Though it didn't come easy, Clara side-stepped loneliness after Tom died. Friends and family filled the house through the funeral week and the kids stayed close clearing up the legal stuff. Gradually, their jobs, families, and schedules kept them busy. Reality set in and a deafening quiet settled around Clara.
The couples she and Tom had enjoyed for years evaporated. Clara smiled remembering how the women in those marriages became suspicious of her, as if she would have any of their husbands. The nights were bad, what with the silence and the empty bed. She and Tom were best friends since high school. She needed more than fifty-two years. They didn't stop talking even in the sick time but never got it all said.
Those five years of Tom's sickness kept her tied at home so she mostly worshipped on the back porch. Well, after she accepted things and started speaking to God again. She loved fellowshipping with other believers and the hustle-bustle of church life, so she started back to church soon after the funeral. Joining the women’s Bible class and teaching 6th grade Sunday school filled her days. She learned to knit for something to do in the evenings but when the kids gave her a computer, knitting took second place. Even though she built a good life, Clara always missed Tom. Fortunately, she could count on Doris.
Doris and Sam had stayed when the other married friends went into hiding. Sam didn't complain when Doris went on shopping trips with Clara, leaving him to fend for himself. Doris and Clara learned to surf-the-net together and Sam repaired things for Clara that Tom used to do.
Doris said, “Clara and I have to be friends; we know where the bones are buried.” You learn a lot through forty years of friendship.
Then cancer struck Doris and Clara’s world reeled.
During her last days, Doris said, “Now, Clara, don't you let Sam and the girls grieve too long.”
The night she slipped into a coma, Doris whispered, “I get to see Jesus first.”
Clara joined friends in the kitchen while Sam, the girls, and grandkids said their goodbyes. She didn't have time to dwell on her empty life right now. Doris’ family needed her.
One day, Pastor John said, “It's been five years since Doris died. Let’s throw a surprise celebration for Sam’s 85th birthday. Clara, you're a family friend; you head things up.”
She couldn't believe it had been five years. Laughing, she thought, 'Sneaky girl, Doris. You're sitting at the feet of our Lord and I'm doing the work. But, Girl Friend, my old bones hurt today. Sure hope I join you soon.' Arthritis or not, she got busy with plans for Sam’s party.
The birthday guy certainly made it hard for her to pull off a surprise. His daughters asked Clara to make the birthday poster and she had photographs of Sam’s family scattered everywhere the day he stopped by, unexpectedly, to fix her ceiling fan. Then, the day of the party, she had the cake almost frosted when he dropped off the new monitor for her computer. 'Sam! Call first!' she thought. Smiling outwardly, she led him away from the kitchen and ignored his raised eyebrows when she didn’t offer him a cup of coffee. Men!
However, she and the committee pulled it off and Sam stood, mouth open, at a loss for words. Pastor said, “That’s a first for Sam!”
While young folks served cake, Sam regained his composure. “Thank you, Clara. This is the first time I've ever been surprised.” He pulled her into his arms.
Her cheeks got hot. 'Clara! Get hold of yourself,' she thought.
Hugging him back lightly, she said, “I loved every sneaky minute, Sam.”
He grinned and whispered. “Did you love it enough to elope with me?”
“Sam!” She pulled back and looked directly into his eyes. “Oh dear,” she said. His eyes were dancing but serious, and the deepest blue she had ever seen.
“Clara, my dear friend, I’ve come to love you deeply. Will you marry me?”
“But, Sam. Uh, well… I'm 80 years old!”
“Is that a yes? There's no time for maybe.”
Whispers had spread through the hall and the guests broke into wild applause. Clara’s kids and Sam’s lead the cheers.
Sam’s blue eyes held Clara’s. Finally she laughed and put her arms around his neck, tightly.
“No, Sam. It’s 'absolutely!’ ”
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