Chapter 18 – Plottings
And now, readers, before we tie up all the ragged ends of our story, I must apologize. I’ve left so much unsaid. The larger conflicts of Greenfield have absorbed us both, and have we looked back into the lives of Betty and Inez Sharp? Have we ever once sat together at the back table in the Tuppence Tea Room and whispered with Mrs. Grey about the town’s news, or laughed uproariously at Charlie Shafer’s jokes as he snipped away at his customers’ hair? How long since I’ve allowed you to peer into Reggie Heeler’s antics, or followed Jonquil Jones around the town on her jump rope? And what of the lovely Helen? You met her, and in the blink of an eye, I took her away. Forgive me.
We are nearly out of time, because the town rummage sale, held for the first time this year on the campus lawns of Hezekiah Strong’s college and seminary, approaches this Saturday, May 15th. On that fateful day, all that can be resolved in this tale, will be resolved. Before we gleefully engage in that event and all its fun, I must address some of these minor issues. The lesser characters cry out to be attended to, and attend to them I must.
Age before beauty, they say, so I will begin with the Sharp sisters. Since our last visit with them, Lily Cloudee has sat twice cradling their Haviland china in her hands, sipping Darjeeling and exchanging ideas for baby layettes. Betty knits the tiniest booties and adorable caps. Inez crochets little sweaters with animals across them – owls, kitties, lambs, and dinosaurs for the boys. On Lily’s next visit after the one we were fortunate enough to overhear, she carefully corrected the ladies’ views of Billy Greeter.
“Do you know,” she began, as she fingered Inez’s most recent yellow sweater, “Billy Greeter is more innocent than we were led to believe.”
“Oh?” the sisters replied in unison, although their heads disagreed.
“Yes,” Lily said. “Although there was some light flirtation, there was never a serious relationship of any disreputable kind.” She handed the sweater back to Inez with a smile. “And there was certainly never any baby,” she added. She picked up her cup and saucer. “Nor was there even a possibility of a baby,” she finished delicately.
“Oh!” the sisters repeated. Their heads were still.
“Well,” whispered Betty, and she quickly retrieved her knitting needle and addressed herself to a dropped stitch. “Well!”
On Lily’s third visit, Inez was putting frilly borders around all her baby blankets and Betty was adding bright flowers to all her baby hats. The rummage sale was just over a week away.
“Dear Lily,” Inez began, shaking her head ominously. “What shall we do for Billy?”
Lily nearly choked on her tea, and had to wipe her chin.
“Yes. We must do something for that Billy, dear boy,” Betty added.
“We feel so guilty,” Inez said.
“So guilty,” Betty whispered.
The mantel clock ticked. Lily frowned.
“Why in the world would you feel guilty? What have you done against Billy Greeter?” Lily’s cup clattered gently in her saucer. She gazed at Inez.
The sisters looked at each other, rather dumbfounded. Betty sniffed.
“We’ve wronged him, Lily. You know. You were here. We spoke of him as if we knew his offenses, and we did not know.” Here Inez leaned forward and lowered her voice. “We slandered him.” Both ladies’ heads began to wag and nod more violently in their agitation.
Lily had to conceal a smile. Of course, they were right. The rumors were slanderous, offensive, wrong. What a pair of sweeties! But she dared not belittle their remorse.
“You’re quite right,” she stated, and the ladies seemed to relax. “Quite right. And we should do something to set it right. We should help him.”
“But what can we do?” Betty asked.
Lily bit her lip. She did this when perplexed. “I don’t know yet, but I’ll think of something.” She folded her sewing and slipped it into her bag. “I tell you what. Both of you be sure to come to the rummage sale on the 15th. If there were ever a place where we could make a public showing of our support for Billy, it’ll be there. Alright?”
The ladies agreed, and for once, Inez was able to get her head moving in the right direction.
Mr. Heeler, left to all his own devices both in love and in ecclesiastical politics, was making little progress in either. We are sorry indeed for his ineptitude. He is a clever man, but he is out of his depth in Greenfield. He has set his sights on Jonquil Jones as the recipient of his heart’s affections, and Reginald Heeler is not one to balk at his desires, once they’re fixed. He’s unintimidated by flouncy hair, masculine aunts, and jump ropes. Jonny Jones attempted to avoid the man, unsuccessfully. He began running each morning along her jump roping route. She found him walking along the sidewalk on Sundays, waiting for her to stroll home from Mt. Moriah church. He discovered her taste for Trollope and bought her a set of the Palliser novels from Ebay. While strolling past the gauze curtains of the Tuppence Tea Room, he noticed her drinking a warm cup of chai and had the audacity to enter its sacred, feminine doors. He did not repeat that mistake. Fourteen females of Greenfield gasped and turned their backs coldly upon him.
Doggedness is hard to ignore, and eventually even hard to decline. Jonquil Jones felt herself weakening. She did not like the man particularly, but neither did she loathe him. He was kind, formal, conversational, and generous. She had few friends in Greenfield, and since Billy Greeter seemed to be spending his free time with a bubbly college girl, Jonny felt she might as well spend time with Reginald Heeler as sit at the house with her aunt. How long they would remain in Greenfield, she didn’t know. She was bored. At last, she succumbed and accepted Mr. Heeler’s invitation to dinner. It seemed silly for him to pick her up in his car and drive her to his home when they lived only two blocks apart. She could walk it in a few minutes. But pick her up, he did. She wore blue jeans. He wore a golf shirt.
Jonquil expected that a man living alone would cook hamburgers on the grill, and maybe a dish of microwave macaroni and cheese. She was surprised when she walked into Mr. Heeler’s house and the aroma of pot roast wafted past her nose.
“Why, Reg!” She always called him that, in an attempt to unstiffen him. “Did you cook?”
“Of course, Jonquil. I’m a rather accomplished chef.” And Reg gave her an unintentional wink, put two fingers under her elbow and guided her into the kitchen. Atop the stove was a deep cast iron pot. He whisked the lid from it and Jonny beheld his masterpiece: a brisket roast with red potatoes, slim carrots, and mushrooms, all swimming in a deep brown gravy. Jonny’s taste buds exploded in her mouth.
“Oh, my!” she whispered. Two other smaller pots on the back of the range attracted her attention, with little puffs of steam emanating from under their lids. She smelled asparagus. Instinctively, she reached for the nearer pot. Reg quickly reached over and placed his hand on hers.
“Now, now! No peeking!” And he winked again. She began to wonder if he planned those winks. They seemed involuntary, but still so well-timed. He did not release her hand. “You come in here, and relax while I finish the dinner preparations.” He led her to a couch facing a pair of wide sliding glass doors. They looked over the manse’s back yard, filled with Lily Cloudee’s roses.
“What a magnificent view!” Jonny exclaimed, and she plunked herself down on the sofa. Mr. Heeler tapped a button behind her and strains of Vivaldi gently enfolded the room. Jonquil Jones was not aware that her resolve was slowly melting away.
“Can I help with anything?” she asked absent-mindedly.
“No, no. Just sit and enjoy yourself,” Mr. Heeler said, and he watched the back of her head with great satisfaction. He’s been trying for many weeks to get this young lady seated exactly there. He was proud of his success.
I will not bore you with details of the dinner. The meal was impeccable. The china was unchipped, the silver was clean, the roses and music superb. Mr. Heeler was adept at using all the accoutrements of a date to mask the general vapid and dull aspects of his personality. He successfully put Jonquil Jones into a kind of daze.
“More gravy, Jonquil?” he asked.
“No, thank you so much. It’s delicious.” And she licked her lips. He stood up.
“Care for a walk among the roses?” and he indicated the glass doors.
“Uh,” she began, and she looked at the beautiful yard, radiant in the early evening light. “Sure.” She smiled. “What about the dishes?”
“We can do them later,” Mr. Heeler said. He knew not to decline help with dishes. Many a relationship had been sparked successfully when two people immerse their hands in warm, soapy water together. He was a master of all the old tricks.
He cut her a deep red rose to take home in a bud vase. He reached over her to put away the dishes in the top cabinets. He slipped his arm around the back of the sofa as they watched the sunset dip behind the garden. And, before she realized what she was saying, he succeeded in wresting a promise to attend the rummage sale with him the following week. Jonquil Jones was under the influence of a brisket roast and steamed asparagus. She was not responsible for what she said.
Reginald Heeler thought he was succeeding in his romance. He hoped ardently that this new alliance would assist him in his aspirations to the college presidency. He was mistaken.