It was just past eleven o’clock that evening when Hank closed the garage door and walked through the utility room to the kitchen, still basking in the welcome relief of having weathered his ‘date’ with Angie McDonald. At that moment it felt like one of those life-events he was glad to have in the rear view mirror.
Yet there was no escaping the surprising irony, the comfortable realization that things had worked out better than expected. He remembered pausing at one point during the evening to recall Grace’s advice that he accept Angie for whom she was.
That counsel, which he had tried his best to ignore when it was first offered, coupled with Angie’s apparent willingness to let him proceed at his own pace, had allowed the two of them to coexist....to settle into a unexpectedly-amiable space. Twenty-four hours before he would never have agreed to a day at the beach in her company. By the end of their evening together he was hesitantly endorsing the idea.
Still, though he had grown more comfortable in her company, nothing had prepared him for the anxious prospect of standing side by side on Angie’s front porch, preparing to say his good-byes. The motion-sensing porch light was illuminating the space as he offered her his hand. A moment later she brushed his extended hand aside and reached up to grasp his shoulders. He had tensed, lest she pull him to her. Instead she drew herself up against him.
She turned her face up to his and for one surprising instant Hank reacted as he always had. In the blink of an eye Angie had won both his eager attention and the kiss she wanted so badly, at least until he realized what was happening. A moment later he backed away to pull her into a close cheek-to-cheek embrace. At that point, try as she might Angie had not been able to find a way back to his lips.
Now, standing in the relative safety of his own kitchen, he was left to make sense of it all....from Angie’s insistent attention to his own apparent acceptance. Beyond that, of course, there was the startling shock of their kiss....that brief, mind-bending instant when he felt his own desire matching hers. As much as he wanted to disown that moment and the way it had felt, the bittersweet tingle of her aggressive affirmation remained.
Under more normal circumstances his next step would have been entirely predictable. He had news to report on, a Big Band Concert. There was so much he wanted to share with Sarah. Except....how could he tell her of an evening spent with someone else, an evening that ended with an unscripted, altogether furtive kiss?
His halting approach down the darkened hallway to where Sarah sat waiting for him had the feel of an errand he would rather avoid. Standing in the doorway he was momentarily aware of how the unlit computer room was bathed in a dull, but colorful dimness that took the edge off the midnight darkness.
Broken bits of streetlight filtered through the drawn blinds. The digital clock glowed a bright red. The hard drive back-up was bathed in a luminous blue. And all around the room tiny standby lights added their spark of illumination. Together they combined to reveal the faint image of the pale white canister, perched silently on the shelf beside the television.
It was time to talk to Sarah, to tell her of his evening with Angie. Would she be hurt or disappointed? Would she understand his motives.... of helping Jimmy Brooder, and other reasons even he could not so readily identify.
Standing there in the near darkness, a half hour removed from Angie’s kiss, a part of him wanted to hear Sarah’s reaction. Another part was afraid of what he might hear. There was no avoiding the damning truth....it had not been Angie’s kiss, but their kiss. And no matter how it felt after the fact, there was no denying what he had felt at the time.
There in the doorway, having come to visit Sarah, Hank paused to reconsider. Perhaps by tomorrow morning he could set his own anxious questions aside and have time to explain. Everything about it would be better then. He needed to wait. Turning around, he started down the unlit hallway to his bedroom.
As it turned out the right time to tell Sarah was a long time coming, on the other side of a fitful-night’s sleep. It was next morning when, filling his coffee cup for a second time, Hank pushed his newspaper aside and started down the hall to the computer room. For ten minutes he focused on meaningless emails, then logged on to his brokerage account, something he rarely did on a weekend.
Only when he signed off the computer and settled into his recliner did he pause to look up to Sarah’s Clabber Girl tin. Even before he said a word she had his complete attention. Finally, having set aside his first impulse....to apologize for his momentary ‘good night kiss’ lapse....he was ready to go directly to the heart of the matter, to the one question that spawned all the others.
“You have to help me out, honey,” he began, staring directly at the diminutive clabber girl on the side of her canister. “Is this a part of you talked about....the 'moving on' you said I must do? I’ll admit, our night at the concert was okay....not as bad as I expected. But I’m still trying to figure where Angie fits in. It seems like whatever the right thing is, it ought to feel better than it does. I’m hoping you can help me understand. Okay?”
For the next half hour Hank sat quietly, doing his best to clear his mind, grabbing at each passing thought long enough to confirm it was probably not Sarah’s response. More than once he paused to remind himself that he would know her truth when he heard it. It was sure to ring true and positive.
Every one of the thoughts that flooded his mind, even the ones that fueled his doubts, seemed to end with a question mark. It was nearly time to get ready for church and still he sat expectantly, waiting for Sarah to make sense of his evening with Angie, and what it meant for a future that included ‘moving on.’
Perhaps it had the look of a chance meeting.... two friends who just happened to be in the same place at the same time. In fact, Grace Carson understood it would be her best opportunity for an unhurried, unabridged report on Hank Rolland’s night at the Big Band Concert.
While others prepared the sanctuary for the Sunday service or attended one of the two adult classes, she was in the church kitchen....brewing coffee and tea for the after-service social hour. If Hank followed his normal routine he would be arriving early to sneak a cup of coffee before the worship service.
Though she was expecting him, Grace was too busy to notice when Hank entered the room through a side door. Moments later she looked up from the serving tray of cookies she was arranging to find him standing at the coffee maker, filling his cup. She waited without a word, knowing he would be edging her way....perhaps to talk, certainly to swipe a cookie.
A moment later she gave his hand a playful slap as he reached for a brownie. Wiping her hands on her apron she leaned back against the counter to ask, “Well?”
“How did it go?,” she asked, offering a mocking scowl as Hank helped himself to a chocolate-chip goodie. “Don’t you have a report for an interested observer?”
He was not prepared to offer the details she was hoping for. Instead she would have to settle for the same sanitized version he had provided Sarah. “It was good,” he said. “You were there. I saw you. Didn’t you think the Pops sounded better than ever? For a bunch of folks with day jobs, I thought they were great.”
“Hank Rolland, you know very well I’m not talking about how the band sounded.” For an instant he was reminded of a playful Sarah. “I happen to know you were very anxious about spending an evening with Angie. In fact I’d say you weren’t looking forward to it at all. I hope it was better than you expected.”
“It was fine. We were with Jimmy and Gladys. That made it easier. More fun. I’d have to say the two of them seemed to hit it off pretty well.”
“That’s nice. But how about you and Angie?” She was pressing now. What choice did she have if he was unwilling to volunteer his own details? “Are you still afraid of her?”
“Afraid? Who said I was afraid of her?”
Grace followed him down the counter to the sink, where he rinsed out his cup. “I thought that’s what I was seeing before, when you talked about a night out with her. It sounds like maybe that’s changed. Eh?”
Had that changed, Hank asked himself. It was no time to be trading snappy jokes about something he had yet to sort out to his own satisfaction. “We got along just fine,” he finally said. “Of course she’s a little more pushy than I’m used to, but after a while I didn’t notice that so much.”
That was enough to win a new smile from Grace. “So maybe she had it right after all. Is that what you’re saying?”
“She had what right? What are you talking about?”
“About Angie, of course.” Grace edged closer, offering what seemed to be a more confidential tone. “She stopped in here a few minutes ago. I must say she was sounding awfully smug, telling Connie about her ‘wonderful night’ with Hank and how much she enjoyed it.”
Pausing, Grace was weighing her words, perhaps unsure how to continue. “She especially wanted Connie to know how affectionate Hank could be.... and how she hadn’t seen that coming.” Grace was looking straight into his eyes as she added, “I must admit, that surprised me a bit.”
“How affectionate I was? My God, I spent half the night keeping her hands off me. She was the one always holding on to me. How could she say I was the affectionate one?”
“I have no idea.” Grace’s laugh was a bit forced. “I can only tell you that she sounded pretty convincing. She was especially upbeat when she told Connie how you insisted on another date, that you were lobbying for a day at the beach. All in all, she made it sound like a very successful Big Band Night.”
“She said that? That a day at the coast was my idea?” Hank ground a fist into his palm as he offered his complaint.
“That really burns my butt. That was her idea from the start. She was the one pushing for it. She managed to get Jimmy and Gladys all excited about it. By then I couldn’t see what it would hurt, so I went along too. But it sure as heck wasn’t my idea.”
Grace had his arm, nudging him through the Fellowship Hall toward the rapidly-filling sanctuary.
“Well, however it happened,” she said. “I can assure you that by the time folks get back in here for the Social Hour everyone in the place will know how Angie McDonald swept Hank Rolland off his feet. By then we’ll have heard how he’s ready to pursue her all the way to the Oregon coast, just to keep her interested.”
“Man, oh man," Hank growled. "This is going to be harder than I expected. I asked Sarah about that this morning. Even she didn’t have an answer.”
“You asked Sarah?”
Grace’s mystified scowl was enough to remind Hank. How could Grace possibly understand what ‘asking Sarah’ was about?
“Yeah, I’ll tell you about it sometime.” With that he started off toward the sanctuary.