Fifty Something Shades of Widowhood
Doug Clarke was sitting in the waiting room of the Dalton GM-Cadillac dealership service department in Greenville working on the crossword puzzle in that day's edition of the News and Dispatch when he noticed the woman entering the small waiting area. She was noticeably well dressed, wearing a freshly pressed pant suit with white blouse, high heeled shoes, and several jewelry pieces. Her hair was well styled and obviously treated, a curly blond do that made her look younger than she really was. She was wearing well placed makeup on her face, her perfectly manicured fingernails were painted deep red, and there was a wedding ring on her finger almost the size of Elizabeth Taylor's famous rock.
The woman was clearly agitated and annoyed as she collapsed into a chair and let out a deep sigh.
"Everything okay?" Doug asked, partly to make conversation in the otherwise empty small waiting room and partly because he was intrigued by the mighty fine woman in his presence.
She glanced at him and seemed to frown. She was probably frightened by his shaved bald head that made him look like Mr. Clean (without the earring). He sported a gray goatee around his mouth, wire rimmed glasses that got lost in his pudgy face, and he was wearing a green tee shirt that seem to be two sizes too small for his bulky torso. He also wore jeans and sneakers. She wasn't quite sure what to make of the fellow and she was obviously debating with herself as to whether or not she should engage him in any sort of conversation. But then again, who else did she have to talk to these days?"
"I drive new cars so I can avoid days like this," the woman replied, sounding haggard. "I've only had my vehicle four months. I shouldn't be here."
"What's wrong with it?" Doug asked.
"That fangled engine light thing keeps coming on," she groaned. "It's very annoying. Makes me think the car is going to explode."
"I'm sure it's just a sensory problem," Doug replied. "Easy to fix. No big problem."
"My husband always took care of these things," the woman said, a certain sadness in her voice. "I don't like having to deal with such problems."
"Why isn't he taking care of it today?" Doug asked, glancing at her sparkling wedding ring.
"I'm a widow," the woman sighed, sounding like she was about to cry. "Three years now."
"I'm sorry for your loss," Doug replied.
"You would think after three years I would be used to these inconveniences and nuisances in my life but I don't think I'll ever adjust."
There was a certain sad loneliness about the woman and Doug found himself feeling sorry for her. Normally, he would have returned to his crossword without engaging a woman of her status any further but he decided to keep her engaged in a friendly conversation hoping maybe that would distract her from her woes.
"I'm Doug Clarke," he said politely, reaching his hand out for her to take.
She looked at him like he was a molester but after thinking about it for a second she extended her hand to take his, although for Doug it was like shaking a dead fish. Doug wasn't sure if he should kiss her hand like she was the Queen the way she carried herself. He wasn't used to being around classy women like her.
"My name is Samantha Wainwright," she said, sounding formal, as if she was announcing herself at a press conference.
"Wainwright Insurance?" Doug asked.
"Yes, my husband Thomas and his family."
Doug nodded in recognition. Wainwright Insurance was one of the more popular and successful companies in Blue County, a business that had been around for four generations. Their office was in a stately old brick building on Main Street although Doug had never been inside. He used the smaller Farley Insurance Company on the other side of town but there was no reason telling Mrs. Wainwright that. He was certain the Wainwrights owned homes on the well-to-do Green Hill, Greenville's most expensive and exclusive neighborhood. Maybe he should stop talking to Mrs. Wainwright before she realized he was way down the social pecking order although he was pretty sure she had already figured that part out.
"What do you do, Mr. Clarke?" Mrs. Wainwright asked and he knew she was simply being polite and could care less who he was or what he did for a career.
"I'm in charge of maintenance for the Greenville School System," he replied, deciding not to be intimidated by her. There was no point denying who he was or what he did.
"A janitor?" She asked, sounding horrified.
"Well, actually, I'm in charge of all the janitors," Doug clarified but the truth was he had been a member of the 'maintenance crew' who had worked his way up into the supervisory position.
"Thomas was good friends with the Mayor," Mrs. Wainwright remarked, not that her comment had anything to do with Doug other than he and the Mayor both worked for the town.
"I hear he's a nice guy," Doug said diplomatically.
"I assume you're a family man, Mr. Clarke?" Mrs. Wainwright asked. "Married, children."
"Divorced, actually," Doug revealed, knowing that was a second strike against him. "But I do have two adult kids. My son's in the Army, my daughter lives in Hillsboro."
"My daughter lives in New York City," Mrs. Wainwright said proudly. "She works as a producer for Fox Television News."
Doug wondered if that was the second strike against Mrs. Wainwright (the first her being rich and most likely elitist). "The Big Apple," he said, impressed. "Good for her."
"Yes," Mrs. Wainwright agreed. "She's very successful and happy."
Maybe that was it for the conversation between them. Mrs. Wainwright was a well off widow who really had no business talking with a divorced glorified janitor.
"All Set, Doug."
Doug glanced up to see Bernie the Head of Service standing in the doorway with a clipboard in his hand. "New Muffler is on, tune up and oil change complete, you're good to go. You can pay Marcie at the business window."
"Great, thanks Bernie, appreciate it," Doug replied, standing and feeling relieved that the truck was fixed and he could end the suddenly awkward conversation with Mrs. Wainwright. "Well," he said glancing at the lady as he folded up the newspaper he was holding in his hand. "Nice chatting with you. Good luck with the car. Have a nice day."
"Goodbye, Mr. Clarke." Mrs. Wainwright said it with such a knowing finality that Doug almost burst out laughing.
He nodded and headed for the business window and paid the bill. Marcie handed him the keys to the truck and he was about to head out the door to the parking lot when his eye caught a glimpse of Mrs. Wainwright, still sitting in the waiting room, now all alone. She looked very prim, proper and regal as if she was in charge of the world but Doug thought he recognized a certain vulnerability about her too, that same sense of sad loneliness he had sensed earlier. He sighed, knowing the door was only a few feet away and he could escape unscathed but instead he found himself walking back into the adjoining waiting room with its free coffee machine and the television on the wall (tuned to Sports Center of all things, as if Mrs. Wainwright had any interest in that).
Mrs. Wainwright glanced up when she sensed Doug's presence and she seemed surprised to see him again.
"Mr. Clarke?" She asked, sounding confused.
"Why don't I keep you company until your car's ready?" Doug said, taking a seat next to her.
"Oh." She was clearly taken aback by his generous offer. "You don't have to do that, Sir."
"I know," Doug smiled. "I want to."
Doug thought he detected a slight blush on the woman's face. "You're very kind,' she said quietly.
"You doing okay?" Doug wanted to know in all sincerity. "Not just with the car, but with everything?"
Mrs. Wainwright let out a long sigh. "The tide seems to shift every day," she admitted. "Some days I wake up with confidence and strength and other days I feel defeated and depressed."
"That's only natural after a loss," Doug remarked.
"Have you lost anybody close to you, Mr. Clarke?" She asked with interest.
"My parents," Doug revealed. "And my brother to cancer a few years back. That was pretty brutal. Left behind a wife and a couple of kids."
"That is terrible," Mrs. Wainwright replied with understanding. "I don't know how people are supposed to break from the burden of grief. I'm expected to keep strong so whenever I break and struggle I fail and people aren't always patient or sympathetic to people suffering with grief."
"Too bad," Doug replied strongly. "All that bullshit about being strong is a bunch of crap. Nobody understands what you're going through except yourself so to hell with everybody else. Feel the way you feel when you're feeling it. That's the process."
Mrs. Wainwright looked at him with surprise. "My Word, Mr. Clarke," she said. "You're certainly opinionated!"
"It's just common sense," Doug replied, calmer now.
"I do feel weak sometimes," Mrs. Wainwright admitted. "Being a widow is weary both emotionally and physically. There's a lot of intense feelings involved. It can be taxing. I try not to be negative but I'd be lying if I didn't own up to the fact that I've been struggling since Thomas died no matter how strong my daughter and others think I am." She glanced at him and smiled sheepishly. "I guess you've caught me on a particularly vulnerable day. Damn car!"
"What did you think of that storm the other day?" Doug asked.
That was not the response Mrs. Wainwright was expecting. "Well, it was a doozy," she said. "Knocked out power which is was another stressor for me. I just want life to sail along smooth without the difficulties and hurdles. I don't like feeling like every day is running an obstacle course."
"Everybody feels that way sometimes," Doug observed. "There's always something to contend with."
"I don't do well handling significant stress and bumps in the road on my own," Mrs. Wainwright sighed. "I always had Thomas to protect me, care for me, and intercede for me. He dealt with the problems and concerns. I didn't have to worry about things. I'm not good on my own, being alone."
"Ever consider moving to New York?" Doug asked.
"What on Earth for!?" Mrs. Wainwright asked with wide eyes. "My daughter doesn't need her life interfered with like that! What would somebody like me do in New York?"
"I've lived here for thirty-five years," Mrs. Wainwright told him. "Where else would I go? I belong here."
"I know I'm not supposed to ask, but how old are you?" Doug wondered.
She smirked, amused by the question. "How old do you think I am?" She teased, the first time he saw her display a knack for humor.
"Thirty-Nine," he replied with a smile.
"Thank you, Jack Benny!" She laughed. "Actually, I'm doing the speed limit right about now. Fifty-two is pretty young to become a widow, don't you think?" She said the last part with a heavy sigh.
"Yes," Doug confirmed. "I'm fifty-seven myself. I tell my kids I'm in the red zone now but they don't like hearing that."
"Don't scare them," Mrs. Wainwright advised. "I've been frightened since Thomas died because I have to deal with everything alone. I don't want to do things alone. I want someone helping me figure out what to do. I want and need someone to provide mutual comfort and support."
"We all do," Doug said with understanding.
"All those years I was focused on being a wife and a mother and a community member involved in charities and fundraisers," Mr. Wainwright said sadly. "That was my main purpose but now for the most part I have none of that focus anymore. I'm alone and that sudden and unexpected transition has left me disassociated if nothing else."
"You went through a major life change," Doug sympathized. "It's completely understandable why it's been so difficult for you."
"There hasn't been a lot left in terms of a purpose or friends or even a social life.," she said. "Everybody else went on with their lives while I remained frozen in time, waiting for Thomas to come home for dinner."
"I had similar experiences after the divorce," Doug shared. "Mutual friends and couples didn't know how to react to me as a single person and eventually they drifted away. The kids were coming and going and the family routine was completely altered. I thought I'd have the freedom, energy and time to find time for myself, maybe meet new friends, find new fun things to do, explore life a little bit more, but mostly I became a recluse, missing my kids and reliving every mistake I made in my marriage."
"I guess we've both experienced our own forms of loss," Mrs. Wainwright said with appreciation. "I get jealous and envious of family and friends who get to go through life with the love, support and help of others while I have no choice but to endlessly face life alone which can't be healthy."
It was Bernie the Service Manager standing in the doorway with his trusty clipboard in his hand. "We solved the problem. It was a defective computer chip. We replaced it and you're good to go. No problems, no charge. Car's still under warranty, of course." He stepped across the room and handed her the keys to her car. "We apologize for the inconvenience and we thank you for your continued business and support."
Mrs. Wainwright stood and took the keys from Bernie's hand. She appeared to be slightly annoyed. "Mr. Robbins, I don't understand why I should have to endure such an issue with a car that is only four months old, especially when you consider what I paid for it."
"I completely understand, Mrs. Wainwright,' Bernie replied with sincerity. "It's just one of those unfortunate flukes but I am certain you will not be experiencing any more difficulties with your vehicle. The ATS Sedan is one of Cadillac's most beautiful, precise and exhilarating vehicles. I don't think you'll have any regrets owning this wonderful automobile."
"I hope not," Mrs. Wainwright said in response as she headed for the exit door.
Doug grinned at Bernie and gave him a nod before following Mrs. Wainwright out of the service center. He noticed her gold Cadillac shining in the parking lot and he gave it a whistle knowing Mrs. Wainwright probably paid around forty grand for the ride with all the bells and whistles it featured.
"It was nice talking with you, Mrs. Wainwright," Doug said, following her to the car.
Mrs. Wainwright appeared to be preoccupied with the car, almost as if she had forgotten all about her conversation with Doug. "Hmmmm?" She asked, tossing him a look. "Oh, yes, certainly Mr. Clarke, it was very pleasant. Thank you for spending some time with me. I enjoyed our conversation."
"Have a wonderful day and take care of yourself," Doug smiled, opening the driver's door for the lady and allowing her to slip inside the car that had a dashboard interior that looked like a spaceship cockpit console.
Doug started for his fourteen year old silver Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck a few spots away. It still looked reasonably good for its age although the inside of the bed was dented and scraped from years of use and the body had a few dings and scratches here and there. The cab was full of empty coffee cups and other trash he probably should have cleaned out before bringing it for service but too late now. He opened the door to the truck and glanced back at Mrs. Wainwright's sparkling Cadillac which hadn't moved. He saw Mrs. Wainwright on the other side of the windshield and he wasn't quite sure if she was crying. He returned to the car and knocked on the side window.
A surprised Mrs. Wainwright opened the window half way and peered at him. "Mr. Clarke?" She asked.
"Would you like to have dinner with me?" He boldly asked.
It was clearly the last thing she expected to hear from him and it was obvious that she was too stunned to reply. Doug laughed at her reaction, understanding it completely. They had very little in common and she was so far out of his league that it wasn't funny. There was no reason for him to be interested in or attracted to her other than his own loneliness but here he was standing next to her richy Cadillac asking her out!
"Well, I…." Mrs. Wainwright seemed to be at a loss for words.
Doug knew that he didn't want to take her somewhere she most likely went with her husband – The Greenville Grille and The Sun Rise Lake Inn were upscale places they most likely frequented.
"How 'bout Duffy's Tavern in Hillsboro?" He suggested.
It was a quaint middle class place with quiet background music and pleasant booths, a nice play to talk over a drink or dinner.
"You going to drive me in your pickup truck?" Mrs. Wainwright asked sarcastically, glancing at his truck.
"I could borrow my daughter's car," he said awkwardly.
She shook her head no. "Why don't we meet there?" She said.
Doug grinned, amazed and relieved she actually accepted his invitation. He really expected her to decline all attempts and by the look on her face he was pretty sure she was just as stunned as he was that she had somehow agreed to his proposal.
"Friday, seven o'clock?" He asked hopefully.
"Very well," Mrs. Wainwright replied, seemingly in a daze.
Doug practically skipped back to the pickup truck he was feeling so elated. He couldn't believe he had asked Samantha Wainwright out on a date and he certainly was stunned that she agreed to the outing. She was still seated motionless in her Cadillac as Doug drove out of the lot and he couldn't help but smile to himself knowing he had apparently cracked her code.
It had been fourteen years since the divorce. Once Doug recovered from the initial loss of his marriage and adjusted to life as a single Dad, he acted out sexually by "enjoying" a series of forgettable one night stands with anonymous women he usually never saw again. He realized that he had sex with more women after his divorce than he ever did before he met his ex at twenty yet after each conquest he felt more empty and alone than ever. Then he had an affair with a married woman he had known and liked in high school but that tryst eventually ended when the woman decided to stop risking her marriage for a little fling fun.
Doug also dated a co-worker for a while but he ended that when she started asking for work-related favoritism and he refused to compromise his supervisory integrity. The thrill of new sex in his post-divorce reality began to fade and he was less likely to actively date unless a friend or co-worker tried to fix him up with somebody but none of those attempts seemed to go anywhere. Now he was going to dinner with a woman of stature and class, a refined and sophisticated lady who was like nobody he had dated before and that left him feeling excited and hopeful. Maybe now, at 57, he was finally ready to get serious about his future as he became increasingly worried about the prospects of living alone for the rest of his life.
Samantha was uncertain of how long she sat motionless in the Cadillac trying to process what had just happened. What in the world possessed her to say yes to Mr. Clarke's invitation? He was a divorced janitor driving a pickup truck for God sakes! Why would she agree to dinner with a man other than Thomas? Yes, Thomas was gone and it had been three long, lonely, empty years but was she really ready to socialize with another man? Would she be betraying Thomas and his memory by going out with Mr. Clarke? She was miserable in her present life, struggling in her grief, lost as a widow, and frightened to hell by the prospect of having dinner with another man. But he was nice to her in the waiting room. He listened to what she had to say. He sympathized with her fears and concerns. He didn't question her thoughts and perspectives - in fact, he was supportive and understanding. She hadn't talked to a man like that since Thomas died.
But there was no way Samantha could go out with this new man. She wasn't ready to step out of the grief cloud or to be vulnerable. She was better off missing Thomas and being alone. She drove home almost in a trance, deciding that she would simply not show up at Duffy's Tavern on Friday night. Poor Mr. Clarke would take the hint and get the message and that would be that. Yes, it was harsh and cruel to stand him up but how could she possibly entertain the thought of dinner with a man other than her dear sweet Thomas?
Doug felt excited as the week played out. He was looking forward to his evening with Mrs. Wainwright who would definitely be a different experience for him. He had never dated 'up' before – oh, the ladies he had been with were nice and interesting women but nothing like the class Mrs. Wainwright represented. He found the idea refreshing and new. It had nothing to do with her money, of course. Doug was doing just fine. But he liked the idea of getting to know somebody he had nothing in common with – it would be a fascinating character study and a chance for him to move outside his comfort zone and socialize with somebody out of his league.
Samantha, on the other hand, dreaded Friday as it approached. She kept telling herself to forget about Mr. Clarke but then the guilt of skipping the date weighed heavily on her mind and she would feel horrible for the rest of the day. She worried about what her friends (and Thomas' family) would think if they knew she was having dinner with a divorced janitor who drove a pickup truck. They would probably think she was going daffy and being taken advantage of in her grief and loneliness. Samantha knew Mr. Clarke wasn't some con man looking to take advantage of her or steal her money. He was just lonely like her looking for some comfort and companionship. She liked how he was willing to sit with her and listen to her and she felt energized when he told her it was okay to feel however she was feeling. Some of her friends had grown tired of her bleak and dark outlook enough so that they had stopped inviting her to the country club for lunch and to the annual art charity auction at the Blue County Social Club.
Doug went to the barber and had his head lathered and shined, the goatee trimmed, his eyebrows plucked. He bought a new pair of casual trousers for the occasion and he took a long soaking shower so he could feel relaxed and refreshed for the dinner. About the time Doug climbed into his truck to drive to Hillsboro, Samantha was pacing in her bathroom having a panicked anxiety attack. It was 6:45 p.m. and she was still dressed in the fancy jogging suit she got for Christmas several years earlier. She didn't jog but she had to admit she looked good in the outfit! But a jogging suit was not something she would wear to dinner and she kept thinking about poor Mr. Clarke waiting for her at Duffy's Tavern and how callous she was not to show up. She knew that Dear Abby and Miss Manners would take her to task for not having the courage to decline Mr. Clarke's invitation when it was given, in person and appropriately. Now she was going to be rudely impolite by failing to show up for the date as planned.
Doug arrived at Duffy's ten minutes before his scheduled time to meet Mrs. Wainwright. He glanced around for her Cadillac and when he didn't see the fancy vehicle he remained in the cab of the truck waiting for her to arrive so he could escort her into the Tavern. Seven O'clock came and went and when the truck clock read 7:07 Doug decided to check inside the Tavern to see if his date was inside (perhaps she parked the Cadillac elsewhere). Duffy's was a laid back place, brightly lit with carpeted floors and pretty landscapes of the Blue River and Sun Rise Lake on the walls. There were booths along both sides of the establishment and tables in the middle with a bar in a separate room. Doug glanced around the place to make sure Mrs. Wainwright wasn't already seated and he then slipped into a booth. He ordered a beer in a glass and waited patiently, honestly assuming that Mrs. Wainwright was simply running late. It wasn't until about 7:55 that it finally occurred to Doug that Mrs. Wainwright was not coming – that he had been stood up. That hadn't happened to him in a long time and normally he wouldn't have cared so much but for some reason Mrs. Wainwright's rejection hurt deeper than he expected it would. Perhaps it was because he was getting older and realizing that his social dating opportunities were becoming more difficult to come by. Maybe it was because he had enjoyed their conversation at the dealership and found her to be a fascinating woman, someone he wanted to get to know better. Now he'd most likely never see her again. He sighed sadly and ordered another beer to drown his sorrows in.
Samantha was on her knees vomiting into the toilet bowl like some teenager at an under-aged drinking party. She had worked herself up into such a frenzy about standing up Mr. Clarke that she had become physically ill. It wasn't until she puked up the last of her stomach belongs that she realized just how idiotic this entire situation really was. She flushed the toilet, climbed off the floor and stood in the wall length mirror over the long granite vanity glaring at herself.
"You are being ridiculous," she told her reflection before she began brushing her teeth.
She glanced at the small clock on the vanity and saw that it was 7:40. Mr. Clarke certainly must have figured out she wasn't coming by now but she felt she had to go see for herself, even if she was still in her purple silk expensive jogging suit. Samantha hurriedly left the house and opened the automatic gate to the driveway as she zoomed the Cadillac out of garage and down the long driveway onto Green Hill Road. She knew she would feel less guilty if she actually drove to the Tavern even if Mr. Clarke was long gone.
Doug finished his second beer trying not to feel sorry for himself. He often had regrets about Liz leaving him, especially at moments like this when he felt lonely and lonely sitting by himself in a Tavern sipping beer and wondering what happened to his life. He didn't like bothering his daughter Patty (even though she only lived a mile and a half from where he was sitting in Duffy's Tavern). She worked crazy shifts as a waitress at Johnny C's Diner and she was involved in a new relationship with a guy named Travis who seemed to be okay as far as Doug could tell. Patty had done a good job raising her son Eddie as a single mom after that bastard high school boyfriend of hers knocked her up and left her at seventeen. Patty needed to live her life without worrying about her old man's love life. Rich was presently stationed in Texas, back from his third war zone deployment in five years and Doug knew the poor guy had enough concerns without having to listen to his old man cry in his beer. Liz had done a good job as a mom and while Doug made a few mistakes along the way he was grateful to have good relationships with his kids (and grandson) today.
His second beer finished, Doug paid the tab and stepped into the evening dusk. It was 8:20 on a late June evening. He was just about to open the door to his truck when he heard her voice.
Doug glanced across the street to see a flustered Mrs. Wainwright climbing out of her impressive Cadillac that almost looked out of place on the Main Street of Hillsboro. "Wait there!" He hollered, wanting to make sure it was safe for her to cross the street.
Doug jogged across the roadway and met Mrs. Wainwright by the back of her car.
"You were delayed," he said diplomatically.
"Actually, I wasn't coming," Mrs. Wainwright confessed sheepishly. "I chickened out."
"You're here now."
"We can still grab a bite to eat," he said hopefully.
"Oh, I'm not dressed for that," Mrs. Wainwright groaned, glancing down at her jogging suit.
"You look wonderful," Doug assured her, taking her by the hand and leading her across the street to the Tavern.
Samantha decided she wasn't going to resist, fight, or question his overtures. It was nice to be pampered all of a sudden. And after her incident in the bathroom, she realized she was hungry. She had never been inside Duffy's before – a former working man's bar that had been upgraded into a neighborhood tavern and restaurant several years earlier. It wasn't as noisy as the sporty Bullpen Tavern at Beano Field or hectic as Serguci's Italian Family Restaurant which were two of Hillsboro's more popular nightspots. Doug knew Johnny C's Diner and Hillsboro Pizza House might be a little bit too everyman for Mrs. Wainwright's tastes (plus he didn't want to bump into Patty either).
"This is quaint," Mrs. Wainwright said when Doug led her to the same booth he had been sitting in earlier.
The same waitress who had chatted with Doug while he was drowning his sorrows in his beer waited on them. Samantha ordered a chicken salad with a glass of wine and Doug tried to look refined by ordering a fancy steak dish with a coke instead of another beer.
"Why were you going to chicken out?" Doug asked once the waitress was gone.
"I'm not ready for this," Mrs. Wainwright admitted with embarrassment. "I'm never going to be ready for this."
"Why did you come?" He asked as a follow up.
"I felt you deserved better than be to stood up a ridiculous woman who's afraid of her own shadow."
"I'm glad you came," he smiled.
The waitress brought the glass of wine for Samantha and the coke for Doug.
"It's funny, but when I was married I never felt alone," Mrs. Wainwright told her dinner companion once the waitress was gone again. "Thomas was always there for me to talk to. He was a wonderful husband and father and I never felt alone when we were together."
"Sounds like he was a good man," Doug said.
"I've been lost since his death," Mrs. Wainwright sighed. "I don't know how to have emotional interactions with others. I have an irrational fear of emotional intimacy because I know it will never be like it was with Thomas."
"It's not supposed to," Doug replied.
"It's so hard going on without him," Mrs. Wainwright revealed. "Everything is a burden, an effort. You can't imagine how difficult it was for me to come here."
"But you are here," Doug smiled.
"You don't resent me for making you wait while I was trying to work up the nerve to come?"
"Of course not."
"I feel sad because it is so hard for me to do something like this," Mrs. Wainwright said.
"You just need someone to talk to," Doug remarked. "To vent about your feelings and share your fears. Aren't there any support groups for widows around here?"
"Oh, I could never go to one of those," Mrs. Wainwright said, looking almost horrified.
"Because then people would know I was weak and struggling."
"I believe in private healing and grieving," Mrs. Wainwright explained. "It's very personal."
"And it can be very lonely," Doug observed.
The waitress brought their food and they enjoyed the late meal, making small talk by discussing their kids in the most basic of details and information.
"You are very courageous to do this," Doug told her near the end of the meal.
"To do what?" Mrs. Wainwright asked with confusion.
"Come to dinner with me," Doug clarified.
"You were kind to ask," she said with sincerity.
"I want to apologize if you felt rushed into this," Doug said. "That wasn't my intent. It was just a spur of the moment thing but I should have considered your feelings and concerns before asking."
"I'm the one who said yes," Mrs. Wainwright reminded him. "You have nothing to be apologizing for. I'm the one who's sorry. About everything."
"Going through my divorce was probably the most painful experience of my life," Doug revealed.
"What happened?" Mrs. Wainwright boldly asked.
"She wasn't happy," Doug sighed. "Nothing specific. No major earthquake. Just a gradual erosion of the relationship until there was no foundation left. I wanted her to be happy so I let her go."
Mrs. Wainwright looked at him with an intense look on her face.
"Anyway, I eventually made a conscious effort to be more kind and involved in my relationships," Doug continued. "I see life as a series of decisions and reactions that I have control over. Sometimes I still fail to say or do the right thing but at least I'm aware of my shortcomings and I hope to be more involved and I think that's helped with my relationships with my kids."
"That's important," Mrs. Wainwright said. "I've been stuck in this horrible place, immobilized by fear and grief – a hopelessness, really. I feel defeated and broken and I wonder if I'll ever be able to pull it together.."
"You will," Doug said with knowing encouragement and belief.
"I've never been a strong person in the face of adversity," Mrs. Wainwright admitted. "Thomas took care of our problems. In all the years of our marriage, I never had to worry like I do now. It's an empty, exhausting hopeless and weak way to be. I hate the person I've become."
"Don't be so hard on yourself," Doug said..
"The hardest part is having no one at home to talk to," she sighed "That's what I miss the most."
"Sometimes life at our age can suck," Doug openly stated. "Divorced, widowed, it's still tough."
"It's a challenge," Mrs. Wainwright agreed. "You would think that somehow it would get easier with time but I find that it gets harder for me to take on the world."
"You don't have to take on the world," Doug smiled. "You just have to survive it."
They were done with their meal and Doug paid the tab before walking Mrs. Wainwright from the Tavern and safely escorting her across the street to her car.
"Thank you for a lovely evening," he said cordially.
"I had a nice time talking with you," Mrs. Wainwright replied warmly.
"Perhaps we could do it again sometime."
"I'd like that."
Doug reached into his trousers pocket and retrieved his wallet, pulling out a Greenville Public Schools System Business card (Douglas R. Clarke, Supervisor of Maintenance) that included his office phone number, cell and e-mail address. "Here you go," he said with a smile. "Give me a call."
"I thought the gentleman was supposed to make the follow up phone call," Mrs. Wainwright remarked with just a hint of slyness in her tone.
"This way you won't feel pressured," Doug explained. "Call when you're ready."
"I worry that I may never be ready," she sighed.
Doug took her hand in both of his in an almost paternal pat with her hand pancaked between his two palms. "You'll know," he assured her. He lifted up her hand to his mouth, removed his top hand, and gave her knuckles a kiss. "Good Night, Mrs. Wainwright."
A slightly flustered Samantha watched him start to leave. "Mr. Clarke!" She called.
Doug turned to her in surprise and waited for her to continue.
"I know this sounds crazy," she said as Doug took a step toward her. "But the Greenville Garden Club is having their annual flower show this weekend at the former Henderson warehouse building. I haven't been in a while and I was thinking it would be nice to see it again but I wasn't sure if I wanted to go alone."
"I'd be happy to go with you, Mrs. Wainwright," Doug said warmly.
"You sure?" Samantha asked with concern. "I know a flower show probably isn't your cup of tea but the club promotes the love and beauty of gardening as well as supporting conservation and the environment."
"Sounds lovely," Doug replied.
"This is the forty-third year," She said, sounding excited. "They've added an antique car show, gourmet food, music, art work, flower contest entries, and children's activities."
"Great," Doug said with a smile. "What time?"
"One o'clock?" She suggested.
"Okay," Doug agreed. "I'll meet you there. Right in front of the statue of Old Man Henderson."
"See you then," she smiled, opening the door to her car. "And, Mr. Clarke?" She said, glancing back at him.
"Yes, Mrs. Wainwright?"
"I promise I'll show up," she smiled. "On time, too."
"Looking forward to it," he grinned.
Doug trotted across the street to his pickup, climbed into his cab, and watched through the rear view mirror as Mrs. Wainwright slowly and carefully backed her car out of the space and drove off into the night.
Doug smiled contently and drove himself home to the mother-in-law's apartment he had been living in since the divorce. It was a nice comfortable loft over the garage at the shop teacher's home, well designed and decorated and he kept it immaculate, almost as if he was a visitor instead of a long time renter. He slept peacefully well that night tickled that Mrs. Wainwright had actually invited him to the flower show.
Samantha drove home carefully, aware of the glass of wine she had enjoyed. Green Hill looked spooky at night and she hated driving alone but what choice did she have these days? She pushed the automatic button in the car to open the gate to the driveway, closing it behind her and making sure the security system was activated once she was in the house. She and Thomas lived in this house all of their married life but recently she felt maybe it was too big for just herself, too many memories of the past, especially with Thomas' art work and other collectibles scattered throughout the house.
She went upstairs, peeled out of her fancy jogging suit (she couldn't believe she actually dined out in it) and put on a nightgown. It wasn't until she was comfortably in bed that Samantha began to cry. She cried for Thomas and herself, missing her beloved husband more than ever but she also cried with confusion because she had a nice time with Mr. Clarke and that scared the hell out of her.
Doug felt great all weekend. He was excited and hopeful that Mrs. Wainwright had asked him to the flower show. It was true that he had never been to one before but he wasn't adverse to giving it a try, especially in her company. He liked the woman. She was way too fancy and well off for his normal circle but she had been so honestly vulnerable with him that he felt an unusual connection to her even after just two conversations. Patty noticed her father's good mood when he stopped by her apartment on Saturday night for pizza with the boyfriend and grandson Eddie but Doug insisted nothing was new even as he wore the Cheshire cat smile on his face all night.
Meanwhile, Samantha roamed through the house all weekend suffering from another wave of anxiety and doubt, second guessing herself for asking Mr. Clarke to the flower show. How could she possibly show up in public with some strange man? She would undoubtedly run into people she knew and it was obvious she had no idea how to explain herself or the situation mostly because she didn't understand it herself. Why in the hell was she pouring her heart, guts, spleen, and inner-most thoughts to this man she just met? It was as if she had this need to tell him everything that she was thinking and feeling when the truth was she shouldn't be telling him anything!
Maybe she just wouldn't show up (again). Mr. Clarke would surely get the point this time that it was just too much for Samantha to take this on now. She was frightened, she was guarded, and she just wasn't ready for any of it. She loved Thomas and the grief she still felt for his loss and absence was too real to be faking it with a divorced janitor driving a pickup truck. What would her family and friends think and say if they saw him and that truck of his?
"Is that your gardener, Samantha?"
Doug didn't care what any of Samantha's friends and family might think. He was used to the stereotypical reactions he received when people found out what his career choice happened to be, especially early on when he was working his way up as a janitor….custodian…..maintenance man…..in the Greenville School System. Liz was sensitive enough to send the kids to St. Anne's Catholic School (even though they weren't Catholic) jt to avoid the awkwardness of being in the same school system as their janitor Dad. Liz herself was somewhat prejudicial about his work, especially when she began to promote up at Greenville Box Company. Ironically, Doug received his ultimate promotion to Supervisor the same year they divorced. He was proud of his work ethic, he took pride and satisfaction in job accomplishment, and he was a good manager of people. The Greenville schools were the cleanest buildings in Blue County.
Doug was wearing jeans and a yellow polo shirt when he arrived at the Henderson warehouse. Henderson had been one of Blue County's biggest employers and companies back in the day – a tool manufacturing company – but it was bought out in the early 1970s and eventually the company moved to North Carolina. Most of the buildings were razed or converted into housing, but the Henderson family managed to keep the old warehouse standing and they rented it out for community events such as this weekend's flower show. Old Man Henderson's statue that once stood in front of the main office building (since torn down) was moved to the warehouse several years ago and served as a memorial legacy reminder for the new generations long after the founding Henderson himself had died.
Doug parked his truck in the large open lot and stood in front of the statue waiting for Mrs. Wainwright to arrive. It was a pleasant sunny afternoon, a nice day to be out and about and Doug enjoyed people watching and checking out some of the antique cars from afar as he waited for his 'date' to arrive.
At least this time Samantha got dressed. She was wearing a fancy summer dress from one of the boutiques she visited when she was in New York City visiting her daughter. It looked good on her (she had to admit) and she found a pair of matching sandals in the large closet that was home to at least fifty pairs of shoes. But she stood at the top of the stairs frozen, afraid to go downstairs or leave the house knowing Mr. Clarke was waiting for her at the flower show. Why was she so paralyzed by this horrible fear? What was she so afraid of? Why couldn't she function like any normal person? She heard the chiming of the grandfather clock in Thomas' study and she knew it was one o'clock. She was going to be late (again) if she could even get her feet to work. Samantha groaned out loud. "You are being ridiculous"! she shouted. "What is wrong with you? Where's your backbone? Get moving!"
Somehow she forced herself down the stairs. She grabbed her purse from the dining room table and went out the back door, activating the alarm system while hitting the garage door opener button on her key chain. She slipped into the Cadillac and drove out of the long driveway once again, hitting the automatic button for the gate to open and soon she was driving down Green Hill Road trying not to feel flustered and repeatedly telling herself to stop thinking about all the reasons why she shouldn't be going to the flower show and concentrate on the reasons why she should instead (although she was having a hard time keeping those thoughts in her head).
Doug glanced at his watch. 1:25. Maybe she was running late. But he knew better. Poor Samantha Wainwright. She was such an emotional mess suffering as a grieving widow and he tried to understand why she was in such a frump. He went through a hard time after Liz asked out but at least Liz wasn't dead – it was their marriage that had been the fatality. He wondered how he would have dealt with being a widower with two teenage children if Liz had died instead of left him. Would he still have been as mixed up as Mrs. Wainwright appeared to be three years later? Hell, he had already slept with several women by then and he was just about to start his affair with his married former high school friend. Apparently, Mrs. Wainwright hadn't even talked to another man before Doug initiated a conversation with her the other day at the car dealership.
Doug was about to take a walk, tired of standing in the hot sun when he noticed the flashily Cadillac pulling into the far entrance. It was hard to miss it even among hundreds of other cars coming and going. He smiled with relief knowing she had shown up and he followed the car with his eyes until he saw it pull into a parking space. He thought about meeting her in the parking lot but decided it was better to wait for her at the statue as previously arranged.
Mrs. Wainwright was wearing a bright straw hat and it was easy to watch her dart through the cars in the parking lot until she reached the grassy knoll in front of the warehouse. She noticed Mr. Clarke standing in front of the Henderson statue – his bald head shining in the sunlight – and she wondered why he hadn't worn some sort of hat. She gave him a half wave so he'd know she saw him and he waited patiently until she reached the statue.
"Hello," he said. He had a loud, confident, pleasant voice.
"I could tell you I'm one of those women who is always late," Mrs. Wainwright said. "Always adding last second make up or changing her dress at the last moment but I'm not like that. I'm always ready well beforehand, famously punctual, reliable and dependable. I don't know why I can't get myself to leave my house to meet you."
"It's okay," Doug smiled. "You're here now."
"I don't know why you put up with me," she sighed. "I haven't been very considerate of your time."
"Don't beat yourself up for being human," Doug advised.
"I haven't been productive for three years," she revealed. "It's a nice weekend, we made plans, I have a chance to get out of the house for a change and maybe even socialize a little and I can't get myself to move," she groaned. "No wonder I'm always alone. It's very depressing to think about but my energy level is always tapped out. I'm forever moping about in sorrow never doing much of anything."
"You're here now," he repeated. "Let's check the place out."
She smiled bravely and they ducked out of the late June heat to visit the inside of the warehouse where several exhibitors, displayers and groups had various flowers, plants, and accessories on display. A band was on a stage in the far end of the large room playing easy listening music, kids were participating in children's events, and there was a wine and cheese table in another corner along with several food vendors. Mrs. Wainwright knew her way around flowers and offered Mr. Clarke several insights and pointers such as pruning perennials, shrubs and tree and knowing the different names of flowers like Ageratum (flossflower), Amaryllis, Angelonia (grape soda plant!), Beach Sunflowers, beeblossoms (Crimson Butterflies), White Beggar-ticks, Black eyed Susan, Blue Mist, Blue wild indigo, Caladiums , Butterfly Pea, Clivia, Cone Flower, Coral Bells, Coreopsis, Crinum Lily, Cuban Buttercup, Confederate Rose, Hollyhock, Larkspur, Peacock Ginger, Pineapple Guava, and Rain Lilies among dozens of other vanities.
What interested Doug the most was Mrs. Wainwright's knowledge and enthusiasm as they wandered among the various flowers and plants. It was nice to hear her talking about something other than the misery of widowhood and she looked animated and happy as she discussed the various assortments.
"How do you know so much about this stuff?" Doug asked with amusement.
"Oh, my grandmother was an avid gardener," Mrs. Wainwright laughed. "I never got down and dirty but I grew up listening to her go on and on and showing me her works whenever we visited."
When they were done with the warehouse tour, they went outside to look at the classic car collection and it became Doug's turn to tell her the various makes, models and years without any hints from the owners, most of who were sitting in lawn chairs by the automobiles.
"How do you know so much about these cars?" Mrs. Wainwright asked.
"My father sold used cars," Doug responded easily.
"My father was an astro-physicist," Mrs. Wainwright replied without much emotion in her voice. "I always thought I was supposed to be an astronaut or something."
"How come you aren't?" Doug asked innocently as they walked among the old cars.
"I came from money and married into money," she explained factually. "Thomas didn't want his wife working so I didn't."
"I have the sheepskin," she confirmed. "Mount Holyoke. That was probably the highlight of my life in some ways. The last time I was independent for sure. After that, I was Mrs. Thomas Q. Wainwright III."
She sounded sad but Doug wasn't sure if it was because of her college realization or because she was remembering her dead husband again.
As predicted, they ran into people Mrs. Wainwright knew. She introduced Doug as "Mr. Clarke" with no real explanation or definition. He could have been her bodyguard, driver, or some person associated with the Garden Club for all they knew but her friends were clearly thrilled to see Samantha out and about as if she had just returned from the dead, a UFO abduction, or five years in rehab. "You look well,' 'It's so good to see you,' and 'So sorry about Thomas' were the typical remarks when Samantha said hello.
"Your friends seem nice," Doug observed after the last interaction.
"They're all fake snobs, just like me," Mrs. Wainwright replied knowingly, causing Doug to laugh at her response.
The afternoon flew by and before either knew it the show was winding down and people were leaving.
"I hope you didn't have too much of a terrible time," Mrs. Wainwright said as they stood by Old Man Henderson's Statue in front of the warehouse.
"I had a wonderful time," Doug assured her. "I learned more about flowers today then I knew in my entire life."
She smiled. "And I learned all about 1966 Corivars," she grinned.
"You have my card," Doug stated.
"I have your card," she confirmed.
"Call when you're ready," he said.
"I will," she vowed.
Mrs. Wainwright took a few steps toward the parking lot but then stopped and walked back to him. "I should probably give you my cell number," she realized. "I may never be ready to call."
"Okay," he said, punching her number into his cell as she recited it.
Mrs. Wainwright smiled with embarrassment before turning and heading for her car, Doug watching her the entire way as the lot had thinned out considerably and he couldn't get over how sensual she looked as her hips swayed to her walk.
Samantha felt surprisingly relaxed as she drove home. It had been a nice afternoon with Mr. Clarke and although she consciously and strategically avoided introducing him appropriately to the people she bumped into she was pleased to be seen in a man's company and to be out socializing again after such a long time in hibernation. One thing that struck her as odd and perhaps even meaningful was that she really didn't care about the Garden Club or Flower Show that much. She realized that so much of her identity as Mrs. Thomas Q. Wainwright III was her social class and standing. She belonged to so many clubs, organizations, boards and charities because that's what she did with her time. Now she wasn't so sure if she cared about some of that stuff anymore.
Hanging out at Duffy's Tavern and taking looks at classic cars was new, different and actually refreshing. It was a nice change of pace from what her routine had been before Thomas died. Her life seemed to be in a pause since his death so if she was going to make any changes now would probably be a good time. Perhaps Mr. Clarke would be her propellant to get her thinking in different ways and changing her lifestyle now that she didn't have so many constraints on it.
Doug had an Epiphany as he drove home from the flower show. He was aware from the moment he laid eyes on Mrs. Wainwright that she came from a different world - well bred and high class, carrying herself in a certain way, well dressed and groomed both physically and mentally to present herself as a woman of status and class. There was no way a divorced glorified janitor driving a fourteen year old pickup truck was going to compete with that and that's when Doug decided that he wasn't going to bother trying. He was going to remain himself because if he couldn't swoon Mrs. Wainwright on his own accord - with his own personality, character, outlook and lifestyle - then he wouldn't be able to keep her anyway, so what would be the point? But if she could learn to like him as a divorced glorified janitor driving a fourteen year old pickup truck then they would be half way home together.
Doug didn't have to try to impress Mrs. Wainwright by buying a new wardrobe or by trading in his truck or by learning fancy words and proper etiquette. He didn't have to join her clubs or hang in her circles. He just needed to be himself - and maybe show her some of that lifestyle. She was at a crossroads in her life, struggling in her grief losing her past while trying to figure out her future and maybe he could be the conduit to link their two worlds together.
Doug was feeling hopeful and at peace by the time he reached his mother-in-law loft apartment. He liked Mrs. Wainwright and he was going to do his best to prove to her that he was worthy of her interest and attention just by being the person he was meant to be - and had spent fifty-seven years perfecting.
Samantha felt strange as she parked her car in the garage, turned off the alarm and stepped into the now familiar empty house before reactivating the alarm again. Why had she paraded herself around the flower show in Mr. Clarke's company without a care in the world? Was she dishonoring Thomas' memory? Did she start rumor, gossip and innuendo being with another man? Was it anybody's business? Was three years long enough to hibernate, mourn and stagnate? Did she have the guts to call the number on Mr. Clarke's business card?
Doug decided to wait a week to see if Mrs. Wainwright called. If he didn't hear from her by then he would initiate the next contact. He had work during the week anyway. School was out for the summer but there was still plenty of work to be done - waxing every square inch of floor in every school, completing projects that couldn't be done with students in the buildings, and catching up on minor repairs and cosmetic improvements throughout the system. There was plenty of coordination and supervision for him to be involved in and he wanted to oversee as much work as he could.
Samantha didn't know what to do with herself in the days after the flower show. She had her cell in her hand several times thinking she should call Mr. Clarke but she never did. She waited, hoping that he would call while at the same time afraid that he would. A few other people called - the grapevine passed the news around that she was seen at the flower show with a man nobody recognized. Her sister-in-law (or is it her former sister in law now?) called inquiring as to who this "person" was she was said to be with on Sunday.
Samantha was offended that she was expected to answer to other people. She certainly didn't owe anybody an explanation as to what she was doing with her Sunday afternoon. Hadn't she suffered enough these last three years, grieving her beloved Thomas? People talking behind her back about how sad she was, given up on life, all the other insensitive people who have no clue had the gall to say, sometimes right to her face.
"Oh, I know how you feel, Samantha," someone might say when they had no idea how she was feeling. And those who tried to force her out of her mourning by dragging her out to dinner and family gatherings and other social occasions when she had no interest in being around other people. Even the gall of her insensitive girlfriends who wanted to fix her up on blind dates as if she had any interest in doing something like that! But now that some were assuming she was doing something like that she was going to be questioned about it!? Who's business was it except her own?
While debating with herself about whether or not she should call Mr. Clarke while waiting for him to call (although she was afraid he might call), Samantha realized how little she had done in the aftermath of Thomas' death. Not just socially outside of the house but even around the house. It was almost as if she had imprisoned herself at home in grief, mated to a past that no longer existed while wishing that Thomas was still alive. God, she missed him so. She couldn't bring herself to move on from all that he was yet she was so grieved she could only enter his study to wind the grandfather clock and she had barely touched his other personal affects. His side of the closet was still full of his clothes as was his dresser. Thomas' car might be still sitting in the garage if he hadn't been stricken at work. A nephew ended up with the vehicle as there was no reason for it to be returned to the house.
Annoyed and aggravated by the unfairness of it all Samantha suddenly felt the urge to work out her anger and hurt by doing something constructive and different. That's why she spent the week finally attending to some of Thomas' personal affects. It would help her not think about Mr. Clarke or obsess about calling - or not calling - him. It was an emotional experience - every article of clothing brought back unique and special memories and Samantha spent most of the week crying. She put on Thomas' favorite music during the chores of cleaning out the closet and drawers and it became a long, arduous process as she had to stop and remember and sob with almost every item she came across.
Samantha kept most of Thomas' books, albums, art collection and jewelry, but bagged up all of his clothes and some of his collectibles she had no interest in (programs from Red Sox games, his DVD collection, and other incidentals). It was strangely cathartic yet painful and she was emotionally wiped out by the time the Goodwill truck took the stuff away on Friday afternoon. She knew she was in no condition to call Mr. Clarke as she lay on her bed like a rag doll but she was pretty sure she would answer if he called.
Doug wasn't surprised that Mrs. Wainwright didn't call. He knew she was uncertain of the possibilities and he may have dropped the whole idea of pursuing her had she not given him her phone number. That to him was an SOS call - telling him that yes she was afraid, unsure, and confused - but still interested, otherwise she never would have given him a second chance by providing her number. Doug took his grandson to a Saturday afternoon Serguci League amateur baseball game at Beano Field and then stayed for the traditional Saturday night pizza, telling Patty about going to the flower show the previous weekend.
"The Garden Club Flower Show?" Patty asked with surprise. "What on earth for!?"
"They had some classic cars there," Doug said sheepishly but then he went on to tell them all about the various flowers Mrs. Wainwright had described (although he didn't mention Mrs. Wainwright).
"Geez Dad, are you getting soft in your old age?" Patty asked and Doug laughed in response.
On Sunday, Doug called Mrs. Wainwright. It was around noon and she was sitting on the side porch reading the Sunday paper and sipping lemonade on a warm summer afternoon when her cell went off. Samantha recognized the number, sucked in her breath, smiled slightly even though she was nervous, and answered.
"You didn't call."
"I know," she sighed. "I had a...challenging week."
"You doing better now?"
"I am." She almost added 'Now that you called' but thought better of it.
"Would you like to go for a ride this afternoon?"
"In your pickup truck?" It was a semi-tease, partial dare knowing she wanted to continue breaking the rules to prove to herself that she could be different.
"Sure, why not?"
Why not indeed, Mrs. Wainwright thought to herself, amused at herself for being okay with the idea.
"How 'bout we meet in the parking lot of Donovan's Department Store around two?" Mrs. Wainwright suggested. She didn't want the neighbors to see his truck in the driveway.
"Sure," Doug agreed, not caring about the neutral site as long as she showed up. "I'll see you then."
Doug had already washed the truck in anticipation of her being in it sooner or later. He cleaned out the cab and Armor-All'ed the interior to make it look as close as new as possible. He was parked in the Donovan's Department store parking lot at 1:55 but he was pretty sure Mrs. Wainwright wouldn't be on time this time either!
Samantha was dressed in a brightly colored light pant suit with a sleeveless white blouse. She had spent time on her makeup and hair yet she stood paralyzed at the top of the stairs once again second guessing her plans and wondering if she was being completely foolish to meet Mr. Clarke on this pleasant Sunday afternoon. It wasn't until the grandfather clock in Thomas' study chimed to notify her that it was 2:00 that Samantha finally willed herself down the stairs.
The drive to Donovan's wasn't long and the parking lot wasn't very crowded. It was easy to spot Mr. Clarke's pickup truck that seemed to be shining in the sun. She parked the Cadillac about four spots over and two lines behind and slowly walked to the truck. Doug had spotted the car as soon as it pulled into the lot and he was out of the cab before she even parked. He took a few steps toward the Caddy and walked Mrs. Wainwright back to the truck.
"I bet you've never been in a pickup before," he grinned, opening the passenger's door for her.
"No, I haven't she confirmed, struggling slightly as she climbed into the high cab.
Doug closed the door and walked around to the driver's side of the truck.
"I took horseback riding lessons for a few years when I was around ten," Mrs. Wainwright told him as he climbed into the truck. "I always fantasized that I would end up on some horse ranch out in Montana or something," she laughed. "I bet I would have driven a pickup out there!"
"I bet you would," Doug smiled as he drove the truck out of the lot.
Mrs. Wainwright didn't ask him where they were going. She mentioned in passing that she had done some "cleaning" during the week but Doug didn't ask her what kind of cleaning. He told her about a water leak at one of the schools and the ball game with his grandson the previous day.
He drove them to Riverside, across the Blue River and about six miles south of Greenville. Mrs. Wainwright was pretty sure she had never been there before - a dying former mill town along the river trying to find a new identity with some waterfront restaurants and artsy businesses to draw in a younger crowd.
Doug drove down River Street past some of those new shops to the undeveloped part of the road with closed and condemned factory buildings and other forgotten businesses. He pulled the truck into a lot that featured an old gas station building with the roof coming out from the front where the gas pumps used to be. It looked like it had been closed forever, sitting in the middle of a vacant lot with cracked blacktop and grass sprouting out from those cracks.
"This was my father's business," Doug told her. "Making auto repairs and selling used cars." He pointed to a rundown house on the lot behind the vacant parking lot. "That was my house."
"That's where you grew up?" She asked with surprise.
"It used to be one of those motel cabins," he said. "It was never meant to be lived in. My father told my mother he'd build her a new house but he never did. He had the cabin moved to this property when the motel place closed soon after they married. My father kept on adding on additions. You can see the change in the roof lines and how the house just seems to extend to the back. He added a kitchen and then a bigger bathroom and then a big bedroom where all four of us boys slept."
"You had three brothers?"
"Yeah, the one who died was older than me and the twins were a year younger than me," Doug said. "I spent a lot of time at the garage but I never got the hang of auto mechanics. I was pretty good with a gas pump though."
"There's talk of putting some sort of strip mall here to augment the redevelopment we drove past up the road."
"Where are your other brothers?"
"Jeff is in Vermont and John is in Rhode Island," Doug reported. "They're doing pretty well. At least they got out of here."
Mrs. Wainwright glanced around at his past.
"We didn't have much but either did plenty of others," Doug said. "I loved living here because I got to go down to the river every day and explore. The ones worse off than me were the ones whose parents were divorced or couldn't keep jobs. My friends Barry and Don slept in an unfinished basement in their house that was over there." He pointed to an empty lot. "That place was condemned and torn down years ago."
Doug glanced at her to see what her reaction might be. She looked sad.
"Anyway," he said. "I know this place is about as far off the radar for you as Green Hill is for me," he said. "I know we come from different places. And maybe I'm just a maintenance supervisor but that doesn't make me a bad person."
"I know it doesn't," she said, throwing him a look. "Thanks for showing me."
"I just thought it might help you understand me a little better."
"It does," she said.
Doug drove the truck out of the old used car lot and headed out of Riverside.
"I moved around a lot growing up," Mrs. Wainwright remarked. "My father was an academic in scientific research and he worked for several universities. We ended up at Green College for a year and I met Thomas, a local boy and even though we moved again and I ended up at Mount Holyoke, Thomas cared enough to keep in contact and that's how we ended up together, here in Greenville with Thomas joining the family business."
"Blue County is a nice place to live," Doug said.
"I was just happy to settle down in one place, finally," Mrs. Wainwright said.
She noticed that Doug wasn't driving back to Greenville but she didn't protest and they chit chatted about incidental small talk, Doug make a general reference to a business or landmark they passed and Mrs. Wainwright mentioning the weather and how nice it was in Blue County these days.
When Doug pulled the truck into Hank's Hot Dog Hut, Mrs. Wainwright's eye brow went up.
"Have you ever had a hot dog before?" He grinned.
"Gourmet, maybe," she said. "Never one of Hank's!"
"You're in for a real treat," Doug smiled as he parked the truck. "These are the best hog dogs anywhere."
Samantha could honestly say that she never expected to be sitting in a booth at Hank's Hot Dog Hut eating a chili dog and sipping an iced tea with Mr. Clarke! But once she got over the culture shock of such a setting she realized that it was kind of fun!
"I've been in a holding pattern ever since Thomas died," Mrs. Wainwright told him. "I've been in a limbo period and even know I've waited long enough etiquette wise I still somehow feel as though the long agony of grieving his death still isn't over and I find that frustrating."
"I was thinking of the song lyric 'You can't hurry love'," Doug responded. "I suppose the same thing is true about grief."
"Sometimes I feel like all I'm doing is waiting out the days as a widow," she admitted. "This relentless stagnation without a chance to get off the merry-go-round and regain my footing is madding."
"You're eating a Hank's chili dog," Doug smiled.
"Being a widow is like having the rug pulled out from under you," she complained. "You're left sitting on the ground without the foundation that used to support you."
"So you either have to get up and regain your footing or you can crawl away and hide," Doug said.
"It's impossible to fully explain what widowhood is really like," she sighed.
"Tell me," he encouraged.
"It's sorrow and pain," Mrs. Wainwright said. "I can't change it and that only makes me all the more miserable than I want to be feeling right now."
"Maybe you should think of yourself as a widow in transition," Doug suggested.
"What's that?" She asked, squinting her eyes at him.
"Moving on with your life despite your widowhood status by devoting more time and attention to yourself and your needs."
"I became a different person when Thomas died."
"And you can become a different person again," Doug said.
"Eating Hank's hot dogs?" She smirked.
"For starters," Doug replied. He peered at her for a long moment. "Do you want to be forever defined by your widowhood?" He asked. "Held down by his death or do you want to learn to coincide with it so you can still live your own life even while acknowledging your loss and sadness?
"I would like to move beyond the need to focus so much on widowhood," Mrs. Wainwright admitted. "I'd much rather be focusing on new possibilities and my future life, and where I'm headed."
"That's a widow in transition," Doug smiled.
"But I don't know if I can," she said heavily "I'm still missing Thomas so much."
"You always will," Doug replied. "That's part of being a widow in transition too – learning to balance the two so you won't always be defined by widowhood just as I hope I'm not always defined as a divorced man."
"I'm not strong," Mrs. Wainwright said. "That's what I've learned most about myself these last three years. I suppose I lived a pampered life, both growing up and in my marriage so I wasn't prepared to handle a lot of hardship even though I don't have much of a choice."
"People have different strengths in different manifestations," Doug said. "People assume that strength builds character and we become better for having survived hardship but sometimes just getting up in the morning is a major accomplishment and that's okay too."
"I guess I've finally reached the point where I realize that something's gotta give," Mrs. Wainwright said. "Either I transition on or I die."
"Just fake it to you make it," Doug advised.
"I feel guilty for not being strong."
"Feel good that you're being honest with yourself," Doug said.
"Widowhood is loss after loss," Mrs. Wainwright said. "Loss of identity as a wife, loss of a life partner, loss of a best friend, loss of a co-parent, loss of a social network, loss of status, loss of a sexual partner." She almost whispered the last part. "So not only is there grief to deal with but there is the challenge of having to rise back up from the loss but when you have something taken away that leaves you with less than you had before you aren't as whole as you once were and that takes on a whole different aspect of having to adjust to a new discombobulated life."
"It must be very hard," Doug acknowledged.
She groaned as she looked at him. "I'm sorry," she said. "It must be very hard for you to listen to me drone on and on about this every time we're together."
"I'm glad you feel comfortable confiding in me."
"More like ranting and raving to you," she sighed. "Widowhood is a very complex and intense situation with multiple layers, stages and dimensions and I don't know if I'll ever get through it."
"Maybe you're not supposed to."
"You must think I'm a whiner who's so spoiled that she doesn't know how to function on her own," Mrs. Wainwright remarked.
"I don't think that," Doug assured her.
"What do you think?" She tested.
"I think you liked your chili dog," Doug smiled, gesturing to her empty plate.
Mrs. Wainwright smiled. "Actually, I did!"
"See," Doug grinned. "New experiences. New starts. Baby steps."
"I have no idea why you are putting up with all my insecurities, paranoia, fears and foolishness," she sighed. "I can't show up on time. I'm a nervous wreck. And I won't shut up about my problems."
"I'm enjoying your company," Doug told her.
She didn't know how to respond to that as they left the hot dog hut and she didn't have much to say as he drove her back to her car at Donovan's Department Store. Should she be freaked for flattered that Mr. Clarke was enjoying her company? Was she being a foolish fool spending time with him let alone emptying her soul to him? He was a man she met in the waiting room of Dalton's GM for godsakes.
"Well, then," Doug said when he pulled his truck next to her Cadillac. "Thanks for placating me with my trip down my hometown memory lane and my weakness for Hank's Hot Dogs!"
"Thanks for not letting your ear fall off listening to me."
Samantha was not expecting what happened next. Mr. Clarke leaned across the front seat and planted a kiss smack on her lips. Her eyes were wide and she sat frozen as she felt his moist lips against hers and she wasn't sure if she should slap him or tongue him. To feel another man's lips on her was both shocking and exhilarating. She was still a woman. A widowed woman, a grieving woman, a sad and lonely woman, a middle aged woman, but a woman non-the-less and feeling his lips on hers reminded her of that forgotten fact. A man had kissed her.
She knew she was blushing and she realized her larynx wasn't working because no words would come out of her throat. Her right hand searched for the door handle as Doug continued the kiss and when she was finally able to open the door she pulled her face away from his.
"GGGGGGG…oooooooo…..dddddddd…bye, Mr. Clarke," she practically whimpered as she nearly fell out of the truck.
Doug watched with amusement as Mrs. Wainwright stumbled to her car, flustered and embarrassed as she struggled to open her door and she nearly fell into her car. That sure was some kiss! Mrs. Wainwright sped her car out of the parking lot but Doug had no regrets about the kiss. He decided he wasn't going to monkey-foot around with her. It was obvious that she was stuck – obsessed almost – about being a widow and all that implied – but as far as Doug was concerned all she really needed was a reminder that she was a desirable and lovable woman deserving of a second chance and while he may not be the long term solution to her widow "problem" he could certainly help her in her transition. Doug contently drove home with a huge smile on his face.
Samantha was glad she didn't have an accident driving home. She was so rattled by the kiss that she was dazed from the experience and she could barely focus on the road signs and traffic. Once she was in the safe privacy of her house, she wasn't sure if she should laugh or cry about what Mr. Clarke had done. It had been years since she had been kissed by any man and many more years before that when she had been kissed by a man other than Thomas. She felt both guilty and elated at the same time and once again she found herself confused and conflicted about her feelings for Mr. Clarke. Should she consider that kiss as a final warning and refuse to have anything to do with him? Or should she welcome his advances and see how things went between them. She felt like a high school kid again experiencing her first crush.
Samantha thought about calling Mr. Clarke although she wasn't sure if was to give her a piece of her shocked mind and tell him she never wanted to see him again or to beg him to come to her house right now! But she never came close to picking the phone up, of course, although she found herself hoping that he would call her. Doug was busy with work all week but he also wanted the kiss to simmer and bubble with Mrs. Wainwright for a few days before he called. She would either end it between them with the next call or be anxious to see him again. Doug sincerely hoped it would be the later choice.
Doug called Mrs. Wainwright after work on Friday and invited her to come to a baseball game with him and his grandson on Saturday afternoon. Samantha was taken aback at first, not expecting to be put in such a unfamiliar position since she was not a grandmother herself yet and sometimes she wondered if she ever would be. But the idea seemed safe and harmless so she agreed, once again suggesting that they meet in the Donovan Department Store parking lot. Doug knew it was because she didn't want the neighbors seeing his truck in her plush driveway but he wasn't slighted by her cloak and dagger routine and he was happily waiting for her in the parking lot at 3:15 on Saturday afternoon.
What does one wear to a baseball game? She remembered the scene from 'The Natural' when Glenn Close stood up so Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) would notice her in the stands. She was wearing a white dress and a pretty sun hat and Samantha decided to dry to match that as best she could but she was still standing at the top of the stairs frozen long after the three clock chimes on the grandfather clock sounded off. It was nearly 3:30 when Samantha finally pulled her Cadillac into the department store parking lot but Doug expected her to be late so he wasn't upset in the least. He climbed out of the truck and greeted her as she got out of her car. She seemed slightly shy and perhaps a tad bit apprehensive so Doug elected not to give her a kiss hello. He led her to the truck instead while complimenting her on how pretty she looked.
Doug told Mrs. Wainwright about his grandson Eddie whom she was about to meet, an easy going happy go lucky kid even with some of the family drama – his single parent mom who had him at eighteen but who had raised him right as evidenced by his cheery disposition and positive demeanor. Doug pulled the truck to a stop in front of one of the tenement buildings by the canal in Hillsboro, an old neighborhood although certain in better shape than the Riverside section of town Mr. Clarke had shown him last week.
A strawberry blond kid wearing a ball cap and holding a baseball mitt came out the front door of the apartment building and waved to his grandfather. Doug climbed out of the cab and allowed Eddie to scamper into the center of the seat, slightly surprised to see an unfamiliar woman sitting in the truck.
"Eddie, this is Mrs. Wainwright," Doug said. "Mrs. Wainwright, my grandson, Eddie."
"A pleasure to meet you," Mrs. Wainwright replied, surprised at how formal she sounded.
"Likewise," Young Eddie said and that made Doug laugh out loud.
Eddie engaged Mrs. Wainwright in a brief how-do-you-do-who-are-you conversation during the brief ride to the Beano Field ball park – where do you live, how did you met Gramps, where'd you get that hat, etc. and Mrs. Wainwright answered earnestly and honestly to each inquiry. Once they reached the park, Eddie was focused on the game (and some snacks) and that gave Doug the chance to chat with Mrs. Wainwright.
"Have you ever been to Beano Field before?" He wondered.
"No, but Wainwright Insurance is a league sponsor," she replied. "Thomas talked about the Giants quite often."
"Eddie here is a Beansboro Beanster fan but I'm partial to my hometown Riverside Royals," Doug explained.
The game was between the Beansters and the Miller City Mudhens and Eddie enthusiastic rooted on the Beansters while Doug made subtle conversation with Mrs. Wainwright, mostly about the history of the ball park and the pleasure of watching a ball game here. When the contest was over (Hens won, 8-3 much to Eddie's disappointment) they returned to the tenement to drop Eddie off.
"I usually have pizza with Eddie and his mom on Saturday nights," Doug told Mrs. Wainwright. "Would you care to join us this week?"
"Oh," Mrs. Wainwright replied, caught off guard and not sure if she was ready to spend time with Mr. Clarke's family, afraid of the precedence that might set.
"Pizza's good," Eddie let her know and Mrs. Wainwright was hard pressed not to accept the invite.
Doug's daughter Patty wasn't expecting her father and son to stroll into the apartment in the company of a strikingly beautiful older woman dressed in white with lovely blond hair and a pleasant smile. Her father made the introduction and an awe-struck Patty took Mrs. Wainwright's hand in hers. Patty's Dad had never brought a woman to her apartment before and she couldn't quite fathom what a classy broad like her was doing with him in the first place.
"Oh, we met at the car dealership," Mrs. Wainwright explained effortlessly. "Your father did a good job keeping me calm as I fussed over my problematic vehicle."
"And my muffler fell off," Doug added with a smirk.
"Travis should be home with the pizza soon," Patty said.
The apartment was cluttered but attractive and well decorated even though it was clearly an older building. Mrs. Wainwright liked the view of the canal and Patty gave a brief history of the town and how the canal came to be. They were living in the buildings that were built to house the factory workers a century ago.
Travis arrived with the pizza and he did a double take when he saw the extra guest sitting in their cramped living room. He was a burly guy with long hair who adored Patty and was happy to be a good step dad for Eddie who didn't have his real dad in his life. The group ate the pizza in the living room served with beer with a ball game on the television and Samantha tried to remember the last time she had eaten so informally or felt so at ease among strangers. Eddie was cute, Patty was personable and pleasant, and Travis was a great host. Samantha could see how proud Mr. Clarke was all three of them and she was pleased that he wanted them to meet her although she felt slightly intimidated by the situation. If she was to end it with Mr. Clarke now would Patty think it was because of her and her lifestyle.
Doug and Mrs. Wainwright both thanked Patty and her family for their hospitality and Patty watched wide-eyed as her father left with such a cultured woman on his arm. Travis grinned once the couple was out of ear shot.
"You father appears to be very proud of himself."
"I can't imagine those two lasting very long," Patty admitted.
"Why not?" Travis asked.
"He's beer, she's champagne, he's hot dogs, she's caviar. He's Wrangler jeans, she's Tiffany's."
"Her husband's dead," Eddie announced. "I think she's sad. Maybe Gramps can make her feel better."
Travis and Patty exchanged looks.
Doug drove Mrs. Wainwright back to Greenville.
"I hope that wasn't too presumptuous of me," he said. "Inviting you for pizza."
"You have a lovely family," Mrs. Wainwright replied.
"Thanks," he smiled proudly.
"But I'm not ready for any long term commitment with any man," she said bluntly.
"I understand," Doug replied. And he really did.
"And I realize that I'm hardly perfect."
"I think you're smart, funny, attractive and a pleasure to be with," Doug countered.
"You've been with plenty of women since your divorce, I'm sure," Mrs. Wainwright commented.
"You're different," Doug said readily.
"But not in a good way, I'm afraid," she sighed.
"In the best ways," he assured her.
"I'm still in a valley of sadness and mourning and I don't know if I'll ever bounce back and be ready for whatever is supposed to be next in my life," Mrs. Wainwright remarked.
"I can wait," Doug replied. "You take things step by step, day by day, as slowly as you wish because I'm not going anywhere."
"You could be waiting an awfully long time," she warned.
"So be it," he replied effortlessly as he pulled the truck into the parking lot of Donovan's Department Store. "You want to go to a movie Friday night?"
She was again caught off guard by the invitation, especially after the conversation they just had.
"Well, um…okay," she said.
"We can meet here at six," he said. "First show usually starts at six thirty."
"Six, Friday," Mrs. Wainwright confirmed, hesitating momentarily, wondering if he was going to try to kiss her again.
But he made no effort this time so Samantha slipped out of the cab of the truck. "Thanks for a wonderful time," she said.
"You're welcome," he smiled as she closed the door and Samantha watched Mr. Clarke drive away, not sure if she was disappointed or relieved that he hadn't tried to kiss her again.
Doug was smirking as he drove home. He knew he was in this for keeps and every step he took with Mrs. Wainwright had its purpose. He didn't want to scare her off and he wanted to keep her interested and guessing which is exactly what Samantha was doing as she drove herself home. Why hadn't he kissed her goodnight? She licked her lips with her tongue imaging what it would have felt like to have had his lips on hers again.
There was no reason for Samantha to call Mr. Clarke during the week since they had a date set up for Friday but she found herself wishing he would call her, just so they could talk. She could call him, of course, just to talk, but she felt that was to forward of her so she went through her week trying to find some sort of routine other than missing Thomas and she was surprised by how many times she ended up thinking about Mr. Clarke – his almost playful confidence was something she needed in her life right now – somebody to tell her things were going to be okay even though she didn't feel that way.
Samantha was relieved when Friday night finally arrived. She spent extra time preparing herself for her night out, dressing in an attractive dress with sandals and when she pulled her Cadillac into the parking lot of Donovan's at 6:10 (once again nervous to leave the house) and saw Mr. Clarke's pick up truck parked in its usual spot it occurred to her that they were almost like some couple having a secretive affair meeting like this. Why couldn't she just allow him to show up at her Green Hill home – pickup truck be damned – or maybe being a modern woman and picking him up at his place?
She parked the car and when she got out Mr. Clarke was already waiting for her.
"Hello," he said warmly.
"Hello," she replied, hoping she sounded relaxed
The Cineplex movie theatre was only a few blocks away, a pleasant and easy walk. Doug noticed a couple coming out of the Coffee Café and he realized it was his ex-wife Liz and her second husband, Randy. Liz seemed surprised to see Doug in the company of such a distinguished looking lady.
"Doug!" she said, wide eyed. "Hello."
"Hi Liz," Doug replied, trying not to sound flustered or annoyed.
They only saw each other at mutual family events and they didn't interact that much even on those occasions. Randy was a nice enough guy but it was awkward for Doug being the third wheel. Of course now that he had Mrs. Wainwright by his side he didn't feel quite so awkward.
"This is Samantha Wainwright," Doug said pleasantly. "Samantha, this is my ex wife Liz and her husband, Randy."
Randy looked like an accountant to Samantha but she had to admit that Liz looked quite dapper and spiffy, even in her khaki shorts and a Peter, Paul and Mary tee-shirt.
"We're seeing a movie," Doug explained, wrapping his arm through Mrs. Wainwright's.
"That's nice," Liz smiled. "We're going over to an outdoor concert at the park."
"Enjoy," Doug replied before giving Mrs. Wainwright a tug on the arm to continue their walk, amused by the look of surprise and intrigue on Liz's face.
"She seems nice," Mrs. Wainwright remarked once they were out of ear shot of Doug's ex and her husband.
"She is," Doug replied. He sucked in his breath. "Look, we both have definitely moved on but it was always much harder than I expected it would be whenever I saw her."
"She didn't have a hard time adjusting to life as a divorcee," Doug sighed. "Every time I saw her – when we were switching off the kids or attending one of their events – she seemed happy and content whereas I was lonely and miserable."
"Maybe it was the rejection that hurt," Mrs. Wainwright suggested.
"She was never concerned with how I was doing," he complained. "If we didn't have kids together I probably never would have seen her again."
"That bothered you?"
"It made me realize that what I missed the most about our marriage was having someone to truly share things with, to consult with, to argue with, to make love with," he said. "That sense of familiarity and consistency. I never had it again after she left."
"But you moved on," Mrs. Wainwright observed.
"Doesn't mean I don't look back wistfully every once in a while," he admitted.
It was the first time since she met him that Samantha saw Mr. Clarke looking a little sad and vulnerable.
"Do you regret the divorce?"
"I'm here at this exact point and time in my life for a reason," Doug answered. "I don't question it. I accept it. And I look forward to the next part of the journey." He gave her a knowing look. "How can I complain?" He teased. "I'm going to the movies with you!"
She smiled and squeezed his arm in appreciation, perhaps feeling a real connection with him for the first time. She realized that she felt the same way about Thomas that he did about Liz. She missed the sharing, the consulting, the sense of familiarity and consistency, and especially the making love.
The movie was a harmless romantic comedy that made them both feel a little lighter when they came out of the theater a few hours later. It was almost dark by then and Doug asked if she wanted to stop in at McCurty's for a nightcap before calling it a night. She agreed (McCurty's was not a place she and Thomas frequented, a middle class neighborhood bar on a side street a block from Donovan's so she didn't have to worry about bumping into anybody she knew there).
They discussed the movie over a beer (for him) and a glass of wine (for her), laughing at the humorous scenes but tactfully avoiding discussion of the love scenes. McCurty's was much more noisy than Duffy's and not the best place to carry on a conversation so Doug and Mrs. Wainwright left after one drink and they walked to the Donovan Parking Lot in the evening warmth. The department store was closed by then so the lot was empty except for their two cars.
"Well, good night," Mrs. Wainwright said when she reached her car but Doug reached out with his arm and spun her around, pressing her against the car while leaning in and planting a meaningful kiss on her. This time, Mrs. Wainwright responded without thinking about what was going on, returning the smooch while wrapping her arms around him and making out with him as if they were carefree college kids.
This went on for a good five minutes with Doug confidentially and passionately kissing her and Samantha becoming light headed from the experience. Had she finally made the first real transition in widowhood by not fighting his advances and gladly returning the passionate kisses? She didn't even protest when his hands made their way to her backside rubbing against the side of the car, pressing her buns with affection and causing her to moan in unexpected delight.
It was only when they both became aware that someone might see them that they finally broke from the spontaneous make out session, Doug grinning at her while she straightened her clothing and caught her breath.
"Have a good night," he told her.
"Yeah, sure," she said, trying to collect herself. And then she heard herself saying something she never thought she'd hear herself say. "Mr. Clarke?"
"Yes, Mrs. Wainwright?"
"I'm visiting my mother at her assisted living place on Sunday afternoon," she said. "Would you like to take the ride with me?"
"That sounds interesting," Doug replied. "You want to meet here?"
"No," she said. "I can pick you up. Where do you live?"
"133 Elm Street," he said. "The apartment over the garage."
"Sure," Doug said. "I'll be waiting."
"Okay," Mrs. Wainwright said, still trying to catch her breath as she got into the car and Doug waved after her as she drove away trying to figure out why she had invited Mr. Clarke to visit her mother of all people.
It had been a long time since Samantha felt sexual or sensual in any way and she was feeling embarrassed and guilty - yet joyful and hopeful - as she drove home hoping that maybe - just maybe - she might experience some happiness in her life again. She slept surprising well that night, feeling at peace which was not what she expected. She thought she would be tossing and turning all night thinking of Thomas and being full of remorse about kissing another man even if her husband was dead three years. Was there hope for her?
Doug wasn't about to gloat about (finally) getting Mrs. Wainwright to melt a little bit and get in touch with her emotions. He knew with patience, understanding, honesty and just by being himself she would warm up to the idea of stepping out a little. He didn't expect her to get over her grief overnight or change her ways instantly - she was always going to be the lady from Green Hill and he was always going to be the son of a used car salesman - but if she would just forgot to be miserable for a few hours at a time she might learn to loosen up a little bit.
Doug went to a ball game with Eddie the next afternoon (the kid asked where the nice lady was) and he stuck around for pizza as usual (Patty asked where the pretty lady was!). Doug assured them that all was well - they had gone to the movies the night before (and bumped into Patty's mom!) and they were taking a ride together the next day.
"What'd Mom think of her?" Patty laughed.
"She seemed...surprised to see me with her!" Doug smirked.
"So, are you serious about her Dad?" Patty asked more seriously as they ate pizza in the living room in front of a ball game.
"Serious is not a word I would use," Doug admitted. "But I am attracted to her. I like her. I know we would be a truly odd couple if we ever actually got together but I'm just taking it one day a time. It's been a while since I've pursued a woman and obviously I've haven't been around a woman like this since your mom."
"Mom never lived on Green Hill," Patty pointed out.
Doug couldn't argue with that.
Samantha wondered how she should introduce Mr. Clarke to her mother as she prepared herself for the visit on Sunday morning. Maybe he could wait in the lobby while she visited her mother. Maybe she should just drive to the assisted living place by herself, 'forgetting' to pick up Mr. Clarke - but once again she started feeling guilty about second guessing herself with Mr. Clarke, especially after those amazing kisses Friday night. She would love to feel him in her arms again, the warmth of his breath, the gentleness of his touches, the way he made her feel like she never thought she'd feel again.
Doug didn't expect Mrs. Wainwright to arrive at time as he sat on the tailgate of his truck parked in his spot on the driveway apron in front of the garage. He was sure she was chewing on her lip debating on whether or not she had the strength to see him again. It was only when she heard the grandfather clock chime its one clock clangs that Samantha was able to psych herself down the stairs and drive to Elm Street. She only knew where the street was because her dry cleaner was on one end of the long street and she found 133 with relative ease, smiling as she pulled into the driveway and saw Mr. Clarke sitting on the tailgate waiting for her. He gave her a cute wave as he hopped off the tailgate and walked toward the car. The garage apartment didn't look that bad from the outside and Samantha wondered if she'd ever see the inside of the place. God, what had gotten into her? Why was she thinking such things all of a sudden?
Doug climbed into the passenger's seat and gave her a smile, impressed at how dolled up she was on a Sunday afternoon.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Wainwright," he said cheerfully.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Clarke," she replied, trying not to sound giddy even though that's how she strangely felt.
She drove north out of Greenville and Doug could see that she was a careful and conscientious driver.
"So, I visit my mother once a month," Mrs. Wainwright said. "She's doing very well so once a month is just about right."
Doug raised an eyebrow.
"My mother and I don't exactly get along," Mrs. Wainwright explained.
"She was an academic like my father," Mrs. Wainwright told him. "Sociology. She was also into social justice and social equality. Both my parents were very liberal politically which was no big deal growing up but once I got involved with Thomas and the rest of the Wainwrights my mother wasn't very happy. She thought I was going to follow her into academics. That's why I went to Mount Holyoke. Best education. But when I decided to marry into the conservative Wainwright family and become a housewife and stay at home mom, well my mother lost a lot of respect for me. She felt I was wasting my time and talents, especially when my daughter went off to college and I didn't pursue a career of any kind. So, it's been somewhat tense and conflictual between us over the years. She didn't like Thomas 'keeping me down' as she put it. She didn't like my politics or my capitalistic frame of mind. She wanted me to give half our assets to the poor and join the Peace Corps and all that."
"What about your Dad?" Doug asked.
"He died about six years ago," Mrs. Wainwright sighed. "Seems like I've had a lot of loss in my life lately. My mother moved back here around the time Thomas died. She had friends from Green College and there's plenty of academic types living in her retirement community so she's perfectly happy and content. She's always involved in something – taking bus trips and joining causes. She was one of those senior citizen ladies who got arrested a few years back for chaining themselves to the fence at the nuke plant."
Doug laughed at the image, remembering a news clip he saw on the television news about several gray-haired grannies protesting in front of the power plant. Who would have thought Mrs. Wainwright's mother would have been one of them!?
They were approaching Sun Rise Lake.
"We used to take the kids up here to swim at the public beach," Doug recalled.
"We had the country club," Mrs. Wainwright remarked.
"I might have been smart enough to attend the Sun Rise Lake School for Boys but we couldn't have afforded that in a million years," Doug commented as they drove past the popular private school on a hill at the end of the lake.
She tossed him a look, wondering how his life might have been different had he attended the preppy Sun Rise Lake School for Boys. The Sun Rise Lake Community Living Center was in a former alcoholic rehab facility that had gone belly up twenty years earlier and was converted into the assisted living community. The two story brick building was right on the lakefront and offered a spectacular view. It was pleasant and cheerful place as they entered the large lobby. Mrs. Wainwright signed them in at the front desk and then escorted Doug down the hall to Apt. 114. There was a photo of a woman the wall next to the door with the name "Margaret Doyle" underneath. Doug could see the resemblance between the two women right away.
"Your maiden name was Doyle?"
"Both my parents had their Ph.D's so they were both Doctor Doyle," Mrs. Wainwright said before knocking on the door. "Mom? It's me. I brought a guest with me."
"It's open," a sweet sounding voice sang out.
Mrs. Wainwright sucked in her breath and opened the door. "Hello, Mother," she said as they entered.
It was a small efficiency type apartment with a kitchenette (there was a full dining room for group meals), a living room area, and a bedroom and bathroom off of the living room. The unit was painted a bright white and the windows faced the lake. The apartment was tastefully decorated with various collectables and mementos from Dr. Doyle's life. Doug noticed a photo of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt and Bobby Kennedy among various family and colleague photos spread throughout the room.
"Mom, this is Mr. Clarke," Mrs. Wainwright said.
Mrs. Doyle was seated in an arm chair by the window with a quilt over her legs. There was a walker next to the chair. "Mr. Clarke?" She asked with confusion. "Who's he? The new janitor?"
Doug burst out in laughter, amused by her ironic yet apropos question while Mrs. Wainwright looked horrified.
"No, he's not the new janitor, Mom!" She cried.
"Well, the new janitor is supposed to stop by this afternoon and fix the leak in the bathroom sink," Mrs. Doyle explained, sounding annoyed. "I thought maybe you bumped into Mr. Clarke in the hall."
"No, not in the hall, Mom." Mrs. Wainwright gestured for Doug to have a seat on the couch along the wall.
"Well, who is he then?" Mrs. Doyle legitimately asked.
"He's…..my…..he's an…..acquaintance," Mrs. Wainwright said awkwardly as she took a seat next to Doug.
"An acquaintance?" Mrs. Doyle frowned, giving Doug a look and he couldn't help but be amused by the situation.
"A….ah….friend," Mrs. Wainwright clarified, clearly flustered
"A friend?" Mrs. Doyle's eyebrows went up. "You're kidding."
"She's kind of new at this," Doug volunteered with a smirk.
"Mr. Clarke and I met a few weeks ago," Mrs. Wainwright explained.
"Mr. Clarke? Is he your lawyer? Your banker? Your chauffeur? Mrs. Doyle was clearly confused.
"No, of course not, Mom."
"Well, who in the hell is he?"
"We're just getting to know each other, Mrs. Doyle," Doug said.
"You're dating!?" Mrs. Doyle asked.
"No, not exactly dating, Mom," Mrs. Wainwright insisted and Doug wondered why she was so resistant to the idea and why she was having such a hard time telling her mother the truth.
"Well, what exactly are you two doing?" Mrs. Doyle demanded, giving Doug a concerned eye.
"We're in transition," Doug explained diplomatically.
"What is your first name, young man?" Mrs. Doyle asked.
"Well, Doug, are you dating my daughter or not?"
"I'd like too," Doug said.
"Why on earth are you being so mysterious and formal for, Sammi?" Mrs. Doyle wanted to know. "You obviously wouldn't have brought Doug with you if you didn't think there was something to it."
"I'm not sure if I'm ready," Samantha said.
"Mrs. Wainwright is having a hard time letting go of Mr. Wainwright," Doug clarified.
"Oh for godsakes, her name is Sammi or Samantha, Douglas!" Mrs. Doyle wailed. "This isn't Downtown Abby. Will you two stop behaving like lunatics! Can you at least refer to each other by your given names!? "
"I understand…. Samantha's hesitation," Doug said calmly.
"Well, I don't," Mrs. Doyle said bluntly.
"Mother," Samantha pleaded.
"Look, when your father died I was a mess too," Mrs. Doyle said. "But I didn't let it ruin my life. I still did things. I even had my gentleman friend for a while, didn't I?"
"Please, Mother," Samantha said. "I really don't want to discuss this."
"So, you're not sleeping together?" Mrs. Doyle asked with disappointment.
"Doug, my advice to you is forget you ever met her," Mrs. Doyle said a-matter-of-factly.
"Mother!" Samantha cried.
"What?" Mrs. Doyle asked with a shrug. "Why string the poor man along? If you're going to spend the rest of your life pining over your dead husband why waste Doug's time?" Mrs. Doyle looked at Doug. "I'm sorry, where are my manners? Would you like something to drink, Doug? Eat?"
"I'm good," Doug smiled. "And don't be so hard on Samantha. This is all new for her."
Mrs. Doyle laughed. "I like you," she announced. "Sammi, don't let this one get away. He's great!"
"He's divorced," Samantha muttered.
"So?" Mrs. Doyle gave her daughter a confused look.
"He's in charge of maintenance for the school system."
"Oh, you work with kids!"
"Indirectly at best," Doug said sheepishly.
"Sammi, do you think I care about any of that?" Mrs. Doyle laughed. "How old are you, Doug?"
"And you're fifty-five now, Sammi," Mrs. Doyle reminded her daughter. "What in heaven's name are you waiting for?"
"I don't know," Samantha admitted with a sigh.
"Forget about being a Wainwright, Samantha," Mrs. Doyle advised. "Start being a Doyle again. It might help you…..transition."
"How are you doing, Mom?" Samantha asked, hoping to steer the conversation in another direction. "How's your hip?"
"I broke it this spring," Mrs. Doyle explained for Doug's benefit.
"Trail walking in snowy March," Samantha complained.
"It was exhilarating!" Mrs. Doyle beamed. "Until I fell."
"You walking more?" Samantha wanted to know.
"Yes, but they make me use that foolish walker still," Mrs. Doyle grumbled. "Makes me look like a feeble old lady!"
"Do you need anything?"
"No, Gertie runs my errands for me," Mrs. Doyle said. "I hate being housebound but I'll be back to my normal routine soon."
"Just take it easy, Mom," Samantha requested. "Don't do anything dangerous or risky."
Mrs. Doyle laughed and then she looked at Doug with interest. "Maybe you and Doug here can come see me more often," she said.
"Maybe," Samantha said sheepishly.
"You a father, Doug?" Mrs. Doyle asked.
"Of two," he said proudly.
"He has a cute grandson too," Samantha smiled.
"Is Barbara ever going to give you a grandchild?" Mrs. Doyle lamented.
"You said there was no hurry, Mom," Samantha reminded her.
"Well, she's getting older too," Mrs. Doyle stated. "Is she even with anybody right now?"
"Not as far as I know," Samantha replied.
"You two still not talking that much?" Mrs. Doyle asked sadly.
"It was hard enough for her to deal with her own grief," Samantha admitted. "I guess she had enough of mine."
Doug realized that Samantha had alienated herself from those most important in her life – her mother, her daughter. "You should have her come up," he suggested to Samantha.
"Barbara?" She asked with surprise.
"We could have a little party," Doug said. "Mrs. Doyle…"
"Please, call me Margie."
"Margie…..you…..your daughter…Patty, Travis and Eddie. A picnic somewhere."
"Right here," Margie said. "Or at the public beach anyway. They have picnic tables there. It would be fun."
"It would be fun," Doug agreed.
Samantha looked stunned, as if the idea had never crossed her mind. "Oh, why would Barbara come?" She sighed heavily. "She's had enough of me."
"Yes, but now you're in transition," Doug said with a grin. "Things are changing."
"And we'll make sure you don't sit on the pity pot," Margie said brashly.
"Have I really been that bad?" Samantha pouted.
"Yes," Margie insisted plainly.
"See why I only come once a month?" Samantha asked Doug.
"You could come every week if you weren't so depressing," Margie offered. "It hasn't exactly been a vacation having you around these last few years."
"That's because…"Samantha started to say but Doug put his hand on her knee to silence her.
Margie smirked. "I really like you, Doug," she said knowingly.
Doug smiled. "That's good, Margie. "
"You just don't understand the strain I've been under," Samantha protested to her mother.
"Sammi," Margie groaned. "I'm eighty-one years old. I have a dead husband too and I have other issues. Hip. Blood pressure. Bladder problems that leave me in Depends. I'm getting decidedly older by the day but I'm still relatively healthy, thank God, but I swear to God you make me feel older every time I see you. Are you trying to kill me?"
Samantha slumped back in her chair as if her mother had slapped her.
"I know you've been very sad and you took Thomas' death very hard," Margie continued. "But when are you going to finally set a different course for yourself? Look at that delightful man sitting next to you! What are you waiting for? What do you want? Do you really want to push him away just like you've pushed everybody else away these past three years? When are you going to stop feeling sorry for yourself and start doing something for yourself? Set a different course or you're going to drown on the rocks. I know you feel sadness and miss Thomas for sure but that doesn't mean there's not something bright and wonderful waiting for you if you'll just take the time to look."
"I've been thinking about sex lately," Samantha announced.
"Good for you!" Margie laughed.
"You have?" Doug asked with surprise.
"I really miss it," Samantha admitted.
"Me too!" Margie chirped in.
"I miss being desired," Samantha sighed. "I miss the teasing and foreplay. I miss being sexy. I miss being a sensual woman."
"I thought you were sexy the first time I saw you," Doug let her know.
"I haven't felt that way," Samantha admitted with a pout.
"Trust me, you are," Doug smiled.
"I'm supposed to be a good widow," Samantha told him.
"What's a good widow?" Margie asked with interest.
"Good widows don't crave sex," Samantha said. "Good widows have their best years behind them."
"Poppycock," Margie rebutted.
"Sometimes I just want to tell people, "I'm horny as hell and I really want to get laid!" Samantha admitted.
Doug burst out laughing.
"Stop being a good widow," Margie advised.
"It's not just about the sex," Samantha said. "It's also about the desire to be desirable. It's about having a man openly want me and me wanting him back."
"I've wanted you from the moment I saw you," Doug let her know.
"But I'm scared," Samantha admitted. "Thomas' death killed me. I'm raw to the touch and to any emotion. I'm such a fool to want anybody to be with me."
"With fear comes courage," Margie countered. "If you would just embrace the idea and the desire for a second chance for what you've been afraid to try you just might surprise yourself."
"I used to be beautiful, soft, curvy and expressive," Samantha sighed. "Now my thighs are too big. I have too much cellulite. My boobs sag. My fanny fell. My tummy won't tuck. I feel the stretch marks."
"You're as sexy now as you ever were," Doug assured her.
"I just can't shake the sadness," Samantha bemoaned. "I'm lost, not sure how to do this or even if I want to. I'm scared I'll do something wrong. I feel unattractive and needy and vulnerable."
"You need to look in a different mirror," Doug said.
"Don't you see?" Samantha cried desperately. "I'm trapped between my dead husband and a future that waits for me to figure out how I'm supposed to live in it. I'm a scared, lost, confused widow who's not sure what to do or how to do it."
"You'll figure it out," Doug said gently.
"This is all so super awkward," Samantha sighed. "This is beyond my comprehension, really."
"Why did you bring Doug here, Sammi?" Margie asked.
"I wanted you to meet him," Samantha admitted freely.
"So that was the right choice for you," Margie said. "Stop fighting it."
"Sometimes things happen for a reason," Doug added. "I usually bring the truck to the local repair shop, the kind like my father used to run. For some reason, this time I brought it to the dealer. So I could meet you, apparently."
"You two should go," Margie decided.
"We can stay for a while," Samantha said, wiping a tear from her eye after the emotional discussion.
"I don't want you to," Margie replied. "The new janitor will be coming. And Gertie said she'd stop by and watch the ball game with me. You two go. Start planning that picnic. And figure out the whole sex thing."
Samantha blushed. "Mother!"
"It's pretty obvious the two of you belong together," Margie said.
"We come from different worlds," Samantha worried.
"There's only one world that matters right now," Margie countered. "The world of love. I told you. Stop being a Wainwright. Start being a Doyle. It will be a whole lot easier."
"I can't believe I'm sitting here talking sex with my mother and a man I just met," Samantha groaned.
"I miss your smile," Margie sighed. "It's been so long since I've seen you smile."
"Okay, Mom, I get it," Samantha remarked. "I've been a miserable anchor on everybody because my husband died."
"Because you haven't been able to handle your husband dying," Margie clarified. "There's a difference. Didn't I tell you to go to therapy?"
"I saw a counselor after the divorce," Doug volunteered and both women looked at him with surprise. "I needed to make sure I wasn't crazy," he explained with a shrug.
"Did it help?" Samantha asked.
"Of course it helped," Margie answered for him.
"It helped," Doug gently confirmed.
Samantha felt emotionally drained. She hadn't experienced such an honest, soul searching conversation with her mother in years. She was so busy resenting her for not falling apart after her father died that she never bothered to listen to what her mom was saying and when Thomas died Samantha couldn't hear anything anybody was saying anyway. Even poor Barbara bore the brunt of Samantha's almost psychotic grief these past three years.
"How did Thomas die?" Doug asked.
"They said it was a severe cardiac episode," Samantha said sadly.
"He collapsed at the office," Margie clarified. "DOA at the hospital."
"My brother in law came to the house to get me," Samantha recalled with a shiver running down her spine. "As soon as he opened the door and I saw the look on his face, I knew. Thomas was still warm when I got to the ER. I held his hand for a long time."
"That was a long time ago, dear-heart," Margie said quietly. "You can let go of his hand now."
Samantha burst into tears, burying her face in her hands as Doug wrapped his arm around her shaking shoulders. She fell into him and had a lengthy cry.
"You're going to be okay, Sammi," her mother said after a while.
The new janitor knocked on the door, forcing Samantha to pull herself together while Doug took his time answering the door. Doug led him to the bathroom to show him the leak while Samantha washed her face in the kitchenette sink.
"Sammi, Doug might not be the one," Margie said knowingly. "But it doesn't matter. It's time to begin the transition."
"I know, Mom," Samantha replied as she dried her face.
Doug returned from the bathroom.
"Gertie will be here soon," Margie said. "You two get going."
"Okay, Mom," Samantha agreed going to her mother and giving her a hearty hug, the first genuine one she had offered in a while. "Thanks for everything."
"Smile," Margie said warmly. "And don't forget about the picnic."
Doug smiled and nodded to Samantha's mother before escorting Sammi from the unit and walking her down the hall.
"Your mom is a hot ticket," he observed.
"She is," Samantha agreed with a smile.
They didn't talk much during the ride back. Samantha wasn't sure what to say and Doug wanted to give her the space to process the conversation she just had with her mother. Doug didn't say anything when Samantha didn't drive back to Greenville and he grinned when she drove into the parking lot of Hank's Hot Dog Hut outside of Hillsboro.
"I figured you're probably hungry," she said.
"I could use a bite," Doug admitted.
"Me too," she smiled.
They talked mostly about the picnic over their dogs, chili, fries and soda. Samantha would call Barbara in New York and see what weekend she would be free. Doug would make sure Patty committed to the idea and he would take care of getting the food together for the event.
"You must think I'm crazy," Samantha said as she drove him to his apartment over the garage. "From the moment you met me."
"I think you're great," Doug told her.
She pulled the Cadillac into the driveway and parked it behind his pickup truck.
"Would you like to see the place?" Doug asked.
Samantha knew what he was really asking. "I would," she said.
Doug smiled and got out of the car. Samantha wiggled her wedding ring off of her finger and dropped it into her purse before getting out of her side of the car. She wished she had put on some pretty undergarments earlier but it probably didn't matter much now. She had a feeling it really didn't matter what she was wearing.
Doug took her by the hand and led her toward the stairs that would take them to his loft apartment.
"Are you going to make me smile, Mr. Clarke?" Samantha asked seductively.
"I'm sure as hell going to try, Mrs. Wainwright," he replied purposefully.