Monday Afternoon, Dallas
Alex never mentioned a brother. How on earth would his brother know about her grandson? None of it made any sense to Gloria, and she didn’t think Will made any sense either.
She had a passing moment of being grateful she had been driving for so many years she could go almost anywhere without thinking about it—her own version of autopilot. Today she couldn’t have followed a map if she’d had to. Will’s outburst had been so entirely unlike him it had unnerved her.
She knew Will wouldn’t like it if she went to talk to Alex, but her heart went out to the young man. Poor guy. The last couple of times she had been at the salon, except for last Friday, of course, she had felt a melancholy air around him. For all his apparent lack of shame concerning his lifestyle, she couldn’t believe he was content.
Being at ease praying aloud was one of the reasons Gloria so often chose to drive her car when she was upset. She had so many people she wanted to pray for, but the last few days her prayers have been focused on Austin.
“Lord, I thank you for the peace I feel about our little guy but if something terrible has happened to him, I don’t know what I’ll do. I guess I’ll just have to depend on You for the grace to take us all through this awful time. Right now, though, I feel assured he’s all right. Please let us all know for sure somehow that he is safe.” She heard the quaver in her own voice.
“Father, I ask you to help my dear husband through this sorrow in our lives. This is where grace kicks in, right? When I don’t know what to do and couldn’t do the right thing even if I knew what it was? He’s a good man, Father, and I thank you for him. Help him find Austin.” She dabbed her eyes with the handkerchief.
“I wish I knew how I could help.”
A parking spot on the lower level. Good. She could run in and visit Hannah for a few minutes. Being in her gallery always calmed her, and Hannah usually had a new O’Keeffe or Cassatt print to show her.
The main reason she visited the gallery during times of stress was that she could count on Hannah to greet her as if her day hadn’t been complete until Gloria walked in the door.
She still didn’t know what she should do about Alex. She wished she could talk to him. Perhaps he’d even let her pray with him, considering the circumstances.
“Father, watch over Alex and help him see clearly. Comfort him about his brother. You can do anything, Lord. You can call him to yourself. Don’t give up on him. Be merciful, Lord. We all need your mercy. If I am to go up and talk to him, please let me know somehow.”
When she entered the shop she had to lean over to receive a hug from tiny Hannah Luce.
Gloria had often speculated that Hannah’s Yiddish accent might only be a charming affectation, but she loved the way she stretched her name out to ‘GLAHria.’
“GLAHria, my dear friend! How wonderful to see you here today. I was just this minute thinking about you and wondering, what could I do to ease your heart. How’s by you? Any news?” She looked up at Gloria, her eyes solemn and concerned above half-glasses. “And you? How are you? Devastated, of course. Why do I ask such a question?”
She bustled off toward the back of the shop and pulled out a print. “Look at this! Is this not a rest for your eyes and a feast for your soul? Better than chicken soup on such a day, no?”
The print, one of Mary Cassatt’s famous mother and child studies, brought tears to Gloria’s eyes. “It is beautiful,” she whispered.
“Oh my word. Mother and child. What am I thinking? I am so sorry!”
“No, no. You have nothing to be sorry about. You knew exactly what I needed. It’s lovely, Hannah, thank you.”
They were standing there, looking at the picture and patting each other awkwardly when Tina walked in.
Hannah hurried over to her and clucked through her whole routine, hugging Tina before releasing her to Gloria. Gloria thought it looked as if Tina had been crying.
“How nice to see you again,” Gloria said, touching her arm gently. “How is Alex? Is he all right?”
“How could he be all right?” Tina blurted, without saying hello to either woman. “No, Alex is a wreck. This morning the FBI assigned two goons to follow him everywhere. They even go into the men’s room with him, can you imagine? Of course he’s not all right.”
“Then I guess you know the authorities are convinced his brother has Austin.”
“Do you know anything about the brother? I mean, is he, uh…you know, like Alex?”
“What do you mean, like Alex?” Tina pulled her chin up. “He is definitely not gay, if that’s what you’re worried about.” She stood there defiantly for a moment, obviously holding back tears. “I’m not even sure Alex is. But so what if he is? It has nothing to do his brother!”
“Tina, dear…” Gloria reached out and Tina fell into her arms, weeping.
“There, there,” Gloria said, patting her shoulder and looking over her head at Hannah who looked as bewildered as Gloria felt. “What has so troubled you, dear?”
“I’m sorry. I’m a mess today. I don’t know what’s the matter with me—maybe PMS.” She grabbed the tissue Hannah offered. “I’m awfully sorry to fall apart like that, Gloria. I should be comforting you. You must be beside yourself with worry.” She blew her nose.
“Listen, I’ve met Alex’s brother Jake, and I don’t think you have anything to concern yourself about with him. I can’t imagine what he was thinking, but he’s a gentle person.” Her voice broke just a little. “At least, I thought so.”
“You’ve met him? How can you know what he’s like from just meeting him? Have you spent any time with him?” She stopped her flow of questions when she noted that Tina’s struggle against tears hindered any response she might make.
“I hope you’re right about him, dear. I find what you say reassuring. I guess we’ll have to wait to find out why he would run off with our Austin. Let’s hope and pray he’s taking good care of him.” It was Gloria’s turn to grab a tissue. “Tina, dear, I believe you know my friend Suellen Kelly?”
“Yes, of course. She invited me to the church. That’s where I became a Believer.”
“Well then, you may already know this, but tomorrow afternoon a few people from Maranatha are meeting at Stephen and Suellen’s home to pray for us. We could pray for Alex and Jake, too. I hope you’ll join us.”
“We thought we’d put together a little potluck—we all have to eat anyway—and gather at about 6:00. You’ll be working tomorrow afternoon, won’t you? There will be plenty of food—you don’t have to bring anything.”
“I’ll try to be there.”
Gloria nodded to Hannah, indicating a young man who walked into the shop.
“Don’t worry. He comes every afternoon. He comes, he looks, he buys nothing, and he goes.” She waved her hand, dismissing him for their conversation, and continued her good-hearted clucking.
“Listen, you two: I’m going to tell you what you tell me: How many times? You always tell me, ‘God is greater than your greatest problem.’ Now, do you believe that, or no? Yes? All right, then. Go home and pray. Tell me what happens.” She kissed first one, then the other, and said to each of them in turn, “You’re a mensch. I couldn’t say better.”
“I need to go back to the salon. I’ll tell Alex you asked about him.”
Gloria watched Tina walk away and made a fresh resolution to lose weight. Something is going on with that girl, she thought.
Suddenly eager to see Suellen and then go on home, Gloria turned to make an appropriate good-bye to Hannah, who shooed her out of the studio,
“Go. Go. Tonight you have family. Some other time we talk.”
“Would you like herb tea with honey?” Suellen busied herself fixing a light supper for the two of them. “I’m always happy to see you. Stephen is out of town and I wasn’t looking forward to eating alone, but when you come huffing in here like you just did, I know it’s not because you happened to be in the neighborhood. What’s going on?”
“Will and I had a fight.”
“A fight? Will fought? Don’t you mean you’re mad at Will?”
“Stop it. It’s not funny.”
“Of course it’s funny. You two have been together so long you look alike. You’re like a couple of old ladies. What happened? Did he squeeze the toothpaste in the middle?”
“I didn’t come here to be ridiculed. This is serious!” Gloria tried hard not to cry again. “Will is being utterly unreasonable. I know he’s tired, but he was so mean to me, I don’t know if I can forget what he said.”
“You mean to tell me you left in a snit?” When Gloria nodded, Suellen put her hand on her hip and scolded, “You two are both too dignified for that. You know better! This isn’t a soap opera, my friend. Isn’t that what you always tell me? You can’t stomp out of the room and fade to commercial; you need to stay together until it’s resolved.”
Gloria wouldn’t look at her. She kept her head down, scrabbling around inside her purse, finally retrieving a cellophane-wrapped breath mint and made a ritual out of unwrapping it and putting in her mouth, never raising her eyes.
Suellen, speaking softly now, compassionately, “I’m terribly sorry I laughed. I know it’s serious—you and your family are in the middle of a terrible crisis—but you know you two old sweethearts will kiss and make up; you always do. You came through losing Bryan by taking it one baby-step at a time. Your whole family is under incredible pressure, and I doubt if any of you are entirely rational. C’mon. Let’s pray. We’ll eat our supper, and then you can go home and be with your family.”
Quiet reigned in the Stoner house when she came home. Will, already in his pajamas, said no more than that David and Laura were in their room reading, the girls were asleep, and he’d see her in the morning.
When she slipped into bed a half-hour later, she could tell by the way he breathed that he was only pretending to be asleep.
They fell asleep, as usual, with their backs to each other, but for the first time in their married life, the sun had gone down on their anger, and also for the first time since their wedding night, neither of them reached back to pat the other’s bottom.