In which the Hills invite Claire and Emma over for dinner
“Do I have to go?”
“Yes, you have to go.”
“Because the Hills invited both of us. Because I’m trying to find a way to have a more positive relationship with Bill. Because I want to show them you’re not a Satan-worshipping drug addict who’s pregnant.”
“Thanks, honey. Love you.” The last thing Claire felt in that moment was love for her one and only daughter, but she’d gotten through much of life and ministry with the “fake it till you make it” policy.
“Here are the brownies I made. Carmel. Pecans.”
“Oh sweetie, thank you. I know you don’t want to do this, and I promise I will only drag you to the really important ones. Deal?
Like Claire’s, Bill and Gladys’s home was close to church but not too close, and, Claire noted, in a neighborhood more upscale than her own. As they pulled up, Claire immediately fell in love with the house. It was a broad, generous Craftsman bungalow, painted an apple green with mauve and cream trim. Gladys’ idea, Claire thought. A porch wrapped around the front and two sides, with a hanging swing on one side and some wicker chairs and tables on the other.
I would like a house like this some day, Claire thought. Better change professions.
They knocked on the door and Bill greeted them.
“Claire, Emma, welcome! We’re so glad you could join us. Is that the dessert? Emma, why don’t you take that back to Gladys. She’s in the kitchen. Straight down the hallway, on the left at the end. Claire, it’s such a nice evening I thought we’d have a drink outside. Glad’ll be out in just a minute.”
Well this is not the man who presented me with The List, Claire mused. Maybe he’s a happier guy on his own turf.
“Thanks, Bill. I have to tell you I love your house. How long have you lived here?”
“Glad and I were married in 1953, and we were just getting settled. Meri came along in 1960 but we lived in the other house. We were here when Junie was born in ’64, so that makes forty-six years. It’s been a work in progress ever since.”
“I love the Craftsman style. And this green is one of my favorite colors.”
“A few years ago we had the whole thing scraped and repainted. When I first retired I was bored out of my mind, so I did some research about the colors used in this neighborhood on this style house when they were built in the 20’s, and I chose the green and mauve.”
“I had assumed Gladys picked the colors.”
“Don’t get me wrong, they were approved by Gladys, as is most everything I do. But I picked them. I’m glad you like them. Now what can I get you to drink?”
Claire wasn’t sure if this was a test. Should she be a rebel and ask for a shot of tequila? Should she play it safe and ask for water or lemonade? Should she say nothing, she was fine?
“What have you got?
“I just got a case of a crisp little Sauvignon Blanc that I’ve been waiting to share. How does that sound?”
Meanwhile in the kitchen, Emma and Gladys were bonding over dessert. The one thing Emma would do without complaining was bake, and she had dreams of being a pastry chef one day. She had yet to master a decent pate brisee, but her chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and lemon tarts were the hit of every church potluck she and her mother had ever attended. Claire hadn’t told Gladys this, and whether Gladys was intuitive or herself loved baking, she and Emma found themselves in deep conversation about the relative merits of light brown sugar versus dark brown sugar right away.
“Mrs. Hill, this is a really nice kitchen. You have so much counter space! And the window looking out on your back yard is great. Our kitchen window looks out on our neighbor’s bedroom and their garbage cans.”
“Please call me Gladys, Emma. You’re on the west coast now. Thank you. When Bill retired a few years ago he was driving me bonkers, so I suggested he plan a renovation of the kitchen. He researched the original plans and tried to keep some of the historical elements while making it useful for the modern world. This drawer is a bread tin, and these things that look like drawers are actually bins for the flour and sugar. Over here is a laundry chute that goes down to the basement. No one ever thinks about having the laundry chute stop in the kitchen, but with all the dish towels I go through, we thought that would be a nice little detail.”
“I have a laundry chute in my room. I love it.”
“Tell me about your room.”
Claire and Bill were well into the first glass of the Sauvignon Blanc when Bill yelled back toward the kitchen.
“Glad? What are you two doing in there? Come out and join us. Get yourself a drink and bring something for Emma too. While you’re at it, grab those Ruffles.”
He turned to Claire. “I know I should serve something a little more elegant than Ruffles with this wine, but they are my favorite and Gladys only lets me have them on special occasions.”
Claire smiled. “So this is a special occasion?”
Bill turned to her with a warmth in his eyes she hadn’t seen prior to this evening. “Claire, I know I came on pretty strong in our meeting. I accept that. But I don’t want to apologize because it’s all fueled by my love for this church. It’s a special place. I’m not always good at expressing things that I feel deeply, and it was a lot easier for me to type that list than to talk about it face to face with a stranger.
“Having heard your last few sermons, and watching you at coffee hour and whatnot, I’ve come to realize that you are exactly the pastor that St. Rahab’s has needed for a good long while. Pastor Dale was a wonderful, godly man, and he helped people in ways we’ll never know. But he stayed too long, in part because we all saw his dementia and didn’t have the heart to cut him off from something he loved.
“Before the girls join us, I want to tell you something as my pastor. I’ve had a little cough lately, but it hasn’t gone away and my doc did some x-rays. There’s a shadow he’s not really sure about. Glad is my rock, as usual, and I go between being scared as hell and confident that we’ll deal with whatever comes our way. I’d just as soon you not tell anyone about this just yet. Alice Weston would probably show up with a platter of her Prune Drop Cookies, and that might kill me then and there. Oh, there you two are! Emma, pull up a chair and tell me about your drive out west.”
A good time was had by all, much to Claire and Emma’s surprise. Bill and Gladys had an easy rapport between them, and they were gracious hosts, and the meal was delicious. The dining room was surrounded by a collection of china plates and family photographs and made the space feel cozy. On the way home Emma decided it would be okay if Bill and Gladys made her an honorary grandchild. Claire decided maybe she could survive Bill after all. But she would keep the coffee and chocolate on hand all the same.