This is a chapter I removed from Book 1 a few months after I first published the book. Why? Because I realized that the story leading up to Joe and D finally meeting at the grill party was too long. I therefore weeded out a bit – and took out the entire chapter “About Mom – and Dad…” since it’s just a side story that isn’t crucial for the book.
Since the chapter containes one of Joe’s and Sarah’s great exchanges, I’ll share it with you here.
This is the afternoon before the grill party. ..
Joe let out a relieved breath when he heard the front door close and Sarah was gone – off to work. It was close to 4:00 pm.
Eating the rest of his apple he absent-mindedly flipped through a magazine. The conversation Sarah and he had had this morning and that had dragged on until half an hour ago was still whirling around in his head, mixed with the nagging feeling that he had let himself get carried away a bit. He had never wanted to tell Sarah about Dad’s affair.
He had come down from his room this morning around 9:00, still a bit groggy and not quite sure if now was the right time to talk about Liz. He kind of wanted to put it off at least until he had had some coffee.
Sarah had already been up, having breakfast in the kitchen and checking e-mails on her phone. There was one from Mom – from Spain.
Glad that Sarah hadn’t pounced on him right away and pressed him on everything he hadn’t told her the previous night, he poured himself some coffee and mixed in the right amount of milk and sugar while Sarah was reading Mom’s e-mail aloud. Then she held out her phone to him so he could scroll through the pictures Mom had sent. There were some good shots of beautiful landscape, then one of a nicely-set breakfast table with Aunt Tess smiling in the background, and finally some pictures of Mom looking tanned, happy and relaxed.
He handed Sarah back the phone. “Looks like they’re having a good time. I’m glad Mom’s doing that. Aunt Tess is just the perfect motivator for her!”
“Yeah, I guess,” Sarah muttered, not sounding too enthusiastic.
“What’s wrong? You don’t sound too happy about it.”
“I am,” Sarah hurried to say, “Really! It’s just that sometimes I’m not so sure Aunt Tess has the best influence on Mom.”
“Huh? You’re talking about Mom, right? Not some fourteen-year-old whose friend has persuaded her to smoke pot?”
“Yeah, just make fun of me!” Sarah retorted testily.
“Well, sorry…” Joe was struggling to keep a straight face. “What happened? Did Aunt Tess take her to the Chippendales or something?
“Nooo,” Sarah growled, “but I think she’s trying to set Mom up with a guy that looks like a retired Chippendale.”
“Which guy is that?” Joe inquired.
“That one guy – her neighbor,” Sarah said darkly, “I forgot his name. Thomas or something. Spaniard, Latin lover type. I met him last month at Aunt Tess’ birthday dinner. I think he’s got the hots for Mom.”
“Okay…” Joe said giving her a questioning look.
“And Aunt Tess has already talked her into going out with him at least once that I know of,” Sarah specified, “and then she keeps inviting him over…”
“Oh, my God,” Joe feigned shock and disgust.
“Just forget about it!” Sarah snapped angrily.
“Well, that’s pretty hard now that you brought it up…” Joe said with growing amusement.
“Yeah, I’m already regretting that!”
“Too late now,” he chuckled. “So, what’s up with the hot Spaniard exactly?”
“God, don’t call him that!”
“Sorry, but you kind of put that picture into my head,” Joe said innocently. “What’s he like? How old is he? Is he nice?”
“I don’t know him that well,” Sarah retorted. “Seems like he’s about her age. Has been married before, I think… And yeah, I guess he’s nice. That’s not the point, though.”
“Well, what’s the point then?”
“I don’t know. I just find it weird. Mom going out with some guy.”
“Oh, come on, Sarah. I mean, even if they hit it off… Just be happy for her, would you? Life is short enough. Why shouldn’t she still have some fun?”
“Let me guess – with fun you mean sex, huh?”
“That’s your interpretation,” he shot back, “but it’s not like it would be the first time our mother has ever had sex. You and I are living proof.”
“You’re just horrible!”
“Why am I horrible? If she wants to go out with the hot guy, let her. If she wants to have long, fruitful conversations with him, great. If she just wants to fall into bed with him, so be it. Let her be happy! I think it’s great that she’s not totally given up on that kind of stuff.”
“Well, don’t you find it at least a bit weird?”
“It’s just so… quick. Dad’s only been dead for a little over a year… And Mom…– I actually didn’t think she’d ever again… do that kind of stuff.”
“Neither did I, but I’d be very happy if she proved us both wrong.”
“Okay, I guess that’s one way to see it,” Sarah grumbled, her tone indicating that she didn’t necessarily agree with him.
Joe had started heating up some water for a soft-boiled egg and pushed a piece of bread into the toaster. And when Sarah got up from the table now, put away her dishes and went upstairs to her room to get dressed, he was kind of glad because that meant the discussion was over.
So he thought.
They had agreed to go over to the cemetery later. Sarah really wanted to go with him – to light a candle together and that kind of thing.
He had a quick breakfast and then went back upstairs to have a shower and get ready. They met back downstairs half an hour later and Sarah insisted on driving. After a quick stop at the grocery store they went to the cemetery. Sarah walked ahead to their Dad’s gravesite, with Joe obediently trailing behind.
He still didn’t feel anything.
Sarah watered the flowers on the grave. Then they lit the two candles that she had brought along and stood there in silence for another minute or so before they left again. And in the car Sarah returned to the breakfast topic.
“It’s just so hard to believe that he’s just gone,” she said, pulling out of the parking lot.
“Yeah, I know,” Joe mumbled.
“I know you’ve always had your issues with him,” she said, “and he’s not always been fair to you.”
“Oh, you don’t say…” He let out a humorless little laugh.
“No, I mean it,” Sarah insisted. “I know he could be a real pain in the butt. More with you than with me. Mainly maybe because you were the son and therefore he probably projected all his dreams and stuff on you.”
“Yeah, maybe. Only that his dreams and expectations unfortunately didn’t quite match mine.”
“I know. You’ve always been much closer to Mom, haven’t you?”
“Maybe that’s why you’re so much more thrilled about Mom moving on.”
“Is this about the hot Spaniard again?”
“Don’t call him that!”
“Thomaaas…” Joe corrected himself, trying for a Spanish pronunciation with a drawn out aaaa.
Sarah shrugged. “It just bugs me. I mean, while we were standing at his gravesite, I was kind of wondering how it would be if Dad was still alive and it was Mom lying there.”
Joe couldn’t quite follow. The thought of it made him cringe, though.
“I don’t want her to replace Dad with some…” Sarah suddenly seemed close to tears.
“She’s not replacing Dad, for Christ’s sake!” Joe burst out.
“Well, not quite yet. But who knows…”
“Just wait and see, okay?”
“It’s just so hard to believe because, you know, Mom and Dad have always seemed so perfect.”
“Hmmm,” Joe grumbled, biting his tongue.
“I don’t think, if Mom had passed away, Dad would have ever –”
“Yeah, right…” Joe said, unable to keep a sarcastic edge from creeping into his tone.
“You don’t think so, huh?”
“Sarah, just stop acting like Mom is doing something bad and Dad’s been some sort of saint!”
“I’m just saying that –” Sarah started.
“And I’m just saying that Dad would have moved on too,” Joe interrupted her with audible irritation. “So, leave Mom alone, okay?”
“What makes you so sure about Dad?” Sarah wanted to know.
“I just know, okay?”
“Hah! How can you just say that?”
They had arrived in front of their house, and Sarah had stopped the car. She had turned to him and was staring at him accusingly. He looked away.
“I know you don’t believe me,” he said slowly, “because he seemed like such a man of principles and moral standards. I was pretty impressed and intimidated by that as well.” He shifted his gaze back to her. “But then I realized that he was quite a hypocrite.” He suddenly knew that he had to tell her. Because otherwise he would always be the angry one in her eyes, the one being unfair to a dead man.
“What do you mean?” Sarah asked with a frown. “How was he a hypocrite?”
Joe was still scrambling for the right way to phrase it when her tone became accusing again. “You’re still so mad at him, Joe! Sometimes I really don’t understand you!”
“I know he was a hypocrite because I’ve seen some things…” he retorted.
“Oh, really? And what’s that?” Sarah challenged. “Huh? What is it you’ve seen? Dad watching porn on the internet? Dad sexting to some beautiful stranger? Come on, tell me!” The way she said it showed that she still thought he was just being unfair.
“He’d been having an affair,” Joe said as matter-of-factly as he could.
“What?” Sarah stared at him, squinted, her eyes boring into his. “Do you think that’s funny?” There was a short pause. “Joe!?!”
“No!” He shook his head. “I don’t think that’s funny. Never did. I’m dead serious.”
“You can’t be…” she said in an almost pleading tone.
As he looked back at her, Joe saw her expression change from anger and disbelief to some sort of hesitant acceptance.
“How do you know?” she asked almost breathlessly.
“Because I walked into his office one night right when he was –”
“When he was what?” Sarah’s face had turned pale.
“He was screwing Patricia…” Joe said quietly.
Sarah stared back at him blankly.
“I’m sorry…” he said, really meaning it.
Sarah huffed out a breath and shook her head, her eyes trailing away from him.
“Crap!” she finally sighed.
“Yeah…” Joe nodded.
“When was that?” she asked without looking at him.
“A few months after my accident.”
“And you never said a word?”
“What was I supposed to say?” Joe was starting to feel a bit helpless. “And who was I supposed to inform? Sorry, but I couldn’t have told you or Mom.”
“Did you talk to him at least? Make him stop?”
“I talked to him, alright. He sobbed and swore that it would never happen again. Did I believe him? I’m not sure.”
“Man…” Sarah rubbed her hands over her face. “That’s just… I can’t believe you kept this a secret until now.”
“Yeah, well…” he shrugged. “Anyway, maybe it was just a one-time thing, okay? I don’t know. He’s dead. And Mom is alive. So, I want you to stop nagging about Mom going out with Thomas like she’s in the process of dishonoring Dad’s spotless memory. It wasn’t all that spotless.”
Finally, they got out of the car and, while he went up to his room, Sarah went to sit in the backyard. He came downstairs again an hour later to ask if he should warm up some lasagna for her too. Sarah was sitting in a lawn chair, a book on her belly and nodded. He could tell that she hadn’t been reading but brooding. And it wasn’t hard to guess about what.
He came back with a tray with lasagna and something to drink for both of them. They sat down at the patio table, and that’s when the next round of their unpleasant conversation started.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said,” Sarah said slowly.
“Okay,” Joe wasn’t quite sure where this was going now.
“It kind of… well, you know how he died, right?”
Eyeing her cautiously, Joe frowned. “Just what you told me – or Mom – that he had a heart attack in his office and someone found him and called the ambulance.”
Sarah nodded gloomily. “It was late at night and the person who found him was Patricia.”
Joe swallowed as it dawned on him what she was indicating.
“Maybe I’m seeing ghosts,” Sarah said, her voice cracking, “but do you think they might have… you know,… and he had a heart attack in the course of it?”
Blowing out some air with his lower lip sticking out, Joe looked back at her. It wasn’t all that far-fetched…
“I don’t know,” he said, trying for a calm tone, “sounds like in a pretty bad movie.”
“Yeah, it really does.” Sarah let out a humorless laugh and shook her head. “God, Patricia… She’s lucky she’s moved far, far away.”
“Oh, has she?”
For a little while they both just ate their food until Sarah picked up the conversation again. “You should have told me,” she said.
“But it screwed you up – keeping it to yourself!”
“A bit, yeah, I guess.”
“I know it did! A few months after your accident… I bet that was exactly the time when you were suddenly so irritable and grouchy and impossible to be around that even D almost–” His expression turning hard made her swallow the rest of her sentence.
Sitting alone on the sofa now, Joe stretched and told himself that Sarah was grown up and it was probably good that he had told her. It hadn’t been quite the conversation he had had planned to have with her today, but sometimes plans changed…