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SINNERS’ REDEMPTION – EPISODE ONE

Seamus McCord—or Mack, as he’d been known since he was a small boy living in St. Louis—adjusted his collar for the third time. He was uncomfortable and extremely nervous. He was thirty-two years old, and he felt like he was a ten-year-old kid again, sitting outside the principal’s office at Immaculate Conception alongside his best friend, Tommy Dalton, for getting into a fight on the playground. The anxiety was making his heartbeat quicken, just as it had all those years ago.

Seamus knew, regardless of what words he used and how he said them, it would sound as if he was channeling that whiny ten-year-old brat, but he didn’t understand the purpose behind his reassignment. Seamus enjoyed being the Parochial Vicar and teaching religion at St. Thomas Aquinas Elementary School.

Seamus enjoyed helping Clay Forrester coach the basketball and soccer teams for the boys, and he was happy to assist Libby Forrester with the girls’ soccer practices when her assistant coach, Melinda Duncan, had to take time off to have the family’s fifth baby.

Seamus performed the morning Mass during the week and assisted with the Masses on Sunday. He loved his job, and he believed things were going quite well. He just couldn’t fathom the reasoning behind why he was being sent elsewhere.

When Father Wolfe had informed that he was to see the Monsignor at the Diocese on Monday morning to receive his next assignment, Seamus was shocked. He believed he was doing God’s work at St. Thom’s, as the parish was called by its members, and he had hoped he would be in line to take Father Wolfe’s place when the older priest retired the next year.

Seamus had lived in-residence at the rectory for two years, and he’d cultivated friendships with many of the parishioners. He even played on the Knights of Columbus softball team and had helped to organize the parish picnic earlier in the summer. A change of assignment made him feel as if he had failed the parish or Father Wolfe in some way, even with the pastor assuring him it wasn’t the case.

“Don’t consider a change in the location where you minister as a punishment, Mack. See it as the opportunity to grow and reach out to those who may be more in need of spiritual guidance than those you currently serve. God has a plan for all of us.

“I understand sometimes it’s hard for us to see His plan is more significant than anything we’d ever imagine for ourselves, which is what we agree to when we take the perpetual vows to serve Him and agree to go where we’re needed. The Bishop and the Monsignor believe your love for Our Father and your many gifts for counseling those in need and bringing people together are needed elsewhere.

“They chose not to share with me where you will be assigned, but I’m sure wherever it is, you will meet the challenges with as much enthusiasm as you’ve brought to St. Thomas. We will definitely miss you. Do let me know when you’re to leave so we can have a little social hour for you at the school gym,” Father Wolfe had informed. Seamus wasn’t sure if Father was happy or sad to see him leave, but he wasn’t anxious to go. He wasn’t looking forward to having the discussion with Monsignor Galati because Seamus had a sneaking suspicion he would walk away disappointed, but it was necessary to put the needs of the Church ahead of his own wishes.

“Father McCord, Monsignor Galati will see you now,” the Monsignor’s secretary instructed after she hung up the phone. Seamus had been so lost in thought he hadn’t even noticed when it rang.

“Thank you,” he said as he rose and adjusted his jacket. He didn’t know the Monsignor well. The man had only been assigned to the Diocese of Arlington six-months prior. He’d been the pastor at a large church in Chicago for years and was elevated to Monsignor two years before he transferred to the mid-Atlantic. Seamus had attended the welcome Mass and reception, but they’d only just greeted each other, not engaging in any sort of conversation. The nerves coursing through his body were enough to make him want to lose his breakfast.

After nervously adjusting his jacket again, Seamus knocked on the door, and once he was beckoned inside, he walked forward toward the large mahogany desk, seeing two men in the room. Once Seamus greeted them both, he was invited to sit down. “Father McCord, I’ve been discussing you with Monsignor O’Keefe. He’s here with Bishop Lane for the Conference of American Catholic Bishops. You’re from Missouri, right?” the Monsignor asked.

Seamus nodded, not feeling good about the direction the conversation had quickly taken. “Which part of Missouri?” Monsignor O’Keefe asked with a cheerful smile, which was more welcoming than the look on Monsignor Galati’s face.

“I grew up in South St. Louis City. My family still lives there on Jameson Avenue, as a matter of fact. My father’s an electrician, currently working on the remodel of a high school in LeMay that was swamped during the last flood. They’re trying to get it ready to open in August for school to start on time,” Seamus volunteered, hoping they could cut to the chase instead of dragging out the torture.

Monsignor O’Keefe chuckled. “Well, Beckett Creek isn’t nearly as glamorous as living in the city, but it’s a nice little community. The town itself has about twenty-five hundred, full-time residents. A lot of tourists come to town during the summer to hike and ride horses on the nearby state conservation lands. There are lakes and rivers for swimming or floating and lots of campgrounds in nearby. It’s an incredibly beautiful part of Missouri.”

The subtle sales pitch did nothing to put Seamus’ nerves at bay. He’d been down to the bootheel of the state when he was in junior high and high school for various camping and school trips to Lake Wappapello, the large lake in that part of Missouri. He definitely remembered the whole area as being very rural. As his mother used to say, “Nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

Both men were looking at him expectantly, so he cleared his throat. “Yes, um, I agree. It’s a very nice area. I’m anxious to know where I’m being reassigned, Monsignor,” he stated as he looked at Monsignor Galati. The man was studying a file on his desk, not seeming to pay attention to what Monsignor O’Keefe and Seamus were discussing.

“Father McCord, I’ve requested for you to be assigned to a little parish, Sacred Heart, in Beckett Creek. You see, the parish pastor, Father Kozlow, is going to retire in a year or so, and the church needs some new blood and youthful vigor.

“Father Kozlow has been the pastor at Sacred Heart for ten years, and he has a very strict way of conducting business, which has come to be a bit off-putting to some of the younger members of the parish. He’s more disciplined and old-fashioned about the expectations he has from the members, and now it seems the only people attending Mass are older parishioners who are of a similar mindset.

“Unfortunately, the older parishioners are on fixed incomes and the younger families in the parish, who used to compose the majority of the revenue, have started attending church in one of the neighboring towns because of Father’s lack of tolerance for children being children during worship. He’s very strict regarding comportment during Mass, and he’s gone so far as to stop the service and chastise parents whose children aren’t sitting perfectly still and listening to his homilies.

“I’m ashamed to admit I’ve sat through a few of them myself, and I’ve had to fight hard to remain attentive. Young singles don’t attend Sacred Heart because Father Kozlow won’t allow church-sanctioned gatherings for them to meet other Catholic singles. I’m not sure about why, but I know it’s become an issue, based on my discussions with the Parish Council.

“You see, Father Kozlow has lost touch with the younger parishioners and lost patience with the rest of them. The average Saturday night Mass has fallen from approximately one-hundred in attendance to twelve, and those are generally some of the older parishioners who get a ride from family members who don’t want to get up early on Sunday to bring them to church,” Monsignor O’Keefe explained.

Seamus listened to the Monsignor, quickly coming to the realization he really had no choice but to accept the transfer to the new parish. He would miss his friends in Chantilly very much, but it sounded to him as if God had decided it was time for him to go in another direction. It wouldn’t be the first time his life had taken a turn he hadn’t anticipated, but he had learned to roll with the changes. The current situation wouldn’t be the exception.

Seamus hoped his new assignment would dissuade the doubts that continued to rear their ugly heads from time to time regarding his future as a priest. Things had been easy for him in Chantilly, and his close friendships with the families and single young people in the parish nearly felt as if he was living the life of a bachelor who worked at a church. He knew that wasn’t a calling, that was a convenience.

Maybe the shake-up to Seamus’ routine would take him back to why he chose to become a priest in the first place… or at least one of the reasons. He wanted to provide spiritual support and counseling to those in need and offer himself in service to benefit his fellow mankind in whatever way possible.

He’d attended a Jesuit seminary after he finished college, but he was yet to take his perpetual vows. He supposed if there was ever a time for self-examination and prayer about the path he was to travel, he was standing at that crossroads.

“I’m only simply professed. Will that have a bearing on my transfer?” Seamus asked.

He heard a sound of disapproval from his left and turned to see Monsignor Galati wasn’t happy with that news. “I see. Father Wolfe neglected to mention it when he contacted me regarding the suggestion you should have a more challenging placement,” Galati snapped, surprising Seamus with his tone. He couldn’t, for the life of him, imagine why Father Wolfe wanted him gone, and it made him sad to contemplate the reasons.

“I’ve been struggling with some things over the last year, Monsignor. I believe I need to work through my doubts before I take my perpetual vows. I suppose that’s behind Father Wolfe’s motivation with regard to his request. He’s been trying to counsel me, and I suppose he believes if I were in a more challenging parish, it would help me to see my worth as a priest,” Seamus surmised.

Seamus turned back to Monsignor O’Keefe who was smiling. “I believe your contemplation of the meaning of the vows is admirable. Many take the vows only to later determine they made the wrong decision. At your stage of life, it’s a good thing to question if you have a genuine calling to do Our Father’s work or is it your desire to be of service to your fellow man as a layman. Lay service is also essential in doing God’s will. I remember experiencing the same feelings when I was younger and preparing for the final vows. As a fellow Jesuit, we were both taught to question everything, Father McCord.

“Your assignment to Sacred Heart won’t require you to immediately take your perpetual vows, but at the time of Father Kozlow’s retirement, I believe the Diocese would prefer you to have made your commitment permanent. It still gives you a year to help Father Kozlow and the parishioners at Sacred Heart with the needs of the community.

“You would be assigned as a Parochial Vicar for now. I feel I should warn you that Father Kozlow is a member of the Order of St. Dominic, the preachers, and I’m sure he’d still say the Mass in Latin if he could. I believe you might be able to see the potential for disagreements between the two of you based solely on both of your religious training.

“I’ll be happy to walk-the-way with you and provide you with guidance when things come up and a resolution is needed between the two of you. However, let’s not mention things of this nature to Father Kozlow up front.

“I realize I’m putting you in an awkward position, but I believe it’s better for all involved if he’s unaware of a few facts—just for the time being. He’s not exactly happy he’s retiring, but the Parish Council has informed the Bishop’s offices that if he doesn’t go, the church will close because so many members refuse to attend Mass and provide support for the Parish.

“As a result, the lack of funding from the community has caused the church building to fall into disrepair. That’s one of the things I’m hoping you’ll be able to focus on in the beginning. The rectory was actually condemned by the building inspector this winter when part of the roof caved in after a massive snowstorm. Father is living in a small house adjacent to the church property, rent-free, through the generosity of one of the older parishioners.

“For the time being, we’ve secured a garage apartment for your use, so you and Father Kozlow don’t have to share the small, one-bedroom home where he lives. If a new roof can be financed for the rectory after the church is repaired, the two of you would share the rectory, and if you’d be amenable, Father Kozlow could remain in residence for a while after his retirement. He has no health issues, and he would be quite helpful with the older parishioners.

“One of the younger members of Sacred Heart, Oren Paul Riggs, has been kind enough to offer his garage apartment for you to occupy for the time being. There’s a possibility you may have to share it at a point, but at the moment, it would be yours,” the Monsignor explained. Seamus took in all of the information and decided maybe the move was for the best. Perhaps he had become complacent at St. Thom’s? Did he need things to be shaken up for him to finally make the decisions he’d been putting off for far too long?

<<————–>>

Seamus turned the rental car onto South Jameson Avenue from Chippewa Street, looking around the old neighborhood while allowing his mind to harken back to his childhood. He remembered riding bikes with his brothers to the shopping center down the street to pick up things for his mother. At the time, his sisters were little, and Mom didn’t want to pack everyone into the old minivan to go to the store for bread and eggs.

There was the park down the street where the annual Easter egg hunt was held—sometimes in the snow if Easter came early. Seamus remembered the goodbye party his parents held in the backyard of their home when he decided to go to the seminary to become a priest. It all came flooding back in one enormous wave, overwhelming him for an instant.

He really needed to speak with someone regarding his doubts, but his parents had both been so proud of him at the time he entered the priesthood, he couldn’t fathom disappointing them if it wasn’t really necessary. The simple idea of telling them certain details about himself made him want to disappear under a rock.

When he pulled up in front of his family home, he smiled at seeing his youngest sister, Shan, sitting on the stairs with her cell phone. He parked on the street under the large elm tree Mark had fallen out of after Seamus dared him to climb it when they were kids, and he felt like he was in college again, coming home for a visit.

Shan ran down the stairs and jumped into his arms. “Mackie! So glad you’re here. I’ve missed you,” she told him as she hugged him tightly around the neck.

He held her right back and shook her a little like he used to do when she was a child. She laughed loudly which always brought a happy smile to his face. “I’ve missed you, too, Shan. How’s your summer been? Good to be out of school?” he asked. He knew she was working at a department store in South St. Louis County, but he’d heard on the news that the chain had decided to close many stores across the country. He wasn’t sure if she still had a job.

Seamus’ mother, Molly McCord, had laid down the law to her younger children when Seamus returned to the States after his stints in Rome, Ethiopia, and then, Kenya.  Seamus had been assigned to his first parish in the States—St. Thomas Aquinas in Virginia—and his siblings weren’t to call their brother in Chantilly and bother him because he was doing God’s work and there was a lot of it to do.

Of course, that meant he hadn’t really kept up with his brothers and sisters as he should. It was too easy to get lost in his life back East where he didn’t feel the pressure to be the perfect son, priest, citizen. His parents had high expectations for all of their children, and sometimes the weight of it was far too heavy to carry alone.

“Summer’s been okay, I guess. Got canned two-weeks ago from my job, so I’ve been helping out at the church at Mom’s insistence. I’m so damn sick of her ‘idle hands’ speech. What the fuck does she think I’m going to do in this shithole? I wish they’d let me go away to school. Maybe you can talk to them? You went away to college,” Shan whined as she reminded him of his undergrad studies.

Seamus laughed. “Well, that’s probably why they want the baby close to home. My behavior during college didn’t make it easy on the rest of you. I got into mischief all the time and a couple of times Mom and Dad had to come to Kirksville because I did something idiotic and got caught, which landed me in a whole lot of trouble.

“I’m going to guess the swear jar is still filling on a weekly basis,” he teased Shan. Based on Seamus’ contribution alone when he lived at home, the family always had the money to go somewhere on Spring Break when they were all out of school. As his brothers and sisters got older, Seamus remembered his parents laughing about the kids paying for their dad’s new recliner in the basement family room.

Shan laughed. “I think Paddy puts at least half of his check in the jar a week. I told the moron he’d be richer if he got his own apartment. He could swear all he wanted in it rather than living here under Molly McCord’s iron fist. Paddy said he hates to cook for himself and do laundry. Guess who gets stuck doing his fucking laundry?”

Seamus chuckled as he opened the trunk of the small car he’d rented. He would need to do laundry himself and shop for his own car to take to Beckett Creek because the parish supplied a car for Father Kozlow due to his vow of poverty, but they didn’t have the budget for anything of the sort for him.

Seamus had made no such vow, and even if he did take his perpetual vows, Jesuits didn’t take the vow of poverty as other orders were required to do. He’d need his own car to get around to visit parishioners, for sure, plus if Father Kozlow was as difficult as Seamus believed him to be, it would be nice to go out for a drive if he needed time to cool off  when the two men butted heads as Seamus expected they were bound to do.

“You should start charging him for laundry services, Shan. That could help your financial situation by leaps and bounds. How’s Erin doing?” he asked after his other sister, the second youngest in the family. She worked at the St. Louis City Department of Health. Her job had something to do with up-to-date vaccination records for all of the children attending public schools in the City of St. Louis. He remembered his mother telling him Erin had come home with head lice twice over the winter because of her job, but Molly hadn’t explained what one thing had to do with the other.

“She’s still a bitch,” Shan told him just as the front door opened and his mother stepped onto the porch.

“Five in the jar, Shannon Louise,” Molly ordered before she turned to her eldest son and smiled brightly.

“My goodness, but you’re looking more handsome than ever,” Molly praised, much as she always did upon first sight. The critique would begin within the hour.

“You need a haircut, Mack,” she followed up. I spoke too soon, he joked to himself.

They went into the two-story, rock-front house where Seamus and his siblings had grown up, happy and loved. Every corner of the house held particular memories, even with the coats of paint covering the walls to hide the numerous instances of damage that he or his brothers had inflicted on the building—or simply when Molly got a wild hair she wanted a change of scenery.

Remembering his brother’s head cracking the plaster wall at the bottom of the stairs because Seamus had tripped him as they were rushing to get to the dinner table brought a grin to his face, especially when he remembered the fit his mother had thrown at the damage—not because her son was bleeding at the bottom of the stairs.

Growing up in a large family with the closeness of his parents and siblings had left an indelible mark on Seamus’ heart and soul. It was part of the reason he had such a hard time taking his final vows. He knew his congregation was supposed to be his new family, and he was meant to lead them, but the thought of moving every few years and leaving behind the friendships and fellowship he’d enjoyed with his parishioners made him a little heartsick.

His mind immediately envisioned someone like Father Kozlow, who was in his mid-seventies and possibly being forced into retirement because he lived an isolated life from family, and he hadn’t made any friends. Seamus didn’t lavish the thought of the same future for himself.

He supposed Father Kozlow would sternly remind Seamus about the love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit so he wouldn’t be alone as the years passed. Maybe Seamus was weak because he didn’t think that would be enough for him in his twilight years. Those thoughts were part of the soul-searching he needed to do very soon.

He took his bag upstairs to his brother Paddy’s room, tossing it on the twin bed by the window. His brother had always refused to sleep by the window, telling everyone, “If some psycho breaks in through the window, I’ve got a fighting chance to get out the door before I get my throat slit.” It still made Seamus laugh at the memory.

When all five of the McCord children lived at home, the three boys shared a room…a set of bunk beds and an extra twin that made the room feel even smaller than its ten-by-ten space, along with a six-drawer dresser and a tiny closet. Seamus often wondered if they were only allowed the one chest so they didn’t need have a place for too many clothes. It was a unique way to cut expenses, he’d determined.

When Seamus went to college, his brothers got rid of the bunk beds and told him he was welcome to sleep on the couch when he came home for weekends and the summer. How his parents could house five kids in two bedrooms and not have any of them kill each other was a testament to their ability to spout Bible verses and the Ten Commandments at the drop of a hat. His mother’s withering look didn’t hurt either. The speed at which Molly McCord could compose a punishment for any misdeed should have been recorded somewhere, Seamus was certain.

Seamus changed into shorts and a t-shirt before he went downstairs to see Molly and Shan working away in the kitchen. “Can I help you two ladies?” he asked, knowing the answer before his mother gave it voice.

“This is women’s work, Mack. You’re welcome to take a nap if you’d like. I think Mark and Dad are coming home early today. I’m planning to grill pork steaks for dinner. When do you have to report to your new parish?” his mother asked. The call to tell them about the transfer had been welcomed by his parents, though Seamus had hated to make it.

“Hey, Dad. It’s me. How’s everything at home?” Seamus asked. He was avoiding Father Wolfe because he felt the need to confront the priest regarding why he hadn’t been honest with Seamus about the transfer. Instead of planning his words for the confrontation, he called his parents.

“Mack, how are you, son? Everything’s fine here. Your mother is at the church with Shan to clean for the services. Sunday is the Silver Jubilee Mass for Father Akron. How’s the weather there?” his father had asked, which meant he was worried because Seamus didn’t call home often.

“Pretty much like the weather back home, Dad. Speaking of which, I’m being reassigned. Remember Beckett Creek, that little town down in the bootheel not far from the Ozarks? There’s a small parish down there, and they have an aging priest. They want me to go down there and help him out as the Parochial Vicar. Monsignor O’Keefe from the Springfield Diocese said it’s in pretty bad shape, so I’ll have my work cut out for me,” Seamus explained, trying to remain upbeat about the state of affairs.

His father, Sean, laughed out loud. “Your mother is gonna have a cow, Mack. Will you have time to stop for a visit? If you need help down there, we can come down and help out with repairs and such. We haven’t been able to attend one of your Masses since before you left to go to Rome after Seminary,” his father reminded.

The mention of his time in Rome brought back a particular memory Seamus tried to keep under lock and key in his mind. The Italian seminarian he’d had in Rome as an Italian-language teacher when he first arrived for his assignment was breathtakingly beautiful, and what happened between them still made Seamus blush. Even though his actions had been a sin under canon law, Seamus wasn’t ashamed of it and never confessed it. That was another thing feeding his doubts about the future. Something so beautiful shouldn’t have been considered so ugly.

“Mack, son, go take a nap. You’re zoning off as you sit at the table. I’ll come wake you for dinner,” his mother told him. He didn’t realize he’d fixated on Giancarlo, yet again, but Seamus did need some time away from his mother and sister, or he’d never be presentable for dinner with the whole family.

“Thanks, Mom. Oh, I’m due in Beckett Creek on Monday. The Jubilee celebration is on Sunday, right?” he asked.

He’d timed his visit so he could be there for Father Akron’s party. Marv Akron had been the assistant pastor and youth leader at the parish when Seamus was in middle school. He could still remember when the priest would come out to the playground during lunchtime and tuck the hem of his cassock into the waistband of his trousers so he could play soccer with the boys or jump rope with the girls.

The priest was definitely someone who’d influenced Seamus’ decision to join the priesthood because of the example he’d provided to the students—that of a caring leader who could have fun with them and seemed to understand them. He was always available to talk to them if they got into trouble, and he seemed to be more understanding with the students than the pastor at the time. It was the way Seamus tried to treat the children at St. Thom’s—children he would miss very much.

“It is. You should call Father Marvin. I bet if he knew you were home, he’d want you to concelebrate the Mass with him. I wasn’t sure when you were getting in so I didn’t mention it. Why don’t you call him and visit tomorrow? I’m sure he’d love the chance to discuss your new assignment,” his mother suggested. Seamus nodded as he headed out of the kitchen and up the stairs to the bedroom he’d share with Paddy to grab a pair of clean shorts as he went to the hall bathroom. A shower would definitely be in order with the thoughts going through his head. Memories of Father Marvin were pushed out of his head as Giancarlo, in all of his Italian glory, returned with his sexy smile and full lips. Yes, that shower was very much in order.

<<————–>>

Seamus woke in his boyhood bedroom to the sound of Paddy’s loud snores. He tried to sit up on the mattress, but his head begged to be placed back on the soft pillow. He remembered a family game of “Yahtzee” which was more of a drinking game than a friendly match. It began right after the dinner table was cleared, and it was time for a stroll down memory lane.

“Seamus, son, we’ve got this. Why don’t you boys go downstairs and play pool or table tennis?” his mother suggested when he rose from the table to assist in clearing the dishes after the delicious meal of barbecue pork steaks, potato salad, slaw, and chocolate cake.

During dinner, he found out his brother, Mark was dating a single mom with two little girls, and they would be attending the Mass and party on Sunday. Paddy, ever the man about town, wasn’t exclusively dating anyone, but Erin, the eldest daughter, pointed out he didn’t sleep in his bed often, bringing a hiss from Molly McCord before she reminded her youngest son to go to confession. Shan, the youngest of all, just continued to laugh at all of them.

Everyone pitched in with the dishes, so Seamus volunteered to help Mark clean the grill and patio area for their father so Seamus could finally have a moment alone with his middle brother. “So, tell me about the young lady,” he prodded.

 Mark shrugged, using the wire brush to scrape the sauce off the stainless grate. “Her name is Callie, and she lives down the street from my place. Someone knocked her mailbox post over one night, and her daughter, Ella was sitting on my steps when I was getting ready to go to work the next morning. She said her mother was crying because she didn’t know how to fix the mailbox and they didn’t know anyone to call. She’d seen me putting up the new lights on my front porch and was smart enough to figure out I must know my shit, so I went down the street and gave it a look.

“Callie came out of the house and started to give Ella hell, but I talked to her and offered to fix the post in exchange for a home-cooked meal at a date to be determined. I’ve eaten dinner at her house every night since. I want Mom and Dad to meet her and her girls tomorrow,” Mark explained, bringing a smile to Seamus’ face. He had always been sure the love bug would bite his brother, eventually, and he’d stop running around with so many young women. Seamus was glad to see it had finally happened.

“That’s great, Mark. Can’t wait to meet her. What’s the situation with the girls’ father?” he asked. He wasn’t really prying, but he had his mother’s DNA so it was inevitable, really, that he’d dig a little deeper.

“He was a Marine. Killed in Iraq when Ella was five and Rose was only two. Callie’s parents live in Sunset Hills, but Callie works for a dentist over on Kingshighway, so our neighborhood is about midway between both. Her mom drives in every day to watch the girls while they’re out of school. I’ve taken them for dinner a few times when Nana Paula needed to go home early, and the girls are great. Mom’s gonna love them,” Mark explained further.

Seamus smiled as he emptied the spent coals out of the bottom of the grill. “Are you ready for an instant family?”

He saw his brother’s cheeks flush a little as he turned to look at Seamus. “Yeah, I am. I mean, I wouldn’t mind if we tried for a boy someday, but we have to do it soon because Callie’s five year’s older than me and she doesn’t want to have a risky pregnancy, which is a factor with her age. You’ll come back for the wedding, right? I’d like you to marry us, Mack.”

Seamus was a bit surprised by the news. “Are you actually engaged?”

“Not yet, but if everything goes well on Sunday, I plan to ask her that night. I can’t wait for you to meet her, Mack. She’s an amazing woman,” Mark gushed, which brought a chuckle from Seamus because it wasn’t his brother’s style to carry on so about anything.

As he stood there with Mark, he became a bit nostalgic and decided to test the waters a bit. “You’ll definitely need to do it sooner than later if you want to be married in the Catholic church by me. I’d still be able to marry you, but it wouldn’t be recognized by the church…maybe. I haven’t exactly made a decision,” Seamus alluded. Mark stopped scrubbing the grill and stepped closer to Seamus. He immediately wished he’d kept his trap shut.

“What are you talking about?” Mark asked, looking a bit pale.

Seamus sighed. “Don’t worry. It’s just a crisis of faith. It happens to everyone, even priests. The parish where I’m being sent has a priest they’re forcing to retire next year, so I have to take my perpetual vows if I want to become the pastor. I’ve sort of been stalling to take them, so I’m giving myself a year to pray and meditate on it. Don’t say anything to anyone else in the family, please? I just need time, but if we’re sharing secrets like we used to do when we were kids, I thought it was only fair.”

Mark laughed. “My secrets never stayed secret because some do-gooder always told Mom and Dad so he could use the car while I was grounded. You may be a man of the cloth now, but back then, you were a douchebag,” his brother reminded.

Seamus laughed as he remembered the discussion from the previous night. “Shud’up,” Paddy snarled, pulling his pillow over his head.

“Pounding head?” Seamus asked.

“Like a fucking marching band. I can’t imagine getting up right now, even if the house was on fire,” Paddy complained.

“Hahaha…OH!’” Seamus groaned. “Let’s shoot for who’s going to make the trip,” he suggested as he gingerly sat up and turned to the side of the bed, seeing his brother do the same.

“One. Two. Shoot,” Paddy whispered. “Shit,” Paddy hissed, having lost.

“Big glass of water, no ice,” Seamus instructed as his brother pulled on some sweats and a t-shirt. He quietly left the bedroom and Seamus sunk back into the pillow and closed his eyes, which shot right back open when it registered with him it was the first morning he could remember not waking with the dawn and kneeling on the floor to offer morning prayers.

He started to sit up again when he noticed the sun was high in the sky and his little brother was back in bed, sound asleep. He saw two pain capsules and a large bottle of water on the nightstand, so he took them quickly and pulled on a t-shirt to use the restroom.

When he arrived downstairs a few minutes later, he heard his parents in the kitchen. “I’m telling you, Sean, there’s something wrong with the boy. He doesn’t appear to be very happy about this move. I know he loved it at his old parish, but he’s used to being moved around. It’s something more this time,” Seamus heard his mother lament.

The sound of rattling paper confirmed his father was reading the newspaper while he had coffee with his mother before all of the confusion of a family breakfast. “Molly, my girl, you’re always lookin’ to borrow trouble. Mack’s probably just nervous about working with a new pastor. He’s been with Father Wolfe for a few years now. A new boss can be a bit scary, even for a priest. You worry too much, sweetheart,” his father mollified.  Seamus heard a hard slap and laughed, knowing his father’s affinity for a love-tap, as he called the slaps he gave Molly’s rump to aggravate her.

He heard feet behind him on the stairs, so he walked into the kitchen, seeing his mother pouring his father another cup of coffee from the pot as his father’s arm rested across her back, hand patting her hip. It made him smile to see their love was still so strong, but his heart ached a bit. The beautiful picture in front of him was one he wanted for himself—substituting his mother’s womanly curves with a sturdier frame and muscles. The visual was quick before he felt a smack on the back of his head and turned to see his sister, Erin, smiling at him. It reminded him that to his family, he was merely Mack McCord, the eldest of Sean and Molly. He wasn’t a priest, and he wasn’t really even a man in their eyes. He was just a member of a large family full of love. He wasn’t sure what that meant about the decisions he had to make, but for the time being, it would have to do.


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