Searching for Swimmers–Chapter 25
Jason begrudgingly followed the rental car’s GPS to the Hendenmeier household. Although he never really trusted GPS navigation systems, and often hated individuals that relied so heavily upon them, Jason was pleased to find that it seemed to lead him to the door he’d driven 180 miles to knock on. Despite the large red dot on the indicator screen, and the mechanized voice announcing that he had arrived at his destination, he couldn’t bring himself to hit the brake pedal, and instead continued his drive down Meadowlake Lane.
He was a bit put off by the affluence of the neighborhood and nervous to confront such a well-to-do couple with his insecure sperm problems. Clearly, he thought, a kid brought up in this environment will likely succeed in life. And not because of access to better schools and other fine things in life, but because the potential parents could possibly buy my sperm and then manipulate it into any lifestyle they choose. As he continued down the parkway, his caper and genetic rights seemed small in comparison to the enormous estates swallowing his rental car as he bit into the last of his beef jerky and passed the house on Meadowlake a second time.
Jason had never felt insecure about his middle-class lifestyle, but quickly realized a few things. One, he might not actually be middle-class. Two, he felt much more secure in this mid-size a rental car versus being behind the wheel of his ten year old klunker. Had he been driving his own car, he’d be concerned about being pulled over by the police. He hadn’t seen a police car in his several trips around the block or on his drive through the neighborhood before arriving at his destination, but he suspected that in a neighborhood like this, all of the residents had the police department on speed dial, and half of them had the Houston police commissioner’s cell phone number available at one push.
It was the third time Susan had seen the Nissan Altima slow down and then gradually increase its speed. The strange car, combined with the mysterious phone call to Jerry, made Susan a bit uneasy. She picked up the cordless phone she’d kept close to her since she’d missed the phone call Jerry had answered yesterday. She started to type in the phone number to the police department, and then stopped. What if the phone call had been from Sheila? What if the driver of the car was Sheila? Susan knew she was either being too hopeful, too paranoid, or both. Either way, she decided not to take action and instead, pulled a chair from the kitchen table up to the bay window and watched as the car continued to pass in front of her house.
Jason had managed to hit the brake pedal and even to lock the transmission into park. He sat in there in silence. Every which way he thought of the scenario, it ended the same way: awkward. He acknowledged the awkwardness as he tried to ignore the…what was that twinge? Pain? “I’m just going to have to risk it.” He exited the car and walked to the front door, but before he’d even reached the front porch, the door opened to reveal a slim woman in her fifties holding a cordless telephone. Jason stopped. “Hi. How are you doing?” he shouted from the middle of the very large front lawn.
“I’m fine,” the woman responded. “How may I help you today?”
“Now that, that is a bit of a long story.”
“Well, I’m an old woman. All I have is time. Then again, I’m not getting any younger.”
Jason gave a nervous laugh. He tried to analyze the situation in front of him. Why had he stopped walking? Here I am shouting at this woman in the middle of her yard. She probably thinks I’m a trespasser. He took a slow first step, although his fight or flight reflex told him he shouldn’t be walking or even running in the opposite direction. Instead, he quickly sped up his pace until he was on the front porch. “Jason Purdue,” he said and extended his hand.
She received his handshake. “Susan Hendenmeier, but I expect you already know that. Otherwise, why would you be here?”
“Actually, I was not expecting a Susan, Mrs. Hendenmeier, but a Sheila.”
Susan’s eyes brightened. “You know my daughter?”
“Not exactly, but she may know some parts of me.”
“Well, Mr. Purdue, would you like a cup of coffee?”
“I’m afraid any additional caffeine might be a bad idea, but I’d love a glass of water.”
Susan brought Jason a glass of ice water with a lemon wedge on the edge of the glass. She had decided on something a little stronger for herself and sat with a tumbler of Titos Vodka on the rocks. Susan was nervous that something had happened to her little girl, something horrible that would prevent her from saying she was sorry. Sorry for not standing up to Jerry. Sorry for not being understanding. Sorry for not loving her enough. Sorry for not being a good mother. Susan sipped her vodka. “Sure I can’t get you something a little stronger, Mr. Purdue?” she asked holding up her drink as evidence.
“While tempting, I really shouldn’t. Oh, and please call me Jason.”
“You must excuse me, Jason. I don’t normally drink this early in the day, but it has been a long time since a stranger showed up on my doorstep with my baby’s name on his lips. So, how do you know Sheila?”
“The truth, Mrs. Hendenmeier—”
“The truth, Susan, is I don’t.”
Susan shifted in her seat and took more of a pull than a sip on her drink. “Are you some sort of debt collector? Because if you are, Mr. Purdue, I assure you, you are in the wrong place, and you can just finish your water and be on your way.”
“No, no, Susan, nothing like that. I mean look at me. Do I look like a debt collector?”
Susan looked at Jason’s neat but casual dress and decided no one on official business would be dressed as he was dressed. She went back to her drink for a sip and looked at the top of the stairs. “Well, enough dilly-dallying, Jason, please state your business.”
Jason shuffled in his seat and took a large gulp of his water. “Well, to be blunt, ma’am, I believe your daughter may have my sperm.”
Susan paused for a moment and then shot up from her chair. “This is fabulous news.”
Jason was shocked at her response. She excitedly walked over and gave him a giant embrace. “So our little Shelly isn’t a lesbian, after all. Oh, Jason, this is the best news I’ve had,” she paused, “well, ever.”
Susan sat back down. She looked across the table and saw she had made her guest uncomfortable. “Sorry about that, Jason, you must not be used to Southern hospitality. This is great news.” She sighed with relief, “Now she and her daddy can reconcile.”
“Oh, you didn’t know? You poor dear.”
“That your sweet girl used to be gay. Personally, I prayed that it was just a phase and the Lord has answered my prayers. So, what, was Shelly too embarrassed to deliver the good news herself? She needed her beau to do it for her?”
“Look, Mrs. Hendenmeier—”
“Susan, please, you’re practically family.”
“Susan, you have the wrong idea.”
Susan paused to sip her drink. “Whatever do you mean, Jason?”
“Um, well, I don’t actually know your daughter. That’s why I’m here. This is the only address I was able to find for her. And when I called yesterday, well, let’s just say I didn’t receive the warmest welcome from your husband, I presume.”
“Oh.” Susan looked toward the stairs and then absently around the kitchen. “Yes, of course, Jerry isn’t, well, the most easygoing man. Suppose that’s what makes him good at what he does.”
“And that is?” Jason asked.
“One of the top liability lawyers in Texas.”
Jason almost choked on his water. “Uh, is that so?”
“Never mind all of that.” Susan drained her drink and looked at the empty glass as if she’d lost her best friend. “I need a refill. How about you?”
Jason looked at his near empty glass. “Yes, and this time I’ll take what you’re having.”
Susan returned with two tumblers of vodka on the rocks. Jason’s glass had a lime wedge on the edge of the glass whereas the edge of her glass was naked. He tossed the wedge to the side and slammed half of the drink in one gulp. In mid-sip, Susan watched him wide-eyed, turning her own sip into a gulp.
“Look, Susan, I need to find your daughter. Long story short, I froze my sperm because I’m a freak, and now it looks like the cryobank I used has released it into the mainstream. For reasons of my own, I suspect Sheila may have my swimmers, so I need to find her. If possible, I’d like to get them back before they turn into a baby.” Jason finished the second half of his drink.
Susan sipped her drink continuously until it was gone. She desperately wanted another one. Hell, she wanted to just take slugs off the bottle itself, take enough pulls to erase her embarrassment, to erase her disappointment, to erase the embarrassment of her disappointment. Why did I even get my hopes up? she lamented. She knew who her daughter was and had even accepted it. Yet, here she was accepting the unlikely as truth, if it meant an easy way for her daughter to reenter her and her husband’s lives. Poor Jason looked like he could beer bong the bottle of vodka that Susan, herself, wanted to swallow whole.
She reached across the table and took Jason’s hand. “It’s okay, honey.” She looked down at the ice in her glass. It looked so lonely. “ I always knew Sheila was unique.” She patted Jason’s hand and stood up. She came back with the bottle of vodka and poured it into her glass.
“Would you like something different, Jason? We’ve got scotch, bourbon, well, we’ve got pretty much anything you want.”
“I’ll have what you’re having.” Jason held up his glass and Susan poured.
“There’s more hospitality in you than you might think. Can I get you some more ice?” But it was too late. Jason had already swallowed the pour and held out his glass for more. “There might be more Texan to you than either of us thought.” Susan refilled his glass.
Susan walked back to the breakfast table with a framed picture in her hand. She took a few quick glances to the top of the staircase, relieved that Jerry hadn’t made a fuss. After placing the photograph on the table, she took her seat across from Jason. Jason had calmed down. Susan wasn’t sure if it was the vodka or her cordial manner. Judging by the state of the vodka bottle, she was willing to bet his mood had more to do with the alcohol but preferred to think she had some cause in the matter as well. She slid the picture over to Jason.
“That’s my sweet, sweet girl.”
“Very beautiful, Susan.”
“Not to be, well, inconsiderate, but could you please tell me where I can find Susan? An address, perhaps?”
Susan took the picture back from Jason. She held it in her hand as her eyes began to swell with tears. She placed the photo back on the table and looked at Jason. “Now, Jason, I wish I could tell you, but I simply don’t know.”
Jason remained quiet.
“Oh, about six years ago, shortly before her eighteenth birthday, she, you know, told me. Right here at this table, actually. I had just made some peanut butter cookies; those are her favorite. And I don’t know, she just said it. ‘Mom, I’m gay.’ I didn’t believe her. But once I let it settle in, well, I realized I’d always known, I just didn’t want to believe it.
“I tried to convince her not to tell her father, at least wait until she went to college. You know, put some distance between them before she delivered the news. But she refused. She was always strong willed, all about speaking her mind. Ironic, because she gets that from her daddy.
“Well, Jerry didn’t take it well, of course. He kicked her out. Refused to pay for college.”
“I’m sorry, Susan. Again, not to be crass, but do you have any idea where she went?”
“Oh sure. First, it was Austin, then she spent some time in Madison and Denver. Last I heard she found a home…” Susan’s voice cracked. “A home in San Francisco, but I haven’t spoken to her in over a year.”
Susan took a drink from her glass. “She got mad at me. Mad because I didn’t stick up for her.”
“Don’t be. She was right. Jerry had no right to do what he did and I had no right to support his decision. But what do you do when the two people you love the most in the world ask you to pick?”
“If it was me, I’d do what we’re doing right now.”
“Talk it out?”
“No, drink. Drink a lot.”
Susan laughed. “Well, I did that for a while. I tried to keep in contact with Sheila while trying to simmer Jerry’s anger, but I’m afraid I did a horrible job at both. Instead of getting to pick one, I lost them both. Now Sheila won’t speak to me. Ignores all my calls. And because of it, sometimes I hate Jerry so much it’s all I can do to stop myself from punching him in his fat face.”
“Well, after the way he behaved on the phone, I can certainly understand why.”
Susan grabbed Jason’s hand across the table. “You’re a sweet man. But listen to me telling you all of my problems. Seems you have a fair bit of your own.”
“Don’t we all?”
Susan opened the picture frame, withdrew the photo, and then handed it to Jason. “Well, I’m not sure how far you’re willing to take this.”
“To the end.”
“Well, last I heard Sheila was working at this little coffee shop called Joe’s. I’m afraid that’s all I have. The phone number I used to have for her doesn’t work anymore. She must have disconnected it after we had our falling out.”
Jason awkwardly handled the large photo of Sheila. He started to fold it but then looked at Susan and decided against it. In the end, he just delicately held it by the edge as he stood up. “Well, Susan, I really appreciate all of your help. Guess I need to go catch a flight to San Francisco.”
Susan got up and followed him to the door in order to see him out. “So you really think Sheila may be carrying your baby?”
“There’s the distinct possibility.”
“So I may be a grandmother?”
“Yes. But no offense…actually, I’m hoping not. I mean, at least, that you’re not the grandmother of my child.”
“You know, Jason, I think I’d be alright with that.”
Susan opened the door, and Jason walked out onto the porch. “Oh, and Jason, if you find her, please tell her that I love her and that this time I’ll fight for her.”
Jason sat in his rental car, keys in hand. He put the keys into the ignition but didn’t turn the key. Instead, he looked into the eyes of what he presumed to be a seventeen year old Sheila. It seemed odd that this woman, whom he’d never met, might be carrying his child inside of her. It also seemed odd that he found himself aroused when he looked at her photo, partly because he knew that she was, in fact, a lesbian, but also because the Sheila in the picture was jail bait. “I’ve been watching too much porn,” he said.
He put the picture on the passenger seat and started the car. With his foot on the break, he looked down at his hand on the gearshift, took it off of the gear shift, and then turned off the car. He opened the car door and moved to exit the vehicle but then decided to grab the picture.
Jason knocked on the Hendenmeier’s front door. He considered ringing the doorbell but remembered Susan’s continual nervous glances upstairs. Susan answered the door.
“Uh, I know that if this were a movie, we would’ve said our peace, had a good laugh over the excessive drinking and, feeling inspired, I’d be on my way. It played out that way pretty well, in fact. There’s only one problem.
“You’re too drunk to drive,” Susan suggested.
Susan laughed. “Well, come back on inside, silly. I’ll fix you some coffee and get you a glass of ice water.”
“Thanks.” Jason walked back into the house. He stood in the foyer with Sheila’s photo held between his thumb and forefinger as Susan walked toward the kitchen. “Not to be a pain, but do you have, uh, maybe a smaller picture of Sheila?”
“Sure, honey. Why don’t you take a seat and I’ll rustle one up.”