Chapter 11

 

Examination

 FOUR WEEKS LATER

Friday, September 2

“Mr. Tennant,” the nurse called, and Chuck watched yet another seventy-year-old man make his way back to see Dr. Andy Hokoana. Even so, Chuck preferred the discretion of private practice to the speed of a clinic. The check-up was the last thing on Bobbi’s list, and meeting Bobbi’s requirements while protecting her privacy was just what he wanted.
Tuesday, he’d resume his normal work schedule and rejoin society. He ate with his family three precious nights and he met with Phil at least twice each week, but he spent the rest of his time alone. The loneliness gnawed at him.
He checked into a gym membership just to get out of his apartment, but after spending the trial evening surrounded by young women in workout gear, he dropped that idea. Far too dangerous.
Instead, he bought running shoes. Each morning he poured out his heart to God during his run, then he hit the books like a seminary student. In the afternoons, he worked at the small mountain of paperwork from BD&M, keeping Walter Davis happy.
Since he’d destroyed his reputation at Preston Road Community Church, he never hesitated to make his way to the altar during the invitation to pray. He confessed his pride, his failure to love Bobbi selflessly, and his undeniable refusal to listen to anyone who suggested he was wrong.
The more he learned from Phil, the more he marveled that Bobbi stayed with him, even before the affair. He took her for granted, never listened to her, and bossed rather than led, but she loved him in spite of it all. Every day he prayed for the opportunity to love her the way she deserved.
A nurse entered from one of the side doors and called his name. She smiled and held the door for him. “Follow me,” she said, with a bright smile. Leading him into an exam room, she scanned his file. “They didn’t write down the reason for your visit.” She looked up at Chuck with her pen ready to write.
“That’s because I didn’t tell them.” Chuck relaxed when she laid her pen down.
“Let me get your blood pressure then.” She quickly took a reading. “One thirty-two over eighty-six,” she said, and wrote the number down. “Is that typical for you? It’s on the high end of normal.”
“Stress.”
“You might keep an eye on it.” She straightened his paperwork, then closed the folder. “He’ll be right in,” she said and then slipped out.
Within minutes, an enormous Polynesian man came in the exam room. He stood at least six-and-a-half-feet tall, with his long hair pulled back into a ponytail. His glasses hung on a chain around his neck. “Hi, I’m Andy Hokoana,” he said, extending his hand. After the handshake, he flipped Chuck’s file open and slid his glasses on. “Well, Mr. Molinsky, when you won’t say what you’re here for, I know it’s got to be about sex. So what is it?”
Chuck felt the heat rising on the back of his neck as Dr. Hokoana looked straight into his eyes. Shame stirred inside him. Just get it over with.
“I had an extramarital affair and my wife requested that I have an exam and get tested for sexually transmitted diseases.”
The doctor sat down and began writing. “Do you have reason to suspect you have a disease?”
“No.”
“No symptoms?”
“No.”
“Any other partners besides your wife and the other woman? I’m assuming it was a woman.” He looked at Chuck over the top of his glasses.
“Yes, it was a woman.” Sheesh! I don’t need this. “What else did you ask me?”
“Any other partners?”
“You mean ever?”
“Yes.”
“Twenty … twenty-five years ago. That doesn’t matter though, right?”
“That remains to be seen. How long has it been since you had sex with this other woman?”
“Five weeks.”
“Have you had sex with your wife since then?”
“No. Well, I mean, I was with my wife during the affair.”
Dr. Hokoana finished writing, closed the folder, and took his glasses off.
“Mr. Molinsky, your wife is wise to ask for this. She should consider getting tested as well. Should any results come back positive you’ll need to inform your lover …”
“She’s not my lover.” Chuck said.
“What you call her is irrelevant to me. My part in this is medical, not moral. Should any of the tests come back positive, you have an obligation to inform her, and these other women as well.”
“There won’t be any positive results.”
“If you knew that, Mr. Molinsky, you wouldn’t be here. Now then, I’ll do a physical exam, take some samples, and draw some blood. I’ll have you come back in for an HIV screen because that takes six weeks to show up. Then in a week or two after that, all your results will be back, and we’ll go from there. Any questions?”
“No, I guess not.” Inform my ‘lover?’ God … please. Spare us that much.
The doctor stood and slid open a drawer in a small metal cabinet. He took out a folded paper gown and tossed it to Chuck, smiling ever so slightly. “I’ll give you a few minutes. That opens in the front.”
*******
Bobbi drove to the church for her four o’clock appointment with Phil and Chuck for their first joint session. Throughout the day, twinges of hope welled up inside her, but reality choked them away. Chuck cheated, but he confessed. It hurt with relentless freshness every time she saw him, but she forgave him. In time, she would exhaust her store of protests, then he would come home, and life would go on.
In some ways, that appealed to her. Isolated and abandoned by her friends and church family, at odds with Rita, she questioned whether she was accomplishing anything by holding out.
She pulled into a parking place near the church’s side door. If she could get out of Phil’s office without losing her composure, it would be a major victory.
Chuck pulled in and parked his car beside hers. He smiled at her, then got out of his car and waited at her front bumper to walk inside with her. “How does it feel to have your first full week over with?” he asked.
“Great,” she said, brushing past him to open the door.
“Here. Let me.” He held the door for her. She eyed him with suspicious surprise before stepping through the door. Phil Shannon sat behind his desk with a half dozen books open in front of him. Chuck knocked on the doorframe.
“Wow, is it four already?” Phil asked, looking at his watch. He stood to shake hands with Chuck and Bobbi. Immediately, he grabbed the corner of his desk and sat down again.
“Phil? Are you okay?” Chuck took two steps around the desk toward the pastor.
“I’m fine. The doctor changed some of the medication I take for my blood pressure. He said to expect some dizziness for a little while.” He released his grip on his desk one finger at a time. “I just stood up too fast. It’s happened before.”
“We can reschedule,” Bobbi said, hoping.
“No need. I’ve worked all day. I’ll not stand up so fast next time.” Then with a smile, he said, “Come and sit.”
Chuck waited for her to sit before taking the other chair. She never looked in his direction.
Phil closed up his books and set them on the floor. “Let’s pray first,” he said and bowed his head. “Father God, we need You as we try to help Chuck and Bobbi heal their marriage. We know that it’s Your will for us to have strong marriages and families. Give us wisdom, compassion and patience. Glorify Yourself through all this. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
He leaned back in his chair. “First off, let me say, Bobbi, you and Chuck have already made great advances toward restoration and healing.” He glanced at Chuck, then spoke to her. “He’s taken this very seriously. In all the counseling I’ve done, I doubt if I’ve had two out of a hundred take it to heart and follow what I tell them. So far, Chuck is one of those.”
Bobbi heard Chuck shift in his chair and knew he was soaking in the compliment. How could she avoid being cast as the bad guy now? Chuck did everything he could, but she was unreasonable …
Phil continued, “I also appreciate your willingness to forgive. You’ve fought half the battle by separating the issue of forgiveness from the pain of the affair.”
His eyes darted back and forth between her and Chuck. “However, now it will get challenging. We’re going to get personal. I don’t want to mislead you. It’s going to be hard and it’s going to hurt. You’re both going to come up against some painful truth about yourselves and your marriage, but that’s how you heal. As long as we deny or ignore things, we can’t heal them.”
Bobbi crossed her legs. Personal, painful truth … great. Just what I need.
“I commend you both on being so honest and open through this. I also want you to know that nothing you say will cause me to think less of you, or shake my desire to see you work this out. All right?”
She nodded. Everyone wanted to see them work this out. They never spoke to her, but they supported her completely.
“Bobbi, how old were you when your mother died?”
Phil caught her off guard with the question. “Twelve. It was right after Rita married Gavin. Mama was growing weaker all the time, but she seemed determined to make it until the wedding.”
“Then it was just you and your dad?”
“Yes, but he had a lot of trouble coping with losing Mama. He withdrew from everything, and at some point, he started to drink. He was never a violent or abusive alcoholic. He hurt, and dealing with a teenage daughter was beyond his ability.”
She never talked much about her dad, and out of the corner of her eye, she could see Chuck lean forward, listening. “I never saw him. He came home from work and went to his room. Rita shopped and cooked for us. I took care of the house and raised myself.”
“You did a very good job,” Phil said. “Tell me about your spiritual life growing up.”
“We were raised Catholic, but Rita came here with Gavin after they married, and I came to some of the youth events. I got more involved and everything clicked when I was fourteen.”
“Then your dad died before you and Chuck were married, right?”
She nodded. “He died in February before we got married in July.”
“So why’d you marry Chuck?” Phil asked with a smile, glancing toward Chuck.
Bobbi took a deep breath. “From the moment I met Chuck, I felt like I was the only person in the world. He made me feel like I was the center of the universe.”
“What about now?” Phil asked.
“I feel like I’ve been tossed aside. Worn out, used up.” Bobbi kept her eyes fixed on Phil. She didn’t want to see if her words had any effect on Chuck.
“Can you go back a year or so and tell me how things were between you and Chuck then?”
“Good. We enjoyed each other’s company. We talked. What else do you want to know?”
“No complaints at all?”
“Things weren’t perfect. We never seemed to have enough time for each other, but I doubt anybody does.” Phil nodded slightly. He was giving her every opportunity, every possible opening to attack Chuck. She was her father’s daughter, though, and she preferred throwing up emotional walls, bearing her pain privately.
“Bobbi, I’m sure that the one overriding question plaguing you is ‘why.’ Even though we can make some headway on it, we can never explain it. Even if we could, that wouldn’t justify it.”
If we can’t explain it, why are we here?
“Here’s where it gets dicey. Each of you brings a past and a personality into your marriage. Those determine where the trouble spots in your marriage will be.”
Phil leaned forward, putting his elbows on his desk. “Everyone has trouble spots in their marriage, even Donna and me. Sometimes they lead to anger, bitterness, or resentment that hang over a couple for years. Many times a husband and wife don’t even recognize that they have fallen into discontent.”
Was that us? Did I discount all the signs?
Phil looked at her, then at Chuck. “All that is to say, that in order to protect your marriage from future problems, we have to identify and deal with all these issues.”
He then fixed his gaze on her alone. “My biggest concern is that you don’t come away from this process thinking you were the reason Chuck was unfaithful to you. You didn’t cause it. You didn’t drive him to it.”
Tears began to well up in her eyes. Had Phil convinced Chuck of that?
“Chuck was wrong. No matter what was going on in your lives, in your marriage, committing adultery was wrong.”
Chuck’s chair squeaked.
“But if things don’t change, you may be right back here at some point in the future,” Phil said.
I’m not coping this time. We can’t do this again.
“Now the flip side,” Phil said, turning to Chuck. “Just because Bobbi has been wronged doesn’t mean that she is intrinsically right on every issue that comes up. You still have to be the spiritual leader in the household. You can’t do that if we completely tear you down. We have to equip you for Christ-like servant leadership.”
Chuck, the servant? Not this Chuck.
“Finally, we need to get the two of you on a schedule. Starting out, I’d like to meet with you Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I know it’s a lot, but with you having dinner on the alternate days, that gives us the opportunity to address anything that comes up on those days. Unless you had plans, I included this Monday.”
Bobbi murmured her agreement with the schedule, as if she had a choice. Chuck took those choices away from her when he decided to commit adultery. So now, they would talk, three days a week, dredging up everything the two of them ever did wrong. She realized she missed Phil’s question, but Chuck was answering.
“Joel is great. I mean, considering everything. He’s a peacemaker.”
“How do you think Joel is coping?” Phil asked her directly.
“He looks at things simplistically, a black-and-white kind of kid. It’s hard for him to understand why things aren’t fixed already. He’s not the type to hide anything, so I usually know what’s going on inside him.”
“And Brad?” Phil asked.
“Brad is another story. He’s making progress. He’ll talk at the dinner table, although not to Chuck.” Bobbi glanced at Chuck. He leaned forward in his chair. “It’s hard to get an idea what he’s thinking or feeling because he’s very tight-lipped. There’s still so much anger and bitterness toward his dad. He’s embarrassed, and he’s had to let go of his beliefs about his family.”
Bobbi dropped her eyes. “I can identify with a lot of his feelings. He’s got a knack for saying exactly what I feel. Some days I’d like to vent that way.”
“What stops you?”
“Maturity.”
“Do you think it would help Brad if Chuck moved back home?”
“No. If Chuck were home, things would be worse.”
“Worse for Brad … or worse for you?”
“Just worse,” Bobbi said, dodging the question. She checked her wristwatch with an exaggerated motion. “Gentlemen, I have two boys I need to feed before the game tonight. I hope you understand. Besides, we weren’t going to solve it all this afternoon anyway.” Bobbi gathered her purse. “Chuck, you don’t need to walk me out. Phil, please don’t get up. Thank you.” Before either man could protest, Bobbi was gone.
 
“Wow, I hit a nerve,” Phil said.
“She said more about her feelings to you just now than she’s said to me through this whole situation,” Chuck admitted. “She won’t talk to me.”
“She’s coping by maintaining control of the dialogue.” Phil rubbed his eyes. “I’m going to have to rethink things a bit before Monday.”
“What can I do?” Chuck asked.
“Don’t press her. She doesn’t feel safe when she’s not calling the shots, so continue to be patient with her. It’ll be worth it.”
Chuck stood up to leave. “Are you going to be okay? You know, the dizzy spell.”
“Sure. Watch.” Phil leaned forward, grasping the arms of his desk chair. He stood slowly, carefully, paused for just an instant, and then let go of the chair. “See, it’s all technique.”
“This is nothing serious, right? They can control your blood pressure with medication, can’t they?”
“I come from a rotten gene pool. We’ve been watching my blood pressure since I was in my twenties. I’ve eaten low-fat, low cholesterol for years. My dad never saw age fifty, and here, I’ve made it to fifty-six. Don’t worry. It’s in God’s hands, not my doctor’s.” Phil smiled, and shook Chuck’s hand good-bye.
Chuck walked out of the church building, hoping Bobbi might still be around, and came face-to-face with a sheriff’s deputy. His cruiser blocked Chuck’s BMW. “Is there some sort of problem?”
“Charles J. Molinsky?” the deputy asked, checking the name on a large envelope.
“Yes.”
“You’ve been served,” he said, handing Chuck the packet. Chuck’s stomach tightened before he pulled the papers out.
 
TRACY K. RAVENNA, PLAINTIFF
V.
CHARLES J. MOLINSKY, DEFENDANT
 
In paragraph four, the words jumped off the page. ‘Sexual harassment.’ ‘Hostile work environment.’ On the next to last page, she asked for a quarter of a million dollars punitive and compensatory damages.
*******
After the football game, Bobbi and the boys walked across the deserted parking lot toward her car. Brad recounted every play from his on-field perspective, including his four catches for forty-five yards.
“Not a bad first game,” he said, swinging his bag of gear in a wide arc.
Seizing the opportunity as Brad paused to breathe, Joel yelled out, “Hey! That’s Dad’s car!” and took off at a dead run.
Brad’s expression clouded. “I told him not to come.”
“Let it go, and get in the car,” Bobbi said. She watched Joel talk to Chuck for a minute or two, then he ran back toward them.
“Can you believe he sat in the parking lot through the whole game?” Joel exclaimed as he reached his mother and brother. “He said to tell Brad he had a great game and he’d see us tomorrow.”
Bobbi turned to her older son, “See, your dad respected the boundaries you laid down, but he still wanted you to know how much he loves you, and how proud he is of you.”
“I’m not proud of him,” Brad said, already settled into a pout.
“Mom, Dad said he needed to talk to you over by his car,” Joel said. “He said it was important.”
*******
Chuck needed Bobbi right now. He needed her to understand, to share his outrage, to take his side. He watched her glance in his direction as she talked to Joel. Please, Bobbi …
*******
Bobbi looked across the empty lot where Chuck stood outside his car, waiting for her. “I’ll be right back,” she muttered. Once she got close enough to read his expression, she asked, “Chuck, I’m exhausted. Couldn’t this wait until tomorrow?”
“She’s suing me!” His eyes blazed, and his neck and face reddened. “That … She … She says I harassed her and created a hostile work environment! She came on to me! I didn’t …”
“How did you find out? She didn’t call you, did she?”
“I got served this afternoon! In the church parking lot!” He clutched a large envelope, holding it up for Bobbi to see.
*******
Across the parking lot, Brad and Joel watched their parents. “He looks mad,” Joel said.
Brad reached in his mother’s purse, pulled out her phone, and handed it to Joel. “If he touches her, you call the police.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“Depends on what he does in the next thirty seconds,” Brad said.
*******
Bobbi took the envelope from Chuck and pulled out the papers as he began to pace.
“This is ridiculous! She has no case. She never complained to Walter … That’s critical in a sexual harassment case, to get the supervisor involved … There’s no documentation …”
Bobbi strained to read by the parking lot lights. Giving up, she opened the passenger door of Chuck’s car and sat sideways, using the dome light. She waded through the legal language to the heart of the document. There, Tracy spelled out in unflinching detail what transpired during each of their three encounters. What she said. What he said. Every kiss … Every touch … It was all a matter of public record.
She rubbed her temple with now icy fingers. The boys … dear God, if the boys ever saw this … ‘The defendant placed his hand on the plaintiff’s thigh …’
*******
“Mom’s throwing up!” Joel said, poking Brad’s shoulder and pointing. “You think I should call an ambulance?” He held the phone ready.
“Easy, Joel,” Brad answered. “It’s just vomit, but keep watching.”
*******
“Bobbi, I’m sorry …” Chuck panicked. “Let me see if I can find some water or something.” He reached behind the seat, then started rummaging through the glove box. “I should have prepared you …”
“Pay her.” Bobbi wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, grasped the car door to steady herself, and started to walk away.
“I’ve defended these before. I know what it takes to prove harassment. She’s got nothing. Most of what she said is an out and out lie.”
“Most if it?” She spun back around to face him. “So some of this is true?”
“Well …”
“The conference room? At the law firm? Chuck, that’s disgusting!” She stared up into the night sky. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing her cry. “I didn’t think this nightmare could get any worse. I thought you had humiliated me as much as …”
“That’s just it, Bobbi. I can stop this in its tracks. No judge is going to allow this to move forward once I answer all these claims.”
“And I can’t risk having my sons exposed to this. Do you want Joel to hear all about the way you unbuttoned her blouse? Pay her, and get rid of her.”
“That’ll look like I’m guilty. And a quarter million dollars! That’s my whole retirement fund. I’ll have nothing left.”
“Chuck,” she snapped, her finger inches from his face. “I’m only going to say this once more. You pay that woman off. If you take this to court, I will divorce you.”

 

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