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AWLL 2 - Book 1 - Bethany

Michael Loucks



For Stephie

Copyright © 2015-2020 Michael P. Loucks

First publication date: 2016-06-22

First revision publication date: 2019-12-13

You may contact the author at: author@michaelloucks.com



March, 2005, Chicago, Illinois

I was sitting in my study writing in my journal, typing on the brand-new G5 iMac that had replaced my dual-G4 Mac Pro. I was very happy that I no longer had to write out my journal entries longhand! First I’d moved to the Apple II, and then the Macintosh. I’d had quite a few models over the years, and despite the business using mostly Windows and Linux, I still preferred the Mac for personal use.

“Dad?” Matthew said coming into the office.

“Hey, what’s up?” I asked, clicking away on the keys.

“I want to join the Navy instead of going to college.”

I stopped typing and pushed the keyboard away from me. He was telling me, not asking me, which was what I’d always taught him to do. I didn’t have an issue with what he’d said, but I needed to make sure that he had thought things through.

“OK,” I said. “Tell me why.”

“I’ve had enough school, really. To be honest, I’m sick and tired of it. Navy training would be excellent. I talked to Commander Shaughnessy and she thinks I’m almost certain to get assigned to nuclear school, especially if I volunteer for submarines. I’d have to do well on the ASVAB, but that should be a piece of cake.”

I chuckled involuntarily. One of Matthew’s quirks was that when he wanted to escape, he would sit in the back of his closet, with the lights out, with a pillow, a blanket, and a flashlight, and read. Being cooped up on a sub would be something like that!

“I guess all those years reading in that small closet will pay off! Did you talk to your grandfather?”

“I did. He said it’s a bit hard to compare his old four-stack, oil-burning, World War I-era destroyer to a modern submarine! Anyway, there’s a fantastic bonus structure - if I re-up after four years, I’ll be able to get $75,000 as a signing bonus. That’ll make it easy to buy a house. And ‘nucs’ get promoted much more quickly. I could make 1st Class in five years, if I bust my ass.”

I knew he’d do that. If there was one thing that was certain, it was that Matthew was an overachiever. He was easily bored, and that had hurt his grades a bit, but not terribly so.

“Did you talk with Chelsea about this?” I asked.

“Yes. She’s OK with it. She has two more years at Loyola, so she’ll be graduating just about the time I would finish nuclear school, which is either in Charleston, South Carolina or Ballston Spa, New York. I don’t want to go on a boomer, so I wouldn’t be out to sea for four months or more like they do. Chelsea’s going to teach middle school like Aunt Kathy, so she’ll be able to get a job anywhere.”

If he knew where the nuclear training schools were, that meant he’d done his research, which was another good sign.

“Planning for your future together?” I asked with a knowing smile.

“Since she was eight and I was five!” he laughed. “Do you think I have a choice?”

I remembered that day. Chelsea had been visiting with her parents. She had seen Matthew come into the sunroom, and went over to him, hugged him, kissed him on the lips, and announced that she was going to marry him. He’d run out of the room with a look of sheer terror on his face. That had all changed around 1995. And since around 1999, they’d spent their summers together, and during the school year, they’d burned cell phone minutes like they were going out of style. Now that she was at Loyola, they were together every weekend.

“No, you don’t! I remember that!” I chuckled. “I thought you were going to run away from home!”

“I figured out girls aren’t so bad,” he smirked. “Especially her!”

He had indeed. They’d been a couple since he was fourteen and she was seventeen, and that made Matthew the odd man out amongst our older kids. He was the one who might well marry his first love, with neither of them ever having been with anyone else. Jesse, Michael, and Birgit were much more like me.

“Did you talk to your mom about the Navy?” I asked.

He sighed, “Yes. She’s not thrilled with the idea, but she said I had to make my own decisions, just like you always say.”

That was exactly the response that I’d expected from his mom.

“You don’t turn eighteen until May. Will she sign the papers? Or do I need to?”

“She will. She agrees with you on most things, Dad. She’s just a mom. They’re different.”

“Stay for the night. You’re so busy these days I don’t see you as much as I’d like to, especially since you all moved to Oswego.”

“Mom said you would say that. I have my bag in the car. You know Mom; she wanted someplace quiet with good schools. That’s why she moved there before I started Junior High.”

“I know. Do you remember when we all lived here?”

He smiled, “That was crazy; Birgit, Ashley, me, Michael, Albert, and Stephie; and Jesse was next door! And Aunt Stephanie was here with her two kids most of the time!”

“How’s your mom’s boyfriend?” I grinned.

“He’s super nice. You know I like him. He’s been teaching us proper Spanish. She never did tell us when she first met him. I assume you know?”

“October of 1982, if memory serves. But they were apart for a long, long time. I was happy when they managed to reconnect. Are you coming to dinner with them next weekend?”

“I have a date with Chelsea,” he grinned.

He was very much like me in that he definitely had his priorities straight. Your true love was too important to ignore.

I. Back to Reality, Part I

December 30, 1985, Chicago, Illinois

“I’m sorely disappointed in you girls!” Stephanie giggled when Jessica, Kara, and I stepped off the bus in the makeshift Terminal 4 at O’Hare. “He can still walk! And big brother, THEY can still walk!”

Jessica laughed, “I’d say that you were jealous, but he’s your brother, so you really can’t be, can you?”

“No, I can’t!” Stephanie said, the corner of her lip turned up, which revealed nothing to Jessica, but conveyed a clear message to Kara and me.

“I take it the house is in one piece?” I said, taking our bags from next to the bus and putting them on a cart.

“Nobody got arrested and we didn’t need the fire department, so yeah, I guess so!”

We wheeled the cart out to the short-term parking lot and Stephanie and I loaded the bags in the hatch of her Nova. Jessica and Kara got into the back seat and, as they had in Stockholm, held hands. I got into the front seat with Stephanie.

“Do you see how it is?” I asked.

“Get used to it, big brother,” Stephanie laughed. “The girls have always been in charge!”

She backed out of the parking spot, and we made our way to the exit where I handed her the $2.00 to cover the parking fee. She pulled out onto I-190 and headed for the city.

“How was Sweden, girls?” Stephanie asked, as she merged into traffic.

“Great!” Jessica said. “I really enjoyed it. It was nice and peaceful, beautiful, and Steve’s friends are wonderful.”

“I loved it!” Kara said. “He’d promised to take me there a long time ago, and I’m glad we went. The hotel was awesome, the country was absolutely gorgeous, and like Jessica said, Steve’s friends were wonderful.”

“And the sex?” Stephanie asked with a smirk, and a wink that only I could see.

“He performed adequately and fulfilled his husbandly duties,” Jessica said deadpan.

Kara and Stephanie both laughed and I just smiled and shook my head. I knew better than to try to verbally tangle with these three, because together, they’d find a way to twist every single word that I said into some odd meaning that would insult my manhood. Of course, my silence didn’t help.

“Cat got your tongue, Tiger?” Jessica purred. “He sure didn’t, last night!”

“Leave it to my brother to talk too much when he should be screwing!” Stephanie giggled.

“Oh, he was tongue-tied alright,” Kara giggled. “But it was OUR tongues!”

Stephanie laughed hard. “I guess he lived up to his reputation, then?”

“I have nothing to compare to, but I’d say so!” Jessica laughed.

“I don’t either, but I agree!” Kara added.

Stephanie suggestively licked her lips and winked at me again. She DID have something to compare it to and had always told me that the other guys came up short by comparison.

“Squirt, who do the Bears play next weekend?” I asked.

“The Giants. New York beat San Francisco yesterday. And New England beat the Jets. Best guess is Bears against the Dolphins in the Super Bowl.”

“Good. We can get our revenge for that stupid Monday Night loss to Miami!” I said.

“Oh, I almost forgot, your tickets for the Penguins game on Wednesday afternoon are on your desk. And the girls made a minor change in room assignments while you were gone.”

“Oh?” I said.

“Sofia is moving in with Bethany now that Kara will be sleeping with you. They wanted to give Elyse her private room back.”

“I asked them to, Tiger. I strongly prefer you go to Elyse in her room, rather than bring her to our bed. That’s doubly true because Kara will be moving into our room.”

I nodded, “That makes sense. Elyse will need a place for a crib in less than eighteen months.”

“There’ll be plenty of room when Dave and Julia move out, and when George and Charlie graduate. By summer, we’ll have empty rooms in the house,” Kara said.

I nodded, “I figured that Stephanie would move over so that Jennifer and Josie could give Jesse his own room once he’s out of the crib. That would leave us a room to use as a nursery. By the time any of our kids need their own rooms, Bethany will have graduated for sure, and Sofia will be in medical school. At some point, she’ll want to get a place of her own, I’m sure, as will Squirt.”

“You aren’t getting rid of me THAT easily, big brother!” Stephanie laughed.

“That’s years down the road,” I said. “But I do think you should move over once Dave and Julia move out and give Jen and Josie their privacy.”

“That makes sense. Oh, one other thing, Tatyana called with her flight information. She’s flying in on Friday and she’ll fly back to Boston on Wednesday. I told her that you would pick her up. She’ll sleep in the guest room where Jessica’s been sleeping. Jorge will arrive on Saturday and he’ll be here until the dorms at IIT open on the following Friday.”

“Have Elyse and Bethany come back from Ohio?” I asked.

“Today. Elyse asked me to plan a New Year’s Eve party. I’ve got everything set. Julia bought the booze for me. You were running low on some stuff so I had her pick it up. I left a detailed accounting of what I spent so you can reimburse me.”

“Will do!”

“When does school start, Jessica?” Stephanie asked.

“Monday, unfortunately. I’m going back to Indianapolis on Sunday. I start a surgical clerkship on Monday morning, but I don’t know what service I’m assigned to. I’ll call to ask when we get home, since the letter is likely sitting in my mailbox at my apartment.”

“Ah, one more thing, big brother. Doctor Barton called and said that he’s rented an apartment because they can’t close on the house until February 1st. He left a phone number.”

“Anything ELSE?” I chuckled.

“The world did not stop to wait for you while you were screwing yourselves silly in Sweden! I think Julia has a bunch of stuff for you, too.”

“Tomorrow,” I sighed, as the weight of the world began to force itself into my consciousness. “Today is a vacation day. I want to get home, get something to eat, take a sauna, and then just relax.”

We arrived at the house and when Stephanie pulled into the driveway, Jennifer and Josie came out to greet us. Everyone exchanged hugs, and Josie helped Stephanie and me carry the bags into the house and up to my room, while Kara and Jessica went to the guest room to bring Jessica’s things upstairs.

“I’ll move my things in here tomorrow morning while you’re working,” Kara said. “And I’ll start some laundry while you’re making lunch.”

“There’s plenty of room in the walk-in closet,” I said. “And there are two sets of drawers built into your end, so you and Jess can share. If there isn’t enough room, let me know and we’ll figure out a solution.”

We went downstairs and I stuck my head in the NIKA office and said hello, then went to my office to greet the programming team. Penny jumped up and gave me a huge hug, and Dany and Tom just waved, then turned back to their workstations. I went to the kitchen to make soup and sandwiches. Jessica called to check which service she would be assigned to, and from the smile I saw spread on her face I was sure it was trauma. She hung up and confirmed it.

“Trauma!” she gushed. “Of course that means being on call and wearing a pager, but it’ll so be worth it!”

“Congratulations. I guess that helps for your future plans?”

“It does. It’s not strictly necessary, but I’ll have a total of four emergency medicine clerkships and that’s huge. Between that, my grades, and any strings Doctor Barton can pull at the University here, I should be a lock to be an intern for him!”

I pulled her into a hug, and Kara joined us to make it a three-way hug. We all kissed, and then sat down to eat. When we finished eating, we went for a short walk, and then the three of us went down to the basement to use the sauna. I put up the ‘Privacy Please’ sign and for the first time, sat naked in the sauna with my two wives, one on either side of me.

“Why the privacy sign?” Jessica asked.

“Because I just want some time with the two of you. The real world is going to intrude tomorrow morning, and I just want to grab this last bit of peace and quiet before it does.”

“Being naked in here is really liberating,” Jessica said. “The steam is really relaxing, too.”

“We can use the whirlpool, too,” Kara said. “I think the three of us can squeeze in together!”

“That sounds like fun!” Jessica agreed.

About twenty minutes later, I adjusted the sauna controls, then filled the tub with warm water. The three of us got in, with the girls turned so that they were half-lying on my chest. I turned on the water jets and all three of us let out long sighs as the water flowed around us.

“Damn,” Jessica said. “I really COULD get used to this. I think I have to come here more often than you guys come to Indy. But with my schedule, who knows. If I’m on weekend on-call, I won’t be able to drive up.”

“We’ll work it out, Babe. Kara and I will do whatever we need to do to accommodate.”

“I love you both so much!” she sighed.

I made eye contact with Kara. “We love you, too!” we both said.

When we finally left the sauna, we put on our robes and went up to our room. We crowded into the shower which was easily large enough for the three of us, and after we dried off, we climbed into bed for a nap. I set the alarm for ninety minutes later and with it being close to 11:00pm in Stockholm, I had no trouble falling asleep.

When we woke up, I called Stephie to see how she was doing. She was feeling very weak and was often sick to her stomach. I offered to visit, but she turned me down flat, saying that she didn’t feel up for it. She did remind me about coming to Georgia for the race at Talladega, and I promised that I’d be there.

The rest of the evening was quiet. After our nap, we ate dinner, which Sofia had prepared, and spent some time talking to Dave, Julia, Sofia, Stephanie, Jennifer, and Josie about our honeymoon. Thankfully, Dave and Julia avoided talking about work - there would be plenty of time in the morning when I had to acknowledge the real world once again.

Elyse and Bethany arrived home just before 9:00pm and joined us to talk. My wives and I didn’t stay up too late, and turned in around 9:30pm. We chose to simply go to sleep, content to be in each other’s arms.

December 31, 1985, Chicago, Illinois

I had a quiet breakfast with my wives before work. Kara and Jessica were going to spend the day moving Kara’s things to our room, and then they’d help Sofia move in with Bethany. When I finished breakfast, I kissed them both and went to my computer and started writing journal entries about the wedding and honeymoon. Penny, Dany, and Tom arrived just before 8:00am, and I knew it was time to get to work. I saved everything and locked the disk back in the drawer just as Julia came in and asked if I’d meet with her to catch up. I agreed, and got up to follow her. She’d made a pot of tea which we took to the ‘Indian’ room where Dave and Elyse joined us.

“Lots of good news - everything with Purina is on-track and Cindi and Mario have signed several new customers,” Julia said. “And even more important, our support revenue has increased. Elyse?”

“Based on what we’re getting from the law firms and the construction firms, plus the union shops, we’re ahead of plan. I have some revised financials here, which we’ll present to the Board when we meet with them in two weeks. If everything goes according to this plan, we can start paying Dave, Julia, and Cindi more realistic salaries no later than April. Cindi has a fairly big deal in the works that would mean some serious money.”

Julia took over, saying, “A county in Wisconsin, Waukesha, which is west of Milwaukee, bought some Prime computers. They’re looking to hire an outside company to help them design and build a bunch of applications with Prime Information and something called ‘Blacksmith’ which looks like a screen designer and report generator add-on for Information. It’s something that we’d assign Tom and one other person to, full-time, for at least a year, if not two. And the billable rate would be at least one-and-a-half times our cost for Tom and the second person.”

“Holy smokes!” I said. “So we’d hire someone and still have a built-in profit of something like $50,000 a year for a couple of years? Just from that contract?”

“Yes,” Julia said. “And Cindi thinks we have the inside track. She met with a guy named John Forster who’s responsible for the new implementation and from everything he’s said, it’s our deal to lose. Cindi, you, Dave, and I have to make a presentation there in two weeks. The contract will be awarded in March and we’d start June 2nd.”

“Damn! So what does that mean for Purina?” I said.

“Tom is at a point where we can hire a more junior person to take over making changes and fixing bugs. We owe them the production delivery on March 3rd, which means the timing is perfect. Tom keeps working on that until he goes to Waukesha, assuming we get the deal. Dave wants to put you on the project with Tom to start with, while we bring someone else onboard. A lot of the initial work is design, so it’s better to have Dave and you work with me on that while Tom does prototyping. Once the coding starts in earnest, then we’ll move another coder in to work with Tom and Dave will supervise.”

“Can we handle two people working remotely like that?” I asked.

“Tom is a known commodity and we trust him, so, yes, we can. He’d be our senior person on site and Dave would go up once a week to do project status meetings.”

“Cindi needs a raise,” I said.

Elyse laughed, and handed me a sheet of paper, “Here’s our new proposed commission schedule. Neither Cindi or Mario get raises, but we pay them a percentage of each deal that they bring in. I talked to them in broad terms and they’re very happy with that. Just from the deal with Waukesha, Cindi would get a very nice income bump.”

“What about stuff in the past?” I asked.

“Down at the bottom I proposed a one-time bonus for each of them. It’s not as much as they would have received under the commission structure, but we can’t really afford to give them more because it wasn’t factored in to the costs.”

“No objections here. You two should present this to the Board when we meet.”

“Thanks. Now for the more difficult issue. Dave?”

“I’ll be blunt, because that’s what you like, Steve. Dany isn’t working out.”

I recoiled a bit and cocked my head. I trusted Dave’s judgment, but I certainly hadn’t seen any signs of a problem with her. I wondered if something had happened while I was gone.

“That’s unexpected. What’s up?”

“Her code is buggy, and she’s sloppy. The number of bugs reported in stuff she works on is more than triple what you and Penny have, combined, and you both work way faster than she does. All those bugs you spent time fixing? Most of those were hers. Part of the problem is that she doesn’t test things thoroughly before she submits them to me.”

“Have you talked to her about this?” I asked, remembering Scott’s admonitions about testing, as well as about managing a team.

“Three times. The first time was at the beginning of December, then again just after you left on your honeymoon. The third time was yesterday. It’s all documented just as Scott taught us to do.”

I nodded, “OK. Tell me what you want to do.”

“If we were bigger, I’d assign her a mentor and see if we could bring her along. But we aren’t big enough to do that. We have far too much work to do to babysit her, even for a month or two. Honestly, Penny’s a kid and does a way better job than Dany.”

“Dave, I mentored Penny for two years before she started working. That’s a pretty big advantage, don’t you think?”

“True, but we can’t afford to have you do that, and given everything else, nobody else can take the time to do it. I propose we replace her.”

I sighed. Reality couldn’t even wait twenty-four hours before it smacked me hard in the face. I liked Dany, but I couldn’t let that interfere with Dave’s judgment. I also couldn’t overrule Dave without making everything that I’d said before a lie. At this point, I had to let Dave and Julia run things, or I might as well give up being a programmer and take charge.

“Dave, you’re head of development,” I said firmly, to mitigate my initial sigh. “Manage your team. Let me know what you decide.”

He nodded and Julia smiled.

“If we do this, we should give her some severance pay,” Elyse said.

“Can we afford one month’s pay?” I asked. “I’d like to make that a policy. If we aren’t firing somebody for stealing or lying, or something like that, I don’t want to leave them in the lurch.”

Elyse nodded, “Let me run the numbers and talk to Jamie before Dave does anything. We need to make sure we’re not doing anything wrong.”

“OK. You guys manage it. I’ll abide by whatever you decide. I assume you’ll start looking for someone right away?”

“Yes,” Julia said. “If we do this, I’ll make calls to the schools and get an ad published.”

“Let me know,” I said. “Any OTHER problems?”

“Just one law firm that’s being difficult about paying the bill. I’m handling that.”

I shook my head, “Lawyers!”

Dave handed me a sheet of paper with a list of things he needed me to do. A quick scan showed that I’d easily be busy for the next five weeks working on every piece of software we had. He’d prioritized things and given time estimates for each. It confirmed his concern about not having time for mentoring, and didn’t see any obvious red flags, so I got up and went to work.

“It’s about time!” Penny teased as I sat down. “Two weeks of screwing around while we were slaving away!”

“Watch it, Pretty Penny!” I chuckled.

“Or what?” she giggled, sticking her tongue out at me. “Besides, you WERE screwing!”

I chuckled and pulled up the first program that I needed to work on and let my fingers begin dancing over the keys. Other than a short break for lunch with my wives, I was in the zone all day. I barely noticed when Dave came in at about 4:45pm and asked Dany to come speak with him. It took me a few seconds to register, but then I realized that he’d made his decision and was telling Dany about it.

Ten minutes later she came in and looked helplessly at me. I shook my head slightly and she nodded her understanding that I wasn’t going to overrule Dave. She got her purse and notebook, kissed me on the cheek and said goodbye to us.

“What just happened?” Penny asked.

“Dave will explain,” I said.

A minute later, Dave came in and told Penny and Tom what had happened. I could tell that Penny was concerned, and put my hand on top of hers to reassure her. Dave shut the door to the office and gave Tom and Penny the news about the potential contract in Wisconsin, and that we’d be hiring some new programmers - one to replace Dany, and then one if we got the contract with Waukesha.

“Tom, you live up north, right?” Dave asked.

“Yes. Just this side of the Wisconsin border. It won’t take me much longer to get to that job than it does to come here. It sounds like a great gig.”

“We all think so. Let’s keep on track with Purina Mills so we can free you up for the new contract. Cindi’s working on some other things, too, but mostly in the PC area, so Penny, Steve, Julia, and I will be super busy. Julia’s going to pitch in on some bug fixing during the week once Penny goes back to school, at least until we get a new person to replace Dany. Steve will work with you for the first few months on the new contract, if we get it. Then we’ll hire another programmer, preferably someone who is close to the client.”

“I have some contacts in the area,” Tom said. “Let me talk to a few people. When will we know?”

“March 3rd, they say.”

“Do I need to worry about anything?” Tom said, glancing at Dany’s empty chair.

“No. Not at all!” Dave said, reassuringly. “You’ve been doing a great job. I talked to Dany three times about the issues before today, so this shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise for her. The same goes for you, Penny. You’re doing a great job, too. Finances are just fine.”

Penny smiled and relaxed a bit, and Tom nodded grimly. He was old enough to have seen this before, and wise enough to ask if there were any issues he needed to worry about.

It was the end of the day, so when Dave left the office, Tom grabbed his things and headed out the door. Penny got up and plopped down in my lap.

“You’ll tell me if I’m doing anything wrong?” she asked.

“Of course! But you aren’t. You’re doing everything perfectly! Just like always!”

She smiled and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, hugged me tight, and then got up.

“Can I come back for the party?” she asked.

“If your mom says ‘yes’ and if you follow her rules to the letter,” I said.

“You were way more fun before you got married, you know that?” she said.

“And now I’m an old fart, who doesn’t want teenagers to have any fun? Is that what you’re saying?” I chuckled.

She laughed, “Well, no. I’ll go talk to my mom and see if she’ll let me come back.”

I shut down my computer and went to find Elyse to see if she needed help setting up for the party. She didn’t, because Sofia, Jessica, Kara, and Stephanie had taken everything in hand. I went back to the kitchen to make dinner. I consulted the menu that Elyse had hung on the cork board and began preparing the meal. Bethany came into the kitchen and offered to help and I gratefully accepted.

“How are you doing?” I asked.

“About as well as can be expected, I guess,” Bethany said.

“Is Nick going to be here tonight?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, he is. But don’t read too much into it.”

“Problems? Or just caution?”

“Extreme caution. I’m a mess and he might actually be a bigger mess. You know what happened?”

“Just the broadest outline.”

“He’d been together with this girl since seventh grade. They had sex when they were fourteen, and he was totally faithful to her, and had given her a promise ring in tenth grade. She, on the other hand, cheated on him repeatedly, almost from the beginning. They got engaged, and she didn’t stop fooling around behind his back. He returned from deployment and she was pregnant by a guy she’d been living with.”

“Jesus,” I said.

“Yeah. As you can imagine, he’s pretty messed up. He’s never dated, never been with anyone else, and he’s completely lost right now. And you know where I am,” she sighed.

“Where are you? We haven’t talked in depth in nearly a month,” I said.

“Lost, but not as lost as I was before. I got A’s in all my classes, even the graduate stats class I was worried about. I’ve spent lots of time talking to Kathy and Jackie, and I spent some time with your friend Anala, too.”

“Have you been seeing a therapist?”

“Yes, but it’s not helping. I don’t think that’s what I need right now. I’m pretty sure I know what happened and what I need to do, I just can’t do it yet.”

I nodded, and asked gently, “Are we back to a scared little girl in a limousine?”

“In some ways, yes, but in other ways, no. It’s not sex that scares me now. You took care of that!” she smirked, but then sighed. “It’s messing up a relationship. No, that’s not quite right. It’s being in a relationship. I’ve failed in every one of them. I failed you. I failed myself.”

I put down the knife I was using and turned to her.

“We failed, Bethany. The two of us. Don’t blame yourself for something we messed up together.”

“That’s true, but I have to work through my part of it,” Bethany said firmly. “You worked through your side of it before it ended. I didn’t. And that’s the problem. If I had, maybe it wouldn’t have ended. But it did. So here I am. Alone. But not alone.”

I pulled her into my arms.

“You will never be alone as long as I’m around,” I said.

Bethany put her head on my chest and sighed deeply, “Thanks. But I meant in terms of a relationship. But that’s a good thing right now. I need to fix myself first, and Nick needs to work through his nightmare scenario. Then, maybe, something can happen. But not before then.”

“I’m here for you, in whatever way you need me,” I said.

“Within the limits we set before you married,” she said, slipping from my arms.

“Of course. But loving you and helping you won’t put you between me and my wives.”

We finished making dinner and called our housemates to eat. When we finished eating, Kara and Jessica volunteered to do the dishes, and I went back to my office to write in my journal. I had three weeks' worth of catching-up to do, and it was going to take some time. I liked doing it on the computer, because I could jump around in the timeline without trying to guess how much blank space to leave.

I looked up to see Kara standing in the door to my office.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey. What’s up?”

“Your wives are done with the dishes and wanted to spend some time with you!”

I saved my work and locked up the diskettes. The three of us went to the ‘Indian’ room to drink tea and talk.

“How was your day?” I asked.

“Good!” Jessica said. “We’re all settled in our room, the laundry is done, and everything is set for the party! How about you?”

“OK. I got a lot done at work, but Dave and Julia fired Dany. And Bethany is still hurting.”

“Fired? Why?” Kara asked.

“Poor performance. I didn’t really notice, but Dave and Julia did. We’ll hire someone to replace her. Dave did exactly what Scott taught us - to be decisive and act when there are performance issues. I let them do what they thought was right, because otherwise, I haven’t really given them the control I said that I would.”

“That sucks for her,” Jessica said. “But you guys have to do what’s best for your company.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “I just don’t like it.”

We finished our tea just before our friends started to arrive for the party. It was a typical New Year’s Eve party - talking, music, and dancing, only I had to manage a three-way kiss at midnight with Jessica and Kara, and then we each kissed each other deeply. After the toast and the kisses, I got one of Don Joseph’s cigars, the cutter, and the lighter, and went to the sunroom. I thought about going outside, but decided that it was too cold. When I finished the cigar, the girls and I headed up to bed. We fooled around for an hour before falling asleep.

January 1 1986, Chicago, Illinois

On New Year’s Day, Dave, Julia, Elyse, Jessica, Kara, and I went to the Chicago Stadium to watch the Penguins play the Black Hawks. The Pens were having a typically bad season and things didn’t improve on their trip to Chicago. The Penguins scored four goals, but gave up seven, to fall three games under .500, and they looked just as unlikely to make the playoffs as they had in previous years.

“That kid Lemieux is great, but he can’t carry the whole team,” Dave said. “You’d think after a couple of seasons they’d find some guys to play next to him.”

“They need a goalie,” I said. “You can’t give up seven goals! They scored four which is enough to win most games. Their defense isn’t the best, but still, a decent goalie stops a couple of those sloppy goals that the Hawks scored.”

January 3 1986, Chicago, Illinois

Tatyana walked off the airplane in Terminal 3 of O’Hare, and we exchanged Russian style kisses. To kiss her as I had in the past would be, even in my view, «некультурный». I realized, as we walked out to my car, that this was probably the last time I would see Tatyana for quite some time. When she graduated, she was heading home to Russia to attend the Higher Diplomatic School. Her appointment to the school had been confirmed just before my wedding, and it appeared that her career plans were moving along exactly as she had hoped.

“How was your honeymoon?” Tanya asked with an impish smile.

“Wonderful! Stockholm was beautiful!”

“Yes, of course, you went on a honeymoon and went sightseeing. I do not believe you, Stepa Rayevich! You had two beautiful girls with you, both of whom you consider to be your wife. I believe you spent quite a bit of time loving!”

I chuckled, “Well of course, Tatyana Ivanovna! I would have done the same on a honeymoon with you!”

“My father hopes that perhaps our children can live in a different world, where the US and the Soviet Union are friends and competitors, rather than enemies.”

“Me too,” I said. “Perhaps things will change and Lyusya Alekseyevna will run a business like mine some day!”

“That is her dream! Her other dream cannot happen now, of course!”

“Me?” I chuckled.

“Yes. She wished to love with you. You know this. She wished you to take her to your bed from the first time she saw you.”

“Yes, but I was with you, so that could not happen. It would have been «некультурный» in the extreme!”

“And now, because your wives would never permit such a thing, Lyusya Alekseyevna will need to find a man at university in California!”

“She’ll have no trouble with that!” I grinned.

At home, I had some work to do, so Jessica and Kara took Tanya in hand, and the times I checked on them, they were having a good time, talking, laughing, and drinking tea from my Russian tea service. By the time I was done working, the three of them had become fast friends.

II. Back to Reality, Part II

January 5 1986, Chicago, Illinois

I had dreaded the first Sunday morning of January even before we’d left for Stockholm. After breakfast, Jessica packed her bag and put it in her car. She, Kara, and I hugged tightly as a trio, then Kara and I each kissed Jessica deeply.

“You guys are coming to Indianapolis next weekend, right?” she asked.

“We’ll be there Friday evening and come home on Sunday afternoon,” I said.

“Call me every evening!”

“We will!” I promised.

Kara and I watched as Jessica got into her car and we stayed on the sidewalk until she turned the corner and her car moved out of sight. I sighed deeply as it disappeared.

“It’ll be OK, Snuggle Bear. We’ll see her on Friday.”

“I know. It just sucks that we have to be apart. I mean, I knew this was going to happen, but after the last three weeks it just feels empty knowing she’s not going to be here. I’d feel the same way if you weren’t going to be here.”

“I saw that the computer you ordered was delivered. We’ll take that with us and you can always stay with Jess if you need to.”

“I need you both, Honey. It’s going to be a long eighteen months.”

“You’re going to have your baby soon. I think that will help.”

I smiled, “True! And you’re probably right that it will help.”

We turned and went inside to join our housemates and Tatyana to watch the Bears play the New York Giants. Things went off the rails for the Giants when they had to punt from their own 12-yard line. Sean Landeta attempted to punt, but missed the ball. The ball grazed his foot, hit the ground, and Shaun Gayle scooped it up and ran it in for a touchdown. Because the ball had grazed Landeta’s foot, it was a punt for -7 yards, and with a 5-yard return, the shortest punt return for a TD in NFL history.

The Bears smothered the Giants, sacking Phil Simms six times with Richard Dent getting 3.5 sacks. New York really only had one good chance to score when they got to the Bears' 2-yard line. But with 1st and goal, they missed three passes and their eventual field goal attempt bounced off the upright. It was a testament to the Bears' smothering run defense that New York hadn’t even attempted to rush the ball from the 2.

The Bears ended up winning 21–0, with the only dark spot being Kevin Butler, who had missed three field goal attempts, two of which he should have easily made. Walter Payton and Jim McMahon were outstanding, with Payton rushing for 94 yards and catching a TD pass, and Jim McMahon passing for 216 yards. The Shufflin' Crew would face the Los Angeles Rams the following Sunday for a chance at going to the Super Bowl.

“What is this ‘Super Bowl Shuffle’?” Tanya asked.

“It’s a rap song sung by a bunch of the players from Chicago,” Dave said. “We have it on videotape. Let me put it on for you.”

He got up and played the videotape of Walter Payton, Jim McMahon, Mike Singletary, Richard Dent, Gary Fencik, and William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry and a bunch of other teammates singing, dancing, and playing musical instruments.

“This is silly!” Tanya said.

“Yes, of course it’s silly,” Julia laughed. “It’s supposed to be. On the other hand, I am positive that they are going to win the Super Bowl in three weeks!”

January 7 1986, Chicago, Illinois

On January 7th, Tanya and I celebrated Russian Christmas and her birthday, though to both of our regrets, we couldn’t make love under the tree with Tanya wearing nothing but her Daniela Bianchi-inspired black choker. Our gifts were less personal than they had been in past years, but no less intimate in feelings, meant to remind each other of our friendship. Tanya gave me a set of Matryoshka dolls, which, to my surprise, depicted Orthodox Christian icons.

“These did NOT come from the USSR,” I said.

“No, from a Russian craftsman in Boston who made them for me. The set is unique, and I thought you would appreciate it.”

“I do. I’m just surprised that you would buy such a thing!”

“For you, Stepa, I can do this!”

I had three gifts for Tatyana - a pin that had crossed American and Soviet flags that I hoped she could wear to diplomatic events, a ruby bracelet, and a framed photo of the two of us from our very first event in Chicago.

“These are wonderful Stepa!” she gushed.

“It’s OK if you kiss him, Tanya,” Kara laughed.

“I cannot be «некультурный» and kiss another woman’s husband. It is not right.”

“How about a hug, then, Tatyana Ivanovna,” I smiled.

We stood up and hugged tightly. I kissed her cheek and she smiled and sat back down. If there was a person in my life that was completely sure of the lines and would never, ever cross them, it was Tanya. She wouldn’t even tease about crossing the lines, and the more I thought about it, the happier I was that she understood those clear boundaries and stuck to them.

January 8 1986, Chicago, Illinois

Before I took Tanya to the airport, we went to Medici for lunch. We’d had very little time to talk privately during her visit, because she’d made sure that Kara or one of the other girls had always been with us. I could tell that Tanya wanted no questions about the propriety of our friendship.

“Tanya, I’m grateful to have had you as a lover, but, more importantly, to have you as a friend. I hope we maintain this friendship for the rest of our lives.”

“I wish this as well. I could not ask for a better friend than you Stepa. As a lover you have made me very happy. I do not regret anything that we have done!”

“Nor I, Tanya Ivanovna.”

“You and your wives must come to Moscow or Leningrad to visit! And do not forget to keep in touch with Colonel Anisimova.”

“I won’t forget. I promise to keep in touch with your father as well.”

“It has been a wonderful four years that we’ve had together. It’s hard to believe it was six years ago that we met.”

“In some ways, it seems like forever, in others, like no time at all.”

“You must send me a picture of your son! He will be born in six or seven weeks, yes?”

“Yes! And I will send you one.”

“I have a picture for you, Stepa,” Tanya said, blushing slightly.

She handed me a Polaroid photo of her in nearly the exact pose as Daniela Bianchi in From Russia with Love - in bed, with the sheet pulled up modestly over her breasts, her hair tied back, and the black choker around her neck.

“You are beautiful Tanya! I will cherish this photo forever!”

“This was taken by Lyusya Alekseyevna. I am sure you can imagine the picture she wished ME to take of her to send you!”

I chuckled and nodded, knowing exactly what Lyudmila had suggested. I knew that she might be just «некультурный» enough to offer herself to a married man, despite what Tatyana thought.

“I’m glad you didn’t do that!” I said.

When we finished our lunch, we walked back to the house and got Tanya’s bags, put them in the car, and then headed for O’Hare so that Tanya could fly back to Boston. I walked her to the gate, and when her flight was called, we hugged and exchanged a Russian style kiss. I waited until she disappeared down the Jetway, and then turned and went back to my car.

January 9, 1986, Chicago, Illinois

“Steve, we have a couple of good candidates to replace Dany. We’re going to bring them in. Do you want to see all of them, or just the one we want to hire?”

“If I only see the one you want, then you’ll have to bring them back a second time. For now, I’ll see anyone you bring in. If we start doing this more often, I’ll only want to see the one you want to hire.”

“Your veto?” Dave asked.

“Yes. I think that no matter how big we get I’ll want to see everyone we hire, even if just briefly.”

“OK. We’ll set everything up and let you know. Do you have any plans or meetings?”

“Just the one we’re going to in Wisconsin on Wednesday. And we have the review of the presentation on Tuesday morning. Otherwise, I’m free.”

“Are you here this weekend?”

“No. Kara and I are leaving tomorrow at 5:00pm to drive down. Why?”

“Just wondering about Sunday afternoon. We were going to ask Jamie and Jackie and Kurt and Kathy to come for the game.”

“Go ahead, but we won’t be home until late on Sunday evening.”

“Got it!”

January 10, 1986, Indianapolis, Indiana

It was nearly 10:00pm in Indianapolis when Kara and I arrived at Jessica’s apartment. Kara carried our bags and I carried the PC’s Limited computer. Jessica greeted each of us with a soft kiss. Losing an hour during the drive didn’t help, and as I expected, Jessica was extremely tired. I went back to the car to get the monitor for the computer and when I got back, Jessica and Kara were sitting on the couch.

“Do you mind if we just sleep, Tiger? I’ll have more energy in the morning.”

I nodded and the three of us got undressed and got into Jessica’s small bed.

“I missed you, Babe,” I said, pulling her to me.

“I missed you too, Jess,” Kara said.

She was asleep almost instantly and I closed my eyes and fell asleep a few minutes later.

January 11, 1986, Indianapolis, Indiana

“Good morning, Babe,” I said when Jessica woke up. “Long day yesterday?”

“Yes,” she yawned. “My trauma shift started at 4:00am and it ended at 4:00pm. Even though I can’t do much yet, I have to be alert and assist. And there’s follow-up in the ICU or transfer to regular surgical services. You remember what happened with Bethany.”

“From the outside, sure. The inside workings were kind of a mystery and a blur.”

Jessica laughed, “For me too; even now! That’s why I’m there - to learn how all of that works. I actually did get to suture a laceration today with a Resident watching me like a hawk. Four whole sutures. Well, I got to put in an IV, also.”

“That sounds good for a third-year medical student,” Kara said. “Isn’t it?”

“I guess I’m just impatient,” Jessica said. “But our husband seems very patient! Or have you been tiring him out every night?”

Kara laughed, “I had my period! But I sent him to Elyse on Tuesday night.”

“Well, I do NOT have my period!” Jessica giggled, turning to kiss me.

“He’ll do it during your period if you ask him,” Kara said.

I pushed Jessica onto her back and slid down to press my tongue as deeply into her as I could.

“Ungh!” Jessica moaned.

I looked up and saw Kara move over to kiss Jessica. While they French kissed, I used my tongue and lips to pleasure Jessica. When I had her dripping wet, I moved up and gently slid into her. She wrapped her legs around me and we began slow-motion love making. I alternated kissing Jessica and Kara as she alternated between Jessica and me.

“I can’t believe how much I missed this,” Jessica sighed as she rolled her hips in sync with my gentle thrusts.

“I missed you this week,” I said.

“Me too,” Kara sighed, kissing Jessica on the shoulder.

I altered my motion slightly to put more pressure on Jessica’s most sensitive spot and a minute later she groaned softly as she had a small orgasm. I was determined to make this last as long as possible, so I continued until she’d had two more orgasms, then slipped out from her and slid down to pleasure her to another orgasm with my lips and tongue. That reduced my urge sufficiently, so I moved back up and gently pushed into her.

“I can’t believe how long you can go!” Jessica gasped.

I brought her to three more orgasms before pulling out and using my mouth on her again. After making her cum once more that way, I moved back up, but this time at a faster pace. Jessica was moaning almost continuously, and the thrusting of her hips became more urgent. Two minutes later, we shared tremendous orgasms. When they passed, Jessica squeezed me tightly in her arms and legs and sighed deeply.

“You can stay and do this all week if you want,” she whispered. “I won’t complain!”

“You need to be at the hospital,” I said.

“Forget it! I want to be with you! Forget medical school. Forget being a surgeon! Just make love to me for the rest of our lives!” she giggled.

“What about me?” Kara asked with a laugh.

“You can make love to me, too!” Jessica smirked.

“How about some breakfast?” I asked.

“You go cook! I want to kiss Jess!” Kara giggled.

I chuckled and gently disengaged from Jessica’s grasp. I took a quick shower, and when I came back to the bedroom to put on my clothes, Kara and Jessica were kissing softly and whispering to each other. I went to the kitchen and found all the ingredients for waffles. When I had them ready, I went back to the bedroom to tell the girls breakfast was ready and I found them cuddling and talking.

“Breakfast!” I called out.

The girls came to the dinette table to eat breakfast, having put on their robes.

“Are you on call today?” I asked.

“Yes. But I’m off the next two weekends. I want to come up to Chicago.”

“And we want you there!” Kara said.

“What’s the plan for today?” I asked.

“We’ll just spend it in bed!” Jessica said. “I’m caught up on my reading. I’ll have to do some stuff tomorrow, but I’ll do it while we watch the football game.”

We finished breakfast and the girls showered. When they finished, the three of us went back to bed. We spent the day there, mostly cuddling, but also making love, getting up only for lunch and dinner. If this was what life was going to be like when Jessica was in Chicago, we were going to be a very happy threesome.

January 12, 1987, Indianapolis, Indiana

On Sunday, we finally got out of bed and took a walk after breakfast. The three of us walked around Jessica’s neighborhood hand-in-hand-in-hand. When we returned to the apartment, we drank hot chocolate, and then I set up the new computer in the corner of Jessica’s bedroom, which was the only place it could really go.

After lunch, while Jessica did homework, we watched the Bears demolish the Rams. Eric Dickerson was stuffed repeatedly, and despite a relatively poor showing by the Bears offense, they won convincingly 24–0. When the game ended, I made dinner while Kara and Jessica did homework. After dinner, the three of us hugged and kissed goodbye, and Kara and I headed back to Chicago.

“You really do miss her a lot when we’re away from her,” Kara said, as we pulled away from the curb.

“I do,” I said. “I think you do as well. It’s kind of strange how that happened so quickly.”

“Is it? We’re all married. That should have a profound effect on how you think about someone!”

“I suppose it does. I haven’t really felt this kind of ache for someone when I was away from them since Birgit. It’s kind of cool, but it’s going to be difficult.”

“You knew that beforehand, Snuggle Bear. It’s a little late to have second thoughts.”

“It’s not second thoughts! It’s about it being harder than I expected it to be. And the problem is, there isn’t a good solution, because I think I’d feel exactly the same way if I were in Indianapolis with Jess and you were in Chicago.”

“Sixteen months! Once summer comes, we can spend more time with her, too. Well, assuming you can really work from her apartment. And assuming we ever get out of bed!”

“Help me to not screw this up, Honey,” I sighed.

“I will; count on it.”

January 15, 1986, Waukesha, Wisconsin

On Wednesday morning, we were sitting in a small conference room adjacent to the Department of Information Systems offices in the Waukesha County administration building on West Moreland Boulevard in Waukesha, Wisconsin. We sipped our coffee and waited for several members of the county staff to arrive. Dave, Julia, Cindi, and I had done a complete dress rehearsal on Tuesday morning, and I felt we were well-prepared. At the last minute, we had decided to bring Tom with us as well, because he was going to be the lead programmer on the project.

“Welcome,” Mr. Forster said, greeting us.

He introduced the members of their team, and then I introduced our team. With the introductions finished, I turned things over to Julia to make our presentation. Julia did an excellent job, keeping the presentation short, but thorough. We’d cut about half the material from our oral presentation, and Julia simply referred to the details as being in the printed proposal.

When she finished, we were peppered with questions from the Waukesha team. Julia did an excellent job of fielding the questions, bringing each of us into the conversation as necessary. I felt quite confident when, about two hours after we’d started, we shook hands with the Waukesha team and left the building. We quickly agreed to head to a coffee shop down the street to debrief.

“I don’t think we missed a single thing,” Dave said as the five of us sat down.

“My only concern is that they don’t seem to have anyone who can set up and run those big Primes they have,” I said.

“Do you know enough about PRIMOS to do that?” Tom asked.

“Only from what I did at IIT,” I said. “I don’t think that’s enough. The systems administrator at Purina Mills already had everything set up. Maybe we should add a second proposal to help with that. If we get it, one of us could go to Boston and take a class.”

“You know some people at Prime, right?” Dave asked.

“Elliott Masterson and Debbie Reston. They’re the ones who tried to get me to come work there for the operating systems group a couple of years ago.”

“How do you know them? And could they help?” Cindi asked.

“Elliott was at Theta Xi. He graduated three years ago. Debbie was a friend of his. As for helping, maybe they can put us in touch with some local people at Prime.”

“Let’s check on that,” Julia said. “And find out how much the class would cost and when it would be.”

“That’s a two-week class,” Tom said. “I thought about taking it but couldn’t justify it to my boss where I worked before. I ended up just taking the one-week Prime Information class. Supposedly, there’s a new version of PRIMOS coming later this summer - Rev 19.4, but it’s not supposed to have huge changes from Rev 19.3. What we really want is Rev 20, but that’s probably at least a year away. It makes administering and operating the systems much easier, at least according to what I’ve seen in the preliminary specs they release to customers like Purina.”

“What do you think, Cindi?” Julia asked.

“It’s not what we do,” Cindi said. “And honestly, even though we’re making money from Prime systems, PC networks and servers seem the way to go. The Prime systems are just so expensive, and I don’t see too many of them around. No offense, Tom, but I think in the long-run we’re better focused on PCs.”

“I don’t disagree,” Tom said. “That’s why I’ve been playing around with Revelation on the PC. It’s basically the same as Prime Information. One thing we should consider is that a lot of banks are using Prime Information and we might be able to find some that want to convert from expensive Prime systems to something else.”

“Tom, you have more experience than the rest of us put together,” Julia said. “How did we do?”

“You knocked it out of the park,” he said. “The older programmer who was there, Will, really likes you guys, and he’s been with the county for over twenty years, so I think he’s pretty influential. I’d say it’s way better than even odds that we’ll get awarded the contract. Having Purina as a reference customer is a big help.”

“What about this ‘Blacksmith’ software?” Dave asked.

“I know Chuck Stauffer from Stauffer Information Systems,” Tom said. “I’ve seen the software before. It’s a nice front-end for Prime Information that will save a ton of time doing screen design, reports, field validation, that kind of thing.”

“Then it sounds like we have a plan,” I said. “What’s next?”

“I’ll follow-up in a couple of days,” Cindi said. “And Julia will write a letter thanking them for their time and offering to answer any questions. Then we just deliver a complete proposal and a proposed contract.”

We finished our coffee and headed back to Hyde Park in high spirits.

January 16, 1986, Chicago, Illinois

“I hear you guys are hiring,” Charlie said at breakfast.

“Yes, but it’s a full-time position,” I said.

“It’s January and I need a job in May. Could we find a way to make it work now? If I worked when I’m not in class?”

“Aren’t you taking an overload to make up?”

“Just last semester. I only lost one class credit, and I took care of that already.”

“Go talk to Dave and Julia,” I said. “They’re doing the hiring.”

“But it’s your company!” she protested. “You could just decide.”

“I could. But that’s not how I’m choosing to run things. Go talk to Dave and Julia and see what they have to say.”

I wasn’t surprised when Julia came into the office just after 8:00am and asked to talk to me. We poured ourselves cups of coffee from the Mr. Coffee on the counter and went to the sunroom for some privacy.

“Charlie came and talked to me,” Julia said.

“I sent her to you,” I replied. “It’s your decision what to do about her request.”

“When the cheating scandal first broke over a year ago, I told you I was really uncomfortable with the idea of hiring her. I still am.”

I nodded, “Then go with your gut. I’m not going to overrule you or interfere.”

“That’s the thing, your gut is usually right and you told me that you would hire her.”

“I would, but I’m not doing the hiring!”

Julia smiled, “True. But this is the person who’ll work closest with you. Honestly, I’d rather you were comfortable with the person. We’ve received resumes, but nothing has jumped out at us like Dany and Tommy did last time, though that didn’t turn out so hot.”

“Did you try to get in touch with Tommy?” I asked.

“Yes. He has a job that he’s happy with. I’m inclined to say that if you want Charlie, you should have her.”

I chuckled, “I’m not sure that’s the best way to put that!”

“Um, no, I guess not!” Julia replied with a smile. “We’ll keep looking at résumés and we can interview for the Waukesha job. We’ll know in five weeks if we have it. Once they award the contract, Elyse will release funds to hire someone.”

“What did Dave say?” I asked.

“He left it to me and you, because she was on our team and we were both dealing with her and the cheating scandal. He’s OK with hiring her.”

“OK. How about this compromise - we hire her, on probation. She has to get B’s or better and graduate in May, and she has to avoid anything that even looks like impropriety.”

Julia nodded, and agreed,“Speaking of that, I was talking to Joyce and Doctor Lambert about an employee code of conduct and an employee handbook.”

“Stop right there!” I said, holding up my hand but also smiling. “I hate stuff like that. Talk to Jamie. If he thinks we need it, then go ahead. But be prepared for me to push back on anything I don’t like.”

“I’d expect nothing less. I’ll give Jamie a call later. And I’ll talk to Elyse about an offer for Charlie.”

“Treat her like Dany, Mario, or Tom. We’ll need to address Dave’s and your pay soon, too.”

“When we get the Waukesha deal. That’s what Elyse suggested. If everything works out, Dave and I will look for an apartment during the summer.”

“That’s about what I expected. You should look at the building where I had my apartment with Elyse. The rent was decent and the apartments were really nice. They have everything from studios to two bedrooms.”

“Thanks for the suggestion! The board meeting is next Tuesday. We’re going to use three-way calling to include your dad and Joyce, so they don’t have to fly up. Beth will drive up.”

“OK. So long as Joyce is OK with it, I’m good.”

I went back to my office to work. After lunch, Elyse brought me an offer letter for Charlie. I scanned it and told her it was fine.

An hour later, Charlie showed up in my office with a huge smile on her face.

“Thank you!” she said. “I start Tuesday!”

“What hours did you work out with Julia?” I asked.

“Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, Wednesday evening, and Saturday and Sunday. I can just squeeze in 30 hours and still have time for homework and stuff. Once I graduate, then I’ll work normal hours.”

“OK. I’ll see you here on Tuesday afternoon.”

“That’s convenient!” Tom said with a smile.

“Yeah, but I’m running out of people I know well enough to hire like that! There’s one more, a girl named Wen Zhao, but I’m not sure she’ll want to work for us. I’ll talk to her closer to graduation.”

“What are we doing about the new federal holiday on Monday?”

“Nothing,” I said. “We don’t close for Washington’s Birthday, so I don’t see why we’d close for Martin Luther King Day. Julia, Dave, and I agreed that Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day would be our company holidays. And anyone can take a few hours off to go to church on Holy Days, if they observe them.”

“You mean like Ash Wednesday or Good Friday?” Tom asked.

“Exactly. Dave and Julia are Greek Orthodox, so they have a somewhat different calendar.”

“I need to figure out where to squeeze in my vacation,” Tom said “I’m guessing April makes the most sense. Otherwise, I’ll be up to my eyeballs with Waukesha.”

“Probably so,” I said, turning back to my computer.

Late in the afternoon, I was deep in thought when my personal phone rang. I answered and wasn’t happy with what I heard.

“Hi Steve, it’s Connie. We need to talk.”

That meant Anthony had something for me to do. Quite a bit of time had passed since the funeral, and I’d begun to hope that he wasn’t going to make a request.

“What can I do for you?” I asked.

“A friend of Anthony’s is coming to Chicago. He needs a friend to look out for him.”

“I was expressly forbidden from doing anything like that by your grandfather,” I said.

“Times change. Anthony needs a service from a friend. You are his friend, aren’t you?”

As I’d feared, and as Joyce had warned, Anthony was not Don Joseph. And that scared me. But I’d made a promise, and I would do my best to keep it.

“Yes, I am. When?”

“Monday afternoon. And you’ll need that toy that Andreas gave you to play with.”

Shit. She was telling me to be armed. That was not something I was prepared to do, even if it angered Anthony. And there was no way that Don Joseph had intended this. To even consider it would violate his instructions to me. To violate those instructions and go against his wishes would dishonor his memory.

“No. I outgrew that toy. Find someone else to help you,” I said firmly.

“Anthony considers this a personal favor,” Connie said, sharply.

“And I must refuse,” I said, quoting Don Corleone.

“That’s not wise, Steve.”

I decided to go full ‘Don Corleone’ in my response.

“Perhaps not, but tell Anthony that my answer must be ‘no’. And my ‘no’ is final.”

I heard the line go dead as she hung up. I replaced the receiver in the cradle, and got up and went upstairs to my room. I picked up the phone and dialed Joyce’s number. Thankfully, she answered almost immediately.

“I just had a difficult conversation with your little sister,” I said. “She asked me to help Anthony and it involved playing with the toy Andreas gave me back in Milford. I refused, and I think she’s upset. I expect Anthony will be as well.”

Joyce sighed, “I was afraid of that. Grandfather absolutely forbade you from getting involved in anything like that, didn’t he?”

“Yes. In no uncertain terms. And the Outfit here respected that. But I’m afraid that Anthony has a different relationship with them from what your grandfather did.”

“I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that you’re right. How did you leave it with Connie?”

"She told me that it was a personal favor, I said ‘no’, she said that it wasn’t wise to refuse, and when I continued to say ‘no’ she hung up.

“I’m not sure exactly what to do at the moment. He doesn’t have anything on you that I know of, so he doesn’t have any leverage. Threatening you wouldn’t be wise, because you have friends in the Outfit in Chicago. Let it go for now. If they ask you to do something like this again, you should refuse, and call me. I might be able to talk to Don Antonio or Don Carlo to rein him in.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I guess we’ll talk on Tuesday for the board meeting.”

“That’s right. Don’t worry about Connie right now. I don’t think my sister and her boyfriend are going to do anything foolish.”

“Thanks, Joyce,” I said.

January 17, 1986, Chicago, Illinois

“Hi Babe!” I said, pulling Jessica into my arms and kissing her deeply.

I released her to Kara who gave her a similar kiss, and then the three of us went inside. After dropping Jessica’s bag in our room, the three of us went to the sauna. Everyone had gone out for the evening, so I didn’t bother putting up the privacy sign.

“Is the house really empty?” Jessica asked as we reclined in the steam.

“Dave and Julia almost always have a date night on Friday night, Stephanie went with Jennifer and Josie to a concert at UofC, Elyse and Sofia are at a party at Loyola with Sofia’s friends, Bethany is at Pete and Melanie’s with Nick, and George and Charlie are at a party at IIT.”

“I should have rented the video camera!” Kara giggled.

“Oooh! I could direct and film!” Jessica smirked.

“You two are certifiably nuts!” I chuckled.d

“We have to be, to be married to YOU, Tiger!”

“I won’t deny that,” I chuckled. “I’m just glad you’re here for the weekend. I missed you.”

“You told me that every single night when we talked. And I told you the same thing. When are you having lunch with Doctor Barton?”

“Monday,” I said. “Why?”

“Talk to him. I’m sure that he has to have dealt with these feelings with Belinda. Maybe he can give you some advice.”

I sighed, “I suppose. But really, what is there to do except work though it and wait it out? We all get to see each other every weekend, and I have Kara here with me.”

“And Elyse,” Kara said.

“You know, that really has turned out differently than I thought it would,” I said. “It’s just not the same as it was before.”

“That’s probably a good thing, Tiger,” Jessica said. “You are married, after all.”

“I have NOT forgotten that fact!” I grinned.

“Am I holding the leash too tightly?” Jessica asked.

“I don’t think so, Jess,” Kara said. “I don’t think his problem is that he wants a dalliance. I think his problem is related to NOT wanting dalliances, not even with Elyse. This is a brave, new world for Steve. Something he only really tried once in his life and failed miserably at after less than a month.”

“When you guys were going steady in High School?” Jessica asked.

“Yes,” Kara said. “But the difference is, that time I pushed him into it, and it’s why his little sister referred to me then as his ‘ball and chain’. This time, it’s his own doing. So no, it’s not about holding the leash too tightly.”

I nodded, “It has nothing to do with that, Babe. It has everything to do with missing you. And sleeping with someone else isn’t going to make me miss you any less.”

“Are you worried that you’ll fail? Is that it?” Jessica asked.

“The thought did cross my mind,” I replied. “My track record isn’t exactly the best.”

“Do you think it might be the situation with Bethany?” Jessica asked. “That’s bothered you for six months now.”

“I think she and I are at a place where we’re both able to accept and admit what happened, and she can get on with her life. She’s still upset about what happened between us, and honestly, so am I, but I’m in a much different place than she is.”

“Do you two still have feelings for each other?” Jessica asked.

“Of course we do. But that part of our relationship is a thing of the past. Nothing like that can happen between us again - for her sake, and for yours.”

“Mine?” Jessica asked.

“Yes. There is no way that I can have a dalliance with any girl who I was seriously involved with in the past without risking hurting you, and I’m not going to do that. You heard what Tanya had to say and I think that there’s a lot of merit in the way she thinks. It’s similar to my rule about being with girls who are involved with others, and especially if they’re involved with a friend.”

“You know, I realize that I signed up for crazy, but if somebody told me two years ago that I’d be trying to help my husband over a crisis because he DIDN’T want to have sex with other women, I’d have told them they were flat out nuts!”

Kara giggled, “I gave you fair warning, Jess. There is nothing normal about a relationship with Steve Adams.”

“I’m curious,” Jessica said. “Will you humor me about something?”

“Sure. What?”

“Assume there are no rules and no restrictions, and excluding Kara and me, what five girls would you most want to sleep with?”

I chuckled, “Seriously?”


“Well, two of them are easy as pie - Kathy Jaeger and Penny O’Neil. And those two are so far off limits that I can’t see the line I would have to cross to get to them with a telescope.”

“And the other three?”

“That’s more difficult. I suppose it would be Jennifer, Tatyana, and Bethany. And again, we’re talking girls who are completely off limits for various reasons.”

“Interesting. I didn’t hear Elyse in there at all.”

I chuckled, “Elyse is special, but it’s an odd relationship and always has been. She offered to marry me on several occasions, but I never felt that was the right thing to do.”

“So, let me ask this. Forget the girls that are off limits and name two more.”

I chuckled, “Do you just want a list of all the girls I’ve been to bed with?”

“No! Come on, there has to be someone who is a fantasy lover. Or who you would just want to be with one more time.”

“Fantasy? That would have to be Lyudmila Anisimova, the Russian girl. The daughter of the KGB Colonel. I’d be dead, but I’d die happy!”

“Hmm. Maybe she’s not the best choice, then!” Jessica laughed.

“I don’t know then, maybe Aimee, who’s at the military academy or Leila, Sofia’s friend. But what’s the point of the questions?”

“Just to try to figure out how to help you. I think Kara’s right - it’s not the leash, so to speak. It’s the distance and separation.”

“I know. Let me talk to Doctor Barton and see what advice he has. I’m afraid that it’s something I’m just going to have to learn to live with.”

III. The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

January 19, 1986, Chicago, Illinois

Jessica, Kara, and I had spent a wonderful weekend together, talking, cuddling, and making love. When they did homework, I was either programming or playing one of my video games. We hadn’t come any closer to finding a solution to our mutual problem of missing each other during the week, and Kara raised an issue that was potentially even more troublesome.

“Jess,” Kara said as we lay in bed late Sunday morning. “I feel like I have an unfair advantage. I’m with our husband all the time and you aren’t.”

“That was supposed to be a good thing - you take care of Steve while I was up to my eyeballs in my education and training.”

“I’m worried that the relationship won’t develop properly,” Kara said. “I already started out with an advantage because I’ve been with Steve for five years. And now I’m more or less monopolizing him during the week. Maybe that’s part of the problem he’s sensing.”

Jessica sighed, “You know, this is turning out to be just as difficult as I was afraid it would be. All the stuff I worried about is happening. In a sense, that’s OK because it means I went into this with open eyes. But it’s still a problem because we don’t know how to solve any of this.”

“Wouldn’t it be grand if love just made all the problems of the world go away?” I quipped.

“It doesn’t, Snuggle Bear. If anyone on the planet knows that, it’s you. Jess, are you thinking that we made a mistake?”

“No!” she said forcefully. “The timing was just wrong. We did the right thing, and we have some adversity to work through before things fall into place. We’re all smart enough and stubborn enough to make this work. I’m not giving up, and neither of you will either.”

“True,” I said. “And there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s just seems like it’s so far away.”

“Will you do something for me?” Jessica asked.

“Anything,” I said.

She laughed, “You might regret saying that some day! But this is easy - I want you to fix your relationship with Bethany. Really fix it. Well, with the obvious caveat that you can’t marry her. I think you need to talk to her the way you used to. Talking to Doctor Barton will be good for you, because it’ll give you a man’s perspective from a man who has struggled with relationships. But Bethany knows you inside out, backwards and forwards. Only Kara comes close at this point, I think.”

“I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do,” I said.

“It is,” Jessica said. “Do what you need to do to fix it. I mean that. You’ll beat yourself up about it until you do.”

“I’ll work on it,” I said. “But there are lines that can’t be crossed.”

“There always are, in every relationship. But, do whatever it takes. For your own good. For our good.”

I nodded, understanding what she was saying, but there really was a bright line I couldn’t cross with Bethany. I wondered if Jessica was testing me, and if she was, there was no way in heck I was going to disappoint her. I’d done that to Kara and I was not going to do that again. If Bethany and I were going to be intimate, it was going to be the kind of intimacy that Anala had taught me about, not sexual intimacy. That was a line I couldn’t cross for my sake, for Jessica’s sake, and most importantly, for Bethany’s sake.

Jessica stayed as late as she could, finally leaving about 5:30pm, after an early dinner. Kara and I walked her out to her car, and after hugs and kisses all around, Jessica drove off. She’d be back Friday, which seemed so close and yet so far. When she turned the corner, Kara and I walked back up the steps to the porch. Kara stopped me.

“Are you going to do what she said?”

“With Bethany? Absolutely. But there are limits, like I said.”

“Jess gave you permission to sleep with her.”

“No, I don’t think that she did,” I said. “It’s a test. And even if she did give permission, which I do not think she did, I think that in the long run it would be bad for Bethany. Look, I got Jess to agree to dalliances because I thought I would want them. I’m not so sure at this point. Maybe. But Bethany could never, ever be a dalliance. That would hurt her, it would hurt Jess, and it would hurt me.”

“You really have changed,” Kara said, pulling me into a tight embrace.

“Maybe I have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ruling it out forever, but right now? I have no interest.”

“Not even if Lyudmila appeared at your door asking for you to make her a woman?” Kara giggled.

“If her mom were in the Soviet Union, I might consider it. Otherwise, despite my joke with Jess, I don’t feel like dying or having a 9mm castration!”

“If Tanya’s dad didn’t have you shot for sleeping with his daughter, I think the KGB would leave you alone.”

“Lyudmila will find someone in California. And all I can say is ‘look out’!” I chuckled.

“That was an interesting list of girls, though none of them really surprised me except maybe Aimee. I know you two hit it off, but wasn’t that just a fling?”

“Sure, but it was a fling that could have gone somewhere if I was of a different mindset. Anna was kind of the same, though Aimee was a better fit, if you will.”

“You fit just fine!” Kara teased, and we went into the house.

January 20, 1986, Chicago, Illinois

“I declare the first of our monthly lunches in session!” Doctor Barton laughed after we’d ordered our food.

We were sitting at Medici, and his pager was sitting on the table. It had already gone off once, but it was something he could ignore until our lunch was over. If he got a page with six 9’s, he’d immediately hurry the few blocks to the hospital for whatever trauma awaited him.

“How are things with the new job?” I asked.

“Just fine, though I’m not happy with the quality of fourth-years who are doing elective surgical clerkships. None of them are even close to Jessica. The Emergency Medicine program here isn’t as good, either. I’m going to have to whip that into shape, but it’s going to take time. My methods in Indianapolis were a bit unorthodox.”

“How so?” I asked.

“First and second year students do not usually set foot in a hospital except on rare occasions. I think that’s a foolish practice. I try to get them used to the pace and flow of the hospital, and exposure to as much as possible before they start their clerkships. That’s how you met Jessica. I had my first and second year students who were interested in surgery observing Bethany’s surgery. Sort of a pre-clerkship. I can usually tell who the ones are that should go into surgery. I discourage the others by pushing them to electives that better suit their skills. Jessica would make a terrible GP, don’t you think?”

“Just as you would have,” I said. “I’d actually like to talk to you and get some advice, if you have any.”

“I always have advice. The question is whether or not it’s any good! What’s your concern?”

“The distance between me and Jess. I don’t mean emotional - I’m talking purely the 175 miles from Hyde Park to Indianapolis. You and Belinda spend a lot of time apart. How do you manage missing her?”

He nodded, “I’m afraid it’s reversed from yours. It’s Belinda that misses being with me, not the other way around. Maybe I’m just a cold-hearted bastard, or maybe I spend too much time working and thinking about work, but I’m happy to just see her on the weekends and vacations. That’s what I needed. I think you need something entirely different.”

“I tried to be a cold-hearted bastard once but I didn’t like it so I stopped doing it.”

Doctor Barton chuckled, “You either are one, or you aren’t.” He turned serious, “It’s not something you wake up one day and decide to do or don’t do. And I’d suggest not trying to be one. That’s not what Jessica needs, and I daresay it’s not what your other wife needs, either. You can be logical and calculating without being a cold-hearted bastard. In my case, it’s partly a self-defense mechanism. When you are surrounded by death, you have to become at least somewhat indifferent to it or it’ll drive you to depression. That’s the number one cause for doctors having high rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, and suicide.”

“I can see the value of being cool as ice in trauma surgery. If you got rattled, bad things would happen.”

“Exactly,” Doctor Barton said. “Jessica has the mental and emotional strength to do this. And that’s going to strain your relationship in years to come. She’s going to seem indifferent to things that you think should matter because she’ll have learned to simply turn off her emotions in many circumstances. You may find your situation as parents to be a role-reversal, where you provide the emotional support and she provides the firm hand.”

“So what do I do about the fact that I miss her?”

“Maybe take a step back and look at what you’re doing when you’re apart. Do you obsess about her? Think about her when you should be focused on other things? Let me ask you this question - do you call her every single night?”

“Of course.”

“And you spend a lot of time thinking about her.”

“Yes, obviously.”

“Find a way to occupy yourself and take your mind off of her. I’m not suggesting that you forget her by any stretch of the imagination, but obsessing over the fact that you miss her is probably making it worse. What do you do in your spare time?”

“Read, play computer games, and practice karate. Occasionally I go to movies, races, and hockey games.”

“Karate is a good way to take your mind off everything else. How often do you go?”

“Three times a week - Monday and Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings.”

“Why don’t you go each evening? That would give you one less hour to obsess! Not to mention a way to work out your frustrations!”

I grinned, “Sensei Jim will love you for suggesting that. I’m working on my black belt.”

“Then start with that; and find other things that take your mind off of obsessing over the distance.”

“Thanks,” I said. “It’s worth trying.”

He smiled and nodded. We managed to eat without his pager going off again and when we finished, he paid the check and we shook hands. We agreed that we’d make the third Monday of each month our day for lunch, and I headed back to the house to get back to work.

January 21, 1986, Chicago, Illinois

The NIKA Board meeting went quite well, and all of the proposals that Julia made were approved. That meant that Cindi and Mario were now on a commission structure and would get their small retroactive bonuses. Hiring approval was given contingent on a signed contract with Waukesha County, as was a plan to start paying profit sharing to Joyce and my dad. Overall, the Board expressed their complete satisfaction with our progress.

The longest discussion came when Cindi raised the issue of focusing on the PC market instead of what appeared to be the more lucrative Prime market. In the end, it was Doctor Lambert who brought the conversation to a conclusion, with his belief that companies like Prime and Digital Equipment Corporation were flying high but would soon crash because of the PC, Novell, and high-performance computer workstations like those from Sun Microsystems.

I remembered Jennifer talking about a guy at Stanford, Andy somebody-or-other who had started the company with two other graduate students. I had been intrigued because the workstations ran Unix, and had pretty advanced graphics. IIT had acquired one just before I graduated.

Beth Pater pointed out that we should consider Unix support at some point, because it seemed to be the up-and-coming thing for multi-user systems, pushing aside things like PRIMOS and VMS. She pointed to a company in New Haven, Connecticut, named Multiflow, which was building ultra-fast Unix computers. The University was supposed to get one of the first ones commercially available, in about a year.

That evening, after karate, I asked Bethany to talk. We went to the ‘Indian’ room with hot chocolate and sat in two of the basket chairs.

“What’s up?” she asked.

“Jess thinks that we need to fix our relationship so that I can get advice from you the way I used to.”

“Jess said that?”

I smiled, “She said I should, and I quote, ‘do whatever it takes’ to fix the relationship.”

Bethany laughed, “She’s taking a big risk there!”

“Is she? Do you really think I’d cross that line?”

“What line? If she gave you permission…”

“Or enough rope to hang myself,” I said.

Bethany nodded, “She’s worried about me.”

“No, she’s worried about me. If she can trust me with you, she can trust me with anyone. And she can, because there is no way that I’d ever hurt you.”

“And making love would hurt me?”

“I think that it would. It would imply so many things that can’t ever happen and can’t ever be. It would set things back years for both of us. And it would wreck everything. We can’t marry. We can’t be a couple. And that means we damned well can’t make love, no matter how much we might want it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t become intimate, maybe not quite as close as before because of my wives, but close nonetheless.”

“And you think that’s safe?”

“I do. I can keep on the correct side of the line. Can you?”

Bethany was quiet for a moment, and it seemed like an eternity. If her answer was ‘no’, then there wasn’t much I could do to get close to her again.

“I think so,” she said.

“Bethany, if you’re afraid that you’ll fall back in love with me, then we can’t do this.”

“Who says I’m not in love with you right now?” she asked.

“Nobody. I think you know what I was getting at. Can you handle an intimate relationship that can never, ever lead to us being a couple?”

“I’m not sure,” she said.

And that was the rub. If she couldn’t handle it, we couldn’t do it. And if we couldn’t do it, then perhaps I’d talk to Sofia, because she’d suggested such a relationship. And I felt that she could handle it.

“I guess we’re on different pages at this point,” I said. “But I’m glad you’re being honest about it. The last thing I want to do is hurt you.”

“Why did Jessica tell you to fix things with me?”

“She has an idea of the man she wants me to be and there are a few tweaks she wants to make. I’m guessing she thinks that being friends with you will help.”

“What tweaks?”

“She’s not saying!” I chuckled. “But it’s not like she’s controlling. One thing she wanted to do was rein in my dalliances, but it turns out, I’m doing that on my own. Even what I negotiated with Jess before we got engaged is libertine compared to how I feel at the moment.”

“Hmm,” Bethany considered. “Is that your problem? That you aren’t comfortable with the situation?”

That was a preview of AWLL 2 - Book 1 - Bethany. To read the rest purchase the book.

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