Chapter 3

 


 
Friday, July 29
Chuck gave up trying to sleep and dragged himself out of bed before his alarm buzzed. ‘Think about what I said,’ Phil told him, as if he could think about anything else. Phil was wrong. He loved his wife. Just because he didn’t say it yesterday, or Monday before he left, or …
People can’t be married for eighteen years and not love each other. He loved his wife, and he would prove it to her and everybody else. Everyone was overreacting, blowing things way out of proportion. It wasn’t like he was unfaithful to his wife, he just had sex with …
Chuck, you idiot, that’s what unfaithful means. Phil’s right.
But he didn’t love Tracy. He didn’t want to be with her. Didn’t that count for anything?
He took a long, hot shower, but he didn’t feel any cleaner afterwards. He wiped the condensation from the bathroom mirror so he could shave, but seeing his reflection, he wished he could re-fog the mirror. He, Chuck Molinsky, cheated on his wife. He hadn’t imagined it. He hadn’t dreamed it. He’d done it. What did that say about him as a man? If he would sink to committing adultery, what else was he capable of?
He had a meeting with Walter Davis, senior managing partner of the firm, at eight o’clock to discuss ServMed. Yesterday, he couldn’t wait for this meeting. He visualized Walter saying, ‘You are the key member of my team here at BD&M. No one else could have handled ServMed.’ That tone would be a little different now.
As he tied his necktie, watching himself in the mirror, he rehearsed the rest of the conversation. He planned to ask for a leave of absence. He had no choice. Bobbi would be watching to see if he would take Phil’s advice. If Walter wouldn’t agree to it, he would threaten to resign.
Granted, he was gambling, but if he overplayed, Walter would take a step or two back. The old man would think he was being gracious, and Chuck would end up with what he wanted. Everybody won. Then Bobbi had to believe he was serious about making things right.
*******
Bobbi showered and dressed, thankful for the comfort of her morning ritual. In the early hours of the morning, she protested when Rita suggested she come up to bed to get some sleep. It wasn’t that simple. It wasn’t just her bed. She shared that bed with Chuck. His affair swept aside every memory of late nights, early mornings, lazy Saturdays, private jokes, intimate conversations. The very bed itself was defiled.
Before she started with the moisturizer, she stopped to study her face in the mirror. What changed? What was so undesirable that Chuck would look for someone else?
Granted, gray hairs stood out against the black ones, but her shorter, trendy haircut took a few years off. The wrinkles around her eyes betrayed more than a poor night’s sleep. She carried the extra pounds of a two-time mother. Chuck bought his midlife crisis car. Was he ready to move on to a trophy wife as well?
Dear God, what is going on with Chuck? Has he changed, or have I been blind all these years? How do we even begin to work through this?
Opening her eyes from her prayer, Bobbi reached for the bottle of moisturizer, but there beside it, her engagement ring and wedding band lay in a small crystal dish. Sometimes during the summer, the rings were tight, so she wouldn’t wear them. Yesterday, after her morning shower, when the rings didn’t slide on, she left them in the dish.
Should she leave them in the dish until she resolved things with Chuck? “I am still married,” Bobbi said, pushing both rings on. She vowed not to take them off again unless Chuck divorced her.
*******
Walter Davis welcomed Chuck into his office with a hearty handshake. “So, I understand things went well.” Walter outlived the firm’s other, much younger, founding partners, Jim Benton and Jim Molinsky, and attributed his longevity to bourbon and cigars.
Walter’s suits were black, his ties striped, and his cuffs French. He was sour, difficult, and humorless. Several of the firm’s attorneys remarked that after interviewing with Walter, facing a judge was a piece of cake.
“Very smooth,” Chuck said. “We got everything squared away quickly. I think both sides were closer than they realized.” He slid into one of Walter’s office chairs, the very same chairs Walter had when Chuck visited his dad’s office as a little boy.
“Very good. Your hard work paid off. Let’s see, Gina assisted on that one, correct?”
“She handled everything on this end while I was in Kansas City.”
“I’m glad to see you finally found someone who measured up,” Walter said, with just a hint of sarcasm. “After Eva and Jeanette refused to work with you again, my list was getting short.”
Walter leaned forward and folded his hands. “We had a personnel situation while you were gone. Tracy Ravenna gave notice in an e-mail and took her vacation.”
“She resigned?” Why would she …? Because of their … whatever it was? “When?”
“Yesterday. Her office is empty and I found her files outside my door yesterday morning. Did she have any personal issues you know about?”
There was the rope. Walter sat, watching, waiting for him to hang himself. Chuck shifted in his chair. Say it. You have to tell him. “Tracy and I had … we had an affair, Walter. It blew up in the last couple of days.” An uncomfortable silence squeezed him. He was dead.
Walter tipped his chair back, but his eyes stayed fixed on Chuck. “Your personal life is your business, but …”
The tension in the office intensified, so Chuck went on the offensive. “Since you brought it up, I need some time to try and put my life and my marriage back in order.” Walter’s expression didn’t change. Chuck tried not to stammer, annoyed that he let Walter intimidate him. “If you can give Blackburn to Pete and Will, and Ryder to Gina, I can handle the rest of my load.”
“What about Burke county, though? You and Tracy were handling that one.”
“You have her files. I can finish it up.”
Again, unnerving silence settled over the office and Walter glared at him a moment too long. “I don’t care what society says these days, this kind of behavior is despicable.” Chuck bristled at the lecture. “Your father was such an honorable man, a man of integrity, a good man. How could you do this to your wife?” As the indignation in the old man’s voice grew shriller, Chuck could feel the heat rising on the back of his neck.
“I can’t justify this.” Chuck matched Walter’s tone and volume. “I’m not trying to, and I’m not trying to get your sympathy. If you won’t give me the time I need to make this right with Bobbi …” Chuck hesitated, then lowered his voice, negotiating the way Walter taught him. “Then I’ll get my resignation letter together.”
When Walter didn’t respond, Chuck feared he’d miscalculated, and his resignation was exactly what Walter wanted.
“Tuesday after Labor Day,” Walter said, running his finger down his calendar. “I want to see you in here, with some progress on the home front to report.” He leaned back in his chair, scowling. “Now, are we facing any liability in this situation?”
“Liability?”
“Is Tracy Ravenna going to sue you, or us, for harassment or anything like that?”
“I don’t think so.”
“You’d better make sure.” He made several notes in his appointment book. “Get this straight. I don’t care if it takes your last dime to keep her quiet. I will not have this firm’s name, my name, dragged through the muck because of this. Do we understand each other?”
“Completely,” Chuck said as he stood to leave.
“I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.” Walter glared over the top of his glasses at him. “I cannot tolerate men of low character. If it weren’t for your father, you’d be at the unemployment office right now. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir.” Chuck nodded.
Without taking his eyes off Chuck, Walter punched a button on his intercom. “Christine, is Gina Novak here?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Have her meet with me in fifteen minutes.” He leaned back in his chair again. “Chuck, I’m giving Gina Homebuilders and Missouri Securities to Cary Morgan.”
“But I brought those clients in. They’re mine.”
“I’m also making Pete Weinberg a partner.”
“Are you replacing me, Walter?”
“I have to have men and women I can trust in the leadership positions in my firm.”
“Did you look at the numbers for ServMed?” Chuck jabbed a finger at the sheet lying on the desk in front of Walter. “That’s more than Gina, Pete, and Cary have brought in put together. I have never been anything but a consummate professional. You can’t penalize me for what’s going on in my personal life.”
“I can’t risk your next lapse in judgment coming with one of our clients.”
“You think I’m going to hit on a client? That’s outrageous!”
“The second line is always easier to cross. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have another meeting.”
Chuck couldn’t get out of the building quickly enough. How could Walter … how could he even think something so ridiculous? Can we just stick with the real sin, and not some intangible, worst-case scenario?
The real sin. With his leave of absence following on the heels of Tracy’s resignation, the wags would soon put two and two together. Maybe they would forget in the five weeks he was out of the office. Right now, though, it was eight fifteen, and he had nowhere to go.
*******
“This was a great idea, coming to the lake, Mrs. Molinsky. We’ve both been working way too hard.” Chuck dumped the charcoal in the grill, and carefully touched a match to the corner. “I don’t feel like we’ve had a decent conversation in months.”
“Yeah. Graduate school’s nuts. Project after project.” Bobbi wore his old, faded Missouri sweatshirt. Just one more thing that looked great on her. “Can you believe how warm it is? It’s almost November.”
“And Missouri’s playing Oklahoma State today. Just so you know what you’re worth to me.”
“You’re taping the game, though, aren’t you?” She crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow.
“All right, yes, I’m taping the game, but I’m here.”
“As long as your brain’s here, too.”
He took her hand and they walked down to the lake while the charcoal heated. “I know I’ve been …”
“A jerk.”
“That bad?”
“Yes. Your fuse is about this long.” She held her thumb and forefinger an inch apart. “Chuck, nobody expects you to make partner the first year after you pass the bar exam.”
“I know. It’s just … I want to make it on my own. I don’t want people to think I just got my spot because of my dad.”
“But you’re a very good attorney, very conscientious, thorough.”
“Thanks.” He knew she was trying to help, but she couldn’t begin to comprehend what his days were like. He sat down on the ground and steadied her as she nestled in beside him. “So, you picked out any school systems yet?”
“Good grief, no. They won’t know what openings they have until spring anyway.”
“But you’ll have your master’s. You’ll be all set.”
“I’ll have no experience, though. That could hurt me. They’d have to pay me more.”
“Good. You should be paid more.”
She leaned her head over on his shoulder and sighed. “You know, we’ve never had a break.”
“What do you mean?”
“From the stress. School, the wedding, more school for me, law firm for you.”
“Honey, that’s the way life is.”
“I just … I don’t know … I don’t want to lose ‘us’, you know?”
“Never happen.” He squeezed her close and they sat for a long time, not saying anything. No one ever needed him, needed to connect, the way she did. Maybe that came from losing her mom so early. She craved security, and he was doing his best to provide that. That’s what the long hours, the lunches, the dinners, the golf games were for. Building their future.
He leaned over and kissed her neck, inhaling deeply. The vanilla scent of her shampoo fit her. He kissed her again, and again, following her jaw line around to her lips, when she pushed away. “What’s wrong?”
“My stomach’s upset.”
“Since when?”
“I don’t know, all day.”
“You never said anything before now. Maybe you’re just hungry. Did you have breakfast?”
“No.”
“There you go. Let’s go check the grill.”
“Chuck, I don’t …”
He pulled her to her feet and walked her back to the grill. The coals were white hot. “I’ll have the steaks ready in no time.” He opened the cooler, and threw two T-bones on. They sizzled as flames licked around them. “I love that smell, don’t you?”
Bobbi was backing up toward the car.
“Where are you going?”
“I can’t … the smell … it’s making me nauseous.”
“You’re kidding.”
“No …”
Before he knew it, she rounded the bumper, and threw up in the weeds. “Bobbi!” He stood by, not sure if he should help, or what exactly he could do. “Why didn’t you tell me you were sick? I thought when you wanted to come out here …”
“I did,” she said weakly, then heaved one last time. “I’m fine. Really.” She pulled a tissue from the pocket of her jeans, and wiped her mouth. “It’s … it’s nothing.”
“It’s not nothing. I need to get you home. As soon as the steaks finish, we’ll get out of here.”
“No, I don’t want to go. It’s over now. It’s got to be over now.”
“What’s over?”
“The morning sickness. Sometimes it lasts all day.”
He spun around in front of her and took her shoulders. “What? What did you say?” A grin spread across his face and tears welled up in his eyes. “Morning sickness? Are you …? Are we …?”
She nodded, tears streaming down her face. “May, I think. Possibly June.”
“That’s … that’s fantastic!” He hugged her, kissed her, hugged her again. “A baby … I’m gonna be a daddy …” He laughed out loud, but saw she was still crying. “Honey, what’s wrong?”
“I wanted it to be … I didn’t want to tell you like this. I wanted it to be special.”
“It is! Bobbi, this is … this is … Wow! I can’t wait to tell Mom and Dad!” He hugged her again. “I love you. I’ll be a good dad. I promise.” He put a hand on her belly and spoke to the baby. “You hear that? I promise you, I’ll be the best daddy I can be.”
*******
Bobbi drove to Rita’s house, her eyes glued to the taillights of her sister’s car, making the turns without ever engaging her brain. She felt like the executioner, preparing to put innocence and idealism to death. She had to admit to her sons that she and their father were frauds, keeping up appearances while their marriage languished. Now that marriage was dying, it was going to take the boys’ security and stability with it.
The parenting books never dealt with this one. No sermons, no small group studies, no daily devotionals could walk her through it. She’d have to wing it. You can’t fall apart in front of them. Be strong, and they’ll be strong. Simple, straightforward, honest … You can do this. You have to do this. They have to hear it from you … and not Chuck.
Rita’s husband, Gavin, opened the front door before Bobbi got out of her car. She checked herself in the rearview mirror, took a deep breath, and strode up to the porch with as much calm control as she could fake.
Gavin, God bless him, didn’t have any sad pity in his eyes. He reached out and hugged her the way he always did, but he whispered, “Don’t choke him yet.” She had to smile.
“Not until tomorrow at the earliest.”
“I’ll get the guys,” he said.
“What did Gavin say to you?” Rita asked, following Bobbi into the house.
“Not to choke Chuck yet.”
“Yet. Remember that part.”
Gavin came back with two bleary-eyed boys. “Staying up too late, I see,” Bobbi said, brightening a little.
“Won’t have that option once practice starts,” Brad said, then he yawned.
“Guys, we need to talk.” Bobbi directed her sons to the living room, as Rita and Gavin faded back into kitchen.
“It’s about Dad, isn’t it?” Brad asked, slumping onto the sofa. “I knew it when I heard you on the phone. I knew something was up.”
“Yeah.” He couldn’t know. If I didn’t know, Brad couldn’t. She pulled the ottoman close, taking a seat on it as Joel slid in beside his brother.
“This is just like when you told us about Grandpa Jim,” Brad said. “Has Dad got cancer or something?”
“No, if you’ll let me talk …” she said in mock aggravation. Bobbi swallowed hard and looked into Brad’s eyes and then Joel’s, lingering over that last moment of ‘before.’ “Yesterday … your dad … I mean, I found out … your dad has had an affair.”
“What!” Brad jumped to his feet. “With who?”
“Sit down!” Bobbi said, with a sharpness she never intended. “That’s irrelevant.” She laid a hand on Joel’s knee. “Honey, do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Yes, Mom.”
“Of course you do,” Bobbi whispered. “You’re not a baby anymore, are you?” She patted his knee, giving him a half smile. Joel inherited his dad’s unruly, dark blond hair, his square jaw, and his blue eyes that sparkled with just a hint of mischief.
“Where is Dad?” Joel asked.
“I guess he’s at work. We were both too upset to talk last night when he got home, so he spent the night somewhere else.”
“Alone?” Brad asked through clenched teeth.
“Brad, stop it!” Bobbi took a deep breath to calm down. Control. Don’t take it out on the boys. This is between Chuck and me.
“Why didn’t he have the guts to tell us himself?” Brad pulled at a loose string on his shorts. “Why did he make you do it? The jerk.” The pout was already settling over him.
“All right, that’s enough.” She lost control of the discussion and she risked losing control of her own emotions. Pick up the thread again. Be a parent. “I don’t have any answers right now.” She sighed and tried her best to relax her fists and her jaw. “Uncle Gavin is going to tell Dad that I want to talk to him tomorrow afternoon. I’m sure he’ll be anxious to talk.”
“I’ve got nothing to say to him,” Brad grumbled.
“I know how hard this was to hear. I know you’re hurt and angry, and I’m so sorry.” Did Chuck ever consider this moment, his sons wrestling with the reality that he cheated on their mother? Did this ever cross his mind when he chose another woman?
“Guys, I’ll be real honest with you. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if your dad wants to leave us, and I don’t know if I want him to, but it’s going to be tough to pull us all back together—”
“Mom! What is there to pull back together? How can you even consider—?”
“Brad, please … I’ve spent the last day crying and puking my guts out.” Tears began to form. “Right now, I’d like to take my sons out for breakfast, because I could really use the company.” Bobbi tried to smile through the tears. She felt a hand sweep across her back, and then a gentle pat as Joel reached over and hugged her.
When Joel let go, she glanced at Brad, but he twisted around her and out of the living room. “Go get your gear,” she said to Joel. The boys returned moments later. “We can talk about this any time you need to. Don’t keep things all bottled up, okay?” Joel nodded. Bobbi waited until Brad made eye contact. “Okay?” she prompted. He nodded and then looked away.
She was failing again. She had failed as a wife and now she was failing as a mother. “Head on out to the car. I’ll be right there.” Bobbi walked back into the kitchen to let Rita know they were leaving.
“We’re going to get out of here. Thanks for everything.”
“I wish I could do more.” Rita hugged her again. “How did it go?”
“I’ve got a volcano and an iceberg.”
“You sound more upset for telling the boys than Chuck is for committing adultery in the first place.”
“Chuck is upset.”
“Then where is he? Why wasn’t he on your doorstep this morning begging you for forgiveness?”
“Probably because Phil told him to back off and give me some space,” Bobbi shot back. “Listen, I can’t fight him and you and Brad.”
“I’m not trying to fight you, Baby. Don’t cut him any slack, all right?”
“I’m not.” Bobbi headed toward the front door with Rita following. “I’m sure we’ll need you again before this is all resolved.” Bobbi opened the front door and stepped out onto the porch.
“Gavin and I will be here.”
“How’s the Pancake Place sound?” Bobbi called to Brad and Joel as they got into the car. For once, Joel didn’t challenge Brad for the front seat.
 
 
 
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