Eight Maids A-Milking – (day 8)

by
Chuck Allen

Ben wished he could cry, but no tears ever came. He didn’t even feel the picture he cradled in his hand. His eyes were tracing the curves on her face. Those perfect cheeks and playful dimples had brought many a smile to his face. In fact, Ben smiled just looking at the photo.

“She’s beautiful.” Jack’s voice cut through Ben’s thoughts.

“Yeah”, Ben agreed as he turned to Jack.

Hearing Jack’s voice sent Ben’s mind back to their many conversations at the country club.

“Two hundred dollars for a dress? Man she’s milking you!” Jack looked up at Ben from under the towel he was using to dry his hair.

“I don’t care, Jack. She makes me happy. When we’re together I feel young and alive.”

“But what about Fran?”

“That well’s been dry for a long time now. It seems like we barely even know each other any more – just two strangers living in the same house.”

“Does she know about Karen?”

“I hope not! I don’t want to go down that path again.” Ben shook his head as he fumbled with the buttons on his shirt. “We had to do three months of counseling when she found about about Susan. That was pure torture.”

“So why are you guys still together?” Jack’s wrinkled forehead added emphasis to his inquiry.

Ben had wondered the same thing a few times. “I’m not sure. I guess deep down we both really do love each other.” He chuckled at how funny that statement sounded.

“Well, I think Karen’s just using you for your money. Clothes…Jewelry…Trips..how much have you spent on her?”

Ben didn’t like the way that sounded. “She my girlfriend, Jack! You’re one to talk. You’re a career bachelor. You know how the system works.” The tone in his voice was sharper than he had intended.

“Yeah, I know how the game works. That’s why I used be so jealous of you and Fran. I would happily trade in ‘the game’ for the right person. I don’t understand why you keep wanting back in.”

Ben felt like he was being lectured. To be honest he had no idea how he kept getting into these relationships. “I just need some excitement. I work hard – sixty to eighty hours every week – to make good money. I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit around the house like an old man when I’m not working!”

“Well, you’re not a spring chicken anymore,” Jack laughed as he punched Ben in the stomach.

“Watch it! I’m only fifty-one. That is not old! Besides, I’m in better shape than most young guys I know. I didn’t have any problem putting you away on the racquetball court today, did I?”

Bzzzzzz. Bzzzzzz. The vibration of Ben’s phone brought him back to the moment. He realized that he and Jack had been standing in silence for a few minutes now.

Not recognizing the number he sent the call to voicemail. At the moment he didn’t want to talk to anyone.

“Where is Jeremy?”

Ben was glad that Jack had broken the silence. “They’re at the house. Oh… Wait. That must have been him.” Ben pulled out his phone. The mention of Jeremy prompted his brain to recognize that the unknown number was likely his son calling. The sadness of not knowing his own son’s phone number seemed to wrench his stomach, but it had been quite a few years since Jeremy had last called him.

“Let me give him a call and see what he needed.” Ben dialed as he spoke.

“Jeremy? Hey, sorry I missed your call. Is everything alright?”

“That’s a strange question,” Jeremy replied. “I was calling to let you know that we will be later arriving. Jenny and I will be there about eight.” Jeremy’s voice was cold and business like.

“Ok,” Ben responded.

“And, Ben…” Jeremy’s voice trailed off for a moment as if gathering courage to continue. “I was hoping you would give us some time alone with mom.”

“Uh… sure, Jeremy. Whatever you want.” Ben felt hurt by the request. He had hoped that time would help close the gap that had existed between them, but Jeremy’s voice didn’t show any signs of reconciliation. Ben longed to be called “Dad” again, but that did not seem likely based on this exchange – their first conversation in five years.

“Thanks. I appreciate it. Bye.”

Ben could barely mutter good bye before Jeremy was off the line.

“Is everything alright?” Jack interjected, once again interrupting Ben’s thoughts.

“Uh… Yeah… Yeah, they’re fine. They are going to be later getting here than they initially planned. He was just letting me know.”

“Is he still mad at you?”

“Yeah, I’m surprised he even called to tell me they would be late. You can tell from his voice that he hates me.”

“I don’t think he hates you, Ben. He’s just hurt and that’s how he takes it out on you.” Jack was fumbling around in his jacket pocket as he spoke.

“No. I’m pretty sure he hates me. He will talk to Fran for hours, but not even say hello to me if I answer the phone. I don’t understand it. Fran forgave me, so why can’t he?”

“He probably feels like he’s taking up for his mom – like he’s defending her or something.” By this time Jack had pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket.

“I guess. And as far as I know he only knows about Susan. He doesn’t even know about the other seven affairs. Can you imagine if he knew the entire truth?”

Jack didn’t respond to the question, but simply shook his head. “How have you been doing since Karen left you? I haven’t heard much from you the past three weeks.”

“It was tough. I really loved being with Karen. What we had was special.”

And expensive, Jack thought. He kept his thoughts to himself, though. He could tell that Ben was in too much sorrow to hear his thoughts again about Karen taking advantage of him. “I can tell. I’ve never seen you take time off from work for relationship issues before.”

Ben didn’t seem to hear Jack’s comments as he continued. “But the last few weeks have been an amazing turn around. I’m not sure why, but Fran began showing me affection like when we were younger. It was as if we started over in our relationship. We…”

“Huh? You and Fran? You…” Jack was shocked at what he was hearing. He had heard Ben many times describe his relationship with Fran as dead or cold or … lots of things, but never anything positive – at least not in the last nine or ten years.

“Yeah, we fell in love all over again. It was amazing. I took last week off work just so we could spend time together. Do you even remember the last time Fran and I spent time together alone?”

“Well… No, actually.”

“Me either. We went for walks. We talked for hours. We laughed. We even sat by the lake for a few hours one day without saying a word. I just held her in my arms.” Ben’s eyes began to tear up as he spoke. “I realized all the time I had wasted – years that could have been spent living life together instead of just living in the same house.”

Ben continued talking about the past few weeks and about his newfound relationship with Fran. Jack had not seen Ben talk like this for years. In fact, he wasn’t sure he had ever heard Ben talk like this, but he liked it. It was clear that Ben had found something that he had been looking for.

The next half hour went by quite fast. Jack was still amazed at what he was hearing, and even more so at what he was seeing – a new Ben. He slipped the piece of paper back in his pocket. He had wondered about the appropriateness of giving Ben the note from Karen, now he knew for sure it was not the thing to do – even if he didn’t know what it said.

“And then the accident. I still can’t believe it. She was just going to pick up a few groceries and … Oh… Here comes Jeremy and Jenny. I guess I’d better slip out to give them some time with Fran. I think I’ll just go home for the night. Thanks for being here, Jack. It means a lot to me.” Ben wiped tears from his eyes as he spoke.

Jack patted Ben on the back as he gave him a brief hug. “Just let me know if I can do anything for you. You want me to come with you?”

“No. I’m ok. If you don’t mind, talk to Jeremy. Let him know that I went home and they can call me if they need me.”

“Sure thing, Ben. And I meant what I said. She looks lovely.” Jack and Ben looked down at the casket.

“Yes, she is,” Ben replied. “Yes, she is.”

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11 Responses to “Eight Maids A-Milking – (day 8)”

  1. Carrie Clevenger

    Great ending here. Really tied the story up neatly.

  2. Patti Larsen

    BUT!!! Aw… hearstring yank! You so had me… great story!

  3. Icy Sedgwick

    Really fits the title. Excellent work!

  4. Tony Noland

    So sad, a life frittered away.

  5. Jim Bronyaur

    I’m with Carrie… the ending is what sealed the deal for me on this one.

  6. Chuck Allen

    Thanks for the comments, everyone! I didn’t know about 12 Days last year. I have really been enjoying the variety and ideas in the stories being posted.

  7. Susan May

    A sad tale, seems such a waste…and then there’s the father/son rift that may never heal. Lots of food for thought here. Well done.

  8. Eric J. Krause

    Good story, and excellent twist! It ends tragically, but I’m glad they had the last few weeks together to find love for each other again.

  9. David G Shrock

    Agree with Carrie and Jim. Ending puts everything in place.

  10. Cecilia Dominic

    Oh, wow, I didn’t see that one coming. You handled the time shifts so deftly, and the ending just hit it out of the ballpark.

    CD

  11. TEC4

    I didn’t see that coming … you really did a great job, and the ending, whoa! Well written!

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