Mr. and Mrs. America; Aftermath

by qhml1

Copyright© 2016 by qhml1

Romantic Story: The aftermath of the previous story.

Tags: Ma/Fa  

This is a follow up to A Woman Waiting to Happen

First, I would like to thank Jezzaz for allowing me to use his characters. When I read his story, I couldn’t help thinking the main male character was a perfect fit for a story I’d already started, so I emailed him and he told me to go for it.

This story will make no sense at all unless you’ve read his story Mr. and Mrs. America, found in the non-erotic section here.

A quick note on another subject. I have two Brother Love segments ready to go, but I’m holding them while my lawyer does some checking for me. Seems there is a show out about a woman who wins the lottery and starts her own talk show. Pure coincidence, I’m sure. When the smoke clears I’ll turn them loose.

As always, thanks for reading, and all comments are appreciated.

“Hi, Mom.”

There was silence on the line for a few seconds. I think it took her that long to realize I had actually answered.

“Jake! My God honey, where are you? Jo and your father have been worried sick. So are your children. So am I. Are you coming home soon?”

“Tell the kids I love them, Mom, and that I’ll call them soon. I’m okay, by the way, obvious things aside.”

There was another little gap on the phone as she processed what I’d said.

“Jake, I...”

I interrupted her, something I rarely did to anyone.

“I need to know one thing, Mom. It’s important to me, so I’d appreciate the truth. Did you know?”

There was another pause. “Honey, I know you’re upset, but...”

“Answer the question Mom. Did you know?”

I thought we’d been disconnected, the silence was so long. I could tell by the tone of her voice she really didn’t want to say what needed to be said, but, to give her credit, she was honest.

“Not for almost a year. Then I accidentally heard them talking. You were off on one of your trips to England. They were in the study, talking while I finished up dinner. Mike, your Dad, Jo. They clinked glasses, and Mike congratulated them on what he called ‘a successful operation’. I wondered what they were talking about, when Jo said she really felt bad for lying about the miscarriage, because you were still grieving. I walked in the door and they shut up, but I went after them, and after a few minutes they admitted they’d constructed a scenario that would keep you out of ‘the life’, as Mike called it. I was outraged, but they finally convinced me to keep their secret.”

She stopped, sighing heavily. “I wanted to tell you a thousand times, but Jo or your Dad always talked me out of it. Honestly, I never felt entirely comfortable with Jo or Mike again. Gone was the woman I loved like a daughter, or the man I treated like another son. My relationship with your father never fully recovered. I found myself examining every decision he made, every course of action he took. When you left, and I found out about the letter, I’m afraid I went a little crazy. I’ve told Jo to never speak to me again unless it’s about the kids, and told your father if he doesn’t fix this I’m divorcing him. Can he, Jake? Can he fix it?”

I listened to her ragged breathing, processing what she had told me.

“So you knew. You weren’t in on it, apparently, but you knew pretty early, and for over twenty years you kept their secret. Guess that tells me where I stand in the family. Goodbye Mom. I’ll call the girls and Josh soon. I love you, but it will be a long time before we talk again.”

She was crying when I disconnected.

I tried, I really, really tried, but I just couldn’t get over the massive manipulation of my life from the people I loved above all others. I guess what really bothered me most was that neither Jo nor my father thought they’d done wrong. Jo even told me she was never sorry she did it. Dad echoed her sentiments.

It ate on me. I took her almost flippant advice and left for a week before coming back home, finishing his letter and reading hers. She took my return as a sign I had accepted what they had done and thought I was moving on. Her shock was obvious on her face when she came home two weeks later, to see me carrying the urn that held Mike’s ashes to the car.

“Where are you going?,” she asked, rushing up to me.

“The county dump. Wanna ride along? You might find it enlightening.” Without a word she got into the passenger seat. We never made it. There was a farm between our house and the landfill, and in a moment of inspiration I pulled over, got out, and walked to a fence. There were hogs on the other side, free range, organically raised beasts that the farmer got premium prices for. I dumped the ashes into a wallow beside the fence.

Jo had trailed behind me, and screamed when she saw what I was doing. She was stunned into silence when I unzipped my pants and pissed all over the ashes. Hope it didn’t fuck up his organic rating. I walked past her and got into the car. I had just put it into gear when she jumped in. She sobbed all the way home, looking at me like I was an alien. “Why?,” she finally managed to whisper.

“Oh, I thought it would be a good idea to see Mike dumped in the shit, and then be pissed on. Kind of like what you guys did to me, if you think about it.”

I thought she was going to faint, but she held on. The first thing she did was call my Dad and tell him. Fifteen minutes later he flew into the drive, almost hitting the house before he could stop. He was roaring when he got out.

“Boy, goddamnit, what the fuck is wrong...” That’s all he got out before I hit him. He went down, out like a light. I stepped over him, glancing at Jo.

“I’ll be out for awhile. Would you mind cleaning up this mess? And tell him, when he wakes up, every time he comes around me it’s going to be the same. Tell him as far as I’m concerned, my father died twenty-three years ago. I don’t know this stranger, and don’t think I’d like him if I did.”

It was two days before I came back. I’d got in early, and was sitting at the table sipping coffee when she came into the kitchen. She looked like she wanted to say something, changed her mind, and got a mug. She poured her coffee, sat down across from me, and stayed quiet until her cup was empty.

“You broke his nose.”

I didn’t look up. “Good. Did he get the message? Do I need to go down to the sheriff’s office and turn myself in?”

“NO! He told the emergency room doctor he’d tripped coming up our steps.

Did you have to do that? The man is sixty two years old. He’s your father, for God’s sake.”

“Nope. He was my father, right up until twenty-three years ago. Now he’s just a sperm donor, and I’ve no use for him.”

She slipped off the chair, kneeling beside me.

“Please, honey, let it go! We did it for you. Don’t tell me you weren’t happy with your life, that you don’t love the way it’s gone. Think of your children!”

A wave of overwhelming sadness came over me. She must have seen it on my face, and climbed onto my lap, hugging me hard while she cried. “It’ll be all right, honey,” she crooned over and over. I stood up abruptly, tumbling her to the floor.

“I WAS happy! Until I found out it was all a lie, based on a mammoth manipulation by the people I loved and trusted most. Don’t you see, this isn’t my life! It’s the life I was forced and manipulated into. And I love my children. IF they’re mine. Mike said in the letter he loved you. You lied before, what makes me think you aren’t lying about other important things in my life. Should I have DNA tests done?”

“One thing I’ll wonder about until I go to my grave. Mike did by his own admission horrible, horrible things to a lot of people. With all he’d done, why would he need to confess to me how easily I was manipulated? I mean, you guys went to such incredible lengths to fabricate this lie, why fuck it up by telling me now? What was gained by it? Know what, I think he did it to kind of gloat.”

“In his mind, he was the tragic hero, but to be that hero I had to know what he’d ‘done for me’. That I was the reason he was doing it. I call bullshit! He did it because it was all he’d ever wanted to do. If he got disillusioned, he could have walked away. There’s always a new crop of idealists like me in the pipeline. No one would have missed him. He could have had a normal life. No, he did it because he got off on it.”

“I’m kind of glad he had a miserable life. He damn sure did his best to make mine miserable at the end, now didn’t he? I bet every time he visited he was laughing his ass off inside. Fuck, why am I even talking to you? You’re just as bad as he was. You’re a lawyer. You’re whole life is manipulation and bending the truth to achieve your ends. I need a shower.”

I was soaping up when she came in to repair her makeup. She had an important bit of negotiation coming up, and had to go. I stepped out just as she turned to leave. She hesitated.

“Please be here when I get home. We need to talk about how to get over this.”

I shrugged. “I’ll be here. But I need you to consider this. If it had been me, Amy(her best friend), and your father doing this to you, how would you respond? Would the argument we had your best interests at heart cut it, if it denied you the career you wanted? Think on it and tell me the truth tonight.”

I had my own important meeting to attend. I’d asked for an appointment with the Dean earlier in the week. He called me back in less than an hour.

“Jake! How are you? Listen, I’m glad you wanted to see me, I actually have a pretty urgent matter I’d like to discuss with you. Will Wednesday at two work? Good. See you then.”

I walked in to find him with someone. A woman about my age. She was probably a bit younger than me, maybe forty, conservatively dressed, jet black hair in a bun, almond shaped eyes. Obviously of Arabic descent, she seemed all business, until her smile came.

“Professor Trammel! A pleasure to meet you. Your reputation is stellar. Many of your translations are spot on, even better than our homegrown experts.”

I smiled and thanked her, having no idea who she was. The Dean grinned. “Jake, I’d like to present Sherry Hamoud, your counterpart in her country.”

Recognition was instantaneous. “Let me guess, You write under S. Hamoud, right? I’ve read many of your papers, probably everything you’ve written, truth be told. Sorry, but it never occurred to me you were female. I find you very insightful, you’ve even helped my research on occasion.” I’d taken a chance and spoke in Farsi, one of the non-dead languages I was fluent in.

She smile got deeper. “As I yours. In fact, your paper on the Scrolls Of Faisal Hussein was...”

She’d answered in British inflected English, which I found quite charming. The Dean cleared his throat, or we may have talked for hours.

I turned to the Dean. “Sorry to interrupt you, sir. I must have gotten my appointment wrong. I’ll leave you to your guest.”

“You didn’t get it wrong, Jake. I had Miss Hamoud linger to meet you. I’d like you to get together with her some time in the near future. She has several interesting things to discuss with you. Miss Hamoud, if you’ll excuse us?”

She smiled at both and handed me her card. “I’m at the Towers downtown. Call when you have some time. Dean Howard, a pleasure to meet you.”

We both watched her leave. Despite the conservative clothing, she had a very nice shape. Dean Howard turned to me.

“Jake, my friend, we should really get together more often. Have that lovely wife of yours call mine, and find a time when we can have a nice evening out. Now what do you need? More funding? Not going to happen, the budget this year is locked up pretty tight. I may be able to squeeze out another research assistant or two, if I hit up the right alumi. No promises, though.”

“No sir, it isn’t that.” I handed him an envelope. “That’s my resignation. I know I just barely made twenty years, but recent events have made it impossible for me to stay here. I truly apologize for such short notice, but the semester is almost over, and there are plenty of qualified candidates that would jump at the chance to teach here.”

Dean Howard looked at me like I had just slapped him and called his mother a whore. I felt really bad, because we had always gotten along well.

“Why? Why would you do such a thing? Everyone knows Jones is retiring next year, and you’re sure to get the chair. Department Head isn’t to be sneezed at, surely you know what an opportunity this could be for you. Is there any chance you’ll change your mind?”

We had taken chairs, and he reached behind his desk to grab a decanter and two glasses. Rye whiskey, an excellent brand. I knew because I had given him the bottle.

“All right Jake, tell me what’s been going on.”

I gave him the bare bones, and he read between the lines. He pulled out a pipe, stoked it, his tell that he was doing some serious thinking. We walked out on the small patio overlooking the campus, and he lit up. After several puffs he grinned.

“Jake my good friend, what if I had a way to keep you on staff, yet away from the University for a year? A year is a long time, you may reconsider your plans by then. Interested?”

Of course I was. He grinned. “You have her card, give Ms Hamoud a call, listen to what she has to say. Can’t hurt, and we may all benefit.”

I called when I got back to my office, and she agreed to meet the next night. She actually seemed quite excited. It brightened my day considerably. My smile faded as I made my way home.’

My mood worsened when I saw my father’s car parked in the drive. I didn’t even pull in, just kept going. Pulling into a fast food parking lot, I dialed her number. She answered happily.

“Honey, will you be home soon?”

“Depends. I’m going to kill twenty minutes. If that son of a bitch is still there when I come home, I’ll either drive on by and get another motel room, or I’ll come in and give him another helping of what he got the last time I saw him.”

I heard her small gasp. “Please, honey, come home. Let’s sit down and clear the air. Your father loves you very much, or he wouldn’t have done what he did. He needs you to listen and try to understand.”

Rage washed over me. Seeing red, and unable to restrain myself, I told her to put him on the phone.

“Son, I...”

“Shut the fuck up and listen, asshole. You gave me life. I actually think you loved me, at one time. But just because you gave me life didn’t give you the right to control it. In all honesty, I can’t think of anything lower than what you did to me. It was my life! MINE! It should have been my decision to make. You took any semblance of self determination away from me. All for the greater good. Your greater good, not mine. I really, really hope I didn’t inherit the asshole gene from you when it comes to the kids. I’ll let them choose their own paths, whether I think they’re good choices or not. Oh, I may tell them I don’t agree and give them my reasons why, but after that it will be their decision, and I’ll live with it. This is the last time I want to hear your voice in my lifetime. Tell your accomplice I choose the hotel option tonight. Frankly, the thought of listening to her platitudes and justifications is just a little more than I can take tonight.”

I hung up, wishing you could slam cellphones down. Instead of a hotel, I parked my car at a dorm several blocks away and walked back to my office and crashed there. I had a bathroom with a small shower, a small closet of clothes, and a comfortable couch.

I actually slept pretty well. It would be a few more weeks before the semester ended, so I decided that if it was going to my last days of teaching I was going to enjoy every moment of it.

Truthfully, I loved teaching. A lecture hall, filled with sharp young minds that mostly hung on every word I said gave me a great deal of satisfaction. I was in full stride, enjoying the moment, when the door opened and she slipped in. Jo just stood and listened. When I saw her I went blank, talking for three or four minutes in what my students must have thought was one of the dead languages I’d mastered. By the time I’d recovered she’d left. As she turned, even at the distance, I could have sworn she had a small smirk on her face. I wondered over lunch if it was some kind of lawyer trick.

I pulled my phone out, and put it back together. I’d taken the battery out last night because the constant ringing was bothering me. It was full of messages and texts, the last from two hours ago. Pure curiosity made me listen to it.

“Hi, honey. Please let me say I was really impressed watching you this morning. Some of those students had pure adulation on their faces. No wonder your classes are always so hard to get in to. It reaffirms that I had made the right decision all those years ago. You belong...”

I never listened to the rest of it, erasing everything in my phone. It was ringing again two minutes later, and I almost disabled it again. The thought of missing a call from the Dean or Ms. Hamoud stopped me. Instead, I blocked her number, the number of her office, the house phone, the cells and land line of my parents, her parents, her friends, everyone but the kids.

I waited until I was pretty sure she wouldn’t be able to answer, and left a message.

“Don’t call me for a while. I’m taking your advice, and taking some time. Since I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to sort this out, I can’t give you a timeline on when we’ll talk again. The kids can get hold of me, but if you try to get them to push your agenda I’ll let them read the letter. Wonder how they’ll feel about dear old Mom, their grandfather, and Uncle Mike when they find out what you did to me? I’m sure you’ll still be considered a paragon of virtue in their eyes. When I’m ready, and not before, we’ll talk.”

Sherry Hamoud was dressed to the nines for our dinner, and I realized my initial assessment of her body had been spot on. Oh, to be sure, the dress was conservative, the hem an inch below the knee, and the top scooped just enough to give a hint of cleavage, but it clung to her softly, accentuating her breasts and a very well shaped rear end. I stared at her until she giggled.

“Sorry to stare. Not to belabor the obvious, but you are a very attractive woman. I feel a bit under dressed.”

She smiled warmly. “Thank you for the compliment. I hardly ever get to wear something like this, so I decided to indulge. And you look quite dashing. Shall we?”

We dined at the hotel restaurant, a surprisingly good meal. I enjoyed it immensely, the pressure and angst of my life receding into the background for a little while. Over dessert, she got down to why she had come.

“I need someone in our field to help me with a project. To be honest, I was here to interview your chief assistant. When the Dean told me you might consider doing what I need instead, I was stunned. In my wildest dreams, I never considered you. But it would be perfect, I’d have an equal instead of an assistant. The work would be much easier, and immensely quicker.”

I was more than a little interested. “What does the project entail?”

She looked around, obviously uncomfortable. “For that, we need to go to my suite. It’s very confidential, involving some sensitive documents. Shall we?”

Sherry paid for dinner, citing business, and we went up the ten floors to her suite. I was surprised to to see a very large man waiting, even more surprised when he ran a wand over me, nodding to Sherry when he was done and disappearing into a bedroom. I was about to speak when she raised her hand, stalling me, then dialing a number on her phone. When the party answered she put it on speaker.

“Peter, old boy, is that really you?”

I recognized the voice instantly. My old boss, from the British Museum. “Lord Bevington?”

He laughed. “Quite right. I assume by this conversation darling Sherry has offered to bring you into our fold?”

She spoke up before I could answer. “We’ve only just returned from dinner, Teddy. I haven’t made the proposal yet.”

We’re completely off the books, there will be no official record of us anywhere. I have to tell you now, what we are about to do goes against everything I’ve been taught. This is a snatch and grab operation, at best glorified tomb raiding. But we have to look at what happens if we don’t do this. It will be gone, destroyed forever.

“I won’t lie to you here, there is an element of risk in even the tiniest bit of involvement. I won’t pressure you to be an active participant, but with your background, and your skill with languages, you would be invaluable at recovery sites.”

She stopped to see how I was reacting. I just nodded for her to continue.

“Officially, we’ll be working for the British Museum as researchers. If you choose, you can stay in the U.K., and catalog what we recover. If not, you’ll be traveling a lot, to some pretty unusual places, some of them hostile. We will take every precaution humanly possible, but we can’t guarantee your safety. I don’t want you to answer me now, I want you to think about it long and hard. I’ll call you in three days. All you have to do is say ‘yes’, and I’ll know you’re willing to be a full partner. If you say ‘I’d love to consult’, I’ll know you’re willing to spend some time with Teddy, processing our work. And if you say no, well, no means no.”

We spent another ninety minutes discussing recent discoveries, old translations that were later proven false, forgeries we’d both encountered, me while working for the museum, her at her home university in her country, where our interpretations of some extinct languages differed from others. It was probably the best time I’d had since the letter.

Later, as I lay on my couch trying to sleep, I thought about the offer, and decided to take it, at the very minimum the research and cataloging part. Maybe an extended time away from my ‘family’ would allow me to be objective about the whole thing. Just before I slept the thought popped into my head about how strongly Mike would advise against it. It would be too close to his reality for comfort. It made me smile, and allowed me to slip off into slumber.

I woke up at seven the next morning, disoriented, as the sound of the door being hammered registered. By the time I answered, my thoughts were ordered.

Jo practically fell through the door, latching on to me like she never intended to let go, crying the whole time. I let her babble until she was through, hearing multiple professions of love and entreaties to return home, but as carefully as I listened, I never once heard an apology. When she was done, I held her at arms’ length and looked her in the eyes.

“Did you think about what I asked when we talked last?” She looked down and said something so low I couldn’t hear. I asked her to speak up.

“Yes, I did think about it. I would have been furious, you know my goal since we met was to be a lawyer. I knew in my heart that I would be very good at it, and I am. If you had manipulated me into doing something else and I found out later, even if you said you did it out of love, I would have still been furious. I admit that. But what I do isn’t dangerous, and it wouldn’t have destroyed my soul.”

“Really? You think you’re the same person now you were when this all started? Bullshit. The horrific hours you’ve had to work, the jerks you’ve had to work with and for, the people you’ve destroyed to achieve the ends your bosses required, have left you cynical, even bitter at times. You can deny it all you want, but I’ve lived with you while it’s been happening, and at least I could see it.

The pro bono work you were so adamant be part of any contract fell by the way pretty quickly, didn’t it? Just guessing, but I’m pretty sure you haven’t done any pro bono work in at least fifteen years. So much for saving the world. I even asked you a few times when it was really bad if you might be happier in another branch of law, but you blew me off, trying to achieve your dream.”

I paused to see if any of what I was saying registered on her. Apparently not. I could see the lawyer in her analyzing what I was saying, preparing her response.

“With what you’ve told me, how can still believe that what you did was right? I think you did love me, and wanted me safe, but again, IT WAS NOT YOUR DECISION TO MAKE! I think now that maybe you wanted security, a nice quiet little man with a nice quiet little life. Come on now, admit you liked trotting me out at all those parties and dinners you dragged me to and introducing your world renowned college professor husband. What would you have done if it had gone differently? Introduce me as someone who works for the government doing God knows what God knows where? It wouldn’t have helped your career much, would it now?”

She flushed, and I realized I had hit upon something she had thought about. She didn’t even offer an argument.

“You know, the more I think about it, the more I think this was more about your goals than keeping me safe.”

She flinched, and denied it violently. “NO! I admit, I’m proud to introduce you as someone at the top of their field, but if you had chosen to be a plumber, I would still be proud of you! It wasn’t about me, it was about keeping you safe. Please, please, understand me here, we did it for you.”

“Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. Platitudes and lies, and after twenty three years I’ve had my fill of them. If there is any way we’re able to stay together, you better start being honest with me. And don’t throw up how wonderful our life has been, because it turns out it wasn’t really my life, it was your construct about how my life was to go. And don’t bring the children into it, I’m sure whatever path I’d taken, the children would have still been there, and I would have loved them just as much. You know, talking about the kids pisses me off, after all it was the monstrous lie you told about being pregnant that trapped me into this marriage to start with.”

She flinched like I’d slapped her. The tears came in earnest then. “Please don’t say that! It wasn’t like that at all, it wa...”

“It was about the most horrible thing to do to a man that can be done. Oh, I fully intended to marry you, you knew that. But I wanted to get established in my career first. That didn’t mesh with your plans though, did it? You needed to hook me right away, to save me from myself. You, Mike, my so called father, you all knew my sense of honor. You all knew I’d do the right thing. I was actually happy, can you believe that? I couldn’t wait to see our daughter. It had to be a daughter, didn’t it? You knew my fondness for your sister’s little girl, another carefully constructed exploitation on your part. I always wondered why you weren’t showing at least a little. I lay awake nights, wondering if she was all right. But enough about that. I promise you, sometime in the future we’re going to have a long, long talk about this.”

For the first time, I think she truly understood the damage they had done. Fear was evident in her expression. “Please, Pete. Come home. Let me start making this all up to you. Please, honey, please.”

I couldn’t believe it. She wanted to make it all right, to make it all go away.

“As curious as I am about how you could possibly make up for over two decades of lies, I really don’t think we should be together right now. It’s still too raw for me. I’m afraid my anger and pain would keep me lashing out at you until I hit the point of no return. I may as well tell you now, the British Museum has offered me a short term assignment analyzing some new scrolls they recently acquired. The scrolls are extremely fragile, they really took a chance bringing them into their country, so I need to travel to them. I’ve decided to take it. The Dean has given me a year’s sabbatical, and I’m taking it. I leave right after finals.”

Jo looked stricken. “There’s no way I can take time off to go with you. We’re at a delicate phase in the negotiations for our newest acquisition, and I simply can’t leave now.”

“I didn’t expect you to. After all, we know how hard you’ve worked in your career, and how much it means to you. And I didn’t invite you. We, I, need this time apart.”

I think she had a fugue moment. Her eyes went vacant, her mouth moved but no words came out. She came to herself and asked in a quiet voice how long I would be away. I shrugged.

“Until it’s done, and I don’t know how long that will take. It may be until school starts again. Maybe longer.”

She was shaken, shaken to her very core. In all her constructs of what could possibly happen, this was one scenario she didn’t envision. Never once did she consider I may be hurt enough or have the backbone to just walk away. For the first time I think it occurred to her this might not end well.

The tears were real this time, not self serving tears, but tears of the truly lost. There was no way she could spin this, no way she could manipulate me into changing my mind. I think she realize at that instance every thing she said to me going forward would never again be taken at face value. I’d always be looking for her agenda, what she hoped to accomplish, what she really wanted to happen. For the very first time, I think she felt regret for what she’d done. I let her cry it out, even held her there at the last.

Jo could tell the difference in me now. Before, I would have been soothing her, rubbing her shoulders, telling her everything would be all right. Now I just held her, letting her cry it out. She finally pulled out of the hug and rushed to the bathroom. I heard retching sounds. Was she actually voiding her stomach? Maybe there was a real human being in there after all.

She stayed there for another ten minutes, repairing her face. Jo almost tiptoed out, the first time in years I’d seen her look timid.

“I need to say this. I did what I thought was right, because I couldn’t stand the thought of losing you. Now, I realize maybe we took the wrong approach. Damn Mike! If he had just said goodbye, none of this would have been happening. Why did he do such a thing to us?”

For the first time I felt sad for her. “I think it was like he said. He had become morally corrupt, and this was him getting revenge for the things he’d missed. He wanted every one he knew to be miserable along with him. Fuck him! I was never truly his friend, a friend would never do what he did. Or you. Or my sperm donor. We were just means to an end.”

I noticed she used the word regret. Still no apology. I wondered if she knew how truly important it was to me to actually hear her apologize and mean it? Probably not. She was still convinced of her own rightness.

“Will we see each other before you leave?”

“Of course we will. It will be at least four weeks, the semester has to end, plans have to be made. But it will be as soon as possible. Some of those scrolls may contain things as yet undiscovered. Lord Bevington is pretty worked up about them, I can already see his paper in the leading journals. And I intend to pressure all the kids to come home, for at least a weekend.”

“Are you coming home?”

She said it quietly, but her body language told me she was very anxious to hear my response. “Yes. I don’t want to spend my last nights before I leave apart. But it won’t be tonight. You’ll know when you come home and see me on the couch.”

Jo just looked at me with a blank expression, before going out the door.

It was three more days before I went home. Jo was overjoyed, but got a shock when she came to bed in her sexiest gown, and I just turned out the light and turned my back to her. I heard her sniffling a few times before I dozed off. Over breakfast, something she normally didn’t fix now that the kids were gone, she asked if I was still attracted to her.

I eyed her critically. She weighed three pounds less than she did before the kids, mostly to an almost addiction to her exercise regimen. Dressed conservatively but attractively, hair perfectly styled, makeup perfect, not a gray hair to be found. She looked to be midthirties, ten years younger. Still beautiful, to me.

“I think you’re hotter now than you were twenty years ago. It’s not a physical thing. I still want you, I always will. But mentally, it’s going to take a while before the intimacy returns. Sorry, but every time I look at you I wonder how many times you, sperm donor, and good old Mike made fun of me over the years. Rage and humiliation aren’t exactly aphrodisiacs. So be glad we’re sharing a bed and a house, and don’t push it.”

The lawyer in her wanted to argue, but I think she realized it would be a bad mistake. Instead she told me she was willing to wait, but when the time came she intended to destroy me with her passion.

I finally had the kids all coming to spend the weekend. Polly was always the one closest to me, and when she found out our dinner didn’t include her grandparents, she knew something was off. She strode in to my office, telling my assistant it was urgent she speak to me, and slammed the door.

“All right, Pops, spill. What the hell is going on? I went by to see my grandparents and it was like an episode of The Twilight Zone. Grandma burst into tears when she found out we were all here, and going to dinner without them. Grandpa just sort of talked around everything. Did you know he broke his nose? And Mom, well, let’s just say the woman who is always on top of every situation is jumping at shadows.”

Damn perceptive kids anyway. “Your Mom and I have hit a rough patch, honey. Something from the past, a huge secret she and my parents kept from me suddenly came to light recently, and it was very disturbing to me. Don’t worry, no one is talking divorce or anything along those lines, it’s just taking me some time to come to grips with it. If you want more, get it from Mom, because that’s all I’m willing to say.”

She fumed, threatened, wheedled, but I stood firm.

We had a very enjoyable meal at their favorite restaurant. Back home, Jo and I sat together while I told them I’d be away for at least the summer, an opportunity like the one I was offered rarely came along, and I was honored to be chosen. Josh thought it was cool, Jessica seemed unimpressed, but Polly grew really quiet. As the evening broke up she caught me alone.

“Please, please, tell me you’re coming back, that my parents are still together, that everything will be all right between you two.”

I comforted her. “It’s just a temporary thing, baby. I did something like this a long time ago, before you were born. Time will pass, and I’ll be home so fast you won’t even miss me.”

“I’m not a baby anymore, Pops. Please, fix whatever is wrong, I don’t want to have to take my future children to two separate houses for holidays.”

I kissed her nose, something that always made her giggle, and told her that would never happen. I hoped I was right.

That night, we made love for the first time since I’d read the letter. It was familiar and strange at the same time. She seemed desperate at times, frantic in her movements. God, I still loved her. I just hoped it was enough, and that I could get over her lack of guilt.

They all went to the airport to say goodbye. I had packed light. It was in my mind to get a few new suits while I was there, I’d done it twenty years ago and they had lasted ten years.

I kissed the girls and hugged Josh. They nearly had to peel Jo off me there at the end. As I walked away I glanced up, and saw my parents standing on the concourse above me. I deliberately showed no emotion. Mom was crying her eyes out, but sperm donor looked defiant and sad at the same time. I thought about it later. Was I deliberately trying to make them suffer? Probably. Did they deserve it? Definitely.

England, the part I was in, had changed little in twenty years. The labs were newer, definitely more sophisticated, but the reading rooms were basically the same.

Lord Bevington greeted me like the old friend I was, and showed me to the flat they had provided for me. A studio, it was still spacious and bright. He gave me three days to settle in, then we had our first meeting, and he introduced the team they had put together.

Sherry was there, with a young woman she introduced as her assistant. Fatima was barely twenty-one, spoke excellent English, and was dressed in western clothes, a snug top and tight jeans.

Emil Farouk was a Syrian, now living in Egypt. He wore the traditional robes of his people. My age roughly, a couple inches shorter and lean as a greyhound. I found he had an affinity for antique weapons. Back when Mike and I were young we took martial arts to give us a leg up when we started our careers. I had stayed with it, mostly for the exercise. I taught Emil and the rest of the group some dirty tricks over time, just in case. Emil taught me swordplay, taking me through the Persian Manual Of Arms, a system thousands of years old but still very effective. He would usually best me unless I reverted to my training, and when I beat him he demanded to be taught how I’d done it. He was a brooding, intense man, rarely smiling, unless he was training. He held a PhD in Middle Eastern history.

Moshe Ben Abrams was an Israeli, a professor at the university in Tel Aviv. About five nine, he had a florid face and was naturally bald. He was also a major in the Israeli Army. He and Emil were old friends, and tended to partner when studying artifacts, arguing almost constantly.

Said El Harrak was a Kurd, a large, imposing man who didn’t smile a lot. He’d intended to be an Iman, but the political climate of his homeland turned him into a warrior instead. Mostly self taught, he had an amazing memory and an almost unnatural ability to grasp the shifting politics of the region. He was also a distant cousin to Fatima, who it turns out was Turkish, from just over the border.

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