Disclaimer: these are original characters, some from my story "Hidden Identity", some new. Any mistakes in geography, professions, or just life in general are mine alone.
Time: picks up just after Caitlin leaves Rose in Santa Fe, NM.
Copyright © 2013 by JS Stephens. All rights reserved.
Caitlin Grant was simmering with fury, like lava seeking to escape the bounds of a volcano. How dare Rose bring up religion, faith, and all that, when God had chosen to be silent, not to save their dear friend Laura Wilson from injuries following her savage beating and rape. How dare that asshole of a boyfriend of Laura's be allowed to commit suicide rather than face his proper punishment.
The musician managed to hang on to her temper as asked the concierge to hail a taxi, telling the driver to take her to the airport. She had no plan, nothing arranged, no destination in mind as they made their way down highway 25 to the Albuquerque International Airport. She managed to book a seat on the 12:10 flight to San Antonio, which she picked at random as she stood at the ticket counter. "Have a pleasant flight," the agent said. Caitlin nodded, smiling distractedly at him, taking her boarding pass and luggage ticket from him and wandering to the security line.
After a stop in Dallas, the flight finally landed in San Antonio just before 5:00 after a slight delay for rain. Caitlin numbly followed the crowd through the airport to the baggage claim, found her luggage, then stood in the line for a taxi. It occurred to her that she had not made any reservations, but decided that she could probably get a long term room near the airport. As the driver asked where she wanted to go, she blurted out the first corporate stay hotel she could think of near the airport. "But take me by a liquor store first," she requested.
Rose Grant stared numbly at her phone as the tiny voice told her (again, and again) that the subscriber did not have their phone turned on. Where was Caitlin? She had waited most of the night, finally crying herself to sleep, only to wake up in hysterics when she could not find her wife, and the whole scene from the previous evening came crashing in on her. She had called the front desk, only to find that the room was still prepaid through the end of the week, and that Caitlin had checked out an hour before. She hung up, shocked beyond belief.
Caitlin really had left, because she, Rose, had been stupid enough to push her wife to claim the same depth of faith that she had. Or thought she had. A minister needed a spouse who shared their beliefs, their creed, not one who paid lip service to God.
Of course, if Rose was completely honest with herself, she would admit that her own faith had been shaken. She had lost members of her congregation before, but not a young woman who should be starting her life. And Caitlin was right, in a way, how could she explain how a loving God would allow Laura to die at the hands of her boyfriend, Mike? Why would God allow Mike to escape justice by committing suicide?
Rose pondered these questions, wondering if she would ever find the answers. But first, maybe Caitlin's manager, Beverly LeClare, would know where Caitlin had gone.
"No, I haven't heard from her, and I haven't seen any charges," Beverly said as she tucked the phone between her cheek and shoulder while furiously typing away at her laptop. "I thought you two were on your honeymoon. What happened?"
"We had a fight," Beverly heard the dark minister say tiredly, "and she stormed out and never came back. The hotel says she checked out, but our room is still paid through the end of the week."
The auburn haired business manager clicked through a few sites, listening as the minister relayed the series of escalating arguments, culminating with Caitlin storming out. "It's to the point that I honestly don't know which of us is to blame, or if both of us are to blame," Rose said wearily. "I just know that I feel utterly lost without her."
Beverly sighed as she reached for the ever present bottle of aspirin and shook out a couple. "I'll see what I can do, Rose, but I'll warn you now, Caitlin has pulled this before and successfully hid for a couple of weeks. With the way privacy laws are now, I can't just call the airlines to see if she flew anywhere, but I can keep an eye out on her credit card. I have the login since I pay her bills."
"Thank you." Beverly heard a deep breath, then, "but what about our house?"
"Don't worry, it's in both of your names, so there won't be any issue with you living there, or with any of the furnishings. I'll see what I can find out on my end, so keep in touch."
"Thank you. God bless you, Beverly."
"God bless you too, Reverend Rose. I'll see what I can do. Goodbye." Beverly disconnected and laid her phone on the kitchen table, rubbing her eyes as she tried to will away the stabbing pain. Caitlin had pulled this once before, when she miscarried twenty-one years ago. Beverly still remembered the panicked call, the trip to the hospital, and the shock when the musician managed to escape some time in the night. At the time, Beverly simply had to start making calls to find the missing woman, eventually finding her in a cheap hotel in Oklahoma City, of all places, nearly 200 miles from the hospital where she'd been. Beverly had to pay for quite a bit in damages as Caitlin had trashed the hotel room and nearly drank herself to death. It played right into the legend of Harriet Benson of Harriet and the Heartwreckers, but nearly tore their friendship into shreds. Beverly had threatened to leave as her manager if she didn't clean up her act, and Caitlin, shaken to the core, had agreed. They had used the incident and other faked ones over the years, but Caitlin had never again run, never again drank to excess.
But what was she doing now?
Caitlin stared at the bottle of Jack Daniels Black, imagining the liquor slithering down her throat. She had not touched hard liquor, only the occasional beer or wine, for so many years. She could easily drink a glass or two of wine, or one or two beers, but not liquor. No, if she started, she would keep drinking until she was drunk, senseless, vomiting, or otherwise incapacitated. Still, the bottle sat on the cabinet, calling to her seductively. She had pulled out a small knife several times, about to cut open the foil, but kept putting the knife back in the drawer. She should really eat something, but she had no car, no way to go, other than calling a taxi or figuring out the bus system.
The musician finally decided to call for a pizza, then figure out how she was going to live for the next few days. She knew Beverly could easily log into her accounts and check on her, although she could just as easily change the passwords to keep Beverly out. But that would mean that she was admitting that she was gone for a while.
She kept musing over her next steps as she called for pizza, then settled with the remote and channel surfed aimlessly. She had finally settled on a soccer game when the pizza arrived. She tipped the delivery guy, then took the wonderful, decadent pizza into her suite, inhaling the cheesy scent. Her stomach growled, reminding her that this was her first food since the peanuts on the plane so many hours ago.
The first bite was pure bliss. Hot cheese, hot sauce, greasy pepperoni, all on a thick crust. Caitlin moaned out loud as she slowly ate the slice, then picked up another. God, this was truly heaven, she decided as she laid back, eating pizza and watching TV. She'd never watched much soccer, but it was hypnotic with the back and forth of the players and the ball, going up and down the field, rarely scoring. She forced herself to stop at the third slice, getting up to put the rest in the refrigerator for the morning. She washed her hands, then settled back in the bed with her Coke and the remote.
Her phone buzzed. Caitlin picked it up, glancing at the display. It appeared that Rose and Beverly had called multiple times, sometimes leaving messages, sometimes not. Should she listen to the messages? Should she call back?
"No," she said out lout as she simply turned the phone off. "I'm not home."
Beverly rubbed her aching head, trying to think. Where would Caitlin be now? How was she paying for anything? Knowing Caitlin, she had cash stashed away, but when would it run out? None of her accounts were active, although she did resist checking phone records, which she could do. Sometimes it was almost too tempting, since she had access to all of Caitlin's accounts so she could pay them. Why was her headache getting worse?
She pulled into her garage and walked into the kitchen, pausing a moment. Ted was there with the kids, Madelyn and MacKenzie, probably checking their homework. Once again, she worked so late that supper was already over. She could smell the lingering scent of supper, wondering idly if he'd saved her a plate. "Hey, I'm home," she said.
Ted smiled, although it faded a bit when he recognized her pained look. The teenagers looked up, waved, then went back to their homework. Ted stood up, coming to take her laptop bag and kiss her. "Headache?" he asked quietly. She nodded. "I'm sorry. I saved you a plate, just give me a minute to heat it up."
"Thank you, honey," she murmured. She dropped her purse and keys on the cabinet, then drifted to the table. "How was school?" she asked the kids.
Madelyn answered, "Fine, I guess. Why do we have to study literature? Junior English would be so much easier if we just did the grammar stuff. Why do we have to study Moby-Dick?"
Her brother cut in, "It's more fun than algebra. How was your day, Mama Bev?"
"So-so." She debated a moment, then decided the kids were old enough for the truth. "Caitlin ran out on Rose, and I have no idea where she went. Rose is frantic, and I'm stunned. And I'm angry. Caitlin finally had a chance at happiness, and she ran off."
Ted laid her plate and drink down, then slid into his own chair. "Still nothing?"
"No." Beverly took a few bites, then elaborated, "I've done everything that I can do for now, but we can't even call her in as a missing person for another day or so."
"Did she do this before?" Ted asked, concerned.
Beverly took a long drink of tea before answering, "Yes, twice. Once about twenty-one years ago, and again about ten years ago, just after we married. Rose said they had a fight, and that Caitlin just stormed out. I'm sure she'll show back up, she did both times before." She turned back to her plate. "For Rose's sake, I hope she shows up soon."
Rose wandered aimlessly through the plaza area of Santa Fe, going in and out of shops, finally stopping in at the San Miguel Mission Church, where she and Caitlin had visited just a few days ago. She sat on one of the pews, letting the quiet soak into her frantic thoughts, trying to compose herself enough for prayer. Prayer for her wife, prayer for their marriage. She closed her eyes, unable to think of anything other than, "God, why?" She opened her eyes, looking up at the altar, then over on the wall at the old painted buffalo hides.
The sacred space finally started seeping into her soul, calming her a little. All she could do was to pray for Caitlin's safety. She looked down at the yellow gold bands, the square cut diamond, the symbol of Caitlin's love for her, wondering if Caitlin was wearing the matching white gold bands and diamond.
Rose finally got up and walked out of the building, blinking at the sudden brilliant sunlight. She pulled her sunglasses out of her purse, sliding them on as she tried to decide on her next destination. She wandered up Old Santa Fe Trail, intending to go to the Loretto Chapel next to see the miracle staircase. She smiled sadly, thinking of how she and Caitlin had watched the TV movie called "The Staircase" in preparation for their trip. How they both called out, "Look, it's Grissom from CSI!"
Her phone rang, and she reluctantly pulled it out of her purse to answer it. "Rose Grant," she said.
"Rev. Grant? This is Roy Baum, my wife Gail and I used to attend Victory Church in Brook Center."
"Good morning, Roy, I remember you both well," Rose said. "I am-" she paused a moment, then finished, "on a short vacation. I lost track of you two after you won that huge settlement."
"Oh, I should have told you, Gail and I decided to up and leave. We prayed about it, and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and I've joined a much smaller law firm."
Rose had to smile. "I'm in Santa Fe on vacation right now. I just left the San Miguel Mission Church."
She heard Roy chuckle. "In that case, you're not very far from one of my favorite coffee shops, and it's only a few blocks from you. Would you like to meet? I can give you directions."
"I'd love to have a cup of coffee with you," Rose said, making up her mind. He gave her directions, then hung up. Rose walked quickly to the shop, where she saw Roy waiting. He waved at her, then enveloped her in a big hug before opening the door for her. Minutes later, they were comfortably ensconced with their drinks, catching up. Roy talked happily about the move to a smaller firm and Gail's delight in her very own weaving room in the basement of their home. "Adobe, double wall construction, stays comfortable year round. We have fireplaces, but no air conditioning, the windows provide great ventilation, and the walls are fantastic insulation. But enough about us, what have you been doing?"
Rose set her cup down, thinking how to answer, finally deciding to just go ahead and explain. "Well, I've had a rough year, Roy. You know I've worked with the college kids at Victory Church for quite a while?"
"Yes, I remember, Gail and I hosted a quite a few dinners over the years."
"Well, there was this one student, Laura Wilson, who just stole my heart. Intelligent, warm, but insecure and troubled. She had some issues with depression, eating, adjusting to a large campus after growing up in a small town." Rose sighed. "To top it off, I fell in love with a woman who was passing through town. Caitlin Grant was in town with a tour, and wound up in the hospital. I met her while I was visiting some of our folks, and one thing after another, and we fell in love." Rose stared at her rings, her voice dropping. "We married, but Laura, who we both became close to, died after being beaten and raped by her boyfriend. Caitlin and I had come here for our delayed honeymoon, and we started having fights."
"Oh, no, that's terrible," Roy said, leaning forward to touch her hand. "I'm so sorry, Rose."
"And she left me. I haven't heard from her in nearly two days, and I'm supposed to return to Brook Center tomorrow." Rose wiped a tear from her cheek, willing herself to stay strong. "How do I go back to that empty house?"
Roy sat back, drumming elegant fingers on the arm of his chair, then suddenly said, "Don't go back. Stay here, Rose. The church we go to, Church of the Good Shepard, is looking for a pastor, and you'd fit right in. At least come talk to us, see if you can extend your vacation for a few days longer. Gail and I would love to have you stay with us in our guest room."
Rose was stunned by his offer, not even having considered moving. Was God opening a door, or at least, a window?
"Victory Church, Brother Carter Pierce speaking," the pastor answered in his deep voice, "how may I help you today?"
"Brother Carter, it's Sister Rose," the associate minister said tiredly, "I need to talk to you for a few minutes. Is this a good time?"
"Yes, it is," he answered, puzzled. Why did Rose sound so tired, and why was she calling on her honeymoon? "What do you need, sister?"
"I really hate to admit this, but Caitlin appears to have left me. We had a fight, she left, and I haven't been able to get in touch with her since then. I've called Beverly, and she has no idea where Caitlin went either." Rose took a shaky breath, then plunged back in. "I need some extra time off, Brother Carter, a little longer to regroup and decide what to do."
"Sure, you still have vacation time coming, Sister Rose. I'm sorry to hear that Sister Caitlin left you, I never expected that," he confessed.
"I've been asked to preach at a small church Sunday morning. If they like me, they may offer me the position as pastor. I want you to pray for me, pray that I do the right thing, and not just preach for them as a way of escaping Brook Center."
Carter felt like he'd been sucker punched. Their marriage breaking up so soon he could almost accept, but for Rose to even consider leaving Victory Church? It was on the tip of his tongue to refuse, to tell her to come home instead, but suppose this was God's will? Suppose the Holy Spirit was leading her to New Mexico, and away from Minnesota? "Are you sure about this?" he blurted out, immediately wishing he could recall the words.
"I'm not sure about anything at this point."
"How did this opportunity come about?" he asked, wondering if she sought a change so soon.
"Remember Roy and Gail Baum? He called me to talk to me about the position while I was walking today, not knowing at the time that I was literally a few blocks from his office. Once he found out I was there, he invited me to coffee. Short version, his church is looking for a new pastor, and he is the one arranging for me to give a guest sermon on Sunday. Roy and Gail are good friends of mine, and I wouldn't mind working with them again."
Carter took off his reading glasses and rubbed his eyes. He was confused, bewildered, and a little angry at this sudden turn of events. He thought he had accepted Caitlin as Rose's wife, but those nagging doubts crept back with the news that the musician had left the minister so abruptly. How dare she break her vows made in his church so easily! But, he owned Rose an answer. "Go ahead, Sister, see if God has truly called you to Santa Fe," he said reluctantly.
"I'll let you know how it goes," she promised. "God bless you, Brother Carter."
"And may He bless you too. I'll talk to you in a few days," he said. He hung up the phone and stared off into space. How would he explain this to his congregation? Or should he hedge his bets and just say that she was taking an extra week? And where was Caitlin?â€¨
Caitlin stared at the bottle of Jack Daniels for a long time before covering it up with a towel. She had to think clearly, and having that beautiful liquor staring her in the face was not conducive to clear thinking. How could she stay hidden without tipping Beverly off? She needed money, a car, a place to live, and something to do. She had just finished laundry at a run down laundromat, so she had a week's worth of clothes again. But she would need shorts soon, not just jeans, and would need cooler shirts. Should she look for a job?
She fired up her laptop, waiting impatiently waiting for her Mac to come to life. As soon as it connected to the hotel wifi, she started searching for places to life, a vehicle, everything she would need. She started searching, then suddenly remembered the bank account that had her inheritance from her parents. Was it still active?
Several hours later, Caitlin had visited a branch of the bank, obtained a credit and debit card, rented a car, and had appointments to visit several apartment complexes. She felt a little better about herself, now that she had some direction.
As she headed back to the hotel, she glimpsed a woman on the sidewalk who looked a lot like Rose. Caitlin's heart nearly stopped as she drew even with the woman, but it wasn't her wife. She managed to get back to the hotel before her fury got out of control. She grabbed the bottle of Jack and tore into it, sloshing a healthy slug into a coffee mug, slamming the bottle on the cabinet of the kitchenette. She lifted the mug to her lips, the scent tickling her nose, ready for that first hit. Should she?
She slurped down the whiskey, relishing the burn as it slithered down her gullet. God, it was so good! She eyed the bottle, contemplating another slug. A vision of Rose flittered through her mind's eye, Rose of her heart, her beloved. "No!" she screamed, "I don't deserve her!" Angry at losing control, she grabbed the bottle and hurled it against the wall, watching it as it hit the floor and shattered.
"I can't do ANYTHING right!" she bellowed. Fury swelled within her, demanding release. She had wasted the liquor, and now had a sodden, glistening mess to clean up. She didn't deserve the minister, couldn't keep Laura safe, couldn't keep Beverly from having headaches, couldn't even find God. "I tried, I really tried to believe," she whimpered, sliding down against the wall.
The broken glass beckoned. Just a little slice on the arm, refocus the internal pain to external pain. Caitlin looked longingly at the jagged glass, reaching over, delicately picking up a piece. She slowly pressed the tip to her skin, seeing how much she could push before it penetrated the skin.
Unbidden images Laura invaded her memory, pictures of the college girl showing her fresh cuts, begging for help. "I can't, I can't, I can't," Caitlin whispered to the ghost. She put the glass shard down, then bowed her head and cried against her knees.
"How appropriate," Rose murmured as she read the email from Roy and the pastoral search committee. The text they requested that she preach on was Matthew 7:7-11, the verses on asking, seeking, knocking, finding. Since she didn't have access to her work computer, she did not have a ready made sermon to bring up, so this time, she would have to write it from scratch. And she only had a day, really, to write it. At least she still had the rent car, so she could get to the library without walking or figuring out the bus lines. She glanced at her watch, deciding that she could get some study time in before it closed today at 6:00 pm.
Rose didn't even have a Bible with her, not expecting to work while she was on her honeymoon. She sighed as she tucked the pen and blank journal she'd bought at the Georgia O'Keeffe museum into her purse. At least she had something to write with and on that wasn't hotel pen and stationary.
A while later, she was deep into study, looking at various books and translations. Her favorite was the New International Version, and she read the verses over and over:
7 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.Â Â
Â 9 "Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
"Seek and you will find," she whispered to herself, vaguely remembering a hymn about seeking. What was it? She hummed quietly under her breath, resisting the temptation to sing out loud. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God," she hummed quietly. She started writing, "Ask, seek, find." Rose ran a hand over dark hair, thinking, then suddenly writing, "Seek, knock, find. Seeking and asking, that is what we do when we try to find God. If we seek, if we knock on enough doors, we will find, we will have the door opened for us." Yes, she thought, it's my beginning.
Madelyn and MacKenzie watched their stepmother uneasily. They glanced at each other, almost reading each other's thoughts, worried about Beverly's increasing number of headaches. Their father, Ted, had tried to get Beverly to go to the doctor about them, but she just said it was stress, and nothing could be done. "Can we trick her into going to the doctor?" Maddy asked her brother.
Mac shrugged, whispering back, "Mama Bev is too sharp for that. I wish Caitlin were here, she's sometimes the only one who can talk Mama into something."
Maddy gestured for her brother to follow her out of the living room and into her bedroom. Once the door was closed, she said, "I think that's part of the problem. I overhead Mama talking to Dad last night, saying Rose was frantic because Caitlin had disappeared without a trace. Mama said that Caitlin's accounts aren't touched, she hasn't gone back to Minnesota, and she can't find any records of her being picked up by the police or taken to a hospital. This isn't like her, Caitlin is always so responsible."
Mac flopped back on his sister's bed, lacing his large fingers behind his head. "Do you think we can do anything? This isn't a movie where the teenagers are always able to hack into any data network and find the answers immediately."
"No, I don't think we'd be able to hack into anything, if anyone could it would be Mama. Maybe we can figure out a clue as to where Caitlin went. Can you remember any place she liked to visit, or where she grew up, somewhere she'd feel safe?"
Mac furrowed his brow, thinking hard, abruptly sitting upright. "Texas! Remember a few years ago, when her parents died? She talked about going to Texas to wind up the estate. Where was it in Texas?"
"Some little town, I think, somewhere in the middle part of the state," Maddy said, swinging around to her laptop. "Let's check maps and see different parts of the state." She typed rapidly, trying to narrow down where she thought the town might be. "Something to do with music, I think." Maddy frowned, clicking around the middle part of the state, then suddenly pointing. "Kerrville, that's where they were from. I'm thinking of the Kerrville Music Festival. But Caitlin once said that as soon as she was old enough, her parents let her drive to visit her grandparents, and that it was about an hour south."
The siblings stared at the map, then both shouted, "San Antonio!" "God, we're good," Mac said excitedly, "but how does this help?"
"I don't know, but it's a start," Maddy said. "She loved visiting her grandparents, and said she loved exploring the city. It's a place to start looking."
Caitlin invested in an old-fashioned map and atlas to get around the city. Even though she remembered most of the major streets, the highways had changed and the city had grown since she had visited her grandparents frequently before she took off for college. That was nearly thirty years ago, she realized.
She drove around the city, trying to get her bearings again. She stopped at the River Walk, parking in a nearby garage so that she could wander up and down. It had changed and been extended since she last visited, and looked much bettered. It still had the same charm, however, and some of the same shops a restaurants.
Her tour finished, she went up to street level to make her pilgrimage to the Alamo, that shrine of Texas liberty. It was much like she had remembered from her youth, and still had lovely gardens in back. She wandered around, wishing she had brought her camera. She did have her iPhone, but she really wanted to use her new digital SLR. Maybe she would come back.
Noon came and left, and Caitlin realized that she was hungry. She retrieved her car and went in search of food. She went to a fast food place and ordered a burger and fries to go, then went in search of a place for a picnic.
Caitlin found herself at the San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo mission, and spied at bench under an old shade tree. She parked herself there, slowly eating her meal while enjoying the breeze and the calm. It was quiet, peaceful, soothing to her jangled nerves. A place to finally rest and relax, to let her mind grow quiet. Caitlin was content to listen to the breeze, to the birds calling, to the sound of the voices of visitors walking along the far pathway. She felt her shoulders start to unclench, her tension recede.
It would be perfect if only Rose were here.
Beverly listened to the teenagers' reasoning and admitted that maybe they were right. "But I don't see how she is living without me seeing any money moving around," she commented as she rubbed her head. The pain was bad today, feeling like a spike going through her right eye out the back of her head, and arcing along her scalp. "Unless she has money I don't know about..."
Her voice trailed off as she thought about it further. Of course! "Caitlin never touched her inheritance from her parents, I'll bet she's using that account. She converted it into a savings account, and I never had the login information, just the amounts to give to the CPA at tax time," the manager concluded.
"So can we find her?" Mac asked, anxiously.
"No, I don't think so, not unless she wants to be found, or..." Beverly tried to chase the elusive thought. "Her phone bill. She's tied to that phone of hers, and even if she changes which account the payment is coming out of, I can still log in and see that it is being paid," Beverly concluded. She wished her head would stop hurting so bad.
"Mama," Maddy said slowly, "I have something else to ask you."
"What?" she asked the teenager.
"Are you going to do something about your headaches? They're getting worse, aren't they?"
Beverly ran pale fingers through auburn hair, wishing the girl wasn't so observant. "They are bad," she confessed, "but I'll just have to go on. I don't have time to stop, we have more bands coming to the studios, and I need to-"
Mac blurted out, "So hire an assistant, Mama! Or hire us to do the grunt work, filing, whatever, but we're worried about you! We've lost our mom, we don't need to lose you too!"
Beverly stopped, looking at the brother and sister. They looked so much like Ted, with dark blonde hair, brown eyes, golden tans, lanky builds. She never thought that her headaches might make them anxious about her health. "Okay, I'll go to the doctor, satisfied?"
"After you go and come back," Mac said defiantly. "Then we'll see if we're satisfied."
"You've been taking lessons from Ted," she grumbled. "All right, I'll make an appointment first thing in the morning." Changing the subject she asked, "Isn't it time to help your father with dinner?"
Rose stood up at the pulpit, wishing for a wireless mike like she had at Victory Church. She was used to walking all over the front while preaching, having to stand and speak into a fixed microphone would cramp her usual style. She smiled at the assembly and said, "Let us pray. Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing to you. May you speak truly through me. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen."
She felt odd without her robe and stole, but decided that if the Lord called her here, He wouldn't care if she was just dressed in slacks and a nice sweater instead of her usual formal outfit. "The scripture reading from Matthew 7:7-11, where Jesus is telling his followers to seek, to knock on doors, to ask for what we need. He promises that doors will be opened and our needs will be filled. If our children ask for bread, do we give them a stone? Or if they ask for fish, do we give them a snake? If humans know how to give the right gifts, the right food, how much better will God treat us?"
She surveyed the people, noting that the congregation was as Roy promised, very diverse. It appeared that the assembled people were from different races, socioeconomic groups, backgrounds, yet all mingled in harmony. Rose pulled her wandering thoughts together as she continued to preach on the scripture, concluding with, "What is it that you are seeking? Are you brave enough to knock on the door, to ask for what you need? Not what you want, but what you truly need? If so, God will grant it to you. Amen."
The dark minister walked back to the imposing chair and sat, stifling the urge to swing her legs like a child. The pastor's chair was huge! Roy walked to the pulpit as the choir sang an anthem, then turned to wink at Rose. He turned back to face the congregation as the music ended, saying, "Thank you for the beautiful music, choir. And let's thank our guest minister, Reverend Rose Grant, for that stirring message."He smiled, waiting for the applause to die down before saying, "Speaking of seeking and
knocking, we have been looking for a new pastor for several months. I don't know about you, but I think we've found her. I could be biased, Gail and I were members of the church in Minnesota where Rose is an associate minister, and we appreciated her contributions. I happen to know that Rose may be looking for doors to knock on, so do we want to answer? Let's take a vote after our potluck lunch in the fellowship hall. Rose, would you give the benediction?"
Rose stood back up, lifting her arms, closing her eyes. "May the Lord bless you and keep you, may He make his face to shine upon you, and give you peace. Go now with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And the people said Amen!"
The congregation echoed "Amen!" and the organ started playing another anthem. Roy turned to Rose and said under the tumult, "I'll take you to the fellowship hall in a few minutes, let you mix and mingle with the crowd before we start the meal. But let me take you to the pastor's office for a few minutes so you can catch your breath."
"Sounds good to me," she said, following him through the throng. A few minutes later, they were in a plain, but well furnished office, with comfortable seating and lots of empty bookcases. "Looks like a good place," she commented as she sank into the desk chair.
"It is a good place. Listen, I may be jumping ahead here, but I really think you've been called to this place. If we offer it, will you take it?"
She thought for a long moment, then asked, "If Caitlin comes back, will she be accepted as my wife?" "Heck yeah! We have several families that have gay or lesbian parents. In fact, part of the reason our old pastor left was that he was uncomfortable with the idea of accepting LGBT people. He did, reluctantly, and the congregation asked him to leave. So I think that the idea of a lesbian pastor would be perfectly acceptable."
Rose stretched out her legs, contemplating. It would be a huge change, from being the associate at a church of over 5,000 members to the sole pastor of about 300. She had no idea what the salary would be, but at least she still had access to money, if she wanted to touch what Caitlin left her. But going from the land of 10,000 lakes to a desert? That in itself would be a huge change. "If the Lord wants me here, I will come," she found herself promising.
"Great! Let's go meet the crowds, then. I'll make sure you don't get any overly spicy food today, you may want to ease into that." Roy bounded up, holding out his hand to help her rise.
Caitlin slowly made a life for herself in San Antonio. She found a basic apartment, an older Jeep, and a part-time job in a used book store. She knew she was running a risk by working, that Beverly might find her, but she had to have some sort of structure. Besides, it was fun to greet customers, help them find elusive books, find new authors, find books from their childhood. She'd forgotten how much she enjoyed reading for pleasure or even to learn, having mostly read business reports over the past few years. Caitlin used to read novels on tour as Harriet with Harriet and the Heartwreckers, but at some point, the music really became a business, and not a joy.
The musician found herself gravitating toward books on the history of Christianity. Maybe if she understood how the church came to be, she might have an easier time believing, and feel worthy of going back to Rose. She had learned the basics during her classes at Victory Church during the process of becoming a member, but she always had reservations, sometimes voiced, sometimes not.
As the days went by, she started going to Mission San Jose on her days off, just to soak up the quiet, the calm. There was something about sitting on a bench under the shade trees, listening to the birds, watching the tourists, eating her breakfast or lunch in solitude. Caitlin had been surrounded by so many people for so long that she had forgotten how to be alone. Even when she took her unexpected time off when she wound up in the hospital and met Rose, she never spent much time alone. She had spent time with Rose, with learning a new city, with starting to build a recording studio in Brook Center. But now she could spend a few days each week just enjoying the calm of the mission. Caitlin started taking her books or her journal, sometimes reading, sometimes writing.
Beverly sat in the uncomfortable chair, listening to the doctor's report. "All reports indicate that you are suffering from migraines and mild hypertension. We can treat both fairly easily, the hypertension with lifestyle and diet changes, the migraines with medication and trying lifestyle changes. There are several medications we can use, but the cheapest route to try is sumatriptan, a generic drug. The side effects can be tightness of chest, general discomfort, stomach discomfort, weakness, metallic taste. Just don't take it with any other selective serotonin inhibitors or monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Are you taking any other medications or supplements?"
"Just aspirin and coffee," Beverly said, shading her eyes.
"I'll give you a few samples and let you try them before you fill the prescription. Just be aware that some insurance plans have this and similar drugs on a restricted schedule, so you may only be able to get four doses a month. I'd even recommend buying a pill splitter and cutting them in half."
"Thank you, Dr. Laughlin," Beverly said, "do I need to schedule a follow up exam?"
"Yes," she said, "and I want you to track your migraines and your blood pressure. The drug store type blood pressure units should be fine for giving you a general idea." The short brunette reached into her drawer, flipped through folders, then extracted several patient information sheets. "Here's some general information about migraines and about hypertension. Read these, and schedule a follow up in a month, and we'll evaluate from there. I'll have my nurse bring the samples." She reached for the phone to call her nurse.
As soon as Beverly walked out to her car a little while later, she tried to decide what to do right now. Technically, she had taken the day off, and could simply go home and try her new medicine. Or she could go back to work, where more than enough was waiting for her attention. The recording studios were booming, and the former Heartwreckers band members busy with side projects and as session musicians. She unlocked the car, slid into the driver's seat, then simply sat for a moment.
She missed Caitlin.
Beverly had no idea that she would miss her friend so much. She and Caitlin had met in college in a marketing class, and had instantly bonded, despite some big differences. Beverly was interested in both marketing and logistics, whereas Caitlin was much more interested in marketing. Caitlin also stepped in as lead singer for a classmate's band, which led to the fateful contest that netted Harriet and the Heartwreckers their first recording contract. Caitlin had managed to still graduate on time, and tapped Beverly to be her tour manager. Over the years, the band had incorporated, built a recording studio, released twenty albums, taken multiple tours, and finally won several awards.
The early years had been difficult, before the band had really become a cohesive unit, before Caitlin and Beverly had discovered that they could do market research to determine what musical and fashion styles were on the horizon, and to cater to those styles. The dreaded sophomore album, which barely sold more than the first album. The night that Caitlin called, scared to death, asking Beverly to meet her in the emergency room because she was hemorrhaging blood. Beverly still remembered the horror of seeing Caitlin on the hospital bed, pale as the sheets, tears running down her face, confessing that she'd had a miscarriage.
For the most part, thought, it had been a good ride, or so Beverly thought. She was the one who agreed to keep Caitlin's alter ego a secret, and to keep planting stories about Harriet's wild nights, string of boyfriends, and wrecked hotel rooms. The band usually took off a few months a year, but Caitlin rarely took much time, spending down time writing, researching, working out, and seeing new bands. Beverly didn't realize just how little time Caitlin had taken for herself until the singer had abruptly withdrawn following an allergic reaction to rum, which landed her in the hospital where Rose was visiting church members.
Beverly started the car, but still sat for a moment, trying to decide what to do. She missed Caitlin terribly, even when Caitlin had first fallen in love with Rose, she still called every few weeks. It was now June, and she had not heard from Caitlin since March, when she left Rose in the middle of a delayed honeymoon. She had never been away from her friend this long, and it hurt like hell.
Rose Grant hit a few bumps along the way, but three months later, she was starting to feel like she belonged in New Mexico. Brother Carter had been upset when she flew back to turn in her resignation from Victory Church, and begged her to reconsider. Rose had been adamant, though, stating, "The Holy Spirit is calling me to Good Shepard, and I must obey her call."
It was tougher to decide what to do about the house and the furniture. She talked to Beverly several times, and they finally decided to move the furniture and the Jeep to the parsonage in Santa Fe and lease out the house in Minnesota. If Caitlin returned, well, they'd deal with the consequences then. So the movers had come, packed up everything, shipped it down, and her new congregation helped her unpack and set the new place to rights.
The parsonage was nice and quiet, an older true double-wall adobe house, built in the early 1920's, recently renovated with new electric and plumbing systems. It had a basement with a full bath, three bedrooms and a full bath on the main floor, a nice living area, and a wonderful attic with great windows. The back yard was small, but well appointed, with a flagstone patio and a fireplace, just perfect for sitting out at night. But her favorite place was the attic, where she set up her office. She could see the sunrise and the sunset from her windows, and catch a cool breeze at night. It had modern track lighting that was perfect for studying, and she added a good lamp, her desk, and her books in the built in bookcases. If Caitlin ever returned, she could have an office in one of the spare bedrooms, Rose decided.
Rose was busy putting the final touches on her sermon one Friday afternoon when her phone rang. She glanced at the display and saw that it was her friend Gail Baum. "Gail, what a pleasant surprise," she said, "what may I do for you?"
"Come over to our house for dinner, that's what you may do for me, Rose," Gail's laughing voice replied. "Roy and I have a guest we'd like for you to meet, Vivian Colter, a friend of mine from way back. That is, if you don't have plans already."
"No, I don't," Rose confirmed, "and I confess that I'd love some of your spoiling. May I bring anything? When do you want me over?"
"Oh, some coffee to go with dessert. I'm serving cheese and fruit appetizers, caesar salad, tilapia and couscous for the main meal, and cheesecake for dessert. One plain cheesecake, one dark chocolate cheesecake."
"Girlfriend, I'm gonna have to hit the gym double time after all of that," Rose teased, "but I won't turn it down. What time?"
"Come on about 6:30 or so, Roy should be home from work then or shortly thereafter. Peace, my friend."
"Grace and peace," Rose replied, "I'd better get a move on if I'm going shopping and getting there on time. See you soon." She closed her phone and slipped it into her pocket, then saved her file and shut down her laptop. She just had enough time to shower, dress, and go shopping before she had to get to the Baum's house.
Rose arrived at the Baum's house exactly at 6:30, carrying a selection of coffees from a local coffee roaster. She smiled to herself, remembering how Gail always had the best coffee, hoping she remembered her friend's tastes."
Sister Rose, please come in!" Gail said as she opened the door. Rose came in, hugging her friend briefly. "Oh, you didn't!" Gail exclaimed as the minister handed her the box of coffees. She sniffed deeply, smiling, then hugging the box in her arms as she led the way to the kitchen. "But you did, and you remembered I love Tanzania Peaberry!" Gail leaned over, kissing Rose on the cheek.
"Of course I remembered, that's what you always served back in Brook Center," Rose affirmed, smiling deeply. "And it is certified organic, just as you taught me to look for."
"Splendid! Just have a seat, let me take a few things out of the oven. Roy called a moment ago and said he was running a little late, trying to wrap up a filing for court in the morning." Gail laid the box on the counter, then turned to start taking dishes out of the oven as Rose found a seat at the kitchen island.
Rose looked around, studying the cheery decor as Gail finished pulling out the dishes. She knew from past experience that her friend would not accept help before dinner, but would grudgingly allow her to help with the cleanup afterwards. She liked the combined influences of the northern woods and the southwestern desert in the kitchen. "So," Rose asked, "how are you liking Santa Fe?"
"I love it, Rose," Gail said, bringing over a platter of sliced fruits, cheeses, and vegetables. "Here, help yourself to appetizers." As Rose reached for a selection, Gail expanded on her answer. "Roy is much happier in a small law firm than he was in that large one back in Brook Center, and I'm happier that he usually makes it home before 7:00. It helps our marriage as well; I'm not left wondering when or if he will get home. I'm loving what I'm doing, I just finished the training as a docent at the Museum of International Folk Art at the Museum Hill complex. They're hosting a textiles exhibit soon, which you know is right up my alley."
"I remember you coming to teach my university students about weaving, that was terrific. So have you found a place for your loom?"
Gail beamed, standing up, holding out her hand. "Come with me, Rose, and I'll show you my secret lair." Rose took her hand, allowing herself to be guided to the basement of the adobe house.
"Wow," was all the minister could say as she looked at the large underground room. The loom was set up in the middle of room, a comfortable bench before it, and the start of a colorful rug on the loom itself. The room had beautiful sand colored tiles, grouted with dark reddish brown. The pale yellow walls were decorated with weavings Gail had finished in the past, scenes of trees and lakes residing happily by scenes of sun and desert landscapes. A large piece near the loom held many spools of different colors of threads, waiting to be used. Large rectangular windows at the tops of the walls let in natural light, and a series of light fixtures allowed focused task lighting on the loom, as well as on the tables lining one wall. "This is terrific, Gail."
"Thank you. When Roy's old firm won that last huge verdict, we decided to follow our hearts and move to Santa Fe, and he let me spend a good chunk of change for a proper studio. There's still some things I want to do, but I've already had one exhibit this year, and hope to have another soon. Between the couple of days at the museum and the weaving, I don't miss working for the temp agency at all. It was starting to get discouraging not to be able to place people in jobs."
"I'm sure," Rose said, following the tall, graceful brunette back up the stairs.
"So, do you want some of this coffee? I see you did include some of your favorite Sumatra."
Rose smiled. "Try the half and half blend, it's Sumatra and Columbia. Nice balance."
"Okay, we'll do so. I assume you still like cinnamon sticks in the grounds for brewing?"
"You know me so well, Sister Gail."
The weaver smiled, dimples showing in her tanned skin. "I try to remember what my friends like." She bustled around, gathering fixings for the coffee, casually asking, "So tell me, what happened with Caitlin? Or is that prying too much? You've been here over a month, and I've not seen her."
Rose sighed deeply, smile sliding from her expressive dark face. She reached for a couple of crackers and cheese slices, precisely stacking them together while struggling to corral her jumbled thoughts. Gail waited patiently, watching her friend take a bite of cracker and cheese before laying it back on the small plate. "She left me," Rose finally said softly, "we were on our honeymoon, and she left me. I pushed too hard to get her to make a bigger commitment to our faith, not understanding that she was not ready for it, even though she had been through the classes at church, and had joined the church. I feel so bad for misjudging her."
"Have you heard from her at all?"
"No." Rose finished the cracker and cheese, lowering her eyes, unable to look at Gail's wise hazel ones. "I'm not sure if Beverly, her business manager, has heard from her either. I arranged with Beverly to put Caitlin's belongings in storage so she could get them. The house is leased, so at least there's not any money going out on it right now." Rose leaned her head on one hand, thinking. "Maybe I was wrong to insist, but at the time, I thought it was important for us to share a stronger connection through faith in our Lord."
Gail sat down on a stool across from Rose, reaching for a slice of yellow pepper. "Maybe," she offered thoughtfully, "you both needed time to examine what you truly believe. I know you were both so close to Laura, and that her death rippled through so many lives at the church, but you also need to remember you are not responsible for her death. Mike was responsible for her death, then he cheated any sense of justice by shooting himself. Maybe you have not come to terms with your own crisis of faith."
Rose started to protest, but closed her mouth. Maybe she had experienced her own crisis of faith, but jumped at the offer to move as a way to avoid dealing with the nagging questions. "Gail, I hate to admit it, but maybe you are right."
Before either woman could explore the issue further, they heard the garage door rising and Roy's car pull into the garage. Gail looked at Rose, asking, "Do you want to talk further one night? I'm no counselor or theologian, but I can listen."
"That would be appreciated," Rose said, "very much appreciated, my friend."
Caitlin had the day off, so she took her breakfast with her to the Mission San Jose. It was a beautiful early July day, almost cool for Texas. It was still in the mid-seventies, with light winds and a few fluffy clouds. She hummed a few tunes as she drove to the mission, parking in her favorite spot and taking her paper bag and coffee cup with her. She found her bench, sitting and quietly eating and drinking while watching the birds soaring along the thermals. It was so peaceful here, something about this place put her soul at rest. She could almost sense the people who had lived and worked here in the preceding centuries, almost seeing the people working the fields, grinding the grain, going to mass. She smiled, then balled up her empty bag and cup, tossing them into the nearby trash can.
She sat quietly, pondering the nature of religion and spirituality, wondering why she could not feel God in her life. It had been so easy for Rose, her heart cried, why could she not feel any divine presence? As she finished her breakfast, she idly watched a small group of tourists wandering the grounds of the Mission San Jose, barely curious as to their origin. She was sure they would listen to the tour guide, take the requisite pictures, then leave for their next destination.
One woman trailed the group, avidly looking around the grounds. Something pinged in Caitlin's memory, as if she knew this woman. The figure looked familiar, but she couldn't see the woman's face yet. Gray hair tousled by the light wind, wearing jeans and a purple polo, nothing remarkable, except for the insistent pinging in her head.
Finally, the woman turned, and Caitlin felt the shock of recognition race through her body.
It was Gina.
Caitlin gasped out loud, calling "Gina?" before she could stop herself. The woman paused, turning to find the source of her name, spotted Caitlin, broke into a broad grin and walked rapidly over to the bench. Caitlin involuntarily stood up, jaw dropping in shock.
"Caitlin Grant? Is that you?" Gina asked, delight dancing across her features.
"Yes." Caitlin swallowed, unable to say more.
Gina laughed, her face lighting up with happiness. "My goodness, Caitlin, I'd never expect to find you here! I thought you'd be a rock and roll star, touring the world by now." Gina reached out, folding Caitlin into her arms for a long hug, then finally pulled back, the grin still splitting her face.
"Are you still married to John Coleman?" Caitlin blurted out, backing up a step and falling into sitting abruptly on the bench.
Gina sat down gracefully, tilting her head in that delicious way of hers. "Yes, my dear, I am. We have two children, and both are thankfully in college on full scholarships. How about you?"
Much to her horror, Caitlin found tears rolling down her cheeks, unable to formulate an answer. Gina reached over, tenderly wiping her tears, which caused the floodgates to open wider. "My dear, whatever it is, let me help," Gina said, wrapping Caitlin into her arms, lightly kissing her head. "Is it that bad?" she asked tenderly.
Caitlin sat, sobbing, unable to bring herself back under control for several minutes. When the tears slowed, she was aware that she was clinging hard to Gina's shoulders, hanging on as if for her very sanity. She could feel Gina methodically rubbing her back with one hand, just hanging on with the other. She could smell the familiar intoxicating scent of sandalwood soap on Gina's skin, paradoxically calming her even as it invoked forgotten memories of desire.
Finally, the tears subsided completely, and Caitlin sat up, with Gina still keeping a hand on her shoulder. "What is it, Caitlin? What has you so rattled?" Gina asked quietly.
Caitlin swallowed hard, mustering as much control as she could, aware that she needed to tell someone the truth. "Well, a couple of things, Gina, and I'm not sure even where to start."
"How about the beginning?" Gina suggested sensibly.
Caitlin smiled a little, remembering their shared joke of singing "Do Re Me" from The Sound of Music. "A very good place to start? Yes." She fell silent a moment, closing her eyes, concentrating on the breeze and the warmth of Gina's hand. Opening her eyes, she said, "Well, for one thing, I seem to have several identities. I am still Caitlin Grant, but for years, my alter ego was Harriet Benson of Harriet and the Heartwreckers."
"The band you did the talent competition with?" Gina asked.
"One and the same." Caitlin confirmed.
Gina smiled. "Never followed them, but my oldest daughter is a huge fan. Go on, dear."
"This one is more difficult." Caitlin looked into Gina's beautiful green eyes, afraid to speak, but compelled to give the truth. "I fell in love, Gina. Her name is Rose Grant, a minister. I had fallen away from the church, not for any particular reason, just out of laziness, I suppose. Anyway, we were married in December, but events conspired to drive us apart, so here I sit, trying to figure out how to get my life back together."
Gina listened intently as Caitlin spoke, turning it over in her mind before responding. "I always thought you liked women. I supposed I must apologize now for the times I flirted with you, but you were so cute!"
Caitlin looked startled. "What?"
"But it seems that you have a deeper issue. What are you going to do about your relationship with Rose? I can't see throwing away happiness so quickly. What came between you two?" Gina asked quietly. The musician pondered the questions, as Gina tilted her head slightly, listening intently.
After a few minutes of silence, Caitlin finally offered, "Rose and I were very close to one of the students in the fellowship she sponsored at the university. Laura was very intelligent, driven, but had self-esteem issues, eating disorders and cut herself, like I did. Laura's ex-boyfriend brutally raped her and beat her, which lead to her death a few weeks later."
Caitlin clenched her hands, willing the tears to stay at bay, breathing slowly until she could continue. "I was a member of Rose's church, but still had not come to real terms with any personal faith. I guess I'm still seeking answers, but maybe I don't know how to frame the questions."
Gina nodded. "It makes sense that you would be so horrified, Caitlin. I remember trying to get you to eat more, and catching you with those razor blades." Gina shuddered at the memory of standing in her bathroom with Caitlin, concentrating on stemming the flow of blood from her arms. "Please tell me you are not doing that again."
"No," Caitlin responded, holding up her arms for inspection, "no cutting lately. I'm forcing myself to eat enough to keep my weight stable."
The women fell silent, relaxing in each other's company. Finally, Gina stood up, held out her hand, silently inviting Caitlin to walk with her. Caitlin took Gina's hand, following her down the path to the main building.
They entered the chapel, hand in hand, taking in the hush and peace within the holy space as they walked to the front. They stood there for a moment, then Gina asked softly, "Can you feel the holiness of this place?" Caitlin nodded slowly, and Gina suggested, "Let me wait here for you."
Caitlin found herself walking toward the altar and slowly knelt at the rail, pondering the images on the altar screen in front of her. She knew she was very much a Protestant, but there was something sacred that touched her soul in this space. Something worth grasping, something worth yearning for.
She lost all sense of time, pondering lessons she'd listened to at Victory Church, lessons she admittedly listened to just to be able to discuss work with Rose. Caitlin had gone to church out of habit, out of social expectation, but never out of real faith. Suppose there really was something to all these stories?
Finally, sore knees forced her to stand up and look around. Gina was still waiting patiently on the front pew, watching her with eyes of a dear friend. Caitlin made her way over, sitting next to her friend, unable to talk. Gina took her hand again, just holding it loosely in her lap until Caitlin could finally speak. "Thank you," Caitlin said, staring shyly as their joined hands, "I needed this."
Gina smiled, green eyes dancing under gray bangs, waiting for her friend to look up. When she did, Gina asked, "Has it always been this hard for you? Has faith always been such a struggle?"
Caitlin fell into deep thought before answering, "I had not given religion or faith much thought until I met Rose, and even then, it was more to please her, to be part of her life. But I've always had a yearning for something that I could not define, something I tried to reach through alcohol and sex until I had a pretty bad scare. Then I tried sneaking in some depth into my music, while still following trends to assure financial success."
The musician heaved a great sigh, then asked abruptly, "What brings you here today?"
Gina said, "My friends and I decided to see the renovations, then go eat brunch. We all live somewhere between here and Austin, so we get together every few months."
"Am I keeping you from your friends?" Caitlin interrupted, anxiety and panic rising.
"No, dear, I texted them while you were meditating. I had not thought of you in years, but when I heard your voice, I knew I was meant to be here today. I'd almost bowed out of the trip because so much needed attention at the house." Gina slowly ran her fingers over their joined hands, remembering the texture of Caitlin's skin, the thick guitar calluses.
"My friend, I had a very strong sense that I needed to come today, so here I am." Gina reached into her fanny pack as she spoke, pulling out a card and pen. "Here, let me give you my contact information, I'm right here in the city." She handed the card over.
Caitlin took the card with trembling fingers, transferring it to her wallet. "Thank you, Gina," she said simply. "I will take you up on your offer."
A gentle chime sounded, and Gina pulled out her phone, glancing at it. "That's my friends, they are wondering if I'm ready to move on."
Caitlin scrambled to her feet. "I shouldn't keep you any longer, then. Go with your friends, I'll text or call you in a few days."
Gina stood as well, looking deeply into the dark chocolate eyes she'd missed for so many years. "I'll be waiting, my friend." She pulled Caitlin into a long hug, then brushed a kiss against her cheek. "May you find the peace of God within you, beloved Caitlin."
"And may the peace of God stay with you, Gina," Caitlin echoed shyly, daring to return the brief kiss. Gina smiled, hugged her one more time, then walked away. Caitlin watched as Gina left the building, sad to see her go, but with a curious sense of contentment settling in her heart.
Beverly idly searched for Caitlin again, wondering where her friend was. Maddy and Mac had suggested San Antonio, which was actually a pretty good guess, so Beverly concentrated her search there. No white pages listings, no real estate listings, but she did find a picture of her in a local used bookstore. Oh, the wonders of the internet, she thought as she clicked through to the referring page, seeing Caitlin in a group shot. It appeared to be the employees of the store at some sort of pot luck or something, but she would know that thin frame anywhere. Beverly looked at the text, trying to determine when the shot was taken. Based on the red, white, and blue decorations, she decided it must be around the 4th of July.
As she clicked through other images, she grew aware of the visual aura stealing into her visual field. They always started small, almost too small to see, but then grew until they blocked out big swaths of her vision. It was always an open circle of a herringbone pattern, dancing and shimmering, almost pretty. The aura would take half an hour to bloom and fade, then the pain would start anywhere from a few minutes to an hour later. Time to try the medication.
She found her pill bottle and her ever present bottle of water. She shook out a pill, washing it down with a long drink of water, tossed the pill bottle back in her purse. She went back to her search, feeling like she was dodging the visual disturbance while trying to read. Finally, she gave up for a few minutes, knowing that it would go away soon.
Beverly started working again, making notes of the contact information of the bookstore, and bookmarking the URL for future reference. She started feeling a little strange, somewhat like her thoughts were floating and time was stretched just a bit. There was a pronounced metallic taste in her mouth, and her stomach was slightly upset. She stopped what she was doing and hunted through her desk, knowing she should have some saltines tucked away somewhere.
The crackers helped the stomach, but then she felt even stranger. Her neck and chest felt tight and uncomfortable, as if she had the x-ray apron on, like at the dentist's office. She had trouble concentrating, and finally gave up all pretense of work and hit the speed dial for Ted's phone. When he answered, she asked, "Do you remember what the side effects of the migraine medicine were?"
"Why, are you feeling sick?" his worried voice came across the line.
"Yes, somewhat, and my chest is tight."
"Are you at the studio? I'm taking you to the ER. You could be having a heart attack," he said. "Stay put." Before she could argue, he disconnected.
Beverly sighed, and slipped her laptop and power cord in her briefcase, followed by a folder of contracts. Maybe she would feel like working from home for a few hours. She called her assistant, Glenda, and told her that Ted would be picking her up shortly, and to clear her calendar for the day. "Just reschedule what you can, or take care of the routine things yourself," she said tiredly.
"Not a problem," Glenda promised, "I hope you feel better soon."
Beverly disconnected, then slipped her cell phone in her purse. Certainly this was just side effects of the medication! She stood up, then sat back down abruptly as a small wave of light-headedness washed over her.
The next few hours went by in a surreal blur, as if she were moving a half step behind the rest of the world. Ted took her to the hospital, people moved her from one room to another, she was hooked up to some sort of cardiac monitoring unit, the kids arrived, and she finally fell asleep.
At least the migraine was gone.
She woke up slowly, aware that she was still in her clothes, and that she could hear deep breathing all around. Ted, Madelyn, and MacKenzie were crowded in the room with her, all sleeping at strange angles in chairs. She glanced up at the monitor, but didn't know how to read the squiggly lines. Just as she contemplated ringing for the nurse, Dr. Laughlin came in. "Good morning, Beverly," she said crisply, "so maybe the medication was a bit strong for you."
"It seems so," Beverly answered, trying not to squirm. "Um, can I be unhooked so I can use the restroom?" Ted and the teens took the hint, saying they would go find some breakfast.
"Sure." The doctor unhooked the wires, allowing Beverly to escape for a few minutes. When the patient was back in bed and reattached, Dr. Laughlin continued. "No heart attack, no irregular heartbeat, just reactions to the medication. Try cutting the pills in half, we'll see if you can get by with a lower dosage and keep the side effects to a minimum." She picked the chart up, glancing through the test results, then said, "So nothing serious, but as a precaution, I do want you to visit a cardiologist and have an echocardiogram and a stress test to rule out any hidden issues. I can give you several names, but it can wait until you come in to see me. I'll have Ted call my office to set you an appointment."
"Why Ted?" Beverly asked as she leaned back.
Dr. Laughlin smiled. "I know you, Beverly, and know that you will duck me until the cows come home. So Ted will make the appointment and will bring you so you won't escape my clutches." She let out a dramatic cackle. Beverly rolled her eyes. "Seriously, I want to make sure that the medication won't trigger a heart attack. Incidents are rare, but we have to take this seriously."
"Okay, Ted can help out," Beverly grumbled. "So when do I get out of here?"
"Soon. A staff cardiologist reviewed your initial tests and said you seemed fine for the moment. I'll turn in my final report and you should be on the way in an hour or so. Take the rest of the day off and I'll see you soon." She replaced the chart, waved, and let herself out.
A few minutes after the doctor left, Ted and the kids came back into the room. "So, I need to make you an appointment," he said, leaning over to brush a kiss on her cheek.
"It seems so. So what did you get for breakfast?"
Madelyn piped up, "Coffee and muffins, although they were cranberry, so I guess they were healthy."
"Did you save me any?" Beverly asked. Her question was answered as a nurse walked in with a tray of hospital food. "Joy," Beverly grumbled.
Rose Grant looked over her congregation as they lined up for communion. She was growing to love this new flock, with their diverse mix of ages, races, backgrounds, and economic standings. The makeup of the congregation was similar to the people of Victory Church, only in a dryer, warmer climate. She wafted a silent prayer for her absent partner, then proceeded to oversee the distribution of the elements.
Following the postlude, she took her place at the outer door, exchanging greetings and seeking a few words with the dark, slender minister. Finally, the last member came through, an older woman who had come a few times recently, but who managed to disappear before Rose could greet her.
"Blessings and peace, my sister," Rose said quickly, reaching out to touch the woman's sleeve. "And welcome back to Church of the Good Shepard."
"Thank you, my dear," the woman said, her voice light and cultured. "I've been searching for a good church home for a while, and think I have possibly found it here."
"I certainly hope so," Rose said, noting the woman's inquisitive blue eyes, set in a light nest of smile lines. "How may we help make it your church home? And let me introduce myself, I'm Rose Grant, the pastor of Church of the Good Shepard."
"Gracious, my manners have deserted me." The taller woman smiled, face transformed from pretty to beautiful. "I am Vivian Colter, recently retired from teaching high school world history." She paused, looking into the minister's dark eyes. "If it is not too forward, may I invite you to lunch? I'm sure ministers have to eat, and I know of a delightful cafe that is just up the road."
"I'd be honored, Sister Vivian," Rose said, smiling. "Let me go get my purse and I'll meet you here in a few minutes."
"I'll be here," said the graying blonde.
Rose came back out to the foyer with her purse and keys. "I'm ready when you are," she announced.
"Do you mind walking? It's only half a mile," Vivian asked.
"Not at all," Rose answered, tucking her keys in her purse. "Lead on."
A short time later, Rose and Vivian were seated at a table in the cafe, which Vivian admitted she was very partial to. "My brother and his wife own and operate this cafe," she explained, "and I've helped out some during the weekends since my retirement from teaching."
"Vivian, good to see you. Am I interrupting?" A petite woman came up to their table, laying a hand on Vivian's shoulder, smiling broadly.
"Not at all, Adele. Adele Colter, this is the Reverend Rose Grant, from the Church of the Good Shepard. Rev. Rose, this is my sister-in-law, Adele. What's good on the menu today?"
As Adele recited the daily specials, Rose watched the easy camaraderie between the women. Adele was a petite redhead with sparkling green eyes, fair skin, and easy smile. Vivian was more elegant, but lit up in the presence of her sister-in-law. Adele used her hands to speak, whereas Vivian was more restrained in her use of gestures. Rose almost missed the question about her order, managing to choose one of the specials without asking Adele to repeat herself.
The plates and generous glasses of iced tea arrived quickly, and Rose reached across the table for Vivian's hands. "Shall we give thanks?" she asked. Vivian nodded, and Rose offered up, "Lord, bless this meal and the hands that prepared it. Use it to nourish our bodies so we may do your works. In the name of Christ, amen."
"Amen," Vivian echoed. Both women dug into their food, eating silently for several minutes before speaking again. "My brother and sister-in-law are wonderful cooks," Vivian said after several minutes, "and opening a small cafe was always their dream. Thank you for coming to share this meal with me, Rev. Grant."
Rose swallowed her bite, smiling at Vivian. "You may call me Rose, or Sister Rose if you prefer," she commented.
Vivian tilted her head, pondering the choice of address before deciding, "I'll simply call you Rose. Sister Rose would sound too much like the nuns I grew up with, and you don't act like them or look like them at all. Most of them seemed to be a thousand years old, dour, and no sense of humor at all. But I will say this for them, most I encountered in school were excellent teachers. Sister Mary Michael, my high school history teacher, lit a passion in me for digging deeper to find out why certain events happened, not just asking me to repeat dates and names."
"So did she encourage you to go to college for your education degree?" Rose asked, intrigued.
"Yes, she did. I'm just old enough that it was still a given that a woman went to college to get an education as a backup to getting a husband. Intelligent women still tended to go into education. If you don't mind me asking, Rose, how did you wind up as a minister? Did you always have this calling, or did you fall into it?"
Rose reached for another excellent tortilla, thoughtfully adding fajita meat and fixings as she framed her answer. "I guess the calling was always there, Vivian," she answered after a bite. "I grew up in a small Baptist church and was always in the choir, first in line for plays, first in line for vacation bible school, and so on. By the time I was in high school, I knew I wanted to be a minister. It was a very strong calling, to share the good news of Jesus Christ. I'd grown up with the idea that I could do anything, but I ran smack dab into the â€˜women can't be ministers' stance of the church."
Vivian asked, "So what did you do?"
Rose took another bite, finishing it before answering, "I majored in speech and drama instead, and went to work for a community theatre for a few years. The call was still strong, so I started exploring my options and discovered that not all denominations prohibited women from preaching. One of the directors I worked with helped me find scholarship and grant money to go to seminary, and everything fell into place after that. While I was in seminary, I was asked to help with the university ministry center services, and upon graduation, one of my fellow students pointed me to my first church, a small non-denominational church. After a few appointments as either a youth minister or a university minister, I wound up in Brook Center, Minnesota, as associate pastor for congregational care and university ministry at Victory Church."
Vivian eyed the rapidly diminishing fajita ingredients, deciding whether or not to roll another. "Did you want any more?"
"No, I think I'll save room for dessert."
Vivian rolled up the last of the fixings while asking, "How did you wind up in Santa Fe?"
Rose smiled sadly, touching her wedding rings with her thumb. "It was time to move on, Vivian, and frankly, I was escaping a broken relationship."
Vivian reached over, patting Rose's arm lightly. "I'm sorry, my dear. What happened?"
Rose picked up her iced tea glass, taking a long drink before answering, "I'm really not sure, Vivian. We had a rough start to our marriage, but I thought we were doing better when we finally came here to Santa Fe for our delayed honeymoon. She just suddenly blew up and took off, leaving me to pick up the pieces." Rose toyed with her fork, then recapped the events leading up to the awful day, concluding with "I guess sometimes grief comes out in different ways, and Caitlin's way of dealing with the grief over Laura's death was to leave anything or anyone who reminded her of Laura."
"I'm so sorry, Rose," Vivian said quietly. "This is none of my business, but if she came back, would you forgive her?"
"In a heartbeat," Rose declared.
"I see," Vivian responded. "I wish I had that chance. My husband had a midlife crisis and left me to find himself or whatever, then expressed a wish to reconcile. Before I could decide whether or not to take him back, he was killed in a motorcycle accident. He was riding in a rainstorm on the highway, not paying attention, and just smashed into the back of an eighteen wheeler. Since we hadn't started divorce proceedings, I received the call from the highway patrol."
"My dear, I'm so sorry for your loss." Rose touched Vivian's arm lightly. "How long has it been?"
Vivian smiled sadly. "Not long. It was spring break when he died, and I retired at the end of the school year. My brother and sister-in-law insisted that I put my house on the market and come out to Santa Fe while my Realtor shows the house. I'm renting an apartment until I figure out what to do."
The former teacher reached for her tea glass, taking a long drink while framing her thoughts. "You know, I think I was going through my own midlife crisis. I had been a faithful church goer for years, but when Kent left me, I stopped going. It was too hard, going back to a place where we had been a couple."
"Didn't anyone offer support?" Rose asked.
"You mean, at our church? Heavens, no, Rose. Even though it was Kent who left me, I was viewed with suspicion. I was whispered about, and treated as if it were my fault he left, not his fault. So I stopped going."
Rose considered this as the waitress arrived with the bill. After a brief argument about splitting it versus Vivian paying the whole bill, they compromised at Vivian covering the check and Rose leaving the tip. As they started walking back to the church, Rose asked, "What prompted you to come to my church?"
Vivian smiled. "One of my sister-in-law's friends has been coming to Good Shepard for several years, and insisted that I try it. She said that you were a breath of fresh air, and struck that fine balance between emotion and sound theology in your sermons, and that the congregation was becoming more active in the immediate community under your leadership. I've always felt we should take care of the immediate needs of the community, not spend our time and money on foreign missions."
"I see." Rose was surprised by Vivian's frankness, but enjoyed it as well. "Not many would agree with you, but I've always thought that Christ calls us to take care of our neighbors. It is harder, though, to convince people to take care of those around them who they see and interact with than to send dollars and a few weeks of help to those you'll never see again." Rose led the way up the stairs to the church. "Would you like to come in for a few minutes? I'm enjoying our chat; we could talk in my office, or maybe we could meet back here in a bit and do something else."
Vivian tapped one finger on her lips, mentally reviewing her calendar. "Could I take a raincheck? I promised to visit an old student who's settled in Albuquerque, and really need to get on the road in the next thirty minutes."
"Sure, that would be fine," Rose said, leading the way to her office. She unlocked the door, going to her desk for a business card. "Here, I have the church number on it and my cell number. Feel free to call any time."
"I shall," Vivian said, green eyes twinkling. "Rose, I have enjoyed our lunch very much. If I didn't have this prior engagement, I'd love to spend more time with you today. I'll call you tonight or tomorrow morning, see when you have some free time."
"It would be my pleasure," Rose replied warmly, reaching for Vivian's hands. "May the peace and blessings of God go with you, Vivian."
Vivian squeezed Rose's hands. "And with you, Rose."
Caitlin nervously rang the doorbell, hoping that Gina didn't mind her just appearing without calling first. The two old friends had met several times over the summer, getting reacquainted, talking about Gina's high school biology classes she taught and Caitlin's world of music and deception.
Gina answered the door, opening it wide to admit her friend. "Good morning, what brings you to my neighborhood?" she asked, hugging Caitlin after shutting the door. Caitlin stood, trembling, then slowly unbuttoned and rolled up her sleeves, revealing angry, red, barely healed cuts on the undersides of her arms. "Oh, dear God," Gina said softly, holding Caitlin's arms lightly as she looked at the damage. "Come in, let's sit in the den."
Caitlin followed Gina into the comfortable den, sinking on the sofa next to her friend. "I lost it last night," she confessed, "I had a bad day at work, customers were rude, one of the clerks was out sick, and I just lost it. I went to a bar after work, drank more than I should have, but managed to get home without getting caught. Then I found the box cutter and put in a new blade and started cutting myself, trying to sober up and cut the pain. I can't do this any more, Gina, I think I need help."
"My dear, I know you need help," Gina affirmed, staring at the shaking woman. In the two weeks since she had seen Caitlin, the woman had lost weight, picked up circles under her eyes, and sported an unhealthy pallor. "You can't go on like this, not if you're drinking and cutting again. What else are you doing to yourself?"
Caitlin buried her face in her hands, unwilling to face Gina, unwilling to let her see her eyes. "Just drinking, and last night was the first time in nearly twenty years that I cut myself. It's like a losing batter, Gina, and I don't have anything to believe in, to anchor to."
Gina took the gaunt woman into her arms, rocking her gently. They sat like that for several minutes until she felt the musician relax a bit. "You could try AA," she suggested.
Caitlin sat up, shaking her head. "No. No groups. But I need to get well. I need to find Rose, but I have to be well before I can approach her."
"Do you have any idea where she is?"
Caitlin nodded. "I tried to find her on the Victory Church web site, but she'd moved. I finally tracked her down to a small church in New Mexico. I want to establish contact again, but how?"
Gina took Caitlin back in her arms, rocking her as she suggested, "Get yourself well, then think about it. I have a few names of counselors who might help you. Let me ask you this, have you talked to your manager, Beverly?"
Caitlin sighed deeply. "No, and I need to talk to her too, before I talk to Rose. I've really screwed up this time, Gina, and my biggest fear is that neither of them will talk to me again."
"That is true, you did pull a very selfish stunt by running away."
Caitlin sat up abruptly. "Hey, that's not nice."
"Neither were you, my dear. You need to be an adult, however, and decide how you will apologize, and what you will do if they kick you out of their lives. Are you willing to learn how to do that, no matter how hard the road is?"
Caitlin sank back against the sofa. "Yeah, I think so. I'm tired of running." She looked up at her friend. "And I'm ready to really explore what it means to believe or not to believe in God."
Gina blinked in surprise. "I'm no minister, but I've taught plenty of Sunday School classes. What do you want to learn?"
Ted drove Beverly home from her appointment. It had taken an ungodly time to get in to see a cardiologist, but they had finally been. The kids would be pleased to know that their mama was healthy, just stressed and needed a break. He glanced over at his wife, wondering what was going through her mind.
Suddenly she asked, "Can you pull over somewhere? I'm in the mood for something sweet."
"Sure, love," he said, scanning the street for some place. He suddenly spotted an old-fashioned coffee shop, the kind that served coffee in thick white mugs and slices of pie with two inch meringue. He pulled the car in, and followed Beverly as she hopped out quickly, slamming the car door shut and entering the restaurant before he could even get out. "Oh, boy," he muttered to himself, "trouble is brewing."
Beverly was quiet until they had received their coffee and slices of pie. She sipped, then took a bite, swallowing the pie with great pleasure. She set her fork down, then said, "Caitlin is in San Antonio, just like Maddy and Mac deduced." She pulled out her phone, opened her email, and handed it to him. "I got an email from Caitlin while I was at the doctor's office."
He took the phone cautiously, looking at the email, which read,
I apologize, first off, for running away. I guess you could say I had a breakdown, and the Harriet side of me appeared. Ironically, I've been responsible, taken a part-time job, but have been drinking off and on and had one cutting episode. I ran into Gina, remember? My friend Gina from college? She hooked me up with a counselor and I've been plowing through issues.
I am in San Antonio, wishing I could see you, but I need to get through issues before I see you, and before I try to see Rose. I'm sure you're pissed at me, and I don't blame you, but would you please reply and let me know what is going on?
I love you and I miss you.
Ted handed the phone back, and they ate in silence for several minutes before Beverly asked, "Should I reply?"
He concentrated on the last crumbs of his pie before answering, "That's up to you, dear."
"On the one hand, I could cheerfully strangle her for running out on everyone," Beverly said as she toyed with her fork, "but on the other hand, she's probably needed the time to get away and actually deal with her issues. I just wish I knew more about her situation."
"So call her," Ted suggested.
Beverly tapped her fork against her plate. "I want to, but then again, I'm still pretty angry with her. Heck, I should just let her stew for a while. Here it is, nearly October, and she's just now talking to me?"
"You really should call her, though," Ted pointed out, "you know that she's not good about picking up the phone."
"So why do I always pick up the pieces? Can't someone pick up my pieces for once?" Beverly grumbled.
Vivian waited patiently for the minister. It was Rose's day off, but she had come to find that sometimes a day off evaporated in the twinkling of an eye. A member had a crisis, a funeral had to be planned, a decision had to be made, babies were born. She tried to keep from pacing the sidewalk, but it was starting to be a losing battle. She checked her watch; it was 10:20, and they had agreed to meet in front of the Palace of the Governors at 10:00.
Finally, Rose swooped into sight, looking somewhat embarrassed. "Vivian, I am so sorry, but I overslept," she said when she drew even with the retired teacher.
Vivian felt her shoulders relax as she hugged the dark haired pastor. "Not to worry, my dear, you are here now. I've already bought our tickets, so we can right in out of this wind."
"It is a little cool," Rose admitted, "but about the same as Minnesota in the fall."
"Do you miss Minnesota?" Vivian asked as she handed over the minister's ticket.
Rose looked thoughtful as she formulated her answer. "Yes and no. I miss the lakes everywhere, I miss the multitude of wooded parks, I miss my friends, but I like it here, and I'm getting used to the drier climate. Both places have a lot of cultural events, which I appreciate, so it's fairly even." They wandered in through the door into the exhibit area. "How about you? Do you miss your home? Do you miss teaching?"
"I don't miss teaching, it had become an administrative burden rather than a joy. I don't miss our house, too many memories of Kent, especially before his wanderings, when we still were happy. I do regret that Kent and I could never have children."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"It doesn't matter now. Let's not dwell on the past, but instead, enjoy the moment," Vivian suggested.
Several hours later, they stopped for lunch. Vivian was pleasantly surprised by Rose's knowledge of history and art of New Mexico, which Rose explained softly, "I have a lot of free time these days, so I might as well learn. Besides, Gail and Roy have been here for a few years, and they are teaching me the lay of the land. I've been to some of the galleries, but I could never afford any of the art I enjoy on a minister's salary."
"As bad as a teacher's salary, I suppose," Vivian replied. "What about Gail's weavings?"
"Oh, Vivian, those are still way more than what I could afford, and I don't want to ask for favors like discounts. Maybe I could commission a very small piece, something in my price range, but still." Rose sighed. "I also keep unconsciously waiting for Caitlin to come back."
Vivian's heart constricted with an unexpected jealous squeeze. Why did this other woman still have such a hold on the minister? Here it was October, and Caitlin had left Rose in March! Grounds for desertion, she'd say. At the same time, Vivian was shocked by the strength of her reaction to Caitlin's name. She was becoming very attached to the minister, looked forward to their outings, and enjoyed their hugs hello and goodbye. Vivian was usually reserved to the point of standoffish, her sister-in-law teased her, but she enjoyed the closeness with the dark woman.
"Are you ready to go to the next museum?"
The retired school teacher blinked, pulling her scattered thoughts together. "Yes I am," she affirmed as she handed money to the waitress. "Keep the change." As they stood to leave, Vivian wondered, Am I getting too close to Rose?
It was a beautiful fall Saturday, and Gina agreed to meet Caitlin at the mission for a picnic breakfast. The temperature started in the mid-60's, but was already warming up at nine o'clock in the morning. Caitlin settled on her bench, basket by her side, waiting for Gina. She smiled when she saw her friend coming toward her with her own breakfast basket, and stood to receive a warm hug.
"How are you doing, girlfriend?" Gina asked as she gave Caitlin one last squeeze before sitting down.
"As well as can be expected. I do have to go to work this afternoon, but I have all morning if you do," Caitlin said as she started unpacking her bagel and coffee thermos.
"Still not eating enough?" Gina asked as she unpacked containers of scrambled eggs, bacon, fruit, biscuits, and honey.
"I'd have to go to the gym again if I ate that much," Caitlin said as she pulled out two mugs and started pouring coffee.
Gina shook her head, frustrated at her friend's artificial thinness. Although Caitlin had managed to stop cutting again, she still was about 10-15 pounds underweight, and that bothered her. She could see hollows under Caitlin's eyes, and saw how her clothes were too loose. "How is the counseling going?"
"Okay, I guess. We've been talking about my self-destructive behaviors, but I think I'm making progress. It's ironic that as Harriet, acting undisciplined and wild only increased album and ticket sales, but as Caitlin, it hurt other people. We're also exploring the strain of keeping a dual identity for years, and how finely it was balanced until I fell in love with Rose, and that triggered another type of identity crisis. Actually, two types; my sexual identity, and my spiritual identity."
"I see. So the renewed obsession with weight and cutting is a manifestation of this crisis?"
"Seems so." Caitlin bit into her bagel, chewing slowly as she processed her thoughts. "After my miscarriage nearly twenty-one years ago, I managed to stop screwing up through sheer willpower. Well, that's not enough any longer. I have to get my head straightened out before I can try to see Rose again, but I'm also afraid that she'll move on without me."
"Can't you let Beverly know where you are? She could reassure Rose," Gina suggested.
"I did email Beverly recently. She's pretty pissed at me, as she should be. But I did talk to her this week, and found out that she's had some health problems. I knew that her migraines were bad, but they got worse. Gina, should I go back to Los Angeles to help Beverly?"
Gina considered the question as she put together a biscuit, egg, and bacon sandwich, handing it over to Caitlin. Caitlin reluctantly took it and started eating it as Gina finally responded, "Are you ready to go see Beverly?"
"Not really," Caitlin admitted after swallowing a delicious bite. She fought the urge to jump and and run around the grounds, or to find a restroom to get rid of the bite. "I need to finish my therapy, and need to figure out what I do or don't believe."
"I can listen," Gina said patiently, handing over the half-eaten bowl of fruit.
Caitlin took the bowl, but set it aside as she figured out how to ask the questions that had been swirling in her head for so long. She glanced up at the beautiful vivid blue sky that topped the old walls of the mission, then let her gaze go to the church itself. She loved looking at the old light colored stone walls of the church contrasting with the blue Texas sky, the single round bell tower with the thin cross topping it. She loved walking through the ruins of the former converto, watching the sunlight filtering through the round arches. She could sense whispers of former residents, of those who had passed before, could feel peace here.
Gina watched her friend's face as Caitlin finished eating, obviously thinking hard. Gina was glad that she had the chance to become reacquainted with her college friend, and wished she could do more to help her. It was nice to have someone else to talk to, now that her daughter, Diane, was off to college, and her husband, John, had started another overseas tour of duty in the Navy. Someone who was intelligent, questioning, seeking answers, unlike most of her students, who merely wanted to learn enough to pass the state mandated tests.
Caitlin turned slightly so as to see her friend better. "I feel a spiritual presence here, but I have real trouble with believing certain aspects of Christianity."
"You wouldn't be the first," Gina assured her. "What do you have trouble with?"
Caitlin sighed. "You'll laugh."
Caitlin gathered her thoughts, then said, "Okay, I can understand most of what I was taught, but what I don't understand is two things: original sin, and the Bible being the actual word of God. Too many issues with the first, and too many contradictions with the second. Explain these, Gina."
The teacher thought for a moment, then said, "Do you remember your Greek mythology?
"Do you remember about Pandora's box?"
Caitlin furrowed her brow, then suddenly said, "Sure, she was the first woman created by the gods, and they gave her clothes, beauty, speech, and curiosity. Prometheus stole fire from heaven, and Zeus punished him by introducing her to Prometheus' brother, whose name I can't recall, and a beautiful box or jar. This container had all the evil in the world, and curious, Pandora opened it. She was really upset, but closed it soon enough to keep hope it the box."
"And how does that relate to our version of creation?" Gina asked patiently.
Light dawned on Caitlin. "The apple was our version of the box. So God gave us curiosity, then punished us for being curious. That, I don't get."
Gina asked, "So what if I said that many of the early stories of the Bible were our mythology? Myths are not lies, they are our sacred stories to explain the world around us. So think of them as more of a spiritual versus literal truth."
"So a way to explain the world when you don't understand it."
Caitlin finished her coffee, then turned her mug in her hands as she continued to think along those lines. "So if the Bible is our mythology, then it does not have to be the actual words, but rather, the truth in spirit."
"If you ever study the history of the Bible, or of the early church, you will see that many of the narratives were written a few decades to hundreds or thousands of years after the events. And let's be real, human editors decided what was collected and what was rejected. They didn't have computers, or fact checkers, and frankly, sometimes you'll see multiple versions of the same story in a single passage. This was the weaving together of different stories handed down over the generations, of oral tradition. Look beyond the contradictions, and look at the context, and of the culture, and of the history, then you will see the truth of the passages. How do you explain war, famine, vengeance, if we are made in the image of God? Explain that we started out pure, but let evil or the knowledge of evil into the world. But God tries to reach us, to make covenants with us, and we each have to hold up our part."
Caitlin, pondered this, then suddenly remembered something that Rose had said in a sermon once. "God is good and love us unconditionally, so much that he sent his son to minister to us, knowing full well that we react badly to new ideas, to being confronted with our weaknesses. So we reacted to the Good News by trying to get rid of Jesus." She looked into Gina's deep green eyes, seeing love and acceptance there, and felt a mysterious warmth and love creeping into her soul. She reached for her friend's hands, taking them into her own, and saying, "I can boil everything down to it is how I live my life, how I treat others, how I accept God's sacrifice that matters."
Gina squeezed her hands, smiling hugely. "Yes. Love God, love others as yourself."
Ted LeClare took a deep breath to steady himself as he tapped the icon to call Caitlin Grant. He waited anxiously for her to answer, praying that she would answer. "Caitlin, this is Ted," he said as she answered, "Beverly is in the hospital."
"In the hospital. She's been in a bad wreck, really beat up. She doesn't know I'm calling, I just decided you needed to know."
"How long will she be there?"
Ted rubbed his forehead, still anxious, but a little relieved that Caitlin was taking an interest in his wife's health. "At least a week. She had a bad concussion, broken leg, bruised spleen, bruised ribs, and a sprained wrist. She was lucky, the police said if she'd been just a little slower, she would have been killed."
"My God! Ted, which hospital?"
He told her, then asked, "Will you come see her? She doesn't know I'm calling, and she has refused to discus you since she talked to you briefly a few months ago, but she needs you. I just found a job last week with an accounting firm, so I can't take off, not after being without a job for over a year."
"Yes, I'll come. Do you know if she kept up the rent on my apartment?"
Ted thought a moment, then said, "If she hasn't, we do have a spare room and you could stay with us."
He heard her typing furiously for a moment, then said, "I'll come out regardless. Can one of the kids pick me up from the airport? I don't remember if they are driving yet, or if I should get a cab."
"Maddy just turned seventeen, Mac is almost sixteen. If you make it a late afternoon flight, they can both come get you. Maddy's a very good driver, even in this insane traffic."
"Can I text you the flight info at this number?"
"Give me a little time to work out a few details, and I'll let you know. Thank you for telling me, Ted. Grace and peace, my friend."
Surprised, he answered, "God's peace on you, Caitlin."
The next evening, Maddy and Mac waited at the baggage carousel for Caitlin. Mac nervously kept checking the screens to make sure that Caitlin's flight was on time, and that her baggage would come here. Maddy sat in a chair with her iPad, reading her assignment. A surge of passengers appeared, and Mac paced faster, watching for the singer.
"She's here!" he called out, "Maddy, look, she's here!" He trotted over to her, grabbing the woman and hugging her tightly. "Good to see you, Aunt Caitlin," he said, "thanks for coming to see Mama."
"Thank you for picking me up," Caitlin said as she hugged the teen back. She pulled back a little, looking up for the first time. "You've shot up since last year."
"Yeah, six inches." Mac acknowledged, grinning.
Caitlin turned to Maddy as she strolled up. "Hey, girl, doing homework?" she asked as she saw Maddy slide her iPad back in her bag.
"Yup, on route to be valedictorian, unless I blow it," she said, hugging the older woman. "It's good to see you again, Aunt Caitlin." She stood back, looking up and down. "You've lost weight again."
"You should have seen me a month ago. I put back on five pounds. Oh, Mac, my bag is coming up, it's that bright neon green duffle." Caitlin waited until Mac bounded over to rescue her bag before asking, "How is Beverly?"
"So-so. Dad tries to be all positive, but I cornered the doctor the other day. Mama probably has some infection going on, her temperature stays up and her white blood cell count is too high, They don't know what's going on, and they may have to operate and remove her spleen. She's already had one operation to reset her leg, it was pretty bad. And yes, your apartment is ready, we'll take you there to drop off your stuff, then take you to the house. Dad will be home soon, but I think since it's already nearly seven o'clock, we'll have to wait for you to seem Mama tomorrow."
"Thanks for the update, Maddy." Caitlin turned as Mac came charging up with her bag. "Ready if y'all are."
The next morning, Caitlin went to the hospital to see Beverly. She was cautioned to stay only a few minutes, and to not be too surprised if Beverly was either sleeping or grouchy. Forearmed, Caitlin ventured into the semi-dark room.
Beverly looked awful. She had tubes running in and out of her body, bruising all over, and, probably worst of all, bed hair. Caitlin almost giggled at the sight of her friend with her usually perfectly groomed hair sticking up at all angles. She managed to squelch her giggles and sat in the chair next to the bed, reaching for Beverly's hand, holding it gently so as not to disturb the IV. "Hey, honey, it's Caitlin," she said quietly.
Beverly's eyelids fluttered open, blinking hard against the dim light as she turned her head enough to see Caitlin sitting here. "I could kill you or kiss you right now," she mumbled as she drifted back to sleep. She dozed for about thirty seconds, then her eyes flew open as she struggled to sit upright. "Caitlin?"
"Yeah, it's me, Beverly. Ted called me, so I hightailed it out here. How do you feel?"
"How do you think I feel? I was literally hit by a semi truck, then transported here, told I had breaks and sprains and a concussion and oh, by the way, I might lose my spleen. Then you show up."
Caitlin smiled, relaxing under the barrage. "And thus, you will either kill me or kiss me. I'd really hope the latter, as I do value my life."
"You'd better value your life, Caitlin. Are you through running?"
Beverly laid back down. "Are you here to take care of Ted and the kids?"
"No, to take care of you, my dear."
A single tear coursed down Beverly's face. She sniffed hard, then asked, "Really?"
"That's what friends do," Caitlin affirmed, "is take care of each other. Your job right now is to get well."
"I'll try." Beverly immediately started dozing again, then sat back up, staring intently at Caitlin. "Did you ever make your peace with God? Because if you didn't, you'll never get Rose. She misses you. Don't blow it." Beverly sank back down, falling asleep again.
"Time's up," the nurse said quietly. Caitlin nodded and stood, then leaned over to kiss Beverly's forehead before following the nurse out of the room.
Rose felt listless as she helped decorate the church for the harvest festival. She wondered when Halloween became Harvest, or when people were afraid to embrace old traditions and observances. Some changes were good, or she would not be a minister, but others seemed ridiculous to her. Or maybe she was just wanting to share this with someone special.
"A penny for your thoughts," Vivian said, smiling when Rose jumped at the sound of her voice.
"I'm sorry, I was woolgathering," Rose admitted sheepishly. "Good afternoon, Vivian, how are you?"
"Quite well, my friend," the widow said with a smile. She hugged the pastor briefly, asking, "How goes the decoration party?"
"Well as can be expected," Rose answered, pointing to a small group of teenagers. "The youth came in after school to help me decorate, and some are volunteering tonight to help hand out snacks, candy, and goodies at the festival. A couple of teachers are coming later to set up storytelling booths." She paused, then asked, "Are you here for just decorating, or for the evening as well?"
"I'm here as long as you need me, Rose," Vivian responded. "I didn't feel like sitting in my house, handing out candy to kids I don't know." She reached for a bundle of artificial branches and started sorting them out. "When did we become afraid to celebrate Halloween?"
"Just what I was wondering, Vivian," Rose laughed. She relaxed a bit, enjoying the company of her new friend. "And we're so afraid of leaf mold that we use artificial leaves."
"I see that," Vivian said. "That's okay, I can work with this, it just won't have that grand, dusty smell I remember from years past." She started artfully arranging the branches and fake mums on tables, leaving Rose to her own thoughts again.
Rose fell back into her earlier thoughts. Most of the churches in town had their festivals Sunday, but Good Shepard voted to have it on Monday, the actual day of Halloween, even though it would mean that some children would be out past their bedtimes. So many things to consider, so many decisions that a senior pastor had to consider. She briefly wondered what Brother Carter would do. The last year she was at Victory, they had a Halloween party for the congregation and the neighborhood.
She finished her decorations, and talked to some of the volunteers about the distribution of snacks and candy. Rose found herself watching Vivian, thinking of their growing friendship. On her days off, Rose and Vivian would meet for brunch, then go to museums, shopping, or hiking in the surrounding areas. She enjoyed the older woman's dry wit, stories about teaching, and warm personality. She both wished she could find a companion for Vivian, and half hope that Vivian would stay single for a while longer. Oh, no issue with wanting Vivian for a deeper relationship, Vivian was very straight, which ironically made Rose miss Caitlin that much more.
"Sister Rose, we've finished the decorations," Christy, one of the youth, said. Rose blinked, pulling her mind back to the present. "It's about an hour before the kids start arriving. Anything else we need to do?"
"No, Christy, I don't think so." Rose looked up to find all of the volunteers gathered around her. Again, caught out woolgathering! "Thank you all very much for helping with the festival, folks."
The festival was a hit. By the time the last child left, all of the healthy snacks and the candy were gone. The youth pitched in with the cleanup, so Rose was able to leave by 8:30. As she walked to her SUV, Vivian approached her, asking, "Are you completely full, or could you stand a cup of coffee somewhere?"
"I'd be delighted to get a cup of coffee with you," Rose answered warmly, "Would you like for me to drive, or just meet me somewhere?"
"I'll take you up on your offer to drive," Vivian answered gratefully. "I'd suggest my brother's cafe, but they're only open for breakfast and lunch."
"That's fine, Vivian," Rose said, "There's a new cafe that one of our members opened recently, and they're open late evenings. I'll take you there." She unlocked the car, watching the tall, graying blonde gracefully climb into the vehicle. "Ready?"
"Ready as I'll ever be," Vivian replied, making sure her seat belt was buckled securely. She caught herself watching the dark skinned woman deftly slip through the traffic, deftly making her way along the still crowded streets. It was so easy to talk to Rose, she mused, much easier than it had been with Kent. No, if she were honest, she'd have to admit that Kent had been wonderful for the first few years of marriage, but something had changed. Was it because she could not have children and he wanted a boy and a girl? He sure did spoil his niece and nephew.
Vivian knew that the absent Caitlin still had a huge hold on Rose's heart and mind. She was a little envious, wishing she could have such a great love now, even if it brought pain. This Caitlin had to be a blithering idiot to leave such a wonderful, intelligent, caring woman. What had Caitlin been thinking? If she were into women, she'd be half tempted to make a play for the younger woman. Vivian smiled to herself, trying to imagine what it would be like to date a woman. The companionship part would be lovely, the hugs and casual affection welcome, but she couldn't imagine actually kissing a woman. How many would suspect that her ideal man was someone like Matt Damon, intense, well built, and intelligent? She loved him in the Jason Bourne movies.
"What, dear?" Vivian blurted out, blushing to be caught daydreaming.
"We're here, I said. Come on, let's go in and get warmed up," Rose replied. She waited for her friend to close her door before hitting the lock button on her key fob, then tucked a hand loosely in the crook of Vivian's arm. "Shall we?"
"We shall," Vivian agreed, following the minister into the warm coffee house. "Oh, this smells heavenly," she said as they entered, warm scents of roasting coffee and goodies wafting to greet them.
After placing their orders, the two women sat down, chatting about the harvest festival as they waited for their drinks. "I was a little leery of something called a Harvest festival, but it seemed to work out just fine," Rose said.
"Yes, it is a bit odd, but at the same time, somewhat historically accurate. People did celebrate the harvest, and a chance to eat well before the cold of winter," Vivian agreed. Before she could pursue that thought, a young man came over with their drinks. "Cheers," Vivian offered.
"Cheers," Rose agreed, lightly clinking her mug against Vivian's. She sipped the pumpkin spice confection, enjoying the steam tickling her nose, the sensations of fall spices on her tongue. "That hits the spot," she signed contentedly. "So, what did you want to talk about, Vivian?"
"Nothing in particular," Vivian answered quickly. She sipped her drink, watching the minister over the rim of her mug. "I just enjoy your company."
"As I do yours, my friend," Rose responded warmly. "It is nice sometimes to talk to someone who is not on this or that committee, or needs something from me." She frowned. "That didn't come out just right, and I apologize."
Vivian's gray eyes twinkled. "My dear friend, I do understand what you mean. I had a friend who was not connected with education or children, and it was a blessing to get to talk with her. Sometimes talking to someone outside of our professional realm is enlightening, reminds us that other worlds exist."
"So they do," Rose murmured, smiling at the older woman. "But I'm sure there are similarities between being a teacher and a preacher."
"Yes, like we're expected to be perfect, and always gracious, on our best behavior, and always having the right answer," Vivian said drolly. "Right?"
"Yes, ma'am," Rose agreed, laughing. "You understand perfectly." Her smile faded somewhat as she thought of her absent partner. "Vivian, may I tell you something?"
"You may, dear."
Rose fiddled with her napkin, folding it into precise squares as she gathered her thoughts. "I'm supposed to have all of the answers, yet I can't answer one very important question. Was it wrong of me to expect Caitlin to completely share my faith? I miss her so intently, but wonder if I should just let go and find someone else."
Vivian felt an unexpected feeling of loss welling up, suddenly knowing that half-formed ideas of a deeper relationship had just been dashed. "Do you still love her?"
"Yes, I do."
The former teacher patted her arm. "Then can you accept that her faith may never be as deep as yours, just as you may not be able to share some of her life?"
Rose sipped her latte, musing over the answer. "I guess I'd take any attention from her."
Vivian withdrew her hand, "But don't settle, my dear, if you two cannot share more than just desire, the relationship will not last. What else do you like to do together?"
The minister thought for a moment, answering, "We like to go hiking. We like to explore new places, museums, art galleries. We like to read out loud to each other, to discuss books and movies. That's just a few things we like to do."
"Then build on that, Rose, and find her. Or be ready when she finds you. But whatever you do, follow your heart. I followed my head and married Kent because he was handsome and made a good living. If I'd followed my heart..." Her voice trailed off, then she resumed. "Let's just say it would have been someone else."
"Follow my heart, eh?" Rose drained her mug, setting it down with a clink. "I followed my heart, and wound up being deserted."
"It sounds like you two barely had a chance to get started. Why don't you start a journal, go back and decide why you fell in love with her?" Vivian suggested.
"I guess I could do that," Rose agreed slowly. "Well, I have early meetings tomorrow. Thank you for inviting me to coffee, Vivian."
"The pleasure was all mine," Vivian replied as they rose from their table, gathering wraps. She followed the minister back out to her vehicle, watching the dark woman unlock the doors. She slid in, still watching as Rose buckled up, turned the key, and checked her mirrors carefully before backing out of the parking spot. She allowed her gaze to settle on the woman during the short drive back to the church, all too soon having to gather her purse and pull out her keys. "Good night, Rose," she said as she opened her door.
"Good night, my friend," Rose said, watching the older woman as she carefully shut the door. She waited until Vivian had started her car and pulled out before putting her SUV back into gear for the short trek back to the house.
Rose entered her house, dropping her keys in the bowl on the hallway table, hanging up her coat on a hook. She dropped her briefcase next to the table, then slowly made her way to her empty bedroom. As she prepared for bed, she thought about Caitlin, and all the good things she had shared. The warmth of the other woman, the intellect, the knack for unobtrusively helping as Rose answered cries of pain from her flock. Caitlin's good heart, her delight in sharing long walks, her keen questions. "I miss you sweetheart," Rose breathed, "so much that my heart aches for you."
But she had to be honest, she felt a mild attraction for the widowed teacher. Another intelligent woman who enjoyed sharing time, sharing meals, sharing coffee. Rose pondered what to do. Give up on Caitlin coming back? Settle for another relationship? Or stay in limbo forever?
A few days threatened to turn into weeks, so Caitlin called work. She waited for the manager to come on the line, rehearsing her speech in her head so intently that she nearly dropped the phone when he did. "Oh, hey, Dave, I'm afraid I have bad news. My friend is really bad off, and is scheduled to have her spleen removed this morning, so I won't be coming back to San Antonio for a long while. I know it's hard on the shop, but I guess I'd better go ahead and give you my resignation."
She listened as he protested, offering to work with her. "It would not be fair to you, Bob, as I'm really not sure how long I'll be here, but I know it will be quite a while. You'd better start looking for another clerk. No, I'll be fine, I have quite a bit in savings." She smiled as he offered to give her a good recommendation when she started looking for another job. "I'll remember that, Bob. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."
Next, she called Gina. "Gina, I don't know if I'm coming back or not. Beverly is sicker, and will go into surgery in another half hour. If I fax the proper authorizations, will you shut down my apartment and send me my stuff? You can have someone pack it up, and I'll pay you for all expenses that you incur. My Jeep is at the airport, what should I do with it?" She listened a minute, then said, "I'll tell you what, you have a key to my apartment. The Jeep is in pretty good condition, so if you'll pay for the title transfer, I'll give it to Diane. I'm sure she needs something fun to run around in at college. Thanks, I owe you, Gina. Love you. Yes, I'll call after I know the outcome of Beverly's surgery."
Caitlin disconnected and slid her phone into her pocket. The urge to find Rose was suddenly very strong, but she wasn't sure she should call Rose out of the blue. The surgery had already started, so it would be hours before she knew anything. She sighed. The kids were in school, and Ted went to work, not wanting to rock the boat at his new job, so Caitlin was alone.
She wandered down to the coffee shop, ordering a cup of coffee, and after some internal debate, a pastry. She sat down and pulled her laptop out of her backpack, and was soon working steadily. She had finally reconnected with the studios, checking to see what Beverly's workload was like, doing what she could to help out. She spent with headphones, reviewing audition videos, making notes on possible performers to bring in for further auditions.
Business taken care of, Caitlin finally gave in to her intense curiosity and started searching for Rose. She had avoided this temptation for a long time, but felt it was finally time to start looking for her wife. She started by checking the web site for Victory Church, but instead of Rose's bio on the staff page, she saw another minister's face. Surprised, Caitlin started scrolling through the senior pastor's blog, looking for clues about what happened. She finally got back to March, at the time when she turned stupid and left Rose.
Our beloved Sister Rose Grant has asked to be released from Victory Church, as the Lord has led her to a new church in New Mexico. She will be back in a week for her last Sunday here, and we will have a farewell luncheon for her on the Church grounds. Please come with your love gifts to send her on her way.
No mention of which church where in New Mexico - as if they were trying to keep a lid on the exact location. But thanks to the power of the internet, she found several pictures of Rose in a church in Santa Fe. Caitlin then found the web site of the church, and spent some time browsing, enjoying reading Rose's blog, looking at pictures, allowing herself to think about visiting. She was wistful as she bookmarked the site, resisting further temptation to make note of Rose's contact information. God would tell her when it was time to make contact.
Vivian watched Rose preaching on this dark November morning. It was almost painful at times now to watch Rose, for the retired teacher found herself in the unexpected position of falling in love. With the pastor. A woman at that. Was it just that she was doing so much with Rose now, or was it really love? For that matter, had she ever felt this for a woman before?
Vivian lost track of the sermon as her thoughts wandered. She could tell that the long separation was starting to take its toll on the minister, a few strands of silver were creeping into her black hair, and a few lines were starting to bracket her expressive mouth. Could she imagine kissing those lips?
Life with Kent had been okay, expected, until he had his little (big) midlife crisis, and they wound up talking divorce, but Kent had died before they could file. Women of her generation were still expected to be virgins when they married, so she never had any experience when she married Kent. Still, she didn't think she had been unnaturally attached to any of her girlfriends in high school or college.
Maybe it was just the intelligence of the younger woman, or the way she smiled, or the fact they both loved going to museums, galleries, and parks. And right now, Rose seemed to need all of the support she could get, both emotionally and spiritually. Vivian blinked and quickly gathered her purse and coat as she heard the piano start up with the postlude. She went to the long line of people waiting to greet the pastor.
"Good morning, Sister Rose," Vivian said as she hugged the pastor briefly. "That was a fine sermon."
Rose quirked an eyebrow and replied, "Thank you, Sister Vivian. Would you like to meet for coffee some time this week? I'm afraid I'll have to cancel our supper tomorrow, administrative board meeting."
"Sure, coffee is fine, just let me know."
"Good, we'll see you then. Good morning, Sister Beatrice," Rose said to the next woman in line. Vivian took it as her gentle dismissal, and walked out of the sanctuary. She was still deep in thought as she stood in line for coffee and donuts in the fellowship hall, calculating that she still had a few minutes before the Sunday School hour started, and she needed to be in class.
Finding the right class had been harder than she anticipated. Many of the adult classes were geared toward couples, and she felt surprisingly uneasy as a widow, single, should have been divorced. She finally found a small group discussion class that focused on how theology was expressed through the arts. The group ranged in age from early 20's to late 70's, with most members connected to the arts in some form or fashion. There were professional and amateur musicians and artists, and a few like her, just interested in the arts. She felt at home here, and it didn't matter that she was widowed and questioning, just that she brought her intellect and curiosity. There were married couples, several singles, a gay couple, a lesbian couple, and one possible transgender person.
"Good morning, class," said their leader, Bobbi Newman. "Let's open with joys and concerns."
Vivian let her mind wander again during the joys, concerns, and opening prayer. She had never had any issues with LGBT folks, and had informally counseled a number of students over the years. Had the students sought her out because they thought she was one of them? It was a sobering thought.
The former teacher jerked out of her thoughts, a little embarrassed at not paying attention. "I'm sorry, my mind was wandering," she confessed. "What was the question?"
Bobbi smiled, repeating, "What is your all time favorite hymn and why?"
The older woman thought for a moment, then said, "I'm not sure. When I was younger, I might have said â€˜This is My Father's World', because I liked the tune, but now, it seems a little sexist. My other favorite has been â€˜Blest Be the Ties that Bind', because I like the idea that we are tied together in Christ's love."
"Well said. Who else has a favorite hymn?" Bobbi asked.
Vivian forced herself to pay attention this time, finding herself enjoying the lively discussion. One of the younger men, Claude, complained about the "blood and thunder" hymns, another liked any hymns referring to gardens, and a young woman said she always loved the majesty of "O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High." "But I prefer the arrangement I sang in choir," Cindy explained, "although I can't quite remember who arranged it. We always used it as a processional."
"Good, anyone else?" Bobbi looked around, then said, "Well, time is slipping away from us. Next week, we'll continue with our discussion of favorite hymns and discuss how using different tunes can change or enhance the meanings. Peace be with you."
"And also with you," the class responded.
Bobbi waited for most of the class to clear out before approaching Vivian. "Vivian, I'm so glad you joined our class. How do you like it so far?"
Vivian shouldered her purse as she stood, following Bobbi out of the room. "I like it. Very diverse, great lessons." As they headed down the stairs, Vivian suddenly decided that she wanted to get to know Bobbi better. It wasn't fair to spend all of her time with her brother and sister-in-law or Rose. It was time to branch out. "Bobbi, do you have any plans for lunch today?"
The brunette smiled. "No, I don't, and there's a new restaurant that opened recently that I've been wanting to try. If you can wait that long, I'd love to meet you for lunch."
"It's a deal," Vivian agreed.
Caitlin waited impatiently to see Beverly. The surgeon had come out an hour ago, saying that Beverly had come through fairly well, but he was concerned about the possibility of infection, and had her on strong antibiotics. Ted had arrived shortly before the surgeon had come out, saying work had released him for the day so he could be here.
Ted came back from the recovery room and plopped in a chair next to Caitlin. "She's awake, barely, and she's asking for you, Caitlin. You should go back to see her for a few minutes."
"Thank, Ted," Caitlin said as she closed the lid on her laptop.
"I'll watch your stuff, don't worry," he said, smiling tiredly. "Hey, before you go? I wanted to thank you for coming so quickly. I don't know what we'd do without you - and yes, I will chide you for a moment. Don't ever disappear like that again, it's not fair to anyone you love."
"Okay, Ted," Caitlin said. "Yeah, I know, I screwed up big time."
"Go!" he said, making shooing motions.
Caitlin nodded, then slowly followed the signs to the recovery rooms. She checked in at the nurse's station, then followed their directions to Beverly's room. She cautiously poked her head in the room, and was rewarded by seeing Beverly awake in the bed. "Hey, honey," she called out softly.
"Caitlin," Beverly croaked, "get your butt in here and sit."
"Yes ma'am," Caitlin replied as she followed her instructions. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I got run over by a Mack truck, you idiot, how do you think I feel?" Beverly grumbled, but she held her hand out. Caitlin took it gently, chafing it between her hands to warm it up. "Now that I have my griping out of the way, I'd like to thank you for coming all this way to take care of my family."
"You've taken care of me many times, so it's my turn to take care of you," Caitlin answered, reaching up to stroke Beverly's auburn hair. "I think I've finally gotten it through my thick head that not everything revolves around me."
"Good." Beverly closed her eyes for a moment, then reopened them. "You know I love you more than anyone but Ted and the kids."
"Yes," Caitlin responded quietly.
"I always made contingency plans for what I'd do if something happened to you, to the band, but I never thought about making plans for me. I never updated my will or my power of attorney. Naturally, Ted will get half, since we're married, but when I get well, I need to take care of legal matters."
"You can think about that-"
"Later? I'm very sick, dear, and I suspect that more is going on than the doctors are willing to say. Can you be here for Ted until I heal?"
"Yes," Caitlin said. "I'll take care of whatever you need."
"Time's up," the nurse said as she walked into the room. Caitlin nodded, then leaned over and brushed a kiss on Beverly's forehead. "I love you, dear friend, and will pray for your recovery," she whispered.
Rose sat on her patio, nursing a hot cider while looking at the stars. It was really a little cool to sit outside, but her blood was still Minnesota thick, so jeans and a sweater were fine. It had been a crazy week, several members in the hospital for major surgery, committee meetings, the new Wednesday night youth Bible study, and the administrative board meeting tonight. She was too tired to even think about food, and it was starting to show. Gail had scolded her the other night for getting too thin, and she guessed it was true. Her clothes were starting to hang on her, but she had no idea how much she weighed as she did not own scales.
"Jesus, give me strength," she prayed as she finished her cider. The cold was starting to seep into her bones, but she didn't stir. "I wish I could talk to someone," she continued, "I miss my wife so much, but is it time to move on? Or should I wait a year, like we counsel widows and widowers?" Just then, her cell phone rang. Groaning, she fished it out of her pocket and glanced at the display. It was her cousin, Katie.
"Katie bear!" Rose answered excitedly, "to what do I owe this pleasure?"
Her cousin's exuberant voice barreled across the line. "I haven't heard from you since Hector was a pup, that's what you owe this pleasure to! How is the land of enchantment?"
Rose smiled, feeling more relaxed than she had in some time. "Enchanting, what else can I say?"
"What are you doing for Thanksgiving?" Katie asked.
"Oh, probably eating with Gail and Roy, they've invited me and some other folks. They have this tradition they started many years ago where they invite people who otherwise would not have a family to go to, and call it the Outlaw Thanksgiving. So what are you doing for Thanksgiving?"
"Alan, Derek, Amy and I are all coming to New Mexico for Thanksgiving week. Alan has a distant cousin who invited us to her huge new vacation home near you, so we decided to take advantage. The kids are all excited, and want to see their Aunt Rose. By the way, have you heart from their Aunt Caitlin?"
A pain pierced Rose's heart at the mention of her missing beloved. "No, and I haven't heard from Beverly lately, either, which is really strange. I've been pretty busy, so by the time I get home, even with the time difference, I figure it is too late to call."
She heard Katie drumming fingers impatiently, a sure sign that she was about to get a lecture. Her cousin did not disappoint. "That wife of yours sure has you around her finger. Girlfriend, if Alan up and left me without a word for this long, I'd toss everything out and look for me a new man! Sure you don't want to start looking for you a new woman? Intelligent, kind, beautiful woman like you should have them swarming around you like bees to flowers. You need to make a decision soon, stop moping around for her."
Rose stood up, walking stiffly back into the house. "Katie, I know that in my head, but I can't convince my heart." She hesitated as she went to put her mug in the sink, wondering if she should say anything. "There is this widow I've been doing things with, Vivian."
"Katie, she's straight, and at least fifteen or more years older than I am. She retired from teaching this spring, and her husband died just before the end of the school year." Rose decided not to say that Vivian was almost divorcing Kent before his untimely death. "I enjoy her company, that's all. She loves art, museums, music, hiking, so we just spend time together."
"Or maybe God is poking you in the ribs, Rose. Think about it."
Rose wandered into the living room, reaching for the fleece blanket as she settled on the couch. "Katie, let's not talk about this right now. I'm exhausted, and you should be too, you have work in the morning. Isn't it your bedtime there? It's nearly ten here, should be eleven there."
"Doesn't matter, cousin, I can't seem to get you other times." It was true, Rose had sent several calls from Katie to voice mail lately due to meetings, hospital visits, and just plain fatigue. "Listen here, we'll spend Thanksgiving noon with Alan's family, then come up to the big Outlaw meal at dinner time. No more excuses, we need to talk face to face."
Rose started feeling irritated at everyone's insistence that she move on. "Have you ever considered that maybe Cat isn't the only stubborn one? Maybe I'm stubborn, and refusing to try to contact her. After she didn't answer my calls or texts for several days, I quit trying. I still love her, but she had to come to me. I'm sure she can find me, a simple Google search will match me with Church of the Good Shepard, or she can call Beverly. Who, by the way, is also out of contact, and that's starting to worry me. So please don't take this wrong, but get off my back!"
There was a moment of surprised silence on the other end, then she heard Katie laughing. "That's my girl! I was wondering where my spunky cousin had gone. Just tell me to hush my yap, and tell everyone else too. But you're gonna eat at Thanksgiving, or Gail and I will both pin you down and force feed you! Love you, Rosie!"
"I love you too, Katie bear." Rose disconnected, then tossed the phone next to her. She laid her head on the arm of the couch, thinking she'd get up in a moment, even as she drifted off to sleep, dreaming of two different women.
Maddy and Mac visited Beverly for a few minutes, sobered by seeing their stepmother so helpless. "Hey, Mama," they chorused as they entered the ICU room.
"Hey, kids," she croaked, "how was school today?"
"Okay," said Maddy.
"Icky," said Mac.
"Why icky?" Beverly asked.
Mac shrugged as he sidled up to glance at the monitor that traced her vitals. "I dunno, it just was icky. I had two tests, and I didn't really feel prepared for either one. But Caitlin said she'd help me study for my English test tomorrow."
"What's it cover?"
Maddy interrupted. "Mama, we shouldn't spend all our time with you discussing school work," she said, shooting a glare at her brother. "How are you doing?"
"Not great," Beverly admitted, "the doctor is still worried about my white blood cell count, it is too high. He still suspects lingering infection, and I feel like crap."
"I'm sorry, Mama," Mac said, "can we do anything?"
"No, just doing your school work and make sure your father and Caitlin get enough sleep," Beverly suggested sensibly.
Mac nodded. "Hey, Mama?" he asked quietly.
He shoved his hands in his pants pockets, rocking lightly on his feet. "Um, how serious is this?"
Maddy started to interrupt again, but Beverly answered, "Pretty serious, MacKenzie, if the doctors can't get the infection stopped, I could die."
He stared at her in shock. Not Mama, not the woman who made everything run according to her dictates! Not the one who rocked him to sleep after his own mother had died, not the woman who made his father so happy, made his sister feel better about herself. She couldn't! "Don't die," he said hoarsely, swallowing past a sudden lump in his throat.
"I'll try not to," she assured him, "the doctors are pumping me full of drugs, so right now, I'm not in much pain at all."
"Mama, we should be going soon," Maddy said, glancing uneasily at her watch.
"Mama, I love you," Mac burst out.
"I love you too, son," she answered, reaching for his hand.
He leaned over and kissed her cheek. "I'll be back," he promised. With that, he left the room quickly.
Maddy sighed. "Mama?"
She reached tentatively for Beverly's hand. "I love you too. I'm sorry I haven't said it often enough."
"You were older when your own mother died," Beverly said, understanding what was going through her stepdaughter's mind. "I tried not to take your mother's place, but to still be a parent for you. But I couldn't love you and Mac any more if you were my own flesh and blood children."
Maddy smiled slightly, then said, "I guess I'd better be prepared to take care of things for a while when you get home."
Beverly looked pleased. "Thank you, that would be helpful. How is your father?"
The girl shrugged. "Worried, naturally, but he's holding up pretty well. Caitlin is taking care of a lot right now, and making sure she stays at the hospital for several hours a day, so Dad is okay with going to work. But I'm a little worried about her, she's so thin, Mama, and she won't wear short sleeves right now. Do you think she could be cutting again?"
Beverly looked up at her daughter's worried face. "I don't know, dear, but I'll ask the next time she comes in here. Okay, you'd better take your brother back home and make sure you all get a decent dinner. I hate for you to have to take on so much responsibility right now, but I'm a little tied up," she concluded ironically.
Maddy leaned over, kissing Beverly's cheek. "I love you, Mama. You can depend on me." With that, she left the room.
Beverly closed her eyes for a moment, glad to have seen her children. Ted would come by on his way home from work, and Caitlin would be back this evening. She really didn't feel much pain, the medication took care of that, but she could still feel the pull of her bruised ribs when she tried to take a deep breath.
Her thoughts continued to wander. Caitlin had come by this morning and assured her that all of the legal paperwork was in order. Beverly had Caitlin bring around their attorney, who brought in a revised will, this one leaving everything split evenly among Ted, Madelyn, and MacKenzie. Caitlin had insisted on being left out, but agreed to be named as second in line as the executor, in case something happened and Ted was unable to take care of things.
"Hi, honey," Ted whispered, leaning over to kiss her.
Beverly woke with a start, realizing that a couple of hours had passed since the kids had been by. "Ted, how was work?" she asked.
"Long, tiring. It's taking a while to get used to the routine after being laid off for so long, but having Caitlin here helps tremendously. Did the kids come by?"
"Yes, after they got out of school." She looked at her beloved husband, feeling a quiet rush of love for the dear man. Would Caitlin ever have this quiet love with Rose again? "Ted, what happens if I die?"
He pulled up the chair, falling in it heavily. "Let's not think about that, I can't lose another wife," he said in a rush. "You'll get well."
"But if I don't?"
"God can't be that cruel," he asserted more forcefully than he felt. "Thanksgiving is tomorrow, you have to be alert for that. If all goes well, you will be moved to a regular room, and we'll all gather and bore you with watching parades and football."
She grimaced at the thought of football. "How dare you," she said.
He smiled, knowing that she secretly didn't mind as much as she claimed. "Caitlin will be with us too, so that should make a good time." They talked a while longer, then Ted noticed that Beverly was drifting off again. "I'll let you get some rest now," he said, standing. "I love you, Beverly."
"I love you too, dear Ted," she answered as she drifted off again.
The Baum's house will filled with laughter, light, food, drink, and lots of people. Rose helped herself to another small slice of pumpkin pie as she stood where she could see the television and catch snatches of the game. She wasn't really even sure who was playing, she just liked watching. Katie had just called to say they would arrive within the next half hour, so she could relax for a while longer.
Vivian came up next to Rose, asking, "How is the pie?"
"Delicious," Rose said, cutting another bite. "Here, taste," she said, holding the fork out for Vivian.
The older woman daintily took the bite, closing her eyes in appreciation of the wonderful fall flavors. "Oh, that is so good," she said, nearly purring with delight. She opened her eyes, asking mischievously, "Another bite? I've been very good!"
Rose laughed as she cut another bite, holding her fork out for Vivian to take it, then greedily ate the last bite herself. "That was grand," she said.
"I can't believe you wouldn't share the last bite with me," Vivian pouted.
The minister laughed. "Just because I'm a kind, sweet, wonderful human being does not mean I'll share my last bite with you," she teased.
"Meanie," the teacher teased back. "Here, I'll take your plate for you."
"No need, I was going that way," Rose said, "but you can come with me so I can get another cup of coffee."
"Lady, you'll turn to coffee, you drink more of that stuff that anyone I know," Vivian chided, "doesn't it keep you up to drink it in the evening?"
"Not at all," Rose said as they approached the coffee pot. She grabbed her mug and poured a half cup, holding it up for Vivian's inspection. "See, only half a cup this time," she teased. "Want to go outside for a minute? I'm getting overheated in this house."
"Sure," Vivian said, following her friend out the back door. As soon as the door closed, the roar of the combined voices dimmed, and they wandered through the back yard, looking at the neat desert garden in the silver moon glow. Vivian watched her friend, awed at the woman's grace, intelligence, and stunning good looks. She could feel herself falling helplessly more attracted to the minister every day, but so far, Rose still kept her at a slight distance.
Rose stopped and sank in a garden chair, laying her empty cup on the wooden side table. "It is beautiful out here," she said quietly, "so still, so peaceful."
"I enjoy sharing the quiet with you," Vivian said, dragging a chair next to Rose's, "in fact, I enjoy sharing any time I can with you."
Rose turned to face Vivian, seeing a sparkle in the older woman's eyes. So much like the sparkle in Caitlin's eyes when they started dating. Caitlin, where are you? she cried silently, why aren't you here with me?
Vivian saw Rose's face cloud over, guessing that she was thinking of her missing partner. She leaned over, reaching to cup Rose's chin in her hand, starting to lose the distance between them, heart hammering double-time as she intended to find out if she really was attracted to Rose that way.
"No," Rose said quietly, drawing back, "I'm sorry, Vivian, I can't."
Vivian sat up abruptly, a surge of anger flooding her being. "Why not? Why can't I ever have an uncomplicated love?"
Rose crossed her arms and legs defensively. "I'm sorry, but until I hear from Caitlin, I am still married, and I will not commit adultery, no matter how tempting you are."
Vivian stood abruptly, chair clattering behind her, fists reflexively balling. "I feel like you've led me on a little," she spat out, "flirted with me."
Rose looked up, misery cloaking her dark face. "I am sorry if you feel I led you on, Sister Vivian, but no matter what I may feel for you, I cannot act on those feelings. I am sorry if I made you angry, believe me, that is the last thing I want. Is it too much to ask for me to have a close friendship without worrying about the complications of sexual attraction?"
"Obviously it is too much," Vivian spat, storming off. Rose watched her for a moment, then started after her, but stopped herself. If she were honest, she would admit that she probably had led Vivian on. Sighing, she dropped back in her chair, face in her hands.
She sat there, unaware of time passing, of the temperature dropping, until she heard Katie hollering, "Rosie! Reveal yourself!"
"I'm back here," Rose called out. Seconds later, her cousin grabbed her up, hugging her fiercely, nearly squeezing the life out of her. "I'm glad to see you, Katie," she gasped.
Katie released her, holding Rose at arm's length, harrumphing. "You look terrible," she declared, "Your momma would have your hide if she could see you, God rest her soul, and your daddy too, God rest his soul. Now, let's go back inside the house, where it is warm, and you will tell Cousin Katie everything. And what's up with that gal they said left in such a huff?"
Rose let herself be pulled into the house, Katie making people part like waters before Moses. She let a ghost of a smile flit across her lips at the image, deciding she'd have to save it for a sermon some time.
"Scram," Katie bellowed at two teens necking in the weaving room. Startled, the young lovers scooted out of the room, leaving the cousins alone. Katie crossed her ample arms over her bosom, fixed her with a death glare, and said, "Spill it."
Rose sank down in one of the chairs, looking up at her angry cousin, sighing. She hated it when Katie was like this, it meant she had to tell the entire truth, or her cousin would hound it out of her. Slowly, haltingly, she spilled the entire story. The fight. The unexpected call from Roy. The move from Minnesota to New Mexico. Meeting Vivian, and feeling on the verge of falling in love again. The argument just now, with her turning down Vivian's overtures. Her worry about both Beverly and Caitlin. "I feel good about being in Santa Fe," she concluded, "the Holy Spirit is stronger in me here than she was in Minnesota, and our church is doing a lot of good. We are growing, and doing a lot of good for the community, but my heart is still empty where Caitlin should be, my side is cold where she should fit."
Katie simmered down during the torrent of words, slowly sitting in a chair next to her cousin, finally asking, "How long will you wait for her?"
Rose leaned her head against her cousin's strong shoulder. "I don't know, but at least until New Year's. If I haven't heard from her by the, I will start looking for her. If I don't find her, I may take Vivian up on her offer, declare myself a single woman. But I made a lifetime vow, and I don't want to go breaking it until I am sure that my beloved will never come home."
Katie reached an arm around Rose, patting her shoulder. "You got it bad, don't you?" she asked softly.
"Yes, and I'm being stubborn as hell, Gail has already mentioned that a dozen times in the past month."
"You are stubborn, Rosie. I guess it is a family trait. Well, if you're done moping around, let's go up stairs and watch some football. I have a small wager with my husband on the outcome of this game, and I don't aim to lose." She stood, helping Rose up. "Come on, you. I'll bet you've been sucking down coffee like no tomorrow and forgetting to eat."
"Guilty as charged," Rose agreed, taking Katie's hand, allowing herself to be hauled up. "Guilty as charged. I sure love you, Katie bear."
"And I love you Rosie posy," Katie responded, smiling.
Caitlin was exhausted. She collapsed on her bed after a full day, splitting her time between the hospital, the studio, and the kids. She was too tired to undress, just taking enough time to drop her shoes on the floor and plug in her phone before sinking into a deep sleep. Beverly had developed a high fever and went back to ICU, where it was touch and go. The doctors were fighting for her friend's life, and she felt she should be there right now, but Ted was there. Maddy and Mac insisted that he stay with her, that they would call Caitlin if they needed anything.
Caitlin woke after a few hours, seeing a near transparent version of her young friend, Laura, sitting in a chair across the room. "Hey, Caitlin," the young woman called.
"Laura?" Caitlin asked, rubbing her eyes. The vision persisted.
"I have an important question for you," Laura continued, "do you know what you believe?"
Caitlin blinked, thinking back to lessons at Victory Church, thinking of long discussions with her friend Gina. Thinking of the histories, the theology texts she had consumed over the past months, the long walks, the trips to the mission. "I'm not sure," she finally admitted.
"What if Beverly died?"
"Then I'd say God was a cruel joker," she said, heart sinking. Was Laura trying to tell her that Beverly was dead?
"That's not true, you know. What if I said that God truly gave us free will?"
Caitlin forced herself to think about it. "Free will to screw up?"
"And to make things better."
She rubbed her forehead, thinking hard. "So what good is believing in God if she or he just lets us fuck up?"
"God sends us a helper, the Holy Spirit, to guide and comfort us, but the rest is up to us," Laura explained. "We either take advantage of this comfort, this guidance, this love, or we reject it. If we accept it, then we obey two commandments; Love God with all of our heart, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The rest will follow."
"Then what if Beverly dies?" Caitlin asked.
"Then you must continue to love others as yourself, to honor her memory." Laura's old cuts started glowing on her arms like pale blue skeins of thread. "Loving others as yourself means you love yourself, too, Caitlin, and you do not harm God's sacred temple, your body."
"Oh." Caitlin absently rubbed the now healed cut marks on her own arms, feeling the slight raised lines. "What about Rose?"
"Do you love her with all of your might, your self?"
"Yes," Caitlin said unequivocally, "I do."
"Then go to her on Christmas Eve. That is in ten days. You will find what you need: hotel, travel, rent car. You belong to each other," Laura commanded.
"Christmas Eve?" Caitlin repeated.
Laura's figure started shimmering. "You loved me like a daughter. Share that love with others." She disappeared.
Suddenly her phone started ringing. Caitlin shot upright, unsure if she had been dreaming, or really had been visited by Laura Wilson's ghost. She answered the phone shakily.
"Get to the hospital quickly," Ted rasped out, "Beverly is dying."
Caitlin arrived at the hospital in record time, praying that if Beverly was dying, that she would arrive in time to say goodbye. She raced to ICU, skidding to a stop in front of the door, waiting for a signal to go in. Ted came out and immediately hugged her tight, which she took as a very bad sign. "Thank God you are here," he mumbled. "Go on it, the kids are in the waiting room. They've already seen her."
The musician slowly entered the room, shocked by Beverly's pale face. She approached the bed slowly, leaning over to say hi. Beverly's eyes fluttered open, and she said hoarsely, "Another infection. I am tired of fighting."
Caitlin's eyes swam with tears, but she forced them down, concentrating on breathing. How would Laura's ghost handle this? "Tired of fighting?" she repeated.
"Yes. Just let me die in peace," Beverly moaned.
Caitlin looked at her business manager, expecting to feel a flash of anger, of more grief, but felt a curious sense of peace instead. "If that is what you wish." She cleared her throat. "Laura visited me."
Beverly's eyes opened wider. "What did she say?"
"That God sends us the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort us, and that we are to love God, then our neighbors as ourselves, which means we do have to love ourselves," Caitlin repeated. "I honestly don't know if she was really there, if I was dreaming, or if I really had a vision, but it felt real to me."
Caitlin took a deep breath, then plunged on. "I realize now I've been selfish, and I am planning to go back to Rose Christmas Eve. If she still wants me, I will be there, be a real partner, not run when things get tough. You have shown me over the years how to stick out the bad times, the good times, to take care of others."
A little color started creeping into Beverly's countenance, and her breathing seemed easier. "You finally started seeking and found your answers," she stated.
"Yes. You've been my guide for years, but I was stubborn and refused to see your ministry of actions," Caitlin acknowledged.
Beverly relaxed a little. "Maybe it's not time for me to go."
Caitlin smiled, fatigue and peace warring for the upper hand. She took a deep breath and laid a hand on Beverly's shoulder. "Dear God," she prayed, "help us to accept whatever happens. Help me to love, and to truly seek and listen. Help me find Rose, and to learn how to be a real partner. And thank you for the examples of love that Beverly and Gina have given me. Amen."
Beverly echoed, "Amen. You'd better leave before you get kicked out." Caitlin nodded, kissed her forehead, and slowly left the room.
As she exited into the hallway, Ted asked anxiously, "How is she?"
"A little more color, a little more peace," Caitlin reported. She glanced at a hall clock, seeing it was just after 3:00 am. "Is there any place to get coffee?"
"They actually do have an all night coffee shop on the ground floor, that's where the kids are. Thank you for everything."
"Ted, Beverly has given me more that I'd ever give her." A thought struck her, but she pushed it aside for the moment. "Do you need anything?"
"Just my wife," he whispered. Caitlin hugged him, doing her best to try to share strength and peace with him, to show her love for this family. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." She left to find the coffee shop.
Hours later, she woke with a jolt in the waiting room, wondering what time it was. Mac and Maddy were huddled together on a couch, sleeping hard. She guessed Ted was still in the room with Beverly. Yawning, she found the nearest bathroom, then came out moments later, ready to face the day. Another glance told her the kids were still sound asleep, so she made her way to the business office, rapping lightly on the window.
"Yes? Can I help you?" the man behind the window asked.
"You can," Caitlin replied, "I need to make some arrangements." She quickly explained that she intended to pick up all of the non-insurance charges for Beverly's hospital stay and any associated fees. "Can you help me with that?"
Vivian tried so slide past Rose at the end of the service, but the pastor stopped her while finishing a conversation with another member. Vivian felt like squirming, just like her students did, but resisted. She was still embarrassed by her behavior Thanksgiving night, and as a consequence, had skipped several Sundays, but felt the call to go today.
Rose turned her attention to the retired teacher, and said, "We need to talk, Vivian, but not here. Will you come to my house for a late lunch today?"
"I suppose so. Did you need me to bring anything?"
"Just yourself. I'm still heating up leftovers from Thanksgiving that Gail snuck into my freezer while I wasn't looking. Sometimes it is bad to let your friends have a key to your house. But sometimes it is good as well. I'll see you about 1:30." She squeezed Vivian's shoulder, then turned to the next person in line.
Vivian walked away slowly, deciding she might as well attend Sunday School to while away the next hour or so. Years of rising early had led to always going to early church services, so she would have time to do other things. When she and Kent still were really together, they would nap after she got home, then "have an appetizer" before lunch. It was the first time she had thought of Kent in a good light in several years, and it felt oddly right.
"Good to see you, Vivian," Bobbi said cheerfully as the older woman entered the room. "We've missed you."
"I haven't felt well," Vivian answered vaguely, hoping that Bobbi would not dig further. Luck was with her, other members of the class started swarming through the door, effectively cutting off further discussion.
The brunette leader waited for everyone to be seated, then announced, "As you know, this is the third Sunday of Advent, and we are rejoicing in the news of the Savior to come. Let's open our hymnals and turn to â€˜O Come, O Come, Emmanuel' and sing it before we discuss it." Someone got up and started playing the piano, and the class joined in, singing the ancient words.
After the discussion, the class joined in a closing prayer, then drifted apart. Bobbi stopped Vivian, asking, "What kept you from church these past few weeks? If you were that sick, you should have called one of us, let us help you."
"I can take care of myself," Vivian said. "Anyway, I have lunch plans today, and need to get going. Isn't the choir singing in the late service?"
"Yes, but as long as I have my robe on and am in line for the processional, no one will say a thing. I have ten minutes."
Vivian shook her head. "I really have to go, Bobbi. Maybe we can catch up later."
The other woman looked at her steadily for a moment, then finally said, "I'm in the church directory, Vivian, so call me. I know what it is like to lose someone, and to have it sneak up on you at the oddest times. Promise you'll call. I can usually get away for lunch most days."
"I'll call," Vivian promised, looking into the beautiful hazel eyes. "Some time this week."
"I'll hold you to that promise," Bobbi said. She patted Vivian's arm, then escorted her out of the room.
Vivian wasn't quite sure what to do with herself until it was time to show up at Rose's house, so she went home and puttered around for a while. She liked her small one bedroom apartment, so much easier to keep up than a large house. She had just enough room for bookcases to house her favorite books, and still have a small desk for her computer. She changed into jeans and a sweater, intending to finally start working on her genealogy again, but found herself aimlessly surfing instead, looking for any museums in the area that she had not visited. She had to do something to keep her mind active while Rose was working.
She found herself daydreaming, then woke with a start, realizing she had just enough time to gather her coat and purse and get over to Rose's house. She headed out of the house, intent on getting there on time. She hated being late.
"Welcome, may I take your coat and purse?" Rose asked as she ushered the retired teacher into her house.
"Yes, thank you," Vivian said, shrugging out of her coat and handing it to the minister.
Rose gathered Vivian's things, taking them to the guest bedroom before rejoining her guest. "Please have a seat, would you like something to drink while I finish heating up lunch?"
"No, I'm fine," Vivian said nervously.
Several minutes later, Rose reappeared, announcing it was time for lunch. "Follow me," she said, guiding Vivian to the dining room. She motioned for Vivian to sit across from her, then poured them each a glass of Iced tea. After Rose blessed the food, she started filling her plate. "Don't be shy, take what you want," she advised her guest. Vivian followed suit, filling her plate with delicious smelling food, soon finding that she was actually hungry. They ate in silence for several minutes, then Rose broke the silence by asking, "Where have you been lately? I haven't seen you at church, you haven't called or answered my calls. It is what happened over Thanksgiving?"
Vivian's appetite vanished; she pushed her plate aside and reached for her tea, sipping it to moisten her suddenly dry mouth. "I guess. No, I know, Rose, I was out of line, I should not have assumed what you might or might not feel for me."
"I suspected as much, Vivian. I must apologize as well, I probably did give the wrong impression. I've just been so lonely, and you were there, available, ready for company as well. I kept telling myself it was okay, she's straight, but that is still no excuse."
Vivian played with her fork, then looked into the minister's dark eyes. "I thought I was straight too, but now sometimes I wonder. I am powerfully attracted to you, but at the same time, I am confused about it. Kent and I had a pretty good marriage until he suddenly started chasing after a younger woman, and we never had the chance to really talk about it. Maybe I thought a woman wouldn't break my heart like a man."
"Maybe. Vivian, I'd love to be friends still, but I cannot go any further. I made a vow to Caitlin to be faithful-"
"But didn't she break that vow?" Vivian interjected.
Rose pushed her own plate aside. "That's just it, she ran, but did she take up with another woman? Until I can answer that, then I am bound to my vows I made before God. We legally registered as domestic partners in Minnesota, and although that has no bearing here, we'd still have to get divorced first before I could even think about anyone else."
"But how do you feel about me?" Vivian blurted out.
Rose smiled sadly. "You are beautiful, intelligent, and a lot of fun to be with, and yes, I am attracted to you. If circumstances were different, maybe we could have a chance together, but I cannot take that chance. I will tell you this, I will try to find Caitlin after the new year, and if she is not coming back to me, then I will ask for a divorce."
"You are a much stronger woman than I am," Vivian said.
"Or maybe I'm just more stubborn, and don't want to admit I was wrong about Caitlin," Rose offered. "But let me offer this piece of advice that I never had a chance to follow myself. Get some counseling, see if you are really attracted to women, or if this is a reaction to the way your marriage ended."
Vivian thought for a moment, then said, "You may be right, Rose."
"Glad to hear it. Okay, do you feel like eating again, or should we toss this and watch TV instead? I have some movies I borrowed from the library that I need to watch before I return them.
Vivian smiled, relaxing a little. "I'll help you clean up, then we can watch the movies. Do you have any popcorn?"
"Sure, can't have a movie without popcorn," Rose said, rising. "Feel free to queue up the first movie. My system is not complicated."
Vivian shuffled through the movies, finally picking out her all time favorite, "White Christmas". She popped the disc into the player, found the remote, waited for the menu while the sounds and scents of popcorn filled the air. Rose came back with popcorn and drinks, setting them down on the coffee table. "Oh, one of my favorites," she exclaimed, reaching for the remote to start the movie.
"You did check it out," Vivian pointed out.
About an hour into the movie, Vivian looked over and noticed that Rose was sound asleep. She briefly considered leaving, to let the pastor get her much needed rest, but decided to stay and watch the movie instead. She reached for the blanket on the back of the couch and gently draped it over the dark woman, then sat back down and reached for her tea.
Maybe Rose was right, maybe she was just reacting to the way life ended with Kent. Maybe this was her own version of middle-age crazy, falling for a woman, an African-American at that. Vivian could remember growing up in Texas, and the tension she felt as the schools were finally desegregated. She remembered the brief fling she had with a black man, how her parents went ballistic, even though they had fully supported integration. She had married Kent almost reluctantly, and only after they had lived together during graduate school, since it would have been difficult to get a teaching position if she were "living in sin". Suppose she had tried to get a job back then while living with a woman lover?
Had she ever fallen for a woman before? Vivian pondered the question, even as she noticed for the first time how gay Danny Kaye's character seemed. She thought back to high school and college friends, to sleepovers, but didn't recall any strong feelings toward other girls. She did remember one friend from college, Gloria, who had tearfully confessed an affair with a woman, but even Gloria had gone on to marry her college sweetheart. She decided that emotions were too complicated; biology was easier to understand.
What about Bobbi, her Sunday School teacher? Bobbi was also younger, but had that characteristics she was drawn toward: intelligence, humor, dark hair, curiosity. She briefly tried to imagine kissing Bobbi, then compared it to her brief fantasies of the pastor. Neither seemed as overwhelming as when she first fell in love with Kent. Maybe the problem was that there were fewer men available than women, and she was trying to be logical.
And maybe, just maybe, she should learn to trust God instead of trying to do everything on her own.
"Merry Christmas!" Ted proclaimed as he opened the door for Caitlin.
"Merry Christmas, Ted," she replied as she entered the house with an armful of presents. "How's our Beverly?"
"Much improved, thank God," he said as he took part of the packages, "and we're thrilled that you're able to come over to help celebrate."
"I know it's a few days early, but I have a flight to Albuquerque tomorrow morning," Caitlin said, "I just confirmed it before I came over. I swear I got the last seat on the plane, the last rental car, the last hotel room. Or so it felt, it cost me a fortune." She followed him into the living room, where Mac and Maddy were putting the finishing touches on the tree under Beverly's firm direction. "Good morning, all," she called out.
As soon as her arms were empty, Mac and Maddy took turns hugging the musician, verbally tripping over each other to tell her what they had planned. As she gently extricated herself from the teens, she went over to the couch were Beverly was laying and sat next to her friend.
"Merry Christmas," Beverly said warmly, reaching for her friend. They hugged for several minutes, each working hard not to start crying with relief. Finally, they pulled apart and Beverly said, "I just got off the phone a few minutes ago, my last blood test came back negative. It seems to be a miracle, no more infection."
Caitlin grinned hugely, taking Beverly's hand and squeezing happily. "Thank God, that's the best present ever. I thought they said you'd take weeks to kick the infection."
"Sometimes, miracles do occur," Beverly said, green eyes shining with joy, "now if another miracle would occur, I'd be thrilled."
Caitlin smiled as she pulled out her phone, tapping her email, then handing it over. Beverly took it, scrolled through, then screamed with joy. "You're going back to Rose."
"If she'll have me, yes. I've checked, and her church has a midnight Christmas Eve service, and I intend to be there. I've been stupid too long."
Beverly reached over, kissing Caitlin's cheek. "Good for you." She paused, making sure that the kids had gone to the kitchen to help their father, then said, "You know, for the longest time I wondered if your leaving was a good thing, that maybe you weren't really gay. But when you finally came here, and I saw how miserable you were without Rose, I started thinking. No, let me finish. Then I was mad at you for deserting her, for deserting me, for leaving me with a full list of projects and no experienced producer to help with the new bands we had coming into the studio. But we found a woman who had been laid off from her studio, so things are starting to get easier."
"I'm glad to hear that."
"But you don't get a free pass completely, you still are listed as one of our producers. After you've had a chance to reconnect with Rose, you need to decide your future. Will you come here, or will you cut ties completely? I hate to corner you like this, but I need to know."
Caitlin played with Beverly's wedding rings for a moment, then said quietly, "I'll step down from all active production here. I need to be with Rose, and need to find a career wherever she is. I know it's not fair to you, to the business, for me to be absent for so long. I'll keep my ownership, but I'm going to talk to my lawyers after the first of the year and gift you with half the shares of the studio."
Beverly gaped at her, surprised. "You'd give me half? Why not Rose?"
"You know as well as I do that I have plenty of money to take care of Rose, but you helped build the business, so you deserve to benefit. The band members from Harriet and the Heartwreckers are still getting royalties, as well as whatever they are earning now as session musicians. I had a meeting with them recently, and asked them to approve of this plan before deciding to go through with it." She smiled tenderly at her dear friend. "Believe me, I still have a tough road ahead, and still am fighting urges to self-destruct, but I have ways to cope than ever."
"What about your faith?"
"What about it? Beverly, it's hard still for me to put all my trust in some benevolent old man with a beard in the sky, but I felt something when Laura visited me. As John Wesley said, my heart was strangely warmed. I'll never be perfect, I'll always struggle, but I do believe that Jesus was born to teach us how to love each other, to take care of each other. The rest is simply fine print," Caitlin declared.
"And you love Rose with all of your heart?"
"And half my gizzard," she answered, referring to an old shared joke. "Yes. I know you still have some reservations, but believe me, I will take a page from yours and Ted's marriage now. I am ready to be a partner, a wife, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health."
Beverly smiled. "That is the best Christmas present ever," she declared, wiping away a stubborn tear of joy.
Caitlin glanced at her hastily scribbled directions one more time before she started up the car. It had been a long day, the flight to Albuquerque, waiting in line for luggage, waiting in line for her rent car, driving to Santa Fe, finding the hotel, checking in, ordering room service, and passing out for a few hours. Her alarm went off too soon, and she dragged herself to the shower before heading to the church. Her heart was thudding hard as she wound through the streets, straining to find street signs, hoping that Rose would accept her, would not toss her out on her ear.
She finally arrived at the church, parking under a light so she could find it again in the midst of the other cars crowding the lot. Caitlin was pleased at how many people were at the service, she thought it spoke well of their pastor. Or, it could simply be tradition to go to the midnight service, she wasn't sure.
The musician took a deep breath and managed to drift in behind a large crowd of people, shivering a little in the cold. Someone had gone to the trouble to clear the parking lot and sidewalks of the recent snow, for which Caitlin was grateful. It had been a little nerve-wracking remembering how to drive in the white stuff, but at least her rent car had all wheel drive. She entered the blessedly warm church, shedding her coat and hanging it with the other coats in the racks near the entry way.
She accepted a bulletin before choosing a seat near the back, familiarizing herself with the flow of the service before daring to look up front. People were milling about, making last minute additions to the altar table filled with loaves and chalices, ready for communion. A small group of musicians took their place, and a hush fell over the sanctuary.
And she saw Rose.
It was ironic that Santa Fe was where Caitlin had left Rose, and where Rose returned to for her next step in life. Rose pondered this as she went over a few last details with her lay leaders Christmas Eve, just before the midnight service. Rose thought she would never feel the magic of the season again, but as Advent had started, she felt the old excitement and anticipation of the coming of the Christ child once again. "Remember," she finished, "lights go off as we start signing 'Away in a Manager' and pass the light from candle to candle throughout the congregation. Any questions?"
"No," said Roy, the head elder, "none." He waited for the others to leave and turned to Rose. "Thank you again for coming to head our church. God has blessed us richly." "She does work in mysterious ways," Rose responded with a smile. It was nice being with another very diverse congregation of all colors, races, professions, backgrounds, even creeds. "And thank you for giving me a chance."
He smiled, reaching to hug the pastor. "And you are the first to know, Gail and I are expecting a child in seven months. We had given up on having a child after nearly twenty years of marriage, yet it appears we will finally be parents."
"Congratulations!" Rose smiled hugely, hugging him back. "Is that why she's not here tonight?"
"Yes, very tired, and we have family in. All right, I hear the piano and guitars, so we need to make our grand entrance." Roy picked up his Bible and songbook and led the way into the sanctuary.
The lay leaders took turns reading the passages, the choir sang, and Rose finally stood in front of the people, beaming at them. "Good evening, dearly beloved. As the choir sang, 'love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine.' God blessed Mary, a simple, pious young woman with the greatest gift of love the world has ever known. She bore God's only son, who came to express love in human form, a love so powerful, it wiped away the sins of the world." She continued to preach, turning, pacing, looking in all nooks of the sanctuary.
And saw her.
She almost faltered, her heart screaming, "It's Caitlin!" while her mind countered, "No, it has to be someone who looks like her." She managed to regroup and finish her sermon without missing a sentence, inviting all to the table. "Now let us rise and join in this simple bread and wine, remembering the baby and the man, who embodied love divine." She motioned for the ushers to start guiding the members as she and the leaders started passing out bread and wine for the communion service.
The last to arrive at the rail was the woman. Head bowed, she refused to look up at first until Rose laid a hand on her shoulder, whispering, "It is okay, God loves you." The head finally lifted, revealing the face of her own angel, thinner, but at peace. "Rose, I believe," she whispered. "I believe in love divine, and I want to come home." She took the bread from Rose, dipped it in the cup, and offered it to the minister. Rose took it, then dipped bread in the cup and offered it to Caitlin, who took it with solemn joy. Rose had to tear herself away, first whispering, "Please stay after the service."
"Always," Caitlin promised.
The sanctuary was bathed in the gorgeous glow of candlelight as the users started one candle on each row, and each person passed the light to their neighbor. The entire gathering sang "Silent Night," accompanied by a guitar, as the light filled the room. The last strains died away as Rose came faced the congregation and lead them in a brief benediction, then announced, "Christ is born! Love is born! Go, celebrate the birth of love in the form of Christ the Lord!" The lights came up, the candles were blown out, and the noise level went up as the people started greeting and mingling on their way out of the sanctuary.
Nearly an hour later, the last person had left, and Rose and the lay leaders were checking all of the locks and lights. Rose wondered if Caitlin was really there, or if she had imagined her during the service. As she set the security system and went out to her car, she saw a familiar figure standing in the light of the streetlamp. She felt a grin covering her face as she walked rapidly to the figure, which opened arms to receive her. She gratefully rushed into her beloved's arms, feeling Caitlin wrap her up in a warm embrace. They stood like that for a time, then Rose pulled back, examining Caitlin's face. "Merry Christmas," she whispered.
"Merry Christmas, beloved."
â€¨"Do you want to come home with me?" Rose asked, uncertainty suddenly flooding her heart.
Caitlin responded by kissing her lightly, then saying, "You are my home, and it took me too long to figure that out. I hope you'll let me come back, let us start fresh." She kissed Rose again, more deeply, then pulled back and recited, "My dear Rose, where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge, your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. I'm finally really to make both commitments, to you, to Christ." Rose felt like her heart would burst with happiness as she grinned so hard her cheeks hurt. "Thank you. Let's go home, together, where we belong." She took Caitlin's hand, leading her to her car.
To home. And love.
Return to the Academy