August 1—10

So you know how nothing happens, and then suddenly too much does and you have no life of your own—except the church.

And more church meetings.

I. Am. Bored.

Very bored.

Even Walt is away. I am reduced to welcoming a visit from Faith. And Jessica. No one told me how boring a church office is in summer.

Or what a hell it can become when you have to work for Death and Destruction—and their gazillion secret “prayer” meetings. If I have to add one more Sunday altar call to the bulletin… Why does one have an altar call every Sunday? And why do the same people go up every Sunday? It’s like they didn’t get it right the last time. Anyway, that’s just how I feel about it.

But the good thing in all this busyness is that Frankie has faded.

________

August 11
7:45 a.m.

I woke up this morning and am trying to recapture all the warm feelings I had for Frankie.

And there’s nothing. I mean, all I remember now are fun times, but not the Oh, why isn’t he still calling me? Why don’t I hear from him? I can’t live without him. I don’t want to liiiive without hiiiim…

It’s funny how God works things out. You worry…spend countless hours replaying things in your mind. Wishing you could undo things—anything so that you could be communicating again. Then, overnight, it’s gone. Instead, you have this weightless, floaty feeling of contentment, joy, and peace.

Maybe it was just listening to Andrea’s experience.

Anyway, I’m wishing that Frankie would find some woman he’ll love and adore and live happily ever after with her. I would even be willing to be in his bridal party (not catch the bouquet—not ready for marriage before I see Paris). I’ve seen this really nice red dress. Not sure if I can wear red as a bridesmaid. Maybe I’ll just attend and dance the night away.

“You seem really happy this morning.” I don’t know why Gwen’s saying that since I’ve been whining about work.

“I don’t want to go to work. I have that stupid denominational guy coming and Allan wants me to meet with them. I told Allan I didn’t want to…and I was so hoping that the guy had forgotten…”

“You are happy.”

“I’m unhappy and complaining about my life.”

“No, you’re happy…content-like.”” Gwen is insisting. “Is it Frankie? Have you both made up?”

“Yes. No.”

“Nat, what is it? Yes or no?”

“Well…yes, it’s Frankie. But, no, it’s not what you think.”

“What do I think?”

“You’re hoping it’s not Frankie, but you’ll be happy for me…if I’m happy. This is great quiche. What did you add to it?”

“Bacon. It’s a bacon quiche—it’s all I had!”

“Anyway, I’m going to be in Frankie’s wedding…just not going to be the bride.”

“Frankie’s getting married? Nat, why didn’t you tell me? I’m so sorry. How are you feeling about it?”

I’m trying to respond, but I inhale a piece of bacon or something so I’m choking, coughing, and tears are running down my cheeks—and poor Gwen is completely distraught because she thinks I’m dying over Frankie. I feel like I am going to die because of Frankie.

“Gwen, you’re killing me.”

“You okay?” She’s been thumping my back hard to dislodge whatever she thinks is stuck in my throat, but she’s very angry at Frankie for having hurt me so I’m guessing she’s slapping my back harder than she intended.

“Yes. Thanks. Water.”

I’m going to die.

“Here.”

You have no idea what a fresh glass of cool water tastes like after you’ve nearly choked yourself to death. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to give a choking person water, but it worked for me.

“Frankie’s not getting married. I haven’t heard from him. I was just thinking that I feel so relaxed about my relationship with Frankie.”

“What happened?” Obviously, Gwen is very curious. I think she’s holding her breath and praying that I won’t change my mind. Like I ever change my mind. So I do. But I feel strongly about this.

“I don’t know. It must be a God thing. A reward for working in church office purgatory with Don and Darlene. Anyway, I woke up and realized I love Frankie…but just as a friend. We’re too alike to be anything more. We’re too stubborn. Pig-headed…you know.”

“Are you going to talk to him and let him know?”

“He hasn’t called so there’s nothing to say.”

“What if he does?”

“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”

“Natalie.” Usually when Gwen calls me Natalie I know I’ve reached the boundary of her patience.

“Okay, I will.”

Some time.

DJ Fade Out time…

________

4:00 p.m.

I’m really nervous about this meeting. I wish I didn’t have to be there, but Allan had asked. I couldn’t refuse him. I spent the entire day checking my cell phone clock, my computer clock, the clock in the kitchen, the office, and asked everybody who walked in the door, “What time is it?” I started to feel like the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. I didn’t want to be late for this meeting.

“I’m Ken Mullin.” He held out his cold, bony hand, a big smile on his face. The handshake was one of those that grasp your hand tightly and stare straight into your eyes unwaveringly. Translated: My handshake proves I’m trustworthy and my eyes back up that proof by looking directly at you.

“Hi, I’m Natalie.” I smile back. Hey, I could do this a smile for a smile deal. It’s biblical.

“You must be the power that holds this place together,” a wink and a smile.

Oooh. A wink? I hate people who wink at me when they don’t know me, especially when they meet me for the first time.

“No, no. Please don’t say that. I’m just his servant and very grateful to him that he chose me to serve in such a manner. To God be the glory.” I look at Ken with deep sincerity, clasping and unclasping my hands in front of myself.

Ken clears his throat. “Yes. Right. Yes.”

Now there’s this uncomfortable silence.

“Could I get you something to drink?”

“No. I’m fine.”

Please phone ring. Nothing.

“So you’re the secretary…”

Yes, we’ve already been through that.

“…how long have you been working here?”

“Two months. Wait, no. Wow! I’ve been here for almost six months!”

What? I’ve been at First Church of Alcatraz for six months! I really have to leave. Now.

Especially now.

“How does working for Pastor Don compare with Pastor Mark?”

“Well…” Can I plead the fifth? “Well, they’re both different men with different approaches to ministry.”

“Pastor Don is an exceptionally gifted man. It would be unfair of me to compare anyone to him.”

“Pastor Mark is…”

“You don’t have to worry, Natalie. Your secret is safe with me.” Wink. Wink.

I’ve been wink sandbagged. If I say anything, he’ll accuse me of being defensive. I hate people who do that.

Ugh.

_________

4:15 p.m.

“Sorry to be late. You must be Ken? I’m Allan. Thanks for agreeing to meet..”

“My pleasure. We’re here to help.”

“Would anyone like some coffee or tea?” Maybe I’ll trip on my way to the kitchen, break a toe, and won’t have to go to the meeting.

“No thanks.” Two strong nos.

“Let’s meet in Pastor Mark’s office.” Allan’s leading the way. “Natalie, after you.”

Allan knows me too well. I’m being held a prisoner against my wishes.

“Quite a nice office Pastor Mark has here.” Ken is looking around as he settles onto the sofa.

Yes, that’s why Don wants it.

“I’ll get directly to our concerns.” Allan bypasses any small talk.

“Yes, that will be best.” Ken is all congenial.

Now my palms have started to sweat again. I’ve found my favorite chair. High back.

“Have you had any complaints or concerns expressed about Don by members of any of his previous churches?” Yes, Allan. Let’s just go directly for the jugular.

“Don? Not that I know of…” Ken is too quick to respond. “In fact, Natalie and I were just talking about how exceptionally gifted Don is. Right, Natalie?”

I’m pretending to be too involved in taking notes to respond. Allan ignores Ken’s response and goes on.

“Do you know if Don has had any complaints that have required counseling or anything like that?”

“You know that’s confidential information.” Ken’s smiling, condescendingly. “I can’t disclose that.”

The atmosphere is getting tense very fast, even the knots in my stomach are lagging behind. Allan is honest and direct. Ken is your company man.

“What you’re saying is that you don’t know anything about a pastor in your denomination that you send from country to country, church to church? You don’t know anything about your pastor who takes—”

Smiles are gone. “How dare you accuse Pastor Don of stealing?”

“I didn’t accuse him of stealing.” Allan’s tone is very quiet.

“Yes, you did,” Ken is countering, all belligerent.

“You didn’t let me finish my sentence,” Allan’s saying, in a mild tone. “I was just curious that you seemed to have no knowledge of your pastor…about your pastor who takes money as a missionary of your organization?”

“What are you inferring?”

Implying. How many people make the same mistake?

“Look, Don has walked into our church, claimed our theology is heretical. He’s tried to turn everything around, and for the first time in over twenty years the church is missing money and materials. You do the math.”

Whoa! That direct I wasn’t expecting. Couldn’t Ken and Don sue the church over such an accusation?

“I think our conversation is over. I will not sit here and have one of our dear pastors denigrated.” Ken jumps up, and slams his iPad case shut.

“Denigrated be damned,” Allan’s leaning back in his chair, legs stretched out before him—relaxed, as opposed to Ken’s obvious fury. “You have a loose canon and you don’t know what to do with him. Don’t think I’m going to let him come here and destroy our church.”

“Who do you think you are? Your un-Christlike behavior shows a sad lack of Jesus in your life.”

Oops, too far, Ken, gone too far, I’m thinking.

“Don’t you come into my church and try and judge me, you white-washed…—”

What had Allan called him? Had I heard right?

Ken turned bright purple, not white, and he was gone.

“I’m sorry,” Allan turned to me, and apologized. “I shouldn’t have used such language in the presence of a lady.”

“Are you kidding me? That was nothing to what I’d have called him.”

I am very proud of Allan.

________

August 12
11:25 a.m.

Staff meeting has been cancelled.

They’re late, and by the expressions on Don and Darlene’s faces I can tell that they had heard about Allan’s meeting with Ken.

“Natalie, we’d like to see you in my office. I understand that you were at a secret meeting yesterday.”

I hate it when people do that. Always makes me feel like a little girl who was caught telling a lie. And, just to be clear, it’s not his office.

“It wasn’t a secret meeting.” I smile at them both. I just hope I appeared calmer than I felt. I dislike confrontations. There are always two levels going on—your outside façade, and then all that acid eating your entire stomach lining. Gross. At least, that’s what it felt like.

“Don’t try and tell me that Allan wasn’t going behind my back. He should have had the moral integrity to come directly to me,” Don’s carrying on.

Anger alert. I also don’t like angry people. Like Don knows anything about “moral integrity.”

“That’s not true. Allan was told your rep would be in touch with you. There were sensitive issues that he needed some counsel on. That’s all.”

“In fact, sensitive issues, in fact?” There you are, Darlene. She is fast losing her mantle of sainthood. The gloves are coming off too fast for me. “In fact, I know what you’re up to, in fact.”

“Me?” How did it become about me?

“You won’t get away with this. Even Faith will testify to your behavior.”

Faith? My behavior? What in the world is going on???

I should have left months ago.