A PERIODIC TREAT:
He escaped the office that afternoon and drove to his favorite ice cream store. His secretary, Janice, knew where he was going and said: "Enjoy yourself!" as he left the office.
"We're okay here?" he asked.
"Everything running like the proverbial Swiss watch," Janice said.
"Ice cream for you?" he asked.
"Oh, not sure," she said. "Don't like to look in the mirror as it is!"
"Oh, come on," he wheedled; "Ray's not complaining is he?" he said.
"Well, no, but I like to keep a watch!" she said.
It was a sign of the kind of relationship that they'd achieved over the 8 years or so that they worked together that they were so comfortable with each other.
"Janice, as usual, you're gorgeous!" he said, and she grinned at him.
"So, ice cream!" he said finally.
"Yes, please, chocolate!" she answered.
"You've got it!" he said, and sailed out of the office.
Jim Talbot habitually went back to the Friendly's in his old neighborhood. He loved the area and drew peace from being there now and again.
His manufacturing company had branches in a number of states but he chose to live here in the home town. There were so many nooks and crannies that held positive memories for him.
The whole area was replete with thoughts of his wonderful Mom and Dad, of being a family and gradually being prepared by his father, to take over the business. He did that and worked to morph the business into businesses but he never let that success alienate him from the home place.
Just going back to the area for lunch and an ice cream were great joys for him. His memories were gathered here, both good and bad. It was here that his Mom and Dad were buried along with his brother Alan, who had died so many years ago of a swimming accident. That painful memory was ever a part of his mind, no matter how much time had elapsed.
But Jim Talbot, CEO and guiding light of Talbot Industries was, in essence, a home town boy, born and bread, and he loved living here.
He had settled on a house in town, once he had made his decision to live here and run the company from the local facility. It was large and lovely, though it was only him and his faithful lab Willie.
Over the years, he'd employed a local woman, Mrs. Audry Worth, to be his housekeeper and that arrangement worked extremely well for him and Mrs Worth.
There had been a woman in the picture, a number of years ago but it had gone wrong, for reasons that Jim never was able to completely understand, though he had some suspicions. There certainly was something in life or at least in the life that he was living that Jennifer had wanted and missed, eventually enough to simply walk away, telling him that it wouldn't work between them.
He hadn't given a huge amount of attention after that to 'the romance thing', as he called it, when talking to Janice, as he did now and then. For him, for Jim Talbot, it was the business, living in this wonderful home town and his large house with Mrs Worth and Willie.
He payed attention to his exercising, since he had the example of his Dad and the heart problems that eventually took his Dad from them. He knew that he bore similar risks also and tried to be careful about his health, his diet and things like that.
At the age of 45, Jim was therefore in good shape, despite the occasional ice cream from the Friendly's down in the old neighborhood.
But going there was such an iconic event for him. He loved it and used it, time and again, to simply surround himself with the peace of the place.
He was sitting and enjoying his ice cream. The Friendly's wasn't crowded that afternoon at all. He almost had the place to himself.
He was distracted for a moment but then looked up as the door opened and an elderly woman shuffled into the place.
He was riveted to the sight of her immediately. He knew her.
In the old neighborhood, when he was growing up, that woman, they all called her Aunt Irene, was the local personality. She employed them to help around her grounds and was the champion of every one of the rag-tag gang of kids that lived in the neighborhood and ran wild around the area during the summer months.
Aunt Irene was the peace maker; she was the arbitrator of disputes; she was the furnisher of goodies; she was the very spirit of the neighborhood.
And here she was, looking older, much older, and frail, wandering into the Friendly's.
He watched for a few seconds, when she ordered ice cream and then he realized that she had no purse. She had no money. She looked confused, when the counter girl asked for the payment for the ice cream.
Aunt Irene was actually, Irene Bascomb. She was living with her niece, who'd promised her Momma, before that wonderful woman's death, that she'd take care of Irene, and she made the promise a reality.
These days Irene was fighting the dementia. It might have been Alzheimer's or not but she faded in and out of that kind of murky world, at times not knowing what was happening at all.
She lived with her niece, Jeannie Wentz and was very well cared for but now and then, not very often, only now and then, she slipped out and went off to the Friendly's. She knew the way and would make the trip, when she was feeling herself but that state of mind came and went with Irene and as often as not, she would lose her perspective in the midst of her journey to the Friendly's. That's what was happening today. She had gotten out and was dressed only in a house coat with a slip showing at the bottom of the house coat, and fuzzy slippers.
Jim went to the counter immediately: "Aunt Irene!" he said, and she turned to him, though her glance told him that her mind was wandering someplace and not really there.
"Yes?" she said.
"It's me," he said, "Jim Talbot."
The name was enough to shake her memory and she said: "Yes, yes, Jimmie Talbot! One of my boys from the neighborhood!"
"Yes," he said, "Lovely to see you, Auntie!"
"Yes," she answered.
He turned to the counter girl then and paid for Aunt Irene's ice cream and took her by the elbow to where he'd been sitting and having his own treat.
"How nice to see you!" he said. "It's been years."
"Yes, honey," she said, "It has but you're one of my boys! I know that!"
She seemed to fade then again. He recognized it happening and simply encouraged her to have her ice cream.
Then there was a voice from the door: "Aunt Irene!"
Jim looked up and saw that a lovely, younger woman was the one who was calling Irene's name.
"Oh, Aunt Irene!" the woman, now approaching their table, said. "I didn't know that you got out. I was so worried, love."
The woman had tears now on her cheeks, as she bent over Irene and kissed her cheek.
"I'm only sitting here," Irene said, fairly lucid again, "Having my ice cream with one of my boys."
Jim stood up and said: "Yes, I'm Jim Talbot; I grew up in the old neighborhood and was one of your Aunt Irene's gang."
Jeannie understood immediately.
"Thank you for being with her," she said softly, as Irene continued to have her treat, in her own world again.
"Won't you please sit, um..." he said.
"Oh, It's Jeannie," she said, "Jeannie Wentz."
"Hi, Jeannie Wentz," Jim said, taking the hand that she offered. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Yes," Jeannie said, "I'm her, I'm Aunt Irene's niece."
"Oh, yes," he said smiling at her, "I had at least heard that there were beauties in the family."
Jeannie smiled and blushed.
"Sorry for making you blush," he said, "I'll mind my manners."
"They're fine!" she said.
"How did you come across Aunt Irene?" Jeannie asked.
"I was sitting here and having a treat, when I saw her come in. I recognized her right away and realized that she came without a purse or anything. I simply went and bought her the ice cream and was going to try to find out where she lived, when you came to the rescue, like the cavalry in the movies."
She grinned at him and giggled.
"He so handsome this one!" Irene said then and both Jeannie and Jim laughed.
"One of my boys from the neighborhood," Irene went on, a bit more lucid at this point.
"Yes, I am," Jim said, "You were the heart and soul of that neighborhood!"
"Thank you, dear!" Irene said and then turning to Jeannie said: "Shall we go home, Ramona?"
Jim just gave Jeannie a questioning look, as Irene finished her treat, having reverted to her own world then again.
"That was my Mom, her sister," Jeannie explained. "When she's like this, she constantly takes me for my Mom, Ramona."
"I see," he said. "A natural kind of association."
"Well," Jeannie said, in a tone that showed that she was reluctant to leave, "I have to get her home. Thank you so much for taking care of her, when she was wandering about."
"My pleasure!" he said. "It's a small bit of repayment for the many times that she took care of me in those days."
"I'd like to hear about that sometime!" she said, and blushed at the implication of her statement.
But he said immediately: "That would be lovely, and I'd love to be able to visit her now and again, after finding her this way."
The all stood up, and Jeannie helped her Aunt Irene to her feet.
"May I call?" he asked.
She smiled and said a quick 'yes'; that would be fine.
.... There is more of this story ...