Chapter 12

 


Questions

 

Saturday, September 3

Bobbi forced her eyelids open, awakening to far too much light. The mantle clock showed a quarter after ten. Ten? I never … Not since the flu … She pulled herself up and checked the clock to ensure it hadn’t stopped during the night. It ticked away second by second. Ten fifteen.

She wandered through the family room where Joel was playing video games. “Hey, Baby, want some coffee?”

“Have I ever wanted coffee?” he asked, pausing his game.

“Did you get breakfast?”

“I’m okay.”

“No signs of life from Brad?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Yes,” she said with a gentle smile. “Thanks for letting me sleep.”

“You needed it,” Joel said. “Mom, can I ask you something?” He turned his game off, and laid the controller aside.

“This looks serious.”

“I know what you said last night about Dad needing to talk about work stuff, but …” He frowned and looked away.

“But what? You can say it, whatever it is.”

“When you and Dad … it looked a divorce starting.”

“Oh, Baby …” She pulled him close and smoothed his hair. Would she divorce Chuck over the lawsuit? She meant it when she said it, and last night, she would have signed the papers.

“I know you said Dad was the one upset, but you looked like you were just as mad at him.”

Bobbi sighed deeply. “I was upset, even angry with Dad.” I can’t lie, but I can’t tell him the truth either. “A lot of times Dad gets his mind made up and he doesn’t listen to anybody else. I tried to tell him what I thought, and sometimes the only way I can get him to listen is to get just as angry as he is.”

“So, did he listen?”

“I think I got his attention, yes.”

“Then what made you throw up?”

“I don’t know. Just an upset stomach, I guess.”

“You have those a lot,” Joel said, his eyes narrowing.

“It’s nothing, Sweetheart. Just a combination of fast food and aggravation with your dad.”

“But you’re not getting a divorce?”

There is no right answer to that question anymore. “Didn’t Dad tell you we weren’t divorcing?”

“Yeah. I guess I was just worrying, you know.”

“It’s okay. I worry sometimes myself.” She kissed the top of his head and left him to his game. In the kitchen, she waited for her coffee to brew, but phrases from the lawsuit crept into her thoughts. The defendant then said, ‘You don’t think I wanted you here to work on some ridiculous case?’ The plaintiff protested … She couldn’t face Chuck for dinner tonight with everything so vivid, so fresh.

He took Tracy to lunch. He called her. He talked to her that Sunday morning he skipped church. And he never mentioned any of it. What else had he neglected to mention?

Then again, Chuck couldn’t have done all that Tracy alleged. She made him out to be a virtual rapist. Where was the truth?

When the coffeemaker kicked off, Bobbi poured a large mug and retreated to the study. Her Bible lay on the edge of the desk with her devotional book stuck in the back, open to July 27. She hadn’t touched her Bible since that day. Guilt-ridden, she dropped into the desk chair and flipped to the current reading. Psalm 142.

All right, You’ve got me. I’ve been avoiding reading, avoiding You. I’ve already failed as a wife, and I’m failing as a mother. God, I don’t think I can handle reading about how I’m failing You, too.

Father, the lawsuit. The details in that … I thought knowing he cheated hurt. What do I do next? I told Chuck I would divorce him. The facts make it so much more painful. You know details worse than that about each one of us, and You put it aside and love us anyway. How? How do I put it aside and love him anyway?

I’m tired. I’m tired of hurting. I feel abandoned and alone. Even when I push You away, deep down, I know how much I need You. Don’t You leave me, too.

“I cry out to the Lord with my voice …

I pour out my complaint before Him;

I declare before Him my trouble.

When my spirit was overwhelmed within me,

Then You knew my path.

In the way in which I walk

They have secretly set a snare for me.

Look on my right hand and see,

For there is no one who acknowledges me;

Refuge has failed me;

No one cares for my soul.

I cried out to You, O Lord:

I said, ‘You are my refuge …

Attend to my cry,

For I am brought very low;

Deliver me from my persecutors,

For they are stronger than I.

Bring my soul out of prison,

That I may praise Your name …

For You shall deal bountifully with me.’”

Tears dropped onto the pages of her Bible. “You do know,” she whispered. “You do know. I am overwhelmed. I have no refuge left, and dear God, I’ve never been lower.”

She read the psalm again. There’s always hope at the end of a psalm. She savored the last line, “You shall deal bountifully with me.”

“When? When will You deal bountifully with me? Where does the sentence start? ‘Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Your name’. Out of prison.” Bobbi pushed back from the desk and took a long sip from her coffee. “Is Chuck the jailer? Then how do I get out?”

*******

Chuck rounded the corner, beginning the sixth mile of his morning run. Most mornings he stopped at three. His quads and calves burned from the extra distance. Somehow, it made sense to punish his body for all the trouble it caused him.

God, I’m in a no-win situation. Are You testing me? To see where my real priorities are? Well, I’m failing.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

But this wouldn’t be making peace. It would be rolling over and dying.

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.

She’s not persecuting me because of You, though. She’s trying to ruin me and destroy my marriage. She doesn’t want a relationship with me, so why can’t she just disappear? And why would she have to hurt Bobbi? Bobbi is innocent.

He’d never seen Bobbi so upset. Even that first night she hadn’t threatened to divorce him. She said ‘I can’t risk exposing my sons’ and not ‘our’ sons? Was that a slip?

After his run, he took a long shower, and then rummaged through his tiny kitchen, hoping a bowl of Cheerios wasn’t his only option for lunch. He debated all morning whether or not he should skip dinner tonight and give Bobbi some space. She stunned him when she called.

“Chuck, I don’t think I can do dinner this evening.” She sounded calm, but tired.

“I don’t blame you. I know you need to absorb … everything. I handled it all wrong.” He sighed, then asked, “What did you tell the boys?”

“That you found out some information from work which upset you, and you needed to talk.”

“True, but vague.”

“They don’t need any more specifics.”

“I know what you said about how to proceed, but I …”

“Chuck, I want you to talk to Phil about this. Get his take, and then we can see about having dinner again.”

“Sure,” Chuck said, trying not to sound disappointed. Her request was reasonable and pragmatic, very typical of her, but he hated the idea of giving up dinner, even for a few days. “I am sorry for upsetting you last night.”

“I don’t want to discuss this anymore until you talk to Phil. Goodbye.”

*******

Tuesday, September 6

Pulling into the parking lot at his law firm, Chuck felt a nervousness he hadn’t experienced since taking his first case. Yesterday, Donna called from the pastor’s office and cancelled the counseling session. He never got to discuss the lawsuit with Phil this weekend, and now he had to face Walter Davis unarmed. He took three deep breaths, picked up his briefcase, and walked into Walter’s office at exactly eight o’clock.

“Chuck, good to see you,” Walter said, standing to shake hands. “How are things?”

Chuck watched for Walter to sit, then he took a seat in one of the office chairs. “Bobbi and I are going through counseling. We’re able to talk.”

“You’ve done quite a job keeping up with things here. Maybe I should have you work at home all the time.”

“I’m not at home right now.”

Walter shifted in his chair, frowning with disapproval.

“Bobbi needs a little time and space, and it’s easier for her if I’m not there all the time. I have dinner with her and the boys three times a week. It’s amicable, and I’m sure everything will work out in time.” Chuck hoped he sounded more confident than he felt.

“I commend you for fighting to keep your family, for facing your … responsibilities.”

“About that,” Chuck said retrieving the lawsuit filing from his briefcase. Handing the papers over, he said, “Tracy has filed suit.” Davis’ jaw clenched. “She’s claiming harassment, but she didn’t name the firm. She never complained to you, did she?”

“Never.” Walter flipped through the papers, frowning and shaking his head with each new page. “She’s obviously mentally ill.”

“What?”

Walter rested his elbows on his desk and folded his hands. “This is not the filing of a competent attorney. It’s the rambling grievance of a scorned lover. At the very least, she’s emotionally disturbed.”

Chuck bristled at the word ‘lover.’ “So you agree she has no case. I expect it to be dropped as soon as I answer it.”

Walter scowled and shook his head. “Son, this is a shakedown, and you need to teach her a lesson. I want you to countersue her and destroy her.”

“I don’t know if that’s necessary.”

“You misunderstand me. That wasn’t advice. You are a partner in this firm, my number two man, and even though she hasn’t named the law firm as a co-defendant, there is an association there. I am directing you to file a countersuit and ruin this woman.” He stood up, signaling the end of the meeting. “Keep me posted, and I wish you and Bobbi all the best.” He shook hands with Chuck once again.

So, it’s my wife or my job. Chuck shuffled to his office and collapsed in his chair. Wonder if Bobbi would like to move?

He had just turned his computer on when Chad Mitchell knocked on his open office door. “Hey, Chad, come in,” Chuck said, motioning him into the office.

“Can I shut your door?” Chad asked, eyes darting toward the hallway. The young hotshot of the firm, charming and full of himself, he constantly pushed the envelope of decorum with Walter, but got away with it because of his competence and his gift for attracting good clients. Nervous agitation replaced that ease and self-assurance this morning.

“Sure. What’s wrong?”

Chad shut the door and sat down on the edge of one of Chuck’s office chairs. “I wanted to call you, Chuck. I wanted to, but I just didn’t have the guts. I am so sorry.”

“What are you talking about?”

“All this … you and Tracy … I was the one who told Tracy you were married. I had no idea …”

“You’re not making sense.”

“Yeah, okay. Tracy met Michelle and me after work one evening, and she said she was waiting for you. I don’t even remember what I said, but I mentioned your wife, and Tracy got a real funny look, just for an instant. Then she acted real cool. ‘You knew Chuck’s married, right?’ I said. She said, ‘Of course, I asked him for a joke.’ I didn’t know Chuck … about you and Tracy. I would have never said anything …”

“It’s okay. It’s good that Tracy found out.”

Chad stopped bouncing his leg. “Now, I don’t understand.”

“Having an affair was a sin against God, my wife, and family, and Tracy, too. I don’t think I could have or would have stopped it unless something drastic happened. You may not believe it, but God used you to keep me from doing even more damage.”

Chad smiled and shook his head. “You sound like my grandmother. She used to talk about God being directly involved in her life.”

“You don’t think He is?”

“If God exists, He surely has better things to do than micromanage my life.” Chad crossed his legs and leaned back in the chair. “Anyway, so what’s going to happen between you and your wife? If that’s not too personal.”

“We’re going to work through this.”

“Just like that?”

“No. I just took five weeks off to go through counseling by myself, and we’re going through counseling together. We’re still separated, but we love each other, and we’re committed to our marriage.”

“If I ever cheated on Michelle, you’d find my body parts in trash cans across three counties.”

“And that’s probably what I deserve, but that’s where God steps in.”

“And you get away with it.”

“Not at all. The consequences don’t go away. Things will never be the same between Bobbi and me. My boys have been hurt deeply, and who knows how much damage I did to my reputation. I didn’t get away with anything.”

“I’ll let you get to work. Thanks for understanding.”

“Before you go, I may need your help on a very sensitive case.”

“If it’s Tracy’s suit, I can’t. I had to file a statement for her. You’re on your own on this one.”

Chuck turned back to his desk as Chad left. Great. Tracy played the part of the betrayed innocent in front of Chad, and drew him into her game. Flipping through the lawsuit filing again, he had to agree with Walter. It was a slipshod job, not like Tracy at all. She never missed a comma in her documents, and he’d seen her turn down cases because she felt they were too weak, cases he would have taken.

Chuck pulled a legal pad from his desk and scribbled an outline for the easiest way out of this mess. Answer her allegations and let a judge throw it out of court. No trial, no need for a countersuit, and a more than sufficient reproof for Ms. Ravenna. When it was over, Bobbi would understand why he handled it this way.

*******

Friday, September 9

“Whose interest are you looking out for?” Phil Shannon asked, as he leaned back in his desk chair.

“It’s in everybody’s best interest,” Chuck said. “My name is at stake. Bobbi will agree with that.”

“But she hasn’t yet.”

“She wanted me to get your opinion first.”

“Do you want my opinion?”

“I promised her I wouldn’t do anything until I talked to you, but I don’t know how else I can get out of this.” He braced himself for the ‘right’ answer.

“Who says you have to get out of it? It’s ‘yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.’” He cut through the air with his hand. “That’s the thing. Whatever you face, even though it has the size and shape of death itself, once you go through it, you realize it was only a shadow, and had no real power to harm you.”

“So, you think I should fight this? Go to court?” This was more like it.

Phil reached across the desk for his Bible and leafed through it. “You know, my opinion is not worth much. Let me give you a better perspective. Here we go, Jeremiah 15:15. ‘O Lord, You know; Remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In Your enduring patience, do not take me away. Know that for Your sake I have suffered rebuke.’”

“I figured that’s what you’d say,” Chuck muttered.

“I know. I hate for people to start quoting Scripture at me, too, but it’s all I have.” He smiled and closed his Bible. “And then there’s one in the New Testament you’ve probably heard before. It’s in Romans where Paul quotes the Old Testament ‘vengeance is Mine’ and so forth, but he finishes saying ‘don’t be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.’”

“So I should resign from the law firm and pay Tracy off.”

“I didn’t say that,” Phil said with a slight smile. “Chuck, you are so ready to hear what you want that you don’t listen. I want you to overcome evil with good.”

“How can I do that without fighting Tracy?”

“By letting God fight this battle. Grab hold of that Scripture and make it your own. You belong to God, and He is more offended than you are by this injustice. He won’t let it go. Now, do you think you can handle this better than He can?”

*******

Saturday, September 10

Bobbi kept her promise and invited Chuck for dinner again, although she called for a pizza rather than cooking. It still qualified as dinner. Joel, excited to have his dad there, took control of the conversation during the meal.

Afterwards, Brad collected the plates and salad bowls and carried them to the kitchen. Chuck followed with the silverware and empty pizza box. Brad stunned his father when he spoke. “People are going to think you’re psycho if you sit in the parking lot for every football game.”

“I hope to see a game in the stadium before the season is over.”

Brad shrugged and walked out of the kitchen. Chuck counted it a huge victory that Brad initiated a conversation that didn’t end with him storming out of the room. These days, even the smallest victory was precious.

As Chuck set the dishwasher to start, Bobbi came in to refill her iced tea. “No yelling this time,” she said.

“Yeah, two whole sentences.”

“It’s a start.”

“I’ll take every break I can get.” Chuck filled a glass of tea for himself. “You want to sit out on the deck for a little while?” She surprised him when she agreed. He held the door for her, then waited for her to sit in one of the deck chairs before he sat down across from her.

Bobbi silently sipped her tea, so Chuck cleared his throat and spoke up. “Walter Davis is pressing me to file a countersuit, Bobbi. It’ll cost me my job if I don’t.”

“Then you don’t have a choice,” she said quietly, dropping her eyes.

“I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure something out.” He wasn’t technically lying, but he couldn’t risk telling her he was answering the charges. Not yet.

“What did Phil say?”

“He gave me some scripture, but he didn’t want to tell me what to do. I think he wants me to work it out for myself.”

“I see.”

“Look, can we talk about something else?” Chuck asked, sipping his tea. “You left Phil’s office in kind of a hurry the other day.”

“Did I?”

“You did. What is it about my coming home that upsets you so much?”

“It doesn’t upset me. You’re overanalyzing everything.”

“Then I can come home?”

“No,” Bobbi snapped. “I’m not ready yet.”

“What is it? What are you waiting for?” Chuck allowed too much of his frustration to show, escalating the tension.

“Why’d you do it, Chuck?” Bobbi blurted out, her voice raw with pain.

“I don’t know,” Chuck answered quietly.

“That’s why you can’t come home,” Bobbi said, her eyes brimming with tears. “If you really think your affair was just about sex, you’re either in denial or you’re an idiot!” She closed her eyes, and took several deep breaths before continuing. “Until you understand what you were looking for, what kind of connection you made with that woman, I can’t trust you.”

“But that’s why I’m in counseling. I’m going to figure it out, and I’m going to fix it.”

“After Mama died, I was so afraid to get close to anybody. I didn’t think I could stand to be hurt again.” She looked down. “Until you, that is. I gave you my whole heart, without reservation, because I never doubted how much you loved me. I finally felt safe and secure … and I let my guard down.” She finished in a whisper.

And he’d squandered the sweet, precious gift of herself that she’d given him that July afternoon eighteen years ago. “How can I even ask you to forgive me?”

“Forgiveness isn’t the issue. I can’t not forgive you. I love you.” Tears dropped from her dark eyes. Chuck reached out to hold her hands, hoping she would also let him hold her, but she pulled her hands away. “I can’t. I can’t touch you right now.”

She pushed away from the table and walked a few steps across the deck. “I see your hands … they used to be the hands I held, the hands that laid my newborn sons in my arms … but now it’s ‘the defendant placed his hand on the plaintiff’s thigh’ or whatever.”

She wiped a tear away. “I look in your eyes and all I can see in them is that frozen instant when I knew it was true. I’ve tried to latch onto some other memory, some other image of you, like when you passed the bar exam, or when the boys were born. Those memories, they’ve been swept away, and I don’t know how to get them back.”

Her tear-stained cheeks glistened in the soft light. He’d give anything to see her smile again. In spite of her heartache, she carried herself with such grace and strength. Why couldn’t he see that before now?

“I think you owe me the time and space I need,” she said at last, rejoining him at the table. “I have to figure out how I can live with you again.”

“I miss being home. I miss you.”

“This separation isn’t just hurting you. I hate it, and I hate how it’s affecting the boys.”

“Then why do it? I don’t understand.”

“Because it hurts less than betrayal,” she answered with unblinking frankness.

*******

 

Bobbi paced the living room, checking for Chuck’s car with each pass by the front window. They were going out for their anniversary. Never mind the fact that they barely spoke to one another this summer. Never mind the fact that he never came to bed until she was asleep. He offered to take her out to dinner and she accepted.

She’d made a promise to herself that no matter what he said, she would not shoot back any sarcastic, recriminating remarks. She wouldn’t talk about school. She wouldn’t say anything about his hours or his traveling. For three hours, she would be the perfect, supportive wife. If this didn’t help, then, maybe their marriage had deeper issues. She wasn’t ready to face that possibility.

She saw his car ease into the driveway and her stomach tightened. He strode into the house and set his briefcase by the stairs. Then he saw her. “Oh, you’re ready. I’ll just be a minute.” He took the steps two at a time. No ‘happy anniversary’. No kiss. Not even a hello.

He just didn’t want to keep her waiting. That’s all. She didn’t quite believe that, but it was all she could come up with. She could hear the squeaks and creaks as he moved around upstairs. Lord, give me words of grace.

A moment later, she heard him on the stairs. “I, uh, I forgot to make reservations … I’m sorry.”

“I don’t mind waiting.”

“So, what sounds good?”

“Italian?”

“Italian, it is.” His words, tired and lifeless, matched his eyes. “Oh, wait.” He knelt down, unlatched his briefcase, and pulled a small jewelry box out. “Happy anniversary.”

She opened the box, and the necklace inside took her breath away, ten or twelve diamonds set in yellow gold. “This is beautiful.” She carefully eased it from the box insert. “Here, help me put it on.” She handed him the unclasped necklace and turned around so he could slip it around her neck. It lay perfectly just below her collarbone. “What do you think?”

“It looks like it was made for you,” he said, nodding.

“Thank you.” She put a hand on his chest and leaned up to kiss him. Their lips missed, and they kissed each other’s cheeks. Still, that counted for something. “You want to see a movie after dinner?”

“I don’t even know what’s playing.”

“It was just a thought.” She picked up her purse and followed him to his car. He opened his door and got in. At least her door was unlocked. “It still smells new,” she said, when she got in. She picked up more than just a new car scent. Perfume. “Did you get to go out for lunch, today?”

“Yeah.” Chuck watched the rearview as he backed out of the driveway.

“I thought I smelled perfume.”

For an instant, Chuck looked stricken, but he recovered quickly. “I drove today, and Gina’s on ServMed with me.”

Gina. Thank God. Gina was safe. Over fifty. Happily married. Utterly professional. It was like taking Rita to lunch. Bobbi wanted to reach for his hand, but the constant shifting made it impossible.

“Speaking of driving, can you have the brakes checked on my car while I’m gone next week? Will you have time to do that?” Then she backtracked. “Wait, are you gonna be home?”

“I’ll be in Kansas City … uh … Wednesday and Thursday, but I’ll be back about the time you get home Thursday night.” He frowned and she prepared her apology, but he surprised her. “Yeah, Monday maybe. I’ll see what I can do. What’s wrong with them?”

“I don’t feel like they’re stopping the car.”

“They’re mushy?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“May just need fluid,” he mumbled.

They rode in silence the rest of the way to the restaurant, but Bobbi was satisfied to have a civil conversation, no matter how short. She took it as a good sign.

Just before eight o’clock, they arrived at the restaurant, and the crowd had thinned. The hostess seated them within a few minutes, and after giving their drink orders, Bobbi snapped the menu open. “I may just go with the shrimp thing, the special, but I feel obligated to at least look at the menu.”

Chuck nodded, but didn’t respond. Finally, he closed his menu. “I think I’m just gonna get the pasta salad.”

“Are you trying to cut back?”

He sipped his water and glanced across the restaurant. “I’m just trying to watch. With all the traveling, it’s easy to eat a bunch of junk. And the hotel over in KC has a pretty nice gym, so I try to use it when I’m there.”

“Can you still bench … what was it? Three hundred pounds?”

He gave her a half smile. “No, that’s been a while. Not since I was lugging stuff for Gene.”

“You were quite a catch, you know?” She smiled as she poured sweetener into her tea and stirred it. “Big broad shoulders … Joel is built just like you.”

Again, he didn’t respond. He was present in body, but clearly his mind was somewhere else. She wanted to press him, to question him and find out what was going on, but she had promised not to antagonize him tonight.

After several moments of awkward silence, she tried again. “I feel bad not being here Monday for our actual anniversary. We’ve never spent an anniversary apart.”

“Yeah, you’re taking all the pressure off me, by breaking the string.” He almost smiled again. “I’m glad you’re going. You need a break.”

Was he being sarcastic? How could he possibly know whether or not she needed a break? He had no idea what she’d been working on the last few months.

“I think when you finally get this case settled, Chuck, we should plan on taking a trip together to celebrate, to reconnect.”

“What if you’re in school by then?”

“I’ll take a personal day. We need this.”

“We’ll see. A lot can happen between now and then.”

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