Angel Falling Softly

Chapter 22

A fault denied is twice committed

Milada sat in the wicker chair deep beneath the eaves of the porch. Fresh blood coursed through her veins. The flood of oxygen burned like a low fever, making her complexion pinker than usual and leaving her with a contented feeling.

The afternoon sun slanted down the street. The temperature hovered in the nineties. But it was “a dry heat,” as they were wont to say in Utah. And measurably more tolerable than the steaming humidity of the Atlantic coast at this time of year. She savored a respectable 1993 Merlot and watched the quiet neighborhood dramas play out in the driveways and front lawns.

The rhythm of people passing up and down the sidewalk told her when services began and ended at the Mormon chapel a block north on Willow Way. She made a game of guessing which of her neighbors were Mormon and which were not. The man in the red shorts washing down his mud-splattered Dodge Ram pickup, probably not. Ditto the two teenagers who’d set up a ramp at the end of their driveway and had been practicing backside one-eighties on their skateboards for the last two hours straight.

The breeze shifted about. She caught the smell of steak broiling on a charcoal grill. From over a fence and across a backyard came the shout and splash of a kid cannon-balling into a swimming pool. A lawnmower started up. The Mormons allowed considerable leeway in their sharia as far as the gentiles were concerned. Utah had a paucity of Blue Laws, though obtaining the Merlot had approximated a visit to a twenties-era speakeasy.

The bishop strode down the sidewalk. He was wearing an off-the-rack navy blue suit. It looked like something his mother got for him at Sears. He stopped and talked to the man washing the truck. They both laughed. The bishop slapped him on the back.

So Mr. Red Shorts was a lapsed Mormon.

The bishop waved at the skateboarders. “Hey,” the tall one replied, with practiced slacker nonchalance. A lady stepped out of the house opposite Milada’s and called to the bishop. He jogged up to the front door, and they spoke briefly. Then he headed across the street, and Milada realized he was coming to visit her.

“Good afternoon, Bishop.”

He stepped up to the porch. “How are you doing, Miss Daranyi?”

“Milada,” she said. “I am doing quite well, thank you.” She set down the wine glass. She took off her sunglasses and hung them on the second button of her blouse.

“You’ve had a—pleasant weekend?”

“Quite satisfying.” She smiled. He was circling an uncomfortable subject. She could imagine what it was and decided to play along. No sense getting in a high dudgeon over her sense of privacy. Besides, she was curious to hear how the other side of the story was playing out in the public imagination.

He got to the point. “Troy does have a tendency to overreact at times, judge situations rather severely. Especially when he’s shown to be not as close to perfection as he imagines himself to be.”

Milada almost laughed. That made her—what, Bathsheba, despoiler of Christian manhood? She had tried. And if she hadn’t been so impressed by the bishop’s wife, she might have tried playing the game with him. Troy, though, had proved something of an object lesson in that regard. The payoff was not worth the risk.

He quickly backtracked. “I don’t mean to imply—”

The sparkle in her eyes stopped him. “Rest assured, Bishop, I have no schemes on the boy.”

“No,” he agreed wearily, “I didn’t suppose you did.”

She could guess at the other questions he’d intended to ask. About how Troy had insisted that what had transpired that night had involved something more than mere temptation. About how she had “overpowered his will,” whatever that meant. But she believed the bishop was a man predisposed to see the best in people—especially those he did not know well—and enough of a chauvinist to consider a woman’s virtue the man’s burden and responsibility.

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