As the weeks slid by, the Sailors faded from memory. They kept losing games by big scores, but Sharon and her friends mostly forgot about them. Each Monday morning, Tim and Enoch would read about the games with satisfaction, but that was about it. Best of all from Sharon’s point of view, the media seemed to forget Tim and Enoch. There consequently wasn’t as much urgency for Enoch to escape to England, and he and Diana were now scheduled to leave in December. Meredith and Wolfgang both had undeniable crazy moments, but mainly bolstered each other’s sanity and stability. Doris also remained, even though she had to manage her affairs in Boston somewhat inconveniently at a distance. She explained to Sharon, “I’m still acting as an intermediary between Meredith and my old friend, her psychiatrist. He’s still not sure if she’s on the best drug regimen, and so I’ll be here for a while.”
It seemed to Sharon that Doris was going way beyond any sort of obligation, but, then, she did seem to be a natural helper. Sharon wanted to make sure that she had fun at the same time, and was able to get her into the double kayak. Doris wasn’t really an exercise person, but paddled gently as Sharon, behind her, supplied the power.
Chris came up for paddling whenever he could, and Sharon kept in touch with him by phone. She still had no intention of becoming his girl friend in any traditional sense, but was getting increasingly comfortable with him. Then, in early November, he called with a surprise. Never departing from his usual measured tone, he said, “There’s a new development. My mother’s divorcing Dad, and she’s taken up with another man.”
“That’s terrible, isn’t it?”
“Partly. It’s been coming, and I think Dad may be better off in the long run. But the other man is a bit of a disaster, both in himself and in his intrusion into the family at this point.”
It turned out that the new man was a real estate agent with a certain panache and glamour, but not much else. Sharon responded, “Meredith’s been having a bad time, not only for being dumped, but for being dumped for another person. It’s more than a little humiliating, and I guess Duane’s in that position now.”
“He doesn’t act terribly upset around me, but I’m sure he is.”
“If he doesn’t have a place to live, he can join us in the big boat up here.”
“He’s living in his office, and seems quite happy about it.”
“Really? That sounds rather makeshift.”
“He has a good couch to sleep on, and he uses the microwave ovens in the food court for cooking. And, of course, he can shower at the gym. He’s been friends with the janitors for years, and they make things easy for him. He’s also happy not to have to commute.”
“Okay. Can you bring him up on Saturday?”
“I was going to suggest it. That will help.”
When Sharon informed Tim, the latter was also concerned. He replied, “My first thought would be to get Duane fixed up with someone else, but I guess that would be a simplistic solution to the problem.”
“I think so. You can’t just substitute one person for another. Anyhow, we do seem to be doing what we can to rescue dumped people.”
Tim, laughing, replied, “Maybe that will turn out to be our mission.”
“One of our many missions, Timmy. We’re scatterguns at heart.”
Sharon had never thought that she needed a paramount mission in life, particularly one based on the crazy conception of some philosopher. She suspected that Tim didn’t really believe in any such thing himself, but the Harvard philosophy department had done their work on him for some four years. Hopefully, the effect would fade away.
Chris and Duane arrived on Saturday, acting as if nothing had happened. They were soon all out in boats, this time with no particular agenda, and the fact that it was a little rougher didn’t seem to bother anyone. Afterwards, there was a group expedition to an Italian restaurant, and then to a coffee house. When Sharon was finally more or less alone with Chris, she asked, “Is this separation hard on you?”
“I’d much rather be with Dad than my mother, but I’m still a minor, and she’ll wind up with custody.”
“But you’ll be allowed to spend a good deal of time with Duane?”
“Sure. If it comes to that, Mother’s probably too occupied with the new man, Stuart, to want me around much.”
“Just a very ordinary salesman. He tries to befriend me pretty aggressively.”
“Which you resist?”
“I’m polite, but always too busy with my studies to do anything with him. With luck, he’ll give up trying.”
Chris then imitated, quite convincingly, the voice and manner of his new possible step-father. Sharon hadn’t realized that he could be funny in that way. Laughing, she replied, “Do you always skate your way through crises with humor?”
“Not always. It’s hard to see the humor when you’re being manhandled by football players. But, afterwards, there are elements of pleasant absurdity to be cherished.”
“I’d find that hard.”
“It turns out that, when high school boys get excited during the hunt for an innocent victim, their faces get distorted in odd animalistic ways. In fact, they can look less human than the product you and Tim turned out. If I had any artistic ability, I could capitalize on it.”
“I did expect you two to be more upset than you seem to be. Does your father also defy all odds in seeing the humorous aspects of things?”
“At least with me.”
“Anyhow, getting out in boats is sure to help.”
That night, Chris and Duane slept on the big boat, and joined the others for breakfast at an outside table. A few people at an adjoining table were making fun of the Sailors and predicting various lop-sided scores for the day’s game. They apparently didn’t recognize Enoch and Tim.
When Tim went to the bathroom, Sharon answered his cell phone. It turned out to be Melissa Ives. She was in tears as she announced that she had just been fired. Sharon’s heart sank a little. Another shipwreck! And this one would want lots of consolation from Tim. A little later, when Sharon asked how she was doing with her husband, the answer was, “Terrible! It started off great, but now he’s going back to his old ways.”
Sharon could have predicted that. There was more weeping. It sounded like an enhanced shipwreck. Sharon tried to be soothing, but with minimal enthusiasm. She had originally taken Melissa to be a fairly accomplished professional, the sort of person who would have her life in order. On the other hand, she realized that these older women were subject to all kinds of stresses from which she, Sharon, was largely spared. With that in mind, she invited Melissa to come around. At the same time, she intended to take a strong line with Tim. He was not to take Melissa to the boat for more playtime.
When Tim clacked his way back from the bathroom, Sharon told him about Melissa. He didn’t seem very interested, and Sharon didn’t think she had to worry about his molesting, or being molested by, Melissa. However, Sharon noticed that Duane, across the table, was attending her words closely. She then remembered the little scene outside the deli in which Melissa had attempted, with at least partial success, to fascinate Duane.
Melissa arrived in short course, while they were still at the table with their coffee. She again had the children with her. Her husband had claimed that the presence of the children kept him from enjoying the Sunday football games, and had refused to be stuck with them. Sharon was a little surprised that Melissa hadn’t been able to overcome such a weak position, but, very likely, her husband was in no mood to give way on anything.
Given her performance on the phone, Melissa was now something of a welcome surprise. She was cheery, didn’t complain to anyone about anything, and didn’t come on too strong to either Tim or Duane. At one point, she confided to Sharon, “Tim’s going out with Janet again, so I guess we managed that transference of affection smoothly.”
Sharon agreed happily. She was truly glad that the transference had taken place, and, if the whole business had been handled with a little more calculation than one might have expected, she wasn’t going to object.
At that moment, Wolfgang erupted. A small, rather inoffensive, dog came by, and was taken for a dangerous enemy. Sharon had his leash on her ankle in anticipation of such an event, but was yanked off her seat on to the cement. Chris, moving quickly, grabbed the leash and managed to bring Wolfgang to a halt. Sharon, getting up gingerly, said to him, “That already makes you half a hero. If you want to be a full hero, you can take charge of Wolfgang.”
Chris, ignoring precedent, wound the leash around his own ankle and sat down.
Smiling at Chris, Sharon muttered inwardly about Wolfgang. This wasn’t the first such incident. Moreover, Meredith seemed to regard him as a ‘family dog’, to be looked after and restrained by whoever happened to be present. Sharon thought that she herself did more restraining than did Meredith. But, of course, it was part of Meredith’s syndrome that she took action without regard for consequences. She was really doing quite well under the circumstances.
When they finally did leave the table in front of the deli, they set out for the boats. Melissa couldn’t go this time, but invited Duane to accompany her while she took the children to a park. He looked conflicted, but agreed. At least, Sharon thought, he would have some idea of the challenges he would meet if he ever did take up with Melissa.
Meredith had arrived just in time to be saddled with Wolfgang, and Sharon wound up in the double kayak with Doris. Chris paddled alongside in a single, and, at this point, he was beginning to feel rather like a teammate.
It was a glorious day on a mellow sea with occasional dolphins, and they didn’t talk much. After a couple of hours of fairly leisurely paddling, they landed and shared a big jar of peanuts.
The next event was a game of frisbee on the marina lawn. Since Tim couldn’t move much with his crutches, the throws to him had to be accurate. Enoch, on the other hand, treated errant throws as an excuse to perform spectacular leaps and dives to impress Diana. They seemed to Sharon to be a poor substitute for his deeds on the football field, but, judging from Diana’s reactions, they were good enough. Finally, after a home-made meal on the big boat, they went to a coffee house across the river.
As Tim, Diana, Doris and Enoch were ordering, and then talking with people they met, Sharon was again alone with Chris. She said, “I do have some mixed feelings about Melissa, quite apart from the fact that she seems to be getting chummy with your father.”
“You don’t think she’s a nice lady?”
“I have enough priggishness to think that married women shouldn’t fool around with my brother, even if he enjoys the situation.”
Looking across the room at Tim, Chris replied, “At this point, he seems to be safely out of her clutches.”
“Yes. I don’t know whether she’d be good for Duane or not.”
“Isn’t it funny that we’re just kids, but we’re trying to decide what would be good for adults?”
“I’m afraid that I’m used to it. There are times when Tim has no common sense at all, and has to be managed. In the whole group, I can only take advice from Doris with confidence.”
“She’s a lot older. I’d take advice from my dad about most things, but he’s in an abnormal state just now.”
“Doris probably was at times, but she’s had a chance to sort it out. If she marries again, she’ll be sensible about it.”
“It could be argued that we’ll have to do wild and crazy things before finding our balance and becoming sensible.”
“Is that a veiled proposition, Chris?”
“If it is, I hereby withdraw it.”
“Good. I’m going to keep on being rational all the way without any crazy streaks.”
She must have spoken louder than she realized, and she found a nearby man laughingly congratulating her. It turned out to be Mr. Brian Howison. He said, “It seems that we patronize the same alternative to Starbucks.”
Sharon introduced Chris, adding, “He’s the latest addition to our kayak group.”
Mrs. Howison then joined the group. Melissa had once described the couple, with knowing exaggeration, as ‘a former pool hustler married to a former stripper.’ It was, of course, grossly unfair. Howison was certainly an entrepreneur, and he did have charm not entirely devoid of the commercial, but no former hustler could have influenced the movement of billions of dollars. For her part, the artificially blonde Mrs. Howison was younger, and had a good figure with good posture. But her clothing was in good taste, and her speech was clearly the product of a good education. However, they did seem to have created their wealth, as opposed to inheriting it, and it might have been that aura that had triggered a latent snobbishness in Melissa.
As they talked, it was clear to Sharon that the Howisons took Chris to be much more than a kayaker. Mrs. Howison was particularly curious, and asked him some rather probing questions. Chris seemed comfortable, and responded humorously, much in the manner of his father. Finally, at a break in the conversation, Howison remarked, “I heard about Melissa being fired and I’m sorry about it. Please explain to her that I had nothing to do with it.”
“In fact, I may be able to get that decision overturned. But it might be better not to tell her that until I test the waters a bit.”
When the others came over and acquaintances were renewed, Howison said to Tim and Enoch, “I wanted to thank you gentlemen for letting drop the matters we spoke about previously.”
Tim laughed and replied, “We haven’t changed our positions. But, recognizing the futility of it, we’ve gone on to other things.”
“Excellent! I couldn‘t ask for more.”