Chapter 7 – An Unexpected Arrival
Jonquil Jones exited the college grounds for her daily exercise as the Cloudees entered her uncle’s house. Her route the previous morning had taken her along College Street toward town, up Leach Street past the churches, through the shady residential section behind the Baptist church, wiggling along Serpentine Alley with its mossy bricks, and then back to College Street, out in the country where Mt. Moriah Church and its tiny day school sat under the pine trees. It was only a two mile jog, if that. This morning, Jonny nodded to the ladies in the Tuppence Tea Room window. She gasped breathlessly at the old men outside the Post Office. As she turned up the slight incline toward Leach Street Presbyterian, she grasped the handles of her jump rope more tightly and pursed her lips. She disliked jumproping past people’s homes.
Reginald Heeler had noticed her the morning before. As he sat at his kitchen table, nibbling toast and sipping V-8, gazing absently at the house across the road, suddenly a flashing vision of femininity crossed his line of sight. Her pink jumpsuit sparkled in the sunlight. Her blond mane bounced on her back. Her rope whisked around and snapped on the pavement – he could hear it whip! whip! whip! as she bobbed along. Mr. Heeler sat upright and his eyes followed her. Afterward he had a hard time focusing on his “Puritanical Ponderings” devotional, and he neglected his toast. Less than a minute later, Lily Cloudee saw her skipping past as well.
On the second morning, however, he was ready. He had moved a lawn chair next to his lone azalea bush, brewed a cup of coffee, applied tweed and leather to his wardrobe, and he lounged as a man of leisure, waiting for her. He’d debated pulling out his grandfather’s monocle, with which to peruse the morning paper, but decided that might be a bit much. Promptly at 8:20, her heard her rope smacking the pavement.
Jonquil came puffing up the hill. She was still thinking of the Cloudees, of Dr. Cloudee’s surprise at seeing her. Why, she’d seen him a dozen times in her life! She’d spent summers with her Uncle Jeremiah, climbing the college trees! She’d had tea at their house, and took painting lessons from Mrs. Cloudee! And now he didn’t even remember her. She snapped her rope more sternly and huffed up the hill to the church. She noted a man sitting in his yard, his legs jutting out, his bedroom slippers muddy on the bottom. She glanced sideways and saw his eyes, following her over the top of his newspaper. He winked at her. Jonquil tripped and nearly lost her balance. The man sat up in his chair, and his coffee cup, balanced delicately on the arm of his chair, tipped and dumped into his lap. She barely regained her rhythm, and hurried past his house as best she could. Her admirer was left with hot coffee in his lap and a damp paper.
“Silly man,” she muttered to herself. “That’s what he gets for gawking at women over his morning news.”
At the same moment, a young man with auburn hair, round glasses and a lanky frame was stepping off the bus on the far end of College Street. Greenfield is no major hub of transportation, but a weekly Greyhound that runs from Charlotte to Atlanta does slow down at the little bus stop on the west edge of town, just long enough to throw off a passenger or two. Fitzwilliam Greeter retrieved his old red suitcase and began the long walk home. Before we allow him to proceed further, however, I must address with you, dear readers, the matter of his name. Mrs. Greeter – Emilia Rockingwood as was – knew full well that Fitzwilliam was not a good Southern boy’s name. All her friends in Georgia chose names like James or Edward or Kevin. They were always called Jimmy or Eddie or Kev. But Emilia came from the British Rockingwoods, and only a British name would do. Fond as she was of reading, and fonder still of Austen, and fawningly fond of Pride and Prejudice, she could find no other name that warmed her heart like Fitzwilliam. Her husband grumbled, but agreed as most husbands do, when their wives are in the throes of labor, and are clearly bearing the lion’s share of the work to produce the child. Fitzwilliam it was. Everyone called him Billy.
Billy Greeter was unexpected by his parents on this fine April morning. They thought he was happily ensconced in his cubicle, in his accounting office, in his sky scraper, in Atlanta. But Billy had left all that. He hadn’t actually quit, but by the time his boss realized that he’d been gone three days, they would clean out his cubicle and find some other sorry, desperate fellow to sit there. Billy breathed deeply and smiled at the warm pine scent in the air. It would get stronger as the summer progressed and the heat warmed the sap and nearly baked the pine needles underfoot. There was nothing quite like it.
As Billy crossed Leach Street, Jonquil turned onto College Street and jumped her rope in front of Mt. Moriah Church. Thus they were destined to cross paths for the first time, a few minutes later, in front of the college gates. Jonquil was focused on her rope and on not tripping and smashing her face because of the uneven sidewalk bricks. She was subconsciously counting the steps from the church to the college. “ One hundred fifty-three, one hundred fifty-four ….” Billy, meanwhile, was rehearsing what he would say to his mother, and then to his father, when he walked in the door. “Hello, old things! Surprise!” No, that didn’t quite seem to work. And as he ruminated on his plan of attack, he heard a distant whip! whip! whip! and he looked up. Her flashing knees, like Achilles’ as he circled Troy! Her heaving bosom, like Dido in her grief for Aeneas! Her golden hair, all falling now about her face, sticking to her temples! And the flushed face, the slight glisten of exertion on her forehead! (I’m sure my readers know that Southern girls do not sweat, nor do they perspire. They merely glow.) Billy stopped in his tracks and watched her. And as she drew nearer, her face became familiar. He’d last seen her when she was a thin, wiry, mean-spirited little squirt of a girl. “Jonny Jones,” he whispered to himself. A small smirk tickled his lips, and he stepped forward toward the college gates. He knew where she was going – to the president’s house.
Billy leaned languidly upon the gate. “Well, Jonny Jones, bless my boots! Come to visit your old battle grounds?” He applied his broadest, most confident grin to his handsome face.
Jonquil’s rope dropped and she stopped a few feet from him. “Silly Billy!” She gasped briefly for breath. Billy had trouble keeping the grin on his face. Truly, she was beautiful. “What’re you doing home? I thought you were in Atlanta,” she puffed at him,
and pressed one hand to her side. She glanced at the suitcase.
“Where’s your car?”
“Totaled it last week. I took the bus.”
“No, no,” he said, and followed her through the gate. “Must come pay homage once in a while, you know. Got to keep the home fires burning in their hearts for the loving son.” He glanced at her face. “You haven’t been here in a coon’s age. What brings you to see old Jerry?”
“You haven’t heard?” Jonquil stopped and turned to him. “Uncle Jerry died last week. Very suddenly.”
“I’m so sorry! Man, that’s rather a shock. He was fine when I was home at Christmas. Mother never said a thing.”
“Oh, it was sudden. We didn’t suspect. A bad heart, apparently.”
“Then, that means….”
“Yes, Auntie Jaunty is here too.”
“Ah.” They continued walking and came to the end of Billy’s driveway. “When’s the funeral?”
“Today at 4:00. You’ll be there?”
“Of course, Jonny.” She walked a bit past him, and smiled.
“See you there then,” and she skipped away. He watched her, hardly believing that the beautiful woman with whom he’d just walked was the same sniveling girl he’d tormented only ten years before. Coming home was hard on a man’s senses.
Billy set his suitcase in the garage and walked back down the drive and out the college gates. He wasn’t quite ready for the inevitable conversation with his parents. Instead, he strolled past the college to the edge of town, to 117 Highland Circle. There he hoped to find either Sam or Athena at home – it mattered little which one. He could with equal ease unburden his heart to either friend and ask for comfort and advice. When Sam was in seminary, Billy was in college, and they’d sparred on the soccer field and tussled on the basketball court, eaten hot dogs in the cafeteria and turkey dinner at the Greeter table. Billy encouraged Sam to court Athena, and supported the groom as he awaited the bride at the head of the aisle. The couple had watched their young friend date a steady stream of college females, without matrimonial success. Billy sat at their kitchen table more comfortably than he did at his own. What bachelor table is comfortable? Where is comfort in a home, without a woman? Having left just such a cold apartment in the metropolis, and then slunk away from his own mother’s door, and finally faced confusion of heart at the sight of Jonquil Jones, Billy Greeter hardly knew what to think of his state in life. Thus, he kicked at the pine cones as he walked into the country, and picked up the occasional magnolia seed pod and heaved it into the trees like a grenade. In the young man’s mind, there was no solidity in life – the old are dying, the friends of one’s youth turn upon one and develop shapely bodies and luxurious hair – why, a man can’t even walk to his own parents’ home without trepidation! Billy Greeter turned into Highland Circle with a worried heart, seeking the kind words of a friend.