Rob closed the door softly when he arrived at Shannon’s apartment that evening. She worked in the blue-tiled kitchen with its hanging French copper pans and bunches of herbs, a pot simmering on the stove, the table set, musky perfume on her skin. She curved a smile to welcome him home.
Rob stood watching her, his eyes on her small white hands, his brown ones fisted in his pockets. “We have to talk; I have to tell you something.”
Shannon slipped her arms around him. “What is it?” Rob kept his hands in his pockets. Shannon pulled away. “Is something wrong?”
He took a long breath, felt his face redden. “I don’t know how else to say it. I hardly can.” He forced himself. “I’m going back to the seminary to finish my degree.”
“So you’ve decided to finish up. Good for you.” She watched him warily, her arms crossed on her chest.
“And then I’ll be ordained.”
“As a deacon, right?” Don’t tell me this. Don’t go there, she seemed to say.
“Yes—then as a priest.” His nails gouged his palms.
“A priest? You’re joking, right?” She half-laughed, though her face was ashen.
Rob stood silently.
“A Catholic priest?” As if she wasn’t Catholic herself, had never heard of such a thing.
“Yes.” Rob watched the color bloom up her face.
“A celibate Catholic priest.”
“Well, what about me? What about our life together? Or is that too obvious?” He saw how blue her eyes were against the blush. “After all our plans—how could you do this?”
“Shan, I don’t know. It’s just something I have to do. God, if you only knew, I don’t want it to be this way. How I wish it was different.” His words whined in his ears. “I can’t have both you and the Church.”
“But you’ve made your choice, right?” She jerked away.
“I wish it were as simple as that. But it’s not; it’s as if the choice was made for me.” He wanted to hold her, but he couldn’t, he shouldn’t now.
“You must have known all along. But you never said a thing about it. Why couldn’t you come to me, tell me?” She abruptly began to stack dishes in the sink, clattering, clanking, sluicing water in a heavy bowl.
“Shan, it’s bigger than me and what I want.” Rob searched for better words, but failed. “How can I say no to God?”
She dropped the bowl with a crash in the sink. The heavy pottery broke into jagged pieces. She turned around, crumbling into sobs. “How can I even begin to compete with God? The contest is over—that’s it—I lose!” She came back to him, put her arms around him. “Rob, please don’t do this—there are other things you can do, youth ministry, or teach catechism, or something. We can do it together, whatever it is. But don’t push me out, don’t push me away. Don’t leave.”
Her tears made him hate himself, hate God, hate the words that he had to say. He wrapped her close to him, felt every sob shudder through her body. “I’m so sorry.”
She pulled away, her eyes rimmed in red. She wiped her wet face with the back of her hand. “Rob, I love you. I want you. I want to be married, and have children, and a life together. Babies in my arms. Someone in my bed. That kind of love my whole life.” She gazed at him, warm, yearning, everything he needed in her. “Together we could have all those things. But if you do this, if you go through with this, you won’t. All you’ll have is a depressing, empty rectory and long, lonesome nights. You’ll be a lonely man, your whole life. Is that what you want instead of me?”
“No,” he said. “But I have to go.”
Robert Manuel Souza was ordained a year later at Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Rob found antacid in a cupboard and popped two tablets into his mouth. He flipped through the TV Guide in the living room, but nothing interested him. The air conditioner blew cool air with a gentle whirr. Rob sat down in an armchair and thought of Shannon again, and how she would laugh, or maybe cry, to see him, alone in the stillness of the rectory, her prophecy fulfilled.
The rectory settled around him. Cars whooshed by on the dark street. From a nearby yard, a dog barked. The emptiness had a hollow, nameless sound all its own. Rob sat alone in his chair and recalled the red slash like a warning flag on the waitress’s hand, how she held the long bottle firm in her grasp, and released the cork in one long stroke.
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Genre – Contemporary Romance
Rating – PG13
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