Chapter 1 [Jack writes]
I moved into the condo complex over the weekend. This new place was a two-bedroom townhouse. My divorce was final and our possessions from almost thirty years had been split with much of my share being sold or given away. Neither my former wife nor I had monetary issues. I had worked hard and made some good guesses about investing so working wasn’t a necessity for either of us unless there was a desire to live a grand lifestyle. I bought this condo for cash using my share of the equity from our home. My ex’s father bought me out. My new condo had all new furniture and, in particular, a new bed.
The final straw that had broken my marriage was finding my now ex-wife in our marital bed with a neighbor after she had promised to stop cheating. I took pictures with my phone but never needed them. Apparently, she wasn’t going to stop having sex with others even though I would have sex with her every night. I moved out that afternoon. She had quit her part-time job a year before and sex with others had become her hobby. I had never cheated on her. I did not have to make her cheating an issue in the divorce. She didn’t fight though I tried to be fair.
My two children had taken sides and chosen that of my wife. We had maintained our composure better than they had. I finally decided not to figure it out. I don’t think my children knew of her escapades. I was not going to tell them nor argue my side. Figuratively, I wrote off the last thirty-two years of my emotional life along with any relationship with my children. I resented that they had no thought that there might be two sides to the breakup.
I had quit my job while the divorce was pending and now looked forward to a different life. With no pets, no financial obligations, and no emotional ties, I could and would enjoy life on my terms. I bought a convertible and thought about my options. I needed to find a hobby or two. In the first week in my new place, I realized that sitting inside watching the television wasn’t a good idea for my well-being.
On the second Monday there, I put on shorts, a tee shirt, and sneakers and went for a running walk. I carried a water bottle but left my new phone on the counter in my kitchen. I would run a ways and then walk for a while. Then, I would run again. I had my keys, a little cash, and my drivers’ license on me. I had belted on a fanny pack for the water bottle and a couple of energy bars or, actually, my version of them. They were Payday candy bars.
I was on my way back when I met a woman turning into the condo entrance from the other direction. She had been running. I nodded to her and said, “Hello.”
She looked at me and said, “Hi! You moved in weekend before this, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I’ve pretty much gotten unpacked and felt the need for some exercise.”
“It looked like most of your furniture was new. I’m guessing that your divorce was just finalized?”
“Yes, a little over a month ago. It turned out to be a lot of wasted years.”
“That happens. If you ever want to talk, drop by. I’m Sandy in number fourteen.”
“Thanks. I’m Jack in forty-three.”
She headed to her place and I went across the street and down to mine. I went in and showered. It was mid morning and I still had much of the day before me and nothing to do. I opened my laptop with a cold soft drink and thought about my options.
I had been in the scouts when young. My ex and I had even enjoyed camping early in our marriage though her father didn’t think much of the practice. I could afford to travel if I was reasonable about it. My initial research indicated that there were good possibilities of campers my convertible could hande available. I looked for camper sales businesses in my area and began a list. It wasn’t a very long list but included enough places that I could get a feel for what was available. Camping had been fun and the travel would be good.
I went to the garage and put the top down after opening the big door and cranking the motor. When I rolled out, I saw Sandy and waved. She waved back and I pulled up beside her. “Nice wheels, Jack. Where are you headed this fine day?” She asked with a friendly smile.
“Thanks, Sandy. I’m going camper shopping.”
Her head popped up and her eyes widened and then looked wistful. “I used to enjoy camping. That was a long time ago in another life.”
“I understand. That’s my situation, too. I’m retired now and camping will allow me to travel.”
“You don’t look old enough to retire!”
“I’m not but my investments have done well. I wanted out of my old job and, in this economy, nothing really appeals to me. Do you work?”
“Not any more. I have plenty in insurance proceeds and all.”
She took a deep, somewhat ragged breath. “Would you mind if I tagged along with you? I really had nothing to do today but roam the mall. I’m tired of that.”
“Sure! Hop in. I would be glad to have some company.” She got in and buckled up. I pulled out and headed toward the first place on my list.
As I drove, we talked a little bit about our pasts. I admitted that I had two older children but that they had chosen to side with their mother so I didn’t expect to hear from them. I told her that I didn’t think they knew about their mother’s escapades and I had no plans to explain to them the real reason why their parents divorced. I said that, if they wanted to find out, they would and might even if they didn’t want to find out. I had wanted nothing to do with the men in my old neighborhood since I suspected many of them had slept with my ex. No one had the number for my new phone except for a couple of people from my old office. I said, “The net result is that I’m starting from scratch at fifty-two years old. After last week, I realized that I needed to get out and have now decided that I want to camp in addition to getting some intentional exercise.”
Sandy was quiet for a moment. Then, she spoke. “I was in the same situation as you as a woman. My husband was the cheater. He was caught. The enraged husband shot him, shot his wife, and then committed suicide. It was a mess. I sold the house and moved here. I was so ashamed that I left everything and everyone. We never had children because I can’t get pregnant. I’m not sure we would have stayed married if he hadn’t been killed. It was a late marriage for me and his second.”
I said, “It looks like neither of us took much away from our marriages. I’m too old for a do over or a do again. I want a do different.”
Sandy smiled, “That makes sense. I’ve been here about a year now. The complex is okay though most of the residents are younger than we are. They are busy with jobs and figuring out who they are. It does make for some entertainment in the clubhouse when there are parties.”
I pulled into the first store on my list. There were campers and recreational vehicles spread all through the very large lot. I saw a parking place for my car and pulled in. We got out to be met by a salesman with the usual jolly attitude.
“Hi, folks! I’m Bob. How can I help you today?”
I said, “Good morning, Bob. I’m just starting to look. May we wander around for a bit? I want to get a flavor for what is available. I have a small pad and will note questions and come back to your office later.”
“That will be fine. You are?”
“I’m Jack Norris and Sandy is a friend. No matter what, I’ll check in with you before we leave.”
“Okay, Jack. I’ll be here. There is an inventory number on the stickers. If you note that, we will be sure to be talking about the same unit.”
“Thanks, Bob. I’ll do that.” He left us to walk around though I had the feeling he would have liked to go with us. I have to admit that I did not blame him. Sandy was a very appealing package as a woman. She was slim in form and on the tall side of average with dark hair and eyes. She was wearing a pair of tailored shorts and a blouse that was neither tight nor baggy. Her shoes were low-heeled sandals. Altogether, she was a classy looking lady.
We walked through the lines of big units, both vehicles and trailers. Sandy said, “What are you searching for, Jack?”
“I think I want something small enough that I can pull it behind my car. I can’t see having a monster rig. On the other hand, I want something comfortable on a protracted trip. I’m thinking of a small trailer or a ‘pop up’ style camper. I know they are still made but am not sure how big ‘pop-ups’ may now be. The Internet also showed some small, light trailers.”
We had to walk to the back of the lot to get to the smaller units. There were plenty of small trailers of many types. I made notes of three different ones that I liked. I said, “Any of those would be comfortable for my purposes. They look light enough that I can pull them with the convertible. Of course, there are no prices on any of them. I will have to talk to Bob and get prices and brochures if they have any. If not, I can check the Internet for the brand and model.
“Have I missed any that you want to see or think I should look at?”
“No, Jack.” She then exclaimed, “Oh, there is one! Look over there!”
That one was a small, older pop-up parked behind the others. It wasn’t even opened but the size was right. I looked around and there was room. “Would you help me open it, Sandy?”
“Sure.” We opened it up. It was a nice, though slightly older version of a pop-up. I liked it and the color even matched my car. Everything about it operated well. On the sticker, I saw that it was four years old. I copied down the inventory number to talk with Bob about it, too.
“Sandy, I like that one a lot. Thanks for pointing it out.”
She smiled. “I may charge a finder’s fee.”
“It will probably be worth it.”
She laughed. “We’ll see. We’ll see.” We closed it back.
We went back to the office and I sat down with Bob to talk over the various trailers that I had picked. None were out of reach on price. I told him that I planned to use my convertible as a tow vehicle and he suggested that one of my choices would be marginal because of weight. He said, “I used it with a full-size pickup and it felt heavy. The rest should do fine.” We talked prices on each one of the others. He also disclosed that their shop could put a hitch on my car and rig the lighting. While I could rig the lights, it suited me not to do that.
Finally, I gave him the number of the older camper. He said, “I can give you a really good price on that one. It’s a delightful unit but people don’t buy used pop-ups often from a dealer.” He gave me a price and we dickered a while. With the hitch and lights, it would be very affordable. We shook hands on the deal. He said, “Let me see if a hitch for your car is in stock.” He made the call and it was. He said, “If you want, take a leisurely lunch and we’ll have you ready to go when you get back. The Chinese buffet across the street is very good. I ate there yesterday.”
“That sounds good. I can write a check or charge it as suits you. Let me check with Sandy about lunch. At worst, I can come back tomorrow.”
He nodded. I went out to Sandy and she looked up. “I now own a camper. I bought the older one. They can mount a hitch and wire my car while we eat. She nodded. “How about Chinese buffet? It’s supposed to be good.”
She said, “I love Chinese.”
I went back to Bob and said, “We’re going to try the Chinese. Do you want a check or charge?”
“Your check will be fine. Give us about two hours.”
“That works for me.” I wrote a check and gave it to him with my keys. I came out and Sandy and I left walking to the restaurant. We arrived and I paid for our meals.
We were shown our table and went for food. We seemed to like many of the same food items. We sat down and I said, “Do you mind if I pray?”
I prayed, thanking God for a new friend, a new camper, and the meal. She echoed my amen. I grinned. “I guess I need to find out about that finder’s fee.”
“It won’t be too bad. I want to go with you on your first trip.” I gave a small start.
She continued, “I’m guessing that you will take a short one to get used to the camper and figure out what you do and don’t have.”
“That’s a reasonable price. Again, I’ll be glad for the company. I was planning to set it up in my driveway and start figuring out what all I need. I know I will need a small grill. If you can stand it, I would appreciate your thinking about equipping it. Being prepared will make the shake-down trip much more fun.”
We got up and refilled our plates during some of this time. Our conversation moved off camping and to each other. She was curious about my children’s attitude. I told her that I didn’t understand it. For some reason, they felt they should take sides and were worse about the whole thing than my ex. I explained that I hadn’t been close to my children for years and I guess they made an assumption about fault that was wrong based upon the parent to who they were closest.
We talked about her history, too. We were both college graduates who met our former mates in college. I married before finishing but had completed my degree. She had waited wanting to finish her degree while her ex married someone else. He was getting a divorce when they met again years later. They married then. Sandy admitted that she was at the point of a divorce when the decision was taken from her hands.
I grinned. “Other than picking up innocent, lonely men off the street, what are your hobbies?”
She gasped. “I’ve never done anything like that. I haven’t even dated since Mike’s death. I’ve been flirted at by some of the young husbands in the complex at parties. You just looked like a nice guy. So I talked to you. You don’t have to take me with you. I will understand.”
I grimaced. “I’m sorry. I was pulling your leg and it came off in my hand. I enjoy your company and look forward to camping with you. Seriously, what are your hobbies?”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been so defensive. I’ve enjoyed this day and I surprised myself earlier by inviting myself along. I paint. Mostly, it’s landscapes or still-life’s. I’ve never tried people or animals. I also sew. I made this blouse.”
“That’s impressive. I would have thought it was from a good store. It looks great and looks great on you. I bet Bob thought it was bought in a quality store, too. That’s supposed to be a compliment. I bet your paintings look good, too.”
“Thank you. I’m a pretty good seamstress. I don’t know about the paintings. No one has seen them but me.”
“Sandy, I would like to see them some time.”
We talked and ate. Both of us liked hot and sour soup. We also enjoyed sushi. I just liked it. She knew about it. We had an enjoyable and leisurely lunch. I enjoyed getting to know more about her. It had been about two and a half hours when we returned to pick up my car and my new camper. We walked up and it was ready to be driven out. I walked around it and it looked like a good, professional installation. That was good since I paid for it. We went inside and Bob was waiting. I said, “Bob, the food was good and my car and camper look good, too.”
“Great! We will send the tag and title application in as soon as you sign two more times.” I did and left with a copy of everything. The top was still down and we enjoyed the ride back to my condo. I backed into the driveway and unhooked. I then pulled out of the way and backed into the garage with my car. I set the blocks and we leveled the trailer before opening it up. We stepped inside. It was roomy. I set everything in place and looked over everything carefully.
Sandy had joined me with my pad and a pencil. “Do you want to start a list?”
“I guess so. Assume that I have nothing to bring from inside. That’s really not a bad assumption since I don’t have much anyway.” We worked our way through a list including containers to hold everything. There were two storage bins built into the sides of the camper. I dashed into the garage emerging with a tape measure. I measured them and Sandy wrote the dimensions down. She suggested a table and chairs. At my nod, she wrote that down. We went outside and looked around. I had her add a canopy to the list. Both the front and the back had storage bins accessible from the outside only. To get to those, I would have to close up the camper but I was ready to do that. I did and put the chocks and jacks back in the rear compartment. It had little excess area. That left the front which took up the area between the front of the camper and the propane bottle leaving just enough room in front of the propane for the jack and hitch.
I opened the front compartment and found lots of room but nothing there. I measured it again thinking that might be important. I reclosed it and we pushed the camper into the other side of the garage from my car with a block of wood to keep it from rolling. I closed the garage doors and asked her in for a cold drink.
“Thanks, Jack. I would appreciate that.”
We went inside and she chose a diet Coke and I had a canned lemonade. We sat in the living room and talked.
“Tomorrow, I will go shopping for what’s on that list. Would you come with me to translate your chicken scratchings?” I grinned so she knew I was kidding.
“Actually, I would like to come with you. Today was fun. I have needed to get out with people. You have made me feel good about myself today, too.”
“Sandy, you are a smart, attractive lady. Your eyesight and insight have been valuable.”
“I don’t feel good some times comparing myself to some of the young babe types who live here.”
“I find you attractive. So did Bob. His biggest disappointment was to not tail us while we looked and not going to lunch with us. He would have liked to do both. I’m impressed that you made that blouse. It’s quality.”
“Jack, would you come over for supper?”
“I would be honored. Perhaps you’ll show me your etchings?”
“Jack, they’re just paintings, watercolors at that.”
I chuckled. “I’ll look at whatever you’ll show me.”
“Okay, come at seven?”
“That will be fine. What kind of wine should I bring?”
She thought a moment. “Bring a red but not too heavy.”
“It’s a date.”
She hesitated. “Yes, I believe so.” She smiled.