Later that evening Mike came in and went to the porch with June.
“I’m sorry about today. I never meant to hit or hurt you.”
She sat in a wicker chair and stared at him. “You should be as aggressive in other areas, Mike. Beating me up won’t get you through your real estate classes, or make you a better man.”
Mike hung his head and looked at his feet for the longest time. “How can I make it up?”
June unfolded her arms and said, “Just do what I asked. I want to meet my father. I want to at least touch him before he dies. Tell your mom you need us to have a week off so that we can just go and see him. C’mon Mike, he works in Vegas for God’s sake! You’ll enjoy it. God knows you have the money. We can drive out there; it’s not too far from here, and we can have a great time. He’ll show us the sights, and we’ll have a better time than regular tourists.”
Mike leaned back in his chair and actually began to take in the idea. It wasn’t all that bad after all. A trip to Vegas, with a relative actually there to get you in to all the best shows, the best places was not the worse situation that could be had. His little wife may actually be onto something here.
“I’ll talk to mom about it.”
“No, don’t talk to mom about it. You tell her you want to go. It’ll be a week or less, and she can let you go. You tell her, Mike!”
The thought of telling Claudette anything shriveled Mike inside, but he was looking right at his new bride, and facing the challenge of the ages. He had to at least try to please his wife. Mike was beginning to understand that there was more to this marriage thing than just the bedroom.
“Ok, I’ll tell her I want to take you out there.”
Claudette sat her tea on the lawn table that evening, “I’m totally against it.”
“Why,” June asked?
“You’ll be disappointed, that’s why. You’ve got this scenario in your head, and I guarantee you young lady, this man will not be what you expect him to be!”
“He is my father!” She tried to be bold, and strong, but the old broker’s glare reduced her.
“He is not your father, any more than that ex- husband of mine is Mike’s father!”
“How can you say that?”
“Anyone can make a baby. When you are young it is incredibly easy to end up with a baby. It takes a certain type of person to be a father. Mike’s ‘biological’ father, God, I hate that word; anyway, Mike’s ‘real da da’ is a born-again looser! He is the biggest waste of oxygen that I know of. All these years, not one penny support, not one card, not one phone call, and now that I have a little something that fool thinks he has some kind of parental ‘right’ to barge into our lives and act like nothing ever happened. Well nothing ever did happen, and that ‘nothing’ was Mike’s ‘real da da!”
June drew herself up to her full height, short as she was and said, “My father is different! You’ll see!”
Claudette shook her head, and smiled, “Poor little fool. I suppose you need to learn this lesson for yourself. I’m not going to stand in your way. Go! Go see your Real Daddy, and learn real lessons. I’ll be waiting for you when you get back.”
Claudette asked that June finish the week out at the office. Inwardly she didn’t think the girl would be gone more than four days, so confident that she was that June’s father would so disappoint her she would come scampering back to the Bend with her tail between her legs. Claudette could remember the man coming to the little west Texas village years ago. Barbara was happily spending her days at old Stillwell’s ranch when she met the man at a dance hall one night. The affair was fast and hot, and gave lots of fuel to the gossip factories in town, but then he was gone just as quickly. Stillwell was mad, but saw Barbara again. Once a dog jumps a fence they’ll jump again, and the next time she jumped she could not come back. The old rancher spent his days, and nights alone, and Barbara finally married Ray. Claudette surmised that Ray was a sight better than that worthless womanizing gambler, but she knew she could never make June understand that.
June worked through the week. Friday afternoon when the office was empty about four o’clock the little bell on the door rang and Ray came into the office. He reached up instinctively and took his old floppy cowboy hat from his balding head.
She came from the rear of the building and said, “Ray?”
“Yeah, just coming by to wish you a good trip.”
“Gee, thanks.” It suddenly dawned on her that Ray was wishing her luck in the venture of going to see her real father, and she was slightly embarrassed by it. “Hey, it don’t mean I don’t love you Ray.”
He grinned, and sat in one of the expensive leather chairs. “I know that.” He looked around the office at all the furnishings. This was not a new building such as one would expect from an agency that had developed an area such as the Bend. It was expensive inside, but the outside was simply a “store front.” He asked, “Hey, are we alone?”
“Good. I don’t want ol’ Claw-dette to be hearing me talking to you.” He grinned. She smiled back. He took in a deep breath. “You are the best thing that ever happened to me, June.”
She stammered, “Ray, don’t.”
He raised his hand, “No, no, I want to say this, ‘cause it needs a-sayin’. I spent some time in Huntsville, but you know that. That prison is as hard as any there is. Texas makes darn sure you don’t wanna come back for a return visit. There ain’t no air conditioning, no food, no nothing. When I got out I was a beat man. I wasn’t tough.” He looked into her sky blue eyes; “I’m a little man, June, both inside, and out. They hurt little men down there, and them boys took all the dignity I had in the world.” His fingers worked the brim of his hat nervously. “Then, when I got out, I met your ma. Now your ma was pretty, just like you, June. She took me in and we started living together. You know she was pregnant with you when I met her? I saw you born. Anyway, I just want to tell you that everything they took away from me in Huntsville, you gave me back.” She reached and took his hand. He went on, “You are the special part of my life. That boy over to the Bend marrying you at sixteen, well that ain’t right, but that’s the best you’ll ever do in this little town, and I wanted it for you. I wanted you to be a fine lady, and if marrying that kid gets you there, then that’s what I want.”
June slid her seat over and rested her head on Ray’s shoulder. “Oh, daddy. I’m not leaving you. I just gotta see my roots.”
“Hell, I know that! You got spunk! Why, I wouldn’t think much of you if’n you didn’t go out there and at least look at this guy. But you know what?”
“I don’t fault him for not coming around. I’m glad.”
“Yeah! Hey, what better gift could he give me? He gave me you. A man has three relationships in his life, his mother, his wife, and his daughter. Now, his mother tells him what to do all the time, and he looks to her to take up for him. The day comes when he has to break that relationship and get a wife. Now, his wife is supposed to be equal, but believe me little girl, one or t’other in a marriage is always ‘equaler,’ but I suppose you’re finding that out right about now, huh?” She nodded and smiled. “Then there’s the daughter. A man actually leaves his wife in some ways and makes this final relationship with her. That’s the best one. She is his equal. In her eyes he can be all things, but mostly he can just be himself, ‘cause that’s all she expects. That’s the best one.”
“Hey, I seen the Alamo.”
“You did? I seen it once, too. I’ll never forget it. Them guys were great. They don’t make men like that anymore. People who would give their lives for a friend. That’s what’s wrong with this country.”
“You’re like them.”
“Naw, princess, I ain’t. I don’t know if I could just sit there and let all them mad Mexicans run right over me.” He laughed. She laughed.
“I think you could.”
He got up and put on his hat. “Well, just wanted to wish you good luck. I won’t be here when you get back. I contracted a job in a place called Killeen. I’m gonna rebuild an apartment complex over there for a company out in California. I got me a crew put together now, and all the equipment I need to do it. I figure it’ll take a month or six weeks, but when I get back we’ll go out to catfish and talk about all the things we seen, ok?”
“Yeah, we sure will.”
As he turned and walked for the door June noticed for the first time that Ray walked with a stoop. She’d never seen that before. She wondered had he always had it? Suddenly she was impelled to run to him and hug him. He was surprised, “Hey, now don’t be like this! You gotta do this thing, princess!” He looked directly into her eyes and said, “It’s who you are! You just take care of yourself and come home safe to us, ok.”
“You take care of yourself, too.”
He laughed, “Now what in the world can happen to an old reptile-bait like me on a rebuild job?” He kissed her on the cheek, touched the brim of his hat and turned and left.The Butcher Shop