He sat on the wooden bench nestled snugly inside the confessional. He heard the door on the other side of the screen open and close slowly, he took a deep breath preparing himself for whatever the person was going to unburden themselves with. He heard them shift around uncomfortably on the bench, and through the small screen between them could tell the person was blonde. He glanced at his watch, wondering how long they were going to sit in silence.
"Forgive me Father for I have sinned." A soft, feminine voice spoke.
His breath hitched, he knew that voice. He'd heard it a million times inside his parish, and out in the town. He swallowed past the lump in his throat and forced his personal feelings aside, he couldn't let her know that he knew who she was.
"What is this sin my child?" He asked.
"I have had impure thoughts about a man, who is not my husband." She admitted.
He took a deep breath, wasn't it torture enough that he had to stand every Sunday and face her while he preached? Was it not enough that she was a married woman and he was a priest? Now she had impure thoughts about another man.
"Does this man return your feelings?" He asked.
"No, he's..."She stopped and let the sentence trail off.
"He's what my child?" He pressed.
"A good man." She said finally.
"Have you engaged in physical pleasures with this man?" The priest asked, holding his breath. Praying she said no.
"No, he would never." She said.
He took a deep breath and a moment to steady himself. He smelled her perfume an intoxicating scent of vanilla and roses, unique and sweet. God knew how he loved her, how he lay in his bed and lusted after her. It was his biggest struggle and his darkest secret.
"If no trespass has occurred on your marriage, I'm sure you will be forgiven." He said finally.
"No, no trespasses." She said.
"Tell me about this man, what draws you from your husband to him?" He asked. He didn't want to know not really, but it was his job to help.
"Surely you don't want me to name him." She said.
"No, of course not. I merely am curious as to what draws you to him." He said.
"Oh, I barely know where to start." She said.
"Anywhere you like." He said.
"He's kind. He's so kind and generous with his time and his life. He'd give anything to anyone, he'd die for someone if they needed him too. He does charity work, he helps those he can. I've never heard him utter a single harsh word to anyone. He's soft spoken and gentle." She said.
She stopped talking and he realized now that he was hanging on her every word. He leaned back to rest against the wall behind him, this was going to take some time and he didn't mind in the least. Even through a wall, even while pretending he didn't know who she was he enjoyed being in her presence.
"Go on." He said finally.
"He's strong, his job doesn't require him to be and I don't think he's vain enough to work out but...he's got strong arms and shoulders. Sometimes when I see him out I want to touch him, I want to know what it feels like to have his arms around me. He has dark hair and he keeps it slicked back, he's always clean shaven. He has the brownest, darkest eyes I've ever seen. They're so soft and deep...he wears glasses, not the nerdy kind but just regular glasses. He's perfect in every way." She said.
His breath hitched when he realized who her description matched, the man she referred to wasn't perfect. He had dark secrets ones that haunted him, she was one of them and he couldn't tell her that. He couldn't tell her that he was in love with her, he couldn't even acknowledge that he knew who she was, so he cleared his throat and spoke.
"Nobody is perfect."He said gently.
A part of him hoped he was wrong, that she wasn't describing him. A part of him didn't want to face the feelings that would overwhelm him if he admitted to himself that she had feelings for him as well. A part of him held onto the glimmer of hope that she meant someone else. Loving her in secret was torture but loving her and knowing she felt the same way would completely undo him.
"He is." She said suddenly.
"My child..."He started to speak and she interrupted.
"He's a man of God, Father. He's a priest."She admitted in a rush.
He closed his eyes letting her words wash over and drown him. He could hear her rapid breathing and he knew he should say something. He knew what it was like to carry an unrequited love around, he knew the pain it caused. He envied her slight confession and wished he could ease her anxiety but he couldn't encourage her, no matter how desperately he wanted too.
"Father Jude, I'm so torn. How can I be this terrible? The thoughts I have...their terrible." She said.
"They're not terrible, you're entitled to your thoughts." He said.
"He can't reciprocate my feelings. I know he doesn't and yet I can't stop my own. It's agony to be near him and it kills me to stay away. I know he can't return my feelings, I know that..."She said.
He licked his suddenly dry lips and in that moment wished he wasn't who he was. He wished he wasn't a priest, he wished he wasn't Father Jude. He wished he was just a normal man, he wished he was just Dante Anthony Jude a normal thirty five year old man.
"I know he can't return my feelings and I still came here today, I still walked into the confessional and confessed that I wish he could." She said.
"What I'm about to say is not coming from a man of God, it's not coming from a priest." He said, taking a deep breath.
"Okay." She said.
"He does return your feelings, most deeply." He said, letting out a breath he didn't know he was holding. He heard her sharp intake of breath.
He felt as if a weight had been lifted, one he had been carrying around for years. He also felt the pain of realizing the position they were in. She a married woman, he a Priest there could never be anything else. Knowing how she felt may end the torment on one scale, but on another he now had to live with knowing how she felt.
"Father Jude?" She asked softly.
"Yes?" He asked.
He saw her move slightly and a second later realized what she was doing. She pressed her forehead against the screen between them, as well as her left hand. He could almost feel her touch through the screen.
"Say my name?" She asked with a soft voice.
He took a deep breath and hesitantly placed his hand over hers. The screen had small holes which prevented him from seeing her face, but he could make out her outline. He could feel the heat in her palm, smell her perfume and even make out the light, honey color of her hair.
"Anne." He said softly.
She choked on a sob and his heart broke. He winced, leaning forward to rest his forehead against hers. His job prepared him for many things, schooling him in how to comfort people but nothing could prepare him for the pain he felt at her tears. Nothing could ease his own suffering.
"Don't cry." He begged.
"What am I to do? Tell me, ask me to leave and never come back and I will. I'm yours to command, I'll do anything you ask me too."She said miserably.
"Don't leave me. Stay, stay close to me." He said softly.
"Okay." She said.
He hated his own selfishness, he hated his weakness. The very part that made him human also made him a monster, his love for her made him whole but it forbid him from letting her go. He would rather live like this than go a day without her.
"I'm sorry." She said with another sob.
"Don't be. The way I feel for you, that's not your fault."He said.
"I'm ruining you." She said.
"No, you're not. You're my redemption, my guiding light. Everything I believe in is you, you're what keeps me going and you're why I stand up there every Sunday."He said.
"Really?" She asked.
He smiled, he knew she wasn't fishing for more, she just didn't believe it. Who would? He was supposed to be above all this. He was supposed to have passion for the Lord, not a woman.
"Really, do you not feel my eyes on you? Don't you see the way I look at you?"He asked.
"No, I try not to look at you. It's a defense mechanism." She said.
He laughed slightly, he could understand that. How many times had he bypassed an aisle at the grocery store to avoid talking to her?
"How long?" He asked.
"Five years." She said.
"You've carried this that long? Alone?"He asked.
"It's easier, holding onto nothing was easier than letting go. I knew it couldn't happen, but..."She didn't finish.
He closed his eyes, knowing what she was thinking. Feeling what she was feeling and wishing for it nearly as hard as she was. He would risk hell to be with her only once, but he couldn't. He couldn't do that to her.
"I never hated who I was until this day, this moment."He said, his voice breaking.
"Don't hate who you are, I don't."She said.
"You should go Anne, go before I go out of my mind and beg you to stay." He said.
"Okay, but do me a favor?"She asked.
"Swear to me that this is special. Tell me that you don't treat all the women like this, lie if you have too." She said and he heard the vulnerability in her voice.
"I swear it. You're husband is a fool." He said, her husband cheated and everyone knew it.
He heard her soft sight and then felt her shift away from the screen. Her silhouette moved and he got another glimpse of her gold curls, and the scent of her perfume drifted to him again. She opened the door on her sign and his hand lifted going to the handle on his, ready to step outside.
"Father?" She asked.
"Yes?" He asked.
"Don't come out until I'm gone? Please?"She asked, reading his mind.
He let his hand drop from the knob, and his head fall back against the wall with a heavy sigh. He understood why she asked, he knew it was cruel to force her to face him like this. He honestly wasn't sure he could trust himself either.
"Of course." He said softly.
"Thank you." She said gently.
"Anne..."He was ready to speak she interrupted him.
"Don't say it, please. Don't say it." She begged.
"You know though? Right?" He asked.
"Yes, I know." She said.
He closed his eyes and didn't say anything else, he head the door open fully on her side. He heard her feet step onto the stone floor outside the wooden confessional. Her heard her feet slowly retreat and even after all was silent he sat there. This place, so holy so tranquil was now a place of torment and anguish. It was a place of secrets and dark passions, it was where the broken came to hide and it was where he learned how to love. He was trapped here, but at least he wasn't alone.
Three days later as he stood at the back of the church that Sunday saying goodbye to the families filing out her words echoed in his head. Her every emotion still echoing through his soul and causing him enough pain he almost went to his knees. As the last person exited the church he turned and stepped inside, she was up at the alter kneeling and praying. He took a deep breath and walked silently up the aisle. He knelt beside her and assumed the position of praying.
"Father."She said softly.
"Anne." He replied.
They stayed there for minutes that ticked on like hours, just enjoying the little things. The way her perfumed enveloped him, the way their arms just barely brushed. The look on her face was one of peace and pain at the same time and had he not already been on his knees it would have brought him to them. Finally, she stood and so did he.
"Great sermon." She said.
"Thank you." He said.
"I won't stay and watch you fall from grace, I won't be the reason for it."She said.
"I understand." He said simply.
"I wish I could stay away. I wish I could leave but a thousand miles isn't far enough."She said.
"I think you should try, I'm tearing you asunder and I know that."He said.
"Not you, my own treacherous heart is."She said.
"There is no part of you that is treacherous. I know this is hard, I know it. My thoughts are of only you always you, nothing else" He said.
"I should get home."She said.
"Yes, you should."He agreed.
She held out her hand and he took it in his. To the untrained eye it looked like a simple handshake, but his fingers gently caressed the back of her hand, he gripped it a little too tight and when she pulled away he hesitated a second before releasing her, letting their touch linger just a minute longer.
"Goodbye Anne."He said softly.
"Goodbye Father Jude."She said with a soft, sad smile.
She left him alone in the church and he turned collapsing onto his knees again at the alter. He prayed harder than a dying man, begging for comfort, begging for a sign and bargaining with God. In the end nothing changed and he knew it wouldn't. So, he'd live for Sunday mornings when he could stand there and watch her as he preached. He would wait to shake her hand and worship that one minute of skin on skin contact and in the dark parts of him mind he would relish confessions.
The dark secrets she could tell him, the intimate, stolen moments they would share in the most holy of places. Those moments would all stack up and keep him going and maybe if he prayed hard enough, it would be enough.
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