Sharon never realized the churchgoers were teetotalers or she wouldn’t have brought the six pack of beer to the cookout. She is enjoying this sweet, sweet tea that Bev Underwood brought to soothe their pallets, but she keeps thinking about the pretty sweet brand of pricey beer sitting in the refrigerator.
The guys invited are congregating around the grill watching the meat sear. Even her brother seems to be having a good time. Although occasionally, he glances over at her and gives her that face that the siblings know means “what have I gotten myself into.”
Bev, the Proverbs thirty-something woman – at least that’s what Pam Clark called her – is still talking. Sharon tries not to judge but Bev has pretty well described every flaw in every other woman in the church that isn’t present at the cookout. Maybe that’s what makes her a Proverbs Thirty-whatever woman, Sharon determines. Her tea is pretty good, though.
“I like the color of your little top, Sharon,” Bev sort of squeals when she pronounces “little” as she reaches over and gives Sharon a pat on a bare shoulder. “It really brings out the blue in your eyes.”
“Thank you, Bev.”
“But I hope you don’t get too cool out here dressed so scantily in this early spring air.”
Sharon examines her top and compares it to the other women’s wardrobes. She realizes all but Stacy have sleeves in their garments. She is the only one except Pam with noticeable cleavage and the only one with her back exposed. She is glad she wore capris instead of shorts. Then, she wonders why she didn’t think about how everyone would be dressed for this cookout featuring the town’s most conservatives.
“I’m comfortable but thank you for your concern.”
Sharon watches as Bev and Pam exchange glances. She’s not certain what message gets telepathically relayed between the two but from Bev’s description of her little top and her scant outfit, they’re probably not complimentary.
When Stacy sees Sharon react to the duo’s telepathy, she asks, “I understand your father served two terms as mayor here.”
“I bet that your pretty proud of that. Not too many people can say that about any member of their family,” Pam chimes in.
“Especially Democrat families in this town,” Bev adds. “I did some volunteer work as a canvasser for our Republican Mayor.”
“I am proud of my father’s accomplishments during his tenure. He was able to bring better health facilities to our community with a branch of an Evansville clinic here.”
“Don’t forget about the renovation of some of the older nearly condemned houses in the downtown area. I think Bev now owns one of those beautiful homes,” Sharon’s younger brother, Stephan contributes as he walks over to where the women are congregating.
He slides in next to his wife, Chris who has been silently listening. They sit directly across from Sharon. Sharon feels bad because she has nearly forgotten about Chris who she knows is a stranger to the three churchgoers just like Sharon is.
“You look nice, Sis,” Stephen says to Sharon, yet loud enough for the others all sitting at the picnic tables to hear.
“Yes, you really do,” Chris says reaching over to pat Sharon’s hand.
Sharon smiles at Chris, then at her brother. Stephen is ten years Sharon’s junior but he constantly watches out for his sister. He is actually the son of her dad’s second marriage. Sharon’s mother died of metastatic cancer when Sharon was seven. She barely knew her but really became close to her step-mother. Rachel owned several floral shops which became Sharon’s when Rachel retired – one here, two in Evansville, and one in Owensboro, Kentucky. Sharon learned to love plants and flowers from Rachel and Stephen inherited Rachel’s business sense.
“Your family is Catholic. Is that correct?” Bev directs her attention to Stephen.
“Yes, that is correct,” Stephen braces himself for the follow up question which he hears all the time from people in this town.
“You went to Memorial High School in Evansville, too, didn’t you?”
“I did. I even graduated from there and attended Indiana University in Bloomington.”
“That’s where you met this sweet thing here, right?”
“Chris also has a degree from I.U., yes.” Stephen glances up at Sharon and throws his arm around Chris and draws her close to himself.
“I bet the insurance business and your sweet wife’s realty business work pretty good together,” Bev continues while Pam hangs on every word. “Some might think it’s close to a conflict of interests.”
Stacey excuses herself saying she is going to check on the men and the meat. Sharon wishes now that Bev was still picking on her and not her brother.
“I’m not sure how it could be a conflict of interest but occasionally Chris has sent interested customers my way.”
“Oh, I’m not one of those people. I think it’s smart business,” Bev defends.
“Are you needing some homeowners insurance for that fine home you own downtown, Bev?”
“You know we already have good insurance with you on the home and auto, Stephen.”
“That’s right, Perry is a treat to work with, if I recall.”
“I think you ladies can bring out the rest of the food and stuff unless you’d rather eat inside,” Frank shouts with grill utensils raised in the air like a mighty warrior triumphant at the end of a hard fought battle.
“Your pretty friend might want to eat inside. I think she might be a little chilly in her cute tiny top,” Bev suggests.
Sharon shakes her head, “No, I’m very comfortable in my spring outfit on this gorgeous spring day.”
Things settle down for Sharon a bit during the meal. She is able to finally spend some time chatting with Frank, Stephen, and Chris. At another table on Frank’s backyard concrete patio, Bev continues to dominate the conversation. Sharon tries not to notice, but Bev’s voice can probably be heard by some people on the east side of Evansville fifteen miles away.
“What is a Proverbs Thirty-something woman?” Sharon has tried not to ask Frank Bible questions but this one has been yearning to spring free since she heard it.
“It supposedly describes the ideal woman. But you have to keep in mind, it was advice a mother gave her son who was about to become king. Pretty high standard for any woman. I even doubt if the king’s mother completely lived up to it,” Frank enjoys explaining this to Sharon.
“Pam describes Bev as that kind of woman, so I had something else in mind,” Sharon states and then wishes she hadn’t brought it up.
Frank stops to think about Sharon’s question and comment. Then, he releases a little chuckle. Stephen glances over and gives Chris a little smile and then at Sharon and tosses up a little grin at her.
The expression on Sharon’s face causes Stephen to ask, “Would you describe Bev as the Proverbs Thirty-one woman, preacher?”
“As I said before, I believe it is an extremely high standard to live up to and I really don’t know a lot about Bev. Her husband might the best person to ask.”
“I shouldn’t have asked. It really doesn’t matter.”
“I’ll tell you this, then Stephen, from what I know of your mother, she, by far, comes closer to the Proverbs Thirty-one woman than any one with which I’ve attend church.”
“Thank you, Frank.”
“Did you know my mother … my step-mother very well?” Sharon turns to Frank.
“Not personally, but my mother did and spoke highly of her.”
“How did your mother know her? Why would she be talking about her to you?”
“She told me about her when I told her I was taking you to the prom.”
“What did she say?” Stephen, still curious, wonders.
“She said, ‘if that Sharon of yours is anything like her mother, the mayor’s wife, you have my blessing.’ Then, she began to explain how she was successful at business and was a strong influence in making our mayor a good leader, and still had time to raise kids that were never in trouble.”
Stephen gives Sharon a look that initiates Sharon’s face to crimson. Chris feigns not noticing, but giggles.
“Sounds like there was something my dear mother didn’t know about. Care to share?” Frank picks up on the volley of glances and smirks.
“I was never in any real trouble and you know it, you little squirt,” Sharon defends and throws her waded up napkin at Stephen.
The lighthearted energy attracts even the attention of all but Bev at the other table. The loss of attention finally brings even Bev to be inquisitive at the childish disturbance.
“What about the parking tickets?” Stephen blurts out between guffaws.
“Parking tickets? Is there a smudge on the Homecoming queen’s royal crown?” Frank teases straining with all his might to portray a holier-than-thou facade.
When it becomes obvious that Sharon is remaining in silent denial, Stephen proceeds to explain that their father, the mayor, had to pay forty-two dollars of parking tickets to keep Sharon, the mayor’s daughter from going to court.
“Mom made me pay him back with the money from my job at the floral shop,” Sharon shares in place of a full confession. “But then, she convinces Dad to begin the process of removing parking meters from downtown street parking which he did and they were eventually removed.”
“So, our model student, member of the cheer squad, class officer, had a skeleton in her closet,” Frank smirks.
“Oh, that’s nothing from what I heard my older sister tell me about Ms. Sharon Hargrove. I can tell you so much more,” Bev stands to her feet and grabs the attention back.
“This was all in fun, Bev and we’ve made fun of Sharon enough for one day. Any more might become hurtful. Of all days, Sunday is not the day to dishonor God by making too much fun at someone else’s expense,” Frank speaks in his sermon voice.
As Bev descends to her seat, she begins to mumble, “Scantily dressed women are more dishonoring to God and Sunday than anything she had to say.”
“What did you say, Beverly Underwood? Are you sure about that?” Frank straddles his way out from the picnic table and steps toward Bev.
Sharon reaches for Frank, grabs his pant leg. and tugs on it gently to get him to leave it alone. He stops to honor her unspoken request.
“Of course, I’m sure,” Bev stands and begins to make her way out from under her spot at the other table, teeth and fists clenched.
“Bev, sit down, please and forget about it,” Perry, Bev’s husband pleads with her in a half whisper.
Bev waves Perry off. He continues to plead with her. When he reaches to grab her hands and pull her back, she slaps his hand.
Sharon stands and addresses Frank with her eyes turning her back on Bev, “I don’t want to start trouble between friends. I think I need to be going, now.”
Frank tries to stop Sharon from leaving but is unsuccessful. He starts to follow her but is stopped in his tracks by Stephen who suggests that he go after her.
“That woman came dressed like a worldly woman exposing half of her body. Don’t tell me I’m wrong in saying that doesn’t dishonor the sanctity of this day and this company,” Bev shouts, hoping it was loud enough for Sharon to hear.
Sharon does hear and becomes angry but she refuses to return and join that crowd. Stephen tries to calm her down but his efforts only cause her more anger, some of it at herself for believing she could fit in with the church crowd. Nothing Stephen can say helps.
“Be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed…. Isn’t that what your Bible says?” Bev’s chest puffs up as she quotes the scripture. “She came dressed in worldly clothing. She didn’t go to church. Those are worldly things. I know as a matter of truth that she is a very worldly woman.”
Stephen comes down and speaks to Chris who agrees with him and they begin to leave. Stephen tries to get Frank’s attention and apologize for their early and rushed departure.
“Is gossip worldly, Bev? I believe it is and that’s all you’ve done since you’ve arrived,” Frank argues.
“I do not gossip. I report the facts.”
“For what good purpose, might I ask?”
Bev is unusually slow to answer. She needs to stop and think about it. While she does, Perry stands and pleads with his eyes for Frank to stop.
“I think Chris and I will be going, now. Thanks for inviting us,” Stephen hurriedly says as he and Chris make a rapid retreat.
“I’m going to try and drop in on Sharon if she’ll allow me. I’m truly sorry for my guest”s behavior,” Frank tries to apologize.
Stephen and Chris leave by way of the inside of the house – the way they came in. In the kitchen, aware that Sharon brought a six pack, he stops at the refrigerator and retrieves it. Chris gives him a scowl but doesn’t stop him from taking it.
“I think there’s been enough hurt, so I won’t ask you to answer my last question aloud,” Frank straddles the bench part of the picnic table to sit down.
Perry urges Bev to sit and complete her meal and put this darkness behind them. When she hesitates, Perry gives her a stern look and she acquiesces slowly.
Everyone tries to put the incident away but no one seems capable. Quiet reigns for several minutes while they finish their meal.
Bev is the first to break that silence, “I was talking to Clara Ashworth the other day….”
“Not now, Bev. Finish your meal and let’s go home,” Perry is second to break the silence.
It isn’t long and everyone finishes their meal. Perry drags Bev out sooner than she wishes after he makes some excuses and an apology to Frank. The others hang around for about an hour or so later chatting and then, politely leave.
Frank tries to remain cordial but after everyone is gone, he is so relieved. He is also anxious to check on Sharon. He hopes she can forgive him and will see him, again.
I write about what I'm thinking or what I've imagined in an effort to regain that childhood imagination and marry with my many years of real experiences. I'm getting better at it the more I write.I am a published author of two romantic intrigue novels.My books can be found at Amazon.com or if you want a personalized copy, by emailing me at email@example.com.