Audrey looked concerned when Melissa got off the phone that Saturday afternoon in June. “What’s up, sis?”
Her commencement had been nothing to write home about: she had barely had enough credits to graduate, and the ceremony was so huge that she was simply lost in the crowd. She was just glad it was over: no more classes with pompous-ass professors who had no problem (the male ones, anyway) staring down her cleavage while giving her poor grades! Now she was vigorously looking for work and had a number of interviews lined up. The “arrangement” she and Melissa had proposed out was working splendidly; Rod in fact spent three nights with her, and four with Melissa. Of course, the sisters didn’t insist on his “doing” them every night: however ardent he may have been, that would have been a bit too much! Sometimes they just cuddled for a bit and then went to bed.
But when she saw that Melissa, after talking on the phone, looked white as a sheet and was even trembling a bit, she knew something serious had happened.
“What is it, Melissa?” Audrey repeated after her sister had failed to open her mouth.
After more seconds of silence, Melissa finally said: “Daddy has just left Mom. He—he’s gone off with some floozie!”
“What?” Audrey cried. “Oh, that’s impossible. Dad wouldn’t—”
“He has!” Melissa shrieked. “He’s already left the house. It happened yesterday!”
Audrey closed her eyes. A shiver went through her too. “Good God.”
The two sister’s relations with their parents were not easy to define. Melissa had always been pretty close to her father—largely because he seemed to favor her over Audrey, since she was smarter and less openly rebellious. Audrey had constantly chafed at her father’s strictures, especially during her wild teenage years. As for their mom, Julia, they of course loved her, but both tended to find her a bit fussy and prudish. Any kind of sexual talk or innuendo seemed to fluster her beyond reason, and both sisters had trouble imagining their parents actually getting it on in bed at their advanced age (Arthur Waters was forty-seven, while his wife was forty-five). Well, Audrey thought inappropriately, at least she’s not quite as bad as Aunt Isabel!
But that was another story.
For now, Melissa and Audrey realized they had a crisis on their hands.
“So what are we going to do?” Audrey said cheerlessly.
“What can we do? Daddy has already left—I think Mom said he and the floozie had settled in Portland.”
“Who is this ‘floozie’?” Audrey said.
“I can’t remember—maybe some coworker of his.” Arthur Waters worked as a financial adviser for a large brokerage firm in Issaquah.
“And he just up and left?”
“Sure seems that way.”
“That’s ridiculous! This must have been coming on for a while.”
“Who knows? I didn’t notice anything when they were here a few weeks ago for your graduation.”
“No, I didn’t either.”
“So now what?”
It was just at this point that Rod tripped down the stairs, radiating good spirits as he was settling in to a long summer of doing not much of anything.
But he stopped short when he saw his two women obviously upset.
“Say, what gives?” he said, genuinely concerned.
“Our parents just broke up,” Melissa said flatly.
“Omigod!” he said. “That’s awful!” He had met Arthur and Julia only briefly, but had liked them both.
“Sis, you’re going to have to go down there,” Audrey said.
“What?” Melissa all but shrieked. “Why me?”
“Because I think Mom likes you a little better. You can be a bit more sympathetic. Anyway, I have a lot of interviews to go to. I gotta get a job, and pronto.”
“But what can I do? I very much doubt that I could get Daddy to come back to her.”
“That’s not the point. The point is to hold her hand and get her through this. She hasn’t been on her own for twenty-three years, and it’s probably freaking her out.”
Melissa really didn’t want to go back to the family home in Issaquah, even though she didn’t have quite the bad memories of it that Audrey seemed to have. But she realized she had no option.
She suddenly wheeled on Rod. “You’re coming too.”
“Me?” he squealed. “What on earth can I do? I hardly know your mom!”
“Come on, guy,” Melissa said, a bit teasingly. “I know you much you like to help—especially women in distress. It’s kind of your thing, isn’t it?”
Rod flushed deeply. “Melissa, you shouldn’t joke about something like this.”
“Who’s joking? I really think you can help. Anyway, you’ll be a good buffer. She won’t go totally to pieces if you’re there.”
“I really don’t want to do this,” he whined.
“Sorry, Rod,” Melissa said shortly. “But that’s what you get for being so intimate a part of our family. This is your time to lend a hand.”
He grudgingly agreed, but thought to himself: I really don’t think this is going to end well.
Julia Waters was—as Rod readily admitted when he had first bahis firmaları seen her at graduation—quite a good-looking women, seeming to be far younger than her mid-forties. At five foot five she was an inch taller than Melissa but still could be called petite; and her slim, compact frame did (Rod was convinced) have its share of curves if only Julia would dress a little better. But she seemed so determined to present herself as the stately matron that Rod was left frustrated wondering what really lay beneath the baggy and shapeless clothes she wore.
But it was her face that was her best feature. Well-styled shoulder-length brown hair (her one concession to female beautification) framed an oval face that looked positively pre-Raphaelite in its tender melancholy, with its dark green eyes, slender nose, delicate jawline, and curving lips. Rod remembered how his heart had actually missed a beat when he had first met her. Gazing at that radiant face, he had almost failed to shake the hand that she had extended in casual greeting.
Now, as he looked at her as she sat glumly on her couch in her suddenly deserted house in Issaquah, he grieved at the transformation. And yet, paradoxically, in some senses she looked even more beautiful in misery than she did when outwardly happy. He chided himself for so selfishly paying attention to her physical attributes while she was enduring such pain, but he couldn’t help it.
She was, of course, startled to see him show up on her doorstep along with her daughter, as Melissa hadn’t warned her mother that Rod was coming along. The trip had only taken half an hour, but it seemed a million miles from the dynamic campus they had just left. Issaquah was a classic middle-class suburb—reasonably prosperous, but in both Rod’s and Melissa’s minds insufferably tame and uninteresting.
But, of course, that wasn’t the reason why they were there.
Even though she had wanted Rod as a “buffer,” Melissa did feel some need to thrash out with her mother exactly what had happened. So she dismissed Rod, telling him to go unpack their belongings (she had, to her horror, returned to the tiny bedroom she had occupied for most of her childhood and adolescence) while she had a heart-to-heart with Julia.
“Okay, Mom, I need to know what’s going on,” she said bluntly as the two women sat on the living-room couch.
“I told you,” Julia said lugubriously. “Your father has left me.”
“I know that,” Melissa said. “I need to know why—and who he took off with.”
Julia ignored the first part of the question. “Well, I don’t know who the girl is—and she really is almost a girl. Why, she’s only a few years older than Audrey! I mean, she could be Arthur’s daughter.”
“Well, she isn’t,” Melissa said. “She’s a grown woman. The question is: why did Daddy do it?”
“What am I supposed to say?” Julia said harriedly.
“Oh, come on, Mom! You need to say something. Neither Audrey nor I knew your marriage was in trouble. We thought you’d settled down to a quiet, routine kind of life—maybe a bit boring, but comfortable enough in its way.”
Julia abruptly got up from the couch and almost ran over to the sideboard to pour herself a drink. Melissa was startled. Her mother rarely drank hard liquor, but now she was pouring out a stiff dose of whiskey—at four in the afternoon—and gulping it as if she was dying of thirst. She winced as the first mouthful went down, then sipped another.
“What can I tell you?” she said, seemingly offended that she was being interrogated in this fashion. “I guess your daddy just got tired of me.”
“After twenty-three years?” Melissa said incredulously.
“It does happen, you know! People break up all the time.”
“Do you still love him?”
Somehow the question took Julia by surprise. “Wh-what?” she stammered. “Of course I still love him—or at least I did before he abandoned me!”
“And you don’t think he’ll come back?”
“Why should he? He has a nice piece of twentysomething ass he can play with!”
That remark really startled Melissa. Her mother had almost never expressed herself in such crude terms before. “Oh, Mom, I really don’t think that’s it, do you? I never got the impression that Daddy was—”
“Well,” Julia interrupted, speaking in a high voice, “your father seems to think I don’t quite come up to snuff in that department!”
Melissa was dumbstruck. “He said that?”
“He didn’t have to say it! It showed by his actions—not just what he’s just done, but before.”
“You’re telling me you guys haven’t have much sex lately?” The subject was not exactly welcome to Melissa (who likes to think of their parents having sex?), but she now sensed she couldn’t avoid it.
“No, not much,” Julia said almost inaudibly, deeply ashamed. “And—and maybe it was my fault. I—I’m not quite as adventurous as I used to be.”
Melissa was getting a bit queasy. “Okay, Mom, I don’t think we want to go there. I guess we have to face the fact kaçak iddaa that Daddy won’t be coming back. Are you two actually going to get divorced?”
“I don’t know!” Julia cried out. “Your father never said so—he just left!”
“Well, if he doesn’t come back in a year it’ll happen automatically,” Melissa said, recalling Washington State’s no-fault divorce laws. “But maybe he’ll see the light.”
“I doubt it!”
“Oh, Mom, you shouldn’t give up hope! I mean, if this girl he ran off with really is a ‘floozie,’ as you say, maybe he’ll tire of her—or she of him!”
That latter idea seemed to give Julia some bitter amusement. “I wouldn’t be surprised at that!”
“Anyway, for the time being you’re going to have to get used to being alone. Can you handle that?”
All of a sudden Julia’s face crumpled—just as Audrey’s had done the day after Rod had done her—and she flung herself toward her daughter, throwing her arms around her neck and crying, “Oh, God, I don’t know! I’m so miserable! I haven’t been alone in so long! I don’t think I can deal with this!”
“Mom, it’s not that bad. Audrey and I will visit often.”
That didn’t seem to provide much comfort, and Julia continued to sob into her daughter’s neck. Melissa was monstrously uncomfortable—she just wasn’t used to being a bastion of sympathy, especially where her mother was concerned.
Once again, Rod saved the situation to some degree. As he came downstairs and saw the two women clutching each other, his heart ached at the picture. He really did find it exceedingly painful to see women in misery, and he wished he could do something now. But when Julia saw him, her own embarrassment at displaying her raw emotions in the presence of a virtual stranger got the better of her, and she struggled to pry herself out of her daughter’s grasp and compose herself.
“Are you okay, ma’am?” Rod asked.
His words were a bit silly, but the earnest tone of voice in which he uttered them were balm to Julia’s soul. “Well, Rod, I’ve been better—but I think I’ll be all right.”
Rod had to resist the urge to wrap this lovely, grieving woman in his arms right then and there.
Julia stood up and marched shakily into the kitchen. Over her shoulder she said, “I’ll start getting dinner ready.”
“Mom,” Melissa said, “you don’t need to do that. We can go out somewhere.”
“No need,” Julia said with feigned lightheartedness. “There’s plenty here we can eat.”
Melissa quickly realized that cooking a meal for them was something Julia needed to do, as a way of re-establishing a bit of normalcy in her life—and also of making herself feel useful to someone other than herself. She ended up making a fairly elaborate Italian dinner—spaghetti with meat sauce, Caesar salad, and garlic bread. She had no hesitation uncorking some wine, even though her dinner guests were only twenty years old. A dessert of store-bought chocolate cake capped a splendid meal.
Afterwards, Melissa tried to get her mother to rest in the living room while she and Rod cleaned up, but Julia insisted on taking on the lion’s share of washing (or, more specifically, loading up the dishwasher). At one point Melissa became a bit fed up with her mother, because she was making Melissa feel as if she were a teenager who couldn’t do anything for herself. She stalked out of the kitchen, leaving Julia and Rod to tidy up.
Julia was diligently, almost manically, scrubbing a particularly recalcitrant pot that she had used to prepare the meat sauce, making strange keening sounds in the process. Rod gently reached over to her and said, “Let me, please.” He took the pot out of her hands and finished cleaning it out. Julia watched him wide-eyed. Then she let out a choking cry and covered her face with her hands and began sobbing.
Rod had no option but to take her in her arms and hold her gently as she cried on his shoulder. Initially her hands remained at her sides, but gradually she curled them around his neck and poured out her sorrow without restraint. It was all over in a few minutes, and afterwards she pried herself out of Rod’s grasp and said, “Sorry—I don’t know what came over me.” She wiped her face with a hand towel and ordered Rod from the room, saying she would finish up.
As Julia walked unsteadily into the living room, Melissa suggested they all watch a movie. She recommended a light, bubbly comedy, but Rod had a better idea: maybe a crime/suspense film might be more riveting. He didn’t get the impression that Julia was in the mood for humor. So they fished out a DVD of The Big Sleep and put it on. As Melissa and Rod arranged themselves on the couch, Julia stood in the middle of the room beside them, uncertain what to do.
“Come on, Mom,” Melissa said, patting a space on the couch beside her, “sit down and watch.”
Initially Julia headed toward Melissa, but then suddenly veered and plumped herself down next to Rod. He was now sitting between mother and daughter—and didn’t kaçak bahis seem entirely comfortable. He had already placed an arm around his girlfriend, but there was no way he was going to do that to Julia. But she solved the problem for him by deftly taking his free arm and slipping underneath it, so that he had no option but to put it around her shoulders.
Eventually the compelling action of that classic film noir worked its magic over the three of them, and Rod had the unusual sensation of two lovely women clinging to him as Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall waged their battle on the screen.
They all went to bed early.
Over the next several days, Melissa made sure to keep her mother busy with cheerful outings—a picnic lunch in a park, frivolous shopping at a boutique mall, and even simple errands at the grocery or the drug store. Rod of course accompanied them on these trips, and he was gratified that Julia seemed to become reasonably comfortable in his presence. At one point she took his arm and led him around her favorite farmer’s market, picking out specialty tomatoes, homemade jam, and other toothsome items for future meals, all of which she prepared with meticulous care.
But just when Rod and Melissa thought that Julia was taking her abandonment in stride, there seemed to be a setback.
The two young people had remained unwillingly celibate during their first three nights at Julia’s house, but on the fourth night they couldn’t restrain their impulses any longer. Rod stripped Melissa of her nightgown and, baring himself in seconds, began a vigorous stroking of her whole frame, from face to breasts to belly and thighs, ending with his face buried in her muff as he licked up the juices flowing freely there and giving Melissa the orgasmic release she yearned for.
But just as her cries were subsiding, Rod heard something else that bothered him.
“What’s that?” he said, looking up from Melissa’s sex with glistening mouth.
Melissa cocked her ears and then said flatly, “It’s Mom.”
“What do you mean?” he said sharply.
“She’s crying, you dope,” Melissa said impatiently. “What do you think?”
Rod heaved herself up to lie next to his beloved. “But that’s awful!” His face was a mask of horror and frustrated sympathy.
“Well,” Melissa said, “you can’t expect her to be all cheerful every minute. She’s gone through a traumatic event. I think we’ve helped her, but she’s going to take a while to get over it.”
“But we have to do something!” he cried.
“Oh,” Melissa said offhandedly, “I think you’d best leave her alone. Sometimes women just have to cry. It’s very therapeutic.”
“She doesn’t sound as if she’s enjoying it!”
And indeed, Julia’s sobbing seemed worse than he had ever heard it in the preceding days.
“Well, what do you want to do?” Melissa said pointedly.
“I don’t know!” Rod said in despair. “But I can’t listen to that—it’s horrible!”
“Rod,” she said gently, “you’re a sweet, sweet man—but you can’t solve all the world’s problems.”
“Isn’t there anything we can do to help?”
“You want to go to her?” Melissa said provocatively.
“Me?” Rod said. “She doesn’t want me!”
“Actually, she probably does. She’s really taken to you these last few days.”
“But—but,” Rod spluttered, “I don’t really know her! You should go to her!”
“Rod,” Melissa said, now staring right at Rod and taking his face in her hands, “listen to me. Mom is one of these women who have gotten so used to getting sympathy from a man—namely, my father—that she doesn’t respond well to others. She’s certainly not going to respond well to me: I’ve never been particularly close to her in that way, and there’s no way I’m going to be able to turn off that stream of tears she’s letting out. But you might.”
“You—you really want me to go over there? Right now?”
“Sure! Better you than me.”
“But I’m naked!”
“Yeah, I noticed that. Well, just put on some underwear. I mean, it’s not anything she hasn’t seen before.”
Rod peered at Melissa to make sure she wasn’t trying to play some huge and wicked practical joke on him. But no, she wouldn’t do that—not where her mother’s feelings were concerned.
“Go on,” she urged. “I know you like to help women in need, so this is your chance.”
Rod mechanically stood up and slipped on the briefs he had discarded when servicing Melissa. Giving her one more look (Are you absolutely sure?), he scooted out of the room after receiving a scowl from his girlfriend (Just get on with it!).
It was with some trepidation that he turned the doorknob of Julia’s room and stepped in.
Julia was so wrapped up in her own misery that she didn’t notice the door opening and a figure looming over her. Only when Rod knelt down in front of the bed and extended an arm to her shoulder, saying, “Ma’am, are you all right?” did she notice that someone else was in the room.
She flipped around in alarm and cried, “Wh-what are you doing here?”
Rod wasn’t reassured by her tone of voice, which seemed both scared and hostile. He stammered, “I—I just want to help, ma’am.” He still had trouble calling Julia by her name.