"Okay, I'll just take your office for an example. When I came in, I noticed three things. One, you have a black Sharpie streak on your otherwise pristine walls. It looks smeared, so I assume it's from one of the two boys in your family picture on the desk, and that your wife scrubbed at the mark unsuccessfully. Two, your office chair is slightly tilted, which makes me think you favor one side, probably due to back trouble that I'm guessing is from lifting heavy weights. And three, that yellow sticky note showing halfway out from under your keyboard has the capital letters TH, lowercase inm, the dollar symbol, and the number 23. Your password, I assume. And you should probably change it because I will remember that sequence until I'm seventy-five and senile."
His mouth is literally hanging open. I get that a lot. What they don't see is the downside.
"Unfortunately, there's an equal and opposite defect," I continue. "I miss all the obvious things a normal person would register. I'll see a small scratch or blemish on the leg of a piece of furniture but miss the fact that the same piece is painted baby blue. My brain trades off what others see for what they don't notice. A gift and a curse. Especially in situations of excessive noise or visual chaos. But don't worry," I quickly add. "I've learned to compensate, so I'll still be able to get the job done no problem."
He slaps his palms on his thighs and stands. "Well, January...I mean, Jan, I have a feeling this is going to be a very interesting next couple of months."
I stand, too, only now noticing that he's short. Maybe two inches taller than me, and I'm just five-foot-five and change. "Yes, sir, I'm looking forward to it."
"Oh, and you can stop with the sir. People call me Thomas or PT—you know, short for Pastor Thomas." He glances up at the ceiling, a half eye roll, but there's affection in his voice when he says, "The kids from youth group came up with the nickname and it seemed to stick."
I lift my purse on my shoulder as he guides me through the door he left open during our interview. His assistant smiles from behind her desk, as if she, too, is sincerely thrilled to have me as part of the team. Her lipstick is pink, two shades darker than Pepto, and I'm certain it's Clinique's sheer lip color and primer in bubble gum. I shouldn't know this, but I do. I think about it so much that I miss her handing me employment paperwork to fill out.
"Sorry." I take the stack, along with a blue pen from a plastic holder.
"No problem." She winks as if Doreen has already shared my secret about both my backward mind and nonexistent faith. "I'll be here if you need anything at all."
I wonder what she notices when she looks at me. Probably not my lip color, which is likely gone since I bit my lip at least sixteen times on the way over here. No, she likely sees what the rest of the world sees: defeated blue eyes, dark brown hair I only bothered to wash because it had been three days and Doreen said my time for wallowing had passed, and a heart that feels too empty to ever imagine it being full again.
I sit in an open chair and look down at the blank sheet that finalizes my employment. It's an uncomfortable feeling when nothing matches the stereotype expected, and so far the people in this building haven't fit with any of the churchy clichés I was certain to find.
A premonition sinks in my chest that Pastor Thomas is exactly right in his assessment: the next several months are going to be interesting indeed.
The paperwork didn't take much time to complete, which leaves Pastor Thomas's assistant, Margie, with the grand task of showing me around the church, a job she does at breakneck speed.
I nod at each of her explanations, even though I don't understand half of what she's talking about. I recognize some terms and phrases from conversations with Doreen but quickly deduce that working inside the church organization is going to take a lot of bluffing. Christians don't speak in normal terms, choosing instead to say odd things like The Holy Spirit led us to do this or that, or referencing children's events with acronyms I'm just supposed to understand. VBC, or was it VSB? Oh well, I'll figure it out later.
"Will I be involved in these programs?" I ask.
"Oh no. Ralph doesn't work with kids. You'll be assisting him with Bible study, small groups, outreach events, discipleship, volunteer-led ministries, and pretty much anything that doesn't have a home."
"Ralph? I thought I was working for Eric."
"Sorry. I forget you don't go to our church. Eric Phillips is the executive pastor. He supervises all the staff, including Ralph and now you. I'm going to take you to his office next."
Which means we're skipping the worship building tour. A relief. One can only feign so much knowledge, and apart from the small chapel where we said goodbye to my pawpaw, I've never been inside a real church.