a short story about a female Lutheran minister, her boyfriend, and Christmas Eve in a small town...

     The Christmas Eve service ended at 12:01 am.  After the tiny congregation had departed and everything had been put back in its proper place, and all the lights had been turned off and the doors were all locked, Kitty Delaney bid a fond good night to her beloved Faith Lutheran church.  Then she hopped in her car and hurried the three blocks up Main Street to Hennessey's Pub.

     She eagerly scanned the length of the horse shoe-shaped bar, but she didn't see her man anywhere.

     A small, stout woman with short dark hair and cold, dark eyes looked at Kitty over her sloping shoulder.  "Are you looking for Shane?" she asked Kitty.


     "He's in the men's room with my ex-husband, trying to calm hin down.  They should be out any second, now---I hope.  That's Shane's drink there," the woman said, motioning with an easy nod of her head to a half-finished mug of Coca-Cola, which sat on the bar a few inches away from her right elbow.  "My name's Candace Calloway, by the way," she said, offering Kitty a pale, plump hand.   "My friends call me Candy."

     "Thank you, Candy.  I'm pleased to meet you."

     "Me, too."

     Kitty sat down next to Shane's vacant stool and shed her long, red coat.  Dell Hennessey waddled over to her, his fat, lower lip puffed outward in a sullen, little-boy pout.  Kitty had spent enough time in his establishment to know that Dell strongly disapproved of her being here, the same way he disapproved of any reverend, rabbi, or preist who dared to imbibe alcohol in his pub.

     "So, what'll it be?" he asked, tossing a coaster down in front of her.

     Kitty beamed at Dell, smiling from ear to ear, as she leaned forward on her stool.  "I would like a glass of your finest champagne.  Oh, and one for my lover, too," she added, pointing a long finger at Shane's mug.

     Dell looked shocked and offended.  "Two glasses of champagne it is," he grumbled and quickly shuffled away.

     She looked at Candy, who sat bent over the bar, clutching her stomach in both hands, shaking her head and laughing.

     "The good Lord knows I know I shouldn't do things like that," Kitty confided to Candy.  "I am a minister, after all.  But sometimes, I just can't help myself."

     "Ah, don't worry about it.  Dell deserves it.  He's a jerk."

     "Would you and your ex care to join us?"

     "Ooohh, the twenty-dollar stuff," Candy said.  She laughed and shook her head again.  "No, really, we can't.  There's a six year-old girl waiting for us at home who hasn't seen her father in over a month, and she's desperately trying to stay awake.  I thank you for the offer, though."

     "You're entirely welcome.  Merry Christmas to you and your ex."

     "Merry Christmas to you and Shane."  Candy lifted her beer glass in salute.

     "Thank you.  Now, if you don't mind my asking, what are our men doing together in the men's room?"

     "Well, the three of us were sitting here, having a good time, when this guy I know came in and sat down on the other side of the bar.  Now, you gotta understand.  Ed and I are the kind of couple who love each other but can't live together.  Not long after Ed and I seperated, I started seeing this other guy.  It didn't work out and when I broke it off, he got mad.

     "Tonight was the first time I'd seen this guy in over a year.  Right away, he started calling me dirty names.  He called me a---" Candy's husky voice faltered.

     Kitty smiled an encouraging smile.  "Oh, please, don't let this collar stop you.  I hear plenty of unsavory stuff in my line of work.  Besides, I'm a woman.  I love a good, spicy story.  So give.  What happened?"

     "Ed got mad," Candy went on in a serious voice.  "Ed's got a hair trigger.  He and the other guy started insulting each other.  Then the guy came over here.  He challenged Ed to meet him in the parking lot and stormed out the back door.  Ed started after him.  But Shane managed to steer Ed into the men's room.  Ed and I have known your guy since high school.  He's good at a great many things.  But if there's one thing Shane's always been especially good at it's making peace and calming people down when they're mad.  Shane's a great guy."

     "Yes, he is," Kitty agreed.

     Dell returned at last, carrying two glasses filled with sparkling champagne.  He started to rifle through Shane's small stack of currency on the bar.

     "Oh, no, you don't," Kitty said.  She slapped a crisp, new fifty dollar bill on the bar.  "Take 'em both out of here."

     A disgruntled Dell whisked her bill from the bar and returned with her change.

     "Enjoy, sweetie," he mumbled under his breath and turned to go.  But not before he pushed his heavy glasses back up his crooked nose with a stiff middle finger.

     Candy snorted.  "Well, that was rude."

     "I'll say."

     The two women shared another hearty laugh.

     Kitty was startled by the loud sound of a door creaking open and banging shut at the back of the bar.  Candy's ex-husband Ed came stalking toward the two women, a defiant expression frozen on his pale, freckled face.  Shane walked at Ed's side, his right hand on Ed's shoulder.

     "You're sure you're okay?" Shane asked Ed.

     Ed nodded.  The two men sat down next to their women.

     "Thank you," Candy said to Shane.

     "Yeah," Ed said, peeking around his ex-wife's broad shoulder.  "Thanks a lot, man."

     "Ah, heck," Shane groaned with a dismissive wave of his hand.  His cheeks turned a bright shade of crimson and he ducked his eyes.  "I didn't do anything."

     "You just saved this one here from making a huge mistake, is all," Candy told Shane.  To her ex-husband, she said, "Come on.  It's getting late.  There are presents in the back of the car that still need to be wrapped."

     Candy's empty beer glass produced a sharp, chiming sound as it struck the bar.  "Do you mind?" she asked Kitty.

     "No, not at all."

     Candy gave Shane a soft kiss on his cheek.  "Thanks again," she said.  "And you're right.  Your girlfriend is beautiful."

     Shane's cheeks grew even brighter and redder, as he and Kitty watched Candy and Ed walk out the front door.

     "So my big, strong guy is also a man of peace," Kitty said in a playful, teasing tone.  "Who woulda thunk it?  How did that come about?"

     "I got picked on alot when I was a kid and I didn't like it."

     "Really?  I didn't know that."

     "We haven't been together long enough yet for you to know everything about me.  But knowing you, you'll find it all out eventually."

     "You can count on it.  Merry Christmas, sweetheart," she said, lifting her glass of champagne from the bar.

     "The same to you, babe."

     Shane took a small sip of his champagne.  Kitty tilted her curly-haired head all the way back and drained her glass with one swift gulp.  She noticed with an amused smirk on her face that Dell Hennessey didn't come rushing over to ask if she wanted a re-fill, the way he did with his other customers.

     She turned to face Shane, leaning closer to him on her stool.  Her warm hand found his knee underneath the rounded edge of the bar.  She smiled and said, "So, did you miss me?"

     "What do you think?"

     "It's only been an hour since church let out."

     "It seems like forever."

     "Ah, that's so sweet."

     They kissed at last.  This was the moment Kitty had been waiting for ever since she'd left Faith Lutheran church.  She loved kissing this man.  It was a long, slow, passionate kiss, the kind of kiss she liked most of all.

     Kitty was happy but sad when Shane broke away from her. Glancing behind the bar, she noticed the dark look of disgust on Dell Hennessey's dour face.  He disapproved of displays of public affection almost as much as he disapproved of members of the clergy drinking in his bar.  His sour expression made Shane's kiss taste that much sweeter.

     "Oh, look," she said to Shane.  "No one's using the pool table.  You wanna shoot a stick?"

     "A buck a ball?"

     "Now, honey, you know I never gamble," she said with a smile and a sly wink.  "But if one of us should decide to make a generous contribution to the church's feed the hungry program, well, that's another story."

     "Hey, you know me.  I always like to give," Shane said.


The End

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