Kristie sipped her coffee thoughtfully.
The pastor droned on and on. She could feel someone looking at her. Almost against her will, she turned her head slowly.
Frank, one of the other parishioners, at another table, was beaming at her. She managed a watery smile and turned her head back front. It was almost an act of sheer will to not look again.
Later, the pastor was fielding questions from parishioners. She turned her head back to that side of the room again. Frank was actually looking away for a moment. She took in his usual garb. Although it was late fall already, he was still dressed in army fatigue shorts, his best wife-beater t-shirt, a trucker cap and flip-flops.
A little past middle-age, white tufts of hair stuck out from beneath the cap. Her eyes were drawn to his feet. They were dry, with large calluses ringing the heels. The nails were longish and faintly tinged with dirt. He had a habit of rubbing his feet together which made a slight rasping sound.
As she had in the past, Kristie caught herself wondering what it would be like to be in bed with such feet. God. An involuntary shudder passed through her and she managed to pull her face back forward before the man had a chance to glow at her anymore. It has probably been some time since ol’ Frank has had the opportunity to share sheet time with anyone, she thought to herself.
At the end of the class session, people were getting up and grabbing their jackets and bags. She jerked when she saw him trying to push his way in her direction. Grabbing the car keys, she practically ran out of the building. Pam, her good friend, tried to stop her to say hello. She just shook her head no and kept going.
Once in the car, she breathed a little sigh of relief. But, damn it! If he wasn’t coming her way to start some conversation in the parking lot. She cranked the engine over and pulled a turn around him. He lifted his hand to wave and she gave him the briefest wave back and gunned the motor.
Back at her place she gave Sam, her long-time boyfriend, a call.
“So, what do you want me to do? Beat him up? He’s an old guy.”
“No, I don’t want you to beat him up. Just . . . “
She was momentarily at a loss for words. What did she want?
“Just, be a presence. Come to church with me and be a presence.”
“Come to church?”
“Yes, the Bible class.”
“Oh, Kristie, the last time I was in Bible class, I was twelve. And I didn’t much like it then!” Sam protested.
“Well, has the old geezer actually done anything?”
“No, he hasn’t done anything. But. . . he keeps trying to ah, . . . hit on me and I get really uncomfortable. I am going to have to stop going if. . ..”
“Okay, okay. Whatever. If you say so. Jeese.” Sam blew out his breath wondering how much perfectly good football time this would entail.
“Oh, Sam, thanks.”
“Well, hold on now. How many of these damn. . . uh, classes will I have to do?”
“I don’t know for sure. Just enough so he gets the idea I’m not available.”
“Alrighty, I will go and flex my biceps for this clown.”
“Does this mean you owe me some more apple pie?”
The next day at work, Pam came up to Kristie.
“What the heck was that all about last night, girlfriend?”
“I’ll tell you at break,” Kristie glanced around.
“Okay, fine. Thought I had cooties or something.”
Kristie laughed. “It’s not you, not at all.”
Pam looked relieved.
The following week, Kristie was back in Bible study and her sidekick, Sam, was by her side. They sat together at a table and the pastor welcomed Sam.
“I see we have a newcomer,” the pastor said genially. “Welcome.”
Sam smiled and waved to the group.
At break time, everyone got up to get a cup of coffee and some cookies the church ladies had set out. Sam moseyed over to the coffee urn and poured himself a cup of regular. He looked around the room and spotted Frank and did a beeline.
“Frank!” He clapped the older man on the back forcibly.
Frank staggered forward a step and spilled a little of his coffee. Looking around he gave a half-smile to the taller, more buff Sam.
“I think we know each other from the gym, don’t we?” Sam continued and put his arm around Frank’s shoulders giving a subtle push toward the open door.
“I, I’m not sure. Do you go to the gym in town?”
“Yes, I do. How much can you lift, Frank? Two – two fifty? You look like a guy who likes to stay in shape.”
The two men walked awkwardly toward the outside of the building.
Kristie was watching from the sidelines and nearly choked on her coffee laughing. She almost felt sorry for Frank for a minute when she saw the wolfish grin Sam was wearing. One she knew too well, right before he was ready to punch someone.
Stop it, she told herself. It’s all the man deserves. That and more. She had to laugh again at that panicked look in Frank’s eyes. Hump! Guilty conscience no doubt.
Later, Kristie and Sam got into his truck to go home.
“Thanks, Sam, for doing that. I started to feel sorry for the guy,” she told him.
Sam cranked up the engine and pulled out of the lot.
“Well, don’t. The guy’s a loser. He drank his way through two marriages and has finally seen the light. Why do you think he started coming to church?”
“I don’t know.”
“He gave up drinking and decided to try Jesus instead. He simply has a preference for blondes.” Sam reached over and tugged at one of Kristie’s blonde curls. “And you are just his cup of tea.”
“Ick,” was her reply.
“Yeah, me too and I’m a guy. Nope,” he gave her a little wink, “don’t think he will bother you anymore. We came to an understanding.”
He wagged a finger at her. “Ask me no questions and I’ll you no lies.” He smiled.
“I…” Realizing she really didn’t have anything to add, Kristie shrugged her shoulders and gave it up.
The next morning, they were at Kristie’s house and Sam was having his first cup of coffee for the morning. Kristie wandered out in her dressing gown and yawned.
“God, I hate early risers,” she half moaned and poured herself a cup. She had to admit, Sam could make a decent pot of coffee.
He was sitting at the kitchen table leafing through the paper.
“Hmm. Look at this,” he pointed at the paper. She came over.
“Bed and breakfast. Old Town Pasadena. Charming Arts and Craft house, restored. One-night stay includes breakfast and dinner.”
“Yeah. That looks like it might be good,” she commented.
“And,” he pulled her down to a chair, “it might be good for you to get away for a little. Away from . . . ah.”
“Creeps,” she said.
“Work was what I was going to say. Plus, if I am not mistaken, this looks just like the place Bill Bass was telling me about.”
“Yeah, you remember Bill. All 6’ 4” of him?”
“Naturally, I remember Bill. What’s he been up to?”
“Well, you know he was in Thailand a long time?
“Well, he’s back Stateside with a new girlfriend. Apparently, he met her there and she talked him into coming here and helping her with a bed and breakfast.”
“You think this is the place?”
“Sounds a lot like it, based on what he told me. I’ll give him a call.”
Sam got home and checked his calendar. Looked like he had some free time. As a free-lance PI, Sam took on the occasional case looking for missing persons and some corporate espionage. He could use a little vacay himself.
He punched up Bill’s number.
“Buddy! It’s Sam. No, same old, same old. How you?”
“Gosh, that’s great. So, you are in Pasadena? Hey. I got this newspaper ad. Is that your place?”
“Wow, well, her place actually. Sorry. No, no, you’re right. Not a good idea to make that mistake. Ah. . . think about taking Kristie on a little trip. This might work.”
“Yeah, I’ll hold. She needs to check the calendar? Sure. I’ll wait. Two weeks? Should be okay. Let me get back to you. Look forward to it and catching up. Thanks, later.”
Sam smiled as he hung up. That Bill, always seems to fall right into a complete bed of roses. Place sounds like a dream!
Two weeks later, Sam and Kristie were packed up and on the road. She had the dog sitter coming to take care of her dog and the Sebring was gassed up and ready to go.
At Sam’s insistence, they hit it by 8 am.
“God, Sam, the break of dawn,” Kristie complained.
“Hey, you’ll be complaining if we get a lot of traffic. So, just lean back and leave the driving to me. No points lost for snoozing.”
She couldn’t fight logic, so Kristie popped the seat back, pulled a throw snuggy over her shoulders and closed her eyes. Before long, Sam could hear a gentle snore coming from that side of the car. He smiled.
He loved watching her sleep. Hell, he thought to himself, I love watching her period. I’m one lucky guy! And that was no joke. At sixty-six years, widowed, grown kids, many men his age had no love life at all. Much less a cute, blonde fifty-five-year-old by their side.
Ah, life’s good, he thought putting on the cruise control, soft jazz on the CD. The sky was a bright, eggshell blue, not a cloud anywhere. He leaned back and sipped his coffee. His mind flicked back to Frank at the church. Jesus, a guy like that; middle-aged, paunch, bad clothes. He’d probably be lucky if he could buy some love the odd Saturday night. He shook his head. Next thing I’ll feel so bad I’ll be inviting him to dinner. Bad idea! Who knows, there might even be somebody out there for someone as hard up as Frank.
(End of Part I)