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"Good mornin', Maggie," Father Tim says, sliding into his usual booth. "Lovely out, isn't it?" He smiles pleasantly, and my insides clench.
"Good morning, Father Tim. What can I get for you today?"
"I think I'll be tryin' your French toast, shall I? Brilliant idea, the almond glaze."
That brogue is just not fair. "Thanks. I'll get that right in." I've had sinful thoughts about you. Again. I wrack my brain for something to say. "How was Mass this morning?"
He nods. "Ah, the celebration of the Eucharist always nurtures the spirit," he murmurs. "You're welcome to come and see for yourself, Maggie. I'd love to hear your thoughts on my homily any time."
Father Tim often urges me to drop by. Something stops me. Guilt, no doubt. I might be a lapsed Catholic, but I draw the line at having lustful thoughts about priests in church. "Well. Sure. One of these days. You bet."
"Mass can give a person a chance for some insight. Sometimes we tend to overlook what's important in life, Maggie. It's easy to lose perspective, if you take my meaning."
Oh, I do. Losing perspective is something at which I excel. Case in pointstill in love with the priest. He looks ridiculously appealing in black, though granted, the white collar takes away some of the zing. Rolling my eyes at my own ridiculous thoughts, I turn away, fill a few coffee cups and slip into the kitchen, where Octavio is deftly flipping pancakes. "French toast for Father Tim," I tell him, grabbing an order of eggs on unbuttered toast. Returning to the counter area, I slide the plate in front of Stuart, one of my regulars. "Chicks on a raft, high and dry," I say. He nods appreciatively, a big fan of diner slang.
"Anything else for you, Mrs. Jensen?" I ask the seventy-year-old woman in the first booth. She frowns and shakes her head, and I leave her check on the table. Mrs. Jensen has come from church. She goes to confession every week. She's in Bible study and on the altar decoration committee. It seems I'm not the only one smitten with Father Tim.
Without meaning to, I look once again at the impossible ideal. He's reading the paper. Profiled against the window, his beauty sends a rolling warmth through me. If only you were a regular guy
"He'll catch you looking," Rolly whispers, another regular fixture at my counter.
"That's okay," I admit. "It's not like it's a secret. Make sure you fill out a ballot, okay?" I tell Rolly, dragging my gaze off the object of my desire. "You, too, Stuart. I need all the votes I can get."
"Ayuh. Best coffee in the state," Rolly announces.
"Best breakfast, Rolly." I smile and pat his shoulder.
For the last two years, Joe's Diner has placed fourth in Maine Living's Best Breakfast contest, and I'm determined to win the county title this year. The magazine holds a lot of sway with tourists, and we could use a little more of the summer nuisance. Last year, we were creamed by Blackstone Bed & Breakfast in Calais (even though they make their pancakes from a box mix).
"We'll win, boss," Octavio calls through the window that links the counter area with the kitchen. "We do have the best breakfast."
I smile back at him. "True enough, but being the best-kept secret on coastal Maine isn't doing us much good financially."
"We'll be fine," he assures me. Easy for him to say. He makes more than I do, and he doesn't have to balance the books every month.
"Hey, Maggie, as long as you're up, can I get a refill?" asks Judy, my waitress. I oblige, then bring Father Tim his breakfast, sneak a glance at his smooth, elegant hands and scurry off to clear a table.
For the last eight years, I've run Joe's Diner, taking it over from Jonah Gray, my grandfather, after he had a heart attack. The diner is one of the larger employers in our tiny town, having four people on the payroll. Octavio is the most irreplaceable, running the kitchen with tireless efficiency. Judy came with the diner. She's somewhere between sixty and one hundred and twenty, gifted at not working, though when pressed, she can handle a full diner, not that we get that a lot. Georgie gets some help in the summer, when we hire a high school kid to deal with the light tourist business that makes it this far north.
And there's me, of course. I cook the daily specials, do all the baking, wait tables, balance the books, maintain the inventory and keep the place clean. Our final, though unofficial, employee is Colonel. My dog. My buddy. My precious boy. "Who's your mommy?" I ask him. "Huh, Colonel McKissy? Who loves you, pretty boy?" His tail thumps at my idiot talk, but he knows not to leave his place behind the register. A Golden Retriever takes up a lot of room, but most people don't even see Colonel, who has nicer manners than the queen of England. At thirteen, he's mellow, but he's always been incredibly well-behaved. I give him a piece of bacon and get back to work.
Father Tim rises to settle his check. "Hello, Gwen, love, how are you today? Don't you look smart in that lovely shade of yellow," he says to Mrs. Jensen, who simpers in pleasure. He smiles at me, and my knees soften. "I'll see you both tonight, won't I?"
"That's right," I answer. I may not be able to bring myself to Mass, but Father Tim has worn me down for Bible study. I stifle the urge to shake my head at myself. Bible study. My social plans for the week. Well, it's not like I'm turning away dozens of suitors. Sadly, Father Tim is closer to a boyfriend than anything I've had in some time.
"Nancy Ringley's bringing the snack?" Father Tim frowns.
"No." I smile. "I am. Her daughter's under the weather, so she called me."
His face lights up. "Ah, wonderful! About the snack, at any rate. Not her dear little daughter. I'll see you later, then, Maggie." He pats my shoulder with avuncular affection, causing lust and exhilaration to flow down my arm, and turns for the door. I love you, I mouth. I can't help myself.
Did he hear me? My face flushes in mortification as Father Tim glances back at me with a smile and a wink before going out into the cold. He waves as he crosses the street, ever kind where I'm concerned. Mrs. Jensen, who is not so tolerant, glares at me. I narrow my eyes in return. She doesn't fool me. We suffer from the same diseaseI'm just a little more obvious.
It's a frigid March day, the wind howling off the water, slicing through the thickest wool hats and mi-crofiber gloves. Only a few brave souls venture out, and the day drags. We don't get more than a handful of people at lunch. I wait for Judy to finish her crossword puzzle before sending her home, as she's really only here for show, anyway. Octavio takes off his apron as I scrape the grill.
"Tavy, take the rest of the pie, okay? Your kids will like it," I tell him. He has five children.
"They will if they get to taste it. I already had two pieces." Octavio grins his engaging gap-tooth smile.
I grin back. "Did Judy get any more ballots?"
"I think she gave out a few."
"Great." I've been relentless in asking my patrons to fill them out. Last year we lost by two hundred votes, so I need every one who crosses the threshold to pitch in. "Have a nice afternoon, Octavio," I say.
"You, too, boss."
"Here, take these cookies, too." My cook grins his thanks, then goes out the back door.
Colonel knows what time it is. He gets up from his spot and comes over to me for a little pat, pushing his big head against my thighs. I stroke his white cheeks. "You're such a good boy, aren't you?" He wags in agreement, then returns to his spot, knowing I'll be a while yet.
I flip the Open sign to Closed and wipe down the last table. This is one of my favorite times of day
three o'clock. We're done for the day. Joe's opens at six, though I usually don't roll in until seven (the joys of ownership), but I make up my time by doing all the baking each afternoon. I'm proud to say that Joe's desserts are locally famous, especially the pies and coconut macaroons.
Joe's is a Jerry Mahoney design. Red-and-cream porcelain with stainless steel siding on the outside, red vinyl seats, cream-colored walls and a black-and-white tile floor on the inside. Ten swivel stools are bolted to the floor at the counter. At one end is the requisite pastry display case where my sweets tempt the patrons. There are seven booths with nice deep backs and seats that are just bouncy enough. At some point, my grandfather had those little jukeboxes installed and, as kids, we loved flipping through to see what the new selections were. The kitchen is through a swinging door with a porthole, and there's a tiny supply room and unisex bathroom. In the corner window, a neon sign blinks those timeless words, Eat at Joe's.
For the next half hour, I add up the receipts, check the inventory, print out more ballots and mop the floor. I play the jukeboxes as I work, singing along with Aretha and the Boss. Finally, I go back into the kitchen and start baking the desserts for tomorrow. And the snack for tonight.
Since Father Tim's face brightened when he heard I was on snack duty, I decide to do something special. In the tiny kitchen, I take out the necessary ingredients and set about making apricot squares, one of his favorites. Once those are in the oven, I roll out a few pie crusts and throw together a couple of blueberry pies.
Colonel's tail starts thumping, and I hear him scramble to get up off the tile floor. I reduce the heat on the pies and move them to a higher shelf so the bottom crusts won't burn. Without checking, I know my sister is about to come in.
I'm right, as I usually am about Christy. She's just pulling the baby stroller in through the door. We haven't seen each other for three entire days, which is a long spell when it comes to us. "Hey, Christy." I smile, holding the door for her.
"Hey, Mags," she answers. She glances at me, then does a double take. "Oh, for God's sake." She wrestles the carriage the rest of the way in, Violet sleeping undisturbed, and pulls off her hat. "Me, too."
My mouth drops open. "Christy!" We start laughing simultaneously, reaching for each other's hands at the same moment.
Christy and I are identical twins. And we are quite identical still, though Christy had a baby eight months ago. We weigh exactly the same, have the same bra size, shoe size, pants size. We each have a mole on our left cheeks. We both have a slightly crooked pinky on our right hands. Though Christy dresses a little better than I do, most people can't tell us apart. In fact, only Will, Christy's husband, has never once confused us. Even our parents goof once in a while, and, Jonah, who is younger by eight years, doesn't try awfully hard to distinguish us.
We often call each other only to get a busy signal because the other had the same thought at the same moment. Sometimes we get each other the same birthday card or pick out the same sweater from the L.L.
Bean catalog. If I buy tulips for my kitchen table, it's a good bet that Christy has done the same thing.
But once in a while, in order to create some sense of individuality, one of us will get the urge to try something new. And so, on Monday when the diner was closed, I went to Jonesport and got my hair layered a little, had a few highlights put in. Apparently Christy had the same thought. Once more, we are identical.
"When did you get yours done?" I ask.
"Yesterday. You?" She smiles as she reaches out to touch my new 'do.
"Monday, so the haircut is really mine." I grin as I say it. I don't mind. In fact, I've always kind of liked being mistaken for Christy. "I wear mine in a ponytail most of the time, anyway," I say. "Plus, you have better clothes."
"Unstained, anyway," she smiles, sitting at the counter. She takes off her coat and drapes it over the next stool. I go over to the stroller, which is one of those complicated Swedish affairs with everything from a wind guard to a cappuccino maker, and twist my head inside. Stretching my lips, I can just about kiss my sleeping niece. "Hello, angel," I whisper, worshiping her perfect skin and feathery eyelashes. "God, Christy, she gets more beautiful every day."
"I know," Christy answers smugly. "So what's new?"
"Oh, not much. Father Tim was in. I think he may have heard me tell him I love him."
"Oh, Maggie." Christy chuckles sympathetically. She knows better than to spout the platitudes that everyone else does
Why are you wasting your time on a priest? Can't you find somebody else? You really should meet someone, Maggie. Have you tried the Internet/volunteering/church/dating services/speed dating/singles clubs/singles nights/singles cruises/prostitution? (This last one was suggested by my brother's friend Stevie, who has been hitting on me since he was twelve years old.)
I've tried volunteering. And church, of course, contains the root of my problem. But singles nights and those speed dating things
Well, first of all, we don't have much of that in rural Maine. The nearest big city is Bar Harbor, and that's at least an hour and a half south, if the weather is clear. As for the Internet, those services smack of deceit. A person could say anything, after all. What better way to lie about yourself? How many stories have I heard about a person being sorely disappointed by his or her Internet date? So, while there may be merit in that venue, I've never tried it.