4. El Cerrito Place

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I been hangin' round this place, I been lookin' through your space - Kenny Chesney

9:03 a.m. Sunday, October 3, 2021

Not wanting to draw attention to himself, Harry slips into Sunday morning church service after it's begun. What he didn't know before (and vows never to forget now) is that the hinges on the door into the sanctuary squeak. Rather than sneaking in silently, Harry finds the entire town turned to him as Reverend Browne (according to the sign out front) halts his invocation.

With so many eyes upon him, Harry cringes, wanting to back out of the space and crawl under the bed at All Booked Up. He's dressed in a floral Gucci shirt and a pair of black jeans as the dress code for church wasn't clear to him. Last week, there had been some in high fashion, clearly their finest clothes, while others were wearing cowboy boots that had been shined for the occasion along with their nicest blue jeans. Will he ever get used to small town life in Nowhere?

Scanning the crowd, he looks for a familiar friendly face, skimming right over Tonya who is waving her handkerchief frantically at him. His eyes alight on Patrick who is -- doggone it -- in the second row on the far right side. Swallowing, Harry takes a step in the direction of his young friend. As his foot moves, the service continues as Reverend Browne clears his throat and begins his greeting for a second time. Slowly attention returns to the front of the church with only a few curious onlookers still following Harry's movement with their eyes.

Quickly and quietly tiptoeing down the side, Harry is relieved to arrive at his destination. Patrick has risen and is waiting outside the aisle for Harry to slide into the pew. Releasing a breath of air from his lungs as his bum hits the hard wood, he pauses before glancing around.

On his right sits Patrick, of course. To his left is sweet Paige, her eyes wide as she smiles at him, a thumb in her mouth and her panda bear held tightly to her chest. Leaning towards her, Harry whispers, "Hi, Paige," not expecting an answer.

While waving with the fingers of the hand firmly attached to her mouth, Paige speaks around her thumb, "Hi, Hawwy."

He's astonished. Eyebrows raised, he glances around to see if anyone else heard her. Surely it's a miracle. Michele, sat on the other side of young Paige, smiles politely at his surprise. The congregation is standing, many clearing their throats and opening their hymnals. Harry can't move. Hadn't they heard? Shouldn't there be some sort of celebration? Paige had spoken!

Patrick nudges him, offering the left part of his hymnal for Harry to hold. As he rises, Michele leans over and whispers in his ear, "She's been talking nonstop for days about her panda and her friend Harry. No one can get her to stop."

Harry's grin covers his entire face, and he's quite aware that the dimple is out in full force. Grasping the book he's sharing with Patrick, he adds his baritone to the rest, giving praise that the little girl has found her own voice once more.

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10:04 a.m. Sunday, October 3, 2021

He's joined their family pew like it's no big deal. Michele tries to remember the last time someone had sat with the Moore family on a Sunday morning at church. The most recent event she can recall is when Tamara joined the family prior to her marriage to Richie. Twenty years ago. But maybe that's a faulty memory. After all, Michele had only been 8 at the time. Surely there had been someone since then?

She probes her feelings about Harry, trying to ascertain his motives. Maybe he simply wants to feel like he's part of a family? Perhaps he wants to hang out with the kids? From what has been shared with her, Harry seems to have connected with each of them first. It blows her mind a bit that he'd been in town for so long without running into Michele. But he's here now. Best to make him feel welcome.

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