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       The Saint, p.7

         Part #5 of The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz
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  will need a home. I’ll no more hear confessions in my bedroom than I’ll take a bath in my office.”

  He said the words without a hint of flirtatiousness, but that didn’t stop Eleanor from mentally conjuring the image of Søren lying wet and naked in a bathtub. Or was it laying wet and naked?

  “Eleanor?”

  “Sorry. I was trying to remember when you’re supposed to use lay versus lie,” she lied.

  “Lay requires a direct object and lie does not.”

  “Oh, that makes perfect sense. Thank you. Also, no. You can’t close the rectory. You’re going to piss off the entire church.”

  “I had a feeling. Your prayer service you’re supposed to be at is meeting at the rectory right now. A sanctuary, a chapel, and for some reason neither of those will work.”

  “The rectory is cozier. Father Greg always had snacks.”

  Søren tapped his knee. “That’s unfortunate, but I’ve made up my mind. It’s important for a pastor to have strong boundaries with his church. I’ll do my best to explain my logic to them.”

  “Logic? You’re going to use logic on Catholics?”

  “Do you have a better idea?” From anyone else, the question would have sounded sarcastic or like a challenge. But instead from Søren it sounded like a genuine question. If she had a better idea, he wanted to know it.

  “Look, I know these people. I grew up with them. They don’t really like outsiders. Everyone’s already freaking out that you’re a Jesuit instead of a regular priest.”

  “They’re afraid of Jesuits?”

  “They say Jesuits are really …” Eleanor waved her hand to beckon Søren forward. He leaned in and she put her mouth at his ear. “Liberal.”

  Søren pulled back and looked her in the eyes.

  “I have to tell you a secret.” She leaned in again toward Søren and inhaled. In that inhale she smelled winter, clean and cold, and briefly she wondered if someone had left a window open. “We are liberal.”

  He sat back in the pew again and brought a finger to his lips.

  “But you didn’t hear that from me,” he said and gave her a wink. Eleanor’s body temperature, already running a low-grade fever from being in the same room as him, shot up even higher. “But that’s beside the point. You were going to give me a better idea than logic.”

  “Yeah … no. Logic won’t work. What might work is if you trick the church into thinking closing off the rectory was their idea.”

  “How so?”

  She shrugged and raised her hands. “I don’t know. Tell them you heard from concerned members of the church who want more rules and safety procedures or whatever?” They were always talking about safety procedures at school. “And you can say you heard the cry of the people and have decided to take their advice and add some new rules so you can keep everyone safe and avoid all appearance of evil. Nobody wants to be in a church with a scandal, right? You’re doing what they asked.”

  Søren raised his fingers to his mouth and slowly stroked his bottom lip. It seemed an unconscious gesture, as unconscious as her lip-biting. But whereas her lip-biting apparently made her look like an idiot, his lip-caressing made her want to straddle his lap, wrap her arms around him and put her tongue down his throat.

  “So you’re telling me I should manipulate the church into thinking that closing the rectory was a suggestion they made me?”

  “Or just flat-out lie. Or lay. Whatever.”

  “I could lie. That would be a sin, but I appreciate that suggestion.”

  “You don’t sin?”

  “I try not to.”

  “I don’t.”

  “You don’t sin?” Søren sounded so skeptical she would have been insulted if he weren’t entirely right to be that skeptical.

  “No, I don’t try to not sin.”

  Søren closed his eyes and shook his head.

  “What?” she asked.

  He held up his hand, indicating his need for silence.

  “What?” she whispered.

  “Do you hear that?”

  She tilted her head and listened.

  “No. I don’t hear anything. Do you hear something?” she asked Søren.

  “I do.”

  “What?”

  “God laughing at me.”

  Eleanor rested her chin on her hand. “You hear God laughing at you?”

  “Loudly. I’m quite surprised you can’t hear it.”

  “He’s laughing at you, not me,” she said.

  “Excellent point. And you made another excellent point about handling the church. I’ll consider your suggestion.”

  “You will?”

  “It’s a wise and Machiavellian strategy.”

  “Is that bad?”

  “No. It’s biblical. Matthew 10:16. ‘Behold, I send you forth as a sheep among wolves—be therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.’”

  “Sheep among wolves. That makes the church sound dangerous. You think we’re dangerous.”

  “I think you’re dangerous.”

  Eleanor sat back on her heels. They’d been joking the entire time they’d been in the sanctuary, but what he’d said and how he’d said it? That was no joke.

  “Me? Dangerous?” she repeated.

  “You. Very.”

  “Why?”

  “Because you want to be. That’s part of the reason.”

  “I also want to be six feet tall and have straight blond hair, but wanting something doesn’t make it real. I’m not dangerous.”

  “I’d explain my reasons for saying you are, but I have to get back to packing. I promised Father Gregory’s sister I would have all of his things ready to pick up tomorrow.”

  “You know there are like a million old ladies in this church who would have packed up the office for you.”

  “I know, but I said I would do it, and I feel only another priest should take care of his personal things for him.”

  “That’s really nice of you.” She winced. Really nice of you? Could she sound like a bigger suck-up or idiot? “I should go home, I guess. Mom might call and wonder where I am.”

  “Where is your mother?”

  “Working.” Eleanor followed him out of the sanctuary.

  “She works this late often?”

  “This early. She works the late shift a lot. It pays more.”

  “Does your father not help out financially?”

  Eleanor stood in the doorway of the office again while Søren got back to work packing the boxes.

  “Mom won’t take a cent from him even if he offered, which I doubt he would. He says he’s broke.”

  “I take it the divorce was not entirely amicable.”

  “She hates him.”

  “Do you?”

  “Hate Dad? No way. I love him.”

  “Why does your mother hate him? If these questions are too personal you don’t have to answer them.”

  “No, it’s okay.” She liked answering Søren’s questions. They were personal but not embarrassing. “Mom and Dad got married when she was eight months pregnant with me.”

  “Eight? Talk about waiting until the last minute.”

  Eleanor tried to smile but couldn’t.

  “What is it?” Søren asked.

  “She waited that long because she was hoping she’d have a miscarriage.”

  Søren dropped the book on the desk with a loud thud.

  “Surely not.”

  “It’s true. I overheard her talking to my grandmother one night about some guy named Thomas Martin. She said she felt bad about thinking it, but she had once wished God would handle the pregnancy the way he handled Thomas Martin, whoever that is.”

  “Thomas Merton,” Søren corrected.

  “You know him?”

  “He was a Trappist monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Bardstown, Kentucky. He’s arguably the most famous Catholic writer of the twentieth century. When he was a young man, he fathered a child out of wedlock, but the mother and child were both killed
during an air raid in World War II, which allowed him to eventually become a monk without the familial obligations of fatherhood.”

  “Makes sense, I guess. She was hoping God would kill me so she could be a nun.”

  Søren gave her a look of such deep and profound sympathy she couldn’t stand to look at it.

  “Eleanor … I’m so—”

  “Sorry. I know. Don’t be. She loves me now. I think.” Eleanor laughed. “Anyway, it was young lust with Dad. She was seventeen. A year after she had me, she found out what my dad does for a living. They got divorced. She didn’t want any of his money because she said it’s all dirty.”

  “Dirty money? What does your father do for a living?”

  “He …” Eleanor paused and considered the best way to say it. “He’s a mechanic, sort of. Works with cars.”

  “Nothing to be ashamed of.”

  “They’re not always his cars.”

  Søren nodded. “I see.”

  “He’s been in prison a couple times.”

  “Does that trouble you?”

  “No,” she said. “Not too much anyway.”

  They looked at each other a moment without speaking. It wasn’t an awkward silence, but a meaningful silence.

  “Anyway, I’ll let you get back to packing.” Eleanor wanted to stay and keep talking to him. But she didn’t want to be a nuisance either, and wear out her welcome.

  “I’ll see you Sunday?” he asked.

  “What’s Sunday?”

  “Mass? Church? Holy Day of Obligation?”

  “Right. Sunday. I’ll check with my secretary,” she said. “You know, see if I’m free.”

  “Do you have the office number here?”

  “It’s on the fridge.”

  “Call my number when you get home. I want to know you’ve arrived safely.”

  She stared at him.

  “Seriously?”

  “How long does it take for you to walk home?”

  “I don’t know. Twenty minutes?”

  “Then I’ll expect to hear from you within the half hour. Please be safe.”

  She gave him a wave and took a step back. It hurt walking away from him. That cord she felt last Sunday, she felt it again now, felt it in his presence, felt it even more when she moved to leave him.

  “Three more things, Eleanor, before you go.”

  “What?” She turned back to face him. Once more he stood in the doorway to his office.

  “One.” He held up one finger. “Earlier you said you wished you to be six feet tall and have long straight hair. Don’t ever wish that again. God created you. Don’t argue aesthetics with the Creator. Do you understand?”

  “Sure, I guess,” she said although she didn’t.

  “Two.” He held up a second finger. “Don’t be troubled I said were you dangerous. It wasn’t an insult.”

  “If you say so.”

  “I do. And three.” He took a step back into the office. “I’ve been at Sacred Heart four days and already half the parish has made it abundantly clear to me that I am not wanted here. Father Gregory is much beloved. The parish is not ready to let him go and accept a new pastor. You aren’t the only one who knows what it’s like to feel unwanted.”

  Eleanor felt something funny in her throat. It burned so she swallowed it. The burn remained.

  “The church isn’t your own mother.”

  “No, it isn’t. And I won’t minimize your pain by pretending the church’s distrust of me compares at all to your pregnant, terrified seventeen-year-old mother making a desperate wish that her problems would magically disappear and the dream she lost would be hers again. But I will say that it doesn’t matter anymore if your mother wanted you at the time or not. Nor does it matter if this church wants me here or not. We’re here, you and I. We’re not going away. We’re here, if for no other reason than God wants us here, and He gets the final say.”

  “If it makes you feel any better, I want you here.”

  Søren picked up one of Father Gregory’s books again.

  “That does make me feel better.”

  “Thank you … Søren.” She still couldn’t believe she was calling a priest by his first name, no “Father” attached.

  “Good night.”

  She turned and started to walk away from the office.

  “Thirty minutes,” Søren called out, and Eleanor allowed herself to give free rein to the ear-to-ear grin she’d been holding back for the past hour.

  The second she entered her kitchen, Eleanor picked up the phone. She had to stretch the cord all the way to the fridge so she could read off the office number to Sacred Heart.

  Søren answered on the first ring.

  “I’m home safe,” she said.

  “Good.”

  “Thanks for talking to me tonight.”

  “I enjoyed our conversation, Eleanor.”

  She smiled at the phone. Usually she hated being called Eleanor. Why did it sound so right coming from him? Eleanor … sounded so classy the way he said it, so adult.

  “Can I ask you a quick question?”

  “Of course,” Søren answered, and she heard the sound of books dropping into boxes.

  “Are you dangerous, too?”

  She held her breath waiting for his answer.

  “Yes.”

  “Thought so,” she said. Søren said no more.

  “Good night, Søren. See you Sunday.”

  “Try to avoid doing anything to prove I’m right about you being dangerous between now and Sunday, please.”

  Eleanor would have laughed, but she knew he wasn’t joking. She wasn’t joking either, when she answered.

  “No promises.”

  7

 
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