“And what about you, where is your place?” Melinda asked looking directly at Kate.
“I doubt that anyone can... you know, pinpoint a certain place of such importance that it sticks for life!” Gloria interrupted just as Kate opened her mouth to answer Melinda. The three childhood friends sat under an umbrella on the patio outside De Journo's in downtown Chicago.
“Maybe you can’t,” Melinda said tacitly. “I think Kate can, I think she has a secret stashed away that is connected with a place.”
Kate felt her cheeks flush. Melinda couldn’t possibly know what she had never told anyone before.
Melinda had just come to the end of her long, boring account of her place, a small island near Caravello, her favorite Mexican resort. She and Tom had rented a hut there to spend their honeymoon. Melinda had told the story for the third time since she’d returned two months ago. Kate knew in time a new topic would evolve.
“I don’t think your little honeymoon island memory was what we had in mind to share as a glimpse of the most important place of our lives. It was supposed to be the one place on the face of the earth that changed everything,” Kate said.
“Uh, I don’t see why not. What woman forgets the place where she spends her honeymoon?” retorted Melinda. She leaned back, her flaming hair glistened in the bright sun. Kate had prepared herself to pour out her deepest secret to her friends but now hesitated. Why did she have to share that particular place she wondered now, coming back to her senses. She could tell them anything and they would never know the difference. She could tell them about Acapulco, San Juan, and St. Thomas where she had encountered a charming Bed and Breakfast, or a sidewalk café, or some romantic cave on her yearly vacations. Kate suddenly felt two sets of eyes boring into her but she kept her head down intent on checking her thumb.
“Well, Kate, your turn. Tell us about your place!” Gloria insisted. Her voice had taken on a crispness that set Kate’s teeth on edge. She felt the oncoming of thunder. There were times when their usually happy monthly get-togethers turned sour, when they worked themselves up into frenzy over some small matter or a dare.
“I... I don’t know...why don’t you go ahead Gloria, and let me think about it.”
“Oh alright, if you insist!” Gloria looked at each of her friends as though making sure she had their undivided attention “I was about fifteen when Greggy and I...” Her face opened up like a young girl telling her friends of her first kiss. Throughout her long discourse, her lively dark eyes widened and narrowed in rhythm with her emotions as she described the place where she lost her virginity.
Kate had turned inward trying to capture the elusive words that would convey her story, so simplistic, yet so profound. She struggled with her decision to tell of that particular place. She knew that, like casting pearls before swine, her story stood the risk of being trampled by her friends. She had committed inwardly to telling the truth when she agreed to the topic they had elected the last time they met. All month, she had pushed aside fleeting thoughts that now, for the first time in her life, she would give witness to the place that changed her life forever.
“And you mean the public shower on Pebble Beach is...?” Melinda asked loud enough to raise eyebrows at the next table.
“Shh, silly, yes, that’s the one, the third stall in the women’s section. That was my place and always will be. What stays with you more than your first lover?” Gloria snickered.
Kate had hoped Gloria would offer something more substantial that she could build on but true to form, Gloria had tried to get one up on Melinda. Both women bantered lightly laughing and then turned their attention to their silent friend.
“Cat got your tongue?” asked Gloria grinning. “You’re in there somewhere Kate. What’s up with you?”
“Nothing, I was just thinking that the story of my place doesn’t fit here,” Kate said, uncomfortable and wishing she were anywhere other than with her two best friends. Over the years, they had shared almost everything that happened among them from lovers to husbands to children; Kate had had neither but had opted to devote her life to teaching at Emmanuel
School. “When we chose the topic I thought you might dig a little deeper.”
“Oh come on Kate, don’t mind us. We want you to tell us about your place,” Melinda said straight-faced. All traces of jesting had left her face in anticipation. “Don’t make us beg any longer.”
“I just don’t know how to start, it’s merely a feeling that I may not be able to describe but...alright, I’ll try,” Kate grumbled. “In my little home town we walked everywhere. Our schools, the train station, grocery stores, all of them were miles from home. When I was about ten years old, I was walking along a hedge one day. It was the oddest thing..." Kate hesitated, frowned, and rubbed her cheek. It was absurd; her story would not hold water. “After all these years I can see the spot clearly as if I were standing on it. I see the green of the hedge next to me and the worn asphalt of the sidewalk under my feet. It was as if time stood still, kind of like slow motion.” She stopped talking abruptly. Her eyes took on a dreamy, far-away look. “Yet, there was nothing there except an overwhelming presence.” A thick silence hung in the air.
“So, what was it, a ghost, did you see a ghost there?” Gloria gasped drawing up her arms and pretending to shiver. Two pairs of eyes once again stared at Kate.
“I believe I felt the presence of God,” Kate said reverently, lowering her eyes.
A soft groan escaped Gloria's mouth, her eyes rolled upward. The way her lips tightened Kate knew she was disappointed. "Get off the religion soapbox," Gloria had said once years earlier after which Kate had held in any mention of her faith. She berated herself for having cast her pearl before swine so to speak. Now she was stuck with her friends' ridicule but Melinda wasn't mimicking Gloria's gestures. She sat with the same expectant look on her face as though waiting to hear more of Kate's childhood experience.
"How does one feel the presence of God?" she queried finally, "And what does it feel like?"
"Oh get a grip, Melinda, are you serious?" Gloria was obviously irritated at the direction the conversation was heading.
"No, I want to know!"
"All right you two, I should have known better than to take the assignment seriously. Let's just forget it," Kate said sucking in her breath. If they would just let it go and move on. She was not in the mood to take on Gloria regardless of Melinda's probably feigned interest. Neither of her friends had ever shown a real interest in her faith or questioned her life of abstinence and spinsterhood. Her clients, unlike Gloria's wealthy real estate and Melinda's stock brokerage clients, were helpless, mentally challenged children from broken homes. It hadn't mattered in their friendship before that she had taken the road less traveled because they had been childhood friends and nothing would break that bond.
"I said I want to know!" insisted Melinda stubbornly.
"For heaven's sake, Melinda--!" Gloria pouted. She gave Kate a dark look to let her know she was not at all happy and probably blamed her for it.
"I felt the presence of something awesome, so powerful that it began to change my life for the better from that moment on. As I told you, I can see it and feel it as though it were yesterday and not twenty years ago. God made himself known to me then when I didn't know him as I do now," Kate said looking directly into Melinda's eyes. "That's all I can tell you about it, it changed my life forever. Now can we let it go?"
Melinda's golden eyes clouded over, her eye-lids closing half way she sat quietly while Gloria wiggled in her seat ready to explode.
"Kate, it's odd but my Tom talks like you every so often. I don't let on but I'm curious about it. Now that you've told your story I'm interested to hear more from you. I'd rather first talk to you than him. You know, it could be scary if he and I started talking and I couldn't accept what he says," Melinda said. "Would you meet me this Saturday?"
Kate's blue eyes brightened with an inner light as she nodded her head and smiled.