After dinner, Oliver came out of the house to speak with the creature. He leaned against one of the porch posts. The creature sat next to his dinner bowl with his arms wrapped around his legs and his chin resting between his knees.
“I see you’ve eaten your dinner. Good to see you’ve got your appetite back.”
“It never left me,” frowned the creature. “Can I have more?”
“Not now. Dinner’s over, but you can have as much as you want for breakfast. Just let me know how much you’d like tomorrow morning.”
The creature pondered a moment, then said, “I think...maybe three cans. That should do it.”
“You got it. Just put in your order before every meal, and I’ll see that you get it.” The two were silent for a moment. Oliver gazed out to the west.
“How was it...sleeping out under the stars last night?”
“Rotten. Bugs crawled on me and kept waking me up. The ground is hard, and I couldn’t get comfortable, and the grass kept tickling my nose and ears. I hated it. Don’t you at least have a tent I could use?”
“No, I don’t. Sorry.” Oliver stepped down from the porch. “You weren’t at all frightened...I mean, being all alone in the night and away from your parents in a strange place?”
“Of course not. I’m no baby. I’m used to being alone, and I’ve been away from my parents for most of my life. Even when I'm with them, I'm away from them.”
“Huh.” Oliver took a few meandering steps. “You know, I used to sleep under the stars quite often when I was young. You might try sleeping on your back. Wonderful thing. You drift off to sleep with God’s universe as your tent.”
“Have you ever studied the stars? Astronomy?”
“No. I have a telescope at home, though. It’s a good one too.”
“You might try to pry your eyes and your mind from yourself for a few moments tonight and have a look at the stars. There’s no better place to see them than out here in the country.”
“Oh, boy, I sure will,” said the creature.
“As a matter of fact, I think I’ll join you tonight for awhile and have a look myself. It’s been quite a while since I’ve enjoyed them. You wouldn’t mind, would you?”
“Suit yourself.” He tried to sound like Oliver, to mock him, but Oliver seemed not to notice.
“Well, I’ll see you in a while then. I’m going to get ready and go to evening services, but I’ll be back in plenty of time to have a look.”
“I can’t wait.”
Oliver went back into the house with Bayo. He went up to the bathroom and cleaned up and put on a nice suit and tie. He gazed in the bathroom mirror in mute appraisal. He plucked an errant hair from his left eyebrow, straightened his tie, then with a nod and a grunt, went down the steps and out to his truck. Bayo followed him.
“Bayo, patrol!” Oliver commanded. The dog instantly trotted around to the back of the house, and out of sight. Oliver addressed the creature who sat with his back against the tree.
“I’ll be back in about an hour and a half or so, then I intend to read for another hour or so. After that, I’ll be out to have a look at the stars with you. I’ll see you then.”
The creature responded with a sullen stare.
Oliver climbed into his truck and drove toward Beadleton. About a half mile further down the road from Anderson’s restaurant stood the First Baptist Church of Beadleton. It was a pleasant, old-fashioned looking brick church with white trim and a steeple, surrounded by large, old trees. Perhaps one hundred cars filled the church lot by the time Oliver arrived. He parked and entered into the church where a man with a mustache who was just shorter than him pumped his hand in greeting.
“Oliver! Good to see you! Missed you this morning.”
Oliver smiled as he shook the man’s hand. “Mr. Welch, good to see you. I had some things I needed to tend to, so I thought I’d catch the evening service this week.”
“Well, it’s good to have you any time. Coming to the church picnic next weekend?”
“Yes, indeed. Never miss a time for good friends and good food.”
“Good, good. Say, I talked to Bubba the other day down at Anderson’s, and he said you were going in to horses. That true?”
“Indeed, it is.”
“Well, now! What’s put that in your mind?”
“The good Lord, I suppose, Mr. Welch. They’re beautiful animals, and I expect I’ve been directionless long enough. Going to start small and build my way up. Plan to board, train...maybe even a little vet work when I’m knowledgeable enough.”
“Good to hear! I’ll pray the Lord’s blessings on you, Oliver.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
The man released Oliver’s hand. Oliver walked to the center doors of the sanctuary and peeked in to see what seating remained. He spied a fairly open pew on the left about six rows from the front and was about to make his way to the spot when he heard two feminine voices behind him.
“Oh, uh, good evening ladies...Miss Smith…Miss Jenkins.” The two women were older, perhaps in their late thirties, one a blonde and the other a brunette, neither of them with unpleasant features, but both with a good, solid, “country” air about them. He shook both their hands lightly, and said, “It’s a lovely evening, isn’t it?”
They smiled warmly and agreed with Oliver as if it were one of the more astute observations they’d heard in their lifetimes.
“I see some open spots down there on the left. Would you ladies care to join me?”
The two women blushed a bit and agreed. They walked down the center aisle of the sanctuary with Oliver ushering behind. As they slowly walked, they spoke in hushed whispers back and forth to each other which grew in volume until they reached the pew in question, where they stopped, and the blonde, Miss Smith, hissed to Miss Jenkins, “No, you go first!”
“Is there a problem?” asked Oliver.
Miss Jenkins blushed and stammered, “N-no...Oliver. Just a little question about…the…uh, seating arrangements…but I think we’ve come to an agreement.” And with that, Miss Jenkins forcefully shoved Miss Smith into the pew, who at first looked very angry, but then smiled delightedly when Miss Jenkins gestured toward the pew and said, “After you, Oliver.”
Oliver stepped into the pew and sat while the two women took their seats on either side of him. Both the women angled themselves away from Oliver, withdrew small compacts from their purses, inspected their faces, and dabbed at any imperfections they perceived. When both reached their visual peak, they returned their compacts to their purses, sat back, and angled themselves slightly toward Oliver. Oliver sat with both feet flat on the floor and his hands interlocked on his lap.
As the pastor had not yet taken his place behind the pulpit, the congregation hummed with conversation. The two ladies scanned the congregation for friends they knew. Miss Smith caught the eye of one of her friends further down in the same pew. She leaned back in the pew so her friend could see Oliver, then leaned forward again and mimed an excited little scream to her friend. Her friend pursed her lips then smiled as she nodded her head knowingly. Miss Jenkins caught the eye of one of her friends on the other side of the sanctuary. She pointed discreetly at Oliver and looked expectantly at her friend whose eyes widened and mouth formed an “O” of understanding then smiled. Both Miss Smith and Miss Jenkins smiled with satisfaction, gazed at Oliver, then moved slightly closer to him. Oliver noted the movement of both women, sat up a little straighter, and moved his arms closer to his sides.
The pastor, a bald-headed refined looking man in his fifties, walked down the aisle of the sanctuary and up the steps to the pulpit. He rustled some papers and cleared his throat.
“I want to welcome you all this evening. If you’re new, I am Pastor Earnhardt, no relation to Dale.”
Light laughter riffled through the congregation. Oliver chuckled and the women beside him tittered and moved closer to him. Oliver shifted a bit uncomfortably, his eyes darting from Miss Smith to Miss Jenkins.
The pastor continued, “We also take no offering during the evening service, so you can just relax and enjoy a good sermon.”
The women both tittered again and moved closer to Oliver. A look of alarm crept into his face as his head swiveled from Miss Jenkins to Miss Smith.
“Tonight, the title of my sermon is ‘The Marriage Covenant: Reflection of the Godhead’.”
Panic seized Oliver’s countenance. He leaned toward Miss Jenkins and said, “If you’ll excuse me, Miss Jenkins...I need to use the rest room.” She shifted her body to let him out, and both women watched him as he walked down the aisle, out the sanctuary doors, and into the narthex.
He went into the bathroom. Leaning on the sink, he looked at himself in the mirror.
“Now there was a close call,” he said to his reflection as he washed his hands. “One more word out of that preacher, and the walls of femininity would’ve crushed you.”
He took some paper towels from the dispenser and dried his hands. He let out a sigh as he gazed at his reflection. “Of course, there are worse ways to go…but not many.”
He walked out of the bathroom and back into the narthex. He peeked through the center doors of the sanctuary and saw the two women sitting in the pew with a space between them. He rubbed the back of his neck and pondered as he paced a bit. Just then, another congregant entered the church doors. He was a short, neatly trimmed man who exuded exactitude and appeared irritated.
Oliver smiled broadly. “Mr. Teeters! Good to see you! A little late for the evening service, ey?”
Mr. Teeters frowned. “My wife is ill, and she insisted I go to the store for some ice cream. That’s why I’m late.”
Oliver grabbed Mr. Teeters by the arm. “I’m sorry for your wife, but perhaps we can sit together and lighten each other’s embarrassment at having to enter the service late like this.”
“Well, I suppose…”
“You’re a kind man, Mr. Teeters...kind to your wife and kind to me.” Oliver guided him over to the right side sanctuary door, but he resisted.
“But I usually sit on the left side…”
“When you’re on time, Mr. Teeters, but I just looked and the left side’s practically full up. Trust me, we have a much better chance of finding a seat without creating too much disturbance on the right side.”
He guided Mr. Teeters through the sanctuary door, and the two made their way down to the same row directly across from Miss Smith and Miss Jenkins, who both saw the men.
Miss Smith slid over to Miss Jenkins and whispered, “Oh, that awful Mr. Teeters!” Miss Jenkins nodded her head in agreement.