A DOUBLE DATE, AT OUR AGE?
It is a hard thing to do, renewing a long-dormant conversation. How then does a stumbling 69 year old make his case for a second first date…….fifty-some years after the first time?
Would an old-fashioned double date be an appropriate way to ease the tension……..if, that is, his thoroughly intimidated younger brother could find the nerve to do his own asking?
Today’s October Years serialization, Chapter 7 of Second Chances, once again takes us into the often daunting world of Geriatric Adolescence.
It was nearly four-thirty by the time Gary Harris, armed with his computer-generated map, pulled up in front of the modest ranch-style home in the eastern suburbs of Lawrence. A loud, but friendly Terrier followed him to the covered front porch, announcing his arrival. He paused for a moment, recalling Clint’s caution about arriving at dinner time. It seemed a bit early for that.
But good time or not, there was no turning back. Punching the door bell, he stepped back. A moment later the door inched open and a feminine voice asked, “Yes?”
His mouth was suddenly dry. “I’m sorry to bother you, Ma’am. I'm wondering if Claudia is home. She lives here, doesn't she? If she’s home, I’d like to see her.”
The door was open now. The plump brunette behind the glass storm door eyed him cautiously, ready with her own question. “And you are?”
“I’m Gary Harris.”
“Gary Harris? Gary Harris?” Finally a faint smile came to her lips. “Gary Harris from Tanner? From the reunion?”
She must be Claudia’s daughter, and obviously she had heard of him. But was that a good sign? What had she heard?
“I expect that’s me all right. You must be Barbara. Is your mother home?”
“She doesn’t know you’re coming. Does she?”
“I thought I’d surprise her.”
“I’m pretty sure you’ll do that.” Barbara pushed the storm door open and nodded for him to step inside. “If you’ll wait a minute, I’ll get her.”
Looking around the well-kept living room, Gary paused to study an arrangement of family pictures on a tall bookcase. The earliest photo showed Claudia, still the young woman he remembered from high school, with two small children and a man who must have been Gus Hafner. In the next picture the children were older, Claudia had aged noticeably, and Gus was nowhere to be seen. Then, before he could take in the last portrait, his attention was captured by a new distraction.
From the kitchen he heard Claudia’s loud, distressed questions. “It’s who?” He could not make out Barbara’s hushed response, only Claudia’s, “Why?”
Seconds later Barbara returned to the living room wearing a bemused grin. A few steps behind her came Claudia, wiping her hands on her floral apron, looking every bit as frustrated as she had sounded. Then, suddenly aware that she was still wearing the apron, she hurriedly dropped it in a chair. Pausing at a wall mirror long enough to pat her hair, she straighten her collar and stepped up beside Barbara.
Gary turned to take in her sudden appearance. He was grinning by then. Making an obvious production of his casual once over, he was still offering no hint of conversation. In the hallway to his left he noted the young girl, perhaps a teenager, leaning against the door jamb---taking in her grandmother’s awkward entrance.
“What are you doing here?” Claudia finally asked, making no effort to hide her wondering.
“Well,” Gary answered in an exaggerated drawl. “It could be that I was just in the neighborhood and decided to drop in.” He waited a moment for her reaction. “But that wasn’t it at all. I had decided it was a good night to eat out. Since I hate to eat alone, I thought I’d stop and see if you would like to join me.”
“Eat out? You want to have dinner with me?”
“I would like to take you out to dinner, to a restaurant.”
Shaking his head, Gary turned to the granddaughter, grinning as he asked, “Is your grandma always so full of questions?” He paused to add, “I don’t believe I caught your name, dear.”
“It’s Connie,” came the girl’s barely audible whisper.
“Well, Connie.” His expression had turned serious. “I suppose she has lots of fellows asking her out to dinner, or maybe a movie. That must happen all the time. Does she get this upset when the others come calling?”
Connie’s high-pitched giggle was cut short by Claudia’s exasperated complaint. “Will you stop that, Gary Harris. The girl doesn’t know you’re joking. Besides, it’s nothing to make fun of.”
“I assure you, I am not joking.” He was speaking to Connie, though his words were meant for Claudia. “I drove all the way from Tanner, just to ask your grandma to have dinner with me. Don’t you think the least she could do is say ‘Yes’?”
Connie bit her lip. Looking up into her grandmother’s scowl, the girl was trying to suppress the laughter that threatened to spill out. Her eyes lit up as she nodded her assent.
“There you are. Another vote for my side,” Gary proclaimed, turning next to the daughter. “How about you, Barbara. Could you manage dinner tonight without your mother?”
Barbara was trying to look into her mother’s suddenly down-turned eyes. “If that’s what she wants to do, we’d get along just fine.”
Finally he put his question to a thoroughly befuddled Claudia. “There you are. The majority has spoken. Will you accept their verdict? I really wish you would.”
“Well, I never.” A moment later her loud indignation had dissolved into a self-conscious smile. With a head-shaking sigh, she finally surrendered. “Give me a few minutes to change.”
The restaurant was Claudia’s choice---a local favorite. They were seated and placed their orders. For the first few minutes their tentative conversation seldom strayed from the relative safety of reunion topics........impressions of long unseen classmates and timid remembrances of those who had passed on.
They were waiting for their main course when Gary looked up to find Claudia, her elbows on the table and chin resting on her folded hands, staring at him. His puzzled grin nearly had her laughing.
“Are you going to tell me what this is about?” she asked. “What it is you want?”
“What do I want? Well, that’s no big secret. I want to know you again. I want you to feel comfortable being with me.” He paused to sip at his coffee, unsure how far to take his pleading explanation.
“Look, a long time ago I disappointed you big time. You have every right to be upset about that. But after we talked at the reunion I knew I wanted to change that. Or at least try to. I was hoping we could start building some trust again.”
Her response was a few seconds coming. “I’ll admit I’ve had very mixed feelings about that night,” she said. “When I first saw you, actually it was when you first smiled at me, I was glad you’d been brave enough to introduce yourself.”
She slowed, reminding herself not to give in to those feel-good emotions. “But the more I thought about it, the more I remembered how much you’d hurt me. It was like my defenses went up. Like I had to keep you away.”
“Believe me. I could tell right away when those defenses went up. I suppose that’s why I’m here tonight---to see if you can get past all those bad things you recall. I’m hoping you can remember some of the good things, and maybe feel more comfortable about being with me.”
Was there a way to do that, he wondered. Would she be willing to try “You know, I’m not the same scatterbrained kid I was back then. I finally settled down and raised a family. My God, I spent thirty-one years at the Public Works Department. Is that stable or what?”
“Gary. We’re not kids anymore. It’s different now.” Her most pressing question had finally bubbled to the surface. “Where can a high school infatuation go---fifty years later?”
He had resisted long enough. He reached across the table and took her hand. “First of all, what I remember was something more than an ‘infatuation.’ But whatever it was, I don’t know where it can take us now. The thing is, I’d like to find out. That’s why I’m already making plans for another date---if you’re willing to try this again.”
“A date? At our age? What kind of date is that?”
“I’m thinking about a double date?”
“A double date? Heavens, that’s for youngsters. Kids used to do that when they went out with someone they don’t know very well. Isn’t that’s how it was back then?”
“I think it still works that way, at least for folks like us---who are feeling their way along, wanting to be sure. Don't you think that sounds like double-date territory?”
“Who in the world is going to double date with us?”
Ah, yes. Who would that be? Though a part of him wanted to avoid her blunt question Gary did have an answer, along with serious doubts about his ability to make it happen.
“How about brother Clint?” He paused a second, purely for effect. “And Elly Beyers. Except it’s Elly Warren now.”
“Elly Warren? Would she go with him?” By then Claudia was asking herself another question. Was she interested in spending an evening with that country-club snob, the one who barely spoke to her in high school? “I don’t see how that could work,” she added.
“Just what I need,” Gary sighed. “Another vote of confidence. So far, you don’t think it would work. Clint thinks it’s a dumb idea. And Elly doesn’t even know about it yet. Sounds like I have some work to do.”
Claudia stared blankly at the wall beyond their table, trying to digest his improbable notion. Where was he going with his double-date idea? How would such an evening help anything? “Maybe I don’t understand what you want.”
“That’s why I’m here---to explain what I want. Even if it sounds crazy. The reunion kind of brought things into focus for me. I saw you there. And the more I thought about that the more it seemed like I’d been sitting on the sidelines long enough. It was time to start living again. That’s what I want most of all---to feel alive again.”
“Gary. How is someone like me going to make you feel alive?”
He reached across the table to squeeze her hand. “You already have.”
“Will you be serious,” she scolded. “You haven’t thought this through at all. Just look at me. I’m all wrinkled and worn out. I’m fat where I used to be skinny. I sag where I didn’t sag before. There’s nothing about me that’s the same as the school girl you knew. You’re just being silly.”
Looking into her face, he said softly, “When your eyes smile like that, they’re still the prettiest I’ve ever seen.”
Then, laughing out loud, “My God, woman. I’m just as old as you. I’ve lost my girlish figure too. My wrinkles have wrinkles. Everything about me is either broke or doesn’t work.” He stopped and winked at her.
“But my mind doesn’t know about all that. And I’m not going to tell it. In our heads we can still be kids, just like we used to be.” He stopped short, reminding himself it was not the time to be pushing too hard.
Glancing at his watch, he explained, “Look, I promised to have you home early. I don’t want your family upset with me on our first date. I only hope you can say 'Yes' to a double date so I can be making plans.”
Minutes later, pulling into Barbara’s driveway, Gary turned off the engine and reached for her hand. “Don’t worry,” he grinned. “I know you’re a proper lady. I wouldn’t expect a kiss on the first date.”
He knew she was blushing, though the dim light revealed only an embarrassed smile. “But I wasn’t kidding about a date. Not a bit. In fact, I’m thinking about a week from Friday. Hopefully it will be a double date. Either way, I’d like us to go to Portland for dinner and a movie.”
“All the way to Portland?”
“Yes, Ma’am. The Arts Theater there is showing old films this month. That Friday night it’s Rebel Without a Cause. I remember how much you liked James Dean.”
“Wouldn’t it be awfully late by the time we drove back from Portland?”
“Hey. We’re adults. It’s okay.”
For the first time Claudia placed her hand on his, admitting to herself that she would like to spend an evening with Gary Harris. But Elly Beyers, or Elly Warren, or whatever her name was now? What would they possibility have to talk about?
In fact, the whole idea sounded so impetuous, so much like Gary Harris. Perhaps that was what had her nodding her consent. “It has been a long time between dates. I hope I’ll remember how to act.”
“Thank you,” he said, squeezing her hand. Walking around the car, he opened her door and together they started toward the front porch. Only then did Gary notice the young face peering from between the drawn living room curtains.
Claudia too saw her granddaughter. “You had better behave yourself,” she laughed. “I have people watching after me.”
On Wednesday afternoon, after a longer than usual Foundation meeting Clint made it his turn to invite Elly for coffee. “Have time today?” He asked as they left the main lobby of the hospital.
“Of course. I was going to suggest it myself.”
Inside they were seated and had placed their order when Clint turned their conversation to the just- completed meeting. “That was an interesting idea you had,” he said. “Using a professional fund raising consultant.”
“That’s how we did it in Los Angeles. The good ones can get outstanding results.”
“I guess it’s time we caught up with the big city.”
“It should work just as well in Tanner.”
A few minutes later, having milked all they could from the Foundation meeting, their conversation appeared to be on extended hold. Clint sat fidgeting with his cup, tracing patterns through the coffee with his spoon. Finally, pushing the cup away, his gaze bounced around the room---from abstract wall hangings to the handwritten white-board menu posted over the counter.
“Is there something you wanted to tell me?” she finally asked. “You asked me to join you. But you don’t seem very sociable.”
Without looking up he cut right to the chase. “Do you like James Dean? You know, the actor?”
“Of course I do. At least I used to. But that was ages ago. What has that got to do with anything.”
“Rebel Without a Cause is playing in Portland, a week from Friday.”
“So. I was thinking.” He bit his lip. His head dropped to his chest and he closed his eyes, silently scolding his own timidity. Why couldn’t he go on? It was simply a matter of saying the words.
“Clint,” Elly interjected after a few seconds. ”I just watched you in the Foundation meeting. You were standing up for your arguments and answering every questions. You were helping those folks understand some complicated things. The fellow I saw in there was as confident as could be, perfectly at home in a roomful of very large egos. What happened to him? Where did he go?”
His embarrassed grin had returned. “That was different. Those people don’t scare me. Not like you do.”
“Why in the world should I scare you?”
He pinched at his chin and looked away. “I suppose it’s a habit. You always have.”
Elly was shaking her head, trying to understand his reluctance. A moment later she had decided to force the issue. “That has me wondering,” she said calmly, “Were you wanting to ask me about a double date---perhaps something with Gary and Claudia Hafner.”
Clint’s head jerked up, with the question spread across his face. “How did you know that?”
“Your brother called me.”
His palm slammed against the table, rattling the cups in their saucers. “Why the hell would he do that? Why can’t he just keep his nose out of my business?”
“I suppose he wasn’t sure you would ask me,” Elly replied. “I wonder if he was right.”
She was shaking her head, unsure what came next. “You don’t seem very enthused about it. Do you really think it’s a good idea, or is your brother pushing you into something you’d rather not do?”
“Look, Gary’s been talking about this crazy idea of his. I’ve heard the whole thing. But he never said anything about calling you.”
“So it is a ‘crazy’ idea. That’s what you’re saying. Right?”
“That’s not it at all.” Clint shifted in his chair and rapped his knuckles on the table top, wanting her to understand---certain that she could not. “Look, I feel really bad about this. Gary can be so damn impulsive. When he gets his mind around an idea he just charges off. Sometimes he does stupid things without thinking.”
Elly’s warm smile was gone. “And you’re saying this is one of those times---one of those ‘stupid things’ he does. I suppose I can understand that.”
Was it hurt he saw in her eyes? “It’s okay, Clint. You shouldn’t feel bad about it. It was Gary’s bad idea, not yours.”
Draining his cup, he set it down and looked across at her---finally willing to meet her gaze. There was a new calmness in his voice as he explained, “I can’t be blaming Gary for this. I'll admit, I liked his idea too.
"It sounded like a good time. But I knew it would be a terrible drag for you. I can’t think of one reason why you’d want to do something like that. I’m nothing at all like the guys you know. Whatever we did wouldn’t be anything like the stuff you're used to.”
“I'm sure that's right,” she replied. Her smile had returned. “That’s why I told Gary I’d like to go. If I was asked, of course.”
“You did? You told him that?”
Reassured by her nodding grin, Clint took a deep. breath and plowed ahead. “I was going to ask you myself, you know. I could have done that. I didn’t need Gary’s help.”
“I’m sure you could.”
It took a moment for her response to register. “I haven’t asked you yet. Have I?”
“I don’t remember being invited.”
“Elly Warren, would you please join me for a night at the movies---a week from Friday?” His satisfied grin left no doubt. No one was pushing him anywhere. ”It will be a double date and I think we'll have a really good time.”
“So do I,” she said. “In fact, I’m looking forward to it. I’m especially glad someone asked me. It’s been a long time between dates.”
Elly's smile had faded when she offered her disclaimer. “There is one thing though. It’s about Claudia. You may not know it, but she never did care much for me. I’m not sure why, but she was always kind of distant.”
“She’s not going with you,’ Clint teased. “You’re going to be my date. Besides, I’ll bet she’s changed, just like the rest of us have. Anyway, Gary wants to get her interested in him again. That’s what this is all about for him.”
“And you?” she asked. “What is it ‘all about’ for you?”
The playful grin left his face. Hopefully she could tell he was not joking, “I suppose I’m hoping to know Elly Warren a little better.”
Moments later the two of them walked from the coffee shop to the parking lot. There, crossing the main traffic lane, the honking of a gray Mercedes caught their attention. They stepped to the side as Tom Berry pulled up next to them. Lowering his window, he asked, “What are you two up to?”.
“Just had a Hospital Foundation meeting,” Clint answered. As he started around the front of Tom’s car Elly very conspicuously took his arm and continued on.
“Just on our way home.” She said over her shoulder. “See you later.”
At Elly’s car Clint paused for his goodbyes. “Look, I’m sorry this got so messed up,” he said. “But I’m really glad we got it sorted out. I suppose I’m not even mad at Gary. Anyway, I’m looking forward to a week from Friday. I plan to enjoy myself.”
“Me too.” In truth, she was more than a little surprised at the unexpected anticipation his stumbling invitation had generated. “I just hope Portland is ready for a senior invasion.”
As always, dear reader, if you have friends or family who might enjoy a dose of Geriatric Adolescence I invite you to share our address (octoberyears.blogspot.com) with them. That is the best way I know to spread the word. The blog's right sidebar lists all the earlier chapters, beginning in October, so they can always start at the beginning.