Friday, March 3, 2023




      CHAPTER 38


The first hints of daylight filtered through the flimsy curtain. Jimmy’s eyes flickered open, but there was little to see. Tugging to regain his share of the sleeping-bag blanket, he stopped short at the unexpected warmth of her leg against his. That was enough to trigger fresh thoughts of the night before. 

She must be asleep, he told himself. His blanket pulling exercise seemed not to have disturbed her. He rolled onto his side and in an instant saw for himself the puzzling truth of it. Gladys lay there on her back, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling.

“Good morning,” he offered in a half whisper. “How are you?”

Nothing. There was no reply, nothing to indicate she had heard him. In fact she scarcely blinked. From all appearances she might as well have been on another planet.

“What’s wrong?” he asked softly. “Are you thinking we shouldn’t have? It was your idea. Remember?" Looking away, he stretched out on his back. "It looks to me like you’re having second thoughts. Eh?”

A instant later the morning silence was broken by Gladys’ stern command. “Will you stop that? Just stop it.”

For an instant Jimmy did as he was told, certain he had never heard that tone of voice from her. Was it anger or frustration? He wanted to know. 

“Look, I’m sorry,” he said, hoping to defuse her unexpected aggression. “I don’t understand what has you acting like this. Was it something I said, or was it last night?”

“It’s not any of that. It’s not about you at all.” 

By the time she finally glanced over at him he had won something approximating a smile. “And it’s certainly not about last night, which was very nice.”

Jimmy lay waiting for her to continue, to explain. A few seconds later he was asking again, “Are you going to tell me?”

“It’s David.” The words were so soft he was not sure he heard correctly. “It’s about David.”

“What about David? Come on, I have a right to know, don’t I?”

He half expected her to turn away. Instead, she moved closer, cuddling up against his chest....not wanting to talk at all, though she knew she must.

“He came by the house the other night, David did. He said he’d just stopped by to see how I was doing. But I could tell he had something on his mind....something more than just a social call.”

Rolling onto her back, Gladys pulled the blanket up under her chin. Without looking back at Jimmy she asked, “Do you suppose we could do this over breakfast? I could really use a cup of coffee right now.”

Minutes later, while Gladys trekked off through the freezing morning to the restroom, Jimmy was still stewing over her ‘David’ revelations as he put the coffee pot on the stove and began assembling breakfast. 

What was she trying to say? After his one and only meeting with David Horner, Jimmy had come away thinking he and the son were on the same page. Now, her reluctance to even broach the subject had him wondering if he had misread the situation.

By the time their sparse meal was on the table Gladys had returned. Though she was apparently unready to expand on her earlier disclosure, Jimmy was not above being insistent.

“Are you going to tell me what this is about? It feels like you’re sorry about last night. Like it was a mistake. If that’s what it is, I want to know.”

Pausing to wrap her still-cold fingers around the warm coffee cup, Gladys took a long sip to fortify herself, and prepared to explain what she was not sure she understood. 

“Don’t be silly,” she began. “It’s has nothing to do with last night. I’ll admit I was anxious about that, at least at first. But there was no reason to be. It was exactly right.” Her embarrassed, red-faced smile was enough to calm Jimmy's immediate fears.

“So what about David? You said that he came by to see you, with something on his mind. What was it he wanted to talk about?”

“It was about me....and you. About the two of us being together. More to the point, it was about the two of us being married.”

“Whoa.” That unexpected revelation was enough to get Jimmy’s attention. “You mean he’s already talking about marriage. And I haven’t even had the nerve to bring the subject up.” 

Spearing the last piece of sausage he looked up, wanting to know more. “After last night he just might be on to something. Except you’re making it sound like he has a problem with that. Is that it?”

Gladys was struggling with the prospect of explaining David’s complaint, of putting his words in her mouth. Still, David deserved to have his objections heard, and Jimmy certainly deserved to know the truth. 

“I told him that I liked Jimmy Brooder....a lot,” she explained. “That’s when he asked if I liked ‘Mr. Touchdown’ enough to marry him. All I could say was that I hadn’t been asked.”

“Next time you see him, you tell the boy that the Scooter’s not timid. He’s just not the kind to barge into such things.”

Smiling broadly, Gladys nodded her understanding. Still, her frown had returned when she continued. “At first I thought he had a problem with the idea of me remarrying, of there being someone besides his father.”

“That would be natural enough, wouldn’t it?”

“I suppose it might be for some children. But it turned out that wasn’t David’s concern at all.”

“So what was it?”

Taking a moment to chew the last of her toast, Gladys was searching for the words to make David’s point, without painting him blacker than he deserved. Finally, looking Jimmy straight in the eye, she said bluntly, “It was money. That’s what it was.”

 “Since I don’t have enough money for anyone to worry about, I have to assume he’s talking about your money. Right?” Jimmy may have been trying for humor, but it appeared she was not buying his half-serious joke. “The kid thinks I’m after your money. Is that it?”

“Actually, he called it ‘Dad’s money.’ But yes, that was his main question.”

“What else did he say? Tell me exactly.” Jimmy drew a deep breath, fighting back the sudden urge to get in David Horner’s face, to straighten the kid out. “Tell me word for word. I want to know what he’s thinking.”

By then Gladys was looking past him, over his shoulder to the tiny window over the sink. What could possibly be gained by reciting David’s blunt concerns word for word? What would it do but feed Jimmy’s already obvious resentment?

“The exact words,” Jimmy repeated slowly.

“He said that if we married, ‘Dad’s money’ would end up in the hands of a Shipping Department Supervisor. I’m afraid that bothered him a lot. He couldn’t get past that, even after I told him that whatever we did would not be about money.”

Stifling the words that first came to mind, words that were bound to offend Gladys, Jimmy willed himself into a more positive space. “Would it be wrong to assume that what he can’t get past the idea of his father’s money going anywhere but to him. That’s really what it’s about, isn’t it?”

“I suppose so.” Her timid words were weighed with dejection. Had she, by exposing David’s resentment, sent Jimmy Brooder running for the exit?

Outside the sun was higher now, peeking over the tree tops, bathing patches of the surrounding campground in brilliant sunlight. Across the road the rising plume of steam from the main springs reflected rainbow sparkles in the sunlight.

Meanwhile, inside their cozy camper space the awkward silence dragged though neither of them knew what to make of Gladys’ disclosure. Finally Jimmy reached across for her hand, drawing her back into eye contact.

“He’s right, you know,” he said softly. “You can’t blame him for that.”

“And if he is....," she wondered. "What does that mean for us?”

At that moment Jimmy was sure they were overdue for a serious good-morning kiss, hopefully a reassuring kiss. “I’m not exactly sure what it means,” he said as he leaned back from their embrace. “Except that from the beginning I’ve wanted to be with the boy's mother, not her money. He needs to know that.”

“Thank you.”

“In the meantime, I haven’t seen our neighbors heading for the small pool. Why don’t we take a last dip before we hit the road?”

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