Three Prayers for Jacob

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1

Frustrations


Closing my eyes and pulling in several deep breaths failed to calm my nerves. This phone call wasn’t going to go well. These calls never did. I considered not calling and dealing with the fallout later, but that would be even worse. My mind raced for a way out of making this call but came up empty.

Lord, help me out here, will you? Why had I thought that? I’d not asked God for anything in … how long had it been? I couldn’t remember.

When I opened my eyes, the phone on my desk tormented me. It sat to the left of my computer whose screen displayed my last game of solitaire, tempting to divert me from my call for one more round. Looking back over my shoulder through the opening in my cube, I double-checked no one was standing nearby. I hesitantly pressed the numbers on my desk phone while thinking about how to soften the blow.

One ring.

There’s nothing I can do.

Two rings.

I must be there. I can’t let them down.

Three rings.

How are you doing? I hope you had a good day.

Four rings. "Hello?" Came the female voice with a northern accent on the other end.

"Darling," I said with as much cheer as I could muster. "the team has to practice tonight to get ready for our first playoff game tomorrow. So, I won’t be coming home after work." Ugh, probably not the best way to tell her.

"You promised to be home tonight," my wife replied. Instead of the anger I’d expected, disappointment filled her voice.

I glanced over at the picture of Jennifer next to my computer screen. The smiling face in that photo contrasting with the face I imagined on the other end of the phone.

After taking a deep breath, I said, "I told you last week if we won last night, we would advance to the regional softball playoffs. The team thinks we need extra practice. I need to be there. I thought you understood. This isn’t the first time we made the playoffs."

After several seconds, she replied, "No, this certainly is not the first time you’ve done this to me." Another pause. "I had hoped to have a special meal tonight. I was going to make lasagna because you love it."

"That sounds wonderful," I said. "We’ll do that Saturday night. The game is at one o’clock tomorrow. We’ll wrap up in plenty of time."

Her heavy sigh sounded like a breeze coming through the phone. "Sure."

"You’re acting like this is my fault." I struggled to keep my voice down. My coworkers liked to tease me about the arguments I often got into with my wife over the phone.

"Oh, I know. It’s never your fault," she said.

"I can’t let my team down!" My voice cracked as the restraints I was putting on my words started buckling against the frustration they carried.

A longer pause.

"No, we certainly wouldn’t want to let them down. I might see you when you get home."

When I heard the dial tone, I pulled the phone handset from my ear and stared at it.

"Why do I get so angry with her?" I muttered to the handset. "I’m better than that."

"I wouldn’t bet the farm. You can be a real dimwit sometimes, Timz."

The female voice with a slight southern drawl made me jump in my chair and spin around to be greeted by the top half of Kassidy Portindger leaning into my cube. Her dark hair flowed in waves to her shoulders. She worked in the cube next to mine. As usual, she wore a low cut dress. This one was yellow with flowers and ended about mid-thigh. When not in revealing dresses, she wore blouses which covered more of her, but not much more. Her body was in excellent shape from playing on the same sports teams I did. She filled out her dress nicely. The way she leaned into my cube …

Every time I looked at her like that, parts of the last sermon I’d heard repeated in my head.

"You scared me, Kas." I pulled my gaze away to hang up the phone and to stop staring at her chest. "So, you heard that last bit?"

"Yes, but if anyone can understand how a spouse can get your panties in a wad, I can."

I smiled. "I know you can."

"Oh, I almost forgot. I didn’t come over to hear you talking to yourself but to drop off these performance reports. Hearing you chew yourself out was a bonus."

She reached in to drop a few papers onto my desk and leaned even lower. I forced my eyes away after a quick peek. As she leaned in, she knocked my nameplate off the wall outside my cube. She bent down and picked it up. "Sorry."

She read the nameplate as she hung it back on the wall. "So, Mr. Timothy Robinson? Says here, you started in 2004, which means you’ve been in your position about five years now. Will this say something other than Property Manager soon?"

My teeth clenched. "No." I relaxed my mouth and continued, "but I don’t want to talk about that here."

Her eyes widened. "Oh. My."

I needed to think about anything other than how low her dress was and my job title. "Thanks to my call to Jen, I now feel guilty about being at practice, but I’ll be there."

"So, I guess wifey won’t be at the game tomorrow cheering us on?"

"I highly doubt she’ll be there. With the mood she’s in, she’d probably cheer for the other team. She doesn’t have time to come to many of our games anyway."

"I get that," Kas said, "Between softball and volleyball, we have a ton of games, but I love ‘em. And, they give me the chance to play with cool, athletic, handsome guys." She winked. "Well, and you too."

"Thanks." Quickly glancing past her at the cube across the aisle, I asked, "How loud was I that time?"

Kas smiled. "You’re getting better. I’m probably the only one who heard you. And I won’t give you a hard time about controlling your woman like the other jerks around here."

My lips smiled, and a short laugh burst from them despite my previous mood. Kas always made me happy. "No, you wouldn’t."

"Speaking of spouses driving us nuts, I’ve got to tell you what my almost-ex, Stuart, did."

Shaking my head, I said, "What did he do this time?"

"I’ll tell you later. And I know what you need," she said.

My brow furrowed, "You do?"

Her eyebrows popped up and back down. "You bet I do."

"What would that be, Kas?"

"Timz, you and I need to take a long lunch and relax. We can commiserate over our spouses and blow off some steam. That always lightens our moods."

Going to lunch with Kas sounded nice. Kas and I had been doing lunch a few times a week for a about four months now. We started the routine when she first came to me five months ago, telling me her husband was filing for divorce. The news tore at my heart, and the pain in her eyes had pulled at me, so I took her to lunch so she could have someone to talk to. Now, we often shared the frustrations of our marriages with each other over lunch. Having someone I could be totally honest with was a comfort and a release.

"Sounds wonderful," I said. "Our boss is out of the country again. Not that he cares about long lunches, anyway."

"You got that right. Do you know where the mysterious Alexis Oblonsky went this time? One of the usuals like up north to Brighton Beach, motherland Russia, or South America?"

"Likely one of those. He rarely tells me where he goes or for how long until he gets back. I only know he went with Mr. Kuznetsov this time, and they took their wives."

Kas’s eyebrows rose. "Oh, with the big guy. And they usually don’t like to take their wives."

I laughed. "No, they don’t. They get in the way of their recreational activities. However, when they do take their wives, it’s usually when they travel back to Russia."

"Sounds like they will be gone at least a week then. So, we can take our time with lunch, unwind, relax, and enjoy ourselves."

"Sounds good. How about we go to Foo’s? I’m in the mood for Chinese."

Kas smiled coyly as she twisted her hair through her fingers. "I have a better idea. Let’s get takeout, and I’ll surprise you with where we eat. I’ll drive."

"Intriguing. I’m in."

2

Difficult to Refuse


After grabbing our Hunan Chicken and Mongolian Beef, Kassidy took me to a nearby park. She grabbed a plaid blanket from the trunk of her car and escorted me down a narrow, twisting path for about a half-mile before she announced this was the perfect spot to relax. She laid out the blanket in a small clearing with trees embracing us on all sides, cutting us off from the rest of the world. The scent of pine trees delighted my nose. Rolling water from a nearby stream caressed our ears, soothing the two of us. The tension in my body started flowing out of me.

"Today is lovely,” I said. "I love Atlanta in May. This was a wonderful idea. This location is so peaceful. I've not been here before. I love the sound of the creek.”

Kas let out a slow breath. "That's Nancy Creek. I love coming to this park to unwind and think. I live nearby."

"This is what I needed with the day I've had."

Kas lowered her box of Mongolian Beef and leaned toward me. "So, you didn't get the promotion?"

I shook my head. "No. The new guy, Dzon Lebedev, got the position. He will be the Associate Vice President when Oblonsky is promoted in a couple of weeks."

Her eyes shot open. "Well, that came out of left field. Lebedev is a rookie. Dzon doesn't know how to do your job. He only got off the boat from Russia six months ago. And he's built like he could have rowed that boat all the way across the ocean himself. He's a brute." In a stern tone, she said, "They don't play by the rules sometimes. What they did to you isn't fair."

"Ha. Maybe if I'd put in more hours, it would have helped. But Jen gets more upset with me when I do." I shook my head. "The worst part is that Dzon is a real jerk. Having him as my boss will be hard."

"The way he leers at me gives me the creeps. He can't even speak English well."

"You don't normally mind men leering at you."

She shrugged. "Not most men, but he's creepy."

I swallowed the bite of chicken I was chewing. "I have no idea why they gave him my promotion."

She leaned in closer and put her hand on mine. "They favor their own. You deserved it." Her hand was warm, and her were eyes full of compassion.

"Thanks. To make things worse, I also don't like what they asked me to do this morning."

"What's that?"

"Mr. Oblonsky wanted me to raise the rent two hundred dollars a month for every unit on two of the apartment buildings I manage."

Kas raised an eyebrow. "Nothing new there. Why was it strange this time?"

I sat my box of Hunan Chicken on the blanket. "Sure, I've performed similar transactions several times before but never for the previous month."

"That is a curveball. Did they say why?"

"God, no." I sighed. "I like this job, so it looks like I'll have to go through with it after lunch." I looked into her eyes. "Having someone to share this with is nice. There's no way I could tell Jen. She would freak."

"I'm here for you, Timz."

"I appreciate that." I broke eye contact after an uncomfortable feeling started building in me. "I keep forgetting you've been there so long. You're so young."

She laughed and smiled. "Thank you. Yep. Started right out of the gate after high school."

"I wanted to be in the class of 2000. I missed it by two years and graduated in 1998."

She gave a quick nod. "It was a glorious year. We had a massive graduation party. Anyway, my dad knew Mr. Kuznetsov and got me hired for this sweet job."

"You bet these jobs are nice. The pay is outstanding compared to other companies, and the work is easy." I frowned. "Except when they ask me to do stuff like this morning."

She patted my hand, reminding me hers still rested on mine.

"The call with my wife didn't help either."

She pulled her hand back. "How often do you two fight?"

Laughing, I said, "Too often. I hate myself when I do."

She nodded knowingly. "Sometimes, people aren't compatible. Stuart and I are like that. He definitely wasn't the right one for me." She peered into my eyes. "After we go to court next week, I'll be free to find the man I'm supposed to be with."

"Oh, yes, your court date. Sorry, I should have remembered."

She shrugged. "I've not mentioned court in a while. I'm changing back to my maiden name: Sullivan. Portindger is a horrible name."

"Oh, you were going to tell me the bonehead thing Stuart did this time."

Her face tightened. "The monster is trying to take my kids from me."

"Why?"

"He says since I fooled around on him, I'm a destructive influence on the kids. Like everybody doesn't mess around these days. I'm not a crackhead or something. The man ignored me for months. What was I supposed to do?" She waved off the idea. "My lawyer says it's a power-play. He won't get more than the primary custody we already agreed to."

"I hope not. Having your kids taken away would be horrible."

"Yeah, I guess. I would like to see them occasionally. I'll get them every other weekend with the current deal, which is plenty."

A yellow jacket landed on our blanket and drew her eyes. "Stuart was tons of fun before we got married, but he turned into stodgy Stuart. He is the most boring person on the planet now." She looked up at me. "You're a lot of fun."

We sat watching the birds singing in the trees.

I looked into her eyes. "Can I tell you something I've recently come to understand about myself?"

Her eyes lit up. "Yes, please. Lord knows I've shared enough of the intimate details of my life with you these last five months, including my lack of a sex-life. I want to help you, Timz. Like you help me. I reckon, if not for you and my friend Rebecca, I wouldn't have survived these last five months."

After taking a deep breath, I said, "You know, I grew up in a large family."

"Three brothers and a sister, right?"

"Yes. We're very close. I love them a lot. My parents were great too. I speak with my siblings every couple of weeks. Well, except James who's more aloof than the rest. I talk to mom every couple of weeks too."

"You often speak of them. I can tell you are close. I love that. My parents and I have a good relationship too." She paused. "Your father died of a heart attack, right?"

"Yes. About four years ago. His second at only fifty-eight. He only changed his diet for a few months after the first one before going back to his fried favorites." I blew out a long breath through my nose. "There's so much I should have asked him about but can't now. I miss him deeply."

"What did he do?"

"He worked at an auto parts manufacturing plant as an engineer. He had been a mechanic in the Vietnam War."

"I'm sorry he's gone." She examined me from the corners of her eyes. "You've known all that for a long time. What did you recently realize about yourself?"

I gave a nod. "Jen and I have been trying to have children for a few years with no luck. I saw a family at one of our games last week with four precious, small children. They were so happy." I paused to swallow.

She leaned in and placed her hand on mine again. "Yes, Timz?"

I sniffed. "It hit me how deeply I wanted my own kids. I always knew I wanted a large family, but time is slipping away. I may never have that."

She squeezed my hand. "That must be so hard. Have they tested you?"

"Tested?"

"You know, check if all your parts work. Both of you."

"Oh." I pursed my lips and sighed. "I don't want to do that to her."

She tilted her head. "Do what to her?"

"Jen was in a horrible car accident as a teenager. She received severe abdominal injuries and a broken arm. She nearly died."

"Oh, my."

"Yes, she was in bad shape. To this day, she has digestive issues." I looked down into my empty box of chicken. "The doctors told her she might not be able to get pregnant. I never thought much about that until recently."

Her hand tightened on mine. "That's awful."

"So, I haven't pushed for testing. I know what the doctors will say. She hopes we will have children. Going for testing will rip her hope away. I know we have to cross that bridge, but I was trying to put it off. I'm afraid we can wait no longer."

She slid her hand off mine.

I stared into her eyes. "If I am going to have the large family I want, I'm running out of time. Jen has to face the harsh news. Then we can look into other options. She has mentioned adoption before, so she is willing, but I don't think that's for me"

She stared at her hands. "I've never told you, but I was adopted. Adoption is a great alternative to the extreme measures people go through to get pregnant. There's a great need for parents to adopt. I appreciate my parents making that choice."

I shook my head. "I had no idea."

"That's the point. I believe we should treat adopted children the same as natural children. A level playing field. No special treatment. No harsher treatment either. My parents treated me like my older brother who was theirs."

"Sounds fair."

She gave a snort. "A lot fairer treatment than Gregori and Gavrel are getting. Have you heard the way Vadim talks about them? In the five years since he adopted the twins, they've become a curse to him. Poor kids."

Rubbing my chin, I said, "You'd think if someone wanted to adopt, they would treat their kids better."

She gave a quick nod. "Yes, you would."

"How do you know your parents adopted you?"

"Oh, they believed in being honest with the children. Adopted children should know they were adopted. My parents never hid the fact from me. However, my birth mother didn't want me to find her, so I don't know her."

"What about your birth-father?"

She shook her head. "I got the feeling the father didn't stick around long after hearing he'd gotten her pregnant."

I reached out and squeezed her hand. "I'm so sorry."

She shrugged. "I've learned to deal with it. I was raised by a wonderful mom and dad. I would have adopted myself if I'd needed to. But I got preggo right away both times we tried."

"That would be nice."

"I guess." She winked at me. "But trying is nice too."

"Because we are having trouble getting pregnant, Jen has brought up adoption a couple of times, but I don't want someone else's kids. I want my own. I know it's selfish, but that's what I want."

"I reckon most people want that. You must do what makes you happy. Life's no fun if you don't."

"So, how are Mark and Matthew doing, anyway? Are they two and four, now?"

She shrugged. "They're fine. Yes, Matthew just turned four. I'm glad Stuart got primary custody. They'd cramp my style now that I'm available."

"I'm sorry," I said.

She shook her head as if trying to fling out thoughts she didn't want. "Enough about that." She looked around at the trees. "This spot is so beautiful, quiet, relaxing, and isolated. I love it. This is one of my favorite places."

She stretched out on the blanket facing me, laying her head on an outstretched arm. "I don't want to think about work or disgusting spouses. Let's relax and enjoy ourselves." She started twisting her hair through her fingers.

I let out a long breath. "Sounds wonderful. Life is so frustrating right now."

"You got that right. Let it all out, Timz. No one is around. I bet no one would hear you if you wanted to yell." She angled her body toward mine. She placed her hand on my thigh and squeezed. "Or if we needed to moan loudly."

My eyes shot open. Kas was an alluring woman in fantastic shape. I wasn't surprised she was into me, but I was shocked she was taking this further than our usual flirting. My hand went to hers and squeezed back. Why had I done that?

She smiled and slid her body closer.

An image of Jen in her wedding dress popped into my head. The phrases ‘what God has joined together man must not separate' and ‘until death' kept exploding in my mind like popcorn. No matter how frustrated I was with Jen, I couldn't do this to her. Jen was my wife, not this beautiful woman in front of me.

I lifted her hand and placed it on the blanket.

"I'm sorry, Kas."

Confusion flared across her face and began turning to anger.

"Wait, it's not you. I want to. Believe me, I do."

Her face softened. I turned away before I lost my resolve.

"Your situation is different, but I'm still married." I glanced back to see how she took that.

Her face softened further to a pleading expression. "But you're not happy. You're like I was a few months ago. Anyone can see where you two are headed. Why fight the inevitable?"

"Maybe." I glanced back at her. "I've thought about divorce." My high school sweetheart, Kimberly Sussex, popped into my head. She occasionally floated into my thoughts when I was frustrated with Jennifer, but this was an odd time for her to come to mind. I blinked to clear her away. "Several times, actually."

She sat up, putting her hand on my knee. "You should. Divorce is so liberating. You deserve to be happy like me. You must do what you feel is right. Divorcing Stuart is the best thing that's happened to me in a long time. Well …" her eyes pulled at me, "besides you."

I nodded. "I might, one day but not yet."

She sighed heavily and tightened her grip on my knee. "I'm disappointed, but I gotta say, your loyalty only makes you sexier. Know my offer stands any time you want to collect."