Authors: Richard J. Bennett
Tags: #Suspense, #Fiction, #Christian
She had evaluated me, but I had been evaluating her as well. She was bright, intelligent, thoughtful, and knowledgeable. I had friends, yes, but not the kind of friends who could give me deep insights into myself. Hearing what she had to say was something new, something helpful. Speaking of help, that’s one thing she recommended. Like Lucy to Charlie Brown, Miss Planter said that I needed some kind of involvement. She remarked that one of the reasons I hadn’t been happy was because I hadn’t felt useful, or significant. Since I had missed out on being a husband and father, I wasn’t able to see my spouse or children be helped, and this made me feel like a failure, in my own eyes, even though I wasn’t. I was glad to hear this from Miss Planter, who seemed to hear what I had said, even though I was paying her to listen.
My assignment was to help other people, somehow, in order to deal with the feelings I had been experiencing. Now I was seeing that men have feelings that they have to deal with, also. Miss Planter said this was normal, and she was one smart cookie.
The next step was to figure out how to help people, and how to do this with good motives, and not just because it would make me “feel better,” although that may be reason enough.
I had arrived home after work, and was preparing supper-for-one in the kitchen. Eating healthy had become a concern, so I had read up on how to make something that was supposedly healthy taste good as well. Like I had told Miss Planter, I used to be able to eat anything, with no repercussions, but that had all changed. My clothes had become tighter in recent years, and now I’d sometimes get headaches after eating out, probably from too much salt. I wasn’t a diabetic, but did work with people who were, and saw how they had to handle their problems with diet, exercise, and medicine. I didn’t want that in my future. I also wanted to have a strong heart and healthy muscles, but working out seemed to be getting more and more strenuous. So it came down to concentrating on cooking, for now, as one means of keeping the health intact.
Anyhow, I was in the kitchen, trying to cook, and the telephone rang. I walked into the den where the hard-line phone was and picked it up. It turned out to be a blast from the past; it was Helen Ceraldi.
If you’ve ever been in love and lost what you had, then you know what it’s like to have your heart cut out with a rusty three-pronged fork. I had been stupid in love with Helen Ceraldi, a school beauty from both my high school and college years. She was as American as apple pie, mixed with a bit of Europe, which gave mystery to her persona and personality. A dark-haired beauty, a dark-haired Italian-American beauty, she spoke with a hint of the Italian accent. Tall, slender, smart, from a large family in the community, she became too much woman for the withdrawn-type former bookworm and now computer-literate social freak like me. What was she doing on the other end of my telephone line? Guess I needed to find out.
The heart jumped when I heard her voice; all of a sudden I wasn’t hungry anymore, and also, wasn’t she married to a medical doctor and living on the wealthy west side of Lovely?
“Hello, Helen; it’s good to hear you,” I forced myself to say. “How are you?” I guessed that was pretty safe territory; I couldn’t just come out and say, “Hello, wench. What the Sam Hill are you doing calling here, and how in living blazes did you drop me for a good-looking medical student with a bright future ahead of him a quarter-century ago? Yes, yes, I know a girl’s got to be practical, but do you know what that did to ME?”
Helen answered that she was working on a school reunion and would like to see me. She would like to see me? Lots of scenes went through my mind in the few seconds I had before I caved in and answered in the affirmative. Maybe I could have sent her a picture of myself on e-mail, then she’d be able to see me all she wanted; maybe we could do the “Skype” thing, talk face-to-face on the computer; would that have made her happy? What about her husband, her kids, her family? What would they think about me, an old thrown-aside boyfriend, being seen with her, the Italian-American beauty who’s probably still a beautiful beauty at the age of… 47 now? Yes, that’s right; she was three years younger than me. Did I owe her anything? I had to think quick, quick! Because she was on the phone and waiting for an answer, I didn’t want to be rude and have this door slammed shut in my face again for another 25 years!
“Yes, yes, Helen. I’ll meet with you. Where are you now?”
Now there’s a man of iron for you. Some girl practically leaves me at the mental altar and I manage to crawl back to her, through the mud, just to kiss her rear end when she finally decides to glance in my direction, perhaps just out of curiosity, or worse, pity. It doesn’t matter; I’d soon be seeing Helen. Hopefully she’d be fat, then I could laugh, but not to her face.
We decided to meet at a restaurant on the far north side of town, far enough away from our old neighborhoods, so that the chances of our being seen together were lessened. Of course we didn’t say that to each other; we just said we’d meet at this certain restaurant because it was a nice place for two adults to be dining like civilized and classy people with money to spend.
I quickly put the cooking meal in the refrigerator. I showered and shaved and powdered and put on some nice clothes in the 45 minutes that I had before I was to meet Helen, clothes for the restaurant, not for Helen. I even put on some better cologne for the restaurant, and clipped my fingernails as well, and used the emory board on them. My teeth were flossed and I had a mint piece of gum in my mouth, chewing it slowly so nobody would notice. I didn’t want to look too lowbrow in a highbrow place. Good thing the restaurant didn’t require a tie since I don’t like wearing ties when I eat. I put on a colorful Hawaiian short-sleeved shirt, complete with flowers and palm trees, with a pocket for my pen. The black pants were better than average, and they were comfortable, still fairly new, and weren’t faded. They were a step up from blue jeans, but not formal suit pants. I was wearing black shoes, not hard shoes, but soft leather and soft soles, because I’d found that softer shoes were good for my back and didn’t make me tired from walking. I could walk all day in those shoes, and I polished them for the restaurant as well.
I drove fast and furious through downtown Lovely, up to the north side where the restaurant was located. Good thing there wasn’t much traffic in the evening. Maybe I should have taken the loop around town.
I arrived and stood out in front of the eating establishment and had butterflies in my stomach. Why should this be bothering me? Helen’s a married and respectable woman, now. She probably just wants to see an old “friend.” Yeah, friend. A friend who used to cover her face with kisses, a friend who bought her flowers and took her to movies and out to the burger shack whenever he could. I guess with all that effort, she thought I had earned her kisses. And why did I wind up paying for all our dates, seeing how she was on a paid scholarship, and had money from her summer job? Her clothes alone could have bought and sold my future; why did I fall for a dame like that? Maybe that’s what “friends” are for; what the heck was I doing here?
I heard a powerful engine in the distance and looked to my right, focusing down the street. A red convertible, top up, came down the avenue, getting closer to the restaurant. I knew it was Helen; she’d always had a thing for red cars and sporty convertibles. How like her to combine the two-in-one.
She drove up and found a spot near the front door, where I was standing. I walked over to the front of the convertible, and saw the driver’s side door open. Two beautiful legs popped out; nope, she didn’t get fat.
I got near in time to meet her as she stood out of the low car. She saw me, paused for a moment, long enough to recognize me, and smiled, her teeth shiny white. My gosh, she was still beautiful! I hoped I hadn’t changed too much; I felt conscious of my thin hair. She still had a head full of beautiful long and wavy hair, and it was still dark, with no grey, not in the least, not even with white streaks that I thought I might see. White streaks in her hair on a fat body? No, no way.
She walked toward me and hugged me around the neck; it was a long hug. Maybe she had missed me? I hugged her back. I wanted to keep hugging and then start with the kissing, but since she was married that wouldn’t be the thing to do. We pulled apart, with me somewhat still holding her; I looked into her eyes. She smiled, her teeth were perfect, her face perfect. Nothing had changed, except there were a few lines around the eyes, but that’s easily overlooked. After all, she wasn’t a teen-ager anymore, and hadn’t been for quite a while.
“Randall, it’s so good to see you.” Well, those were good words to hear. Not as good as “Randall, it’s so good to hug you,” or “Randall, your cologne is so strong and your breath is especially minty,” or “Randall, you’re a total hunk, and truly a man among men,” but still, it’s a good start.
“Mom, are you going to introduce me?” I was startled by another female voice; I hoped I hadn’t looked too grabby. I put my hands behind my back and turned around to see a miniature Helen, a younger black-haired beauty.
Helen said, “Yes, sorry. Mindy, this is Mr. Owen. Randall, the friend I was telling you about. Randall, this is my oldest daughter, Mindy Burke. She followed me here.” I was completely caught off guard, but managed a handshake, and said, “It’s good to meet you.”
I suddenly felt hungry again. We went inside and got a table.
We had a nice supper at a nice restaurant for a nice price. I picked up the tab for the three of us, for both the meal and the tip, even though it was Helen who initially wanted to speak with me. We talked small talk during the meal, speaking of classmates and townsfolk we had both known, while Mindy sat silently through most of it. I tried to include her in the conversation, but we older types didn’t have much in common with this college-aged girl.
After the meal was over, then it was time to “get down to business.” The restaurant wasn’t eager to chase anybody out, so we had plenty of time to burn. Mindy had excused herself to visit the little girl’s room, and so I figured I would cut to the chase.
“What kind of reunion party are you planning? High school or college?” I asked, trying to be matter-of-fact.
“I’m sorry for misleading you, but I’m not here about a reunion,” she said, speaking in a serious tone.
I locked onto her eyes to look for any deceit; I didn’t see any. “Okay, then, why are we here?”
Helen took a breath, and said, “I needed a sounding board, Randall. I’ve recently had some developments in the family, and I needed to discuss them with somebody on the outside.”
On the outside. On the outside? Yeah, that’s me, all right. I could have been your husband, but oh, no, here you are speaking to someone on the “outside.”
“Well, what kind of developments has the family been experiencing?”
She hesitated, then said, “I believe my husband is having an affair.”
I leaned back in my chair and looked around. “Do you think you want to be discussing this with your daughter so close by?”
“Mindy knows,” she said. “I told her to disappear after we ate. I needed the time to speak freely.”
This was a little bit too much for me to take in all at once, so I asked, “You’re talking about your husband, Mindy’s father… Franklin Burke, the medical doctor?”
“Yes.” Helen averted her eyes from my gaze.
“Do you have any idea who he’s having an affair with?”
“I do. Her name is Susan Lovely. She’s heir to the Lovely family fortune, and Franklin is the family doctor.”
“Susan Lovely,” I said, remembering her from the local interview. “I’ve seen her on television. Do you know anything else about her?”
“I know a little about her,” said Helen, “from what I can pick up through the grapevine, and read in the newspaper, mostly the society column. She’s 37 years old, a former model, single, never-married with no children, went to college for a little while but dropped out to further her modeling career. I suspect she quit college because she was bored with it and then later quit modeling for the same reason, plus…” Helen stopped short.
“Plus? Plus what?” I pushed.
“I’m sure she had some kind of trust fund to live on, and her grandfather recently passed away, and she’s about to come into a lot of money. Her family was already among the wealthy, but now she’s about to become one of the super-rich.” I could see Helen was becoming frustrated, even though she knew how to hide her emotions.
Here was competition she couldn’t compete with. Helen had the beauty of a model, but the youth and riches part were giving her some trouble.
“You’re saying that your husband, Franklin, the M.D., has gotten involved with a rich socialite, even though he’s been married to you for 25 years?”
“Yes. It would seem so. This is what I believe, anyway,” she said.
“What makes you believe this?”
“He’s her family doctor. He helped take care of Cornelius Lovely.”
Now that name carried some weight, even though I’d already figured out he was in the picture somehow. But Mr. Lovely had the reputation of being above such sordid scandals; what was his granddaughter doing being involved with a married man?
Helen continued, “I used to hear all about his patients, and I heard about her and her family, up until about six months ago when suddenly, Franklin stopped speaking about them. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. He’s such a busy man and has many patients.”
“This is all interesting,” I said, “but is there any proof of his being involved with Susan Lovely? I mean, how do you know?”
Mindy reached for her purse, placed it on the table and opened it. She pulled out a folded piece of paper, which turned out to be a grainy black and white 8” X 10”
photograph. She slid the photograph across the table to me.
There was Franklin Burke, M.D., a still-handsome man of about 47, Helen’s age, kissing a beautiful young woman on the cheek in a parking lot while standing next to a car, presumably Susan Lovely’s car. The door was open and she was standing, looking as though she was about to get in, but having a “good-bye” kiss planted on her by a possible romantic interest.