Chapter 10

 

Counterpoint

 Wednesday, August 3

Bobbi pulled a pizza from the oven and checked the kitchen clock. Football practice ended twenty minutes ago, so Rita should be there with Brad any minute now. She could finally smooth things over with her sister.
A moment later, she heard the front door open, and soon after Brad shuffled into the kitchen. “Hey, how was practice?”
“Hot.” Brad took a bottle of water and a can of Coke from the refrigerator. “Is that my pizza?”
“I just took it out.” Bobbi slid the pizza onto a plate for him. He balanced the plate on his Coke can and headed toward the family room. “Where’s Aunt Rita?”
“She was right behind me.”
Bobbi shook her head and was about to search for her sister when Rita came in the kitchen. “I got a phone call right as we got here. Did Brad disappear already?”
“Yeah, I had his lunch waiting.”
“He didn’t say two words in the car. I worry about him.”
“He’s exhausted from practice, and he doesn’t talk that much anyway.” Rita scowled. “Dinner went well. Thank you for asking.”
“Bobbi—”
“You know, I wish you would just support me in this.”
“I do support you. You. Not you and Chuck.” Rita pulled out a kitchen chair and sat down. Bobbi took the chair across from her. “I love Phil to death, but he sees things very black and white. Gavin is the same way about divorce. That’s fine as long as you’re dealing with hypotheticals, but when it comes to real people in real situations, things get very gray in a hurry.”
“You think I should consider divorcing Chuck?”
“I don’t know if that’s the right thing or not, but everyone is pressuring you to resolve this too quickly. It hasn’t even been a week yet. You need space, and you need to think long term.”
“I am. It’s in everyone’s long-term best interests if we hold this family together.”
“If you say so,” Rita said. “Are the utilities in Chuck’s name or yours?”
“Chuck’s. Why?”
“You should change them to your name.”
“Because he moved out? That’s temporary.”
“You don’t know that for sure.”
“I am not divorcing him!”
“But he may still divorce you. You need to take steps to protect yourself financially and legally.”
“Like what?”
“Like opening a checking account in your own name, re-titling your car, and changing the locks. Making him move out was very smart, by the way.”
“You watch too much television.”
“And you are too naïve! Any lawyer would tell you to take these kinds of steps.”
“Any lawyer?” Bobbi folded her arms across her chest and arched an eyebrow. “Or just the one you called?”
“All right, yes, I called a lawyer.”
“I don’t need this kind of help,” Bobbi muttered. “You always, always think the worst, especially about Chuck.”
“I think I’ve been vindicated.”
“And that’s what counts, isn’t it?” Bobbi got up from the table and pushed her chair in. “I’ll pick Brad up tomorrow.”
“I overstepped—”
“I don’t have the energy to second-guess everything I do because you don’t approve. From now on, my marriage is a closed subject.”
Rita mumbled a weak apology, promising to call in a day or two, and then she slipped out.
Divorcing Chuck was wrong. It had to be. The thoughts of going to court and airing their private life made Bobbi queasy. The alternative wasn’t so simple either. She loved Chuck, and would always love him, but how could she put her marriage back together when she couldn’t stand to be around him?
Rita overreacted about Brad, too. Teenage boys never discussed their feelings. Granted, he had it out with Chuck, but he vented.
Still … Was she playing with Brad’s well-being by working toward reconciliation before he had a chance to process everything? He would never give her a straight answer and he had no interest in talking to his youth pastor. Maybe it was time to get Phil involved.
*******
Thursday, August 4
“It’s two-fifteen,” Phil said. “We did say Thursday, right?”
“That’s what I told Bobbi,” Donna said.
Across the office from Donna, Cooper DeWitt stood up. Phil asked him to sit in, hoping the boys, especially Brad, might be more comfortable. “I’ll check the parking lot,” he said.
Before he could cross the room, the outer door opened and Brad said, “Just shut up, Joel! I’m here, all right!”
“Brad, straighten up!” Bobbi reprimanded. She shepherded her sons into the study, her face flushed. “I apologize for making you wait.”
“Brad didn’t want to come,” Joel said.
“I don’t blame him,” Phil said, robbing Brad of the opportunity to snap back at his brother. “Have a seat.” Three empty chairs faced Phil’s desk, between Donna and Cooper. “Having to sit in your pastor’s office and discuss your dad’s affair is a rotten place to be.”
“Pastor Phil,” Brad said. “I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I don’t see what we’re doing here. My dad can’t take back what he did. I never want to speak to him again.”
“What about you, Joel?”
“Dad said he was sorry. It’s supposed to be over, right?”
Phil caught just a glimpse of Brad rolling his eyes.
“In the simplest terms, yes,” Phil agreed.
“That’s not right!” Brad jumped in. “Mom, tell him!”
“Brad, listen to Pastor Phil,” Bobbi said.
“No! If you won’t stand up for yourself, I will!”
“Brad! Sit down!” Bobbi said. The boy locked eyes with his mother, hesitated, then slumped into his chair. “Phil, I’m sorry, maybe we should try another day.”
“No, he’s fine,” Phil said, trying to reassure her. “Let’s try a different approach.” He reached in his desk and pulled out three pads of paper with pens attached. He handed one to Cooper. “Cooper, take Joel down the hall like we discussed.”
“Sure thing,” Cooper said, taking the pad. “Come on, Buddy. Let’s blow this popcorn stand.” Joel grinned, clearly thankful to be leaving.
As they left, Phil handed his wife the second notepad and pen. “Donna, you and Bobbi find someplace quiet.”
“You sure you want to be in here with him?” Bobbi asked before she left.
“Positive,” Phil said.
“Brad, behave,” Bobbi said, but he wouldn’t look up.
Phil listened for doors down the hall to close. “All right, it’s just me and you. What else is on your mind?”
Brad sighed. “Look, I came because of my mom, but no one on God’s green earth, not even you, can talk me into forgiving my dad.”
“Because?”
“Why doesn’t anybody understand this?” Brad said. “My dad is a liar and a phony. My mom should divorce him now before he does something else.”
“Divorce him?”
“Yes. It says that in the Bible for adultery. I looked it up.”
“The Bible says divorce is allowed, not required, in cases of adultery,” Phil clarified.
“Whatever.”
“Your dad has always been an adulterer?”
“I don’t think so, but who knows?”
“So he changed once, from a non-adulterer to an adulterer. Could he change again?”
“Can a murderer change back into a non-murderer? He can’t undo it.”
Brad argued like a lawyer’s son. Phil had to give him credit. “Then who has he hurt?” Phil slid the pad across the desk. “Make me a list.” Brad took the pad, yanked the pen from the top, scribbled some names, then slid the tablet back.
“You, your mom, and your brother,” Phil read. “Well, you left a lot of names off this list.” He took the pen from his shirt pocket. “What about the other woman?”
“What?” Brad yelled. “Don’t you dare put her name down!”
“Your dad took advantage of her, used her, and she may never see that she needs Jesus because of your dad.” Phil continued to write. “Then there’s me and my wife. I married your mom and dad. How does this reflect on my ability to counsel the couples in my charge?”
“This is not your fault.”
“I didn’t say it was my fault. It’s your dad’s fault. I’m just saying I got hurt. Then of course, there’s your Aunt Rita and Uncle Gavin, Danny, Kara, John, and Kelly, and your grandmother.”
Phil never looked up at Brad even as the list grew longer. “Everybody your grandpa knew, every client at the law firm, the parents of every student your mom teaches, all your friends and their parents, Boy Scouts, little league baseball players, Cooper and the other kids in the youth group, my church and my Lord.”
Brad sat up straighter in his chair. “Oh, I agree with you that my dad hurt way more people than he realizes. He has no idea how much damage he’s done.”
“Let’s start at the bottom of the list.” He pushed the tablet back to Brad. “Jesus Christ. He was beaten, spit on, and crucified for your dad. And here, your dad goes out and humiliates him all over again.”
“Exactly,” Brad said.
Phil smiled, and set the trap. “You know what 1 John 1:9 says?”
“Not right off.”
“A hundred years ago, when I was nine, I learned it like this. ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’”
He saw Brad grip the arms of the chair. The boy knew what was coming. The forgive part.
“Your dad has done that very thing, and God has forgiven him. You understand justice, right?”
“That’s what I want,” Brad said.
“Then that verse says it’s just, fair, and right for God to forgive and cleanse us if we confess.”
Brad lowered his eyes.
“More than that, after doing one of the most despicable things a man could do, your dad did one of the most courageous things I’ve ever seen.” Phil leaned forward. “See, you missed it Sunday evening. He stood up in front of the whole church, told them what he had done, then asked for their forgiveness.”
“He lied to them, too,” Brad said.
“A man’s hands don’t shake when he’s lying. He confessed and he begged for forgiveness. It was the most incredible church service I’ve ever been in … because they forgave him.”
Phil pointed at the list. “Your brother has already forgiven him.”
“That’s because Joel doesn’t get it.”
“Your mom surely gets it, and she forgives him.”
Brad shifted, stretching his long legs in front of him.
“This is not about your mom, is it?” Phil asked.
Brad sat, biting his bottom lip, and Phil knew then, he’d hit the issue.
“Your dad is not the man you thought he was and you’re disappointed, embarrassed, and even ashamed of him. He let you down.”
Brad never looked up, and wrestled with each word. “Do you know how furious that makes me? Or how stupid I feel for thinking my dad was such a great guy?” After a long pause, he raised his eyes. “I just can’t do it, Pastor Phil. I can’t forgive him.”
“Son, I’m not trying to badger you into saying something you don’t mean just to get me off your back. Promise me you’ll think about what I said, and pray about it. At least consider the possibility that you might forgive him.”
“A very slim possibility.”
“Fair enough.”
*******
“Your office is a lot smaller than Pastor’s Phil’s,” Joel said, as Cooper closed the door.
“Yeah, I inherited a broom closet,” Cooper said with a smile. “But it’s big enough for my bookcase, my laptop, my couch, and my refrigerator from college. You want something to drink?”
“Thanks,” Joel said, taking a can of Mountain Dew from Cooper. He flopped onto Cooper’s couch and stretched his legs out.
Cooper pulled out a folding chair for himself, opened his soft drink, and set the can on the floor. “Okay, Joel, your dad cheats on your mom. He’s not at home anymore. Everybody’s on edge, and it’s not too clear what’s going to happen next. Does that about sum it up?”
“I guess.”
“How are you with all that?”
“I’m okay. Dad said he was sorry, and when everybody’s gotten over being mad, Mom will let him come home.”
“You mad?”
“No.”
“Afraid?”
“Not now.”
“What were you afraid of?”
“That Mom and Dad would get a divorce.” He downed his Mountain Dew, and debated whether he should rat out his brother. “Brad says they’re gonna split.”
“But you don’t think so. What’s the difference?”
“Brad won’t talk to Dad. Dad told me they’re not getting a divorce. He said he loves Mom, but he was an idiot. Mom told me that too, the ‘no divorce’ part, not the ‘idiot’ part.”
“So, you’re good?” Cooper asked.
“I’m good.”
“Sleeping and eating like you should?”
“Yep.”
“That was easy,” Cooper said, drinking from his Coke. “Anything else you want to talk about? Any questions?”
“Yeah, what’s the paper for?”
“To make Brad think everybody was doing the same thing he was so he’d cooperate.”
“Sweet.”
*******
At the end of the hallway, Bobbi and Donna settled in a classroom, taking corner seats at the end of a long table. “Phil may be through counseling us after this meeting with Brad,” Bobbi said, shaking her head.
“Nonsense. We raised two boys. Phil can handle him. So, how was dinner with Chuck?”
“Fair,” Bobbi said. “He and Brad had it out after we ate.”
“That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Donna said. “What about you? Did you and Chuck talk?”
“He tried. Chuck would’ve talked all night if I’d let him.”
“But you didn’t.”
“I can’t. I can’t even look at him.”
“How did you get through the dinner then?”
“We talked about school. That’s a whole different part of my brain.”
“Honey, you need to talk to Chuck. I know it’s hard, but you have to work at this together. Have you talked to him at all?”
“Saturday, he came to the house, and I, uh, interrogated him.”
“Did he crack?” Donna smiled, but it didn’t lighten the mood.
“I nearly did. He told me everything … everything I asked him, anyway. She’s a thirty-year-old lawyer. He started seeing her when I was out of town the second week of July.”
“Oh, Bobbi,” Donna murmured.
“There. That’s it. If I go any further, my imagination goes berserk, and I start wondering what he said to her … how he kissed her …” She squeezed her eyes shut, and tapped a clenched fist on the table, trying to push the thoughts from her mind. “Can we change the subject? Please?”
“Well, it’s not much of a change. Phil wants you to write down anything you want him to go over in counseling, either when he’s talking to Chuck, or when he meets with you both.”
Bobbi took the pad of paper and pen Donna offered. Where to begin? Questions swirled through her thoughts every waking moment. She pondered for several moments, then she distilled everything into one simple question. ‘How can I trust Chuck again when I can’t separate him from what he did?’
*******
Bobbi straightened chairs and put away the crayons and markers after her preschoolers cleared out of the Sunday school room. As she dropped her teacher’s guide in her tote bag, she spotted Chuck walking across the church parking lot, his hands stuffed deep in the pockets of his slacks. She ducked out the door close to nursery and caught up with him in several long strides. “Is everything okay?”
“Fine,” he said, but never raised his head or broke stride.
“You’re not staying for the worship service?”
“I’ve got a couple things I need to get done before I leave this afternoon.”
“You’re leaving today? I didn’t think you were leaving until tomorrow morning.”
“This will be easier on me. I won’t have to get up at three-thirty.”
“But you were going to slip out of church, and not say goodbye?”
“I didn’t want to interrupt your class.”
She pulled at him until he turned to face her. “Chuck, what is going on?”
“Nothing. I told you ServMed would be my life until it was settled.”
She studied his face for a moment. Something else troubled him. She knew it. “You feel okay?”
“Yeah, why?”
“You’re not sleeping. I can tell you’ve lost weight. You’re short-tempered—”
“Bobbi …” He shook his head slowly. “I’m fine. Everything’s fine.”
“Did you decide about the trip to Detroit? The All-Star game?”
“There’s no way.”
“We haven’t had a vacation in a couple of years. This is perfect. Why don’t you want to go with us?”
“I can’t afford the time away right now.”
“You love baseball …” She glanced back toward the church to make sure no one else was leaving. “So you were gonna sneak out of church without telling me. You’re leaving early for Kansas City, and you don’t want to go on a vacation with us. It makes … It makes me think it’s me, Chuck, like you’re avoiding me.”
“Bobbi …” he whined. “If it was in September or October, I’d go.”
“So it’s just work?”
“Yes.”
“And you feel fine?”
“Yes, can I go now?” He flipped his wrist over and checked his watch.
“I’m not through, yet. I know it’s getting close to the time of year when your dad died. I know for me …”
“I’m not you. Dad died six years ago. I don’t even think about it anymore.”
“What do you think about?”
“What kind of question is that?”
“Because you used to tell me. You used to tell me everything. Now, you don’t care what’s going on with me, and you won’t open up—”
“This is ridiculous. I’ve got to go.”
He started to walk away, but she reached for his arm. “While you’re in the car this afternoon, I want you to think long and hard about what your priorities are. I’ll put up with this while you’re on this case, but come September, things have got to change.”
“Don’t lecture me.” He jerked his arm out of her grip. “My priorities are right where they should be! Providing for my family!” He paced away, but turned back and leveled a finger at her. “I’ll tell you what’s got to change! You, Bobbi! You used to support me one hundred percent. You used to build me up, encourage me, but now you hit me as soon as I walk in the door with a list of everything I failed to do.”
He raised his hand, holding it inches from her, counting with more anger and intensity with each point. “I’m not home enough. I don’t spend enough time with the boys. I spend too much money. I don’t meet every single emotional need you manufacture—”
“What? You’re mad because I want to spend time with you?”
“It’s not spending time! You want to control me. You weren’t like this when we got married.”
“And you weren’t a paranoid workaholic! I wish you could hear yourself. Who else is against you, Chuck, or is it just me?”
“And now you’re mocking me. Very helpful.”
“I’m not mocking, I love you. I will always love you, but right now, I can’t stand to be in the same room with you.”
“The feeling’s mutual, Sweetheart.” He stalked away, got in his car, and squealed his tires before speeding away.
As soon as he was out of sight, her hands began to shake and she had to brace herself against the nearest car. “Lord God, I don’t know who he is anymore.”

 

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