Saturday, December 19, 2020

If ever we needed Christmas

I know what you’re thinking. As years go 2020 has been a bummer in so many ways. Each of us, in our own way, has dealt with month after month of intimidating isolation, longing for a return to normal. The fortunate among us have maintained contact with family, friends, even our church, via Zoom and emails. Though nothing can replace a grandchild’s hug, thank goodness for those ‘second best” alternatives.

Though the latest vaccine news offers reason for hope, they tell us we can expect hard months ahead. And if ever we needed a season of hope….… Christmas in its deepest meaning…..this is that time. Surely, with so many of our neighbors hurting in one way or another, we ought to be extra generous with our Christmas spirit.

Beyond that, I tell myself that this year of the abnormal calls for a bit of geriatric, virus-appropriate boldness. If you are like me you have been housebound……pacing the floor, wearing out your recliner and treadmill, and generally rattling your cage. We would like to fill our hours with productive and satisfying pursuits, but what can we do in the face of these circumstances?

It took some looking, but I finally settled on what might be an answer to my personal “boldness” challenge. I actually believed that my timid excursion into the world of bread making might be enough. After all, what damage could a kitchen-illiterate like me, armed with a bread-making machine, possibly do? Turned out I can produce an edible loaf of bread almost every time. But that modest bit of success still had me falling short on the “boldness” scale. It was time to find something more.

In an earlier post I recapped my totally selfish, off-the-wall idea of serializing my Second Chances story. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say I consider that undeniably “bold” project a success…..a challenging, yet satisfying way to fill my stay-at-home hours.

Better yet, the reader reception has been more positive than I expected. As I said before, I like the story and am proud of how it turned out. To find that some of you agree, at least enough to keep reading, was gratifying. (We’re talking dozens, not hundreds.) Since Second Chances is the first of a two book story I will continue with the serialized chapters of Long Way Home, the second half, after the holidays. (For those who might want to start at Chapter 1 of Second Chances the right sidebar of this post provides links to all the chapters, beginning in October.)

Though I can’t say it works for everyone, I am comfortable urging each of you to consider you own “bold” ways of dealing with the numbing effects of this stay-at-home existence. Why not take a chance, something beyond your own normal, perhaps something you’ve been putting off?

Finally, if you are so inclined, I hope you will consider an invitation to add a reply to the email that brought you this link…….enough to spread your personal Christmas cheer to the rest of us……..with a “Reply to all” comment.

With that…’s wishing a happy holiday season to all of you, and a Happier (much happier) New Year. Stay safe.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020


Ironic, isn’t it?

How are Second Chances meant to end? To be sure, some endings are more satisfying the others……..for instance, the surprising fruits of a mad man’s delusional love.

But what about a satisfying outcome that produces a less-than-satisfying result, when winning feels a lot like losing……and resolution remains just out of reach?

With today’s October Years serialization, Chapter 27 of Second Chances, we end this part of out excursion into the sometimes daunting world of late-life relationships. 


                            CHAPTER 27

Clint was quite willing for Saturday to be a sleep-in day. After a harrowing night that ended in Elly’s rescue, there was no reason to be up early, and certainly no reason to rob her of badly needed rest. He might have slept until noon, except for the clanging racket coming from the kitchen. Rolling off the couch, he slipped on his pants and shirt, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, and walked to the kitchen.

“Do you ever sleep?” he grumbled.

Still on her knees, Elly looked up from the low cupboard to ask, “Where do you keep your frying pans?” Clint stepped around her to the other side of the range. From a drawer he pulled out two pans, one larger than the other. 

Taking the smaller of the two, she explained, “If I’d known where things were I could have been quieter.”

“Elly! For God sakes, it’s only six-thirty.”

“Well, I couldn’t sleep. I was just lying there in bed, thinking how good it was not to be afraid.”

Indeed that sense of relief had been real and welcome. There was no need to complicate things by mentioning the disturbing dreams that had interrupted her sleep---the troubling images of Tom Berry’s pained grimace and pleading stare, the hurtful knowing that she was the cause of his distress.

“Which reminds me,” Clint remembered. “You scared the hell out of me in the middle of the night. That was you I bumped into on the way to the bathroom, wasn’t it?”

“Of course it was. Who else would it have been?” Her playful snicker gave way to laughter. “And I was certainly surprised at how little you wear to bed.”

“Hey, I wasn’t expecting company at that hour.”

Once the ingredients had been located they settled for a light breakfast and a quick read of the morning paper, before preparing for the business at hand. The dishes were in the dishwasher when Elly took a moment to spell out the morning’s schedule for Clint to consider. “If you’ll take me home I’ll get my spare keys. We can drive out to the park and get my car, then come back to the hospital.” 

“That should work,” Clint nodded. “We don’t have to be at the courthouse until ten.”

It was a simple, straight forward plan, though their departure was enough to earn special attention from Mrs. Fenton, who lived directly across the street. From her porch she watched the two of them walk to the pickup and drive away, though she did not bother to return Clint’s exaggerated wave.

After stops at Elly’s and River Park, it was nearly nine-thirty when they pulled into the Tanner Hospital parking lot. There, climbing the front steps, Elly put her wishing into words. “I certainly hope Claudia got here like she said she would.”

“If she did I hope she’s not too discouraged,” Clint replied. “Gary might be out for a long time. And when he does wake up he’ll be mad as hell to see her there. I’ll bet the doctor won’t like that.”

“You are such a cynic.” 

The door to Gary’s room was open, though there was no sign of movement inside. “Look,” Elly whispered. “She’s here.”

There was Claudia on the far side of the bed---sitting on the edge of her chair and leaning forward with her head on Gary’s chest. Like him she seemed to be asleep. Except for her presence the room looked the same as the night before, with Gary resting quietly in a web of tubes and wires while a green-screened monitor flashed and beeped.

For a moment they hesitated. Perhaps they ought to wait in the reception area and let Gary and Claudia have their rest. Then, as she turned to walk away, Elly noticed the slight, but deliberate movement. “Did you see that?” she whispered. “Look.” Then Clint saw it too.

Though his eyes were closed, Gary’s index finger was tracing a soft, tactile circle across Claudia’s face---moving lightly from her chin, over her lips, across her cheek, and back to her chin. From across the room they watched, hypnotized by Gary’s gentle touch. 

Finally Clint nudged Elly forward toward the bed, moving quietly closer, until Claudia noted their movement and looked up. Her eyes had been open the whole time, watching Gary as he caressed her face. Now she raised her head to greet them.

“You have company,” she said, tapping on Gary’s chest.

Remarkably, Gary’s eyes flickered open long enough to make out Clint and Elly standing beside the bed. Closing his eyes, he whispered, “Hello there.” Then a moment later, “Look who I found.” And finally, “Actually, she found me.”

Clint was shaking his head as he struggled to will away the tears that filled his eyes. Beside him, Elly did not even try. She simply smiled her sweet smile and dried her eyes.

Claudia stood, flexing her shoulders and stretching her arms as she walked around the bed to embrace Elly and whisper, “It was just like you said.” There was no containing her smile. “Thank you so much.”

“Thank you for helping him come back. From the looks of  you, I’d say it’s what you needed too.”

“Oh, yes. It’s the most wonderful feeling---knowing that he needs me like that.”

Elly flashed a no-nonsense ‘I told you so’ grin at Clint. Then, turning back to Claudia, “You stay here as long as you want. You have my cell phone number. Just call me when you need a ride home. You must stay with me while you’re in Tanner.”

“I could stay with Sarah. She wouldn’t mind.”

“Please stay with me. We have a lot of catching up to do.”

While the ladies visited, Clint took a step back to gauge his brother’s condition. Though Gary was obviously weak, his speedy return to consciousness seemed a hopeful sign. “Tell me, brother. How are you feeling?” he finally asked.

Without opening his eyes, Gary answered, “Pretty rocky.”

“You took a good hit.”

“I knew it was hard. Sounded like a gun going off in my head.”

Clint just grinned a bit at that. “Don’t you worry. Things will be getting better now.”

“They already are.” Gary’s voice was weak and raspy, but there was no denying the strength of his words. “Seeing that you and Elly are okay is good news. Last thing I remember Tom Berry was playing with a gun. That could have been trouble.”

“It was, for him. I’ll tell you all about it when you’re feeling better.”

Adjusting the aggravating oxygen tube under his nose, Gary reached for Claudia’s hand and pulled her closer. “You know how it is, brother, after a long cold spell? The clouds finally go away and the sun comes out. Everything turns bright and warm.” He managed a weak grin. “That’s how it feels this morning.”

“Yeah, it does.” Clint squeezed his brother’s shoulder. “And I’ll bet the two of you will be just fine by yourselves while Elly and I take care of a couple errands. We’ll be back in a bit.” There was no need to worry Gary with the ominous possibilities awaiting them at the Courthouse.

“We’ll be fine. This new nurse of mine is working wonders.”

On the front steps of the main hospital entrance Clint was still feeling the euphoric relief of finding Gary conscious and alert. Not only that, he and Claudia seemed to have renewed their special bond. “How in the heck did you know that?” he finally asked. “That he wanted her there?”

“It was more than just wanting,” Elly answered. “It was what he needed---what it took to make him whole, to get him past the emptiness he was feeling.

"And Claudia was in that same place. She’s waited so long for someone to need her. When they finally got back together, they both realized that’s how it was supposed to be. It was like they gave each other permission to want that.”

“I can see how it might have been that way for her. But he was unconscious. How could he know what was ‘supposed to be?’”

It was a hard thing, translating her subtle intuition into words simple enough for a rational, system-oriented male to comprehend. “I didn’t know he would wake up so soon,” Elly admitted. “That was a nice surprise. 

"But even if it had taken longer, they’d have still been making a connection. When you put the two of them, and the feelings they have for each other, in the same room---they were bound to be communicating on some level. I don’t know how it works, but I’m sure that it does.” 

“You really believe that?” Clint took her hand and they started toward the parking lot. “So, why does that work for some folks and not for others?

"I’m thinking about last night, at home. We were in the same room, you and I. It felt like I’d made my feelings pretty clear. Yet, you wouldn’t even answer my question. It didn’t feel like we were communicating.”

She wanted her smile to convince him, but knew it was not enough. “Clint, for that kind of connection to happen those feelings have to be absolute---what people call ‘unconditional.’ I think that describes how Claudia and Gary feel about each other.”

“And you’re saying that’s not how I feel about you?” He pulled his hand from hers, unsure what to make of her blunt rejection. “You think my feelings are ‘conditional’---whatever that means. Is that it?”

“Clint Harris, just stop that right now. There’s no reason to be getting all pouty.” It was so aggravating ---his stubborn inability to follow her logic. “This is not about you. I’ve told you that over and over. I’m the one raining on this parade---me and all the baggage I pack around. It’s about things that have nothing to do with Clint Harris---things that I have to get over.”

“Can you do that? Will you ever be able to do that?”

“I hope so. In fact I think I’ve made a good start. Better than I ever dreamed I could.”

“A start? I guess I was hoping for something more than that.”

“Please don’t give up on me. I just need time, that’s all. There are things I have to deal with." She was flashing a worried grin. “Like what the District Attorney has in mind for us.”


It was one of those times when Clint Harris would have rather been somewhere else. He and Elly arrived at the Sheriff’s office shortly before ten o’clock. They were ushered down the hall to the District Attorney’s office, where they waited not-so-patiently for Assistant District Attorney Sharon Kline to meet with them in the adjoining conference room.

Would they be there with her together, Clint wondered. Perhaps she would interview them separately, to compare their stories. No matter how the lady chose to handle the process, it seemed that he was at greater risk than Elly. Her actions had been so plainly necessary. How could anyone fault her response? 

On the other hand, Jerry Denton had already reminded Clint that his assault on Tom Berry could not be explained away so easily. It might be argued that he had inflicted more damage than the occasion warranted. If so, how could the District Attorney’s office overlook that inconvenient possibility? And in any case, there was always a chance that Tom would file charges himself.

After a short ten minute wait, Clint had his first question answered when a secretary led the two of them into the conference room. They were scarcely seated when Ms. Kline appeared through a side door. She introduced herself in a firm, professional voice, then drew a handful of papers from her briefcase and paused to leaf through them. 

Looking up, she activated the recording machine in the center of the table and took a moment to read an introductory statement. With that Elly and Clint were asked to state their full names for the court record, speaking into the recording microphone.

“Now then,” Ms. Kline continued. “I have read the Sheriff’s report and the statements that each of you made last night. To begin with, I must ask if either of you has changed your mind about having legal counsel present for this preliminary hearing.”

“Is there any reason we should?” Clint asked.

“That’s not for me to say. But, if at any time you decide that’s what you want, we will stop our proceedings until you have your representative here. Do you understand?”

Clint and Elly nodded their assent. “Please state your answer for the record. Nodding your head doesn’t work for the recorder.” A moment later, when they had voiced their understanding, she carried on. 

“Just so you know,” Ms. Kline began. “I also talked with Mr. Berry earlier this morning to take his statement.”

For the first time Elly spoke up. “How was he? Is he okay?”

For a moment Ms. Kline seemed taken aback by Elly’s obvious interest. “Except for some rather ugly bruises,” she answered. “He seemed to be fine. I’m sure he was on some kind of pain medication, but he appeared quite normal. Beyond the paralysis, the wound was apparently not too serious. When I talked to him they were preparing to transfer him to Portland for further diagnosis.”

By then Clint was not prepared to cede sympathy points to Tom Berry. “Just remember, he was trying to save his own skin. You can’t believe anything the guy says. He knows exactly what happened out there.” 

Ms. Kline leaned back in her chair to study the apprehensive couple for a moment. Then, with an unexpected grin, she noted, “Seems to have been a busy night at River Park. Am I right?”

“Only because Tom Berry came unglued.” Clint was on the edge of his chair, ready to have his say. “He caused the whole damn problem. Elly was just trying to keep him from killing me. There was......”

“Mr. Harris.” Ms. Kline’s interruption was firmly insistent. “This is not the time for that. Please calm down and let me explain where this is going.”

Sharon Kline pulled a slim packet of papers from her file and held it up for them to see. “Why don’t we take a minute to review what Mr. Berry said. Shall we? This is the transcript of his sworn statement. In the event of a trial it could be produced in court.” Clint winced a bit at her mention of a trial, then nodded for her to continue.

“To begin with, I’m afraid that Mr. Berry had some rather harsh words for you, Mr. Harris. One look at his face and I understood why.” She must have noticed the faint, but satisfied smile that came to Clint’s lips. “Very early in our conversation he asked if he had the right to press charges against you, for what he called ‘a  needless assault’.” 

Clint’s smile faded and he asked, “And---what did you tell him?”

“The same thing I would tell anyone. If that is something he wanted to consider he ought to discuss it with his legal counsel.”

Moving on, Ms. Kline turned back to Elly. “My purpose in talking with Mr. Berry this morning was to hear how he described what happened at River Park last night. I asked him what had led up to the shooting. 

"As I said before, he started with a few comments about Mr. Harris. Then as he began to address your role, Mrs. Warren, he seemed to struggle a bit until, all of a sudden, he just stopped---and a most remarkable thing happened.”

Leafing through her papers, Ms. Kline was looking for the right page. “Here it is,” she said. “For a moment Mr. Berry was quiet. Then he asked me, ‘Could Elly be in trouble for what she did, for shooting me?’ 

I explained that it wasn’t up to me to decide that. The District Attorney, or a Grand Jury, might decide there was probable cause to suspect that a crime had been committed. In that case, it was possible that Mrs. Warren could be tried for some degree of assault with a weapon.

“I have to admit,” she continued, nodding to Elly. “I’ve never seen anything quite like what happened next. You had just shot him. I knew that from your own statement, and his. He had been paralyzed---might never walk again. Yet, at that moment he seemed more concerned about you, and what might happen to you, than he was about himself. 

"He asked me very pointedly, ‘Could she go to jail?’ I told him that I couldn’t rule out that possibility.”

Elly glanced over at Clint. Her pout, so often a prelude to tears, had returned. She bit her lip and tried to produce a smile.

“We talked a bit more about that, Mr. Berry and I......about people going to jail.” Again Ms. Kline turned back to Clint. “I’m afraid he wasn’t too upset at the thought of you standing trial, Mr. Harris. In fact, I believe he was grinning when he talked about that. But he was very disturbed by the possibility that Mrs. Warren might be charged, and possibly found guilty. It sounded as though he had never considered that before.

“Anyway, after a while Mr. Berry got this very sad look on his face.” 

Ms. Kline was talking directly to Elly now. “He was shaking his head. His voice was soft, hard to hear, when he finally told me ‘It wasn’t Elly’s fault. It wasn’t Clint Harris’ fault. It was mine.’ Seconds later the words came pouring out, miles an hour---so fast that it was hard to understand him at first.

“He told me that he had forced you to go with him. That he had threatened you with a gun. That Mr. Harris had attacked him only after he’d hit you, Mrs. Warren. And that he had hit Mr. Harris’ brother with his gun. 

“Finally, he stopped and his words were more measured when he explained that he had been so angry, so out of control, that he probably would have shot Mr. Harris if you hadn’t stopped him.”

As she ended her account, Ms. Kline was once again amazed by the completeness of Tom Berry’s confession.“ At the very end he told me again, ‘It wasn’t Elly’s fault. You can’t blame her.’

“He didn’t have to do that, did he?” Elly asked.

“No, he certainly didn’t. I’ve never had that happen before. Listening to him, I was thinking that even though he had a strange way of showing it, he obviously cares a great deal about you.”

“So what does all that mean?” Clint asked.

Gathering her papers, Ms. Kline slipped them back in her briefcase. “Everything Mr. Berry told us corroborates the Sheriff’s report and your personal statements. I was on the phone with the District Attorney a few minutes ago. He agrees there’s no reason to proceed any further. No charges will be filed.” For the first time they saw her wide, toothy smile. “You’re free to go.”

Elly stood and asked her final question. “What about Tom? Is he in trouble for this?”

“I can’t answer that,” Ms. Kline said. “If you choose to, either of you could ask that charges be filed. Beyond that, the District Attorney will have to decide.”

Elly and Clint were shaking their heads in unison. “I can’t imagine why we’d want to do that,” she said. “It seems like he’s paid enough already.”

Minutes later the two of them were standing in the parking lot beside Elly’s car. “Free to go!” Clint repeated for the third time. “Man, I don’t remember ever hearing sweeter words.”

Elly seemed not to be listening. Her mind was somewhere else, trying to grasp the meaning of Tom’s unexpected confession. “It’s so hard to understand.”

“What is hard to understand?”

“Why Tom did that---taking the blame for everything.”

By then Clint too was struggling, trying to comprehend her wondering. “Elly, it was his fault. He caused the whole damn thing. Why give him brownie points for taking responsibility for what he did?”

“But he didn’t have to do that. He could have caused a lot of trouble, with trials and heaven knows what else. Instead he said it was his fault. Why would he do that?”

“I suppose that’s the easy part.” Clint draped his arm over her shoulder. “Like that Kline lady said, in his own twisted way Tom loves you. He didn’t want you to get in trouble, especially for something he did. I can understand how he feels. And I can also see the irony of it.”

“What’s ‘ironic’ about that?”

Clint stepped back. “Just think about it. Suppose there were two guys who had very strong feelings for you---what you might call ‘love feelings.’ Let’s say they’re both over the hill---too damn old and used up to be going to war over a pretty lady. 

“But they’ve hated each other for a very long time and they’re willing to fight to see who wins her. Hell, they may be ready to kill each other for the chance to be with her. That kind of thing can happen, you know. Those feelings can be strong enough to cause guys, even guys our age, to do desperate things. 

“But suppose that after all their fighting, after all that craziness, the lady they’re fighting over isn’t sure that she could ever have those ‘love feelings’ for anyone---no matter how much they fight or how badly they want her. It just might be that no one can win her, because she won’t let herself have those feelings. That’s what I call ironic.”

Elly reached up and circled her arms around his neck. “Clint Harris, can’t you tell? Right now I need you more than ever. You know what I deal with---how I struggle. I wish it was easier. I wish I could say ‘yes’ right now. But I can’t. I need time. And I need you to be my rock, my safe harbor in all this confusion. Please don’t give up on me.”

“There’s no chance of that. I’m not the kind to give up. You can write that in stone. I’m not a quitter.”

THE END  (Not exactly-please continue)

Dear Reader,

In the beginning I was sure the Harris boys would be able to sort out their Second Chances in one volume. But given the way they stumbled around, that didn’t happen. Turns out, there is more story to be told.

I hope you will join me for Long Way Home, the second half of the Harris brothers' story, to see if they can finally make it work.

Monday, December 14, 2020



        The need to be needed

Brother Gary was again in distress, even more vulnerable than before. More than ever he needed her support.

Though their history had been bumpy, and their future was uncertain at best, would she understand how much she was needed?

Meanwhile, brother Clint was prepared to put his own question into words, “Can it happen again?”

Today’s October Years serialization, Chapter 26 of Second Chances, continues our excursion into the sometimes daunting world of late-life relationships.


                               CHAPTER 26

It was not the time to be giving in to fatigue---not in the face of a meeting with the District Attorney. The charges he and Elly might face for defending themselves had to be taken seriously. Yet for Clint those legal uncertainties paled in comparison to his brother’s medical dilemma. 

They had been warned of Gary’s vulnerability and the potential consequences of a second concussion. Now that unlikely event had apparently occurred. If the first episode was any indication, it might be hours, even days, before the doctors could fully diagnose his condition and determine a course of treatment. Though Clint dreaded another round of anxious waiting, there was little else he could do.

Standing beside Elly’s car in the River Park parking lot, Clint’s intentions were simple enough. Elly would drive her car to the Sheriff’s Office, while he followed in the pickup. After signing the statements Jerry Denton was preparing for them, and assuming they were ‘released,’ Elly could go home for some badly needed rest---while he went on to the hospital to check on Gary.

That was the plan, at least until a sheepish grin spread over Elly’s face. “Oops,” she said. “My car keys. They must be in Tom’s  pocket.”

“Oh great. Don’t you have one of those hide-a-key things?”

“Yes, I think I do. I remember seeing it on the work bench, in the garage.”

Clint managed a weak laugh. “Hey, it’s just as well. Why don’t you stay at our place tonight? If you have any bad dreams, I want to be there to hold your hand.” 

“I think I’d like that. Except I’m not sure that I’ll be very good company. I’m really tired.” She leaned against the car, processing another thought. “What do you suppose the neighbors will think? Gary won’t be there. It will be just the two of us.” That bit of insight had her grinning a silly grin. “Do you suppose we’ll know how to act?”

“Trust me,” he said. “We’ll muddle through. If need be, we can always fall back on a new theory I’ve heard about.”

“A new theory. What’s that?”

“It’s called ‘compromise.’ I hear it’s the latest thing.”

“Just what kind of compromise do you have in mind?”

“I’ll tell you what, old kid.” Was it weariness that made him bolder than usual? “I don’t want you to be shocked, but I’m hoping for a time when the two of us can be alone for the night without me sleeping on the couch. But we’re not there yet. So you’ll be perfectly safe. As for the neighbors, let them think what they want.

“That doesn’t mean we have to watch the Three Stooges, does it?”

Their conversational efforts faded as they drove through the city center toward the County Courthouse complex. Once inside, they followed a long hallway to the cramped waiting room of the County Sheriff’s office. From his shared cubicle, Jerry Denton spotted the two of them standing at the counter and hurried out to meet them. Even before he said a word his broad smile was serving to ease the tension.

“I have good news,” he said, raising an index finger. “Number one. I called Jon Clarence, the Sheriff’s right-hand man. He sees no reason to hold you two here tonight. And number two, Sharon Kline, the Assistant D.A., has no problem with you being on release. 

“The thing is, you’ll have to report back here in the morning.”

“On Saturday?” Clint asked. “Will there be anyone here?”

“Hey, we’re a twenty-four/seven operation around here,” the Deputy answered. “By then I’ll have run my report by the Sheriff and hopefully someone will have talked with Mr. Berry. If you’re here between ten and eleven one of the D.A.’s people should be ready to talk to you.”

“Hold on.” Clint was the offensive once more. “You mean Fat Tom gets to have a say in what happens to us? What kind of deal is that? Who knows what he’ll say? And anyway, who’d believe him?”

“Clint. Will you just calm down,” Deputy Denton was showing his own frustration. “Just remember, Tom Berry is the victim here---at least one of them. He was beat up and shot. Of course they have to hear his side of the story. How else will they know where they’re going with this. Just let them do their job and we’ll see where it leads.”

“Is that all we can do?” Elly asked. “Just wait?”

“It’s going to take some time. But for now, if you'll check out these statements, then sign them, you can be on your way.”

Once more Elly was on the verge of tears, overtaken by the frightful possibilities. This time the Deputy was quick to pick up on her renewed fears. “Why don’t you go on home, Ma’am? Get some rest. You can deal with all this in the morning.”

Elly’s dour silence continued as they started across town toward the Tanner Hospital. In spite of her numbing fatigue, the haunting questions remained. What did it mean, that disappointed look she had seen in Tom Berry’s eyes when he asked “Why?” Would she ever erase that pleading stare, and the guilt that came from knowing that she was the cause of his pain? 

“Will Tom be okay?” she asked softly, putting her thoughts into words.

“I don’t know,” Clint replied. “He’s a tough old bird. But the EMT seemed to think he might not be able to walk.”

“That would be terrible. To think I did something like that.”

“Don’t go there, Elly. Just don’t do it. There’s only one person responsible for what happened to Tom. That’s him.”

At the Tanner Hospital the Admissions Office was busier than usual, processing the pair of arriving patients. There was hushed talk of transporting Tom to Portland, where specialists could better diagnose his injuries. Meanwhile, Gary had been wheeled to an ICU room, where nurses were busy setting up the monitors and medication delivery systems he would require. 

Clint and Elly were standing just outside his room when Dr. Adams arrived to continue his examination. “This is not good at all,” he explained. “I told you before, these concussions can have very serious cumulative effects. Two injuries like this in a matter of days can cause serious damage, especially in someone his age.”

“When will you know how he is?” Clint asked.

“It’s hard to tell. Given his recent history we began with an MRI. There’s no sign of significant swelling or hemorrhaging, at least not at this point. That’s a good sign. We’ll be watching him closely overnight. When he regains consciousness he can help us understand what we’re dealing with. We’ll have to see how long that takes. In the meantime, we’re back in a waiting mode.”

It was a new and upsetting experience for Elly, hearing the two men discuss Gary’s condition. Yet by the time they finished their conversation she was no longer processing those medical details. She had already told herself that before the night was over she would be calling Claudia Hafner. The hour was late, but not too late for something so important. Gary needed help. To Elly’s way of thinking, what he needed was Claudia’s help. 

There was no reason for Clint and Elly to stay at the hospital. Gary was in good hands and they were both dead tired. As they drove on to the Harris home Clint assumed that Elly must be mulling questions about Gary, or perhaps their meeting with the District Attorney. He was taken aback when she broke their silence to broach the subject of calling Claudia. 

“She needs to be with him,” Elly insisted. “He needs that and so does she.”

“He wouldn’t even know she’s there. And if he did, he’d just get upset. He doesn’t need that.”

They pulled to a stop in front of the garage. Before he could open the door, she was tugging on his arm. “There is nothing in the world Gary wants more than having her with him.” Shaking her head, Elly was unwilling to believe that Clint could not understand. “He would know she was there. I’m sure of it.”

“Elly. He’s unconscious. He has no idea what’s going on. It’s a waste of her time and his.”

“He would know she was there,” Elly repeated firmly. “He’d know that she wants him to come back. It may sound crazy, but I believe that’s how it works.”

Clint knew better than to continue his resistance. Her mind was made up. There was little to do but humor her. He ushered Elly into the house and there in the middle of the kitchen wrapped her in his arms. “Let me tell you,” he said. “I was so scared tonight. We had looked for you everywhere and come up empty. I was getting panicked big time.”

Brushing the hair back from her face, he continue. “Then I was scared all over again when I thought Gary had been shot. I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to look at him, to see how bad it was. And I guarantee you I was scared absolutely spitless when I saw Tom standing there with his gun.” By then his frown was melting into a thankful grin.

“But now, after being scared for all that time, here I am---worn out, but still in one piece. And I have you to thank for that.” Their warm and very mutual kiss ended with their tired smiles still in place. 

“And there’s one other thing,” he added. “Maybe the only good thing to come of this. You can finally put an end to your talk about leaving Tanner. You don’t have to worry about Tom any more.”

“That’s right,” she said. A moment later her smile had retreated. “I just hope the District Attorney doesn’t have some big surprise to spoil that.” She was pouting again. “Who would ever think I could be in trouble for shooting someone?”

“You’re not in trouble, Elly. And you won’t be in trouble when this is over. Just forget about that. You go ahead and call Claudia if that’s what you have to do. I’ll try to find a couple of TV dinners to stick in the microwave.”


It was late, nearly eleven o’clock, when Barbara Hopkins answered the phone. She did not recognize Elly’s voice, but remembered the name. “I think she’s still awake. Just a minute. I’ll take the phone down to her.”

“Claudia. This is Elly. Elly Warren. I hope it is not too late to be calling.”

“It’s not. I was just watching TV,” Claudia said, setting her knitting aside.

With no plan in mind, beyond the most persuasive appeal she could muster, Elly was hoping to nudge Claudia past her son’s objections, to where she could finally consider her own feelings. 

“I know what you told me when we talked last time,” she began. “About Dennis and how he feels. But things have changed again here in Tanner. I wanted you to know that Gary needs your help more than ever.”

“What’s changed? Why does he need my help?”

“He is back in the hospital.” Elly paused, wanting Claudia to feel the full impact of her words. “He is unconscious again and the doctors are very worried.”

“Did he have a relapse?” Claudia asked anxiously. Clearly she was processing Elly’s news. 

“No. He was hit again. He’s had another concussion.”

“Again? What was he doing this time? What happened?”

Here we go, Elly told herself. How to explain without going into the whole episode? “He was trying to help me when he got hit on the head, with a gun.”

“A gun?” Claudia gasped. “What in the world is going on up there? Fighting in a bar---getting hit with a gun?”

“Claudia, please. It’s a very long story. Let me just say that Tom Berry, I’m sure you remember him, got a little crazy. He was going to hurt me, until Gary and Clint stopped him. If they hadn’t been there---well, I don’t want to think about that. The thing is, Gary was hurt again. The doctors are very concerned because it is his second concussion in such a short time. He’s still unconscious---and he needs you.”

“He needs me? What could I do?”

It was time for the real test. How to explain the inexplicable? It was bound to sound foolish, but she had to try. “Claudia. You don’t know me very well. And you may suppose that I’m rather traditional about most things. But I know about some things that probably sound strange to most people.”

“What kind of things?”

“I’ll try to explain. You see, I’m sure that even though Gary is unconscious, he wants you with him. In fact it’s not just what he wants. It’s what he needs. More than any medicine or anything else the doctors can do for him, he needs a reason to get better. And for him that reason is you, the one he needs there with him. There’s no one else who can be that for him. 

“If you were with him now, even though he’s unconscious, I believe he’d know you were there. And that would help him.” She paused, waiting for Claudia’s response, hoping she would at least consider her unlikely logic. “Are you still with me, Claudia? Am I sounding too crazy?”

“I’m here,” Claudia answered, reminding herself once more how surprising it was for someone like Elly to accept such notions. 

 “I was just thinking,” she continued. “I’ve never talked to anyone who believed what you’re talking about. I’m sure most people would think its ‘crazy.’ But, when my mother was in a coma, in the days before she passed, I always believed she knew that I was there with her. That feeling was so strong, so real. I was sure it was more than my imagination. That sounds like what you’re talking about.” 

Elly could scarcely believe her ears. She wanted to laugh out loud. Claudia did not need to be convinced. She already knew the truth of it. With a deep breath to calm herself, Elly carried on.

“And there’s more to it than that. You would help Gary, just by being with him. But he would also be helping you---by showing how much he needs you. I know how you feel about him. He knows that too. He needs you there. And that’s exactly where you need to be.”

Elly paused, wondering how to deal with the final hurdle. “I’m sure you must be wondering what Dennis would think about that. It’s not my place to say this, but I will anyway. I’m certain that for Gary’s sake and yours too, you should be here in Tanner. It’s what both of you need. And Dennis will just have to accept that. Am I right?”

“You really think he needs me?”

“Yes, of course he does. Now more than ever. I think you’ve known that all along.”

It took a few seconds for Claudia to manage the words. When she finally spoke there was a new confidence in her voice. “You’re right. It feels like that is where I belong. I suppose I knew that. I guess I’ll have to help Dennis understand that.”

She paused, preparing for the next step. “You say that Gary is at the Tanner Hospital?” 

“That’s right.”

“If Barbara drove me there tonight would they let me see him?

“I’ll see if I can arrange that,” Elly replied, letting Claudia’s quiet willingness lift her own spirits. “I’ll talk to the nursing station. They’ll know that you’re coming. I’ll ask if you can spend some time with him. I’m sure they’ll let you, because they’re really worried about him too.”

Claudia was already at work, gathering clothes and cosmetics as she talked. It was her decision to make and she had made it. “Please tell them I’m coming. And I hope you’ll come by to see me in the morning.”


Minutes later, after a brief call to the ICU nursing station, Elly returned to the living room where Clint was on the couch---half watching a bad movie, trying to stay awake. Plunking herself down beside him she snatched the remote from his lap and punched the Mute button. 

Given her silly grin, he was not surprised when she announced, “Claudia’s coming to Tanner. I called the hospital. Brenda, at the ICU desk, said she could stay with Gary. Isn’t that great?”

“It doesn’t sound so great to me. Gary will be really steamed if he wakes up and finds she’s there.”

“That shows what you know.” She jabbed at his ribs. “He’d be so happy to see her. In fact it would be the best wake-up present he could have.” 

“Not likely”

“You’ll see.” She yawned and stretched her arms high over her head. “I’m really tired. Ready for bed.”

“Just one minute, please.” Straightening up, Clint turned the television off. “Do you have time for a very personal question?”

“Oh my. That can mean all sorts of things.”

“I’ll keep it short.”


There was no way to ease the bluntness of his question, so he simply asked, “Do you think it can happen again?”

Elly passed on the fleeting urge to answer with a joking wisecrack. She knew what he was asking, though she would rather have talked about almost anything else. Finally she asked, “Do you mean falling in love---again?” 

His self-conscious nod was assuring her they were on the same page, though she was no closer to knowing how to respond. “Oh my. That is very complicated. I’m not sure I have an answer.” Her smile had faded. “It probably works that way for some people, but not everyone. I expect it’s different for you than it is for me.”

“How’s that.”

“When Mike left I was so angry. By the time everything was sorted out I had totally given up on what you call love. My memories of loving him and having that love come apart at the seams, are very different than your memories of Karen and how you two loved each other.”

Oh yes,” he told himself. The memories---the ones that never went away. 

For an instant thoughts of Karen and her leaving threatened to overwhelm him. Could he ever put those hurtful times behind him? Did he even want to? He had asked himself those questions before, without ever waiting for the answers to arrive. Now, carefully avoiding Elly’s eyes, he was staring blankly across the room. 

“We had forty years together,” he said softly. “I’m not interested in any answer that says I can’t keep loving her forever.” Again he returned to that special place, drawn by a lifetime of love thoughts. Then, “But the question now is, can that happen again?

“I think it can. In fact, I think it has. I cared about Karen more than anything in life. She knew that. She cared about me the same way.” He was smiling now. “If that’s what love meant then, that’s what it must mean now. Right?”

Elly nodded, then leaned over to kiss his cheek. Pushing herself up off the sofa she started toward the bedroom. “It has been a long day,” she said. “I’m tired, and looking forward to sleeping in your bed again.” An instant later she disappeared down the hall.

“Hey. Wait a minute," he called behind her. "You didn’t answer my question.”

Retracing her steps, Elly poked her head through the doorway to look back at him---offering no smile, no emotion of any kind. “I really liked your answer. It’s something I’d like to sleep on.” She forced a tired smile. “But please, don’t push too hard.

“I told you before, I want you to be the friend I can count on. The things I do, I want to do with you---no one else. None of that has changed. It’s what I want. But for now that’s as much as I have to give.”

With that she turned and walked to the bedroom.


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