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Go Back to Boston
How did it happen?
Ronnie didn’t find out until he was twenty-two years old that the man he’d called Dad all his life wasn’t really his father. He was even more shocked to learn that James had gone to his grave believing Ronnie was his biological son. Or, if he knew different, he never let on.
The truth was, Ronnie was the product of an indiscretion between his mother and a young man from a Back Bay family while James was serving overseas in the Army. Phyllis had moved back home to Brockton while James was in Korea. Just weeks before James came home, she’d attended a party at a friend’s house.
Phyllis drank too much wine, and wound up in bed with Harrelson Franklin Wingate the Third. Tre, as he was known to his friends, was handsome, rich, and a senior at Harvard - Class of ’60. Tre’s best friend, Todd, was dating Phyllis’s best friend, Beverly. The party was in celebration of Beverly’s and Todd’s engagement.
Tre had pursued Phyllis romantically when she was a student, and Beverly’s roommate, at Radcliffe. That was before Phyllis met and fell in love with James, a soldier from Texas, who was serving at Fort Devens. It was a chance meeting, and love at first sight. Six weeks later, at the end of her sophomore year, they were married.
Phyllis dropped out of school and moved into base housing with her new husband. Six months later, James left for a year of duty in Korea. Three weeks before he was due back, Phyllis went to Beverly’s engagement party. Two hundred and seventy days later, to the day, Ronnie was born.
Only two people knew for sure that Ronnie was Tre’s son - Tre and Phyllis. Phyllis knew because her time of the month should have come right when James came home. She’d been regular as clockwork since she was sixteen. Only her monthly visitor hadn’t made its monthly visit. Tre knew because Phyllis told him, and he could do the math. She made him swear never to reveal the secret. He never did.
Tre never got over Phyllis. He never forgot about the baby they’d made together. Good to his word, he’d never interfered in her life again, or tried to see the child, even after learning he had a son.
James' Tragic Decision
James could have retired from the Army in 1976, with twenty years in. He decided to make it thirty. He enjoyed what he was doing as a helicopter crew chief, though some of his memories from Vietnam still haunted him. The truth was, he just couldn’t imagine life as a civilian. After the crash, well meaning people would tell Phyllis and Ronnie that at least James had died doing something he loved and believed in. It was small comfort to his family.
Tre Wingate learned of James’ untimely demise while visiting the Boeing plant near Seattle. While he’d never tried to contact Phyllis or Ronnie, he’d always kept up with what was going on in their lives. He knew Phyllis was living in Tacoma, near Fort Lewis, where James had been stationed. Tre also surmised that Ronnie would have been granted emergency leave from Fort Stewart, Georgia, where he’d been stationed since Ranger School, to go home for his father’s funeral.
When Tre learned from his sources that Ronnie had enlisted rather than go to college, he’d been quite upset, thinking money was probably the issue. He’d been wrong about that. Ronnie turned down a scholarship to the University of Washington in favor of doing a hitch in the Army. Phyllis hadn’t been happy about that, but James agreed with Ronnie’s decision. At the time of James’ accident, Ronnie was just two months into his first re-enlistment and already a Sergeant.
Tre thought long and hard about whether to travel to Tacoma to see Phyllis before instructing his driver to get on I-5 South. He started to call her from the road to tell her he was coming but decided instead to show up unannounced and deal with whatever happened next.
The funeral had taken place two days before Tre showed up at Phyllis’s door. No one was at the house but Phyllis and Ronnie. When Tre knocked, Ronnie answered the door.
Face to Face with the Fact
Ronnie, who, now that he was grown, preferred to be called Ron, looked at the sharply dressed stranger on the porch with undisguised annoyance. “Yes, can I help you?”
Tre, suddenly unsure coming to the house had been such a good idea, swallowed hard and said, “I’m an old friend of your mother…Phyllis…Mrs. Lambert. I was in Seattle when I got the news about your…your father. I wanted to come by and extend my condolences.”
Ron looked from the stranger in the expensive suit to the town car by the curb and back. The fellow looked somehow familiar but Ron couldn’t place where he might know him from.
“How do you know my mother?”
Tre licked his lips. He wasn’t sure if it was his imagination, but Ron looked like a younger version of Tre himself.
“We were…friends in college. My best friend married Phyllis’s roommate.”
Ron knew Beverly, and her husband, Todd. Beverly and Phyllis had stayed in touch over the years and occasionally the families had gotten together. Ron vaguely remembered hearing stories about Todd’s best friend with the fancy name, something or other, the Third. They’d called him Tre. He wondered if this was Tre. Maybe that’s why he looked familiar. Ron figured he’d probably seen him in his mom’s old pictures.
Tre started to feel awkward under Ron’s gaze.
“Is your mother home? May I see her?”
Ron broke out of his reverie and realized he was being rude.
“My apologies, uhm, I didn’t catch your name…”
“Wingate, Harrelson Wingate the Third, but my friends call me Tre, you know, for three.”
Ron nodded knowingly. He’d been right.
“Come in, Mr. Wingate. I’ll let my mother know you’re here.”
Just as Ron turned to go to the living room to announce their visitor, Phyllis came out to see what was taking him so long at the door. When she saw Tre, she froze.
What is he doing here? Phyllis thought to herself. What does he want? Why now, of all times, after all these years?
“Hello, Phyllis. I know my showing up is somewhat unexpected but I was up in Seattle when I got the news. I felt I should stop by to let you know how very sorry I am about James. He was a good man.”
Phyllis found her voice. “Yes he was. Though you hardly knew him. What are you doing here, Tre?”
She couldn’t stop looking from Ronnie to Tre and back. She’d always thought Ronnie resembled Tre. Now that they were standing side by side, Phyllis was astounded by how much.
Ron sensed the tension and apprehension in his mother. “Mom, is everything all right?” He gave Tre a menacing look. “Do you want this guy to leave?”
Phyllis shook her head to clear her thoughts. “No, Ronnie, no, it’s okay. Tre can come in. It’s just been a long time, and I’m very surprised, shocked, to see him.”
Once they were all seated in the living room, Phyllis told Tre, “You just missed Todd and Beverly. They came in for the…the services. They just flew out this morning.”
Tre was glad Phyllis had given him a safe subject to talk about. “I haven’t seen them in a while. Was Kristina with them?”
Phyllis shook her head. “No, Kristy’s just started her junior year at Harvard and they all agreed she should stay.” Phyllis smiled weakly. “I know Ronnie would have liked to see her. They’re quite close, like brother and sister.”
Ronnie and Kristy were both only children and thought of each other more like cousins than siblings, but Ron smiled and nodded at his mother’s comment.
Phyllis looked at Tre and what might have been a quiet laugh escaped her. “Back in our day, huh Tre, girls didn’t attend Harvard. You guys went to Harvard; we girls went to Radcliffe. Times sure have changed.”
Tre dared a smile. “That’s for sure, Phyllis. Even West Point is coed now.”
Ron watched the two carefully. There was an undercurrent of something between them and he thought he knew what it was. Mom dated this guy before she met dad. He went to Harvard with Uncle Todd. They haven’t seen each other in what, twenty years. What’s he doing here now?
Ron had been calling Todd and Beverly aunt and uncle since he was a baby. Kristina used the same honorary titles for James and Phyllis.
Phyllis clasped her hands and set them in her lap. “So, what are you up to these days, Tre? Is there a Mrs.Wingate, any little Wingates? Perhaps a Fourth?”
Her voice sounded strained, matching the strained look on Tre’s face.
“No, no Mrs. Wingate. I guess I never found the right girl. Or I did and I let her get away.”
Ron could tell by the way his mother straightened up that she thought Tre was talking about her. That didn’t sit well with Ron.
“Mr. Wingate, I think you’d better tread carefully. My father just passed away. We only buried him two days ago. I think you’d better leave.”
Tre, not a man used to being talked to like that, or to backing down from anyone, never-the-less wasn’t about to argue with Ron. He started to rise from his seat.
“Sit down, Tre. Ron, you behave toward our guest. I’m sure Mr. Wingate meant nothing untoward by his remark. In his own way, I think he was trying to pay me a compliment.”
Tre sat down slowly, not taking his eyes off Ron. Phyllis sucked in her lower lip and thought seriously for a long moment. Coming to a decision, she cleared her throat.
“Ron, there’s something I think you need to know. While this might not seem like the time for me to tell you this, there will never be a good time for you to learn this, and since Tre’s here right now, then now is the time.”
Tre’s stomach tightened into a little knot. Oh, my, God! She’s not going to tell him I’m his father right here and now, is she? Oh my God, yes, she is. Oh dear God.
“Phyllis, I don’t know if this is a good idea. Not right now.”
Phyllis silenced his objections with an icy look. Ron, confused now, fidgeted in his chair.
“Mom, what’s going on? What do you have to tell me?”
He picked up on the…fear…yes, fear on Tre’s face. What could she tell me that would make him afraid?
“Ronnie, shortly after we were married, the Army sent your father to Korea. He was there for a year. While he was gone, I strayed. It just happened once, but it happened. Your father never knew.”
The full implication took a while to manifest itself to Ron. Then he felt cold fury fill his veins as he realized who. He jumped from his chair and turned on Tre.
“Ronald Warren Lambert, sit down!”
Just Go Away, Tre
His mother’s tone of voice, and her use of his full name, stopped him, but Ron didn’t sit down. He stood poised over Tre with his fists clenched.
“Ronald, if you’re going to be attack him, you have to come after me, too. He didn’t force me. It may have been foolish and wrong of me. It was wrong of me, but it was as much my fault as Tre’s.”
Ron turned slowly from Tre to face his mother.
“You betrayed my father!”
His words cut Phyllis to the quick. She knew her next words would hurt him even more.
“No, Ron, not truthfully. Tre is your father. Biologically, he is your father. I’m sorry, son. Even James never knew. I never wanted him to know. I never wanted you to know. I’m sorry.”
She couldn’t stop the tears. Phyllis put her hands over her face and cried.
Ron stood looking helplessly between his mother and the man he’d just learned was his real father.
I don’t believe it. I can’t believe it. My dad was my dad. James Lambert was my father. This…guy…isn’t my father.
“How could you?” Ron railed at his mother. Turning his wrath on Tre, he shouted, “How could you, you bastard? Get out, get the hell out, now!”
Tre looked helplessly at Phyllis. He tried to talk to Ron.
“Ron, I know this is a shock, a major shock…”
“You don’t know anything,” Ron shouted. His face was turning red and he was having trouble controlling his impulse to pound the life out of Tre. “You need to get the hell out of here, right now.”
Despite his fear, and being certain Ron could seriously hurt or even kill him, Tre wasn’t going to leave him alone with Phyllis.
“I’m not going anywhere until you calm down and I can be sure you’re not going to hurt your mother. You can hit me if you want, but I’m not leaving, not yet.”
Ron shook with anger and frustration. He looked at his mother, but her head remained buried in her hands. He looked at Tre and saw that while he was scared, Tre wasn’t going to back down. Groaning in frustration, Ron punched a hole in the wall. The pain in his hand jolted him, and seeing the hole in the wall snapped him back to his senses.
Oh, my God. What have I done? That could have been Wingate. Oh, God, that could have been my mother.
“Mom, I’m so sorry.” Filled with shame, Ron ran from the room and out the front door.
His mother called after him, but he couldn’t hear her for the pounding in his head.
Tre looked at Phyllis. “Do you want me to go after him?”
Phyllis gave him a disgusted look. “Why, so he can beat you to a pulp? If you’re smart, you’ll leave before he gets back and disappear from his life.”
Tre considered that and decided she was right. Maybe not disappear forever, but for a while anyway.
“I’ll go. I’m sorry it happened like this. I really just wanted to come by and…you know…about James.”
Phyllis frowned and shook her head.
“I believe you’re sorry about how this turned out, but you’re lying about why you came.”
He started to argue with her, but knew he couldn’t. For the second time, he’d done harm to the only woman he’d ever loved. Any foolish hope he’d had about them was just as dead as her poor husband.
And any idea I’d had about getting to know my son is just as dead.
Tre wanted to say something more. He didn’t want to leave it like it was. Phyllis didn’t give him the chance.
“Just go, Tre. Go back to your life and your business and your Boston, and leave us alone.”
Tre nodded sadly and walked toward the door. He almost turned back once, thought better of it, and closed the door without looking back.
Phyllis watched him walk out the door. When it closed behind him, the tears started again.
Damn you Tre, you always had such lousy timing.
©Copyright 2014 Douglas W Davis. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any portion of this post without mention and written permission from this author is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved.