by Siera Weber, written for MtTFC 2015
Kings' Cafe was a cute little restaurant tucked away in the sleepier section of the town of Dimmesdale. Each day rows of cars squeezed together within the confines of the tiny parking lot, and more cars parked against the curb. Good food was not the reason for the thriving business. The real item sold at the cafe was privacy. Not only was the restaurant sheltered from all of the busyness of downtown Dimmesdale, but it also contained privacy within the building itself. Whatever was said in Kings' Cafe stayed in Kings' Cafe. No one feared inquisitive patrons. Almost everyone who came to the cafe wished to keep their business to themselves. Every Saturday, at least half-a-dozen men of the cloth would be calmly sitting with a member of their flock who was pouring out secrets for their pastor's (or bishop's) ear alone. It was often said that Kings' Cafe had more business than a Catholic confessional.
On March 10th, Dotty was manning the counter. First, Bishop Stevens walked in, followed shortly by Pastors Wilkes and Thomson from the Church of Christ. (Their church members often had two-pastor problems). Pastor Simson of the Lutheran church arrived punctually at 8:15 and ordered two black coffees, which meant he was meeting with Mr. Harvey the deacon for the third time that week. The new bishop from the Episcopal church came in and took a booth in the far left corner. Lastly, the hip young preacher from the non-denominational church—located in the old movie theater on Main Street—breezed inside and selected a booth close to the doors.
About fifteen minutes passed before others began arriving. Customers who had scheduled appointments with the clergymen shuffled to their booths as soon as they were inside the doors, while customers with no cares or concerns took seats by the counter. Dotty bustled amongst them all, taking and delivering orders, and then perched behind the cash register, waiting. At least one Saturday regular had not yet arrived.
About 10:15, when the first wave of customers began dispersing, Pastor Rick from Golgotha Baptist Church finally strolled into the cafe. “Mornin', Dotty!” he grinned.
“Well, it's about time Rick! Can I get you anything?”
“A coffee, please.”
“Sure thing.” As Dotty ambled away, Pastor Rick leaned against the counter and toyed with the napkin dispenser, lost in his thoughts. By the time Dotty returned, his cheery countenance had clouded over. “Uh oh. I know that look. Who's the victim today?”
Pastor Rick just sighed and shook his head. Dotty handed him his coffee. “Thanks, Dot,” he murmured before shuffling to his usual table. As soon as Pastor Rick began pouring his second spoonful of sugar into his coffee, the bell above the cafe doors jangled and a tall man strode into the cafe. He sauntered up to the counter and said, “Sixteen ounces of your blackest coffee, please.”
Dotty paused and stared at the man's face. Finally, her expression lit up and she exclaimed, “Well, well, Rafe Higgins, what are you doing back in Dimmesdale?”
“Just a short visit. Family and all that stuff. How have you been, Dot? Never left?”
“Nope. I like it here well enough. Hey, lemme get you that coffee and then we can catch up.”
“Maybe later. I'm actually here to visit a friend today.” Rafe turned and glanced around the cafe. Once his gaze rested on Pastor Rick, he smiled and waved.
“On confession day?” Dotty asked with a sly smile. “Now what have you been up to in the big city?”
“Aw, come on, Dot, you know me. We're just catching up.”
“Mmm hmm,” she winked. “Go on and sit down. I'll bring the cup to you.”
“Thanks.” Rafe sauntered to the booth and clasped Pastor Rick's hand firmly in his own. “How ya been, Rick?”
“Much better lately. You?” he asked, returning the handshake.
“Excellent, if I do say so myself.” Rafe settled onto the bench opposite Pastor Rick and launched into fifteen minutes of frivolous discussion. When Rafe finally paused to take a sip of his coffee, Pastor Rick asked, “How's Felecia doing?”
The mug froze against Rafe's lips. Slowly he set it down, his cheeks reddening slightly. “To be honest, we've called it quits. Irreconcilable differences.”
Pastor Rick nodded and changed the subject. They talked for twenty minutes more, when Pastor Rick finally brought up the question that had been burning in his heart. “Rafe, I know you hate it when I bring this up, but I have to ask. Where do you stand with the Lord?”
Rafe just smiled indulgently. “Far removed.
“Don't look at me like that, Rick. Would you rather I lie? Now, I knew you were going to ask. So I've thought about it all week. 'Why not just go ahead and do it already, Rafe?' I said to myself. 'It would sure make Rick happy, and then there's Susan and Lloyd. What could be so bad about it?' To be honest, I've felt a little bit behind since all of you jumped on the Jesus train. But for some reason, I've never been all that enthusiastic about it.
“Anyway, you know that I'm staying with Susan and Lloyd, right? Well, I was in the living room just reading the paper when Benny ran in. He's four, now. He was dirty from head to foot because he had been rolling around in the mud outside, and Sue was trying to get him into the bathtub. So, of course, he came in howling to Uncle Rafe to rescue him. And do you know what he said to me? He said, 'I don't want to get washed. I like myself the way I am!'"
“Don't look so dour. You can laugh if you want. I laughed. But I realized later that Benny described my thoughts exactly. I like the way I am, Rick. I'm fine.”
“Is Felecia fine?” Pastor Rick asked quietly.
Rafe sighed. “We never should have gotten married in the first place. I admit I made many serious mistakes. But she knew what she was getting into. Besides, it's the twenty-first century, Rick.”
Pastor Rick just sighed. “And Matilda?”
Rafe glanced at his mug again. “Matti's an adult, now, Rick. She doesn't need her daddy checking up on her.”
“Have you had any contact with her recently?”
Rafe shook his head and avoid Pastor Rick's eyes. He took off his watch and began massaging his wrist. “It's a crappy watch,” he explained. “It chafes.”
“I remember that,” Pastor Rick said, examining the watch. “She bought it for you, didn't she?”
“Yeah,” Rafe said quietly. Then he directed the subject to the recent construction on Main Street. The pair chatted for a little while longer, until Pastor Rick glanced at his own watch. “You expecting someone else?” Rafe asked.
“In a few minutes, yes. It's Saturday, you know.” Pastor Rick smiled weakly.
“Well, that's my cue.” Rafe stood and clasped Pastor Rick's hand again. “Good to see you, Rick.”
“You too,” Pastor Rick answered. Rafe clapped him on the back and left.
Scarcely three minutes later, a gaunt young woman trudged into the cafe, pulling her jacket tightly against herself. Once inside, the girl strode over to Pastor Rick, her mouth set in a firm line. She slid into the seat, looking guiltily resolved. She cleared her throat, and Pastor Rick nodded encouragingly.
“First of all, Pastor, I want to thank you for all the trouble you've gone through. I know I have a lot of problems and I haven't been easy. But to be fair I never wanted to come in the first place. It was Mom's idea.”
Pastor Rick nodded. “I know.”
The doorbell jangled.
“I know that you and Mom think I'm on the brink of disaster, and maybe I am. But I've thought long and hard about this, and—” she paused to take a deep breath, “I don't want anymore help, Pastor. I know it sounds silly and maybe even blasphemous, but—I like myself the way I am. I—I'm grateful, but I don't want your help anymore. My decisions are my own, and if they're the wrong decisions I'll take the consequences.”
Pastor Rick nodded. “I'm sorry to hear that, Matti, and I'm sorry I can't help you. I'll be praying for you. If you ever change your mind, God's waiting with open arms.”
“I know.” Matti stood and left, not noticing the man who was slumped dejectedly in the next booth. After a few moments had passed, Pastor Rick rose and scooped the watch off his table. He walked over to the next booth and gently laid the watch in front of Rafe. “You left this.”
Rafe's shoulders were shaking.
“Would you like to talk about it?” Pastor Rick asked quietly.
Rafe's voice shook. “Yeah. I want to talk about Matti. But first—” he sucked in a breath, “I want to talk about getting clean.”