Johnny and Karen Clark have spent the last twenty years buying a slice of the American dream. After her bout with a serious illness and a few of Johnny's indiscretions, all is in chaos. It would seem the Clarks have a blessed life, with three bright kids, and a lifestyle to be envied. Instead, their idyllic relationship has begun to unravel. Fed up, Karen wants Johnny gone but is in no position financially or physically to take care of herself and the children. At the same time, Johnny desperately wants out but doesn't feel right leaving Karen destitute in her moment of crisis. Admittedly, they need help but neither knows what to do.
Making matters worse, no help comes from Karen's friend, Tina, who has endured her own slaps from life and feels justified in blaming God and weak men. Clamoring for a way out, Johnny turns to his former club-hopping buddy, Tyrone, for advice and justification. Meanwhile, Karen seeks counsel from her compassionate friend, Connie and a spiritually grounded church mother. Where Johnny and Karen go from here will depend on how much they're willing to sacrifice and how much value they place on life, marriage, and faith in a God that neither seems to know personally.
No Regrets shows that in spite of challenges, there is always a place in our lives where we can find a small bit of hope and joy.
“Home sweet home” was her unspoken motto, and Karen took pride in creating a haven for her family at any cost. She steadied herself against the mahogany fireplace mantel lined with family photos. Smiling faces captured at proms, birthday parties, graduations, and other special moments created a storybook. Among the memories was also a dusty Bible that had been received as a wedding gift eighteen years ago and a few other favorite trinkets collected from countless vacations, including annual trip to Martha’s Vineyard. The Clarks had worked hard to get a slice of the American dream. One glance around the room showed their efforts were paying off.
Head tilted down and eyes closed, she started from the center of her forehead and repeatedly spread her thumb and index finger forcefully slow across her brow like a butterfly struggling to stay in flight.
“Oh, God. Please help me.”
Feeling a moment of relief, she meandered to the window, which was squeaky clean as far up as a stepladder-assisted arm could reach. Beyond the beds of spring tulips, Karen could see their collie running around and around the sprawling well-manicured backyard. Going in circles wasn’t a question of if, only a matter of when. She envied that the only dilemma their dog had was whether to chase his tail now or later. She stared into the evening wondering where the week had gone and if her husband was coming home on time.
“Mom, Dr. Costas is on the phone.”
Karen heard the teen yelling from upstairs. It was occasions like this when she regretted forgoing the intercom package eight years ago when they had the home built. She made her way back across the family room to take the call. She slipped into her favorite chaise longue and picked up the phone that was resting on the marble end table. She didn’t bother to return the scream with a thank you. “I got it, Chelle-baby. You can put the phone down now. Thank you.”
“Karen, this is Dr. Costas. I got a message that you called. What’s going on?”
“I’ve had a throbbing headache for the past few days. Nothing major.”
“I didn’t want to take any medication without checking with you first.”
“Good. Under normal conditions, it would be fine, but we’ve come a long way. It’s been a tough fight and we don’t want any setbacks in your remission.”
“Do you have any nausea or any problems with your bowels?”
“No. No fever, no fatigue, no chills either.”
Karen knew the routine list of questions Dr. Costas asked whenever there was potential trouble brewing. Each time Karen got sick, she didn’t find it any easier. She wanted to be brave in facing her health challenges but found herself more often afraid. She couldn’t decide which was worse, knowing or not knowing.
“Good. There doesn’t seem to be any need for alarm. Let’s start with a simple over-the-counter pain reliever, something like Extra Strength Tylenol or Advil? Let’s try that first. If the headache persists, give me another call in a few days, and we’ll get you in for a look. Karen, it’s also going to be important that you keep your stress level down. Remember pressure really seems to take a toll on you and we don’t want to wear your immune system down. So, take some time to relax over the weekend.
That’s the best medicine I can prescribe for you right now. Okay?”
“That’s fine. Thanks, doctor.”
The phone rang as Karen put it down. Caught off guard by the incoming call, she put the phone up to her ear to see who was on the line.
“Hey, Karen,” a deep voice bellowed.
“Oh, Johnny, it’s you.”
“Why you say it like that? Were you expecting somebody else?”
Karen knew he wasn’t really looking for an answer. She kept quiet.
“What a way to answer the phone. You answer it like one of the kids.”
Early in his career he’d spent seven years as a production line supervisor before getting promoted to senior manage-ment. Barking out orders at work carried over into his personal life.
Karen heard Johnny loud and clear, internalized his comment, and opted to say nothing in her own defense. She’d learned that his personality didn’t accommodate timidity or shortcomings in others.
“I just got off the phone with Dr. Costas. She told me to take some Tylenol for my headache.”
“Tylenol? That’s it? See you should have taken the pain pills like I suggested a few days ago. You would have been over it by now.”
“I didn’t want to take anything without talking to the doctor, Johnny.”
“No, you’d rather sit around and whine.”
“The doctor’s job is to give me medical advice. It’s not like either of us went to medical school,” Karen snapped.
“You don’t have to go to med school to know you should take a painkiller when you have a headache. That’s basic common sense. Not everything has to be dramatic, Karen.”
She cut in and tried to change the subject. “Well, could you stop by the pharmacy on your way home and pick up some Extra Strength Tylenol for me?”
“I wasn’t planning to come straight home. I’m going to make a quick stop, and I’ll be in later.”
“Later.” Karen sighed. She hesitated before voicing her frustration.
“What’s the big deal, Karen? I asked Tyrone to meet me at Floods for a hot minute.”
Silence fell over the line.
Years ago, Karen hadn’t been fond of Tyrone, back when she saw him as a partying bachelor who had been married and divorced several times with no intention of settling down. Those were the times when she had viewed him as a bad influence on her husband. That was long before she was willing to accept the truth. Johnny’s strong personality didn’t allow anyone too much influence in his life. He made up his own mind. Yet she found it more comfortable to blame her marital issues on outside factors. So long as nothing was her fault, she didn’t have to take responsibility for fixing it.
“What about the card game?” Karen asked.
“What card game?”
“The one the Burks are having.”
Karen knew she didn’t feel up to going, but if dragging to their friends’ place was what it took to get Johnny’s attention, she was willing to go.
“Oh, yeah, okay, the couple from your church. You didn’t tell me anything about a card game.”
Karen knew that telling him in advance would not have made a difference. Friday was turning out to be his night, and nothing interfered.
“I already have plans. Why don’t you go on without me?”
“Why do I always have to go without you? Why can’t you just come home after work on Friday, for a change?”
“There you go. I try to be considerate and let you know where I’m going. This is the thanks I get. You make a big deal out of my taking a few hours every now and then to stop by the club and wind down.”
“You’ve been doing this every Friday night for three solid months.”
“See, you’re exaggerating. It hasn’t been that long.”
“Oh, yes, it has. It started right after New Year’s, right after I closed the business.”
She realized that her unemployment was a sore topic with Johnny and didn’t expect him to acknowledge the truth, but his silence was confirmation enough. He hadn’t agreed with her decision to quit. Her interior decorating business was doing well, but she felt it had become too much trying to manage a household, children, her health, and a career. Despite his disapproval, she closed her business in hopes of finding something less demanding. So far nothing promising had come along.
“Before, you only went out once every couple of months. That was fine,” she said.
“No, it wasn’t. You complained about that too.”
“It was better than this. I’m here alone every single Friday night.”
“You’re not alone. The girls are there.”
“You know what I mean. You’re hanging out every Friday night is not fair to me.”
“You’re talking about fair. I work hard all week in order to take care of the bills, you and the kids? Remember, I don’t have all week to relax like you. Somebody has to work.” He took a deep breath. “I can’t believe you won’t allow me to have a few hours to hang out without breathing down my neck with this guilt trip. I mean, it’s not like I’m doing anything out here. I don’t press you about going to church so much. Why do you always have something to say about the little bit of time I take for myself?”
“I’m sorry, but I wanted us to do something together.” A whisper was the most she could handle. Eyes closed tightly, she pressed her forefinger against one temple to alleviate the pain.
“If you’re really serious about doing something together, I have a few ideas.”
Karen suspected Johnny was talking about sex, and she wanted to avoid his hint. “Well, I’m tired and I don’t feel up to doing too much.”
“That’s what I thought.” Johnny grunted heavily. “Look, I’ve already made a commitment for this evening, but we can do something tomorrow. I might even go to church Sunday.”
Yet again, Karen had stirred the pot of emotions. She tried to perk up and get past her disappointment. She was feeling less and less guilty about questioning his time out. She wanted to trust Johnny but didn’t know how. Doubting had become a natural state of being. He hadn’t made it any easier.
Karen rested her eyes, pulled her knees into a tight fetal position, and allowed her thoughts, fears, and insecurities to drift away. For a fleeting moment, she was free.
Johnny could still turn the heads of women when he walked into a room. His six-foot-two silhouette stood in the arched doorway of the large banquet room. He kept his slightly graying hair short to draw attention away from the fact that he was balding. He no longer had the trim body he sported in college. Over the years, extra pounds had taken up residency on his physique. His age had started showing, but his hand-some demeanor was still winning out.
Dim lighting, stimulating music, a few appetizers, and a stiff drink provided just the right mix to set Johnny’s evening into motion. Floods was known for attracting a professionally dressed and diverse afterwork crowd.
Self-confidence, sometimes mistaken for arrogance, often oozed out of Johnny whenever he entered a room. Tonight was no different. His camel-colored tailored suit rounded out any rough edges in his appearance. Friday was usually casual day at Tenner Automotive, where Johnny was executive vice president of manufacturing and plant manager of the metal products division. No casual clothes for him. Although he had neglected to share his plans with Karen, Johnny knew early in the morning he was stopping by his favorite hangout after work and opted to dress the part.
He eased into the room like a warm knife slicing butter. There was the usual happy hour crowd in the place. Johnny had been coming to this club for over eleven years, with more frequency in recent months. He knew the regulars and was on automatic alert for the newbies, which was his term for new faces in the place.
Floods was one place Johnny was glad Karen chose not to frequent. Her presence at his favorite nightspot would cripple his ability to flirt with the women the way he enjoyed.
Standing near the bar was Johnny’s close friend Tyrone. Johnny slinked through the crowded room and approached him.
“Hey, what’s up, buddy?”
The two clasped hands, pulled toward their chests, and did their brotherly greeting.
“You got it, chief,” Tyrone responded between cigarette drags.
Tyrone kept using the nickname he’d given Johnny at the onset of their friendship twenty-two years ago to reflect his take charge attitude. They had initially met in college, pledged the same fraternity, and ended up in the same city ten years later. IBM had relocated Tyrone many times. The two had lost contact during Tyrone’s frequent moves. But they both ended up in Detroit and had unexpectedly run into one another at Floods nearly a decade.
Both leaned on the bar and Johnny scoped the room.
“It’s crowded in here.” Tyrone took another drag on his cigarette.
Johnny spotted two empty seats amid the crowd. ‘There are a couple of seats over there, right next to those honeys.”
Tyrone hadn’t noticed and said to Johnny, “I don’t mind sitting here at the bar.” The club scene wasn’t Tyrone’s thing any more. There was a time in his past when he could have settled in comfortably during an evening out. He’d matured beyond his rambunctious twenties and thirties and had stopped chasing women after marrying Connie.
“Nah, come on, man,” Johnny said. “Let’s ease on over. It won’t hurt anything. It’s just a little conversation with a couple of nice looking ladies. It’s not like we’re trying to start a serious relationship with them. Come on, man.”
Tyrone sighed and without much more resistance followed his friend toward a table in the middle of the room.
The two men casually strolled toward the young women with Johnny taking the lead. “Good evening, ladies.”
The women acknowledged them with a simple greeting.
“We noticed the empty seats. Do you mind if we sit with you?” Johnny asked.
While waiting for the okay to join the women, Johnny checked their ring fingers. He knew married men like him didn’t always wear wedding bands, but women were more likely to wear theirs.
“Not at all.”
“I’m Johnny, and this is Tyrone.” Johnny patted his friend on the back. Noticing the women’s empty glasses, Johnny asked, “Can we get you another drink?”
The two ladies declined.
Unlike Johnny, Tyrone wasn’t interested in sitting down for a warm and fuzzy, get to know you conversation with the two ladies. He wanted to keep the encounter impersonal.
“Hey, I’m heading back to the bar to pick up my pack of cigarettes that I left over there. Can I get anyone anything?” Tyrone asked.
One of the young ladies said, “I could use a cigarette. I’ll walk over with you.”
Tyrone wasn’t expecting any company on his short trip to the bar. He was willing to let Johnny entertain both women. Uneasy, he politely led the way through the crowd to the bar, unable to make a clean break.
Johnny eyed the woman as she left the table. Her switching hips moved like sand being sifted from one hand to the other. He recalled how much of a hip man his friend used to be. Johnny found full-busted women a bit more attractive, which was why his acceptance of Karen’s mastectomy two years ago had been such a surprise.
Johnny was left at the table with the other lady. He was not shy about starting up a conversation.
“You work around here, uh...?” He waited for her to give a name.
“What did you say?” Johnny wasn’t sure if he heard her correctly.
“My name is Isabelle.”
Johnny leaned back in his seat and exhibited quite a bit of discomfort. He picked up the book of matches from the center of the small table and twirled them between his fingers.
Isabelle noticed his behavior and asked, “What’s wrong?”
He placed his elbow on the arm of the chair and covered his mouth for a moment.
“Oh, nothing really.” He chuckled. “It’s just your name, Isabelle. I had a close friend once named Isabelle. It’s not a very common name. As a matter of fact, you’re only the second person I’ve met named Isabelle.”
“I hope that’s good.”
“Could be,” Johnny flirted. “So, do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Do you work around here?”
“Not too far away.”
Johnny stirred the small red straw in his drink, and said, “I haven’t seen you here before.”
“That’s because I don’t come here often.”
And there it was. He’d found a newby. They were his preference, the ones who presented a lower probability of knowing his routine flirtatious behavior. He was hoping Isabelle wasn’t going to ask about his marital status too early in the conversation. If necessary, he was ready with his standard line. “I’m just looking for a friend and this doesn’t have anything to do with my marriage” spiel.
“Can I get you another drink?” he offered.
Johnny motioned for the cocktail waitress who came over right away to take their order. He placed his hand lightly on Isabelle’s hand. “What are you drinking?”
“And I’ll take a shot of Hennessy, straight up.”
The waitress scribbled the order on a napkin and left.
Johnny leaned back in the chair, rested his wrist on the table, and gazed into Isabelle’s eyes. She looked away before her smile completely manifested.
“So, if you don’t come here much, what does a beautiful woman like you do for fun?”
Isabelle blushed from the compliment, giving Johnny the impression that she was easily flattered. That was when Johnny knew he had her. He felt safe with Isabelle, figuring that it was highly unlikely that she knew his wife. It would be easy to work his magic. Since Isabelle struck him as someone who didn’t get out much.
Every indicator pointed to an easy rendezvous without fear of being caught cheating, but he was on alert. His game seemed to work best with a married woman or a party girl who was looking for fun without commitment. The sheltered good girl type was too dangerous. Johnny didn’t want to kick off a fatal attraction with a single, available, and searching woman. He wanted companionship without any strings attached.
A shred of a good time away from his problems was what he needed. He wasn’t looking for a wife, seeing he already had one of those at home. Isabelle was a red flag, but something about the game drew him in. There remained the possibility that she was married. He had to find out.
“Do you and your husband come here a lot?”
“Not now, but we used to come here.”
Ah, Johnny thought, she is married. The hot and heavy pursuit was back on.
The waitress placed a small napkin in front of Johnny and Isabelle. She plopped their drinks onto the table and asked for ten dollars. He plucked a fifty-dollar bill from his pocket and placed it on the small round tray. Tipping and spending were key parts of the player’s MO. Johnny had to look good from every angle: clean-cut, fine suit, sharp car, and fat, dollar-filled pockets.
“Keep five for yourself.”
“Thanks,” the waitress said and whisked away.
Charm had top billing in his deliberate approach. Johnny took time to lay his trap. Now it was time to go in for the thrill.
“How can your husband let someone as beautiful as you come out by yourself?”
Johnny relied on his standard line since it had proven repeatedly effective in determining the condition of a potential candidate’s marital relationship.
“My husband and I are separated.”
Jackpot. Johnny was pleased. Years of experience led him to believe ‘separated’ generally meant “unavailable for a long-term relationship but suitable for a short-term rendezvous.” It was easy to take the game home from here.
“Ah, that’s too bad,” Johnny said. “I know how that goes.”
“Why, are you separated, too?”
“I guess you could say so. My wife and I have some major differences that we can’t fix. We mostly stay together for the kids. I do my thing, and she does hers.”
He had already tested Isabelle’s morality by exposing his marriage and letting the chips fall as they might. Even though he was married, she hadn’t left. Just the kind Johnny liked. The kind who knew he was unfaithful and liked him anyway.
“How many kids do you have?” she asked.
He held his head down and stirred his drink again. As much of a ladies’ man as he professed to be, questions about his children often penetrated his steel exterior. He was uninhibited when talking about Karen, but discussing his kids with another woman somehow felt wrong.
Tyrone had given the other woman no cause to hang around. He was sitting at the bar alone. He glanced at his watch and realized it was already a quarter to eight. He made eye contact with Johnny, who was knee-deep into flirting. Tyrone held up his wrist and pointed to his watch several times. He didn’t mind meeting Johnny for a drink from time to time but always knew when it was time to go home.
Johnny got the message. “It’s getting late, I’m going to head home,” he told Isabelle. Can I give you a ride?” He stood up and buttoned his double-breasted jacket.
“If you don’t mind. I live off the Lodge Expressway,” she responded as they approached the bar.
“No problem. I’m going that way. Tyrone, I’m heading out, man. I’m giving Isabelle a ride.”
“All right, chief. I’ll catch you later.”
Tyrone gave Johnny a look that said, “Yeah, partner, you’d better be careful.”
Heading for the door, Johnny helped Isabelle put on her jacket.
Outside, he pulled the parking ticket from his pants pocket and handed it to the valet.
Johnny saw Isabelle’s eyelids widened as the car approached.
He peeled a ten-dollar bill from his pocket as the valet attendant drove the new Cadillac up to the curb.
He walked around to the passenger’s side of the car and opened the door for Isabelle. He hadn’t opened the door for Karen in ten years, but then she wasn’t someone he had to impress.
Johnny and Karen’s sexual connection had repeatedly deteriorated after her cancer recoveries. Her doctors had confirmed there was no physical limitation, but it hadn’t improved their intimacy drought. Johnny chalked it up to lack of interest on her part. Instead of figuring out how to rekindle eighteen years of marriage, he found ways to survive.
Turning forty had been traumatic, although he wouldn’t openly admit it. He’d purchased a Porsche to stroke his aging ego which hadn’t gone over too well given that he was an executive working for an American auto supplier. Even though he could barely fit, Johnny hoped the car would restore his youth. It hadn’t. None of his material purchases filled the void. Feeling wanted and admired by other women seemed to be the only vice that worked.
He wasn’t seeking a serious relationship with someone else. The women he pursued at the club were mostly for the thrill of the hunt, and on occasion went further during times when Karen had unofficially declared a sexual sabbatical. He liked playing the player’s game from time to time. It did wonders for his ego.
“Johnny, Johnny,” a sultry voice came from over his shoulder.
He turned to see who it was.
“Tina!” He went cold on the inside, but struggled to maintain his composure. Of all the people he could have run into, Johnny was wondering why it had to be her, Ms. Motor mouth. Karen’s nosy friend was the last person he wanted to see.
Tina flashed a cunning grin, knowing Johnny was caught in the act. She had him right where she wanted—squirming.
“How’s Karen?” Tina asked while getting a good look at the lady sitting in her girlfriend’s car.
He closed the door and walked toward the driver’s side of the car. “She’s fine.”
“Tell my friend I said hello.” Tina walked past the car and without looking back said, “No, better yet, I’ll just call her my-self.”
“Will do.” Johnny echoed as he jumped into his car. He was hoping to drive away as quickly as possible and avoid any undesired drama.
The twenty-minute drive was filled with small talk and moments of complete silence. The unexpected run-in with Tina had put a damper on Johnny’s playboy routine.
He cruised to Isabelle’s house without much enthusiasm.
“I’ll give you my number,” Isabelle offered.
She took a small piece of paper from her purse and wrote her home number on it.
Johnny took it, glanced at the writing, and shoved it into his pocket. Glancing away from her eyes, he said, “It’s been nice meeting you.”
He didn’t want to give Isabelle his work number, but any other number was out of the question. He rattled off his number with the last two digits transposed. If he ever ran into her again, he could claim she wrote the number down incorrectly. For now, it was better to minimize contact.
As soon as Isabelle got out of the car, he pulled off without extending any extra courtesies. Three blocks down the road, he was back in husband mode.
“Ooh,” he blurted. He’d neglected to schedule their home appraisal. His palm covered his mouth as his fingers scraped his chin. How could he forgot something so important? Finding a way to relieve the financial pressure was crucial with Karen out of work. Most of their emergency money was gone, and his retirement plan was not an option. They had already tapped that too many times. Refinancing seemed to be the only answer.
A few other homes in their suburban neighborhood had sold for well over four hundred thousand. He was hoping there was some equity left from the previous refinancing. They got fifty thousand out four years ago when Karen first got sick and was off work for months without warning. Two years ago the most they could get was another forty to help out while she was laid up. He needed enough to cover the next three to six months, plenty of time for Karen to get back on her feet.
Johnny sat at the stop sign, turned on his cell phone, and dialed home to see if Karen still needed him to stop by the pharmacy and pick up anything. His best hope was that Tina hadn’t told Karen about his escapade at Floods.
Karen answered the phone to hear Johnny on the other end.
“Hey, I’m on my way home,” he said.
“It’s about time.”
“I told you I was going to be out.”
“If I’d known you were going to take this long, I would have gotten the Tylenol myself.”
“Look, I’m tired and your nagging is really starting to get on my nerves.”
“Well, I’m sorry, but I deserve a more consideration.”
“I’ll be there when I get there. “Bye.” Beep went the sound of the disconnecting cell phone.
Johnny was feeling the weight of running a plant and taking care of a family. He was doing the best he could, but the only gratitude he got from Karen was suspicions and constant badgering. He thought more and more about what he’d been working for. He didn’t want to give up living the American dream, but Johnny felt the installments were becoming too difficult to keep up. Something was going to have to give—and soon.
Karen heard the dial tone and put the receiver on the hook. When the phone rang again, she grabbed it.
“No, it’s not Johnny. This is Tina, Karen. How are you?”
The morning light poked through the loosely closed window blinds. Karen wanted to talk. She rolled over next to her snoring husband. Whatever drinks he’d consumed the night before had ushered him into a deep sleep. Since he wasn’t awake, she decided to get up and start the Saturday morning chores.
For a while, a maid service had done the major cleaning. It had been a godsend during her mastectomy and chemo over two years ago, when she was too weak to do anything.
Johnny cut out the hundred and fifty dollar weekly maid service. With a three thousand dollar monthly mortgage and one paycheck coming in, it was an easy decision for him. His perspective was, “You’re at home. You should have plenty of time to clean.”
Cleaning the huge house was too much for Karen to do single-handedly. Saturday morning was the only block of time when the children could help. So, it was officially deemed the Clark’s housecleaning time.
Karen entered the walk-in closet, which was equivalent in size to a small bedroom. An array of clothes filled the auto-mated circular spindle, which resembled the kind found in dry cleaners. She pulled the dirty clothes from the hamper and quietly pushed them down the chute. It was a modern convenience, which eliminated her need to lug baskets of clothes from the master bedroom to the basement.
With an empty basket in hand, she headed down the long hallway lined with photos. The first room she passed on the left was the guest room. The next sparsely decorated room on the left belonged to her eldest child, John Erick. Erick, as the family called him, had graduated high school one year early and was now completing a foreign exchange program during his second year at Stanford. She stuck her head into the room directly across the hall from his room.
“Chelle, are you up?”
“I’m getting up,” the teenager responded.
The fifth bedroom belonged to eight-year-old Elizabeth, the baby of the family.
“Bethy,” Karen affectionately called. She’d created play names for her daughters, often saying, “It’s just an extra dose of motherly love.”
Karen’s gentle approach this morning didn’t net more than a muffled groan coming from her daughter who was covered up in the middle of the bed.
“Get up, sweetie.”
“I told you about staying up so late. See, now you’re tired. Get up before your father goes downstairs and sees a messy kitchen. Get your dirty clothes together, too.”
Although Elizabeth was the youngest, she was given household responsibilities like the other kids. Johnny thought it was important for them to carry their own weight from an early age.
Karen didn’t stop until she got to the laundry room downstairs. She dumped the basket of clothes sitting under the chute and separated the laundry from those items needing dry cleaning. Routinely, she checked the pockets on garments before shipping them off to the cleaners. It was common for her to find money and other miscellaneous items in the pockets of her family’s clothes. She reached into Johnny’s shirt and pulled out a piece of paper with the name Isabelle. On the note was scribbled, Home phone.
“What’s this?” she uttered.
The phone number threw her for a loop. Karen stood in the laundry room completely spellbound. Her heart raced, and she took a step back to maintain balance.
The memories of six years ago flooded Karen’s thoughts as though it were only yesterday. That was when she had found out about Johnny and Isabelle’s affair. It had taken every bit of strength she could muster to get past that dark point in their marriage. Karen thought the thing with Isabelle was over and had been for years.
Why would Johnny have her number in his pocket?
“Here are my clothes,” Chelle said, startling her mom back into consciousness.
“Separate the rest of these clothes and start the wash,” Karen mumbled in her distracted state.
“Mom, I have to finish my essay.”
“That’s because you were on that phone last night. All right, young lady, go finish the essay and then get right back down here and do this laundry.”
“Thanks, Mom.” Chelle gave her mother a quick peck on the cheek. “I’m sure glad we have two washing machines. Otherwise this would take forever.”
Johnny crept down the long corridor, noticing lights on in the bathroom and in the bedrooms. He headed down the back staircase, which deposited him between the family room and kitchen.
He yelled coming down the stairs, “Who has so many lights on?”
The Hennessy shots which had helped Johnny wind down at Floods the night before had him in a foul mood. Anyone crossing his path this morning was bound to get their feelings hurt.
Elizabeth and Karen were coming up the basement stairs as Johnny was walking by.
“Elizabeth, get upstairs and turn off some of those lights,” he demanded. “Where’s yesterday’s mail?”
“Johnny, it’s on the dining room table.” Karen pointed. Her nerves were in full bloom. She had many questions for Johnny, but didn’t want to broach the subject with the girls present.
He poured a cup of coffee and glanced out the kitchen window.
“Has anyone fed the dog?”
Apparently, neither Karen nor the two girls responded quickly enough.
He slammed the coffee mug down on the counter and belted out, “I said, did anyone feed the dog?”
His stern, commanding tone got the attention of everyone in the room.
“Did you guys feed the dog?” Karen asked Chelle and Elizabeth before Johnny blew a gasket.
She didn’t normally interfere when he disciplined the kids. Johnny was a good provider who wanted the best for his children. Both her and Johnny were proud to have three smart, honor roll children who were most likely headed for prestigious careers. However, there were occasions, like this morning, when she thought he was being a little too hard with the girls.
“I didn’t,” Chelle answered.
“It’s Chelle’s week,” Elizabeth interjected.
“How many times do I have to tell you to feed the dog? Get out there right now,” Johnny bellowed.
Chelle didn’t budge. She fully intended to carry out her father’s order, like a good soldier, just as soon as she finished writing a paragraph in her English essay.
Johnny tolerated no hesitation. “Didn’t you hear me? Do it now.”
“Chelle, just go feed the dog,” Karen calmly reinforced. “Johnny, yelling at the kids doesn’t help.”
“Look, don’t tell me how to handle the kids.” He turned to Chelle, who was scooping the dry food into a bucket. “Next time, young lady, don’t make me have to remind you. And when I say do something, I mean right away, not when you get ready. Got that?”
“Yes, Daddy.” She sniffed.
Sipping his coffee, Johnny picked up the stack of mail lying on the dining room table.
“I need help around here,” Johnny said. “Everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing.”
“Elizabeth, honey, go out there and help your sister feed the dog. When you finish, both of you go back downstairs and finish washing the clothes, okay?”
Elizabeth gave her mom a hug and headed outside.
Karen and Johnny were left alone in their large, eat-in kitchen.
“You seem to be in a bad mood this morning.”
Johnny continued opening the mail without response.
Before blurting out her question about why Isabelle’s number was in his pocket, Karen wanted to let him calm down.
“Tina called me last night.”
That got his attention. He didn’t know how much she had told Karen about his choice of companionship at the club last night. “Ooh, boy. Here we go. What did that meddling witch want?” Before Karen could respond, an irritated Johnny spoke again. “Nah, nah. Don’t tell me.” He slammed the cup down on the table and the warm coffee spurted onto the table. “Miss Meddling makes one call and next you’ll be accusing me of cheating.”
“Why, have you been?”
“You tell me. You’re the one doing the talking.” Feeling uncomfortable and cornered, Johnny got up to get another cup of hot coffee.
“I’m not accusing you of anything, yet. I’m simply asking you a question.”
“Karen, how can you listen to Tina after what we’ve been through? Why are you so determined to let your friend drive us to divorce court? You saw how she drove her man away, and she probably wants you to be in the same position.” He pulled a clump of napkins from the table holder and plopped them on top of the coffee mess. “Don’t you know, misery loves company.”
“Johnny, why are you so worked up? Tina called about dinner next Saturday.”
“Then why did you ask me if I was cheating? Where did that come from?”
“You brought it up, not me. But since you did, maybe I can ask you about the phone number I found in your pocket this morning?”
Through several bad encounters, he had learned not to keep loose numbers in his pockets. It was an open invitation for Karen to find the number and create a less than pleasant marital scene. The run-in with Tina threw him out of sync. Now he was paying for his carelessness.
“So now you’re snooping around in my pockets? The number you found belongs to a coworker who was nice enough to help me put together the business plan for my marketing idea.”
Johnny knew every strategic maneuver in the book of Get Out of Trouble If Caught. His tactic was to use the simple re-verse psychology strategy for the awkward predicament.
“Think about it. If it were someone I was seeing, do you think I would have left her number in a place so easy for you to find? She was kind enough to offer her services. It’s not like you’re offering to help me put the plan together.”
“Johnny, I’m not letting you put me down. Just because I’m not working doesn’t mean I don’t want to help.” Karen’s voice escalated, even though it increased the throbbing pain in her head. “Why was Isabelle’s phone number in your pocket? Are you seeing her again?”
“Isabelle? Come on, Karen.”
“Come on, Karen, what?”
“You think I’m seeing Isabelle? Give me some credit.” He stood up in a cloud of fury. “Huh, Isabelle, of all people.” He smirked. His reaction was as if the mere thought of Karen’s suggestion was ridiculous and without any merit. He wanted Karen to let it go, but he knew she wasn’t ready.
“When was the last time you talked with her?”
Johnny turned in Karen’s direction and forcefully said, “How many times do I have to go through this, Karen? I said, this Isabelle is a coworker. She’s not the one you’re thinking about.”
“How do I know for sure?”
“Boy, I don’t need this. I need some peace around here. I work hard all week. I want some peace on my weekends. You have the whole week to sit around here and worry about stuff that isn’t even happening. I have apologized over and over. I have all but kissed your behind, and it’s not good enough for you, is it? It’s been six years and you refuse to let it go.”
Johnny pushed his chair back with full force, screeching along the way.
“Johnny, I’m trying to talk to you.”
“No, I’m through talking. Since you have so much time to focus on what I’m doing, why don’t you spend some time trying to help me out? If you would help a little, maybe I would be able to get home earlier. I work too hard to stand around here and let you accuse me of something stupid like seeing Isabelle again. Better yet, let’s put it this way. Since you don’t care enough to help me take care of this place, you shouldn’t care about whatever else I do.”
“How long am I supposed to put up with you?”
“Put up with me?” Johnny chuckled. “Maybe that’s some-thing I should be asking you.”
“I don’t know what you mean. I’ve been a good wife to you.”
“Good wife, huh. Would that be before or after you quit having sex with me? Before or after you decided to close up shop when you know that we have a child in college and an extravagant lifestyle? Huh, what about that? When you can come up with those answers, then we have something to talk about.”
“You’re just letting the devil corrupt you. You’re not even trying to hear God.”
“No, you didn’t. You need to lay off your religious crap, Karen. God, God, God, holy, holy, holy. I am sick of your self-righteous holier than thou attitude. Trust me. You have some issues too, sweetheart.”
Johnny and Karen both knew how to push each other’s hot buttons. Karen felt a sense of power when she exposed his lagging religious convictions. Johnny would get the upper hand in the argument when he harped on her limited professional achievements. It was a weapon that both kept fully loaded and ready to fire off on short notice.
Karen ignored his implication and continued to speak her mind.
“What do you expect me to do, Johnny? Do you expect me to find a woman’s home number in your pocket and just let it go without saying anything?”
“Honestly, I can’t tell you what to do. You’re good about making decisions on your own. You don’t need my input. The best decision you can make at this moment is to leave me alone.”
Karen and Johnny had been there many times before with the speculations, put downs and accusations. Like clock-work, this was the point in the argument when he would feel guilty and walk away. She’d buckle under pressure and cry. He didn’t budge. Her eyelids were swollen but not a tear fell. This time was different.
Now that you have read No Regrets, consider the following discussion
What are the red flags/warning signs associated with a marriage headed for disaster? What signs did the Clarks have? What could Karen or Johnny have done sooner?
Tina and Connie differed on what Karen should do. Tina said leave Johnny. Connie said work it out. Do you agree with either? What’s your advice?
Close friends share secrets, including marriage “stuff.” Is there anything that should be kept in strict confidence, not to be shared outside the relationship with even close friends and family? Did Karen overshare with Tina?
How do you shield children from issues occurring with their parents? How do you keep them from feeling like they have to take sides? What could Karen have done to improve the relationship with Johnny and John Erick?
Can a married woman like Karen seek marital advice from a single person like Tina?
How and when do you forgive a loved one for hurting you? Is there a time when enough is enough? Are there conditions where you can’t/won’t forgive? Can you for-give without forgetting? Should Karen forgive Johnny for seeing another woman?
Is Karen an innocent victim? How did she contribute to the marital breakdown?
How do you get God involved with a troubled marriage or tough financial times?
How do you handle a close friend who cares for you but envies you and is quick to share hurtful information?
Can mates be compatible if they don’t have the same educational, professional, or religious aspirations? How did Karen’s religion and Johnny’s career impact their union?
How much did the Clark’s financial problems add to their marital strife? What could the Clarks have changed?
If a person is mean, nasty, whiny, or clingy during their illness, how tolerant should the caregiver or friend be? Is there a limit? Did Karen push Johnny to a limit?
What was it about Big Mama that enabled her to befriend Johnny in the hospital, even after he was so rude?
Was Connie in denial or acting in faith about her illness?
Can men like Tyrone and Johnny change? Do you think Tyrone will remarry?
How do you check for breast cancer? Karen had cancer in her early 30s, yet mammograms aren’t recommended until 40 or 50. How early should you have one if there’s no family history of breast cancer?
What does the dusty Bible metaphor on page 1 represent?
Note: No Regrets originally released in 2002 with a revised edition in 2016/2017