Monday, October 31, 2022

BECOMING - Chapter 38

                           CHAPTER 38

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.


Saturday, October 29, 2022

BECOMING - Chapter 37

                           CHAPTER 37

Jack’s plan was for Cynthia and him to meet me at Dad’s place at six-thirty. I had made it a point to get there a few minutes early, to warn the Old Man that he was about to have company. He was not too happy about that, especially when he heard it would be Jack.

“What the hell is he coming here for?”

“I have no idea. It’s a mystery to me.” 

And it was. Tanner was full of places we could have met. Who could say why Jack chose Dad’s apartment or what he had in mind? “I do know that he’s bringing a lady friend with him,” I added. 

Dad found that particularly hard to believe. “What kind of woman would want to be with him?”

“Now don’t you go off like that. I’m sure she’s a nice lady. I know she’s had a stroke. She gets around in a wheelchair. Anyway, there’s no need to get down on her, just because you can’t get along with Jack.”

“Well, I’m sure as hell not impressed by her taste in men.” The old guy had more to say on the subject, but the sound of Jack rapping at the front door put an end to that.

The next fifteen minutes were a perfect example of all parties being on their best behavior. Dad’s hearing was none too good, which made it hard for him to understand Cynthia’s distinctive speech. Still, after only a few minutes, they had made a connection and he was thoroughly enjoying her company. All the while Jack was wise enough to remain off to the side, at the edge of Cynthia’s conversation with Dad and me.

As we prepared to leave for dinner I spent a minute with Dad, reminding him of our Monday date with Maria. Jack took that time to push Cynthia on a quick tour of the apartment. 

It was nearly seven o'clock when we finally bid Dad good-bye. He stood in the doorway as we drove away....still wondering, as was I, why our brief reunion had taken place in his living room.

For dinner, Jack had suggested a seafood place at a south end mall. We ordered, then sat nursing our cocktails while I got to know Cynthia better. I will admit it was not an easy thing, reconciling my schoolboy recollections of Cindy Welton with the Cynthia Larson who sat across the table from me. Yet, as my ear grew attuned to her speech, our conversation became more comfortable.

“Jack has told me a bit about Maria,” Cynthia said. “She sounds like quite a lady.”

“She is that. She’s everything I could want.... except being here. But come Monday we’ll have her back home. I’m looking forward to that.”

Our salads arrived and our conversation lapsed for a few minutes, until Cynthia set her fork aside and said, “Jack tells me you’re a  writer. I’ve never known an author before.”

“One small correction....if I may.” 

How many times over the years had I been forced to offer my humble admission? “I’m a writer. Or if you’d rather, a storyteller, which is the term I prefer. It’s my job. I work at it every day. But I’m not really an author. I’ve never had a story published.”

Cynthia finished a bite of salad, waiting to see if I was through. Then, daubing at her mouth with her napkin, she casually asked, “Why not?”

I was learning something new about this funny-talking lady at every turn. Her manner was quiet, but she did not hesitate to ask abrupt, though certainly honest, questions. For a moment her blunt interrogation was reminding me of Marnie Gray.

“I suppose because they’re not good enough. I’m not good enough. It’s a very competitive business. A lot of writers out there are better at it than me.”

“Do you write short stories?”

“Novels,” I answered, grimacing at the word I had rarely used. I did write novel-length stories. But from the beginning I had found that label far too pretentious to describe the simple tales I wrote. Hence my preference for the ‘storyteller’ label.

“My, that sounds ambitious.”

“It just means they’re longer, not necessarily better. It also makes them harder to get published.”

“I remember reading about places that will publish your story for you,” Cynthia said. “You pay them something and they print your book. You could do that, couldn’t you?”

“I could. But I won’t. The stuff I write is a little off the beaten path. Actually it’s a long way off the beaten path. It’s what I want to write, but it’s not what publishers are looking for, at least not the way I write it. 

"Anyway, if what I write isn’t good enough for a publisher to print, why would I spend my own money, which I don’t have, to get it done? That makes no sense to me.”

“Then why don’t you write what the publishers want?”

The lady just kept coming, one question after the other. “I like to write,” I explained. “It’s a blast, creating stories about people our age and their relationships. That’s the kind of stories I tell.

“Anyway, I get to say what I want to say, the way I want to say it. That doesn’t make it any better than saying it some other way. It just makes it my way. 

"I’ve thought about writing what some publisher might want me to write," I continued. "But I’ve decided that even if I could, I’m not interested in doing that. I’ve spent most of my life doing what someone else wanted. This is for me."

For some reason that seemed to set Cynthia thinking. Her reply would have me doing the same.  

"I can relate to that," she nodded. "Doing what works for me. I suppose that's why I'm here in Tanner with an old friend I'm still getting to know."

"And it certainly works for him," I replied. "He hasn't been this upbeat in a very long time."

“Anyway, about the writing," I said, wanting to complete my thought. "It’s hard work, putting a story together. Why would I spend all that time on something I don’t want to be doing? 

"If my stuff isn’t good enough to get published I can live with that. I have five stories on the shelf. I go back and read them every few months....change a few things....try to make them better. I enjoy that. It’s kind of like visiting an old friend.”

“And it pays really well too. Right?” Jack teased, pulling me from my literary ramblings. 

Then, turning to Cynthia, “Carl’s been broke ever since his ex, Sandra, drove off with everything he owned. He gave it all to her. In his case the old ‘starving writer’ thing is a accurate description.”

I caught Cynthia’s questioning frown. “Is that true?” 

“Just about. I work a couple part-time jobs to cover the bills. They don’t pay much. But they give me time for my addiction. It’s a tradeoff. It works for me.”

“And what about Maria? Does that work for her too, being with a starving writer?” 

Damn! I looked away, wondering if they teach those things in Wife School, or if it was maybe just a feminine thing, something they do naturally. Wherever her question was born, Cynthia apparently felt the need to ask it.

For a moment or two I was prepared not to like Cynthia Larson any longer. Her probing was getting too personal, too pointed. Except, on second thought, I realized it was a fair question.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “She knows that I write. She helps me find time to do that. And she knows I don’t have any money. Beyond that, we’ve never talked about it.”

Why do suppose that is?”

I took a moment to drain my vodka tonic, right down to the last ice cube. This was Jack’s lady friend. I had no right to go to war with her, especially over something as personal as my feelings for Maria. I was looking for a polite way to tell her to butt out, when she looked over at me with that crooked little smile of hers.

“I’m sorry, Carl,” she said softly. “It’s none of my business. But I’ve had some experience living with a man who thought of only what he wanted. In the end it hurt me very much. Do you suppose it could hurt Maria too?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “I’ve spent some time thinking about having both Maria and my writing....about having two obsessions at once. I’ll admit I’ve never been in that place before. I guess it’s something we’ll have to sort out.”

It was eight-thirty when Jack suggested it was time for him to get Cynthia back to her room. “It’s been a long day,” he said, glancing at the lady in her wheelchair. “She won’t say so, but I know she’s tired. We have a big day planned for tomorrow. She needs her rest.”

We spent a few minutes in parting small talk. Then I followed Jack as he pushed Cynthia to the parking lot, noting as we went how at ease my friend was in his new role as caregiver, albeit a very infatuated one. I caught myself hoping that Cynthia appreciated his commitment.

“It’s been good to see you again, Cynthia, after all these years. You keep this guy in line. Okay?” I gave her hand a little squeeze. “I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again before long.” 

“I’ll see that he behaves.” She reached back to pat Jack’s hand. “And the next time I see you, I’ll expect to meet Maria too.”

“You will. I promise.”


Thursday, October 27, 2022

BECOMING - Chapter 36


             CHAPTER 36

Cynthia Larson remembered the city of Tanner as it was forty-five years earlier, when she was a school girl making her way toward the woman she would become. And she remembered the Tanner of forty years before, when she and husband Eric had last visited her parents in their Tanner home. 

In those slower-paced mid-century times it had been a pleasant riverside town surrounded by flat farmland and hilly orchards. Although those idyllic recollections may have remained in some remote corner of her mind, until Jack Benz burst into her newly-cloistered life she had not thought of small-town Tanner for a very long time.

Jack, on the other hand, had lived in Tanner for every one of the forty-five years since the two of them had been high school classmates. He was there, on the scene, as the quiet state capital grew into a bustling city, doubling in size and spreading out in every direction. 

Yet, as dramatic as those changes appeared to Cynthia, Jack had witnessed them as part of a gradual transformation, taking place beyond his work-a-day awareness. He had scarcely noticed the new Tanner taking shape around him. So in the course of his late-afternoon tour with Cynthia he too was being reintroduced to his hometown, as seen through her wondering eyes.

“It felt so much bigger back then,” she said as they cruised past Southside High, two city blocks of dingy concrete and tinted glass. Nodding toward the half-full parking lot next to the gymnasium, evidence of some Saturday afternoon event, she asked, “Do you suppose they have any idea of how it used to be?”  

By then Jack was smiling to himself, awash in his own wave of nostalgic remembering. He had passed that old building often, without ever triggering the memories he was processing at that moment. It must be the present company he decided. 

“I suppose some parts haven’t changed much,” he nodded. “As far as being a teenager, it’s probably still exciting and frustrating at the same time, just like it was back then.”

He drove on, following the broad street leading up the hill toward Tanner Heights and what had been, in their day, the most upscale part of town. At the top of the long grade he turned right, paralleling the back nine of the Tanner Heights Country Club golf course.

“I know you lived up here somewhere,” Jack said as he slowed to read the street signs. “I even remember trying to find your place once, but I don’t think I ever did. Of course, I was never invited to any of your fancy soirees, so no one ever gave me directions.”

That had Cynthia shaking a finger at him. “You wouldn’t have come if I’d asked you. Would you? I know how you boys talked about uscountry-club girls.’”

“It still would have been nice to be asked. Heck, it would have been nice to think you even realized I was in the same school as you.”

It was ‘change the subject’ time for Cynthia. “Up ahead,” she pointed, “I think it’s the next cul-de-sac. It’s hard to tell for sure, with all these big trees. They were so little back then.

“Yes, this is it,” she confirmed, pointing to her left. There, beyond the paved turnaround at the end of the short street was Cynthia’s childhood home. For a few quiet seconds she scanned the low brick-front residence, framed now by the tall maples her father had planted when she was in grade school. 

“Look how small it is,” she exclaimed. “I always thought it was a mansion, but it wasn’t. Could we stop for a minute?”

Jack sat quietly, passing on the urge to explain about really small homes, like the one where he grew up. Instead, he watched as she soaked up adolescent recollections, reveling in the pleasant thoughts they revived. 

After a few seconds she reached over with her good hand and took his as she explained, “It was a good place to grow a good time.” A moment later she sighed, as if to set those memories aside. “But that was then. This is now.”

Leaving Tanner Heights Jack drove on toward the row of high hills that formed the natural southern boundary of Tanner proper. The wide asphalt drive wound across the hillside, past cantilevered homes, perched precariously on the steep slope.

“Who would have guessed they could build homes up here,” Cynthia said. “This was out in the boonies back then.”

“Is that how you thought of Lookout Point....'out  in the boonies'?”

Lookout Point! The very name brought a fresh rush of recollections, and an undisguised grin she did not try to hide. “Is that where we’re going?”

“It’s right ahead, at the top of the hill.” Jack could not resist the chance to tease. “I’m not surprised you don’t remember it. I don’t suppose you were ever here in the light of day?” 

That had Cynthia trying for a stern, no nonsense glare. The tiny smile that crept across the good side of her mouth betrayed that effort. Finally she simply nodded and elaborated, “It was so pretty up here at night. The lights spread out as far as you could see. It felt like the whole town was right there at your feet.”

“And you were parked up here with your 'guy of the week' to admire the pretty lights. Right? Without the lights I suppose there’d have been no reason to be here.” 

Pulling to a stop at the edge of the parking area, Jack was aware of how much he was enjoying their casual teasing. 

“I guess you were the kind to appreciate that sort of thing,” he continued. “I remember a few times when a bunch of us guys would come up here to check things out. Some nights there would be a dozen or more cars, parked all over the place. Their windows would be all steamed up, so it was hard to tell for sure....but I suppose they were appreciating the city lights. Eh? Darn, that must have been quite an attraction.”

“I’m sure that depended on who I was with.” Cynthia's laughter was spilling out again. “And that is all I have to say on the matter. Besides, I like the view better today, thank the daylight.”

Minutes later they were back in town, parked at the side of a busy thoroughfare, where Jack pointed out the site of a once popular drive-in restaurant. In its day it had been an important social center....a place to see and be seen. Now a four-story office building hid all traces of those long-ago good times.

Pulling back from her pleasant recollections, Cynthia paused to check her watch. “You told Carl we’d be there at sixty-thirty, wherever ‘there’ is.”

“Yeah. I know. We’re on our way right now.”

“We’ll be late.”

“I was sure we would be.” He pulled back onto the street and started off toward the Eastside Estates. 

“You see, Carl’s dad is not one of my favorite people. He and I agree on that much. So I don’t want us to get to his place before Carl. If we do I’ll either get the silent treatment, or an earful of stuff I’d rather you didn’t hear.”

“Why doesn’t he like you?”

“I think it began with my work habits.” Jack was laughing, without much humor. “He has some very opinionated opinions about state workers and their value to society. 

"In particular, he thinks I’m a waste of the taxpayers’ money. He takes that very personally. At some point we started debating that stuff. Pretty soon we found out that we don’t agree about much of anything else.”

“So why are we meeting Carl there?”

“You’ll see.”

Moments later Jack pulled up in front of the Postell apartment, more than pleased to see Carl’s car in the driveway.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

BECOMING - Chapter 35


          CHAPTER 35

Their afternoon drive down the interstate to Tanner was an unhurried time. It would be Cynthia’s first extended excursion in months, and Jack was watching with interest as she reveled in the freedom of life lived normally, surrounded by sights and sounds long absent from her sequestered world.

Back on the road, after a lunch stop in Olympia, Jack returned to his ‘getting to know her’ mode. “So tell me, lady," he said. "What kind of things do you like? What’s your idea of something interesting to see, or fun to do?”

“What are you talking about?," she replied, with a hint of scolding in her eyes. “Just look at me. There are so many things I can’t do at all.”

“I’ll bet you can do more than you think you can.” 

By then Jack was reminding himself that would be part of his new job description, nudging her beyond what she had come to accept as her limits. “What would you like to do if you could?” he asked again. 

“You mean like jogging or long hikes,” Cynthia teased. “Maybe biking, or running marathons."

At least she could joke about her unfortunate situation. Jack took that to be a good sign. But was she willing to go where he was leading? “Will you get serious?” he grumbled. “Just tell me what you like to do, or used to like.”

“Oh goodness, we did so many things, Eric and I. We traveled. Took a couple of cruises, and talked about taking more when he retired.” Cynthia paused to catch her breath, grinning a bit as she noted, “We never got around to that.”

“Do you have any hobbies now?”

“I do crossword puzzles, mostly to keep my mind from going to seed. I read a lot and listen to books on tape.”

“What about before?”

“Before, there was my garden.” Her face lit up at the thought of that. “We had a big back yard. It was lovely. I’d spend hours out there. Time would just fly. And then there was cooking.” 

She was chuckling at the thought of a well-remembered time. “I took a French cooking course once. In New York City, while Eric was at a conference. That was great fun.”

“You can still cook, can’t you?”

“How? You’ve seen my kitchen. It has a sink and microwave. That’s all. Besides, they cook for me now.”

A mile or two later Cynthia offered a question of her own. “How about you, Mr. Benz? What kind of things do you do?”

“Well, to start with, I go to work five days a week. I’m not a workaholic, but I show up most every day. Actually, I qualified for retirement a few years back, but I kept working.”

“Why? Why not retire?”

“There’s never been a reason to quit. The pay’s pretty good and I like what I do. There’s no pressure or stress, at least not the way I do it.” He chose not to expand on that. 

“But I have other things going too," Jack continued. "You’ve heard about the stuff I do with the Class of Sixty-Four. I work on that a few hours every week. And I find time for a few beers with Carl Postell every so often. Beyond that, I suppose I qualify as a couch potato.”

“It sounds like it’s enough to keep you busy.”

“Oh, I almost forgot my newest job,” he added, slapping his forehead in mock disgust. “I’ve spent months tracking down an old sixth-grade girlfriend. That took some real doing. I chased her all over the country before I finally caught up with her.”

“Are you calling me old?”

“I’m sorry. That was a poor choice of words. I know for a fact you’re the same age as me, so you can’t be old.”

As they drove Cynthia turned quiet again, with her eyes closed and her chin resting on her chest. Jack was sure she was asleep, until she looked up to ask her softly worded question. 

“Why do you suppose you kept looking....even though you couldn’t find me?”

Grinning to himself, Jack was certain that he had an answer for her, though he was not at all sure he could put it into words. 

“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “From the beginning it sounded far out. The idea of tracking you down was definitely a long shot. And if I did find you, the chances that you'd ever talk to me or answer my email......well, that was off the charts. I knew it made no sense. Carl was absolutely right when he told me it was impossible.

“But I guess I wouldn’t let myself believe that.” He reached over to squeeze her hand. “I had no idea what it would take. But as long as I kept hoping, it felt like there was a chance that something good might come of it. If I quit believing that it was the same as saying it couldn’t happen, like Carl had said. I guess I wasn’t ready to settle for that.”

“So you didn’t give up.”

“That’s right. I didn’t give up.” Jack punctuated his declaration with a wink. “Smartest thing I never did.”


It was nearly four o’clock when Jack pulled off the interstate at the North Tanner exit and stopped in front of the sprawling interchange motel. 

“I checked this place out a couple weeks ago,” he explained. “When I thought you were coming down then. They have rooms with all the handicapped stuff....grab bars, wide doors, and things like that. Why don’t I see what they have  available.”

An instant later Cynthia’s wary frown and Jack’s sudden understanding appeared to arrive at the same time. Clearly he needed to reinforce his earlier disclaimer. 

“You told me before that you’d be okay on your own for the night? Right?” That had her nodding her relieved agreement. “If that's still okay," he added. "This will be ‘your’ room. Yours alone.”

“I can do that," she nodded through her crooked smile. "I’ll be just fine. I spend every night on my own. This will be just the same.”

“Good,” he smiled. “Let me see if they have a downstairs room that works.”


Jack Benz was a resourceful fellow....creative, persistent, and persuasive. He was, however, occasionally given to strange twists of logic. Take for instance that Saturday afternoon. I was working at the book store, stocking shelves in the Cook Book section, when my cell phone rang.

“I hope I’m not bothering you,” Jack announced. “We just got to town, Cynthia and I. We’re at her motel right now.”

“She came back with you?" I asked. "I thought you two weren’t speaking. You didn’t kidnap her, did you?”

“No, I didn’t.” Jack slowed to be sure I got the full impact of his next words. “In fact, it was her idea. She’s the one who said we should come today.”

“Well, you behave yourself, Benz. You don’t know Cindy Welton that well. Not yet.”

“It’s Cynthia Larson, not Cindy Welton, and I’m only here to help her settle in. Then we’re heading out to see the town.”

I paused to scan the horizon for any sign of my supervisor. “Look," I said. "I’m at work. My boss doesn’t like us talking on company time. So what’s this about?”

“Damn, I’m sorry. I wouldn’t want to get you in trouble.” Actually Jack did not sound particularly sorry or concerned. “You ought to work for the State. They don’t sweat that kind of stuff.”

“I’m pretty sure they do. It’s just that you’ve been there long enough to know where all the skeletons are hid. No one wants to get you upset.”

“Do you suppose that’s it?' he asked through a knowing laugh. "Anyway, back to the reason I called. I was hoping you’d have dinner with us tonight. I want you to meet Cynthia.”

“I’d like that. Tell me where and when. I’m off at six.” I was trying to hurry him along before my supervisor made a surprise appearance.

“Okay. How about six-thirty, at your dad’s place?”

“At Dad’s. Why there?”

“I’m sorry. I have to go. I don’t want to get you in trouble.” Suddenly Jack was in a hurry to be on his way. “We’ll see you at six-thirty.” An instant later the line went dead.

That was seriously strange. A rendezvous at the Old Man’s apartment? In even the best of times Dad and Jack barely tolerated each other. From the beginning, theirs had been a case of mutual dislike, with always the possibility of loud insults or deafening silence. In light of that history, it was hard to understand why he wanted to meet me there.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

BECOMING - Chapter 34

           CHAPTER 34

Not surprisingly, Jack’s Thursday-night phone call....with its not-so-subtle ultimatum....only served to renew Cynthia’s already-nagging anxieties. He was forcing the issue, pushing her toward decisions she had tried her best to avoid.

By Friday morning she was still without answers. More than that, she was dead tired, the result of a long night spent rehashing the many reasons to stand firm in the face of Jack’s schoolboy fantasies. 

He had made his point....he would be at her door the next morning. Having stalled his advances for more than a week, how would she deal with his unwelcome return?

For two years Forest Gardens had shielded her from the sort of risk that Jack Benz represented. Her new home, with its practical isolation, had served her well. It was safe, caring, and strong enough to keep the world away from her new reality. In light of that, why would she consider complicating her reconstructed life with the likes of him?

As a young woman Cynthia had rarely considered the process of growing old, and certainly never the possibility of growing old alone. In those days, viewing the world from her privileged perspective, the life she and Eric had created seemed to stretch out forever.

Then, without warning, had come the traumatic shock of a painfully-new perspective. Her stroke, and Eric’s sudden desertion, had created a very different reality....the likelihood that she would be alone forever. In time she had defused the impact of that frightening prognosis by accepting it as the only possible outcome.

Lately, in the idle hours that made up most of her days, Cynthia had found herself revisiting Jack Benz’ sudden intrusion into that settled life. She was half-ashamed to remember that her first thoughts of going to Tanner with him had included the embarrassing possibility that some old friend, unknown for decades, would see her in Jack’s company. 

There was no getting past the sharp-edged truth of it. He was so different. His impulsive talk of them seeing Tanner together was surely the starry-eyed rambling of a man who was old enough to know better. 

For half an hour Cynthia busied herself.... washing the few breakfast dishes and straightening up the apartment. By the time she pushed her walker back to the window she had been overtaken by a wave of new and very different concerns. 

She remembered the early months of her recovery, when moments of discouraged longing would morph into dramatic daydreams of a suitor.... someone who could see the person beneath her new disguise....who would swoop down to rescue her from her frustrating captivity. In those furtive scenarios, Prince Charming had always resembled Eric. Never once had he looked like Jack Benz. 

Yet there was no denying the appeal of Jack’s attention. It was surprisingly seductive....his feel-good talk and easy acceptance of whom she had become. 

Now, after weeks of alternatively dwelling on the possibilities and dodging the issues altogether, Cynthia was disappointed to find herself without satisfying answers to her ‘Jack’ questions. There was a time when she had prided herself in her boldness....her ability to make decisions and act decisively. Indeed, Eric had often teased her audacious sense of adventure, her impetuous willingness to take a chance.

A part of her longed to retrieve that self assurance. The more she considered the choices, the more it felt like a test....a challenge to her own timidity. In any case, right or wrong, yes or no, on Saturday morning Cynthia would have to face Jack Benz and his unlikely dream.


Saturday was a dreary overcast morning, with periods of drizzle and patches of heavy fog that slowed traffic on the interstate. Jack planned to be in Tacoma by eleven, so he was on the road early. During those hours of mindless driving his thoughts kept drifting back to the same anxious concerns.

His brief telephone conversation with Cynthia, two nights before, had left him with no reason to hope for the best. If anything, it had felt like a reply of her earlier ultimatum. He had been waiting for nearly two weeks....and still she talked of needing more time.

But how much time? Why was it taking so long? The longer he thought about it, the more it felt like he was heading for a high-noon showdown, an unwelcome face-off that seemed destined to end in humiliating rejection. In any case, one way or another, he would know in a matter of hours.

Just before eleven o’clock he walked into the spacious main lobby of Forest Gardens Assisted Living Center. Sidestepping an elderly, but very-mobile couple who managed to hold hands as they steered their matching motorized chairs across the room, he passed the front counter and started down the hall towards Cynthia’s room. An instant later he was stopped in his tracks by the sound of his name.

“Jack. Over here.” He turned to see her on the far side of the lobby, in her power chair, parked next to the long sofa. She had come to the lobby to meet him. Was that a good sign?

“Good morning,” he said cautiously. “It’s good to see you again. In fact, it’s kind of a nice surprise. Better than finding you locked in your room.”

“I couldn’t have you sitting here in the lobby all day.” Did he detect a hint of her grin? It was hard to tell. “And it certainly wouldn’t do to have you thrown out on the street. What would people say about that? ”

Jack nodded, forcing himself to pay special attention to the unfamiliar sound and measured pace of her words, knowing it would take a few minutes to get past that distraction. As she spoke her crooked little smile emerged, which he read as anxious and part friendly, one part nerves. Still, he was encouraged by the warmth of her greeting.

Pausing, Cynthia glanced over his shoulder to the long window that stretched across the front of the lobby. “It’s stopped raining, hasn’t it?”

“Yeah. For now anyway.”

“Would you like to take a walk, out to the pools? It’s a good place to talk. I’ve been told that’s what we need to do.”

“I’d like that.” 

He let her lead the way to the front door. Once outside she turned down the asphalt path that wound through the well-tended grounds toward the three interlocking pools. Nothing was said as he hurried to keep up. 

At the landscaped, semi-enclosed patio, next to the water, she motioned him to a bulky concrete bench. By then Jack’s mind was racing, trying to recapture the persuasive arguments he had assembled during his long drive, wondering where to begin. To his surprise, it was Cynthia who spoke first, with an apology of all things. 

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” she said. “With all the waiting. But I didn’t know what to do. It’s been a very long time since I’ve had to make a choice like that.”’

Listening carefully, Jack was getting in sync with the pattern of her speech, not wanting to anticipate what was coming next. “We have to go slow,” he nodded. “And we will. But we do have to talk. That’s how we’ll figure this out.” 

He slid across the rough bench, closer to her chair. “I’ve known all along that I’m not the kind of guy you’re used to. You only have to look at me to know that I’m not good enough......”

With a movement quicker than he realized she could make, Cynthia reached out and clamped her good hand over his mouth. “Don’t say that. Don’t ever say that. Please.”

Noting his puzzled frown, she pulled her hand away. “Jack, I don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s part of what frightens me. But whatever it is, it has nothing to do with anyone being good enough, or not. I don’t want to hear any more of that talk. Do you understand?”

By her standards that was a long and tiring speech, in a command tone Jack had not heard before. He was not sure how to respond so he sat silently, watching wind-ripples dance across the nearest pool, until she caught her breath and was ready to continue.

“So what should we do now?,” she asked. It appeared that Cynthia too was looking for answers.

“We should talk,” he answered. “We should spend some time together. Get to know each other better. 

"I can’t speak for you, but I need to find out if there’s something to these feelings I’ve had for such a long time. I’m not sure you realize how hard it is to care about someone, and not be allowed to tell her. Or show her.”

“How can you know that?” Cynthia asked, shaking her head. “You’ve told me before how you feel. But I can’t imagine why.”

Reaching down for a pebble, Jack threw it into the pool and watched the widening circles wash across the water. Without looking up he offered his reply.

 “Look, how I feel about you isn’t your choice to make," he began. "Maybe you’d rather I didn’t have those thoughts. It certainly doesn’t mean that you have to feel that way about me. You can even tell me I’m wrong. But I’m the only one who can change my mind. And I’m not ready to do that.”

“You are a stubborn one, aren’t you? Even when you can see who I am now.”

“How can I make you understand?” It was a frustrating thing, Jack told himself, that felt like a repeat of their earlier talks....going in circles, covering the same ground. 

“I’ll be the first to admit that when those thoughts of you first showed up, when they got stuck in my head, I imagined you as the high school girl I remembered. The one who never noticed me ....who never even talked to me."

How could he explain the difference he wanted to illustrate? Did he have the words?

“You turned out to be someone else, that’s true. You're different....but to me it’s a good kind of different. The one who’s with me now is just as special, but she does talk to me. We laugh together. Or feel sorry for ourselves together. Why wouldn’t I rather be with that one, the one who maybe likes me a little bit? She’s the one I want to know better, the one I want to spend time with.”

For long seconds Cynthia stared passively into her folded hands. When she looked up she was nodding, seeming to agree. “You’re right,” she said. “We should do that. We should know each other better.”

An moment later Jack was struck by a startling new revelation. The stroke seemed not to have touched her eyes. Though she had never looked his way in those pre-stroke times, the smile he saw in her blue eyes was neither twisted nor halting. It was exactly as it must have been before....bright, expressive, and natural. Looking into her soft glance he was seeing the real Cynthia, the person she had always been. 

Then she looked up to add, “There’s something else we should do.”

“What’s that?”

“We should go to Tanner.”

Her words struck him like an electrical shock.... sharp, unexpected, and impossible to ignore. He jerked around and sat up straight, asking, “We should what?”

“You heard me,” Cynthia repeated slowly, carefully sounding out each syllable. “I think it’s time to do that.”

“Are you sure?” He was on his feet now. “I’m not pushing you into something again, am I?”

“I’m sure. And no, you’re not pushing. I’m nervous, of course. I knew I would be. But it’s time for me to be brave again, even if I’m a little scared, even if it feels like I’ll be jumping without a parachute.”

“That would be part of my job," Jack quipped. "To catch you when you do that.”

Though she smiled at that, Cynthia was not about to be moved from what she wanted to say. “Forest Gardens feels very safe. I suppose it always will. There are times when that’s the most important thing, to be where no one stares, or laughs, or points at me. It’s a good place to be when I want to hide from all that.”

“What if that happens when you’re with me?” Jack had never considered what she was describing. “How am I supposed to act? Should I give them hell, or punch them out?”

“Of course not,” she laughed. “It’s nothing to fight about.”

“I’m glad to hear that. The truth is I’m not much of a fighter. Never have been.” He was grinning, though with a serious edge. “But I promise that whatever we go through, we’ll go through it together. Okay?”

Turning back to the pool, Jack let the surprising sense of relief settle over him, certain that her pleasant acceptance was worth every one of those impatient days of waiting. Then, over his shoulder, he asked, “So when would you like to see Tanner?”

“How about right now. I’m packed and ready. The Director said it was okay.”

“Today? You’re ready now?” He was laughing again. “You had this figured out all along, didn’t you?”

“I told you, I’ve been thinking about it for days. I finally scolded myself for being such a coward. That’s not how I want to think of myself. 

“I believe we’ll have a good time,” she continued. “We can talk, like you said. And get to know each other better. I’m sure I’ll be nervous sometimes, but I’ll be safe. I know that.” She leaned back in her chair to catch her breath, tired by so much talking.

“You bet you’ll be safe. I’m just glad you can trust me that much.”

     “In the end,” Cynthia grinned. “I thought it over and took a vote. I won.”