Chapter Twenty-Two

In which Lent approaches

Claire called the church office. “Trystene, I’m not going to be in today. Is there anything going on I need to know about? I can check my email here.”

“No, it’s pretty quiet today. Peggy wanted to know if you’d made a decision about the Ash Wednesday service yet.”

“Not yet. I’ll email her. I just got an idea today. Please call me if something urgent comes up. Otherwise I will see you on Monday.”

“Got it. I’ll see you then. Have a great weekend!”

“You too. Thanks, Trystene.”

“No problem.”





Claire turned to Emma. “So I called school and told them you’d be out sick today. Is that okay?”

“Yeah, that’s good. I really didn’t sleep much last night.”

“Me neither. How about we pop in a movie, eat popcorn for lunch, and then take a nap? Rex will be in heaven with both of us around all day.”

“Well… can we maybe like talk instead? ‘Cause I know you’re all sorry and everything and I get that, sort of, but I’m still mad at you. I mean, Mom, that’s a big lie you told me for a long time. And you told other people. Who else knows the truth?”

“Well, your dad knows the truth. He wasn’t speaking to his parents by the time we got married, so I guess they don’t know, if they’re even alive. Grandma and Grandpa know. Aunt Cece knows. And Aunt Martha. That’s kind of it for the people who are still part of our lives.”

“Um, well, Gladys knows now too, so probably Bill knows. I hope that doesn’t get you into trouble.”

“I trust the Hills to do the right thing. As they both reminded me, they raised daughters. And they’ve been married for a long time. They know that people who love each other don’t always like each other.”

“So Mom, why did you lie to me?”

“Emma, I don’t know if I can really describe what it was like those months when your dad left. He went on the business trip, and he didn’t call. I tried the hotel he was staying at, but they said he’d checked out. I called his company, and they said he’d quit. He must have gotten a new credit card because there was no activity on the ones we shared. I finally realized he had planned the whole thing.

“I didn’t know how I would raise you by myself, if I’d be able to finish my degree, if any congregation would want a single mom as a pastor. I thought I’d be more hirable if they saw me as a widow and not a divorced person. Just saying that, I hear how selfish that sounds.

“But really honey, and you have to believe me, I was trying to spare you the pain of thinking you were abandoned.”

Emma didn’t say anything for a little bit. Then, with a catch in her throat, she said, “But when someone you love dies, it does sort of feel like they abandoned you. Maybe not by choice, but it’s kinda the same.”

Claire nodded. “I didn’t know you felt that way.”

“Well, you never really liked to talk about Dad. I always thought it was because it made you too sad, and I didn’t want to make you sad. I guess maybe you’ve always been mad at him.”

Claire nodded again. “You know, I never thought about it. I’ve been furious with him for almost sixteen years. That’s a long time to be mad at someone.”

Emma smiled with a twinkle in her eye. “What would Jesus say, Morag?”

Claire looked at her, utterly serious. “That I’ve got some work to do.”





After grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, they both went to their rooms for a nap. Rex followed Emma. Traitor, Claire thought.

While it was good to get horizontal, the nap was not a restful one. Claire hopped from dream to dream. Martha showed up, with Toledo and the Steel Horse Diner dog. Then Trystene, in a white wedding gown. And Alice and Gladys, surrounded by babies in old-fashioned outfits in perambulators. At one point there was a hockey game with Prune Drop cookies as pucks and Rex chasing after them.

At 3:30 the alarm went off, and Claire went upstairs to wake Emma. She always looked so young when she slept, and young when she first awoke. Why do we have to grow up? Claire wondered.

“Hey, sweets, it’s time to get up.”


“I’ll be downstairs.”






Claire pulled out her laptop and checked her email. Nothing that couldn’t wait till tomorrow. Peggy emailed again, really wanting to know about Ash Wednesday, so Claire got to it. As she began writing, Emma came downstairs and started rummaging through the kitchen. “Okay with you if I do some baking?”

“Sounds great. Okay with you if I do some writing?”

“Fine by me, as long as you’re willing to taste things.”

“If I must.”





Claire started working on the service for Ash Wednesday and plans for Lent in general. She had remembered a prayer she cut out from a magazine years ago, by Clement of Rome. The words spoke to her in a new way now.

You, Lord, brought into being the everlasting fabric of the universe; you wove the tapestry of life. From one generation to another you are constant and righteous in your laws, wise and prudent in your actions. To look round is to see your goodness; to trust you is to know your generosity, to confess to you is to receive your forgiveness.

Make us clean with the strong soap of your truth. Make us whole with the powerful medicine of your grace. Show us the light of your smile. Protect us with your mighty arm. Save us from all wrongdoing by your outstretched arm. Deliver us from all those that hate us without cause. And to us and all humankind grant peace and accord.

To you, who alone can grant to us those and all good things, we offer up our praise through Jesus Christ, the high priest and guardian of our souls. Amen.

Claire dashed off an email to Peggy with the outline for Ash Wednesday and some music requests for the Sundays in Lent.

Emma came in with a plate of brownies. “I experimented with peanut butter and caramel in the brownies. Taste it and tell me it’s too much.”

Claire took a bite. “Oh my God, honey. It’s like heaven on a plate.”

“Is it too rich?”

Claire took another bite. “No, I don’t think so. I wonder if you might add chocolate chips or something to offset the saltiness of the caramel and peanut butter.”

“I could try that. Thanks.”

“What inspired the experiment?”

“Well, when I was at the Hills this morning Bill was talking about not having much of an appetite because of the chemo, but that sometimes he got a craving for chocolate and salt. So I thought I’d try this. As kind of a thank you for last night and everything.”

“So do you want to tell me what happened?”

Emma sat down and helped herself to brownie. “I see what you mean about the chocolate chips. Yeah. So after you told me that Dad left us and that you lied about it I went upstairs but I sort of felt like my head was going to explode and I had to get out of the house. Your door was closed and I really didn’t feel like talking. I saw your keys on the counter and I thought I almost have my license so I took the car.

“I was really nervous about getting caught so I just drove like two streets over and parked the car. I really wanted to talk to a mom who wasn’t you and Gladys was the first person I thought of. So I drove over there and the porch lights were still on and the inside lights were on so I knocked on the door. I must have looked really terrible because Gladys told me to come in right away.

“I guess she and Bill were watching tv or something. Bill said hi and then that he was tired and goodnight. And then Gladys asked me what was wrong, and I told her about dad and how you lied and then she asked if you knew where I was and I said know and she said I have to call your mom so she knows you’re safe. And I guess you know the rest.”

Claire looked at Emma and tears welled up in her eyes again. “Emma, I know I can’t undo what I did to you. I know I told you a lie for sixteen years, and I had convinced myself I was doing it to spare you hurt. But I know I didn’t, and I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry. You are the person most precious to me in the entire world and I hate that I have caused you so much pain. And instead of packing up your things or smashing all the dishes, you make me brownies to taste.

“I promise, honey, I will do everything I can to make things better, starting by telling you the truth – about your dad, about me, about whatever.”

Emma gave her mother one of her looks. “Okay, so Morag, it’s getting a little heavy here. I know you totally feel bad and I kinda think you should. But I also think maybe my dad was a bit of a dick – like Robbie’s dad but different. So I’m also sort of done with this conversation for now, and I need to get the brownies out of the pan, so I’m going to go back into the kitchen.”

“I love you, Emma.”

“I know.”