Mythology tells the story of the Phoenix; a powerful bird that at certain intervals will build a nest and sit in it as it is consumed by flames. Out of the ashes the Phoenix is reborn to once again grow in strength and wisdom. Sometimes in life, the thing that kills and destroys us is the very thing that is life's greatest blessing.
My name is Robert O'Conner. My family calls me Bobby but the rest of the world knows me as Robert. Immediately after graduating from college I was recruited by Willis, Goldman & Reed and assigned to the Chicago office. There were eleven new hires that started on the same day and that is when I met Barbara. We were given desks next to each other and as the new kids on the block we sought safety in numbers in defense against the veterans. The rookies started having coffee together at the break and then meeting over lunch to commiserate or cheer each other on as we all tried to integrate ourselves in the corporate world. After several months the group began to dwindle until there was just Barbara and myself.
Barbara was gorgeous. The kind of physical beauty that could make a dead man stand up and dance. After we got to know each other she admitted that she had been featured in one of those photo spreads that Playboy magazine occasionally runs, "Sorority Girls of New England Colleges." I immediately went out and found a copy of that issue and kept it in the drawer of my nightstand. Every guy in the office tried to date her but she rebuffed them all.
She had long thick red hair, a mass of curls that hung below the middle of her back, and dark green eyes. Her skin was flawless and she used very little makeup, she didn't need to. Even without lipstick her lips were a deep red. She stood six feet tall in her stocking feet, an inch above my own five-eleven. Most of the time she wore slacks to the office but on those occasions when she wore a skirt the male employees were treated to the blinding vision of her perfectly formed long legs. Her breasts were neither large nor small, just the right size and shape. Every thing about her body was in perfect proportion. Each movement she made was a symphony of sensuality, from walking across the office to get something from the filing cabinet down to the simple act of putting a paper clip on a piece of paper.
As for myself, I am not a Golden Adonis nor am I the elephant man. A girlfriend in college once described me as being "six points above average." I have been told by several women that my best features are my blue eyes and my smile. One of my few regrets in life is not being able to reach six feet like my two brothers. If genetics hold true, by the time I reach fifty I will be thirty pounds heavier than the day I graduated from high school...with absolutely no hope of ever losing them.
I am not the life of the party but can hold up my end of a conversation and do reasonably well at telling a joke. For all of her beauty Barbara is fairly quiet but not shy, she was the center of attention no matter what the setting. Without even speaking she would have men gathered around her, just waiting for the pleasure of her smiling in their direction. You don't realize how intelligent she is until you have been around her for a while. I could never figure out how we ended up connecting.
From having coffee and lunches at work we progressed to catching a movie after work and then on to dinner and drinks Friday nights. From there it was Friday and Saturday nights and then several nights during the week. Six months after our first official date we were married.
Life was good. We were madly in love with each other. By working in the same office we could go to and leave work together. We had our own little universe that had little room in it for other people. The daily sex was fantastic and together we learned new ticks and moves that made it more intense as we went along.
Several years after we were married, corporate headquarters sent in a new manager for my unit. Derrick Andrews was a tall muscular black man with his head shaved smooth and an arrogant look in his eyes. He was smooth with the women and a real bastard to the men in the office. Gradually I found more and more of the workload being put on my desk as I struggled to get it all done. Instead of coming to work with Barbara, I increasingly had to go in early and stay late, not getting home until eight or nine most nights plus having to go in to the office on Saturdays. It became obvious that Andrews was trying to force me to quit the company.
During this time the only thing that kept me going was Barbara. Every night she would sooth my battered ego and take away all the stress. During the day she would call my desk just to say, "hi" or come by my desk with a cookie or slice of somebody's birthday cake. I had just about reached my breaking point when Barbara gave me the news. She was pregnant.
All thoughts of quitting immediately flew out the window. There was nothing that Derrick could do to me that I couldn't endure. The joy of knowing that I was to be a father took care of every thing. The sex on the night she told me was one of the greatest experiences of my life up to that point.
I had heard the stories from the other guys in the office about how horny their wives got during pregnancy. At first it was true and the sex was almost non-stop at home. But as the due date got closer Barbara seemed to run hot and cold. One night she would literally jump me and tear my clothes off as I walked through the door. The next night she would be cold and distant. During the last few weeks she had completely withdrawn and would flinch whenever I tried to touch her.
At last the day came. Her water broke on Sunday morning and we rushed to the hospital. By the afternoon we were in the delivery room with the doctor telling her when to push. Finally there was one last push and the baby came out of the birth canal. The doctor immediately looked up at me and then over to Barbara. The room was oddly silent. Without saying a word the nurse placed the baby on Barbara's chest.
The baby's skin was back as coal.
I stood there, stunned, looking at the baby. Barbara's face had a horrified look. It seemed as though everything was happening in slow motion. I backed away from the delivery table, then turned and walked out of the room. As the doors closed I could hear Barbara screaming, "Robert come back here."
I made it as far as the parking lot before I stopped to throw up in the bushes. In a daze I was somehow able to find the car and take off. I drove around aimlessly for a while and then headed home. For the next several hours I paced back and forth trying to make sense out of what just happened.
I wrestled with my emotions for hours. Had I made a mistake, could I be wrong? Did I misunderstand about the baby? Had I misjudged Barbara? Where do we go from here? What possible explanation could there be? Had I done something to cause her to be disloyal? What signs of her cheating could I have missed? Was there more than one man she had cheated with? Could the marriage be saved, or was there any thing left to save? It always came back to one simple fact.
There is no way in hell that two people of Irish descent could produce a black baby.
After my third trip to the toilet to vomit I lost any sense of self-control and completely destroyed the bathroom. Barbara, my reason for living, had betrayed me. The emotional pain of her obvious infidelity became a physical pain as well. After all the years of what I thought were love and devotion for each other, Barbara had been unfaithful and bore a child fathered by another man.
We all make choices about where our lives will go. It was very clear that Barbara's choice did not include me; she had not honored the wedding vows we made to each other.
The phone had been ringing constantly since I returned to the house. The first time I let the answering machine pick up and heard Barbara's voice demanding that I return to the hospital so we could talk. She called five more times in the next hour, each message becoming less demanding until the final one when she was crying and begging me to come to her.
I couldn't take it any more and unplugged the phone so I wouldn't have to hear it. I went to the garage and came back with a hammer. I placed the telephone on the kitchen counter and left it in a thousand pieces before throwing the hammer through the closed window above the sink. By now the rage had subsided enough that I was able to put together some coherent thoughts.
In situations like this it is surprising how quickly material things become meaningless to your life. Over the next several hours I gathered up the few things that I now valued and piled them in the middle of the living room floor. Everything fit into three cardboard boxes that I found in the garage and I loaded them into my car. I threw all of my clothes into the car without bothering to pack them into suitcases. I put the empty suitcases in the car planing to pack them later. I had to get out of that house that held so many memories of Barbara's and my life together.
The last thing I did was to go to the garage and come back with another hammer and nail. I went into the bedroom one last time and looked around. I took off my wedding ring and nailed it to the wooden headboard. I heaved the hammer through the mirror over the dresser and left. By 11:30 that night I pulled out of the driveway and went in search of a hotel.
I got no sleep that night and in the morning I called my secretary, Mrs. Lopez, to tell her that I would not be in that day. Mrs. Lopez asked how Barbara was doing and I quietly hung up the phone with out answering. I spent the entire day inside the hotel room trying to get control of my thoughts and emotions.
The next morning I knew I would go crazy if I stayed there any longer, and not knowing what else to do, I went into the office. I was standing outside my office door trying to focus on what Mrs. Lopez trying to tell me when Derrick Andrews walked up.
"It's about time you showed up for work O'Conner. I'm getting tired of your work habits lately. The only reason I don't fire your ass is because I need to keep you employed so you can raise that little bastard of mine."
Mrs. Lopez and I both stared at him with our mouths open. With a smirk Andrews continued.
"Didn't know about that did you. I've been fucking your wife non-stop for the last two years. Your wife is one sweet pussy."
I am not a violent man and I don't actually remember hitting him, but I watched as Andrews flew backward knocking over several chairs before bouncing off of John Gordon and sliding to the floor. Blood was flowing out of his nose leaving a large red stain on Gordon's shoes. Mr. Gordon was a corporate vice president and head of the Chicago office. It was rumored that he was first in line to become the next CEO. When Andrews tried to get up from the floor I kicked him in the ribs three times as hard as possible. After the third time he remained on the floor curled up into a ball. I spun around and walked past the other people in the room that were cowering wide-eyed in the corner and left.
Outside I walked away from the building. My hand was really starting to hurt so I stopped at a deli and bought a large cup of ice to stick it into. I kept walking until I came to a bench that overlooked Lake Michigan and just sat, staring out at nothing. In the space of three days my life had turned to complete shit. I was twenty-seven years old and had been betrayed by my lover, my marriage of four years was in ruins, I was out of a job and was probably going to be arrested for assault. I am normally a laid back type of person, but today I had turned in to some kind of homicidal maniac. As I sat there, words like love, betrayal, cheating, dishonesty, commitment, infidelity, deceit, unfaithful kept floating around, racing in and out of my thoughts. Eventually I noticed that it was getting dark so I returned to my hotel room.
At 9:30 that night I was wrapping my hand in a fresh batch ice when someone knocked on the door. I opened the door and was surprised to see John Gordon.
"Good evening Robert, you're a hard person to find."
I only stared at him in confusion.
"Do you mind if I come in? What I have to say may take a while."
"Sure, why not." I stepped back to let him in. "Look, Mr. Gordon, I won't apologize for what happed this morning, but if you don't mind there are a few personal items in my office...excuse me, my former office that I would like to get."
"Ah yes, this morning. You certainly have an interesting way to start your Tuesdays." I opened my mouth to speak when he raised his hand to stop me. "Please don't interrupt me just yet. I need to say this and get on my way before my wife reports me as a missing person. First off I want to assure you that you are not fired. In fact, I am very grateful for what you did this morning. Derrick Andrews is a shithead and I've hated him from the moment he walked into our office. But he was sent by headquarters so my hands were tied."
"After you left, Mrs. Lopez grabbed me and pulled me into your office and started yelling in Spanish. At first I didn't understand much of what she was saying, but gist of it was 'you have to fix this.' I thought she was mad at you but she wasn't, it was Andrews. She told me about the things he had done to you in the office over the last two years...and about your wife." At that point he paused and looked around the room before continuing.
"By eleven o'clock this morning, Mrs. Lopez had seven women lined up outside my office telling me that they were going to file sexual harassment charges against Andrews and the company. I spent most of the afternoon on the phone with the legal department in New York. The upshot is that the women are not going to file a complaint against the company, but in return our legal depart will represent the ladies in court when they do file against Andrews personally."
"I have done nothing today except try to put out the fires that you and Andrews started. I interviewed every single person in your unit and they all confirmed what Mrs. Lopez told me. You may not be aware of it but you are the most respected person in that building. Within twenty minutes after you left the entire unit was writing their letters of resignation. Andrews has completely destroyed the morale of that unit and most of the people only stayed out of loyalty to you. Fortunately the staff has agreed to hold their resignations until I get a chance to sort everything out."
"You have several options to think about here. If you want to come back to the office, you will be coming back in Andrews' position as manager. If that is too much for you right now, I know several CEOs around the country who will hire you at a moment's notice on my recommendation...or here in Chicago if you want to work on your marriage." Again he paused for a moment.
"There is a third option I would like you to consider. You are too valuable an employee for the company to lose. I understand that you're originally from California. I can arrange for you to be transferred to our San Miguel office in California...at times like this it helps to be around family."
The minute he said San Miguel I knew my answer. I opened my mouth but before I could speak he stopped me again.
"I don't want an answer tonight, I want you to sleep on it, although it doesn't look as though you've been doing very much of that the last couple of days." He handed me a small card with a telephone number on it. "This is my private line, call me at 9 AM tomorrow." With that he headed for the door. He opened it and turned around with small grin on his face. "Just so you know, the score was one broken nose and three cracked ribs. I made certain that assault charges will not be filed against you. Here's the good news. When Andrews gets out of the hospital, he is going to explain to the district attorney how a man on his salary is able to pay cash for a Mercedes-Benz." His grin got bigger and then he left.
The news about San Miguel was the only good thing I had heard in the last few days. I was born and raised in Santa Teresa, about one hours' drive south of San Miguel. My mother and two brothers still lived there but that was not the good part. My best friend in the world lives in San Miguel. Colleen has always been the most important person in my life, from childhood and on to our "grown-up" lives. We share everything. I was the best man at her wedding and she was a bridesmaid at mine. There was nothing that we would not do for each other.
Colleen is also my sister.
There are four of us. Colleen is the oldest and three years older than me. In between are James and Michael, the twins. We all love each other but as children the natural paring was always Jimmy & Mikey against Colleen & Bobby in all the games we played. That same bond just continued as we grew up.
Colleen taught me how to tie my shoes and held my hand crossing the street. She sat behind me when we went down the giant slide and let me hide in her bed under the covers when the monsters in my closet were ready to come and get me.
When we were in high school, she watched out for me and kept me from doing anything stupid that would end up branding me as a hopeless dork for the next four years. Colleen gave me the best birthday present any fifteen-year boy could possibly imagine. She convinced her best friend on the cheerleading squad to take me to the Senior Class Christmas Ball as her date. I was the hero of every male in the freshmen class. Afterwards Cindy would wink and wave to me in the hallway and I became a living legend.
Colleen had married Bill after college and moved to San Miguel so he could open his business. They soon had two daughters and everything looked bright. Bill became an extension of Colleen for me and there was nothing I wouldn't do for him. But then Colleen's world fell apart.
Bill was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of cancer. After five months of agonizing pain, Bill died at home in Colleen's arms. Two months later our father suffered a massive heart attack and died instantly. The strain was almost too much for Colleen but somehow she survived, became stronger and kept herself involved in her daughters. Even though we talked on the phone at least weekly, if not daily, I had not seen Colleen since Dad's funeral two years ago. I was excited at the prospect of living in the same town with her.
Surprisingly, I did get some sleep and after a shower in the morning felt almost human again. That was the physical part. On the inside, I could feel my soul, my spirit, whatever you want to call it, starting to shrivel up and die. At 9 AM I called Gordon and told him my decision about San Miguel.
"Excellent choice Robert. There is a Starbucks around the corner from here on 53rd and Randolph. Meet me there in one hour." And he hung up.
By the time I got there he was already sitting at a table with a box in front of him.
"I don't have much time so here is the deal. Mrs. Lopez put all of your personal things in this box. Right now, Mrs. Lopez and I are the only people that know you are going to San Miguel and it will remain that way unless you tell someone personally." He handed me a thick envelope that was sealed and stamped CONFIDENTIAL. "Harold Peterson is the head of the San Miguel office and is expecting you at 8 AM Monday morning, he loves punctuality. Give this to him when you get there." He handed me a second envelope that was not sealed and I pulled out the contents. Inside was a first class airline ticket, one way to San Miguel. The other item was a piece of paper with the name and address of a law firm a few blocks away.
"You have an appointment with these people in thirty minutes. Whether or not you keep that appointment is your decision, but I suggest that you do." He stood up and was ready to leave when I stopped him.
"Mr. Gordon, why are doing all this for me?"
He looked down at the floor for a long time before raising his head to look me in the eye.
"Because I was in your position myself a long time ago. Besides, Mrs. Lopez told me this morning that if I didn't help you, she was going to bring her husband in to beat the crap out of me. The scary thing is I believe her. I don't know what you did to earn her loyalty, but that's the kind of people I like to have around me. She started this morning as my personal secretary."
"Thank you Mr. Gordon...and please tell Mrs. Lopez thank you and that I will miss her."
"I think she already knows that Robert, and good luck. I know it doesn't seem like it right now but life will get better, you're just going to have to trust me on this one."
One more time he looked at me and grinned.
"This morning an independent auditing firm will begin examining the accounts that Andrews managed. I'm very interested in seeing what they find."
He shook my hand and walked out the door.
I did keep the appointment with the attorneys. Obviously Gordon had set this up himself because they already had some background information about what had happened. We spent the rest of the day going over all the options that were available to me and any possible consequences. I made it clear that for all the pain and the shit that Barbara had dumped on me, I did not and would not seek any revenge. I did not want to destroy her, to have my "pound of flesh." All I wanted was out of the marriage as quickly as possible and to never see or hear from her again. I had already taken the few things I wanted to keep from the last five years and just wanted to walk away.
I finally left the lawyers around 7 PM that evening and went back to the hotel. I was able keep some food down and for the first time in days felt as though I was taking back some of the control over my life that had been yanked way from me. I waited until I knew it was after dinnertime in San Miguel before I called Colleen. It was such a joy just to hear her voice when she answered.
"Bobby, where are you? What's going on? Barbara has called here a hundred times; she says that you're missing."
"Do you know if she's talked to Mom or the twins?"
"Yes she has, she's been calling everyone from what I can tell. What's going on?"
"I'll explain everything later but right now I need some help."
"Anything you need, you know that Bobby."
"Thanks. I need you to pick me up at the airport. I'll get into San Miguel Friday afternoon at 5:30, TWA flight 1649. I also need a place to stay for a while; I was hoping I could stay with you and the girls."
"Of course you can, I'll move Molly in with Meghan. They will love to see you."
"One more thing, call Mom and the twins and ask them to come to your house Saturday morning, but don't let them know that you've talked to me unless you have to. I don't want Barbara to know where I am just yet. I'll explain everything on Saturday."
"OK Bobby, but the explanation had better be a good one."
After a few minutes of banal conversation we hung up and I lay back on the bed. I tried to compare what had been the two most important people in my life up to now. Barbara was cutting edge fashion and all night dance clubs. She was all angles and flat planes and tight muscles; she was smoky darkness and a promise of sensual erotic delight. You knew that sex with her would turn into an athletic event.
Colleen was clean simple lines, all curves, classic, timeless traditional beauty. She was daylight and PTA meetings. She gave you a feeling of contentment. I can put on a perfectly tailored suit and it will look like I had slept in it for a week before I reach the sidewalk. My sister on the other hand, can put on discards from the Salvation Army store and look elegant and sophisticated. She makes people, male and female, want to go find their partner and reproduce the species so they could have children just like her.
More from total exhaustion than anything else I did sleep that night, but the dreams made me wake up the next morning in a cold sweat.
I spent most of the morning back at the lawyers finishing everything so I could leave Chicago the next day. I told them about Barbara calling my family. They immediately started the paper work to get a restraining order that would prevent Barbara from contacting my family or me. I signed a power of attorney so that I wouldn't have to be involved in every little detail of what was going to happen. In the afternoon I tried to tie up all the loose ends I could think of and packed everything to leave.
And then I waited.
By this time all of the rage and anger had dissipated but in its place was a constant dull throbbing pain that was starting to wear huge calluses onto my soul.
The next morning a secretary from the attorney's office drove me to the airport in my car. The lawyers were going to sell the car and the money would be added to the final settlement. The divorce papers were to be served to Barbara that afternoon. From the time I left the hospital Sunday afternoon until I got on the plane Friday morning, I had not seen nor spoken to Barbara. And if there was a God in heaven I never would in the future either.
I don't remember much about the flight. I kept trying to force myself to stop thinking about what I was leaving behind and concentrate on where I was going. I had a three-hour lay over in Denver where I changed planes for San Miguel. Everyone left me alone as I waited; it felt like I was sitting in some type of isolation both. When I went to the men's room I was startled by the dead face staring back at me from the mirror. I was lucky I wasn't hauled away as a suspected terrorist.
John Gordon was right; being close to family was just what I needed right then.
The only emotion that I could feel was a small flicker of excitement at being able to see Colleen. It's funny how genetics works. The twins, Jimmy and Mike, and I look like Dad. Fortunately Colleen looks like Mom. Growing up, Colleen was the typical girl next door. She was cute and bright and sunny and everyone's best friend. When she was in high school she was the head cheerleader and had at least two dates every weekend. She was so sweet that the twins and I teased her that she would give us diabetes, but every boy in town knew that the twins would beat the crap out of them if they didn't treat our sister right.
Colleen had made the transition to adulthood beautifully. If you look in the dictionary under Soccer Mom you will see Colleen's picture. She is five foot four and had complained to me one time that her wedding dress was a size 6 but after giving birth to my nieces she was now a size 10 and her bra had increased a full cup size. Just like Mom her hair is the color of gold and she keeps is short, not even long enough to pull back into a ponytail. The twins and my eyes are blue like Dad's but Mom and Colleen's are a deep brown that has a completely serene look. I know it sounds corny but it is true; when she smiles the sun shines.
After the plane landed, I walked through the gate and started to look around when I heard two small voices squealing, "Uncle Bobby! Uncle Bobby! Over here." Meghan, age seven and Molly, age six were jumping up and down, waving their arms and each holding a bright red balloon on a string. Colleen was standing behind them, smiling and they all rushed over to hug me. I have never seen a more beautiful sight.
We collected my bags and on the ride to the house Meghan and Molly were chattering a mile a minute telling me everything they had been doing since the last time I had seen them. Colleen lives in an older part of town in a large craftsman style cottage that had been built in the 1920's. She and Bill had spent a lot of time and money restoring it to a pristine condition. Pulling into the driveway, I felt as though I had come home.
After we had unloaded my stuff, Molly took my hand and pulled to show me her room where I would be staying. While the girls and I talked, Colleen went to the kitchen to start dinner. After we ate, she told the girls to get ready for bed and that she had surprise for them. Grandma and Uncle Jimmy and Uncle Mike were coming tomorrow for a visit. This caused more squealing and jumping and it was another hour before she could get them into bed.
After closing the bedroom door on the girls, Colleen went to the kitchen and came out a few minutes later with two cups of tea. She set them down on the coffee table and sat next to me on the couch. When several minutes of a comforting silence had passed she put her arms around me and gave me a little kiss on the cheek.
"Is there any thing you want to talk about?"
"Not just yet, wait until tomorrow. I don't want to go through this more than once."
"Ok." She stroked the back of my head and gave me another peck on the cheek. "It's good to have you here. The girls are really exited about you staying with us."
"Thanks, I think this is where I need to be right now."
Colleen stood then took my hand and pulled me up after her. "I gather that tomorrow is going to be a tough day and you look beat. Why don't you go to bed and I'll see you in the morning."
I lay on the bed but did not get undressed. I lay there staring up at the ceiling as every emotion in my body slowly drained away, leaving me completely numb. I must have eventually fallen asleep because the next thing I knew it was daylight and Meghan was shaking my shoulder to tell me, "breakfast is ready and mommy said to come and eat." After breakfast, I took a quick shower and then spent the rest of the morning letting the girls introduce me to their favorite Saturday morning activities.
Mike pulled up in the driveway just a little before noon with his wife Sharon and their three kids. Mom arrived with Jimmy and his wife Mi Lin and their two kids about 10 minutes later. Mike has a successful and growing construction business and Jimmy is a deputy sheriff. No one was interested in lunch right then so Colleen asked Meghan and Molly to take their cousins out in the back so the grown ups could have a little talk. On the way out, Mike's youngest, two-year-old Patricia, turned back, climbed into my lap and refused to leave. Somehow that seemed right so I kept her there and five minutes later she was asleep in my arms. I was sitting on the piano bench facing everyone else who was spread around the living room.
Over the next hour I told them everything, the story of Barbara's infidelity, the baby and Derek Andrews, spilling out all the anger and pain and frustration that had been overwhelming me for the last week. I held nothing back and didn't try to sugar coat anything. Jimmy and Mike only stopped me a couple of times to ask questions and Colleen and Mom said nothing. By the time I had finished, Colleen and Mom had tears in their eyes and Colleen said, "No wonder you only wanted to tell this once." After several minutes of silence, Colleen asked what my future plans were.
"Bright and early Monday morning I officially start at the San Miguel office of Willis, Goldman & Reed. After that I'll just play it by ear I guess."
From that point every one started in trying to carry on ordinary conversation and catch up on things from the last few years. All too soon lunch was started and finished and it was time for everyone to make the drive back to Santa Teresa. For the first time since we were kids, my brothers gave me a hug when they said good-bye and Mom hugged me like she would never let go.
The next day was Sunday and after church, Colleen, Meghan and Molly drove me around introducing me to my new hometown. The girls showed me their favorite parks and had a spirited argument about which restaurant had the best pizza. That night after the girls were in bed, Colleen and I sat talking late into the night and then I went to bed. I lay in bed staring at the ceiling again, trying to sort out what was happening to me.
At 8:01 AM the next morning I was seated in a chair across the desk from Mr. Harold Peterson handing him the envelope from John Gordon. He laid the envelope on the desk in front of him without opening it. He picked up the phone, punched in a number and said, "Miss Jennings, would you step into my office please." A moment later a young girl that appeared to be a recent graduate from a secretarial school came into the office.
"Miss Jennings, this is Robert O'Conner. He will be taking over for Barry, would you show him around and to his office. Robert, Miss Jennings will be your secretary. When you're done, come on back in here for a few minutes."
After the tour, I was back in the chair across from Peterson. This time the envelope was open and a pile of papers sat in front of him. He got up and crossed the room to shut the door and sat back down. He tapped the stack of papers with his finger then spoke.
"John speaks very highly of you and his word is good enough for me. Did he tell you that we were room mates in college?"
"No, I don't think he mentioned it."
"Oh well...here is the plan. For the next six months you will be doing the same job you had in Chicago, only not so much of it at one time." This he said with a small smile on his lips and then continued. "After that we will sit down and chart out your future with Willis, Goldman & Reed. Welcome to San Miguel."
San Miguel was as different from the Chicago office as anyone could possibly imagine. Chicago had over 300 employees and was the stepping stone to get to corporate headquarters in New York. San Miguel had 65 employees and suits and ties were discouraged unless corporate drones flew in from headquarters. Working in this office was a welcome relief from Chicago and I fell into the routine rather quickly...same job, new faces.
Peterson was a dream to work for. He was 40% manager and 60% cheerleader. He set incredibly high standards for his staff then spent most of his time convincing them they could do it. As a result, our office had the highest profit margin in the company. I was able to meet and interact with all of the employees, even fake a laugh at the typical office humor. But inside I kept myself separate and apart, never letting down my guard for one second about my personal life. I was living inside a glass booth.
And then the numbness came.
I had always been a person that enjoyed his life, but now...nothing. At times it almost seemed that people could hear a dry wind blowing through the hole in my soul. Before, I had been open and comfortable in almost any situation, but now I was closed and guarded.
The only pleasure that I had was being around Colleen and the girls. Meghan and Molly and I struck a bargain. Each night after dinner I would help them with their homework, how to add and subtract, learning to read a chapter book. They in turn would teach me every "Knock, Knock" joke known to mankind. They insisted that Colleen and I tuck them in together before allowing the lights to be turned off and go to sleep. Afterwards, Colleen and I would sit together in the living room and talk or watch TV or read or do nothing, just sit on the couch next to each other before going to bed.
It was at night that it was the worst. I had not slept alone for almost six years and it was then that everything could creep back, all the images, all the thoughts. Some were real pictures from my memory, others were pictures from my imagination, constantly playing in an endless loop until I couldn't tell the difference. But now they meant nothing to me. I had no feelings, nothing good, nothing bad...only mental pictures that just wouldn't go away.
Only the numbness remained.
Life became an emotionless routine for me. Routine was something that I desperately needed. During the day when I was at the office, Colleen was at home. After Bill died, Colleen sold the business and between that and the life insurance, she and the girls were set financially. This gave her the time to be a full time mom and do the thing she loved the most while they were in school. Colleen was an illustrator. She had illustrated seven children's books, none of them best sellers, but she was proud of them and rightly so. In between she had freelanced a couple hundred drawings to several greeting card companies. All of this allowed her to work at home and set her own schedule.
Living together, we become this odd family unit. Each morning I would say good bye to the girls as they sat at the table eating their breakfast. Colleen would meet me at the door and send me back to my room to get rid of that hideous tie or put on socks that matched. She was still preventing me from humiliating myself in public.
Saturday mornings the girls would get me out of bed early and drag me half asleep to the couch. There I would lie down and they would lie on top of me watching the early morning cartoons. At 8:30 everyone would eat breakfast, get dressed and take Meghan and Molly to their soccer games.
If Colleen and the girls had not been there to prop me up, suicide would have been an attractive option.
About three weeks after I had arrived in San Miguel, I came home to find a large manila envelope lying on the dining room table. The return address was for the attorneys in Chicago. I opened it and inside were two other envelopes. One was an empty envelope that was already stamped and addressed to the attorneys, obviously meant to be used to return something. The other envelope was thick with papers and across the front was hand written, "Robert, please read this. PLEASE!" I recognized it immediately as Barbara's handwriting. I stared at it, studying it for several minutes. Without opening the envelope, I tore it in half and put the pieces into the return envelope, sealed it and took it out to the mail box for the postman to pick up the next morning.
I continued to sleepwalk through my days and nights. Colleen did everything she could to draw me out of my emotional coma. The best part of the day was when she would kiss me on the cheek in the morning as I went out the door, or when the girls hugged me good night before bed. But for the most part the emotional numbness had taken over my life.
One Monday morning six months after leaving Chicago, Miss Jennings brought a FedEx man into my office saying that I had to sign for the package personally. After signing, the deliveryman said that his instructions were to wait until I had signed the papers and return them.
I opened the package and inside was the final divorce papers. I signed in the marked places and handed them back the FedEx guy. He stuffed them into another envelope, turned and left. It took less than ten minutes and four years of marriage to Barbara was over.
Six days later on Saturday morning, the doorbell rang and outside was another FedEx delivery from the attorneys. I signed for the package and went out back onto the deck. I sat on the glider and watched Meghan and Molly as they played in the yard. Finally I gathered what strength I had and opened the package. Inside was my copy of the final divorce papers signed by Barbara, the judge and myself. Also included was a check for my portion of the community property settlement. My marriage to Barbara was now officially over and the four-year investment for me had a monetary value of exactly $7,827.59.
I was lost in my own private misery when I felt something next to me. Meghan and Molly were standing mere inches away, holding hands and just watching me. Meghan sat next to me and put her arms around me. Molly crawled up into my lap and put her arms around my neck. She quietly said. "I love you Uncle Bobby," then lay her head on my chest.
A second later another pair of arms went around me from behind and I heard Colleen's voice whisper in my ear. "And I love you too Bobby, we all love you."
After several moments Colleen stood up, kissed me on the top of my head and said, "Girls, would you mind going into the house for a little bit? I need to talk to Uncle Bobby."
A quick squeeze from the girls then they hopped, skipped and jumped into the house as Colleen replaced Meghan on the glider next to me. She hooked her arm through mine and pulled me closer until we were leaning against each other. She took the papers out of my hands, looked them over then set them aside. We sat quietly before she spoke.
"When Bill died, I wanted to die too. I couldn't see any reason for going on. And then Dad died. The only thing that kept me here was the girls...and you. I must have sat holding the girls for hours; I couldn't bear to have them away from me. And you, you called me what...three...four times a day? You have no idea what that meant to me. I know what it means to lose someone you love. I think loosing someone to death is probably easier to deal with than what you've lost because I know that Bill loved me. Do you remember what you said to me...oh, must have been a couple of months after Dad died?"
"No, I don't."
"You said, 'Colleen, you will always love Bill and Dad and it hurts to lose someone. You must remember everything about them, the good and the bad, but we love you and it is time to let go...' Bobby, it's time for you to let go."
For the first time since that day at the hospital with Barbara, I cried. It was as though a giant festering emotional wound had erupted and my soul was pushing all of the poison out. Colleen sat holding me saying nothing. She waited patiently until the sobbing of a grown man stopped and I was able to pull my self together.
"You're right, I know it's time to let go. I just loved her so much. I don't want her back; I just want to understand why she did it. I know in my mind that I did nothing wrong, but emotionally I feel like I failed as a person somehow...that I failed Barbara...that I failed myself. But you're right, I will not let what Barbara did to me ruin the rest of my life. I've been using you and the girls as an emotional crutch for too long...I need to stop free loading off of you, I'll start looking for a place of my own."
"You will not. You'll just sit there alone in some apartment feeling sorry for yourself and the girls would be devastated if you moved out." Then she ruffled my hair, "besides, it's nice living with you again without having the twins around to tease the hell out of us. When you're ready, come inside and help me fix lunch."
John Gordon was right. It was at that moment that life began to get better.
After lunch I took everyone to an afternoon matinee of the new Disney movie and against Colleen's wishes, treated the girls to buckets of popcorn, candy and sodas. During the movie Colleen kissed the back of my hand and held it in the dark until the credits began to roll. For the first time in a very long time, I was having fun.
That night after the girls were in bed, Colleen and I talked late into the night, mostly me taking, Colleen listening as I purged my soul of more emotional poison. We have always been close, but now I was able to understand how much our family loved each other. That simple act of listening meant more to me than anything anyone has ever done. Only now did I realize the importance what I had done for Colleen after Bill died, and now she was returning that act of love to me.
After I had gotten into bed and was lying on my back staring at the ceiling, I heard the door open and watched as Colleen came into the room walking to the bed. She lay down next to me on top of the covers and pulled me close to her. When I started to say something she just stroked my face and said quietly, "Sh-sh-sh, just let it go baby." When I awoke in the morning, she was gone.
Slowly but steadily my life got back on track. My harrowing nightmare existence began to fade, the dreams and mental pictures came less frequently at night. I began to interact with the people in the office in a more personal way. One day I had Colleen come to the office where I introduced her around before taking her to lunch. Later that evening after the girls were in bed, she had a half smile on her face when she asked why I hadn't mentioned to anyone that she was my sister.
"I don't know, it never crossed my mind. I guess that I'd better correct that tomorrow."
"No, that's ok. It'll be good for the rumor mill to think that Bobby O'Conner has a girlfriend. Besides, I haven't been the object of gossip for a long time."
I thought about it for a while and realized Colleen had introduced me to her friends as just plain Robert. I pointed out to Colleen that she had not mentioned that I was her brother to the neighborhood, that she done the same thing I had done. We started laughing at what a scandal we must be in the neighborhood, that nice widow woman with the live-in boyfriend. We were laughing so much at what we both had inadvertently done that we had tears coming down. Laughter felt good once again.
When we caught our breaths, Colleen gave me a hug and whispered in my ear, "Well, I have to admit, I could do a lot worse for a boyfriend." Then she turned, went to her bedroom, stopping to smile and blow me a kiss saying, "good night sweetie" before closing the door.
Life was getting better for me and the memories of my time in Chicago began to fade. Colleen and I spent a lot of evenings talking late into the night. Conversations that started with "Do you remember when..." and "What ever happened to..." but always ended with sharing everything that was important to us. Colleen told me of how much she missed Bill and Dad, but was now at peace with the idea of that chapter in her life being closed. My thoughts no longer dwelled on Barbara and I tried to express to Colleen how important Meghan and Molly had become to me.
I was surprised when Colleen insisted that I accompany her to the parent-teacher conferences for the girls. I applauded enthusiastically after Meghan and Molly sang their solos at the first, and second grade concert. Gradually I began to accept Colleen's invitations to participate in her neighborhood activities. Our hugs at the front door in the morning were lasting longer each day.
It may seem odd, but one of the things that I came to enjoy the most was grocery shopping with Colleen. We would walk, or more accurately, stroll down the aisles pushing the cart, talking about everything and nothing. If the girls were with us, they would have to remind us that we had put nothing in the cart and they were getting hungry. Many times in public and when we were at home alone I would glance up to find Colleen looking at me with her half smile. She would hold me in her gaze for several moments and then return her attention to what ever she had been doing.
But she wasn't the only one. Unconsciously I would find my attention drawn to Colleen at unexpected moments, watching her play with the girls or working in her studio. My relationship with her was shifting from little brother and big sister to friends that genuinely care for each other. Smiling came much easier me and I found that I had a tendency to whistle as I walked to the car after work.
One Friday in late March I came home from work to find Colleen and the girls loading sleeping bags and duffel bags into the trunk of Colleen's car.
"What's going on? Is someone running away from home?"
"No Uncle Bobby, we're going to our Gymboree. Come with Mommy to take us, please, please, please."
The girls had been talking about this for weeks. The Camp Fire Girls had a weekend campout that was going to take place in the gym of the local high school. The campout would last from Friday evening until 10 AM Sunday morning. We arrived at six o'clock along with 70 other girls between the ages of six and twelve and assorted parents and grandparents. Inside the gym was an entire village of tents and sleeping bags scattered around. To call the scene bedlam would not do it justice. We got the girls signed in and found their assigned place with the rest of their troop. A quick kiss, a few hugs, a rapid "see you on Sunday" and Colleen I beat a hasty retreat, barely escaping with our lives. We agreed that the adults who actually planned this event and stuck around to supervise the weekend deserved the Congressional Medal of Honor.
As we pulled out of the parking lot Colleen said that we needed to stop at the supermarket and pick up something for dinner. I looked at her for a few minutes and said, "Listen, this is the first time since I got here that we've been able to have an evening alone. How about I take you out to dinner, someplace where the food doesn't come in a paper bag with the picture of a clown on it?"
Colleen had a faint smile on her lips as she spoke. "Why Robert O'Conner, are you asking me out on a date?"
"Well...yes...I guess I am...that is if you're not busy and it's ok with you're parents, I'd really like to take you on a date...if you don't already have a boyfriend."
"I don't know, I sort of promised Cindy that we might go to the malt shop together, but sure, I guess we could go out if you're sure you want to...with me that is. I know it's ok with my parents."
"Gosh Colleen, you're just swell."
We had instantly reverted to that gut wrenching insane insecurity everyone has in junior high and we continued joking in this manner as we decided where to eat. We finally settled on the Shanghai Garden, a small neighborhood Chinese restaurant at the edge of downtown. After parking the car at the curb, I walked around, opened the door and held out my hand to help Colleen out of the car. When she was out of the car I held on to her hand and asked, "Would it be alright if I hold your hand for a while?"
She gave my hand a squeeze and said, "Sure. Just remember, I don't kiss on the first date." I didn't reply, but gave her a quick peck on the cheek then we walked down the block to the restaurant.
It was much warmer than usual for March. Colleen was wearing a thin jersey knit black top. It was sleeveless with a scoop neck, low enough to show the smallest possible view of her cleavage and emphasized the full roundness of her breasts. She wore a khaki colored skirt that stopped inches above her knees; modest but still short enough to show the beautiful shape of her thighs. It was snug enough around her hips to be flattering without making her look like a streetwalker. Her legs were bare and she had on a pair of sandals that consisted of a sole and a couple of thin straps.
It was early in the evening so we were the first patrons for dinner. The waiter was showing us to our table, Colleen following the waiter and me following behind, watching Colleen, when I had a heart stopping epiphany.
My sister has a fantastic ass.
This realization threw me for a loop. That mental picture of her ass made it difficult for me concentrate on what to select for dinner from the menu. Eventually we did order something and began to eat. We talked about what we thought the girls were doing right then and whether or not the troop leaders were still sane, or were they ever sane to begin with. We talked about my work and what illustration projects Colleen had going at the moment. We discussed what was on the upcoming schedule for Meghan and Molly. All through this we kept our private joke running about our first date. After we finished eating, we were waiting for the waiter to bring us coffee when Colleen reached across the small table, placed her hand on top of mine and left it there.
When we were completely finished and the bill paid, we walked out of the restaurant still holding hands. Out on the sidewalk I asked, "it's still early, want to catch a movie? We could see something for grown-ups this time."
"I'm sorry Bobby, but tonight is too nice to waste it sitting in a dark room staring at lights on the wall. Let's just walk for a while."
We casually walked along the sidewalk with no particular destination in mind, talking or stopping to look in the shop windows, completely oblivious to the fact that we were still holding hands. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Colleen's breasts gently sway underneath her top as we walked. When we stopped to look in the windows, we stood close to together, the skin of her arm pressed against mine. When she would turn to say something to me, her breast would delicately brush across my arm and cause a strange feeling to shoot across my chest. I don't know if it was because of our joking about dating or what, but tonight I was seeing a completely different Colleen than the girl I had grown up with as a sister. I was starting to feel more than a little confused and awkward.
Eventually we found ourselves in front of a bookstore that was still open and we went in to browse around. Several times I looked up to find Colleen gazing in my direction with that half smile she uses when she is happy. We finished up by buying a bunch of paperbacks for ourselves, and a couple of volumes of the Nancy Drew Mystery series that the girls had not read yet. By the time we pulled up in the driveway at home, I looked down at my watch; it was only 9:45. We walked up to the front door where we quietly continued acting out the big finish to our date. I held both of Colleen's hands in mine and tried to look at her face but for some reason the only thing I could focus on was her lips.
"Golly gosh gee whiz, I had a super-duper time Miss Colleen, I hope that you will let me take you out again sometime."
Colleen has this way of laughing quietly that is so intimate you can only hear it if you are right next to her. She pulled me close and softly said, "I think that can be arranged." She pulled my head closer and whispered, "I told you I don't kiss on the first date but tonight I feel like breaking that rule."
She put her arms around me and kissed me full on the lips, a kiss that was tender and loving and held the promise of something I couldn't comprehend. I held her in my arms and was lost in the love I felt for this woman. After several minutes she pulled her head back and asked, "Do you have a curfew? Would you like to come in for awhile?"
"What about your parents, will they approve?"
"They're already in bed, and they won't know if we're really, really quiet."
"Ok, as long as we won't get into trouble or anything."
Again Colleen smiled, then opened the door and we went inside. She went into the kitchen and started making us some tea while I sat on the sofa in the living room skimming through the books we had just bought. She brought out two mugs, set them on the coffee table then sat next to me. We didn't say anything for a while then Colleen turned to look at me.
"Bobby, all kidding aside, I want you to know that I haven't had this much fun in a very long time. I haven't had a date since before Bill died and I just want to say thank you. Tonight has been very special for me."
"I know what you mean. These last eight or nine months, I feel like I've been to hell and back. I never would have made it if it weren't for you and the girls. Tonight is the happiest I've ever been in my life...you know, I really do love you."
"I know Bobby, I love you too."
Colleen placed her hand along the side of my jaw, leaned in and kissed me again full on the lips. She pulled her head back as we looked at each other in the eyes. This time, I leaned over and kissed her, but now all pretense was gone. Our arms wrapped around each other as the kiss grew in intensity, becoming an act of passion trying to feed a desperate hunger. Somewhere along the line our mouths had opened and our tongues began a dance that was millions of years old.
After what seemed like an eternity that lasted only a few minutes, I broke out of Colleen's grasp and slid down to kneel on the floor in front of her. I looked up into her face to see that she was breathing heavy, her breasts rising and falling with each breath. At that moment I began to feel like I was having an out body experience, as though I was standing over in a corner watching myself.
Kneeling in front of her, I slid my hands slowly up the outside of Colleen's thighs. When they reached the hem of her skirt, I gently pushed it up her legs until it reached her crotch where it exposed the tiniest bit of her panties. I could see a large wet spot on her panties between her legs when I leaned forward and began to gently kiss the tops of her thighs.
"BOBBY! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?"
I looked up into her face and saw a glazed look in her eyes and she was biting her lower lip. By now I no longer had any conscious control over what I was doing. I was on automatic pilot and found it hard to actually form words.
"I think I'm going to fuck my date."
We were frozen there, staring at each other, uncertain of what to do. After several moments, Colleen spread her legs apart, as wide as she could get them. This forced her skirt all the way up around her hips, exposing her pubic area and lower stomach. At the same time she placed her hand behind my head and gently pulled it forward until my face was pressed against her panties.
I could make out the faint shadow of her pubic hair that was trapped behind sheer pale lavender panties. I began to slowly and gently rub my face against the silky thin material. Each time my lips got to the top I would give a small kiss or a lick on her skin above the waistband. I moved my face further down and started to lick and suck directly between her legs. I placed my open mouth directly onto her pussy and began sucking the juice that was soaking the material. It seemed as though the more I sucked and swallowed, the more the wetness flowed out of her.
I felt Colleen moving around and raised my eyes to look up at her. She had removed her top and was grasping her breasts in her hands. She wore a matching bra made of the same thin material and I could see the dark circles surrounding her nipples. She had a frantic expression on her face and was rolling her head around on the back of the sofa. Her body gave a small shiver then she reached down, placed both hands on the side of my head and pulled my mouth away from her.
She stood up, pulling me with her. She was directly in front of me, looking me in the eye when she spoke. "You are most certainly not going to fuck your date." Then she leaned in and whispered, "But you will definitely make love to your sister all night long."
She walked away from me and down the hall to her bedroom. Her skirt was still up around her hips and I watched her gorgeous ass it twitched from side to side. The bouncing movement of her panty covered cheeks was breathtaking.
I paused for only a moment before sprinting behind her into the bedroom. A bedside lamp was on and she was standing in the middle of the room by the time I had entered. There was a bemused smile on her lips as she watched me desperately ripping the clothes from my body. When I was done she didn't say anything, just pointed to the side of the bed where I sat down. She reached behind and undid the clasp on her bra. She leaned forward slightly and shrugged her shoulders, letting the straps slide down her arms before falling to the floor, allowing her breasts to sway freely.
She stood there bare breasted, her skirt up around her waist and her panties just barely big enough to cover her pubic area. A few stray hairs were sticking out above the waistband and between her legs at the crotch. She reached behind again, this time undoing the button and lowering the zipper on the skirt. She gave it a small push and it fell to the ground on its own. She stepped out of it and kicked it aside. (next Chap 2)