Chapter Sixteen: On The Line
Pershabael had gotten up before me this morning and when I wandered into the kitchen, I found him sitting at the table, absently stirring a cup of herbal tea, watching Jennifer with a strange intensity.
Jennifer was simply standing by the kitchen window, cradling a half-empty cup of coffee in her hands, not really doing anything in particular as far as I could tell.
I looked at both of them, nonplussed until I followed the direction of Jennifer’s gaze out the window. Apparently something outside had her riveted.
I had just opened my mouth to ask what she was so intrigued by when Pershabael reached out and snagged me with his arm and pulled me up against him. I thought he was just being playful at first, but he signaled me to keep quiet, gesturing at Jennifer who remained by the window in somewhat of a trance.
My curiosity piqued, I wiggled out of my angel’s grasp and crept up beside Jennifer. I peeked around her to see outside.
“Who is that?” she asked, nearly startling me.
I strained to see who she was referring to, but the only person I saw out there was Rory, unloading the truck. Rory?
I cleared my throat and glanced back at Pershabael who was grinning now like the Cheshire Cat. Now all this was beginning to make sense.
“Um, that’s my groundskeeper,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant. “His name is Rory Garcias.”
“Rory?” Jennifer repeated his name and just the way she had said it spoke volumes. “That’s a fine Irish name, but tall, dark, and handsome doesn’t look very Irish to me though.”
I licked my lips. “He’s, ah, half-Irish. He’s got his mother’s green eyes.” I looked over at Pershabael again. He nodded, encouraging me.
Facing Jennifer now, I cleared my throat and tried to think of something useful to help get the wheels in motion in this apparently developing situation.
“Oh, you know what? I’m glad he’s here,” I started, pretending I had just remembered something important. “I needed to talk to him about putting up a gazebo down by the brook for the ceremony.” I went to the door and flung it open. I called to Rory and waved him inside.
He pretty much dropped what he was doing--literally--and hurried towards me. I must have made it seem urgent. Well, it was, kind of. I stole a look back at Jennifer and noticed she was fussing with her hair. I fought hard not to smile.
“Good morning, Miss Mya, Mr. Shelby,” Rory politely greeted us, stepping into the kitchen and stripping off his work gloves. He took off his sunglasses and peered over at Jennifer and smiled, then looked to me, clearly waiting for me to introduce him.
“Oh! Begging your pardon, where are my manners?” I chided myself. “Rory, this is Miss Jennifer Davidson. Jennifer, this is Mr. Rory Garcias.”
“Nice to meet you, Miss Jennifer,” he said, sounding real sincere.
Jennifer stared back at him. “God, she wasn’t kidding about your eyes,” she murmured, sounding as if she were talking more to herself than anyone else. “They’re like…emeralds.”
I bit my lip to keep from giggling. Had I said that?
“Oh, thank you,” Rory replied to her and stepped closer to her. “I do have a little of the Irish in me. Doesn’t everyone?” He chuckled.
Jennifer smiled sweetly back at him. Then for a long while, they just stared at each other like they were both absorbing each others presence. Something was obviously evolving between these two right before my eyes. Their compatible chemistry felt like something tangible in the room.
I turned away from them just long enough to look at Pershabael again. He seemed to be observing the same odd proceeding with a rather amused smile on his face.
I had to clear my throat a few times before I was able to snap the two of them out of it. Rory took a small step back and looked like he had to force himself to face my direction.
Jennifer appeared to be blushing now. Of course, a blush is easy to see on a natural redhead and she must have been aware of it because she turned away from us both in an uncharacteristically demure manner and set her coffee mug on the counter.
“Did you say something, Miss Mya?” Rory belatedly asked.
I shook my head. “Me? No.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you had company,” Rory apologized for some reason. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” As expected, his gaze strayed back to Jennifer.
I fought not to smile again. “I called you in, Rory,” I told him. Wow, he was muddled.
“Oh,” he answered and looked charmingly embarrassed. “That’s right. Was there anything you needed, Miss Mya?”
I could tell he really wasn’t too concerned with my needs right now. He’d be happy to just keep gazing at Jennifer the rest of the day. But now I had forgotten what I had called him in for. I guess I was a little muddled too.
“Um, Percy, do you remember why I needed to speak to Rory?”
He looked at me and shrugged. “I wasn’t really paying too much attention, darlin’. Sorry.”
I faced Jennifer. “Do you remember?”
She looked at me with widening eyes like I’d just put her on the spot. “Something about a gazebo, right?” Then she faced Rory. “I love gazebos.”
“Right, right,” I praised her and turned back to face Rory. This was all being made up, but so far it was working. “I’m going to need a gazebo put up down by the brook for the ceremony. Nothing permanent, mind you. I’ll want it taken down afterwards. I don’t really know the first thing about gazebos though, so I don’t know what kind to get. I want something romantic, but something that will compliment the natural landscaping.”
Rory made a face. “Romantic? Miss Mya, you’re killing me. There must be a thousand different styles. I couldn’t tell you what was specifically romantic. Maybe you should come with me to pick one out.”
“Oh no, I can’t!” I barked in quick reply. “I’ve got a million things to do today.” Although truthfully, I really didn’t have anything to do today but stave off Maz once he showed up.
“Maybe Miss Jennifer would be willing to go with you,” Pershabael decided to add. “She’s been helping me with picking out a ring. I’m sure she knows romantic when she sees it.”
I shot him a look of approval at his brilliant suggestion and he inclined his head back at me to acknowledge it.
Of course, Jennifer was blushing like a beet again, but looked pleased as punch at the same time.
“Well, if Miss Davidson wouldn’t mind,” Rory said, inching closer to her and softening his voice. He gave her an encouraging smile. “I’d welcome the input. Especially since it’s going to be for a garden wedding. You’re right, Miss Mya. We don’t want anything that will overpower the landscaping.”
“It’ll be romantic,” Jennifer whispered to him rather wistfully, but then her dreamy-eyed expression crashed. “But what about the gallery? Monica will be expecting me.”
I dismissed her concerns with a wave of my hand. “I’ll call her. I’m sure she can hold down the fort on her own for one day. You go on. Find me something romantic.”
Jennifer smiled and faced Rory. “Okay then!” she agreed. “Whenever you’re ready.”
Rory nodded, clearly pleased as well. “Just give me a minute to finish unloading the truck, then we’ll be off.”
“I’ll go grab my purse then,” Jennifer announced and disappeared down the hall. I was sure she was actually putting on a fresh coat of lipstick instead. I would have done the same thing.
Rory waited for her, smiling ear to ear. When she returned, I stood back and watched him escort her out to the truck. He quickly finished unloading the flats of flowering plants he’d purchased and then set them aside while Jennifer watched, looking mesmerized. When he’d finished, he plucked an open bloom from one of the plants and handed it to her. She accepted it and cradled it in her hand like it was something truly exquisite as Rory opened the door to the truck for her and helped her inside.
I turned from the window to face Pershabael. “Awww,” I gushed. “They’re so cute! That was a sheer stroke of genius having them go off together.”
The angel grinned. “Glad to do my part. This might really work to our advantage. I feel good things about the two of them.”
“I do too,” I stated, coming to stand beside him. I put my arm around his neck and leaned in to kiss his forehead. “Rory would be perfect for her. He’s good-looking, well-mannered, got a good head on his shoulders, and more than capable of keeping her cynicism in check.”
Pershabael gazed at me. “He’s also a faithful soul and that certainly won’t hurt. He just may give ole Maz a run for his money.”
I peered back at him and sighed. “You know, this whole thing would be easier if we could just tell her who Maz really is and what he’s really up to.”
The angel practically glared at me in reply. “Mya, don’t you dare. It’s not your place, or mine even. We choose who we reveal ourselves to and it’s a very select few. A very blessed few.” He sighed and reached up to brush his thumb across my cheek, his expression softening. He drew me into his lap and circled me with his arms. “Let me tell you something. There’s an appointed time and place for everything, but it’s not for us to decide when that time will be. You have to rely on your faith for now and trust that He knows what He’s doing. Besides, people ought to know we exist by now. We’re always in their midst. Whether it’s from plain ignorance or stubborn rejection, some don’t and some refuse.”
“I wasn’t going to tell,” I pointed out, pouting over the scolding he’d just given me. I crossed my arms over my chest. I remembered what Daniel had told me about Jennifer’s faith and how important it was for her to discover it on her own. “I just said it’d be easier.”
Pershabael smiled at me. “Nothing worthwhile is easy to come by. The effort you put into something is what makes it worthwhile….” His voice trailed off and he looked away from me, his expression telling me something just occurred to him he hadn’t thought of before. He suddenly kissed me and set me back up on my feet. “I better get to work.”
He rose from his chair, downed the last of his tea, and then turned to go without another word.
I gaped after him. “Wait! Don’t you want me to drive you?” I shouted after him as he walked towards the door.
“Nah,” he answered. “I’ll walk. It’ll give me a chance to think.” He winked at me then and blew me a kiss and disappeared out the door.
I stopped in my tracks and watched him go, wondering if it would even occur to anyone passing him on the road that he could be an angel, or to the people in the restaurant, that maybe, just maybe, an angel was serving up those chicken sandwiches. After all, they were in our midst.
It also made me wonder how many other angels I’d met throughout my life and hadn’t even realized it.
“Gazebo?” Mercedes all but shrieked in horror, sounding less than thrilled by the idea.
“What? Why not? It’ll be romantic,” I urged. “You’ll need something to stand under.”
Mercedes made a noise at that. “How about the sky? Gazebos are all right, but they smack too much of a wedding. I just want a nice, simple ceremony.”
“But, what if it rains?” I came back. “You know what the weather’s like here. One minute it’s sunny and the next, it’s storming. Especially in mid-summer.”
My friend laughed lightly. “Then I’ll get wet, won’t I? Don’t worry. Just find me a minister, okay? That’s all you need to do.”
I sighed. “What about the cake? Can I at least bake you a cake?” Red velvet popped into my mind, but I immediately shoved it back out. Damn, he must be close.
“Fine, bake me a cake,” Mercedes conceded. “But none of those three-tiered, bell-topped, rose-petal-covered confections. A plain old, yellow cake with butter cream frosting would be perfect.”
I grinned. “I think I can handle that. And I think I already found you a minister. I‘ll go talk to him today as a matter of fact.”
I had some time on my hands waiting for Mazriel to show up since Pershabael was at the café and Jennifer was tooling around town in search of gazebos with Rory. I had spoken with an Episcopalian minister on the phone awhile back regarding the ceremony. Now that I had an actual date and time, I could meet with him and iron out the details this afternoon. I sifted through some scattered papers on the end table beside the sofa. His phone number was around somewhere.
“Ah! Here’s his number,” I announced triumphantly. “I’ll call him right after I hang up with you.”
“You know I appreciate the thought,” Mercedes said quietly. “About the gazebo. It was sweet of you. You’re not disappointed or anything now, are you?”
I automatically shook my head. “No, it doesn’t matter to me really and getting one actually served a higher purpose. What do they say? All’s well that ends well?” I hoped this would end well anyway.
Mercedes laughed. “Well good.” She paused and took a deep breath. “I told my mother what we were doing. She’s not very happy about me getting married in a graveyard.”
I frowned. “Remember, Idlewild is not just a graveyard. It’s a sanctuary.” I recalled what Daniel had said about it and smiled again. “It’s a blessed and reverent place, I was told.”
“I know. All she would have to do is set foot on the place and she’d feel it. You can’t help but feel it.”
That gave me an idea about Jennifer. She had flat-out refused to go into the cemetery before, but maybe now, with Rory, she’d venture in. They could scout locations together for the gazebo that wasn’t getting put up now.
“Well, you keep working on your mom. She‘ll come around,” I murmured, getting up from the sofa. “Call me tomorrow.”
“All right,” Mercedes said. “I will. Bye for now.”
I grinned widely. “Bye hon.”
As promised, as soon as I hung up with Mercedes, I punched in the number for the minister, Paul Gowan. He said he’d be more than happy to meet with me today, but he had an appointment to keep at one-thirty so it would have to be right now. I agreed. I had kind of wanted to take Pershabael along so I could listen to them debate modern theology, but I also didn’t think I should put this meeting off until he could come along.
I had just gathered up my purse and my car keys when my phone rang again. For a moment I thought about not answering it, but then I saw it was from Rick’s Café and stopped where I was, panic seizing me, thinking there must have been some horrible accident for them to be calling me.
“Hello?” I began anxiously.
Pershabael’s sultry drawl on the other end immediately soothed my fears.
“Hey, I just thought I’d let you know, a friend of ours is in town.”
“Percy….” I took a calming breath. “You scared me calling me out of the blue like this. I thought something might have happened to you. I can’t tell you the gray hairs you’ve given me lately.”
He laughed lightly. “Sorry. I guess I don’t call you often enough, do I?”
I thought about that. “I don’t think you’ve ever called me before.” I went back to the sofa and sat down with a new found appreciation at hearing the sound of his voice on the phone.
“Hmm. I think you’re right,” he agreed.
I took another breath. “Ah, what were you saying about a friend?” I prompted.
“Okay, maybe friend is kind of stretching things. How about this? Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, HE walks into mine.”
I burst out laughing upon hearing his flawless Bogart impersonation of that telling quote from “Casablanca”. It was especially fitting considering Pershabael worked at Rick’s Café which had an unapologetic “Casablanca” theme going on with its décor. But then it hit me.
“Uh-huh. Sat right in my section too.”
Now I envisioned all kinds of decidedly unpleasant scenarios. Seemed like every time Pershabael and Mazriel were within shouting distance of each other, violence ensued.
“Oh good grief, you two didn’t bust up the place, did you?”
“Mya!” he replied, sounding offended. “I was working!”
I wasn’t sure what that had to do with it, but I reckoned it meant ‘no’.
“What did you do?”
There was a slight pause. “Well, I served him a roast beef with Swiss, just like he ordered.”
I grinned. “You didn’t…spit on it or anything, did you?”
He moaned. “Oh, I wish I would have thought of that! I so would have.”
“I highly doubt that,” I countered, chuckling at the thought. “You’re too good a person.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said with a rather wistful-sounding sigh. “And he did tip me fifty dollars.” Then: “Well, look, I’ve got to run, my break’s about over.”
I frowned, not really wanting our phone conversation to end. “Is it busy?”
“Um, you could say that.”
“Wall-to-wall girls, isn’t it?” I guessed. I was going to have to have a talk with Miss McCutcheon.
“I’m not complaining. Gives me something pretty to look at while I’m working and I’m making great tips,” he announced.
I furrowed my brow. “Ooo, I bet. Fetching a lot of forks off the floor too, I suppose.”
He laughed. “The ladies do seem to drop a lot of things when I’m around.”
I was both outraged and amused. “Percy, that’s sexual harassment!” I exclaimed indignantly. “All I can say is, those ladies better be keeping their slippery little hands to themselves.”
“Does that mean I can’t let them tuck the tips under my belt anymore?”
“No!” I snapped, but wasn’t too convincing, laughing the way I was. “Pershabael, you better be kidding, that’s all I can say.”
“Uh-oh, you used my real name,” he noted. “I better go before I get myself into more trouble.”
I was definitely going to have to call Monica. And then I remembered. I really did need to call Monica.
“You go back to work before you get into trouble with Mrs. Campbell. I’ll be by to pick you up at 2:3o, okay?”
“Okay lover. I’ll see you then.” With that, he hung up.
I quickly dialed the number to the gallery. It took Monica a couple of rings before she picked up.
“Purple Passions Gallery.”
“Monica, it’s me.”
“Oh! Thank God!” she said, sounding out of breath. “Jennifer never showed up this morning and I’m swamped over here!”
“That’s why I’m calling, to tell you about Jennifer…wait, swamped?”
“I’ve had people in here all day, Miss Cotton. Um, Cotton-Shelby. Mrs. I haven’t been able to get any of the listings done. I could really use an extra hand.”
I couldn’t even imagine such a thing. “Why is it so busy all of a sudden?”
“Hey, I even sold one of your Griffon paintings,” Monica replied sounding pleased with herself. “Uh, word must have gotten out that Mr. Shelby is one of your models.” She paused. “You know, people see him at the restaurant and think, wow, let’s go see that nude painting of him at the gallery, but then I have to tell them it sold. But they still want to look around.”
I frowned deeply. “Oh, I wonder how word must have gotten out,” I half-growled and then forced myself to switch gears. “Listen, Jennifer needed the day off for some…personal reasons. I meant to call you way sooner than this, but time’s gotten away from me.”
The crunch of tires on gravel captured my attention for a moment and I realized someone was driving up the lane to the church parking lot. I didn’t think much of it, figuring it probably was Rory and Jennifer returning with the gazebo.
“Well, can you come in for awhile?” Monica asked and then evidently spoke to someone approaching her. “No, I’m sorry. It sold.”
I shook my head. “No, I’ve got too many things going on here. I’ve got to meet with a minister and I’ve got a…friend dropping by anytime now. Look, I think Jennifer just pulled in so let me see if she wouldn’t mind swinging by there for a couple of hours to help you out.” I still couldn’t get over the fact the gallery was actually busy with walk-in customers. “Don’t worry about the listings so much. Just take care of the customers, okay?”
“Oh, by the way,” Monica added. “We’re almost out of cappuccino. You better get some for tomorrow.”
I nodded, but was distracted when someone knocked on the front door. My stomach did a quick flip-flop.
“I will. Hey, I have to go. I think my…friend just arrived.”
“Okay, I gotta go too. I think I just made another sale.” She hung up without further delay.
I stashed my phone and sprang up from the sofa, but in all honesty, I wasn’t in any hurry to answer the door.