63 Knave of Hearts

For the second time in a week, Greg Mendel prepared to apologize to a woman. He figured he must be losing his touch or, just possibly, finally finding one. He’d written out a few notes to help him say it the right way.Chapter 63 Knave of hearts

“Georgia, it’s Greg.” She’d be surprised to hear from him; they spoke directly as little as possible, preferring to use Gina as a go-between. “Do you have a few minutes to talk? I’d like to have a chance to say something first, if you’re willing to listen.”

“I’m listening,” said Georgia, suppressing her instant impatience, “but I’m in the car.”

“I know I failed you completely, screwing up the way I did but I’d really like to be of some use to the girls, if it’s not too late.”

“Too late for what?” Georgia replied sharply, torn between returning fury and rising interest.

“Look, I know I was a fool.” Georgia bit her tongue, as interest prevailed. She pulled over.

“I’m not giving excuses. I understand it better now, why it happened, when I was away from all of you.” Georgia, comfortable loathing him, didn’t want to revisit what he’d done.

“I’m learning to manage the tension and frustration of work in better ways.” Surprised to be hearing this language from him, she supposed he was seeing a counselor. He risked going on talking.”People can’t change their nature but they can change their behavior, to improve it, I mean. That’s what I’ve been doing, by trial and error, really.”

Error mostly, she considered, so bread and butter agreement on this point. But by himself, so no counselor. “Wait, are you apologizing to me?”

“Yes, I am. I apologize for how I behaved and what that did to you.” Georgia was incredulous. Greg was relieved this part was over now, the saying of it. He resisted the urge to get off the phone and fumbled for the next place in his notes.

“What do you want?” Just because he’d spit it out didn’t mean he meant it. She did want to know why he was saying it. Maybe she could even get him to say it, again.

“For you to believe me.”

“Believe what?”

“That I’m sorry and I apologize.” Greg found it harder to say when he wasn’t reading it aloud but mildly surprising that in simply speaking the words, he was beginning to believe it himself.

“But why are you sorry?” Hearing wasn’t believing, for Georgia.

“I want to be more help with the girls.” Now that they’re older and slightly less terrifying to me, he refrained from confessing. “They’re growing up so fast, nearly nine. I’m missing too much.”

“You have them every weekend. It’s all worked out, remember?” Finally a schedule after all that expense and he wanted to mess it up.

“Yes, I know we agreed on that.” Greg took a deep breath. He’d come to the end of his notes and had to rely on her willingness for the rest. “But most of that time they’re with Mrs. James.” He thought to soften this admission, adding, “They told me you met Mrs. James last week. Did you like her?”

“She seemed nice enough, though at the time a little shaken.” Georgia wondered if Mrs. James was quitting. She hoped not. She thought the girls were better off with Mrs. James than with their Dad and that Doyle creature she’d heard about.

“She’s very good with them and I’m grateful to have her. But I’m away so much of the time they’re supposed to be with me. It’s just the way my job works. I’m not asking you to switch around the schedule, if that’s what you’re thinking.” Winging it, he added, “I’m no longer in a relationship so I’m planning to spend as much of that time as I can with them.” He worried that this sounded wrong somehow. He knew he’d been neglecting them for time with Kitty but he didn’t want Georgia to think that. He should have written down more of this ahead of the call but he hadn’t known how to anticipate her responses.

“O-k-a-y.” She drew it out. “And?” So the bitch ditched him. Good. The girls hated her. Greg blurted into the opening.

“I’m asking if you’d be open to letting me see them during the week, after school, not anything that you didn’t want, when I can get away and it’s convenient for you. Nothing too late at night. An occasional supper, maybe, if you’d be open to try that.”

“And how do you propose organizing this, if I agree?” Georgia prickled. At my convenience? She thought not. “I suppose this means you want me to take them occasionally on the weekends, in return.”

Gina Hayes, Georgia's sister, Poppy's and Pansy's aunt

Gina Hayes, Georgia’s sister, Poppy’s and Pansy’s aunt

“No,” Greg nervously chattered on, anxious to overcome her objections. “I want to see them more, not less. And we can set it up however you like. I can phone or text you, or e-mail, whatever works for you, and for Gina.” Greg hadn’t thought about Gina. Now he’d have to figure out a way to apologize to her, too, just to keep a new peace between them.

“This is a lot to think about.” Terrific, Georgia thought. I got rid of him. Now he wants to communicate with me, again. “I’ll talk to Gina before I decide.”

“But you’ll think about it?” remembering to add just in time, “Please?”

“I’ll think.” She rang off before he could say another word. He’d just have to wait it out in the unforgiving, courtroom antechambers of her mind. He figured he must still be in a similar place in Kitty’s mind, if not already consigned to a considerably more fiery furnace. He hadn’t really expected a response from her after he’d sent the roses, with what he regarded as a conciliatory, let’s part as friends tone to the attached card. But he was disappointed by her, again. After all, it was she who’d opted out by deciding against a relationship with the girls. Surely she must understand that she couldn’t go on having him all to herself. Not that Kitty had been the first, though he’d imagined she might be the last. Maybe she was. The first was just a power grab, an illusory enhancement. He’d awoken disappointed the next day, still a tense, often ineffective coach, in a gross, wholly male world.

Greg felt at a low ebb. This talk he’d just had with Georgia was far more reasonable than the ones he’d lately had with Kitty. He couldn’t remember a time when they’d ever discussed anything, really; had Kitty ever once asked his opinion, or only just given hers? Kitty, who paraded as a great speaker and communicator, had announced to him her intention to expand into variants on that theme. Life coaching perhaps, or a ride on a star trajectory of the celebrity stem-winder circuits, or maybe even a segue way into evangelism where the real money was. He did know a thing or two about the business of coaching and he’d rather expected a dovetailing of their careers to develop. It never did. Instead, she took to boasting about how much further along a career track she intended to rise. She’d been available to him when he’d wanted someone around late at night – that was the initial attraction – and their respective workweek schedules meshed. They looked well together, he’d been flattered by his colleagues. All over now, baby blue.