Tom Mawyer looked in through the dark window of the restaurant. It was a casual gaze; he didn't expect to see anyone he knew, at least not in this town. He was about to move on when a woman sitting at a table at the far end caught his eye. He was sure he'd seen her somewhere, but couldn't quite place her. He peered in closer, so that his nose was touching the glass and his breath made it cloud over as if it was a foggy day.
"Miss Williams," he muttered to himself, standing back. She hadn't seen him; she seemed engaged in the menu card she was holding. "God, I'm sure it's her," he added. But what to do? He seemed uncertain whether he should move on or go in and satisfy himself it was she. He stood and mused in a dumb silence. What good would it do? he asked himself, moving a few steps away along the sidewalk. Then he stopped and walked back towards the door of the restaurant and entered.
The woman looked up as Tom approached her table. She was a woman in her late thirties, with dark-black hair brought together at the back with a red ribbon, wearing a summery dress, white and pink with small flowers.
"Are you Miss Williams?" Tom asked, standing by the table with his hands on his hips.
"I am," the woman replied. "Do I know you?" She looked at the young man's features trying to see if he was someone she ought to know, but apart from a lingering memory of someone, she couldn't place him.
"I'm Tom Mawyer," Tom said. "You were my teacher some years back."
The woman stared harder and tried to place the name with the face. "Didn't you have a sister?" she asked.
"Yeh, Clara," Tom said, letting out a small smile. "You remember?"
"Remember her," the woman said. She finally recognized Tom and smiled hesitantly. "Yeh, you, too. Small boy, thin and always talking."
"That was me," Tom said, looking at the woman closer, taking in her figure and the look in her eyes. "Guess I was kinda talking a lot."
"Are you just passing by?" she said.
"Just saw yer in the window as I was passing. Thought I'd pop in and say how do you do, Miss Williams," Tom said. He stood awkwardly and looked around the restaurant.
"You can call me, Loretta, if you want to," Loretta said.
"Always wondered what the "L" stood for," Tom said with a grin.
"Do you want to sit down and have a beer?" Loretta asked, moving a chair out beside her.
Tom hesitated. He wasn't sure if ought to stay or not. He'd only just left off work and needed a good wash, but he sat down and looked around him. "Sure you don't mind?" he asked, looking back at her.
"Of course not. Wouldn't have asked you otherwise would I?" Loretta said. "So, what you having?"
"Beer'll be nice," Tom said, looking at Loretta's dress and the outline of her breast.
Loretta raised her hand and a waitress came across. Loretta ordered a beer for Tom and a glass of wine for herself. "Want anything to eat?" she asked Tom.
Tom shook his head and the waitress walked away. Loretta sat gazing at Tom, taking in his thin features and his straight light-brown hair. She noticed his small hands were calloused from labour and his arms were suntanned from outside work. "How's your parents?" she asked breaking the short silence.
"I don't talk about them any," Tom drawled, giving Loretta a straight stare.
"I seem to remember your daddy was kinda strict with you," Loretta said.
"Stricter than a damned preacher with the Devil," Tom replied.
"Is he still the same?" Loretta asked.
"He up and left us when I was thirteen," Tom said.
"Sorry about that," Loretta said.
"Don't be. Best thing he ever did. Must have got himself a conscience and moved off," Tom said coldly.
"And your mother? How's she?" Loretta asked.
"She was a weak woman. Like most woman I guess. Had no fight in her." Tom hesitated and looked at Loretta. "She got locked away in an asylum a few years back."
Loretta nodded and tried to recall the woman she'd seen a few times when Tom was a boy, but the woman's face had gone. "Sad. She must have had a hard life."
"None more so than others. It's not how hard yer life is it's how yer face it," Tom drawled. "Came close to hitting my daddy those last years. Best thing he did was going like he did." Tom stopped and looked around him. The waitress came and delivered the beer and glass of wine. Then she was off again across the room with a little wiggle of her hips.
"And Clara? What's she doing?" Loretta asked.
"She went to New York," Tom said.
"New York? What she'd she go there for?" Loretta asked.
"Wanted to be a dancer and figured that was the place to go." Tom sipped his beer and looked at Loretta closely.
"Have you left the Blue Creek?" Loretta asked, holding her wine close to her lips.
"Sure did. Left that damned hole as soon as I could get outta school."
"Do you work here in town?" Loretta asked.
"Yeh. Gotta job driving for Mason and Co."
"Are you married?" Loretta ventured.
"No," Tom said, "ain't got a woman on my tail yet a while." He
paused and sipped his beer again. Loretta sipped her wine and a
short silence came between them like a heavy curtain.
As they sipped their drinks, each gazed at the other, trying to imagine what had happen to the other in the ten years that had separated them. Loretta watched as Tom emptied his glass with a deep swallow and placed it down on the table carefully. She saw that sparkle in his eyes she remembered he had as a young boy; that cheeky grin; that look about him which made you wonder just what he was thinking and what he would try and do next. "You want another beer?" she asked.
"Don't mind if I do," Tom replied, pushing his glass towards her.
"You drink much?" She lifted her own glass from the table and looked through it. She could see Tom and it made her smile.
"No more than most men," Tom said. "Hope you ain't one of those women that go on at a man about how much he drinks. My mom'd go on like that day in and day out, like a whining old horse."
Loretta smiled. "Nothing to do with me any more what you do, Tom. You're a grown man now." She sipped the last of her wine and raised her hand again. The waitress came across, took Loretta's order, and swayed off towards the bar.
"Have I grown much?" Tom asked. "You didn't recognise me did ya?"
"I wasn't expecting to see yer. Last time I saw yer, you were no more than eleven and thin as reed." Loretta leaned forward on the table and looked carefully into Tom's eyes.
Tom leaned back. "What yer looking at?"
"Having a closer look at yer. I haven't seen yer in ten years; don't I deserve to have a closer look?"
"You're looking at me as if I was some God damn picture," Tom muttered.
"You've grown quite handsome. Not like that skinny boy with spots and a dirty face and all." She watched as Tom blushed slightly and looked away from her. She wondered what he was thinking about her. What it was he really came into find out about her. "Won't you have a something to eat with me?" she asked after a few moments of silence.
"I ain't got much money on me. Never thought about eating out," Tom drawled, looking back at Loretta.
"I can pay for yer dinner," Loretta replied.
"Women don't pay for a man's dinner," Tom said stiffly.
"You're my guest," she replied softly. "I can pay for my guest's dinner can't I?"
"Don't know if that's right or not. I was only passing, didn't reckon on seeing you here." Tom looked at Loretta deeply. He watched as her lips moved slightly and he could see her white even teeth and that tongue of hers that lingered just on her lower lip.
"Are you always this charming to any girl who takes you out?"
"Girls don't take me out," Tom retorted, "I take them out."
"Things can be different, Tom." She paused and looked up as the waitress brought the drinks, put then on the table, and then walked off again.
"Why would you want to buy my dinner?" Tom asked, looking at his beer.
"Maybe because I want to," she replied gently, giving Tom a glance as he lifted his glass.
"And why would you want to buy an old pupil a dinner after not seeing him for ten years?" He watched her for a few moments then sipped from his glass.
"Maybe to celebrate him turning into such a nice young man," Loretta suggested, turning her head to one side as if to tease him.
Tom stared at her. "My Clara used to do that," Tom said.
"Do what?" Loretta said, lifting her glass and holding it just beneath her lips.
"Turn her head like that," Tom drawled. "Like a damned bird. All yer need now is some god damn wings."
Loretta laughed quietly. Tom blushed.
"What yer laughing at now?" he said. "Why do women always squawk like that?" he said looking around him in case others in the room were looking at them. None was. The room was nearly empty.
"Why I'll be damned if you ain't a cheerless fella, Tom Mawyer," Loretta said.
Tom pulled a face at her and then sipped his beer.
"I remember your Clara as being quite a lively young thing," Loretta said.
"Life and soul of a party, until her problem." Tom took a deep pull on his drink and then lowered his glass and stared at Loretta.
"Problem? What sort of problem?" Loretta inquired carefully.
"She was molested one night on her way home," Tom said quietly.
Loretta nodded and looked at Tom with a concerned face. "Who by?" she asked.
"Couple of fellas from outta town, she didn't know who they were. If it wasn't for the kindness of a passing couple she'd have been raped she reckoned." Tom paused and drank from his glass.
"That's terrible. Did they catch them?"
"No," Tom replied stiffly, looking at his glass. "If I'd caught them I'd have killed them." His words were cold and hard and hung in the air like lead weights. "But I didn't. Wish I had though."
"Just as well you didn't. For their sakes. And yours, of course. You may have got the death penalty yourself and where would Clara have been then?" She sighed softly.
"Guess you're right," Tom said grudgingly. "Didn't think at the time. Just thought about getting them and killing them."
"You and Clara were close weren't you? I seem to remember her being around you a lot as children."
Tom finished his beer and pushed the glass away from him. "Still are close. She and I have shared many things. Suffered together when daddy was in one of his moods and hit us and other going ons…" He paused and got up from his chair.
"You're not going are you?" Loretta asked, putting her hand on Tom's.
"Think it best if I leave now," Tom said.
"Why? What have I said to get you so uppity?" Loretta asked rising up from her chair and holding his hand tightly.
"Don't want to talk about things. Things always get outta hand when you talk too much," Tom said moodily.
Loretta released his hand and looked at him. "It does us good to talk about things, Tom. Why not come to my place and have dinner? "
"Don't know if that's right or not," Tom said. "Anyway, I gotta get washed and cleaned up; I ain't fit to eat looking like I do and smelling like a pig in a sty."
"You can freshen up at my house. There's always hot water if you want to bathe." Loretta looked at Tom's features hoping she could see signs that he might accept. He looked at her with a frown and then it lifted and he nodded.
"I guess I can't come to any harm from my old teacher," Tom said with a small grin.
"Not so much of the old, Tom Mawyer," Loretta said. She finished off her wine and put the glass on the table.
"Do you live alone?" Tom asked, hesitating by the table.
"Just me and my little cat," she replied. Tom nodded and together
they walked out of the restaurant and along the sidewalk side by
side in a shared silence.
When Tom arrived at Loretta's house, he stood open-mouthed looking at it. Loretta walked to the front door and opened up.
"You gonna stand there all day?" Loretta said. "Anyone'd think you'd never seen a house before."
"This is all yours?" Tom asked.
"Is now. Shared it with my husband when he was alive, but since he died I've been alone except for my cat," Loretta informed.
"You've been married?" Tom said, frowning and looking at Loretta. "So, you're not Miss Williams anymore?"
"I am now. I reverted back to my maiden name after he died." Loretta walked into the house and beckoned Tom in after her. Tom hesitated staring at Loretta.
"How'd he die?" Tom asked.
"Accident." Loretta stood by the door waiting for Tom to move into the house, but he stood where he was staring at her.
"What sort of accident?"
"The fatal kind," Loretta replied. "Are you coming in or not?"
Tom walked into the house and looked around the hall. "You don't get a place like this on teacher's pay."
"It was my husband's house. It came to me when he died." Loretta closed the door and walked along the hall until she came to a large kitchen. Tom followed looking at the way she walked ahead of him and wondered if he had noticed as a boy how pretty she was. He guessed he didn't notice as a boy otherwise he'd have remembered; which he didn't. "This here's my kitchen," she said, spreading her hands as if she were some kind of bird about to fly.
"Ain't seen a kitchen this size before," Tom said. "You could hold a damned party in here and still have room for a few cattle."
"I like it because it allows me room to think as I cook." She watched Tom's face as he stared around the kitchen; it was like a little boy on seeing a room full of toys.
"Is the bathroom this big?"
"Not as big, but it's a fair size." She looked at Tom's features and smiled.
"What you smiling at?" Tom said.
"The way you look around yer. You're like that boy I knew years ago."
"I am that boy you knew years ago," Tom replied. "Except I've grown some."
"I'll show you where the bathroom is so you can get yourself cleaned up before dinner," Loretta said. She moved out of the kitchen and walked down the hall and up some stairs. Tom followed and stared at her hips as she made her way up the stairs. It made him feel somewhat strange looking at his former teacher the way he was. Never thought he'd ever look at her in that way when he was a boy, but there again what little boy does, he mused giving out a small smile. On the upper landing, she showed him the bathroom and he stepped in and looked around.
"Gee, what a room. And that there is a john?" Tom said, going over and lifting the lid.
"What'd you think it was a cooking pot?" Loretta said, smiling.
"I can bath in here?"
"Sure yer can," said Loretta, moving in beside him. I'll get you some towels and then you can have a good old soak."
"Are you sure this is all right? I mean me using your bathroom?"
"Of course it is, I said so didn't?" Loretta said. She went out of the bathroom and left Tom to look around at his surroundings. He went to the bath and ran his hand round the rim and then up and down the inside of the bath. He touched the taps, picked up a scrubbing brush and moved it across his hand. "Here you are," Loretta said when she returned. She handed him two large towels. "I'll go get dinner cooked, while you have your soak."
"Thank yer," Tom said quietly as he took the towels.
"Go on don't be so shy," Loretta said.
"I ain't getting stripped until you've gone," Tom said.
Loretta smiled. "Don't get all little boyish on me, Tom. You ain't got what I ain't seen before."
"Maybe so, but I ain't getting out of my clothes until you've gone," Tom said. Loretta stood looking at him for a few moments and Tom stood holding the towels to his chest.
"Ok, I'm going. Don't forget to call if you want me to scrub your back," Loretta said, giving Tom a grin.
"Don't go hold your breath for that," Tom said. Loretta shook her
head and went out closing the door behind her. She stood and
laughed to herself as she heard Tom lock the door. She moved
along the landing and down stairs to prepare dinner.
Tom sat at the dining table and pushed his empty plate from him. Loretta sat opposite him with her arms folded. "That all right?" she asked.
"Best meal I've had in some time. Never thought I'd ever sit and eat a meal my teacher cooked."
"Surprising things can happen when you least expect them," Loretta said. She unfolded her arms and placed them in her lap.
"Guess they can. Like these clothes of your husband's. Fit me like they were made for me." Tom looked at Loretta and wondered why she had kept her husband's clothes when most people get rid of them as soon as they can.
"He was your size, except he was little taller maybe." Loretta sat and stared at Tom. She looked at his eyes and the way his body eased a little more now as if he was more happier being in her house than he had been.
"Why did yer keep his clothes?" Tom asked.
"Don't know," Loretta said. "Never got around to sorting them out. Just left them in his room and locked the door."
"You ain't cleared his room?" Tom said surprised.
"Couldn't bring myself around to doing it." Loretta looked away from Tom and stared at the table cloth with its pink and yellow flowers.
"How long has he been dead?" Tom said.
"About a year," Loretta said softly.
"He died in an accident you said?"
"Yeah," Loretta replied. "Don't really wanna talk on that, if you don't mind." She got up from the table and walked to the door. "Let's go relax in the other room and have a drink."
Tom got up from the table and followed her along the hall. She opened up a door that led into a bright large room with armchairs and a settee in the centre. There were bookshelves full of books all along the walls except where the window was. "Sit down, Tom, and I'll get us a drink." She went over to a large drinks cabinet and poured herself a glass of wine and a bottle of beer for Tom.
"You still teaching?" Tom asked.
"No," Loretta said as she handled Tom his beer and sat down next to him on the settee. "I work in an office in town."
Tom sipped his beer. "Given up on teaching?"
"You made me feel I wasn't up to it anymore," Loretta said with a small smile.
"Made many teacher feel that way," Tom replied.
"You weren't so bad. I just had to have a change after I married. They don't like women teachers to be married." Loretta sipped from her glass and looked sideways at Tom.
"I can't see you as ever being the marrying kind," Tom said.
"Well I was. Until he went and got himself killed."
"How long you married for?"
"Three years," Loretta replied.
"Didn't have any children obviously," Tom stated.
"My husband didn't want any," Loretta replied softly.
"And did you?"
"I thought I did." Loretta sighed and looked away and stared at the books on the wall opposite.
"Kids can be a tie. Hold yer back. Take up your life and before yer know it you're old and…" Tom paused. Loretta had kissed his cheek. "What you do that for?"
"Because I wanted to," Loretta said gently, sitting back a few paces and staring at Tom's expression.
"But you were my teacher god damn it," Tom said gruffly, moving back along the settee.
"Not anymore I ain't. I'm a woman who sees you as man who she wanted to kiss."
Tom frowned. "Still ain't right. I mean if I did that to you you'd raise merry hell and claim I tried to rape you or something."
"You can kiss me back if you want to," Loretta said. Tom stared at Loretta with a childlike expression.
"I don't go around kissing every god damn woman I meet," Tom replied.
"Not every day you meet your old teacher," Loretta said with a smile.
"That don't make it all right. You should be ashamed of yourself. I mean kissing me like that."
"How should I have kissed you?" Loretta asked coyly.
"Not at all," Tom said.
"Don't you like me?"
"Sure I do, but that don't mean that I want you to kiss me."
"Don't you find me a little desirable?" Loretta asked, moving closer to Tom on the settee.
Tom leaned back. "Well, sure I guess so, but…" he paused as Loretta kissed him on the lips and leaned in close to him. "Hey, now, steady on, Loretta…" She kissed him on the lips again and he stopped talking. They embraced and words became obsolete. Their hands explored casually and their bodies softened and moved as bodies move when they take a mind to move at all.
"Maybe, we should go upstairs," Loretta said after a few minutes had passed by.
"What's the hurry," Tom said sitting catching his breath. "Can't we sit a while and think this out some?"
What's to think about?" Loretta said.
"Well, things need thinking about; I mean you and me and what ever we do and such." Tom looked around the room and then returned his look to Loretta who had been studying him all the while.
"What you want to talk about?" Loretta said.
"How we got in this situation," Tom replied.
"What you want to do, write a book about it?" Loretta said stiffly.
"No, just thought we ought to sit and think where this is all going," Tom said.
"Not where I hoped it would that's for sure," Loretta said, turning away from Tom and staring out of the window.
"Talking doesn't harm any."
"All right," Loretta said. "We'll talk." She turned to face Tom with an unhappy expression.
Tom sat back and looked at Loretta. She wasn't like his teacher anymore. She was different. More like someone else. Someone far away, but who he wished was here with him now.
They talked for a few minutes on mundane matters. About her job in the office and about his job driving about the countryside. Then, Loretta said, "Where'd your daddy go?"
"To Hell I hope," Tom replied.
"Didn't yer go look for him?"
"Hell no. No point in that, "Tom said thoughtfully.
"He just up and left without a word?" Loretta said.
"Without a word." Tom picked up his glass and gulped at the remains of his beer. Loretta sipped her wine. "Best thing he ever did," Tom added.
"And Clara? Did she miss him?"
"Like a hole in the head, she did," said Tom, looking away for a few moments and staring at the books.
"If you were thirteen when he went, Clara must have fifteen. Quite a young woman."
"She was fourteen and a bit," Tom corrected. "Any way enough about that. Told yer I don't like talking about that. Best forgotten."
"What did yer mom say about it all?" Loretta asked after a few minutes of silence.
"Said I drove him away. Said it was my fault and so on and so on, until her mind went crazy and they locked her in a padded cell." Tom paused.
"Frightening what people can make you do, " said Loretta quietly.
"Yeah," said Tom. He stared at Loretta for a few moments and sighed. "How'd your husband have his accident?"
Loretta stiffened. "Carelessness," she said.
"At home or away?" Tom asked.
"Does it matter now? He's gone. I'm free of him and I've got this house and the money he left me in the bank." Loretta paused and stared at Tom.
"You weren't sad about it?"
"No. Nor surprised." She finished off her wine and put down the glass on the floor. "He cheated on me. Had an affair with some flossy young enough to be his daughter."
"What happened?" asked Tom.
Loretta sat back on the settee. "He fell down the stairs into the cellar."
"Hit his head on some packing cases he'd left down there," Loretta said softly.
"What the doctor say?"
"Put it down to accidental death. He could smell the alcohol on my husband's breath. Guess he figured he just fell." Loretta sighed.
"And did he?" Tom asked.
"Who knows. Who cares," Loretta replied. "Enough of him. What about us?"
"What about us?" Tom said.
We could go upstairs to my bedroom and finish off what was started just now," Loretta said gently.
"Don't think I could," said Tom getting up from the settee.
"What's the matter? Ain't you been to bed with a girl yet?
"This ain't right," Tom drawled and walked to the window.
"We could make it right if you wanted to," said Loretta rising and walking to where Tom stood by the window.
"Ain't you got no shame?" Tom said.
"You're a pure innocent ain't yer? Never had anything more than a bad cold," Loretta laughed to herself.
"I've been to bed with someone," Tom said angrily.
"Yeah? Who?" Loretta asked looking Tom in the eyes.
"Never you mind who, because it won't be you next," Tom said turning away from her.
"Was she pretty? Or was she some dog ugly bitch?" Loretta said bitterly.
"She was beautiful and pure and so wonderful…" Tom stopped and sniffed. Loretta could see that he was crying. She stood stunned seeing him cry.
"Who was she?" Loretta asked, her words now soft and gentle.
"Can't say," Tom murmured. "I gotta go."
"No, wait, Tom, don't go like this. Just settle down awhile and maybe we can find us some friendship again."
"You could have murdered your husband for all I know," Tom said staring at Loretta with his reddened eyes.
"And you? You and Clara?" Her words paused. Tom looked at his shoes. He sat down on the settee again.
"My secret is mine as yours is yours," said Tom in a whisper.
"If you say so," Loretta replied sitting down beside him. She kissed his cheek and put her arm around him.
"Words can imprison you if you ain't careful," Tom muttered.
"Then we must be careful, mustn't we," said Loretta. She lifted Tom up by his arm from the settee and led him from the room. Together they walked up the stairs side by side like condemned people walking their last mile.