It makes sense. It would be another half hour before Alden gets home and gets set up on his computer. I sit on the rocker and Alden sits on the porch swing. I even pour us a couple of glasses of wine, a nice cabernet. Looking cute in his little red raincoat Rowdy lies down next to Alden. "Traitor," I say, pointing to my little dog.
Tonight in the chat room there's the usual crowd of guests, plus the regulars, Wolfman, Lavender, even birddog is back with an update. I remind myself of their stories as I see their names. Birddog is the person who shared how their pastor had borrowed money from parishioners and disappeared without paying them back.
Birddog is typing.....
"Well we found him. He's in Ohio living with his wife's family."
"Is he going to pay the money back?" I ask. "Wasn't it three thousand dollars?"
The typing goes on for several minutes.
"He says he didn't run away. He claims it was a family emergency and yes of course he's going to pay the money back. And how dare any of us think otherwise. No timeline of when we can expect to get it. We figure the people who lent him that money will never see it again. Our only options are to sue him for the money, which would put the church through so much pain and suffering, or pay the people back ourselves. We voted to pay them back out of the church's money. Three thousand dollars is a lot of money for a small congregation but it's the right thing to do."
"So sorry you've all had to go through this." I write.
"It's been hard. One man who lent him 1000 dollars has told us, he'll never come back to our church again and we aren't allowed to contact him or his family in any way."
I start to type but Alden says, "Let me say something." He writes,
"Sometimes it's hard for people to sort through who the real villain is, especially when there's a minister involved. The minister has an elevated position in their minds and couldn't possibly be in the wrong. But they are hurting and it's someone's fault. This man has put the blame on the church instead. I am sorry for all your suffering."
I look over at Alden. "What an insightful thing to write. And so loving and thoughtful,"
He smiles back. His eyes linger on mine a bit too long for comfort. I look down at my screen. Birddog is typing....
"This website has been a blessing, just to know we're not alone. Thank you for all your advice. We are looking for a new minister, and believe me, we will ask some key questions. We thought if a person applied for the job of minister of a church that meant they basically agreed with how the church was set up."
"Yes you would think that." I write.
'Wolfman is here." Alden looks over my way. "I found his wife a possibility for counseling last week. I hope she's had her first session." I nod my agreement. Again those eyes.....I look away.
"How are you and your wife doing?" writes forgiven.
"We tried out that counselor you recommended for the second time today. She felt horrible afterwards."
"Why?" asks forgiven.
"She said she has so much to talk about...an hour isn't enough time. Just when she starts to get to the pain, it's over. So frustrating!"
"That means it's working. She won't always feel that way. She needs to stick with it." writes forgiven. "Counseling can be like cleaning out a closet. When the mess gets dragged out into the light, it looks overwhelmingly huge. It will get better, but it might take a while. She needs your support so much right now. Just let her know you love her."
Wolfman writes, "I will and thanks."
"And keep us updated!" I write.
I can't help it. I look up, right into Alden’s eyes. We are both smiling. It's a great feeling to be able to help someone.
Lavender is typing...
"Wolfman, I just wanted you to know. I am praying for your wife. Several of my trusted friends are also praying for her with me."
"I have been praying for her too." Birddog types.
"I pray for her every night," writes Oldlady1.
"I'm sure we've all been praying for her," Writes forgiven. "We'll be your church family until you find a new church family."
"I can feel the prayers," Wolfman types. "I am so grateful for friends. Thank you."
Oldlady1 is back with another of her stories...
"One time at the beginning of the school year Pastor said for all the parents of children who were starting first grade to please stand up so they could be recognized. There were three families. My friend stood up with the others. He went around and recognized every parent and prayed for their child entering public school that they would stay safe. My friend was on the second row right in front of him standing with her little girl, but he acted like he couldn't see her! We all kept pointing to her, thinking that Pastor just missed her. Finally he says, 'only parents that are still married, not divorced parents!' Well my friend just sat back down because she didn't know what else to do and neither did anyone else. She started crying a little bit. It was awful!"
"He was a real mean man!" I write.
"Yes he was, and I wish I could take all those pies back!" writes Oldlady1.
Alden and I both sit on my porch and laugh out loud!
Forgiven writes, "A sense of humor is a wonderful gift, Oldlady1."
We leave the chat room on schedule tonight, but we linger on the porch. Alden is sipping the last of his wine and petting Rowdy, deep in thought. We've finally gotten Wolfman's wife into counseling, which makes us both feel good. It's such a wonderful night. I don't want to go inside. The temperature is in the 60's and the crickets are all out. Earlier, the shimmering flash of hundreds of lightning bugs filled the front yard, mirroring the skies above. It seemed like there was no earth and the solid house was floating in the stars. Now it was dark and a soft breeze is almost dancing over the air, caressing my skin. I don't know how long we sit there, not wanting the evening to come to an end. I hear the soft creak of the swing. What time was it? It has to be getting close to twelve by now, I think. The creaking stops. Alden shifts in his seat, leaning towards me in the dark.
"Emily" he says, "I would like to take you out to dinner officially sometime. Our first date. Would you like that?"
The whole mood instantly changes. Something that feels very much like fear overwhelms me in a wave. I grasp the chair arms and stop rocking. I have to get ahold of my feelings before I can respond. "Alden, you are a great friend." I say. "And I don't know what I'd have done without you in this chat room. But I am still grieving the loss of Ted. I am not ready for anything like that."
Alden sighs deeply. "Emily, what are you so scared of? …that maybe you might feel something for someone again?"
"That's so not fair!" All of a sudden I am angry. "It's only been 3 years and you don't know. You have no idea how wonderful he was!"
"Ted was not perfect." says Alden. "And it's not fair, having to lose your husband in such a horrible way. But Ted wouldn't want you to be alone for the rest of your life if he is the kind of person you say he was. You've granted sainthood to his memory to protect yourself from feeling again. Maybe it's time you took up your cross. Practice what you preach."
"Alden, stop please!"
I am hurting so bad, I just want things to go back to how it was an hour ago, but I can't make it go back.
"Emily, I'm sorry. I really am. I don't mean to hurt you. Just do one thing for me. Tell me one thing, just one thing Ted did that drove you crazy. I know it's there because Ted was human and so are you."
"Alden, this is too much. Sorry, but I need to ask you to leave now." I say.
Alden sighs again. "Emily, I wish you all the love you deserve," he says as he walks down the steps towards his truck. "But no one can compete with a saint."
Alden walks across the wet grass, gets into his truck and drives away. The sound is so final.
I feel relief tinged with sadness. I am glad Alden has figured out we can only be friends, but I hope the friendship continues. I look over at Rowdy. Funny...Rowdy has to have felt the tension just now and he just lays there next to the warm spot on the swing left by Alden's presence. I had to coax Rowdy to come inside with me. What did he mean, something Ted did that drove me crazy? What on earth did that have to do with anything?
I didn't sleep well that night. I had dreams about Ted, not calling me when he was going to be late, and not finishing the lawn, and not helping me with the dishes.