It was Sunday afternoon, the second half of a day that had started badly and showed no signs of getting better. Gary’s California ride had been late, dragging out their awkward waiting and tearful parting. By the time he drove off, a little after nine, both Kathy and Delaney were feeling abandoned. The person most responsible for their new life, and the promise of becoming a family, was bailing out, leaving them to fend for themselves.
Rather than face her parents’ pointed and prying questions Kathy had treated Delaney to a drive-through lunch at a local fast-food emporium, followed by a quiet stroll through Courthouse Park. By three o’clock the two of them were back in the basement apartment, where Kathy was packing for her return to Newport.
Her task came to momentarily halt when her parents’ latest loud exchange in the upstairs hallway filtered through the apartment’s open door. A moment later, when the sound of the front door slamming shut signaled her mother’s leaving, Kathy straightened up and silently rolled her eyes for Delaney’s benefit. Before she found words to fit the occasion, Delaney stepped forward with her own request.
“Couldn’t I spend the week with you in Newport?” She asked in her ‘looking-for-a-favor’ voice....a saccharin sing-song cultivated as a youngster and never outgrown. “You were saying how lonely it is over there. I could keep you company. I wouldn’t be in the way. I promise.”
“I’ve told you before, honey. My room in back of the nursing home is tiny. It’s cramped for one person. Two people would be stumbling over each other. Besides, why would you want to be there? You’d be alone all day.”
Delaney had known all along she would have to explain. She knew exactly what she wanted to say, but how could she speak of her grandparents without sounding ungrateful and disrespectful?
“It would certainly be better than living here in a war zone,” she replied. “You hear how they are. Either they aren’t speaking to each other, or there’s a battle going on. It’s getting worse every day. And now, with Gary gone and you at the coast, I’ll be stuck right in the middle of all that. I’d rather be somewhere else, anywhere else, even if I was alone all day.”
“Come on, Del. I’m hoping they’ll get that silliness out of their systems. They can’t go on like that forever.”
“Has it always been like this? I don’t remember them fighting when they came to see us in L.A. I’ve never heard you talk about them going to war when you were a kid.”
Small wonder Delaney was confused and conflicted. Kathy had spent eighteen years growing up in the Padgett’s Tanner home. In all that time her parents had rarely raised their voices in her presence. The blustery hallway confrontation she and her daughter had heard just minutes before was totally unlike them. In truth it was upsetting her as much as Delaney.
“I’ve never heard them carry on like that,” Kathy admitted. “Especially the way Mom stands up to him the way she does. That’s what scared me when I heard it the first time. I couldn’t imagine her being like that....so angry and in-your-face.”
By then Delaney was not sure how to ask her next question. Was it even her place to be asking? “What do you suppose has changed? Can old people fall out of love? Is that’s what happening?”
Where in the world had Del come up with that off-the-wall idea, Kathy asked herself. It was her parents they were talking about....her Mom and Dad. As often as she had rebelled against their old-fashioned ideas of what was right and wrong, and questioned their outdated notions of what really mattered, she had never once doubted their love for each other. Why would she, when their caring and affection had always been so obvious?
“I suppose that can happen,” she nodded, returning to Delaney’s question. “But not for those two. That’s not what you’re hearing with all their yelling and carrying on. I’m sure of that.”
“How can you tell? If it’s not that, what else could it be?”
“Del, I have to believe the way they feel about each other, hasn’t changed. When people care about each other like they do, for as long as they have, it doesn’t just go away.”
“And this is how they show it....all that love they have for each other? Is that what you’re saying? Because it doesn’t sound like that to me.”
For a sixteen year old, Delaney Padgett had seen more than her share of life lived on the edge. Growing up on the fringes of Southern California’s ‘alternative’ culture had given her an insider’s view of unconventional lifestyles. Yet when it came to seniors, especially her own grandparents, her expectations were more traditional than her mother might have expected.
“That sure doesn’t sound like ‘love’ to me,” she concluded, shaking her head.
Deliberately stuffing the last of her things into the suitcase, Kathy was buying time, struggling to find answers for questions she wished her daughter was not asking.
Finally, she sat on the arm of the sofa to explain. “Look, when we get frustrated we all say things we’d like to take back later. Right?”
Delaney was nodding, reluctant to venture into that conversational minefield with her mother.
“You’ve heard them debate their different ideas about retirement,” Kathy continued. “For them, I suppose that’s the frustration.” She paused a moment to process a new, somewhat unsettling insight. “In fact, perhaps it’s fair to say that Mom is jealous. Maybe that’s what has her so upset.”
“Jealous?” Now there was an emotion the girl could relate to. She had been in that space a time or two. But Grandma and Grandpa? How could that be?
“Why would she be jealous? Grandpa’s not fooling around or anything.” Her raised eyebrow frown was telegraphing her next question. “Is he?”
“Of course not. Not the way you’re thinking. But what Mom might be jealous of could be even harder to deal with. What if she’s jealous of a motor home, or Dad's idea of being a vagabond? I’m not sure she knows how to deal with that....anymore than he understands why she wants to stay put.”
Their conversation was rapidly moving beyond Delaney’s comfort zone, and even further from her more immediate concern. “So here they are, at each other’s throat,” she replied. “Gary’s run off to L.A. and you’re heading for the coast. All of which leaves me alone in the middle of a battlefield. That is really thoughtful of you.”
“Del, you know very well they both love you. You told me this morning that you and Grandma are getting along better. I’m sure you’ll be just fine. And remember, school starts pretty soon. That should give you something to look forward to.”
That reminder was enough to earn the girl’s sarcastic endorsement. “Oh man. Tanner Southside High. Now that’s something to get excited about. I can hardly wait.”
Passing on the urge to defend her alma mater Kathy, suitcase in hand, started for the door.... unsure who she would find upstairs, or if anyone would be willing to talk to her.