She woke with the sun the next morning. In November, that was a little late for her typical routine. She had forgotten to set an alarm, so she skipped the walking the dog thing, skipped the breakfast thing, and opted for a quick green smoothie to drink while she dressed. She decided not to walk to work. It wasn’t really far, and Harper knew she should be walking it everyday to ensure at least a bit of exercise; but when running late, well . . . it was not the time to do an heroic speed walk.
The morning zipped by pretty quickly with cleaning and sorting chores and a few customers. Not many sales, but at least she was getting some foot traffic that bode well for the upcoming holiday gift giving cycle. She hadn’t had time in the morning to make a lunch so she munched a protein bar she found in her desk with black coffee. No almond creamer. Mark that on the list. Harper figured if she had to have coffee without creamer and sweetener on a regular basis, she could easily add it to the long list of contraband food items she had already given up.
By 4:30, she was really starting to feel hungry, given her lean fare for the day. The door jingled and in walked Blaise. Right on schedule. At least his. She had kind of wished he would have forgotten about the promised Friday deadline because she still had no clue whether she wanted this new adventure he was proposing.
“Afternoon, Harper.” He smiled his big toothy smile.
“Hello. Nice to see you.” Harper winced inside. She hoped not on outside. She hated being dishonest, and she had no idea whether it was nice to see him or not. She suspected that seeing a friend, if indeed he was becoming that, was a positive. But she didn’t know him well enough not to suspect his intentions or his evangelism plans. The idea that some type of evangelism might include her and not just the room made her reticent to let down her guard totally.
“I come bearing gifts.” The rich smells coming from the sack in his hands made her mouth water. She had no idea what it was, but it definitely was food. “I mentioned we could go out to eat, but I decided to bring something in, if that’s okay?”
“Is that so I can’t make an excuse about an errand I have to go on?” He shrugged playfully. She found herself smiling and loosening up just a bit. “You do know I’m vegan, so if there is dead cow in there, I am leaving for bean burritos.”
He smiled. “I did know that. I think you mentioned it. So, I bought some entrées from the little vegan café down the boulevard. I have no idea what is in them or if they are good; but just in case, I also brought a couple of orders of In-N-Out fries.” He seemed very pleased with himself—not in a cocky way, but in the same way a five-year-old beams when he shows you his polished rock. It was endearing in a scary kind of way.
“All right, sold. I’m starving! You can talk, and I will eat.” Harper pulled a couple of foldable chairs up to one of her small work tables. Eating in the stuffed armchairs by the coffee machine was out of the question since if they did not impede digestion, they would certainly make it difficult to get up after a meal. “I haven’t had a chance to check out that café; they only opened last month. Any clues as to the ingredients?”
“Sorry, I didn’t read the menu that closely. I just asked for the house special, which I think is called after the owner’s name, which might be Indian or Pakistani. They both have roasted vegies in them, and I think some kind of faux meat made out of tofu or jackfruit. The seasonings on this one are Mediterranean, and this wrap is Mexican. Preference?”
“How about we cut them in half and sample each?” I’ll get a knife.
Harper and Blaise ate in relative silence for the first few minutes. The food tasted so good Harper forgot that her overall plan was to be wary and distant. It was hard to feel distant with Blaise because he always seemed so warm . . . and dare she say, genuine.
“So how long have you been a vegan?” Blaise asked between bites of vegan wrap and fries.
“It’s been almost ten years, I think. I was kind of a wannabe vegan for a couple of years. But then, one day I just decided that I was done with eating meat, and I haven’t looked back. I must admit I have transgressed occasionally with some dairy and eggs, usually in the form of a cream cheese frosted cupcake or decadent chocolate. But for the most part, I stick pretty rigidly to plant-based eating 99% of the time. It’s really not hard anymore.”
“At the monastery, the diet was vegetarian. We made some pretty outstanding goat cheeses, so it would have been hard not to eat . . .”
“At the what? Did you say monastery?” Harper tried not to talk with her mouth full, but that revelation was jaw dropping—bite of jackfruit wrap or not.
“Oh, you know, I don’t think I mentioned that when we spoke last. Ava had queried me about my background, so I must have told her.”
“No, I think I would have remembered that fact! Wow, so what’s the story? Are we talking monastery with tonsures and robes and chants and the like?”
Blaise laughed out loud. “I know this must sound really out there to you. Tonsures were more an Eastern Orthodox and Catholic thing. Our monastery was more into ponytails.” And at that he swung his generous one around. “The monastery I belonged to was—or is—a Protestant one.”
“I had no idea there was such a thing.”
“Yes, it was fashioned after Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s seminary that he formed to teach pastor’s during World War II. Are you familiar with Bonhoeffer?”
“Absolutely. I have read his biography and a couple of his books. I have great admiration for him. Where is this monastery?”
“The one to which I belonged was a small one in Switzerland. We did in fact wear robes, especially on cold winter days.” He smiled. “And we did have some chanting going on. The commitment of the brothers was to learn and grow in faith, to be industrious with our hands—hence, the goat cheese—and to engage in evangelism and missionary work. Some Protestant monasteries allowed for monks to marry, but ours was a small community of brothers committed to the monastery’s overall goals, as well as to celibacy. That is more than you probably wanted to know, right?”
Harper took a deep breath. “I guess I am just shocked.”
“That I would have been a monk?” He smiled with a sly grin.
“No, it’s just that I had no idea there were Protestant monasteries. Well . . . yeah, you being a monk, too. You don’t exactly look the monk type, but given I have not known many monks, I am probably ignorant as to what a “type” would look like.”
Any discussion about the back room got tabled as Harper peppered Blaise with details about his history. They ate and laughed, not even noticing that the sun had set and the streetlights had turned on.