Chapter 5

 

 

Confrontation

  

Saturday, July 30
Bobbi punched in numbers on her calculator, double-checking the checkbook entries. Since the clock in the study slid past noon, she battled to stay focused on paying bills and budgeting for August. She regretted not giving Chuck a definite time to show up. He could come any minute now, or not at all.
She reached for her mug and finished her fourth cup of the strong Turkish coffee she brewed this morning. The caffeine hadn’t bothered her for years and the warmth always soothed and relaxed her.
Pushing the empty mug out of the way, she pulled the payment book for Chuck’s BMW from her stack. She hated that car. Things hadn’t been the same between them since he bought it. Was Chuck cheating then? Did Tracy have a thing for BMWs? If she was the reason he bought the car, was he also buying her things? God, please tell me I haven’t spent eighteen years managing our finances so Chuck could keep a mistress.
She made a couple of changes to the budget sheet and recalculated. The house would be paid off next summer, but if they divorced … If she started shifting more money there now, that might be enough to pay off the mortgage by the time everything was finalized.
The doorbell rang. Bobbi caught sight of Chuck’s car in the driveway. He’s here. God help us all.
*******
Chuck stood on his own front porch wavering between walking in or ringing the doorbell. Starting the meeting well was critical. No, this was his wife—it was a conversation, not a meeting. Even so, if he lost his temper the way he did Thursday night, he stood a zero chance of reconciling with Bobbi. She wanted to talk, so let her run things, and that meant not assuming any rights. He wiped his palm on his slacks and rang the bell.
Joel opened the front door and broke into a huge grin. He threw his arms around Chuck and squeezed. “I love you, Dad.”
Chuck kissed the top of the boy’s head. “I love you, too. I needed to hear that.”
“Mom’s in the kitchen, but Brad doesn’t want to talk to you,” Joel said as he passed his dad to go outside.
“You’re not going to stick around?”
“I don’t want to hear you yell.”
“Who said we were going to yell? Mom didn’t say that, did she?”
“No, Brad did.”
“Well, Brad’s wrong.”
“What else is new?” Joel grabbed his bike and pedaled away.
Suddenly a stranger in his own house, Chuck stepped into the entry hall. Brad’s first grade picture hung in its place in a new frame. Bobbi’s pillow and blankets lay in the corner by the sofa. She couldn’t sleep. He wished lost sleep was all he had to atone for.
Chuck followed the exotic coffee aroma and found Bobbi in the same spot at the kitchen table where he had last seen her on Thursday. He wanted to go to her, pour out his heart, beg for her forgiveness, but the coolness hanging over the room stopped him. As their eyes met, he saw resolve and determination. He debated whether to sit or stand. “Have a seat,” she said, her voice steady and firm.
He dropped into the chair opposite her. “Thanks for letting me … uh … come by.”
“Do you want to be with this woman?” She looked at him, not flinching or blinking, no warmth or compassion in her deep brown eyes, and he looked away.
“No.” His wife’s bluntness flustered him as she seized control of the conversation.
“Do you want out of this marriage?”
“No, of course not. I didn’t go looking for this. I … I was stupid, and put myself in a … well, in a situation where I would be tempted, and then I gave in.”
“Who is she?”
Bobbi heard the phone message. She knew exactly who Tracy was. Every lawyer knows you don’t ask a question unless you already know the answer. He could pass this test. “An attorney at the firm. She’s been there a few months.”
“Well, she certainly didn’t waste any time. Very ambitious.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Chuck, your name is on the side of the building! Do you honestly think she came on to you because of your charm and good looks?”
“She’s not like that.” Tracy wanted him as much as he wanted her … didn’t she?
“Whatever.” Bobbi rolled her eyes in disgust. “How old is she?”
“I don’t know, thirty or thirty-five.”
“Is she married?”
“No.”
“How many times?”
“What?” The questions were coming so fast, he couldn’t catch his breath. She should have been a prosecutor.
“How many times … did you … sleep … with her?”
“Three.” He dropped his eyes. Please, don’t make me tell you any more than that.
“In my house?”
“Never.”
“How long has this been going on?”
“About three weeks.”
Bobbi paused a moment in her questioning, then murmured, “When the boys and I were in Detroit.”
Chuck fought back tears. “I swear, that’s not why I stayed home. It’s just … that’s when it started.” He knew every word hurt her, but only the blinking of her eyes betrayed it.
“Is she pregnant?”
“No.”
“How do you know that for sure?”
“She told me she used a patch.” Chuck shifted in his chair and went on offense. “Bobbi, I can never explain this or justify myself. I know I can’t begin to understand how much I’ve hurt you, but you and the boys are my life. I am sorry and I promise you before God that I’ll do whatever it takes to make this right.”
“You made me a promise before God eighteen years ago, Chuck.” She spoke his name with such hopelessness that he feared it might already be too late.
“Bobbi, please. I love you. Give us a chance.”
She didn’t answer him, but went to the refrigerator for a bottled water. He watched her slowly twist the cap off, then sip from the bottle. He knew she was debating, weighing her options. She rejoined him at the table, and his chest tightened. Here it came—her terms.
“I trust Phil for counseling,” she said. “Do you?”
“Absolutely.”
“Are you committed to counseling with him?”
“Are you?”
“I’m asking the questions.”
“I will do whatever Phil tells me is in our best interest. He wants me to tell the church.”
“Are you going to?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re not going to do the first thing he tells you to do?”
“That’s not what I said. It’s more complicated than that.”
Bobbi took a long drink from her water. He blew it on her first demand. No matter what second condition she laid down, he vowed to accept it unequivocally. “You can’t stay here,” she said. 
“What?” If he let her kick him out … “This is my home.”
“Then the boys and I will go.”
“No. No, you stay. I’ll find a place.”
“One last thing.”
“Name it.” He let himself breathe again and tried to reassure himself terms were good. Terms meant they could reach an agreement.
“I want you to see a doctor.”
“Why?”
“I have to know that you haven’t picked up some disease.”
“Good grief, Bobbi, I wasn’t with some cheap hooker!” She arched her eyebrow, and foldedher hands on the table in front of her. “I mean … of course. I’ll take care of that.”
“That’s all for now. Goodbye, Chuck.”
“Just like that?”
“We’ve been civil and we’ve talked. That’s good enough for now.”
“Sure,” he said, rising from his chair. “I’ll let myself out.” He proved he was an idiot, a naïve idiot who thought he could walk in here and explain away his adultery, then have everything go back to normal.
When he got to the kitchen doorway, he caught Bobbi’s eye once more. She hadn’t softened. “Take care,” he said. Even if she didn’t divorce him, had he lost her forever?
The front door weighed more than he remembered, forcing him to brace himself before swinging it open. That woman in the kitchen wasn’t the Bobbi he’d married. He’d never seen such strength, such toughness out of her. She wore her wedding band. That had to be a good sign, but she asked him to move out. What if that was the first step to divorce?
Joel skidded his bike to a stop in the driveway. “Are you coming home tonight, Dad?”
Chuck smiled and motioned for Joel to join him on the porch steps. “It’s not that easy, Son.”
“Are you getting a divorce?”
“No. Mom and I are not getting a divorce.” Chuck could see Joel’s shoulders relax so he kept talking. “I really hurt Mom. I spent some time with another woman, giving her the kind of attention that is reserved only for Mom, and that was wrong.”
Joel nodded. “I get that part. What I don’t get is why you did it. Don’t you love Mom anymore?”
“Of course I love Mom. I just … what I did was beyond stupid.”
“Does Mom love you?”
“I think so.”
“So why would you want to be with someone else if Mom loves you and you love Mom?”
“It’s a grown-up thing, Joel. I don’t think I can explain it.”
“Try me.”
Chuck let a deep sigh escape. He’d alienated every member of his family but Joel. How could he answer him without destroying what respect the boy still held for him?
“It made me feel good that this other woman liked me.” She met some emotional need, or you wouldn’t have gone back to her …
“Mom likes you.”
“Yeah, but this was somebody different … it was new …” He dropped his head. “It sounds stupid when I try to explain it to you.”
“That’s what I was thinking, too.” He scowled and looked out across the street. “So … what happens if some other woman likes you?”
“Nothing. Nothing happens. I will never hurt Mom like this again. Ever.”
“Did you tell Mom that?”
“Yeah, but she can’t just take my word for it. I hurt her way too much for that.”
“Is that why you can’t come home?”
“For now. It’s going to take some time, Buddy. You know, when Brad makes you mad, and you just want to be by yourself for a while?”
“Yes!”
“Well, Mom’s going to need some time to work through being mad at me. I deserve to have her mad at me.” Chuck patted Joel’s knee and stood up. “Same with Brad. Let him be mad, okay?”
“Okay,” Joel shrugged. “You’re not divorcing. That’s all I was worried about.”
“See you at church, Buddy,” Chuck said as he got in his car.
“Bye, Dad!” Joel called. “Love you!”
Chuck smiled and waved as he backed out of the driveway. Before he turned off his block, he dialed Phil Shannon’s number. “Have you got a few minutes? I won’t take long, but I’m in big trouble.”
*******
Before Chuck even pulled out of the driveway, Bobbi rushed to the downstairs bathroom to throw up again. The details were too much. The less she knew, the better.
Chuck didn’t say he wanted out, but what did he want? Did he even know? A thirty-year-old lawyer. She couldn’t compete with that.
You got every answer you asked for. He seemed contrite, penitent. He was hurting, too. She’d seen Chuck’s reflection in the microwave, and watched as he wiped his eyes.
God help me. I believe him. Now what? She wanted to run after him so he could take her in his arms, tell her everything would work out, and let her cry on his shoulder. It would be so much easier that way. But that would make her a fool. Only a fool would absorb the hurt and the anger. Only a fool would trust him again. He said he loved her, finally, but that wasn’t enough. Things had to change, and Chuck had to change.
She swished a mouthful of mouthwash and spit it in the bathroom sink. If I get through this with any of my sanity left, it’ll be a miracle.
“Brad!” she called upstairs. “He’s gone. Do you want to go to the mall? I’ll even drop you at a different door!” Bobbi wanted to get out of the house, to do something normal, and forget she was a victim of infidelity.
Brad tromped down the stairs. “You don’t have to do that,” he said with a sly grin. “Just wait about ten minutes before you follow me in.”
“You rotten kid,” Bobbi said with a smile. She rummaged through her purse, making sure she had her keys and phone.
“So how did it go?” Brad asked. “More lies?”
So much for thinking about something else. Setting her purse down on the console table, she turned to face her son. “Do you want us to split up?”
“Well, no, but what other choice do you have? I don’t know how you can forgive him. He’s done youth retreats with us on dating, and sex, and stuff, and then he does this. He’s a phony.”
“Have you ever done anything wrong?”
“Yeah, everybody has.” He rolled his eyes and bobbed his head, repeating what he heard many times before. “Since everybody makes mistakes, everybody should forgive everybody. Blah, blah, blah, but Mom—”
“This is serious. Have you ever done anything you said you wouldn’t?” Bobbi paused, but when Brad didn’t answer, she continued. “Like … ever cheated on a test?”
“No way!”
“Ever ‘compared answers’ after you couldn’t finish your algebra?” Brad scowled. “I’ll take that as a yes. You took something that didn’t belong to you. You cheated. Copying homework problems is a much smaller scale, and has much smaller consequences, but it’s the same as what your dad did. He took something that didn’t belong to him. He cheated.”
“Why are you defending him?”
“I’m not. I’m just saying be careful when you level judgment. Make sure you don’t catch yourself.”
“You didn’t cheat. He did. You can’t just take him back like it never happened.”
“Is that what you think I’m doing? Just because I asked to talk to your dad doesn’t mean this is over.” How much do I tell him? “Your dad is moving out, and we have a hard road ahead of us. Lots of counseling. It’s going to be a much longer process than deciding to marry him in the first place.” Bobbi smiled, but Brad didn’t soften. “You’re right to be angry and hurt. Believe me, I am. Just don’t write your dad off.”
“I’m not making any promises,” Brad replied, his jaw set.
*******
When Chuck rang the Shannons’ doorbell, the thirty seconds it took Phil to answer the door seemed ten times that long. “Come on in,” Phil said, extending his hand to shake Chuck’s.
“Thanks for letting me come by on such short notice,” Chuck said, stepping inside. “I hate to bother you on a Saturday.”
“Then consider this a visit to a friend’s house. You can always stop by a friend’s house on Saturday.” Phil ushered Chuck to the living room sofa. “Now, what can I do for you?” He eased into the recliner across from the sofa.
“I’m an idiot, Phil. I’ve just come from talking to Bobbi. Things are worse than I thought.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?”
“She wants me to move out.”
“Did she ask you for a divorce?”
“No, she wants to go through counseling. I told her I would do anything to make it up to her, but I’m not sure it mattered. She was nothing like the Bobbi I fell in love with.”
“What can I do?”
“I talked to my mom yesterday, and she said I should do the confession thing.” Chuck took a deep breath. “It’s just … Phil, I’ve worked so hard, to be successful, and to look successful. It mattered a lot to me. I even hounded Bobbi a few years back about moving out to The Arbors, you know, a better neighborhood. None of that matters if I lose her. If she doesn’t believe that I’m sorry, that I love her, and I want to be a good husband, everything else is just pointless.” He raised his head and looked Phil in the eye.
“Are you sorry?”
“Of course I am.”
“And you love your wife, and you want to be a good husband?”
“That’s what I said.”
“No, you said you wanted Bobbi to believe those things. There’s a difference.”
“Phil …”
“You can’t fake this, Chuck. You have to be one hundred percent sincere for your own sake as much as for Bobbi’s. You have to be open and honest about everything from now on.”
“Then let me be straight with you. I understand that I have sinned against God and against my wife. I realize that I did far more damage than I thought, and if I have any hope of getting Bobbi back, I need your help.” He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to keep himself from dissolving into tears. “Please, Phil, I’m begging you.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere.” Phil slid to the edge of his seat. “First of all, I need you to understand that God intends for marriage to show how Christ loves and cares for His church. It’s a serious insult to God to tear it down, and He’s going to vindicate Himself.”
“So, even if I do this, I’m still facing some kind of judgment?”
“Think of it like this. Say you drive a nail into a two-by-four, and then come back later and pull the nail out. The nail may be gone, but the hole is there. Even if you fill it, maybe so it’s unnoticeable, it’s still going to be there. The two-by-four will never be the same.”
“My marriage,” Chuck nodded.
“God removes the sin when you ask for forgiveness,” Phil continued, “but the effects of the sin never go away.”
“So how do I fill in the hole?”
“Now, that’s God’s business, working that miracle of restoration, but He often lets us have a hand in it.”
“Which brings me back to confessing this to the church.”
“Exactly.”
“Tell me how to do it then,” Chuck said, grasping for that hope.
“You sure?”
“I want my wife back.”
*******
“What are you doing?” Bobbi found Chuck facing the mirror in their bathroom, whipping his tie around into a perfect knot.
“Getting ready for work.”
“Today?”
“I do this almost every day.”
She took his hand, and he frowned. “Chuck, your dad’s funeral was yesterday. Nobody expects you …”
He jerked his hand away. “What am I supposed to do here? Sit and stare at the walls, or waste my time on something stupid?”
“Not at all. You’ve never lost anybody. This is …” The lines in his forehead grew deeper, and she risked him walking out. “You need some time. Trust me on this, and your mother needs you. She’s alone today.”
“She’s got friends there.”
“It’s not the same, and you know it.”
“Look, I’ve got commitments to clients.” His jaw twitched ever so slightly “And I intend to keep them. That’s uh … that’s what my dad … he taught me that. Honor your commitments.” He closed his eyes and clenched his jaw so tightly it shook.
She touched his face, and a single tear escaped from his eyes. She slipped her hand behind his head, and he let her guide it to her shoulder. “I love you,” she whispered, and he let go and sobbed. She held him, rubbed his back, and cried with him. “You are so much like your dad …”
He raised up and shook his head. “I’ll never be half the man my dad was.” He shifted and looked at the floor in front of him for several moments. When he finally spoke, the words came softly and tentatively. “Walter and Jim are giving me Dad’s spot.”
“As a managing partner? That’s wonderful.”
“It’s kind of a junior manager. They still have final oversight.”
“Still, at thirty-six, that’s an amazing accomplishment.”
“But I didn’t earn it.”
“You did. They didn’t have to give it to you.” He frowned again and wiped his eyes. “I know how hard you work, Chuck—”
“I gotta go.” He eased around her, and reached for his suit jacket.
“Why doesn’t it matter when I say it?”
“What?” He slipped his arm in the jacket sleeve.
“When I say you work hard, or you’re a good attorney, you blow it off.”
“Bobbi, don’t start on me right now.” He straightened his tie and adjusted the silk in his breast pocket.
He was grieving and he had no idea how to process it. She had to believe that, to push down the hurt and anger welling up inside her. If he felt safe with her, venting it to her, then she’d be safe for him. “All right, should I plan on you for dinner?”
“Go ahead and feed the boys. Don’t wait on me.”
She took his hand in hers. “I’ll be here when you get home. I’ll help you anyway I can.”
“You can’t help me.”

 

 

 

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