I'm done Now

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: July 29, 2019

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Submitted: July 29, 2019

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I’m done now

Well, here I go. I did the deed and now I’m done. I came home, watched my father die, and now I’m headed back out. Away from all of this. From all of them. I had no intention of ever showing my face here again, but death has a strong pull.

I needed to make peace with him and he to me. I’m not sure if we achieved real peace but at least we don’t hate each other anymore. I held his hand when he was in pain, we told dirty jokes when Mom wasn’t around. I snuck him some good bourbon too. He was grateful for that, I assure you.

I mean he was dying, who the hell cares if he had a snip of alcohol? Right? Then my sister showed up and cried every day. I ignored her the same way I did when we were kids.

Of course, there was Mom, she tried hard to say she was sorry for all those years of neglect and pain she caused me. I said goodbye to her the same day I said goodbye to Dad.

I’m done now. Going back to my life.

 

~~  ~

I get on the train and sit back and listen, waiting to hear the rhythm that the train’s wheels create. I listen to the whistle blow for last call, and the rest of the passengers say their goodbyes quickly and hop on.

Please let there be no one who needs the seat next to me, I think to myself. I have my head down, hoping to dissuade anyone from sitting here. When I feel I have accomplished that, I lean my head back and begin to think.

Three days, he was alert for three complete days and the two of us created one hell of a ruckus in the process. I left nothing there, I came in like a tornado and left quite a mess by the time I left. But I hadn’t done it all alone. No, this time my father was in charge, but he was sick and dying in bed, so I was his eyes, hears and feet to make sure this all got done in the right way. The way he wanted things done.

We worked as a team. A team, something we haven’t been since I was under ten years old and he was still the man I looked up to. So many wasted years, I had no idea he lived with neglect and abuse himself. I was a child, he forgave me and I him.

For the first time, I slide out the envelope he had given me on the first day I was there. I haven’t had a chance to open this until now. He pulled me into his den, where he was sleeping now, and handed me this check. My eyes pop open at the sight I’m seeing. This can’t be right. Hold on, let me look at this list that accompanies this check.

So, your old man screwed up. I’m here to make things even. I gave in to what she wanted and whom she wanted it for. But then I went back and thought about all of this, my whole life I thought about. Your older sister got to go to any school she wanted and got into. Plus, I had to pay for an apartment, not a dorm. That wasn’t good enough for the princess. In other words, if I paid 30,000 for her school and only 18,000 for yours, I put away the difference in a special account. If her rent was 15,000 a year, and you lived at home to endures the charms of your mother, I put away 18,000 for you each year. Then the princess needed a new car to attract the right kind of man, you had to use my old one. A 25,000 difference, in your account. This was college, so multiply that by four years plus interest.

Then there was her fancy ass wardrobe, I put that away too. I gave you both equal, but that bitch of a wife of mine, never knew. She also never knew where my real money was. I went with her to the bank when we got married and very quickly saw how much she was spending. I created a joint account which she had access to. This account was not where my real money was.

She knew I made money, but not where. She actually told me that she deserves a diamond necklace so I told her to go out and earn the money to pay for something like that. She told me to take the money from the business account and I told her that the business account is only used to pay for employees, people who actually work for a living. – our first fight.  You were about six at the time. I think that fight lasted until you were eight. She never got that necklace. ????

But that’s for another day. I also included any time the princess called home and asked for money for something stupid. I argued with your mother and said no, often. But she would go into this joint account and take out that amount plus extra and send her any amount she asked for anyway. I would put double into yours every time I found out. You left college ten years ago, your sister more than that and she got married. I doubled the amount for her wedding and gave that to you too. Why? Because if anyone, meaning your mother and sister, ever found out how much I was really worth, they would be pissed, and that made me happy. Her not knowing who I really was thrilled me actually.

I’m at the bank today writing this up while they close the account. My lawyer, and long-time friend, is going to give this to you when I’m gone. He is the only one who has the keys to my den. I lock up each night. Oh, the nurse has one too. She will come in and check on me in the morning. But the lawyer also has the key to where this letter will be and the check will be hidden. I don’t have much life left in me now and we both agreed that if anyone else finds this, they will be charged with theft immediately.

My body is crap but my mind is perfectly sharp. You take this money as my apology to you for not being strong enough to fight for you. Take all of this because I would have given you all of this and then some had you ever asked. But you didn’t want anything from me anymore. I don’t blame you.

I need to explain that too. First look at the check. Then, call my lawyer, he will send you the rest of the information you need to know. It is more than I told you in person, if you came that is. There is so much more.

I hope you marry one day and that she is beautiful on the inside and out. I hope she brings you joy every morning and care every night. I hope you two have healthy and happy children and you give them the home you always wanted to have. Many of them, you deserve many, many lovely children. The kind of home we had when you were younger, before all of your mother’s indiscretions started. Remember that house, remember when we used to play cards while you were in the bath?

Remember how I let you play a long time and even changed the water to new un-soapy water, so I could sit with you in quiet and read the paper? Those moments. Like when we went to the circus together and I told your mom and sister that it was a circus for only boys? That was a doozie.  Ha, I’m laughing still at the expression on their faces when we came home with blue ribbons for eating the most chili as a father and son team. I hope you still have that ribbon, I still have mine in my desk along with the pictures of our messy faces and shirts.

Remember me to your children and tell them what a big goof I used to be. When we pushed raw spaghetti into our hot dogs and boiled them and they looked like giant bugs with long legs. Remember sorry, water mark.

Listen, we had some good memories, then I simply became part of the furniture. Please remember the good times and deposit this check. This is the monies they won’t know about, there is more for you in the actual Will. But this is what I owe you. And so much more. I owed you a father who cared. I did. I always did.  xoxo your one and only goof

I look up and around at the people seating near me, no one has noticed that I too have water on my face. I will remember, I make a promise to him at this moment, I will remember. Hot dogs and spaghetti, I haven’t thought about that in so many years, we made a sauce and ate the whole plate, the two of us. The women wouldn’t eat it. They made silly salads instead. Yeah, we did have good times.

I wipe my face one more time with a tissue I had in my pocket and then I open the envelope and peak inside to see the check again, there it is, with my name printed in bold letters. There are seven digits on this check. I put the letter back inside the envelope and then back inside by coat pocket, I pat the pocket from the outside and sit back and smile.

Remembering the time when we went to his parent’s home and they asked us to come help with household chores. I mopped floors, trimmed bushes, cleaned out a very cluttered garage, all the while laughing at the bad jokes Dad and his father told me.

A peaceful feeling comes over me. He always said he would take care of me, he made good on that. I was too blind to see his angst. I only saw and felt mine. He understood that, and he forgave me. Now I understand him. I never understood.

 

~~ ~

The funeral is over, his son is on his way back to the life he has made for himself. Now I have to go to the house and kick out the occupants who think the house is theirs.  Nothing is, as a matter of fact. Nothing at all.

I knock at the door and the younger one answers, “What do you want?” the anger coming from her tone and her eyes.

I explain my position for being there and she calls his ex-wife. “You have no business here.” Her venom obvious, she tries to close the door.

My hand and foot are on the door and I push myself in. I immediately look over at the den door and see what I knew I’d see. They are trying to break in, I see the scratches on the wood door. I’ll fix that later, old wood doors like that can be sanded and refinished. The nurse comes running out from the back, hearing the commotion.

“oh, you’re here.” She runs and hugs me tightly. She grew to love my friend these past few months. He was easy to love. “Come, we’ll talk in here.” She walks with me to the den door and unlocks the door.

“You!! You have a key?! Hand that key over this instant. Your job is done!” the younger one screams.

The nurse turns, opens the door and pushes me in, then she jumps in and locks the door behind her before the other two women get to the door. “No.” she says softly to their banging on the door. She looks at me with sorrow. I hold her again.

“I know.” I tell her. We stay like this a long while, holding each other on the couch his son slept in and we look around. This room, everything in here is him, my old friend. Book choices, furniture, lighting. He would never let her in this room. All these years. Never. Either of them as a matter of fact. They bang on the door a few times. Threaten to call the police, me and the nurse laugh. The police are already on their way to force the two of them out. I’m required to be here, as the new owner of the property.

We’ve both spent enough tears, now I walk to his desk and hand her a box. “Read this first.” I tell her.

She holds the letter but then sits back down, I already know what he said.

Your heart is so big, your smile even greater. Your children need you and you’ve given yourself to me for months. I am eternally grateful for all you’ve given me. Please, don’t argue, take this and start a college fund for all three kids. It won’t pay for all their years but this amount will be a big jumpstart when they get old enough. Let them choose where to go and, with your guidance, help them get there.

They are young and need a father figure, I’m sorry I can’t be that man, I think I would have loved to. It would have given me a second chance to get fatherhood right. But since I’m not there, my lawyer is going to introduce you to a man I think worthy of you. One date can’t hurt. ????

I’ll always be watching.

She looks up and I know she is done reading. I nod and she looks at the check inside her envelope, her eyes pop open wide and she holds in a scream. I simply nod again. My friend was a generous man, he gave all the time. Many children went to college because of his boosts, as he liked to call them. Never charity, never scholarships, only boosts. Many women met good men too, he made certain of that. Including this one. I walk over and show her a picture of the man she is to meet in three days. Everything has already been set up. The man is eager to meet her because he knows my friend has done this many times before. He was honored when I told him he will be the last one.

Her hand over her mouth, she shakes her head no. I hold her one more time. We wait, I hear the cars coming up the driveway, we look out the window, yes, two police cars, four officers and one person from the courthouse to hand her the official letter. I look at her and she takes a deep breath, she stuffs her letter and check into her bra. She straightens to her full height and I hand her the box again, she had almost forgotten. She opens the box up to see a simple white gold chain with charms of all three of her children hanging in the middle. In between them is a very large pink pearl. I put this on her and she tucks it into her shirt. We stand tall and head to the door. She unlocks the door and we step outside and quickly close and lock the door again. We move to the side and sit down on the bench he always kept outside his den door.

We wait, they stare at us, yelling many obscenities towards both of us. We sit. She, the nurse, knows what is coming as well as I do. He told both of us, he ordered this all. The knock on the door is loud, “Police, open up!” someone says.

“Damn bet ya I’ll open up.” The older one swings the door open and a young woman dressed in a business suit begins to talk. She tells this woman that according to records filed six years ago, she is divorced from the man who owed this property and that today, she is trespassing and needs to leave. She continues to tell her that any disputes need to be taken up with the courts but she hands her, yet another, copy of their divorce papers. This time to her face. They are accompanied with a letter of explanation as to why she is getting nothing from this divorce. How she is in violation of an earlier written promise. Several times over.

“Everything is there, as it was in the original filing. You have one hour to evacuate the premises.” She reminds her.

The nurse and I we watch with smiles on our faces. She stands there and reads the papers. My friend knows that the old ‘joint’ account has been dwindling quickly these past couple of years. That can only mean, she has no one taking care of her right now. The joint account is all that she gets. It was stated in the original divorce papers six years ago. But at the time, she was having an affair with some high finance guy and wasn’t looking at papers from her husband. She claimed her daughter needed her and she was going to live with her a while. The ‘while’ was too long, his private investigators knew the truth rather quickly. The divorce was quick. So painless she never knew a divorce even happened.

Hence the reason she came back now, she wanted what she thought was hers. Money, the house, the business. Everything. The young one begins to scream how this is her father’s house and as the only heir she can decide who stays in and she claims loudly that her mother can stay.

Then the woman from the courts says, “You don’t look like a Leopold.” Both women turn their heads to face me. “This house does not belong to you young lady, either of you, you now have 50 minutes Don’t waste so much time standing here. Please get packed or my officers will have to carry you out physically. Only take what you came with. Nothing from the house is yours. Go ahead.” She turns to the men, they push the two shocked women up the stairs to witness what they are packing up. The ex-wife came two weeks ago, she may have more than one suitcase, but the younger one came three days ago, a day after her brother came.

“What will you do here?” the nurse asks.

“I will move my family in this weekend. My wife is coming in two hours to discuss what we are keeping from here.” I tell her.

“Keep the den, at least for a while.” She says quietly. We sit again, we wait for them to be brought down. They come slowly and the nurse sees the same thing I see, we chuckle.

She stands in front of us now holding a suitcase, the nurse says, “My, did we become pregnant while upstairs?” The woman from the court walks over to them and says quite simply. “Remove whatever you took from the house or be charged with theft. I gave you instructions. I expected them to be followed. Now we have to go through your suitcases. I don’t have time for this.

You’re divorced. Why did you even come back? Did you think he was going to give you his house? Sit them down and call for female officers to come over and pat them down. I don’t trust either one of them now. Damn it.” She mumbles some more to herself about not wanting to be here in the first place, that the interns should have to deal with this petty crap and on and on.

When the female officers get here, they take them one at a time into the guest bedroom where the nurse had been staying. They make them strip down. One at a time. When the second one comes out, they both look defeated and humiliated. I’m glad, they could use some humility. The second officer asks me to follow her and she brings me into the back room.

“How valuable is any of this, really.”

I look, there is a small painting, I turn it over and we can see the receipt taped to the other side. Not much but it must be hiding something else. I open the frame from the back, there, staring us in the face, cash, at least 5000 in crisp bills, she must have known they were there to know to take this particular one. Two necklaces she must have left here and forgotten when she ran out on him. A bath towel rolled up with his silk ties inside. Not crazy expensive but theft all the same. Wait, I was wrong, crazy expensive it is, his cufflinks are rolled into a few ties. Two of them belonged to my friend’s father. I knew him then. One of a kind pieces custom made for him by his wife, a truer love story you’ll never see. My friend’s parents were amazing people. I explain to the officer with me.

On the dresser I see what the other one had, a necklace inside a bag that is wet. “Don’t ask” the officer says and I shudder at the thought of where that was. Something my friend’s sister had given him before she went away on vacation, she said she didn’t trust the vault in her home and there have been burglaries in her neighborhood. She went on vacation and came home in a pine box, massive heart attack. I have the appraisal on that piece, I tell the officer. I also tell her that it will be reappraised after being taken as what was stolen from here.

She agreed with me. She told me to take a picture of all that she was taking so that I had a picture as well as her and that way nothing can be disputed. The necklace alone is worth 10,000. I watch as she carefully bags each item. I walk out with her and the two women haven’t moved from the floor.

“All you had to do was leave.” I tell them.

“You can’t win you know. I’ll get this all back. I’m his wife. I get all his assets.” She screams at me.

“Maám, you’re divorced. The settlement was six years ago. I read the whole thing. Had you chosen to stay married and not run off with other men all the time, maybe things would have been different for you. As it is, you were lucky he even let you in the house after the crap you pulled on him over the years.  This house is totally itemized, whatever we don’t find. We’re coming after you for, if you sold anything while he was ill, you will owe the owner of the house its value.” She turns to me, “and that door, do you want her to repair it?”

“I want them gone, I don’t care what you charge them with or for how long you keep them.” I told her.

The police officers help both women off of the floor and lead them to the cars waiting to escort them to their new destiny, and it isn’t living high off of his friend. The nurse takes his hand again and he squeezes hers.

 

~~ ~

The train ride is quiet after I read the letter. I read it a few times to make sure I read everything right and that I really heard all the words he said. He said much of this to my face as well but seeing his thoughts written somehow, makes all of this more real.

I didn’t cry when he died in my hands, I had relief. I didn’t mourn watching him lowered into the ground, but I did feel sorrow. There was too much disturbances around me to allow me to reflect on how I really felt about this man. He was my father, true. But unbeknownst to me, he really was the man and hero I always thought he was when I was a child.

One man around my age came to me at the funeral and asked if he could hug me. I shrugged at the time. But when he held me, he held me tightly and whispered to me that my father paid for his college education because he knew that this man had the brains to finish but had no means to do so.

Another man came to me and said my father kicked his ass, literally, in high school and told him to wake up. He did and now he is living up to my father’s standards his whole life. People thanked me but I was too numb to hear their words. I was too distracted by those calling attention to themselves by their wailing. So farced, only to draw attention to themselves, only it didn’t. People ignored them, they knew, everyone knew the truth. People who really knew my father, knew the divorce happened. Many even knew why.

The funeral director announced that there will be no mourning time in his house. He knew I wouldn’t stay but he also knew he didn’t want them in the house any longer than they had to be. The lawyer has that now. A good man. Instead we stayed at the cemetery for an hour or so after burial so people could say what they needed to say, to me, to him.

Yes, now I remember. People stayed to talk to him. They thanked him, each one thanking him. So many handshakes and cards handed to me. I haven’t read any of them. I open my hand bag and take out one of the cards. After the commercial message of being sorry for my loss there is a handwritten message:

Your father saw me digging through dumpsters so I could find food for my family. He told me to stop. He brought me to a grocery store and filled up the cart. He drove me home. To a place we were about to be kicked out of. We talked for a long while.

The next day he came and took me to the bank. He paid off my loan. The whole thing. I now owned my own place, then he took me to work and gave me a job. He paid for the education for my wife so she could get a good job too.

We made bad decisions, we weren’t financially educated. He made sure we were. I now teach financial well-being for free at local centers so that others won’t fall as low as we did. I left his company three years ago to move on to another place where my wife received a very good offer in her profession.

We all have kept tabs on your father throughout his illness. We were on an e-mail list from the lawyer to send funeral arrangements to. We were all there I believe. Take comfort in knowing your father was a king among fools. Grow to be like him and you’ll always have friends and happiness. I hope he found some too.

I read a second, then a third. All saying the same thing. All this money he had, his wife never knowing, never understanding his true value to the world and not only his bank account. She left the best man she’d ever find, period.

I realize I have very big shoes to fill now. He was my hero as a boy and now, I see he always was. Hidden behind a mask but his cape was just as large as could be. I look again at my bag, I have at least 50 more cards to read. Not today. But I will. One a day maybe.

I have a woman in my life, but I realize she will no longer be in my life when I get home. I don’t want her kind. I called to say I was going to see him and spend time with him before he died because he asked me to.

Her response told me all I need to know about her. She reminded me he owned a successful business and that maybe I’ll inherit said business. That was her first thought. Not about his well-being, not about how hard this will be to watch your hero die, only about the potential of what I will walk away with. In those three days my father and I lived ten years’ worth of love and togetherness. I realize that now.

He let me go because he knew I had to. He let me become the man I am because he guided me from behind the scenes. Little phrases he told me, small ideas about what I was doing, guidance, not interference. Each time he was right. Each time I listened I succeeded. Yes, in the end, I learned all I needed to know by his actions towards me and now I see it was not only me. He had love to spare.

But those women?, Yech, they gave him nothing but heartache. They took all they could and only asked for more things. Nothing invaluable, always something with monetary value. They missed out on knowing the man for who he was. I knew as a child, I still know now. “Thank you.” I say out loud to no one.

My stop, time to get off, collect my suitcases and move on.

~~ ~

The lawyer greets his wife, his children are at school still. He introduces her to the nurse and explains who she is supposed to meet and when. His wife is very excited, she offers to help her go shopping for the right outfit and to even babysit her kids for the night. The lawyer smiles, he knew she would make this offer.

His friend, known since we were kids, my wife met him in college. He hands his wife a letter, handwritten from his friend a few days ago. She puts the letter away in her purse, she will read his words privately he assumes.

She has been to this house many times but never really looked at each room. Now she is walking through the upstairs and figuring out which room to give which child. But the decision was made by their friend. After the other women left, the nurse and he went downstairs and opened packages that had rooms marked on them. They were stored in the basement.

He had bought new bedding for each room, he knew the children and made it so they had all their favorite items in the new rooms. Beautiful bedding, a fun light next to the bed. Even some accessories that weren’t necessary. But fun to have. His wife steps into the baby’s room, the last room I’ve shown her. She is three now and the whole room is decorated with elephants, of all shapes and sizes. “Oh damn him.” She says with tears. I walk over to hug her from behind, I thought the same thing as I put the room together.

We walk to the main bedroom, our friend’s. I have three boxes there marked with our names. I didn’t open them. I wanted her to. “His clothes?” she sees the closet empty already.

I explain how his son was wearing them the past few days because he came with nothing but the clothes on his back. He left with his father’s wardrobe, he felt he had to take them. She places her hand on her heart. There is a knock, the nurse is at the door, she needs to leave now.

We hug one more time with promises of keeping in touch so we can make sure this meeting with the young man goes through. It will and I will be walking her down the aisle within a year. I’m sure of this, and so was my friend.

I turn to see my wife opening the boxes with care. All her favorite colors are inside. I see from here. New window dressings to match the new bedding. Even new rugs for next to each side of the giant bed he had brought in even though he was in the downstairs den now. One for her, and one for me. Each our own colors. “Damn him.” It is my turn to be choked up. He thought of everything, I shouldn’t be surprised. I help her strip the beds neatly and we put the items in the boxes we are emptying. All items to be donated to the organization he helps a lot. One that helps to set people back on their feet. All of this bedding will surely help them out. We notice the plastic is still on the mattress. He ordered a new one, even though he has been downstairs for months.

He is donating a large portion of the excess furniture in the house too. Much of it was bought by his wife when they were married. No one needs so many tables he would tell her but she always had an argument for them. My friend only kept the items he bought himself. He knows we admired his taste and he made sure to have all the good furniture reupholstered with patterns he knew my wife would like. He did this the moment he was diagnosed. I guess he felt he wouldn’t make his way through this.

The rest of his ideas were being done in the past week with his son. He found a company that would come and do the work on the premises so he didn’t have to worry about her replacing an item that was gone. He knew she would right away. If there was room, she put something there.

I remember hearing him laugh every time he called to tell me that she was screaming about the mess and the ugly colors and what a disaster the house was turning into. I knew and so did he, as well as his son I believe. We had many laughs over this. She thought it was his sick mind that made him do this. But his mind was never sick, never foggy. All his decisions were firm and well thought out. 

He spoke to a psychologist when the end was coming because he wanted to make sure that he was making rational decisions. My friend said it was one of the best decisions he made. To be able to make all his final arrangements for everything before he left. To make sure things were done the way he wanted them to be.

No, he was of sound mind, it was his body that was giving up on him. A shame, the world could use a few dozen of him. I sit back in the den now and feel his presence, I don’t know if I will ever be able to call this room mine. Right now, I don’t care.

 

~~ ~

Home, this feels funny right now. I always thought of this place as my apartment but I see that I have actually made this place into my home. But this isn’t what my father wanted for me. He wants me to have more.

He wants me to have a home, a family and all the goodness that comes with that. He said there was more to come for me, but I can’t imagine what more would be. I have his suits in my luggage and as I open them up, I begin to tear again. The man, my hero only wore very good suits. He only had a few but he would say, like friends, its quality not quantity you want. All his wisdom he had given me over the years, each new and old mantra he used to say, is all coming to the foreground of my mind.

“I promise you Dad, to be more like you.” I say out loud as I hang up each suit. Each pair of pants, that somehow fit me so well. Each slightly worn pair of shoes that seem to hug my feet when I wore them there.

His cardigan he had when I was a child. Still just as soft as my mind remembers. The shirts that had his monogram on them, only the first and last initial, same as mine, I’m so happy I can wear them now.

His pajamas, yes, I took his pajamas, because they were fun. I remember them as a child thinking my father was crazy for wearing such silly things. But they are as comfortable as he always claimed and they have silly phrases or characters on them. I don’t even care anymore.

A few days with one’s hero can change your life. I’m a better man for knowing him, I’m a lucky man for having him as my father, my hero. My phone buzzes with a message from the lawyer, I’m coming out to you in two days to present you with all you’re entitled to. Give me a time and place we can meet up. I’ll be staying at the bed and breakfast right outside of town.

I know that place, my father came twice over the years and he stayed there as well. I tell him I will meet him there for breakfast on that first morning. They have great food.

I agree, I’ll tell you why when I get there

A strange message to get but then again, my guess is that it has to do with my father. He stayed in my life, he had not pushed me out, she did. But she was already out so this makes no sense. Why hadn’t he let himself love again?

Why didn’t he look for all that he wants me to have? I sit down and open another one of the cards given to me at the funeral.

I’m sorry for your loss but then again, an angel like your father belongs in heaven. There are so many more people he can help from there. Pregnant, alone, at a bus stop at 2:00 in the morning, he pulled over and brought me to a hotel. He stayed with me for hours to make sure I wouldn’t run out on him. In the morning, he had my life all set up.

A visit from a social worker to assess my mental state and that of my life. An interview at a school that would allow me to finish my high school diploma and then go on to get a degree, all online while taking care of my child. He even found me work I can do from home so that these first years of my child’s life I would be home.

He made arrangements for a place for me to live. I think he paid my rent, but I have no proof of that. Maybe the good people there took care of me, angels of a different level than your father. May his light shine through you and may you accomplish even half of what he did in his short lifetime.

Be blessed, be happy.

Wait a minute, I remember this woman, well young lady then. It was one of the only fights I heard my parents have. She was yelling at my father that she saw him personally bring that young lady to the hotel and not come down until morning. He had countered the argument with why, why were you there instead of being home with your own children which is where he left her when he had gone out. They had started that night with a fight and he needed some air, he couldn’t sleep, so he drove. On and on around town, then he found a reason he was up, it was to find that young lady. It wasn’t the fight with his wife. Those never bothered him. I know this. He told me many times.

After that night he spent the next day with his friend the lawyer. I was 15 then. She didn’t care that she left me home, she never did when I was younger than that either, this was no different. Besides at that age, I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself but my father had a point. Why was she out at the hotel and who was she with?

I sit down and do some math, I left right after my second year of college, I found a different place to go that was the same amount of money as the local one. I’ve been here ever since. This area suits me, the neighborhood is calm, the people are generally nice and keep to themselves. But if someone is in need, everyone comes out. Even me, my father taught me that we are all part of the human neighborhood which makes us all friends by default. Until proven otherwise.

Ok, the math. I left at 20, I’ve been gone ten years now. I’ll be 30 in two months. My father apparently got divorced six years ago, I had only been gone a short time. Four years in fact, that means he waited for me to finish my graduate school. I’m not sure why that mattered, but it must have to him. Or that is when she pulled her last trick on him and he simply had had enough of her crap.

This woman was a teen at the time, probably close to my age. She looked very put together, as if she had her life in the right place. Good one Dad. But why stay with her? Did she have something to fight my father with? She had no money, had no access to his money either.

I sit and think for a while longer and then I open my father’s laptop he gave me when I was there, he told me the code was my birthday, something he knew his wife would never remember should she get hold of his computer.

I search the basics of the computer, nothing really damning here. I search his files, ah, what is this? A file with my name. I open to see several files with my name as the title. Each one has a number after it to distinguish one from the previous ones. If she ever had this computer, she would have surely deleted these files without even looking at them. Or simply ignored them.

I open the first one, a birth certificate with my father listed as the father, underneath this is a paragraph written by my father that says : keep this for medical history. Should the child ever need me

They could not afford to do this on their own, he could not have children, her husband. Unless they implanted his sperm directly into one of her eggs and that was a long drawn out process and very expensive.

I volunteered to help. You see son, to me this was another way of helping a friend in need. They moved far from here. But your mother found out and wanted a divorce because of this, saying I had an affair. I looked her in the eye and said ‘not as many as you, if you want a divorce on infidelity charges, I’ll win, you’ll get nothing, I have proof of six of them,’ she obviously stayed a little longer.

My mind is blown by all the selfless acts of kindness my father had performed in his shortened life. Some may think this was a God complex and that he was feeding his own ego. But he wasn’t. I know that for sure. This was done in a doctor’s office, all the papers are here. He never once touched her personally. I believe him, her infidelity crushed him, he would never have done something like she did, himself.

The next few files are more of the same, things he had a record of for some reason or another. A written note from someone to pay him back, they obviously wanted the debt recorded. He didn’t care. He gave because he could. No other reason than to help.

After reading almost all of them I come across one that startles me. A picture of a document, one from a private detective who found my mother living with another man. She wasn’t visiting my sister to help with the babies, she was simply living another life. I look at the date. Six and a half years ago. “Oh Dad.” I say out loud. My hand is on my heart now. How could she be so cruel?

Then I read on, another document, a print out of an e-mail from her.

I’m going to be visiting our daughter for a while. She needs me more than you. I’ll send for my A list of what I need here, send my items first class of course.

Clearly you don’t need me around anymore, I see you’ve helped yourself to many these days. Younger and younger, shame on you. I have pictures you know. I’ll show them all over the internet and ruin you and your precious business.

Don’t do anything to the house while I’m gone. Especially my special bathroom and kitchen. Now you behave and I’ll keep these pictures to myself. But just know, I have eyes everywhere.

I’m not breathing. Not even a little. I run to the window and open it up for a blast of cold air to hit me and wake my lungs. “That bitch!!” I yell. But wait, the divorce was soon after that. I run back to the laptop, there is one more file.

Here I see all of the original pictures of my father and the girls he is with. It is at graduation ceremonies. He is hugging them all. A couple he kisses their cheek. I look back at the pictures she has and compare them to these. She clearly changed the photos to show them as being more sexy than they are. If I look closer, I can see the arms don’t even match in color on some of them. But until someone found that out, those pictures would be out there for someone to find and believe the worst of him.

I look back at the last file.

If you’re reading this son, you’ve read the rest because I know you don’t do things out of order. It’s a family trait we both have, you can thank my grandfather for that one. So now you know why I stayed single.

I wasn’t afraid of her for myself; I didn’t want those girls exploited for her nonsense. I’m writing this after my diagnosis. I doubt I’ve told you all of this in person. I hope I was able to see you before I died.

But either way, I know you will have this, my lawyer is instructed to give this to you. And there is more to come. You’ll see. I’ve always looked out for you. Always. I hope you know that by now. “I do” I say to the computer before reading on.

I divorced your mother because I had to. All those years of men she ran around with. I’m not stupid, I know there were many more than six. But I used to become more and more attentive thinking that was what the problem was.

Until the day I heard her tell her friend on the phone that she has me so trained it is ridiculous. She said flat out that I was the best trained pet around. She gets to do whatever she wants and I shower her with the attentions she deserves.

Then the worse happened. If that wasn’t bad enough, she then said that if she added up the days she slept with other men over the days she slept with me it would be half. And then she laughed, she laughed so hard she had tears in her eyes. I walked in at that moment and stared at her. I said nothing. She looked at me and sniped, ‘I’m on the phone. Go do some chore or something.’

I left the room and picked up my phone, I was going to call my lawyer to see what I could do. Then I saw my phone blinking. I accidently recorded all that she had said. I sent the recording to my lawyer and told him to file the papers immediately and put the ball rolling into everything else.

He has been very busy these past few years. Listen son, I did something I hope you like. I don’t think you belong in the job you’re in. After I’m gone, you’ll learn what I’ve done. Don’t hate me.

What do I do with all of this information in my head? My heart hurts so deeply. I’m even happier that I went now. So much happier that I helped him clear out the house of all of her crap furniture and only kept the good stuff for the man who will now be living there.

All of the boxes that came and I marked with names on them, my mother had a fit about. She came screaming one night about who all these people were and why were they sending their garbage to her house. My father looked at her and said, ‘my lovers, every single one of them. When I die, they will get all that is in those boxes. It includes something you’ll never have.’ He stared right at her and she stood there with her hands on her hips.

“When you’re gone, I can do what I want with what is here.” She said flatly to his face.

That is the only moment he got angry the whole time I was there, the nurse came running because he was screaming. He yelled at her to get out, yelled at her she was trespassing and had overstayed her welcome years ago, he told her to go back to her lover and annoy him instead. Then he had done something, I never saw him do, not ever. He lost his temper. He asked me to push him over to a vase on the shelf. I did. He looked at her in the eye and threw it on the ground, it shattered as he knew it would. He pointed further down and I pushed him to that one too. He threw it down closer to her feet this time, it shattered.

We kept going around the room until we got to her precious clown collection. The ones she never let us touch because they were so valuable and important to her. My father picked one up and saw the writing on the bottom ‘to my love’, smashed. The next one ‘xoxoxo’ he threw that one at the window. He went on and on throwing them and smashing each one. Listening to her scream and cry as if her world was coming apart. The last one was crystal, he looked deep inside the piece and saw a laser picture in the middle. A heart with the initial ‘S’ right there to mock him. Not my father’s or her name. This one he held and asked me to move him to the door. I did. We went all the way out to her car and he smashed this one on her windshield.

When he finished, he said, “Ok, I feel better. You?” I laughed and pushed him back inside. He looked at the nurse who was cleaning up and said to her not to touch any of the mess. He told her that if anyone wants to clean up they will have to pay for a cleaning crew themselves because he wasn’t touching this mess and she isn’t paid to be a maid. Then he told her to please bring him some brandy. She, the nurse, laughed and went to the kitchen.

I pushed him back into the den and we closed the door, as we always did. Now I realize what he had done. He told her he knew about all of them all this time. That her secret was out and that she fooled no one.

“Oh Dad, you were so strong for so many people. I don’t know if I can fill your shoes.” I look down at his shoes which are on my feet. These I fill, but can I ever be the person he was? Can I overcome the hate for her to still see blessings in the world? I don’t know. Right now, I really don’t know.

~~ ~

The knock at the door has me startled, who could be here so late in the day. He opens the door and sees the woman from the court house from before. “What a bitch that one. May I come in?” she asks

I move aside and let her in. My children come running to see who is at their new door. She greets them with smiles and asks if she can speak to me privately. We go to the den. The door is closed now, but not locked, my family is welcomed to see me anytime.

“We are charging her with grand theft. I put a trace on his car, she sold the one from the garage to a friend who collected them. She got a pretty penny in that sale too. When we showed up at his house to say he bought stolen goods, he quickly changed his mind about owning the car. That was never his intention he said. He knew her husband had one, he also knew he was sick and asked if she needed the extra cash to help with medical bills.

She jumped at the chance to collect money. Only when we told him she wasn’t his wife for the past six years did he turn pale as a ghost. He showed me the papers he received from her as a receipt. The ownership had her name listed as spouse and all the legal jargon necessary to say that she had the legal right to sell the car to him.

Only she didn’t. We have the car back, but she has to pay him the money. I told him good luck. He called his lawyer before we left the house. But the car is back in your garage, I just dropped it off.” She takes a breath.

She goes on to tell him of all the other offenses they have her on over the course of these past six years since her divorce. She has sold a few items from the house to supplement her non-existing income, all under the ruse of being the spouse and thereby half owner of everything in the house. She kept sneaking in when he was out of town, so she told me that they decided to charge her with multiple counts of breaking and entering because somehow, she kept getting in even though he changed the locks three times already. She told me they had to call the locksmith and figure out his connection to the ex-wife.

My poor friend was going to be fighting her the rest of his life. I sit with a heavy heart and listen to all of this. The only upside is that with this long list of offensives, she may get as many as 15 years in prison, which she deserves for putting him through at least that many years of hell just from living with her and knowing her.

“On a personal note. I’m one of the many recipients of scholarship to school. Without your client, your friend. I might still be homeless and ill equipped to work. No one downtown is letting these two out before absolutely necessary. The sister’s husband doesn’t know what to do with all of this. He came to see her but left after hearing the charges. Ok, I’m done. I’ll let you know when there is an official hearing.” She stands to leave and lets herself out, I didn’t realize this until I hear the front door close. I’m stuck in my chair.

My wife walks in, “I saw her out.” She says and turns to leave me ponder what must be on my mind. I walk to the kitchen and tell her I have to go out and see the son and settle things there along with giving him the rest he is owed. The business’s sale will close tomorrow.

We put that in motion last year, it takes time when dealing with these kinds of numbers.

~~ ~

Getting up today and going back to work seems too much like walking through sludge with heavy boots on. I don’t want to be here, I told my father as much when I saw him. We talked a lot in those few days. I think we covered all there is to cover.

He even told me that had he lived through this, he was going to date the nurse and bring her children up right. I smiled at him and said, ‘you did ok the first time’. He laughed, that was the moment we knew we had made peace with each other, or at least we began to understand each other. Maybe that is what peace really is.

My coat on, I step outside and get to my car and then my office. I walk in early, as I always have, to a barrage of yelling from my boss. His final sentence is, “We all have families, you can’t simply take off whenever you want to go visit because someone has the sniffles.” His voice is angry, his eyes are more so.

I stand, put my coat back on and say, “I never said I had family, I said I had a dying father. Now he is gone. And so am I.”  I walk out with my head held high. With my father’s check to me, I can wait it out a bit, while I look for a new job. How dare he? I was in touch with my secretary the whole time. I took time out to answer client calls to my private phone. But his voice and his attitude sounded like my mother. I’m done now.

My phone rings, “hello” I say rather low.

“This is your brother in law. Do you know what is going on?” he asks, also slowly.

“Yeah.” I answer with no desire to talk to him.

“Ah, so I’m the only one in the dark. Ok. Um, listen. Um. How can I say this?” he asks.

“Truthfully.” Is the only word I think to answer.

“Yeah, I came to the funeral because I loved your father. I really did. I think more than his daughter, no, scratch that, for sure more than his daughter. She said she was going to his house because he was about to die and she wanted to make sure she came out with what was hers. I sent her happily. My divorce papers are ready for when she comes home. But now that may be years. I’m taking the kids. I’m calling to let you know. You are their uncle and all.” He exhales.

I explain to him how my father divorced his wife years ago and that these years have been a farce. I promised to send something from the estate for the grandchildren. He gave me his new address. He is living closer to his own parent’s now. He turned in the divorce papers to his wife at the police station.

We agreed that holidays and birthdays will be ok to be in touch for now. He is a nice man. It is not the kids’ fault. I told him I left the day after the funeral. I only stayed until morning so I could pack all that my father wanted me to have. He reminded me of my father’s car and I told him I’d have that shipped to him.

This shocked him. “It’s ok” I told him. “I don’t appreciate that kind of car as much as you would. It would sit in the garage. The kids will enjoy riding in Grandpa’s car.” Having decided this, I send an email to the lawyer to make sure this happens. I told my brother in law to make my father proud and bring his kids up with strong values and good morals.

When I hang up, I realize I appreciated his call. I’m sure my sister was shocked to receive those papers, serves her right. According to the lawyer, she is getting nothing. I finally get home, having been driving aimlessly since I left work that morning. I’m sure it wasn’t too smart to pull over and send that email right away, I wasn’t exactly on a wide street when I did that. But thankfully, I’m home now.

In my home I find my handbag still on the couch. I pick it up but something drops out. One last envelope, I must have missed this one, the envelope is black and hard to see inside a dark bag.

You don’t know me, or maybe you do. I spent a lot of time at your house when you were in grade school. Your father took me to the ball game with you and even to the water park. My father had recently died and my mother didn’t know what to do with a rambunctious boy. I’m older than you by a couple of years.

Your dad taught me I still had value, that I was still worth something even though my family had a big hole in it. He taught me to rise above all the teasing from the kids at school about having a father who drunk himself to death. That wasn’t true by the way, he was always on medication, one of them made his breath smell bad and people assumed the smell was alcohol.

I don’t remember his breath, I only remember his love. I hope that you will too. Remember that your father had the biggest heart I’ve ever known. He gave a piece to everyone he knew. He gave my mom a new husband too. Found her the perfect guy who would treat us and her very well. I’ve been blessed to have three fathers in my life; my own, my step-father and yours.

Be grateful, be happy and be the best man you can be, that is all he would want.

This one hits me right in the eye. I remember this boy. I also remember the rumors about his father. They weren’t true, I knew that then too. I got into a fight over that once. Someone told me I shouldn’t let him come to my house because he will steal all my booze, I punched the kid in the face and yelled at him for being ignorant and listening to rumors.

We wrestled a while on the ground and then we began to laugh. It was as if we punched the anger out of each other. He came over to my house the next few days and saw for himself that the boy who came over was really nice. He helped us with our homework and then we all went out to the backyard to play ball together.

I sit back on my couch, that was the only person who ever came to my house. No one else came. Why is that? Oh yeah, my mother. I never wanted anyone to meet her if she would happen to be home that day. Which usually she wasn’t. I never wanted to take a chance though.

 

~~ ~

Now that’s a funny email. He wants to give his father’s car to his brother in law so the kids can ride in Grandpa’s car. The lawyer smiles, he is so much like his father, he doesn’t even know it yet.

I look down at the contract for the sale of the business. I’m sure his son has no idea how much the business was worth. Certainly, his ex-wife never did either. I sure wish all people who had this kind of money used it the way my friend did. Not a day went by that he didn’t help someone.

Sometimes they didn’t want his help and he would smile and walk away. Other times they weren’t ready and they would come find him later, he always made good on his promises and he never promised something he couldn’t give. Four people, that I know of, went to a rehabilitation center for one reason or another. Seven people were given jobs so that would not be homeless. Three homeless people found their families they thought had forgotten about them. Those are only a few. Sometimes he would talk to teens who had no adult to trust, he would keep them in school. Make sure they found a place for themselves in the world. Sometimes that place was becoming a plumber and sometimes they became a financier. He helped, that’s what all angels do.

The nurse is going out with her blind date tonight. I know this will work, he set up eight different couples in his adult life. All of which are happily married. He walked two of them down the aisle too. His wife thought it was a disgusting display and tried to make a scene at one of the weddings, I had her escorted off of the premises. This was only a year before their divorce.

I sit now in my home, my friend’s home and I feel him in this den, I think I always will and I’m ok with that. I want to feel him. I want to be more like him. I’m trying. I joined up with the boys’ club at the civic center and I’m volunteering at the soup kitchen as well. I’m determined to do my part and give back when I can. My wife is too.

I am in the office only during regular business hours, if I have more to do, I bring it home and don’t touch any work until my children have gone to sleep. I want them to know me, I want to be in their lives and show them they are more important. I hope I succeed.

There is a banging on the front door and I run to get it because the kids are asleep. I open the door to see a very rain soaked young lady, “I missed him, didn’t I?” she begins to cry.

Oh no, poor dear, she wanted to see my friend before the end. “I’m afraid so. Come in.” I invite her in. I bring her a blanket to wrap herself in and invite her to sit down on the couch.

“No, I’m soaking wet.”

“Sit” I encourage her. I let her sit and warm up, I bring her a warm cup of tea and offer her some of my wife’s clothing so she can get out of her wet stuff. She says no but I go upstairs to get some anyway, I call my wife to ask what to give her and she gives me a list to bring down. I bring it all in a pile with a big fluffy towel and show her into the guest room. “Shower, and change. I’m not going anywhere.” I leave and close the door.

I hear her crying for a few minutes and then I finally hear the water run. Funny how after being soaked by rain we all find comfort in a warm shower. I go in the kitchen and warm her up a plate of the lasagna we had for dinner. She comes out and finds the kitchen where I must be making noise. “Eat, we’ll talk when you’re feeling comfortable.” I leave her to eat and go back to sit in the living room on the couch.

My wife is due home soon. She sent me a message a few minutes ago that the man my friend set the nurse up with didn’t want to inconvenience my wife so he is bringing her home and they intend to have their dessert while sitting on the porch even though it is raining.

She will know what to do. I sit and wait and see she has come in wearing my wife’s clothes and holding a cup of tea in her hands. “I’m sorry to barge in.” she tells me why she didn’t make it and who she is.

I tell her why I’m in this house now and she begins to cry all over again. My wife walks in and I give her a brief scenario of what is going on. “Oh, you poor dear.” They sit and talk and all I can do is listen.

I can only wonder if maybe she should tell her story to his son. “I’m going to see his son tomorrow.” I tell her where I will be.

She sits there stunned. My wife talks to her some more and they make arrangements for her to sleep in our guest room. I go out to my porch and see she had dropped off a bag outside. She had wanted to be here for him as he was for her in her darkest hour.

A rain delay on her plane, then her rental car broke down. On top of that her boss called her and forced her to report back to work because he knew she had no family and that if she didn’t come back, she was fired. She went back for two days, to collect her next paycheck. Deposited the money, then quit and came here. Now she has nothing she told us. My wife stays in the guest room and talks to her most of the night. I see her as the sun peaks through the clouds. “Take her with you dear, she needs closure and she is so beautiful, maybe she is what he needs too. Hmm?”

“I see this place is rubbing off on you too.” I smile at her and prepare myself for traveling today. In the kitchen I tell our guest I’m taking her to his son, I don’t ask. She seems to appreciate this a lot. Good, we will go soon as we eat.

~~ ~

Today I have nothing to do. The lawyer is coming in soon and we are having a late brunch together, he said he is bringing a surprise. I have no idea what could surprise me anymore. My boss called and yelled at me again yesterday afternoon about my behavior. I told him he had no right to tell me anything. I reminded him I quit and asked him not to call me anymore. I told him which one of my colleagues can handle the projects I was working on and then I hung up.

I receive a text from my boss this morning ‘I’m sure your behavior would have made your father proud.’

I don’t know his reasoning for saying this, so I answer the only way I know how, honestly. I say ‘yes he would. Please don’t contact me anymore unless you want me to report you for harassment.’

I hope that will be enough. I’d heard rumors in the past about how he doesn’t have a good home life but if he behaves like this in public, one can only wonder how he is at home. I look all through my new clothes from my father and pick out one of my favorite pair of pants he has, a nice blue button-down shirt and a smart looking sweater vest to top it all off. When you look good, you feel good, that was one of Dad’s favorite things to say. He hated seeing kids wear ripped clothing on purpose when those who wore ripped ones by circumstances were ridiculed, it made no sense to him.

I drive out to the bed and breakfast we are supposed to meet and I walk up toward the door but I stop the minute I see her. I know those eyes. My heart skips a few beats and I run to her, she comes towards me too and we hold on tightly. I haven’t seen her since she left my home town so many years ago I lost count.

“I’m so sorry.” She says into my chest as she begins to cry. I look up and see the lawyer, he is smiling, this is his surprise? He nods to me and I find myself smiling. I make her walk towards him and we go and sit down on the big Victorian porch and wait to be served brunch.

She sits and holds my hand then she pulls away, “I have to talk first or I never will.” She tells me. We both nod.

She begins with the day she met my father. There was a big fire in our neighborhood one night, three whole houses burned down, of course me and my father were there. I had come home for a quick visit. I was leaving town in two days. But we were there to help out.

Her whole house was burning, her parents succumbed to smoke inhalation quickly but she was pulled out, but not in the direction of where everyone else was, she tells us. No, a man pulled her out and kept her walking, she had no idea where she was, she was groggy and tired. It was not until morning that she saw where she was. She was in a basement of some kind, tied up to a bedpost and sitting on the floor.

He had come down in the morning and told her that her whole family died and that he was there to save her and that she had better show her gratitude like all the other girls do. She tells us she was too tired to comprehend what was going on. He untied her and told her to shower and gave her clothes to change into. He didn’t leave the room while she was showering, but again, she was too tired to figure out why.

Upon hearing this, I feel my fists being to form under the table, the lawyer must see me and he puts his hand on my shoulder and nods to her to continue.

She came out of the shower and got dressed in the dress he provided for her. He took many pictures of her. Gave her some food and tied her up again. All that day, she sat there. Not knowing what was going on. Where her family was who this man was, where she was. She was too stunned to even call out to anyone for help.

She heard many cries during that first day. Sometimes she heard men’s voices and the sound of someone being slapped or hit. She sat and sat. Then on the third day, he came to take her out of the house. He tied her hands behind her back and blindfolded her. There must have been a cat somewhere in the car or before her because she kept sneezing, she is allergic. That was the first time she talked and told him she is allergic to cats.

After a few minutes, they changed cars. The car stopped and she was in front of a bank. She got out and he untied her and reminded her that she was to be grateful for he saved her life and she owes him. She didn’t recognize the bank but she did recognize the man inside.

It was my father, he walked towards them and said hello. The man with her asked him for the money and he handed him a check. “I saw the number on that check, it said 100,000” I almost fainted right there. The man studied the check and realized he was given a bank check and he can deposit the money right away, no waiting.

He reminded me one more time how grateful I was to be because no one else came to save her, she told us. “I walked out with your father and he quickly asked me which car I came from. I pointed to the car near us.”

“Another man came by and shook your father’s hand, he looked at your father but asked me if I had any idea where I came from.

I described things I heard outside of the window in the room I was in for two days. He nodded and then left to run down the street.”

She describes how the man who brought her to the bank came out and shook my father’s hand and said he would be happy to do business with him again, then he left. My father brought her to a doctor to have her examined since no one ever looked at her since the fire. Her lungs were still a bit foggy but nothing dangerous. She was given medication and they asked her to come back in two days.

My father brought her home, that is the part I remember. She came to my house. We sat up all night talking. “You told me all about being stuck in the fire.” I tell her.

She smiles and nods, she told me only that part. She hadn’t known the kind of trouble she was in. Didn’t know the life she was supposed to be living after that night. We spent the two days I was there talking. We talked about everything from what kind of pie we both like to why we both hate the color yellow. I never once took my eyes away from hers. They were captivating then, and still are now.

I listen some more as she had paused and is now ready to speak again, “The day after you left, your father took me to my uncle’s house. I was told everyone died. That man told me no one was looking for me. He told me I forgot that my family was all together that night and no one survived but me.

I was 16, your father felt I needed the truth. He told me. He told me how this man approached him after seeing him at the civic center give a girl a hug. He came to him and said ‘I see you like pretty young things’ your father knew right away what he was getting at but said nothing. He looked at his phone and hit record. I didn’t even know phones could do that back then but he sure did.

Anyway, the man showed him my picture, your father knew who I was. He knew right away. He still said nothing, the man said that your father could come visit me for a price. But that wasn’t good enough for your father, he asked how much it was to buy me off of him. The man said I wasn’t for sale.

Then he offered him 50,000, and the man said if you can come up with that so quickly make it 100 and make it in a bank certified check by tomorrow.

Your father said ok and agreed to meet him at his bank so he could deposit the money right away. Then he told me that what he said to the man next shocked even the man. He told him that if he, meaning your father, found out that this man had me first, he will come back for his money, he said if he finds even one bruise on me, the deal is off.

I sat there crying I had no idea what was going on still. I was so naïve and stupid. I still didn’t get what he was saying.” She bows her head.

She explains how her uncle, through his own tears tells her that the man was going to make her have sex with other men and that he was going to collect all the money for it but that this man, my father, bought me from the evil man so that none of that would ever happen. Then he set the wheels in motion with the police to find the guy and save the rest of the girls.

Both banks knew of what was going on, she tells me. My father made certain of it and he received his money back immediately after the police made the arrest and then the confirmation of what was going on in that house of ills. She had only been three blocks from her own house.

I sit back in my chair and contemplate what she just said. He knew, would I know? Would I know what the man was talking about? Would I have enough money in my lifetime to do all the good my father did?

I reach over the table to take her hand in mine. It is warm and cold at the same time. She is frightened from telling this over. “Where have you been all this time?” I ask.

She regales me of her life with her only uncle. Someone from her mother’s side. He was single and happy to take on a teenaged girl. They traveled a lot, because whenever he had to go away on business, he took her, they saw the world. She has been to 17 countries and she lived a full life already with him by her side.

He is the one who told her about my father, they must have been in touch all these years she tells us. She visits her family’s cemetery plots on their birthdays. Never on the day they all died, both parents, one grandmother and two siblings. Her uncle always made sure she got there for each one.

Four years after she began living with him, he found a woman of his own. They adopted three children from various places they visited. After college, she has been on her own but she lives near him. Now she is without a job though. She tells us of what her boss said to her.

I don’t want to leave today but eventually brunch has to end. I leave a nice tip to the waitress who let us stay so long and we all walk down the steps to take a walk around the property. I tell the lawyer what happened when I came back and we laugh, now we are both out of a job and almost for the same reason.

~~ ~

I sit and contemplate all that I’ve learned today. That young woman had one hell of an experience with my friend. But thankfully her life turned around. I did some research after I left the two of them still sitting outside and talking.

There is a report of the fire and then I find the report I was looking for. The one about when the police closed down a brothel that housed only underaged girls. Three of which were pregnant. One was so malnourished they weren’t sure she was going to survive another month. A dozen girls under the age of 18 all tied to bedposts of various sizes. All dressed in sexy lingerie that they probably didn’t even know existed before they came there.

The article goes on to say that the majority of them had missing person’s reports filed on them. The rest were actually kids in the foster care system. Sad that they had no report filed on them. I’ll send an email to a friend and ask him to follow up on these girls and see if they are all ok. Make sure that they truly went to family members. If any of them didn’t, and we find them in the same situation but with different people. Some heads are going to be cut off big time.

I try and calm myself down but I can’t. I have girls of my own, what if this happened to one of them? I cannot imagine what my reaction would be. I don’t want to ever be in the position to find out. My next research calms me down. I look up her uncle. He is in the news a lot for the work he does all over the world. He is one of the doctors who go around the world to help children and families who don’t have adequate health care services.

No wonder she went so many places. Now this makes sense. He gave her a sense of kindness. Showed her that not everyone is as evil as the man who knew her and where she was and took complete advantage of the situation. He sees her with him in various villages, helping out in any way she can.

I came to tell the son a few other things, I have to do this tonight. I’ll send him a text that I need some private time with him to go over the rest of the estate.

He responds in kind, he will bring me back dessert and we can talk in my room for privacy. I smile. Maybe my wife is right. Well, of course she is. Like my friend, my wife knows when two people should be together.

The knock on the door has me close my computer quickly so he doesn’t see what I was looking up. “Hey.” I say and let him in. He hands me a big piece of pie from the kitchen downstairs. He laughs and says how he thinks it so funny they let him walk in and get the pie.

I smile, I asked if he saw the baker who makes them, he said no. That explains why he is so calm. “Sit.” I tell him. He is going to need to.

How to being I ask myself. The beginning I hear my wife say in my ear. I tell him how his father had another sister. She is mentally there and completely mute. Always has been. The one way she expressed her love to someone is through the food she made. I tell him his father has been supporting her his whole adult life. He remembered her but hadn’t seen her in many years. They sent her away to an institution back then. She had been there ever since. He found her, he took her out of the place she had been in and built her this place.

She still bakes here and does all of the evening meals. She has people in the kitchen that are her guardians and help her but no one helps her do the baking, that she does all on her own. She will only make things her brother liked. Pies, of all kinds, chocolate and occasionally an orange marmalade cake I explain eating the last piece of pie on my plate.

He sits and stares at me. he looks at my door and either wants to run into the kitchen, out of the house or find his aunt. I’m not sure. Then I look again, he has a tear running down his face. “These shoes are too big to fill.” He tells me through tears.

Before he can change the subject, I hand him another envelope with a check from the sale of the business. The whole thing is for him. I told him I sent the percentage he asked me to send to his brother in law with instructions to put some away for each child to go to college.

“but” he says softly.

I remind him his father was a millionaire, many times over, and that had his mother known she would have found a way to steal even more from him but she never knew. She may find out if she hears about the business being sold. But it doesn’t matter, I tell him. She gets nothing more than what she already got during the divorce.

I sit back and think, the first check, he has. The business is sold. His mother and sister, taken care of. The nurse, taken care of. My list is done. I’ve made good on all of the promises I made to my friend. Now I can sit back and enjoy life because, as usual, my friend snuck something in the sale for me as well. My children will go to college, but there is enough for us to build on and become better people with too. I sigh.

I can’t be him. I hear the son say and I smile again. “He doesn’t want you to be. He wants

you to be you and to do you well. You can run this place if you’d like.” I tell him.

“Who runs it now?” he asks me.

“The woman who was hired to take care of your aunt for the rest of her life. She has been paid ahead of time for her services. She will stay here and take care of her but I’m pretty sure she is tired of running the place. Plus, there is a business manager that she doesn’t trust anymore.” I tell him all this from my last conversation with this woman. She reports to me weekly.

I see he is turning all this over in his head. He walks to the window to look out the back. There is a lot of land here. People come to relax but it could be so much more. I see his wheels spinning already.

My friend was right, his son belongs here. He knew this.

~~ ~

I heard every word today. All of it, the woman’s tale as well as the news from the lawyer. The size of the check is heavy in my hand. I can’t be my father, but I don’t think he wanted me to be. I think he wants me to be me. I’m starting to realize that now.

But who am I and what do I want to do? That is a question everyone asks themselves but here I am at almost 30 asking the same thing again. I now have the opportunity to do whatever I want. Thank you Dad, I will try and honor you all the days of my life.

I pace my home. My small home compared to the one I grew up in. But today I call it home. No longer my apartment. This is my home. This town is my home, that bed and breakfast is my last link to my family. Tomorrow I will meet my aunt. We will bake cookies together and I will think. Think about what to do the next day and the day after that, but for now, I will wait until tomorrow.

In my bed I watched my clock change numbers, sleep does not come easy. I deposited the check into my account today and the clerk gave me a questioning look. I looked back with a stare that dared him to question my money. He said nothing but I know he secretly did something to check on the check’s validity, took too long for him to come back. Tonight I already got a message that the monies have been deposited. I stare at the number for a long time.

People dream of having this and here I am looking at it. I really don’t ever have to work again if I chose not to. But my mind keeps going back to my new aunt. I decide to sit up and look up the institution that the lawyer mentioned to me.

I don’t like what I see. People were brought there as young adults, they’ve spent their life being studied, their behaviors under different circumstances. It is as if they are human lab rats. But all of this is legal as long as there is nothing done to them medically. They are allowed to put a person in an irritating situation to see if they have overcome that obstacle. They can put them in a room with items they hate to try and teach them there is nothing wrong with the item. This seems cruel and unusual punishment that the guards wouldn’t even do in prison.

My father had made a lot of money quickly and when he discovered her, she wasn’t quite my current age but she had already been there since she was around 16. I pick up a book I remember my father giving me, I open it now. His diary. I look up the date and time he pulled her out to see if he speaks of this reunion.

Here it is, today I released her. My sister, I found her in an institution for the mentally unstable. She is fine, she is not a danger to herself or others, I don’t understand why they kept her here, why she was sent to begin with?

I’ll never know, my parents aren’t around to ask. It seems out of character for them, maybe they weren’t given a choice. But I’m here, I’m not alone anymore and she is here with me. The best day of my life. I’m not telling my wife, she will not appreciate how wonderful it is to have someone you love that will love me back. My other sister died too young.

Oh this morning was wonderful. I walked in and said I was there to check her out. Everyone was shocked, I had proof I was her next of kin and they had to release her to me. they had no choice although they argued loudly about how she doesn’t know how to live out in the real world and I yelled at them and said it is only because you created a false one for her.

I had a doctor come and try to talk to me and I said to him he has nothing on me, nothing he can say that will sway me and he’d best get out of my way immediately. Thankful, for the first time, that I am a tall and broad man.

I walked over to her at the table where she is waiting, “Hi” is all I say. After all these years she turns and sees me, her eyes light up and she says my name with her hands. She tells the nurse I came to take her home and he hugs me tightly.

The nurse, recognizing my name, told me she has said for years that one day her brother will come and take her home. She never lost hope. She never forgot about me and now I will never forget her, she will always be taken care of.

Love is a powerful thing, I think to myself. His sister loved him, her heart knew he was coming only she didn’t know when. He came and now she bakes for him. Does she know he is gone? Did anyone tell her? Do I have to be the one to do this? Now, for sure I have to go tomorrow to meet her.

This is my job now. I have to tell her. She has to know who I am. We will get along somehow. We will, and as for that wonderful woman who stepped back into my life today, I’m not sure. She is a powerful force, I felt it in her hug. In her words.

Tomorrow is decided. I’ll work on life after that.

 

~~ ~

Oh, he is as handsome as I remember. I can’t believe I said the whole story all at once, I am not sure I’ve done that before. But he was watching me with such sympathy, no that wasn’t it, his face shown concern.

He wasn’t pitying me at all. No, his look was concern, he wanted to know that I came out of all that could have been. I did. I came out and I shout to the world that if his father wasn’t an angel sent on earth to do good things than I don’t know what an angel is.

That first night I met him, we talked for hours. I remember feeling whole around him. I remember feeling as if life was going to be ok because he was in this world. But then life took me away. It has been wonderful, I don’t feel shame for the way I’ve lived with my uncle. He too is a special kind of angel sent here to spread his medical knowledge and take care of so many who have so little.

My uncle made me appreciate life all the days of my life. No, he didn’t make me that’s the wrong word, he showed me in his actions that we should always appreciate and never take for granted anything.

I couldn’t believe I missed the funeral, that was the most devastating news I had heard in years. There is so much of me that wanted to give him some good peace before he left this world to go back home. I say home because I am certain no man can accomplish what he did without being heaven sent. I hope that tomorrow I will see his son again. But tonight, tonight I need to figure out my next move. Maybe I’ll call my uncle. No, maybe this time, I’ll figure this out myself. Ok I’ll wait until tomorrow.

~~ ~

There it is, my future. I walk cautiously up to the front door of the bed and breakfast and open the door slowly. I don’t want to wake anyone. I walk towards the kitchen and there she is, the older woman I saw the day before, but she isn’t my aunt. She sees me and smiles, I nod to her and she walks out of the room.

Soon, standing before me is a woman who looks exactly like my father. Exactly, not one hair is different, not the slant of her eyes, or the pink of her lips, nothing. She is and forever will be my father’s sister. My aunt. “Hello.” I say softly.

She looks at me and squeals in delight in her own way. She runs to me and holds me in a bear hug I wasn’t expecting. She lets go and looks at my face then she pulls me in again. We do this about four times and then the older woman claps her hands. My aunt looks at her and then to me. “Nephew” she says a whole mouthful in one word. Well not really a mouthful, she signed the word to me, I knew that one. I looked it up so I could say who I was to her. She knows me. she knows who I am and I find myself tearing up.

I hold her hand and bring her to the table. I look at the older woman and she nods in agreement. I hold my aunt’s hand and I tell her that her brother had become very ill and that he has gone back to heaven to be the angel that he is.

At first, I’m not sure she comprehends what I have said. Then she sits and looks at me, she holds my hands tightly in hers and she cries, but no sound comes out, her tears fall.

“She is smart as a whip, but she can’t tell anyone so they locked her up. Back then, people didn’t know what they know now. She hears you, even when you speak softly. She will sign with you or she will write down her thoughts but you will always know when she cries. The silence is deafening to me.” the older woman says. I look over to her, I agree. This silent cry is so loud to me. I can feel her pain, her anguish. But I can’t squelch it, the pain will always be there. The brother who saved her for the past 30 years, is gone.

She hits the table hard with one hand and I stare at her to figure out what she wants. She begins to sign quickly to the other woman. Who smiles. She waits for her to finish and then she tells me that she felt thunder in her heart the day he died. She knew he was sick, he told her. But to hear it, pains her.

Now she tells me that my aunt wants me to stay, she wants me to bake with her some cookies and now it is my turn to cry. How did she know what I was thinking last night? I stand to go hug her and she lets me.

We work together to make the dough and form the cookies. I always loved being in the kitchen. I walk to the sideboard and begin to make my favorite bread dough. She comes behind me and taps my shoulder, she shakes her head no and shows me a different thing to do. I shake my head no also, she thinks a moment and shrugs. I guess she will wait and see how my bread comes out. By 7:00 in the morning our cookies and breads are done. We work together to make some eggs, and cut up some vegetables for people who want. We also make some fish and a fruit salad.

As we put everything out on the big buffet table for the guests, she comes down and sees me. Her eyes pull me in instantly and my aunt pushes on my shoulder and nods that I should go to her. I smile back and greet my old friend.

We stand there a moment and I show her what I made, she seems impressed. I look over at my aunt who is watching the guests come in and she is watching what they take. She looks to the older woman and points to my rolls, they are almost gone and more of hers are still there. The older woman pushes her and she walks over to take one of my rolls. She pulls it open and puts a smear of pure butter in the middle and takes a bite, she is watching me the whole time and I am her.

The smile on her face says everything to me. I walk over to receive yet another hug. I can get used to this. Hugs I mean. My mother never gave them and my father once told me I was so skinny as a young kid he was almost afraid he’d crush me.

The lawyer comes over and hugs my aunt too. Then he tells me his job with me is done and he is going home to his wife and children. My friend stands there waiting, for what, I don’t know. My aunt knows though, she walks over and takes her by the hand and leads her to the kitchen. I shrug to the lawyer and he smiles. I guess she is staying a while. I smile to him and then I hug him and watch him leave.

~~ ~

My work here is complete, I did all that was asked of me. My friend taught me so much in life, how important it is to pay attention to the little things that the people around you do. I’ve taken his advice many times in the cases I have, especially those that involve children.

I’ve tried all these years to be like him but I am not him and the more I realize that I can only be the best me, I can’t be him. If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned that.

I’m going home now. To my home that will always help remind me to be a good person. My wife calls as I head back to the airport. A woman came by last night saying she knew this house was safe and asked to spend the night.

And so it begins, maybe it is the house. Maybe whomever lives there takes on what needs to be done. Maybe I can’t do it financially the way he did, but I will make this work in my own way. We will help where we can and find the resources to help where we can’t.

My friend’s work is done but I’ve just begun.

 

~~ ~

I see in the kitchen that my aunt and my friend are working together on some kind of soup. I busy myself with getting the dishes washed that have come back already from breakfast. There is no scheduled brunch, that was done for us yesterday.

I walk around the whole place this morning. I knock on each guest room and ask if I can inspect the room please. They let me, somehow everyone knows I’m part of this place. I see little things that have been neglected. What does this business manager do anyway? Does she never look at the rooms? There is one that is showing water dripping from the ceiling, in a corner. I promise to give them some money back. The guest protests, he says he will only stay in this room. Specifically, this room, his good luck room.

Every time he stays in this very room, his presentations go really well. I tell him it’s the food not the room and he begins to laugh. I’ve made a friend.

Each room is the same, everyone here right now is a repeat customer. No wonder the manager doesn’t have much to do to sell the place, the food brings them in, the colors that make them stay. Each room is soft and welcoming, as if you’re coming somewhere else but staying at home.

Home, there is that word again. I walk outside to see all that might need to be repaired. I have been writing this all down each room I step into. Now I see the outside, the bushes have become so overgrown you can’t see the woodwork behind them, there are parts that need to be fixed. I look around the grounds. The front seems to be well kept. The driveway needs to be revisited. Maybe we should create a cobblestone drive to give a better appearance to the whole curb appeal. I walk towards the back and look with a critical eye. Yesterday I was only looking at my friend’s eyes. I didn’t see much else. But now I see what I should not see. This back has not been looked at much. Kept clean, but it isn’t pretty any more.

I see my aunt walking to me. she looks upset. She calls to me with her hands, she is standing in front of a green patch that is not grass, she bends down and picks a piece of leaf off of one of the plants and makes me smell the fragrance.

“Herbs?” I ask.

She nods but then she shows me with her hands the mess it is in. “Ah the manager doesn’t like to keep up your garden? No, it is not acceptable. Maybe we don’t need an outside manager.” I tell her and then walk with her along the whole perimeter of the lawn with her.

I walk to the furthest point and we look back at the house. It holds five rooms that can be served at once. I look to the side, there is so much room here. “My dear aunt. If I expand your kitchen and dining room. Can we add five more rooms on top?” she looks to me in excitement. She puts her hand down and I guess “Children?” she nods again.

Ah children I think to myself. We should build a treehouse back here in the back and we can serve special meals in the treehouse. My mind starts thinking of all kinds of things we can do. She claps her hands over her head and dances around.

My friend is standing there when this happens, “Did you tell him your idea to expand the top floor?” she asks.

I stand and stare at my aunt, it was my idea. She smiles. My friend looks at me, “You should see the ideas she has for this place, the manager won’t do any of them saying her ideas are a waste of money and that money needs to be conserved. Did I get that right?” she asks my aunt.

My aunt jumps to hug her. “She’s very smart. They ruined her in there and your father’s love pulled her out. But it’s hard to run a business when you can’t speak to customers.”

“Bull. What time does the manager get in, I think some big changes are among us.” I say with conviction.

~~ ~

It has been a week since I first met with the manager. She is not happy that I’m there every day, she is not happy that I’m disrupting her business with expansion. She hates that I’m building a treehouse because it is a liability and she hates even more that I gave in to the cook about having a fresh herb garden. The groundskeeper is happy to upkeep the garden and anything else my aunt suggests.

Somehow the idea that I own the place isn’t getting through to this manager. I check the books at the end of each day too. I check all receipts and took her off of writing the checks immediately. I said since I’m here there is no reason for her to see the books anymore. She was not happy. I have not fired her yet but I think she is about to quit anyway.

My friend has stayed as well. She isn’t sure what she is going to do, she spoke to her uncle and he told her to stay as long as she’d like, that it is ok to take a couple of weeks to get back on her feet. But no more. Every day she is with my aunt in the kitchen. Dinners are her specialty.

She also introduced to-go lunches for those who are taking the day to travel around or even for those in town for business. Her to-go lunches sell very quickly. Already she has people ordering them the night before, she makes them to order.

Today I meet with the architect for the treehouse in the back. Tomorrow with the final contractor to bid on doing the expansion upstairs. I woke today feeling something I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I’m comfortable, every day is not filled with tension of who I have to please now. I wake to be my own person. Today, I’m good.

The meeting with the treehouse guy is amazing. He speaks to my aunt in sign and gets her ideas on what she thinks the patrons would want. They decide on making it as if it was a big balcony between the two old oaks in the back of the property. There will be a staircase instead of a ladder to get up to the treehouse. We will have tire swings strong enough for adults and he is building two stand-alone loveseat swings to be enjoyed by guests any time they want.  Using the same wood to match the treehouse. There is the staircase to get down or a slide on the other side.

The meeting is amazing. My aunt is so smart, she knows what the people want after all these years. My father knew her passion and he helped her build her own empire. I see she feels she is as rich as he was. I want to give her all of this and more. But I have some concerns about the expansion. It will be wonderful but I feel we’re missing something. Hmmm. I think as I walk the perimeter again. I stand watching people go by and it hits me. Looking at the man in the wheelchair across the way. All our rooms are upstairs, we have no elevator and I can’t justify that expense. But wait, I run to the side of the house. This side gets good sun but it is almost too much sun for a library. What if? That’s it! What if I build three of the rooms right here on this floor, for handicapped accessibility, we can easily build a ramp to the front steps.

I run across the street to speak to the man in the chair and ask him everything I would need to get him to stay there. He laughs but then he sees I am serious and he begins to discuss with me all he has at home. Wider bathroom door, wider shower, lower sinks so he can reach. I can do this. I will do this.

I’m no longer thinking of me, I want to make this a better place for others. I do, that is what I want to do. Manager be damned, this is my place now and it will run happily. I shake the man’s hand and tell him that when I’m done, he should come and spend a free weekend on the house. He smiles and nods thinking I’m crazy, maybe I am, but I’m also charged up.

I can do this. I have the means and I certainly have the knowledge now. I run back in time to see the last architect pulling in to meet with me. I wave to him and call him over to the side of the house. I give him my whole new idea and ask how much worse will that be, he smiles at me and thanks me. He has a child in a wheelchair himself. They always have to stay on the first floor or pay for an expensive place with an elevator. Some of the first-floor rooms aren’t street level and he has to carry the chair up the steps to get into the building to begin with. I begin to talk a mile a minute but he is writing this all down as fast as I’m speaking.

I see my aunt with her hand crossed in front of her chest, she doesn’t want to be left out and she thinks she is. I smile at her and so does the architect. We head inside and sit in the den, no one is here now. He tells my aunt all that we came up with outside and then he tells her they can still expand all she needs them to. The land is big enough we won’t need extra variances to do any of this, only permits. My aunt doesn’t look happy. I don’t know why.

I slide her my pad of paper and she begins to write. She wasn’t upset that we began without her she is upset because the manger told her that she has to watch herself and stay out of the way of business decisions. She told her that she has no business speaking to the owner, that is for her to do and she will only approve extensions that make sense with her business model, the business is doing just fine as is and she will discuss this with the man walking around thinking he is in charge.

I smile and hold my aunt’s hand. She smiles back. I call the manger in to the meeting and ask her point blank if that is what she said to this woman, she stumbled on her words and said it was misinterpreted. I told her my aunt isn’t stupid nor would she lie and asked her if she wants to change her mind.

She had no idea we were related until that moment. My friend has been going over the books all morning. I asked her to go over all payroll as well and where each check is sent and for how much. I think my manger is double paying herself as manager and night manager. Even though she isn’t here at night. My friend comes in as I’m thinking of her and she sees this woman at the table already squirming. She shows me some papers, the numbers don’t add up. Bills for things we don’t buy, payments to people who aren’t our local vendors. All with her signature on them.

My tolerance is small. My father worked hard his whole young life to make the world a better place. “You’re fired.” I said and slid the paper to her as if to challenge that. Then I say, “Front door, now. Your pocket book will be brought to you out there. You are not to go back into the office.” I tell her. My friend stands tall to walk with her to the front door. The woman doesn’t know what to say or do.

My friend walks her out. I stay and we continue our meeting.

~` ~

After all the good he has done for people, this person, took it upon herself to notice there is always good money in the account. She dummied up some bills for products they don’t use and paid herself with these as if she bought them on her own time and needed to be reimbursed. I hope his son never really sees this.

Three of the bills were from repairmen that were never used here before. I called on those bills and according to the bill number they were done at the manager’s residence. I walk back to the office and empty her purse to make sure she has nothing of the business’s on her

She does, she has a credit card with her name, unauthorized, I’m sure. She has the bank account number written on her phone in her notes. I erased that. I also erased all the known vendors numbers from her phone. Let her sue me, we can send her to jail with all that I found so far. I’m so angry that my blood is boiling by the time I get back to her with her belongings. But I take a deep breath and think of the man who built this place. He would not bring her up on charges, he would save the evidence though. He would say that there is something missing in her life and she needs the help.

I listen to my inner angel and I say to her, “If at any time in the future you need a reference, we will give you one. No charges of embezzlement will be brought against you, at this time. The evidence will be kept at our lawyers however.” Then I close the door.

I’ve never been so mean to anyone before. My heart is racing, I hear it in my chest. Oh dear, how did he live like this all the time. Forgiving people so quickly. Honoring their good parts with only a hint of a reminder of how, if they slip, they will pay the consequences. Like he did when he bought me. He knew this man wanted to be with me, he could tell which is why he said he would not pay if I was ruined.

I hope she gets a new job. I do. I will say she kept the place afloat for many years but the new owners are doing everything themselves now.

I keep saying we. I like the sound of that. We. Me and him and his aunt and her best friend who interprets for her. They are truly best friends.

I think I found what I’m looking for. I’m done now.

~~ ~

My friend comes to tell me what she told her. I agree, we will keep the evidence in hopes it will never be used. Ever. She was here for many years, I write her last paycheck and send this one in the mail with a note stating the same thing my friend did.

At night she tells me of her revelation as well. We, it has a nice ring to it. Working with her here has been seamless. We get up early. We work together. Everyone is happy, construction starts soon and this place will be hoping even more.

A man approaches us at the porch. He asks for my father, I tell him he is no longer with us. He bows his head and cries. I walk to him and he holds out his hand to shake mine. He tells me that a few years ago, before my father was sick, he was here one night and had come to town to a local fair. He, my father, saw some kids offer him a drink and they were laughing. My father went over and asked what kind of drink they were offering. The kids said a fruit drink, he asked what kind, they made something up, he asked if they were giving it to this man or simply sharing their own drink with him. One of the boys said it was a gift. Then my father said, well, you can’t give a gift of food, if you don’t know what a person is allergic to. Then he threw the drink and splashed each of the kids with the contents of the cup. He told me they saw immediately that their clothing was discolored. Bleach, the kids had put bleach in the drink. No one liked this man because he reminded them of a disfigured character in an old movie.

His one eye was mostly closed too so they thought him stupid. But he wasn’t, isn’t. he told me that my father then bought him a proper dinner and they spoke into the night. He said he works in a laboratory testing for medical research. But my father knew that the boys were up to something. My father knew, but this man’s eye sometimes, especially in the evenings, doesn’t let him see clearly and their laughter simply looked like quirky smiles.

Then he tells me that they saw the boys the next day back at the fair with an adult. My father approached the group of kids with this man and asked the adult which one of the kids is interested in science. He asked why and my father told him that his friend works at a medical lab for research and thinks that there may be an internship open for the rest of the summer if someone wants to learn real science and how chemicals work. The only kid who stopped laughing the day before, raised his hand. That was this man’s son. The man had joked and told them maybe they will teach him to stay away from bleach, he bumped into a cleaning bucket here yesterday, he told his parents and ruined his brand new shirt.

“That boy became my pupil for the next three weeks of that summer. I think he is headed to college now. But your father showed me compassion I’ve only felt with family. The public doesn’t understand you can have a brain when the rest of you looks different.” He tell us.

I smile at the man and tell him that if he ever needs a night to get away, he only has to call and we will provide him an escape and a homecoming. Again, I hear that word, home.

I also heard myself say us. Us, as in we, as in me and this beautiful woman by my side right now. Before he leaves, he says, “If you invite me to your wedding, I’ll be happy to play my fiddle for you. I’m pretty good.” He smiles and hands me his card.

A wedding, a home, this woman. So many things to think about. But tonight, I need to sleep.

~~ ~

With the construction almost done, the buzz around town is that we’re having a grand opening. I’ve never announced one but the thought is appealing. I’m thinking of more of an open house so people can stop by, taste the food and experience the backyard treehouse, the bench swings and the merry go round that you can step on at the ground level. No stepping up, built even with the grass. This is so handicapped children can enjoy this ride too.

But then I think that my father also used to teach me that you don’t always have to give myself away. I used to do work for other people other than my most recent boss, I didn’t always get paid. But maybe this is the same. So no, we won’t have a party and invite unpaying guests. It’s not fair to the guests who expect a quiet place.

Quiet, that’s a good word too. The man in the wheelchair has come by twice and consulted on whether or not things are being put high enough or wide enough. One day I asked him if he knew my father. His story was the same as the rest. He saved him from himself one day. He remains in a chair but he remains is all he tells me.

I think, for the rest of my life, I will be hearing of the many lives of my father. The many tales that will be told to me about how he did so much for so many. I want to do that here. In this place for as many as need me.

I spoke yesterday to my aunt and we decided one room will always remain empty. You never know who will need a bed in the middle of the night. We will always keep one open. My aunt’s friend, the older woman wants to retire. But she also doesn’t want to leave, this has been her home for so long. I told her to stay as long as nature lets her and she smiled.

My aunt walks taller these days, she is more vibrant than ever, her friend says to me all the time. Maybe my aunt should meet the scientist, I think to myself.

Here comes my friend now, she is looking rather upset, I think I know why but I also know how to stop this mood. She walks right up to me and I do what I’ve been thinking for a long time. I pull her in for a kiss. Sweet, passionate, but gentle at the same time.

“Marriage, kids the whole nine yards. I’m done thinking about life, I want to live one. With you.” I say to her.

~ ~ ~

Our wedding is held out in the backyard. My aunt decorated the treehouse with all of our favorite flowers. Her uncle and family came in. I have no one on my side. My aunt is there and her friend. They are walking me down. But then the lawyer comes in to my room and he says he has one more gift for me. A specially made suit for me to wear for my wedding. My father knew my size and had many suits made for me, all those clothes were his but he had them tailored to fit me when he became ill. I knew he had when the fit was too good. But it took me a while to figure that part out.

Now I know for sure. The lawyer offers to walk me down but I said my aunt is doing that. He said he went to the bed and breakfast to check in but then he came straight here to see me and to make sure I had this gift. He also presented me with a special ring to give my bride under the canopy. It is from Dad’s father, my grandfather. The one who started all this good cheer, my father had told me on his deathbed.

One for me and one for her. I slide mine on and am no longer surprised that something from my father fits me.

The wedding is beautiful, it is small but we invited community friends to join us. One of our new friends plays his fiddle, another one sings with a voice of a nightingale and still others make toasts and dance with us to show us how much they care.

~~ ~

Three days after my wedding, I look around at all that I’ve accomplished since my father died. We are serving those who need, we added on a bungalow in the back with a special key and entrance to be used by families who have people in the local hospital and want to sleep in a real bed for a while. That room is free. We already have someone using the room.

I have it all, thanks to my father. A job, a life, and a wife. What more could a person ask for?

I’m done now.

I’m done now

 

 

 

Well, here I go. I did the deed and now I’m done. I came home, watched my father die, and now I’m headed back out. Away from all of this. From all of them. I had no intention of ever showing my face here again, but death has a strong pull.

I needed to make peace with him and he to me. I’m not sure if we achieved real peace but at least we don’t hate each other anymore. I held his hand when he was in pain, we told dirty jokes when Mom wasn’t around. I snuck him some good bourbon too. He was grateful for that, I assure you.

I mean he was dying, who the hell cares if he had a snip of alcohol? Right? Then my sister showed up and cried every day. I ignored her the same way I did when we were kids.

Of course, there was Mom, she tried hard to say she was sorry for all those years of neglect and pain she caused me. I said goodbye to her the same day I said goodbye to Dad.

I’m done now. Going back to my life.

 

~~  ~

I get on the train and sit back and listen, waiting to hear the rhythm that the train’s wheels create. I listen to the whistle blow for last call, and the rest of the passengers say their goodbyes quickly and hop on.

Please let there be no one who needs the seat next to me, I think to myself. I have my head down, hoping to dissuade anyone from sitting here. When I feel I have accomplished that, I lean my head back and begin to think.

Three days, he was alert for three complete days and the two of us created one hell of a ruckus in the process. I left nothing there, I came in like a tornado and left quite a mess by the time I left. But I hadn’t done it all alone. No, this time my father was in charge, but he was sick and dying in bed, so I was his eyes, hears and feet to make sure this all got done in the right way. The way he wanted things done.

We worked as a team. A team, something we haven’t been since I was under ten years old and he was still the man I looked up to. So many wasted years, I had no idea he lived with neglect and abuse himself. I was a child, he forgave me and I him.

For the first time, I slide out the envelope he had given me on the first day I was there. I haven’t had a chance to open this until now. He pulled me into his den, where he was sleeping now, and handed me this check. My eyes pop open at the sight I’m seeing. This can’t be right. Hold on, let me look at this list that accompanies this check.

So, your old man screwed up. I’m here to make things even. I gave in to what she wanted and whom she wanted it for. But then I went back and thought about all of this, my whole life I thought about. Your older sister got to go to any school she wanted and got into. Plus, I had to pay for an apartment, not a dorm. That wasn’t good enough for the princess. In other words, if I paid 30,000 for her school and only 18,000 for yours, I put away the difference in a special account. If her rent was 15,000 a year, and you lived at home to endures the charms of your mother, I put away 18,000 for you each year. Then the princess needed a new car to attract the right kind of man, you had to use my old one. A 25,000 difference, in your account. This was college, so multiply that by four years plus interest.

Then there was her fancy ass wardrobe, I put that away too. I gave you both equal, but that bitch of a wife of mine, never knew. She also never knew where my real money was. I went with her to the bank when we got married and very quickly saw how much she was spending. I created a joint account which she had access to. This account was not where my real money was.

She knew I made money, but not where. She actually told me that she deserves a diamond necklace so I told her to go out and earn the money to pay for something like that. She told me to take the money from the business account and I told her that the business account is only used to pay for employees, people who actually work for a living. – our first fight.  You were about six at the time. I think that fight lasted until you were eight. She never got that necklace. ????

But that’s for another day. I also included any time the princess called home and asked for money for something stupid. I argued with your mother and said no, often. But she would go into this joint account and take out that amount plus extra and send her any amount she asked for anyway. I would put double into yours every time I found out. You left college ten years ago, your sister more than that and she got married. I doubled the amount for her wedding and gave that to you too. Why? Because if anyone, meaning your mother and sister, ever found out how much I was really worth, they would be pissed, and that made me happy. Her not knowing who I really was thrilled me actually.

I’m at the bank today writing this up while they close the account. My lawyer, and long-time friend, is going to give this to you when I’m gone. He is the only one who has the keys to my den. I lock up each night. Oh, the nurse has one too. She will come in and check on me in the morning. But the lawyer also has the key to where this letter will be and the check will be hidden. I don’t have much life left in me now and we both agreed that if anyone else finds this, they will be charged with theft immediately.

My body is crap but my mind is perfectly sharp. You take this money as my apology to you for not being strong enough to fight for you. Take all of this because I would have given you all of this and then some had you ever asked. But you didn’t want anything from me anymore. I don’t blame you.

I need to explain that too. First look at the check. Then, call my lawyer, he will send you the rest of the information you need to know. It is more than I told you in person, if you came that is. There is so much more.

I hope you marry one day and that she is beautiful on the inside and out. I hope she brings you joy every morning and care every night. I hope you two have healthy and happy children and you give them the home you always wanted to have. Many of them, you deserve many, many lovely children. The kind of home we had when you were younger, before all of your mother’s indiscretions started. Remember that house, remember when we used to play cards while you were in the bath?

Remember how I let you play a long time and even changed the water to new un-soapy water, so I could sit with you in quiet and read the paper? Those moments. Like when we went to the circus together and I told your mom and sister that it was a circus for only boys? That was a doozie.  Ha, I’m laughing still at the expression on their faces when we came home with blue ribbons for eating the most chili as a father and son team. I hope you still have that ribbon, I still have mine in my desk along with the pictures of our messy faces and shirts.

Remember me to your children and tell them what a big goof I used to be. When we pushed raw spaghetti into our hot dogs and boiled them and they looked like giant bugs with long legs. Remember sorry, water mark.

Listen, we had some good memories, then I simply became part of the furniture. Please remember the good times and deposit this check. This is the monies they won’t know about, there is more for you in the actual Will. But this is what I owe you. And so much more. I owed you a father who cared. I did. I always did.  xoxo your one and only goof

I look up and around at the people seating near me, no one has noticed that I too have water on my face. I will remember, I make a promise to him at this moment, I will remember. Hot dogs and spaghetti, I haven’t thought about that in so many years, we made a sauce and ate the whole plate, the two of us. The women wouldn’t eat it. They made silly salads instead. Yeah, we did have good times.

I wipe my face one more time with a tissue I had in my pocket and then I open the envelope and peak inside to see the check again, there it is, with my name printed in bold letters. There are seven digits on this check. I put the letter back inside the envelope and then back inside by coat pocket, I pat the pocket from the outside and sit back and smile.

Remembering the time when we went to his parent’s home and they asked us to come help with household chores. I mopped floors, trimmed bushes, cleaned out a very cluttered garage, all the while laughing at the bad jokes Dad and his father told me.

A peaceful feeling comes over me. He always said he would take care of me, he made good on that. I was too blind to see his angst. I only saw and felt mine. He understood that, and he forgave me. Now I understand him. I never understood.

 

~~ ~

The funeral is over, his son is on his way back to the life he has made for himself. Now I have to go to the house and kick out the occupants who think the house is theirs.  Nothing is, as a matter of fact. Nothing at all.

I knock at the door and the younger one answers, “What do you want?” the anger coming from her tone and her eyes.

I explain my position for being there and she calls his ex-wife. “You have no business here.” Her venom obvious, she tries to close the door.

My hand and foot are on the door and I push myself in. I immediately look over at the den door and see what I knew I’d see. They are trying to break in, I see the scratches on the wood door. I’ll fix that later, old wood doors like that can be sanded and refinished. The nurse comes running out from the back, hearing the commotion.

“oh, you’re here.” She runs and hugs me tightly. She grew to love my friend these past few months. He was easy to love. “Come, we’ll talk in here.” She walks with me to the den door and unlocks the door.

“You!! You have a key?! Hand that key over this instant. Your job is done!” the younger one screams.

The nurse turns, opens the door and pushes me in, then she jumps in and locks the door behind her before the other two women get to the door. “No.” she says softly to their banging on the door. She looks at me with sorrow. I hold her again.

“I know.” I tell her. We stay like this a long while, holding each other on the couch his son slept in and we look around. This room, everything in here is him, my old friend. Book choices, furniture, lighting. He would never let her in this room. All these years. Never. Either of them as a matter of fact. They bang on the door a few times. Threaten to call the police, me and the nurse laugh. The police are already on their way to force the two of them out. I’m required to be here, as the new owner of the property.

We’ve both spent enough tears, now I walk to his desk and hand her a box. “Read this first.” I tell her.

She holds the letter but then sits back down, I already know what he said.

Your heart is so big, your smile even greater. Your children need you and you’ve given yourself to me for months. I am eternally grateful for all you’ve given me. Please, don’t argue, take this and start a college fund for all three kids. It won’t pay for all their years but this amount will be a big jumpstart when they get old enough. Let them choose where to go and, with your guidance, help them get there.

They are young and need a father figure, I’m sorry I can’t be that man, I think I would have loved to. It would have given me a second chance to get fatherhood right. But since I’m not there, my lawyer is going to introduce you to a man I think worthy of you. One date can’t hurt. ????

I’ll always be watching.

She looks up and I know she is done reading. I nod and she looks at the check inside her envelope, her eyes pop open wide and she holds in a scream. I simply nod again. My friend was a generous man, he gave all the time. Many children went to college because of his boosts, as he liked to call them. Never charity, never scholarships, only boosts. Many women met good men too, he made certain of that. Including this one. I walk over and show her a picture of the man she is to meet in three days. Everything has already been set up. The man is eager to meet her because he knows my friend has done this many times before. He was honored when I told him he will be the last one.

Her hand over her mouth, she shakes her head no. I hold her one more time. We wait, I hear the cars coming up the driveway, we look out the window, yes, two police cars, four officers and one person from the courthouse to hand her the official letter. I look at her and she takes a deep breath, she stuffs her letter and check into her bra. She straightens to her full height and I hand her the box again, she had almost forgotten. She opens the box up to see a simple white gold chain with charms of all three of her children hanging in the middle. In between them is a very large pink pearl. I put this on her and she tucks it into her shirt. We stand tall and head to the door. She unlocks the door and we step outside and quickly close and lock the door again. We move to the side and sit down on the bench he always kept outside his den door.

We wait, they stare at us, yelling many obscenities towards both of us. We sit. She, the nurse, knows what is coming as well as I do. He told both of us, he ordered this all. The knock on the door is loud, “Police, open up!” someone says.

“Damn bet ya I’ll open up.” The older one swings the door open and a young woman dressed in a business suit begins to talk. She tells this woman that according to records filed six years ago, she is divorced from the man who owed this property and that today, she is trespassing and needs to leave. She continues to tell her that any disputes need to be taken up with the courts but she hands her, yet another, copy of their divorce papers. This time to her face. They are accompanied with a letter of explanation as to why she is getting nothing from this divorce. How she is in violation of an earlier written promise. Several times over.

“Everything is there, as it was in the original filing. You have one hour to evacuate the premises.” She reminds her.

The nurse and I we watch with smiles on our faces. She stands there and reads the papers. My friend knows that the old ‘joint’ account has been dwindling quickly these past couple of years. That can only mean, she has no one taking care of her right now. The joint account is all that she gets. It was stated in the original divorce papers six years ago. But at the time, she was having an affair with some high finance guy and wasn’t looking at papers from her husband. She claimed her daughter needed her and she was going to live with her a while. The ‘while’ was too long, his private investigators knew the truth rather quickly. The divorce was quick. So painless she never knew a divorce even happened.

Hence the reason she came back now, she wanted what she thought was hers. Money, the house, the business. Everything. The young one begins to scream how this is her father’s house and as the only heir she can decide who stays in and she claims loudly that her mother can stay.

Then the woman from the courts says, “You don’t look like a Leopold.” Both women turn their heads to face me. “This house does not belong to you young lady, either of you, you now have 50 minutes Don’t waste so much time standing here. Please get packed or my officers will have to carry you out physically. Only take what you came with. Nothing from the house is yours. Go ahead.” She turns to the men, they push the two shocked women up the stairs to witness what they are packing up. The ex-wife came two weeks ago, she may have more than one suitcase, but the younger one came three days ago, a day after her brother came.

“What will you do here?” the nurse asks.

“I will move my family in this weekend. My wife is coming in two hours to discuss what we are keeping from here.” I tell her.

“Keep the den, at least for a while.” She says quietly. We sit again, we wait for them to be brought down. They come slowly and the nurse sees the same thing I see, we chuckle.

She stands in front of us now holding a suitcase, the nurse says, “My, did we become pregnant while upstairs?” The woman from the court walks over to them and says quite simply. “Remove whatever you took from the house or be charged with theft. I gave you instructions. I expected them to be followed. Now we have to go through your suitcases. I don’t have time for this.

You’re divorced. Why did you even come back? Did you think he was going to give you his house? Sit them down and call for female officers to come over and pat them down. I don’t trust either one of them now. Damn it.” She mumbles some more to herself about not wanting to be here in the first place, that the interns should have to deal with this petty crap and on and on.

When the female officers get here, they take them one at a time into the guest bedroom where the nurse had been staying. They make them strip down. One at a time. When the second one comes out, they both look defeated and humiliated. I’m glad, they could use some humility. The second officer asks me to follow her and she brings me into the back room.

“How valuable is any of this, really.”

I look, there is a small painting, I turn it over and we can see the receipt taped to the other side. Not much but it must be hiding something else. I open the frame from the back, there, staring us in the face, cash, at least 5000 in crisp bills, she must have known they were there to know to take this particular one. Two necklaces she must have left here and forgotten when she ran out on him. A bath towel rolled up with his silk ties inside. Not crazy expensive but theft all the same. Wait, I was wrong, crazy expensive it is, his cufflinks are rolled into a few ties. Two of them belonged to my friend’s father. I knew him then. One of a kind pieces custom made for him by his wife, a truer love story you’ll never see. My friend’s parents were amazing people. I explain to the officer with me.

On the dresser I see what the other one had, a necklace inside a bag that is wet. “Don’t ask” the officer says and I shudder at the thought of where that was. Something my friend’s sister had given him before she went away on vacation, she said she didn’t trust the vault in her home and there have been burglaries in her neighborhood. She went on vacation and came home in a pine box, massive heart attack. I have the appraisal on that piece, I tell the officer. I also tell her that it will be reappraised after being taken as what was stolen from here.

She agreed with me. She told me to take a picture of all that she was taking so that I had a picture as well as her and that way nothing can be disputed. The necklace alone is worth 10,000. I watch as she carefully bags each item. I walk out with her and the two women haven’t moved from the floor.

“All you had to do was leave.” I tell them.

“You can’t win you know. I’ll get this all back. I’m his wife. I get all his assets.” She screams at me.

“Maám, you’re divorced. The settlement was six years ago. I read the whole thing. Had you chosen to stay married and not run off with other men all the time, maybe things would have been different for you. As it is, you were lucky he even let you in the house after the crap you pulled on him over the years.  This house is totally itemized, whatever we don’t find. We’re coming after you for, if you sold anything while he was ill, you will owe the owner of the house its value.” She turns to me, “and that door, do you want her to repair it?”

“I want them gone, I don’t care what you charge them with or for how long you keep them.” I told her.

The police officers help both women off of the floor and lead them to the cars waiting to escort them to their new destiny, and it isn’t living high off of his friend. The nurse takes his hand again and he squeezes hers.

 

~~ ~

The train ride is quiet after I read the letter. I read it a few times to make sure I read everything right and that I really heard all the words he said. He said much of this to my face as well but seeing his thoughts written somehow, makes all of this more real.

I didn’t cry when he died in my hands, I had relief. I didn’t mourn watching him lowered into the ground, but I did feel sorrow. There was too much disturbances around me to allow me to reflect on how I really felt about this man. He was my father, true. But unbeknownst to me, he really was the man and hero I always thought he was when I was a child.

One man around my age came to me at the funeral and asked if he could hug me. I shrugged at the time. But when he held me, he held me tightly and whispered to me that my father paid for his college education because he knew that this man had the brains to finish but had no means to do so.

Another man came to me and said my father kicked his ass, literally, in high school and told him to wake up. He did and now he is living up to my father’s standards his whole life. People thanked me but I was too numb to hear their words. I was too distracted by those calling attention to themselves by their wailing. So farced, only to draw attention to themselves, only it didn’t. People ignored them, they knew, everyone knew the truth. People who really knew my father, knew the divorce happened. Many even knew why.

The funeral director announced that there will be no mourning time in his house. He knew I wouldn’t stay but he also knew he didn’t want them in the house any longer than they had to be. The lawyer has that now. A good man. Instead we stayed at the cemetery for an hour or so after burial so people could say what they needed to say, to me, to him.

Yes, now I remember. People stayed to talk to him. They thanked him, each one thanking him. So many handshakes and cards handed to me. I haven’t read any of them. I open my hand bag and take out one of the cards. After the commercial message of being sorry for my loss there is a handwritten message:

Your father saw me digging through dumpsters so I could find food for my family. He told me to stop. He brought me to a grocery store and filled up the cart. He drove me home. To a place we were about to be kicked out of. We talked for a long while.

The next day he came and took me to the bank. He paid off my loan. The whole thing. I now owned my own place, then he took me to work and gave me a job. He paid for the education for my wife so she could get a good job too.

We made bad decisions, we weren’t financially educated. He made sure we were. I now teach financial well-being for free at local centers so that others won’t fall as low as we did. I left his company three years ago to move on to another place where my wife received a very good offer in her profession.

We all have kept tabs on your father throughout his illness. We were on an e-mail list from the lawyer to send funeral arrangements to. We were all there I believe. Take comfort in knowing your father was a king among fools. Grow to be like him and you’ll always have friends and happiness. I hope he found some too.

I read a second, then a third. All saying the same thing. All this money he had, his wife never knowing, never understanding his true value to the world and not only his bank account. She left the best man she’d ever find, period.

I realize I have very big shoes to fill now. He was my hero as a boy and now, I see he always was. Hidden behind a mask but his cape was just as large as could be. I look again at my bag, I have at least 50 more cards to read. Not today. But I will. One a day maybe.

I have a woman in my life, but I realize she will no longer be in my life when I get home. I don’t want her kind. I called to say I was going to see him and spend time with him before he died because he asked me to.

Her response told me all I need to know about her. She reminded me he owned a successful business and that maybe I’ll inherit said business. That was her first thought. Not about his well-being, not about how hard this will be to watch your hero die, only about the potential of what I will walk away with. In those three days my father and I lived ten years’ worth of love and togetherness. I realize that now.

He let me go because he knew I had to. He let me become the man I am because he guided me from behind the scenes. Little phrases he told me, small ideas about what I was doing, guidance, not interference. Each time he was right. Each time I listened I succeeded. Yes, in the end, I learned all I needed to know by his actions towards me and now I see it was not only me. He had love to spare.

But those women?, Yech, they gave him nothing but heartache. They took all they could and only asked for more things. Nothing invaluable, always something with monetary value. They missed out on knowing the man for who he was. I knew as a child, I still know now. “Thank you.” I say out loud to no one.

My stop, time to get off, collect my suitcases and move on.

~~ ~

The lawyer greets his wife, his children are at school still. He introduces her to the nurse and explains who she is supposed to meet and when. His wife is very excited, she offers to help her go shopping for the right outfit and to even babysit her kids for the night. The lawyer smiles, he knew she would make this offer.

His friend, known since we were kids, my wife met him in college. He hands his wife a letter, handwritten from his friend a few days ago. She puts the letter away in her purse, she will read his words privately he assumes.

She has been to this house many times but never really looked at each room. Now she is walking through the upstairs and figuring out which room to give which child. But the decision was made by their friend. After the other women left, the nurse and he went downstairs and opened packages that had rooms marked on them. They were stored in the basement.

He had bought new bedding for each room, he knew the children and made it so they had all their favorite items in the new rooms. Beautiful bedding, a fun light next to the bed. Even some accessories that weren’t necessary. But fun to have. His wife steps into the baby’s room, the last room I’ve shown her. She is three now and the whole room is decorated with elephants, of all shapes and sizes. “Oh damn him.” She says with tears. I walk over to hug her from behind, I thought the same thing as I put the room together.

We walk to the main bedroom, our friend’s. I have three boxes there marked with our names. I didn’t open them. I wanted her to. “His clothes?” she sees the closet empty already.

I explain how his son was wearing them the past few days because he came with nothing but the clothes on his back. He left with his father’s wardrobe, he felt he had to take them. She places her hand on her heart. There is a knock, the nurse is at the door, she needs to leave now.

We hug one more time with promises of keeping in touch so we can make sure this meeting with the young man goes through. It will and I will be walking her down the aisle within a year. I’m sure of this, and so was my friend.

I turn to see my wife opening the boxes with care. All her favorite colors are inside. I see from here. New window dressings to match the new bedding. Even new rugs for next to each side of the giant bed he had brought in even though he was in the downstairs den now. One for her, and one for me. Each our own colors. “Damn him.” It is my turn to be choked up. He thought of everything, I shouldn’t be surprised. I help her strip the beds neatly and we put the items in the boxes we are emptying. All items to be donated to the organization he helps a lot. One that helps to set people back on their feet. All of this bedding will surely help them out. We notice the plastic is still on the mattress. He ordered a new one, even though he has been downstairs for months.

He is donating a large portion of the excess furniture in the house too. Much of it was bought by his wife when they were married. No one needs so many tables he would tell her but she always had an argument for them. My friend only kept the items he bought himself. He knows we admired his taste and he made sure to have all the good furniture reupholstered with patterns he knew my wife would like. He did this the moment he was diagnosed. I guess he felt he wouldn’t make his way through this.

The rest of his ideas were being done in the past week with his son. He found a company that would come and do the work on the premises so he didn’t have to worry about her replacing an item that was gone. He knew she would right away. If there was room, she put something there.

I remember hearing him laugh every time he called to tell me that she was screaming about the mess and the ugly colors and what a disaster the house was turning into. I knew and so did he, as well as his son I believe. We had many laughs over this. She thought it was his sick mind that made him do this. But his mind was never sick, never foggy. All his decisions were firm and well thought out. 

He spoke to a psychologist when the end was coming because he wanted to make sure that he was making rational decisions. My friend said it was one of the best decisions he made. To be able to make all his final arrangements for everything before he left. To make sure things were done the way he wanted them to be.

No, he was of sound mind, it was his body that was giving up on him. A shame, the world could use a few dozen of him. I sit back in the den now and feel his presence, I don’t know if I will ever be able to call this room mine. Right now, I don’t care.

 

~~ ~

Home, this feels funny right now. I always thought of this place as my apartment but I see that I have actually made this place into my home. But this isn’t what my father wanted for me. He wants me to have more.

He wants me to have a home, a family and all the goodness that comes with that. He said there was more to come for me, but I can’t imagine what more would be. I have his suits in my luggage and as I open them up, I begin to tear again. The man, my hero only wore very good suits. He only had a few but he would say, like friends, its quality not quantity you want. All his wisdom he had given me over the years, each new and old mantra he used to say, is all coming to the foreground of my mind.

“I promise you Dad, to be more like you.” I say out loud as I hang up each suit. Each pair of pants, that somehow fit me so well. Each slightly worn pair of shoes that seem to hug my feet when I wore them there.

His cardigan he had when I was a child. Still just as soft as my mind remembers. The shirts that had his monogram on them, only the first and last initial, same as mine, I’m so happy I can wear them now.

His pajamas, yes, I took his pajamas, because they were fun. I remember them as a child thinking my father was crazy for wearing such silly things. But they are as comfortable as he always claimed and they have silly phrases or characters on them. I don’t even care anymore.

A few days with one’s hero can change your life. I’m a better man for knowing him, I’m a lucky man for having him as my father, my hero. My phone buzzes with a message from the lawyer, I’m coming out to you in two days to present you with all you’re entitled to. Give me a time and place we can meet up. I’ll be staying at the bed and breakfast right outside of town.

I know that place, my father came twice over the years and he stayed there as well. I tell him I will meet him there for breakfast on that first morning. They have great food.

I agree, I’ll tell you why when I get there

A strange message to get but then again, my guess is that it has to do with my father. He stayed in my life, he had not pushed me out, she did. But she was already out so this makes no sense. Why hadn’t he let himself love again?

Why didn’t he look for all that he wants me to have? I sit down and open another one of the cards given to me at the funeral.

I’m sorry for your loss but then again, an angel like your father belongs in heaven. There are so many more people he can help from there. Pregnant, alone, at a bus stop at 2:00 in the morning, he pulled over and brought me to a hotel. He stayed with me for hours to make sure I wouldn’t run out on him. In the morning, he had my life all set up.

A visit from a social worker to assess my mental state and that of my life. An interview at a school that would allow me to finish my high school diploma and then go on to get a degree, all online while taking care of my child. He even found me work I can do from home so that these first years of my child’s life I would be home.

He made arrangements for a place for me to live. I think he paid my rent, but I have no proof of that. Maybe the good people there took care of me, angels of a different level than your father. May his light shine through you and may you accomplish even half of what he did in his short lifetime.

Be blessed, be happy.

Wait a minute, I remember this woman, well young lady then. It was one of the only fights I heard my parents have. She was yelling at my father that she saw him personally bring that young lady to the hotel and not come down until morning. He had countered the argument with why, why were you there instead of being home with your own children which is where he left her when he had gone out. They had started that night with a fight and he needed some air, he couldn’t sleep, so he drove. On and on around town, then he found a reason he was up, it was to find that young lady. It wasn’t the fight with his wife. Those never bothered him. I know this. He told me many times.

After that night he spent the next day with his friend the lawyer. I was 15 then. She didn’t care that she left me home, she never did when I was younger than that either, this was no different. Besides at that age, I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself but my father had a point. Why was she out at the hotel and who was she with?

I sit down and do some math, I left right after my second year of college, I found a different place to go that was the same amount of money as the local one. I’ve been here ever since. This area suits me, the neighborhood is calm, the people are generally nice and keep to themselves. But if someone is in need, everyone comes out. Even me, my father taught me that we are all part of the human neighborhood which makes us all friends by default. Until proven otherwise.

Ok, the math. I left at 20, I’ve been gone ten years now. I’ll be 30 in two months. My father apparently got divorced six years ago, I had only been gone a short time. Four years in fact, that means he waited for me to finish my graduate school. I’m not sure why that mattered, but it must have to him. Or that is when she pulled her last trick on him and he simply had had enough of her crap.

This woman was a teen at the time, probably close to my age. She looked very put together, as if she had her life in the right place. Good one Dad. But why stay with her? Did she have something to fight my father with? She had no money, had no access to his money either.

I sit and think for a while longer and then I open my father’s laptop he gave me when I was there, he told me the code was my birthday, something he knew his wife would never remember should she get hold of his computer.

I search the basics of the computer, nothing really damning here. I search his files, ah, what is this? A file with my name. I open to see several files with my name as the title. Each one has a number after it to distinguish one from the previous ones. If she ever had this computer, she would have surely deleted these files without even looking at them. Or simply ignored them.

I open the first one, a birth certificate with my father listed as the father, underneath this is a paragraph written by my father that says : keep this for medical history. Should the child ever need me

They could not afford to do this on their own, he could not have children, her husband. Unless they implanted his sperm directly into one of her eggs and that was a long drawn out process and very expensive.

I volunteered to help. You see son, to me this was another way of helping a friend in need. They moved far from here. But your mother found out and wanted a divorce because of this, saying I had an affair. I looked her in the eye and said ‘not as many as you, if you want a divorce on infidelity charges, I’ll win, you’ll get nothing, I have proof of six of them,’ she obviously stayed a little longer.

My mind is blown by all the selfless acts of kindness my father had performed in his shortened life. Some may think this was a God complex and that he was feeding his own ego. But he wasn’t. I know that for sure. This was done in a doctor’s office, all the papers are here. He never once touched her personally. I believe him, her infidelity crushed him, he would never have done something like she did, himself.

The next few files are more of the same, things he had a record of for some reason or another. A written note from someone to pay him back, they obviously wanted the debt recorded. He didn’t care. He gave because he could. No other reason than to help.

After reading almost all of them I come across one that startles me. A picture of a document, one from a private detective who found my mother living with another man. She wasn’t visiting my sister to help with the babies, she was simply living another life. I look at the date. Six and a half years ago. “Oh Dad.” I say out loud. My hand is on my heart now. How could she be so cruel?

Then I read on, another document, a print out of an e-mail from her.

I’m going to be visiting our daughter for a while. She needs me more than you. I’ll send for my A list of what I need here, send my items first class of course.

Clearly you don’t need me around anymore, I see you’ve helped yourself to many these days. Younger and younger, shame on you. I have pictures you know. I’ll show them all over the internet and ruin you and your precious business.

Don’t do anything to the house while I’m gone. Especially my special bathroom and kitchen. Now you behave and I’ll keep these pictures to myself. But just know, I have eyes everywhere.

I’m not breathing. Not even a little. I run to the window and open it up for a blast of cold air to hit me and wake my lungs. “That bitch!!” I yell. But wait, the divorce was soon after that. I run back to the laptop, there is one more file.

Here I see all of the original pictures of my father and the girls he is with. It is at graduation ceremonies. He is hugging them all. A couple he kisses their cheek. I look back at the pictures she has and compare them to these. She clearly changed the photos to show them as being more sexy than they are. If I look closer, I can see the arms don’t even match in color on some of them. But until someone found that out, those pictures would be out there for someone to find and believe the worst of him.

I look back at the last file.

If you’re reading this son, you’ve read the rest because I know you don’t do things out of order. It’s a family trait we both have, you can thank my grandfather for that one. So now you know why I stayed single.

I wasn’t afraid of her for myself; I didn’t want those girls exploited for her nonsense. I’m writing this after my diagnosis. I doubt I’ve told you all of this in person. I hope I was able to see you before I died.

But either way, I know you will have this, my lawyer is instructed to give this to you. And there is more to come. You’ll see. I’ve always looked out for you. Always. I hope you know that by now. “I do” I say to the computer before reading on.

I divorced your mother because I had to. All those years of men she ran around with. I’m not stupid, I know there were many more than six. But I used to become more and more attentive thinking that was what the problem was.

Until the day I heard her tell her friend on the phone that she has me so trained it is ridiculous. She said flat out that I was the best trained pet around. She gets to do whatever she wants and I shower her with the attentions she deserves.

Then the worse happened. If that wasn’t bad enough, she then said that if she added up the days she slept with other men over the days she slept with me it would be half. And then she laughed, she laughed so hard she had tears in her eyes. I walked in at that moment and stared at her. I said nothing. She looked at me and sniped, ‘I’m on the phone. Go do some chore or something.’

I left the room and picked up my phone, I was going to call my lawyer to see what I could do. Then I saw my phone blinking. I accidently recorded all that she had said. I sent the recording to my lawyer and told him to file the papers immediately and put the ball rolling into everything else.

He has been very busy these past few years. Listen son, I did something I hope you like. I don’t think you belong in the job you’re in. After I’m gone, you’ll learn what I’ve done. Don’t hate me.

What do I do with all of this information in my head? My heart hurts so deeply. I’m even happier that I went now. So much happier that I helped him clear out the house of all of her crap furniture and only kept the good stuff for the man who will now be living there.

All of the boxes that came and I marked with names on them, my mother had a fit about. She came screaming one night about who all these people were and why were they sending their garbage to her house. My father looked at her and said, ‘my lovers, every single one of them. When I die, they will get all that is in those boxes. It includes something you’ll never have.’ He stared right at her and she stood there with her hands on her hips.

“When you’re gone, I can do what I want with what is here.” She said flatly to his face.

That is the only moment he got angry the whole time I was there, the nurse came running because he was screaming. He yelled at her to get out, yelled at her she was trespassing and had overstayed her welcome years ago, he told her to go back to her lover and annoy him instead. Then he had done something, I never saw him do, not ever. He lost his temper. He asked me to push him over to a vase on the shelf. I did. He looked at her in the eye and threw it on the ground, it shattered as he knew it would. He pointed further down and I pushed him to that one too. He threw it down closer to her feet this time, it shattered.

We kept going around the room until we got to her precious clown collection. The ones she never let us touch because they were so valuable and important to her. My father picked one up and saw the writing on the bottom ‘to my love’, smashed. The next one ‘xoxoxo’ he threw that one at the window. He went on and on throwing them and smashing each one. Listening to her scream and cry as if her world was coming apart. The last one was crystal, he looked deep inside the piece and saw a laser picture in the middle. A heart with the initial ‘S’ right there to mock him. Not my father’s or her name. This one he held and asked me to move him to the door. I did. We went all the way out to her car and he smashed this one on her windshield.

When he finished, he said, “Ok, I feel better. You?” I laughed and pushed him back inside. He looked at the nurse who was cleaning up and said to her not to touch any of the mess. He told her that if anyone wants to clean up they will have to pay for a cleaning crew themselves because he wasn’t touching this mess and she isn’t paid to be a maid. Then he told her to please bring him some brandy. She, the nurse, laughed and went to the kitchen.

I pushed him back into the den and we closed the door, as we always did. Now I realize what he had done. He told her he knew about all of them all this time. That her secret was out and that she fooled no one.

“Oh Dad, you were so strong for so many people. I don’t know if I can fill your shoes.” I look down at his shoes which are on my feet. These I fill, but can I ever be the person he was? Can I overcome the hate for her to still see blessings in the world? I don’t know. Right now, I really don’t know.

~~ ~

The knock at the door has me startled, who could be here so late in the day. He opens the door and sees the woman from the court house from before. “What a bitch that one. May I come in?” she asks

I move aside and let her in. My children come running to see who is at their new door. She greets them with smiles and asks if she can speak to me privately. We go to the den. The door is closed now, but not locked, my family is welcomed to see me anytime.

“We are charging her with grand theft. I put a trace on his car, she sold the one from the garage to a friend who collected them. She got a pretty penny in that sale too. When we showed up at his house to say he bought stolen goods, he quickly changed his mind about owning the car. That was never his intention he said. He knew her husband had one, he also knew he was sick and asked if she needed the extra cash to help with medical bills.

She jumped at the chance to collect money. Only when we told him she wasn’t his wife for the past six years did he turn pale as a ghost. He showed me the papers he received from her as a receipt. The ownership had her name listed as spouse and all the legal jargon necessary to say that she had the legal right to sell the car to him.

Only she didn’t. We have the car back, but she has to pay him the money. I told him good luck. He called his lawyer before we left the house. But the car is back in your garage, I just dropped it off.” She takes a breath.

She goes on to tell him of all the other offenses they have her on over the course of these past six years since her divorce. She has sold a few items from the house to supplement her non-existing income, all under the ruse of being the spouse and thereby half owner of everything in the house. She kept sneaking in when he was out of town, so she told me that they decided to charge her with multiple counts of breaking and entering because somehow, she kept getting in even though he changed the locks three times already. She told me they had to call the locksmith and figure out his connection to the ex-wife.

My poor friend was going to be fighting her the rest of his life. I sit with a heavy heart and listen to all of this. The only upside is that with this long list of offensives, she may get as many as 15 years in prison, which she deserves for putting him through at least that many years of hell just from living with her and knowing her.

“On a personal note. I’m one of the many recipients of scholarship to school. Without your client, your friend. I might still be homeless and ill equipped to work. No one downtown is letting these two out before absolutely necessary. The sister’s husband doesn’t know what to do with all of this. He came to see her but left after hearing the charges. Ok, I’m done. I’ll let you know when there is an official hearing.” She stands to leave and lets herself out, I didn’t realize this until I hear the front door close. I’m stuck in my chair.

My wife walks in, “I saw her out.” She says and turns to leave me ponder what must be on my mind. I walk to the kitchen and tell her I have to go out and see the son and settle things there along with giving him the rest he is owed. The business’s sale will close tomorrow.

We put that in motion last year, it takes time when dealing with these kinds of numbers.

~~ ~

Getting up today and going back to work seems too much like walking through sludge with heavy boots on. I don’t want to be here, I told my father as much when I saw him. We talked a lot in those few days. I think we covered all there is to cover.

He even told me that had he lived through this, he was going to date the nurse and bring her children up right. I smiled at him and said, ‘you did ok the first time’. He laughed, that was the moment we knew we had made peace with each other, or at least we began to understand each other. Maybe that is what peace really is.

My coat on, I step outside and get to my car and then my office. I walk in early, as I always have, to a barrage of yelling from my boss. His final sentence is, “We all have families, you can’t simply take off whenever you want to go visit because someone has the sniffles.” His voice is angry, his eyes are more so.

I stand, put my coat back on and say, “I never said I had family, I said I had a dying father. Now he is gone. And so am I.”  I walk out with my head held high. With my father’s check to me, I can wait it out a bit, while I look for a new job. How dare he? I was in touch with my secretary the whole time. I took time out to answer client calls to my private phone. But his voice and his attitude sounded like my mother. I’m done now.

My phone rings, “hello” I say rather low.

“This is your brother in law. Do you know what is going on?” he asks, also slowly.

“Yeah.” I answer with no desire to talk to him.

“Ah, so I’m the only one in the dark. Ok. Um, listen. Um. How can I say this?” he asks.

“Truthfully.” Is the only word I think to answer.

“Yeah, I came to the funeral because I loved your father. I really did. I think more than his daughter, no, scratch that, for sure more than his daughter. She said she was going to his house because he was about to die and she wanted to make sure she came out with what was hers. I sent her happily. My divorce papers are ready for when she comes home. But now that may be years. I’m taking the kids. I’m calling to let you know. You are their uncle and all.” He exhales.

I explain to him how my father divorced his wife years ago and that these years have been a farce. I promised to send something from the estate for the grandchildren. He gave me his new address. He is living closer to his own parent’s now. He turned in the divorce papers to his wife at the police station.

We agreed that holidays and birthdays will be ok to be in touch for now. He is a nice man. It is not the kids’ fault. I told him I left the day after the funeral. I only stayed until morning so I could pack all that my father wanted me to have. He reminded me of my father’s car and I told him I’d have that shipped to him.

This shocked him. “It’s ok” I told him. “I don’t appreciate that kind of car as much as you would. It would sit in the garage. The kids will enjoy riding in Grandpa’s car.” Having decided this, I send an email to the lawyer to make sure this happens. I told my brother in law to make my father proud and bring his kids up with strong values and good morals.

When I hang up, I realize I appreciated his call. I’m sure my sister was shocked to receive those papers, serves her right. According to the lawyer, she is getting nothing. I finally get home, having been driving aimlessly since I left work that morning. I’m sure it wasn’t too smart to pull over and send that email right away, I wasn’t exactly on a wide street when I did that. But thankfully, I’m home now.

In my home I find my handbag still on the couch. I pick it up but something drops out. One last envelope, I must have missed this one, the envelope is black and hard to see inside a dark bag.

You don’t know me, or maybe you do. I spent a lot of time at your house when you were in grade school. Your father took me to the ball game with you and even to the water park. My father had recently died and my mother didn’t know what to do with a rambunctious boy. I’m older than you by a couple of years.

Your dad taught me I still had value, that I was still worth something even though my family had a big hole in it. He taught me to rise above all the teasing from the kids at school about having a father who drunk himself to death. That wasn’t true by the way, he was always on medication, one of them made his breath smell bad and people assumed the smell was alcohol.

I don’t remember his breath, I only remember his love. I hope that you will too. Remember that your father had the biggest heart I’ve ever known. He gave a piece to everyone he knew. He gave my mom a new husband too. Found her the perfect guy who would treat us and her very well. I’ve been blessed to have three fathers in my life; my own, my step-father and yours.

Be grateful, be happy and be the best man you can be, that is all he would want.

This one hits me right in the eye. I remember this boy. I also remember the rumors about his father. They weren’t true, I knew that then too. I got into a fight over that once. Someone told me I shouldn’t let him come to my house because he will steal all my booze, I punched the kid in the face and yelled at him for being ignorant and listening to rumors.

We wrestled a while on the ground and then we began to laugh. It was as if we punched the anger out of each other. He came over to my house the next few days and saw for himself that the boy who came over was really nice. He helped us with our homework and then we all went out to the backyard to play ball together.

I sit back on my couch, that was the only person who ever came to my house. No one else came. Why is that? Oh yeah, my mother. I never wanted anyone to meet her if she would happen to be home that day. Which usually she wasn’t. I never wanted to take a chance though.

 

~~ ~

Now that’s a funny email. He wants to give his father’s car to his brother in law so the kids can ride in Grandpa’s car. The lawyer smiles, he is so much like his father, he doesn’t even know it yet.

I look down at the contract for the sale of the business. I’m sure his son has no idea how much the business was worth. Certainly, his ex-wife never did either. I sure wish all people who had this kind of money used it the way my friend did. Not a day went by that he didn’t help someone.

Sometimes they didn’t want his help and he would smile and walk away. Other times they weren’t ready and they would come find him later, he always made good on his promises and he never promised something he couldn’t give. Four people, that I know of, went to a rehabilitation center for one reason or another. Seven people were given jobs so that would not be homeless. Three homeless people found their families they thought had forgotten about them. Those are only a few. Sometimes he would talk to teens who had no adult to trust, he would keep them in school. Make sure they found a place for themselves in the world. Sometimes that place was becoming a plumber and sometimes they became a financier. He helped, that’s what all angels do.

The nurse is going out with her blind date tonight. I know this will work, he set up eight different couples in his adult life. All of which are happily married. He walked two of them down the aisle too. His wife thought it was a disgusting display and tried to make a scene at one of the weddings, I had her escorted off of the premises. This was only a year before their divorce.

I sit now in my home, my friend’s home and I feel him in this den, I think I always will and I’m ok with that. I want to feel him. I want to be more like him. I’m trying. I joined up with the boys’ club at the civic center and I’m volunteering at the soup kitchen as well. I’m determined to do my part and give back when I can. My wife is too.

I am in the office only during regular business hours, if I have more to do, I bring it home and don’t touch any work until my children have gone to sleep. I want them to know me, I want to be in their lives and show them they are more important. I hope I succeed.

There is a banging on the front door and I run to get it because the kids are asleep. I open the door to see a very rain soaked young lady, “I missed him, didn’t I?” she begins to cry.

Oh no, poor dear, she wanted to see my friend before the end. “I’m afraid so. Come in.” I invite her in. I bring her a blanket to wrap herself in and invite her to sit down on the couch.

“No, I’m soaking wet.”

“Sit” I encourage her. I let her sit and warm up, I bring her a warm cup of tea and offer her some of my wife’s clothing so she can get out of her wet stuff. She says no but I go upstairs to get some anyway, I call my wife to ask what to give her and she gives me a list to bring down. I bring it all in a pile with a big fluffy towel and show her into the guest room. “Shower, and change. I’m not going anywhere.” I leave and close the door.

I hear her crying for a few minutes and then I finally hear the water run. Funny how after being soaked by rain we all find comfort in a warm shower. I go in the kitchen and warm her up a plate of the lasagna we had for dinner. She comes out and finds the kitchen where I must be making noise. “Eat, we’ll talk when you’re feeling comfortable.” I leave her to eat and go back to sit in the living room on the couch.

My wife is due home soon. She sent me a message a few minutes ago that the man my friend set the nurse up with didn’t want to inconvenience my wife so he is bringing her home and they intend to have their dessert while sitting on the porch even though it is raining.

She will know what to do. I sit and wait and see she has come in wearing my wife’s clothes and holding a cup of tea in her hands. “I’m sorry to barge in.” she tells me why she didn’t make it and who she is.

I tell her why I’m in this house now and she begins to cry all over again. My wife walks in and I give her a brief scenario of what is going on. “Oh, you poor dear.” They sit and talk and all I can do is listen.

I can only wonder if maybe she should tell her story to his son. “I’m going to see his son tomorrow.” I tell her where I will be.

She sits there stunned. My wife talks to her some more and they make arrangements for her to sleep in our guest room. I go out to my porch and see she had dropped off a bag outside. She had wanted to be here for him as he was for her in her darkest hour.

A rain delay on her plane, then her rental car broke down. On top of that her boss called her and forced her to report back to work because he knew she had no family and that if she didn’t come back, she was fired. She went back for two days, to collect her next paycheck. Deposited the money, then quit and came here. Now she has nothing she told us. My wife stays in the guest room and talks to her most of the night. I see her as the sun peaks through the clouds. “Take her with you dear, she needs closure and she is so beautiful, maybe she is what he needs too. Hmm?”

“I see this place is rubbing off on you too.” I smile at her and prepare myself for traveling today. In the kitchen I tell our guest I’m taking her to his son, I don’t ask. She seems to appreciate this a lot. Good, we will go soon as we eat.

~~ ~

Today I have nothing to do. The lawyer is coming in soon and we are having a late brunch together, he said he is bringing a surprise. I have no idea what could surprise me anymore. My boss called and yelled at me again yesterday afternoon about my behavior. I told him he had no right to tell me anything. I reminded him I quit and asked him not to call me anymore. I told him which one of my colleagues can handle the projects I was working on and then I hung up.

I receive a text from my boss this morning ‘I’m sure your behavior would have made your father proud.’

I don’t know his reasoning for saying this, so I answer the only way I know how, honestly. I say ‘yes he would. Please don’t contact me anymore unless you want me to report you for harassment.’

I hope that will be enough. I’d heard rumors in the past about how he doesn’t have a good home life but if he behaves like this in public, one can only wonder how he is at home. I look all through my new clothes from my father and pick out one of my favorite pair of pants he has, a nice blue button-down shirt and a smart looking sweater vest to top it all off. When you look good, you feel good, that was one of Dad’s favorite things to say. He hated seeing kids wear ripped clothing on purpose when those who wore ripped ones by circumstances were ridiculed, it made no sense to him.

I drive out to the bed and breakfast we are supposed to meet and I walk up toward the door but I stop the minute I see her. I know those eyes. My heart skips a few beats and I run to her, she comes towards me too and we hold on tightly. I haven’t seen her since she left my home town so many years ago I lost count.

“I’m so sorry.” She says into my chest as she begins to cry. I look up and see the lawyer, he is smiling, this is his surprise? He nods to me and I find myself smiling. I make her walk towards him and we go and sit down on the big Victorian porch and wait to be served brunch.

She sits and holds my hand then she pulls away, “I have to talk first or I never will.” She tells me. We both nod.

She begins with the day she met my father. There was a big fire in our neighborhood one night, three whole houses burned down, of course me and my father were there. I had come home for a quick visit. I was leaving town in two days. But we were there to help out.

Her whole house was burning, her parents succumbed to smoke inhalation quickly but she was pulled out, but not in the direction of where everyone else was, she tells us. No, a man pulled her out and kept her walking, she had no idea where she was, she was groggy and tired. It was not until morning that she saw where she was. She was in a basement of some kind, tied up to a bedpost and sitting on the floor.

He had come down in the morning and told her that her whole family died and that he was there to save her and that she had better show her gratitude like all the other girls do. She tells us she was too tired to comprehend what was going on. He untied her and told her to shower and gave her clothes to change into. He didn’t leave the room while she was showering, but again, she was too tired to figure out why.

Upon hearing this, I feel my fists being to form under the table, the lawyer must see me and he puts his hand on my shoulder and nods to her to continue.

She came out of the shower and got dressed in the dress he provided for her. He took many pictures of her. Gave her some food and tied her up again. All that day, she sat there. Not knowing what was going on. Where her family was who this man was, where she was. She was too stunned to even call out to anyone for help.

She heard many cries during that first day. Sometimes she heard men’s voices and the sound of someone being slapped or hit. She sat and sat. Then on the third day, he came to take her out of the house. He tied her hands behind her back and blindfolded her. There must have been a cat somewhere in the car or before her because she kept sneezing, she is allergic. That was the first time she talked and told him she is allergic to cats.

After a few minutes, they changed cars. The car stopped and she was in front of a bank. She got out and he untied her and reminded her that she was to be grateful for he saved her life and she owes him. She didn’t recognize the bank but she did recognize the man inside.

It was my father, he walked towards them and said hello. The man with her asked him for the money and he handed him a check. “I saw the number on that check, it said 100,000” I almost fainted right there. The man studied the check and realized he was given a bank check and he can deposit the money right away, no waiting.

He reminded me one more time how grateful I was to be because no one else came to save her, she told us. “I walked out with your father and he quickly asked me which car I came from. I pointed to the car near us.”

“Another man came by and shook your father’s hand, he looked at your father but asked me if I had any idea where I came from.

I described things I heard outside of the window in the room I was in for two days. He nodded and then left to run down the street.”

She describes how the man who brought her to the bank came out and shook my father’s hand and said he would be happy to do business with him again, then he left. My father brought her to a doctor to have her examined since no one ever looked at her since the fire. Her lungs were still a bit foggy but nothing dangerous. She was given medication and they asked her to come back in two days.

My father brought her home, that is the part I remember. She came to my house. We sat up all night talking. “You told me all about being stuck in the fire.” I tell her.

She smiles and nods, she told me only that part. She hadn’t known the kind of trouble she was in. Didn’t know the life she was supposed to be living after that night. We spent the two days I was there talking. We talked about everything from what kind of pie we both like to why we both hate the color yellow. I never once took my eyes away from hers. They were captivating then, and still are now.

I listen some more as she had paused and is now ready to speak again, “The day after you left, your father took me to my uncle’s house. I was told everyone died. That man told me no one was looking for me. He told me I forgot that my family was all together that night and no one survived but me.

I was 16, your father felt I needed the truth. He told me. He told me how this man approached him after seeing him at the civic center give a girl a hug. He came to him and said ‘I see you like pretty young things’ your father knew right away what he was getting at but said nothing. He looked at his phone and hit record. I didn’t even know phones could do that back then but he sure did.

Anyway, the man showed him my picture, your father knew who I was. He knew right away. He still said nothing, the man said that your father could come visit me for a price. But that wasn’t good enough for your father, he asked how much it was to buy me off of him. The man said I wasn’t for sale.

Then he offered him 50,000, and the man said if you can come up with that so quickly make it 100 and make it in a bank certified check by tomorrow.

Your father said ok and agreed to meet him at his bank so he could deposit the money right away. Then he told me that what he said to the man next shocked even the man. He told him that if he, meaning your father, found out that this man had me first, he will come back for his money, he said if he finds even one bruise on me, the deal is off.

I sat there crying I had no idea what was going on still. I was so naïve and stupid. I still didn’t get what he was saying.” She bows her head.

She explains how her uncle, through his own tears tells her that the man was going to make her have sex with other men and that he was going to collect all the money for it but that this man, my father, bought me from the evil man so that none of that would ever happen. Then he set the wheels in motion with the police to find the guy and save the rest of the girls.

Both banks knew of what was going on, she tells me. My father made certain of it and he received his money back immediately after the police made the arrest and then the confirmation of what was going on in that house of ills. She had only been three blocks from her own house.

I sit back in my chair and contemplate what she just said. He knew, would I know? Would I know what the man was talking about? Would I have enough money in my lifetime to do all the good my father did?

I reach over the table to take her hand in mine. It is warm and cold at the same time. She is frightened from telling this over. “Where have you been all this time?” I ask.

She regales me of her life with her only uncle. Someone from her mother’s side. He was single and happy to take on a teenaged girl. They traveled a lot, because whenever he had to go away on business, he took her, they saw the world. She has been to 17 countries and she lived a full life already with him by her side.

He is the one who told her about my father, they must have been in touch all these years she tells us. She visits her family’s cemetery plots on their birthdays. Never on the day they all died, both parents, one grandmother and two siblings. Her uncle always made sure she got there for each one.

Four years after she began living with him, he found a woman of his own. They adopted three children from various places they visited. After college, she has been on her own but she lives near him. Now she is without a job though. She tells us of what her boss said to her.

I don’t want to leave today but eventually brunch has to end. I leave a nice tip to the waitress who let us stay so long and we all walk down the steps to take a walk around the property. I tell the lawyer what happened when I came back and we laugh, now we are both out of a job and almost for the same reason.

~~ ~

I sit and contemplate all that I’ve learned today. That young woman had one hell of an experience with my friend. But thankfully her life turned around. I did some research after I left the two of them still sitting outside and talking.

There is a report of the fire and then I find the report I was looking for. The one about when the police closed down a brothel that housed only underaged girls. Three of which were pregnant. One was so malnourished they weren’t sure she was going to survive another month. A dozen girls under the age of 18 all tied to bedposts of various sizes. All dressed in sexy lingerie that they probably didn’t even know existed before they came there.

The article goes on to say that the majority of them had missing person’s reports filed on them. The rest were actually kids in the foster care system. Sad that they had no report filed on them. I’ll send an email to a friend and ask him to follow up on these girls and see if they are all ok. Make sure that they truly went to family members. If any of them didn’t, and we find them in the same situation but with different people. Some heads are going to be cut off big time.

I try and calm myself down but I can’t. I have girls of my own, what if this happened to one of them? I cannot imagine what my reaction would be. I don’t want to ever be in the position to find out. My next research calms me down. I look up her uncle. He is in the news a lot for the work he does all over the world. He is one of the doctors who go around the world to help children and families who don’t have adequate health care services.

No wonder she went so many places. Now this makes sense. He gave her a sense of kindness. Showed her that not everyone is as evil as the man who knew her and where she was and took complete advantage of the situation. He sees her with him in various villages, helping out in any way she can.

I came to tell the son a few other things, I have to do this tonight. I’ll send him a text that I need some private time with him to go over the rest of the estate.

He responds in kind, he will bring me back dessert and we can talk in my room for privacy. I smile. Maybe my wife is right. Well, of course she is. Like my friend, my wife knows when two people should be together.

The knock on the door has me close my computer quickly so he doesn’t see what I was looking up. “Hey.” I say and let him in. He hands me a big piece of pie from the kitchen downstairs. He laughs and says how he thinks it so funny they let him walk in and get the pie.

I smile, I asked if he saw the baker who makes them, he said no. That explains why he is so calm. “Sit.” I tell him. He is going to need to.

How to being I ask myself. The beginning I hear my wife say in my ear. I tell him how his father had another sister. She is mentally there and completely mute. Always has been. The one way she expressed her love to someone is through the food she made. I tell him his father has been supporting her his whole adult life. He remembered her but hadn’t seen her in many years. They sent her away to an institution back then. She had been there ever since. He found her, he took her out of the place she had been in and built her this place.

She still bakes here and does all of the evening meals. She has people in the kitchen that are her guardians and help her but no one helps her do the baking, that she does all on her own. She will only make things her brother liked. Pies, of all kinds, chocolate and occasionally an orange marmalade cake I explain eating the last piece of pie on my plate.

He sits and stares at me. he looks at my door and either wants to run into the kitchen, out of the house or find his aunt. I’m not sure. Then I look again, he has a tear running down his face. “These shoes are too big to fill.” He tells me through tears.

Before he can change the subject, I hand him another envelope with a check from the sale of the business. The whole thing is for him. I told him I sent the percentage he asked me to send to his brother in law with instructions to put some away for each child to go to college.

“but” he says softly.

I remind him his father was a millionaire, many times over, and that had his mother known she would have found a way to steal even more from him but she never knew. She may find out if she hears about the business being sold. But it doesn’t matter, I tell him. She gets nothing more than what she already got during the divorce.

I sit back and think, the first check, he has. The business is sold. His mother and sister, taken care of. The nurse, taken care of. My list is done. I’ve made good on all of the promises I made to my friend. Now I can sit back and enjoy life because, as usual, my friend snuck something in the sale for me as well. My children will go to college, but there is enough for us to build on and become better people with too. I sigh.

I can’t be him. I hear the son say and I smile again. “He doesn’t want you to be. He wants

you to be you and to do you well. You can run this place if you’d like.” I tell him.

“Who runs it now?” he asks me.

“The woman who was hired to take care of your aunt for the rest of her life. She has been paid ahead of time for her services. She will stay here and take care of her but I’m pretty sure she is tired of running the place. Plus, there is a business manager that she doesn’t trust anymore.” I tell him all this from my last conversation with this woman. She reports to me weekly.

I see he is turning all this over in his head. He walks to the window to look out the back. There is a lot of land here. People come to relax but it could be so much more. I see his wheels spinning already.

My friend was right, his son belongs here. He knew this.

~~ ~

I heard every word today. All of it, the woman’s tale as well as the news from the lawyer. The size of the check is heavy in my hand. I can’t be my father, but I don’t think he wanted me to be. I think he wants me to be me. I’m starting to realize that now.

But who am I and what do I want to do? That is a question everyone asks themselves but here I am at almost 30 asking the same thing again. I now have the opportunity to do whatever I want. Thank you Dad, I will try and honor you all the days of my life.

I pace my home. My small home compared to the one I grew up in. But today I call it home. No longer my apartment. This is my home. This town is my home, that bed and breakfast is my last link to my family. Tomorrow I will meet my aunt. We will bake cookies together and I will think. Think about what to do the next day and the day after that, but for now, I will wait until tomorrow.

In my bed I watched my clock change numbers, sleep does not come easy. I deposited the check into my account today and the clerk gave me a questioning look. I looked back with a stare that dared him to question my money. He said nothing but I know he secretly did something to check on the check’s validity, took too long for him to come back. Tonight I already got a message that the monies have been deposited. I stare at the number for a long time.

People dream of having this and here I am looking at it. I really don’t ever have to work again if I chose not to. But my mind keeps going back to my new aunt. I decide to sit up and look up the institution that the lawyer mentioned to me.

I don’t like what I see. People were brought there as young adults, they’ve spent their life being studied, their behaviors under different circumstances. It is as if they are human lab rats. But all of this is legal as long as there is nothing done to them medically. They are allowed to put a person in an irritating situation to see if they have overcome that obstacle. They can put them in a room with items they hate to try and teach them there is nothing wrong with the item. This seems cruel and unusual punishment that the guards wouldn’t even do in prison.

My father had made a lot of money quickly and when he discovered her, she wasn’t quite my current age but she had already been there since she was around 16. I pick up a book I remember my father giving me, I open it now. His diary. I look up the date and time he pulled her out to see if he speaks of this reunion.

Here it is, today I released her. My sister, I found her in an institution for the mentally unstable. She is fine, she is not a danger to herself or others, I don’t understand why they kept her here, why she was sent to begin with?

I’ll never know, my parents aren’t around to ask. It seems out of character for them, maybe they weren’t given a choice. But I’m here, I’m not alone anymore and she is here with me. The best day of my life. I’m not telling my wife, she will not appreciate how wonderful it is to have someone you love that will love me back. My other sister died too young.

Oh this morning was wonderful. I walked in and said I was there to check her out. Everyone was shocked, I had proof I was her next of kin and they had to release her to me. they had no choice although they argued loudly about how she doesn’t know how to live out in the real world and I yelled at them and said it is only because you created a false one for her.

I had a doctor come and try to talk to me and I said to him he has nothing on me, nothing he can say that will sway me and he’d best get out of my way immediately. Thankful, for the first time, that I am a tall and broad man.

I walked over to her at the table where she is waiting, “Hi” is all I say. After all these years she turns and sees me, her eyes light up and she says my name with her hands. She tells the nurse I came to take her home and he hugs me tightly.

The nurse, recognizing my name, told me she has said for years that one day her brother will come and take her home. She never lost hope. She never forgot about me and now I will never forget her, she will always be taken care of.

Love is a powerful thing, I think to myself. His sister loved him, her heart knew he was coming only she didn’t know when. He came and now she bakes for him. Does she know he is gone? Did anyone tell her? Do I have to be the one to do this? Now, for sure I have to go tomorrow to meet her.

This is my job now. I have to tell her. She has to know who I am. We will get along somehow. We will, and as for that wonderful woman who stepped back into my life today, I’m not sure. She is a powerful force, I felt it in her hug. In her words.

Tomorrow is decided. I’ll work on life after that.

 

~~ ~

Oh, he is as handsome as I remember. I can’t believe I said the whole story all at once, I am not sure I’ve done that before. But he was watching me with such sympathy, no that wasn’t it, his face shown concern.

He wasn’t pitying me at all. No, his look was concern, he wanted to know that I came out of all that could have been. I did. I came out and I shout to the world that if his father wasn’t an angel sent on earth to do good things than I don’t know what an angel is.

That first night I met him, we talked for hours. I remember feeling whole around him. I remember feeling as if life was going to be ok because he was in this world. But then life took me away. It has been wonderful, I don’t feel shame for the way I’ve lived with my uncle. He too is a special kind of angel sent here to spread his medical knowledge and take care of so many who have so little.

My uncle made me appreciate life all the days of my life. No, he didn’t make me that’s the wrong word, he showed me in his actions that we should always appreciate and never take for granted anything.

I couldn’t believe I missed the funeral, that was the most devastating news I had heard in years. There is so much of me that wanted to give him some good peace before he left this world to go back home. I say home because I am certain no man can accomplish what he did without being heaven sent. I hope that tomorrow I will see his son again. But tonight, tonight I need to figure out my next move. Maybe I’ll call my uncle. No, maybe this time, I’ll figure this out myself. Ok I’ll wait until tomorrow.

~~ ~

There it is, my future. I walk cautiously up to the front door of the bed and breakfast and open the door slowly. I don’t want to wake anyone. I walk towards the kitchen and there she is, the older woman I saw the day before, but she isn’t my aunt. She sees me and smiles, I nod to her and she walks out of the room.

Soon, standing before me is a woman who looks exactly like my father. Exactly, not one hair is different, not the slant of her eyes, or the pink of her lips, nothing. She is and forever will be my father’s sister. My aunt. “Hello.” I say softly.

She looks at me and squeals in delight in her own way. She runs to me and holds me in a bear hug I wasn’t expecting. She lets go and looks at my face then she pulls me in again. We do this about four times and then the older woman claps her hands. My aunt looks at her and then to me. “Nephew” she says a whole mouthful in one word. Well not really a mouthful, she signed the word to me, I knew that one. I looked it up so I could say who I was to her. She knows me. she knows who I am and I find myself tearing up.

I hold her hand and bring her to the table. I look at the older woman and she nods in agreement. I hold my aunt’s hand and I tell her that her brother had become very ill and that he has gone back to heaven to be the angel that he is.

At first, I’m not sure she comprehends what I have said. Then she sits and looks at me, she holds my hands tightly in hers and she cries, but no sound comes out, her tears fall.

“She is smart as a whip, but she can’t tell anyone so they locked her up. Back then, people didn’t know what they know now. She hears you, even when you speak softly. She will sign with you or she will write down her thoughts but you will always know when she cries. The silence is deafening to me.” the older woman says. I look over to her, I agree. This silent cry is so loud to me. I can feel her pain, her anguish. But I can’t squelch it, the pain will always be there. The brother who saved her for the past 30 years, is gone.

She hits the table hard with one hand and I stare at her to figure out what she wants. She begins to sign quickly to the other woman. Who smiles. She waits for her to finish and then she tells me that she felt thunder in her heart the day he died. She knew he was sick, he told her. But to hear it, pains her.

Now she tells me that my aunt wants me to stay, she wants me to bake with her some cookies and now it is my turn to cry. How did she know what I was thinking last night? I stand to go hug her and she lets me.

We work together to make the dough and form the cookies. I always loved being in the kitchen. I walk to the sideboard and begin to make my favorite bread dough. She comes behind me and taps my shoulder, she shakes her head no and shows me a different thing to do. I shake my head no also, she thinks a moment and shrugs. I guess she will wait and see how my bread comes out. By 7:00 in the morning our cookies and breads are done. We work together to make some eggs, and cut up some vegetables for people who want. We also make some fish and a fruit salad.

As we put everything out on the big buffet table for the guests, she comes down and sees me. Her eyes pull me in instantly and my aunt pushes on my shoulder and nods that I should go to her. I smile back and greet my old friend.

We stand there a moment and I show her what I made, she seems impressed. I look over at my aunt who is watching the guests come in and she is watching what they take. She looks to the older woman and points to my rolls, they are almost gone and more of hers are still there. The older woman pushes her and she walks over to take one of my rolls. She pulls it open and puts a smear of pure butter in the middle and takes a bite, she is watching me the whole time and I am her.

The smile on her face says everything to me. I walk over to receive yet another hug. I can get used to this. Hugs I mean. My mother never gave them and my father once told me I was so skinny as a young kid he was almost afraid he’d crush me.

The lawyer comes over and hugs my aunt too. Then he tells me his job with me is done and he is going home to his wife and children. My friend stands there waiting, for what, I don’t know. My aunt knows though, she walks over and takes her by the hand and leads her to the kitchen. I shrug to the lawyer and he smiles. I guess she is staying a while. I smile to him and then I hug him and watch him leave.

~~ ~

My work here is complete, I did all that was asked of me. My friend taught me so much in life, how important it is to pay attention to the little things that the people around you do. I’ve taken his advice many times in the cases I have, especially those that involve children.

I’ve tried all these years to be like him but I am not him and the more I realize that I can only be the best me, I can’t be him. If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned that.

I’m going home now. To my home that will always help remind me to be a good person. My wife calls as I head back to the airport. A woman came by last night saying she knew this house was safe and asked to spend the night.

And so it begins, maybe it is the house. Maybe whomever lives there takes on what needs to be done. Maybe I can’t do it financially the way he did, but I will make this work in my own way. We will help where we can and find the resources to help where we can’t.

My friend’s work is done but I’ve just begun.

 

~~ ~

I see in the kitchen that my aunt and my friend are working together on some kind of soup. I busy myself with getting the dishes washed that have come back already from breakfast. There is no scheduled brunch, that was done for us yesterday.

I walk around the whole place this morning. I knock on each guest room and ask if I can inspect the room please. They let me, somehow everyone knows I’m part of this place. I see little things that have been neglected. What does this business manager do anyway? Does she never look at the rooms? There is one that is showing water dripping from the ceiling, in a corner. I promise to give them some money back. The guest protests, he says he will only stay in this room. Specifically, this room, his good luck room.

Every time he stays in this very room, his presentations go really well. I tell him it’s the food not the room and he begins to laugh. I’ve made a friend.

Each room is the same, everyone here right now is a repeat customer. No wonder the manager doesn’t have much to do to sell the place, the food brings them in, the colors that make them stay. Each room is soft and welcoming, as if you’re coming somewhere else but staying at home.

Home, there is that word again. I walk outside to see all that might need to be repaired. I have been writing this all down each room I step into. Now I see the outside, the bushes have become so overgrown you can’t see the woodwork behind them, there are parts that need to be fixed. I look around the grounds. The front seems to be well kept. The driveway needs to be revisited. Maybe we should create a cobblestone drive to give a better appearance to the whole curb appeal. I walk towards the back and look with a critical eye. Yesterday I was only looking at my friend’s eyes. I didn’t see much else. But now I see what I should not see. This back has not been looked at much. Kept clean, but it isn’t pretty any more.

I see my aunt walking to me. she looks upset. She calls to me with her hands, she is standing in front of a green patch that is not grass, she bends down and picks a piece of leaf off of one of the plants and makes me smell the fragrance.

“Herbs?” I ask.

She nods but then she shows me with her hands the mess it is in. “Ah the manager doesn’t like to keep up your garden? No, it is not acceptable. Maybe we don’t need an outside manager.” I tell her and then walk with her along the whole perimeter of the lawn with her.

I walk to the furthest point and we look back at the house. It holds five rooms that can be served at once. I look to the side, there is so much room here. “My dear aunt. If I expand your kitchen and dining room. Can we add five more rooms on top?” she looks to me in excitement. She puts her hand down and I guess “Children?” she nods again.

Ah children I think to myself. We should build a treehouse back here in the back and we can serve special meals in the treehouse. My mind starts thinking of all kinds of things we can do. She claps her hands over her head and dances around.

My friend is standing there when this happens, “Did you tell him your idea to expand the top floor?” she asks.

I stand and stare at my aunt, it was my idea. She smiles. My friend looks at me, “You should see the ideas she has for this place, the manager won’t do any of them saying her ideas are a waste of money and that money needs to be conserved. Did I get that right?” she asks my aunt.

My aunt jumps to hug her. “She’s very smart. They ruined her in there and your father’s love pulled her out. But it’s hard to run a business when you can’t speak to customers.”

“Bull. What time does the manager get in, I think some big changes are among us.” I say with conviction.

~~ ~

It has been a week since I first met with the manager. She is not happy that I’m there every day, she is not happy that I’m disrupting her business with expansion. She hates that I’m building a treehouse because it is a liability and she hates even more that I gave in to the cook about having a fresh herb garden. The groundskeeper is happy to upkeep the garden and anything else my aunt suggests.

Somehow the idea that I own the place isn’t getting through to this manager. I check the books at the end of each day too. I check all receipts and took her off of writing the checks immediately. I said since I’m here there is no reason for her to see the books anymore. She was not happy. I have not fired her yet but I think she is about to quit anyway.

My friend has stayed as well. She isn’t sure what she is going to do, she spoke to her uncle and he told her to stay as long as she’d like, that it is ok to take a couple of weeks to get back on her feet. But no more. Every day she is with my aunt in the kitchen. Dinners are her specialty.

She also introduced to-go lunches for those who are taking the day to travel around or even for those in town for business. Her to-go lunches sell very quickly. Already she has people ordering them the night before, she makes them to order.

Today I meet with the architect for the treehouse in the back. Tomorrow with the final contractor to bid on doing the expansion upstairs. I woke today feeling something I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I’m comfortable, every day is not filled with tension of who I have to please now. I wake to be my own person. Today, I’m good.

The meeting with the treehouse guy is amazing. He speaks to my aunt in sign and gets her ideas on what she thinks the patrons would want. They decide on making it as if it was a big balcony between the two old oaks in the back of the property. There will be a staircase instead of a ladder to get up to the treehouse. We will have tire swings strong enough for adults and he is building two stand-alone loveseat swings to be enjoyed by guests any time they want.  Using the same wood to match the treehouse. There is the staircase to get down or a slide on the other side.

The meeting is amazing. My aunt is so smart, she knows what the people want after all these years. My father knew her passion and he helped her build her own empire. I see she feels she is as rich as he was. I want to give her all of this and more. But I have some concerns about the expansion. It will be wonderful but I feel we’re missing something. Hmmm. I think as I walk the perimeter again. I stand watching people go by and it hits me. Looking at the man in the wheelchair across the way. All our rooms are upstairs, we have no elevator and I can’t justify that expense. But wait, I run to the side of the house. This side gets good sun but it is almost too much sun for a library. What if? That’s it! What if I build three of the rooms right here on this floor, for handicapped accessibility, we can easily build a ramp to the front steps.

I run across the street to speak to the man in the chair and ask him everything I would need to get him to stay there. He laughs but then he sees I am serious and he begins to discuss with me all he has at home. Wider bathroom door, wider shower, lower sinks so he can reach. I can do this. I will do this.

I’m no longer thinking of me, I want to make this a better place for others. I do, that is what I want to do. Manager be damned, this is my place now and it will run happily. I shake the man’s hand and tell him that when I’m done, he should come and spend a free weekend on the house. He smiles and nods thinking I’m crazy, maybe I am, but I’m also charged up.

I can do this. I have the means and I certainly have the knowledge now. I run back in time to see the last architect pulling in to meet with me. I wave to him and call him over to the side of the house. I give him my whole new idea and ask how much worse will that be, he smiles at me and thanks me. He has a child in a wheelchair himself. They always have to stay on the first floor or pay for an expensive place with an elevator. Some of the first-floor rooms aren’t street level and he has to carry the chair up the steps to get into the building to begin with. I begin to talk a mile a minute but he is writing this all down as fast as I’m speaking.

I see my aunt with her hand crossed in front of her chest, she doesn’t want to be left out and she thinks she is. I smile at her and so does the architect. We head inside and sit in the den, no one is here now. He tells my aunt all that we came up with outside and then he tells her they can still expand all she needs them to. The land is big enough we won’t need extra variances to do any of this, only permits. My aunt doesn’t look happy. I don’t know why.

I slide her my pad of paper and she begins to write. She wasn’t upset that we began without her she is upset because the manger told her that she has to watch herself and stay out of the way of business decisions. She told her that she has no business speaking to the owner, that is for her to do and she will only approve extensions that make sense with her business model, the business is doing just fine as is and she will discuss this with the man walking around thinking he is in charge.

I smile and hold my aunt’s hand. She smiles back. I call the manger in to the meeting and ask her point blank if that is what she said to this woman, she stumbled on her words and said it was misinterpreted. I told her my aunt isn’t stupid nor would she lie and asked her if she wants to change her mind.

She had no idea we were related until that moment. My friend has been going over the books all morning. I asked her to go over all payroll as well and where each check is sent and for how much. I think my manger is double paying herself as manager and night manager. Even though she isn’t here at night. My friend comes in as I’m thinking of her and she sees this woman at the table already squirming. She shows me some papers, the numbers don’t add up. Bills for things we don’t buy, payments to people who aren’t our local vendors. All with her signature on them.

My tolerance is small. My father worked hard his whole young life to make the world a better place. “You’re fired.” I said and slid the paper to her as if to challenge that. Then I say, “Front door, now. Your pocket book will be brought to you out there. You are not to go back into the office.” I tell her. My friend stands tall to walk with her to the front door. The woman doesn’t know what to say or do.

My friend walks her out. I stay and we continue our meeting.

~` ~

After all the good he has done for people, this person, took it upon herself to notice there is always good money in the account. She dummied up some bills for products they don’t use and paid herself with these as if she bought them on her own time and needed to be reimbursed. I hope his son never really sees this.

Three of the bills were from repairmen that were never used here before. I called on those bills and according to the bill number they were done at the manager’s residence. I walk back to the office and empty her purse to make sure she has nothing of the business’s on her

She does, she has a credit card with her name, unauthorized, I’m sure. She has the bank account number written on her phone in her notes. I erased that. I also erased all the known vendors numbers from her phone. Let her sue me, we can send her to jail with all that I found so far. I’m so angry that my blood is boiling by the time I get back to her with her belongings. But I take a deep breath and think of the man who built this place. He would not bring her up on charges, he would save the evidence though. He would say that there is something missing in her life and she needs the help.

I listen to my inner angel and I say to her, “If at any time in the future you need a reference, we will give you one. No charges of embezzlement will be brought against you, at this time. The evidence will be kept at our lawyers however.” Then I close the door.

I’ve never been so mean to anyone before. My heart is racing, I hear it in my chest. Oh dear, how did he live like this all the time. Forgiving people so quickly. Honoring their good parts with only a hint of a reminder of how, if they slip, they will pay the consequences. Like he did when he bought me. He knew this man wanted to be with me, he could tell which is why he said he would not pay if I was ruined.

I hope she gets a new job. I do. I will say she kept the place afloat for many years but the new owners are doing everything themselves now.

I keep saying we. I like the sound of that. We. Me and him and his aunt and her best friend who interprets for her. They are truly best friends.

I think I found what I’m looking for. I’m done now.

~~ ~

My friend comes to tell me what she told her. I agree, we will keep the evidence in hopes it will never be used. Ever. She was here for many years, I write her last paycheck and send this one in the mail with a note stating the same thing my friend did.

At night she tells me of her revelation as well. We, it has a nice ring to it. Working with her here has been seamless. We get up early. We work together. Everyone is happy, construction starts soon and this place will be hoping even more.

A man approaches us at the porch. He asks for my father, I tell him he is no longer with us. He bows his head and cries. I walk to him and he holds out his hand to shake mine. He tells me that a few years ago, before my father was sick, he was here one night and had come to town to a local fair. He, my father, saw some kids offer him a drink and they were laughing. My father went over and asked what kind of drink they were offering. The kids said a fruit drink, he asked what kind, they made something up, he asked if they were giving it to this man or simply sharing their own drink with him. One of the boys said it was a gift. Then my father said, well, you can’t give a gift of food, if you don’t know what a person is allergic to. Then he threw the drink and splashed each of the kids with the contents of the cup. He told me they saw immediately that their clothing was discolored. Bleach, the kids had put bleach in the drink. No one liked this man because he reminded them of a disfigured character in an old movie.

His one eye was mostly closed too so they thought him stupid. But he wasn’t, isn’t. he told me that my father then bought him a proper dinner and they spoke into the night. He said he works in a laboratory testing for medical research. But my father knew that the boys were up to something. My father knew, but this man’s eye sometimes, especially in the evenings, doesn’t let him see clearly and their laughter simply looked like quirky smiles.

Then he tells me that they saw the boys the next day back at the fair with an adult. My father approached the group of kids with this man and asked the adult which one of the kids is interested in science. He asked why and my father told him that his friend works at a medical lab for research and thinks that there may be an internship open for the rest of the summer if someone wants to learn real science and how chemicals work. The only kid who stopped laughing the day before, raised his hand. That was this man’s son. The man had joked and told them maybe they will teach him to stay away from bleach, he bumped into a cleaning bucket here yesterday, he told his parents and ruined his brand new shirt.

“That boy became my pupil for the next three weeks of that summer. I think he is headed to college now. But your father showed me compassion I’ve only felt with family. The public doesn’t understand you can have a brain when the rest of you looks different.” He tell us.

I smile at the man and tell him that if he ever needs a night to get away, he only has to call and we will provide him an escape and a homecoming. Again, I hear that word, home.

I also heard myself say us. Us, as in we, as in me and this beautiful woman by my side right now. Before he leaves, he says, “If you invite me to your wedding, I’ll be happy to play my fiddle for you. I’m pretty good.” He smiles and hands me his card.

A wedding, a home, this woman. So many things to think about. But tonight, I need to sleep.

~~ ~

With the construction almost done, the buzz around town is that we’re having a grand opening. I’ve never announced one but the thought is appealing. I’m thinking of more of an open house so people can stop by, taste the food and experience the backyard treehouse, the bench swings and the merry go round that you can step on at the ground level. No stepping up, built even with the grass. This is so handicapped children can enjoy this ride too.

But then I think that my father also used to teach me that you don’t always have to give myself away. I used to do work for other people other than my most recent boss, I didn’t always get paid. But maybe this is the same. So no, we won’t have a party and invite unpaying guests. It’s not fair to the guests who expect a quiet place.

Quiet, that’s a good word too. The man in the wheelchair has come by twice and consulted on whether or not things are being put high enough or wide enough. One day I asked him if he knew my father. His story was the same as the rest. He saved him from himself one day. He remains in a chair but he remains is all he tells me.

I think, for the rest of my life, I will be hearing of the many lives of my father. The many tales that will be told to me about how he did so much for so many. I want to do that here. In this place for as many as need me.

I spoke yesterday to my aunt and we decided one room will always remain empty. You never know who will need a bed in the middle of the night. We will always keep one open. My aunt’s friend, the older woman wants to retire. But she also doesn’t want to leave, this has been her home for so long. I told her to stay as long as nature lets her and she smiled.

My aunt walks taller these days, she is more vibrant than ever, her friend says to me all the time. Maybe my aunt should meet the scientist, I think to myself.

Here comes my friend now, she is looking rather upset, I think I know why but I also know how to stop this mood. She walks right up to me and I do what I’ve been thinking for a long time. I pull her in for a kiss. Sweet, passionate, but gentle at the same time.

“Marriage, kids the whole nine yards. I’m done thinking about life, I want to live one. With you.” I say to her.

~ ~ ~

Our wedding is held out in the backyard. My aunt decorated the treehouse with all of our favorite flowers. Her uncle and family came in. I have no one on my side. My aunt is there and her friend. They are walking me down. But then the lawyer comes in to my room and he says he has one more gift for me. A specially made suit for me to wear for my wedding. My father knew my size and had many suits made for me, all those clothes were his but he had them tailored to fit me when he became ill. I knew he had when the fit was too good. But it took me a while to figure that part out.

Now I know for sure. The lawyer offers to walk me down but I said my aunt is doing that. He said he went to the bed and breakfast to check in but then he came straight here to see me and to make sure I had this gift. He also presented me with a special ring to give my bride under the canopy. It is from Dad’s father, my grandfather. The one who started all this good cheer, my father had told me on his deathbed.

One for me and one for her. I slide mine on and am no longer surprised that something from my father fits me.

The wedding is beautiful, it is small but we invited community friends to join us. One of our new friends plays his fiddle, another one sings with a voice of a nightingale and still others make toasts and dance with us to show us how much they care.

~~ ~

Three days after my wedding, I look around at all that I’ve accomplished since my father died. We are serving those who need, we added on a bungalow in the back with a special key and entrance to be used by families who have people in the local hospital and want to sleep in a real bed for a while. That room is free. We already have someone using the room.

I have it all, thanks to my father. A job, a life, and a wife. What more could a person ask for?

I’m done now.


© Copyright 2019 C.A.A.. All rights reserved.

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