Read Holding Hands Online

Authors: Judith Arnold

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Holding Hands

HOLDING HANDS

 

Judith Arnold

 

Smashwords Edition

 

***

 

Copyright © 2012 by Barbara Keiler

 

Smashwords Edition License Notes

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***

Chapter
One

 


I’M SEEING SOMEONE,”
Meredith’s mother said.

Meredith tucked the cordless phone more
firmly between her ear and her shoulder, freeing her hands to press
the lid of the plastic container containing that evening’s
leftovers into place. Emily had moved out several weeks ago, but
Meredith still hadn’t gotten the portions right. She’d intended to
make stir-fry chicken for two, but somehow she’d made enough for
three. This container would be joining the foil-wrapped slab of
salmon, the tub of cooked pasta with clam sauce and the chunk of
rib-eye steak in the refrigerator. Maybe tomorrow, she’d reheat all
the leftovers and serve a buffet dinner.

She let her mother’s words settle into her
brain. Several possible meanings took shape: “I’m seeing someone
about that thing that looks like a fungus on my toenail.” Or “I’m
seeing someone in the rocking chair your dad always loved. I think
it’s his ghost. Does that mean I’m crazy?” Or...


You’re
seeing
someone?”


Charlie Abrams. Remember, I
told you he and his wife Helen moved here to Sunshine Village a
couple of weeks ago.”


You’re seeing a
married man
?” The
container of stir-fry went forgotten as Meredith gripped the phone,
pressing it against her ear to make sure she hadn’t misinterpreted
her mother’s words.


Helen has Alzheimer’s. I
told you all this when they moved in, don’t you remember? He’s
living in my building, and she’s living in the memory care unit
across the way.”

Meredith’s mother probably had told her. She
regaled Meredith on a daily basis with news and gossip about her
neighbors in the assisted-living community. This one had to go on
oxygen for her COPD. That one’s granddaughter visited from
California. This one had a big fight with that one over the Sudoku
puzzle in the newspaper. So many names, Meredith couldn’t keep
track of them.


What exactly do you mean
by
seeing
him?”
Meredith asked.

Her mother blithely ignored the question.
“Charlie is such a good husband. He goes over to the memory care
unit every day and has lunch with Helen. But she’s been
deteriorating for years. Sometimes she doesn’t even remember who he
is. Thank God your father went fast, and his brain was still
intact. My heart breaks for Charlie, what he’s been through. We’ve
been having dinner together. He’s a sweetheart.”

A sweetheart who was hitting on her mother
while his wife was living just across the courtyard in the building
for residents suffering from dementia. Very sweet.


We’ve been going to the
evening movies together,” her mother continued. “Last night they
showed
The King’s Speech
. An excellent movie, did you see it? It won an
Oscar.”


Mom. He’s
married.


To a woman who sometimes
puts her socks on her ears instead of her feet. Honey, we’re all
getting old. We don’t have that many years left. We need to grab
happiness where we can find it.” Meredith’s mother sighed happily.
“He held my hand while we watched the movie. Your father and I
always used to hold hands at the movies. It’s been such a long time
since I held hands with a man.”

As long as they were just holding hands,
Meredith supposed there wasn’t too much harm in it. Her father had
died from a catastrophic stroke three years ago, and her mother had
been alone since then. For two and a half of those years, she’d
remained stubbornly in the house she and Meredith’s father had
called home their entire married life. She’d grieved, she’d
withdrawn, she’d grown increasingly isolated. Meredith and her
sister had finally uprooted her and moved her to Sunrise Village,
and the woman had come back to life

Perhaps a bit too much life. But hell, if her
mother wanted to hold hands with a man while they watched a movie,
so be it. Her mother was still pretty and vivacious. She’d been the
queen of her high school’s prom as a teenager, a beauty pageant
winner in college, the most popular girl on campus until Meredith’s
father had successfully elbowed aside her many other suitors and
staked his claim. Now that he was gone, why shouldn’t she go back
to being a prom queen?


Anyway, I wanted you to
hear about Charlie from me,” her mother continued. “Your sister
freaked out when I told her. I knew you’d be sensible about
it.”

In that case, Meredith had better be
sensible. “If it makes you happy...”


I feel reborn,” her mother
said, her voice lilting. “Last Saturday, he gave me a single red
rose. It was so beautiful. And we’ve had wine up at his apartment,
and—”


I thought all you did was
hold hands.”


That was yesterday at the
movie,” her mother explained. “They’re showing fabulous movies here
lately. I think they’ve got a subscription with one of those
places, Netflix or something. Some of the residents here don’t want
them showing anything that doesn’t have a G-rating, but honestly,
we’re all adults, and if they can’t handle a few dirty words, they
don’t have to watch the movie. Not that there are dirty words
in
The King’s Speech.”


Mom.” Meredith sounded to
herself the way she did when she used to reprimand Emily or the
boys.
Behave yourself. Clean your room. Do
your homework
. Now she was her mother’s
mother, scolding. “You’re drinking wine in his
apartment?”


Don’t worry, I won’t get
pregnant.” Her mother giggled like a flirty schoolgirl. “Thanks for
not freaking out like your sister. Next time you visit, I’ll
introduce you to Charlie. He’s a doll.”

Yeah, right, Meredith thought after she said
good-bye to her mother and slid the container of stir-fry onto a
refrigerator shelf with the other leftovers. A real doll, romancing
Meredith’s mother while he had a wife tucked away in the loony-bin
across the courtyard.

However, since her sister had freaked out,
Meredith would not. In fact, as she sponged down the table and
reran the phone conversation in her mind, she realized she wasn’t
terribly shocked. Her mother was seventy-five years old. Married
forever, widowed for three years, lonely and depressed—and now
feeling reborn. To catch a man’s attention again, to be courted, to
be the prettiest girl in the room... Lucky woman.

The kitchen tidy, Meredith strode to the
mudroom to get Skippy’s leash. He must have heard the rattle of the
hook where the leash hung when it wasn’t in use, because he bounded
into the kitchen, barking exuberantly. “Hush,” she murmured
half-heartedly as she bent over to clip the leash to his collar.
Skippy couldn’t possibly remain silent when something as thrilling
as a walk loomed in his immediate future.

She moved to the den doorway and peeked
inside. Scott lounged in the recliner, his laptop perched on his
knees and a football game tumbling across the flat-screen TV
against the far wall. “I’m taking Skippy for a walk,” she told
him.

He nodded.


Would you like to join
us?”


I can’t,” he said without
glancing her way. “I’ve got all these essays to get
through.”


My mother’s dating a
married man,” Meredith informed him.


Great,” he grunted,
distracted from his laptop by the effusive babble of one of the
sportscasters as someone did something spectacular on the football
field. A catch, a tackle, a touchdown—who knew? Who
cared?

Apparently, Scott did. Meredith gazed for a
moment at her husband’s back, his broad shoulders filling an old
oxford shirt, a few telltale strands of silver woven through the
thick dark waves of his hair. If she could see his face, she’d be
transfixed by how handsome he still was. Her husband, her mother,
her sister, her children—she was surrounded by beautiful
people.

Thank God Skippy was a scruffy, mismatched
hodgepodge of breeds—terrier with a bit of collie, making him both
frisky and bossy. Emily and the boys had insisted that Meredith get
a dog to make the transition to empty-nesthood easier, and she’d
gone to a shelter and adopted the most forlorn, funny-looking
creature there. She appreciated having at least one other family
member who wasn’t traffic-stopping gorgeous.

She wasn’t bad looking. But the only way
she’d stop traffic would be if she stood in a crosswalk and the
drivers chose to obey the law and yield. To this day, she remained
astonished that of all the girls at that frat house party
twenty-eight years ago, Scott Fischer had chosen to approach her.
Even as a nineteen-year-old, she’d been pleasantly plain, with hair
the color of mud and eyes the color of weak tea—although Scott had
always said they were the color of strong whisky.

She’d asked him once why he’d picked her out
of the crowd that night, in the dimly lit, beer-reeking basement of
the frat house. “You looked smart,” he’d said.

Fair enough. She was smart. She and Scott had
spent their college days, months, years lost in wonderful
conversations, analyzing politics, religion, their dreams and
fears. They’d laughed a lot, taken long hikes together in mild
weather, skied together in the winter. The sex had been phenomenal.
That had been enough.

Three years after their wedding, she’d become
pregnant with the boys, and she’d gained a lot of weight. Carrying
twins meant eating for three, not two, and after they were born,
ten pounds remained behind as a souvenir. Another three years and
Emily was born, leaving behind ten more pounds. As the children
grew, Meredith’s fat cells sent out invitations to all the other
fat cells in the vicinity to come and join them. A couple of years
ago, Meredith had finally acknowledged that she’d crossed the line
from chubby to fat. She’d gone on a slow, sensible diet. Nothing
dramatic. Just smaller portions, less bread, yogurt instead of
ice-cream. And long, brisk walks.

At long last, she’d reclaimed her
pre-pregnancy figure. But Scott never said anything about how much
better she looked. Maybe he just didn’t see her anymore.

The autumn evening was cool, the air as tart
and crisp as the Cortland apples ripening at the orchard west of
town. Meredith headed south, Skippy prancing beside her.

Just before her mother had phoned that
evening, Emily had called from school. Despite all of last year’s
senior-year-of-high-school craziness, Emily’s zigzagging moods, her
theatrics and histrionics and her ability to dissolve into tears
over everything from a spat with a friend to a suggestion from her
English teacher that she proofread her homework assignments more
carefully, from a scuff mark on her favorite shoes to a missed shot
on goal in field hockey, from a college rejection letter to a
college acceptance letter, Meredith missed her daughter now that
she was settled into her college dorm, launched on the next phase
of her life. Unlike the twins—lanky, hunky, easygoing boys who even
as college first-years had gotten in touch with Meredith only when
they’d needed money or CARE packages of food—Emily phoned nearly
every day. Sometimes she texted Meredith, but usually she called,
aware that Meredith hated the coded jargon of texting, the dropped
letters and cryptic abbreviations.

Today’s phone call had been
typical. Emily was happy, she was busy, she was as frisky as
Skippy, and sometimes Meredith wished she could put her daughter on
a leash and rein her in a little. “I got my first paper back in
American Society and Culture and I got a check-plus on it, which is
like an A. I’m such an effin’ genius, Mom! I signed up for
intramural basketball, I don’t know why, I’m not that tall, but
everyone said go ahead and sign up so I did. And Mom, I met this
really hot guy, he’s a friend of Jane’s, they went to high school
together and he is
so
hot, and he told me his dorm is hosting a party this weekend
and I should come. I think I need a new sweater.”

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