Billy dropped Clyde and me off at Toscana’s, a nearby Italian restaurant, and then departed on an errand for Jerome. I had hoped maybe he would join us for lunch too. Truth was, I wasn’t sure Clyde and I would have much to talk about. I was expecting a lot of uncomfortable silence while we ate. I secretly hoped the service was fast.
We were seated right away–Clyde had called ahead–and our waiter, a very pretty young woman named Yvonne, explained the afternoon specials. She had an unusual color of red in her hair which matched her complexion perfectly. Her large green eyes were full of intelligence and humor. I’m not a fan of nose piercings, but her diamond nose stud was small and tasteful and did not detract from her features. She was nice as she smiled her way through the chef’s specials and graciously answered Clyde’s detailed questions about possible substitutions.
With our food ordered, Clyde sat back with his ice water, me with my iced tea, and we stared at each other. Awkward silence. Then he thought of something to say.
“Jack, I have to tell you, meeting you and getting to know you a little over the past two days, it’s like being with Amanda again. I look at you and I see so much of her in you. I even hear her voice in yours. Which reminds me, you asked me for a picture. I have a few here for you.” He opened his briefcase and pulled out a large manila envelope and handed it to me.
My hands were slightly shaking as I pulled open the clasp on the back and extracted three 8x10 pictures; two of a couple together and the other of the lady by herself.
She was beautiful. Her long dark brown hair cascaded in waves down the back of her neck. She had bright green eyes which radiated something powerful–I wasn’t sure what. It looked like a professionally shot photograph, but not in a studio. She was standing in front of a huge fireplace with a large oil painting of the Rocky Mountains hanging above the mantle. Her long green dress looked expensive and the color matched her eyes perfectly. She wore understated jewelry—just a small diamond pendant and matching diamond tennis bracelet. I couldn’t see if she had matching earrings behind her hair.
There was no doubt she was my mother and I was her son. It was like looking at a female version of me. Very surreal. No wonder Clyde and Sharon, and even Judge Bartells, had reacted so strongly to my appearance. I looked just like her. She really was beautiful.
Another picture was obviously of her and Phillip Franklin, though it looked like it had been taken at a later date. This was a studio shot with one of those gray backdrops which seemed to glow behind them. He was what a fifty plus man would love to look like—fit, athletic, intelligent and very handsome. He had some noticeable wrinkles around his eyes, but they gave him an amused look. He looked very happy in the picture. His hair had some serious gray at the temples, the rest a salt and pepper mix. His dark suit was perfect for his coloring.
Amanda was radiant in this picture. Her solid red dress had an air of the consummate professional about it, but it wasn’t stuffy or masculine. If anything, it accentuated her femininity. She was stunning. She had a large ruby pendant and ruby ring which matched the color of her dress perfectly. This time, I could see the matching earrings as well, as she had her hair styled up and behind her ears. Clyde said the picture was for the company annual report the year before they sold it.
The final picture was a candid shot of Phillip and Amanda standing outside, arm in arm, at what looked like a ski lodge. It was clearly wintertime–I could see snow piled on top of the surrounding landscape. They had on matching Christmas sweaters, his red, hers white and their cheeks and noses were tinged with the chapped redness of windburn. They were smiling and I could see what they looked like in a more relaxed setting. This was the real Phillip and Amanda. If anything, the resemblance between us was even more striking in this casual look. Clyde told me it was taken during their last Christmas together.
I dabbed my eyes quickly with my napkin and then carefully put the pictures back in their envelope. I didn’t want any stray tomato sauce to mar the surface. I had a feeling these photographs would be treasured for a long time to come.
“Beautiful, wasn’t she?” said Clyde.
“Yes. I had no idea. And they were obviously happy.”
“Oh yes, Phillip and Amanda were always like that–like two lovesick puppies on their first date. From the first time he met her, Phillip was head over heels. I remember him calling me the next day after a company party and telling me he had just met the girl he was going to marry. I told him he had watched one too many sappy TV movies but he was serious. This was it. And he was right. He wasted no time either. They had about six dates and they were hooked. He asked her to marry him and she said yes immediately. We all thought it was kind of sudden, we hardly knew her yet, but anybody could see they were madly in love with each other. He was always doing little things for her—flowers, tickets to a play, new lab supplies. He would even take her on all-day shopping trips. I couldn’t imagine spending a whole day in a shopping mall. I’d gouge my eyes out.” I chuckled.
“We had so much fun with them over the years. Shirley and Amanda liked to invite us guys to a ski weekend at some lodge and then say it was too cold to ski so they would just go shopping instead. Of course, we caught on to their routine after a couple of outings, and we went along with it.
“Phillip was an avid outdoorsman. He skied, hunted, fished, anything to get outside and stay outside. I think it was because he spent his professional life hunkered down over test tubes and Bunsen burners in the lab. But once he took off his lab coat, good luck keeping him inside.
“Didn’t matter the weather, either. Snowstorms, ice—blizzards meant nothing to him. He’d be outside messin’ around, doing nothin’ while the snow was piling up so high he had to dig his way back into the house. He would have us out at the golf course every Sunday from the first snow melt to the first snow cover. Rain, sleet, didn’t matter. I remember one time he insisted on playing out a full round in a storm so bad, the cart paths were starting to look like water hazards. We took shelter under the cart roof while Phillip played on in the rain. No lightning, you don’t stop the golf. Cart breaks down, don’t stop, grab the clubs, walk the course to the end. That was Phillip.”
Clyde smiled, remembering his good friends in happier times. I leaned forward, hanging on his every word. “Amanda was just like him in many ways, though not so much the outdoorsy stuff. They spent a lot of time in the lab together, side by side. We used to joke they spent most of their marriage dressed in lab coats. But they had such passion for their work. They believed in it, and they did great things. Sometimes it would take years for the payoff, but it didn’t matter to them. They just persevered. I love the law, I always have, but for them their research was like a holy calling.
“I remember when some test or other came out positive for a new drug they were researching. Amanda called Shirley and was shouting, ‘It works! It works!’ over and over again. We didn’t think too much of it at the time. We found out later it was a drug for fighting diabetes and the clinical trials were showing huge reductions in blood glucose readings with no discernible side effects. When they went to market a year later, patients were able to replace three different drugs with the one from Franklin Pharmaceuticals.
“Of course Phillip’s father was ecstatic over the money they would make on it, but that meant nothing to Phillip and Amanda. Especially Amanda. All she could talk about for weeks was how more people would not have to suffer the ill effects of uncontrolled diabetes. On weekends, when Phillip was on one of his hunting excursions or fishing yet another mountain stream he’d heard about, Amanda would visit hospitals and talk with patients to get the real-life perspective on how their disease was affecting their lives. I used to think maybe she had missed her calling and she should have been a nurse but I don’t think that now. She did exactly what she was supposed to do.”
Clyde stopped his narrative when our food arrived. Here, I had thought we would have nothing to say to each other but Clyde was painting a beautiful word picture of Phillip and Amanda to go along with the photographs. I didn’t want the stories to end.
I ate my Caesar salad while Clyde talked–he ordered a house salad as his entrée. Even though I wasn’t particularly hungry after my late breakfast, I had the lasagna–it looked delicious on someone else’s plate. Yvonne brought more bread and refilled our glasses. We settled in to eat in a comfortable silence, each thinking about Phillip and Amanda in our own way.
I would never get to meet them, so I was grateful for the stories and Amanda’s letter as a window into knowing who they were. They were remarkable people by all accounts. I’m sure they weren’t perfect, no one ever is. I only hoped when I was gone, people would speak as highly of me as they did of Phillip and Amanda.
Clyde interrupted my thoughts with, “Sure wish I was having your lasagna instead of this rabbit food.”
“Why did you order a salad then? You can’t be on a diet. You’re not fat.”
He chuckled. “Well, not anymore. I had a mild heart attack a couple years ago, shortly after Phillip died. Scared the crap out of me. Shirley too. She and the doctors put me on a strict diet. I lost sixty pounds and so far my heart checks out fine. She watches my diet like a hawk. I think she has all the Maitre D’s in town on her secret spy payroll.”
I laughed. “So what you’re saying is she’s keeping you alive despite yourself.”
He laughed back. “Yeah, something like that.”
The food was excellent–Clyde even said his salad was surprisingly good. We skipped dessert and, after Clyde downed the last of his coffee, we stepped outside to wait for Billy.
I was in a great mood, standing in the warm sun, feeling the light breeze on my face and neck. I thought about the love affair which seemed to define Phillip and Amanda. I know Billy and Sharon both thought I could have something similar in my life–someday–and I hoped they were right. Maybe my true love was looking for me right now and he was getting closer to finding me every minute?
Clyde was talking to his wife on his cell–sounded like she’d asked him to pick something up at the store for dinner. He hung up, a bit irritated. Nobody should be upset on such a beautiful afternoon, so I asked, “Everything okay, Clyde?”
“Yeah, I guess. My wife just wants me to stop for groceries on the way home.”
He had made a couple of references to his marriage over the last couple of days which indicated it was less than blissful. It wasn’t my place to pry, but I kept thinking how wistful he was when he spoke of Phillip and Amanda’s love. Like me, I was betting he wished his relationship with Shirley was as deep and wonderful.
“Hey, Clyde. When you’re at the grocery store tonight, why not grab some flowers for Shirley? Most grocery stores back home have them, though I don’t know about out here. Or maybe hit up a florist on the way. I’ll bet she’d love them.”
He looked at me like I’d grown a third eye. “What are you driving at, Jack?” he asked.
“I’m sorry, Clyde. I know it’s none of my business. It’s just...you were talking about Phillip and Amanda’s love for each other and I know I’m hoping I find something as magical in my future. I just thought some flowers for Shirley might be nice. It’s something you said Phillip would do for Amanda. You could steal from his playbook, so to speak.”
“Hmmm. Interesting. Maybe I will, Jack. Maybe I will.” I could tell my ridiculous idea had taken on some real possibilities in Clyde’s mind.
Just then, Billy pulled up, and we were whisked back to the law offices. Clyde got out in the circle entrance where we had picked him up earlier.
“Get him back here in time to say goodbye, Billy. And make sure he gets to Larry in one piece, please.”
“Sure thing, Mr. Watson.” And we were off again.
“Hey Billy, do you think we have time to stop off at the hotel for me to get my stuff and check out?”
“Yeah, Jack. We can do that. Are you leavin’ us tonight?”
I really didn’t want to now. I was slowly connecting to these wonderful people whom I had never met before yesterday. I felt like I had known them my entire life. Billy, Sharon, Clyde–they were my friends now.
“Yeah, Billy. I guess I am. My flight’s at seven.”
“Can I take you to the airport then?”
“I hope so. I’d never find it on my own. Besides, I want another look at your ass to remember you by.” His smile filled the rearview mirror. What had gotten into me? I’d gone from shy introvert to shameless flirt with Billy. I felt so free around him. Free to be myself.
We pulled up to the hotel and he let me out, saying he would wait there for me.
“Cool. I shouldn’t be more than ten minutes, I think.”
“I’ll be here waitin’, Cute Stuff.” I giggled at his goofy grin and headed for my room. Thankfully, there was no sign of Miguel this time.