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       The Saint, p.4

         Part #5 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz
 

  She panted through the pain, not fighting it, but accepting it, relishing it, letting it remind her she was alive and could feel everything she wanted to feel. There were boys at school who would have cried like little bitches if they’d gotten burned like that.

  She rolled her sleeve down over the burns and turned off her curling iron. She went back to her room and sat on her bed, her hands still slightly shaking. She opened her math book and got out a pencil.

  She felt much better now.

  4

  Eleanor

  SUNDAY MORNING, ELLE DECIDED SHE WOULD NEVER go back to church again. She’d thought about this decision ever since she’d found her mother crying in the living room. All her life, her mother wanted to be a nun. She dreamed of the day she’d take her vows and put on her habit the way other girls dreamed about their wedding days. But at seventeen she’d fallen in love with a handsome charmer named Will and a few months later, she was married and pregnant, and not in that order.

  And here her mother was, sixteen years later—divorced, working two jobs and going to church five days a week because it was the only thing that gave any meaning to her life. Well, it didn’t give any meaning to Elle’s life. She doubted God actually existed. She thought the Catholic Church was stupid to ban birth control and then tell priests they couldn’t get married. Make up your damn mind. Either people should be fruitful and multiply or they should be celibate and childless. The church didn’t get to have it both ways. The hypocrisy disgusted her. The Catholic Church was one big business and they all worked for it.

  So she was quitting. Now how to tell her mother this?

  Elle flinched as he mother banged on her door.

  “What?” she yelled as she grabbed a pillow and slammed it down on her face.

  “Eleanor Louise Schreiber! Get out of bed this instant.”

  Here we go. Now or never. She steeled herself and called out with more confidence than she felt …

  “I’m not going.”

  “What?”

  Elle lifted the pillow up.

  “I’m not going to Mass this morning.” She enunciated every word. “I’m a Buddhist!”

  “Eleanor, get out of bed this instant and get ready for Mass.”

  “I’m an atheist. I’ll incinerate the second I walk into church. It’s for everyone’s good I stay away from that place.”

  Her mother growled under her breath.

  “I don’t even know what that is, but I’m not having this argument with you.”

  “Then don’t. I have civil rights. You can’t force me to go to church against my will.”

  “As long as you’re underage, and you’re living in my house, I can.”

  Elle sat up completely and met her mom’s eyes. Enough joking around. She meant it this time.

  “Mom,” she said, her voice as calm and as reasonable as possible, “I don’t want to play this game anymore.”

  “Church isn’t a game.”

  “It isn’t real.”

  Her mother said nothing at first but she didn’t leave, either. Bad sign. Her mom wasn’t giving up. Her mom was about to bring out the big gun—guilt.

  “Father Greg is officially retiring soon. He’s not coming back. Today is the day the new priest is starting. If the new priest hires someone else to the church’s books, you don’t get free tuition to St. Xavier anymore. I need you to help me make a good impression.”

  Elle shrugged. “Don’t care. Send me to public school. No more uniforms.” And no more fights on the bus. No more getting mocked because her dad had been in jail. No more getting teased for her breasts that didn’t seem to want to stop growing. No more blood on her knees.

  “Eleanor, I’m serious.”

  “Mom, I’m serious. You’re going to have to give up trying to turn me into a junior version of you minus the kid you didn’t want. Go without me. There’s nothing at church for me. Not now. Not ever.”

  Elle threw herself back into bed. She knew she hadn’t heard the last of this topic, but maybe winning the battle was the beginning of winning the war. Covering her face with her pillow again, Elle tried to will herself to fall back to sleep.

  She waited to hear her mother’s footsteps retreating. But instead of creaking floors, she heard whispered words. Eleanor peeked out at her mother from under her pillow. Too bad her mother hated men so much. Her dad was right. At thirty-three her mother was still young looking and beautiful. At least she could have been beautiful if she tried at all. No makeup. She never did anything with her hair. She wore clothes as baggy as a nun’s habit. Elle might have liked a stepfather. It would be nice to have a man around who actually gave two shits about her.

  “Mom? What are you doing?”

  “Praying to Saint Monica.” Her mother’s eyes remained closed. She clutched her saint medal in her hand.

  “Saint Monica? Was she a martyr or a mystic?”

  “Neither. She was a mother.”

  “Good. Hate the martyrs.” Stupid virgin martyrs. Between getting married and getting murdered they picked murder. She’d pick a dick over death any day. Why did no one ever offer her those sorts of choices?

  “She was the mother of Saint Augustine. He, too, was a willful, disobedient child. He had a mistress and fathered a child out of wedlock. He partied and played and didn’t care at all for the things of God. But his mother—Monica—was a Christian and she prayed and prayed for him. Prayed with all her might her child would see the truth of the Gospel and convert. God granted her prayer and Saint Augustine is one of the doctors of the church now.”

  “The church has doctors?”

  “It does.”

  “Why is it still so sick, then? They must be really crappy doctors.”

  Her mother stopped talking again, stopped whispering, stopped praying. But still she didn’t leave.

  “Elle …” Her mother’s tone was softer now, kinder, conversational. Not a good sign.

  “What. Now. Mother?”

  “Mary Rose told me the new priest is supposed to be very handsome.”

  “Mom, he’s a priest. That’s gross.” The pillow was once more firmly planted on her face.

  “And he rides a motorcycle.”

  Elle pushed the pillow off her face.

  “A motorcycle?”

  “Yes.” Her mother smiled. “A motorcycle.”

  “What kind? Not some no-thrust piece-of-crap crotch rocket from Japan, is it?”

  Her mother shook her head.

  “Something Italian.”

  “A Vespa? Those are scooters, not motorcycles.” Elle giggled at the image of a priest in a collar on the back of a little Vespa scooter.

  “No. Something that started with a D. Du-something.”

  Elle’s eyes widened.

  “A Ducati?”

  “That was it.”

  She knew about Ducatis but had never seen one up close. She’d kill to have a Ducati between her thighs. All that power. All that freedom. What she wouldn’t give …

  Would it kill her to go to church one more day? One more hour? One more Mass? She could see the bike, maybe touch it, then get out again.

  “Okay.” Elle threw off the covers. “I’m coming. But I’m doing it for the Ducati, not for God.”

  Her mother slammed the door behind her and Elle got out of bed. Grabbing her uniform skirt off the floor, she headed to the bathroom. Mass or not, she would have had to get out of bed anyway. Her bladder had been about to explode while arguing with her mom.

  She pressed her hand to the bathroom window and felt nothing but room-temperature glass. Good. A warm morning. She wouldn’t have to bother with tights under her skirt.

  Her hair looked like it belonged on a crazy person since she’d fallen asleep with it wet. No amount of curling or brushing was going to tame it. She grabbed a bottle of tinted green hair gel and streaked it through her hair, taming the wild flyaways enough that she could pull it back into a high ponytail.

  Elle shoved her feet into her bla
ck combat boots. Carefully she applied a thick swipe of black eyeliner around her eyes. She was short and her boobs were too big but at least she could pull off the makeup component of heroin chic.

  In her bedroom she found her thickest flannel shirt and pulled it on over her Pearl Jam T-shirt. She layered her green army jacket on top of her flannel.

  Elle jumped in the backseat of their old Ford and her mom barely let her shut the door before backing out of the driveway.

  “I want you to say hello to the new priest if you get a chance. Father Greg had me doing the books since he couldn’t handle it. This younger priest might want to change things up.”

  “I’ll say hi. And then I’ll steal his Duck and ride away into the sunset.”

  “His what?”

  “Ducks. Dukes. Ducatis. Never mind.”

  “I’m attempting to be open-minded about the new priest. You could at least give him a chance,” her mother said.

  “I’m going, right? But only for the motorcycle. I mentioned that part, right?”

  Her mother gave a ragged sigh.

  “You should be going to church for God, and no other reason.”

  “I told you, I don’t even think I believe in God anymore.”

  “God is everywhere. He’s in everyone. We’re all created in His image.”

  “I haven’t met anybody who looks like God yet.”

  “How many people would it take to get through to you? God told Abraham he would spare Sodom and Gomorrah if ten righteous men could be found in the city. Only ten.”

  Elle thought about it, thought about the boys at school who were dicks in sneakers, the teachers who did nothing but punish, her father who couldn’t keep a promise to save his life, her mother who forced religion down her throat …

  She saw God in none of them. Not even in herself.

  “Ten? Mom, I swear I’d settle for one.”

  If she met one single person who seemed holy, righteous, kind, self-sacrificing, smart and wise who kept his promises and gave a flying fuck about her? Maybe she’d believe then.

  “Only one?” Her mother sounded incredulous.

  “Well, one person and a little ‘St. Teresa and the angel’ action wouldn’t hurt, either.” Eleanor grinned and her mother shook her head in disgust.

  “You know, all I ever wanted was a daughter who loves God, goes to church, respects her priest and maybe even respects her mother a little. You think that’s too much to ask?”

  Elle thought about the question one whole entire second before answering.

  “Yup.”

  Once her mother pulled into the Sacred Heart parking lot, Elle jumped out of the car. Her mom could make her go to church, but she wasn’t about to sit with her at church.

  Elle entered the sanctuary and took a seat on the Gospel side—the left side of the church facing the altar. A visiting priest had explained the difference between the Gospel side and the Epistle side, or right side, a long time ago. He was also the same priest who taught everyone that Amen was best translated as “so be it.” That had surprised her. Until him she’d always thought Amen meant “over and out.”

  Her usual pew had already filled up by the time she got there so instead of sitting beneath her favorite stained-glass window, she had to sit on the aisle. That was okay. She’d be able to get a better look at the new priest from here. And if she didn’t like the looks of him, she could “accidentally” step on the train of his vestments. Oops.

  She wormed her way out of her jacket, picked up her missal and turned to the day’s readings. From her backpack she pulled out her copy of The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty and slid it in between the pages. She’d heard some girls in her German class giggling over a copy of it. One of them had stolen it from her older sister. Gross, they said. Nasty, they said. So dirty. They couldn’t believe people actually did this, they said. So of course Elle stole a copy of it from the public library. Now on her third reading, she still hadn’t figured out why those girls in her class had called the book gross and nasty. Elle had fallen in love with the story of sexual slavery in a fairy-tale world of kings and queens. Even better, the main character—Beauty—was only fifteen, like her. Fifteen plus that one hundred years she’d been sleeping under the spell. Maybe Elle was also under a spell and didn’t know it. Maybe she’d fallen asleep and everything happening was a dream, a bad dream where her father was a thief and her mother wished she’d never had her daughter. Maybe someday a prince would come along and kiss her and make love to her, and she’d wake up to discover she’d been a queen all along.

  As Elle turned a page the bells rang. She closed her books and rose to her feet.

  A hymn began.

  Elle looked back to the door of the sanctuary, and saw the new priest.

  The dream ended. The spell was broken.

  Elle woke up.

  5

  Eleanor

  STRIDING DOWN THE AISLE BEHIND THE CRUCIFER and the deacon was a man—a man with blond hair and a god’s face. He looked forward with eyes so serious and solemn she followed his gaze to the altar to see if Jesus waited for him there.

  As he stepped past her pew he turned his head and met her eyes for the briefest of eternities. The book within her missal fell from her hand and fluttered to the floor. She didn’t bend to pick it up. It lay there, forgotten, as forgotten as everyone and everything else in this world. Everyone and everything else but this man who now mounted the steps to the altar and stood before the church.

  Underneath the collar of his vestments she saw the hint of black with the white square.

  This man, this most beautiful man she’d ever seen in her life, this man who was the incarnation of her every hunger, every desire and every secret midnight dream … This man was her new priest?

  “Oh, my God …” she breathed, but whether she addressed the God in Heaven or the God before her, she didn’t know.

  She crossed herself when the church crossed themselves. She remained standing as they remained standing.

  “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” the new priest intoned, and together with the congregation Elle answered.

  “Amen.”

  His voice, rich and resonant, echoed out to the very edges of the church and back again. His words wrapped around her like a golden cord binding her to him. The sanctuary brightened with each word he spoke as if the sun itself drew closer to hear his voice. Once in winter she’d seen a man on a street corner playing an old cello for coins. A cello on a winter night in the midst of a frozen city—that was what his voice sounded like.

  She sat when the congregation sat and even as she sat down, her heart rose.

  A woman read from the Old Testament.

  A man read from the New Testament.

  The priest read from the Gospels.

  She heard none of the words. She heard only music. Even when the hymns had been sung and ended, she still heard music.

  She knelt when the church knelt and prayed when the church prayed. And when it came time to rise for the Eucharist, she rose again.

 
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