Thanks to the Hip and Knee doctor for editing assistance.
I wasn't expecting it, but at least she had the decency to confront me and not screw around until I caught her. I really didn't know what to say. Was I mad? Yes. Was I confused? Yes. Was I going to try and stop her? No way.
"George. I am not being unreasonable. Go see a lawyer if you feel it is necessary. The only thing that I am asking for is that you continue to pay for the kids college education. Other than that, I want nothing but my clothing and jewelry."
I just sat there holding the petition for divorce in my hands. I hadn't open it or even looked at it. What was the point? Linda had already removed her belongings from the house and I hadn't even noticed. I wasn't saying anything, but she insisted on yakking away. She did that when she was nervous. She was trying her best to look calm and in control but the steady stream of words flowing from her mouth betrayed her. I stared at the papers and smiled to myself. I think she noticed and started talking faster.
As I stood up I tossed the envelope on the coffee table.
"Just get out. I got the message. Goodbye." At least she shut up. She stammered a little as I walked to the kitchen to get a cold beer. Instead of finishing what she was going to say, my wife turned and walked out of the front door for the last time.
Ten minutes later, as I was on the second bottle, I glanced at the package she left. It was simple and clean, as she said. She also included a power of attorney so that I could sell the house. We had just taken out a second mortgage to pay the college tuition for our two sons, Robert and Glenn. If I sold the house now, I wouldn't even make enough profit to pay for the realtor's commission.
So what was it that brought twenty years of marriage to a screeching halt? An old flame; Cameron Wright was her first. Linda and Cameron were a steady couple for years before I even met her. She mentioned him often in the past and a few of our mutual friends made comments about him over the years. I ignored it. He was an old boyfriend. So what? I know now that it was more than that.
I must have been sitting for a long while, because I noticed that the room started to get dark. I knocked over three empties, as I reached over to click on the end table lamp. Then the doorbell rang.
"Damn it. Now what?" I was talking to myself.
"George. I just found out what she did. Billy said I should come over and see if you were okay." It was Linda's sister, Grace. I always liked Grace. In fact, I liked her better than I liked Linda. I must have had had too much to drink and I wasn't thinking straight. Billy was my best friend. I should have my ass kicked for even thinking about his wife that way. I shook my head as if I had water in my ears, in a vain attempt to straighten out my logic senses.
Grace took me by the arm and led me out to the kitchen. I resisted a little because she seemed to be treating me like an invalid. I didn't need any damn help.
The fluorescent lighting hurt my eyes, but I just squinted it away. How many beers did I have? I got about half of the coffee down before I realized that Grace was not saying anything.
"Feeling better now, George? Can we talk now?"
"Give me a minute. I have to take a leak." By the time I got back she had topped off the cup.
"So, Grace. Tell me about my loving wife and Cameron Wright. When did this all come about? Your stupid brother-in-law just found out about it this afternoon."
"Don't be too hard on yourself, George. I always thought that she was still carrying a torch for the asshole, even after you guys married."
"It would have been nice if you would have said something twenty years ago."
"Get real. There was no way that I was going to stick my nose into that. I was just hoping that over the years she would forget about him. The two of you seemed to get along so well."
"Grace, it was never as good as it looked. I realize now that most of the time the relationship was more platonic than romantic. I tried and tried over the years, but I could never really warm her up. Flowers, candy, and jewelry never worked. We got along and all. In fact, we rarely had an argument. I think I understand why now."
"You covered it up pretty good."
"Thanks. Can I have a few of those oatmeal cookies in the canister behind you? My stomach is screaming for something."
"So, tell me, sister-in-law. What motivated my wife to dump me?"
"I don't know if you remember, but Cameron dropped out of high school and joined the Air Force. Right after that, you and Linda started dating. Cameron was Linda's first, if you know what I mean."
I nodded and shrugged at the same time.
"A girl never forgets her first love. Anyhow, she was really pissed when he left. She wanted a family and kids. I guess you were the one who she picked to help her with that. I thought that she made a good choice. I had no idea that she was just using you until shithead got back. Hell, I don't think she even knew that he was coming back."
"So why is he back now?"
"He finished twenty years in the Air Force and retired with the rank of Major. Linda claims that he has a nice pension and several good executive positions lined up in the area to start his second career. She was telling me about this and actually sounded proud. She was gushing over this great military career that he had, as if she had been part of it. To be honest with you, George, it sounded a little sick."
"So, I assume that she is now living with him?"
"He is renting a condo in Berkshire Heights until he can find a suitable home to buy in the area. Linda is now completely moved in with him."
"How long has he been back?"
"I am not sure, but I think for about three weeks. He called her as soon as he got into town."
"So, that means that stupid George has been a cuckold for that long."
"Looks that way. Sorry."
Grace tried to fill my coffee cup again, but I motioned her away.
"I don't need any more coffee. All I want now is a shower and a good nights sleep. Thanks for stopping by Grace. Lock up and when you leave."
My sister-in-law actually looked sad for me as I walked out of the room.
I was glad that the boys were no longer at home. It would have been embarrassing for me to have to explain to them what happened. They would find out eventually, but I was hoping that I would have recovered my composure by that time so that I didn't look so pathetic.
My career choice was not that ambitious, but I enjoyed my work. I was in charge of the produce section at one of the larger supermarkets in the area. The company had been trying to get me to take a managers position for the last ten years, but I didn't want the long hours and the heavy responsibility. It didn't matter anymore now.
Bright and early the next morning I called my district supervisor and informed him that I was now ready to move up. That afternoon, I was assigned to take over a new store about ten miles from home. I spent three days training in Baltimore, and then started on my job.
In my spare time, I notified the boys of the marital situation, placed the house up for sale and rearranged all of my credit card and banking accounts. Linda's car was in her name, but the insurance was under my policy; emphasis on the word "was'.
Getting a new store up and running required a lot of my time. I didn't mind because it kept me from thinking about my personal problems. The company had things pretty streamlined, so most of the difficulties that I had were easily resolved. Corporate had a few professional store openers stay with us for the first two weeks. That was a big help. They handled the training for most of the new store employees. Half of the people were experienced and transferred in from other stores in the area. I was comfortable with the job and with my ability to do it.
In no time things had settled down. Everything was under control and running smoothly, so I had time to start arranging my personal affairs.
Since I was planning on getting a small apartment near the store, I started to get rid of everything at the house that I would no longer need. Most of it, I just gave away. There were several agencies in the area that were willing to take almost anything that I was willing to separate with. Of course the first thing to go was the marital bed. I got a lot of satisfaction out of disposing of the wedding pictures and the family photos. I did keep a small collection of pictures of the boys.
Billy called and insisted that I come over to the house the next Sunday for a cook out. He promised me that Linda would not be there. He also wanted to bring me up to date on the status of Cameron Wright; local war hero.
It wasn't much of a cook out. Billy and Grace's two teenage daughters made an appearance, but quickly disappeared. Basically, it was just an opportunity for Billy and me to chat. Grace spent most of the afternoon keeping us in cold beer and cleaning up after Billy's cooking mess.
"Okay, Billy. What do you know about Mister, or should I say, Major Wright?"
"All I know George is what he is spreading around the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall. Cameron and Linda have been coming in a couple times a week. He is all 'grandstand and glad hand.' The guys seem to eat it up, but I think they are just impressed because it is new blood. Hell, most of the guys that come in there are over sixty."
"And what is my loving wife doing while he is crowing about?"
"Linda usually just stands beside him and smiles. She seems proud to be with him."
"Humpp! She never acted that way when we were out together."
"Hell, George! You ain't no big war hero." Billy couldn't help laughing when he said it, but I didn't find it funny.
"George. He wears a baseball cap with that major insignia embroidered on the front of it. He even has a tag on the front of his car with that gold oak leaf. He is doing his best to impress everyone that he was a ranking officer."
Something didn't feel right about Major Wright. I finished a beer just as Grace arrived with a couple of fresh ones.
"Billy. Cameron never even finished high school. How did he get to be an officer? If I remember correctly, they did away with that old Mustang program years ago. To get a commission nowadays you have to have a degree. How did that son-of-a-bitch get a college degree when he wasn't even smart enough to get a high school diploma?"
"Good point. I don't have an answer."
"Did he actually join the VFW?"
"Yes. He joined the first week he was back."
"Can you get a copy of his application for membership?"
"No problem. Why?"
"I just want to check a few things out."
"I'll have it for you next week."
Well about this time Grace came out and told us to lighten up the conversation, so she could be included. I don't remember what we ended up talking about, but a few hours later I went home with a devious smile on my face.
Things started out fine the next week. The paper work for the divorce was started. I had three serious people looking at the house and the realtor was optimistic. Everything was running smoothly at work, until Thursday. She was waiting for me in my office when I arrived.
Maria Sanchez was the supervisor on my midnight to eight, stocking crew. Maria was promoted and transferred to the new store from across town. All that I knew about her was that she was a hard worker. Everyone agreed that she deserved the promotion and the raise that came with it. If I lost Maria I would have a small problem that I didn't want to deal with. Getting people to work the graveyard shift is difficult and getting good ones, was nearly impossible.
"I hope you are not here to complain about something, Mrs. Sanchez."
She smiled, but seemed a little nervous.
"Not really a complaint Mister Templeton, but I need some help."
"Go ahead. I'll do what I can."
"I have two sons, aged fifteen and sixteen. They both have part time jobs after school. They have a school bus to catch at 7AM, but they are having a hard time making it. Some days when I get home after eight they are still in bed. They are not lazy, just tired. I need to kickstart them in the morning, if you know what I mean."
"You want a raise so that they will not have to work?"
"No. Not at all. They work to get their college money. They both do well in school, but I have to get them there."
"What are you expecting me to do?"
I found it interesting that she wasn't being whiney. This was a no-nonsense woman that ran a tight crew, but was having a problem with her own kids. I snickered a little at the situation and was rewarded with a sharp retort.
"It is not funny, Mister Templeton. If you can't come up with some way to help me, I'll just have to find another job."
"It is funny, Mrs. Sanchez. You supervise a group of people at night who would take every chance to screw off if they could. They don't, because they work for you and you would not put up with it. How is it that you let two young boys take advantage of you? Where is their father when all of this is happening?"
I really pissed her off now. She started to get up with fire in her eyes. For a second I was afraid that I might have lost her.
"You are an arrogant bastard, Mister Templeton. Everyone said that you were smart and fair. It looks like they were wrong. I didn't come here to be insulted."
"Calm down and sit down. I have a possible solution."
She sat back down, but did not look too happy about it.
"I am going to change your working shift. You will start at eleven. That will give you time to get your inventory lineup ready for the night crew when they arrive at twelve. You will work until six, when the first of the day shift supervisors arrive. He will take over the tail end of your shift. You will get to go home in plenty of time to get your boys off to school and maybe even make them breakfast."
"That is good except for one little problem. I need at least thirty eight scheduled hours in order to keep my health insurance. I can't afford to lose my insurance."
She was right, but I wasn't done yet.
"Do you go to church, Mrs. Sanchez?"
"Damn it. There you go again. You really know how to piss a person off. What the hell does my church attendance habits have to do with my job?"
"You sure are hot-headed, Mrs. Sanchez. I would appreciate it if you would calm down a little until I am done."
"And stop calling me 'Mrs. Sanchez.'. I am not married. I guess you have a smart-assed remark to say about that also."
I was starting to get exasperated with the woman. I sighed, and leaned back in my chair, and immediately fell over backwards.
For a moment, I was just looking at the ceiling. I was amazed at how cheap the light fixtures looked. I heard her giggle as she looked over the top of my desk. I was on my back like a little frog and she was softy laughing at me.
Her hand went to her mouth to cover up her smile.
I was embarrassed at my clumsiness and she was amused at it. It was difficult composing myself as I got resettled.
"If I can't call you Mrs. Sanchez, what do I call you?"
"Maria. Just Maria."
"Maria. I have two supervisors who are both Southern Baptists. Neither one of them will work on Sunday mornings, so I end up having to. I want you to work six to noon on Sunday. That will get you the extra hours, but that is unimportant anyhow."
"It is important to me."
"You pay extra for the family plan health insurance. Is that right?"
"Yes. For eighty dollars a month, both of my boys are also covered."
"Maria. I am going to make you salaried. That means that your boys will automatically be covered on your insurance. It also means that you will get another small raise."
"And it also means that I will not be eligible for overtime. Is that correct?"
She didn't say anything for a few moments. She was a striking woman. Her hair was dark, but not quite black. Her eyes, however, were black as coal. There did not appear to be an ounce of fat on her. In fact, she looked a little gaunt. I was trying to determine what type of figure she had hidden beneath her work clothes when she responded.
"Okay. I'll take it, but I don't know anything about being a supervisor during the day. I never had to work with customers."
"Don't worry about it. I will work the first four shifts with you. There is no way that you can screw it up."
That was the start of my relationship with Maria Sanchez. It was stressful to say the least and at that point, I never would have expected that it would become serious.
I had expected her to stay for six hours Sunday morning, but we ended up working until late that evening. She insisted on knowing everything that she was going to be responsible for. I didn't have anything better to do and I enjoyed her company.
The Sunday paper had a small article about a fund raiser at the local American Legion Post. Major Cameron Wright had his picture taken in full uniform standing with my loving wife. I can truthfully say that I had never seen her looking as proud as she did in that photo. You would have thought she herself had earned the damn medals.
I didn't get back with Billy until Monday evening. Grace had called me at work and insisted that I come over for Spaghetti. How could I refuse?
Billy had a copy of Cameron's application to join the VFW and also a copy of his discharge papers. I told him about the picture in the Sunday paper and he promised to get me the forms from the American Legion Post also. Grace had overheard at the beauty shop that Cameron had applied for membership at the Liberty Keys Country Club. Linda and I tried to join once, but we were turned down. I didn't care, but Linda was crushed. Grace said it looked like Cameron's application was pretty much pre-approved.
It was a slow week. I had already found a small apartment and I usually went straight there after work and finished at least three beers, sometimes more. The rent included basic cable so I wasn't completely bored. Next week, I would have my DSL internet connection.
The week ended on a high note when I found an invitation on my desk for supper with Maria and her two sons. I already had her address and phone number, but she gave it to me anyhow. It felt awkward and it could very easily be construed as a violation of the company fraternization policy. Just in case, I called my boss, in Baltimore, and explained it to him. After getting his blessing, I felt a lot better about the whole situation. I bought a bottle of wine to take along, but I had no idea what to bring for the boys.
I was a little anxious about meeting Maria's sons, but after they found out that I had two sons who were already in college, the evening got a lot better. Poor Maria found herself being left out of most of the conversations. I tried to include her several times, but she finally gave me a little grimace as if to say that I shouldn't worry about it. She seemed pleased that I hit it off with Arman and Martin. The night ended all too quickly and we never got to open the wine.