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Lessons Learned [ - ]
by OakHillsDrive
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            “The plane will be landing in the next few minutes.  Please make sure that you stow your tray table and anything you’ve brought out during the flight.”

            He could hear the flight attendant release the microphone and the cabin went silent except for the rustle of the luggage and electronics being shoved into bags and pockets.

            He put his seat back in the upright position and closed his eyes as he waited for the plane to descend.  With the hum of the plane, he let himself doze off for a few seconds.  Images of happier times flashed through his mind.  Moments of smiles and laughter seemed to take over the noise of the plane. 

            There she was again; the woman who had filled so many of his years with happiness and yet, confusion.  There was so much about their relationship that, in the eyes of the world, had seemed perfect.  They had loved each other, but yet there were so many differences between them that had always haunted their relationship.  There had been so many days that they found happiness in each others arms.  Yet, in their time away, even now, he wondered if their desire to work at the jobs they loved was something that could keep them apart.

            And here he was again, on a flight back from another job.  Years, jobs and other relationships had kept them apart.  Now that he was older, he was searching for that time in his life when, in some strange way, the world made sense.  There had been so much in his life he had been stupid about.  He had let her slip through his fingers all those years ago only now to realize how solitary a life he had led.  He didn’t know where she was, relationship wise, in life.  He was hoping she was unattached, hoping she was free, hoping she would want him again, too.

           

            He stood facing the luggage carousel.  The weight of the world he had carried with him for the past eleven years seemed to fade with every passing piece of luggage.  When he spotted his worn black suitcase, he grabbed it with almost a spring in his step.  He was actually back in New York.  What he was going to do when he got to her door, he did not know.  What he did know was that just seeing her smile would make him happy.  It would bring him more joy than any he had truly felt in a long, long time.

 

            On the car ride over, he mumbled through the various speeches he thought he would try; the words, the apologies of a decade full of regret.

            He thought about calling the house.  Maybe he would get a feel of where everyone was today, what kind of mood everyone was in.  Then again, maybe a surprise would be the best thing to do.

            He had talked to Jonathan in the past few years, but nothing specific.  Nothing about family.   A few minutes here and there, Jonathan was busy doing his own thing and there really wasn’t much they had in common any more. But then again, how could he?  He was always moving now; so much to do and so little time.  That was another thing he would regret.  His moving was done for now.  He was ready for stability and for home.  A home he thought he would find in Connecticut.

 

         As he pulled into the drive way, the first glimmer of true excitement made his heart go “pitter patter.”  Quietly as he could, he got out and closed his car door.  With a single rose in hand, he jogged up the walk and along the side of the house.  His steps took him near the front door when he stopped himself just before the front room window.  Just to be safe he decided to take a peak inside.

            There she was.  Angela was sitting on the couch in the front room.  Her hair pulled back into a rather cute ponytail.  Her glasses were smaller than he remembered her wearing before; a pencil tucked behind her ear.  The pile of folders on the coffee table was an instant give away of the new campaign she must be working on.  It was typical Angela.  The woman he remembered, wishing he had been smart enough not to have let go.

           He was about to head towards the door when he caught a glimpse of a short red topped tornado run into the room.  Straightening up and stepping back behind the bulk of the curtain, he watched as the red-headed little girl placed a book on Angela’s lap.  Angela put all the papers in her lap on the coffee table and motioned for the girl to sit down with her. 

          How cute, he thought to himself as he watched Angela read the little girl the story.  I wonder if she’s baby sitting.  Maybe that’s a neighbor kid.  

           As the story was read to the little girl, he began to notice something quite familiar about her.  The hair was a different color, but her nose, her cheeks, and her chin were all Angela’s.  Mona . . . the hair was clearly from Mona.

           Angela had a baby?  He asked himself.  When did that happen?  Why didn’t Jonathan tell me?

            Curiosity and now doubt started to run through his veins.  If Angela was now a mother again, there must have been a father.  But who? Without realizing it, the rose dropped to the floor.

            Stop being stupid, he scolded himself.  Angela’s a beautiful woman.  A woman like her would have been snagged in a instant.  How vain you are, Michael, to think she would sit here waiting for you. 

            “Can I help you?” Asked a familiar voice behind him.

            “Oh, I’m sorry…I’m”  He was about turn and leave when it finally dawned on him who the man was standing before him.

            “Michael?  What are you doing here?”  Tony asked the long lost stranger as he put his key in the door.  “What are you doing standing outside?”

             “I. . . I guess I was just looking to see if anyone was home before I knocked.”

            Quickly, Tony opened the door and ushered Michael into the living room.

             “Angela.” Tony said putting down a bag of groceries on the table near the door. “Look who I found outside.”

              Gently, Angela took the little girl off her lap, stood up and pulled her up into her arms.  “Michael Bower!  What in Heaven’s name has brought you to town?”

           “Mom, he has Jon-ton’s name.”  The little girl said as her mother passed her into Tony’s arms.

           Angela reached out and gave Michael an unexpected hug.  Still in shock, she led him over to the couch.  “That’s because this is Jonathan’s daddy.”

           Before Tony could stop her, she wiggled out of his arms and ran over to the couch to hug Michael. 

           “Mr. Bower,” the little girl said holding him in a tight embrace.

            As she pulled away from him, for the first time Michael got a good look at her precious face.  The chin, nose and cheeks indeed belonged to Angela.  The hair was Mona’s.  But the eyes said it all.  The eyes were chocolately like Angela’s, but they were the same hue and shape as the only other man in the room.  She belonged to Tony.  She was Tony and Angela's.

            “Yes, I’m Mr. Bower.” He finally managed to get out.  Without even realizing it, he found himself looking towards the hands of the couple in the room.  Matching rings. He thought to himself.  Folly and recognition reeling in his mind, he tried to stand up.

             “I guess congratulations are in order,”  Michael said when he finally was able to take in a deep breath.

 

             He ended up staying for dinner.  A dinner that was full of great food, happiness and the same laughter he had dreamed of on the way there.  He watched this family lovingly and with envy at the same time.  It was like a Norman Rockwell painting.  The stories were funny, but were filled with memories that he would never be apart of.

              At the end of the evening, excuses were made, lies were told and he soberly found himself saying good bye to all.

              He climbed back into his rental and thought about the man in the house who he didn’t even have the courage to dislike. Tony.  A guy from Brooklyn, who when Michael first met him, didn’t even have a college degree.  A guy who had supported his little girl as a housekeeper and had driven an old beat up van.  When he first came to Connecticut, he hadn’t had much in life, but now, Michael could see that he was the richest and happiest man in the world. 

             Michael stood there alone with nothing but a job and a paycheck to go home to, but what home? 

             “Lessons learned sometimes hurt the worst.”  He thought to himself as he put the key back in the ignition.

 

             “He’s still sitting out there,” Angela said as she looked out the window thirty minutes later.

             ‘Want me to go talk to him?” Tony asked as he placed a sleepy, Kate in her mother's arms.

             “It wouldn’t hurt.  I'll put Kate to bed," she said taking the now exhausted red topped tornado upstairs.

 

            Michael finally reached up to put the key in the ignition when he heard a tap at the window.

             “Can we talk?”  Tony asked with concern in his voice.

             Michael pushed the "unlock" button and without a word, Tony climbed in the passenger seat.

             A few minutes passed with neither of them having the courage to speak.  Michael ran his hand over a small section of the steering wheel.

             “You know Michael,” Tony said gathering his thoughts.  “I guess seeing me in your house, married to your wife probably came as a pretty big shock.”

             Michael tried to act nonchalant.

             “I know.  I could tell you were lying,” Tony said.  “Jonathan told me that he never told you.”

             “Funny that he would say that.  Because, stupid me.  I never even asked.” He said gripping the steering wheel a little too firmly.  “I was so busy with "Me, Myself and I" that I didn’t even think about what you all were up to.  What Jonathan was up to.  I’ve been so caught up in MY needs and wants that for the last, I don’t know…twenty years, I never took a moment to think about Angela’s.”

              “Michael, you know you should probably be telling her this,” Tony said, looking down at the floormat.

              “I know, but . . ” He said.  With more frustrastion than strength, he opened the car door and got out.  Without really meaning to, he slammed the door and buried his head in his arms as he leaned against the roof of the car.

             Tony got out, not really certain what to do next.

            “I’m the one that pushed her away," Michael said as he raised his head.  "I’m the one that ruined two marriages and my relationship with my only child.  And now, here I am alone, with nothing.  You probably think I’ve been an idiot to give all this up," he said pointing to the house.  "I guess, reality started to finally hit me and well… I began thinking about the times when I truly felt the most alive, the times when I felt the most love.   And those times were with her.”

             “Michael.  You’re not alone.  Ya see, I did the same thing myself," Tony said pointing at his chest with the side of his hand.  "I was stupid enough to choose a career over our relationship a few years ago.  And I can see now, gratefully, I’m glad I figured out how to fix things before you did,” Tony said with a relieved chuckle. 

             “Listen, Michael, you might not be married to Angela, but you’ll have something with her that I never will.  And that’s Jonathan.  You’ll always hold a special place in their hearts, a hole that no matter how much I love them, only you can fill.  Face it, you’ll never be alone.  Like it or not, you are still apart of this family.  You have a son and friends and loved ones who care about you.  Well, maybe not Mona, but still... you’ve got family.  Tell me.  Why does it have to be all or nothing?”

            With a deep breath and a bit of hesitation, Michael walked around the car to join Tony. 

            “So her name’s Kate, huh?”  He asked as they walked back into the house.