Friday, January 4, 2013
“Sophie, where is Brenda? Isn't she back from that reunion yet?” Randall Harris, III said in a most unpleasant tone.
“No sir, Mrs. Harris isn't due back until Sunday afternoon,” Sophie answered her boss.
“Tell her to call me the minute she gets in I want her to meet me at the California house on Tuesday. I haven't been able to reach her on her cell phone. Whatever that stupid town she's in doesn't have cell phone service,” he hung up the phone without saying goodbye.
“Charles, I didn't want to tell him that I heard from Mrs. Harris. She said she was going to visit her parents and would call him herself. I hope she is alright, I worry about her, she is not happy, but who would be, married to that awful man?”
“You better watch what you say about the boss, Sophie, he's the one who pays your salary.”
“I know, Charles. I'd be looking for another job if it weren't for Mrs. Harris. She needs someone to care about her. He certainly doesn't.”
“Mother, Daddy, it's good to be home. The old house looks wonderful.”
“Brenda, you are so thin. Are you ill, dear? Norman, look at your daughter, she looks like a toothpick.”
“Don't worry, mother. I have gained at least five pounds this week. I told you on the phone I was meeting with my friends from Beresford for a reunion. It was more than I could have asked for.
“You remember Monica Whitfield, don't you? She met a man and married him in the same week. It was definitely love at first sight and the first marriage for both of them.”
“You are too thin, Brenda,” said Dr. Dickson, her father. “I hope you aren't starving yourself just so you can fit into those fancy clothes you buy.”
“Yes, I'm afraid I have been for years. It was easier when I was younger, but I have noticed the last few years it's a little harder to keep the pounds off. It didn't help that I didn't have the stamina to exercise as much as I always have. I ate so little, I was too weak to keep up my running.”
“What happened to you, Brenda? You were always conscious of your health.”
“Randall Harris, III happened to me. He didn't want a wife, he wanted a prop that he could bring out and display when it fancied him. He never loved me and, if I'm totally honest, I never loved him either. I was attracted to all the things his money could buy. It only took me seventeen years to realize things can never replace caring for someone and having them care for you.
“I've left Randall and I will be filing for divorce as soon as I can hire a lawyer. I hope you will let me stay here with you for a while. I am not asking Randall for any money. I purchased some practical clothes while I was in Camden Corners. I don't want anything from this marriage. I did save something I want you to have, Mother.”
Brenda opened her suitcase and pulled out her mink adorned slippers. Before last week, I thought these would impress my friends. Now I know they are as superficial as my marriage. Brenda thought to herself.
“Brenda! Is this mink?” her mother exclaimed. Her eyes lit up. She had come a long way from the woman who wanted everything money could buy, but she still was a little frivolous. Brenda was happy to indulge her. She put them on her feet and sauntered dramatically to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee.
“It doesn't take much to make your mother happy these days, Brenda,” Norman Dickson chuckled.
“I can see she has mellowed, Daddy.”
“Yes, all thanks to Dr. Campbell running off with his nurse. Your mother didn't feel so disadvantaged when she heard about that.”
“You love her in spite of herself, I can tell, Dad.”
“You are right about that honey, your mother was always the only girl for me. I know she can be a bit superficial, but I also know she loves me too. She has finally come to the realization that she should never have persuaded you to marry for money.”
“Daddy, it wasn't all Mother, I thought it would make me happy to be Mrs. Randall Harris, III and have everything I wanted. I must admit, it was wonderful for the first few years. Thinking back, I didn't mind that Randall rarely spent any time with me. I knew he was a busy man, I was just too naïve to realize what he was busy doing. Even after that, I was enjoying the lifestyle too much to give it up just because he was unfaithful. I didn't think anyone knew and I didn't love him enough to care. I think I win the prize for being superficial in this family.”
“You know you are welcome to stay here for as long as you need to. What will you do with your life now? I know you said you weren't asking Randall for any kind of settlement.”
“When I first met Randall, I was a receptionist and typist in his company. I've been brushing up on my keyboard skills and applied on line for a job at the medical clinic in town. I have an interview tomorrow. If I don't get that job, I'll try for another. I have small monthly dividend from some stock purchases I made before I married Randall. It's enough to pay my basic living expenses. You won't have to put up with me for too long, Dad.”
“Don't be silly,” her mother said as she walked into the dining room with a pot of coffee and a plate of sliced cranberry bread with butter. “We will love having you here. It is much too quiet during the week. We usually see your brothers' families on the weekends. They will be so happy to have you back home. They never did like Randall.”
“Nobody likes Randall, Mother,” Brenda said as she picked up a piece of cranberry bread and spread butter generously on top. She enjoyed indulging in all the things she had deprived herself of for too many years. “You really are trying to fatten me up, aren't you?”
Her parents grinned at her and at each other. They were glad to have their daughter back home.
The phone rang. Louise answered it.
“Brenda, it's for you. She says her name is Sophia, isn't that your maid?”
“Mrs. Harris, I'm sorry to bother you. Mr. Harris asked where you were. I told him I don't know but I thought I would warn you. He wants you to be in California tomorrow and he isn't very happy that he can't reach you on your cell phone.”
“Thanks for letting me know Sophia. I'm sorry to put you in an awkward position. Mr. Harris will find my cell phone in the suitcases I sent back to Connecticut. Sophia, I won't be returning to that house or any other. I will be filing for divorce as soon as I can get to the law office. You have always been a good friend to me and I'm sorry if you lose your job because of this.”
“Oh, Mrs. Harris, I only stayed because of you. Charles and I can get other jobs without any problem. I'm so happy you met with your friends, I knew you would be able to open up to them and realize there was a better life for you somewhere.”
“Sophia, I'm going to send out letters of recommendation for you and Charles. I'm sure you won't need them, but I want your future employers to know how much you both meant to me.”
After she ended the call, Brenda wiped a tear from her eye. There were so many days when Sophia and Charles were her only connection to the outside world. Why did she wait so long to break ties with Randall, she didn't have an answer.
Brenda met with Martha Cromwell, a high school chum who went on to become a lawyer. She tried to persuade Brenda to ask for a settlement, but Brenda refused. She wanted out of the marriage and didn't want anything to stand in the way. She had signed a prenuptial agreement that she thought would give her something after seventeen years, but she wasn't interested in pursuing it.
Martha promised she would have the papers drawn up for Brenda to sign first thing in the morning. Barring all complications, the divorce should be final in just a couple of months.
Brenda met with the human resource director of the medical clinic and three days later was offered a job as receptionist and scheduler.
Brenda fit right in with the other staff members. They knew she was in the process of a divorce, but no one had any idea her husband was the man on the cover of the Newsweek magazine that was placed on the rack in the waiting room.
“Sandy, I don't believe I've met Dr. Barton yet. I just had someone make an appointment with him.”
“That's Dr. Seth Barton,” replied Sandy. “I know I'm old enough to be his mother, but he is a dreamboat. His wife died of cancer just over two years ago. She was diagnosed shortly after giving birth to their daughter, Allison. Seth had it pretty rough for awhile. The cancer was very aggressive and Tanya didn't live very long after she was diagnosed. Seth is on vacation, he and Allison went to see her grandmother, Tanya's mother. The woman was devastated, as you can imagine, at the loss of her daughter. She suffers from Alzheimer's and Seth wanted to make sure she saw little Allison while she still remembers her.
“He is one of the kindest men I have ever known. He should be in the office this afternoon. I just booked another appointment for him. He is a pediatrician and a very popular one at that. My grandchildren all go to him.”
Just after lunch, Dr. Barton did appear. He introduced himself to Brenda. She agreed with Sandy, he was a dreamboat.
The days turned into weeks and fall was approaching. School had started. Seth had a full schedule everyday but took it all in stride. He and Brenda had become friends. There was some speculation around the office about the two of them, but Brenda was still a married woman and they knew Seth Barton would never become involved with someone who was married.
Long before Brenda returned to town, Louise and Norman Dickson invited Seth and Allison for dinner often. Seth admired Dr. Dickson and the two men had established a friendship. The dinners continued and Brenda adored two year old Allison. Allison loved her too.
Randall did not take news of Brenda's divorce plans well. He vowed to keep the case tied up in the courts until she was an old lady and nobody wanted her anymore. Since Brenda wasn't asking for a dime and the fact Randall had cut off all of her accounts, leaving her without funds, all the lawyers in the state wouldn't be able to keep Brenda in the marriage. The divorce was final on the first day of October.
The town was sponsoring an Oktoberfest Celebration. Seth asked Brenda if she would like to accompany him and Allison. She accepted the invitation. They had a wonderful day together, Brenda ate two bratwurst with sauerkraut. She had put on twenty pounds since arriving back in town. She felt good and looked good. Seth laughed at her appetite. They talked about their marriages. Seth's was like a fairy tale that ended too abruptly. Brenda was honest with him about her marriage. He couldn't understand how a man could treat a woman like a hired hand.
“I allowed it to happen, Seth. I shouldn't have married him in the first place and I definitely shouldn't have stayed in the marriage for so many years.”
By the end of the evening, Allison was asleep in her stroller. “I guess we'd better get this little girl home. Would you like to come in for awhile. I think I have some of Mrs. O'Connor's pecan pie left. Whenever she bakes for her family, she makes another for me.”
“Pecan pie is my favorite, I can't turn that down.”
Seth carried Allison into her room. Brenda followed and with a tear in her eye thinking of the children she never had, she pulled the covers up to Allison's chin.
“Make yourself comfortable, Brenda. Would you like a glass of wine?”
Brenda felt apprehensive and a little nervous to be alone with Seth. She was beginning to have feelings for this man. She knew he would always love his dead wife. She should excuse herself and go back to her parents' house, but instead she said, “That would be very nice Seth.”
“Brenda, I'd like to talk to you about Tanya. I've told you how happy we were together. I think I've described our relationship as being like a fairy tale. That is an exaggeration, we had our troubles and disagreements just like most couples. Our marriage wasn't perfect by any means, but we did love each other and, if she had lived, I'm sure we would have been celebrating our fiftieth anniversary together some day.”
“I understand, Seth. I am not expecting anything more than a nice friendship between us. I hope I haven't given you the impression I wanted more.”
Seth was taking her at her word. Who knew, maybe she was still in love with that jerk she married. Maybe she missed the things a billionaire could buy for her. Maybe he had misread the way she looked at him. He had never been a patient man. If she didn't want him, he would have to live with it, but he was going to give it a try.
“Brenda, I want more than a nice friendship from you. I told you about Tanya because you need to know she will always have a place in my heart, but she isn't in my life anymore. I am alive and after two years of mourning Tanya, I am ready to begin my life again. I think I started to fall in love with you the day I first saw you at the reception desk in the clinic. You were a married woman and that made you off limits. Maybe I waited too long to tell you how I feel or maybe you don't feel anything for me, but I had to be honest with you.”
Brenda's face lit up. “Seth Barton, if you don't put that wine glass down and come over here and kiss me, I'm going scream and wake up Allison.”
Seth never thought he could feel love like this a second time and Brenda never thought a man could love her in the way Seth did. They were both wrong.
“Daddy, you don't think Seth and I are rushing into this marriage do you?” Brenda said the night before the wedding.
“I know you and Seth haven't known each other very long, but you two belong together. I know Seth well enough to know that when he tells you he loves you he means it. He's a good man, Brenda and he's a lucky man to have you as his wife. I'm proud of you my dear. To answer your question, no, you aren't rushing into marriage too quickly. If you waited any longer I would be too old to play with the grandchildren you are going to give me.”
Norman gave his daughter a hug, happy not to feel her ribs when he embraced her. His daughter was finally happy and it showed.
Seth and Brenda were united in marriage on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Martha Cromwell happily drew up adoption papers. Just before Christmas, Brenda and Allison officially became mother and daughter. The final adoption papers arrived in the mail along with a Christmas card from Monica and Jonathan Lawrence with a reminder that the fearsome foursome and their families would be meeting at The Merryweather in Camden Corners in the summer.