She stared at me across the little table. She looked intense—no—determined.
"I'm sorry Quinn, but I have fallen in love with Henry. Neither he nor I planned it, expected it; she looked away as she said this last, and then back at him. "It just happened. Please try and understand," she said. "And—I've already moved in with him."
"Understand? It looks pretty straight forward to me, Kimberly. You've been fucking my brother, and now you're dumping me and damn the consequences," I said. "And where's Sam? She should be here; it's 5:30."
""She's at the house her—uh—uncle Henry's house. I needed to be alone with you to settle things. Quinn, both he and I know that this is going to be a tough nut for the family. We couldn't, wouldn't, do it while your mom and dad were alive, I mean you know, but..." she started.
"But his brother, cousins, aunts, uncles et cetera are less meaningful, less of a problem for him to do without if it came to that. That about it?" I said.
"It doesn't have to be that way, Quinn. You're a good looking guy. Once you find another woman, the way we figure it, things will calm down and everything will be okay. Henry is sure of it. Unless..."
"Unless what, Kimberly? Unless I make waves? Is that what you were going to say. You need me to put my okay on your plans, what, for the good of the family. That about it?" I said.
"It would make things a lot easier on everybody, Quinn, not just me and Henry," she said. "I think you can see that."
"And what about Samantha? What about custody. You going to give me custody; I mean physical custody? Or, am I to be denied there too," I said. "Because if that's your plan then we go to war."
"Heavens no! You're not going to be denied seeing or being with Sam. I thought, well, I thought, joint and equal custody. She'd be staying with us during the school year. You'd have her summers and one weekend every month. Ideally we'd still be together sharing all of the major holidays; I mean we'd all be there together like always," she said.
"Hmm. How about I get her during the school year 'and' summers; and you get her one weekend a month," I said. Okay, I was testing the waters. Samantha, our fourteen year-old daughter was everything to me. Being a part time dad was not going to fly, not even.
"Quinn, please, I'm willing to go a long way, compromise, but she would be better off with us during the school year because I will be there twenty-four-seven. You have to work. It just makes sense that during the school year she'd be with us.
"I won't be asking for anything in the divorce, not the house, nothing but my clothes and personal stuff. Really Quinn, you'll have your freedom, and we can still be a family. I mean we do have a beautiful daughter together," she said.
"Yes, we do, but it's also more than clear that Sam being our daughter is not enough to keep us together as a family. I've given you my answer. It's all or nothing. I get primary year 'round physical custody of Sam; you two cheaters get each other and Sam one weekend a month.
"Oh, and while it's true that I work; I also get off every day 5:00; caring for her won't be a problem," I said. I could see she was becoming frustrated—no—irritated with my intransigence. And, I was becoming intransigent
"Quinn, I didn't want to go this route, but if I can't get you to be reasonable; well, the family will be hurt, and we—I—will go to war. It doesn't have to be that way, Quinn," she said. I changed topics—for the moment.
"What was it, Kim? His money, is that why you're dumping me?" I said. "He's rich and I'm not. Is that the reason?" I said.
"No! Quinn, really. It has nothing to do with money," she said. "It's—I fell in love with him that's all. And, Quinn, if it matters, I still have feelings for you too. It's just that..." She seemed to run out of words.
"You know, Sam's fourteen. She might get to choose. Wanna go that route, Kimberly, Wanna leave it up to her? You know to choose your plan or mine?" I said. "Does she know that you've been doing her uncle?"
"Quinn, we can't be putting that kind of pressure on a kid our kid."
"Oh, but you can dump her dad, keep her with you most of the time, and expect her, let alone me, to just accept it!
"And, yes, what about me? You actually expected me to be all right with what you've laid out here today? I mean as regards my baby!" I said.
"All right with it? No. But maybe understanding and willing to work with me and Henry to make things as painless as might be," she said.
"Let me lay it out for you the way, the only way, I will sit still for you doing this to me," I said. "I might be willing to do my best to minimize the fallout in terms of the family. Even go so far as to be in the same place as you and my asshole brother on holidays without throwing my beer in his face. But that will be happening only if I get primary and year 'round physical custody of Sam. Are you with me here Kimberly Harris?" She nodded, slowly, but now I could see steel in her eyes.
"Okay, it's going to be hard, but I guess we're going to have to go to war," she said. "I know I've shocked and hurt you, but even given that, what you're asking is unreasonable and too much."
"Bring it on soon to be ex-wife and let slip the dogs of war," I said. "I am not going to let that asshole ex-brother of mine become the daddy of my baby, not willingly"
"Is that what you think? That Henry would be taking your place?" she said
"And why wouldn't I? He's already taking my place in your bed," I said.
"Frankly, Quinn, I don't know how you could even imagine that he'd try to take your place with Sam; it's not even remotely logical," she said.
"You're kidding right. I mean you actually said that. I mean, again, in view of the fact that he's taking my place with you and fucking you behind my back?" she was beginning to look angry.
"Okay, okay then, Quinn, I guess we have ourselves a war. I was hoping that at some point you and he—but I guess that was just wishful thinking. Now, a lot of people are going to be hurt," she said.
"Instead of just me, you mean! I mean if I accepted your stinking offer I'd be the only one to be hurt, right? You're putting all of this on me! You know, I no longer care about you now that I've come to understand exactly what you are. I actually hate you. But Sam! I want custody, physical custody, year 'round. And as for my traitorous brother? I no longer have a brother, not in any sense whatsoever; he's dead to me, and unmourned," I said. "Tell him that"
"Jesus, Quinn, I am so sorry for all of this. If there is any way that..." she started.
"There isn't. You brokered yourself and the asshole a war," I said. She was about to cry or spit or something. At any rate, she stood, turned, picked up her coat and bag, and left.
Her naked legs stuck straight up into the air while she pressed hard against the broad shoulders of her lover.
Henry Harris, six three, two-thirty, age thirty-eight, new car salesman and millionaire, hammered his brother's wife with everything he had.
"Ugh-ugh-ugh! She grunted as he pounded into her. His own breath was a series of staccato noises bearing witness to the intensity of his efforts. He stiffened, gave one final pile driving thrust into the pretty woman beneath him and unloaded his sperm.
He rolled off of her gasping for breath. Kimberly Harris, only slightly less breathless herself, let her eyes turn languidly toward those of her lover.
"That was good, even better than usual," she said. "Hope you've got another one in you tonight?"
"Give me a moment to recover, beautiful. I'll get you off again for sure," he said. She laughed.
She'd set the hot teas down on the carved Hickory dinette table, that served as the usual meeting place at the Henry Harris homestead, and looked over at him.
"You say he hates me," said Henry.
"Pretty much. Will he mellow out down the road? That's doubtful, iffy at best. But, maybe given time, I just don't know. But in the short run? No," she said.
"You couldn't even get him to lighten up in terms of how he deals with us vis a vis the extended family?" said Henry.
"No, he wants year 'round physical custody of Sam. I couldn't compromise that much. I understand his feelings, but he wanted too much, just too damn much!" said Kimberly. "I initially I offered him summers and the one weekend each month. But, he spurned that, and then I got 'my' back up. So I guess we're at war."
"But, you're sure he has no inkling..." he stopped in mid-sentence.
"No, and neither does she for now. And, I hope they never do," she said.
"Hmm, yes," said Henry. "But, maybe you should have given in to him."
"Huh!" she said. "Never!"
"Think about it. Sam would be over to our place a lot anyway, way more than one weekend a month. And over time, well, anything can happen. And he's right about her being almost old enough to choose. So you, we'll, be taking a risk going to court, a small one, but a real one unless we play our hole card, and at this stage of the game that would not be useful.
"I'm betting, as time passes, daddy would have been looking more and more like the bad guy, and we'd end up getting de facto primary custody by default. And, when that happened we'd be gracious enough to allow him to rejoin us and Sam and get back on track as a family. I know the guy. Family is everything to him," said Henry.
"I don't know, to be without my baby for any length of time..." said Kim. "No, he asked for too much." He nodded.
"Okay. The test, the real test, will come in three months' time, the Fourth of July. The whole family will be at Rodgers State Park. Aunt Millie has already gotten official sanction for the use of the large pavilion. Every relative we've got west of the Rockies will be there," he said.
"Yes, I know. I helped make the arrangements," she said.
"I just hope he doesn't deliberately mess us up with the family, make a disaster out of the holiday. It's gonna be tough for sure no matter what," said Henry. She nodded.
"Yes, for sure," she said. "But, now we have to be talking to that lawyer friend of yours. You say he's sure we can get us custody, even year 'round custody."
"Yes, well, ninety percent sure. The judge will ask Samantha what she wants, would like; but, in the end, it will be what's best for her: that'll be us," he said.
"If Quinn's right, and we get physical custody year 'round, he's going to be totally intractable. I'm afraid that his hate for us will know no bounds," she said. "I'm almost afraid to go that route, but he is so stubborn..." she said.
"I hear yuh," he said.
"And, if Sam were to voluntarily opt to be with me—us—well, I want her to. But, that would be a serious crusher for him." His turn to nod.
"But, like you say, it is his own fault," he said.
She'd, my soon to be ex-wife, managed to get temporary custody of Samantha pending the court hearing; and, here we were, finally, in court, not a month after she dumped me. The cheaters with their lawyer, Curtis Dodd, were at the table across from me and my lawyer, Abe Maxwell. Sam was in chambers with the judge.
We'd laid out or case, as had the cheaters, and now it was up to judge Colson.
Kimberly had gone for the juggler demanding year 'round custody while offering me one weekend a month unrestricted visitation; the same as I'd told her I wanted. She had, I hasten to add, at least kept her word about the house, but I didn't give a damn about that; I wanted custody of my baby.
My ex kept looking over at me. She seemed—what—maybe apologetic, sympathetic. Well, I would be pitying her when Sam chose to stay with me.
And my traitorous brother? He never looked in my direction, not even once. Guilt ridden no doubt, I thought.
The marshall, I guess that's what he was, he had a badge, called us to order and the judge took his seat on his throne at the head of the table. Samantha was led out to the hallway by a female aide to await the verdict.
"Mister Harris, Missus Harris, I have heard the arguments, and I have spoken to the child. I have to say, Missus Harris, that this is an unusual if not an absolutely unheard of case of adultery and family dysfunction. But, that said, there is no law that specifically forbids adultery, as reprehensible as it may be. So...
"The divorce petition tendered me by your lawyer is hereby ordered to be enforced.
"So, after a period of some four months, without any amelioration of the situation as it stands, The two of you mister Harris, Missus Harris, will in fact no longer be husband and wife.
"Finally, as for the single bone of contention between the two of you, custody of your daughter; and, bearing in mind that neither party has been open to compromise on the issue. I have, again, after consulting with Samantha, made my decision.
"Samantha will continue to reside, as per her request, with her mother.
"I should add that, though Samantha has chosen to reside with her mother, mister Harris; she has expressed her unreserved love for you and hopes you will understand her choice.
"You will of course have one weekend a month visitation which I hereby order shall be unrestricted.
"Divorce..." droned on the judge. I wasn't hearing him. I could feel my face flush with hurt and humiliation and fear and hate at my defeat.
My lawyer was talking to me. "Quinn, I've seen stuff like this before. You are going to be having Samantha way more than one weekend a month, believe me." I barely heard him. I rose while the judge was still spouting his platitudes and slowly made my way out of the courtroom. No one tried to stop me.
Then I was in the corridor. Samantha came to me and hugged me. I did not hug her back. The cheaters came out and looked at me and my daughter. My arms were hanging at my sides while Samantha disengaged herself from me. She'd been talking, saying something, but I didn't hear any of it. I felt strange.
Kimberly, my ex-wife, came to me. "Quinn, it'll be okay. We will allow any visitation you want. I am so sorry it had to be this way," she said. "Sam can come to your house whenever you like. Okay?" she said.
I looked at her with knitted brows. "No. You win. I lost. I'm gone," I whispered. Samantha had retreated to her uncle who held her hand. I glanced over at him with the purest of hatreds clouding my face I was sure, cold, studied hatred.
"Quinn, do you hear me. Do you understand? We can make this work, Quinn, but you have to give an inch. Please, Quinn," she said.
"No, you win, I lose," I said. I turned and walked slowly away from them. None of the trio tried to follow me or say anything else.
She watched as her daughter literally ran upstairs.
"That was tough. I wish that the judge hadn't mentioned that she'd 'chosen' to stay with us. But, it is what it is. You know, it's going to be harder for her even than for him," said Kimberly.
"I think you're right," said Henry.
"We need to not pressure her for the next little time. She needs to find her place psychologically. No matter which way she would have chosen to go, it would have been the same. Divorce is always hardest on the kids, always," she said. "I mean, what's in it for them besides insecurity and confusion?"
"I'm sure that all of that's true," he said. "But, at some point she will have to come out of her shell and get on with things. She's our kid now, not just his and yours."
"The judge gave him the second weekend of the month and alternating holidays every year," she said. "But it isn't going to be near enough for him especially since she expressed a preference to be with me, and by inference you too."
"Yes, I know. It's got to be killing him. He's my brother, even if I'm not his anymore. I gotta figure out a way to get us back together at least on speaking terms. But, damned if I have any ideas at the moment," he said.
I was settled into some new digs and stared at the street below. I'd moved out of the house: too many memories. My new place was a two bedroom walkup close to the shop. It was small, but warm and a good place for thinking. It seemed like all of my time not spent working was taken up thinking about the two of them and how they'd done me. And, how Sam had decided to be in cahoots with them.
Well, she'd won. She'd gotten my baby, and she'd gotten her, my daughter, to shine me on. I know it was her, and him of course, who'd undercut me. His big house his big cars his big money. Oh, I'm sure that they sugarcoated it. Probably told her that she could visit me any time she wanted. But, that would have been a lie of course. All he had to do was flash his big bucks, and it was all over for me; she'd always be too busy for her old pauper of a dad.
Now I was single, or would be in a few months. Now I had no extended family; I just couldn't face them; my humiliation was just too overwhelming. I wouldn't be like the two of them, and undercut them with the relatives like they had evidently thought I would. I didn't operate that way, not me. They were the scum sucking assholes, not me. Well, I hoped they were fucking happy, and I hoped that someday it would all came back to bite 'em in the ass. But, that only time would tell. As for me, time to get on with my life, my new life. I had to find myself a new family; to me, family was everything—at least it had been.
And what of my new life? All of the old hangouts and common threads that had once tied Henry and I together were history now. I couldn't compete with his money and any friends of his were going to be automatically enemies of mine, no discussion no compromise. So, new habits, new haunts, new social circles, new unlisted phone, and a new address, and maybe a new job too as soon as I could work it.
I wondered what the bunch of them were going to be saying on the fourth of July. Probably lay all of the blame on me, make me the bad guy, offer some lame excuse like the one Kimberly laid on me. I can hear it now: "We just couldn't help it. We tried to make it right with Quinn, but he was just too hurt and bitter to talk with us. But, we'll make it right by him someday; we have to; we know that." Yeah, that's just what they'd be saying, probably word for word.
But the way I saw things that was okay, all of it. I had Friends: John Daniels, comrade Smirnoff; and last but not least Roscoe Lamm, my bartender. Oh, and don't let anybody from the temperance league tell yuh that drinkin' don't help; it does, a lot!
I'd gotten title to the house, and I'd sold it fast and cheap. It had actually become toxic to me: too damn many memories. I wondered if any of the memories, that I was reliving almost nightly, ever even entered the mind of my ex-wife; or, for that matter my ex-daughter. I wanted to think that they did; and, that such made the two of them uncomfortable. Well, one could hope.
Except for the day of the hearing, I had not seen public enemy number one: my brother, let alone heard from him. I wondered what kind of man, let alone a blood relative could do something like what he'd done to me. I wondered how he'd approached Kimberly in the first place. She'd said it just happened. Yeah right! Like I believed that. But, my incredulity notwithstanding, my question remained unanswered.
I had indeed gotten title to the house and sold it: got forty-thousand clear after costs. I gave it to my lawyer to arrange a trust fund for Sam's college. She may have shined me on, but I wouldn't do that to her even if I couldn't bring myself to be around her anymore; I couldn't. Abraham Maxwell, esquire, had my power of attorney. The three of them could deal with him from now on. I was gone.
And, time slowly passed and it was a lonely, empty time for me.
"Mom, I know dad is mad. And—well—I missed my first weekend with him last month. I have to go this time. Dad will take me to school Monday morning. Okay?" said Samantha.
"Yes, dear. You should go. Call if you need anything. I'll call you a cab. I don't think it would be good having us drop you. I mean if your dad even so much as sees our car..." said her mother.
"Yes, I understand," said Sam.
She saw the sign, and thought it had to be a mistake. "SOLD" it announced. It was a realty sign.
She asked the cabbie to wait. She had her old key. She went up the walkway, keyed the door, and entered.
Nothing! Nothing was left. He was gone. Her dad was gone. Not even a scrap of paper remained. Going back outside she noted the phone number of the realtor on the sign, and had the cabbie return her home.
"Mom, he's gone. I called this number myself, the realtor's. The guy said the only contact number he had was to a lawyer's office: Abraham Maxwell is the guy's name. Can you call him, mom?" said Sam.
"Okay, okay. Give me a minute. I need to think," she said. The girl in front of her was still standing and clearly upset.
Kimberly Harris headed into the library of the semi-mansion to make the call on the land line. She shut the door denying her daughter entry until the call was made and done with.
"Mom!" she heard her daughter plaintive voice, but she needed to do this one alone. She was fully aware, was Kimberly Harris, of just who Abraham Maxwell really was; and she was also well aware that any information she would get from him would be to Quinn Harris' benefit not hers or Henry Harris'.
Sam paced outside the door waiting for her mother to come out. She had to wait but less than five minutes.
She could tell by the look on her mother's face that the news was not good.
"He says that your dad does not want to be found, Sam. We have to wait for him to contact us, I'm afraid," she said. Sam fell into the chair nearest the door to the library and made fists so tight that the blood supply to them had to have been cut off.
"It's my fault. I didn't go last month, when I was supposed to; and I didn't even call to cancel, and now he's hurt and gone!" said Sam.
"Sam, he'll call. He'll contact us. I know your father; he won't be out there alone for too long. He needs you as much as you need him," said Kimberly.
"Well, the weather's nice," said Kimberly.
"Yes, well, let's hope the festivities turn out to be just as nice," said Henry. "Since we haven't heard from him, we're going to have to play it by ear. Cross your fingers."
Little knots of friends and relatives began arriving. Kids headed for the park's play apparatus while the grownups started setting up the picnic tables and getting the barbecues—three of them—going.
"Hello Henry," said aunt Millie. "Kimberly how are you?"
"Hello to you too, aunt Millie," said Henry
"Hi, aunt Millie," echoed Kimberly.
"Where's Quinn," said aunt Millie.
"Not here yet," said Kimberly. Aunt Millie shrugged.
"Well, tell him when he gets here that he's slated to say grace for the dinner. Okay," said aunt Millie.
"Sure bet," said Henry, with a confidence that he did not feel. They watched as their aunt moseyed off to greet other members of the clan.
"What if he doesn't show? And as for that, I doubt that he will?" said Kimberly.
"In that case, we take aunt Millie aside and tell her the story, the truth. It's all we can do. But, until we're sure there is no reason to upset the apple cart," he said. She nodded.
"Okay, I guess you've got a point," she said.
"It's no use, Kim. He's not coming. We've got to tell aunt Millie and then make our excuses and get out of here," said Henry, she nodded. They headed for where aunt Millie was holding court. They pulled her aside.
The look on the face of the Harris matriarch was soon one of increasing sadness and shock as the story unfolded.
"And that's the long and the short of it, aunt Millie," said Henry.
The older woman looked at the younger. "You cheated on that good man with his own brother!" said aunt Millie, looking directly at the other woman. And you expected him to cover your collective asses with the family."
"We are so sorry aunt Millie. We just couldn't help ourselves," said Kimberly.
"Well, that's just wonderful. You are going to hurt a lot of people with this selfishness of yours. And, I tell you now. You too will never be happy, not really. You think you will. You think that this 'love' of yours will carry you through, but I can tell you that it will not. You will eventually split up or worse. The pressure is going to be just too great. Believe me.
"I'll say your goodbyes for you. I have to think of how I am going to break this to the family. At best it is not going to be pretty, not even," she said.
"Aunt Millie..." started Kimberly.
"Just go, Kimberly, the both of you. It's hard for me to even look at you," she said. "Tonight, you two should try and imagine where Quinn is and what's going through his mind and searing his very soul."
"But..." started Kimberly.
"Go, just go," she said, turning her back on the two of them.
Their aunt watched as the two of them retreated to the parking lot. Millie Harris gritted her teeth. This was not good. She headed for a little knot of family elders getting it on in the horseshoe pit. This was not going to be good, not good at all.
"Well, that went badly," said Henry. She nodded.
"It was to be expected. If it had been anybody but Quinn..." she said.
"Yeah, anybody else," he said. "He was always her favorite. But, aunt Millie was wrong about us. I will never give up on you. I need you and love you. And, Kim, I mean forever."
"Yes, and that goes for me too. You're mine, no matter what or—who," she said.
Sloan Mackenzie looked tired and wired and wound up. Well so what, the Lamplighter was a place to unwind wasn't it? Teaching school was definitely not all summer vacations and intellectual repartee with one's colleagues, not by a long shot.
She'd seen him before, on parents' night. He was Samantha's father, Quinn Harris. He did not look too good, but not tired so much as—depressed. She headed over to the man at the bar.
"Hi," she said. I turned to see who the interrupter of my thought processes was.
"Uh—hello?" I said. She looked familiar, but I couldn't actually place her, not in my present state of alcoholic euphoria at any rate. "Do I know you?" She smirked.
"Hmm, in a way. Samantha was my student in pre-AP English last year," she said. "You're mister Harris if I'm not mistaken."
"Oh, yes, sure," I said. "Nice to see you." I was being properly polite, but probably not thrillingly so. She smiled. She was a pretty wench, I thought, as I tried to organize my thoughts.
"So, you come here much?" she said. I shrugged
"Yeah, I guess you'd call me a regular," I said. "You?"
"A couple of times a month, I guess. To unwind, you know," she said. "Your wife with you?" she looked around as if scanning the crowd for her. I snorted. She picked up on it.
"Not a good subject?" she said. I shrugged again.
"It is what it is," I said. "We broke up."
"Wowzer," she said. "Sorry. Didn't mean to pry." I resorted yet again to my favorite means of expressing myself—I shrugged.
"It is what it is," I said. I took another sip of my JD.
"Breakups are tough," she said. "Been there didn't like it."
"No, me neither," I said.
We talked a little more but eventually she made her apologies and wandered off. I smiled her a goodbye.
Almost as soon as she'd turned to go, my bud, Roscoe Lamm, came up to me and asked if I could use a refill. I nodded in the affirmative.
"Yeah, another one," I said. "Say Roscoe, you know anyone who's hiring? I'm looking to change jobs."
"You serious?" he said. He knew I was a fixture at Carter's Auto. He seemed genuinely surprised that I'd want to be changing work places.
"Yeah, serious is the word," I said.
"Well, actually, I might," he said. "I know this family. They're looking for a mechanic who'd also double as a chauffeur. The pay would be good and whoever it is that accepts the job could live there free." He knew I was divorcing.
"Yeah? Who? Where? Where do I apply?" I said.
"Actually, right here. The lady is a regular. She asked me to vet possible candidates. You just got vetted. You got the job if you want it," he said. He pulled out his ballpoint and wrote something on the pad he had behind the bar.
"Here, call this lady at that number," he said, passing me the little four by five sheet of paper.
"Okay, I will," I said. And I did. And then I was employed and unreachable by the trio responsible for my change of employment venues; well, that's the way I saw things.
The lady's name was Anita Childress. handsome, middle aged, divorced, two kids living with her.
In order to assure myself of being unreachable by the dirty quarter dozen, I'd had to explain to mister Carter why I couldn't give notice. He didn't much like it, but he understood and wished me well.
And just like that, I was born again in a family sense.
She was shaking her head. "He really has disappeared. Sam is going nuts. Hell, I'm going nuts! What is that ex of mine thinking!" said Kimberly.
"I don't know. He's mixed up, confused, I guess," said Henry. "It was the same when we were kids even in grade school. In high school somebody would insult him because he was so skinny, he was five-eight and one-twenty in his freshman year, and he would hang his head nobody knew where. He's doing it again. As good a man as he is, and he is a good man, he really never grew up in the true sense of the word." She nodded.
"Yes, I guess that's true. But, all of that said and all of it true, I do wish I could have at least minimized the hurt I put on him," she said.
"The hurt 'we' put on him. It was me as much and maybe more than you," he said.
"The more I think about it the more I think you were right. I should have given in to him on the custody issue. That would have mitigated the pain he must have suffered to at least some extent. Kinda let him have some of his back. Now, he sees everything he had before, even Sammy, as lost to him. Oh my, how he must be hurting right now," she said. He nodded his head in slow, sad agreement with her words
"You talked to Sam today?" he said.
"Yes, she distraught. I think she spends her nights alternating between developing outlandish plans to find him and wallowing in despair. I just don't know what to do.
"You know, we have to find him and give him what he wants. I mean if we wait too long he's liable to try and get revenge and find out the unfindoutable. You know what I mean," he said.
"I know exactly what you mean. He'd go nuts, not a question in my mind about that," she said. He nodded.
"Oh yeah," he said. "Does Sam get home at the same time today?"
"Yes, her new schedule at school is the same as last year. She's even got that same English teacher again, Sloan Mackenzie, the Advanced Placement teacher," she said.
"Good, I liked her. I think she's Sam's favorite teacher too," said Henry.
"How you doing, Sam," said the teacher.
"Okay, I guess, miss Sloan," said Sam. Sloan Mackenzie could see that her student, who was the first to arrive almost every day, was not really okay, but all she could do was acknowledge her response with a nod.
"Miss Sloan?" said Sam.
"Yes, Samantha," said her teacher.
"Can I ask you something?" said Sam.
"Of course," said Sloan.
"My mom and dad broke up; she, my mom, has a new man. How's a kid supposed to act after something like that?" said Sam.
Sloan leaned back in her desk's chair. She knew from her conversation with the man, her dad, that there had indeed been a breakup, but she had not let on to anybody that she knew. Now, she was discussing the issue with one of the principals.
"You're with your mom and her new man?" said Sloan
"Yes, ma'am," said Sam. The older woman became thoughtful.
"Are you getting along okay with them, I mean your mom and this new guy?" said Sloan.
"Yes, I mean I guess so. He's not really new though. And yes mom and uncle Henry are good to me. But, I miss my dad. Since the divorce things are not the same."
"You call your new step dad uncle then?" said Sloan. "That kinda tells..."
"No, he is my uncle. Well used to be. Now he's my step-dad I guess," said Samantha Harris. Her teacher looked her askance.
"You mean you used to call him uncle, right?" said miss Sloan.
"No, no he's my real uncle my dad's brother," said Sam.
Suddenly things took on a whole new slant per Sloan Mackenzie's understanding of what her number one student was going through. Not only had her mother divorced her dad, but she was essentially living in an incestuous relationship with her ex brother-in-law.
"My oh my," said Sloan. "You say you're not seeing your dad much?"
"No, he left and nobody knows where he is," said Sam.
"Really," said Sloan. She had seen Quinn Harris a few times, most recently two weeks past. The man was apparently a regular at the Lamplighter, but the family, his family and ex, was apparently not aware of it.
Now Sloan Mackenzie had a problem: to tell or not to tell. And, as well, now she had a whole new appreciation of the Man's, Quinn's, depressive state. She knew better than to involve herself with someone whose baggage was as multitudeness as was this girl's dad's. Still ... She would be unwinding at the Lamplighter that very night. She decided, she wanted to talk to the man some more if not substantially, but would he even be there?
She spied him in close confab with Roscoe, everybody's best friend; well, everybody who frequented the Lamplighter B&G.
"Hi guys," said Sloan.
I turned to look at her. She looked—something—purposeful. "Hi Sloan," I said.
"Yeah, hi Sloan," said Roscoe.
"Did I interrupt anything?" she said.
I'd gotten to know Sloan Mackenzie over the past little while, was maybe the right way to say it. She wasn't a close friend or anything, but well, I trusted her. And no, I didn't know why it would even matter that I did.
"No, no," I said. "Just planning a fishing trip," I said.
"Yea, right," she said, and laughed.
"No, we were just shooting the shit," said Roscoe. "What can I getcha, Sloan?"
"Just a draft," said Sloan. Roscoe headed off to the taps some dozen feet down the bar.
"I talked to your daughter today," said Sloan, looking serious. "She volunteered pretty much everything, Quinn. I had no idea. I mean..."
I stared at her. "Really? My daughter? Whatever, Sloan, it is what it is," I said, finally thinking of something to say that didn't sound whiny or wimpish. I did not want to talk to her or anyone else about my daughter. I was hoping she would drop the topic. I hoped in vain.
"I can just imagine the problems that a relationship like theirs must have caused," said Sloan, just as Roscoe returned with her beer.
"Beyond my control," I said.
"Evidently. Quinn—can I ask you something? Something personal?" she said. I didn't like where this was heading, but I shrugged my okay anyway.
"Your daughter, she doesn't know how to contact you?" said Sloan, taking an only slightly disingenuous path in the conversation.
"No, I don't think so. It was her choice," I said. Okay, so I was rearranging the facts a little; it was how I felt.
"I didn't get the feeling that she chose not to be able to get in touch with you," Sloan said. "In fact, she's kinda down because she can't find you." Suddenly, I was nervous.
"You didn't tell her that I come here, did you?" I said.
"No, no. I didn't know your feelings on the matter, so I kept my yap shut—for the moment," she said. "I mean if it's a secret..."
"It is," I said. "Samantha chose to live with them and not with me. And add to that the judge went along with it. Gave my ex and my so called brother total custody too. So, I opted myself out of their lives."
"Wow!" she said. "I can see why you feel stung by it all."
"You don't approve?" I said. "I mean of my opting out of their lives."
"Not my place to approve or not approve," she said. "But, for what it's worth, you might want to give your daughter another chance. I know for a fact that she misses you." I snickered.
"Feels guilty maybe, but miss me; not in any real sense of the word," I said.
"Okay, I'll butt out, and I will keep your secret. But, like I said, you might want to be thinking about giving that kid another chance."
"Yeah sure," I said, effectively ending the conversation.
Working at the Childress residence was easy-peasy as my Samantha used to say when she was a deal younger. The Childresses had three vehicles two Chevy sedans and a Caddy. Needless to say they were all in tip top condition. The Caddy was Miss Anita's, the mom's. The two impalas belonged to her two daughters Crystal age nineteen and Hermione age seventeen. The good news was that the pay was good. I did have to move out of my apartment and into the servants' quarters because I was on call to drive mom wheresoever, but that was not proving to be much of a problem. Plus, I did enjoy the lady's company—and no, not in any kind of lover on the side kind of thing. Our relationship was strictly platonic, employer-employee, whatever.
The girls uniformly drove themselves though I had been asked a couple of times by mom to shadow Hermione's dates. Seems she kinda gravitated toward boys of questionable integrity. After several such forays, I was able to report to mom that the boys while less than perfect, I suppose, were not anything to worry much about. Mom seemed to relax after that.
"What was the boy's name again, Quinn?" said Anita.
"Christopher Sand," I said. "Seventeen, into punk rock, dad's an engineer: And, so far he's kept his hands to himself."
I had Sundays off, and only worked nights if arranged for in advance. This latter reality allowed me to maintain my membership in the Lamplighter's barfly association. I needed that. What my ex had done to me still hurt like hell: I needed the camaraderie of other losers like myself.
I began to have a more or less regular association with Sloan Mackenzie though it never went anywhere close to being an intimate relationship. She just listened and opined when her input seemed required. She had, I was sure, kept her word to keep my nightly hangout on the QT as regarded my ex family.