V

Tom's mother came for dinner the next night. Sally got off early in order to help Leslie prepare for it, while Ellen chatted with her son. Daniel was out.

"For Christ's sake!"

Leslie stopped chopping to scowl at Sally. "What now?"

"When is that boy going to be back? And where the hell are the onions?"

"Oignon?" Tom asked, looking around the doorframe. "That was on the list. Daniel takes approximately one hundred years to buy anything. Les, why don't you run home and grab some before Sally blows an artery, he'll be another hour at least."

"You get them, you aren't doing anything."

"I'm spending quality time with my mother." Tom ducked back out before they could enlist him for anything else. He smiled at his mother. "So sweet," he said.

"So loving."

"So forgiving, I hope."

"Do you think they need another pair of hands in there?"

"No no no." Tom pushed her back into her chair. "You are the guest. You aren't allowed to see what they're making."

"Ahh."

"It's really fancy."

"Oh?"

"It's filet mignon."

Ellen raised an eyebrow.

Tom's smile widened. "That's duck, right?"

"Not quite."

"It's fancy, anyway. I think it has little orange bits in it, like oranges but smaller."

"You know I know you know how to cook, yes?"

"Where on earth did you hear that?"

"Daniel."

"I'll kill him!"

"Go ahead," Sally growled, emerging with her hands caked in flour. "I have an idea for you, Thomas Greenwood Junior. You can go and find me some onions, or my husband assuming he has some, or I will wipe my hands on your face."

Tom didn't move.

"On your shirt, then."

He got up. "I'll see if I can track him down. Mom, care to join?"

"Sure."

"See you later, girls. Have fun." They beat a hasty retreat, out the back gate and across the road. They could see Daniel from afar, struggling with too many bags of groceries. Tom shouted a greeting, to which Daniel responded by putting everything down and sitting beside them.

"I give up," he said when they were close enough to hear. "It's too much for me."

"Hello."

"It's nice to see you, Mrs Greenwood. How have you been?"

"Well. You?"

"Hanging in there." He grinned up at them. "Help yourself to as much as you can carry, please and thank you. Why Sally couldn't wait until tomorrow to do a mass shopping trip I can't work out, but there you have it."

"She's not used to feeding five," Tom said.

"It isn't that many. Gods. The pain I put myself through."

"You're a good boy, Dan." Ellen picked up several bags, which Daniel immediately relieved her of.

"No no no. You're not allowed to do anything, you're the guest."

"Give it back, you can't carry all that."

"I most certainly can."

"Give them back," Tom said, recognizing the glint in Ellen's eye. Daniel didn't see it, or at least chose not to.

"Don't be silly, I've got it. Hey – hey, don't do that, I said I can – hm. All right then."

"She was a pro wrestler in her day," Tom said. "Won all the trophies and everything."

"I'd never have thought. Mrs G?"

"Yes?"

"Please forgive me for all my transgressions in advance. I promise not to get on your wrong side."

Ellen laughed. "I forgive you."

"You are very kind."

When they got home Sally was calmer and ready to serve the meal. It passed in pleasant conversation, Leslie and Ellen a little stilted as Leslie was still nervous after so many years. Ellen wanted to hear all about her grandson, who had moved to California in search of a really good school.

"It's crazy. There's piles of good schools up here."

"We don't have much pull, Mother, the kid is twenty," Tom said, shovelling potatoes into his mouth.

"Well –"

Leslie cut her off. "He sounds happy."

"Yes, but –"

"Not too happy, though," Tom added, by way of consolation. "He'll be ready to come back quick enough."

"That's all very well," Ellen burst out, and finally having the floor realized there wasn't much to say. She avoided their eyes and said, "He is happy?"

"Of course," said Leslie.

"You can ask him yourself, his holidays start in a couple of weeks. Dan's gonna pick him up."

"I am?"

"Next Tuesday, didn't I tell you?"

"Don't think so," Dan said cheerfully. "Did he tell you, Sal?"

She shook her head.

"You'll be out there for Matthew anyway, I made sure John booked around the same time."

"Oh, is Jenna coming?" Ellen said eagerly.

"Maybe later."

"She'll be busy with her parents, though, Mom," Tom said. Leslie and Sally were both a little abashed that Ellen would so openly favour the woman who had left both her son, and a man she loved as well as one. If Ellen noticed their glances she ignored them, but let the subject drop.

Sally spoke next. "Have you talked to Matt lately?"

"Not since he won that wrestling champ."

"Good for him," Ellen said, yet again.

"Wasn't that last month, Dan?"

Daniel looked to Tom for help. Tom just shrugged; Leslie could say what she pleased as far as he was concerned. "Yes."

Sally tried again. "He's been off to provincials and what have you, I'd imagine there's hardly time to sleep, let alone anything else."

"True," said Leslie, and left it at that. Daniel managed to come up with a comment on his and Tom's plans for Christmas, and the rest readily joined in. Before long they were both lying through their teeth about the extravagant presents they had rustled up, and Matthew was forgot.

After coffee Tom took Ellen home, and Leslie, after yawning for a few minutes, decided not to wait for Tom to pick her up. Daniel and Sally sat in genial silence until she said, "Ellen was in fine form."

"She sure was."

"Very interesting lady."

Daniel was lost in thought, and didn't answer.

"I'll go in early tomorrow too, so I can get back to clean up Matt's room."

"He's not coming until next week."

"I know that."

"It'll get dusty all over again," Daniel said, in a tone that told her it didn't much matter. They spent some time looking out different windows, Daniel occasionally stretching in accompaniment to over-loud exclamations.

Sally got up and stood awkwardly next to him. "Dan," she said.

He looked up, his arms left hanging above his head in mid-stretch.

"Are you working tomorrow?"

He folded his hands in his hair. "I've got to oversee a job."

"What time?"

"Two."

"Anything else?"

He thought about that and said, "Nothing too pressing, I guess. Why?"

"Want to meet me for lunch?"

"Sure, if you like."

He didn't say anything for a while. Once he looked her way, but when he spoke again it was to the wall. "Something wrong?"

She shook her head slowly. He held out a hand and led her around to sit next to him.

"Don't lie to me," he said, smiling a little. She tried to do the same.

"You taught me how."

"Not to me," he whispered, kissing her hair. She might have thought so too, in another life.

Not now.


What had happened with Jenna was that she was uptight. He thought he could live with that, he thought he had. When he was her husband, though, it was different. It was harder.

What had happened with Charlotte was that she had left, again and again, saying she was going to relax, think about things, take a break. She'd be back. His friend told him, eventually, of her affair. What she thought of as a legitimate relationship; she wasn't really with Dan at the time. And anyway, she said, he had done the same thing, hadn't he.

He was very angry. Another chapter in his life finished.

He didn't know why it wasn't working with Sally. He still loved her. He still wanted to be with her, constantly. But when she was there he wanted to be somewhere else, with Tom and Leslie maybe. Perhaps what was happening was that he didn't understand her. Maybe it was that he still wanted to be alone, surrounded by his friends but alone. Maybe he didn't know how.

Either way, Tom said, this wife was wonderful. If he could plug it out it would be all right. In the end. Daniel thought about Jenna, and how he wished he were still with her. He thought about how glad he was that Charlotte was gone. It didn't occur to him to think about Sally, because she was sitting right beside him and appeared to be content.

He thought about Matthew.