Alone on the back patio after her visit with Angie McDonald, Gladys Horner allowed her initial ‘Jimmy Brooder’ questions to slip away as she turned to more pertinent concerns. There was no need to be thinking about him, or a date, or any of those side issues. What really mattered, the question she must answer, was more elemental than that. Was she, six years after losing Lester, interested in sharing even a single night at the Big Band Concert with anyone?
It was not about being lonely, or hoping for a life that included a caring partner. She had met those challenges years before. Given Lester Horner’s inclinations and lifestyle, ‘close and caring’ had rarely been part of Gladys’ marital experience. In all their years together she had never once doubted his fidelity. It was not other women that attracted him, but rather what she called ‘his involvements.’
At one time or another Lester had served on at least a dozen foundation boards, and even more subcommittees. He thrived on being at the center of what he referred to as “the action.” His calendar had been an always-full checkerboard of meetings and conferences....some in Tanner, others halfway across the country.
When Lester insisted that Gladys join him in his travels, as he usually did after David left home, she was likely to spend her days in the isolated comfort of an upscale hotel room. She preferred that to the day-long tours and shopping excursions that convention organizers often arranged for accompanying spouses, significant others, and the occasional insignificant other. Once back home in Tanner she would settle into her usual routine.... home alone during the day, while serving as Lester’s companion when he attended functions in Tanner and Portland.
Of course, after Lester’s passing life without him had required adjustments. Still, Gladys’ transition had not included the trauma many of her widowed friends experienced. In his absence there was no longer a need for the boring ‘business’ trips. She cut back on her civic and social activities, focusing instead on her work with the English as a Second Language program and a weekly volunteer stint at La Casa Esperanza, a community kitchen on the far side of town. Over time she had outgrown the need to be ‘Lester’s wife,’ and the tiring pretense of being the person that had role required.
After six years on her own she had grown comfortable with the person she had become and the priorities that energized the new Gladys Horner.
Now, out of the blue had come the startling suggestion that Jimmy Brooder wanted to include himself in that life, if only for a single evening. Not only that, the convoluted events behind Mr. Brooder’s unlikely invitation were almost more than she could comprehend. Apparently Angie McDonald was asking her to help Hank help Jimmy Brooder. The more she thought about it the more it sounded as though everyone was being helped except her?
Not that Jimmy Brooder was a stranger. True, he would never have fit in Lester’s world, the one she had inhabited for so long. However, she saw him at church nearly every Sunday, though he tended to look away when they passed. She had worked with Karen, his late wife, on church projects and found her to be good company.
As for Jimmy, there had never been a reason for comparisons with Lester. Other than his schoolboy athletic success, Gladys had never observed a hint of pretense in Jimmy Brooder. By all accounts he was who he was....with no apologies for that and no inclination to be anything more.
Jimmy Brooder....Big Band Night....A double date. It was hard to imagine that she was even considering such disparate possibilities in the same breath. It was certainly no time for a hasty decision. Perhaps a glass of Burgundy would help make sense of it.
In the wake of Sarah’s passing, Hank had settled into his own comfortable Sunday morning routine ....arriving at the church fifteen or twenty minutes early, entering through the back door and making for the kitchen. By then there was sure to be coffee brewing on the center island. Across the room, on the back counter, a selection of cookies and snacks were spread out, waiting to be carried to the Fellowship Hall for the after-service Social Hour.
After a breakfast of toast and coffee at home, a pre-church snack was an effective way to blunt his hunger until the more substantial after-church Coffee Hour offerings. Of course, the unauthorized ‘tasting’ of refreshments before the worship service was against the Kitchen Crew’s loosely-enforced rules. To Hank that mattered little, as long as no one saw him.
“Oh my, caught in the act.” Grace Carson’s gruff scolding was not matched by her head-shaking grin. “Some of you kids never learn, do you? I guess I’m not surprised though. In fact, you may have already decided it’s a good morning to stay in hiding.”
Brushing cookie crumbs from the front of his shirt, Hank asked, “Why would I want to be in hiding?”
“You mean you haven’t heard?” Grace laughed. “I thought by now your ears would be burning. You and Angie are the number-one topic of conversation this morning. The girls are talking and the fellows are having a laugh. It seems that Angie and Hank Rolland will be a couple for Big Band Night.”
“You mean she’s spreading the word already? What is it with that lady? And not only that, you’re saying that qualifies as big news around here? Boy, it doesn’t take much to get this bunch off and running, does it?”
Grace nudged him toward the counter. “You really don’t understand, do you? Angie didn’t have to ‘spread’ the word. Chances are she told only one person, two at the most. And I’ll bet she told them not to tell anyone else.
"The thing is, Angie knew exactly who to tell....the ones who couldn’t wait to pass the news on to their friends. Lots of folks like to be first with the day’s news. Once that got started I suppose it took about ten minutes for everyone in the place to know about Hank and Angie, fifteen if you include me. I’m not plugged into the fastest part of the jungle telegraph.”
“My God. You make it sound like a conspiracy. I’m not sure I want to go out there and face that.” By then thoughts of retreat had captured Hank's attention. A quiet Sunday morning at home was sounding better by the minute. “I invited her to a concert, that’s all.”
Grace watched as he snagged one last cookie before leading them toward the Fellowship Hall and beyond to the Sanctuary.
“Hank," she said. "The whole congregation has watched Angie set her sights on you. Most of them thought it was funny, even when they weren’t sure it would ever happen. So for some folks it is news when she finally seals the deal. You can’t blame them for that.”
“She hasn’t ‘sealed’ anything. It’s one night, one concert. That’s all.”
For years Grace had been Sarah’s best friend, her most trusted confidant. During Sarah’s last days the two ladies had sometimes discussed Hank’s situation....how he would cope with his loss, and carry on without her. He had not known of those visits, which usually took place in the early morning hours, before his arrival at Sarah’s bedside.
And he was not aware of Grace’s promise to keep an eye on Hank as he transitioned into his new life. In light of that history, it seemed as though she owed him her moral support. Besides, if he was ready to start over, with Angie McDonald of all people, who was she to question his taste?
At the edge of the Fellowship Hall Grace pulled him to a stop for one last point. “Just take it slow,” she cautioned. “Angie’s a persistent lady. You know that already. Just don’t let her rush you. If it’s meant to happen it will.”
“Damn, that sounds like something Sarah would say. In fact I think she has, when we’ve talked about it.”
“You and Sarah have talked about it?” Grace’s puzzled frown was obvious. She had more questions, but it was not the time for that.
“Yeah, we have. And I think we’re on the same page.” Hearing his own words was enough to bring him to a stop. He had never told anyone of his conversations with Sarah. What must Grace be thinking?
“Anyway,” he said, “It seems like I’m doing okay on my own. So why make a big deal about Angie?”
“Hank, you’ve told Angie you’re going to the concert with her. So why not act like it’s a good idea, that you’re glad about it? There’s no reason to embarrass her by sulking.”
“Do I look like I’m sulking?” Across the narthex the last of the stragglers were filing into the Sanctuary. He nudged her ahead. “Come on, it’s time for church.”