July 1
9:00 a.m.

“So you’re the church secretary?” Darlene is frowning at me. I’ve become suddenly conscious that I have been weighed, measured, and have been found…definitely wanting.

I slip back behind my desk, and pretend to be immersed in my work while keeping an ear to what was being said.

“Natalie, we’re going to get on famously. Yes, faaaamously!” Don’s booming. “I have a good feeling about being in this church.”

I’m just not feeling the same vibe.

“Oh yes!” Don’s freaking out, and Darlene’s nodding in deep agreement. “I had a check in my spirit about the other church exchange we were considering, but when Pastor Mark’s offer came up, I looked at my beloved Darlene and said, ‘Praise the Lord!’—we knew this was where he wanted us for the summer.”

Listening, sort of, I’m thinking I’m having plenty of “checks in my spirit” right now.

“Well, Natalie.”

“Sounds great.”

“We’ll just go and spend some time in our office and get the ball rolling.”

Our office?

I felt like they’re killing and burying Mark, and he hasn’t even been gone two days.

And this was his church. Not their church.

Maybe I’m just being overly emotional.

And possessive.

________

July 2
8:45 a.m.

Pete’s staring at me as I drag myself up the stairs to the front door, “What’s wrong? Where’s my morning smile?”

The silence that followed his comment made me realize that I had a close friend that I wasn’t even aware of. This cheered me up.

“Sorry. It’s them. I think they’re going to be trouble.”

“If they cause you any trouble, you just let me know. No one is going to push you around.” Pete has become my protector.

“I just hope time will go by quickly until Mark gets back.”

“Don’t worry—it will,” Pete, Mr. Positively Negative, is trying to cheer me up. “Just don’t let it get you down.”

________________

1:45 p.m.

I must have had a horrible frown or expression on my face as Allan walked in and asked in a concerned voice, “Are you okay?”

First Pete, now Allan. I must really look like a thundercloud.

“It’s so good to see you.” Okay voice, don’t get all quivery and emotional now.

“What’s up?”

“Mark left on vacation.”

“I’m going to miss my best buddy too. The boys are going to miss hanging out with Mark’s kids. Don’t worry. They’ll be back soon.”

“Have you met the exchange pastor?”

“No. I heard at our leadership meeting that he’d be here. Mark seemed impressed with his skills.”

Forget Mark being impressed, I want to tell Allan what I think, and I’m just about to burst out with it…but can’t.

“Hi, I’m Pastor Don.” I’m watching as he gives Allan the hold the shoulder handshake—you know, that manipulative Yo bro! type of one, left hand grasp shoulder, proffer the right hand.

“Hi Don. Good to meet you.” Allan’s checking Don out. Good for you, Allan. You’re not feeling impressed either, huh?

“Ha haaa! I guess we’re pretty casual in California. You don’t have to call me Pastor Don. Just Don is fine. Just fine. California. Ha haaaa!”

He doesn’t like being called just Don?

“Okaaay.”

“So what do you do here, Allan?”

“Oh, just enjoying being a general nuisance,” Allan jokes.

Allan is the coolest elder ever. Always there for you when you need him. He puts in many hours for the church without much thanks. And doesn’t complain.

“Well, I’m here now. Just let me know if you need anything.”

Allan nods, hands now firmly planted deep in his pockets.

“Should be a fun summer.” With that cryptic sentence, Allan is gone. Really Allan, don’t just say something and leave.

I am alone again, feeling very sorry for myself.

“By the way, I’m always available and only a few minutes away if you need me.” Allan’s popped back into my office. “And I mean that. Call me, even if you think it’s something stupid.”

I love Allan.

_____

4:45 p.m.

I feel like a cold winter wind blew into my office.

“Cold?” Darlene’s voice rings loudly in my ear.

This woman is right behind my chair. Why is she shouting?

“No. Nothing. Just a chill.”

“Well, if you get sick, I’ll be happy to fill in. I’m used to doing all the office work. In fact, I’m not sure that we need you. Just a thought.”

“Thanks.”

“I really mean it. I’ve been doing this long since you were born. In fact, I noticed that you’re quite wasteful. In fact, it looks like Mark has quite spoiled you. Quite spoiled you, in fact.”

In fact, you already said that twice, in fact. Who. Is. This. Woman.

“Darlene could train you to be more efficient,” Don’s saying. “She’s very efficient. One has to be on that on the mission field.”

He’s talking as he’s stuffing a huge blueberry muffin in his mouth with one hand, and holding a large chocolate milkshake in the other. Look dude, what about all the starving people on the mission field? I can teach you a few things about that.

“Thanks…very kind.” I’m muttering. She’s standing behind me, he’s in front of my desk…I wonder if this is how an interview for hell feels like. I mean they always talk about Peter at the Pearly Gates…what about the other one?

“Well, like Darlene was saying…she could train you correctly…”

Another Shining moment. She was going to “correct” me. Aaaaaah. Is this really happening?

“In fact, we could save the church some money by my taking your place for a while, in fact.”

I’m going to have to talk to Allan. I’m already losing my job?

“See you tomorrow.”

My eyes follow them out of my office, down the porch, the steps, and to their rented car.

Tomorrow, they’ll have Mark’s car and basically his church…and my job.

I don’t like this one bit.