People mill about between tables and committees in the Maxwell town meeting hall. For a split-second Annie and Clark’s laughter are the two loudest sounds in the room, derailing trains of thought and shocking eardrums. Faces across the hall stop and turn to towards the unrestrained laughter, some call obnoxious. The two friends try to restrain their bellowing, singing has taught them to project sound, including laughter. Annie snorts, and Clark squeaks, “Wow, Zuckerman’s famous pig !” Her speechless awkward pause causes him to reflect.
Annie thinks to herself,”What !?! You don’t compare any girl to a pig. Ugly.” She studies him, he is not usually ugly. Clark’s got his own kind of handsome. A charismatic allure fostered by love and trust in God. He doesn’t belong on the cover of GQ, but he is Annie’s kind of handsome. Yet, this glimmer of ignorant cruelty makes him momentarily repulsive, ugly. “Is that regret in his honey brown eyes ?” A lot like her own, his eyes look like coming home.
“I’m working on that,” says Clark, “I don’t have much of a filter. I speak and act before I really think.” There is a pause, while sheet music is shuffled, numbered and placed in folders. They both want to get back to laughing.
Annie smiles, “I know the feeling. I haven’t got much of a filter either.” They share a smile not to say its good to be flawed but to admit that nobody is perfect. Shortcomings like misery love company. “I guess, we both work on that.”
Clark nods, “Sorry.”
Annie Forsythe dislikes crude and cruel humor. She’s experienced too much of it, taught to her firsthand by a cruel and crude comedian. She called him Daddy. Mr Forsythe knew being a father meant the family depended on him financially and he provided. He even tried to teach useful worldly lessons: work hard, do your best and you can do anything you set your mind to. What he didn’t seem to understand was that tenderness is essential to fatherhood too. “What’s wrong with you ! You’re like a bull in a china shop. You ruin everything.” Crying made it worse. “The world is cruel, so get use to it. Don’t be so emotional.”
Annie had early in childhood chosen to use food as a cure all. However, food is like a band-aid over oozing shrapnel wounds, but if band-aids are all the first-aid you know, then you buy lots of band-aids. Like those “vicious-cycles” people talk about, Mr Forsythe picks at Annie’s faults, even now, expects ridicule and fear to shame her into better behavior and a successful life. “You need to get skinny, so you can get married and get out of my house,” he would chuckle, amusing himself. Annie can’t seem to get hired at a job. She fills out application after application, goes to interview after interview. This failure is met by threats, “Maybe I should kick you out on the street ? Maybe then you’ll grow up !” Words spoken in white-hot anger and fear.
Sure, Mr Forsythe would occasionally say he hadn’t meant to hurt or scare Annie. Says, “You may not believe me, but I really do love you, Annie.” He is just afraid for her and doesn’t know how else to support and motivate her. Beyond his crude and backward demeanor towards her, his bigoted humor towards others makes Annie sick. “I’m not prejudice, I hate everyone equally,” he’ll chuckle. Yes, Mr Forsythe doesn’t know what the word tenderness means. Never realized being a father meant the family depended on him spiritually too. Righteousness is not just a mother’s responsibility. A father must teach of love and trust in God with a perfect brightness of hope to foster true and lasting success. Annie knows in her heart she shouldn’t have to drag her lover to church services, like her Daddy says is a woman’s occasional responsibility.
These false principles are being replaced by truth as Annie studies and learns to trust everything to her Heavenly Father, finding a perfect brightness of hope. Concluding the church party Clark says, “I’m grateful we all got to feel the spirit of God. I can’t take credit for it, I’m nothing without my Heavenly Father. I hope everybody found some hidden testimony.” Clark and the other activity leaders chatter about riding arrangements and safety. Everybody scatters to their last minute packing. Annie, ready to go, sits soaking in the morning light, quiet energy and the odd peace surrounding the ride home.
A piano playing softly draws Annie’s attention to the room’s little black upright piano. Clark must be packed already too. He sits playing to a practically empty room. She walks to the piano and quietly sits on the bench beside him. Careful not to interfere with his playing, Annie combs her fingers through Clark’s dark curls. “So soft,” she thinks.
Her first touch makes him shiver and roll his eyes at Annie. He plays three songs before letting his head rest on his chest and sighs, letting Annie continue. She studies his curls, sprinkled by grey. She giggles at the discovery. “What’s so funny, Miss Anne ?” Clark asks.
“Did you realize you have greys ?”
“Awww, dang it, get them out. Get them out.” He takes her hands and puts them both on his head.
“What ?” she asks in disbelief.
He cocks his head towards her. “Annie, pull them out for me.” He taps the piano bench impatiently.
“Okay.” She sets to work plucking little grey hairs.
After a few he squawks, “Ouch !”
“Clark, there are just too many. You could dye it ?”
Clark rests his head on Annie’s shoulder but quickly throws his hands in the air exclaiming, “Oh, Im too young to be going grey.” His shoulders slump. Annie can’t help but smile at his mini crisis.
Putting her face besides his she whispers, “Don’t worry, you’re just getting more handsome. Salt and pepper curls and fun happy wrinkles.” Annie thinks of how at only twenty-five his eyes already crinkle at the corners, laugh lines galore. Clark giggles in desperation.
“I’m still too young.” Both are greying earlier than expected. Giving up on verbal support she resorts to tickling him. He jumps as he always does and they both laugh. They struggle with each other to win a tiny tickle war. Clark grabs both of Annie’s hands. She relents but he doesn’t let go.
Why won’t he let go? Clark is just my friend. She tries to pull her hands away. Annie looks at his face, what is he on about? Just a week or two ago Clark said he just wants to be friends now he won’t let her hands go, trapped awkwardly. Deciding to psych him out she says, “If you don’t let go of my hands, I will kiss you.”
“Is that a threat or a promise ?” he says with a cheshire grinning.
“Both.” Clark shrugs and lets go, turning his attention back to the piano. Still he isn’t ready. Annie looks around the room, gets up and sits against the back of the piano. He didn’t call her bluff. Had she really wanted him too ? Nobody was around to notice, so if it had been a mistake they could have pretend it didn’t happen. The room seemed so quite compared to the recent weekend, so full of laughter singing and talking. We were physically still there but it felt empty. In everyone’s minds the weekend was over, it was mentally empty. Clark plays “Somewhere Out There,” he likes that one.
Annie sings along till Clark stops, “Babe, they’re loading the cars.” The packing happens in a jumble of bags and boxes. More singing, laughter and chatter fills Maddy’s SUV. Annie thought she had been so clever. If he doesn’t like me why does he hold onto me the way he does. Clark in the front seat, she watches him thinking. In quite moments the desert and mountains whip past. Annie’s eyes filled with the memory of earlier in the year, before she had left for the summer to teach and perform in another state, before Clark told her he wasn’t interested in a relationship, before she had learned that love of God comes before the love of potential spouse because it is unconditional and always available, but after their first date. Annie sat in a chair at the end of the celestial room. A vision came upon her with perfect peace and certainty. In vision she felt Clark and herself both dressed in white but not in temple garb. He lay with his head in her lap, one arm around her waist and the other interlaced with her right hand as her left hand played with his curls.
This incident was not alone, ever so often another would happen, five or six in total. It is good because she is trusting that God will bring the visions to pass. Annie comes to the understanding that she loves Clark and that is all she needs to know. She needn’t know when he will see the love they will share as priceless or see the eternal family they will create, and she needn’t know what to do because there is nothing she can do, but trust in that love. For now Annie will be a friend, finish and share his jokes, sing and dance with him, and trust his relationship with Heavenly Father and our angels, ancestors and progeny. Never has Annie felt such peace.