In one of the most gallant gestures I have ever seen, John called the parish priest and got him to agree to see us that afternoon. True to his word, he was going to make it right between us.
I spoke with Fr. Del about my fears and hurts, about falling in love with John, about my regret that it couldn't work out. He recommended me to cry when I wanted to cry, and to forgive myself for not measuring up to my own demands.
John later told me about his conversation with Fr. Del, who listened unjudgmentally when John told him that yes, indeed, he had intended to kill the man who had shot his partner and him. He said that the priest laid hands on John's head and placed a blessing on him, that he would act out of duty, and never in anger.
Rather than drive us apart, to keep us at a distance from one another, our trip to visit the priest brought us closer together. Without the link of sex, we had to rely on our voices and our eyes to keep us close. We paid closer attention to what we said, and our physical touches had far more meaning.
Instead of waiting for us to come to visit at the Estate, the whole tribe came to me. They arrived Sunday morning, early, and I had the blissful honor of making breakfast for everyone, with John helping and getting charmingly underfoot. We arrived at church twenty minutes before Mass, so that we could take up two whole pews with our clan, the Five in the pew with me and John, who sat in the right-most seat near the center aisle, and Bodie and Jesse and Andersol, and Mary and Albert behind us. John and I entered the church shoulder to shoulder, and sat, holding hands, and knelt, making sure our elbows touched.
At Communion time, when those who are able to receive the Body and Blood of Christ stand to attach themselves to the line filing up the center aisle of the church, I looked back over my shoulder at my nephews and nieces beside me. All five faces were fixed on me and John, an eager speculation in their eyes. I nudged John, who turned and observed their querying looks. We both stood, and went forward to Communion with the Church and all its beliefs. Looking back, I saw Marca at the end of the pew with a glowing anger in her eyes. I followed her gaze and saw Owen, who had been beside me, sticking his tongue out at her. "Owen, knock it off. You know better," I whispered.
After Communion, kneeling, united in prayer, John leaned close to my ear and murmured, "Okay, you were right."
You know what? With him returning to New York the next day, and touch of his hand holding mine, I was glad I was right, but wished that I wasn't. I didn't want to give up our intimacy. My feet were of clay, there was no doubt. Nevertheless, if one or both of us died in the night, or the next day, we'd made the choice. We'd be able to find each other in God's collection of people, with all our promises intact, all the facets of life that we loved accessible. Faith is the realization of what is hoped for, the evidence of things unseen, says the Bible. I hoped for a future, and love is a thing unseen. Perhaps faith could make both possible.
The hardest part was saying good-bye. "Be careful driving to SFO, okay?" I said, trying not to break down in tears. I was afraid that if I looked into his eyes, I'd start to sob, so I fiddled with the lapels of his suit.
"Don't use my tie for your nose, Sully," he said.
"I didn't touch your damned tie," I said, choking a little. "At least not with my nose."
"Here. Here's my hanky. It's clean. Put some of your tears on that, and I'll donate it to the Smithsonian."
"Oh, shut up."
"No, I ain't gonna shut up, not ever." He wrapped his arms around me on the sidewalk. "Listen, why don't you take some time off at Christmas and come stay with me? I'd like to show you Christmas in New York."
I was sorely tempted. What a holiday it would be, maybe snow, lots of light, icy cold, walking through the great streets arm in arm with a considerate, thoughtful, protective man. A good man, the best man I'd ever met.
"Sorry, John. I already have Christmas season booked for the kids. I haven't got that many years left to enjoy their kid-ness. The oldest ones are already talking driver's licenses! You should be coming out here, anyway. Your mother would be delighted to see you again so soon."
"Depends on when her wedding is. She's gonna marry that Albert character, I just don't know when."
"I'm going to miss you, John."
"Sully, maybe you should come back east and marry me. New York is a great city. You'd love it. We could vacation in California and you could see your nephews and nieces and we could visit Ma ... " his voice trailed off, unable to find a way to make the offer more tempting.
After a moment of shock, I said quietly, "Thank you for the offer, even if you did qualify it with a 'maybe.'"
"Dammit. You know what I'm saying. And I know you're not ready, that's why you're trying to distract me. I'm just gonna miss you, too. You're like -- when you were a kid, having a really good buddy to hang around with. Build forts and go fishing. Ride a bus to see where it goes. Look for bugs in the park."
"I think that's the nicest thing a man has ever said to me. Why don't you retire and move out here and we can just play 'California' together?" Now I'm the one getting ahead of myself!
"Will you marry me if I do?"
I was quiet too long, too taken aback to think of what to say. It was like I was standing in front of a train as it roared along the track straight at me.
"Guess that answers my question," he said in disappointment.
"Don't -- don't give up on me. You said 'maybe,' I'll say 'maybe,' too. I promise to think about this, can that satisfy you for a while?" I stepped aside and the train roared past.
"Yeah, I guess." He looked at his watch. "I gotta go. Sully, you know I love you, don't you?"
I put my hands on his face and kissed him as thoroughly as I knew how. "I love you, too. Quick! Don't shout at anyone who questions why you're flying to New York, and try not to get shot again, okay?"
"Okay, Sul. Think about what I asked. I'll keep on with the e-mails and instant thing on the computer. Talk at ya when I get in. Bye." He got into his car and left.
"Bye, John." I stood on the sidewalk and watched until his car was completely out of sight.