Just This Side of Tomorrow – Part Two
Ray rolls over, searching for Livy. Not finding her at first he opens his eyes. She’s curled up in a ball at the far edge of the bed. He scoots over to her, wrapping her up in his arms. She sighs. Her eyes are closed but he senses that she’s awake and has been that way for awhile. She just wants to hold onto these few moments of quiet before the day begins. Resting his chin in the spot where her neck and shoulder meet, he whispers in her ear.
“Don’t worry. It’ll get sorted. Things always do, somehow.”
Livy turns to face him, about to say something. She changes her mind.
Ray thought about this long into the night. It would be an awkward day for his wife. There would be talk of compromised morals, poor judgment and regret.
She had found herself in trouble also, not that long ago. While the players were different, elements would ring true for any woman, he supposed.
“It could turn out for the better. Just take a look at us, now.”
Livy scoffs. Ray looks hurt for a moment.
“No, Ray, I meant, what are the chances?”
Ray waits for her to continue.
“…that she’d be as fortunate as me.”
Standing now, Ray pretends it’s an effort to drag her out of bed by her arm.
“Come on. We’ve got a whole day ahead of us. When are we going over there, anyway?
Livy looks slightly relieved. He’s taking it all pretty well, considering Ruth’s his only God daughter - and he is, after all, a God fearing man.
“After supper. Ruth’s baking pies today.” She shakes her head at the sheer determination of her sister-in-law. Food seems to solve everything in these parts.
Ray hugs his wife, twirling her once and slaps her on the behind.
“Want me to start the coffee?”
“I’m up.” Ruth groans, tying her bathrobe sash and walking towards the bathroom.
Standing at the sink, she splashes cool water on her face. She wipes off with a hand towel and dabs some cold cream around her eyes.
Ray appears in the mirror behind her, putting his hands on her hips and pulling her back so she’s resting against his chest. His chin sits on top of her head. They look at their image reflecting back in the mirror.
“See, you’re not the only who hit the jackpot around here.”
Ray watches the road steadily, steering the beet box along in silence.
“Looks like rain,” he mutters to no one in particular.
“Did you close your bedroom window, Danny?”
His son nods in response.
“You’re sure? I’d rather turn back then have the floor all soaked again.”
Livy sits by the window, her long, wavy hair catching small puffs of breeze from the window being open just a crack. She’s deep in thought.
Danny sits in between them, his short legs sticking out in front of him. Ray glances over at her a few times, assessing.
“Why are we going to Uncle Hank’s?”
Livy’s eyes dart over to Ray.
“Aunt Martha baked pies.”
“Well, hot dog!” Danny slaps his knee.
Ray and Livy laugh at his enthusiasm.
Martha ushers everyone into the front room. Ray and Danny join Hank at the table.
“Where are the boys?” Livy asks, trying to fill the void.
Hank clears his throat.
“They’re up on the back eight. Broccoli’s looking good.”
Ray nods at Hank.
This is just the segway Martha was looking for. She plunks some forks down on the table beside a stack of plates, purposefully.
“Hank, why don’t you get some milk?”
Turning to Livy, she indicates it’s time to go upstairs.
Martha taps on Ruth’s bedroom door with her fingertips. Silence.
“Ruth, honey, Aunt Livy’s here to see you.”
Without waiting for an invitation, Martha opens the door. Ruth is sitting on the edge of her precisely made bed. She looks up at Livy, relieved for a moment to find an ally there. Then she sees her mother, standing back tentatively.
Ruth looks down at the ground.
“It sounds like things… like you’ve had a bit of a shock.”
Ruth nodds her head.
“How far along?”
“About two months,” Martha cuts in. Ruth looks at her mother with a combination of amazement and frustration.
“Well, that’s the last time you did a hand washing.” Martha says, almost defensively.
Ruth rolls her eyes.
“I guess when you’re trying to hide something big, you tend to let smaller things slide.”
Martha’s voice is angry now. Ruth starts to cry softly.
“What were you thinking? Anyone with half a brain knows that a decent woman doesn’t just...”
Catching herself before finishing, Martha chokes her words back bitterly.
Livy averts her eyes, nodding her head in understanding.
It’s obvious they’ve been dealing with the shroud of all for a few days. There have been long stretches of silence. They’re sad, exhausted and scared, each in their own way.
Martha sighs; she’s reached an impasse with her daughter.
“At this point I’m just doing more harm than good.” Martha raises her eyebrows at Livy, who nodds her head. Martha exits, leaving the two of them alone.
Livy sits on the bed beside her niece. She puts her hand on top of Ruth’s.
“What does he say?”
Ruth shakes her head vehemently.
“I haven’t told him.”
Ruth looks up, her eyes flashing anger as though the answer should be obvious.
“He’s two years into that scholarship. They don’t just let people take time off like that. He could lose everything. (whispering to herself) I’m not going to ruin it for him.”
“Ruth, the University of Denver has married student housing.”
Ruth looks up at Livy absolutely wide eyed.
“How do you know?”
Livy sighs. She stands and picks up the desk chair, placing it right in front of Ruth. She sits on it, grasping Ruth’s knees.
“Because I know.”
“Did your mother ever tell you how I met Ray?”
Ruth shakes her head no. Not only is she fascinated but there’s also a relief in not having to deal with her own acute situation for a few moments. Her face is youthful; eager.
“After my Mama passed away, I was somewhat lost. I had left school to take care of her and now suddenly I had to decide what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I started seeing friends again, getting out. (pause) I met an airman who was in town on furlough.
Ruth looks puzzled.
“Only there for a week.”
Ruth nodds, willing her to continue.
“I thought I was in love – I just knew it. When the week was over, he was gone. It’s a common story - except for the fact that a month later I found myself pregnant and alone.”
Ruth’s eyes bulge out of her head.
“But I thought - ”
“- your mother told you what we thought you needed to know.”
Ruth sits still, waiting for more.
“My father knew Reverend Case from a way back.
Livy smiles now.
“And I was married to Ray on the day we first met.”
Ruth gasps, not being able to fathom such a circumstance. She’s been dating Stewie Knox for almost four years. Livy laughs at Ruth’s reaction.
“I know, it sounds archaic doesn’t it? Like something right out of The Alrich Family Radio Hour.”
Ruth smiles humbly.
“The things is, I have to believe that while I came upon a fork in what was supposed to be my road, it led me in a better direction. It was kismet.”
Ruth looks puzzled.
“It’s a Turkish word. It…it means something that was meant to be.”
“So, how come you know about married student housing at the University?”
Livy winces, but it’s too late turn back now.
“After Daniel was born, I went through a real rough patch. I had gone very far in my own education only to have it cut short. That winter was a tedious one and I found myself longing for my city life again.
“So, what happened?”
“I decided to wait and see what the spring would bring. (pause) The farm is Ray’s whole life, and I realized how selfish it would be to drag everyone along on my little flight of fancy.”
“I got over it.”
“So, what you’re saying is you sacrificed your education.”
Livy could see where she was going with this.
“Different situation, my girl. Stewie is on a geological scholarship with the promise of a job the second he graduates. My degree would be respected, but I would need a different life to actually take it anywhere. And I have lots of time if I ever wanted to get back to that.”
“You mean, on your own?”
“No, Ruth. If I wanted it badly enough, I could go and do that and your uncle would be with me. He would be a part of it. When you’re in love, you want what’s best for the other person. You make decisions based on more than just yourself.”
“But that’s all I’m trying to do.”
“Let me ask you something - what about Stewie?”
“What about him?”
“Does he love you?”
“He tells me so all the time.”
“Then, don’t you think he’d want what’s best for you, too?”
Livy enters the front room. All eyes are on her. Martha’s eyebrows are furrowed but she looks hopeful. Hank puts his hand over his wife’s. Ray stares down at the table.
“I gave her a lot to think about. Let her sit with it for awhile.”
Martha nods gratefully; her eyes are still shell shocked.
“Ray, let’s go.”
Ray gets up without saying a word and tips his hat as they head out the front door. Danny lounges lazily on the porch swing. Ray wags his arm at him. Danny gets up, jogging towards the beet box.
They ride home in silence.
“Danny, go upstairs and get ready for bed please.”
“Dad, can I just - ?”
“We’ll be tilling the north field with Hank tomorrow. I need you at your best.”
“Yes, sir.” Dan answers solemnly, aware that something transpired this evening which he would not be made a part of.
Livy runs her fingers through her son’s mop top.
“I’ll be up in a minute for one chapter, okay?”
His spirits picking up a bit, Danny heads upstairs.
Ray stands, leaning against the wall. Livy takes off his hat, hanging it on the hook. She wraps her arms around him. She can see that his optimism from this morning has been chipped away. Sitting with Hank all that time forced reality to slowly set in. Livy sits at the table. Still too wired, he continues standing. She looks up at him.
“So. What’s the story?”
Ray lowers his head in relief. At least there’s no surprise there.
“What’s he got to say?”
“She won’t tell him. She’s worried he’ll leave school.”
Ray chews the inside of his cheek for moment.
“Is that really what she’s worried about?”
Livy knows what Ray means. She wonders if he’s tapped into something; if there could be a chance Stewie wouldn’t step and up do what’s right.
“He ought to know.” He says, decidedly.
Danny calls out from upstairs.
“Mama, I’m ready with my book up here.”
Livy points to the stairs. Ray nodds his head. She goes up to see to her son.
Standing at in the hall, Ray watches until she’s no longer visible on the landing. Yanking his hat off the hook, he stomps quickly out the front door.