"And so are you!" said Father Tim. "So are you!"
After all, didn't he have a new haircut, a new parish, and a whole new life just waiting to begin?
He couldn't help himself.
As the bells at Lord's Chapel pealed three o'clock, he turned into Happy Endings Bookstore as if on automatic pilot. He had five whole minutes to kill before jumping in the car and roaring off to Wesley for a bicycle pump, since Dooley's had turned up missing.
"Just looking," he told Hope Winchester. Hope's ginger-colored cat, Margaret, peered at him suspiciously as he raced through General Fiction, hung a right at Philosophy, and skidded left into Religion, where the enterprising Hope had recently installed a shelf of rare books.
He knew for a fact that the only bookstore on Whitecap Island was in the rear of a bait and tackle shop. They would never in a hundred years have Arthur Quiller-Couch's On the Art of Reading, which he had eyed for a full week. It was now or never.
His hand shot out to the hard-to-find Quiller-Couch volume, but was instantly drawn back. No, a thousand times no. If his wife knew he was buying more books to schlepp to Whitecap, he'd be dead meat.
"Better to take it now than call long-distance and have me ship it down there for three dollars."
Hope appeared next to him, looking wise in new tortoiseshell glasses.
No doubt about it, Hope had his number.
He raked the book off the shelf, and snatched Jonathan Edwards's The Freedom of the Will from another. He noted that his forehead broke out in a light sweat.
Oh, well, while he was at it ...
He grabbed a copy of Lewis's Great Divorce, which had wandered from his own shelves, never to be seen again, and went at a trot to the cash register.
"I'm sure you're excited about your party!" Hope said, ringing the sale. Margaret jumped onto the counter and glowered at him. Why did cats hate his guts? What had he ever done to cats? Didn't he buy his wife's cat only the finest, most ridiculously priced chicken niblets in a fancy tinfoil container?
"Party? What party?"
"Why, the party Uncle Billy and Miss Rose are giving you and Cynthia!"
"I don't know anything about a party." Had someone told him and he'd forgotten?
"It's the biggest thing in the world to them. They've never given a party in their whole lives, but they want to do this because they hold you in the most edacious regard."
"Well!" He was nearly speechless. "When is it supposed to be?"
"Tomorrow night, of course." She looked at him oddly.
Tomorrow night they were working a list as long as his arm, not to mention shopping for groceries to feed Dooley Barlowe a welcome-home dinner of steak, fries, and chocolate pie.
He mopped his forehead with a handkerchief. He'd be glad to leave town and get his life in order again.
"I'll look into it," he muttered, shelling out cash for the forbidden books. "And if you don't mind, that is, if you happen to see Cynthia, you might not mention that, ah ..."
Hope Winchester smiled. She would never say a word to the priest's wife about his buying more books. Just as she certainly wouldn't mention to him that Cynthia had dashed in only this morning to buy copies of Celia Thaxter's My Island Garden, and the hardback of Ira Sleeps Over.
He knocked on the screen door of the small, life-estate apartment in the rear of the town museum.
"Uncle Billy! Miss Rose! Anybody home?"
He couldn't imagine the old couple giving a party; his mind was perfectly boggled by the notion. Rose Watson had been diagnosed as schizophrenic decades ago, and although on daily medication, her mood swings were fierce and unpredictable. To make matters worse for her long-suffering husband, she was quickly going deaf as a stone, but refused to wear hearing aids. "There's aids enough in this world," she said menacingly.
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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