Rain and sleet pattered on the window, but the church office was cozy and a small heater warmed my feet as I frowned at the computer screen. A month had passed since the gruesome evening when I came out of a blackout at Crazy Eddie’s place, and my numbers weren’t balancing, but I was more irritated than concerned. For someone who couldn’t budget her personal finances, I was finding I had a knack for putting the St. Ignatius charity books in order.
The arrangement had been made by Father Cash, at his insistence, and although I was reluctant to be beholden to him, it was a chance to earn a little money in a way I didn’t have to hide. My pay wasn’t enough to keep me from having to make the occasional drug drop-off, but I hadn’t needed to turn a trick in weeks. The church paid cash, too, which was helpful.
I peered at my spreadsheet, found the discrepancy and corrected it. What a shame not all problems were solved so easily. I printed my report, shut down the computer, and went to say good bye to Miriam, the aging full-time church clerk who I had been hired to help for the next few months. She was on the phone when I laid my reconciled budget in front of her, so she merely waved and mouthed the words “thank you.”
At the bottom of the stairs, I stepped into my boots, put on my coat and grabbed my umbrella. It was a nasty afternoon and I wanted to go straight home, but had nothing to eat. Going to the store was cheaper, but the Elk Diner was along my way and offered takeout. I was sitting at the counter, waiting for the waitress to bag my order when the door opened and two men in heavy jackets blew in with the wind. One of them glanced my way and I caught my breath.
Cade’s eyes widened in surprise, then he gave me a quick, enigmatic smile and turned his attention to his colleague as they sought an empty booth. While they pored over menus, I feigned absorption in my phone, all the while acutely aware of Cade’s presence. Each time I glanced his way, he was looking elsewhere or engaged in conversation with his friend, but there was still something tangible in the room, as if the air itself had been drawn tight as a bowstring, ready to snap.
"Here you are, Miss. That’ll be $6.78.” I fumbled in my purse and handed the waitress a twenty. She moved with agonizing slowness to the register, while I kept my head down, pretending to check my order, check my receipt, look at anything but where Cade was sitting. I was desperate to flee, but at the same time wished the waitress would take all night counting my change so I could be in Cade’s presence just a little longer. I was facing my bills, smoothing them neatly into my wallet as if the process was of utmost importance, when I felt him approach.
"Imagine running into you here.”
I offered what I hoped was a polite but not chilly smile. “I could say the same of you. My excuse is that it’s near my work. What’s yours?”
“Where do you work? I don’t think you ever told me.”
“It’s a new job.” I shrugged as if it were no big deal, but I was secretly pleased to be able to talk about work like normal people did. “I’m doing a short-term assignment at St. Ignatius, helping get their charity accounts ready for an audit.”
“Helping the poor.” He nodded in approval. “That can be very rewarding.”
“I don’t know how much help I am to the needy,” I admitted. “I mainly make sure that the invoices for baby formula and canned tuna match the budget and were paid with the right type of funds.”
“If the books aren’t kept straight, no one eats.” Cade thrust out his hand. “Well, nice seeing you. I need to get back to my colleague. We’ve got a deal we’re working on. Sort of a partnership."
“Good luck with that,” I said. I grasped his hand and found I didn’t want to let it go. The next words tumbled out before I could stop them. “Can I call you? I feel like I owe, or just want to say—"
Cade smiled, and although it wasn’t the warm grin that I loved, the kindness in his voice made up for it. “Call me. We’ll talk."