Chapter 4

Company

Brad passed the ride in sullen silence, his bottom lip curling. He slouched into a booth at Pancake Place, but instead of picking up a menu, he took a packet of sweetener and flipped it back and forth on the table in front of him.
“Brad, what are you thinking?” Bobbi asked.
He pressed his lips together and shook his head.
“I wish you wouldn’t hold it in. You’re not gonna shock me, no matter how angry you are.”
“Not now.”
“Later?”
“Mom … just … drop it, okay?” He spun the sweetener packet between his thumb and forefinger, without ever looking up.
She couldn’t let him brood like this, but across the table, Joel squirmed, bursting to talk. She smiled at him. “You know what you’re gonna get?”
“Strawberry waffles!” Joel’s shoulders relaxed and he grinned. “And bacon, and can I get hash browns?”
“Sure,” Bobbi said. “Brad?”
“I’m not hungry,” he mumbled.
“Brad,” Bobbi said. When he didn’t answer, she spoke his name again with a parental edge. “I don’t feel like eating either.” The strong aromas of bacon and sausage triggered a fresh round of nausea.
“Mom, is Dad moving out?” Joel asked. Brad shot him a ‘don’t ask stupid questions look,’ which he ignored.
“I think that would be best for a little while,” Bobbi said. “When the waitress comes, order strawberry waffles for me, too.” She slid out of the booth and excused herself to the ladies’ room.
Bobbi washed her hands in cold water, splashing a little on her face. God, how do I parent them? How do I get Brad to open up? How do I make Joel understand I can’t answer his questions?
After her mother died, Bobbi craved stability and security. Maybe Brad and Joel needed those same things, the stability of a routine and the security of the familiar. Focus on those. She dried her hands, fluffed her bangs, and went out to rejoin her sons. Before she reached the booth, she overheard Brad arguing with his brother.
“Don’t you get it? It’s over! They’re splitting up.”
“Mom didn’t say that.” Joel spoke with a calm and matter-of-fact tone. She wished he could bottle some of that up for her.
“This is not some stupid movie where everybody lives happily ever after. Dad chose somebody else. He’s a liar, and I don’t care if I ever see him again.”
“I think you’re wrong. And I can see you crying.”
Dear God, Joel is so naïve and simplistic. What’s going to happen to him if he’s wrong? Bobbi eased into the booth, careful not to look in Brad’s direction. She didn’t want to embarrass him or tip him off that she’d heard the argument.
“I ordered for you,” Joel said, then nodded toward his brother. “He ordered, too.” Brad stared across the restaurant at nothing in particular.
Bobbi took a long drink from the coffee in front of her. Since Brad vented to Joel, maybe she could pull a little more out of him. “We may be in for some changes, guys, but no matter what happens, we’ll be okay. We love each other, and we’ll get through.”
“Dad doesn’t love us,” Brad said, without anger, just indifference.
“He does. He loves you guys more than anything.”
Brad looked her in the eye for the first time. “How could he love me, and then do this?”
She wondered the same thing. “You’re asking for answers I don’t have right now.” She watched him disengage, folding over every other scallop on his paper placemat, and she gave up. “So, what time does football practice start Monday?”
*******
Still feeling the sting of Walter Davis’ insinuations, Chuck caught himself two exits away from driving into Illinois. He pulled off the highway and backtracked through the downtown and toward the suburbs once again.
Tracy found out Wednesday. But she didn’t call until Thursday. Wednesday night she could have talked to him, but she knew he had a meeting Thursday morning. She knew she’d get his voice mail. Why’d she wait?
What’d she do in the meantime? Besides clean out her office. Which didn’t make any sense either. But had she confronted Bobbi Thursday morning? Was that how this all went down? Some strange woman showing up on the doorstep … No wonder Bobbi exploded on him.
Bottom line, he secured some time off. That counted as a win. Bobbi knew what his job meant to him. She had to see that as a sacrifice on his part. She knew that he talked with Phil, too. This afternoon, he planned to get to her through Gavin.
Bobbi trusted Gavin’s judgment without reservation. If he could persuade Gavin to see his side, then that would get back to Bobbi, and this whole thing would be over.
Now, how to approach Gavin? He had to be simple and straightforward. Gavin would cut through any pretenses. I made a mistake. No, it was a sin. Gavin would be listening for that. I’ll do whatever Bobbi says to make this right. Let her set the pace, Phil said. She needs time. I need to know that she’s willing to try to work this out. That’s all I’m asking for.
It sounded fake. What if he just went to the golf course and let the conversation develop naturally? That terrified him. But he did it all the time. When he negotiated, his intuition kicked in, and the discussion never came across scripted.
He still wanted to practice. At the next red light, he popped his cell phone off his belt, and dialed the other woman who hated him, then he held his breath until Tracy’s machine picked up.
“Uh, Tracy …” Get a grip. Be a man. “Tracy, this is Chuck. I got your messages. Everything you said was true. I took advantage of you and that was wrong. I’m sorry you felt that you had to resign from the firm. You’re an excellent attorney and I’m sure Walter will give you a favorable recommendation to any other firm you choose.” He sounded like a disappointed boss firing her. Proof positive he needed a script. Say something, Stupid. It’s still recording. “Look Tracy, I … uh, I gotta put things back together with my wife. I’m sorry.”
*******
Bobbi fumbled with the house key, trying to get the door unlocked before the phone stopped ringing, but the machine kicked on. “You have reached the Molinskys,” Chuck’s voice said. “You’ll never catch us if you don’t leave a message.” Gotta change that message.
“Brad, this is Cooper DeWitt. You wanna go shoot a round? Call me.” Bobbi appreciated the invitation from the youth minister for Brad’s sake, but Cooper called because he knew. How many other people knew?
“Did you get that?” Bobbi slipped into the downstairs bathroom for an aspirin.
“Not interested,” he called, already upstairs. The door to his room banged shut.
“Joel,” she called, “do you want to help me laminate?”
“Be right there, Mom,” Joel answered.
In the study, school papers fanned out across the floor, just where Bobbi left them Wednesday evening. The familiar and the routine. She picked through the papers, trying to reestablish where she had left off, when the phone rang.
“Bobbi, good morning.” Chuck’s mother, Ann, called at least every other day since moving to South Carolina after Jim died. “Did Chuck make it home?”
“Yes, he got in last night.” Which is not a lie.
“Good. He should be home for a while, shouldn’t he?”
Lie or drop the bomb? She needed Ann as an ally. She had to tell her. Bobbi took a deep breath and thanked God she couldn’t see Ann’s face. “Chuck and I are having some problems right now.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I know Chuck can be difficult. He takes after his dad that way.”
“It’s more serious than that. He … While he was gone on this trip, I found out he was having an affair. I confronted him, and he didn’t deny it.” After a long, uncomfortable silence, Bobbi continued. “I don’t know much more right now. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you.”
“Oh, Honey.” The energy, the life had drained from her voice. “Who was it?”
“Someone from the law firm. I have her name, that’s it. I don’t have any idea how long it’s been going on … if this is the first time—”
“Bobbi, no. I can’t imagine. Does he want a divorce?”
“I don’t know. Things got too heated last night, so we’re taking some time to cool off. I think we’ll talk tomorrow.”
“So Chuck walked out?”
“Chuck spent the night somewhere else. I’m trying not to read anything else into it.”
“What can I do? I feel helpless being so far away.”
“Pray for us, Ann, and for Brad and Joel.”
“Oh, of course. Those poor boys. They know, I guess.”
“I told them this morning. Brad took it much harder.” Again, silence. “I don’t want to give you the impression things are hopeless. Chuck and I have both met with our pastor individually, and I think Chuck is meeting with him again today. Until he and I can talk, though, I can’t say what’s going to happen.”
“That’s wise. I’m sure you’re still in shock.”
“I’m going to try to work on some things for school today to keep my mind occupied.”
“What was he thinking?” Ann asked with whispered disbelief.
“That’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question. I wish I knew.”
“I won’t keep you on the phone.” Now Ann’s voice wavered. “You are the best thing that ever happened to Chuck. Please don’t give up on him.”
Give up on him? Bobbi dropped the phone back on its cradle. He gave up on me. Did Ann not hear what she said? Chuck had the affair. Chuck walked away from the marriage. But of course, Ann sided with her only son.
Bobbi eased down to the floor, then snatched the nearest stack of papers and slung them across the room. She always gave in and smoothed things over. Not this time. She was right, he was wrong and she wasn’t going to give him an inch. She could picture Chuck, this very minute, laying out his points, preparing to maneuver her into a corner emotionally so she’d let it all go. Never again.
*******
Chuck found a parking spot and pulled his golf bag out of the trunk without glancing toward Gavin and Phil. He wiped his sweaty palms on his slacks and then swung the bag up to his shoulder. His marriage, his future, his life hinged on this meeting. He could not screw this up. Joining the others, Chuck shook Phil’s hand, but then he broke one of his own first rules of negotiation. He couldn’t look Gavin in the eye.
“I’ll get us a cart.” Phil abandoned him and walked into the clubhouse.
Gavin held out his hand. “This is going to be a long afternoon if you won’t face me. I’m your brother, you know.”
Chuck shook hands with his brother-in-law. “I, uh, I wasn’t sure you’d see it that way.”
“I’ll be real straight with you.” He took a step closer and leveled a finger. “What you did was disgusting.”
Chuck flinched. This isn’t a meeting. It’s a set-up, a chance for Gavin and Phil to team up against me.
“You callously hurt people I care deeply for and you trashed vows that I heard you make before God to your wife.” After that last jab, he dropped his hand, and his tone softened. “The only way any good can ever come from this, though, is for me to love you as my brother, and do everything in my power to help you.”
Chuck dropped his eyes. He’s going to be a tough sell, but sounds like he wants to get us back together. “I’ve never felt so helpless … I … I’m afraid I’ve ruined my life.” He kicked at piece of gravel on the sidewalk.
“Let me give you some hope, then. Bobbi wants to talk to you tomorrow afternoon.”
“Phil convinced her?” ThankGodthankGodthankGod.
“No, she told Rita last night to see to it that I passed the message along to you.”
Yes! A chance to talk to his wife. He and Bobbi could work this out if they just had some time and space.
“Gentlemen, we are all set.” Phil rejoined them and swung his bag up to his shoulder. “Just let me go after Chuck, so I can see how these holes are supposed to be played.” He grinned and wrote their names on the scorecard.
On the first green, watching Phil line up his putt, Gavin said, “Chuck, Phil mentioned to you about going before the church, didn’t he?”
“I need to get things settled with Bobbi, first. It’s between us.”
“It is, and we can’t make you do anything, but you can’t serve in any capacity until you deal with it publicly. This wasn’t just Phil’s idea. All the deacons and Cooper agree.”
“I can’t face these people and admit this. I’ll look like the biggest hypocrite in the world.”
“You’re a hypocrite if you don’t.” Phil dropped his putter back in his bag. “All of us are broken, fallen, with nothing except what God gives us in Christ. This is not for the church to shame and humiliate you. It’s a chance for us as your family to come alongside and stand with you while you go through the restoration process.”
“In the twenty-some years I’ve been in church, I don’t recall anybody making a public confession. You can’t tell me I’m the first guy who did anything wrong.”
“I give everybody the same counsel,” Phil said.
“You think that might say something about your advice?”
“Do it Sunday night then,” Phil offered. “There will be fewer people there, and a more relaxed atmosphere.”
“Have you told anyone yet?” Gavin asked.
“I told my boss this morning. He gave me five weeks off to work things out with Bobbi, which is more time than Phil gave me.”
“I didn’t say you had to have it all worked out in three weeks. I said Bobbi needs to see committed progress very soon.”
“She will.” Chuck jerked his bag off the ground and climbed into the golf cart.
“You want to get some of this out of your system?” Gavin asked when he joined Chuck in the cart. “I think the secrecy is wearing on you.”
“There’s nothing to tell. We had a new attorney join in February. She’s very attractive. She came onto me and I fell for it. It’s that simple.”
“It’s never that simple. How were things between you and Bobbi?”
“Okay.”
“Everything?”
“Yeah, everything.” Chuck rolled his eyes. “Can we drive to the next hole please?”
“I should probably wait for Phil.”
Chuck crossed his arms and frowned. “This thing with Tracy, it’s got nothing to do with my marriage. That wasn’t why it happened. I never considered leaving Bobbi. It was purely physical.”
“I don’t think so,” Gavin argued. “I can believe you never wanted to split with Bobbi, but I think this woman met some emotional need, or you wouldn’t have gone back to her.”
“And your psychology degree is from where?” Chuck’s voice dripped with sharp sarcasm.
“The ugly truth is that you wanted this to happen and you allowed a situation to develop that made it possible.”
Chuck’s eyes narrowed in anger, but he didn’t answer Gavin.
“You have to be honest with yourself first,” Gavin said, “or Bobbi will never believe you.”
“Have you told her all your theories, Dr. Freud?”
“Of course not.”
“Then don’t. I hoped that you, of all people, would extend some grace.”
“If your definition of grace is condoning what you did, or letting it slide, then no, I can’t.”
Chuck played the final holes in silence and mumbled through his goodbyes. Gavin was way out of line, totally off base. He didn’t have any ‘emotional needs.’ Why was it so hard to understand that he simply gave in to a seductive coworker? He and Bobbi were fine. They were just ‘settled,’ that’s all. They had their own lives now. Isn’t that what happens to everybody after fifteen or twenty years?
At any rate, tomorrow afternoon, he would get his chance to sit down and talk with Bobbi, and all this going before the church and emotional needs talk would be irrelevant. He stuffed his golf bag in the trunk of his car just as his cell phone rang. Plucking it off his belt, he saw his mother’s phone number.
“Not now. I don’t have the energy to go through this with her.” He answered with all the cheerfulness he could muster, hoping to get her off the phone quickly. “Mom, how are things?”
“Chuck, I talked to Bobbi this morning.” He’d heard that kind of grief in her voice only once before, the morning she called after his dad’s death.
“I see.”
“Don’t you have anything to say?”
“What can I say, Mom? You want me to say I didn’t do it. Or maybe it’s not my fault? The fact is, yes, I cheated on my wife and, yes, it’s all my fault!” He realized he was shouting. His voice dropped to a near whisper. “I’m sorry.”
“What happened? Why would you …?”
“I don’t know.”
“That’s garbage! Why didn’t you just ask Bobbi for a divorce instead of hurting her this way?”
“Because I don’t want a divorce!” Chuck yelled, then tears formed. He glanced toward the clubhouse, hoping nobody was watching the lunatic in the parking lot, ranting one minute, crying the next. Going for the only privacy available, he opened his car door, and collapsed in the driver’s seat.
“Mom, I love Bobbi, but I can’t explain what happened. I’m scared to death she’s going to leave me. I’m afraid she’s going to leave and take the boys with her.” His voice trailed off, and he dissolved into sobs.
“Listen to me.” Her voice invited, rather than commanded. “Bobbi is afraid that you’re through with the marriage. If she knows there’s something to save, she’d be willing to give you another chance.”
“You think so?” Chuck lifted a little.
“Yes, but …”
“I knew it. There’s always a ‘but’.”
“Yes, but,” Ann repeated, “you’re going to have to drop that Molinsky ‘I know everything—I can do it all myself’ attitude. That might work in the courtroom, but not in this situation.”
“I know.”
“There you go again with the ‘I know.’ Son, you don’t have this kind of humility in you. God is going to have to give it to you.”
Chuck thought of his resistance to going before the church and his simmering anger at Gavin for speaking the truth to him. His mother nailed him. With Phil last night, he prayed out of humiliation, not humility. The discovery embarrassed him far more than the sin shamed him.
“Phil wants me to go before the church and confess this.”
“Then you should do it. Give up the fight, Chuck, or you’re going to lose your family.”
*******
“Have you got a few minutes now?”
Chuck looked up from his desk and saw Bobbi standing in the doorway of the study. He didn’t, but she said she needed to talk days ago and he’d put her off. “Sure. What’s on your mind?”
She frowned, and slipped a hand across her belly. The baby was kicking again. “Can we … I don’t want the desk in between us.”
He laid his pen down and walked around the desk. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah … It’s just … The baby will be here in a few months.”
“You’re gonna be a great mother.” He took her hand and smiled.
“That’s just it.” She pulled her hand back. Her eyes darted past him, then to the floor. “Chuck … I’m … I want to stay home with the baby. I’m not going to look for a teaching job for the fall.”
“What?” Her words stung like a slap in the face. “After everything you’ve worked for? Why would you throw that away?” This was crazy.
“I’m not throwing it away.”
“Yes, you are! What brought this on? Did you have a bad day at school or something?”
“You don’t give me any credit at all. Just because I’m not a lawyer …”
“That’s ridiculous. I’m upset because you made this decision just like that!” He snapped his fingers. “Without even talking to me about it.”
“I beg your pardon! I’ve tried to talk to you about this for three months! You’re never here, and when you are here, you’re holed up in this study! I feel like your roommate, not your wife.”
“I have some ambition. I’m not going to apologize for that.”
“And I do, too!”
“Not like you should!” He lowered his voice and took a long deep breath. “You’re brilliant, for crying out loud. I don’t know anybody that finished their undergraduate degree in three years, and you’re wasting that reading Clifford the Big Dog all day long. You belong in medical school, or in a research lab or something. At the very least, you should be looking at being a principal.”
“It’s not about me. This our child. He’s a gift God’s entrusting to us.”
“I realize that.”
“But you don’t think he’s worth my time?”
“Anybody can change diapers and wipe noses. Anybody can sing the ABC song. You should be doing more. My mom’s around. She’s already asked me what we’re doing with the baby.”
“And what’d you tell her?”
“I told her we haven’t made a final decision. And we haven’t.”
“I have.”
“This is an epic mistake. I’m not going to go along with this.”
“Then divorce me.”
He waved a hand at her. “That’s your hormones talking.”
“You’re insufferable.” She turned and walked out of the study.
He groaned. Why was she making this so difficult? He didn’t have time for this today, but he knew better than to let her walk away. “There’s no way you’re gonna convince me you really want me to divorce you,” he called after her. “You’re being dramatic to make a point.”
She whipped around and they stood inches apart in the narrow hallway. “And you’re being a patronizing jerk. Again.”
“You’re only hearing the ‘no’.”
“The no? You’re not going to ‘let’ me stay home? You’re going to drag me to work?”
“Just stop for five seconds. You’re not listening to the reason behind it. I want the best, the very best for you …”
“No, Chuck, you want to do things your way.” She jabbed at him, almost touching his chest. “If it’d been your idea for me to stay home, it would’ve been the greatest solution to childcare this century.”
“That’s not true!”
“Did your mother stay home?”
“Yes, but …”
“Then why are you bucking this? Your mother is extremely gifted. Why was she not a failure for staying home?”
“I did not say you’d be a failure.” He took a deep breath and dropped his head. You can’t negotiate when emotions take over. He had to be calm. He had to be the rational one. “Bobbi, Mom’s situation is different. She lost two babies before I was born, and another one after me. It messed with her, I think.”
“Then you should be able to grasp where I’m coming from.” She’d quit yelling at him. His way worked. “I lost my mother when I was twelve, and I may as well have lost my dad then, too. I don’t want my son to grow up without me.”
He drew her close, as close as her belly would allow, and kissed her. He wouldn’t push it today, but this wasn’t over. Not by a long shot.

 

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