A new man, and not her husband …
Joellen pulled up to the church. Everything was running smoothly. She expected to be at the grocery store in half an hour and home before the bus arrived.
A car parked by the curb had a small sign in the window that said Associate Pastor. Joellen noticed it right away. She had seen him once last Sunday but he had been surrounded by people shaking his hand and she never did get a good look at him. It was his first full week on the job.
She slid open the side door of the van and began struggling with the largest box. It was filled with books and an old phonograph that Brent said no one would ever buy, much less use, these days. But she thought maybe one of the older parishioners would like to have it. After all, some people still had records.
“Need some help?”
It was him. She was sure of it even before she turned around. She knew old Pastor Immerhaupt’s crackly voice – hadn’t she listened to his sermons for the past nine years? This voice was deeper, had more resonance and, she thought fleetingly, a slight accent. Joellen straightened up, leaving the box near the edge of the van door.
“Oh, yes, thanks,” she turned to face him and smiled, the sun in her eyes. She squinted a little and held her hand up to shade her face from the sharp, October light.
If she could have stood outside herself, and described her physical appearance to a stranger, she would have said, “Joellen is five foot five. She has short brown hair and brown eyes. Her nose is small and her eyebrows even. She has a good figure because, even after two babies, she decided she had to stay in shape, so she goes to a gym three times a week and runs on two of the other days – if she has time. Brent likes her to have a firm body and that helps keep her motivated to work at maintaining her figure. She doesn’t wear makeup. She would look prettier if she did. But Brent doesn’t like make up. Her eyes are her best feature. Set wide apart, they are large and expressive. She has very thick, dark eyelashes.”
Although she would not have included this in her self description, Joellen blushed easily. It had always given her a vulnerable feeling – like everyone could see inside her, and at times when she felt most timid, they could see exactly how she felt.
“I’m the new associate pastor. North Karlsen?” His introduction sounded a bit like a question, or maybe it was the accent. He held out his hand and Joellen blushed. She lowered her head a little so he wouldn’t notice and took his hand to shake it limply. But he clasped her hand in both his, holding onto it firmly, looking down into her face.
“Joellen Vickers,” Joellen almost whispered, trying to find her voice. She nodded as he shook her hand, and looked down at the ground hoping he would think the sun was hurting her eyes.
“So good to know you. I’m sorry we haven’t met before. But I saw you at last Sunday’s service. You and your husband. I’m trying to meet everyone and get to match names with faces.” He was still holding her hand and now she was aware of a feeling somewhere below her belly button, somewhere deep inside, a kind of rumbly feeling of excitement that she had never felt before. She thought she must be a little sick. Yet the feeling was pleasurable. And confusing.
“Here, let me take that,” he let go of her hand. Moving to stand next to her, he bent down only slightly, lifted the carton easily. “These must be for the rummage sale Saturday?”
“Yes,” Joellen finally thought she sounded normal. Well, thank goodness. She had a fleeting sense of comfort in things returning to equilibrium as the odd feeling below her stomach faded.
“I’ll take it in the side door and be right back to get the others.”
She nodded. Where was he from? He was gone before she could utter a thank you. She watched him walk away. He was tall. He walked with an athletic stride and she found herself reminded of the football player she had dated one season in college, before she had met Brent at a mixer at the end of football season. Her roommate had said the football player was a slut. She told Joellen he was screwing at least four other girls that she knew of. Joellen managed to hold him off. Her roommate said that only made her more of a challenge and that the minute she had sex with him, he would dump her.
Brent was different. They started dating right away. He was gentlemanly. He played tennis and golf. He wore blazers and slacks. He opened the car door for her and brought her flowers. He told her his plans and let her know that he intended her to be part of them. He was very sure of himself and his future. And he stuck to his plan. They married right after graduation. He insisted they wait until their wedding night to have sex. He let her know that it was important to him that she was a virgin. It had been three long years. During that time she remained faithful. He said it was his time to sow his wild oats, but he wanted her to be there when he was ready to make the final commitment. He told her nothing else mattered and that she had no reason to be jealous of anyone. Brent was not handsome and even in college he was already beginning to bald. But he was reliable. He was structured. Joellen didn’t have to think her way through anything with Brent. He did it for both of them.
Her mother adored Brent and her father said he would be a good provider and a good husband. Her mother told Joellen to let him have his fun and that what mattered was they would get married and then he would settle down. Her mother told her she was lucky to have met someone who made it clear what his intentions were from the start. She told Joellen to hang onto Brent. Joellen always took this as a signal that her mother considered Joellen less than a beauty – as a girl who would have to accept what she got and be happy with it. So she tried harder – at everything. Right from the start.