A thin shaft of afternoon sunlight knifed through the dim interior of the Pastime Tavern as David nudged the door closed behind him. He nodded to the pair of denim-clad youngsters at the pool table, then to Jason as he stepped out of his office.
“Well, you've come out of your shell again,” Jason noted, tugging on the long tap handle to pour his friend’s brew. “Haven't seen you for a while. Been busy on the farm, eh?”
“Nah, not really. Just haven't felt all that sociable.” With a quick drink David was ready to turn their conversation in a different direction.
“How about you? From the looks of things business is picking up.” David paused to look around the room. "Looks like the ole Pastime is drawing a crowd."
"Oh yeah. Sure does. What do we have here....a 'crowd' of five? I hope I can keep up with it all."
"Seems like I picked a good time to show up."
Without a reply Jason pulled a bag of beer nuts from the back shelf and started to the other end of the counter, where a non-too-prosperous-looking patron appeared to be making a lunch of the freebies. Refilling the empty bowl he returned to David with another question. In fact, by then he was prepared to follow a rather unorthodox hunch.
“So you've been holed up on the farm......letting your mind wander. Is that it?"
"I guess so."
For the next few minutes, while he wiped down the length of the long bar, Jason was debating with himself. There were things he needed to tell his friend. Was it the right time to do that? By the time he returned to David's end of the bar he had decided it was.
"So tell me," he asked. "Could it be that you’re still dealing with what you had on your mind the last time you were here....maybe thinking of that Marian lady?”
“Where’d you get that crazy idea?” As expected David was ready to push back. "Besides, what the hell does she have to do with anything?”
“Just a guess, I suppose. I’m thinking she’s been on your mind from time to time....like when you get down in the dumps. Are you telling me that’s not true?”
David’s first inclination was to argue Jason’s point. But on second thought, they had covered that ground before. Why fight the same war again? Instead, returning to the sad truth of it, he repeated his earlier defense.
“What’s to tell?” he asked. “The lady already has a guy. Your friend Angie told me that. All I could do was write it off as an interesting idea that didn’t work out. It’s not the first time that's happened. So why don’t we just drop it?”
Slipping David’s glass under the tap, Jason refilled it. Wiping at the foamy head running down the side of the glass, he set it back on the bar. Then, reaching in his shirt pocket he produced a business card....one of his own....and laid it on the bar.
“What’s this for?” David asked as he picked up the card. “I don’t need it. I know how to find you ....at home or at work.”
“Turn it over.”
David did as he was told, drawing the card closer to read the penciled message. Before he could ask his next question, Jason was providing the answer.
“That’s Marian’s email address,” he said. With that he turned and started down the bar to towel off the already clean counter top.
Sliding to the edge of his stool, David read the single line once, then again, before waving Jason back within range of his next question. “I can see that you’ve been up to no-good. Why don’t you tell me about it? What do you expect me to do with this?”
“Come on, guy. It’s not my place to be telling you that. I’m just the messenger....hoping that I’m not the one who gets shot. I’ve heard that can happen.”
“And whose message are you delivering?”
With both hands on the counter Jason leaned closer. “Okay. Here’s the deal. Given the way you’ve been acting lately....moping around like you have....I decided to give our friend Angie another call.
"You’d told me what she said, about Marian already having a guy. I’ll admit, I wondered about that, and what it meant. The only way to know for sure was to call her again....so I did.”
“And I was right, wasn’t I?” David grumbled. “The lady has something going, doesn’t she?”
Jason was shaking his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “I didn’t ask her about that.” He flinched a bit at that half-truth....telling himself there was no need to resurrect Angie’s talk of Clarence having been ‘sent to the sidelines.’ That was something David ought to find out for himself.
David’s palm slammed down on the bar, punctuating his angry question. “Then why the hell did you call her?”
“I’ll tell you what, old buddy. Angie and I talked about things....quite a few things. And early on I decided I had one main question to ask. If I had a chance to ask it, I promised myself I would do that ....then I’d step aside and let you decide what comes next.”
“And your one question? What was it?”
Jason braced himself David’s inevitable complaint, knowing it was the price to be paid for not backing off. “Since I already had Marian’s email address by then, it seemed the only question left was....what was she likely to do if David tried to get in touch with her?”
“If I tried to get in touch with her? Are you serious?”
“You bet I am. In fact, Angie and I agreed that it might be a good idea. You see, she had already told Marian that you had called. Marian knew about that by the time I called Angie the second time. And after seeing how Marian reacted to that bit of information, Angie was the one who suggested that you should email her.”
Pushing his stool away from the bar David stood, still grasping the edge of the counter. He had never stopped to consider the possibility that Marian had heard of his abbreviated call to Angie. What would she have thought about that? At that late date, did it even matter?
Turning back to Jason, he asked, “Tell me again, why I should email her?”
“Because you want to, you doofus.”
“And what do you suppose Marian would think about that?”
“I don’t know,” Jason answered. “Angie told me straight out that she wasn’t going to speak for Marian....didn’t want to do that. She said it would be up to you to find out. It was about then that she came up with the email idea.”
“Why was that?”
It was time for Jason to make his point and move on. In the end David would have to make his own choice.
“Up ‘til then Angie and I had been talking in terms of a phone call....a phone number that I could pass on to you....to use or not use, whatever you decided. In the end Angie suggested that an email might be easier for both you and Marian.
“I knew right away," Jason continued. "If it was me I’d rather take it slow, with time to think about what I was saying. Especially since I’d have no idea how she was going to respond. So I agreed with Angie. A second later she was reading me Marian’s email address....the one you have there. With that she said ‘Good luck,’ and that was that.”
David was fidgeting with his empty glass, wishing his friend had a more definitive answer. “So you don’t know,” he said. “You can’t tell me if the lady would even open an email from me....let alone read it or reply.”
“Nope. I can’t. I’m afraid that’s something you’d have to find out for yourself....if you decide you want to.”
“What do you mean, Angie?” Marian asked. With the phone to her ear she was walking to the family room, trying to make sense of Angie’s strange introduction. “Why would I want to throw something at you?”
For most of the afternoon, ever since Jason’s unexpected call, Angie had debated whether she should tell Marian what she had done. And if she did, what was the best way to break that unexpected news?
Keeping it a secret would surely increase the shock value of an email from David. But what if Marian deleted it before she realized who it was from? Besides, she deserved to know what Angie had done, if only to prepare herself.
“What I’m trying to say,” Angie laughed. “Is that I did something rather sneaky....something that may upset you. I’m not sure you’ll appreciate it, but it felt like the right thing to do.”
For weeks, maybe longer, there had been something weighing on Marian’s normally easy-going take on life. Given enough time Angie might have traced that uncharacteristic distraction to their night in Nashville. But in fact she had been blissfully unaware of that possibility....at least until Jason Benning’s first phone call.
Once Jason set things in motion it had taken just one brief conversation with Marian for Angie to learn that indeed, something had happened in the course of their Music City night on the town. Though she was not aware of it at the time, and Marian had been reluctant to provide the details, whatever happened had obviously made an impression.
Now it was time for Angie to admit her part in adding fuel to that fire. She had called knowing that what came next would be the hard part. In one sense, of course, none of Marian’s relational problems were any of her business. But her friend was clearly struggling....unsure how to deal with Clarence Roger’s undisguised pursuit, while mulling what to make of David’s apparent interest.
“Anyway, I gave him your email address,” she finally announced. “He asked for it....and I gave it to him.”
“Jason. You know, David’s friend. The one who called me before. He called again this afternoon, and before we were done I had given him your address....for him to give to David.”
Marian was up and pacing again, captured by an unsettling blend of welcome relief and anxious wondering. “But why did he call again? And why is he the one calling, instead of David? That makes no sense.”
“I can’t answer that. Perhaps David could explain....if he works up the nerve to email you. Jason wasn’t sure he would, but I’m betting that he does. If so, you’d have to decide what to do.”
Angie settled back in her chair, thankful that Marian was taking her surprising news more calmly than she had expected. “Anyway,” she said. “I did the dirty deed. I wanted you to know that. It seemed like you should be forewarned.”
“I appreciate that....I think. I guess I’ll have to wait a bit before I decide whether I should throw something at you. In fact, I suppose that’s about all I can do....sit and wait....and see if he bothers to get in touch. I’ll let you know what happens.”
Setting the phone aside, Marian closed her eyes and settled into her recliner. After weeks of conflicted wondering she was soaking up the welcome prospect of communicating again with her impetuous Nashville dancing partner.