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Tom politely listened to the young missionary, smiled nicely at appropriate moments, and inwardly groaned at his lack of understanding of the world. He was young and naive, couldn't conceive that people in as rich a country as their own could ever stand in as much need of help as the people overseas that he was going to "Help to see the path of the Lord". Tom winced at his zeal and apparent belief that all that would be required was conversion and prayer, and lessons in how to work hard.

All worthy sentiments, but Tom had seen so many of his type now that she doubted he would stay long on this path, nor cope with any real hardship along the road. The way that he brushed a tiny crumb from his well tailored clothing and checked his reflection periodically in a nearby mirror did not bode well for a missionary's life in potentially squalid conditions.

It was also clear that he truly thought most English children were fed, educated and cared for, and only went down the wrong path if they were led astray by evil. He had no idea of how different her boys' lives were to his own sheltered little world as a member of a rich educated family.

Tom was herself deeply spiritual, believed in the principles of her faith, and willingly attended regularly. She tried to show her boys through action and example, how the church might be one way to help cope with life.

But she didn't consider the reformed troublemakers any less a success if they perhaps shied away from attending a church service on their one day off a week. Especially since, it was sad to say, that the principles of forgiveness were not always followed by those who ran the church communities. The boys were not stupid, and a few visits coping with the social disapproval of nominally "good" people made them distrust the institution in a way that saddened Tom.

Unfortunately the close knit communities in which she worked knew everyone else's history, and that of their parents and grandparents before them. Tom had seen good hearted, hard working boys of 'bad stock' get pushed down again and again by people who would never trust them.

So the missionary's insistence that only regular attendance was the way to truth irritated her, as did his disapproval that she did not make every boy attend church in order to join her groups. It wasn't in her mind a reason to exclude someone in need. If those boys were acting in a positive way, keeping out of trouble, and treating others in the way they wished to be treated, Tom counted them a success, wished them well and was proud of them.

Tom had in the past tried to make people like the missionary more aware of how their all or nothing approach was not always going to succeed. Failing that she used to try to make them understand that as well as the more fashionable overseas needy, there were children at home who had nothing, or had no hope of a positive future, so went to bad behavior through seeing no other option.

However she had learnt through experience to simply smile and nod. So she did. Smiled and nodded, nodded and smiled.

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On the other side of the room, her friend waited, trying not to watch Tom too obviously. She could see that the years had not really changed Tom much. She was tall, boyish and still fit and strong in the way that only regular physical exercise provided.

Her strong work hardened hands were one of the few things that told of her age. The skin was calloused and worn as might be expected with her occupation. Her Great Aunt had tried to make her wear glove to the party, but they irritated Tom and had been left on a windowsill early on.

While waiting to see if Tom could return, her schoolfriend found herself unable to stop watching those hands. They made such a stark contrast to the delicate stem of the wine glass that she unconscious twisted back and forth. Had her friend known it, the twisting was to contain her irritation at the limitations of the young man's conversation.

Tom finally managed to make a break from the young man, and made her way to the ladies washroom to give herself a minute to think. She wanted to go back to her friend on the one hand, but dreaded doing so on the other. It had been so hard to forget her, to move on from that place where every decision was made with mental reference to what the other girl was doing, or might do.

Would talking more stir up those feelings again? Would she be able to hide the way she felt if they did restart their friendship?

Tom stared in the mirror for the longest time, not seeing her reflection at all. If she was honest those feelings were already well and truly awake. She resolved to go and find her, continue the conversation, maybe, just maybe get up courage to ask about that pale area where there had once been a wedding ring.

Although that in itself might be too hard. It brought back memories of having to watch her go down the aisle, of seeing her look adoringly at her husband to be. Of being trapped as the wedding went on in the polite conversations about how good a couple the young pair made, having to smile away references to when it might be her own turn.

Tom left the bathroom and went back to where she had left her friend. She could at least find out where she lived, what she was doing. If the conversation became too dangerous for Tom, if she couldn't hide her feelings then she could make an excuse and leave. If she didn't talk to her, she might never know if at least a renewal of friendship was possible.

But she had waited too long after leaving the missionary. Her friend had gone, sure that Tom would have returned by now if she had wanted to, and acutely aware that she was not hugely welcome, was in fact being politely encouraged to leave by the hostess.

So she decided that Tom must have heard of the divorce and disapprove, or perhaps just wasn't interested in talking to her any more than she already had.

She found her coat and left, looking around her as she did, hoping to at least say goodbye, but Tom was nowhere to be seen.

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Tom searched the crowd, hoping perhaps she had just moved. But eventually she had to admit defeat. She had obviously misjudged the situation, assumed her friend would want to talk to her more. A pity, but perhaps that was how it was meant to be, a brief visit and reunion, then going separate ways again. It had only been a chance meeting after all.



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