"Some things belong to God
," he convinced himself quietly, as he watched her board the airplane
. "And some things do not."
The bishop would have called him a heretic, and perhaps bade him to see counseling. That was his way... the old man knew his time was running out, and wanted no more challenges to his faith. "I've been a priest for 48 years," Bishop McLaughlin gruffly muttered over dinner one winter night, "and if there's one thing I've learned, it's that the Church is bigger than me. I'm no Augustine, no Aquinas. If He wanted me to be a thinker, He would have given me answers, not questions. I was made to lead the flock, not to instill fear in them. Truth is decided by men greater than us, and their messages come directly from the mind of God. It is our duty to believe and to serve, not to think."
What other things would the bishop call him if he knew? His most trustworthy assistant, ending Mass early to run away to the airport! He didn't have to look down to know that his hands were shaking, that his legs were buckling. Why was he here? He wasn't going anywhere, and she hadn't even seen him. He had always thought that when she left, that somehow, some way, he would go with her. Now she was gone, and he would remain, left with only his Jesus and his old, muttering bishop.
Fifteen years he had known Maria. Teaching her theology back at the high school, he had lusted for her so badly, but lust was something he had learned to deal with long before. More troubling to him was her intelligence, her creativity, the beauty which she hid from the eyes of teenage boys but which he could see. And when Tommy Williams took her out for popsicles on that summer evening and forced her at gunpoint to fuck him, did that stupid kid realize he was destroying more beauty than he could even see? They locked Tommy away for what turned out to be the rest of his life, but Maria... she refused to be anyone's or anything's prisoner.
At that time, he was the school's youngest priest, and they had made him counselor, in addition to theology teacher. So when the school made her see someone about the rape, it was he who had to face his demons head-on and reach out to her. Of all the kids who saw him in his office during his teaching years, Maria was the strongest. The violation cast a long shadow over her life, but her confidence and sense of self-worth were such that no problem could ever defeat her. The young priest and the much younger girl (but only twelve years difference, he repeatedly told himself) became fast friends.
She hated the Church and didn't believe in Jesus, and she wasn't afraid to tell him that. He gave up on converting her a few weeks into their appointments. At the same time, unknown to him, she had decided to stop burdening him with what she felt were her problems. They talked about God and people and love, and he fell in love with her ideas, as dangerous as they were. He had resigned himself to never questioning anything, but simultaneously had a neverending fascination with those who did. What she did for him was clear, but he never quite knew what she saw in him. She would have answered if he would have asked, but he was never ready to confront his own feelings enough to do so. They maintained a kind of distant closeness, a sterile kind of love devoid of physical closeness and honesty, the two things which frightened him the most.
They stayed in touch as she ascended through the educational and professional worlds. The friendship allowed them to meet perhaps twice a month for a meal or a discussion. He knew he loved her. He doubted she loved him. A single hint from her and he might have dropped everything... or was that just a lie he belived to give his life some semblance of adventure? He always had Christ to turn to, always had the Body and Blood to fill him up. He never needed a woman, and on the day he found out she was going to Europe for the job he had smiled inwardly at her good fortune. Only as her departure neared and he began to sense her imminent absence did his mind start reeling. He had sped to the airport for what? To give himself one last chance? What would he really miss: the possibility or the fantasy?
Somehow he knew he would die without ever seeing Europe. Or holding her.
Now he was on his knees in the terminal, terrified of something he couldn't quite put his finger on. "Father! Are you okay?" implored a bystander, but he was already collapsing, his head spinning, closing off the outside world piece by piece.