Shenandoah Community Church Wednesday Morning Quilting Bee and Social Gathering --- August 6th
The meeting was called to order at 9:00 a.m. in the quilters' beehive. Helen Henry suggested (once again) that we change the name of our group to SCC Bee and be done with it. She insists that reading the heading of the minutes takes most of our business session. To please Helen, who lacks patience, we agreed to drop "Morning" from the written notes, beginning next week.
Cathy Adams brought a quilt top for show and tell in the Chinese Coin pattern, using oriental prints. (Peony Greenway noted politely that Cathy paid too much for them.) We will begin quilting the top after Labor Day, when we hope to be finished with a lap quilt of appliqued Autumn Leaves, which will be a gift for Martha Wisner.
Helen agreed to stay after the bee and help Cathy square up her quilt top so that the finished product won't look like it was quilted by "drunken sailors." Please note the quotation marks.
I am only the scribe.
Kate Brogan brought her two youngest children as guests. After Rory jumped on Cathy's quilt top, Chinese Coins will need all the help Helen can give it. The meeting was adjourned soon after, and those bag lunches that survived Rory's karate demonstrations were shared among the quilters who remained.
Dovey K. Lanning, recording secretary
"So..." Anna Mayhew looked up from one of her tiny, even stitches and wiggled her eyebrows to signal what was to come. "I hear Chris-tine Flet-cher --- "she punched all the syllables " --- is coming for the fund-raiser tonight. What do you suppose she'll wear to the party?"
"The heck with what she wears," Dovey Lanning said. "Let's talk about where she's going to sleep."
"There is a child under the quilt frame." For the life of her, Helen Henry couldn't figure out why she had to remind the others. At the moment little Rory Brogan was banging the floor at her feet with a picture book of talking bunnies that his mother had given him to read. Kate Brogan was nothing if not an optimist.
"Rory!" Kate, an attractive thirty-something brunette, vacated her chair and dragged her son out from under the frame. "Go outside and play on the slide. Now."
Rory protested. "I was killing germs. There are a million germs under there!"
"He just learned about germs in preschool camp," Kate apologized. "Knowledge is a dangerous thing."
"These were ninja germs!" Rory insisted.
"I believe I saw those very same ninja germs escaping into the play yard," Anna told him. "And if you don't stop them there, they might get all the way to the road."
Rory's eyes brightened. He had shiny dark hair and eyes that matched. He was a wiry child, one part willfulness, two parts energy, three parts resolve. Today he was wearing a white "gi" and the yellow belt he had earned the previous week in his Tai Kwon Do class.
Helen didn't like children, of course. But she had to admit that this one had spunk.
The silence thrummed once Rory had left for his search-and-destroy mission, and everyone inhaled it gratefully. In the hour since their short business meeting, there had been precious little silence. The "Beehive" in the walkout basement was cramped. Once it had been the nursery, before the church's expanding baby population had been moved into a brand-new wing. Several months ago the quilters had commandeered the tiny room for their own use. It was just wide enough for a quilting frame and several comfortable pieces of furniture along the wall, but it was filled with light from windows overlooking a fenced-in play yard and an expansive parking lot. And it was all theirs.
"I could just stay home," Kate volunteered when they'd all recovered a little. "Until Rory's in school full time."
"Don't you dare." Cathy Adams patted Kate's shoulder. She was a warmhearted grandmotherly woman, a former insurance agent who was now reaping the benefits of an excellent 401K. Cathy was the least accomplished quilter among them, but she was learning fast.
Peony Greenway cleared her throat. Peony's self-appointed job in the group, and in the church in general, was to smooth out trouble spots. "Rory adds something to the mixture." She paused for effect. "And by the way, on that ‘other' subject, I know for a fact Christine will be sleeping at the Inn at Narrow Passage. She has a room reserved through the weekend."
"You called to check?" Dovey asked.
"Of course not!" Peony realized Dovey was teasing and relaxed her spine a millimeter. "Reverend Kinkade mentioned it, that's all. He asked if the inn was a good place for Miss Fletcher to stay."
"So Sam wanted the word to go out that they aren't sleeping together, in case any of us have narrow little minds," Cathy said.
Almost nobody but Peony called the Shenandoah Community Church's present minister Reverend Kinkade. It was hard to imagine their jeans-and T-shirt-clad pastor with a title that formal.
"Narrow minds, Narrow Passage..." Dovey inclined her head toward the door, which was propped open so Rory and his younger sister Bridget --- who was napping in an overstuffed armchair in the corner --- could run in and out at will. "Narrowing window of opportunity for gossip."
In the fenced-in play yard, Rory could be heard screeching. Soon he would be back inside to make a full report.
"Sam and Christine have been engaged for years," said Anna, ever the amateur psychologist. "To me, this signals major conflicts in their relationship. Why hasn't he married her?"
Helen thought Anna's logic was mostly wishful thinking. Sam was a charismatic charmer who attracted females the way the trumpet vine against her barn attracted hummingbirds. At forty-four, Anna was at least ten years too old to be a contender, but she still had a crush on the minister. Sometimes Helen wondered if Sam's "engagement" was merely a tool to keep young women in the congregation at arm's length.
"He hasn't married Christine because she doesn't like the country, and she doesn't like us." Dovey leaned over the quilt, stretched taut on a wooden frame, and squinted at a row of stitches.
Satisfied, she looked up. "Christine Fletcher is a hothouse gardenia, and we're a wilted bunch of black-eyed Susans. That's a fact."
"As if this church isn't filled with government retirees who have seen most of the world up close and personal." Cathy fumbled under her chair for the water bottle she always carried and uncapped it for a big swig.
"Maybe so, but those folks came here for the country life and took right to it. Look at you and that husband of yours. Keeping bees, goats...whatever else do you have?"
"Last I heard, Alf was looking for a couple of alpacas." Cathy capped her water bottle. "Pretty soon I'll be scared to go out my own door."
"Was a time not so many years ago in these parts that farming was deadly serious." Helen looked up from her perfect line of stitches. "And nobody was from anywhere else."
"Must have been pretty boring," Cathy said.
Helen humphed, but she supposed not all the changes in Toms Brook, Virginia, were bad ones.
"Back...to...Chris-tine!" Dovey shook her head in disgust. "I swear, this group leaves a subject faster than a hawk swoops off a tree limb."
Peony glared at her. "What else do you want us to say?"
"Is Sam going to make an honest woman out of Christine or not? And if he ever does, will the two of them be leaving for the big city? Because I don't think Miss Chris-tine Flet-cher sees herself as a country pastor's wife."
"Can you see Miss Christine Fletcher playing the organ or teaching Sunday school?" Anna laughed.
"Well, we need a new sexton," Dovey said. "There's dust everywhere. Maybe she scrubs floors?"
Rory chose that moment to streak through the doorway and into the room, skidding to a halt at his mother's side. The accompanying war whoops woke Bridget, whose whimpers escalated with his shouts.
"Ninjas!" He grabbed Kate's arm and tugged. "Ninjas! I saw 'em!"
Kate disengaged herself, then turned and put her hands on her son's shoulders. "You woke up your sister, Rory. How many times have I told you not to shout?"
"Ninjas!" To his credit, the excited little boy tried to lower his voice, but he danced from foot to foot. "A whole truck of ninjas. Two trucks. All dressed in black. They're coming back!"
"The trucks were dressed in black? Or the ninjas?" Cathy teased.
Rory's excitement gave way to a frown. "I don't think I can fight 'em all."
"Just take them one at a time," Helen advised. "Tell the others to wait their turn."
That seemed to make sense to the little boy. He wriggled out of his mother's grasp and turned back to the play yard. In an instant he had disappeared again.
"When he wins the Academy Award, we'll all say we knew him when," Cathy said.
"At least he's never bored." Kate got up to rescue Bridget, who stopped whimpering immediately and rested her curly head against her mother's shoulder. "Maybe I'd better call it a day. I'm not going to get anything else accomplished. Maybe I can get a sitter next week and stay longer."
Helen rose and stretched a moment. At eighty-three, she was too old to sit in one position for long without turning to stone. "Quilt's almost done. Martha will like it. Darn shame her mind is going, but at least she still remembers most of us."
The lap quilt, with appliqued leaves in autumn colors, was to be a gift for Martha Wisner, who had been the church secretary for many years. She had moved into an assisted living facility several years before and was now in the nursing home wing. Martha's memory was slipping fast, but whatever form of dementia she suffered, she did not seem unhappy. She was always glad to see visitors, whether she remembered them or not. The quilters had chosen the pattern because Martha had loved fall in their Shenandoah Valley. Helen had hand appliqued the top as a reminder of better times.
"If we stay another hour, we can get it finished, then Helen can take it home and bind it," Anna said. "Unless you want me to do that?"
Helen shook her head. Everybody knew Anna had no color sense. Her stitches were even, points matched perfectly, blocks were square. But Anna's fabric choices were legendary. Helen was afraid if Anna picked out a binding, the earth-toned leaves would forever be rimmed in shocking pink.
"No, I'll do it," she said. "You're planning to go to that silly Mexican fiesta tonight, aren't you? I've got nothing but time these days."
This time everybody turned to stare at Rory, who was jumping up and down in the doorway. Before Kate could shush him, there was a crash from the front of the church. The women looked at each other; then, as one, they hurried to the windows overlooking the broad expanse of parking lot that led to Old Miller Road in front of the church.
Teenagers were pouring out of two pickups that were parked within inches of each other. One of the trucks was nose first against an ancient sycamore that anchored the lot. Helen hoped the trucks had collided with each other and not with the tree. As she watched, a group of three boys, dressed in dark jeans and dark T-shirts, started toward the new sign the congregation had erected and blessed that very Sunday, a sign that had already caused its share of controversy within the church community.
One of the boys took a playful swing at the other, dodging and feinting with apparent good spirits. But high spirits or not, Helen didn't think they were up to any good. They were quickly joined by a fourth boy. That one was carrying a sledgehammer.
"We'd better stop them," she said. She turned and found her path blocked by a small athletic body.
"Nin-jas!" Rory singsonged. "I --- told --- you!"
Elisa Martinez was as accustomed to walking miles every day as she was to the sound of her new name. Weeks passed when the reality of her present life seemed to be the only reality she had ever known. Her legs were strong, and no matter how far she had to walk, she was seldom winded. The name flowed off her tongue, as if she had been born to it.
This morning, though, she was tired and growing discouraged. The Shenandoah Community Church sat on a country road as muddy as it was long. As she had walked Old Miller's length, she'd skirted so many ditches and puddles she'd probably traveled an extra mile. She had been warned that the previous summer had been dusty and dry, and she should be glad for the rain. She understood rain well enough, but she was learning firsthand the perils of a personal relationship with it.
This morning the air was oppressively humid in preparation for a new storm. The sun was directly overhead, peeking out from coalescing clouds just frequently enough to taunt her. She could see her immediate future. First she would bake, then she would drown. There was little chance she could hike back home from her interview in time to miss the downpour, and she had little protection except a lightweight plastic poncho she carried in a small backpack that doubled as a purse. If the rain started soon, she hoped the church pastor would let her stay inside until the worst of it ended. If it ended.
From the top of the last hill she had glimpsed a steeple, and she knew she was nearly at her destination. She had spent most of the walk trying on "Elisas" for this interview. The stakes were too high to give this less than her best. She needed this job. She could not thank a God she no longer believed in for making it available, but she was grateful that coincidence had gone her way. Now if this brief streak of luck would simply hold.
She reviewed her credentials. She was slight, but she was strong. That would be important to show. She must not appear over- or under-qualified. She must seem accessible, but not chatty. Intelligent and resourceful, but not above menial labor. Interested in the church, but never nosy.
She needed to explain that she would willingly work long or late hours without sounding desperate or pushy. She needed to tell as much of the truth about herself as she could, so that she would not be tripped up in her own lies.
Old Miller Road curved sharply as she descended the last hill, and when she rounded it she saw the church just a hundred yards in front of her. Like so many of the area churches, it was white, with a tall steeple gracefully in proportion to the building. The roof was dazzling tin; the wings that jutted from either side had been designed to harmonize, not detract. Lovely old trees dotted the grounds; a garden of some sort lay against one side, and as she neared, she saw roses in bloom, despite August's moist heat. Someone cared about those roses --- and cared for them.
She wondered if gardening would be part of the sexton's job, and she tried to remember when the roses had been pruned at the home she had shared with Gabrio. When had they been fertilized and watered, and how had they been selected? Now she wished she had paid more attention.
She was fifty yards closer before she noticed the two trucks in front of the church, parked beside a white sign. At first she merely noted their presence, but as she drew closer, she saw there was more to note. Much more.
A group of half a dozen boys --- high-school age, she thought --- were gathering near the sign, which stood about twenty feet to the right of the front door. The boy in the lead, just a few feet ahead of the others, was swinging what looked like an axe. She heard shouts, profanity and forced high-pitched laughter that shattered her preoccupation with the coming interview.
Her pulse sped; her hands grew damp. She stumbled to a stop. This scene was too reminiscent of another in her past, the same high-intensity, testosterone-fueled prequel to violence. For a moment she wondered if she could escape without being seen. Then she read the sign the boys were clearly bent on destroying, and something inside her snapped.
"Stop it!" She was running before she had time to think. Not away, which would have made sense, but directly toward them.
"¡Sinvergüenzas! ¿Qué andan haciendo?"
Perhaps the boys weren't as brave as they'd thought. Perhaps they were only interested in a new and more personal victim. Whatever their reasons, they stopped and turned to watch her approach. She slowed to a halt just in front of the sign, reaching it before they could.
"What do you think you're doing?" she demanded in English. She glared at them, burying all lingering fears where they could not be seen. She knew these boys, had met them a hundred times in a hundred different places. She was too well acquainted with pack mentality, wolves in jeans or soldiers' uniforms, men and boys who could forget what made them human as long as they stood shoulder to shoulder with others like themselves.
Oh yes, she knew these boys and how dangerous they could be.
The boy in the lead was narrow-shouldered and hipped, with a shock of light brown hair falling over his eyes. He had the soft cheeks of mid-adolescence, a tiny cut on his chin, perhaps from inexperience with shaving. For a moment he looked uncertain, as if he might consider leaving if everyone would just shut their eyes so he could slip away.
Then his expression hardened. "Hey, chica, who do you think you are?"
She wondered what B movie he'd watched for that bit of Spanish.
"Get away from there before you get hurt," he said when she didn't move.
"You would hurt me over a sign? A sign in front of God's house? You're not afraid He's watching, waiting for you to make a better choice?"
For a moment fear flickered in his eyes. Her own gaze flicked to the boys behind him, then back to his. "They're not worth it," she said in a softer voice. "They want you to take the risk while they watch. What kind of friends are those?"
"Go back to Mexico, cunt!" one of the boys shouted. "We don't need your kind here."
"Maybe you do," she said, not taking her eyes from the boy with the sledgehammer. She was glad it was not an axe, as she'd first feared. "Maybe you need a reminder this is a welcoming country, that your own grandparents or great-grandparents might have come from somewhere else."
"Just do it!" one of the boys in the back shouted at the leader. "Just smash it and let's get out of here."
"I'm not going to let you," Elisa said, as calmly as she could. "And I've seen you, every one of your faces. If you damage this sign, I will remember and describe you, one by one."
The boy in the lead looked torn. His thoughts were easy to read. If he was arrested, someone in his life would not be happy about it.
She lowered her voice and hoped what she had to say was just for his ears.
"I have a brother. I know it's hard to stand up for yourself, but you have better instincts than this. I know you do."
"Yeah, Leon," one of the closer boys said. "You have girly man instincts. Even the Mex can see it."
As if propelled by those words, Leon stepped directly in front of her, as if he planned to walk right through her. She put her hands against his shoulders and shoved. He stumbled backward, clearly caught off guard. She took that brief moment to move backward to the sign and stand firmly against it. "You will have to hit me first," she said. "Are you willing?"
"That's enough! What is going on here?"
None of them had noticed the approach of a man dressed in a blue polo shirt and khakis. The boys turned as the man bore down on them, and, as one, they stepped backward. Leon moved away so quickly Elisa could feel a breeze.
"Leon Jenkins." The man moved to stand just in front of the boy and grabbed him by one shoulder. "Let's hear an explanation."
"Get your hand off me."
"When I'm good and ready." The man reached out, twisted the sledgehammer from Leon's hand and tossed it on the ground behind him.
Elisa heard voices and turned her head to see a small group of women approaching from the direction of the parking lot. She slumped against the sign, sure now that she was out of danger.
"Just what is going on?" one of the oldest of the women demanded.
"Some of the local youth were planning to renovate our new sign," the man said. His voice was low and controlled. He still sounded furious.
The other boys looked at each other, then whirled and took off for the pickups.
"Stay out of their way," the man told the women. He didn't take his eyes off Leon, who was squirming and clawing at his hand. Only when the pickups were out of sight did the man's hand fall to his side.
"Exactly why?" he demanded.
The boy backed away, but he didn't run. Where could he go now? Clearly he would be caught and humiliated further if he tried.
Elisa saw the boy's fear and his realization that nothing good could come of this. She was unaccountably moved. Now she saw a boy, just a boy like her brother, and no longer a threat. She stepped forward and rested her fingertips on the man's arm. "He didn't hurt me," she said. "Not even when I pushed him away."
"He might have tried."
"No, it was the sign he wanted." She turned to the sign now and read the words out loud. It was an ordinary church sign, announcing the times of services and the name of the minister. Only the last sentence, in Spanish, was at all unusual. "Todo el Público es Bienvenido a los Servicios de La Iglesia Comunitaria de Shenandoah." The Shenandoah Community Church welcomes everyone to its services.
She shook her head. "You welcome everyone. A thoughtful gesture to put the words in Spanish? But controversial because you've targeted the Latino community? There are those who would prefer we go elsewhere?"
"Jesus ran into the same problem," the man said.
Elisa turned back and addressed the boy. "But you're sorry, aren't you? Because I don't think you really feel that way, do you? You just made a mistake today." She lifted a brow and cocked her head to prompt his answer.
The boy shoved his hands in his pockets and thrust back his shoulders. He looked as if he was going to argue; then he slumped. "Yeah. I guess."
"Guess?" the man demanded. "Your father's a deacon in this church, Leon."
"So? He hates the sign worse than I do."
"But you're old enough to begin thinking for yourself." Like the boy's, the man's posture became less defensive. "Shall you tell your father, or shall I?"
"He hates your guts."
A muscle jumped in the man's jaw. "If anything happens to that sign, I'll report this incident to the police. You can tell your friends they'd better stay away, unless they're here to join in church activities. Then they'll be welcome. Otherwise, at the first sign of vandalism anywhere on these grounds, I'll hunt them down and have a little chat with their parents and yours. Understand?"
The boy gave a curt nod.
The man gestured toward the group of women watching on the sidelines. "You've got a long walk. I suggest you get started. None of these ladies is planning to give you a ride home."
The boy took off at a fast clip along the route that Elisa had just traveled.
Only then did the man turn to her. For the first time she had the opportunity to really take stock of him. He was tall and broad-shouldered. His hair was the color of darkly roasted coffee, his angry eyes a blue so intense they were the most arresting feature in an immensely attractive face.
"Thank you." He held out his hand. "Sam Kinkade. I'm the minister."
She had already guessed that. She extended her hand. "Elisa Martinez. I hope I'll be your new sexton."
They stared at each other longer than politeness called for. In those unexpectedly charged seconds, she warned herself of a hundred different things. The incident with the boys had left her shaken and vulnerable. This man might well be her new employer. She was lonely and worried about getting this job. The talk of police had frightened her. Adrenaline was pumping through her body.
And still, if she subtracted all those things and added in years of hard-earned caution and the fact that she could not afford even the briefest foray into romance, she was still left with a strong attraction to Sam Kinkade.
"Well, go ahead and hire her right now, preacher," one of the woman, the oldest, demanded, moving closer. "What other proof do you need that she can do the job? A signed statement from the Almighty?"
Sam turned to the old woman and managed a smile. His anger was just beginning to fade. He was not easily provoked, but by the same token, he was not easily placated. "Thank you, Helen. I'll take your recommendation into consideration."
"You do that, and don't you try to humor me. I saw the whole thing. We could use somebody around here who takes matters into her own hands. If she's not scared of that gang of teenage thugs, she won't be scared of a little dirt."
Sam walked over and slung his arm around Helen Henry's shoulders, steering her back toward the church, which was not an easy job. She was a big-boned woman in her eighties, but she still knew how to do a day's work. The church had been a far more boring place before she started coming regularly, and before the quilters organized and commandeered the Beehive.
Sometimes he was nostalgic for boredom.
"How's the quilt coming?" He knew this subject would take them all the way inside.
The other women started heading inside. He walked back to Kate Brogan who was standing ten yards behind the others, and he scooped the flailing Rory out of his mother's arms and set him on his hip, leaving Kate with only shy baby Bridget.
Sam paused a moment and turned to Elisa Martinez, who was standing exactly where he had left her. He was struck, as he had been a moment ago, by how gracefully appealing she was. She was average height and slender, wearing a simple white blouse and black pants. She had shining dark hair clipped back in a ponytail that fell past her shoulder blades, creamy toffee-colored skin, and eyes so darkly liquid and expressive that he had felt himself going down for the third time in just the seconds he had stared into them.
He shoved his mind back into gear. "Do you mind following us inside? We'll do the interview in my study."
Cathy Adams, one of the quilters, waited to walk with Elisa. When he saw they were bringing up the rear, he made his way through the lot and the play yard into the Beehive. He deposited Rory in a corner after a brief man-to-man chat about ninjas and sledgehammers, said a few words to each of the women, genuinely admired the quilt stretched out on the frame, and finally motioned for Elisa to follow him upstairs.
He was in marginally better spirits by the time he closed the Beehive door and they started for the steps. Beside him, Elisa was silent.
They were upstairs and on the way to his study before he spoke. "No sign is worth risking your safety for."
"I'm not sure what came over me."
He wondered if that was true, or if she knew very well and wasn't going to acknowledge it. He unlocked his door and ushered her inside, leaving the door open, as he usually did. He did not like enclosed spaces, and today the church secretary, who was usually at the desk in the next office, was out of town for the rest of the week.
"I'm sorry your first visit to our church started that way." Sam motioned to the leather sofa that sat in front of two large windows looking out over the rose garden. While she seated herself, he noticed that yesterday he had forgotten to put away the wheelbarrow after he dumped a load of compost to be spread. He made a mental note to do it later, then asked himself why he was avoiding looking at Elisa. He was not a man who was uncomfortable with women. His fiancée Christine, with her blatant sex appeal and choke hold on femininity, had never intimidated him in the least.
"I've encountered prejudice before," she said.
"I'm sorry for that." He made himself look down at her. "Under any circumstances there would have been resistance, but as you probably know, there's some troubling evidence that Hispanic gangs have moved into the area. Peaceful, sleepy Shenandoah County." He shrugged. "That's set off a backlash."
She was smiling softly. "Let's find a subject that doesn't make you feel sad. Or guilty."
He relaxed a fraction. "Iced tea."
"Iced tea as a subject?"
"Would you like some?"
"Very much, if it's not too much trouble."
He was grateful for something to do. He left for the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with two glasses. "The staff goes through gallons of this every week. Whoever drinks the last glass has to make a new pitcher."
She took the glass, then a sip. "I can do that."
He had debated where to sit. She had left him a full half of the large sofa, and there was a table just in front of it with room for his tea. It was the obvious choice.
He sprawled over his half. "So..." He considered where to start.
She solved the problem. "Elisa Martinez, thirty-three. Like every Spanish-speaking friend I have made here, I am not a gang member. I am well acquainted with cleaning products, mops and brooms, and the need to clean the men's urinals more often than the ladies' toilets. I've been working the late shift as a nurse's aide at the Shadyside Home in Woodstock, but last week my shifts were cut to two because the aide I replaced is returning from maternity leave. If you hire me, I promise that won't interfere with my work at the church. On those mornings I can start here as soon as I've finished there."
He didn't speak, and she went on. "My supervisor will be glad to write a reference, or she'll be glad to talk to you."
He had already noted that her command of the English language was as good as his own, but there was a trace of an accent, a musical elongation of vowels, the slightest flipping of r's, a trace more formality, that he found charming. As an employer, he had to ask the next question. "Were you born here?"
She shook her head. "Mexico. A little village in the south."
"Are you a citizen?"
She reached in the front pocket of her black slacks and produced a card with her name and photo for him to examine. "A permanent resident. My not-so-green card."
He scanned it, then nodded. She slipped it back into her pocket and waited.
"It's hard work." He sat forward and reached for the tea. "There's a lot of lifting and moving. You'd be required to set up and take down tables and chairs for any meetings or events, and this is a busy church. That would be in addition to heavy cleaning and minor repairs. It's tedious, and the hours are long. The pay isn't great."
"I'll manage just fine. I lift patients in and out of bed, move beds and furniture, push wheelchairs uphill. I'm used to hard work."
Sam thought she must be made entirely of muscle, then, because there wasn't much to her other than the gentle swell of breasts and hips.
"Do you have a car, Elisa?"
She straightened a little, and he knew she had been waiting for this. "I don't own a car, no. But I have two good legs, and friends with cars at the park."
"I live in the Ella Lane Mobile Home Park, near the nursing home. I live with a friend and her two children. Adoncia has a car, and so do others nearby. Much of the time I would have a ride."
He calculated that distance. At least four miles, probably more. He was about to shake his head when she stopped him by raising a hand.
"I walked here today. There was a storm about to break, but I came anyway. I wasn't late, and I wasn't too tired to face down your deacon's son. Wouldn't you rather have a sexton with determination and no car than one with a car and no work ethic?"
He sat back. He sipped his tea and watched her.
She fiddled with her glass --- still nearly full --- then she leaned forward. "I don't mind long hours, and I don't mind hard work. I don't gossip and I don't complain." She sat back. "I also know when to stop talking. I'm easy to have around."
He thought that last part might be the hardest to deal with. He was acutely aware of this woman already, and they had only just met. He was caught between doing what the law required --- in this case choosing the best candidate for an advertised posi-tion --- or following his best instincts, which told him that temptation was best avoided, no matter how strong or sure he was of his own power to resist it.
"I haven't told you everything," he said, buying time. "We have a new program here, and it might be what set off those boys. The sign is part of it, and it means more work for the sexton."
She took a long sip of her tea. Her self-control had already been noted. He imagined she was thirsty after the long, hot walk. "Tell me about it," she said, when she'd finished.
"I'll show you." He turned and peered out the window. "Normally I'd show you the church first, but it's pretty straightforward. A sanctuary and social hall, classrooms and meeting rooms. We'd better do this now, before the rain begins. Then I'll find you a ride home."
"I --- "
He didn't let her finish. "The quilters will be leaving about the time we're done. Someone will be happy to do it."
"Reverend Kinkade, it will not be your job to find transportation for me. Managing that is a small thing, but it will be my small thing."
He rose. "It's Sam. Finish your tea or bring it along. It's only a short walk."
Elisa felt the first hesitant drops of rain as they exited the building through the rose garden.
"The roses aren't happy with all this moisture," Sam said. "I use natural sprays to keep them from succumbing to blackspot, but every time I plan to spray, it rains. And when I do spray, a storm comes up the next day and washes it right off."
"You take care of the roses?"
He shot her a smile, a friendlier smile than she'd seen, but one that still maintained a certain distance. If he was setting boundaries now --- and that was how she interpreted it --- then perhaps he was seriously considering her for the job.
"It's not in my job description, but I promised our building and grounds committee if they would help me prepare the plot and plant the bushes, I'd do the maintenance. We use the garden for weddings. This is a very popular spot in June and September, but mostly they're there for me to enjoy every day. Just don't tell anybody I said so."
She was relieved the sexton was not expected to take care of the roses, but it brought up another subject. "Is the sexton expected to do any work outdoors?"
"Marvin --- he's our present sexton --- starts each morning with a cleanup of the grounds, just trash and such. We use professionals for mowing grass and raking leaves. One of our deacons..." He gave a humorless laugh. "Leon Jenkins? The boy with the sledgehammer? His father George has a landscaping business and provides services for us at a reduced rate, which ...