SINNERS’ REDEMPTION – EPISODE FOUR

As he led the recessional out of the church on Saturday night, Seamus wasn’t sure if he’d made friends or enemies at the Mass. There were a few younger people in the seats, but he wasn’t sure if they were the rides for some of the older parishioners or if they actually came to meet him.

The day hadn’t started great because Seamus had forgotten to charge his phone on Friday night when he returned to his new apartment, so his alarm didn’t wake him on time. He’d had unusual dreams about Carter, the guy he’d met at the laundromat, and those thoughts were hard to shake off.

Father Kozlow had seemed to be less than impressed when Seamus came in through the back door of the office in jeans and a t-shirt instead of his cleric’s clothes as he had been instructed the previous afternoon. The old priest was in his white collared shirt, black slacks, and black rabat as he was drinking a cup of very dark coffee while looking through a hard-bound ledger. He was sitting behind an oak desk where an old-fashioned adding machine—paper tape and all—resided on one side of the ledger while a yellow legal pad rested on the other. The priest had a pencil in his left hand and was furiously writing something on the pad, a deep scowl on his crinkly face.

“I, uh, I thought I’d get to work on assessing the church roof to see how much damage it sustained over the winter. I apologize for dressing casually, but I didn’t want to dirty my clerics clothes,” Seamus explained somewhat cautiously.

Based solely on the outside of the building, the rectory would be nothing less than a total gut job. The church, however, looked as if it only needed a new roof and some work outside on the stairs and the foundation.

Seamus was sure he could get his father and brothers to come down to Beckett Creek to help with the construction and check the electrical wiring so the thing didn’t burn down once it was repaired. He’d made an open call at the Mass that night for volunteers, suggesting it could be a weekend project if there was enough interest.

“Yes, well, there’s a ladder in the garage behind the rectory. Do you know how to do things like that?” Father Kozlow had asked.

Seamus had poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot and took a sip. The liquid was barely warm, and it was as bitter as anything he’d ever tasted in his life. “I think the pot might be bad, Father.” He’d turned to look at the old priest who’d had his glasses resting low on his nose as he perused the ledger, still scribbling figures on the yellow paper.

Seamus had glanced over to the corner of the room to see a bag from some electronics’ store resting on the floor next to the bookcase, curious about what was inside. Before he’d been able to ask, the old priest had barked at him. “The pot’s fine. I make one pot a week on Sunday after the Mass, and I reheat it every day. I suppose now that you’re here, I’ll have to make it weaker so we can have two pots a week. Do you know anything about the building trades?” The old priest had a bite in his voice that Seamus had hoped he wouldn’t have to hear every day.

“Yes, Father, I do know about the building trades. My father and oldest brother both work in construction, and I used to help out during the summers. I can at least get a preliminary figure in mind to present to the Finance Committee on Wednesday for consideration.

“I believe we can save money if we put out a call for volunteers from the community to sign-up for a clean-up weekend. I’ll get my family to come down from St. Louis, and between my dad, my brothers, and myself, we can coordinate crews to put on a new roof over a long weekend. Maybe the upcoming Labor Day weekend? If people are available on Friday, they can help remove the shingles and repair the leaking spots, and the first thing on Saturday morning, we can spread the tar paper and begin putting on the shingles,” Seamus suggested, feeling he’d made a sound proposal that should please the priest.

“I’ll consider it,” Father Kozlow had responded without looking up from the ledger. It had given Seamus an excellent example of what Monsignor O’Keefe had mentioned about Father being old-fashioned. Unfortunately, the way the Monsignor had phrased it now seemed like a considerable understatement.

Seamus had strolled over to the corner to see a brand-new laptop box in the bag. He’d leaned down further to see the receipt had been taped to the box. The computer had cost someone over a thousand dollars, and it was still in the box? “What’s this?” he’d asked, not caring how much he had perturbed the older priest.

Father had glanced up and tutted his tongue. “The Finance Committee bought it for the office, but I’m going to return it and direct the funds elsewhere. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a separate ledger on paper. Paper doesn’t break like those electronic machines are known to do,” the priest had gritted out, apparently not a fan of modern technology.

Seamus had decided to venture into the breach. “I can set this up and make things a lot easier for you, Father. We can automate a lot of the duties here at the church, and you can receive the reports from the Finance Committee or communicate with the Diocese electronically, so things move much faster,” Seamus had suggested.

To his surprise, the older priest had removed his glasses and tossed them on the desk, glaring at Seamus. “I’d strongly advise you to observe with a closed mouth, Father McCord. This parish was doing just fine before you came into it. I told the good Monsignor I didn’t need an assistant, but he informed me your former congregation had petitioned for a new Vicar, and the Diocese had nowhere for you to go. You’re here by Our Father’s good humor.

“Obviously, with your pompous, know-it-all attitude and all of your ideas to make things easier for yourself, they had enough of you. I strongly suggest you should give thought to your recent behaviors and ask yourself what you did wrong to prompt them to ask you to leave in the first place.

“I don’t believe I can trust you with doing the Mass alone tonight, so I’ll be there to keep you in line. I’ll also prepare and distribute Communion. Until you give me your confession, I think it’s for the best. I expect you to deliver the Homily, and we’ll discuss your sermon after Mass. Tomorrow afternoon, I urge you to spend the day in quiet contemplation,” the older priest had told him harshly.

Seamus had greeted the twenty-eight parishioners who’d had attended the mass. They’d welcomed him kindly, but the older attendees had given him a careful perusal, while the younger people had shaken his hand and offered, “We’re happy to see you. Maybe we can come back to Mass here,” or comments along the same lines.

After he had the church locked up for the night, Seamus left his vestments in the Sacristy and went out the back of the church to walk down the sidewalk to Father Kozlow’s small house, ringing the bell. When the door opened, he saw an older woman with a smile on her face. “Come in, Father McCord. Your Homily was lovely,” she told him as she shook his hand.

He nodded and clasped her hand in both of his. “Thank you, so much. I’m afraid I can’t recall your name,” he replied honestly.

“Oh, I’m Sister Mary Luke from St. Michael’s in Cape Girardeau. My sister and her family live here in town, and I came down for the weekend. I assisted with distributing Communion and Father Kozlow asked me to stop by for dinner. Would you like to join us?” she asked with a sweet smile.

Seamus smiled at her, unsure of how to answer. “Where, um, where is Father Kozlow?”

“He’s on a call with Monsignor O’Keefe. Can I get you something to drink?” she asked.

Seamus really didn’t want to be around when Father Kozlow finished his phone call with the Monsignor because he knew it was prompted by the discussion they’d had earlier that afternoon while Seamus was on the roof of the church with his cell phone, strategically hidden from Kozlow’s eagle eyes.

“Father McCord, how are things going? You arrived yesterday, is that right?” the Monsignor had greeted.

“Yes, Monsignor. Things are, uh, a bit tense right now. I didn’t ask Father Wolfe before I left St. Thom’s, but I believe since you shared with Father Kozlow I was forced out of my previous placement, I’m going to need to know why. As you know, I have some decisions to make and based on what Father Kozlow mentioned about your discussion, he has no respect for me. Any suggestions I offer with for improvements to the parish are met with animosity and seem to fall upon deaf ears,” Seamus had tactfully explained.

Monsignor O’Keefe had been quiet for a moment before he hummed. “I was hoping not to have to get into this matter anymore than I already am, but I can understand Father Kozlow might be demanding when it comes to changes.

“With regard to why Father Wolfe asked for you to be transferred, he believed it was best for you to be assigned to a parish which would offer you more challenges. St. Thom’s was easy, Mack. The parishioners support the school and church without any pushing. You’re a charismatic guy, and Father Wolfe said your talents would be more useful in a parish that needed someone like you. Besides, Monsignor Galati wants to put in a priest in his late fifties when Father Wolfe leaves. He’s going to use that parish as a last weigh-station before retirement. You didn’t do anything wrong,” the Monsignor explained.

Seamus had been a bit surprised about the news, but it made sense because the parish was a great one. The families were active in the school and church, so it could really run on its own. It shouldn’t have been a surprised to Seamus, but it hadn’t made the news any less hurtful to hear that Father Wolfe hadn’t been completely honest. The next question was…what had Father Kozlow been told?

“So, what did you tell Father Kozlow because he refuses to allow me to fully participate in the preparation of the Mass until I make a confession to him. He said he will be watching me closely and won’t stand for my arrogant attitude. He went so far as to call me lazy in an indirect way. I’m sorry, Monsignor, but if I’m supposed to make changes at the parish to hopefully bring back the lost parishioners, I have a feeling Father will make it impossible.

“He refuses to allow anyone to install the new laptop the Finance Committee bought for the office, claiming he’s going to return the computer to the store and redirect the funds. My guess is it’s in the corner of the office until Father can figure out how to find a store to return it. He’s keeping the financial records in a paper ledger using a pad of paper and an adding machine to keep track of the Parish funds,” Seamus had elucidated. He’d felt like a whining child, but he’d been put in an impossible position, and he’d desperately needed guidance.

Monsignor O’Keefe had chuckled. “Call Cybil Maness. She’s the head of the Finance Committee. Her husband, Dick, is the president of the Parish Council. They’ll coordinate a meeting with only you ahead of the meeting scheduled for Wednesday. We were trying to give you a week to settle in, but I should have known Father Kozlow wouldn’t take kindly to this situation. Ask her to call me with details, and I’ll come down for it. Things will be fine, Father McCord, I promise.”

The phone call with the Monsignor would leave Father Kozlow in a terrible humor, or so Seamus determined, so he decided to bow out of any interaction as quickly as possible. “Thank you for the invitation, but I’m still settling into my new apartment. Let Father know I’ll be here at six-thirty in the morning to prepare for Mass. It was a pleasure to meet you, Sister Mary Luke. I hope you’ll revisit us soon,” he offered as he shook her hand before heading out of the door and rushing over to the parking lot where his small Chevy hybrid was parked.

Seamus unbuttoned the tab in his collar and fanned his shirt a bit. The Church had been like an oven, even with those huge fans which were hard to talk over because Father Kozlow seemed to be under the impression the lower the volume on the sound system, the fewer kilowatts of electricity the system used. Seamus wished he’d have mentioned that to the Monsignor.

As he drove on the nicely paved driveway to the garage behind the large white brick home, he saw his hostess standing at the bottom of the stairs up to his apartment door. Her name was Natasha Riggs, and she was a very kind woman. They’d only briefly met the previous night when he’d stopped at the main house to inquire where he could do his laundry.

Mr. Riggs had offered him a beer as he’d explained the directions to the nearest self-service laundry facility. Seamus had turned down the beer, requesting a raincheck, and he’d gone to the laundry where he’d met Carter Lee.

Seamus still hadn’t examined his feelings about kissing Carter the previous night, but he didn’t want to think about it at that moment. He’d need time to consider his actions, and he just wasn’t ready yet. The fact he wanted to ditch his landlady as quickly as possible so he could order a pizza and go back to Brimlee to the laundromat was a sign he was entering dangerous waters.

He’d planned to gather his few dirty towels and maybe even a few of the clean ones his mother had sent with him to clean. He wasn’t above pulling the sheets off his bed, though he was tempted to do so.

The Riggs’ had furnished the apartment for him, and there was a second bedroom which was done up as well. Seamus wondered when his roommate would arrive, but he was currently in a hurry, so he didn’t have time for the Inquisition.

He hopped out of the small crossover and grabbed his jacket from the hook behind him. “Hello, Mrs. Riggs. How are you this evening?” he asked as he stepped up to her as she stood on the concrete slab that led to his stairs.

“Good evening, Father McCord. I wanted to speak with you, but I forgot all about five o’clock Mass because we always attend the nine o’clock on Sunday. Anyway, I wanted to invite you to dinner tomorrow. We’ll eat about three o’clock in the afternoon. I hope that might be late enough, so you’d be finished with your responsibilities at Sacred Heart. I’d invite Father Kozlow, but he doesn’t really like to socialize with the parishioners,” she explained to Seamus.

The back door of the large house opened, and a little boy came running out of the house in swim trunks and a tank top. He was wearing flip-flops, and Seamus thought he was pretty cute.

He ran up to his mother and hid behind her, peeking around her hips to give Seamus the eye. “Paul, come around here and meet Father McCord properly,” she directed the little boy.

Seamus kneeled down and held out his hand. “Call me Mack. Can I call you Paul, or would you rather be addressed as Mr. Riggs?” he teased.

The little boy blushed. “That’s daddy. Hi, Mack,” the boy offered, sticking out his tiny fist. Seamus gently bumped it and blew up his hand as he’d done many times with the kids at his old parish. The little boy giggled bashfully.

Seamus stood and smiled at Mrs. Riggs. “I’d love to join you for dinner. Can I bring something? Maybe some wine? I don’t have groceries yet, but I can shop like a champ,” he offered, seeing her kind smile.

“If you’d bring some white wine, I’ll make a nice sangria. That should go well with the menu. I’m making fajitas on the grill. Oh, do you like Mexican food?” Natasha Riggs asked.

He smiled. “Mrs. Riggs, as long as it’s not moving on the plate I’ll eat it, trust me.”

The woman laughed and picked up the little boy. “You sound like Opie and Rigger. Anyway, we’re looking forward to it. My parents and my little brother, Bas, are coming, and they’re anxious to meet you as well. It’s casual,” she told him with a bright smile.

Seamus nodded and patted Paul’s cheek before he took his thumb and made the sign of the cross on the boy’s forehead as he said a quiet blessing. It was out of habit, but he meant the blessing. He saw Mrs. Riggs kiss Paul on the temple before she touched Seamus on the arm and thanked him.

The two Riggs walked across the yard with little Paul waving at him with a sweet smile. Seamus waved back and went up the stairs to his new apartment, closing the door and looking around.

It was the first time since college he’d actually lived on his own. He’d lived in the dorm, and then he’d rented a house with friends, but of the four of them, three actually went into the seminary, though Jacob Childs had left after his first year. They would sit around and have in-depth discussions regarding the future of religion in the current political landscape, and they’d get drunk while doing it. They all got busy with life and didn’t stay in touch, but Seamus still cherished the memories.

He went to his room and sat down on the bed, mulling over what he was about to do. Seamus loved his vocation for the most part, but there was one thing on which he differed with his faith. He loved God and the work he did on God’s behalf.

He enjoyed helping his fellow man. He thrived on the relationships he’d made with people he got to know at the church. Offering his support to those in need was fulfilling. He believed there was good in everyone and helping people find it in themselves had reminded Seamus of God’s pure love for his children. It was incredible to see someone who was lost find their way.

The problem Seamus had was that he wanted what everyone he loved seemed to have. He wanted someone to support him… love him. He wanted to hold the real hand of someone who cared for him and would be a partner.

Seamus wanted what his parents had had for so many years. He wanted what Mark planned to have with Callie Ross. He wanted to feel like he’d felt the night before when he danced with Carter Lee.

Being in the man’s arms gave Seamus a warm feeling that had consumed his whole body. It made him feel like someone cared about him, not just because of what he could do for them.

Seamus knew what he was about to do was wrong in the eyes of the church, but he was going to see Carter that night, anyway. He changed and pulled the sheets off his bed because he was a little too embarrassed to walk into the laundromat with nothing but a set of towels to wash. A load of sheets wasn’t a bad idea.

After dressing, Seamus gathered everything before rushing downstairs, seeing Mrs. Riggs and Paul in the pool. They both waved, and he returned the gesture as he saw Mr. Riggs’ large truck pull behind the house and park in the garage.

The man hopped out of the truck and smiled at him. “Father, you get settled in okay? You need anything?” the man asked as he grabbed a bucket of chicken and a red and white bag which was quite familiar. It was then Seamus remembered he was supposed to bring pizza with him for the dinner he planned to share with Carter.

“Actually, is there a good place to get pizza? You see, I’m meeting a new friend for dinner and I was supposed to bring the pizza. I wonder if I should get fried chicken instead?” Seamus second-guessed.

Mr. Riggs chuckled. “Best pizza around is in Brimlee, actually. It’s two blocks from that laundromat I told you about last night. We don’t get over there much, but it gets good reviews in the paper. You’re coming tomorrow for dinner, right? Tasha told me she invited you, and I’d love for you to get to know Rigger, my little brother. Well, he’s not exactly small, but he’s younger, and he’s really a great guy.

“He works at that laundromat, but I don’t know anything about his hours. He’ll be working with you around the church grounds, though. I think the Nash boys are going to help with the grounds keeping as well. They broke into the parish office and stole the Tabernacle a few months ago, and Father Kozlow had them arrested.” That was interesting—but not surprising—news. It sounded exactly like something Father Kozlow would do.

Mr. Riggs then continued. “They rode their bikes over to Brimlee and tried to pawn the damn thing, saying it was a golden dollhouse. Those two are bad news, I’ve decided. You should probably keep a close eye on them. Father Kozlow told me how much trouble they cause their grandparents, and it’s a real shame. Take care, Father.” Opie Riggs walked over to the pool gate and opened it, laughing as Mrs. Riggs and little Paul both cheered.

Seamus waved to them as he got into his hybrid and backed up the drive until he came to the circle. He drove down to the state road and made the left to take him to Brimlee. He was kicking himself for not asking Mr. Riggs for the name or the phone number of the pizza restaurant so he could call ahead.

He looked at the clock in the dashboard to see it was seven-twelve. The drive to the next town was about ten minutes, and if there were a wait for carryout at the pizza place, he’d be late for his date… not his date. It’s not a date. It was two new friends getting together for a shared meal of pizza and soda. Seamus was a priest. He didn’t date. It’s not a date… is it?


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