Copyright © 2015-2020 Michael P. Loucks
First publication date: 2009-11-01
First revision publication date: TBD
You may contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Come in, Mike,” Mrs. Mills said when she opened the door.
“Thanks, Mrs. Mills.”
She led me into the living room and offered me a soft drink. I asked for a Coke which she brought me, along with a Sprite for herself.
“How did your semester go?”
“Good,” I said. “I should have straight A’s.”
“So you’re home for the Summer now?”
“I’m actually going to stay in McKinley and be an RA, as well as work in a store there.”
“Not the hardware store?”
I shook my head, “No. This actually works out a bit better financially, and I’m very involved at the church in McKinley.”
She nodded, “So, what did you want to talk to me about? Jocelyn?”
“Yes. I spoke to a counselor who advised me to basically explain to you as best I could how I hurt Jocelyn, and hope that Jocelyn will listen to you, so that she and I can at least talk.”
“You hurt Jocelyn? I can’t believe that, Mike.”
“Oh, I did!” I sighed. “May I tell you the story?”
Mrs. Mills nodded and I began telling her about Jocelyn and me, starting with our repressed feelings at fourteen, and working my way through the accident, and to our break-up.
“Fundamentally,” I concluded, “I treated her as someone who wasn’t worthy of my love and attention, the way she needed it, because she couldn’t have my kids. As the counselor I talked to put it, I treated her like a newspaper which had been used to line a birdcage.”
“I’m not sure what to say, Mike. I don’t think you set out to mislead her.”
“I didn’t, but my actions communicated that the only value she had to me was, well, as a brood mare, I guess. The message I sent was that if she couldn’t have my babies, I didn’t want to spend my life with her. And I’m sorry I did that. I’m not sure there’s anything at all I can do to fix it, but I need to try. All I’d like is a chance to tell her how sorry I am and to do whatever I can to atone for how badly I’ve treated her.”
“She’s not right, Mike,” Mrs. Mills sighed. “There is something very wrong with her, but she insists that there isn’t. Her grades are fine, and she’s taking care of herself, so there really isn’t anything we can do, if you know what I mean.”
“I do,” I sighed. “All I can ask you to do is let her know how sorry I am, and that I realize how badly I’ve hurt her. And if she’s willing to talk to me, I’ll listen to anything she has to say.”
“I’ll try, Mike. I really can’t believe how quickly things disintegrated between the two of you when you were inseparable for years.”
“It’s my fault,” I replied.
“I don’t believe that, Mike. And you shouldn’t either.”
“Mrs. Mills, if taking complete responsibility gets Jocelyn to talk to me, I’m happy to do it. I know I’ve made grave mistakes. Whether she’s made mistakes or not is totally irrelevant.”
“How can I reach you?”
“I’ll give you the number for the dorm; I’ll be in room 200 for the Summer, then room 800 once the Fall semester begins. You can also leave a message at my house. When will she be home?”
“Late tomorrow afternoon.”
“OK. I’ll be in West Monroe until Sunday evening. Thanks for listening.”
“You’re welcome, Mike. We really like you and hope things can work out.”
“Please don’t make that the point of your conversation, Mrs. Mills. Please just make it about my mistakes.”
“I’ll do my best.”
I finished my Coke, thanked her again, and then headed home.
“Mikey!” Liz gushed, jumping up from the couch to hug me.
“Hi, Liz,” I chuckled, dropping my bag and hugging her.
“Why are you laughing?” she asked, loosening what had been a death grip.
“I was just thinking about how you used to respond to me being here.”
“Yeah, well,” she laughed softly. “I’ve changed my opinion.”
She released me and I took my bag up to my room, then came back down to the living room to sit with her.
“What’s the plan for tonight?” I asked.
“How about Lou’s in Rutherford? I feel like Italian. I take it you’re OK with Return of the Jedi?”
“Are you KIDDING?” I laughed. “Duh! I figured you girls would want to see Breathless because of Richard Gere.”
“Mindy and I would, but Maggie didn’t want to see it because it’s supposedly very sexy.”
“Not exactly a movie I want to see with my sister,” I chuckled.
Liz laughed, “Whatever! It’s no big deal.”
“So Maggie is OK with Star Wars?” I asked.
“Yes. The other option was Blue Thunder, but Star Wars is something all four of us are cool with.”
“How was Mindy’s Prom?”
“Bobby didn’t get what he was after,” Liz laughed. “Talk about messing up a sure thing!”
“What did he do?”
“Brought a flask and got drunk and stupid. Mindy ended up getting a ride home from another girl.”'
“Talk about a way to ruin a potentially VERY good night!” I said, shaking my head.
“Mindy is spending the night,” Liz smirked. “I think she needs to work off some excess energy she has saved up!”
“You and Mindy?” I smirked. “Who knew?”
“Gross, Mikey!” Liz said, but she was laughing.
“You know Mom and Dad will have a fit if they find out.”
“Mom won’t care! Well, only insofar as it upsets Dad and she has to deal with it.”
“How are things with you and Mom?”
“And your grades?”
“A’s and B’s. I take it you had all A’s?”
“I’m confident, yes,” I replied. “I would have had to really mess up an exam to miss straight A’s.”
“Are you seeing Tasha and Janey?”
“I didn’t make plans with either of them. Clarissa suggested I don’t start dating Janey again.”
“Bottom line? Tasha figured out I was sleeping with Janey and called me out.”
“Oh, please! If Tasha won’t put out, it’s not YOUR fault!”
“It’s not that simple. Clarissa’s point is that going out with Janey again would mean writing off Tasha and I’m not prepared to do that.”
Liz shook her head, “Tasha has you totally whipped and you aren’t even married to her!”
“She does not!”
“You’re right, it’s worse! Pussy whipped with no pussy!”
“I dated Janey behind Tasha’s back, then rubbed Tasha’s nose in it!”
“Just let it go, please,” I asked with a small sigh. “It’s more complicated than you realize.”
“How is it complicated? You’ve obviously decided to marry Tasha, so why not just ask her? I think it’s a dumb idea, but you obviously don’t.”
“That’s just it,” I protested, “I haven’t decided anything! I don’t WANT to decide right now. The problem is, I have to make a decision which most likely closes off one of those two. And I think, given everything else, that Clarissa is correct that Tasha is the better choice of the two.”
“Angie is coming back to Taft in a week for Summer session.”
“So? First of all, she’s nuts! And second, she didn’t care you were dating other girls. There’s something else. Something important you aren’t telling me.”
“More than me and Paul?”
I chuckled, “In some ways, yes; in others, no. I told you that Clarissa and I are soulmates, even though she’s a lesbian.”
“But you’ll never be able to sleep with her.”
“Jocelyn and I were soulmates without sleeping together. In fact, in a way, sleeping together is what caused all the problems.”
“I swear if you two weren’t so nerdy and ‘goody two shoes’ and had just fucked when you were fourteen, you’d be engaged and ready to marry as soon as you could afford it!”
“Well, we didn’t, and here we are, not even speaking to each other, BECAUSE we had sex.”
“I call bullshit on that, too! The accident messed her up. That’s what caused the problems.”
“No, I messed her up by telling her she was worthless if she couldn’t have my kids.”
“There is NO WAY you said that to her! I know you too well!”
“Not those exact words, but things I said and things I did. And the REALLY dumb part is that I had advice from two counselors and blew it off. I went to Milford last week and saw Doctor Mercer; you know one of the counselors who helped us with Family Services? I told her everything and she’s the one who pointed out what I’d done. She called me a, and I quote, ‘Grade-A idiot’.”
“I didn’t need a graduate degree in psychology to figure THAT out!” Liz teased.
“Love you too,” I said sarcastically. “But that’s why I was at Jocelyn’s house earlier - to tell her mom what I’d done and ask her to try again to get Jos to talk to me.”
“Jesus, Mikey! You’re punishing yourself for having sex with Jocelyn! Tasha? No sex. Angie? No sex. Clarissa? Obviously, no sex! Maggie? Same thing if you ask HER out. THAT’S the real reason you want to break it off with Janey! You’re afraid that having sex with a girl you love will wreck everything! You can bang Mindy or Kristin because you know they’re just fucking because they enjoy it!”
Actually, nothing about my relationship with Clarissa was ‘obvious’, except for the fact that we were intimate friends. But I couldn’t reveal the things I’d spoken about with Clarissa to Liz.
“And Becky?” I asked.
“You haven’t seen her since Christmas. If I know you, you’ll either break things off, avoid seeing her, or stop having sex. Jesus, Mikey; get a fucking grip! It’s just sex!”
“Says my little sister who has sworn off sex with anyone except Paul.”
“That’s TOTALLY different!” she insisted. “I’m engaged to him!”
“I told you we’re going to marry as soon as possible! His wife divorced him, so there’s nothing in the way once he gets out of prison. If YOU were engaged, would YOU be fucking anyone except maybe your fiancée?”
“So you can’t compare my situation to yours. I know you’ve had sex with a bunch of girls, so I just don’t get why you’re so hung up about it at this point! I thought you were past that part of the BS they fed you at church.”
“You do realize my life would actually have been a lot calmer and a lot simpler to manage if I’d actually followed that teaching, right? I wouldn’t BE in this predicament.”
“And you’d still be the ‘goody two shoes’ nerd who I couldn’t talk to about important stuff! And boring, to boot!”
“You think people who don’t have sex are boring?”
“You sure were! You were too much like Dad. Well, I thought Mom was like that, too, but I guess not.”
The slight smirk and twinkle in Liz’s eye hinted strongly that Mom had revealed some things to her, though I had no idea what Mom had said, nor how much detail she might have shared.
“Let’s assume all of that is correct; why would I keep seeing Janey? She acted as if we were steady, while at the same time refusing to talk about our relationship.”
“But she came to McKinley to talk to you, right?”
“Yes. And I told her I needed time to think about it, and suggested we speak after exams. I’m curious, why do you think I should choose Janey over Tasha, if I could only have a chance with one of them?”
Liz was quiet for a moment before she answered.
“I don’t know for sure; maybe because of Tasha’s dad? I guess I just see her being too much like him.”
I shook my head, “I don’t think so; at least not based on what she’s said. I do think once she’s out from under his thumb she’ll change. Well, actually, she won’t change so much as she’ll change her behavior.”
“I guess I don’t see it. I think Sasha is like that, but not Tasha.”
“Well, right now, I think it’s in my own best interest to not start dating Janey again.”
“Is ANY girl Orthodox enough for you? I mean besides Tasha?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know. That’s part of what I’m trying to figure out. And I’m not sure Janey truly understands what it means to date clergy.”
“Oh give me a fucking break!” Liz growled. “Please tell me you aren’t falling for THAT bullshit! It’s nobody’s business if you want to kiss, or hug, or hold hands! Or fuck if you want to do that! Jesus, Mikey! We don’t live in a monastery!”
“Look how much trouble I got into because I kissed Janey in public. I signed up for this when I agreed to be ordained. Tasha understands what it means and won’t cross any lines which would get me in trouble.”
“She won’t cross any lines, period!”
“Liz, you don’t know her,” I grinned. “She’s not like you think.”
“Oh, really? Do tell!”
“You know I can’t. Can we just drop this? Please?”
“Are we picking up Mindy and Maggie or are they coming here?”
“Picking them up about 5:00pm so we can eat and make the 7:10pm show.”
“I’m going to go take a shower and unpack.”
I got up from the couch and headed upstairs. I got my bathroom kit from my bag, grabbed a fresh towel from the linen closet, then went into the bathroom. I took a quick shower, dried off, wrapped my towel around me, and went back to my room to dress. Once I was dressed, I unpacked my bag, then went back downstairs so that Liz and I could leave to pick up Mindy and Maggie.
We headed to Mindy’s house first, and before she got into the back seat, she came to the driver’s window to get a kiss, which I gave her after quickly checking that nobody was around to see. We picked up Maggie a few minutes later, then headed towards Rutherford.
“Maggie,” I asked, “what did you think of the church service?”
“That was maybe the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in my life! So, you’re like a pastor now?”
Liz broke out laughing, “Right! My brother? A priest? SUUURRREEE!”
“Ignore her!” I said, but I was laughing as well. “No, I’m not a pastor. The pastor is the priest, the one who was wearing the cloak-like garment. The next down is the deacon, the one who was dressed similar to me, but wore his stole draped, rather than in an ‘X’, and who had cloth cuffs. Then comes subdeacon, which is my rank, and then reader, which is what I was before. Obviously, the bishop, the one in the crown, is the highest rank.”
“So what does a subdeacon do?”
“Pretty much what you saw me do - help the bishop, or if he’s not there, the priest. At some point, I’ll probably be assigned to teach Sunday School or catechism class.”
“Teaching people interested in the church about what we believe.”
“We call that an inquirers class. Do you say the same prayers every week? It sounds like you do.”
“Some, yes; some no.”
“And you have Communion every week?”
“At every Divine Liturgy, and there can be more than one in a week. It’s the main point of going to church.”
“Not to hear the Scriptures?”
“Of course to hear the Scriptures, and that’s important, but not as important as the Eucharist. I take it you heard the readings and all the other Scriptures that were read or sung.”
“But the sermon was short and didn’t teach from the Bible!”
“The bishop spoke about Jonah, and how we can apply that story to our lives.”
“No, I mean he didn’t teach from the specific passage from the Gospel that was read.”
“Does it really matter? He was teaching from the Bible. And even if he didn’t read a specific passage first, his homily would be about how to live our lives as Christians. If you want more teaching, you can go to Sunday School. But now I think we’re boring Mindy and Liz. What are you guys doing this Summer?”
“Working at Sears,” Mindy replied. “I start on Tuesday. I worked there part-time last Summer, too.”
“Teaching at Vacation Bible School, then going on a mission trip to Mexico,” Maggie said.
“Mission trip?” I asked.
“Uhm, to, uhm, teach the Bible to Catholics.”
“You don’t believe they’re Christians, do you?”
“Uhm…err…uhm, not according to my pastor.”
“Well, forget that for now. How long is your trip.”
“Do you speak Spanish?”
“I’ve taken three years, so I’m OK at it, I guess. I’ll find out for sure in July!”
“I’m good at French,” Mindy said impishly.
“I BET you are,” Liz replied.
In the rearview mirror I saw Maggie roll her eyes and shake her head, but she was smiling.
“Maggie, how strict are your parents?” I asked.
“I’m just curious.”
“You mean, like, am I allowed to date?”
“I suppose that’s a good way to explain it.”
“I’m allowed to date, but the first date has to be dinner at my house so my mom and dad can meet the guy, and I have to be home by 11:00pm.”
“And he has to be a Christian?” I asked.
“Your definition or mine?” I asked with a grin, which she could see in the rearview mirror.
Maggie sagged back slightly in her seat and frowned.
I’d put her in an uncomfortable position earlier where she’d already admitted she didn’t think Roman Catholics were Christians, and now she was going to have to say that I wasn’t. And that appeared to be something she didn’t want to do. The problem was, I knew the answer, and I was sure she knew that I knew.
“Mine, obviously,” she said, quietly, after a minute or so of discomfort.
“And you are in position to judge my heart? Simply because of how I worship?”
“Mike, could you have this conversation another time, please?” Mindy asked.
“Sure. Sorry, girls; that kind of went a different direction than I expected it to. I promise no more religion talk tonight.”
We arrived in Rutherford a few minutes later and when we were shown to a booth, Mindy sat next to me, and Liz sat across from me, next to Maggie. We ordered our sodas, then looked over the menus. A few minutes later we placed our orders.
“What department do you work in at Sears?” I asked Mindy.
“Either linens or women’s clothing. Mostly I run the register. Liz, did you get the job at Marie’s?”
“Yes. I start on Wednesday, part time, days. My grandma will give me rides because I can’t afford to buy a car and Mom and Dad both need theirs.”
“You didn’t tell me you were working at Marie’s,” I replied.
“I figured if you weren’t working for Mr. Orlov, I shouldn’t. I told him that, too. I guess Janey got her job back.”
“He never actually told her he fired her,” I said. “So technically, she wasn’t fired.”
“What happened?” Maggie asked.
“Don’t ask!” Liz laughed. “We’ll get back on the forbidden subject!”
“What does an RA do?” Mindy asked.
“One of my friends referred to it as being the ‘adult’ on the floor. Basically, my job is to help kids adjust to living in the dorm, act as a sounding board or friendly ear, play peacemaker if there are disputes between roommates, and enforce the dorm rules. I’m also the person who gets called if someone gets sick or hurt in the middle of the night.”
“Wouldn’t they just call the police or an ambulance?”
“They should, and part of my job is making sure that happens. Somebody will come wake me up and I’ll check to make sure the person gets help. Oh, the other thing I do is represent my floor at the dorm council meetings. There’s a girl for the girls' side, too. The dorm council provides feedback to the administration on issues and concerns.”
“Whatever happened with that bitch of a dean?” Liz asked.
“She’s still on her female supremacy kick, but she couldn’t prevent me from being an RA and she hasn’t managed to wreck the honors programs just yet. I’m doing my best to stay out of her line of fire and letting my friends Melody and Jeannette fight with her. I’ll help if they need me to, but it’s better to let them do it. Besides, I positively hate politics - government, school, or otherwise.”
“What’s her problem?” Maggie asked.
“She basically thinks that past discrimination against women requires punishing all men, collectively, and discriminating against them, even if they, themselves, have done nothing wrong. For her, ANY merit-based system has to be removed and replaced with what she calls an ‘equitable’ one that guarantees places for women, no matter what.”
“Wait! So the kids with the best grades don’t get into honors classes?”
"Correct. She’s even fighting the biology honors lunch program which has one guy and one girl per class year. She wants it to be all women, basically, to make up for alleged bias against women. She’s not making much headway because women are admitted at the same effective rate as men when they apply, so there is no legal basis for her challenge.
"She’s going after the admissions process, but for now, she’s not going to win. Melody, my friend who wants to be a lawyer, and whose uncle is in the ACLU, says eventually she’ll win, to the point where they’ll admit less qualified women AND cancel quite a few men’s sports because the rules she wants require equal participation, not just equal opportunity. So for example, because the football team has fifty or so guys, there need to be fifty spots on women’s sports teams. And so on for every male sport. Oh, and just for completeness, she thinks it’s perfectly OK for there to be more women on sports teams than men.
“I’m all for dividing scholarships equally, because I personally don’t think I should be paying full in-state tuition while someone who plays football gets a free ride. I know those sports make money for the school, but they’ll make money even without scholarships. And that IS a disadvantage girls have which I do want to see corrected. She wants to go overboard.”
“Crazy,” Maggie said.
“What do you want to major in when you go to college?” I asked.
“My dad wants me to go to Grace Bible College in Michigan to learn to be a pastor’s wife.”
“Basically you study the Bible, childcare, and primary education. Usually in our kind of church, the pastor’s wife runs the Sunday School for the younger kids.”
“Tell your DAD to go learn how to be a pastor’s wife!” Liz laughed. “Let HIM see how he likes it!”
Mindy and I both broke up laughing at that mental picture.
“What do YOU want to do?” I asked when I stopped laughing.
“I’m not sure yet. I’m thinking accounting because if I get my CPA, it makes it easier to take time off to have kids, then go back to work, or even work from home.”
“Is it normal in your church for wives to work?” I asked.
“No way! And a pastor’s wife would never be allowed to work.”
“Her job is to be the pastor’s wife. Isn’t that true for your priest?”
“A good number of our priests' wives work and some of our priests have other jobs if their parish isn’t large enough to pay them a full salary. What happens with a small church?”
“I’m not sure. My church has about 120 families and the one we went to in Arizona was just as big.”
“Anyway, so how do you plan to resolve the issue between you and your dad?”
“I don’t know yet. Karl will be home for a couple of weeks this Summer and I’ll talk to him and see if he can help me figure out a solution.”
Maggie’s situation was even crazier than Tasha’s, at least as I saw it. In Tasha’s case, despite Deacon Vasily wanting her to marry as quickly as possible, she COULD go to college if she wanted to. Her mother hadn’t, but that was a choice, not a requirement. Both Father Herman’s and Father Nicholas' wives worked, mainly for health insurance benefits, as those policies were very expensive for a parish to cover.
“Nobody is telling ME what to do!” Mindy said, shaking her head. “That’s totally nuts!”
“I hate to break it to you, but even adults have to do what they’re told,” I chuckled. “Obey the law, pay your taxes, and otherwise be an upstanding citizen.”
“Can I at LEAST have four years of college to have fun? Please?”
I chuckled, “There are rules there, too! You remember you couldn’t come into our dorm, right?”
“Ugh! Being an adult was supposed to be fun!”
“Who told you THAT lie?” I asked with a grin.
The waitress arrived, and as she began serving our food I leaned over to Mindy.
“They don’t enforce the dorm rules strictly during the Summer,” I whispered.
She smirked and squeezed my arm, and then we started eating. The food was good, and there wasn’t much conversation. We finished, split the bill four ways, and then headed to the theater to see Return of the Jedi.
“You can split me in half with your light saber later,” Mindy whispered sexily when sat down in our seats.
“Behave!” I whispered back, laughing softly.
We all thoroughly enjoyed the movie, though I could have done without the Ewoks. I felt it detracted from the story, and seemed almost Disneyesque. I could just see a line of plush, stuffed Ewok dolls adding to the marketing hype which surrounded Star Wars.
After leaving the theater, we dropped Maggie at home, then stopped by Mindy’s house so she could get her bag. Ten minutes later, we were home. The girls went upstairs, but I stayed downstairs to talk to my parents. There really wasn’t much new to talk about, so after about ten minutes I headed up to bed.
My alarm, which I’d set at the lowest possible volume, rang at 4:45am. Mindy reluctantly climbed from my bed, pulled on her robe, and quietly left my room. I reset the alarm for 7:00am, then rolled over and went back to sleep.
When the alarm went off again at 7:00am, I got out of bed, opened the window, then put on my robe and went across the hall for a shower. After washing up, I went back to my room, dressed, changed my sheets, and made my bed. I put the soiled sheets in the laundry bag, which I’d deal with later in the day, and then went downstairs to make myself some breakfast.
Everyone else slept late, and by the time my mom came to the kitchen, I was done eating and was finishing the last of my tea.
“Morning, Mike,” she said.
“Any plans for the day?”
“I’ll call Janey in a bit and see if she wants to have lunch, but otherwise, just Vespers.”
“Are you seeing Tasha?”
“I have no idea. I’ll find out tonight at church. Her dad is STILL in his mood, even though evidence suggests all Sasha did was a bit of making out.”
“So your sister and her friends say.”
“I’d say it’s logical, wouldn’t you? It doesn’t make sense that a totally cloistered girl would go from first kiss to sex in a couple of hours.”
“You’re making quite a few assumptions, Mike. She might have snuck out other times or she might have spent time with the boy at school or any number of other possibilities.”
“Shouldn’t we give her the benefit of the doubt?”
“Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.”
“But not always,” I countered. “Even if it’s true in this instance, Deacon Vasily is wrong to treat Tasha the way he’s treating her.”
Mom laughed softly, “Because Tasha has never once, not for a second, thought about going beyond simple kisses with you?”
“You know I can’t answer that question,” I replied. “And it’s not a reasonable question, either! It’s a trap!”
I suppressed my own laughter at the reference to the movie I’d seen the previous night when Admiral Ackbar had uttered that line.
Mom arched an eyebrow, “Why is it a trap?”
“Because if she hasn’t, I could easily say ‘no’, and that would protect her virtue. If she has, and I deny it, I’m a liar. If she has and I admit it, then I’m not being a gentleman nor am I protecting her privacy. A trap. And to put an even finer point on it, it’s the same kind of ‘trap’ question which Janey asked me that led to us breaking up.”
“But you do understand his concern.”
I nodded, “And I also know that teenagers are VERY creative when it comes to doing things their parents don’t want them to do.”
“Spoken from experience?” Mom asked quizzically.
“Prior to age eighteen? I can’t think of a specific incident which would qualify.”
“Talk about carefully choosing your words!” Mom said, shaking her head. “So since then?”
“I’m an adult,” I replied with a wry smile. “I get to make my own mistakes and be completely responsible for them.”
“How did things go with Mrs. Mills?”
I shrugged, “I told her how I felt, and what I thought I’d done wrong, and took complete responsibility for treating Jocelyn badly. At this point, the ball is in Jocelyn’s court and there is literally nothing more I can do.”
“I suppose not,” she said, going to the fridge to get ingredients for her breakfast.
“Mom? Does Dad really not understand me to that extreme?”
“You mean his comment at your ordination?”
“I think, though I’m not sure, that he draws a parallel with your medical career.”
I shook my head, “That makes no sense. Heck, I didn’t even ask to be an acolyte when I was younger. Father asked me and I agreed. The same was true when I became Head Acolyte - Father asked me. In a sense, I’m just doing my duty the way any draftee ought to do. I don’t think I ever did anything to call attention to myself; do you?”
“Not in the way you mean, no. But you did get attention because Father selected you. And now the bishop has selected you.”
“But I just do what I’m supposed to do and follow directions from the priests and bishop. If Dad is focusing on me during church, he’s missing the entire point. Again. I guess I didn’t realize how much conflict there was on this topic between you two.”
“It was never visible because your father chose to set it aside because he loves me and for the sake of family unity.”
I nodded and thought for a moment about when the first cracks had formed, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.
“That changed when I left home and when Liz had her problems and decided she didn’t want to go to church, didn’t it? The, well, externals, didn’t matter as much at that point. And that just reinforces my belief that I need to marry someone who is thoroughly Orthodox, and probably not just Orthodox, but ‘cradle’, or as close as not to matter.”
“Because you fear that a convert might be going through the motions, so to speak? Mike, cradle Orthodox do that as well, especially kids. Very few embrace it the way you have for your entire life. The ones who do, stay in the church. The ones who don’t, often leave and join whatever church their spouse attends. Some come back; others don’t. And you can’t predict based on how they behave as teenagers.”
“You just told me I can’t even be sure Natalya Vasilyevna will stay Orthodox!”
Mom smiled, “How well do you know her heart, Mike? I mean, compared to as best anyone can given our limitations as human beings?”
“Pretty well, I think. Her behavior has been very consistent, even outside of her father’s zone of control. I think that’s true of Katy Malenkov as well, allowing for their less fundamentalist approach.”
Mom laughed, “You have NO idea what Orthodox fundamentalism is! You should ask Vladyka about the Old Calendarist monks who would call YOU insufficiently Orthodox!”
“You mean the ones who believe that the laity ought to live as if they were monks and follow monastic practices? I’ve heard of them. But in the end, I follow the practices established by my bishop through his priest. That’s my responsibility. If the monks want to take it up with the bishop, more power to them. I personally don’t like their odds!”
“Me either,” Mom said with a smile. “Do you think Janey is insufficiently Orthodox?”
I shook my head, “No, I don’t. That’s not the problem between us. I guess the easiest way to put it is that she just wanted to keep things casual because she thought someone better might come along.”
“And my son has NEVER had such a thought in his mind?”
“«Проклятье»,” I breathed.
“That’s mild, even for you, Mikhail Petrovich! ‘Darn’ isn’t your usual response.”
“There’s no point in upsetting or offending you by saying something earthier or stronger.”
“Look who’s learned a lesson,” Mom smirked.
“The words which just now popped into my mind were MUCH stronger,” I replied with a grin. “I guess you’re right about my actions, but I was actually trying to move forward and figure things out.”
“And every eighteen-year-old girl is ready to make a lifetime commitment? Have you considered that you might have pressed her too hard?”
“It’s possible,” I allowed, “but she made all kinds of references to what our life might be like in the future. Why do that?”
“Again, my son has NEVER had those kinds of thoughts?”
“Mike, you’re twenty, which is hardly ancient in any scheme, but the girls you’re interested in are all either starting their Freshman year of college or their Senior year of High School. And even the ones looking to the future aren’t ready to make that commitment, at least for the most part.”
“For one, yes.”
“Do you mean before or after the baby?”
“Before. Think about it, Mike.”
I thought about it for a few seconds, then nodded slowly as I came to a new understanding of the situation.
“She changed her mind about Prom night because she wasn’t ready for the commitment which she felt spending the night together would bring. But once she had the baby, her priorities changed. At that point, having a husband and a father for her baby was of overriding importance.”
“May I make one more observation?”
“As if I could stop you?” I replied with a smile.
Mom laughed softly and shook her head in amusement.
“Please just take this as an observation, not a criticism, but you told me that when Jocelyn was going to be at Purdue, she insisted you date because you weren’t the man she could marry. She felt you needed to grow up, so to speak. I believe it was actually more complicated than that - she knew that SHE needed to grow up as well. At eighteen, the prospect of a life together was enticing, but also frightening. This wasn’t two five-year-olds in kindergarten, or two fourteen-year-olds who were too inexperienced to understand what they had. Suddenly, life was real. And even the two of you had to step back and take stock. Just as you and April did. Just as you and Janey have done. And, might I add, you and Tasha.”
“Thank you VERY much for confusing what was already a complicated situation,” I sighed. “Maybe I SHOULD let the bishop ordain me a deacon!”
“You are NOT cut out to be celibate any more than I am!” Mom laughed. “It’s an empty threat.”
“True,” I said with a wan smile, “but I’m still left with a very difficult dilemma. If I start seeing Janey again, I’m writing Tasha off permanently. And that’s not something I’m prepared to do at this point.”
“Because Tasha gave you an ultimatum?”
“No. Because Tasha, rightly, pointed out my «некультурный» behavior, an opinion shared by a deacon, two priests, and a bishop. Not to mention a subdeacon of your acquaintance.”
“You’re willing to give up Janey for a chance to be with Tasha?”
“I think so, yes.”
“That should tell you something very important, both about the girls, and about you.”
“It should also raise a very important question. Will you be happy? Will Tasha? Is that truly what you want and what’s best for both of you?”
“I don’t have the foggiest idea,” I sighed.
Later that morning, I stared at the phone, trying to decide exactly what I was going to say to Janey. My problem was, that even asking her to have lunch was fraught with problems. If we were seen together, AND it got back to Tasha, or worse, Deacon Vasily, that would be the end of any possible relationship with Tasha. And the more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that I didn’t want to do that.
That said, I didn’t want to have the conversation with Janey over the phone. That left me with a serious dilemma which I didn’t quite know how to solve. I really needed to get out of West Monroe, and away from all the things here which seemed to trip me up. While things in McKinley were far from perfect, I didn’t have the kinds of problems which seemed to arise at home.
Maybe that was the solution - ask her to come see me in McKinley. Of all the solutions, that one made the most sense. I picked up the handset and dialed Janey’s number, waiting as the rotary dial returned to the ‘home’ position after each number was dialed. When I dialed the last number, and the clicks stopped, the phone rang twice before it was answered by Mrs. Riley, who called Janey to the phone for me.
“Hi, Mike! How did exams go?”
“No problems, really. I should have straight A’s.”
“I’m curious, how does valedictorian work if there are multiple people with straight A’s?”
“Clarissa checked into that and it’s always decided by committee. And anyone who graduates summa cum laude is eligible.”
“Is that dean on the committee?”
“Of course. But I have strong advocates as well. And there are no vetoes.”
“Cool. You’re home?”
“Yes, but if you remember, I’m going back tomorrow afternoon because I start work on Monday. When do you start at the Hardware store?”
“Given the timing, I think it’s better if you come to McKinley one evening this week, or next Saturday or Sunday so we can talk things through.”
“Are you seeing Tasha?”
I suppressed a sigh, “I haven’t spoken to her. I am sure I’ll see her at church tonight and I suspect she’ll stand next to me. My goal is to get out of town without creating a scene or any trouble for anyone. At this point, I’m actually starting to regret coming home.”
“I guess I feel as if I’m walking on eggshells so as not to upset anyone - you, Tasha, my dad, or Deacon Vasily. I just don’t feel free to be myself the way I am at school.”
“I don’t know that you can keep everyone happy.”
“I probably can’t, but the chances of truly pissing someone off are lower in McKinley.”
“You sound like you’re telling me you don’t want to upset Tasha, and so you won’t see me today or tomorrow.”
“I know it sounds that way, but until you and I sit down and talk, I’d like to avoid anything which could lead to confrontation.”
“So same as always? Avoid confrontation?”
“No. I’m trying to avoid unnecessary confrontation. I hope you can see that there’s a difference.”
“I still say you want her.”
“I don’t know WHAT I want,” I said, exasperated. “Which is why you and I need to sit down and figure out if we belong together or not. Or maybe it’s better to say if we want to seriously explore the future together.”
“You can’t have both of us, Mike.”
“Oh for Pete’s sake,” I growled, exasperated. “Don’t you think I know that? Why do you think I’m struggling here? I just told you I wanted to talk to you about the future, and it wasn’t because I’m trying to play games! But I’m also deadly serious about not creating unnecessary confrontation and about not making sex the basis for a relationship. If you can’t handle that, then don’t bother coming to see me in McKinley.”
“I never made sex the basis for our relationship! You ACCUSED me of doing that.”
“Sorry; you felt that we could put off talking about the future so long as we were screwing. All I wanted to do was map out a general path and you didn’t. We TALKED about this.”
“Oh give me a fucking break! Because I wasn’t ready to map out the future, you said we had to stop having sex!”
“Something I never said! I said it was for THAT day. So we could talk. And that’s when everything went right down the drain. Do you remember that you insisted I answer a question which I felt you had no right to ask? And that was after you basically refused to discuss the future.”
“So I can’t be unsure? I have to decide?”
“Did I ask you to decide? No! I asked you to talk about it and work on it! But you seem to think talking about it commits you to some course of action!”
“And you think sex commits YOU to some course of action!”
I sighed, “No, I don’t. Well, that’s not quite true. There ARE girls for whom it does. And I would never be with a girl like that unless I was ready to make a permanent commitment.”
“A girl like that? You mean not a slut?”
“I never SAID that, nor did I imply it! And if I thought THAT, why did I offer to talk to you about the future?”
“That is NOT even remotely true! I’ve had sex with girls just for pure pleasure and with whom I had, and have, NO intention of having a romantic relationship! I don’t feel guilty about that. I WOULD, on the other hand, have felt guilty if, for example, I’d slept with April after Prom and only realized afterwards she felt it was a permanent commitment.”
It was also the case I’d felt guilty about being with Kristin, but I’d worked through that and resolved not to make the same mistake in the future. And in my talks with her, I’d absolved myself of the guilt relating to seducing her.
“I think you feel guilty about sex in general.”
I took a deep breath and let it out.
“In the sense that fornication is a sin, yes. But that’s not the problem here.”
“I think it is.”
“The only way I can defeat your argument is to reveal confidences and discuss my other relationships. And that’s simply not something I’m going to do. That goes right back to the same argument we had on our way to McKinley that Saturday morning. I haven’t changed my mind on the topic beyond what I told you when you came to see me a month ago. At this point, all I can say is take your time and think about what you want. If you want to see me, call. If not, don’t. And if Tasha standing next to me tonight at Vespers is going to be a deal-breaker, you may as well tell me now.”
“You don’t care one way or the other?”
“I DO care. But going around in circles doesn’t do anyone any good. And that’s what we’re doing.”
“Do you realize how crazy this sounds? If I just want to fuck you to get off, that’s cool. But if I want a relationship, then you want a roadmap before we fuck again? That’s nuts, Mike!”
“Was it ‘just sex’ to you the first time we were together? Or were you trying for a dating relationship?”
“I obviously wanted to date you, have some fun, and see where things went.”
“And once they went somewhere, you got cold feet. And that made NO sense to me after the day we spent playing house, including the bath we took together, and roaming the house naked. You sent me every possible signal, implicit and explicit, you wanted to move forward, and that what we were doing was a preview of the future. Then suddenly, when I wanted to talk about that future, everything changed. That’s why I’m saying you need to think about what you really want and then call me if you want to explore the future.”
“Did you tell Tasha the same thing?”
“Will you PLEASE stop making her the issue? I’m trying to figure out you and me, and you keep bringing her into this! If you and I were to be an exclusive couple, she WILL know about it. And what she thinks at that point won’t matter.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Fine. I think I have your answer. Bye, Janey.”
I simply replaced the receiver without waiting for her response and headed towards the stairs from the basement.
“Holy shit, Mikey!” Liz gasped when I reached the stairs.
She was sitting just far enough up that I wouldn’t have seen her, but I was also sure she would have heard the entirety of my side of the conversation.
“What?” I snapped.
“Whoa! Chill! I’m on your side! From what I heard, you told Janey all she had to do was sit down and talk with you about the future and she’d most likely win! And she kept bringing up Tasha!”
“It’s not quite that simple, but she did keep bringing up Tasha when I was trying to talk to her about us.”
“I hate to say this, but I think you’re right about coming home. Between Dad and Deacon Vasily, you can’t be yourself without creating all kinds of problems. I like the new Mike, but you can’t be him when you’re here. And Mike, Tasha is also part of the problem because she’s being what my Intro to Psychology teacher calls ‘passive-aggressive’ when she stands next to you at church.”
I nodded, “I know. I had thought about telling her to stop doing that, but once Janey and I had our problems, it didn’t make sense to cause MORE trouble with Tasha. But that problem goes away if I don’t go to Holy Transfiguration. Of course, then there’s the whole situation with Angie, who is Orthodox and will be going to Saint Michael. But SHE will talk to me and we can try to get things straight, though I have to keep her emotional situation in mind.”
“So what are you going to do?”
I shrugged, “Nothing, I guess. Over the Summer I’ll see Becky, plus Clarissa is going to come hang out with me and I’m going to visit her, and I suspect Mindy will want to visit. I’ll probably hang out with Nancy and her mom a bit, too. I’m sure I’ll make some friends amongst the Summer school students as well.”
“What about Maggie?”
“What ABOUT Maggie? She doesn’t think I’m a Christian! I am NOT interested in some kind of inquisition, or whatever the Protestants call it, that I’d have to undergo if I had dinner at her house. I think she’s hot, and I like her, but that situation would be worse than when I was dating April!”
“She likes you. A lot!”
“And our dates will consist of theological arguments and her trying to convert me to a nutty version of Christianity which believes the earth is only 6,000 years old and that Adam and Eve were real, literal persons? She’s lucky I didn’t pull out the story of Lilith!”
I chuckled, “Something Mr. Black told us about. Basically, there are ancient stories which say that the first man and woman were Adam and Lilith, who were made from the dust of the ground. Lilith didn’t like the situation, so she left and then God made Eve out of Adam’s side. Lilith is referred to as a demoness and as being sexually free.”
“Where the heck is THAT found?”
“Jewish mythology from the Babylonian Talmud, which was developed in the third to fifth centuries. Mr. Black liked those kinds of stories, but he was always careful to say they were just stories. Anyway, I just don’t see it being worth the aggravation.”
“I thought you liked redheads with green eyes!” Liz teased.
“I DO, but that’s a secondary consideration in this case. Unless you know something I don’t.”
“No, but she seemed pretty unhappy about the way the conversation went. We’re going swimming with Emmy, Mindy, and some girls from church after lunch. Mindy is picking me up. Want to come along?”
“Nah, I think I’ll stay here. I’ll have the house to myself and I don’t get much in the way of total privacy at school.”
“I thought you liked hanging out with your friends.”
“I do. But having some time alone is good, too. And this is the time and place to do it because I’m not really shunning anyone.”
“OK. The offer’s open, if you want it.”
She got up and we headed up the stairs. Mom and Dad were just leaving and would be home right before it was time to leave for Vespers, so I said ‘goodbye’ to them and then went up to hang out in my room until lunch. Liz and I had lunch together, and then she got ready for her trip to the pool.
Just after 1:00pm the doorbell rang and I opened the door to find Mindy and Maggie. I let them in and shut the door. Mindy gave me a hug and a quick peck and Maggie shyly hugged me.
“Liz!” I shouted. “Your friends are here.”
“Mike, do you have a minute?” Maggie asked quietly
I totally wasn’t in a mood for a debate, but Maggie’s tone of voice and her body language said something different.
“Sure,” I replied as Liz came bounding down the stairs, pool bag in hand.
“I need a minute,” Maggie said.
Liz laughed and nodded, so I walked into the kitchen with Maggie following behind.
“I wanted to apologize for saying you weren’t a Christian last night. That wasn’t right. I’m sorry.”
“Apology accepted,” I replied in as reassuring voice as I could muster.
“You must think I’m a terrible person!”
I shook my head, “Not at all. I think you’re a good person who wasn’t taught properly by people who weren’t taught properly. That’s hardly your fault.”
She smiled, “Mindy told me I’d behaved really badly and that you were one of the nicest guys she ever met. She was right. Could we talk more?”
“I’m not really up for a theological debate today,” I said.
“I promise not to argue with you. I just want to hear more about the stuff you believe to try to understand.”
“Can I ask why?”
“Because,” she answered softly, blushing. “I like you.”
I refrained from shaking my head and sighing. What she’d said wasn’t really a revelation given what Liz had said and Maggie’s behavior. That said, I’d just resolved to stick to girls who were at least eighteen. And, given what I knew about Maggie, I wasn’t going to be able to date her, at least not in any normal fashion, not even the limited dates I’d had with Tasha. And that was because I wouldn’t be able to pass muster with Lieutenant Colonel Schumacher of the United States Air Force.
“I thought asking you out required an interview with your dad.”
“I know. But we’d just be talking. I don’t,” she blushed even deeper red, “well you know, do what Mindy does.”
“Which isn’t what I meant when I said ‘asking you out’,” I replied gently. “But I couldn’t even take you to dinner or a movie without getting your dad’s approval.”
Maggie looked sad, “So you won’t even talk with me.”
“I will, but I’m just pointing out the problems. When would I see you to talk? I’m in McKinley all Summer.”
“I saw you there when Liz and Mindy came to visit you. I could do that again.”
“I’ll leave it up to you. You’re welcome to visit if you want.”
“What about today? I could skip swimming.”
“Nobody else is home,” I said.
“I trust you.”
I couldn’t help but laugh softly, “I would worry about your reputation or your dad’s reaction.”
“He would be very upset.”
“So go swimming today and talk to Liz about visiting me in McKinley to talk.”
Maggie smiled, “Thanks, Mike.”
She leaned forward and kissed my cheek, then hurried to join Liz and Mindy at the front door.
“Bye, Mike!” the three of them called out.
“Bye!” I called back.
They left and I went upstairs and got a book, then went back down the living room. I sprawled out on the couch and opened my book. I closed it after a few minutes because I couldn’t concentrate. Every time I came home, SOME kind of monkey wrench was thrown into mix. I was half-tempted to simply pack my bags on go back to McKinley. Although Liz might give me grief about ‘running away’, I felt I had legitimate reasons.
I thought back to a conversation I’d had with my mom during the Fall of my Freshman year when she’d suggested I get away. She’d mentioned Gettysburg or Mammoth Cave, but at this point, even McKinley seemed a world away. Suddenly, the small town of West Monroe was no longer comforting the way it had been, and I DID need to get away.
And, in reality, McKinley was my home. I lived there, now basically year-round, and Saint Michael the Archangel was my assigned parish. I began, in a small way, to understand Dale’s thinking, though if I had tried to do what he did, I felt things would have gone badly. My eighteen-year-old self wouldn’t have been able to deal with it. McKinley, which was smaller than Cincinnati or Columbus, was an eye-opening experience by itself and required significant adjustments.
But what did that mean for my desire to practice medicine in Harding County? Did I belong here? Or somewhere else? Was Hayes County, which was right next door and was where McKinley was located, far enough away? Or did I need to go further? And what would that mean for medical school and Residency? What would Clarissa and Sandy say? And where would we go? Pittsburgh? Indianapolis?
But was I overreacting? Was it enough to simply live away from home? And how would I deal with the important ties in West Monroe - my mom and Liz? And what about Jocelyn? And of course, Tasha. And Mindy. And, I laughed, Maggie. I couldn’t escape! Well, that wasn’t true. I could go to Stanford Medical School or someplace like that and bail completely on Ohio and be far enough away that it wouldn’t really matter what happened in West Monroe.
My earlier conversation with Janey made me wonder more about Tasha, and the questions my mom had asked. Would I be happy? Would she? Was it best for both of us to be together? I’d told Mom that I hadn’t the foggiest notion. But why was that? The bottom line, I felt, was the fact that Tasha’s dad controlled her so closely, and because of that, we couldn’t REALLY get to know each other and be together in situations where we both felt free to just ‘be ourselves’, as it were. In many ways, I knew Kristin better than Tasha, even ignoring the Biblical meaning of ‘knew’.
In the end, I felt that was where my indecision about Tasha arose. And I didn’t know how to resolve that problem short of kidnapping her or having her run away from home. As I thought about it, maybe there WAS a way. She’s wasn’t eighteen yet, but she would be in about three months. The problem with THAT thinking, though, was that she was still in High School and needed to live with her parents. The question was, how could I free her from captivity, as it were, so I could find out if she and I really WERE compatible?
If there was ever a time to ‘gird my loins’ and take action, it had arrived. If I didn’t do something definitive, I’d simply keep going around in circles. The problem was, the action I was contemplating could backfire, badly. But could it actually make things worse? In most ways, not really, though it might permanently end things between Tasha and me. And strangely, that scared me less than continuing to ride what appeared to be a merry-go-round. I went upstairs, put my book away, then went to the bathroom to brush my teeth and run a comb through my hair.
I went back downstairs, got my keys from the hook in the kitchen, locked up the house, and got into my car. I started the car and pulled out of the driveway, knowing that any hesitation on my part would send me scurrying back home, something I knew would consign me to the same cycle I was trying to break. Ten minutes later, I pulled into Tasha’s driveway. I parked, got out of the car, walked to the door, and rang the bell.
“Subdeacon Michael?” Deacon Vasily said when he opened the door. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to take Tasha to Grant Park for the afternoon. I’ll bring her to Vespers.”
“I didn’t give permission for that!”
“I wasn’t asking permission, Father Deacon. You’ve basically put Tasha in jail for something her sister did. That’s not right. Each of us is to be responsible for our own sin, and Tasha didn’t do anything wrong. I did, and I’ve apologized for it, and I’m not seeing that young woman now. I want to spend time with Tasha these few days I’m home.”
“Dad, I want to go,” Tasha said firmly from behind him. “Subdeacon Michael is right. You’ve kept me a prisoner for something I didn’t do!”
I kept my mouth firmly shut because Tasha had taken the cue and was running with it.
“Go back to the living room, Natalya!” he commanded.
“No,” she said firmly. “I’m going to the park with Subdeacon Michael.”
“I didn’t give permission!”
“And, when will you? Never? How do you expect me to ever get married if you never let me see him, or any other boy, for that matter? Do you want me to sneak out of the house in the middle of the night to see him? I can, you know! But it’s not proper!”
"«Дорогая оя, отойти о двери и позволить ей уйти» Matushka Alexandra said from behind Tasha.
Another voice of support! And one which Deacon Vasily couldn’t ignore. I might not be able to formulate good sentences in Russian, but she’d plainly told him to let Tasha go with me.
“I’ll get my hat,” Tasha said happily.
“Thank you, Matushka,” I said.
Deacon Vasily glowered and looked as if he was about to explode, but he’d been countermanded by the ONE person, short of the bishop, who could do that!
“I promise to have her to Vespers on time,” I said as Deacon Vasily turned to confront his wife.
Tasha came to the door and stepped outside as a heated, quiet conversation began in the foyer. I took her hand and led her to the car, helping her into the passenger seat, then quickly walked around and got into the driver’s seat. I started the car, backed out of the driveway, and headed to Grant Park.
“Wow,” Tasha laughed. “What got into you!”
“I guess when it’s called for, I can be a real son of a vich!”
She laughed even harder, “Cute, Mikhail PetroVICH!”
“Promise not to get angry?”
“I promise,” she said.
“Janey and I had another fight on the phone this morning.”
“Our relationship, but really, it was about you.”
“Because every time I tried to talk to her about us, I mean her and me, she brought it back to you. It’s more complicated than that, but I think the best way to put it is that she wanted a commitment without a commitment, if that makes sense.”
“She didn’t want you to date but she also didn’t want to be too serious?”
“I suppose you could put it that way.”
“And that’s why you came to see me?”
“Partly. Afterwards, I realized that I was just going around in circles because you and I don’t actually know each other well enough to even think about getting married. And your dad was preventing us from spending time together to find out.”
I saw Tasha smile from the corner of my eye.
“I was foolish to believe we could marry and be happy simply because I wished it.”
“And I was foolish to believe that because you were so beautiful, it would work.”
Tasha laughed, “But that is what first attracts boys, isn’t it?”
“Of course. And what attracts girls?”
“A «культурный» boy who is at least nice looking.”
Tasha smiled, “I believe you are acceptably handsome.”
Tasha put her hand on mine, which was on the shifter.
“Most of the time when I wish you to be, and sometimes when I don’t!”
“I can be a real «глупец» at times.”
“Yes, you can!”
“You didn’t have to be so quick to agree!” I grinned.
“What if I say my Prince Charming rescued me?”
“I’d say your mom is the real hero here. The ONE person who your dad MUST obey.”
Tasha laughed, “Remember that, Mishka!”
“I’m well aware! Bishops cower in the face of «бабушки»!”
“You know that’s not actually true. But it IS true that they would never do anything of which the «бабушки» do not approve or which would upset them.”
I chuckled, “Technically true, but in the end, it works out the same way! I’m not talking theology here, but what we call ‘local tradition’ or ‘local practice’. Or about who is ordained or not ordained. Do you know if Mr. and Mrs. Orlov actually spoke to the bishop?”
“I believe your grandfather and grandmother insisted they not do so, that you had done nothing improper by befriending misguided young people and bringing them to the church.”
“Misguided?” I asked.
Tasha took a deep breath, “I know you feel that your friends haven’t made a choice, but I’m not sure.”
“Tasha, did you wake up one day and decide to like boys? Or was it just natural?”
She laughed, “I liked YOU, Mishka! I wanted to have your babies! I wanted to PRACTICE making them!”
I chuckled, “And now?”
“The desire hasn’t changed, even if the circumstances have.”
“Perhaps one day. And do you think Clarissa didn’t have the same feelings? Except for towards girls instead of boys?”
“But the church teaches that it’s sinful.”
“The church doesn’t teach that human desire is sinful,” I said gently. “It teaches that acting on that desire is where any problems might arise. Your desire to be with me is not sinful. It would become sinful if we acted on it. Something you wish to do.”
“Don’t you see it as deviant behavior?”
“No more than my improper behavior with Janey,” I replied.
Tasha was quiet for a moment, which was enough time to reach Grant Park. I turned into the entrance road and parked. We got out of the car, and after locking the doors, I took her hand and we began walking.
“I suppose, when you put it that way, no. But it’s not what God intended.”
“Neither is what I did with Janey. Or Jocelyn. Nor would it have been, if I had done what you asked, with you.”
“You know what I meant about a man and a woman together.”
I nodded, “I do know, but is one sin graver than the other? Am I in position to judge? Are you?”
“It’s a difficult question,” Tasha replied. “And you intend to have Clarissa as your friend, and socialize with her, uhm, girlfriend, I guess you would call it?”
“And bring them into the house? And have them around your children?”
“Yes. It’s not a disease which you can catch!”
“It seems as if you approve of sinful behavior.”
“The very same accusation which was leveled against Jesus.”
Tasha was quiet as we walked along the tree-lined path towards the lake.
“Do you know what I’ve discovered?” I asked once we reached the lake.
“That being in West Monroe isn’t good for me.”
“You don’t plan to come home?”
“McKinley is home now,” I replied. “That’s where school, work, and more importantly, my church is. I’ll come to visit, but it won’t be very often.”
“You don’t want to see me?” she asked apprehensively.
“Of course I do! If not, why did I come to your house and confront your dad? After I take you to dinner tonight, I’ll simply tell him I expect you to be allowed to visit me in McKinley.”
“He’ll NEVER approve!”
“I believe your mom put her foot down on that matter. And, you’ll be eighteen in three months, too.”
“But still in High School and living at home!”
“But your argument was correct. How does he expect us to marry if we’re not able to spend time together? We’ve both promised him we’d behave. And, if you’ll excuse me saying this, all he knows is that I kissed Janey, unless you told him more.”
“No, of course not. I didn’t know for sure until you admitted it.”
“I never meant to hurt you,” I said gently.
“I know; I suppose my eyes were opened. Maybe the same way yours were in McKinley, though perhaps not to the same extent.”
“I think that’s good, though perhaps not the way it happened.”
“I would say NOT!”
“There’s more to being a wife than sex and babies.”
Tasha laughed, “But those ARE the good parts!”
I nodded, “Of course! But I think both of us need more than that. I have no doubt you would be a loving and dutiful wife, a loving, caring mom, and a fearless «бабушка». And all of that is wonderful. The question is, can you and I grow and learn together, face new challenges, and achieve whatever it is we’re meant to be?”
“You mean God’s plan?”
“No. I know I’ve heard that phrase before, but it’s not really Orthodox. Synergy is Orthodox - our Union with God through Jesus Christ, which allows us to work together with God. And it’s the same way for a married couple. Synergy - working together for a common set of goals, being willing to do the very hard work necessary to achieve them.”
“I never wanted to be anything other than a wife and mother, but I sense you don’t feel that’s enough.”
“I’m not the one who has to decide that, Tasha; you are. And my fear is that you are in no better position to decide something like that than I was when I was a Senior in High School and had rarely been away from Harding County. I know what happened with your mom and dad, obviously, but 1983 is very different from 1963. Or 1863. I daresay your dad is, in some ways, still living in 19th Century Russia. I half expect him to ask me if such and such a thing is the way it was back then and declare it an outrage when it isn’t!”
Tasha laughed, “Do you have hidden microphones in the house? He makes comments about how things were before the Communists, as if it was similar to living in heaven!”
I chuckled, “He needs to talk to Mr. Black at the High School. Mr. Black’s comment about Russia was, no matter what year you pick, it ALWAYS sucks to be a serf! And you can safely substitute collective farmer for serf.”
“And you thought Janey could decide those things?”
“I did, but I was mistaken. In a sense, she was less ready to discuss the future than you were, but your willingness to discuss it was based only on babies!”
“And making them!” she laughed. “And LOTS of practice!”
“You have a one-track mind!”
“And you don’t think about doing that with me?”
“From the moment you turned fourteen!”
“So what do we do about it?”
I laughed, “I think there’s an obvious solution! But it’s not a wise one.”
“I meant our relationship!” she said, giggling softly.
“You did NOT!” I protested. “You wanted me to tell you how I would take you someplace private and kiss every inch of your beautiful, naked body and then make passionate love to you for hours!”
“Mishka!” she squealed. “Don’t!”
I chuckled, “You’ve been teasing me about it almost since our very first dinner after Vespers nearly two years ago!”
“Stop teasing me or I’ll make you do what you tease me about!”
“Make me?” I chuckled. “I made a promise!”
“And seeing my beautiful, naked body, you could resist?”
“No,” I grinned, “I don’t believe I could.”
“But seriously, about our relationship - how?”
“Spending time together and truly getting to know each other is very important. Your dad thinks that will lead us to have sex, and in a sense, he’s right - if we marry! But it’s also necessary so we can talk without concerning ourselves with interruptions. The other thing, obviously, is you need to finish High School, and, I think, consider going to college, even if it’s only for an associate’s degree.”
“But it would be forever before we could marry in such a case!”
“Two years at junior college, and you’d only be twenty! That’s hardly an ‘Old Maid’!”
Tasha laughed, “I suppose not. Why do you think that?”
“For the same reason I needed to get away from here.”
“Are you thinking we won’t know for at least three years?”
“I actually don’t know how long it’s going to take. Perhaps we decide sooner that we belong together. Or, possibly, that we don’t. Simply assuming something will happen is not a good idea.”
Tasha sighed deeply, “I know. That was the thing I discovered after what happened with Janey, and with your friend Clarissa.”
“I want you to get to know her,” I said. “And my other friends. But she’s the most important.”
“A girl you are very close to, who I have nothing to worry about!”
Of course, in my insane, convoluted, upside-down world, Tasha’s statement wasn’t exactly true, but then again, in a sense it was. In the end, I didn’t think Clarissa could act against her own desires, and I didn’t see any evidence those desires were in any way transitory. She’d been attracted to women since she was first aware of sexual attraction and our very simple forays into physical closeness had borne out those attractions.
“So there is an advantage to her being a lesbian!” I replied.
“Where are we going for dinner tonight?” she asked.
“Anywhere you like.”
“I feel like a double-crust, extra-cheese, extra-pepperoni pizza!”
“Funny, you don’t look like one!” I turned, stopped, and kissed her. “Nor do you taste like one!”
“Are you SURE?” she laughed.
We exchanged a very soft French kiss.
“Are you absolutely sure?”
“Perhaps you want me to check somewhere else?” I smirked.
Tasha squealed in fake outrage and we shared another soft French kiss.
“Any other place has to wait,” I said. “Though I will say I look forward to the taste of succulent breasts and thighs!”
“Mishka! Stop! Or I will force you to make good on that!”
I took her hand and we continued walking along the lake.
“Pizza Inn in Rutherford? Not Pizza Hut, but the other one, across the street from A&W?”
“Yes, that’s the one I mean.”
We stayed at Grant Park for a couple of hours, then left the park to go to Holy Transfiguration for Vespers.
I didn’t need to change because I’d be wearing my cassock and Tasha was dressed appropriately. When we walked inside, Deacon Vasily gave us a hard stare, but said nothing, while Father Herman greeted us warmly. We took our usual places and waited for the service to start. A few minutes later, I felt, rather than saw, Janey come into the church. I didn’t turn, but for some reason I could feel the cold, angry stare.
I wasn’t really sure what I could have done differently. In my mind, Janey was asking for two diametrically opposed things - an exclusive commitment on my part which didn’t involve a long-term commitment on her part. In my mind, they had to go together, even if that long-term commitment was only being explored. I’d tried, and failed, to find a way through.
Of course, if she stayed long enough to see Tasha and me leave the church, it would only ‘confirm’ her accusation in her mind. What Janey wouldn’t, and perhaps couldn’t, understand, was that the current situation existed because she and I had diverging views of what was, and was not, up for discussion before we made a serious commitment.
I knew I was losing focus, so I took a deep breath and concentrated on the icon screen. A minute later, Father Herman and Deacon Vasily began the service, and I gratefully slipped into my usual peaceful state.
“What happened yesterday?” Mom asked when I came downstairs on Sunday morning.
“What do you mean?”
“You and Tasha.”
I shrugged, “I might have decided I’d had enough of Deacon Vasily and went to Tasha’s house and announced we were going to Grant Park and that I’d have her to church for Vespers, and then after Vespers, announced we were going to Pizza Inn for dinner.”
“What’s the real story?” Mom asked with a knowing smile.
“That’s the real story. Tasha stated she wasn’t going to be held prisoner for something Sasha did, and her mom backed her.”
“Which explains the pained look on Deacon Vasily’s face. Whatever possessed you to confront him in that way?”
“Because someone convinced me I needed to be sure that Tasha and I would be happy and both have our needs met,” I grinned.
“And from that you went to Tasha’s house and simply made demands.”
“I talked to Janey in between. That’s over and done with; for good, I might add. I also had an interesting talk with Liz. And one with Maggie.”
I nodded, “She was more than a little confused and put off by her experience at church.”
“On Friday night she said some things which she wanted to apologize for, and then we had a short talk. She left with Liz and Mindy to go meet their friends at the pool, and I decided to go get Tasha.”
“So you two are a couple now?”
I shook my head, “No. We’re going to get to know each other, on our terms, and decide where to go from there. She’ll come visit me in McKinley when she can.”
“And Deacon Vasily is going to allow that?”
“Does he REALLY have an option? Tasha will be eighteen in August. And as she pointed out to him when I told him I was going to take her to Grant Park, he can’t expect her to get to know me and marry me if we’re never allowed to spend time together. But it was Matushka who insisted he allow it. I’m going to take Tasha to lunch after Liturgy, and then I’ll come back here to get my stuff before I head back to McKinley.”
“When do you plan to come home again?”
“I don’t have any plans in that regard. You’re welcome to come see me in McKinley any time. Liz knows that, and I’m sure she’ll come see me. I just need to be away, Mom. I believe you were the one who suggested that. Two years ago.”
“Me and my big mouth,” she laughed. “But I think I was right then, and that you’re right, now.”
“I also suggested to Tasha that she consider going to junior college when she graduates.”
Mom nodded, “That would give her a bit of seasoning.”
“I think she tastes good as is!” I smirked.
“I think it’s time for you to go to church, Subdeacon Pig!”
“You love me anyway!”
I grinned and hugged her, and headed off to church.
I arrived back at Taft just after 4:00pm, having spent an enjoyable two hours with Tasha after church. I went into the dorm and up to the second floor where I dropped my bag in room 200, my Summer living quarters. Once I double-checked that everything was in working order, I went to the basement and got a cart, then took the elevator to the eighth floor to begin moving my things.
As far as I could tell, I was the only one in the dorm, which made using the elevator much easier. It took about forty-five minutes to move everything, and another twenty until I had everything in place. I’d need to repeat what I’d just done at the end of the Summer when I moved to room 800, but that was several months away.
I picked up the phone and dialed Nancy’s number.
“Hi!” she said when she answered. “Are you back?”
“Yes. Still want to hang out?”
“Absolutely! Mom made enough spaghetti if you want to have dinner here, and then we can go out.”
“I can be there in thirty minutes,” I said.
We said ‘goodbye’ and I took a quick shower in MY shower, then dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. I grabbed my baseball cap, and then headed back out to my car. Twenty minutes later I was at the Lander’s front door and Nancy let me in. Dinner was ready, so we went straight to the kitchen to eat spaghetti, garlic bread, and salad. At the end of the meal, Nancy and I cleaned up, then headed out to my car.
“What do you want to do?” I asked as I pulled out of the driveway.
“I’m up for pretty much anything,” Nancy replied. “Movie? Bowling? Ice Cream? Milton Lake?”
“Is there something you want to see?”
“Breathless with Richard Gere and Valérie Kaprisky. You’re OK with a movie rated ‘R’, right?”
I chuckled, “I’ll get one of those fake noses with a mustache. But seriously, it’s not a problem. I talked to my priest about it and he basically said to avoid strip clubs, ‘X’ rated movies, and that kind of thing. I don’t even know where those kinds of things ARE!”
Nancy laughed, “You’ve heard of Simon Leis, right?”
“The name rings a bell, but I can’t place it.”
“He’s the prosecutor over in Cincinnati. He’s the one who got the guy who publishes Hustler convicted on obscenity charges. There was other stuff that Cincinnati did that basically ensured there were no pornographic theaters or strip clubs. All that stuff was across the river in Kentucky.”
“Good to know,” I chuckled. “Not that I had any plans to go to any of those kinds of places even before I was ordained.”
“How does your meal plan work over the Summer?”
“Once the session starts, it’s the usual 19 meals a week, which works out pretty well because I don’t eat breakfast on Sunday mornings and there’s always food after the Divine Liturgy. Not to mention the occasional times I’ll eat out.”
“Are any of your friends here for Summer session besides Angie?”
“Just her. I’m sure I’ll know some people, but nobody from my core group of friends.”
“I’m free to hang out pretty much anytime you want, and you’re always welcome at the house.”
“Thanks. As an RA I do need to be around campus. I’m not a prisoner or anything like that, but I do have to be available.”
We arrived at the theater and each bought our own tickets, then stopped at the concession stand to get popcorn and drinks. We found seats in the center, about halfway back, and about ten minutes later, the lights dimmed and the ‘Coming Attractions’ trailers began. I found it amusing that ‘trailers’ appeared before the movie, but my grandfather had explained that in the past, they were shown at the end, but because people left the theater as soon as the ‘Feature Film’ ended, they weren’t very effective. That led to them going first. There were two upcoming movies I absolutely wanted to see - Trading Places and Octopussy. Wargames looked as if it might be fun, but the computer-based theme was kind of a turnoff.
The movie was decent, though I had real trouble believing that Valérie Kaprisky’s character, Monica, an intelligent French architecture student, would risk everything for an affair with Richard Gere’s character, Jesse, a cop killer. In the end, though, she realized the mistake she’d made and turned him in to the cops. The ending, a freeze-frame of Jesse turning to face the cops with a gun was perfect, because it left the TRUE ending to our imaginations.
“What did you think?” I asked Nancy as we left the theater.
“I liked it. You?”
“It was pretty good. What do you want to do now?”
Nancy laughed softly, “After THAT movie? Do you even have to ask?”
I grinned, “I will admit that Valérie Kaprisky is smoking hot and I very much enjoyed the display. Though I could have done without Richard Gere!”
“Men!” Nancy laughed. “Scared to death of another guy’s thing!”
“Ice cream?” I asked, changing the subject.
“I suppose, if that’s all that’s available to lick!”
“The sex scenes got you all hot and bothered?”
“They didn’t do the same for you?” she asked, incredulously.
“I didn’t say any such thing,” I grinned.
“But you prefer we each lick our own ice cream cone?”
“Would you believe me if I said things are even more complicated now than they were three days ago?”
Nancy laughed, “With you? I’d believe it. May I say something about that?”
“Oh sure, why not?” I grinned. “Everyone ELSE is giving me advice!”
“You overthink things. Sure, some things DO need to be given serious consideration, but you overthink just about EVERYTHING. You should stop that. Sometimes just doing the next logical thing is right. Sometimes just doing what you want to do is right. Sometimes just doing what feels good is right. But I agree, there are times when you DO need to think carefully.”
“And you think this isn’t one of those?”
“Not really, no.”
“I tend to get in more trouble when I don’t carefully consider the ramifications.”
Nancy laughed, “I think you get in equal amounts of trouble either way! I’m not talking about doing obviously dumb stuff, but Mike, as much as I like you, I swear, you do NOT know how to have a good time!”
“You do know that I enjoy my life, minus my relationship drama, right? Just because my relationships are complicated, doesn’t mean I’m not having fun!”
“But even your ‘fun’ is carefully considered.”
“By which you mean who I have sex with, right?”
“Perhaps,” she replied with a smirk. “In all seriousness, I do believe you overthink things quite often. It’s part of your focused approach to life. I do understand it, and I’m NOT telling you to deviate from your career goals and the things you need to do to achieve them.”
“So your definition of enjoying life and being fun would involve going back to my room?”
“And licking ice cream off each other!”
I chuckled, “That might be a bit cold.”
“Not for long!” she laughed.
“You know my concern, right?”
“You STILL haven’t learned to just play?” she asked, shaking her head in exasperation. “Have I asked you for anything? Tried to get back together with you? Told you I wanted to be your girlfriend?”
“You HAVE asked for sex,” I grinned.
“You KNOW what I meant by that, you blockhead!”
“I do; I guess my difficulty is with the fact that we dated before.”
Nancy shook her head and spoke firmly but quietly.
“And you think because I want to play that means I’m going to try to get back together with you? Even after I told you that wasn’t why? You either don’t believe me or don’t trust me. I’m not expecting anything. COULD we get back together? I have no clue. WOULD we if we could? I have no clue. Do I EXPECT it? No.”
She had a reasonable point, but I also felt she was introducing ANOTHER complication. She didn’t see it that way, obviously, but I did. I was sure it WAS related to the fact that we’d dated, because I actually COULD play with Mindy and Kristin. Nancy and I had certainly enjoyed being with each other, even if our relationship was rocky because we were both struggling with things from our past.
“So what do you expect?”
“Oh for the love of…are you kidding?” she laughed. “Or do I need to spell it out?”
“I guess I was asking if this was a one-time thing.”
“I don’t know. Do we NEED a plan? Or are you overthinking this?”
I took a deep breath and let it out. I was having flashbacks to my conversation with Janey, and before her, Melody. But Nancy’s approach felt much more like a friend offering suggestions. She obviously had a goal, but I also knew she’d continue our relationship the way it was if I didn’t change my mind.
“I’m probably overthinking it,” I said. “I suppose the thing that most concerns me, taking into account what you’ve said, is my own approach to what amounts to casual sex.”
“See, now THAT is a legitimate question. It’s one I’ve had since I was fifteen. I always knew I’d have sex before I got married, it was really only a question of who and when, and how to decide. Your view was different, though.”
“And I was conflicted from the start. I WANTED to have sex, but I was concerned about what it meant and how I could reconcile it with what the Church teaches. I got past it, at least partially, but I struggle with what Melody called ‘sexual ethics’. I guess I don’t really have a complete answer and I’m not quite sure how to develop a complete answer. It seems wrong to simply do whatever feels good and basically have no rules other than ‘I want to do this’.”
“I agree, and if you’ll allow me to marshal one specific argument, you and I have already been together.”
“An interesting point,” I agreed, “but which only matters if counting partners is the important question. I’m not sure it is.”
“May I ask you a question which is completely and totally inappropriate? And one which I’ll understand if you refuse to answer?”
I nodded, “Ask.”
“Have you ever just played? Just had sex to enjoy it without worrying about a relationship?”
“Which brings me right back to wondering why you have a problem with it. I keep coming back to you not being sure you can trust what I’m telling you.”