Angel Falling Softly

Chapter 23

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth

David’s conclusion: the boy kept his pants on, and that’s all that mattered in the end. “Why did he even ask her out in the first place?” he asked his wife that night. He sat in bed thumbing through the Sunday Deseret Morning News. Reading the Sunday paper was how he unwound from his ecclesiastical duties.

Rachel stared at him as if he were rather dim. “Because she’s young and beautiful and rich and successful. And not a little exotic, don’t you think?”

“And a nonmember. This is Troy we’re talking about, remember. He won’t even read the Sunday paper on Sunday!” He shook the newsprint for emphasis. “Can you really imagine Troy marrying someone like Milada Daranyi? Or seriously dating her?”

“Of course not. I think for a brief, silly moment he was reliving his missionary days—dreaming about taming the she-wolf, or whatever he fantasizes about. I haven’t the slightest idea. Even Troy is smart enough to know that life isn’t like an Anita Stansfield novel.”

“So why doesn’t he ask out Michelle Montgomery? If that’s the type of woman he’s attracted to.”

“To begin with, Michelle is not the slightest bit interested in going out with Troy. I would be disappointed with her if she did. Troy is definitely not Michelle’s type. And nothing against Troy, but she can do better.”

“Who is Michelle’s type?”

“A man not intimidated by the thought of being married to a successful, independent woman.”

“I was intimidated by you.”

“Really?” She cuddled next to him. “I saw you in my family home evening group that first week at BYU, and I said to myself, I’m going to marry him. My only worry was that one of my roommates might have picked you out first.”

“Like I say, the person who knows what he—what she—wants always has the advantage.”

“And you didn’t?”

“I was just off my mission. For the past two years I’d done nothing but think about what I was going to do for the rest of my life. But I was hardly prepared to do anything about it.” He tossed the sports pages down to the foot of the bed and picked up the financial section.

“That’s why I had to. It’s a lot easier for a man to find himself if he’s got a woman telling him where to look.” She thought about it for a minute. “I wonder what Milada wants.”

David folded the paper in half. “Apparently, she wants Wylde Medical Informatics.” He read aloud, “Daranyi Enterprises International (DEI) is making a play for Salt Lake City-based Wylde Medical Informatics. The closely-held Wall Street investment banking firm intends to acquire a controlling interest in the healthcare technology company, sources within the industry have confirmed.

Rachel read through the blurb herself. “Wow,” she said.

“Yeah, maybe we should ask her for a stock tip.”

She shook her head. “No. Her company, DEI. Dei.” She grinned. “Go figure. Milada works for God.”

Rachel didn’t pick up the dry cleaning until Wednesday. And only then because on her way home from the hospital it occurred to her that it’d be fun to wear Milada’s outfit to Relief Society. She’d never quite overcome the impulse to one-up her classmates that had first tempted her in kindergarten show-and-tell.

Ah, vanity.

Mr. Strassel hung four white shirts, the black pinstriped suit and slacks, and Milada’s powder-gray outfit on the hook next to the cash register. He punched in the receipt totals at the cash register. “$152.87,” he said.

Rachel had handed over her Discover card before the numbers clicked in her mind. She caught her breath and tried not to let it out too explosively. They must have taken apart the seams and washed the lining separately. She shook her head ruefully. Milada had warned her.

Ah, vanity.

David was warming up leftover pizza—Italian sausage, green pepper—in the microwave when she got home. The ward had a stake audit coming up. That plus whatever interviews his executive secretary had scheduled would keep him at church until past nine.

Rachel mentioned in passing that the dry cleaning cost more than she had expected, but he wasn’t in a details mode. He was happy enough to have back his “grown-up” suit, as Laura called it.

She and Laura finished off the rest of the pizza. Rachel went upstairs, showered, and changed. To her great relief, the clothes fit. Not perfectly, but close enough. A tad tight around the waist and in the butt—she had to take a breath and suck in her gut to get everything zipped and buttoned. She didn’t have Milada’s sculpted physique. But neither was she ready to attend the Peter Paul Rubens school of modeling. The ward had a plentiful supply already.

Laura pulled a double-take when her mother strolled into the kitchen. “Hey, neat outfit.” A teenage daughter’s approval was a rare thing. Rachel posed for her. Laura said, “Isn’t that the outfit Milada was wearing?”

“That’s right.”

“Wow, I bet it cost a fortune.”

“It certainly cost a fortune to get cleaned.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s right. Dough Boy threw up on it. When are you going to give it back?”

“Milada said I could keep it.”

“Really? That is so cool. Can I try it on?”

“In another three or four years, perhaps.”

“Mom!”

Rachel stood next to her daughter. “You need to grow another three inches first. Which, at the current rate, should take you another month or two.”

“I can roll up the cuffs.”

Rachel gave Laura one of her I-don’t-think-so looks. “You have any homework?”

“Did it.”

“Then finish loading the dishwasher. I should be home by eight-thirty.” And because Laura was standing right there and couldn’t squirm away, she gave her a hug. She had to take advantage of these opportunities when she could.

Rachel couldn’t remember what the topic for enrichment meeting was. “Baby health” sprang to mind, but that was two times ago. She’d developed a surprisingly comprehensive knowledge of pediatric medicine, though not for reasons than anybody around her felt comfortable exploring. She hoped for a benign subject like “How to dry and press your own herbs” or something artsy-craftsy like macramé.

Michelle Montgomery was finishing a conversation on her cell phone when Rachel walked into the foyer. Michelle folded up the phone and tucked it into her purse. “Nice outfit.”

“Thank you.” Rachel smiled. An expert’s opinion, no less. She was two-for-two for the evening. “I got this outfit from a friend, in fact. Believe it or not, she swapped a BYU sweat suit for it.”

You’re kidding, Michelle’s expression said.

“And I was wondering—well, I was wondering how much an outfit like this cost. Just curious. You know—if I wanted to get another one like it.”

“Let me see,” said Michelle.

Rachel took off the jacket and handed it to her. Michelle walked across the lobby to where the light was more direct. She checked the label and examined the lining. “The slacks came with it?”

“Yes. And the blouse. Well, I don’t know about the blouse—”

“Hmm,” said Michelle. She helped Rachel put it on and had her turn around as she eyed the fit.

Rachel admitted, “My friend is a bit thinner than me and broader in the shoulders.”

Michelle nodded and did a few more mental calculations. “Fifteen hundred.”

“Fifteen hundred,” Rachel repeated.

Michelle pursed her lips. “It’s not a line I’m familiar with. Not Armani, not this cut. Maybe Helmut Lang or Isaac Mizrahi.”

“Fifteen hundred,” Rachel said again. “Dollars?

“If I knew who was repping the line, I could probably pick it up for—I don’t know—twelve-fifty, maybe.”

Rachel suddenly felt as if she were encased in starched crinoline. She couldn’t move. Something might break, pull, or tear. She shot Michelle a look of pleading helplessness. Michelle understood her reaction at once and said with a smile, “It’s just clothing, Rachel.”

“That’s like saying a Rolls Royce is just a car.”

“More like saying a Lexus is just a car. It’s not ready-to-wear but it’s not couture. This friend of yours is well off, I assume? What does she do for a living?”

“Corporate finance, I think.”

“Then I bet she chooses her clothing mostly on the basis of the cut and feel. A decent Dolce & Gabbana would cost you five thousand.”

“Still—it’s so generous. Should I send her a thank-you note?”

“You said she swapped a BYU sweat suit for it? Well, think of it this way: I bet she spends a far smaller percentage of her budget on clothing than you do.”

Michelle was right. But that didn’t change the fact that Rachel was wearing close to the value of her entire wardrobe. When refreshments were served after the meeting, she ate with all the daintiness of the Queen of England.

It was dark when Rachel left the church. As she passed Larkspur Lane, she glanced down the street and saw the big Lincoln parked in front of the former Lindstrom house. She saw Milada step out, speak briefly with the driver, and then walk to the house. The car drove to the end of the block and turned left onto Willow Way, briefly blinding her in the twin beams of its brilliant white headlights.

Rachel stood there, trying to make up her mind. Still not sure how to proceed, she started down Larkspur Lane. She had no idea what she was going to say. As for the fact that she was wearing Milada’s outfit, Michelle was right—Rachel was certain that Milada hadn’t given the exchange a second thought since.

She rang the doorbell. The porch light came on, the door opened. “Good evening, Rachel,” said Milada. “I was not expecting you.”

“I’m sorry,” Rachel began. Milada hadn’t even put down her attaché. “I was on my way home from church, and I saw your car.”

That was all she could think to say at the moment.

“Why don’t you come in?” Milada said pleasantly.

Rachel had been in the house many times when the Lindstroms lived in the ward. The plan of the house was the same as her own, except turned at a ninety-degree angle. But when she stepped across the threshold, it felt foreign. The living room projected the clean, sterile appearance of a room never lived in. The kitchen was quite the opposite. A multifunction printer sat on the counter next to the phone, along with a cell-phone charger, Salt Lake County phonebook, and framed photograph.

Milada placed her attaché on the kitchen table. The table was cluttered with sheaves of printouts, manila file folders, and FedEx envelopes. She took note of Rachel’s attire and said, “It looks quite sharp on you.”

“Thank you.”

Rachel’s attention was drawn back to the photograph. Family portraits had that reassuring sameness about them that made them recognizable anywhere. Three men standing, three sisters sitting. The man in the middle must be their father. He didn’t look so much older in age as in bearing and demeanor. The other two men were brothers, perhaps. Or uncles? Two smaller photographs were set behind the glass on either side of the frame, wallet-sized photos printed in sepia tones.

“Is this your family?” Rachel picked up the frame. The small photograph on the right showed the same man who stood on the right in the portrait, a handsome man dressed in a frock coat and bowler hat, a half-smile on his lips, a wink in his eyes. The other was of Milada and her father, Rachel guessed. Milada was seated, the man stood behind her with his hands on her shoulders, and both wore Victorian-style clothing.

“Garrick,” said Milada, pointing to the man on the right. “He is a—friend.” More than a friend, the way she said the word—but not a lover either, Rachel felt. Pointing to the man on the left, Milada continued, “And Uncle Frank.”

Again, Uncle Frank looked less like an uncle than like a cousin, and bit of a bounder at that. Milada lightly touched the glass and confirmed Rachel’s thoughts: “A man never content with what he has. And without a thought in his head of what to do with it when he gets more.” Her fingers strayed. “And you can see that Zoë was going through one of her gothic phases at the time.”

Zoë was the girl with dark hair. From her complexion, it was obvious that the hair was dyed. Now that Rachel looked more closely, she saw that they all shared the same fair skin and shock of silver-white hair. It was obvious even in the black-and-white photo of Garrick.

“And this is Kamilla.”

Rachel said, “The doctor.”

“Yes. A pediatrician.”

“And your father.”

“My stepfather, Mihaly. Though he’s gone by Michael for some time now.”

So he was her stepfather—and yet all so similar. Rachel set the picture down on the counter. Milada made a point of adjusting it, just a half-inch or so. “Was there something you needed to see me about, Rachel?”

For a moment, Rachel was stymied. Then she said, “The boy, Andy—the boy who got stung by the bees. He’s doing quite well. His mother wanted me to thank you.”

“That is good to hear.”

“In fact, Charlene tells me his allergies don’t bother him at all now.” Suddenly Rachel knew the reason she had come here. “Last Monday, when you found Andy—I know it sounds strange, but I really can’t remember what happened.”

Milada gave her a slightly amused look of measured forbearance. Rachel went on relentlessly. “I—I remember telling Laura to run and get David and Brother Millington, and then I think you started CPR, and then—and then David and Brent came running up and you gave me your cell phone. Yes, that’s right. But in between—”

And that was when Milada put her hand on Rachel’s shoulder, her fingers brushing the back of her neck. Rachel stopped talking. The words simply refused to leave her mouth. She felt ridiculous. Her face grew hot with embarrassment. “It is not important,” Milada said. She walked her to the door, Rachel dumbly letting herself be guided. Milada said again, “It’s not important, Rachel. Go home.”

A minute later, Rachel stood on the sidewalk outside her own house, feeling abashed.

“Rachel?”

The bishop came up behind her. Rachel spun around, startled. She was standing in front of their house. “How—?” she started to say.

“Forget something?”

“I—I was thinking—”

“Where were you?” He sounded curious, not inquisitorial.

“I was—I was at church.”

“I didn’t see you there. When I came down the walk, you were crossing the street.”

“I had to—um, drop something off at Arlene’s . . . ” Her voice trailed off uncertainly.

Rachel knew what she said wasn’t true. But it wasn’t a lie. It was simply the most rational explanation she could think of at the time. She’d been at the church. Twenty minutes later, she was here. The in-between had vanished into thin air.

The puzzle kept her quiet as she undressed for bed. David said, “Brent tells me that Andy’s doing quite well.”

“Yes, that’s what Charlene says too. She thinks it might’ve been the bee stings. Her great-aunt claimed that bee stings cured her arthritis.”

“Well,” the bishop said, and he spoke without any trace of irony in his voice, “by next fast Sunday I’m sure she’ll see the hand of God in it.”

“Some of his ways are more mysterious than others.” Rachel closed the closet doors and sat on the bed. “So why does Andy Millington get this little miracle, and—” She stopped herself from saying, and we don’t. “And the Bromleys didn’t?”

David smiled and shook his head.

“What?” she demanded. She playfully threw a pillow at him. “You always do that!”

“Do what?”

“You smile whenever somebody mentions the Bromleys. It was a terrible tragedy!”

“Yes, it was.” He sobered up. “A terrible tragedy. But the whole thing started out so absurdly. I mean, Doug gets LaRita pregnant and then goes on his mission as if—what, nobody was going to find out? I can only imagine what his companion must’ve thought when he got sent home.”

“Maybe she didn’t tell him.”

“And what a way to find out! Congratulations, Elder, it’s a girl! Now, about that lesson on the law of chastity—”

“So is that why they died?” Rachel didn’t think so, but she had to ask.

“They died because a drunk driver ran a red light. It certainly wasn’t because of what they did. Not when you’ve heard what I’ve heard, people doing things—people doing things in this ward—upstanding members of the community and all that. If anybody’s going to hell for their sins, I can promise you it won’t be Doug and LaRita Bromley. Jesus told the woman to go and sin no more, and that’s what they did. Some shotgun marriages do work out for the best. I had faith in theirs.”

“Then why them?”

“I don’t know. For all we know, that drunk driver was going to run somebody down that night, and if not them then some other unlucky couple. I could even believe that at that moment they were as perfect as they were going to get in this life. They’d started over and were headed in the right direction. Not everybody completes the circle like that. People die all the time, for all the wrong reasons. But that’s the whole point of the gospel, isn’t it? Having faith in Christ, believing in the atonement and eternal life. Or deep down, do we cling to mortality and fear death the same as everybody else?”

He stopped talking. They were both silent. It was a rhetorical question.

It struck Rachel that in many ways Carl and David weren’t all that different, Carl relying on theology to explain his good fortune, David relying on theology to explain their bad luck. That’s the way men’s minds worked: they coped with life by explaining it. But the explanations didn’t make life hurt any less. The explanations didn’t solve anything, really. Forget logic. Maybe pitching a fit now and then, having a real temper tantrum, was what it took to get God’s attention. After all, Jacob wrestled with the angel, and Jacob came away with the blessing.

Rachel rested her head on her husband’s chest. “But I still want a miracle.”

Her husband kissed the crown of her head. “So do I.”

Copyright Eugene Woodbury. All rights reserved.