Elaine asked for a divorce a few days after she left. She called me up and let me know that I would be receiving paperwork from her lawyer.
“Don’t worry, Ferris,” she said calmly. “I am not going to ask for custody of the kids. I’d like to see them on the weekends, but you’re the one who’s home all the time. They should stay with you.”
When I didn’t reply or acknowledge what she’d said, Elaine sighed. “Look Ferris. We both know this is best. Just sign the papers. I don’t need any alimony or child support or anything. Really, you’re getting off easy. I’m not trying to be difficult.”
“Thank you,” I managed. My voice cracked. I didn’t bother to hide it. I couldn’t believe that I was about to lose all that I had really ever wanted in my life. I thought it would be easy—having a loving family. My parents had made it look simple. Just love each other and things would work out. But that sometimes isn’t enough. I’d loved Elaine. I thought she’d loved me. But loving each other wasn’t enough to make it work.
“Call me if you don’t get the papers, Ferris. I want to get this finalized so that I can just move on. I’m sure you do, too.”
“Right,” I managed to agree.
“Well, good bye.”
Divorce is hard on families. To outsiders, I suppose it looked like my children were coping pretty well. Anne and Rachel seemed to be unaffected if someone was watching them play together. But I knew that they were. Before the divorce the two of them would make up sweet stories about princesses and unicorns. After the divorce, they made up stories about how the kingdom was destroyed by aliens or freak windstorms. Instead of building up block houses, and proudly showing me their creations, they took more pride in knocking them down and showing me the aftermath.
The girls used to play together nicely, but after Elaine left their play turned sort of mean. I’d have to step in and break up their pillow fights or comfort one of them who insisted that her sister threw a snowball at her face on purpose. Giggles were replaced by tears, and I knew that the change was my fault…mine and Elaine’s but I didn’t know how to make things better.
Oddly, the girls were never mean to their little brother. Alton missed his mother terribly. He cried more easily, but his sisters seemed to make it their mission to take Elaine’s place. I’d come in from the shop to find Rachel reading to him, using voices just like Elaine used to do. On the weekends, Anne would play hours of peek-a-boo with him, giggling just as much as he did when he “found” her.
When Alton wasn’t being entertained by his sisters, he could be found playing with his doll, a special doll I knew had the potential to become an imaginary friend if Alton needed it enough. On the one hand, I was pleased that he had the doll to play with and confide in. On the other hand, I was sad that he might need it enough for it to become real at some point.
Of course it wasn’t easy to let go of the grief I felt at the failure of my marriage. I found myself thinking of Elaine at odd moments and I’d regret that I hadn’t tried harder to keep our relationship working.
Other times, I immersed myself in my work, focusing solely on finishing the job I’d been given by the government. I was very close to completing the proto-type for the time machine. When I was working, I could forget that I was a divorced father of three. Zap or Whiz would assist me in the shop and everything was pretty simple: attach this bolt here, screw this there, tighten everything just so much, and then I’d have a finished product!
But then at night, I’d close my shop—I’d promised myself that I would not let work interfere with my family. I’d make dinner in the kitchen and call the girls in to eat. Sitting there, alone with them, I’d be sharply reminded of what I’d lost.
“Do we have to go to mom’s this weekend,” Anne would ask as she dug into the shwarma I’d made for her.
“I want to stay home with you,” Rachel would say around a bite full of grilled cheese (she’d decided she was a vegetarian and refused to eat anything with meat in it).
I would look at the salad I’d forced myself to make because Adam said I was getting a little pudgy again. I wanted to say, “sure, you can stay home,” but I knew that was selfish of me.
“Your mom looks forward to seeing you,” I said instead. “She’d be really sad if you didn’t come.”
I hated being alone in my house without the kids. If I could have, I would have given them permission to stay home. Zap and Whiz, while being great P.A.L.s, were not as good company as my children. Who wanted to spend a Saturday night watching TV with two robots? The only alternative was to accept Adam and Elyssa’s invitation to spend the evening with them. But it amounted to the same thing. Either way, I felt like a third wheel no matter whose TV I was watching.
“You really need to start dating again,” Adam told me after awhile. We were setting up a new big-boy bed for Alton. “It’s been a year,” he said. “Don’t you think it’s time?”
“I’m not ready,” I said. “I hated dating. What would I say anyway?”
“Just tell them about yourself and ask them questions about themselves.”
“Oh that’s just brilliant advice! I’d say, ‘hi, I’m Ferris. I’m divorced and have three kids. Want to be their new mommy!’”
“No! Just tell them you’re an inventor and that you’re rich.”
“Oh, like that’s better. Then they’d want me for my money and freak out when they finally found out about the kids!”
“I was joking Ferr. Most people in Twinbrook know who you are anyway. Just find a single mother and the kids won’t matter. The money is a bonus, ‘cause have you looked in a mirror lately?”
“I hate you Adam!” We both laughed.
But, I couldn’t ignore my brother’s advice. I wasn’t the type of person to stay single. I liked being in a relationship. So, I dipped my toe into the dating pool. I’d met a woman at Alton’s kindergarten orientation at the school. She was also single and had two teenagers and a younger son. I thought she might just be the perfect fit for me.
“Hi, Ms. Forrest, this is Ferris Fields. Our sons are in Miss Windsor’s class at school?”
Luckily she remembered me and didn’t think it was too creepy when I’d used the parent phone tree to call her up. She even seemed flattered when I asked if she wanted to take our kids on a play date at the park. She even understood that it was a sort of date for us as well. All in all, it went a lot more smoothly than I thought it would.
After the first date with our kids in tow, I asked Demaris, that was her name, to spend the next Saturday afternoon with me while the kids were with their mom. For the first time since Elaine left me, I had a terrific weekend. I took Demaris to my shop and showed her around.
“This is so interesting,” she gushed. “And you made all of this stuff?”
“Most of it,” I explained. “We sell more merchandise than I could ever make, but some of the larger gadgets are ones that I designed. I have two P.A.L.s who do a lot of the manufacturing.”
After the shop, I took Demaris to the movies and then to the Bistro for dinner.
“I am having a great time, Ferris,” she told me just before we went in to eat. “Me too,” I agreed.
Unfortunately, as we left the restaurant, we ran into Elaine. I couldn’t believe she was there!
“Ferris!” she looked as shocked as I was to see her. I told Demaris that I better go speak to Elaine. She hung back as I approached my ex-wife.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. “Where are the kids?”
“Oh, I left them with Irene. I had to go into work for a bit. I came to get take-out and then I’m headed home.”
I frowned. I couldn’t believe that Elaine had left the children with someone else when it was her time to spend with them.
“Don’t look so grumpy, Ferris. I was gone for no more than 30 minutes, and I’m bringing home dinner. It’s not like I’ve been at work all day!”
“I know but…”
“Don’t worry about it Ferris. Today’s my day with the kids. You don’t even need to think about it. And besides,” she looked over at Demaris, “seems like you have other things to worry about. You go back to your date and I’ll go in to get the kids their food.”
She breezed past me, leaving me feeling like I’d had the wind knocked out of me. After Elaine went into the restaurant, Demaris came up behind me.
“Was that your ex?”
Soon after I started dating Demaris and the night we’d seen Elaine at the Bistro (which didn’t cause Demaris to break up with me, thankfully!) I finally completed the time machine proto-typed that’d I’d been working so hard on.
I couldn’t believe it was finished. More importantly, I couldn’t believe that I actually thought it would work. I had no reason not to think so even though everything I knew about science said it was highly improbable.
I finished it on another Saturday. The kids were with Elaine again. I decided that I’d give the thing a try.
“Where should I go?” I asked myself out loud. Then I laughed. “When should I go?” I corrected.
Many dates entered my head. I could go back and see my parents still alive. I could go back all the way to when the first Fields had come to Twinbrook. I could even go back to my wedding with Elaine. Or maybe I could go back to the days when we were fighting and fix it.
Thinking of that time, I realized that maybe I didn’t want to fix anything that had happened in my life. Who knew what would change if I went back and confronted myself at such a crucial time in my past.
So I set the date to well before the first Field’s arrival in Twinbrook. I thought it would be safer not to meet any of my ancestors. I didn’t know if such a meeting would alter time at all, but I didn’t want to risk it.
I spent the equivalent of one day in the past before being whisked back to a few minutes after I’d left. The landing was bumpy both directions. It made me feel nauseous, and I was nearly sick. To calm myself, I sat down on the ground.
“I don’t think I will ever do that again,” I said out loud. Going back to the past had scared the spit out of me. “The government can have this, but I’m going to warn them that it is a bit unstable.”
I didn’t see Elaine again until the day of the girls’ birthday party. She apologized for upsetting my date. “I’m glad you’re getting out there again,” she told me.
“It’s ok,” I said. “Demaris is divorced, too. She understood.”
“Are you still seeing her?” Elaine asked. She looked around to see if I had invited Demaris to the party.
“We’re taking things slow,” I said. “I’ve had to spend a lot of time finishing my project for the government. She’s been spending time with her kids a lot more. Apparently their dad had to move back to Moonlight Falls. The kids aren’t taking it well. They don’t like the separation.”
“Yeah, but I’ve finished the project. I’ll show it to you. You can have the scoop if you still want it.”
“Sounds good. I’d like to see what all the fuss was about.”
So I showed Elaine the time machine. I explained how it worked a little and then agreed that she could come over and interview me in a few days.
During the interview, Elaine asked me all about the project. “Is the government planning on using this to go to the future to bring back new technology or to go to the past to correct wrongs?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know,” I said, “but I hope they don’t do either. It’s a dangerous machine. I gave them my warnings. Who knows what they’ll do.”
“So are you saying you weren’t tempted to go to the past and fix things you’d done wrong?”
“No. I was tempted. I would have gone back and given myself advice. Tell myself I’d regret certain actions.”
Elaine smiled sort of ruefully.
“But then I realized that if I did all that, I might change the present too much. I might make things worse. I might alter the good things about what I have now.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to fix the things I did wrong. Apologize before there really was a need to do so, but then what?”
“I never thought about it like that.”
“We all have to live with our mistakes. That’s how we grow.”
Things didn’t work out with me and Demaris in the end. We went out a few more times, but eventually she decided that she needed to move her family closer to her ex-husband.
“I like it here,” she told me. “It’s not quite as nice in Moonlight Falls, but the kids really miss their dad.”
“I grew up in Moonlight Falls,” I told her. “I liked it there. My brother and his family still live there.”
“Well, maybe when you visit your brother, you can stop and see me.”
“Maybe I can,” I agreed.
Truthfully, the break up wasn’t that difficult. I realized that Demaris and I were just not meant to be.
I went out with a few more women after Demaris left. Aimee, the mixologist at the bar, was fun to be with but her hours were pretty challenging. We only went out a few times before I knew it wasn’t going to work out. I also asked out my sister-in-law’s younger sister, Emerald Greenwood.
Mostly I took Emerald out as a favor. She was a lot younger than me. Emerald seemed to have more in common with my teenaged daughters than she did with me! She also had a mischievous, almost mean-spirited, sense of humor that I didn’t really appreciate.
One night Emerald and I took the girls to the Bistro to celebrate both of them getting on the honor-roll. We ran into Elaine.
“Emerald, how nice to see you again,” Elaine said. “Isn’t it nice that you’re celebrating with the girls. I’m sure they like seeing one of their old babysitters again!”
Emerald seemed amused at Elaine’s out-right cattiness. She gave me a saccharin-ly sweet smile. “Oh no, Mrs. Fields,” she said in a voice slightly higher-pitched than normal. She was trying to appear younger. “I don’t think I’ve ever baby-sat the girls. It just wouldn’t be right for a baby-sitter to go out with their father, would it?” Elaine gasped in shock as Emerald took my arm and hugged me, fluttering her eyelashes at me.
I looked over at Elaine who was fuming. “Well, I must be mistaken,” she said stiffly.
“That’s ok,” Emerald said brightly. I winced as I saw the mischief there. “Maybe you want to join us for dinner?” Emerald asked. “I bet the girls would love to share their celebration with their mom!”
Elaine looked embarrassed at that. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to do that,” she said. “We’ll celebrate this weekend. I’m here with someone.”
Just then a man came up and smiled at all of us. “Is this your family?” the man asked Elaine.
Elaine smiled up at him. “Yes,” she said. “Jess Winterley, these are my twins, Anne and Rachel, and this is their father, Ferris.”
“Nice to meet you,” the man said, shaking my daughters’ hands. As he was shaking mine in what I figured was a Vulcan death grip, Emerald piped in again.
“Hi! I’m the baby-sitter. Emerald Greenwood.”
Winterley looked embarrassed as he shook her hand. She was still clinging to me in a very non-baby-sitter sort of way.
Trying to save himself, he said, “Now I know for a fact that your daughters get their looks from you. You’re both as beautiful as your mother.” The girls blushed, but didn’t have time to say anything in response.
“I don’t know,” Emerald said, “Ferris and his brothers are all really handsome! My sister is married to one of them, you know. Hot!”
At that point the evening was completely ruined. Elaine and I both exchanged looks like drowning victims looking for a way to escape.
A few weeks later, Elaine came over in the middle of the day. I was in the house instead of in the shop. It was raining, so both of the robots were working inside and I was doing a little cleaning.
“Elaine,” I greeted her. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s my day off. I thought I’d go out for lunch. I figured you could go with me. We have to talk.”
“Um, I guess. Let me just finish up.”
“I’ll meet you outside. We’ll take my car. Bring your umbrella.”
So I followed her out to her car. I had no idea what she wanted. Once in the car she said, “Well you completely screwed up my life.”
“Yep. Jess. We’d been going out for a few months. I thought things were serious. He was going to ask me to move in with him.”
“Yeah, and then that little snot Emerald ruined everything!”
“I don’t see how that’s my fault.”
“It isn’t! But Jess could see how I was feeling about her. He said I was still had feelings for you, so he broke up with me!”
At lunch, she explained that seeing me with Emerald had made her jealous. “She’s too young for you anyway! What were you thinking?”
“I was doing Jade a favor. And she isn’t too young, but I wasn’t really dating her.”
“Doesn’t matter. I was jealous. Jess noticed and that’s why he broke things off. He said I was still in love with you.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Do you still love me?” I asked. I had no idea what answer I wanted to hear.
“I don’t know!” Elaine threw up her hands. “Maybe? Sort of? We were married and had kids together. I thought we were doing ok separated. I was moving on. You were moving on. I thought I was in love with Jess, but then I saw you with that girl… I have no idea what it all means.”
Elaine and I went upstairs after lunch to play pool. She thought it would calm her down. She didn’t want to go home to talk. “It’s too intimate,” she said.
“We’ve been apart almost as long as we were married,” Elaine continued once we’d started our game. “What does this mean for us now?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t either.” We played a bit, each of us processing what to do.
“Did you miss me at all?” I finally asked.
“All the time. But then things got easier. I moved on.”
“I still think about you sometimes.”
“Do you even want to try again?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know what that even means.”
“Me either. What are we going to do?”
After she beat me at pool, I asked Elaine to take me home. “The kids will be home soon. They’d be upset if I wasn’t home. They’d ask questions.”
I invited Elaine inside when we got back. “Do you want to stay so you can see them?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Wouldn’t that confuse them even more?”
“If we are going to try this again, they should know.”
“Not today,” Elaine said. “I’m not ready yet.”
“Oh,” I said, disappointed. I hadn’t realized how much I’d been hoping that we’d be a family again. It staggered me.
“Let’s just take things slowly,” Elaine said. Then she moved closer to me. “We’ll see if the spark is really still there.” Then she leaned in. “If it is…” She drew me in and kissed me.
When she pulled away, she smiled at the dazed look on my face. “Well, then, we’ll see.”
I think I was still standing in the same spot when the kids came home. They had a bunch of friends with them.
“Hey Dad!” Anne said. “Hope you don’t mind we brought the guys home. We have a huge project to work on.”
“I’ll make dinner, Daddy,” Rachel added. “Don’t worry about it—I saw this great recipe on TV the other day.” She turned on the television and flipped to a program she’d recorded. “You can go out to the shop if you want to. We don’t mind.” She started putzing in the kitchen, washing her hands and getting ready to make a meal for her friends.
“Hey, was that mom’s car we saw driving down the lane?” Anne asked.
“It looked like it,” Rachel said. “What was she doing here?” They both turned to look at me.
“Hhhuh?” was all I could manage.