Alyse stirred her tea. She gently shook her head. “Are you sure?” she asked her friend.
Melina nodded enthusiastically. “I saw it with my own eyes. They were moving into the parsonage.”
“And those boys were there?”
“It was disgraceful. Pants to their knees. Hats on backward. And the music coming from their cars!” Melina fanned her delicately lined face as she adjusted her skirt. “But that's not the worst, from what I hear,” she whispered, leaning forward. Alyse's cut tipped in her hand, her eyes wide with the anticipation of another nugget of gossip. “I understand the new pastor was seen at the tavern on Wednesday evening.”
“At the tavern! On a Wednesday!” Alyse gasped, her hand clasped to her throat. “Why, that's a church night!”
Melina nodded in agreement. “I guess he's enjoying himself before he officially starts his duties. He was seen with that drunk, Philip Miner, going back to the parsonage.”
“With his wife at home,” sighed Alyse. “The poor dear.”
Melina nibbled on a cookie. “Oh, I wouldn't 'poor dear' that woman just yet.”
“Really?” Alyse's cup stopped midway to her mouth.
“Apparently she brought a child into the marriage.”
“A child?” Alyse clarified.
“From another man. And she was seen visiting Callie Sue Pickins last night.”
Alyse shook her head. “How many children does Callie have now?”
“Four. And not married once,” Melina reminded.
“And that's who the new pastor's wife visits during her first week in down.” The women shook their heads. They sipped and nibbled as they contemplated the news.
“Hello?” a voice called through the house. “Mom?”
“Kelly!” exclaimed Alyse, rising to meet her only child. “On the patio!” The young woman joined them in the shade of the patio umbrella. “What brings you into town?”
“I was just visiting with the Carsons,” she smiled, helping herself to a cookie.
“The Carsons,” Alyse repeated coolly. “You went to the parsonage?”
“Oh no,” Kelly explained. “We met at the youth center. And they brought the Smith boys!”
“Karl and Ryan Smith?” Melina clarified as she raised an eyebrow at Alyse. “Didn't they drop out of school to ride motor cycles?”
Kelly nodded. “Bill Carson recruited them to help move furniture. Apparently Bill used to race motocross. The boys were really excited and wanted to check out the youth center with him.”
“In those clothes?” asked Melina.
Kelly blinked. “What about 'em?”
Alyse touched her daughter's arm. “What else did you chat about?” she dug subtly.
“Well, Liz and I got to talk about school. Apparently she was going to be a teacher before she go pregnant.”
Melina sipped her tea. “Don't they allow unwed mothers to teach?” she asked.
Kelly looked at Melina. “Oh, Liz was married,” she replied. “She was three months pregnant when her husband died.”
“Died?” the women chorused.
Kelly nodded. “Bill's older brother died in a car accident. Bill and Liz spent a lot of time together after his death. They married four years later.” Kelly watched as the two friends busied their mouths with more tea and sandwiches. Their eyes avoided hers.
“You thought she was loose, didn't you?” she demanded, her eyes darting to her mother.
“Sweetheart, its just that we don't know the Carsons,” Alyse defended. “She was over at the Pickens place. And Bill has been out with that Miner man. We've heard things.”
“I'm sure.” Kelly set down her dessert. “Did you hear that Callie Sue was sick and Liz went over to help with the kids? Or did you hear that Bill was having dinner at the tavern and took Phil home to sober up so he wouldn't drive drunk? Is that what you heard?”
“Now Kelly,” Melina started, her tone condescending. “What are we supposed to think? The Carsons just arrive and look at who they've been hanging around.”
Kelly nodded. She pushed back her chair and stood to leave. “I think I understand. High school drop outs, an unwed mother and a drunk with a pastor and his wife.” Kelly shook her head. “It seems to me that the Smiths, Callie and Phil have never been around finer people.”
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