"Not if I can help it!"
He laughed as Cynthia trotted down the hall. "She usually can't help it." He expected a new children's book to break forth from his energetic wife any day now. Indeed, didn't she have a history of starting one when life was upside down and backward?
Emma munched on a piece of shortbread, showering crumbs in her lap. "Do you have those letters ready for me to do on th' computer?"
"Not quite. I wasn't expecting you 'til in the morning."
"I'm coming in th' morning, I just wanted to run by and tell you all th' late-breakin' news. But," she said, arching one eyebrow, "I haven't told you everything, I saved th' best 'til last."
His dog wandered into the study and crashed at his master's feet, panting.
"If you say you already know this, I'll never tell you another thing as long as I live. On my way here, I saw Mule Skinner, he said he's finally rented your house."
She drew herself up, pleased, and gulped the lemonade.
"Terrific! Great timing!" He might have done a jig.
"He said there hadn't been time to call you, he'll call you tonight, but it's not a family with kids like Cynthia wanted."
"Oh, well ..." He was thrilled that someone had finally stepped forward to occupy the rectory. He and Harley had worked hard over the last few months to make it a strong rental property, putting new vinyl flooring in the kitchen, replacing the stair runners, installing a new toilet in the master bath and a new threshold at the front door ... the list had been endless. And costly.
"It's a woman."
"I can't imagine what one person would want with all that house to rattle around in."
"How quickly you forget! You certainly rattled around in there for a hundred years."
"True. Well. I'll get the whole story from Mule."
"He said she didn't mind a bit that Harley would be livin' in the basement, she just wanted to know if he plays loud rock music."
Emma rattled the ice in her glass, gulped the last draught, and got up to leave. "Before I forget, you won't believe what else I found on th' Internet -- church bulletins! You ought to read some of th' foolishness they put out there for God an' everybody to see."
She fished a piece of paper from her handbag. "'Next Sunday,'" she read, "'a special collection will be taken to defray the cost of a new carpet. All those wishin' to do somethin' on the new carpet will come forward and do so.'"
He hooted with laughter.
"How 'bout this number: 'Don't let worry kill you, let th' church help.'"
He threw his head back and laughed some more. Emma's life in cyberspace definitely had an upside.
"By th' way, are you takin' Barnabas down there?" She enunciated "down there" as if it were a region beneath the crust of the earth.
"I don't know how you could do that to an animal. Look at all that fur, enough to stuff a mattress."
Barnabas yawned hugely and thumped his tail on the floor.
"You won't even be able to see those horrible sandspurs that will jump in there by th' hundreds, not to mention lodge in his paws."
Emma waited for an argument, a rationale -- something. Did he have no conscience? "And th' heat down there, you'll have to shave 'im bald."
Father Tim strolled across the room to walk her to the door. "Thanks for coming, Emma. Tell Harold hello. I'll see you in the morning."
His unofficial secretary stumped down the hallway and he followed.
He was holding the front door open and biting his tongue when she turned and looked at him. Her eyes were suddenly red and filled with tears.
Text © 1999 Jan Karon. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Viking.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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