Chapter 12 – Stirring Up Trouble
“Where are we going?” Billy asked as he turned right out of Sam’s driveway. He handed the warm bottle to Helen.
“Just the library. You know where that is, right?” Helen stretched her arm into the back seat and popped the bottle into baby’s mouth, to keep him entertained.
“Oh yeah. Spent many weary hours there as a lad. Just ask old Miss Binder about my overdue fines. If I walked in the front door, I’d probably be arrested.”
Helen giggled. “You don’t strike me as the particularly studious type.”
“Guilty as charged.”
They drove in front of the college. Jonny Jones was jogging and jumping rope on the sidewalk.
“Interesting sport, running while you jump rope,” Helen noted. “I haven’t seen her before.”
“No. The girl. Over there, with the jump rope.”
“Uh huh. That’s Jonny. Jonquil actually. She’s President Jones’s niece. I’ve known her since we were kids.”
“Um.” That tan is fake, Helen thought. “Strange name, Jonquil.”
Billy smiled. “Yeah. Your family can’t talk though. Athena? And Helen? Who’s the fan of Ancient Greece?”
“Oh, that’s my dad.”
“Any other girls in the family? Like, an Aphrodite perhaps?”
Helen giggled again. “One other. Clytemnestra, if you must know.”
Billy gasped. “You’re joking!!” He gripped the steering wheel and turned to stare at her.
Helen gave him a calm, sly smile. “We just call her Clyde.”
Billy howled with laughter. “Any brothers named Hermes or Odysseus? You could call them Hermie and Odie!” And they both smiled.
“No,” Helen replied, “Actually, there’s just Athena and me, and in between us there’s Joe. I think my mom got to pick his name.”
As Billy turned onto Leach Street, Reginald Heeler crossed the street in front of them. Billy noticed that Helen slumped down in her seat.
“Know that guy?” he asked.
She straightened nervously. “Yeah. Reggie Heeler. He’s new at Leach Street. Not bad to look at, but he’s too stuffy for me. And old. He kind of creeps out all the girls at school. He winks at us! I mean, he’s always on campus, and almost always by our dorm.”
“Mm.” He looked at Reggie as he stepped onto the pavement. Old? Billy thought.
Billy turned by the First Baptist Church and pulled into the Greenfield Public Library parking lot, in the fifth and last space. The rain had stopped and a little sunshine hesitantly filtered through the tree branches.
“Can I wait for you? Come back in a while?” he asked.
Helen bent into the backseat and began wrestling with the car seat. Her hair tumbled over her shoulders. “Oh no, Billy. Thanks so much. I’ll take the stroller with me, and walk home. The rain’s stopped.” He turned, and she flashed him that smile again – friendly, playful, beautiful.
She just smiled. He watched as she walked into the building with the baby on her hip, pulling the stroller behind. Old, he reminded himself. That Heeler fellow was probably about his age.
When Billy pulled back into the Shepherds’ driveway, Athena walked up to the car. “Hey you!” she said, and gave him a hug. Billy noticed the family resemblance, a fainter version of Helen’s bewitching smile.
“Hey. I just met your sister.”
“Ah, the alluring Helen. Nice smile, huh?”
Billy turned red, and felt it. “I think I would qualify as Helen’s definition of ‘old.’
Athena just laughed at him, turned on her heel, and went in the house.
“Billy says he’s too old for Helen,” she informed her husband. He had two Bibles, three commentaries, a laptop and an iPod, all assisting him at the kitchen table.
“He is,” he mumbled as he thumbed to Habakkuk.
“Hey, dude, watch it!” Billy slumped into a chair again. “As I recall it, you did a little cradle-robbing yourself.”
“Three years. That’s hardly robbing any cradles, thank you,” Sam replied. “And the baby was willing enough.” He grinned at his wife and winked. If Billy weren’t in the room, he would have grabbed her around the waist too and stolen a kiss, as she well knew, and she smiled wickedly at him.
Athena busied herself with the dirty dishes in the sink. She stopped humming long enough to ask, “So, Billy, how long are you home for?”
Sam and Billy looked at each other. Silence. Athena turned around, dripping soapy water on her feet. “What?” She eyed Billy. “Something I don’t know about?”
Sam cleared his throat. “Female trouble,” he said.
“Ahhh!” she replied, and a grin spread across her face. “Anything I can help you with, Billy?”
“Well, you won’t be able to escape females at home, surrounded as you are with college girls. But at least they’ll be a distraction.” Athena squirted more detergent in the sink. “So, any plans? What’re you gonna do?”
“No plans yet,” said Billy, and he stood, stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked the room. “I need to come up with something, or my dad will drive me crazy. Any ideas?”
His hair had dried, and was sticking up all over his head. His shirt, wrinkled that morning, was a crinkled mass after the rain. And his shoes squeaked as he paced the linoleum. “You’re pitiful, Billy,” Athena said. “Sit down. Here,” and she plopped a mug of coffee in front of him. “I’m sure we’ll come up with something. Don’t want to teach 2nd grade, do you? Wendy Waters is having a baby, and they’re looking for somebody.”
“That would be interesting,” Sam observed. “Or maybe Mort could use you at the funeral home. You’re handy with a shovel.” And both men laughed.
“No, no. I need to find another accounting job, and it’ll probably be in Atlanta. I don’t think I’ll be here long.”
“That’s a shame,” Athena said.
“Why?” Billy asked.
“Because you and Helen would make a cute couple.”
Billy downed his coffee and stood to leave. “I promise you,” he declared, “I’ll never date a college girl. Never!”
James Cloudee instructed his secretary to allow no disturbances, and to hold all calls. At 10:00 sharp, he called Harold Bossman.
“James! Good of you to call me back. How are things in Greenfield?”
“Fine, Harold. Funeral yesterday. Very large crowd. Excellent service. Everything fine in Atlanta?”
“Yes. I’ve been out of pocket for a few weeks with a bad back, but it seems to be on the mend.”
“Sorry to hear that.” Dr. Cloudee paused. “What can I do for you, Harold?”
“Well, I hate to bring it up so soon, James, but it’s the college position. The committee here wants to know what your committee was thinking about it. Any discussions on it there?”
“We did meet, briefly, while Dr. Jones was still alive, Harold, but we decided nothing. It seemed, um, too early. Indelicate.”
“Yes. True. Well, I’d certainly be the last to rush anything so soon after the funeral….”
There was a protracted pause. The pastor rescued the committee man from his discomfort.
“Listen, Harold. There’s no clear candidate here. I don’t think Greeter wants the post, although he might be convinced.” Dr. Cloudee winced slightly as he said the following words: “I have a fine associate pastor who could fill it temporarily, if the committee were interested, and ….”
“There is one other possibility, but it’s a long shot and not an attractive one.” Cloudee cleared his throat. “But first, what is the committee’s thinking on the institution – well, both institutions? What kind of future do they have?”
“Ah. Well, hard to say. The wisdom here is to begin incorporating the colleges and seminaries, just as the two denominations have already done. Makes sense. We really need to move everything to Atlanta.”
“Yes, that’s logical.”
“And thus we don’t want anyone at the head of either school who will, uh, push things in another direction. Horace Hipp must be near retirement. Do you think that altering the schools in any way will be difficult?”
“Most difficult. But you might keep them open in some capacity?”
“That’s where the committee on committees is divided, James. Some want to change the seminary into a training school for missionaries, kind of an arm of our seminary in Atlanta. If it succeeds, we could merge both campuses in Greenfield for this purpose. No one sees a use for the college. And some members of the committee want to sell both properties outright.”
“Well, yes. The Lutherans have expressed an interest.”
“Of course, we would transfer all the students to the Atlanta campuses, with full credit for their coursework.”
“Yes, of course.
“James, I don’t mean to be pushy. But it would be better if my committee had some definitive word from your committee on this. If you have a recommendation to give, you need to give it soon. Otherwise, Atlanta will tell you what to do.”
“Okay. Well, keep in touch. Are you doing email yet, James? You really must get a little more techy. Faster communication is the way to go.”
At that moment, James Cloudee’s cell phone buzzed in his pocket.
“Thanks again, Harold.”
As he dug for his phone in his pocket, his desk phone rang again. The man groaned. “Hello?” he said into the first device, against his right ear.
“Just a minute.” He put the second phone to his ear. “Hello?”
“Dr. Cloudee, this is Rev. Stole. I need a minute of your time about this Jones appointment.”
“Jones appointment?” Dr. Cloudee stared at the receiver. He spoke into his cell phone, “May I help you?”
“James, this is Calvin, from the committee. I’ve just heard about this Jones thing. I’m astounded, I must say. I thought we were waiting to decide this at a later meeting.”
“Uh,” Dr. Cloudee responded. “I’m sorry, gentlemen. I’ll need to get back to you!” And he snapped the cell phone shut and set the receiver firmly in its cradle.
“This situation,” he muttered to himself, “is getting out of hand.”
(Copyright by M.K. Christiansen)