The face looking down at her was upside down and only mildly attractive. His face was upside down because he was standing over her. He was standing over her because she was lying down in a pew with her head towards the center aisle of the Hidden Gem.
“What, um, what are you doing?” he asked mildly; somewhat concerned, but not the least bit worried.
Catherine blinked with nonchalance. She blinked like a young woman who had just been woken from a pleasant, yet predictable dream. She blinked and answered, “Have you ever tried it? Lying in a church pew, I mean…”
“No.” His answer was immediate and defensive. It was as if he thought such a practice was odd. It was odd; she would have to admit. But instead of admitting anything to him, she closed her eyes again, slowly and deliberately.
In her dream she meets a handsome man with broad shoulders and clean fingernails. He is well dressed and quiet. The man is handsome, but simple. She understands him all too well, too easily. She is unchallenged by his offer of wine and bread and ballroom dancing. In her dream, she considers herself happy. The background is blue and green and pink. The man in her dream tries as he might to surprise her, but she always knows precisely what he’ll do. The puppy was not a surprise. The picnic in the field of wild flowers. The proposal. The ring. The dress. The shoes. The children. The laundry. The bouquet on valentine’s day. The mistress. The fights. The slamming door. The tears. The debt. Nothing he did could thrill her. He was, after all, a creation of her own mind.
Back in the church her arms were folded over her waist. Her legs were closed politely together all the way down to the tips of her shiny black pumps. Her purse was somewhat carelessly placed on the floor between where she slept and where the only mildly attractive man with soft curls of hair was now sitting. His arms rested alongside the back of her pew.
Rupert looked down at the sleeping woman. Her hair was properly curled. It looked like she’d spent a long time fixing it. He didn’t understand why she should spend so much time on her hair only to lie down in a church pew. He didn’t understand why she should lie down in a church pew at all.
When he was a child he found pews itchy and uncomfortable. He still found them uncomfortable. They reminded him of his mother and he had always found her itchy and uncomfortable too. He thought instantly, that’s a terrible way to think about one’s own mother. Nevertheless, he felt it.
He felt something different towards the odd young woman though. He couldn’t figure out exactly what it was though.
“You should try it” she whispered out between dreams.
“No thank you” he spoke in reply, quickly, but still mildly, still thinking about his mother and her over-compensating hats.
Catherine opened one eye, her lips curled into a cheeky half grin. “Well then…” she sat up so that their faces aligned with only half a foot between them and her hands still together, now resting on her lap, “would you like to try something else?”
He very purposefully stopped thinking about his mother.
She smirked. She liked him. At least, she thought she did. She could see the gears churning in his mind. She could imagine he was a clockwork robot calculated to respond to others with the reserve of a well-bred British gentleman. She wanted to open up the casing, to see the metal at work.
“What sort of something else did you have in mind?”
“What do you mean what sort of something?” She knew full well she was provoking his sensibilities. She wanted to test him, see how far he’d go with her.
“I mean… um…”
As he floundered for a response Catherine couldn’t help but laugh despite her good sense, “what would you like to try?”
“I’m sorry” he put his head down and lifted himself up from the pew. He couldn’t stop thinking about his mother. His shoulders tucked in to his chest as he shuffled out of the pew. A beautiful girl and he still couldn’t get past those hats. He couldn’t get over the hatred he felt for them even after his mother’s death. “Timely death” was the phrase he harbored. Damn it Rupert you ruddy fool, there’s a pretty young woman taunting you and all you can think about are hats.
She rose swiftly and urgently, surprisingly. “Don’t leave, please.”
They stood in front of one another for a very long time. Again, she sensed his mind turning. For an instant she thought she could hear the churning of the gears as they ground against one another. She liked him. She definitely liked him and wanted nothing more than to antagonize him further for the benefit of them both. “What I mean is, is there something you have always wanted to try, but never thought you could?”
She stood in front of him beaming with life and stern, powerful beauty that he hadn’t recognized before. He heard her question and the bold vowels in her accent, but did not process the meaning of her words. “I’m… sorry, I’m…” He caught up with himself, forgot all about hats and reverted to manners. “Hello.”
Catherine laughed out loud; too loud for a church. She covered her mouth to calm herself then responded with an equal “hello.” “Let us start with a simpler question. My name is Catherine, what’s yours?”
“Rupert.” He stood still in front of her, lost in some other realm of interaction. He didn’t even notice her hand held out in front of him until she waved it in his face, still giggling.
“Oh, ah, nice to meet you Catherine.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Ruby.”
“Ah, no, sorry, it’s ah, Rupert.”
She smiled, “that’s what I said, Ruby.” She spun around on the back of her pumps and pulled him towards the entrance of the church by his hand. His eyes were transfixed on the seams of her leggings when she asked again, “so what would you like to try?”