A Short Story
The Love Pool
It was becoming a scandal of mixed bathing proportions. The Horner kid – the cocky one, the youngest one, not the slow-witted older brother, but the good-looking kid, the one with the physique and the guitar skills and the amiable, effortless presence (you have to be careful with young men who make friends too easily), Casey, that’s the one – and the Hamilton girl, the one with the big eyes and that flirty habit of grabbing your arm when she spoke to you, the one who stole all the other girls’ bras at summer camp, right, Ally, well, they didn’t even bother hiding it. They were in their bathing suits, in the shallow end of the pool, making out. She was sitting on his lap. Right smack dab on his lap.
“In the pool,” Sister Maxwell said, “in her bathing suit. In front of everyone.”
Blade Maxwell sighed, looked at the ceiling, and discovered two of his belt loops. “Were they…”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
Blade made a clicking noise. “When was the last time we did that?”
“Blade. When they are at our house, in our pool, we’re responsible for them.”
Steps were taken. Inquiries were made. The chain of command was consulted. Just about everyone knew an investigation was proceeding except for the two lovers, who had better things to do.
But here’s the thing: it all came down to a garden party solution. Young Bishop Midgely thought a formal summer event would be an appropriate place to set the record straight, not just for Casey Horner and Ally Hamilton, but for all of the youth, everyone between twelve and eighteen, along with their parents. The Midgleys had just landscaped their back yard (it looked gorgeous if he said so himself) and they could make it a kind of formal affair – young men in blazers and neck ties, young women in evening gowns.
What sort of man landscapes his yard with bench rows and congregational seating? A young man going places in Zion, brother. A young man who had been ordained a bishop at twenty-nine years old, and a young man who saw himself hosting tender encounters with the saints in his very own backyard. This sort of thing could be a model for the stake, and the region, and perhaps the entire church. When you think about it, what better place could there be to fight light petting than in the sanctuary of a garden, after a little music and testimony? (To be clear, no one had even said that was happening, (light petting) but if Chad Horner, whose father was the stake president, could get caught up in that sort of thing, then perhaps a new summer tradition was necessary, a place for guidance and covenant.)
“What should we call it?” he asked his wife.
“Do we have to call it something?” Cathy Midgely asked.
“I just think it would be a good way to gather the youth all together and talk about standards.”
“Are you sure all the boys and girls and their parents together like that, I mean, are you going to be able to say anything very specific about moral standards in front of a mixed crowd like that?”
Tim Midgely raised a finger and smiled at his wife. “That’s the thing. I have a plan. I’m going to get them all to speak. I’ll say a few words, but I’m going to let them talk about their struggles.”
“Don’t you think this is going to put Ally and Casey on the spot?”
“No, we won’t talk about them. We’ll talk about standards. In general.”
“In general. Right. Well, everyone knows now that Casey and Ally are getting hot and heavy in the pool and then there is this Standards Night thing and we just talk about general stuff because his dad called you to be Bishop and – I don’t know. It just seems more elaborate than it needs to be.”
“That’s it,” Bishop Midgely said. “Standards Night!”
The kids in the Arroyo Vega Ward knew how to dress; you had to give them that. They radiated a vestal, big eyed innocence, completely inappropriate to their time, this being 1974 and 8th grade girls showing off their belly buttons in English class with open midriffs. None of the Mormon girls would wear “Property of Ron” embroidered across the butt of her jeans, the way Alice Pakulski did. (She was Catholic, and we’re not being judgmental; it’s just that facts here were not to be disputed—crucifix on the front side, boyfriend-brand on the back.) You would not see a Mormon kid with a T-shirt that read “Sex Wax–Best For Your Stick.” (Dexter Brady tried that once, but he didn’t even make it into the car for seminary that morning; Brother Brady sent him back upstairs with a laconic, “we’ll wait for you.”) These kids didn’t know it, but their virgin culture made them better looking, something like unopened packages of candy.
At Standards Night, there was Ally Hamilton with a prom wreath of pink roses and baby’s breath in her hair. She was Newport Beach tan. Her shoulders made the younger teenage boys look off to the mountains for the answer to some dizzy, giggly question they couldn’t quite formulate. Casey Horner, standing next to her, at fifteen, was a young man who looked four or five years older. In another age, he would have been a Norse Lord of several Irish villages by now, but next to Ally–well they looked like central casting in a heartbreak film.
“It’s a shame I have to break them up,” Bishop Midgely whispered to his wife, from inside the kitchen. “They look so beautiful together.”
Sister Midgely put her hand on his back. She moved out towards the garden, ahead of him, pausing to contemplate Ally and Casey from a distance. Midgely couldn’t be sure, but he thought he detected some emotion his wife was having trouble containing, and in that moment of contemplation, Blade Maxwell walked into the kitchen. He was the owner of what he had come to call “the love pool.”
“A hundred years ago,” Blade observed, looking at Ally, “she would be wife number two or three.”
“Take that thought captive,” Bishop Midgely said.
The music was something grand. It always has to be on such occasions, if you need the spirit of healing and charity to blur and trivialize the teenage passions. Bishop Midgely, enduring his wife’s disapproval, had his gardeners move the baby grand piano out to the backyard for the occasion and Sister Thornton was delivering up “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning,” accompanied by a chorus of young men. From there, two of the Mia Maids sang “Shall the Youth of Zion Falter,” and for the third number, the entire assembly sang “I stand all Amazed.” By the time the music came to a stop, a dizzy, warm spirit of joy fell over the assembly. It was the perfect moment to offer the opening prayer, when a gate opened from the yard next door, directly behind Bishop Midgely. A shirtless man wearing gym trunks stepped partially into view and whispered to Bishop Midgely. The man seemed to be apologizing about something, even as the sound of a diving board shuddered in the distance. The Bishop and the man whispered to each other and the Bishop closed the gate behind him.
“So Sorry,” the Bishop announced. “My neighbor, Don Beerman, was worried that his grandchildren would create a disruption in their pool over there.”
Someone was yelling in the distance, over the fence. “Get out! I said GET OUT!”
“When we were singing,” the Bishop said, “I couldn’t hear a thing, but now that—”
The voice yelled again. “Don’t make me come in there for you!” The diving board shuddered again. The congregation laughed. The Bishop laughed. Eventually, a screen door slammed shut in the distance and the yard next door fell quiet.
“Well,” the Bishop said, “That was not quite the way I saw this all beginning, but if we could all bow our heads.”
Bishop Midgely loved the church, let me tell you, about as much as he loved anything in life. He wouldn’t change a thing – the road shows, the youth pageants, the tithing, the missionary work, the early morning seminary, the sing-song sweetness of the general authorities bearing their testimonies. He had pioneer blood. He knew his genealogy back to Henry I. Without feeling any pride in the matter – honestly – he was just happy to be born under the covenant, to have such a rock of great and a terrible clarity in his life when half the other men in the FBI (that’s where he worked), looked like they were on the verge of considering a mistress and diving headlong into the vice of this current age. 1974, after all, wasn’t a great year for moral clarity, and everything looked like it was getting worse.
“Well, honestly,” Tim told his wife, “the Bureau has something to do with it, the Bishop calling, of course. But I don’t let that go to my head.”
“Of course you don’t.”
“I don’t. I mean it would make a great article. FBI agent appointed to the Quorum of the Twelve.”
“Bank fraud would make for some great conference talks,” Sister Midgely said.
“It’s still the FBI.”
“Right, but it’s not like you’re tracking down Patty Hearst.”
“It’s still, I repeat, the FBI. I carry. I have a badge.”
“Tim, do you really want to live in Happy Valley? Do you really want to move to Salt Lake??”
He kissed his wife on the forehead and began singing, “I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord, I’ll be what you want me to be..”
At Standards Night, Bishop Midgely looked up from his prayer at the combined assembly of well dressed young men and women, their parents behind them in neat rows. The yard, and the occasion, looked as beautiful as he hoped it would. The smell of honeysuckle, and the young ladies’ perfume, hung in the summer air, and for a moment he indulged his wife’s fear. What was he doing? It was going to be terribly awkward talking about sexuality, frankly, with this audience. But then he took a deep breath and remembered his office. He had been set apart for this calling. These parents expected this. Someone had to talk about sex. Someone had to fight bank fraud, and someone had to point out the dangers of promiscuity.
“We’re all here for a reason,” he began. “Aren’t we? We’re all the product of a beautiful gift. Aren’t we? That gift is human love. The love between a married man and woman. We’re all here tonight because of this marvelous, gorgeous, ecstatic gift. And I’m here to tell you, it’s a gift indeed. It’s beautiful.”
Bishop Midgely became vaguely aware of a teenage boy in the front row shifting his legs. A head tilted in the distance. Someone was whispering.
“Aren’t we?” the Bishop repeated, looking down at the wrong part of his notes. The use of the phrase “aren’t we?” in such succession cast doubt over the entire proceedings. He was off to a rough start.
The Bishop knew he was too young to assume the grandfatherly cadence of advanced church leaders. His calling card had to be “youthful, loving candor,” hopefully with a little humor, and at this point he had planned to launch in, rather directly, on the difficult seat-shifting material: masturbation, French kissing, going to second base, getting inside a girl’s panties. He looked down the page at his notes and he saw the word “ejaculation” and he felt the impulse to wind it back a little, to go general, return to what Paul meant by “love,” and to deal with the perspiration that was forming on his neck. And just then he looked up at his wife, sitting next to Ally and Casey, and she was giving him her “you can do it, honey” look.
Lord in Heaven, he loved this woman. There wasn’t a trace of “I told you so” in her expression. She was digging in, right alongside him. She might as well have been loading him a musket and saying, “I’m counting on you dear. Start firing.”
He suddenly remembered that he was, after all, an FBI agent, and his boldness returned to him. “Let’s talk masturbation,” he began. “Is there anyone within the sound of my voice who doesn’t know what masturbation is?” The Bishop surveyed an audience that had suddenly become even more still, if that were possible, except that it sounded like something fell to the ground in the next yard, beyond the fence. “Masturbation,” the Bishop continued, “is when you play with yourself.” At this point, there was no doubt about the sounds coming from the next yard. There were footsteps, followed by the slamming of a screen door. Bishop Midgely looked slyly over his shoulder at the Beerman’s yard, and then back at his audience. The screen door slammed open again. “Maybe,” the Bishop said, “we should sell tickets?”
The laughter of the congregation emboldened the Bishop further, and he plowed on with great, candid good humor, walking back and forth, discarding his notes, and assuming the posture of a wise older brother…
“A mission president once told me that when he found out about masturbation he nearly broke the dang thing off..”
“..but it can make you go insane. The world disagrees with us on this, but I don’t think it’s healthy. Boys, you should wait for a nocturnal emission.. Girls, will your husband really want a girl who seems to have been around the block with her own body?”
“..if you think you can touch a girl’s breasts without wanting to take off her dress then I have a bridge I want to sell you in Brooklyn..”
“..and finally in this one instance, and I’ll admit this was a bit of a fluke, but in this case, with this particular incidence of heavy petting, this young man climaxed in a way, that, well, frankly sprayed the girl where she was most vulnerable and a baby came along nine months later..”
The disease portion of the talk, too, was rather lurid with advanced pictures of insanity, amputation, and horrific, knobby, bleeding skin disease. One young lady had to excuse herself. A young man in the front row looked positively yellow.
“But,” the Bishop said, “now that I’ve talked about the warnings, let me tell you about the blessings. When I was a first year law student at USC, I looked across the campus and I saw a young woman walk across the library lawn. She was holding a tray of food in front of her, and she stooped down to give a poor man – a vagrant, really – some lunch. I had seen this fellow a few times, and I don’t mind telling you he was a bit frightening. You know? The people who walk around on public streets yelling at demons no one can see? This young woman was feeding him. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She had this radiant brunette hair and I don’t mind telling you, well, honey, can I say what I’m about to say?”
“Better keep that to yourself,” Sister Midgely said.
“Well, let’s put it this way. I could not get this young lady off my mind. I asked her out the next day, and we were married a year later, and three years later..”
Bishop Midgely walked over to a series of two easels, veiled with sheets. He removed the first sheet to reveal the overlarge picture of a bright-eyed child looking at them.
“That’s our Jared,” Bishop Midgely said. “He has a twinkle in his eye, doesn’t he?”
He walked over the second easel and removed the sheet. “And there’s my little Kristina.”
Bishop Midgely, contemplating the images of his children, couldn’t speak for a moment. He coughed. “FBI agents are not supposed to cry,” he said, biting his lip and taking a finger to the corner of his right eye. “I would not have you lose faith in the United States Government, but I will tell you that the grand, loving purpose of sex is something you’ll only completely understand when you look in the eyes of your own children.”
The Bishop contemplated the images up on the easels and he turned to his audience. “Young people, I just want to tell you how powerfully your Father in Heaven loves you and how much He wants you to be happy, but there are terrible temptations in the way of your happiness and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t tell you about them. I want you to know that I love you too. Sister Midgely loves you. We want you to be happy, and so we’ve brought you here tonight to talk about your struggles. If anyone would like to add anything to the discussion tonight, please feel free to come forward.”
The forty-five seconds of near complete silence that followed felt, to Bishop Midgely, like the rise and fall of some great empire. He took the initial hesitation as spiritual triumph, as respect for the gravity of the questions at hand, but then the ongoing silence began to make him think he had stepped into some vast region of the obvious. He was mouthing old, clear truths. What could anyone add? Why didn’t Bishop Midgely just take Casey and Ally into his office and lay down the law?
Sister Jeffries stood up and walked forward. Bishop Midgely sighed, relieved to take any help from any quarter, even Sister Jeffries. You had to be honest about it: she was an arrogant, big-jawed, horsey-faced woman. She prided herself on church history. She taught it in seminary. She was one of those people who left you thinking, with respect to Mormon doctrines, you were not quite ready to grasp the grasshopper from her hand, and she was always walking around with several small grasshoppers in her purse.
“Sex,” she began, “is not as complicated as we tend to make it.”
Bishop Midgely flinched. What was that supposed to mean?
“Sex” she continued, “is reserved – from an eternal perspective, for those who endure. For those who attain the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. Only a very small percentage of the saints will be allowed to marry in the life to come. And even in that life it won’t be a means to achieve crass, earthly pleasure. It will be the means by which we populate worlds to come. A woman’s body was wrought by God to bear children, her breasts to give nurture, not as spectacles in a beach and pool culture. When young, unmarried people are allowed, and even encouraged, to display their carnality, in states of undress, in mixed bathing situations, we stray from the Celestial glory awaiting us.”
“Point of order?” Blade Maxwell asked. “Or clarification, or whatever it’s called? From a parliamentary perspective?”
“Let’s let Sister Jeffries finish,” Bishop Midgely replied.
“Why should we be surprised?” Sister Jeffries continued. “If our senses are aroused when we display our flesh for the entire world to see? My Great Aunt Sarah Trowbridge, who was married to a stake patriarch, told me a sweet story on her death bed. She held my hand, and she said she and her husband Ezra had maintained their purity throughout their marriage. They had eleven children, but they never once saw each other without their clothes on. Never once.” For some reason, this story made Sister Jeffreys dab a tear. One of the boys elbowed a friend in the front row. Someone snorted. Bishop Midgely stood up.
“Thank you for that, Sister Jeffreys. Blade, was there something you wanted to say?”
Blade Maxwell, owner of the love pool, looked a little defensive. He stood up, put a finger in the air, and appeared to gather his thoughts while old Brother Turley walked forward, ignoring him. “Let me just say something here,” he said. “Let me just put in a little something here. Let me add one more rifle to the rack, so to speak.”
Brother Turley paused for effect and then edged closer to where Casey and Ally were sitting. He looked at Ally and some of the girls sitting close to her. “You ladies,” he said, “have a powerful effect on young men.”
Brother Turley looked up into the darkening sky. He put a hand on his forehead and then around the small of his back and then he leaned forward a little too close to Ally. Brother Turley’s dramatic mannerisms had bothered Bishop Midgely since he was a child. He shifted his legs and coughed; Brother Turley straightened up, almost on cue. “You can inspire us to great things or you can bring out our fire-breathing dragon. You can motivate us to work, and to read the scripture, or you can turn us into rakes and ruffians. No account, ‘worthless fellows,’ the Bible calls them. You ladies have that power. You do. In how you dress. I was in the cafeteria the other day, over at the junior college. My boys were fixing the air conditioning. A young woman walked in. She was an ‘ample’ young woman if you know what I mean. Very ample. And her bosoms were leaving nothing to the imagination. Nothing at all. She was wearing shorts. Very tight shorts. Her bottom was on display for all the young men to see. She had a very shapely bottom, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The Good Lord gave her that bottom. But she was sharing it with the world, I tell you.”
For several years after this event, among the young men present, there would be Brother Turley ‘shapely bottom’ impersonation contests. Teenage mental lecheries in the church parking lot would be rendered benign with laughter, at the sound of a twangy, wholesome reminder: ‘the Good Lord gave her that bottom.’ The memory of this banter would leave grown men laughing to themselves on airplanes decades later, and that’s all well and good, but for Bishop Midgely, as it was happening, it felt something like a slow, grinding torture.
“Yet another young woman walked in,” Brother Turley continued, “and she had no brassiere. No brassiere at all. She was ‘ample’ as well and you could see—”
“So Brother Turley,” Bishop Midgely said, “I think what you’re saying is there’s a place for modesty in our clothing standard.”
“Not just a place,” Brother Turley said, “it’s a kind of a calling. Do the young ladies even know what that sort of clothing does to the young men? I mean physically?”
“I don’t think we need to describe…”
Brother Turley looked pointedly at the Bishop and then back at the audience. “I don’t think we need to either.” He walked back to his seat.
Blade Maxwell hopped up to his feet now, not to be interrupted this time, and he stepped forward with a breezy pace, something like the owner of a comedy club trying to save the night from the last two acts. “Heavy stuff,” Blade said, before even reaching the front, “heavy, heavy stuff.” When he turned around and faced the audience, much like Bishop Midgely, he felt the strange weight of talking about sex with teenagers and their parents. The burden of the “Love Pool” incident seemed to rest squarely on him now, as though he had taken all the church youth on a field trip to the Playboy Mansion.
“Let me just explain,” Blade began, “what this is not. I don’t think we’re saying no more beach parties, no more pool parties, no more slow dancing at the stake dances. I know the Bishop and the Stake president and the church in general want all of you kids to have fun with each other, because if you’re not having fun with each other, you’ll be off to Redbone concerts with the gentile kids, tokin’ reefer.” Blade chuckled at the image he created, and he held an air microphone to his lips. ‘Come and Get Your Love, Come and Get Your Love.’”
This lightened the mood a little bit, but not as much as he expected.
“It’s like this,” Blade continued. “You kids might think that us older married folks have it easy, right? We have our sweethearts sealed to us for time and all eternity. We wake up next to the love of our lives every morning, right? No need to be back from the date by 11 PM, right? No need to say goodbye? Well, I can tell you this: sometimes, even in marriage, it can be lonely.”
A young man in the front row spoke up. “What do you mean by that? You’ve mentioned that in Sunday School. How can you be lonely when you’re married?”
Blade tilted his head and put a thinking fist to his mouth. “Well, sometimes women.. I mean, not just women, but sometimes men too, I guess. Theoretically. Sometimes men and women act like teenagers with each other on dates. They make each other wait. Even in marriage. Imagine being sealed to a headache for time and all eternity?”
“That would be a bummer,” the young man responded.
“Okay, okay,” Bishop Midgely stepped in. “Anyone else like to share anything?”
The young man’s question, and the implication that all was not well in the adult world, loosened up the adolescent reserve and the floodgates opened. One young lady worried that certain kinds of lip gloss should be avoided. Another young man shared his secret for keeping his thoughts clean by singing the theme from Batman to himself. One girl apologized, on the verge of tears, for slow dancing with a young man and giving him “a condition she didn’t want to describe either.” A small fight broke out over girls who wore dresses with spaghetti straps, revealing too much shoulder. Since Ally was the only girl wearing such a dress, Sister Midgely had to snap off that part of the discussion by standing up and offering up some simple advice: “to the pure, ladies, all things are pure.” This earned a glower from Sister Jeffries and it led to more and more acute references to beach parties, swimming suits, and pool party etiquette. The adults, sensing a cat fight brewing, would stand up and try to steer things in a more general direction.
Their observations depressed Bishop Midgely. He looked over in the direction of Brother Marino, who was dozing. He and his wife had eight children. Just a few weeks before Brother Marino had confessed a blessing to him in his office at the church: “Bishop, can I tell what a lucky man I am? My wife—she’s a furnace! She puts the children to bed and then she locks the door. She locks the door.” So why couldn’t plump, happy Brother Marino put all this into perspective for the kids? Where were the content, happy married lovers? They all looked amused, or sleepy. They were forfeiting the evening to sexual malcontents, people who seemed to regard sex as though it were urban blight in need of more law enforcement and stiffer sentences.
Brother Bainbridge was talking now, nodding in the direction of the girl who had complained about slow dancing. He was complimenting her. He had been a chaperone at a stake dance and he had to counsel a young woman who was “traumatized by the experience.” He raised his eyebrows. “The young man was pressing his body against hers, clutching her by the waist, and pressing her loins to his loins. His hands were reaching in the direction of her buttocks.”
Bishop Midgely fell into dreary contemplation of the way Brother Bainbridge used the word “buttocks.” It takes a special kind of pinched piety to both imply that the lady’s buttocks were inviolate and pure – and still render the word “buttocks” sounding like “pollution” or “rancid lard sacrificed to idols.” He sat down for a moment and leaned down over his knees. Perhaps, he concluded, you had to just leave sex to God for quiet explanation to His children. It was too hot and too holy at the same time. He was so fatigued by this rumination that he failed to notice Ally Hamilton standing and heading towards the front of the audience. He looked up when he heard her voice. She was holding her Bible.
“My beloved,” she began, “is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand. His head is as the most fine gold, his locks are bushy, and black as a raven.”
In the climbing moonlight, Ally looked something like the summer of love–Pre-Raphaelite, diaphanous, wrapped in the mist coming from the night blooming jasmine. Perhaps, Bishop Midgely thought, it was just her perfume, which felt as spicy and potent as a first kiss. “Modesty standards” would never work on a girl like Ally. She would be announcing “Eve, naked and unashamed” if she were wearing a sheet of drywall. It had to do with her smile, with her natural affection, her laughter. She made people lonely when she walked away. Who could possibly doubt that this was a kind of power, a gift from God, just as some people could pick out ragtime by ear or speak fluent Italian after a few trips to Florence? Her gift was being able to listen, to radiate warmth, and it made her so powerfully attractive you could almost hear the green tea of envy roiling away behind the eyes of Sister Jeffries.
“His hands,” Ally continued, “are as gold rings set with the beryl: his belly is as bright ivory overlaid with sapphires.”
Ally laughed, and then smiled at Casey. “What a picture,” she said. “A belly as bright as ivory.” She giggled again and then something caught in her throat. Her eyes welled up. “His mouth,” she said, “is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.”
She closed her Bible and walked back to her seat. Casey held her hand.
They didn’t know, Bishop Midgely thought, studying them intently. They had no idea. All the evening’s references to pool parties and slow dancing and kissing hadn’t touched them, not even a feather-stroke. Not only was love blind, he thought, it was totally impervious.
Sister Jeffries wouldn’t have it. She was moving forward through the benches, trying to muster up her charitable and loving side, which was far more terrifying than her judgmental side.
“That,” she said, “I must say was beautiful. So lovely, Ally. So very, very lovely. The Song of Solomon is beautiful poetry, a metaphor for Christ and His church, but – as Joseph Smith reminded us – not inspired scripture – and perhaps not appropriate for a general audience.” She tried to laugh. It was the sort of laugh that invited a divide between adulthood and youthful foolishness. “Not at all,” she said, “no, no, no.” She was inviting others to laugh with her, to create a chorus of loving, parental derision.
Bishop Midgely looked at Ally and Casey and marveled. They still didn’t get it. They were whispering to each other, as though Sister Jefferies were a moth in the distance, banging around inside a lampshade.
“I have this,” a voice in the back said, walking forward.
It was Stake President Horner, Casey’s dad. He had the bearing of the man that he was, a prosperous framing contractor with about fifteen crews working at any one time. He was one of those men so successful that when you talked to him, it felt something like being granted an audience. You better make it quick. He was so busy, in fact, he wasn’t even supposed to be here tonight. He was back early by surprise from a meeting in San Diego.
“Well,” President Horner began. “My good young Bishop Midgely this has been most interesting.”
My good young Bishop? Something wilted inside Bishop Midgely. He had the feeling his FBI credentials were wilting away too.
“We all know what this is about,” President Horner said. “Don’t we? It’s about Casey and Ally smooching in the Maxwell’s pool this summer. And probably – if we’re honest – not just smooching but smooching in front of everyone else in their bathing skivvies.”
Sister Jeffries found her seat. Casey and Ally let go of each other’s hand.
“I can solve this,” President Horner said. “I can solve this tonight. Casey’s got a long road ahead of him before he can afford to get sweet on any young lady. He needs to build a home for her. He needs to learn something besides the twelve string guitar. And he’s got to be worthy to go on a mission. He’s going to have to sweat it out in Panama or Cost Rica somewhere, pick the flies out of his soup and the roaches out of his shoes, so that he knows how good he has it here. And then, maybe then, he can go knocking on the Hamiltons’ door. If Ally’s still around by then.”
President Horner waved a hand at his son. “Come over here.”
Casey stood up and moved forward. “Now go sit down over there. It looks like there’s a spot next to Sister Jeffries.” He looked back and forth between the two young lovers. “Casey? Ally? For now, this is over. Understood?”
Ally bent over, holding her face in her hands; then she stood up and ran back towards the house, followed by Sister Midgely. President Horner waited for them to completely disappear, for the door to close.
“Brothers and sisters,” President Horner said, “tonight has been very revealing. I must say that some of you have too much time on your hands. Now, if you’ll forgive me, I have a two hour drive back to San Diego. We’re starting on a shopping center tomorrow and we have no fork lifts. Some of us have work to do.”
With that, he pulled the car keys from his pocket and plunged out toward the street, leaving Bishop Midgely to mop up the rest of the evening, which was no easy chore given the fact that a closing hymn, a prayer, and dessert were planned. Getting through the night felt like a night hike over a series of mountains. At least five different church members didn’t even pretend to paper over the disaster.
“Don’t worry about it,” they said. “He’ll come around.”
The only one who looked remotely vindicated was Sister Jeffries, who offered up thirty minutes of advice to a red eyed Casey. He tried– respectful boy that he was–to make a show of listening, but he looked into the Midgely’s house for some glimpse, any glimpse, of Ally. Was she talking to the bishop, to sister Midgely, to her parents? Was that her removing the roses slowly from her hair? He couldn’t tell.
She was gone, placed carefully ten years down the road, never to be seen again.