Who's Who
The Story of Connie Poirier

Connie Poirier was thirteen when she discovered the stunning fact that her father was wrong. Totally, completely, unequivocally wrong. Not on some small unimportant detail, either. He had erred in the belief that had shadowed her childhood; that it was his wife's fault that Connie wasn't a boy.

When his first wife died, leaving him with five half-grown daughters, Emil Poirier had married a woman twenty years younger than himself, hoping that a more youthful woman might give him the sons he wanted. But the only child Lucille bore him, four years after their marriage, was also a girl.

Although he was never actually unkind to her, Connie knew from a very early age that she had deeply disappointed her father by being born with the wrong set of equipment. And always, he had blamed her mother. "See there," he would eye the neighbour's wife with a martyred sigh, "Four sturdy sons, she gave her husband. Now that's a woman!"

Her mother's face always went still when he said it. And Connie would burn inside with the knowledge of her failure.

But here in her Biology textbook were words which seemed to her stunned gaze to be written in letters of fire: WHETHER A BABY WILL BE A BOY OR A GIRL IS DETERMINED BY CHROMOSOMES IN THE FATHER'S SPERM.

The father! It was Papa who had failed the family name, not his wives. And not her. It wasn't her fault if she wasn't a boy, it was his. Anger boiled up in her, mixed with an odd twinge of panic. Her father's word had always been law in their home, his voice the one to make the final decision on all things. If there was one thing she had assumed to be a rock-solid certainty in life, it was that Papa would always know what should be done, would always have the right answer. Now - she had the feeling that somehow the ground had shifted under her and the world was suddenly very insecure.

Connie couldn't wait to rush home and tell her mother the astonishing truth. Lucille slanted her an odd look over the pan of cookies she was taking from the oven, and shrugged. "I know. What of it?"

"You know? But - but he always says it is your fault. That's unfair!"

Her mother smiled, her mouth twisting a little. "Well, it is not fair either that Papa has no son. What would you have me do, fling it in his face that he is not enough of a man to sire even one boy? What good would it do to hurt him so?"

"But - " Connie fumbled for the words to express her indignation. "Why should you take the blame?"

"Why not? I can bear it, and he could not." Her mother lifted the cookies from the pan with practised ease. "It is not easy being a man. He must work, provide for his family, carry heavy responsibilities." Lucille's smile flashed, quick and surprisingly lovely. "The least his wife can do is help him whatever ways she can. Even if that means taking a little undeserved blame, to spare his pride."

"Well, I don't think it is right." Connie grabbed a cookie and bit into it, hard.

"You will understand better when you are older." Her mother opened the fridge, poured out a glass of milk and set it on the table in front of her daughter. "You think your Papa is big, strong, too tough to be hurt. But men can be amazingly helpless creatures. We women, we are the stronger ones, here." She tapped her head. "So we take care of the men. Humour them, when we must."

That conversation marked an epiphany for Connie, her first glimpse of the complexity and frequent lack of logic in relationships between men and women. Being a straightforward and orderly child by nature, she didn't much like the idea. Once again, grown-ups had managed to confuse something that should be quite simple. Her generation, she decided, would manage things better.

By the time Connie left her small, conservative hometown in Quebec to attend university, she was a confirmed and outspoken feminist. The fact that her father detested her views only solidified her opinion that they were right. Overbearing, chauvinistic, a bullying patriarch - the old man was a relic of the past, a pathetic residue of bloated male privilege. The fact that he agreed to pay for her university and gave her a long, worried hug when she left home unsettled her opinions a little. But probably, she decided as the bus rumbled on toward Toronto, he was just glad to get rid of her. Nothing she did or said had ever pleased him. Not even being born.

Her first few days in Toronto scared the wits out of 20-year old Connie. The university alone was bigger than her entire home town. It was a relief when her new roommate in residence turned out to be the pleasant, long-haired girl she had chatted with in the line-up for course registration and instantly recognized as a kindred spirit. It wasn't long until she and Elly Richards had become fast friends, bonded together by the stresses of Orientation Week.

Elly was friendly and good-natured and a bit of a ham. Having grown up in Vancouver, she wasn't intimidated by the size of Toronto, and her often ironic sense of humour helped make the strangeness of the big campus seem more entertaining than threatening. They got along well as roommates, and remained close even after Elly found a steady boyfriend, John Patterson, half-way through their first year. A born matchmaker, Elly was eager to introduce her roommate to John's friends and find dates for her, too. But Connie brushed off her efforts. She wasn't interested in dating. She was determined to have her own career, be self-sufficient, and never, ever be dependent on a man for anything. Or so she told herself. There were times, however, as she watched Elly and John's relationship deepen, that she wasn't so certain.

When Elly quit university at the end of second year to marry John and support him through his final year of dentistry, it hardened Connie's conviction that men were a handicap. She was glad to do her part in the wedding as Elly's maid of honour, but silently disapproved her friend's decision to sacrifice her own career to John's.

It was partly in reaction to Elly's decision that Connie decided to switch from general Sciences to some form of medical training and invade a traditionally male domain. After careful consideration, she chose radiology. In 1974, she graduated as a registered Radiology Technician.

Connie's first job was at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. It was there that she knew beyond doubt that she had made the right career choice. She loved the scientific rigour of radiology, the precision and care needed to produce good, clear x-rays. It was deeply satisfying, too, to know the value of her work, to see every day how it helped doctors to confirm diagnoses, expose hidden killers, and find ways to relieve the suffering of the children who came from all over Canada for treatment. For the first time in her life, she felt truly needed, an equal with the men she worked alongside.

There was more yet she could do to help bring greater fairness to a troubled world. When a doctor she knew asked her to join a medical mission going to South America to offer free care in the neediest regions, Connie signed up without hesitation.

Their first clinic was set up in Guaranda, Ecuador, one of the neediest regions in SA. The team of thirty workers - doctors, nurses, technicians, pharmacists and student volunteers - was supported by doctors from Latin America who provided translation and cultural liaison while swapping medical expertise with their Canadian counterparts. One of these regional team members was Dr. Pablo DaSilva, a young doctor from Brazil who had trained in the U.S.

Tall and handsome, Pablo charmed Connie with his old-world courtesy, irrepressible sense of humour and deep compassion for the people they cared for each day. Connie never quite knew how the word spread about the clinic, when few people had radios or TV in the poverty-ridden countryside. But every morning at sun-up, the team would find a long line of people waiting for them in a silent, stoic parade of suffering at the school huts and temporary shelters being used for the clinics. There were patients who had walked for miles, many carrying babies or elderly relatives. Others were brought in hammocks slung between the shoulders of friends. The work was constant, challenging and often heart-breaking. There was no doubt how very badly the clinic was needed.

It was Pablo who helped Connie to set up her equipment and her routine, and reassured her through the initial panic at the task she had taken on. It tested every bit of her skill and ingenuity to produce decent x-rays in conditions which, in Canada, would have been considered impossible. She learned to read them, to save the doctors time, and became expert at deciphering the grey-and-white patterns with pinpoint accuracy. Many of the people they treated would not have the chance to see a doctor again for years. The diagnosis and treatment had to be right the first time.

Despite the enormous pressure on all the doctors, Pablo stole time from his own work to help her. He provided advice, encouragement, jokes, a strong back to manhandle her equipment around, and the occasional hug to help her along.

It wasn't long before the hugs became more than occasional. When the team moved to its second camp, Pablo and Connie claimed a hut just for the two of them.

The move created some consternation in the medical team. Not only was there disapproval on moral grounds, but intimacy among members could cause serious problems in the tight-knit group. Connie didn't care. She and Pablo were deeply, passionately committed to one another. Nothing else mattered. Throughout the rest of the mission, the long days of work felt easy, the endless problems became mere irritants, as the joy of being so wonderfully loved buoyed her through it all.

It was shortly after they moved to the last camp that Connie realized she was pregnant. Pablo became quiet at the news. Then, with sudden conviction, he assured her he wanted to marry her and be a good father to their child. His commitment to the medical mission was to end two months after hers. As soon as it was done, he would join her in Canada for their wedding.

His first letter to his darling "Coneja" was full of loving messages and plans for coming to Canada. His second told her that his term with the medical mission was being extended. Gradually, the letters became less frequent, more preoccupied with the importance of the work he was doing. Connie was at first impatient with his delayed arrival, then frightened. When her last letter was returned marked "address unknown", she gave in to her sorrow, dried her tears, and resigned herself to raising their child alone.

In her ninth month of pregnancy, Connie left her job and went home to her mother, now a widow. Mrs. Poirier reluctantly took her in. Connie had expected censure, but hoped for love and support, too.

"Well, Miss Women's-Lib. You were so much smarter than me, weren't you? You would never need a man to take care of you. That worked out, didn't it? Now you don't have a man to take care of you or your baby, either."

With her savings depleted, Connie had little choice but to bite her tongue and stay in Quebec until the baby's birth. She had her son in the tiny local hospital, in a room overlooking the St. Lawrence river.

"I'm naming him Lawrence." She gazed out the window at the broad sweep of the river as it flowed away into the distance. "It's a strong name, and a dignified one." Connie sighed as she gazed down at the warm bundle in her arms. "We're going to need all the strength and dignity we can find, you and I."

Knowing that her mother was dreading the embarrassing possibility that her daughter and grandson would stay indefinitely, Connie began to make plans to return to Ontario. She wasn't quite sure how she would manage, but she could not stay any longer in a house where her beautiful dark-haired baby boy was considered a disgrace.

"No, it is best you not stay here. But where will you go?" Her mother moved morosely around her tidy kitchen. "I've been thinking. Your father left me well off, with more than I need. And even though you broke his heart, he still cared for you. He would not want you to go hungry. Perhaps I could give you your inheritance early - ."

Connie had little choice but to accept charity. For Lawrence's sake, she agreed to accept her share of the inheritance. Her next step was to find a job, somewhere in a smaller town where she would feel comfortable raising a child.

Connie had deliberately dropped all contact with friends from her previous life, unable to tolerate their pity or disapproval. But when her ex-roommate Elly Patterson, worried about her friend's long silence, tracked her down at her mother's house and demanded to know what was up, Connie gave in to her overwhelming need for a sympathetic ear.

"Connie! That's great." Her voice rang cheerily through the phone. "Not about Pablo, I mean. .I'm so thrilled that you have a baby boy, just like we do. He sounds darling. I'd love to see him and swap new-mommy stories with you. Why don't you come visit us? We can move Michael into our room for a few days and free up the other bedroom for you and Lawrence."

Until that moment, Connie hadn't realized how desperately she had wanted someone to be glad about her baby. She accepted the invitation with aching gratitude.

By the time she arrived in Milborough, John had contacted a doctor he knew at the local hospital and wangled an interview for her. She accepted the job she was offered, and started her search for a home. Before her weeks' visit was up, she had placed an offer on a small but comfortable house in Sharon Park Drive.

Although her mother bought the house for her, calling it her inheritance, Connie stubbornly sent a rent cheque back to Quebec every month. It was a matter of pride, mostly, to prove she could still be independent. But it also gave her an excuse to keep in touch with her mother. Her half-sisters had been too much older for friendship and she had lost track of them. Connie's mother was the only relative she had left.

Despite John and Elly's friendship, it was lonely and often frightening being a single mother. Connie found, too, that liberated woman or not, her mother's criticisms had cut deep. If she married, the shame of Lawrence's illegitimacy would be wiped out, and she would have a companion to share all the joys and worries of parenthood. The thought haunted her. But what man would want a woman with a small baby?

When she realized that one of her co-workers, Peter Landry, was interested in her, it seemed like the answer to her prayers. Pete was a divorcee, seven years older than she was, a handsome man and a sharp dresser with an air of sleek confidence about him. He was attentive, always opening doors for her, helping her on with her coat and generally displaying an old-fashioned chivalry that was irresistibly flattering to a woman in her insecure state. She wasn't in love with him, but after the anguish of loving and losing Pablo, that seemed like a plus. Her mother liked him, too. It only occurred to Connie afterward that this should have been a warning.

Six months after their first date, Connie and Pete married. Two years later, they divorced. In her eagerness for marriage, Connie hadn't let herself see Pete as he really was, until it was too late. His traditional attitudes went much further than she could accept. He made all the decisions, insisted his wife not work, was jealous of any man she spoke to, and once they were married, no longer hid his disapproval of the child she had borne out of wedlock. It was a shock to realize she had married a younger version of her father. In fact, he was worse, for Pete had a self-centred vanity that her father would have scorned.

The divorce was a miserable business. Pete did his best to load all the blame of the break-up onto her, and in her unhappy state, Connie more than half believed him. Afterward, she felt more lonely and insecure than ever. When the house next door came up for sale, she was quick to phone Elly and convince the Pattersons to buy it. How helpful it was to have a friend nearby.

When the first pain of the ugly divorce had eased a little, Connie gave herself a stern lecture. She was strong and smart, and could succeed at being both a good mother and a successful career woman. Above all else, she would not allow the betrayals she had suffered to embitter her. That was just another way to let men control her life. In a mood of defiance, she took back her maiden name, began to date again with an almost desperate eagerness, and banished all mention of Pablo or Pete from her conversation.

At times when the trials of single parenting were heavy and self-pity threatened to overwhelm her, she reminded herself of the good things in her life. Her job was rewarding and interesting, with new and exciting advancements in medical imaging happening every year. She had a nice house, good friends, and a more comfortable existence than far too many people in the world. Best of all, she had Lawrence.

A thoughtful, sweet-natured child, Connie's son was the joy of her life. Acutely attuned to her moods, he often surprised her with a perception far too mature for his years. When he was small, he once asked her why he didn't have a daddy like other kids. She explained as honestly as she could. He never asked again. She often wondered what he had heard in her answer that closed the door so tightly on any further questions. There was a great deal of quiet strength in Lawrence, but sometimes she caught a glimpse of a sensitivity that left her wondering just how much hurt he was concealing.

She continued to date, but without much success. It exasperated her that she was so expert in spotting minute signs of pathology in an x-ray image, and yet so blind when it came to seeing the signs of trouble in men. Among her many mistakes was falling for Elly's brother Phil, an easy-going musician who was a fun, considerate companion for a few dates but made it clear he had no intention of settling down any time soon. Then came Ted, handsome and successful in his medical practise, who seemed wonderful until they had been together long enough for her to assume they were a couple. The minute that sank in, Ted was back-pedalling fast, denying anything serious in their relationship. Like Pete, she discovered to her sorrow, he was expert in making every problem her fault.

On the rebound, after her affair with Ted collapsed in humiliating ruins, she picked up again with Phil. That soon fizzled. When she found herself back with Ted, and once again being dumped, she decided it was time to face hard reality. It wasn't only she who hurt every time a man came and went in her life, Lawrence suffered, too. For both of their sakes, she had to realize that she was simply not going to find Mr. Right". Her fulfilment would have to come from her career and son, and both were too important to take second place to her romantic fantasy.

The decision made, she felt the need to make a clean break. When she was offered a job in northern Ontario that meant a major step up for her, she accepted immediately.

The move to the northern city of Thunder Bay revitalized Connie. Her job was challenging and satisfying. Knowing she could handle her increased responsibilities renewed her self-confidence. Working in a hospital had made her always conscientious about her health, but now she began to exercise in earnest.

It was both traumatic and a wonderful boon to her bruised self-esteem when Ted showed up in Thunder Bay without warning and begged her to return to him. She braced herself to resist, but found to her surprise that it wasn't necessary anymore. Whatever hold he had over her was gone for good. She saw him now just as he was, a self-centered, rather pathetic momma's boy who might never really grow up. It gave her great pleasure to turn him down flat.

Although Connie was rejuvenated by the move, Lawrence was less enthusiastic. He settled rather grimly into his new school. But it wasn't long before he was receiving invitations to birthday parties and bringing friends home.

Connie was making new friends, too. The sale of her house in Milborough ran into complications, left-over issues from the original purchase by Connie's mother on her behalf. Since she had already committed to buying a house in Thunder Bay, Connie found it necessary to have some lengthy conversations with the manager of her neighbourhood bank. It was fortunate that Greg Thomas, also divorced, was such an easy guy to get along with. Good-natured and always considerate, he was satisfyingly ruthless when it came to dealing with recalcitrant bureaucrats and their tangles of red tape. They made a great team, she discovered. When the sale of her old house and purchase of the new one had finally been completed, Greg insisted on taking her out for a victory dinner. They sat talking in the candlelit booth until the restaurant closed.

This time, love came sweetly and with astonishing ease. There were no heart-burnings, no dramatics, no struggle to make difficult compromises. No long conversations, either, about what the relationship meant and where it was going. From the moment Greg kissed her a lingering and heady good-night at the end of that long, lovely evening, both of them knew it was right.

Love may have come easily, but their families' acceptance did not. Lawrence was understandably wary of yet another man intruding into his and his mother's life, and Greg's two teenage daughters, Molly and Gayle, were downright hostile about the prospect of someone taking their mother's place.

Greg approached the problem with his own quiet brand of diplomacy. He brought them all together for Thanksgiving and, with the children present, gave Connie a "friendship" ring. Not as shocking as an engagement ring, it still made the point clear that he and Connie were together. They were all going to be one big, hopefully happy, family. The kids would just have to deal with it.

By Christmas, Connie had run out of patience, waiting for Greg's daughters to deal. Always eager to move on a decision once she had made it, she hated hanging in limbo. While the two months since Thanksgiving had helped to warm the relationship between Lawrence and Greg, Molly and Gayle seemed to be getting more negative toward Connie. She suspected the girls thought they could delay the wedding forever if they acted out enough. It was time for decisive action.

On December 23, she took Greg out for dinner alone at the restaurant where they had first fallen in love. Over coffee and cheesecake, she gave him a beautifully gift-wrapped watch, engraved on the back with the words, My love - for now and all time. Then she asked him to marry her.

If she had ever had doubts that Greg was the man for her, they vanished the moment his eyes lifted from the watch to meet hers and she saw the laughter in them.

"Yes." He clasped her hand across the table, and gripped it hard. "Darn it, why have we waited this long? Yes. Let's do it."

The warmth in his gaze brought a lump to Connie's throat. "Valentine's Day would - "

"Nope. Too far away. This says now, " he tapped the back of the watch, "And that's the deal I accepted. On New Year's Eve, I want the woman I'm kissing to be my wife."

They were married December 27, in a small private ceremony, and spent the night in a beautiful snow-crusted cabin at a resort near Thunder Bay. The next day they left the girls in the care of a neighbour, packed up Lawrence, and headed out on the long, wintry roads to Milborough to welcome in the New Year with old friends.

Their welcome was warm. John and Greg were soon chatting like long-time buddies about hockey and the countless gadgets and gizmos in John's workshop. After a brief period of awkwardness, Lawrence and Michael rediscovered their friendship and played together as though they had never been apart. Connie was free to talk to Elly, and talk they did, for long, satisfying hours. When the time came to leave, there were tears all 'round.

Greg was quiet on the way back to Thunder Bay. Connie wasn't quite sure why. A month later, he told her he was being transferred to the bank in Milborough. He never admitted it, but she was certain he had pulled strings to get this particular transfer.

She and Lawrence were thrilled with the news of the move. Molly and Gayle were horrified. They had lived in Thunder Bay six years and had established a circle of friends there. Molly had a boyfriend. Her father couldn't stand him, which made her certain that the move was a deliberate attempt to split them up. She was partly right.

"She's getting in with a crowd that worries me, Connie. And wherever Molly goes, Gayle tags along. I think this move might be the best thing for them, too."

With grim persistence, the girls made their unhappiness all too clear.

Despite the girls' determined efforts to make everyone in the family as miserable as they were, there was more pleasure than pain for Connie in the move back to Milborough. Part of her happiness lay in finding a house beside Elly and John's. Their long-time neighbour, Mrs. Baird, was moving to a senior's residence. Although her house needed work, it had a wonderful garden and was large enough for the whole blended family. Besides, Connie had a strong hunch she would need a friend close by to talk with as she struggled to earn her way out of her assigned role of wicked stepmother.

By the time Molly finished high school two years later, the family had settled into a degree of peace. Molly still clung to her resentment, but it had become more reflex than real. She and Lawrence had become surprisingly close, in a teasing brother-and-sisterly way. The casual warmth of their relationship seemed to take the bitterest edge off Molly's attitude. Gayle's temperament was more easy-going, and Connie felt she might have been happy in her new home if it hadn't been for her older sister's influence. But when Molly graduated and entered college, Gayle decided to leave too, to live with her mother while she finished her last two years of high school.

Suddenly, the house was very quiet. Lawrence was 15 now, and busy after school with all his friends and school activities. Connie's work no longer seemed enough to fulfill her. She found herself longing for another child, one fathered by the true love she had found so late. But month after month, her body disappointed her.

It was the bitterest of ironies when Elly announced, with much lamenting, that she was unexpectedly pregnant again.

By the time Lawrence was 17, Connie was losing hope of having a second child. But the urge for a baby remained. It led to another of the many snap decisions she had made in life.

The addition of this furry new member to the family coincided with a totally unexpected and deeply traumatic crisis that threatened to tear the family apart. One night, out of the blue, Lawrence told his mother he was gay.

Connie's first reaction was stunned disbelief. Her second was wrenching fear for her son. In her conservative hometown, the rare homosexuals who dared to come "out" suffered from a deep-rooted intolerance that, in its ugliest form, could turn to violence. At the very least, gays were considered oddities, pitiable freaks of nature. It tore her heart out to think of her bright, decent, handsome son living his life under that hurtful cloud.

Her fear must have communicated itself to Greg, thrown him off his usual solid balance. To her horror, he struck out in the cruellest possible way at her son.

Lawrence was hardly out the door before Connie turned on Greg. Already ashamed, he backed down immediately.

"You were so upset, honey." Greg thrust an edgy hand through his hair. "I guess it shook me to see you like that. Of course Lawrence can come back home. We need to talk to him. Like adults, not raving idiots, this time."

But when Connie ran outside, Lawrence had vanished.

She and Greg spent the whole of that endless night waiting for him to come home. While the hours dragged on, they talked, remembering all the gay and lesbian friends they had known. The girl in residence with Connie who had been the first to offer comfort when a classmate's mother died, the young man from Greg's university class who had consistently aced the top marks in Accounting, the high school friend with the incredible talent for music...

At midnight, when Lawrence still hadn't returned, Connie turned on the TV to distract herself from worrying. The news story of the hour was about a young man who had committed suicide.

At 2 a.m., on the edge of panic, she called Pattersons for help. It was Michael who eventually found Lawrence in an all-night coffee shop, and brought him home. By then, Connie and Greg had worried long enough to have their priorities straight.

Once the first shock wore off, it was strange how little effect Lawrence's coming out had on the family's lives. He was still the same considerate son he had always been, and as quiet, sensible and stubborn as ever. His friends stuck by him and came around to hang out in the rec room and ransack Connie's fridge just as casually as they had done since childhood. Connie couldn't help bristling a little when she met his friend Ben, but the blonde boy was polite, talented, and likeable. In the end, nothing had changed very much except that she had become a great deal less tolerant of intolerance.

It was hard to accept the other major event in her life that year. Very quietly, without telling anyone, Connie turned 40.

It was the beginning of a grimly determined and sometimes wry battle against time. Connie objected to aging, to the limitations it tried to impose. She had no intention of going down without a struggle. She picked up the pace on her exercise programme, bought every herbal remedy advertised, and became an expert on the ingredients in face creams. Finally, after years of indecision, she gathered her courage and went for plastic surgery to reduce the unsightly lines under her eyes.

She assured everyone she was pleased with the results, but it had begun to seem a little silly to worry so much about her appearance. Greg loved her as much as ever, wrinkled or not. And, to her surprise, another old wound healed, taking with it a great part of the self-doubt that drove her need to be attractive.

It was Lawrence, of all people, who reintroduced her to Pablo DaSilva. Since he had not asked about his birth father since he was in kindergarten, this astonished her even more than the news that Pablo was in Toronto and wanted to see her. A little late! It had been twenty-four years since he had promised to meet her there.

With growing wonder, she listened to Lawrence's story of waylaying Dr. DaSilva at the airport and quietly pressuring him to tell the whole story of their relationship. Father and son had bonded, it seemed, despite the awkwardness of the situation. Pablo had apologized for abandoning his lover and unborn child, and Lawrence, who was sharply perceptive about such things, believed the regret was sincere. Pablo wanted to see Connie, he said, to apologize to her too.

She tried to talk Greg into coming with them to Toronto, but he was firm in refusing. "No, this is between the three of you. It'll only make it more awkward if I go. Don't look so worried. You'll be fine." He gave her a warm hug. "And when you get back, I'll be right here waiting for you."

She and Lawrence drove to Toronto the next day. Connie's nerves frayed with every mile. It took all her courage to walk into the restaurant where they were to meet. Then she saw Pablo. He smiled and shook hands, and the tension slid out of her in a wave of relief. Whatever had been between them was gone. Her passionate Latin lover was just another middle-aged man now, with a bit of stiffness to his walk and an old-world courtesy that was still attractive but could no longer ruffle a feather on her. Some remnant of their old connection flickered only long enough to link them in a silent pact to give Lawrence all the answers he had needed for so long, regardless of what it might cost them in pain or dignity. They talked a long time, and when there were no more words left to say, parted with slightly relieved goodbyes.

Connie walked to the car feeling like the weight of the world had lifted from her shoulders.

Connie and Greg are retired now. Like so many other middle-aged men, Greg succumbed late to the weirdly addictive lure of golf. Connie considers it a measure of his love for her that, even though she beats him with an ease that never fails to exasperate him, he still prefers her to any other golfing partner. They often go south for a month or two in the winter and have, after much argument, reached a workable deal - for every hour she golfs with him, Greg spends an hour browsing the local flea markets and craft stores with her.

In the summer, they spend a great deal of time with their grandchildren. Both Molly and Gayle have families now, and are much more wiling to accept Connie as "Grandma" than they were to let her into their lives as "Mom". Connie loves them all, but has a particular soft spot for Molly's oldest daughter, a child of firm opinions who reminds her of her own younger self. It pleases her to know that her granddaughters have a world to grow up in that will never question their worth as human beings, where they will have every chance to pursue their dreams.