Since Jeff was gone for the weekend, Beth had gone over to Centerville to church, and to visit her parents. After service, Tom asked Beth if she would like to visit his folk’s ranch, and to ride. She looked eagerly at her parents when she asked them if they would like to take the kids for the day. Jack was somewhat uneasy about it, since Beth was a married woman. Sensing Jack’s reluctance, Tom assured him that he didn’t have any designs on his daughter, and the invitation was strictly for the sole purpose of horseback riding.
Jack agreed, because he treasured time with his grandchildren, however he was very suspicious when he noticed that Beth “just happened” to have a change of clothes suitable for horseback riding in the backseat of her car.
Beth hugged and kissed each one of her kids before she put them in her parents car. “Daddy, please… don’t worry so much. I’m a good mother, and a respectable woman. Jeff and I are seriously working on saving our marriage. This is the first weekend we’ve not spent any time together since I can’t remember when. It’s good for me to ride. When I feel the wind in my hair it clears my head, and life doesn’t seem so complicated.”
“Beth Ann, I trust you honey. I just don’t want you to make it more complicated.”
“I love you, Daddy.” Beth hugged her father.
Once the Campbell’s were out of sight, Tom opened the door to his Cadillac, and Beth climbed inside.
“I’m sorry if you were uncomfortable with the way my father was acting.” Beth said casually.
“I’m sure if I had a daughter in your predicament I’d behave the same way.” Tom appeared to be unaffected.
“Do you have children?” Beth absently asked.
Tom seemed to have a nervous twitch when she asked. “I really never know how to answer that question. My child died.”
“I’m very sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”
“You didn’t, and thank you for your condolences. Beth, there’s a room for you to change your clothes inside the carriage house. I don’t always go in to see my parents when I come over to ride. It has nothing to do with you.”
Beth didn’t know what to make of that comment, but she didn’t ask any questions. She hid her amazement when Tom turned down the private road that led to the distinguished Ericsen Thoroughbred Ranch. The groom had two horses ready when Tom and Beth arrived. After a couple of hours of riding the trails, Tom suggested that they stop to water the horses. The lake was calm and peaceful. After the horses drank, they started to graze on the soft grass.
“Beth, I haven’t been back on these trails since my wife… was alive.”
“You must have loved her very much.”
“Yes, and I wonder if I’ll ever have those feelings again. I think about what happened to…” Tom gulped, “…Renée. Because of her accident, I made a promise to God, and I don’t want to break it.”
“Were you and Renée married a long time?”
Tom’s face was blank. “What? Oh, excuse me.” He turned facing Beth. “Almost ten years. Normally, I don’t talk about that part of my life, because I wasn’t allowed to talk about that part of my life.” Tom thought about how genuine Beth sounded, then asked, “You really wouldn’t mind hearing about Renée?”
Beth sat down at the edge of the water. “Not a bit, but I don’t understand, not allowed? That’s absurd. I don’t mean to pry into your personal life, but if it helps you feel better to talk, I’ll listen.”
“Beth, I loved her so much. Renée. Her name always sounded like music to my ears. We met in High School. I’d always attended private boys’ schools. I begged to go to public high school. My parents were a bit skeptical of me mixing with the ‘riff raff’ but, eventually they caved. I created quite a stir. I was tall, blond, brown eyed… athletic. I drove a ’57 T-Bird, owned a string of horses, and I was rich. Girls were everywhere. Renée was shy. She didn’t call me at home, or giggle every time I’d walk by. She was a sophomore, I was a junior. She was the only girl I felt comfortable with. She was intelligent, had good manners, and was really very pretty. I still have her pictures, if you’d ever like to see them. After all this time, even thinking about looking at her picture brings tears to my eyes.”
Beth saw his tears. “Tom, if this hurts you too much to talk about it, you don’t have to.”
“Beth, I’ve never talked about it because my parents refused to listen. I don’t know if talking about my love for my deceased wife is the proper thing to do, but it feels good to finally be able to say her name… Renée.”
“Tom, this is totally blowing my mind. I can’t imagine not being allowed to say her name. For several years after my brother John was missing in action, I couldn’t face up to the fact that he could possibly be dead, but I could always say his name.”
“Saying her name caused and still causes so much unrest with my family, it’s been easier just to keep silent.”
“What on earth? Had she done something to offend them?” Beth wondered.
“Not hardly. It started right from the beginning. I’d asked her to the Homecoming dance. My mother was so excited. It was my first date. She wanted me to bring her by the ranch so they could take pictures. One look, and they hated her. She was poor. Her parents were decent, clean people. They were married to each other. Her dad had a job, I really don’t remember what he did, but they lived in a low income neighborhood. It was a small house, not an estate… so that didn’t sit well with my folks. They started inviting girls to the ranch, trying to fix me up with daughters of their friends, or daughters of friends of their friends. I’d always be very polite when introduced, then I’d excuse myself, and leave to spend time with Renée. By Thanksgiving, I’d given her my class ring, and a huge wad of that Angora fluff the girls used to wrap around their boyfriend’s rings. We were going steady. The other girls at school would still drop notes in my locker. I don’t know why they couldn’t see my ring on her finger, it looked like she was wearing the whole rabbit on her hand it was so huge! But, I only had eyes for Renée. They annoyed me.”
Beth laughed recalling winding different colored Angora yarn around Bruce’s class ring to match her outfits. “It sure sounds like you were Mr. Popularity.”
“Was I? Do you know what it’s like to wonder if people like you for you, or for your money? Yes, in time, I lavished gifts on Renée, but her face lit up just the same if I picked her a flower, and handed it to her.”
“Hmmm, tough call, Tom. I’ve never really thought about it. My parents had more than most in our town, but nothing like this.” Beth’s eyes scanned the expanse of the Ericsen Ranch. “Okay, so by Thanksgiving you were going steady.”
“Basketball season had started, and I bought her a season ticket.”
“Why a season ticket… Why basketball?”
“Because I played. I set records that still haven’t been broken. That was a while ago. Renée never missed a practice. I felt empowered by her presence. She didn’t go to my first game, and I was crushed. When I realized the reason she didn’t go was because she didn’t have the money for a ticket, I bought her the season pass. I only had eyes for Renée. She never took her eyes off of me, whether I scored at a game, or not. After the basketball games, we would stay for the dances. Her body was like an extension of mine the way she followed every move I made. We won every dance contest, the jitter bug, the twist, the stroll, the bunny hop, the mashed potatoes, the locomotion, you name it, we won, without even trying. For Christmas, I bought her a pretty aqua colored sweater, and a poodle skirt. My God, she looked beautiful in it with her blue green eyes. I got her some Evening in Paris perfume, a record player, and the top ten 45’s of the week. She gave me a picture of my favorite horse that she’d sketched herself in charcoal. She framed it in a wooden frame she bought at the Five and Dime. The drawing itself was very good, she was quite talented. It touched my heart, because it came from her hands. I still have it.”
“What a sweet thing to do. I don’t think I would have thought of doing something like that. When did you fall in love?”
“I bet you do sweet things all the time. Are you sure you want to hear this?” Tom was doubtful.
“Yes, seriously Tom, I would like to hear this.”