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This time the trouble I got myself into wasn't Jolene's fault. Not that she helped matters any, but at least she wasn't the cause. Edie was. Or rather, Edie's husband.
Edie Whatley is my coworker at The News: the voice of Amhearst and Chester County, where she is editor of the family page and a features writer. I'm a general reporter and features writer.
"Edie," I called across the aisle that separated my desk from her desk in the newsroom. "Are we doing a house this week for the Great Homes of Chester County series? Can I do the ironmonger's mansion at Hibernia Park?" I thought of the big orange-colored home set on the knoll above the gently sloping lawn. It would be fun to write about it and its history. Since I'd moved to eastern Pennsylvania several months ago, I'd found local facts and trivia fascinating.
There was no response from Edie. In fact, she didn't seem to hear me at all.
"Edie!" I all but shouted.
I frowned at her. Edie was the kindest and most thoughtful of people. It wasn't like her not to answer, especially since she was doing nothing but stare at her CRT screen.
Then spoke Jolene, Queen of Tact, with her usual insight and understanding into the difficulties of life. "Edie, what in the world's the matter with you? You've been a mess all day. Get a grip, woman." She scowled at Edie, her beautiful face contorted with frustration.
"Jolene!" I was appalled not only at her words but her acid tone. Still, I had to admit that she got Edie's attention. Edie sat wide-eyed and blinking, skewered by Jolene's accusing gaze.
"Spill it," Jolene demanded. "We know something's wrong. What is it? Is it Randy?" Randy was Edie's fifteen-year-old son whose life journey kept all of us glued for the next painful installment. Talk about As the World Turns.
"Randy's fine," Edie said.
Jolene and I looked at each other, then back at Edie.
"He is?" I said with more disbelief than was probably good for our friendship.
"Well," she hedged. "Probably fine is too strong a word, but he's not bad."
"He's not?" Jolene's surprise was equally obvious.
Edie's face scrunched momentarily in pain as she understood what we had inadvertently revealed about our opinions of her son. Then she got huffy Edie-style. "I said he's fine."
"Well, if it's not Randy," Jolene continued to probe, unabashed at having hurt Edie, "then what's wrong? Is it Tom?"
Edie flinched and smiled brightly. "Tom?" False little laugh. "Of course not. He's fine. What could possibly be wrong with him?"
I frowned. A good question. What could possibly be wrong with Tom? He and Edie were the perfect couple. Being around them was instant tooth decay due to the sweetness of their relationship. I don't mean just lovey, which I happen to think is good, or considerate, which I happen to think is necessary. It was the touching, the patting, the unconscious back rubbing and collar adjusting. Quite simply, Tom and Edie doted on each other and didn't care who knew.
Tom was Edie's second husband, and therein lay part of Randy's problems. He didn't like his stepfather.
Not that Tom should take that lack of appreciation personally. Randy wouldn't have liked any stepfather. In fact, Randy didn't like any adults as far as I could see. He also didn't like many kids, and I strongly suspected he didn't care much for himself either.
But Tom took the brunt of all the boy's angst, anxiety, and anger. More than once, Edie had come to work teary-eyed, only to tell Jolene and me about Randy's latest verbal abuse and disobedience.
I'd seen a picture of Randy's original father once. He was a giant of a man, all muscles and good looks, broad shoulders and charming smiles. He was Hulk Hogan with short hair, an amiable manner, and a dress shirt, a Certified Financial Planner who over the years had made a mint in the stock market both for himself and his clients. Randy resembled his father in size and coloring, a fact that gave him immense pride.
Tom on the other hand was a slight man, five feet eight inches in his hiking boots, gentle, pleasant, and balding. Typical of a teen, Randy looked at Tom's unprepossessing appearance and refused to think of him as anything but a wimp.
"He's a car salesman!" Randy would mock, as if automotive retail was on a par with prostitution. "Give me a break!"
I looked at Randy's mother as she sagged at her desk. She did indeed look upset, unsettled in spite of Randy doing "not bad" and Tom being fine.
"Is Tom sick?" I asked Edie. Surely something like a major illness would explain her melancholy.
Edie shook her head. "Not that I know of."
Not yes or no. Not that I know of. What an unusual answer.
I nodded. "Good." I had another thought. "He didn't lose his job or anything, did he?"
Edie shook her head quickly, actually smiling at the thought of Tom losing his job. "Are you serious? Hamblin Motors would fall apart without him."
I reached out and pulled a discolored leaf from the philodendron that sat on the edge of my desk. I wagged it in front of Jolene to show her she'd missed it when she did her daily Gertie the Gardener check on all the office greenery. "That's true about Hamblin's," I agreed. Even I, the relative newcomer to Amhearst, knew that Tom was Hamblin's mainstay. Of course, my major source for this information was Edie, and I recognized that she was a wee bit prejudiced.
"He's the best salesman they have," Edie said, unconsciously straightening her back with pride. "He just won a trip for two to Hawaii because of his winter doldrums sales. Only ten prizes were awarded in the whole country, and he won one."