Chapter 36

© Copyright 2006 by Kendra Cornell

Jeff Yendale sat at his desk, tapping a pencil with rapid-fire shots. Doubt was making him crazy. He hadn’t eaten. He hadn’t slept in longer than he cared to remember. The news business was crazy enough without the added strain of all the rest of this mess.

Dark circles outlined his eyes. One of the editors walked by and peeked over the top of his glorified cubicle.

“Hey Jeff… Are you sick? Man, you look terrible.”

Rubbing a hand over his five o’clock shadow, Jeff replied sardonically, “Yeah- Thanks for pointing it out.”

The man put up his hands, as if in surrender, and walked off.

Great, thought Jeff. That’s all I need- to torque off everyone here as well…

Jeff tossed the pencil across his desk and strode out of the newsroom to the exit doors and into the parking lot. He climbed into his darkened car and leaned back. He couldn’t seem to fit anywhere right now. Home was a wreck. Work was a wreck. Even sitting here alone, Jeff felt jumpy and nervous. His breath was thready and uneven.

Was there ever going to come a day when Jeff felt normal- whatever that meant? For the past seven years, his whole life had been a sham- an image created by his father. At first, Jeff had gone along with it- been grateful to his father for the first time in his life. But then had come the time to pay. And Jeff had never imagined that the price would be so high.

He thought back to the day that had seemed the best in his life- Jeff had been twenty-six years old…

“Well, Jeff. I’d like to be able to treat you as an adult, but clearly, acting responsibly hasn’t been high on your list of things to accomplish. So, what do you have to say for yourself?”

Jeff hung his head, his long greasy hair falling in front of his face. He made no reply, but let his father do his worst.

“You’ve got me out here in the middle of Podunk Nebraska to bail you out… again. And trust me, I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for your mother.” A moment passed as Tom Delaney was clearly seething. “This is it- your mother begged me to do it one last time. But never again. If you want to run your life into the ground, be my guest. I disavow knowledge of you and your life. Have a good time.” Tom turned to leave, expecting nothing out of his son.

“Dad, I’m sorry.”

Tom stopped and froze for just a moment. Glancing over his shoulder, his voice just above a whisper, he said, “What did you say?”

“Dad, I’m sorry. This is it. I’m sick of this life. I can’t do it anymore. I’m sorry for everything… For all the times I’ve done this. I’m sorry.”

A stunned look defining his features, Tom turned fully to take in the pitiful creature that stood before him. Jeff wore black rumpled clothing that looked as though its better days had been spent on a dingy apartment floor. His hair was lank and unwashed. This shrunken, disheveled creature resembled nothing that Tom had ever known. Finally, Tom pulled his jaw shut and his eyes narrowed.

“What do you want? You’ve never apologized before. I’m not giving you another cent Jeffrey Delaney…”

“I don’t want money Dad. I’m sick of jail. I’m sick of being alone. I’m sick of the drugs and the alcohol- I don’t want to waste another day of my life on any of it.”

Tom looked hot, dressed in a suit on a sweltering August day in Fort Braxton, Nebraska. The short retaining wall surrounded a withering flower bed and a stunted apple tree offered the only shade in the immediate vicinity. Tom walked the few feet to the low wall and sat down, gesturing that Jeff should do the same.

“Jeff, six years ago, you followed some girl out here to go to some no-name college and ultimately made nothing out of yourself.” A fleeting though occurred to Tom, “What ever happened to her anyway?”

Jeff shrugged, “I don’t know. She left the school and married some guy she grew up with. I heard they had a kid.”

Tom nodded. “Figures… So you came out here. You’ve got a record a mile long… Breaking and entering, possession, public intoxication, petty theft, and misdemeanor assault… Thanks to the judge, you’ve avoided doing any real time, but Jeff- I mean, Come on! Your mother and I raised you better than that!”

“Mom raised me…”

Tom clenched his jaw in impatience and frustration, “What did you say?”

Jeff barely looked up but repeated softly, “I said, Mom raised me. You were never around.”

Barely registering his words, Tom shot back, “So all this was to what? Get my attention?”

Jeff threw the long hair out of his eyes. “No Dad. All this,” here he gestured to the municipal center, “is because I made a lot of stupid choices. And I’m done. I’m sick of it. It had nothing to do with you!”

Ignoring his son’s words, Tom continued quietly, “Your mom wants you to come home you know.”

Jeff looked down in shame. “To what? Work at some burger joint for minimum wage? I’m twenty-six years old. As you so eloquently pointed out, I have a record. No one in their right mind is going to hire me now!”

Tom thought a moment… His son was intelligent. There was no denying that. He could’ve done anything he wanted, but here he was wasting his life away in the middle of nowhere. Tom never knew if it was love for his son or the challenge presented in the situation, but something inside him prompted him to speak.

“Jeff, if you come home, I will work things so that you can start over. But there are two caveats…”

Surprised and a bit distrusting, Jeff looked up and nodded.

“One… If you ever do anything to hurt your mother again, I will personally grind your life into nothing. Are we clear?”

Jeff mutely agreed. Hurting his mother had always been his biggest regret anyway, but his father’s harshness kept that admission unspoken.

“And two… If and when I need something from you, you will deliver. As of this moment, you owe me… Bigtime.”

The obvious issues involved forced Jeff to protest, “But Dad, there’s no way you could hide all of this. Anyone running a simple background check is going to find out that I have a massive history of criminal behavior!”

“Then you’re no longer going to be you…”

This didn’t sound good.

“And what exactly am I supposed to do? Change my name, get some new identity and to what end? I have a useless degree from a useless school.”

“You’re not trying to get into Harvard here Jeff. Think, for crying out loud. What do you want to do?”

“Well… I always liked journalism, but print media doesn’t really appeal to me.”

“Stop whining- Find solutions! There are enough problems without you finding new ones. Go into reporting- the news needs people from diverse backgrounds.” It was spoken on a whim, but Tom immediately saw the implications. He continued in a slow tone of voice, “And it could prove… useful to later endeavors.”

For the first time, perhaps in his life, Jeff felt a small spark of hope ignite in his heart.

Tom added, “As a matter of fact, I happen to know someone in local news back home- someone that could start you on a good career path if you were given a glowing recommendation…”

Reporting didn’t seem like a bad option- it was just something to which he had never given a lot of thought. Jeff made his decision quickly… Hope vs. Nothing? He chose hope.

“Alright… It’s a deal Dad.”

The two men shook hands sealing a deal that Jeff had only begun to regret in the last year. At first, his father had bought Jeff respectability. Jeff had started at the bottom of the reporting field. He did grunt research, helped write stories, worked behind the scenes to get things on the air. But over the past few years, Jeff had applied himself and made his own way. He had done what he promised his father- he had turned his back on that old life and worked hard to establish himself… to make his parents proud. Somewhere along the line, he had bought a home and found a small measure of peace. He was content, at least when he didn’t think about what he had done to get here.

Back in the present, Jeff started his car and drove aimlessly. He should be back at the station working… But something wouldn’t let him concentrate. He couldn’t focus. He didn’t like fabricating anything… and this wasn’t the first time that Jeff had been forced to knowingly lie to the public. The worst part of it was that he had personally hurt innocent people- his mother, Karen…

What’s the point? I’m tied to my father for the rest of my life. I can’t leave and I can’t stay. But if I don’t do something, this is going to kill me…

Why didn’t any of this make sense anymore? Why should he even care? What was it to him?

It was a lot… Jeff knew that his own mother had never known the extent to which Tom had been involved in dishonest activities in the last couple of years- all to get what he wanted. Did his father have no mercy? No scruples? How could he treat her that way? His mother, who by some miracle, had held things together for so long never deserved that.

Jeff wanted to speak to his mother, but Tom never allowed it. There was no purpose to the demand… well, at least no good purpose. All it amounted to was a way to keep Jeff under his thumb. But Jeff had always wondered why Ellen had never tried to get in touch with him.

Anger suddenly surged through his veins- anger with his father, anger with his mother, anger with the entire situation. Jeff had never been made to live under the control of another human being. And he had no desire to continue.

Jeff pulled in the parking lot of a grocery store and dialed his parents’ home number. No one answered. Realization dampened the surge when Jeff realized that of course his mother wouldn’t answer that phone. She was gone.

Dialing a number that he had never used before, Jeff waited while the call connected.



“Yes, who’s this please?”

He waited a moment… “It’s Jeff.”

Dead silence met his reply.

“Hello?” he said.

Sarah’s voice was full of resignation. “What do you want, Jeff?”

“I need Mom’s number. I have to speak with her.”

“Right… You go six years ignoring her… killing her every day of her life knowing her own son is nearby and doesn’t want anything to do with her? That after everything she did for you, you blamed her for messing up your life? She’s not going to apologize to you Jeff. And I won’t let her… Because she never did anything wrong.”

Confusion evident, Jeff took in her words. “What are you talking about, Sarah. I never said any of those things. Ever… Not once in my entire life.”

Sarah was clearly taken aback. “But Dad said…”

Understanding lit within Jeff. “Sarah, I don’t know what Dad told you. He informed me that I was never to contact Mom because I’d caused her too much hurt. And I abided by that because… Because I guess I never thought I had the choice.”

“Jeff, I don’t know what to think. All this time…” she sighed into the phone.

“Yeah… All this time.” Several more moments passed in silence.

“Where are you, Jeff?”

“I’m sitting in a grocery store parking lot down by the station where I work.”

“Yeah. I know where you work. I’ve caught a lot the past few months.” He didn’t want to get mired down in that right now.

“Sarah, I need to see her.”

“Do you have a pen?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Write down my address. She’s here. And I know she wants to see you too.”

Jeff gulped. “Thank you Sarah. I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

Jeff arrived in fifteen. Sarah met him at the door. She looked so good… the same as she had when he had left years ago, but different too. Jeff felt so awkward, like he didn’t know whether to embrace her or shake her hand.

“Hey Sister…”

Sarah smiled. “Hey.” She grabbed him around the shoulders and held on tight. Slowly, his arms came around her too. How could he have lived all this time without his family?

Finally, Sarah pulled back and looked up at him. There were clearly tears in her eyes which she tried to hide by brushing them away.

“Mom’s out back with the girls. I didn’t tell her you were coming… I wasn’t sure if you actually would.”

Jeff nodded, and began to walk toward the house with determined steps. Realization dawned suddenly, “Girls? You have girls?”

“Two of them, Jeff. You’re an uncle. Didn’t you know?”

He shook his head, trying to swallow the emotion that threatened the surface of his calm demeanor.

“Can I meet them?”

“Of course you can. Come on.”

Sarah led him through her house and out back where a large wading pool had been set up. Todd, Sarah’s husband, had turned on a sprinkler near the pool and everyone was getting rained on. Ellen sat a short distance away in a canvas chair, laughing at the girls’ antics. Hearing the back door slam, she turned to Sarah, “Honey, I was wondering…”

Ellen stopped short, her mouth agape when she saw Jeff standing with Sarah. She rose, her eyes never leaving him as though if she blinked, he’d disappear. Tears pooled and she stepped slowly in his direction. Jeff started towards her as well, his arms reaching down to embrace her.

The two held each other, Ellen’s sobs stifled in his shirt as his own tears flowed silently down his face. Finally, the two pulled away from each other. Ellen kept her hands on her son’s face, searching his eyes.

She gulped and tried to speak. “Jeff? I can’t believe you’re here. I don’t…”

“It’s okay, Mom. Sit down.”

The two walked to a picnic bench. Sarah had withdrawn with her husband and girls- all who looked curiously at this new face. But Sarah knew they needed time on their own. There would be opportunity later to hash the rest of it out.

“Mom, I have a lot that I have to tell you.”

“Jeff, there’s so much I want to tell you too!”

“No, that’s not what I mean. I mean, yes it is…” he spluttered. Had he ever been so tongue-tied?

“Mom, I have to tell you about Dad. Someone might get hurt if I don’t do something now…”

For the next twenty minutes, Ellen listened in wide-eyed amazement to her prodigal son. If there was a moment when Ellen thought the worst had been over, she was wrong. But breathing deeply, Ellen clung to her son and called her daughter. And together they called the police. There would be time later to break down. But for right now, they all needed to be strong.

HEY! and don't forget to e-mail Kendra Cornell if you have a comment! She would really like to hear from you.

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