Sometimes It Takes Two

From the first moment, Jon and Eileen loved the church. It was small, only holding about two hundred folks. More a chapel than a full-size church, and definitely not a mega or a cathedral. Just perfect for Eileen and him.

The couple, in their early fifties, walked around the grounds till they found the fountain behind the building. It sprang out of a pond. Eileen looked at her husband. “It’s a lovely place. I love it.”

“Then I’ll accept,” Jon said. Had he not received her approval the answer to the church committee would have been no. From the first moment since they started dating, Eileen had veto power over any decision he made.

Then they went to tour the parsonage nearby. Eileen’s only comment, “It needs work.”

Jon brought this up to the Deacon’s Committee. “We’ll take care of it,” they agreed. They wanted this man and his wife to pastor their church. It had been six years since their full-time pastor of thirty years died.

Over the years the Committee had interviewed a number of men and a few women for the position. None fit the bill. Several came close. One, a woman, came very close. But there had been something about the husband. He didn’t feel right. Two months after the interview, they later found out, he had cheated on his wife and she had committed suicide. No, the pastor came as a couple or not at all.

“When can you move in and begin?” Deacon Rich asked. He was head deacon and chairman of the committee.

Jon looked at Eileen, then back at the deacon. “How ‘bout the first of next month?”

“That would be fine,” the deacon said.

As the couple drove the hundred miles or so back to their temporary home, the two rode in silence. They had waited two years to find the perfect people for them to shepherd. They were ready for this new start. There had been so much struggle in their lives. They had been single until they were forty. Both had had disastrous relationships. Both had grown up in abusive homes. Both had failed at just about everything they had done.

Until they met in a bar one night ten years ago. Earlier in the evening they each were abandoned by their dates. They were just about ready to go home with anyone, so great was their loneliness. Eileen sat down beside Jon.

“Scotch,” she ordered from the bartender. Thoughts of suicide ran through her head. Bad relationships, bad job, lousy life, she was thinking.

Jon turned to the woman sitting next to him. Somehow he knew that his life was about to change. Somehow he knew he was about to become someone he never thought he could be.

He smiled at Eileen. For some reason, she smiled back. She wasn’t sure why. She decided to take Jon up on his smile. “I’m Eileen and I drink my scotch straight.”

“I’m more a rum and coke man myself,” Jon said. “And my name is Jon.”

The bartender brought her drink. She took a sip, then asked, “What is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you?”

“It’s hard to choose. There have been so many.”

“Pick one. The most recent.”

“My date went to the bathroom and didn’t come back.”

“Did she leave you with the bill?”

“Not only that. She stole my wallet.”

“That’s pretty bad.” Eileen said, then she considered what to do next. The one thing she did not want to do that night was to go home alone. “Would you like to go home with me tonight?” she offered.

“I’d like that very much.”

When they left the bar, they walked down the street and headed toward Eileen’s apartment. Not knowing what to say next, they both said nothing. Suddenly Eileen’s heel broke. “Damn,” she said, then laughed. “Well, that makes for a perfect evening.”

Jon gave her his arm to help her steady herself. “What’s the matter?” He was thinking there was something wrong with him. There wasn’t. He was just fine.

“I broke my heel,” she said and removed the shoes from her feet, then the other one. Then she laughed.

Jon liked her laugh. It was then that they noticed a small chapel. It was an out-of-the-way place, set off from the street.

“What do you think?” Jon asked.

“Let’s see if it’s open.”

They looked at the name of the chapel. St. Jude’s Chapel, it said.

“Patron saint of lost causes,” Eileen informed Jon.

The chapel door was open. They went inside. The chapel was lit by candles. There was no one there. They found a pew and sat down side by side. For the rest of the night, they sat in that chapel and didn’t say a word. Then Eileen glanced at her watch. “Oh, my God,” she said. “It’s seven a.m.”

Jon and Eileen walked out into the fresh air. “Would you like to get some breakfast?” she asked.

“Then what?”

“I don’t know. Guess we’ll figure it out.”

Short Story Wednesday: Just Passing Through

Short Story Prompt: “Shiloh” by Bobbie Ann Mason.

Max is hungry. The diner waitress brings him a breakfast that will satisfy his appetite. He takes a whiff of the eggs and grits and bacon and toast. It smells good, good enough to eat. “Now, that’s a breakfast,” he says to himself.

He starts with the bacon. It’s crunchy and greasy but good. He dips his fork into the grits, all buttered just the way he likes his grits. A story comes to mind that a friend, Sam, once told him. Sam and his wife, Irene, were driving south, moving from Pennsylvania to Florida. They stopped in a mom-and-pop restaurant in North Carolina. Having heard of grits for years, she decided that was what she would have. “I’ll take a grit please,” she ordered. The waitress and Sam bowled over with laughter, Then the waitress showed Irene what one grit would look like. Max smiled.

Max watches one of the waitresses follow a man to a booth, asking, “What are you doing off, Charlie?” He’d like to tell her what he was doing off but she didn’t ask him. He takes another bite of the bacon. Tries the toast. It’s good too. So’s the coffee, and the orange juice.

A large Indian, long black ponytail swinging down his back, stops, sits down across from him. He wears a suit and a tie. The tie is painted with a white Crazy Horse riding a mustang toward Max against a black background. “Know what I did last night?”

Max doesn’t know, doesn’t care. He wishes the Indian would move along, let him listen to his thoughts, make up his mind about things.

“I kicked some butt,” the Indian says, sees Max is only interested in his breakfast. Gets up. Towering over him, the Indian continues, “Well, if you aren’t interested.” Then he strolls over to the counter, like he’s stalking prey. Maybe he is. Maybe one of the waitresses is his prey.

Max stares down at his empty plate, pushes it aside, then takes a sip of his coffee.

“More coffee,” his waitress asks. He nods and she pours. “Don’t mind Dave.”

“Dave?”

“The Indian,” she says. “He does that to everybody.” She smiles. Her smile reminds him of his ex-wife when they first met, the one that took him for all he had. “Haven’t seen you in these parts before.”

“I haven’t been in these parts before,” he concedes. Then relaxes, “I’m just passing through.”

She invites herself into the booth and sits down across from him. “Where you going?”

Max notices that she is Indian too. At least part Indian. She has the darkest eyes he has ever seen. He returns her open smile with a smile. “I only wish I knew.”

She leans forward and halfway whispers, “There ain’t much here to see, that’s for sure.”

Max takes a chance and offers, “There’s you.”

The waitress starts to laugh, then realizes that Max is serious. She says, “I’d rather be on my way out of here.”

“Why don’t you? Leave, that is?”

“Got a kid. Joe’s his name. Cutest little five year old you ever wanted to see. Want to see his picture.” She pulls a photograph out of her pocket.

Max takes the photograph and looks at it for a minute or two, then hands it back to her. “That’s some kid.”

She takes the photograph, looks at it, smiles and puts it back in her pocket. “He wants to play baseball when he grows up.”

“Where’s his dad?” he asks, then thinks better of things. “Sorry, didn’t mean to pry.”

“The son of a bitch ran off to God-knows-where. I sure don’t. Left me knocked up in this God-forsaken place.” Her face says everything about disappointment. “I had a ticket out of here.” Then pride comes to this same face. “Had a scholarship and all.” She stands up. “I’ve got to get back to work. My name is Lyla. If you need anything, let me know.”

He watches her leave. He lifts the coffee cup and takes a sip. The coffee is hot, but not so hot as to burn his mouth. Just right hot, he thinks. For the first time since, he walked out of the divorce court and got in his car and drove away from that life a thousand miles ago, a life that just about destroyed him; for the first time since, he sees some hope on the horizon. Maybe there is a Lyla where he is going.

Max finishes his coffee, then pulls himself out of the booth and drops a five on the table for a tip. He goes over to the cash register. It’s not Lyla that rings him up. She’s taking food over to the Indian. Max takes his change and walks out of the restaurant and into the morning. The desert sun fills everything with its brightness, washing out the world around him with its light.

He heads over to the old green Chevy. Just about on its last legs but with still enough life in it to get him where he’s going, He backs the car out of the parking lot and onto the highway and heads west. He starts going over in his head the phone conversation he had with his son, Jake.

“C’mon out here,” Jake had said. “You can get a new start with me and Ash.”

“But I’d be a bother. The two of you have your life.”

“You’ll be no bother. You have to get away from that place. After what Mom put you through, you deserve to get away.”

Max pulls the car over to the side of the road. Stops it. Then decides. He turns the car back toward the town he just left. He parks in the half-empty parking lot of the diner and gets out of the car and makes for the restaurant door, hurrying before he loses his courage. The door jangles as he opens it. Lyla is at the cash register, ringing up a customer.

She finishes and looks over at him. “Did you forget something?”

“I did.” He hesitates, then finishes. “I forgot you.”

“What?” she whispers.

“And your son. You want to go to California.”

“What?”

“To California? You want to go?”

Lyla isn’t sure what to say.

Max says, “You’ve got one minute to decide.”

Lyla still hesitates, then her body says to hell with it. She unties her apron and throws it on the counter and goes over to him and says, “Let’s go.”

He takes her hand. They laugh as they make for the car. Then they are off to pick up Joe and on to California.