Copyright © 2015-2020 Michael P. Loucks
First publication date: 2017-08-20
First revision publication date: 2020-02-12
You may contact the author at: email@example.com
“I’m very happy for you, Little Bunny Rabbit!” I said as we danced.
“Dad! I just got married! Don’t you think at 22, I’m a bit old to still be your ‘Little Bunny Rabbit’?”
“No, I don’t! Dad’s privilege! We still call your brother ‘Foo’ from time to time and he’s 25 and has a kid! And you know I still call your sister ‘Pumpkin’, despite her being 24!”
“Do you think she’ll ever get married?”
“I think she’s having far too much fun with her friends, male and female, at the moment. She’ll decide to settle down someday, I expect.”
“You always thought Jesse was going to be the wild one!” Stephie observed.
“Until a certain beautiful Russian girl got her hooks into him!” I replied.
“Like her mom tried with you?” my daughter giggled.
“If world history had been slightly different, who knows what might have happened. But that was all a long time ago!”
“It’s my wedding day, so may I ask you a very blunt, very direct question?”
“Have I ever objected to that?”
“No. But this one is out of line.”
“Did you and Birgit?” she asked quietly, to be sure only I could hear.
“No. We didn’t. That is one line that simply could not be crossed. What made you think such a thing?”
“You two are closer than you and Mom at times. It made us wonder. She confided in me when we were younger that she wanted you.”
“It didn’t happen. I would never do that, and you know neither your mom nor Jessica would have tolerated such a thing!”
“Stranger things have happened. And it’s not as if you didn’t ‘entertain’ some of our closest friends!”
“Entertain?” I chuckled. “That’s an interesting way to put it!”
“You know I never talked to you about that stuff. Well, I mean I knew what was going on. But we all knew, even if it wasn’t spoken aloud. I’m sure Birgit talked to you.”
I nodded, “I think she knew everything, and I do mean everything, that went on from the time she was about three. In the end, even more than Jesse.”
“Are you happy, Dad?”
“About your marriage? Of course! With my family? Absolutely! With life? On balance, yes. Are YOU happy?”
“I don’t see how I could be happier,” she said with a smile, and put her head on my chest.
The song ended, and I returned my daughter to her new husband, and left the dance floor.
“Nice daddy/daughter dance,” Birgit smirked when I sat down next to her at an otherwise empty table.
“Why? Because I held her at a proper distance? She’s not you, young lady!”
“Mom does not like how I like to dance with you!”
“Do you know that your sister just asked me if we’d been together?”
“She always thought it might have happened for my fourteenth birthday. I never said we did.”
“No, but it sounds as if you told her you wanted to.”
“She’s the only one besides you that knows that little secret. Unless you told someone.”
I shook my head, “Never. I keep your secrets the way you keep mine.”
“All of my secrets?” she asked.
“Yes. All of them. I could never reveal the one I think you’re referring to. Too many people would be hurt by that revelation. We discussed it back then and you know my opinion.”
“I learned my lesson. Just as you did, I guess.”
“I do believe it took a few more mistakes before you figured it out.”
“Which was true for you as well.”
“Yes, it was,” I replied. “I should go find your mom and Jessica.”
“Dance with me later?” she asked.
“Yes! But you have to behave! It’s your sister’s wedding day!”
“You’re just no fun, Dad!” Birgit smirked.
“And stop talking to Penny!” I chuckled.
Just as I got up from the table where Birgit had been sitting alone, some of her siblings and their dates came to sit with her. I decided to go to the table where Bethany was talking with her parents.
“It’s a glorious day, Sweetheart,” I said, coming up behind her chair and putting my hand on her shoulder.
“Yes, it is,” she said with a smile, and a quick glance around. “Now, if the bride and the groom are going to spend the night screwing themselves silly…”
“Again?” I interrupted. “It’s not as if they haven’t before.”
“Shush!” Bethany giggled to her mother’s obvious discomfort and her father’s barely suppressed laughter. “You know,” she sighed, “under different circumstances, the father of the bride and mother of the groom might have done the same…”
“Again?” I chuckled. “It’s not as if we haven’t, before!”
Nora scowled and Harry laughed with me. Again.
“Steve!” Michelle gasped. “You wouldn’t! You didn’t!”
I turned to see Michelle, who was almost right behind me, wearing a pained expression that told me she believed Samantha’s accusation.
“No, I didn’t!” I said testily. “I swear I didn’t! Lisa Glass put the moves on me and I shut her down, hard. I don’t know why Samantha thinks I did it, but I have a sneaking suspicion.”
“Steve, come inside,” Kara said.
I went into the house with Kara, with Michelle following right behind us.
“Did you see the phone message I told you about? It was from Lisa Glass.”
“No. When did she call?”
“About ten minutes before you arrived home.”
That meant she probably called the office, and they’d said I’d left. I now had a VERY good idea of what had happened.
“That bitch!” I hissed. “I bet you anything she’s behind this.”
“You didn’t?” Kara asked.
“No!” I snapped. “I absolutely did not! As I said to Michelle, I turned Lisa down. Flat. Two times! I need to call Samantha’s house and see if I can get her to call me when she gets home.”
I went to my study with Kara and Michelle tagging along behind me. I dialed Samantha’s number and Les answered.
“Spurgeon Residence,” he said.
“Les, it’s Steve Adams. I need to speak to Samantha right away.”
“Mr. Adams, she left explicit instructions that I was to inform you to never call here again. I’ll need you to return the gate transmitter by mail. It’s been deactivated.”
“Les, she’s been lied to!”
“Apparently so. I have my instructions. Good day.”
He hung up.
“Son of a bitch!” I swore.
“What?” Kara asked.
“He said that Samantha gave instructions that I was to be told to never call there again. The only way I’m going to ever fix this is through Lisa. Which is, of course, what she wants!”
“What do you mean?” Michelle asked.
“She’ll try to extract a price. And if I know her, I know what it will be. It will be a cold day in hell before she gets what she’s after. Two can play the same game, and I’m better at it.”
“What ARE you talking about?” Michelle asked.
“Maybe it would be better if this happened behind closed doors,” Kara said. “Michelle, come with me, please.”
Michelle looked at me. I knew that Kara understood exactly what Lisa was going to ask for and had a good idea how I’d fight back. And it was better if Michelle didn’t have to hear it.
“I think Kara’s right,” I said. “Please?”
Michelle nodded and left with Kara, who closed the door behind them. I took a couple of deep breaths, and then looked up Lisa’s number in my address book. Unsurprisingly, I was put right through when I asked for her.
“Hi, Steve!” she said sweetly.
“Don’t give me that sweet voice, Lisa. I know what you did and you’re going to fix it. Now!”
“Whatever are you talking about?” she asked, in obviously feigned innocence.
“Stop with the bullshit! You told Samantha that we slept together. It’s a lie. You know it. I know it. And you’re going to tell her.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Is that so? Well, then you can call Samantha and tell her that whoever told her we slept together is a liar, which will also resolve the problem.”
“And why would I do that?” she asked.
“Seriously? You have to ask that question?”
“If I do this, I want something in return,” she said, her tone of voice making implication clear.
“The Stanley Cup Finals will be played in hell before you get what you’re angling for.”
“Then I’m sorry to say that your relationship with Samantha is over.”
“No it’s not, and you’re going to fix it.”
“Why would I possibly do that?”
“Because if you don’t, I’ll tell John everything we did! In explicit detail! Remember my threat when you came on to me?”
“He’ll never believe it!”
“He doesn’t have to. If you deny it to him, then you’ll deny it to Samantha. Because if you refuse to deny it to Samantha, then John will believe it happened. And when I said detail, I meant detail. Mouth. Pussy. Ass. Cum all over your face and breasts. Like…a whore!”
At the last second, I’d stopped myself from saying, ‘Like the cheap whore you really are!’
“You wouldn’t dare!”
“Try me! You need to fix this. And you need to fix it now! I don’t care if you have to get on a fucking plane to Monaco, you’re going to solve this problem. And apologize to Samantha in front of me. Or I tell John. Decide. You have thirty seconds.”
“You wouldn’t dare!” she repeated.
“Oh yes I would. If you don’t do what I just said, my next call is to John. And then to your dad to cancel the deal. And then to Jeri, who will believe ME. And then she and I will put an end to this once and for all. Do you hear me? Do not FUCK with me on this, Lisa! Fifteen seconds.”
“You’d cancel the deal over a stupid piece of ass?”
“You just keep digging deeper. Decide. Are you going to fix it or do I call John? Ten seconds until I hang up.”
Silence. I was just about to put the receiver down when she spoke.
“Fine. I’ll tell her I made it up. But this isn’t the end between you and me, you little prick.”
“I think you might want to ask Margaret Lundgren about messing with me. She tried and I wound up on the Board of her Foundation. That should tell you who won. Make the call.”
“OK. OK. I’ll call the silly cunt right now.”
“I expect to hear from her tonight, Lisa. Do you hear me?”
“Shit!” she swore, slamming down the phone.
All I could do now was wait. If Samantha went straight home, it would be another ninety minutes at least before she got home due to rush hour traffic. She was supposed to leave for Monaco in the morning around 11:00am. My family was supposed to leave for Iron Mountain around 7:00am. I knew Samantha and Lisa both had my home and cellular phone numbers, so I could get a call from Samantha even if we’d left for our vacation.
That made me wonder about why Samantha didn’t have a cellular phone, Obviously, money was no objet, and coverage areas had grown significantly. It dawned on me that I didn’t know if any of the ‘society’ types had mobile phones But I pushed that thought out of my mind and got up from my desk and went to find Kara and Michelle. They were in the sunroom and I asked Kara to come to my study with me. Michelle certainly did NOT need to hear what I was going to say to Kara.
“Exactly as I expected. She implied, strongly, that I could solve this by sleeping with her.”
“How does that solve anything?” Kara asked, incredulous. “Doesn’t it just play right into her hands?”
“Of course it does! Then she CAN hold it over me. It’s stupid, but I’m starting to believe Lisa isn’t very smart. But I told her in no uncertain terms that she needed to fix this, and right away. If she doesn’t, then I’m calling her fiancé and telling him that it DID happen. According to Jeri, he has no clue Lisa cheats on him.”
“And here I was worried that Samantha was the problem! This Lisa seems unbalanced!”
“She’s too used to getting her own way. Think Samantha, but without Samantha’s innate sweetness.”
“How did you know that about Samantha?” Kara asked.
“From the time we spent together riding horses that first day before we had sex. She’s spoiled rotten, but inside is a wonderful young woman just waiting to get out. Lisa is what Becky would have become if I hadn’t befriended her again when I came to Chicago. One secondary reason I confessed to you was so Becky couldn’t hold it over my head.”
“An interesting parallel. What do you think would have happened if you hadn’t told me about being with Becky?”
"That forever Becky would have used the threat of telling you about me cheating to get what she wanted from me. And I never would have been able to escape without wrecking everything. That’s what Lisa wants. She’d marry John and have her flings on the side, with me stuck doing everything she wanted or risk her telling you or Jess or Samantha. Or the threat of telling Samantha’s dad, or whomever.
“Lisa’s power comes from the guys cheating and not wanting to risk making her mad and having her tell their wives or girlfriends. That’s why Samantha doesn’t have that kind of power over me. And why Becky would have. It’s cheating that’s the issue. And that’s the reason I tell you and Jessica everything. I will never, ever, be with anyone that I couldn’t tell you about. I did that with Becky, twice. I’m pretty dense, so it took me time to learn that lesson.”
“Yes, you are. But I’m glad you learned. What are you going to do if she doesn’t come back?”
I sighed, “I don’t want to think about that right now.”
The phone on my desk rang and I jumped. I grabbed the handsets.
“Hello?” I said breathlessly.
“Steve? This is Noel Spurgeon.”
He sounded pissed. Extremely pissed.
“I do not know what you did to my daughter, and I probably don’t want to know. Les told you not to call the house and I’m telling you not to try to contact her in any way.”
“Sir, if I could explain.”
“No. I’m saying this directly. You are to have no contact with her of any kind. Is that understood?”
“IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?”
The call was disconnected at that point. I slowly returned the receiver to the cradle.
“It just got worse,” I sighed. “That was Samantha’s dad. He forbade me from having any contact with her. She’s only seventeen, so he can probably make that stick.”
“Hopefully Lisa will talk to her,” Kara said. “And fix this.”
“I hope so,” I said, my voice full of the sadness I was feeling.
“Steve, don’t get into one of your depressed moods. Let’s go play with the kids. That always gets you out of the dumps.”
“Sure,” I said, not meaning it.
We went to the sunroom and I did my best to keep from sinking lower but as the minutes wore on and I heard nothing I felt more and more lost. When it was past the time Samantha should have arrived home, I excused myself and went to my study and locked myself in. I sat in one of the leather wingback chairs and stared at the bookshelves. Ten minutes later there was a knock at the door.
“Steve?” Bethany called out. “Let me in, please.”
I sighed deeply and got up and unlocked the door. Bethany came in and shut the door behind her.
“Will you talk to me?” she asked.
“About what?” I sighed. “About some bitch who decided to ruin my life because she doesn’t have one?”
“Kara said it’s only been about two hours. Don’t lose control of yourself. Give it a bit of time. Samantha may not have gone straight home, or not called Lisa back because she’s angry, or a host of other possibilities.”
“And if it can’t be fixed?”
“Then you’ll go on,” Bethany said firmly. “You have wives and children and friends and a Sweetheart who all love you.”
“I know, but…”
“Wait here. I need reinforcements.”
She left and was back a minute later. I couldn’t help but smile.
“Daddy, don’t be sad!” Birgit said.
She came over, climbed in my lap, and put her lips up. I bent down and she kissed my cheek.
“Love Daddy!” she said.
“I love you, too, Pumpkin.”
“Mommy said you have to smile! I want you to smile!”
I didn’t feel like smiling, but Birgit could always cheer me up. I smiled for her.
“Much better,” Bethany said.
“You realize this doesn’t fix anything,” I said.
“No, but I remember what happened the last time you had a serious bout of depression.”
“Nothing good,” I sighed.
We had dinner and celebrated Michael’s third birthday with cake and ice cream. He opened his presents and we cleaned up, but there was still no call from Samantha. I wondered if I should try to call Lisa, but I didn’t have her home number. I had Alec’s, but the last thing I wanted to do was involve him. It was bad enough that Noel Spurgeon was involved. There was one other person I could call. I dialed the number.
“I have a big problem,” I said when Jeri answered.
“Lisa lied to Samantha and said that I had sex with her. Samantha came here, made the accusation, and then sped away in her car. When I tried to call her at home, I was told never to call again. Then Samantha’s dad called and told me never to have any contact with her. I confronted Lisa and threatened to tell John if she didn’t make things right with Samantha. I haven’t heard from either of them since.”
“I’m so sorry! Please don’t do anything else. Let me make some calls.”
“Thanks. And I mean it about telling John. I will call him tomorrow if this isn’t resolved.”
“Let me see what I can do,” Jeri said.
“Call me anytime, no matter how late. I’ll be out between 9:40pm and 10:20pm to get Jess, but I’ll have my cell phone with me.”
I didn’t hear from Jeri, Lisa, or Samantha before it was time to go get Jessica. Kara and I walked quietly to the hospital and Jessica came out just as we arrived.
“What’s wrong, Tiger?” Jessica asked immediately.
I told her. And broke down in tears. Jessica and Kara put their arms around me and held me while I cried. The anger and frustration had just overpowered me when I told Jessica. Once again, Fate had messed with me. But this time, Fate had a face. I was angry that I’d lost control of a situation because I wasn’t allowed to give my side of the story. It was maddeningly frustrating.
About five minutes later I stepped back. Jess handed me a tissue from her purse, and I wiped my eyes and blew my nose. I tossed the tissue in the trash and we began a slow walk home.
“Bethany is worried he’s slipping into depression,” Kara said. “Even Birgit couldn’t really cheer him up.”
“Let’s get him home, have a sauna, and get a good night’s sleep,” Jessica replied.
I let them take me home, and lead me to the sauna. It helped me relax, but didn’t improve my mood. After the sauna and a shower, we had some lemon tea. Jeri finally called back just after 11:00pm.
“I couldn’t get in touch with either of them. I tried both their places, as well as John’s apartment and Alec’s house. Nobody was home except Alec and he hasn’t seen Lisa since she left work today.”
“Les didn’t answer the phone at Samantha’s house?”
“No. He drives Samantha’s dad most places, so that might explain it. I’ll try again first thing tomorrow morning.”
“Thanks,” I said.
I hung up and my wives and I went up to bed.
“Now what?” Kara asked as we snuggled.
“If I don’t hear by 9:00am, I call John.”
“And for now, we sleep,” Jessica said.
“Are you SURE?” Jessica asked.
“Yes. Get the kids to the restroom while I make two phone calls.”
My first call was to the office to get John’s phone number. Kimmy got it for me from the customer records since Hart-Lincoln used our legal software. I thanked her, hung up, then dialed the law firm.
“John Lentz, please,” I asked.
I was connected right away.
“John, this is Steve Adams,” I said.
“Hi, Steve. What can do for you?”
“I’m sorry to be the one that tells you this, but Lisa has been cheating on you. She came on to me, and when I rejected her, she told Samantha Spurgeon that we’d slept together.”
“I’m dead serious. Samantha won’t talk to me. Noel Spurgeon told me not to have any contact with her. Lisa admitted to me that she’d lied to Samantha. And John, Lisa did hit on me; multiple times. I know she’s been cheating on you. She even bragged about it.”
“Why should I believe you?”
“Do you think I’d lie and upset Alec at this point? With everything he’s done for me? And upset you? Who works for a customer of mine? What advantage would I gain by doing that? I’m probably cutting my own throat by telling you, but I think you need to know.”
“Son of a bitch!” he swore.
“I’m really sorry, John. I’m heading out of town, but if you need to get in touch with me, call Kimmy Bradford in my office and tell her it’s urgent. She’ll know how to reach me.”
“OK,” he said, sounding very distant.
I hung up, and went to use the restroom myself. When I came back, the girls were getting the kids back into the minivan and the cars. Once they’d done that, the four of us stood in front of the minivan.
“What did you tell him?” Elyse said.
“Not what I’d planned at first. I decided to simply tell him she’d come on to me and that she was cheating on him. Telling him I had sex with her was a sure way to make an enemy. This way, I might, just, save my relationship with Alec.”
“And Samantha?” Kara asked.
“I think Lisa called my bluff and didn’t call Samantha. And I don’t know what I can do if Lisa doesn’t tell Samantha the truth. I’m certainly open to ideas.”
“Maybe Samantha will calm down while she’s in Europe and when she comes home, perhaps Jeri can talk to her?”
“That would probably be the best outcome at this point,” I sighed. “But she could just as easily fume for two weeks and be even more upset. It sucks.”
“Kara, do you mind if I ride with Steve?” Jessica asked.
“No. I think that would be a very good idea. Let’s switch kids and give you Ashley and Stephie. That will allow for more conversation than the two boys will.”
“That makes sense,” I said, “though Jesse and Nicholas might protest.”
The boys did object, but Kara and Jessica ignored the protest and switched the kids around. Five minutes later we were back on the road heading north.
“I’m sorry this fell apart, and you got hurt,” Jessica said.
“I know,” I sighed. “All because some stupid rich girl couldn’t have what she wanted.”
“Are you going to be OK?”
“I suppose. I was really starting to care for Samantha. You know, my way. I actually hate it for her more than for myself.”
“Because you saw that beautiful person inside her?” Jessica asked.
“Yes, and now she’s going to think everything I told her is a lie and become exactly what Lisa is.”
“I think that’s it!”
“Lisa was jealous of what Samantha had with you and set out to wreck it in whatever way she could. You turned out to have too much integrity, so she had to lie about it. Her problem is that you’re fearless and willing to risk the real estate deal and a client over this. And you don’t care about status or even your seat on the Foundation’s Board.”
“I told Lisa I’d cancel the deal if she didn’t fix it,” I said. “I guess she didn’t believe me.”
“Are you going to cancel it?”
“No, I don’t think so. I think I’ll wait for her next move. Can you imagine if she goes to Daddy and tells him to cancel the deal? I suspect she’ll have a much bigger problem.”
“John calling off the wedding.”
“I would in his situation. When I talked to Kara last night I pointed out that getting men to cheat is what gained Lisa power over them. But I won’t cheat. That’s why I tell you and Kara about every single girl.”
“What about your promise to Samantha?”
“What about it?” I snapped. “Sorry. We’re going to be in Iron Mountain for a week. I’ll worry about it when we get home.”
“What about Jodie?”
“What about Jodie? You, Kara, and Elyse all teased me mercilessly about her last year. Heck, Elyse teased me a couple of months later! And you all teased me a little bit when she came to Chicago. Why?”
“It was pretty clear when we were in Iron Mountain she wanted you. And I believe you wanted her. So it was fun to tease you.”
“And the bet you made? I didn’t forget about THAT! Mind telling me what it was?”
“I suppose it doesn’t matter now. It was whether or not you’d take her to bed when she came to Chicago, or not until we came back to Iron Mountain, or if you’d make a special trip. The problem was, by the time she actually made her campus visits, you had your agreement with Samantha.”
“Jess, I wouldn’t violate the rules, so nobody could win that bet, and if someone bet I wouldn’t be with Jodie they were effectively cheating.”
“She knew that rule,” Jessica said quietly.
“How the hell did she know that rule?” I spat.
“Please don’t be upset, but Elyse told her when we were in Michigan last time.”
“And just why would she do that?” I asked with a groan.
“Because Jodie asked about your situation last year! That first day when she talked to us, while we were walking behind you, she was very curious. Elyse laughed and told her the rules. It was kind of a joke, but then when she called the cabin and flirted with you, we realized it wasn’t a joke. We were a bit surprised she didn’t get in touch with you sooner. When she finally did, you had Samantha, so you wouldn’t even think about it.”
“Wonderful,” I sighed. “But that does explain why she didn’t seriously come on to me when she asked me if I wanted to see her horse.”
Jessica giggled, “I suppose there aren’t too many etchings on a farm in Iron Mountain!”
I laughed, “Good one! And you made me laugh, despite my mood.”
“Maybe Jodie is just what the doctor ordered,” Jessica said. “Something to take your mind off your troubles. Without going crazy because you’re depressed.”
“I’m not going to go off the deep end,” I said.
“Well, the option is likely going to be there if you want it. I believe you called her a smoking hot, red-haired, green-eyed, athletic farmer’s daughter with small breasts! Just your type.”
“And you three think it’s a good idea to encourage girls to come after me like Jennifer and Melanie did?”
“We didn’t encourage her, Tiger. She asked us about the relationship. And seriously, Elyse told her the rules in a teasing way. Nobody pushed her. And I’m not pushing you; I’m saying you have permission.”
“I thought I didn’t NEED permission,” I said.
“You think you do, given everything that’s happened since you had serious talks with Michelle, Gina, and Doctor Mercer.”
“Can we just drop this, please?”
“Sure. Sorry. I probably should have just kept quiet about it.”
We rode in silence for about thirty minutes before my cell phone rang.
“Steve, this is Kimmy. I have a message from Lisa Glass. She said it’s urgent you call her about the new building. She said there’s a major problem that needs your immediate attention.”
“OK. Did she leave a number?”
“Yes. Let me give it to you.”
“Hang on, you can give it to Jess. I’m driving.”
I handed the phone to Jessica and asked her to write down the number. She got a pen and pad of paper from the glove box and wrote down the number, then with a nod from me, thanked Kimmy and hung up. I asked her to dial the number for me and she did, handing me the phone when it started to ring.
“Steve Adams,” I said when she answered.
“You asshole!” she spat. “You piece of shit!”
“I warned you not to fuck with me, Lisa. I TOLD you what would happen if Samantha didn’t call me. You didn’t listen and now you’re suffering the consequences. How does it feel with the shoe on the other foot?”
“You need to call John back and tell him it was a lie!”
I laughed, hard, “You are completely out of your mind! I told the truth. You lied. Did he break off the engagement?”
“Yes, you asshole! You are going to fix this! Now!”
“Fix what? I told the truth. You lied. I gave you a chance to fix it. You didn’t.”
“Your stupid little slut wouldn’t take my call.”
“Not my problem at this point. And stop calling her a slut!”
Lisa laughed, “She pulled that off? Oh my God! You are dumber than I thought! You’re her fifth or sixth guy! She was TWELVE the first time! You are a total rube! Call John!”
I recoiled. Was what Lisa said possible? I didn’t think so. Could Samantha have faked it? Actually, it WAS possible. I thought back to everything that had happened, and how good that first blowjob had been, for a first-timer. How she’d seemed to be a natural. How she’d agreed to the ‘Wonder Woman’ treatment so quickly. How easily her dad had allowed me to stay with her. Had I been completely fooled? It was certainly possible, but I wasn’t going to admit that to Lisa. If I ever got to talk to Samantha again, maybe I could get the truth. Or maybe not.
“More lies? Forget it. No chance.”
“You stupid fool. You were taken in by her and now you’ve fucked up my life!”
“No, Lisa, you fucked up your own life. Goodbye.”
I snapped the phone shut and dropped it back into the center console.
“What did she say?”
“John called off the engagement. She wanted me to call him and tell him I lied.”
“I saw your reaction to something she said. You turned pale, Tiger. What did she say?”
“That Samantha lied to me. That I was her fifth or sixth guy and she lost her virginity at twelve. I don’t know if Lisa is telling the truth or not. I don’t trust her at all, obviously.”
“Could it be true?”
“I suppose it could,” I said. “I assumed her lack of a hymen was from years of horseback riding. The rest? I suppose it’s easy enough to pretend to be innocent. I’ve had virgins who were fantastic despite having blood proof of their virginity. You for example.”
“Fantastic? Me? You’re making a comparison? You?”
“For you and you alone, Babe, this one time. Yes, you were FANTASTIC. I still remember that first time, sliding my rock-hard dick into your hot, wet, silky folds.”
“Stop it,” Jessica hissed. “Or I’ll make you pull over!”
“Mommy kiss Daddy?” Stephie asked from the back seat.
“See what you did?” Jessica asked. “Even your two-year-old daughter knows!”
“Just be glad we put Jesse in the van with Kara!” I said.
“Memories of our wedding night seem to have put you in a better mood, at least for the moment.”
“How could they not? I don’t think I’ve ever had a more erotic experience in my life. And yes, that includes Fawn.”
“Today is a weird day all around.”
“So what do you think?”
“I think I need to do my best to forget what’s going on in Chicago and relax with you, Kara, and Elyse.”
We drove another thirty minutes before the phone rang again. It was Kimmy, again, this time saying that Alec Glass had called and that it was urgent. Once again, I had Jessica take the number and dial Alec’s number for me.
“Steve, do you have any idea why my daughter was just in here demanding I rescind the deal with you and invoke the cancellation clause?”
I knew from the attorneys and CPAs that he needed this deal for his REIT, and given the timing, it was unlikely he’d be able to find and execute another deal, and the potential tax and legal implications for him were huge. I, in effect, had HIM over a barrel. I was surprised that Lisa hadn’t realized what I’d just thought about.
“All I know is that Lisa had some kind of serious falling out with Samantha Spurgeon and is trying to take it out on me. I intend to follow through with the agreement I made with you. Business is business, after all.”
“That’s good to hear. Do you have any idea what the falling out was over?”
I did, but I couldn’t tell him. I could, on the other hand, hide behind facts.
“Samantha is on her way to Monaco so I can’t talk to her to find out what actually happened. I called Jeri Lundgren, but she couldn’t get in touch with either Lisa or Samantha. I’m in my car now on the way to Iron Mountain in the Upper Peninsula for a family vacation. I’m on my cell phone, and I’m going to lose signal soon.”
“I won’t keep you. I’m glad we don’t have any issues.”
“There are no issues between us. Thanks again for inviting me to see the Penguins win the Cup.”
“Now that IS an issue between us,” he laughed. “But you’re welcome.”
“Kimmy can get in touch with me at our place in Iron Mountain if you need anything. She should be able to handle most things.”
“Thanks,” he said and disconnected the call.
I snapped the phone shut and put it in the console again.
“It sounds like it’s OK,” Jessica said.
“Lisa miscalculated. Alec needs this deal for his REIT. It’s complicated, but he’ll take a huge tax hit and potentially run into significant legal trouble if he doesn’t complete this deal. He didn’t seem to know the engagement is off.”
“So now what?”
“I bet you anything Lisa comes begging,” I said. “Probably on Monday. She can’t tell Daddy what happened.”
“What if she claims she had sex with you?”
I shook my head, “I don’t think she’ll risk that. Think about it. That makes John the good guy and her the cheater.”
“I think you’re too good at this,” Jessica said quietly.
“So do I,” I agreed. “That’s why I told Jeri I’m going to stay away from the social functions at least for the summer. I don’t WANT to be good at this kind of thing. I do NOT want to turn into Lisa Glass or Margaret Lundgren.”
“Will that work?”
“If not, either Margaret Lundgren will kick me off the board or I’ll resign. I probably never should have accepted Jeri’s offer.”
“I gave my word,” I said. “I’ll only resign if she asks me to, or if I’m asked to do something unethical.”
Jessica reached over and put her hand on my leg. I smiled and we rode in silence until the next rest stop. We got the kids to the bathroom, changed diapers, then got back in the cars for the final leg to Iron Mountain. We arrived as scheduled, and were met by the leasing agent who gave us our keys and went on her way. We got the kids out of the cars and minivan, got our bags, and went inside.
“I’ll go to the grocery store,” I said after we unpacked.
“I’ll come along,” Kara offered. “If it’s OK with Jessica and Elyse.”
“Go!” Jessica said. “I just had some time with him on the drive up.”
“Sure,” Elyse said. “We’ll get the kids outside to play. They’ve been cooped up in the cars all morning.”
I kissed and hugged both Jessica and Elyse, and Kara and I got into my BMW for the drive to the small grocery store.
“How are you?” Kara asked as we pulled out of the driveway.
“OK. I had a good talk with Jess and I also talked to Alec Glass. The deal for the new building is still on. I also spoke to Lisa. John called off the engagement. She didn’t tell her dad about that yet, and insisted I call John back and tell him I lied. I obviously won’t do that. I didn’t hear from Samantha, but she’ll be traveling to Monaco for the rest of the day. I do expect Lisa to call back and offer me the sun, moon, and stars to recant.”
“But you won’t?”
“No chance. She’s made her bed, so to speak. I will, though, hold out the possibility of talking to John if Samantha and I reconcile, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. Lisa made some outrageous claims about Samantha.”
“That Samantha is not what she seems to be. That she’s had four or five lovers before me, and that she took her first lover when she was twelve.”
“What?! And you believe it?”
“I don’t know what to believe. I know Lisa is a scheming liar. Until I talk to Samantha, I won’t know. And even then, I’m not sure I’ll know with any real certainty.”
“But she was a virgin!”
“She said she was a virgin, and I took her word for it. Allowing for your wifely privileges, there was no blood proof. But given she’s been riding horses since she was little, that really wasn’t a surprise. You know hymens can break for other reasons besides sex, and horseback riding is certainly in that category. And as for hiding it, it’s certainly possible. I’ve had girls hide it both ways. Jennifer lied about it, and Crystal and Melody’s friend Jenna both hid it. Jenna hid it until the moment of truth because she had a hymen, and Crystal hid it until after I was in her, which she could do because she didn’t have a hymen.”
“But can’t you tell?”
“How? I’ve had some very adventurous, very, very good virgins, who, if they hadn’t had a hymen, I’d never would’ve been able to tell. I’ve had experienced girls who weren’t that great and girls with very little experience who were fantastic. Think about it, Kara. How difficult would it be to pretend you didn’t know anything?”
“Now that you say that, I don’t think it would be too difficult. So, what do you think?”
“I think only Samantha can answer that question. And on THAT I give her the benefit of the doubt.”
“What leads you to believe that Lisa might be telling the truth?”
“How quickly and easily Samantha agreed to anal sex, including wiggling her butt at me at just the right time. THAT isn’t normal for an inexperienced teenage girl, at least in my experience. How quickly and easily her dad let me spend the night with her. And something that’s been nagging me since I talked to Lisa when we went to sign the papers a couple of weeks ago. She called Samantha, ‘Sammy’, and I’ve never heard anyone call Samantha that.”
“Why does that bother you?”
“I don’t know. As I said, it’s been nagging at me since then. The thing is, I can’t quite figure out how to reconcile all of the information. The ‘Ice Princess’ reputation seemed to be legitimate. But if it’s not, then I don’t want to think about the ultimate consequences of this entire thing.”
“Because that would mean Jeri lied to me. If Samantha is who Lisa says she is, Jeri has been lying to me and playing me the whole way. And there are hints of THAT, too. Like suggesting I could have Samantha if I wanted her despite the ‘Ice Princess’ reputation. Jeri claimed to be truly shocked. But what if this was all part of some game? And I got caught in it.”
“You do remember I asked what you had gotten us into, don’t you?”
“I do. And I already told Jess that I’m not going to any Foundation social events or fundraisers over the summer. I’ll serve on the board, and have my business dealings with Alec, but that’s it. That gives the three of us time to figure out what to do in the future.”
“So what about Samantha?”
I sighed, “I don’t know. I honestly think there’s no good way forward here. Look at the position I’m in! This is not what I wanted and not what you and Jessica wanted. And it upset Michelle.”
“Michelle is OK,” Kara said with a smile. “I talked to her. Given your reputation, it took a bit of time, but I convinced her that you would never cheat like that. She seemed to know you cheated on me in the past, so I explained how you had learned your lesson and that because our trio was renewed after Jessica’s breakdown that you’d never even consider something like that.”
"You know, of all the fallout in the last two days, that’s the thing that bothers me the most. I can deal with all the other stuff. Yes, there might be a bit of business fallout, but honestly, the worst-case scenario is that Alec reneges on the deal for the property, but I don’t think he can. According to Bruce Grady, it would make that REIT non-conforming and that would have tremendous tax and legal implications for Alec.
“I believe our trio is strong enough to survive this, and I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson. If we’re going to do something like we did with Samantha, we have to get to know them BEFORE I have sex with them. That was the real mistake here. Granted, Lisa could still have played the same game, so maybe even that’s not a reasonable solution.”
“Maybe the idea of one, long-term girl wasn’t so smart. I don’t know that we truly considered the implications.”
“Perhaps not,” I said. “But IF Samantha is telling the truth, then it isn’t a problem, is it?”
“No, I suppose not. I really like her. And so does Jessica. And that would mean Jeri was telling the truth as well, so that’s not an issue. It would only be Lisa.”
“Exactly. BUT, if Samantha is lying, then Jeri is lying, and THAT has all kinds of implications I don’t want to deal with on this vacation. I’ll worry about it when I get home.”
“Good,” Kara said. “Back to Michelle. I’m reasonably certain she’ll be fine. I have to say, I like her a lot. I see her as me in a slightly alternate universe. You know I don’t have trouble with ‘What if?’ and I think Michelle is what I might have become.”
“I’m not sure she’s a ‘free spirit’,” I said.
“Are you sure about that? Think about the things she talks to you about. And how she speaks up at the Rap Sessions. And the fact that she got naked in front of everyone. Don’t you see? That could have been me if things had been just slightly different.”
“I suppose so.”
“I know I put the topic off limits, but I’m sure you remember WHY I wanted to give you my virginity. If THAT hadn’t happened, I might well have stayed a virgin until I married.”
I nodded, “OK, I see where you’re coming from. Though, changing even that one event would have so altered your life that you have no idea where it would have ended up.”
“That’s true,” Kara said. “But it doesn’t bother me to speculate like it does you.”
We arrived at the store and after I parked, we went inside. We got a cart and began selecting the perishable goods that we’d need - milk, butter, eggs, and so on.
“I thought you’d call the farm and we’d get the eggs there. They cost about half of what they do here.”
“You’re talking maybe two dollars' worth of difference,” I said.
“Are you trying to avoid seeing Jodie?” Kara teased.
“Jess told me in the car,” I said.
“I’m not surprised. She was very worried that you were going off into one of your bouts of depression. And she thought the cure was, how did you put it, a smoking hot, red-haired, green-eyed, athletic farmer’s daughter with small breasts?”
I chuckled, “I did say that, yes.”
“The three of us, Jessica, Elyse, and I, think she’d be a nice diversion to take your mind off Samantha and everything in Chicago.”
“And my promise to you about one long-term girl? And my promise to Samantha?”
“I’d say that latter one is shot no matter what. Can you ever REALLY trust her to be that close after everything that’s happened?”
“If she’s telling the truth, I can chalk her behavior up to being immature. I was older than she was when I ran away and refused to talk to anyone until there was an intervention by Jackie and Cindi.”
“Yes, that’s true. But will you ever really know for sure? Will I? Will Jess?”
“I see your point, Honey.”
“Put the eggs back,” Kara said with an impish smile.
I nodded and put them back in the cooler. We finished our shopping and headed back to the cabin.
“Kimmy called,” Elyse said. “Lisa Glass would like a call.”
I sighed, “I bet she would. I suppose someone should sound the bell for Round 3.”
I went to the kitchen and lifted the handset from the wall-mounted phone. I dialed the number Kimmy had left. Lisa answered DURING the first ring.
“I haven’t heard from Samantha,” I said.
“She’s on a damned plane! You need to call John NOW!”
“You prick,” Lisa spat. “You CANNOT fuck with me this way! You can’t do this!”
“Actually, it appears I can. I’m not going to lift a finger until I hear from Samantha. And your dad isn’t going to cancel the deal. He can’t do that for tax and legal reasons. I have the upper hand. You shot your last bolt.”
“I’ll tell him you attacked me!”
“You could try that. And when he asks for the police report? And the evidence? You know what will come out from that. A bit of bad press for me in the short term, your reputation ruined, and, worst of all for you, it won’t get John back! Your dad saw you hugging me and talking intimately with me at the hockey game. And I haven’t been anyplace alone with you since, and I can account for my whereabouts at ALL times.”
“Not in this lifetime. I told you I had to hear from Samantha. When I do, THEN we can discuss everything else.”
The sound of the phone being slammed down was muted, but obvious. I hung up and walked back across the open area to the great room.
“What’s her next move?” Jessica asked.
“Two options, I think. One, she waits until Samantha arrives in Monaco and gets in touch with her and Samantha calls me. Or two, she tries to have Jeri intervene. And if she does THAT, I think we’ll have a better idea of what’s really going on.”
“What was that about a police report?”
“An empty threat that she’d tell her dad I attacked her. But if anyone on the planet can account for their whereabouts all the time, it’s me. Not to mention how she behaved at the hockey games in front of her dad, and how she acted when we signed the contract. She won’t be believed.”
“OK. Let’s put the groceries away.”
We did and Jessica noted that we didn’t buy eggs.
“Ask Kara about that,” I said with a wry smile.
“Call the farm and let them know we’re here and that you’ll be over to get eggs,” Kara smirked.
I went back to the phone and dialed the number. Bill Junior, answered and after I told him who I was, and what I wanted, he said to come over, and that I should talk to his mom about having everyone over for dinner. I told him I’d be there in fifteen minutes.
“I’ll ride with you,” Elyse said.
Of course she would. The girls had obviously planned for each of them to talk to me.
“Animals!” Stephie exclaimed gleefully. “Bunnies!”
“We’ll go see them soon, little Bunny Rabbit. I need to get eggs and you’re just playing today. Plus you need a nap soon!”
“Want to go!” she insisted.
“Come to Mommy,” Kara said sweetly and picked her up. “It’s nap time like Daddy said.”
“No!” she screeched.
“I got this, Steve,” Kara said. “Go get the eggs. I think somebody was cooped up in the car too long this morning.”
Elyse and I headed out to my car, and I set out for the Billings' farm.
“Trifecta,” I said with a small smile.
“First Jess, then Kara, now you. What’s YOUR spiel?”
Elyse laughed, “You looked like you were setting up for a major bout of depression. ALL of us were worried.”
“Especially Bethany, right?” I asked.
“Yes. She and Jessica talked this morning before we left.”
“I saw. I figured it was about Michelle.”
“It was. But also about you. Jessica told me about your talk in the car. I know you’ve had some experience with some very serious people and have stood up to them successfully. If you hadn’t, you probably wouldn’t be here.”
“No details, Elyse. You know that.”
“I know, but it’s true, isn’t it? You somehow got Ed off a murder charge!”
“No comment,” I said.
“A tacit admission.”
“Stop delving, Elyse. For your own good. I mean it! You do NOT want to know! Knowing puts YOU at risk and you don’t have what I have.”
“I think everyone who has tried to fuck with you has run into the cold-hearted, scheming bastard that you would be if it weren’t tempered by everything else. That’s what I think. You faced down Margaret Lundgren like you were holding four aces to her pair of threes. You apparently just smoothly and coolly handled Alec Glass. And you totally fucked over Lisa without even a thought. And all that other stuff I don’t know about.”
“And I don’t like it one bit. I’ve told you that. I may be good at it, but I don’t WANT to be Margaret Lundgren. Or Lisa. Or Dante. Or any of the other schemers out there.”
“I think you’ll run into more of them in the future, even if you avoid the ‘High Society’ bullshit you’ve been sucked into by Jeri. Don’t lose the skill. Just don’t make it your usual way of acting.”
“I suppose that’s a valid point. There WILL be people who try to fuck us over.”
“Yes. And you’ll face them down and destroy them. You did such a good job with Margaret Lundgren that she decided you were a better ally than enemy and put you on her Board!”
“So what are you doing in this situation?”
“Well, the building deal is still on because I have the upper hand. Alec needs this more than we do. And because I knew that and didn’t take advantage of him, I have a friend and potential business partner in the future. Lisa is screwed and has no way out. She tried to fuck with me and now she’s the one who’s fucked. And not in a way that generates orgasms.”
“I don’t know, you seem to be enjoying fucking her!” Elyse teased. “Over, that is.”
“It’s not much consolation for what I think I’ve lost. Though who knows?”
“So what are you going to do?”
“A lot depends on what I find out about Samantha. If she is what Lisa says, then Jeri has been lying to me all along and, to be blunt, we’ll have to consider firing her. And I’ll probably end up off the Board, either by being asked to resign or being kicked off. And that would make Samantha just another con artist, if you will, no different from Lisa. Sadly, it makes Jeri one as well.”
“Damn. I hadn’t put all of that together that way, but you’re right. Shit. She’s our best Windows programmer. But if she’s that conniving and devious, we can’t have her around.”
“Exactly my thought. Another possibility is that Samantha was telling the truth, but that Lisa’s lies have spoiled the relationship in such a way that we can’t put it back together. That gets Jeri off the hook, gets Samantha off the hook, and makes Lisa Glass a mortal enemy akin to Brandon Littleton.”
“Ouch!” Elyse said with a slight grimace. “There’s another guy who tried to fuck you over that you wiped out. The same as Callie Shepherd.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “The third possibility is that after Lisa talks to Samantha, things go back to the way they were. I’d have to smooth things over with Samantha’s dad, but I think together we could do that.”
“It sounds like you’ve thought this through, but aren’t there other possibilities?”
“I think they’re all variations on a theme. One possibility is Samantha is so angry with me that she finds a guy in Monaco and starts a relationship with him. Then, by the time Lisa talks to her, she’s wrecked things with me, from her perspective, and we can’t put it back together. Or I mess around with Jodie while still having the agreement with Samantha, and Samantha is upset and can’t deal with it. In a sense, both of those are the spoiled relationship scenario I mentioned.”
“Yes, OK, you were including the variations in those three scenarios.”
“There’s also the overriding problem of Jessica and Kara and how THEY feel about Samantha and our involvement with her at this point.”
“You think they won’t accept her back?” Elyse asked.
“I think there will be a serious trust issue,” I said. “And to be honest, there’s no reason for them to make a serious effort or take the risk. Well, unless Samantha has been totally forthright.”
“What do you want to happen?”
“For everything to go back to the way it was before Lisa lied to Samantha. But honestly, I don’t see how that can happen. Given that, I suppose the best outcome is going to be if Samantha accepts that Lisa lied and we can try to restart things. But that requires Jessica and Kara to agree.”
“I suppose all you can do is wait, then.”
“Yes,” I said. “Which means your little scheme with Jodie is on hold!”
“That was off the table completely until yesterday, though Jodie didn’t know it.”
“Well, it’s still off the table. I need to figure out what’s going on with Samantha. I have to assume my agreement with her is still in place. That way, I have nothing to apologize for if we can reconcile.”
“That does fit ‘New Steve’. ‘Old Steve’ would have spiraled out of control.”
“Old Steve' didn’t have seven kids, wasn’t a CEO, and wasn’t sitting on the Board of the Lundgren Foundation. He also didn’t have friends like Michelle and Gina. And he didn’t have Bethany and Nicholas to take care of. At some point I had to grow up.”
“And that explains your, well, self-control, with girls. Do you think you’ll end up with just Jessica and Kara, eventually?”
“Maybe. But I don’t think you’re moving out anytime soon. And your guy hasn’t managed to move here as yet.”
“No, he hasn’t. I’ll see him in a few weeks.”
“If he ends up here in the next year or two, are you going to move out right away?”
“I have no idea,” she sighed. “Things are nearly perfect right now. My only real complaint is living in the city.”
“And not having me more often.”
“Do you know how perfect the other day was?”
“Playing in the sauna when everyone else was out?”
“Yes. I know it was spur-of-the-moment, but I’d appreciate more opportunities like that.”
“I think we could do that!” I chuckled, as I turned into the drive for the Billings' Farm.
“I meant to ask, does your cellular phone work here?”
“No,” I said. “No signal. I’m not surprised. This is the middle of nowhere, so to speak!”
I parked the car and we got out. Bill Junior and his mom greeted us. We shook hands and Bill asked how many eggs we wanted. I asked for three dozen, which I felt should last us the week.
“Will you all come for dinner on Sunday?” Marjory Billings asked.
“Yes. It will be four adults and eight kids,” I said. “We have a friend’s son with us, and Ashley was born after we were here last.”
“I think we can manage! Come around 11:00am. We’ll have dinner about 1:00pm. Do any of you ride?”
“I do. My wife Jessica does as well, or used to, anyway. Why?”
“We have horses, and there are even a couple of ponies if you want your kids to try riding.”
“I think Jesse and Birgit would love it,” I said. “Elyse, what do you think about Matthew and Michael?”
“I think so, too,” Elyse replied. “What about Nicholas?”
“I would need to call Bethany to make sure it’s OK. I can’t imagine it’s not, but he’s not my son.”
“We’ll see you on Sunday at 11:00am!” Marjory said.
We thanked her and headed back to the cabin. I wasn’t surprised when Kara told me that Jeri had called and asked that I call her on her cellular phone. I went to the kitchen, put the eggs in the fridge, and dialed the number.
“Let me go to the conference room,” Jeri said when she answered.
I waited while she walked from her desk to the conference room.
“Lisa is frantic,” Jeri said.
“Tough shit,” I replied.
“Steve, this is a serious problem. You escalated WAY beyond what was appropriate! An affair is nothing compared to a marriage!”
“That’s not how this works. Someone starts something with me, I end it. Decisively. And they never, ever fuck with me again. I’ve found it to be very effective. It worked with your mom. It’s worked with others.”
“But your response was out of proportion!”
“Exactly. That is how you deal with something like this, whether it’s personal or between two countries. Maybe now Lisa will think twice before she tries to mess with someone in the future. Her crude attempt to gain power over me has cost her dearly.”
“And you won’t try to fix it?”
“I haven’t heard from Samantha. Until I do, I’m not doing a damned thing. When I do hear from her, I’ll decide what to do. Lisa made her own bed. And I’m sure as hell not in it.”
“Steve, for the sake of peace, you need to fix this.”
“No,” I said firmly.
“But I need her help,” Jeri pleaded.
“I don’t see how the one thing has anything to do with the other. Alec isn’t going to cancel the real estate deal. I already spoke with him. I don’t see him suddenly siding with your mom because his daughter wrecked her own life. Just exactly what is she going to tell her dad?”
“She’ll blame John and it might even cause her dad to change law firms.”
“That in not my problem.”
“But John will be hurt by it.”
“Again, not my problem.”
“You cold-hearted bastard!”
“Lisa miscalculated. She thought she could control me. It didn’t happen. Maybe she’ll learn a lesson. What are you going to do when she tries this with Howard?”
“She wouldn’t dare!”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because she’s my friend.”
“She was Samantha’s friend,” I said, leaving the implication unsaid, but clear.
There was silence for a good twenty seconds while what I had said sank in.
“Perhaps you’re right. Now what?”
“We wait for Lisa to get in touch with Samantha. Or you can try. But that won’t be at least until tomorrow, because her flight only left this morning.”
“I’m sorry all this has happened.”
“Me, too. And now, until I talk to Samantha, I’m done with this and I’m going to enjoy my vacation.”
We said our goodbyes and hung up.
“You didn’t ask her about what Lisa said?” Jessica asked.
“No. I want to hear what Samantha has to say. The last thing I want to do is mess things up with Jeri; I don’t want her in the middle of this. And now, this topic is off limits until I hear from Samantha. We’re invited to dinner at the Billings' on Sunday.”
“How about a family walk as soon as the kids wake up from their naps?” Kara asked.
“That sounds like a good plan!” I agreed.
“What’s the plan for this morning?” Kara asked as we lay in bed on Sunday morning.
“Breakfast, and then playing with the kids,” I said. “More or less what we did yesterday.”
“Jess, are you going to try to ride this afternoon?” Kara asked.
“It’s been a LONG time, but I think I will. I’m glad Bethany said Nicholas could ride a pony!”
“So all the kids except Ashley?” I asked.
“Stephie is really too little, too,” Kara said. “But she’ll be very happy with holding bunnies.”
“Are you going to try to ride?” I asked.
“No. I’ve never been on a horse and I just don’t feel comfortable with the idea.”
“So no ‘Lady Godiva’ for you?” I teased.
Kara giggled, “That might be a reason to learn, but I suspect the Billings won’t appreciate it!”
“And how would we stop your daughter?” I chuckled.
“That issue is going to be more of a consideration as the kids get older,” Jessica said. “We’ll have to consider how what we do affects their behavior. And that really affects Tiger’s dalliances.”
“Does it really?” Kara asked. “The kids already know Steve is with Elyse. And they knew something was up with Samantha! She slept in our bed, after all. And Jesse chose monogamy when presented with his options. Well, at least so far.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Jessica said. “And none of the other kids really has the kind of interest in the opposite sex that Jesse does.”
“Certainly Matthew doesn’t!” I chuckled. “I honestly thought we’d find him packing his bags to run away after Chelsea’s kiss and declaration that she was going to marry him!”
“And Birgit is only in love with her daddy right now,” Jessica added. “Shall we get up and make breakfast?”
We got out of bed and put on our pajamas and robes, and went out to the kitchen. Jesse and Nicholas, who were sleeping on the sleeper sofa got up and went to take baths. Elyse and the girls stirred a few minutes later. We prepared and ate breakfast, and after we cleaned up, everyone finished their showers or baths and we decided to take a family walk.
After our walk we relaxed until it was time to head to the Billings farm.
“Bunnies!” Stephie squealed as soon as Kara got her out of her car seat.
“Which one is that?” Jodie asked me.
“That’s Stephie. She’s not quite two. How are you?”
“Good! I hear you’re going to ride.”
“Jessica and me, yes. And the kids will ride ponies, except for Stephie and Ashley who are too small.”
“OK. Let’s get your daughter her bunny to hold!” Jodie said with a smile.
Both Bill Senior and Bill Junior came out of the house, along with Marjory. Jessica and I went with Jodie to the barn, while Marjory, Bill Senior, and Elyse took charge of the kids who were going to ride ponies. Bill Junior, stayed with Kara and the two youngest girls who were enjoying the baby animals.
“Do you know how to put tack on a horse?” Jodie asked.
“I do. Do you have sugar or something for the horse so I can get to know him?”
She laughed, “In the cabinet above the tack. I won’t worry about you, then. Jessica?”
“It’s been a long time. I wouldn’t mind some help to make sure I put the saddle and bridle on correctly.”
“Steve, you can ride Jocko. Jessica, you’ll ride Daisy.”
Fifteen minutes later the three of us set out with Jodie in the lead, then Jessica, and then me.
“You OK, Babe?” I asked.
“Yes. It’s been ten years but I have her under control. She’s very gentle. How’s your horse?”
“A bit antsy about walking. He seems like he wants to run.”
“He does,” Jodie said. “If you’re comfortable we can trot across the field.”
“Sure,” Jessica said.
“I’m game!” I said.
The ride was quite similar to my first ride with Samantha. We took it easier than I needed to because of Jessica, but I still enjoyed the ride. I hadn’t realized how much I missed riding horses until I’d been out with Samantha, and now here with Jodie and Jessica, I hoped this was something Jessica and I could do together. Our ride lasted about forty minutes before we headed back to the barn.
“Dad! I rode a horse!” Jesse called out when I dismounted.
“Did you have fun?”
“Yes! Nicholas rode a horse, too!”
“We can probably find a place in Illinois where you can ride again if you like it.”
“Then we’ll do that. Jodie, if you point me to the grooming cabinet, I’ll brush and pick Jocko for you.”
“Impressive for a city boy!”
Jessica smirked but didn’t say anything. She went with Kara and Elyse to take the kids inside and get them cleaned up while Jodie and I brushed and picked the horses, then filled their feed boxes with oats, and made sure they had enough water.
“Thanks for helping take care of the horses. Would you like to come ride again?”
“I’d love to,” I said. “When?”
“How about tomorrow after dinner? I have chores to do during the day.”
“Let me check with Jessica and Kara, but I think I could do that.”
“I’d like that! We didn’t get a chance to talk as much as I wanted to in Chicago.”
We went into the house and washed up. It was time for dinner, so we helped round up the kids and sat down to a family-style meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, and homemade bread. We all ate our fill, then had apple pie, ice cream, and coffee for dessert.
“Thank you for the fantastic meal,” I said when we finished. “We appreciate the hospitality. And the horseback and pony rides.”
“And bunnies!” Stephie said.
“And bunnies,” I agreed. “What can we do for you?”
“You’ve already helped with Jodie’s college choices, and you’re friends,” Bill Senior, said.
“Well, if there’s anything at all we can do for you, just ask, please.”
Marjorie, Bill Jr., and Jodie cleaned up and did the dishes while Bill Sr., and I went outside to talk.
“My wife was very uncomfortable with the school you went to, but she liked University of Chicago.”
“The neighborhood around IIT is pretty rough,” I agreed. “I can see how someone might be concerned about sending their daughter there.”
“Jodie is deciding between Purdue and Chicago. She wanted to talk to you about her decision.”
“I don’t know much about Purdue, but I’ll be happy to talk to her. She invited me to ride tomorrow after dinner. Something about doing chores during the day.”
Bill laughed, “That’s what it’s like on a farm. Sundays are the rest days, but otherwise, it’s dawn to dinner. On Sunday, it’s just a few hours in the morning. It’s why Jodie wants to study computers and leave the farm. I don’t blame her. It’s really hard work, and she’s never had an affinity for it like my son has. His girl is OK with farm life, so they’ll take over when we’re ready to retire.”
“It’s not something I could do, that’s for sure! But as I said, if you can think of some way I can repay your kindness, just let me know.”
“I think you can. But I wanted to ask you privately. If my daughter comes to Chicago, I’d ask you and your, well, I don’t know what word to use so I’ll say women, would watch out for her, I’d appreciate it. She’s a country girl and it’s a big city.”
“Jessica and Kara are my wives. I know that’s not conventional, but that’s what the relationship is. I suppose you could call Elyse my girlfriend, but she’s also mother to two of my sons. We’d be happy to watch out for Jodie.”
“Then you’ll have repaid our kindness in spades.”
He extended his hand and we shook.
The phone rang just as we were finishing breakfast on Monday morning.
“Hi,” Jeri sighed when I answered.
“Jeri, I don’t want to talk about this until I talk to Samantha,” I said.
“I talked to Samantha.”
“Then she should be calling me so we can work this out.”
“She doesn’t want to,” Jeri said, her voice full of trepidation.
“Why? Didn’t Lisa talk to her?”
“Yes, but there’s a complication.”
“Tell me,” I sighed.
“She was really upset and when she got to Monaco she met up with a friend from previous trips.”
“A guy friend,” I said flatly.
“I don’t care if she slept with him. I really don’t. Have her call me. We can work this out.”
“I tried,” Jeri said with resignation. “I really did. She’s sure it’s over.”
“Jeri, you know my history. I can deal with it. Samantha and I just need to talk.”
“She said ‘no’. I think she feels she trashed everything.”
“Do you have her phone number?”
“Steve, unless she tells her dad it’s OK, you can’t call her or even talk to her.”
“Fuck! Well, Lisa can forget ANY kind of help from me. I hope she has fun explaining to Alec why the engagement was called off. And I hope she realizes that she has NO CHOICE but to tell the truth.”
“Please don’t escalate!” Jeri begged.
“Escalate? This is all part of my use of decisive force to destroy an enemy. John and his firm shouldn’t suffer. If Lisa does ANYTHING that causes Alec to move his business from Hart-Lincoln, they will hear from me what happened. They’re a customer. And that will be a VERY interesting conversation when Alec talks to John.”
“You are a ruthless bastard, you know that?”
“Tell Lisa not to fuck with me on this. I am NOT kidding!”
“I’ll tell her, but I don’t think she’ll do it. She can’t admit to her dad what she’s been doing!”
“The one faithful man in the entire room? I can see how that would be embarrassing. Tough shit. And no more calls on this. I’m done with it.”
“Lisa is going to flip out.”
“I don’t care; let her. I’ll see you on Monday. Tell Kimmy no more calls from Lisa. Period.”
“OK,” Jeri sighed.
I hung up, picked up my coffee cup, and walked out the front door. I was surprised, but happy, that none of the women followed me outside giving me time to think. There were several things to consider. Was there any way to repair my relationship with Samantha? Even if it just ended up being friendship, it would be better than the current situation. The problem was, I couldn’t even talk to Samantha unless her dad gave permission. Well, at least until she was eighteen, which was about ten months away. All I could do was hope that at some point, Jeri could convince Samantha to talk to me.
The thing that bothered me the most was that I couldn’t see where I’d done anything wrong. I’d kept my word to Samantha, and I’d turned down not just Lisa, but Gracie. I’d avoided any flirting with Jodie when she’d been in Chicago. I’d brought Samantha into our family, and started to integrate her into our lives. I’d made time for her and seen her at the times she’d requested. And Lisa Glass had blown it all away by falsely claiming to have slept with me.
Now, Samantha, having reacted in anger, apparently felt there was no way to restore our relationship. I could forgive her, if she’d let me. If Jeri was telling the truth, and I felt she was, then it seemed as if Samantha wasn’t going to let me. She was gone for two weeks, and even after that, I didn’t know how I could talk to her unless she relented. Even going to the July dinner wouldn’t solve the problem unless Samantha relented. The only word I could think of for the situation was ‘hopeless’.
It was nearly ten minutes before Jessica came outside.
“Are you OK?”
“I suppose,” I said. “I assume you got the drift of what happened?”
“Elyse just told us about your speculation. What are you going to do?”
“If she won’t talk to me, there isn’t anything I CAN do. Samantha is in Monaco for two weeks. I can’t call her. Jeri tried to get her to call me but Samantha refused, saying it was over. I’m sure she feels guilty, but if she’d talk to me, we could work it out. Honestly, I’d be the world’s biggest hypocrite if I wasn’t willing to forgive her.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“Not be an idiot,” I said.
“That’s good, but I was hoping for a more specific answer,” Jessica said, putting her arm around me.
I slipped my arm around Jessica as well.
“At this point, would you accept Samantha back into the family in as if nothing had happened?”
Jessica was silent for a moment, “No, I don’t think so.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I think for a similar reason to why you want to limit your association with the Foundation folks in social settings. All we’re doing is asking for more trouble like we just had. All those stupid games they’re playing. And here I thought the hospital was bad! I think, just as the hospital is off limits, anyone involved with the Foundation has to be off limits. And we need to avoid socializing with them as much as possible.”
“Wouldn’t that also apply to the hospital? Or to NIKA employees?”
“We don’t really associate much with hospital people, anyway. Just Doctor Barton and Gina. I eat lunch with a few different doctors and nurses from the ER, but don’t see them outside of work; not even Alicia. Remember, I thought it was a toxic social environment as a med student and my opinion hasn’t changed. As for NIKA, some of those people are very old friends. You really don’t associate much with anyone else. The only real concern would be Kajri and Cèlia coming to the Rap Sessions. That might be something we want to change.”
“You’re saying we need to keep business and personal separate?” I asked.
“As much as possible, yes,” Jessica said. “Certainly new employees shouldn’t be brought into private social situations. And we treat the Foundation as business.”
“I’m not sure I can agree to a blanket division like that,” I said. “I’ve told you what Don Joseph taught me. But that doesn’t mean not being more careful about it. How about we agree that the three of us will discuss the situation before we ask anyone from work into a private social situation that involves our family? I’m not talking about socializing like going to lunch with Dante or that kind of thing, since it’s not into the family.”
“That makes sense. We need to make sure Kara agrees.”
“Agrees with what?” Kara asked coming out onto the porch.
“Not making the mistake of bringing someone from work or the Foundation into our private lives,” I said.
“But it wasn’t Samantha who caused the problem,” Kara objected.
“No, it was Lisa,” I agreed. “But it was because Samantha was in that social circle that the problem occurred.”
“Couldn’t it happen no matter what?” Kara asked. “Anyone could try something like that.”
“Yes, they could,” I said. “Like Callie Shepherd. But why play with fire, so to speak? We’re not talking about not having friends, but about not bringing them into our private lives without discussion in advance. So you meet with the ‘Chemistry Mafia’ and I have lunch with Dante, and Jessica has lunch with Alicia, but we keep our distance as a trio, so to speak.”
“What about Gina? Or Dave and Julia?”
“We’re not changing those relationships. We’re just saying that new ones need to be discussed and agreed between the three of us.”
“Have you given up on Samantha?”
“I think she’s given up on us. She went with a guy she knew and told Jeri that it’s over. I suspect Samantha thinks she’s destroyed the relationship. And unless she relents and talks to me, I can’t even try to fix it. Not to mention Jessica being uncomfortable about bringing her back into the family after all of this.”
Kara was quiet for a moment, “I suppose I can see that.”
“So we agree that Steve shouldn’t try to revive the relationship?”
“I guess that’s for the best,” Kara said.
“It sucks,” I sighed. “But unless you two are completely comfortable, it’ll never work. So I reluctantly agree. What we just talked about does raise an issue about Jodie.”
“You’re free from your agreement with Samantha,” Kara said.
“Sorry, I meant about bringing someone into our family. Her dad asked me, privately, if we’d watch out for her in Chicago. I said we would.”
“I don’t think that’s an issue,” Jessica said. “It’s no different from some of the other college students you’ve helped over the years. She wouldn’t be moving into the house or anything like that. And watching out for her doesn’t mean involving her in our day-to-day lives.”
“True,” I agreed. “What about Michelle?”
“She’ll move into the dorms at the end of the summer and continue as before. Taking in a girl who had the kind of issues that Michelle had seems to fit your view of how the world should work. You have a serious problem with men who abuse women, and your involvement with Bethany’s mission in life tells me that will never change. And, honestly, I can’t think of a nicer person than Michelle that I’ve ever met. Well, present company excepted!”
Kara giggled, “Nice save, Jess! But I agree. I told Steve I thought Michelle is what I might have become with slightly different circumstances. Faithful, open-minded, thoughtful, and a virgin until I married.”
“That would be quite the alternate universe,” Jessica observed. “And not one I’d want to live in. I wouldn’t change a thing about our trio.”
“Me, either,” I agreed.
“Nor me,” Kara added.
“So what about your date tonight?” Jessica asked.
“If you paid close attention, Jodie didn’t really flirt at all. And she mentioned wanting to talk to me about schools, and her dad said that she wanted to do that. The only thing that was even a remote hint was her comment that she didn’t get a chance to talk to me the way she wanted to because her mom was at lunch with us.”
“Could we be misreading her?” Kara asked.
“I think my reputation and my history colors how we look at every situation. But Gina and Michelle are different. And I’m different. So maybe the three of you are misreading things. I’ll go ride with her and talk with her. And we’ll see what happens.”
“You’re very calm, Tiger. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.”
“Both,” I said. “Good that I’m not depressed. Bad that I was, as Jeri and Lisa both said, a ‘cold-hearted bastard’.”
“Sometimes you just have to be. Why don’t we go back inside?”
“What’s the plan for the day, then?” I asked.
“Same as for the rest of the week. Spend time together, relax, and enjoy our family.”
About twelve hours later, I was sitting in a saddle on Jocko. I followed Jodie on her horse, Dahlia, out of the barn and along a path towards the pasture where I saw Bill Junior, on his horse riding along the fence line.
“He’s looking for breaks in the fence,” Jodie said. “Something we do every day.”
“Your dad said the farm was a lot of work. Do you have hired hands?”
“A couple of men who come in the morning to milk the cows. It’s all done by machine, but they hook everything up and run it. We have temporary help when it’s planting and harvesting time, too. Ellen gives riding lessons and we board horses. I help with that along with making deliveries of eggs and fresh vegetables.”
“It seems like you have a wide range of stuff going on here?”
“Family farms do whatever they can to make ends meet. Dad has always managed to turn enough profit every year to take care of us and save some money for me to go to college. I have some scholarships that are available to farm kids. They’d be more if I was going to study agriculture or something like that, but I’m not interested. If Billy wasn’t interested, my parents would probably end up selling the farm when they retired.”
We followed a path away from the fields and into a wooded area.
“And you decided to study computers.”
“Dad’s idea, but I think it makes sense. It seems like everyone who graduates gets a decent job. And it looks like it has a very bright future.”
“Which schools did you like?”
“Well, I liked the professors and the program at the school you went to, IIT, but Mom was scared to death when we were there. It’s in a really bad neighborhood.”
“It is. Housing projects to the north and south on the west side, and depressed areas on the other three sides. Across the expressway to the west is Comiskey Park, and past that is Bridgeport, which is a working-class area. There isn’t much in walking distance, really. I lived in Hyde Park, by UofC, and drove to IIT.”
“Mom doesn’t want me going there, so I think that’s out. I was thinking Purdue or Chicago, though Michigan would be a lot cheaper.”
“Can you afford the other two schools?”
“Yes. It’ll be tight, but I can manage between guaranteed student loans, scholarships, and what we’ve saved for my college. I’ll get a campus job to earn some spending money.”
“It sounds as if you have everything under control.”
“Mom is encouraging me to go to Purdue. She’s concerned about me being in the big city. What do you think?”
“Kara and I, along with my friend Bethany, and obviously my little sister, are from a rural county outside Cincinnati. Our hometown, Milford, has a population of around 5,000. I think Iron Mountain is bigger, though the closest big city to you is much further away. I think it’s Green Bay, right?”
“Yes. Don’t you come up through Wisconsin to get here?”
“No, we take the scenic route, on purpose. It takes longer, but we like to drive across the Mackinac Bridge and then drive across the UP along the lake.”
“So what was it like moving to the big city?”
“For me? Easy. It turns out I’m a city boy; I just didn’t know it. Elyse, on the other hand, doesn’t like it very much. She’s from the same county, but a different small town. She’ll end up moving out to the suburbs eventually. I like living in the city. The thing is, the UofC campus is really large, and has a lot of open space, and there are quite a few parks in Hyde Park. It’s not like at IIT where it’s basically cement with a bit of green.”
“Your friend Elyse went to Chicago?”
“Yes. And so did my little sister and some of our employees. Jessica is a Resident at the hospital there and Kara teaches Chemistry there. I have a pretty good relationship with some professors in the Computer Science department there, though I know the guys at IIT better because I graduated from there. I can’t say much about Purdue, though I have a friend who went there and thought it was a good school and certainly less urban than Chicago.”
“Your office is close to the University, isn’t it?”
“For now. We’re moving because we’re out of space. There really isn’t a building the size we need which we could afford in Hyde Park, so we’re moving to the West Loop. But I’ll keep living where I do in Hyde Park. Well, technically it’s Kenwood, but my first apartment was in Hyde Park a few blocks away, so I still say Hyde Park. And people know where that is, even if they aren’t from the immediate area.”
We came to a clearing in the woods and Jodie stopped Dahlia. I drew up beside her on Jocko.
“This is where I come to spend time alone. I think, or read, or write in my diary.”
“It’s peaceful,” I said.
“There’s a brook over there,” she gestured, “and if I’m quiet, I can see deer, rabbits, raccoons, and even the occasional fox. They never bother me. And nobody has ever disturbed me when I’m here.”
“I use my sauna in that way,” I grinned. “Not quite the same, but it works. Back home my parents had just over seven acres, and there was this really nice clearing in the woods behind the house where I could go.”
“But you’d rather be cooped up inside and sweating?”
“It’s been called my ‘Fortress of Solitude’ in the past. Given that I live in the city, it’s my best option. There are really nice parks, but there are always people there. I’m not much on being alone, really. I can deal with it for short periods of time, but I like having people around.”
“I need my quiet time, alone,” Jodie said. “And lots of it.”
“That presents a problem for any big school. Have you thought about smaller schools that are more rural?”
“I want a really good academic program with lots of options. That means a bigger school. I’ll just have to find a way to get some time alone, outside, even if there are other people around. So long as they don’t bother me, I think it would work out OK.”
“Be sure of that,” I said. “Academics aren’t the only consideration. They are important, but if you’re spiritually or emotionally out of sorts, that can cause big problems.”
“It’s something to think about. I need to decide where to apply soon. I’m going to apply to Chicago and Purdue for sure. But maybe I’ll apply to a smaller school, too. That way I have options.”
“I think that’s a good plan,” I said.
“Do you want to stop for a bit? Or keep riding?”
“It’s up to you,” I said.
“Let’s stop. We can leave the horses by the brook. They won’t run off. They’ll drink and graze.”
“You’re the expert!” I chuckled.
She kneed Dahlia and moved off and I followed her.
“You seem to know your stuff. Have you ridden a lot?”
“Until about a month ago, I hadn’t been on a horse in about thirteen years. But I got the full set of horsemanship badges from Camp Marydale in Kentucky. I learned to ride when I was six in California, and then after we moved to Ohio, I went to camp every summer and rode horses, and learned to care for them and groom them.”
“I was trying to figure out how a big-city boy knew how to use a hoof pick and get the horse to cooperate!”
“Just one of my many eclectic skills,” I chuckled. “I can teach you to play chess, if you want. Or teach you karate. Or computers. Those are my main skills, though my chess is really rusty at this point. I play occasionally with Jesse’s mom, but that’s really about it.”
“He’s the oldest one, right?” Jodie asked.
“Yes. A holy terror if there ever was one! And his best friend Nicholas is following in his footsteps!”