Chapter 11
Saturday, September 8
“You want to do the salad or the burgers?” Bobbi swung the refrigerator door open, and waited for her sister to choose.
“Oh, I don’t mind to chop,” Rita said. “I’ll do the salad.”
“Excellent choice.” Bobbi pulled out the lettuce and tomatoes.
“So how are things? And tell me the truth because Chuck and the kids won’t be back from the movie for a half hour.”
“Jack is very sweet, extremely polite. He and Shannon hit it off immediately, and he thinks Chuck walks on water.”
“I’ll have to get that boy aside, and set him straight,” Rita said with a teasing smile. She rinsed her knife and began peeling carrots. “What about Tracy? How did the exchange go?”
“Chuck said it was one hundred percent normal. Tracy was almost pleasant.” Bobbi patted out a hamburger, and then punched it back into a ball. “I still don’t trust her.”
“I couldn’t tell.” Rita smiled, and scraped the carrot pieces from the cutting board into the bowl. “What else for the salad?”
“Red onion, and cucumber if you want it.”
“Not particularly. Oh, did I tell you Kelly and Patrick will be late? He has to work.”
“They’ll probably be here before Brad. Let me think… two, five, seven, twelve, thirteen. Right? Thirteen of us. No, fourteen. I forgot Jack. Good grief.”
“It’ll take some getting used to. Don’t worry about it. Did Joel bring his girlfriend?”
“No, her little boy was sick, maybe strep.”
“Is he really going to marry her?”
“You heard him. Honestly, I can’t think about that right now. I had to push it off to the side. Maybe when we get into a routine with Jack, I can talk to Joel some more. A routine with Jack, that’s a good one.”
“Give yourself some time to adjust to this. Nobody expects you to absorb this all at once.”
“Except Chuck. He thinks we should already be one big happy family.”
“Well, he’s delusional.”
“That’s more polite than most of the things I’ve called him in the last twenty-four hours.” She stacked the hamburger patties on a platter and covered them. “He just… he doesn’t understand…”
“And Glen’s no help.”
“No, Glen thinks this is just the greatest opportunity that’s ever dropped in my lap. But that woman. You know what she said to me? That the affair was just so she could pregnant. She chose Chuck because she knew he wouldn’t leave me, and she could take her baby and go.”
“So why’d she come back?”
“Same reason she dragged Jack all across the country twice. She’s mental. Or she’s up to something.”
“Mom! Where’s everybody at?” Brad called from the front of the house.
“Will wonders ever cease?” Bobbi said to Rita. “In the kitchen, Brad!”
“Hey, Aunt Rita,” Brad said, and then he kissed his mother on the cheek, and dropped into a chair at the kitchen table. “Dad told me four o’clock.”
“It’s four-thirty,” Bobbi said.
“I’m close,” Brad said.
“We’re not eating until five or five-thirty.”
“That explains why he told me four then.” Brad stood again, stretched, and then went to the refrigerator for a drink. “How’s the usurper?”
“Jack slept in your room last night. He thinks you’re very cool.”
“Well then, he’s a very perceptive little guy.” He opened his can of Coke and took a long drink. “Shannon okay with him?”
“They were instant buddies. You don’t have to worry.”
“You need me to start the grill or anything?”
“Sure, thanks,” Bobbi said. Brad finished his Coke, and headed out the back door. “Since Joel came home and announced his engagement, Brad decided to be the perfect son.”
“Are they going to be competitive like this the rest of their lives?” Rita asked, shaking her head.
Bobbi nodded, and glanced outside to make sure Brad was away from the door. “Possibly. Brad, for all his bluster, is very insecure. He hates being shown up by his little brother. If Joel had opted for law school, too, I think it would’ve done Brad in.”
“I would have never guessed. He’s so cool all the time.”
“He gets that from his mother,” Bobbi said, laughing. “You have to listen very closely to him, for little things like that usurper comment. Following his dad and his granddad to law school puts a lot of pressure on him. Chuck’s abandoned him to concentrate on Jack. He’s terrified he’s going to disappoint his dad.”
“Mommy!” Shannon called, opening the front door with a bang. “Jellybean can say, like, the whole movie! We didn’t even need sound!” She led the way back to the kitchen with Jack and Joel following. “Daddy said he was going to get cole slaw and he’d be right back.”
“Good,” Bobbi said. “I was hoping he’d remember.”
“Obsidian, it’s reckoning day,” Jack said to Joel, holding a make-believe sword.
“Hey, I’m not Obsidian,” Joel said, pretending to grab the sword, and push it out of the way. “I’m never the bad guy.”
“That’s true,” Shannon said. “Joel has a pure heart, just like Geode. We’ll have to get Brad!”
“No, Brad’s working the grill,” Bobbi said. “Leave him alone.”
“We’ll get Daddy, or Uncle Gavin, or John or Patrick or somebody. Don’t worry, Jack. Somebody around here’s gotta be bad.”
“Wait!” Jack said. “Brad’s here? I wanna see him!” Then the little boy noticed Rita. “Oh, hi. I’m Jack Ravenna.” He stretched out his hand. “Are you a friend of Mrs. Dad’s?”
“Mrs. Dad?” Rita asked, and then Bobbi waved, and pointed to herself. “No, I’m her sister, Rita. Nice to meet you, Jack.” Rita shook the little boy’s hand.
“This is your Aunt Rita,” Bobbi said.
“I have an aunt?” Jack asked.
“Yes,” Bobbi said. “And your Uncle Gavin will be here soon, then cousins and your grandma.”
“No way!” Jack exclaimed. “I never had a grandma. Heck, I never had brothers or—”
“Not heck, okay?” Bobbi admonished. “Shannon doesn’t say that word, so I have to hold you to the same rule.”
“Sorry, I’ll be more carefuler. Can I see Brad now?”
“I’ll get him.” Bobbi opened the back door, and motioned for Brad.
“He’s even cooler than his pictures!” Jack exclaimed.
Bobbi grinned at the giddy little boy, stretching a hand up to Brad’s. Why was it so hard to let go and love him? Why couldn’t she see him and not his mother?
“You play football,” Jack said.
“Not anymore,” Brad said. “That was in high school.”
“But you have a helmet and trophies and everything!”
“Wait until John gets here, then. He played football in college.”
“Who’s John?”
Brad pointed across the kitchen. “Aunt Rita has three kids, Kara, Kelly and Danny. Kara is married to John, and they have Katelyn, she’s four and Natalie, she’s almost a year old.”
“That’s little,” Jack said.
“So’s six. Kelly is married to Patrick. They’ll be here later, but they don’t have any kids. Danny is in San Diego, in the Navy. Who knows when you’ll meet him.”
“Tell me some football stuff,” Jack begged. “I wanted to play pee-wee football, but my mom said I would get creamed.”
“She’s right,” Brad said, and then he leaned down closer to Jack and winked. “That’s what makes it fun.”
“Can we throw the football? Will you show me how?”
“Ifj Dad’s back, and can watch the grill.”
“I’ll check!” Jack said, taking off down the hall, and then he stopped sharply. “Wait! Do you have a football? ’Cause I don’t.”
“There’s one in the garage.”
“Great!” Jack took off again.
“Awww, now Jack’s gonna play with Brad,” Shannon said. “Rats.”
“You’ve played with Jack all day,” Bobbi said. “Besides, Katelyn will be here soon.”
One by one, family members arrived for dinner, and Jack charmed each one when he could pull himself away from Brad and the football. Just before five-thirty, Bobbi saw Chuck holding the back door open for his mother. When Jack saw Ann, he dropped the football and ran to the deck, and then he approached her with great solemnity. “Are you my grandma?” he asked. “I never had a grandma before.”
“Only if you are Jack,” Ann replied with a wide smile. She held her arms open, and motioned for Jack to come closer for a hug.
Bobbi had to look away. With Ann, with everyone else, it was just that simple. Throw open your arms and scoop the little boy up. Smile at him. Love on him. Connect with him. Forget who he is, what he represents.
When Jack threw his arms around Ann’s neck, and squeezed, she grimaced and groaned slightly.
“I’m sorry!” Jack said, immediately letting go.
“No, Jack. I was cleaning out a closet today, and I think I overdid it. My whole chest hurts.” Ann took the arm of one of the deck chairs and eased into it.
“Ann, are you ever going to slow down?” Bobbi asked her.
“I may have to. I get tired and winded a lot easier these days.”
“When was the last time you were at the doctor’s, Mom?” Chuck asked.
“Four months ago. Everything was fine. Blood pressure, sugar, everything. I’m seventy-three years old. I’m entitled to wear out once in a while.” She patted the seat beside her. “Now Jack, tell me all about yourself.”
“You’re not gonna die, are you?” Jack slid into the seat. “’Cause I just got you.”
“Of course not,” Ann said. “Your mom and dad worry too much.”
“I have a mom already,” Jack corrected as he pointed to Bobbi. “She’s Mrs. Dad.”
Thank you for clarifying, Bobbi thought. Jack clearly doesn’t want her to be his mother. That alone should let her off the hook.
“My mistake,” Ann whispered. “I’m used to Shannon.”
“It’s okay,” Jack said. “We all have to get used to each other. Mrs. Dad said so.”
“You’ll find out she’s pretty sharp. You should listen to her.”
“Yeah, I like her.” He grinned and waved at Bobbi.
Bobbi waved back. Thanks for the extra helping of guilt, Jack.
In the bustle of goodbyes, everyone seemed to forget about Jack until Ann spotted him in the deck chair furthest from the door, hugging his knees to his chest. She motioned for him to come and sit on her lap. He shook his head, and refused to budge, so she walked over to him. “What’s wrong, Jack?”
“It’s over. I didn’t want it to be over.” He turned his head trying to hide the tears in his eyes, but the loud sniffles gave him away.
“You had fun this evening, I know. I could tell.” Jack nodded. “I bet you’re tired.” Jack shook his head vigorously. “How about if I read you a story before I go? How would that be?”
“What kind of story?”
“One with an evil giant.” Ann raised her hands above her head. “And a little boy, not much bigger than you.”
“Ok, but I’m still not happy.” Jack slid out of the deck chair.
“Let’s go in and find a good chair,” Ann said.
“What about Shannon?”
“I won’t start without her, I promise.” Ann got her purse from the kitchen table, and found the small Bible she carried.
Jack pointed at the book and scowled. “That’s a pretty little book.”
“Oh, but it has some very big stories in it.” Ann led Jack to the living room away from the family room and the television set. “Can you read the title?” She sat in the recliner, and Jack climbed into her lap.
“Ho… holly…”
“Long-o,” Ann corrected.
“Holy… Bib…”
“Long-i sound.”
“Bible. Holy Bible.” Jack beamed.
“Very good. God wanted us to know some important stuff, so He had men write this book. It has His instructions, plus stories and poems, all kinds of good stuff.”
Jack flipped through the book, then he frowned and handed it back. “It doesn’t have pictures.”
“You can think of much better pictures than anyone could draw.”
“Grandma! Are you reading stories?” Shannon called as she bounced down the stairs.
“We’re in the living room.”
Shannon raced in and climbed up in Ann’s lap, snuggling close. Ann reached around the children, and flipped the pages of her Bible. “Now, years ago – and this is a real story Jack, not a fairy tale – Israel had some terrible enemies called the Philistines.”
“You’re not reading all the words,” Jack said.
“I haven’t started the story yet,” Ann explained. “This is the background.”
“Oh,” Jack said. He settled in against her, and listened intently as she read the story of David and Goliath. When she finished and closed her Bible, Jack sat up straight, his eyes wide. “That really happened?”
“Every word.”
“Wow,” Jack said.
“You should read him Daniel in the lion’s den,” Shannon said.
“Maybe next time,” Ann said, helping the children down from her lap. “Grandma is tired. I need to get home, and you two need to go to sleep. I’m sure it’s past your bedtimes.”
“Grown-ups are all about bedtime,” Jack said, shaking his head.
“Yes, we are,” Chuck said. “And baths.”
“I already had mine, Daddy!” Shannon said.
“Then you need to get upstairs, miss, and Jack, Mom… I mean, Mrs. Dad’s got your bath ready.”
“Rats,” Jack said.
Ann braced herself and eased out of the recliner. “Give me an easy hug, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” the little boy asked.
“At church, silly,” Shannon said.
“What’s church?” Jack asked.
“Don’t worry. I’ll explain it all tomorrow.” Shannon hugged her grandmother, and then scampered around the corner with Jack in tow.
Once they were gone, Ann turned to Chuck. “He’s a delightful little boy, and Bobbi seems to be doing very well with him.”
“Bobbi’s willing to work at it. Shannon took right up with him, and he’s settled in, I think.”
“He seems very needy, Chuck.”
“He’s very well taken care of.”
“That’s not what I mean. He’s desperate for someone other than his mother to approve of him.”
“He should have gotten that tonight.”
“Yes, but what’s it going to do to his mother when he likes it better here… than with her?”
“I’m not trying to get Jack to like me better,” Chuck said.
“No, but this woman gets her fulfillment from Jack, her purpose. It’s a dangerous thing when your purpose for living is taken away.”
“Mom, how could you know that?” Chuck crossed his arms and frowned. “You’ve never met her, or even seen her.”
“No, but I know people. Think about it. If she found fulfillment in her career, why would she want a child?”
“Point taken, but dangerous? That’s a stretch.”
“Son, this is a woman who operates by a completely different code of right and wrong than you and I do. Don’t assume anything.”
Chuck stood silently, clenching his jaw the way his father always did when he wouldn’t admit she was right. “Have you told Bobbi any of this?”
“Don’t. Don’t repeat any of this to Bobbi.”
“I won’t lie.”
“Bobbi’s imagination is active enough. Don’t give her any more material.”
Ann smiled and patted his arm. “Now that I’ve made you mad, can I ask you for an aspirin and an antacid?”
“You didn’t make me mad,” Chuck said.
“Don’t lie to your mother.”
“There’s a bottle of Tums in the downstairs bathroom. I’ll run upstairs and get the aspirin.”
Before Chuck got to the top of the stairs, Bobbi called to him from Brad’s room. He found her standing over Jack’s open suitcase. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I guess,” Bobbi said. “I just thought this was strange.” She held up dress pants, a button up shirt and a tie. “You didn’t tell her we were taking him to church, did you?”
“Not until I picked him up,” Chuck answered. “Everything was packed by then.”
“So she knew,” Bobbi said.
“Honey, it’s not a state secret that we go to church.”
“It… it just makes me very uncomfortable.”
“Because you let it,” Chuck said.
“Excuse me?” Bobbi laid Jack’s clothes back in his suitcase. “It’s taking every ounce of strength I have to go through this with you, to be supportive, to walk beside you, and you have the nerve to suggest that it’s my fault that contact with your mistress upsets me?”
“That’s not what I meant—”
“Dad! I’m ready to get out!” Jack called from the bathroom.
“This will have to wait.”
Chuck nodded, and resigned himself to another argument. “I’ll get him out of the tub. Can you take Mom an aspirin?”
He watched her walk away, his own head throbbing for some aspirin. Surely, it wasn’t going to be like this every weekend Jack was here.
“Ann, I don’t feel like I got to speak to you at all tonight,” Bobbi said, catching her mother-in-law in the front hallway.
“You’ve got your hands full right now,” Ann said with a knowing smile. “I understand.”
Bobbi handed her the aspirin bottle. “Let me get you a glass of water.”
“No need.” Ann shook out two tablets and quickly swallowed them.
“You and Chuck and Joel. I don’t know how you do that.” Bobbi took the bottle back from her. “But you’re feeling all right?”
“Oh, I’ll be fine.”
“I still want to sit down with you and talk about Joel and Jack. Maybe we can grab a cup of coffee next week some time?”
“I’ll look forward to it,” Ann said, opening the door. “Tell Chuck goodnight for me.”
Bobbi gave her a hug, and then closed the door behind her. She dropped the aspirin bottle off in the downstairs bathroom, and headed to the kitchen to brew a cup of coffee to help bolster her resolve when Chuck came downstairs.
 From the kitchen, Bobbi could hear her sons talking to the players and referees on the television. Hopefully they were enthralled with the game and wouldn’t hear the coming discussion. She had just gotten the coffeemaker started when she heard Brad come in behind her. “Mom, I’m gonna go. I’ve got some reading to do.”
“The game’s not over already, is it?”
“It’s halftime. I can be back at my place almost before the second half starts.”
“Without speeding?” Bobbi raised an eyebrow in skepticism.
“Not much,” Brad confessed.
“Here, let me pack some of these burgers up for you.”
“I’ll get them tomorrow.” He kissed his mother on the cheek. “Goodnight.”
Before he stepped through the back door, she called out to him. “Brad, you were really good with Jack.”
“He’s all right,” Brad said, then waved and left.
Homework on a Saturday night. He was brooding about something. When the coffeemaker kicked off, Bobbi poured a large mug, and went into the study. This would put an extra room between Joel and them. She sat on the love seat, took a long drink from her mug, and waited.
“Can I apologize first?” Chuck asked from the doorway of the study.
“Only if you know what you’re sorry for.”
“For being an idiot.” Chuck joined her on the love seat. “For minimizing the struggle that you are so admirably waging, and for being insensitive.”
“That’s a decent start,” Bobbi said. “Now, do you really believe all that, or did you just say it?”
“Chuck, you know, you’ve always known, exactly what to say to get what you want. You’re doing it again.”
“That’s not true. I’m trying to help you see beyond your prejudices about Tracy.”
“Oh no, these aren’t prejudices. Prejudices are unfounded. I’ve got all kinds of evidence that she’s irrational and dangerous.”
“She’s not dangerous,” Chuck said, his voice rising.
“And you’re not objective! You will not admit that this is damaging your family and your relationship with your children.”
“How is this damaging us?”
“Your son Joel is on the brink of disaster because he thinks he’s following your example.”
“We dealt with Joel already.”
“We had a meeting, that’s all.”
“Honey, you apologized to him and told him to bring his fiancée home.”
“I was forced into it because three days later I had to go to court with your mistress.”
“Will you stop calling her that?”
“What would you prefer?”
“Can’t you just use her name?”
“I never want to say or hear her name again, to be truthful.” Bobbi took a long, cleansing drink of her coffee.
“See, that’s ridiculous.”
“Chuck, you’re not listening. In thirty-six days, everything in my life has been upended. I feel like I’m going above and beyond to accommodate you, and what I hear in return is a demand for more, and a reproof for having misgivings about anything. That’s not fair.” She softened her tone. “Did you even ask Brad how school was going?”
“He would have told me if there was anything going on.”
“And did you tell your dad about your first week of law school?”
“I didn’t have to. He called me every night…” Chuck caught himself. He leaned back, and closed his eyes. “You’re right,” he said quietly. “Completely, unequivocally right.” He opened his eyes and looked at his wife.
“Can we just slow down now that you have everything you wanted? Especially when he’s not here? We need to soak this in, and you need to spend some time with your sons and your daughter. They’re going through some major life events, and they need you right now.” She sipped her coffee, and then laid her hand on his. “All three of them, not just Jack.”
“What about you? What do you need?”
“I need you to stop pressuring me to accept things before I’m ready. Stop forcing my hand, and take my concerns seriously.”
“Will you concede that I might know what I’m doing?”
“You might, but we went six years without Jack. Another month or two wasn’t going to matter that much, was it?” She set her mug down and settled in close to her husband. “People are more likely to buy into change when they think it was their idea all along.”
“Oh really?”
“Oh yeah. I use that on you all the time. You think everything we’ve ever done has been your idea.”
He grinned and kissed her. “A little manipulative, aren’t you?”
“I use my powers for good and not evil. Remember that.”
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