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The Courtship of Caroline McKenzie-Dawson

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Jane Oliver was a creature of habit. There is so little in life that one can control but habit allows a small degree of rule over one’s environment.  Neither weather, length of stay, nor vicinity from assignment to assignment would deter Jane from indulging. If pressed, she would say it was a grounding effort; it connected her to the new place like the birth of a secret.

 

Since leaving London a few years earlier, habit became more important. When Linh had left Jane, it twisted the city’s profile so that 6 months later, it was almost easy to accept reassignment.  It hadn’t been her idea, but she went, trusting a larger plan was in place. Still, Jane grieved. First for the loss of the woman, and then later, the city where they met which had been home. The grief had silenced any carnal appetite and then other appetites followed; she lost a noticeable stone.

 

In the following year, she would awaken from dreams in a sweat and panting, bolting upright, reaching for a body that wasn’t there.  In response, Jane closed off the interior rooms of want. She missed the shape of Linh, and with her gone, the empty spaces were cavernous.  Jane missed her scent and finding her hair in odd places, finding t-shirts Linh had borrowed, laundered, only to fold incorrectly when she put them back. She missed waking up to find Linh twisted around her, holding onto Jane like a lost possession finally found. The city’s fog was menacing more than mysterious, knowing that Linh wasn’t going to walk out of it. The soup kitchen where Linh worked regularly evolved to a loud echoing racket and it took all of Jane’s energy not to shut down her overloaded senses before the end of a shift.  The change to a new city would be welcome.

 

It was the first parish after London where the new assignment routine took on meaning. Jane would walk around the entire outside of the church three times counterclockwise.  The first round was conducted walking through with her head held straight, taking in everything at eye level: The way the building sat, its relation to neighbors. Every church/ parsonage/ hamlet/ assignment had something they were exceedingly proud of: a relief, arches, gargoyles, an ancient door. Jane marked the trees of the property and their kind. If the parish had Sycamores, the water table wouldn’t be low, so she looked for how the drainage would be accommodated. She noticed the shrubs, stone walls, street lighting (or lack thereof), size of doorways, slant of roads, intersections of property, fences, statues, altars.

 

The second pass took the most time and was the most educational. Jane would inch around the property while staring at the ground and walking slowly.  She took in the condition of the pavement, steppingstones, the roots of trees and if they grew into the walkway, and pathways. Gravestones, steps, waterspouts. Jane found gloves, money, odd shoes, and once, an electric fan that looked like it had just come out of the packaging but to surprise the owner it needed an outlet to work.

 

The third and final circle was devoted to the airspace above her.  She focused on the silhouette of the church, the negative space of the town, where she could see furthest from; the canopy of the sky above would barely shift, but still reveal where doves roosted and birds nested; the quickest way in from the road when it was raining. The final trip was an offering: Hello God, here I am. Use me.

 

Once complete, Jane felt she understood a little about how the building and the church were viewed by its surrounding parsonage. Even with this small connection, Jane would feel alien in assignments, never treated as if born and raised in the parish, nor approached with the grace of familiarity.  Instead, people were cynical of her, of God, of service.

 

Jane stepped off the train in Halifax, on a Tuesday morning in early April. A drizzle from the previous night was just beginning to dry with the sun.  Never a fan of the traditional vestments of her vocation, Jane was attired in her normal jeans, trainers, her shirt with the tell-tale collar, covered by a jumper and a waxed overcoat.  Her things were being transported from London to the parsonage apartment later in the afternoon via a transport service as she didn’t have a car. She arrived at St. Mary’s, a standalone, modest building from the turn of the nineteenth century; it looked over the town from a hill amidst a small graveyard and overgrown garden. She started her rounds before entering.

 

It was an ominous sign this new posting in Halifax would be challenging: Jane’s final lap was interrupted a quarter of the way through as she turned the corner past the side door and her trainer caught on a bit of stone which sent her skidding onto the walk and gasping for the air knocked out of her.

 

“FUCK!” She wheezed and smacked at the ground with both fists. She’d torn the right knee of her jeans, small wonder, they were already threadbare.

 

“Are you all right, love?” A small woman with an air of sophistication that she clutched like her handbag trotted over from the carpark. “The state of this walkway is disgraceful. Lucky you caught yourself, you could have broken your teeth.” She said these as statements of fact and then turned to a white-haired man who was leaving a flashy red sports car.  “Alan, do you have that kit in the glovebox?”

 

The man stopped and flapped the pockets of his sport coat searching for a key fob while Jane managed to get herself into a sitting position to face the woman. He turned to the car.

 

“I’m sorry,” Jane managed. “I was…walking.”

 

“Mmm, you were looking up, small wonder you fell.” The woman pronounced as if it were obvious.

 

“Yes.  Ah, how may I help you?”

 

The man returned with a plastic white box with the words ’Clumsy Git’ written on it in blue.  He opened it, and to Jane’s surprise, there was an instant ice pack that he squeezed — *POP*— shook it a bit, and then offered to Jane for her knee.

 

“Oh, thank you, really, it’s not necessary.  How may I help you?” Her breathing was becoming regular again.

 

“Well you should complain to the vicar here, have them fix this walkway.” The woman seemingly spoke for the pair. 

 

“That’s really not necessary.  I think they are aware of the problem.” Jane was embarrassed now.

 

“Maybe it was this shrub, it should be pruned, I’ll find t’groundskeeper.  Unless, you’re t’gardener?” The man found his voice, and looked concerned for the blood seeping through the leg of Jane’s jeans. I suppose I do look like a gardener.

 

“Thank you again, but it was my fault.” Jane went to stand, and the man reached out to take her elbows and assist.  Jane inhaled with a dry hissing sound and softly said, ”Fuck” when weight hit her knees.  The motion of standing up popped the snap at her throat and her jacket fell open to show her identifying collar.

 

The couple’s faces made similar “Oh” expressions with a raising of their collective eyebrows.

 

“She sounds like your Gillian” the woman said with eyebrows still raised.

 

“Yes, she does.” The man concurred, “Don’t s’pose you’ve farmed love?”

 

“I like gardens but can’t grow a thing,” Jane offered quizzically. “I know I don’t sound like other vicars,” she continued easily. “It’s my first day here.  I’m sorry that you saw me wipe out like that. I’m Reverend Oliver, but please, Jane is preferred.” She offered her hand in between the couple, only to see it was wet with mud and had skinned her palm in the fall.  The extension of the limb released a burning sensation that caused Jane to inhale sharply.

 

“Nice t’meet you,” the man took the back of Jane’s hand, and with his other grabbed her wrist so as to carefully avoid the injured palm, “I’m Alan Buttershaw, this is my wife Celia.” His eyes twinkled with the introduction.

 

“So you’re replacing Karen Bixby. “ Celia appraised Jane, not moving to take Jane’s outstretched hand, and instead shifted her grip on her handbag and the first aid kit.

 

“Yes, for now, she was called away for some family issues.” Jane’s closed-mouth smile was a way of conveying she didn’t know anything further, and if she did, she wouldn’t be sharing. That the previous vicar had been called away to take care of her elderly parents primed for hospice didn’t need to be shared with everyone.

 

“We had an appointment with Karen Bixby for 10:00 today, we’re a little early.” Celia continued to eye up Jane critically, trying to divine her entire history from Converse to collar.

 

“Of course, however I can help.  I’m sure the appointment is in the planner; I haven’t seen it yet.  Please allow me.” Jane gestured to the door, and began herding the Buttershaws into the small church.  Before following them, she paused to look back for the stone she had tripped over. 

 

Nothing was on the path.  Odd, she thought. Something was there.

 


 

“We’ve met the new vicar at St. Mary’s.”

 

At the end of the day Celia called Caroline to catch up, and after initial pleasantries, Celia launched into the bit of gossip about her most recent disappointment.

 

“Oh?” Caroline asked without enthusiasm. “Why were you at St. Mary’s? Did you want a vow renewal?”  She was slouching at the kitchen table with a glass of wine to fortify against the weekly phone call.

 

“It’s a woman.” Celia ignored the question. ”She reminded us of Gillian,” she made a t'sking sound. “Another woman in the church.  Why do they even bother?”

 

Caroline closed her eyes and raised her eyebrows in anticipation. “I suppose it’s because they want to do God’s work, but what of it?  Why were you there?” She was already tired of the conversation.

 

“Isn’t St. Mary’s where the christening is on Saturday? And we were there talking to the parsonage about support for summer drama. I was hoping for something, but didn’t expect much from her.” Caroline could hear her Mother’s lips curl.

 

“Goodness Mother, you act like women in the church—”Caroline faltered, what was the issue? “—have all been a disappointment.”

 

“Name one who has done some good,” Celia countered.

 

“Mother Theresa.”

 

“Hmm, aren’t you a quick wit.”

 

“Wonder where I get that from.” Caroline softened. “Yes, Becca’s having a christening on Saturday.” Looking over to her refrigerator where the invitation was posted, she could see her mother had the correct venue. When did she see that and how has she memorized my schedule? “You’re right, it’s at St. Mary’s.” Caroline sat up straight with the realization that she hadn’t thought of taking Flora with her. This Saturday, already? ”Would you be free to watch Flora for a bit, then?”

 

“Sure, love.”


“There won’t be anything for her to do there.” Appeal to her vanity. “And she loves afternoons with you.”

 

“You mean to say, you’d forgotten, and why go to a secretary’s baby’s christening anyway?”

 

Yes I forgot, but like I’m going to give you the satisfaction. “She asked me to come, the pregnancy was difficult.” Caroline removed her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose. “I don’t mind attending. It’s being supportive.”  And it’s not like she’s asked me to be the godmother.

 

“It’s fine, and who knows?  Maybe you’ll meet someone.”  Celia baited.

 

“Christenings aren’t exactly hot pick-up spots.” Can rolling one’s eyes lead to eye strain?

 

“’Bout as good as the Hebden Women’s Disco, I’d wager.” Celia enunciated, figuratively throwing down her hand in a card game that takes the house. She knew because Alan told her, and he knew because Gillian had told him.

 

Oh shit. Caroline blushed at the memory. What had Gillian told him? The truth was Caroline had managed to leave with 2 women’s phone numbers that came unsolicited, but to hear Gillian hoot about it after in the car, one would think Caroline had divested the frisky young things of their undergarments in the deejay booth before spinning their brassieres about her head while being crowd-surfed out of the pub into the night. That’s the last time I let Gillian talk me into anything.

 

“I’ll drop Flora at yours at 1.”

 


 

Music for One

 

One Man Guy – Rufus Wainwright (Loudon Wainwright wrote it)

 

Song for No One - Miike Snow

 

The Only Answer – Mike Doughty  (how long does it take for an ex’s name to be just another word? That KILLS me)

 

Chapter Text

Queen: Come hither, my good Hamlet, sit by me.

Hamlet: No good mother, here’s metal more attractive… (to Ophelia) Lady, shall I lie in your lap?

-Hamlet, Act III, Scene II, William Shakespeare

 

 

Caroline does her best not to squirm in church. For the first 15 minutes of the service she had managed to sit straight, but after the welcome and a hymn she abandoned the ramrod posture and now makes a concentrated effort to squirm subtly, like a lady. 

 

It may have been the combination of knickers/hose/skirt that wasn’t working, but the wooden pew wasn’t doing her any favors either.  She imagines a carpenter of old tasked with outfitting the seating for the church, and because his own hemorrhoids kept him from sitting upright for more than 2 minutes, he would ensure that all others join in his misery.  No penitent would ever recline in ease while in worship of the god that blessed him with such arse pain.

 

Maybe her discomfort was coming from the previous night’s impromptu game of “Simon Says” with Flora and Calamity, where she had held a squatting position for longer than advised, trying to outlast Raff. Was the entire seat one wooden knot?

 

Caroline selected one of the rear pews without a cushion for a variety of reasons. The other pews are filled with family and friends, all people she doesn’t know or associate with regularly.  She didn’t know how long the service would go and wanted an unobtrusive out if needed. Finally, she wished to look at the stained-glass window closest to that pew. It is a portrayal of Adam and Eve fleeing Eden.  An angel with a flaming sword stands barring the entrance to the garden. Did paradise have only the one door? And its bouncer was an angel. Eve is looking down as she runs, her hair flowing about her and behind while her hands cover her bosom for want of a fig leaf brassiere. Adam’s arm is reaching out to cover Eve, but she is out of his reach. In addition to him not looking at her, his head is turned to what they are leaving. The sky of the window is intricate and holds the emotional turmoil of the scene.  The atmosphere of the couples’ destination is dark and ominous, a thunderstorm ready to break, while the area above Eve is a searing blue. The sky over paradise lost is on fire: white and red and orange.  Eve is unable to see where they are going, or where they’ve been.  Adam can only see what is lost.  Seems Eve is blaming herself, too.  Caroline wonders if original sin could be the reason for a pillow-less seat.

 

Caroline then considers the physical make-up of the window, and how to produce different colors in glass. She can trace everything back to chemistry.  Take an equation, balance it mathematically, and in doing so stabilize reactants, slow the burn.  She turns her head from the window, thinking of the chemical properties of powdered copper oxide, when the new vicar fixes her with solid eye contact.  What is she saying? Her eyes are a blue green that defy Caroline’s synthetic vocabulary and she is holding Caroline’s sight, not looking away.

 

“Let us pray,” the vicar says.

 

The heads of the congregation all dutifully bow, but the vicar hasn’t broken eye contact.  Caroline doesn’t move.  She can feel the seconds passing.  The vicar is holding eye contact and speaking to Caroline, all while praying. The prayer goes on and the vicar asks Caroline: What? Is it familiarity? Mine can’t be the only soul here in need of… whatever. The corners of the vicar’s mouth turn up in a smile (of recognition, of welcome, of conspiracy?), and the vicar nods to her imperceptibly. Caroline can’t bring herself to move and suddenly exhales the breath she’s been holding. 

 

“Amen.”

 

There is movement through the church and Caroline shuffles in the seat again.  The vicar talks to the parents and moves into the next part of the service. Caroline wants to stand up in the hopes of locking eyes again (she envisions herself Glenn Close at the end of The Natural, and wishes for a hat).  She crosses and then re-crosses her legs and settles for studying the woman.  It is now apparent why her mother said the new vicar reminded them of her stepsister:  They have the same frame and carry themselves the same way, however, the vicar is slightly taller than Gillian, her complexion paler, her hair darker.  Whereas Gillian possesses muscle tone from mucking out stalls and chasing sheep to and from the pasture, the vicar is wisp thin. 

 

The greatest difference between the two, however, can be felt from where Caroline is sitting.  The vicar emanates a peace and confidence throughout the church.  A quiet power.  A stillness.  Even as she moves about the space, she is grounded with a slight rolling motion back and forth from heel to toe that is smoothly hypnotic.  In contrast, Gillian has a frenetic inertia, a constant vibration that manifests through jiggling knees and tapping fingers. Even sitting still, there are waves of motion and sound roiling from Gillian in a constant tide, bumping up against the coastal edges of family, and anyone she interacts with. The dichotomy of the two women is striking, and so awesomely weird, that Caroline wants to laugh out loud. She feels light and an audible squeak of absurdity escapes her.

 

The vicar turns and lifts her head to check Caroline, her eyes a question and Caroline’s stomach flutters.

 

But her eyes.  

 

Well shit. Mother did say I might meet someone. Now she will have to stay until the end of the service.  

 


 

The week had passed quickly, and Jane had barely unpacked anything, as the church’s diary held regular surprises.  By Friday, Jane’s apologies are well rehearsed, and genuine.  For most functions, she has amassed some standard remarks; fortunately for the christening, her first service in the new parish, she had managed to speak to the parents the night before.  She listened to the couples’ journey of getting and keeping the pregnancy, their disappointments, and finally their joy.  She pulled in some thoughts on perseverance and beginnings.

 

The day’s weather is a mix between cloudy and cloudy with rain. The windows of the church amplified what light there is and, combined with the optimism of a christening, the church is bright and joyful. As Jane begins, she notices a blond woman sitting alone toward the back at the far end of a pew (not that anyone is far from center).  She is looking intently at the window that illustrates the “Expulsion from the Garden.”

 

Here’s metal more attractive, Jane thinks, followed immediately by chastising herself for reacting with base attraction and Shakespeare. Jane had spent a half an hour looking at the same window the day before, asking questions to the Almighty.  It is the oldest window in the church, and the colors take on a different quality depending on the time of day.  Why aren’t you in this window too? Jane had prayed, do you blame Eve? Could they even fathom the consequences of eating the fruit? Why was Adam such a twat?

 

The woman’s eyes travel slowly from Eden to the unknown. The reflection from the window frames her with a bright aura and a halo above the white blond of her hair. Judging from where she is sitting, she’s not of the family having the christening, nor a regular church-goer.  She’s smartly dressed from Jane’s vantage point, a professional-looking suit with a colorful scarf, and she appears at ease with herself. Jane believes there are four major groups of churchgoers: There are those that go to church and are on their phones, the devout that listen in rapt attention to everything, those that fall sleep (of which Jane likes to make up stories in her head about why they are snoring through the doxology), and those that come to unload guilt both earned or imagined. This woman belongs to none of those groups; she is present, if not engrossed by the stained-glass.

 

It is while speaking to Psalm 127:3, “children are a blessing,” that the woman turns to face Jane. Her expression is curious and attentive. Her eyebrows raise slightly; she is listening, appraising.  Even as Jane segues into prayer, the blond doesn’t move.  During prayer, Jane’s habit has been to look upward; however, she won’t break the gaze now. Jane is projecting a mental invitation to her: What can I do for you? The woman has answered by walking through Jane’s head, plucking at thoughts, motives, opinions, without sharing anything of herself. Jane’s questions feed into other questions. 

 

The woman has very blue eyes. Jane wonders if God has a favorite color. If she does, it has to be blue.  Blue of the ocean, blue of the firmament above her. Blue in sapphires, indigo, a peacock’s feather, the core of a flame, glacial ice. Jane continues to pray and even as she does, she is silently asking God to provide a path to this woman. This is something, she is here, and I am here, and please. There is peace in the church and Jane can feel herself being pulled to this woman. Jane feels herself nod to her, yes, if you want.

 

She reproaches herself again. How weak are you, Jane?

 

The prayer ends, and Jane must move on with the service. She focuses her attention to the family and their purpose there on this Saturday in April, but there has been a moment, an opening of a door.

 


 

At the end of the service, Caroline waits for family and assorted guests to filter out of the church ahead of her. There is a bottleneck forming at the door, as it is only so wide, and a slow moving reception line appears. The vicar is there too, greeting everyone. Caroline is dumbstruck with the knowledge of joining the line, inevitably of speaking to her. She wants to talk with her, not do the “Hello” and “Nice to meet you, I’m Caroline,” small talk that consists of canned responses and wastes air.  Caroline can conduct polite small talk with the fine precision of a surgeon, she deploys it strategically and can get what she needs and moves on. It works with administrators, with students’ parents and school governors. However, Caroline knows that polite conversation has never increased attraction to anyone. Politeness is not a panty dropper. And speaking with the vicar in greeting will barely introduce them, it will not tell her anything she needs to know, or say anything she wants to say. That those words don’t exist yet, is a problem for later.

 

It is because she sees conversational small talk as a hurdle to be conquered that Caroline is dreadful with the preliminaries of communication in relationships.  In all truthfulness, Caroline knows she would have never gone to the Hebden Women’s Disco without Gillian. She never would have entered the hall, or looked at anyone, let alone talk. It was also why the phone numbers she was slipped that evening were such a surprise.  She hadn’t spoken to either of the women, besides a “Thanks”, and Gillian had taken the number from the one woman who looked over to Caroline shyly as she handed it to Gillian, only for Gillian to nod her head wildly. (Gillian had been out on the dance floor, doing the “Sprinkler” and “Fishing” moves while trying to hook Caroline.) The woman waved to Caroline with a mouthed “call me.” The numbers were still in her purse, on napkins or a matchbook or something, untouched and undialed.

 

Caroline stands up to exit the side of the pew, but magically Becca is in front of her, beaming and holding the guest of honor, his bright eyes points of onyx sitting above a wealth of cheek and drool.

 

“Oh, thank you, Doctor, for coming!  This has just been a wonderful day, David hasn’t spit up on his gown at all. We’ll see you down at the Fourth Horse Inn for the party, yes? ” Becca says while holding the baby closer to Caroline. Can’t say the same about drool. He giggles as Caroline smiles and tickles his knee somewhere in the white linen.  Becca continues to talk like bubbles growing in a bath, alternately speaking to Caroline, or to baby David in a baby voice. “We’re so glad Reverend Oliver was able to do the service; postponing and rescheduling would have been a mess.  We’ve had relatives come in, and Daddy’s parents came down from Glasgow. She could have said no but she didn’t and it was such a lovely service. We’ve invited her to come too, and why shouldn’t she? You’ll come too, Reverend, please?” 

 

And Jane Oliver is standing in front of Caroline. Caroline’s heels give her more height, so she is looking down into Jane’s eyes, her green blue eyes, and it’s the same as before, her knees go loose, and for a split second, she misses the tortuous pew.  Caroline’s tongue has gone numb and all speech leaves her. 


Becca turns to Jane, while gesturing with the baby. “Reverend Oliver, this is Doctor Caroline McKenzie-Dawson. She’s our head teacher. She’s been so wonderfully supportive through everything it took to get here today. She’s turned our school around too. We have a waiting list!  That was unthinkable a few years ago, everything was just awful. I don’t know what we’d do without her.” Caroline breaks eye contact with Jane to give Becca and appreciative look and then to look modestly at her own shoes.  She can feel Jane’s eyes on her. The Reverend is wearing all-black Converse.

 

“That’s wonderful,” Jane purrs genially and Caroline’s head snaps up to Jane again. “I’d be delighted.  You’ll come?” Jane says to Caroline while offering her hand.

 

Caroline takes the slim, proffered hand and somehow whispers, “Of course” from her dry throat.

 

 


 

Notes:

 - Hamlet quote - Hamlet's words to Ophelia is a sexual innuendo, that he quickly backtracks and then totally goes on to own. Sexual innuendo or cunnilingus innuendo, take your pick. Jane Oliver knows a hottie when she sees one.

 - Haven't seen 'The Natural'?  This is a clip of the moment that's been referenced: Glenn Close in The Natural

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Stupid, stupid, stupid. What do you even think you’re DOING?” Caroline’s Inner Voice has launched an inquisition in the auditorium of Caroline’s brain, each seat occupied by facets of personality and emotions, dream versions of herself or who she had wanted to be, beings that were the personification of a vivid day, a memory walking the corridors of her mind. The rowdy audience barely comes to heel at the direction of Inner Voice booming on the overhead speaker. The flow of questions punctuated by negative adjectives has been going since Caroline let go of Jane’s hand, even as she is driving to the Fourth Horse Inn. “Why did you agree to this?”

 

She asked.” Caroline’s Ego rouses her posh head from under a downy comforter center stage. She is a projection of Caroline’s image on her best day multiplied by a power of 10. “And you saw how she looked at us.” Ego’s lips purse in a pout as she shakes her hair like one of Charlie’s Angels. A spotlight finds her as she begins a series of warm-up stretches readying for any argument the Inner Voice offers.

 

Yes well; could have imagined that. Your gaydar has been less than accurate… remember that footie player?” Inner Voice counters, while stage left reveals the Librarian, the silent keeper of Caroline’s memories.

 

The Librarian of Memories looks like Caroline the day she defended her doctoral thesis; she holds up a thick file sealed with a red band to the audience. After adjusting her glasses, she projects a video of a denied kiss her second year at Uni. A number of factors led to failure in that moment, among them drunkenness, poor depth perception, and the footie player not being aware of Caroline’s intention, indeed, that Caroline was trying to kiss her at all. The rejection successfully tamped down any confidence Caroline had in her ability to read anybody for almost 6 months. That the object of her misplaced affection was of her persuasion, and oblivious to Caroline’s snog attempt, would forever remain unknown to her.

 

Not our fault, she was in denial.” Ego was now wearing Marilyn Monroe’s Dress from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and reclining on a chaise lounge used explicitly for tart arguments, all while smoking from a delicate gold cigarette holder; blowing rings that traveled up and up and up to a ceiling that didn’t exist.

 

Yes well, Ruth then.” The Inner Voice continues nonplussed.

 

We didn’t do anything wrong, that was nothing!”

 

Which brings me back to, what do you even think you’re doing? This is a priest! Priests don’t date! They’re married to God!” Inner Voice screeches.

 

We’re having a drink with her, because she asked if we were coming.” Ego drapes herself across the grand piano that’s appeared on stage and blows a kiss at the Librarian.

 

“We’re here because she asked.”

 

Caroline silences the discussion with this out loud pronouncement, bringing the Jaguar to a stop in the carpark. She turns the engine off, and reflexively looks in the rearview mirror to check her makeup. Her breathing has returned to normal, but when the Librarian replays their brief introduction: of Jane’s eyes and warmth of her hand, Ego lights up the stage with well-placed pyrotechnics; fireworks and glitter bombs illuminate the entire arena. Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” reverberates through the speakers.

 


 

The pub is busy and warm and the back room where the Brown family have set up a reception of their own is full. Caroline momentarily reconsiders pushing her way in when she spots off to the side, separate from the back room, Jane in a booth. The white robes have been put away and she is now attired in a grey shirt with clergy collar and black jeans. Caroline’s view of Jane is slightly blocked by an elderly man standing over her, head lowered to hear her better.

 

As Caroline approaches, Jane stands from her seat and guides the gentleman outward, towards the main pub as she gestures to the open side of the booth for Caroline to sit.

 

“Yes, thank you, however I can help, Mister Graham. I hope to see you soon.” Jane has taken his hand, offered in greeting, in both of hers, and jealousy hop-scotches through Caroline’s body down to her fingertips. “This is Doctor Caroline McKenzie-Dawson, she’s a head teacher.”  Jane releases his hand to gently direct him toward his seat; Caroline can see his cheeks are rosy from an early start in the day.

 

“Oh that’s lovely, so nice to meet you both. Until next week, Reverend Oliver.” The elderly Graham makes his way unevenly back to the other side of the bar.

 

“Converting already?” Caroline loosens her coat and shrugs it off her shoulders. She leans her head toward Jane in an effort to extricate her arms from sleeves and to receive Jane’s response, as the pub noise grows louder.

 

Jane mirrors Caroline’s lean to say the words directly in her ear. “Just tending the flock.”

 

Her hair barely alights Caroline’s cheek, but the slight touch sets off Caroline’s senses and she can feel herself getting warmer. Neither sits back immediately; both lingering, angled toward each other. Caroline is rapt to the curve of Jane’s eyelashes, her cheek, the downward slope of jaw to chin, the ascent to her generous lips, straight nose, to fall again in her eyes.

 

Jane breaks the spell by sitting back. She is fully aware of the energy between them; the air crackles with it. The Saturday, the afternoon, the pub, none of it, would possess the full Technicolor display without the woman sitting across from her.

 

Caroline is frustrated at the disconnection; she has become an unstable element, odd electrons flying off searching for a partner. Her body is now all impulse spurred into action by the mere vicinity of Jane. More than that, Jane is a catalyst and Caroline is comprised of stupid chemistry. Doomed to react and react and react as both body and brain follow the dictates of desire.

 

She momentarily regrets not studying biology.

 

The Doctor of Chemistry can speak of the physical and intangible attributes of conductors, but sadly little of electrical properties. Her experience with wiring came to a head in the weeks after moving into the new house. While plugging in her hair dryer, her right index finger was touching a prong as it met the socket. There weren’t sparks, nothing like what is seen on television, but instead Caroline was surprised to find herself frozen in movement. She could see herself standing in her bathroom, right hand gripping the plug in the socket. She saw the situation; was keenly aware of the rippling current dancing along the base of her hand. Then there was pain. It shimmered in the periphery to grow quickly into a tidal wave inducing a flinching motion finally clearing her hand of the plug. Only after several minutes of deep breathing did she realize what had happened.

 

Looking at Jane now, she is again at the outlet, making contact, letting the surge run through her, willing it to pull her in and consume her.

 

“Doctor McKenzie-Dawson,” Jane pronounces like the discovery of a new territory. “What is your doctorate in?” Jane’s hands, flat on the table with fingers splayed, serve as grounding wires.

 

“Chemistry. And please—call me Caroline.” She offers her first name almost shyly. “Do you prefer Vicar to Reverend Oliver?” This is a ridiculous conversation to be having. How is she of the church? Do I ask what translation of the bible she prefers?  Does she read Greek?

 

“Jane.” There is a smile dancing on her closed mouth. “I hated chemistry. All maths. And you can’t even see it. Like physics, you can see physics.”

 

Caroline laughs, not many people engage her on her choice of study. “Yes, it’s true. There’s maths, but chemistry makes up everything. Matter changes forms, elements leave traces of themselves wherever they are; it transcends time. It’s exact. I like that. There is always a search for equilibrium. Maths is how you can achieve it. And for all you can see with waves and gravity, there’s maths in physics too.”

 

“I never got that far.” Jane laughs.

 

Caroline opens her mouth to ask why; the question lost in the arrival of drinks neither she nor Jane ordered. A white wine has been placed in front of her and a large dark beer with a full foamy head is deposited to Jane.

 

“Thank you, but—” Jane looks to the girl who has delivered them, gesturing with amazement that the drinks were not requested. Jane has produced alcohol from thin air. However, the young woman is preoccupied with a tray of pints; she shrugs noncommittally while nodding to the bar proper then enters the back room to a cheer.

 

Caroline’s wine is adequate. She’s more thankful for the opportunity to occupy her hands allowing her to tap or trace circles on the glass.

 

Jane raises the beer with a “cheers” and sips. Her eyebrows go up and Caroline is delighted to watch the small show of self-control as Jane swallows. Her eyes tear slightly and she looks up at Caroline. “Well, that’s a nice gesture,” comes out throaty and hoarse. Caroline involuntarily presses her thighs deeper into the seat at the tone. The hair at the back of her neck tingles and her core tightens at the thought of Jane out of breath. However, Jane pushes the beer over to the side and confesses, “I don’t really drink dark beers. Or much beer at all.”

 

Caroline looks past Jane into the room with the family. “Maybe you need some food, think there’ll be cake?”

 

“Hope so... Caroline,” Jane says her first name as a test, a hard consonant softened by an arc of the tongue and rolled to a stop behind the teeth.

 

Hearing her name is a beacon calling Caroline’s eyes back to Jane’s. There’s a warmth in her stomach radiating outward stoked from Jane’s voice, the honeyed sound of her name.

 

“During the service, I looked at you and I felt you ask me something.” Jane measures out a pause with a breath. “My answer is yes.” The yes curves her mouth in a smile. “What have I agreed to?” She looks steadily into blue eyes. Caroline freezes.

 

Jane is correct. Caroline felt the question form, but to give it words would reduce it down to something common. It’s the translation of a foreign word loved in its sound to the ears, but in the native tongue becomes an object, weathered with familiar meaning.

 

Caroline wants everything from Jane.

 

A thought in the back of her mind suggests the comfort and trust she has with Gillian is being projected into a facsimile of her stepsister. The hard-won love and safety of Gillian’s company is readily transferred to this woman not only because she reminds her of Gillian, but also because she wants to feel those things again.

 

Rather than pursue the thought, or even answer Jane, Caroline sips the wine in front of her. “You’ve met my parents,” she says brightly, “Well, mother and stepfather. They said you met earlier this week, on Tuesday. They wanted to talk about summer drama.”

 

Caroline watches carefully as Jane easily absorbs the change in conversational direction; her expression is calm and her shoulders hold a confident patience that Caroline will eventually answer the question.

 

“Those are your parents?  They’re very dapper!” Jane laughs, “They were the first people I met, just as I’d arrived. I was walking around the church just as they pulled in, and I,” Jane pauses and blushes at the memory of her tripping in front of them. She swallows her embarrassment and absently moves to take another sip from the beer, but catches herself.

 

“I fell on the stones; just a total wipe-out. Hit my knee really hard, cut it up. I need to patch those jeans now. I- I skinned my hand.”

 

Jane offers her right palm for inspection by laying it in the middle of the table. Caroline can see the brush burn has mostly healed and now pinkly radiates health. She reaches automatically, and gingerly traces a fingertip along the outside of her palm in a tightening spiral. The golden ratio. Another mathematical equation, a constant found everywhere. Jane’s pulse is steady on first contact but quickens as Caroline approaches the center.  Jane’s fingertips twitch upward; a tickled Venus fly trap. The movement startles Caroline out of the intimate reverie and she withdraws her hand, followed by Jane. 

 

Caroline mentally files away that Jane darns her own clothing.

 

Staring at the place on the table where her palm had rested, Jane offers, “Celia and Alan had a first aid kit that they offered. Handy. They were very kind.”

 

“Gillian will be thrilled to know the Christmas gift has gotten some use. Alan is her Dad, she’s my stepsister, and she gave him that kit because he kept getting paper-cuts and bruises on his hands. She said it was inscribed – she wrote ‘Clumsy Git’ on it.”  Caroline remembered how proud Gillian had been in filling up the plastic container, making it ‘Dad-specific’. Also included: an easy open vial of a few of his heart pills, plasters, and some single use wet wipes.

 

“I did think it was unique.” Jane smiles and chews her lip realizing she never completed her third lap. “But they helped me up and dusted me off. They were very accommodating as I was unprepared; still I felt like I was a disappointment. Did they know the previous vicar?”

 

“Oh, no! I mean, they had met her, but that’s just my mother; she doesn’t like women in the church. It’s weird. I don’t know why.”

 

“Ah. I thought it was the gay thing.” Jane sits back; eyes sparkling.

 

“No,” Caroline answers too quickly. “No, no, no, no.” Continuing to repeat the word while trying to process the implication; the mental rush pouring from the floodgates. “No, just your profession.”

 

“Should have been a doctor then.” 

 

“Ha! That wouldn’t have helped.” Caroline goes back to her wine and spins the glass on the table slowly with her thumb, an even push at the base of the stem so that the glass rotates 90 degrees at a time.

 

“Are you married?” Jane asks with an even tone as she points at the gold band on Caroline’s hand.

 

“No,” Caroline looks down at the ring and then touches her thumb to it, circling it around. “I’m divorced from the father of my boys. They are both grown; William is working for a publisher in London, and Lawrence, should be in college, but, maybe one day, he’s making videos for YouTube.” She pauses, and looks down at the wine glass, “I’m widowed from the mother of Flora. She’s 6.”

 

Jane’s eyebrows knit together and she frowns slightly.

 

“We got married a few weeks after Valentine’s Day; she was pregnant and I had wanted to provide a stable home situation. We had a small service at the registrar’s office and then the next day, she was knocked down by a car while running errands. The doctors were able to save Flora, but…”

 

“That’s—” Jane pauses thoughtfully. “Unimaginable.”

 

“Yes,” Caroline answers softly. “It was hard, for a very long time. But there’s been time now. I miss her still. I loved her, but I can’t bring her back. I’m thankful now for the time we had and I’m thankful for Flora. I’m thankful for my boys too, but I can’t change any of it. That’s just…life.”

 

Jane nods.

 

“Now I’m trying to connect more with life outside of just my own immediate house and school. It’s better for Flora, it’s better for…” Caroline pauses to inhale deeply, thinks about how different next week could look, and then says “Me,” while Jane with a small nod of understanding whispers, “You.”

 

Jane bridges the slight table again, this time to take Caroline’s hand. The circuit is complete; Caroline’s palm sings with the contact, and a light fluttering feeling resides in her throat.

 

Jane is silent while trying to fathom the grief Caroline said in so few words, reconciling it with the woman in the moment. And so they sit with Jane holding Caroline’s hand while Caroline wants to pull the vicar into her; the attraction between them thick in the air, buzzing in Caroline’s ears.

 

“Thank you. Thank you for telling me.” Jane says, and the words float somewhere between solemn and grief stricken.

 

Caroline told of an ache she carries every day, but there is euphoria in the physical contact. Caroline spurs into action and moves to claim Jane’s other hand, chasing a high.

 

At the same time a cake the size of the child that was christened is ushered into the room causing a flow of pub and party goers to back up and give way for the delicately balanced dessert. An idle hand, a bum, and a jerky movement to clear a path all disrupt the little island of their booth, sweeping Jane’s abandoned beer into her lap.

 

“Oi!” Caroline is up and grabbing for the glass to right it, while Jane sputters, “Fuck, oh fuck, fuck, fuck! Not the shirt, no!” 

 

Caroline has the presence of mind to attempt a mop up and realizes where on Jane’s body she is touching with the napkin. Another wave of heat surges through her, a frisson that must be visible for how strongly she feels it. Flushing a deep red, she offers the napkin back to Jane reluctantly; a heady feeling from the close proximity of her body. It was all natural motion; Jane moved to aid her ministrations.

 

“I’m very sorry, Caroline. I need to go back to the vicarage.”

 

“Sure, sure, you drove?”

 

“No.... well…shit. The Browns gave me a ride down. It won’t take long to walk back.” Jane offers a rueful smile and shakes her head.

 

“Jane, may I drive you back?” Caroline is now attempting to herd Jane towards the door of the pub using only her eyes.

 

Jane turns to the party where cake is being handed out all around. She waves and smiles, mouthing a “goodbye” as she apologetically points at her soaked shirt. Turning to Caroline, she straightens so that she is almost eye level.

 

“Yes,” she says. “Thank you.”

 

“Happy to.”

 


 

Down the road from the church itself, sits the vicarage: An end unit in a set of neat attached houses, each with a small front porch and an overhanging roof to guard against the elements.

 

Caroline holds her breath for most of the short drive. She wants an extension. More. Anything that would be offered. Jane is here in her car, sitting in the passenger seat, looking at her. She is completely at ease as if the seat has always belonged to her, as if she should always be beside Caroline. At one point Caroline thinks she spots movement from Jane, a motion to place her hand on Caroline’s knee, but stopped.

 

Now the little white door of the house stares back at Caroline. She feels like she’s back at university, sitting in a movie theatre next to Maggie, trying to muster the courage to touch her hand. The interior argument of inaction is excruciating. Caroline worries that their time is past. She’s missed her chance. The door has closed.

 

Jane unbuckles and stretches her legs in the seat, a feline in a sunbeam. Then in a satisfied voice breaks the silence: “Caroline, would you like to come in?”

 

Relief floods through Caroline. It’s so irritating she wants to cry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Because:

Donna Summer – I Feel Love

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Romeo: Then move not while my prayer’s effect I take. Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purg’d. [Kissing her]

Juliet: Then have my lips the sin that they have took.

Romeo: Sin from my lips?  O trespass sweetly urg’d! Give me my sin again.

 

~Romeo and Juliet, Act 1 Scene 5, William Shakespeare

 

 

 

 

A flash point is the lowest temperature that a volatile material’s vapors ignite given a spark. This is not to be confused with auto-ignition, where spontaneous combustion occurs without an external precipate or flame. The flash point of vodka can be readily observed at cocktail lounges within flaming shots. The flash point of petrol is why smoking is discouraged while fueling one’s car.  Auto-ignition has more to do with the surrounding climate, as referenced in the title of Fahrenheit 451, which is the degree paper automatically bursts into flame. Vapors can be even more dangerous when provided a trigger, and anything has a combustion point.  In other words, raise the temperature high enough, everything burns.

 

***

 

Caroline is warm. A lifetime of responsible decision-making combined with heartbreaking losses has turned off the appeal of thrill-seeking, and as such, the sweet, adrenaline-fueled fog she finds herself now in is completely new.  She follows Jane through the door on legs wobbly like a newborn fawn’s.  The back of Jane’s head takes her focus; her hair has been done in a neat knot at the base of her skull. Crossing the threshold, Caroline registers her surroundings.

 

The interior of the vicarage is small; clean with white walls and dark bookcases. There is a painting of a countryside and a large mirror on the wall. A button-tufted couch sits against an opposite wall, a desk that matches the bookcases in the corner, and at the center Jane moves about the space, helping Caroline with her coat, placing her handbag on a small bench by the front door.

 

Caroline is so warm. She removes her scarf while undoing a button in the hopes that the ambient air will soothe.  She feels herself nodding yes to tea as Jane fills and plugs in the electric kettle, while wandering aimlessly in the space between the living room and kitchen.

 

“Jane, may I use your bathroom?”

 

“Sure, at the end of the hall.” Jane nods down the short corridor to the door at the end. “I’m going to just change out of this quick,” pulling the wet shirt away from her stomach, she leads Caroline down the corridor and disappears through the door on the left side.

 

Caroline follows and enters the bright washroom, closes the door to tightly grip the sides of the sink looking steadily in the mirror.  She looks past her own face, and notices the etching on the mirror itself, a flourish of waves that meet in the center and spill out to the edges.

 

She takes a bit of loo paper and begins to clean a smudge of eye makeup. She breathes in and out through her nose. 

 

You like her. That’s fine. She probably likes you, she did invite you into her house. She’s making you tea. She took your hand.  She let you drive her back.  You told her about Kate. You want to tell her things. Well, some things.  Maybe it’s her eyes.  Her hands.  The calmness that she exudes. You like her.

 

“I’m not going to make the first move.”  Caroline mutters to herself, while running cold water over her wrists.

 

She appraises the reflection.  She runs her fingers through her hair for want of a brush, then throws her shoulders back to evaluate her bust; undoes a second shirt button.  Finally, giving herself a tight nod of approval she steps out the bathroom to walk confidently back to the kitchen.

 


 

Standing in her bedroom, Jane yanks at the buttons of her shirt while taking account of the radical changes she’s experienced over the past five days. She starts with the room she’s standing in. She hasn’t been here a week yet.  The bedroom doesn’t feel like hers. The closet and wardrobe have the faint smell of someone else. The mattress is still foreign, a holding pen for her restless turning until the sun in the morning surprises her coming through the window on the right side. Her books, music, even the few pictures she takes everywhere still sit in boxes in the corner waiting to be unpacked. She feels like an unexpected guest wandering the grounds of some country manor.

 

It’s not the accumulation of earthly possessions, it’s that they are familiar.

 

Caroline feels familiar. Her presence, energy, the way she occupies space. Is that what attraction does? Softens the edges of strangers and makes them approachable.

 

Or shines those edges to gleam even brighter.

 

The shirt took the brunt of the beer spill and her jeans seem okay. Jane throws the shirt over a chair by the bed. I’ll rinse it later.  She briefly considers if she’ll smell of beer now, then acknowledges that there isn’t anything that can really be done about it at the moment.  She takes two steps to the dresser and opens a drawer, blindly pulling on the first t-shirt she finds. 

 

Jane feels high. A complete buzz nestles in the back of her brain coating everything in a fine, shimmery glow.  It radiates through her limbs and stomach.  She wants to sit and look at Caroline for hours, study her, listen to anything she will say, memorize the arc of her eyebrows when she is surprised, learn the scent of where her neck meets the clavicle in a shallow indent. It took all of Jane’s self-control not to touch her in the car.  Now Caroline will be standing in the kitchen, waiting for tea. She exhales, shaking out her hands and grabs the cardigan tossed on top of the dresser.

 

This feeling doesn’t happen to her.  She struggles to remember anyone she has felt such an instant connection to; truly rare.  It’s special. She feels young and energetic and she wants to dismiss it as the bloom of a crush.  Crushes are fleeting. Jane can’t imagine this decreasing.  We never expect desire to fade. 

 

The last time she felt anything like this (a speedbump in comparison to this Everest), was with Andrea before going into theological school.  Jane frowns at the memory.  There is still a twinge of pain thinking of her. 

 

They had met by chance, the one positive thing to come out of the secondhand motorbike that Jane had paid too much for and was constantly breaking down. Andrea had come across Jane stranded, on a stretch of country road bordered by farms a twenty minute drive outside the city.  It was not the first time the bike had broken, leaving Jane so frustrated that she was contemplating walking away from the damned thing entirely. Andrea later said that the silhouette Jane cut in the leather jacket she was wearing was the real reason she stopped; she wanted to know that person.  The coat was supple, dark leather that fit Jane snugly, with pockets, a few strategic scuffs, and although decal and emblem free, still completed the uniform of a rebel. Jane never told her that she bought the jacket in a charity shop, and still felt it was the first owner’s, she had wanted to be the person to have that jacket. To live the life that the leather expected and projected.  Jane had been smitten, grateful that Andrea thought she was that person, and thankful for the rescuing.

 

They were two years into a relationship when Jane started the process to join the church. Jane had had no intention of leaving her behind; had always been upfront and honest about who she and the relationship was. In talking to her vicar and the tutors with the theological college she had never hidden the truth of it. But Andrea’s conviction stood.  That to join the church, Jane would be putting aside something of herself unfairly, denying a real and legitimate aspect of her that was created by God the same as the rest of her being.

 

That, and Andrea wasn’t going to pretend that they were celibate. Jane had played for time during interviews with a bishop, replying to questions with blanket answers; after Andrea left, the answer no longer mattered. Jane had thought they were stronger than that, and then nothing.  They were no more. 

 

I hope she’s happy, Jane thinks sincerely, I hope she wants what she has. When you’re not the one to end something, do you ever stop wondering what could have been?

 

Caroline told Jane a little of her life. That was real. Caroline is complicated.  Caroline is beautiful, although that adjective was easy to throw around; too liberal in usage. She did not seem brittle or delicate in her beauty. Caroline is beautiful as the ocean at night; the tide lapping the shore, cooling into inky light-swallowing depths. Where life pulses in the deep; where the land gives way to the unknowable sea.

 

Caroline is wholly complex, intelligent, and interested in me. This doesn’t happen all the time.  She touched my hand; Caroline reached for me. How rare is it that two people feel something on first sight?  Two people, same time zone, same day, same year, same room, they look across to each other and feel it

 

There have to be odds to it, Jane thinks.  Stupid maths.

 

She wasn’t this dumbstruck with Linh.  She had been quite neutral about liking the young woman, who had taken a month to get sober enough to interact with Jane at all.  She had fallen for Linh without this. Her feelings had crept up on her quietly masked in the fog of the city and routine. Then Linh kissed her, desired her. That her desire went further than Jane would ultimately be their undoing. There hadn’t been anyone since Linh.

 

While finding her fists in the sweater, Jane falls back to her constant habit and prays. “Okay, God, your will—I’m here.” She softens while pulling up the shoulder of the knit. “She’s lovely.” Jane pauses, wondering what she can offer Caroline.

 

“She’s here, in the house. I’ll let her set terms. I can give however much she wants.”

 

Then a breath and some inward thinking where Jane admits the truth. “I want, and I don’t want to hurt.” That’s a child’s prayer, Jane thinks. Maybe, but it isn’t a sin to want something.

 

Resolved, she looks in the small mirror by the door, licks her dry lips, and then quickly drags her teeth over top and bottom, reddening them.  Right, we’re going to have tea, and talk.

 


 

The bedroom door sticks in the jamb, and Jane has not managed the trick to opening it.  Every time she wishes to leave her room, she has to pull harder than expected. The sudden inward movement surprises the passing Caroline into a jump, a small yelp escapes as she laughs and reaches for the door frame to catch herself. Jane reaches out a steadying hand to her waist, the contact a sizzling, visceral answer to Jane’s prayer.  She leaves her hand on Caroline with a mental thank you, and manages a startled but pleased, “Hello.”

 

The moment hangs in anticipation, Caroline shifts her hips from right to left, leaning into Jane’s hand.

 

The combustion threshold has been breached. A lick of flame and Caroline burns. The poles of magnetic force push Caroline to Jane as much as Jane is pulled to Caroline. Caroline surges forward to kiss Jane and is met with the same dreamlike intensity as Jane’s arms encircle her waist, holding her and pulling her closer still. Jane welcomes the kiss, Caroline’s touch.  Her hands cradle Jane’s face, then move to her hair, releasing the chignon causing Jane to moan into Caroline’s mouth. Jane shifts, presses Caroline to the door frame, angling to increase contact between their bodies; her hands roaming over Caroline’s form.

 

A shrill wave wiggles into Caroline’s conscious mind. What is that, an aneurysm? This is a terrible time to start dying, Caroline laments. Jane has exceeded all expectations; her mouth, her lush tongue. She smells good, this so good, and…. I’m dying.  

 

The high-pitched whistle has worked its way to the forefront of her brain, pushing aside awareness of Caroline’s fingers tracing the contoured muscle of Jane’s shoulder blades, and blotting out the sensation of Jane kissing along her jaw while raking her hands up Caroline’s thighs.

 

Caroline lifts her head and blinks.  “You have a whistling kettle.”

 

“I like it.” Jane says to the inside of Caroline’s undone shirt buttons, talking to Caroline’s décolletage. She inhales deeply and steps back, satisfied at Caroline’s breathless state.

 

“Come on then,” Jane says, leading them back to the kitchen.

 

Caroline lingers for a moment, still stunned by her own action, awash in the wave of passion that’s coursed through her and crashed on shore, she stands dazed in the trench between these waves.  The tide is still pulling at her.  She would keep going if permitted.  Turning on her heel she surreptitiously glances into Jane’s bedroom but there are no insights for easy gleaning from the Spartan room, just shadow play from the window and a shiver from Jane’s hands on her body.

 


 

“Jane, how did you get here?” The question is offered by a sitting, clear-eyed Caroline.  That she also looks like a present to be unwrapped adds to the surrealism of the afternoon.

 

Jane looks over as she prepares the mugs and then places one in front of Caroline.  She weighs the question as she grabs the sugar bowl (glad she had gotten sugar the day before) and the nearly empty milk jug.

 

“Serendipity,” she says with a small grin. ”Maybe it’s a blessing. I go where I’m assigned. I don’t know why I’ve been some of the places I have, but I go, and trust that I’m supposed to be there.”

 

At this, Jane focuses on removing her teabag from the dark brew, adds a little of the milk, and slightly more sugar, before looking back into Caroline’s eyes. 

 

“But really, I was transferred from Camberwell because I was too visible.”

 

Caroline nods, fiddling with the sugar bowl.

 

“It was my first major posting in London and I was there for some years.  The last year or so, I was in a relationship that garnered attention—” Jane speaks in a measured cadence but pauses, pursing her lips. “—for the wrong reasons. Linh was a student, but she was here illegally when I petitioned a friend of mine to sign her student visa allowing her to stay.  She had a—a problem—with drugs, she liked partying, I knew all that, and she lived with me in the rectory, was in my bed.”  Jane sipped her tea. “I think that all of that could have been overlooked, but one night, she was coming home after going out and she said she just sat down outside, she’d gotten dizzy or something—and she saw this man, this delivery man get shot across the street from her.  She saw the person who shot him, saw them run away.” 

 

“Jesus!” Caroline sees the wince flash across Jane’s features and chastises herself for the mindless slip.

 

“Please don’t, I-uh appreciate the sentiment, but not blasphemy.  I love cursing, love it.  Colossians 4:6 says ‘let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.’  I decided I like my speech salty.”  Jane smiles at Caroline’s face, she’s forgiven before asking.  “But please tread lightly on the blasphemy.”

 

Caroline nods, mouths the word “Sorry,” and Jane leans over to kiss her quickly at the corner of her lips.  Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged. Jane wonders why Shakespeare for Caroline, the line comes unbidden. Where do God and Shakespeare meet?

 

Smiling and shifting her chair ever closer to Caroline's, Jane whispers, “Give me my sin again”—while leaning in and slowly kissing her once more, luxuriating in her mouth.

 

“Hmmm?”  The question comes from Caroline and is somewhere between a request and a demand for more.

 

“I’m sorry, I hate to interrupt that. I couldn’t help it.” Jane says with a wink and sighs as she sits back, continuing. “I owe you the rest of the story. Linh was still sitting on the ground when the police arrived, but she was too far gone to answer any questions, plus she had some gear on her, so she ducked them and, eventually made her way home.  It was so late, it was early, I hadn’t slept. You know when you should sleep and you can’t, so you go through the motions, you lay down, close your eyes, tell yourself ‘This is what sleep looks like. This is sleeping.’ But you don’t. Instead you just lie there?” Jane’s fingers walk across the table, tapping out rhythm to her words.

 

Caroline nods. 

 

“That’s what I did every time Linh went out. She came in that night quietly. And I sat up, might have been upset that she was out, but she told me what happened.  I convinced her to go back later in the day.  Tell the detectives what she knew; give them an accurate description of what she saw.

 

“Because she went in as a witness, well, that’s when all things about her status came out, and the fact that she was living with me was just—the cherry to all of it.  That I had helped her stay. Even that I knew about her habits. It got into the papers. The archbishop came around and suddenly it was an issue because everyone knew that I was sleeping with a woman.

 

“That was the end of it.  She moved out shortly after that—I didn’t want her to, I wanted to help her get her feet. She had so much potential.  She was going to really help people.  But she left and after a few more months they transferred me out of the parish. I’ve been warned to use more—“Jane looks squarely in Caroline’s eyes after roaming about the kitchen, “—discretion.”

 

“A year later and—” Jane gestures with an open hand to the surroundings. “—here I am.”

 

Caroline nods again.  She considers the history that has brought Jane here.  “Seems like quite a bout of bad luck, or punishment.”

 

Jane shrugs. “Can’t be helped.”

 

“When can I see you again?”

 
“Not for a few weeks, and then you will have my undivided attention.”

 

“What? That’s not discretion, that’s—” Caroline flusters at the high pitch of her voice.

 

“Easter is next week.  This Friday is Good Friday, tomorrow is Palm Sunday. I’m swamped.”

 

Caroline closes her eyes in understanding. Of course.

 

“You could come to services if you just want to see me,” Jane offers impishly.

 

“I don’t think the congregation would appreciate the outfit I would wear for that occasion.”

 

This gets an eyebrow raise from Jane, whose smiles widens wolfishly.  “Miracles happen.”

 

“Dinner, my house, Friday, 3 weeks from now?”

 

“I told you Caroline,” Jane stands up, and leans over to kiss her once more. “The answer is yes.”