by Ted Lietz
Weldon’s mind naturally went to worst cases—hurricanes, dirty bombs, civil disturbances.
Yet he’d never had a panic attack or found himself hugging his own torso. And he routinely slept a solid eight hours per night.
This probably was so because Weldon not only thought the unthinkable, but planned for it. Completing a plan not only eased his anxiety, but invariably left him with a feeling much like that of post-coital euphoria.
While Weldon was the star of his employer’s business continuation planning unit, this way of thinking sometimes put a strain on his marriage. His wife, with whom he rarely fought or even disagreed, could listen for only so long as Weldon waxed on about the sorts of shelf-stable foods he’d stockpiled or the rationale for blast-proof basement windows. And she strictly forbade any mention of disaster in front of their two boys, ages six and eight.
Weldon hoped that neither his family nor employer ever would need to execute any of his plans. Still, he often wondered how those plans might work in practice. What was the saying? Every plan of battle is perfect until the first shot.
While Weldon himself hated surprises, his wife and kids loved them. One warm Friday, without telling them, he arranged to take the afternoon off, planning to surprise his family with a trip to the beach.
As Weldon pulled into the driveway Gina, the large-breasted but otherwise-slender young widow who lived next door, was bent over her flower garden. Seeing Weldon, she adjusted her halter-top and waved. Weldon waved back and went into the house.
No one was home.
His wife’s car was gone.
Well, why would there be a note? Weldon wasn’t expected home at this hour. Still, anxiety on the rise, he went outside to ask Gina if she knew where his family was.
“Didn’t even notice them leave.” She wiped her brow. “I’m making lemonade. Have some while you wait?”
Weldon politely declined, went back into the house and called his wife’s cell phone.
Had she left him and taken the children? Unlikely. They’d been getting along just fine. Better than fine. After the kids had gone to bed the previous evening, they’d…
An auto accident? Perhaps fatal? Suppose his family had been wiped out. Weldon had considered this possibility before. When Gina’s husband died a few years earlier, she mentioned the name of a grief counselor, a name Weldon had written down. Ditto a funeral home. And an attorney, if necessary. He had a contact list of family and friends.
Weldon’s wife always strapped the boys securely in the back seat. Maybe they’d survive, even if she didn’t. He had a plan for that, too. Weldon’s grief counselor could recommend a colleague for the boys. And his wife, contemplating an eventual return to work outside the home, had vetted a list of after-school programs and day-care providers.
There was part of the plan Weldon hadn’t quite fleshed out. Would he remarry? The right woman as a stepmother certainly would be good for the boys. As for Weldon himself, he was only in his thirties. But how would he meet someone? The mere thought of blind dates, singles bars and dating apps made Weldon scowl. A romantic relationship with a coworker might come with its own set of issues.
Wait. Weldon already knew Gina, and she seemed to like him. The relationship always had been purely platonic, but maybe it could be more. Gina had no children, but always had been nice to the boys and they seemed to like her.
That sound: the garage door opening and a car pulling in. Weldon’s wife and sons, wearing swimsuits and carrying bags of popcorn, burst into the house. They’d gone to the beach.
Hugging each and all, Weldon asked why his wife hadn’t returned his calls.
She looked at her phone. “Five calls? Sorry. I left my purse and phone in a locker. Boys, go change.”
Weldon was relieved beyond words. But he also was curious as to how his plans might have worked. And ashamed of that curiosity.
The kids had spilled popcorn on the floor. He swept up the kernels and took them to the garbage bin outside. Trash pickup was tomorrow, so Weldon wheeled the bin to the curb.
Gina was on her porch.
She waved back. Then she crossed her legs, lifted a glass of lemonade and said, “Raincheck?”
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
© Ted Lietz 2022. All rights reserved