Saturday, April 17, 2021

GOING HOME - Chapter 11

    Of course it was exciting....the thrill of a clandestine adventure, seeing sights he had only dreamed of in the company of someone he wanted to know better.

    How could they have known the emotional toll their absence was taking on a frantic mother....the one given to dark thoughts of her daughter's peril?

    It would be a Sunday of emotions....adolescent highs and parental lows.
 


                            Chapter 11


A thin shaft of morning sunlight knifed between the drawn curtains. Across the room Gail was still asleep. The rest of the house was quiet. Sandy Harden lay on her back, looking up at the ceiling, hoping the others were taking advantage of their chance to sleep in on Sunday morning.

She had spent the last hour replaying Rick’s parting words, tingling with nervous excitement at the prospect of their clandestine escape to the coast. Twice she had slipped out of bed to get a closer, squinting look at the unlit clock on the dresser she shared with Gail. It was too early to get dressed, and she was too wound-up to sleep.

Laying there, her thoughts turned to the emphatic, perhaps frantic reaction her absence was bound to create. Her mother was not the kind to accept her daughter’s flight calmly. She would certainly be disappointed and angry. There would probably be tears. 

Once again Sandy asked herself if it was fair, putting her mom through that. Without bothering to answer she returned to the one question that really mattered. At the end of the day, when she returned to face her mother, would she regret having been part of Rick's adventure?

Being in trouble....facing her mother’s frustrated anger was not an entirely new concept. She and Gail had come home too late on occasion or been in the wrong place, perhaps with the wrong friends. They knew what was expected of them and understood they would have to answer when they strayed over that line. In their young lives they had faced those consequences from time to time.

As a rule, however, Sandy preferred to think of those indiscretions as accidental....losing track of time, dealing with unplanned changes, episodes that had unfolded in ways she had not expected. She could not remember a single time when she had deliberately set out to break the rules. That was not her way. At that moment, lying there in bed, she could scarcely believe that she was calmly calculating how to make her get away without being detected.

She paused to mentally leaf through a gallery of young faces....boys from school who might have been bold enough to ask her to take part in such an adventure. She could think of no one in that population who would have been able to convince her to join him. Why then had she said “yes” to that quiet Indian boy? Was it his easy smile and low key humor, or the promise of a new brand of excitement? 

By then she realized that her decision had come down to a single overriding reality. She trusted Rick as much as she liked him. She would be safe in his company. It was that quiet conviction that had won her anxious willingness. Now, if she could just get out of the house without being seen or heard.

Finally, slipping out of bed, Sandy was dressed in only a minute or two....unaware of the curious, slightly bewildered witness to her leaving. Gathering her shoes and floppy denim handbag, she started for the hallway door. Only then did she look back to see Gail laying in her bed, following her every move. 

With a cautionary finger to her lips. Sandy pleaded for silence. She paused for a moment, wondering if she should answer her cousin’s obvious question. But why? There was no reason to get Gail in trouble. She could not be punished for what she did not know. Better to tell her nothing. 

At the door she looked back one last time. It was only a wink and a silly grin, but Gail seemed to understand. Her eyes were laughing as she waved her exaggerated good-bye.

As planned, the rest of the household was still asleep as Sandy made her way to the kitchen. From the cupboard she took a half-full sack of two-day-old doughnuts, then let herself out the back door.

By then her heart was racing with a warm, happy kind of excitement. She started down the sidewalk in a leisurely stroll, but was soon half-running to the end of the block and around the corner to Hampton Street. She was early, but so was he. The maroon Audi was pulled up to the curb, awaiting her arrival.

“Did you have any trouble getting away?” Rick asked as he made a U turn to drive back down Hampton Street, rather than go past the Asylum. He was doing his best to remain straight-faced and calm. Inside he was laughing out loud.

“Gail saw me go. But that’s okay. She won’t say anything.”

They hurried on to the Old Highway, then off toward downtown Tanner. Sandy handed him a hard, heavy donut, then leaned forward to decipher the unfamiliar radio buttons, looking for some decent music. She paused long enough to look around the interior of the car which in its day, ten years earlier, had been an upscale model. 

“This is nice,” she said. “Is it really going to be yours when you get back home?”

“That’s my plan. I’ll have to see what Dad thinks. If he wants it for himself I’ll try to hold out for something just as good.”

They drove through central Tanner, across the river, and on toward the west-side farm belt. It was new country to Rick, a pleasant blending of prosperous farmsteads and lush green cropland, all of it framed by the string of dark Coast Range mountains that stretched across the western horizon.

“Will you get in big trouble for this?” Sandy asked, breaking into his quiet sightseeing. “Will your Dad be mad?”

“Oh, I’ll hear about it all right. There’ll be a lecture about being more responsible, and probably another earful about all the family stuff....how I’m causing trouble for his granddaughter.” 

If that was a hint of dejection he saw on Sandy's face he was not about to let it dampen the mood. “Don’t you worry. This is a very good idea. I want to see the ocean and that’s what we’re going to do.”

“You said before he was going to take you there.”

“He told me he would. But he kept putting if off. Besides, I’d rather see it with you. This is lots better.”

“Why thank you. I think it’s better too. In fact I’m glad it worked out this way.” 

A moment later she was laughing quietly to herself. When that brought a wondering glance from Rick, she answered his unspoken question. 

“I was thinking about it this morning, lying in bed. I’m really glad that my grandpa isn’t your real dad.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because if he was, that would make you my uncle,” she giggled. “I don’t think that would work, running off to the beach with my uncle. Would it?”

With traffic backing up on the winding two-lane highway Rick backed off the accelerator, curbing his natural inclination to pass everything in front of him. 

“You’re probably right,” he nodded. “In most places, uncles who run off with nieces are considered bad guys. Does it work that way in Tanner too?”

“Rick Levant, you just be careful what you say about my town.” A playful jab at his ribs helped make her point. “Tanner has lots of nice people. Most of them are not as messed up as this Fedder bunch.”

They rounded a sweeping curve at the top of a long hill and suddenly a panoramic view of the green and hazy mountains stretched before them. “Isn’t that pretty,” Sandy noted. “It seems like they go on forever.”

It was a pleasant setting. Rick was willing to grant that, especially with the promise of the ocean just beyond the farthest peaks. But when it came to judging mountain ranges he was not overly impressed. 

“We need to get you to Montana, girl, to see what real mountains look like.” For a moment he was tempted to explore that idea....'getting her to Montana.' On second thought, however, he chose to concentrate on the day ahead.

They were quiet as they started into the mountains. Sandy was shifting mental gears again, returning to her earlier thoughts of the sometimes dysfunctional Fedder clan. Finally she reached over to turn off the radio and ask, “Have you ever wondered what he did?”

“What who did?”

“Your dad. Tom Fedder,” she said. “You know, when he had to leave town. You must have wondered about that.”

“I never knew about it before. So I hadn’t given it any thought until I got here. Besides, who says he ‘had’ to leave town. What makes you think it was something he did? Maybe it wasn’t his fault. Maybe someone else did something to him.”

“You know him better than I do. Is he the kind of guy who’d let someone chase him away from his own family?”

She had a point. “I don’t think so," he answered. "But it’s hard to imagine what he could have done to make him want to leave.”

“My Mom has tried to get Grandma to talk about it. But she won’t. She never has.” 

“Does your Mom have any ideas?”

“I think so,” she nodded. “She’d never say it to Grandma’s face, but she's always wondered if there was another woman. That’s usually the way those things work.” Sandy was grinning now. “It’s always you men and your roving eye that causes the trouble.”

“You’ve been watching too many bad movies.” 

For a minute or two Rick was silent, processing the unflattering possibilities she offered. Nothing about the dismal picture she painted described the old man he knew so well. “It’s hard to imagine he’d do something like that,” he finally said. “He’s not that kind at all.”

“He was certainly nice to me. At least until I asked about Mom.” A moment later her thoughts had turned to the other player in that long-ago drama. 

“There’s something else I’ve always wondered about," Sandy continued. "Why didn’t Grandma get married again? She was still young. I’ve seen pictures of her from that time. She was a pretty lady. She could have found a husband”

“She must have had some boy friends.”

“I don’t think so. Mom told me once that when Tom Fedder left it seemed like Grandma just sort of gave up on men.” 

By then the girl was retrieving snippets of conversations heard over the years. “I’ve never heard anyone talk about her having a boy friend, or even a date. She just kind of wrapped herself up in her family.”

What did Rick know of how his dad had handled that parting from Linda? Very little, he decided. 

“It must have been something like thirty years after Dad left here before he hooked up with my mom," he said. "He’s never talked much about what happened during that time, only that he spent too many years drunk and wasted. 

“I know he worked hard once he got the hardware store. But other than that he’s never talked about it. That’s why I was so surprised to find out he had family out here, besides his Mom and Dad."

With a grinning wink he added, "You can bet that was a shock, to find out that I had such a cute niece, who I’d never even heard of. ”

That earned him a rap on the knee. “I’m not your niece. And don’t you dare go spreading that rumor. There are people in the North End who’d believe that, just because I’m a Fedder.”

“It will be our little secret.”

Their rambling "family history" conversation had Sandy tracking off to what seemed an unlikely coincidence. “You know," she said. "My own dad left us when I was barely two years old. The same as my Mom’s dad. I wonder sometimes if that kind of thing can be inherited? It seems to run in our family. Do you suppose I should be worried?”

“Don’t be crazy. No guy in his right mind is going to run off and leave you.”

Was he teasing? She replayed his words and concluded that she was hearing conviction, not humor. Without asking, she decided she would accept that as a compliment.

Minutes later, from a high hill just outside Lincoln City, they had their first view of the ocean, stretching blue and gray across the horizon. A half-mile later they dipped down into a valley and that ocean disappeared behind the next wave of rolling hills. 

Finally, in downtown Lincoln City, Sandy directed him to the crowded parking area she had described the day before. As advertised it was just yards from the broad, sandy beach and crashing surf. Overhead, bright-colored kites drifted high on the steady ocean breeze.

“This the place, isn’t it?  It looks just like you said it would. Shall we check it out?”

Without waiting for an answer, Rick parked and hurried from the car to the heavy pipe railing that circled the overlook. This was what he had come to see. There before them, to the right and left, were sandy beaches, crashing waves, and the steel-gray ocean stretching to the horizon. Smelling the ocean smells and feeling the salty wind in his face, he took it all in.


~~~


For an hour after Sandy’s early morning departure Gail lay under her covers, sometimes dozing, sometimes feigning sleep....having already decided she would not be the first one out of bed. Someone else must discover Sandy’s absence. 

So she lay quietly, mulling fanciful scenarios of what her cousin might be doing at that moment. Though she no idea where she might have gone, even before the bedroom door had closed behind her Gail was sure that Rick must be involved in her mysterious departure. Sandy’s parting grin had been a sure giveaway.

Meanwhile down the hall, in the room she shared with Sue Ann, Linda Fedder was also wide awake. For the last half hour she had mentally composed and edited the sad message she must deliver to her brood. For days she had wondered if there was some way to make the bad news sound better, or at least less-bad. By that Sunday morning she realized that would not be possible.

Her Friday afternoon meeting with banker Ron Clifton had effectively erased the last hope of avoiding what she had long dreaded. The bank was no longer willing to carry her ‘non-performing debt.’ She had owed too much, for too long, and had not been ‘servicing’ her loan as agreed.

Although ‘non-performing debt’ and ‘servicing of loans’ were not part of Linda’s everyday vocabulary, she certainly understood the concept of ‘foreclosure.’ That possibility, which had weighed on her for months, could no longer be pushed aside. 

Her response to that depressing meeting with Mr. Clifton had been to schedule an appointment with a local realtor for the following Wednesday afternoon. There was no longer a choice. Selling the house was bound to generate a better result than allowing the bank to sell it at a foreclosure auction. She had run out of options. It must be done....soon.

Now came the hardest part, explaining to her girls that there was a new ‘normal’ on the horizon. Their lives would soon be lived on an even more-modest scale. 

The most upsetting part of that new normal would be asking Bonnie to adapt to a home or apartment that would not include even the minimal, accommodations she enjoyed at the Asylum. Their move would be hard on all of them, especially Bonnie. For now, however, Linda could no longer avoid her most immediate responsibility..... preparing her girls for what lay ahead.

Meanwhile, in the back bedroom Gail lay restlessly, waiting for the others to be up and around. 

Finally, at seven-thirty, Sue Ann pushed the bedroom door open and poked her head inside to ask, “Are you two going to sleep all day?” 

Gail rolled over and lifted her head, doing her best to look as though her sound sleep had just been interrupted. Seconds later came Sue Ann’s next question. Noting her daughter's empty bed, she asked, “Is Sandy up already?” 

“She must be in the bathroom,” Gail mumbled.

“I just came from there.” Sue Ann pulled the door closed behind her and started toward the living room.

Gail had slipped into her jeans and tee shirt by the time Sue Ann returned with new questions. “Do you know where Sandy is? I can’t find her anywhere.” 

Before Gail could answer, Linda called for them to help get Bonnie out of bed. Five minutes later the four of them had assembled in the kitchen.

“Where could she be?” Sue Ann asked again, giving voice to her mounting anxiety. “She wouldn’t just walk off.”

Bonnie shifted in her wheelchair to make eye contact with her daughter. “Come on, Gail. What do you know about this?”

“Mom.” They all knew Gail’s innocent whine well enough. “I was sleeping. How could I know where she went?”

Finally Linda motioned for quiet, hoping to cut through the questions and calm Sue Ann’s near panic. “Honey, she wouldn’t just go off by herself. Surely she knows better than that.”

“But she’s gone.” Sue Ann was doing her best to hold back the tears. “If she went with someone, who would it be? Who does she know who would do that?”

“The only one I can think of is that Rick boy.” Bonnie offered.

“And that’s probably a good guess,” Linda agreed. “It seemed to me they were getting along rather well. Does he have a car, or would they be on foot?” She was asking Gail.

“I don’t know, Grandma.”

Sue Ann was in no mood for her mother’s accepting tone. “You make it sound like that would be okay, running off with that Indian boy. But we don’t know that. We don’t know anything about him. Nothing.”

“He’s nice,” Gail offered. “I know she likes him. I can’t believe he’d hurt her.”

“How can you be so sure?” Sue Ann’s mind was churning now, imagining one dark possibility after another, all at the hands of the long-haired Indian boy. 

“Kids today sneak around so much," she said, pacing anxiously to the dining room and back. "My own daughter can have a boy friend, even run away with him, and I don’t know anything about him. How do I know she’s okay?”

Slipping an arm around her daughter’s shoulder, Linda steered her to a chair at the kitchen table. “What you’re describing sounds a lot like you and Jim, when you were in high school. I remember waiting up a few times until the wee hours. You do remember that, don’t you. Your watch had stopped. Or you had a flat tire. Or some other lame excuse.”

“At least I always came home,” Sue Ann countered. She turned back to Gail, ready to consider a more sinister possibility. “She’s not silly enough to run off to Reno with that boy. Is she?”

“Of course not,” Gail replied. “She didn’t even take her toothbrush.” The notion of a Reno elopement had not crossed her young mind. Now that it had, it sounded rather exciting. 

Sue Ann, however, was not about to be satisfied with Gail’s dubious evidence. “What does that mean?”  she asked. “When things get crazy, it’s easy enough to forget your toothbrush.”

“Please, dear. Don’t get so worked up,” Linda urged. She too could remember moments when things turned crazy. Not once did she recall ever thinking about her toothbrush at a time like that.

“Sometimes you just have to hope they’ve learned the difference between right and wrong, or maybe it’s 'smart and dumb.' Either way, if they don’t know that by now it’s too late to teach them. That’s the way it was with me. I had to hope that you’d remember which was which.” 

Though Linda understood the logic she spoke of, given her own experience with the male of the species her personal prognosis was not overly optimistic.

Still, Sue Ann was not ready to give up. “Shouldn’t we call the police or something?”

“What would you tell them? We don’t know if she’s on foot or in a car. Is she with that Rick boy? And if she is, did he force her to go?”

Gail was shaking her head. “Nobody forced her to do anything. When she left, she absolutely wanted to be going wherever she was going.”

“I thought you were asleep.”

“Well, I’d just woke up. She saw me and told me to be quiet. She was smiling. A lot.”

“Did she say she was going with the boy?”

“No. But I could tell she was.”

Linda was looking for a way to end their standoff before Sue Ann grew even more anxious.

“Honey, I know that waiting is the hardest part. But it sounds like she’s with the Indian boy. If she thinks that’s a safe place to be, I suppose we have to trust that she’s right.”

“I do trust her,” Sue Ann nodded, wiping her eyes. “It’s him I’m not sure about. How do we know we can trust him?”

“It seems that your daughter does,” Linda said. She stood, ready to return to the quiet of her room, knowing that her announcement of a new ‘normal’ would have to wait until Sandy’s disappearance played itself out. 

“We’ll just have to trust her judgment," she repeated. "Let’s wait until noon and see if they’re back by then. If they’re not, we can decide what to do next.”

“Are you sure?”

“Sue Ann, you’ll have to be patient. That’s how it is. You say your prayers and trust that she knows what’s right.”




Thursday, April 15, 2021

GOING HOME - Chapter 10

 

    Sure, boys had noticed her, though she sometimes wondered why. In any case, that was nothing to be discussed in 'polite' company......was it?

    Did he really want to meet the old man's former wife....the one at the heart of their Tanner mystery? And if that happened, what would she make of him?

    And finally....most exciting of all....was it time for the adventure he had been hatching?





                                                     Chapter 10



Over their milkshakes in a back booth at Gilroy’s Restaurant, there was a lull in their nervous small talk. By then it seemed that Rick and Sandy were more interested in the other’s company than an extended conversation. 

From time to time Sandy looked up to exchange brief greetings with one of the passing waitresses. They were used to her there when her grandmother was working. Now, noting her good-looking companion, a couple of them offered smirking, eye-rolling grins as they passed. 

Finally Rick’s questioning shrug stirred the two of them to action. He pushed himself out of the booth, motioning to the side door and the bright sunlight that flooded their side of Redden Street.

Strolling up the sidewalk they followed the Old Highway north....still quiet, each of them lost in their own mind-space. Sandy’s thoughts had drifted back to her abbreviated visit with Tom Fedder....the unexpected warmth of his smile and the shocking abruptness of his departure. That had surely been one of the most unexpected events in a week full of surprises.

Another candidate for "most unexpected" was the quiet Indian boy walking beside her. She was smiling to herself, remembering how instant the attraction had been....almost embarrassingly so. That had never happened to her before. 

He was different, so unlike the other boys she knew. As near as she could tell he had no interest in making an impression....good or bad, In fact she found his casual indifference rather appealing.

She was about to begin her senior year at Tanner Northside High School. While her friends were giddy with Senior Fever, she wanted nothing more than to have that ordeal behind her. 

Like her cousin Gail, Sandy was painfully aware that she had been consigned to the fringes of the school’s busy social scene, never fully accepted by the peers she most wanted to impress. Her circle of close friends numbered only three or four. There had been others, but as they attracted steady boy-friends they had drifted away.

So far she had avoided those more-permanent involvements. She liked boys and had occasionally dated, but there had never been a steady boy friend. More than once she and Gail had talked of what they called the ‘Family Curse’....half joking about the rocky relational outcomes that had haunted the women of the family. 

Sue Ann, Terrie, Bonnie, even Grandma....none of them had been able to maintain a lasting relationship. Would that be their fate too? Was that why the boys she wanted to know better never took her seriously?

“What makes guys that way?” 

They had just crossed Adams Street when Sandy suddenly put her wondering into words. “They always go for the make-outs and party queens, the flirty ones.”

“Whoa! Where did that come from?,” Rick exclaimed, drawn from his own thoughts, which at that moment had nothing to do with “make-outs, party queens, or flirty ones.”

“You know it’s true,” Sandy insisted. “That’s how boys are. They’re always looking for super-friendly girls.”

“Super-friendly,” he repeated. “That must be Tanner talk.”

Sandy’s embarrassment was showing. She stopped in front of a vacant store, turning to him. “You know what I mean. Boys are just looking for girls who will cooperate.”

“Back home we say ‘put-out.’ That seems a little more descriptive than ‘cooperate.’ Doesn't it?”

“I was trying to be polite.”

“Come on, Sandy. You’re going to be a senior. And you still haven’t figured out why guys are like that?” Biting his lip, Rick was trying to hold back his laughter, not wanting to make fun of what struck him as funny. “Don’t these Oregon schools teach you anything? 

“Back home we have a whole term of what the coach who teaches it calls 'Reproductive Reality.' It might have a different name here, but they must have something like it. And if they do, I’ll bet they don’t talk about ‘flirty girls who cooperate.’”

He was trying to make eye contact as he asked, “You’re talking about sex, aren't you? That’s what we call it in Montana.”

By then Sandy was blushing again. “Yeah. That's it.” 

“It’s okay to say it out loud, you know.” 

“I suppose so.”

Dodging a passing couple, he pulled her to the edge of the sidewalk, out of the flow of foot traffic. “Look, you didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway. I’m not into ‘super-friendly’ girls. Plain old ‘friendly’ is good enough for me.” 

She was listening so he continued. “But before we get totally out of sync, we need to have some ground rules. Okay? We ought be able to say what we mean....up front and straight out, without all the stupid ‘polite' talk. Can we do that?”

Her eyes were fixed on the pavement until he lifted her chin with his finger. “If you don’t understand something I say, tell me,” he continued. “Okay? If I’m not paying attention, tell me. If I’m paying too much attention, tell me.” 

His mischievous grin had returned. “And if you think guys are too hung up on sex, just say so. Okay? All that talking in circles is totally confusing.” He nudged her on as they started up the street. “Are you ready to head for home?”

At Hampton Street they turned up the gentle hill toward the Asylum. By then Rick had been overtaken by a new question. The details were still sketchy, but he understood where he wanted it to lead. 

“Tell me, what’s your favorite place at the coast?” he asked. “If you could go to just one place, where would it be?”

“Just one? Why?”

“I’m not sure if my dad’s ever going to take me there. I may have to go by myself. But if I do I won’t know the good spots from the bad ones. I need some help.”

They walked on a few paces before she answered. “We don’t get over there very often. So there are lots of places I don’t know about. But I do remember one....a car park in Lincoln City. It’s right in the middle of town, next to the beach and close to everything. The beach there goes for miles in either direction. It seems like you could walk forever. It’s a really neat place.”

Though Sandy waited for his response, he seemed to have none. A block later, at the corner of Hampton and High, she steered them into the tiny park that surrounded the Veteran’s Memorial Fountain. There, sitting on the shaded grass across from the gurgling fountain, she prepared to give Rick’s latest instructions a try.

“You told me to be honest. Right? ‘Up front and straight out’ you said.” 

“That’s right.” 

“Well, I’ve been trying to imagine what it’s like ....that Highland City, where you live. Are there other Indians there? Do they live in houses like everyone else?” She was looking up into Rick’s half-laughing grin. “Indians have to go to school, don’t they?”

Shaking his head, Rick swung a playful punch at her shoulder. “Come on, girl. I didn’t come from outer space, you know. I told you before that I graduated from Highland City High this spring. Good old HCH, home of the Highlanders. And I got good grades. I had to. My dad doesn’t like C’s at all.”

Looking off toward the concrete fountain, he was wondering how to make his point. It was important. He wanted her, of all people, to understand.

“Indians are just people, like everyone else. They’re mostly good folks. A few of them are not so good. Some of them drink too much. Like a lot of whites I know, they’d like to live better than they do. But sometimes that’s hard, because they usually don’t get the good jobs. So too many of them end up living on welfare and government checks.” 

“Will you be able to get a good job?”

“I will if I finish school. I’ve sort of promised Dad that I’ll get a college diploma.”

While Sandy sat tugging at tuffs of coarse grass Rick laid back, gazing up into the trees, knowing there was no reason to hurry on. Closing his eyes, he commanded himself to record the warm awareness that washed over him....to create a memory of how he felt at that moment. Without knowing why, he was sure he would want to revisit that place.

Then Sandy’s voice broke the comfortable quiet. “What are you going to study? What kind of college will it be?”

Rolling to his side he asked, “You’re on another wondering jag, aren’t you? Full of questions.”

“Well I want to know.” She pouted a bit, trying to look hurt, but she was much too content to make that work. “You told me to ask my questions. That’s what I’m doing.”

“Well, there’s a community college in town,” Rick said. “I’ll go there for a couple years, then decide where to go after that. It depends on what I declare for a major.” 

He laid back again, this time with his own question. “How about you? Is there something you want to do? Something you want to be?”

“Oh God. I just want to get through my senior year. I really haven’t thought about what happens after that. I don’t think I’ll be ready for any more school. I’d just like to get a job and have some money for a change.”

They were quiet again, eyes closed, soaking up the peaceful warmth. As near as the boy could tell Sandy wanted to be with him, simply for the sake of being with him. In his experience that was something new, something he wanted to last for as long as possible.

Sandy, however, had not found that same restful calm. Her mind churned with anxious questions she could not bring herself to ask. There she was, with a boy she wanted to know better, who would be walking out of her life in a matter of days. That realization triggered a new question. Perhaps it was time to give his honesty policy the ultimate test.

“Rick. Before you leave would you come see my Grandma? You've met my Mom, but not Grandma. I think she’d like to meet you.”

His eyes flickered open and he raised himself to one elbow. “You’re trying to get me in hot water again, aren’t you?”

“It wouldn’t take long.” He was seeing that impish smile again. “It’s her day off. We could do it now.”

Sitting up, he wrapped his arms around his knees. “Come on, girl. I got yelled at for seeing you. I got yelled at for talking to your mom. Are you trying for three out of three? If I tell my Dad I’ve seen your Grandma he’ll come totally unglued.”

“Are you sorry?” 

“For what?” 

“That you saw me?” 

That had Rick laughing out loud. Her sad pout had returned. But he had seen that before. Did she really think it would work again? 

“Don’t you change the subject,” he joked. “We’re talking about seeing your Grandma. Remember?”

"Thing is, I think she’d like to meet you. In fact she was asking about you last night.”

“About me? What kind of questions did she have?”

“The usual stuff I suppose.” Sandy was struggling to contain her giggling laughter. “You know, does he live in a teepee? Does he take scalps? Stuff like that.

“Seriously though," she continued, seeming to turn serious. "She’d never admit that she wants to know anything about Tom Fedder. But I think she does. That’s probably not so surprising. Anyway, she knows she’s not going to see him, so maybe you could help answer her questions.”

Rick stood and reached down to pull Sandy to her feet, making a point of holding her hand longer than necessary. “I hope this is a good idea.”

Her smile had returned. “Just trust me. Please.” 

“You know that when Dad chews me out I’ll have to explain this was your idea. In fact, that’s probably not a bad idea. I think he kind of likes you. I might get off easier.” 

Taking that to be his answer, Sandy grabbed his arm and they started toward Bluff Avenue. Minutes later, at the Asylum, she pulled the shaky screen door open and led him into the living room. “Are you here, Grandma?”

“I’m in the bedroom.” 

“I have someone with me. Are you decent?” 

“Who’s with you, honey?” 

Before Sandy could answer Linda emerged from the hallway, buttoning her sleeveless blouse. It took only a cursory glance at the boy standing beside her granddaughter to answer her question. She looked him over for a moment, then said, “You must be Rick.”

“Yes, Ma’am. I am.” 

Rick’s surprise was spread over his face. The woman standing before him was not at all how he expected a grandmother to look. True, she showed her years, but in a way that made it easy to imagine the good-looking young woman his dad would have known years before. She was slender and gray-haired, standing arrow-straight, wearing the look of someone used to being in charge. 

Turning to Sandy, Linda asked, “Was this your idea or his?”

“It was mine,” The girl’s grin was aimed at Rick. “I don’t think he’s too excited about it.”

Linda motioned the youngsters to the sofa, then sat down in a worn armchair across from them. She paused a moment to choose her words, wanting her first impression to be the right one. “Does your father know you’re here?”

“He’s not really my father, you know. I call him Dad, but he’s really not.”

“Okay then, about your dad. Does he know you’re here? Do you know if he expects to see his family while he’s here?”

“He doesn’t know I’m here.” Rick was squirming, intimidated by the lady’s intense gaze and blunt interrogation. “I think he figures he can’t see them. He’s told me that all along. At least until he met Sandy.” 

Stopping short, he glanced at Sandy, wondering if he was supposed to mention the girl's brief encounter with her grandfather.

“You saw him?” Linda’s icy stare turned to Sandy. “Why?” 

It was hard to tell if the girl was as brave as she appeared or simply used to dueling with her straight-talking grandmother. In any case, Rick was impressed by her lack of hesitation. 

“I went to ask if he’d see Mom. Because I know she wants to meet him.”

By then Linda was fighting to hold back her own gathering flood of questions, the ones she wanted to ask but would not. She must not appear too interested in such things. “Did he say he would see Sue Ann?”

“No.”

Looking back at Rick, Linda had a new question. “He would see Sandy, but not her mother. Not his own daughter. Why is that?”

“I’m not sure, Ma’am. I can’t tell you his reasons.” 

Rick edged forward to the edge of the sofa, his elbows on his knees. “He came here thinking none of you wanted to see him. When Sandy came to the house it was kind of a surprise to him. We didn’t give him a chance to get away. When she asked about her mother he wasn’t expecting that either. I think it scared him as much as anything.”

“He was really nice to me,” Sandy added. “I thought he’d be grouchy and rough. But he had the nicest smile. At least until I asked about Mom.”

Linda considered Sandy’s description for a moment, before asking her most important question of all. “Has he ever told you what all the fuss is about?”

Rick shook his head. “I didn’t even know he had a family in Tanner until we got here.”

“I suppose that’s the best way to put it," Linda replied. "He 'had' a family here. That was a long time ago. Still, I can understand that Sue Ann would want to see him. That’s only natural. It seems to me he should be willing to see his own daughter. What kind of man would not do that?”

Glancing across at Rick, she was tight lipped and unsmiling. “You don’t need to answer that. I have my own thoughts on the subject. Anyway, he was right about one thing. At least some of us are not interested in seeing him.”

Rick heard the force of her declaration and realized he must not let their exchange end without saying his piece. 

“I guess he must have messed up real good. He’s told me that he did. And it sounds like you agree. But he’s a good man, you know. He was always good to my Mom. He’s been good to me. It’s been hard to hear people say he’s a bad guy.”

Linda nodded as she stood, pulling her sweater from the back of the chair. “Then I don’t suppose you’d want to hear any more of what I have to say about that.” Then, managing a half smile in the boy’s direction, she started toward the kitchen. “It was nice to meet you, Rick. I have to get on with my Saturday shopping.”

From the front porch Rick and Sandy watched Linda back the van down the driveway to the street. “She’s not much for small talk, is she?” he noted. “Gets right to the point.”

“She’s never had much time for small talk,” Sandy answered. “She’s too darn busy. I can tell you though, she’s kept us going through some really hard times.” 

Rick leaned against a porch post, kicking at the rough board flooring. When he finally looked up Sandy could tell he had something on his mind.

“How adventurous do you feel?” he asked. “How brave?”

Her perplexed frown provided no answer at all, so he moved ahead. “Here’s the deal. Dad’s never going to take me to the coast. He always has some excuse why he can't. So I’m going myself, in the morning. I’ll take Grandma Fedder’s car. He gave me some spending money, so I can afford the gas.

“I expect I’ll get in trouble for it.” He paused to wink at her before he continued. “You probably would too, if you came with me.” There, he had said it. Now the question was....did she understand what he was asking? “What do you think?”

Sandy was grinning silently, tingling with an anxious excitement she did not remember feeling before. “Me? With you? To the coast?”

“Remember what I said,” he cautioned. “We have to be honest with each other. If you don’t want to go, just say so. I don’t want you getting in trouble for something you didn’t even want to do.”

By then her hand was clamped over her mouth. He was asking her to think it over, to decide for herself. That meant weighing the pros and cons.... creating a logical reason for choosing one way or the other. How else would she know if the adventure he spoke of was worth being grounded for a week or two?

In the end, of course, it was not logic that dictated her choice. It was the promise of a day at the beach with a boy she wanted to know better. He liked her. She could tell. More than that, he actually cared about what she thought and how she felt. He was even worried about her getting in trouble.

It took Sandy all of four or five seconds to decide. “Let’s do it,” she laughed.

“We’d need to leave early. I have to get out of the house before my Dad’s awake. If I met you around the corner on Hampton Street at six-thirty would that work for you?”

“Yes.” She nodded, too excited to say more. Her mind was awash with the giddy prospect of a day at the beach, a part of what he was calling their “adventure.”

Walking back to the street Rick turned to yell, “Don’t forget.” As if there was any chance of that.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

GOING HOME - Chapter 9

                                 

    It was more than the old man wanted to hear.....the boy's talk of family.....the ones who wanted to meet him....the ones he was doing his best to avoid.

    Yet when she pressed the point the old fellow seemed to welcome his granddaughter's presence ..... until her seemingly innocent questions hit closer to home than he could bear.



       Chapter 9


Tom walked from room to room through the Orchard House looking for Rick, hoping the boy was not off on another of his walkabouts. Finally, through the open back door he spotted the boy in the driveway, wiping down the Audi....finishing the wash job he had been drawn away from the day before.

For a moment Tom stood at the top of the porch steps, watching the obvious care the youngster was taking in his work. He did not remember his pickup ever receiving such attention. 

Finally Rick looked up to see him there. “How was your meeting?” he asked.

“Okay.” Tom started down the steps. “Have you had lunch yet?”

“Yeah. I made myself a sandwich. I wasn’t sure when you’d be back.” The youngster stepped back to inspect his work before making a last circuit around the sedan, touching up smudges and drying an occasional wet spot. When he looked back to the porch Tom was sitting on the bottom step.

“You’re awfully quiet,” Rick observed. “I thought you said the meeting went okay.” 

Tom nodded, then answered, “It did. Paul was real happy with the walk-through. He thinks we’ll get some good bids.” 

There was no need to mention Paul’s talk of "half a million." After all, the boy could not relate to that reality any more than he could. “We’ll know for sure on Monday afternoon.”

“So you’ve got that part done. Maybe then we could drive to the coast this afternoon.” Rick motioned toward the car. “She’s all cleaned up and ready to go.”

“Look. I have a lot on my mind right now. I’m really not in the mood for a drive. Maybe tomorrow.”

Rick’s protest faded before he said a word. There was no need to invite another confrontation. Instead he asked, “So what’s got you down? You said you were happy with Mr. Corin’s report.”

“His report was fine, He had some other things to talk about that got me thinking....about all that family stuff. I shouldn’t let it bother me, but some of it does.”

Tom’s lament did not sound like the springboard to any conversation Rick wanted to pursue. Their recent excursions into "family stuff" had invariably generated more heat than light. Why go there again? Instead he returned to the car, to move it back into the garage. Starting the engine he sat there for a moment, listening to the quiet motor noises. He liked that sound, especially coming from what might be his own car.

Minutes later, locking the garage door behind him, the boy walked to where his dad sat....eyes closed, still lost in thought. In that quiet instant Rick made his own decision. It was not something he looked forward to, but it was time. If nothing else he owed Sue Ann his best effort.

“Dad?’ 

“Yes.” 

“I’m kind of confused. And a little bit afraid.” He paused until Tom looked up to make eye contact. “The last time I asked about your family you took off and got drunk. I don’t want that to happen again.”

“What is it now?” His dad’s eyes had narrowed, as he chewed his lip. “What is it? Did you see that Sandy girl again. Is that it?” 

When Rick did not answer, Tom pushed a bit harder. “Come on, boy. I promise I won’t get upset. Just tell me what it is.”

“Sandy came by here again. Yesterday. ” 

“Why does she keep coming back?” 

“She came to see you.” 

“To see me?” That was enough to grab the old man’s attention. “Why the hell would she want to see me?” 

“Why do you suppose? Because you’re her grandpa. The only one she has.” Rick was surprised at how easy it was to be stating Sandy’s case. 

“She’s got one grandpa. And she’s never met him....because he doesn’t want anything to do with her. How do you suppose that makes her feel? What would you expect her to do?”

“I’ve told you before. You have to stay out of this.” There was no anger in the old man’s eyes, only the painful frustration of things that kept going wrong. 

“Why can’t I make you understand that? It only makes things worse. Things are already so messed up. There’s just too much history.”

Rick took a deep breath, bracing himself for the reaction his next question was sure to produce. “You mean like you being a school teacher?”

The anger the boy expected never arrived. Instead Tom stood and started off across the yard, to the garage and back. “Where the hell did you hear that?”

“From Sandy.” 

Tom stopped, waiting for more. “And?” 

“That’s it. You were a teacher. And you left Tanner. In a hurry. That’s all she knows. ” 

"That’s all she knows." Tom sensed a wave of welcome relief as he repeated those words to himself. At least no further excuses would be required. 

“Can’t you see, son? You’re opening old wounds. Everyone would be better off it you just stayed away from those people.”

“That’s not true....that ‘everyone would be better off.’ Besides, it’s too late for that.” 

“Why do you say that?” 

“Because there’s something else I have to tell you.”

“Good God. There’s more?” The old man was shaking his head. “Let’s have it.” 

Leaning against the porch, Rick was wondering how much unwelcome news his dad was willing to hear. At some point he was bound to check out and walk away. “It’s about Sue Ann,” he said. “Your daughter.”

Tom’s stare returned, harsh and unflinching. He stood in front of the boy, his hands thrust deep in his pockets, with his head cocked to the side. “What about Sue Ann? Let’s hear it. Tell me about Sue Ann.”

“I met her yesterday. We talked. She wants to see you too. Just like Sandy.” 

When Tom finally responded there was more defeat than defiance in his voice. “She wants to see me? My God, what have you done?” He had more to say, but the words would not come. Instead he turned and started off toward the overgrown path into the orchard.

An instant later Rick was in pursuit, hurrying to catch up. He grabbed the old man’s shoulder and pulled him to a stop, reinforcing once more what Tom was sometimes reluctant to admit....that he was no longer a physical match for his young son.

“Dad. Wait. Just listen for a minute. Please.” Tom did as he was told. He listened.

“You grew up in that house over there.” The boy pointed through the trees to the Orchard House. “You grew up there with your mom and dad. Right?” There was no response, so he continued. “For as long as you lived here your dad was right there with you. That’s right too.”

Reaching out he took.  Tom by the shoulders, holding him at arm’s length, looking up into his face. “What if your dad had left before you could even remember him? What if you’d been absolutely certain that he that never wanted to see you again, or know you, or be around you? You tell me, how much would that have hurt?” 

Finally Tom found his voice and it was loud. “You don’t know a thing about it,” he screamed. “Not a damn thing.” 

“You’re right. I don’t know.” Rick paused to calm himself. “And neither do they. All they know is that their father or grandfather has never wanted to see them. Never even admitted they were his family. Not ever. He doesn’t want anything to do with them. He just wants them out of his life.

“You can scream at me all you want. But no matter how you cut it, that stinks. Those are good people. And you owe them a lot more than you’ve been willing to give so far.”

Tom Fedder had no answer. He pushed his way past Rick and started back toward his pickup. The boy stifled the urge to stop him. There was nothing more to say....and no way to reach the dark place his dad had chosen to go.


  ~~~


Saturday breakfast at the Orchard House was later than usual. Rick had cleared the table though Tom remained seated there nursing his coffee, lost in thoughts of his daughter, granddaughter, and the boy who seemed intent on thrusting them into his life. 

When Rick produced his now-daily observation that it was a good day to see the ocean, Tom dismissed that possibility without further discussion. “I really don’t feel up to that today," he said as he started down the hall to his bedroom.

By eleven o’clock Rick had washed the dishes, showered, and resigned himself to what had all the earmarks of a boring afternoon. He had considered walking over to the Asylum to see Sandy. But after his dad’s reaction the day before he thought better of that.

On the front steps, in the flickering shadows of the walnut trees that fronted the house, he sat reprising his week in Tanner, noting how little it had fit his expectations. 

Everything about the last few days had been confusing, with surprises at every turn....some of them hurtful, some shocking, and some affirming. Finally he paused to revisit pleasant thoughts of what had surely been the best surprise of all. A moment later he looked up to see that surprise coming up the sidewalk toward him.

He stood and walked out to meet Sandy. “What are you doing here? Are you trying to get me in trouble again?” He winked and added, “It’s good to see you.”

“Is your dad home?” 

“Are you still hung up on that?” he asked. “Can’t you just let it be?” 

“Is he here?” Sandy walked past him to the porch, then turned to state her case. “He’s leaving in just a few days. That’s what you said. I can’t keep putting it off. I have to see him.”

Tom Fedder had been so adamant. There seemed to be no gray areas left. “Stay away from those people,” he had said. “And keep them away from me.” The old man’s grumbling exit the previous afternoon had only reinforced that insistence. To push against that angry intent would be asking for trouble.

An instant later Rick was looking into Sandy’s pleading smile, reminding himself again that all she was asking for was the chance to meet her own grandfather. Certainly that was worth one more try. “Come on in,” he nodded. “Wait in the living room. Let me see if he’ll come out.”

Sitting on the sofa Sandy glanced nervously around the room, remembering earlier visits with Ma Fedder. Her hands fidgeted nonstop, smoothing her hair and brushing at her tattered jeans.

Then without warning Rick appeared, followed by the somewhat rumpled old man. Tom had buttoned his shirt and run a comb through his gray hair, more grooming than most visitors would have earned. He stopped in front of Sandy, with the trace of a smile on his lips. For a moment they eyed one another, each taking in the first sight of what should have been a familiar face.

“Well, is it what you expected?” Tom finally asked. To Rick’s surprise the old man was smiling. “Seems like I’ve been hearing a lot about you lately.”

Sandy’s mind was suddenly numb. A flood of tangled thoughts stumbled over each other, vying for her attention. She could not remember how she had pictured him. But whatever the image, it had certainly never included a smile. As for an answer to his simple question, she was effectively tongue-tied.

“I suppose you’ve heard of me too,” Tom nodded, apparently willing to take the lead. “Is that right?”

The girl nodded, still without a word, so he continued. “Rick said you wanted to see me. I can’t imagine why.” 

By then Tom was breathing easier, surprised by how easy it was to be standing before the obviously frightened, young woman, who just happened to be his own granddaughter. “Are you sure it wasn’t just an excuse to come see him?”

Sandy glanced over at Rick and blushed a bit. Finally she found her voice. “Well, maybe that too.”

 Standing to the side, Rick was watching their timid exchange taking shape, knowing it was more than he had hoped for. His dad looked to be calm and in control, with none of the dark moodiness the boy had feared. Sandy too seemed to have found her comfort zone.

“Was there something in particular you wanted to talk about.” Tom tensed a bit at the uneasy risk of such an open invitation, then reminded himself she was his granddaughter. Like Rick had said, he owed her that much.

“There is something,” Sandy said, smiling the smile that had captured his son. It seemed to work on old men too. “It’s about my mom. I was hoping you would see her. Please.”

A moment later the smile had left Tom’s eyes and he looked away. In that brief instant the magic Rick had been witnessing vanished. The old man turned to walk away, until his son’s voice brought him up short. 

“Dad. She asked you a question. Seems like she deserves an answer. Would you see her mom?”

Tom did not look up as he answered. “I don’t think that would be a good idea. Not now.” With that he started down the hall. Sandy’s audience with Tom Fedder had ended.

The two youngsters stood staring at each other, wondering how their hopeful conversation had so suddenly turned sour. Rick took Sandy’s hand and led her out the front door, motioning for her to sit in the porch swing while he leaned against the railing.

“I thought he liked me,” she said softly. “He was nice. He  even smiled.” 

“He did like you. That was a really good sign.” 

“But then he got mad. Just because I mentioned Mom.” 

“He got mad,” Rick agreed. “But not at you. He’s mad at himself. That's happened a lot lately.”

He stood and reached out to pull her from the swing. “I’ll tell you what. The old guy finally sprung for some spending money this morning. Why don’t we walk downtown and get a milkshake or something?”

It was a pleasant day, perfect for a walk. For the first few minutes there was more quiet than talk. Then as Gilroy’s came in sight he remembered. “Dad says we’re leaving Tuesday morning.”

“So soon?”

“Yeah. And he’s still stalling about taking me to the coast....to see the ocean. That’s the one thing he promised me he'd do. But he keeps coming up with reasons to put it off. Actually, I think he hopes I’ll forget.”