|Suffering in the makeshift attic room|
Kevin opened his mouth to answer her, but the words wouldn't come. Instead, a wretched cocktail of greasy calamari, bile, and the dense hops of several pints of Guinness churned in the back of his throat. Covering his mouth with his hand, he frantically raced to the door, and headed toward the rear of the building. Standing amid the last blooms of the fall mums, he emptied his flailing stomach in an avalanche of undigested dinner.
It was several minutes before he was spent, and finally looking up, he made out the figures of his sister and the Sheriff standing at the end of the driveway, politely offering him some modest degree of privacy. He wiped his face and mouth with the sleeve of his sweater, and walked in unsteady embarrassment along the pavement.
"Sheriff...I'm so sorry. I don't know what to say. One minute I was fine, and then the next.."
"Hey, no problem, Father. Shit happens. I told Maureen I'd drive the two of you home. I'm pretty sure a taxi might not be the best of ideas right now."
He could only nod miserably, and jammed his lanky frame in the back of the patrol car, a plastic bag tucked between his knees. Mo carefully avoided saying anything to him, and slid into the seat next to the Sheriff. He was glad they didn't expect any chit chat from him. At this very moment, all his concentration was centered on avoiding a fit of retching. He vaguely heard the hum of conversation from the front seat, but in his misery, paid little attention.
When they arrived at the rectory, Kevin refused help from either the Sheriff, or Maureen, hoping to avoid looking any more pathetic than he already felt. The Sheriff waved goodbye, and pulled away from the curb, leaving him alone and uncomfortable with his sister.
"How are you feeling?" She went to take his arm, but he shrugged it off.
"Do you think it's food poisoning, or the stomach flu?"
"How the hell am I supposed to know? The end result's the same anyway." His reply was sharper than he intended, and he felt a tad guilty. On the other hand, she had announced to the whole world her intention to remain here in town before she had even had discussed anything with him, and in truth, his feelings were decidedly bruised.
"Would you like me to make you some ginger tea. It'll help to settle your stomach."
He could tell that she was trying her very best to be concerned and helpful, but sick, embarrassed, and feeling sorry for himself, he wasn't quite ready to forgive and forget. "No thanks. I'll be fine. If I need something, I'll take care of it."
She sighed and replied, "Suit yourself. I think I'm gonna turn in for the night. Good night, Kevin. I hope you feel better in the morning." Turning her back to him, she quietly slipped up the stairs to her room, the dog happily trotting behind her.
Stretching out on the empty sofa and clicking on the TV, he waited until he heard her finish in the bathroom, and close the door to the bedroom. When he was convinced that she had settled in for the night, he made his way up the two flights to the makeshift space he'd created in the attic. Still queasy, he grabbed the wastebasket and slid it next to the mattress, and propped himself up with a stack of pillows, and a rolled up blanket. As he lay in the dark, his mind battered him with images and thoughts from the past several hours; the way Ted Beckett followed his sister with hungry eyes, Cassie filling his plate with piles of food, and pumping him about church finances, the bottle after bottle of Guinness appearing in his hand, the way his stomach had suddenly rolled in cramping waves, and lastly, being trapped in that horrible, kinky room. All of it filled him with a sense of foreboding, and when sleep finally came, it was troubled and restless.
Saturday morning filtered into the attic room dark and overcast, much like the occupant's mood. Fr. Kevin was grateful that there was only one Mass, and that it was scheduled for 8:30 AM. He was in no shape to jump out of bed, and the later start gave him the opportunity to rest quietly for an extra hour before facing the day. He felt like hell, his head pounding in each of the temples, and his throat sore from the repeated heaving. He knew he'd need to have it out with Maureen. Get to the bottom of her problems in Boston, and talk some damn sense into her. She certainly couldn't stay here in Dollyville with him. She had a job she loved in Boston. The rest of the family was there, including his ailing mother. And without doubt, his adventure-seeking sister would eventually come to hate the slow, dull pace of this tiny town.
More importantly, he needed to keep her far away from Ted Beckett. He was neither naive or stupid. It was obvious that the two were attracted to each other, and if it was noticeable to him, it was surely apparent to others as well. Even if the Sheriff were not already engaged to another woman, a deal breaker in itself, he had serious misgivings. Maureen was barely 26 years old, and although he didn't know Beckett's exact age, he was relatively sure that the Sheriff was several years older than she. The man appeared to have a deep sense of integrity and honor, but in truth, Kevin knew virtually nothing about him, and there were questions that bothered him. Foremost, he seemed to enjoy the trappings of someone with a great deal of money, yet held a county job in a very small town. He knew it was unfair to speculate, but he couldn't help but wonder if Beckett was involved in something illegal. The man had never mentioned any type of family, and it gave the priest, who himself was the seventh child out of eight, pause. And finally, there was that room. That awful, dungeon like space with the whips and the chains he had accidentally wandered into the night before. If it belonged to the Sheriff, as it must, than the man had some definitely odd habits that needed to be kept far from his sister. Anyway you looked at it, the two were totally unsuited for each other, and the sooner they were separated, the better.
Feeling confident for having come to some kind of decision, Kevin forced himself out of bed, and began to get ready for morning Mass. Before leaving to walk over to the church, he knocked on the door to his old room, but there was no answer. He assumed that Maureen was still asleep, or purposely avoiding him, and short on time, he figured he'd talk to her later.
The peacefulness of the liturgy made him feel more in control of his emotions, and when he returned home an hour later, he was calmer at the prospect of going toe to toe with his sister. He was a bit surprised, however, to find the house quiet, and no sign of Maureen. Her purse and jacket were missing from the hall closet, but she had left no message about where she'd gone, or when she'd be back. Kevin tried not to worry. After all, she was a grown woman, and she certainly was not required to check in with her brother
By 12:30 PM, she was still not home, and all calls to her cell went directly to voice mail, unreturned. His anxiety level over the whole matter had risen considerably. He thought about calling around to see if he could find her, but then realized how ridiculous that sounded. Who would he call? It's not like she had made tons of acquaintances in the week she'd been in town. And if he called the Sheriff in alarm that she was missing, and it turned out she had only gone off to run errands, he knew he would look stupid. Reluctantly, Kevin decided to go back to the church to hear his usual Saturday afternoon confessions. If she still were not home when he returned in two hours, or if she still hadn't returned his calls, he'd start hunting for her himself.
Normally, he liked the solitude of the confessional. While he waited between penitents, there was always cherished quiet time to pray and meditate. But today, his thoughts were pinned on his missing sister. There had been a few penitents early in the first hour, but it was uneventful after that. Instead, of hearing confessions, he sat in the empty room, riddled with too much time to fret, worry, and wring his hands. At about a quarter to three, he had finally had enough, and was about to leave, when he heard the door open and close. He settled himself back in the chair, vowing this would be his last for the day.
"Bless me Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was six months ago."
He recognized her voice in the first few seconds, relieved to the core to know she was safe and sound. Then, there was a moment of confusion and apprehension. Since his ordination, he had married two of his siblings, buried an elderly uncle, and baptized two nieces and a nephew. He had said Mass for them on many occasions, and visited several in the hospital. But not once had any of them sought him out for Reconciliation. Not a single one. He had often wondered if when it finally happened, would it feel awkward. Now he knew.
The silence between them grew, and he knew he needed to say something, but was suddenly at loss for the correct words. Thinking of nothing better, he mumbled, "Please continue."
She hesitated, and then went on. "Father, I've made some really bad choices."
He desperately wished they were having this conversation over pizza and a beer, and not in the space and time they actually were. They had always been close. Always able to confide in one another. Now it just felt strained. "Whatever you have to say, you know a merciful God will listen and forgive."
There were a million things he wanted to say, but in this current role, felt he could not Oh, Maureen! Why did you choose this way to talk to me? What's so horrible you can't tell me face to face?
"I...I...carried on with a man outside the bonds of Holy Matrimony."
Kevin tensed, but part of him was glad it was out in the open. Not great, Maureen. But we can get beyond this. Happy to move along, he began the prayers for absolution, but she interrupted him.
"There's more. The man...well... he was married."
Oh, Mo. This can't be good. When she didn't continue, he asked, "Anything more you wish to confess?" He sounded stiff and formal, and he hated himself for it. But if he let himself get too emotional, neither one of them would get through this.
She was quiet for a moment or two, and when the words came, they fell out of her mouth in a breathless rush. "This man...he was my boss. We were together for three months...and honestly Father...I really thought we were in love. Honest I did! He said he wanted to marry me. I had no reason not to believe him." Her voice caught, and for a moment he thought she might cry.
Oh, Momo, please don't cry. Not here. I'm not sure I could handle that.
She held herself in check, blew her nose, and continued. "But then, someone found out...and we...I mean...I... was fired. Something about a morality clause when I was hired."
Maureen had been a case worker with Catholic Charities of Boston. Always a champion of the underdog, she had poured herself body and soul into her job. It had meant the world to her, and his heart ached for her loss. Oh, Momo...I don't know what to say... poor baby.
"I tried contacting Will...that's his name...Will...after they walked me out, but he wouldn't return any of my calls or emails. Nothing. Not a word. It was like...like I didn't exist anymore."
Kevin felt a rush of anger, and he worked hard at tapping it down, Tried to remember where he was. Who he was. Why he was there.
"Then...somehow Patrick found out. Probably from someone in the diocese office."
Damn. Why did it have to be Patrick of all people? Their oldest brother, Patrick, was a lead attorney for the Archdiocese of Boston. He wore his arrogance like a second skin, and would bristle at the thought of anything, or anyone, tarnishing his sterling reputation. He could only imagine how angry he'd be at the rumors swirling around their sister. You better not have hurt her, Patrick, or you'll answer to me.
"We had a big fight. It was awful. He said...he told me...Oh Kevin, I mean Father...he called
me a slut...and a disgrace to the family name. And...I slapped him across the face. He was so angry. And then he told me I was disowned...like we were living in the Middle Ages, or something. The rest of the family took sides, and now nobody is talking to anyone else. And it's all because of me."
Well, isn't that just wonderful! All this was going on, family falling apart, and nobody thought to tell Kevin? Of course not. Why tell Kevin? He's the invisible brother. The one that doesn't count. He tried to shake off his feeling of self pity, and his burning anger at Patrick. He needed to be both confessor and big brother at this moment, and he wasn't sure he was capable of either role. He prayed for guidance. For the right words to say.
"So I came here, Kevin. I needed to be with someone I knew loved me no matter what. You're all I have now. I've embarassed them. They'll always look at me like I'm soiled. I can't go back to Boston. Please understand. I have nowhere else to go, and no one else to turn to."
"Maureen, we all love you...especially our heavenly Father. Even Patrick. He's just...well...Patrick. A pompous, self-riteous jerk whose ass I'd like to kick right now. Forgive me my anger, Lord. I know it's wrong. I'll work on that. It's going to be okay. I promise." He prayed that he was right. This was a total mess.
"Thanks Ke...um Father." She blew her nose one more time, and sighed with both relief and resignation. "I think I'm done now. There really isn't anything more to tell." She continued with the Act of Contrition, and he finished up with her penance, and finally, her absolution. Without another word, she left the room, closing the heavy door quietly behind her.
For a long time, Kevin sat in the stillness of the confessional. Because Maureen had come to him in the sanctity of Reconciliation, he was forbidden to ever speak of it again. How was he ever going to fix something he couldn't even discuss?
Copyright 2012 Victoria Rocus