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Drizzles and Drenches

Charlie Hudson

“You’ve been listening to gossip again.” Sarah made a conscious effort to minimize the edge of primness lurking beside that statement.

“Of course I have and my only regret is that I didn’t start the rumor myself,” Diane replied and swiped cookie crumbs from the table top into a napkin. “Tell me it’s true and I’ll be a happy woman.”

Sarah wondered if her cheeks were flushed, betraying her attempt at nonchalance. “It’s a gross exaggeration. We stayed later than the rest of the committee to talk about one of the player’s shaky grades. We were having a cup of coffee and yes, the custodian found us together, alone in the library. How that got translated into Coach Phillips and I dating is beyond me.”

“Oh piddle, it’s a natural assumption and it seems to me it would be an excellent idea,” Diane countered with a teasing smile as well as no remorse. “The photographs I’ve seen are nice-looking enough, I’ve been told he has a sense of humor and a winning season is expected. You can’t tell me you’re not at least a tiny bit attracted.”

Sarah knew it was affectionate teasing, not thinly masked mean-spiritedness. They’d been friends too long to mistake the intent. There was no tea left in the cup to hide behind and the cookies were gone. No recourse except to rub the tip of her nose for momentary delay in responding.

“He’s a pleasant man and we’ve had friendly, mostly professional conversations,” she said weakly. “It’s silly for people to talk.”

Diane reached her wrinkled, thin, yet surprisingly strong, hand past empty cups and patted Sarah’s forearm. “Don’t be cross. It’s not a very big school and the town isn’t much larger. Matchmaking is generally a harmless activity.”

Sarah smiled wryly at the touch. “As the Old Maid librarian, I’m a perfect candidate. Add in a forty-something, twice-divorced baseball coach and it’s a natural fit.”

“Twice divorced? I was told three times,” the older woman said with raised eyebrows. “Three is more exciting.”

Sarah laughed, her humor restored. Diane was correct – expecting people to not talk was like expecting a cookie jar to still be full if you left a kindergarten class unattended.

“I don’t know for sure, he and I have certainly never discussed it. What I do know is I’ve got to run. Do you need anything else for Thursday?” She pushed the chair away from the round table Diane used for conferences and breaks away from her desk.

Diane stood to walk Sarah out, as was their habit. “No thank you, dear. You’ve been a big help, as usual. If the clouds stay away, we’ll have a lovely full moon and the temperature is up enough for us to open the terrace doors.”

They exited Diane’s corner office into the wide airy hallway, the women nodding greetings as they proceeded through the lobby and reception area of Willowgate Manor. A few visitors were scattered around the seating groups of a love seat, two comfortable chairs and a low table. This was a room people could think of as a family den, color scheme reminiscent of a day in the meadow; greens, purples, blues and yellows. The spacious dining hall was off to one side, two activity rooms on the other. It was a facility created by Diane’s father, an insistence on dignity for the residents, a balance between active elders and those in the constant care wing. Sarah had been only vaguely aware of Willowgate three years prior when Diane retired from her nursing position at the hospital to become the administrator after her father’s death. As a lively Social Security recipient, she possessed a vitality Sarah hoped she could achieve at that stage of her life.

It had taken Diane exactly one month to mention they needed a new pianist for the Thursday night dance and sing-along. Reluctant at first, Sarah discovered it to be an engaging weekly event. Her repertoire of songs expanded as people made requests or gave her sheet music. The faithful group of a dozen sometimes swelled to a full room and occasionally a resident or a visitor would add an instrument for a new sound.

Diane said good-bye to Sarah on the columned front porch, a welcoming access with hanging plants and weather-silvered rocking chairs. Sarah waved in parting and quickened her pace when she felt drops of what was supposed to be a late afternoon passing shower. The layer of gray wasn’t overly threatening, but looked as if it would refuse to yield to allow a sunset.

She clicked the remote on her white Escort and slid into the seat before the splatter began. How careless to have left the umbrella in the car! She drove slowly along the few miles to her bungalow, mindful of the rain, thinking about her protestations and Coach Phillips. Wayne – she had no reason to be formal.

She had been neither deceitful nor entirely candid with Diane. Coffee in the teachers’ lounge, sitting next to her in a committee meeting, a polite inquiry as to if she was going to attend the baseball game, a request for observations about a student were hardly the stuff of romance. Flirtation maybe. Wishful thinking? Whose? Hers or Wayne’s? Did one flirt at their age? She hadn’t been proficient with flirting as a teenager, nor as a young woman. When had she decided it wasn’t worth the trouble? Trouble was too mild a word. It was the humiliation of rejection she feared. Hell, had she ever really tried or simply let imagined conversations languish inside her head with her face bent studiously to books she could depend on?

The errant shower faded to a drizzle as she turned onto her short street. It was a street devoted to brick ranchers and frame bungalows, wooden slats given way to vinyl siding; carports and one-car garages; front porches and back patios, trimmed lawns and clipped shrubs; rectangular flowerbeds and not a fountain in sight. Only a few houses changed residents periodically with the neighborhood quiet rarely disturbed. Children old enough for roller blades and such visited rather than lived in the starter and empty-nest homes, too small for most people who wanted the bedroom per child, three baths and other space to be found in the new developments hugging the shopping centers on either end of town. Shops around the town square had yet to feel squeezed by recently opened large franchise grocery and retail stores.

Sarah eased into the garage, stopping when her front tire contacted the padded bump that lay on the concrete floor. She lowered the automatic door, collected the day’s paraphernalia of soft-sided briefcase, purse, lunch bag and thought she heard the telephone ringing as she fit her key into the lock. The door would stick ever so slightly with the rain, her hands were full and it wasn’t as if she was expecting an important call. Trying to rush would only guarantee that she would drop something or bend her key and probably miss the caller anyway.

She looked down to see if Buttermilk was waiting to curl around her ankles since the back of the sofa would not be drenched in sunlight today. A silly name for a cat she hadn’t wanted – a piece of the stereotype she’d resisted. One of the residents at Willowgate had been distraught at having nowhere to place the last yellow kitten when she was forced to give up living in her home. She cajoled Sarah into a temporary arrangement that somehow became permanent when Sarah found herself softening to the sound of companionable purring. In a moment of truthful admission, what was one more checkmark in her life that broadcast ordinary from every angle?

She was the older sister who was asked to help with tests while pretty sister, Stephanie, was asked for dates. Summers spent in the library that segued into a natural career. Glasses that were now bi-focal. A collection of big band and jazz, a lack of classical music her sole degree of rebellion. A serviceable upright piano against the wall and a smallish television surrounded by jammed bookcases. Aunt rather than mother, as dependable as she was predictable; refusing to become Buttermilk’s savoir would change none of that.

The yellow cat, sleek from good care, was neither sunning nor prowling, but instead lifted her head from the top of her favorite overstuffed blue armchair where she was draped, gold-green eyes watching. She yawned, stretched one leg and emitted a purr that rivaled a healthy snore.

Sarah stroked the tawny fur in passing and deposited her belongings in their assigned places before she checked voice mail. She was startled and played the message from Wayne Phillips twice. She allowed herself a smile and wondered if Diane would laugh at her poorly smothered sense of anticipation as she dialed the number he’d left.

Their conversation was functionally brief and when she cradled the receiver gently, she felt a ridiculous twinge of giddiness at the thought of a date for Saturday night. She stared into an antique mirror mounted near the telephone, silently mouthing Wayne’s invitation. She wasn’t concerned about silvery sprinkles in her short chestnut hair, but she was overdue a cut and deep conditioner. The russet jersey dress she’d found on a great sale that picked up her brown eyes would be perfect and since Wayne was almost six feet tall, she could wear pumps and come about to his nose. She shook her head at the sudden rush of ideas. It was a single date that might turn out to be a complete mistake for all she knew. Well, if that was the case, it should certainly grind the rumor mill to a halt.


“Spring break at last,” Diane said cheerily. “Do you and Wayne have plans?” She focused her attention on delicately spreading white icing on a bunny shaped cookie. She needed four dozen to make an atheistically acceptable tray.

“No, he left for North Carolina yesterday. His oldest daughter is getting married and he promised to help his parents move into a retirement community. Their house sold and he’s going to handle some loose ends for them. I’ll follow my usual routine.”

Sarah wiped spilled flour from the sand colored granite counter and knew what question would come next.

“Sunrise service and Easter brunch at Steffie’s?” Diane surveyed her handiwork and nodded approvingly before she met Sarah’s calm expression. “Are you disappointed?”

Sarah paused and reached for her glass of sangria. It was such a colorful drink with citrus slices in red wine. “I don’t think so. I mean, I guess I might have entertained the idea of sharing vacation with him, but I knew about his daughter’s wedding and well, it’s probably easier that we have our own commitments.”

“An interesting choice of words.” The older woman settled a clear plastic cover over the silver coated deli-style round tray. “Let’s sit for a minute and enjoy our wine.”

Sarah took the cane bottom, under-the-counter stool closest to her. “Is there a lecture in this? A pep talk? A query?” She was trying for a light tone.

Diane laughed as she perched on the end stool. “Maybe all of the above, maybe none. I think I’ve been rather circumspect in not quizzing you for the last two months. You must admit your descriptions of dinner engagements haven’t been terribly detailed. I try to curb my nosiness, but if you want to talk about anything, I’m here.”

Sarah exhaled thoughtfully. Where to begin? She and Wayne were simply progressing as a more mature couple might, weren’t they? Dinner every week or so, her place or on the town, lunch together when their schedules allowed, a limited exchange of truly personal information, certainly no discussion of the relationship itself. Was it a relationship? Or a friendship between a man and woman?

“This is still new for me, you know,” she acknowledged slowly. “We have a good time when we’re together and I’ve gotten to where I just assume I’ll see him regularly.”

“It sounds like there’s a but in there.” Diane’s wrinkled face was soft, caring more than curious.

Sarah felt the flush she wanted to control. “Well, it’s just that we, I mean I, or maybe him, too, although being a man, one wouldn’t think….” Damn, this wasn’t what she meant!

Diane titled her head, brown eyes meltingly sympathetic. “Sarah, my dear friend,

are we talking about intimacy?”

Not exactly. Sarah nodded and sipped wine in defense. Oh for God’s sake, how schoolgirlish could she be?

“If you promise not to laugh and I told you I haven’t been with a man for fifteen years since my divorce, would that help?”

Sarah choked back the automatic laugh. “Really?”

“It’s not something I discuss in general, but yes, really.” She giggled, a terribly undignified sound for a woman of her years.

Sarah couldn’t keep a straight face either and grinned in release. “Lord, listen to us. We’re supposed to be past this stage.”

“Oh piddle.” Diane glanced over her shoulder at the green glass pitcher. “Let’s have a refill and you can tell me what’s bothering you.”

“I’ll get it,” Sarah said as she slipped from her stool. She felt less awkward being engaged in a task. “When Wayne and I started seeing each other, I suppose I didn’t expect it to go beyond one date. Not truly, not deep down. Even though we had a good time, I guess I thought he was just new in town, didn’t know anyone and I was the easiest target.” She carefully handed the brimming glass to Diane and re-took her seat.

“As you said though, it’s been a couple of months and I haven’t the slightest notion as to what I’m supposed to do. In a way, I’m glad he won’t be around for a while. It’s been a bit confusing.”

She poked a protruding ice cube with the tip of her finger, working up to the embarrassing part. “He’s been very polite, I guess is a good word, with no mention of, well, you know.” Oh come on, she could do this.

“It hasn’t been fifteen years for me, but it’s hardly like I have a great deal of experience either. I don’t know if Wayne is expecting more, if I should do something first or if all he wants is someone to have dinner with. For all I know, he’s got women lined up all over the county.”

Diane smiled. “Should we talk about how you feel about him?”

“How couch-like,” Sarah said.

“Do you know how you feel?”

Right on target. The drawback of perspective friends.

“Perhaps more strongly than I should,” she said, a little too quickly. Oh hell, if she couldn’t trust Diane, who could she trust?

“I like being with him. He loves sports, yet he’s not so consumed by them he doesn’t care about anything else. He’s actually a good dancer and he prefers Country and Western, but he appreciates big band and jazz. He does refer to classic literature as written by old, dead Greek guys, but he reads contemporary works and is fun to talk to. I guess what I mean is that he’s got more depth than I anticipated.”

“Are you concerned about reciprocity of feelings?”

Sarah grinned. Of course. Or equitability. Or not being the needy one. Or not being to made look like a fool if she was wrong. What if he did view her only as a friend? “Essentially. I suppose what it gets down to is that I halfway expect him to come back and decide I wasn’t what he was after. Or maybe he’ll see his ex-wife at the wedding and they’ll reconcile. And if none of that happens, should I give him some kind of signal that I want to be, well, you know. If we do, though, then what? I’m forty-one and have never been in a long term, serious relationship in my life.”

Diane set her wine glass aside and did the hand-pat thing. “Unless you’re trying to deceive me, it sounds as if you haven’t fallen madly in love, but you certainly have reasons to keep the relationship going. Two months isn’t a terribly long time and if you want to spice things up, I say you should. I don’t think it matters these days who takes the lead. After all, if you find you’re not compatible in that manner, it usually affects the entire relationship.”

“Diplomatically put,” Sarah agreed, ready to change the subject. “That’s enough about my life, though. Tell me about your new Easter outfit.”

Sarah lingered for another hour in easy exchanges of unromantic matters. She made her farewell and held thoughts of Wayne at bay until she finished her nightly chores.

Settled into bed, an empty bed, as it had been for most of her adult life, she couldn’t concentrate on the book she was trying to read. Diane had been without sex longer than she had. Some comfort, if one discounted the fact Diane was in her sixties. She knew that wasn’t supposed to make a difference, yet the thought of senior citizens’ sex lives was truly beyond what she wished to dwell on. Her sex life, however, seemed to have awakened from the compartment she’d stuffed it into after an embarrassing fling with, of all things, a book distribution representative – so much nicer a term than traveling salesman – during a summer session she’d attended in Atlanta the year before. What had that been about? A temptation because she was away from a town where too many people knew her? A genuine attraction to a man who flattered her with attention? A reaching out because she was tired of being alone? When the month was over, his promise to call had been as insincere as her declaration that she wanted him to. It had taken a remarkably short time to have trouble remembering his name.

No, Wayne was the cause of emotional whisperings rising in volume, seeking a voice in her orchestrated life. She’d discretely researched some old newspaper articles about him from his other coaching jobs. He had gained weight and lost hair since the early interviews and years in the sun had lined his tanned skin, but he had probably changed no more than she two decades past her college graduation. Only one photograph, one when he was newly hired to a position and interviewed by the local sports reporter, showed his smile and eyes. A smile of crooked bottom teeth and green eyes that were forthcoming and confident without arrogance.

Buttermilk cat-sauntered in and leapt onto the foot of the bed, purr set to medium volume. She padded on top of the burgundy paisley comforter and butted Sarah’s hand for attention.

She attended to the golden head. “What do you think, Purr Box? Invite him for a fancier than usual dinner when he comes back? Candles and fresh flowers, pull out the red dress that buttons down the front? Act seductive if I can remember how and see if he responds?”

Buttermilk flicked her tongue against the heel of her hand.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Sarah said. Not a bad plan, not a bad plan at all. She gave up on the book, switched off the light and reminded herself to be content with Buttermilk as her bedmate.

Spring Break dissolved in a mix of domestic and professional get-around-to-it tasks and a pleasurable day trip that involved antiquing and Sarah’s favorite used bookstore. She leafed through her small collection of cookbooks at night, trying to decide on a perfect menu. She knew Wayne didn’t like oysters, but chocolate was high on the list. She finally decided safe was better than risking new recipes. French onion soup from scratch, pork roast, scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole and chocolate pecan pie. A man’s meal, no chance of failure on the cooking side.

She hadn’t seen Diane long enough to divulge her plan and wasn’t certain she wanted to anyway. After all, Wayne might not even call when he returned – one step at a time was a better approach.

She spent Thursday darting about town with errands and treated herself to lunch at Abigail’s; a café/caterer’s filled with plants and designer touches that made it a ladies luncheon gathering spot. They featured lighter dishes such as daily quiche and salad specials to permit diners to feel less guilty about indulging in gorgeous desserts. The hefty sandwich and chicken fried steak crowd could be found across the town square. She’d promised Diane she’d come to Willowgate early to help her look over paint and fabric choices for refurbishing the dining hall.

Sarah was seated in the next to the last booth, the back of her head barely showing. Two other women were in the booth in front of her, one with a voice that carried above clinking silverware and more subtle conversations. Sarah ignored the unbidden recounting of the woman’s family issues until a name caught her unawares.

“George said Coach Phillips said Paul, that’s Miranda’s oldest, has improved so much, he’s thinking about making him starting pitcher the next game.”

“How nice. Now that Coach Phillips, I think he’s been a great find and he’s not bad looking either, you know.”

Sarah wasn’t an eavesdropper. Of course not. Well, it wasn’t her fault the women weren’t keeping their voices down. If she pressed only a tiny bit harder into the seat and turned her head ever so slightly…

“Oh, I agree and he’s pleasant to be around; doesn’t chew tobacco or smoke those smelly cigars. It’s a shame he can’t get his personal life taken care of, though.”

“What on earth are you talking about, Evelyn? I did hear he was divorced more than once.”

Yes, Evelyn, what are you talking about?

“Oh honey, he’s divorced from his first two wives; it’s number three that’s giving him problems.”

Three? What three?

“Divorced three times? I can see how that would cause problems.”

“No, not divorced three times. Folks don’t know, but it’s really divorced twice and wife number three, whom he is estranged from, is apparently giving him all sorts of troubles about a final settlement. Or maybe it’s over some property they shared. Well, I don’t remember the story exactly, but Helen Perry, who works in Jim Kirby’s law office, swears he’s been in and out lately with all kinds of paperwork. Helen doesn’t usually talk about their clients, but her son, Bart is on the baseball team, too….”

“Can I get you a refill, ma’am?”

Sarah looked at the perky waitress, who beamed a smile of whitened teeth. Perhaps Sarah’s dismay wasn’t outwardly projected after all. A lifetime of reigning in one’s emotions could trigger a benign facade.

“No,” she said quietly. “The check, please.”

“Why, Becky Smith, I haven’t seen you in a month of Sundays!”

Sarah’s chance for more information disappeared as a rotund women she vaguely recognized squealed greetings with the chatty pair.

Not divorced from his third wife? Oh my, God! Was it true? Could the woman be right? Diane had said she’d heard three divorces. It’s not like she’d asked Wayne directly, but when he obliquely or overtly made comments about his two ex-wives, she’d naturally assumed, well, what any rational person would assume. Estranged from a third? Well, damn!

Sarah reached inside for the familiar stoicism that she’d decided long ago was a better choice than bitterness. There were moments when she wished genuine flexibility was a part of her character, but breezy-let-it-all-roll-off was not her style. No, it would take a few days to tuck this hurt beneath a protective layer of should-have-known-better. She selected an assortment of four lovely individual size fruit tarts before she left. Her own disappointment didn’t mean that she should deprive Diane.

She cranked up the radio, focused intently on traffic, noticed the freshly painted street markings – distraction was a marvelous buffer.

She sustained her composure through greeting Diane, offering the pastries for later and opening the first of three bulging fabric swatch books. Diane paused at Shrimp Bisque Chenille and looked closely at her face.

“My word, what burst your bubble today? And don’t tell me I’m wrong.”

“Noth…, oh hell, Diane, I think Wayne has been lying to me.” Sarah felt the gasp yanked from her chest. She wasn’t going to cry, damn it!

Diane snatched tissues from a nearby box and passed them to her. “About what, dear?”

Sarah blew into the wad and caught the one treacherous tear before it reached her chin. “I don’t know for sure if it’s true, but when I was in Abigail’s…”

Half an hour later, Sarah straightened her shoulders, her anger talked out, self-pity not allowed. Diane spent the time brewing tea and nodding her head at appropriate intervals.

“I mean, okay, if one is truly in the process of getting a divorce, that isn’t as bad as being married, but it isn’t the same as being single.” Sarah accepted the mug – no delicate cups for this conversation.

“True,” Diane said thoughtfully. “Although it might explain him taking the relationship slowly. Perhaps he was searching for a way to tell you. Men can be rather dense about these things. If the procedure has been nasty, he might not want to discuss it.”

Sarah clutched her hands around hot ceramic and exhaled sharply. “I suppose so.” She sipped tentatively and stared toward the window for a moment. “I really thought Wayne could have potential for a relationship, that maybe I wasn’t too old for this. I guess I was wrong.”

Diane’s smile was the warm, gentle one Sarah had come to appreciate. “You know how I’ve come to think about love? I’ve decided it’s like rain distribution.”

“What?” The absurd sounding statement almost made Sarah smile.

“Oh, you know, like how rainfall affects the land. A lot of places get enough rain to keep things green, rain forests get drenched nearly every day, deserts get very little. Too much rain and you get floods. Love is sort of like that. Some people get the right amount, some seem to have more than their share, some get swept away in swirling eddies.”

Sarah lifted her mug part way to her mouth. “And for those of us who don’t get enough, we have the term dried up Old Maid?”

“I hadn’t thought quite that far,” Diane replied with a sheepish smile.

“That’s okay,” Sarah said. “I spent part of one summer in the Painted Desert and found it quite scenic.” She managed a real smile. “I’m fine now, I really am. I was upset, but let’s face it, at least I can cut my losses.” Thank God she hadn’t carried through with the great seduction plan.

“You’re not going to talk to Wayne at all about this? Won’t that be awkward at work?”

“Oh, I’ll find a way to tell him.” Sarah shifted in the chair. “Look, you, as well as anyone, know you shouldn’t be in a relationship immediately after a divorce. For the sake of argument, let’s say it becomes final next week and that’s part of why he didn’t bother to mention it. He still needs to recover, or put it behind him, or whatever.”

Diane made a sound as if she might be stifling a laugh. “Maybe it’s easier after the third one.”

Sarah shook her head and tapped a finger against the open book of fabric squares. “My life was well-ordered before Wayne Phillips came to this town and it’s not as if he’s shaken my entire universe. I admit I was a little upset, not to mention disappointed, but what’s done is done and now let’s get back to business.”

“So you enjoyed the Painted Desert,” Diane said wryly and resumed her place. “I trust you’ll remember that prickly cacti bear flowers as well as thorns.”


Sarah coolly, firmly stated her position to Wayne when he called to ask her to dinner. She was grateful not to have the conversation in person. His profuse apologies and assurances that he thought the matter would have been finished months before salvaged her pride to a degree. No, she thought it best if they reverted to being colleagues. Yes, they could maintain a friendship. She ended the call as graciously as one could and bit her bottom lip harder than she intended. No matter, she had made herself clear and it was over.

It’s not that she avoided Wayne the following week; she was busy and it’s not like she had to go to the faculty lounge every single day. Well, perhaps she was avoiding him, but a week’s worth should allow possible mutual embarrassment to dissipate. If people wanted to speculate, that was up to them.

She barricaded herself behind work she usually put off until the end of the school year and volunteered to help prepare for the spring school recital when the piano accompanist sprained her wrist. She would be healed in time for the big show, but as always, the chorale needed as much practice as they could get.

Sarah stayed late on Friday when one of the juniors rushed in to tearfully admit she’d been more concerned about the prom committee than a paper that was due Monday morning. Could Miss Giles please give her some advice on nineteenth century women authors?

At noon the weatherman had announced a weather system brewing to the south was flinging scattered thunderstorms around the region and when Sarah glanced out her office window she saw a band of dark gray clouds swath across the mostly bright blue. Sky. She locked up, confident she could make it downstairs and across the nearly empty parking lot before rain began.

She would have been correct, if it had started with a faint drizzle, but no, this was a spring torrent that blew screens of water, splashing forcefully from the pavement. Sarah stepped out of the main doors into the covered entryway and felt cooled, wet wind against her hair.

“It shouldn’t last long.”

She pivoted to see Wayne standing behind her. He was wearing khaki slacks and a school emblazoned polo shirt, green with white stitching. He’d taken off his habitual baseball cap, his eyes a green that reminded her of clover.

“I noticed your car was still here and was hoping I could catch you before you left,” he said without preamble. It was the first time she’d really looked at him all week. Where was the anger she should be feeling? “I didn’t know we had anything else to talk about.”

He cleared his throat, but didn’t avert his gaze. “I’m not going to apologize again because I think you’re too sensible to be one of these women who prefer groveling to rational discussion.”

“Excuse me?” Sarah wasn’t sure exactly what that was supposed to mean. Oh hell, she could just dash for her car and get wet – it’s not like she would melt.

“Sarah, I’d like to tell you something important and I wasn’t sure you’d stay on the phone long enough to listen. All I’m asking is five minutes.”

“This is probably not the place,” she primly excused. Why weren’t there other people clustered with them to make a personal conversation inappropriate?

“I know I screwed up and I’m not usually very good at this, but for starters, I received the final divorce papers yesterday.”

He was careful not to close in on her and she couldn’t read the expression on his face.

“That must be a relief for you,” she said weakly. She brushed away a strand of hair plastered against her cheek.

“I told you before I got married too young the first time and the second time was just a wrong choice,” he said softly. “You’d think I had learned by number three.”

“One would,” Sarah couldn’t stop herself from responding. For god’s sake, she’d never been married once, how could anyone get it wrong three times?
“The irony is that my sister is a pretty successful marriage counselor and she warned me that if I didn’t stop looking for all the wrong things I would never figure out what the real problem was.”

Sarah stared at him, a half smile on his face that she recognized as self-enlightenment, or at least a damn good imitation if he was faking it. Another gust sent them both back a step.

“Does that mean you figured out the problem?”

“Sure, I’ve been looking for the wrong things.”

Sarah almost laughed at his deadpan delivery.

“Seriously,” he continued. “When it became obvious the third marriage wasn’t going to make it, my sister told me that if I would bother to slow down and actually get to know a woman instead of jumping in with both feet and understand that a real basis starts with friendship, I might stand a chance.”

It was something in his voice as well as the words. It wasn’t precisely vulnerability. Honesty? A truthful revelation that couldn’t be easy to make.

“Sarah, you don’t know how special I think you are. Right after I met you, I wanted to spend time with you, but I figured you’d tell me to take a leap if I told you the whole truth.”

“I certainly would have.” Sarah wanted to be more indignant. The rain must be affecting her judgment. There, it was staring to slack a bit; another two minutes.

“I thought I would try my sister’s advice about going slowly and when I told her about you last week, she agreed with me.”

Sarah snapped her head back to look into his face. Warmth, a shade of hope? Was that right?

“You talked to your sister about me?”

He nodded. “She didn’t believe me at first and the more I described you, explained we’d spent two months taking it easy, explained how I enjoy even just having a cup of coffee with you, do you know what she said?”

Sarah couldn’t find the right sentence. He said those things to another person? He described her in a flattering way when she wasn’t around to hear it?

“She said I had a long way to go, but I might finally be on the right track.”

“Wayne, I…, I’m not sure…”
He moved forward a bit, not quite far enough to signal intimacy. “Sarah, I don’t blame you for being pissed. I thought about a big bouquet of roses or something, but I wasn’t sure if you’d think I was sincere. I’ve almost come to the library more times than you can imagine this week and kept losing my nerve. Look, if we weren’t having as much fun together as I thought we were, okay, then I’ll drop it and we can forget this conversation. But if you could give me another chance, if we could start with all this in the open, then we can see what happens.”

He waited silently, a siren sounding in the distance as the rain slowed and wind dropped noticeably. Sarah hesitated, aware of the smell of wet grass and damp concrete, the sun trying to force it’s way through what was only a mist now.

“I don’t know what to say. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a good time with you, but I’m not used to this. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with what you’re telling me.”

“You could let me take you for a cup of coffee,” he suggested almost shyly. “I’d say go for a drink, but I wouldn’t want you to think I was trying to ply you with alcohol.”

Sarah couldn’t stop the smile, but she held it in check. “Why, Wayne? There are lots of women out there, women with much more experience than me. I don’t have any delusions about that.”

He shook his head slowly. “You don’t realize how special you are,” he repeated. “I’d like a chance to show you I mean that.”

“I didn’t have much lunch. I want a Fudge Brownie Delight to go with that cup of coffee,” Sarah said in reference to the signature dessert of the nearby Honeysuckle Diner.

Wayne grinned and patted his belly. “I’ll brave high cholesterol to prove my point. Do you want to ride with me or take your car, too?”

“I’ll take my own,” Sarah said and stepped with him from underneath the cover. Faint tendrils of steam rose from shallow puddles as water rushed into the storm drains.

“Fair enough. Hey look, a rainbow.”

Sarah looked up. Three-quarters of a rainbow arced toward the ground, the other end disappearing into puffed out clouds. The color bands were crisp, not muted; the kind that wouldn’t fade before you had a chance to really see it.

“How pretty,” Sarah agreed and paused at her car, searching Wayne’s face. “By the way, I want to hear more about your sister. She sounds like a smart lady.”

He grinned. “She is. Glad I decided to listen to her for a change. See you at the Honeysuckle.”

Sarah watched him walk away, cranked her car and carefully backed from the parking space, the rainbow shimmering in the rapidly clearing sky.

The End