It was a sweltering Sunday in Annville, Texas, and the sticky morning heat inside the chapel was suffocating. I sat in the third row next to my Momma, fanning myself with a program and doing my damnedest to stay awake during the service. Unlike her, I wasn’t exactly a believer, and as the droplets formed around my brow and rolled down the sides of my face, Momma’s voice resounded in my head.
“You’re sweating like a sinner in church,” she’d scold me in the old days, frequently, at the slightest hint of my distress. Today, I was certainly perspiring through my scratchy Sunday best dress, but at least a quick peek around the room revealed I wasn’t the only sweating scamp in the room.
I was trying to keep an open mind—believe me, I was—but the All Saints Congregational church seemed to me to be a meeting place for the town’s biggest outcasts and degenerates. Maybe a quarter of the seats were filled, and try as I might to concentrate, my thoughts drifted, and I couldn’t stop my mind from inventing stories of the folks sitting in the pews around me.
There was the churchgoer who had clearly had the shit beaten out of him, his busted arm held up in a cast and sling. I imagined him losing a bar fight, badly, his pride all but trampled. I’d had to force myself not to stare at another who seemed to have an enormous anus in place of a mouth. No matter where my thoughts went, they couldn’t come up with a suitable explanation for this poor kid with the ass face. And then there was the man unselfconsciously stretched out across an entire back pew, dozing. At least he had the right idea, getting in his penance without having to engage whatsoever.
I tried to pass the time by studying the architecture, but I could only stare at the big plain cross at the head of the church for so long, and the harsh sunlight washed out the stained glass windows so I couldn’t even make out the patterns. I had to remove my glasses again and again to wipe the lenses of condensation from the growing humidity in the room, and eventually I simply gave up. The coughing bellow of the pipe organ only served to lull me closer to sleep.
As I sat through a bizarre and toneless punk interpretation of “Amazing Grace,“ I wondered exactly what I’d gotten myself into coming here. It took only minutes of Sunday service for me to regret ever agreeing to let Momma introduce me to the new preacher, who—she’d reminded me again and again—was single.
After all, I’d only been unattached for two weeks and was in no rush to jump back into the fray. That relationship ended when my boyfriend of 9 years broke things off without warning. I never saw it coming, but all I could think about as the bullshit spewed from his mouth were the things I thought I should be feeling. I wasn’t heartbroken or upset. I didn’t even feel numb. All I felt was an overwhelming sense of freedom.
It was a signal for change, and after more than a decade in Los Angeles, I had to give in to the fact that Texas was calling out to me. It was time to come home. So I made my arrangements, packed up my things and was out of there in the course of a week.
But even this reinvigorating fresh start couldn’t mask that particular stink of Annville. I knew better than to dig too deeply so close to my roots. All that was down there was shit and offal. Instead, the cozy digs I found about 20 miles outside the town limits suited me fine. Even the brown-yellow haze that seemed to perpetually coat the place lifted once you’d gotten far away enough from it. I was glad to miss the introduction of the new town mascot, Pedro the Prairie Dog, on the night I’d arrived. Regardless of what Momma told me, I was sure it was a shitshow.
Preacher Custer wasn’t quite what I’d been expecting, either. He was handsome enough, striking quite the figure and emulating a saintly cowboy in his black suit, steel tips and clerical collar, but his little speech threw me for a loop and didn’t exactly inspire my confidence. I glanced at Momma as the preacher spoke and saw that the stuff about starting fights and hurting the community didn’t register at all. But when he got to speaking the word of god, she held her hand to her heart like he’d uttered a revelation. I wasn’t impressed.
When the service ended early, without a sermon, the relieved murmur from the small crowd was impossible to miss. As most of the audience filed out to barbecue and drink Sunday morning beers, Momma leaned over and insisted it was time for me and Jesse Custer to meet. I knew it was a bad idea, but eager to get the whole thing over with, I agreed to step up to the pulpit with her to say hello. We rose from the uncomfortable wooden benches.
That’s when we were approached by the organist, who was quite happy to see Momma. She seemed straight-laced and dedicated, but to me it also appeared that she might be hanging on to her composure by a thread. I thought they were going to hug, but a sense of prim propriety forbade it.
"Emily, this is my daughter, Ada,” Momma introduced me, and we exchanged pleasantries before Emily saw the program in my hand.
“I’m so embarrassed,” she said to me as she put one hand to her face. “Things were kind of last-minute, so the service didn’t exactly follow along. You must have been very confused.“
"Oh, I figured things out,” I said. “No big thing.” While I’d read every word on the flier to kill time, multiple times, I hadn’t been paying enough attention to notice the discrepancies.
“Ada here is back in Texas after a long time away,” Momma chimed in. “And I knew she had to meet Preacher Custer.” It was then that the very little color in Emily’s face drained completely. Momma didn’t notice—or didn’t care. “I think they’d make a lovely couple, don’t you?”
She did her best to maintain a smile, but I think her eye was starting to twitch.
“Y'know, I gotta run,” Emily blurted, suddenly seeking like she had a dozen places to be. “Errands, kids. You know. You two take care.” And like that, she was gone.
Despite the weirdness, it a welcome diversion. Momma had to grab my arm and drag me along to get me to finally step up to the preacher. We stood there before him for a moment before I loudly cleared my throat and he finally glanced up from his podium to see us.
“Mae, welcome back,” he said to her, his eyes fixated back on the podium, which I realized had nothing on it.
“Preacher Custer, I’d like to introduce you to my daughter, Ada,” she replied as she gave me a tiny shove, pushing me nearer to him. Again, there was a pause as he finally raised his eyes long enough to truly see us both.
“Welcome,” he said, extending his hand. I firmly gave it a shake, and even through his twinkling, pleasant smile and the way he looked me directly in the eye, I knew he was seeing right through me. “Pleasure to meet you, Ada.”
“Pleasure’s all mine,” I responded.
Momma continued the small talk from there, but it didn’t seem Jesse was absorbing much from the conversation. To be fair, neither was I, so I eventually excused myself, seeking some quiet.
I ran my fingers over the corners of the pews on my right as I walked to the back of the church, contemplating this massive waste of time. But then, just before the very last row, I halted. The sleeping man lay there along the bench, arms folded on his chest. His big hazel eyes stared right up at me.
“Hello there,” he said. His voice was deep but musical, and his words ended in a toothy grin. His unmistakably Irish accent caught me off guard. It certainly wasn’t the type of thing you ever heard in Annville.
"Hi,” I said back. I was a bit wary, but at least I wasn’t bored. He sat up then, pulling down at the corners of his denim vest, and then his playful expression sharpened a bit as he gazed up at me, to the front of the chapel and back again, like he was solving some kind of mental equation.
“I can put in a good word for you with the Padre, y'know,” he said, pointing his thumb in the general direction of the preacher. I thought he was joking at first, but his sincerity was apparent. “He’s my best mate. Listens to me.”
Sizing him up, I never would have pegged him as a friend of Custer’s. But he was either the world’s greatest liar or he was telling the truth, and despite everything, I believed him. Something about him pulled the honesty out of me, too.
“I do appreciate the offer,” I said, shaking my head slightly, “but I’m not really interested.”
“Not your type, eh?” He raised an arched eyebrow emphatically as he studied me.
“Not exactly,” I admitted. “Not that I’m looking. I just got broken up with, so for now I’m gonna be taking things slow.”
“Well, you look great,” he said, looking down and wiping his palms on his jeans.
“I… What?” I stammered, and when a smile cracked again across his lips, I began thinking he liked getting a rise out of me.
“For someone who just had a split, you look great,” he expanded. “There’s a look about you. A glow. He was probably a bit of a bastard, am I right? You’re better off, is what I’m sayin’.”
I don’t know if it was the heat, but I could feel a warm blush in my cheeks.
“Thanks,” is all I managed to say before I heard Momma call behind me to say it was time to go.
The man stood now for the first time, towering above me by more than a head, as he extended a tattoo-marked hand.
“The name’s Cassidy,” he said.
“Ada.” I shook it back, and as he smiled softly at me, I somehow got the feeling this wouldn’t be the last I’d see of him.
Momma blabbed about Jesse Custer for the full 10 or so minutes it took me to drive her home, and honestly I was relieved she never once asked me what I thought about him. I imagined I’d feel a bit more focused once things got quiet, but even once I’d dropped her off, I found myself having difficulty concentrating my mind.
The whole drive home was a blur, and when I got back to my apartment, I couldn’t muster the willpower to even look at my Sunday to-do list. Moving boxes remained full and laundry sat in hampers. All I could summon the strength to do was watch old movies on TV and order Chinese takeout.
When bedtime came, sleep wouldn’t. I’d utilized all my usual insomnia tricks—blackout curtains, melatonin, lavender oil, a white noise machine and a little light meditation—but I still found myself lying awake, bouncing from thought to thought about my life and the decisions that led me here, yet unable to fully dig down and comprehend any of it.
Hours must have passed, and just when I finally thought my mind was finally settling down, the doorbell rang, harsh and piercing, just like the one I’d had back in Los Angeles. It jolted me out of bed. Now my mind was fuzzier than ever, and just making it to the front door left me feeling confused, like my apartment was a winding maze. I finally reached the entrance after what seemed like forever, and then unlocked the main door and opened it wide to see who had rung at such an hour.
I stared through the screen door. Standing in the dark, illuminated by wall lamps, was Cassidy, and somehow just seeing him brought things back into focus. Noticing the look of concern on his face, I quickly undid the next lock and opened the door for him.
“Cassidy… What are you doing here?”
“I had to see you.” His voice was resolute, and my first instinct was to comfort him.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, stepping closer to put my hand on his arm.
And then he looked straight into me with his sad, probing eyes, cupped his strong hands on both sides of my face, and kissed me hard on the mouth. For a second I did nothing, giving into him entirely, before I tugged on his vest to lead him inside, shutting the doors behind him.
Before I knew it, we were up against the wall, his arms at my waist as he tenderly kissed down my neck, nipping at my ear and sending ripples of pleasure down every inch of me. I felt his hard cock press against my belly through the denim of his jeans and I knew there wasn’t anything I wanted more than him, right here and now.
He was kissing my neck again as I fumbled with the button and zipper of his jeans, finally undoing them to find that his big cock was barely being held back by his boxer briefs. I pulled them down, and as his full length unfurled, I became ravenous for it.
Soon he was lifting me by the thighs, pinning me against the wall, and when he slid inside of me I was wetter than I’d ever been. God he was big, filling me up with powerful strokes that made me quiver and call out. He hungrily kissed my lips and then my neck and then my lips again, pulling me toward him with every thrust of his hips to go deeper and deeper, bringing me closer to ecstasy each time. I leaned into him, arms clutched around his neck, and pulsed with his every move. And then fuck, I felt it coming, slowly building inside of me in waves. I told him not to stop, that I was going to cum, and he obliged.
I moaned his name as I climaxed, and he held me as close as ever, never stopping, as sunlight began to trickle through the breaks in the blinds. Then the rays reached us, and our skin caught with bright, dancing flames. His gaze was so piercing now, even as the blaze left us blistered and risen away to ash.
He gave me one final rough kiss and I bolted awoke in my bed, soaked in sweat, mind racing, and horny as all get out. I’d never had a dream so vivid and emotional and erotic. I pulled the curtain aside to peek out, and was slightly relieved to find it was still the dead of night. I took a quick shower to clean up and try to get my thoughts straight, and I suppose I did, because as I lay in bed for the next three hours trying to get back to sleep, the only thought I could conjure for more than half a second was of Cassidy and when I could see him again.