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Raising Nemo
Chapter 17

January was cold, as cold as any Gary could remember. It snowed the third Monday of the month and the schools as well as businesses were closed for several days. Deidre came over the night it started and stayed until the roads were safe. If anything would put an end to a budding relationship, several days snowed in together would do it.

The relationship persevered.

Score one for the Gary-Man!

Nemo and Brutus behaved and got along very well, as expected. Nemo was now dragging his bed clear from the family room to the hallway towards the bedrooms. Gary still couldn’t figure out why and Deidre didn’t seem to know either. He’d grown out of it, so Gary was hard-pressed to replace it with something bigger.

He had a feeling Nemo slept on the couch after he went to bed anyway. There were tell-tale signs of droolage on one of the pillows.

So Gary put towels on the sofa pillows before he went to bed. That helped. For not the first time, Gary convinced himself that a new couch for the family was not at the top of the list for his long renovation project for the home.

The snow cleared, Deidre went home and returned to work and Gary stood on the bus ramp every morning, greeted every child as they got off the bus and went in to help Timmy tie his shoes.

One morning, he looked up after going through the steps – again – with Timmy, to see about a dozen or so kinders in a half moon, tying along with him.

Freddie would come out of the cafeteria, walk by and snarl, scaring some of the more timid ones.

Maybe it was time to have a chat with Freddie.

Freddie needed help, the kind of help the elementary school wasn’t set up to deal with. He was bright enough, just didn’t apply himself, especially to state mandated testing. That was why he was still in elementary school. His grades were passing, barely, but his test scores for the Iowa Test score were abysmally low. He spoke to Freddie’s teacher and she said, he just blindly circled when he got his test. He was done before she finished passing them out.

Definitely need to have a chat with Freddie.

January moved into February.

The library was doing a brisk business, according to the media specialist. That was good, in Gary’s eyes. It was too early to tell if reading levels or test scores were going up. But they were reading. They were trying. Despite his crazy schedule as an administrator, Gary tried to make it to a classroom or the media center a few times a week to read to whoever’s class was there. The younger children were extremely attentive. Most of the older ones were, as well.

Gary quickly realized that the majority of his students – yes, they were quickly becoming his – were living at or near the poverty level. On more than one occasion, he observed many children hoarding extra food – the biscuits, the snacks, fruit. Juice. Many were on free and reduced lunch. If they qualified for free and reduced breakfast and lunch, what were they going home to? And was that why they were hoarding food to take home?

Gary had a chat with the Head Food Server about what was what. He was certain the emails he needed were in Ed’s email, but he didn’t have access to it. Ed was still in the hospital, but no longer in ICU. He was holding his own and his family was breathing a bit easier.

The staff was already creating a roster of members to take food to the family when they returned home.

The head server was to the point, thankfully, when Gary began to ask sensitive questions. School population was 425, give or take. Over 300 on free or reduced. Actually, only about 45 were on reduced, the rest were on free and she speculated that the majority of those not on free or reduced could be, but their parents were too stinking proud. Those were the ones that showed up with sack lunched of homemade PBJ and a sandwich bag of chips and a juice box.

After she left, he thought for a moment before making a phone call to his pastor.

~~~…~~~

The day was quiet. Too quiet. There were muffled sounds from the playground. Lunch in the cafeteria was over. Freddie was in In School Suspension. Timmy’s shoes were probably maybe still tied, maybe. It was so quiet that Principal Fuller was enjoying a quiet lunch. His teeth and tongue were making love to a glorious sub sandwich, with melted cheese…

It was too good to last.

The phone rang, the light from inter-office brightening up. He picked up the phone, still chewing. “Gawy Fuwwah.”

“Unless I’m mistaken, you are enjoying one of Sally’s Subs,” the rusty voice of Penelope, the high school secretary, crackled over the line, “or Randy’s BBQ?”

Gary swallowed quickly, gulping audibly. “Sub. Haven’t tried the BBQ yet.” He swallowed again, thinking he should have chewed a few more times. “What can I do for you?”

“Randy’s is great, but it will give you the galloping-”

“I get the picture.” He looked to make sure his door was shut before lowering his voice. “I think I miss you more than anyone.”

Her laughter crackled over the line. “I miss you too! Titus doesn’t like your replacement. He’s lobbying to have your replacement sent to the elementary school and have you brought back.”

Gary knew this. Brian told him and he told Brian under no uncertain terms that he would resign if they transferred him back. Brian told him there was no way Titus’s wish would be granted.

“Don’t hold your breath!” he mumbled. He eyeballed the bag of chips.

Jalapeno. What possessed him?

“I’m not. Betty thinks you hung the moon. She likes you as much as she liked Ed and she adored Ed.”

“Hmm mmm.” Gary slowly pulled the chips bag apart. He had a feeling this was going to be a mistake.

“I hate to burst this bubble of feel-good happiness and miss you loads, but your former in-laws have called here three days in a row looking for you.”

“They have my cell. They have my email.”

“They say you never return their calls. That you’re avoiding them.”

The bag opened, the smell of the peppers invading the area around Gary’s desk. Perfect.

“Wouldn’t you avoid them?”

“Of course, I would Gary! They are heinous people! Which is why I’m warning you.” There was an intake of breath and her voice lowered. “He’s hinted you’ve lost your job. I would hate to find out he called while I was at lunch and someone who doesn’t know you well put the call through to Titus. Or the County Board Office.”

Gary’s shoulders drooped. She was right. Who knew what depths those two would stoop to do to make their point.

Suddenly, the thought of them with a megaphone on the Sooner campus exploded behind his eyes, killing his desire for the fake spices on deep fried potato slices.

“I’ll call them as soon as I finish my sandwich. Thanks for the warning.” They exchanged pleasantries and as he hung up the phone, Gary realized he did miss the cranky old bird. Loved her like an aunt he had had when he was much younger. She died before his parents died and he’d grieved her loss as hard as he grieved his parents’ deaths.

And the boys away at college… living their own lives, as they should…

He realized that without Nemo, he was truly alone in the world.

And Deidre. Don’t forget Deidre!

~~~…~~~

Gary waited until he got home, took Nemo for a walk, scooped Nemo poop, like the good neighbor he was. Nemo was a well liked teenaged dog in the neighborhood and he felt bad when he told the neighborhood kids they could not give him treats.

He did all that before he called his former in-laws.

“The school secreta-”

“We’ve tried calling our grandsons since Christmas!”

“They won’t answer our calls!”

“Obviously, you’ve poisoned them against us!”

Gary closed his eyes. He was being doubled teamed by 2 angry septuagenarians. He took a calming breath. He was not going to lose control of this conversation. Carol’s parents’ time of harassing him and his sons were coming to an end. Both sons were insistent they were ready to end the relationship.

“You haven’t called me.”

There was a huff. “We’d rather not talk to you.”

Gary was in no mood to be congenial. “That’s obvious, however you’ve called me at my work and told the secretary something that was untrue.”

Carol’s father went into a long tirade about how the boys don’t call, won’t return their phone calls. He blamed Gary. Again and again and again.

Gary knew the truth and he decided between the time Penelope called and the time he got home, he was not playing their game, he was not letting them call the shots, he was not going to waste his time being lambasted and insulted for made-up, one-sided hurts before his sons were born. He would not bow. He was done crawling on the floor for them, apologizing for not being good enough for their little girl!

“Robert – might I suggest something?”

“What?” It was short and snapped. Gary took a deep breath.

“I think we should discuss this civilly, over good food and some wine.” Gary smiled to himself. “Why don’t we meet Saturday night at 6:00 at Dominick’s Restaurant in West Tulsa?” Elizabeth had a special love for Italian food and Dominick’s was well-known, well-reviewed and very trendy. So assured that they would take him up on the suggestion, he had already made reservations for the three of them that Saturday.

“We can take care of this now-”

Gary inspected his nails. “I have plans for the evening.” He heard sputtering on the other end of the line. It was the truth. He hadn’t had dinner yet and all the talk about Italian food was making him hungry. He and Nemo hadn’t been to Oakieburger in some weeks! “And I’ve already made reservations at the restaurant.”

There was the sound of a hand covering the mouth of the receiver and furious back and forth between his former in-laws. His father-in-law came back on the line. “Make it 6:30! We’ll be there!” The phone was slammed down.

Gary shook his head. Now he knew why they kept the old land line.

Satisfying phone slamming in anger. I get the message.

He then pulled the phone away from his ear and dialed another number that was conveniently on speed dial. “Deidre? Are you off Saturday night? Yes? Do you like Indian fare? Great! Would you like to meet me in West Tulsa at Mumbai Palace? Say about 7:00?”

~~~…~~~

Freddie came out of In School Suspension meaner than when he went in. The compulsory phone call to his mother went unanswered and the follow up to his father was unsatisfactory. Gary was tersely told while Freddie was at school, Freddie was the school’s problem and if the school couldn’t handle him, perhaps a call to a lawyer was in order. That was followed up with that unless the school was on fire, he was not to call him at work again. He’d had this discussion with the previous fuckwad, he didn’t appreciate that he had to have the conversation again with the current fuckwad! For the second time in 24 hours, with the sound of machinery in the background, Gary had a phone slammed down in his ear.

Really? What were the odds?

That afternoon, letters went home in every backpack, announcing the Buddy Pack Program starting the following Friday.

The response was more than Gary expected.

~~~…~~~

Saturday came faster than Gary anticipated. He willed his stomach to relax. Nemo knew something was up and that his Human was uncharacteristically stressed.

He was taking a shower, reveling in the hot water raining over him, when he noticed a sudden chill in the room. Rinsing the soap from his face and shaking the water from his eyes, he looked down just in time to see Nemo jump into the shower with him.

Gary thought he’d be late, after washing the smell of Dog off of him.

And Nemo smelled like Fresh Timberwood bodywash.

~~~…~~~

Gary was early, but his former in-laws were earlier, taking advantage of the bread-sticks. They were waiting at table, the restaurant quiet and preparing for the dinner rush.

“Robert. Elizabeth.” Gary asked for water and reached for a bread-stick. He hoped the conversation would be over quickly and he could enjoy dinner with someone whose company he enjoyed.

His former father-in-law sneered. “We need to talk!”

“I’m listening.”

“The boys will not return our calls. You’ve obviously poisoned them with whatever nastiness you have against us-”

“I’ve said nothing to them.”

“Any attempt to contact them is met with silence-”

“You’ve told them lies about us and about their mother-”

“Prove it.”

The two came to a stop. Robert sat up, obviously not expecting Gary to have a backbone. “We have offered them many things-”

“You’ve attempted to bribe them They didn’t buy it.”

Elizabeth was sputtering garlic butter. “I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t want to talk to their only grandparents.”

“Perhaps because you’ve tried to bribe them and you’ve filled their heads with nonsense about me!” Gary was working very hard to keep his voice down. He reached for another garlic stick, making a mental not to make sure this was the last one. He didn’t intend to eat with these people and wanted to be out the door within 15 minutes. He wiped his mouth and continued.

“I’ve never said a word to Donnie and Trey about the two of you or about Carol. I didn’t have to. Every time you insult me – and you have; they’ve told me – you denigrate half of them. They’ve taken it personally. They are technically adults now. They only time I hear from them is when they want something. That has nothing to do with the way I raised them; it has everything to do with the fact both are in college. The only reason why they came over at Christmas, wasn’t about the gifts or the bribes about college, which, quite frankly, I’ve already taken care of, but because I asked them to. If anyone is hurting your relationship with the boys, it’s you.

“Carol didn’t just leave me; she left them. She had an affair-” both of her parents gasped, “with a wealthier man, who suited her materialistic desires. He didn’t want children or ‘hanger ons’ as she told me. They heard the argument. They know how she felt about them at that point. I can forgive her for leaving me. I’ll never forgive her for leaving them.”

Elizabeth screwed her face up in anger and at that moment, Gary saw Carol through and through. “If you hadn’t gotten her pregnant-”

Gary waved his finger, cutting her off. He knew this would come up eventually. Carol was four weeks along when they rushed to the altar. “According to our mutual friends, I wasn’t the only one she was sleeping with.” This caused both of her parents to inhale sharply. “They told me to wait and get a DNA test before I committed to her.” He started to reach for a third break-stick (God, they are addictive!) but pulled back just in time. He had a real dinner to get to and he didn’t want to ruin his appetite. “But, I loved her and I loved the child she carried. Mine or not.”

Robert found his voice first. “You can’t begin to think we believe that! Think we would possibly believe anything you would tell us!”

“Personally,” Gary swirled the last of his water before finishing it. “I don’t care if you believe it or not. I don’t care what you think of me.” With that, he raised his eyes. “However, I do care about how you treat my sons. I would suggest you go home and discuss how you wish to approach them. They,” and with this, he set down his water goblet and raised a finger, “don’t want much of anything to do with you. You’ve done that. If you want to have anything to do with them or their lives, I suggest you step back. Carol was never a good mother, but her last year with us was abominable. She left and never looked back. The boys are aware she left not just me, but them. I would suggest you not bring up me, my relationships with them or any woman I deign to be with. I’m not dating whores and I would appreciate it if you don’t slight her.” If Gary was aware Robert narrowed his eyes, he didn’t let on. “The boys are technically adults. You’ll treat them as such. Do not call me at my place of work ever again, unless it is an emergency. Don’t call or threaten to call the county board office. I will return your calls at my convenience. Same with the boys.”

With this, he rose. “Robert. Elizabeth. It has been a pleasure. A very small pleasure, but a pleasure.” With this, he turned and left the restaurant, just in time for the maitre d’e to ask if the elderly couple were ready to come to their table. It wasn’t until that moment they realized, the reservations Gary made was for just the two of them.

~~~…~~~

Gary stepped out into the well-lit street of downtown Tulsa. He took a deep breath, shoved his hands in his coat pockets, and turned left. Two blocks later, he stepped into a small, Indian restaurant. He arrived the same time Deidre did. The food was delicious, the conversation, light, and there was much laughter. Gary splurged on a room in one of the older, historical hotels downtown.

Very early in the morning, the two got up and showered. She drove him back to his car and they followed each other into Silverton. They split midway into town, each going to their own, humble, abode..

His phone began to ring as he pulled into his driveway.

“Gary!” Deidre was out of breath and extremely upset. “Gary! Someone broke in and trashed my home!” With this, she began to wail. “I can’t find Brutus!”

~~~tbc~~~

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The previous 16 chapters can be found at Dreamerfiction and Ao3. I can post them here, if anyone would like. Let me know.