By any measure he was overmatched.
He had asked his questions, and cringed at her replies….…..she had lots of money and knew that some men were looking for that sort of woman. Besides, since she had always been spoiled, she would spend her money any way she wanted.
What made him think he was ready to lock horns with that strong-willed lady? Why not settle for a stiff drink or good book instead?
Today’s October Years serialization of Second Chances continues our excursion into the sometimes daunting world of Geriatric Adolescence.
“Why don’t we get something to drink?” Elly suggested as she and Clint approached the Ten Falls Lodge. “I could use a pick-me-up.”
Entering through heavy double doors, they stepped into the main hall---a spacious room with log-beamed ceilings and a massive stone fireplace at one end. Along the side walls, at wooden tables, patrons visited quietly. At the far end of the room a snack bar offered the refreshments they were looking for. With sodas in hand they found a table overlooking the stone-slab patio and sat down, still aware of a pleasing weariness.
“So tell me,” Clint finally asked, looking to turn their small talk into something more substantial. “Is there anything that would make you feel better about staying in Tanner?”
Elly stirred her drink with a straw, pushing ice cubes from side to side. “I suppose I’ll need to get involved in things, make some new friends, renew some old acquaintances.”
She was grinning at his unexpected boldness. “I believe you’re trying to lead the witness. Am I right? To think that someone once told me you were the timid one.”
“What are you talking about?”
“About this.” She was not prepared to play his word games, but it was important that he understood. It was time for some boldness of her own. “It’s taken a while, the better part of two years, for me to realize that I’m not very good at being alone. Knowing that creates a problem, whether I’m in Los Angeles or Tanner. “
“I’m pretty sure Tom Berry would be willing to help you out.” Clint was cringing, hoping she heard the humor he intended.
“That is nothing to joke about,” Elly replied. “What it's really about, when all’s said and done, is trust. That’s the problem. I don’t want to be alone. But at the same time I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to trust that much again.”
“So what’s the answer then?”
“I think you’re leading me again. Do you want me to say that Clint Harris is the answer? Is that it?” She waited, but he did not respond.
“The truth is,” she continued. “We hardly know each other. It’s much too soon to know that. But in any case, you had better be careful what you wish for. I’ve been spoiled my whole life.”
“I suppose I could have guessed that.”
“Still, I can say that Clint Harris might be part of the answer. Only time will tell. But no matter what, I’m going to take things very slowly. This is no time to be rushing into anything. What more can I say?”
She sipped at her drink before looking up to add, “Except that you can be sure that Tom is not the answer.”
Once more Clint lapsed into his stoic silence, chewing his lip, unsure to respond. Finally he nodded toward the patio, “Let’s go outside and get some fresh air.”
They took a seat on the low stone wall that surrounded the patio. Soaking up the last of the afternoon sun Elly waited a moment, hoping that he was willing to continue. But he did not. “Did I say something wrong?” she finally asked.
He shook his head, signaling a reluctance to explore the ground she was covering. She had made her point. She needed time and trust. In light of that what more did he have to offer? Finally he paused to consider the one positive he could glean from her revelations. At least he knew exactly where she stood.
“It’s easy to see why you always intimidated me, even as a kid,” he offered. “You don’t beat around the bush, do you? You’ve always known what you wanted. You were so confident, so.....”
“So snooty? Or maybe snobbish?”
“Yeah,” he laughed. “I guess that was it.”
“I probably thought I had everything under control back then,” she continued. “I wanted to impress people. And I wanted to believe that was the real me---even when I wasn’t sure it was.”
Was she saying it had all been an act? Clint was not ready to buy that “I can only tell you how it looked to me,” he said. “For as long as I can remember Elly Beyers was out of my league. When I first saw her at the reunion I figured I was looking at the same old Elly.”
“Oh no. What you saw then was a new and properly humbled edition.” Her wry smile had disappeared. It was not her sense of humor on display. “It took a philandering husband and a very nasty divorce to teach me that I must not trust people the way I used to.”
He had never heard her speak of her ex-husband. The sharpness in her words was unexpected, creating his immediate question. “He’d never done anything like that before?” He spoke the words out loud and knew at once he had no right to ask such a question.
Elly’s irritated frown confirmed that he had gone too far. He braced himself for her angry reaction. Instead she shook her head and looked away. “It’s hard to explain,” she said softly. “Where we lived, in the crowd we socialized with, lots of men fooled around. But there had never been an extended affair before. It had never threatened our marriage.”
By then Clint was actively searching for a way to change the subject, to turn her from those uncomfortable thoughts. “I’m sorry that you had to go through that.”
“It was a lesson I needed to learn. Hard, but necessary.”
The sun was dipping behind the hills across the canyon. Long shadows spread across the patio. Clint continued to replay Elly’s talk of lessons learned as they started back toward the pickup. Her experience had been so different from his own. What could he possibly contribute to such a conversation? At the pickup he helped her into the high seat. Then, before he closed the door, he stopped short. The question had been on his mind for several minutes. It seemed like the right time.
“I’d like to try one of your tricks,” he said. “And be as blunt as I can.”
“Goodness. Don’t shock me too much,” she laughed.
“It’s a simple question. You told me that Clint Harris might be part of the answer. Right?”
She nodded, wondering where he was leading. “I believe that’s what I said.”
“Okay then. Here’s my question, What could Clint Harris do to make himself the whole answer?”
“My heavens. That was daring. I’m proud of you.”
“Can you answer the question?”
“Let me think.” Then, a moment later, “I guess that would have to begin by getting over that complex of yours---the one that has me stuck up on a pedestal, supposedly out of reach.” She noted his perplexed grin. “You’d have to get me down from there.”
“I’m not sure I know how to do that.” Elly was turning the tables on him. He was asking about her---if there was room for him in her life. Instead her response was about him and how he would have to change.
“It might be one of those habits that’s hard to break,” he answered. “From where I stood that’s always where you were, out of reach. I thought that’s what you wanted, especially from guys like me?”
“Clint. This is not about then, when we were kids. What I want now isn’t so different than what you want. You may not believe it, but we are much more alike than you think.”
“I always thought that Tom was more like you.”
“Not a chance,” Elly answered emphatically. “He and I are not even on the same chapter, let alone the same page. So don’t you think that for a minute. Tom is just more forceful, more insistent.”
Pausing a moment, he reminded himself it was not where he wanted their conversation to take them, but he needed to make his point. “You be careful. You mustn’t take Tom too lightly. He has a temper and a seriously violent streak. His ex-wives can vouch for that.”
Clint closed her door and walked around to the driver’s side. There, as he buckled his seat belt, he recalled one last question. “You know,” he said. “We’ve been here a couple hours. I’ve really enjoyed it. But I still haven’t heard why you wanted me along for your day at the Falls.”
“Why I wanted to be here with you? Is that what you’re asking?”
“You must have had some reason for asking me to tag along like a puppy dog.”
“Yes there was,” she nodded. “I wanted to spend the afternoon with you.”
“That’s it? That’s all?”
“Well, I wanted to see the Falls too. The park is even more beautiful than I remembered. But mainly I wanted us to get better acquainted. I saw no reason to explain that.”
He was still wondering at her confident, unembarrassed answer as he started through the parking lot toward the highway. Nearing the park exit Elly leaned over to ask, “Could we stop at the Visitor’s Center on the way out? I’d like to see their gift shop.”
Back on the main road he drove the few hundred yards to the Ten Falls Visitors Center---a low, simulated-log building located next to the Park Headquarters. There Elly led the way through the service area, past glass-enclosed display cases into the Gift Shop.
While Clint strolled the aisles, looking disinterestedly at cheap trinkets and gaudy souvenirs, Elly made a beeline for the long bookcase. Moments later she had selected Northwest Waterfalls and Pacific Coast Sights, each a professionally illustrated coffee-table volume. On her way to the cashier’s station she spotted a fleece sweatshirt that was quickly added to her armload of books. Setting her stash on the counter, she was digging through her purse for her credit card when she spotted the display of carved walking sticks.
“Look at these,” she said, motioning to Clint. She took a dark hardwood pole from the rack and fingered the intricately-carved design of climbing maple vines that encircled its length. “Isn’t this beautiful?” she exclaimed. She set it on the counter along with her other purchases.
Clint nodded his agreement. He had noticed the walking sticks earlier, along with their one-hundred twenty dollar price tag. Rather ‘spendy’ had been his impression---especially for something far too nice to ever take hiking.
Elly signed the credit card receipt while the clerk bagged her purchases. As they left the shop, Clint carried the sacks, while she tested her new walking stick.
Once back on the highway he found himself doing the mental arithmetic---totaling up the cost of her whirlwind shopping spree. As near as he could tell she had spent more than two hundred dollars in ten minutes, on things he doubted she would ever use.
They were several miles down the road before Clint found the courage to ask his question. “I realize that it’s absolutely none of my business,” he said, biting his lip, willing the words to come.
He stared straight ahead, his eyes on the winding road---afraid to look her way. “Do you always spend money like that?”
Elly’s initial answer never left her lips. She took a deep breath and thought better of any response at all. After a few seconds she replied coldly, “You’re right.”
“I’m right? About what?”
“It is none of your damn business.”
A strained silence settled over their journey. By then Clint was telling himself that no matter what, he would not be the first to speak. There was no reason to get her more upset than she already was. Twenty minutes later, as they approached the edge of the city, he was still looking for a way to defuse their awkward standoff---still with no idea of how to do that.
Not until they pulled into Elly’s driveway, forty minutes from the Falls, did she finally speak up. “I’m sorry, Clint. After all, you asked a simple question. I shouldn’t have let it upset me.”
“It wasn’t my place to be asking.” He was looking to end this before it went from bad to worse. “Just forget about it.”
“There’s nothing to forget. I just had no reason to let it bother me like that.”
“Hey, there’s nothing for you to apologize for.”
“I’m not apologizing.” Her reply was matter-of-fact, with an edge. “I spend my money the way I want, because it’s mine. I’m certainly not going to apologize for that.”
“And you always do what you want. Is that it?” Why, oh why, had he let those words escape? Why could he not let things be? He slammed his palm against the steering wheel. “I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.”
To his surprise, Elly was smiling. In fact, it was a broad, sweet smile. She unbuckled her seat belt and said, “I told you before. I’ve always been spoiled.”
What did that mean? If that was the extent of her justification, there was bound to be trouble ahead. Without even pretending to return her smile, Clint answered, “There’s no way I could afford to spoil you---even if I wanted to. Which I don’t.”
“You don’t have to. I have all the money I need.”
“Is that supposed to impress me?” His question added nothing constructive to the conversation, but it was the only way he knew to defend himself.
“I’ve known men who were looking for a woman like that.” Clint felt his stomach tighten. Did she really think he cared about that? She had lots of money. And she was spoiled. Was that supposed to make her more appealing?
“You’ll have to excuse me, Elly. I’m just a plain ole Tanner boy. I’ve had lots of experience with a life partner---but none at all with a Hollywood princess.”
Elly’s smile had vanished. She grabbed her purse and shopping bags, threw open the door, then slammed it loudly behind her. For a moment Clint sat quietly, shaking his head.
Why did he even care, he asked himself. What made him think he was ready to lock horns with that strong-willed lady? She was not about to change and he was too set in his ways to be adapting. That was a game for kids, not old men. Why not settle for a good book instead?
“What do you mean you’ve ‘had enough of that crap’?” Gary asked for the second time. Obviously brother Clint, the one with endless patience, who never let things upset him, was at that very moment out of patience and very upset. “What has you so worked up?”
The beer Clint was nursing had been in the refrigerator for at least a month. A six pack lasted a long time in the Harris home. He knew there would not be a second one, so it might have been hard to explain why he needed the first---except that it seemed to fit his mood.
“It was my own damn fault,” he grumbled, ignoring Gary’s question. “You’d think I’m old enough to know better.”
“What are you talking about?. When you left this afternoon you were walking on air, looking forward to some quality time with Elly. What the hell happened?”
“I just got caught up in stuff, that’s all. I started thinking about things I had no right to think about. On top of that I’d managed to forget who she is---and how she is.”
“You don’t like who she is?”
“Not the part I saw today.” He replayed Elly’s emotional exit, knowing it had been his own questions had triggered her defiant stand. Did that make it his fault? Even if it was, why would she boast of being spoiled and having money to spend? Was that so important to her? “Anyway, I’m glad I saw the real Elly Warren before it went any further.”
“So tell me, who is this ‘real’ Elly?” Gary was grabbing at straws, struggling to understand his brother’s sudden change of heart. “How is she different than the one you thought you knew?”
Clint paced the length of the kitchen and back. “I don’t suppose I really knew her in the first place. I hoped I did. And I hoped the lady I knew liked me. Now I know the only one she likes is herself.”
“That’s pretty harsh.”
“It’s also true. She brags about having been spoiled---and always getting what she wanted.” That was exactly what Elly had said. He was not putting words in her mouth. “She made it very clear she intends to keep on being spoiled and having what she wants. And I’d better understand that she has the money to do that.”
“Come on, Clint. This is the lady you have liked since grade school.”
“Hey, it’s easy to ‘like’ somebody, especially when you haven’t seen them in fifty years. I’ve tried to remember who she was when we were kids. But I don't suppose I knew that even then. In any case, I had no idea who she’s become.”
Clint paused, chewing on his lip, knowing that everything would be easier if he could just quit caring. “The thing is, if you want to spend time with someone it helps to know that the two of you have something in common, hopefully a lot in common. Near as I can tell, the only thing Elly and I have in common is that we both like her.”
“You need to give it some time. Maybe you’re overreacting.”
“I don’t think so.” Clint set his empty beer can on the counter, poured himself a cup of coffee, then promptly changed the subject. “Did you say you’re going to Lawrence tomorrow?”
“You bet,” Gary answered, happy to move beyond Clint’s moody complaints. “We’re going to a flea market, Claudia and I.”
“A flea market? Just what you need. Your storage unit is still full of stuff you and Christy brought home from those things. Do you really need more?”
“I’ll try to be selective.”