For years she had been the past he hoped to forget. Why then was he mulling a new, unlikely way of remembering?
From Tom Fedder’s perspective Paul Corin’s sealed-bid auction had produced a most satisfactory result. A week earlier he would have considered that unexpected outcome a complete success.... cause for a satisfying, even triumphant return to Highland City. Instead, still sitting in Paul’s office, that fiscal victory was feeling a bit hollow. Something was missing....and he was sure he knew what it was.
“Here’s the deal,” Tom began, setting his papers on the corner of the desk. “I told you before that Bob Cannon came calling a few nights ago. He laid in on pretty thick, about how hard Linda’s had it.”
“I remember.” The attorney had settled back, wondering where his friend’s explanation was leading. “You were talking about giving her some of your mom’s furniture. Right?”
“Yeah. But there’s another part I didn’t explain then. Bob told me that a few years back Linda refinanced her home to make some improvements.
"It seems that since then she’s had a hard time making the payments on that loan. According to him there’s a chance she could lose the place. He made a big deal of that....got really wound up. Do you know anything about that?”
“There’s no reason I would,” Paul answered. “And if I did I probably couldn’t tell you about it. If it’s a bank loan you’re talking about, chances are she dealt with Ron Clifton here at the North End branch, or maybe Cindy Carter at the credit union downtown. They’d be the ones to talk to.”
“Here’s what I have in mind," Tom continued. "I want to pay off that loan, from the sale of Mom’s house. But I don’t want Linda to know about it. Not that it was me. I just want it done. Could you arrange that?”
“Using proceeds from the sale?”
“Let me explain a few things,” Paul nodded. “The loan information, what you’d need to pay it off, is confidential. They can’t be handing those details out to you. There are rules against that.”
Paul’s toothy grin was giving him away. "Okay. If she’s dealing with Ron or Cindy, I’d be willing to ask for a payoff balance. They know Linda. Chances are either of them would be willing to give you a hand, with just that one number. But if it’s one of the downtown lenders or one of the big chain banks it would be a lot harder to get done.”
Paul paused to read Tom’s reaction. “In any case, even if we knew the exact payoff amount, the tricky part would be doing it without her knowing how it happened and where the money came from.”
“Please see what you can do.”
Paul turned to a fresh page in his yellow pad and paused to scribble a few notes. “Okay. You’re saying you want to pay the full balance. Can you give me a ball park figure?”
“I have no idea. Bob didn’t say.”
“Hold on. You’re offering to pay off her loan.... and you don’t have any idea how much it might be? As your attorney, may I suggest that’s not too smart?”
“Come on, Paul. Everyone says her place is really run down. I’ve driven past it. It’s not much to look at. A loan on it can’t be too much. Just look at the bid we received for Mom’s place. Seems to me I can afford to cover it.”
“And you’re ready to spend as much as it takes on Linda’s debt?” Paul was ready to reel his friend back to reality.
“Hey, it probably won’t take much at all. Just pay the damn thing off. That’s all I’m asking But don’t tell her what you’ve done until I’m gone. And don’t tell her it came from me.”
“Come on, Tom. Get serious.” Paul was shedding his professional persona for a more natural role of concerned friend. “When word gets out that you’ve sold the Fedder property, and you know it will, it won’t take her long to figure out where the money came from?”
“Let her guess if she wants. But don’t tell her.”
Paul stood and leaned over the wide glass-topped desk. “Look, you’re paying for my advice. It’s my job to give you the best counsel I can. That means I’ll start by trying to find out who holds the loan and how much it's for. If I can do that, then we can talk about what comes next. That’s the only way I’m willing to do it.”
“Okay. You find out.” Tom paused, asking himself why every good idea seemed to come with its own set of drawbacks? “Do you have any idea how long it would take for that? We’re planning to leave in the morning.”
“Why didn’t you think of your great idea last week?” Paul laughed. “That would have fit your schedule a lot better.”
“I’m sorry.” Tom felt no need to explain that when he first learned of Linda’s plight, days before, it had not registered as something for him to address. But having met her again, and visited with Sue Ann, that had changed.
“I should have figured it out sooner,” he confessed. “But I didn’t. So how long will it take?”
“That depends on how cooperative the lender is. If she’s dealing with Ron Clifton, and there’s a good chance she is, I might be able to get a number this afternoon. The transaction itself would not be too complicated. Let’s see if we can find out the amount, then we can review the whole idea one more time to see if it makes sense.”
“Paul, I’m going to do this.” Tom was growing more insistent by the minute. “The question is, how long will it take?”
“Under normal circumstances, we could wrap it up in no more than a few days.” The attorney was reading his friend’s noticeable disappointment. “In this case, if we’re working with Ron, I expect we could get it done tomorrow. That would set your schedule back a day. Is that a good trade off for you?”
One more day of waiting....another day of keeping the boy and his granddaughter from their own craziness. Surely he could manage that. “That would work for me.”
“Why don’t you come by in the morning?” Paul took a moment to pull up his Tuesday appointment calendar on the computer screen. “I could squeeze you in at nine o’clock. By then I’ll have a better idea of what we can do and how long it would take.”
Leaving Paul’s office Tom retraced his steps to the pickup. Once there he closed his eyes and rested his forehead on the steering wheel. For a very long time Linda Fedder had been the face of a past he wanted to forget. Until that is, sometime in the middle of a sleepless night, when the first stirrings of change had surfaced.
Those initial urgings had arrived in what he took to be a midnight dream, until he checked the glowing digital clock for the third time and realized that he had been awake for nearly an hour.... replaying Bob Cannon’s vivid recital of Linda’s trials and his own role in the price she had paid. That morning he awoke knowing it was time to do the right thing. Now, if only Paul could find a way to make it happen.
At the Orchard House Rick Levant had spent his Monday morning in a state of anxious waiting. He did the dishes, put out a last load of wash, and straightened up every room in the house....an exercise that struck him as particularly futile in a home scheduled for demolition.
By noon the clock had shifted into a lower, even slower gear. He tried to keep busy, but could not move beyond his increasingly stressful question. What if Dad said “No”? What if he and Sue Ann had decided he could not see Sandy again?
The boy was no stranger to parental rules and restrictions. They had always been a part of growing up. Along the way there had been times when the rules were bent, occasionally even broken, but almost always in ways he considered petty and insignificant.
This was different. Could he be expected to obey his dad’s simplistic dictates about something so important? The more he wondered about that, the more indignant he grew. Elaborate schemes began to surface, ways to evade or avoid their unwelcome constraints.
Those tempting mind games had continued until a totally different question finally jerked him back to reality. Would Sandy be willing to take part in an open rebellion? If not, what were his options?
Finally at two-fifteen Tom Fedder pulled into the driveway, back from lunch with Sue Ann and his meeting with Paul Corin. He came in the back door, through the house, and out to the front porch, where he found the boy sitting on the steps.
“Hi there, son,” he said as he sat down beside him. “You have a good morning?”
“I guess so.” Rick made no effort to hide his harsh frustration. “Kind of boring. Not much to do. How about you?”
“First class in every way. I can’t remember a better day.”
Tom’s broad smile and upbeat mood were much too smug for Rick’s mood. “You had lunch with Sue Ann?”
“Sure did. A good one too. That girl of mine is something special. I should have known her a long time ago.” He paused, hoping to coax a happier look from Rick. “If you’re going to have a sister, and that’s kind of what she is, I’d say you’ve got yourself a real winner.”
“She’s not my sister.” The boy’s surliness was still on display. "She’s Sandy’s mom. How can she be my sister?”
If Tom was inclined to continue his half-joking recital he thought better of it. Obviously the boy was in no mood for light-hearted banter. Something else was in order.
“I had a good meeting with Paul Corin."
“He found a buyer?” Rick asked.
“He sure did. We got a fair price and the papers are signed.”
“So we leave in the morning?”
“Well, we do need to be getting back home. That’s true. Gus has been tending the store for over a week now. I owe him some time off.”
In truth, Tom was not sure how to introduce the notion of an extra day or two in Tanner. How would his son, and granddaughter, deal with the opportunity for more time together? “The thing is,” he continued. “Something else has come up with Paul. Something that will take at least an extra day to sort out, maybe more.”
“We’re not going tomorrow?” Rick perked up at that surprising news.
“Nope.” Even in the face of his son’s dark mood the old man could not resist one last tease. “Tell you what, since we have some extra time on our hands, I think I’ll take one last walk around the old neighborhood. You want to come along?”
“I’ll pass. It’s not my old neighborhood.”
“Suit yourself,” Tom stood, patted the boy on the shoulder and started inside. “I’ll see you later.”
Before he reached the front door Rick was standing behind him, posing his question. “You forgot, didn’t you?”
Wiping the grin from his face Tom turned and asked with apparent nonchalance, “Forgot what?” By then he was biting his lip to keep from laughing at Rick’s stoney glare.
“About Sandy and me. About tonight? You forgot. You didn’t even talk to her mom about it, did you?”
“What about tonight?” Tom was trying his best for a serious, wondering expression as he watched the boy’s lips tighten and his eyes flash. An instant later the old man’s laughter escaped.
“Damn it, son. You are a sad-looking sight for sure. Did you really think you couldn’t trust your old man to get things done?”
The hint of a grin broke across Rick’s face. “You did talk to her. Didn’t you? Can we go? Can we?”
With his hands on the boy’s shoulders Tom turned serious. “Yeah, you can," he nodded. "But it comes with some strings attached. You’d best pay attention to those. Do you understand?”
“Sandy’s mother is very concerned about you two getting carried away, whether you can deal with that.”
Tom was leading them toward what had always been an uncomfortable conversational space. Yet he had to go there. He owed that much to Sue Ann. “You understand, this is my granddaughter we’re talking about. I take that very personally. I want you to take that very seriously.”
“So we decided that you can have your dinner and movie,” he continued. “Sandy’s mother has agreed to that. But the girl will be home by eleven o’clock. You got that?”
“Eleven o’clock? But .....”
“No 'buts.' Eleven o’clock.” Tom stepped back, trying to meet the boy’s down-turned stare. “Sue Ann is showing a lot of faith in you, son. I’m not sure you’ve earned it. But she’s willing to cut you some slack.
“So let me give you some advice. If you think you want to know Sandy better you’re going to want her mother on your side. In that case, you mustn’t give her any more reasons to doubt you. You hear?” With that Tom pulled the screen door open and stepped back into the house.
Without looking back Tom answered. “You’re welcome.”
Three minutes later Sandy had heard the good news....and the not-so-good restrictions. “That’s okay,” she assured him. “At least we’ll have the night together.”
“What if I came by at five-thirty? Would that work? That way we can get an early start.” He hung up and started toward the garage to find his dad. They met on the back porch.
“I thought I’d be seeing you again,” Tom joked. “I expect you’re looking for some spending money, eh?” He handed the boy three twenty-dollar bills. “You buy her a nice dinner. Okay?”
It was five o’clock and Rick was running ahead of schedule. That was not surprising, given his undisguised eagerness. He scolded himself for not having brought something nicer to wear, then dressed himself in the best he had....clean jeans and a light-blue sport shirt, tucked in to add a hint of formality. Brushing out his long, shiny hair he paused to wonder if he should braid it for the special occasion. Back home he might have done that. But this was different. Was Tanner ready to accept the traditional Blackfoot three-braid styling? Probably not, he decided.
Pacing nervously from one end of the house to the other, it felt as though the clock was moving more slowly than ever. As much as he wanted to be on his way, he was equally sure it was a time for making good impressions, especially on Sue Ann. It would not do to arrive too early.
Meanwhile the boy’s grim impatience was almost more than Tom could bear. “Damn it, son. You’re going to be a nervous wreck before you ever get there. Just calm down.”
“How can I? It’s our last date.” That was enough to trigger a new possibility, based on his dad’s announcement that they would be spending another day in Tanner. “Though maybe not,” he noted hopefully. “You said we’ll be here tomorrow. Right?”
By then Tom was prepared to nip that kind of thinking in the bud. “This will be your last date,” he said firmly. “Tonight is a one-time reprieve. Don’t expect another. I know for sure that Sandy’s going to be a busy girl tomorrow. She’ll be spending the day helping her Uncle Bob.”
“Can’t I even see her again?”
“I didn’t say that. But don’t be thinking about any more dates. You got that? And remember what I told you. That’s my granddaughter who’ll be sitting beside you tonight. You keep that in mind.”
There was no reason for Tom to elaborate on the unspoken deja-vu his own words produced. How old had he been when his own father first cautioned, “Just keep your pants buttoned, boy.?”
Even now, nearly fifty years later, he could still recall the urgent reality of those ‘carried away’ moments. Hopefully these youngsters would be able to resist those same urgings.
“Dad. I’ll remember. Okay?” Rick was in no mood for another lecture. With one last look at the clock he concluded it would not hurt to be a little early.
At the front door of the Asylum Gail could hardly contain her giggly grin as she motioned Rick inside. “Sandy,” she yelled. “He’s here.”
Sue Ann appeared from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. “Gail, there’s no reason to be so loud. Come in, Rick.”
He had never faced a moment quite like that....a formal audience with Sue Ann, then seconds later, Linda. It felt as though he was on display, with every word and action being scrutinized. It was no time to stumble. He had to get it right. Trying for his most ingratiating smile he prayed that Sandy would hurry.
Suddenly, with no further preliminaries, Sue Ann stepped forward to make her point. “You’re aware of Sandy’s curfew?”
From Rick’s perspective her bluntness was helpful. There would be no beating around the bush, no word games. She was prepared to get straight to the point. That worked for him.
“Yes, Ma’am. I promised my dad. And I’m promising you. She’ll be home by eleven o’clock.”
“And I expect the two of you to be grown up enough to behave yourselves.”
He turned away from Sue Ann’s stare, keeping his laugh to himself. "Behaving" and "Not getting carried away" seemed to be on everyone’s mind. If anything, he found that part of her message a bit confusing....her insistence that they act "grown up." For some reason he had understood that being "grown up" was what made such things acceptable.
For her part Linda managed to cover her own grin, stifling the urge to ask what suddenly qualified her daughter as an expert on teenage abstinence.
The only vocal response to Sue Ann’s well- intentioned advice came from Sandy, who had just walked into the room. “Mother!” she exclaimed. “How could you? We’re going to dinner and a movie. That’s all. What do you suppose he’s going to think, hearing you talk like that?”
At once Rick sensed the uncomfortable glare of five feminine stares boring in on him. At least it felt that way. With no way to retreat, he resorted to his own offense.
“It’s okay, Sandy.” He was smiling, wanting to appear calm. “I heard the same thing from my dad.” Turning to Sue Ann he added, “I told him there was no need to worry. I’m telling you the same thing.”