank you, Doug. You are a good man and I think you're going to be a better man soon."
"I don't mean to get personal, but is there another man in your life?" I asked tentatively.
"No. I haven't had the time. Maybe in a while. I'm not in a rush. Besides, with three children, it's kind of a major obstacle when it comes to eligible suitors."
"Not if they're smart," I said. "Those are three great kids and any guy would be lucky as hell to have them along with you."
"That's nice of you to say so, but I'm not out actively pursuing opportunities."
We talked some more about our lives and the children before it was time to finish my meal. Diane reheated it in the microwave and I poured a glass of milk to go with it. I was almost able to finish it and I knew it would hold me until morning. It was time for bed.
I expected to be occupying the sofa, but I got a surprise.
"You'll be sleeping in my bed tonight," Diane announced, looking me straight in the eye.
"Why? I don't understand."
"Douglas Hansen, we slept together for ten years and one more night isn't going to make the slightest bit of difference. There won't be any hanky-panky if that's what you're wondering. You'll be more comfortable and sleep better in a familiar bed. You are still recovering from your accident and you need proper rest. So get your bathroom things and get ready for bed."
"Yes, ma'am," I said, slightly stunned at this turn of events.
The master bedroom had a small attached three-piece bathroom with a sink, toilet and shower cabinet. Diane was a shower person, as was I. She wanted me to go first, so I quickly brushed my teeth and did my usual routine before emerging from the room. The only light was a bedside lamp on a small night stand. I had removed my shirt and hung it on the end of the bed, waiting for Diane to go into the bathroom. Instead, she moved to me.
"Let me see your scars," she said, approaching me wearing a short nightshirt and panties. It was her customary attire and nothing had changed for either of us in the intervening year.
"Is this the stomach operation?" she asked, lightly tracing a long scar in the upper part of my abdomen.
"Yes. They did this last ... in August. The lung was first," I said, turning to show her the scar on my back left side."
"It must have been painful ... the recovery I mean," she said sympathetically.
"They had me on painkillers right from the start. It wasn't too bad."
"You look so different. So slim and ... fit. I can hardly remember when you looked like this."