You're The One That I Want
Harry Gleason was sitting in the pew listening to the pre-service funeral music, thinking about Mrs. Earle while waiting for the service to start when he felt a presence near him. He opened his eyes and did a double take when he saw a woman with flaming red hair standing in the aisle motioning for him to move over.
There was no doubt that the woman was Harry's long ago friend Gertie Bateman, whom he hadn't seen in nearly twenty-five years. Harry was already feeling emotional because of Mrs. Earle's death and now to see Gertie standing there made him feel all the more vulnerable.
Gertie again motioned with her hand for Harry to slide over and his brain finally kicked into action, ordering him to move along the pew. Gertie took a seat next to him and taking a seat next to her was a girl of about fourteen.
"This is my daughter, Sadie," Gertie whispered.
"Hi," the girl said, leaning over so Harry could see her on the other side of her mother. She had blond hair and her mother's dimples and the same searching eyes.
"Nice to meet you," Harry said and in a low formal voice before giving Gertie the intrigued eye.
Gertie looked much the same way she had all those years ago – the familiar flaming red hair and rosy lips, those penetrating eyes, and that towering presence. She was three inches taller than Harry in high school and even now as they sat in the pew she towered over him.
"Welcome Home," Harry remarked.
"I've been back for about a month," Gertie revealed.
"For good?" Harry asked with surprise.
"I think so," she answered.
Harry wasn't sure what to make of that news but before he had a chance to comment further the service started. A fair amount of people turned out for the 82 year old retired teacher's funeral. The woman Pastor gave a stirring sermon and tribute, the church choir was impressive in their musical salute to the long time music teacher and Harry was caught off guard when the minister announced that "former student Gertie Bateman will now perform a solo to honor her mentor teacher."
"Wish me luck," Gertie whispered to Harry before she stood, stepped over her daughter, walked up the center aisle to the altar and, with the assistance of the organist, sang "Praise To The Lord" in perfection.
Harry sat in the pew memorized by Gertie's performance as all sorts of memories and emotions came flooding back. He remembered the first time he heard Gertie sing (8th grade talent show) and he was certain he had heard the sound of an angel coming out of her throat. Nothing had changed all these years later as Gertie sang in front of the congregation with confidence and beauty.
Gertie finished the lovely performance and returned to the pew.
"Mrs. Earle would be honored," Harry said once Gertie was seated.
"The honor is all mine," Gertie replied.
The emotionally powerful service ended and the mourners slowly exited the church. Several stopped Gertie to congratulate her on her wonderful effort and to say hi, many recognizing her from her younger days, others aware of her later success. Some said hello to Harry as well, a common face around Mt. Griffin as the owner/operator of Gleason Yard and Fencing Services.
"So, no burial?" Gertie asked.
"She donated her body to science," Harry explained. "There'll be a private burial later."
"Are you going to the gathering at Mason's Restaurant?" Gertie asked. They were outside now, standing in the warm sun.
"Are you?" Harry asked hopefully.
Gertie laughed. "Sure, Harry," she said. "We can drop in."
"Oh, Mom," Sadie groaned. "You said the service only."
"That's true, I did," Gertie remarked.
"I haven't seen your mother in a very long time," Harry said, fake pouting and hoping to make the girl laugh.
"Are you one of the Plasma guys?" Sadie asked.
"One of them," he confirmed.
"Okay," Sadie sighed reluctantly, glancing at her mother. "We can go. But not all day, please."
"Of course, dear," her mother agreed before glancing at Harry. "We'll see you there."
Harry nodded and watched mother and daughter head for the parking lot, amazed to see Gertie after all this time.
The Mt. Griffin Diner, the sandwiches at the general store, the mini-Dunkin Donuts inside the gas station, Griff Pizza, and Mason's Restaurant were the only places to get food in Mt. Griffin. Townies had to travel to Greenville for fast food and other options.
Mason's started out as a drive-in hamburger stand in its first incarnation but over the generations had morphed and expanded into a full-fledged popular family restaurant with a large function room which is where Mrs. Earle's reception was held. There were buffet tables along the far wall and a bar in the opposite corner.
Gertie was once again swarmed by well-wishers, old friends, and fans. Harry got a ginger ale for Sophie, a glass of red wine for Gertie, and a beer for himself before making his way back to the table Gertie had staked out. Sadie had already gotten herself a plate of food and she thanked Harry for the soda.
Eventually, people allowed Gertie to focus on her food and her table mates. Harry brought a plate of meatballs, pasta with tomato sauce and some cold cut slices for his old friend.
"Did you see Mrs. Earle?" Gertie asked Harry once things calmed down.
"We did her yard work and plowed her driveway for years," Harry replied. "She made me sing to her if I went in the house."
Gertie laughed. "What a wonderful woman she was," she beamed. "Such an unforgettable experience knowing her. She was and amazingly incredible teacher and mentor and we were lucky to have her."
"She knew her stuff," Harry agreed.
"She brought out our very best," Gertie said.
"If she was so great, what was she doing teaching at a hole in the wall like Mt. Griffin High?" Sadie asked, glancing up from her I-Phone.
"Her husband was a Professor over at the Sun Rise Lake School for Boys," Harry told Sadie. "That's how she ended up here."
"Best thing that ever happened to Mt. Griffin," Gertie proclaimed. "She was a big fish in a small pond," Gertie added with affection. "She was knowledgeable and experienced, but most of all she was professional."
"So, that's how you two met?" Sadie guessed. "You had the same teacher?"
"We met in Junior High," Gertie said. "We were both musical."
"Me and my friends were just beginning to learn the basics of the guitar," Harry clarified.
"Frog, Dog, and Harry on the guitars, Dud on the drums," Gertie laughed. "The original Plasma."
"We knew three songs in eighth grade," Harry grinned. "And they had two or three cords!"
"Do you still play?" Gertie asked with interest.
"No," Harry revealed, throwing her a look. "I lost my passion for it."
There was a moment of awkwardness for the first time since their re-meeting and Harry quickly moved the conversation along.
"The thing about Mrs. Earle was she enjoyed working with us and watching us improve," he recalled. "I remember how blown away she was when we could finally play a song all the way through without making a mistake."
"She made us want to do our best and to shine whenever we were in front of an audience," Gertie smiled. "There was nothing we couldn't do in her eyes and estimation."
"I was shy and nervous about performing but she gave me psychological tips that helped me face my fears," Harry said.
"So when did you join Plasma, Mom?" Sadie asked.
"Junior year," she answered. "Dog was in charge and he only wanted guys playing in the group."
"It was Mrs. Earle who finally got him to let your mom sing with us," Harry noted.
"Dog resented the hell out of me," Gertie sighed. "There was a lot of emotional chaos."
"Dog didn't have a lot of patience," Harry admitted.
"He had a temper," Gertie frowned. "He could be an asshole. He thought being the lead singer meant he could boss us all around."
"We let the music work it out," Harry said.
"Mrs. Earle was sympathetic, gentle, and uplifting," Gertie told Sadie with affection. "Dog never would have let me join if I couldn't play piano and keyboards."
"Your mom was a great addition," Harry said. "Kids already knew her from the marching band and chorus but when they saw her with Plasma – well, a star was born!"
"Do you remember our first duet?" Gertie smiled.
"You're The One That I Want," Harry smirked.
"From Grease?" Sadie asked with surprise.
"Mrs. Earle helped us a lot with that one," Gertie said.
Harry and Gertie exchanged sentimental looks remembering their special song.
"It's nice when you can make good music together," Harry stated.
"Yes it is," Gertie smiled warmly
"So, what happened?" Sadie asked.
"We grew up," Harry sighed, throwing Gertie another forlorn look.
"It was a long time ago, sweetie," Gertie said. "We were young."
'And in love,' Harry wanted to add but he knew it would be the wrong thing to say in front of Gertie's daughter.
"We should probably get going," Gertie announced. "I promised Sadie we wouldn't linger."
"It was great seeing you again, Gertie," Harry said, standing.
Sadie was already out of her seat and about to storm the exit. "It was nice to meet you too, young lady," Harry said politely.
"I've heard the Plasma stories before," Sadie told him. "I guess they're real now that I've met you."
"They were real," Harry confirmed.
Gertie gave Harry a tight hug. "Thanks, old friend," she whispered.
Harry kissed her on the cheek before letting her go and he watched as she and Sadie left the function room with all sorts of conflicting thoughts and emotions running through his head.