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"Charley Best, just the man I want to talk to," my boss said on Monday coming into my office.
By the way I'm Charles Best, a troubleshooter for Dillon Software Products. I'm one of the best in the country and for the last six years the alpha dog at my company.
"I need you to go to Seattle and straighten out the new programs for Dynamic, our big customer out there," my boss continued. "You need to be there for the meeting Wednesday morning, so you'll have to leave tomorrow afternoon at the latest."
"Ralph, I just got back from a three day trip to Cleveland," I stood and tried to reason with him. "You promised me I could have some down time before I had to travel again. You know my wife's company awards party is this Friday. Send Jim, he knows the software."
"Can't. Jim broke his leg skiing and won't be available for at least two weeks. This won't wait." Ralph turned to leave my office. "I want you to stay there until the problem is solved; even if it means staying over the weekend. See Stella, she has your flight and rental car info. See you in five or six days."
It's tough to argue a point with someone who has just walked away and when that someone is your boss. I slumped back onto my chair and thought, damn Theresa isn't going to be happy about this.
Theresa Riley Best is my wife of three years and she has somewhat of a volatile temper. No that's not quite right; she has an explosive temper with no off switch when she gets going. She is Mexican and Irish, but her Irish temper overrides a lot of the good features of both of her heritages. And the news about this trip would set her off. What would really make her go ballistic was that I would probably miss her company awards dinner Friday night.
A dinner I had promised to attend, no matter what. She was getting an award and her promotion would be announced at the dinner. Naturally Theresa wanted her husband there.
I picked up my itinerary from Ralph's secretary Stella and decided to head home. Might as well get this over with, I thought. Maybe I could take Theresa some flowers and soften the eruption. No, if I did that she'd know that I'd either done something or was about to do something she wouldn't like. I guess I'll just have to face her and weather the storm, I said to myself.
On my way home I thought back to the first time I met Theresa. Her brother Julio and I played on the company baseball team; him at second and me at shortstop. He worked in a different division but we became friends as well as teammates and co-workers. After one game I drove him home because his old beater of a car had died.
We pulled up in his driveway and I saw this 5' 3, slender, raven haired tornado giving some guy hell. Later I learned that he was her boyfriend and she'd caught him playing around with another girl. The guy was about 6'and it was funny to see this little slip of a girl right up in his guys face telling him off.
"Shut up bitch," he told her. I guess he decided he'd had enough and pulled back his hand to slap her. The slap was never delivered.
I don't know what made me do it, he was two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than me, but I was on him in a second; beating Julio by three steps. My dad, just before he left us, tried to use my mom and me as punching bags. Maybe that's why I got so worked up seeing a guy about to beat on a woman. I'm not a big guy at 5'10 but the fight was over pretty damn quick. I hit him and he hit the ground. The young lady started kicking him and Julio pulled her away.
"C'mon Theresa, that's enough," Julio said. Turning to the guy as he was getting up holding his bloody nose Julio told him, "You better get out of here Chico before I turn her loose on you again."
Holding his nose where I'd hit him, Chico looked daggers at me. Before he could say anything Julio said, "And don't even think about trying to get back at Charley. If he so much as gets a paper cut, I'll get Juan involved. I think he'd like a shot at you anyway."
Chico's reaction when Julio mentioned this Juan was almost funny. His face got pale, his eyes opened wide and he actually started to shake. He turned and almost ran to his car.
"Who's Juan?" I asked.
Julio smiled and grimaced at the same time. "Juan is our brother. He beat some guy half to death for hitting a female friend of his and was sent to prison for assault. He just got out. Oh, this is my sister Theresa."
Chico had really good taste, I thought. Theresa was not just pretty but she approached beautiful. She was slender but with bulges and curves in all the right places. Maybe her most striking feature was her green eyes. They really jumped out at you with her creamy tan complexion.
"Hi, I'm Charley Best. Your knight in shining armor," I greeted Theresa trying to be funny.
She was still steaming and answered, "I could have handled him. If he'd tried to hit me he would have drawn back a stump. I didn't' need your help."
"Okay, I'm sorry. Next time I'll just stand there and watch while you get your ass kicked," I replied. The hell with you little girl, I thought. I put myself out there and not even a thank you. Screw you. I turned to walk back to my car. "See you tomorrow Julio."
The next day after work Julio asked for a lift home; he said his car was on life support and the mechanic was about to pull the plug. As we got close to my car I saw a giant leaning against the front fender. Julio smiled and started running toward the big man. Turning his head Julio back toward me, he said, "It's my brother Juan."
I'd learned that Julio and Theresa's father was a big, redheaded Irishman named Bill Riley. Their mother, Maria, was Mexican with dark hair and eyes. Julio and Theresa took after their mother who was only 5' 5 with dark hair and eyes. Juan must take after his father, I thought. He had to be at least 6' 4 with auburn hair worn in a ponytail. His eyes were the same green as Theresa's.
He stood as I got to my car and came to meet me. "I'm Juan Riley," he said sticking out his hand. "I wanted to thank you for protecting Theresa." Then he smiled and added, "Even if she's too much of a bitch to thank you herself."
"You're welcome and it's nice to meet you Juan. I'm sure Julio would have jumped in if I hadn't. But I can't stand a man that'll hit a woman."
"Don't know if I'd call Chico a man," Juan replied. "He's been getting full of himself lately but I think you brought him back to reality." I heard him mutter under his breath, "And if you didn't, I will."
If Juan decides to have a "talk" with Chico I feel sorry for Chico, I thought. I gave Juan a ride back to his apartment and took Julio home. Theresa was waiting on the front porch as I pulled into the driveway. She walked out to the car and waited for me to get out. Instead I stayed in the car; I didn't even turn the engine off.
"See you tomorrow Julio," I told him as he got out of my car. "You'll have to catch another ride home; I've got a dinner meeting with a client."
"Charley, I want to thank you for your help yesterday," Theresa said. She had to bend down to talk to me. "And I want to apologize for the way I treated you after you knocked Chico down." Not seeing the reaction she expected Theresa continued. "I was still hyped up from fighting with that cabron and sometimes it's hard for me to control my temper."
"You're welcome," I replied. "No problem." I waved at Julio and backed out of the driveway. Theresa stood there in shock and watched me drive away.
My dinner meeting the next evening went well and the client drove me back to my car. I was almost to my car and I looked up to see Juan leaning against my car again. He smiled as I got close.
"Give a friend a ride home?" Juan asked.
"Sure," I replied. "Get in" There's something more here than Juan needing a ride home, I thought.
"I heard Theresa thanked you for helping her."
Nodding I didn't say anything.
"I also heard that she tried to apologize for the way she treated you." I nodded again. Juan looked at me for a few seconds and added, "I heard you wouldn't talk to her or accept her apology."
"That's not true. I said you're welcome," I responded.
"She really feels bad about it," Juan told me. "I'd like for you to get out of your car and talk to her the next time you give Julio a ride home."
We arrived at Juan's apartment building and I pulled into the parking lot and stopped. I shut off the car and turned toward him.
"Is that, I'd like for you to talk to her as a favor to a new friend or is that I'll sit on you if I don't?"
"Does it make a difference?" Juan asked with a little grin.
"Yeah, it does," I answered. "If you're asking as a friend, I'll think about it"
"And if it's the other?"
"Then we have a big problem," I replied. "Actually I guess I'm the one with a big problem. You."
"Why do you have a big problem?
"Because I won't be forced to do something I don't want to do; and I don't respond well to threats." I looked Juan in the eye without flinching. "If you feel its necessary we can get out of the car and discuss the situation in more detail."
I know it wasn't smart, it fact it was pretty stupid. There was nothing to lose by talking to Theresa but my contrary mind wouldn't let me do it because I was ordered to. I waited, almost not breathing, for Juan reaction to my challenge.
Juan returned my stare for several seconds and then he grinned. "I would appreciate it if you would talk to Theresa; as a favor to me. It will make my little sister feel better."
"Okay by me. If she's home tomorrow I'll talk to her when I give Julio a lift."
Juan got out of my car and took a couple of steps toward the building. He turned back and said, "I got a question for you Charley." I nodded and he continued, "Would you have really gotten out of the car?"
I grinned and answered, "Yeah, I would have. I don't know how I would have gotten back into the car but I would have gotten out."
He waved his hand and turned to leave. I heard him say, "And I thought the Irish were crazy."
The next day after work I drove Julio home again. During the ride he said, "I understand you told Juan to go to hell last night."
"I did not," I replied. "I simply refused to take an order from him but I did agree to do a favor for a friend."
Julio shook his head and chuckled. "I thought the Irish were supposed to be the rebellious ones."
We pulled into Julio's driveway and Theresa was again sitting on the porch. She walked toward me and I got out of the car. Julio went onto the porch and stopped to watch us.
Theresa gave me a shy little grin. "I really am sorry, Charley. I behave badly and after you put yourself out there to protect me. Thank you."
I had to smile; this was a different Theresa than the one I'd seen going after Chico. "You're welcome Theresa and I accept your apology." Returning her smile I teased, "Now please tell Juan to get off my case."
Instead of laughing or smiling back, Theresa got mad again. "Is that the only reason you came to see me, because my big brother made you? Well the hell with you mister. I don't need or want..."
"It was a joke Theresa. I was just teasing you," I interrupted her. "Lighten up a little." Before she could go off on another tirade I said, "Juan asked, not told or ordered, asked me if I could come and talk with you. He said you felt bad and really wanted to apologize. I felt bad about the way I'd brushed you off so I came over." As I talked my voice got louder. "Now I wonder if I wasn't right the first time."
"What do you mean the first time?"
"I thought you were a spoiled little girl who couldn't control her temper."
Theresa took a deep breath, sort of puffed herself up, and started to yell at me again. I held up my hand to stop her.
"Look, you're sorry, I'm sorry, and the whole mess is sorry," I told her. "You've apologized and thanked me. I accepted your apology and said you're welcome. That's the end of it, I'm outta here."
I turned and walked back to my car leaving Theresa standing there glaring at me. So much for making her feel better, I thought. I honked my horn and waved at Julio as I drove away.
Julio met me at my car the next day after work. As we drove toward his house he tried to talk about Theresa.
"Enough friend," I said stressing the friend with a sarcastic tone. "She's jumped on me twice about trying to help her; I won't give her another chance." I paused and added, "And tell Juan to mind his own business."
He was quiet for the rest of the drive. As I pulled into his drive way he said, "My car will be ready tomorrow. If you can give me a ride to the shop you can retire from the taxi business." I nodded and drove away.
Julio was leaning against my car the next day. Theresa was standing next to him. Oh no not again, I thought.
"You're right," Theresa greeted. "I was acting like a spoiled little girl. My only excuse is that Juan and Julio have been over protective of me my whole life. And my Dad keeps preaching to us about being self sufficient. I guess I went to extremes trying to assert myself."
I nodded, "You certainly did."
"Please forgive me, again." Theresa smiled and believe me she looked a lot prettier smiling than she did mad. "Let me take you out for pizza and beer and make it up to you."
I was going to say no but she smiled that mega watt smile again. Hell why not, I thought. Looking a pretty girl all evening and sharing a pizza sure beats the hell out a frozen TV dinner and the boob tube alone in my apartment.
"Okay Theresa," I replied. "Let's get Julio to his car and we'll go from there."
We dropped Julio off at the mechanics and waited just long enough to make sure his car was ready. I honked goodbye as Theresa and I left. I took her to a little mom and pop place near my apartment for our "peace talk". Our evening together went very well. We learned a lot about each other and I was sorry to see the evening end. I drove Theresa home and walked her to her door. Theresa refused to let me pay for dinner.
"Thanks for letting me redeem myself," she said and kissed my cheek before she went inside.
"Looks like that went well," Julio said. I hadn't seen him sitting on the porch swing.
"Yeah, if she's not mad or yelling she's a very nice person," I replied.
"Are you going to see her again?"
"I think so." I looked at him closely and asked, "Is that a problem?"
"Not at all. It's about time Theresa got a break," he replied. Smiling he added, "She's something of a bum magnet. Seems like if there's a jerk within fifty miles without a job who treats women like crap, she attracts them."
"Well at least I've got a job," I joked.
He laughed and said, "See you at work."
The next day I called Theresa. "How about letting me get even?"
"What do you mean get even?" She asked suspiciously.
"Let me take you to dinner and this time I pay."
Theresa laughed and accepted the invitation. I picked her up on Friday evening, taking her to another mom and pop place that I liked. Saturday morning she called me to invite me to the movies. Sunday we had a picnic. The next couple of weeks went the same way and all of a sudden we were a couple. In three months we were engaged and got married two months after that.
We were like most newlyweds and for the most part our new life together was a great adventure. Life was good. Theresa had a well paying, challenging career and I was quickly becoming the fair haired boy at Dillon Software. The problems started when I got a promotion to Senior Accountant Manager. My job was to fix and correct any glitches in our installed software. Basically I was a tech guy with a big title but I received a very large raise to go along with my new responsibilities. The problem was that I had to travel at least once a month and sometimes more.
I was never gone more than a couple of days but sometimes I had to leave on a Sunday for Monday morning meetings and stay until Tuesday afternoon. This effectively meant I was away for home and Theresa for almost three days. She didn't like it at all.
It wasn't just that I was gone, sometimes the travel made me miss important things at home. Example: Theresa's father's birthday party was on a Friday night. Bill was leaving on a fishing trip early Saturday morning. I had gone to Seattle Thursday morning but couldn't leave until late Friday night. So I missed the party. I called and wished him a happy birthday and asked to speak to Theresa. She refused to talk to me.
I got back to my apartment about midnight on Friday. Theresa didn't want to hear my apologies or what she called excuses. She made it a point to let me know how upset she was; rather loudly too. That was the first of several such incidents.
"If a problem comes up with a customer, I have to go fix it," I explained each time. Looking her in the eye with what I hoped showed sincerity I said, "I'd much rather be here with you."
"You should tell them you have plans with your wife and family and to get someone else to go," Theresa responded in a voice somewhat louder than a jet engine.
Biting back a smart ass retort I took a deep breath. "This traveling won't last much longer. I'm sure to get a promotion to District Manager and won't have to travel anymore. Please Theresa, I'm sorry but short of quitting my job there's not much I can do now."
It usually took Theresa at least a full day and night to get over her mad. I must say that my not wanting to hear her bitch and complain made the problems worse. If I knew a week or more in advance that I'd have to leave town when we had something planned, I'd wait until a day or two before I had to leave to tell Theresa about the trip. It was very selfish, almost cowardly, but this cut down on the amount of time that I had to listen to her complain.
It also cut down on Theresa's tolerance of my behavior. After I missed a half a dozen of her company's functions, such as dinner dances or award ceremonies, she told me to do what I wanted. Theresa said she planned to attend them whether I went with her or not. Her decision caused more than a little tension in our household.
"I don't like that idea at all Theresa," I objected. "You're a married woman and shouldn't be at a dance without your husband."
"Then I suggest you do something about the amount you travel," she replied. Actually she was calm considering her temper. But that didn't last long. Theresa thought for a minute or so as I grumbled and I could see her Irish temper building.
"Wait, you don't trust me." This was delivered in her 'I'm mad but I'm in control' voice. "You actually think I'd cheat on you." Theresa stared at me and if her green eyes had been lasers, I would've been burnt to a crisp. "You idiot, if I was going to fool around I have plenty of time while you're on one of your 'save the day' trips. I wouldn't have to wait for a company function."
I tried to explain that it was the men I didn't trust but she didn't see, or maybe didn't want to see my reasoning.
"If you don't want me going alone, stay home once in awhile," she suggested.
This time it took most of the weekend for her to get over being mad. It didn't help that on Tuesday I had to go on another trip. It was very cold and very quiet around my house for over a week when I got back. That was just over a month ago and now I had to break another promise to her.
As I walked into the house, Theresa greeted me. "Dinner is almost ready Honey. Go change your clothes and get comfortable." She walked over and kissed me. "I'll put it on the table while you get relaxed."
Great, just great, I thought. She's trying to make things better between us after the last month and I'm going to piss her off all over again. Well, I'm gonna wait until after dinner before I tell her. It may be the last meal she cooks for me for a long time.
I'm the one to blame here, I thought as I changed clothes. Maybe Theresa could control her temper better but if I tried to understand and consider her feelings we would be better off. Please God, don't let this ruin our marriage, I prayed silently.
During dinner we talked about day to day things, nothing of importance. My trial by fire didn't begin until Theresa started talking about her company's awards party.
"I had your new suit pressed and bought you a Christian Dior white on white dress shirt for the party," she said. "I want you to look your best when you finally meet the people I work with."
"I'm sorry Honey, but I have to leave for Seattle on Tuesday afternoon," I interrupted her before she could go on. "I don't know if I'll get done and be back in time for your party."
Theresa dropped her fork and stared at me. I could see her anger building.
"You promised you'd be there this time Charley," she said in a tightly controlled voice.
"I know and I'm sorry, but there's a problem with the software we installed for Dynamic and we need to straighten it out."
"Let someone else go this time," Theresa suggested.
"Jim's the only other person familiar with this software and he broke his leg," I explained. "He won't be available for a couple of weeks."
"Can't Dynamic wait until Monday?"
"You don't tell your biggest customer to wait when they need help. If I don't go we could lose the account," I told her almost pleading. "I promise I'll try to get back in time to at least meet you at the party."
"Another promise? And I'm supposed to believe you this time because... ?" Theresa sat quietly for almost a minute. "You need to get over this 'center of the universe' syndrome about your job. If you're that indispensable they're not paying you enough."
"But Honey..." I started.
You need to develop some cojones and tell Ralph no sometimes," she said. After a few seconds she added, "With or without you, I'm going to the awards party. But when you get home from your trip we need to talk seriously about this marriage."
Theresa stood and stomped to our bedroom; I really expected her to lock the door. Instead after a few minutes she came out with some of my clothes. She went into the guest bedroom, dumped my stuff on the bed and returned to the master bedroom. Guess I'm not welcome in our bed tonight, I told myself. The next morning she was gone before I got up.
She's really mad this time, I thought. Usually I'm the first one out the door. I'll call her at work and take her to lunch. About ten, I called and was told that Theresa wasn't available. She wasn't available the next three times I called her and she didn't return my messages. I never did get to talk to her before I flew to Seattle.