The Garden, Chapter X

Charlie sat back deeply into the love seat in the cottage behind D’Andra’s house.  As usual, D’Andra was finishing a kitchen project when he arrived.  Today it was scones, which she pronounced ‘skons’.

“A British lady working at a tea parlor pronounced it that way,” she told him.  “Can’t argue with anyone with a British accent” she said with a smile.

“I wouldn’t have a clue” he had replied.  “I’ve never been west of Colorado.”

A pot of tea, wrapped in a cloth tea cozy, already rested on the small table which sat between the love seat and the chair adjacent to it.  D’andre had chosen that chair for today and Salome the cat had already claimed the cushion at the far end of the love seat.  Charlie found that he didn’t mind sitting so close to D’Andra.  This was their fourth meeting and the first which he would pay for, and she had not bitten him or pushed him too far in the three previous.  In fact, he found that he liked her very much.

At last D’Andra emerged from the kitchen with a plate of the triangular pastries.  She placed them between his teapot and hers, and invited him to dig in.  Charlie did so with gusto.  After a few minutes of tea and ‘skons’ and polite conversation D’Andra began to earn her pay.

“Well, Charlie.  How have you been this week.  Have you begun your job?”

“Yes, at last!” he replied.  “I have the permits and we tore out all of the old kitchen.  Stripped it to the studs and subfloor.  Everything that I can’t recycle is in a dumpster in the driveway.”

“You said ‘we.’  I believe that you told me you don’t have a partner or an employee.  Who is this ‘we?’”

“Oh, Carolyn, the homeowner.  She is either gone or busy in her office most of the time, but when she has some free moments she puts on her gloves and goggles and pitches in.  She’s a good worker and puts her back into it.  She says she enjoys the physical effort; says it gives her brain a rest.  I certainly know how that works!  Frankly, I’m ahead of schedule because of her help.  I know that it won’t last though.  Never does.  Those things always get behind schedule, no matter how hard you try.”

“That’s great Charlie.  I’m glad to hear it.”  D’andre paused a moment and then continued.  “Tell me, how do you like working with somebody?  How does it feel to be doing something as important as your job is and having another person involved in it?  Or, maybe I should say ‘depending on somebody else,’ even if only to keep you ahead of schedule?”

Charlie had learned by now to think before answering D’Andra’s questions.  At first he had tried to think of what was the ‘right’ answer; the one that she wanted to hear, rather than give her what truly was the right answer.  After a minute’s thought he responded.  “It felt good.  I like my work, and I appreciate that she likes and values it too.  When we pulled down the cabinets and tore out the counters and flooring I enjoyed the feeling of being on a team.  It’s my job, and it will get done because I do it, but I liked doing some of it together with someone.”

“Did you feel the same way before your trouble began, Charlie?  Did you enjoy being part of a team then?”

“Uh, well, no.  I can’t say that I did.  I knew, or at least I thought, that it was all my show.  I built the business from the ground up.  I thought that I was a pretty OK boss to work for, as such things went, but I was still the boss.  I thought that I could do everything better than anyone else, and even now I still believe that.  It’s just that now it’s not so important to me whether I can or can’t.”

D’Andra smiled broadly at his answer.  She took a bite of a scone and washed it down with a swallow of tea.  “Charlie, you’re making my job easy.  That can be the hardest thing to learn.  Can you tell me how this change came to be?”

Charlie paused and then replied “No, I can’t.  Not really.  I guess I first noticed it at the garden.  You know, the community garden where I met Rachael.  My relatives live in San Diego, where I grew up.  They would fly up here to try and help out after the accident, but they didn’t help much.  Couldn’t, I guess.  Anyway, they suggested that I get into the dirt and begin to garden, like I did as a kid.  My sister-in-law is a hippie earth-muffin and felt that ‘reconnecting with Mother Earth’ would be good for the soul.”

Charlie paused again, thinking about the advice that he unexpectedly took from this unlikely source.

“And I take it that it really was good for your soul?”

“Yeah.  Funniest darned thing.  I got into it.  And the best part was meeting Rachael and this other guy, Walt.  Rachel is easy to like, as you know, and Walt is a bit more of a challenge.  But they’ve been a real help to me.  We’ve been helping each other with our garden plots and I found that I enjoy being there with them, even if we’re not speaking.  I don’t want to get dramatic, but I think they might have saved my life.”

“Have you told them that?”

“No.  It never occurred to me.  Do you think I should tell them?”

“That’s for you to decide, Charlie.  Listen to your heart on that one.  Now, let’s shift gears a little.  Will you be comfortable talking about your family now?”

“You mean Maureen and Jack?  No.  Not really.  But I WILL talk about them whether it’s comfortable or not.”  Charlie smiled wanly at D’Andra.  “I guess that’s what I’m paying you for.”

D’Andra smiled back and said “We’ll stop any time you must.  Now, if I may ask, how did your relationship with your wife differ from that of your employees?”

Charlie stared at her for a moment before responding.  “Well, I didn’t have any children with my employees,” he said drily.

D’Andra laughed lightly.  “I’m sure that was a comfort to your wife.  But what I’m interested in was how your wife and you related to each other on a day to day basis.”

“Yeah.  OK.  Maureen.  I called her ‘Mo’, which I don’t believe she liked all that much.  I don’t know now why I thought it was funny to do that.  Anyway, we worked pretty well as a team.  For a while she would pay attention to all the business details; you know, payroll, accounts payable and receivable, contracts, permits.  Stuff like that.  I did all of that at first, and by the end of things we had accountants and lawyers and such to do all of that grunt work.  She was really good at interacting with the human cogs though while I ran the rest of the machine.”

“So, did you ever feel that Maureen was like another employee?”

“No, of course not.”  Charlie prepared to dispute this further but the memories of his relationship with Maureen began to trickle into his mind.  In fact, he always did believe that he could have done Maureen’s job too, and perhaps better, even though many of his business contacts periodically suggested otherwise.  “Well, maybe sometimes, I guess.”

“Take your time and think about this topic, Charlie.  There is no judgement here.  You know that.  You are not on any witness stand, and if you feel that way at any time, you just say so.  I think that it will be good for you to sort these feelings out in order to get to some truths that may be buried or hidden, but if you are having trouble with it today we can put it off until another time.  In fact, we can not touch it at all if that’s your wish.  You remember, Charlie.  You are not just some kind of a case study here.  I want to work together with you to get the most out of this that we can for you and you only.  I’ll be back in a minute or two.”

D’Andra rose up out of her chair and carried the empty plate into the kitchen.  Meanwhile, Charlie sat and thought about his relationship with Maureen in a clear manner for the first time in years.  D’andre’s question prompted him to remember how he had been the head of the family economy, while he had allowed Maureen to be the head of the house as a subsidiary of what was virtually “Hamer Family, Inc.”  She ran the home while he was running the business, although she was an important part of the business too.  In fact, she was engaged in the home AND the business while he was truly focused on only one of those activities.

He thought that he was the head of the household, but what happened when the household exploded?  What happens when your daughter dies and you don’t have a friggin’ clue what to do?  How do you manage that?  How can you expect your wife to manage that and also manage the wreck that you’ve become?

D’Andra re-entered the room and sat in her chair.  Salome got up, stretched, and walked into Charlie’s lap.  He stroked the cat’s coat and scratched behind her ears as she tested his lap for the perfect spot, circled two or three times and the lay down to purr and accept Charlie’s distracted attention.

“You know, I think I may have been a less than perfect husband.”

“My Shelby would tell you ‘Welcome to the club.’”

“Yeah.  I guess it’s a big club.  You know, I think I kept a few doors closed; a few rooms in my life were off-limits to others.  Stephanie had a way of getting into some of them – you have no idea what an angel from heaven that girl was to me – but I kept everyone else out.”

“How long have you kept those rooms closed, Charlie?”

“Huh!  All of my life, I guess.  Least ways, as long as I can remember.  I’ve always thought that it was the right thing; ‘a guy has to have some space to himself.’  Well, I’ve had most of the last two years in a space of my own, and I don’t think that I like it much.”

“Do you have any contact with Maureen now?”

“Naw.  When we settled and she got the proceeds from the liquidation of my business she disappeared.  I have no idea where she is.”

“Charlie, I do want to tell you here that your conduct in the divorce speaks very well of you.  I realize that there was a web of different and conflicting feelings and emotions swirling there, but I don’t see it as you just not caring what became of your business.  I believe that your love for Maureen and Jack was genuine and deep, and you sacrificed everything; gave everything that you knew how to give, to make sure that they were taken care of.  You may not feel it, but I believe that it was apparent to your wife, and your son too, that you cared for them very much.  That may be a new thought to you Charlie, but I wish that you would give it some time and consideration.

So, when your family entered into a crisis, your understanding of how to deal with such a blow was insufficient.  Don’t let that make you feel like a loser Charlie.  I can’t honestly tell you how I would deal with such an event.  Nobody can predict a thing like that.  It seems as if your employer/employee model of relationship, to whatever extent that describes your marriage, was not adequate to permit you to console your wife, much the same as you could not comfort your mother when she would experience melancholy after her disappointment with your father.  Would that be accurate Charlie?”

Charlie took his time to think about that one.  He put Salome back on the cushion next to him, excused himself and went to the restroom, more to be alone with his thoughts than to empty his bladder.  D’andre had picked at a scab, and he wondered if it was about to bleed.  He had indeed loved Maureen, but had always kept her at some distance from his core.

“Do I still love her?” he asked himself.  “Don’t be stupid.  Of course I still love her.  It’s not like love or an absence of love was ever the problem.  Maureen never did anything to intentionally hurt me.  Things just melted down and I couldn’t feel my way through my own pain to go and be any help to her in hers.

     No, I don’t feel ill-will toward Maureen; not by a long shot.  I did resent her need for my comfort, especially as I needed comfort myself when the shit hit the fan, but how could I expect her to do that when I kept my last door or two closed to the outside world?”

Frustrated, he washed his hands and returned to the love seat.  D’andre sipped at her tea and waited patiently for Charlie to be ready to continue.  At last, he did.  “Yeah, that would be accurate.  There were obstacles between us that kept us from being there for each other, and I’m afraid that they were all on my part.”

“Well, that’s good to see, Charlie.  And it’s not an easy thing to see at that.  I do want to point out to you right here though that things are seldom a one-way street.  Maureen is a human, just like you are.  She, too, is not perfect, as I am sure she would admit if she was here.  She undoubtedly has obstacles of her own.  That’s where the real heavy lifting of marriage, or any close relationship, begins.

Charlie, I would like for you to do something for the next week.  I would like for you to consider making contact with your ex-wife in order to tell her what we have talked about today.  Perhaps it would be healing for you to express to her your understanding of your obstacles, and maybe apologize for not being able to overcome them, or even recognize them in that time of pain.  I believe that it would be healing for you and, who knows, Maureen may need to hear that to help with healing of her own.”

Charlie sat still as a statue as D’Andra finished speaking.  “No fucking way!” he thought.  “That page is turned; that body is in the ground and I’ll not be digging up any bones.”

“I don’t think that I could do that.  It was pretty clear that Mo didn’t want to see me again and Jack hates me.  I don’t think that I need to be hit over the head with that brick again.”

D’Andra was unruffled by the vehemence of his response.  “It’s OK.  You needn’t do anything today.  I’m only asking that you think about what we’ve discussed and consider the possibility of reaching out to Maureen.  You must decide for yourself what is right to do.  I’m only here to help you with the process.  Will you think about this.”

Charlie was only half-way honest when he finally answered ‘Yes.’  D’andre seemed to be satisfied with his answer though, and took the conversation in a new direction.

“Have you moved yet?”

“No, I’ll do that next week.  I haven’t got much to move, really.  Billy’s house has all of the stuff I need, so I’ll leave my dishes and that sort of thing for the next tenant.”

“How do you feel about living with somebody else after being on your own for so long?”

“I’ll admit, it’s a bit unnerving.  Billy’s a nice guy, and he really is pretty quiet.  It’ll be weird having to share a kitchen and shower though.  I’ve gotten out of the habit, I’m afraid.”

“Well, we can talk about that as things come up, like they almost always do.  Ah, look!  The hour’s up.  Too bad.  I enjoy talking with you Charlie.  I am very encouraged by the progress I see you making and it gives me joy.  Alas, I have to get ready for my next visit.  Salome, you’ll have to let Mr. Hamer go on about his business.”

Salome had crawled back into Charlie’s lap and was ignoring D’Andra, as cats like to do, so Charlie gently lifted the offended feline and once again laid her back on the cushion next to him.  She glared at him crossly and then jumped down onto the floor, stalking away with injured pride towards a back room.

Charlie rose up out of his seat and walked toward the door.  D’andre opened the door and stood by it.  As he prepared to pass through it she said “Please consider what I’ve spoken of.  I won’t mention it again unless you bring it up first.”  Charlie gave her a noncommittal nod and walked out into the bright sunshine of a Vancouver summer day.

Charlie had slept late this day, something that he rarely did, and had taken a pass on cooking breakfast.  There was cereal in the kitchen but he had not wanted to be full when he arrived at D’Andra’s cottage.  The little baked snacks that she always brought out of the kitchen were delicious and he had resolved to enjoy them fully today.  “She’ll just send the rest home with me, so I might as well eat them here.”  He had met Shelby, D’Andra’s husband, the previous week, and could not believe how trim he was.

“How do you stay in such good shape?  he had asked.

Shelby had laughed and answered “With a whole lot of work.”

The scones had been delicious, but now Charlie wanted a real meal.  Leroy’s was a lunch spot as well as breakfast, and he hadn’t talked with LuAnn for what now seemed like a long time.  Having walked to D’Andra’s cottage today, Charlie  began to walk back in the direction of the restaurant.

The sun was bright and warm, summer having finally erupted over the Pacific Northwest.  Charlie walked along sidewalks buckled by the enormous roots of ancient maples and elms which lined the downtown streets.  Today the trees, and the 100 year old houses that he passed, gave Charlie a feeling of solidity and place in a cycle of life, instead of the sense of alienation that he had so recently felt all of the time.  Back then, it was as if the trees and buildings were saying “I was here decades before you were born and will be here decades after you die, so your comings and goings are nothing to me.”  Meanwhile the victorian houses that now housed lawyers and bail bondsmen would tell him “Babies were born in me and grandparents have died here.  Dinners were cooked and games played at the table.  I’ve hosted life; what do you know of such things?”

Today, as Charlie walked along the shaded sidewalks towards the cafe near the train tracks and the river, the homes and trees were more friendly. “Stay under my shade and I’ll keep you cool in the heat of the day” the trees said, and instead of cringing from the censure of the houses, Charlie now extended sympathy to them.  “You were once the home where families grew and loved.  Now you house only lawyers and their squabbling clients.”

These thoughts, and others even more pleasant, filled his mind as he left the area of shade and houses and entered the concrete and asphalt world of downtown Vancouver.  It is not a big city, so no more than six blocks of the urban landscape separated him from a hot meal and, what was better, conversation with LuAnn.

The cafe was almost empty when Charlie walked through the door.  Two tables were occupied but LuAnn was not in sight.  He sat at the counter on the stool closest to the window into the kitchen.  Within a minute LuAnn came through the swinging door in the back of the room, carrying an armload of napkins and boxes of salt and pepper.

“Here” he said as he rose from his seat.  “Let me help you with that.”

“Why, thank you dearie” she said, willingly giving up her burden.  “I would use our cart to bring this stuff out here but it threw a wheel this morning.  I guess all of us old parts around here are wearing thin.”

Charlie could see tiredness in Lu’Ann’s face, and it surprised him.  She always seemed to be cheerful and above the things that troubled the rest of the world.  “Is there more back there that I can help with?” he asked.  There was, and for the next few minutes he was busy bringing out condiments and coffee and silverware while LuAnn placed those items where they went.

“Thank you and bless you, Charlie” she said as the task was completed and Charlie regained his perch on the stool at the counter.  “I believe that you’ve earned your lunch today.”

“Thanks for the offer,” he replied.  “But I don’t think so.  I’ll pay, and if you want you can apply the money to the next spare part who wanders in.”

“I’ll do that” she said, “and I’ll thank you for your help and generosity.”

Charlie chuckled and replied “Now who would I have learned such a thing from?”

LuAnn’s tired face brightened a little at that, and then she asked “And what will you be having today?”

Fifteen minutes later Charlie was left alone to enjoy a meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes with thick, rich brown gravy, and a medley of vegetables, followed by a slice of cherry pie.  “I’m going to turn into a blimp if I keep this up” Charlie thought.  “But what a way to go!”

After he had finished his meal LuAnn poured a cup of coffee and sat down next to him.  The two parties that were in the cafe when Charlie arrived had left and nobody had come in to take their place.  “So how have you been, young man?” she asked.

Charlie really did want to talk about how he was doing; had in fact prepared himself to answer just such a question.  Now, after seeing her tired and more vulnerable face he didn’t know exactly what to say.  “I’ve been doing pretty good.” he said at last.  “How about you?”

LuAnn sighed and replied “Well, it’s been a little tough.  My old man had a bad spell a couple of days ago.  He got dizzy and couldn’t stand up.  His leg never is very good but that day it didn’t want to work at all.  Worse thing was that he just couldn’t seem to get his words out.  Vomited all over the kitchen floor, too.  Good thing there’s linoleum there.”

“Oh, my god!” Charlie exclaimed.  “Is he going to be OK?”

“Uh, well, I don’t know.  We called 911 and an ambulance got him to the hospital really quickly.  I gave him some aspirin before they got to our place – they say it’s good to do that sometimes.  He got all of his faculties back in a couple of hours and they said he had something called a T I A.  They told me what that stands for but I can’t remember.  Doctors like to say stuff in Latin and Greek.  I think they figure they can charge more that way.”

LuAnn laughed at her own joke, and the simple joy in that cigarette-damaged voice was like music to Charlie.  Even in tough times she could let herself see the lighter side of things.  Charlie’s regard for LuAnn grew as she completed her story.

“Duane had some tests before they let him come home and they found that he has an artery in his neck that’s just about plugged up.  They’re going to put him under the knife next week and clean him out.  Peggy will be taking over duties here while I’m out.”

“Well, I’ll make sure that I don’t come then,” Charlie said, and then immediately regretted it.  “Not really,” he continued.  “You guys are good people.  I’ll still come.”

“Thank you.  I’ll consider it a personal favor if you do.”

“But the tip will really suck.”

LuAnn’s laugh was music once again.  “That’s your business dearie.”  Now, enough about my problems.  You haven’t said a word about yourself.”

Charlie thought again about all that he would like to talk about, but only the last part of D’Andra’s conversation stuck out as being important.  He therefore brought it up.

“Well, as you know, I’ve been talking with a lady about some of the stuff going on in my life and she’s raised a question for me.  I’ve told you a little about my story, but I should probably tell you a bit more before I go on.”

Charlie then told LuAnn more about his recent history.  She listened attentively as Charlie spoke of the death of his daughter and the dissolving of his family.  He then told her of D’Andra’s suggestion that he think about contacting his ex-wife.

“What do you think?” he asked.

LuAnn thought for a while before answering.  Before she could give a response a couple entered and took their seats at a table.  “Hold that thought” she said and she held up her index finger.  Soon, after getting water and coffee for the couple and placing their orders on the wheel in the window she returned.

“Why did she think that you should do this?” she asked.

“Well, this last few years I’ve not dealt with the accident and divorce well.”  Charlie chuckled sardonically at this.  “Like, how are you supposed to handle the death of your daughter and the destruction of your life?  Anyway, she’s pointing out that I might be seeing things that aren’t really there, or if they are, they might not be exactly the way that I think they look from where I’m standing.

She thinks that it might be a good thing to communicate with my ex, just to clear up any misconceptions that might continue to be dragging me down.  She said that maybe they could be dragging her down too, and so it might benefit us both.  Maybe it’ll help us both see things a little more clearly.”

LuAnn whistled softly.  “Get in touch with your ex!  That can be a pretty dicey proposition.  You think you could do that without a fight?”

“Yeah, there’d be no fights.  We didn’t split up that way.  I just don’t know that she’d want to do any of this again.  We’re over and done.  If she’s moved on better than I have, why would she want to look back?”

“Well, I don’t know.  Is this lady you’re seeing a smart person?”

“Order up!”  A voice came from the window.

“Hold that thought” LuAnn said, holding up her finger once again.  Soon, she was back.  “So, is she?”

Charlie’s thoughts had strayed elsewhere while LuAnn was bringing the food to her customers.  “Is she what?”

“Is she smart?  I thought you were going to hold that thought.”

“Oh, yeah.  I was.  Guess it got away.  Anyway, yeah, she’s smart.”

“Good.  I wouldn’t want you to take advice from a dummy.  Present company excluded, that is.  So she thinks you should maybe contact your ex in order to see if there’s anything that you should clear up.  Is that it?”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”

“And is there?”

“Is there what?”

“is there anything to clear up?”

“Uh, I don’t know.  Two months ago I would have said ‘No’.  Hell, two weeks ago I would have said ‘No.’  Now I’m not sure.  My counselor said that we might have seen things differently, got tangled up in the misperceptions and followed paths guided by the wrong assumptions.  Something like that.”

“Is she trying to get you to think about restarting the marriage?”

“I doubt it.  There’s not much likelihood of that anyway.  No. No likelihood of that.  I don’t know if she would even want to talk to me, and I know that my son wouldn’t.  I’m pretty sure that my counselor just wants me to let my ex know what really happened between us instead of what maybe I just think happened.  It’s best to know the truth if possible, and not just what I think is true.”

“Well, that makes sense to me.  Of course, I’m not the one who’ll have to do it.”

“And I don’t even know if it can be done.  I have no idea where she lives.  I got on very well with her parents though, and they might help.  Then again, they might not.  I’ll have to think a lot more about all of that.  And then there’s Jack.”

LuAnn put a hand on Charlie’s arm and said “Excuse me.  I’ll be right back.”  She went to the table where her customers were eating and refilled water glasses and coffee mugs, took orders for desert and cleared the dishes.  Charlie was glad to have the time to collect his thoughts.  This time when she returned, Charlie had held that thought.

“Jack was devastated by Stephanie’s death.  I think he loved her more than I even did.  He came to me after we heard about what had happened, and I was so absorbed in my own pain that I had no room for his.  Or anyone else’s for that matter.  So he went to his mother and found comfort there.  As Mo and I grew apart, he grew even further apart.  Buy the time we finally separated I hadn’t been alone with Jack for months.  He wouldn’t stay in the same room with me.  I didn’t even see him the last week or two before I left the house.”

“Did you make any attempt to see him?”

Charlie thought back to that awful time.  “No,” he finally said.

“Did your son ever say that he hates you?  Children aren’t that shy about saying such things.  Some of ‘em, anyway.”

Charlie thought about that question for a little longer while LuAnn went to receive the pay from the customers.  The transaction took only a little bit of time and LuAnn returned, leaving the dirty dishes on the table.

“Well,” Charlie continued.  “No, he never actually said that he hates me.  But he couldn’t stand to be in a room with me.  He didn’t talk to me at all.”

“How much did you try to talk to him?

“Huh?”

“How much of an effort did you make to talk to Jack, Charlie?  I’m not trying to criticize you; I’m just trying to help you figure this out.”

Charlie fought the impulse to shut down and not think about that painful time.  That’s what he had done for more than two years, and it’s what he knew to do.  But now he was learning that that was not the best path to go down.  In fact, it wasn’t even a good one, so he let his mind play over the final weeks and months of his marriage.  There were blow-ups over stupid things with Maureen.  Nothing loud or violent but definitely isolating.  Those would be followed by peevish days of icy silence.  But he could not remember interactions with Jack.  He didn’t try to start them, and neither did Jack.  He told this to LuAnn.

“Well, I can’t imagine being in your shoes, Charlie, so what I have to say should be taken with a grain of salt, OK?”  Charlie nodded his assent.

“Seems to me that the boy was wrapped in his own blanket of pain, just like you were.  And you weren’t able to get out of your blanket in order to help him, right?  Now don’t get me wrong here; like I just said, I can’t imagine what you went through.  I don’t know that I would handle such a thing any better.  If anything happens to my Duane, I don’t know how I’ll make it- – -.”

LuAnn stopped talking as tears of fear for her husband welled up in her eyes.  She gulped a couple of times and reached for a napkin to dab at her eyes with, and then continued.  “But Charlie.  If you hurt so much that you couldn’t reach out from your blanket of pain, how on earth could an eleven year old boy do it?”

They both sat still and silent on their stools.  The front door opened and closed, but LuAnn paid no attention to it.  Charlie sat on his stool, stunned by the thought that Jack’s silence and remoteness might have been more about his own pain and not about hating Charlie at all.

“Did Jack ever actually say that he hated you?” LuAnn repeated.

“No,” Charlie finally replied.  “No.  I don’t remember that he ever did.”

“Well, then, I’d say that the book is still open on that question.  You may have a boy who’s still waiting for his Dad to come and comfort him.  But like I said, what do I know?  I’m just a waitress at a crummy downtown restaurant.”  LuAnn smiled and patted Charlie on the arm.  “Gotta go to work.  I’ve got medical bills to pay now.”

She rose from the stool and began to make up for ignoring her new customers, fussing over them like a mother hen.  Charlie sat hunched over his cold cup of coffee and thought about what he had just heard.  He had believed that his son hated him for over two years, and that had grown to be a greater source of pain than the emptiness he felt without Maureen.

In one day he had heard it suggested that he might at least try to make some peace with Maureen and perhaps give her some peace too.  Even more astounding, it was possible that his son did not hate him at all, or at least didn’t two years ago.

This was something that would require thought, but now Charlie had to go to work.  He was to meet Carolyn at an appliance showroom and begin to select the stove and refrigerator and dishwasher that was to go into her new kitchen.  Evaluating the virtues of one stove versus another would be a welcome release from the thoughts with which he was wrestling now, but he knew that he was dealing with things that must be touched at long last.

Charlie knew pretty close to what the price for lunch would be.  He fished easily twice that amount out of his wallet and slid it under his plate.  Pulling a napkin out of the dispenser, he took a pen out of his shirt pocket and began to write.

“It looks like I’ve enjoyed the blessing of two smart women today.  ‘Just a waitress’ my ass!  Keep the change.  I hear you have some medical bills to pay.”

Charlie got up and waved at LuAnn as he opened the door.  She waved back and he walked out into the sunlight.  “Life doesn’t feel a whole lot easier,” he thought as he walked the two books to where his truck was parked.  “But it feels like it might make more sense than I ever thought it could.  I’ll be grateful today for that.”

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