The Meal
By Rosemarie

They ate in silence.  For some reason she couldn't understand, Elizabeth
felt an unexpected shyness. She  kept her eyes lowered to her plate in
order to give him privacy and to assure her own.  From the corner of her
eye she became aware that Josiah had straightened, and stealing a glance
at him she saw that he stared off into space.

There was something about him that spoke to her and she marveled at it,
wondering what it was that made her feel a kinship to this mysterious
man. On the outside there was nothing which would have betrayed any
similarities between them, and yet...

"What are you thinking?" he asked, his voice soft and husky.  She flashed him a smile. "I was going to ask you the same."

Somehow she expected him to return her smile, but he just looked at her
enigmatically. "You didn't," he offered, and she realized it was a question.

Suddenly she found it difficult to meet his intent stare and tried to
turn her attention back to her plate.  "You're a good cook," she remarked, but he didn't react to her attempt at casual conversation.

"What were you thinking of?" he repeated quietly.

Suddenly Elizabeth felt trapped.  She looked at him defiantly. "Why?"

A quick and unexpected smile played around the corners of his eyes as he
leaned back in his chair. "I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't be so curious."

"It's not a secret," she hastened to reassure him. "I was just thinking..."

"Of someone very dear to you," he interrupted seriously, almost
wistfully, and she felt her eyes widen with the dawning realization that
he was right.

She nodded silently, confused when he quickly averted his eyes as if
unwilling to face the truth of her words.

"What made you come to a place like this?" he asked at last, and this time there was no underlying tension to his question, only genuine interest.

"It was a challenge that came when the time was right."

Josiah nodded his understanding. "And?" he asked. "What do you think so

"That there is much work to do and a long way to go, but that the
possibilities are endless." She leaned forward a little, searching for
his eyes. "What about you, Josiah? I know why you came to this town, but
what made you stay?"

He met her gaze silently for a moment before answering. "It's as good of
place as any, I suppose.  There are plenty of lost souls that pass
through here.  That's my  business . . .lost souls . . .and I can't shake off  that feeling that they need me."

"I know that feeling," she replied softly when his voice trailed away,
and before she knew it, her palm was covering the back of his hand where
it lay on the desk.

Something within her told her to quickly pull away, but then she felt
him tremble under her touch, a movement so subtle it seemed to her she
was holding some small animal that would scurry away the moment she

Afraid to raise her gaze to his, she made a study of their joined hands,
and finally gave him a gentle squeeze before releasing him at last.
"Whenever I see children who are robbed of their childhood, because the
circumstances of their lives dictate they must work like adults, I feel
the need to at least give them a future, the chance to learn and grow
mentally as well as physically. And you're right, this place is as good
a place as any."

She hadn't been aware of moving her head, of finally locking her gaze to
his, and now she was overwhelmed by the understanding in his eyes as he
studied her attentively.

"If there is anything I can do for you," he rasped in a voice that sent
a tremor down her spine, "all you have to do is ask."

"I will," she promised, looking after him as he rose and reached for his

"Leave the dishes," he said before leaving. "I'll clear it away when I
come back."

"Josiah," she called after him and he stopped, turning back to her once
more. "Thank you for the meal. You are a good cook."

He cast her a grin that did strange things to her equilibrium and she
found herself smiling back at him in kind.

The door had long closed behind him, but she was still standing there,
trying to sort out her feelings. Nothing seemed to fit about the man. He
was a priest and yet as un- priest-like as anyone could be. He looked
rough, almost hard, on the outside, and yet she had encountered a
vulnerability and softness inside him that touched her deeply.

His features could not be called commonly handsome, and yet those eyes
took her breath away every time she found herself looking into them. And
she wished more than anything else she were able to take away the pain
she sensed in their silent depths.