Just Cole And Jen
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I punched viciously at my iPhone, resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t be flying out tomorrow; not at those prices. My ridiculous weekend trip would end on Sunday evening no matter what I did. There was no way to bail out early. I was stuck here.
It had taken eleven long months for my divorce to be final. By Washington State law, it could have been over in ninety days, but Kelly, as always, was in the mood to give me a hard time. I couldn’t understand it. She came from money, I didn’t. We both earned roughly the same salary, which, combined, was a beyond respectable household income. Our only child was out of the house. We should have been able to walk away relatively unscathed, everything being even.
But that wasn’t how it went down. Long, expensive, wasteful months followed my discovery of her clandestine texts to a vendor at her work and everything that came with them. They were still together, and you’d think she wouldn’t be able to get rid of me fast enough. Not so. She fought me over every little thing, especially items we both knew she didn’t care about, just to make me miserable. In the end, she couldn’t really touch me, and I maintained an excellent standard of living anyway, unlike most divorced guys. We did still have contact, but only on matters regarding Brandon, nothing else.
I hadn’t seen him much in all that time, and that’s why I was sitting here in Champaign Urbana, Illinois. He was a freshman at the U of I, and we’d had standing plans for me to visit him the first weekend the divorce was final.
“Had” being the operative word. He wasn’t at the airport, and when I finally got hold of him, he didn’t even pretend that he forgot. You could hear the party sounds in the background. Normal for eleven thirty on a Friday, except it was eleven thirty a.m.
He then informed me that he wouldn’t have much time for me this weekend. Oh, he took my hotel info and all, but he’d made a lot of commitments to “the guys,” and he could maybe – maybe- squeeze me in on Sunday for brunch. He didn’t even flinch when I martyred a little and reminded him I’d flown in all the way from Seattle.
“Jesus, Dad,” he said, “It’s not like I asked you to come.”
And there you have it. I sat at a table in a small sandwich shop whose claim to fame was allegedly Roger Ebert’s favorite sub sandwich, wondering what in hell I was going to do for the next couple of days. I don’t want to offend you if you’re from that area, but as I stared out the window watching the college kids shambling by, desperate to escape the cold, I didn’t see a lot for a fifty year old to do.
Feminine arms suddenly encircled my body. I became aware of two enormous breasts pushing into my back as the arms squeezed me tighter and a soft cheek pushed into the side of my neck.
“Mr. Pickinpaugh, what are you doing here?” a quavering voice whispered as I was treated to a familiar lavender scent.
“Jen,” I exclaimed, breaking free so I could stand up and give her a real hug. “I was going to try and find some time for you this weekend.”
Brandon and Jen had known each other since the fifth grade and made the journey from Seattle together. Sort of. Brandon had always planned on attending the U. of I. It was his grandfather’s Alma matter, and it was a law set in stone from an early age that Brandon would go there too. Jen followed to be with him.
I didn’t complain too much. It’s a good school, and Grandpa Jack, Kelly’s father, insisted on footing the fifty K out of state tuition. Sold. Jen wasn’t so lucky. I don’t know how her parents swung it, but there was no denying that she and Brandon would be together. They had been an item for over three years, almost four.
“You look great, Mr. P. Are you here to see Brandon?” she asked as we finally broke apart. The hug had lasted too long, was too tight and her whole body had been quivering. She looked about to cry.
“Hey, hey,” I said, pulling her back towards me. She threw her arms around me again, squeezing tightly and started crying softly into my chest. “Do you want to get out of here and…”
“She needs to get back to work.” a cold voice said behind me. I noticed for the first time that Jen was wearing unflattering brown slacks and a polyester white shirt. I had been so focused on her gorgeous face and teary eyes that I hadn’t even noticed.
“She’s obviously upset,” I said, turning to face a short, burly woman. Her face was round and scarred from years of problem acne.
“So what? We’re all upset. Life’s hard. She ain’t even worked her way up to server yet. Then it gets hard.”
C’mon,” she said, grabbing at Jen’s arm. “Those tables ain’t gonna clear themselves.”
“Let’s give her a minute to go to the restroom and compose herself,” I said, putting myself between them. “Do you want someone bussing tables while they’re crying?”
“Don’t care.” she said. “As long as the table gets cleared. She’d better stop crying soon. She needs to toughen up.”
I saw red. Jen was probably the sweetest person I knew, an excellent product of exceptional parenting. Beylikdüzü escort She was plenty tough enough and certainly didn’t deserve to be treated this way by that bitch.
“How much do you make in this dump, Jen?” I growled, “It can’t be more than a hundred a week, right?”
“Not even,” she said, wiping her eyes. See? She was already mostly put back together.
“Well, you just quit then,” I said, tearing the nametag off her shirt and throwing it in the rotund manager’s outraged face. “I’ll hire you right now, and you’re getting a raise. Do you have anything here you need?”
“Just my purse and coat,” she said, her rich brown eyes wide and staring at me.
“Would you go get them, please?”
“Laura,” yelled the manager. “Go back there with her and make sure she don’t take nothing.”
“Oh, please,” I said. “What could she possibly steal from here? Your face razor?”
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave. Right now.”
“If you think I’m waiting out there while Jen’s in here, you’re crazy,” I snapped. “And here she is.”
Jen was back with her coat already on, her purse clutched under her arm, and another coat over it.
“I found this in back,” she said, indicating the coat. “It’s been missing since I started working here last fall. It was in HER locker that was, fortunately, open.”
I looked over her shoulder to see Laura smirking. Maybe I had fomented a revolt.
“I hope Fat Ass here didn’t ever wear it, or her whale back will have ruined it.” I said.
“Get out of here,” Fat Ass yelled.
“With pleasure,” I said. “And, ma’am, subs aside, you’re not going to get a positive Yelp review from me.”
Giggling, Jen grabbed my elbow and propelled me out the door, making sure she flipped a spectacular bird on her way out. As we walked towards my rental sedan, I noticed all eyes in the diner window on us. They might not have approved, but they were definitely entertained.
“Holy crap, Mr. Pickinpaugh,” Jen said through her giggles. “What brought that on?”
“Jen,” I said as I opened the door for her, taking her purse and extra coat from her so she could easily slip into the seat. “I may not have given you the best life lesson there. You should learn to stick things out no matter how shitty it gets, but that fat bitch’s lack of respect for you pissed me off too much.”
“I had no idea you hated heavy people so much.”
“Well, now you know,” I said, waiting for her look of surprise. I wasn’t disappointed. “Hah, hah. Come on, Jen, you’ve known me forever. It’s not like I have any room to talk. I don’t care about that. It’s just that I could tell she was insecure and I thought I’d hit her where it hurts. Nobody messes with our Jen.”
“Our Jen,” she sighed. “Well, thanks. My hero. I think.”
“How much were you making there?” I asked as I turned the car towards campus.
“I couldn’t get any hours.” she said. “I was lucky if I cleared one fifty a paycheck.”
“Tell you what, I’ll pay you two hundred a week to be my assistant. All you have to do is keep your grades up and keep that useless son of mine in line.”
“Oh, Mr. P.,” she said with a catch in her voice. “There’s a lot you don’t know, isn’t there?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“First off, I would never take that much money from you.”
“Oh yes you would.” I said, firmly.
“Oh, no, I wouldn’t.” she replied, firmer. “And I can’t watch Brandon for you. I’m leaving school.”
“What?” I sputtered. “Why?”
“A lot of reasons.” she said. “First…”
“Hold on,” I said, “is this going to take a while?”
“Then let’s go somewhere decent so we can get a bite. I stormed out of there without eating and I’m HUNGRY.”
“Men,” she smiled. “Okay, but can I change first? These pants suck, and I think I need to change my shirt.”
It was then I finally noticed that I’d ripped her polyester shirt when I’d pulled the tag off. The torn part was hanging down, exposing a sizable portion of her even more sizable upper breast restrained by a utilitarian bra. She could have covered it or closed her coat, but, for some reason, she didn’t.
As we drove the five minutes back to campus, I kept the mood light by telling her stories about my first college roommate, affectionately nicknamed Earth Pig, and his aversion to the whole shower experience.
“Okay, okay,” she giggled as we pulled up. “Park over there and wait. I’ll only be five minutes, I promise.”
I tried to reach Brandon while I waited. He should have told me about Jen. As expected, it went straight to voicemail. I already knew he’d never answer a text. Been there, done that.
“Here I am,” Jen said as she opened the car. As she leaned in, I was captivated once again by her magnificent breasts. Her coat was hanging open and they were practically spilling out of her inappropriate-for-the-weather tank top. As she brought her leg in, I pondered how she could even pull on a pair of jeans that tight in such a short time. Was there some sort of mechanical device or butthorn, Beylikdüzü escort like a shoehorn?
As we ate lunch, I learned what a sacrifice her parents had made to send her to such an expensive school, a price they apparently couldn’t pay anymore.
“They missed the last payment,” she explained. “They’re going to miss the next one. And the school’s been pretty nice about it, but money’s money, ya know? I should be gone already before any more fees are charged, but my dad can’t afford to rent a truck to get me until the twenty-eighth when he gets his next paycheck. They’re being so cool here and letting me stay until then.”
“What about student loans or Pell Grants, or something, anything?” I asked, and seeing the look on her face immediately began to backpedal. “Okay, okay…sorry. I’m sure you’ve exhausted every resource possible.”
“Yup,” she said, stealing one of my Greek fries. “It took all that just to get me here. That’s why I had that shitty job. They could never really afford to send me here. I was a selfish bitch insisting on it.”
“You mean you’re not mad?”
“At them?” she snorted, “Hell, no. Look what they tried to do. They screwed up their credit even more for me. It’s not their fault it didn’t work out.”
“What does Brandon think about all this?” I asked.
“I don’t think he knows,” she said, looking at me carefully. “I don’t know why he would.”
“Why? What do you mean?” I asked. Why was she giving me such a funny look?
“Like I said, I think there’s a lot you don’t know, Mr. P.” she said. “We broke up about a month after we got here.”
“You two what?” I couldn’t believe it. I had come to believe Jen would be my daughter-in-law some day. She was a keeper.
“So, that’s why,” she said.
“Why I never heard from you. I thought you’d probably want to know how I was doing. I was expecting your call. I was pretty hurt when I never got one. “
“Jen, sweetie, I promise this is the first I’ve heard anything.” I said. “But why would you think I would call? You know I care for you, but I hardly think that would be my place.”
She cleared her throat and took a deep breath.
“Mr. P., I’m going to tell you something you aren’t going to like. You might even hate me when you hear it, but I swear it’s the truth.”
“Let’s have it, then.” I said. “And I could never hate you, sweetie.”
“We’ll see,” she said, pursing her lips. “As soon as we got here, Brandon pledged the SAE’s, you know, legacy, because of Grampa Jack.”
“Well, he was pledging, right? And I hardly ever saw him. It was quite a letdown, because before, we were always together so much, you know?”
“Yeah, it must have been hard.” I said. I never thought he treated her particularly well – I’d even spoken to him about it – but she was so sweet and seemed to really love him. Her plan seemed to be to wait long enough for him to grow up and figure it out. I didn’t know if I really wanted to hear all the details of a teenage breakup, but she seemed determined to tell me.
“It was, but I had classes, and my roommate, Nikki -she’s my bestie now – is a lot of fun, so it wasn’t so bad. He left me on my own for the first few weekends, but Brandon told me he was going to take me to a big SAE/Delta Zeta mixer and that I should dress as sexy as possible so all his frat brothers would be impressed.”
“So you know me, Mr. P. I’m all right looking, but I don’t really whore it out like a lot of the other girls. But this time, I went and got a dress I couldn’t really afford. I practically maxed out my credit card. And it’s so slutty, Mr. P., it has…”
“Let me stop you right there, Jen,” I said. “I don’t really need to hear about the particulars of your outfit. And I’m sure you’re just as pretty, prettier even, than all those other girls.”
“I know you think that,” she said, blushing, “That’s why you always called me ‘Miss Model Material.’ “
“But not in a creepy way,” I said, defensively.
“Did I ever make you feel that way?” Jen looked at me in surprise. “If I did, I’m sorry. No, you’ve always been sweet and complimentary, not like Brandon, who always liked to point out my flaws.”
“Jen, I find it hard to believe you have any flaws.” I said, not believing how much I was gushing, but unable to stop. “I mean, you were a cute kid, but now, as a young woman, I think you’re perfect.”
“It has all kind’ve come together, hasn’t it?” she asked, smiling. “But I’ve let you get me sidetracked, and I have to tell you this.”
“So we went to the party, and I was going to bring Nikki, but Brandon said he wanted it to be just him and me. So we went and we danced, and I don’t remember too much after my second glass of punch.
“Brandon said he was horny and we could go to a room upstairs, and I hadn’t seen him in so long, I was really happy to go up with him.”
“No! You have to hear this part. So we…we did it, and it seemed like the party was really loud, but I was too Escort Beylikdüzü messed up to notice it so much, and then when we were done – it didn’t take long – he got off me and I saw that there were, like, five other guys in the room. They had been cheering him on; that was what I was hearing.”
“That little shit,” I said, “Wait ’til I get a hold of him.”
“Wait,” she said, “there’s more. So I started screaming bloody murder, you know, yelling that they all should leave, but instead of that, they started pulling their pants down. Brandon leaned over me and held my arms above my head, shushing me. He told me they were all going to fuck me, but that I’d really enjoy it if I just let it happen.”
“Oh, my god!” I was horrified. “Jen, did they…”
“It didn’t happen, Mr. P. Lucky for me, I wasn’t as fucked up as I was supposed to be, I don’t know why. I think they were all just going to rape my passed out body, but I was able to put up a fight. I kicked the first one in the face, and he got really mad and slapped my thigh as hard as he could. It hurt so bad, but it also woke me up a little.
“So I was able to keep my legs together and make it hard on them. And then, suddenly, there was Nikki and this guy named D’Andre. He’s a black guy in our Intro Soc course and he’s huge. Anyway, they came into the room and got me out of there. Nikki was screaming at the top of her lungs. I haven’t spoken to Brandon in person ever since.”
“Hope not,” I said. “But you didn’t press charges? I’d think I would have heard about that, at least.”
“It would have been our word against the whole frat. And, anyway, don’t you watch the news? That’s not how colleges work. Besides,” she said, suddenly the weariest looking person in the world. “I just wanted it all to go away.”
“You’re remarkably calm telling me this.” I said. “Not like before.”
“Well, it all seemed to come bubbling up when I saw you, and I did cry a lot at first. Thank God for Nikki. I still don’t understand how Brandon, of all people, could do that to me. I told my mom, and she was furious. My dad wanted me to move forward legally, but I just couldn’t.”
“Maybe you should have,” I said, pensively. “And don’t worry about me protecting Brandon. I can’t defend him on this. Maybe you still can. Prosecute him, I mean. Everybody records everything on their phones nowadays, maybe we could still subpoena…”
“I said I don’t want to, all right?” Jen suddenly yelled at me. The whole restaurant was looking at us, me especially.
“Sorry, everybody,” Jen said sheepishly to everyone around us. “I just got a little excited. Everything’s fine. He’s fine.”
It was then I noticed a couple of large, young gentlemen heading back to their seats. They looked interested in pounding me into a pulp.
“Sorry, really, ” I said.
“No, I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to blow up like that. This is still hard stuff for me.”
“Is there anything I can do?” I asked. “I’m so sorry. I raised him better than that. Did you ever find out why all this happened?”
“Finally.” she said. “I wouldn’t talk to him, but three days later I got a call, and it was from back home. I didn’t recognize the number so I picked it up. It was Kelly.”
“Yeah, she begged me, Mr. P., BEGGED me to talk to Brandon, said he would explain everything to me, make it all right; so, like a total idiot, I did.”
“What did he say?”
“What do you think he said?” she asked sourly. “He actually had the nerve to tell me he was forced to do it by his pledge master and that he thought I’d be okay with it.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said. I couldn’t believe my son. He should be rotting in jail right now.
“I think he really thought I’d be passed out and never figure it out. So I told him to fuck off and hung up. Not ten minutes later Kelly called back. She didn’t exactly threaten me, but she implied that Grampa Jack could make things hard for my dad at work, and you know how bad it is for him there already. I didn’t even know he had anything to do with that place, but I guess he does.”
I sat back and surveyed her warily. I found this story almost impossible to believe. I had divorced Kelly for being a cheating slut, but this was going too far, even for her. And while her father did have that “boys will be boys” mentality, he had known Jen almost as long as I had. It didn’t seem reasonable. Could Brandon do what she said he did? Unfortunately, that was the thing I found easiest to believe. I don’t know if the divorce had something to do with it, but he’d changed since going away to school.
“So now you know,” Jen said so softly I could hardly hear her over the restaurant’s din.
“Jen, I’m going to get to the bottom of this.” I promised.
“Please, please, can we just let it all be over?” Jen asked, further fueling my doubts about her story. “I followed a boy halfway across the country. It didn’t work out, so I’m going back. Oldest story ever told.”
“Okay,” I said, “but if you ever need anything from me…”
“I know you’ve always liked me,” she said. “Even before I got hot, you were always so nice and so positive about me. Brandon’s other friends’ dads always used to ignore me, and then they started to perv out on me. With you, it was always respectful and loving.”
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