|Primary Characters:||Kevin, Fiona|
|Warning:||violence, adult themes|
|Description:||Kevin is having a hard time adapting to life in celibacy. When he runs into a girl in the park, he realizes he can’t go on working as a priest. His sister has some news as well. Of course, nothing is ever easy.|
It was the first really sunny day that spring. Winter had lasted so long this year, the New Yorkers had been about to give up on spring entirely. Father Kevin McCallister was on his way home to see his family. Normally, he didn’t get any days off, but this Monday was an unusually slow one, and he’d been given permission to spend it as he pleased. He loved his work, but something about the light of the day made him feel so young and hopeful, he just had to get out.
Not really in a hurry, he took time to enjoy the sights and sounds and fragrances in Central Park. There was a special early spring smell that he’d nearly forgotten about. When he was a boy, he’d been intimately acquainted with all the various characteristics of each season. Which days were good for hockey, which ones for football or soccer practice, basket ball, baseball or simply exploring. Not that he always managed to get to Central Park. His own street had more often than not been where he’d played and enjoyed his afternoons and weekends.
He caught sight of a young mother, supporting her three-year-old as the child eagerly drank in the changed world around her, eyes wide, mouth slightly open. Kevin was reminded of his youngest sister’s dilemma and felt a momentary stab of pain. There was always something that burst the bubble.
Some days it would be a teenage boy reminding him of Mikey. Another, like today, it would be some more current problem. But he reminded himself that the Lord never sent you more sorrows than you could bear. Though at times, especially like the one when his youngest brother had been found dead, he really wondered.
A homeless man was playing with his dog, throwing a frisbee, that must have been left behind by some careless visitor. The dog caught it in his mouth, returned it to his human and the game continued. Kevin couldn’t help smiling. There was beauty and love everywhere. He just had to force himself to focus on what was good, not the darkness.
Two young girls, perhaps students, were sitting contentedly on a bench, eyes closed, their faces exposed to the sun, which for the first time since the fall was giving off some warmth. They were still wearing jackets and one of them had a scarf loosely hanging from her shoulders, but they’d unzipped their jackets, exposing minimal tops, which made Kevin blush and look away.
The homeless man noticed and grinned at him conspiratorially. His reaction only made Kevin feel worse. There was one particular aspect of his priesthood that he still hadn’t been able to fully embrace. Obedience could at times be onerous, but it was the celibacy that caused him the most trouble.
Deep in thought now, he continued slowly on his way, not watching where he was going. Near the pond, he bumped into a young woman, who was walking slowly in the opposite direction, a book under her right arm and a medium sized dog at her side. She too, appeared deep in thought and the collision was hard enough to make her drop her book onto the grass. Fortunately, they weren’t close enough to the pond for the book to vanish into the water.
Kevin bent down to retrieve the book and was about to hand it over when his eyes met those of the young woman. Her eyes were a startling greyish blue and for a second, he was at a loss for words. She regarded him in silence, apparently as much absorbed in his eyes.
Realizing she must be wondering at his clumsiness, Kevin pulled himself together. Glancing away from the girl’s face, his eyes fell on the cover of the book. The book seemed to be about the second world war. Perhaps she was a student, just like the other girls, but she seemed older. Now that he looked closer, she appeared to be about his own age. A post-graduate student?
“Oh. Don’t worry about it. I wasn’t watching where I was going either.”
“Are you a student?”
“I wish. No, I’m just crazy about books. I work in a book store. Today’s my day off.”
“Oh. And you’re interested in history?”
“Yes. You too?”
“As a matter of fact, I was. In school. It’s been a while since I had time to read much. I always used to love the movies about the war.”
“Me too. My grandfather died in France. D-day.”
“Oh. My grandfather was in the war too. But he was in the Pacific. And he got back alive. Well, more or less. He was never the same afterwards.”
“That’s the downside of any war. The casualties. It’s not the war itself that I find interesting really. It’s – the era, I guess. Not the politics either. I like to imagine how I would have lived if I’d been born in a different time.”
“Oh. Any favorite era?”
They were interrupted by the dog’s impatient barking. Her human was standing around doing nothing for far too long.
She reached down and patted the dog’s head, which caused a flurry of tail wagging.
Making eye contact with her new acquaintance, the girl began to walk again. Not having made any conscious decision, Kevin turned and followed.
“Favorite era – I have many, actually, but they all have drawbacks. Nothing’s ever perfect.”
“Would you like things to be?”
“I’m not sure. Better, but perhaps not perfect. If there’s no room for improvement, we’d all stagnate and die. Anyway, ancient times are one favorite era. The Enlightenment. And 20 century history. Modern history, I suppose. There’s so much to do there, researchwise.”
“If you could go back to university, is that what you’d like to do?”
She smiled and blushed.
“No. I’m no good at research. Maybe I’ll write a book one day. What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Any favorite era?”
“Oh. Medieval times, maybe. And the romantic movement.”
“Ah. A romantic. Well, I’m romantic too, in a way, but I prefer more rational times anyway. Maybe it’s like they say – opposites attract. And history isn’t my only love. I’m a great fiction reader.”
“It’s been ages since I had time to read anything.”
She nodded as if she could relate to what he was saying.
“Work, work, work. I mean, sure we need to work, but sometimes, I like to just take time to exist. Go for walks. Look at the scenery. Or talk to a friend. Don’t you?”
“Yes. I love going for walks when I have time.”
“When I can afford to, I’m moving. To some place in the country. Nowhere special, just where it’s pretty and peaceful. Then maybe I’ll have time to write that book.”
“What would it be about, your book?”
“Oh, I have such a hard time deciding. I want to do so much. Fantasy, mysteries, historic novels, children’s books, romances. I don’t know. Maybe I don’t even have a talent for it.”
“You’ll never know until you try.”
“You’re right. So what else do you like to do?”
“Well, I love to listen to music. Classical music, rock music.”
“Me too. But I’m hopeless at listening to the ‘right’ sort of music. I just don’t get it sometimes. Like those Russians – modern classical music, you know what I mean. I like Bach and Mozart. Stuff I can understand.”
“So do I. But you’re right. People are always telling you listen to this, don’t listen to that. Why? No one likes to sound stupid, but if that sort of music doesn’t make you happy, why listen to it?”
“Exactly. I don’t really care what people think about me. They’ve given up on me years ago. All my friends from school are married and have two kids and have barbecues on their front lawns during the weekend. Poor mom’s given up hope by now. Are you married?”
Kevin’s conscience struck him. He really ought to go, before he became more attracted to this charming young woman. In a way, he was married. To god. But part of him really didn’t want to admit that. Not just yet. He knew what would happen. The young woman would stop smiling. She’d feel embarrassed and withdraw. Whenever that happened, he felt so lonely. His family only went so far and his own friends from school were married or had moved away.
She must have noticed his hesitation. It was beginning already. She looked at him shyly, then smiled again.
“There I go again. Me and my big mouth. Just tell me to shut up if I’m being too nosy.”
“Not at all. It’s perfectly alright. Your dog is very nice. I wish I had one.”
“Why don’t you get one? The shelters are full of fantastic dogs who need a second chance.”
Good question. A priest wasn’t supposed to own anything, but a dog could hardly be described as a possession and though he wasn’t allowed to have a family of his own, again, a dog couldn’t be compared to a child at least not in the eyes of the church. She was right. He could get a dog. If his work took him away from his room, he could always ask his mother or one of his brothers or sisters to dogsit.
“You’re right again. I should look into that.”
“I know I’d be really lonely without her. My family lives miles away from here and I don’t visit them often enough. Do you have family around here?”
“Yes. They live in Hell’s Kitchen.”
“Oh. That’s not too far away from my place.”
She told him where she lived. It really wasn’t too far away at all. But by now, he was able to read all the warning signs. It was time he withdrew before he hurt her feelings or risked breaking his vows. Unlike those two girls who had only caused him to have what he would have to refer to as ‘impure thoughts’ during confession, this woman made him feel something far more dangerous. He wasn’t merely attracted to her, he found himself drawn to her in other ways as well.
“I really should get going. I’m on my way to see my mother.”
“Right. I should call my mom tonight. Thanks for reminding me. It was great meeting you. I hope we’ll run into each other again.”
The words had left his mouth before he had time to stop them. Today, he’d really been thoughtless. This couldn’t go on. He ought to tell her why he couldn’t see her again, right away. If not – he’d only end up hurting her feelings or – risk everything he’d based his life on. But he was startled to realize that he couldn’t bring himself to tell her the truth. Not just yet. He had to see her again.
“Maybe you’d like to drop by the bookstore some time? If you find yourself a little less busy, you might want to pick up a book. Or if you’d just like to look around, that’s fine too.”
“I’d love to.”
She told him the address of the bookstore and he wrote it down, knowing he was making a big mistake.
“Oh. I just remembered. I never told you my name.”
“And I didn’t tell you mine. It’s Kevin.”
“Pleased to meet you, Louisa. And Corinna. Unusual name. Is it something historic?”
“Yes. Corinna, not Corina in the song, was an early Greek poet.”
“Oh. Very interesting.”
“Great meeting you too, Kevin. I’m looking forward to seeing you again. And Corinna does too, I can tell. She likes you. I always know when she likes someone.”
“I like her too. She’s a very pretty dog and very patient.”
“If you like, I could give you a folder about a shelter I donate to when i can.”
“That would be great. Thanks.”
Eagerly, Kevin seized the excuses she offered for seeing her again. Buying a book. Adopting a dog. All very respectable, above board reasons to continue this madness. But he knew he was only deceiving himself. Deep down, all he wanted was to see her again. And that had nothing to do with books or shelters.
After saying goodbye, he guiltily hurried towards the subway station, without looking back.
Later over dinner, his mother glanced anxiously at him, wondering at his distracted air.
“Kevin – is anything wrong?”
“Mm. What? No. Just a bit tired, I guess.”
“It’s the light returning. When you were little you always got tired in early spring.”
“You and Fiona always had a cold, about this time of year, usually one after the other.”
“Really? I don’t remember.”
“Make sure you don’t stop wearing your overcoat until it’s much warmer.”
Liam, who had dropped by in time for dessert, shot his older brother an amused smile. Even now, after Kevin had turned thirty, mom was still fussing over him as if he was six years old.
But mom was right, something did seem to be up with Kevin. Despite a sibling rivalry that hadn’t declined over the years, Liam felt a touch of concern. Kevin had always been the older brother, and as such, more of a symbol than a real person.
Suddenly, Liam became aware of his brother as an individual. If something was wrong, should he offer some advice? No. Kevin wasn’t just his brother anymore. How could he presume to give advice to Father McCallister?
Still feeling guilty, Kevin made a point of carrying out his duties up to and beyond what was expected of him and carefully avoided going back to the park that week. When Sunday’s mass came around, he managed to keep himself busy so he wouldn’t have time to go to confession.
He knew that was only a temporay solution. Sooner or later, one of the other priests would notice and wonder at his uncharacteristic behavior, and his confessor was bound to ask what was wrong. But even though he might have confessed and done penance for the impure thoughts the young students had given rise to, he couldn’t bring himself to mention Louisa. Not yet.
Next Monday, he again found himself with time on his hands and he told himself he would go to the shelter and take a look. If he found a dog he felt a connection with, he would consider adopting it.
The atmosphere in there overwhelmed him. The realization that each one of these dogs might be put down, if he didn’t adopt them, made him quickly abandon the idea of looking the dogs over. Instead, he made a donation and fled out into the street. The weather had changed, and today, there were tiny snowflakes tumbling through the air. It was chilly again, and Kevin recalled his mother’s warning.
Without even realizing it, he’d been heading towards the bookstore where Louisa was working. He didn’t know if she’d be working today, but he couldn’t resist going inside anyway. Glancing around, he failed to spot her anywhere, and discouraged and relieved all at once, he began to scan the fiction shelves.
Feeling nervous and unfocused, Kevin failed to find anything that caught his interest and he chose to abandon his search. Instead, he walked over to the non-fiction shelves and under History he began browsing again.
There was one fascinating book about medieval Ireland which he picked up and began to study closer.
A voice from behind him almost caused him to drop the book.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. That looks fascinating.”
Blushing slightly as he recognized the voice, Kevin turned and faced Louisa. If he’d hoped that his week of hard work would have caused him to feel differently about her, he was disappointed. If anything, the time spent apart had made his interest in her grow. Not even in high school, when he’d dated briefly, had he felt this way about a woman.
“Hello again. I was beginning to think you wouldn’t show up.”
“Oh. Well, I was busy.”
“I see. I’ve been busy too. Fortunately, I have a friend who can babysit Corinna. A couple of my co-workers have been sick so I’ve been covering their shifts as well.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Listen, I’m going to take my break right now and there’s a cafe next door. If you’d like to -”
“I’d love to.”
What was wrong with him? He wasn’t supposed to say that. But he wasn’t supposed to be here either and he was, so he might as well go along for the time being. In any case, he’d tried and tried to forget her and it was impossible.
Over the years since his ordainment he’d been attracted to a few women, but never seriously. This, was completely new. He didn’t know how it felt to be in love, but he had a bad suspicion he was going to find out. Or rather that he’d already begun to learn the symptoms.
If Louisa noticed any of his hesitation, she didn’t give any sign of it. She merely nodded for him to follow and he did.
Soon they were sitting facing each other across a small table at the back of the cafe. Incredibly, Louisa ordered some lemon drink, with ice. Noticing his amazed gaze, Louisa laughed.
He loved the sound of her laughter. It was so beautiful, but it wasn’t that which attracted him the most. She seemed to be so genuninely happy and content with her life. There wasn’t a trace of affectation or bitterness in her laughter, and nothing cynical either. Kevin hadn’t known there were women like her in the city, perhaps anywhere.
“I just don’t like hot drinks. Well, when I was little, I used to like hot chocolate. With cream. But I got fat, so I quit.”
He found it hard to believe that she’d been fat, though now that she mentioned it, he realized that unlike most New Yorkers, like his sister, who chose to be fashionably anorectic, Louisa was quite – normal. Not plump, but full figured and of average build. Kevin tried not to pay attention to women’s figures, but he had a vague idea that he hadn’t seen many women of normal weight since his childhood. Most were either emaciated or fat.
“You don’t have to pick the same. What do you like? Coffee? Tea?”
“I don’t know. Tea, maybe.”
Again, she laughed, and though he felt she was laughing at his remark, she wasn’t having fun at his expense.
“You don’t know what you like? How about hot chocolate?”
“No. Tea will be fine.”
“I didn’t drag you away from your book? Were you going to buy it?”
“I hadn’t made up my mind yet.”
“I went to the shelter.”
“You did? Did you find any dog you like?”
“Actually, it was so intimidating, so I have to admit that I didn’t look at the dogs. I made a donation though.”
“Good for you. I didn’t get Corinna from a shelter myself, so I shouldn’t be so pushy. Sorry. You could call them and ask what kind of dogs they have right now or you could describe the sort of dog you’d like and they’ll tell you if they have something like that.”
“That sounds like a good idea.”
Their conversation flowed easily, but after about fifteen minutes, Louisa got up, glancing guiltily at her watch.
“I’m sorry. My break is over. I should get back.”
This was an excellent opportunity to disentangle himself before he committed any more sins, but somehow he ended up following her back to the store.
He found himself back at the history book shelf and before he left, he bought the book about medieval Ireland. To silence his guilty conscience, he told himself that the book dealt with religion. The rule about no possessions couldn’t be said to apply to books.
But no matter what rationalisations he made up for himself, he knew that he was inviting disaster if he kept this up. He simply couldn’t get Louisa out of his mind, and worse still, at night, he found it hard to sleep, as he tossed and turned, remembering the way Louisa looked when she reached up to get a book from a high shelf, when she got up from the cafe chair, and how she walked –
This had gone on for long enough. It was time he made the sensible decision and gave up all contact with Louisa once and for all. Even then, he’d be forced to do penance, but that seemed like a small sacrifice compared to the prospect of never seeing Louisa again.
The week passed by slowly, but eventually, it was Monday again. This time, Kevin had duties that ran on into the late afternoon. In a way, it was a relief, though his colleagues seemed to be eyeing him speculatively. Was he acting out of character? Did he have an odd look on his face? Or maybe – did he appear to be deep in thought? He had tried to banish all thoughts of Louisa, but found it difficult, not to say impossible.
By the time he was done with his work, he set out once again for the bookstore, not knowing if Louisa would be there. Why was he doing this when he knew he couldn’t? He couldn’t answer that question and he managed to put the thoughts of work and his calling out of his mind for the time being.
The bookstore was filled with people, and it seemed the employees were busier than ever. He couldn’t see Louisa though and in a way that was just as well. It would seem odd if he just left right away, so this time he walked over to the books about dog care. They seemed more interesting than he’d expected, and on an impulse, he bought the one he liked the most. It might make useful reading if he went ahead with getting a dog.
“That’s a good one.”
Again, he blushed, even more than the last time and he knew Louisa had to be wondering about him. But he felt too happy to see her to worry about that.
“It seemed to be.”
“So you’re still considering the dog?”
“Yes. I suppose at times, I get lonely.”
He shouldn’t feel lonely. Even if he wasn’t working or spending time with his family, he always had god. But god didn’t make for very cheerful company, not for a young man of his age.
“I know I’d be lost without Corinna. Are you done for today?”
“I was just going out for a meal. Have you eaten?”
“Would you like to tag along? I know this nice Italian place where you can get a really delicious lasagna. Don’t tell me, it’s fattening, I know. But they do fantastic salads too and -”
This was definitely the worst possible idea, but Kevin couldn’t say no. It seemed like a far too pleasant thing to do, to turn it down.
And they had dinner together. It was early for him and he was more or less expected at home tonight, but he would worry about that later. Talking with Louisa was far more fun than conversations with his father and his mother was constantly worrying about his health or gushing over the fact that they had a priest in the family. At times, it felt intimidating. He was his parents’ son, Liam’s big brother and so on. The fact that he was also Father McCallister still felt a bit overwhelming.
“This was nice. I hope we can do it again some time.”
“I’d like that.”
How could he say that? It wasn’t fair to her or to himself, letting her believe that they had a future together, or even a potential relationship. With every word, every gesture, he felt himself get drawn further and further into a web of deceit. He knew it was only a matter of time before disaster struck, one way or another. But again, he found himself getting carried away by the novelty of being close to a young woman who wasn’t his sister or a member of the parish.
“You know, if it isn’t too late for you, we could go up to my place and talk or listen to some music or something.”
“No, it isn’t too late. That would be nice.”
This meant trouble, he knew that. All the warning signals went off inside his mind, but he conveniently ignored them. He’d return to his parents and spend the night there. Hopefully, they wouldn’t ask him where he’d been or what he’d been up to. Not that he would do anything really serious. Naturally, he’d be sensible enough not to, but still, the visit in itself would be hard enough to explain to his mother, let alone his confessor.
Again, it was far too easy to get caught up in a conversation that flowed so easily and freely, he had some trouble remembering every single word afterwards. It seemed he and Louisa were truly kindred spirits. Even their taste in music was the same more or less. She had a few surprises for him, but he found that he enjoyed listening to those too.
Towards the end of the evening, he found himself irresistibly drawn closer and it was only at the last possible moment, he was able to tear himself away, before their lips touched. He imagined he caught a look of surprise or even hurt in her eyes, but he looked away, his face feeling as if it was burning up.
She seemed to sense his mood and turned off the CD player and began to clear away the wine glasses they’d drunk from an hour or so ago.
“I didn’t realize how late it is. You’ve been very patient with me, you poor thing. Yes, I’m talking to you, girl. We’ll go outside soon, I promise.”
It was very late for her to be walking around outside, or at least Kevin thought so.
“I should get going. If you like, I could come along when you’re walking Corinna. Make sure you get back safely.”
“That’s very kind of you. This neighborhood is usually quiet enough and I know most of my neighbors, but you can never be too sure.”
So they took the dog outside and waited for her to do her business, then he walked Louisa back to her door. Would she expect a goodnight kiss? He felt extremely inexperienced. Liam would know exactly what to do, but he wasn’t Liam and he shouldn’t even be thinking about kissing a girl.
“You know, if you like, I could call the shelter and ask about a suitable dog for you. One of my friends works there and it wouldn’t be any trouble.”
“That would be very kind of you.”
“Ok. Do you have a pen or something?”
“So I can give you my number. Or would you like to give me yours?”
“I’ll take a look.”
A thorough search of his pockets turned up a pencil, which wasn’t very sharp, but seemed to be usable. He wrote down her number on the receipt from the bookstore.
He was afraid she’d wonder why he didn’t offer her his number, but she didn’t seem to find his behavior out of the ordinary. Perhaps she thought he didn’t have a phone at his place. But that didn’t make sense. Everyone had a number where they could be reached. He couldn’t shake the feeling that she might be wondering at his strange behavior but was too tactful to give any indication of it.
“Are you sure you shouldn’t get a cab? It’s pretty late for you too.”
“No. I’ll be fine. My parents don’t live too far away from here. I like walking at night. I had a really nice time tonight. Your place is really something.”
“Thanks. Call me. Take care.”
He wanted so badly to reach out and hold her, if not kiss her, but he was treading on dangerous ground as it was. In a way, it was as if he was balancing on the edge of an abyss.
By the time he got back, his parents had already gone to bed. Fortunately, he had his own key. Just like every night since he’d met Louisa, he found it hard to drift off to sleep. His mind was in turmoil.
Until now, he’d never seriously doubted his vocation. It had been his dream, just like it had been his parents’. Now he didn’t know what he wanted anymore. Or rather, he was afraid what he wanted was something he couldn’t live with, or that his parents wouldn’t be able to live with it.
He had an unpleasant feeling that his confessor and his other colleagues suspected something. Uneasily, he glanced around surreptitiously, fearing he’d catch an inquiring glance directed at him. But so far, no one had confronted him.
Later in the week, he made up an excuse to call Louisa and somehow, that first visit turned into one more, then another.
Each time he was dangerously close to pulling her into his arms, and kissing her, he managed to withdraw, but by now, he was sure he’d seen her glancing thoughtfully at him.
Then one night, he couldn’t resist any longer. There was something about her eyes, and her smile that made it impossible to hold back. One second, he was staring at her glossy red lips, the next – he was lost.
He hadn’t kissed a girl since high school and he had a feeling he wasn’t very good, but the kiss dragged on and suddenly, he realized with alarm, that his body was responding to her proximity. Terrified of going too far, he let go of her and sprang to his feet.
“Kevin – what’s wrong?”
“I – I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be here. Forgive me. I have to go.”
And he turned and ran, like a coward, leaving Louisa staring helplessly after him.
His first impulse had been to leave things be. After the night’s disaster, he would have made enough of a fool of himself for Louisa not to want to see him again. But he couldn’t do that to her. He owed her more than that. Somehow, he had to find the words to explain to her.
But even before he talked to her, he needed to discuss his dilemma with someone at work. His confessor was the person to approach. Feeling like a school boy come to confess some prank, he waited outside the door.
“I haven’t seen you at confession for quite a while.”
“I know. Father – there’s something I need to discuss with you.”
“Go ahead. That’s why I’m here.”
“I – I think I’ve fallen in love.”
“I see. Seriously?”
“I think so.”
“Oh. Well, then you have a problem.”
“What you need to do is make up your mind which is more important. Do you wish to leave the priesthood and pursue a relationship of a more worldly kind?”
“Yes. I know.”
“Have you given it some thought?”
“Did you come to a decision?”
“I would like to marry her, but how can I?”
“If you leave the priesthood, of course you can. There’s nothing more natural. If that’s what you want.”
“My family – it’s been my mother’s and my grandmother’s dream for as long as I can remember, that one member of the family become a priest. And that’s what I thought I wanted too. Now -”
“Kevin – my son – you can’t make your decision based on what your mother and grandmother might want. I’m sure your mother would be happy for you, if you get married.”
“Yes. I just don’t want to disappoint them.”
“What does this lady think about your situation?”
“You haven’t told her?”
“Then she might not even wish to marry you?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“Not that that is the main issue here. If you feel you can’t continue as a priest, then you must take the consequences and leave. On the other hand -”
“I know. I think the time has come for me to leave. When I started out, I don’t think I had any idea of what it would be like, living alone for the rest of my life. And I might have changed since I entered the seminary or even since my ordainment.”
“That’s perfectly possible. In a way, it might be better if we didn’t accept young men. It might be easier to make an informed decision about how to spend your life, when you have more experience.”
“Perhaps you should take a few weeks off and consider this matter carefully.”
Kevin hesitated. If he took some time off, he’d be forced to tell his family. It would make everything more serious. On the other hand, there was no way he could continue now. Having seriously considered a life as a layman, he now couldn’t face continuing his work, no matter how rewarding he had once found it.
Dejectedly, he packed up his things and braced himself for the upcoming confrontation with his family.
He couldn’t bear to disappoint his mother and though his father didn’t go on about his pride over his son’s achievement, he suspected the old man too, would be shocked and dismayed over his choice. As for his brother and sisters – He just didn’t know. Fiona would most likely take the change philosophically and there was no reason to believe Liam would feel differently. And Amanda – well, it was always hard to guess how she would react.
He wanted to catch them all together, but he didn’t know when the next occasion when everyone would be invited to dinner would be, so he decided to tell his parents first. In the end, though, both Liam and surprisingly, Fiona showed up.
His mother seemed to guess right away, that there was something unusual about his visit. She subjected him to a long hard, anxious stare which made Kevin dread making the announcement even more. How could he disappoint her so? His being a priest meant so much to her and he was afraid that his change of heart would be a bad shock to her.
“Kevin, dear – are you sure you’re not coming down with something? You look a bit pale. Are you getting enough sleep?”
The question caught him off guard and he felt his face heat up again. No. He wasn’t getting enough sleep and although lately, he’d been worrying more about making a decision than anything else, in the past couple of weeks, the cause had been something far more embarrassing.
“Darling? Is anything wrong?”
“No, mom, nothing’s wrong. But there’s something I need to tell you. All of you. At least you and dad. And since Liam and Fiona are here, I guess I’ll tell them too.”
“What’s the matter, darling?”
“Nothing’s the matter. And I’m not sick either.”
He wasn’t sure he had fully convinced her, but at least she stopped asking questions.
His father was reading the paper in the living room, so he decided to join him there. He could hear Liam and Fiona talking in the dining room, but their usual verbal sparring match didn’t cause any immediate alarm.
Seeing his son walk in, Simon McCallister looked up and nodded a friendly greeting. If he’d noticed anything unusual about his son’s appearance, he didn’t comment.
Suddenly, Kevin wanted to tell his father right away and ask his advice about the whole thing, including the best way to break the news to his mother, but somehow, he felt embarrassed. How could he explain that he’d suddenly after the age of thirty decided that he too wanted to be a married man?
Now he could hear his name being called and he looked up to see Liam standing in the doorway.
“Hey, Kevin. Want to come and settle an argument between me and Fiona?”
Not particularly, Kevin wanted to say, but he walked over anyway. He didn’t get to see his sister Fiona all that often and he found that he was most anxious to learn her opinion about his change of lifestyle.
“Hello, little brother. Still up to your old tricks?”
Liam’s face clouded over. The last thing he wanted was to be made to feel young and insignificant. Kevin usually didn’t judge him for his activities that didn’t always take place on the right side of the law. Bobby did that far more often. What Kevin did, without most likely even meaning to, was make Liam feel immature. He didn’t want that. They were both grown up and when it came to the ways of the world, he sure knew a lot more than Kevin did.
“You’re always siding with Fiona. She’s completely impossible. Like now. She -”
“I don’t want to know, Liam. When will you two learn not to get into pointless fights? She’s your sister. Why don’t you treat her with a little respect?”
“The way she’s treating me?”
Kevin sighed. Some things never changed.
“Liam – please. I have something to tell all of you. Couldn’t you leave that stuff alone, just for today?”
His interest peaked, Liam stared attentively at his older brother’s face. Of course. He’d been right about Kevin. Something was up. What on earth could it be?
Kevin walked into the dining room to include Fiona in the dicussion. To his alarm, his sister looked pale and drawn. Was something troubling her? He’d have to find a couple of moments alone with her and ask her. Perhaps there wouldn’t be much he could do to help, but he’d like to try. In many ways, Fiona was the sibling he felt the strongest bond with.
“I’ll tell you later. Fiona – is anything wrong?”
“No. Nothing’s wrong. I’m just a bit tired. What about you?”
She sensed that something was troubling Kevin and she immediately felt an urge to find out what it was. At times, he could be so helpless when it came to his own life. Always there for everyone else. Never resting, never giving himself a break. Even a priest had to stop and consider his own well being once in a while, surely?
“Kev’s got something to tell us. Something big apparently. A big announcement. What is it, bro? Are you leaving the church and joining the Hare Krishna?”
“Liam. Get off Kev’s case. That’s not funny.”
“I thought it was. Hey, I know. You’re getting a sex change operation and becoming a nun.”
“Liam – go and help mom in the kitchen. Or talk to dad. Leave Kevin alone.”
“Kev doesn’t mind, do you?”
“No. Of course not. I’ll tell all of you in a minute.”
Fortunately, his mother appeared in the doorway, carrying a pot. Fiona and Kevin ran to help her set the table, despite her protests. And Liam went to get his father. A few minutes later, they were all seated at the table.
No one said anything for a while. It was as if the effort of making up his mind to tell his family had exhausted Kevin emotionally. Now he had to brace himself for the ordeal. He really didn’t want to cause his mother any pain.
Realizing that his family were staring at him expectantly, Kevin nervously cleared his throat.
“Mom, dad – all of you – This might come as a shock to some of you, but it’s something I’ve given a great deal of thought and I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t go on like this. I’m leaving the church.”
His mother looked every bit as stunned as he’d feared. Kevin felt a hard knot forming at the pit of his stomach. He didn’t even dare to look at his father or his brother and sister.
“I’ve met a girl and -”
“A girl? Way to go, Kev.”
Liam shot him an amused smile. His big brother the eunuch. Oops. That wasn’t a very kind way of putting it.
Fiona’s eyes studied Kevin’s face thoughtfully but she didn’t say anything.
In the sudden silence after Liam’s outburst, Kevin desperately thought of something else to say, something that would make things clear.
“I’ve fallen in love and I want to get married.”
Still no one said anything. He was rapidly forming the opinion that he’d shocked his family too badly for them to take it all in.
“Mom, dad, please say something. I didn’t mean for this to happen. It just did. The last thing I wanted was to disappoint you.”
At long last, his father cleared his throat and fixed him with an intent gaze.
“Son, don’t worry about disappointing us. You’re the one who has to decide how you want to live your life. I must say that this was very sudden. You’ve never said anything about not being happy with your life.”
“No. I was happy. But I met Louisa and -”
“Louisa Marshall. She works in a bookstore over on -”
“How did you meet?”
He was relieved to hear his mother say something.
“We ran into each other in the park and -”
“Wow. You just ran into her, like in a movie and wham – love at first sight?”
Despite Liam’s tone, Kevin was glad someone was talking to him. The silence had begun to unnerve him badly.
“Yes, Liam. That was exactly the way it happened. I realized that we had a lot in common and – I couldn’t forget her, no matter how hard I tried.”
“You’ve thought this over carefully?”
“Yes, mom, I’ve agonized over it for weeks. I’m really sorry to disappoint you -”
“No, no. Don’t worry about that. All I want is for you to be happy. That’s all I want for any of my children.”
“Fiona – you still haven’t said anything. What do you think?”
As he’d always known, he valued his sister’s opinion far more than any other, except that of his mother.
“I agree with mom. If you’re not happy, how can we be? You have to think about yourself once in a while. I know that being a priest is an important vocation and everything, but your life is more important.”
He wanted to protest. Nothing was more important than serving god. But part of him knew she was right. Feeling the way he did, he wouldn’t make a very good servant.
His initial tension was giving way to a certain anti-climax. No one had been critical. Everyone had been supportive. It made him feel that he’d been worrying needlessly. This was his family. Of course they would care more about him than any worldly or other-worldly glory.
“When can we meet this girl?”
Kevin felt like a fool. He would have to talk to her. After their last meeting, could he even be sure she’d want to see him?
“I’m not sure. I’ll need to talk to her again.”
Sensing his son’s unease, Simon decided to put a stop to any further questioning.
“Of course. That’s only natural. Now I think we should give Kevin some peace.”
They finished dinner, chatting about neutral topics. Afterwards, Liam cornered his brother.
“Come on, tell me more about this girl. What does she look like? How old is she?”
“Same old Liam.”
“Don’t patronise me. Need I remind you that I know more about women than you do?”
Kevin felt stung. Of course his little brother did. His few dates in high school didn’t count for much. He barely got to first base and he knew Liam must have far more extensive experience than he did.
Sensing his brother’s hurt feelings, Liam smiled at him, to rob his comment of offense.
“Sorry, bro. Go on. I want to know all about her.”
“She’s a redhead. Quite tall. She’s about my age and -”
“Sounds like quite a babe.”
“You talk like the kids I counsel and coach down at the -”
“Of course. That’s the way people talk, bro. I mean, ordinary mortals. Go on.”
“That’s about it. She’s fantastic. I’ve never met a girl like her.”
“Like you’ve met a whole bunch of women.”
“I know. But -”
“You’ve really got it bad. Well, if there’s anything you need to know, just ask. Did dad have the ‘talk’ with you?”
Kevin blushed again. As far as he could recall, the ‘talk’ merely involved warnings about the consequences about going too far and making some girl pregnant. Exactly how you did that, had never been very clear. In catechism, they also warned you about the dangers of ‘self abuse’.
None of it would come in very handy on his wedding night, Kevin sensed. Always assuming there would be one. He felt he was wasting time. It had been three days since his last visit at Louisa’s place and he was worried she wouldn’t even want to hear him out when he finally offered an explanation of his behavior.
“You know he did. Well, maybe I’ll need to take you up on your offer.”
No need to act too proudly in front of Liam. Though the very thought of receiving advice of a sexual nature from his younger brother was mortifying, he knew that he’d need advice from someone.
“Don’t listen to Liam, Kev. He’s only showing off. Dad wants to talk to you, Liam.”
Liam shot Fiona a slightly resentful look, then decided against arguing and left the room. If dad really wanted to see him, he’d better go.
“I couldn’t help overhearing the last couple of things you were talking about. Kevin – it might be just as embarrassing to ask your sister for advice but if you want to – I could try. Just a couple of hints. General stuff. You know. Nothing really intimate.”
Again, he blushed violently, but he was touched by Fiona’s offer. When they were teenagers, she’d rather have died than even mention anything remotely connected with sex.
“I appreciate the offer. I’ll think about it.”
Secretly, he was hoping he wouldn’t need to ask anyone’s advice. Something told him Louisa wouldn’t be quite as inexperienced as he was.
“I’ll need someplace to stay. Do you think mom and dad -”
“Yes, I’m sure they’d love to have you here, but if you don’t mind, I have another suggestion. Why don’t you come over to my place instead? There’s plenty of room and I’d love the company.”
Kevin stared at his sister in amazement. Though he made a point of trying to ignore the way Fiona lived her life, which wasn’t in accordance with the church’s laws to put it mildly, he knew that she was seeing men. If she wanted him to stay with her, she must have changed her mind about that, or maybe – he didn’t want to even imagine it – she preferred to visit her lover at his place. But the last thing he’d heard, Fiona had been seeing her married boss. Surely she wouldn’t be able to go to his residence?
“I’d love to. But are you sure you want me there? Wouldn’t I – be in your way?”
She laughed softly, reminding him slightly of Louisa.
“I know what you’re trying to say. Will you cramp my style when it comes to dating and so on? No. I’ve decided to take a temporary time out from dating and – all that. So you see, you’re more than welcome.”
“In that case – thanks. Great.”
“I’m sure that will be more fun for you than going back to being a kid again here.”
“Yes, that would take a bit of getting used to.”
But in a way, he’d never gotten into the habit of living alone like most adults did. Until now, he’d more or less lived in a dorm all his life.
Explaining to his parents that he was going to stay with his sister went better than he’d expected. This led him to suspect they didn’t approve of her lifestyle any more than he had.
Now, when he’d experienced love at first hand, he was beginning to realize that it might not be the easiest thing in the world, making the right decision. Or even knowing what was the right decision.
The same night, he and Fiona made the arrangements. He didn’t have much, so it was easy enough to make himself comfortable in the guest room.
After a night during which he slept even less than usual, he got up early, intent on seeing Louisa right away.
He called her apartment, but no one picked up, so he assumed she’d be on her way to work, if not already there. Unable to wait any longer, he left only minutes after Fiona. If he’d been less focused on his own problems, he might have noticed something a little odd about Fiona, but as it was, he barely had time to wish her a good day.
Outside the bookstore, he stopped and looked inside. It was a warm day, but not very sunny, but that too, was something he hardly paid attention to. It was no use standing around, so he pushed through the door, hoping to find Louisa.
As on the other two occasions he’d gone to meet her there, he couldn’t see her anywhere. Feeling foolish, he again decided to brave the fiction pages. But his mind wasn’t on reading, and he began to pace restlessly back and forth between the shelves, hoping he wouldn’t draw attention to himself.
After about ten minutes, Louisa emerged from a door behind the counter, looking a bit tired and pale. For the first time since they’d met, her eyes didn’t light up at the sight of him.
He was too happy to see her to worry much about that.
“Kevin. I didn’t expect to see you again.”
“I’m sorry. Do you think we could talk?”
“Not now. You’ll have to wait until my lunch break.”
Not until now did the lack of warmth in her voice filter through to him. He broke off uncertainly and though he didn’t know it, he made a face that touched the other employee’s heart. She smiled indulgently and turned to Louisa.
“Hey. Why don’t you take your friend into the back room? He could help you unpack. I won’t tell mr Payne.”
Louisa hesitated, then nodded.
“Thanks, Arlene. I owe you one.”
“That’s ok. Go on.”
Her face seemed to hint that she was looking forward to hearing all about it later.
“Alright. Come on, Kevin. If you don’t mind?”
“Of course not. I’d love to help you out.”
She took him into the back room. Four large crates filled with books lined the walls. Apparently, Louisa’s job this morning was to unpack them all.
“I’m sorry, Kevin. I didn’t mean to give you this cold welcome. It’s just that I’m really tired. I have a bad cold and I’ve been working double shifts again.”
“That’s alright. Louisa – I know you’ve been wondering about me -”
She smiled, looking more like her old self.
“Well, I have to admit that I’ve been a little puzzled. No offense, but you’re not – gay?”
“No. That’s not it at all. I’m sorry. This is something I should have told you right away. It was just hard to -”
“Wait. You’re not married after all?”
“No. I didn’t lie to you. I just – I guess I just chickened out before telling you the whole truth.”
“Ok. So what it is? I can’t even begin to guess.”
“Louisa – I’m a priest.”
“A catholic priest?”
She sat down on the partially empty crate to her left.
“That’s kind of like being married, isn’t it? To god or whatever.”
“Yes, but -”
“I don’t get it. Why would you do this to me? Is this your idea of a joke? What made you decide to tell me at all?”
“Louisa – I love you. I never meant to hurt you. The past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to find a solution and -”
“You love me? Isn’t this a kind of funny way of showing it? I feel like such a fool.”
“Yes, but I’ve -”
She wasn’t listening any longer. To Kevin’s alarm, her eyes filled with tears and she began to sob. He’d never seen her cry before. Awkwardly, he put a hand on her shoulder. She pulled away, refusing to face him.
“Louisa – please. I’ve -”
“Kevin, please go. I can’t talk to you right now.”
No reply. He didn’t know what else to do, so after watching her sob quietly for a moment, he turned to go.
This wasn’t how he had expected his talk with Louise would go. He still hadn’t been able to take it in. Somehow, he’d kept hoping for a miracle. By the time he was back at Fiona’s place, the reality of his situation had begun to sink in. Louisa didn’t want anything more to do with him.
He’d already made the decision to leave the church. There was no way he could go back to his old life. It was too late. After having thought things through, he knew wasn’t cut out for a life of celibacy. Even now, he was feeling lonely and apart from the rest of the world. It was bitter to realize that all his fine ideals and intentions didn’t amount to much. His faith hadn’t been enough. He was a failure, not only as a boyfriend but as a priest and a son.
When Fiona walked in about eight thirty in the evening, no lights were on, and she assumed her brother wouldn’t be in. When she turned on the lights, her heart almost skipped a beat as she caught sight of the figure sitting bolt upright in her armchair in the corner. In the dark. What was wrong with Kevin?
“Kevin? What are you playing at? Meditating? Praying?”
She was beginning to fear that guilt had caused him to lose his mind.
“I – I was praying earlier. Now I was just thinking.”
Momentarily forgetting her own situation, Fiona knelt by her brother and put her hand on his arm.
“Louisa – I talked to her and she -”
“She doesn’t want to marry you?”
“I don’t think she wants to see me again. Ever.”
“Because I didn’t tell her until now. She must have felt cheated and -”
“Yes, I can imagine. It might have been better if you’d told her right away, but I know it must have been hard.”
“I – couldn’t face what I was doing. I knew it was wrong, but I just couldn’t bring myself to stop seeing her. This was – I never thought it could happen to me.”
“It can. It can happen to anyone.”
The bitterness in her voice made him look up. He’d been selfish. Clearly something was bothering his sister and he’d been too absorbed in his own problems to pay attention.
“Fiona – What’s wrong?”
“Never mind me. I’m really sorry, Kevin. But you can’t be sure Louisa won’t reconsider. Why don’t you wait a while and call her or drop by?”
“So what do you do now?”
“I’ll still leave the church. My mind is made up. I’m just not cut out for it. Maybe I made my decision too soon. Some of my colleagues are older men. Widowers. They seem to be adapting very well – to everything.”
“Yes. I don’t see how any guy your age could choose to give up sex. Sorry, Kevin. I shouldn’t have mentioned that.”
“Why not? I’m not Father McCalllister anymore. Just your big brother.”
“That’s why I was apologizing. We never talked about that sort of thing before.”
“I probably would have talked to Liam about it. And now – if things had turned out differently, I should have had to be grateful for his advice.”
“Don’t be silly. It’s not brain surgery, Kev. Anyone can do it. Fifteen-year olds can do it.”
“I know. We’ve had teenage mothers coming to the church – Or did you speak from personal experience?”
He blushed again. What was the matter with him? He hadn’t blushed like this since he was in school.
“Do you really want to know?”
“What’s the difference? Yes. I was fifteen. Anyway, it’s not as if you grow too old to learn. Fortunately. But that’s something I’m not prepared to discuss with you.”
“Probably just as well. I’m not sure I’m ready to hear all that. Especially now that I won’t need that knowledge anyway.”
“You don’t know that. And anyway, Kev, if the worst comes to the worst, Louisa isn’t the only woman in the world.”
“She is for me.”
“At the risk of sounding like I’m an old grandmother, you will get over her. Honestly.”
“Thanks, Fiona. I don’t know what I’d do without you. You’re the only one I can really talk to. Well, for a while, I could talk to Louisa. I shouldn’t have been such a coward. If only I’d told her sooner.”
“It’s no use crying over spilled milk. What’s done is done. Ouch. I can’t stay on my knees like this. Apparently, I’m older than I think I am.”
Struck by his conscience, Kevin took her hand and helped her to her feet.
“Thanks. You must be hungry. I think I have something in the freezer. Would you like me to -”
“I’ll do it. Even I can heat something up. You have to be tired and hungry too.”
“Tired, yes. I’m not really hungry. But I guess I should try to eat something.”
“You’re working too hard. Does that really make you happy? Sorry. Look who’s talking.”
“You’re doing something about your life. Why shouldn’t you say what you think? And you know what? You could be right. Maybe I am working too hard. Now that you’re living here, I’ll try to get home earlier in the evenings. It’s not much fun when no one’s waiting for you.”
“I’d like that.”
“I’ll set the table. Come on.”
While they were working side by side in the kitchen, nothing more was said about their respective situations.
Later, over dinner, Fiona debated with herself whether she ought to confide in her brother. He’d been very brave and told the family about his decision. Why shouldn’t she be as forthcoming? But something held her back. One step at a time. She’d test the waters first.
“If you’re not too tired, I thought maybe we could talk.”
“Of course. You’re the one who’s tired. What’s wrong? I can see that something’s bothering you.”
“Nothing’s wrong exactly. I’ve just come to a decision about something. You’ll probably approve. I’ve decided to stop seeing Josh.”
“Yes. My married boss.”
“Aren’t you going to say something?”
“I’m not sure what to say. I’m hardly the right person to have anything to say. But – I’ve sensed that you weren’t happy with him.”
“You’re right. I just didn’t realize it myself until lately. Thanks.”
“For being here. I can’t talk to anyone else either.”
She leaned over and hugged him.
Moments later, her smile faded and she sighed. Kevin was beginning to feel alarmed. What if she was sick?
“I should go to bed. Do you think you’ll be able to sleep now?”
“I guess so. Nothing more to hope for.”
“Don’t say that. There’s always hope.”
“Yes. Of course. Go on. Go to bed. I’ll make breakfast for you in the morning.”
“I knew there was a good reason to have you here. Good thinking. Sleep well, Kev.”
At least he had the satisfaction of seeing her smile again, and this time the smile reached her eyes.
Early next morning Kevin got up to prepare the breakfast he’d promised Fiona last night. He made the only thing he was good at, toast and marmalade, and black coffee. Fiona could have made it herself, but he was hoping that sitting down to a breakfast table already set would cheer his sister up.
It seemed to do that, at least for the first ten minutes or so. She made herself a piece of toast, spread a tiny amount of marmalade on it began to nibble it. Of course. She’d always been an evening person. He was wondering how she’d managed to adapt to the early mornings her career put her through.
Suddenly, she pushed back her chair and ran out again. He could hear a resounding crash when she threw the door open. For a moment all was quiet, then he heard her coughing and retching, apparently throwing up whatever she’d managed to swallow. Was she coming down with the flu? It was a funny time of year for it, but anything was possible. He was hoping she’d take a few days off to get well again. It might be just what she needed.
She returned, looking pale and strained.
“Are you ok? You look -”
“Awful. I know. Thanks for reminding me.”
“I didn’t mean that. Are you sure you should be going to work?”
“Yes, I’ll be fine. This is just – nerves. I’ve got an important presentation to do this morning. It’s nothing to worry about.”
She knew she was lying, but not completely, and anyway, she was talking to her brother, not Father McCallister. The presentation would be easy enough to get through. If only the other problem would be as easily solved. But she was going to work it out. Having Kevin around helped. Soon she’d find the courage to tell him about it and it would be ok. Somehow. This time, she wouldn’t take the easy way out.
But the next couple of days, she was too busy to feel up to telling Kevin and he too, appeared to be deep in thought. He didn’t make any attempt to contact Louisa.
When Fiona was feeling more herself, she promised herself she’d encourage him to try again. Surely Louisa couldn’t be heartless enough not to give him a chance to explain?
But when she’d been throwing up practically every morning for nearly ten days, she was beginning to think that even Kevin would suspect something was up. She couldn’t be that nervous about work.
It was time to tell him. She knew it was his opinion she valued the most. That evening, she managed to get away from work early, and on her way back, she stopped at the store and did some shopping. They might as well enjoy themselves first.
Though she wasn’t much of a cook, she fixed them a nice enough supper. They avoided discussing any painful topics until they’d cleared away the dishes.
Kevin wanted to do the washing up right away, but she stopped him.
“Actually, there’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”
“I knew there was something going on. Are you sick?”
“No. Kevin, I’m pregnant. What I’ve been going through is just morning sickness.”
“But – if you’re having a baby – why are you breaking up with Josh?”
“First of all, he wouldn’t make a good dad – and secondly – he’s not the father.”
“This is why I didn’t want to tell you at first. I know, you’re not a priest anymore. But you’re still my brother. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit that – I’ve become pregnant after a one-night-stand. You do know what that is, don’t you?”
“I think so. I see. What are you going to do?”
“Yes. That’s the problem, isn’t it? Me. Right after Amanda. Poor mom and dad. If it isn’t Liam up to something, it’s one of us girls getting in trouble.”
“I’m sure mom will understand.”
“About the one-night-stand? Come on. I’m not going to explain that to her. She’ll just have to accept my version.”
“You know something, Kevin? I love you. Mom always told us not to play favorites, but you’ve always been my favorite brother. You and Mikey. My favorite sibling, I should say. Amanda and I have never been close.”
“I could say the same thing. You and Mikey. I mean, not that I don’t love Bobby and Liam and Amanda too.”
“You’re so sweet. Kevin – I want to keep this baby.”
“You would? That’s great. You mean put it up for adoption?”
“No. I mean keep it. Look after it myself.”
“I see. If you like, I’ll help you.”
“Do you mean that?”
“Yes. I’d love to. It will probably be my only chance to be a part of raising a child so -”
“Don’t say that. It’s not as if you’re going to get too old any time soon. But if you’re sure -”
“I guess I can stop worrying now. Thanks, Kev. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Same to you, sis.”
“I guess now all I have to do is tell mom and dad.”
“And Bobby and Clarissa. And Liam and Amanda.”
“Right. We’ll tell all of them. But there’s no rush. I know everything’s going to work out. With you here to help me.”
“Could you do something about your work hours?”
“I could look for a new job.”
“I should do something about that too. Find something else to do.”
“Yes. It would be awful if we ended up having to go back home to mom and dad.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
Just as Fiona had predicted, when she finally found the courage to go over and face her parents her situation took some explaining,
Kevin too, felt a bit intimidated about telling his family that while he was still leaving the church, there would be no wedding for him in the foreseeable future.
It was especially embarrassing to meet Liam again. Perhaps it was merely his imagination, but it did seem to him as if Liam was smiling rather smugly, looking as if he was trying to say ‘I told you so’.
Eventually, though, Fiona realized that her parents were actually pleased that one daughter of theirs was actually going to face up to her responsibilities.
Sharing an apartment proved surprisingly pleasant. True to her word, Fiona not only began looking for a new job, but also did her best to come home at a reasonable hour in the evening.
While she was at work, Kevin went out to look for a job for himself. He found that he was perfectly welcome to do voluntary work for the church, and since he didn’t have anything else to do, he accepted. It felt a bit strange to see his old colleagues, but not being one of them. Worst of all, he wasn’t even engaged to be married. At least no one gave him a hard time.
Ever since his younger brother had died, Kevin had been especially concerned about kids involved with drugs, or at least at risk when it came to drug use. In the past six months or so, he’d been coaching a fifteen year-old who reminded him painfully of his youngest brother Mikey. Matt was exceptionally talented and a good kid at heart, but through his older brothers he’d been exposed to an environment where drugs were being sold and used and the younger kids were constantly at risk.
Kevin had worked hard at convincing Matt to stay away from that scene, but after the past couple of months, when Kevin had been distracted, it became plain that Matt had begun to use drugs.
At a loss, Kevin began to consider making arrangements to have Matt admitted into a drug rehab program, or at the very least, have the boy relocated to a healthier environment. The boy’s mother had died a few years earlier, and the father had been long gone by then, so Matt’s oldest brother had become his guardian. By now, it was more and more apparent that the arrangement wasn’t working out.
One morning, Kevin received a call informing him that social services had found a suitable foster home for Matt, far away from his old friends and the drug dealers.
Content that Matt would be safe, Kevin began to focus on finding a paying job, so he could contribute towards Fiona’s no doubt enormous rent. She had been deliberately vague about it when he’d asked her, so he suspected her married boss might have been paying part of it, before she ended the relationship. That was something Kevin didn’t want to know, so he kept his suspicions to himself.
To his surprise, he was able to find a temporary position teaching latin at a high school. It wasn’t a school where he’d expect many students to be interested in latin, but all the same, he considered himself lucky to have found the job.
On his way home that evening, he was once again beginning to consider contacting Louisa again. He certainly wasn’t expecting to find himself being followed by two young men in clothes he associated with street fights and illegal activities.
Not paying much attention to his surroundings, he only looked up when realized he’d reached Fiona’s building. Normally, there would be a security guard patrolling the entrance, but for some reason, tonight the man was nowhere to be seen.
“You the priest?”
“I said. Are you the priest who can’t mind his own business?”
“I used to be a priest. Why? Is there anything I can do for you?”
“You can stay away from Stevo’s customers for starters. People like you should stay in your fancy neighborhoods and let working people take care of their business.”
“I don’t know anyone by the name of Stevo – and -”
“Well, he knows who you are. And your lady upstairs. So don’t get smart with me, priest.”
Kevin was beginning to look around for a way out. Those two didn’t seem to be listening to anything he had to say and now he noticed to his alarm that the other young man had a knife in his hand. He felt strong enough to take on any man, but not two, and certainly not if they were armed.
But there was no way out, and now the other two closed in. He managed to get in a few good punches, before their combined strength overwhelmed him. A particularly vicious kick to his abdomen had him doubling over in pain and shock. They didn’t give him any chance to recover. Raining punches and kicks on him, they didn’t stop until their victim wasn’t moving any longer.
Kevin felt his consciousness flicker in and out, and he had a hard time focusing.
The guy with the knife bent over him and began to casually cut his face, arms and hands.
Perhaps he was in a state of shock, but at the moment, he didn’t feel any more pain.
“Remember Stevo’s message. Don’t bother his customers again.”
He could hear them walking away. They weren’t even in a hurry. That was the last coherent thought he had for some time. He must have passed out, because the pain in his midriff abated and for a moment, he felt at peace.
Fiona returned some twenty minutes later. She’d called home to check if Kevin was there and if he was making dinner. If not, she would make them something, from scratch this time, even though that wasn’t really her thing.
At first she thought the man lying beside the entrance to her building was a homeless man, perhaps a drug addict or a drunk. It took her a while to realize that first of all, the man wasn’t drunk or stoned, and that the dark stains on his face and hands could only be blood. Even then, it took her a few more seconds to take in the shock of recognizing her brother.
A wordless wail escaped her lips as she kneeled on the sidewalk, scanning him for signs of life. Anxiously, she touched his face. He was still warm to the touch and she thought she could see his chest rising and falling.
With hands that were shaking, she began to search through her purse for the cellular phone, hoping she’d remembered to recharge the battery that morning. At last her fingers made contact with the cool metal and she tore it out.
Eileen and Simon had been looking forward to spending a night on their own. None of their children were expected to come over. As Eileen was putting away the dishes after dinner, she heard the phone ringing. Though it was a little late and they weren’t expecting anyone to get in touch, she didn’t feel alarmed.
Calmly, she closed the cupboard door and joined her husband in the living room.
As she caught sight of the look on his face, she felt her own drain of all color. Instinctively, she sensed that something had happened to one of her children. For some reason, she immediately assumed it would be Liam. Her next impulse was to worry about Bobby. She knew that a police officer faced death every day on the job. Usually, she was able to subdue her concerns, but tonight, she felt a sharp pain in her chest. Would she live to lose another child?
“I see. Yes, honey, we’ll be right over. Try to calm down. Yes. If you like, I’ll call – Ok. Just wait there.”
“Simon? What’s wrong? Is it Bobby?”
“Darling, that was Fiona. Kevin’s been attacked.”
“Kevin? But that doesn’t make any sense. Did she say Kevin?”
“Yes, Eileen, it’s Kevin.”
“How badly injured is he?”
“She wasn’t very coherent. Calm down. He’s still breathing. That’s about all I could make out. I promised I’d call the others, but I think we should get over to the hospital right away.”
“Yes. Of course. Who would want to attack Kevin? He’s the most -”
“I’m sure we’ll learn more at the hospital. Come on.”
Simon was feeling just as shaken as his wife, but he forced himself to remain outwardly calm.
They were met at the hospital by a crying, wild eyed Fiona.
“Darling, calm down. How is he?”
“They wouldn’t tell me anything, but he was definitely alive when I found him. He’d been cut in the face and I think in other places too. I think – they’d beaten him too.”
“Did he say anything?”
“No. He wasn’t conscious and -”
“Alright, honey. We’ll wait for the doctor to tell us more.”
“Did you call Bobby and Liam?”
“I thought it best to wait.”
“Oh. You’re right, dad.”
“Perhaps we ought to call Bobby now, Simon? He’ll know better what to do.”
“Yes. Will you be alright on your own? I’ll just -”
By now, Eileen had herself more under control. They didn’t know anything yet. Before anyone told them that Kevin was gone, she’d go on hoping.
The two women sat down on a bench, to wait.
It took Simon a while to get through to Bobby, but eventually, he had his son on the line. Bobby promised he’d do his best to find out what had happened, and finished by reassuring his father that he’d come over to the hospital as soon as possible. He also mentioned calling his wife.
The conversation with his son had made Simon feel marginally better. It was reassuring to have a son who was a police officer. That reminded him of his youngest son, who was anything but on the right side of the law. He’d have to find Liam too and tell him his older brother was injured. Simon had a feeling that underneath all his teasing, Liam was genuinely fond of Kevin and this would be a severe blow to the already unstable young man.
He’d been right. Liam sounded every bit as upset as his older sister had. There was a touch of panic in his voice as he told his father he’d be over right away. Simon had to tell the boy to take care. In this state of mind, there was no telling how he’d get through the late evening traffic.
Now Simon remembered his youngest daughter. Not feeling very hopeful, he made a couple of attempts to find her, but he wasn’t surprised when he failed to catch her at any of the numbers she’d left in case of an emergency.
Liam was the first one to arrive. His face was pale and Simon fancied he could detect a glint of hysteria in his son’s eyes. Apparently, Liam cared far more about Kevin than Simon had thought.
“Take it easy, Liam. We don’t know anything yet. For all we know, Kevin could be very lightly injured. Fiona says she couldn’t see very clearly and the paramedics didn’t say much, apparently.”
Hearing her name mentioned, Fiona turned and faced her younger brother.
“That’s right. It was dark. Kevin was unconscious and there was blood on his face and hands, but I think he hadn’t been stabbed. Just cut. But they must have beaten him pretty badly.”
“And the paramedics didn’t say anything?”
“Not really. They just asked about his name and age and so on.”
Some ten minutes later, Bobby showed up and took charge. This wasn’t his precinct, but he knew some of the officers, and he had managed to get some more information.
“This seems to be related to a boy Kevin’s been coaching. Apparently the kid has been mixing with the wrong crowd, and had begun to take drugs. Kevin’s managed to get him taken into care. The dealer who was providing the kid with drugs didn’t like that. From what I can make out, he sent a couple of his thugs to rough Kevin up.”
“A drug dealer? I never thought anything like that might happen to Kevin. You maybe – and -”
Liam completely missed the fact that his father was referring to him. His eyes were very wide, and Eileen didn’t like his color. Of course it was only natural that he worried about his brother.
“I know. Hasn’t anyone given you any information about Kev’s condition?”
“No. Not yet. It seems to be a busy night.”
“I’ll see what I can do. If I flash my badge at the nurse we might get some results.”
Bobby strode away, confidently. He wouldn’t take any nonsense from the staff. They’d better come up with some answers or he’d tear the place apart. His peaceable brother in a hospital bed because some scum wanted to make an example out of him? He wouldn’t stand for it. That dealer was going to wish he’d never been born.
Despite Bobby’s best efforts, it felt as if they’d waited for hours when a doctor finally approached the McCallisters. It seemed he had come straight from surgery, or maybe that was just the way the ER doctors looked at this time of night.
“Are you Kevin McCallister’s next of kin?”
“Yes. I’m Kevin’s father and this is my wife.”
“Mr McCallister. Mrs McCallister. I don’t have much time so I’ll get straight to the point. You can see your son now, but only for a moment. One at a time. In fact, it would be best if only one or two of you saw him tonight.”
“Is he going to be alright?”
“Yes. He’ll be fine. However, he was quite badly beaten and kicked by whoever attacked him.”
“Did he say who did it?”
Catching the doctor’s inquiring gaze, Bobby hurriedly identified himself.
“I’m Bobby McCallister, Kevin’s brother. NYPD.”
“I see. No. Your brother didn’t say much. He just inquired about someone named Fiona.”
“That’s me. I’m his sister. Does that mean I can go inside and see him?”
“Yes. But make it brief. He needs his rest. And he was in a great deal of pain so we needed to give him something for that. He’ll be a little dazed, perhaps dozing off to sleep without warning. That’s nothing to be alarmed about.”
In the days to come, Kevin’s family didn’t leave his side for long. They took turns sitting with him, as soon as the staff gave them permission to do so.
Liam was the one who appeared to have been hit the hardest by his brother’s misfortune. He sat by Kevin’s bed until some other family member showed up and turned him out. His mother had to talk him into going home for some rest once in a while.
Kevin drifted in and out of consciousness, but even at the best of times it was hard to get more than a few words out of him. That didn’t stop Liam from talking to his brother. He had so much to tell Kevin, things that he’d wanted to tell him for years, but hadn’t dared. Now that Kevin appeared to be asleep, it seemed like a good time to get his worst secret off his chest.
“Kevin – I know you’re not a priest anymore and anyway, I never dared to mention this at confession – Mikey and I – once broke into an apartment where an old guy was living. He tried to throw us out and – he fell. We didn’t hit him. He just fell. But he – didn’t get up again. We got scared and I told Mikey to get out. He wanted to call an ambulance but I wouldn’t let him. I was scared. Later we heard that the old guy had died. We didn’t mean to hurt him, Kev. It just happened. Then when Mikey died – I was afraid he’d done it – on purpose. That he’d killed himself. He felt so guilty about that old man and – I did too, but I couldn’t tell anyone and -”
Kevin’s eyes fluttered open and he caught Liam’s agonized gaze. At first, it seemed as if Liam would bolt from the room, but for some reason, he didn’t.
“I’m sorry. Do you think – god could ever forgive me? Was it my fault that Mikey -”
“God can always forgive. You have to go to confession, Liam. It will be alright. You and Mikey never meant to hurt that old man. It was an accident. And you can’t know for sure if Mikey – did what he did on purpose. That too could have been an accident. Try not to punish yourself over this anymore.”
“I’m not – Kevin, can you forgive me?”
“Of course. You’re my little brother. I love you.”
“I love you too, Kev. I know I don’t always show it and I give you a hard time about – girls and so on but -”
“I just felt that there was one thing in the world I knew more about than you did. You were always better in school and better at everything else too. Sports, everything.”
“I understand. You still know more than I do about girls. I can’t figure Louisa out.”
“Who can? Women are a mystery. You’re not alone.”
At least the terrified look on Liam’s face was gone. His story had been a bad shock to Kevin too. Despite his reassurances to Liam, he wasn’t completely sure Mikey’s death had been an accident. He realized that they would never know and made up his mind never to tell his parents. They’d suffered enough. This was a secret he’d have to keep to himself. Or maybe he could tell Fiona. She always had something reassuring to tell him.
One morning, Louisa had a bad shock when she picked up her morning paper and read a story about a priest who had been badly beaten by a drug dealer’s men. Something about it made her jump to the conclusion that the story might be about Kevin.
She had felt guilty ever since she’d turned him away that day. He wasn’t married. Maybe he’d fully intended to leave the church for her sake. And if Kevin really had been the victim of the attack – The thought made her realize how much she’d loved him. How much she still loved him. If he was the victim – she knew she couldn’t bear to lose him.
She had to find out. Calling a few friends, she eventually managed to track down the church where the priest who had been attacked was working.
Five minutes later, she was on her way.
It was a pale young woman who burst into the church, looking for someone to talk to. The priest who was preparing mass, took one look at her and determined that she was in need of assistance. His preparations could wait.
“Good morning, my child. What can I do for you?”
“Does Kevin McCallister work here?”
“He used to. Kevin’s left the church.”
Louisa felt her skin flush under the older man’s intent gaze. What was he thinking about her?
“Am I right in assuming that you’re the young woman Kevin wanted to marry?”
“Yes. I’m Louisa. Did he tell you about me?”
“Kevin mentioned you, yes.”
“I’ve been such a fool. Do you know where Kevin is? Was he the victim of the attack I read about this morning?”
He hesitated. What did he really know about this young woman, other than that she’d turned Kevin’s head completely, then apparently, since she knew nothing about Kevin’s current situation, left him. But in his life, he’d learned how to read people, and this young woman was genuinely concerned about Kevin. If anything, she seemed to be as deeply in love as Kevin had struck him.
“Yes. I’m afraid Kevin has been attacked. His family are with him at the hospital, but I understand he’s going to make a complete recovery.”
The relief on the young woman’s face was plain to see.
“Thank you. Do you know which hospital he was taken to?”
He didn’t think it would do any harm, giving her this information, so he did. After a few more words of heartfelt thanks, Louisa ran out of the church, intent on finding Kevin and making things right again.
How could she have been so cruel to him? What did she know about being a catholic priest? She didn’t even go to church, not any church. His situation must have been impossible. She loved him. Why couldn’t she have shown more understanding of his dilemma?
Breathlessly she ran up to the reception desk and tried to attract the nurse’s attention. The woman appeared to be involved in a private conversation on the phone and she didn’t look too pleased to be disturbed.
“Do you have a patient here by the name of Kevin McCallister?”
“Who wants to know? Our patients usually only see their next of kin.”
“I’m his – girlfriend.”
If the nurse noticed the momentary pause, she didn’t give any indication of it.
“I see. Well, alright. He’s in room 214. It’s right over there.”
She nodded towards a long corridor leading off to the left.
“Thanks. Can I go in right away?”
“Visiting hours won’t be until later, but his family is with him now, so I suppose it would be ok for you to join them.”
She didn’t bother asking the obvious question. ‘If you’re his girlfriend, how come no one’s told you where he is?’ Of course, working at the hospital for nearly fifteen years had given her an insight into other people’s lives and she could think of a few explanations.
Louisa knocked on Kevin’s door and waited impatiently for someone to answer. A young woman of about her own age opened.
“Is Kevin in there? Kevin McCallister?”
“Yes, my brother is here. Oh. You must be Louisa.”
“Yes, that’s right. Did Kevin mention me?”
“Of course he did. Ok. Go on in. I know he’s been hoping to see you.”
“I – it was my fault that we haven’t been seeing each other for a while – I was hurt and -”
“I know. He told me. Well, you’re here now. I’ll wait outside.”
Kevin looked so – small as he lay in that bed. He was connected to an IV bottle and his face was partially covered with bandages. How badly injured was he really? His eyes were closed and she wasn’t sure he was awake.
He looked up to find Louisa standing there, just as he’d seen her in a dozen vivid dreams since he’d been hospitalized. In each one of those dreams she’d told him she loved him and that she forgave him for his cowardice.
It might have been her imagination but as soon as he caught sight of her, his skin took on a little more color.
“Please, forgive me, Kevin. I treated you so horribly that day. I’m really sorry.”
“You had reason. I was such a coward. You deserved to know the whole truth but I just couldn’t bring myself to say anything. Of course you have every right to be angry with me.”
“No. It’s alright. I’m sure you couldn’t have done anything differently. They told me you’d left the church.”
“Yes. I was – kind of hoping you’d marry me.”
“Oh, Kevin. Then I suppose I’ll have to get used to the idea of marriage. I don’t really believe in formalities, but I’ll try to make the adjustment. For you.”
“Louisa, I love you so much.”
“I love you too. How did this happen? Is it serious?”
“I’ll be ok. They’ll let me out of here next week. At least I hope so. I was coaching a kid at basketball and I found out that he was doing drugs. So I tried to get him into foster care, so he’d be well away from the dealers and his old friends. I guess the dealer didn’t like that.”
“You could have been killed.”
“I don’t think that was the intention. They wanted to scare me away from this dealer’s turf.”
“But your face -”
“They cut me a bit. It’s nothing serious. Nothing that required stitches, at least that’s what they told me. No internal injuries. I’m just bruised all over and a couple of ribs are broken. Honestly, I’ll be fine.”
“I just can’t get over it. If you’d died – I never would have had the chance to tell you how much I love you.”
“And I wouldn’t have been able to tell you how much I love you. But here we are. I guess I’ve been forgiven.”
“You mean by god? I should hope your god isn’t the punishing kind.”
“No. It’s not like that.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know much about religion. Do you really want to marry a woman who’s more or less a pagan?”
“You mean really a pagan? Wicca or whatever it’s called?”
“No, silly. If you’re ready to hear the deep, dark truth, I suppose I’m an agnostic.”
Kevin tried to smile. He wasn’t sure Louisa could see it, but he felt so happy he wanted to laugh.
“I think I can live with that.”
“What about your family? Your parents -”
“They’ll love you. No one’s going to demand anything from you. We don’t even have to marry in church if you don’t want to. As long as you’ll have me, I don’t care about the formalities.”
“Oh, there’s no question about that. I’ll definitely have you, Kevin. I’m not going to let anyone else have you, even god.”
“Don’t worry about it. You won’t even notice you’re sharing me with god.”
Louisa might not have been able to see his smile, but her own features split by the now familiar grin. Kevin couldn’t get enough of her smiles and her laughter.
When Fiona much later discreetly opened the door and looked in, no one noticed. She smiled indulgently and decided to go home. Her brother couldn’t be in better hands. Now all she had to do was find a guy just like him, though hopefully he wouldn’t be married, to another woman or to the church.