Ensconced in bed reading his history textbook, Delphus McManus was startled when the phone rang. Looking at his bedroom's open door to confirm neither roommate saw him jump, he lowered the phone's volume and smiled seeing the caller was long-time girlfriend Zinnia McVie.
"Greetings, Good Looking," he said putting a bookmark in the history text. "A thoroughly thrilling Thursday evening to you."
"Hey, babe. What's up in McManusville?"
"Just reading for a history test in the morning. Thanks for the study break. What's afoot in the Zinnia patch?"
"There's been a change regarding our date tomorrow."
"Oh, no. You're not standing me up, are you?" he exclaimed in an elevated tone. "Are you not coming home this weekend?"
"Don't blow a bowel, big boy. I'm still coming, just not alone."
"Okay," he said slowly.
"I'm bringing a new friend who's spending tomorrow night at my parents' place. She's meeting some folks coming into town Saturday morning and she'll stay the rest of the weekend with them. So we just need to find her a date to join us tomorrow evening. I know it's short notice and I'm real sorry about that, Love, but she only confirmed a little while ago that she could join me tomorrow. Please help me, Delphus. I've already wracked my brain but I just can't think of any guys I know who are both available and suitable."
"No problem. Don't fret, Precious. So what's her name, what's she like, how does she look, and what else do you want me to tell guys about her?"
"Thanks, darling." Zinnia sounded relieved. "I really owe you one and, with all your friends, you shouldn't have any trouble finding somebody. Just tell them she's real sweet, a little reserved but pleasant, and a good student. But I'm texting you her picture now which is all you'll need to show whoever you ask. Trust me. I don't think we've got anything to worry about."
"Really? Well, I'll try my best but -- hello! Bingo! We have a winner." His eyes widened and his mouth opened slightly as he gazed at the picture of a strikingly attractive, full-figured blonde wearing the faintest hint of an alluringly subtle smile.
"How about this?" He began again, pausing to avoid laughing. "I'm such a gallant southern gentleman that … your new friend can be my date and you can ask whoever you want to be yours," he said before breaking into a loud guffaw.
"Ha, ha, and then we'll never date again, smart ass. Now please be serious about this, Delphus, 'cause I can't just leave Gabi at home with Mom and Dad while we go to dinner and a movie. She doesn't know anyone there."
"When the locals take a gander at this gal, there'll sure be plenty of fellows who'd love to get to know her," Delphus pronounced. "Her name's Gabi?"
"Gabriella Grahame, but she goes by Gabi," she answered.
"Okay, I'll be sure and find somebody for her, and I agree this shouldn't be too difficult. If it is, then this town's men have definitely gotten a whole lot lighter in the loafers."
"Oh, I got that. You're so witty – and super subtle." Zinnia sighed and rolled her eyes. "Now, not just anybody will do, Delphus. No offense, but none of your nice little nerdy buddies are going to cut it. Gabi'd eat 'em alive."
"And they'd love it, especially the nerds," he replied.
"I'm sure, but she wouldn't. Gabi can be a pretty tough chick. She lived in some foster homes before getting herself emancipated at 17, and she's been on her own ever since. She may be only 20 but she's already lived with a few guys and – now don't you dare mention this to anyone and if you do, I will never let you live it down – but she's a dancer at a strip club."
"Wow. I'm awake now. Let's hook her up with someone from our Sunday School class."
"Let's not. Now she's nice but she can have a pretty tough exterior. I've seen her put down a rude guy in a class discussion so bad I thought he might cry. So find a gentleman but not somebody easily intimidated or too insecure, and not some gauche redneck jerk or cocky stud – she needs a break from those – but no man-bunned, sackless soy boy either. And no one who's going to get tongue-tied around a really hot chick. Capiche?"
"Got you. This is shaping up to be a really special evening and our first double date. How'd you meet this gal? See her dancing at the club?"
"Oh, yeah. You're just a laugh riot tonight. Why don't you quit college and become a standup comic?"
"That's right. I could be the opening act for Miss Gabriella Grahame at the strip club," he retorted. "Hey, which club is it in case she and I become friends and I just want to drop in some evening to say 'Hi'?"
"Oh, you're on a real roll, funny boy. It's The Gator's Tail."
"Man, that's the biggest one around. So how did you meet her? And is Gabriella Grahame her stage name?"
"How would I know, Delphus? It's how she introduced herself and what she goes by in class. We just sit next to each other and, since we get there early each day, we've gotten to chat a lot this semester. She knows where I'm from and I mentioned I was going home this weekend. So she asked if she could catch a ride since she's been invited to a get-together in town Saturday."
"Yeah, I heard the state's annual exotic dancers' convention is meeting here then."
"Ha, ha, and you are now officially Doofus."
"How come a dancer at the most famous strip club in the whole state doesn't have her own car? Imagine the tips she must make in just one night at that place."
"Her last boyfriend took her car. It's a long story." Zinnia sighed.
"I'm sure, but I've got time."
"Boy, I've just made your whole evening, haven't I? Yeah, Gabi's got some drama but she's really a good girl. I mean, we're not close. I only met her this term and I'm just doing her a favor, but she's real sweet, totally unpretentious, and a lot of fun."
"All right. Enough. She better not be able to guess I told you about her dancing, and do please find a good guy for her -- nobody who's going to embarrass us. Remember, I have to sit next to her for the rest of the term. So don't stick her with some loser."
"You know, if I print and enlarge this picture of her, maybe I can get her to sign several copies and I could put one on my wall and sell the rest."
"Yeah, you do and we're through. Come on, Delphus, can you please be serious for two minutes? This gal's been really good to me. She provided loads of swell notes when I was sick early this term, and there's no way I would have passed the midterm otherwise. She's definitely by far the best thing about my psychology class."
"I believe it, and having danced at a strip club, I'd love to hear her insights about sexual psychology."
"You are so full of — "
"Wit and spice and everything nice," he exclaimed.
"No, I think you took a wrong turn and got dangerously lost in Doofusville tonight. All right, I know you got to study and I do too, so see you tomorrow at my folks' place at 6, and don't be late."
"Understood, and I'm major excited about this, Zinnia. I think maybe I'll buy some new cologne and wear a suit."
"Ha, ha, ha. You are so full of it. I should have known you'd really get off on this. And just think of all the material you'll get for your first standup gig."
"At The Gator's Tail opening for the gobsmackingly gorgeous Gabriella Grahame!"
"Bye, and you better not embarrass me – neither you nor Gabi's date."
Too excited to study, Delphus began thinking of all his friends and acquaintances who were in town and might be suitable for the double date. But after eliminating everyone who had a girlfriend, everyone he figured would be too nervous around such an unknown "tough" beauty, and everyone too macho, he realized the pickings had rapidly gotten mighty thin. Indeed, he began to wonder how kosher it would be to invite someone he thought was stuck in a rut of a bad relationship, but he had known each such nominee's girlfriend since middle school and went to church with a couple of them.
When he finally settled on three prospects, he began calling and texting Gabi's picture. Despite all three being super stoked about the photograph, each was tied up the next evening, either out of town or committed to a family event that could not be avoided. But two still asked for Gabi's contact information.
How incredible if I can't even find a date for a ten-strike fox like Gabi, Delphus mused. Unbelievable. How hard can this be?
Then someone came to mind. Initially a faint blip on his radar, this prospect had been studiously ignored as far too risky -- definitely not too shy, nerdy, or insecure, but too much the opposite.
Sappington "Sappy" Marmaduke had been a buddy of Delphus since kindergarten. While never close, they shared loads of elementary, middle, and high school classes and had always gotten along. But, though generally the personification of laid back, Sappy could become reckless without warning, like the time he was pulled over by police for driving 110 miles an hour on a stretch of local highway. Then there was another occasion involving Mr. McManus.
On an October Friday night in 11th grade four and a half years before, Delphus gave Sappy a ride home from a high school football game. While leisurely driving by the Dairy Queen where Mr. Marmaduke had just been fired, Sappy suddenly pulled out a slingshot, leaned out of the car, and fired a rock at the restaurant, shattering a large window. In shock, Delphus floored the gas pedal for a fast getaway, incredulous that his friend – now definitely downgraded to acquaintance – had just exploded a splendid evening into a nightmare of criminal endangerment.
Too upset to drive, Delphus pulled the car into a neighborhood just a few blocks away. Terrified that people may have been hurt, he would go to jail, his reputation would be destroyed, and his family would be humiliated, an enraged Mr. McManus erupted at his passenger.
"What in the world, Sappy? Have you gone insane? Are you on drugs? What gives?"
But Sappy was laughing too hard to answer. Between laughs, he finally conveyed how "unfairly" he had been treated by the Dairy Queen manager who just had no sympathy for any of Sappy's excuses for all his missed shifts and tardies. So, in Sappyland, shattering the window made up "some" for his being so "mistreated" and fired from such a "cool gig" where he got to sneak free food and give some to pretty girls to get dates.
Unable to go on without knowing whether anyone was hurt, Delphus slowly turned the car around to return to the restaurant, dreading how many patrons may have been harmed. Sappy concurred with the decision, calculating such a move would remove suspicion from them.
As they approached the eatery, Delphus moaned and Sappy roared laughing at the sight of three police cars already at the D.Q. with blue lights flashing and a crowd gathered in front of what had been a window. As soon as they parked, Sappy jumped out of the car to head inside, while Delphus was shaking too much to do anything but try to hold onto the steering wheel and pray everyone was okay. He finally got out of the car and entered the restaurant to spy Sappy hovering around the police officers, curious customers, and the young manager who looked to be in a state of wide-eyed shock.
Because no diners had been sitting anywhere near the destroyed window, it was the greatest relief of Delphus's life that no one was injured. He silently offered his most heartfelt prayer of thanks since years before when his grandfather had surprised the family by surviving open heart surgery.
Delphus was astonished to see Sappy take a broom and help one of his former co-workers sweep up the broken glass as the shaken manager was questioned by police. Figuring they ought to order something to avoid suspicion, Mr. Marmaduke and Mr. McManus got some soft serve ice cream to go, with a still-shaking Delphus dropping his change. Sappy got his ice cream for free from a cute former colleague. On the way out, Sappy put his hand on the manager's shoulder.
"Hey, chin up, man. Everybody's okay and you're handling this mighty well. Y'all need any more help before we leave?"
"No, Sappy, but I really appreciate you helping out, man. That's mighty decent of you and I'm right grateful to you."
"Glad to help, buddy, and y'all are in my prayers."
"Thanks, man." They shook hands.
After dropping his former friend home, Delphus resolved never to get in a car with or go anywhere near Sappy again. In the years since the infamous "unsolved possible terrorist attack on our local Dairy Queen," as the local radio station and newspaper reported it, Delphus had laughed many times at the memory of the incident, but he never dared mention it to anyone, and made a note of when the statute of limitations would expire and no one could be prosecuted for the crime.
So the thought of Sappy Marmaduke escorting Gabriella Grahame was distinctly disquieting. The stunning assault on the Dairy Queen had never ceased to astound Delphus. He was also branded by how fearless and untroubled Sappy was throughout the whole incident, laughing hysterically one minute and then having the chutzpah to commiserate with and even help his victim. The whole affair remained the most surreal experience of Delphus's life. Sappy Marmaduke was utterly unsuitable for a double date.
Except there seemed to be no one else. Delphus found himself rationalizing how Sappy might work out after all. Surely, he would not fire a slingshot at his own date. To be fair, Delphus could never recall Sappy ever getting in a fight, and he too now had a reputation to protect as the lead singer of a popular local rock band performing in several clubs in their part of the state. They were only going to dinner and a film, and Delphus would be driving. Why would Sappy dare do anything to upset a bona fide bombshell like Miss Gabriella? And if an escort for her was not found, and fast, there would be no date at all and Delphus would be in the doghouse with Zinnia for who knew how long? Plus, Sappy owed him big time for never turning him in to the police or telling a soul about that infamous night in high school.
Sleeping on the matter overnight failed to stir up any alternative candidates, but Delphus delayed calling anyone for hours in hopes someone else would eventually come to mind. Yet with less than four hours before the 6 p.m. deadline, and with an increasingly concerned Zinnia having already texted him twice to ask whether a date had been found, Delphus finally punched in a phone number he never would have believed possible just 24 hours before. He rationalized how every time they had bumped into each other around town in recent years Sappy was always friendly, and his old buddy could often be hilarious. But they had not spoken on the phone in several years, and he knew exactly why. With trepidation and a noticeably more rapid heart rate, Delphus at last pressed "Call."
While touched his old buddy would ask him to be part of a double date, Sappy said he had band practice that evening. Delphus hesitated texting Miss Grahame's picture, wondering if it might be divine intervention that Sappy could not join them. But time appeared to be moving ever more rapidly and he did not want a crisis with by far the best girlfriend he had ever had. So he texted the picture.
"What time should I be ready?" asked Sappy.
"5:45 since we pick up the girls at 6, and please be ready on time, Sappy. Zinnia's a real stickler about that. And I don't want to sound like anybody's mother but do please shave, dress well, and promise me you'll be on your best behavior, man. And … if you do anything crazy, it will throw me under the doghouse as far as Zinnia is concerned."
"Dude, I'll dress in my Sunday best with a suit and tie if you like," Sappy replied. "Shoot, to get to go out with a hottie like Miss Gabi, I'll buy a tuxedo if you want. Shug, I ain't doing nothing to blow my chances with such a fine filly as her."
It was not quite the promise Delphus would have ideally scripted, but he concluded it would have to do. Zinnia texted a third time that day, now demanding the status of the search. At last, he revealed Gabi's suitor would be their old high school classmate and wannabe local rock star. Recalling how mellow Sappy was in school, she replied with a thumbs-up emoji before asking if he was able to drive after his infamous arrest for going 110 miles per hour. Delphus promised her beau would be their only driver that evening. He then tried to suppress his stubborn worries by studying for a test the next week. As the "D-date" hour got closer, he shaved, showered, and got ready for the night out amidst a growing bevy of butterflies fluttering in his stomach.
By the time he began the trip to Sappy's apartment, Delphus realized he was even more nervous than he had been on his very first date five years before with Pearlina Patterson. When, while he drove them to dinner, she casually mentioned she was a bisexual witch, Delphus accidentally swerved onto the sidewalk. But he did quickly regain control of the car and managed to get through the rest of the date. That proved to be their final outing together. The last he heard, Miss Pearlina had become a born-again Christian evangelist. He wondered if she still wore a lot of black.
No matter how often Delphus asked himself what could possibly go wrong during a simple dinner and film that evening, each time his imagination immediately conjured a swarm of scary scenarios, including Sappy suddenly jumping up in the middle of the movie to fire a slingshot-guided rock into the big screen.
Walking up the steps to Sappy's apartment, he thought about crossing himself. Mr. Marmaduke opened the door and extended a hand with a big grin.
"Delphus! Come on in, pal. Long time, no see. I think the last time we went out together was to the Dairy Queen." He winked.
Delphus felt as if butterflies were now exploding in his stomach. That the apartment was in disarray did not help. Nor did the distinct smell of marijuana or the sight of a bong on the kitchen table.
"I really appreciate your thinking of me regarding Miss Gabi," Sappy stated.
"And I thank you for helping me in a pinch, Sappy," Delphus replied. "But I thought you were going to shave, man."
"Oh, right. Sorry. Let me bring a shaver for the road. But look. I put on my best dress shirt."
"Looks good, but just please tuck it inside your pants."
The short drive to Zinnia's family home featured Sappy shaving and bragging about his band while Delphus tried to prepare for any number of possible nightmares. Just before turning into the McVies' driveway, he said a silent prayer.
When Zinnia and Gabi greeted them at the front door, Delphus was struck by how fetching they looked. Perhaps because her friend was so striking, Zinnia wore more makeup than usual, as well as her favorite green dress.
Gabriella Grahame was voluptuously resplendent in a bright red dress with yellow flowers, black moccasin shoes with blue laces, and a hot pink beret perched atop twirling swirls of curly thick blonde hair.
"Wow. You didn't tell me you were setting me up with a model," Sappy exclaimed as Gabi grinned, Zinnia laughed nervously, and Delphus urged them to the car. Upon opening the front passenger door for Zinnia, he was relieved when Sappy opened the back door for Gabi.
On the drive to the restaurant, Delphus, and Zinnia guided the conversation to help Gabi and Sappy learn about each other. Gabi appeared somewhat reserved but had an appealing smile. Like Zinnia and Delphus, she was a college junior. Her major was business.
"That's cool," volunteered Sappy. "So what do you want to do with your business degree?"
"I'd like to run my own business."
"What kind?" asked Sappy.
"Maybe a club, restaurant, hotel, or all in one," she answered with a smile.
"Tres cool," Sappy replied.
"So do you go to the local college with Delphus?" Gabi asked.
"Naw, I work here and there to support my real career which is in music. I'm the lead singer in a band."
"Oh, way cool. What's the name of the group?" Gabi inquired.
"Wyndex Cleaner," Sappy announced with pride. "We're sort of New Wave meets pop, but with a jazzy twist," he enthused.
"Oh, that sounds exciting," Gabi said. "Cheers for not locking yourself into just one box."
"Definitely. Thanks. Yeah, we're influenced by all kinds of music. Just this afternoon I was listening to the local college radio station and grooving to the most bodacious classical tune that I'm itching for the band to do something with. Oh, man, I got to give it up for Moe Rayvel's 'Bolero.' Yeah, Moe really knows how to unravel one hypnotic riff. Sort of like Led Zeppelin's 'Kashmir.' It's super dope."
"His name's Maurice Ravel. He was a French composer," Zinnia corrected him.
"Well, whoever he was, that cat really knew how to lay down one major heavy number," Sappy enthused.
Looking in the rearview mirror, Delphus was relieved to see Gabi still smiling at Sappy. This might actually turn out all right, he tried to reassure himself.
"So why's a bona fide babelonian like you needing a blind date on a Friday night?" Sappy asked.
And maybe this evening won't turn out all right, Delphus sighed as Zinnia looked at him.
"My last boyfriend dumped me a few weeks back.," Miss Grahame laughed.
"Well, it's good you found out he's gay long before y'all got married or had kids," Mr. Marmaduke posited thoughtfully.
Zinnia shot Delphus another look as her boyfriend glanced at the rearview mirror and was grateful to see Gabi softly chuckling. He hoped all the distractions of the restaurant could help steer the conversation away from awkward topics.
"It's a blessing because I found out he was cheating on me," Gabi added.
"What a loser," Sappy offered.
"Thanks. I was sure livid at the time though," Gabi remarked. "When I went back to get all my stuff while he was at work, I shoved anchovies in all the air vents to stink up his whole house."
"Awesome!" Sappy declared before breaking into a prolonged laugh. Could they actually be a match? Delphus wondered before noticing Zinnia wore a slight frown, the kind of expression he recognized from times when she was mildly miffed at him but not enough to say anything – yet.
"Yeah," Sappy announced, "I'm relieved to be done with my last gal pal too. She was decent looking and could be sweet, but then she took one of them 'women's studies' classes and went all feminist on me, saying I was 'an oppressor' and just spoutin' all kinds of hifalutin' nonsense. That's when she really grabbed hold of the wheel and drove us right over the bridge. I wish I'd thought of stuffing fish down her air vents. But when I left her place for good and used her bathroom for the last time, I did make a point of telling her, 'And I left the lid up too.'"
Delphus refrained from smiling at Gabi silently chuckling in the rearview mirror before he resumed a laser-like focus on the road to avoid looking in Zinnia's direction. If nothing else, he was confident it would be a memorable evening.
"Thank God I was just too drunk, hung over, or stoned for most of my year in college to learn
too much of that garbage," Sappy reflected. Delphus noted Gabi was still smiling at her date.
When they arrived at Tyree Bell's Shrimp Shack on the outskirts of town, they were told the wait would likely be half an hour. Since it was Zinnia's first dining choice and Gabi's favorite food was seafood, they chose to wait. But, because the restaurant was so crowded and noisy, Delphus suggested they walk down the rural road a little ways to enjoy the swell spring weather and comely countryside. So they proceeded down Ellison Capers Road, with Zinnia and Delphus walking in front and Gabi and Sappy behind them. Whenever Sappy brought up anything awkward, Delphus quickly tried to corral the chatter toward a topic less risky.
Gabi pulled out and lit a brown cigarette, exhaling as she looked at the darkening blue sky.
"Wow. What kind of cigarette is that?" Sappy asked.
"Gitanes." She smiled at him. When he blinked while furrowing his brow, she smiled again.
"It's French. A gal where I work turned me on to them."
Delphus turned to smile ever so slightly at Zinnia who cocked her head at him with a look
that declared, "Don't dare."
Delphus was grateful Zinnia exuded far less tension than in the car and was relieved to pursue their own conversation as the blind dates got to know each other better. After ten minutes or so of walking, they turned around to head back to the restaurant.
Yet it started to dawn on Delphus that Sappy might be more interested in Gabi than the other way around since he was both asking most of the questions and doing the bulk of the talking between them. She was polite and attentive, but a tad aloof. Still, while mildly uncomfortable about the growing lulls in their chatter, Delphus was decidedly more calm since the evening appeared to be progressing reasonably well, albeit even a little boring. But dull struck him as ideal for Sappyville. Just before reaching the bridge over the interstate highway, an apparently more relaxed Zinnia took Delphus's hand and he turned to smile at her. He also noticed Sappy silently looking at them.
"Think I could cross this bridge walking on that ledge?" Sappy asked Gabi with a grin. Delphus's smile vanished as he and Zinnia turned around.
Along each side of the bridge was a walkway above which was a narrow cement ledge of just a few inches. Gabi raised her eyebrows at Sappy, laughed, inhaled her cigarette, and looked away shaking her head while blowing smoke.
"You don't think I would?" Sappy asked. Delphus had seen his expression just once before and felt his stomach twist.
"No," Gabi said chuckling. Sappy's grin grew wider.
"Wanna bet?" he asked.
"Is this how you try to impress a girl?" Gabi asked. "What are you, 21 going on 12?"
When they reached the bridge seconds later, Sappy climbed on top of the ledge with each arm outstretched. He then turned to his companions with a look of joy. Zinnia gasped and drew her hands to her face, while Gabi froze with her mouth open.
"Sappy, get down," Delphus demanded. "This is crazy and deadly dangerous. Stop scaring the girls and act like an adult."
Sappy instead began walking along the ledge. Some of the cars whizzing by below began to blow their horns. Zinnia's hands remained on her cheeks and she wore an expression Delphus had not seen, while Gabi stood like a statue staring at Sappy with a face fixed in fear.
Sappy smiled back at them and began loudly singing the Psychedelic Furs' "Highwire Days":
In my highwire days,
I can see all the way,
I see through the games you play
In my highwire days….
"Delphus, do something!" Zinnia shouted. Sensing his initial shock evolve into anger, Mr. McManus tried to take charge.
"Sappy, please! Come down from there. This is nuts. You're not impressing anybody but you're sure scaring us all something terrible. It's not worth it. Nothing is. Now come down from there."
But Sappy continued singing and dancing along the ledge, only more rapidly and with exaggerated arm and hand movements. More cars and the occasional Mack truck honked their horns below as the tightrope walker began flapping his arms like a bird and changed tunes to the closing chorus of an old Sir Elton John song:
My high-flying, high-flying bird….
Delphus, Zinnia, and Gabi began walking again to catch up with Sappy's progress, but cars
on either side of the bridge hesitated to cross. When Sappy stopped to flash another big smile at them, Zinnia unleashed a screaming rage her beau had never seen.
"What kind of messed-up macho moron are you? Stop this! You're terrifying everyone. Get down from there."
Sappy grinned and with a mock quizzical expression knelt and pointed toward the highway below. Cars slowly started to creep onto the bridge but kept as far away from the drama as possible.
"Delphus!" Zinnia yelled. For the first time in the ordeal, Mr. McManus took his eyes off Sappy to glance at the girls and saw they had both turned white. He also felt his stomach turn again as he noticed each girl's dress blowing in the growing wind.
"Sappy, I'm begging you," Delphus pleaded running toward him. "Please get down. This is so stupid and completely unnecessary. You don't need to be some daredevil to impress anybody."
Looking ahead again, Sappy continued along the ledge but now sang "Spinning Wheel" by Blood, Sweat & Tears, joyfully moving in rhythm:
What goes up, must come down,
Spinning wheel, got to go round….
He then lifted his left leg and leaned his head and arm over the right side of the bridge. Zinnia gasped and Gabi made a muffled sound Delphus did not recognize. Sappy then began rapidly twirling both arms as his whole body veered rightward over a chorus of cars blaring their horns below.
Gabi screamed and Zinnia grabbed Delphus's arm. He ran toward Sappy, desperately hoping he would take his outstretched hand. He then heard Gabi's scream morph into a sob as he reached the young man on the ledge.
Sappy straightened himself up and looked back at them with an expression of euphoria.
"Please take my hand, buddy. Please. We can't take this. You're hurting everyone."
Mr. Marmaduke winked at him and continued merrily on his way, albeit at a faster pace. He changed tunes again, now singing Counting Crows' "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby":
Well, I am an idiot
Walking a tightrope of fortune and fame.
I am an acrobat swinging trapezes through circles of flame.
If you've never stared off into the distance,
Then your life is a shame.
And though I'll never forget your face,
Sometimes I can't remember my name.
Just before reaching the end of the bridge, a still-smiling Sappy turned around to face them again and offer a deep, exaggerated formal bow. With that, he turned back around with a jump, came to the end of the ledge, and leaped onto the grass below. Some boys and girls of about twelve leaning out of a pair of passing cars burst into cheers and loud applause.
"Shut up!" Zinnia shouted before running to a thoroughly satisfied Sappy. "You should be ashamed of yourself." She pointed at him, her index finger inches from his face. "I ought to slap your sorry ass silly."
"Zinnia, let's please not make it worse. Be grateful he's alive and unharmed," Delphus pleaded while pulling her away from Sappy as gently as he could.
"Grateful?! For scaring us out of our minds? Are you serious? Just what kind of a colossal ass did you bring?"
After several seconds of the four of them staring at each other, Delphus took Zinnia's hand and started back toward the restaurant. They resumed walking in pairs on the grass on the side of the road. Delphus patted Zinnia's hand and tried to walk faster. Each step away from the bridge seemed to bring a little more relief.
"I'm sorry, babe," he said to Zinnia. "I'm so sorry. I had no idea anything like this could ever happen. But it's over, thank God, and let's just please move on now. I'll be glad to take y'all home if you like. Gabi, are you all right?" He turned around to ask.
Miss Grahame's face was tear-stained. She did not answer but finally looked at Delphus and nodded. Sappy walked alongside her.
"I'm awful sorry for scaring you so, Miss Gabi," he said softly. "I swear I didn't mean no harm. I was just trying to create a little excitement and fun when things were threatening to get boring. I reckoned you might get a kick of it. But it's all over and I promise I won't ever do it again."
Zinnia started to turn around to speak but Delphus squeezed her hand and nodded his head forward. Gabi remained silent and took out another Gitanes, but was shaking too much to light it. Sappy gently reached over to take the lighter and light the cigarette for her. The four of them walked the rest of the way in silence.
Arriving at the eatery, Delphus asked the girls if they wanted to go home. Zinnia looked at her friend.
"We're here," Gabi said with a slight laugh. "We've waited this long. You said it's the best seafood place around. Why not eat?"
Delphus looked at Zinnia who said nothing. So he went inside to ask if their table was ready and came back to report it was. They slowly followed the hostess to the table and sat down. There was silence as they each perused the menu, but gradually conversation returned, first about the various entrees offered, then their favorite restaurants, school, clubs, Sappy's band, and everybody's favorite musical groups. By then their food arrived and each diner's mood appeared to lift. Sappy insisted on sharing several of his shrimp with Gabi who thanked him and let him try some of her crab. A growing variety of topics was traversed and the foursome's first sounds of laughter since before the bridge incident could be heard. The one subject never alluded to was what happened on the ledge. Throughout the dinner, Delphus was enormously relieved that Sappy had been more polite and charming than he could ever recall. It was as if the man on the bridge was the maniacal twin of this impeccably well-mannered and often witty gentleman seated across the table.
When the bill came, Delphus and Sappy split it and the former asked everyone if they still wanted to see the movie. Gabi and Zinnia looked at each other for a couple of seconds as Sappy looked at them hopefully.
"Sure." Gabi shrugged. "Might as well. It's a comedy, right? We could probably use some laughs."
At the cinema, after Delphus and Sappy got the tickets, Sappy offered to get Gabi whatever refreshments she wanted, but she declined with thanks. When the couples sat down in the theatre together, Delphus made sure Sappy and Zinnia sat on opposite ends. Though they had gotten along during the dinner, the verbal fireworks at the bridge remained prominent in his memory. Fortunately, the film was refreshingly funny and they all laughed quite a bit.
Periodically Delphus leaned back to glance at Gabi seated next to him to try to gauge how she felt. She appeared to be caught up in the film and enjoying herself. Midway through the movie, he noticed Sappy and Gabi holding hands. Unimaginable, he thought. Truly surreal. Tempted to point this out to Zinnia, he finally thought better of it.
But she had to see them holding hands while walking out of the theatre. What a bizarre but positive turn of events, Delphus observed to himself. Sappy remained in full gentleman mode opening the car door for Gabi, and on the drive back to Zinnia's home Gabi talked more to her date who listened eagerly. Indeed, Delphus realized they were now talking more than he and Zinnia.
When they arrived at the McVie home and goodbyes were said, Delphus heard Gabi tell Sappy she had fun. He also heard them kiss. My, my, he marveled.
Late the next morning Delphus called Zinnia to make plans for the rest of the weekend and discuss the double date. He figured Gabi would have left by then and Zinnia could speak freely. He also hoped a decent night's rest might have softened his girlfriend's anger about the bridge drama.
"Interesting date last night?" he asked.
"Ha, ha. That's the understatement of the year."
"How's Gabi? What all did she say about the evening?"
"Not much. Daredevil Boy called her not long after we got back. The next thing I knew, she packed her bag and he came back to pick her up. She said he was taking her out for dessert and then they were going back to his place to listen to music and she didn't want me to have to wait up for her. I haven't heard from her since."
"Wow. Sappy sure seems to know his way straight to a gal's heart. Who knew the quickest route was on a ledge right over the interstate? What would you do if I walked over a bridge like that?"
"Dump your ass in a New York minute. Like I said, I don't really know Gabi that well. We've just sat next to each other in a class," Zinnia said with a sigh.
"Gee," Delphus replied. "I guess we've discovered I have a new talent as a matchmaker."
"I wouldn't bet on it," Zinnia chuckled.
"Hey, would you like the four of us to double date again the next weekend you come home?" he barely got out before giggling.
"Not particularly. I doubt it would be good for my blood pressure, or yours."
"But maybe a little drama — "
"All right, perhaps some substantial drama may be a good way to bring people closer and really jumpstart a relationship?"
"Got your first standup gig lined up yet? You're sure building up a lot of material," Zinnia replied.
"Well, I'm just delighted Gabi and Sappy hit it off so well and, who knows, maybe they'll really make a go of it together."
"Maybe not. By her own admission, her track record with men has been pretty awful, and I hardly think Daredevil Boy is Prince Charming."
"Well, whatever happens, I'll say this. I definitely think theirs will be … a highwire affair."
"Ha, ha, ha."