Chapter 42 ~ Heartbreak Knows No Boundaries
Joe, Sam, and Jody sat in a booth by a window at the Pancake House. The booth was parallel to Sunset Drive. Joe and Sam sat on one side of the booth, Joe closest to the window. Jody sat facing them. Joe and Jody studied the four page menu enclosed in plastic covers. Sam waved to the waitress.
Two minutes later, the same tall slender waitress who waited on them previously walked toward the table. She was wearing a white shirt with the letters P H embroidered on the corner of her left lapel The top three buttons of her shirt were unbuttoned. Her hair color changed from an ash blonde ponytailed look to a short hairstyle strawberry blonde. She carried three coffee mugs looped through fingers on her left hand and in her right hand she held a full pot of dark coffee. She set a mug in front of Joe, Jody and Sam and then filled their mugs with coffee.
Sam spoke, “I met your sister the other night. She’s pretty, but she’s not as pretty as you.”
Joe wanted to stick his finger in his throat. Jody put her menu down and watched.
“I was hoping you’d come back, handsome.”
“It’s Sam.” He read her name tag, “Pleasure to meet you, Missy.”
“I remember you like the blueberry pancakes and lots of hot blueberry syrup and sausages in a separate plate. Do I have that right?”
“You are as smart as you are beautiful,” said Sam.
Missy glanced over at Jody, “I’ll bet he’s the same way with all the girls.”
“I’ve only know him fifteen minutes. We met at the airport. Sam is the real deal. A perfect gentleman and handsome.”
“Don’t let it go to your head, Sam,” Missy laughed then took Jody and Joe’s order.
Thirty minutes later, the trio pushed their plates to the side. Missy cleared the table and refilled their coffee mugs. Joe said, “Ready to tell me the story?”
“Not so fast, Joe.”
“Don’t,” Joe said to Sam who was about to punch him in his bicep. “What’s the problem, Jody?”
“I’ll tell you all I learned about Joe Ritchie or Rich, whatever you prefer. I’m not holding out on you. I want to give you some context on why your story grabbed ahold of me and won’t let go. I didn’t grow up in Ohio. I grew up in a small town in northwestern Kansas. It’s right on I-70, maybe you heard of it, Victoria. My mom and dad owned a hardware store. I’m pretty handy at fixing things, because I hung around the store when I wasn’t in school. Dad loved to talk with the farmers. He even had part of the store set aside where the farmers could come in and sit and grab a free cup of coffee and talk politics, weather, crop prices. Stuff like that.
Most of all, he loved mom. He’d always sneak up on her and give her kiss. He’d make an excuse he was heading to Denver or Wichita, we were about halfway between those cities. He’d drive all that way only buy mom a special gift. He loved to surprise her. Mom would kiss him and tell him it was the best gift ever. I never heard them argue. Not even one cross word. Everybody in town is Catholic. They even sent us from the public school during the day for our religious instruction. Church was such a big part of everyone’s life.
“Sounds like you had the perfect childhood,” said Joe.
“I did, Joe. It was perfect. Too perfect,” a sharp look of pain cut a path across Jody’s face.
Sam sat silently, his hands folded together in front of him. His eyes looking into Jody’s eyes as if he were trying to read her mind.
Jody paused. She glanced out the window and stared into the park on other side of Sunset Drive. She slowly turned back to Joe and Sam. “It was Tuesday, May 7th. I was in 5th grade. School was about a quarter-mile from where we lived. I walked home with my friend Tonya. I always reached my house first. Mom usually waited on the porch for me. She wasn’t on the porch that day. I thought she might be in the kitchen. I said goodbye to Tonya and went around the back. Lazy, our dog, barked at me from his run at the back of our property. He really wasn’t lazy. The name stuck when we got him from the pound because he liked to sleep.
We always kept the doors open. Nothing ever happened in town. I opened the door and walked in. I called out, “Mom? Mom?” There was no answer. I thought maybe she went to the hardware store. Every once in a while that happened. I wasn’t alarmed. I grabbed a glass of milk and an apple. I drank my milk and took my apple and walked to the hardware store.
When I got to the hardware store, I saw dad. I said, “Where’s mom? She’s not at home.” Dad looked at his watch. He went to the phone and called home. Of course, there was no answer. He asked Bud to take care of the shop, he had to stop by home for a few minutes. Bud was one of the workers. The phone was ringing when we went through the front door. Dad answered the phone. I saw his face change in an instant from a ruddy complexion to white. He was a big man. He was six feet three inches tall and solid, like two-hundred thirty pounds. I don’t think he said two words. He kept nodding his head and saying uh huh, uh huh. He was talking into a landline. It was the kind of phone that set on the wall. He let go of the receiver and let it hang.
When he turned around and faced me, tears streaked down his face. They wouldn’t stop. I screamed, “Is mom dead, Dad! Is she dead?” He shook his head no, he said so softly I could hardly hear him. “That was Lori Jenkins.” I said, “Yes?” There was more fear in my voice than a question. I knew mom was dead or something really bad happened to her. I said, “What happened, Dad.” He couldn’t hold back the tears, he started sobbing. I threw my arms around him. We held each other, I don’t know for how long. I was crying too. I had no idea why I was crying except dad was crying.”
Joe and Sam were as silent as statues. If there was any background music or noise in the restaurant, they didn’t hear it.
Jody said, “Dad got himself under control. He stepped back a little bit and looked at me. He said, ‘Lori told me her husband Bill and mom ran off together. Bill left a note. She read it to me. They fell in love after the church Valentines dance. They’d been seeing each other on the sly since then. I didn’t know. Lori didn’t know. How could I have been so stupid?”
Jody was crying. Sam handed her a napkin from the napkin dispenser. The three of them sat silently. Joe and Jody stared out toward Sunset Drive. Sam’s eyes never left Jody. He signaled Missy and made a motion with his hand for a glass of water. Missy brought it over along with a small box of Kleenex.
After a while, Jody turned back, “Sorry guys. I still get emotional over it. It killed dad. He had a heart attack six months later and died. I ended up living with my grandparents until I went to college. Mom never showed up to the funeral. She never showed up. She’s living in New Mexico. She’s on Facebook. I tried to contact her and she told me to stay out of her life, she’s happy. She blocked me. can’t find her.”
“That’s rough,” said Joe.
Jody looked at Joe, “It’s the reason your story means so much to me, Joe. I thought if I helped you, in some small way, I might get closure.”
Joe nodded and reached across the table and held Jody’s hand. Sam watched.
Jody smiled, “Thanks, Joe. I knew you’d understand. You’re the only person outside of Victoria who knows the story. You and Sam that is. Now, I’ll tell you what you want to know.”