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MY GRAY WOLF By Lois Jean Thomas September2023 To say that our parents were disappointed with Rita and me is an understatement. They were utterly devastated. They blamed themselves for our failures, as parents tend to do. But nothing in our upbringing could have accounted for the fact that my sister and I had fallen completely off the rails in our adult lives, ending up back under our parents’ roof, at the ages of 29 and 27. We’d had the superb example of our parents’ peaceful, stable marriage. Growing up we had lacked for nothing. They had showered us with plenty of love and affection. They’d had us in Girl Scouts, 4-H, and the lessons of our choice: piano and singing lessons for Rita, gymnastics for me. They’d taken us on family vacations. And they’d put both of us through college. Despite that flawless start, there I was at 27, with one divorce and one broken engagement on my resume, and no full-time job. I had majored in biology in college, without the slightest idea of what I was going to do with that degree. After graduation, I ended up working 25 hours a week in a pet supply store. I married Phil right after college. To my credit, I had managed to wait a full six months before filing for divorce from that miserable fellow. Shortly thereafter, I’d met Eric, a financially well-set gentleman 15 years my senior. We quickly got engaged, and I had moved in with him, ready for my happily-ever-after. Eric didn’t seem to mind my under-employment and lack of life goals. In his words, he was doing well enough to take care of both of us. “I don’t need to have my wife work.” It had all seemed too easy, too good to be true. I had envisioned a life of luxury and self-indulgence. However, around the time I started looking at wedding venues, Eric started to change his tune. He became uncharacteristically irritable and impatient with me. “It feels like you’re rushing me,” he said. “I think we need to slow things down.” When I asked him why, he said, “Alana, you are nothing but a little kid playing at being a grownup. “I can’t take care of you forever.” “What do you want me to do?” I asked him, dismayed. “You need to move out and live on your own for a while,” he bluntly told me. “You need to show me that you can stand on your own two feet and take charge of your life. After that, we can re-evaluate where we are, in terms of getting married.” Then, he’d given me a time frame for moving out: one week. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that Eric’s self-righteous diatribe about my shortcomings, was his way of covering up an affair. His way of getting rid of me so that he could move a woman even younger than me into his palatial home. So, unable to afford my own place on a part-time minimum wage salary, I had nowhere to go but back home to my parents. While they weren’t happy about having me show up on their doorstep, they didn’t have the heart to turn me away. Rita had actually done better than me. She had sustained her just-out-of-college marriage for seven years. And she had a real career as an elementary school music teacher. Granted she didn’t make much money. But she probably could’ve afforded to rent a small apartment. I think she moved back in with Mom and Dad because she was depressed and felt the need for family support. After having taken me in, they couldn’t very well turn her away. It seems the only good thing that had come out of our three failed relationships was what hadn’t come out of them: children. Several times, I heard my father mention to my mother how glad he was that his errant daughters hadn’t wandered back home with children in tow. So, Rita and I ended up sharing the bedroom we’d slept in throughout our childhood, functioning as twenty-something teenagers, chafing under our parents’ rules. Both of us felt downright pathetic, but at the same time, more secure than we’d felt in years. Our parents set down rules we had to follow while living under their roof. Which was humiliating, but only fair. Of course, there was a list of household chores we needed to do. The other rules pertained to men. Dad told us in no uncertain terms, that as long as we lived under his roof, we were not allowed to date. “What you do when you’re out living on your own will be your business. But what you do while you’re living under my roof that, is my business. You girls know that your mother and I love you more than life itself. But right now, that love is going to be tough love. The next few months are going to be about getting a handle on your lives. You need to figure out how to stand on your own feet before you get tangled up in any more relationships. Your mother and I can’t continue to be your fallback plan. We’re not going to be around forever. We need to know that you are prepared to take care of yourselves.” Of course, Dad was right. He’s a prosecuting attorney, and when he makes a case, it is airtight. He actually wrote up a contract that we had to sign, saying that we agreed to abide by the household rules. I felt as if I was practically signing in blood that I wouldn’t date, that I wouldn’t have men over to the house. “I don’t want a guy even stepping foot in this house,” my dad thundered. “As a matter of fact, I don’t even want a man even pulling his car into my driveway. Your time here under this roof is all about you girls getting your heads on straight, and I don’t want you to have any distractions.” “We’re not trying to keep you girls’ prisoners,” my mom chimed in. “We’re not saying you can’t have a social life.” Having had a fire lit under our backsides, all Rita and I did for the first six weeks in our parents’ home was focus on work. Rita started earning extra money by giving private piano lessons. I managed to increase my hours at the pet supply store to full-time. When we weren’t working, we stayed home, watching movies. Or reading romance novels, the next best thing to real life romance. My dad was an avid reader of THE SOUTH BEND TRIBUNE. One day, I picked the newspaper up after he was finished, and I found a flyer inside, listing the upcoming classes offered at the local YWCA. There were Aerobics classes, art classes, cooking classes, and ballroom dance classes. I tossed the flyer on the table, and Rita picked it up. “We should take a class,” she said, “how about the cooking class.” I vetoed that choice, and instead suggested the ballroom dancing class. ” I'll try it one time,” she said. “But if I don't like it, I won't go back.” When Rita and I walked into the class, a week later, we noticed that most of the students had come in couples, thus already having a designated dance partner. We apologized to the class instructor who greeted us, Miss Cassidy. “You’re okay,” she told us. “Perhaps one of you would be willing to dance the part of the male.” By that point, Rita was so upset that she wanted to turn around and walk out. So, I quickly volunteered to dance the male part. Still, we were both uncomfortable with the situation, although I did enjoy the challenge of learning the steps. As we walked off the dance floor at the end of the class, Rita mumbled under her breath, “That was really lame!” “I hope you ladies will come back,” Miss Cassidy said as we were leaving, apparently realizing she was in danger of losing two students. “You did very well.” The following week, Rita adamantly refused to go back. But I thought I’d give the class one more try. As I walked into the class for my second lesson, I saw that most of the partnerships had again happened automatically, as quite a number of married couples had come to the class. When Miss Cassidy saw that I had come alone, she said, “Miss Hudson. You Can Dance with Mr. Wieland tonight.” I hadn’t noticed Mr. Wieland at our first lesson. He wasn’t the kind of guy that would ordinarily get my attention. He was a rather short man with a stocky build and a perfectly round bald head, with a fringe of gray hair, stretching from ear to ear. He was wearing khaki pants and a button-up shirt. I couldn’t tell how old he was, but I estimated him to be anywhere between his mid-thirties and mid-forties, although I figured his balding might make him appear older than he was. After Miss Cassidy told me to dance with him. I walked up to him and introduced myself. “I'm Alana Hudson,” I said ”I'm supposed to be your partner for the evening”. He did not respond for several minutes. When he finally spoke, he said in a deadpan voice, “I'm Mr. Wieland.” As the instruction began, he graciously extended his hand and expertly guided me into the formal ballroom position. I quickly realized that while Mr. Wieland's communication skills appeared to be lacking, his dance skills far surpassed the skills of all the other students, who were all at a beginner level like me. Mr. Wieland executed every move with precision. Every nuance was perfectly controlled. Not only the footwork, but also the movement of his hands, arms, and hips. He certainly was as skilled as any of the instructors. The only thing that detracted from his performance was the fact that he danced with a deadpan expression on his face. Right away, I picked up on the fact that he was a highly intelligent man. It seemed as if the dance was, for him, a precise science, not an art. “You are an awesome dancer,” I told him as we left the floor at our first break. “How long have you been dancing.” “Six years,” he said matter-of-factly. “I took this class the first time six years ago.” After several more verbal exchanges, I came to understand that he had taken the same class every year for six years. “You don’t really need this class,” I told him. “You already know everything they teach.” “I learn something new every time I take it,” he said in an expressionless voice. Over the next few classes, I ended up dancing with Mr. Wieland almost every time. He always wore khaki pants and a button-up shirt. His wardrobe seemed to contain a number of the same style shirt in different colors. His clothing was always impeccably ironed. The few times when I was paired with other single men, it was always a disappointing experience. Over time, it became apparent that no other women in the class could keep up with Mr. Wieland. In fact, they didn’t like dancing with him, and complained that he pushed them too hard. The instructors soon determined that the best idea was to put Miss Hudson and Mr. Wieland together, and the two of us ended up becoming an automatic pairing. I was quite satisfied with that arrangement. In response to his flawless leading, I started executing steps that I‘d had no idea how to do. It was exhilarating. Ballroom dancing became the most exciting thing I’d undertaken in years. My dance partner and I never had conversations, other than his succinct verbal instructions. “Hold your fingers like this when you extend your arm,” he’d tell me. “Bend your knees slightly when you step, and that will produce the correct hip movement.” Mostly, however, we communicated through the language of our bodies. His body movements always told me what he expected me to do in response. It felt as if Mr. Wieland and I were wordlessly in sync. Over time, it became apparent to me that the paid staff used Mr. Wieland as a teacher. Essentially, he was paying, not to learn but to teach. I learned far more from him than I did from the actual class instructors. I felt kind of bad for him. The instructors never had to come over to us, as they did with the other couples, to correct a position or demonstrate a step. Mr. Wieland had all of that covered. It seemed to me that the instructors were taking advantage of his expertise. With Mr. Wieland in the class, they got paid for doing less. However, I could tell that didn’t matter to him. The third week of class, I started to pick up on the fact that most of the students went out to a restaurant as a group after the class. They all piled into a few vehicles, leaving the rest of the cars in the YWCA lot to be retrieved after the outing. The third night, it was assumed that I would be joining them. “You two come with us,” a married couple, Charles and Judy Gibson, said to Mr. Wieland and me. So, we piled into the middle seat of their van, while another couple scooted into the back seat. With the van full of people, there was no need, nor opportunity, to make conversation with my taciturn dance partner. It occurred to me that I needed to call my parents, who would be worried about me not coming home at my usual time. When we arrived at the restaurant, I lingered outside to make the call, as I was embarrassed about having to account to my parents for my whereabouts. When I went inside to join the others at the table, the only empty seat was next to Mr. Wieland. It was as if everyone assumed that he and I would sit together. The next day, my parents asked about my previous night’s activity, questioning whether I was abiding by our contract. Thankfully, Rita jumped in and came to my rescue. “I can assure you,” she said with a chuckle, “that Alana isn’t dating anyone in that class. Most of the people come as couples, most of them married. The few guys that aren’t attached are either gay or complete dorks. There isn’t anyone for Alana to hook up with.” My parents seemed satisfied with the alibi Rita provided me, and they questioned me no further. For the next 6 weeks, the same thing happened repeatedly. Mr. Wieland and I would enjoy our mostly silent dance lesson. Then, we would pile into Chuck and Judy Gibson’s van, along with a group of others, and would go to the restaurant chosen for the evenings after party. I don’t think Mr. Wieland ever said a word on the ride to the restaurant, and he remained silent while at the restaurant. So, he remained a mysterious figure to me, which piqued my imagination. I expected nothing about this to change, so I was completely caught off guard the first week in September, when at the end of our lesson, Mr. Wieland said to me, “Alana, let’s go in my car tonight. The Gibson’s van doesn't seem to be running well, and I am afraid we are in danger of getting stranded.” I readily agreed. He silently led me to a small car in the YWCA parking lot. He unlocked the doors and got into the driver’s seat. I slid in on the passenger side. The car was perfectly clean, as if it had just been detailed. A stark contrast to the. Gibson’s messy van. I was determined to use our time alone as an opportunity to learn more about this mysterious man. “You know my first name,” I said to him, “But I don’t know yours.” Maintaining his deadpan expression, he said “My name is Melvin Wieland III.” “Who are Melvin Wieland I and II?” I asked. “My maternal grandfather and great-grandfather,” He replied. “Your father wasn’t in there somewhere?” I asked. “No,” he responded flatly. “He wasn’t around when I was born.” “I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “There is nothing to be sorry about,” he replied. “I met my father once. He was not a good person. I was better off growing up without him.” “Who raised you?” I asked. “My mother. For the first ten years of my life, we lived with my maternal grandparents. So, they were a big part of my life.” In the spirit of offering him information about my life, I said, “I was raised by both parents.” I somehow knew he wouldn’t ask a personal question about such things. Starting a new line of inquiry, I said, “Where do you live now, Melvin?” “In Niles, Michigan,” he replied flatly. “Oh,” I said, “so, you are a Michigander, coming down here to South Bend to dance with us Hoosiers.” “It’s not that far,” he said. “The cities of Niles and South Bend are adjacent to each other. As a matter of fact, they are basically one metropolitan area straddling both sides of the state line.” He said all of that in a tutorial tone, as if giving me a geography lesson. “So, do you work in Niles?” I asked. “Yes,” He replied. “Where do you work?” “At the hospital.” “What do you do the Hospital?” “I’m a pathologist.” “What does a pathologist do?” I asked. “I examine bodies and body tissues and I also perform lab tests. I help other doctors diagnose their patients’ illnesses.” “Wow, that sounds impressive,” I said. “I bet you are good at your job,” I imagined him performing his professional duties with the same precision and expertise that he exhibited in his dancing. “I am very good at my job.” He said, without bothering to feign modesty. “What do you do outside of work?” I asked. “To have fun.” He looked at me as if I should already know the answer to that question. “Ballroom Dancing.” “Of course,” I said. “How about when you were younger. Were you involved in sports or anything like that?” “In high school, I was involved in competitive gymnastics.” He said. “Oh, wow!” I exclaimed. “I took gymnastic lessons when I was a child. During elementary and middle school.” “That is quite a surprising coincidence,” he said. “It means that we have something in common.” He asked me no questions about my work or hobbies, which did not surprise me. “I work in a pet supply store,” I offered. “I know that isn't impressive compared to what you do. But, I just put in an application to become a manager and I really hope I get the position.” He thought for a minute, scratching his head, as if trying to figure out what he should say next. “Well, Good luck with that.” “Thanks,” I said. Then I ventured down a new line of questioning: “Have you ever been married?” “No.” He answered. “Are you in a relationship now?” I Continued. He looked puzzled. “Do you have a girlfriend?” I clarified. “No.” “Have you ever had a girlfriend?” “No.” I was beginning to feel as if I was burrowing down a rabbit hole with this line of questioning. I knew I was being nosy, but couldn’t seem to stop my intrusive inquiry. “Why not? A guy as smart and successful as you surely could get any woman he wants.” “Not guys like me,” He said matter-of-factly. “What do you mean?” “Guys with Asperger’s syndrome.” “What’s that?” “It’s what I was diagnosed with when I was a child. Now, the official term used for my condition is high-functioning autism.” All this was said as if he was giving me another tutorial. “That doesn't tell me why you don't have a girlfriend. Why can’t you have a girlfriend?” “People with Asperger’s syndrome or autism are lacking in social skills. It is not easy for us to form meaningful relationships with others.” “Have you ever been on a date?” I asked. “Yes, a few times. “ “None of the dates led to anything serious?” He looked puzzled. “None of the women you dated were promising as girlfriends?” “There was nothing wrong with any of them. But none of them found me to be a suitable boyfriend.” I suddenly felt sorry for him. “Would you like to have a girlfriend some day?” “I am open to that possibility,” He replied. “Have you ever kissed a girl?” “No.” “Would you like to kiss a girl?” “I am open to that possibility.” I have often been criticized by family and friends for being impulsive. At that moment I was true to form. I leaned toward Melvin, put my hand on his cheek, turned his face toward me, and planted a kiss on his lips. He looked puzzled, even a little scared. “I’m sorry,” I said,” I shouldn’t have done that.” I knew I had sent the wrong message. And I knew that I’d just violated the contract I had signed with my dad. I had taken one step over the line. “I did that because you said you had never kissed a girl, and I wanted you to have the experience,” I explained. “Now, if someone asks you if you have ever kissed a girl, you can say yes.” “That is true,” he said flatly. But I thought he almost smiled. To my surprise, Melvin began asking me questions. He asked them with deliberation. I sensed he was thinking back to a time when someone had coached him on social skills. “Where do you live?” “I live here in south Bend,” I told him. “Do you have your own house, or do you rent?” “I live with my parents,” I admitted. “But I’m trying to save up enough money to move out on my own.” “There’s nothing wrong with living with your parents,” he said. Then, in another tutorial, he said, “In many cultures, it is common to live in multi-generational households. Adult children might live with their parents all their lives.” “Have you always lived with your parents?” “Oh, no, when I was in college,” I said. “I lived in a house with roommates. Then, when I was married, I lived with my husband. And after that, I lived with my fiancé for two years. Until he kicked me out. Then, I had no place to go except back home to live with my parents.” “Why did your fiancé kick you out?” Melvin sounded dismayed. “He was cheating on me with another girl. He wanted to get rid of me so he could be with her.” Melvin looked puzzled, as if he was trying to make sense of the timeline of my relationships. “So, you were married before that? Are you divorced now?” “Yes, I was married for a short time. About six months. And yes, I’ve been divorced for almost 4 years.” “Why did you get divorced?” “Because he cheated on me, too. I don’t trust men anymore. I’m starting to think they are all cheaters.” “I take it that, since your parents are still married, that probably means that your father never cheated on your mother.” “No, I don’t think my dad has it in him to do something like that.” “So, it means that you can trust him.” “Yes, that’s true. My dad is a trustworthy guy, for sure.” “I would never be a cheater,” Melvin said. “Cheating isn’t rational behavior. It destroys relationships. That’s not a good thing for anyone. I would be like a coyote or a gray wolf, mating for life.” I felt tears stinging my eyes. “That’s so sweet,” I said. “I wish more men would be like you.” Melvin didn’t seem to know what to say to that. Again, Melvin looked puzzled. “You said that you went to college.” “I know,” I said, “You’d think a college graduate could do better than working in a pet supply store.” “Sometimes,” he said matter-of-factly, “it takes time for a person to find a position in their professional field.” “I’ve never had a profession,” I confessed. “What was your college major?” he asked. “Biology,” I said. Then his eyes lit up in a way I’d never seen them light up before. “My undergraduate major was also biology. This is quite a coincidence. It means that you and I have something else in common.” “I guess,” I said bitterly. “Except that you went on to get a medical degree while I got stuck in a minimum wage job.” About that time, we arrived at the restaurant, and our conversation ended. When we left the restaurant, I followed Melvin to his car. “I will not be able to take you back to the YWCA,” he told me. “I need to go directly to the hospital now.” I was disappointed. But said, “That’s okay. I’ll ride back with Chuck and Judy. It was nice talking to you, Melvin. I’ll see you next week.” I wondered whether he had made an excuse to avoid any more of my nosy questions. Somehow, I did not think that was the case. I did not see Melvin as someone who would be that duplicitous. “l’ll see you next week,” he replied flatly. The following week Melvin barely spoke to me during our lesson, as was usually the case. But after class, he said to me, “Alana, would you like to ride in my car to the restaurant? This time I will be able to drive you both ways.” “Sure,” I said, “that would be nice.” ” How was your week?” he asked when we got into his car at the end of class. “Fine,” I replied. “Did you get that management position you applied for?” “No, I didn’t. I’m really bummed out about it.” “So, you won't be able to live on your own yet? And you don't like living with your parents. That's too bad.” “It’s not really that I don’t like living with them. They are wonderful people, and they are good to me. It’s just that it makes me feel like a loser.” “I don’t think you are a loser. That is not an accurate statement. You are working hard at trying to get a better paying position. And you are good at learning how to dance.” “Thanks, that’s so sweet.” Then I asked one of the many questions that I asked him that night: “How old are you?” “I'm Thirty-three. Many people guess me as older than that, because of my premature baldness and premature graying. He fingered the gray fringe of hair that surrounded his bald cranium. “But my body is actually as fit and strong as any person of my age.” “How old are you?” He asked. “I am twenty-seven,” I told him. “You look exactly that age. So, that is good. Your appearance doesn’t confuse anyone.” When he pulled into the YWCA parking lot, he said, “Would you like to kiss me again?” I was stunned. My mind raced over what I should say. I didn’t want to do anything that would make him feel rejected. On the other hand, I didn’t want to lead him on. I knew I was standing right on the line my father had set for me, actually one foot had stepped over the line. I was teetering on the edge of a confusing and distracting dilemma, which was exactly what my father wanted me to steer clear of.But the answer that came out of my mouth was an honest one. “Yes, Melvin, I would love to kiss you again.” While our first kiss had been awkward, something new to him. That night’s kiss was sweet. It seemed as if Melvin had figured out how to do it. And he was good at it. We did not stop at one kiss. “That was really nice,” he said,” I enjoy kissing you.” “Feelings mutual,” I said. I knew that in regard to my parents’ rules, I had become a liar and a fraud who was living a secret life. I felt like a terrible person. The following week in the car, my worst fears about spending time with Melvin came true. “I need to tell you this, Alana” he said. “If I don’t, I will feel uncomfortable dancing with you, and I won’t be able to come to class anymore.” “Oh, tell me. I don’t want you to drop out of the class,” I protested “So tell me whatever it is that you need to say.” “Okay, then” he said. “I will do that. I have developed feelings for you, Alana. You are the nicest girl that I know. And I think you are very pretty. So, I like you very much.” Suddenly, I knew how easy it would be for a woman to take advantage of Melvin Wieland. Some probably had done that before. I stared at him, flabbergasted. “I thought that maybe since you like kissing me so much, you might have feelings for me, too.” “I like you, too, Melvin,” I said, “I really like dancing with you and talking with you. And even kissing you. But I’m just getting to know you. It’s too early to know whether I will ever have romantic feelings for you.” I didn’t want to come right out and tell that sweet, awkward guy that I could never be in love with him. “But over time, you might?” He asked. “I guess that’s a possibility,” I said. “We will have to wait and see.” I felt like a despicable person for giving him hope. Here I am, I thought. Right in the middle of the dilemma I am supposed to avoid, a full-blown distraction. I’m going to be obsessed with this 24-7. “Let’s just take thinks slow and see where they lead?” I told Melvin. “That sounds like a good idea,” He replied. “Can we still kiss?” “Of course" I said. And we did. Every night when he dropped me off at the Y parking lot. We kissed. Honestly, I couldn’t resist kissing Melvin. He was so darn good at it. He was an expert, as he was with everything else he undertook. And our kissing became increasingly passionate. The last week of October, my parents went on a trip to the southern part of the state to see the autumn foliage. I knew they needed some time to themselves after their adult daughters had invaded their home. “Would you like to see where I live,” Melvin said that week after our lesson was over. “Sure,” I said. Without considering the full implications of what I was agreeing to. 20 minutes after leaving the YWCA parking lot, we arrived at Melvin's small two-story home. When we walked through the front door, I saw that his living quarters were immaculately clean and tidy, sparsely furnished, and virtually undecorated. He showed me around the downstairs of the house. He informed me he had a roommate who lived upstairs in an apartment. A young intern who worked at the hospital. Then he invited me to sit with him on his living room sofa, where we began to kiss. “You seem to be aroused,” he said, as if he was reporting on scientific data he was gathering. “It seems as if you want to have sexual intercourse.” “Have you done that before?” I asked, knowing full well that he hadn't. “No,” he said. “I don't have any personal experience in that area, but I have studied the matter. I know a lot about female anatomy and sexuality. “Shall we go, into the bedroom?” His lack of experience was readily apparent. Frankly, I was disappointed, although I told myself that I shouldn't have been surprised. “When we do this again,” Melvin said, “we will be much better at it.” About half an hour later, he said. “If we are going to try this again tonight, we should do it now, because my roommate is due to come home in about 45 minutes.” The second time we had sex wouldn't you know it, Melvin had it all figured out. It turned out to be a very satisfying experience. “You are very good at this,” I told him. “That’s good to know,” he replied with a mischievous smile on his face, something I’d never seen before. So, after that night, Melvin and I, completely stopped going to the dance after-party, and went straight to his house, so that I could be home, by my usual time. I would walk into my parents’ home, feeling like a big liar. I desperately wanted to tell Rita what was going on, but I didn't. Knowing, that I was not going to stop what I was doing, I went to my doctor to get a prescription for birth control pills. But, to my astonishment and utter disbelief, he said, “I can't do that because you are already pregnant.” “How can that be,” “I have been using protection.” “Every time?” The doctor asked. Because it takes only one time of unprotected sex to get pregnant.” And I knew the pregnancy had resulted from my very first night of unprotected sex with Melvin. I couldn’t believe I had screwed up that badly. I'd never screwed up that badly in my entire life, not even in high school. I knew I had to tell Melvin right away. He took the news without even flinching, as if he had expected something like that to happen. “My parents will be furious with me,” I told him. “Will they kick you out like your fiancé did?” “I don’t know,” I told him. “But they will be so disappointed in me. It won’t be fair for me to bring a baby into their home. They were so good to take me in, but I can’t saddle them with supporting a baby as well. I can’t keep on living with them after screwing up this badly.” “I understand that,” Melvin said. “Let me tell you this. I don't want you to worry. You can come live with me. I have the resources to take care of you and the baby. When a man becomes a father. He needs to take responsibility for his child. That is something my father didn't do, but I will not be like him.” "I will marry you if you would like. Of course, that idea may not be agreeable to you.” He said all that with perfect confidence. “Thank you so much Melvin. I don't think I'm ready to make a decision about marriage at this point.” “If you don’t want to get married,” he said, “you can come live with me anyway. I will still take care of you and the baby.” “What about your roommate?” I asked. “He won’t bother us,” Melvin said, ”he stays upstairs in his apartment. But if you don’t want him there, I can give him notice that he needs to find another place.” “No, that’s okay,” I said, “I don't mind if he stays.” About a month later, I informed my parents that I would be moving out. I waited another two months before I told them I was pregnant. On the one hand, they expressed disappointment, but on the other, they couldn't help but be excited about becoming grandparents. I can't say there weren't several tense conversations between my parents and me, regarding my pregnancy, and my decision to move in with the baby's father. But in the end. My father kept coming back to the point of this being my business now, and my responsibility. “It's up to you to figure all this out,” he said repeatedly. When I finally brought Melvin over to their house to meet them, they seemed to like and respect him, although they seem to be a little surprised by his social awkwardness. Rita had mixed reactions about my pregnancy and my decision to live with Melvin. On the one hand. I think she was glad that my enormous screw up made her look good in comparison. On the other hand. I think. She was a bit envious of my impending motherhood. Soon after, I moved in with Melvin, I realized that he lived a tidy, organized, predictable lifestyle. From day-to-day, nothing he did ever surprised me. I've always had a tendency to be a bit messy and disorganized. I was afraid that would irritate him. When I brought the matter up, he said. “We all have our own lifestyle. If you can put up with mine, then I can put up with yours. We don't need to have a problem.” And we didn't. But after being exposed to his lifestyle for a few days I found myself becoming more organized, and developing routines of my own. And the two of us got along quite splendidly. Melvin was fascinated with my ever-growing belly. And he insisted on going to my next prenatal appointment. I told him that wasn't necessary, but he said, “It is an expectant father’s responsibility to do this.” So, from that point he went to my obstetric appointments with me. He carried a little notebook with him, in which he had written questions for the doctor. And in which he had recorded the doctor's answers. It all seemed like a rather academic process. But I actually felt kind of proud of Melvin, because his questions were always thorough, and more intelligent than mine were. It was clear to me, that he was not going to abandon me during the prenatal process that he was always going to support me and insist on being part of things. The moment I realized I was in love with Melvin was when I was 7 months pregnant, lying in bed with my giant belly pushed up against Melvin’s broad back. I suddenly knew I never wanted to be without him. I was surprised by my feelings, but very sure of them. “I’m ready, Melvin.” I said. “Ready for what? You aren’t in labor, are you? That wouldn’t be good. It’s way too early?” No,” I whispered in his ear. “I’m not in labor. I’m ready to get married. I love you Melvin.” “That’s good to know,” he replied in his matter-of-fact way. “I love you too, Alana. I love you more than I have ever loved anyone in the whole world.” The next day, when an ultrasound showed that our baby was a girl, Melvin was excited. More excited than I'd ever seen him before. “She is going to be a daddy's girl,” he said. “I know it.” “We need to come up with the name for her,” I said. “I've already been working on that,” Melvin told me. “The name should be a combination of our two names. Because genetically, she will be a combination of the two of us. I think the most logical combination is Melvana.” “That's pretty,” I said in agreement, “since you came up with the first name, can I give her a middle name?” “Of course,” he said. “That is only fair.” “So she will be Melvana Joy,” I said to him. “Because she is already bringing such joy to both of us.” “Absolutely,” Melvin said. “I think we have the perfect name for our daughter.” Three weeks before Melvana was due to be born, Melvin and I went down to the courthouse and got married in a civil ceremony. Melvin had no desire for a big church wedding, and I Instinctively knew that would be too much for him, too overwhelming. I had already had one big church wedding and felt no need to have another one. So, our wedding was very simple. The only guests who attended were my parents and Rita. No one was there from Melvin side. His mother and grandparents, the people who had been close to him during his growing up years, were all deceased. He was not close to any of his living relatives. Both Melvin and I felt good about the fact that we could list our names on our daughter’s birth certificate as Melvin and Alana Wieland. After Melvana was born, Melvin was overcome with emotions. It was the first time I had seen him cry. “I can't believe that I helped to create such a perfect little thing,” he said. Of course, my parents and Rita fell in love with the baby immediately. Melvana's birth seemed to wipe the slate clean between us, and I knew they no longer held anything against me regarding my violation of our contract. The baby and Melvin were immediately welcomed into our family. “It seems that I have a father now,” Melvin said the first time after he and my dad had sat down for a conversation.” In the 9 years since Melvana's birth Melvin has proven himself to be the most reliable man I have ever known. I can count on him 100%. He is my Gray wolf, For sure. He continues with his job as pathologist at the hospital, earning a good living for our family. And he helped me buy my own franchise from the pet supply store chain, because he knew how important my work is to me. And I love managing my own store. Melvana loves the store too. She comes to work with me to help out. Since Melvana has a double dose of the gymnastics gene, we put her in gymnastics classes at an early age. A few years ago, we enrolled her in a dance class. She is in a dance troupe. She is fantastic. Just yesterday. Melvana said to me. “Mommy, why does Daddy act weird sometime? He talks funny. I am afraid to have my friends come over, because I am afraid they will make fun of him. That would hurt my feelings, because I love Daddy so much.” “I know this is hard for you, honey,” I said as I gave her a hug. Somehow I knew the day would come when I would have to speak honestly with Melvana about her father's condition. “Sweetheart,” I said, “sometimes Daddy's behavior seems strange, because he has autism.” “Is that a bad thing?” She asked. “I don't think it can be a bad thing, because daddy is so good.” “You are right, sweetheart,” I said. “Having autism is not a bad thing. It is just different. Just like you and Daddy have blue eyes, and I have brown eyes and that makes me different. But that's not bad. Let's talk with Daddy about this tonight, OK?” So we did. Melvin talked with his daughter, answering her questions as factually as if he was reading from a textbook. She seemed to be satisfied with his explanations. Then she asked, “Do I have autism, like you?” “No, sweetheart,” he said. “You have shown no signs of autism.” She actually seemed a bit disappointed with that response. She is such a daddy's girl. And she loves being like him. She looks a lot like him with her round face, blue eyes, and her compact sturdy body. People often tell her she looks like her father, and she loves hearing that. But in terms of autism, she is not like him at all. I was so proud of my husband for the way he handled her questions. I never thought I could be as happy as I am now, with my gray wolf and our little wolf cub. And I love our family life. There is nothing else I could possibly want or need.

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