Rachel was standing outside the Relief Society room waiting for Sunday School to conclude when Charlene Millington rushed up to her with such enthusiasm that Rachel had to restrain herself from pirouetting out of the way like a rodeo clown dodging a charging bull.
“It’s incredible!” Charlene exclaimed, seizing Rachel’s arm in order to impart added emphasis.
“Andy! You wouldn’t believe it!” She released her grip on Rachel’s arm and clasped her hands to her ample bosom. “Ever since those bees stung him half to death, his allergies haven’t bothered him once! Even dairy, and that was always the worst! Thursday morning Andy got the soy confused with the half-and-half, and how that makes him swell up! So bad he can’t breathe almost! Well, I was all ready to rush him to the emergency room, but then I double-checked to make sure of the symptoms and—nothing! Like any perfectly healthy kid. You know, Rachel, I’ve heard about using bee-sting therapy to treat problems like that. My great-aunt May swore it was keeping honey bees that kept her rheumatoid arthritis at bay all those years. Always thought it was old wives’ tales, you know. But I’m beginning to think she was onto something.”
Hardly certain of where to begin, Rachel simply said, “So he’s all right then?”
“Right as rain. Oh, and that lady you had over—”
“Milada. You really must thank her for me. She handled everything so calm-like. I guess when you live in New York City, nothing surprises you. I was ready to go to pieces.” Charlene paused and cast a furtive glance over her shoulder. “Did you hear about her and Troy the other night—?”
Rachel hadn’t, but her heart sank. The bell rang before Charlene could tell her. Sunday school let out, and it was time to get ready for Relief Society.
Joan Ellis walked into the Relief Society room a minute later, and Rachel couldn’t resist the opportunity to extract information from an unimpeachable source. They exchanged pleasantries. Rachel said, in as offhand a manner as she could muster, “I hear Troy had an interesting date the other night.”
“I would say so. Not that he’s told me all the gory details, but a mother can read between the lines.”
“What happened exactly?” Rachel asked with a bit too much intensity.
“What do you expect? A woman like that—” Her tone of voice said far more than her words.
Rachel felt a reflexive clenching in her gut. “A woman like what?” But she was guilty of the same thoughts: not a Mormon, not from around here, not one of us, a gentile.
“You tell me,” Joan shot back. “You seem to know her awfully well.”
“She’s a perfectly honorable woman on her own terms,” Rachel replied, even as a nagging voice at the back of her head reminded her that she didn’t know Milada well enough to vouch for her character. But she liked Milada and felt protective of her reputation and her standing in the community.
“In my day there were certain things honorable women didn’t do on a first date.”
“And I’m sure in your day no honorable man invited himself into a woman’s house on the first date.”
Just then Sister Garner bustled into the room with the materials for her Relief Society lesson. She practically skidded to a halt, the tension in the room hitting her like an invisible force field.
Joan took a step back and smiled thinly. “I guess I can’t exactly blame her. A woman waiting for my Troy to make the first move could get herself awful frustrated. I suppose it’s reassuring to know that women still find him attractive.”
She laughed, but there was no humor in her laughter. Her son’s marital status was a sore point with Joan Ellis. Her opinions on the subject of marriage were a matter of public record. “It’s all well and good,” she had stated on many occasions, “that Steve Young up and finally got himself married, but I do think the Brethren should have taken him aside and told him to get himself settled down. There’s no excuse for a man like that to be single and over thirty.”
With that, Sister Ellis made a show of walking over and offering to help Sister Garner ready her lesson.
Rachel’s opinion on the subject was that Joan could hurry things along greatly if she kicked Troy out of the house. Or at the least stopped making his lunch and cooking his dinner. Talk about not being willing to buy the cow when he could literally get the milk for free.
But some rhetorical weapons civilized people recoiled from using, if only to spare bystanders the collateral damage.