No Time Like The Present
Jim strolled into the Blue County Medical Clinic cheerfully smiling just as he did every afternoon on the first Monday of the month to receive his multiple blood draws for testing. Jim had been in the clinic enough times to be on a first name basis with the front desk staff and the Blood Clinic receptionist Amber who opened the glass sliding door and asked for his information every time.
The technicians who regularly drew his blood were professional, polite, and friendly with the proper chair-side manners each time they poked his arm for his blood. Julie was on duty today, a woman who had drawn his blood several times in the past. She was in her early forties and a bit overweight with dyed dark brown hair to her shoulders. She always had a pleasant smile on her face and Jim liked her, bantering good naturedly just as he did at all his appointments.
Julie looked forward to seeing Jim each month and she smiled warmly as he slipped into the chair. She rubbed his arm with alcohol and found his vein with the needle but today she decided to forget the small talk and ask him a question she had been dying to ask for months.
"You don't remember me, do you?" Julie asked as the blood began to flow from Jim's vein.
"Sure," Jim replied politely. "You always do a great job every time we do this."
"No, I mean you don't remember me from the past," she clarified.
"Should I?" Jim asked, raising his eyebrow as he gave her a look.
"It was a long time ago," Julie admitted. "Probably not."
"Did I arrest you?" Jim asked, giving her an amused smirk.
"Almost," she admitted with some embarrassment.
"The fact that you didn't is probably the only reason why I'm here doing this now," Julie revealed, her voice starting to shake. "That night is when I realized how much I needed to turn my life around or I'd certainly end up in jail."
"Well, I'm glad it worked out for you," Jim replied with a smile.
"Thanks to you," Julie said as she finished filling the first vile with blood.
"Oh, I doubt that," Jim said dismissively.
"Seriously," Julie insisted. "I was eighteen years old. I was barely passing high school and the people I was hanging around with were making bad choices and doing stupid things. I was at that house the night of the Garcia drug bust."
"I see," Jim said, recalling one of Greenville's biggest drug interventions ever. "I was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong guy," Julie sighed as she got the second vile ready for the blood. "The cops busted just everybody there but you walked me and another girl out of the house."
"You sure it was me?" Jim asked innocently.
"I memorized your name tag," she said, nodding her head. "I watched for you around town for a long time after that, always looking for my guardian angel."
"Oh, it wasn't that dramatic," Jim said lightly.
Yes it was!" Julie insisted. "You put us both in the back of your squad car and brought us to Denny's over by the Rotary. You told us we needed to change our lives around. You said we were taking the wrong path in life and if we didn't change we'd end up dead. You said we needed to stop hanging around with the wrong crowd, people who were bad influences. You said it was up to us to decide what kind of people we wanted to be. You gave us a twenty dollar bill and let us out of the patrol car. You told us if you ever saw us with those people again you'd toss our asses in jail and throw away the key."
"Gee, I don't remember that," Jim lied.
"I never forgot it," Julie said, her eyes watering up. "It was more than twenty years ago and it totally changed my life. I got my act together after that, made new friends and did well in school and then college. By making the decision to do something better with my life I was able to change it and I can honestly say that you saved my life that night."
"You did all the work," Jim assured her.
"You do remember, don't you?" She needed to know.
"I remember," he acknowledged. "I didn't recognize you. It's been a long time."
"Thank you for what you did that night," she said gratefully.
"You're welcome," Jim smiled warmly.
"Why did you do it?" She asked.
"Everybody deserves a second chance," Jim told her with a smile.
She finished drawing the blood and then placed a piece of gauze over the poked hole in his skin. Jim held the wrap while she got some bright green tape to secure the gauze.
"Thanks," Jim said cheerfully when she was finished as he hopped out of the chair, an old pro at the routine by now.
Julie nodded her appreciation and then gave him a long look "I can't believe I'm about to ask this, but would you be willing to go out with me sometime?"
Jim smirked even though he was surprised by her proposition. "You do know why I'm here, right?"
"Yes," she confirmed. "I'm okay with it even though I broke every HIPPA rule in the book by glancing at your info chart and seeing that you're divorced. You can report me if you wish." She sheepishly looked at the floor.
"That's okay," Jim smiled, intrigued by her invitation. "Maybe we could go out for a drink sometime."
"Oh, I don't drink anymore," she replied strongly, looking at him with interest.
"Well, maybe for ice cream then."
"I'd like that," Julie smiled.
He nodded and started for the door but she stopped him with her voice. "When?" Julie asked, fearful that if he made it through the door she'd never hear from him until his next blood draw appointment.
Jim glanced at her and grinned. "How 'bout Friday night?" He suggested. "We can meet at Baskin Robbins. Say, 7:00?"
"Sounds great," Julie agreed happily.
The Police Detective gave her an appreciative smile, suddenly struck by her appearance wearing light green hospital scrubs that were filled by her full figure covered with a flowered smock. Her orange reddish brown hair hung to her shoulders, cut around her round face. Jim nodded before disappearing through the door and Julie watched him walk past the receptionist window and out the front door of the clinic before she covered her mouth with her hands.
"Oh My God!" Julie exclaimed. "I can't believe I just did that!"
Nineteen year old receptionist Amber, young and pretty, romantic and naive, turned in her swivel chair and smiled with approval. "Good for you!" She said, impressed.
"I haven't been out on a date since high school!" Julie laughed. "What in the hell am I thinking?"
"Maybe you're thinking it's time," Amber replied.
Detective Jim Groth drove to the Greenville Police Station amused by the blood technician who had the gonads to ask him out. He hadn't socialized much since the divorce followed by his illness, concentrating on his job and health so it felt flattering that someone younger than him was interested in a date even knowing that he was sick.
Jim noticed Julie in the clinic during his monthly visits although he had no idea she was the teenager he had given a break to all those years ago. He could have gotten in trouble for his rouge decision not to arrest the two girls with the rest of the group but he sensed that they really had no clue what they were involved in and his gut told him he was doing the right thing when he sprang them with a stern warning and pep talk. Who would have thought their paths would cross all these years later?
He'd been a patrol cop back then - twenty four years ago if that was possible - now he was a plain clothes detective with enough sick time to still work full time while making all his medical appointments and calling in on those days he was just to tired to get out of bed. Detective Groth was a good investigator and one of the department's front line interrogators, impressively adapt at asking direct no-nonsense questions and getting suspects and witnesses to tell the truth after tripping them up in omissions, mis-statements, and contradictions.
Jim didn't mention the 'date' to his co-workers. He rarely talked about his personal life at work anyway. He went home each night to his small condo purchased after he and JoEllen sold the house and split the profit. It was quaint and homey although it didn't have much of an identity or personality. He took the furniture JoEllen didn't want and bought a new bedroom set that really didn't fit the room's decor but he wasn't entertaining anybody there these days anyway.
Would Julie be upset to know that he ran a background check on her - even if she did violate HIPPA regs by checking on his personal information? Her record was clean although her ex-husband had a DWI and a few disturbing the peace complaints. She had two children, one 21 and the other 19.
Jim tried not to think about Julie and his Friday night 'date' during the rest of the week. He didn't want to get excited about the ice cream meeting knowing it could be a one and out deal, especially with his questionable future. But when Friday finally arrived, Jim found himself becoming a bit more energized knowing he was going to see Julie outside of the clinic - the first real social meeting since his divorce. He went home after work and showered, putting on a pair of khaki shorts and a yellow polo shirt and having a small salad before heading to the ice cream shop for dessert.
Jim was half expecting to be stood up, recalling how nervous Julie acted when she asked him out but she was already there when he entered the Baskin Robbins, seated in a corner booth drinking from a glass of water. She was wearing a simple white blouse and what looked to be jeans under the table.
Jim smiled as he walked through the restaurant and slid into the booth bench from Julie who looked up from the water and smiled. "You came," she joked.
"You too," Jim countered with a grin.
"It would have been awkward seeing you in the clinic next month if I didn't," she explained sheepishly.
The waitress arrived - a young bubbly high school girl - Julie ordered a hot fudge sundae and Jim went with the same, along with a coke.
"How did you know you were sick?" Julie wondered, surprising Jim by cutting right to the chase as the waitress left.
"Annual physical," he replied truthfully. "Excess protein in my urine that usually signals cancer. In this case, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma."
"Did you have any symptoms before that?" Julie asked with interest.
He shrugged indifferently. "I was more tired than usual but I had been working long shifts so I didn't think much of it. There was some numbness in my hands and fingers that I dismissed as carpal tunnel syndrome being on the computer so much. Then there were some gastrointestinal issues but I chocked that up to my cooking!"
She smiled but remained serious and inquisitive. "You must have been freaked out."
"I'm a cop," he replied. "There's always anxiety and stress going on. Plus my marriage had just ended so I was preoccupied with that stuff and I tried to take the prognosis one day at a time. The doctor said it was Indolent Non-Hodgkins which is the smoldering kind that you can live with for a long time."
"Who knows that you're sick?"
"Besides the gang at the clinic?" He joked.
She blushed. "Yeah."
"Some of the people I work with," Jim revealed. "My brother."
"What about the ex?" Julie asked with interest as she played with the straw in her water glass.
"I didn't want her to feel obligated or guilty," Jim replied. "She's with somebody else and she doesn't need to be worrying about me."
"What about your kids?"
"My daughter's married and living in Virginia," Jim shrugged. "My son's in the Navy in Florida. I'll tell them when it becomes necessary."
"Gee, when do you think that will be?" Julie asked sarcastically.
"Look, they're living their own lives right now," Jim explained. "There's nothing they can do about it and I don't want them turning their lives upside down over this. I'll tell them when there's a need to know."
The waitress returned with the ice cream and Jim's soda. The two customers smiled and politely waited for her to leave before resuming their conversation.
"Anyway, I had a round of chemotherapy treatments one week a month for three months," Jim told Julie. "I felt really great after that and I haven't had any other treatments although I have the blood tests done every month. There's concern whenever there's a spike in the readings or if I have a fever or am excessively tired but I've been doing okay."
"I'm glad," Julie smiled as she took a bite of her sundae. "Are you seeing anybody for emotional support?" she wondered. "Sounds like you're kind of on your own."
"There's a psychologist with the department," Jim revealed. "I see her every month or so and that's helped."
"What do you talk about?"
"Death and mortality and living with cancer and divorce and all that sort of stuff," Jim answered honestly, suddenly relieved to have someone else to talk to about what he was going through.
"It must be tough sometimes," Julie sighed. "Especially being on your own."
"Sometimes," Jim admitted. "But in a way it's been a blessing that I'm alone so I don't have to worry others."
"That's sad, Jim," Julie said with a frown.
"When you're a career cop you're always trying to protect others from the reality of what you do," Jim explained. "I guess it isn't much different when it comes to be a sick cop."
"You need to be kind to yourself," Julie told him with sincerity. "You shouldn't have to go through this alone either."
"I'm fifty two and sick," Jim replied. "It's sort of hard to be out on the social scene after a thirty-year marriage went south."
"I'm forty-two, divorced, and forty pounds overweight," Julie rebutted. "You think it's easy for me?"
Jim smirked. "You look good to me," he remarked.
"You helped me out a long time ago, Jim," she told him. Now it's my turn."
"You don't want to take this on, Julie," Jim warned.
"Yes, I do," she replied with sincerity. "I believe in paying it back and paying it forward. Thanking you with words seems shallow and meaningless. Thanking you with action and involvement will mean something to me."
"I'm probably going to die on you," Jim said candidly.
"Well, you're not dead yet," Julie countered. "Don't you want somebody to keep your bed warm while you're sleeping? Don't you want somebody by your side when you need to cry or swear or share your feelings?"
"We don't even know each other, Julie," Jim told her, playing with the melted ice cream at the bottom of his dish.
"I've known you most of my life," Julie countered. "You saved me from myself and I dedicated my life to doing what you told me to do that night you put me back on the right path. I've thought about you just about every day and the first time I saw you walk into the clinic I knew God had put you back in my life for a reason."
"You don't have to feel sorry for me, Julie," Jim said.
"I don't," she insisted. "I'm glad for the second chance. I doubt I'd have my kids if it wasn't for you and I know I wouldn't have the career I have if you hadn't intervened that night."
"You give me much too much credit," Jim protested with embarrassment.
"No I don't," she said, shaking her head. "You changed my entire future in one night."
"I'm glad it turned out well for you," Jim smiled.
"Well, it wasn't the perfect life," Julie admitted with a sigh. "I married a man who drank too much and was abusive and I finally had to get out of the relationship. It only took me twenty years to figure that out!"
Jim nodded and gave her a long look, saddened to learn of her problems.
"How come you're so cheerful all the time?" Julie asked bluntly. "Every time you come into the clinic you're smiling and joking around, giving everybody else a lift when you're the one who's sick."
"Getting divorced was the biggest disappointment and failure of my life," Jim confessed. "When I first got sick I almost didn't care. It was like, 'okay, I'll just die then.' But I came to realize that life is beautiful and I'm grateful for every day because I know how precious life is."
"What brought about that shift in outlook?" Julie asked.
"I was getting chemo treatment one day, feeling sorry for myself and being miserable, and I meet this twelve year old kid with no hair looking like a skeleton but her positive spirit and attitude was so amazing that I felt ashamed for my own behavior. She called me Jimmy and she was so cute. Her name was Katie and I made sure I was scheduled the same time she was just so I could be around her energy and joy."
"That's wonderful," Julie smiled.
"Katie died not long after I met her but I told myself that I was going to be just like her in my approach to life, Jim revealed. "There's no reason to be down on life when you're lucky to be alive. I can almost hear Katie saying that."
The waitress returned to the table and took away their empty ice cream dishes while leaving the tab which Jim subtly slid to his side of the table.
"Can I see you again?" Julie wanted to know.
"I think that's supposed to be my line," Jim grinned.
"Yeah, but I know you're not going to ask it," Julie replied.
"Why would you think that?" Jim asked with interest.
"Because you're divorced and you're sick and you're a cop and you think you can do it on your own and you don't want to get involved with me because of your uncertain future and you're thinking you're too old to start all over anyway and who is this weird woman making you talk about yourself?!"
Jim laughed. "How 'bout dinner Sunday night?" He suggested, accepting her challenge. "Greenville Grille, six o'clock."
Julie was pleasantly surprised by his invitation. "That would be nice," she said happily. "I'd like that."
"Great," Jim replied as he put the tip on the table and slid out of the booth seat.
Julie did the same from her side of the booth and Jim escorted her to the front where he paid the cashier.
"I'm glad we did this," Julie said as he walked her outside.
"Where's your car?" Jim asked and she gestured to a five year old Honda in the lot.
Jim walked her to the car and waited as she unlocked the doors. He opened the driver's door for her and Julie smiled as she slid into the seat.
"I'll see you at the Grille on Sunday," Jim said cheerfully.
"Six o'clock," Julie confirmed. "Looking forward to it."
Jim nodded as he closed the door and he watched her drive away before walking to his year old Dodge Charger a few spots away. He had splurged and bought the car to treat himself to a boy toy in his divorce-hood.
Jim drove home feeling relaxed and hopeful. The 'date' had gone well and he felt better after his chat with Julie who was certainly an interesting and giving person. He couldn't believe she was willing to get involved with him even knowing the stakes but he had to admit that it felt good to actually converse with someone on a person level again after all this time.
Jim usually relaxed and took it easy on the weekends, conserving his strength and resting up after the long work week. He'd do whatever chores and errands were necessary but he also took an afternoon nap and went to bed early. Sometimes he wasn't sure if it was because he was tired or depressed. As much as he tried to abide by the Katie philosophy and maintain a cheerful demeanor, he was lonely and alone and if he thought too much about his limited future he tended to have sad feelings, especially when he thought about his kids.
But thinking about Julie was something new and he liked the way she smiled. He liked the way she smelled too (her perfume) and while he had been resigned to the reality that he was alone the idea of establishing some sort of relationship with Julie gave him a new sense of a meaningful future (even if it was time limited).
Being a community servant and Police Officer, Jim was well aware of his responsibility to image, conduct, and appearance. He wasn't in a position to pay for sex and his health concerns deterred him from embarking on casual sexual relationships so it had been no sex at all since well before the divorce. Jim was pretty sure given his circumstances he'd never have sex again but something Julie had said Friday night stayed with him - Don't you want somebody to keep your bed warm while you're sleeping?
The bed did feel large and empty without JoEllen in it and he missed sharing the night with her but she had left him for another man. When it first happened, Jim was convinced that Jo would change her mind and come back to him. He would forgive her and welcome her home and they'd resume their marriage as if nothing had happened but then the divorce papers were served and Jim realized it really was over.
Jim tried to stick to a most-marriage routine. He stopped by Dunkin Donuts on his way to work every morning for a cup of coffee, not so much for the coffee but for the opportunity to socialize for a few minutes with the regulars and service staff he saw each day. He wasn't a cop for those few minutes and he wasn't sick either – he was just a guy getting coffee. Secretly, he fantasized that he might meet a woman through the reputation of the morning but that never happened – who would have thought he'd instead meet a woman at the blood clinic!?
Julie was convinced she'd never find another man after her long painful marriage to an alcoholic with an abusive personality mercifully ended. Her goal was to get her two kids through high school before leaving Manny and that's exactly what she did. She didn't protest when Clara decided to move in with her boyfriend and once Eddie graduated, Julie rented a U-haul and paid Eddie and his friends to pack up her stuff and move it into a cheap apartment by the Blue River, willing to sacrifice her half of the house but she was freed from hell and that was all she cared about.
Julie tried not to feel betrayed when Eddie decided to stay with his father. She understood that he grew up in the house and felt obligated to stay there. Eddie was a good kid who worked at the paper mill and hung out with his friends. Julie knew there was a girlfriend that Eddie didn't want to tell her much about but as long as he acted responsibly Julie trusted her son to do the right thing.
Manny didn't fight the separation or divorce and he continued to be a functioning alcoholic, showing up for work everyday as a construction worker while spending every waking hour off the job drinking. Julie usually visited with Eddie at her place or at a neutral site but the last time Julie drove by the house it looked horrible – the grass not mowed, trash piled up by the garage, and the front window blinds disheveled but she didn't live there anymore and as much as it pained her to see her former home looking so disgraceful she had to let it go- just as she let Manny go.
Julie seriously was not interested in dating, romance, or a new relationship. She needed to take care of herself and decompress from her long years of suffering. But the first time she saw Officer Groth walk into the clinic she had an immediate flashback to that unfortunate night of her youth when she ended up in the middle of the biggest drug bust in Blue County history, naively tagging along with her girlfriend Angie and a couple of losers they had been hanging out with for a few weeks.
Julie was convinced that the savior policeman was sent back into her life all these years later to give her a second chance now that she was basically starting all over again as well as offering her the opportunity to pay him back for all that he had done for her that night.
Every time she saw him in the clinic (over several months) Julie became more convinced that the cop was there for a reason (beyond his blood work) and it was up to her to intervene when it became obvious he didn't recognized her twenty-four years later. She didn't plan on asking him out - it just sort of rushed out of her thoughts and onto her lips after she drew his blood that day but after their ice cream date she was glad she did. It was clear that Jim needed her in his life and that was why God had brought the two back together.
Jim thought about Julie as he relaxed (and dosed) on the couch watching the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon leading up to their dinner date that evening. He wasn't sure why Julie was interested in him and willing to spend time with him. But he had to admit that there was something intriguing and grounding about her. He enjoyed their conversation over ice cream and he was flattered that she was actually interested in what he had to say. JoEllen stopped listening to him years ago and by the end of the marriage he didn't have much to say to her anyway. It felt good to talk to someone new and different.
That's why Jim was feeling particularly upbeat and excited as he drove to the Greenville Grille for dinner with Julie. He had a feeling that good things might come of this and he remembered what Danielle the Police Psychologist advised during one of their first sessions – stay in the moment, take it one day at a time, and the future is now. Today was the only day that mattered and Jim didn't need to be thinking about his questionable future because it didn't involve today.
Julie was seated on the bench in the waiting area and she smiled when she saw Jim come through the door of the Greenville Grille. They exchanged greetings and allowed the hostess to seat them at a table. They made small talk until the waiter came to take their order and then Jim gave Julie a knowing smile.
"Tonight is your turn to talk," he announced.
"Oh yeah?" She teased. "Who said?"
"You already know my story," Jim replied. "Career Greenville cop. Divorced father of two. A Blood clinic regular."
"And you know I'm a blood clinic worker, also divorced, a mother of two."
"Tell me about you," Jim requested.
"Do you really want to hear my story?" Julie challenged.
Jim nodded affirmatively.
"Even if it scares you away?"
"Not much scares me anymore," Jim replied.
"I'm a survivor of domestic violence," Julie told him. "I finally found the courage to leave and begin a new life."
"Good for you," Jim smiled.
"The funny thing was I knew what I wanted," Julie said. "I wanted to be free of him and that life. Once my kids were old enough I did what I had to do for myself. But it wasn't until I was in my own apartment that I started asking myself what I needed. I knew what I wanted but I had no clue what I needed."
"Well, what do you need?" Jim asked.
"I need someone that I can trust," Julie answered with heartfelt sincerity.
"You can trust me," Jim replied.
"I know," Julie acknowledged. "Ever since that night you rescued me."
"It didn't turn out all that great for you despite that," Jim pointed out.
"It turned my attitude around," Julie explained. "That was half the battle. I just picked the wrong guy."
"That's too bad."
"Manny seemed liked he had his stuff together," Julie sighed. "He had a good job. He was talented. He courted me the right way. I thought he was the man I wanted to be with for the rest of my life. I had his kids for heaven sakes."
"So what happened?" Jim asked.
"He likes to drink," Julie revealed. "I was so happy to get away from the drug and party scene that I mistook his homebody ways as a sign that he was a grounded family man not realizing that he could polish off a six or twelve pack in front of the television every night."
"That can be a lot of beer," Jim remarked.
"Once the kids came along he became more possessive and authoritative," Julie sighed. "He was in charge. He was in control and if I didn't tote the line or respect his wishes I'd get a smack across the face, especially at night when he had been drinking. I lived in fear and terror that every time I did something wrong I'd get the shit kicked out of me."
Jim shook his head with disgust.
"But now I'm on a journey of healing from trauma," Julie explained proudly. "I'm trying to relearn what it means to have trust and honesty and safety while building a foundation through action in the here and now. It doesn't matter what happened in the past."
"Or the future," Jim offered.
Julie nodded knowingly. "The here and now is transforming. The past trauma is always going to be there but learning how to resolve it into successful solutions keeps my trauma separate from who I really am."
"Who are you?" Jim asked with interest.
"A mom. A co worker. A friend. A forty-two year old woman who finally stands up for herself."
"Good for you!" Jim smiled.
"A year ago I never would have had the guts to ask you out," Julie revealed. "I'd been suffering from PTSD. I was depressed for a long time. I was consumed by emotional suffering which became my normal existence. I wondered if I'd ever feel better. People in similar situations told me that healing is a slow long process after barely surviving through a lot of my marriage most of my life. I was surviving for my children but my life was really miserable."
"Is it getting better now?" Jim asked.
"Slowly, with time," Julie smiled. "Once I got out of the marriage and into my own apartment I could start focusing on myself. My kids don't need me so much now so I have time to do things for myself and enjoy myself. Would you believe I took an art class at Blue County Community College last semester?" She beamed.
"Great!" Jim said.
"I've always had my career but now that I'm not so stressed out I'm enjoying my job even more," Julie continued. "I'm able to pay attention and actually feel my feelings instead of ignoring them because I didn't think I was worthy. I've learned to trust myself and respond to my needs. It's been important to trust my inner self and that's transformed my life because my life has meaning now."
"Wow," Jim said with appreciation. "You're really something."
"No, not really," she blushed. "But it does feel good to have a new start."
"I was feeling like I was having a lot of endings," Jim admitted. "The end of my marriage. The possible end of my life."
"Shhh," Julie said. "It does no good to think like that."
"I'm getting that," Jim said.
"What happened to your marriage?"
Jim chewed on his lip for a moment giving her question some thought. "You know, I could have very easily become like Manny," he admitted after a few reflective moments. "Being a cop can be tough. The stuff we see and experience on a daily basis causes nightmares but my mentor early on told me that as hard as it was I needed to keep my work life and family life separate and I think I did a pretty good job of that over the years. I wasn't one of these guys who came home and sat in front of the television screaming and drinking until it was time to go to bed. We did things as a family and I stayed involved. But I admit that I hardened both physically and emotionally."
"I can imagine," Julie said with understanding.
"JoEllen was a cop too for a while," Jim revealed. "That's how we met. She quit willingly when she got pregnant to be a full time mom but she understood the cop's mentality and she was able to deal with some of that crap, supporting and encouraging me and reminding me that no matter how sick the world was out there I came home to family and love."
"That's important," Julie remarked. "I never felt that from Manny."
"Anyway, when the kids started getting older, JoEllen became involved in different activities that got her out of the house," Jim continued. "School stuff but also local politics. She served on a couple of committees and was a poll worker and she became more active in some of the political circles. As a cop in the same town, I had to keep my politics close to the vest and I wasn't as progressive as JoEllen became so that started putting strains on us, especially when JoEllen hosted a couple of political events at the house."
"Manny was never political," Julie said. "He didn't even bother to vote."
"But we continued to communicate pretty well for the most part," Jim said. "JoEllen was pretty good at expressing her feelings and telling me what she wanted and expected. We did the alone time thing, the Friday night date thing, and the getaways to try to stay connection and involved. Two week family vacation every summer. We had the nice house and the good kids but once they got older I guess we just started drifting apart – me with my detective duties and her with her political involvement."
"I'm sorry," Julie said with sincerity.
"She had an affair with one of the town counselors and although I tried to forgive her and we went to marriage counseling it was pretty clear JoEllen wanted out of the marriage," Jim revealed sadly.
"Is that the guy she's with now?" Julie asked.
"No, she's with some teacher who's pretty passionate about politics too," Jim revealed. "She wanted out and there was no point of me trying to keep her."
"I'm so sorry, Jim," Julie said with sympathy.
"It is what it is," Jim shrugged. "To tell you the truth, once I got sick I sort of forgot about all that," he admitted. "I went through a bout of depression of my own grieving the loss of my marriage and at first I took the illness as a death notice but then, after Katie, I've been resolved to live the best life I can for as long as I can for her."
"She would be honored, I'm sure," Julie replied.
"So, have I scared you away?" Jim grinned.
Julie laughed. "Have I scared you away!?" She wanted to know.
"I think it's pretty obvious that we're both survivors, Julie," Jim responded knowingly.
"Maybe we can survive together," she smiled.
"I'd like that," Jim let her know.
They had talked through the entire meal. It surprised them that they were done eating and having coffee now, the conversation having kept them engaged with time flying by.
"Maybe we can do this again," Jim suggested as he pulled his wallet out to get ready to settle the tab. "Maybe next Friday? Dinner?"
"Sorry, we don't have the time to wait until next Friday," Julie replied knowingly. "Everyday is important when you don't know how many tomorrows you have left."
Jim gave her a deadpanned look, slightly surprised that she was being so brutally honest.
"There's no time like the present, right?" She asked more gently.
"Right," Jim agreed.
"My son Eddie plays for the Giants in the Serguci League," Julie told him. "I try to go to most of his games. There's one Tuesday, at Beano Field in Hillsboro of course. I usually sit behind the first base line dugout. I'll be there by 6:30 if you want to join me."
"Sounds good," Jim replied. "My son and I used to go to games years ago. I had some co-workers who played over the seasons."
"Great, I'll see you there," Julie smiled.
Jim thought about it for a second. "Eddie won't mind?"
"About you?" Julie laughed. "I wouldn't worry about it."
Jim realized she was right. With the challenges he was facing, worrying about what Julie's son thought was the least of his problems."
Julie started to reach for her purse to go Dutch but Jim wouldn't hear of it. "You get the next one," he said.
"The dollar admission at Beano Field?" She smirked.
Jim grinned as they left the table and headed for the front door.
"Thanks for a lovely evening," Julie said once Jim walked her to her car. "I'll see you Tuesday."
"Good night," Jim replied as he opened the car door for her. "I had a nice time." She smiled and got into the car, waving to him before driving off.
Two nights later, Jim was feeling pretty spunky as he drove to Hillsboro's Beano Field where the amateur Serguci League played. He was amused that he was socializing for the third time in five days – he hadn't socialized three times outside the house in the past year!
Beano Field never changed and although he hadn't been in the place in at least ten years Jim couldn't detect any noticeable differences. He spotted Julie right away when he walked through the gate on the third base side of the park, sitting where she said she would be seated, wearing a Greenville Giants tee shirt, blue jeans and sandals, along with a Giants ball cap. She smiled and waved when she saw him and Jim walked through the stands to join her.
Julie had a program and a score card in one hand, a pencil in the other, a soda cup between her feet and a huge grin on her face.
"Hi Julie," he replied as he took a seat next to her.
Julie was a knowledgeable baseball fan and she told Jim about all the players, the present standings, and who were the league favorites. She proudly pointed out her son warming up in the outfield, a strapping lanky fellow wearing #12 on his back. He tipped his cap to his mother when he came jogging into the dugout.
The Giants beat the Crusaders 7-5. Eddie went 2-4 with a RBI and he looked good in the outfield. Jim enjoyed the game, amused by Julie's cheerleading and fan involvement. She was familiar with several people in the stands and struck up easy conversations. Jim wondered if any of them considered him to be her boyfriend and he thought about how that might feel if it was true.
When the game was over, Jim stood with Julie by the gate waiting for Eddie to finish with his post game responsibilities and he finally came lopping across to the field to them.
"Hey Ma, thanks for coming."
He was a good looking kid with his mother's eyes.
"Eddie, this is my friend Jim," Julie said.
"Good game," Jim said, shaking Eddie's hand.
"Thanks, Sir," Eddie replied politely.
They made small talk about the game for a few minutes and the Julie asked Eddie a few questions about his life but it was clear he didn't want to talk about that stuff in front of a guy he just met so Julie gave her son a peek on the cheek and told him she'd talk to him later.
Eddie disappeared through the gate and into the night without a word and Julie sighed as she and Jim slowly followed.
"It's so hard watching them grow up," Julie remarked.
"It's not something we can stop!" Jim grinned. "Don't worry. He's just finding his way on his own."
"I don't think he should be living with his father," Julie complained.
"He'll figure it out," Jim predicted. "Do you want to stop for some ice cream?"
"No, it's getting late on a work night," Julie replied. "I don't want to tire you out. Thanks for coming to the game with me though."
"Whenever you want," Jim let her know.
She smiled. "That would be nice."
They reached her car in the lot across the street from the ballpark and there was an interesting period of silence shared between them as they looked at each other with understanding and comfort. Jim was beginning to realize how much he was attracted to her, something he never anticipated a week ago.
"Well, good night," he said, once again opening the door to the car for her.
Julie smiled. "Aren't we going to make another date, Jim?" She asked.
Jim grinned, slightly embarrassed for not asking her first. "Of course!" He blushed. "There's no time like the present, right?"
"Right," she smiled.
"How' bout Friday?" He suggested.
"How about six? My place," Julie countered.
Jim's eyebrows went up. "Your place?"
"49 River Road, Apartment 2C," Julie informed him. "I'll cook dinner."
"Okay," Jim agreed. "See you then."
He once again watched her drive off and he had to admit that it sort of felt good to have a semi-life again, something that kept him interested beyond work and got him out of the apartment for the first time in a long time. Was he finally able to move past JoEllen and stop being chained by his illness?
River Street was not one of Greenville's better sections. The street ran in front of the Mill River, mostly old tenement houses from the forgotten factory mill days. 49 was a huge brick fortress that various owners had tried to improve over the years but it would never be able to escape its age or limitations.
Jim had been in the area several times. A rape a few houses down. A stabbing across the street last year. A suspicious death in another apartment building a block away. He wondered if anybody in the area would recognize him as he walked into Julie's building.
The interior of the apartment building was dim with faded woodwork and chipping paint but Julie's apartment was clean and neat, although cluttered with furniture from her house haphazardly shoved into the small one bedroom three room space. She clearly made the effort to have a hospitable comfortable home with quaint artwork on the walls and noticeable decorations throughout but the kitchen featured aged appliances, the linoleum floor was cracking, and the bathroom fixtures were borderline obsolete.
The apartment was bathed in the aroma of her cooking– spaghetti she proudly told Jim once he settled into the living room love seat. Jim couldn't recall the last time he had a home cooked meal – JoEllen had all but stopped cooking in the final stages of their marriage, bringing home take out and supermarket prepared meals when she bothered to prepare anything at all.
Jim enjoyed watching Julie move around the small kitchen as if she was a professional on a cooking show, talking to him through the large open space as he sat nursing a ginger ale. She told him the hardest part about being single now was learning how to cook for herself instead of four as she had done for most of her married life. They casually talked about their day as if this was their routine every day – coming home from work and talking while waiting for supper to be ready.
There was something familiar and comfortable about the situation and Jim found himself relaxing as he listened to the sound of her voice flowing across the room like music and it was nice to have the company of another person again. He asked if he could help with anything and she let him set the small half table in the corner of the kitchen, telling him where to find the various plates, utensils and place mats.
"I cheated and bought a store salad but the spaghetti sauce is my own," Julie said as she served the food.
It was quaint and even intimate sitting at the small table sharing the home cooked meal in Julie's tiny apartment. It reminded Jim of his early dates with Sharon, his first real love, fresh out of high school. She was a few years older than him with her own place, a clap trap apartment in a condemnable building on a seedy street in Miller City as she worked her way through college. Jim lived at home while pursuing his Criminal Justice degree at Blue County Community College and it was a sweet and innocent romance. Sharon would cook him meals like Julie was now and then they'd make love on one of those old fashioned squeaky beds that came out of the wall before Jim went home and had a late night snack at his mother's kitchen table.
That was a long time ago but the feelings he felt for Sharon weren't much different than what he was feeling for Julie now – new and exciting, innocent and fresh, hopeful and naïve.
Julie was serious about the time thing with Jim. She wasn't interested in a slow safe courtship. She was forty-two years old burning daylight, falling for a guy who might not be around in a few years and she wanted to make the most of every moment. She knew he was a good man and not just because of what he had done for her when she was eighteen. Carole, the tech in the blood lab, had gone to school with Jim's daughter Maureen and she told several stories about "Detective Groth" helping out at softball tournaments, hosting booster day float making, and being available to offer sound advice and mentorship to his daughter's friends. There was the brutal murder of a woman victim of domestic violence who happened to be a teacher at the high school and Carole said that Detective Groth made a real difference for some of the kids struggling with that death.
Julie smiled as she watched Jim eat her specialty spaghetti sauce. Manny never truly appreciated her cooking efforts – often too busy drinking to value a good meal – but she could that Jim was savoring every bite.
"Do you like it?" She had to ask.
"It's delicious," Jim assured her with a contended smile. "I could eat your cooking every night."
"I'd be happy to cook for you every night," Julie responded honestly.
Jim looked at her with admiration, trying to act low key. "This place is kind of small," he observed.
"How big is your place?"
"Big enough," He assured her.
"My lease will be up soon."
"Yeah?" Jim asked with interest.
Julie blushed, suddenly aware that their little code talk had become awfully real. Luckily, they had finished eating which gave her the excuse to get up and start clearing the table. Jim was happy to help and they stood at the old fashioned deep sink with her washing the dishes and him drying as if they were an experienced familiar married couple with several years under their belts. Actually, they were – just with different spouses.
When they were done with the chores, they adjourned into the living "room" for a small piece of Julie's home baked cake and decaf coffee. Julie had spent hours the night before making the spaghetti sauce and baking the cake, happy to have a reason to prepare a meal again – this time for someone who might appreciate it.
She only had basic cable and the old portable television that had been down cellar. Manny would have got ballistic if she had tried to take the large flat screen and surely she would have gotten another smack from the attempt. All of her bruises had long since disappeared but there was still the scar on her calf from the shattered glass that struck her there after Manny heaved a drinking glass at her (she since covered it with a small tattoo) and her dentures replacing the two teeth Manny had knocked out of her head during a memorable fight late one night.
"I think the Sox are on," Jim said.
Sports were about the only thing he watched these days. He loathed television news. Despite his media training, he didn't trust the media to get anything right. He had been misquoted even when he handed a reporter a written statement! About the only cop show he bothered watching was the Law and Order franchise but even that could be disappointing, a crime solved in 25 minutes of air time when it really took weeks and months to get it right.
Julie was happy to watch the baseball game sitting on the love seat with Jim. It reminded her of Eddie and his love for the game and she thought of her son while watching the Sox on the television.
Boston came from behind to win 7-6 and Jim was happy to watch the celebration.
"Well," he said, glancing at the clock over the television. "I guess I should get going."
"Why don't you stay?"
Julie said it with such confidence and authority that Jim was taken aback.
"Do you think I should?" He asked with raised eyebrows.
"Yes," Julie responded. "There's no time like the present."
"I'm serious, Jim, we don't have the time to play the games," she said with urgency. "Time is not on our side."
They sat on the love seat staring at each other.
"I'm new at all this stuff," Jim warned.
"Me too," Julie smiled. "But I think this is where you're supposed to kiss me!"
Jim smirked before slowly leaning in and gently giving her a kiss. Julie had to hold herself back from throwing herself at him and sucking his face off the front of his head. She knew she was too old to behave like a school girl but she was desperate for the companionship and to be touched in a loving way after so long.
"We're not doing anything wrong, Jim," Julie assured him as she gently and sweetly kissed him back.
"I know," he said, trying to convince himself that it was okay to finally start living his life again.
"I'm okay," he told her, giving her another kiss.
It felt serine to the both of them to be kissing without feeling like they were cheating on their ex-spouses or their past but Julie was much more interested in thinking about the future anyway. She didn't know how long she would have Jim in her life so she wanted to get started yesterday.
"Come on," she told Jim as she abandoned the love seat, turning off various lights on the way to her small bedroom with the bed she got from the Salvation Army thrift store, big enough for two but hardly attractive or appealing.
"Why don't you get ready for bed?" Julie suggested before leaving the room.
Jim wasn't sure why he agreed to stay. He'd only spent the night with two women in his life –Sharon and JoEllen. There were a few other trysts, but those were in back seats of cars or in cellar hideaways without overnights. Now Julie was inviting him on an overnight – a sleepover. Wasn't he too old for this sort of thing?
Jim stripped down to his underwear and tee shirt and slipped under the cover sheet of the bed. A small air conditioner hummed in the corner window but otherwise there was stillness, except that Jim could hear his heart beating.
Julie returned, wearing a white bathrobe that made her look like a heavyweight champion about to enter the ring. She wasn't a fat woman but she was big and husky. Jim had seen a photo of her holding her daughter as a baby and Julie was probably right – it looked like she was about forty pounds heavier now, but not in an obese or even unattractive way. She was simply a linebacker.
Julie turned off the lights and in the shadows Jim could see that she was letting the robe drop to the floor as she nervously slipped under the sheet next to him in the bed which sank a bit with her weight. When she moved close enough to touch him Jim realized she was naked.
For Julie, Manny had been the only man she slept with since Officer Groth turned her life around that night so long ago. There had been several bad choices before she got her life back on track but once she got on the straight and narrow there had only been Manny, even in the worse of times.
Now she was laying next to a new man, her Genesis man Julie couldn't help but think, the one who might erase her hurtful abusive past. And she was happy to be his new Eve if he wanted, the one who would be with him during his journey to the unknown.
She nestled against him and waited to see if he was going to respond in a sexual way.
It was dawn when Jim felt the bed shake. He opened his eyes in time to see Julie stepping naked from the bed in search of her robe she had dropped. She had no waist, really, and her backside was as large as Jim had ever seen. When she turned, he saw that her breasts were large too, sagging from the weight and age with pubic hair that curled against her legs before all of it disappeared behind the robe she wrapped around herself as she floated out of the room, apparently unaware that Jim had been watching her.
He was naked under the sheets and he felt around for his discarded briefs and tee shirt, slipping them back on underneath the sheets. They had made love, peacefully and earnestly with little fanfare or drama, just an understanding warmth and appreciation, the strangeness of being with someone new for the first time and yet it felt safe and comfortable and even expected.
Jim waited a few minutes to see if Julie would return. It was still early and a Saturday and there was no hurry to get out of bed if not necessary. Sure enough he heard the toilet flush and a moment later Julie returned, slipping under the covers this time keeping her robe on. When Jim assumed she was asleep, he slipped out of the bed and used the bathroom too, returning and falling asleep again with Julie happily nestled against him.
They lay in each other's arms long into the morning, not really saying anything just being. They had crossed the threshold together, committing themselves to one another through a physical display of affection. They were too old and jaded to think they had just experienced the best sex ever. Those days were probably gone forever with her weight and his illness and their combined age, but sex didn't have to be great to be good and Jim felt perfectly contented as he lay in the bed thinking about the future, hopefully one spent with Julie by his side.
On one level, Jim felt like a teenager again because he wanted to tell somebody what happened. Not that he got laid, just that he had found somebody who wanted him back. He had been single for too long and his wonderful night with Julie made him feel young again.
Finally, one of them dared to speak.
"Are you hungry?" Julie asked, still cuddling against him. "I could make us breakfast."
"Might as well wait for lunch now," Jim grinned.
Julie giggled as she leaned in and kissed him with passion. "Good morning, Jim," she said cheerfully. "I hope this isn't awkward for you."
"Not at all," he smiled and it was the truth. "This is nice."
"I'm sorry I'm so fat," Julie sighed.
"You're not fat!" Jim scolded her but with gentleness.
"Well, overweight then," she groaned.
"We should start walking together," Jim said. "I don't jog anymore because of my knees but walking and swimming are good alternatives."
"I'd like to walk," Julie replied. "This just isn't the best neighborhood.
"We'll find nice places to walk," Jim said, leaning over and kissing her.
"Okay," she agreed with hopefulness. "I'm 5'4 so I should weight in at around 110 or so. Last time I checked I was at 152."
Jim pulled the sheet back, and slowly unfastened her robe, letting it fall open, exposing her to him only this time in the daylight. She blushed and looked away but Jim put his finger under her chin and turned her head so she was facing him. "I think you're beautiful," he told her. They made love for the second time while waiting for lunchtime to arrive.
After taking morning showers, Julie followed Jim in her car to his place in one of the better neighborhoods, a handsome townhouse with attractive yards and pleasant trees. She liked it immediately and she could see herself living there, already picturing changes and improvements to the interior once Jim showed her the inside.
They talked casually and warmly as they walked through the townhouse, not like two new lovers who were still trying to figure things out but as two seasoned veterans who didn't need a whole lot of reassurances or touchy feely goofiness. They had made love and now they were talking openly, both knowing about the other's previous failures and future challenges.
And so they were semi-official. Julie stopped by the police station one day to bring Jim a salad for lunch. Jim entered the clinic on a day that wasn't the first Monday of the month to leave flowers and balloons in the blood clinic when Julie was at lunch. Eddie figured out that his mother was seeing him when they began attending every Giant game together. Neither cared about what other people thought. Life was to short and time was of the essence.
Julie began leaving clothes in the closet at Jim's place and when her lease was up, Eddie and some of his friends and Jim and some of his friends loaded up the U-haul and moved Julie into Jim's place.
They were having dinner at the Grille one night when JoEllen and what's-his-name – Freddie? – stopped by the table to say hello, having spotted Jim and his date from across the room.
Jim proudly introduced Julie to JoEllen who seemed surprised that her ex-husband was with someone younger. Julie had seen photos of JoEllen and she tried not to feel self-conscious meeting Jim's ex in person for the first time. She was slim and tall and even though she had crows-feet around her eyes and a slight pouch under her chin she was remarkably attractive.
Jim bumped into Manny at Beano Field one night watching one of Eddie's games and it was clear that Manny was half-bagged for the event. He started to give Jim shit but Julie politely informed her loser ex that he was speaking to a Detective Lieutenant in the Greenville Police Department and that Manny might want to be careful what he was saying.
"You're with a cop!?" The drunken Manny thought that was hysterical as he wandered off.
Jim was feeling great. He had an optimistic attitude about the future even with his illness that remained dormant for now. He chose not to think about long term issues such as health care, retirement, life insurance and funeral arrangements and instead concentrating on how happy he was that he and Julie were together, giving his life meaning and fullness.
Julie was equally happy to be in a loving relationship after suffering through years of an abusive one. Even on his worse days of traumatic cases at work and perhaps physically challenging ones at home when he wasn't feeling particularly great, Jim was still a wonderful man who rarely expressed anger and never showed any inappropriate behaviors towards her. She was feeling better about herself – weighing in every week as they walked almost every night, now up to almost two miles when the weather and time allowed. She had dropped nearly ten pounds so far and already felt like a new woman.
They didn't have sex a lot – they were too old for lust and horniness, but it was pleasant, loving and meaningful when it did happen and Julie was not longer as self-conscious about her physical appearance as she continued to work on her weight, more likely to skip naked to the bathroom without worrying about being seen by Jim.
Something as simple as holding hands with Jim when they did their evening walks made Julie feel complete and whole, wanted and desirable. Jim felt young, vibrant and healthy even when he showed up at the blood clinic for his monthly draw and checked in with the doctor on a regular basis to make sure his blood readings were within limits.
Danielle the Police Psychologist was impressed with Jim's obvious change in attitude and mood. He rarely lamented about the past anymore in their sessions nor did he worry about the future. He mostly talked about Julie and how she made him feel and what a great job she was doing with her weight loss and how happy he was having her in his life again.
"Sounds like you're in love," Danielle observed and Jim didn't argue.
Living with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma only became concerning when Jim didn't feel well. The common cold hacking might mean lung problems. A fever could mean a spike in his blood count. Exhaustion might equate to the body resisting or shutting down. There had a few trips to the ER since Julie and Jim got together but neither panicked when there were physical concerns, remaining calm and realistic about the situation as scary as the unknown might be every time there was an issue.
Dr. Lambert was a positive and humorous guy and that made things easier too but Julie was not naïve enough to think that any of these moments could be a signal for the beginning of the end. After the last ER visit, Jim came home with new medication and he was tired so he decided to go to bed early. He was lying on the bed at 7:30 in the evening, forced to forego their nightly walk when Julie came into the room to check on him.
"I'm still alive," he joked, glancing up at her.
"Please don't die on me tonight," she teased. "Dancing with The Stars is on later."
They exchanged long looks and Jim smiled with gratitude. "I just want to thank you for all that you've brought into my life," he said with sincerity.
Her eyes watered briefly. "It's me who should be thanking you," she replied.
"Do you remember early on when I said I'd call the kids when it became necessary?" Jim asked.
Julie nodded but she didn't say anything, fighting the tears some more.
"Maybe you should give them a call," Jim suggested.
She chewed on her lip and nodded, unable to speak.
"There's no time like the present," he said with a grin
Julie wiped a tear from her eye.
"It will give you a chance to properly and formerly introduce yourself," Jim smiled. "Maybe invite them for Thanksgiving."
Thanksgiving was a month away and that gave Julie some encouraged relief. "Okay," she agreed
"But you should probably let them know that it's important that they come," Jim added. Julie nodded again knowing what he was saying. "I love you," she let him know.
"I love you too," Jim grinned. "I'm just dying to live so I can be with you for as long as possible."
"Summer is nice here," Julie said as Jim closed his eyes, too tired to stay awake. "You should stick around for the next one."
"I'll try," Jim said, trying to stay awake. "But don't worry, it will be the best Thanksgiving ever."
"For Katie," Julie smiled. "For Katie," Jim agreed warmly before drifting off to sleep.