Chapter 6


Chapter 6
Monday, August 6
Lord, that peace we talked about last night, You can just pour that out any old time. This would be a perfect opportunity.
Bobbi stood in her closet, sifting through racks of nothing to wear. Today, her most private heartache would once again be a matter of public record when Chuck filed the paternity papers. She had to defend herself. She had to see her principal this morning, and get that boy out of her class.
If Mr. Henneke refused, she carried a resignation letter in her bag. She hadn’t exactly told Chuck she was willing to resign, but if it came to that, he had two choices: he could support her wholeheartedly, or they could go back to marriage counseling.
She pulled a blouse out, but decided it was too likely to show perspiration. Something sleeveless maybe. Jeans? No, way too casual. Capris.
She decided on a peach sleeveless cotton sweater and plaid capris. It wouldn’t matter anyway. Ted would make up his mind instantly after the first exchange. After that, there would be no amount of arguing, persuading or begging that would move him.
She rehearsed her speech all morning, condensing it down to three short sentences. She felt confident she could maintain her composure long enough to get them out. After that, all bets were off.
She dressed quickly, then slipped into the bathroom and rummaged through the drawer filled with her make-up. Leaning across the sink, she started with the concealer under her eyes. Before she could cap the tube, Chuck slid a travel mug on the counter.
“I don’t know what you could possibly improve on,” he said, watching her in the mirror as she applied her mascara.
“And you’re not wearing your glasses, but thanks for the coffee.”
“You’re welcome. Do you want me to go with you to help explain everything?” Now it made sense. He was getting his way, filing papers, so he was extra gracious and helpful. Wonder how that might change if she came home suddenly unemployed?
“I’m a big girl, Chuck. I’ll be okay.” Bobbi replaced the cap on the tube of mascara and dropped it in her make-up drawer.
“I know, but this is my fault, and I don’t want Henneke to hold it against you.”
“I’m not going to take it personally if he can’t or won’t do anything about it. I’m asking a lot. It really puts him in a tough spot, especially with just three weeks until school starts.”
“Well, if Tracy could get him placed in your class, surely you can get him moved.”
“It sounds very simple and reasonable when you say it, but with Ted, things don’t always work that way.” She inspected herself in the mirror, and pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “All right. Say a little prayer.” She leaned over and kissed him goodbye. “Did you wake Joel, or are you still taking Shannon with you?”
“I’m taking her to Mom’s. You won’t be that long, will you?”
“Shouldn’t be.” She picked up the mug, and breathed the aroma in deeply. “This isn’t your coffee.”
“No, I made you some of that… Soo… Soola-whatever.”
“Sulawesi. Bless your heart.” She kissed him again, and grabbed her bag on her way out of the bedroom.
As she drove to school, Bobbi coached herself that Chuck was right. It shouldn’t be a big deal to move one student, or even trade him. Trade him. The Cardinals do it all the time, right? Maybe Ted would understand it that way.
Generally, he was easy to work for, but sometimes he picked the strangest, most insignificant things, and obstinately refused to yield on them. Several years ago, he decided that no one on staff, except the P.E. teacher, should wear tennis shoes. They got memos, they discussed it in two different meetings and updated the staff handbook to include the ban. It went so far that he almost put his secretary on a leave of absence when she broke her ankle, and needed sneakers once her cast was off.
God, please don’t let Jack Ravenna’s classroom assignment be one of those things.
The parking lot at school was empty except for Ted’s truck and his secretary’s minivan. Bobbi parked next to the minivan, and took a deep breath. “Let’s get it over with.” Bobbi got out of her car, and swung her tote bag up to her shoulder.
Inside the school office, Marian Wellston, the secretary, greeted her as soon as she opened the office door. “Bobbi, you’re here way too early for the first week of August.”
“I need to talk to Ted. Is he here?”
“Yes, but he’s probably busy with important things like the morning crossword puzzle,” she said with a smile. “School is so nice and peaceful without the kids.”
“True, but there wouldn’t be much use to keep me around if there weren’t any kids.” Bobbi walked around the counter, past Marian’s desk, and knocked on the principal’s open office door. “Ted, have you got a minute?”
The principal opened a desk drawer and slid his newspaper into it. Bobbi pretended not to notice. “Come on in,” he said, slipping a mechanical pencil into his shirt pocket among his ever present collection of pens – red, black, blue, and green. Always.
Bobbi closed the door behind her and took a seat in one of his chairs. She pulled her class list out of her tote bag, and slid it across the desk toward him. “I need to talk to you about one of the students you put in my class.”
He pushed his thick glasses a little farther up on his nose. “Now Bobbi, you know we try to assign students so there’s a good mix demographically and academically.”
Bobbi felt her face flush. He used the same tone of voice he reserved for children caught running in the hallway. He’s not gonna go for this. Please, God. “I understand that.” She blew out a breath and pointed to the list. “It’s this last boy. The handwritten addition.”
Henneke leaned over the desk to read the name. “Jack Ravenna? His mother was very adamant about putting him in your class. Why don’t you want him?”
Three sentences. Detached. Professional. You can do this. “Seven years ago, my husband… he… he had… an affair with Jack’s…uh, mother. We have good reason to believe that Chuck… is Jack’s father, and we’re bringing legal action to prove or disprove that.”
Ted Henneke sat frozen, and then he blinked slowly, eyes drifting back to the list. “What year was that?” he asked quietly.
“The first year I taught second grade.”
He shook his head slowly. “And she purposefully… What kind of woman…?” He took the red pen from his shirt pocket and drew a single line through Jack’s name on Bobbi’s class list. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Thanks for understanding,” Bobbi said, with a silent thank you to God. For once, she got a break.
“I’m sorry I didn’t know enough to prevent it in the first place.”
“There’s no way you could have known. I try to fight my battles quietly.”
“Well, I wish you and Chuck all the best in this. Remember, it’s like Churchill said, ‘you have only to endure to conquer.’” He returned his pen to his pocket, and readjusted his glasses. “Of course, if his mother appeals the reassignment, it’ll be out of my hands.”
Tuesday, August 14
Christine Gardner sorted through the morning’s mail. Two attorneys were gone this week and two more would be out next week. The firm was so much more peaceful in the summer when the cycle of vacations ran its course.
Glancing to her left, she could see Mr. Molinsky leaning back in his office chair reading. At least he was wearing his glasses. Christine kept a big bottle of aspirin in her desk for the days he didn’t wear them and ended up with eyestrain.
Out of the corner of her eye, Christine caught movement at the law firm’s front entrance, so she looked up with a broad smile ready to greet the visitor. When she made eye contact, Christine’s throat closed off. “Good morning,” she choked out.
“Good morning, Christine,” Tracy Ravenna said with a smile too unnerving to be genuine. “You look well. Married life agrees with you. Brian? Wasn’t that your husband?”
“Yes, ma’am. How can I help you?”
“I need to speak with Chuck.” She glanced over at his office. “He doesn’t look busy,” she said, and started to walk away.
“Miss Ravenna, ma’am,” Christine said. “I need to call him first. He gave me specific instructions.” Tracy ignored her and walked away. Christine rounded the receptionist’s desk, and jogged in a vain attempt to catch her before she opened Chuck Molinsky’s office door.
He swiveled his chair around, and nearly dropped his papers when he saw Tracy at his door. “Mr. Molinsky, I’m sorry,” Christine said.
“It’s okay. I’m sure Miss Ravenna has a very important reason for coming.” He never took his eyes off Tracy.
“Yes, sir,” Christine said, and faded back to her desk, suddenly queasy. Her instincts were right about the Molinskys. It was Tracy Ravenna. Christine hadn’t worked at the law firm very long herself when Tracy joined them seven years ago. From day one, she breezed in, barking orders at the staff one minute, then transforming into sweetness and light in the presence of the other attorneys.
After just a few weeks, it became obvious that Miss Ravenna had designs on Mr. Molinsky. To Christine’s disappointment, Mr. Molinsky always smiled at Tracy and his back got a little straighter, his shoulders just a little squarer when he was around her.
Other people around the office noticed as well, and speculation raged. Unfortunately, no one was shocked when the affair became public. Now Tracy Ravenna threatened Mr. and Mrs. Molinsky again. She picked up the phone book, and began flipping through it. “Wonder what it would cost to increase the security around here?”
As soon as the door clicked closed, Tracy jerked an envelope from her satchel and slammed it on Chuck’s desk. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Tracy, that didn’t take long,” he answered. He expected to hear from her once she got the court order for the DNA test, but he was a little surprised she came to his office. “I told you I was going to fight.”
“This won’t change anything!”
“It will change everything. You know as well as I do that I’m Jack’s father, and as soon as that’s established legally, I’ll get visitation and probably custody.”
“Over my dead body,” she hissed.
“I don’t know where all this hostility is coming from.” He couldn’t resist a smile. He had the upper hand this time, and he planned to enjoy it.
“Let me refresh your memory. ‘Tracy, I took advantage of you, and used you.’ I think being used entitles me to a little hostility.”
“Now, you used me, too,” Chuck said, looking at her over the top of his glasses. For just an instant, her eyes shifted. “Wouldn’t it be in Jack’s best interest for us to be amicable? Don’t you want what’s best for him?”
“How dare you! Don’t you lecture me about what’s best for my son!” Tracy stuffed the envelope back in her satchel. When she raised her head to look at him again, her eyes narrowed, and an icy quietness replaced the fury in her voice. “Do you honestly think a judge is going to award custody to an adulterer?”
Chuck shook his head and smiled. “Listen to yourself. I didn’t commit adultery alone. We’re equally at fault. Besides, I’m a repentant and forgiven adulterer. It’s gone.”
“So you ruin my life and get away with it,” she said.
“I didn’t get away with anything, and I hardly think I ruined your life.” He folded his hands on the desk in front of him. “You can’t bait me anymore.”
Undaunted, she glanced around his office, and ran a hand slowly along the front edge of his desk, lingering for just a moment. “I hear you opened a second office in Kansas City. Maybe I’ll send you a resume.”
“I’d be glad to look at it,” Chuck said, hoping and praying she was bluffing. “Now, unless you have something else to discuss, I’ll see you in court.”
She glared at him, but said nothing, and then in one fluid motion, she swept out of the office, slamming the door behind her. Chuck watched her until she was through the firm’s front door. Satisfied she was really gone, he picked up his phone. “Sweetheart, how did things go with Ted?”
“Great!” Bobbi said. “He moved him. No problems.”
“Good. I’m glad it wasn’t a hassle for you. Listen, you want to grab a cup of coffee?”
A half hour later, Chuck sat in a booth at Dear Joe’s, Bobbi’s favorite coffee shop. One other guy sat in a corner hunched over his laptop, never looking up. The emptiness made Chuck uncomfortable, as if the clerks were watching him too closely. That only meant they wouldn’t have to worry about eavesdropping, right?
His eyes made a constant circuit from the door, to the parking lot, to his watch. She’ll be here. Any minute now. It’s just taking longer. He sipped his coffee, and he concentrated on breathing slowly and relaxing. He got a rush from the confrontation with Tracy, but he didn’t want Bobbi to misinterpret that as any kind of attraction.
Most importantly, he didn’t want Bobbi to think he was hiding anything. By telling her right now, instead of waiting until this evening, he wanted to prove that she could trust him to handle this, that he was looking out for their best interests.
Bobbi walked in and slid into the booth across from him. “So what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I had a visitor at the office this morning, and I wanted to talk to you about it.” He slid the cup of coffee he’d ordered for her across the table.
“She got the court order, so she was a little irate.”
“Were you alone with her?”
“That’s beside the point—”
“So you were.” She leaned away, and he could see her stiffen. He was losing control of the conversation.
“My office is all glassed in.”
“You promised me. Never again.” She slowly pulled her cup closer. “You think it’s no big deal, but you told me yourself how a series of compromises ended in an affair.” She wasn’t accusing him, or even lecturing him, but the heavy disappointment in her voice and her eyes were much worse.
“I haven’t told anybody at the firm what’s going on. I was trying to protect our privacy.”
She leaned forward, her eyes narrow, and her lips tight. “Protect my marriage first.”
“I called you as soon as she left because I didn’t want you to think I was hiding anything.”
“You weren’t going to tell me you were alone with her.”
“Because I knew you’d overreact,” he said too sharply.
Bobbi jabbed at the table, her voice rising. “You expect me to trust you with the one thing I’m most afraid of, and here you are flirting, literally, with disaster. I’m not overreacting.”
“She’s not a threat to us anymore. She’s just angry with me.”
“No… Everything she does is calculated for some twisted purpose. She scares me.” Bobbi looked away, and took a long drink. “She knows. She knows that if she can get you alone, she doesn’t have to do anything else, and she gets between us.”
Chuck dropped his head. He couldn’t win. This kind of worry was exactly what he wanted to prevent. He reached across the table and took his wife’s hands. “Bobbi, the only way Tracy Ravenna can come between us is if one of us moves. I am not moving.” A tear made its way down Bobbi’s cheek. “I love you and I will be faithful to you and you alone. Faithful until death. Can you, please, give me the benefit of the doubt once in a while?”
That evening, with the hum of the dishwasher insulating the kitchen from the rest of the house, Bobbi took advantage of the solitude. She ran hot water in the sink and began washing the pots and pans from dinner. As she scrubbed and rinsed, her mind drifted back through every strained conversation she and Chuck had had since Jack Ravenna showed up on her class list.
She honestly wanted to see Chuck’s side, and to understand his thinking, but every time she tried to convey her concerns, all he heard was irrational worry. He missed the fact that she did trust him to remain faithful, and she accepted that he was following God’s leadership.
“She’s not a threat. She’s just angry,” he had said. Chuck refused to see what Tracy really was. His ego would never let him concede that he was mixed up with a woman so devious. He could admit to adultery, but not to being duped.
His career depended on sizing people up, cutting through their pretenses to figure out what was negotiable and what wasn’t. Regardless of all the evidence to the contrary, he couldn’t be wrong about Tracy.
The phone rang, and Bobbi dried her hands slowly on the dishtowel. What if it was Tracy? They should get an unlisted number. Then she heard Chuck call from the other room, “Bobbi! It’s Rita!”
Feeling silly for worrying, Bobbi picked up the receiver. “Hey, I’ll have Katelyn and Natalie Thursday. Do you want me to get Shannon, too?”
“Sure. Shannon will be thrilled.”
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong.”
“It will save us a lot of time if you just go ahead and tell me what’s going on… And don’t say you’re tired.”
“I need to work on my acting,” Bobbi sighed. “Tracy showed up at Chuck’s office today to pitch a fit over the court order for the DNA test.”
“Oh, no.”
“I’ve got to get used to it. She’s not going away.”
“I hate to see you have to deal with this again and again. Once was more than enough.”
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