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I kicked him before I knew it.
Right on the chin. "Lord have mercy,Rochelle done knocked the boy's teeth out, ain't she?" Deacon Rivers made the declaration in earnest, but he didn't take his feet out of his own basin to get up and help the victim. Getting his feet washed seemed to suit the deacon just fine.
Mother Holloway,the head of the Seniors Bible Study and grandmother to my son's pregnant girlfriend, tightened her grip around the deacon's ankle, probably to get him to stop staring at my toes--the Rochelle Gardner secret feet I'd been pretty much hiding all these years. He ignored the old woman's grip and made a sour face. "I see why you make shoes,honey. Them's some tore-up feet.You earned those the hard way."
If anyone else had said that to me, I would have been totally humiliated, but coming from Deacon Rivers, I knew it was a compliment. Hard work ranked high with him. (Right up there with beauty.)
Tad McGovern, my partner in this surprise foot washing, rubbed his face where I'd kicked him. He smiled at me, which made me feel even more embarrassed.
Mother Holloway pushed her plastic bowl away from us, jerking the deacon's legs a little as she went.
"Hey! Don't be all rough now, Mother. My feet ain't that dirty. I soaked them in Epsom salts last night." He looked at me hopefully. "You should try that, Chelle. It might help some of those corns. And Tad,I'm sorry she kicked you,but you should have warned the girl that a foot washing would be a part of the lesson this morning. Everybody knows how she is about them feet." He grasped at his pants leg before it rolled down into the water.
Mother Holloway, probably the one who'dsuggested this madness, winked at me. She'd do anything to get some Biblically justifiable physical contact with Deacon Rivers. (I'd spent the past two years trying to convince him that the seniors study would probably minister to him better. His response? "Isn't that for old people?"
Anyway, like Deacon Rivers said, somebody could have warned me. Everybody at Broken Bread Fellowship knows how I am about my feet.
Everybody it seems...except Tad,who despite sitting next to me in church for ten years and co-leading the singles group with me for five, had somehow missed my foot phobia.
That roundhouse kick I'd laid on his chin would help him remember in the future.How awful.I'd actually kicked a man down in the Sunday school room. And I still wasn't sure why. By the time my toes met his jaw, Tad had already seen my feet. It must have been reflex from so many years of trying to keep my feet under wraps. He'd pulled off my shoe and my foot had shot out like lightning. If only I could move that fast in my workouts.
From the way Tad was wiggling his jaw, he seemed okay but was definitely thinking about something. Probably having me committed. Everyone else in the room, all married couples who headed up various ministries,save Mother Holloway and the deacon,hadn't given Tad's exclamation of pain more than a glance. Those folks were having foot-washing church and couldn't be bothered with us other than to glance over and check for blood.
I, on the other hand, was having a meltdown, something I'd grown used to since hearing the news that my handsome Christian son had a child on the way. First a grandmother before forty and now my crazy toes had been seen by Tad the Harvard Grad and the leaders of all the church ministries. And Tad seemed very happy about it, despite me almost decapitating him with my foot. If he knew how dangerous these feet really were, he wouldn't be smiling.
Tad steepled his fingers under his chin."Ready to try this again? Minus the kick, of course."
My hand slipped from my mouth, allowing another apology to escape."I am so sorry."
Tad stood easily. The towel he'd borrowed from the baptismal font remained girded around his waist though a little crooked from his fall. That towel, the truth in his eyes and six days a week of Tae Bo had put my trigger foot on notice. There was too much Jesus in this foot-washing business, too much intimacy--one of Tad's favorite subjects in the single's group was finding intimacy with God, not a girl or guy.
"It's okay, Rochelle," Tad said, kneeling in front of me again. He grabbed my heel and tugged, sweeping off my other shoe this time with a sure but gentle grip. I wiggled my ankle, but he held on, dragging the bowl of water toward us with his other hand. This time,he was smart enough not to look up at me. Despite my kung fu moves, this man was determined to make his point--real leaders got their hands dirty, real servants wash feet.
My breath tangled into a knot in my throat as he emptied a familiar envelope into the tub. Eucalyptus and rose petals fluttered in a shower of chamomile tea. Lemon zest stuck to the tops of my ankles, sifted between my toes. It was Shoes of Peace, the foot soak that my friend Dana Rose named after my shop.
I'd been flattered when my best friend gave me my own scent among the goodies in her bath and body store,so much so that I included it in my care kits for first-time customers at my shoe boutique. People raved about how soft the blend made their feet, but I'd never thought to buy any. Not that I didn't trust my girl or anything--these feet just require some industrial-strength stuff. Now, as the brisk sweetness flooded my mind, I made a mental note to buy a box of it.
Evidently, Thaddeus McGovern, the local weather anchor, adult Sunday school teacher and the most handsome and most annoying bachelor in our church,had already made a note to buy some, marking his first kindness that didn't in some way benefit him in a long time. (Let's plan a singles trip...to the meteorology center. I'd like to meet with some other weather people there. Not.)
Tad was acting different and it scared me. His arrogance had always kept me safe from him.Now he wanted to go and get all deep? Ever since our talk a few months before about the unexpected return of my son's father and my definitely unexpected grandchild on the way, Tad seemed to treat me different, shouldering my load of the work with the singles group and covering for me at meetings,all the things I'd done for him over the past years.
All that was nice,but a foot washing? Come on.If I hadn't been daydreaming about having my bunions removed when he passed out the bowls and towels, I would have run for my life.It still sounded like a good plan.Running,I mean.When he squeezed the sponge over my ankles,it was definitely time to go.
"You know what, Tad? I can't do this. If I'd known ahead of time, I would have--"
"What? Washed your feet at home? Cleaned up before you came? No. This quarter's theme is about leadership, service, being last to become first. It's about washing souls--and soles. Please, let me serve you. You do so much for the church."
A rose petal snagged on the hump on my big toe.I dunked my foot to set it free. Perhaps to set me free, too. The pleading that rushed beneath Tad's usually condescending tone scared me more than the sight of my toes. What did Dana keep telling me? Stop trying to control everything, just roll with it sometimes.
Roll with it.
Whatever wheels I was supposed to be using felt like squares instead of circles, but I was determined to see this through. Sunday school ended in thirty minutes anyway. The worst part was over. They'd all seen my feet now. My heart groped for words, but there was nothing sensible, suitable to say. Another apology spilled out as his chin began to swell. How would he mask that on the news tonight? "I'm sorry. About kicking you, I mean. Do you need some ice?"
How many times are you going to apologize?
He grinned wide,revealing his dimples."I'm okay,but you kicked me pretty good. Thankfully, you missed all the good stuff." He motioned toward his head.
From here, it all looked like good stuff. Though usually a total jerk, Tad was ridiculously fine. From his spidery lashes to his cleft chin and square jaw, he was born for the camera. Usually though,his performances--on-and off-screen--were sadly lacking. Today, his acting was a little too convincing.
He touched my second toe, the Little Piggy Who Stayed Home, the digit most responsible for the knuckled imprints in all my shoes. I concentrated on the kindness in his hands, nicer than the firm rap of the pedicure lady at the mall. Still... I flirted with the thought of running to the parking lot screaming like a lunatic.
My foot slipped from his hands as I turned the thought over in my mind, deleting the screaming and concentrating on the running. A bit of pinkish water sloshed over the side of the bowl--which I now realized was a kitty litter container--and onto the floor. My head turned real slow, as if it weighed five hundred pounds. I was doing it again, thinking crazy things. "I'm so sorry. It was a reflex. I have a thing about my feet--"
"Me, too." He paused, smiled at me. His news-at-eleven smile, only better. Special."I have a thing about my own feet, I mean.Don't worry,I won't kick you when you wash mine." A chuckle whistled through his lips.
I didn't find it funny. Wash his? Why hadn't that occurred to me? Service definitely meant doing for others, but in this case, I'd have to pass. Seeing my own feet was bad enough. The Little Piggy That Ate Roast Beef curled back as reality dawned on me. My whole left foot drew up like a fist."You know what? No offense, but I'd rather not wash your feet. Or have you wash mine."
Tad kept scrubbing, all while staring at my bumpy toes. "That's okay. I understand. But I'd appreciate it if you'd let me finish."
I grimaced, doubting I'd ever be able to look him in the face again.
The others around us,except Deacon Rivers and Mother Holloway, of course, worked quietly, ushering in the wings of morning,the edges of heaven,in muffled prayers and quiet sobs. Deacon Rivers's surprise at Mother Holloway's "pretty dogs" punctuated the harmony of soft sobs, whispered prayers and the sound of water lapping in the plastic bowls.
A woman who'd confided in me weeks earlier of her plans to leave her husband wept as she held on to his ankles. We'd gone through the Scriptures, she and I, but this touch, this tenderness, preached a much better sermon. He pulled her up beside him and they held each other, staring with eyes as wet as their bare feet. The music minister's wife grunted in approval as her husband scrubbed her heels gently, praying as he went. They too had recently come close to parting.
My heart leaped,both at Tad's touch and the kiss of Christ on this place, affection I wasn't prepared for, an exchange I wasn't ready to accept. Still, tears threatened. I'd come to church today determined to resign from the singles group, the choir,everything.I'd come sure I had nothing left to give, that there was no point in even trying. And after many years of debating about what to do with my feet (it's a little nutty to own a shoe boutique and have Frankenstein toes), I'd decided to take my podiatrist's advice and have my toes broken, using the time I usually spent on everyone else to recover.
A year ago, I never would have considered doing something like this. Service to my church, family, friends and customers was the call of my life. Then my son's father came back into our lives and my best friend had a stroke and almost died.My son moved out of my house and into his dad's apartment with his pregnant girlfriend. Everything that I'd hung my heart on, my faith on, seemed turned inside out, leaving me to wonder if I'd been trying to work for God instead of walk with Him.