When Pattie and Emily walked into Jeb’s House on Wednesday morning, the first thing they both did was to scan the four booths in the back of the restaurant. “Emily, all the booths in the back are filled. We’re supposed to sit in a back booth. What are we going to do now? We’re supposed to sit in the back. Dear me, the plan’s ruined for sure.”
“It’s barely twenty past one, Pattie. Calm down. Look, that couple in the corner is getting up to pay their bill. You see, you were getting all worked up for nothing. Let’s go talk to Faye.” She led Pattie over to Faye who was filling ketchup bottles at the counter. “Hi, Faye. Looks like you’ve almost got a full house.”
“Hey, girls. You should have seen us an hour ago. Lord, I was nearly trippin’ over my own feet, I was movin’ so fast! But I don’t never complain about bein’ busy. No sir, I just thank God and keep on workin’. Are you girls eatin’ in today or gettin’ carryout?”
“We’re eating in today. Would it be okay if we took that booth in the corner?”
Pattie jumped in, “We’re expecting…”
Before she could complete her sentence, Emily stopped her with a look and a hand on her arm. “Gossip’s always better if it’s delivered in private, if you know what I mean.” She chuckled and gave Faye a light nudge with her elbow.
“Don’t I know it! Sure, take the booth. It’ll only take me a minute or two to clear it off and get it wiped down. You go ahead, I’ll be right there.”
They were seated in the booth and Faye had already cleaned it off before Pattie, feeling as chastised as a child caught in a lie, looked up at Emily and apologized. “I’m that sorry, Emily. I am. My mouth just goes off before my brain knows what’s what. I could just shoot myself. Really. I’m so sorry, Em.”
“Take it easy on yourself, Pattie. It’s no big deal. I just thought we ought to keep it to ourselves that we were meeting someone, that’s all. Forget about it. Do you know what you’re having?”
“Well I wanted the BLT&A, but now I’m not so sure. I think I’m going to have the tuna melt instead. How about you?”
“Hmm. My stomach has been so upset with all of this spy stuff, I really need to go easy on it. I think I’ll play it safe and stick with the beef barley soup.”
“Good idea, it’s not spicy or greasy; it’ll make a nice base for your tummy. If you’re feeling better later on we can go over to Polonia’s for dinner, okay?”
“To tell you the truth, Pattie, right now I don’t think I can look that far ahead. I’ve been an absolute basket case since you put that message in the newsletter, and a total wreck since the flowers arrived. I’m not kidding, look how my hands are shaking. I nearly sprayed deodorant on my hair this morning, though I suppose that would have been preferable to spraying hairspray under my arms, huh?”
“Oh Lord, that would have been a sticky mess, now wouldn’t it?” Pattie started with a quiet giggle but the thought struck her as absurd and she was unable to control her laughter. “I’m that sorry, Em. I really am, but you’ve got to admit it. That’s pretty funny.”
Emily found that the look on Pattie’s face turned out to be exactly what she needed to burst the state of nervous anxiety she’d been living in for the past few days. She felt the muscles in her shoulders loosen and her breathing became easier and slower, and for the first time in days she smiled. Her first thought was Thank you, God for Pattie and her second thought was My goodness, I’m hungry. “You’re right, Pattie my dear, it was funny. I’ve changed my mind, I believe I’m going to have the Reuben. Oh, and fries-no, not fries, make that onion rings. My stomach is feeling much better.”
Faye had just walked over to their booth with two cups of coffee, their usual, and had heard the tail end of Emily’s pronouncement. “Okay, Emily. So that’s onion rings for you. Will there be anythin’ else?”
All three women burst out laughing, and it took at least five minutes to calm down and place their orders.
By one fifty five, crumbs and dabs of ketchup were all that remained on their lunch plates and the women were on their third refills of coffee. Emily had filled Pattie in on all the goings-on of her daughter, Edie, and her family, and Pattie had reciprocated giving Emily all the news regarding her daughter, Melanie, and son-in-law, Luke and their recent attempts at starting a family; so far they were still working on it. They had gotten so involved in their conversation that neither of them noticed when an elderly woman, standing about five feet-eight inches, with frizzy, gray hair covered in a pale blue and brown paisley scarf, approached their table. Emily noticed her brown, polyester pantsuit under a somewhat old-looking raincoat first. She looked up at her and before she could do anything, the woman spoke.
“Emily Scanlon!” Her voice was low and sounded as if she might be just getting over a bout of laryngitis. “Well, I thought that was you. My goodness, I don’t think I’ve seen you for, well, I don’t know how long it’s been. May I join you?”
Emily smiled broadly and scooted over in the booth. “Of course. It’s so good to see you again. Yes, it’s been just ages and ages. Please sit down. This is my good friend Pattie…”
The woman turned to Emily and shook her finger at her. “Don’t you be silly, Emily. Of course I know Pattie Cleary. My goodness, we’re all such good friends of (and here she lowered her voice to a whisper) Father Cass, aren’t we?” She nodded her head as she spoke.
Pattie hadn’t moved or spoken since the woman had arrived at the table. She seemed to be stuck in some sort of suspended animation. Emily had the urge to put her hand in front of her face and snap her fingers but didn’t think it would be appropriate under the circumstances. Instead she said, “Pattie, are you all right?”
It took her a few seconds to reply. She blinked her eyes and then shook her head once or twice as if she were attempting to wake up. She looked directly at the woman sitting across from her and very quietly said, “Excuse me, but have we met? I’m sure we’ve met. I don’t have a good memory for faces, but I’m really pretty good with voices and I could swear that I’ve heard your voice somewhere before. In fact I know I have. Please tell me, have we met before?”
The woman sat up straighter and took a full minute to consider her answer. When she did, she reached across the table and took hold of Pattie’s hand. “Mrs. Cleary, I can only tell you now that our paths have crossed. I can’t tell you when or why. But what I will tell both of you is that Father Cass is aware of the threat that the Vatican holds, and he is with people who are protecting him. He told me to tell you that God has a plan for him, and he is doing everything he can to fulfill it. He also wants you to know that it doesn’t matter anymore that the world knows about the miracles, so please don’t take on any unearned blame. He said that you were chosen for the gifts God gave you, and you should never ever forget that. He told me to tell you that he misses all of you and wishes that he could be with you now, but it’s just not possible. And he asked me to ask you to pray for him. That’s really all I can tell you. I’m sorry.”
Tears were running down Emily’s face.
From the moment the woman had begun to speak, Pattie had closed her eyes. When she stopped speaking Pattie’s eyes slowly opened and she looked at the woman. “You never told us your name,” she said.
“My name?” she hesitated. “You can call me Aunt Jenny.”
Pattie smiled. “Is that Jenny Fouchey?”
Arnold Park aka Aunt Jenny felt a ten-stone weight drop into his bowels. He could feel sweat start to collect at the back of his neck and begin to drip down his back and stick to the polyester camisole he was wearing underneath the equally uncomfortable polyester blouse. His head began to pound, and for reasons unknown to him, his sinuses began to burn. He took a deep, cleansing breath and willed his body to cooperate with him.
“You’re right, Mrs. Cleary. You are indeed very good with voices. You have the unique distinction of being the one and only person to have ever seen, or in your case heard through one of my apparently not-so-clever disguises. I do hope that you can keep this information to yourself, as it’s very important for the safety of Father Cass that no one knows who is assisting him.”
“I don’t understand. Do you know this woman, Pattie?”
“Not exactly, Em. Well sort of, I mean. I can’t explain it now can I?” She looked at Arnold with her eyes raised.
“That would be your call, Mrs. Cleary.”
Emily made the decision for her. “No, Pattie. I think it’s best if you keep this information to yourself. I don’t remember which of us said it, but loose lips sink ships. I think we need to remember that.”
“That’s a very good point. I need to be going now. Is there anything either of you would like me to tell Father Cass? I don’t believe we’ll be able to meet again, so now would be your last chance.”
Emily wiped her eyes again and then said, “Just tell him that we’re sorry he has such a hard road to travel and that we love him and miss him. Tell him that we’ll be praying for him.”
Pattie cleared her throat. “He’s that holy, he is. You tell him all of that and then tell him to be careful. And tell him to eat something. He doesn’t eat enough, you know?”
Arnold got up from the table and the women followed him. Before he could leave, they both embraced him, and Arnold Park, the man of steel feelings who needed no one, clung tightly to each of them and surprised himself more than anyone, when out of his mouth popped, “God bless you, dear, and thank you.”