The Vicar of St. Dunstan's Ep. 24byNigel Debonnaire©
Many threads to tie up, so please be patient with me, there'll be some fun in the course of the story. Please consult the previous episodes and the Vicar of St. Dunstan's Guide for more background on the characters.
It was dusk in the open spaces of Western Kansas. It's my favorite time of day on the family ranch: sitting on the hill next to the old windmill and the tree my Grandfather planted on the Great Plains watching the red ball dip gradually past the horizon, watching the counterpoint of red and gold transmute to scarlet and violet as the dots of light revealed themselves at the end of centuries long pilgrimage through the cosmos. This is always humbling, fascinating and overwhelming for me, this spectacle of Mother Nature. The last day of August was very warm, but the heat was also starting to dissipate: the wind is deliciously cool and plays gently on my skin. I wished it could be a night to sleep under the stars, watching the slow dance flat on my back as the speckled procession wound from horizon to horizon, but my brothers and sisters in driving distance would coming out for the day tomorrow, arriving around breakfast time, so I want to be fresh for them.
The contours of my new life were still taking a while to sink in as I lean back into the old tree facing West. I am no longer the Vicar of St. Dunstan's. I am no longer in England. My career has gone a new direction, an unexpected direction, and it exhilarates me and scares me at the same time as it did when I got the job. For the rest of my life, I'm going to be here in Kansas. That thought doesn't weigh as much on my heart as it would have a few years ago. For much of my life, I yearned to escape this place, lose myself in Shangri-La, in the place I should have been born. I thought I found it in England, but as I'm settling into my new life back home in Kansas, I could see that wonderful place was just a way station, a place to find myself so I could come back.
The thought made me shake my head. My wife's head rested on my right shoulder, and she stirred from her reverie in response. "Penny for your thoughts, luv," she murmured. That was something else to get used to: being a husband again. A glance downward at her swelling waist foretells another new role in the near future: father.
"Just trying to take everything in, sweetheart," I reply. "A lot of new things to get used to; it's like I'm an entirely different person now."
"No, you aren't," she says with a smirk. "You're just discovering new sides of you. Which are just as lovely as the part I've grown to love already."
Turning my head, my lips met hers and parted so our tongues could dance a wet tango. My head was spinning when we stopped, an hour later by my calculation, although by the sky it must have been a couple of minutes.
After we broke, I rested my head on hers for several moments and she asks again, "Penny for your thoughts?"
"Memories of England. Of a year ago."
It was another balmy August Monday in England. I was sitting at a table at the back of the local pub with Mary Sterns, savoring Napoleon brandy and Havana cigars. Smoking wasn't permitted in the Vicarage, but I enjoy a good cigar occasionally and Mary was introduced to the magic of Havanas on one of her trips on behalf of the Parkhurst-Frazleton corporation. It was three days after I returned from America with the news I was leaving. The Pub singing its usual song through another evening: several games of darts and snooker sang their peasant carols while tables of oldsters and youngsters conspired to solve the problems of the word, or the problems of the each other. My seminarian, Kieran Hali, sat with Betsy and Beatrice Burkitt, awkwardly enduring their teasing and flirtation with shaking hands, damp face, and elusive eyes. Kieran was a tall, lanky, young man with light chocolate skin, well developed muscles under his t-shirt, and curly red hair; the girls were a little under average height and a little above average weight, the long, dark hair wound up on their heads and hints of their generous curves peeking from behind their chairs. The Burkitt Twins' roly-poly grandfather, Harry Hazelton, was holding forth with Stan Dover and Percy Whitson on an unusually successful day at the track over convivial pints that he doubtlessly purchased for them.
Sipping my brandy, I regarded Mary's profile as she pulled at her cigar. There were crow's feet around her mouth and eyes and several freckles that were muted by her makeup, but her clear blue eyes, red hair, medium nose, fine cheeks and sensuous red lips made me nostalgic for her even before my departure. She was dressed in a blue business suit with a white lace blouse that dipped to reveal a nicely proportioned cleavage, her white skin beautifully freckled. I took a drag from my cigar and remembered the fine shape of the hips parked beside me, hips that I held in my hands so often as our bodies clasped one another. So many memories of our time together: the trips we took, the meetings we endured, the afternoons spent making love in the Quilting Room. Giving her up would be the most difficult thing about leaving England.
Kieran looked up from his companions and his eyes rested on Mary as she sat beside me. His eyes sparkled as he looked at her, a faint smile crept to the corners of his mouth, and his fingers played with electricity. Looking back at Mary, her gaze was fixed on a corner of the ceiling following the billows as they ascended heavenward; she didn't notice Kieran at all. He caught my attention and looked down again, trying to focus on the girls once again.
Mary turned to look at me and said fondly: "We're going to miss you around here, ya feckin' bastard."
"I know. I'm going to miss me around here, too."
We puffed our cigars and sipped our brandy and let the Pub's song flow by. "Do you know who's going to take your place?" she asked quietly.
"George Staton," I replied in a similarly low voice. "He's ready for a move, and it's going to be his last. God willing, he'll retire from St. Dunstan's in a few years."
She sat back and puffed her cigar. "I can do business with George. Is his Rachel coming along?"
"Yes. Their marriage seems secure once again, and she's doing better after some Prozac and psychotherapy."
"Did you pull any strings to get this done?"
I blew a smoke ring. "Yes. I thought George was the best person to come here, so when I talked with Bishop Horace and Archdeacon Tommy yesterday, I put a word in. The Bishop was feeling generous since his retirement is scheduled for next month and I'm going away, so he gave me what I wanted. Tommy agreed, seeing the opportunity to play nice with someone who's support he may need someday. It's a done deal."
"What was their response to your news?"
"Grins that would be best described as shit eating. It was the last time I would see those two institutional warlocks and the thought brings some reason to rejoice and be glad."
Mary snickered and I shared her mirth momentarily. She switched gears. "I saw our Barbara last week. Went down to Rome to see her."
"How's Mother Mary Rufus doing?"
"She's settling in her generalate. It's close to Vatican City on the same side of the Tiber, lovely gardens. Looked a little tired: poor thing had just finished up her mother's estate before her sisters elected her Superior of the whole worldwide community. She'll be stuck in Italy for six years."
"I can relate. I'm sure she was the most surprised woman when the General Chapter elected her. Rome isn't a bad place to be, and she'll get to travel in style."
"No, I wouldn't mind living there. Sister Mary Francis Xavier went with her to be her personal flunky and her connection home. It's always good to have a familiar face in a strange place."
If only you knew, I thought, that Barbara took her daughter along. Perhaps Sister Mary Francis Xavier is ready to settle into adulthood. "Does she get to come home after she's done her tour in Rome?" I asked.
"Usually they don't and she's not planning on it," she said. "Tough for a former abbess to go back to her home community as a regular girl. She talked about a house they have in Kansas, and wanting to go there eventually."
I sat up with surprised. Yes, it would be nice to have Barbara (Mother Mary Rufus) and Helen (Sister Mary Francis Xavier) close by in a few years.
"Pity you're only here a couple more days,' she pouted. "We didn't get much notice of your leaving, either. There could have been a better reception after services yesterday knowing it was your last."
"You did what you could at the time, and that's good enough. What matters is the years we've had together."
Flicking her ash, she took another draw. I sipped my brandy, took a puff and changed the topic: "I'm worried about Kieran."
She blinked and turned to look at me, then over at him. He noticed her attention and smiled shyly. "Is he staying on with us?"
"Oh, yes, he's staying on at St. Dunstan's. He gets along well with George and Rachel, and the location is ideal for going to school and visiting his Mum at St. Will's. His issue is with typical boy stuff."
Mary returned Kieran's look with an unblinking gaze, puffing her cigar. Kieran's face brightened, then faded to uncertainty, wanting to pull away, but not succeeding. The twins were leaving to use the loo and didn't notice. "Tell me more," she said.
"Kieran, despite his good looks and charm, is a virgin. His mother raised him to be very respectful and deferential around women: his manners are impeccable. He's no problems being friendly with women: he treats Agnes like a sister and the shut in widows he visits say he's a treat, delightful company. But he's scared to ask out a woman for a date, a romantic date at least."
"Is he interested in girls?"
"Oh yes, very much. His hard drive bears testimony to this. We've talked about it a few times, surrogate father and son, and I've given him what wisdom I can. Confidence is what's lacking, as well as experience. And he's very shy."
Kieran finally melted under Mary's gaze and retreated toward the Men's Room. "I notice the Burkitt twins are interested in him."
"Yeah, they are. I think they'd shag him tonight if they got a chance, but I hear they're committed virgins as well."
Mary started beside me and gave me a disbelieving look. "Are they? When their grandmother Mavis was their age, she could tell the make of any car blindfolded by laying down on the back seat and spreading her legs."
I smiled. "Sometimes the message works: they're keeping themselves pure for the right man. They're playful, but also very cautious in their own way. They're also together almost constantly; they protect each other."
"They're also probably waiting for you, just like Jenny and Agnes did," Mary said, blowing a smoke ring.
I took a big gulp of brandy and a desperate drag on my Havana. Blowing it aloft, I shuddered. "I guess I owe it to Mavis, and to them. They are budding into attractive young women. There'll be time."
"It better be soon, if you don't want them to jump out of your closet and pounce on you unawares." She sat back and pondered the ceiling again, smoking languidly. "So the young man needs some help with his confidence. . ."
We sat and smoked and watched the Pub go by, until Mary leaned over to give me a peck on the cheek and bade me a good evening.
Tuesday dawned warm and bright: only three more days before I got on the plane to start my new life. Mavis came over to fix breakfast, which was the best meal she ever fixed for me. As I ate my food, she looked at me with big dampening eyes. "I hear that you're moving to Scotland for good, Mavis," I began.
"Yeah, Vicar. It seems the best thing to do. I'm tired of the city, tired of the neighborhood, tired of so many things. My littlest grandbabies are up there, and they need me, their Mum has such a time with them."
"How about Harry?"
She looked away and paused. "Harry will be all right on his own. He's a good enough man, and provided for me and the girls well enough, but it's time to end the charade. Freddie isn't the only homosexual in the family, and Harry will appreciate the space for his special mates."
I dropped my fork. "Do you mean, this man, who gave you six children. . ."
"Yeah, I had a time believing it as well. Din't really understand in the early days, well, in the Sixties it was illegal. He was good provider for us, a real trooper, but it was what his father expected of him, and Harry wouldn't challenge that, could never take on the old man. Now the old man has gone to his reward and we can let go."
"I see. If you're both happy. . ."
"Oh yes, Vicar, for certain. Harry will also keep an eye on Freddie and the twins. They're old enough to be on their own, away from Mum and Dad; he's very fond of them and will give them a little grandfatherly help from time to time and a bit of his pension in exchange for a place to stay in his old age."
"Won't you miss St. Dunstan's?"
"Oh yes, but Sheila's happy down in Cornwall with her new man and her family, and she inspired me to go a new direction. Who knows, I may find someone new up in the glens, a lad with something really special under his kilt." She said the last bit with a growl in her voice, and batted her eyes flirtatiously.
I smiled as I ate my eggs.
"I hope it's not too much to ask, but will you have time to do me a last favor?" she queried in a thin, little girl voice.
"If I can, Mavis, I will. What is it?"
"The twins' birthday is Thursday. They'll be eighteen and young women. You helped our Jenny and our Agnes make the transition, and I was hoping you could do the same for my gels."
"It will be tight. Maybe during the day."
She smiled broadly, and did a little dance step as best she could. "Maybe you could find some time to abuse my tits a bit before then." Pulling the belt on her dress, she unbuttoned a button.
"Sorry, Mavis, don't have time until Thursday, lots to do. I wish I did."
"But Thursday is my big packing day."
"Can't help it. If you can break free, we'll see."
"It's all I can ask for. Thanks, luv." She replaced her belt, buttoned her button, and headed for the door.
Kieran came in the door almost immediately, and we went to the Recreation Room for a hard morning's workout. Everything except the hottub was going later that day, sold on the Internet to a new adult club across town, and Kieran was the only one I trusted to help me. Two and a half hours hard labor saw everything ordered and in crates ready to go. Since the delivery men were bringing the crates out the basement door, I took him upstairs for a refreshing brew before we moved on.
He sat down uneasily at the spare chair in my study, and accepted a Newcastle Brown Ale with relish. I settled in my familiar chair with a cold Heineken, and chit chatted with him as checked my e-mail: mostly messages from home that tried to get me inundated in work before I even reported for my new job. I heard a few steps and I found he had left the room momentarily, so I pulled up the Quilting room camera to see Mary working there alone, dressed minimally on the pentulimate day of August. I longed to run over there and ravish her as I had so often before, but I had to start letting go. Kieran returned, and I killed the video.
"Well, lad, how are you doing?"
"Not too well, Vicar. I wish you didn't have to go."
"You know I don't want to either, but I have no choice. When you do the Lord's work, you have to go where the Spirit leads you."
"I know, Vicar, I know. I love how noble it sounds, and my heart tells me it's where I want to go. It's doing it that's the tough part."
"Amen, " I answered and took a long pull from my beer. "Tell me, have you found a girlfriend yet?"
It was amusing to watch him try to blush. "Well, Vicar, I haven't had much luck getting a girl to go out with me."
"I saw you at the Pub last night with the Birkitt twins. They seemed interested."
"Oh, they're like sisters to me. They're too immature; their kidding gets old pretty quickly. Cute, but not my type."
"Has Agnes tried to set you up with one of her friends?"
"Ah, Agnes. She's tried, but no go. All nice girls, good company, but different. Couple tried to stick their tongues down my throat the first time I kissed them." He shuddered and bowed his head. "Don't like pushy birds. Makes me feel like I'm the prize of a contest. Sometimes I think there just aren't any women out there in the world for me."
"Yet, Kieran, yet. You're how old, Kieran?"
"I'll be twenty this summer."
"That's a little young to become a monk, lad. Hang in there, something will turn up, and the right girl will come around for you. The Lord will provide, usually when you least expect it."
"If you say so, Vicar."
"I do. I know what it's like to be alone for months at a time and wondering if you'll ever be loved. Keep your heart and your mind open, son."
"By the way, Kieran, Mary Sterns was saying she needed some help in the Quilting Room early this afternoon. Could you swing by there and help her out? I'm busy here."
He thought for a moment, the hint of a smile creasing his face. "No, I'm free. I can help her."
"Splendid," I replied taking a long pull from my beer. We rummaged around the pantry for some bread to break for lunch, and practiced the art of sandwich making to assuage our hunger. Afterward, we parted company: I to respond to the mountain of new e-mail and Kieran to the Quilting Room.
I settled into the chair behind my desk and thanked God we hadn't disconnected the camera system yet. Cameras would remain to monitor the outer doors and key passages for security; I would show George and Rachel how to use them. The other cameras were being removed Thursday after the majority of my personal effects started their journey back to Kansas. An hour's labor saw the mail answered, and I glanced at the headlines of the country I was about to leave.
Pulling up the Quilting Room channel, I focused the lipstick camera, taking the joystick in my hand to maneuver the frame as needed. It was a fine early afternoon, sunlight pouring in through the high windows in hard shafts of radiance. Kieran had settled on an old rocking chair: he rocked quickly and nervously as he watched Mary work on a quilt. Mary was wearing a polka dot halter top, shorts and sandals in the warm weather; the shorts displayed her nicely rounded hips and she stood with one foot in front of the other as she worked to accentuate the curve of her ass. He was undressing her with his eyes, and his rocking grew more nervous the more he looked at her almost bare back.
The absence of a microphone wasn't going to be a problem for me; since one of my sisters is deaf, I learned to read lips at an early age. The scene before me needed some background, however, so I punched up my playlist on my MP3 player. Symphonie Pathétique by Tchaikovsky caught my eye. It wasn't something I listened to often, and it wasn't what they would have chosen, but it fit my mood, so I loaded it up and settled back as the plaintive bassoon growled over the coarse low strings.
Mary finished a stitch, and stepped back to see her progress. I could tell they were talking, but there was no microphone which was fine since I didn't really want to know what they were saying. As she spoke, I could see her hand go to the base of her neck, where it rested; her breathing got quicker and her eyes went up to the ceiling. She transferred her weight from one foot to another, and the hunger on Kieran's face increased dynamically, his mouth opening slightly and his tongue gently touching his lower lip. His hands gripped the arms of the rocker hard.
He stopped when she turned around, trying to act calm, and failing spectacularly. A wry smile found her lips as her hand patted her chest, and she took a step forward. She mouthed: "Even a woman my age appreciates the–amorous attention of man. Knowing that a virile young man such as yourself could look on me as desirable is so stimulating. . ." His hands began to tremble on the rocker, but he was stuck in his seat; his eyes were glued to her pink polka dot halter top. My knowledge of what lay within made me shift in my chair to seek comfort.