The Challenge Ch. 06: Making Amends

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Author’s note: Like the other Challenge stories, this takes place in the same year. The bulk of this story starts in February. There aren’t any cameos from previous chapters in this one, aside from Bob and the Bahamas.

The Challenge 6: Making Amends

Chapter 1

“Bob? You wanted to see me?” Janet, Bob’s executive assistant knocked on the huge double doors of his office.

He surprised her by opening the door, smiling, waving her in. “Yes!”

Bob was rarely in the office anymore these days. His age and the fact he was a multi-millionaire who dabbled in side projects, kept him at home mostly. What work he did do, Janet helped, organizing his meetings, phone calls, paperwork and so on.

The 52-year-old, dark red haired, beauty entered his office, taking her seat across from his desk.

“So? What can I do for you?” Janet asked.

“Mmm, Janet. I love it when you ask that,” Bob moaned. “I can’t tell you how many erections you’ve given me over the years.”

“That’s very sweet of you Bob,” Janet ignored her boss’s sexual forwardness. She’s worked for his company for over 20 years, fully aware that Bob knew of her wild exploits with clients and other employees. Janet had calmed down in recent years, maturing even, to focus on her husband, Harvey. She purposefully requested a demotion to secretary in order to remove herself from an environment where she could easily sleep with every coworker, client, or model at the various magazines the company published.

Bob respected her choice, however still flirted with her relentlessly. Janet didn’t care, since Bob never mistreated her in any way; she never felt the need to file for sexual harassment, because to her, it was in good fun.

“How’s Harvey?” Bob asked.

“Good. His kidneys are working fine. We’re getting all good reports from his doctor checkups,” Janet answered.

“That’s great! Maybe you can invite me over for dinner and he and I can take you to bed,” Bob suggested.

“Sure,” Janet rolled her eyes.

“Forgive me. I’m old, I’m dirty, and I don’t care anymore. On a serious note, you know how grateful I am for you. You know how much I appreciate you,” Bob said.

“I know,” Janet smiled.

“I’d love it if you spent the weekend with me. But that’s your call,” Bob said.

“I think your fiancée would have a problem with that. Don’t you think?” Janet asked.

Bob shrugged. “She wouldn’t know.”

“Bob, why did you want to see me?”

“I’m going to write you a check for $1000 for every scrap of information you can provide to me about something,” Bob said.

Janet thought for a moment. She had no inside information about competitors. Even if she did, Bob was so far removed from most business deals he wouldn’t be someone she’d tell that to — a vice president, yes.

“Well, alright. I’ll do my best.”

“Great. Take as long as you need to tell me everything you know. I want names, history, locations, relationships, everything.”

“Fine,” Janet said, confused. “What is this about? What do you want to know?”

“I want to know about your family, Janet. Tell me everything about your family,” Bob said. He went to the bar area in his huge office.

“I almost forgot. Here’s some hot chocolate,” Bob offered a chuckling Janet a small mug.

“Thanks Bob.”

“My pleasure. Now, please start from the beginning. Tell me everything. I’ll explain why later. It’ll make sense, trust me.”

Janet inhaled deeply, thinking this should be an easy grand to make. She didn’t care about Bob knowing family secrets, she knew he wasn’t malicious, and no one else in her family was connected to him or his business — that she knew of.

“Oh by the way,” Bob spoke up right as Janet opened her mouth to speak. “Happy New Year.”

******

Ken, a 32-year-old bartender in Miami, was working at the usual dingy, run-down tavern he worked on weeknights. He was looking forward to the weekend. He had Saturday night off for a change. It was a cut in money, because on Saturdays he tended bar at a much newer and nicer establishment a few miles away, but it was Valentine’s Day weekend and he didn’t want to be around people.

He was perfectly content with spending the evening alone. He had no wife or girlfriend; most of the few friends he had were already in relationships. “Fuck em,” Ken thought, pushing away bitterness, looking forward to downing his favorite brew all night.

The bar wasn’t busy that Thursday evening, it never usually was. He was doing dishes, cleaning glasses, putting them away to dry; hoping time would flow faster toward closing. He looked over his shoulder every few seconds to make sure no one was at the bar. Restocking some vodka, he looked over his shoulder and saw a tall, short-haired blonde smiling at him. Ken did a double-take; he knew her.

“Hey, Marie,” Ken said, perplexed to see his cousin there. “What’s going on? What are you doing here?”

“Hi Ken. Just wanted to stop by,” Marie nervously said. They hadn’t seen each other in over a year.

“Oh, alright. güvenilir bahis Well can I get you anything?”

“Just a Corona,” Marie smiled.

“So how’s your mom and dad?” Ken asked, opening the bottle, handing it to her, making small talk out of habit, asking about his Aunt Janet and Uncle Harvey.

“Great. Dad had some kidney problems, but he’s doing much better now,” The 32-year-old, Marie replied.

“Good, that’s good to hear,” Ken said, not looking at her, going about his busy work behind the bar.

“Yeah,” Marie smiled.

Ken cleaned the bar top, nodding to a few leaving customers, occasionally glancing at Marie’s Corona bottle.

“You still live over near south beach?” Ken asked.

“I do. But,” Marie lowered her eyes. “Divorcing.”

“Oh shit. I’m sorry Marie,” Ken stopped drying a glass, giving his cousin a sympathetic look.

“It’s fine,” Marie said. “Things happen.”

Ken nodded, partly understanding, thinking back to his own failed relationships over the years.

“Seen my mom much lately?” Ken asked. “You and her still close?”

“Yes, we’ve been hanging out a lot in the past month or so,” Marie replied.

“Oh yeah? Going shopping or something?”

“Some yes. Actually, that’s why I’m here. I’m inviting you over Saturday night. My mom is coming into town this weekend, she wants to see your mom and I figured it’d be great if you came by to see her too,” Marie said.

“Uh, well, I’m not sure. I have plans,” Ken lied.

“Please? Stop by for lunch. It’ll be nice,” Marie patted Ken’s tattooed forearm.

Ken was in no mood to see his mother. They weren’t exactly close. The last time he saw her was a few months prior at Thanksgiving. His mother, Darla, was too drunk to converse with him, much less stay awake. He remembered helping her to her bed, tucking her in. The last thing he saw was Darla drifting off to sleep in a drunken stupor.

“I don’t know,” Ken shrugged, glancing at her bottle.

“I know the family hasn’t been very close since you and I were teens, but please? My parents are getting older, your mom is getting older, it’d be a great time to reconnect,” Marie said, smiling softly at Ken.

Ken looked away from her blue eyes. “I haven’t seen Aunt Janet in awhile.”

“I know. She was asking about you. Remember we used to play together all the time as kids? She’d love to see us hang out as adults.”

“Alright, well, keep the alcohol away from my mom and I’ll stop by to say hello,” Ken agreed.

“Great!”

Chapter 2

They made more small talk while she nursed her Corona. He was surprised she remembered where he worked. Ken didn’t charge her for the drink. He closed the bar after Marie left, thinking it was very odd to see her there.

During high school, their lives diverged drastically. Marie was in the popular crowd, going out with friends, going to proms, dating and so on. Ken was the opposite. As much fun they had as kids, running, playing, laughing – when they hit their teen years, they couldn’t be more different.

Ken watched his cousin hang out with jocks and cool kids, only giving him a nod or slight wave when they saw each other in the hallways.

As he and Marie aged, their family lives became noticeably different. Marie had a great life with her parents. Ken came from a broken home. His mother, in her psychotic ways, drove everyone away. His father left when he was 12. His twin sisters left two years earlier when they were 18. Ken was alone with his mom.

Darla drank more and more, becoming clingy to Ken, often begging him not to leave her like everyone else supposedly did. Ken promised he wouldn’t, staying with her until he was 20, and then moving a few miles away to an apartment with some friends.

They stayed in touch regularly, but Ken saw less and less of her each year. One of his sisters took over, perhaps out of guilt, attempting to repair a broken relationship. Over time, that sister left her too, moving across the country.

Ken’s mother had no one. None of her sisters, besides Janet would talk to her, none of her own children, besides an occasional checkup by Ken, would associate with her. It was all her own doing, her own mistreatment of others, and always playing the overdramatic victim that drove everyone away.

Darla’s only friend was, for some odd reason, her niece Marie. Perhaps it was because Darla and Janet still got along, thus creating an obligatory friendship between her and Marie. Ken didn’t know or care.

When Ken arrived to his apartment after work, he flipped on the TV, grabbed a beer and channel surfed. News of Kim Kardashian and Kayne West was on a celebrity news report show. Ken extended his middle finger to their image on the television and changed the channel.

He took several more swigs of his beer, thinking about his evening while finding the last few minutes of The Tonight Show to watch.

Ken didn’t hate his mother, but had no desire to have a close relationship with her. He turned off the TV, debated showering to get the cigarette türkçe bahis smell out of his hair, ultimately deciding to shower in the morning.

Sliding out of jeans, removing his t-shirt, he examined a new tattoo above his right pectoral. The skull with bat wing artwork was looking great.

Ken climbed into bed, coughed a few times and rolled over. “Shit,” he said aloud, remembering to put on a fake polite face tomorrow when he saw his Aunt and mother.

******

“Ken! Come in!” His Aunt Janet exclaimed, opening Marie’s front door the next morning. “I love that beard!”

“Thanks,” Ken faked one of many smiles to come. He and his Aunt had the same dark red hair color, though Janet dyed hers regularly.

“I’m so glad you’ll be spending the day with us!” She led him into Marie’s fairly large home, her soon-to-be ex-husband nowhere in sight.

“Well, actually, I,” Ken managed to get out before he was interrupted by a hug from Marie.

“Good to see you again!” she said.

When Ken arrived in the living room, he saw his mother sitting on the couch, smiling politely. “Hey Mom,” Ken nodded, faked another smile, taking a seat next to her.

Darla cleared her throat, “Hi Ken.” He noticed she seemed subdued, giving off a calm aura.

Janet brought out a tray of sandwiches she ordered from a nearby sub-shop. “Dig in. There’s everything, turkey, ham, beef.”

As they ate in silence; Ken noticed his mother’s hair looked different. Her long, bright red locks, looked brushed, cleaned, and healthy. He also noticed she smelled great — not that she was ever stinky, but there wasn’t a trace of wine or liquor on her clothes.

“Her clothes,” Ken thought. Janet was going on and on about the day ahead of them. Ken kept glancing to his left at his mother’s clothes. They looked new, expensive even. She was wearing a nice, fairly tight, dress, similar to something Marie might wear.

Ken glanced to Marie. She was indeed wearing something similar. So was Janet. Ken shrugged and kept chomping away at his sandwich.

“How does that sound, Ken?” Janet asked.

“Hmm?” Ken said, his mouth full of food.

Janet laughed, “My Valentine’s date night idea?”

“Uh, what?”

“He’s been busy scarfing down that sandwich, Mom,” Marie joked.

“Ken, I was saying that tonight, you and your mom could go out to dinner for Valentine’s Day,” his aunt said.

“Uh, well, I don’t know,” Ken glanced to his mother, awkwardly smiling at him.

“Please? I think it’ll be great!” Janet encouraged him. “It’ll be my treat!”

“Well, I just, I don’t know,” Ken shrugged.

“We went shopping. We bought her some new clothes, I did her hair. She just needs a date!” Marie chimed in.

“Ken, we don’t have to, if you have plans,” Darla spoke up.

“No, no, Darla. We talked about this. You need a nice night out,” Her younger sister, Janet, reminded her.

Janet and Marie smiled brightly at Ken, nodding their heads. He looked to his mother: she shrugged, lowering her eyes. Then Ken felt it. His heart beat, causing pity to kick in. “Ugh, shit,” he thought to himself. “This is the last thing I feel like doing.”

“Ok. Sure, we can go to dinner tonight,” Ken said, nodding to his mother.

“Great!” Janet got up from the couch across from him, giving Ken a huge hug. This was weird, something was going on.

Chapter 3

The rest of the day was spent looking through old photo albums and reminiscing about older, better times. There were a few moments where Ken was genuinely laughing — not faking it. Closer to dinner time, Janet asked Ken to go home and change.

“Off you go! Change into some nice clothes, come back and pick your mother up,” Janet shooed her nephew away. “You do have a shirt and tie, right?”

“Yeah, I do,” Ken chuckled.

“Good, go change and come back in an hour to pick her up,” Janet glanced to Darla. Marie was standing next to her, her arm around Darla’s waist.

“Alright, I’ll be back,” Ken nodded and left.

“What a weird day,” He thought on the way to his car.

“See? You did great!” Marie assured her Aunt back in the house.

“I agree,” Janet added. “It’s all about baby steps. Take things slowly. When the time is right, we’ll tell Ken about Bob and his challenge.”

Darla nodded, sighing heavily, “We just aren’t that close.”

“Hey, it’s fine. We will show him you’re different now. You and he will be closer in time,” Janet said. “I promise. During dinner, just stick to the discussion topics we planned.”

Back at Ken’s apartment, he tried on a green tie, one that matched his and his mother’s eyes. Satisfied that it went well with his black shirt and khaki pants, Ken left to go pick up his mother for this date. He rolled his eyes, not looking forward to an awkward meal with her.

When he arrived, Darla was presented to Ken, similar to how a prom date would be. He thought it was odd, especially when his cousin pulled his arm at the elbow and placed his mother’s hand there.

“Ok, so, you ready?” He sighed. güvenilir bahis siteleri His mother nodded and they left.

Janet and Marie watched them leave, smiling, hoping, that their plan would come to fruition.

******

“I like the tie, Ken,” Darla said after another awkward silence.

“Oh, uh, thanks Mom.”

Most of the short drive to the restaurant was awkward, occasionally darted with small talk, about the weather, Ken’s job and so on.

Ken let her order first, thinking about what to say next while he glanced at the menu. He would not bring up the past. He would not talk about his father or sisters or anything that could cause anger to flare up. He decided to keep things light, taking his mother out as a favor for his Aunt and cousin.

“Ken,” Darla spoke up after they ordered their food.

“Hmm?”

“Thank you for taking me out tonight.”

“Oh, it’s ok. It’s no big deal,” Ken replied, looking around the restaurant.

“I know, but I appreciate it. I really do. I just,” Darla paused.

“You ok?” Ken asked. She seemed so different, much more calm and quiet.

She took a deep breath, remembering what Janet had discussed with her, “I just want you to know that I’m different now. I was alone for Christmas, I drank myself sick, I wasn’t in a good — “

“Mom, it’s fine. We don’t have to talk about that stuff.”

“No. We do. I need to say it.”

“Alright,” Ken sighed.

“I wasn’t in a good spot. I haven’t been in one for decades. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be alive, but I’m 55. It could be 15, 20, 25 years. Or it could be 40. Who knows?”

“Mom, it’s ok,” Ken pleaded.

“I just want to make things right,” Darla held her hands up, stopping Ken from interrupting her. “I’ve made terrible mistakes, I’ve driven family and friends away, and I want to make amends. There’s something going on with Janet and Marie that I’d rather not discuss tonight. Needless to say, I think this is a perfect open door for me to walk through and start making things better between you and me.”

“Mom,” Ken paused. “I understand.”

“Can you and I do that? Can we rebuild a relationship? As friends?” Darla extended her hand, gently laying it on Ken’s.

Ken nodded, offering a fake smile. “Friends. Yeah.”

He thought about his sisters, witnessing them and Darla in their teen years — the insults, the cursing, the fighting, the slammed doors. Ken thought about his estranged father next. He remembered similar fights his parents had — the accusations, manipulations, the hatred. He had no idea how she’d ever make things right with them.

Ken’s heart beat a second time, a small, real smile formed on his face. He gently squeezed his mother’s hand. “I like what Marie did with your hair. The bangs make you look younger.”

Darla chuckled, “Thank you. She’s into all that stuff — fashion, makeup and so on.”

“Have you lost weight?” Darla asked.

“I think, yeah,” Ken looked to his midsection.

“And, uh, is that a new one?” Darla smiled, glancing at his right forearm, the edge of the entire tattoo-covered arm visible.

“Oh. Yeah I had more work done on my arm and chest,” Ken replied.

“I’m sure it all looks nice,” Darla said.

“You like tats?”

Darla looked to the side, “Well, I don’t know.”

Ken chuckled, “It’s ok Mom. I wasn’t expecting you to be a huge tattoo fan.”

They shared a gaze into each other’s eyes, the arriving meal interrupting them.

Ken couldn’t explain what was happening. He was seeing a different side to his mother, one not fueled by rage or alcohol. Darla was being sweet, complimentary, even normal during their meal.

She invited him into Marie’s home after dinner. Janet and Marie peeped around the corner into the living room, watching Darla move closer to her son on the couch. They traded a few smiles.

“Ken? Can I?”

“Hmm? Oh, my arm, sure.”

Darla motioned for him to open it, snuggling against him, “You smell nice.”

“Thanks,” Ken said, her shampoo scent finding his nostrils. “So do you.”

They sat in silence for the next hour, Darla casually playing with Ken’s hand. He was thoroughly confused and tense. His mother picked up on it, sitting up, “I guess I’ll head to bed. I’m staying here while Janet is in town.”

“Ok, sure, Mom.”

They stood, walking to the door. Darla hugged him tightly, kissing his cheek for the first time in years. “Goodnight, Ken.”

“Goodnight,” he smiled back.

On the way home, he thought about the evening, wondering what had gotten into his mother, wondering what she was referring to in regard to Janet and Marie. He didn’t know. The only thing he did know what they if she was serious about repairing damage she had done to her family, he was going to be mature enough to not hinder that. Ken was going to let it happen.

Chapter 4

The next day, Ken was woken from his Sunday morning slumber by a phone call from his mother. She invited over to Marie’s for lunch again.

Telling himself to just go with it, he accepted. The three women all hugged him; all were wearing dresses which showed up their legs and cleavage. Ken noticed how nice Janet’s looked for her age. Casually glancing to his mother, he saw hers were similar.

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