Unfinished Business

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Jack Harvey had been coming to Germany for many years.  A successful salesman whose retirement was quickly approaching, he wanted to spend his Saturday visiting one of his favorite places.  This was the little Bavarian village of Markendorf, located an hour or so north of Munich.  Although he hadn’t visited there in a long while, Jack loved the place.  It held a lot of sentimental memories for him.  He had struggled with his emotions for a long time before finally making his decision to return there.  He hoped that he wasn’t making a big mistake but coming back to Markendorf was something that he felt he really needed to do.  He had some unfinished business.

The morning air in the village was cool as he walked from the train station to Parkstrasse where he turned to the north and continued for two blocks until he reached the Hotel am Wald.  He had been a guest there many times in years past.  It was a great little hotel and he had always enjoyed it very much.  As he approached the hotel, it still looked exactly as he remembered it.  It had changed very little through the years.  Jack entered the hotel through the front door.  Inside, a boy in his early teens was cleaning the lobby floor with a damp mop.  Jack smiled at him in a friendly manner as he hesitated and then tiptoed across the damp floor until he reached the breakfast room.

“Entschuldigen,” Jack said to the boy in a slightly embarrassed tone of voice.

The boy didn’t speak but he smiled good-naturedly in return.  He was a nice looking kid.  He quickly redid the area of the floor where Jack had walked before continuing with his chore.

The breakfast room was not crowded so Jack took a seat at a table near the front window.  As soon as the waitress brought him his coffee, he went to the buffet where he chose the food items that he wanted to eat.  Although he was hungry, he selected only a few items for his plate.  He could return to the buffet again if his initial selections did not fully satisfy him.  Slowly, he began to leisurely eat.  He had plenty of time and he intended to enjoy his meal.

It was only a few minutes later when Jack saw her enter the lobby through the front door.  She stopped momentarily to have a few words with the teenage boy who was still cleaning.  She then went behind the front counter where she began to organize her paperwork.  Several hotel guests would be checking out that morning and she wanted to be ready for them.  Soon she was finished with this simple task at which time she turned her attention to the breakfast room.  As she slowly surveyed the room, Jack tried not to look at her although he soon sensed her gaze firmly upon him.  He decided to return her stare and smiled tentatively as he did so.  She did not smile back.  Instead, with a surprised expression on her face, she entered the room and approached his table.  Jack felt nervous, not certain that he was prepared for the upcoming conversation.  Hopefully it would go well.

“Hello, Jack,” she said in a very formal tone of voice.  “It’s nice to see you.”

“Hello, Veronica,” he replied.  “It’s nice to see you, too.  How long has it been?  Fifteen years?”

“No, not quite that long but does it really make any difference?  It’s been a long time.”

Jack could feel the bitterness in her words, perhaps even a subtle anger.  He knew immediately that she had been harboring her feelings for years and he understood why.  He already wondered if he had made the right decision in coming to see her today.  He had allowed his sentiments to influence his reasoning and he sensed that perhaps he shouldn’t have.  He wished that he were now sitting someplace else, anywhere except his present location.  His hand slightly trembled as he lifted his coffee cup to his mouth.  He wondered if she noticed his nervousness.

“Would you like to join me for breakfast?” he asked.

“No, thank you,” she replied.  “I’ve already eaten.”

“Please, Veronica,” he requested.  “Will you have some coffee?  I need to speak with you?”

Veronica nodded her head.  She briefly went into the lobby where the boy had finished his work and was sitting in a chair waiting for her.  She instructed him to watch the front desk for a few minutes, as she needed to have a discussion with a guest.  Jack Harvey now noticed that the boy was wearing a football (soccer) uniform.  He doubtlessly had a game today.  The boy accepted his order reluctantly and assumed his position behind the front counter.  Veronica smiled approvingly at him.  Then, after briefly stopping at the breakfast buffet and taking a croissant and some butter, she returned to Jack’s table.  As she approached, he poured her a cup of coffee from a ceramic carafe.  She took the seat directly across the table from him.

“So, what brings you here today?” she asked, not wasting any time.  She began putting butter on her croissant as she awaited his answer.

“I’m retiring in a few months,” he explained to her.  “This is one of my last trips to Germany.  I enjoyed many fun times in Markendorf.  I guess for nostalgic reasons, I wanted to come back.”

“Nostalgia?” she replied flabbergasted.  “You came back for nostalgia?  I would’ve thought that you’d finally come back because you wanted to see me.  We did have a past, Jack.  Surely you must remember.”

“Of course, I remember,” he replied, “and, yes, I wanted to see you.  I was hoping that you’d still be here.  I’m pleased to find you here this morning.”

“Where else would you have expected me to be?” she asked.  “You know that my family owns this hotel.  Where else would I go?”

Jack had met Veronica years earlier on his first sales trip to Germany.  He was a very personable young man at that time and she had taken a quick interest in him.  Jack was flattered by her attention and he returned it to her.  They made love in his hotel room on his second night in town.  It had been immensely satisfying for both of them.  During his subsequent visits to Markendorf, he shared his bed with her whenever possible.

During the next twenty years, Veronica never married and she always eagerly awaited his next visit.  Meanwhile, much to her disappointment, Jack married his sweetheart in America and they had two girls together.  She would always pleasantly smile whenever he discussed his children or shared his photos of them with her.  This was difficult for her to do.  She loved Jack and it hurt her to realize that another woman was more important to him than she would ever be.  She had accepted this reality.  There was no other choice.

Eventually Jack’s customer in the village went out of business.  Their factory was sold to a large conglomerate and its assets were transferred to a more modern facility near Passau.  Once his customer was gone, Jack stopped coming to Markendorf.  He had never corresponded with Veronica during their long relationship.  He would come to town unannounced several times each year and although she had grown to accept this routine, she never liked it.  He had never provided her with his address in America or his telephone number.  He had never mentioned the name of his company.  She never knew how to contact him.  He lived in Ohio, but that was the only information that she had.  It took several years but Veronica eventually resigned herself to the reality that Jack would no longer be a part of her life.  She longed to see him again but she had to accept the obvious fact that this feeling was not mutual.

“Why did you stop coming, Jack?” she asked him.

“I’m sorry, Veronica,” he replied.  “I don’t know what else to say.  I’m really sorry.”

“I need to hear more than that you’re sorry.  You knew how much your visits meant to me.  You had to know how much it hurt me not to see you anymore.  I’ve always wondered if I did something wrong.  Not knowing this has been awful for me.”  Veronica got tears in her eyes as she spoke.

“I never wanted to hurt you, Veronica,” he said.  “My customer here went out of business.  At that same time, my company reduced my expense budget.  My trips to Germany were cut from two weeks in general to only one week or less.  My travel schedules became loaded with appointments and I had virtually no extra time for myself.  I’m really sorry but I never had enough time to come and see you.  Believe me, Veronica, I wanted to see you but I couldn’t.  I was just as disappointed as you were.”

“Disappointed?  It wasn’t just disappointment, Jack.  I loved you.  You knew that.  Couldn’t you have at least called me to say good-bye?  This hotel has a telephone, you know.”

Jack silently nodded his head in agreement.  He had been wrong, no doubt about it.  Although he had never loved her as he did his wife, he had enjoyed her companionship and had willingly slept with her on numerous occasions.  She had given herself to him completely and although he had certainly sensed the strong feelings that she had developed for him, he chose not to recognize them.  He kept himself in denial.  To him, their relationship was a romantic interlude from his marriage, a fringe benefit to his job as an international salesman.  He readily indulged in the physical pleasure that she offered him without ever allowing himself to develop any significant emotional ties to her.  When the time came for him to end their relationship, he was reluctant but he was able to do this without enormous difficulty.  Although he understood how hard it was going to be for her, he chose to end it without any notice and to let her cope by herself as best she could.  During the ensuing years, he felt increasingly guilty over how he had treated her.  She had deserved much better.  It was for this reason that he had come to see her today.  He wanted to relieve his conscience while providing her with some very late closure to their affair if she might in fact still require it.

Jack and Veronica conversed for the next forty-five minutes.  They had a very frank discussion of their past relationship as well as its abrupt end.  They also discussed their lives over the past thirteen plus years.  His life had been just fine.  He and his wife had recently celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary and his daughters had finished college.  His younger girl was now married, expecting his first grandchild in about ninety days.  A sonogram indicated that she would be delivering a grandson, the little boy that he had never had but had always wanted.  He was very excited about this.  Veronica’s life, conversely, had been relatively uneventful.  Her parents had died and she was now the proprietor of the hotel, the family business.  She worked long hours and because of this, she had never been able to develop a lasting relationship with another man.  She was not a happy person, this was clear for him to see.  Veronica was no longer a young woman.  She had lost her youthful figure and now possessed a more matronly shape.  Nevertheless, she was still an attractive woman.  Jack hoped that she might still find someone.  Otherwise, unless she would decide to sell the hotel, retirement for her was not a viable option.  She still had many years of work ahead of her.

Finally, as their conversation neared its completion, Jack prepared to leave.  He was glad that he had come.  He sensed that she was, too.  He realized that she still loved him but they both understood that this love could never be reciprocated.  His responsibilities were to his wife and family in America.  No thoughts of trying to restart their relationship were exchanged, as this would have been impractical for both of them.  When he departed Markendorf today, they both understood that he would be leaving this time for good, never again to return.  Although they had been apart for years, the finality of today’s departure was apparent to them.  As he stood from his chair, they both felt incredibly sad.

“Good-bye, Veronica,” he told her.  “Thank you for speaking with me today.  You are still a very generous woman.  I’ve caused you a lot of pain and sadness in your life.  I remain very sorry for this.  You deserved so much better.  Please forgive me if you can.  Perhaps I can forgive myself some day.”

“I do forgive you, Jack,” she replied.  “Please don’t allow our past to burden you.  In many ways, I’m responsible.  I chose my course in life.  I should have accepted the fact that we would never be together.  We both knew that this wasn’t possible.  I was foolish.  Love can do that to a person.  Go home to your wife and family.  I wish you a long life and a pleasant retirement.”

“Thank you, Veronica.  I wish the same for you, nothing but the very best.”

Jack felt the urge to kiss her and to hug her but he restrained himself.  Nothing positive would have resulted from that.  Instead, he took her hand, kissed it and then gently smiled at her.

“Good-bye,” he said.  “I will always remember you.”  With that he put down her hand and squeezed it softly.  Then, turning toward the door, he smiled pleasantly once more before slowly walking away.  He walked through the lobby before exiting the building through the front door.

Veronica watched him through the window as he turned south on Parkstrasse and headed toward the train station.  She began to weep quietly, releasing some of the many emotions that she had held inside for so many years.  Hopefully, she could now put this obstacle to her happiness behind her.  Perhaps she still had time to find someone else.  For the first time in years, she felt compelled to try and do so.

Once Jack Harvey had left the building, the young boy vacated his station behind the front counter and entered the breakfast room.  He was now late for his soccer game and he needed to be going.  As he approached the table by the window, he immediately realized that she was crying.  He felt immediate concern.

“What’s wrong, mother?” he asked as he placed his hand on her shoulder.  “Why are you crying?”

Veronica looked at the boy through her tears but said nothing.

“Who was that man?” he asked.  “Did he make you cry?  What did he say to you?”

Veronica was unable to respond.  Although her crying would have made her speaking difficult, she simply didn’t have a good answer for him.  How could she tell him?  She didn’t know what to say.

As the boy continued to look at his mother’s forlorn face, he read the pain and confusion in her tear filled eyes.  Suddenly he knew.  She didn’t have to tell him.  The answers to his questions were clear.

“Oh my God!” he exclaimed in a loud tone of voice.  “He was here?”  The boy was in a state of disbelief.  “Where did he go?”

“To the train,” she replied with much difficulty.  “The train station.”

The boy turned in a panic and ran from the hotel, running as fast as he could toward the train station.  He wondered if he would get there in time.

As Jack Harvey arrived at the station, he was pleased to find that the train to Munich was already arriving.  Perfect timing, he said to himself.  As the train came to a stop and the doors opened, he climbed aboard and took a seat beside the window.  He had just leaned back in his chair when he saw a young teenage boy run onto the station platform.  He was wearing a soccer uniform.  Jack immediately recognized him as the young kid who had been at the hotel.  He watched as the boy frantically roamed the platform, obviously trying to find someone.  Unable to locate this person, the boy approached the train conductor and began to engage him in an urgent conversation.

The conductor listened to the boy for about thirty seconds before abruptly ending their discussion, gesturing with his hands to indicate that there was nothing that he could do.  He tapped his watch with his fingers, indicating to the boy that it was time for the train to leave.  As the boy pleaded, the conductor turned his back and signaled to the engineer that the train was ready.  He climbed onto the train and shut the door behind him.  The boy remained on the platform and hollered at the conductor.  As the train began to move, the boy grabbed his head with his hands and began to sob.  Jack could not help but notice the expressions of frustration and despair on the kid’s face.  He felt great sympathy for him and wished that he had had a few more minutes at the station.  Perhaps I could have helped him somehow, he thought to himself.

Soon thereafter, the conductor walked through the train car and stopped to collect each new passenger’s ticket.  Jack gave his ticket to the man and politely watched as he efficiently reviewed it and then stamped it.  The conductor seemed to be a friendly guy so Jack did not hesitate to ask him his question.

“Who was the boy on the station platform in Markendorf?” he asked in the German language.  “Did you know him?

“No,” the conductor replied, also in German.  “He was just some local kid.  I’d never seen him before.”

“He seemed pretty upset,” remarked Jack.  “What was his problem?”

“Some kind of family matter,” replied the conductor, shaking his head.  “He said that he needed to speak with his father.  He said that it was important and he wanted me to hold the train.  Can you imagine that?  A boy that age suggesting such a thing?  I told him to man-up and to stop acting like a little kid.  If he needed to talk to his old man, he should have come to the station earlier.”

Jack Harvey nodded his head in understanding.

“Why not just call him on the telephone?” continued the conductor.  “Either that or wait and speak with him when he comes home.”  The conductor paused briefly before continuing.  “Perhaps the kid is always this annoying and the old guy is trying to get away from him.”  He laughed heartily, greatly amused by his own joke.

Jack smiled at the conductor although he really didn’t find the situation to be so comical.  He was merely being personable.

As the conductor walked away, Jack thought momentarily about the boy.  He felt bad for him.    The boy had seemed like a nice kid and Jack had to wonder if there wasn’t more to his story than the conductor was aware.  Jack felt guilty, believing that perhaps his long conversation with Veronica might have delayed the boy in getting to the station.  He hoped that the boy had a good relationship with his father and that the two of them would be able to speak together soon.  He wondered if the kid’s parents were friends of Veronica.  He assumed that they probably were.

He thought some more about Veronica before his thoughts slowly wandered and turned to his soon to be born grandson, his wife and his daughters.  Then, feeling drowsy, he decided to close his eyes and try to take a short nap.  He still had about an hour before the train would be arriving in Munich.  He was pleased that he had made the effort to go to Markendorf today and that he and Veronica has spoken together.  He had put this off for too many years.  The visit had been a success and he was satisfied in knowing that he had finally taken care of his unfinished business.  He could now relax knowing that this unhappy matter had been settled amicably.  It was such a good feeling.  He didn’t like to have open issues in his life.

Ralph S. Souders was born in Chicago and grew up in the suburban village of Riverside, Illinois.  He graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Business Administration with a major in Marketing.  He is married and has one daughter.

Since graduating from college, he has written a number of short stories as well as three novels. The first novel, Hans Becker’s Family, was a self-published suspense thriller that takes place primarily in Munich, Germany.  His second novel, Ursula’s Shadow, is recently completed. A third novel, Dead in the Water, is virtually complete, undergoing some final editing and some minor rewriting.

He is in the early stages of his fourth novel, San Marcos.  He expects to have it completed sometime next year.

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