Maggie Adams believes she was born to be a writer (see Psalm 139:16)—but it took awhile for her to figure that out. She grew up in North Carolina, then went “up north” to college (to Virginia, then to New York). Unable to decide what interested her most, she majored in Spanish, anthropology, and English, and studied voice. It wasn’t until she married and her husband entered graduate school that Maggie figured out what she wanted to do with her own life. She’s been widely published in short fiction, short nonfiction, and poetry since 1986; she has also spent over a decade freelancing for multiple publishers as a manuscript reader, proofreader, and copy editor.
He’d been coming into the bakery every day for a week now, including Sunday, when it was open for only part of the morning, before most churches began their services. He always ordered a slice of crumb cake and a coffee—“sweet and light,” with extra sugar and extra cream. Though not the only regular customer at the bakery, he was the one I’d begun to look forward to seeing the most. He acted so polite toward the other customers and thoughtful to us bakery workers that there were times I shook my head, wondering if he could possibly be for real.
When he approached me at the counter that Wednesday morning, I headed straight for the crumb cake in the display case. But he halted me with a raised hand. “Actually, before I get my usual, I’d like to place a special order, if I may.”
“Sure.” I grabbed an order pad and pen. “What would you like?”
“Well, I was thinking of a peach pie, but it’s for a birthday. Is there any way you could write ‘Happy Birthday, Betsy’ in icing on the top crust? I know that sounds kind of weird.”
“It’s doable.” I silently berated myself for ever thinking flirtatious thoughts about this too-good-to-be-true guy. Well, now I knew why that was the case: Betsy must be his girlfriend, or else he was married, though he didn’t wear a ring—because, yes, okay, I’ll admit I had already checked that. “Whose name shall I put on this order?”
“Reverend Mark Gregg.”
“Reverend?” I echoed dumbly.
“I’m the new assistant pastor at Mercy Place Fellowship. And I see you’re Mallory?” He pointed at the nametag I wore on my uniform shirt.
That was really it, then, I thought. Even if I was mistaken about this Betsy, I knew I’d never make a good pastor’s girlfriend. I barely stifled a hysterical giggle at that thought. Imagine—a pastor with a girlfriend who barely made it to church once a month, if that. What was I thinking?
I worked to plaster a professional smile on my face. “Welcome to the neighborhood, Pastor Gregg. Your pie can be ready for you to pick up at four p.m., if that’s okay?”
“That’s fine, Mallory.” He flashed a bright, too-perfect-to-be-true smile. “Now, as to my usual order . . .”
“What are you doing?” my friend Sarah, the baker, asked when I picked up an icing bag to write “Happy Birthday, Betsy” atop the peach pie.
“The customer requested this. It’s a birthday pie instead of a birthday cake.”
“Which customer is that?”
“He’s the new regular.”
“Oh, do you mean the cute one who always wears a bow tie with his suit?”
I nodded curtly as I made a face. “His name is Pastor Gregg.”
“Pastor!” Sarah exclaimed.
“Exactly.” I nodded.
She stood back and studied me. “Oh, okay, now I see what’s going on here.”
I angled my body in a half-turn so she couldn’t see my face while I worked. “See what?” I tried to sound casual.
“I see that you like the cute reverend.”
“Like!” I was the one now to exclaim. “That’s impossible. I don’t even get to church more than once every three or four weeks.”
“Only because you spell off your mom several times a week, including most Sunday mornings, to help her take care of your granny with Alzheimer’s.”
“Yeah, well, there is that.”
“And you do believe—I know you do,” Sarah persisted.
I laid down the icing bag, my hands shaking too much for me to finish writing Betsy’s name. “I am a believing Christian, but I also know that this birthday pie is for someone named Betsy.”
“What kind of someone? Niece? Aunt? Church secretary?”
“Maybe girlfriend? Or wife?”
“You won’t know unless you ask, though.”
“Ask?” I squeaked.
“Because he might think that I’m pushy or nosey or a big flirt or all of the above. What if I ask and it creeps him out?”
“What if you ask and he’s flattered—and available—and interested in you, too?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. We’ll see.”
“Ask,” she urged then handed the icing bag back to me so I could finish getting the birthday pie ready for Betsy . . . whoever she was.
A few minutes past five he walked back into the bakery. “Sorry I’m late.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “You don’t need to apologize to me. Betsy, now—maybe she’s something else,” I teased, aiming for a lighthearted tone.
“Unfortunately, I’m not sure Betsy will know the difference. She may not even remember that today’s her birthday.” He paused, taking a deep breath. “Betsy is my grandmother. She has Alzheimer’s—and it’s pretty far advanced.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry! I know how that goes. My grandmother has Alzheimer’s, too. That’s why I have trouble making it to church most Sundays.” I felt my face heat with a blush—I hadn’t meant to blurt out that last part, that excuse.
He smiled. “I’m sure the Lord would understand. As long as what’s in your heart belongs to Him, I think He’d understand your need to minister to your grandmother—even on the Sabbath.”
I returned his smile and felt my face flame again. I looked down at the counter and fumbled with some pens.
“Say,” he said, as he grabbed his shirt collar and pulled at it, as if it had suddenly grown too tight, “you wouldn’t want to . . . I mean, would you maybe, if you aren’t working too late today, um . . . would you want to come to my grandma’s birthday party with me, this evening, perhaps?”
His obvious discomfort endeared him to me. Maybe he didn’t have boundless confidence, because maybe he wasn’t really perfect. But he seemed a good enough person to accept that fact. Ironically, that only made me admire him more, and made me want to get to know him better. I met his gaze over the birthday pie. “I’d be delighted.”