Harold dates Darla

(Excerpt from my novel, Blessed Unbeliever)

TBI’s Dean Harold Bledsoe grated on Darla Dickenson like fingernails on a blackboard. At the dean’s weekly consultation, French kissing came up. She cleared her throat and flashed a stiletto stare straight through Bledsoe. “I talk to the girls but you never talk to the boys. Why don’t you support me? And they don’t just walk around the block; they linger in the alcoves. That’s your responsibility.”

Ah yes, lingering. Couples should never linger anywhere—alcoves, the dark balcony of Moody-Sankey Auditorium, anywhere. Too much temptation.

He replied, “If they’re still there the second time I circle the block, then I flush ‘em out. Besides, some of ‘em are engaged.”

Dickenson replied, “They shouldn’t be engaged while at TBI! Engaged couples take more liberties, and they’re a bad influence on the other students.” She couldn’t deny surging sexual desire, but she determined to hack at it like a noxious weed.

Five years earlier, Dickenson’s fiancé had dumped her for a younger woman. She retailed her bitterness to men in general, especially young, eligible men. Bledsoe presented a perfect target.

“The parents trust us with their sons and daughters. What if that were your daughter in the alcove?”

“I don’t have any children, but please cut the young people some slack, give them some opportunities to get to know each other.” The other deans remained silent while Bledsoe and Dickenson slugged it out.

Bledsoe just got here, Dickenson thought. Why does he dare challenge me? I hate him.

But to Dickenson’s great surprise, as they exited into the warm, windy March day, Bledsoe turned to her and asked, “Will you go out to dinner with me?”

Dickenson started. She was several years older than he. What was he thinking? Did Bledsoe enjoy their sparring matches? Did he admire her maturity, or did her formality attract him? She wouldn’t admit it to herself but his invitation flattered her. She accepted.

When she saw Sean the next week, Kathleen dropped her grenade. “Sean, Bledsoe is taking Dickenson out; he told me yesterday! I know, I am just as shocked as you are. But please, Sean, please do not tell anyone!”

“What! Why would Bledsoe take Dickenson out? And anyway, how do you know?”

Kathy didn’t answer, but he knew she often talked with Bledsoe. Why did Bledsoe take Kathy into his confidence? Is Kathy jealous about Bledsoe dating Dickenson?

That Saturday evening Darla Dickenson spent more time on her face and dress than usual, and even sprayed on some Unforgettable. She stared in the mirror, and saw a proper, thirty-something woman staring back. Her image questioned her—Are you still the same woman you were? Still attractive? What do you want from this date? She tucked in her blouse and walked out onto the street.

Bledsoe had suggested Fanny’s in Evanston, beyond the reach of any curious TBI students. He drove up to the restaurant, parked his convertible, then entered and picked out a table. With its Italian cuisine, Fanny’s sparkled like a little jewel.

Dickenson refused his offer of a ride. She rode the express “L” north to Evanston, then walked a couple blocks to Fanny’s. She hadn’t gone on a date in years. She felt curious, excited, as she tried to quiet her doubts about his motives.

As she entered, she spotted him at a corner booth, staring at the menu. She walked over, sat down and they made small talk. She shifted in her chair. Bledsoe unconsciously pumped his right leg under the table, giving the impression he moved to some invisible beat. Both (for different reasons) knew this was a high-stakes meeting. They placed their orders, then ignored the maître d’ hovering over them.

“I’m eagah that you and I are on the same page heah.” Bledsoe said, betraying his Boston origins. “I’m the new guy on the block; you’ve been here a long time.  I think students need some room for experimenting, need some grace. I have trouble with some of the harsh punishments.” He eyed Dickenson, trying to gauge her reaction.

“I’m charged with a great responsibility for the girls,” Dickenson said. “Many of them come from small towns, sheltered backgrounds. I think the men’s deans need to clamp down on the boys. It’s not fair the girls must obey the rules and the boys can do whatever they want; I expect you to enforce the rules with the boys.” The voice of authority. She outranked Bledsoe and wasn’t shy in reminding him of that. He didn’t intimidate her¾nobody intimidated her.

“But the students need to find Christian partners, need some space for dating. If we’re too strict they’ll just do things behind our backs. They need to know we’re on their side. And they need to explore the city more, get more comfortable with what they’ll face in adult life.”

“Too much freedom,” Dickenson said, “and we’ll lose them to the world; their moral fences will collapse.” Her sturdy Midwestern values stiffened her.

“Well, at least I hope we trust each other, see each other’s point of view.”

Why does he just want to talk about TBI rules? This isn’t a date; it’s a business meeting! Dickenson thought. She tried to change the subject. “How was your time in Cleveland at Cuyahoga High School? Did you enjoy the city on Lake Erie?”

“It was OK; lots of discipline problems though. Different races of people. Here at TBI, of course, the students are more mature, less crazy.”

Bledsoe oozed courteousness but he didn’t seem interested in her, didn’t ask any personal questions. She shifted in her seat, looked down at her lap. He offered to drive her home but she declined.

The conversation followed much the same lines when they met again at another restaurant the following week. She told him, “I really must be getting back!” She rose and walked out the door without saying goodbye.

Stung, she vowed to punish Bledsoe for playing with her affections. When he asked her out again, she refused. The next day at the office she dug out his TBI application papers, then called his Cleveland pastor, O.I. Runnell. Because Runnell assumed Bledsoe had told the truth on his application, Runnell told Dickenson some things. She found out what she wanted.

She stopped talking to Bledsoe, avoided him, nurtured a rising anger. The next week she pounced with a typed note through the P.O.’s:

Dean Harold Bledsoe,

You have hurt me deeply, betrayed me.

I know that you lied on your job application—that you were divorced before you came to TBI. If you embarrass me again, I’ll reveal this to the president and he’ll fire you. Don’t cross me.

Darla Dickenson

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