Shelby was relieved when her exit sign came into view. She signaled to turn off the interstate and onto famous Route 1. She’d had enough of I-95 for a lifetime. This was her second drive to Maine this month, and she was over it. One more trip back and forth, and then she’d be in Maine for good. Or at least, for a good long time.
She followed her GPS through the charming coastal towns of Brunswick and Bath. Then the traffic thinned out as she made her way north, to and through smaller towns. The summer scenery was breathtaking. She wasn’t sure she’d enjoy it as much in the winter, but she also thought she’d be okay. She might not be a tough Mainer yet, but New York winters were no picnic.
She was bound for Hartport, a good-sized town nestled nearly halfway up the Maine coast, to meet a woman she’d only talked to on the phone. She didn’t want to arrive in Hartport and immediately have to find a bathroom, so she made a quick pit stop at a gas station in Waldoboro.
There was a cute farm stand across the street. Good old Maine. So quaint. She hadn’t taken this job because she longed to move to Maine, but she thought she was going to like it here. She filled up her car and then drove across the road. She didn’t know what the farm stand would have to offer. She wasn’t excited about chomping down on a raw zucchini, but she could use a snack of some sort.
A bounty of delicious-looking apples appeared to be straight out of a Snow White prop room. She bought a half-peck and dropped her change into the tip jar.
Back in the car, the time on her dashboard made her nervous. This woman had seemed nice as pie, but she still didn’t want to be late. She cared what the citizens of Hartport thought of their new kindergarten teacher. She bit into one of her shiny new apples and put the pedal down.
Finally, the Hartport town line sign came into view, and she turned her music down as if that would help her find the church. She’d had her job interview at the school, which was right next door to the church, but she still wasn’t confident she wouldn’t drive by the place.
She didn’t. The Freedom Academy sign came into view, and just past that, a large white church sat nestled among the pines. The church looked like a postcard. In the church parking lot sat a blue pickup. A woman stood by the tailgate, smiling and enthusiastically waving at Shelby. Oh boy. She had sounded incredibly chipper on the phone as well. In general, happy people didn’t bother Shelby, but too much joy made her a little suspicious. Shelby signaled and turned into the parking lot.
The woman, who had to be Cindy, came toward her. “Shelby?” Her smile was even more pronounced up close.
Shelby climbed out of her car. “That’s me!” She tried to match the woman’s energy, but it didn’t come easily.
Cindy approached with her arms outspread. “Are you a hugger?”
She wasn’t, not really, but again, she didn’t want anyone to think their new Christian school teacher was an ice princess. “Sure.”
Cindy embraced her, and as hugs went, it was a good one. Warm and genuine. Cindy let go of her and stepped back, and Shelby decided she really liked Cindy.
“Are you ready?” Cindy asked.
“I think so.”
“Great. Do you want me to drive, or do you want to drive, or would you rather take two vehicles?”
Shelby froze. That was a lot of choices.
Cindy started toward her truck, waving her along. “Come on. You’ve just had a long drive. I’ll take over.”
Shelby exhaled. This was a good thing. She returned to her car, grabbed her purse, and locked up. Then she climbed into Cindy’s truck, and oh wow, it was old. A spring poked at her bottom through the seat, and something in front of her made a weird clunking sound. Could this thing even carry them around town safely?
Cindy read her mind. She patted the dashboard. “Don’t worry. This old girl looks rough, but she is a champ.” She put the truck in drive and then waited for Shelby to buckle up, which wasn’t easy as the buckle didn’t want to cooperate. Finally, it clicked into place. Cindy was looking at her. “It was my husband’s. He loved it, and now I can’t bear to part with it.”
Shelby nodded and looked out the windshield. “I understand.”
Cindy drove in a swooping circle around the parking lot and then pulled out onto the street. “Okay, first up is an apartment right in town. They have a firm one-cat limit, but I sweet-talked them into making an exception for you.” She looked at her. “I told them that your cats were perfect angels, that they never have accidents and don’t scratch walls and …” She looked at Shelby expectantly, waiting for confirmation.
“Uh … that’s true about two of them. I have one problem child.”
Cindy tipped her head back and laughed. “Well, this first apartment wasn’t my favorite anyway.”
Cindy scrunched up her face. “It’s right in town. Awfully busy spot.”
This was exactly what Shelby had asked for. She was coming from New York City, for crying out loud. She didn’t think any spot in Hartport could be awfully busy. “Let’s not tell him about my problem child, then. I’m sure he’ll want a security deposit, and I’m sure it will be big enough to cover any damage King Tut will do.”
Cindy laughed, and despite herself, Shelby was greatly encouraged by this laughter. Cindy was a cool woman, and she’d made a cool woman laugh. Good on her! And also, Thank you, Father, for sending this woman to help me.
“King Tut? What a great cat name.”
Really? Shelby had always thought it was pretty stupid. “I had a normal name picked out for him in the beginning, but then he immediately started acting like he was in charge of everything, so I started calling him King and then somehow that turned into King Tut.” This made her sound like a nut. She was embarrassed.
“I love it. King Tut. What are your other cats’ names?”
Oh boy, and the hits just kept coming. “Cleopatra and Jemima.”
Cindy laughed and laughed. “So the Cleopatra is on theme.”
“I call her Cleo for short.”
She nodded. “Sure, sure.” She was treating this as if it was a worthwhile conversation. “So how does Jemima fit in? That’s not an Egyptian name.”
“No, Jemima was my first. I just liked the name. Then came King Tut. And then Cleopatra just seemed to fit with the crowd.”
Cindy was still smiling. It was nice to have someone find her so interesting. “I like it,” Cindy said. “You’re going to be a great kindergarten teacher. You’ve got such a good sense of humor.”
“Did you know that Jemima is a Bible name?”
“Yes. Job, right? But I didn’t know that when I named her.” When she’d gotten Jemima, she hadn’t yet been anywhere near a Bible.
“Exactly. When Job got his second batch of kids, Jemima was the oldest, I believe.” She shook her head. “I could never understand that part of the story.”
“Well, Job loses everything, right? But then he gets everything back. I get that part. He was all good again. But he lost his children. His children! Sure, God gave him more children, but you can’t replace a child …”
She kept talking, but Shelby tried to stop listening. A lump had formed in her throat, and her face was hot, which often happened before she cried, especially when she tried to hold tears back. She looked out her window and tried to think about something else.
Cindy had stopped talking and was looking at her as if waiting for her to say something.
“I’m sorry?” Shelby said lamely.
“I asked if your Jemima was beautiful.”
“Good. It’s fitting then. The Bible says Jemima was the most beautiful woman in the land.”
“She’s a calico.” Shelby cleared her throat, making sure her voice sounded normal. “She’s the perfect cat. When people think they should get a cat, they think about all the good things a cat can be. Well, that’s Jemima. Only maybe even a little better.”
“Aw, that’s so sweet. I look forward to meeting her.”
Oh good! Cindy wanted to be her real friend!
“She really doesn’t like King Tut. It’s funny. She avoids him as much as possible, and then Cleo follows her around—” Stop. You sound like a crazy cat lady. “So how did you get roped into this?”
“Into being the Hartport real estate guide?”
She laughed again. “Well, my husband died not so long ago.” Somehow, her smile never faded as she spoke these words. “I had been a full-time caregiver, so all of a sudden, I had very little to do. Kind of drove me nuts. I mean, I have grown children and my grandkids, but they don’t need me twenty-four-seven. So I told Pastor that I would like to help out with tasks that involved welcoming new people.”
“Oh! And does your church get a lot of new people?”
She seemed to be considering the question. “I think so. I’m not sure what happens at other churches or what is expected, but yes, we have new people nearly every Sunday. There are jobs in Hartport, so people do move here, and sometimes we get locals looking for a new church or looking for their first church.” She looked at her. “Did you have a church back home?”
Back home. Sounded so … homey. Like she was from a farm near a small town. “I did. I liked it a lot.” More than liked it. That church had helped save her life.
“Well, that’s tricky, then.”
Huh? “What do you mean?”
“Well, you’re going to be sad to be leaving your church, and you’re going to compare our church to it. Our church is a good church, but it’s hard to embrace a new place when you’re used to something you love.” She looked at her quickly. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that you haveto go to Greater Life. Of course, you can go anywhere. I only assumed that you would give us a try, and I shouldn’t have made that assumption.”
“No, no,” Shelby said quickly. This woman was so kind, Shelby didn’t want her feeling bad for a single second. “I had every intention of trying Greater Life. And of probably going there. It just makes sense.”
“Oh good. I hope you like it then. And if you have any questions or issues, please do come to me. I know just about everyone and am eager to help.”
“How big is it?”
Cindy sucked in some air. “It’s pretty big for around here. Maybe a few hundred members?”
“Cool.” She didn’t know whether this was cool or not. But that’s the word that came out of her mouth.
“So, is there a special someone back home?”
If there was, she probably wouldn’t be moving to Maine. “No. I didn’t have much time for dating.” This was true. It also wasn’t the whole truth.