Kate squirmed quietly in her seat. She was damn near bursting at the seams to talk to M.T. and Penny. Mostly Penny. Kate had big news; news that would end her and the psychic’s stupid feud. News both of these women would really, really want to hear…at least, she hoped so.
And what better time to share-all (and clear the air) than tonight, when they were already together, enjoying one of their infamous Girl’s Night Dinners. Though, to be fair, Kate wasn’t sure if ‘enjoying’ was quite the right word….
But, clearly M.T. needed the spotlight right now. Kate nodded her head. So she would wait. And she would help M.T. Kate was an adult, after all. She could put her big news on hold until they’d reached a conclusive answer to M.T.’’s current predicament. Of course she could. And, after that, she would talk.
So—how did a pastor go about consummating a marriage-less relationship?
Penny’s voice intruded Kate’s thoughts: “…but could you potentially get fired for this?”
M.T. tried to look casual. “Well—I’m sure it wouldn’t come to that…”
“Do you need to tell everyone?” Kate asked quietly.
M.T. looked confused. “I’m not sure what you mean?”
“It’s just, when you say you’re going to tell the people of Good Shepherd do you mean… all of them?”
“Yes. All of them.”
“Yeah.” Kate swallowed hard. “It’s just—isn’t that a bit risky, throwing it out to the entire congregation, giving them authority over something so, uh…ambiguous.”
“That’s what I’ve been saying all along,” Penny said under her breath.
“Actually,” Kate returned smartly. “You’ve been saying they don’t have a right to know period. I’m saying—”
Penny smacked a hand over her forehead. “Oh Good God…who cares?!”
Back straight, and chin tilted at a haughty angle, Kate turned back to M.T. “It’s just, does it need to be such a public affair? That’s wrought for emotional and reactive responses. And what if they don’t support it? What would you do then?”
M.T. looked panicky again.
But Kate wasn’t done with her scare tactics. “And, if all that happened, what about the church? Would they be forced to make an issue out of this?—I mean, what is your denominations technical stance on this anyway?”
M.T. fidgeted with a lock of hair—twining it around her ear, letting it loose and then repeat. “Listen, I know it’s risky but it’s also real and genuine—”
Kate cut off her defense. “Okay, but what about if you started smaller? Say the board of directors—see what they have to say about it. I mean, these are the people who quote the by-laws chapter and verse, right? They’ll know how to advise you going forward.”
Now it was M.T. who squirmed in her seat. “I’m not sure—they’re kind of a stodgy bunch. They’ve never been exactly welcoming to me.”
“What about the church staff then—?” Kate offered, but her quiet suggestion was both cut-short and drowned-out.
“And?” Penny boomed loudly, leaning forward to join the conversation again: “They’re just as much a part of Good Shepherd’s as all those countless other strict traditionalists. If you can’t stomach squaring if with only a handful of them how do you propose a whole sanctuary full? Or are you planning on only revealing your intentions with the more liberal church-goers?”
“I’ve just never been the kind of pastor who…” M.T. pushed her plate away as though it had offended her. “I don’t want to feel as though there are parts of my life I can’t talk about to the parishioners. I don’t want to feel like I’m keeping secrets, or hiding things. That feels wrong. And if I can’t be honest and open, how can I ask them to be—”
“All right but, how does Hank feel about it?” Kate asked, praying for a Hail Mary. “About his private life being talked about in such a well, public setting? Because it’s not about just you anymore.”
“Oh.” M.T. looked taken aback.
“Never considered that one, huh?” Penny jeered.
“We never talked about it…”
“You may want to,” Penny cautioned. “Because, according to this conversation, it’s something he’d have to get used to.”
“Well, I mean, I don’t know if I’d put it that way—”
Penny frowned. “You’re asking for the church’s permission to date a guy…I’d say so.”
M.T. made a face. “You’re putting words into my mouth.”
“No. I’m just clarifying. You can’t make a decision—a very personal decision—without their unequivocal say-so.”
“Penny, that’s enough,” M.T. replied curtly.
“Have you told Hank about your reservations—about why you haven’t, well, you knowed with him?” Kate asked meaningfully.
M.T. shook her head. “No. I—”
M.T. shrugged. “Because when you say it out loud it sounds kind of…” She shrugged uncomfortably.
Penny. “Big Brother-ish?”
“No,” M.T. snapped. “No. Because I’m afraid he wouldn’t understand.”
“You’re afraid it would scare him away,” Penny answered firmly. “Admit it.”
Maggie sputtered. “No, it’s just…there are certain allowances…I’m not sure he’s…it’s a big thing to ask someone—”
“Hey,” Kate soothed, reaching forward to touch the back of M.T.’s hand. Her voice was gentle where Penny’s had been hard, forceful. She smiled at the scared pastor sitting opposite her. “If Hank isn’t willing to do that, then why are we even having this discussion?”
M.T. sighed. “Okay. Yeah. You’re right. I’ll talk to him.”
Penny nodded. “Yeah, it’s—”
The sudden piercing jingle of Kate’s cell-phone rang out, interrupting whatever Penny had been about to say. Reaching apologetically into her back pocket, Kate retrieved the device, which she’d forgotten to silence earlier. Checking the screen, she saw it was a text message. Blushing, Kate was pretty sure she knew who it was from. After all, she was with the only other people who regularly contacted her already.
Penny, staring pointedly at the thing clutched in Kate’s hands, seemed to be waiting. Looking up to see those prying eyes, Kate quickly dropped the phone down onto the seat beside her. “Sorry,” she mumbled.
“Tonight,” Penny said decisively. “After we leave. Call him.”
Kate’s phone buzzed again. This time, all three pairs of eyes turned to look at it.
“Have somewhere you need to be?” Penny asked.
“No—no,” Kate assured them. “I’m sure it’s just someone from work.” The fib came easily to her lips. “Probably looking to drop a shift or something.”
“Do you need to check it?” M.T. asked, without censure. “It may be important.”
“No, I’m sure—”
“Go ahead,” Penny invited, waving toward the condemned thing. “Otherwise, it may go off all night at this rate…”
“Fine,” Kate replied tightly and, goaded by the words, snatched up the phone with impatient fingers. Opening up the text—now two text messages—Kate saw that she’d been right all along. They were from him. Reading them silently, she couldn’t help the small smile that played out over her mouth as she read the missive.
“Ah. Judging by the look on her face, if it is from Kate’s work, I have a pretty good guess of who it is that’s trying so hard to get a hold of her,” Penny whispered loudly to M.T. Kate’s head snapped up at the ominous words, her smile freezing uncertainly on her face.
Maggie sent her sister a speaking look. “Don’t,” she mouthed.
Penny pursed her lips. “No actually, I should speak,” and turning to stare at Kate, who bit the inside of her cheeks nervously, added: “Because, the thing is…”
Kate felt her heartbeat kick up a notch. Not again…
“The thing is,” Penny said. “Jake’s a good guy—”
Kate blinked. Wait. What? Jake—? That wasn’t what she’d expected to hear.
“He’s a great guy actually,” Penny continued. “But I think you already know that.”
Kate shook her head. “Penny…”
“No, let me finish,” she insisted. “I shouldn’t have—you’ve been pressured your entire life on who to like and who not to, and—well, I’m sorry if I was doing that too. I’m sorry that I acted like you needed my approval to validate your feelings…and that there was only one way to gain it, by liking what I liked.”
“Yes, I was,” Penny admitted. “And it didn’t even make any sense, because Jake would be perfect for you.” At this impassioned speech, M.T. stared thoughtfully at her sister. And a bit confusedly. (This went double for Kate, who was openly gaping at Penny.) “I-I think I just wanted to be right so badly about you and Jackson that I refused to—that I…”
“Penny, that’s the thing…” but again, Kate’s words were ignored.
“I didn’t want to see what was happening with you and Jake,” Penny made a fleeting gesture with her hand, “I didn’t want to see what I saw down in M.T.’s basement. But, I did see it. And it made sense…at least, once I got over myself, it did.”
Kate felt herself shrinking in her chair. What the hell was happening? Penny wanted Kate to get with Jake? Now? Finally? That was rich. Of all the times to switch sides…
And to think she’d been so excited to talk to Penny tonight, to tell her what had happened yesterday afternoon, when she’d been over at Jackson’s house, rehearsing for the play. She’d been itching to talk to Penny… and most certainly not about Jake. It was a good story, only now she wasn’t sure she had the right audience to hear it.
Because, barring the clumsy, gawkish entrance at Jackson’s front door, it might have been one of the most romantic nights of Kate’s life. The evening started out as most historic evenings go—normal, uneventful even. They’d just been sitting in his living room, scripts in hand, going over scenes for the play…
“…okay,” Jackson announced tirelessly, after the better part of an hour’s rehearsing: “Try that last line again.”
Kate scratched the side of her neck. “Yeah, it sounded a bit cartoonish when I said it, didn’t it?”
“More like an after-school special,” Jackson replied.
Kate laughed. “Yeah. All right.” And so she read the line again—Jackson standing back and watching her movements, her inflection, her facial expressions.
It took three more read-through’s and then…
“That’s it,” he said, with a definitive clap of his hands. “Right there.”
“Oh thank God,” Kate teased playfully, dropping her script down at her side. “I thought I’d be here all night!”
Jackson grinned. “Hey, you’re working with a professional here. No sloppy acting allowed.”
“Because, surely, if that part wasn’t just perfect, I was going to get tomatoed for sure!”
Jackson smiled gamely. “Ready to run through it one more time? From the top?”
“Slave driver!” Kate cried with a wink.
“All right,” Jackson relented. “How about a five minute break?”
“That sounds like a dream.”
Jackson nodded. “Water?”
Kate nodded. “Even better.”
“Be right back,” he said before leaving the room, his steps taking him quietly toward the back of the house, where the kitchen was located.
It was as she was standing there, idly gazing about the room, waiting for him to return that Kate noticed it, a picture frame sitting on the wood-hewn mantle, its gilded border nestled on either side by floral vases, each one overflowing with fresh, wild flowers. The photo was of a blonde woman. A very lovely, and very young blonde woman. A glimpse of the lake could just be seen in the background. She was smiling with such happiness.
Jumping at the sound of Jackson’s voice, coming from close behind her, Kate turned quickly around. She hadn’t heard him come back in, but it was clear from the look on his face he’d been there for a bit…and that he’d seen her looking at the photograph.
So she decided not to pretend otherwise. Talking softly, as though her words were delicate, Kate nodded toward the picture: “Was this…?”
Jackson’s throat bobbed in response. Carefully, he set both glasses of water down on the coffee table before advancing toward the fireplace.
“She was…very beautiful,” Kate whispered.
“I’m sorry,” Kate offered belatedly. “I wasn’t meaning to snoop.”
“Of course not,” Jackson said, waving her words away. He turned to look down at Kate then and that’s when she realized how close to one another they were suddenly. “In fact, I’m kind of glad you saw it.”
Kate stared at him, one eyebrow slightly raised.
“I wasn’t sure how I’d feel…having you here. This was her home.”
Kate’s teeth rasped lightly over her lips. “I don’t understand…?”
Jackson took another half-step forward, until he was almost touching her. “I needed to be sure.”
In answer, Jackson’s right hand lifted, settling against the side of her cheek, his thumb absently caressing the underside of her chin as his face slowly lowered, his breath rustling across her cheek. “And now I am,” he whispered seconds before he fitted his mouth to her own.
And for once in twenty-eight years, Kate didn’t over-think her response; she didn’t question the practicality, or doubt what was right or wrong. She didn’t analysis the moment right out of her life. For once, she acted upon instinct. And, on that, she raised her arms to his face, her hands cupping either side of his jaw as she opened her mouth up to the invading pressure of his tongue….
Long minutes later, Jackson lifted his head and, staring down at Kate’s bemused expression, he smiled. “I have to confess,” he whispered in a mock-serious tone. “I asked you over here today with an ulterior motive.”
Kate nodded. “I see. So all this talk of ‘practice,’ was just a ruse, huh?”
Jackson grinned. “Well, only partly. The rehearsal was real enough—your acting did need some help…”
Kate swatted him on the shoulder. “Yeah? Well so does your flattery.”
Jackson’s grinned slipped from his face. “Hopefully what I have to say next will make up for it.”
Kate held her breath.
“Kate McDonald,” Jackson said, “would you go out on a date with me?”
And, for the second time in her life, Kate didn’t stop to consider her answer, she didn’t weigh the pros and cons, and she didn’t let herself wonder what Penny would do, how M.T. should would advise, or if her mother would approve. No, this time, she said the first word that came to her mind, the one that felt right sitting on her tongue.
But now, staring soulfully at Penny, Kate, who’d dreamed of retelling this story, found herself ironically unable to do so.
“…look, all I’m saying is, I overreacted the other day, seeing you with Jake,” Penny said now. “And I took it out on you which wasn’t fair, because I think we all know I wouldn’t have been anywhere near as upset if it had been you and Jackson down there. What I said, it wasn’t… I was wrong, okay? On all accounts.”
“But that’s over now.”
Kate felt her brows furrow. “So you want me to end up with Jake? Not Jackson? I’m confused.”
“Me too,” M.T. muttered under her breath.
“No.” Penny took a deep breath. “I’m saying that perhaps I didn’t give Jake a fair shake. And if that’s the case, then perhaps I stopped you from—just, disregard everything I ever said about him.”
Kate felt a lump forming in her throat.