Tuesday, January 3, 2023

CONVERSATONS WITH SARAH - Chapter 12


 




                        

    CHAPTER 12


Angie’s Monday morning call, asking if she could stop by to see Gladys Horner, was nothing out of the ordinary. In preparation Gladys brewed a pot of coffee, set out a plate of cookies, and twenty minutes later greeted Angie at her door. 

For fifteen minutes their conversation centered on the expected small talk....newsy, harmless gossip and updates about church projects and shared acquaintances. From the sprawling house they strolled through Gladys’ immaculately-tended backyard gardens, nodding as they passed the trio of Hispanic gardeners. Greeting the third one, Gladys stopped for a moment to exchange a few halting words of Spanish, hardly fluid in her efforts, but able to be understood. 

Finally, on the covered patio, seated at the round, glass topped table, Gladys was ready to ask her questions. Wiping her lips on a crisp white napkin she looked over the top of her tiny, rimless glasses to ask, “So what’s on your mind, Angie? You’ve started to tell me something about a dozen times. So far you haven’t been able to get it out.”

“That’s because I don’t know how to say it.” Angie McDonald prided herself in taking the direct approach. To have her normally demur friend make a point of her timidity was a bit disarming. 

“How to say what? Is it a big secret?”

“There’s nothing secret about it. What it is, is awkward, even kind of embarrassing.” Angie brushed a whisp of carefully-waved white hair from her face, hoping that her distressed blush was not as obvious as it felt. “The truth is, I’ve been asked to ask you for a favor. A very......eh......strange favor.”

“What kind of favor is that? And who’s asking you to do that?”

About then Angie McDonald was wishing she was somewhere else, with some other message to deliver. Her friend had played the perfect hostess, befitting her position as someone who had traveled in the most rarified of Tanner social circles. Would she be laughing out loud at Angie’s unlikely request?

“It’s about a date. For you. To the Big Band Night.”

“A date?” Gladys paused to process that unlikely possibility, before asking, “What are you talking about? I know I’ll be going to the Big Band Night. I always do. But a ‘date?’ I don’t understand. I’m way past the dating stage. You know that.”

For as long as she could remember Angie had subscribed to the practice of dealing with difficult situations sooner, rather than later. As a child she always ate her veggies first, getting the unpleasant part out of the way before enjoying the rest of her meal. It was time to fall back on that time tested approach, to get past the hard part.

“Let me explain,” she began. “Hank Rolland has invited me to the Big Band concert. But he also .....”

“Oh my,” Gladys interrupted. “That sounds like a coup. Something you’ve been wanting for a while. Right?”

“Yes it is. But please let me finish this, while I can. Because Hank is asking a favor. A rather surprising favor.” 

Had Gladys already put the pieces together? Was the notion of a ‘date” beginning to make sense? Without waiting for her friend’s apparent questions, Angie carried on. “He would like to make it a double date. And he wants you to be part of that second couple.”

It was hard to tell if Gladys’ soft laugh was born of humor or embarrassment. In either case, her response was a few seconds in arriving. “What are you saying? I don’t go on dates. Heavens, I haven’t been on a date since Lester and I were in college. What is Hank thinking?”

“Hank is trying to help a friend. Someone who apparently doesn’t have the nerve to ask you himself.”

“Why would anyone want to ask me? I’ve never done that. Never wanted to. Besides, look at me. Do I strike you as dating material?”

The normally poised and proper Mrs. Horner was clearly struggling with Angie’s startling notion. For years she had watched others move past the loss of a spouse in search of new and hopefully satisfying relationships. Though she did not condemn their decision, neither had she envied them. 

Lester had left her well off. The financial considerations that might have motivated others meant little to her. Besides, she had son David, her church family, and her ESL commitments. She could do what she wanted to do, and be whom she wanted to be. Why would she turn away from that invigorating freedom?

“Apparently someone thinks you are ‘dating material,” Angie countered. “That’s what Hank is telling me. And I’ll admit, if it would help him feel more comfortable about our night at the concert, that’s enough to make me think it’s a good idea too.”

“Can you tell me who has this interest in a date? Is that a big secret? I would certainly never consider such an idea without knowing that.”

“Of course it’s not a secret. No one is asking you to go on a blind date. I know for a fact it’s someone you already know, at least a little bit. Someone you probably went to school with.”

“Please, Angie. Can’t you just tell me? There’s no need to make such a production of it.”

Before she had even considered talking to Gladys, Angie had visited her own impressions of Jimmy Brooder’s qualifications as a suitable date. In all likelihood Gladys would share her less than flattering judgment. To even consider the normally-rumpled Mr. Brooder in the company of the always proper Gladys Horner was a stretch. Still, it was time to deliver on the reason for her visit.

“It’s Jimmy Brooder, from church.” She spoke the name, then settled back to read Gladys’ reaction.”

“Jimmy Brooder? Are you sure? Why would he do that?”

“I suppose you’d have to ask him about that.”

Jimmy Brooder....a name from Gladys’ school-girl days, when Scooter Brooder was a big man in school. Around the guys he had been loud and outspoken, always part of the fun. In the company of admiring coeds he was invariably shy and withdrawn. 

Had he ever dated? She could not remember. Though on one memorable occasion he had actually stopped her in the middle of the Senior Hall to ask her to a movie. There was no forgetting his anxious overture....head bowed, staring at the floor, stumbling over his own soft-spoken words. The fact that he had asked while her boyfriend-of-the-month was standing there beside her left her no choice but to turn him down.

Finally, Gladys looked up from her folded hands into Angie’s expectant grin. “Perhaps I will ask him to explain. Can you give a day or two to think about this? After all this time, that’s not something I’m ready to rush into.”

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