Tuesday, May 2
"Sorry I'm late," Lisa said breathlessly as she rushed to the three women seated in a cozy booth toward the back of Lulu's Café. Lulu's was a small dive in Cheeksville, a quaint four-red-light town in the rolling hills of southwestern Ohio, forty miles from Red River.
She slid in next to Felicia, dressed as usual in a business suit, and across from Jennifer and Mimi.
"Hey, Lisa, we were wondering if you got to praising the Lord and lost track of time," Jennifer said with a laugh.
Lisa grinned. Her husband was pastor of the Red River Assembly of God, known for its drum-thumping, guitar-playing, hand-waving worship services. She plopped her purse under the table, pushing the strap onto her knee. "Well, I'll tell ya, we did go more than two hours Sunday."
Felicia raised her eyebrows. Her dark eyes shone with intensity. "I can't imagine what would happen at our church if Dave wasn't giving the altar call by 11:45. Every Sunday I see people checking their watches when someone goes forward, as if the roasts in their ovens are more important than that person's salvation."
"That's why I use the timer on my oven," Mimi chimed in, tucking her blond, bobbed hair behind one ear. "I set it to turn off at noon, so even if we get held up doing the pastor-and-wife thing after church, I don't have to worry too much."
Lisa noticed Mimi furrow her brows at the word worry.
"That reminds me," Mimi said. "I need to call the oven dealer for service. Our oven's been running hot. I discovered it when the Taylors, a family from the church, were over for dinner three nights ago. The turkey Tetrazzini was crusty. I was so embarrassed."
"Don't worry about it." Jennifer laughed. "I've served more than my share of crusty creations."
Lisa attempted to smile and act chipper, in spite of the morning she'd had. She hoped her hazel eyes didn't reveal that she'd been crying.
Then she caught Jennifer's gaze. Jennifer nonchalantly dabbed under her eyes, then looked again at her.
Lisa got the hint. Evidently the strain of the morning was showing on her face. Thought I caught everything in the rearview mirror. She began, nonchalantly she hoped, to wipe under her eyes.
Mimi reached across the table to pat Lisa's arm. "Everything okay?"
Mimi mimicked Lisa's under-eye action.
"Oh," Lisa said, trying to act casual. "Allergies."
Out of the corner of her eye, Lisa caught the suspicious glances that shot between Jennifer and Felicia.
"MJ suffers from allergies," Mimi said, evidently missing the exchanged looks. "We can't give him anything for it, though, or he acts like a zombie. I think it affects his inner ears or something. Can you take an antihistamine?"
Felicia rolled her eyes just as Gracie, their waitress, walked to the table and nearly collided with Megan, who was running to the booth from across the room.
"Whoa, there, little one!" Gracie patted Megan on the head and turned her toward Mimi.
"Mom!" Megan whined as she held out two pieces of an orange crayon. "My crayon broke."
Mimi took the pieces and reached into her purse for the plastic sandwich bag filled with crayons, colored pencils, and watercolor markers. "That's okay, sweetheart. Mommy has another one for you." She handed Megan another orange crayon.
Megan skipped back to her table, where her coloring books and crayons were scattered.
Lisa glanced questioningly at Mimi.
"Gladys has kidney stones," Mimi explained with a sigh about her usual babysitter. "And her husband said she didn't look so good. So I had to bring Megan or I couldn't come."
Although the four PWs had made a pact a year ago that no children would be allowed on their lunches at Lulu's, they had mentioned that exceptions -- and only rare ones -- would be permitted. All agreed that a babysitter with kidney stones qualified.
"Okay, PWs, what is it today?" Gracie asked as she pulled a pen from behind her ear. "Felicia, are you still on that Miami Beach diet or whatever it is? The one where you can't have bread or potatoes, but you can eat a warm slice of apple pie à la mode?"
Felicia playfully hid her eyes as the other three women laughed at Gracie's joke. Gracie had been their waitress the first time they visited Lulu's, so when they made their meetings a biweekly event, they decided always to sit in her station. One day Gracie had overheard their discussion and figured out they were all pastors' wives.
"Y'know, church just ain't for me," she told them at the time. "And I figure if it hasn't been for me in sixty-eight years, it's probably not going to be. But you girls, you're the salt of the earth, as they say, and I know those husbands of yours appreciate what you do. And the Lord too."
"Gracie, I thought you said church isn't for you. Yet you believe in God? Why don't you want to go to church?" Any other person asking that question might have received a turned back for an answer, but Mimi's sweet, honest approach made people feel at ease.
"Ah, girlie, don't take this personal or nothing, but churches are for praying and paying. I can pray at home, and I don't got nothing to use for paying. Besides, all I hear about churches is that this one's splitting up or that one has a pastor who's seeing some other woman or who knows what. Now who wants to be part of that?"
All four women had stared down at the napkins in their laps. They couldn't argue with Gracie's point. After all, the reason they'd started meeting forty miles outside of the community where they all lived and worshiped was to avoid running into people from their churches. Later they'd prayed for Gracie as they blessed their food, but her plain-spoken words stayed with them.
"What's the special today, Gracie?" Jennifer asked as Gracie stood at their table, pen poised, ready to take their order.
"Same as every Tuesday," they all chimed together and started to laugh.
Gracie cocked her head toward Lisa. "Girl, what's the matter with you?" she asked bluntly. "You got troubles with that pastor husband of yours?"
Lisa forced a smile. "No -- "
"Oh, Gracie," Mimi interrupted, "she has allergies. Do you have any green tea or something that will make her feel better?"
Lisa cringed inwardly. Mimi always saw the best in everyone and wanted to help. But this time Lisa didn't want any help -- or any attention.
"Green tea?" Gracie chuckled. "Honey, this is a family restaurant, not some Starbucks."
"Okay, how about chicken noodle soup then?"
"I'm fine," Lisa said. "Really. I don't need anything special." She just wanted the attention off her. "What's everyone getting today?"
"I'll have that apple pie à la mode." Felicia winked.
Gracie played along. "Well, it does have fruit and calcium. Would you like a chicken Caesar salad with that?"
"You know what I like. Dressing on the side. Hold the croutons -- and the pie," Felicia added.
"Megan will have the chicken fingers and fries," said Mimi. "And a chocolate milk. And I'm going to have the burger combo. I've been so hungry lately. I can't seem to get enough food into me."
Jennifer looked up from her menu. "It's that 'I could be pregnant' time of the month again, so I can't have my usual shrimp -- no shellfish, they say, just in case. So I'll go with the Reuben, and a milk."
"Okay, and what about you, Miss I-Have-Allergies?"
"Go with the chicken soup," Mimi urged helpfully. "I've had it before. It's really good."
"Isn't chicken soup supposed to be good for colds?" Jennifer asked.
"Allergies, colds -- it's the same difference."
"Well, I'm not really that hungry," Lisa said. "I'll stick with coffee for now."
After Gracie completed their order, she plodded off to her next table.
Lisa felt the other women's eyes on her.
"Lisa, is everything okay?" Jennifer finally asked. "I'm not buying the allergies thing."
Lisa held her hands to her cheeks. Did they look as warm as they felt? "Really, I'm okay," she insisted, even though she felt horrible for lying to these women who had become so dear to her. "I had a late breakfast anyway."
The others didn't seem convinced, but they let it slide.
Megan ran back over to the booth, this time holding a sheet of paper that had multicolored scribbles all over it. "Here!" she said excitedly as she presented it to Jennifer.
"For me?" Jennifer took the sheet and held it to her chest. "Thank you! I'll keep this forever."
"I'm hungry, Mommy." Megan had obviously moved on.
"I just ordered for us, punkin," Mimi said sweetly.
Megan ran back to her spot to grab another piece of paper.
"You don't have to keep that," Mimi whispered to Jennifer. "She makes hundreds of them."
"What is it?" Jennifer whispered back and held out the picture, turning it on all sides.
"Who knows? We've killed more trees for that girl. I wouldn't be surprised if she becomes an artist."
"Well then, of course I'll keep this. It might be worth a fortune someday."
Megan ran back to their table with another picture and handed it to Lisa.
"Thank you, honey," Lisa said.
Megan tugged on her mother's shirt sleeve. "Mommy, why are we so far away from home just to eat lunch? There are places to eat in Red River."
Mimi pursed her lips as the amused others waited for her response. "Well, Megan, sometimes it's good to get away and see new things. You know, like when we went to Florida last summer and you got to play at the beach and go on all those rides at Disney World."
"Oooh, does Mickey Mouse come see the kids at this restaurant too?" Megan asked with such excitement that she dropped a crayon and had to dive under the table to retrieve it.
Jennifer leaned out of the booth. "Where's Gracie with that water pitcher?" Then she shot back around, looking half-terrified, half-shocked. "Oh, you guys, it's not Mickey Mouse. But it is the woman with the biggest ears in Red River."
Before anyone could ask "who?" she was at their table. Katherine Fleming Katt, more casually referred to as "Kitty," and wife of Norman Katt, the pastor at First Presbyterian, Red River's largest and oldest church. Kitty towered over the table in her lime linen suit, her trademark yellow pumps on her feet. She placed her well-manicured hand on their table and tapped it lightly.
"Well hello, ladies," she said, breaking into a large, toothy, and very fake smile. "Is this a pastors' wives' convention?"
All four laughed. None voluntarily. Lisa could see by her friends' faces that they were all thinking the same thing: they'd been caught. Kitty may have been the best-dressed and most "glamorous" pastor's wife in all of southwestern Ohio, but she was also the most annoying. She never seemed to let an opportunity pass when she didn't remind the other pastors' wives that she was "special." After all, she was the one who hosted each month's Southwest Ohio regional pastors' wives' tea...which Lisa, Felicia, Jennifer, and Mimi refused to attend anymore. Lisa wondered how they were going to explain not including Kitty in their own get-togethers.
"Oh, Kitty, you know, we uh..." Jennifer couldn't seem to find words to create a story.
"We're here to see new things," said Megan, who was crawling into her mother's lap after having successfully rescued her orange crayon. "Mommy says it's good to get away sometimes."
Mimi shot Megan a hush-up-now look. "Yes, well, we thought it might be good to check out some other restaurants...for church functions."
"So, Kitty, what brings you all the way to Lulu's on a Tuesday afternoon?" Felicia asked.
Kitty hesitated, her smile fading. "I had some business to take care of near here, then I thought I'd swing by for one of Lulu's pies to surprise Norman at dinner tonight."
Lisa eyed Kitty more closely. Would the woman's perfectly straight nose start growing? After all, Kitty was renowned for her delicious baking, especially pies. Why would she buy a cheap restaurant pie to "surprise" her husband?
But Kitty's smile was back...and bigger than ever. "I hope to see all of you at our next pastors' wives' fellowship. We need each other, you know. Don't think for a minute that just because my husband has a large staff and a big budget that I don't know the heartaches you smaller churches face."
Lisa wanted to exhale in exasperation. Kitty's condescension was subtle, but sharp.
"And, Felicia," Kitty added, "I've heard that Dave is under the gun at First Baptist to keep that church from dying out. Good for him that he's trying to get some new programs going! Of course, there are only so many young families in town, and we've already attracted quite a number of them."
Just as Felicia opened her mouth to respond, Gracie arrived at the table, arms loaded with plates -- like the cavalry coming to save the day. "Ma'am, I need to get in there," she said, wedging herself between Kitty and the table.
"All right then I'll leave you ladies to lunch, and I'll be on my way." Kitty turned to leave while fake-smoothing her lacquered hair.
After the women called their good-byes, they looked at each other before saying a prayer over their lunches.
"She's something else, isn't she?" said Lisa.
"She sure is." Felicia removed her plaid suit jacket and folded it neatly over the back of the booth. "I still crack up every time I think of her name."
The women laughed, breaking the tension.
"She couldn't help it that she fell in love with a Katt," Jennifer managed between giggles.
"Okay, but she could have changed her name to Kate or Kathy," Felicia shot back. "Or, even easier, she could have hyphenated, like I do."
"Oh, Felicia." Mimi spread some mayonnaise on the hamburger in front of her. "You have a lot to learn about Miss Kitty."
"Hmm. I think we all do." Jennifer pointed toward the window.
Lisa turned to follow Jennifer's gaze and saw Kitty getting into her car -- without a pie.
Desperate Pastors' Wives © 2007 by Ginger Kolbaba and Christy Scannell