April 8
12:45 p.m.

Well, I eventually met Walt today.

I’ve been hearing people talk about Walt ever since I got here. Walt this and Walt that. You have got to meet Walt.

You know how church members keep telling you about that one person who holds the church up on their shoulders? So I’m going with the “they said…”—church people always use “they” to drive their pet point home. Anyway, “they” said Walt was an angel. A real treasure, a pillar of the church. When I asked who “they” was? I got a “humph.” Whoever they are, they said he was one of the sweetest people in the church. A great helper, and much loved by all.

Walt’s standing in front of me and I’m not getting quite the same vibe. He had been away on a much-needed vacation (don’t we all need one?) and stopped by the church office to drop off the shut-in lists for the Seniors Group and to remind us about the seniors’ lunch. Fair skinned, fair-haired, he reminded me of someone who hadn’t seen much sun. Where did he go on vacation? Siberia?

“Natalie,” says Kate, “I’d like you to meet Walt. I’m not sure what we’d do without him.”

“Aw…shucks!” Walt stammers, kicking the carpet with the top of his shoe. Now that introductions have been made, Kate goes back to her office.

“Walt, so great to meet you! Pastor Mark and Kate speak so highly of you.”

“I’m just happy to help wherever I can.”

“And you are such a great help! I understand you’re the one who has been visiting our shut ins and sending in the updates on them. Thanks. That’s so…peachy.”

Peachy?

I couldn’t think of another word.

“You’re welcome. Anything I can do to make life easier for others.”

I always have a problem with people who say things like “make life easier for others,” because sooner or later they’re going to do exactly the opposite.

“Natalie…” Walt speaks softly. Okay, I admit, too many rock concerts and loud music and I have a hearing problem.

“Natalie, I have a very special friend I’d like you to meet. I’ve told her so much about you.”

I’m straining my ears to hear what he has to say. This hurts.

“That’s very nice of you, Walt.” Especially since this is the first time you’ve met me and don’t know anything about me.

“Hallelujah! Don’t forget. Free lunch with the Seniors on Friday, you know!”

“Free! I’ll never forget that.”

“Hallelujah! I’ll be there too!” (Not sure why he likes to keep saying “Hallelujah!” but he does.)

“I definitely won’t forget that!”

“Thanks Natalie! I know we’re going to be special friends, too. Very…special.”

Walt leaves and my palms are all sweaty. Such a strange vibe.

And I can’t even tell Kate about him.

4:45 p.m.

I was shutting down my computer and Kate was getting ready to leave, but I was curious so I asked her. “Why do you like Walt?”

“Walt?” Kate seemed thoughtful as she slipped her glasses back into their case. “Walt has had…a really difficult background. His parents died when he was young, and he basically raised himself. He’s a trained assisted living caregiver. The seniors love him. He’s a great cook and spends hours at the senior center.”

Seems he arrived about a year ago and offered to take care of one of the church members, Alice Day. A wonderful lady, Kate said. She didn’t have any family and liked Walt a lot. After being so sick, with Walt’s care of her, she eventually started making an amazing recovery. But then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere at all, she died. Overnight. Sad times, Kate said, and people apparently felt very sorry for Walt for the shock it was to him as well because he lost his only “family.” He probably milked the sympathy for all it was worth, I’m thinking.

“Walt was devastated. He had to go into counseling for several months.”

I guess that’s sad. And I would feel that sad if I were Mother Teresa, although, turns out Mother Teresa wasn’t all that great, so I’m glad that I’m not like her. I like Joan of Arc…not crazy about being burned at the stake. I wonder what she wore when she was being burned. How does one pick out what they’re going to wear when they know they’re going to be burned alive? Hello Maid-in-Waiting, should I wear the white tulle or the linen? I just don’t know. Wonder which fabric burns quicker?

Anyway, I still don’t like him.

April 10
1:15 a.m.

I’ve had so much to think about. I just can’t get to sleep.

Bad things come in threes, or so the superstition goes. (When I was four, I thought the saying was, “Bad things come in trees,” so whenever I had to walk under trees I was always terrified of what might come out of them. To this day am a little freaked out about forests.)

Kate was rarely late so when she came rushing in around 10:00, I figured that something not good was going on.

“Where’s Mark?” she asks.

“In his office.” And she was gone. No joking, no hugs.

Mark walks into my office. “Where’s Tav? We need to meet.”

Something is definitely going on.

“Should I contact all the other staff?”

“No. Just the four of us.”

So I buzz Tav and we go into Mark’s office.

Anyway, here we were. Just the four of us. I could tell Mark was struggling. Kate looked white. Now my stomach is in knots. I’m not sure if everyone feels the same way, but when I don’t know what’s happening, I immediately think that it’s about me. I started to rack my brains as to what they had found out about me. The deleted messages? The yet-to-be completed church birth and baptism records? Yes, I should have updated the church register, but I kept figuring I’d do it. Was I late on Monday?

Tav leaned in close to my ear and whispered, “You’ve really done it this time.”

I just wanted to slap him. He seemed so smug, so sure of himself. Mr. Know-It-All.

“Let’s pray,” Mark begins.

I’m not sure what the prayer was about. I was saying my own prayers—“Lord, I need this job. Two more months. That’s all.”

“Well, Kate…”

I look at Kate. She’s looking down. So if all three of them know and I am the only one not to know, that meant it has to be about me.

“Kate, you want to begin?”

Kate’s now wiping her flowing tears away. It must be because she feels sorry for betraying her friend.

“It’s about Mildred.”

Mildred?

I thought I had heard wrong. I wanted to take the Bible I had picked up on the way into the office for moral support and fling it up in the air. It wasn’t about me. I know my parents always tell me that the world doesn’t revolve around me, just their world revolves around me, but I’ve never quite believed them.

“Mildred?”

“She’s the secretary at the First Assemblies of God Church.”

Mildred had been the secretary for many years at the church. She was a nice old (I mention old because I found this a fascinating detail) lady. She sounded something like a librarian, quiet, efficient, and never had a mean word for anyone. Apparently, quiet Mildred had been quietly having an affair with the pastor. The pastor’s wife had suspected that something was going on but had either ignored it for a while, or was living in denial (as most cheated-on wives do).

I remember Pastor Davis from a pastors’ luncheon at the church. He didn’t look like a guy a woman would want to have an affair with, but then I hadn’t seen Mildred either. Davis was loud and a literal backslapper. My back still stings just remembering that meeting…

Kate said Mildred was such a sweetheart of the church. I thought that was a particularly uncomfortable word choice considering the circumstances, you know, her being the pastor’s sweetheart and all that. I’ve heard of pastor-secretary romances so I’m thinking that there may be a pastor-secretary vacancy coming up.

Mark had to take a call so we all left the office and waited till he was done.

But there was so much more to it than I thought.

I guess the pastor was all about Mildred and her problems. He was constantly calling her to see how she was doing. Used her as an example in his sermons every Sunday. Called her his right hand (another unfortunate nickname, if you ask me), knew all her favorite authors, and the Scriptures that inspired her.

Really??? NO ONE thought something was going on? You’d think someone in the church would have picked up on this…

Anyway, when his wife wanted to talk about their family problems—the finances (a typical pastor’s issue—being a PK this is very familiar territory for me), the kids, or anything—the pastor didn’t have time.

The pastor’s wife eventually decided to confront her husband, but he, of course, denied everything and accused her of being a jealous, nagging wife.

About 11:30 two nights ago, the pastor was in his study and had left his cell phone in his bedroom. A beep announced a text message. His wife picked it up and saw it was from Mildred, asking to meet him at a restaurant the next town over.

The wife followed him the next day, walked into the restaurant, and confronted them both. The husband protested, but Mildred crumbled and confessed for both of them. The wife stormed out, called up Mildred’s husband, and spilled the beans.

The husband, distraught and unstable, went to the office to challenge the pastor. He saw Mildred, took out his gun and shot her, and then shot himself.

I never saw that coming.

I just never saw that coming. I could think of several different endings, but killing her and then himself in the church office?

Kate finished telling us the whole story and we all sat silently in Mark’s office.

I was the first to break the silence. “Why didn’t he kill the pastor?” Sounded pretty unfair to murder the woman when it was obviously the pastor’s fault. From what I gathered, he was the one who started it.

“The same question that’s on all our minds,” said Tav.

Kate’s dabbing her eyes. “Mildred’s family is having a small memorial service for her at Johnson’s Funeral Home. I’ll be going.”

“I’ll go with you.”

“Thanks, Natalie.”

So I told Gwen about this horrible tragedy.

Now Gwen always thinks I see things through my mystery and romance novel lenses. And maybe I do sometimes, but novels do provide you certain insights on how some situations work out. She says I always see hidden romantic longings in too many friendships between men and women. Guilty as charged, but as I pointed out to her, if you throw women and men into close, daily encounters, add mundane home happenings or child-rearing exhausted spouses at home, you’re going to have trouble.

And as Mom tells us (constantly), “Always guard your heart and speech, be careful what you share in confidence and with whom, avoid married men and men you have a gut instinct about, don’t have an emotional or mental affair with a man, it only leads to a physical encounter. What you’ve repeated so often in your mind will seem natural at the first touch.” Mom’s wisdom—priceless.

Here’s a scary thought: I’m becoming my mother.

And I’m wondering what are the other two horrible things we can wait for to complete the three things to happen?