She was spontaneous; he was fastidious. She was dating an inactive member; he was a returned missionary. She hated stereotypes; he wanted a bread-baking wife. One morning they met on the tennis court
Brad and Jenny03364_000_013
On the first Saturday after Brad Rawlins returned home from his sophomore year of college, he woke up at 5:00 A.M. After his morning prayer, he put on what he used for playing tennis—a pair of gray gym shorts and a long-sleeved white shirt. The shirt was a remnant of his mission that wasn’t good enough to wear to church but also not worn enough to throw away.
After lacing up his tennis shoes, he walked quietly to his parents’ room.
“Dad,” he whispered from the doorway. There was no answer; he walked over to the bed. “Dad?” he said loudly.
“What’s wrong?” his dad asked, sitting quickly up in bed.
“Nothing, dad. It’s just me.”
“What time is it?”
“Five thirteen. I just wanted to tell you that I’m going over to play tennis, or at least hit the ball against the practice wall.”
“You woke me up at 5:00 on a Saturday morning to tell me that?”
“I didn’t want you to worry.”
“What’s there to worry about?”
“I don’t know, dad. Parents are supposed to worry.”
“I never worry about you. You’re the most dependable person I know. How many boys when they are 15 plan their retirement?”
“I like to plan ahead. Did I tell you how my mutual funds did last quarter?”
“Brad, please leave me sleep,” his father groaned, lying back in bed.
Brad turned and padded silently toward the hall. At the door he paused to turn back to his father. “Let.”
“What?” his father snapped.
“Let me sleep, not leave me sleep,” Brad explained.
“What are you saying?”
“Poor grammar, dad. You should watch that.”
After Brad had left the house, his father lay in bed staring at the ceiling. After 15 minutes he woke up his wife.
“What’s wrong?” she asked sleepily.
“I’m worried about Brad.”
“Why? He’s a dependable boy.”
“He works hard. He’s faithful in the Church. How many other boys his age are ward clerks?” she asked.
“But he’s no fun. We’ve raised a 22-year-old, middle-aged son. How on earth is he ever going to talk a girl into marrying him?”
They both lay there staring at the ceiling.
It was a bleak summer morning. The clouds hung in ominous clusters. Brad pulled up to the curb in his small compact car. He heard the steady thump of a ball being hit against the only practice wall on the court. He got out to see who it was.
She wore a blue warm-up suit. Her long, dark hair was tied in a ponytail that swung to the rhythm of her moves as she repeatedly hit the ball against the wall.
He stood behind and to the left of her, fascinated more by the grace she exhibited in her fluid movements than by her tennis skill. Finally the ball hit a metal post on the fence and bounced crazily away from her toward Brad, who picked it up and threw it back to her.
“Are you waiting to use this?” she asked, wiping her brow.
“Yes, but that’s okay,” he said.
“I was waiting for a friend,” she explained, “but I guess he isn’t coming. I’ll let you use this, and I’ll jog home.”
“I play tennis, if you want to practice.”
“That’s called mixed singles, isn’t it?” she asked with a smile.
“I can give references if you’re worried about what kind of person I am. In high school I won a dictionary for a speech contest on good citizenship. I’m a returned Mormon missionary. That’s why I’m wearing this white shirt. In another year it will be worn out.”
“I’m LDS too,” she said. “Third Ward.”
“Really? I’m Second Ward.”
“Can you play tennis?” she asked.
“I’m sure I can beat you,” he replied confidently.
He was not prepared for her serve, which rifled along the line and out before he could get to it.
“Fifteen-love,” she announced dryly.
“That was a nice serve.”
For the first time in his life, he found it hard to concentrate on the game. He found himself entranced by her movements. She tossed the ball vertically upward with her left hand, her right arm moving the racket initially behind her, and then rapidly toward the descending ball, the two meeting in air like some rendezvous. He absorbed everything about her motion—the gliding of her ponytail, the concentration on her tanned face. He was watching her follow-through when he noticed a ball landing near his feet and bouncing away.
“Thirty-love,” she called.
“I’m really better than this,” he tried to explain.
In the next few minutes he managed to bring the game to deuce. In the process he gained a respect for her skill.
The clouds, which had been gathering in the valley, finally spilled over.
“Deuce,” she announced, preparing to serve.
“This will only take a minute,” she said.
“To beat you.”
“I don’t want to get wet.”
“Do you want to concede?” she asked cooly.
“Let me serve then.”
By this time the rain was falling heavily. They ran to his car and waited for it to quit.
Away from the court her face lost the cool front reserved for competitors and took on the ability to convey emotion. On this morning the emotion was that of sadness.
“What’s your name?” he asked her.
“Jenny Thomson,” she answered, gazing forlornly out the window at the sheets of rain dancing on the courts.
“You’re really sad about not winning?” he asked.
“No, it’s not that. The guy who was supposed to meet me didn’t come. We’ve been going together for a year. We used to come here every morning and practice. Last night we got into a big argument. I thought he might come this morning and we could work out our problems. But he didn’t come.”
They talked about school, the Church, her interests, his summer job as a computer programmer in a bank.
From out of the rain, a soaked figure of a young man running appeared. He stopped beneath an enclosed picnic area and looked around.
“Craig, over here!” Jenny yelled, suddenly happy.
He ran over to her side of the car. He was obviously an athlete; he wore a red warm-up suit for the university track team.
“Get in or you’ll drown!” Jenny laughed, reaching up to tousle his dripping hair.
Craig climbed into the back seat of the car with difficulty, joking with her about the cramped leg room.
“Hey, kitten, I brought you some breakfast,” he said, bringing a small bag of donuts from a sewn-in pouch of his sweat shirt.
“I don’t usually eat in the car,” Brad said politely.
They were so happy to be together that they didn’t hear Brad. Brad observed the look in Jenny’s eyes when she talked to Craig and suddenly felt very lonely.
Craig reached up and touched her hair and grinned. “Kitten, you look like a witch. Stringy hair. Look at that.”
“I don’t think she looks like a witch,” Brad said.
Jenny turned around to face Craig. “How about you? You look like a fuzzy teddy bear that was left out in the rain!”
She turned back to the front. The car was so small that it was difficult for them to face each other when they talked.
“If you want to give me the donut sack, I have a place for litter,” Brad remarked, knowing that they probably wouldn’t hear.
“I was hoping you’d come and that we could talk,” Jenny said.
“Kitten, I need to see your face when we talk.”
Brad got out of the driver’s seat and jumped in the back, while Craig ran around to the driver’s seat.
Brad picked up the empty bag in the back and put some of the crumbs on the floor into it. He found that one of the chocolate iced donuts had spotted the upholstery.
Craig reached out and grabbed both her hands. “What we’ve got is too good to just throw away.”
“If we’re going to marry, it will be in the temple. If it’s in the temple, you’ll need a recommend. If you want a recommend, you’ve got to attend church.”
“I know, and I will.”
“I’ve got a tournament.”
“I promised my brother I’d take him waterskiing.”
“During the summer it’s hard to work everything in.”
“Say, Jenny,” Brad asked, “I’ve got a spray can of cleaner and a cloth in the glove compartment. Could you get it for me?”
Jenny released Craig’s hands and retrieved the cleaner and rag for Brad.
“Craig,” she said, “it’s always going to be that way. In the fall it’s football, and during the winter it’s skiing. When are you going to take things seriously?”
“Kitten, don’t you love me?”
“Sometimes it takes more than love,” she replied.
“What else is there?” Craig asked, putting his arms around Jenny.
Meanwhile, Brad sprayed the foam on the chocolate spot.
“There’s nothing more than love, kitten. Look, a man has got to live his life the way he sees best. Sitting for three hours on a hard bench is not my idea of excitement.”
“I don’t think it’s going to work out, Craig. Maybe we should call it quits now.”
He pursed his lips and looked at her. He leaned over and kissed her lightly. “Okay, kitten. It’s your decision. Good luck. I’ll see you on the courts.”
Then he was gone, running out into the rain.
She sat very still and watched him go, the red of his jogging suit fading into the dreary morning.
After a few minutes, the tears came.
“I keep tissues in the glove compartment,” Brad said. He got out of the back seat and slipped into the front. He sat and awkwardly studied the steering wheel while she sobbed. There were a hundred thoughts running through his mind, but nothing seemed appropriate.
As time passed silently, he determined he must say something. “Breaking up is so hard to do,” he said, recalling the lyrics of a song.
He continued. “Life is full of troubles. But just as the rain today will go away, leaving the sun to shine, subsequently the flowers to grow, giving happiness to children who view the flowers but forget the rain that begat them, so also is life.”
“What are you talking about?” she asked, a smile forming.
“I have no idea. I heard it on TV once. I hoped it would apply to this situation.”
She quit crying and entered the silent brooding stage. Finally she said, “I think I got some chocolate on your seat covers. I’m sorry.”
Brad came to life, overjoyed at something to talk about. “Don’t worry!” he said, reaching back to get the cleaner and rag. He found the spot in the middle of the front seat. “Watch this. You’re really going to get a kick out of this.” He sprayed a white, thick foam on the spot. “Watch those tiny bubbles go. Look, bend down and listen. Do you hear them?” She bent down, her head next to his as they intently watched the foaming action. When it quit foaming, he wiped it up and the spot was gone.
“How about that! It does that every time!” Brad announced triumphantly.
He gave her a ride home. Jenny invited him into her house to meet her mother. She explained that her father had died over a year ago.
It was a small, white frame house with picket fence in front and a large backyard with a garden and fruit trees.
Her mother came out from the kitchen to meet him. She was a short, rounding woman with a dab of flour on her cheek.
“Do I smell bread baking?” he asked.
“Saturday is my day to bake. Would you like a piece? I just took some out of the oven.”
Brad and Jenny sat around the kitchen table and had a thick slice of hot wheat bread dripping with butter and honey.
“This is very good,” Brad said enthusiastically. “I bet this wheat was ground today, right? I could tell. It’s very moist, too. What’s your secret?”
Jenny excused herself so she could change clothes.
“I take a cup of raisins, put it in the blender, and then add it to my recipe. You can’t really taste it but it does make the bread moist.”
“It’s very good. One thing I’ve always said is that my wife is going to learn how to bake bread.”
“Jenny said she’s going to learn this summer.”
They both stopped at the same time, aware of their hidden thoughts.
Brad stayed there the whole day, helping Jenny and her mother with the garden, mowing the lawn for them. At supper time the three of them had a picnic in the backyard.
When he left, she walked him to the car.
“My mother likes you,” she said.
“I am greatly appreciated by the mothers of the girls I date. What are you doing next Saturday?”
“I’ve got a tennis tournament. Why don’t you enter?”
The tournament was an all-day affair. When it was over, Jenny had won the women’s singles and Craig the men’s singles. That night Brad took her out.
“And what have you planned for humble, unobtrusive, feminine me tonight?” she asked as they walked to the car.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“My mother figures I’m challenging your masculinity by doing better than you today. She doesn’t want you to get away. What are we going to do to celebrate my victory?”
“We could go to the movies?” he replied.
“That’s not the most original idea I’ve ever heard.”
“You don’t want to go to the movies?”
“Whither thou goest, I will go. On my mother’s orders.”
“I’m willing to listen to your suggestions,” Brad said, opening the door for her. “If you don’t want to go to the movies, what do you want to do?”
She mimicked a movie star. “Take me to a nice quiet place. I want to be alone with you.”
“You’re not serious?”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know.”
“Your faith in me is underwhelming. I’ll show you where I want you to take me.”
He followed her directions. When he pulled up the drive where she had directed him, he said, “It’s a cemetery.”
She grabbed her neck with both hands as if choking herself. “Aaargh! There’s something moving in the bushes.”
He parked the car, and she led him hand in hand past the rows of marble markers to her father’s grave. “Dad,” she said as if introducing someone, “this is my friend, Brad. He’s good with computers, fair in tennis, a returned missionary, and probably the most decent guy I’ve ever met. Say something to dad, Brad.”
“Jenny, he’s not here.”
“I know, but I come here sometimes to remember. You’re the first person I’ve ever brought here.”
Brad looked down at the marble slab. “Sir, your daughter is taking good care of your roses.”
They sat down on the lawn. She talked to him about her father—all the little girl stories of a daughter who loved her daddy. Then they walked back to the car.
It was a warm night, and the smell of flowers was rich. He reached out and said simply, “I forgot to tell him that I love his daughter.”
“Brad, I’m not ready for this.”
“I want to marry you—in the temple.”
“No, it’s too soon.”
“When you broke up with Craig, you told him you wanted someone who was faithful in the Church. That’s me.”
“I know it doesn’t make sense. I’m not completely over Craig I guess. Craig was like fireworks. You’re more like a comfortable fire on a snowy evening. A relationship needs some excitement, some brass bands. I’m still hung up on the dream of Prince Charming who will come and take me away to his castle.”
“Jenny, life isn’t that way. If the prince takes you away forever, then he’s got to arrange for your luggage. So he trades his white charger for a work horse and a cart. And if he’s been in a suit of armor all day in the summer, you’ll have some shirts to wash.”
“I guess it boils down to the fact that I’m not in love with you. I should be, Brad, but I’m not.”
“Please try. Okay?”
“Okay. My mother is going to kill me if I mess this up.”
They spent much of their summer together. Brad took a new interest in after-shave lotions, certain brands of toothpaste, but nothing seemed to change between them.
It finally happened on a hot August day. Brad had worked during the morning, but he met Jenny for lunch downtown. After lunch they went to a jewelry store to look for a gift for a friend of Jenny’s who was getting married.
“What would you suggest I get her?” she asked Brad as they browsed among the expensive items.
“Some bread pans.”
“For a wedding gift?” she asked.
“You’re really hung up on homemade bread.”
“I just think it’s important for families to learn to live sensibly.”
“Well, you’re very sensible,” she replied cooly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“A marriage has got to be more than two people grinding wheat together. Don’t you ever do anything for fun? Have you ever taken a bunch of pitted olives, put one on every finger, and then sucked them off one by one?”
“Not in your entire life? I think that’s incredible.”
“Is it too much to ask a wife to learn to bake bread?” he asked, his voice taking on an edge to it.
“It wouldn’t stop there with you! You’d want me to learn to make pickles, too! Well, aren’t I right?”
“Homemade pickles are nice,” he reflected.
“I knew it.”
“Jenny, you’re not going to get me to argue. I’m not going down to your level. I’m above that. I can control my temper!”
“Then quit shouting,” she said.
“I’m not shouting. We’ll just ask an impartial observer a simple question. I’ll go ask that man over there.”
He walked over to a distinguished man looking at some diamond bracelets. “Excuse me. Could you answer a simple question we have? Do you think it’s too much to ask a wife to learn to bake bread?”
Jenny stood on the man’s other side. “No,” she snapped, “that’s not the question we want to ask. The real question is, do you want me to be something I am not?”
The man stared at Brad on one side, at Jenny on his other side, and then quickly turned, bumping into Brad as he fled from the store.
“It’s all your fault,” Brad said self-righteously. “You offended him.”
Jenny ran out of the store. Brad followed her as she hurried along the sidewalk filled with the busy lunch-hour crowd.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I’m going home.”
“You can’t walk home. It’s five miles. I’ll give you a ride home.”
“No you won’t. And quit following me!”
“I’m not following you. I’m walking beside you.”
They continued this way for a block.
“Don’t you ever sweat?” she asked sharply. “It’s 97 degrees out, and you’re wearing a suit.”
“It’s a summer suit. Besides, I perspire as much as anyone.”
“Not you. You’re perfect.”
He yanked off his suit coat. “Look,” he said, pointing to a damp part of his shirt, “do you know what that is? It’s perspiration!”
“You can’t even say the word sweat,” she accused.
“See what I mean?”
“Okay, Jenny, you asked for this!” Brad shouted. “SWEAT!” Curious shoppers looked up from the store windows as Brad and Jenny rushed by.
“It doesn’t matter to me now,” Jenny said curtly.
“Does that mean you won’t marry me?”
“Of course that’s what it means. I’ve got to be me. That’s all I can be. We’ve both tried to fit into each other’s mold, and it won’t work.”
They walked silently for the next three blocks.
Finally Brad broke the terrible silence. “Do you want a mint? I saved them when I went to my cousin’s reception last week. They’re still good.”
When Brad reached into his suit coat, he found a diamond bracelet.
“Jenny, why did you do this to me?” he asked with a pained expression.
“I didn’t eat any of your precious mints.”
“There’s a bracelet in my suit coat.”
“I didn’t put it there.”
“Do you know what they’re going to do to me if they catch me with this?” he asked.
“I think it’s ten to twenty years. Maybe less for a first offense. Brad, I’m going to ask you a question, and you must answer me truthfully.”
“What’s the question?”
“How did this urge to steal develop? Maybe it started with candy when you were a kid. But now it’s out of control, isn’t it?”
“Jenny, I’m an Eagle Scout. What’ll I do? I can’t think, Jenny. You’ve got to help me.”
“Turn yourself in. It’ll go easier for you. At least that’s what they always say on TV.”
“When this hits the papers, they’ll release me as ward clerk, won’t they? Just when I got the membership records up-to-date.”
“Wait a minute!” Jenny said sharply. “That guy we were talking to! When he bumped into you, he must have slipped the bracelet into your pocket. He’s the thief. He must have been worried about the cops. This way, if the cops nab him, he’s clean. But if, on the other hand, he gets out okay, then he comes looking for us. If I turn around, he’ll probably be following us. He might even kill us for the bracelet.”
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my life,” Brad said.
“I’m going to drop a mint when you hand it to me. When I pick it up, I’ll turn backwards to see.”
When she stood up again, and they began walking, she was strangely silent.
“There are two men following us,” she gasped. “Please, let me scream.”
“No, if you scream, they will know that we know about the bracelet. We’ve got to work out a plan.”
“Brad, if we don’t get out of this, I want you to know that suddenly I realize that I’m in love with you. You’re so brave, so cool, so dependable in a crisis. You won’t let them kill me, will you?”
“I’ll try not to.”
“That’s all I get, just a college try?”
“I’m sorry. Of course I won’t let them kill you.”
They continued walking, Brad thinking and Jenny holding tightly to his arm.
“They think the bracelet is in my suit coat, right? Suppose we act like we’re very hot, and I put my suit coat on the ground while we get a drink at the park. They’ll go for the suit coat, and we’ll make a dash for it.”
“That’s brilliant,” she said. “Great thinking, Brad.”
They entered the walkway into a neighborhood park. “No, it won’t work,” she said.
“If the cops come, we’re accomplices. You’ve got to slip the bracelet out of the suit and take it back with us to the jewelry store.”
Brad took out the bracelet with the next mint and gave it to Jenny. They sat down on a park bench. Taking off their shoes and leaving the coat on the bench, they entered a children’s wading pool where four children were playing in the water.
She splashed him.
“Why did you do that?” he asked, his shirt dripping.
“Just for effect,” she said. “We’re supposed to be very hot; we’re cooling off here.”
“Oh, right.” He reached down and scooped up an armful of water, soaking her face and hair.
They edged over to the opposite end of the circular pool where two boys were folding newspapers on the lawn.
“Hey,” Brad whispered, “we need to borrow your bikes.”
“You’re crazy,” one of the boys answered.
“It’s no use,” Brad said to Jenny.
Jenny looked at the oldest boy. “Please, if you don’t help us, we’re going to be killed. Trust me, won’t you?”
“Okay,” the boy said.
They jumped out of the pool, grabbed the bikes, and began peddling barefoot along the lawn toward the street. The two burly men who had been following them raced to the suit coat. Finding nothing in the pockets except a mint, they ran after the two.
“We’re going to make it, Jenny,” Brad said, looking back at the two men gasping after them a half block back.
“Brad, I’ll learn to make wheat bread.”
“No, that’s okay. I don’t want to change you. Not really. I need you just the way you are, Jenny.”
They reached the jewelry store two blocks ahead of the men. Parking their bikes, they ran inside.
A lady clerk came over quickly. “You don’t have any shoes on, and you’re both soaked. I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
“It’s all right, Mrs. Simon, I’ll talk to them.” A large, bald man came out of the back room.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“We were here a while ago,” Brad explained. “We got in an argument about baking bread and Jenny said I was trying to change her, which I don’t really want to do at all, and we asked a man, but he was a crook, and then he left, and then Jenny left because she was mad and …”
“What he’s trying to say,” Jenny interrupted, “is that this bracelet is hot.” She took the bracelet from her pocket and placed it on the counter.
The man picked it up and felt it. “It certainly is. How hot is it out there today anyway?”
“No, what she means,” Brad began—
“I know what she means,” the man said. “You see, I’m a plainclothesman.”
“Maybe so, but I like your tie,” Brad said.
“No, Brad,” Jenny said. “What he means is that he’s a cop.”
“You mean a policeman?”
“Yes, Lieutenant Compton.”
“Don’t throw us in jail. We can explain,” Brad said.
“I know,” the detective said. “When we caught our thief, he didn’t have the bracelet on him. We figured you were either accomplices or being innocently used. I sent two men to follow you.”
“Well, lieutenant, I guess this about wraps it up,” Brad said, with a sudden bravado.
“Not quite,” Jenny said.
“What else?” the detective asked.
“An engagement ring.”
“There was no engagement ring, just a bracelet,” Brad said.
“For me, Brad, for me.”