I pulled my scarf close against the October breeze and considered the church.
It was a cute little thing, built of brick and roofed in red. A modest spire rose above the first storey, but the whole thing was dwarfed by the surrounding apartment buildings. It nestled between them, insulated from the street by a small lawn and a row of yew bushes. Across the street, where I stood, was a neat row of brownstones. Seasonal gourds and fake spiderwebs decorated their facades.
I crossed, and started up the path. Despite Halloween being a pagan holiday, The Church of Saint Hilda participated with gusto. The hedges and the one small tree were covered with cotton and plastic spiders, and the sexton, George, was setting up plastic gravestones in the church. I waved.
“Hello, Miss Lizzie! You’re too early to trick or treat.”
“You know me, nothing but sweet tooth.” It was true. Halloween is my dream come true and my dentist’s worst nightmare. George laughed. “Actually, I’m here to see Father Thomas.”
George raised an eyebrow. “Confirmation meeting?”
I blushed. “I’m afraid not. I’m here on secular, not spiritual business.” Well, technically I was here on “spiritual” business, just not the kind that George would understand.
He nodded, slowly. “Well, go on in then. But remember, Lizzie, that you’re welcome any Sunday.”
I dropped my gaze. “Thanks, George.”
Father Thomas’s office was on the second floor of the Parish House. As usual, he had his door open. I leaned against the jamb and looked in. The overall impression was one of clutter: the bookshelves nearly overflowed, with volumes wedged into every available cranny and extra books stacked on the floor. Papers, haphazardly piled, covered every available surface, from desk to chair to windowsill. The walls were bare, though, save for a small wooden cross. Father Thomas sat behind his desk, typing intently on a small laptop computer.
“Come in, Elisabeth,” he said, without looking up. “I’m just finishing the sermon for Sunday. Will I see you there?”
I carefully transferred a stack of papers from chair to floor and sat. “Probably not.”
“Hmm. That’s too bad.”
I very deliberately did not roll my eyes. “Between you and George…”
“The bishop is visiting next month. If you did want to come back, this would be a good time to do it.”
Proclaim my faith and commitment to Christ in front of the whole congregation while the bishop lays hands on me? No thanks. I hear God is pretty tolerant, but I don’t think he’d appreciate such a bald-faced lie. “I’m not sure I want to come back.”
“When you’re ready, let me know.” He closed the laptop and set it to the side.
“I –” I stopped. When I’m ready? I crossed my arms, face flushed. “You mean ‘if’.”
“You’re awfully presumptuous, Father, to assume that I’m ever coming back.” He started to speak – to apologize, probably – but I wasn’t in the mood to listen. “I’m actually here on business, Father, not just to chat.”
He rubbed at his beard. “Business?”
I gave him a meaningful look.
“Shut the door,” he said.