Thanks to DragonsWeb, OldFart, RastaDevil, WanderingScot and Sweet Sue for their innumerable edits to this gentle revision of an older story!
I knew now that she was the one and only true love of my life.
I'd fondly remembered Linda Monroe throughout the years, but it wasn't until I unexpectedly saw her again nearly twenty years later at a wedding reception that my heart reminded me with a loud thump just exactly what I had been missing. Mercifully, it wasn't her wedding, or even mine. That really would have been rather awkward!
I had damn few regrets in life but letting her go out of mine those many years ago was definitely one of them. It was a mistake I didn't intend to make twice! The stars were now all coming into alignment for me, and more than a few pigeons were coming home to roost. I muttered a brief prayer of thanks to the Almighty, or whoever had the onerous duty of looking after the prayers of fools this particular week.
She was still a vision of loveliness and oh-so stunningly beautiful; trim, every slight movement vivacious with life and without the vaguest hint of any frown lines engraved on her face. The Linda I'd known and loved was unrelentingly happy and smiled from the moment she woke up to the time she went to bed and the sparkle in her eyes showed that this had not changed. Her eyes were still her most remarkable feature, a sparkling deep intelligent brown-green swirl that seemed to draw you in deeper, as if they were hypnotic. She also recognized me almost at once, and as her eyes grew larger with delight they drew me in once more and trapped me forever.
There are much worse fates. I never should have left her in the first place. More fool me!
We met for the first time at college, after a campus political conference. We were philosophical opposites and we didn't quite click the first time around but we soon increasingly orbited around each other, with gravity and soon nature slowly brought us closer together. She was dating an acquaintance of mine who was in law school, but the match-up was far from ideal. He tended to be extremely moody and given to maudlin moods of self-destructive behavior. She wasn't terribly high maintenance, but she did like to have fun — stimulating conversation at the very least. Gradually, they drifted apart and we then drifted together with very little fanfare or fuss. Sleeping together, and eventually, her moving in with me, were both relatively minor decisions we made afterwards by reflex rather than by any specific intent.
Everyone said we were the perfect couple, and we really probably were. That might have been part of what horrified my family so much. That, and the fact that she was a Jewess of no money, connections or family. Note the use of the obsolete and rather bigoted term, Jewess. My family was as WASP (White-Anglo-Saxon- Protestant) as it was possible to get even here in the very heartland of the American Midwest and the more I loved Linda the more terrified my family was that I would perform an unforgiveable social outrage and marry this delightful creature!
In fairness, my beloved was only half Jewish (from her mother) and quite non-practicing, but that was still quite enough all by itself to give most members of my family nightmares. Tolerance is not a Piper family trait, alas. Her own family was only slightly less unhappy about having me as a likely future in-law as well, so Linda and I both had extreme pressure at both ends of our relationship that eventually slowly crushed us like a nutcracker.
Eventually, we allowed family pressure to break us up. It was regrettable on both of our parts and we split the blame fairly evenly. We'd had a good run though, nearly two years and the breakup was about as easy and pleasant as could be hoped for under the circumstances. In fact I don't think either of us actually ever made the formal decision to split, we just allowed ourselves to be physically separated by circumstance and once we'd went our separate ways we then failed to reconnect back together as we had intended.
My family made sure that I was sent two thousand miles away from her to complete my MBA and afterwards I was then promptly sent to work for my grandfather in another equally distant state while Linda was still completing her final years of graduate school back home. She would have quit school and followed me anywhere, without a penny in either of our pockets, but I was feeling noble and wouldn't let her abandon her own dreams of advanced education. Besides, the absence would 'just be for a little while', we told each other. We had other dreams, thoughts, intentions, wild ass plans, etc ... but living and reality soon got into the way once time and long distance started to erode our ardor.
"I'll dance at your wedding." She said by means of a final farewell one evening after another one of our increasingly irregular phone calls when we'd both realized that the long distance relationship just wasn't going to work out the way we really wanted it to. It's a nice useful phrase. Basically meaning more or less, "I wish you well, no regrets, now get on with your life."
I didn't even consider asking her later to attend my wedding — heck, I wished at the time that I could have found a way to avoid it myself, but that's a story for later.
I'd kept in vague indirect contact with her through a friend of a friend, but we hadn't been together in the same city for about twenty years since our separation. Through mutual friends, I'd discovered that she'd married an older man named Paul, and they had been 'sort of' happy together but it hadn't really worked out all that well. There had been some talk of divorce off and on but they'd become just barely comfortable enough together to endure the situation for the sake of their only daughter Beatrice, whose wedding she was attending today. Paul was not present, except in spirit perhaps. He'd died of testicular cancer about eight years ago and Linda had remained a widow and had just recently moved back to our hometown. From the rumors I'd heard through the grapevine, she'd been a rather merry widow and there had been hints that she'd been checking up on me, but our paths had not once crossed, until today.
Today she was marrying off her only daughter. Also today, if there was any justice in this world, I would begin my first steps to become a single man and ruler of my own destiny - for once and for all.
I need to explain right from the get-go that my family is (or was) seriously wealthy. Old money, earned the hard and traditional way off of the backs of the working class. I'm as much of a modern capitalist as anyone but my great-grandfather and grandfather were both major league robber-barons of the old traditional school.
My Great-Grandfather Piproswki supposedly came to the US from East Prussia in 1908. That's the family story and some of them even actually believe it. His old original immigration paperwork though suggests that his hometown was actually well on the Polish side of the border in those days. Worse, his very own grandmother might have been Jewish as well! Far too pedestrian for the noble WASP history of our family and this unacceptable inconvenience of history has been since been appropriately whitewashed out for public consumption. Thus did a poor Polish laborer transform himself via the arts of public relations into the founding patriarch of a noble Junkers family who became 'Piper', an American Captain of Industry™.
Hazarding a guess, I'd say that the family anti-Semitic (and anti-Catholic) attitude didn't come across the ocean with him but was promptly acquired to accompany his growing fortune when he settled here into our mid-western city. He did bring a strong work ethic with him and built a small but financially stable empire of canning plants that weathered the Great Depression without the slightest difficulty. The pickle plant that I run today was one of great-grandfather's very first enterprises, profitable and successful from the very first day it started business.
His only son, my grandfather Joseph, took this prosperous empire and grew it into a multi-state corporate food-processing hydra of nearly a thousand heads. Grow or die was his motto and he bought up nearly every troubled cannery within a thousand miles of us back in the dark days of the depression right before World War Two, just in time to make a fortune that would make Midas envious. If you looked in a period encyclopedia or newspaper to learn what a 'war profiteer' was, the odds are you might see a photo of my grandfather. If he could can it, he sold it to the War Department for the consumption of our boys overseas ... at an obscene profit.
This was mostly the principal source for the legendary Piper fortune. It was a huge unimaginable sized pie in those days, but as the next generation of my family began to nibble away at it, this massive hoard of loot started to get slowly carved up and devoured, even faster than new profits could replace it.
Grandfather loved to make money. He also loved to get a piece or two of ass and was married four different times and also had a stable of nearly a dozen acknowledged mistresses on the side as well. He was also legendary for preying upon his female factory workers and bending them to his will, figurative and literally. "Put out or pack out!" would have been his motto. Most women with a husband overseas often had no choice but to 'put out' rather than lose their good paying wartime factory job, especially if they had young children to support alone, or worse, were an emotionally vulnerable widow.
In the end there were ten acknowledged direct heirs (with over a dozen further unacknowledged by-blows lurking in the shadows), my father being the seventh child and the youngest son. Most also inherited grandfather's love of procreation and my father, aunts and uncles all enjoyed a similar chain cycle of marriage, extra-marital affairs (and off-spring) and divorce. Today even a simple family reunion brings in over one hundred Pipers. My own father upheld this dubvious family tradition and married and divorced three times himself, having six children, myself being the last. When added up in total, that's an awful lot of pie slices to go around, for boarding schools, expensive cars, college, weddings, divorce settlements, etc.
My Aunt Millicent (don't you dare call her Millie!) is the oldest living of Grandfather's children and she's the ruling matriarch, managing the vast majority of the family stock and the trust fund shares with an iron hand. Probably a good thing too, otherwise we'd all probably be broke by now.
There is an old but true saying; the best way to make a small fortune is to start with a large fortune. This is pretty much what my father and his older brothers accomplished during their reign over our family enterprises during the 1950's to the late 1970's. They could just about keep the accounts still running in the black, but the days of record profits were over. They kept the financial boat afloat at least, barely ... not that they particularly much noticed. 'Business' tended to interfere with their social activities at the local Country Club were their favorite sport was seducing other members wives.
With the introduction of their own enormous brood of children into the family workforce, the adage of shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations started to become rock solid fact rather than mere mythology. Slowly, our vast enterprise of under-supervised and poorly managed plants began to each lose money and gradually most of them were sold off one by one, the money mostly disappearing into the maintenance of family personal finances or ill-advised high-risk/high-reward ventures on the stock market.
I look at my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and hordes of ill-mannered cousins and I see nothing except greed, sloth and waste. Most are now a major cause of our current family problems and few show any talent towards being part of any future solution. Linda noticed this about my family right from the first. I agreed with her then in vague general principle, but I didn't quite then realize exactly how really bad things were likely to become.
Where my younger generation of my relatives had mostly all earned 'gentleman's C's' (or worse), I had graduated Cum Laude at my local Midwestern state university and this earned me a trip to the family alma-mater Ivy League graduate school on a trust fund expense account. I earned top honors while getting my MBA as well and suddenly I found myself being of considerable interest to our family matriarch and she began to clearly groom me for upper management within the various remaining family enterprises.
I could have worked for any corporation in the country, and I certainly had no shortage of top notch job offers, but I dutifully returned home to begin work at the family businesses. I was reminded constantly that I had 'duties and obligations' in return for the costs of my schooling and in those days I was still trying to 'fit in' and do what was expected of me.
Being a youngest son of a youngest son, even my success at gaining a legitimate and meaningful MBA degree didn't earn me any particular favors with most of my elders, but I was certain that Aunt Millicent was keeping an unusually sharp eye on me. I was the apparently the brains of our youngest generation, but I was also near to being the very youngest in age and seniority, and older and louder (and much more inept) voices tended to get what crumbs were left from the once big family cake. I was assigned the management and operation of the old historical pickling plant, which frankly was only available because it was beneath the notice of all of my other more senior relatives. It was also in the worst shape of any of our businesses, deeply in the financial red and destined for either bankruptcy or sale for its real estate value. I'm sure now my Aunt assigned this disaster to me on purpose, to see just what a bit of family brains could do, but at the time even I thought it was a lost cause, at first.
It took a few years but I turned that obsolete plant that was otherwise destined for the scrap heap and renovated it into the largest modernized pickle plant in the Midwest. You can find Piper's Pickles now in every supermarket in the country. It took a deal with the devil, Sam Walton of Wal-Mart, to save the plant in those dark early days when I traded the promise of vastly increased production in return for financial contract terms that were virtually highway robbery ... but the increased business stopped the flow of red ink. This let us catch our breath and renovate the facility enough to become competitive in the commercial market again, and eventually now become an industry leader. We still sell our pickles in Wally-World and Sam's ... but on slightly more favorable terms these days.
Then I had to make another deal with another devil to keep it – my Aunt Millicent.
The dear old battleaxe was frankly confused by my stunning success and didn't quite know what to chalk it up to. Brains didn't run too deeply in my generation of the Piper veins (or the previous one) and sheer audacity hadn't been working too well for most of my other relatives either lately. She grudgingly admitted that I might have woven a silk purse from a sow's ear but this now profitable enterprise was now far too valuable to be left in my much too junior and tender hands. She wanted to sell the now profitable plant for badly needed cash — and she controlled more than enough family stock to sell it right out from under me.
Unless ... I was to do the family 'a tiny favor' and get married.
My bride-to-be came attached with some attractive family enterprises that complimented our needs (regional agricultural storage, distribution and trucking primarily) and the alliance would bring my family a dowry of some much needed cash - a no-interest loan that was even more desperately needed to patch up yet another current financial crisis. There were more than a few rumors that her family was up to its neck in organized crime and labor union organization racketeering. Not surprisingly, these defects were considered by most of my family to be 'advantages' instead.
One of my older brothers had originally been tasked for this most unpleasant family duty, but he had the foresight to escalate his drug use and habitual tendency to drive drunk (at least six DUI's so far), making himself politically an unacceptable match between the families. Lucky bastard! That should serve me right for being 'responsible'.
No good deed (or tendency towards good behavior) goes unpunished!
My bride to be, the former Livonia Parker, was no great prize either. Oh, she looked alright dolled up and nine times out of ten could avoid saying anything blatantly foolish whenever she opened her mouth, but she was definitely no 'Linda' and we never hit it off. Even from our first meeting, I could tell that she was going to be very high maintenance and didn't care a bit about what my job managing the pickle plant was like. She'd never worked a day in her life and never wanted to. Her life already at the tender young age of twenty-three already revolved around the cocktail and dinner party circuit of our social peers, with weekends spent at the Country Club or at various family estates. Being myself of the ripe age of thirty, I already bored her to tears.
I sadly and very unhappily made the deal with the devil to save the pickle plant ... and also to get control of the 'Fred and Ginger Dance School' (F&G) chain. This was another formerly profitable property that had been neglected and allowed to run down into near dissolution and was now also at the brink of bankruptcy.
Why did I sacrifice myself and fall deliberately upon this most unhappy hand-grenade that already seemed guaranteed to make my domestic life a joyless torture to be endured? When I took over the plant originally in its failing days I had less than one hundred employees and now I had nearly eight hundred people that I felt responsibility for. Most, if not all, would lose their jobs if the plant were to be sold as planned. At best there would be severe layoffs and pay cuts and I didn't want to be the one responsible for that, even if I had to be the sacrificial lamb necessary in order to save them. Besides that ... I loved that old pickle plant and really wanted nothing more in life than to gently guide and manage that old lady into another hundred years of success and prosperity!
Also by now, I had realized in my heart of hearts that I needed some sort of permanent escape and independence from my dysfunctional and rather perverse family. Obviously this was not going to be a love match; it was a pure business deal. Everyone, including me, would get something that they wanted and afterwards we'd all just try to make the best out of it.
I certainly didn't love her, I didn't even particularly like her ... but since Linda had left my life and was already married to someone else, I decided that I might as well get married too and get on with life. I'd take this bullet for my employees and family independence, I decided ... besides, at worst I could just divorce her in just a few years - I hoped!
I had an old school friend draw up the legal contract with my Aunt and he did a bang-up job. We tried to plug up every loophole either of us could conceive of and solidified our core minimum demands in return for my sacrifice.
· 100% control of Piper Pickles. Ownership deed, lock, stock and every single pickle barrel! The promise of perpetual preferential shipping rates (via my darling bride's family) at a guaranteed minimum of 33% discount over established base industry rates, contracted for a duration of at least five years, with an automatic renewal unless malfeasance could be proven by a third-party arbitrator, who could assign civil penalties if our contract was unilaterally canceled or altered.
· The promise of non-interference with our labor-management relations. (We already had a local labor union that we were comfortable working with and I wanted the bride's family thugs kept far away). This agreement also had binding significant civil financial penalties if the arbitrator found any misbehavior or interference here either.
· The Non-Refundable transfer, sale and 100% control of the F&G chain from my older sister's folio for the total sum of one ($1) dollar. My sister had never once set foot into the place — you couldn't score any cocaine there apparently and the dance music was too boring to disco to! Again, now it was all mine – family hands off!
· A carved in stone heavy duty Prenuptial Agreement with no expiration date that heavily penalized either offending marital partner in the event of proven adultery or upon the conviction of a felony crime. A 'No-Fault' Divorce could be granted after five years if no children had resulted from the union, or after ten years if there were children. Alimony would be granted for a maximum of five years and Child Support maintenance offered until their eighteenth birthday(s).
· Last, my 'understanding' with Aunt Millicent that this was my last and final duty for Queen and Country ... and my family. Hereafter, I would be free to work and pursue my own flavor of happiness without needing to get permission every time I needed to take a piss. My loving family could all go fuck themselves — I wanted my walking papers.
Oh, there was howling, screaming, wailing and much gnashing of teeth, but I got my conditions. Every single one of them!
In the end, the release for a 'no-fault' divorce after five years was almost a deal-buster. The bastards wanted to hold me firm to the date of the eighteenth birthday of our youngest child. Non-negotiable!
No and hell no! Even to save my beloved plant, this was a much longer term of captivity than I had hoped or planned for, and this was a deal-breaker for me! My Aunt played hardball and put it up for immediate cash sale. My workers rallied to our defense and called for an immediate strike and they all walked out on my behalf! No buyer wants to take over a place certain to have lingering labor problems and they stayed away in droves. My Aunt and my new in-laws blinked and surrendered first.
I won't discuss the wedding, except that I upheld my end and showed up for it. Disturbingly sober, I presented myself willingly for the slaughter so that nearly a thousand employees would still have a paycheck next Friday. Still, I wished it didn't have to be me...
I can't say that married life agreed with me, but it didn't take long for us both to establish our respective boundaries and learn to give each other a really wide berth. We never shared a bedroom except during our honeymoon, but somehow we completed our filial duty and quickly produced a pair of heirs, a daughter and then a son. Odd that ... we'd only shared a bed on two occasions, the week of our honeymoon, resulting in Helena, who arrived a few weeks premature (another oddity), and a particularly anomalous night a few years later when we'd both had a bit too much to drink and had an accident, and spent the night together in bed.
Helena is cut from pretty much the exact same cloth as her mother and is already a snob and a clothes horse and treats everyone around her like dirt under her feet. I've tried my best, but she's her mother's girl and doesn't listen to a thing I tell her. Our daughter looks absolutely nothing like me and if I were to place a bet, I'd wager that a DNA test would show her to be the by-product of Livonia's old boyfriend, whom she had allegedly spent her own last week of freedom constantly in bed with.
I see now in retrospect that she and her family had taken precautions to already nullify my hope of getting a fast divorce in just five years! I'd hoped to catch the two lovers in an affair sometime afterwards, but he'd made himself very scarce after the wedding. I think her family found her pretty boy a job far out of town ... and well out of the way. If my wife had other new lovers, she kept them well hidden.
Sure, I could have had a DNA test done and called in the lawyers, but the prenup was pretty firm that unless the marriage lasted for at least five years, at minimum, I wouldn't receive my complete independence and full possession the plant. Very grudgingly, I decided to save this ace in the hole for my later divorce plans.
My son Orson is very definitely mine, and he's intelligent but quiet and tends already be a bookworm and is of a very philosophical bent. "Why?" was nearly the first word out of his mouth as a tot and remains close to the tip of his tongue even today. Unlike his older sister and mother, he finds society vapid, and also unlike either of them he says please and thank you to the household staff! I try to be a good father to him and always make time in my busy schedule to spend time with both children whenever possible. Orson is really the only good thing that I'll ever fondly remember this marriage for.
Their mother is much less hands-on, and prefers to be a remote figure in their lives and she keeps herself well insulated from the inconveniences of child rearing with the aid of an army of nurses and nannies. Already there are murmurings of sending Helena off to boarding school next fall, an appalling notion that I am dead against. Snooty private schools certainly never improved anyone in my family that I can recall, and our young bitch in training already has her nose far too highly held in the air for my taste!
Livonia occupies her time exclusively with social events of the Country Club and society circuits and maintains our far too large and appallingly over-decorated house as a local showplace. She entertains constantly or attends other parties several nights a week, but I don't think she has a single true friend. Her so called girlfriends all seem to my eyes to be social rivals instead. They're all 'frenemies' as the younger generation would say. I think it is a sad and pathetic existence living from one social engagement to the next and I make myself absent from her side as much as possible. On a good week, we never even catch a glimpse of each other.
My life for these ten years of marriage consisted of work, more work, and spending a few stolen minutes with my children, and plotting with the help of a more than obliging domestic staff, paths in and out of my house that did not cross my wife's. We have very separate bedrooms in opposite corners of the house and don't even take meals together usually. I used to keep a foldaway bed in the back of my office at the pickle plant but a few years ago I decided that I needed something nicer as a more permanent hiding place and quietly obtained a small flat quite near within walking distance of the plant.
No gaudy modern design features for me. Since Livonia hates anything 'old', which even includes expensive antiques (I swear that woman has absolutely no taste whatsoever), I decorated my new sanctum sanctorum in the English Edwardian and Art Deco styles, of select chosen antiques of English golden oak. Nothing modern whatsoever in this house, except for the bathroom and the kitchen! Livonia would be horrified. Hercule Poirot or Lord Peter Wimsey, however, would feel right at home.
My eccentricity for all things vintage also began to include my dressing habits. It started off just as just another means to further irritate my wife. I'll wear plus-fours most days to the plant, as if I were off instead to a highland golf match. If more formal is required then nothing could top a proper Victorian Morning Suit, complete with top hat and silver tipped gentleman's cane. I've never been invited to a Royal Ascot but if I ever am some day, at least I'll be properly dressed to greet the Queen.
My young nieces and nephews all love this. They see me as an eccentric rebel against the upper-crust establishment of our family and indeed they're right. Besides, I don't have the patience or the desire to get myself inked up and covered with body piercings the way they mostly show their rebellion. I'd like to think my way is a little more subtle and perhaps a lot more effective. They also love me because I'm just about the only member of the family that actually has any real money of my own, and I'm a notorious soft touch ... to the few younger ones that are willing to work or get good grades in school.
Don't get me wrong, most of our disaffected Gen-Y generation family members share much of the same greed and sloth that their parents have, but at least a few of them are 'interesting'. A couple just have bad habits rather than bad personalities and I try to gently steer them towards a more productive path.
The pickle plant pretty much runs itself these days and turns a substantial profit for me, enough to keep Livonia in the style to which she is very much accustomed, and even a bit more besides. It is the dance school however that gives me the most pleasure these days. I had rescued this chain of schools mostly out of a sense of nostalgia for what it had been back in the heydays of the 1950's and 60's. The once nationwide chain was down to a pitiful handful of dilapidated run-down schools and gasping its last breaths on financial life support before I rescued it, but I was just in the nick of time.