FOR THE LOVE OF RICHES, PART 5

 

Sam and Fannie were left to deal with the aftermath of this fiasco. After some while they managed to sell the store but only for a fraction of its initial cost. They had lost all their investment and still owed a large sum to the bank.

Sam asked the new owner for permission to work in the store.

“Why would you want to work here after everything that has happened?” the bemused owner asked. “Besides, I can’t pay you more than any other store. I have to rebuild the reputation of the business and it’ll be tough enough without clients being reminded of the scandal by your presence here…still, I am willing to give it a trial if you are prepared to work hard.”

“I want to learn and I still want to become a proper kosher butcher,” Sam responded gratefully. He was hired, in spite of the new owner’s misgivings, and he started to work as hard as he always had.

Fannie was furious over this latest development. To her way of thinking, she had given this loser of a husband of hers a perfect opportunity to make a good living and look what he had done with it! Because he couldn’t control that stupid Olga woman, now she, Fannie, had become the laughing stock of their entire immigrant community! She couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a less than subtle smirk on people’s faces. And now, with the burden of the remaining mortgage, they’d be stuck in their rotten apartment forever! And how low could one’s self-esteem sink, just to go to work in that store again and to hear the customers talking about him and mocking him derisively? Such humiliation!

Reflecting on it all, Fannie made a momentous, life-changing decision. She had to find another man, someone who was worthy of her affection. She resolved that she had no choice but to find a way to begin a whole new life.

The opportunity soon presented itself. Every year, her bank organized a three-day management seminar away from the office. That year, the seminar was taking place at a resort complex that was a two-hour drive from Toronto. The first-day session was engaging and busy, and after dinner, Fannie went for a short stroll on the grounds of the resort. It just so happened that Tom, the director of Personal Banking, had gone for a walk too and they found themselves strolling in each other’s company. The evening was enchanting, the surface of the calm lake was shimmering in the moonlight, and Fannie decided on the spur of the moment that this was her chance – the opportunity that she had been waiting for.

She struck up a congenial conversation and encouraged Tom to speak openly about himself and his family. Tom felt flattered by the unexpected attention of this gorgeous young woman and before long he was telling her everything about his wife. As he candidly related it, she was a professional, hard-working woman who was bringing home the major portion of the family income. He seemed keen to boast about his wife, how great she was and how proud he was of her, yet somehow Fannie chose to interpret his story rather differently.

“Oh, you poor man!” Fannie exclaimed. “When does she have time to care for you and to give you the love and attention that you deserve? I bet that she has no time even to prepare a decent meal for you. And restaurant food becomes so tiresome, doesn’t it?”

Startled by Fannie’s ‘planted’ comments, Tom suddenly began to feel sorry for himself. Yes, as a matter of fact it was true: he was not cared for, not loved, and not appreciated. Until that moment of awakening he hadn’t even realized how much he needed a real woman who was loving, kind and caring. Tom looked directly into Fannie’s eyes, gently stroked her soft hand and felt as though he had finally found the woman that he needed so much. Tom forgot about everything else… or almost forgot.

When it came time to retire, Fannie was rather disappointed when near her door, Tom gave her a chaste kiss on the cheek and said goodnight. Just in case, she didn’t lock the door of her room, but Tom never made a late-night appearance. My God, Fannie thought, these Canadians are slow. Any normal Russian man would know precisely what to do with a woman in a situation like this. In any case, it’s only a matter of time before I become Mrs. Tom, the wife of Director of Personal Banking. It sounds so much better than Mrs. Sam, the wife of the butcher!

In spite of disappointing end of their first evening encounter, for the remaining two days of the seminar, Tom and Fannie spent as much time as they could together. Tom remained a perfect gentleman to the end… much to Fannie’s utter frustration.

When Fannie returned to the office the day after the seminar, she found a fresh muffin on her desk and a sentimental card, absent any salutation or signature. That week, little tokens of Tom’s affection were appearing every day on Fannie’s desk. On one occasion, Tom and Fannie managed to have lunch together too. His courting was romantic and sentimental, even if much too slow for Fannie’s liking.

The next Sunday, there was a family barbeque party planned by their department. Fannie astutely decided to appear at the party as a happily married woman. Let Tom see that if he wanted her, he had to fight for her – this was going to be Fannie’s strategy. ‘Hard-to-get’ treasure is always more desirable.

Fannie was especially congenial with Sam that morning and he felt relieved. At last it seemed, Fannie had forgiven him for the failed store ownership affair and normal family life was about to be restored. Fannie dressed up for the outdoor party with the same care as she would if she was going to the theatre. The look that she had decided on was both elegant and sexy, even if rather overdone for a simple barbeque party.

When Fannie and Sam arrived at the party, she immediately felt confident that her careful preparation was going to pay off. Tom’s face flushed when he spotted Fannie and his hand was trembling as he was shaking Sam’s hand when the two men were introduced to one-another. The marked change in Tom’s demeanor did not go unnoticed by his wife, Karen. She scrupulously observed Fannie’s behaviour and her subtle games.

Fannie and Sam both had a great time, although hardly for the same reason. For Sam it was a rare chance to relax and to chat with English-speaking people; Fannie was feeling pleased with Tom’s demeanor and with her assessment of his spouse. In her jeans and casual t-shirt, Karen looked decidedly plain and at least ten years older than Fannie. The silly woman even apparently took a fancy to Fannie and invited her to lunch for the following Tuesday.

It’s perfect, Fannie thought. I’ll encourage Karen talk openly and find out what makes Tom tick.

On Tuesday, the ladies met for their scheduled lunch. That day, Karen didn’t look anything at all like she had during the informal barbeque party. Now, seated across from Fannie, was an impeccably groomed, smart-looking, executive woman.

The contrast in appearance was remarkable and unsettling for Fannie. I’m afraid, she fretted, I’ve underestimated her.

Fannie prompted Karen to talk about Tom, how they had met and courted, and about the state of their marriage.

Karen willingly obliged. “This is Tom’s second marriage. He had issues with his first wife, whatever they were. Tom is a man of integrity, so when he left his wife and a son, he felt so guilty that he left them everything: the house, the car, and the furniture – the works. He came to me with one suitcase. He still pays half of his salary as support to his first family. That’s why I have to work as hard as I do. Tom loves our daughter as much as he loves his son, so if he leaves me, he would leave us everything and he would be penniless…again.”

“Why are you telling me this?” a suddenly flustered Fannie stuttered.

“Just in case you have any silly notion,” Karen said as she stared directly into Fannie’s eyes.

“I’m not interested in your husband and nothing ever happened between us,” Fannie stammered hastily.

“Oh, I know that, dear. Because if it had, you wouldn’t be sitting here with me today. Instead, you would be spending your time at home entertaining your new, bankrupt and unemployed boyfriend and of course explaining the situation to your handsome husband. You see, Fannie, I’ve spent over ten years building a good, strong family. I won’t allow anyone destroy it. I’m sure you can understand that.”

For the first time, Fannie noticed the steely look in the other woman’s eyes and she believed the severity of the threat behind her words.

“Check, please!” Karen called out to the waiter. She looked again at a subdued Fannie and added, “Lunch is on me.”

Evidently, Karen had had a frank talk with her husband too, because at work Tom was now taking pains to avoid any chance encounter with Fannie. The situation in the office became tense and unpleasant.

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