Part Two – Toni has to go.

PART TWO

 

LAMAR KEVIN

I got home from school one day and Mom had boxes everywhere. “Don’t throw your bags down just anywhere, I don’t want you to lose them.” The boxes were taped and labeled. A few of them had my name on them. A weird feeling rumbled in my guts.

 

I set my bags down at the front door and nodded at her that I heard and scooted out of her way to get to my bedroom. My dresser drawers were hanging open. I could see that they were empty.

 

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Mutti held my hand in one of hers and my clothes bag in her other. We stood on the front porch of a man she wanted me to meet. She kept saying weird things like, “LK, I’m going to have you meet your father.” I didn’t understand what she was talking about. I was seven years old and had known my father my whole life. When I’d try to get her to drop my hand, she just squeezed it harder. Her fingernails poked my skin. She wasn’t letting go.

 

A kid answered the door. She’d rung the bell twice and he looked up at her like she looked pretty crazy. I was embarrassed because she did look pretty crazy to me, too. “Hello,” she said in a kindergarten teacher voice, “is your father home?” The kid was about my age and had lots of really curly brown hair. He squinted at my mom and nodded. Real slowly-like, how you step away from a mad dog, he backed into his house and shut the door. I heard his feet running further into the house and him holler, “Daaaad!”

 

A really tall man with hair the same color as mine opened the door. Mom was smiling with her mouth but it looked like she was almost about to cry.

 

“Toni…?” the man said. He looked really surprised and I guessed mom probably didn’t call first to tell him we were coming. It was like the guy caught himself acting funny, though, and he hugged my mom and kissed both her cheeks like a Paris man. She still had my hand and wouldn’t let go, so they kinda jerked me around a little.

 

The guy got his wits about him and then it hit him that I was standing there beside them. He saw me and stared at me and his mouth fell open like a fish. Next thing he was shooing us inside with his arm around my mom’s shoulders. I think that’s when I reckoned that’s what my mom was trying to tell me. That this huge guy was my dad and I don’t really know if it was possible to have two dads, but apparently she was trying to tell me something here, and it made me really, really mad.

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“Harold,” my mom said, “this is Lamar Kevin.” She held my arm out to him so he could shake my hand. I knew I was supposed to be polite and use my manners here, but everything was really confusing and I didn’t really want this traitor guy to touch me.

 

He crouched down to see me in my face. He didn’t hold my hand too long and said, “Well, I’ll be.”

 

The boy was in the living room with us and he had a metal truck that he could drive up the back of the couch. I watched him drive across the top of the back part and heard my mom and the guy talking in bits and pieces. I heard things like, “Roy” and “your wife” and “your son’s name?” I wasn’t really paying attention then until mom asked the boy – who I guess was named Vincent – if he could take me to his room and show me his truck. Vincent nodded with his chin and I followed him on back.

 

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TONI

 

When Roy told me I had to leave, everything switched over to zombie mode. Everything in my world filled up with water or karo syrup and that slowed everything down. Even the clock’s ticking lost its normal rhythm. Minutes became as long as hours.

 

I had planned for this for so many years that I was surprised when the time had finally come for us. I had no idea what to pack and no clue how I was going to explain it to LK. But there was no way in the world I was leaving him. And Seliah was going to have to come, too. The logistics of that were huge question marks in my mind – she was a teenager then and everything was so overwhelming I wasn’t even sure where to begin.

 

Off and on, I cried. We all had come so far to make this work together and here I was, finally in a good place to be loving Roy, and now he’d ripped that option away from me. Looking back now, I realize that turnabout is fair play and all, but I couldn’t really even express how crushed I was by his revelation. Roy couldn’t have betrayed me – Roy was good.

 

The next day, I picked up the phone and asked the operator to connect me with the Butler Arms Hotel. One little lie and my best attempts to hide my voice, and I had Harold’s address. I checked it out in my mapbook and started packing. Not sure how I managed to get all that boxed up so quickly – I guess there wasn’t a whole lot for me to pack. Mostly it was Lamar Kevin’s stuff because there was no negotiating, the boy was coming with me.

 

We left all the boxes, but I took a bag of his clothes. I didn’t have a plan, and I wasn’t sure any of this would go over at all. But I figured that Harold had a right to know what was happening with his son, and it was just as well we do the introductions at the same time.

 

When LK got home from school, I told him where we were going and though I could tell he wasn’t real pleased about it, he came along without a big struggle.

 

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Seeing Harold again after all these years made me realize just how much Lamar Kevin looked like his father. And that spark in my chest proved still to be an overpowering magnet between us.

 

I sent LK off to play with Harold’s other son, Vincent, and sat Harold down to tell him everything.

 

His wife was at her mother’s, and that was a good thing. I needed to get it all out without an audience and didn’t need any more people judging me than was necessary. She’d be back in the morning.

 

The conversation went well – really well. It was that kind of connection that doesn’t seem to fade as the years past. And Harold held my hand while I caught him up on all of the stories about myself and my craft and the boy and he even asked about Seliah and Roy. This man was the very best friend I’d ever had, and it felt so normal and right for us to be having this talk, even though I was in an awful predicament. I made sure I let Harold know I wasn’t there to have him help, just that I wanted to see him, to let him know what was happening.

 

Suddenly time was speeding forward again and the hours were playing catch up from their slowing in the days before. Harold offered me a can of beer and said he’d make us dinner. The light was growing dim outside and I knew I’d need to be heading out soon, but gods I didn’t want to!

 

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Harold insisted I needed to stay. That he would drive LK and me home if we wanted, but that his house was our house. I was grateful for him being so open to us, but knew that if I was there when Maggie got home, there would be fireworks. And that was the last thing I wanted was for more drama. I was exhausted and the well of my emotional strength was drying up.

 

I told him that, and he laughed and said he’d handle everything. That I was going to move in there with Lamar Kevin and we’d have all kinds of fun things to do and adventures to go on. As much as that sounded like the most perfect thing, it scared me to get my hopes up. Harold was married, and I was going to divorcing again soon, and tongues were going to be wagging before we knew it.

 

He didn’t care about the gossip. He said, “This feeling we have? I am the sun to your asteroid. We waited all those years, so patiently. I’m goddamn tired of being patient waiting for you.” He said my name and every single tear I’d shed was suddenly worth it. I had no idea how he’d make it work, but I trusted that whatever it was, I would survive it. Staying made all the sense in the world to me. Nothing else mattered.

 

This is what he did to me. All my troubles, all my responsibilities, my to-do list – everything disappeared. It didn’t matter. I was here with him now, and even the air I breathed was no longer as important as being with this man.

 

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Roy’s side of the story.

SELIAH

 

“The next part I’m going to tell you, Seliah, is really hard to discuss. So keep with me.” My father cleared his throat and dropped his eyes to the table. “I’m not going to make excuses, and I know what I did was wrong. But I’m human, and flawed, and thank the Lord I can also be forgiven.”

 

He sets his coffee mug down on the table. We’re at the table on the far left of the diner. The same one he’d always sat at all that time.

 

“I reached out to Rachel in 1961. I missed her good spirits and the way she made things seem so simple.” He took a breath. “Things happened between me and Rachel.”

 

I listened to my dad talk and felt tears well up in my eyes. I was a grown woman now, collecting these stories to help piece everything together. This was a healing project for me, and as much as I wanted to spare my father his memories, I also needed to know his side of the story.

 

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ROY

 

I can’t pretend like what I did was okay. It wasn’t, and just because my wife had done the same to me didn’t make it right. But I know you’re not here to practice judging me. Like you said, you just want the story.

 

So here it goes. Rachel and I started seeing each other at Danny’s, the diner I had been going to for years. We both thought it was just as friends at first, but as we got to talking and laughing and crying over what all we’d been through these last many years, something just clicked inside of me. She was willing to invite me to her place, and I was willing to go.

 

We carried on like that for several months. I kept telling myself that all was fair in love and war. That your mother, if she ever found out, would understand. My imagination told me she’d stand up and applaud me for doing something for myself for once.

 

That didn’t mean I wanted to run home and tell her or anything. You know how she could be. Never knew if she’d be your biggest fan or your worst enemy, and especially with news like that, I thought I’d just let it play itself out. See where it goes, yunno?

 

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I’d been coming home later then, but I’d always call in to your mom if it wasn’t going to be anything too late. I didn’t want her worrying. So every time, I’d give her a jingle. Didn’t tell her where I was, of course, but just let her know when to expect me. Every time. Except once.

 

Rachel had surprised me in the work parking lot for some reason. Can’t say I remember now, but I just forgot. It had been no big deal for so long that I guess it slipped my mind.

 

When I got home, your mother asked me, straight up. “Roy? Are you having an affair?” She wasn’t angry, and it was like she had asked what I wanted for dinner. No fireworks, no slammed doors. Her quiet surprised me, honestly.

 

I told her I was.

 

The look on her face about killed me. She crumbled, a sand castle washing away into the ocean. I smiled at her and kissed her forehead. And that’s when she shattered.

 

Next thing she was grabbing anything she could off the counters and throwin’ it at me. The toaster, the cutting board, the canister of ladles and wooden spoons…

 

When she ran out of things from the counter, your mom opened the cupboards and started whipping glasses at me. I tried to reason with her, to get her to talk to me, but she’d have nothing to do with it. So I sat down at the dining table and tried to dodge the flying glassware. I let her do it, let her get out all the rage until she grabbed the big kitchen knife.

 

I stood up and grabbed her. Pinned her arms against her. I had no problem with her tantrum, but sure as heck wasn’t going to let her take a stab at me.

 

“Toni,” I said, “you get a grip on yourself now.” I might have shaken her a bit. “You’re a grown woman, Toni. And I didn’t do anything to you that you haven’t already done to me.” She started shaking herself, like a scared rabbit. And then came the tears.

 

“Listen, Toni. I know it hurts. I wasn’t doing it to hurt you. If it’s this much of a problem, I won’t see her again. Tonight will be the last word I speak to her.”

 

A sound escaped your mother’s mouth – an unearthly, wretched wail. I’ve never heard an animal make a noise like that before and I’ll be just fine if I never do. I let go with one of my hands and reached for the knife with the other. I took it from her and slipped it into a drawer.

 

She ran from the room and locked herself in the bedroom. I figured I should let her work through it alone for that time being.

 

I remember shaking my head and laughing at the ferocity with how she reacted.

 

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The next morning, after a fitful sleep on the couch, I knocked on the door to our bedroom and let myself in.

 

“Toni?” I asked. She wasn’t sleeping, she was sitting up in bed facing the wall. I sat down on the opposite side of the bed and reached out to touch her. “Are you going to forgive me?”

 

She turned to me, her eyes swollen and caked from tears, and she said, “No, Roy, I can’t.”

 

Not sure why I was so sure of myself when I answered, but I did, without hesitation. “Well, then, Toni… You’re going to have to leave.”

 

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Toni has a plan, Maggie drops a bomb

TONI

 

A lot of thinking can be done when you’re alone. When I wasn’t learning from the girls, spending time with the kids, or making sure everything was ready for Roy when he came home at night, I was home, formulating my exit strategy.

 

During the winter months, as I sat with piano keys tolling out beneath my fingertips, I watched my life play out before me. I could catch myself on the porch swing with a cigarette, wondering about those things I didn’t want and figuring out how to create the things I desired. During the summer, I caught myself authoring possible scenes while digging my fingers into the garden soil. Every moment of solitude had me one step closer to the plan.

 

I would save extra money from our household allowance. I would sell my drawings for a tiny sum, and every bit brought me one step closer to being able to break it down for Roy. He’d understand. There’s no way he couldn’t get it. He knew my love for Harold. He knew my soul was tied to someone he wasn’t. He wouldn’t be left alone parenting Seliah this time.

 

It could be such a pleasant break.

 

And on one of those beautiful moments of introspection, a time when I was watching the seasons change from winter to spring right in front of my eyes, the sun shone down and I had this surrendering inside that made it so clear to me. As I sat on the porch swing, smoking a cigarette and contemplating all the places I had been so far, and all of the places I would eventually end up, I know I was doing exactly what I was meant to do. I was paying my tribute to the man who brought me here, who gave me our daughter, who showed me how to live in this foreign land. Roy had been so compassionate to me. He was exactly who I needed to be with when I had hit rock bottom with the drugs and alcohol. He was my safety net.

 

And now that I was doing so well, I knew it was finally time for me to move on to the next chapter. I would be rewarded for finally growing up. Lamar Kevin would meet his real father and Roy and I could raise the kids in two separate homes, and they would have twice as much family to love them.

 

It was like paying penance in the Catholic church, only instead of being driven by guilt and fear, I felt so alive and clear. This life was meant to be beautiful, to be absolutely magnificent, and I was going to end up with the man whose soul I was bound to.

 

The gods would grant us this.

 

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Peace wrapped itself around me. I was overjoyed and overwhelmed and leaned my head back to savor this taste of ecstasy. I would be with Harold again someday soon and every little thing was exactly as it should be. There was so much confidence inside I was sure this was how it felt to be catapulted across the universe.

 

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LETTER FROM MAGGIE TO TONI

 

Dearest Toni,

 

I feel like I know you, and I even think I like you on some level. I’ve heard so many stories and have done everything he’s asked me to so he doesn’t feel so lost without you. That he loved you, I am absolutely certain. You were the best thing that happened to Harold, until me.

 

I know this comes out of the blue, and I’m sorry for that. I don’t think you’ve had any communication with my husband since you left with the baby. Because I know he will never tell you, I thought it appropriate to be fully honest with you. He and I married the spring after you left, maybe four months after you went back to Roy. Harold has been so broken without you and I’ve done everything I can to help him heal. I know it must have hurt you, too, and that’s why I’m telling you all of this. True love like that can carry on for the rest of your life.

 

But I love this man with every ounce of my heart and I promise you I have done and will do anything to make him happy.

 

I’ve been trying to have children so that he doesn’t feel like there’s such a huge gaping hole in his heart without you and your baby. He won’t admit it outright, but I can see how he looks at infants and young children and it’s almost like he is searching for some sort of familiarity or recognition in them. Like he’s hoping to one day come across a stranger’s child and see that it is his after all. Please send me good thoughts as I pray that now, finally, he’ll find a sort of closure being able to have his own child with him every day. I am pregnant, and if I have done my calculations right, we should give birth in May. Please be as overjoyed about this news as we are.

 

You have been such an important person in his life all these years. I’m certain he’ll always hold the memory of you very close to his heart, and I’m sure you feel the same about him. I assure you, I am not jealous of you and instead delight in knowing that both you and Harold had an unspeakably beautiful experience loving each other – because love really is the most joyful feeling a person can have. I want you to know that I’m taking very good care of him now.

 

Please don’t be angry with this letter, Toni. You are very special woman and I think you do understand what it means to give a man the invaluable gift of being a good wife and mother to his children. May you feel comfort knowing that the man you left behind is no longer suffering.

 

My kindest regards to you and your family,

 

Maggie Cason

 

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