The two weeks since Byron’s secretary's wedding had come and gone and tonight was Byron’s turn to reciprocate. Julie had chosen to make Byron stay with her this weekend, since her parents were in town. Byron’s only encounter with Julie’s parents was on the day of their wedding and the thought of having to again see Pelham Smith made him quiver with fear. The promise Pelham had asked of him still rang in his head. He tried to forget it, and for much of the past two years he had been successful, but when he thought of again spending time with Pelham the words came back as if he had heard them for he first time two seconds ago, “Promise me you will always put her first, care for her and fight for what she needs?” Was Pelham going to ask for another interview and test how he was doing on this promise? What would he say? He assumed most parents didn’t get involved with their married daughters' personal life too much, but something in his gut made him worry that Pelham wasn’t most parents. And the more he thought of spending time with his Father-in-law the more his stomach relived the churning from his wedding day. He had thought of backing out, but Julie had held up her end of the bargain, it was time for him to hold up his.
Byron showed up just in time to hide his luggage in her room before Julie’s parents showed up. He decided pulling up with a packed suitcase was not a good look. Things all seemed to go fairly smoothly on the drive to the restaurant, during dinner and the drive home. The conversation was only on sports, weather, and food options. The only heated debate came when Julie insisted it was perfectly appropriate to have tacos on a night that wasn’t a Tuesday. Something her Father could not abide.
“When God sends us a perfectly good alliteration like Taco Tuesday, it seems a mockery to be eating tacos on another night,” Pelham argued, rather convincingly in Byron’s mind. But Byron wisely chose to stay on the sidelines. It’s never wise for the in-law to weigh in on deeply rooted family spats. So, the night seemed to roll along swimmingly.
“Good night”, her parents called out as they walked down the hall. Julie opened the door to her bedroom and walked in. Byron stood in the doorway looking at Julie trying to sense if he was supposed to follow. Julie, hoping to act before her parents looked back and noticed her husband looking like a puppy in the rain at the side door, grabbed his shirt and pulled him in, shutting the door behind them.
“I’m glad that is over with,” Byron said.
“You’re not the only one.” came back Julie.
“Well what now?” Byron questioned.
Byron got the same reply most husbands get to that question. “I’m going to bed.”
Deciding he better get ready Byron went to the closet where he had stored his bags. As he did Julie began to change. As Byron looked up he awkwardly tried to not look, while looking. This maneuver is much like dunking a basketball, we all wish we could do it, but most simply can’t. One of the difficulties in this is that looking while not looking requires so much looking that one fails to look where they are going and before Julie’s blouse rose above her midriff he had tripped over his bag and laid sprawled out in front of her. She stopped, letting her shirt fall back to how it was, and with no shortage of exasperation said, “You wouldn’t fall if your bags weren’t so big. Don’t you ever travel.”
“I travel all the time, but not to strange wome...I mean not to other people’s home.” Catching himself in the nick of time.
“So, what did you need at my house that you wouldn’t need when you regularly travel. Do you have a baseball bat to protect you from this strange woman?”
“I will have you know that I came prepared to keep proper boundaries.”
“So you brought 2 by 4’s and some sheetrock to build a wall.”
Byron was getting irritated, mostly because he now felt dumb for bringing as much as he had, but he could easily blame her for not telling him he didn’t need it. He decided not to comment but rather began preparing for bed. As he unzipped his bag, Julie caught sight of what had made his bag so large. Inside was a small tent and a sleeping bag.
“What is the tent for?” She asked.
“I thought you might want me to sleep outside.”
“Did I say my parents were blind?”
“You thought they wouldn’t notice a tent in the backyard?”
Byron now felt even dumber. He realized his tent idea overlooked Julie’s parents' perceptiveness and general ability to see, but why should he be taken to task for being thoughtful? This hurt Byron deeply, mostly because as he had packed the tent he imagined Julie seeing him unpacking it and saying, “Oh what a sensitive man, you care enough about me to rough it on the hard ground with no AC in the middle of the summer, you are truly my knight in shining armor.” He wouldn’t admit to wanting to be Julie’s knight in any tint of armor but he wouldn’t have minded some gratitude and maybe a little fawning.
On top of this, Byron felt a significant hit to who he thought he was. It reminded him in sixth grade when he had entered a bridge building competition. At this point in his life he had planned to become an engineer and looking at his bridge he knew he had made the right choice. It was a magnificent bridge. The two trusses on each end were simply beautiful. It was bound to be the strongest bridge in the competition. The judge took his bridge and carefully placed it under the piston that would slowly apply pressure to it until it was crushed. Byron hated to see his beautiful bridge getting crushed, but was sure it would come with the glory of having held the most weight in the class. The piston slowly began to descend when suddenly the judge sneezed and all the kids knew exactly what had happened to the first little pigs home. The judge swept the sticks into his hands and handing the pile to Byron said, “Sorry son. Next.”
Byron had always prided himself on his ability to understand the fairer sex and it hurt that when his perceived strength was put to the test he was again left holding the broken pieces. Originally when packing he had thought, ‘If only the men who came to me were as thoughtful as me, they wouldn’t need my help.’ His wounded pride now was thinking what most men in his office thought, “I bet most women would appreciate my thoughtfullness.” But rather than voice this he simply said, “What sleeping arrangements did you have in mind?”
The truth was she hadn’t really thought too much about it, because she figured it didn’t need to be that hard. “You can sleep on the floor and can use the extra blanket, or your sleeping bag since you have it. And to ensure you feel proper I will go change in the bathroom.” She said as she took her PJ’s and headed into the master bath shutting the door harder than she had meant to as she crossed the threshold.
Byron sulked for a moment, secretly upset he had caused her to retreat into the bathroom to change, but since he was going to be a gentleman he might as well go all the way. He took his blanket and headed downstairs to the living room couch. Neither party really wanted it this way, but Byron knew from many interviews that the couch was the customary location for wounded husbands. So he stretched out on the couch that he almost fit in and after going over the last five minutes in his head, 100 times, trying to think what advice he’d give himself, if he ever came to himself, literally, and more importantly what advice he’d give Julie, he finally gave up and forced himself to sleep.
Julie stepped out of the bathroom only to discover the one day her husband had been home had come to an early end. She too was upset that Byron had left and wished she hadn’t been so sarcastic or poked fun at his tent and sleeping bag, after all, it was for her. Secretly, she was sarcastic because it helped her stay in control, not allow herself to be vulnerable, and therefore not get hurt. But all this avoiding getting hurt was starting to hurt. A few tears hit the pillow as she forced herself to sleep.
Byron slowly turned over and began to open his eyes, he had forgotten that he was laying on his wife's couch having spent the night before in his first official marital argument, but the stiff neck and tight muscles quickly told him he was not in his bed. As he gathered in his surrounding and his memories fell back into place he realized he was not alone in the living room. Directly across from him in the large lazy boy sat his father-in-law, holding a magazine, but looking down at Byron.
“Good morning, Byron.”
“Oh, good morning,” Byron was so embarrassed about having his father-in-law see him sleeping on the couch that he quickly tried to come up with an excuse. “Oh, I couldn’t sleep last night so I came down to get something to eat and must have fallen asleep before I got to the fridge.” he managed to stammer out.
“It’s okay Byron, you think I never ended up on the couch.” Dad said chuckling at it. “Even marriage counselors don’t have perfect marriages, right.”
“Yeah, I guess not,” Byron said, somewhat relaxing, “But honestly, this is the first time, I have spent the night on the couch.”
His father-in-law gave a deep look into his eyes. “I believe you. Hey, do you mind showing me what I could have for breakfast?” He said walking towards the kitchen.
Byron didn’t like the question, actually it wasn’t the question as much as how the question was asked. Pelham was up to something. “Yeah sounds good.” he said following him.
“So, do you have any cereal?” Byron’s eyes quickly scanned the kitchen hoping to quickly find the cereal, but it wasn’t on the counter or over the fridge, and Julie’s cupboards weren’t those cupboards made with glass doors. Byron had always thought glass door cupboards were such a stupid idea. Who wants to see inside your cupboards? Now he knew. Knowing he would only get one guess without looking like an idiot, he reasoned which cupboard would be the logical place to put the cereal. He made his choice and opened the large cupboard directly in front of where he stood. He smiled, fortune was on his side, there in plane view sat a few boxes of cereal.
“Well Dad, what would you like? We have special K, cheerios, and captain crunch with crunch berries.” Really she had Captain Crunch? He didn’t think people without kids were allowed to buy that. Now that he knew you could get away with it, he made a mental note to go home and buy some.
“I’ll have Special K. Where are the bowls and spoons?”
“Bowl and spoons? Yeah, you’re going to need those.” Byron stalled trying to mask the fact that he needed time to think. Where would he put the bowls and silverware? He had been right before. He went to the next cupboard and sure enough there were the bowls. This was going great. He handed his Dad the bowl and if he got the spoons in his first guess he would officially have three miracles and could apply for sainthood. But the devil’s advocate inside him calmly brought up that the last was the most difficult. Had anyone ever guessed the silverware drawer on the first guess? So many silverware sized drawers. Byron guessed, opening the small size drawer next to the sink, oven mitts. “Oh, I always forget, we had the silverware drawer here when I first moved here but we changed it.” He went to option two, measuring cups, then spatulas, he could forget about that sainthood. Finally after an empty drawer and placemats; ‘who still has placemats’, he found silverware. “Here you go. You know Julie, can never make up her mind where to put things. I swear it’s a new drawer everyday.” His forced smile was not reciprocated by his father-in-law. Byron tried to move on. “Let me get you some milk.” At least I’ll know where that is, Byron thought as he opened the fridge. He looked around, no milk.
“Sorry Dad, we must be out of milk. Although we do have Soymilk.” Muttering under his breath he added, “heaven knows why.”
“Why do you have Soy Milk?” Asked Dad.
“You don’t like the stuff either huh.” Byron knew he liked this guy. “I keep telling Julie it’s not that much healthier, but she won’t listen, just keeps buying soy.”
With a stern look Pelham said, “My daughter is lactose intolerant.”
Byron fell instantly silent, his mind quickly spun through anyway he could explain having said what he had just said, but nothing came to mind, so he took his shocked look, exaggerated it and said, “If only she would have told me.”
“Come on, Byron, the games up. What’s going on with you and Julie?”
Byron didn’t know what to say, perhaps pretend he was gone for the last month or so, and Julie had moved things, or say they had a few issues and were living apart, but none of that explained why he didn’t know his wife of two years was lactose intolerant. Trying to explain that you are happily married, even though you live separately and never see each other can be difficult. So rather than try he turned it back to good old Dad. “What are you talking about?”
“What am I talking about?” The question was repeated in such a way as to say you know exactly what I am talking about, but if you want me to spell it out for you I will, and spell he did. “You look as if you have never entered this house, you know where nothing is. The rooms, the lawn, the garage, show no signs of a man. The only tools in the shed are a set of pink screwdrivers and crescent wrench Mom got Julie three years ago. Your cable subscription doesn’t even include ESPN.”
“It doesn’t?” Byron said in shock.
Pelham picked right back up, “The bathrooms are full of better homes and gardens, Martha Stewart and Vogue magazines. There are far too many throw pillows, covered in far too many flowers. Which I’ll admit is a plague most men can’t even stop. But look at this bookcase.” He said as he walked back into the living room where there was a bookcase on either side of the entertainment center. “A few romance novels, some of Julie’s college books, some Jane Austen’s. But here you are with a doctorate and I can’t find one book on counseling, psychology, or marriage and family therapy.”
Pelham was right the game was up, but just to ice any chance Byron thought he might have had of getting out of this Pelham added, “In fact, haven’t you written some books?”
The pause was pregnant, delivered a baby and raised it, by the time Byron finally said, “Yes.”
“Can I see one?”
Bryon had thought of bringing one of his books. Not fake bookshelf material, but rather a gift for Mom and Dad, but then thought a book titled, “Your last chance: Saving a wrecked marriage even when your man seems like trash,” didn’t seem appropriate. But if only he had brought it, he could have pulled it out now, knowing that even if he did have it, it would have been likely pulling out his supersoaker to try to stop a forest fire.
The pause was now having twins and Pelham was glad for it. Because with the silence came the reassurance to Pelham that Byron was toying with honesty.
“All right son, since I can tell this might be a long story, how about you and I go out and discuss it over breakfast. I’ll go tell Julie and Mom.”
Dad ran upstairs and although it was muffled Byron could hear most of it.
“Julie, Byron and myself are going to run out to get a bite to eat.”
“You sound surprised, why wouldn’t he be here?”
From the tone Byron could tell that Pelham enjoyed catching them in this lie.
“Well, I thought.” Julie stammered out. “That he had to go into work this morning.”
“No, he is very much here and I thought we could go have some male bonding over bacon and syrup. Tell your mother where we have gone if she wakes up.”
Byron suddenly realized he could have just made a run for it when Pelham went upstairs, but unfortunately the thought didn’t enter his head until Pelham was headed back down. All he could do was take a deep breath and hope this interview went better than the one two years ago, but Byron saw little chance of that.
“Shall we?” Pelham said, opening the front door.
Byron slowly stepped out.
Here is the link to Chapter 17