Bethany beamed, widening her pink lips, when she met no one else at the door to the office. George waited for her in front of the church, while in this office lay another prospect for a romantic relationship. What a huge relief after two years of lonely singleness.
After knocking, she half-opened the door, a broader smile on her face.
The pastor's wife, seated behind a large mahogany table, motioned for her to come in.
Bethany's enthusiasm waned, for Mama looked gloomy, which was unusual. She stopped a meter away from the table. "You called, Mama,"
Mama fumbled with objects on the table and cleared her throat while avoiding eye contact.
"I've made some adjustments in the choir. Faith will replace you as the lead singer and master of the choir while you're reassigned to the children's church."
Bethany's black eyes enlarged and pierced Mama's face. Was that shocking announcement the purpose of the summons?
Still dodging eye contact, Mama said, "Until a new children's pastor comes, the caretakers need extra hands."
"Mama, someone else could do it. I'm not –"
With her eyes on Mama's raised palm, Bethany pulled out the visitor's chair from the side of the table and sat down. "Please, Mama –"
"That's your new role till a new pastor comes. Meet the interim leader of that department for specific assignments. Good day."
"Mama, I don't fit in the children's church."
"This is not a rushed decision. Get to like it. You were assigned to the role of the choir leader – you can also be reassigned to another area."
Bethany had never realized how easy it was to strip her of the merited choir-leading role. Without thought, she licked away the lipstick on her lower lip. What should she do?
"I understand, Mama. All I'm saying is, I can't teach children. I've never done that before."
"Every skill can be learned."
Mama stood up and picked her bag and Bible from the table. "You didn’t come out of the womb leading a choir."
Bethany headed for the door with awkward steps.
"Bethany," Mama said.
Was it now time for good news? Bethany approached the table once again, subduing the joy that arose from within.
Not that she cared a dime for a new lover – at least not for a divorced man with three kids – for George was the man of her dreams. But isn't the heart excited when someone yearns for it, even if the affection can't be reciprocated?
Mama's face didn't foretell such good news. "I don't feel comfortable anymore being addressed, Mama. I'm still young. Call me Felicity or Mrs. Thompson, whichever is preferable with you. And my husband is Pastor Carl, not Papa anymore."
Bethany's chest rose and fell several times while her eyes blinked in rapid successions. What had happened to Mama, the Mother Hen praised for watching jealously over its many chicks?
"Okay, Mama… sorry, Feli… Mrs. Thompson." As if waiting for more inexplicable instructions, Bethany stood still for a moment, clenching her teeth to stifle any visible signs of disappointment.
"You can go," Mrs. Thompson said, sitting down. "Tell anyone outside to wait until I ask them to come in."
Bethany held the door's handle and then hesitated. "Am I still seeing Ruth?"
Mrs. Thompson shook her head.
Outside, Bethany met two women waiting to see the pastor's wife. "Mama says she's busy. She'll call you in."
A handful of church members queued in front of the other office. Bethany took the last position in the line. Every other five seconds, she glanced at the direction she'd just come from. Mrs. Thompson would not approve of an appeal against the reassignment.
After a dozen glances, Bethany walked away, her intestines groaning.
At the front of the church, her eyes ran all over the paved area, where scores of people stayed in little groups. Many heads resembled George's, but none of the faces belonged to him.
Bethany stood at the entrance into the building, her eyes skimming the room. Some choir members packed away the instruments at the left of the platform, and at the end of the far-right column, a group of young people conversed. Laughter came from the visitors' corner. But where was George?
Bethany took her phone out from the handbag and dialed. In vain, she awaited a response. Swimming in confusion, she dragged her feet outside and across the pavement to the roadside where she boarded a taxi.
Beaumont's main streets busied, as usual, on that sunny third Sunday in April 2014. But the bustle meant nothing to Bethany. As the church's unofficial music minister, that reassignment was as uncalled-for as it was sudden.
And how painful to be replaced by someone whose voice had been as hoarse as a toad's when the music minister first came to the church. If Faith sang well today, a chunk of the praise went to Bethany for her resolute will to hone the choir's talent.
Whatever, that wasn't the most pressing issue to deal with. A part of her heart feared for George's unusual departure without waiting to see her. Trouble, they claimed, came in pairs.
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