Being Mrs. Culpepper

Chapter 18 - Tying and Untying Knots

Brandon fell asleep, his soft snoring reminiscent of the days after Brittany’s funeral, when Trey and Brandon slept in the same bed, trying desperately to find their way without her.

He pulled the covers over his father, kissed his forehead, and left the room. So much to digest. A lifetime of emptiness imploded by a clarity he’d never imagined. Years of anger toppled by compassion, forgiveness, and love. Unconditional love.

In the kitchen he put on his jacket and Kangol, intending to head home. Instead, he entered the back yard to avoid waking his father with his muffled screams. He took out his phone and sent a text.

 

Staying late with Dad. Tough night.

 

Okay TreyTrey. I’ll be here when you get home.

 

He leaned against the towering willow oak tree, his foot sweeping over the place of Murphy’s burial, thinking back to the day they brought him home. Lots of space for a boy and his dog to roam. He loved the yard, almost half an acre. He’d hated mowing the grass, though, even with the riding mower. The box of photographs in the garage. He’d like to see them.

For reasons unclear to him, Trey’s mind drifted to the days when his parents took him to Sunday School, the only part of church going that Brandon had enjoyed. He and Brandon never went back after Brittany died. He recited the 23rd Psalms out loud, while crying for his mama.

He jogged around the back yard a few times, then shadow boxed with such force that his jacket ripped at the armpit. But he kept going, until his arms gave in to exhaustion. Then he sat on the deck, first taking deep breaths, then a rapid succession of shallow ones, as if something inside of him had malfunctioned. He wept, for all that he’d lost, and all that he’d gained. He thought he heard someone call his name. A woman’s voice. His mama’s, perhaps. But he couldn’t be sure because he’d forgotten what her voice sounded like. He listened with intent. Nothing. In the kitchen he removed his ripped jacket then washed his hands and face before opening the fridge. As he stared at the beer, Amber’s voice popped in his head. He shut the door. In his father’s room he found Brandon fast asleep, snoring louder than before. He removed his shoes, his hat, and climbed into bed next to his father, resting his head on Brandon’s chest, remembering Robin’s words about the strong and steady rhythm, reassured by what he heard, and felt.

Nana’s words caused him to stir. After darkness comes light. He took comfort in Amber’s love for him, and his love for her. His father had chosen him as the person to be vulnerable with while telling his truth. Brandon, aided by whiskey, had allowed himself to cry, express anger, and laugh with his son. That was a big moment for each of them, and Trey took an abundance of comfort in having experienced it.

He remembered winning a ribbon in Sunday School for reciting the books of the Bible, Old and New Testament. In proper order. He challenged himself to do it now. And he did, in his head. While he silently said The Lord’s Prayer, Brandon gently ran his hand through Trey’s hair.

“I live and breathe for you, son.”

Trey fell asleep.

 

 

In the garage he found the box of photographs. At the kitchen table, with each picture laid out in front of him, Trey tried to gain insight into his father’s reasons for taking the photos, for saving them, for giving them to Robin. The photo of Trey with his parents startled him; he hadn’t seen that one before. And the cross out on the back? Why did Brandon do that? Was he trying to erase Brittany from his memory? No, it was how he’d motivated himself to stalk Robin and win her over. What did Robin think when she saw it?

Nana and Pop Pop looked happy. Robin, too. There was a picture of Senior with his family: Brandon, Brooke, and their mother Birdie. Brandon must have been six or seven years old. Trey saw himself and JJ in that photo. They appeared to be a normal family, dressed for church. Not a family in crisis.  

When dawn made its way through the darkness, and while Brandon slept, Trey left the house. Thirty minutes later he stood in front of his mama’s grave, staring at her headstone.  

 

 

                                                                                          Brittany Kristina Culpepper

                                                                                           Loving Wife and Mother

                                                                                           July 15, 1962 — July 15, 1993

 

He pulled a few weeds, thinking  about the sunflowers on her kitchen table. She’d smile at the flowers, then at him. They would study the patterns of the seeds and marvel at the brilliance of mother nature in creating such a bright, bold, and beautiful plant. Edible, too.

He sat on the ground, knees pulled to his chest, cursing himself for breaking his sobriety. Four years down the drain. He took a swig of whiskey from the silver flask he carried in his pocket, wishing his mama were there to yell at him for drinking.

Robin didn’t like yelling— giving or receiving. She had her stern voice, her eye rolls, and hands on her hips — her don’t test me move — but no yelling.

She’d loved Trey through two stints of rehab during his college years and told him she’d never give up on him, no matter how much he pushed her away. He sobbed hard and loud, replaying the conversation, wishing his father had been worthy of Robin, wishing, for the first time in his life, that Robin and Brandon could have stayed together.  That they could have been happy.

He took another swig, asking himself why women put up with so much crap from men. Why did Amber bother to give him another chance after she’d broken up with him for lying to cover his addiction? It had taken three pain-filled years to win her back. Harder than rehab. 

He ambled around the graves, reading headstones, imagining who among the survivors drank too much; smoked too much; gambled too much; ran around too much; abused children and spouses.   

Is anyone happy? Content? Sane? What’s it all for? Trey fell to his knees. When his grief settled, he studied the headstones of a baby who’d lived one week; an old man who’d lived to be one hundred; a wife who’d died two weeks after her husband’s death. The baby’s grave shook him. It was new — last week new.

Life for him might have been different if his mama had lived. No Robin; no Zoey; no JJ; no Sasha; and no Amber. But he’d have his mama. From his cell phone he opened a picture of Brittany and studied her face. She and Robin could have passed for sisters. In the stillness of the cemetery, with the picture of his mama in hand, he sat on a stone bench and whispered over and over: “Help me, Mama.”

After throwing up he found a spot away from the grave sites to relieve himself. He needed to go home and face Amber and beg her not to leave him. Am I sober enough to drive? Should I risk it? He dialed her number.

“Hi, Baby.”

“TreyTrey. Where are you? Are you okay?”

“I’m at the cemetery where Mama is buried. Can you and JJ come and get me?”

Thirty minutes later JJ, Zoey, and Amber arrived. After paying respects to Brittany, they drove Trey home. 

 

He appeared in the kitchen, looking ragged in sweats and bare feet.

“You all right, TreyTrey? Everything go okay with Papa Brandon?”

“We had a good talk. How you doing?”

“Worried about you. You hungry? I made a French spinach quiche last night.”

“Where are JJ and Zoey?”

“I gave them a list. Sent them to the store. Something to do until you woke up. They refused to go home without laying eyeballs on you, to make sure you’re all right. Those two idolize you.”

He took a knee in front of her, then placed his head in her lap.

“I know, TreyTrey. When you’re ready you’ll tell me why you relapsed.”

She rubbed his back until he unclenched his hands from her waist. 

“I’m going to the shop for a couple of hours. Will you be all right by yourself?”

“I need to spend the day with Dad. I’ll tell you everything when I get back.”

JJ and Zoey returned from the store and spent a few minutes talking with Trey.

“What happened to you? Did you and Dad have a fight or something?” asked Zoey.

“No, nothing like that. We had a good talk, covered some tough topics. I’ll tell you about it one day, but not today. I’m going back to see Dad and I’ll give you two a ride home, but not before I kick your butts in Scrabble!”

“No way,” said JJ. “I’m the king of words.”

“JJ, you can’t spell your name.”

 “Zoey, girl, you better get ready for your beat down.”

 Amber looked at Trey and smiled, then left for work.

         

At the Culpepper house Brandon seemed overjoyed to have all his children together. It was Zoey’s turn to choose the movie and she selected one of the popular superhero films. Sasha was home from college in Raleigh and Darrius, who’d been invited by JJ, arrived with the beer that Brandon loved. Trey made caramel popcorn. Sasha ordered takeout: Philly Cheese Steak subs. Brandon’s favorite. Robin, James, and Arianna dropped in and stayed a couple of hours. Amber brought dessert — a pecan pie for Brandon, and for the others, a classic southern pound cake with a buttery, crunchy crust.

During the movie Trey kept an eye on his father, who seemed to be happy and at peace. A new look for him. A good look. He wanted to talk with Robin and James about what he’d learned from his father, but he had no idea where or how to begin. He glanced at Brandon, with Pipsqueak on his lap, enjoying the attention, and thought of Murphy. He missed that dog.

He glanced at Robin and James, then again at his father, then at Robin. It was Robin and Brandon’s connection that went deeper than love. But Robin and James’ connection had endured for years, even while they were apart. Why is that? The same could be said for Robin and Brandon. He gave up on trying to find logic in their relationships. Then he glanced at Amber, sitting next to Sasha. His first love. His only love. She’d put up with him during his darkest days. During their years apart there was no shortage of women for Trey to date, and he had fun, but he’d ached for Amber. He hoped he’d be a better husband than James or Brandon had been and hoped that it wouldn’t take him decades to grow into himself. But what if it did?

His head hurt. Too much deep thinking. Or could be a hangover.

 

Trey graded papers while Amber soaked in the tub. After she’d gotten dressed, she found Trey in his home office—their spare bedroom.

“Almost done?”

“Ten more minutes.”

She turned on the TV in the bedroom and by nine had drifted off to sleep.

 A few minutes later Trey shook her awake. “Baby, what’s wrong? You never fall asleep before midnight.”

Amber sat up and tugged at her nightshirt. “I’m really tired. Got something to tell you.”

“Please let it be good. I can’t take any bad news right now.”

“Could be bad, could be good.”

“Amber…”

“I’m pregnant.”

“Pregnant? How did that happen?”

“Come on, Trey, do I have to spell it out for you?” She called him Trey when she meant business.

“No, I mean, you’re on the pill.”

“Your swimmers broke through. Is this good or bad news?”

He remembered the day he’d first called Robin Mom, the day she’d thrown up because she was pregnant with Sasha. The day he’d been proud to become a big brother. An exciting day. But Robin’s news paled in comparison to this. His tears, his hugs, answered Amber’s question.

“I’m going to be a daddy. A real daddy. Not a substitute for my father.”

“A real daddy. A great daddy.”

He moved his hand up and down her back. “Should we get married?”

“Do we want to get married?”

“Yes, we do. But nothing fancy. I’m fine with the courthouse. Never understood why people of average means spend so much money to get married. I’d rather take that money and buy us a house. We don’t want to rent forever. You okay with that?”

“Average means, TreyTrey?” She ran her hands across her eyes.  Have you forgotten that your mother is rich? If you want a big wedding, I’m sure she’d be happy to give you one.”

“Not what I want. Is that what you want?”

Amber’s eyes widened. “Downtown is perfect for wedding photos! Isn’t Marshall Park near the courthouse? Anyway, we’ll need two witnesses, and you know your entire family will want to come. And I’ll want my mom and my youngest sister there. The others don’t know how to act in public, and I don’t want them carted off to jail from our wedding.”

 “They can’t be that bad.”

“Yeah, they are. You’ve seen them. Monsters.”

After they made love, he told her the stories his father had told to him, and from the stories she gleaned the reason for his relapse. 

After Amber cried herself to sleep, Trey stared at the ceiling, in awe of the way his father had refused to say out loud that it had been Robin, not Pop Pop, who’d shot Senior. But Trey knew his father, and had seen the truth in his eyes.    

The next day he and Amber told the family about the baby and the wedding. Everyone was happy and supportive, especially Brandon, who talked nonstop about his yet to be born grandson and all the things they’d do together.

“What if it’s a girl?” asked Zoey.

“We’ll do the same things, plus some of those girly things, too.”

When the excitement died down, JJ, Sasha, and Zoey scattered throughout the house, leaving Brandon and Robin in the dining room, talking and laughing. She took a little blue box from her pocket and handed it to him. He grinned at her as he opened it.

“Are we getting engaged after our divorce?”

“It’s for Trey and Amber. I think you should give it to him.”

He removed the ring from the box and placed it on her finger. “Still fits.”

She held up her hand and admired the ring. “It’s lovely. Must have set you back plenty.”

“It did. But that’s the ring I wanted for you. And I knew you would love it.”

She gently removed it, kissed it, then placed it in his hand. “Amber will treasure it.”

He returned it to the box. “Is it nicer than the ring James gave you?”

“Much nicer. We were just starting out back then. He had to put money into the practice, we’d bought more house than two people needed, and he was too proud to take money from his father. It was a nice ring, but not as nice as yours.”

“What did you do with it?”

“I sold it. Bought furniture for this house.”

Brandon chuckled.

“You okay with me deeding our house to Trey and Amber as a wedding gift?”

“Sweetheart, that’s perfect. They love this house. Probably had sex in every room when we weren’t here.”

“Probably in our bed, too.” She grimaced. “Speaking of sex, you need to have a talk with your wild son. The boy is out of control. Girls calling all the time, dropping by unannounced. And the ones I saw were too old for him. They looked like they have jobs and mortgages.”

Brandon shook his head. “Way ahead of you. We spoke about it last week. He’ll straighten up.”

Brandon sat back in his chair. “Remember when we were first married, how we talked about doing custom birdhouses together? I’d design and make them, you’d paint them. Do we have to be married to see that project through? Something fun for us to do together.”

“Not at all. Let’s work it into our schedules.”

“Oh, and by the way, you owe me a dance, Mrs. Culpepper.”

“When your legs are stronger, we’ll dance.”

 

Trey and Amber hung out in the family room, waiting to say goodnight to Robin and Brandon. They heard voices for a while, then laughter and music. Trey called James with the baby and wedding news. After the call ended, he looked at Amber, his face wrinkled with impatience.

“What could they possibly be doing in there?”

Amber patted Trey’s thigh, then rested her head on his shoulder. “Saying goodbye.”

 

Two weeks later Amber and Trey were married at the county courthouse. The entire family, including James, his children, and Amber’s wayward relatives, was there to witness the ceremony. No one cut the fool. No one went to jail. Before the start of the ceremony Brandon stood with Trey, waiting for things to get started.

“You good, son?”

“I’m good, Dad. I love her with everything in me. And she loves me, even with all my shortcomings.”

“Amber’s a jewel. You have a good head on your shoulders, better than mine when I married Britt, or Robin. The two of you will be fine. You look good, by the way.”

Trey gave off a nervous grin. The last time he and Brandon stood together like this, in new suits, was at Brandon’s wedding to Robin. Black suits then. Navy suits now. Getting Robin for a mother had seemed like the best day of his life. But today was better, so much better.

Brandon reached in his left jacket pocket and handed the small blue box to Trey. Trey’s hands shook as he opened it.  

“Mom and I want you to have it, for Amber. Zoey found out Amber’s ring size — don’t ask me how— and we had the ring fitted for her.”

Trey wiped his brow with the handkerchief from his breast pocket. “Dad, thank you. This is amazing. You sure Robin is okay letting it go? I know she doesn’t wear it anymore, but it’s still hers. And I know she loves it.”

Brandon embraced his son.”We’re proud of you and Amber. It’s yours now.”

The ring was a three carat, round solitaire diamond, set in platinum. Trey had seen it many times before, but it had never looked as beautiful as it looked now. And he’d never seen his father as happy as he was now.

He glanced at Amber, imagining the look on her face when he slipped the ring on her finger. She sat across from where he stood, with her mom and sister nearby, waiting for their names to be called. Not nervous at all. In her knee length, silver sheath short sleeve dress, made of silk, with an off the shoulder neckline, she was as flawless as the diamond in Trey’s jacket pocket.

The ceremony was short and sweet, and when Trey placed that diamond on Amber’s finger, she fainted.

 

During the reception at Rose’s house, while the thirty or so guests mingled, James and JC stood together, chatting.

“Marry Robin right now. She’s already softened your hard edges. I ‘ve never seen you so relaxed, so happy.”

James grinned Robin’s way. With Sasha right behind Robin, JC’s eyes lingered in that direction.  

“What’s with the look?”

“She’s gorgeous, smart, with good conversation. No harm in looking.”

“She’s going to be your step-sister, JC.”

“Come on, Dad. We’re not related. We didn’t grow up in the same house.”

James removed his hands from his pockets and shifted his stance. “Let’s say you take her on one date, maybe three. After you sleep with her you dump her. You see her at family gatherings. It’s awkward. She’s hurt. Or angry. Trey and JJ want to tear you a new one. Brandon, too. Arianna and Zoey roll their eyes at you. Then there’s Robin. I’m in bed each night with my woman who is not happy with a situation my son created. That’s a problem for me.”

James stood toe to toe with his son. “Then it becomes a problem for you.”

JC backed away. “Sorry, Dad, I didn’t think it through.”

“I get the attraction, son. I do. But move on. There must be thousands of beautiful women in Georgetown.”

“There are. But I haven’t met one like Sasha. She’s incredible. Had a long talk with her yesterday, during the siblings get together.” JC teared up.

“Walk with me, son.”

In the library, the place where James and John had pulled many an all-nighter on tough cases, they sat at the table next to the windows overlooking the putting green. James went to the bar and grabbed two beers. He opened them and handed one to his son.

“Talk to me. Why Sasha?”

“We clicked. I don’t know why, but we did. I said things to her about myself that I’ve never said to a girl before. No BS. No pick-up lines. Just me. She listened. She heard me. Most women at school are all about themselves. They talk too much and don’t know how to listen. And I listened to her explain why she’s guarded around guys. The way her father treated her mother. The way you treated her mother. She’s afraid of being hurt. I fell in love with her. No lie, Dad. I fell in love with her.”

JC took several long sips.

“I asked her if Robin hated me for being the product of my dad’s cheating on her, and before I knew it, I was sobbing like a baby. Never shared that fear with anyone, not even you or Mom. Or Trey. She took my hand and told me no, her mother never hated me, only you. Not so much that you had me but that you hid me from her for two years. I didn’t know about the hiding.”

JC’s chest heaved. “Why did you hide me from your wife?”

James told him the story, as much of it as JC could handle for now.

“I get it, I guess.” He gazed past his father. “Sasha and I left the lunch before I totally lost it. She drove. Can you believe I let a girl drive my Mustang?”

James chuckled. “Where to?”

“Lake Norman. Her Grandma Rose has a place there. We hung out. We talked more.”

“I’m sorry, son. I had no idea you carried those worries inside of you.”

“It was freeing to get it out. Sasha made it easy for me. After I settled down, she said to me, ‘JC, I’m not afraid of you. You’re a guy I could trust, not to be perfect, cause none of us are, but someone I’d like to get to know. And I don’t feel weird about it. Do you?’”

James fidgeted in his chair, then went to the bar and came back with a Scotch. He knew what his son would say next.

“I told her that being with her, talking with her, felt right. Then I glanced at my watch. We’d been gone about two hours. Sasha texted Robin and told her where we were, why we were there. Robin texted that she’d like to speak to me.”

James remembered Robin leaving the reception to take a call, and he’d thought nothing of it. She’d seemed fine when she stepped back into the family room.

“We called her and she said, in the kindest voice, ‘JC I could never hate you. I love your father, and therefore I love you, regardless of how you came into this world.’”

“That’s when you and Sasha made love.”

 “It was her first time, and I was careful with her. And it was my first time, too, in a way. I’ve had sex lots of times, but I’d never made love to a girl, until Sasha.”

James took a deep breath, then slowly released it. “Did you pressure her in any way?”

“No, she made it clear what she wanted.”

“How clear?”

JC’s cheeks flushed. He turned away from James, gazing out of the window. “She told me she liked my voice. She liked the way my lips moved when I said her name. She said she wanted to give herself to me.”

“Okay, son. I get it.” James reared back in his chair, embarrassed for intruding on their moment, yet proud of the way Sasha and JC handled themselves.

“Dad.”

He recognized the tone. He’d used it many times to control clients and the opposition. But he hadn’t realized until now that he’d overused it with his own son. And Arianna? How had he spoken to her over the years? Had that been part of the problem in his marriages?

“Son.” His tone was measured, a loving father’s tone.

He spun around and faced James. “How did you justify sleeping with my mother while you were married to Robin?”

James didn’t respond right away. The topic had never come up before, at least not with his children. He tapped his empty glass on the table. JC replenished it. All his years of training and experience in controlling clients, making his case, keeping the upper hand—none of it had prepared him for this.

“There was, there is, no justification for what I did. None. I was selfish, arrogant, and disrespected my wife in the worst way. Recently Robin told me that she left me, not because of you, but because she discovered who I really was, and she didn’t like it.”

JC moved away from his father, toward the ladder that leaned against the massive bookcase.  His face was drawn, like a child’s face might have been after hearing there would be no Christmas this year.

“You never looked at Mom the way you looked at Robin that day you let her have Murphy. Mom hated the dog, sure, but I loved that dog and you never asked me how I felt, before or after you gave Murphy away. I figured you loved her more than you loved us.”

James had forgotten that JC had been there that day. He was five at the time. Great memory. “Son, I’m sorry. You’re right, I should have asked you. I did love Robin more than I loved your mother, but never more that I love you, or Arianna. I should have asked you. Please forgive me.”

“Sasha and I want to be together. But she can’t be with me if the adults in this family — you, Mom, Robin, and Mr. Brandon — all with horrible track records in fidelity, won’t support us. She told me to go back to Georgetown and focus on law school.”

“Smart girl.”

“All due respect, Dad, I convinced her that we should counsel with Grandpa. He’s agreed to talk with us tomorrow before I leave.”

James stood and embraced his son. “I love you, son. You’re my boy, and I want what’s best for you. I apologize for jumping to conclusions about you taking advantage of Sasha, and I’m glad you’re talking with Grandpa tomorrow. He’s a wise man. He’ll give you good counsel.”

They released the embrace. JC finished his beer.

“How much of this does Robin know?”

“All of it. Sasha told her parents as soon as we returned from Lake Norman. I was afraid to tell you. Hadn’t planned on it.”

“Afraid?”

“You can be scary sometimes. No compassion. Judgmental, too. Robin’s not like that.”

James glared at JC. “You spoke to her about this?”

“See, that look you just gave me.”

James took a step back.

“Sasha spoke with her parents, about us. I was there, mostly listening. Mr. Brandon told me how he fell in love with Robin at fourteen and never fell out; even though he let circumstances get in the way of their marriage, he never stopped loving her. He’s a cool old man, funny, honest. I like him. Kind of like you used to be before you got so hard.”

James lowered his head. “When did I become hard?”

“After Robin’s father died. What happened to you?”

“Robin happened. But not the way I’d hoped.”

“Before meeting Sasha, I’d never been in love. I had crushes on girls but never told one I loved her. Never missed a beat when a girl told me to get lost. I just moved on to the next one. But Sasha, I can’t shake her. And I don’t want to. Even though you were married to Mom, and Robin was married to Mr. Brandon, you never gave up. And after you and Mom divorced, you stayed single. Were you waiting for Robin?”

James choked up. “It wasn’t part of any plan not that’s how it turned out, me waiting for her. I loved her. I needed her.  And in my gut I knew she loved me, and needed me, too. Your mom and I never connected the way Robin and I had.” 

“I know. She told me.”

“Do you understand why Trey came into our lives?”

“You explained it. He did, too, when I was in seventh grade. He wanted to be sure I was okay with sharing you and if I’d said no, he would have walked away. He didn’t want to come between us. I liked having a big brother and I didn’t want to lose him, so I told him I was fine with sharing my dad, even though I wasn’t, at least not in the beginning.”

James sipped. “He and Brandon are rebuilding their relationship. He won’t need me as much. That means more of me, for you.”

 “I know. Trey told me and thanked me for sharing you all those years. Did you know that he called me Little Trey, because of our names? I liked it, too. It was our secret. He’s a good brother. I like JJ, too. I think we’ll all get along.”

“So glad to hear it. You talk to Trey about Sasha?”

JC’s chest heaved, as if he’d burst into tears.

“And?”

“He told me it was weird. Said it wasn’t his call who his sister dated and as long as I didn’t mess over her, he was fine with it.”

James studied JC’s face. “Something else you need to say?”

JC shuffled from one foot to the other. “About Robin.”

“You don’t like Robin?”

“She’s great. Just thinking about her and Mr. Brandon. He said you’d better be good to Robin or else he’ll sleep with her while she’s married to you, to pay you back for stealing her. Then Robin reminded him that she had the final say in who she slept with and she wouldn’t cheat on you, and Mr. Brandon said, ‘Woman you know you want me. I know all your spots.’”

James grinned. “What did Robin say?”

“She rolled her eyes at him, then said ‘James knows them, too, so me and my spots will be just fine.’”

“Nice come back.” He laughed, loudly.

“Mr. Brandon considers you a friend, a good friend. He respects you and the way you raised me.”

JC wiped his brow, then ran his hand across the top of his head.    

“I know this conversation is supposed to be about me and Sasha, but Robin and Mr. Brandon are in love, Dad. Real love. I saw it. I felt it. Sasha, too. You and Mom can barely be in the same room together without hurling insults at each other. Are you sure their relationship won’t be a problem for you?”

James clasped his hands behind his head. “Son, right now, I’m not sure of anything. And what did you mean earlier when you said that your parents and Sasha’s parents have a horrible track record with fidelity? You included your mother. Why?”

“You don’t know.”

“Know what?”

“She had an affair while you two were married.”  

James hadn’t known. Or maybe he hadn’t cared to know. And the funny part of it all, he thought, was that during his seven-year marriage to Ashley, he never cheated. “I’m glad you confided in me about everything. I can be bullheaded sometimes. I’m working on doing better.”

James hugged his son. “Are we good?”

JC smiled. “We’re good.”

“Please, son, anytime you have questions or concerns about anything, ask away. If I come across as hard, you have my permission to check me on it.”

“I’d like that in writing, please.”

As they dapped it out, James wondered who Ashley had been with during their marriage.   

 

The next day JC reported to his father that Ashley had no problem with him dating Sasha.

“Mom’s fine with it. She said it wasn’t any weirder than you and Brandon being buddies, or you taking on Trey as another son.”

“I’m not sleeping with Trey and Brandon.”

“But you see her point. I also talked it over with Arianna.”

“And?”

“You know your daughter. Practical to a fault. She gave me a list of pros and cons and thank goodness her pros list was longer, but only by two items.”

“What was the biggest con?”

 “Sasha will break my heart.”

JC and James talked more, not about Sasha, but about their father/son relationship. Mending fences. Forgiving. James asked about the counseling session with JC’s grandpa.

“Anything you care to share from your meeting with Grandpa?”

“He told us to love and respect each other, practice safe sex always, and when the relationship runs its course, part in friendship, not anger. 

“He didn’t try and talk you out of seeing each other?”

“No.”

“Anger?”

“He told us we’d be over in six months; one of us will tire of the relationship before the other, probably Sasha, and I shouldn’t be angry when she meets someone new.”

“What did Sasha say?”

“After we left Grandpa’s house, we discussed everything. She said Grandpa was right, and we should save ourselves from protracted agony and  stop before we start.”

“And how did you respond?”

“I told her I won’t give up easily. I’m going to win her heart.”