Chapter 11 – Confession in the Kitchen
Sometime in the night, it began to rain, and Dr. Jones settled nicely into his grave. By morning, the bird baths were full, the gutters were running, the trees were dripping, and everyone in Greenfield wanted to sleep in. Twenty-eight percent of the college students, and twenty-one percent of the seminary students, skipped their morning classes.
Even Dr. and Mrs. Cloudee got a slow start. At 8:00, he was still in his bathrobe, and Lily still sported overnight curlers as she sat over her toast and coffee. Bowzer snoozed happily at her feet. She tried to keep him out of the house when her husband was home. She knew he disliked the dog, moreso because he’d come from the Jones house. But on a rainy morning, Bowzer whined and moaned by the back bay windows by the breakfast table until she let him in. When her husband sat down, the dog rolled over and put one large Basset paw on his bedroom slipper.
“Ugh!” he grumbled, and kicked the paw.
“James, remember ‘true and undefiled religion,’ as told to us by your namesake.”
“He said nothing about dogs. Only orphans and widows.”
He ate his oatmeal and she stitched on a baby blanket.
“A lovely service yesterday,” she added.
He swallowed and nodded. “Yes, it went passibly. The music was a bit of an issue. Did you notice?”
“The Shrilling-Hipp War? Yes, I noticed. Who won, do you think?”
He looked sharply at his wife, but then relaxed. He’d had his own fixed battles with Shrilling and knew his mettle, but it was rather fun to be on the sidelines for once. “I’d say that Mr. Shrilling got the best of it, in the end, if only from sheer volume.” And they both chuckled. She hummed ‘Am I a Soldier of the Cross?’ lightly for a moment.
“Oh, and James, you had a call last night when you were in the shower. A Mr. Bossman, from Atlanta?”
Dr. Cloudee stopped in mid-chew. “Bossman? Head of the Committee on Committees. I wonder what he wants.” And he got the glassy look in his eye that told his wife there would be no more light-hearted conversation that morning.
Lily spent the morning with Bowzer warming her feet, watching the rain on her roses. Dr. Cloudee worried his way to the office, looked up Harold Bossman’s number, and put off making the call. The Committee on Committees could have only one thing to talk with him about, and that was his committee and the necessary appointment to the college presidency. And that was a matter about which he wanted no discussion just yet.
Billy Greeter would normally sleep in very late on such a morning, but he was up at 8:00, breakfasted at 8:30, and out the door by 9:00. He thrust his fists deep into his jeans pockets, turned his wrinkled shirt collar up against the rain, and sloshed his way to the home of his friend, Sam Shepherd.
The cloudy sky and muddy pavement mirrored his mood. Billy was a man in flight, and he knew it. And nothing makes a man feel more grumpy and hollow than running from something. Billy Greeter was not normally a cowardly man, and the cowardly act weighed heavily on his shoulders. They drooped as he walked.
Sam sat in his kitchen, sermon in hand, a warming baby bottle on the stove. His wife believed that heating baby foods in the microwave caused cancer. She also believed that eating potato chips produced dementia in old age. Sam had been eating potato chips secretly now for three years.
The knock on the kitchen door startled him, and a moment later Billy stood dripping on the little rug.
“Hey! C’mon in! Need a towel?”
“Sorry, Sam. I didn’t think I’d need an umbrella. It started raining hard when I was half-way here.”
“Have a seat. Want some coffee?” As Billy nodded, Sam grabbed a second mug from the counter. “I must say, you’re up early for a man on vacation. Did we have plans to do something I forgot about?”
“No. No.” And Billy seemed stumped to explain his visit. He’d planned to work his way into it.
“Well,” Sam continued, “Athena’s over at the school, teaching the little urchins music this morning. She does that on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.”
“Does she take the baby with her?”
“No, not usually. I study at home so he can take a morning nap.” A baby laugh and gurgle erupted from down the hall. “He’s about to get up.”
Billy sat on a thin kitchen chair, stretched his legs out and sipped his coffee. He needed to approach his topic. He needed his friend’s advice. He was on the verge of opening his mouth to speak, when Sam interrupted.
“So, what brings you home? I was really surprised to see you at the funeral yesterday, in the middle of the week.” Sam paused. “You didn’t get fired, did you?”
“No. I left.”
“You left?” Sam set down his cup and peered at his friend. Billy’s eyes were fixed on the liquid in his mug. “Just like that? Why?”
“Uh,” Billy began. He smiled nervously and sighed. “Well, if you want to know, it’s over a woman.”
“A woman? Really? At work?”
Sam’s brain churned. “Was she stalking you or something? I mean, a woman’s no reason to quit a job, unless she’s really ugly ….”
Exasperated, Billy stood up. “She isn’t ugly. She’s almost on the pretty side.” He turned to stare out the window onto the Shepherds’ wet yard, and dug his hands into his pockets. He felt cold. “She was interested in me, too interested. She got transferred to the new office in Macon, and she wanted to pull some strings to get me moved there too. And I didn’t want that ….”
“Well, then don’t go, stupid!”
“It’s not that easy. I mean, I did like her, kind of. I didn’t mean it to go anywhere. It got out of hand. And I didn’t think there was any way I could stay in the Atlanta office.”
“Oh, she’s kind of connected. That’s why she got the promotion.”
“But, if you like her ….”
“Look, Sam,” Billy stopped. He hated to reveal this last piece. “Um, she’s married.”
Neither man knew what to say. The clock ticked above the sink. Finally, Billy returned to his seat. “Honest, I didn’t mean for anything to happen, but it did.”
“How much?” Sam interjected.
Billy ran both hands through his hair and held his head. “Oh, not all that. There was a lot of flirting. I did kiss her. And I met her for coffee a couple of times. But I know she wanted more than that. I kept hoping it would wear out, and when I heard she was leaving, I was relieved.” He looked up at his friend. “But then we had her going away party, and her husband” -- he choked on the word slightly -- “he came. It freaked me out. I had to shake his hand. She was all smiles and friendly.” He stopped, shook his head. “I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to be trapped. That’s not what I want. I had to leave.”
Sam waited. He knew there were several valid responses open to him. But only one would soothe his friend.
“I understand.” Billy didn’t move. “You did the right thing.”
Billy exhaled and stretched his legs out again. “Yeah, but how do I tell my dad? He knows I’m home, but I’ve put off talking to him. He’ll go through the roof when he finds out I quit my job.”
“You can’t tell him why?”
Billy’s look told Sam this wasn’t an option.
The crunch of footsteps on gravel grew louder, and then the kitchen door opened. A girl entered the room with a wet magazine draped over her head. She stomped her feet on the mat, slipped out of her moccasins, and shivered all over, like a wet dog. “Hey, Sam! Sorry I’m late.” She looked up and realized a second man was in the room. “Oh, hey! Who’re you?” She held out a dripping hand to Billy.
“Um, Helen, this is Billy Greeter, friend of mine.”
She shook Billy’s hand.
“Billy, this is Athena’s littlest sister, Helen Bishop.” Billy looked up at the girl. She had large brown eyes and a mane of wavy brown hair, pulled back loosely from her face. She smiled, and a winsome intelligence showed in her eyes. He grinned.
“Nice to meet you,” he said.
“I’ve heard all there is to hear about you!” she replied. “Sam, I’m supposed to take the baby to story time this morning. It starts in ten minutes. Is he ready?”
“Athena didn’t say anything.”
“Darn! Well, I’ll change him and get the diaper bag. That’ll leave you in peace to work on that sermon.” And she whisked out of the room toward the baby noises down the hall.
In spite of himself, Billy smiled at his friend. “Pretty,” he said. “Is she at the college?”
“Junior. She transferred in from Georgia State.”
They could hear her humming and singing a baby tune. In a few minutes she came back in, the baby on her hip and the diaper bag slung over her arm.
“Give Daddy kisses!” she commanded. And Daddy gave the baby kisses.
“It’s still raining, isn’t it?” Sam asked. “You can’t take him walking to town in the rain.”
She smiled. “No, but your friend could drive us in your car, if you give him the keys.” She turned to Billy and flashed him a gently melting look. “Unless you two want to continue the clearly melancholy conversation you were enjoying as I came in.”
Sam dug into his pocket, and tossed his keys to Billy. “See you in a few minutes,” he said, as Billy held the door open for her.
Sam handed him the warm baby bottle from the stove. “Take this. And be thinking of what you want to say to your dad.”
“The less I say to my dad the better.”
“He’d understand, you know,” Sam told him. “He’d be proud that you did the right thing.”
Billy couldn’t answer that one. To himself, he thought, “Yeah, after doing the wrong thing for three months.” He followed Helen through the rain to the carport.