In keeping with Marian’s wishes, when Jason and Connie visited David on Sunday afternoon, they had carefully avoided any mention of possible ‘excitement in Indian Falls'......of Marian's proposed Iowa visit.
By Monday morning Jason’s thoughts of his unexpected 'travel advice' conversation with Marian had been pushed aside by the daily challenges of keeping the village’s lone tavern afloat.
Late that morning he was completing his post-weekend cleaning of the Pastime when he looked up to see the single lady coming through the front door. In the dim light of the tavern he could not put a name to her face. And she, stepping in from the bright sunlight, could make out little more than the string of lights reflecting in the long mirror behind the bar. She stopped for a moment, leaning against a dated juke box as her eyes grew accustomed to the darkened room. By the time she started toward the bar she had recognized a vaguely familiar face.
“You’re Jason. Aren’t you? I wasn’t sure if I’d know you.”
“Yes I am, ma’am. And you are.....?” His question had scarcely left his lips when it dawned on him. “My God, you’re Marian. You really did come. This is seriously surprising.”
“I told you I might do that.” She sat on the bar stool Jason pulled out for her. “It was easy, you know. I had good instructions. Since the weather was good I rented a car....and here I am.”
“Can I get you a beer?”
“I’d prefer coffee if you have it. I’m not much of a beer drinker.”
He poured the coffee and set it before her as he registered his joking complaint. “Just my luck. We get our first tourist in weeks, and she doesn’t even drink beer.”
“I didn’t come here to drink beer.”
“So what did you come for....if not the beer?”
Why had she come all the way to Indian Falls? Marian had asked herself that same question more than once in the course of her red-eye, cross-country flight. Was it seemly, she had wondered, traipsing all the way from Tanner in pursuit of such an improbable possibility?
After all, David had been the one to run away the last time they met. What made her think she could change his mind this time? More to the point, why had she risked likely failure just to find out?
“What did I come for?” she repeated. “Well, I know what I’m hoping for. But I’m not sure what to expect. David and I had a nice talk when I called him the other day. But it was hard to tell exactly what he was really thinking.
"Anyway, I’m going to see him....if you can tell me how to find his place, or draw me a map. I’m kind of nervous about that, because I don’t know what to expect. But I have to find out if we have anything to talk about.”
“I wondered about that myself after you called,” Jason said. “I’m not sure what you’ll find out there. When it’s all said and done I think he wants the same thing you do. But he’s an independent sort of guy, and he’s not sure how that would set with you. He’s told me more than once that someone like you could never be happy with him.”
Jason paused to draw a draft for the young man at the far end of the bar. When he returned Marian leaned forward with a new question. “Do you suppose I could have one of those beers?” she asked. “I need to calm these nerves.”
Sitting the glass in front of her, Jason was trying for his most professional bartender wisdom. “Look," he said. "You came all this way. So you must think it’s the right thing to be doing. And like I said, it’s what David wants too, even if he won’t admit it. For what it’s worth, I think you’re on the right track. By my count that makes it three for three. Those sound like pretty good odds.
“Anyway, I’m not much of a map maker. So let’s be sure you can make sense of this.” He handed her a hastily scribbled map of the route to David’s farm, drawn on the back of a napkin.
“Just take a right on Tarkington Road and go half a mile or so to the railroad crossing. His will be the first house on the left after you cross the tracks. It’s a big ole two-story place....white, with a porch across the front.
“Now, here’s the deal,” he continued. “When David gets all obstinate and blustery you mustn’t forget it’s probably because you intimidate the heck out of him. If you put him in a room with fifty guys he would have all the self-confidence in the world. But sitting down with a lady, especially one he believes is too good for him, just might turn him into a basket case, and send him running for cover.”
Marian was nodding her understanding as she finished her beer. “In that case I guess it’s time to face the music....to see how he deals with unexpected company. Wish me luck.”
It was not hard to find....the boxy farm house on Tarkington Road. Marian pulled into the driveway, turned off the engine, and paused a moment to take in the sight of it....wondering if it was what she expected.
The once-white exterior was faded and peeling in spots. Flower beds had gone to seed and shrubbery left to spread out over the lawn that Jerry Henderson had managed to keep mowed. Even before she left the car she was reminded of Jason’s observation.
“Don’t expect too much,” he had cautioned. “Since he lost Sally, David hasn’t had much interest in keeping the place up.”
When she finally stepped out onto the graveled driveway, Marian was telling herself none of that mattered. Perhaps it was true....in his time of loss David had stopped caring. That was something she could relate to. She had been in that space. Hopefully it was time for both of them to move beyond that kind of hurt.
The concrete front steps were solid, though the creaky wood-surfaced porch quivered a bit as she started toward the front door. By then she realized that her arrival had been noticed. Before she could reach out to rap on the door, a blurry face appeared through the cut-glass window and the door inched opened.
Standing there in the doorway was a slightly bent figure in bib overalls, wearing a decidedly quizzical frown. “Yes?” he asked warily. “May I help you?”
“You must be Jerry,” she said. “I talked to you on the phone.”
Jerry Henderson’s frown grew even deeper. “On the phone?” he asked. An instant later he seemed to have found his own answer. “You mean from Oregon? Was that you?”
“I’m Marian Crocker,” she replied, holding out her hand. “I’ve come to see if Mr. Larmer is up to having company.”
Once inside she waited in high-ceilinged entry hall while Jerry slipped into the adjoining living room. Seconds later she was laughing to herself at David’s loud and none-too-subtle questions.
“It’s who?” he grumbled. Though Jerry tried to shush him, David was having none of that. “What the hell is she doing here?”
“She’s come to see you, you lunkhead.”
“Maybe because she doesn’t have good sense.” Jerry was losing patience. “Now sit up and I’ll bring her in. You can ask her yourself.”
Without a word David did as he was told. Pulling his lap robe over his legs his surly scowl remained firmly in place as Marian entered the room, walking a wary half-step behind Jerry, For an instant their stares met, each of them seeming to dare the other to speak. Finally it was David who blinked first.
“So what are you doing here?”
“I came to see you, of course. To be sure you’re okay.”
“Well I’m not okay. You could have found that out with a phone call. In fact, I thought I told you that the other day, when you called.”
Marian pulled a padded chair closer to his recliner and sat down. “I take it you’re not too glad to see me,” she said calmly. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
If she was expecting a reply she would be waiting a while. For his part, David sat staring into his folded hands, having turned stubbornly quiet.... leaving Marian to wonder if he was angry, embarrassed, or simply unsure what to say. When she turned back to Jerry with a questioning frown, his unenthusiastic shrug provided no answer. A moment later he turned and left, leaving Marian alone with David.
“Are you going to talk to me?” she asked. “To tell me what’s wrong.”
That seemed to catch his attention. “What’s wrong? Are you serious?”
David was louder now as he leaned forward. “Do you have any idea how long it took to get you out of my head? Even after I crashed and burned, and couldn’t do anything but sit and think, I was trying to forget you. Then, about the time I thought I had, you called. Next thing I know you’re marching through my front door.”
Marian was grinning at his theatrical outburst as she tried for a calmer voice, a quiet sense of reason. “What if I want you to remember? What if I don’t want you to forget me? Those strike me as good reasons to come calling.”
David was squirming, tensing enough to send sharp-edged surges of pain through his still-healing ribs. Drawing a deep breath he searched for the words to explain.
“Marian. It is good to see you again. Just like it was good to talk to you the other day. I won’t deny that. But as pleasant as it is, it doesn’t change a thing. It only makes it harder. From the beginning I wasn’t a promising match for you. You know that. And now it’s even worse.”
“Don’t you get all dramatic on me, David Larmer. I know a thing or two about promising matches. So don’t try to fool me.”
“I don’t have to fool anyone. Just look at me. I can’t do a damn thing. It’s like I’m all used up. I sit here all day wondering what’s the purpose of going on. Near as I can tell there isn’t any.”
That brought Marian up short, at least until she countered with her own protest . “So you’re giving up. Is that it? You mean I came all this way just to talk to a quitter? Are you saying it was just a big mistake?”
“I guess that makes us even, doesn’t it?” David nodded. “I went all the way to Tanner. That turned out to be a mistake. Now it’s your turn.”
She stood and walked to the front window. Cold, brilliant sunlight was highlighting the gaunt, nearly-bare line of trees across the road, creating a stark landscape unlike any she could remember.
About then it dawned on her that the same qualifier....’unlike any she could remember’.... might also apply to her stubborn friend. It was that possibility that had her reaching for a dose of new and very un-Marian-like resolve....the boldness she had promised herself.
Returning to David’s recliner she stood looking down into his unsmiling face. “If it’s all the same to you, Mr. Larmer, I’m not willing to settle for being a ‘mistake.’ Because I’m not, and neither is my coming here. I know for a fact that you’re not going to be sitting here forever. Jason tells me that you’ll be up and around before long.”
By then David was shaking his head, trying to deflect her effort to make good news out of bad. “I may be ‘up an around’ in time. But I’ll never be who I was before.”
“David.” Marian was scolding as she sat down again. “We are sixty-five years old. At least I am. And we’re never going to be ‘who we were before.’ But to say there’s no reason to keep going....that’s just silly. You can’t measure reasons in years.”
David was in no mood to reply. For an instant his harsh glare met her gaze. Then, biting his lip, he looked away and pushed himself out of his chair. Without a word he shuffled off down the hall to the bathroom.
Minutes later Jerry returned to the living room to find Marian sitting alone. “There’s no telling how long he’ll be in there. It’s where he goes to hide.”
“Does he do that often?”
“Too often,” Jerry answered. “It’s hard to tell how much of it is a matter of hurting like he is, and how much is just being mad at the world in general.”
“Well, I’m not ready to give up,” Marian insisted. “Jason told me the nearest motel is in Clinton. I’m going to drive over there to get a room and a bite to eat. You don’t need to tell our surly friend, but I’ll be coming back this evening. There has to be a way to get through his silly bluster. I just need some time to figure out how to do that.”
“Good luck, ma’am,” Jerry replied. “He can be pretty darn stubborn.”
“Well, he may not know it yet....but so can I.”