The big graphics plotter wound down to a hum and the print arm parked itself with a solid thump. I snatched the thirty-six by twenty-four inch drawing off the print bed. I slipped the lower right corner of the drawing in between the stainless steel jaws of my professional seal and squeezed the grips tight, embossing the pages with my name and my state license number: Joshua T. Fuller, ME Lic no CGA1050505.
I was proud as hell of that drawing, because the floating spiral staircase it depicted was the most challenging piece of engineering I'd encountered in the three years since college. The staircase was to be the center piece of an eight thousand square foot model home for a custom housing development. If the developer approved my design, my fledgling construction company would build the model. If I brought the model in on time and on budget, we would become the developer's preferred builder. We would build any houses he constructed on speculation, and he would recommend us to interested home buyers. It was the break we needed to really take off, and my team was ready for the challenge.
I walked out of the room that housed our network server, plotter and printers, and into the foyer of our small office suite. My office manager, Mitzi Morrison, gave me a grin.
"Hey Boss, I was about to call you. It's four-fifty-five, time for you to make like a sheep herder and get the flock out."
I chuckled when she called me Boss more than at her bad pun. Yes, I owned the company, and at the job site I was in charge, but Mitzi ran the show around the office. Mitzi was organized, efficient, and she didn't take any shit from anyone, me included. She was also loyal to the extreme; I knew everything she did, whether I liked it or not, was in my best interest. Taking a chance on hiring the middle-aged divorced mother of three was one of the smartest things I'd ever done.
"If you'll put this drawing with the Davenport project, I'm out of here," I said breezily.
I was in a rush to leave because it was my anniversary, and I had big plans for my adorable wife.
Before Mitzi could reply with her usual smart-assed remark, the heavily tinted front glass door swung inward and a man wearing a neatly pressed light-weight suit walked in from the bright sunlight. The man came straight up to me and spoke before I could introduce myself.
'Are you Joshua Fuller?" he asked.
"Call me Josh. Now how can I help you?" I replied as I stuck out my hand to shake his.
He didn't shake my hand. Instead, he slapped a manila envelope into my palm.
"Mister Fuller, you have been served," he intoned sonorously.
He tapped the manila envelope and continued.
"This is a petition for the dissolution of the marriage between you and Lindsey Clark Fuller."
He placed two smaller business-sized envelopes in my paw.
"This envelope contains an order of protection enjoining you from contacting or approaching within three hundred feet of said Lindsey Fuller. And finally, this is a note from Missus Fuller and the key to unit seventeen at the U-Store-It on Tenth Street. All your personal effects are already there, except for a duffle bag of items Missus Fuller thought you might need immediately. That bag is in the back of your truck."
With that he spun around and departed, leaving me devastated in his wake. I looked down at the envelopes in my hand, and the significance of them hit me like a ton of bricks. A wave of vertigo swept over me, and I dropped heavily into the chair beside Mitzi's desk. The next thing I remember is Mitzi pressing a pill into my hand and handing me a cup of water.
"Here, take this," she ordered.
I took the tablet from her and gave her a questioning look.
"Xanax," she answered my unasked question.
I nodded and popped the pill, chasing it with a slug of water. Then with shaking hands, I opened the envelope with the note from Lindsey and started reading. The note was short and to the point.
I know this comes as a shock to you, but after considerable thought, I concluded that this was the best way to handle things: a clean break with no histrionics.
First off, I want you to know that I am not doing this out of malice and that I bear you no ill will. It is just time for me to move on; I have hopes and dreams that, sadly, don't include you. But then, you've always known that my feelings for you weren't as strong as yours for me. I hope you love me enough to let me go.
Be well, Joshua, you are a good man.
I read the note twice, disbelieving my eyes the first time I read it. After the second pass, I handed the flimsy sheet of paper to Mitzi and watched her reaction as she scanned it. When she finished, her eyes lasered in on mine.
"You had no idea this was coming?" she asked incredulously.
I shook my head dumbly.
"Not a clue," I answered.
It was her turn to shake her head as she handed the note back to me.
"Springing this on you on your anniversary is possibly the most cold-hearted thing I've ever heard," she said angrily.
I nodded; on that we were in complete agreement.
As soon as she said that, Mitzi stood up from her desk, fished her car keys out of her purse and grabbed my arm.
"Come on, you are staying at my place tonight. I'm not about to leave you alone," she ordered.
I did not argue with her, because I knew the alternative was sitting at a bar getting shit-faced and feeling sorry for myself-or worse. I did protest when Mitzi insisted on me riding with her, but in the end I grabbed the duffle bag the process server put in the bed of my truck and climbed into her three year old Toyota Camry. Mitzi was quiet on the ride to her house, leaving me alone with my thoughts. And those thoughts went way back to when this all started.
I was an unmotivated and mediocre high school student, preferring to party and chase girls instead of studying. So when I graduated high school, my father showed me some tough love and refused to pay my way through college. Instead, he made me an appointment with an army recruiter. My mother went along with the old man, so with nothing else to do, I enlisted for three years. In a fit of adolescent stupidity that more than proved my father was right about my lack of maturity, I enlisted to become an airborne-ranger, and volunteered for assignment to the 75th Ranger Regiment. Proving my father right once again, signing up was the smartest thing I'd ever done.
It took two tries and six months of the Ranger School cadre kicking my ass, but I finally put my ducks in a row and graduated, and was awarded the coveted Ranger Tab.
Sometime during my second year assigned as a grunt in a line battalion, I suddenly decided what I wanted to do with my life. I would serve out my enlistment and go to college on the GI bill.
It was a good plan and I was within a couple of months of executing it, when a bunch of fanatical terrorists decided to fly fuel-laden jets into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. My battalion was immediately alerted for deployment to Afghanistan, and I hurriedly reenlisted to go with them. I ended up pulling two tours humping a rucksack through the arid mountains before my second enlistment ended. This time I had nothing to prove, so I separated from the service and started college at the state university campus in my home town.
I had completed a year of college courses thru the Army Education Center, so I started my college career as a twenty-five-year-old sophomore. I had saved my re-up bonus and much of my pay, so with the GI bill, I was fine money-wise. I had the money to live in the dorm, but I had so little in common with the typical student there, the idea did not appeal to me. My parents solved my housing problem by offering me the same deal they had given my younger sister. I could move into the basement my dad had converted into a guest apartment and live rent free, as long as I obeyed the house rules and kept my grades up.
The apartment was a great deal. It was about five hundred square feet, with a bedroom, living room, kitchenette and full bath. It even had a separate entrance from the outside that led to an extension of the driveway where I could park the small used pickup truck I'd just purchased. Best of all, the room came with an open invitation to supper every night, and my mom was the best cook in the county.
I guess here is a good place to insert a paragraph or two about our close-knit family. There are four of us Fullers, my mom and dad (Sandra and Jack), me, and my sister, Shelby Jane. Shelby is fourteen months younger than me. My father manages a drug store and my mom works from home as a commercial illustrator.
My mom and dad grew up as hippies in the 1960s, and still have some fairly unconventional ideas. My folks are also still crazy in love after over twenty-five years together, and make no bones about how hot they still are for each other. When I was a teenager, they use to embarrass the hell out of me with their open sexuality. They never hid the fact that they frequently engaged in hot monkey sex at the drop of a hint from one or the other.
My sister Shelby is a software designer for a company that makes simulator training programs for the military. She is engaged to and lives with another computer geek named Archer Paulson. Archie administers the computer systems for a large hospital. Shelby and I have always been best of friends as well as siblings. We were each other's confidants and advisors on the opposite sex. Shelby and mom were five-six, well padded, blue-eyed blonds. My father and I were both slightly above average in height and solidly built with light brown hair. The old man's eyes are light blue and mine are some kind of weird blue-grey.
So anyway, I moved into the basement apartment and started college. I fell into mechanical engineering as a major, on the advice of my faculty advisor, because I couldn't stand the idea of a full time indoor job. I dated some during my first year of college, but mostly I concentrated on my studies. Unlike my less than stellar high school career, I was now totally focused and highly motivated toward my school work.
I also had a 'friends with benefits' casual hook up with Shelby's best friend from high school, Regina Arnold. Regina was some sort of human resources person at the hospital where Archie Paulson worked. Regina was a sassy five foot - nine inch, robustly built, redhead with a hyped up sex drove. She felt safe using me to dull the edges of her constant horniness while she looked for Mister Right. Mister Right for Regina would have to be a cross between a porn actor and the Energizer Bunny.
At the end of my first year of college, I interned for the summer with a medium-sized engineering company that specialized in high rise buildings. I lucked out in drawing that position, because Weaver -Wilson Engineering Services had an excellent reputation in the industry. Gilbert Weaver was the engineering genius behind the company, and his partner John Wilson ably handled the business side. My main job at Weaver-Wilson was as Gil Weaver's aide de camp. I went everywhere he did, taking notes and running errands. The great thing about Gil was that he explained everything and then quizzed me at the end of each day about what I had seen and learned that day.
I met Lindsey Clark the first day of the second semester of my junior year in college when we ended up in the same effective writing course. Lindsey had medium long auburn hair and deep green eyes. She was about five-six and slender but curvy. Lindsey was pretty, but did nothing to draw attention to the fact. She dressed conservatively, wore her hair in a ponytail and didn't wear make up. Lindsey was very smart and as serious about her studies as I was. Lindsey was attending school on a full ride academic scholarship. Her major was criminal justice/pre-law.
I asked Lindsey out during the second week of class and we dated off and on for the rest of the semester. I wanted us to date a lot more, but Lindsey refused to go out with me more than once a week. She said she liked me and enjoyed being with me, but her ambitions for the future took first priority. I would discover that Lindsey's ambitions always took priority. For the next nine months, Lindsey and I had about the same relationship that I had with Regina Arnold. Lindsey claimed she didn't have time for a real relationship with me; she even insisted I date other women and continue seeing Regina.
Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with Lindsey. I was twenty-six years old and it was the first time I'd ever been in love. When I fell, I fell hard.
My persistence and patience with Lindsey paid off at the start of the second semester of our senior year. By then, she had the results of her LSAT (Legal School Admission Test). Her scores were good enough to earn her a seat in the university's law school the following September, and she finally became open to a future together for us. In March of that year, Gil Weaver offered me a job as a site engineer with an excellent starting salary. That same night I broke out the diamond ring I'd bought at Zale's and proposed to Lindsey. I was the happiest guy on the planet when she accepted.
We were married that June right after graduation. Lindsey did not want a big formal wedding, so we repeated our vows in front of a justice of the peace. My parents and sister were there, as was Lindsey's mother, Anita Clark. Lindsey's father had deserted them when Lindsey was eight years old.
After a week's honeymoon in Cancun, we moved into a rental apartment mid-way between my work and the university, and began our life as husband and wife. I was crazy in love with Lindsey and did everything I could to make her life better as she focused on her law degree.
Our marriage wasn't one of burning passion; instead, it was from the start a comfortable, sharing relationship. Lindsey was not a demonstrative person, so we weren't always hanging all over each other the way some couples (my parents for a prime example) do. We were adults, though, so that was good, right? The same criteria applied to sex. Lindsey seemed to enjoy our love making, but she never initiated it. She also wasn't in the mood very often; she said the stress of school distracted her from feeling sexual. I understood and accepted that, and made myself satisfied with our weekly sessions, believing everything would be better once Lindsey finished law school.
Lindsey's focus on school allowed me to concentrate on my job, and she understood the requirement to visit out of town building sites. When I had to be away for the night, Lindsey would stay with her mother. Lindsey's mother was a licensed practical nurse and worked at an assisted care facility. I got along fine with my mother-in-law, she was nice enough but aloof, much like her daughter.
Mom and dad liked Lindsey well enough and went out of their way to show her she was part of the family. Lindsey was always extremely polite to my parents but she felt uncomfortable with their very public displays of affection. Consequently, we did not spend much time around them.
My sister Shelby, on the other hand, didn't even pretend to like Lindsey.
"Your relationship is all one sided, Josh. She's using you and you are too blind to see it," she told me.
I, of course, strongly disagreed with her assessment, so my relationship with my only sibling became strained and we started avoiding each other.
When Lindsey started her third year of law school, I secretly started building our dream home. The house was a thirty-five hundred foot split plan ranch that we'd seen featured in an architectural design magazine. I made some changes to the basic plan and reengineered the roof truss system to open up the living area while retaining the basic look. With my Weaver-Wilson connections, and by being flexible with my construction schedule so subcontractors could use my house to fill in slack times in their business, I was able to build the house for a fraction of its real value.
Building our home was a revelation to me, in that I discovered that being a builder is what I really wanted to do with my life and skills. I loved the idea of turning a piece of ground and a blueprint into a home for someone.
Lindsey graduated at the top of her class, and accepted a position with the prestigious law firm, Crossman, Fielding and Blakemore.
After her commencement ceremony, I drove Lindsey out to the recently completed house and pulled into the circular driveway. When Lindsey looked at me questioningly, I handed her the door keys.
"I figured a newly minted high powered lawyer needed a home that reflected her new status," I said.
That afternoon was the most excited I'd ever seen my usually low keyed wife. She was positively aglow as she walked through the house. She loved the brown granite counter tops and the huge island in the kitchen. And the wood floors made of Brazilian Cherry inlaid with a Maple border blew her away.
"Can we stay here tonight, Joshua?" she asked hopefully.
It was a question I hoped she'd ask. I nodded and led her down the hall to the master suite wing. Her eyes lit up when I threw open the double doors to the master bedroom and she saw the made up four post king-sized bed.
After Lindsey passed the bar exam and started working, I sat down with Gil Weaver and hammered out a way I could continue to work for him part time while I started my own construction company. The agreement we reached had me visiting sites three days a week while working out of my own offices.
I rented a nice two thousand square foot suite in a business complex and a warehouse space nearby of about the same size. I hired Mitzi and Frank Smeltzer, an older and very experienced construction superintendent and I was off and running. Lindsey handled our incorporation paperwork and J&L Construction and Engineering was in business. Gil Weaver, ever my friend and mentor, steered some small developers our way, and within a month, we had a dozen houses in the ground.
I dealt with the building department for permits and code compliance while Frank supervised the actual construction. Frank had the respect of both the subcontractors and the building inspectors, but I still visited each job once a week to verify that my structures were as soundly engineered as I could make them. I also kept my commitment to Gil, putting the same efforts into Weaver-Wilson. I was working my ass off, but I did not neglect my wife. In fact, Lindsey was working even longer hours than me as she threw herself into the fast paced and exacting world of corporate law.
By the end of the third month, my business was receiving enough revenues for me to start paying myself a modest salary to go along with what I earned from Weaver-Wilson. Lindsey was making good money and had a leased Lexus for which her firm paid, so we were well set financially. I paid our household expenses and Lindsey used her salary to furnish the house and acquire a new wardrobe.
I was proud of my wife as she blossomed and gained confidence. Although I missed her long hair, I was happy for her when she had her tresses cut to a professional shoulder-length and stylishly waved. I did not begrudge the time and money my wife spent on her appearance, and I was pleased and proud when she started wearing figure flattering skirts and blouses with her business jackets, instead of the tailored trousers she once preferred. I thought her new look was much softer, more feminine and even a little sexy.
Lindsey's job also forced her to be a more social animal, and I was delighted to be her escort at the frequent social functions she was required to attend. I wasn't crazy about the idea of dressing up in a monkey suit, but being with my suddenly vivacious and sophisticated wife made it all worth while. For her part, since I cleaned up well and could hold up my end of a conversation on most topics, Lindsey never complained about me being less outgoing than she was, or that I didn't have anything in common with her contemporaries. She also didn't complain about me missing a number of her events because of my commitment to Weaver-Wilson. How could she when "work comes first" was her mantra?
After six months of pulling double duty, I finally had Gil's two newly hired site engineers up to speed, so I wasn't needed as a supervising engineer. Instead, I contracted with Weaver-Wilson as a consultant. My new job involved visiting sites with problems to help the on site engineers find solutions. In effect, I took over part of what Gil Weaver normally did. It was a huge boost to my ego that Gil thought highly enough of me to put me in that position, so I never turned down any of the evaluation visits he asked me to make.
While my workload throttled back, Lindsey's kept increasing. She seldom arrived home before seven in the evening, and she usually brought work home with her. As her hours grew progressively longer, I made mention of it one night after we'd gone to bed.
"I'm worried you're working too hard, Honey."
I felt her shrug in the dark beside me.
"I'm the new person, Joshua, and I have to prove I'm up to the task. Mister Blakemore says I have a bright future as long as I'm willing to put in the effort. I'm just showing him that I am more than willing to do whatever it takes."
I had met William Blakemore and the other two managing partners of Lindsey's firm at their Christmas party. Blakemore was one of the movers and shakers in our city, and the acknowledged driving force behind the firm's success. I knew Blakemore's word carried a lot of weight regarding Lindsey's career.
"I understand Linds; just don't burn yourself out, okay?"
"Not a problem," she confidently replied.
With Lindsey so often busy with her career, I started taking on more engineering work for other construction companies. I set up one of our unused bedrooms as a home office for me and had Archie Paulson hook me up with some computer equipment that kept me linked to the large terabyte server at my regular offices. Lindsey and I didn't share the large home office I'd designed for us, because she said my being in there was a distraction.
With all we had going on, I still thought Lindsey and I had a very good relationship. Sure, we didn't act all crazy in love like my parents, but I thought that was probably a good thing. I loved my wife with every fiber of my soul, and to me, our marriage was built on deep affection and respect for each other, traits I thought would much better stand the test of time. Also, I figured the early effort we were putting into our careers would soon pay off and we'd have more time for each other ... and the family I saw us with in my day dreams.
It was apparent that all my hopes and dreams and expectations had been totally and horribly wrong; shattered in one fell swoop on the afternoon of our fourth anniversary.