After the Prayer Meeting
Pondering the events of the evening stilled the voices of everyone except Austin. All the way back to the Stoner’s house, seated between his parents in the back seat, he chirped like an adolescent chickadee delighted with the miracle of his own voice.
“And Mama, Miss Tina wears this really neat perfume. She smells so good, Mama, you should buy some perfume like hers. I bet it’s really expensive. She smells like that expensive store in the mall, you know? The one where they have fancy lady underpants and stuff?” He giggled at his own naughtiness. “Why don’t you ever wear perfume, Mama?”
Gloria found herself listening with one ear but not absorbing much. I’m full, she thought. Filled with joy and wonder, filled with gratitude mixed equal parts with relief. She didn’t know if she could hold another particle of happy matter.
“And Nana, Kate makes really neat pancakes with blueberries in them and French toast only she doesn’t cut off the crusts like you do. I told her you always cut off the crusts but Poppy wouldn’t let her ‘cause he says the crusts are the best part and not to waste, but I like them like you make them. Crusts are too hard to chew ‘specially when the bread is chunky like what Kate makes, and…”
Maria greeted them at the door when they finally pulled into the garage. “The babies are sound asleep, the little angels! I didn’t tell them why, but after you called we just danced around here laughing and singing until I danced all my breath out of me.”
She grabbed Austin and twirled him around and around until they were in the kitchen.
“Tomorrow morning you tell little Allison that Jesus heard her prayers.”
She hugged Gloria, reminded them to be sure to read the telephone messages and reluctantly gave in when Will insisted on walking her to her car.
After going through the stack of messages, among them calls from the FBI agents informing them of what they already knew and that Jake Garret was in the Boone county jail, they bid one another a good night, and with a special hug from Austin, Will and Gloria went upstairs to their own room
“Think we’ll be able to sleep tonight, Glory-Girl?”
“The only question is whether I’ll ever be able to wake up again. Of course we don’t have to go to Arkansas tomorrow. That’s a relief, I don’t mind telling you.
Austin insisted on a quick peek at his sleeping sisters before flopping onto his own bed. “Awww, do I hafta wear ‘jammas?”
“You aren’t sleeping naked, if that’s what you have in mind.” Laura told him. “I’m too tired to give you a bath tonight, though.” She sniffed his head and neck. “You seem clean enough. So what did you sleep in while you were gone?”
“Kate gave me her T-shirt. It was purple and said ‘Garden Goddess’ on it. Don’t worry. They worship the real God and everything. It’s a joke ‘cause she’s in the garden so much. They have lots of gardens…”
Laura cut him off and told him to get into bed and go to sleep. “We’ll have plenty of time to talk in the morning.” She thought she just might run naked and howling into night traffic if she had to hear one more grand and glorious improvement of Austin’s life while in the care of strangers.
“Hey! Hi George! Howya doin’?” He grabbed his Curious George sock monkey off the dresser and offered his blue flannel baby blanket to his mother.
“Mama, I’m pretty big for this, huh? Poppy says that a big boy like me should give his baby stuff to littler kids. Maybe Ariel wants it, you think?” He studied the sock monkey. “George can still be my friend, though. He’s not too babyish, is he?”
“Whatever. Now goodnight!”
She left the room, turning her jabberbox boy over to his father while she prepared herself for bed. The idea of resting her hot, aching head and tired bones on fresh clean sheets hit her with something akin to rapture.
David came into their room a few minutes later, shaking his head. “I think we’d have an awful time trying to prove any kind of harm came to that kid while he was gone.” He sat down and pulled off his shoes, groaning with the effort. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so happy. I hope he settles down eventually.”
“Why? Don’t you enjoy hearing how wonderful Jake is and how beautiful Tina is, and how good she smells and—“
“I’m so glad to have him home I don’t even care. He’s quite a kid.” He dropped his clothes over a chair, opened the bed and fell into it with a sigh.
“I’m glad he’s okay, too, of course, but I still want to see that Jake creep and tell him exactly how wonderful I think he’s NOT!”
“Now Laura, why don’t you come here instead and tell me how wonderful you think your hunka-hunka burnin’ love husband is, hmmm?” He patted the bed beside him.
“What? You want to snuggle with a woman who isn’t wearing any perfume? ‘Mama you should buy perfume like Miss Tina. Why don’t you ever wear perfume, Mama?’” She mimicked, her voicing dripping sarcasm. “What in the world does she wear, I wonder? Did you happen to catch a whiff of the little witch?”
“Yes, I did, as a matter of fact, Mrs. Page.” He nuzzled her neck. “Smelled like Deep Woods Off to me. Yep, that was it. I’m from Wisconsin and I ought to know.”
In their darkened room down the hall, Will and Gloria had already prayed together, said their good-nights and were gratefully drifting off to much-needed sleep.
“What’s all that racket?” Will grumbled.
“If I had to guess I’d say it was your daughter giggling.”
He groaned and pulled the pillow over his ears. “No father should have to hear that.”