“Not really.” Mrs. Morrison protested while smoothing the collar of her dress before looking down at her feet. She knew what was coming next. I knew all their secrets, and now they would know that I was the wrong person to fuck with.
“Oh sure, he said that in high school the three of you had quite the connection.” Their faces paled, and Mrs. Garrith looked down right gray. “Oh, don’t be modest, ladies. It’s perfectly natural to want to experiment at that age with your alternative feelings.”
Alternative feelings was a phrase the church ladies made famous when speaking about the immorality of homosexuality.
Frank had let that bit of information slip to Reggie one day when Mrs. Garrith had come in for an oil change. I just happened to overhear.
“Abigail!” Someone faked shock and shame, though her voice said very clearly that she was truly entertained by this bit of information. I kept my smile big. Laying into those parasites was more fun than I’d thought it would be.
I was about to finish them off with some inside information about Mrs. Garrith using store bought orchids for her entry in the flower festival —which, believe it or not, would probably have been considered the biggest secret of them all—when the reverend opened the doors of the church and told us it was time to find a seat. The service would be starting.
I went in first, but not before looking back over my shoulder at the visibly shaken women. I turned to go in, satisfied that Nan would have scolded me for chastising the church ladies in public, but I also knew she would have been holding back a laugh.
I sat in the first row marked ‘Reserved for Family’, but since Mr. Dunn didn’t have any that would be attending, I figured it was a space that needed to be filled. There were quite a few whispers directed at my bold seating decision.
The reverend tried to speak about Mr. Dunn, but I could tell he was struggling to find anything positive to say about a man he barely knew. Frank rarely left his house, and when he did it was only to work at the shop. Even then, he kept mostly to his office, keeping the blinds shut and the world out. It wasn’t as if he’d even needed to be at the shop, but he made it a point to come in when he wasn’t sinking too low. I paid his bills, both business and personal, and between me and Reggie, we had Dunn’s Auto Body running like a...well, like a well-oiled machine.
The reverend began speaking about life and death and the rewards waiting in heaven for those who lived their lives by the light of God and the good book. It made me wonder: even if I did believe in God or religion or the power of the “good book” did I know anyone who qualified?
Not in Coral Pines.
The reverend asked for a moment of silent prayer, bowing his head and folding his hands in front of him as the crowd followed suit. I did, too, but my mind was not on prayer; it was on what I was going to have to do next.
I wiped my sweaty palms on my thighs. When the reverend said “Amen” and the crowed echoed him, he gestured to me. I took out the piece of wrinkled yellow notepad paper from my pocket and ironed it out on my knee before heading up the steep steps to the pulpit.
It was a packed house, and all eyes were on me. They were probably wondering why the hell I was up there.
I cleared my throat and stared at the paper in front of me. My opening paragraph was about why I was the one up there, explaining the nature of my relationship with Frank.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel the need to explain anything to these people. This wasn’t about them. It was about Frank, a man who, over the last few years, helped me in more ways than I could have ever repaid him. I had written the words in front of me and had even practiced reading them aloud at home, but for some reason, I was having a problem reading them now. Instead, I decided to tell them about the Mr. Dunn I’d known.
Straight from my battered and broken heart.
I cleared my throat again and took a minute to gather my thoughts. Every small movement from the silent audience caused the old wooden pews to creek and groan. I took a deep breath and started to speak, the squealing feedback from the microphone caused a few shocked noises from the congregation. I waited for another moment before continuing. This time, the sound system cooperated.
“I’m not going to stand up here and say Frank was a saint, because it’s not true,” I started. “He was a troubled man. He turned to his addictions to numb his pain when he thought he had nothing left. There were plenty of times when, after not seeing him for days, I would go over to his house and find him passed out on the floor. I cleaned him up, put out the cigarettes, emptied the ash trays, and threw away the empty bottles. I wouldn’t yell at him. I wouldn’t tell him how badly he was messing up. Instead, I told him how much his help meant to me, what a difference he made in my life. Then, I would beg for him to find his way out of the fog. And he would, for days at a time, sometimes even a few weeks.”