Stability had been a stranger in Joel Mitchell's corner of the world for well over a year. He sat in Grant Park, situated in the heart of downtown Chicago, as the autumn breeze quieted his soul. So much had happened, too much to rehash, but he was certain getting a divorce was best in the long run. There was no question he was going to be better off ending a loveless marriage. He sighed, feeling an extra dose of relief as he anticipated how quickly the personal chaos in his life was coming to a close. He was finally going to be free, and it felt good.
One problem down, now he had to shift gears and concentrate on restoring his professional reputation. Spending a few days away from Detroit was the hiatus he needed. Joel intended to gather his thoughts and come up with a plan on how to regain his spot on the corporate scene. He clasped his hands behind his head and leaned back on the bench and sighed as he felt the noose of failure loosen, facilitating an inkling of enthusiasm.
A half hour or so later, Joel was disturbed by the buzzing sensation coming from the phone in his pocket. He must have fallen asleep. He was tempted not to answer, unwilling to frivolously relinquish the tranquility he'd scraped together just to answer an unwanted phone call. The ringing stopped, allowing him to relax again. When the ringing resumed, he was irritated but snatched the phone from his pocket.
"This is Joel. There was a lull on the line. He repeated his greeting, not sure if the person on the other end had heard him.
"Joel, it's me, Zarah.
Wow, his soon-to-be ex-wife was the one person he wasn't expecting a call from. "I thought you'd be heading home to India by now, he said, trying to balance his rising anxiety and concern.
"I'm not going.
Ha-ha, he thought, accounting for her accent shaving off some of the humor in her jokes. "Pretty funny, Zarah.
"Really, I'm not going, she repeated.
"What? he fired at her. The blood drained from his face, along with a coherent response. His sampling size of tranquility took flight. Anxiety and pure fear rushed in, tackling his words ferociously. He struggled to speak but had to push something out to keep this train from derailing. "But we've already talked about this. After the divorce you're going to be better off with people who care about you.
"I'm pregnant, she blurted out.
"Excuse me? What did you say? Joel asked as his body jerked forward on the bench.
"I'm pregnant, she said again. Joel experienced a piercing pain upon hearing those words. The park bench was twirling fast and faster. Joel couldn't hang on. He was in a whirlwind. Zarah rattled off something else, but he couldn't process what she was saying. Each cheery word out of her mouth was a dagger in his heart. She wouldn't stop talking. He repeatedly pulled the phone away from his ear and then brought it closer again.
She hadn't sounded this happy since their wedding five months ago. Words and thoughts were racing around his head but couldn't seem to connect long enough for him to create a rational statement. So he kept quiet.
"The gods have shown mercy on me and blessed us with a child.
Joel continued to struggle with formulating a coherent statement. Maybe he didn't know what to say, or maybe he did know what to say but wasn't comfortable sharing what was truly in his heart. Either way, the peace he'd realized earlier in Grant Park had evaporated. The sun, which had been dishing out the perfect amount of warmth to his face, was now feeling unusually hot and scorching. Joel couldn't breathe. If there was a way to escape, he would have jumped on it. But where was he going?
Sick with fret, Joel kept focusing on how this had happened. He had been careful not to mislead Zarah during their brief marriage and had intentionally avoided showing her too much affection. They'd spent less than five intimate nights together as husband and wife. This couldn't be happening. Divorce was one thing, but a baby was another. He was desperate for an out and wasn't willing to get worked up until there was undeniable proof that his world was crumbling. He needed confirmation, especially since Zarah was determined to remain his wife. Joel wasn't sure how far she'd go to keep him. His appeal was for her to accept the reality of their breakup and get on with life.
"How do you know you're pregnant?
"I went to my doctor when you left. He thinks I'm about six weeks along. I'll have to wait for the official test results, but he's very certain.
Joel was clinging to the notion that Zarah was lying out of desperation, but hope was fading rapidly. From what he knew about her, she didn't seem to be the type who'd lie about something this serious. Since he was 100 percent sure there was no other man in the equation, certainty began choking the air from around him again. It was hard to believe that six weeks ago his fate had veered off course without his knowledge. As the shocking news sank in, Joel could think more clearly. He recalled the night with Zarah vividly. Right before her emotional breakdown, he'd felt sorry for her and comforted her as only a husband could; so much for his unselfish deed. Who was going to comfort his troubled soul now?
"When are you coming home? Zarah asked.
"I'm not sure. I need time to wrap up a few matters here, he told her, which was partially true. The full truth was, Joel just didn't know what to do. The pregnancy had to be addressed. He just wasn't convinced it had to be right away. There were many months of pregnancy left, which offered him at least a few more hours, possibly weeks, to think.
"At least we aren't getting divorced anymore. We're a family now, and we must prepare for the baby. I'm very happy, Zarah said.
Joel was numb. Rushing home to the wife he'd planned to divorce as recently as an hour ago didn't elicit a fulfilling sensation. While nothing had changed for him emotionally, everything had realistically. He genuinely didn't know what to do. Overcommitting was definitely not the answer.
"Zarah, I'll call you tomorrow and let you know when I'll be in Detroit. In the meantime, you should take care of yourself. Maybe I'll see you soon.
"Yes, I will take very good care of our baby.
Joel let the word baby linger. This day would be burned into his memory forever. This moment marked the day when his reckless decisions of the past were marring the promise of a brighter future. Marrying Zarah Bengali with the intent of merging their companies was costing him dearly. He remained on the bench, clutching the shattered fragments of peace and freedom, not sure what was coming next.
The hours passed as evening drew near, but for Joel time had stopped when Zarah uttered those words "I'm pregnant. He wasn't dead physically, but his hope of crawling out of his hole of despair had definitely died with the call, and Joel didn't know if there was a way to resurrect his personal or professional livelihood. The future appeared dire. He fumbled around his rambling thoughts a while longer before calling his mother, Sherry Mitchell, in search of a kind voice.
She was glad to hear from him. "How's your stay in Chicago going? Has it been helpful?
He sighed. "Yes and no.
"You don't sound too good, she told him.
He repeatedly sighed. "I might as well tell you. Zarah is pregnant. He uttered the words like he was swallowing a nasty medicine, doing it quickly without dwelling on it.
"She is? his mother yelled. "Oh my goodness, I am so happy for you. You're going to be a father.
Joel couldn't force himself to respond with glee, especially after making such a gallant attempt to conceal his true feelings about the ordeal.
"How do feel about this? You don't sound excited, his mother said after a moment.
His mother didn't need to hear his troubles. If she wanted to be the happy grandmother, he wasn't going to rob her of the special news. "It's a lot to think about. Remember, we are about to get divorced. The last thing I expected was a baby to be in the picture. It's quite a shock.
"Yes, but a good one. He let her talk. There wasn't much he could add. This wasn't the time or place. "Look, Joel, unexpected situations happen. We just have to accept them and move on. This baby may be a blessing in disguise. Before this, you and Zarah didn't have anything holding the two of you together
Joel interrupted, "You mean like love?
"Huh, love can be overrated.
He knew she was alluding to her marriage to his father. They'd been together twenty-five years before he died three years ago. She'd loved him totally, yet his father could only give half of his heart to her. The other half had always remained with his first wife. No matter how much love his mother poured into the marriage, she could never win his father's heart completely. At least that was what his mother believed. It was better for Joel to steer the conversation in a different direction and avoid the dead end that he was certain to confront when discussing a topic his family struggled to understand.
"Over the next couple of weeks or months we'll have to figure out how we want to raise the baby. The concept of becoming a parent pricked at Joel. "If we get divorced, then we'll have to agree on custody. Most likely, she'd be in India, which adds a slight complication.
"What do you mean? Come home and raise the baby.
"It's not that easy, Mom.
"You can't seriously be considering divorce, not now. Come on, Joel. You have to stay with your wife and raise your child. This isn't about Zarah. This is about your baby. Regardless of how the baby got here, your child deserves to have both parents while growing up.
"How can you say that? Dad left his four other children when he married you. His mother was quiet. He didn't want to hurt her by scratching the scab off old wounds, but Joel wasn't going to allow her to use guilt to convince him to stay in a failed relationship.
"All the more reason for you to stay with Zarah. Look at the turmoil your half sisters and brothers went through. You don't want that for your baby. Your child deserves a father who's present. Your child deserves you.
"Well, Zarah and I will figure this out. I promise.
"I hope so, and the sooner the better. When are you coming home?
"I don't know yet.
"You're going to need a better answer than that one. If you ask me, the decision has already been made, his mother said with more directness than he was accustomed to hearing from her.
They ended the call. Joel wasn't as certain about the outcome as his mother was, by no means. When he'd driven his Lamborghini along I-94, heading west to Chicago, his concept of home had changed. The Zarah chapter had been closed. With the pregnancy, he was forced to reassess what home meant. So much would have to be considered. Should he return to his wife out of a sense of duty to the baby, or could he be a stronger influence outside of the troubled marriage? That was what he'd have to decide. He craved objective feedback, but there wasn't anyone who readily came to mind to supply it.
With no other outlet, Joel knew where he had to go for help. Zarah had repeatedly prayed to her gods for a baby. He didn't see any merit in her beliefs, but Zarah did. Maybe the time had come for him to pray to his God. Joel was lost since he couldn't ask God to reverse the process and make her un-pregnant. Direction and guidance would be the essence of his prayer, and he wanted lots of both. As soon as he reached his car, Joel planned on praying for the first time in nearly two years, which made him edgy. He aimlessly shuffled to the car, intentionally stretching out the short distance. God didn't need the extra time. Joel did.
His mother was a piece of work, but Don wouldn't trade Madeline Mitchell for anyone else in the world. She was a rare gem and quite electrifying. There were no people or situations on earth that could rattle her, with the exception of his sister, Tamara, and Joel's mother, Sherry. The two women elicited unpredictable reactions from Madeline for different reasons, one driven by love and the other disdain. However, when it came to her daughter, Madeline's desire to appease seemed limitless. She didn't show nearly as much leniency to others, not even him. Don didn't mind. He understood their damaged history and his mother's attempt to make up for the past. Tamara understood too, but unfortunately, she wasn't as willing to extend such grace to Madeline.
Sherry, on the other hand, was as close to a nemesis as Madeline was going to get. Don couldn't see a time in the foreseeable future when his mother was going to accept Sherry into the Mitchell family. It had been almost thirty years since Sherry had married his father, but to his mother it seemed like yesterday. Regardless of the problems that had prevailed in his parents' marriage prior to the infidelity, Madeline was determined to blame Sherry for the rest of their days. In spite of his mother's vehement protests, Don had forgiven Sherry and had offered her a job not long ago. Madeline had pitched a fit, and needless to say, Sherry had ended up not working for Don at the Mitchell family's multimillion-dollar company, DMI. He hadn't bothered pleading her case on appeal. Don didn't have sufficient firepower. Even if he were accompanied by the entire United States Marine Corps, it wouldn't be enough force to change Madeline's mind. One day there might be total healing in his family, but it wasn't today. Yet Don wasn't complaining. Other than the discord with Sherry and a mild disregard for her offspring, Joel, Madeline, and the family were in a respectable place. Don relished the tranquility. It was rare in the Mitchell family and most likely fleeting.
"It's good to have you back.
Madeline moseyed over to the windows after tossing her bag onto one of the chairs situated in front of Don's desk. "It's good to be back. She folded her arms and leaned against the window frame. "When I agreed to walk out those doors a few months ago, honestly, I didn't know if or when I'd return.
Her voice dipped, and Don knew why. His mother had made one of the greatest sacrifices of her life. She'd agreed to step down from her executive position at DMI, the second greatest love after her children, and to leave the city of Detroit at Tamara's request. His sister had been estranged from the family and wanted to come home on her own terms. Her number one request was that Madeline couldn't be in town. Don actually had tried pleading his mother's case to Tamara, but the stubborn gene was too deeply rooted in her. His sister wouldn't bend. So, without fanfare or opposition, Madeline had quietly walked away. The few months she was gone were somber days for him, but the trauma was behind them. She was within arm's reach, exactly where his mother belonged.
"How are you and Tamara getting along? he asked.
Madeline ran the palm of her hand from the front of her head to the back while peering at the floor. "We're getting there.
Don swung his chair around to face Madeline. "Well, it's going to take time, but at least the two of you are talking.
"I don't know how much time. She was gone fourteen years. You'd think that would be enough time, she said, clearly agitated, with her eyelids widened and her neck rolling. "At least she's staying with you, which makes me feel better, she added, seeming calmer.
"Uh, not any longer.
"What? she shouted.
"She packed her bag and moved out last week. He'd begged her to stay with him longer, but Tamara wouldn't hear of it.
"And why am I just hearing about this? she barked at him with her fists pressed against her sides. "Where did she go?
"I'm not sure she wants me to tell you.
Madeline's concern was evident to him, but Don was afraid she'd zip over to the new place and start an argument with Tamara. He knew them too well to wonder what would happen next.
"I'm her mother. I have a right to know.
Don conceded a bit, hoping to ease his mother's concern without violating Tamara's privacy. "I can tell you that she moved not too far from her last building.
Madeline began pacing. "I know that crazy boyfriend of hers is long gone and no longer presents a threat, thanks to your uncle, but what was the hurry in her moving out? I don't understand that girl. She was safe with you, Madeline said, rubbing her face but not wiping away the worry. "What was she thinking, moving out?
"I'm not sure, but I checked out her new place, and it seems okay. Don went to his mother and gave her a hug. "Don't worry and don't press her about this. Let her come to you.
Madeline pushed away from Don and walked back to the windows with her arms folded. "We'll just have to see if that day ever comes when she lets me in on what's happening in her life. I wonder if she's ever going to let me be her mother again, she uttered softly.
"Mother, give her time. You can't push her. She has to work through issues at her own pace.
Madeline meandered away from the windows, keeping her arms crossed. "But I don't have forever. I'm sixty-five. I've already lived out most of my days. I have to get your sister back into this company. Madeline leaned on the conference table located off to the side in Don's office. "Your father and I built this company from nothing. I have poured my heart and soul into this place. This is your legacy, she said, rapping her fingernails on the table. "You and Tamara are the rightful heirs. Both of you belong here, running this company.
Don didn't agree or disagree. So he let her continue without interruption.
"My dream is to have both of you here, together. I am determined to make my dream a reality before I die.
"Nobody is going to die, Mother. Don't you think you're being overdramatic?
"Nope. Somebody has to get this family on track and keep us from losing what your father and I have busted our behinds to build. If I ease up now, Sherry and Joel will whizz in here and snatch DMI right from under our noses like they own the place. You know it, and I know it. Heck, Joel already made his attempt to snatch the company, and he had it for several years. But right wins out every time. She strolled over to Don and rested her hands on his shoulders, facing him. "He spun his little web and got caught up in his own mess. Now my children are in charge, just like it's supposed to be. This is a good day for me.
"Not so fast, Mother. Tamara hasn't agreed to stay at DMI if you're going to be here too. The original agreement was for you to stay away.
"I know, I know, but that was before we did our little reconciling thing, she said, with her hands moving in circular motions. "As long as she doesn't have to live with me, I'm sure she won't mind me being here in the office. Besides, I'm sure you need help around here. We have a lot of work to do. After your father's bumbling son lost half the company, our first step has to be getting the West Coast and Southern divisions back under the DMI umbrella.
The plan wasn't as clear for Don. A lot had happened. He needed time to sort out exactly where DMI was, where he was. "Wait, Mother. You're moving too quickly. First, we have to figure out how you and Tamara are going to work here together, he said, resting his arms on the desk.
"Oh, don't worry about your sister. I'll take care of her.
"That's precisely what worries me, Mother, Don said as he dropped his gaze and closed his eyes momentarily. He was praying for his words to be taken seriously by his mother, but the probability of that was low. "You can't push her, or Tamara will be on the first plane, fleeing the country. She's done it before, and if you push, Tamara might do it again. Is that what you want?
"Of course not. I love my daughter.
"I'm not talking about love, Mother. I'm asking you to give her space. Can you do that? Don could tell his mother was fretting, but he was okay so long as she was hearing him.
"What you're saying makes sense, but you have to understand how much the two of you and DMI mean to me. Having all of us here together is my dream. After your father passed, I vowed not to let Sherry and Joel get their hands on anything else belonging to me and my children. I aim to keep my vow. If it means giving Tamara more time, fine. I think I can. But don't think I can wait forever. I don't have years to waste. Your father didn't, and who knows? I might not, either.
Don wasn't feeding into the mortality rant his mother was on. She was too stubborn and outspoken to go anywhere anytime soon. God had too many repairs left to do on her heart. She had time. They all did. He was convinced of it.