CHAPTER 5: The Choice
Mike sat in the chapel by himself for quite a while. It was like a floodgate had opened and he could remember everything. His name, he knew his name. Dr. M. Jameson Weatherly. When he met Cara in college, he went by his first name, Michael. She had always called him Mike. But after finishing medical school and embarking on his professional career, he went by Jameson. He thought it sounded more prominent and would earn him more respect than just being another Mike. Only Cara called him Mike these days.
The two had met during college and married soon after. Cara had earned her teaching degree so she helped support Mike through the rest of his schooling. When she became pregnant with Andrew he was excited but also a little annoyed. His plan was to wait until his career was established but a careless night accelerated their plans.
A few years later, Carly came along. And then Patrick. Mike was doing his residency and had already transitioned to his new name of Jameson. His hours at the hospital grew longer and his time at home shrunk shorter. He and Cara drifted apart. Unfortunately, he had not been faithful in their marriage. Six months ago, he asked for a divorce.
“Hey stranger,” a woman spoke interrupting his thoughts. A tall brunette came in and sat next to him. “I’m glad you’re okay,” she said. “I’ve been worried.”
“Doctor Susan Winkle,” he said.
“It just feels good to know people’s names again. Including my own.”
“Well, you should know me. You know more about me than you should.”
He thought for a moment. “We were going away together, weren’t we?
She nodded and blushed. “I’m sorry I had to leave you at the hospital but us being colleagues, my husband, your wife… It would have been messy for me to stay.”
He shook his head. “I get it. You had to be discreet. That’s what happens when foolish people make unwise choices. It forces us to make poor choices.”
She stiffened. “Well, I did send a text and photo to your wife so that she could come and get you.”
“Thanks for that,” he said and he sincerely meant it.
“Your wife arranged for your leave of absence from work here. She told people you were in a car accident and recovering at home.”
“And no one came by to wish me well?” he asked. It wasn’t as if he had warm feelings for any of his co-workers but surely someone should have stopped by.
“She said it wasn’t a good idea. At least, not until after the holidays.”
He nodded. Cara was thorough.
They sat in silence for a few moments.
“Take care, Jameson,” Susan said and stood up. “I wish you the best.” With that, one of the things he thought he couldn’t live without walked out. And he was glad. He realized it wasn’t her that he needed it was the feeling of outsmarting life. Their affair certainly wasn’t based on love but rather ego. And pleasure. At the moment, he didn’t feel the energy to keep that up.
A little later he heard Cara’s voice. “Can I come in?” she asked meekly.
“It is a public place.”
She nodded. “I just want to say I’m sorry. I just needed some help to get through the test. You gave me that. I wouldn’t have been able to pass without you.”
He didn’t look at her. He couldn’t. His anger wouldn’t allow him to even acknowledge her words.
“Thank you,” she said sincerely.
He didn’t respond.
“The kids would love it if you stopped by for Christmas dinner. But I totally understand if you don’t want to.” She waited for a reply. “I will let them know you won’t make it.”
“That wasn’t fair,” he said. “What you did.”
She nodded. “No, but life isn’t fair, now is it?”
He glared at her. “Are you referring to me?”
She closed her eyes and held out her hands as if to change the direction of the conversation. “This past month was the most time you have spent with this family the past twelve years. It was nice. It reminded me of the man I fell in love with all those years ago.”
“I was tricked.”
“I needed help.”
“It was wrong.”
“There have been a lot of wrong choices lately.”
He couldn’t argue. The old him would have thrown a fit. The new him, born only a few weeks ago, could see her point and could not disagree.
“You were given a gift…”
“Are you saying I should thank you for all this?” he asked.
“No, let me rephrase that. You were given the chance to see from two sides of one coin. What you do with that vision is up to you. You can continue to strengthen the relationships with your kids or you can walk away again.”
“What do you want from me?” he asked.
“I want you to be happy. Live your best life. Whatever that looks like for you.”
He listened to her.
“But what I want for your kids is for them to continue to know their father. They have fallen in love with you. If you leave again they will be devastated. I’m just telling you the facts. Not trying to guilt you into staying. That would be horrible. I do hope you will make room for your kids, they deserve that.” She thought for a moment letting her words catch up with her thoughts. “Be happy Mike.”
He sighed. It used to bug him when she called him Mike. He thought she did it just to irritate him and to remind him he was not, in fact, a true Jameson. But now, it didn’t bother him so much.
“You have a lot to think about. I will leave you to it. Just remember, if you choose to, you have a place to come for Christmas Eve dinner.”
With that, she walked out and left him alone with his thoughts and his many memories.
Two days later, Cara was feeling like the absolute worst mother of all time. She had given her kids the temporary gift of their dad. For a few short weeks, they had the opportunity to bond with the man. All so she could pass some dumb test.
Kristen reminded her why the test was so important. Cara could not afford to raise her kids on a teacher’s salary. Mike had been no help. When he did pay child support it was the bare minimum. Selling real estate was a way to keep Cara’s head above water. But as a single mom, she never had time to study.
When she received the anonymous text and picture of Mike right after Thanksgiving, Kristen convinced her this was her chance to not only get ahead but to give Mike something he deserved in return. She was so nervous walking into the hospital and thought for sure he would be able to call her bluff. When he walked out with her she was as surprised as he was.
The home she took him to was new. She had to downsize when he cheated her out of the money from their home. The day she brought him home from the hospital was the first day he had stepped in that house. It was not familiar to him.
His closet full of clothes were his college clothes. He didn’t want them. She had brought them with her because she planned to donate them to the school’s theater department for a wardrobe collection. She had cleaned them and hung them in an unused closet in the back room until she had time to take them to the school. She was so relieved she at least that when he had asked to see his clothes.
All this allowed the charade to be played out to its full scale. But what she didn’t account for and didn’t expect was for him to accept his role in the charade. He not only adapted but thrived. By the time she took the test, she had to remind herself it wasn’t real and would end. Which was bad enough for her to go through and adjust to but she had brought her kids with her on this journey. The line between make-believe and real had blurred ten-fold for them.
Now, here she was, alone with her kids the day before Christmas Day. Not the first time this had happened because Mike often worked on holidays. But since the kids had a taste of what it was like to have a father, this one felt worse.
Right before dinner, a knock on the door was heard.
“It’s daddy!” Carly said.
“No,” Cara said quickly. “He’s not coming.”
Carly’s shoulders dropped.
Cara opened the door and there stood Mike.
“I get why you did it,” he said. “I don’t blame you. You were right.”
Those were words she had never heard him say before and it took a minute for her to process. “What?”
“You were right. I’ve been a jerk. I don’t want my kids thinking their dad is a jerk.”
“What?” she asked again. “I was the one who lied to you. I think the word you actually used was kidnapping.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “You did kidnap me,” he said, “and brought me home. Helped me see what is important. Thank you for that.”
More first words he was saying to her.
“I never knew,” he said slowly.
“Never knew what?” she asked.
“I never knew what I was missing. I never knew what was happening here at home while I was at work. Or other places.” He looked down.
She didn’t know how to respond.
“But now I do. I know what I’m missing. I know I am missing something that can’t be replaced.”
For the first time since he started talking she exhaled.
“You invited me for dinner, does that offer still stand?”
“Of course,” she said and opened the door wider for him to enter. Patrick and Carly took their places on each of his legs. Andrew smiled and walked up to him.
Cara watched the four of them head to the kitchen. She didn’t know what would become of this but hoped his newly acquired vision would last. Too much time between the two of them had passed but she wanted him to be a presence in the kids’ lives always. That was the important thing.
She closed the door and put her hands up to her mouth. “My very own Christmas miracle,” she said and joined her family in the kitchen to eat dinner.