Wednesday, February 29, 2012

All the Time in the World

            "I found a lump," my wife said, lowering her blue eyes. "They want to do a biopsy."
I sat across from her at the kitchen table, 7:30 A.M. on a Wednesday morning. Our ten-year-old daughter, Kelly, was already off to school. It's the first time I'd been in the kitchen for maybe two months—Mandy and I'd been separated for six months.
"A l-lump?" My throat felt clogged.
Mandy nodded, not looking at me. "Left side.
"They're going to do a surgical biopsy."
"Surgical? That means...?"
"Remove part of the lump under a general anesthesia. "
"Oh, wow."
She hesitated a second. "My grandmother died of breast cancer... My aunt Lillian..."
"That doesn’t mean anything," I said quickly. "Not with the treatments they have these days. Besides, your mom's fine."
"It's probably nothing," Mandy said, and sat straight up. "What I wanted to talk to you about, Roger, is—well, I'm going to the hospital Friday. Could you pick up Kelly from school and keep her for the weekend? Maybe take her to school Monday? I know how busy you are..."
I detected a sudden edge to Mandy's voice. "Nonsense," I said. "I've cut way back. Who's going to look after you?"
"Mom's arriving today. She'll stay with me through Monday. They'll give me pain mediation. I'll be fit as ever."
I wanted to cup Mandy's face in my hands. I wanted to kiss her. Tell her I loved her. But I didn't want to upset her. Or complicate things. So before I left the house, I simply held her cold right hand tightly and said what I honestly believed to be true: "Everything will be all right."
Our separation had been my fault. I was a corporate lawyer, a senior partner, my nose always cranked to the grindstone. I came home every night and buried my face in law books and briefs. I couldn't believe Mandy and I had fallen out of love, but I know my being a workaholic had sucked the life out of our marriage. The separation had been her idea. "To see where we stand," she'd said.
When I picked up Kelly after school Friday, she hopped into the car and announced, "I know what's going on, Dad. But I think Mom told me only what she wanted me to hear—is she going to die?"
Leave it to a ten-year-old to be perfectly blunt. "Not at all. She's going to be fine."
"But we don't know for sure, do we?"
"Not for sure. But we have to believe."
"Do you still love her?" I felt Kelly's blue-eyed gaze searching my face. Blue eyes just like her mom's.
"Of course. I will always love your mom."
"She loves you, too—I know she does. So I think it's totally stupid what you guys are doing. And I just hate it that you're not home all the time. Even if you had to spend all the time on work."
"I'm cutting back," I said. "I really am. I miss being with you and Mom."
"You can't like living alone in a condo by yourself."
"You're right—I don't."
I took Kelly out for supper at Applebee's Friday night, to dance practice Saturday morning, and to soccer practice Saturday afternoon—Saturday, a day I usually dropped by the office to spend the day.
That night Kelly and I decided it was time to call Mom. But Mandy was sleeping, so Kelly chatted with her grandmother for a bit and then handed the phone to me. "She's doing fine," Grandma Helen said. "She has a follow-up appointment next week to discuss the biopsy results. Have you and Mandy talked lately?"
"About ending this foolish separation. You two need each other, and Kelly needs both of you."
 By Sunday afternoon, Kelly and I couldn't wait any longer to see her mom. At the house, after Kelly and Mandy hugged gingerly and a bit tearfully, Grandma whisked Kelly away into the kitchen, leaving Mandy and me alone in the living room. "You okay?" I asked.
"Perfect. A little sore." Then Mandy's bottom lip stared to quiver—a sign she was going to cry. "I've missed you, Roger."
Kelly burst into the living room. "Dad, Grandma wants to know if you've got time to stay for dinner. It's pot roast."
My eyes darted toward Mandy. "It's up to your mom," I said.
"I've got all the time in the world."
"We'd all love to have you," Mandy said, smiling through her tears.
"Cool!" Kelly said, as she whirled and took off for the kitchen.
And then, my heart hammering, I cupped my wife's face in my hands, kissed her, and told her I loved her. But that's not all. Mandy's biopsy turned out negative, and I'm back home. I really do have all the time in the world.
The End

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An Unexpected Valentine

"I'm sorry," Charlie said softly. "I didn't mean to upset you."
I lifted my chin. "No, no. It's all right. I'm here to prove to myself I'm over being dumped on Valentine's Day night. Right here. At this very table. I'm ready to move on."

          Charlie the waiter stood over my table in Mama Joy's Supper club and looked down at me, transfixed. A menu in his hand, he was just as I remembered him—tall and blonde with lovely blue eyes. Quite handsome.
"I never expected to see you again," he said, and smiled. He wore black slacks and a red shirt, his uniform for tonight. "But I'm delighted."
I pulled my chair closer to the tiny table and smoothed out the red tablecloth. Diners crowed the club; soft dinner chatter rippled everywhere.
"Valentine's Day night last year," I said, "was the worst night of my life."
"The guy was a jerk. You must've waited two hours before he showed up."
I closed my eyes a second at the memory.
"I'm sorry," Charlie said softly. "I didn't mean to upset you."
I lifted my chin. "No, no. It's all right. I'm here to prove to myself I'm over being dumped on Valentine's Day night. Right here. At this very table. I'm ready to move on."
"Good for you. Are you waiting for someone else this evening?"
I shook my head. "I'm alone."
"May I suggest our combo—steak, lobster tail, baked potato, and tossed salad. Choice of dressing. Something to drink?"
"A glass of white wine, perhaps."
Charlie bowed and disappeared.
That night a year ago while I sat at this table, waiting and waiting for Alex Knight, Charlie the waiter stopped at my table several times, asking patiently with a warm smile, "May I bring you anything? Are you all right?" I kept replying, "Nothing. I'm perfectly fine."
When Alex finally did show up all breathless, he sat down and said he was sorry he was late—he couldn't get away from the office. He knew I was thinking about marriage, but he wasn’t ready for a commitment. He thought he should tell me before I expected more than he could give. He apologized for hurting me this way, especially on Valentine's Day, and said he simply had to do this—right now—the sooner the better. It was the best for both of us.
I bolted from Mama Joy's Supper Club and staggered into the snowy night through the rear exit door, chocking with tears and embarrassment.
"White wine," Charlie said, snapping me back to reality and setting a sparkling glass of wine in front of me on the table. Then he cleared his throat and asked, "May I sit down?"
I thought it strange he should ask to sit with me since the place was bustling with customers, and he surely had other tables to wait. But I said, "If you like."
He leaned across the table. "I want to tell you something...something that may help you feel better. Even after all this time."
I looked at him curiously. "All right."
"I saw you dash out the exit door that night. What you didn't see is that a woman waited impatiently for your date in front by the register. I suspect she waited to make sure he broke up with you. A blonde. She'd probably given him an ultimatum. Do it now!"
I shivered. "Madison Farnsworth. He married her in the spring."
"Don't you see? This guy set you free. He did you a favor."
"I know. It just took me a long while to realize that."
Charlie smiled—I loved his smile. "Look," he said, "I'm going to take a chance here. My name's Charlie Joy..." He said his mom and dad owned the supper club. He worked here as kid sweeping floors, busing tables, washing dishes. Now he helped his folks out on busy nights once or twice a year, waiting tables. He owned his own business, Quality Home Repair.
I sat back in my chair, amazed. "I'm Eileen Hanson," I said. "I'm in real estate. I've seen your remodels. When I sell an older home, I always refer the buyer to your company—in case they want to make improvements." I shook my head. "I don't believe it..." My voice trailed off.
Charlie nudged the menu toward me. "Have you made a selection?"
I sipped my wine. "The combo will be fine."
"An excellent choice." He swallowed. He rubbed his head of blonde hair. "May I join you? Dinner will be compliments of the house, a Valentine's Day gift."
I stared into his soft blue eyes; I felt flushed. And tongue-tied.
"My mom and dad," Charlie said, "will understand my bailing on them and dining with the most beautiful lady in the place."
I blinked back tears. I remembered how bitterness overwhelmed me when I sat in this chair last year. I tried to speak now but a lump had invaded my throat. Finally, I managed, "This is so...unexpected."
"Perhaps an unexpected Valentine is the very best kind."
He touched my hand with his fingertips. I felt a spark and said, "I think you're right."
The End