A Second Chance
By Dawn Natelle
Might as well get this new year kicked off right: Dawn
SUNDAY, May 29, 2016
Rachael woke up for the last time in the house that she had lived in her entire life (counting both old Rachael and new Rachael). She had her last morning shower, and then woke Bobby before slipping downstairs. Breakfast had been well planned out. There was enough eggs and bread for one last breakfast of French toast, Bobby’s Sunday favorite. She poured the remaining milk into a glass for Bobby, and the end of the orange juice for herself. Both containers went into the recycle bin.
“Eat up, Bobby,” she told her brother when he came down in his pajamas. “We won’t get lunch until after we move at 1, so if it takes a couple of hours, then we will really be hungry.
“Is there more syrup?” Bobby asked.
“No, that is the last of it. I’m not using any. You got it all. The new bottle is at the new house, for next week’s French toast.”
Bobby finished and Rachael washed and dried the dishes they used, then went up to make sure Bobby was syrup free before giving him his Sunday clothes. She went back down and put the dishes into a box marked ‘kitchen’.
“Bring down your Harry Potter, Bobby,” she shouted up the stairs. She heard Bobby go back into his bedroom and get the book, which went into a box in the living room.
“The house looks all sad,” Bobby noted, as they looked around at the boxes stacked in the living room and the kitchen.
“Yes, but it will all be happy when we have moved it all to the new house, where our family will live from now on,” Rachael said. “Let’s go to church. We are a bit early, but this place makes me sad too. I hope Pastor McFarland will be happy here. We had some happy times, didn’t we?”
“We did, but now we move to the family house,” Bobby chanted as they walked towards the church. “I have a family, family, family. I have a Momma, and a Daddy, and a sister, and a Grandpa, and now a Grandma. I am so glad, glad, glad.”
When they got to the church, there were already a few people there. Gary wasn’t helping the elderly up the steps, but the deacon was there. When Rachael asked where the caretaker was, the deacon said he had been up all night preparing a ‘surprise,’ and was still at it.
As soon as Rachael entered the church, she saw the surprise. At the end of the entrance hall stood the painting John had made. It was magnificent. In the store the bottom panel had not been mounted, as the store could barely fit a 12-foot painting, let alone the 16-foot version that was here. The bottom panel was just the robes of the Christ, but now that she saw them, Rachael saw that they made the painting even more impressive. The church had a balcony above the back 24 rows of pews, although it was open only when the church was full. The entry hall was the height of the church plus the balcony, leaving lots of room for the full height of the painting.
Rachael stared at the painting, and realized that the third panel up was tilted out a few degrees, and the top panel, with Christ’s benevolent face was tilted out more, about 15 degrees. The effect was that it appeared as though the giant figure was smiling down on you.
Gary was still working. He had made four prayer rails, about six inches of doubled two-by-fours, wrapped in old carpet from the shed. This gave people a place to kneel in comfort, with room for two, or perhaps three people at each rail. As well, there was a small box with a slot in the top, which had the word ‘Donations’ written in Gary’s ornate sign-painter’s script.
There were already people standing around the painting, and some kneeling on the three prayer rails that were already installed. Some people prayed for only a minute or two, and then rose and dropped a loonie or toonie into the donations box. But many people spent longer praying, and these folks rose with looks of genuine relief in their faces, and most of them dropped bills into the donations box.
Eventually Helen had to come out to shepherd the congregation into the church, telling them that the area would be open for prayers all afternoon, and into the evening. People who hadn’t yet prayed seemed reluctant to leave, often looking backwards as they entered the church.
Rachael saw Constable Steve going in, and sent Bobby with him. She wanted to go with Helen, who was headed outside, where there was some sort of commotion going on.
Outside the two saw a group of protesters marching up and down the street. Their signs identified them as a LGBTQ group, but not where they were from. None of the faces looked familiar, and having worked in the bakery Rachael had met a lot of the townsfolk.
Helen walked up to the group, and asked what their purpose was. A rather large woman of about 40 stopped and approached them.
“This church discriminates against gays,” she shouted at them. “You shouldn’t worship here. God would not approve.”
“I agree,” Helen said quietly. “But you are mistaken. All are welcome here, equally in every way. We did have a problem a few weeks ago, but that has been remedied, and the pastor involved has apologized for his errant speech.”
“You lie,” the woman shouted, as a crowd of protestors gathered around. “We know that a gay couple were forced from the church several weeks ago. This kind of injustice cannot continue.”
“Yes,” Helen said softly, in contrast to the strident protestor. “That did happen, and it resulted in revelations by the pastor, who has since embraced the inclusivity of the Lord and welcomes all to this church. In fact, we would like to invite you all in to our services, so that you can see for yourselves how we treat people.”
That confused the protestors. Normally protests were confined to the sidewalks, off private property. To be invited inside …
“Can we take our signs?” the woman demanded, now speaking loudly, but no longer shouting.
“Well, they might be a distraction to other worshippers,” Helen said. “But you are welcome to leave them in our entranceway, and pick them up when you leave.”
“Look,” Rachael said, waving at John and Paul who were approaching the church. “These are the men who were ejected from the church two weeks ago. Please ask them about the pastor. I was with him when he apologized to them in person yesterday, and I understand he intends to make a public apology this morning to the congregation, welcoming them back to the church. I hope he can extend his welcome to all of you as well.”
For several minutes John and Paul were grilled by the protestors, who soon realized that there was no great injustice to be remedied here. A few went to their cars to leave, but most decided to enter the church behind John and Paul. As a result, the lower level of the church was much more crowded than normal, about half full. Several of the protestors paused when they saw the painting at the end of the hall, but service was starting, and Helen had to rush to the front of the church to join Pastor McNaughton. She whispered to him, and then took the seat behind his lecturn in the chancel.
After the opening hymns were sung Pastor McNaughton stood forth and spoke: “Today I have to confess to my congregation, and to all the new faces that I see in church today, that I am a sinner. Two weeks ago, I verbally chased two new members from the church, claiming that they were sinners. A young lady corrected me, and then the Lord took me to the very gates of heaven, where I was told that it was I who was sinning, in my objections to their holy love for each other. I am now chastised, and will work very hard to correct my sins. The two men I chased from the church are back here, and they have blessed the church with their love by donating the large picture of our Lord that you may have noticed when you walked in. There are prayer rails in front of the painting, and I beg all of you go there and pray at some point. I have found great comfort in praying to that image, and hope that you will too.”
“I also want to recognize some visitors to the church, who came to ensure that we are as inclusive as we claim to be. I hope to meet with each and every one of you after service, and I welcome any suggestions that you might have to show us how to better serve you, and to make the church ever more inclusive.”
“Finally, I want to announce that there is a major change in policy of this congregation. Until now, same-sex marriages have not been allowed in this church. I take full blame as the sinner responsible for such a shameful exclusion. I want to announce here and now that the church will be available for any marriages without consideration of orientation of the participants. Either Pastor McFarland or myself will officiate at the services. I only ask that any same-sex marriages occur after that of Paul Lenin and John Macarthur, which I am led to believe will occur in the next month or so. I feel that they have earned the right of being the first couple to celebrate their love in marriage here.”
“If there are others that require a quicker wedding, please speak to me or Pastor McFarland and we will work something out. However I am led to understand that the normal reasons for a rushed marriage don’t apply when both members are of the same sex.”
That took a few seconds before people worked out that he was talking about rushed marriages with a pregnant bride, and then a general laughter filled the church. After this the children left for Sunday school, and the sermon was given, with both pastors speaking about their understanding of inclusiveness, and how it related to the ministry of God.
As the final hymns were being sung, the pastors made their way to the exit. Gary had placed a chair for Pastor McNaughton, but the elder pastor insisted on standing as he greeted the parishioners. He was clearly feeling more fit.
And even though the church was more than normally filled, due to the protestors, the exit from the church was slower than usual, with many stopping to pray at the painting. A significant number of the protestors were moved to go towards the painting, and most dropped to their knees. The prayer rails were constantly in use, but younger and fitter members of the congregation just dropped to their knees on the bare floor.
Many of the protesters prayed long and arose confidently and smiling. At the door several told the pastors that their prayers had ended months and years of mental turmoil in their minds, and promised to come back to the church, even though they lived in London, Kitchener or even Toronto. The strident woman who had spoken to Helen outside the church apologized to her, and told her that her prayer had led her to see that not all people outside of her personal circle were evil. She had a small, younger woman with her, clearly her partner, and that woman also thanked the pastors, saying that her prayer had led her to understand why her parents were opposed to her relationship.
“Perhaps you can invite your parents here,” Helen suggested. “If they pray to the painting, they might understand your lifestyle.”
The young woman’s eyes lit up, and she said: “I will do that.”
Her partner grasped Helen in a hug and said: “You were right. This is the most inclusive traditional church I have ever been in. I feel I belong here. You truly are doing the work of the Lord here. Thank you.”
That was all Rachael saw. She left with the hallway still full of people, waiting to get closer to the painting. She had to get home at 1 p.m., as she had told several people that she would be there then to start moving.
As they walked to the house, Rachael’s mind was on the painting, and the miracles it seemed to be creating when Bobby spoke. “Why are there so many people at our house?”
Rachael looked up, and saw that the sidewalk in front of the house was crowded with people. There were dozens wearing Legion caps, and dozens more from the school. She recognized faces from the bakery, customers as well as Kyle, Doug and Carol. And it was only 12:50! The boys must have come as soon as they finished work in the morning.
She unlocked the door and invited people in. She gave Mikki one of the smaller box, and a little bag for Danni to carry. “You go first, Mikki, you know where the new house is. Bobby, take a small box, and walk with them.”
After that it was a matter of handing out boxes to the various people who came in. Many had brought trucks, but with so many hands, it made more sense to just walk down the street between the houses. By half past one, the last box had been taken, and Rachael locked the door and followed the long chain of people who were walking down the street, carrying her life in their hands. Four men even walked Bobby’s single bed down the street, wanting to be a part of the parade, rather than putting it on one of the trucks.
Helen and Steve arrived just as she left, and she handed over the keys. Gary was there with his truck, filled with boxes from Helen’s motel room, and Rachael told those people who hadn’t gotten a box from her to carry to the new house that they could help Helen unload the truck. She then hurried after the chain of people moving down the street.
Earlier in the day, while Rachael and Bobby were still at church, Geoff and Maria were working in the bakery with Kyle and Doug, slowly filling the shelves. At 10 a.m. there was a tapping at the back door. It was Bill Strong, the councilor, here for his meeting with Maria. She really didn’t want to talk to him, but had already postponed twice. And she could not see a time in the near future when she would be less busy. And the four of them had produced a great deal of goods in the course of the morning. She could make time.
“Come into the coffee nook,” Maria said. “We can talk there.” As they went through the shop, Bill noted the large number of strange and confusing looking machines.
“I never dreamed that a little bakery like this would have so much equipment,” Joe said as the walked to the nook.
“Geoff got most of it used, and some is going to have to be replaced soon, as the business grows,” Maria said. “We just need bigger capacity in the mixer, the proofer and perhaps a second oven. Geoff never thought that bread would be one of his biggest sellers. If you move in next door, you’ll have to do the same kind of forecasting.”
“Well, next door is not going to happen,” Bill said. “I was talking to some of my friends on council, and they brought up how huge the conflict of interest would be. I mean, I push for the subsidized buildings, and then rent one. I really hadn’t thought about it. My enemies on council would have a heyday with it.”
“Then you aren’t starting a café?” Maria asked, unsure why the man was even here.
“Actually, I am. I’ve caught the bug, and can’t shake it. I want to start a café or restaurant out on the highway, where my motel is. There is lots of land there, and I can easily swing the mortgage on a building, especially if it is attached to the motel.”
“Ah, I see. What do you see as your target market? Just motel guests? Or people from town? How many rooms do you book a night?”
Bill thought a second. “An average of 68 rooms are rented over the entire year. We are filled some times, and as few as 6 one day last year. That didn’t even meet salaries.”
“Well, I’ve heard that you can expect 70 percent of the rooms booked will visit the restaurant, with just under half of those visiting both for supper when they come in, and breakfast the next morning,” Maria said. “I’m assuming with the motel, you will want a full restaurant, and not just a café.”
“Yeah, I think so,” Bill said.
“It is important to decide on your market. Do you want to hire a top chef and become a destination dining experience? That will draw people from town and the surrounding area, but it will not suit your motel travellers looking for a quick, good meal at a reasonable price. At the other end is the greasy spoon, or a strip club, neither of which I would recommend.”
“The greasy spoon is out of the question,” Bill said. “But I was thinking of bringing girls in if the place didn’t take off.”
“It won’t take off,” Maria said. “Expect to lose money all through the first year, and then if you are lucky you will start to turn a profit the second year. But if you bring in strippers, you immediately lock yourself in as a place with a reputation. A lot of folk from town wouldn’t dream of coming to such a place, and some of your travellers won’t want to stay in a motel with exotic dancers. And once you go that way, you can’t come back. Besides, there already is a place out there that is doing pretty well. But if you try to split that market in half, you will just create two loosing businesses.”
“You have talked me out of that idea,” Bill said. “So a family restaurant is probably the answer, with breakfast in the morning, lunch, and then dinner. Do you recommend a club for the evening?”
“That is better than the idea of dancers,” Maria said. “If you are still having losses after the second year, you might think of bringing in a DJ or a lounge singer, or even teen bands. Probably just on the weekend. That means you will want to keep the dance area well away from any rooms in the motel where people will want to sleep. You definitely need a liquor license. A lot of people want a beer or a drink with their meal, and booze is your biggest profit center.”
“Oh, I guess these sketches are out then,” Bill said, unrolling a piece of drafting paper.
Maria studied them for a few minutes. “Yes, you want the kitchen here, with the bar here, not the other way around. That puts the dining and dancing area further away from the motel. And you don’t need such a large kitchen. Any chef would love a place that large, but you don’t need so much space. Move this wall 6 feet in and you have room for another eight tables. With two sittings a night, two people per table average, and an average evening tab of $40, you can add almost a quarter million a year to your gross.”
“Wow, this is why I want you as manager,” Bill said. “I’m upping my offer to $2000 a week. Interested?”
“Sorry, not even at double that. I am a partner in this place, and am marrying Geoff soon.”
“Damn. That is a price I can’t match. I don’t think my wife would agree to me marrying someone else,” Bill said with a laugh.
“No, and if you pay $100,000 a year for a manager, you are going to be out of business before you know it. Big salaries attract the wrong kind of people. It is fairly easy to steal a restaurant blind. You need someone honest, who is working for you, not stealing from you. I’d start at $40,000 to $50,000 and offer a profit sharing from the start, with a potential of $75,000 if the place is making money. That way, your manager is working with you, not against you. And you will need to make the same kind of deal with your chef.”
“Oh, I thought getting a chef out of one of the culinary schools would be much cheaper,” Bill said.
“It would be,” Maria noted. “But only one of any two would be able to run a place that young, and those that are good would be gone in a year or two and you are left looking for someone new. And that would mean a new menu, and a new style of cooking, just as people were getting used to the way the place was. Spending more on a good chef is a good decision.”
Bill pulled out a checkbook, and started writing. Maria thought she saw him write $100 as the amount. “I want your advice on this, if you will agree to be my consultant since I can’t hire you. I’d like you to take my sketches, and come up with a better layout, especially for the kitchen. I also need a list of equipment we would need, and where to buy it. And I’d also like you to come in for the interviews for the chef and manager positions.”
“I guess I could do that, if you don’t need it right away. We are understaffed here, and have to hire ourselves. I could do it in a month.”
“No, but let’s aim for three. I should be able to find enough time to do it by then. My daughter had turned into a great little helper at home. Which I have to go to now, we are moving today at noon.”
Bill left, and Maria went out into the bakery, where she could see the boys cleaning up. She waved the check in front of Geoff’s face. “I just made a hundred dollars,” she crowed.
Geoff looked at the check. “Look again, Maria. That is written for $1000.”
Maria did look, and her eyes went wide.
“That is too much. I mean, just for talking for a couple hours?”
“Is that all you will be doing?” Geoff asked.
“No, he wants a floor plan sketch, and equipment list, and to have me sit in on interviews for the manager and chef.”
“That sounds like you are a consultant,” Geoff said. “This is the right kind of money for it. When I was starting out, the provincial government had a mentorship program, where I was hooked up with a retired baker. I paid $200 to him, and that was only a quarter of what he got: the government paid the rest. It was the best money I spent. His advice saved me thousands.”
“Come on,” he said. “Time to go. I’ve already paid bonuses to the boys and sent them to the old house to help. We got a ton of stuff made for the store, and hopefully it will last the week. All we have to do tomorrow is bake bread, rolls, and fresh pastries.”
They walked home. The check was in Geoff’s wallet: Maria was afraid to even touch it. As they walked home, they could see people coming down the street carrying boxes. They reached Grandpa’s just minutes before the first people, and the next hour had Maria busy directing people where to drop each box, based on the clear labels that Rachael had written on each.
The Legion men all insisted on meeting with Grandpa, and he swelled with pride with their handshakes. Most of those who had served saluted, ignoring Grandpa’s claim that he was non-com, and didn’t get saluted. As one older man said, “Heroes get saluted, sir.”
It was well past two when the last helper left, with sincere thanks from Rachael, Maria, and Geoff. Rachael made everyone a sandwich, and they were eating at Grandpa’s table … their table, now, Rachael thought. Rachael heard voices and giggling from upstairs. She raised an eye to her mother.
“Your friends are up there. They insisted that I not let you go up there until they are done. It is some kind of surprise.”
She went into the kitchen and made another three sandwiches. Four, actually, since Bobby asked for another with those big puppy dog eyes that Rachael was unable to resist.
She then went up to her new room and tapped on the door. Mikki opened it just a crack, and said: “You can’t come in yet. We are almost done.”
“I made you guys lunch,” Rachael said, unable to see anything through the crack.
“We’ll be down in ten,” Mikki said, and the door closed.
It was closer to 20 minutes later that the girls came down, giggling and laughing. They dug in on their sandwiches, and had a fresh brownie that Geoff had brought back from the bakery for dessert. Then they were ready for the big reveal.
The four went up the stairs, and Maria tagged along, wanting to see. Carly got to open the door, saying: “I hope you love it. Do you love it? I hope you do.”
Rachael stepped into the room. The walls were a light yellow, a color she had always liked, and it was one of the reasons she had picked this room rather than the blue that was now the guest room. The walls had been scrubbed, and there were posters of Justin Bieber and Gord Downey on the walls. There was also a great deal of Mikki’s work there as well. Several were landscapes that Rachael had admired when Mikki had first shown her her portfolio. There was the group montage of Jessica Rabbits as well as the picture of Rachael in the 19th century dress and corset both from the sleepover. There was also a large copy of the photo of Rachael and Mikki that Mr. Stoner had taken, set to one side of the bed, so that Rachael would see it first think when she woke, if she was facing the window.
She turned around, and then let out a loud “Eeep.” On the other wall was a large photo of Rachael and Robert, with his arms around her, looking down lovingly at her. “Oh yes, I do love it,” she told Carly.
“Carly was the chief designer,” Mikki said. “I supplied the photos. I hope you like my landscapes.”
“Oh, I do,” Rachael said, going from one girl to the other, hugging, and then somehow winding up in a group hug.
“Larissa just got new bedding at home,” Carly said. “I hope you don’t mind getting her old ones.”
Rachael looked at the bedding setup, with a duvet, blanket and rose-patterned sheets, all better quality than anything she could have afforded in the past. “It is wonderful. Thank you Larissa.”
“All your clothes are in the closet, or the dresser,” Larissa said.
“I put a few of my older things in there,” Carly said. “Since you have been losing weight, I’ll bet some of them fit, either now or they will in September. I promise I won’t tease you for being a ‘second-hand gal’ like I used to.”
“You guys are the best,” Rachael said, hugging them again. She looked up and saw her beaming mother. “Look what they did for me, Momma.”
After the girls left, the new family was sitting in the living room, albeit with Rachael popping up and down to check on the roast chicken that would be Sunday dinner.
“Guess what I got today, from councilor Bill?” Maria said.
“Oh, you met about the new café?” Rachael said.
“Yes, but it is going to be at his motel, not our plaza,” Maria said. “We still need to find a business for that.”
“Oh, I know, I know,” Rachael said, clapping her hands. “I didn’t say anything, because it seemed that the café was going in there. But it would be perfect for Ruby and her brother. She said they would like to get a butcher shop in town for their beef business. She said they would do the messy butchering out at the farm, but have a retail location in town. They could be our neighbors!”
“I’ll text Bill a message, and I’m sure he will want to talk to them. He had been telling people that he had a new business to fill the plaza, and with the café falling through, he could have egg on his face if he doesn’t get something in there. But here is the best part. He hired me as a consultant for his restaurant, and paid me $1000. Girl, we are going shopping. No more hand-me-downs for back to school.”
“Really?” Rachael said. “I don’t mind hand-me-downs, and I think I know of a better idea for the money. Don’t plan anything for it until I check some things out.”
That night, Rachael crawled into Bobby’s old bed, in his new room, and they read more of the second Harry Potter book. A few more weeks, and they would need to get the third. When the little guy was asleep, looking like an angel to Rachael, who had seen the real thing, she went to her new room, kneeling down beside her bed, and fingering the lush duvet cover.
Thank you for another wonderful day. I know what a treasure my friends are, and not only the three girls. So many people came out to help us move, it was almost like a block party. It looked like an old African movie, with porters carrying boxes in a line. Except they were all my friends: from church, from school, from the Legion, and from the bakery. And I don’t know what you are doing with that painting in the church, but I trust that it will be good. Bless everyone.
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