Part 2215 – The Problem With Clarice Vansing.

Clarice tried to keep her head up. She tried her best to stay upbeat and sparkly as she talked to John and the five women at her table. She kept her voice from betraying her thoughts and feelings. And she thought she was doing a bang-up award-winning job of it.

Then, John looked at her. His eyes pierced through her performance and saw the truth. With that one look, he pulled off her mask and saw the hurt she was hiding. She knew it. His own expression betrayed him.

He waited for a pause in the conversation’s flow before clearing his throat. “I wish I could stay a little longer, but I’m worried about Sarah. I really should head back to her.”

The five women exclaimed and chirped, “Ohh, that’s too bad!” “I wish you could stay!” “But, of course he can’t stay. He has responsibilities, my dear.” “That is true.”

Clarice smiled and it felt like a real smile. It didn’t feel fake or insincere. “It’s okay, John. I understand.”

“Clarice.”

“It’s okay. I’m okay.”

He pushed his seat back and stood. He offered his hand to Clarice.

She looked up at him.

His hand trembled a little as he waited.

She stood and took his hand.

A happy smile stretched across his face.

The hurt in her chest lessened. “I’ll walk you out.”

“Thank you, Clarice.”

***

John held onto her hand as they left the banquet room.

I want to ask her what’s wrong, but this isn’t the right place. I don’t know what’s troubling her, but I have a feeling it’s something that needs a quiet moment and privacy. A restaurant hallway would be the completely wrong place.

“My girls are probably wondering what we’re up to.” Clarice said. “Although, I suspect that they’re imagining all sorts of delicious scandals about us.”

She sounds okay. She’s acting okay. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just imagining things.

“What do you think, John?”

Her voice saying his name gave him goosebumps and an assortment of pleasant feelings.

I want her to say my name again and again.

He chuckled self-consciously.

What am I? Sixteen years old all over again?

“I think you make me feel so young, Clarice. So incredibly young.”

She looked at him with so much love he felt flattered and astounded all at the same time. “Likewise, you snapdragon frosted cookie of hotness.”

He laughed.

See? She’s fine.

But.

He puzzled over it as they walked to the end of the hall.

I don’t think she is fine. Something’s worrying her.

I think I know what it is.

He opened the front door for her. She went through it and looked back at him. He followed her through the second door.

The more he thought about it the more it made sense. But it wasn’t the right time to say anything about it.

Not yet.

They walked out into the parking lot. He held her hand and she held onto his. Neither John nor Clarice spoke. Neither one felt the need to speak. It was enough to feel the other’s touch.

“Ah. Here’s my car.”

She reluctantly released him.

He unlocked the driver’s side door and hesitated.

I could just leave it.

I could be wrong.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

He put his hand on the door handle, but he didn’t open the door.

“John?”

But I could be right.

“Clarice, what’s wrong?” He turned to face her.

She opened her mouth.

“I saw your face in there. I know that look. I’ve had it on my face too many times.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. What…?”

“Trying to keep it all together. Trying to not melt and break and cry. Were you thinking of him?”

She lowered her gaze and nodded. “It isn’t fair. No matter how I try to excuse it, no matter how many times I try to ‘Could be worse” it, I can’t. Elsie is so happy and beautiful. If Gerry had been there. If only Gerry had been there. John, I wish Gerry had been there. Even if he were a ghost. I would have taken that. I would have gone with that. I would have accepted it. And so would Elsie.”

Clarice looked up at him. “She loved him. She still does. She misses him. She’ll always miss him and everything that he has missed.”

“And so will you.”

“John, I’m so sorry. Please don’t take it wrong. Please don’t—-”

He hugged her. “It’s okay. You’re okay, Clarice.” He closed his eyes and he saw Carolyn’s face lose its form and features.

But she was there for Barbara’s wedding. She was there with me, with us.

Clarice didn’t get that chance with him.

“We’re okay.” He rubbed her back. “I love you.”

She hugged him. “I love you too, John.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s