The Neallys Part 2: Eileen and Tom

Simon Douglas

“Eileen? Eileen Neally.” She was walking for lunch on Main Street in White Plains, New York when she turned to see Simon Douglas rushing up to her. “Eileen? I thought that was you. How are you?”

Simon and Eileen had worked together in her small bank until he left for a job in New York City about five years earlier and since then, she’d heard, he’d done well for himself, ending up with a small hedge fund with its office along the water in Greenwich.

“Simon. My goodness. How long has it been? Four, five years?”

“From when I last saw you? Five years, three months, six days and”—a glance at his watch—”13 hours, eight minutes, and . . . 32 seconds. Far too long.” It was a completely arbitrary figure but he said it with such flair that she almost believed it, down to the second. He was a charmer this Simon. A solid 5’10” with the build of a rugby player and thick, short hair, a bit weather-beaten; it was clear that whatever else might have happened in his life he had not given up on staying in shape. 

“Such a tease. What are you doing here?”

“A meeting with our bankruptcy counsel. We’re looking to get involved in the auction of assets of a firm in Chapter 11 that filed up here. I confess I hoped I’d see you. And I did.”

It was mid-September 2017. Less than a year before, Eileen would have left it with a curt nice-to-see-you-again/keep-in-touch but she was different now. After her husband, Michael, died in 2010, she threw herself into her work and her daughter. She had neither the time nor the inclination to do anything for herself. Now her daughter Kerry was living at home while going to law school in the City and through Suzanne, Kerry’s girlfriend, Eileen met other women her age and started enjoying being social again, emerging from her self-imposed shell.

So when Simon asked if they could go to lunch, she readily agreed and in ten minutes they were sitting in a small Italian place on quiet side street near the courthouses and she was sipping on her water and breaking off a piece of bread. 

She had not been alone with a man like this since before her husband died. It was nice. They each ordered, she limiting herself to a Caesar salad, he to sole, and exchanged gossip about shared current and former workmates and she discovered that she was having a good time, a very good time. And now when she said how nice it was to have seen him and how they should keep in touch she said it with sincerity.

Kerry was at the house in Tuckahoe, a village just north of the City, when Eileen came through the door and, as happened a couple of times a week, dinner was ready for her after she washed up and changed. The two fell into their typical relaxed conversation until Eileen dropped the bombshell that she’d “had a lunch with a former colleague.” As soon as Kerry understood that the former colleague was a man, her interest in this lunch rose exponentially. Her Mom told of his calling to her on Main Street, of how attractive he “still is,” and how nice it was to just sit down in a quiet restaurant with a man with no pretenses or expectations and how much she enjoyed it.

“Mom, was this a date?”

“Honey, it definitely was not. Just . . . .”

Eileen was not so sure. How was it not a date? The only thing not-a-date about it was the happenstance of running into him on Main Street.

“He just happened to see you come out of the office where he once worked and happened to take you to lunch?” This was Kelly, interrupting Eileen’s thoughts, which now veered to wondering whether he had been waiting for her. Things she hadn’t noticed then she noticed now. Whether his meeting ended long before he let on and he loitered about until she showed up. Was there even a meeting? What if he was stalking her? Why had he emphasized his inability to find anyone after his divorce? That he was now in a position at the fund where he didn’t have to travel as much as he had, travel he had long since tired of?

Now Kerry interrupted this train of thought. “Are you going to see him again?”

“I doubt it. Although I wouldn’t be unhappy if he asked.” and Kerry simply said, “Well then, let’s hope he does” before clearing away the plates. Kerry in fact was far from calm in all of this, her thoughts quickly ratcheting up for her Mom’s future, but it was best to keep a low profile.

And he did ask. After a decent interval—two days—he called her while she sat in her office at mid-afternoon on Thursday.

“Eileen. It’s Simon. Look, there’s a thing here in Greenwich on Saturday night. I wondered if you’d like to accompany me.”

“A ‘thing.’ Simon you are such a wordsmith.”

“It’s a gallery opening,” he confessed, “I get these invitations all the time but almost never go. I don’t want you to think I’m some kind of art connoisseur. It’s really just a convenient excuse for me to ask you to go out with me.”

“Always the charmer. Let me see how free my calendar is.” And then after a decent interval—two seconds—she said, “I’d love to.” and when he offered to come down to pick her up, she insisted that she could drive herself the half-hour up, and back, and so they met outside the gallery at 7:30 on Saturday. The exhibit was a bit too modern for the tastes of either of them, but it was fun to stop in front of each and ask each other, in turns, “what do you think it is?”

There was no question. This was a date, the gallery-visit followed by dinner, and Eileen enjoyed it and enjoyed each of the ones that followed. She felt comfortable enough that on the third or fourth date, while having dinner in Greenwich, the one that led to their first kiss, she told him of the unhappiness of her marriage, especially towards its end, of her becoming dependent on alcohol to try to bridge a gap to happiness, and of having stopped drinking after her husband died.

Simon had by then told Eileen many of his own stories, unknown to her when they worked together. He had married young and they both realized the mistake before kids came along. He’d been on a roller coaster with women forever, stretches of ups and stretches of downs, near-engagements and narrow-escapes. He was tired of it. The efforts he put into work had long since paid off for him and as one of the firm’s old-guard—at the ripe old age of 46—he had easily slipped into the elder-statesman role at the fund and leaving it to younger people to do what he, when he was a younger person, did.

With the settling of his job-life, he wanted to settle his love-life. He stumbled across an old report from the bank and it reminded him of her and he admitted that, yes, he lingered around Eileen’s building after he met with the lawyers on the chance that she’d be going out to lunch. He had nothing planned but just thought to say hello, how-are-you?, what-have-you-been-doing? And see what happened and now they were both in the seeing-what-is-happening phase. They had a nice, soft kiss after he walked her to her car.

Simon had by then met Kerry, stopping in when he picked her Mom up for dinner at a nice tavern in Tuckahoe. The two chatted briefly in the living room while Eileen was getting ready, an intentional delay meant to give her daughter the chance to meet him and then give Eileen her impressions. Kerry liked him immediately. Handsome, rich, and charming and clearly fond of, and probably a lot more, her Mom. When Simon dropped Eileen off after the date, Eileen nervously awaited her daughter’s verdict, and Kerry was simple and direct: “What’s not to like?”

Knowing Your Customer

In the waning stretch of the day’s final panel on a sunny mid-October Tuesday when everyone wanted to be somewhere else, Tom Doyle found his gaze wandering to the neck and left ear of the woman in front of him. The speaker was droning on about know-your-customer regulations, and every now-and-then Tom glanced at whatever PowerPoint slide was being displayed as he stifled a yawn. His gaze kept doing its wandering.

She looked nothing like Wendy, his late wife. Wendy was blonde and short and this woman was brunette and medium height and well-curved with a perfect perfectly-round face and thick lips. While he thought Wendy was beautiful, this woman was gorgeous. He noticed that she had no ring on her left ring-finger.

When the final “thank-you”s were offered by the conference’s host, Tom gathered his things and hurried to the woman. “Excuse me,” he looked at her name tag, “may I call you Eileen?” He was stumped, not having formulated what he would next say. He’d never approached a stranger in this way and had no idea how it should be done.

“Of course,” and she looked at his name tag, which showed him to be a senior vice president at the Manhattan-headquartered bank hosting the conference, “Tom. What can I do for you?”

“I, er, noticed how attentive you were during the final panel and I was wondering whether you could let me know about some things I think I missed.” Lame, but the best he could come up.

She saw that he was wearing a wedding band and when he noticed that, he quickly added, “actually I wondered if you might like to get a drink or something. And,” he turned his left hand towards her, “I am a widower and have never had the heart to take this off.”

He did not look like a philanderer to Eileen—as if she’d know what one looked like—and she said she’d like that, Simon’s existence silently thrown over the side. She, her own nametag revealed, was a generic vice-president in a small suburban bank.

The pair crossed Madison Avenue to one of the many Irishy pubs in midtown, this one on the north side of 47th Street. It was too early for there to be many patrons. When the hostess asked whether they wanted a table or to sit at the bar, they exchanged glances and after Eileen said a table would be fine they were led up a flight of steps to an empty dining room. When the waitress arrived, he ordered a Guinness and she a club soda with a lemon twist.

When the waitress was gone, she said, “I’m a cheap date.”

“Is this a date?” he laughed.

“Not yet. Right now, it’s just drinks.” She paused. “If it is a date, I have to warn you that I am not very good at it. And the club soda. I haven’t had a drink since the day of my husband’s funeral. So, I’ve been on the wagon since 2010.”

When he asked whether it was OK for him to have ordered the Guinness, she said, “that is not a problem. It is my choice and I deal with my temptations but I don’t push them on others.” It had in fact been something of a struggle but with the support of her daughter and other members of her and Michael’s families, some AA meetings, and some therapy Eileen had put it behind her. She wondered why she was so quick to tell him about it. It, in fact, just slipped out much as the cheap-date line had. For some reason, it was something she felt comfortable saying to this man.

When they were about half-way through their drinks, they agreed to order dinner. It was still on the early side and only a few of the other tables were occupied, but neither was in a hurry to leave and both were hungry.

Eileen quickly told Tom about herself. She was a widow—she’d already let that be known when she mentioned her husband’s funeral—who lived in Tuckahoe, with her only child, Kerry, living at home, and in her second year at Columbia Law School. She had a brother and sister who lived in Fairfield County and a bunch of nieces and nephews who she saw now-and-then.

She worked at a White Plains bank, which explained her presence at the conference. “And that,” she finished with a smile, “is me.”

“I’m sure there’s a lot more of you than that,” Tom said, and Eileen blushed a bit at the innuendo implicit in how it was said. After a brief pause Tom—he was Tommy only to the kids he grew up with—told his story, about being born and raised outside of Boston, going to Boston College, and working for State Street. His eyes got a bit distant when he remembered having run into Wendy Riordan, a New Yorker, with whom he’d had a fling in college, at a BC football game in 1987 and how she had induced, “or should I say ‘seduced,’” (he smiled) him to try for a job in a New York. In a just-the-facts-Ma’am manner, he got a job at a big commercial bank in midtown and worked his way up to become a Senior Vice President in the risk-assessment department, his current position.

After living, separately and then together, in Astoria, Queens for a few years, he and Wendy married and after their second, and last, child was born moved first to Irvington, on the Hudson, and then up to his current house in Chappaqua in northern Westchester. It was almost horse country but better known as where the Clintons live.

Of course, with Eileen he dwelled on his kids. Andrea, the older, was born in 1992. She was a resident doctor at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in northern Manhattan and lived alone in a Washington Heights walk-up. His son, James, two years younger than his sister, was in his second year as an Assistant District Attorney in New York County and living with his girlfriend, Jennie, another lawyer, in Park Slope, Brooklyn. “How they can afford it I don’t know,” he laughed. “For me,” he said after a sip of his Guinness, “the Chappaqua house may have gotten too big and too empty and I’m thinking of getting a condo in the City.”

“Did I mention that my Kerry lives at home?,” Eileen said, to which Tom replied with a mocking head-shake, “that ain’t happening with my kids. I’m lucky if one of them comes up once a month. They have their own lives now.”

“I’m not looking forward,” Eileen responded, “to when Kerry flies the coop. I know I embarrass her by having her live at home, as she did in college—Fordham—but she knows how much I need her. She’s very close to someone and there may be wedding bells in her future. I hope.” She was wary of saying that the “someone” was a woman.

Tom said he hoped his kids appreciated how he needed them. “But what are you gonna do?” Any Boston accent had been rubbed into a New York one. “Andrea’s too busy for anything serious. Yet busy as he is James is living with someone so there’s hope.”

Then for some reason he felt compelled to go deeper. Wendy, he softly said, died of breast cancer three years before. It wasn’t caught early enough and it was a long, difficult end. “I still wear the ring because I don’t have the heart to take it off. I twirl it now and then, and I know I don’t need it to remember her. It just makes me feel that I still have a part of her.” He paused, and Eileen reached for his hand. “Sorry,” he said, a bit choked up, “I don’t go there often. And I’m sorry I went there with you.”

“I’m glad you told me. I’m afraid my marriage ended well before I became a widow, and that’s as much my fault as anyone’s. Let’s leave it at that. It did, after all give me my Kerry.”

Tom signaled to the waitress and they quickly ordered some food, fish-and-chips for him and shepherd’s pie for her. Plus a glass of Chianti for him—”really, it won’t bother me”—and another club soda for her.

And they talked, eventually through coffee, of less-intense things as the dining room filled. Eileen got a text and after Tom said “take a look” she saw it was Kerry:

{Kerry: Mom, where are you? Do you know when you’re getting home? And will you need food?]

{Kerry: I’ve eaten.}

“Good God,” Eileen said, “it’s 7:20. That was Kerry wondering what ever became of me.”

{Eileen: I’m still alive. Finishing up. I’ll let you know what train I’ll be on in a minute.}

{Kerry: Are you alone?}

{Eileen: I’m with another banker from the conference. We had dinner.}

{Kerry: OK, see you soon. You want me to pick you up at the station.}

{Eileen: No need. I’ll walk. I’ll text what train I make.}

{Kerry: CU soon.}

Heading Home

After splitting the bill, as they walked to Grand Central Eileen said that she’d had a very nice time. “You know, I’d forgotten just how pleasant a quiet evening with a charming man can be.”

Not sure how to respond, Tom offered, “I’m a ‘charming man’ in your eyes then?”

“In anyone’s eyes, believe me. I do not want to scare you off. I would like to see you again, if you’d like to see me.”

Tom laughed. “I think we’re both a bit at sea here. I would like to see you again. May I call?”

“You may.”

And that’s just about when they got to the stairs that led to Eileen’s platform. They were on the same Metro North train-line, but his train would not stop in Tuckahoe where she lived so she headed for her train first.

Then after pausing like two high-schoolers standing on the girl’s porch Eileen and Tom gave each other a peck on the lips and Eileen rubbed Tom’s cheek and said good night and went up to the platform to catch her train home.

As she sat on the train waiting for its doors to close, she took out her phone and texted Kerry with when the train got to Tuckahoe.

Risk Assessment

His day job was assessing risk, and he was very good at it. Tom Doyle helped his Bank avoid some of the catastrophic losses that tore through its competitors in 2008 and was well compensated for it. But this had nothing to do with risk assessment. This was, in a phrase that he would shutter to apply to other people’s money, “taking a flyer.” He was like someone who’d become enamored by some exotic financial instrument or high-tech start-up, lost to anything but the upside of Eileen.

Since Wendy died three years earlier, he was a frequent topic of discussion in certain parts of Chappaqua. The two were fixtures in the cocktail-party/family-barbeque/country-club-events sprinkled through the calendar. Wendy’s death had hit their social circle hard, and all of them were on the look-out for someone . . . not to replace Wendy because they all knew she was irreplaceable but to be with Tom going forward. And their efforts always failed. Whether it was Tom or the women with whom he was set up didn’t matter. Tom was good natured about it and good natured about the dates he was put into, but his friends and family realized that “she” would have to come to or be found by Tom and not be foisted on him.

Two days after the conference, Tom called Eileen and asked if she would join him for dinner on Saturday. Because Eileen planned to go to brunch with Simon on Sunday at his yacht club—she didn’t know there really was such a thing but, well, Greenwich—she said she’d be very much like that.

On Saturday, then, Tom picked Eileen up at her house and after a brief introduction to Kerry they headed into Bronxville for dinner. It was a nice restaurant, quite full—he was glad he’d made the reservation—but neither recalled what they actually ate. Nor would either recall what they talked about. They simply ate and spoke and it, when they thought back on it, was just two people being comfortable with one another, comfortable in one another’s company.

When he drove her home and offered to walk her to the door, she, feeling much like the teenager she had not been for decades, said “that would be nice.” She did not wait for him to open the Audi’s door for her, although she knew that he would have if she had. He reached for her hand and she relished the touch. They were quiet as they walked up the path. He told her that he’d had a “lovely time” and she said that she had as well and he gave her a kiss, a bit bolder than it had been in Grand Central, and they wished each other good night, although not before she told him that she hoped to do it again and gently rubbed his cheek again.

Kerry had been (discretely, she thought) monitoring these goings on from upstairs. She ran down and asked her Mom had it had been.

“Kerry, it was delightful. But . . . I don’t know. He’s nice and all, a perfect gentleman, but he mentioned his dead wife again—I don’t think he was fishing for sympathy or anything but it’s just part of who he is, always thinking of her—and he’s like a really big deal at his bank. I was a failure as a wife and I work for this backwater bank that almost gives out toasters for new accounts. I think he’s just biding his time.”

Kerry directed her Mom to the couch, ordered her to sit, and plopped down next to her. “Mom. Just stop. You were not a failure as a wife. I mean that you got me out of the deal and I like to think that I didn’t turn out so badly. What happened between you and Dad, you just can’t go there.”        

“But . . .”

“If you’re just going to dwell on that . . . Mom, you can’t keep going back there. You are smart, beautiful, and kind. Any man’d be lucky to have you?”

She didn’t really believe it but there was no convincing Kerry so Eileen said, “I guess you’re right” without conviction. “Honey, I had a good time with him. I’m tired. I need to get to bed.” And she did.

Tom

For his part, Tom enjoyed himself at the dinner in Bronxville, more than he had in a long time. Perhaps it was because it was a date that he arranged and not one initiated by one of his well-intentioned friends. He enjoyed it, and even more so when he thought about in the following days. So, he mentioned it a few days later, during his weekly check-in call from Andrea.

“Date? You want to talk about it?”

“Andi, it’s early days yet. She was nice and I enjoyed myself and I think she enjoyed it too. She’s a widow. Works in White Plains. I’ll just have to see how it goes.”

He assured her that she would be the first to be told of any advances, and she knew enough to leave it at that.

The Yacht Club

After her dinner date with Tom, Eileen slept well and was deeply asleep when the phone’s alarm went off at 8. She dragged herself up and to the bathroom—Kerry’s door was closed—and after putting a robe on toddled down to get The Times in the front yard and brought it to the kitchen for a bowl of Special K and a coffee, with milk and perhaps too much sugar. She had plenty of time to get out of the house for the half-hour—there’d be no traffic on a Sunday morning—trip to Greenwich and Simon’s club. They were to meet at 11.

She flipped through the paper’s society page, wondering if she knew anyone who’d gotten married this week-end—she didn’t—and then through The Week in Review and it was time to get ready. She was thinking Great-Gatsby chic, but that’d be too much. She went as casual chic as she could. The now-up Kerry gave her approval for a pair of black tailored slacks, a white collared-shirt, lime sweater, dark-blue blazer, and pumps with a two-inch heel. As always, she kept the make-up and jewelry to a minimum, simple knot-earrings, a gold necklace, and the gold Raymond Weil watch Michael gave her on her fortieth. She didn’t understand but others did: anything more than the minimum was wasted on her and in truth detracted from her beauty.

Kerry gave her Mom a kiss goodbye and handed her her broad-brimmed hat to wear “if you sit in the sun,” saying Suze would be picking her up and they were headed to Beacon for the day.

As expected, there was little traffic to Greenwich, and Eileen pulled her Outback into the lot a bit before 11. As usual, lots of old-money, beat-up Volvos competing with new-money, sparkling Astons were parked there. She knew Simon had one of the latter; it looked good on him. The club was at the tip of a peninsula that jutted out into Long Island Sound.

The day was nice and warm and they sat on the veranda overlooking the Sound, a fair number of intrepid sailors braving the late-season swells and the North Shore of Long Island visible across the Sound, Jay Gatsby’s own dock out there somewhere. Over their omelets there were frequent interruptions by other club members stopping to say hello to Simon and being introduced to Eileen or, for those who’d met her before, to say hello to them both. It was a life that she could get used to.

Yet it wasn’t. Some of the glances and hand-shakes lingered a beat or two longer than they should have. There were some nods to Simon of the well-done variety. Somehow it felt strange that she had a Subaru and neither on old Volvo nor a new Mercedes.

This was not Simon’s fault. She really liked him. In some respects, he, long single, did not fit into the yacht-club crowd. To the contrary, he fit in well with the laid-back vibe of Eileen’s small bank. He was witty and charming (and handsome) with no pretense. She truly liked him.

She had a perfectly lovely time. And on Greenwich Avenue, where just the two of them strolled after lunch, stopping in some of its boutiques. But she was tiring. When Simon asked whether she’d like to see his house and maybe have dinner there, she begged off. This was a big deal, she knew, but not only was she tired but she was conflicted. She had not mentioned Tom to Simon. Nor, for that matter, Simon to Tom.

When Simon asked her to hang with him at his house, she understood it to be taking their relationship another step and she was not sure she was ready to take it, or whether she would ever be. So she politely said, “Perhaps another time, Simon. I’d love to see it, but I have to get back. I’ve had a wonderful time. Now I owe you dinner down my way.” And she asked if he was free on Saturday and if they could have dinner in Bronxville and he, a bit disappointed, said of-course-he-was and of-course-they-could. With a final kiss at her car, she gave him a hug and she proceeded to head home and think of Tom.

And this back-and-forth would be how it went for Eileen for the next month or so. She spoke regularly with each man during the week and went out with one of them, and sometimes both, each week-end. When she mentioned Tom’s existence to Simon on the first date they had after their Sunday in Greenwich he seemed to take it in stride. He had his suspicions that she had started seeing someone else, so he was not surprised. He was mature enough to realize that it would have to take its course, but he felt strongly enough about Eileen to hope that its course would end soon.

Tom took the news of Simon’s existence, at about the same time, in much the same way. He, too, was confident that he would prevail.

By early November, Eileen realized that things could not be sustained, that with Thanksgiving approaching a decision would have to be made. A realization heightened when Kerry and Suzanne told her that they were engaged. It set Eileen to thinking even more about “family” than she had for a while.

For his part, Tom was senior enough at the Bank that he could slip out early. On an early November Thursday, he took advantage of this and called Eileen and out-of-the-blue asked if, one, she was free for dinner and, two, whether he could take her some place in White Plains.

Thus there she was, sitting in the same small Italian restaurant where she had lunch with Simon Douglas that day when he ran into her on Main Street. She felt a twinge of guilt, that she would be performing a head-to-head comparison of the two men, but it was Tom’s suggestion and she saw no reason to veto it.

And she did find herself comparing the two, and it was like test-driving two high-end cars, a Mercedes and a BMV, say, in which each had so much to offer and each was so comfortable in its own way. She realized that by an objective standard, she would be lucky to have and happy to be with either of them.

There was one final test. After the table was cleared and they were waiting for their deserts and coffee, Eileen looked Tom in the eye and said “Kerry is engaged” and he said “that’s great” and she said “to a woman” and he said “what’s her name?” and with those three words he had passed—as she knew he would—and she said “Suzanne” and she smiled.

It was dark when their espressos were gone and Ubers were waiting for each of them when they left. They kissed, and as she headed south, Eileen knew she was in love.

A Decision

It was a Hobson’s Choice.

With the holiday approaching, Eileen knew she’d have to pick. Simon was everything a woman could want. He was handsome, rich, and caring. But, Eileen knew, he was not a man that she would love. She was grateful for having met him again and for having gone out with him. Not only did she enjoy it, but it also helped open her to possibilities she had long put aside.

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Eileen asked Simon if she could stop by his house. He was heading to Florida to be with his parents, and she and Simon were to meet later that day for dinner in Greenwich. She wanted to pre-empt matters, and for the first, and only, time she knocked at his door. He guessed the purpose of her visit and led her into his living room. It was around noon, and he got them both coffee. The house was new, big, and empty, meant to be filled by a family. Eileen ached because she sensed that Simon hoped that she would be part of that family.

It was a short visit. They were both on the couch, and she wore a dress for the occasion. Eileen turned and reached for and held his hands. She thanked him—confirming his fear—for helping her get out of her shell. She told him that she always remember the wonderful time she spent with him but then said that much as he admired him and enjoyed being with him she didn’t love him.

Simon was good about it. He said he understood because he did understand. He didn’t admit it to her, but he had had his share of this conversation, from both sides, several times. With Eileen, though, he so hoped that it would be different.

Without further ado, he walked her to his door, opened it, and, after she gave him a peck on the cheek, watched her walk out of his life.

and More

Eileen was sad but relieved. As she headed towards the parkway she pulled into a dead end off North Street and stopped the car. She first called Kerry and told her what she had done. She had not spoken to Kerry about it beforehand, and Kerry knew enough to give her Mom space to work out things between her and Tom and her and Simon, and now she told her Mom that she knew she made the right call. Kerry had only met the two men briefly, enough to say she approved of them both, but the vibe she got from her Mom made her preference increasingly clear.

Kerry hesitated before asking, but she asked and her Mom said, yes, she loved him.

Eileen’s second, and briefer, call was to “him,” i.e., Tom. She said she was on the road but could be in Chappaqua in half-an-hour. She asked if she could stop by, and he said he’d be waiting. Eileen turned away from the parkway and headed west into New York and then north, to Chappaqua.

When Tom asked her to come to his place for Thanksgiving, a few days before at the restaurant in White Plains, she told him no—and he was taken aback when she did until she asked his family to her house, where they could share the day with Suzanne, Mary, and Betty. (Betty’s boys, Peter and Michael, would be in Maryland with their dad for the day.) Eileen had not met either of Tom’s children, although she knew quite a bit about them.

Tom, of course, had long since lost his heart to her. Now she was making an impromptu visit. He ran about the house tidying what he could, throwing plates and glasses into the dishwasher and a pan into the sink, loading the hamper with stray clothing, hanging up a sweater, organizing the Times and Journal and Journal-News sections strewn around the living room. It was passable.

Twenty-five minutes later—that was fast—he saw her pull into the driveway and he went to greet her. For her, it had been bubbling the whole way.

“I love you.”

“What took you so long?” To her slap he added, “I’ve been there for a while. I love you too.”

At which point they laughed and kissed and hugged and, eventually, went inside. Neither had prepared for this. Both had thought of it. Once he realized that, yes, the master bedroom was in good shape with the bed made and the clothes put away, Tom led Eileen upstairs. He unzipped the blue dress she wore and it fell to the ground with her assistance. She undid the buttons on his blue shirt and draped it over his shoulders where it joined her dress on the floor. He was physically stunned by her, and it took several moments for his shaking hands to undo the clasp on her bra but once undone she shook her arms and it too was on the floor. Whatever stun-setting he initially felt was ratcheted up a notch or two, the next setting, he feared, being “kill.” Her breasts were perfection. His right hand grasped her left tit and its fingers moved to her nipple, now well extended.

She was not static as this was going on, reaching for and undoing his belt and undoing and unzipping his trousers and to the ground they went too, and he stepped out of them. Things stopped as she placed her lips on his and removed them for a moment as she said in a voice unfamiliar to both of them, “I want and need you now” and with that her hands went to either side of his briefs and she pulled them down, releasing his erection and then after he stepped out of them and was finally naked Eileen ran her fingers slowly up the shaft.

He groaned but had enough consciousness to reach to either side of her panties and draw them down her legs and she stepped out of them. She turned and pulled the blankets to the side so they could get on the sheets, then sitting on the bed’s side and kissing him, tongues aflame, when he sat beside her, her hand gently rubbing his cock.

He sort of interrupted the mood by jumping up and saying he had to get something and she was left alone as he scurried to the bathroom. When he got there, he had to pee so he had to relax and he was finally able to. He thanked his stars that he was optimistic enough to have bought a box of condoms at a Duane Reade and after a few seconds remembered where he had put them.

Tom was gone for a couple of minutes and Eileen was beginning to feel a bit uncertain. She needn’t have. She was lying, naked, on the bed when he returned. She was, and this is an objective observation, the most beautiful woman Tom had ever seen anywhere. In life, in film, in pictures. Her tits were splendid, spectacular even, and each of her dimensions, each of her parts, complemented each other one.

His cock was again fully extended. She beckoned him with her finger and after some stumbling—he was well out of practice—he had the condom on and was atop her and lowering himself and letting her guide him into her. He slowly entered and it was the most physically enjoyable moment he had experienced in many years. Perhaps ever.

The two found a rhythm and were soon grunting like the newly-emancipated teens they had been before that first kiss months before in Grand Central, when Eileen had gone for her train.

For Eileen, there was no doubt. This was the most pleasing experience she had ever had. This man filled her as he brought her to a mind-numbing orgasm, with him soon following as he burst inside of her and then collapsed atop her for a few seconds before rolling off of her and onto his right side.

“Oh my fucking god” were the first words that came from her, as she stared at the ceiling. He was spent, out of practice there as well, and watched her get up and head to the bathroom—overwhelmed now by his view of her receding ass—and then dropped his head on the pillow and stared at the ceiling.

Before she came back, he jumped up and removed and secured the condom and grabbed a shirt from his closet and tossed it to her when she walked back in.

“Done already?” she teased.

“I am old and out of practice so, and I really hate to say this, I think I at least need a brief timeout. Let’s get something to eat. My yard is pretty big, but . . .”

She took the hint and put the shirt on, and it covered her up, just, and then he followed her, he having put on a robe, downstairs. He felt a bit guilty taking the robe for himself but worn-out as he was, he couldn’t resist seeing her in his now never-to-be-washed-again shirts, knowing what was beneath it.

When they got to the kitchen, Eileen filled two glasses of water while Tom threw two slices of day-old pizza into the microwave. They were thirsty and hungry and it didn’t matter what they drank and ate. After Tom took a gulp from the water glass Eileen handed to him, he said, “that was fun” and she smiled in response and said, “Yeah that was fun.”

Tom thought about it for a while and he knew it was time. Reaching over to his left hand with his right he said, “Eileen, I need your help with something.”

“Anything Tommy.” He noticed the name, one only kids from the neighborhood still used, when he visited his folks in Boston. He liked it when she used it now. Much more than when Jimmy Dolan said it when they were kids.

“I need help removing this,” and he lifted his left hand with his, Wendy’s, band on. Eileen suspected that he could have done it himself, but did not voice that because it did seem that he actually did need help in getting it off. They did not need to speak of the symbolism of it, only of the practicalities. As the microwave signaled that the pizza was ready, she grabbed a bar of butter and squished it around the ring and in three tugs was able to get it past the knuckle and off. She handed it, reverently, to him and he thanked her. After he delicately cleaned it, he disappeared, telling her when he got back that he had put it in the drawer of one of the bedside tables, that he hadn’t taken it off since his wedding. After an exchange of “I love you”s, they each cut up and devoured their pizza, with Tom getting a second slice for himself, although Eileen got a fair portion of that one too.

Eileen, feeling more alive than she perhaps ever had, turned and walked out of the kitchen, not before calling back to him and asking whether he might be able to find something to eat upstairs and then, with a giggle, ran up the steps, reaching the bed a moment or two before a now-panting Tom could catch her. Eileen was sweet and inexperienced but she was not naïve—she knew how to use a computer—and any earlier hesitancy evaporated and her earlier desire exploded over the next hours, after which they both fell into restful sleeps until being awakened by Eileen’s phone and Kerry wanting to know what was going on and Kerry silenced when her Mom told her.

Andrea

“Dad, you do realize that the hospital and the law school are like five zip codes from one another and that doctors hate lawyers and lawyers hate doctors so, no, I’m pretty sure I haven’t met my future stepsister. I assume we’ll both be at the wedding.”

This was Andrea Doyle on the phone reacting to her father’s telling her that, yes, he had fallen in love with the woman he’d been seeing and that she had a daughter who attended Columbia Law School. Her father had given her brief updates since he met Eileen, but now he dropped the big one.

Andi, as she was universally known—when not “Dr. Doyle”—had not heard him sound so happy, and she hadn’t been so happy for her father, since, well, long before her mom died. She had begun to fear that it was a sound she’d never hear again but had begun hoping otherwise as she got her weekly dose of Eileen News. She thought it was very cute, this whole role-reversal, giddy-father thing. She knew he spoke to her in a way that few fathers spoke to their daughters because since her mom’s death she had become the feminine voice he liked to hear.

Thanksgiving 2017

In the few weeks since November began, sea changes had occurred in the Neally family.

First, Kerry Neally and Suzanne Nelson were officially engaged. Kerry had given Suzanne Eileen’s own, resized engagement ring when she popped the question and Suzanne almost never took it off. Suzanne, in turn, had taken Kerry to a small jewelry stall on 48th Street between Fifth and Sixth—the City’s diamond district—and they picked out a small ring for Kerry, small because of finances and because of Kerry’s own preference for subtlety.

Second, Eileen Neally and Tom Doyle were officially an item, and had been for all of five days when Thanksgiving came around.

Suddenly the Neally clan had expanded. Last Thanksgiving Suzanne and her Aunt Mary and Mary’s partner Betty and their two sons had joined Eileen and Kerry for Thanksgiving at the house in Yonkers. This Thanksgiving, that group, without the boys, would be joined in Tuckahoe by the Doyles: Tom, Andrea, James, and Jennie. Plus Suzanne’s best friend from California, Annie Baxter, with whom Suzanne shared an apartment in the City when she was still in school, would be taking the train up. The house was much smaller than Tom’s in Chappaqua, but it felt like a perfect size, with a leaf put into the dining-room table and people sitting and draped on the living-room furniture.

Tom and James, of course, felt a bit outnumbered by all of the women in the house but they took it in good spirits and did what they could to help. But it became clear that the too-many cooks were clustered in the too-small kitchen, till Eileen shooed everyone out except for Kerry and Suzanne, the three chopping and chatting like the oldest of friends, Kerry’s beloved WFUV—Fordham University Voice—playing softly in the background.

It was a bit awkward at first between the Nelsons and the Doyles—think Sally trying to set Harry up with Carrie Fisher—until Suzanne noticed and drafted Kerry, the bridge between the two, out to liaise and the awkwardness melted away.

Back in the kitchen, Suzanne got a “415” call. She looked at Kerry and looked at Eileen and looked at Kerry before rushing downstairs to Kerry’s study, a faint, questioning “hello” heard by the two who remained in the kitchen. Since Suzanne was due to pick up Annie at the train, Kerry decided to drive down. She got Andi to join her.

Kerry had just met Andi, and she instantly liked her. She was sweet and mischievous and not nearly as intense as Kerry expected of a resident. She would learn that “Doc,” as Kerry uniquely insisted on calling her, had a wicked sense of humor, but that would be later. Instead the two spoke briefly about their parents and how things progressed between them.

As they stood on the platform awaiting Annie’s arrival, Kerry said, “My Mom is head over heels about your dad,” and Andi replied, “And he over her. In no time at all. The heart knows what the heart knows.” At which point Kerry confessed that it was a long story she could only summarize while they waited, but she was particularly pleased because she had kept her heart’s knowledge about and for Suze secret for too long. “Hey, you’re happy now, right? That’s what counts. Me? I’m in no hurry. I’m in the work-hard/play-hard part of my life, which I know won’t last forever. I figure I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.”

Just then they saw the train’s lights as it came around the turn south of the Bronxville Station. Kerry had texted Annie that she was picking her up, and after they met and hugged and Kerry introduced Annie to Andi Kerry told Annie that Suze had gotten a call from California but that she didn’t know who it was.

Both being gabbers, Andi and Annie were off like long-lost friends. Kerry envied their ability to do that and left them to it until she pulled into the driveway at the house, with Kerry then introducing Annie to those who had not met her before.

Annie pulled Kerry aside, into the empty dining room, and asked what she thought was going on with Suzanne’s call. Kerry had no idea. That Suze took it meant it was probably not her parents. When Kerry was back in the kitchen with Annie and about to go downstairs to check, Suzanne came up, crying. In the kitchen she said it was Eric and she smiled and went out the backdoor. Kerry followed.

“Baby,” she began to Kerry when they were outside, “He plans on coming east.” They walked down the driveway and around the house so they could take a walk on the street, after Kerry popped her head into the kitchen and told her Mom that “everything is good” but that they were taking a short walk.

Eric was younger than Suzanne by six years. He was a senior in high school in Mill Valley, their hometown, and a gifted pianist. Suzanne had not spoken with him since she came to New York over a year before. They figured they’d see each other when she came home but she ended up never going home. Indeed, she no longer considered California “home.” Because she was increasingly estranged from her parents, she had put her California life behind her, and Eric was collateral damage to that decision.

In the call, he told her that he had applied early-admission to Yale, in part because she was in New York and because he wanted to re-connect with her. Things were pretty tense at home, he said, and he wanted the freedom he could get as Suzanne had gotten by coming east for law school. He did not want to follow his father and sister to Stanford. Grade-wise and test-score-wise, he figured he had a good shot of the early-admission and would let her know.

He’d truly grown up, Suzanne realized. He’d just finished sophomore year in high school when she last saw him. Now he was an adult. And he was reaching out to her. She found herself opening up to him as she opened to few people before, perhaps only Kerry and Mary, and he told her that he would only let their parents know what she wanted them to know.

The biggest item, of course, was telling him that she was engaged to Kerry, and his sole response was, “great, when can I meet her and when is the wedding?” He really was an adult.

Kerry was over the moon. Getting a connection with her brother was huge. Suze had finished the call while Kerry was out but waited until she heard Kerry return to come up. As they walked, she sent Annie a text asking her to join her down the block, and Annie jogged down a minute later.

“What’s up?” Annie knew Suzanne’s baby brother but not well because he was really just a baby to her. She was thrilled, too, hearing that he would be coming east, and the three walked back to the house, with Suze taking Mary and Betty aside to fill them in.

The Doyles had no idea what was going on, but they recognized the high spirits the others displayed as they sat down for dinner. The ten chairs made for a tight fit but they managed. Eileen asked Tom to speak, and he was brief and to the point, saying how blessed and thankful he felt being with everyone and that, with a nod to his children (and Jennie) he hoped and believed he spoke for the Doyle clan in doing so, a sentiment to which they readily agreed. And the toast was had and white and dark meat from the carved bird with an assortment of vegetables, including stuffing properly cooked inside the bird, and gravy and cranberries was passed around with a not insignificant amount of wine and the room echoed with happy and increasingly stuffed voices.

Shortly before the plates, some used multiple times, were cleared, Andi stood.

“My father truly spoke for the rest of us. I want to add something. I am so happy today to have met all of you and I hope that over time we can be part of your family—and I realize that the Nelsons and the Neallys are just one, growing family—and that you can be part of ours. And thank you for all of the effort and love that you put into this meal. To the Nelsons and the Neallys,” and Tom and James and Jennie, and Annie, raised their glasses and beat (except for Annie) everyone else in getting up to clear the dishes and begin the process of cleaning the table and the kitchen.

Until Kerry dragged Tom out to sit with “the adults” so she, Suze, and Annie could bump into the others as they all, with tremendous inefficiency, restored the kitchen to its pre-holiday condition.

Chicago

It was raining when the flight landed in Chicago on a Tuesday night unseasonably warm for mid-December. Eileen was attending a two-day national banking conference. It was an annual event she looked forward to, a chance to catch up with colleagues she’d met in prior years. She would be on a morning flight on Friday home. After checking into her hotel and calling Tommy and Kerry, she ordered room service and settled in for the night. She slept well and was ready for the conference to begin at 9:30, in the hotel where she was staying.

The panels and presentations were well handled and went swiftly by and she enjoyed the luncheon each day, finding herself with bankers she knew from prior conferences and some she didn’t. She felt much more relaxed socially than she’d ever felt at one of these events. After the final panel of each day, at about 5:30, Eileen joined four or five other attendees for dinner at a nearby restaurant, Italian on Wednesday and a high-end steakhouse on Thursday.

When she thought about it later, Eileen believed it was in response to all that was bubbling away insider her. The flight to O’Hare gave her time to think and to think about how well things had been going for her. Whatever held her back in recent years on a personal level seemed to be gone. Kerry had found someone she loved and who loved her. Even more, things were moving well with Tommy and more generally and since meeting Mary and Betty she felt much more comfortable with other people on social occasions.

But whatever the reason, at the steakhouse, the conference over, when the waiter went around the table taking drinks orders and got to her, with little thought she asked for a gin-and-tonic and when it came she barely gave it a thought when she took the first sip and it tasted so good that she gave no thought to the second sip. Or the third. Or for the rest of the glass. Or for the glasses of red wine she had with dinner.

She recalled little of what else happened. It was a blank when she woke up on Friday morning, feeling a little nauseous. It could have been, she figured, from the richness of the meal as much as from the alcohol; it was no big deal. And she convinced herself of this on the two-hour flight back to LaGuardia, where she took a cab home, arriving at about 3:30.

She had the house to herself. It wasn’t yet dark so she figured she’d walk into town and when she got there she figured a bottle of gin wouldn’t hurt and then realizing that she had no tonic she stopped into the market and got a bottle and walked home. She hadn’t thought twice about any of this and she didn’t think twice as she got a glass, put ice in it, and then added gin and some tonic and knowing that it’d be a while until Kerry was home because she tried to meet Suzanne’s train at 125th Street. Eileen savored her G&T on the sofa in the living room while she browsed on her laptop.

She was so relaxed, recovering from the flight, that she didn’t think twice about making herself a second G&T and savoring it on the sofa while she browsed her laptop.

The next thing Eileen heard was Kerry’s voice screaming into her phone—to Suzanne she presumed—begging her to come over, that she didn’t know what to do, that she needed help. Eileen wondered what could be bothering Kerry so much.

Eileen was still woozy when Kerry started to shake her, “Mom, Mom, are you all right? Can you hear me? What’s going on?” It was all fuzzy and then it hit Eileen like a hammer. She was sitting down just a moment ago and savoring a drink.

A Morning After

On Saturday morning, Eileen sat in her kitchen alone with Betty. Although not her specialty, Betty was a psychologist familiar with substance-abuse issues. She had come over early to be in the house when Eileen awoke and Kerry, who with Suzanne had gotten her Mom upstairs, to the bathroom, and into bed and who checked on her Mom regularly during the night (finding her asleep each time she looked into her room) had gone upstairs with Suzanne after getting assurances from Betty that things would be alright and that she’d help Eileen get the help she needed.

Eileen, both hands gripping a mug full of black coffee with a bit of sugar, was embarrassed and still in a haze but at Betty’s coaxing she began to try to explain what she had done. Betty let her talk, steering her to provide some of the background of Eileen’s earlier drinking and long period of sobriety. She interrupted her friend only to provide neutral words of support and understanding, and she found that she did not need to prod. Once Eileen began, she let fly. Betty was sufficiently removed from her day-to-day life as to provide comfort for Eileen’s thoughts and fears.

Betty circled back to what happened when Michael, Eileen’s husband, died seven years before. She stopped and, according to Eileen, hadn’t touched a drop until Chicago. Betty believed her; Eileen wasn’t telling lies.

Betty tried to ease the stress Eileen felt because she was feeling stress. It was an echo chamber that too often paralyzed people who’d relapsed. Eileen needed to remember that she had tackled this before and that she could do so again and she needed to re-visit what she had done before.

Eileen had never been the confident sort. She excelled at everything she did, except her marriage, but she let that failure color everything else. She realized that she once surmounted that failure. That she had done good things in the years since. To call her a generic vice president at a sleepy suburban bank, though, was well off the mark. She essentially ran the office and was trusted by and relied upon by everybody there. Had she wanted, she could have easily moved on to one of the big-name banks in the City or to her own bank’s headquarters. She loved her job and she was very good at it.

So Betty softly spoke in a way that she hoped would give a bit of a boost to Eileen’s ego and self-confidence, reminding her of how she had opened since they met, how she had blossomed since she met Tom, how she made the lives of those she met just a little bit better. Eileen weakly trying to deny the reality that Betty presented. Betty simply wanted to get Eileen to accept the reality that she was a very good, very competent, very loving person and a person who earned the right to be respected and loved.

Betty’s efforts were not entirely wasted. Eileen realized that she might be her own worst enemy and, after a thought, realized that she didn’t have any real enemies. She had done it before and knew, or hoped at least, that with help available should she need it, she could do it again.

What about Tommy? What could or should Eileen say to him. No one had said anything to him, but he was due in late afternoon. They were having dinner in Bronxville, at what had become their usual spot.

Betty handed Eileen her phone. All she said was, “Be honest with him. It will all work out if you do that,” and she left Eileen in the living room before heading out for a walk with Kerry and Suzanne, who’d been waiting, door closed, in Kerry’s room.

Eileen’s hand shook as she hit “6,” Tommy’s speed dial number. To his cheery, “Hi, honey, what’s up?” Eileen simply said, “Tom”—his more-formal name—“can you come down to see me.” She took a breath. She did not want him to have no idea why she was making this request. “I had some drinks when I was in Chicago and some more when I got back. I think I’m OK but I need to speak with you.”

Tom was at Eileen’s place in about half-an-hour. Betty, Kerry, and Suzanne had kept Eileen company, doing just normal household stuff, while she waited, and she was glad they did. All three left when Tom arrived, Kerry telling her Mom that they were just going into town and to text her if she needed anything.

Eileen and Tom

Tom didn’t know what to do or think. As he drove down, he called Andi, who told him it wasn’t her area but that he probably should let Eileen do the talking and that he had to assure her of his love. “You are the key to her support system and you need to tell her that she will never let you down and you will be there for her.”

He put a somewhat artificial cheer on his face as he entered the house, with Kerry, Suzanne, and Betty promptly leaving, looking somber as they tried to smile. Then he and Eileen sat together on the sofa. And he let Eileen get out the things she told Betty earlier and how she needed him if she was to get back on track. She made it clear that she loved him and was afraid she’d lose him, especially because of what she had done.

So, Tom repeated what he had spoken to Andi about, meaning each word. Eileen simply ended by saying, “I know you do and I know you will” and after putting her head against his shoulder she fell asleep.

It was not easy for Eileen but easier than she feared. She found AA meetings to attend. Through AA she found a therapist in White Plains who she began to see each Thursday. While Eileen knew Kerry was keeping an eye on her, she never felt threatened or infantized by it. It comforted her. Neither Kerry nor Tommy nor anyone else pressured her or insisted on knowing how-are-you-doing? The only other person she spoke to about it in any detail was Betty, who proved to be the helpful soundboard in the family and who kept their conversations between the two of them.

On Christmas, less than two weeks after the Chicago trip, Eileen was nearly back to the self everyone had seen on Thanksgiving and the whole gang—the Neallys and the Nelsons—headed up to Chappaqua.

Into January, the spinning down had reversed itself. Eileen was increasingly convinced of her own worth and that her happiness would continue if she simply allowed it to continue. Christmas had been much like Thanksgiving with the addition that Eileen had gone to an early Mass, largely because she enjoyed the poinsettias and the carols (Kerry stayed home). There were some nerves about whether it was okay to have alcohol but Eileen assured Tommy and Tom assured everyone else that it was important that she be able to handle it, as she had long done before Chicago and she was able to handle it, to everyone’s (silent) relief.

Much to Kerry’s and Suzanne’s (articulated) relief, Eileen began spending nights, first just Saturdays but then Sundays too—Eileen could take the train from Chappaqua to White Plains with Tom and then head straight to work, provided she brought work clothes with her—and by March it had pretty much turned into a Friday-Saturday-Sunday trifecta, winners all around since it meant that Kerry and Suzanne had the Tuckahoe house to themselves for weekends and sleeping late and other . . . stuff.

It was kind of absurd. Everyone knew what was going on, but they both felt awkward doing anything at either Suze’s Aunt’s or Kerry’s Mom’s house, as if they were still in high school. And both Suze’s Aunt and Kerry’s Mom had assured the two of them that staying over at either house—they were only a few miles apart after all—was not only OK but was positively encouraged. Still, they never quite felt right until Kerry received the all-clear that her Mom would be in Chappaqua for the evening.

The Chappaqua Club

In early January, Tom brought Eileen to a Saturday-evening dinner at his club and one could feel the pleasure and relief that echoed through the room when Tom introduced her. That was a reason he had not gone to the club when they ate in Chappaqua, to avoid the pressure on Eileen. These were people who had loved Wendy and they were genuinely thrilled that Tom had found someone, again not to take Wendy’s place but to be with him in his new life. It was a sentiment that Eileen herself battled with; how to avoid Tommy believing he had to choose between her and Wendy, how to convince him that she was not a new-Wendy but just Eileen and while they’d only had to speak of it once or twice, Eileen felt that by that Saturday when they had first made love Tommy got it—it’s when he removed the wedding band—and that when he did look back, and she knew that he would, it would be with fondness. And love.

The vibe that Eileen got from this crowd was worlds apart from what she felt when she was ogled at Simon’s yacht club. In fairness, she realized that this was in large part the result of Tommy and Wendy and their children having grown up together in this environment while Simon was a lone wolf in his. For Tommy, Eileen would be filling an empty spot in his life. For Simon, she would just be an addition to his. And also in fairness, Eileen never thought Simon was quite of that yacht-club-on-the-Sound world.

Eileen particularly enchanted the three members with whom Tom had regular, high-level Sunday tennis matches—Alan Jennings, Ben Cranston, and Charlie diPaolo—and their wives and she easily fit into their conversation, even the insider ribbing the men gave one another. The men were happy to see her accompanying Tom the next day for their regular match, their wives having long since given up on showing up, and she truly enjoyed the match itself and the competitive yet sweet side of Tommy she saw. She even accompanied them to their breakfast, frankly shocked at what the four ate. And how much.

From then, Eileen made a habit of attending club functions when she could and she and Tommy had dinner there once or twice a month. But she only infrequently went to one of his Sunday matches. Instead, she went to an AA meeting nearby. It was attended by a cross-section of northern Westchester society. A number of people from old-school families, bankers and lawyers and doctors who worked in the City or in White Plains, a number of stay-at-home moms and dads would could only get away while their spouses minded the kids, some guys in the trades, and more than a few who worked at tending the lawns of the others. It was a revolving cast, and Eileen became a regular. She found the broad range of people a comfort. All pretense left at the door. 

Tommy asked whether he should come to a meeting, but she told him that her meetings were closed, but she found an open meeting in nearby Armonk and they went to two meetings there so he could get a sense of what Eileen was going through. Otherwise, each Sunday he’d head out in his tennis whites with a kiss goodbye and she’d shortly drive to a church basement in Pleasantville.

Eileen no longer feared that this cascading happiness was destined to be lost. Instead she recognized that it was simply the state of the world that she was fortunate to occupy.

Moving On

But in one respect it was true that things could not be sustained. Too many comings, too many goings. On a Saturday in early March, Tom and Eileen drove down to Tuckahoe. There was not too much, so they with Kerry and Suzanne loaded up the Outback with Eileen’s stuff. A fair chunk of her wardrobe had already been brought to Chappaqua so she was able to fit the rest—all save a minimal cross-section of things she kept in Tuckahoe. The Subaru was being transferred too, Suzanne’s old Camry being more than enough for the girls, and after hugs and more, Tom in his Audi and Eileen in her Subaru headed north and before they had gotten to the parkway a mile away Kerry and Suzanne had begun the process of moving their things into the master and when Tom and Eileen were still a few exits from Chappaqua Kerry and Suzanne were half-lying on the bed in the master, legs draped over the side, and staring at the ceiling and thinking that they finally had a home.

The deal was that Suzanne, who was well paid at her new job—we’ll let her explain about that at a later time—would take over the mortgage payments although the house remained in Eileen’s name for the time being. Things were somewhat informal, but everyone felt that it was a bit too early to be doing all the necessary paperwork. Plus Eileen had a good chunk of equity in the place. Thus her daughters—and she’d long considered Suzanne a daughter—were essentially renting the place.

A Trip to the Country

Kerry was bored and a little bit jealous. It was early April, and Suze was in Dublin on a four-day work gig having something to do with Brexit. Suze loved her job and her job loved her and so she was tapped for this hardship assignment.

Kerry was bored and jealous that her Sweetie was in Ireland. She called Andi. It went to voicemail.

“Hey Doc. It’s your favorite little sister. Listen, Suze is in Dublin and I’m not. If you’re off, give me a call. Maybe we can do something. Oh, it’s Kerry in case you weren’t sure. Ciao.”

She got a text about an hour later.

{Andi: Poor baby. Stuck at hospital today. Tomorrow? When’s she coming back?}

A few minutes later: 

{Kerry: She’s back on Tuesday. Wanna go for a drive manana?}

{Andi: I’d love to. Can you pick me up?}

{Kerry: No problem. I need your address and a time. I’ll think of where we can go.}

So, on Sunday at 11 or so Kerry drove to upper Manhattan to pick up Andi and the two were heading north on the Taconic Parkway to Dutchess County and Millbrook, a little village there, for a stroll among its overpriced antique stores and galleries. The drive was the point, and Andi relished that chance to sit back while Kerry drove and provide an almost stream-of-consciousness description of her love life, and of the trials of being a hospital resident, the latter being of far greater interest to her chauffer, and Kerry enjoyed the strange closeness she felt from simply listening, with the occasional interruption of a snarky comment on her part, to wherever Andi was going. 

“How did you know?” It was Andi after a longer-than-usual pause, attempting to be matter-of-fact.

Kerry was waiting for this. “I liked guys, but one day I realized that I loved Suzanne.” Kerry tended to use her formal name when being particularly serious with someone about her Suze. “That was kind of it.”

“I tried it once.”

Kerry sucked in a breath and quickly glanced at her passenger.

“I wanted to know, you know? ‘Curious.’ She was a good enough friend in my dorm sophomore year and I forget who suggested it to whom but we were in the same boat. I mean, I didn’t have feelings for her, nor she for me. Just friends. And we wouldn’t have done anything if we had feelings because neither would risk destroying something. We went to her room one afternoon and after a few ‘you start’s and ‘no, you start’s I simply took my shirt off and took my bra off and waited until she did the same. I’d never stared at another woman’s boobs before and, well, they were nice. I touched one and then the other”—and the lawyer-to-be couldn’t resist teasing—“which one first” and receiving a “shut up’ in reply, Andi continued, “I touched both of her tits and both of her nipples, and, you know, they didn’t bite but it didn’t do anything for me and she said it didn’t do anything for her.”

Kerry let her go on. She was looking straight ahead.

“She leaned over and kissed me and the moment our tongues touched we both knew it wasn’t for either of us. . . . Although she did insist that I let her feel me up too. After which she said, ‘Nah, it ain’t working.’ And we laughed about the whole experience, although we never told anyone, or at least I never did, until now. It was one of those check-the-box things we both took care of.”

To which Kerry simply said, “It’s a relief to know I’m safe. You really aren’t my type anyway,” and after a slap and a shouted “I Want A Man” from Andi and a “don’t be gross” and a laugh from Kerry the conversation reverted to its early lightness.

When they sat at the diner with their cheeseburgers deluxe and milkshakes—they were on the road and didn’t care what they ate—Kerry took over the conversation and gave Doc the details of the story she had summarized on the station platform on Thanksgiving when they were waiting for Annie’s train. In the end, all Andi could say was, “I can’t believe the two of you were so fucking stubborn. You were, like, born to be together. But her leaving law school? Wow.” And that was all that was said about that and they spent an hour walking up and down the street, bumping against each other as they did, and stopping in stores, comparing notes of their similar upbringings—both having done the whole Westchester Catholic grammar/high school thing. Driving home, they were quieter than they had been heading north but they savored it too, as one or the other kept trying to find a decent radio station, much as Suzanne and Annie had done on their trip to New York.

The silence was broken when Andi suddenly said, “Should we?” and in a moment Kerry understood. “Why the hell not?” and five minutes later she got off the parkway and ten minutes after that the two were knocking at the door of the Chappaqua house afraid of what they might have stumbled upon. If they were disappointed that Andi’s father was fully clothed when he opened the door or that Kerry’s mother was fully clothed when they saw her in the living room they gave no sign of it, except for a slight giggle and shove the two children exchanged with one another.

So, the two girls walked right in and made themselves right at home. It was nice, the first impromptu dinner that just the four of them shared and it was another of those dinners in which no one recalled the specifics of what was said but they all recalled how pleasant it was. And after they left because Kerry had to drive Andi into the City, Tom and Eileen were amazed at how easily it had been and how, well, like sisters those two had become. And Eileen got a laugh out of Tommy with “Now if only your Andi can find a nice girl,” neither the wiser to what the older girl had said to the younger girl on the topic on the way to Millbrook. And after cleaning up Eileen and Tommy went upstairs to do what was part of their normal Sunday routine.

Las Trois Amigas

Suze found all this talk about Kerry’s gromance—or whatever the female equivalent of a “bromance” is—with Andi amusing. And, yes, Kerry had, with Andi’s consent, made Suze the wiser about the topic that came up on the way to Millbrook.

Suze thought the four’s dinner in Chappaqua sweet and understood that the fortuitousness of her being in Dublin was an opportunity for the parents and their daughters to bond. Plus now both she and Kerry could live the dating life vicariously through Andi. When they could, they headed into the City and picked Andi up in Washington Heights before going to the Village, East or West, or to SoHo and the three of them would wander and have a ball. And again the girlfriends rolled their eyes at Andi’s latest so-so-close-to-being-the-one conquest, all knowing or at least thinking that Andi was far from being in anything-but-conquest mode, still enjoying her love-‘em-and-leave-‘em life.

Both knew, though, that for all of her talk, Andi was a romantic and not nearly as “experienced” as she let on. It was a bit of surprise, then, when on one of these trips, Andi goaded the other two into entering a sex shop in the West Village. The younger two’s eyes nearly popped out when they were through the door, and Andi stifled a chuckle at their naiveté. Kerry and Suzanne found each new section more amazing than the last. Finally, Andi pulled them aside.

“Look ladies. I’ll stay with you or give you some quiet time, but for the love of god just have some fucking fun. And I mean that literally.”

And after Suze and Kerry looked and nodded at each other, Kerry said, “I think we’d both appreciate your, er, guidance—not that we’re saying you have a lot of experience—but this is all way too much for us to handle alone” and Suze slowly nodded as her hand tightened its grip on Kerry’s. Andi got between them, an arm around each of their shoulders and announced, “Ladies, let’s have some fun, shall we?”

Two hours later Andi put two plain bags into the Camry’s back seat—she was the designated neutral charged with carrying the loot—and they headed up the West Side to drop Andi off before Kerry and Suzanne were safely home. And it was, after a sterilization party, a fucking good night—during which “why was I not told this before?” and variants thereof were spoken several times. Exhausting and eye-opening. But a very good night.

And, no, Andi never did learn the specifics of the whirlwind she had sown but, yes, she did enjoy the thank-you gift Kerry and Suzanne ordered for her online, delivered straight to her place in Washington Heights.

The Tuckahoe Party

Things were going smoothly, especially for Eileen, when Kerry and Suzanne hosted a multi-family get-together in Tuckahoe in mid-May. It was bursting at the seams, everyone far more comfortable than they had been six months before on Thanksgiving: Kerry and Eileen; Suzanne, Mary, and Betty; and Tom, Andi, James, and Jennie. A local caterer provided the food and Eileen felt comfortable with the drink and after dinner they sat on all available surfaces in the living room. Matters were moving smoothly enough until Kerry interrupted.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” she began and all eyes turned to her. “Shortly after I met the love-of-my-life”—cheers all around—”I was told by her that she had discovered a long-lost Aunt.” More cheers. “I was also told that said Aunt was living a life in sin but,” and Kerry quelled the booing that ricocheted around the room, “but”—pause—”I was assured in no uncertain terms that she would, some day in the not-too-distant future, be made an honest woman. And I think, and I spoke to the love-of-my-life about this”—a toast to said love, blushing on a side chair—”and we have come to the conclusion that it has been long enough. And seeing as love-of-my-life and I are pretty smart, and we have the LSAT scores to prove it”—waving a piece of paper, an act that elicited a guffaw and a “what color crayons did you two use for that test?” from the doctor in the house—“I put it to you, Betty, when are you going to make an honest woman of my Aunt Mary?”

Putting aside that Kerry had never before referred to Mary as her Aunt, which Mary and Suzanne immediately appreciated, all eyes shifted to Betty.

Betty stared at her watch. Then at Mary.

“Babe, you got anything on for June 22 at 11?”

“Morning or evening?”

“Well, what happens in the evening depends on what happens in the morning. So, what do you say? I’ll make an honest woman out of you if you’ll do the same out of me.”

“In that case, my calendar is no longer clear. Twenty-second at eleven. AM and PM.”

And with that the room burst into cheers and Betty burst over to Mary and in the end Mary had a ring and a huge smile and shot a loving glare at her two nieces who had been so obviously co-conspirators to the proposal. They, and most of the room, knew that Mary had long been estranged from her brother, Suzanne’s father, and that Suzanne had largely been in the dark for many years about Mary’s very existence. All of that seemed so ridiculously far in the past.

The Chappaqua Spread

The house in Chappaqua was a light-yellow center-hall colonial with green shutters. It was far larger than Eileen’s house in Tuckahoe. It had five bedrooms and a large (and updated) kitchen with a screened-in porch and large patio. It sat on a one-acre lot and had deer fencing around large swaths of the garden.

The Chappaqua Spread was big. On a Saturday in mid-June it was the scene for a pre-wedding party. The same gang-of-nine that was in Tuckahoe before were joined by Betty’s two boys, Peter and Michael, and a number of Mary’s and Betty’s friends and colleagues enjoying a beautiful late-Spring dinner. Tom and Eileen effortlessly assumed the roles of hosts and they did it together as naturally as though they’d been doing it for years.

With the plates cleared and the catering folks standing to the side, the din of plates being cleaned in the kitchen temporarily quieted, Tom clicked his glass. He and Eileen stood.

“Tonight is about Mary and Betty,” he began. “It is about two people who found love but then it slipped through their fingers.” Most everyone in the room knew that Mary and Betty met and fell in love at NYU over twenty years earlier; that Betty had gotten married to Gerard and had two children before divorcing Gerald; and that she re-connected and re-fell-in-love—in fact it was continued to be in love—with Mary.

“They,” Tom continued, “were so fortunate, though, in getting a second chance at love and spending their lives together and perhaps”—he paused and looked at James—“loves ready to take the next step. They have not looked back.

“There are several stories of loves lost and loves recovered or of old loves cherished and new loves acquired in this room, and I am blessed to be part of one of those stories. I look around and I find it difficult, I’m afraid, to see you all as individuals. Instead, I see a wonderful collection of members of one large family, and I am blessed to be part of that family and with those friends.

“So, to Peter and Michael and Suzanne, and mostly to Mary and to Betty, we could not be happier for you.”

And before people had the chance to lift their glasses, Eileen added, “and by ‘we’ he means all of the members of this wonderful family.”

And the glasses were lifted and the drinks were drunk and the toast was had and the din of the clean-up in the kitchen resumed as the catering people brought out the desert.

Suzanne, though, noticed something that neither Tom nor Eileen said. Suzanne wore what had been Eileen’s engagement ring; Kerry had it resized for Suzanne’s finger. Suzanne saw that another ring was where hers had once been. She nudged the love-of-her-life and pointed. Kerry’s eyes, usually so perceptive, had failed her. They were now bulging as if to make up for lost time.

Kerry shot up, and the chair on which she was sitting just a moment before crashed to the floor, drawing everyone’s attention. Evading a caterer pouring coffee, barely, she rushed up to her Mom and draped her arms around the shoulders. Now everyone’s eyes had shifted from the upended chair to the crash of the two women. Quiet reigned. And so everyone heard Kerry’s whisper, “what have you done with the lonely woman who is my Mom?”

Eileen pulled away. She was red. “Mary. Betty. I’m so sorry. This is your night. When Tommy asked and I said yes I should have waited. But . . .” at which point Betty interrupted.

“You and Tom have been so good to us. Don’t think for a moment that anything that makes the two of you happy could do anything for us other than enhance our love for you guys. And as Tom just said about us, we couldn’t be happier for you.” And then raising her glass, and waiting for Kerry to rush back to get hers, she said, “to Tom and Eileen” and everyone echoed her and even the catering folks applauded.

Driving home down the parkway, Kerry spent an inordinate amount of time defending her failure to have noticed the rock on her Mom’s finger. In fairness to her, it only appeared after dinner was done and before Tom gave his toast. But it didn’t seem right that Suze had noticed it and she hadn’t.

“Big picture, love. Big picture,” Suze repeated.

“I know. Two years ago, you had a brother you never saw and I had no one I ever saw. Now we have, what, Eric”—Suzanne’s brother—”Peter, Michael, Andrea, James, Jennie”—”I think those two’ll be permanent pretty soon,” Suze interjected; “So do I,” Kerry agreed and Suzanne added, “Did you notice Tom’s not-too-subtle prod?” and Kerry said she did. Kerry was focused on driving but the gears in her head were moving.

“I have two more Moms and you have three—Mary, Betty, and my Mom—and I have a father. It’s like we’re in some reality show with a bunch of Catholics and Mormons who end up with all these brothers and sisters and parents. It’s kind of cool.” For a while neither had considered Suze’s actual mother and father as part of their family.

Kerry’s phone rang, and Suzanne answered.

“Hi Mom”—she loved saying that—”She’s driving. . . . She understands. Tell her not to be mad that I was the one who figured it out. . . . Yeah, she won’t let it go. . . . I know, her being Kerry. . . . I love her too. She’s tightening her grip on the steering wheel so I’d better get off. Is it okay if she calls,” Suze looked to see where they were “in about 20 minutes?” Kerry nodded. “OK. As soon as we get in. . . . We both love you too and we’re both so happy for you both. . . . No, I’m sure Mary and Betty are fine with how it got out. . . . Bye.”

“That was Mom.”

Kerry looked over, “it had better have been,” and Suzanne reached over to touch Kerry’s hand for a second—Kerry liked to have both hands on the wheel but had reached over—and then sat quietly looking out into the darkness, the two of them absorbing a Brandi Carlile song on WFUV.

With the guests and caterer gone and their home now otherwise empty, Tom and Eileen did as they usually did on their Saturday nights. They sat on either end of the sofa, she with a book, him with his tablet. Her legs were inside of his and against the sofa’s back and the couple read till Eileen’s phone rang and she took the call, from Kerry, in her bedroom where she could lie back and talk to her daughter. She was amazed that like some astronomical phenomenon the more she loved her fiancé, the more she loved her daughter, that the total of all her loves, and she was thankful for how many new loves she acquired over the prior two years, was so much more than the sum of them individually. And she knew the same was said for Tommy and his children and for Kerry and the love-of-her-life.

So, she was a bit dreamy on this call and it meant so much to just talk to and with her daughter on this night. Her apology for not telling Kerry before she went public with the ring was batted aside.

“Mom, when I gave Suze your old ring it meant the world to me that she put it on immediately and I know Tom ls the same about you and his ring.”

Eileen took a moment to catch her breath. “Baby, are you happy for me? That’s all I need to know.”

“Yes.”

Pause.

“You are the happy mother I never had.”

She laughed. “Is Suzanne there?”

“Yes, why?”

“When we get off, tell her to give you a slap for me for that ‘lonely woman’ remark when we’re through, although I have to admit that it’s true.”

They spoke briefly after that about whether there were specifics yet—there were not—and after a reiteration about how pleased everyone was, they wished each other, and each other’s loves, good night

When Eileen returned to the living room, Tommy was finishing up his own call with his own daughter and when they compared notes they saw that the conversations were pretty much identical.

She went back to her book and he to his tablet. After five minutes, though, their concentrations were shot and the book and the tablet were closed, the lights were turned off, and Eileen and Tom went to bed.