FALLING IN LOVE with a Catholic priest was not my smartest move.
Obviously, I’m well aware of the whole vow-of-chastity, married-to-the-church thing. I realize that yearning for a priest doesn’t exactly further the cause of meeting my future husband. And in case I might have overlooked those little facts, I have an entire town pointing them out to me.
The problem is, even when someone is clearly wrong for you, he might seem…well, perfect. And aside from that one hulking detail, Father Tim O’Halloran is everything I’ve ever let myself dream of in a man. Kind, funny, charming, intelligent, hardworking. He likes the same movies I do. He loves my cooking. He compliments me often and laughs at my jokes. He cares about the people of my hometown, listens intently to their problems, offers gentle guidance when asked. And he’s from Ireland, the icing on the cake, because ever since I was sixteen years old and first saw U2 in concert, I’ve had a thing for Irish guys. So even though Father Tim has never said or done anything vaguely improper, I can’t help dreaming about what a great husband he’d make. I’m not really proud of this, but there it is.
My romantic problems predated Father Tim, though he’s probably the most colorful chapter in the joke book that makes up my love life. First off, it’s not easy being a single woman in Gideon’s Cove, Maine, population 1,407. Ostensibly there are enough males for females, but statistics can be misleading. Our town is in Washington County, the northernmost coastal county in our great state. We’re too far from Bar Harbor to attract many tourists, although we do live in what is undeniably one of the most beautiful areas of America. Gray-shingled houses hug the harbor, and the air snaps with the smell of pine and salt. We’re a pretty old-fashioned town?most people make their living either by fishing, lobstering or working in the blueberry industry. It’s a lovely place, but it’s remote, a good three hundred miles north of Boston. Five hundred from New York City. Meeting new people is difficult.
I try. I’ve always tried. There have been a few boyfriends, sure. I cheerfully accept fix-ups and blind dates when they’re thrown my way, I do. I own and operate Joe’s Diner, the only restaurant in town, so I have plenty of chances to meet people. And I volunteer?I volunteer my ass off, to be frank. I deliver meals to the infirm. I cook for the soup kitchen on Tuesday nights and bring whatever leftovers I have on an almost daily basis. I provide dinner at the fire department’s monthly meeting. I organize clothing drives and fund-raisers and offer to cater just about any event for a minimal profit, as long as it’s for a good cause. I am a pillar of society, and truthfully, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But in the back of my mind, there’s a selfish motive. I can’t help hoping that my good works and cheerful attitude will be noticed by someone…perhaps some rich and handsome grandson of the elderly man whose dinner I delivered, or some new-to-town volunteer fireman who just happens to be, oh I don’t know, a board member of Oxfam and a brain surgeon, too.
However, the charitable neurosurgeon has proved elusive, and as of one year ago, when I was thirty-one years old, I remained single with no credible prospects on the horizon. That’s when I met Father Tim.
I had gone for a bike ride out to Quoddy State Park. We were having a warm snap, for March, anyway?the temperature reached forty degrees, the snow had softened, the breeze was quiet. I’d spent most of the day cooped up inside, and a bike ride seemed like just the thing to do. Clad in layers of fleece and microfiber, I rode further than usual in the brisk air and fading sunlight of the afternoon. Then, with classic New England unpredictability, a drenching, icy rainstorm blew in from the west. I was a good ten miles from town when my bike wheel slid on some ice. I went ass over teakettle down an embankment, right into a wet patch of snow that concealed eight inches of mud and ice. Not only was I filthy, freezing and wet, I had also managed to cut my knee and tear my pants.
Feeling very sorry for myself, I hauled my bike up the bank at the exact moment a car went by. “Help! Stop!” I yelled, but whoever it was didn’t hear me. Or heard me and was afraid, as I resembled an escaped lunatic at that moment. I watched the taillights of the blue Honda disappear in the distance, noting that the sky was suddenly much darker.
Well, I didn’t have a choice. I started walking, gimping along on my cut leg, until a pickup pulled over. Before I could even tell who it was, the driver grabbed my bike and popped it in the bed of the truck. Squinting through the rain, I saw it was Malone, a silent, slightly scary lobsterman who moored next to my brother. He may have spoken?the words “Get in” ring a bell?so I gingerly crawled into the cab of his truck. In my mind, I could hear an imaginary narrator…Maggie Beaumont was last seen riding her bike one dark and stormy afternoon. Her body was never found.
To allay my nervousness, I talked maniacally until we reached Joe’s Diner, reminding Malone that Jonah was my brother, that I was out for a bike ride (though that was rather obvious), that I should have listened to the forecast, that I fell (again, obvious), that I was sorry to make his truck dirty, et cetera, et cetera.
“Thank you very much, Malone, this was so nice of you,” I babbled when he lifted down my bike. “You should come in and have a piece of pie sometime. It’s good pie. Cup of coffee, too. On the house, okay? I owe you. Thanks again. This was great. Thanks. Bye now.” Malone did not deign to speak, simply lifted his hand and drove away.
As I watched the taillights blur in the rain, I said a prayer. “God, I don’t mean to complain, but I think I’ve been pretty patient here. All I want is a decent man who will stand by me and be a good father to our kids. What do You say?”
I remember all this because the very next day?the very next day?I came out of the kitchen of Joe’s Diner, and there he was, sitting in the farthest booth, the most incredibly appealing man I’d ever seen. Medium height, light brown hair, green eyes, broad shoulders, beautiful hands. He wore a gorgeous Irish fisherman’s sweater and jeans. When he smiled, my knees buckled at the glory of those straight, white teeth. A leaping thrill of attraction and hope shuddered through my entire body.
“Hi, I’m Maggie,” I said, giving myself a quick, mental once-over. New jeans, that was good. Blue sweater, not bad. Hair, clean.
“Tim O’Halloran. A pleasure it is to meet you,” he answered, and I nearly swooned. A brogue! How Liam Neeson! How Colin Farrell! How Bono!
“Would you like some coffee?” I asked, proud that my voice still worked.
“I’d love a spot. Can’t think of anything nicer.” He smiled right into my eyes. Blushing with pleasure, I looked out into the parking lot and saw the blue Honda. Dear God, it was the man who’d passed me!
“You know, I think I saw you last night!” I exclaimed. “Were you on Route 1A, heading for town around five? I fell off my bike, and I was trying to flag you down.”
“I was,” he answered, a concerned frown wrinkling his forehead. “How could I have missed you? Oh, dear, forgive me!”
Done. “Oh, gosh, don’t worry.” His eyes were beautiful, green and golden, like a bed of moss in the sunshine. Lust engulfed me like a thick fog. “Really. It’s?don’t?it’s fine. So. What, um…what would you like for breakfast?”
“What do you recommend, Maggie?” he asked, and it sounded so damn sexy, that accent combined with what seemed to be a mischievous smile and flirting eyes…
“I recommend that you eat here often,” I said. “I made the muffins myself, and they’re just out of the oven. And our pancakes are the best in town.” And the only in town, but hey.
“The pancakes it is, then, thanks.” He smiled up at me again, obviously in no hurry for me to leave. “So you work here, do you?”
“Actually, I own the place,” I said, pleased to be able to impart this nugget. Not just a waitress, but the boss. The owner.
“Do you, now! Brilliant! A classic, isn’t it?”
’Tis, I almost said. “Yes. Thank you. It’s a family business. My grandfather, the Joe in Joe’s Diner, started it up in 1933.”
“Ah, that’s lovely.”
“So, Tim, what are you doing in Gideon’s Cove?” I asked, then realized he might be hungry. “Wait, I’m sorry, let me just get your order in. Sorry. Be right back!”
I raced to the kitchen and called the order to Octavio, my short-order cook, then practically slid across the diner to Tim’s table, ignoring three customers who were waiting at the counter with varying degrees of impatience.
“Sorry. You might actually want to eat, of course,” I said.
“Well, now, there are some things that are nicer than eating, and talking to you is one of them.”
Dear God, You’re the best! Thanks for listening! “So, sorry, I was asking you what you were doing in town. Work related?”
“You might say that, Maggie. I’m?”
It was at this moment that the fatal event occurred. Georgie Culpepper, my dishwasher, burst into the diner. “Hi, Maggie!” he shouted. “Hi! How are you, Maggie! It’s nice out today, isn’t it, Maggie? I saw snowdrops this morning! You want me to wash dishes now, Maggie?” He wrapped his arms around me and hugged me.
Now, Georgie’s hugs are usually very pleasant. I’ve been getting them since kindergarten. Georgie has Down syndrome, is wicked affectionate and endlessly cheerful, one of the nicest, happiest people I’ve ever met. But right at this moment, I didn’t want his burr-like head welded to my breast. As I tried to extricate myself and as Georgie continued to tell me about the wonders of spring, Tim answered my question. I didn’t hear him.
Finally, I pried Georgie off me and patted his shoulder. “Hello, Georgie. Tim, this is Georgie Culpepper, and he works here. Our bubble boy, right, buddy?” Georgie nodded proudly. “Georgie, this is Tim.”
Georgie treated Tim to a hug, which was returned warmly. Lucky Georgie. “Hi, Tim! Nice to meet you, Tim! How are you, Tim?”
“I’m excellent, thank you, my friend.”
I smiled even more…could there be a better character reference than someone who knew just how to treat Georgie Culpepper? I immediately added it to the already impressive mental list I had going on Tim O’Halloran: handsome, employed, charming, Irish, comfortable around disabled people.
“I bet Octavio will make you scrambled eggs,” I told Georgie.
“Scrambled eggs! All right!” Though Georgie eats scrambled eggs every day of his life, the thrill has yet to fade. He scuttled to the kitchen and I remained, staring down at Tim. “Well. So. That sounds interesting,” I said, hoping he’d reiterate what it was he did for a living. He didn’t. The ding of the kitchen bell went off, and I excused myself, got Tim’s pancakes and brought them over.
“Can I get you anything else?” The scowls of my regulars were starting to register.
“No, no, thank you ever so much, Maggie. It was a real pleasure meeting you.”
Fearful that this was the last I’d ever see of him, I blurted, “Maybe I’ll see you again sometime?” Please, please don’t say you’re married.
“I’m going back to Bangor, but on Saturday, I’ll be here for good. Do you happen to belong to St. Mary’s?” he asked, stabbing a huge forkful of golden pancakes.
“Yes!” I yelped. Any connection, no matter how thin…
“Then I’ll see you Sunday.” He smiled and took a bite, then closed his eyes in pleasure.
“Wonderful.” My heart thumping, I went back to the counter and apologized to two of my regulars, Rolly and Ben.
Okay, so it was a little…devout…to mention where he went to church, but that was okay, I quickly assured myself. Perhaps the Irish were just more religious. But I was Catholic, technically anyway, and St. Mary’s was indeed my home parish. The last time I’d been there was two years ago, when my sister Christy got married, but my lapsed state didn’t matter. Tim O’Halloran was going to Mass, and so was I.