He stopped, feeling tears of anger in the corners of his eyes. Swallowing hard, he continued. “She dumped me, married another man without telling me and had my son a few months later. He’s being raised by someone else—and calls him Daddy. He doesn’t know I exist. I’m not even listed on the birth certificate. Bitch lied and put his name down.”
“Does he know the boy’s not his?”
“Hell yes. I made sure to tell him. I was drunk and hurting. It wasn’t right. . . . But he already knew. He laughed at me. He told me I wasn’t man enough to keep her. Yeah, well I was man enough to knock her up!” He swallowed. “I can’t imagine watching my son grow up with a man like Chester Penwarren. This guy’s a jerk, but he’s a good father. He loves my son.”
Marka’s arms went around him, her cheek resting on his chest. “You’ll have another son, one you can love and raise—someone to play baseball and football and golf with.”
She gazed up at him, puzzled for a moment. “I promise,” she whispered.
“Marka, right now, the only way I see my life is with you in it. I want my son to be yours.”
“I’d like that,” she replied. “More than anything.”
“I really want to make love to you right now.” He took a step toward her.
“Behave, Mr. Atherton. What will people say?” She put her hand on his chest.
“They’ll say were fooling around in the men’s room. We’d better go.”
“Thank you for telling me. I know that wasn’t easy.”
“It wasn’t as hard as I thought,” he said, kissing her lightly. “Day got a little brighter.” He straightened his suit, squaring his shoulders before opening the door for her.
He walked her back to her office, kissing her in the doorway. It wasn’t an earthshaking kiss, but it elicited cheers and applause from their coworkers. Blushing, Marka dodged into her office and the cheering got louder.
Jeff leaned out his doorway. “I thought it might be your fault.” He chuckled, motioning to Frank.
“You okay, kid?” Jerry asked him.
“Yes, sir. I think I’d better go speak to Mabel. I want to ask her a thing or two about that ring.”
Jeff nodded, understanding that more had gone on than Frank wanted to discuss. “Go ahead. While you’re at it, pop by the hospital and see what you can find out from Penwarren. If he can talk, he’s got a few answers to provide too.”
“I’m going with you,” Rachel told Frank. “I’d like to hear what Mabel has to say.”
They walked to the nursing home together. Frank stopped at Marka’s office, but she was out. He
left her a note, telling her where he was. Rachel smiled, patting his hand.
“That was sweet, Frank. You two really have something special, don’t you?”
“Working on it, Rachel. Trying to take it slowly. . . . Failing somewhat.”
“Don’t give into the lust too fast,” she said quietly as they walked down the corridor. “Build trust, not lust, has always been my motto.”
He chuckled, nodding. “So, you’re like the one person here who doesn’t think we already have.”
“You’ve come close, but not yet. That jaunty set to your shoulders is missing.”
“What jaunty set? I don’t do jaunty, Rachel.”
“All men do. When you finally make it with that special someone, the walk changes, the smile. . . . Oh, you’ve come close, I can see that inner twinkle.”
“You know me way too well. That’s a tad spooky.” He adjusted his cuffs, smoothing his tie.
“Stop fidgeting. That’s what comes of being your mom’s best friend forever. I know you better than my own son.”
“That’s what happens when you’re willing to listen to the ramblings of a traumatized sixteen year old.”
“You’ve never talked to your folks?”
He shrugged, shaking his head. “I didn’t know what else to say, aside from the obvious. I don’t know if anyone but you ever believed me. I told Marka last night.”
“How did she handle it?”
“Like you did. Told me it wasn’t my fault. Sympathized.”
“The important thing is, she believed you.”
“Yeah, she did.” He grinned, putting his arm around her shoulders. “You’ve been a good Mom all these years.”
“Your own mother has been too.”
“But there were things I couldn’t tell her. I could always talk to you.”
“I’ll take your secrets to my grave, sugar.”
“I know.” He kissed her on top of the head.
Mabel was having her vital signs taken when they walked in. She smiled, holding out her hands to them. After hugs and kisses all around, they pulled up chairs and sat down.
“Did you find the watch?”
© Dellani Oakes