“Free, A Novella”
by Felicia Denise
A sudden car horn blast from down the block shook Lennie from her memories of long ago. Leaving the living room, she wandered into the kitchen where she had prepared thousands of meals. She ran her hand across the marble counter-top that had been part of her total home makeover after she filed her divorce papers.
After reeling from her aunt’s letter all those years ago, Lennie had chosen not to tell Ranard about her inheritance. Instead, she worked harder at getting close to Ranard again, and solidifying their marriage. Once they were on solid ground as a family, Lennie had planned to not only tell Ranard about their good fortune, but share it with him…allowing him to indulge in more of his dreams.
It wasn’t meant to be.
The rekindling of the Porter marriage only lasted long enough to produce Ranard Nelson Porter, Jr – RJ. Even before the birth of the youngest Porter son, his parents were again at odds. Ranard was more verbally abusive to his wife, and Lennie was running low on patience. Her husband had taken to showing up at home in time enough to shower, dress and leave again each morning. Tempted to change all the door locks, Lenore Porter decided to bide her time…waiting for the right time to end her marriage.
Instead, Lennie poured herself into her children, and her business. As the Porter boys grew, they began to understand their family situation was not normal. They saw their friends’ fathers bring them to school and pick them up; take them to the park; cheer them on at sporting events…and take them out to eat afterwards. Making a concerted effort not to paint Ranard in a negative light to his sons, Lennie always explained how busy their father was and how important his job was. It wasn’t that Lennie was trying to build Ranard up in their children’s eyes, but she didn’t want Duncan, Myron, and RJ to wear her bitterness and become cynical about love and family even before they became men. She knew in time, the boys would form their own opinions about their relationships with their father – or lack of one – just as Ranard had with Gilbert Porter.
As her boys grew, so did “Always…From Scratch”. Lennie’s fresh sandwiches had been a hit from the start, but adding vegan and vegetarian items to the menu gave her an advantage over the other lunch caterers, and made her even more popular. By the time, RJ was ready for preschool, Lennie had stopped using her SUV for deliveries and had purchased a commercial van with a service window.
Walking into her former pantry, Lennie turned in a circle, smiling faintly. This was probably her favorite room. Her days had begun and ended in this room most days with Lennie pulling out necessary ingredients and slicing and dicing sandwich fillings even before she woke the boys for school. She glanced at the walk-in freezer in the corner that had replaced the usually overloaded upright fridge in year seven of her business and shook her head. It was a full year after the freezer had been installed before Ranard even noticed. He railed at her for overspending on such a luxury and accused her of taking out a business loan in his name. Lennie had calmly told him the freezer was paid for…in cash…the day before it was installed, and walked out of the room. Of course, he followed, insisting she was lying because there was no way she could sell enough sandwiches from her “little business” to pay for anything.
Lennie never responded to Ranard’s accusations and rants. In fact, she didn’t speak to him again until three days later – after she had filed for legal separation and had him served.
The “Ranard” who approached Lennie that same evening was the opposite of the man who’d verbally assaulted his wife over a new freezer.
“Lennie, I went overboard about the freezer and said a lot of things I shouldn’t have. But a legal separation, Lennie? Isn’t that overreacting a bit?”
Pinning him with the same perturbed look she gave her boys when they misbehaved, Lennie also used her ‘mom-voice’. “Ranard, do you seriously believe I want a legal separation because of a freezer?” She gave him no time to respond. “I want it because I’m tired of being a single parent; because I’m tired of waiting and hoping and praying that you’ll become an active participant in this family…and this marriage; because I’m tired of being your target every time something doesn’t go your way; but most of all, Ranard, I want it because there is no love between us, and I don’t believe there ever was. There will be a divorce too, Ranard. I’m just not ready to put the boys through that yet. However, this playing house needs to end.”
Dumbfounded, Ranard looked lost, searching for the right words to say to his wife. Lennie didn’t wait, turning quickly, and heading for the stairs. He suddenly sputtered, “I do love you, Lennie. It’s just all the pressure of dealing with my fa-…”
Lennie whirled around and cut him off as anger flared in her eyes. “No! No! You do not get to play the Gilbert Porter-card! This doesn’t have a damn thing to do with your father! This is about you, Ranard! You! And the decisions…the choices YOU make. The boys and I don’t exist for you unless you need to trot us out for one of your happily-married-family-man events. You spend money faster than you can make it. And the women! Do you really believe I don’t know about the women? ALL of them?”
Ranard threw up his hands to stop her. “I wouldn’t have needed to find love and comfort in other women if I had it at home.”
Shaking with rage, Lennie slowly walked towards her soon-to-be-ex-husband. “Because it’s all about you, isn’t it, Ranard? Poor Ranard Porter. His mother died bringing him into the world, and his father has hated him ever since. Poor Ranard Porter. Shunned by his father and berated by his older brothers. Poor Ranard grows up unloved, with low self-esteem.” She stopped mere inches away from him. “Is that the story you told them all, Ranard? Is that how you pulled them in and played on their sympathies? Or were they just basic immoral cows who thought they were putting one over on me…the poor, stupid wife?”
“You’re out of control, Lennie! Stop talking like that!” He took a step back.
Lennie moved with him, continuing her tirade. “No, Ranard. For the first time in ten years, I’m in total control, and this”, she motioned between them, “this is over. Good luck explaining it to Daddy!” Turning abruptly, Lennie strode from the room, Ranard calling out behind her.
“I’ll never give you a legal separation or divorce, Lennie. I’ll never sign these papers! Never!”
Without slowing down or turning around, she responded, “Yes, you will. Eventually…you will.”
Ranard stood firm…for less than four months. His attorney’s fees were growing, and he couldn’t live the lifestyle he wanted and fight Lennie. Ranard had attempted to keep the house for himself, and Lennie was more than ready for that battle.
“How soon do you think you and the boys will be moving, Lenore?” Not even looking in his direction, Lennie responded almost flippantly.
“I’m not moving my boys, Ranard.” His smirk was nearly hostile.
“Seriously, Lenore? You actually believe I’ll allow you to keep my dream home? You think I’ll just scurry away with my tail between my legs because it’s what you want? You’re nuts.” He strode to the bar with far too much swagger in his steps. After pouring himself a double shot of Scotch, Ranard turned to find his wife facing him, arms folded across her chest. “Oh, please don’t start with the tears, Lenore. They won’t work on me.” Lennie slowly approached her husband, her steps punctuating each word.
“What kind of man values his dream home over his children? What kind of man values his dream home over the woman who tried to loved him and spent their entire life together trying to help him be successful?” She stopped in front of Ranard. “What kind of man presents himself as a dedicated family man to the world, all the while living a lie?” Lennie uncrossed her arms, her eyes narrowing. “That man…isn’t a man at all, Ranard. He’s a spoiled little boy who’s used to getting his way. “
Lennie must have hit a nerve with her ‘spoiled little boy’ comment, because Ranard was packed and moved the next day. Personally, Lennie always felt Ranard was secretly glad to be from under their huge mortgage payment. While she had made full financial disclosure to her attorney, he informed her Ranard’s legal team never asked for it. He said it rarely happened, but was not unheard of if the complaining party requested no support of any kind.
Her parents didn’t understand at first why Lennie had kept the house she never liked or wanted. They saw her separation as a way of unburdening herself of the past, and making a fresh start for her boys. They also hoped she would quickly make the separation permanent. But Lennie couldn’t be dissuaded. Duncan, Myron, and RJ had gone from babies to men in this house, and there was no way Lennie could just walk away from those memories. Her role as a wife may not have lasted, but Lenore Porter had excelled in the role of mother. She stayed in the house Burt Kelimore usually referred to as ‘the tomb’, and redecorated from top to bottom. Ranard’s showplace was gone, and the house had finally become a home.
Leaving the pantry, Lennie walked through the formal dining room that had been used more for homework and science experiments that it was meals. She and the boys had preferred eating together at the breakfast nook in the kitchen, or the dining area in the family room. This dining room…it was pure Ranard Porter. Haughty and cold.
Crossing the hallway, Lennie stood at the double entrance doors of the family room, and it had been a family room in the truest sense. Countless blanket forts were built and sleepovers shared. Her boys had gone from watching “Sesame Street” to “The Wire” in this room. Kisses had been stolen from girls who supposedly had come over to ‘study’ with one of the boys.
Lennie closed her eyes as if hearing the voices of a thousand conversations over the years. But one conversation stood out, louder and angrier than all the rest. Remembering the pain the voice also held, Lennie felt the sting of tears.
It had been the one conversation she knew could happen, but had hoped never would.
Part III Part V
©Felicia Denise, 2016