Richard was on a road trip, from Florida to Virginia. He was headed for Suffolk, Virginia, to attend his son Horatio's wedding. He was taking his time to get there, because the wedding was still a week away. He had made it to North Carolina on the first day of his trip, and had stayed in Florence, at an inexpensive motel which only offered coffee in the morning. Florence had plenty of restaurants where he could have had breakfast, but he decided to continue his trip early in the morning, as he usually did, when driving long distances. He took an extra cup of coffee from the motel lobby, when he checked out.
Rich had driven about two hours when he decided to stop for breakfast. The exit for a small town was approaching, and a sign showed several fast food restaurants, right off the freeway, but he decided to venture deeper into the small town. He had to drive about five miles to find a local diner, and he settled for it, as he wasn't a real fan of fast food restaurants.
The diner was empty. The waitress came right away to offer him coffee. He recognized Denise immediately, but she didn't recognized him right away, but she stared at him for a long time, while she told him they served breakfast and lunch all day. She recommended the chicken fried steak, but Richard told her he loved meat loaf from way back, when he was growing up, and he was living with his parents. Denise took his order, and brought Richard his much needed coffee. "Where is everybody?" he asked her. She smiled and said, "Well, those who have jobs come in early, and those who do not are probably still in bed. They'll show up later for a late lunch. It's usually slow during mid-morning."
Denise kept looking at him with a mixture of curiosity and doubt. Finally, Rich said, "Denise, don't you recognized me? I'm Richard, your ex-stepbrother." He got up from his seat, and they hugged. She said, "Oh, Rich, it so good to see you. It's been a long time." "Almost thirty years," he said.
Raymond, Rich's father had been married to Ruby, Denise's mother. Ruby was divorced and mother of three children, Kevin Jr., Troy, and Denise, who was the youngest. Kevin Sr. was incarcerated in Tehachapi. Raymond and Ruby met at a bar, in Lancaster, California. Ray was the construction manager of a development project near that town. Ray was also divorced, and Richard lived with him. At that time, Rich was a rebellious teenager, very difficult to deal with it, and his mother didn't want him around. She wanted to be alone with the new man in her life. So, Rich lived with Ray in Lancaster. When Ray married Ruby, they all lived together. Kevin Sr. continued to served his sentence in Tehachapi.
"It's good to see you, too, Denise. I never expected to find you here. How did you get here, all the way from California?"
"Well, it looks like all of us young people wanted to get out of a bad environment. You left for Alaska; Kevin Jr. joined the Marines, and he's in Japan right now. Troy joined the Army, and his first duty station was in Fayetteville, about two hours from here. That left me and my mom. I wanted to get away too. I didn't want to be a honky-tonk woman like her. Your dad was a nice guy, but he was a stay-at-home type, while my mom wanted to be the center of attention in cheap bars .A sure recipe for divorce, which was inevitable. Well, I was able to escape too. Troy's girlfriend wanted to join my brother in Fayetteville. She didn't have a car, and had very little money. I drove us to North Carolina. She was reunited with Troy, and I also stayed, looking and finding a job, in what I knew best, wait on tables. And here I am."
Rich's meal was ready, and Denise went to get it. She sat down, poured herself a cup of coffee, and she said, "Well, obviously you don't live in Alaska anymore. What happened to you all these years?"
"Well, as you know, I went to Alaska when I was sixteen. Ray knew I wasn't happy in Lancaster, and I wasn't happy in school. He actually financed my trip to Alaska, and helped me while I found a job, which wasn't very hard to do in those days. I started as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Anchorage, then little by little learned how to cook. I had been in Anchorage less than two years, when Dad contacted me saying he needed help, that Ruby had kicked him out of the house, and that he wanted to come to Alaska, to stay with me. I sent him money to come, and he showed up with the clothes he had on, and a shaving kit. I never knew the whole story of what had happened. He never discussed the matter."
Denise had a sip of coffee, and said, "I know what happened. My dad got out of jail, and stayed in the town of Tehachapi. My Mom began to visit him frequently, while Ray was at work. I think Ray realized what was happening, and moved all of us farther away from Tehachapi. We moved to Van Nuys, then to Northridge. The only thing that changed was the distance my Mom drove to Tehachapi. Obviously, she was commuting to see my dad. Her marriage to Ray was over."
"So, that's what happened. The bottom line was that Ruby wanted to get back with Kevin, Sr."
"That's right. It was sad for us, because we loved Ray. He was a good dad to us. I don't know why my Mom put it to a vote. She told us, 'who do you want for a dad, Ray or Kevin Sr.?' I don't know why she bothered with this. Like I said, her mind was made up. All three of us voted for Ray. The election results were overturned."
Richard ate his meal, and Denise kept him company. They were comfortable with each other. Silence did not bother them. After a while Denise asked, "So, what happened to Ray?" "Well, he lived with me until I joined the Navy. He spent the rest of his days in Alaska. He passed away five years ago." "I'm sorry to hear that. He was such a good guy." "Yes he was," said Rich, "he helped me a lot."
While Rich was having a piece of apple pie, and more coffee, Denise asked him, "So how did you wind up in Florida, all the way from Alaska?" Rich said, "it's a long story." She said, "I'd like to hear it." "Won't you get in trouble for socializing with the customers? "No problem there. I manage the place. Besides, this place won't be busy for another two hours."
Richard had a plan. He was very independent, and adventurous. He told Ray he wanted to go to Alaska, and his father said he would help him. Rich would leave after his 16th birthday. At that age, he would be considered an 'emancipated teenager,' with his own financial resources, consisting of a savings account, and an ATM card.
Rich found work in Alaska immediately. He started as a dishwasher in a popular Mexican restaurant in Anchorage. He had a talent for cooking, and he advanced quickly in the ranks of the food preparation business. He stayed four years in Alaska. He finished high school. Then joined the Navy, which took him all over the world. His permanent home base was Norfolk, Virginia. After 20 years of service, he put in for retirement, and moved to Florida, where he now worked for a food distribution company.
Denise said, "It seems to me we all got away from a bad environment. You went to Alaska, and other places; my brothers are in the military, and I'm in North Carolina. On the other side of the picture, you have my mother still honky-tonking, and my father still in and out of jail."
"But Denise, in a sense you exchanged one small town for another. You are in the middle of nowhere here."
"I know, Rich, but this middle of nowhere is better that the middle of nowhere in California. If I need to go to a bigger place, I can go to Florence, or Fayetteville."
"Okay, I see your point. These are real towns and cities, not the urban sprawl of southern California. Myself, I felt better in Anchorage, in spite of the weather."
Denise noticed that Rich had demolished the generous piece of pie she has served him. She offered him more. He said no, thanks; but he poured himself another cup of coffee, from the pot she had brought over. By now, doubt was erased from Denise's facial expression, but curiosity still remained. She asked him, "Are you married?"
Rich replied, "Divorced, one son, Horatio, he goes by Harry. He's getting married. He lives in Virginia, which is where I'm headed."
Denise said, shaking her head, "Well history repeats itself. Ray was a nice guy, and so are you Rich. We know what happened to Ray. What happened to you?"
"My ex- wife was a spendthrift. She was totally irresponsible. He did not take care of the bills, when I was on sea duty. The final straw was when I returned to port, and she was not waiting for me. I got a ride from a shipmate. Got home, and there was this big party going on. A bunch of people I didn't even know! And she had my son staying with an aunt. That was the end of my marriage."
"And you don't have anyone? I see you are traveling alone."
"No, I don't have anyone right now. As you can easily gather, my marital experience has left me with serious trust issues with women. What about you? Are you married?"
"No Rich, I'm not married. I have never been married. I have trust issues of my own with men, starting with my father. I didn''t like the way he looked at me when I was a teenager. Then I had had some undependable boyfriends, guys who wanted to share a place to live, but didn't want to help with the household expenses. Borrowed money with no intention of paying it back, and I even had one guy who stoled my money and disappeared. Besides, I didn't want to be like my mom, making bad decisions, and totally addicted to the attentions of men who frequent bars. And she wanted to stick with my father, who really was an abuser."
"Wow. In other words, you developed a strong sense of independence, rooted in your desire not to depend on any man."
"You got it. But don't get me wrong. I do like male companionship. My reality is that I'm not going to find my twin soul here, and I can live with that reality. My independence remains."
"Denise is a joy to see you, and being able to do some catching up on things. I'm going to have to hit the road, but I'd like to tell you this. Consider coming to Florida to live with me. Think about it. I think it would work out fine. I will not call you on the phone about this. I'll drop by to see you in person, on my way back home. I'll see you in a week's time. Okay?"
"I'm glad you came to this diner, Rich. I'll be here. I'll think about it. See you soon."
Rich got a kiss, and a coffee and a piece of pie to go. Onward to Virginia.
A week later, Richard arrived at the diner about an hour before closing time. As he arrived, the last customers were leaving. 'Good' he thought, 'we'll have alone time to discuss things.' He was apprehensive about what Denise's answer would be; but he had thought of enough arguments to convince her to move to Florida with him. Denise came over immediately, and gave him a big hug, and a kiss on the cheek.
"How was the wedding?" she asked.
"Fine. It was a very nice wedding, and a great reception. I was able to see that my ex-wife had not changed at all. She was just there for the food and drink, not because she loved her son. But I'm happy that Harry was raised by his aunt. She cared for him, and went as far as gaining custody of him when he was a small child. A judge would never give custody of a child to a sailor, who must serve at sea for extended periods of time. I had to set up an allotment to pay for his support. Harry was not raised in Norfolk, where he was born, but in Suffolk, where his aunt lived."
Denise said, "Your son was lucky. He was removed from a bad environment in Norfolk, and raised in a good environment. How far is Suffolk from Norfolk.?"
"About twenty miles. You know, at the beginning I was resentful. I felt Harry's aunt had interfered in my life. Dorothy, his aunt, was the only college graduate in her family. She was a guidance counselor. She spared my son from inner-city schools; she sent him to excellent private schools, and he graduated from college. So, now I'm happy for her intervention. My son grew up to be a fine young man. He married a very pleasant and educated lady. She has two small kids from a previous marriage. Harry is definitely a family man. The kids love him. He talks so nicely to them. My son is not afraid to assume responsibilities."
"Well," said Denise, "I'm glad that history did not repeat itself, like it happened with you and your father. We are talking about three good, nice men. Harry broke the cycle of bad marriages."
"You are right. Nice guys don't have to finish last. I'm still looking for positive results in my life. So, what are your thoughts about moving to Florida?"
"You know, I thought about for days. We were part of the same family as teenagers; we know each other. We always liked each other. We have common experiences, so we understand each other's feelings. You were always very independent, and I learned to become independent. You are a respectful person, Rich. The most important factor is not love, I think mutual trust is,and obviously we have that. So, I'm very inclined to say yes to you."
Richard said " You know, I would have used the same reasoning, the same arguments if I had had to convince you. I was prepared to offer more reasons to convince you, such as the fact we are both in dire need of the companionship of the opposite sex."
She laughed and said, "So, you are not going to treat me like a sister, then?."
"Absolutely not. You know, we are not blood relatives. We are really emotionally related by our common experiences. I'm very fond of you, Denise."
"Right back at you, Richard. My answer is yes."
Three weeks later Denise arrived in Florida. She found work within a week. Richard lived in a small town, and she felt comfortable there. She liked living near the beach, and she went there at least once a week; but she was person who really liked to go work everyday. She had learned to handle her personal finances very well. She always shared expenses with Rich; it was part of her sense of independence.
Time went by. Everything was going well for Denise and Richard. They were getting somewhere together.