The message! He sat, and thought for just a moment before he read it again. He closed his eyes and could hear her voice. He could recognize the tone and the softness of it, when she said to him, told him that her actions, had, again, began to screw up her life.
'At least," he thought, 'It was only her life now and now 'their life' that was being 'screwed up'.
Then he read the message again and paid close attention to what she was saying to him.
"John, Johnnie my John," it said, "He's left me! He went off, without a warning really, with a boyfriend. He talked about a new life for him and, I guess, Clark."
A sense of satisfaction began to sweep over John Carpenter, unbidden, and, he realized, unwelcome too. That sense that the words, so much like the words she'd used with him, to go off and eventually find Jeffery were almost the same as Jeffery used with her to go off with Clark.
He swept that kind of thinking away and wouldn't have it, just wouldn't have it at all.
He looked at the clock and it was soon time for Annabell to be home from school.
He realized that he had to attend to this message now and at least make some sense of it for himself.
John, John Lee Carpenter, had been attracted to Annie, whom he always thought of as 'his Annie', for her flamboyance. It was so much at odds with his own 'down to earth' attitude.
They'd met at a party, when he was already pursuing grad school as an architect and she had, it seemed, giggled her way into his life, and soon enough, into his arms, into his bed and into his lifetime love.
She was his 'roman candle' girl, always going up and off at a whim, causing a certain amount of mayhem and a certain amount of joy at the same time.
But she not only came to him, calling him her 'Johnnie my John' Carpenter, she'd became a part of him.
He had recognized from the very beginning that she was signing on for a kind of life that he didn't think that she was just then ready for. He kept that in the back of his mind.
Then there'd been Annabell, lovely Annabell, and the post partem difficulties for Annie were strong and they went on for a while.
He watched, and held her, and helped with Annabell, doing more than his share, most of the time, and was wondering if 'his roman candle' was going to go off in another direction.
It's what happened.
It was teary; it was emotional and she kept saying how sorry she was and that she wasn't ready to be a mother: her words. He told her, at that time, that he'd always love her and would take care of Annabell for her.
She did indeed go off then. She never hid things from him and he was always, by her own description, better than a best friend. She often referred to him as 'her bestie'. It was flattering and John gave himself, during those tough times, to little Annabell, becoming, to hear Annabell tell it later, 'the world's greatest father'.
Annie saw her at times but then Annie faded. She faded into the kind of super, hyper lifestyle.
He hadn't heard from her in a while. But there were always cards for Annabell; every few months there were cards.
He and Annabell went through the tough times and tough questions about her 'Momma', and he knew that there was a great longing in Annabell. It was obviously not great news to Annabell, after a few years, that things weren't that well at home, and then Annie left, and eventually there was a guy, some Jeffery guy.
There had been a few times that Annie had shown up, she said: 'To hold her daughter', and because of those times, the bond was still there between her and Annabell.
John had even established a practice where at night, before prayers and sleep, he and Annabell had a conversation with Momma Annie. It was at least one thing that helped him to keep a calmness and an 'even keel'. It certainly was a major treat for Annabell.
In the meantime, John had struck out on his own and his business had prospered. They moved into a lovely house, with a special room for Annabell and an office for him, so that he could work at home, when he wished.
A few years had passed. Now John was an established architect, having been sought out and hired for major work and he and Annabell had established a kind of life style for themselves.
He was right then, 36 and had had a kind of busy day and was, as usual, looking forward to welcoming Annabell home from school.
She was, at that time, 8 and in the second grade. She had that spark of enthusiasm that Annie had always had with a very good grounding in John's own style of clear thinking.
He realized that of late, since Annie had been out of touch for a good while, he and Annabell hadn't talked so much about Annie anymore.
John was determined to let it up to her. They didn't even talk to Annie every night at bed time, though mostly they did.
John, a quite attractive man, if not the kind of flaky kid that Annie thought that she was destined for, had had various signs of interest from a number of women. He knew himself quite well, at least well enough to know that the special room in his life and heart was an 'Annie Room'. That much was clear to him.
Then he'd gotten the message, her message: "He's left me! He went off, without a warning really, with a boyfriend. He talked about a new life for him and, I guess, Clark."
He thought about it, putting down his work for the day and pouring himself a beer. He wanted to give himself a bit of time to think. He also knew that, in this case, he wanted to talk to Annabell first before doing anything.
He finished his beer quickly and, looking at the clock, went out to the curb, where, just a little bit up the street, the school bus would drop Annabell off.
She saw him, waiting for her as usual, and she ran the rest of the way to him, throwing herself at him and hugging him for the life of her.
"Poppa!" she said.
"Welcome home, scholar!" he said, and Annabell giggled at the name he always used.
He knew, every time, that he could get lost in that giggle. It was Annie to a tee.
"What's new?" Annabell asked.
(It was part of their everyday pattern. They'd spend some time, once she was home, to talk about their day. It was a way for him to help her internalize what she'd been learning that day and he was always honest in sharing his thoughts and his day's adventures with her.)
John realized that there was no 'good' or soft way to deal with this. He only hoped that Annabell would prove to be as sensible as he always thought that she was growing up to be.
"Got some news today that we need to talk about," he said.
"Hot chocolate?" he asked.
"Yes, please," she said, smiling up at him and melting his heart with her openness, and her dimples.
"Okay, pal," he responded, "You stow your stuff and I'll get the drinks. We'll meet in the living room."
"Great!" she said. "And later, I have some new math things to show off!"
"Aha," he said, "Annabell Carpenter, the great math mind."
It made her giggle.
She put her coat in the closet and took her book bag to her room. In only a few moments, they were in the living room together.
Annabell looked at him and said: "Poppa, is something wrong?"
"That's my love," he said, "She reads the old man like a book!"
She giggled and he sat with her. He gave himself only about a minute to think and said:
"Honey, I've had a message from your Momma!"
She was shocked at first and then her face spread with a grin.
(Her Momma, Annie, had been a topic of conversation so much for the two of them that she was one topic that they seemed to be able to handle.)
He took in the fact that Annabell was excited about this news. He only hoped that it didn't mean heartache for her.
"Well," he began, "Here's the message: 'He's left me! He went off, without a warning really, with a boyfriend. He talked about a new life for him and, I guess, Clark.'"
"Oh, Poppa," she said, "How sad for Momma!"
John almost lost it at that point. He was personally feeling the hurt for Annie. It's the way that he always thought of her, with a proprietary love and concern but to see this in Annabell, at such a young age, made him realize how much of a love this little girl was.
"What are we gonna do, Poppa?" she asked. "Shouldn't we help her?"
"Yes, honey," he said softly, "We should."
He hesitated and said: "I don't know if she'll want help from us but we can offer."
"I know, Poppa! Momma the 'will of the wisp'" she said.
He knew that she wasn't really sure what that meant but had tried to explain it to her, indicating at times that it referred to her Momma's excitable nature and her continual sense of joy.
"I have a number," he said, "And will call her."
"Tell her for me?" Annabell said, and he could tell from her voice that she was again speaking from an emptiness that had always been there.
"I will honey!" he said.
"Homework?" he asked, changing the subject.
"Yep!" she said, "And wait 'til I show you."
"The math genius!" he said grinning.
He held up his hand for a 'high five' and she slapped hands with him, and then took him by the hand and led him to her room to show him her new math prowess.
A PHONE CALL:
That night, they had, when Annabell was going to bed, a 'talk' with Annie again. It had been a while, since that was a feature of their bedtime routine.
When their 'talk' was finished, Annabell said a soft: "Good night, Momma, I love you and miss you."
She hugged her Poppa then and sobbed a bit against his chest.
.... There is more of this story ...