Saturday, March 28, 2020

Chapter 17- The Challenge


(As always if you are new to the book here are links to the earlier chapters, Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3 Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9 and Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15 and Chapter 16)

“Well Pelham.” Byron was preparing to get it all out as they sat in the little booth at the diner.

“You can wait until we order to tell the story. I don’t want to rush you.” Pelham said

This helped Byron relax a little. Which he needed after a long silent drive that only added to Byron’s uneasiness. He wondered what Pelham was going to say once he knew the whole truth, but Byron took solace in the fact that so far, he didn’t sense any anger or judgement in his father-in-laws voice. Byron ordered a standard american breakfast, two pancakes, two eggs and some bacon despite not being very hungry. At a diner for breakfast that is what you were supposed to order, so he did. Pelham on the other hand had his own idea. “I’ll take eight pieces of bacon covered in maple syrup.”

Byron was a bit surprised. Pelham looked about 300 lbs shy of a man who regularly ordered in this fashion. Also, last night he had not only ordered a salad but asked for dressing on the side saying, “they always put too much dressing, gotta watch those calories.” Pelham noted the surprise in Byron’s eyes, and decided he better explain. “Byron, I realized a long time ago that I love two breakfast items, bacon and maple syrup. I also learned a long time ago that keeping my wife happy brings me more joy than what I eat. So, I eat what she wants me to eat when we are together and on the rare occasions I eat out without her, I eat what I want to eat. It’s kept me both married and from turning into a blimp. Win-win.”

“But we didn’t come to this meal to talk about my marriage. We are here to talk about your’s.” Pelham continued. “So, lay it on me.”

“Well.” Byron took a deep breath. “I needed a wife.”

“And why is that?”

“I thought it necessary mostly because some lesser minded people found it hard to take me seriously as a marriage counselor without one.”

“Always a good idea to allow lesser minded people to dictate our decisions.” Byron began to stammer an excuse but Pelham encouraged, “Go on.”

“So, I took an add in the paper asking for a wife.”

“I hope you kept a copy.”

“What?”

“Scrap book material.”

“I suppose.” This was not going at all as Byron had envisioned. Mostly it was going better. I mean no yelling or anger, just jokes and indifference. He wasn’t sure he liked it. “Anyway, I received several answers but mostly people desperate for my citizenship, or my money. I almost gave up but one of the replies was from Julie.”

“Kind of romantic.”

Byron was not sure if that was sarcasm or not, so kept going.

“Julie said she was tired of the dating scene and being pressured by…” Byron paused, catching himself before he said, ‘her mother,’ and instead said, “others, who thought she should be married.”

“No reason to sugar coat it for me. You think I didn’t notice Barbara calling everyday asking Julie what her last date was, when was she going out again, what about that boy you saw at the grocery store, don’t you even want a family. I kept telling her that Julie wasn’t going to meet someone and get engaged in one day, but it sounds like you might have proved me wrong on that count. Did you get engaged on the first day you met?”

“Um… yeah it was.”

“Well I hope Barbara never finds out. I hate being proved wrong. But I digress, go on.”

“We decided it would help both of us if we got married, so as you know, we did. After the ceremony we went our separate ways.”

“So you have been totally separate from that day until this?”

“She did come with me to my secretary's wedding a few weeks ago, because my secretary kept begging me to bring my wife. To pay Julie back I agreed to be there this weekend when you came to town.”

“I see, so you married my daughter, simply to further your career?”

“I don’t know that I would say, simply.”

“Okay. You married my daughter to further your career.”

Byron realized this did not help his cause. To hear it stated so frankly, by the man who had trusted him with his daughter was painful, and he sat looking as much a dejected heap as the breakfast plate in front of him. Finally as an effort to placate his sense of decency Byron offered, “It was a crazy idea, I should have never done it. But we can get divorced and make things go back to how they were.”

“What?” Pelham shot back so quickly that Byron knew whatever the correct answer was, this was no it. “That ranks up there with your stupid, let me run an add in the paper to get a wife idea. Do you think I want to explain all this to Barbara and have to start to hear her complain about Julie’s dating or lack thereof day and night again? I’d sooner admit to her that I just ordered seven strips of bacon smothered in syrup.”

With this unexpected response Byron felt like his most feared enemy had become his strongest ally.

“No, we must come up with a plan. We mustn't go back to how things were, the phone calls constantly asking Julie if she is going to have kids is bad enough.”

“Kids?” Byron coughed up the only bite of egg he had managed to take. “She asks about kids? What does Julie say?”

“You two are ‘trying’, but clearly not too hard. So, we can remove divorce as an option, what’s your next idea?”

Byron didn’t have any other ideas. Thinking about it he was leaning towards leaving things as they are, but doubted that Pelham would find that much more appealing than divorce. As he tried to see any other possible options, he suddenly realized he was in a marriage counseling session, only seated on the wrong side of the table. The realization came with the voices of hundreds of clients who had said to him, “stay together and leave things as they are, or get divorced, what other choices are there?” He always viewed this as terribly closed minded, but somehow when it was his situation it didn’t seem like such a terribly closed minded thought.

When he was counseling others he always told them that there were hundreds of other options besides those two, and all of them involved the same thing, change. The options they didn’t want to see or think about were the options that would force them to change. He now saw that dear old dad was looking for an option that would force him to change.

He thought of all the magic moments in his office when the client realized that he wasn’t the type of Dr. that simply asked you to pop a pill and pay the bill. No, he was going to expect them to do real work, the hardest work anyone can do, change, become a better person. This realization, at first, always led to the same thing, excuses, and Byron was no different. While he was too scared to vocalize the excuses, his mind was fabricating them with such efficiency that even Henry Ford would have been proud. ‘Why should I change? I’m not unhappy with our marriage. Julie isn’t unhappy. I can’t afford to change, changing would take so much. I have no time, no energy, no money...no way.

He looked up again at Pelham. Weighing in his mind which excuse was best but ultimately said, “What would you suggest?”

Byron had always wondered why his clients took so long to give him such a brief response.

“Well, I think a happily married couple should see each other more than twice every couple of years. Don’t you?”

“How often were you thinking?” Byron was prepared to negotiate.

“We aren't haggling over a used car, how often, in your professional opinion should a happily married couple see each other.”

That sly dog. Thought Byron. He always felt he was the master of asking the right question but he now realized he was but a novice compared to the great Pelham. But two could play at this game, “I have seen military couples have decent marriages who very rarely saw each other.” This wasn’t really true but Bryon assumed there must at least be one out there.

“Fair enough, but would you say at least twice a month is good for anyone not deployed overseas?”

“I guess so”

“So, how often are you going to see Julie?”

Byron had learned along time ago that it was safe to simply repeat the professor. “Twice a month?”

“Sounds good to me. So, it’s agreed you will go out with Julie at least once every other week. Feel free to call me and keep me up to date with how things are going.”

Byron wanted to complain. He wasn’t sure he had actually agreed to anything but as Pelham grabbed the last piece of bacon with a smile, Bryon could see that the negotiation was closed. “Boy, oh boy. Six slices of bacon can really feel a man up.” Pelham said as he sat back in his chair.

“I’m going to have a difficult time explaining to Julie that her Dad is requiring us to date.”

“That is exactly why I recommend you don’t do that.”

“What?”

“Son, this will work a lot better if Julie doesn’t know, that I know. Any of this, best leave me out of it.”

Byron felt like Pelham had just occastrated D-Day and finished the inspiring speech with, “you boy’s have fun, I’ll be waiting back in the US to hear how things went.”

“So, what do I tell her?”

“I don’t know. She is your wife. But if you really want a place to start, when I want to see Barbara, I usually try something like, ‘hey babe want to go see a movie, or honey, want to try that new Italian restaurant.’ but you are smart, you can come up with your own lines.”

Byron was still in a state of shock trying to process exactly what he had agreed to do and at this point if he could get out of it, when Dad got up and said, “Well, we better go, but I am sure glad we had this chat. I think you’ll do great, Son.” Hearing Pelham call him son was equally awkward for both men, but Byron knew he did it with the best of intentions, and it did serve to trip up his train of thought and while Byron appreciated the gesture he was not sure he could reciprocate.

The ride home was as strange as everything else but only because it was normal. Pelham acted as if their conversation at the restaurant had never happened. He asked Byron about his work and Byron answered in short but not responsive answers. Yes, Pelham was back to just being the same old guy. Byron on the other hand was anyone but his usual self.

His body may have been in the car but his mind was still sitting in the dinner. All he was thinking about is what was he going to do and worse what was he going to say to Julie. While Pelham continued conversation to keep Byron sain he knew that Byron was mulling over what to tell his daughter. Pelham smiled knowing someone was beginning to feel like a married man.

No sooner had Pelham opened the door then Julie jumped up from the couch alert and ready to question them about this ‘bonding time’. The anxiety of her unsuspecting husband without supervision with her cunning father had clearly been wearing on her.

“Oh glad you two are back.” She said with a smile that had no more honesty in it than the rest of the weekend had.

“So dear,” She said looking at Byron, “What did you two talk about?”

Dad knowing that Byron was in no shape to be regurgitating full truths let alone clever part ones, jumped in.

“Darling this husband of yours is quite the guy, he told me all about…” Dad went on to make their ten minute car ride home, most of which Byron was comatose for, sound like a deep, 2 hour conversation all about Byron’s life. Pelham did have to make up quite a bit of it but did so knowing that Julie was unlikely to know any better.

It was clear Pelham was not only a great marriage counselor and negotiator but also quite the actor. What amazed Byron was that he was able to fool even those who knew him best. By the end of his tale Julies nerves were visibly calmed, so much so that she gave Byron an unexpected but very welcome smile as a way to say, “nice work,” It was a look he desperately wished he deserved.

“Well, I hate to admit this but Honey we better get our bags packed and get to the airport, we don’t want to miss our flight.” Pelham said.

“Do you need help with your bags?” Byron asked.

“Oh, we will take a half hour or so to pack, why don’t you two do whatever you do with your Saturday mornings. Julie told us how much you two love to garden together, why don’t you plant a few daisys. You can help me with the luggage once we have it all packed up.

Byron gave Julie a confused look and then together they headed out to the yard.

“Pelham, honey, Julie never told me Byron liked to garden.” Barbara said, “And our bags are already packed.”

“I know,” he smiled as he looked out the window seeing Byron and Julie headed together towards the small garden shed, “let’s go take a nap.”

The ploy to force them to spend time together didn’t help much. Byron and Julie did go out to the garage, but Byron was so distracted with trying to figure how he could meet his commitment he had made to Pelham that he made a terrible conversationalist. By the time they went back to the home to say goodbyes Byron was no closer to solving his problem.

The goodbyes on the front porch would have made leave it to Beaver proud. Everyone was smiling. As Dad went to hug Byron he whispered, “make me proud Son.” This was the first hint that the earlier conversation had even taken place.

“We will see you two love birds later.” Mom explained as she walked to the car. The weekend had clearly left her with no doubt ther her daughter was happy and perhaps more important in her mind, happily married.

Byron and Julie continued to wave as Dad and Mom drove off. When they were safely away. Julie was the first to break the silence. “You can relax, you did great, you convinced them. I don’t know how, walking around like a ghost all day but you did it. Now that they are convinced we won’t have to see each other for a long time.”

This was not the opening Byron wanted but it was an opening nonetheless, “Julie, maybe we should see each other more often.” Byron slowly let out.

Julie looked shocked and checked to see if he was joking, but both the tone and the look was serious so without thinking said, “Why?” by her quick response she could tell he was a bit offended, and she instantly regretted it. The truth was she would love to see Byron more, he had just caught her off guard. Now she worried, was he really wanting to see her more often, did he like her? In an attempt to salvage the situation she joked, “I said it went well, not that well.”

Byron had hoped for a little more positive response but the sarcasm was sufficient to let him know that it wasn’t a total no. “I was thinking , perhaps, it would benefit both of us, if we didn’t need to come up with excuses so often. You could come on the double dates Ms. Whitaker, I mean Mrs. Goodman is always bugging me about and I could come…”

“To my book clubs.” Julie jumped in.

“Yes, I could come to your book club.”

“So we will trade off. I go to one for you and you go to one for me. Another business arrangement.” Julie said with a little disappointment.

“You could call it that.” Byron went on.

While void of any romance, Julie saw that this made sense. “So what are you thinking, twice a year?”

“A little more than that might be nice. Maybe a couple times a month.”

“That seems like a lot, to go from not seeing each other in years to now several times a month. Are you sure you don’t want to do it only once a month? How often do you think book clubs meet?”

Byron didn’t want to have to tell good old Dad he had failed so stuck to his guns. “I think twice a month would be good.”

“If you insist but I go first. I have a book club coming up.”

Byron couldn’t believe it. It had worked. She had accepted. Ever since he had committed to dear old dad that he would see Julie twice a month he had been completely stressed about her response to such a sudden change. With her acceptance behind him he was absolutely elated. “Perfect, you let me know when that book club is and I will be there with bells on.”

“What does that mean?”

“You know, it's a phrase, with bells on.”

“I haven’t heard it.”

“Everybodies heard it.”

“Not me. What does it mean?”

“You know, I’m not sure but I think it means you're excited to go or something like that.”

“You’re excited to go to my book club?”

Byron now realized he might have overplayed his excitement. “Well, I will be there. I’m not sure about the bells.”

After this Byron went back up to Julie's room and gathered his things. The entire time he kept his very peppy attitude. Julie couldn’t help but notice the timing, he had been peppy ever since she had said she would see him more often. Maybe, just maybe, he really did want her around for more than just avoiding excuses. Julie finally asked as they headed out the front door with his luggage, “Byron, what has gotten into you. You were a zombie throughout most of my parents' stay and now you are like a kid on halloween.”

Byron was a little embarrassed but was in a very good mood. “I guess I was so stressed about really getting to know your parents and I am glad that it wasn’t a total bomb. At least I hope you don’t think so.”

“No, it seemed to go really well, thanks for doing it.”

“Well text me all the info on the book club. It will be interesting. I have never been to a book club.”

“You will enjoy it more if you actually read the book. Here I finished it, you can borrow my copy.” She handed him a book with a bright pink cover with an illustration of a bouquet of flowers on it and the title “The Husband Hunt.”

“Is this a joke?”

“You said you would be there with bells on.”

“And I will. I just hope no one sees me with that book. Well, I’ll see you then.”

They both kind of stood there not really knowing how to say, “See you later.” End of dates are always a little awkward, neither party knows how far the other wants them to go. Should you just say, “Well, toodles.” and hop in the car. Do you shake hands? Is a hug too much, or maybe just a little hand squeeze. Truth is Byron wouldn’t have minded even a bit more, but what would Julie think? And the fact that the person is your spouse, which some might think would make this less awkward only made it more so. Finally Byron awkwardly leaned in and did a side hug. “Okay, I better get going.”

“Bye, Byron.”

He drove off. He noticed something about Julie as he drove off in the rear view mirror. She was pretty sure that he had wanted more than just a side hug and truth was so did she. But sensing he wanted more made all the difference and what Byron noticed was, she was beautiful, especially when she was smiling.


Here is a Link to the next chapter, Chapter 18


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