Tom White snippet (1990)
Tom White is an enigmatic character who appears throughout the Climax, Montana series, solving problems off the official grid. This snippet is from the epilogue in Having It All.
His black ops training led him to South America where he met Eric Frost. In 1988 he flew a ‘borrowed’ military helicopter to Climax before heading off on a dangerous covert two-year assignment, one he accepted as he had nothing to lose but his life.
That night he met Dorothy, waitress at the Climax Roadhouse. It was love at first sight. She promised to wait for him but it’s been more than two years. He survived months of torture in a hellhole by thinking of Dorothy waiting for him. But would she still want him?“Look at all those rug rats. You farmers have been busy.”
“That’s ranchers,” corrected Eric.
He didn’t correct Tom’s comment about children. In a few minutes Tom would have a whole different view of life. Eric kept a close eye on his old friend. Tom wore loose Army fatigues. Lines of pain were drawn on his cheeks. The level of noise erupting from the Climax Community Center didn’t help.
Officially it was the Saturday morning Well-Child Clinic, but the ranch kids looked upon it as party time. Depending on the work, many of them didn’t see anyone but family during the week. They’d just finished haying, a long, grueling time. The hay was stored before a hail storm, drying winds, or torrential rain could destroy the crop.
Every kid under the age of five was inside with their mothers. The rest of them pounded and yelled on the playground with their fathers. There were almost twice as many adults outside, of course.
Tom pointed to a sturdy blonde toddler. She towered over the slender boy on one side, though the husky one on the other was only an inch shorter than her. Considering she wore a T-shirt and overalls, the only way to tell she was a girl was by the pigtails. Eric had put those pigtails on her that morning, though she’d added a princess crown. It was left at home, though she’d brought her stuffed kitty in case she got tired. Eric gave the wheelchair a kick. Gently, and on the opposite side of his buddy’s injured leg.
“Yep, that’s my Lila. She’ll be as tall as her momma. She’s always with Danny and TJ.”
“TJ?” asked Tom hoarsely. He stared at the three toddlers.
“That’s what Dot named your son,” said Lance MacDougal.
Scarred hands gripped the handles of the wheelchair. “I have a son?”
The children turned to chase a ball. Lila was just like Nikki, and her cousin Danny MacDougal was much like Simon. But the second boy was the spitting image of Staff Sergeant Tom White.
“You were right about the condom breaking,” said Eric cheerfully. “All it took was one night for Dot to have a little something to remember you by.”
He rested his hand on Tom’s trembling shoulder. Lance touched Tom’s other side, likely sending energy to calm and heal the man. Eric wasn’t sure what Lance did, but he was grateful for anything that helped Tom recover.
“How is she?” The croaked whisper was just loud enough for Eric to hear.
“Dot got really wound up when the two-year mark approached a few weeks back.” Eric knew it would hurt Tom, knowing he wasn’t there for her, but it was the truth. “Nikki said she went from hoping you’d come back, then insisting she had no hold on you. When the days went past without a word, she was always just a hug away from tears.” Eric squeezed Tom’s shoulder. “Sort of like you right about now.”
“She wants me back, even like this?”
Lance smacked Tom in the side of the head. It was more for show than anything else. “You damn fool! She wants you any way she can! You’re alive, and here, and that’s what matters.”
“Hand me those crutches!” Tom struggled to stand. “I’m not going to propose to my woman from a wheelchair.” He got upright, balanced on the wooden sticks, and continued to stare in the room.
“Where is she?”
Marci noticed the men standing outside the door. She spoke to a buxom woman with soft brown hair curling to her shoulders, and pointed. The woman looked, then staggered with her hand over her chest. She took a step toward the door. Lance hauled the door open and the two lovebirds stared for a second.
“Tommy?” Her white face showed up freckles and a nose red from crying. Her green eyes watered.
“Oh, my God, Dorothy, you are so beautiful.”
Dot burst into tears and ran straight at them.
“Hold him up,” warned Lance just before Tom would have been tackled by a woman two inches shorter and fifty pounds heavier. But she stopped in time, tears streaming down her face.
“You came back.”
“Said I would, didn’t I?” Tom sniffed. “Got a bum leg. Might take a while before I can give you that ride in the whirlybird.”
“I can wait.” She half turned, pointing over her shoulder. “We have a son. He looks just like you.”
“You named him right.” Another sniff. “Anyone who’d seen me in the Roadhouse that night would’ve figured out PDQ where he came from.”
“You want to see him?”
“Not until we have us a talk. Lance said he’ll get the preacher here soon as you say you’re ready.”
“Help me down,” demanded Tom.
Eric and Lance didn’t argue. They moved the crutches, took his biceps and lowered him. His bad knee couldn’t take the pressure, so they held him just above the ground.
“Dorothy Sherman, will you be my lawfully wedded wife? I’m all banged up, but—”
“Oh, yes, Tommy! I do. I mean, I will. Haul him up so I can kiss him!” She grabbed the front of Tom’s fatigues and brought him into a lip-lock.
Eric took all the oh, baby, I’ve missed you and God I want you he could stand, which was about ten second’s worth.
“That’s it! Time!” When that wouldn’t work, he smacked Dot on the backside. She shrieked and glared, clutching her right cheek. “Don’t punch me for that Tom, there’s better places to get reacquainted than in the hallway with an audience.”
Tom looked up. Cheers broke out. He waved sheepishly as Lance helped him into his wheelchair.
“Dot, why don’t you take Tom to the office,” suggested Eric. “You’ll have more privacy to, ah, talk.”
“The door locks from the inside. Use it,” added Lance. He nodded at the wall clock. “You’ve got an hour before TJ will be wanting his momma. Now git!”
Dot lost no time in pushing her man down the hallway.
“How much you bet there’ll be another of Tom’s kids in this room next year?” suggested Lance, watching them go.
“Dot’s forty-two,” answered Eric. “But this is Climax. Anything could happen.”