Back home from his day at the beach Hank Rolland was still processing his impressions of a long day with Angie. A hot shower would erase the last traces of beach sand and sunscreen, but it would take longer to deal with still-fresh questions and nagging reservations. At the very least those would be grist for a quiet debriefing session with Sarah.
Half an hour later, fresh from his shower and bolstered by a cup of warmed-over coffee he settled into his recliner and glanced up at Sarah’s Clabber Girl bookshelf perch, wondering how to tell her of his day at the beach with another woman.
“Am I supposed to tell you how terrible it was?” Hank asked in a barely audible whisper. “Is that what you want to hear? I hope not. Because it wasn’t really all that bad....at least not until Angie went off on another one of her tangents. We spent some of the time with Jimmy and Gladys. That was fine. Seems like the two of them were hitting it off pretty well.”
Darkness was falling and occasional traffic noises drifted in through the open window while he waited in silence, hoping to decipher Sarah’s always-subtle reply. He was wide awake, not likely to doze off as sometimes happened when her response was slow to arrive. This time it took only a minute or two to sense the mental nudge he was waiting for.
“That ‘new tangent of hers,’ you ask? You mean the one Angie was talking about?”
Chuckling to himself, he was not surprised to find Sarah turning to that bit of information. After all, that was her way....blunt and to the point. “I thought you might be asking about that. I guarantee it was enough to get my attention too. Let me try to explain. Then you can tell me what you think.
“First of all, you have to understand that Angie and Harold....you remember Harold, her husband? Well anyway, they operated on a whole different level than we did, financially that is. They liked to travel. Took lots of trips, some of them overseas.
“I’ve never begrudged them all that. It’s what they wanted to do and they could afford it. How could that be wrong?”
Looking away from Sarah’s white canister his gaze settled on the panorama of tree tops silhouetted against the cloud-speckled sky beyond the window. That peaceful backdrop, however, was not enough to calm his mounting anxiety. It was one thing to introduce Angie’s history of travel and sightseeing, quite another to explain her latest suggestion.
“Here’s the deal, Babe,” he continued. “It’s the part I’m having a problem with.” It was time to say it out loud, he told himself. That would have to be done if he expected Sarah’s help.
“You see, Angie is talking about us, her and me, going off to see the world....like she and Harold did. She thinks we should be ‘making memories.’ That’s what she called it....about places in Europe, with castles and gardens and all the other stuff she likes.”
Again Hank was talking directly to Sarah, ready to pose his question. “Can you see me doing that? With her? I sure can’t. It’s hard to imagine how she came up with that silly notion.”
Sitting there, waiting for Sarah’s reply, Hank knew he had yet to address the heart of the matter.... the most intimidating element of Angie’s altogether intimidating idea.
“But, here’s the cruncher. She’s saying that we could do that....see all those places and do all those things, on Harold’s money. Can you believe that? What kind of guy does she think I am?”
In truth Hank was struggling through new, utterly-foreign thoughts, looking for words to describe what he had never before tried to describe. Would his Sarah be able to accept his unlikely admission?
“It sounded like she expected me to be a ‘kept’ man.”
He paused, laughing to himself at the wonderful irony of a grown man blushing as he conversed with a tin canister.
“I like to think I’m above being ‘kept', he added. "Though I suppose that’s what I was all those years with you. Except it was never your money that was 'keeping' me. It was how I felt about you. That’s a lot different.
“Besides, after the way you spoiled me you can bet that if I’m ever ‘kept’ again I’ll be holding out for someone better than Angie McDonald.”
Minutes later Hank was at the computer, just two or three steps from Sarah’s shelf. Logging on, he pulled up the email inbox before turning to end their dialogue. “Damn it, lady. If you’d have just hung around a while longer I wouldn’t be getting bogged down in all this nonsense. You could have ‘kept’ me as long as you wanted. Instead you had to go and run off.
“Anyway, I missed a whole day of blogs. I have to get to work.”
On Sunday morning before church Hank slipped through the side door, following the aroma of freshly brewed coffee to the church kitchen. Grace Carson was busy at the front counter, giving him cover to hurry down the back aisle to the large, restaurant-sized coffee maker.
Already, he sensed it might be a two cup Sunday morning. Angie McDonald had a way of doing that, even before he saw her, before he could be sure that she had set her silly ‘travel plans’ aside. Hopefully he had made his case. But with Angie it was hard to know for sure.
Easing up to the front counter, he would have sworn Grace was looking the other way when he reached out to snag his morning cookie from the tray she had pushed to the side. Instead his petty theft was rewarded with a playful slap on the hand. A second later, dispensing with her routine scolding, Graces’s greeting had him wondering.
“So,” she asked. “Did you bring me any taffy?”
“What are you talking about? What’s with taffy?”
“Salt water taffy, silly. You get it at the beach. Rumor has it you were there yesterday. When Angie came through here a few minutes ago she sounded as though your day together was a great success. She wasn’t giving many clues, but there was some vague talk about ‘making plans.’ She was certainly smiling when she mentioned that.”
“Are you kidding me?” Hank paused, asking himself if it was proper to be so blunt when talking about Angie. He was not into gossiping, or so he told himself. Yet how else could he counter her silly stories?
“Look,” he continued. “I won’t say she’s lying. Maybe in her mind she’s not. But I have to tell you, the lady has an amazing imagination.”
“So ‘making plans’ wasn’t part of your day at the beach?”
For a moment Hank seemed to have left the scene. He leaned back against the counter, head bowed, kicking his heel against the baseboard. Without looking up he explained, “It may have been part of her day, but not mine. Look, she’s asking for something I can’t do. That’s all.
"I was trying to explain that last night when I told Sarah....” At once he noted the mental alarm his near-confession was setting off. Again, he turned quiet.
Grace was bending low, trying to peer into his down-turned eyes. “There you go again,” she said. “You ‘told Sarah.’ You’ve talked like that before. You must realize that makes no sense. What’s going on? ”
Hank had been cornered and he knew it. The warm flush that bathed his face was proof of that. There had never before been a need to explain the unorthodox visits with his new Sarah. Except this time it was Grace who was asking. If anyone deserved an explanation it was her.
“I’ll tell you what,” he replied. “I’ll explain that someday. Mostly it’s a matter of staying close to her, because she knows me better than anyone. And she knows Angie doesn’t have a thing to offer me. I guess that’s blunt enough, isn’t it?”
“I guess so,” Grace nodded, apparently willing to settle for a short-form revelation. “But I’m sure you realize that Angie isn’t likely to give up so easily. She can be very persistent. And she’s much better at spreading her side of the story than old ‘Silent Hank.’ At some point you may have to change your tactics.”
She was grinning as she added, “Of course, if you’re not sure what to do, you can always ask Sarah for some new ideas.” A moment later she had started across the Fellowship Hall toward the Narthex, leaving Hank to wonder what she meant by that.
Kelly Rolland Hopper had grown up in the Tanner Southend Church, along with her brother Eric. As high schoolers the two of them had been part of the congregation’s active youth program. Though she was now twenty years removed from those Tanner days Kelly, twice divorced and firmly established in a successful Portland real estate practice, was an infrequent visitor at the congregation’s Sunday worship services.
That morning, during the after-church Social Hour, she sat with her father Hank, Jimmy Brooder, and several other well-remembered friends, listening as Angie McDonald told of her day at the beach with Hank.
Leaning back to let a server warm her coffee, Kelly was suddenly aware that Angie had grown uncharacteristically silent. Glancing across the table she realized that the older woman was staring conspicuously in her direction.
“My heavens, Kelly. I can remember when you were confirmed.” It was a quiet Angie, speaking in soft, syrupy tones. Resting her head against Hank’s shoulder, she finished her thought. “You were such a sweet young thing. And look at you now, such a lovely woman. Isn’t she, Hank?”
“She certainly is.” Hank nodded, wanting to calm Kelly’s embarrassed anxiety and hoping to move beyond Angie’s pasty compliments. That, however, would be easier said than done.
“I can’t wait to see your brother again,” Angie continued. “It’s been ages since I’ve talked to him. I remember he was here for your mother’s memorial service, but we didn’t have a chance to visit.”
Without surrendering Hank’s shoulder Angie leaned closer to Kelly, perhaps seeking a more intimate space. “I heard Hank telling Grace Carson about the Rolland family picnic. That’s next weekend I believe. I’m looking forward to seeing Eric then.”
Angie McDonald at the family picnic? That surprising bit of news had Kelly squirming. In every way Angie’s manner suggested that she and Dad were a pair. Obviously the lady expected to be part of the family gathering. Why had her father not mentioned that?
The Rolland family picnic was a long-established summer fixture, reuniting the three Rolland brothers and their families. The current edition, scheduled for the following Saturday, would be held at a Beaverton park, hosted by Casey Rolland and his wife Ann.
“Isn’t that what you said, dear?” Angie asked, reaching over to pat Hank’s hand. “That the picnic is next weekend. If that’s right, I need to find out what I’m supposed to bring.”
Kelly was on the edge of her seat, ready to end her part in their conversation. Who did that McDonald woman think she was, leaning on Dad’s shoulder like that, calling him “dear” and assuming that she was invited to the picnic?”
“That’s right. The picnic is Saturday,” Hank replied. Nodding to acknowledge Kelly’s leaving, he stood to gather paper plates and plastic cups to take to the kitchen trash receptacle. “Then on Sunday," he continued. "One of Casey’s grandkids has a soccer tournament in Portland. I suppose most everyone will be going to that.”
“And Saturday night?” Had he caught the not-so-subtle interest in Angie’s question? “What about that?”
“There’s certainly no reason to come all the way back here," he answered. "Not when the tournament is the next day.”
“You mean a motel,” she asked hopefully. “For the night?”
It took a moment for Hank to notice Angie's Cheshire-cat grin. And another second to decipher her message. Was the lady actually thinking of a motel, for them? Was that what had his stomach churning like that?
She was doing it again, he told himself. With no preliminaries, no statement of intent, Angie McDonald was on the verge of hijacking the Rolland picnic....inviting herself to be a part of it, wanting to make it her own. More than that, she wanted the friends seated around them to know she could do that. What had led her to that assumption? And how could he set her straight?
“There’s no need for a motel,” Hank replied calmly, searching her eyes for some hint that she was reading his intention. He watched her smile fade and her gaze harden as he added, “I’ll be staying at Eric’s.”
“You will? You mean, alone?”
“Not alone. I’ll be with Eric and his family.”
“But me? I’m not included. Is that what you’re saying?
By then Angie had straightened up in her chair, biting her lip. Apparently ‘warm and friendly’ was about to turn ‘cold and tense.’ Their confidential, almost intimate conversation had suddenly become a formal, arm’s length exchange. Around the table others fell silent, straining to hear Angie’s complaint. Her bold, in-charge look had faded when she paused to explain,
“I suppose I thought, I mean, I expected......” She was stammering, left with no words to complete her thought.
Though he was willing to let her draw her own conclusions, Hank felt the need to explain.“Look, I don’t want to sound rude or insensitive, but our Rolland get-together is a rather close family thing. It’s always been that way.”
“You mean it’s too ‘close’ to include me? Is that what you’re saying?” At neighboring tables people were turning to see why Angie was suddenly so loud.
“Angie. It’s a family affair, not the kind of thing to include guests.”
“Guests?” She was even louder. “Is that what I’ve become? A guest.”
“Come on. It’s no big deal. It’s just a picnic. One weekend.”
“And I’m not good enough to be invited. Right?” Angie was on her feet, gathering her purse from under her chair.
“It’s got nothing to do with being ‘good enough.’ It’s about family, that’s all. That’s why we get together.”
“And because I wasn’t born a Rolland I can’t be there. Is that it? That makes me wonder how Sarah ever managed to get an invitation.”
Hank’s harsh glare was intense enough to have Angie turning away from it. “Don’t go there, Angie. Just don’t do it.”
Almost before he realized what was happening, Hank understood they had gone as far as they could go together. There was no avoiding that reality. Actually, he did not want to....not at the cost of telling her the truth.
“You see,” he explained. “That’s one of the reasons it’s so special. We’ll be spending a lot of time remembering Sarah. That’s one of the things we’ll be doing. It might be uncomfortable for you, but it’s exactly what I want. It’s what I need.”
“Well, in that case....” Angie got that far and no further. She pushed her chair back, bumping against the fellow sitting behind her. With nothing more than an icy stare in Hank’s direction she turned and started toward the kitchen and out the side door.
For an instant he considered going after her, but decided against that. Instead he sat down to drain his coffee cup. Ignoring a roomful of curious stares, he reminded himself it was time to let her go, to leave things well-enough alone.
Glancing to his right he saw Jimmy Brooder shaking his head. Rolling his eyes, Hank offered a sheepish, unenthusiastic grin as he accepted his friend’s silent condolences.