Rated: E · Short Story · Holiday · #1508355
A young couple takes a chance on love. ~ Contest Entry / Holidays
2nd place in "Show Off Your Best at the Sandbox" & 3rd in the "Beyond The Water's Edge - CLOSED" December 2008
The pale moonlight lit Carlie's path as she crossed the deserted campus. The footbridge leading to the chapel was slick under foot and large, fluffy snowflakes accumulated on the hood of her cream wool coat. Christmas music floated faintly through the crisp night air as the church's big pipe organ warmed up. A combination of tradition and necessity drove her to the midnight Mass. Her schoolmates were all home with their families on this holiest of nights; the dorms were silent. Friends had invited her to accompany them, but Carlie had politely declined each invitation, holding onto hope Mark would come. Tears prickled behind hazel eyes, threatening to give free rein to the gnawing emptiness inside of her. Determinedly she pushed those thoughts aside and put on a small smile as Father Patrick swung open the heavy doors for her.
The flickering candles held Carlie enthralled as the sermon droned on. The beautiful advent wreath adorning the altar brought back childhood memories of decorating for the holidays. Just such a wreath had always graced the center of the McKenzie dining room table during the Christmas season. A small smile turned her lips as mental images of her parents flooded her mind's eye. She would never forget catching her taciturn father kissing his rosy-cheeked wife under the mistletoe. Nor the following year, her father witnessing her stolen moment with Mark in the same door way. Oh, what a row that had been.
As silly as it sounded, she and Mark were a modern day Romeo and Juliet. Their fathers had been the bitterest of rivals from childhood to business. Neither had approved of a union between their children. Seeing the emotional devastation both men had suffered with the passing of their beloved wives at too early of an age, Carlie would have thought they would have understood the concept of true love. If anything, this loss seemed to harden them both. When her father had taken ill, he had made sure to make provisions for her in his will that included a way of taking her out of the hollow and away from Mark. Enrolling her in Everett Girls Academy had neatly done the trick for the past two years. Yet geographic distance hadn't made the heart less sure.
A hand on her shoulder jolted Carlie from her thoughts. She looked up at Father Patrick, color staining her pale cheeks. Noting the congregation slowly gathering their coats, her blush deepened.
"If you wouldn't mind, I would like it if you stayed for a bit. I have something I wish to speak with you about, child," Father Patrick said with a reassuring smile.
"Of course, Father," she agreed, watching him make his way to the back of the sanctuary to pay his respects to his departing flock.
Wandering to the window, Carlie watched Mother Nature's arctic artistry with a heavy heart. The landscaped lawns of the school grounds seemed foreign, her heart aching for the familiar woodlands of the Catskill foothills. Misery swelled at the thoughts of home, making it difficult to swallow around the lump in her throat. She leaned forward, her forehead and freckled nose pressed to the glass. Groping in her pocket, she clutched Mark's last letter, crumpled, and tear stained. She didn't need to pull it out, each word long ago etched into her heart. Her opposite palm flattened beseechingly against the window, fingertips curling against the smooth surface as she fought the wave of loneliness with little success.
My grandfather always said, when one door closes, another opens. It seems with his death he has chosen to open a door for the love you and I share. Imagine my surprise, and my dad's, when the will called for the cabin and surrounding thirty acres to be deeded to me. With a roof to put over your head and the money I have been saving, there isn't any reason we can't be together by Christmas, if it is still what you want. I know getting married is what we have always talked about, but I want you to think long and hard about it. You know it will never be easy with my father. Your family set you up a good thing there at Everett. You can get an education and do something great. I can't offer you much more than a roof over your head and my love. You are smart. Your daddy knew what he was talking about when he told you that you could do better than the likes of me, no matter his reasoning. Think about that. I will understand either way.
The soft sob of her breath fogged the chilled glass as the dam broke. Tears fell, blurring the winter landscape to a dreary gray. The Commandments instructed children to honor thy parents. Lord knows they had both tried. Mark had always been her one rebellion. She often wondered if her father realized how abysmally empty she felt without Mark, how soulless. She crossed herself silently. Surely "He" understood. A loving God would not condemn them to a living purgatory.
Fumbling with a tissue, she wiped her eyes surreptitiously before turning back to the window. The snow clouds skittered across the night sky, the full moon making a majestic appearance, bathing the grounds in its silver glow. A lone figure was crossing the footbridge, hands stuffed deep in his pockets, collar turned up, and shoulders hunched against the wind. Carlie caught her breath, eyes drinking in every nuance of the familiar long-legged gait. Whirling for the door, her pug nose smacked right into Father Patrick's chest.
"Oh! Sorry Father, I ..."
"Are you alright, dear?" he interrupted.
"I'm fine, Father, really," Carlie reassured, rubbing her nose gingerly as she tried to slide politely past the priest.
"Too many scrapes like that will rub the freckles right off ya girl," the affable Irishman teased, a sparkle in his eye.
Carlie couldn't help but giggle as she continued to inch for the door. Father Patrick persistently followed.
"I wanted to have a word with you about ... about the choir."
Carlie looked back at him in surprise, her progress momentarily stilled.
"You know I am as tone deaf as they come, Father. My mother always told me I couldn't carry a tune in a bucket."
"That might be a bit harsh," he said with a slight wince, inwardly chastising himself for his awkward stalling techniques. Where was that young man?
Carlie shook her head, not understanding where he was headed with the conversation. Reaching the doors she leaned against them, feeling the freedom on the other side.
"Father, I ..." she started, but gave a little gasp as the door swung open at the press of her slight weight. Stepping out onto the steps to catch her balance, she caught sight of Mark and everything else was forgotten. Racing across the yard she threw herself into his powerful arms.
Mark's laugh boomed in the silent night and he swung her in jubilant circles until they were both dizzy and breathless. Finally settling her in front of him, he pulled her hood back up and just stared down into her face.
"I forgot how beautiful you are," he rumbled, his voice breaking with emotion.
"You've filled out," Carlie whispered, blushing as she measured the width of his chest with trembling hands. She swiped at a lonely tear with the back of her hand. "I didn't think you were coming."
"I didn't hear back from you, so thought I would come up on the chance ..."
His voice trailed off as her eyes flew up to his.
"I mailed a reply the next day!"
"I didn't get it," he said softly, searching her face for an answer.
She slowly shook her head, taking a step back from him. Swallowing hard, she tried to put her feelings into words.
"I understand what my father was trying to do, setting up my education here and the trust fund so that I had to be a bit older to make a decision. At sixteen I was on my own for the first time and likely would have clung to anyone to not be ALONE. Truthfully, at only a year older, you were not ready to take on the responsibility for another person." Glancing up at him, she tried to judge how her words were being received. His expression was stoically blank. She took a deep breath and continued. "I have grown up the past two years. I discovered that my parents, well intentioned or not, pampered me and sheltered me from a lot of things. What I am trying to say is, the one thing that never changed was you, and how I felt about you. The good Lord knows I won't be perfect, but if you will have me, I will try to be the best wife I know how."
Silence hung between them like the frosty plumes of their breath in the frigid night air.
"Was that a yes?" he finally asked.
Carlie laughed and jumped up to wrap her arms about his neck again.
"Oh yes," she whispered fervently.
Hugging her tight, Mark playfully spun her around behind him and caught her legs in a piggyback before setting off towards the church.
Father Patrick stood silent on the church steps watching the young people's touching reunion. A lump of misery formed in this throat, making it difficult to breathe as memories came flooding back. Forty years ago he had stood at the same cross roads as this young couple. His union with Joan forbidden by her parents, he had chosen the priesthood instead of fighting for the woman he loved. Tears gathered in his aged blue eyes, freeze drying to his skin as they spilled down his cheeks. As much as he loved his God, it was a decision he questioned everyday.
WC ~ 1651
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