Revenge can be messy
Of course he was looking forward to their visit. After all, he knew her secret. With that better times were bound to await them.
Until, that is, she offered her deflating response.
Then, even as she tried to heal those relational wounds, another angry confrontation was taking shape.
Today’s October Years serialization, Chapter 10 of Long Way Home, continues our excursion into the sometimes daunting world of late-life relationships.
It had been a most unholiday-like holiday, the worst Thanksgiving Day Elly Warren could remember. To her way of thinking there was little to celebrate. Yet twice in the course of her morning she had stopped to scold herself. With all the blessings she enjoyed how could she be so callous and ungrateful?
Even her late morning phone visit with Tom had been something of a letdown. He would be spending the afternoon with his daughters and their families, though he promised to call when he got home. It sounded as though he had something to talk about. In the meantime she roasted a small turkey and ate alone.
Later, returning the scarcely-touched bird to the kitchen, Elly sliced off a few pieces of white breast meat, enough for a sandwich or two. Then, pausing to consider salvaging more meat from the untidy carcass, she passed on that idea and consigned the remainder to the outside garbage barrel.
A few minutes of clean-up time had the kitchen in order and she retreated to the comfort of her family-room recliner. There, with eyes closed, she tried to chase away the aggravating questions that sabotaged her hopes for a nap. Yet try as she might, the questions remained.
Was this the loneliness her mother had warned of....the price she would pay for having no children, no grandchildren?
Years before, Valerie Beyers had warned her daughter that she would one day rue her decision to remain childless.....insisting that the choice Mike and Elly had made, to live without the inconvenient distraction of children, came with a price. Was this what she meant....Thanksgiving Day alone? And probably Christmas too. Over and over she probed for answers, until sleep finally erased the questions.
While Elly sulked, Tom Berry’s Thanksgiving Day was, by any measure, the complete validation of his campaign to become Elly’s house guest. Even if she did not classify him as such, that was his preferred way of thinking about his new living arrangement.
In the beginning it had been the practical advantages that appealed to him....the promise of expanded freedom and independence. And of course it would be nice to have Elly close at hand. However, given their recent history, he had nurtured little hope for anything more than a casual, arms-length relationship.
All that was before Clint Harris had returned to the scene, letting slip enough sour-grape complaints to revive Tom’s dreams of winning Elly. She was within reach. Clint had as much as said so, based on her own words.
It was easy enough to understand why Clint felt the need to leave town. Why would he stay to face the galling reality of Elly being with someone else?
On the way back to his guest-wing apartment, after Thanksgiving dinner with his family, Tom revisited that surprising new reality. While he reveled in a sense of renewed confidence Clint Harris was slinking off, blissfully unaware of how welcome his innocent disclosures had been.
Perhaps he should feel bad about taking advantage of Clint’s slip up. At that moment, however, as he dwelled on the pleasant prospect of a future that included Elly Warren, Tom was not overly concerned about his rival’s feelings.
Once home his nurse, Lester, held the door to the guest apartment for Tom, then helped the big man remove his coat. “You know, Lester,” Tom said. “There’s no reason in the world for you to stay here this evening. It’s a holiday, for God sakes. Why don’t you take some time off. See that girl friend of yours.”
“But Mr. Berry, my supervisor says I have to stay. ‘Twenty-four hours a day.’ That’s what he said.” Obviously Lester was uneasy being in the middle....the powerless one in a power struggle.
“Damn it, Lester,” Tom growled. “I’m the one who pays the bill. Now you just take off for a few hours. Be back in time to get me in bed. Nine o’clock. Understand?”
It was not Lester’s place to countermand a client, except in regard to medical issues. Time off, especially time off with pay, did not fit his definition of a medical issue. He walked out to his car and drove off toward town.
Meanwhile Tom maneuvered his power chair into the bathroom and ran a comb through his hair. Then, back at the small dining table, he poked the intercom ‘Talk’ key. Nothing happened. Apparently Elly had turned the system off at her end, which meant he must use his cell phone.
The sound of the ringing phone roused Elly from her nap. She sat up long enough to get her bearings, then walked to the kitchen counter and picked up the phone.
“I’m glad this isn’t an emergency,” Tom joked when she answered. “You keep turning off the intercom.”
“That’s because you keep using it to visit.”
“Which has me wondering. Do you have time for a visit now? Face to face, I mean. Not on the intercom.”
“What time is it?” She squinted at the clock on the range. Six-twenty. She had been asleep for a couple of hours. “What do we have to visit about?”
“Come on, Elly. It’s a holiday. I’ve just had a wonderful meal with my family. It’s been a beautiful day. Can’t we just sit and talk for a while?”
Why not, she wondered. There had been no visiting in her holiday. There had been no human contact of any kind. “Give me a few minutes,” she said. “I’ll unlock the door.”
By the time Elly stopped to fix her hair, then walk the length of the long hall to unlock the dead bolt, Tom was parked impatiently on the other side of the door.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” he offered. “Have you had a good day?”
“Pretty quiet.” She walked ahead of him toward the dining room.
They sat at the long table with his power chair slipped under one end. There, declining her offer of coffee, Tom leaned back with his hands laced behind his head. “I had a really good time with the girls," he began. "It was just what I needed. With the power chair, the van, and Lester....I can do most anything.”
“I'm glad.” Her smile seemed real. In truth she was glad that his move was working out so well .
“In fact there was only one thing missing,” Tom added with a mischievous wink.
If ever there was a time when Elly Warren was not prepared to deal with Tom’s aggravating allusions to their future together it was at that moment. She had just spent Thanksgiving alone, while the one promising relationship in her new Tanner life was disintegrating before her eyes. She had committed to Tom’s living arrangement in hopes of easing the guilt she could not ignore. And now it sounded as though he was getting cutesy again.
“Please, Tom. Not now.”
“It’s okay, Elly.” He rested his hands on the table, probably feeling as confident as he looked. “There’s no need to hide it any more.”
“What are you talking about?”
Tom was leaning forward, hoping to make a connection. “Clint told me everything....about us, about what you want. He was so upset about it that he’s leaving for California. When you told him that it was going to be us, you and me, he just didn’t want to stick around.”
“You and me?” Elly was shaking her head. “What does that mean? Where did you get that idea?”
“Look, I know you wanted to keep it quiet for now. Clint didn’t really mean to tell me anything. It just kind of slipped out.” He reached across the table for her hand. “Elly, everything about this is right. It’s the right thing at the right time. If you’d marry me it would make things the way they were always meant to be.”
“Tom. You’re making no sense.” She was on her feet, pacing to the living room and back. “Are you saying that Clint said I wanted him gone....so I could be with you. Is that what you heard?”
Tom was nodding as she spoke, grinning all the while. “That’s right. He didn’t say it in exactly those words, but that’s what he meant.”
Elly dropped heavily into her chair. If her first impulse was a surge of well-deserved anger that passed quickly, leaving only a weary, dejected frown. Why be upset with Tom for accepting what he wanted so badly to believe? Yet he must be made to understand the truth of it. “Tom. Please listen. I’m too old to be playing these silly games.”
“Silly games? What does that mean?”
“It means that Clint Harris is at it again. He went out of his way to make you believe something that’s not true.”
“What? Why would he do that?” Tom’s spirits were sagging noticeably. “Are you saying he lied?”
There was no hiding her wry smile. Knowing why Clint had played his irksome charade was not enough to ease her upset. Was it really necessary for him to hurt Tom like that?
She reached over and patted his hand. “You see Clint was not at all pleased when I told him you were moving here. In fact he was rather angry. I’m afraid this is his way of getting even with me.”
“He was that upset with you...and you still let me come?”
“He knows that was my choice to make. I thought it was the right one. And I still do.”
“And Clint? What about him?”
She was wearing a troubled frown as she stared into her folded hands. “I don’t know. Right now I’m not sure I even care.” She looked up at him. “I’m sorry, Tom. I know this isn’t fair to you. But Clint lied to you. That’s exactly what he did.”
Clint Harris turned off the television and settled back in his recliner to consider a holiday that had simply not happened. From his perspective, in his present mood, words like ‘hollow’ and ‘empty’ seemed to best describe his Thanksgiving Day.
It was not meant to be a solitary holiday, he reminded himself. It was supposed to include family and friends, with visiting and good times. There had been none of that. After watching a football game that could not hold his attention he had feasted on his sliced-turkey TV dinner, then returned to the couch for a second nap. Now in the early-evening darkness he was determined to try for number three.
He had scarcely dozed off when the evening quiet was interrupted by the sound of footsteps on the porch. Someone at the front door almost always meant a stranger. No one else made the long walk around to the front of the house. He stood and started across the room. Before he reached the door, the bell rang once and the door pushed open. There, stepping boldly into the room, was Elly Warren.
There was fire in her eyes and no hint of sociable salutations. Planting herself squarely in front of him, hands on her hips, she demanded to know, “How could you do that? That was the most callous, hurtful, sneaky thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Will you just calm down for a minute. What are you talking about?”
“You know perfectly well what I’m talking about.”
“You think that was sneaky?” Clint could not contain his grin. She was acting so serious about something that struck him as funny. “I take it you’ve been talking to Tom.”
“Of course I have. And it’s certainly nothing to be laughing about.”
“That’s kind of surprising. I would have thought that after a few martinis you two would see the humor in it.”
“There were no martinis. There never have been. And you know it.”
His childish grin was winning out again, overcoming his best effort to match her seriousness. “I can’t imagine why you’re so upset. I was as honest as could be with Fat Tom. Maybe I did string him along just a bit. But it wasn’t like I lied to him.”
He motioned for Elly to take a seat on the couch but she declined....holding to her space in the middle of the room.
“You certainly did lie to him," she answered. "It was untrue, all those things you told him. They were all lies. Every bit of it. And you did it on purpose. You did it because Tom is so gullible and you knew it would hurt me.”
“I assure you, Mrs. Warren, there’s nothing gullible about Tom Berry. Besides, what I told him was basically true. I just said it in a way he wanted to hear. It wasn’t a hard sell.
“As for hurting you.” He bit his lip, not wanting to say the words. “I suppose I should be ashamed of that. But at the time that’s what I wanted to do.”
If his quiet admission was meant as an olive branch Elly was not willing to accept it as that. “Do you know that he proposed to me? He really believed that’s what I wanted.”
“Wow. And you turned him down?” Clint realized at once his sarcastic question was not apt to improve her disposition. “Anyway, I could tell at the time how much he wanted to believe it.”
Was he looking for a fight or too preoccupied with his practical joke to see one coming? In either case Elly was not willing to settle for one of Clint Harris’ non-arguments. “What kind of man would do that? Do you have any idea how much you hurt Tom? How embarrassed he was?”
“So I hurt Tom’s feelings. And I embarrassed him. Right?”
He sat down on the edge of the sofa, looking up into her still-angry eyes. “He’s the guy who had every intention of killing me. He wanted me dead. Why would you be surprised to know that I’m not too worried about hurting his feelings?” He stopped, rapping his fist against his knee. “Besides, about then I was feeling kind of hurt myself.”
A hard-jawed scowl came to her face. “You were hurt. So you hurt back. Is that it? You do that, then you pack up and leave. You just run away, all the way to California. Is that how it works?”
Jabbing a finger in his direction, Elly continued. “You gave me a long lecture once, about running away. Remember? You said Tom Berry would never run the Harris boys out of town. It sounded very macho. And I believed it.”
Her anger was fading....swept away by the mention of his leaving, nudging her toward a more productive ending to their standoff. “You told me all that and here you are, ready to leave.”
“You know damn well Tom Berry would never run me off.” Clint got to his feet and reached for Elly’s arm. With no hint of affection he turned her around and aimed her toward the front door. “I’d fight Tom every inch of the way, if I thought that would help.”
He nudged her forward. “This is different though. You’re the one who made the choice. Probably even made the right one....at least for you. I’m just not interested in hanging around to see how it plays out.” With that he reached for the doorknob.
“If it’s not Tom, I’m sure you’ll find some other guy at the club who’ll settle for being a part-time boyfriend....someone who won’t interfere with your shopping trips.” He opened the door and gently pushed her out to the porch.
“You can’t stay away forever,” she reminded him. “This is your home. You’ll have to come back sometime. What then?”
“To tell you the truth, right now I’m not looking that far ahead. Who knows, California might come to feel like home.”
Elly had come to state her case and vent her anger, to be sure that Clint understood she would not accept his shabby treatment of Tom. And there she was, on the verge of pleading for him to stay. It would have been easy to do. But it would have also signaled her capitulation.....a surrender of the independence she had promised herself.
With no further argument she turned and started across the porch toward her car. Behind her she heard Clint’s parting, “Happy Thanksgiving.”
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 with Chapter 1 of the Second Chances story, so they can always start at the beginning.