Sunday, May 30, 2021

GOING HOME - Chapter 32

       In the face of her adolescent betrayal he had written her off.

    Yet here she was again....closer at hand than he expected, and full of head-shaking news. Most surprising of all, he was willing to listen, to hear the hopeful possibilities she spoke of.


                   Chapter 32

It was nearly three weeks after Tom and Linda's memorable Pacific City visit when, after days of trying, someone finally answered Sandy Harden’s phone call. The voice she heard on the line was loud and gruff. 

“Speak up,” the man said. “Can’t hardly hear you.”

“Are you Mr. Rich?” Sandy yelled. “I’m looking for Rick Levant. I was told he might be with you.”

“Not many folks call me Mister. But I expect that’s me all right. Anyway, young Slowhorse is out in the back shed. I’ll go fetch him. Who should I say is calling?”

“Tell him it’s Sandy. He’ll know who that is.”

A minute later she finally heard Rick’s familiar voice. “Sandy? Is that you? Is something wrong? Is dad okay?”

“Your dad’s fine.” 

Slow down, she reminded herself. Let him see that you are not the air-head he thinks you are. “But there is something wrong," she continued. "At least there was. Things have been happening a mile-a-minute around here and no one could find you to tell you about it.”

“What are you talking about?

“No one answered the phone.”

“I was out in the mountains with Slowhorse. We were gone almost two weeks. He’s been teaching me stuff, helping me learn some things. We just got back this afternoon.”

By then Sandy was sensing a new confusion. “Wait a minute," she said. "The man who answered the phone, Mr. Rich, called you ‘Slowhorse.’ Now it sounds like you’re saying that’s him. Who the heck is 'Slowhorse' anyway?”

“I guess we both are,” Rick laughed. “It’s kind of a family name. They say it goes back a long way. Uncle Harry thinks I should carry it on.” He paused, then returned to her earlier comments. “Anyway, when you said lots of things have been happening, what were you talking about?”

At last he had taken the bait. “First of all," she answered. "You have to promise me that you won't get mad and hang up on me. Okay?”

“Hang up? What's that about?”

Ignoring his question, Sandy carried on. “You did that once before, remember? And you’d better not do it again. Because if you do I’ll have to take matters into my own hands. 

"They tell me that Browning is only three hours from here. If you hang up on me this time I’ll just drive up there and chew you out myself.”

“Three hours?” Rick’s confusion was registering, loud and clear. “Where the heck are you?”

“In Highland City, of course. We’ve come to visit for a few days. It’s too bad you weren’t home to see us.”

“Who came to visit?”

“All of us. Grandma, your dad, his daughters, Gail and I. It’s been fun. Seems like a nice place. In fact I really like it. So do his daughters....both of them.”

It took her second not-so-subtle prompt for him to realize what she was saying. “Both of them?” he repeated. “You mean there’s more than one? Now I am lost.”

Sandy was stifling her giggle, hoping to produce a matter of fact answer. “I forgot. You missed that part too, didn’t you? If you’d been there, you’d know that Bonnie is Grandpa’s daughter. Just like my mom.”

“Bonnie? But she’s....” Suddenly it felt as though he had fallen a couple of steps behind. “Sue Ann and Bonnie are sisters?”

“That’s right. Actually, half sisters. They’re both Grandpa’s daughters.”

“And you’re in Highland City? What’s that about? What the heck is going on?”

“Grandpa wanted us to see it.” 

It was becoming harder to contain her laughter. “He thought we might want to live here, instead of Tanner. I’m glad he asked us to come, because we like it a lot.”

What was Sandy talking about. She was making absolutely no sense. Though Rick understood her words, they were obviously on very different pages.

“You’re moving to Highland City?” he asked.

“Yeah. I think so.”

“But why?” 

“Well, why not? It’s a free country, you know. When Grandpa and Grandma got married they asked us to help them decide where we should live Tanner or Highland City. And....”

“Hold on,” Rick interrupted. “Dad and Linda? They got married? I thought she hated him.”

“Oh, I forgot. You hadn’t heard about that either, had you?” 

By then there was no need to pretend. For the next few seconds all Rick could hear was Sandy’s happy laughter spilling out. Finally she cleared her throat to explain. “I think she got over hating him.

"Anyway, they got married a couple weeks ago. It happened pretty fast, just a week after they decided. It wasn’t fancy or anything. We had the wedding at the house in Tanner. If you’d been around you would have been invited.”

By now Rick’s laughter was mirroring Sandy's. “That’s okay. I knew that he liked her. But he was so sure she wanted nothing to do with him. And now they're married? Man, that is a surprise.” 

He turned serious for a moment. “And Bonnie. What’s that about? Did she have any idea?”

“No one did. Except Grandma, of course. It seems that Grandpa and Aunt Terrie had....., you know. Anyway, that’s why he left town in the first place.”

“Wow. That’s hard to believe.”

“It was a shock for sure. But once we knew, everyone was able to deal with it. Bonnie really likes having a dad and Gail finally has a Grandpa.”

“And you’re really moving to Highland City?”

“I think so. Grandpa’s talking about buying a place just down the street from his house. On the corner, by the big trees. Do you know that one? Mom and I would live there. Bonnie and Gail would be with Grandma and Grandpa. They’d fix up his place for Bonnie, with a really good lift and stuff. And he wants Mom and Bonnie to help at the hardware store.”

“And you’d be right there, in Highland City?” Rick was struggling to understand that unexpected turn of events.

“That’s right.”

New questions were coming faster than he could process them. What did her surprising revelation mean? Having tried so hard to exorcize Sandy Harden from his life, it was a bit disorienting to discover how completely he had failed. With that realization came other questions. 

“What about Burt Dunn? What would he think of that?”

“Oh, he’d get over it,” Sandy answered, wanting to choose her words carefully. “He’s not a bad guy you know. Actually he’s changed a lot this year. He had kind of a rough time at the start of school. You may have heard about that. 

“Anyway, he’s calmed down a lot. He’s not as loud and pushy as he used to be. But the thing is, he’s beginning to lose patience with me, getting more persistent all the time. It’s probably time for us to get away from each other. Besides, I finally figured out he wasn’t my type. I think maybe he’s a little too predictable.”

Rick passed on the urge to have her to explain.  Instead, he moved on to another obvious question.“But why would you move during your senior year? That doesn’t sound like such a great idea to me.”

“We had a big family conference,” Sandy replied. “We talked about the chance to make a get away from all the low expectations people in the North End have for us. We talked about being in a place where we could start over and make new first impressions. Like a new beginning.”

“And you think you could do that in Highland City?”

“I think so. Grandpa has shown us around a bit and introduced us to people. Everyone’s been real nice. I’m sure that’s because they know Grandpa and like him.”

“And school?” he asked. “Are you sure that will be okay?”

“We’ve talked about that, Gail and I. The thing is, my senior year didn’t start out so great in Tanner. I sort of got off on the wrong foot. It seemed like a change would be good for me. Then, when we got here, Grandpa introduced us to Michelle Ryan and Loni, I forget her last name.”

“Loni Cramer. She’s good people.”

“They both are. They live close by and we hit it off pretty good. I think they’ll help us get acquainted.”

By then Rick was comfortable enough for a little teasing of his own. Moving the phone to his other ear, he was ready with his own advice. 

“You know, of course, there are some nice guys there at Highland High. And you can bet they'll be checking out the new girls in town. I suppose you’ll be checking them out too. Eh?”

“Gail has been talking about that.” Though she was laughing, Sandy was not about to let her response get lost in their joking word-games. “I’ve decided to take her word for it. I’m really not into all that right now.”

“You mean you’ve outgrown boys?”

“That’s not exactly what I meant. It’s just that I’m getting more selective. Anyway, if you come back here for school later on, like Grandpa said you might, I’ll probably see you sometimes.”

“Probably so.”

“And if you come back for Christmas, we’ll see you then.”

“I’m pretty sure I’ll be ready to come back by then,” Rick agreed. “Maybe before that. In fact, Thanksgiving is supposed to be a big family time. Maybe I could come down for that.”

“That would be nice,” Sandy agreed. “Everyone wants to see you again. Besides, we’ve never had our whole family together before. That’s because we’ve never had a ‘whole’ family before. Now we do. It’ll be so cool.”

Rick’s response was a few seconds coming, delayed by new and interesting thoughts. “I’ll tell you what,” he finally said. “They make a really big thing out of Halloween in Highland City. Maybe I should try to get home for that. At least for a day or two.” There was a quiet, more comfortable edge to his words. “I could make sure no goblins bothered you.”

Oh my, the reunion possibilities were becoming more interesting by the second. Sandy had called in hopes of reaching him, with no assurance he would even talk to her. She had taken a chance, and there they were, each of them feeling an indefinable something they both feared might have been lost.

“Sounds to me like you’re trying to hurry things along,” she joked. “I’m looking at the calendar. We’ve missed Columbus Day. That was last week. That might have been fun.”

Laughing to himself, Rick too was amazed at how easily they had slipped back into the comfortable familiarity of earlier conversations. 

“I don’t think so,” he answered. “As far as I know Indians don’t celebrate Columbus Day. It wasn’t a high point in our history, you know. Besides, I still have things to do up here. I can’t be leaving too soon.”

“What kind of things?”

“Slowhorse is helping me understand what it means to be a Blackfeet, one of the People.” He was struggling to condense weeks of intense seeking into a few sentences. “There’s so much to learn. And he’s promised to do a sweat lodge with me before I leave.”

Sandy could feel her spirits sagging. It was time to be realistic. After all, he had moved on to a new and different life. There was no sense expecting too much. “It sounds like you’ll probably want to stay on the reservation when you’re done. Is that it?”

“Not necessarily,” Rick said. “I’m still planning to go to college. I’m going to keep my promise to Dad. No matter where I am, or what I decide to do, I want to have a degree.”

“You could do that in Highland City, couldn’t you?”

“Yeah. There or Great Falls, at least for the first two years.” Perhaps he could capsulize his situation for her. “Slowhorse is helping me understand that I can be one of the People wherever I am. The main thing is to see the world through the right eyes, and stay in touch with the tribe.” 

Was he turning her off with his "reservation" talk, he wondered. Was that the price he must pay for being honest? 

“It’s been a good thing," he added. "My time up here. I've made some good friends....guys my age. And I feel a lot better about myself and who I am. Anyway, I’ve come this far. I want to see it through.”

“I think you should,” Sandy agreed. “And while you’re learning things up there, we’ll be down here, learning about Highland City. You do what you have to do. And whenever you can....whether it’s Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas....come see us. We have lots to talk about.”

                          THE END

Interesting isn’t it……where Going Home can take you? I know for sure there were moments along the way when I was surprised by the unexpected reality my Tanner friends were living out.

    Still, as I noted three book ago, at the beginning of these serialized posts, telling these stories in this slightly unorthodox format has been a selfish endeavor, something I am doing for myself.

    Specifically, the process of posting a new chapter every other day has involved the most thorough editing I have ever done. I believe the stories are better for that.

    After serializing each of the other books (Second Chances and Long Way Home) I created an updated computer file that was sent to Kindle Direct Publishing. 

    They in turn revised the Kindle and paperback editions available on Amazon. So when I ordered a paperback copy of each book it was the latest version of each story. I will be doing the same with Going Home. I consider that result a win……no matter how many or how few of you have followed the story online.

    So thank you for joining us on this latest journey. I hope you enjoyed it. And I invite you to be on board next week when Going Home gives way to Going Poor, yet another of our Tanner Chronicles.

Gil Stewart

Friday, May 28, 2021

GOING HOME - Chapter 31


      What could come of 'Going Home'?

    In spite of what had begun as deep and abiding mutual distrust, the two of them were actually speaking to each other.

    As always, she was asking questions. But now she seemed to be listening to his increasingly bold answers. 

                            Chapter 31

In the Cape Kiwanda parking lot Tom buckled his seat belt, ready to end his all-too-brief day at the beach with Linda. He had arrived with dreams of a new beginning, then watched her deflect those hopes with an unending string of complaints, each one seeming to push them further apart. Had he misread the earlier signs, or simply given in to his own wanting? Whatever the reason he was tired and frustrated, in no mood for further rejection. 

Then, before he could start the engine, Linda reached across the console for his arm. “So you’re walking away from that idea of yours,” she said. “Is that what I’m hearing? I thought you were the guy who wasn’t going to give up, who wouldn’t be quitting.”

“This is not about quitting. It’s just time to give it a rest. To take a break. Nothing’s going to change as long as you can’t get past hating me.”

Studying his face and ignoring his harsh words, she was probing for his intention. “Tell me again what it looks like, this thing you want.”

Again Tom slumped back against the head rest, silently berating himself for not being able to better explain his logic. 

“I’ve told you over and over. It can’t be just what I want. It would have to be what we wanted.” Why was he letting them get bogged down again? It was time to be on the road. 

“There are a couple of things I’d want for sure," he added. "Beyond that, we’d just have to work it out and give it a see where that takes us. Maybe we’ll be able to do that someday. But obviously not now.” 

“We’d have to ‘give it a try.’ Is that what you said?” Linda was boring in again, picking up on his off-hand words. 

“You make it sound like an experiment.... something we could just set aside if it didn’t work. Like trying on a pair of shoes to see if they fit? If they don’t, you put them back on the rack and move on, Is that how it is for you? Why would I want to be part of something like that?”

“That’s enough.” Tom's palm crashed against the steering wheel and his shout was loud enough to surprise even himself. “No matter how you cut it, you’ve got more arguments than I have answers. So let’s just forget about it. Maybe later. But not now.”

With a last, loud sigh he turned the key and started the engine. Making no effort to hide his frustration he looked over his shoulder, backed out of the parking space, and started through the resort area toward the bridge that led to the Coastal Highway. 

There, waiting at the highway stop sign, Linda was ready to try again. Reaching for his arm she asked, “Will you please pull over? You didn’t let me finish. I have some other questions.” 

“Well of course you do. That’s all you have....just questions, questions, and more questions.”

“Please. There’s more I’d like to understand.”

Perhaps it was the tone of her quiet pleading, softer and more intense than he had heard before. Whatever the reason, there was no need for him to speak the question she read in his expression. This was her idea, he told himself. Let her have her say. Nodding meekly, he turned into a half-empty drug-store parking lot, to a space in the back row.

“Tell me about those things you want,” Linda began when Tom turned to face her. “You said there are 'a couple things' that would have to be part of your idea.”

Why was she making it sound more like a challenge than a question? “Please, can’t we just drop it,” he asked. “Maybe some other time, when you can let yourself get past all the questions. If you ever can.”

She was not smiling. Her jaw was set and her eyes were meeting his. “Tom, what you’re talking about sounds to me like a very important decision. Life changing, in fact. So you bet I have questions. And I’d like to hear your answers.”

Did she mean that? Was she offering the opportunity for a real dialogue? “Okay then,” he nodded. “Here’s the deal. What I want is pretty simple. 

"First of all, I’d like us to be in the same place ....not hundreds of miles apart. That could be in Tanner if you want. But before we decided that, I’d like you to come to Highland City for a few days, to see see how it is.”

Linda had turned in her seat, facing him, saying nothing. “And wherever we were,” he continued. “I’d want Bonnie to be there. And Gail too, until she leaves home. I owe Bonnie the best I can do. I’m not sure what that might look like, but I want to work on it.”

She was nodding now, but still silent, so he moved ahead. “I’d love to have Sue Ann and Sandy there too, wherever ‘there’ is. But that’s a choice they’d have to make.”

Though Tom appeared to be through, Linda waited a moment before responding, “Goodness, that sounds ambitious. It would certainly include moving costs for someone. And what about running your business from Tanner? Would that practical? I told you before, there seem to be things you haven’t thought about.”

The first time she questioned his planning she had caught him by surprise. Now he was better prepared. In fact, he began his reply with a bold and confident wink. 

“Don’t you worry about the ‘practical’ part," he countered. "I just sold the Orchard House. Remember? That would cover anything I have in mind. As for the the business part, we’d find a way to make that work. Trust me.”

“I see. So, is there anything else on your ‘must have’ list?”

“There you go again. Another question." He wanted to sound scolding. “But, in fact, there is something else I’d like to see on that list.” 

He had spent the last week working toward that unexpected moment. Only minutes before the possibility appeared to be lost, perhaps gone forever. He could not put it off again. There might never be another opportunity.

Reaching for her hand, he plowed ahead. “The thing is, I have a very hard time making sense of an unmarried 'Mrs.' Fedder. To me, ‘Mrs.’ Fedder means she’s married. And that’s what I think you should be. That’s what I’d like you to be.”

Linda’s next question was on her lips before his meaning finally registered. She stopped short, unable to speak, staring silently into his eyes.

“I said the wrong thing, didn’t I?” Tom muttered softly. 

Dropping her hand he leaned back. He had taken his chance and said his piece. Clearly he had moved their conversation beyond her comfort zone. Why should he be surprised at that?

“You mean us?” she finally stammered. “You and me? Married?”

“My God, woman. Don’t sound so shocked. Where have you been? I’ve been talking all around that for two days. It can’t be a big surprise.”

“You’ve talked about us 'getting to know each other,' about spending time together, about living in the same town. I’m not sure what I thought that meant, but I never guessed it could be that. What makes you think that could possibly work? It’s so final. At least it’s supposed to be.”

About then Tom’s easy laugh may have sounded a bit out of place. “I guess sometimes it takes two tries to make it final. But yeah, that’s the whole idea.”

Linda’s eyes were squeezed shut and she was shaking her head. It was seconds before she found the words to reply. 

“That is insane.” Her voice grew louder, more animated. “How could you even think of such a thing? Is this some kind of game to you?”

“This is no game,” he replied. He had shied away from that moment for too long. It was time to stand his ground. “And it’s not insane. It is the most sane thing I can imagine.”

He held up his hand, halting her response. “Look, this isn’t supposed to be about taking the easy way out. It’s about having our lives, me, and our family. All of us. It’s about being able to look ahead to something good. Let’s face it, that's something we’ve both wanted for a very long time.”

Finally Linda straightened up, ready with her own defense. “You keep forgetting how much you hurt me, and your daughters too. Both of them. Do you think we could ever forget that?”

“Linda, I understand that you’ve spent a lifetime getting your kicks from hating me.” Tom’s words were louder now, matching hers. “God knows you’ve had your reasons. But there’s a better way, something more positive, more productive.”

“That other way hurts too much.”

“It doesn’t have to.” Tom jabbed his finger toward her. “This is what you need to understand, Linda Fedder. 

"In all your life there’s never been anyone else who loves you the way I love you. Not ‘loved’ you, but ‘loves’ you. As in ‘right now.’ That is a solid gold, Grade A fact. It was true then. It’s true now. And you know it.

“I’m absolutely certain that being with you is what I need to be whole again. And I think it would do the same for you.” 

He paused, soaking up the truth of that understanding. “For forty years neither of us has been whole. In fact, except when I was with Annie, the only time in all my life I’ve felt that way was with you. That’s what I want again. And I’m betting you want that too.”

For long seconds there was only quiet. Around them, in the parking lot, cars hurried by unnoticed.

“What about the things I can’t forget?” Her voice was soft now, hard to hear.

“You may have to find a way to love me and hate me at the same time.” Was his new-found smile making an impression? “Right now, I’d settle for that.

“Look, I’m not saying I can make you forget all that. I don’t suppose I can. But I’m absolutely sure that I’m the one who can help and the girls and me....find a better place, one that feels right, where we can start over. That’s what I’d like us to do.”

“And you’d marry me?”

“The question is not whether I’d marry you.” He captured her other hand. “Consider that a given. The question is, would you marry me? Could we be a family again? Like Sue Ann wants. Like I want.”

By then Linda was wide eyed....chewing her lip, wondering why she had not seen it coming. Again she looked up to study his face. There were so many reasons to doubt him. She could produce years of hurtful arguments to make her case. 

Yet in the end none of that could overcome how much she wanted to believe him. She did want to feel that way again, for herself and her girls. And she knew beyond a doubt that Tom was right about one thing. Those good things would happen only in the company of the old man sitting beside her.

“I’m not through with my questions, you know.”

Linda was actually grinning at Tom’s mock exasperation as she explained. 

“Last night, when you were telling the girls about our dinner, you said I looked so good....actually you said ‘I looked so damn good’.... that you wanted to do something or other. But you never said what that was.”

“You wouldn’t let me tell them. Remember?”

 Dropping her hands he reached across the console to cradle her face in his hands. He felt her tense, and for a moment worried that she might pull away. She did not.

Forty years is a very long time between kisses, perhaps long enough to forget the feelings that made the first time necessary. In fact, there seemed to have been no forgetting at all. Instead warm, familiar sensations, long written off as out of reach, came flooding back with an urgency neither of them expected. 

Seconds later, ignoring the grins of curious passers-by, Tom was studying Linda's face....the well-remembered eyes and smile, the new and unfamiliar lines and creases. It was a fuller face, reflecting the confident calmness that years of trial and hardship had produced. Still, like her, he was smiling because he could not help it. 

“That’s what I had in mind last night,” he finally said. “That’s what I wanted to tell the kids. But I was afraid to do that. Afraid you’d slap me for being so forward.”

“Well, I do have an image to maintain,” she nodded, still wondering at how easy and natural it had been. “I’ve always told my girls not to be too easy....that they ought to show some restraint, some resistance. What do you suppose they’d think of me now?” 

There would be no need for another walk on the beach. Climbing tall sand dunes was no longer necessary. The moment did not require the stoking of once-urgent passions, although they would not have ruled out that possibility. Sitting together in that Pacific City parking lot, there was no need for more of anything.

Thursday, May 27, 2021





I keep reading that, in the wake of the recent pandemic, we are in the process of “returning to normal.” Obviously, all of us would like that to be true. And if it is, will the “normal” that awaits us look like our old normal, the one we knew before, or will it be some new and altered version of normal? How would you describe the normal that awaits us?

We see the signs daily, on the tube and in the newspaper. Some of our more daring neighbors are kicking back, living out what they hope is the returning normal. They are dining out at the local restaurant…..inside at a table, not the “take-out” window. They are having drinks with friends at the local bar, or gathering for public events. In those often-crowded settings, where each person’s vaccine status is anyone’s guess,  masks and social distancing sometimes seem to be last week’s news.

For some of us the returning normal will be about employment…..the opportunity to work again, or the return of a daily commute to the office. For others, “normal” will include sending the kids back to school, and hopefully finding reliable day-care.

To be sure, there are still unanswered questions about our “post-pandemic” normal….what it will look like, how it will feel? Heck, it seems as though “post-pandemic,” as in “after” the pandemic, may itself be a misnomer.

If enough of our fellow citizens continue to reject the available vaccines our “herd”  may never achieve the immunity we once assumed would be part of our new normal. Unless there is a drastic change in vaccine acceptance it is possible that COVID-19 will remain an operative part of our ongoing normal…..something to be guarded against for years to come.

True, the pandemic numbers… loads, hospitalizations, and deaths…..will continue to decline. But the virus, with its periodic surges and mutating variants, may be with us for a long time…..lying in wait for unsuspecting souls.


All of the above may well describe our society’s future….the normal we must learn to live with. For the moment, however, I prefer to view my own family’s “return to normal” through a different, very personal, even selfish lens.

You see, for the first time in seventeen months, since Christmas 2019, Roma, I, our four children, and their spouses gathered for a weekend at the coast… celebrate our youngest’s fiftieth birthday and the liberating reality that fully-vaccinated adults can take such liberties. Though we were too timid to do the crowds downtown, our beach house gathering fit us just fine.

Best of all, the “normal” we experienced together felt just like it always has. It was so……so normal. We visited, and caught up on news of the grand-children and great-grandchildren. We played cards and other silly games. There was ping-pong and foosball. We dined together, followed Phil’s attack on the PGA course, and watched my beloved Spurs choke again. Those who were so inclined walked on the beach, while some of us caught up on our napping. Best of all, hugs had become fashionable again.

We were together for just two short days, but are already making plans to gather again. No matter what our nation’s evolving definition of  “Return to Normal” may be, I heartily recommend that all of us make room for a personal sort of normal, the sort that includes family and dear friends.

That kind of normal was appropriate pre-pandemic, and will continue to be appropriate post-pandemic. So why not give it a try?

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

GOING HOME - Chapter 30


    He was doing his best to make a sale, to close the deal.  But given her resistance, the signs were not hopeful.

    He had told the girls his promised truth, and still she seemed unconvinced. Perhaps it was time for his most surprising surprise. Would that impress her?

    A leisurely return to a special place, the scene of well-remembered good times. Would that be enough to make his case?

                           Chapter 30


With a hand on Linda’s elbow, Tom led them through the dark evening from the grade-school playground back to the sidewalk. 

“I was hoping it would be enough to convince you," he offered. "I thought that telling the kids the truth would help you see that I’m serious about us spending some time together. And when I said I owed you an explanation, I thought that telling you about Terrie and me was part of that same truth.”

In the harsh brightness of the corner streetlight Linda’s penetrating glare struck him as a bit sinister. Her hard-edged words seemed to reinforce that impression. “You’re making it sound like I care about Terrie and you, and what happened.”

“Like I said. Maybe I’m the only one who gives a damn.”

Turning, Linda started up the sidewalk ahead of him, reminding herself how long it had taken to heal the long-standing breach with sister Terrie. Those dark thoughts were enough to fuel a fresh wave of stubborn resolve. 

At mid-block she stopped and turned back to face him. Planting herself directly in his path, she pulled herself up to full height. 

“Tom Fedder," she growled. "Just so you know, I don’t want to hear your damn ‘details.’ Do you understand? You can just keep them to yourself. I don’t want to know what happened. I don’t care.”

A moment later Linda's shoulders slumped forward and her chin dropped to her chest. For several quiet seconds Tom watched as her angry indignation dissolved into aching hurt. When she finally continued, her voice had become a soft whimper. 

“There’s only thing I want to know.....Why?”

“Why?” he stammered, sensing that his bold experiment might be going up in flames. He had spent days preparing to tell her "what" had happened. Yet there she was, asking "why," leaving him stranded in the half-dark with the right answer to the wrong question.  

“There wasn’t any reason ‘why.’ At least not a good one. I was young and stupid. For that moment I wanted to. And I knew I could. She’d already let me know that. Maybe I was flattered. Whatever it was, I was too dumb to stop.”

With that Linda hurried on to the next street corner and waited there, leaning against the light pole until Tom caught up. Her head was bowed. He could not see her eyes, which at that moment seemed like a good thing. Standing there beside her, he had no idea what to say, so he said nothing.

Then, without looking up, she asked in a quiet voice, “So it wasn’t about Terrie....something about her....some special feelings, something like that?” Finally her sad eyes looked up into his face. “You didn’t....? You didn’t love her?”

Linda's soft words had the sharp sting of an electrical shock. Turning to face her, nearly nose to nose, Tom put a finger under her chin to keep her from looking away. 

“Now you hear this, lady. You can paint me as black as you want. You can say whatever you want to say, call me any name you like. I deserve every bit of that. You can decide there’s no place for me in your life.” He stopped short. “Except I hope you don’t do that.” 

His jaw tightened again. “What happened with Terri, happened once. I hated myself from the first minute. At home I couldn’t look you in the eye. That was bad enough. But then, a few weeks later, when she told me....” The words would not come.

“I just freaked out. It was like a horror movie, a bad dream that wouldn’t go away. It felt like everything was coming apart.” 

Forcing himself to look into her eyes, he was ready to state his case one last time. “You have to believe me. There was only you. You and Sue Ann. There was never anyone else. Not Terrie. Not anyone. 

"That’s why it hurt so damn much. The whole thing was all about nothing that mattered. I lost everything I had, and everyone I loved, over nothing.” With a last deep breath he turned and started up the sidewalk.

It was minutes before he heard Linda's footsteps, hurrying to catch up. He stopped, wondering what, if anything, there was left to say. Reaching his side, she took his arm and turned him to face her. When she spoke her words were firm, but calm. 

“So tell me. This idea of yours, this thing you came here to tell me about. What does it look like?”

For an instant Tom was speechless, surprised by her sudden willingness to ask. “I don’t know,” he finally said. “It couldn’t be just my idea. It would have to be our idea, both of us. It could look like whatever we decided to make of it. I told you before, I want to be part of your life. That means getting to know you again. That’s where I'd like to begin.”

“What if I was happier the way things are now? What if I think the best answer is for each of us to go our own way?” 

He was hearing nothing but cold, serious intent in her words. Where was she leading them? It was hard to read her face in the near darkness. Still, she deserved the best reply he could muster.

“If that’s your idea of an answer....going our separate ways....I’ll do my best to show you why you’re wrong. If I can’t do that, I guess I’ll pack my bags and head back home.” 

“It might take a long time,” Linda cautioned. “I couldn’t just turn those feelings off. I’m not sure I want to. Besides, I live in Tanner. You live in Montana. How would that work? There seems to be a lot of things you haven’t thought about.”

Tom nudged her forward. “Mrs. Fedder, let me try this again.” About then he stopped short, face to face with an unexpected question. “Are you still ‘Mrs.’ Fedder? I hadn’t thought of that before.”

“Yes, I am ‘Mrs.’ Fedder. That was my name. It was my daughter’s name. I saw no reason to change it.” She jabbed a finger at his chest. “But I’m not your Mrs. Fedder. The County Court granted my divorce decree as an abandoned wife. So I am the single Mrs. Fedder.”

“Okay then, Mrs. Fedder. You were saying that my living in Montana might be a problem if I wanted to be part of your life. If I was in Montana, and you here in Tanner. Right?”

“It seems to me that would complicate things," Linda replied. "It certainly did for Sandy and Rick, didn’t it? It just raises more questions. On top of all the other questions I have.”

“Well, you just keep the questions coming. Because I have the same answer for every one of them.” 

This was important. He wanted to be sure she understood. “There would be lots of things to sort out. We’d have to put our heads together and go looking for some common ground.”

“And that’s what you want to do?” 

“I want to try. In fact I think I know what the next step should be.”

“What’s that?”

“It seems to me that my son and our granddaughter started something of a family tradition. Something we ought to keep going, maybe build on.”

“What tradition is that?”

“Tomorrow is your day off. Right? At least from your day job. I haven’t been to the beach in God knows how many years. Not since the three of us went to Cape Kiwanda the last time.” 

Tom's grin was wider now. “Why don’t we see how much it’s changed in forty years.”

“You and me? To the coast? Together?” Linda paused, hearing the surprise in her own voice, scolding herself for even considering such a silly idea. Her first well-conditioned response was to shoo it away, to draw her own line in the sand. 

But his bold invitation would not be chased away. It remained there, balanced precariously between guarded suspicion and unexpected appeal. 

Why not, she finally asked herself. She had already decided she must find a way to coexist with her daughter’s father. If she was vigilant she could certainly fend off his pie-in-the-sky overtures. All that, and a day at the beach. Perhaps it was worth taking a chance.


Saturday morning at the Asylum was more upbeat that usual. Linda had not told the others of her plans for the day, so her appearance in the family kitchen, dressed in the sportiest of her none-too-sporty outfits, just minutes before Tom’s nine-thirty arrival, was more than enough to win her girls’ attention.

“What’s the occasion, Mom?” Sue Ann had asked. “Are you off shopping?”

Seconds later the entire household was abuzz with the news. Grandma and Grandpa were going on another date. In a matter of seconds Linda’s vocal objections to calling it a "date" had been swept aside by the girls’ enthusiasm. 

If Tom had hoped for a quiet, under-the-radar departure that morning he soon realized that would not be possible. Still-fresh memories of the previous night’s love-fest with their father and grandfather were more than enough to fuel the girls' noisy send off.

By the time he drove through the heart of downtown Tanner and over the bridge into the west-side farm belt, Tom was finally able to relax and consider the prospect of their day together. 

Before long he was caught up in pleasant thoughts of earlier times, when the two of them had traveled that same highway to the coast. He pictured his father’s big Buick, with Linda beside him and Mike and Julie, their best friends, in the back seat. With those images came unsummoned recollections of twenty-nine-cent gas and nineteen-cent hamburgers.

Linda too was leaning back in her seat, taking in the passing sights. For her, however, the task was to keep those visions of better days at bay, reminding herself that every one of them had included Tom Fedder in a leading role. Now was not the time to be letting down her guard, allowing those seductive memories to cloud her logic. 

She was doing this for Sue Ann, and now Bonnie, she reminded herself. They wanted their father to be part of their family. That meant she must find a way, a safe way, to include him in some isolated corner of her own life. That uncomfortable necessity seemed reason enough to hear more about Tom’s silly talk of them spending more time together. What was the harm in listening as long as he remained at arm’s length?

Still, despite Linda's determined efforts to push them away, enticing snippets of times past kept burrowing back, returning on their own, triggering new visions of old remembrances. 

Like the spring of Tom’s senior year, that most heady of times. That too had been a Saturday at the beach with Tom. By then he was her guy, a senior of all things, one of the most popular boys in school. What could have felt more grown up for a slightly-intimidated sophomore coed? No wonder she still remembered her friends’ undisguised envy.

Pushing those distractions aside, Linda forced herself to remember what that same boy had done, and whom he had become. He was the enemy. She must not forget that, especially now, as he pleaded for her attention. 

And for a few minutes she was able to heed her own warnings, until her thoughts drifted back to images of a tiny Sue Ann, one hand in hers, the other in Tom’s, dangling in midair and squealing with joy as the cold ocean waves nipped at her feet. It had been a family excursion to the coast....a day of fun and laughter, filled with wide-eyed, first-time experiences for their young daughter. It should have been the first of many. Instead, it had been their last.

Driving on through the heavy weekend traffic Tom’s thoughts were soon hijacked by new, more stimulating recollections. In his mind’s eye he pictured the two of them perched high atop the towering Cape Kiwanda sand dunes, looking down on the crowded beach that stretched as far as they could see. 

In truth, he had not been in a sight-seeing mode that particular summer afternoon. Linda Cannon, recently graduated from Tanner Northside High, had been on the blanket beside him, attracting his full attention. 

It had been their first time. And he still remembered the undoubted certainty he had felt in that moment, the knowing that it was meant to be.... the unspoken understanding that it would always be that way. 

Then, still watching the road ahead, he gave himself a mental pinch, reminding himself that this was a different time, under vastly different circumstances. Still, he had to wonder if the new feelings, the ones that had gained his attention during the last few days, were in someway born of that teenage certainty? Had that adolescent afternoon on the dunes dictated his choice of their day’s destination? 

A long hour after leaving Tanner they were driving slowly through Pacific City toward the cape, more than forty years after their last visit. To their surprise, what they remembered as a few modest beach cabins scattered among the sand hills had been transformed into a thriving, upscale oceanside resort. 

Clearly, dozens of homeowners had chosen to ignore the age-old caution against building on foundations of sand. And there in the background, towering over the sprawling enclave of homes and shops, the massive dunes still stood guard....though they seemed not to be as tall and imposing as they remembered.

“Can you believe this?” Tom asked as he maneuvered into a space in the beach-side parking lot. “They've ruined the place. It’s wall to wall people, with homes and stores everywhere.” Retrieving their coats from the back seat, he walked around the car to open her door. 

“By the way,” he said as Linda stepped out onto the asphalt. “Did I thank you for saying you’d come today? If I didn’t, I certainly should have.”

“I suppose I should be thanking you. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a day out like this. I’m looking forward to it.” 

“I was hoping it might have something to do with being with me.”

“We’re spending time together, aren’t we? That’s what you said you wanted.”

He took her hand and they plodded through the soft, deep sand toward the surf. Once on more solid footing next to the wave line, she pulled her hand back and they walked on. For half an hour they strolled up the beach and back, exchanging small talk about the family and watching youngsters dodge the icy Pacific waves....all the while carefully avoiding the contentious relational obstacles he hoped they could address.

Finally, ready for a rest, they retreated to a low rock outcropping at the foot of the dunes. From there they watched gulls gliding over the breakers and followed the young explorers who gathered at the rocky tidal pools. Once or twice Tom grinned knowingly at the sight of young couples starting the long climb to the top of the dunes.

“So, are you willing to admit this was a good idea?" he asked, prepared to give their conversation a jump start. “Does it feel like there’s something to be said for being together again? Maybe the start of something good?”

“Don’t you be putting words in my mouth.” Linda's tone was firm, but she was smiling, which he took to be a good sign. “I’ll admit I’m still wanting to know what Tom Fedder is up to. He talks a good game. I’ve always known that. But don’t forget, he surprised me once before. It wouldn’t do to have that happen again.”

“I’m not sure I know you well enough to tell if you’re serious, or putting me on.”

“Think ‘serious.’ I believe I’ve earned the right to be skeptical. Don’t you?”

Tom sensed his spirits sagging, weighed down by her bluntness. He had brought them to a place where quiet, uninterrupted conversation was possible. After years of avoiding the very thought of each other, they had walked side by side along the beach, even held hands for a few minutes. All that, and still she was not persuaded of his good intentions. 

“I’ll tell you what, lady. It’s taken a lot of miles, and a lot of lessons learned the hard way, to get me where I am today. It’s too bad I couldn’t have learned sooner, but it didn’t work out that way. Still, I can guarantee you that I have learned.”

“I suppose that’s a hopeful sign,” she nodded. “That you’ve learned. But the real question is, have you changed? Or are you apt to do the same thing again? What if you were flattered again, like before? Do you think I’d want to be in the neighborhood at a time like that?”

He could only shake his head and wonder if there was anything that would satisfy her. It seemed that her complaints never ended....that her incessant questions were raising obstacles faster than he could find ways around them. 

“Believe me, I’ve changed,” he said. “In lots of ways. But in some ways I haven’t. What I feel for my family, and you, hasn’t changed at all. If anything, after these last few weeks, those feelings are even stronger.”

“What you feel for me hasn’t changed?” she repeated slowly. “That doesn’t sound too hopeful, does it? I’ve seen where those feelings can lead.”

Was it the tone of her voice? Or the harsh edge to her words? Whatever the reason, Tom finally realized he had heard enough. 

How could they possibly talk of the future if she could not get over the past? He had vowed to give it his best shot. At least for now, it appeared that was not good enough.

Without a another word he stood and started off across the sand toward the surf, leaving Linda sitting alone on the stone outcropping. Once on the hard-packed sand he turned to survey the high dunes one last time....remembering what had been, and wondering what would be. From there he waved to her, motioning her toward the car. It was only twelve-fifteen, but it was time to call it a day.

Minutes later he was standing beside the car, waiting as Linda reached the parking area. Brushing sand from her slacks, she asked, “Are we leaving so soon?”

“I think it’s time," he explained, climbing into the driver’s seat. “It feels like I’ve run into a brick wall. I’m fresh out of ideas. Maybe next time I’m in town we can try the mountains instead.”