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Some people say Tim Royce became a preacher for the wrong reasons. He was never particularly devout but always understood why faith is important to some. So, on at least one level it worked. He certainly didn’t follow his father’s footsteps, or else he’d be sharing a cell in San Quentin. Unlike your day-to-day safecracker, dear Dad invested his booty wisely, leaving Tim a trust income, keeping him in good wine and Gucci loafers.

“S-save h-heathens in darkest Africa?” Tim would exclaim, “I’m not that n-n-noble. Besides, where in T-togo could I hear T-T-T-Tosca”?

No, Tim’s reasons for becoming a minister were purely pragmatic. He stammered terribly when talking about himself, but always did fine talking about others, even in public. Ask Tim his name and the answer will take a while, and probably eight syllables. But ask him about theology and he delivers as smoothly as Brian Williams—oops, Lester Holt.

Such a selective handicap is not that unusual. Scores of stammerers have done just fine reading dialogue in a drama and then gone on to become screen or stage stars. That’s Tim’s story, except that the readings are Scripture not screenplays, and he’s certainly not a star, nor is he paid like one.

Tim’s early immersion in Scripture was more or less inevitable, given that the only qualified speech therapist within fifty miles of home was Sister Helen Damnayshun, a Born-Again. Sister Damn would ask, “How are you?” and have to wait five tortuous minutes for a fathomable answer.

“If a p-pretty girl asked, I’d—well, f-forget it,” Tim confessed. After a while, he just gave up. That’s why he isn’t married. “It’s c-certainly not for l-lack of t-t-trying.”

In Sister Damn’s sessions, Tim’s Scripture readings came out letter-perfect. So did his theological discourse and spiritual conversations—provided they involved other people, not himself.

And after ordination, all of Pastor Tim’s utterings came out just as well—the sermons, homilies and ultimately his appeals for emergency offerings to fix the boiler at First Church for Faithful Free Thinkers. The church fathers called him “charismatic,” the altar ladies simply swooned.

So the ministry turned out to be a natural career path for Tim Royce. Thanks to his daddy’s good investments, no poverty vow was needed. Tim’s tithes topped most parishioners’ incomes, in fact. Truth be told, he could fund that failing boiler himself, but that’s not how the game is played.

“I always saved the b-boiler plea for the c-c-coldest January S-S-Sunday,” Tim confessed. “A-and I’d t-turn down the t-t-t-thermostat for added ef-f-fect. God works in mysterious ways. So does Pastor Tim.”

Indeed. Reverend Timothy Royce approached his alcoholism counseling in equally mysterious ways. But then, Merle was a mystery of a special sort, holding too-frequent family reunions with Old Grand Dad. Yet behind his red nose, rheumy eyes and old hippie war stories, there lurked a very crafty brain.

Their counselling sessions began to go squirrely about two years ago when Merle bet Tim an oyster roast that he could stay sober for an entire month. Not much else was working, so Tim went along. The bet was on. Thirty dry days later, Merle got his oyster feast, Pastor Tim the tab.

Merle then raised the stakes—two months dry—and won again. Tim, never good with heights, had to zip-line down Bakersfield Gulch.

“See how I’m expanding your horizons, Padre?”

Tim grumbled something about who was getting the counselling here anyway.

For three months sober, Merle got to use Tim’s Beemer Z3 for a week. It came back none the worse for wear except for the Taco Bell wrapper stuffed under the back seat.

Merle’s ante for six months on the wagon was a luxurious mud bath for Elva and himself, followed by a full body spa treatment over in Calistoga.

“Raise you one,” Tim offered. “I’ll throw in a Brazilian wax job.”

Over leftovers that evening, Merle asked Elva what in the world a “Brazilian” was. Next day he politely declined Tim’s kind offer.

Over the course of those “counselling” sessions, Merle’s radar did pick up on Tim’s stammering problem and his longing for a committed relationship. He also got wind of the trust fund that kept the pastor in his Guccis. But he never let on.

However, those insights did play into Merle’s next, and biggest, sobriety wager. “I am willing to bet that I can stay dry an entire year,” he declared with great fanfare, “but be warned, the stakes will be high.”

An alarm fired in the back of Tim’s brain. “Exactly what stakes?”

“If I make it for the year, you go to a speed dating party, meet some new women.”

Speed dating for a stammerer? Could there possibly be a greater hell? Tim thought. Take this cup from me! Better yet, pass it to Merle!

Then Pastor Tim considered the upside. One more soul turned sober counted as one more win for any man of the cloth. Besides, the soul named Merle will probably never make it anyway.

So the bet was on.

Except for one champagne toast at his mother’s fourth wedding reception, Merle was still dry at about month six. Were Tim a praying man, he’d have asked God whether it was a sin to wish that Merle would fail. There are white lies. Why not white sins?

Instead, Tim began to prepare. His first step was to reach out to one parishioner who’d met her husband at a speed dating party and to pick her brain without letting on.

“My friend Charlie over in Salinas is thinking about venturing to a speed dating party,” he lied. “Any advice?”

Her answers brought knowledge but no joy. You get three minutes at each table, the bell rings, you move to the next one. Exchange no contact information. If someone interests you, give the director their table number, your number, and your phone number at the end of the evening. If he finds a match, he calls both parties about two days later.

Tim also Googled Speed Dating for strategies:

Look tall, mused Tim, barely five foot five. Uh-oh.

In a cold sweat, Tim called Brette of Brette’s Booterie, his longstanding footwear source and good friend.

“Build lifts into Guccis?” Brette was appalled. “Father, that is tantamount to apostaty!”

“The word is ‘apostasy,’” Tim corrected, “and I need to look taller, period. Let’s do it.” Only four weeks to go. Tim remembered another Google hint: ask the woman about herself. This I can do.

That still left the elephant in the room: how to talk about himself without coming across as a dope. After some thought, Tim loaded his iPad with a short list of questions a woman would likely ask at first meeting and composed witty but honest responses for each one.

The home page read, ”Help! Help! I’m a stammerer trapped at a speed dating party! Long story. What could be worse?” The next page read, ”Glad you asked. FAQs about Tim Royce.”” It did not say Reverend Tim Royce.

Obviously this was a man grasping at straws.

Two weeks to go, Merle was still dry, Tim was sweating clear through his clerical garb. Merle’s AA sponsor Caleb swore the man was clean. Elva could find no flasks in the usual places. Merle even got through St. Patrick’s Day sober, but only by hiding in bed all day.

Came the fateful night. Tim registered and got a lapel tag labeled R. That evening, it was the women’s turn to wear numbers and remain seated while the men wore letters and moved to the next table when the bell rang. All very organized.

Ding-ding, chat, drag out the iPad, watch the woman’s eyes glaze over, ding-ding. AWKWARD! The women at tables two and four bailed for the powder room in mid-session, only to burst forth at the next bell like trained boxers.

Both times while sitting alone and embarrassed, Tim noticed a very attractive woman in some distress at table eight. A stunner, but with quite a few nervous twitches and occasional outbursts. The guys’ body language said it all: This is going nowhere. She carried a tablet and did a lot of keyboarding. He looked away and checked his cellphone.

Two rounds later, it was Tim’s turn at table eight. She looked even better up close: tawny hair, nice smile, hazel eyes that could brighten a broom closet. But again, those twitches.

As he took his seat, Tim smiled, calmly touched a finger his lips, the universal shhh sign, and simply passed her his iPad, home page visible.

”Truth or dare. I’m Tim Royce. I can speak aloud about everything but myself. That’s when I get tongue tied. Ask me anything, though. My trusty iPad has all the answers.”

She scanned it, and then as she studied it, her tics subsided. After a long pause, she pulled out her tablet, quickly texted something, and passed it over. ”Got you beat. Tourettes, one of the few lucky women to have it. Good opening line, though, sir. Never saw that one coming!”

He spoke carefully. “That’s Chanel you’re wearing, isn’t it?”

His voice startled her. Then she realized that Tim was talking about her, not himself.

“Yes, it is. Name’s Claire. Maybe we’re in the same boat.” After a beat, she asked, “What brings you here?”

He handed her his iPad. “P-punch Control V and you’ll f-find out.”

Sure enough, up came the short story about losing the bet with Merle. She couldn’t help but chuckle.

“How about you?” Tim asked.

She typed quickly, professionally. ”Rprtr doing stry on spd dtng. Here on bznss. Lik you, do OK tlkng bout others, gt hung up whn it gts prsnl bout me.”

“Why the flare-ups with those other guys at your table tonight?”

”Wouldn’t blieve I was a rprtr doing m job. Tried t hit on me anywy. Macho crap.”

“Gotcha. I really wish men like that would grow up,” he replied softly.

Although Tim didn’t realize it then, that utterance was the nearest thing to a personal expression he’d voiced aloud since almost forever. And it felt right.

“Can I use the Merle story in my article?” Professional tone of voice.

Deflated, “Eh, sure.” I thought we had something more going on. Apparently not. He quickly typed, ”I’d really like to—” but the bell rang before he finished. He showed it to her but couldn’t be sure that any of it registered before he had to move on.

The athletic looking woman at Tim’s next session dutifully went along with his iPad routine, but he didn’t remember a thing.

When the evening was over, Tim left his contact information and wrote in table 8. “Only one?” asked the director. Tim didn’t answer.

He filled Merle in the next day, gambling debt paid, and then buried himself in parish business. He thought about Claire more than he’d expected, especially her lively eyes. To let himself down gently, Tim the pastor told Tim the bachelor that she was too hot to be a preacher’s wife anyway.

Only then did it dawn on him what he’d said. “I wish men like that would grow up.” He’d actually verbalized something bordering on the personal to her. And it’d come out OK!

Two days later, a voicemail from the speed-dating director left Claire’s phone number, which Tim dialed right away.

“Would you and your lovely tablet care to join me and my chatty iPad for coffee anytime soon?” he ventured.

She replied immediately. “We can call it a double date. I’d… like that.”

When Tim saw Claire enter the coffee shop the next day, he had to laugh at himself. He didn’t need the lifts after all.



Doc Ardrey enjoys writing more today than in his previous sixty-five years dating back to sixth grade. His career credits total more than 15,000 published articles in scientific, technical, and business publications—plus Esquire, NY Times and The Congressional Record. “That work was to sell stuff; this is for enjoyable reads.” He gravitates toward edgy short stories with quirky characters, topical poems, and occasional Letters to the Editor to straighten out the world. With his amazing wife Marylou, he lives in Summerville, SC, just half an hour from Charleston, with all its charms.


WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Speed Dating With P-P-P-Pastor T-T-T-Tim”

Good fiction is about interesting characters, and author Doc Ardrey certainly brings us that plus a good story twist. In the end, the lives of three characters are changed. Successfully showing three character arcs in a short story of 2000 words makes for impressive writing.