It's Sunday night, and tonight is much like every other Sunday night for the past few months. I'm at mass being "as Catholic as they will let me be."
As usual, I have my head bowed and my hands clasped behind my back. I try to keep my eyes either closed or on the speaker. As usual, I can smell the perfume from a few pews over. A slender, pretty little brunette is wearing said perfume. Her "Sweet Pea" perfume always drives me crazy, but this time it was positively maddening. I have to say, "Sweet Pea" is a favorite of mine.
I was sure she had caught me staring once, but then again, I think I had caught her looking too. We really don't see each other much outside of mass, and we've only shared a few words in the months I've been a member of this parish.
Still, I'm sure she must know. Nearly everyone in our generation knew about me after my last relationship. They know I am a lesbian.
I sneak a peek at her once again. She smiled at me, looking back out of the corner of her eye. I blushed, looking away, but returning the smile. I am quite sure sure her modest white dress is honest about what it stands for, and I feel dirty to gaze at her.
For one, I doubt that she is "as Catholic as she can be." I'm sure she's the perfect Catholic girl, quiet, happy, straight. I'm sure her parents are proud, as they stand beside her. I'm sure they would never allow her to run around with the likes of me. Me, with my dark clothes, short hair, dark makeup, loud music, occasionally explicit artwork. Not to mention that I was damned to hell for my homosexuality. They would never let their daughter even shake my hand if they knew who I was.
I can only thank our God that they aren't in my generation. That my generation wouldn't dare share gossip with their generation. So I'd have to be content with stealing glances and the cherished chance that we might share the sign of peace and I'd get to touch her hand for just a moment, and she'd say a word directly t me, with that radiant smile that gave the same love to everyone.
She really is the perfect Christian girl, not only Catholic. The most I could ever hope for would be her loving acceptance of me, never a love beyond the love she has for every being under God. In her eyes, that means everyone.
We all say the Our Father, hands held, physically joining the entire church. We go up for our blessings or communion. Arms crossed, head bowed, I accept my blessing and return to my seat. Hands together, head held high, she and her family receive communion and proudly return to their pew.
I kneel and pray, thanking God for everything that has come my way, and for everything that has not. And I try not to picture her smiling face and inhale her dizzying perfume. I tell myself that it is my penance for whatever I have done wrong in this life. I thank God for making me how I am, to make me open to everyone without prejudice. For giving me a reminder. I thank God for her.
As we all sit back in our seats, I enjoy this continued moment of silence, admiring the stained glass and well-structured building. I silently thank God for this place, too. As my eyes sweep the space lovingly, my eyes fall upon her again. This time, I can see her openly looking at me. Is she really? Awkwardly, I glance around me, trying to see what she must be looking at. I cautiously turn my eyes back to her. She smiles, and my heart skips a beat.
Then the priest summons us to stand, I respectfully bow my head, as I know she has also done.
"This mass has ended, go in peace."
"Thanks be to God."
She is already gone by the time I am down the aisle and walking out the door. I search for her, but do not see her. "Oh well." I will see her next week.
But I don't have to wait that long.
On Wednesdays, I have my art classes downtown, and I have never seen her near here before unless she is working the soup kitchen. Today was different.
Miss Linda, a short woman with dark red hair leads my class. She is quite eccentric, always fun, and always wearing something a little outside the norm. Her large, dangling earrings had butterflies emerging from cocoons, and her gown had butterflies of every colour. And she always said everything with a flourish.
"We have a new student!" The other four students turned their attention to the central table as I continued to set out our supplies. "This is Lilah."
I dropped the cup of paintbrushes I had been about to set down. My scarlet face turned towards the slender brunette at the front of the room. Her graceful body was clad in a flattering blue blouse and grey skinny jeans that made her look almost elf-like. She was stunning. Her long, gentle curls were neatly pulled back in a casual ponytail, and her glowing face was in the full, almost angelic light. Angelic on her, that is.
Her radiant white smile shone at recognizing me. I smiled bashfully as I clumsily tried to gather the spilled brushes. I can hardly breathe.
"Anna Rose, since you are the most experienced of the lot, I would like you to aid Lilah in beginning her project." With a dismissive wave of her hand and a smirk only I could catch, Linda turned away to set up her own table.
My eyes are wide, and I am positively speechless as this angel walks towards me. I am about to help one of God's masterpieces learn to paint.
"Hello." She smiles at me and bends to help me retrieve the last of the brushes.
"He-hey, Lilah. I didn't know you p-paint." I curse myself in my mind for stuttering, but I know I cannot help it. I can smell her perfume.
"Oh, well I've always enjoyed artwork. I saw one of your recent works down at Lakeview and it interested me, so I decided to try my hand at acrylic. My father used to paint, in oil, before he went to college and married."
She had seen some of my artwork? Which had she seen? My mind drew a blank as to what I had at Lakeview at the moment. It seemed I couldn't function with Lilah so close to me. Still, she had gone to the museum that held my artwork, and she had seen it. It had actually inspired her to paint. The butterflies came strongly in my stomach then, and I silently praised God and begged to keep me from dancing around the room.
I managed, "Oh?" I cleared my throat, trying not to squeak, "Which did you see?"
"I loved the Angel series. They were very unconventional." She stopped. "Oh, I didn't mean that in a bad way. I just mean that they didn't appear to strictly follow any guidelines. You know, with the black wings, or colours. Is this sounding terrible? I mean it as a compliment. I really do." Her face looked embarrassed, and somehow still radiant.
"Oh, no I definitely take that as a compliment." I was inwardly beaming. She enjoyed how it was odd. What more could I hope for? "I didn't know you liked that sort of thing." I rolled up my sleeves before I set up her canvas, pocketing my rings and bracelet to spare them from being ruined.
"Actually, it really fascinates me. Sometimes the same old angels get boring." She laughed then, and I couldn't help but think of bells.
"By the way, what did you dad paint? Why did he stop?"
"Oh," her face darkened somewhat, and my stomach dropped. Before I could backtrack, she continued. "Well, he lived in Paris for four of his adolescent years," I noted her eloquent method of speech, wondering if her parents had homeschooled her, "and he used to paint people on the streets, or sitting in cafes. When his family moved back to the US, he was about to turn nineteen, so his parents got him into a college… and there weren't many nearby cafés. It turned out he was too preoccupied with school as it was, and then he met my mother." She paused as she chose her palette, a crease on her usually smooth forehead.
Not knowing what to say, I remain silent and begin my sketch on my canvas, waiting for her to continue.
She sighed, and continued. "I suppose my father believed that his old paintings were sacrilegious, and my mother backed this lurking idea. His paintings sometimes portrayed lovers in the scene, and they weren't always orthodox. This bothered my mother greatly, whereas my father had always simply ignored the fact and allowed them to remain in the scene instead of altering it to exclude them."
Without thinking, "Unorthodox? How so?" I realize the implications, a second too late, and hope this doesn't begin something I will regret.
"Oh, well, obviously unmarried lovers, or occasionally," she pauses shortly, swallowing, looking up at me from her canvas, "Occasionally female couples or male couples, if they happen to be in the scene my father was painting. Homosexual couples, in other words." Her blush makes me feel guilty, and I can see that she knows what I am. My heart sinks.
"I see." My face burns as I begin to apply paint to my canvas. I find I can no longer look her in the eye. I concentrate on keeping my mind blank, free of negative thoughts, and simply creating.
A minute or two passes. I am afraid that our conversation is over, and we will only speak again if she has questions on technique or something of that nature.
Very timidly, very softly, she says "That sort of thing bothers my mother. It doesn't bother me."
This catches me totally off guard, and I pause, brush in midair. My brain can hardly process this. What does she mean by it? I touch the brush to the canvas, snapping out of my pause, but I still cannot think of something to say.
I have to admit, I am cynical, and it still sometimes gets the better of me.
"You don't need to be polite. I'm guessing you know about me, then?" When she doesn't say anything, I look up at her. She's watching me. "W-what?"
She opens her mouth to speak, and then closes it. She turns back to her canvas, and I assume she regrets saying anything. I bet I've made her uncomfortable. Then I notice her canvas. The painting looks impressionistic and it appears to be of a girl, and she is in the palm of a large, tanned hand. God, I think. But who is the girl?
Just as recognition dawns on me, in the auburn hair, the wide green eyes, Lilah speaks again. "It isn't something wrong." She takes a deep breath, "God made people, made you that way… so it must be good."
I am stunned. I am the girl in the painting. And Lilah just said that God made me a lesbian, so it must be… good? Did she really just say good? I look at her again, in a new way. She's smiling timidly, so innocently. She really believes what she just said.