Friday, October 30, 2020



     Hopeful dreams....50 years later

 For some folks old dreams die hard....... especially those with the power to fuel new, more expansive dreams. And what about those dreams which require two dreamers, each of them pursuing the same dream?
            What happens when the first subtle hints of misalignment begin to surface........the distressing realization that those dreamers are not on the same page? Can a hopeful dream survive that kind of tension?

                         CHAPTER 4

    By ten-fifteen the reunion crowd was thinning out. Some were on their way to private parties. For others it was already past their bedtime. Tom Berry, however, was still on hand, standing beside the CD player, explaining to Esther Hoffman for the third time that he needed to know when she would be playing the last dance number. 

    “How do I know when that will be?” Esther grumbled. “When there’s no one dancing any more we’ll have had the last dance.” 

    “Come on, Esther. People want to know. Just announce, ‘This is the last dance.’ That's all you have to do.” 

    Esther’s frustration was showing. It had been a long day and a longer night. Without bothering to acknowledge Tom’s request she turned and walked off toward the bar. For a moment he considered hurrying after her. Instead he crossed the room to where Elly was saying goodbye to friends. She saw his approach and stepped up to meet him. 

    “Is it the last dance already?” she asked. “I didn’t hear Esther make an announcement or anything.” 

    “Esther doesn’t have a clue,” Tom growled. Taking her arm he tugged her toward the nearly-empty dance floor. “Let’s have a dance, you and I. We’ll call it our last dance and then we’ll go.” He was grinning at that pleasant prospect---leaving the stifling crowd behind them and having her to himself. 

     They danced their last dance, then returned to the head table to say their goodbyes. There was no hiding Esther’s surprise when Tom, on his way to retrieve Elly’s wrap, paused to explain that he would be taking her home. 

     Pulling Elly aside, Esther whispered, “You be careful. You’ve heard what the girls said about that old fool.” 

      Elly mustered what she hoped was a reassuring smile. “I’ll be fine. We just want to visit a bit. That’s all. But before I go, I want to thank you for a wonderful reunion evening. I’ll admit I was a bit anxious at first. But it turned out just fine. I’m really surprised how many people I remembered.” 

     “Is this the one?” Tom asked when he returned to hand Elly a light-brown sweater. She nodded, took his arm, and together they started toward the door. 

    From the country club Tom drove through the Tanner Heights subdivision and down the long hill toward town, passing dozens of upscale homes spread over what had been small farmsteads and orchards in their school days. Cruising through the older parts of the south end, the narrow streets Elly remembered as a child had been transformed into two-lane, one-way thoroughfares---lined with dated two-story homes that now served as shops, offices, and clinics. 

     Moving north toward the center of the city Tom pulled to the curb to point out the recently-expanded Berry Funeral Home---a stately brick-front structure, with adjoining parking lot. Tall plantation-style columns framed the main entrance and formal, manicured gardens extended across the front of the property. 

    “We did our best to give the place the dignity people expect,” Tom explained. “It’s really quite a showplace. I’d love to show you around inside some day. So you can see how nice it is” 

    “I don’t think it’s the kind of place I want to visit.” 

     “Come on, Elly. Don’t think of it that way. It’s really quite a functional layout, a place where families can gather to pay their respects. We do everything we can to help them through a very difficult time.” He paused a moment before adding his matter-of-fact addendum. “It’s also very efficient.” 

    “Efficient? How is that dignified or respectful? How does that help a mourning family?” 

    “You mustn’t forget, Elly. It’s a business. To make a profit it has to be efficient.” Tom’s first impulse, the natural product of years spent defending his family’s choice of livelihood, was to better explain the realities of a business that few were interested in knowing about. On second thought he concluded that would not be the best use of his precious time with Elly. 

    They had driven only a few blocks further, deeper into the heart of the old downtown shopping area, when Tom again pulled to the curb and turned off the engine. 

       Before Elly had a chance to ask her question he was pointing through the dim half-light to the three-story commercial building across the street---a nondescript stucco structure, trimmed with darker bricks. On the ground floor were a pair of seedy-looking boutique shops and a third, boarded-up retail space. The upstairs offices and apartments showed no signs of life. 

    “Remember that? Tom asked hopefully. He waited a moment before explaining. ”It’s the old Kinney Department Store building. I’ll bet you’ve been there before. Probably did lots of shopping in that old building.” 

     “Oh my, yes. Kinney’s was the ‘in’ place in those days.” A remembering smile crossed her face. “They carried lots of things that were popular with their Portland clientele. At least that’s what they told us. That was enough to impress us.” 

     “Well, last year I bought the Kinney building,” Tom announced proudly. 

     “But, why? It’s so old. And it’s in the wrong part of town. Lots of the shops along here are empty.” 

     “I know.” Tom was grinning, looking for all the world like someone who knew a secret. “That’s why I got such a good deal. I’m absolutely convinced this is the time to be buying. And it’s why I’m looking at another property right now, up in the next block.” 

    He studied her reaction, looking for some sign that she saw what he saw? Could she understand his vision? “Conrad Ryan and I are working on that one.” 

     Pausing to gather the right words to explain his grand plan, Tom was hoping that Elly had the imagination see the logic, even the genius of it.

    “Actually, we’re not ready to announce it yet, but we’ve put together plans to revive these two blocks---right in the heart of the old town. There’s so much history here, with all these fine old buildings. When folks finally see the potential we're sure it would revitalize the whole downtown. That would be great, not to mention very profitable.” 

     “Aren’t you afraid of throwing good money after bad?” Could he make out her doubting frown in the near darkness? 

    “Elly. Every one needs a dream. Don’t you believe that? At our age it’s so easy to just drop out and vegetate. I found that out when I handed off the funeral home to the girls. I knew that I needed to be involved in something---and this is what I settled on.” 

      “It looks like a long shot to me.” 

     “It might be. But it feels right.” Peering through the near darkness Tom drew a deep breath and prepared to spring the newest, and possibly most contentious, part of his hopeful renovation scheme.

      "Anyway, when I heard you’d come back home I was more certain than ever. You remember how the downtown used to be---and what it could be again.” 

    “I do have an idea of what it used to be,” Elly agreed. “But I’m not sure I know what it could become. Either way, what has that got to do with me?” 

      Tom was smiling to himself as he reached over to pat her hand. “That’s the other part of my plan---my dream. That you and I could do this together. That we could be a team on something like that.” 

     What did that mean, she asked herself. Was he serious? In the dim light she could make out little more than the hopeful grin that spread over his round face. 

      “Tom,” she said, “I think it’s time to be moving on.” 

     “Just don’t forget,” he nodded. “It’s something I’d like us to talk about later.” 

   With that he pulled back onto Main Street, heading toward the north end of town. A few blocks later he turned onto the Ring Road that funneled northbound traffic around the main business district. He had gone only a few blocks on that thoroughfare when he turned off on a narrow side street that led up a steep hill. 

       “This isn’t the way to River Park.”

     “I know,” he answered. “First I have surprise for you. Then we’ll go on to the park.”

     They followed the winding street up the steep incline, then turned left on the single lane that paralleled the brow of the hill. Sprawling homes, some of them cantilevered over the steep slope, lined the left side of the gravel road---looking out over the town. Between the homes they could see the lights of Tanner spread out before them, stretching all the way to the suburbs across the valley. Moments later they pulled into a large graveled parking area at the end of the road---where nothing stood between them and miles of twinkling lights. 

    “Do you remember this?” Tom asked, turning off the engine and headlights. 

    “I don’t think so. I’ve certainly never seen all those homes before. I’m sure they weren’t here fifty years ago. But the view is incredible.” 

     “Fifty years ago there wasn’t much of anything up here, except the reservoir. This was out in the boondocks. But the view was great even then. That’s what made it a favorite parking spot for the kids. You do remember that, don’t you?” 

     “The reservoir? Of course I remember that. Is it still here?” 

     “You bet. It’s just over the edge, beyond those trees.” By then Tom felt the need for a not-so-subtle prompt. “I was hoping you’d remember the good times we spent up here.” 

   Indeed, she did remember those times---the  nights when as many as a dozen cars might crowd into the dirt-covered clearing. In rainy weather there was always a chance of getting stuck in an unseen mud hole, thereby becoming the talk of the school for a day or two. 

    Elly's thoughts tracked off to long-forgotten recollections of radio music drifting among the cars, playing the popular tunes of the day, while she wondered what they were doing in the other cars---behind the steamed up windows. 

     “As I recall,” she finally said. “It was a very frustrating mix of enjoying your company and making you behave yourself.” 

      “I seem to remember that.” Tom was chuckling to himself, pleased to know that she remembered too, especially his persistent pursuit of all things Elly Beyer. “Later on,” he continued. “I learned it had something to do with hormones. At the time we didn’t care much about the reasons. It just seemed natural.” 

    “As I remember, most of the girls were more concerned about your hands than your hormones.” 

      “I think they went together,” he grinned. “They were part of the same thing.” 

     “Not with me they weren’t.” He could hear the smug grin in Elly’s voice. “Were they?” 

      “No, Elly.” He shook his head. “Not with you.” 

     Tom started the car. Circling the parking area he drove past the row of homes and back down the hill. This time they followed the Ring Road north until it intersected with the old highway. A half mile beyond that junction he pulled into the well-signed River Park. 

     “The old park doesn’t look the same, does it?” He offered a hand as Elly stepped from the car. 

     “Heavens no. The parking lot is all paved. And it has lights too. Are those picnic tables under the trees?” 

Tom nodded. He was grinning broadly, hearing exactly what he had hoped to hear. “When I was elected to the County Council, back in ninety-two, I made River Park one of my top priorities. It had been neglected for so long. I wanted it to be a show place. It had always been something special for me, so I wanted to see that it was treated right.” 

    “You certainly did dress it up. It must be something to see in the light of day.” Elly stood leaning against the car, taking it in. She pointed toward the grove of spreading oak trees, halfway up the slope that rose gently from the river. “Look. The bandstand is still there.” 

      “You bet it is. Not the same one, of course. Not the one from fifty years ago. But it looks exactly the same. That was the whole idea. It’s the center piece of the park.” He took her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. “As it should be.” 

   “What does that mean? Why should it be special?”

      “Don’t you remember? That was our first kiss, our first real kiss---not just a peck. Right there on the bandstand steps.”

   “It was?” she asked, wondering what that obscure recollection, whether true or not, had to do with anything.

      “It sure was.” Tom was relaxed now, nearly on the verge of laughing out loud. “Come on. I’ll bet a walk along the river trail will help you remember.” 

     He led them down a wide asphalt path toward the river. Small lights, nearly at ground level, illuminated their way as they walked through the night. 

    “This is amazing,” Elly exclaimed. “Paved paths, with lights. It sure beats stumbling around in the dark the way we used to.” 

       “Does it make you think someone was looking ahead? Maybe wanting it to look just right for when you came back?” 

     She was still processing his unlikely question when they reached the end of the paved trail. There Tom took her arm and pulled her to a stop. In that faint light it was hard to tell if he was smiling or pleading? 

     “Elly. I’ve told you before how wonderful it is to have you back home.” 

      “Tom, you ....” 

       Gently, he placed his hand over her mouth. 

      “Please. Let me finish. I want you to hear this.” He paused, composing his thoughts. “You didn’t know it, because you weren’t here. But I’ve been bouncing around for years, trying to get my bearings. Things just got more and more confusing. There was no place for me at the funeral home. The girls had that under control. 

      "It seemed like there was nothing for me to be doing, nothing to look forward to. That’s why I got back into the real estate business. 

     “Then I heard that you were back in Tanner. There had been lots of times over the years when I wished you were here. But that was just day dreaming. Then all of a sudden it wasn’t a dream anymore. It was real.” In the dim half-light Elly felt his unseen stare. 

       “You see, for all those years, when I wished things were like they were back then, I always believed that first kiss on the bandstand was something special---something that was meant to be.” 

       A moment later Elly noted the reflected glint of tears in his eyes. His voice was shaky as he paused to look off toward the river. “I didn’t know how, but I always knew that you’d find your way back here. That you would realize that we were supposed to be together. I just knew that.“ 

        He paused, trying to read her reaction. It was too dark to tell what she was thinking. “Look,” he said. “You’ve had a long day. Especially after a hectic move and all that. I’ve said enough for now. All I wanted was a chance to tell you what I’m thinking and how I feel.” 

        Smiling up at him Elly took his hand in both of hers. “Tom. What you’re remembering was a long time ago. We were just kids then. We’re not kids anymore.” 

       She hesitated, knowing it was not the time to explain more fully. “But you’re right. I am tired. I do need some time to settle in and see where my life is going.” 

      Tom was absolutely certain the right way to end their evening together was a repeat of the special kiss he remembered so well. He also realized that Elly was not ready for that. That would have to wait for another time. For now he offered her his arm as they walked silently back to the car. 


    At Clint Harris’ modest home, beyond the Southern Pacific tracks that divided Tanner, Sunday morning was starting later than usual. That was not surprising, since Saturday night’s post-reunion festivities had lasted far beyond the brothers’ normal bedtime. 

      Half a dozen members of the 1955 class had gathered at Davy’s Dive, where over a few beers they revisited well-remembered high school escapades. Swapping lies and telling jokes, they had relived school-boy triumphs, real and imagined, before moving on to what had become a more natural pastime---bragging on their grandchildren. 

      In truth, both brothers considered that late-night gathering at Davy’s well worth a few hours lost sleep, though it did mean that Gary’s breakfast was not on the table until after nine that morning. 

    “Damn. I haven’t had that much beer in a while,” Gary moaned as he handed Clint his plate. “I’d almost forgot how the morning-after feels.” 

      “You had your share all right,” Clint nodded. “But you couldn’t keep up with Perry.” 

      “Well who could. No need to wonder where that gut of his comes from. He must weigh two-fifty.” 

      Gary topped off their coffee then sat down. “I’ll tell you what. The best part of the whole doings was listening to Bob Rawlins talk about his grandson. You have to admit, he’s one proud grandpa.” 

       “He should be. The kid’s really good. Might be a Division One player.” 

    “Yeah. He’s good. But the fun part was watching Bob bust his buttons telling about the boy. Hell, old Bob never got more than a few minutes playing time in school. He was usually on the bench. Last night he was front and center. It was his turn to stand tall.” 

       Gary took a minute to finish his scrambled eggs before asking, “So tell me, brother. As a long-time judge of class reunions, how did this one stack up?” 

         “I’m not sure what qualifies me as an expert,” Clint replied. “But I thought it was pretty good. It seemed like we had a good turnout for fifty years. Though it was a little shocking to see how fast we’re dying off.” 

     He paused to consider that sad fact. “I was thinking about Jay Black. Just a few months ago he was running around and raising hell. Remember? We saw him down at the bowling alley. Now he’s gone. It’s hard to get your mind around something like that---so quick and so final.” 

      For a few minutes they were quiet, turning to the remains of their meal, struggling to comprehend the reality of their friend’s swift and permanent departure. Finally it was Gary who broke the silence, hoping for a more upbeat mood. “So how about the folks who were there? I thought it was a good group.” 

       “Yeah, it was,” Clint agreed. “Except some of them were really showing their age.” 

       “Hey. We’re closing in on seventy. Aren’t we entitled to look it?” 

       “Of course we are. But you saw Roy Mellon. Man, he looked ninety.” 

     “He’s probably been up against some hard times. Probably some health problems. You never know.” 

         “He should have taken care of himself.” 

     “Well, who knows what we’re born with?” Gary countered. “It’s kind of spooky when you think about it. Just think, the face I had as a kid was already programmed to look like this when I got to be sixty-nine. There isn’t much I could do about it, except be thankful that I’m still around at sixty-nine.” 

      “You mean you can’t blame anyone for all those wrinkles?” 

        “I could. But it wouldn’t change a thing. I’d still look like this. Kind of depressing. Isn’t it?” Gary was laughing at the certainty of it---sidetracked for a moment by ‘aging’ thoughts he normally chose to push aside. 

          Day to day, as long as he was feeling good, those sometimes-morbid concerns seldom crossed his mind. On the other hand, a fifty-year reunion was apt to be an effective reminder. 

     “But you know what? Even though she’d changed a lot I recognized Claudia the second I saw her. She looked different. But something was the same. I’m not sure I can explain it, but I knew it was her.” 

        “I thought she looked sort of scared at first, " Clint noted. Like she might turn around and walk out. At least until you tracked her down.” 

        “Of course she was nervous. She hadn’t been around those folks for fifty years. That would have to be intimidating. Seeing me right off the bat only made it worse.” 

         “I thought you two had hit it off pretty good at first,” Clint said. “She was with you for dinner. But after she danced with you I never saw her again.” 

        “She caught up with some old girl friends. Near as I could tell they were having a great time. At least they were loud. I wanted to see her before we left, but she’d already gone.” 

           So, does it feel like something to build on?”

        Something to build on?” Gary repeated to himself. Was that how it felt? It might have been different if he had known he would see her there. At least there would have been time to better prepare his defenses---a way to stand up to her unexpected charges. Instead, the element of surprise had been hers. Now on the morning after, in light of his poor showing, was he ready to claim there was ‘something to build on’? 

        “I don’t know,” he offered. “At first it seemed like there might be. I thought she was glad to see me, until she gave me an earful about what a louse I’d been and how I’d hurt her. By the time she walked away I wasn’t feeling too hopeful.” 

        “You didn’t ask her to dance again, did you?” 

        “Are you kidding? I sure as hell didn’t need to hear all that stuff again.” 

        “I suppose it’s just as well,” Clint said, hoping to offer some degree of consolation. “It’s a long drive to Lawrence. Nothing you’d want to do on a regular basis.” 

        “I guess that’s true.” Gary rubbed his chin as a grin came to his lips. “Still, it was nice to see her again.” 

     A moment later Clint was at the kitchen counter, ready for his part of the morning’s chores---gathering plates, bowls, and cups to fill the dishwasher. 

         Above the clanking of dishes Gary was ready to take them in a different direction. “Haven’t heard you say much about Elly Beyers. Why do you suppose that is?” 

         “It’s Elly Warren,” Clint reminded him. “And what is there to say? Some outlaw blackmailed me into dancing with her. So I did. And that’s that.” 

        “Come on, brother. I’m not blind. You looked happy enough out there with her. And for two dances, I might add.” 

     “It was fine once I got over the butterflies. Though I’m sure my first impression left something to be desired.” 

        “It looked like she was enjoying herself.”

       “I suppose what you saw was her laughing at me.” 

    Clint was grinning at the thought of those embarrassing first moments. Did he remember correctly? Had she actually scolded him for being intimidated, and in the next breath tell him she was glad he had asked her to dance? “I can tell you one thing. She’s a very straight-forward kind of lady. Says what’s on her mind.” 

        Gary was laughing to himself, unwilling to let Clint off the hook so easily. The spark he detected in his brother’s response had been absent far too long, ever since Karen’s passing nearly two years before. 

       “You liked it,” Gary declared. “Didn’t you?” 

       “Yeah, I suppose I did. But it was just a couple of dances, that’s all. Besides, she spent most of the night being cozy with old fat Tom. They left together. So you can bet that was my last dance with Elly.” 

       “Hey. She lives here now. You’ll probably see her around.”

    “Oh. I’ll see her all right,” Clint said. “Bill Stanton told me last night that Elly had agreed to help out on the Hospital Foundation fund drive. She’ll be on the Executive Committee, like me. We meet every other week, so I’ll see her then.”

       “There you are. You’ll see her every couple of weeks and get to know her. Who knows where that can lead.”

    Clint was shaking his head. He closed the dishwasher door, pushed the buttons to start the machine, then dried this hands. “Mark my words," he said. "It won’t take long for Elly Warren to hook up with her country club friends. That’s Esther, Tom, and all the others. You know damn well there’s no place for me in that crowd.” 

       “I suppose time will tell,” Gary nodded. “For now we’d better get ready for church. I just hope the choir isn’t too loud this morning. My head’s not up to too much racket.” 


 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 ( with them. That is the best way I know to spread the word. The blog's right sidebar lists all the earlier chapters, so they can always start at the beginning.

Monday, October 26, 2020




It was bound to be part of their 50th Reunion experience, those awkward moments ……. when the names were vaguely familiar, but the faces …….not so much. Would the Harris brothers be able to wring something good from those unpromising ingredients? Chapter 3 of Second Chances provides some of the answers


                          CHAPTER 3

    Waiters were clearing the tables and the bar was doing a brisk business in after-dinner drinks. One-time classmates moved from table to table, exchanging greetings and striking up conversations. In the back of the room Esther Hoffman was looking through a stack of CDs, compilations of 1950s music, in preparation for the evening’s dancing. At the head table Elly Warren looked up from her conversation to find Tom Berry standing across from her, smiling his best smile---conspicuously studying her every move. 

    “Hello again,” he said. “I wanted to be sure I was in time for that first dance.” He pulled his sports coat tighter and buttoned it over his ample belly. 

   “You certainly are prompt.” Elly stood and walked around the end of the table to meet him. “I must apologize for being so curt before. I was just trying to get my bearings. It’s all so disorienting---being in a roomful of strangers I’m supposed to know, who talk about things I don’t remember. I’ve spent the whole night staring at name tags.” 

    “Isn’t that the truth. I’ve been to every one of these reunions and I’m still doing that.” Tom eyed her for a moment, wondering how to renew a conversation that seemed to have survived a fifty year interruption. “I will admit though, I’m dying to know what brings you back to Tanner after all these years.” 

    “Oh my. That is a long story---part of which I would rather not talk about.” She paused a moment to remind herself there were some parts of that story she refused to even think about any more. “The short answer is, after my divorce Los Angeles seemed to lose its appeal. I decided I was ready for some peace and quiet. You must admit, Tanner fits that bill.” 

    “It certainly does. But don’t forget, there are still lots of things going on here. The Club is as active as ever. And I guarantee that we’re looking forward to having you back with us.” 

    They waited until the second song, when other couples were dancing, before they ventured out on to the dance floor. Tom had always been a good dancer. At that moment, however, he was more focused on calming the butterflies and making the right impression. “This is so nice,” he said. “It seems like we were doing this just a week or two ago.” 

   “It has certainly been longer than that,” Elly replied. She was pleasantly surprised at how light footed someone as heavy as Tom could be. He had definitely not forgotten that part. She felt his bulk between them, though when Tom drew her closer she gently resisted---ready to lighten the mood. “So what about you?” she asked. “What have you been up to for all these years.” 

    “Mostly working, I guess. At least up until the last few years. I was busy keeping the family business going, until I handed that off to my girls. And, of course, during the early years I was raising them. You may not realize that I was a single parent for most of that time.” 

    “Is that so. With daughters? More than one?”

    “Actually are were three.”

    “Three?” Elly was laughing softly as she leaned back to look up into his face. “I’m trying to imagine you as a single parent, dealing with teenage daughters. You must know something about what all those fathers were faced with when we were in school---when you were on the loose with their little girls. It sounds like your turn must have come around.” 

    “Hey. Come on. I wasn’t that bad.”

    “Don’t be playing innocent with me. I’ve known you a very long time. I know a thing or two about the real Tom Berry.” She was grinning as she asked, "And how many wives were there? Did I hear it was three?” 

    The smile drained from Tom’s face. “Yes, there were three. Three different times I was taken advantage of. And each one of them left me with a headache, a lighter wallet, and a wonderful daughter. Fortunately I was able to win custody of my little girl each time.” 

    “But three times,” Elly said. “Why couldn’t you have found the right one the first time?” 

    By then Tom had her loosely by the shoulders, nudging her away so he could look into her eyes. “I would have, Smarty. But the ‘right one’ had run off to Los Angeles with her college boy. Remember?” 

    He knew at once that he was breaking his own promise to avoid their unfortunate history, at least during their first night together. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “That was uncalled for.” 

   Elly did not reply. They danced on in silence until their second dance ended and Tom walked her back to the head table. There, hoping to overcome her stoic reluctance, he took her hand and pulled her a stop. “Hey. This is supposed to be a fun night.” It was his light-hearted, upbeat side speaking now. 

    “I’ll tell you what,” he continued. “Why don’t you do your reunion thing. Have your fun. And when we’re through here, I’ll help you catch up on the new Tanner. It’s changed a lot in fifty years. I’ll bet you haven’t been to River Park since you got back. Right?” 

     “I’ll bet you’re right about that.” 

   “That’s changed too. You ought to see it. If you’ll save the last dance for me we could take a quick spin out there. I’d like to show you some Tanner history. I think you’ll be impressed. And I promise it wouldn’t take long.” 

   On a night of awkward conversations and halting introductions to long-forgotten acquaintances, there was a certain comfort in reconnecting with someone she had known so well. Their shared history had been decades before, when they were still very young. A new friendship, between the adults they had become, seemed worthwhile---even desirable. After all, they were going to be neighbors. Why not get off on a cordial, informal note? 

    “That sounds like fun,” Elly finally nodded. “You’re on for the last dance.” 


    For Gary and Claudia Hafner dinner had been a pleasant, if occasionally awkward, time. For the first few minutes they limited their conversation to sometimes irreverent critiques of the former classmates gathered around them. As they grew more comfortable in each other’s company they turned to broad-brush accounts of their respective lives and families. Finally over a round of after-dinner drinks they managed to share a few of the particulars---the highlights and low points of a half century spent inhabiting different worlds. 

   The tables had been cleared and dance music was playing in the background as Gary listened for a tune that was slow enough for his dancing tastes. When he heard Patti Page singing The Tennessee Waltz he stood, took a deep breath to calm his nerves, and asked Claudia to dance. Once on the dance floor he wrapped his arm loosely around her waist and offered his disclaimer. “I’m afraid my dancing hasn’t improved over the years.” 

    Fortunately, more than fifty years after their last dance, Claudia had not forgotten how to avoid his unpredictable footwork. “I didn’t think it was so bad in the first place,” she replied. 

    “Doesn’t really matter anyway. It’s mainly just an excuse for getting my arms around you.” 

    “That’s exactly what you said at our Prom.”

    He drew her closer, resting his chin on the top of her head. “You haven’t got any taller.”

    “Of course not. I’m shrinking.” 

    Seconds later he backed away to look down into her face. “Damn. I’m really glad you decided to come tonight. It was quite a surprise, seeing you walking towards us. A very nice surprise.” 

    “I was just as surprised as you.” Claudia flashed the tightlipped grimace he still remembered. “I wasn’t sure I’d have the nerve to talk to you.” 

     “Did that take nerve?”

    “It did for me.” For the next minute they were silent, swaying slowly to the music while Claudia’s conversation turned inward. In truth, it was not so much a conversation as a tug of war. Should she say what needed saying? Or remain silent? Finally she tilted her head back to look up at him. “There’s something I have to tell you. I just hope I can say it right.” 

    “Tell me? About what?”

Claudia’s smile had vanished and the sparkle had left her eyes. “I don’t mean for this to sound as angry as it probably will. But I have to say it. After all this time, it feels like I owe it to myself.” She paused to collect the thoughts she had been rehearsing during dinner. Could she remember how to say what needed saying? 

   “You hurt me a lot---when you left for the Army.” The music played on, but Gary had stopped. He was not moving at all, just staring at the floor. “All that time I thought you liked me. I was hoping you liked me a lot. I suppose I expected us to be together. Then, just like that.....” Her words trailed off. 

    Moments later the music had stopped and still they had not moved. By then Claudia’s grim frown had softened into a pouting, frightened-deer look---the one Gary remembered as a precursor of approaching tears. 

    “What I did was really stupid,” he mumbled. “It’s hard to believe I could have done something like that, especially to someone I liked so much.” A new tune was playing and they were moving again, but not in time to the music. Drawing her closer he said softly, “I think I would probably hate someone who did that to me.” 

     “I don’t hate you. I never did.”

   “I was scared, you know,” he continued. As much as he wanted to forget the terrible disappointment he was describing, he owed her an explanation. “You know how I was back then. I wanted to fly free. I thought that’s who I was. And there we were, getting closer and closer all the time. It felt like every open door was being slammed shut---and I was locked inside. I didn’t know how to deal with that. So, I ran away.” 

   “I was pretty sure it was something like that. Even before then, when I thought about what might become of us after school, I wasn’t sure if you could ever settle down.” 

    Like Gary, Claudia was stirring up long buried thoughts, emotional snippets pulled from the back of her mind into the light of day, fifty years after the fact. “But when I tried to understand why you’d left, I couldn’t. I just knew that it hurt so much I had to get away. I couldn’t stay here. I couldn’t face my friends---the ones who knew what had happened. So I moved to Lawrence. That’s where I met Gus and got married.” 

    “Until he left you.” Claudia’s earlier explanation of that marital disaster had been sketchy, leaving Gary to wonder if he really wanted to bring it up. 

    “Yes. Until he left.” She shrugged her shoulders and shook her head, showing less emotion that he might have expected. “With the receptionist from the dentist’s office. By then I had two kids. There was nothing to do but go to work. Just keep going.” 

    “You could have remarried. Wouldn’t that have made things easier?” 

    Her grin had turned hard and her words had a cold, detached edge. ”I was twenty-five years old. I had loved two men in my life and they’d both run away, just like my own father. I wasn’t up to a third time.” 

    They danced slowly, several beats behind the now-faster tune. He could not see her face, which rested on his shoulder. He hoped she was not crying. As for what to say, he could think of nothing beyond a soft, “I’m so sorry.” 

    When the song ended Claudia led them to the side of the dance floor to explain, “Rachel and Sue are over there at their table. I think I’ll visit with them for a while. Thanks for dinner and the dances.” With that she turned and walked off through the tables to find her friends. 


    Gary Harris shuffled between the maze of tables, making his way to where his brother stood visiting with a pair of old wrestling buddies. Try as he might, there was no getting past Claudia’s blunt declaration and the unsettling emotions it had unleashed. She had simply walked away, with no visible interest in continuing their dialogue and no apparent concern about what he was feeling? 

     A moment later, Clint ended his conversation and turned to greet Gary. “It looked from here like you and Claudia hit it off pretty good.” 

    “I’m not so sure about that,” Gary replied. “It was fine at first, when I thought she was glad to see me. We had a nice visit during dinner. Nothing serious, just nice. That seemed kind of hopeful. But I’m pretty sure that even then she was just looking for a chance to unload on me, to tell me what she really thought.” 

     “About what?”

    “About me.” He leaned against the wall, feeling a weariness he did not expect so early in the evening. “About me taking off for the Army---after high school.” 

    “She wanted to go there? Tonight?" 

    “You better believe it. She wanted me to hear all about that, if I heard nothing else. I think that’s why she came” 

    His own words were enough to stir Gary into action. He paused to determine the shortest route to the bar before explaining, “It may take a drink or two to get over that. You want another one?” 

     “I don’t think so.”

    Then, as he prepared to set off toward the bar, Gary sensed a new and surprising insight. After two hours in the company of assorted one-time classmates, it seemed they had exhausted the social possibilities of their reunion experience. They had met and visited with just about everyone of interest---except, of course, the most intriguing possibility of all. 

    After all, it was their fiftieth reunion......their first since losing Christy and Karen. And by some inexplicable coincidence it was also Elly Beyers’ first reunion. Without understanding the 'why' of it, Gary had managed to blend those diverse elements into a single, absolutely logical idea. Turning back to his brother, he said, “It must be your turn to dance, eh?”

    Clint shook his head. “Don’t be dumb. I didn’t come to dance.” 

    “Listen brother.” Gary leaned closer, speaking quietly. “It just dawned on me that there’s no better time in your whole life for a first dance with Elly Beyers, or whatever her name is now.” 

    “What are you talking about?” Clint protested. “Why would I do that? Have you seen her out there? She’s already danced with half the guys in the place. She doesn’t need a dance with me to make her night.” 

    “But maybe you do. Though of course, I don’t suppose you’ve paid any attention to her. Right?” 

     “Will you get serious.”

    “I’m as serious as can be. That strikes me as a totally inspired idea. And I know it’s what you want to do. Odds are you’ll never have another chance. At least not a better chance.” 

    “You are so full of it. Go get your drink. Maybe that will get you back on track. You’re just pissed because Claudia blew you off like that.” 

   “Come on, Clint. This has nothing to do with Claudia. It’s about you. And it’s no time for you to be so damn timid.” He was stabbing his finger into Clint’s chest. “Either you get off your butt and ask her, or I’ll find her myself and tell her that she ought to be asking you.” 

       “She’d laugh in your face."

    “I don’t think so,” Gary answered. “I figure she’s smarter than that. But there’s only one way to know for sure.” He stepped out into the aisle, making an obvious production of scanning the room for Elly Warren. 

   Clint rolled his eyes as he considered his brother’s challenge. Gary’s good mood had left the room with Claudia Hafner’s exit. He was already upset and just ornery enough to do something stupid---like daring Elly Warren. There was no reason to be feeding his rambunctious rebellion, not when he was in that space. 

    “Okay,” Clint finally nodded. “Bring me another drink and I’ll do it.” 

    Standing alone, Clint waited for Gary’s return---nodding from time to time at passing guests, while processing an unsettling stream of conflicting thoughts. On one hand Gary was prepared to challenge Elly Warren. On the other was the almost certain risk of having her turn him down in front of everyone if he did find the nerve to ask her. In the next breath his thoughts were of Karen. Would he be betraying her? Perhaps it was time to consider a more practical response---like heading for home. 

    Unfortunately the answers to his own questions did not arrive in time. He looked up to see Elly Warren walking past him, on her way to the bar. An instant later, before he even realized that he had decided, Clint took a deep breath and hurried to catch up with her. 

  He had nearly reached her side when she suddenly stopped to visit with a pair of women. Had he been more alert he could have kept walking, pretending that he was simply passing by. Instead, he stopped directly behind her, waiting silently at her right shoulder. 

    Elly was not aware of Clint’s presence, but her conversational partners were staring straight into his eyes. She turned to see what they were looking at and nearly bumped into him. “My God,” she gasped. “I didn’t know you were there.”

    Then, looking up at him, “You’re Clint Harris, aren’t you?” 

    She must have noticed the unexpected flush that spread over his face as he nodded and stammered, “I was going to ask if you wanted to dance.” 

    Elly glanced at her friends, then back at Clint. It appeared that his first impulse might be to run for the door, until her wondering smile eased the awkward tension. 

    “Well?” she asked. 

    “Well what?”

    “Are you going to ask me?”

   Finally Clint found the courage to study her face, a self-conscious exercise he forced himself to undertake. In truth, it was easier than he had expected---certainly more satisfying. She was as pretty, in a more mature way, as the energetic high school girl who had once been the object of his stolen glances. At that moment, however, he sensed her impatience---as she waited for his answer. 

    Yes,” he mumbled. “I mean, yes, I’m going to ask if you want to dance.” 


   By then he was laughing out loud. “Damn it, woman. You’ve got me tongue tied. What I’m trying to say is, would you like to dance with me? Please.” 

     “Why, I thought you’d never ask.” 

    With a hand on her elbow Clint steered Elly to the edge of the dance floor. There, holding her stiffly at a discrete distance, he was speaking quietly over the top of her head when he explained, “I’m afraid I’m not much of a dancer.” 

    “You don't like to dance?”

    "It’s not my favorite thing.”

  “So, why did you ask me?” 

  Elly heard his frustrated sigh, but nothing more. Apparently he was not in a question-answering mood. Whatever the reason for his reticence, she appeared to take it as a personal challenge. Leaning back, she looked up at him. His first instinct was to turn away. Instead he returned her smile. 

    “Clint Harris,” she said, “As I recall we were in school together for twelve years. I know there were times when we were in the same class. You were an athlete. I remember that. Wrestling I think it was. And I believe you got in trouble a time or two along the way. Am I right?” 

    She paused for his response. Hearing none, she continued. “And you took Sharon Underwood to the Prom. That was the first thing I remembered about you. But the truth is, in all those years I don’t suppose we said a dozen words to each other. Did we?” 

    “We didn’t exactly travel in the same circles,” Clint answered, trying his best to concentrate on the dance beat. Already he his mouth was turning dry and sweat trickled down his temples. “You did your country-club thing up here on the hill---the golf and swimming, and whatever else you people did. I hung out with the guys at the Hilltop Drive-In. 

   “Sometimes we’d talk about those snooty country club kids.” Was that too much, he wondered .......too familiar? “Anyway, while you were playing around up here, I was sweating to make weight. You know as well as I do that guys like me weren’t part of your world.” 

     “Why don’t you say what you really mean.” Elly was laughing softly as she shook her head. “I didn't know you could be so blunt. I can tell you’re not too big on flattery. Though I suppose what you’re saying is true. 

    "But remember, that was then. This is now. We’ve changed, all of us. You’ve just proved that we’re old enough to do what we want to do and say what we have to say. Isn’t that so?” 

      Clint nodded, apparently unwilling to reply. “In that case,” she continued, “I hope you asked me to dance because that’s what you wanted to do. I assure you I said ‘Yes’ because I wanted to dance with you.” She paused for a moment. “I’m not sure I knew that until you asked. But I’m glad you did.” 

     Clint was shaking his head. “I’m not sure what all that means. But anyway, I’m glad that you’re glad.” The record ended and he nudged her toward the sideline. 

    Elly pulled her arm from his grip. “I would really appreciate another dance.” 

     “With me?” 

  Their second dance was slower and more comfortable, with little need for distracting conversation. Clint felt her move perceptibly closer, while he concentrated on avoiding her toes. Through it all he was trying to fathom the unlikely reality that Elly Beyers, or whatever her name was now, was nestled lightly against his shoulder and apparently content to be there.

    When the music ended Elly let herself be led back to her friends. Their brief parting was little more than a handshake and a soft, “Thank you.”


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