I’m not a man,” said Margaret, “and I don’t know anything about ties, but I do know they shouldn’t be that wide. Or that short.” Margaret was short brunette. Her hair was naturally curly and it framed her face, which had a look of gentle authority.
“I never noticed,” said Susan. The waitress arrived with the lemonades the two women had ordered and set them on the table. She looked briefly at Susan for any needs. Susan was a thin woman with black hair and a shy demeanor that suggested she might play third chair violin in a symphony orchestra. The small Italian restaurant filled with a lunch crowd. The waitress noticed the hostess had just seated a party of four in her section and left to greet them.
“You never noticed our Pastor’s clown ties?” asked Margaret.
“I only know he wears a suit,” said Susan, “I sit in the back and never see much of him.”
“Well I do,” said Margaret. “His ties are twice the width of normal ties and they never make it past the apex of his big belly. It’s like a giant arrow pointing at his stomach and reminding us we need to pay tithing to feed him.”
“Oh, Margaret!” said Susan, “You are just as bad as Jessica!”
Margaret smiled and sipped her lemonade through a straw. She held it between her right index finger and thumb and picked at the ice in her drink repeatedly. “How is our wild friend?” she asked.
“Still the same,” answered Susan. It was louder in the restaurant than when they first arrived. Susan felt her words masked by the noise and that it gave them a fair amount of privacy. She became bold. “Did I ever tell you what happened with Brother Mark?”
“No,” answered Margaret. She leaned in. “Are we talking about Brother Mark the deacon?”
“Yes,” answered Susan, “that Brother Mark. And Jessica. I never told you anything?”
“No,” replied Margaret. “So tell me.”
“Well,” said Susan, “A couple of Sundays ago, I dropped Brother Mark off at his home after Church like I always do. As he thanked me before opening the door to get out of my car, he put his hand on my leg.”
“He did what!” exclaimed Margaret. “That’s gross! He’s married! And twice your age! And GAG! What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything,” answered Susan. “I kept my hands on the steering wheel and looked straight ahead out the windshield with my eyes popping out of my head until he got out of the car.”
“You are too nice,” said Margaret. “I would have slapped him on his ear. You called him and told him you wouldn’t give him rides to church anymore, right?” Susan took a sip of her lemonade and inspected the condensation on her glass as a way to avoid eye contact with Margaret. “Susan, you told him didn’t you?”
“Well, no,” answered Susan.
“Susan!” exclaimed Margaret. “Why didn’t you tell him?”
“Because I didn’t know who would open the church,” answered Susan.
“So you were afraid that if you didn’t give the old adulterer a ride to church, the congregation would just gather around the front doors whimpering in the rain?” asked Margaret. “Everyone would be OK, Susan. Besides, how ridiculous is it that an old man like Brother Mark needs a ride. What was Jessica’s role in all of this?” The waitress brought the women’s’ entrees. Susan watched Margaret smile and thank the waitress, but she could tell her smile was forced. Margaret was frustrated with Susan’s meekness.
After the waitress left them, Susan said, “Well, I told Jessica what happened. You know Jessica, she made fun of me. Saying we would have ugly babies and that I was going to hate changing adult diapers.”
“That Jessica,” said Margaret. “Did she tell you anything else? She wouldn’t miss a chance to tell you what to do.”
“She told me to tell Sister Sarah, his wife,” answered Susan.
“And she probably offered to go with you to tell her,” said Margaret.
“You know she did,” said Susan. “Of course, I told her I wasn’t going to cause problems in their marriage.”
“You are not the one causing problems in their marriage, Susan,” interrupted Margaret.
“So Jessica said that she wanted a ride to church every Sunday too,” continued Susan. “The following Sunday, I picked her up first and then we went together to pick up Brother Mark. He was not happy to see her. Jessica stepped out of the passenger side – you know I have a two door – and folded the passenger’s seat forward suggesting to Brother Mark to get in the back seat. Realizing what she was asking, he said something about being bigger and having bad knees. Jessica just yelled, ‘Shot Gun!’ as if that settled things.”
“What did he do?” asked Margaret.
“He didn’t know what to make of the situation and Jessica didn’t move, so he had to crawl into the back seat,” answered Susan. “It really was too cramped for him back there.”
“Serves him right,” said Margaret.
“Jessica baited Brother Mark during the entire ride,” said Susan. “She asked him things like how the wonderful Sister Sarah was doing. How he and Sister Sarah went on dates without a car… Asked him if he’d ever learned to drive… She mentioned to me loudly that one of the young single men had asked her about me. Picked a cute one too. I’m sure she was lying.”
“What did Brother Mark say?” asked Margaret.
“He mumbled his answers,” answered Susan, “but Jessica didn’t care what he said. She knew she made him uncomfortable. When we arrived at the Church, she said she was glad we had decided to carpool together from then on.”
“And what did he say to that?” asked Margaret.
“Oh, he complained about his back and his knees as he got out of the car,” replied Susan. “He said they should take turns riding in the passenger seat. Jessica guffawed…”
“Guffawed?” asked Margaret.
“You know with her it’s not a laugh,” said Susan. “She cackles like a witch chasing children. Anyway, she told him he was such a kidder. Then, she grabbed my arm and dragged me toward some sisters that had just arrived and left Brother Mark to unlock the church on his own.”
“She’s a mean girl,” said Margaret.
“She is. And then, she sat by me during church,” said Susan. “When she saw him looking at me, she put her hand on my leg.”
“She didn’t!” exclaimed Margaret.
“She did. I could feel my ears go red and hot,” said Susan. “At one point, she looked him right in the eyes, grinning. I watched her out of the corner of my eye. It wasn’t even a normal human grin: she looked like one of those dogs on the internet that smile after they get caught doing something wrong. You know what I’m talking about?”
“The submissive grin? Ears back, squinting, bared upper teeth…” responded Margaret.
“Like that,” said Susan. “Well, it’s been a while since Brother Mark was in middle school. He didn’t know how to respond to that. After Church, he caught me at a moment when Jessica was off somewhere and briefly told me he found another ride home.”
“Have you heard from him again?” asked Margaret.
“No,” answered Susan, “But Jessica called him to ask if he wanted to ride with us to church on Sunday.”
“What did he say to her?” asked Margaret.
“He said no,” replied Susan.
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