Catch Of the Day
This book is dedicated to my sisters, Hilary Murray and Jacqueline Decker.
You are my dearest friends, and I love you more than I can say.
FALLING IN LOVE with a Catholic priest was not my smartest move.
Obviously, I’m well aware of the whole vow-of-chastity, married-to-the-church thing. I realizethat yearning for a priest doesn’t exactly further the cause of meeting my future husband. Andin case I might have overlooked those little facts, I have an entire town pointing them out tome.
The problem is, even when someone is clearly wrong for you, he might seem…well, perfect. Andaside from that one hulking detail, Father Tim O’Halloran is everything I’ve ever let myselfdream of in a man. Kind, funny, charming, intelligent, hardworking. He likes the same movies Ido. He loves my cooking. He compliments me often and laughs at my jokes. He cares about thepeople of my hometown, listens intently to their problems, offers gentle guidance when asked.And he’s from Ireland, the icing on the cake, because ever since I was sixteen years old andfirst saw U2 in concert, I’ve had a thing for Irish guys. So even though Father Tim has neversaid or done anything vaguely improper, I can’t help dreaming about what a great husband he’dmake. I’m not really proud of this, but there it is.
My romantic problems predated Father Tim, though he’s probably the most colorful chapter inthe joke book that makes up my love life. First off, it’s not easy being a single woman inGideon’s Cove, Maine, population 1,407. Ostensibly there are enough males for females, butstatistics can be misleading. Our town is in Washington County, the northernmost coastal countyin our great state. We’re too far from Bar Harbor to attract many tourists, although we dolive in what is undeniably one of the most beautiful areas of America. Gray-shingled houses hugthe harbor, and the air snaps with the smell of pine and salt. We’re a pretty old-fashionedtownmost people make their living either by fishing, lobstering or working in the blueberryindustry. It’s a lovely place, but it’s remote, a good three hundred miles north of Boston.Five hundred from New York City. Meeting new people is difficult.
I try. I’ve always tried. There have been a few boyfriends, sure. I cheerfully accept fix-upsand blind dates when they’re thrown my way, I do. I own and operate Joe’s Diner, the onlyrestaurant in town, so I have plenty of chances to meet people. And I volunteerI volunteer myass off, to be frank. I deliver meals to the infirm. I cook for the soup kitchen on Tuesdaynights and bring whatever leftovers I have on an almost daily basis. I provide dinner at the
fire department’s monthly meeting. I organize clothing drives and fund-raisers and offer tocater just about any event for a minimal profit, as long as it’s for a good cause. I am apillar of society, and truthfully, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But in the back of my mind, there’s a selfish motive. I can’t help hoping that my good worksand cheerful attitude will be noticed by someone…perhaps some rich and handsome grandson ofthe elderly man whose dinner I delivered, or some new-to-town volunteer fireman who justhappens to be, oh I don’t know, a board member of Oxfam and a brain surgeon, too.
However, the charitable neurosurgeon has proved elusive, and as of one year ago, when I wasthirty-one years old, I remained single with no credible prospects on the horizon. That’s whenI met Father Tim.
I had gone for a bike ride out to Quoddy State Park. We were having a warm snap, for March,anywaythe temperature reached forty degrees, the snow had softened, the breeze was quiet. I’dspent most of the day cooped up inside, and a bike ride seemed like just the thing to do. Cladin layers of fleece and microfiber, I rode further than usual in the brisk air and fadingsunlight of the afternoon. Then, with classic New England unpredictability, a drenching, icyrainstorm blew in from the west. I was a good ten miles from town when my bike wheel slid onsome ice. I went ass over teakettle down an embankment, right into a wet patch of snow thatconcealed eight inches of mud and ice. Not only was I filthy, freezing and wet, I had alsomanaged to cut my knee and tear my pants.
Feeling very sorry for myself, I hauled my bike up the bank at the exact moment a car went by.“Help! Stop!” I yelled, but whoever it was didn’t hear me. Or heard me and was afraid, as Iresembled an escaped lunatic at that moment. I watched the taillights of the blue Hondadisappear in the distance, noting that the sky was suddenly much darker.
Well, I didn’t have a choice. I started walking, gimping along on my cut leg, until a pickuppulled over. Before I could even tell who it was, the driver grabbed my bike and popped it inthe bed of the truck. Squinting through the rain, I saw it was Malone, a silent, slightly scarylobsterman who moored next to my brother. He may have spokenthe words “Get in” ring a bellsoI gingerly crawled into the cab of his truck. In my mind, I could hear an imaginary narrator… Maggie Beaumont was last seen riding her bike one dark and stormy afternoon. Her body was neverfound.
To allay my nervousness, I talked maniacally until we reached Joe’s Diner, reminding Malonethat Jonah was my brother, that I was out for a bike ride (though that was rather obvious),that I should have listened to the forecast, that I fell (again, obvious), that I was sorry tomake his truck dirty, et cetera, et cetera.
“Thank you very much, Malone, this was so nice of you,” I babbled when he lifted down mybike. “You should come in and have a piece of pie sometime. It’s good pie. Cup of coffee,too. On the house, okay? I owe you. Thanks again. This was great. Thanks. Bye now.” Malone didnot deign to speak, simply lifted his hand and drove away.
As I watched the taillights blur in the rain, I said a prayer. “God, I don’t mean tocomplain, but I think I’ve been pretty patient here. All I want is a decent man who will standby me and be a good father to our kids. What do You say?”
I remember all this because the very next day the very next day I came out of the kitchen of
Joe’s Diner, and there he was, sitting in the farthest booth, the most incredibly appealingman I’d ever seen. Medium height, light brown hair, green eyes, broad shoulders, beautifulhands. He wore a gorgeous Irish fisherman’s sweater and jeans. When he smiled, my kneesbuckled at the glory of those straight, white teeth. A leaping thrill of attraction and hopeshuddered through my entire body.
“Hi, I’m Maggie,” I said, giving myself a quick, mental once-over. New jeans, that was good.Blue sweater, not bad. Hair, clean.
“Tim O’Halloran. A pleasure it is to meet you,” he answered, and I nearly swooned. A brogue!How Liam Neeson! How Colin Farrell! How Bono!
“Would you like some coffee?” I asked, proud that my voice still worked.
“I’d love a spot. Can’t think of anything nicer.” He smiled right into my eyes. Blushingwith pleasure, I looked out into the parking lot and saw the blue Honda. Dear God, it was theman who’d passed me!
“You know, I think I saw you last night!” I exclaimed. “Were you on Route 1A, heading fortown around five? I fell off my bike, and I was trying to flag you down.”
“I was,” he answered, a concerned frown wrinkling his forehead. “How could I have missedyou? Oh, dear, forgive me!”
Done. “Oh, gosh, don’t worry.” His eyes were beautiful, green and golden, like a bed ofmoss in the sunshine. Lust engulfed me like a thick fog. “Really. It’sdon’tit’s fine. So.What, um…what would you like for breakfast?”
“What do you recommend, Maggie?” he asked, and it sounded so damn sexy, that accent combinedwith what seemed to be a mischievous smile and flirting eyes…
“I recommend that you eat here often,” I said. “I made the muffins myself, and they’re justout of the oven. And our pancakes are the best in town.” And the only in town, but hey.
“The pancakes it is, then, thanks.” He smiled up at me again, obviously in no hurry for me toleave. “So you work here, do you?”
“Actually, I own the place,” I said, pleased to be able to impart this nugget. Not just awaitress, but the boss. The owner.
“Do you, now! Brilliant! A classic, isn’t it?”
’Tis, I almost said. “Yes. Thank you. It’s a family business. My grandfather, the Joe in
Joe’s Diner, started it up in 1933.”
“Ah, that’s lovely.”
“So, Tim, what are you doing in Gideon’s Cove?” I asked, then realized he might be hungry.“Wait, I’m sorry, let me just get your order in. Sorry. Be right back!”
I raced to the kitchen and called the order to Octavio, my short-order cook, then practicallyslid across the diner to Tim’s table, ignoring three customers who were waiting at the counterwith varying degrees of impatience.
“Sorry. You might actually want to eat, of course,” I said.
“Well, now, there are some things that are nicer than eating, and talking to you is one ofthem.”
Dear God, You’re the best! Thanks for listening! “So, sorry, I was asking you what you were
doing in town. Work related?”
“You might say that, Maggie. I’m”
It was at this moment that the fatal event occurred. Georgie Culpepper, my dishwasher, burstinto the diner. “Hi, Maggie!” he shouted. “Hi! How are you, Maggie! It’s nice out today,isn’t it, Maggie? I saw snowdrops this morning! You want me to wash dishes now, Maggie?” Hewrapped his arms around me and hugged me.
Now, Georgie’s hugs are usually very pleasant. I’ve been getting them since kindergarten.Georgie has Down syndrome, is wicked affectionate and endlessly cheerful, one of the nicest,happiest people I’ve ever met. But right at this moment, I didn’t want his burr-like headwelded to my breast. As I tried to extricate myself and as Georgie continued to tell me about
the wonders of spring, Tim answered my question. I didn’t hear him.
Finally, I pried Georgie off me and patted his shoulder. “Hello, Georgie. Tim, this is GeorgieCulpepper, and he works here. Our bubble boy, right, buddy?” Georgie nodded proudly.“Georgie, this is Tim.”
Georgie treated Tim to a hug, which was returned warmly. Lucky Georgie. “Hi, Tim! Nice to meetyou, Tim! How are you, Tim?”
“I’m excellent, thank you, my friend.”
I smiled even more…could there be a better character reference than someone who knew just howto treat Georgie Culpepper? I immediately added it to the already impressive mental list I hadgoing on Tim O’Halloran: handsome, employed, charming, Irish, comfortable around disabledpeople.
“I bet Octavio will make you scrambled eggs,” I told Georgie.
“Scrambled eggs! All right!” Though Georgie eats scrambled eggs every day of his life, thethrill has yet to fade. He scuttled to the kitchen and I remained, staring down at Tim. “Well.So. That sounds interesting,” I said, hoping he’d reiterate what it was he did for a living.He didn’t. The ding of the kitchen bell went off, and I excused myself, got Tim’s pancakesand brought them over.
“Can I get you anything else?” The scowls of my regulars were starting to register.
“No, no, thank you ever so much, Maggie. It was a real pleasure meeting you.”
Fearful that this was the last I’d ever see of him, I blurted, “Maybe I’ll see you againsometime?” Please, please don’t say you’re married.
“I’m going back to Bangor, but on Saturday, I’ll be here for good. Do you happen to belongto St. Mary’s?” he asked, stabbing a huge forkful of golden pancakes.
“Yes!” I yelped. Any connection, no matter how thin…
“Then I’ll see you Sunday.” He smiled and took a bite, then closed his eyes in pleasure.
“Wonderful.” My heart thumping, I went back to the counter and apologized to two of myregulars, Rolly and Ben.
Okay, so it was a little…devout…to mention where he went to church, but that was okay, Iquickly assured myself. Perhaps the Irish were just more religious. But I was Catholic,technically anyway, and St. Mary’s was indeed my home parish. The last time I’d been therewas two years ago, when my sister Christy got married, but my lapsed state didn’t matter. TimO’Halloran was going to Mass, and so was I.
I called my sister the moment he left. “I think I’ve met someone,” I whispered, massagingcocoa butter into my hands. As Christy’s squeals of excitement pierced my ear, I told her allabout Tim O’Halloran, how sweet he was, what a connection we had, how easily we’d chatted. Idetailed every aspect of his physical appearance from his sparkling eyes to his beautifulhands, reiterated every word he spoke. “There was such chemistry,” I finally sighed.
“Oh, Maggie. This is so exciting,” my sister sighed back. “I’m thrilled for you.”
“Listen, don’t say anything to anyone yet, okay? Except Will.”
“Of course not! No, no. It’s just so wonderful!”
But Christy wasn’t the one who blabbed all over town. No, no, I did that myself.
I didn’t mean to, of course…it’s just that I see a lot of people. Not only the regulars atthe diner, not just the people I work with.
Mrs. Kandinsky, my tiny, frail tenant, whose toenails I trim each week, asked me if anythingwas new. “Well, not really. But I think I met someone,” I found myself saying.
“Oh, wonderful, dear!” she chirped.
“He’s so handsome, Mrs. K. Brown hair, green eyes…and he’s Irish. He has a brogue. ”
“I’ve always a man with a brogue,” she agreed.loved
And then I told my mom’s best friend, Carol.
“Do you think you’ll ever meet someone?” she asked in her forthright way when she came infor pie.
“I may have already,” I said with a mysterious smile. She blinked expectantly, and I washappy to gush.
And on it went.
On Saturday night, I went to Dewey’s Pub, the only other restaurant in town, if you can callit that. Paul Dewey and I are pals, and occasionally I’ll bring some food over, which heoffers as daily specials and we split the profit. Otherwise, it’s a bag of chips if you’relooking for sustenance. But Dewey’s does a booming business as the only alcohol-servinginstitution in town, unless you count the firehouse.
I was meeting my friend…well, a person I hang out with sometimes. Chantal is close to fortyand also single. Unlike me, she’s quite happy to stay single, relishing her role as Gideon’sCove’s sex symbol, a redheaded siren of lush curves and pouting lips. She enjoys the fact thatevery man under the age of ninety-seven finds her damn near irresistible, as opposed to me,who’s everyone’s surrogate daughter. Even though Chantal never lacks for male companionship,we occasionally get together to lament the dearth of really good men in town.
Having met someone so incredibly appropriate as Tim O’Halloran, I was bursting to tell her,and, I admit, to stake my claim. It certainly wouldn’t do to have Chantal making a go for myfuture husband. “Chantal, I met someone,” I announced firmly as we sipped our beers in thecorner booth. “His name is Tim O’Halloran, and he is so…Oh, my God, he’s so yummy! Wereally hit it off.”
As I spoke, my eyes scanned the bar. Tim had said he’d be back on Saturday, and here it wasSaturday night, eight o’clock. The bar was moderately full. Jonah, my brother, stood at thebar with a couple of his palsStevie, Pete and Sam, all around Jonah’s age (which is to say,far too young for me). There was Mickey Tatum, the fire chief, famous for terrifying theschoolchildren with stories of self-immolation (he shows pictures), and Peter Duchamps, thebutcher, a married alcoholic thought to be having an affair with the new part-time librarian.
Also present was Malone, his face as cheerful as an open grave, who glared at me when he walkedin as if daring me to mention the ride he’d given me. I dared not. Instead, I lifted my handweakly, but his back was already turned. No wonder we all called him Maloner the Loner.
That was it. Gideon’s Cove’s offerings to a single girl. Obviously, I was beyond thrilled atmeeting Tim.
Jonah, who never missed a chance to flirt with Chantal, drifted over. “Hey, girls,” he saidto Chantal’s breasts, earning a smile from their owner. “What’s cooking?”
“Your sister was just telling me about this hot guy she’s met,” Chantal said, dipping afinger into her beer and sucking on it. My brother, then aged twenty-five, was hypnotized. Isighed with irritation.
“What guy?” he managed to mumble.
So I told Jonah, too, my irritation vanishing with the chance to discuss the new man in mylife.
We sat there till closing, but Tim never showed. Still, I was optimistic. He had said he’d seeme in church, and see me he would.
The next morning, I spent an hour and a half getting ready. Because I’d told my parents,sister and brother about This Guy I’d Met, they were all coming to church, an activity ourfamily usually saved for Christmas Eve (if we weren’t too tired) and the occasional Easterweekend. In we went, Mom, Dad, Jonah, Will, Christy, then pregnant, and myself. Looking around,I noticed that the church was pretty full, more so than usual. Was it a holy day? I wasn’tsure, never having cemented those in my mind. Oh, yes, I remembered hearing something at thediner…apparently, Father Morris retired and some new guy was filling in. Whatever.
I tried to scan casually for Tim, looking over my shoulder, pretending to fix the strap of mypocketbook, getting a tissue, adjusting my mom’s collar. Any chance to glance back. Then thewindy old organ started, and I fumbled for the hymnbook. So busy was I studying the pews that Iignored the priest as he walked past. “Do you see him?” I whispered to Christy.
“Yes,” she whispered, her face a frozen mask of horror.
At that moment, the music ended, the church fell silent, and I reluctantly turned to face thepriest.
“Before we start our celebration today,” said a voice already imprinted on my brain, “I’dlike to introduce myself. My name is Father Tim O’Halloran, and I’m very pleased to have beenassigned to your lovely parish.”
Roughly seventy-five faces swung around to look at me. I stared straight ahead, my heartpumping so hard I could hear the blood rushing through my veins. My face burned hot enough tofry an egg. I didn’t look at anyone, just stared at Father Tim O’Halloran’s chest area, andpretended to be fascinated and unsurprised. Tricky combination.
“I’m from Ireland, as you might be able to tell, the youngest of seven children. I’m lookingforward to getting to know you all, and I hope I’ll see you all at coffee hour after Mass. Andnow we begin today’s celebration as we begin all things, in the name of the Father, and of theSon”
“For God’s sake,” I muttered.
I didn’t hear a word during the next hour. I do know that Christy slipped her hand into mine,and that my father was shushed repeatedly by my mother. Jonah, furthest from me, was laughingthat awful, unstoppable church laugh full of wheezes and the occasional squeak, and if he’dbeen closer to me, maybe I would have laughed, too. Or perhaps disemboweled him with my carkeys. As it was, I pretended to listen, mouthed nonsensical words to songs I couldn’t read andstood when everyone else stood. I stayed in the pew during communion.
And when at last Mass was over, we filed out with the others. Christy, my sister, my bestfriend, the person I loved more than anyone on earth, whispered in my ear. “I’m going topretend we’re talking about something really interesting, okay? And this way no one is goingto talk to you. So smile and pretend we’re having a conversation, and we’ll get the hell outof here. Sound like a plan?”
“Christy, I’m so…” My voice broke.
“No, no, it’s fine, just keep going. Too bad they’re rebricking the side entrance. Shitty,shitty luck. Okay, we’re getting close…can you smile?”
I bared my teeth weakly.
“Maggie!” Father Tim exclaimed. “It’s so good to see you. I was hoping you’d be here.” Heshook my hand warmly, his grip strong and welcoming. “And you’ve a twin! Isn’t thatmarvelous! I’m Father Tim, so nice to meet you.”
Father Tim. The sound of it was like acid on an open wound.
“Hi, I’m Christy,” my sister said. “I’m sorry, I’m not feeling well. Maggie, would youtake me home?”
We almost escaped until my idiot brother, whom I heretofore loved, asked, “How could you missthe fact that he was a priest?”
My mother grabbed his arm. “Jonah, honey”
“What’s that, now?” Father Tim asked, his eyebrows raised.
“Why didn’t you tell Maggie you were a priest?”
Father Tim glanced at me in confusion. “Of course I did. We had that lovely chat at thediner.”
“Of course we chatted,” I blurted. “Of course I knew! Sure! Yes! I knew you were a priest!Absolutely. Yup.”
“But you said you met some hot Irish guy”
“That was someone else,” I ground out, ready to smite my little brother. “Not Father Tim!Jeez! He’s a priest, Jonah! He’s notI didn’t meanhe’s…”
But the damage was done. Father Tim’s expression fell. “Oh, dear,” he said.
“Maggie? I need to go,” Christy said. She grabbed my arm and pulled me away to the safety ofher car.
But it was too late. Father Tim knew. Everyone knew.
FATHER TIM CAME TO the diner the next day and apologized, and I apologized, and we laughedabout it. I found that there was no use in trying to pretend. I just had to admit that I made amistake. Ha, ha, pretty funny, isn’t it? I can’t believe I missed that little piece of
Then he asked if I’d be on one of his committees, and I found myselfinformation! Ho, ho!
unable to say no.
In the year that’s passed, the sting of being the butt of a joke has faded. Truthfully, FatherTim is a great friend to me. Though I can’t quite bring myself to go to Mass and see him inaction, I somehow joined just about every committee St. Mary’s hasbereavement, altardecoration, Christmas craft sale, community outreach, building maintenance, fellowship, theworks.
I know it’s wrong to nurse a crush on a priest. I know I shouldn’t be doing all that churchstuff just to be near a Catholic priest who looks like Aidan Quinn’s younger brother. I knowthat my heart shouldn’t squeeze every time I see him, that adrenaline shouldn’t spurt into myveins when I pick up the phone and hear that gentle voice. I just can’t seem to help it. WhatI really need to do is simply meet someone else, and this foolish longing in my heart willfade. Someday, I’ll meet a really great guy, someone just as nice as Tim O’Halloran, andeverything will be just lovely.
There are definitely days when I believe this.
“GOOD MORNIN’, MAGGIE,” Father Tim says, sliding into his usual booth. “Lovely out, isn’tit?” He smiles pleasantly, and my insides clench.
“Good morning, Father Tim. What can I get for you today?”
“I think I’ll be tryin’ your French toast, shall I? Brilliant idea, the almond glaze.”
That brogue is just not fair. “Thanks. I’ll get that right in.” I’ve had sinful thoughts
I wrack my brain for something to say. “How was Mass this morning?”about you. Again.
He nods. “Ah, the celebration of the Eucharist always nurtures the spirit,” he murmurs.“You’re welcome to come and see for yourself, Maggie. I’d love to hear your thoughts on myhomily any time.”
Father Tim often urges me to drop by. Something stops me. Guilt, no doubt. I might be a lapsedCatholic, but I draw the line at having lustful thoughts about priests in church. “Well. Sure.One of these days. You bet.”
“Mass can give a person a chance for some insight. Sometimes we tend to overlook what’simportant in life, Maggie. It’s easy to lose perspective, if you take my meaning.”
Oh, I do. Losing perspective is something at which I excel. Case in pointstill in love with thepriest. He looks ridiculously appealing in black, though granted, the white collar takes awaysome of the zing. Rolling my eyes at my own ridiculous thoughts, I turn away, fill a few coffeecups and slip into the kitchen, where Octavio is deftly flipping pancakes. “French toast forFather Tim,” I tell him, grabbing an order of eggs on un buttered toast. Returning to thecounter area, I slide the plate in front of Stuart, one of my regulars. “Chicks on a raft,high and dry,” I say. He nods appreciatively, a big fan of diner slang.
“Anything else for you, Mrs. Jensen?” I ask the seventy-year-old woman in the first booth.She frowns and shakes her head, and I leave her check on the table. Mrs. Jensen has come fromchurch. She goes to confession every week. She’s in Bible study and on the altar decorationcommittee. It seems I’m not the only one smitten with Father Tim.
Without meaning to, I look once again at the impossible ideal. He’s reading the paper.Profiled against the window, his beauty sends a rolling warmth through me. If only you were a
“He’ll catch you looking,” Rolly whispers, another regular fixture at my counter.
“That’s okay,” I admit. “It’s not like it’s a secret. Make sure you fill out a ballot,okay?” I tell Rolly, dragging my gaze off the object of my desire. “You, too, Stuart. I needall the votes I can get.”
“Ayuh. Best coffee in the state,” Rolly announces.
“Best breakfast, Rolly.” I smile and pat his shoulder.
For the last two years, Joe’s Diner has placed fourth in Maine Living ’s Best Breakfast
contest, and I’m determined to win the county title this year. The magazine holds a lot ofsway with tourists, and we could use a little more of the summer nuisance. Last year, we werecreamed by Blackstone Bed & Breakfast in Calais (even though they make their pancakes from abox mix).
“We’ll win, boss,” Octavio calls through the window that links the counter area with thekitchen. “We do have the best breakfast.”
I smile back at him. “True enough, but being the best-kept secret on coastal Maine isn’tdoing us much good financially.”