“Hi, Handsome,” I said, kissing his cheek as he rose to greet me. “Where’s Sharon?”
“Of course I’m sure. The man knocked me over twice and was inches from my face. It’s him all right. She called him Colin.”
Footsteps and voices were coming in our direction as I tried to stand while assuring the young man I wasn’t hurt. I definitely couldn’t say the same for my blouse.
Standing on my own at last, the others were slowly returning to their work. Father Murphy reached down and picked up my purse to hand it to me. Childishly, I snatched it away as I once again assured those around that no, I wasn’t injured, and yes, I should’ve been more careful. The young man with the paint brush was offering myriad apologies, almost to the point of panic. Father Murphy put his hand gently on his shoulder and said, “It’s all right, Jamie. Mrs. Grant is used to getting knocked down, and she’s not hurt. But you probably should buy her a new blouse, don’t you think?”
“No, I won’t promise you anything. I’m looking for Monsignor ...” But he’d already turned and walked briskly around the corner of the short entry hallway. I stamped my foot at his arrogance, straightened my clothes, pulled my purse over the shoulder not covered in paint, and stepped into the main room where men and women of all shapes and sizes were busily turning the walls the same color as the wet swath on my blouse.
In no mood for further apologies, I looked at him hard and stammered, “What?” Then involuntarily stepped backwards against the wall when a second Father Murphy suddenly came into view and said, “Surprise!”
“You are sitting down,” he said flatly.
I was genuinely surprised as I looked first at his face, then the floor, and wheezed, “Oh, so I am. I need to ... to stand up, then.” He reached for me, pulling me up, a little too closely for comfort, his arm snugly around my waist, my hands flat against his chest. My laughter finally stopped and I sighed, looking deep into his eyes. “Where’s a black cassock when I need one?”
“That would be me, the first time,” one said, raising his hand.
The other one, the one with a touch more gray said, “And me, the second time. I’m Father Sean Patrick Murphy, priest.”
The first one said, “And I’m Cailean – Colin – Patrick Murphy, professor.”
“Yep, that was me all right ... Wait, and you thought I was him?” He laughed out loud, and slapped his brother on the back. “No wonder you weren’t very civil.”
“No, it was Dixie.”
I looked at him quickly, then got the joke and started laughing again.
I headed out the door and called back, “I’ve got to go fire an architect!”
“Well, I’m not the settling down kind. There’s just something about her, though. She’s not a bombshell, in fact, rather plain looking, and a little plump in places ...”
“O.K.” Sean said. “But remember that Monsignor Fitz is very fond of her, so be gentle, please.”
“Fine,” Sean said skeptically. “But be gentle just the same.”
“I should have been taking the stairs two at a time by now. Still got a few pounds to lose. Damn.”
“Damn, what? You look great! And lucky you are about to have dinner with a man who makes you quiver and he’s NOT at priest, thank God. What are you upset about?”
“Ready for what? It’s just dinner. You don’t do sex, remember.”
“Yeah, I remember,” I said, a little too wistfully, obviously, because Sharon raised her eyebrows at me.
“Yes, thanks, Cailean.” At his raised eyebrow, I shrugged and said, “I don’t know you well enough to call you Colin.”
I took another sip of wine and then said, “Okay, talk.”
“Whoa! What are you, a reporter?”
“Sort of. Just start talking, and I’ll ask questions along the way.” I’ve always been comfortable in interview situations, and isn’t that what first dates are? Interviews? With those I write a story about, the exchanges are a game to see if I can pull out information the person didn’t necessarily want to reveal, or didn’t know was important. And when I am the one being asked the questions by a reporter, it was an even more interesting contest to make sure I only revealed enough to satisfy, but never revealed too much. I’m pleased to say I’ve seldom lost a match.
And so he started talking, and I asked questions and he answered, and then he asked questions and I answered. We talked through the appetizers, through spaghetti and veal parmesan, and through Italian cream cake topped with vanilla bean ice cream. And through a full bottle of wine.
“Industrial design? You’re a designer? Wait, don’t change the subject. What stuff? What exactly did you do for those twenty years?”
I laughed, “The government? Which government?”
“Goodness, are you sure you’re not an interrogator? All right, I was with the FBI.”
I laughed again. “Right. You spent twenty years doin’ stuff with the FBI and then you retired and moved to Lubbock. Yeah, right,” I chuckled. “Nobody moves to Lubbock on purpose.”
He crossed his arms, leaned back and just looked at me, smile gone.
“Something wrong with the FBI?”
After a moment, I refocused. “Oh, sorry. Thanks. Seriously. Sorry. Didn’t mean to get like that ... too much wine.” I sighed, recomposed, and took another sip of coffee. “Speaking of things that happen, though, did you hear from that young man? What was his name? His mother was ill or something?”
“I promised your brother I would remember him in my prayers, and speaking of which,” I said, looking at my watch, “it’s getting a little late, so I’d better say good night.”
“Right,” Colin said, as we both just now noticed we were the last patrons in the restaurant. He looked up and called the relieved waiter over to settle the bill. “Let me walk you to your car.”
My knees had threatened to buckle again when he took my hand, but willing myself steady, I got through it without embarrassing myself. Getting in my car, I turned the key and drove away without another glance at him. Damn those eyes.