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XIII. Ben and Mai
It’s been three weeks since Georgia left to return to Houston. It seems like yesterday. It seems like forever.
She ended up visiting almost six weeks longer than she originally intended. This was in part because of her decision to stay with us while Lauren was on a business assignment in Rome. The other part was because she enjoyed being with us, and we all loved her being with us. She was — is — a fantastic companion; a loving grandmother to Lauren; a thrilling, creative sex partner and a loving lover; a good housemate; a beautiful adornment to our home; a source of mature wisdom and experience; and, above all, a friend — to all of us.
She had feared she was becoming a “fifth wheel,” and that her presence was intruding on the household that Lauren, Jane, Matt, and I had created. Quite the opposite happened. Instead of being a fifth wheel, she had become an integral part of our family.
She left with the promise that she would come to visit whenever we wanted her. I think all of us have hopes of “getting the band back together” — this time, for an “indefinite engagement.”
In the meantime, life continues. And that includes work — my business. Ben, my Number Two and principal project coordinator, and I had been on the phone in a conference call with one of our largest clients. Our company specializes in customized software applications for the hospitality and property rental industries. Among the programs we develop are performance incentive programs. Usually, these are for sales and rental agents, people whose work effectiveness can easily be described in terms of sales quotas and dollars of revenue achieved. This client wanted to do something almost radical — she was interested in creating some kind of incentive system for employees whose roles were not ‘sales.’
We had just wrapped up and I was eager to do a ‘post-mortem’ on the call when Ben stopped me and said, “I’d like to go over a number of the issues we discussed, but I’m also scheduled to meet my mom for lunch at 12 — would it be okay if we talked about 1:15?”
I responded, “Sure, no problem. What’s the occasion?”
He explained that a few weeks ago, his mother had begun a new job (commercial property rental, ironically) at an office only two blocks away, so they’d decided to take advantage of the opportunity and meet for lunch at least once each week.
And just then, I saw a woman enter the glassed-in area of our small “lobby” and give a slight wave in our direction. Ben said, “There she is now — see you at 1:15,” grabbed his jacket, and went to join the woman in the lobby. He gave her a quick peck on the cheek, and they left toward the elevators.
From what I could see, the woman was on the ‘petite’ side, perhaps only 5 ft.-5, in her heels, wearing a nicely tailored business suit. I could see where Ben got his features — white European, but with very dark hair and a distinct oriental cast to his eyes. The woman had the same luxurious dark hair, plus distinctly Asian features — perhaps Chinese, perhaps southeast Asian, or a mix. She was definitely striking, but her features, plus the large fashion sunglasses, made her apparent beauty seem forbidding and reminded me of nothing so much as the “Dragon Lady.” But, then, not fair to judge, right?
Anyhow, a little after 1:00, I saw them return. She gave Ben a kiss on his cheek and headed toward the elevators. I asked Ben briefly if they enjoyed their lunch, and then we got down to reviewing the client conference call.
I don’t remember how much I’ve told you about Ben. He was the second person I hired when I decided to set up this business on my own, and I’ve been congratulating myself on my good judgement ever since. Ben is not the world’s — or even my — greatest programmer. But he is a capable programmer who has the ability to analyze any job and identify the key components, the principal risks, and the sequencing necessary to complete the job effectively. He is mature, calm, and has the ability to direct the work of the “real” programmers without stepping on their sizeable egos, while at the same time inspiring their confidence and trust. From a business standpoint, I consider Ben to be the person who will be able to take over the operation of the company when I reach the point where I want to take a step back. On a more personal note, I have such high regard for his capability and integrity that I look upon him almost like a son.
Anyhow, … the week went by and, again, Ben informed me he’d be out for a little over an hour while he had lunch with his mother. I didn’t see them go out, but I was there when they returned. My office is situated at the end of the building’s hallway, separated from the hall by a glass wall with vertical blinds across its width for privacy. I usually leave them slightly open, at an angle that prevents people in the hall from seeing in but allows me a narrow view out, and thus, keeps me from feeling like I’m working in a dungeon. And that’s anime porno where I was when I saw Ben and his mom return from their lunch.
Instead of walking inside, they chose to say their good-byes in the hall outside of our offices. Then, to my utter surprise (and to my embarrassment at my unintended voyeurism), instead of the pro forma kisses on the cheeks, I saw Ben put his hand on his mother’s ass and cup her buttock with a gentle squeeze. And, as amazing, I watched her slip her leg between his and raise her knee a bit, until it grazed his crotch.
“Sonofabitch!” I thought, “They’re fucking!”
Then I saw their look, and her hand gently on his cheek.
“Holy shit! They’re in love!”
… and I don’t think scientists have a unit of time short enough to describe how long it took for me to think: “Janey!”
Let me go back a bit. Paul and I have often talked about our daughters’ futures, and about how we worry that our relationships with them — however rewarding they are — might prevent them from having the opportunities for their own families, including the chance to have their own wonderful children. We also considered the effect that the kind of relationships they have with their fathers — us — could make it extremely difficult for them to find prospective mates who could deal with this. Even if we were to drop our sexual relationships with Janey and Lauren — something that would be extremely sad and painful for all of us — what are the odds of finding a man who would be able to deal with a wife who had such a history?
For some reason, though, Paul never seemed to be quite as concerned about Lauren as I was for Janey.
Well, those odds just got a whole hell of a lot better! Because here was a young man, about the same age as my Janey, and who I thought extremely highly of, apparently sharing the same kind of loving relationship with his own mother. And here I had to step back and take a few beats. Just because Ben and his mother happen to be in the same boat as Janey and me doesn’t mean that they would be a good pair, or that they would even like each other.
I had to talk about this with Paul. His reaction: “What are the odds? Go for it.”
The next time Ben was due to have lunch with his mother, I told him, “Ben we’ve known each other for a long time, and since your mother is coming by fairly regularly, I’d love the chance to meet her. Do you think she’d have some time today after your lunch to stop by and say ‘Hi’ and talk a little?”
“Sure. I think she’d enjoy the chance to meet her son’s boss. I’ll call her now so she can let her office know she’ll be coming back a little later than usual.”
When I talked with Paul, I had asked him for ideas as to how to let her know that I knew of — or, at least, suspected — their personal situation, without it coming off as either threatening, or even out-and-out creepy. Paul’s final observation was, “You know, Matt, she might have exactly the same concerns about her son as we do about our girls. Give her a chance.”
A little after 1:00, Ben and his mom returned from their lunch. Ben poked his head through my door and asked, “Now a good time?”
“Perfect — come on in.”
“Matt, this is my mother, Mai Ernst. Mom, this is the boss man, Matt Blake. He’s the reason your baby isn’t living in a cardboard box under a freeway overpass somewhere.”
Mai stepped forward with her hand outstretched and shook mine with confidence and warmth. With her large sunglasses off, I could see that she was not the Dragon Lady. She had a broad, friendly face, sparkling eyes, and beautiful mixed-Asian features (I later learned that her mother had been Malaysian, which could mean Malay, Thai, Chinese, and possibly more). My first guess of 5 ft., 5 in., was probably close to spot-on, and her beige knit business suit beautifully molded what appeared to be a trim, healthy body.
After I greeted her, I asked Ben, “Don’t you have something profitable to do?”, and sent him off. I ushered Mai in, closed the door, and invited her to sit in one of the soft chairs that flank the coffee table. I offered her a glass of iced tea from the jug I keep in the small office fridge, poured one for myself, and sat down in the other chair.
“Mai, after all these years of working alongside Ben, I’m really glad to have a chance to finally meet you.”
She replied in similar fashion, indicating her interest in where Ben worked and what he did, and about how satisfying Ben found his job, and she thanked me for being such a good employer and friend to him.
We discussed her new job — she’d done commercial real estate leasing before, but not in such a high-end market — and how it was a terrific opportunity, professionally, as well as having the added benefit of being near Ben’s workplace. And I figured that was about as close to an opening as I was going to get.
“Yes, it’s really nice that you’re able to get together for lunch so often, and I’m glad to see asyalı porno you’re making a regular thing of it.” Are here it got “delicate.” “Last week, after your lunch, I had these blinds open just a little — like this,” I pointed, “and I happened to see you and Ben saying goodbye to each other …,” and she seemed to sense immediately what I was referring to. I had anticipated this reaction. Her expression sagged, and her eyes started to tear up.
I leaned — almost dove — forward and offered her my clean handkerchief. “No, no, it’s OK! — it’s not a problem. Please — believe me, it’s OK.” She was able to control her tears long enough for me to continue.
“When I saw the way you said goodbye, I recognized that you and Ben share a special relationship. It helps explain why Ben has the confidence and maturity that he shows here every day. I think it’s wonderful that you two have this.” And then I took a breath and prepared to make the leap:
“There’s another reason I was able to spot your relationship with Ben so quickly. I have a daughter — Jane — Janey. She’s a few years younger than Ben. And she and I … for some years, we’ve shared a very special relationship, too.” And now it was my turn to wait apprehensively.
I tried to imagine the thought process that Mai was going through right now. First, being discovered in her “forbidden” relationship with her son. Then, learning that his employer, who he had always portrayed as the paragon of honesty and integrity, was routinely committing incest with his daughter. So I waited …
She was still silent, so to control my nervousness, I went on. “To me, I think that your relationship has probably helped mold Ben into the fine person that he is, and the person I like and admire. And I think if you met Janey, you would feel that she is a fine person, too, and that maybe her relationship with her father had something to do with that.” And then I waited some more.
Mai seemed to recover. She took a long drink of the iced tea. “When I realized what you were saying, I felt sick. I was so scared. I didn’t know if you’d fire Ben, or report us to my company, or — I didn’t know what. For a few seconds, I thought of all sorts of terrible things. Thank you for trying to explain it to me so quickly — I don’t know how much longer I could have stayed like that. Do you think I could have some more tea?” Then she went on:
“You said that you and your daughter — Jane? — have been like this ‘several years.’ I assume that there is a story behind it. For Ben and me, it has been most of his adult life, from when he was sixteen or so. I imagine we’ll have to talk about these stories some time, but now is probably not the best time.” I nodded my agreement.
Then I went on with what Paul and I had discussed.
“Mai, I also have a friend, a fine, good man, who has a similar situation with his daughter. In fact, his daughter and my daughter were college roommates, and that’s how our whole thing got started. But anyway, he and I have often talked about our girls’ futures, and our concern that our relationships with them might make it very difficult for them to find someone to have their own families with some day. In particular, we’ve wondered where they could possibly find a man who could accept … well, you know, accept something like this.”
I paused. And then, “In your private moments, do you ever have concerns like this – about Ben and his future?”
“I’m his mother — I’m concerned about his future all the time. And, yes, I want him to have the chance to have a family, and to maybe have his own children — children as wonderful as he is, or as wonderful as your Jane is to you. So, yes . . .,” and then her words tapered off, as she realized where this could be leading.
“Matt — I feel I can call you ‘Matt,’ considering what we already know about each other — are you suggesting that Ben and Jane …?”
“My stomach’s churning even considering what we’re talking about, but … I already look on Ben as sort of a son to me, and Janey is smart and pretty and fun, and I’d like to think that she has all of whatever good qualities I might have and none of the bad … So,… I guess, yes. What do you think?”
Then, Mai. “I’m afraid to even think what I am thinking. This could be the perfect thing — for all of us. Or it could be that they might not even like each other, or like each other but not in that special way, or there could be a million other things. But I know that if we push this, there’s a good chance things could end in disaster.”
And so I proposed what I had intended to propose all along. “The only thing we can do is let them meet each other. The rest is up to them. I’ll be up-front with you. I talked this over with my friend, Paul — his name is Paul — and he suggested that the least intrusive way might be to arrange for Janey to have lunch with me next Wednesday, and for you and Ben to join us, since you usually meet for lunch anyway. That way, babes porno they’re free to pick up the ball if they want to.”
“That sounds as good as anything I could come up with.” But then, “In the meantime, I have to get back to my office.”
We stood up, but before I could open the door for her, she turned and hugged me. Totally inappropriate, yet, given the circumstances, oddly appropriate. I hugged her back, and it felt good — a connection between two people who share a very important understanding.
The next was easy. I asked Janey if she would like to join me for lunch next Wednesday, and that there was a good chance we’d be joined by Ben — she’d heard me talk about Ben for years, but somehow they’d never had occasion to meet — and Ben’s mother. If it sounded like the dreaded “fix-up,” Janey was kind enough not to say anything about it.
And so, when next Wednesday rolled around, Janey met me at the office a little ahead of time, I introduced her and Ben to each other, then Mai arrived, and off we went.
The lunch went great. Janey and Ben seemed to hit it off immediately, at least to the point of animated conversation on a number of topics. Mai and I also conversed easily, about the places she had lived (several and exotic), the city and its recent changes, remarking on passers-by, and, occasionally, overlapping with Jane’s and Ben’s conversations. Lunch went on a little longer than it should, resulting in Mai needing to take a taxi to get back to her office on time. Jane and Ben swapped phone numbers (that is, each typed his/her number into the other’s phone — I don’t think anyone writes down their phone number on a piece of paper any more), then I kissed Jane, and Ben and I walked off toward work.
Two days later, Jane informed me, “Ben and I are going to the Blue Note tomorrow night. Turns out he knows this great saxophonist who’s going to be playing there, and he asked if I’d like to go.”
This was great news — sort of. “Great, Princess — you should have a good time.”
And tomorrow night came. “‘Bye, Princess — have a good time — call if you’re going to be too late.”
Jane got home about 1:30 Sunday morning, not really late, considering that night club shows frequently don’t even start until 9:30 or 10, and that’s 9:30 or 10 “musician time.” Amazingly, I had managed to let go of it and fall asleep, but Janey thoughtfully woke me to tell me she was home and to say that they had a really good evening.
When we finally woke up and got organized that morning, Janey took advantage of a few quiet moments alone to tell me, “Ben told me something. He basically ‘confessed’ that he and his mother have been sleeping together for a lot of years, and that it’s a whole lot more than sex, for both of them. Also, he said that his mom told him that you had found out about it — maybe not so much ‘found out,’ as noticed how they were with each other. And the way he told me let me know that they know about you and me, too.
“I know what you’ve done, Daddy, and however things work out, I love you for it.”
So, at least things were now out in the open with Janey and me.
I’ll leave out a lot of other things that went on during the week. They are insignificant. What did matter is that Jane announced that she and Ben were going out again Saturday. Which was good news. I guess.
But when Saturday evening came, Janey told me, “Daddy, I might not be coming home tonight.”
I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach, a stab wound directly to my heart. I knew it could happen. Hell, I had arranged for it to happen — I wanted this very thing to happen. But it hurt like hell.
She kissed me. “I love you, Daddy — I don’t think you can ever know how much.” And off she went.
As soon as she was gone, I closed the door to my — to our — room, and I cried. Let me be more specific: I-freakin’-sobbed. It felt like I might never be able to stop.
Yet somehow, through my sobs, I heard several taps on the door, then it opened and Lauren came in and closed the door behind her. “Dad said that you can talk to him, but he thought it might be better if I came right now.”
She sat down on the bed next to me and took my head in those long, slim arms that have held me so many other times, and said, “Matthew, do you trust me? I mean, do you trust my judgement, and the fact that I would never lie to you? Well, you can trust me now, when I tell you that you will never, ever, lose Jane. No matter what happens, whether she and Ben get together and whether they stay together or not, you will never lose her.”
She went on, “We didn’t tell you, but Jane took me to meet Ben after work one day last week. I know you will always think of Jane as your baby girl, but she is very smart and detailed, and she doesn’t leave a lot to chance. I think she set up the meeting for me to check Ben out, kind of like a job interview, only a whole heck of a lot more important — for a lot of people. And I think she wanted him to be able to ‘interview’ me, too, so he could get another perspective on what he might be getting into, if he chooses to. She made sure we were acquainted, and then she left us, telling him that he should believe anything and everything I tell him.
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