We were having another great day out by the lake; now it was time for some lunch. With all the fresh air and exercise we were enjoying, the food would surely taste extra-good.
I picked up the tray of cold drinks from the scrubbed kitchen table, Rob hefted the covered basket of cold cuts, potato and rice salads and slaw, and Ed brought up the rear with the plates, napkins and silverware on another tray.
The three of us headed back out of the cabin towards the small dock on the lake shore, where our teenage daughters were continuing to improve their tans.
Ed’s family have owned this part-section of land for generations; he’s invited us out here for weekends and public holidays ever since the girls learned to swim well enough to be trusted in and around a lake.
The three of us go back some ten years. I’ve been extremely fortunate in finding such great friends, as has my daughter Hayley. Let me tell you how we met.
Oh, and I’m Henry, by the way, but I go by Hal to my family and friends.
When our daughter Hayley was almost three years old, my beloved wife Hazel was killed instantly at the age of 25, together with our unborn son, when her car was T-boned by a drunken trucker who didn’t even see the stop sign he was accelerating thru.
My world fell apart that day.
I had to formally identify her mangled body, and even with the support of genuinely kind and sympathetic hospital staff, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. My beautiful woman, who’d lovingly kissed me goodbye as I left for work that morning, had dropped our daughter at her parent’s house while she went to do her weekly shop, and hadn’t come back. It didn’t help that it was a closed casket funeral – she’d effectively been crushed in the car – and that my final visual memory of her was after the accident, the adored face that had smilingly greeted me every morning and evening for four years, bloody, broken, and damaged almost beyond recognition.
It was bad enough for our parents, who hadn’t seen her in the morgue, but who were denied a final viewing and a chance to look at her beautiful features one last time as they said their goodbyes at the funeral home. It was especially hard for them that they had also lost their future grandson; they’d been even more excited than we had been when we announced that we were expecting again.
The funeral was doubly difficult with a toddler in my arms – Hayley of course knew that Mommy was not there with her, but didn’t, and couldn’t, understand why we were putting this big box in a hole in the ground and all crying. To me, the world lost all its color that day; I do remember the unnatural vivid green of the artificial turf that they used to cover the excavated dirt in the cemetery, but otherwise my memory of the event is gray and black. Lots of people did their best to console us, but I was numb with grief and could only nod and thank them for their thoughts and prayers. I didn’t even feel anger until after my love was under the ground, just an emptiness that I had never before encountered.
I was devastated at losing my soul-mate, and I found it real difficult to stay in the house which Hazel and I had chosen together, that we’d scrimped and saved for the deposit, and where we had started our family and our hopes for a long and happy future together. I very nearly sought solace in a bottle; but caring for Hayley was too much of a responsibility for me not to be sober, and one drunk session was enough to show me that it was no way out – weeping and hungry toddlers and hangovers do not go together! Our parents gave me every support they could, but nothing they could do or say would bring my Hazel back from the dead. My boss was real good about it; he gave me compassionate time and fixed it so that I could do flexible hours and work from home some of the time.
Once Hayley was born, just in case something bad happened, Hazel and I had both taken out double indemnity disability and death insurance, which paid out twice the amount in case of accidental death, and the trucker’s firm paid me a substantial settlement in installments, rather than be taken to court and bankrupted in one go.
The trucker himself had no assets; he went to jail to be a burden on tax dollars – fortunately I wasn’t needed at the trial, because by then I was real angry at his selfishness and stupidity, and I wasn’t sure that I could be in the same room as him without having a go at him. I didn’t need to be locked up myself for trying to kill his sorry ass right there in front of the judge. Who the fuck drinks breakfast out of a bottle and then goes off to their driving job? Rehabilitation be damned; I wanted the sonofabitch to die in jail, preferably a slow, painful and lingering death, with plenty of time to reflect on how he’d fucked up his life as well as mine. He’d gotten away with murder was how I saw it at the time, and still see it. And what kind of lowlife supervisor lets a clearly drunk driver take a tractor and trailer out of the lot onto the public roads? At least the firm fired him as well, even if the snowflake District Attorney wouldn’t prosecute him as an accessory.
That anger and bitterness took some getting through; I had some counseling, but the injustice of it still really got to me. I haven’t got along all that well with God since then; Hazel and I’d lived a good life, tried to always do the right thing, and where had that got us? Doesn’t sit well with the “loving caring and compassionate” bit, does it? The preacher’s assurances that we’d be reunited in heaven seemed utterly worthless; we’d been hoping to enjoy fifty or sixty years together on this earth first. What the heck had we done wrong to deserve being split up like this?
Oh yeah, and, funnily enough, I didn’t hear anything about any ‘pro-life’ folks gathering outside the courthouse with their placards to demand that the drunk be charged with the murder of the fetus, either. Perhaps a grown man who went drunk driving without caring who he hurt is a harder and more dangerous target for their cowardly hate than a frightened fourteen-year-old who got raped by her father? I don’t mind them bothering God with their selective reading of the Bible, but I get real antsy when they bother me or other innocent people. If I recall my history correctly, the Pilgrim Fathers came over in the Mayflower to get away from being told how to live their lives? Yeah, I know that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of speech, but the Constitution itself forbids any religious tests for anyone running for public office. I reckon that some of these religious freaks are coming very close to imposing their own rules and tests, and if we don’t fight back, these fundamentalists are going to drive US crazy too!
And the little white-haired old lady who said that “It’s God’s Will” when we took some of Hazel’s shoes and clothes into Goodwill? She’ll never know how close she got to having her ass kicked, just to let me vent some of my anger. Luckily Mom saw my face change, and quickly dragged the woman away from me before I could say anything.
Yeah, I admit it. I got real sour and bitter about the whole business. I probably went slightly crazy for a while. Do you blame me? I wasn’t good company for another adult – I could pretend I was fine when I was with Hayley, but I drifted away from our old friends, because their presence reminded me of all the times when Hazel and I had been with them, together as a couple. I even found it difficult to be with our parents, for the same reason, which saddened me even more.
Suddenly I was dirt poor in friendship and loving relationship terms, and fairly wealthy in financial terms. I’d have much preferred to have stayed hard-up but happy with Hazel by my side. Hell, I’d have given the million and a half straight back to be allowed to tell her in person just one more time that I loved her.
I used to go to the cemetery with Hayley every Sunday before lunch to talk to Hazel and tell her what we’d been doing; when the dirt was sufficiently settled and firmed for us to have the headstone fixed, it got much harder to go there, looking at her photograph that her Mom so wanted to have on the stone, and Hayley seeing it and crying for her missing Mommy.
Who knows what goes on in a small girls mind? Hayley smiled as she kissed the same photograph goodnight every bedtime, but when she saw it on the tombstone, she had a very different reaction. Her grandmother was very apologetic, but how was she to know?
Thanksgiving, I completely lost it. Hazel’s Dad only just finished Grace, and I was out on the porch bawling my eyes out because Hazel wasn’t with us. Luckily Hayley was too engrossed in choosing exactly what to have on her plate to notice my absence, but our parents were real sympathetic – we all ended up shedding a few tears. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot to be thankful about that year, other than still having Hayley. If she’d been in the car as well, I don’t know what I’d have done. At least I had Hayley to live for – I’d had some dark days (and darker nights) when I had gotten deeply depressed and wondered if there was any reason for me to go on.
Near every place I went held painful memories of having been there with Hazel, and after a year of grieving, and with the reluctant but genuine support of our families, I gave notice to quit my job, and Hayley and I moved away to a medium sized but vibrant town in Missouri. I’m a Certified Public Accountant, a CPA, so it wasn’t too difficult for me to re-register and start up in business wherever I went.
Hayley and I could have lived for years on the payouts alone, but I knew I needed to be busy to help me get over my loss. Being rich and idle had never been one of my ambitions, and from what you see on the reality TV shows, it’s a pretty sure fire way to disaster. Hayley needed a normal working Dad, not some jerk with too much time and spare cash on his hands, and the resulting alcohol or drug problems. Yeah, because she only had me, there was no way I’d ever be working 60- or 70-hour weeks again, like I had when I’d first qualified and was busting my ass to make a name for myself and fight my way up the corporate ladder.
Don’t laugh, but way back when Hayley was still in a buggy, before she could even toddle, Hazel and I had bought her an old wooden jigsaw puzzle of the United States at a garage sale, partly because we loved the quality of the thick sturdy pieces and the old style of the box (it must have dated from the 1920’s or 1930’s), but also to help her learn her geography in a fun way as she got older. I opened the box, closed my eyes, asked Hazel to guide my choice, and picked out a piece. Written on it was the northern bit of “Ozark Mountains”. I took it as sign that Missouri was where Hazel showed me she wanted us to go. Kind of apt, really, as the motto on the Missouri vehicle plates is “Show-me State”.
(Yeah, if the piece of jigsaw puzzle had shown where we were already living, I would have taken the hint and stuck it out. I’m not sure what I would have done if I’d picked out Alaska, Washington D.C., or the swamplands of Louisiana; probably laughed at Hazel winding me up and asked her to try again, and choose somewhere that she knew wasn’t on my ‘never in a million years will I live there’ list. Given no other choice, I’d go for the snakes and alligators of Louisiana over those in D.C. any day!)
We moved to a decent sized town south of the Missouri River; small enough to make friends but plenty large enough for me to be able to find work, and for us to be anonymous if we wanted to be. It had a great range of facilities and I just instantly liked the feel of the place as we drove in. Friendly but not overpowering – the waitress at the small diner where we had lunch had it just right; she was welcoming but not intrusive – and we found the same at the small family-run motel where we spent the night. They made a real fuss of Hayley when we went in for the breakfast buffet, and it was great to hear her laugh.
The second day was just as pleasant, so I asked the motel to do me a weekly rate, and we spent our time for a couple of days walking and driving around town to get a better idea of what was where, and whether we’d fit in. We spent some time chatting to the folks at the motel, and they wouldn’t have wanted to live anywhere else (and yes, they had travelled some). I liked the town, and Hayley seemed more than happy, so I decided we’d give it a go.
I quickly found a house for us to rent, had our stuff shipped over from home, got my four-year-old daughter into a local pre-school, signed up with the local Chamber of Commerce, contacted the Missouri State Board of Accountancy to get licensed to practice in the state, and hung up my shingle. I didn’t undercut the existing businesses; there was enough demand for us all to make a comfortable living, but with the settlement money behind us, I did have the major advantage that I didn’t have to start making money immediately, so I could take time to get to know my new clients. You can’t fool Missouri folks; they recognize and appreciate hard work, but they also know how to spot a shyster. If I wanted their business, they wanted to clearly understand the benefits for them, and then they’d want to talk to someone I was already working with. So business started off slow until I had a few clients who would pass my name on, and then it grew. I was helped a load by luck: another accountant retired and his clients were looking for a new professional to handle their affairs, and I was in the right place at the right time.
I provide a personal accountancy service tailored to self-employed professionals and small business people wanting to live in peace with the IRS. I don’t travel overnight, I don’t do payroll, I don’t do audits, and I don’t touch offshore and anything that even vaguely smells of tax avoidance or ‘creative accounting’. It’s just not worth the stress.
What I do offer is personal service and flexible working hours – I have clients who run small businesses themselves, and they can’t get away during their working day. I make it plain that unless I’m talking with another client, weekdays I will always answer my cell between the hours of seven in the morning and eight in the evening, and if I haven’t been able to talk, I’ll call them right back very first chance I get. I stick to that rule, and it’s paid off for me – I’ve won business from the larger firms who operate office hours only, and I’ve picked up new clients as they’ve started in business or got to the stage where they now need an accountant who can keep them safe from the IRS.
Okay, so here’s the advertising. You do NOT ever want to get on the IRS ‘shit list’. You would not believe the powers they have to get their hands on your money, and once they even get the slightest impression that you’re trying to hide something, then they’ll be thru your affairs with a fine toothcomb – and they’ll come back every year until they decide to go and hassle someone else. You may never get off of their shit list. (Unless of course you’re a politician, or a corporation, or you’ve ‘got friends’. Then the IRS doesn’t seem quite so hot – right up until the moment your fancy accountants or crooked lawyers or private bankers foul up and let you down, and then you’ll be just the same as the rest of us – and normally it’s then a Federal rap and a Federal Penitentiary, with Bubba waiting for you in the showers to make your long stretch seem even longer. Remember how, after years and years of trying to get him, they eventually managed to convict Al Capone of something – yeah, correct, it was tax evasion.)
My advice – if your tax affairs are the slightest bit complicated, go ask a professional. Check with your Chamber of Commerce or State Board that they are licensed and insured, and then trust them to know what is best for you. Most of us will do you a free initial consultation in the hope of getting your business, but we won’t lie to you and tell you that you need us if you don’t. Selling a customer services they don’t require is still, in my profession, a sure-fire first step to having your certification revoked just as soon as you get found out.
Life as a working single father to a small girl was hard and complicated, but immensely rewarding. Being self-employed and working from home, I could arrange and plan my business hours the way that suited Hayley best, and there was no travelling. Overtime and rush jobs could be done when she was sleeping. There was no way that I could have done it had I still been working for one of the big accountancy firms where frequent travel and staying away from home to audit a client was part of the job, even with an understanding boss.
Hayley knew all too well that her Mom wasn’t around any more; her grandparents weren’t in Missouri either, and she clung to me doubly hard, frightened that I might also disappear and leave her on her own. That first year was real difficult until she got used to the people at the new pre-kindergarten. She didn’t even like play-dates with other kids from kindergarten unless they were at our place. I ended up being her main play mate, teaching her the important social skills of sharing, giving and receiving, and engaging with others. She was not at all confident; losing her Mom had set her back plenty, and I had to try to make up that lost time. I suppose in a way her mind had taken the loss of her Mom as some form of rejection, and the bereavement counselor had stressed that I must be very careful not to ever show any sign that I didn’t want Hayley, or that she was a nuisance.
In a way, a weight had been lifted off of me by our move. While I still thought of Hazel every day, and talked to her photo on my bedside table every morning and evening, I didn’t get hit by sudden memories – like passing the restaurant where I’d proposed to her, or the shop where she’d bought her wedding dress, or the movie theater where we’d had so many dates – there were too many reminders near our old home. The worst one had been the junction where she’d been killed; sometimes I’d driven miles out of my way just to find another route that meant I didn’t have to pass that place.
Here in Missouri, everything was new to Hayley and me. There were no memories; it was up to us to make our own, and my responsibility to make Hayley’s as happy as possible. Trouble was, Hayley still had times when she remembered things from before we moved, and try as I had, she was still unsettled by our move.
Her first day at elementary school was just plain awful; I was called and had to go back in four times that morning to convince her that I hadn’t just dumped her and disappeared from her life, like everyone else she had known. It took all my skills to persuade her to go into school the second day, but luckily she met another kid she knew and liked from pre-school and everything was suddenly okay. She just needed the continuity.
Working for myself, I was able to be there for her all the time – taking her to school, picking her up after school, cooking for her, bathing her, putting her to bed and reading to her until she dozed off, when I could put in a few more hours on my own work. Quite often I’d wake in the middle of the night as she climbed into my bed, seeking the physical comfort of cuddling up to me, but that lessened as she became happier in herself. Within the year, she’d pretty much come to think of Missouri as ‘home’.
She got the usual childhood illnesses, but whenever that happened, I put her on the couch in my home office, dosed her with Child’s Tylenol to reduce her temperature and discomfort, and carried on working as I cared for her.
I never did think of her as a nuisance; more as my only link to Hazel, and therefore to be cherished and loved. My life pretty much revolved around her. The saddest part was passing all the milestones that Hazel and I would have celebrated together – simple things like buying her first bicycle, and the great day we took the training wheels off and she went solo. Her first little party frock. Her first party with kids from school to celebrate her birthday. The day she first swam without flotation aids. Her first night out camping in a tent in our back yard. The morning she proudly brought me her first baby tooth that had dropped out overnight, and all the fun of telling her about how the Tooth Fairy would exchange it for cash if she left it under her pillow. (I’ve still got all her baby teeth, in a jar in my closet!)
Yeah, the day I had gotten the old wooden jigsaw of the United States of America out from the closet and helped Hayley put the pieces together was both good and bad. I told Hayley the story of how her Mom and I had bought it for her, and how I’d used it to find a new home for the two of us after we’d lost her Mom, and we both cried a bit. Then we put the pieces together, and I told her a bit of geography and history of places as the picture came together, as Hazel and I had planned, and the tears were running down my cheeks. But the look of triumph on our daughter’s face as she plonked the last dozen pieces in, one after the other, was a cause for celebration. I was convinced that Hazel’s spirit could see us, and knew that she too would be delighted.
I had no social life myself.
For the first three years I didn’t once go out of an evening past Hayley’s bedtime – not even to any of the Chamber of Commerce meet-and-greet marketing events which might have helped my business grow faster. I had no wish to date, and Hayley would have worried all the time I was gone about whether I would come back. Some of the ladies from kindergarten and school, as well as some of the neighbors, either offered to babysit or made recommendations; I turned down all the offers because I still couldn’t stand the thought of me being out enjoying myself without Hazel beside me, and I didn’t want to risk Hayley waking up to find a stranger in the house and me nowhere to be found.
Everything changed for the better when I met Hayley’s new second grade teacher. Mr. Parsons was his name, and he was nearing retirement age. Hayley’s records showed me as the sole next of kin, and one day he called me and asked me to drop in to school one lunchtime. He greeted me at reception and took me back to his classroom, which was empty as all the kids ate or played. He offered me his chair and sat on the edge of his desk himself.
“Mister Hughes, I want to try to give you some help. You don’t have to take it, but I’m offering something that might make your life a little easier.”
I stiffened, taking up the automatic defensive posture I adopted whenever anyone mentioned the four-letter ‘h’ word. I’d had some experience of do-gooders trying to interfere, and a couple of ambulance-chasing divorcees with dollar signs in their eyes had tried to make moves on me before the dirt was even settled on Hazel’s grave. My negative response was instinctive and immediate.
“Thanks, Mister Parsons, but we’re doing pretty well as it is.”
He held up his hands in acknowledgement and smiled again.
“I’m sure you are. That’s not what I’m taking about – I already know that Hayley is much loved and very well looked after. She’s in better shape than most of the kids with two parents to care for them. It’s you I’m worried about. I’ve met a lot of single parents in my time, and most of them give so much to their child that they don’t get anything themselves. When was the last time you played a round of golf, or went bowling, or had a beer in a bar with a couple of friends?”
I nodded in understanding. Yeah, the truth was that bit wasn’t going so well. My only interface with other adults was in business mode. Without my clients and the checkout people at the stores, I could have gone months without having a normal adult conversation. If I had a beer, it was on my own at home. I didn’t keep much beer in the fridge, because drinking alone is a bad habit to get into. I shrugged my shoulders and bit the bullet.
“Before we lost Hayley’s Mom.”
“Exactly. Now, it just so happens that there are two other girls in Hayley’s class without a mother. I introduced their fathers to each other, and they seem to have hit it off. They team up and do things together, and I reckon they’ve become good friends. It gives them some adult leisure time that they wouldn’t get otherwise. Would you like to meet them?”
I didn’t even have to think about it.
“Thanks, that would be real good of you.”
He grinned at me. He didn’t seem as surprised by my rapid surrender as I was.
“It would be a real pleasure. Has Hayley ever mentioned Elaine Evans and Rachel Rosenberg?”
I thought a bit.
“Elaine and Rachel, yeah, I reckon she has. No family names, though.”
“Does she like them? They seem to get along just fine in class.”
“I think so; she often mentions their names when she tells me what she’s been doing all day.”
“Why don’t I invite you all over to our place after church Sunday? Mildred makes a mean meat loaf, and she likes to have a full table every so often now that our own kids are away, just to keep her hand in. You might even get her special peach cobbler for dessert?”
I thanked him. I hadn’t eaten real home cooked food that often since Hazel passed, and never since we’d moved town – I can cook, sure, but somehow it’s never the same for just two of you. Heck, if we wanted dessert it pretty much always came out of the freezer. Scooping two portions out of a gallon tub of ice-cream was just too easy – and show me a seven-year-old who complains about having ice-cream too often!
Hayley and I were over his house at twelve noon Sunday. We just had a chance to meet Missus Parsons – and for me to be told to call them Darren and Mildred or else – before another car pulled up and two men and two girls hopped out. Hayley just gave me time to be introduced to Rachel and Elaine before Mildred took them into the kitchen to ‘help’ her, and Darren motioned the three of us into his den, where he sat us down with a glass of home-made apple wine.
I took to Rob and Ed immediately. They were pretty much my age; Ed was a lawyer working with a group of realtors, and Rob a medical doctor, a year or two older.
We had a great time over the meal. I’d been worried that Hayley wouldn’t like eating in company, but of course I’d forgotten that she ate lunch at school every day, so she wasn’t fazed at all. The home cooking was a real treat, and we all told Mildred so. I dropped off a big bunch of flowers for her Tuesday; it would have been an insult to Darren to have gifted him with a bottle of something after tasting his own apple wine!
Darren’s plan to get us together surely worked – after our initial meeting, the three of us single fathers took it in turns to cook and host a Sunday gathering of some kind – and Hayley became great friends with Rachel and Elaine. It did her the world of good – she slept better, and watched less television. She also learned to talk a whole lot more - luckily my calling package included free local calls, so it didn’t matter if she called them as soon as she got home to continue the conversations they’d had at school during the day!
It wasn’t long before Hayley was confident enough to want to sleepover with the other girls on a Saturday night, and we ended up rotating the hosting, with Hayley having Elaine and Rachel over one night a month. That meant that two of us fathers could go out for a beer while the other one watched the kids.
We fathers also opened up to each other; I shared the story of my loss of Hazel, and they told me how they had become single parents.
Ed’s ex-wife had hung around for almost six months after Elaine was born, and then had run off with an older man, who had much more cash to spend on luxuries for her than a young new father starting off in business could afford out of the family budget. Ed reckoned she was probably in Florida, but he hadn’t heard a word from her since he’d found her engagement and wedding rings on the kitchen table, with a note saying that Elaine was at the childminder and he needed to collect her before eight, and pay the lady. The note, the rings, and the empty closet space were important evidence in proving desertion when he got to appear in front of the divorce court judge.
Rob’s wife had just dropped dead one day when Rachel was two; an artery in her brain had burst, and she passed away at the age of 26. He had of course been distraught, feeling a failure that he as a doctor hadn’t realized his own wife had been living with such a fate hanging over her. It had taken quite a lot of counseling from colleagues reminding him that even a scan would probably not have picked up the weakness, and that it would have been inoperable anyway, before he had come to terms with his loss. Like me, Rob treasured his daughter partly as the link to his lost love. Ed could see our point, but as far as he was concerned, his ex had just been the egg donor and the incubator, and he loved Elaine just for herself!
It wasn’t long before we all got fed up of being called ‘Mister’ by the other girls, so by mutual consent I was soon “Uncle Hal” to Rachel and Elaine. Heck, it was the only way that I was ever going to have nieces, or Hayley uncles. We both reckoned that we did pretty good out of the deal.
Once we’d gotten into the swing of sharing the hosting of regular weekly sleepovers for the girls, it had been a real culture shock to suddenly have two-thirds of my Saturday nights to myself! I even had to go out and buy myself some new smart-but-casual clothes for going out on the town!
I couldn’t see myself ever getting married again; I simply wasn’t interested in serious dating. Hazel had been my soulmate and was in my view irreplaceable. Then I had Hayley to look after, but like any normal adult male I still had physical needs that were only partially satisfied by masturbating and watching porn flicks. I certainly didn’t want any gold-diggers or charity cases trying to get their hands on Hayley’s college fund and inheritance, so I decided to concentrate on one night stands or similarly short affairs with women who just wanted to get laid as well. Ed had mentioned that the lawyer who helped him with his divorce did a pretty mean pre-nup that locked the assets away in a trust; but I was pretty sure that there was no way that I was going anywhere near a second marriage; Hazel’s loss was still too fresh and raw. I hadn’t been on the dating scene for near on seven years, not since I met Hazel, and it was real hard to think about it.
The first time I brought a woman back home from the bar, I’d drunk more than I should have done, just to pick up the courage to hook up with someone. God knows what she thought of me – I must have acted like a virgin, not at all sure of myself, and I had to excuse myself for a minute before we took it upstairs, to throw up in the downstairs bathroom and gargle some mouthwash to get rid of the taste. I called a taxi for her when we’d screwed and paid the fare home for her, and then, even though it was the middle of the night, I put the sheets we’d used in the wash and scrubbed myself in the shower until I could no longer smell the cheap heavy scent she’d worn.
It was a few months before I was desperate enough to go out and hook up again.
It did get a tiddy bit easier; with a lot of effort I finally convinced myself that it was just a physical act, and that it was better for my mental health than jacking off on my own whenever I needed some relief. It was a while before I understood the unspoken rules of the game – if a woman accepted a second and third drink, and pushed her groin against mine during a slow dance, then I was most likely going to get lucky. If I only got the fast dances, then I needed to look for someone else who would let me get close.
It was so very different from the days when Hazel and I had made love; there was no kissing, and no oral sex. Once my fingers had got the woman wet enough to be fucked, on went the condom, and in went my cock. I did always make sure that they got off before I let myself fill the teat, but that was about as ‘affectionate’ as it got. I never brought the same woman home twice. We didn’t exchange phone numbers, and it was all too easy to forget their faces and names by the end of the week. I’m sure that to some of them I was just the nameless dick that they needed too.
I used my own condoms every time; some of the women were rather too keen to be picked up, and probably had a different sexual partner every week. Like Rob and Ed did, I had myself tested every year for STIs – I would have been devastated if I had caught anything and passed it on to my daughter by the natural cross-contamination of sharing a kitchen and bathroom. Yeah, I know that the chances were real small, but they were there. Hayley has always liked her hugs, and I’d have been horrified if I’d ever passed on a cold sore or something; herpes can’t really be cured yet.
Perhaps it would have been good to have found a female friend with benefits; a large part of me hated bedding a stranger just to get my rocks off, but I didn’t have any women friends, and no-one who might have played matchmaker. Being honest, I only went out to get laid when I just couldn’t last any longer without having a real pussy milk the sperm out of my dick and into the teat of a condom.
It was the companionship and comfort I missed more than the sex – making love with Hazel had always been exciting and immensely satisfying for the both of us, but it was just the physical expression of our love and closeness, and that’s why it was so great.
I did get some loving companionship; Hayley quite often climbed into my bed at night if she woke, and cuddled into my side or against my back; it never made up for no longer being able to share our bed with Hazel, but our daughter and I both took comfort from the closeness and the touch. Did I say that Hayley always liked her cuddles? I never minded giving or receiving them; I think most fathers are pre-programmed to hold their little girls and protect them from the world. It was certainly no hardship for me to give her at least the same number of cuddles as she’d have had from two parents loving her to bits.
Four years after our first arrival in town, when Hayley was almost eight, the family who owned the house we rented gave me notice that their son was returning home from the military with his family, and they needed it back.
By then, I knew that Hayley and I were as happy in our new home town as we were going to be anywhere, so I talked to my friend Ed about the real estate situation, and said that I was now looking to buy a place of our own.
“What exactly are you looking for? The same style as you are renting?”
“Well, not exactly, but maybe a bit larger, I reckon. There are only the two of us, and although it’s just possible I might get married again, a medium-sized house with a decent yard would do us. Thing is, I do need a dedicated home office, plus two extra bedrooms for if Hayley’s grandparents ever come to stay, so five bedrooms, please. Our girls seem to be getting on real fine, so I wouldn’t mind being in the same neighborhood as you and Rob.”
Ed nodded in understanding, and promised to talk to a few folks. He actually got back to me far quicker than I expected. It was shortly after lunch the next day.
“You got any problem with having an in-ground pool in the yard?”
I laughed down the line.
“You need to ask? Hayley would kill me if she ever found out I’d turned down a pool!”
“Yeah, Elaine too!”
It was a bank repossession, a steal at the price, and actually didn’t need a whole lot of work on it. The couple who owned it had racked up so much debt on driving new cars every year, ostentatious foreign holidays, and expensive dining, that they couldn’t nearly meet the mortgage on top of their credit card payments. Ed did all the checks for me; he agreed that the deal was most probably sound, so I called the bank and took Hayley over to look at the place.
Yeah, just as I’d thought, she had no problem with a pool of her own (actually, to tell the truth, she screamed with delight and ran around in circles for a few minutes as soon as she saw it, much to the amusement of the lady from the bank), or a bedroom suite with its own bathroom. She wasn’t aware of such things as school districts and property taxes – not that they mattered for this – but quickly worked out that she’d be even closer to her two best friends. Both house and plot were larger than we really needed 95% of the time, but I was more than happy with a good sized front room for my home office, and a triple garage to keep my car cool in the summer and ice-free in the winter. It was between Ed’s place and Rob’s house, making it real easy for us all to get together. So we called Ed and Rob, and the six of us went over the house again. Elaine and Rachel most certainly approved!
We beat the bank down another four grand ‘for overdue maintenance’ and closed the deal. The bank were just pleased to get it off of their hands. They’d already paid the back taxes so as not to have it taken away from them, but I went in to the county office and checked it out for myself anyway. You can’t be too cautious dealing with property taxes. Some people have made one hell of a lot of money picking up seized properties just for the back taxes, and their already-overpaid lawyers are always looking for opportunities to earn more commission, not caring who gets screwed over in the process.
I also knew plenty enough about the way credit reference agencies work to make sure that the antics of the previous owners didn’t cause my credit rating any trouble; the U.S.P.S. diverted all their mail, apart from the junk which didn’t have their name on it – you wouldn’t believe how many invitations I received to apply for a credit card, and put straight in the trash! What is it about these dumb banks and dumber financial corporations? “You’re Already Up To Your Neck In Debt – But Hey, Why Stop There? We Can Help You Get In Way Over Your Ears! Acceptance Guaranteed! Call Us Today!“?