The relational questions never end
She had let the air out of his hopeful vision of a future together, leaving him alone and depressed. Now it appeared he had enlisted his daughter to plead his case. What would it take to set them straight?
Meanwhile….his logic wasn’t a bit logical. It made no sense. But then, who said his ‘soulmate’ obsession must be rational? After all, it was all about feelings…..not facts.
Elly Warren had first met Elaine Newsome, Tom Berry’s oldest daughter, during Tom’s move from the nursing home to her guest wing. In the busyness of that hectic day there had been little opportunity to visit with the pleasant, forty-something woman who, with her husband David, managed the Berry Funeral Home.
Still, Elly had been impressed with Elaine’s unassuming directness in arranging and coordinating her father’s move. Beyond that single occasion, however, there had been no reason for the two women to meet again….at least until Elaine’s phone call the night before. Now Elly was wondering what had prompted the daughter’s sudden interest, and her request for a visit with Elly.
They had arranged to meet at the fashionable Victorian-themed tea room, two blocks up Main Street from the funeral home. It would be a homecoming of sorts for Elly. More than sixty years before, in the same front room where she sat waiting for Elaine’s arrival, kindly old Miss Mitchell had spent an hour every week for three frustrating years, trying to make a pianist of Elly.
Given her lack of success at the keyboard Elly had no doubt the room now served a higher purpose as a homey, yet intimate tea room….busy and bustling during the lunch hour, quiet and unhurried the rest of the day.
A few minutes after their appointed hour Elly watched as Elaine hung her coat in the front hall and approached the table. The lady was tall and trim. Her conservative dark-blue skirt and jacket, with a plain white blouse, seemed appropriate for someone of her calling. Yet there was nothing dour about her. She smiled easily and moved briskly. In Elly’s mind a one-word description of first impressions would have to include ‘efficient.’
“It’s good to see you again,” Elaine said, extending her hand. “I hope I’m not too late.”
“Not at all.” Elly paused while their water glasses were filled. “When you’re retired like me, you tend to be early for everything.”
“I appreciate your taking the time. I’m hoping you can help me with my dilemma.” For an instant Elly wondered if she had spotted a break in Elaine’s veil of outgoing confidence.
“What kind of help are you looking for?” Could it be, Elly wondered, that the daughter had come to lobby for what her father had not been able to win on his own? “What is this ‘dilemma’ you’re talking about?”
Their order arrived….tea for Elly, coffee for Elaine, and a plate of small scones. Elaine took a moment to stir creamer into her coffee. Then looking up, she explained, “In a word it’s Dad. We’re at our wits end, my sisters and I. He needs to get a life, some reason to get up in the morning. We’d like to help him. But he just won’t listen to us.”
“What makes you think I could help?” Elly’s aggravating suspicions were growing by the second.
“Have you noticed that he’s been in the dumps lately? He just doesn’t seem to have any spark at all.”
“To tell you the truth I haven’t seen much of him the last week or two. I guess I hadn’t noticed any change.”
“I assure you,” Elaine insisted, “There’s been a change, a big change. When he first moved into your place he was so upbeat. It was like he was a new person….full of life and always in a good mood.
“We had the most wonderful Thanksgiving at our place. I hadn’t seen him that happy in ages.” She was smiling at the thought of it. “But since then that energy has just kind of faded.”
Elaine had stated her case. Now Elly was waiting for the other shoe to drop, confident that she knew what was coming next….how her unwillingness to accept Tom’s proposal of marriage had triggered his decline. By then she was composing her own determined and rather ungracious response.
“You know that Dad thinks a lot of you,” the daughter continued. “At first we had a hard time understanding how that could be.” She was looking over her glasses at Elly. “When we heard you were the one who’d hurt him we were prepared to be very upset.”
Elaine’s sudden change of mood had Elly on edge, suddenly unsure where she was being led. “I can understand that,” she agreed cautiously. “I suppose I’d expect you to feel that way.”
“But then Daddy told us that it was his fault. He was very forceful about that, that we mustn’t blame you.” She was looking directly into Elly’s eyes, as if to validate the truth of her words.
“None of us are sure what actually happened. Dad has said all along that we didn’t need to know that. So we’ve had to take his word for it.” An instant later her smile had returned. “Then, when you offered him the rooms at your place, we realized that he must have been right all along.”
Elly was saying nothing. She looked off across the room, silently thanking Tom for defusing what might have been a hurtful outcome for so many people.
“The point is, I’m sure we could get him back on track, if only you’d help out.”
Here it comes, Elly told herself. It was time to act....to beat Elaine to the punch, to make her understand that a Tom and Elly relationship was not in the cards, no matter how much it would lift Tom’s spirits.
“Elaine, that is not something I’m prepared to do,” she insisted. “It simply wouldn’t work.”
“But it would help so much.” Elaine countered, seeming to ignore Elly’s objection. “He needs to hear that you agree he should get involved in the business again. I know it would do him a world of good. But he won’t take our word for it. I’m hoping he’d listen to you.”
“You’re saying you want him back in the business?” Elly repeated, savoring an unexpected wave of relief. For a moment it felt as though she had missed a turn somewhere along the way. A wide grin broke across her face.
“That’s a really good idea. It seems like we ought to be able to convince him of that.”
“I was hoping you’d think so.” Elaine reached across the table to take Elly’s hand. “If I can get my sisters on board, would you be willing to sit down with Dad and me to see if we can help him understand?”
“You let me know how I can help. I’ll be there.”
It was after six o’clock Tuesday evening when Claudia and Gary sat down for dinner. Clint had told them earlier he would be checking out the buffet special at the nearby casino, so the two of them were eating alone.
They had scarcely begun their meal when Claudia set her cup aside, took a deep breath, and announced, “Your brother is really struggling, you know.”
Looking up, Gary nodded. “Yeah, I know. He was expecting things to work out with Elly. At least he hoped they would. That had to be a big letdown.” He could only imagine how it must hurt to lose your lady to Fat Tom. “But he’s got to move on.”
“He’s trying to. But it’s hard.”
“How about this?” Gary leaned back to consider his idea. “I’ll bet there are some single ladies here in the park. Maybe we could help him meet one of them.”
“That might be a possibility," Claudia agreed. "But Clint and I had a long talk yesterday. And it sounded like he has something else in mind.”
“What kind of ‘something else’ is he thinking about?”
“What he calls a soulmate.”
“A soulmate? What the hell does that mean?”
Claudia had to laugh at her husband’s puzzled frown. “Apparently it means there is someone, somewhere, who is meant to be with him….who’s waiting for him to show up. According to him that would be his soulmate.”
Gary nodded his assumed understanding. “I suppose lots of us would have liked it to work that way. Once I figured out it was time to move on, after I lost Christy, I probably told myself something like that. It was mostly just hoping, but that’s what I wanted.”
He grinned and reached across the table to pat her hand. “Then I found out that she’d been out there all along….that soulmate person you’re talking about. So I know it works.”
“He seems to think so too," Claudia nodded. "More than that, he’s sure he knows who she is.”
“He’s not talking about Elly, is he? He sure as heck doesn’t need to go down that road again.”
“No, it’s not Elly.”
“I don’t know how many other single ladies he knows. There are a few at church. But I’m not sure they’re his type.” A quick mental inventory failed to produce a single likely candidate. “I can’t imagine who he’d have in mind.”
Claudia’s grin was wider now, knowing Gary was on the wrong track. “That’s because he’s not playing by your rules. The woman he has in mind is probably married.”
“Come on. Clint’s not the kind to go chasing after a married woman.”
With a deep breath Claudia plowed ahead…. wanting to state Clint’s case in a way Gary could understand. “What if he’s had very special feelings for her that go back to when they were kids? What if he’s convinced those feelings are proof that they’re supposed to be together?”
“Do we know if this lady has any feelings for him?” Gary asked, sensing a growing uneasiness. He had seen no signs that Clint was mentally at risk. But what else would explain the logic Claudia was presenting? “God knows he was hung up on Elly since grade school. Just look where that got him.”
“He’s sure this soulmate person he talks about has never had feelings for him,” Claudia explained. “Except for one time. And that lasted just a few minutes. Other than that she’s never paid any attention to him. Heavens, it’s been more than fifty years since he’s even seen her.”
“A few minutes? What in hell is he talking about?” By now Gary was up and pacing, from the kitchen to the hallway and back, a matter of perhaps half a dozen steps. “This is awful. It’s all Elly’s fault. If she had any sense at all he wouldn’t be in this fix.”
Claudia reached out to grab his hand as he passed her chair. “It’s not Elly’s fault. It’s not anyone’s fault. Clint is confused. That’s all. He’s grabbing at straws. The soulmate idea may be very comforting. But I’m not sure he understands how hurtful it could be.”
“This doesn’t make any sense.” Gary protested. “He’s always been the level headed guy....the one who thinks things through. He usually has them figured out before he even starts. How could he believe something like that?”
“I suppose because he wants it to be true,” She paused, then added. “There’s one more thing you should know.”
“There’s more? What is it now?”
“He’s asked me to help him find her.”
“Find who? Who is ‘her’?”
“Would you believe Tanya Worth, or whatever her name is now? You do remember her. Right?"
“Tanya Worth?” Gary sputtered. His wife's bizarre story was growing worse by the minute.
“Tanya Worth? Why she wouldn’t have looked in his direction if he’d run over her. Doesn’t he understand anything? She was the kind who’d have married a lawyer or a doctor, someone like that. She’d never have given him a second look….not then, not now. What is he thinking?”
“It’s not about what he’s thinking. It’s what he’s feeling.”
“Well, you’re certainly not going to help him find her. That would be a total disaster.” He stopped short, looking into her wry smile. “Are you?”
It was Claudia’s turn to stretch her legs, wondering how she might defend what was bound to be an instantly unpopular response. “My first reaction was a big ‘No,’" she began. "But the fact is he can find her on his own if he really wants to. He knows the same people I’d be asking.”
Her smile was meant to calm Gary’s agitated protest. There was nothing to indicate it was working, so she continued. “As long as this notion, this soulmate idea, has hold of him I don’t see how he’ll ever get things sorted out. It’s like he’s hoping for some magical answer.”
“Claudia. We can’t let him go off and mess up other people’s lives, and his own too.”
“Do you really believe he’d do that? I don’t. But in the end it’s not our choice to make. Is it? If he’s ever going to get past what he’s feeling, he has to face it himself When that happens all we can do is pray that he’s strong enough to do the right thing?”
“And you’re willing to help him take that chance?” Gary understood his wife’s words, but not her logic. What if she was wrong?
“Gary,” she said. “If you tell me not to, I’ll let Clint know I can’t help him. But until he faces up to the reality of his soulmate idea, and sees that it’s not really an answer at all, I don’t know if he’ll ever get over it.”
Wednesday morning. Claudia was finishing the breakfast dishes when Gary called from the bedroom. She set her towel aside and walked down the narrow hallway, through the open bathroom space to where he sat on the edge of bed, facing the small computer table they had wedged into a back corner of the room.
“You’ve got an email,” he announced. “From Laura.”
“That is a surprise. What does she say?”
“Here. You read it.” Gary slid down the bed to make room for her. The message itself was brief, just a few short lines.
Hope this gets thru to you. It was good to see you. I wanted you to know that I have been thinking about what you said. I hope to see you guys when you go back.
Maybe I will write again. I think I will.
Minutes later Claudia was still seated on the bed ....studying the email copy Gary had printed for her, wondering why those few noncommittal lines bothered her so? She read the brief sentences once more, then put the page aside.
“What has you thinking so hard?” Gary asked. “I thought you’d be glad to hear from her.”
“I am glad. I think it’s a good sign. I’m just wondering what she’s trying to say.”
“I suppose she’s trying to say what she says. That’s easy enough. She’s thinking about what you said when we were there. That’s good, isn’t it? And she’d like to see you again. That’s good too. Sounds like good news to me.” With a finger under Claudia’s chin he raised her head toward him. “So why don’t you look happier?”
A half an hour later they were standing in the kitchen, preparing for a shopping expedition to the discount grocery outlet across the interstate from the park, when without any preliminaries Claudia asked, “It’s probably time to be thinking about Christmas, isn’t it? To decide what we’re going to do.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Gary replied. “It’s only three weeks away. We need to give people time to make plans.”
“Here’s what I’m wondering,” she said. “With Clint here in California, is there any reason for us to go all the way back to Tanner? What if we went to San Jose, if Dennis and Cyndi don’t have other plans? Clint could join us there, or he might want to go to Sam’s in Sacramento.”
“What about Barbara and Connie? I’d hate to leave them alone for Christmas.”
“Once I’m sure it’s okay with Dennis I could see if they’d be willing to drive down to San Jose.”
Gary took the car keys from their hook and started toward the door. “Sounds good to me. You go ahead and call the others, to see what they think.”
“There is one other thing,” Claudia said quietly.
“If we’re going to San Jose, would it be too far out of the way to stop again at Freedom City, to see Laura?”
Stepping back, Gary was laughing at how his wife’s soft-spoken dialogue had turned their conversation to include a visit with Laura. “You’ve been thinking about her, haven’t you? About her email.”
Claudia nodded. “I think she wants to see us. She must be very lonely. I don’t know if she has any friends up there. I don’t think we should wait until spring, when we go back to Tanner. I’m sure she’d like to see us sooner than that. It seems like that’s what her email is saying.”
Gary draped an arm over her shoulder. “You’re reading a lot more into it than I did. But anyway, stopping there wouldn’t be any problem at all, now that we know the way.”
“Maybe we could take her a Christmas present.”
“Sure. Why not? She probably needs just about everything.”
“I was thinking of something practical.”.
“Like what? Diapers.”
“No,” Claudia laughed. “A prepaid phone card. She can’t call us because she doesn’t have any money. I think she’d feel better knowing she could call if she wanted....from town or that dumpy little store.”
“A phone card it is.”