The church was packed – humid, hot, and uncomfortable. Seated near the center aisle, Mary turned her head, looking at everyone around her while keeping an eye out for Vicar Price. They were all shoulder to shoulder – every pew was filled and then rows of people stood in the back and along the walls.
She spotted Richard, who was looking surprisingly well recovered. He was leaning against the wall off to the side of the room. She waved at him, and he nodded his head in return.
John walked in with David. He looked only a little better than half dead. Catching her eyes, he held them for just a moment before turning his head and shuffling after David toward an open spot to stand. She turned away, disgusted.
She had crossed paths with Vicar Price in town earlier that day. They had talked briefly as he walked door to door announcing the town meeting. She wished she would have told him everything then. About John. About Hopkins. Everything inside her felt so wrong – and the only thing she wanted to do was talk to Vicar Price about it all.
He had seen something was bothering her, and the urgency that had been driving him before dissipated as his attention focused on her. She always appreciated that – he saw her.
No, I’m fine – really. We’ll talk later. She had said, insisting that he finish his business. She knew he was busy and didn’t want to bother him.
I don’t bother him.
It was as if another voice had said those words in her head, but it was only her own sudden consciousness of a simple fact. The words echoed through her as loudly as a crack of thunder. I don’t bother him. Why was that thought so profound? Did she bother everyone else?
Maybe it was having everyone in one room, but as she looked around and saw the faces of everyone she knew she realized all of them always had some expectation of her. Even if they didn’t say it outright, she could always feel it, and always felt like she was falling short of it. She should be a better wife. Why didn’t she have kids? Did she have to read so many books or talk about strange things like fairy tales and moving to the coast?
Vicar Price was the only person in her life that she never felt that with. When she talked with him, their relationship was so natural that she had done something remarkable without even realizing it until now. She had trusted him with herself. When she laughed it was genuine. When she had a thought, she shared it without any second-guessing. When she listened it was with eager interest in what he was saying, and when she talked she felt the assurance and the thrill of knowing he was listening with the same delight.
When they were together, they were open books.
She looked down at her pack and saw the book he had given to her.
In that moment, she felt herself suddenly fall into an ocean of self-awareness: she felt very deeply for Vicar Price. She wasn’t sure if she had been in denial all this time or had been grossly ignorant, but it was simply and overwhelmingly the truth, and had been for a very long time.
She loved him.
Admitting that to herself sparked a light in her, a hope. Even though her mind began to spin and she felt despair scratching at her heart, there was something pure and true about what she felt. She knew they could never be together, and she was unsure if he even felt the same way. Still, the thought of him, of having him in her life and the joy of knowing she could be in his, was as real and essential to her as her own beating heart. It was her heart – a piece of her that was alive and right – even if nothing else was.
Suddenly she saw a door open behind the pulpit, and Vicar Price walked out. He seemed flustered, and scanned the audience. His eyes stopped when they met hers. She held them.
If the words could never be spoken, their eyes confessed freely. It was only a few moments, but it was long enough to say everything. He smiled at her, his eyes growing bright. She beamed back at him.
“What’s this meeting about?” someone shouted from the back.
He turned and looked at the rest of the congregation, suddenly recollecting himself. He raised his voice to address the town.
“The honorable Matthew Hopkins – commissioned by Parliament – has been sent to us to do the Lord’s work. He has not shared yet what his exact business is here, but I know we will all give him our full attention, respect and welcome,” Vicar Price said, then turned to the door behind him. “Mr. Hopkins – you are free to address the congregation.”