Back at Cynthia’s motel room after their dinner with Carl, Jack wheeled her inside, hung up her coat, and from the back of the room produced her walker.
“Do you want this now?” he asked as he unfolded the apparatus. “Or would you rather stay in the wheelchair?”
“I’ll stay here in the chair for now.”
Pushing the table and two chairs toward the corner of the room, he made more space for the wheelchair. With that accomplished he leaned against the television cabinet, watching as she nervously smoothed her lap robe. Finally, feeling his stare, Cynthia looked up.
“What are you looking at?”
“I was just thinking about how things worked out,” he said, shaking his head. “Wondering why you’d ever let an old fossil like me into your life.... some guy who’s never outgrown his schoolboy crush.”
“I’m told those can be very persistent.”
“They must be. It was enough to keep me looking for you, even when you were lost. I knew it was the ultimate long shot, but I kept looking. How’s that for being persistent?”
“I wasn’t lost, you know. I always knew exactly where I was. Still, I can’t imagine what made you do that. Where was the logic in it?”
“Perhaps it just shows," Jack answered. "That when something is meant to be, it will happen, one way or another.
"Remember, I went looking for Cindy Welton. I looked everywhere I could think of and never did find her. Turns out I was looking for the wrong person. I didn’t realize that until I finally tracked down Cynthia Larson.”
“That wasn’t the same as finding Cindy, was it?”
“Not the same. Just better. A lot better. You know very well that Cindy Welton wouldn’t have given me the time of day. But Cynthia Larson did. In fact, I think she even likes me a little bit. How much better is that?”
Pausing for a moment, Jack was noting again how awkward it could be to have a wheelchair companion. Too often it was not a face to face relationship....not when she was sitting there in her chair while he stood looking down at her. It was time to move beyond that distraction. Sitting down on the edge of the bed he pulled her wheelchair closer.
“So you think she likes you, eh?” Cynthia repeated. Once again he was learning something new about his friend. She could wink with her left eye. And she did exactly that as she asked, “Am I that easy to read?”
Jack was about to answer, then paused to set this words aside. She was sitting directly in front of him ....smiling, joking, obviously at ease. There was no plan, no premeditation, just years of unspoken feelings pulling him toward that moment.
Reaching out, he cradled her face in his hands, and leaned forward. An instant later they were kissing the kiss he was so sure could never happen.
A moment later, pulling back, he was suddenly searching for words to fit the occasion. What he found was an emphatic “Wow!”
“Wow?” She was laughing again. “That’s all? Just 'Wow'?”
“I think that says it all.”
With that Jack was off the bed and on his feet, pacing to the front door and back. For the next few seconds he was talking to himself....offering both questions and answers. Finally he pulled a straight-backed chair from the table and planted it beside Cynthia’s wheelchair.
“What is it”” she asked. “There’s nothing wrong, is there?”
“Not at all. I just hope I’m not going too fast again. I don’t want to be stressing you.”
She was chuckling at his odd choice of words. “Do you think that stressed me? It didn’t, you know. I rather liked it.”
That was all the encouragement he needed. He had intended to spring his surprise the next day, back in Tacoma. The patience necessary to wait that long was fading fast.
“Would you do me a favor then?” he asked, taking her hand in his. “Take a minute to listen to an idea of mine. And if you’re still speaking to me when I’m done, you can tell me if I’m going too fast.
“The place we were at," he continued. "Where Carl’s dad lives, is called an Independent Living unit. You saw how it is. It has all the accommodation stuff you’d ever need, along with wheelchair access. It has most everything you have in your Assisted Living apartment.”
Did she understand where he was leading? “That’s why I wanted you to see it.
“I’ve been thinking about this a lot....about you living in Tacoma, while I’m here in Tanner. There's absolutely no reason for you to be so far away. You said before that when your sister left there was no one else there for you. You’re all alone. So why not be here, in Tanner?”
“But Jack, what saw was an Independent Living place," Cynthia reminded him." Not an Assisted Living facility. My doctor says I need to be in one of those, one that has the support I need....the specialists and therapists.”
She paused to catch her breath and form her explanation. “I don’t think he’d approve an Independent Living place. And without his okay, Eric’s trust won’t pay for it.”
Jack was nodding as he waited for her to finish, apparently accepting each of her objections. “I understand," he finally nodded. "And I agree. It wouldn’t do to leave you on your own in an Independent Living place. But what if I was there too, to be your support team?”
“You and me?” For a moment her words came even more slowly than usual. “You would do that?”
“Of course I would. There’s plenty of room, in a cozy sort of way. We’d be just fine. It’s the best idea I’ve had in ages. ”
“The two of us, living together?” she asked again. He noted her skeptical frown, though she was apparently not prepared to pursue the flood of new questions. Instead, she returned to the medical issues. “But it’s still an Independent Living place. I don’t see how the doctor could accept that. There’s so many other things I need access to.”
By then Jack was scolding himself for not having stated his case better. “Cynthia, we were at Eastside Estates for just a few minutes. You saw just one part of it. It’s really big.
"Besides the Independent Living apartments, they have Assisted Living units, like you’re in now. And they have a big Nursing Home facility right down the street. They have everything you’d ever need....specialists, therapists, emergency care of all sorts. It’s exactly the kind of place where you should be.”
“I didn’t know they had all that.”
Drawing a deep breath he was prepared to continue, His idea was a keeper and he wanted her to hear all of it. Instead, a moment later he changed his mind. Raising his palm he called for a time out.
“Look, I didn’t plan to talk about this tonight. It’s pretty far out, I know that. I should have helped you get ready to hear about it. I was going to do that tomorrow. But then this ‘Wow’ thing happened and all of a sudden it felt like the right time.
“You certainly don’t have to decide now. In fact, I don’t want you to. Just think about it, please.” He had her hand again. “There’s no reason in the world for you to be lonely in Tacoma, while I’m lonely in Tanner. We shouldn’t be so far apart.”
Turning away from his gaze, Cynthia was staring into her lap, fidgeting with the folds of her robe. When she looked up her smile was gone. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Oh yeah, I’m serious. But remember, it’s only an idea. Something for you to think about. Something for us to talk about later.”
“I will think about it. I promise.”
“Okay then. I’ll be going. You’re sure you’ll be okay alone? I don’t feel quite right about this.”
“I’ll be just fine,” she assured him. “The room has everything I need. And I have my walker and the emergency-call gizmo on my necklace. It can find me no matter where I am. So don’t you worry.”
A moment later Jack closed the door behind him, doing his best to interpret what her sparkling eyes and crooked smile were telling him.
Alone in the dark quiet of her motel room, Cynthia lay in bed processing the liberating images of a most liberating day. After months of stifling isolation and dulling sameness, the invigorating blend of nostalgic sightseeing and pleasant company had been like a tonic. She was tired, of course. But with a mind full of memorable moments sparring for her attention, sleep was out of the question.
To think she had spent so long avoiding that day and all it had been. For two years she had been dwelling on what she could not do, where she could not go, and who she could not be....always intent on escaping the curious glances that so often greeted her lopsided face and halting speech.
Now, revisiting that long-felt need to be in hiding she was aware of a new insight. For an entire afternoon and evening she had not once fallen prey to the nagging self-pity that hijacked so many of her days. She had literally forgot to feel sorry for herself.
It had been a day of places and sights, each one a part of her past. At times it was hard to believe that so long after the fact those connections still remained. And complimenting that surge of renewed memories had been a steady stream of engaging conversation and spontaneous laughs.
It had all been so enjoyable, so normal. And not once in the course of their day together had she noticed Jack paying attention to the frailties that made her whom she had become.
Then, of course, there had been their kiss....that unexpected moment when Jack had demonstrated his own daring. Who would have imagined that the new Cynthia Larson could evoke such a reaction?
As near as she could tell, his impetuous boldness had been a spur-of-the-moment thing, the natural expression of deeply-felt emotions. If anything, he had been just as surprised as she was. There was no restraining her smile as she recalled his childlike “Wow.”
Finally, her thoughts returned to the surprising climax of an altogether surprising day....Jack’s excited explanation of how they could be together in Tanner, in an Independent Living apartment.
“Why be alone in Tacoma?,” he had asked, making it sound so matter-of-fact. Her first reaction had been incredulous doubt. Now, caught up in the rush of newly minted emotions, it could not be passed off so easily.
Days before, in the face of Jack’s persistent attention, Cynthia had taken refuge behind her well-practiced defenses. If he had not insisted that she step out into the open, she would be there yet. She would have missed their day together, and the return to a past she was recalling with renewed affection.
Of course there were other things to consider, other memories to be remembered and blessings to be counted. They were still arriving when sleep finally came.