Nearly a year before, with Sarah’s passing, Hank Rolland’s world had gone terribly wrong. Now, for the last two weeks he had stumbled from one place to another, engrossed in what he was calling a pilgrimage....looking for something that was right. For that long he had been consumed by questions he could scarcely put into words, seeking answers he was not sure he would recognize if he ever found them.
From San Francisco to San Jose, from Half Moon Bay to Marin County, he had rambled aimlessly, hoping to find an enabling reality. With long oceanside walks, more Napa Valley wine than he needed, and a series of one-sided dialogues with an always silent Sarah he had prepared himself to receive the truth. Yet, after nearly two weeks on the road his hopeful efforts had produced only renewed frustration.
Sarah’s ‘moving on’ instructions had remained an unsolved mystery until, in the dark quiet of his pine tree Sanctuary, Hank awoke from a brief nap knowing that he had come face to face with what he now assumed to be the elusive truth.
It had begun with his own ‘change’ advice to Mark Halvern....an off-hand observation, little more than the germ of an idea. Yet, by the time Hank roused himself from his drowsy meditation that ‘change’ seed had taken root in his own receptive mind. It suddenly made sense. Sarah’s “moving on” reminder had been about change. But what kind of change? That answer was yet to be revealed.
The next afternoon, as he hurried up the interstate towards Tanner, Hank was still wondering if that cryptic insight had arrived as part of a random dream. Or had it been Sarah’s subtle way of revealing what she wanted him to know? Perhaps it was both. By then, none of that seemed to matter. With every mile he was more convinced than ever that he had found the way to his future.
From Mendocino to Tanner was something more than five hundred miles, the first part of it over the winding Pacific Coast Highway. As a young man Hank would have driven straight through....a twelve or thirteen hour marathon he could have managed in those days. But times had changed. This time his return would be a two day drive, with an overnight stop in southern Oregon.
By late Monday afternoon he was home. After a shower, shave, and change of clothes he was prepared to go calling. Though he could have called ahead to alert Grace, and Sarah, that he was in town, he decided against that. He would show up unannounced at Grace’s door step, springing his surprise.
And in truth they were surprised. At least Grace was. For a few seconds she was too startled to say anything. Then finally, gathering her composure she stepped forward to greet him with an impulsive hug, before backing away to look him over from head to toe.
“You look the same,” she said. “It’s hard to see any difference.”
“Hey. I was only gone a couple weeks.”
“For some reason or another I expected to see a new you. I thought that was the idea. Anyway, if you had called ahead I would have put the coffee on. Come on in.” She led them through the living room and across the hall to the less-formal family room.
“Have a seat.” She motioned him to the quilt-patterned sofa. “I’ll get Sarah, so she can join us.”
“Please.” Hank raised his hand to stop her. “Could we make it just the two of us for now? There’ll be time for her to join us later.”
“I just thought.....” Her words trailed off, lost in a puzzled frown. “Am I missing something here?”
“I’m not sure. It seems like we have some things to talk about. Or maybe it’s just me. Either way, it would be easier with just the two of us.”
Grace settled into a dark leather armchair, wondering what came next. While she waited Hank sat on the edge of the sofa, fussing with the crease of his slacks.
Their awkward pause dragged on until finally Grace spoke up. “You said you wanted to talk, but you’re not. Is something wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” he said softly. “I just didn’t expect this to be so scary. I thought it would be easier.”
“’Scary’? What are you scared of? I don’t understand.”
“How could you? I’m not so sure I do either. In any case, I know it’s bound to sound absolutely crazy. I’ll be surprised if you don’t laugh out loud.”
Grace leaned forward, scowling as she demanded, “Will you stop it, all this talking in riddles. Just say what you came to say.”
Seconds later Hank was on his feet, off and pacing, from one end of the room to the other. He did not slow down as he responded. “I left town to figure things out. Remember? But it didn’t exactly turn out that way. In the end, all my looking didn’t accomplish a thing.”
“So you came back empty handed. Is that it? Why would that scare you? You already knew how that felt.”
“That’s not how it was.” He stopped and sat down on the arm of the sofa. “I didn’t come back ‘empty handed.’ But that wasn’t because I found anything. What I brought back was something that found me. I was just setting there and bang, there it was.”
“There you go again, with more of your riddles,” she said. “Can’t you just tell me what it is?”
“Of course I can. Except.....I’m not exactly sure myself what it was. As near as I can tell it was a dream.”
“Was that the dream you told me about the other day?”
“That’s the one.” With eyes closed Hank revisited those pleasant recollections. “It was at the coast,” he said. “Down by Mendocino. I was sitting under a big old pine tree, and........”
“A tree?” Grace interrupted. “Hank Rolland, will you get serious. I want to hear about your dream, not some silly tree.”
“Okay,” he laughed, unwilling to put her off any longer. “Here’s the deal, exactly as I remember it. I’d dozed off for a while, under my tree. The next thing I knew I was awake and my dream was right there in my head, every single detail. I told you that before, at least the part about your dress.”
“Oh yes. My ‘greenish’ dress, you said.”
“Anyway, I can’t remember the last time I woke up remembering a dream like that.”
“Hank.” Grace was sputtering now, wondering what would it take to move him past his maddening introduction. “Will you get on with the dream? What was it about?”
“That’s exactly what I’m doing. The dream I remembered happened at church. It was in the Fellowship Hall, after a Sunday Service. I was just sitting there, chatting with folks, like we do. The next thing I knew there was a whole bunch of ladies standing around my table. They had me surrounded. It was really spooky. Angie was there, and Marybeth, and lots of others I see all the time at church.
“They were all talking at once, like they sometimes do. Some of them were pointing at me, in a not-too-friendly way. But I didn’t hear a thing they were saying. I just sat there as calm as could be, ignoring them all and grinning at the lady sitting next to me. I reached over and patted her hand, and she looked back at me with the biggest smile.”
Hank paused, perhaps wondering how to complete his story. Before he could say a thing Grace was expressing her own uneasiness.
“I’m not sure what you’re saying,” she said. “What does a dream like that mean? Or does it mean anything? After all, it was just a dream?”
“Yeah, it meant something," he nodded. "It meant a lot. You see, about then that dream of mine got even more crazy.” He had reached the point of no return. “The thing is, that lady sitting there with me, the one person who could help me make sense out of all that craziness....was you.
“I remember that part as clear as anything. Except by the time I’d replayed that whole scenario a few more times I wasn’t sure if it had been a dream or not.
"I was thinking it might have been Sarah making her point. I think she works that way sometimes. But no matter what it was or where it came from, the answer was the same. I woke up knowing that after all my false starts, Sarah was telling me what it would take to make me whole again. About then it felt like a light had come on.”
Grace’s questioning grin had turned to a wary frown. Seconds later her puzzled wondering had become a question. “What does that mean?”
“I think Sarah was telling me I’d been looking in the wrong places. That there was only one person who cared what I was going through. And that person was the one I needed to be talking to.”
He stood and took a few steps across the room toward her. “I’d been asking those questions for so long. When Sarah finally answered it was like she was pointing her finger right at you. She was saying ‘There’s the one.’ That’s how it felt.”
“You’d better be careful, Mr. Rolland.” By then Grace was on her feet, edging closer to him. “Don’t you be talking just to make noise.”
For the very first time Hank reached for her hand, first one, then other. “Look,” he said. “I realize this is kind of sudden, and probably kind of scary for you too.
"It’s called ‘change.’ That was something else I learned about under my tree. And ‘change’ can be a frightening thing. It takes us to new places, where we don’t know what’s coming next. In fact, that’s what makes it ‘change.’
“Anyway, it’s a long drive from Mendocino to Tanner and I spent most of that time thinking about change....for me and for us. you and I. I wasn’t sure what it would look like. I still don’t know, or if I can even make it happen. I suppose the bigger question is whether you want it to happen....whether it’s right for you. That’s what I hope you’ll be able to answer in time.”
Leaning closer, Gladys’ anxious smile seemed to match his. “So now I’m the one with questions to answer," she replied. "Is that it? Those questions of yours are something for me to be thinking about?”
“Yeah, I guess that’s it. But I don’t want to hurry you. I want us to take our time. Now that it finally feels like I’m on the right track I want to be sure we get it right.”
“We have all the time in the world, don’t we?”
“Yes we do. So why don’t we start with a nice uptown dinner. Then I need to make a run to Portland.”
“Is that something else that came up in California?”
“I suppose it is, in a round about way,” Hank said. “I need to talk to the kids, especially Kelly. She was there when her mother told me to ‘move on.’ I want her, and Eric too, to know that I’m ready to do that.”
Grace had no reply. In fact, for the next minute she seemed to have checked out. Though Hank was perhaps slow to pick up on her sudden reluctance, in a matter of seconds he understood.
“I made it sound like it’s a done deal, didn’t I?,” he asked. “Like you’d already agreed to everything I said. That you’re as excited about it as I am. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. I don’t want to take anything for granted.
“But even if you’re not sure that it works for you, I want you to know I won’t be giving up on the idea. I can be pretty tenacious. You need to know that. And that’s what I’ll be telling Kelly and Eric.”
Leaning forward Hank kissed her forehead, then stepped back to ask, “Could I interest you in dinner?”