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Discovering Things out of Darkness
#2 - Know Thy Own Heart
King James Bible, Deuteronomy 8:2:
"And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no."
"Hey, kiddo!" Upon seeing him, Father Calero's face broke into a wide grin. Paul smiled back, refexively. "Poppi. It's wonderful to see you." They embraced. "How have you been?"
"Oh, you know, the usual. The Monseignor's keeping me busy. The orphanage needs a new roof." Calero smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling. Paul felt immediately better. "Is that a subtle hint trying to get me to help?" he teased, walking side by side with his old mentor to Calero's office.
"Why not? You could do active penance for whatever horrendous wrong-doing you've committed in, say, the last week," the priest returned dryly. "You're good with your hands, and most importantly, you like doing manual labor; you always did. You said it helped you think."
"And it does." Paul closed the door, but hesitated near the entrance.
"Kiddo, what is it? You know you can always talk to me. Whatever it is, just because you decided to walk your own way doesn't mean that I don't have time for you. Come on, Paul, sit down, and tell me." Calero put his hands comfortingly on Paul's shoulder and made him sit down in front of the old oak desk. He went to the coffee machine on the sideboard and poured them both a cup of coffee.
Paul raised his eyebrows. "A coffee machine? Poppi, that's positively a sign of decadence." His lips twitched a little, but he was still evidently uncomfortable. Calero watched him fidget in his chair and sighed softly.
"Poppi, I--I have a problem. Or, rather, I guess I need... I want to go to confession."
The priest raised his head from the contemplation of the contents of his coffee cup. "Now? You know the chapel's quite cold in the evening, and I believe Brother Jerome's choir rehearsal is still in session. I think this time, we may dispense with the confessional. Unless you really want to...?"
Paul stared at his hands, twisted his fingers. The cup, long forgotten, stood on the desk, a lonely line of steam rising from its depths. He didn't know what to say. Somehow, he had never thought this far, had only planned to waylay Poppi on the way to his office, and unburden his conscience of the strange thoughts and feelings that intruded more and more into his waking hours.
"Alright. But, please, Poppi, let me... let me tell you all in one piece. If you ask me something in the middle of it, I may never get it all out."
He looked away, his face hot, when his fatherly friend's sharp eyes rested on his averted face.
"So is this indeed a confession," Calero asked softly, "not just a plea for advice from your old friend?"
Paul's face twisted. "No, it is a confession. This is something you can't help me with. No advice is ever going to make it right."
Calero drank the rest of his coffee, put the cup down next to Paul's and then stepped to his desk. From a drawer, he took out a small box he reverently put on the desk. Opening it, he picked up a purple stole and, with a quick prayer, placed it around his neck. After a short glance at Paul, he returned to his silent contemplation of the window. The upper part of it, directly below the curved ceiling, was made of stained glass in a mosaic that showed various saints and churchmen who'd been of significance in the chapel's history. The light of the late afternoon fell through the colored panes and made red, gold, blue and orange dust motes dance over the desk, changing the spartan study into a work of art.
The priest closed his eyes for a moment and enjoyed the warmth of the sunlight on his face. He heard Paul clear his throat and kept his back turned, wanting to make it easier for his young protégé to unburden his soul.
"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It now has been four months since my last confession." Paul's voice sounded choked and hesitant.
Calero turned around and murmured a blessing over the young man who sat there miserably, his head bowed. He briefly touched his old pupil's forehead in benediction while Paul made the sign of the cross. Then he turned away again, saying softly: "My son, you are welcome before the Lord. He loves all his children, and nothing is beyond His forgiveness. Tell me, what made you come here and seek this holy Sacrament? Speak without fear." Calero stared out into the courtyard where a couple of children were playing on the basketball field.
"I--I have been impure in both thoughts and actions. I acted against what His Son taught us. I...," Paul's voice broke, and Calero gripped his own arms hard. Perhaps the poor boy was just being overly strict with himself. It wouldn't be the first time. The priest had to smile a little as he remembered young Paul at eight, convinced he'd committed an unforgivable sin by watching an older friend kiss a girl. The boy had berated himself again and again how he could have first left only to return in secret a few minutes later and stare, fascinated, as the two teenagers had had a rather tame kiss-and-grope session. It had taken a at least fifteen minute long speech to reassure the boy that watching this had been an infraction so minor God had no problem at all forgiving it. He hadn't dared laugh at that time, had only broken into quiet chuckles once the boy had left.
But what could have happened now? Paul was no priest or monk; he hadn't taken the vows. As far as Poppi knew, the young man had had at least one girlfriend during university that he'd been quite serious about. On the other hand, Calero was convinced that Paul would insist on waiting until the wedding before he made love to the woman he wanted to marry. So -
"Father, I have been with a man."
Calero gave a soft gasp of astonishment. Of all things he'd expected, he'd have never dreamed of that. Only his calling prevented him from turning around and gaping at the young man he'd practically raised. But he wasn't here as a father figure or mentor, he was here in his capacity as a priest, as the ear of God. As such, he couldn't allow himself to act like he wanted to. A confession before the Lord was sacred, a confession was far more important than his own feelings of shock. He gripped his arms harder and plowed on, his voice perhaps a bit sharper than usual: "My son, please tell me what you mean by 'have been with'. The Holy Word teaches us that it is a sin to lay with a man as one would with a woman. But most importantly -- do you regret it? If you repent, truly repent, everything can be forgiven. God does not turn away from His children even when they have strayed from the path of the righteous."
Paul's next words were said so softly Calero had to strain his ears to understand. "No kissing or... intercourse... was involved. I just... gave him a handjob."
The silence was tense. Calero stared unseeingly into an afternoon that slowly turned into evening.
Finally, the younger man continued, sounding as if every word cost him something vital: "I... please, Poppi, you have to understand! He'd been... flirting with me all those weeks. At least I think it was flirting. He can be so--so intense, so utterly captivating when he concentrates all his energy on you. He smiled at me a lot, and his dry wit is just... well, funny. And he started to... touch me. Whenever we had a serious conversation, he'd gesticulate a lot with his hands, put them on my chest, my arm. Once he told me all he'd done had led him to me, and when... Oh, he just -- he flirted. Damn!"
The chair scraped back violently. Poppi turned around slowly. Paul had jumped up and was now pacing to and fro in the small space between the chair and the entrance, twisting his hands. His face was anguished, his eyes looked wet. "I don't want this, I don't need this, and then that infernal evening in the cinema! I had wanted to go with a colleague, but she'd had to beg off, so I asked him. And when he sat there next to me in the darkness, I -- he dropped his cell phone. I bent to pick it up, and..." Paul's face was red now. "I -- touched him; inadvertedly. But I--I just couldn't stop. He wanted me to stop. I knew he wanted me to continue, but he... he was still thinking. I wasn't. I just... I just continued touching him. It felt so good. He liked it, and I'm sure he would have wanted to--to continue this. Make it work. A relationship, I mean. But he saw...," Paul swallowed, and clenched his fists, "... he saw what I felt, and -- he'd known before, that's why he didn't want me to. He knew I couldn't deal with it, he knew I believe it is wrong, and now, and now..."
"Paul, calm down." Calero's voice was stern. "Did you come here because you regret your sin? Or because you want to repeat it, and hope that God will stop you?"
"Keel is barely talking to me! He hasn't said but perhaps ten words that weren't work-related since that evening, and that's been, what, two weeks ago?! That darkness I told you about on the phone, the one that led to the deaths of Gretchen Albright and Danielle Franklin? We are both sure it's coming closer, and Keel -- Keel seems to think I am somehow connected to it. That I'm--I'm some sort of turning point in whatever happens next. I see ghosts, for God's sake! Tommy, that little girl, the dead twin. And I--I am the only one who has seen the sentence all wrong. Or right." He gave a bitter laugh. "If you believe that young lunatic who killed them all on 'God's orders'. Everyone seems to believe I have been 'chosen' for something important, but I don't want to be on the bad side! I always considered myself a good Christian, I believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, prayer centers me and gives me peace of mind, but lately? Lately, everything... I told you I had to get away for a little bit, to find my faith again, but then that Ferguson case dragged me back in before I was ready. Now I've left the Archdiocese, and have finally seen some things that have to be true miracles, just who do they originate from? From our Lord or from the His fallen servant? I..."
Paul broke off his increasingly distressed ramblings and took deep, visible breaths to regain his calm. Poppi just looked at him. What had happened to his young pupil? They tried to keep in contact as much as possible, and had become closer ever since Paul had met him again in the Archdiocese before taking his long absence. Now they talked to each other perhaps every other week, by phone, and Calero had delighted in once again deepening his rapport to a boy, now man, who'd become as close to him as a son. Still, he was not sure he recognized the desperate man now in front of him.
"Paul." Calero waited until the man looked at him, and gave a nod to the chair.
Paul sat down again, slowly, suddenly tired beyond measure. What had he expected, coming here? He'd thought he knew the reason when he'd knocked on Poppi's door. Confess to what had happened. Repent in front of God, be absolved and take on his penance with a lighter heart. Now, though, could he truly say -
"Your life is very difficult at the moment. Your faith is faltering, and you feel far away from God. But no matter how far you feel away from him, he will always be close to you. He loves his children. He believes in us. He believes in you. He forgives even the things for which we cannot forgive ourselves. But he can only wipe away your sins if you regret them. And, Paul, do you regret what happened? With all your heart?"
"I--I don't know," he choked out. "I know I should. I know I want to. But a part of me just... can't." He thought again of Alva's mouth, how it had looked in the dim light of the cinema, of the thrill he'd felt when he had made the other man moan, bite his lip, finally loose control, come in his hand. When he'd seen Keel's face open and vulnerable. He thought back to the discussion in the parking lot of the Denver police station and Keel's impassioned "It led me to you, Paul." speech, and further back to Keel's dry "Miss me?" when he'd found him in the back of the university hall after Professor Bauer's lecture. Thought back to all the days before that moment, the days he, Keel and Evelyn had spent in the office, working, talking, laughing together. Did he regret any of this?
"Then I cannot absolve you of this sin, my son. You have to make up your mind first."
Paul looked up into his old friend's face. It held not the damnation he'd expected, but it also wasn't the face of the man he'd run to, as a child, with his hurts, dreams and hopes for the future. Poppi might be trying, but when Paul was already uncomfortable with this--this thing, then Father Calero was even more so. The priest was a good man. He was still a member of the Catholic clergy, though, and believed wholeheartedly in the teachings of the Holy Word. He would find no unbiased council there.
He felt like his whole world was slowly crumbling to pieces.
He jumped up.
When he dropped two pennies after having paid the bus conductor because his hands were still shaking, he couldn't remember how he had gotten out of St. Jerome's. He thought he remembered Poppi trying to stop him, offering to talk further, to help him with his decision.
But he was a child no more and could no longer cry at his old mentor's knees. That time had passed.
His eyes were dry and itched. He had no tears left.
And he still had a decision to make.
"Miracles" story by allaire mikháil, 2.496 words, Alva Keel/Paul Callan UST, drama, Callan POV, rated PG-13, set after "Miracles in the Flesh". Spoilers for episodes 1.01 to 1.06. Second in the Discovering Things out of Darkness series.
The show and its characters belong to Richard Hatem, David Greenwalt, Zack Estrin and several other people as well as to ABC, not that ABC deserves them. Cancelling the show after merely broadcasting 6 (!) episodes of 13 is a slap in the face of all its loyal fans. This story belongs to me.
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