Read With the Father Online

Authors: Jenni Moen

With the Father

 

With the Father

 
 

JENNI
MOEN

With the Father
Copyright © 2014 Jenni Moen
All rights reserved.

No part of this
book may be reproduced in any form or by electronic or mechanical means
including information storage and retrieval system, without the express written
permission of the author.
 
The only
exception is by a reviewer who may quote short excerpts for review purposes
only.

 

This book is a work
of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual
events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

This book is
licensed for your personal enjoyment only.
 
This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you are
reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use
only, then you should return it to the seller and purchase your own copy.
 
Thank you for respecting the author’s
work.

 

Published:
 
Jenni Moen

[email protected]

 

Editing: Autumn Hull and
Tiffany
Halliday

Cover Design: Jenni Moen

Cover Photo:
iStock
Photos
®

ISBN: 0990851907

ISBN-13: 978-0-9908519 0-5

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

For
anyone who’s ever second guessed a decision

and
wondered what if

 
PROLOGUE
 

Paul

 

Her
back was turned to me and I used the opportunity to watch her shamelessly.
Moments like this one, when we were completely alone, were rare and fleeting.

Her dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Though
she wore it like that for convenience, it had the added benefit of showing off
the gentle slope of her neck and the smooth flawlessness of her skin.

Of course, these were things I shouldn’t be noticing.

The ends of the ponytail brushed her upper back just
above the letters of her ‘Karen’s Kitchen’ t-shirt, which she’d tucked into a
pair of fitted, though not tight, jeans. The uniform, which evidenced our
common purpose and the reason why I was allowed to spend so much time with her,
was mandated for all volunteers other than myself. Casual and splattered with
tonight’s dinner, the outfit had the same effect as if she were wearing a ball
gown. She was uncomplicatedly beautiful.
A fact of which she
seemed to be completely unaware.

These were also things I shouldn’t be noticing.

I would never admit it, but I was fascinated with her.
I’d convinced myself that she was simply one of those exceptional people to
whom others are drawn. I fooled myself into believing that my interest in her
wasn’t inappropriate and that I was content just to observe her, knowing it
would never be anything more. After all, she was a married woman and my life
had never been my own.

But if either of those ever changed, I didn’t know.

I was a priest, not a saint.

 
ONE
 

Grace

 

“Twenty-three
boxes of spaghetti,” I said, running my hand along the top of the dusty row of
boxes.
 
I peered into the back of
the cabinet to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. “I think we’re done.” I
turned to face Father Paul, whose eyebrows were knitted together in
concentration.

He looked up at the ceiling and his mouth moved
silently as he counted. He flipped a page in his notebook and scribbled on what
I guessed was a grocery list. “So we’re short potatoes, corn, red beans, and
cabbage, but we should make it to the end of the month with everything else.”

We were finishing our weekly inventory of the food
pantry. Food was always scarce toward the end of the month, and donations had
been more scarce than usual recently. It wasn’t that our community was poor.
There were a few families who had more than they needed; however, the majority
of our small town worked hard for what they had.
They didn’t
always have extra, and what they did have
,
they didn’t
part with easily
.

Somehow, even though Karen’s Kitchen usually had to
scrape by to get through the end of the month, it always seemed to work out.
We’d never turned anyone away. The food just seemed to magically multiply when
we needed it most.
Loaves and fishes and all that.

I rolled my eyes and huffed more dramatically than
necessary. “For the last time, we aren’t serving red beans and cabbage. My
mother would roll over in her grave if she knew we were serving that in her
kitchen.”

When he laughed, his eyes crinkled at the corners. I
made a mental note of it so I could tell Arden. My closest friend spent an
inordinate amount of time trying to figure out Father Paul. I had to admit he
was worth studying. He had kind and gentle eyes, exactly like you’d expect on a
priest, but, every so often, something passed beneath the surface that led me
to believe they’d seen more than he was willing to share.

What I found most intriguing was the scar. It was
faint now, having lightened throughout the years. However, it was unmistakable,
traveling across his cheekbone from about an inch below his eye toward his
ear.
 
It looked to me like it had a
story to tell though to my knowledge he’d never offered it up. Arden, however,
wasn’t studying his scar and her comments weren’t limited to such.
 

I had to admit that he was undeniably attractive.
Handsome, though not drop dead gorgeous.
Polished, yet
rugged. Thin, yet fit. His unexpected good looks, along with the fact that he
wasn’t a crotchety seventy-five year old man, had started tongues wagging from
the moment he’d stepped into town.
 
The old ladies of the church adored him. The younger ladies didn’t quite
know what to do with him.

 
“I have
big plans for the red beans and cabbage. You’d be surprised what you can do
with some vegetable stock.” He looked thoughtful again. “Though maybe it’s an
Irish thing. Unless we put some beef in it, it may not be accepted by the fine
Texans in our community.”

The admission stunned me a bit and I tried not to
gawk. Father Paul didn’t talk about himself much. During the two years since he
took over St. Mark’s Catholic Church, he’d shared very little personal
information about himself.

All we really knew was what we’d been told by the
Bishop before the transfer. He’d gone to seminary in Boston. Afterwards, he had
been assigned to a large inner-city parish where he’d worked under an
influential and respected priest in that diocese. After fifteen years there,
he’d requested the transfer that brought him
half-way
across the country to
Merriville
.

I wasn’t surprised that he was of Irish heritage. His
name, Paul Sullivan, left little doubt of it. However, he’d never spoken of it,
or of any family for that matter.

Paul had a way of not sharing a lot without seeming
like he was holding anything back. Rather than dwelling on the past, he
preferred to talk about the future, speaking frequently and passionately about
the importance of giving back to the community. His sermons often centered
around
his philosophy of giving people a hand up rather than
a hand out. It was that attitude that brought him to Karen’s Kitchen where we
served dinner three nights per week to anyone who showed up.

Like the rest of the volunteers, he worked the line,
dishing out generous portions without reservation or judgment. After dinner was
served, he frequently sat with diners, listened to their problems, and
counseled them on ways they could improve their situation … whatever they may
be. He was a religious advisor, a crisis counselor, and a career coach, all
rolled into one. I was pretty sure that he’d been sent straight from heaven,
and I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

Morale at the church was at an all-time high, and
attendance was up as well. If you asked, it had everything to do with his
delivery of the “Word” and nothing to do with the way he looked while
delivering it. However, there was no denying that his most faithful
parishioners were of a specific demographic: thirty-something women who were
all too happy to help him with his philanthropy. I’d seen an influx of
volunteers at Karen’s Kitchen since he’d become a regular last year.

Though my experience with Catholic priests was
somewhat limited, the ones I’d been around didn’t look like Father Paul.
 
And from what I knew about men in
general, I didn’t think that those who looked like Father Paul often found
themselves in the priesthood. Father Paul was an anomaly.
A
beautiful, kind, generous anomaly that I was lucky to have in my kitchen.
Over the past year, he’d become more of a partner than a volunteer.

“An Irish thing, eh?” I asked, still thinking about
the red beans and cabbage. “Do the Irish frequently spontaneously combust?”

He chuckled again but then suddenly turned serious. “I
know what you’re planning, Grace, and you can’t subsidize us out of your pocket
every month. It’s okay if we struggle a little. Someone will step up and save
the day. It shouldn’t always be you. I will call some people from church and ‘
wrastle
’ someone up.”

“‘
Wrastle
’ someone up?” I
asked, laughing. Father Paul frequently used words that he considered to be
indigenous to his new town.

“Yes. Did I sound like a real Texan that time?” His
words were spoken too fast, and his Boston accent was too thick to ever fool
anyone.

“Absolutely. Though maybe we should work on it a
little more if you want people to think you’re a native.” Secretly, I hoped he
never lost the accent. I loved listening to him talk, even if my comprehension
level only hovered around seventy percent.

“Seriously, Grace. I’ll take care of it for you.”

“You’ve got enough on your plate. Besides, Jonathan
and I knew that we’d have to chip in money when I took over.” I tried not to
think about the reason why I’d taken over the kitchen.

“Well, everyone appreciates all that you do.” Father
Paul looked down at his notes again and scratched something in the margins.
“Both of you,” he added more quietly.
 

Arden’s head peeked around the corner. “We’re all
cleaned up out here, but Mr. Wyatt’s acting up. I think we could use your
manpower, Father Paul.” She eyeballed him in an entirely inappropriate manner
that had me nearly laughing out loud.

Father Paul tore the piece of paper from
his
 
notepad
and
handed it to me. “Looks like I’m needed elsewhere. Why don’t you go ahead and
head home? I’ll lock up.”

“Thanks,” I mumbled, looking at the list. He
frequently closed the kitchen for me, allowing me to get home to my kids
earlier. “Will you be here tomorrow morning to load the take-away bags?” I
asked though the question was unnecessary. Father Paul would be here tomorrow.
He was always here.
We
were always here.

Working in Karen’s Kitchen allowed me to feel closer
to my mother, who started the soup kitchen after she’d inherited a substantial
amount of money when my grandparents died. It also allowed me to feel like I
was making a tiny, miniscule difference in the world. All I really wanted was
to accomplish something every day, something more meaningful than dropping off
the kids at preschool and picking up the dry cleaning, not that I didn’t enjoy
doing those things for my family.
Because I really did.

“Of course,” he said in his thick northeastern accent.
“Oh, and Grace?”

“Yes?” I answered.

“Add what you want to the list and leave it in the
kitchen for me, but no grocery shopping. Let someone else save the day.”

I grinned. We both knew that I’d show up tomorrow with
what we needed. I wouldn’t be able to resist. I might even surprise him and buy
some red beans and cabbage.

He shook a finger at me and winked. Arden’s hand
clutched my arm in response. I could almost feel her knees go weak. Of course,
it didn’t take much to make my newly single friend’s knees quake.

“Are you coming?”

“Right behind you, Father Paul.” She watched his
retreating back and waggled her eyebrows at me.
 
“That is such a travesty,” she hissed
when he was out of earshot.
 

“What is?” I asked, though I’d heard this song and
dance before.

“That man, that’s what. A great injustice has been
done upon the earth. He should have been Methodist or Episcopalian.
Anything but Catholic.
 
He should be filling the world with small
Pauls
.”
She raised a fist in the air. “This whole celibacy thing is archaic anyway.”

“You’re terrible,” I said, looking around for the bolt
of lightning that was surely going to take her out. I was used to Arden and her
infatuation with Father Paul. It was something that she’d become more vocal
about after her husband walked out on her two years ago.

Arden and I had a long history together. We’d met on
the first day of my freshman year of high school. My parents had moved to the
opposite side of town, forcing me into a new school and a new set of friends.
I’d been standing by a red locker that should have been green, lamenting the
fact that I was no longer a
Merriville
Horny Toad,
when Arden careened around a corner and inadvertently pushed me headfirst into
my open locker. Though we were opposites, an unlikely friendship had been born.
We’d finished high school together, chased each other to college, and ended up
moving back to our hometown within two years of one another. Aside from my
sister, she was my closest friend.

“Oh, whatever, you prude. I’m heading out. Are you
almost finished in here?” she asked.
  

“I’m close. I need to straighten up a few things
first.”

She rolled her eyes, knowing that I wouldn’t be able
to leave until everything was exactly where I wanted it. “Okay, see you
tomorrow.”

I straightened the jars of peanut butter, making sure
that all of the labels were facing out, grouping them by brand. Jonathan, my
husband, frequently teased me about my compulsive behavior, but I’d been living
with it my entire life. Only after the cans of soup and bags of rice were all
standing neatly at attention did I untie the strings on my apron and toss it
into the hamper near the door.
 

The lights were still on, but the dining room was
empty when I emerged. I looked at my watch to check the time. Inventory had
taken longer than I’d thought it would, and I needed to get home.

My dad usually watched the kids while I worked at the
kitchen. He enjoyed seeing me carry on my mother’s dream. Jonathan, who rarely
got home before me, had dinner plans tonight with a prospective business
associate and would be even later than usual. It was unlikely that he would
beat me home, but I still felt the need to rush. Jonathan didn’t like the amount
of time I spent away from the family while at the kitchen. It was better for
everyone involved if I were the one to send my father home rather than him.

I walked through the quiet kitchen, retrieved my purse
from inside the cabinet where I’d hidden it and let myself out the back door.
Karen’s Kitchen wasn’t in a bad area of town. Frankly, there wasn’t any part of
Merriville
that I would consider bad. It was a small
town where everyone knew everyone else. Even the homeless were familiar.

I dug through my purse, looking for my keys as I
walked around the corner of the building and into the darkest part of the
parking lot. The keys were still playing hide-and-seek as I approached my car,
and I wished I’d insisted on getting a car with keyless entry. Arden’s new car
unlocked when she touched the handle. She didn’t even have to use her keys any
more. She considered herself quite fancy.

My hand found the keys just as I stepped up to the
side of the car, and I felt guilty for my petty thoughts. There was nothing
wrong with my car. It was only a few years old, and I was lucky to have so much
when there were so many with so little. I was still scolding myself when a
shadow shifted in my peripheral vision, causing me to jump and drop my newly
found keys again. They clanged against the pavement of the parking lot –
along with my heart.

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