Chapter Eight

In which a visitor comes to church and Claire is flustered

Claire noticed him right away. It wasn’t as though he didn’t stand out, sitting in the front pew. No one ever sat in the front pew, unless they were a visitor who loved Jesus very very much and wanted to be as close as possible to the preacher so as to hang on every word, or unless it was a communion Sunday and the servers (reluctantly) sat up front so as to be ready at a moment’s notice to pass out the bread and juice.

Plus, Claire noted, he was good looking. Very good looking. Like the entire cast of Oceans Eleven was sitting on the front row. Like the young Ricardo Montalban and the young Omar Sharif had a love child. Tall, dark, and handsome, not unlike the man in her post-hamburger nap dream. He was well dressed – gray flannel slacks, white button-down shirt, navy/light blue/gray houndstooth jacket, shoes that looked like they did not come from Kohl’s. No tie. The first two buttons were undone, and there was no t-shirt underneath, and Claire thought she could detect a hint of chest hair. Not that she was looking. The guy was definitely not American. How on earth had he found his way to St. Rahab’s?

Claire noticed that everyone was looking at her expectantly, and she realized the prelude had ended. “Good morning! This is the day that the Lord has made.”

“Let us rejoice and be glad in it,” the congregation responded. Except for Ricardo Sharif TallDarkandHandsome. Hmmm. Maybe English was not his first language.

“If this is your first time to worship with us, a special St. Rahab’s welcome to you. And whether this is your first or five-hundredth time with us, we ask that you find the friendship pad in the pew rack in front of you, sign your name, and pass it along. We want to know who is here!”

Shit. The front pew did not have a pew rack.  Mr. Handsome smiled at her.

(Please don’t let me blush. Please don’t let me blush.)

Fortunately, Margaret White always sat in the second pew and knew exactly what to do with visitors who made the bold choice of the first pew. Claire saw her tap Handsome on the shoulder and share her friendship pad. Thank God for Margaret.

“Now let us stand and sing the opening hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”

To her horror, all Claire could think of was the old game she played in high school where they would add the words “between the sheets” after the name of the hymn title.

(Get it together, Claire. You are here to worship God, not flirt with a visitor.)

Claire did manage to get it together when she saw Gladys elbow Bill Hill in the ribs. She avoided looking at the first pew as she preached, and prayed that Mr. Handsome would exit at the door near the front, not shake her hand at the back door.

No such luck. The only person after Mr. Handsome was Alice. Claire tried not to imagine the love story unfolding in Alice’s imagination.

“Good morning. Thank you for worshipping with us today.”

“The pleasure was all mine. The mellifluicity of your words stirred me.”

(Oh dear God, the man sounds like Inigo Montoya with a bad cold.) The balloon of unrequited love deflated, quickly.

“Claire, dear, this is Toledo Vader. He is in town for business.”

“It is pronounded To-LAY-do, like the city in my beautiful Spain.”

“I do beg your pardon, dear.”

“It is good to meet you, Toledo. Perhaps Alice would take you up to coffee hour? Maybe she brought some of her famous Prune Drop Cookies.”

That would take care of him. No one who ever ate one of Alice’s cookies ever showed up again. (Thank God for Alice.)

As Claire took off her microphone and robe in her office, she sang to herself, “You say To-LEE-do, I say To-LAY-do.” She took her sweet time getting to coffee hour, and was happy to see that Mr. Vader was no longer there. Neither was Alice. Nor were there Prune Drop Cookies.

Still, he was a nice little eye candy, if only for a while.





“Mom, who was that guy?”

“What guy?”

“The guy that every woman in the sanctuary stared at. The guy on the front row. The guy who made you blush.”

“I was warm, probably a hot flash. He was a visitor who is from Spain and his name is To-LAY-do Vader.”

“For real?”

“For real.”

“Was he nice?”

“He was polite, I guess. I didn’t really talk to him. Alice scooped him up to coffee hour and I didn’t see him after that.”

“Well, he was kind of hot.”

“Pretty is is not necessarily as pretty does, love.”

“Yeah, but you have to admit he was hot.”

“I try not to think of parishioners as hot, Emma.”

“Maybe you should start.”

“Enough. What did you make me for lunch?”

Curiosity got the best of Claire, and she finally googled Toledo Vader. Nothing. Bet it’s an alias, Claire thought. Bet he’s a spy or something, or an encyclopedia salesman, and the accent is phony, and his name is really Bert Steinberg and he’s from Paramus. She felt a little less guilty about googling him. She hoped he would not return. Mostly.