December 1977
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It was Johnny Ryan’s idea of heaven. There was Tom Desmond romancing his daughter Mary and for the first time it looked like she was really falling for the Irishman’s charm.

Johnny almost danced around the bar with joy and would have happily jigged all the way down to Weehauken Street to throw it in Jack Fenelli’s face—with a punch in the nose to boot—if it weren’t late and time to close the saloon. This Tom Desmond was the man for Mary, all right, Johnny gloated as he polished the brass on the bar. He cries when he’s sad, laughs when he’s happy, doesn’t hang around with a long face making everyone miserable like Jack Fenelli. And the fact that he’s Irish is just frosting on the cake, “Da” Ryan exulted.

From the moment Tom stepped through the swinging doors of Ryan’s Bar, he had found a home. He was darkly handsome and relentlessly charming, seducing one Ryan after the next with hilarious tall tales of eccentric Desmond family characters. That he claimed to be a country boy from Maeve’s neck of the Irish woods didn’t hurt a bit either.

For all his blarney, though, Tom had a responsible, serious side as Public Information Officer for Riverside Hospital. He explained hospital policy to the community, soothed tempers on the professional staff and made the hospital look good to its patients, which wasn’t hard for a man with such a way with words.

It was tough to dislike Tom Desmond, but Jack Fenelli did. “Tom Terrific—the answer to Johnny Ryan’s prayers. I bet he recites Yeats and your father faints away,” Jack taunted Mary. For clearly Johnny saw Tom as the “heir apparent” now that the ink on Jack and Mary’s divorce papers was finally dry. Jack never missed an opportunity to disparage Tom, especially when Mary was around. Her career as a reporter and news show anchorperson for Channel R had taken Mary more and more into the politics of Riverside Hospital and the threatened staff strike and her brother Pat’s difficulties over his negligence in the Angel Nieves case had made the hospital the focus of most of her broadcasts. When Tom Desmond held press conferences, Mary was there and it infuriated Fenelli to find his ex-wife front and center, especially when Tom hovered over her. Jack could never admit he was jealous of Tom, so he translated his jealousy into contempt. He got so fired up that one day he took a swing at Tom—and was stunned by the Irishman’s lightning reaction. In a flash Tom pinned him  against a wall and could have had the best of him if he hadn’t suddenly released his grip and walked away. Jack smoothed his ruffled feathers and beat a hasty retreat, but not before Mary had seen it all. She was less mystified by Jack’s ridiculously childish violence than by Tom’s talent with his fists. There was something about the man that wasn’t quite right, a feeling that even Johnny Ryan had grudgingly confessed to. Maeve noticed that whenever Tom was pinned down on actual details of his past he became downright evasive and turned the talk to amusing anecdotes of this odd cousin or that eccentric aunt. Anything but the truth about himself.

One night while Tom was cooking dinner for Mary at his place, she noticed his books were all autographed “Tom O’Brien.” When she asked why, Tom visibly panicked for a split second, then reiterated his old story: O’Brien was his best friend, and when he married Tom’s girl, Tom couldn’t take it and left Ireland—with some of his friend’s books. But it didn’t ring true for Mary and that moment of fear in his eyes piqued her curiosity.

Every day seemed to bring a piece to the puzzle of Tom Desmond that didn’t fit. The Ryans’ new friend was turning slowly into a man of mystery and it fascinated Mary. She had always sensed that Tom was powerfully attracted to her and when he declared himself, late one night, she found the statement of love more intriguing than she thought she would. They had struck an agreement then: Though she knew he cared seriously for her, and she liked him more than in the casual way she liked almost everyone, they would go slow on their relationship.

She had made that bargain with Tom because Jack was never far from her thoughts, though the more Tom came around the more she became fascinated with his secretive side. Still, every time she turned around, Jack seemed to be accidently right on her heels and every look into his eyes revived her old yen for him. The rememberance of his touch was burned forever in her memory. Her romance with Tom was nothing like the beginning of her affair with Jack—when they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Every time Jack had kissed her, Mary’s head would spin. Tom’s kisses were almost brotherly, though Mary realized she had placed so many restrictions on their relationship that Tom could do nothing else. Hampered by their feelings of responsibility, both refused to give into sexual longing, though Tom had moments of despair when he realized Unless he could sweep Mary off her feet he would always be second fiddle to Jack.

  Burdened by the secrets of his past, anxious to win Mary for himself, Tom finds Jack a formidable act to follow. At times when they’re together, Mary cannot keep herself from mentioning Jack and while Tom would like to block out that image with kisses, Mary has forced him to respect the guidelines she had laid down. Everything in his nature tells Tom to grab Mary and love away Jack’s ghost, but everything in Mary’s makes her say no. If only she would let him, Tom thinks he may well be able to prove he’s man enough to make her forget Jack Fenelli forever. •

Many THANKS! to a Totally Kate! contributor for the article

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