October 26
10:45 a.m.

Thank God I don’t have to go to work today. Bless the Property Committee for insisting that they needed the building emptied so they could do their yearly killing. That’s what I called the fumigating. Pete has been complaining about this for a month—”This is going to set me back weeks.” Brad was thrilled. And I had some serious thinking to do after last evening.

“He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not…” The beautiful rose that Gwen had left on my nightstand was now petals strewn over my bed.

Not? Not???

A loud groan from my room brought Gwen in, bringing her cup of coffee as well as mine (love my sis). She tossed some clothes off of my chair and curled up on it. She’s slurping. “That was fun last evening.”

“I know. Thanks for all the cooking—”

“Careful, it’s—”

“Whoa, that’s hot!!!” I have burnt my tongue on the hot coffee.

“That’s what I was going to say…but you’re welcome. You know I like to cook.” Gwen was back to talking about last evening. I was usually the bouncy one—this morning I felt like death.

“I don’t want to grow up. I think childhood goes by too fast.”

“The immature child always has a problem,” Gwen’s pretending to be quote from some study.

“I don’t have any immature child problem. I just don’t want to grow up…and cook…and all that.”

Gwen’s laughing.

“I’m serious.”

“I know you are. That’s why I’m laughing!”

“Mom would be laughing too. You know…”

“What?”

“Nothing.” I wanted to, but didn’t want to talk about Tav.

“I like Tav.” Of course you do. Who doesn’t?

“Good. Then you can divorce Mitch and marry him, instead.”

“You are grumpy this morning. What’s the problem?”

“He doesn’t like me.” Okay, I’m going to let down my guard and state my worst fears.

“Tav?” Gwen’s shocked. “How do you know?”

“I can just tell.” My theory in love is to assume the worst, and then you’ll never be disappointed. Being with Frankie had only reinforced that philosophy.

“Rubbish.” Gwen’s dismissed my feelings and moved on. “Now, get up, get dressed, and get out of yourself.”

Having given me her most caring advice, Gwen’s gone. Why is it that when all you want from someone is sympathy, and company in your pity party, they give you sound, let-me-kick-some-sense-into-you advice? She was beginning to sound like our mother. It wouldn’t be long before I would start sounding like my mother. Sooner or later, we all ended up sounding like our mothers. I was grateful for the fact that my mom’s the best ever. I need to thank her for the whole Frankie thing. And Tav.

Tav. I groaned again.

“Natalie Taylor, read your Bible and pray.” I needed it more than ever.

______

1:15 p.m.

Still nothing from Tav. Was I too boring? Compared to Gwen, I have no skills and don’t have her great sense of style or her sweetness… He saw us both together and realized how much I’m lacking. It’s not like him not to say thank you.

“Natty, Tav texted and thanked Mitch and me. He’s nice. Don’t mess him or this up.”

Confirmed. He had texted Gwen. He hates me.

“Natty, loved being with you last evening. Great family. Can’t wait to get together again.”

So…he doesn’t hate hate me. But he does have to do the right thing. He’s phasing me out with words.

I hate him.

“Did you hear from Tav, too?”

“Yes. I think he’s doing the fade out…”

“Natalie…denial and running aren’t going to get you anywhere.”

Yes, they are. Denial and I are best friends.

_______

8:15 p.m.

Doorbell. Who?? Now??

“Natty, you have company.” Gwen’s got a mysterious air about her and rushes out.

He loves me after all!!

Having found five other must-do things, and then running out of excuses, I go out.

“Hi!”

“Hi!”

“You?!”

“Yes, me. Natty! I couldn’t stay away. I’m sorry it’s late, but I had to see you.”

“Frankie?”

“I’ve been thinking…I don’t want to lose you…I’ve been a jerk…so if you’ll give me another chance…”

“Frankie, you idiot! It’s so good to see you.” He’s giving me a big hug.

“Oh, Natty… Can you see the hearts in my eyes?”

I didn’t think I’d be so happy to see him. We’re laughing about the hearts in the eyes. That’s what he always would text…without anything else.

“Can I get you something to drink?”

“Anything you have. And, uh—maybe something to eat?”

“That’s so like Frankie.” Gwen’s in the kitchen with me.

“Yes, that’s why I like him. He’s so predictable.”

“Yes. Pretty predictable.”

Now I’m getting defensive. “Gwen, Frankie and I go back a long ways. We know each other, and I feel comfortable with him.”

“A great foundation for life-long happiness, I’m thinking.”

I know what she’s thinking but not saying. Frankie, who “likes” every girl on any social media outlet who’s showing any part of her body that should be covered. Frankie, who then denies doing the very thing that you can see that he’s doing on said social media outlets. Frankie, who can’t stop talking about what he’d like to do to you. Frankie, who interprets “no” as yes. Frankie, who flirts with every waitress and girl he meets.

Yep, that Frankie.

But seeing him again, comparing him to Tav—Tav’s lack of interest in me—Frankie’s humor, his laugh. It was like being home again. Doesn’t every one deserve a second chance?

“Natty, I’m going to talk to Mom.”

And I know what that means. It’s what we sisters have done for years. It means I can’t get through to you so I’m going to bring in the big guns.

Whatever!

___________

Tuesday Afternoon

Okay, so I’m going to see Tav in the church office.

After seeing him for two days in a row outside the church surroundings, I’m wondering how he’s going to treat me. I’m thinking about what I’m going to say to him. All these imaginary conversations going on in my mind. “How was your day off?” “Wonderful!” “A friend of mine showed up unexpectedly—late.” “Anyone I know?” “Frankie.” “Frankie?” And then Tav would be upset, grow quiet, and go out and buy me chocolates to show me he cared.

But I needn’t have worried.

Tav texted me. “Sorry. Won’t be in. Out of town emergency. Will be gone a few days.”

That was it? Two days of his attentiveness…and that’s it. Of course, I’m ticked off. I feel used. Betrayed. Tricked.

It wasn’t like he had promised me anything. Maybe he wanted to be nice because I was his secretary. I’m no longer the type to moan and groan over some guy. I always made fun of my friends who would be so overcome with grief, in tears, wringing their hands in despair.

But I want to register the fact that I’m ticked.

This was the sign I was waiting for. Frankie is my guy, after all. I’m happy and alive again.

Thanks, God, for making that clear.

“You seem really happy.” Kate’s noticing my over-the-top perkiness.

“Yes. God is good.”

“Yes, he is. So is Tav.”

“Tav?”

“Yes, you didn’t tell me, but Martha the Grapevine did.”

“I was going to tell you, but then, there was nothing to tell.”

“So why are you so happy?”

“Frankie showed up last night.”

“Dear Lord…” And Kate’s gone.

And I’m confused again. Never underestimate the power of your family and friends not liking the man you confess to be the love of your life.

–––––––

4:00 p.m.

“First Church. This is—”

“I know who it is. I’ve been calling every day…”

“Martha!”

“How are you doing? And Tav?” Straight-to-the-point Martha.

“Great! You?”

A snort in response. “Bye.”

That was quick. Not the usual long talks on the phone.

Maybe everyone hated me.

______

4:15 p.m.

Bless Martha, in spite of my pretend carefreeness (my word, I like it), she must have sensed I wasn’t feeling my upbeat self, so here she is to cheer me up…with a plate of chocolate chip cookies!

“Martha! I love you.”

“I love you too.” Her eyes mist a bit. We’ve come a long way together. Feel like we’ve known each other for years!

I hear the buzz on my cell announcing that I have received a message. Maybe it was Tav.

“Looks like you have some interesting company…” I’m reaching for my cell, when Martha, facing the window, points to a sleek black car that has drawn up in the parking lot.

We watch in fascination as two suits jump out of it, then stride up the stairs towards the church door.

“Feds. Probably military first,” Martha announces. If anyone knew, she would. She had the background and training, having married into the military.

“Good Afternoon, Ma’am. I’m Agent Phillips and this is Agent Cruz. We’re from the FBI. Is Rev. Johnson here?”

Now, I’ve always wanted to hear those words, and the men are cute so I continue to stare at them. But here they are, and I’m remembering what Bertha at Sweet Dreams had said about the Feds being there.

“Can I see some ID?” I hear myself asking, like it’s some kind of spy movie and they might all be double agents.

The man who seems to be in charge nods, and as I’m looking at the ID, I’m pretending like I know exactly what real FBI identification looks like and would be able to spot an expensive fake right off. Right. I’m frowning and looking at the back, and the front, and nodding, and hoping I look intelligent. “Yes. Good. It has all the…right…FBI…ness…to it. Very good.”

The man looks like he’s trying not to smile. “Rev. Johnson?”

“Oh, yes, of course, sorry. He’s out of town right now. But he should be back tomorrow.”

“Please give him my card and tell him we’d like to meet with him.”

And that’s that.

Wait. I have questions. Don’t go.

“Who was that? What did they want?” Kate’s as eager as we are to know.

“The Feds. Don’t know. Here’s their card. They want to meet with Mark.”

I’m not sue why, but there seems to be a coolness that has settled between Kate and me ever since I mentioned Frankie.

Why does everyone not like Frankie?

_____

November 17
3:45 p.m.

Three weeks!

Three whole weeks. No news from the Feds. No news from Tav. Maybe the two are connected. Maybe he’s on the run.

No news from Faith.

And even no news from Walt.

Think Brad’s either in love or finding another job. He’s doesn’t hang around much. If it weren’t for the daily contact with Frankie, my life would be very empty. Even so, he’s not physically present.

I’m bored. I’m listless. Very bored. Cranky. Good thing Gwen and Mitch are away. Misery loves company—but company doesn’t love misery.

______

November 18
9:15 a.m.

“Why can’t they meet with Mark so we can find out what they want?”

“The Feds are busy. They’ve got too much on their plate.”

“Donuts.”

“What?”

“Donuts. They’ve got donuts on their plates.”

“That’s the police.”

“Same thing.”

“Cranky pants.”

“So not.”

But I am. I need to talk to my mom—she can always diagnose what my crankiness stems from.

______

11:35 a.m.

Martha, Kate, and I are on pins and needles waiting to hear why the Feds need to meet with Mark. And we’ve had some pretty wild theories. I still maintain Tav’s on the run. He has all the earmarks of a secret agent. And he’s Scottish. Suspicious. Kate thinks it has to do with Don and Darlene. Martha keeps pronouncing that we’re both wrong with every suggestion we make. It’s quite a feat that we haven’t finished her off as yet.

“Okay, to put you three out of your misery, I’ve scheduled a meeting with the Feds for tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.”

“What? Oh, hi Mark. We’re not concerned…”

“Yeah, right.” Mark’s not buying our nonchalance. “Martha could watch the phones…just in case…”

As soon as he’s out of the office, the adrenaline kicks in—three women on an adrenaline high is a low point for anyone who has to keep up with them.

______

November 19
8:30 a.m.

All three of us are in early, much to the irritation of Pete. Maybe it has to do with Pete. Maybe something about his affair.

“You three are early,” Mark observes as he passes through my office.

“Good morning to you, too!” Kate’s pretending to be offended. “You could greet your staff, you know.”

“Hello staff! You all are early because you can’t wait to hear what the Feds have to say.”

“So not true. We’re early as we don’t know what the Feds want and we to make sure our work doesn’t suffer.”

“Liars!” He winks.

“Don’t put that stuff on us. You men are just as inquisitive,” Martha’s telling Mark off.

“I agree, but that’s only because I can’t pull the wool over your eyes, Martha.”

“Aw, go on.” There’s this strong connection between Martha and the pastors—Mark and the other absent guy.

______

9:40 a.m.

Two of us watch the sleek black car pull into the parking lot again. This is exciting, but at the back of my mind, I have a nagging anxiety.

I hope it’s not about Tav.

The Feds are back…but early!

“Good Morning,” Martha greets them in a stern voice.

“Morning, Ma’am.”

“Pastor Mark will be here shortly,” I add with a smile.

“Would you like some coffee?”

“No thanks, Ma’am.” The men smile at Martha with deference. They must sense her military background.

“Would you like to wait in Pastor Tavish’s office? He’s away.” If they say no, then I’ll know for sure it has to do with Tav.

Or they could say yes, so they could have a good search of his things.

In any case, I didn’t think it would be good to have them sitting in my office. Anyone coming in and seeing the Feds in the church would start a massive Twitter and Facebook leak.

“Thanks. That would be good.”

“Just a minute.” I buzz Kate.

“This is Pastor Johnson’s secretary.” I introduce Kate to them. “Could these gentlemen wait in Pastor Tavish’s office?”

“Sure. Tav won’t mind.”

As soon as Kate’s back from having delivered the Feds into Tav’s office, Martha demands, “Did they say anything to you?”

“Not a word…I told Mark they’re waiting. He’s going to see them as soon as he finishes his phone call.”

Time’s dragging like crazy. We can’t concentrate on anything. We’re waiting like cats ready to pounce on rats.

______

10:55 a.m.

The Feds have been with Mark for over an hour.

“So…” Kate begins, the moment Mark enters the office.

“Martha, can you watch the phones? They want to talk to Kate and Natalie. I really appreciate your help.”

“That’s what I’m here for.”

Now I’m racking my brains wondering what I had done. My usual default blame myself button is pushing all my panic buttons. Mark sounds so serious.

Even strong Kate is showing signs of fear.

Kate and I walk into Mark’s office. He pulls out a couple of chairs on either side of him, and we gratefully sink into them.

“This is Agent Tyronne Phillips and Agent Will Curz.”

“We met outside,” Agent Phillips smiles, trying to put us at our ease…before the kill. So obvious.

“They have some distress…disturbing news,” Mark continues. Can I die first? “They’d like to ask you a few questions about one of our members.” One of our members, not me. Not Tav. He’s not a member. Amen! Can I hear hallelujah? “Of course, it goes without saying, this is highly confidential.”

Kate and I nod. Cross my heart and hope to die, I’m thinking. This is just like being in a James Bond film. Who thought church work could be so much fun? I realize this situation isn’t fun, and I’m sure what’s happening was horrible, but…pulse is racing all the same.

Agent Will is now leading the questioning. He’s staring at Kate. “You’re Kate, right.”

“Yes,” she nods, her voice a little shaky.

“We understand you’ve had conversations with Walter Dean.”

My mind perks up. Walt?

“Yes. But Natalie has had more conversations with him.”

Thanks Kate. Throw Natalie under the bus.

The questioning didn’t take long. No one had much to contribute. The Feds take off, and we all are silent for a while before leaving Mark’s office.

_________

10:45 a.m.

“What was that all about?” Someone has to raise the question.

“Why don’t you ask Mark?” suggests Martha, noticing Mark’s presence in my office.

“Ask me what?”

“What did the Feds want?”

Mark checks down the hallway and shuts the office door. “It’s about Walt.”

“We know that.”

“Well…his real name is Clement.”

“Clement? What a horrible name? Like the name of a…”

“A serial killer,” Mark completes my sentence.

“Yeah, something like that, you know they all have weird names.”

“He is.”

“He is what?”

“A serial killer.”

There is a huge silence. A huge shocked silence.

“Ha ha! You sure had us all!” Kate laughs, and I join in.

Mark had really gotten us this time. We’ll never live to hear the end of it.

“What did they really want?”

“They want to warn us about Walter. Apparently, Walt…Clement has killed over several dozens of patients in various assisted care facilities. He injects them with overdoses of heart medicine. One of the victims had complained about him to her family, but they didn’t believe her.” Mark stops. The enormity of Walt…Clement’s crimes are beginning to overwhelm Mark. Every pastor feels responsible for letting a killer in their midst, even when it’s not their fault.

Kate and I are stunned—shocked into silence. Martha’s quiet, too. A very different Martha.

“Clement would kill, and then try to fake a suicide—pretending to be so distressed at his ‘loss.’ At one of the other facilities, one of his fellow nurses took the fall and was fired for the death of a patient. Clement went from one facility to another, always leaving a trail of bodies behind him, but always finding work. He would join a church, get close to the Pastor and seniors, and kill his way to the next job.”

“How did they find out?” My palms are moist from hearing the hideous details. A little bit of selfishness on my part, but I’m thanking God that I’m not in the senior death range.

“Martha.”

“Martha? Our Martha?” Kate and I ask in unison. We stare at her. She had never said a word to us.

“Yes,” Mark goes on. “Alice was a close friend, and she wasn’t satisfied with the report regarding her death. The medicine that Alice was given bothered her. Alice didn’t have a heart problem. Martha got close to Walt and, without arousing any of his suspicions, began to question him about his training and the places he had worked. After the Feds’ first visit, she called Walt’s…Clement’s previous employers, and not liking what she heard, she called the agents.”

“I copied the phone number from the card you had,” Martha says apologetically.

“Martha—our resident Miss Marple!” The idea brings a smile to all our lips. Our church lady saves the day.

“What made you think about it all?”

“It began with Alice…and Agatha Christie,” Martha says, and leaves it at that. There will be plenty of time later for detailed explanations. Right now, we have to let the congregation know.

_____

11:05 a.m.

Martha’s still in my office.

“Thanks, Miss Marple.” I smile and give her a big hug. “I’m sort of not surprised to know that Walt’s a creep. I always had a weird feeling about him but was afraid to say anything—everyone seemed to love him.”

“I knew you were a smart one.” Martha’s very serious. “That’s why I like you. As I was telling our seniors’ group…”

And Martha told her story. She was going to be telling a lot more stories, and she deserved the honor and respect.

Thank God for the Marthas and church ladies everywhere. We need more of their wisdom.

_____

December 10
9:45 a.m.

What a ridiculously crazy three weeks! Never want to do them again.

So that’s what it’s like to live the life of a high profile person!

Our days were spent with the media constantly buzzing in and around the church. Church members—endless streams of church members—showed up just so they could be interviewed. I got tired of seeing Faith on the news talking about how God had revealed to her the person Clement was when she was standing in the Choir Room, holding his hand and praying for him…his salvation. She sobbed and cried and praised Jesus that Clement hadn’t killed her. Wait, she was wearing her waterproof mascara again.

Mark received incessant telephone calls for interviews—that meant I received the calls and my work was never done on time. Members descended on the church office wanting to know more about Clement.

Our church became the talk of the town. Paul had to assign us some policemen to keep the press and drop-in visitors at bay until everyone’s curiosity had died down and the press was off to cover the next breaking news story.

Mark had done a good job being interviewed by the local TV station. That interview went national, maybe international too. The result being a huge increase in Sunday attendance for several weeks—and an abundance of new visitor letters going out.

But still no news of Tav.

Plenty of Frankie.

So now I’m writing down the things that I have missed in the past three weeks:

-TV shows
-Holiday movies
-Hair cut
-Free chocolates at See’s (the ladies there must think I’m dead)
-Thanksgiving—huge miss, not that I like Turkey, but I missed my parents who are off gallivanting somewhere when they should be with their daughters
-And, to be honest here…Tav

Time to rip the list into pieces. Don’t want Gwen or Kate to find out what I wrote about Tav. The interesting thing about writing down your thoughts is that you put your life in perspective. I’m still debating whether that is a good thing or not.

My life said I missed Tav.

Reality is Tav is not around. And, obviously, hasn’t cared enough to keep in contact with the office…me. I had asked Kate if Tav knew about Clement, and she mentioned that Mark had talked to him. You’d think Tav would be concerned about his secretary’s safety. Right?

I could mope and bewail my fate.

Nope, that’s not my style any more. Best to get involved in a boring project. I start to work on the new visitors’ brochure Mark had assigned to me two weeks ago.

“Natalie, you seem to have a flair for design, and you’re great at catching all the grammar stuff. Why don’t you handle it?”

I graciously acquiesce, because I was going to have to do it one way or another. Besides, I need the work to take my mind off Tav.

______

1:15 p.m.

Here’s the weirdness about pastors and churches. The new visitors’ brochure looks very much like the current brochure. I’m turning it over and trying to fathom the changes, when Kate returns from lunch.

“You are the picture of joy and contentment.”

“It’s a beautiful life!” she’s singing. Kate always sings whenever she can. Her buoyant spirits are a huge lift to mine.

“You’re a sight for sore eyes!”

“What are you doing?”

“New brochure for the visitors.”

“You mean ring out the old, ring in the old. Same brochure, except Mark changed five words.”

“How did you guess?”

“He does it all the time. I’ll send you the files over. He makes it easy. Just look for the crossed out words.”

“Thanks. That’s a huge help.”

“Is Tav back in the office?” she asks. “I have some information he wanted.”

“He’s back? I haven’t heard from him.”

“Oh yeah. I forgot.”

“You know where he is? Where he was?” I pretend to be nonchalant about wanting to know where he is. She knew, but I didn’t.

“Yes. He mentioned it to Mark and me.”

“When?”

“A few weeks ago…before he left…I forget exactly.”

“Before he left?”

“Uh…yes.” Tav had known he was going away the Sunday when he was at dinner with us.

“And he’s back?”

“Yes…think he was trying to keep it quiet. He’s finishing a writing project…or something.”

Tav’s been back two weeks? And he hasn’t contacted me…I mean as his secretary, of course?

Kate’s acting like she’s hiding something from me—no wonder I sensed the coolness. It had to do with Tav, not Frankie. She has left me alone in my misery. That dark cloud I had chased away was back over me.

_____

December 11
4:15 p.m.

As if my week wasn’t bad enough, Faith showed up in my office. I wasn’t in any mood for her.

“Hi Faith.” I’m being all cheery. This is one of the toughest parts of the job, knowing you have to treat the members with kindness even when you know they’ve been talking about you behind your back.

“Hi Natalie.” Oooh, soft tones oozing sweetness and charm. This is not a good sign.

“Okay, Natalie, I have to tell you because you’re my best friend…oh, hi Faith!” Kate stops suddenly when she sees Faith. “What brings you in today?”

What did Kate want to tell me?

“Oh, just wanted to check with Natalie about some details for Sunday.” Faith’s all honey.

“You could have saved yourself the trip and emailed the info to me,” I suggest.

“Yes. Even Tav isn’t here today,” Kate adds, and returns to her office. Wow! Boom! That was Bold Kate. She’s beginning to sound like Martha.

Now I want to get rid of Faith more than ever. I’m sensing she knows I want her to leave because she’s hanging around humming and hawing, and smirking like crazy.

“So…you and Tavish had a great evening together the other night…weeks ago…in town and then at your sister’s place.” She smirks some more. “I understand.”

Why do women do that to you? What do they understand? I didn’t even know that she knew where Tav and I had been.

Unless, he had told her?

“Yes. It was nice.”

“I was very surprised to see you in the car with Tav Tav. He didn’t mention taking you home.” Faith stopped, her eyes darting to me and then to Kate’s door. “In fact, you purposely deceived me. If I remember correctly, and I’m never wrong, you said your sister was giving you a ride home.”

Thankfully Kate was back.

“You seem really busy.” My eyes are imploring her to stay.

“I’m just running downstairs to pick something up for Tav.” And she’s gone.

What does Tav even want? And why hasn’t he asked me?

This is so awkward! Did I come on too strong when we were out together? I had texted him several times. Maybe that made him think I was desperate.

Ugh.

What was going on?

“Tavish won’t be back until Sunday worship. I’m sure he needed a breather. That’s what he said yesterday. He’s had a pretty intense time away,” Faith’s going on. I’m getting a tension headache…or a heartache headache.

Wait. Even Faith knew why Tav was away. I need to get out of the church office. I need fresh air.

“Faith, if you don’t need anything else, please excuse me. I just have to get some papers from Mark’s office…for the new visitors’ brochure.” Why do I even have to give her an excuse? But I’m searching for any reason to get out of her vicinity—the cloying smell of her sick perfume and smirking face…before I punch her. My hormones are not helping.

I get up from my chair and head towards Kate’s door. She grabs my arm, trying to stop me from leaving. Really? Let’s not go there.

“Look, I know that we haven’t quite got on, but I want to keep you from making a fool of yourself over Tav Tav,” her voice is gaining a higher pitch with each word she speaks. All that voice training and you’re squeaking, the thought enters my mind. “I can set aside your pettiness and dislike of me for what Jesus would want me to do.”

The Jesus card.

“And what would that be?” I’m surprised but curious to see what Jesus wanted her to do.

“Well, my Tav Tav and I… We have to be quiet about it now, but in a few days, everyone will know. He is your boss. He feels sorry for you since you have such a crush on him. Don’t make it awkward for him…or make a fool of yourself. I’m just saying…” Faith finishes speaking with a huge flourish, shaking out the waves in her hair as she smirks and sways.

Did Tav tell her that? I feel flushed with humiliation mixed with a healthy dose of worthlessness.

“You’re just stupid.” It’s the only thing that comes to mind. At this point, I couldn’t care less about getting fired.

“Well—” narrowed eyes, and the Faith hiss—“…we’ll sssee who’s the ssstupid one. You’re going to regret ever trying to cross me.”

The whole situation seems surreal. And I can’t help but wonder what happened to the “Praise Jesus” woman. All I see in front of me is a vindictive snake straight out of the darkest pit.

I have to leave before I do something I regret. Even though I don’t care about losing my job, I do care about Mark and Kate and not wanting to cause a scene in the office.

______

5:15 p.m.

Faith is still there. Why won’t she leave??

I don’t know where I’m finding this courage, but something in me snapped. Usually, when women put me down or mocked me, I’d run home and cry in my family’s arms.

Not today.

I’ve had it.

I didn’t care about Tav, Faith, or Tav and Faith together.

Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I didn’t care about them. I did, but I didn’t. Oh Lord, I’m such a mess.

“You know, Faith, I’ve been thinking about this. It sounds to me like you’re very insecure about Tavish being with me.”

“Me insecure?” Faith’s shrill laugh follows me out of my office, sounding like a witch’s cackle. I expect her to say, “Dearie me, what have we here? An apple? Take a bite, Dearie! Take a bite!!!”

“Yes.” My obstinate self has now kicked in. I’m not going to back off now.

“Take a look at me. Do you think Tavish can resist this?” She’s showing herself as Exhibit A. She did look pretty good.

“Without a doubt.” Might as well go all the way.

“You think you’re so clever. Tav has gone to finalize details. He’s been offered a job and he’s leaving soon.”

Tav leaving? I felt like a lightning bolt just struck my entire being. My face must have registered my shock and dismay.

“You didn’t know, did you?” She is now very smug, her obvious delight showing at having pierced through my guard. “You poor, pathetic creature. I agreed to go away with him. We’ve been praying together. We have a couple’s devotional and—”

“Hi Faith! Fancy seeing you here.” Martha stomps into the room, lips tight, anger over her face.

“Martha? What are you doing here after hours?”

“I saw Faith’s car and came to see what the emergency is.” Martha appeared ready to rip apart a Panzerjäger tank with her bear hands.

“Hi Martha. I just came to give Natalie some information for Sunday.” She gives Martha her fake smile. And she still hasn’t given me any information.

“Natalie,” Martha admonishes me, “don’t forget to pay attention to your gut feelings about people.” My gut or whatever feelings are telling me that Tav and Faith are an item. “I’ll be praying for you.”

“I’m just sharing prayer concerns with Natalie.”

“Must be some fancy dirt sharing, if it’s coming from you.” Dear, sweet Martha—my guardian angel.

Faith glares at Martha and leaves.

“No sweet Jesus from her today,” Martha sniffs, watching Faith walk out the door. “Now, listen to me. I’m no spring chicken, and I’ve seen many a thing in my day. I remember a time when this woman tried to create trouble for old me. And I’ll tell you, if you believe anything that woman has to say, you’re more the fool. Tav is a good, honest man, and he knows the treasure he has right under his nose. You mark my words.”

And with that sound piece of advice, she’s gone.

_____

5:45 p.m.

I’m still at work. I didn’t want anyone to know how much I wanted to cry. If I went straight home, Gwen would know right away that something was wrong. No, I wasn’t about to let anyone see me cry.

My cell phone ringing gets my attention. Somehow, still, my heart leaps.

“You okay? I noticed your car still in the parking lot as I drove by.” It’s Kate.

“Oh—yes. Fine.” I try to laugh.

“Martha called. She mentioned she heard Faith talking to you. Don’t listen to Faith. She’s poison. Trust Martha and me. We know a few things.”

“Thanks. I’m a bit tired. Too much Faith.”

“Call if you need to talk.”

“Kate, what did you want to tell me when…”

“Sorry, Natty…you’re breaking up…I’ll talk to you later.”

I wonder what it was she wanted me to know. Maybe it was about Faith and Tav. She knew I cared about Tav and wanted to spare me as much pain as she could.

It’s dawning on me that I have never felt this way about any man before, and he was never going to be a part of my life.

This time I can’t stop the tears.


_______

“FBI Badge & gun” via Wikipedia from FBI Photos (image source)