Chapter 2

 

 
Chuck let reflex take over and drove to his office. In the parking lot, he shut the car off and slid his seat all the way back. She’s going to divorce me. She hates me and she’s going to divorce me. In spite of all his preparations, the battle never materialized. Once he saw Bobbi with his own eyes, he couldn’t fight her. He couldn’t sit back and let her leave, either.
Think. There’s gotta be a way out of this. Who would Bobbi listen to? Besides Rita. Phil! Phil and Donna. Their pastor and his wife would never go along with divorce and Bobbi trusted Phil. Donna Shannon could convince a cat to give up chasing mice and make the cat think it was his idea all along. They were perfect. If he could get the Shannons involved, he may have hope after all.
He fished his cell phone out of his pants pocket, but he didn’t have the Shannons’ phone number saved anywhere. New plan. Get a hotel room, then call Phil from the hotel.
*******
With her tears exhausted, Bobbi opened her eyes to a darkened house. Chuck hadn’t returned. That meant he wasn’t coming back. Of course he’s not coming back. I said I hated him. Here, my marriage is dying, and I took it off life support.
Her head throbbed, and turning on the kitchen light made it explode with pain. Bobbi snapped the light back off and called her sister.
“Hello?” Brad answered the phone.
“Honey, let me talk to Aunt Rita.”
“Mom, are you okay? You sound sick or something.”
“I’m fine.” Get him off the phone before I lose it.
“Did Dad make it home?”
“Yeah,” Bobbi whispered. She hated lying to him. How was that any different from what Chuck did to her? Because she lied to protect her son. Brad had no way to grasp the upheaval coming in his life, and she was shielding him. That was completely different, wasn’t it? “Honey, could you get Rita?”
“Sure, Mom.”
“Bobbi, what’s wrong?” Rita asked. “Is Chuck okay?”
“Chuck …” Bobbi took a deep breath and tried again to choke out the words. “Chuck … I found … he had an affair, Rita. He cheated on me.”
“What?” A heavy silence followed. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure.”
“Are you at home now?”
“Yes.”
“I’ll be right there.”
*******
Rita Heatley drove to her sister’s house, her foot heavier on the accelerator with each passing mile. A block away, the light changed. “I don’t have time for red lights,” she muttered, jamming the brake pedal to the floor. How many times had she tried to warn Bobbi about him? She knew it was only a matter of time before he did something like this. “The golden boy’s not going to be able to talk his way out of this one.”
 She screeched to a stop in front of Bobbi’s house, but before getting out, Rita sat in her car and counted. “One, two, three,” she whispered, with a breath after every number. Can’t lose my temper. Have to be calm for Bobbi’s sake. “Thirty-one, thirty-two.” Gavin questioned her self-control, but she could do this. “Sixty-seven, sixty-eight, sixty-nine.” She could keep her own feelings in check at least for tonight. “Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred.”
Rita let herself in the front door and called Bobbi’s name. She tiptoed from room to room until she found Bobbi in the kitchen, a wastebasket full of used tissues in the floor beside her. “Baby, I am so sorry,” she whispered, as she knelt and wrapped her arms around Bobbi’s shoulders. “So sorry.”
Bobbi twisted away from her sister. “What did I do wrong? I don’t understand.”
“Baby, don’t talk that way.” She took Bobbi’s hands and once again became the surrogate mother. “You didn’t do anything to deserve this, or cause this. If Chuck had an affair, it is one hundred percent his fault. Do you understand me? His fault.”
“There’s no ‘if’ about it,” Bobbi said, motioning toward the study. “Read the e-mail. Chuck didn’t deny it when he came home.”
“He came home?” Rita pulled a chair around and sat down.
“Briefly. Then he left again.”
“Did he go to … her?” If he’s with that woman right now …
“I doubt it. She didn’t know about me, either.”
“Who is she?”
“Someone from the law firm. I don’t know her.”
“I can’t imagine what today’s been like for you. You should have called me earlier.”
“I wanted to talk to Chuck first.” She dropped her head and fidgeted with the corner of a paper napkin. “I didn’t want him to know how much he hurt me. I exploded on him.”
“You should have!” Rita tapped the table to get Bobbi to look up. “You were completely justified.”
“But I didn’t give him a chance to explain.”
“You can’t trust anything that comes out of his mouth now. Chuck is a liar …”
“He’s never lied to me!”
Rita closed her eyes and tried to focus on relaxing her clenched jaw. “I’m not going to argue that with you tonight.” She concentrated on keeping her voice low. “Does Chuck want a divorce?”
Bobbi’s lips started to form words, but she made no sound. She rolled her eyes up toward the ceiling and let a long breath escape. “I think he does.” Her words were so soft and weak that Rita strained to hear them over the hum of the refrigerator.
“Then there’s no sense fighting him.” The sooner Bobbi grasped that, the better.
“I want to talk to Phil before I do anything.”
“Phil will want you to drag this out for months and months.”
Bobbi snapped upright in her chair. “This is going to end up my fault. No matter what I do, Chuck will spin it until he’s the victim. At least I can say with a clear conscience that I tried everything I could.”
Good girl. “You want me to call Phil now?”
Bobbi nodded. “I don’t want Chuck to get to him first.”
*******
When the doorbell rang, Bobbi spit the mouthful of Listerine into the bathroom sink. Rita convinced her to eat something, but the soup and toast wouldn’t stay down. Now she had to look her pastor in the eye and explain, try to explain, how her marriage imploded in the last twelve hours. If she survived that, then she had to convince Phil that divorce was the most rational alternative.
“Bobbi? They’re here. You okay?”
“I’ll be right out. Go ahead and let them in.” She splashed cold water on her face and took one last deep breath. God, forgive me. She slipped out of the bathroom and met everyone in the entry hall. “Thanks for coming,” she said, hugging Donna, and then Phil. “Come in and sit down.”
Bobbi motioned them into the living room and sat on the sofa with Donna and Rita, while Phil sat in the armchair, facing them. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, engaged, but not pressing … yet.
“Bobbi, Donna and I are just heartbroken for you.” Phil’s years of ministering in the Midwest hadn’t robbed him of his gentle Tennessee accent. He often reminded Bobbi of Andy Griffith, and she expected that ‘now Opie’ tone of voice any minute. “I understand this is very personal, but what can you tell me?”
“We got an e-mail from Chuck’s office from a woman named Tracy. I tried to call Chuck. When he came home, he didn’t bother denying it.” She smoothed the fringe on the throw pillow to avoid Phil’s eyes. “Oh, I listened to his phone messages. He lied to her, too. She never knew Chuck was married.” As a tear made its way down her cheek, Rita reached over and squeezed her hand.
“Do you want to end your marriage?” Phil asked without shaming her or rebuking her, and she raised her eyes.
“I don’t have any other option. He doesn’t love me—”
“I know it looks that way.”
“He never said it, Phil.” She slammed the pillow against the arm of the sofa. “He had hours to prepare his statement before he got home. There was no, ‘Bobbi, I love you’, no ‘please forgive me.’ Nothing. He’s through, and the quicker we can …” She blinked several times, then dropped her eyes. Don’t cry. Not in front of Phil and Donna. “There’s no sense dragging things out. I’ll give him his divorce.” Bobbi felt Rita’s hand on her back.
“I don’t blame you,” Phil said.
“Really? I didn’t think you’d go for that.”
“I didn’t say I agreed with you, I just don’t blame you for drawing that conclusion. Bobbi, can I ask you some hard questions?”
She nodded and let a deep breath escape.
“Do you want a divorce? Not what you think Chuck wants. Do you want a divorce?”
“I don’t think so. No.”
“Do you love Chuck?”
“I did.”
“That’s a great answer.” Phil smiled at her. “Would you be willing to accept, at least for right now, that your marriage might be restored through the grace and power of God?”
“That’s up to Chuck. I’m not going to fight him.”
“But are you going to fight God?”
“Depends on what God says.” Bobbi folded her arms across her chest, bracing for the sermon.
“I appreciate your honesty. Here’s what I’ve heard in your answers, but don’t hesitate to correct me. You love your husband. You hate the idea of divorce, but he’s backed you in a corner. However, if he could prove himself, you’d consider giving him another chance.”
“You’re good. I didn’t realize I’d said all that.”
“I was inferring.” Phil smiled. “So I was close?”
“Dead on.”
“Then I want you to do a couple of things for me.” He leaned forward and counted on his fingers. “First, don’t do anything. Don’t file papers. Don’t sell his stuff. Don’t get a tattoo, okay?”
Bobbi managed a smile and nod.
“This is a real shock to your life, and I don’t want either of you to do anything rash. Second, I’m going to ask you to let this sit for about three weeks.”
“That long? Why?”
“Because you’ve had a death in the family. I hope we’re not looking at the death of your marriage, but a lot of your ideas and beliefs about your marriage have died, along with the trust you had in Chuck.”
“That’s an understatement.”
“Take some time to mourn, process your emotions, before we address what happens next. I also want to spend some time counseling Chuck one-on-one, if he’ll agree to it, before we start working with the two of you. When does school start?”
“The twenty-third. The kids start on the twenty-fifth.”
Phil pulled his calendar from his back pocket, unclipped the pen, and scribbled a quick note. “Rita, is Gavin working full days, now?”
“Yes, but I’m sure he’ll help however you need him.” Phil nodded and made one more note before returning the calendar and pen to his pocket.
“So, what am I supposed to do in the meantime?” Bobbi asked. “Pretend like this never happened?”
“Not at all. It’s going to take you two or three times longer to get ready for school than you expect. Your boys are going to need you … I’m asking for three weeks to counsel Chuck. If he and I don’t make any progress, we can revisit your decision to divorce him.”
“You can fix him in three weeks?”
“No,” Phil said, raising a hand. “I didn’t say that, but we’ll know if there’s anything worth fighting for in that time.”
“You don’t think he wants a divorce?”
“I haven’t talked to him, but I’d be very surprised if he did.”
Bobbi sat in silence for several moments. Three weeks. Chuck could lay all the groundwork to ruin her in a divorce court in three weeks. “You’re asking a lot.”
“I know it, and I’m going to add one more. Don’t let what’s happened with Chuck get between you and God. God’s going to take care of this and He’s going to take care of you. I promise you that He wants to walk every step of this road with you. Don’t shut Him out.”
Bobbi averted her eyes again. “Where was God, Phil? Chuck’s supposed to be a believer. I don’t understand how God could let this happen.”
Phil pushed his fists together in front of his chest. “There’s an irresolvable tension that exists between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. He never forces man to act or prevents him from acting. God is never caught off guard by our choices, and His purposes are always fulfilled in spite of our interference.”
Bobbi nodded and answered with an unsatisfied, “I see.”
“That’s seminary talk for ‘I don’t know.’” He dropped his hands and smiled at her. “I don’t doubt that you’re angry with God right now, too. I’d be naïve to think otherwise. However, the fact is, I can’t help you if you won’t let Him guide the process.”
She knew he was waiting for her to agree, to promise she’d go along with that, but she couldn’t. Not yet. At least Phil let it drop.
“Is there anything else Donna or I can do for you or the boys right now?” he asked. “Get your groceries? Cut your grass? Anything.”
Bobbi shook her head and shifted on the sofa. “I don’t mean to come across angry with you. I appreciate you coming. I just … How could he hurt me like this?” She clenched her jaw. She refused to let the Shannons see any tears. Chuck wouldn’t get that victory.
Donna slipped an arm around Bobbi’s shoulder. “Honey, I don’t know about Chuck, but I will tell you that you don’t have to worry about our feelings. We love you and we understand.” Bobbi pushed away. She didn’t want pity. She wanted someone to tell her she should be furious, that she should want to kick something or throw something, that not even God Himself expected her to absorb this.
Phil knelt between the coffee table and the sofa and held out his hands. “Can we pray with you?” Bobbi reached her hands out as Rita and Donna moved to join hands as well. Phil let out a long, slow breath before beginning.
“Father, You are good, and You know all things. Help us see Your hand at work, and follow Your leading. We know it’s never Your will for families and marriages to be destroyed, but we also know that they’re some of the enemy’s favorite targets.
“Dear God, we need Your wisdom, Your grace. Help Bobbi in her pain, in her uncertainty. Give her rest tonight and in the coming days, and a clear focus on her boys and her job. Help all of us hold her up and show her Your love and comfort. Protect her from unkind words and accusations and help her to feel Your presence with her. Amen.”
When Bobbi raised her head, she was startled to meet Phil’s eyes. “Did you pray?” She nodded, thankful he didn’t ask for details. “Do you know where Chuck is now?”
“No, he left a while ago.”
“I’m going to call him after we leave here.”
“I know.”
“Do you want me to give him any messages?”
“None I’d care to repeat,” Bobbi said, as Phil stepped back out of the way.
As Donna reached to hug Bobbi, she said, “This will work out. It will be hard and it will hurt, but Bobbi, if anyone can weather this storm, it’s you and Chuck.”
“Donna, I don’t have your confidence.”
“We’re going to get out of here,” Phil said. “Try to get some rest.” He and Donna hugged Rita and Bobbi once more. “Call us if you need anything,” Phil offered, and then they slipped out the door.
As Rita turned the deadbolt behind them, Bobbi asked, “Want some coffee?”
*******
Warm temperatures with a light breeze made it a perfect summer night. Occasionally, the scent of freshly mowed grass would drift in through the open sunroof of Chuck’s car. Stars twinkled in the clear sky, and Bobbi could tell Chuck was up to something. He knocked over a glass of water at dinner, and she’d never heard him stutter before.
He reached over and took her hand as he turned onto the road out to Dixson Lake. She was relieved when he suggested the drive. Her father would be passed out, so she had nothing to go home to. Chuck listened to her, made time for her, enjoyed being with her. She loved the easy way they got along. Tonight, he even wore a tie. Nobody ever wore a tie on a date with her. Every time she thought about him leaving, though, she got queasy.
“We should move somewhere where you can wear sundresses like that all the time.” Chuck kissed the back of her hand. “I never knew a woman’s shoulders could be so beautiful.”
“You should have a very fine career as a smooth talker.” She shook her head at him. He said ‘we’. ‘We should move.’ “I’ll move anywhere you want to.”
“How ‘bout Evanston?”
“Evanston? I thought you were going to Chicago.”
“Yeah, Northwestern’s in Evanston.”
“What’s the deal with that? Missouri’s got a law school.”
“My dad went to Northwestern. He set up some fund for me to go there right after I was born.”
“And what if you hadn’t chosen law school?’
“Now, that’s crazy talk.” He grinned at her and his blue eyes twinkled. “So, are you coming with me?”
“You paying for my college?”
“I’ll figure out something.”
“Your mom and dad don’t like me, anyway. That would cinch it.”
“They love you.”
“If you say so. My dad needs somebody, though. I probably should stick close.”
“I had to give it a shot. At least try and convince you.” He whipped his car into Dixson Lake State Park and navigated around to the boat ramp. “Wanna look at the stars?”
“It’d be a shame not to.”
He parked the car and got out, but he stopped and opened the trunk before he came around to her door. He was definitely up to something. A moment later her door clicked open, and he offered her his hand. He carried a blanket draped across his other arm.
“I figured it would be more comfortable sitting on the grass and I’d hate for you to get your dress dirty.”
“What a gentleman.” And she meant it. He was. They wandered over to a spot of grass beside the asphalt ramp. He spread the blanket out and steadied her as she eased down, then he dropped in beside her. He nuzzled her neck, kissing her just behind her ear. “Okay, that’s too much.” She leaned forward.
“Tickles?”
“Yes!”
“I’ll quit. That’ll spoil the mood.”
“What mood is that?”
“This one.” He brought his leg around so he could sit up and face her. “Bobbi, this has been the most incredible summer of my life. I’ve never known anybody like you, and I am hopelessly, eternally in love with you.”
He took both of her hands and electricity shot through her. Could he be ready to …? No … It was way too soon for that, although she’d imagined marrying him since that first day.
“I don’t want you to ever question how much I love you.” He leaned back and pushed a hand into the front pocket of his Dockers, and her heart flipped. When she saw the ring box, she thought she might faint. He smiled and pulled a diamond solitaire out of the box, and held it up. “Bobbi …” He had tears in his eyes, and she couldn’t stop her own eyes from brimming. “Bobbi, would you marry me?”
“Yes … Yes! YES!” She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. “Yes!” She held her hand up so he could slip the ring on. It fit perfectly. Of course. Mrs. Chuck Molinsky. She was going to be Mrs. Chuck Molinsky.
*******
“Then we went out to the lake.” Bobbi watched her sister’s eyes, but Rita’s expression never changed. “And it was absolutely perfect. The stars were out and there was a breeze … So anyway, he says, ‘I’m hopelessly eternally in love with you and I don’t want you to ever question that.’ And he pulls out this ring box. I thought I’d die right there.”
“What did Daddy say?” Rita tipped her hand. She didn’t approve, and now she was looking for ammunition to make her case.
“He said he’s a good boy, and if I was happy, that’s what mattered.”
“And he was sober when he said that?”
“I caught him before work this morning.”
Rita chewed her bottom lip. “This … this is really fast. You’ve only known him a couple of months, and you’re just barely eighteen.”
That one she could answer. “First of all, we’re not getting married until we get through school. And second, you were seventeen when you got married! Not just engaged, married.” No sense dragging this out. May as well jump right in. “Why don’t you like him?”
“He’s a spoiled brat. I’ve seen the labels on his pants. We could buy two weeks’ worth of groceries for each pair.”
“His parents quit giving him money once he started this summer job. He pays all his own living expenses.”
“Doesn’t matter. He still has that mindset.”
“Being poor doesn’t make you a better person. There are as many poor jerks as rich ones.”
“Bobbi, here’s the thing. I know him. He’s a playboy. He’ll say anything to get what he wants from a girl, then …”
“Was.”
“Was what?”
“Was a playboy. He’s a believer, now. He hasn’t even had a date since he became a Christian. Well, until me.”
“He told you this?”
“Yeah, he’s been very open about things.”
“Did he also mention he asked Lisa Mellon to marry him, then dumped her after she slept with him?”
“That’s not what happened. He never …”
“Bobbi, that’s his story. Andrea and I are best friends. I think she’d know what happened with her little sister.”
“It doesn’t matter, now. He’s different.”
*******
Before he started his car, Phil called Chuck. “Do you think he’ll talk to you?” Donna asked.
“I’ll find out.” Chuck answered on the second ring, and Phil smiled at his wife. “Chuck, this is Phil Shannon. Can I come and see you?”
“That’d be great. Thanks. Lobby of the Embassy. I left a message on your machine. I hoped—”
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
Phil dropped Donna off at home before heading to the Embassy Hotel. “I’ll be praying,” she promised as she slid out of the car.
“I’ll need it.” Phil pulled in a parking spot right on schedule. He turned the car off and prayed as he walked across the lot. Father, I need You again. Help me give Chuck wise counsel. Please let him have a listening heart. Give him the courage and resolve to do what he needs to do now. In Jesus’ name.
The Embassy strived to emulate the luxury hotels downtown. Glistening marble floors, rich wood, and shiny brass fixtures trimmed out the expansive lobby. The big screen television broadcast CNN to the sofas, chairs, and plants. On a Thursday night, everyone had a better place to be. Everyone but Chuck Molinsky. Phil spotted him, in his Brooks Brothers suit and tie, trying his best to appear successful and in command.
Chuck stood well before Phil made it across the lobby, but he never raised his eyes. Phil stopped an arm’s length away and extended his hand. Chuck hesitated, but as soon as he made a move to shake hands, Phil pulled him into a hug. “How are you, Chuck?”
“You’ve talked to Bobbi?” Chuck took a seat, and Phil followed his lead.
“I just came from there.”
“Then you know what I’m up against. How do I keep her from leaving me?”
He watched Chuck perched on the edge of his seat, ready to hear a failsafe strategy, some quick, three-step plan to restoration. Phil intended to shatter that idea. “Do you want to leave Bobbi?”
“What? Leave? Does she think I want—?”
Phil’s raised hand to cut him off. “Do you want to restore your marriage?”
“Of course, Phil, I—”
“Will you listen to me and do what I advise you to do?” Phil softened his tone. “Or at least consider my advice?”
“How was Bobbi?” Chuck asked. “Do I have any hope?”
“You’ve got a hard road ahead. She’s hurt … bewildered … angry.” Phil leaned back in the chair. “But, I don’t think it’s hopeless by any means. Although Biblically speaking, Bobbi may be within her rights to divorce you, she didn’t say she wanted a divorce outright.”
“Thank God.”
“Speaking of God, have you approached God about this?”
“Kind of.”
“That’s your first priority. Until you confess this adulteryto God, and repent and get His forgiveness, you’re not going to get anywhere.” He leaned forward again. “Let me back up a step.” He fixed his eyes on Chuck’s. “Do you genuinely believe in Jesus Christ?”
“Of course. Just because … That doesn’t mean … Why?”
“It’s different when an unbelieving man cheats on his wife. The approach to restoration is different. Plus, a believer has additional accountabilities.” As he spoke, Phil began to count on his fingers. “To the Lord first, but also to his church.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I mean as a believer, you answer to the church as well. Your sin was public, or soon will be, so you’ve got to make it right … publicly.” Phil let that statement hang. Chuck’s eyes widened as it sunk in.
“You want me to go in front of the church? I’ll get eaten alive! I can just see me up there trying to stammer through a confession with a hundred freelance judges scowling at me. With all due respect, Phil, that’s beyond crazy.”
“You might be surprised.” Phil leaned all the way back in the overstuffed chair, sliding his hands behind his head.
“I might not.”
“You asked me how to keep your wife from leaving you.” Phil dropped his hands down to the armrests. “That’s where you start. You confess it, renounce it, and get your church family behind you.”
“What about Bobbi? This is between us. Shouldn’t I be dealing with her?”
“You can’t demand grace, Chuck. You have to wait until she offers it.”
“How do I get her to do that?”
“You’re not listening to me. You can’t.” Phil leaned forward and looked Chuck in the eye. “In this short time, I’ve noticed something very significant. In fact, it’s going to be the key to what happens next.” He had Chuck’s undivided attention now. “You don’t love your wife.”
Chuck jerked himself to his feet. “Of course I do! Where do you get off—?”
“Then why didn’t you tell Bobbi you loved her when you got home?”
“She wouldn’t let me! She unloaded on me as soon as I walked in!”
“Since I got here, the focus of your conversation has been on yourself, and you never mentioned to me that you loved her.”
Chuck dropped back in the chair. “That’s not fair. All I can think about is making sure I still have a wife.”
“And you won’t, unless you give up this self-centered imitation love, and learn how to love her sacrificially. We can’t restore the marriage you had. We have to rebuild it from scratch.” Chuck nodded. Maybe he did understand. “You have to rebuild your credibility with her. In three weeks.”
“Three weeks?” Chuck jumped up and paced away from Phil. “I have to make her trust me in three weeks?”
“No, but you have to show her that you’re making progress toward change, or she’s not going to invest herself emotionally in counseling. She will divorce you.”
“I guess you’re going to tell me how to do that.” Chuck shoved his hands deep in the pockets of his slacks.
“There’s nothing mysterious about it. In a nutshell, you have to get past the guilt and shame and learn to live in Christ’s grace, and you have to make yourself worthy of Bobbi’s trust. That’s where the confession comes in. Also, you have to accept that there are some things in your marriage, in your life even, that will never be the same.”
“I know.”
“Let me throw out some things you may not have thought of yet. You can’t be alone with a woman again, ever. No meetings, no taxis, no elevators.”
“That’s going overboard, isn’t it?”
“No such thing, anymore. I’d recommend you not work late at your office, but bring it home.” Chuck didn’t protest. “You can’t give Bobbi the slightest reason to doubt you ever again. Your integrity has got to be beyond reproach.”
“Yeah,” Chuck whispered, easing back into his seat.
“This other woman, is she a Christian?”
“I doubt it.”
“You need to apologize to her for how you’ve treated her, and then break off all contact with her. I imagine she’s not going to be very forgiving.”
“That’s putting it mildly. She found out I was married about the same time Bobbi found out about her.”
“How could a woman you worked with not know you were married?”
“It never came up.”
“What about your wedding ring?” Phil asked, pointing to the finger where the ring should have been.
“Oh, it’s not what you’re thinking,” Chuck said, holding his hand up for Phil to see. “About four years ago, Gavin wanted to take his son-in-law, John, you know, Kara’s husband, and Danny deer hunting, and he asked me and Brad to go. I fell out of a tree and broke my wrist and these two fingers on my left hand,” he said, indicating his little finger and ring finger. “See, they’re kind of crooked.” Phil nodded. “I just never got my wedding band resized.” Then his voice grew quiet. “I never made it that much of a priority.”
“Don’t you have any pictures of Bobbi at work?”
“Yes, right on my desk!”
“I’m getting off the subject,” Phil said. “We don’t need to get into all this tonight. Bottom line, Chuck, is you’re going to have to let Bobbi set the pace here. Don’t force her toward reconciliation before she’s ready. It may take a long time, but she deserves to do this on her terms. Answer every question she asks, but don’t volunteer things yet.”
“Isn’t that deceitful?”
“No, it’s giving her time to absorb things. While Donna and I help her work through things, you and I will focus on how this happened in the first place. Then, we’ll get to counseling you together about where the two of you go from here. Well, the four of you. The boys will have to be a part of the healing.”
“I haven’t talked to the boys yet.” Chuck mumbled.
“Brace yourself. It’ll be almost as difficult as facing your wife. For the next couple of weeks, you may feel like that’s all you get done, admitting your adultery.”
“How many people do I have to tell? If I confess it at church, won’t that take care of it?”
“You have coworkers. You’re going to have to be straight with them. There’s your mother. Then there’s going to be gossip, embarrassment, and even when you and Bobbi reconcile, this is a specter that won’t go away. Ever.”
Chuck nodded, and Phil hoped his words registered. “Years from now, it may rear its ugly head, and you’ll feel like you have to prove yourself all over again.”
“I will do anything it takes to make this right.” Tears began to fill his eyes. “I really do love Bobbi.”
If Chuck was lying now, he was making a good show of it. Phil put his hand on Chuck’s shoulder and bowed his head. “Father, You see Your son here. You know his heart and You know what he has to face. Honor his sincerity and help him to honor You in his life. Restore his marriage and the trust between him and Bobbi. Help us come alongside him during this time.” Before Phil could say amen, Chuck began to pray.
“God in heaven, I’m not worthy to call You, Father. I have sinned … I broke my marriage vows … I’ve dishonored You … and my wife … my family and my church. God, I am so sorry. God, I need Your forgiveness again. Dear Jesus …” Chuck dissolved into sobs.
Phil squeezed Chuck’s shoulder and picked up the prayer. “Thank You, Jesus. Bless Chuck and help him to know You’ve heard his prayer. Let him feel Your love and forgiveness. In Jesus’ name, amen.” When Phil opened his eyes, he saw Chuck with his head bowed, tears spotting his designer slacks. Dear God, he is sincere. Thank You.
When Phil stood to leave, Chuck hugged him with a backslap that echoed through the empty lobby, causing the desk clerk to look up. He let go a deep sigh, and said, “Thanks, Phil.”
Phil smiled. “Ninety percent is showing up.” He took a step toward the lobby door to leave. “You golf?”
“It’s almost a job requirement. I keep my clubs in the car.”
“Let’s go tomorrow, say, one o’clock. I’ll call Gavin, and we can talk more then.”
“At Billings or Milford Glen?”
“Billings. I can’t afford to lose that many golf balls.” Phil shook Chuck’s hand. “Think about what I said, and try to get some sleep.”
*******
Silence hung over the kitchen as Bobbi made the coffee. Could Phil Shannon really get Chuck to change in three weeks? No. No one could pull that off. Chuck was a good guy, but he was the center of his own universe. She loved Chuck—she did this morning, anyway, but she wouldn’t beg him to stay.
When the coffeemaker kicked off, sheturned to Rita. “So, should I divorce him?”
“Maybe … probably … I don’t know.” Rita sighed. “See if he’s willing to be straight with you and tell you everything.”
“Everything?”
“If you’re ever going to trust him again …”
“What if I don’t want to know everything?” Bobbi set a coffee cup in front of Rita, and sat across the table from her.
“It’ll be worse if you’re left to fill in the details yourself.” Rita stirred sweetener into her black coffee.
Worse? How could it possibly be any worse? “Here, see if you can figure this out. That e-mail was sent Monday. Why is it just now showing up in our inbox on Thursday?”
“That’s strange.” Rita took a long, slow sip from her coffee. “Do you check your e-mail every day?”
“Every morning.”
“What about Chuck? When does he check it?”
“Who knows. He gets tons of mail from work through that account when he travels.”
“Have you gone through it?”
“No. I would never …” Maybe she should. Maybe Tracy had e-mailed before.
Rita thought for a moment. “I think God did it.”
“Did what?”
“The e-mail. I think God wanted you to find out, so He held that e-mail up until you were the one checking.”
“He had to do something, because I was too stupid to figure it out for myself.”
“Bobbi, you’re a very trusting person, and trusting people aren’t suspicious.”
“I never had reason not to trust Chuck. Good grief, all the traveling he does, the late nights he works … he’s had plenty of opportunities.”
“Don’t. Don’t unleash your imagination. That’s the last thing you need. Besides, he can’t keep your Christmas presents a secret. How on earth could he hide a long-running affair or a series of affairs from you?”
“Maybe you’re right.” She twisted her cup on the table in front of her. “You know what today is?”
“The twenty-eighth? What?”
“The day Chuck asked me to marry him. Twenty-one years ago today. Now we’re on the brink of divorce.” Bobbi looked up at the ceiling to keep the brimming tears from spilling onto her cheeks. “The last thing he said to me was that coming home was a mistake. Rita, if he divorces me, I can’t maintain this house and everything on a teacher’s salary.”
“If he divorces you? Listen, if that jerk—”
“The jerk is still my husband.”
“If he has the nerve to file for divorce after what he did,” Rita said, tapping the table for emphasis, “you take him for everything he’s worth, and you do it with a clear conscience.”
“That doesn’t sound very Christ-like.”
“This is about protecting yourself and the boys.”
“The boys. How am I supposed to explain this to Brad and Joel?”
“Make him do it.”
“I can’t wait for that. I need to tell them tomorrow.” She took a long drink from her coffee. “They look up to their dad so much. I hate … I hate to destroy that.”
“Chuck destroyed it.”
As they sat in silence, Bobbi mulled over everything Phil and Donna had said, along with Rita’s advice. Forgive and reconcile, or divorce. She couldn’t decide without hearing from Chuck himself. “Saturday,” Bobbi blurted out.
“Saturday, what?”
“I want to talk to Chuck on Saturday. Alone. Here.”


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