Hank stood at the back door dressed in his grey business suit, the only suit Jenny had seen him wear. He looked rather embarrassed when she opened the door. He stammered some sort of apology before he broke into his boyish grin.
“Come in, Hank. Carol isn’t here, I think she had a dentist appointment this afternoon. We don’t usually see you around this time of day.”
His smile froze on his face and his hands betrayed his nervousness. “I know she isn’t here. That’s why I came.”
“Oh?” Jenny busied herself at the sink. He was standing so close she was forced to look up into his face.
“Are we alone,” he whispered.
She nodded and looked at him curiously.
“Jenny, I know that Carol must have spoken to you about this problem…that she thinks we have. I know that sooner or later she will confide in her best friend.”
Jenny blushed. Carol told almost everyone what bothered her. She didn’t want to betray that confidence.
Hank pointed to a chair and she took it. “You don’t have to say anything, just listen. I don’t expect any betrayed confidences. Carol has a right to talk. I respect that” He was beginning to sound like a lawyer, but his shoulders sagged and there were little worry lines around his eyes.
Jenny made no attempt to clear the cluttered table. She sat quietly, waiting for him to continue, Hank had a flair for melodrama. In that respect he and Carol were alike.
“Carol has this hang up, you see. It’s because she has always been such an insecure person, tough childhood, you know the story. The trouble is, she has never been able to put it behind her.” If he expected any comment, Jenny didn’t comply.
He leaned across the table, “Anyway, she has it in her head that I’m involved with someone in one of my classes or at the firm.” He caught her eyes with his. “Jenny, there’s nothing further from the truth. I love Carol. My family means more to me than some one night stand. I just couldn’t do that to her. There’s only one woman for me. If we have any kind of success it will be together.” For a moment his eyes were distant, dreaming. “I have the feeling that when we look back over our lives someday, these will be the best years we’ve ever had. When we’re together she seems happy, but when I have to spend long hours away from home, she falls apart. I don’t know what to do. Seeing all the troubled marriages in the neighborhood, I’m afraid ours will break up and for no valid reason.” He looked miserable.
“For what it’s worth, I told Carol I didn’t think you were playing around.”
“You did?” His blue eyes seemed to come alive and he breathed a sigh of relief. “You should see some of the women I work with. For the most part, they are a bunch of man eating sharks. No thanks. It’s a treat to come home to a loving, supporting wife.”
Jenny poured him a cup of coffee and he seemed glad to grab on to something. “Thank you for being Carol’s friend. Talk to her again. Please, encourage her.” He paused and thought carefully.” Jenny, I want to buy the coat. Someone in the firm has agreed to bankroll me.”
“What?” She was as surprised as he was determined.
“I spoke to one of the senior partners and he will give me an advance on any future salary. It’s very important that Carol know how much I really do care. Some day she will have more occasion to wear it than right now.” His voice was sincere.
“Hank, why don’t you take Carol along to meet some of the women at the firm so she could see for herself. It might help her know there is nothing to worry about. I really don’t know what do about the coat. I have a job, but I still have to come up with a loan that wouldn’t take forever to pay off. It’s something I have to really think about. I’ll be sure to let you know what I decide.” She found herself smiling back at him. “I know one thing for sure, Carol is a very lucky girl. I think if you tell her often enough she will begin to believe you.”
The kitchen was quiet again. Jenny still sat at the table, unmindful of the tasks awaiting her. She wondered if Jim could ever be so concerned about her.