I hung up and went into the each of the kids’ rooms. They were sleeping soundly and I didn’t want to wake them. I left a note on the kitchen table just to be on the safe side. What I had to do wasn’t going to take long, I hoped. Then I went out and got in the Honda and drove through low lying morning fog to Freddie’s. I was so preoccupied I didn’t even think to look for Jake on the way out to my car.

The sun was up just above the trees and the day was already muggy and warm. It was probably going to be hot later, another typical August summer day, but I wasn’t thinking about the weather at all. I pulled up to the garage/shack of Freddie’s, turned off my car, and got out. The yard (if you could call it that) was even more of a mess than I’d ever seen it, with fenders and other pieces of cars scattered around along with a bunch of unidentifiable parts of other motorized vehicles. There was some construction equipment parked haphazardly nearby, too, probably Cameron’s stuff: a couple of bobcats, a front-end loader, and three dump trucks. Even an old moving van was sitting off to the side, rusting down on its rims. It looked more like a junk yard than a place where someone lived. Ronnie drove a red, beat-up Saturn and it was parked at an odd angle right next to the front of the garage. What passed for grass was growing knee-high and mostly dead, with chest high weeds being the big winners here. Fat blue bottle flies were swarming everywhere and what looked like maggots were crawling on every surface I looked at, so I quit looking.

God help me. I took a moment and gazed around wondering what I’d ever seen in this guy. There really was something drastically wrong with someone who didn’t mind living this way, not to mention someone who hung around with said person, like me, on occasion.

But no more.

I walked on a narrow, slimy path to the entrance on the side of the garage where I paused, taking a deep breath before letting it out, psyching myself up. Then I pounded on the door. Pounded hard and then shook my head in disgust when some pieces of paint fell off. What a crap place to live. After a minute of pounding, I heard Ronnie tell Freddie to, “For God’s sake, get yourself up and go see what the hell’s going on.”

I heard movement, shuffling, coughing, and then my ex opened the door. I hadn’t seen him face to face in a month, and in that time, he seemed to have gone even further downhill. He was wearing a torn T-shirt and tattered boxers and looked beyond disheveled, his long hair hanging dirty and oily to his shoulders, some of it in his face. The disgusting stink of who knew how many days of not bathing followed him to the door in a pungent cloud. There was a week’s worth of beard stubble on his face and his eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot. He still had his thin build of high school, but over the years had grown a belly shaped like a watermelon that seemed to get bigger every time I saw him and now looked like he’d swallowed a huge pumpkin. His eyes lit up, though, when he saw it was me, and he smiled, his teeth more brown than white.

“Hey there, Bethie Button,” he said. His breath smelled rank, even from the four feet that separated us. He took a step forward with the intention of giving me a friendly hug and asked, “How’s my girl doing?”

I took a step back and held up my hand to stop him. “Cool it, buddy,” I said. “I’m here for one reason and one reason only.”

He looked confused and blinked his eyes for a moment. Then it seemed like a light bulb went off in his head. “Oh, yeah, I get that,” he grinned, and looked over his shoulder back to where I assumed Ronnie was, probably listening to every word said between us. He was clueless to the angry tone of my voice and, instead, lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper and said, “I’ve got company now, sweetheart. Why don’t you come back in a couple of hours after she goes to work? Then we can…” he chuckled and, I kid you not, ran his tongue over his chapped lips, before saying, “…you know, have some fun together.”

In my mind, I saw what he thought I was there for: me and him getting it on in his disgusting bed in his filthy excuse of a home. The image of the two of us together just about made me puke. I think I actually gagged before catching myself and reminding myself why I was really there.

“Not on your life, pal,” I told him. “Not now, and not tomorrow, and not the day after. In fact, not ever.” I moved a step toward him and he stepped back, reacting to the menace in my voice. “And don’t you ever think about it again,” I added. “I’m done with you and I’m done with us. It’s over.” I heard the final certainty in my voice and liked it. I liked it a lot.

Then I put both my hands on his good-for-nothing boney chest and pushed him hard. He stumbled back a few steps, looking perplexed before regaining his balance. When he did, he just stood there looking like he’d lost his best friend. Maybe he had, but too bad. It was time to move on. For both of us.

The only thing he could think to say was, “Hey…”

From the darkness inside, Ronnie yelled, “Freddie, shut the damn door and come back to bed and leave that bitch alone.”

I was wound up and almost stormed into the garage to give her a piece of my mind. Almost, but I held back. I had nothing to say to Ronnie. Let her think I was a bitch. Maybe I was, but I was as done with her as I was done with Freddie. She’d be gone soon anyway to make room for someone else and it wasn’t going to be me. My ex was a creep and a jerk who thought it was okay to keep a python in the same place while his two kids stayed with him. That’s not what a responsible parent was supposed to do and that was just the tip of the iceberg of my ex’s faults that all put together were enough to have sunk the Titanic. I was done with the whole situation regarding Freddie, for now and forever. It only took that python, Jack, to help point the error of my ways and to see my ex for the loser he really was.

I slammed the door and left the two of them to their pathetic lives. I walked to my car, started it, and drove off. But I did take one last look in the rearview mirror. Freddie had opened the door and was standing outside watching me drive off. He must have regained his composure because he had the audacity to wave to me and give me a big smile like nothing whatsoever had happened and that things between us were still fine. Wrong! I rolled down the window, stuck my hand out, and gave him the finger. His smile disappeared in an instant. Then I hit the gas. It was the best I’d felt in a long time.

Later, when I told all of this to Sandy, the first thing she did was give me a high five. Then she hugged me. Then she asked, “So you’re rid of him. Are you sure that’s what you want to do?” Not skeptical, really, more curious than anything else.

We were sitting at a picnic table down at Lakeside City Park, located on the west end of Orchard Lake. There was a big celebration going with grills scattered around and guys cooking up brats and wieners and corn on the cob, all of the food smoking away, and the aroma of it all making my mouth water like there was no tomorrow. There were coolers full of soft drinks and bottled water, and kids playing on the playground equipment, and others fooling around on the beach or swimming in the refreshing water of the lake, and dogs running around in the newly constructed dog park…in short, there was a lot of activity going on, like semi-organized chaos. It felt wonderful to be part of it. The celebration had been moved from the community center to the park when it became obvious that so many people wanted to attend and celebrate the happy ending to the story of the missing Sally Carthwright.

It was now mid-afternoon and things were in full swing. Someone had even organized an impromptu concert of sorts with a couple of guitars, a fiddle, and a mandolin set up near where we were sitting under a huge cottonwood tree. I was eyeballing the fiddle player, a tall, thin guy wearing a wicked grin and a straw cowboy hat who was new in town, and who I recognized from walking by my house occasionally, when Sandy shook my shoulder to get my attention.

“Hey, I asked what made you change your mind about Freddie?”

“You mean the fact that he’s an idiot and a loser and a pothead, that’s not enough?” I said, dragging my eyes away from that tall drink of cool water who just happened to be a kick-ass fiddle player.

Sandy nodded smiling, because not being a fan of my ex, she’d only told me this a million times before. “How about the kids? You still going to let them see him?”

“I don’t like it, but yeah, they can. He’s their father, after all. But I’m definitely going to keep a closer check on things, that’s for sure.”

“You mean like regarding pythons and things like that?”

I smiled and took a sip of my bottled water, “Yeah, something like that.”

Sandy was more than just a good friend. She had taught me a lot in the three years I’d known her, not all of it science stuff. She was the one person I could talk to about what was on my mind concerning the kids, my job, and life in general. I hoped in some small way I was good for her, too. I wanted to be.

That afternoon, I found myself reflecting on that notion of those basic drives that Sandy told me we were all subject to, like food and sex. I had no excuse for the way I had acted in the past with Freddie. I really had been attracted to him, and even after the divorce, we’d occasionally had a pretty good time. But it was over now and time to move on. He wasn’t good for me. I’m not sure he was good for Randy and Hannah, either, but he was their dad, so I would just have to make the best of it by setting good rules and guidelines and being clear with him about what my expectations were of him and go from there. It seemed like a good plan to me. Maybe I was maturing a little.

I looked out over the lake. The water was glistening under a cloudless blue sky in the bright sunshine and 90-degree heat. There were colorful sailboats and slow-moving fishing boats and even a few speedboats trailing wakeboarders around. Gulls flew overhead squawking and calling. Kids laughter filled the air and the old-time sound of that fiddle player carried over it all, reminding me how much I loved living in our little town.

Then I had a thought and my heart jumped and started racing and my breath went out in a gasp. Uncontrollably, my hands started shaking. In all the excitement I’d forgotten…what about Jack? I involuntarily looked under the picnic table as I lifted my feet off the ground. What about that damn python? I looked at Sandy and she looked back at me as if reading my thoughts.

“You’re thinking about that snake, aren’t you?” she asked.

I silently nodded my head yes, trying to get a grip on myself. Snakes I was fine with, but a big python? Well, that was another matter all together. It was a drop dead dangerous creature, pure and simple.

“Well, what do you think?” she asked me, “What do you want to do?”

I had dealt with my ex, Freddie; now maybe it was time to deal with Jack.

I sucked in my breath and along with it my courage, building myself up before telling her, “I think we should go on another little search,” I told her, “I think it’s time we seriously try to find that python.”

Now, a smart person probably would have bagged the whole thing and reported the missing snake to the police, but I didn’t want to do that. I guess I had something to prove to myself—prove that I could face my fear of the python and maybe get beyond it.

“Whatever you want to do,” she said, “I’m on board.” What an amazing friend she was, to put it mildly.

I stood up and scanned the crowd, looking for Randy and Hannah. I wasn’t going to bring them with, of course; I just wanted to tell them to stay with Cal and Ann until Sandy and I got back. My plan was tentative and unformed, but I was committed. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to go face to face with a big python, but now was as good a time as any to find out.

I only shuddered once or twice, like the temperature outside had just dropped a hundred degrees or so.

My resolve was steeled, though, and I was still looking through the crowd for my kids when I got a beep on my phone. I glanced at it. Freddie was calling. What the hell? I almost didn’t answer, but I was curious…what could possibly be on his mind?

“What?” I asked, hoping my menacing tone from earlier was still there. I think it was.

“Just cool down,” he said, his words tumbling out in a rush, “And don’t hang up. I just wanted to tell you something I thought you’d be interested to know. You don’t have to worry anymore. I found Jack.”

“Say again?”

“I said, I found Jack.”

That’s what I thought he said.

Talk about wonder of wonders. Apparently, the python been curled up in the cab of the bobcat I’d seen earlier parked near the garage. Freddie told me he’d forgotten to look there when he’d begun searching for it a few days ago. My first thought: what a bozo. Who could possibly be dumb enough not to check a logical hiding place so close to the garage? Well, duh. Asked and answered. My second thought: shit, I’d walked right by that bobcat earlier that morning. Jack could easily have grabbed me. My third and final thought: God, was I glad to be done with both Jack and my ex.

“Okay, fine, thanks for the info,” I told him. I couldn’t hang up fast enough. Just talking to him was giving me the creeps. Maybe I really had started to move on.

I turned to Sandy, “You’ll never guess what happened. Then I filled her in on what Freddie had told me.

Her response: “What a bozo,” and I smiled at her echoing my statement, thinking, That’s my girl.

“Let’s go,” I told her.

We walked through the crowd over to the playground where I had seen Randy and Hannah swinging. “Come on, you two,” I said called to them, “let’s us go and get us some ice cream and keep this celebration going.” I turned to Sandy, “You want to come with?”

“Wouldn’t miss it. Let me go get my kids.”

“I’ll meet you at my car.”

Randy and Hannah ran ahead as I walked slowly across the sandy beach toward the parking lot. I felt good. Felt liberated. Felt free of Freddie and felt like I really would have had the courage to face down that python if we’d have found him.

Sandy came up from behind as her kids ran on to her car. She put her arm around me, “You know, you did a good thing, dumping Freddie. He wasn’t good for you.”

I smiled at my friend and hugged her back. “I know that now and thanks, but actually, I was thinking about Jack. I wonder if I would have been able to be able to capture him?”

“Of course not. That thing probably weighed at least a couple of hundred pounds. We’d have to have called Animal Control or something.”

Of course, that’s what we would have done. I appreciated Sandy’s rational thinking. I shivered to myself in spite of the hot day, thinking again about Jack. As we walked to my car, I told myself that I still would have liked to try…would have liked to come face to face with the big python and try to deal with him. I’m pretty sure I would have found the courage to do it.

To this day, that’s what I keep telling myself, anyway. I’m pretty sure I still believe it.

Oh, by the way, later on at the ice cream place, I tried a new flavor I’d never had before, just to celebrate being rid of Freddie and facing my fear of Jake the python. It was tutti-frutti, and I have to say, it tasted pretty darn good. Life has been getting better ever since.


For all installments of “Reptile Lust,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3