Anneke Mies was used to dealing with the occasional curiosity about her husband's last name, but she was unprepared for the onslaught she encountered as she enrolled Olivia into public school.
"Olivia Botwin? Any relation to the Botwins?" She got that question, in all its variants, at least once a week now that their circle had expanded beyond the neighborhood preschool. She took her cue from Andy and answered with a vague, "Mmm, yeah, sort of, through a few layers of marriage I think. We don't have any regular contact or anything..." Inevitably the questioner would still want to know Anneke's opinion on Prop 209, or employee drug testing, or the rezoning battle downtown, or whatever form the latest the now-legalized marijuana debate had taken. Being Dutch, she had dealt with this type of small talk ever since she came to the States, so handling it in a neutral way was her specialty.
Andy had a lot less patience on the subject, and would often launch into a long tirade about how the American history of prohibition had led to the rise of the mafia and gang violence and the highest per capita non-violent-offender incarceration rate of the modern era, and that now that legalization itself was no longer under debate, at least we could focus on something more useful, like Universal Healthcare or Feeding the Hungry or Paying Our Teachers a Living Wage, or whatever cause he had a bee in his bonnet about this week. His altruistic and esoteric speeches would distract (or bore) the listener beyond any follow up questions they might have dared to ask.
Which was a good thing, she thought to herself, since they had no desire to have their circle of acquaintances be aware of Andy's status as a major shareholder and board-member-in-absentia of LaPlante Industries. It's not that he was ashamed of his participation in the venture; despite its size and revenue, LaPlante was one of those "little cutting-edge companies that made it big while sticking it to The Man," so it had a certain panache with their liberal crowd. She suspected that it was really that he didn't want his former connection to the President/CEO to become an issue in their lives. Or their marriage.
Anneke knew that Andy had taken a long time to thaw, and that the preceding events had to have been extremely painful for him to be able to freeze his family out.
"You're my family now," he would say, "I have no need for the past. I'm free."
At first she had trouble believing him; trouble believing that he was really over Nancy. She was the woman that he had followed around like a puppy for 10 years; the woman who was somehow involved in every story and every adventure worth telling. Somehow, this woman who had essentially been his wife, and who was forever present in their current marriage as a ghost or a shadow - somehow, he had found the strength to leave her. He must have been in so much pain. And yet so strong. Anneke's heart ached for her husband's former struggles.
In the end, it was practicality and fatherhood that started the melt. Doug and Silas had made some gestures from time to time, but Andy had not reciprocated. By the time Natalie was born, Andy had realized that a chef at the local Moosewood cooperative and an Alternative Therapy Practitioner were never going to be able to afford the education or the life that he wanted for his daughters.
He had deliberately ignored the heavy manila-sized envelopes that arrived. He knew that they were sent to him out of guilt, or loyalty, or love. None of which he wanted to face. When he finally succumbed, he was surprised and touched to discover that he was a founding member of LaPlante Industries (technically at least, and probably involving some forged versions of his signature, but still) and that he owned 2% of every Silasation Emporium on the East Coast. And that his dividends had been going into 529s for Olivia, and now Natalie. LaPlante Industries was definitely well-informed about his life.
Doug was thrilled to hear from him and caught him up on their latest adventures: the absurd and yet still on-going standoff over zoning laws in New Jersey, the battle with the mafia for control of NYC, the Cubans in Miami, and the hostile encroachment by Starbucks Plus on the West Coast. And the really crazy set of biological-but-could-have-passed-for-identical twins he met while setting up the Chicago office.
Andy just smiled into the camera and let the nostalgia wash over him.
Doug turned serious, "she misses you, you know," he ventured.
"No. No, Don't go there." Andy shut him down. "I'm not going down that road again. I'm glad everyone is doing well, but I don't want it. I'm happy. I want to keep my distance. I like my life. I mean, I love it. My life. And my family. This family."
"OK, OK dude. It's OK." Doug reassured him. "Just keep in touch a bit. Let us know how you're doing. Send pictures of those cute little girls as they grow into bodacious hotties. That's all. Just don't freeze us out completely. We love you, man. I love you. But not in a gay way, I mean." he added.
Andy grinned as he closed the session. Same old Doug.
Little did he know how soon he would be seeing him in person, nor how ugly the circumstances would be.
TO BE CONTINUED.