In a manner befitting his adolescent athleticism Jimmy Brooder had managed to move from his sanctuary pew to the Social Hour serving line in near record time, fast enough to put him at the head of the line. His brief, but productive trip past the assembled treats was invariably a highlight of his dining week.
On Sunday mornings the ladies of the church set out a tempting selection of cookies, cakes, and other delectables. For a culinary-challenged widower like Jimmy their offerings were irresistible. Of course, he knew as well as anyone it was not appropriate to come to church for only the desserts. On the other hand, however, they were a perfectly sensible reason to linger afterwards.
With a plate full of goodies, the only desserts he would taste all week, and a cup of coffee, Jimmy made his way to the corner table he and Hank had long called their own, though lately Angie McDonald had staked her claim to an end seat next to Hank. There, before he had managed a single bite, he was interrupted by a light, but insistent tap on his shoulder.
“Could we talk for a minute?”
It was her....Gladys Horner. What did that mean? For a few long seconds Jimmy looked up into her unsmiling face, noting the anxiety that pursed her mouth and narrowed her eyes. He stood, still at a loss for words, as Hank approached the table.
“Maybe out in the hall,” she suggested. “Where it’s quiet.”
Replying with a nod, Jimmy motioned for her to lead the way. Answering Hank’s questioning glance with a eye-rolling shrug, he started off behind Gladys. And still he had not said a word. Without turning to see who was watching their exit he felt the stares of wondering eyes. Finally, in the quiet of the empty hallway he paused to ask his question.
“What do you want?"
It was a timid request.... though in fact he was not sure he wanted to hear her answer. More to the point, at that moment his thoughts were filled with the surprising reality that Gladys Horner was standing right there in front of him. Apparently she wanted to talk. All he saw were her blue eyes looking up at him.
“Was that really your idea?” There was no explanation, only her blunt question.
“Was what my idea?”
“Or was Hank Rolland just being silly?” she continued, seeming to ignore his response.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Then perhaps I’d better have a talk with Mr. Rolland. He needs to know that some things are not meant to be joked about.” With that Gladys turned and started toward the Fellowship Hall. She would have made her getaway, had Jimmy not grabbed her shoulder as she passed.
“Please. Won’t you just tell me what this is about?”
In all likelihood Jimmy Brooder would never have initiated a conversation of any sort with Gladys Horner. But it was her conversation that had his attention. She had set his questions in motion.... about something Hank had apparently done or said.
“How can you blame Hank for something, without telling me what it’s about? Because I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Behind the dubious guise of her sheepish grin Gladys was nodding to him, or perhaps it was to herself. After all, if Jimmy was not aware of Hank and Angie’s silly idea, was it fair to keep him in the dark? “To tell you the truth,” she finally admitted, “I don’t know exactly what Hank said. I only know what Angie told me he said.”
The wanting may have been there for a long time, but it was absolutely the first time Jimmy had managed a full-blown smile in her direction. It arrived with a soft, natural laugh. “Come on, lady. You’ll have to explain that. You want to talk to me about what Angie said Hank said. Is that it?”
“I guess that’s what I'm saying.” By then his embarrassed befuddlement had her laughing too.
There he was, smiling into Gladys Horner’s easy grin. Who would have guessed that could be happening? A moment later his thoughts were hijacked by a new, distinctly-uncomfortable realization. He could think of only one topic that could possibly include Hank, Angie, Gladys, and himself. Was that what she was talking about?
Turning back to face her, Jimmy nodded toward the far end of the hallway and nudged her in that direction. “Tell me,” he said as they walked. “Is what you heard in that round-about way something about me and you?” He noted her cautious nod. “Maybe something about a date, a double date, to the Big Band concert?”
Gladys stepped closer, straining to hear his soft words. A second later she offered her response. “Yes. That’s what I heard. From Angie. Who heard it from Hank.”
“In that case, I need to bail my friend out of the trouble he’s got himself in.”
Truth to tell, Jimmy Brooder was scolding himself for creating such confusion. He had gone looking for Hank’s help, to ask Gladys the question he could not bring himself to ask. Hank must have asked Angie to do the asking. No wonder Gladys was confused. Besides, since it was apparently a bad idea from the start, it was not fair to be blaming Hank.
A single tug on her arm turned Gladys toward him. “I’m sorry. This is my fault,” he said. “That was something I wanted to have happen. But I can understand why it sounded so crazy to you. Anyway, if you’re going to be mad at someone, it should be me. I’m the one who asked Hank to help me. I just didn’t know he would be getting Angie involved.”
“Why did I ask for Hank’s help? Because I thought it was a good idea, something I’d like to do. I still think it is.”
Shaking his head Jimmy was already moving back toward the Fellowship Hall. “Anyway, I’m sorry I caused such a fuss. Why don’t we just drop it. Okay?”
“So you still think it’s a good idea," Gladys answered, seeming to stand her ground. "Is that what you’re saying?”
“Then why didn’t you just ask me? Why did it have to take Hank or Angie?”
No wonder Jimmy had the look of a man prepared to run away, to escape her probing questions. Why did she have to keep pushing? It was time to end their ridiculous drama.
“Gladys Horner, you’re not going to the concert with me. I knew that all along. You’ve got more sense and good taste than that. So let’s just forget about it.”
Gladys paused long enough to draw herself to her full five-foot two, looking up into his face, searching for her parting words.
“Jimmy Brooder, you are exactly half right. I won’t be going to the concert with you.” She started toward the front door, before adding over her shoulder, “Not if you don’t have the nerve to do the asking yourself.”
A moment later he stood rooted in the middle of the hallway, watching as Gladys walked away. Replaying her words, he asked himself again if she had actually said what he thought he heard.