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Excerpt for My Love Affaire with Father Tomas McTavish by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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My Love Affaire With Father Tomas McTavish

Copyright 2019 J.T. Evergreen


Published by J.T. Evergreen

at Smashwords


This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.



Acknowledgement

Many thanks to Khris Lawrentz for his tireless proofreading.


Prologue

My friend, Father Tomas McTavish, was eighty-seven years old when he passed away. There was nothing of note about him or his passing. He was a good man who fulfilled his responsibilities as a Catholic Priest. He was greatly loved by his parishioners and will be missed, for a while, then forgotten as so many others have been forgotten before him.


The story you are about to read came about from my determination that his incredible journey among us would not be forgotten. Of course, my presence is included but only in a minor supportive role. If Tomas heard that, he would laugh out loud and heartily disagree.


Tomas rallied the day before he passed away. One of his nurses called me and explained what was happening. His body was giving out and concentrating all its energy, giving the illusion of a rally. I took her advice and came to the hospital immediately.


We spent a greater part of my visit laughing and talking about everything under the sun. At one point, Tomas looked at me and smiled, "Heaven won't be the same without you, Geno." He knew what was happening and let me know in his usual selfless manner that it was ok, he was ready.


"Not to worry my friend. I'll be along one of these days myself." I kissed Tomas's hand goodbye, looked into those tired eyes smiling up at me and walked away. The terrible ache within no words can describe.


Tomas wished to spend his final hours in meditation and prayer to the God to whom he had dedicated his life. How could I possibly refuse? I hoped and prayed he found the atonement he was seeking.


His remains were cremated and given to me in a plain metal container which Tomas would have appreciated. I would have preferred one of solid gold surrounded by figures of angels lifting the urn heavenward. A bit dramatic but, that was how I felt about this man.


Tomas often spoke of the spiritual qualities of large bodies of water to which he was attracted. He said the power of Deity was collected in the oceans and distributed to all other portions of the planet. So, I knew he would be pleased with my plan. I kept his ashes until the Santa Ana winds began blowing in from the desert.


A friend drove me to The Golden Gate Bridge plaza. We walked to the center of this magnificent structure where I paused at the rail and gazed out into the Pacific Ocean. This was a perfect final resting place for my friend.


I could feel the bridge swaying gently in the breeze as I opened the urn and slowly spilled the ashes, watching the warm winds carry Tomas’ remains, along with my tears, out to sea.


In looking back, it became clear to me I had benefited most from our relationship. Tomas' insight and devotion gave me direction without being directed. It taught me the benefits of selflessness, a trait Tomas gave forth with abandon.


I discovered the difference between physical love and spiritual love from Tomas's example. He never wavered in his love which flowed from him in all directions. Tomas was like a beacon of light to the rest of humanity. When he complained about his lack of union with God, I would chastise him. The little self of Father Tomas McTavish had disappeared long ago, but he did not agree. He was the epitome of deity itself. He could not see that either and would argue the point. Perhaps the search for God will never end for any of us. Tomas had at least reached a plateau not attained by many, a goal only dreamed of by most mortals.


I took a last look out into the Pacific Ocean, then my friend and I journeyed back to the bridge plaza. As we passed through a group of sight-seers, a wave of sadness passed over me when I heard someone shout, “Hey you.” A personal phrase Tomas often used in addressing me; one I would never hear from him again.


I looked around and saw a young woman dash into the arms of her young man. My sadness passed as quickly as it had come when I saw the joy they were experiencing with one another. God bless them, as God had so richly blessed Papa Tomas and me.


As we drove away, my thoughts lingered on the Bridge, I chuckled when I envisioned Tomas standing there with me. He would have made the sign of the cross and uttered, "Dominus vobiscum." I, the consummate smart-ass, would have added, “Illegitimi non carborundum.” And we would have had a good laugh. It was the laughter we had together which bound our unorthodox relationship for all those years. I wondered wistfully if it would ever be over. I would find out one day, and soon I hoped.


And so our journey together on this plane of existence came to an end … peaceful, calm, and forever. However, that was not how it began sixty years earlier, at least not for me.


— Geno Benedetti


A Journey Of Discovery


Twilight Zone

The first time I laid eyes on Father Tomas McTavish, it was as if a thunderbolt struck me right between the eyes. He could not have been more than twenty-six years old, tall, slender, and too good-looking for his own good. His Irish white skin, rosy cheeks, and short cropped brunet hair topped his well-shaped head. I needed to get closer to observe the color of his eyes. A friend suggested I take a photograph of this man and send it along to the North Pole with my Christmas wish list. I would have done so if I thought Santa performed miracles.


At age twenty-two, I was a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard design and, quite certain I knew everything that needed to be known. My loving parents were somewhat skeptical but tolerant. I was so full of piss and vinegar there was no doubt in my mind I could fly if I put my mind to it. Instead, I decided to set the world on fire with my engineering bravado which was easy. The difficulty arose when I came face to face with adult life. Meeting Father McTavish made it even more difficult.


Father McTavish was fresh from the Notre Dame Seminary and rarin’ to fulfill his duties at St Dominick's Catholic Church on Bush St. in San Francisco. In a short time, he established a reputation of dedication to his parishioners. Young and old loved this young priest, especially the young girls of the congregation. But, he was after all a priest, so their hopes and dreams would come to naught.


He did not care to be called Father McTavish because of his lack of experience as a priest. He preferred Brother Tomas. Most everyone was happy to accommodate him including the children who took to him like bees to honey. They called him Papa Tomas. Folks found him a joy to be around. And so did I, but for all the wrong reasons.


As a gay man, I had a few fantasies of my own about this good looking man of God. Unfortunately, he never noticed me or so I thought. Nevertheless, I admired his love for everyone he encountered. It was genuine and from the heart. I often wondered how he got that way. No one I knew, young or old, including myself, especially myself, exhibited such selflessness. It was one of the few personal flaws I acknowledged – privately and to myself, of course.


Brother Tomas was athletic, he played baseball and basketball. He loved children, adults, and old folks. He held informal gatherings on Sunday afternoons for the young folks of the congregation, endeavoring to instill the disciplines young people required to make a success of their adult lives.


I assumed he loved animals and often mused he may be the living incarnation of Saint Francis himself. Probably not, but he seemed to be running a close second. And he could run. Any marathon that came along, he was in it.


I liked to hike but did not care much for running. I would go to the running events just the same to see his half-naked body in action. It was at these running meets I became aware of how tall he was. He stood head and shoulders above most everyone else. I decided he was six feet, three or four inches in height.


My fantasies about Brother Tomas grew and flowered beyond all proportions. Never, of course, were they to bear fruit. A perfect waste of my time. I was single with no prospects of a life-partner in view, so I clung to my hopes of a miracle. Not desperately mind you. I kind of danced around the possibility. How often I thought of writing that letter to Santa Claus just to see what would happen.


I was not the least bit interested in the Sunday afternoon gatherings he conducted or what he was expounding. What went on between his ears was of no concern to me. It was what he looked like that mattered. But curiosity about his gatherings did get the better of me. That’s not completely true. In fact, it’s not true at all. It was an excuse to observe him up close. It would give me an opportunity to try and figure out who he was and why I was so attracted to this unavailable man of God? I intended to do this without being obvious, an art form I imagined I had mastered. As it turned out, and much to my chagrin, just the opposite was true.


So, one Sunday afternoon I dropped by to watch this beautiful man perform. I brought my camera along just in case I could sneak a snapshot and send if off to Santa. As the meeting unfolded I was in for a big surprise. Brother Tomas knew how to talk with young people at their level and they loved him for it. It wasn’t an adult trying to brow beat them into a particular model for living. He was ‘one of the guys’ so to speak. There was a good deal of laughter and joking. Beneath it all, Brother Tomas skillfully engendered principles they understood, along with the consequences they would encounter if they chose not to follow them.


It was during the intimacy of this encounter with so many young people that his goodness became apparent. He seemed to radiate it without any effort on his part. I found myself envious of this quality which I lacked in so many ways. Another flaw I was unable to ignore in his presence.


What was going on between his ears was now quite evident. I decided he must be an angel sent from heaven, watching over us. My selfish hope – that he did not sprout wings and fly away.


I was curious about him before, now I was intrigued. Where I expected intrigue to go was beyond me at the moment. Oh, yeah – let’s not forget dancing around Santa Claus and a miracle, the possibilities of which seemed to dim as I got to know more about Brother Tomas.


As the gathering drew to a close he called for questions. Raising my hand quickly must have been instinctive because I did not have a question. Naturally, he called on me first. I stammered as my bravado withered, then totally collapsed when he told me I could put my hand down which brought a round of laughter. My face must have turned beet red - it certainly felt hot enough.


"So, my friend, what is your question?"


My mind was a total blank, Then out of nowhere came, "What about celibacy?"


Quiet giggles rose from the audience. Brother Tomas was cool, he laughed along with the others, then turned his attention to his answer.


I can't for the life of me remember a word of what he said. All I knew – he was talking to me. We had eye contact and I was mesmerized. His eyes were green or hazel. I wasn’t close enough to be sure. The whites of his eyes were clear and brilliant. The lashes, long ones below thick brows which were on the verge of being bushy. The forehead, high and clear, not a wrinkle. There was the hint of 5 o’clock shadow against his brilliant skin, and a jaw strong enough to accent his masculinity. Of course, he was perfect, just the type of guy who would fall all over themselves for someone like me – a dumb, gay dago. I think it useful to mention I was adorable once upon a long time ago or so my mother keeps telling me. I think I was three when that happened.


The meeting ended and the audience began to leave. I knew I had to get out of there as fast as possible before I did something really stupid like taking that photograph for Santa. It was the guilt I felt for wanting this man that kept me from simply asking him if I could take a photo. I wanted to sneak one to hide my true motivation.


I made it to the front hall and was headed for the door when I heard, "Excuse me," coming up behind me. Oh, Christ, it's him. Please God, make him go after someone else. God was not listening. The voice was after me.


"Who me?" I pathetically lied.


"Yes, I was wondering what prompted your question on celibacy. I thought you might be interested in joining the priesthood."


He was less than three feet away. Jesus, what do I do, what do I say? I was sure my knees were shaking so badly I would soon collapse and fall at his feet.


"Oh, no, nothing like that, I was just curious. Your answer was perfect," I lied again. I hadn't heard a word he said. If I had to lie to a priest once more I was certain the earth would open up and I would go straight to hell. His eyes were green with little brown specks and they sparkled in the hallway lighting.


"Well, if you change your mind, let me know.” He smiled. I had not noticed it before but he had a most becoming dimple on his left cheek when he smiled.


“I will I will. Thank you. I promise I will.” I lied again, Nothing happened. The ground did not open up. However, my composure was sloshing around on the hallway floor like a beached whale.


“By the way, what’s your name?”


“My name?” Why did he want to know my name? “Ah, it’s Geno. But, ‘hey you’ will get my attention.” At least my sense of humor had not failed me. The look on Brother Tomas’ face did not agree.


“Geno?”


“Yes, Geno, Geno Benedetti, you can call me Geno.” God, could I have been more pathetic? It was obvious I only had one oar in the water and was quite incapable of handling it.


“Or, hey you.”


“Yeah, well, ya know.” Please God, get me out of here.


Several children ran to him, “Papa Tomas, come.” They took his hands and began to pull him away from me. Thankfully, he turned and let them have their way. I resumed my voyage to the exit door with added vigor. Breathing had become difficult. My heart was pounding like an excited serving girl. Thank God he did not stretch out his hand. I’m not sure if I would have shaken it or kissed it.


And then the voice came again. “Hey, you.” Oh God, I stopped and turned around.


“Just wanted to see if it worked,” he laughed and waved. “Hope to see you next Sunday." He disappeared as more children surrounded him and led him away.


He hoped to see me next Sunday. Yeah right, like that was never gonna happen. Could I have been more of a pathetic jerk? Probably not. I could only imagine what he thought of me. I continued to beat myself up the rest of the way to my apartment.


Papa Tomas – how I envied these kids to have him all to themselves this afternoon. I had the annoying feeling I was becoming besotted with this man.


I placed The Sound of Music DVD in the changer, hoping it would take my mind off of my afternoon blunders. It did not. I kept visualizing Brother Tomas and me twirling around on that stupid hillside with whatshername trying to upstage us. Jeez, what is wrong with me?


I turned the TV off, put leashes on Max and Mable, my faithful and adorable Schnauzers, and went for a long puppy walk. I met friends on the way and began to regain the composure I had so deftly left sloshing around on the hallway floor in front of Prince Charming.


I told my friends what I had done which opened a whole Pandora’s Box of one-liners. The best one came from Hank, “Papa Tomas. That’s cute. Hey, maybe you can corner him in the confessional and make a man outta him.”


Make a man out of him? Hank’s imagination was more perverted than mine. I laughed at the remark but my vivid imagination took me immediately to the confessional where a whole scenario unfolded of what might happen. I was certain the Devil himself was waiting around the next corner, quivering with anticipation to harvest my wayward soul.


I did not see Brother Tomas for several weeks. I hoped the entire event had been forgotten and I could go on with my life such as it was. A few days later I found out it was not over and once again, I was wrong.


I was working out at the local gym with a pair of dumbbells when I heard, “Hey you.” coming up behind me.


Oh, jeez, it’s him. I turned around, “Hey, Brother Tomas.” Oh my God, there he was, half naked and sweating. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on that man’s body, and his sweat glistened in the gym lights. I hated that, and I hated being in front of him. His sweat soaked tank top clung to his pectoral muscles and abs like a second skin. I could see the outline of his nipples, I really hated that. And I was about to hate what he was going to ask me even more. Please God, make him go away forever. I promise I’ll be good, at least better. He was still standing there, sweating. Now I could smell him. I never thought sweat could smell so good. I would have given anything for a drop of that sweat on the tip of my tongue. There was no hope left for me. I was besotted up to my eyeballs and beyond.


“I’ve seen you here a couple of times and was wondering if you would be interested in being my workout partner? I need a spotter on some of the routines I like to do. Interested?”


So, what was I supposed to say, No, I do not wish to be around your sweaty, beautiful, smelly, fat-free body any more than I have to?


“Hey, yeah, sounds like a great idea.” Another lie. Is there a door to hell around here so I can get it over with?


“That’s great. I’m finished for the day. How about next Tuesday?”


“Sounds good to me.”


“Do me a favor and call me Tomas while we’re here.”


“Hey, I can do that.”


“Well, I’m headed for the shower. You coming?”


“Oh, no, I have a few more reps I want to finish.”


“Okay. See ya.” He walked away, sweat dripping off of his sculptured body, soaking his tank top and his shorts, running down his beautiful legs into his socks. I would have given anything to have those socks. Jesus H. Christ, where are you, Satan. Get me the fuck out of here. My knees gave out as the thought of holding his warm, sweaty jock strap presented itself. I had to sit down and compose myself. I made sure he was out of the building before I left. I could not take another encounter with him naked or clothed.


The connection between my brain and my mouth was obviously not working. I distinctly remember thinking NO, NO, NO, I don’t want to be your workout partner. Yet my mouth went right ahead and said the opposite. Now, what do I do?


Oh, yeah, like the heavens were going to open up and give me that answer. God, his angels and anyone else up there had obviously abandoned me. They were watching and having a great laugh at my expense. I guess I was on my own.


I calmed myself and decided I would man-up, be his spotter, and ignore him. Or, I could kill myself and then I wouldn’t have to worry about it. I decided against killing myself because deep down in my hopelessly lonely self I wanted to see him again. Oh, blessed Jesus, please forgive me. I know this is a big sin, it’s just that . . . I cannot help myself.


Tuesday arrived faster than anticipated; way faster. There I was - working out over him, under him, next to him, and once again smelling him. I decided this is what hell must be like - everything within licking distance but not close enough to get in a good lick.


The workout session mercifully ended. Then, there was the shower that had to be dealt with. I managed to get through the experience by keeping my back to him. I was in and out and dry and clothed and ready to disappear when I heard it again, “Hey you. How about let’s get some coffee somewhere?”


I wasn’t sure I liked how he said hey you all the time. Was he mocking me? “Sounds great. Just what I need,” to spend more time with Papa Tomas, face to face. At least he would have his clothes on. If I could only throw an overcoat over my imagination. I would be fine. Everything would be Jake, peachy keen. This definitely was not working out according to my fantasies.


I kept hoping I would get hit by a bus and run over several times before we arrived at the café. That did not happen. I decided to ask him a lot of silly questions about himself and avoid talking about me. That worked for about sixty seconds, then he took over the conversation. I had to invent more lies, but I was getting good at it.


We met twice a week for several months. I got used to him, sort of, and the routine. I no longer felt intimidated. I looked forward to smelling his sweat. Pathetic, I know. But when your DNA is as twisted as mine, exceptions must be made. He was friendly, not personal, which suited me. And I liked the idea of working with someone in the gym. I was beginning to look a little more buff, which was good. Well, maybe not that good. I was getting interesting stares from a couple of guys in the gym. They definitely were not putting clothes on me. I began to understand why women complain about men who undress them with their eyes.


Acting straight with Tomas was beginning to wear on me. I’m not a flamer, but I do like to wise-crack a lot. Couldn’t do that with Tomas. Had to watch everything I said. I wasn’t having any fun. How to get out of this situation without making a fool of myself was the problem. And worse, without hurting his feelings. That would be an eternity or two in hell for sure.


Several more weeks passed uneventfully, thank God. Then his conversation began to change. It was no longer totally friendly; personal was sneaking in and I didn’t like it.


Was he looking at me differently than before? I couldn’t tell for sure because I avoided eye contact with him. I didn’t want him to see me as I really was or what I was thinking or feeling toward him. Yeah right, like he was too obtuse to notice. God, why is this happening to me? I know I’m not a good person, but what I’m going through should be reserved for Jack the Ripper, not me.


Then one morning while we were having coffee after our workout he was unusually quiet. Too quiet. Something was about to happen and I did not think I was going to like it. And, I was right for a change.


He began with, “Hey, Geno. I was thinking of taking some time off and going up to Yosemite for some hike…”


“No, no.” I made a fateful decision. “I can’t do this anymore, Tomas. I’m sorry, I have to go.” I got up and almost ran from the restaurant.


Jesus, what the fuck have I done? I couldn’t help it. I had let myself fall in love with this man, this beautiful, fat-free, smelly, unavailable man of God. I had to get away from him once and for all. No more pretending. It was over and it was going to stay that way, goddammit. I’m in control of this situation. And that’s the way it’s gonna be - period! Yes, of course, my bozo mentality had almost convinced me I was in control.


Weeks passed, I didn’t see or hear from Brother Tomas. I screened my phone calls, avoided his classes and church services. I did not want it to happen anymore. I was miserable. Jesus was I miserable. I must have been nuts to get into it this far. He probably figured it out by now - I was a magna cum laude graduate of the sociopathic school for idiots, and I needed to be avoided at all costs. Where the hell was my guardian angel? I kept listening for the death watch beetles under my floorboards. Even they were avoiding me. And once again, as usual, I was wrong.


When the knock at my front door came one afternoon I knew who it was and my heart sank down through my shorts into my shoes. I wasn’t expecting anyone. Perhaps, I hopefully thought, it was a neighbor wanting to borrow a cup of sugar.


Then the voice came from the other side of the door. “Geno, are you there?” It wasn’t a neighbor after all. It was Tomas. “We need to talk.”


No, we do not need to talk. If I don’t make a sound perhaps he will think I’m not home and go away. Wrong again.


“Geno, I know you’re in there. I saw your car outside.” He was not going to go away, so I might as well answer the door before the whole apartment house came out into the hallway to watch and listen and laugh.


I cracked the door open, “Please go away, I can’t talk to you.” I was at the peak of pathetic. Turns out I was wrong again.


He pushed the door open, walked in and slammed it shut. I stood there, his face less than two feet away from mine. He was six inches taller which made me feel and look even more pathetic. He looked angry, very angry which frightened me. I said nothing. I stared at him and waited. Tears began to well in my eyes.


Maybe he was going to beat me up. That would be okay. No subterfuge then. I would pay for my sins and that would be the end of it. My wounds would heal and life would get back to normal again.


I closed my eyes and began to sob. Jesus, I had not cried since I was a child and I could not control it. I managed to get an “I’m so sorry.” out between the sobs before he violently grabbed me.


My knees gave out and we fell to the floor. I unraveled. All the longing I had stored inside for him exploded.


What the hell was going on? Was he beating me up or making love to me. I could not tell the difference at first. He was bigger and stronger so there was no way to escape even if I had wanted to.


Max and Mable heard the commotion and came dashing in from the other room, jumping on us, barking and licking. I was certain the gates of hell would swing open and swallow all of us for what we were doing. They didn’t. That, I decided, would come later.


It was getting dark when our passion cooled. Tomas and I lay on the foyer floor. I looked over at him. He was looking rather silly with both dogs sitting on his chest staring at him. He didn’t seem to mind, I guess he did love animals. I wondered if there was anything he did not like or love.


I sat up and looked away from him, “I’m so ashamed of myself. Please forgive me.”


“What are you talking about?”


“You’re a man of God and I have been lusting after you from the beginning. I just couldn’t help myself.”


He reached over, took hold of my arm and pulled me over, wrapped his arms around and held me so tight I almost gasped. “You’re wrong, Geno. I need to love and be loved just like everyone else.”


I pulled away, “But you’re a priest for God’s sake.”


“Yeah, it’s the celibacy thing. I questioned it from the beginning. I hoped I could manage it. But when I saw you and you told me your name it began to unravel. I knew I could never keep that vow.”


I looked away from him, “I’ve been so classically pathetic. I don’t see how you could possibly care for me.”


“No, you’re wrong. You were beautiful, Geno. You are beautiful. When you ran out of the restaurant, I felt like the floor had been ripped out from under me. I realized then I was in love with you and had been in love with you for a long time. After you fled like a wounded animal I wasn’t sure how you felt. When I saw you in front of me just now, falling apart, I knew I was home at last and I crash landed.”


“On top of me.”


“Yeah, I know, sorry about that.”


“But you were right.”


“About what?”


“We do need to talk.”


He laughed, “Not anymore we don’t.” He pulled me to him again. We were nose to nose. His eyes were inches away from mine. They were more green and brilliant than I remembered. They blinked, I blinked, I pushed him away and stood up.


“Yes, we do. This cannot be happening. We cannot do this.” Then I realized we were fully clothed. That certainly had never happened to me before.


Tomas stood up, “You’re right. I am sorry. I should not have done this to you.”


“Oh, really. Now you’re sorry. You pushed your way into my home, scared me half to death, swept me off my feet, stuck your tongue half way down my throat, and now you say you’re sorry. Well, isn’t that just peachy? And that tongue of yours, where did you learn how to do that? Not in seminary, I’ll bet.” I turned away so he wouldn’t see me smiling, and walked toward the kitchen. Tomas followed with Max and Mable trailing behind, their tails wagging.


He sat down at the table. Max and Mable settled next to his feet. They liked him. I fiddled with the coffee maker, “What in the world made you think you could do this to me? I never said or did anything to lead you on.”


“Of course you did.”


I turned and stared at him.


“You weren’t obvious, but I knew from the first time I talked to you. Celibacy, call me Geno, and ‘Hey you.’ Come on, Geno.”


“Oh, Jeez.” I turned away, completely embarrassed. How could I have not known? That’s what irked me. Mr. Obvious at work indeed. Still looking at the coffee maker, “Why didn’t you discourage me? It would have been so easy for you.”


“I didn’t want to,” came his soft, humble reply. “You have no idea how lonely I’ve been. When I saw you and heard your name. You do know what your name means, don’t you?”


I did but said nothing.


“Geno means God is glorious, and Benedetti means blessed. I almost kissed you right there.”


“So, how did you know the meaning of my name?”


“Hey, I’m a priest. I studied Latin and Italian in seminary.”


“Oh,” I said for lack of anything more intelligent to say. “Lonely? I don’t understand how you can be lonely. You are so involved with everyone and everything at church?”


“True. But at the end of the day, I have no one of my own to play with, to be with alone. When I met you, I hoped we might possibly have something together. The more time I spent with you, my confidence grew. I guess I was wrong,” he paused. “Was I wrong?”


“After the display, I put on in the hallway, how can you even ask a question like that?” I wanted to tell him he wasn’t wrong, I fiddled with the coffee pot instead.


“Was I wrong?”


I moved my head a little to let him know he wasn’t wrong. “What about your career. What if people find out what you’ve done? What we’ve done. Holy Crap, you could be jeopardizing everything.”


“I know, I know, I know. I was jeopardizing it anyway. I couldn’t think of anything else but you. I cursed and prayed it would go away. It didn’t. My parishioners began to ask me if I was okay.”


I could not believe what I was hearing. It looked as if Heaven had abandoned him also. “You never let on in all the time we worked together.”


“I know. It was so difficult. Sometimes almost impossible. In seminary, we are ruthlessly taught to keep our personal feelings inside. After years of training, you begin to believe it. You have no idea how difficult this is for me.”


I could see how difficult it was, he was distressed and in pain just talking to me. I knelt down next to him and embraced him in a sitting position. It would have been easier if he had been standing up or laying down.


He slipped off the chair and embraced me as we knelt facing one another. He held me so tight I could hardly breathe. He certainly needed training in the art of hugging or he was going to kill me. But he was warm and willing, something I never imagined would ever happen. I thought of Santa and smiled as I let myself melt into his embrace.


“During our workouts, I could smell you, your sweat. I was inhaling you into my lungs. It was beautiful and unbearable at the same time.”


I started to giggle and then erupted into laughter. He released me, “What are you laughing about?”


“Sweat. I could smell yours too. It was driving me nuts.”


“O my God, I never thought of that.”


My laughter subsided into a giggled, “I was tempted so many times to steal something soaked with your sweat – your socks, your jockstrap. I know that’s sick but I was on the verge of desperation.”


The expression on his face dropped. “What?”


“I have a confession to make.”


Oh boy, here we go. This priest, this man of God, kneeling in front of me with an erection beneath his shorts and he was about to confess to me? Holy Mother of God, what will it be - Door Number 1, Door Number 2, or the third one marked THIS WAY TO HELL YOU JERK. I looked into his eyes and waited.


“I did steal from you - one of your tank tops when you were still in the shower.”


“What? Yes, of course.” I got up and moved to the counter. Tomas slipped back into his chair. “I remember when it disappeared. It never dawned on me you had taken it, never in a million years. You’re a thief,” I glared at him. Poor Tomas looked down. His confusion, shyness, and lack of experience in love making were obvious. I regretted saying that and went to him. I held his head between my hands and moved in slowly. I never realized how beautiful he was until that moment when I touched his lips with mine. I lingered with my eyes open, looking deep into his eyes. The shyness faded into an eagerness to please. I pulled back a few inches, “Do you still have it?”


“What?”


“The tank top,” I grinned and moved back to the counter.


“Yes.” he laughed.


“Well, I want it back, with or without my sweat. Preferably without.”


“Ok.” He got up and came over to where I was standing. “I will give it back and I will keep on giving as long as you are accepting.”


Oh jeez, my knees started to go again. I backed into the counter and held on. It sounded like a proposal. I wondered if that’s what he meant.


I interrupted his advance, “But first, I have a confession.” His face was almost upon me.


“Which is?” he squinted.


“I’m having unclean thoughts.”


He drew back an inch or two. “Oh, really. Anyone I know?”


“No, you don’t.” He wants to play, that’s great. “It’s the grocery clerk at Safeway.”


“Oh, is that right. What’s his name?”


“What makes you think it’s a him?”


“Just a wild guess,” he pulled me into one of those kisses I wasn’t used to yet.


As I came up for air, “His name is…”


“I’m also having those kinds of thoughts.”


“Yes, I know,” I smiled, “is that a banana in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”


He backed away, bent over in laughter. He could not stop laughing.


I didn’t have to hold back any longer, I could wisecrack all I wanted. Poor Tomas did not know what he was getting himself into.


“Hey, are you still going to spot me?”


I paused, then conceded, “Yeeees.”


He moved in again, “Wanna take your pants off?”


He DID have a sense of humor. Thank you, God.


“No. Here - coffee - sit - talk.”


The coffee had brewed. We drank cup after cup until the dawn of a new day appeared.


The Passing of Max and Mabel

The happiness and contentment we experienced together were interrupted several years later when Max and Mabel began to show their age. Max was pushing 16 and Mabel was a year behind him. It became obvious a decision had to be made. I put it off again and again until one day Max looked at me and I knew it was time. I made up my mind a long time ago I would release them together. I knew one left behind would be cruel. They had grown up and old together. It was the right thing to do.


Tomas and I gathered our friends and took them to our Vet. Tomas called ahead so I didn’t have to say anything when we arrived. Doris, our vet, was so kind and understanding. She took control of the situation and made it easy for all of us. It was a beautiful day as we sat on the clinic’s patio. Doris made the injections quickly and then left us alone. I don’t know how long it was before I knew Max was gone. I think he knew and was grateful. He licked my hand and relaxed.


Doris returned and checked with her stethoscope. When she nodded, I broke down and cried like a baby. Tomas and I remained for a short time then placed them into carrying bags for the trip to the mortuary and cremation.


I kept their ashes for a time. Just a silly reluctance to let them go. Finally, Tomas convinced me to take them to the Golden Gate Bridge and release them there. The Santa Ana winds were coming in from the desert so the timing was perfect. We went to the center of the bridge one beautiful afternoon and released their ashes into the warm winds which carried them out to the Pacific Ocean. We stood there for a while and then slowly left the bridge.


On the way back to the parking lot, Tomas touched my arm, “You know, now would be a good time to look for another couple.”


I was reluctant, but agreed. We contacted the Humane Shelter and scanned the newspaper puppy ads. Within a few weeks, we found an owner in Colma just outside of Daly City who had a brood of six eight-week-old pups of mixed parentage which is exactly what we wanted. We spent a delightful afternoon choosing two from the litter, a girl, and a boy. We named them Buddha and Isis and happily brought them into our family.


The old saying ‘gone but not forgotten’ is so true. The loyal and ever affectionate Max and Mabel will always be alive within us. I’m told that in their slumbering state before they are reborn, they are aware of the love we still feel for them. That may or may not be true but it is comforting to believe it.


A Touch Of Celibacy

Tomas gave a great deal of his time in mentoring young priests. One, in particular, Josh Pendleton, stands out in my memory for two reasons, celibacy and the humor it brought about.


Tomas and I were about to jump on a cable car and head down to Fisherman’s Wharf for some sourdough bread at Boudin’s Bakery when the doorbell rang. Isis and Buddha raced ahead of me to the door. “Josh, I didn’t realize you were coming over. Did we miss your call?”


“I’m sorry, Geno, I should have called. I wasn’t sure if I should bother Tomas or not.”


“Did you ever know him to be bothered by anything or anyone?”


“No, I guess not.”


“Josh!” Tomas entered the room, “I thought I heard your voice.”


“Josh has a problem and wasn’t sure if he should bother you.”


“Geno, I never said I had a problem.”


“Josh, it’s written all over your face.”


“Geno and I are headed for the Wharf. Why don’t you come along and we can talk? I always feel more energized near the water.”


We boarded the Powell Street cable car and traveled in silence, enjoying the ringing of the cable car bell by the talented conductor.


As we stepped off of the cable car at the Aquatic Park turnaround, Tomas announced, “Let’s go to Boudin’s first, I need some sourdough bread, the aphrodisiac of the San Francisco Bay. So, Josh, what’s the problem?”


“I’ve taken a leave of absence.”


“Why for heaven’s sake? Mrs. Clausing again?”


“No, nothing like that. It’s worse, much worse.”


Mrs. Clausing is Josh’s nemesis as I call her. She dogs every word he utters during his homilies. She thought him too young and inexperienced to be a priest.


“How much worse?” Tomas asked as we walked toward the bakery. Josh was silent, contemplating how to broach the subject. We made our bread purchase and walked along Bay Shore Park, settling on a bench facing the water, Tomas handed Josh a piece of sourdough bread. “Soul food,” he smiled. “Are you going to tell me or not?”


“There’s a parishioner …”


“A woman?”


“Yes.”


“It’s the celibacy thing.” Tomas groaned then mused aloud, “Of all the bloody nonsense.”


I had to laugh to myself. I remember all too well how he struggled with the same thing in years passed until enlightenment as to the insanity of such a religious law dawned on him.


“Josh, is that it?”


“Yes.”


“And?”


“I haven’t done anything.”


“Have you thought about it?” Tomas gave Josh a sideways glance. “Well, have you thought about it?”


Josh’s head went down, “Yes.”


“Then you’ve broken your vows.”


“It’s not that simple, Tomas.”


“Of course it is.”


“Now what do I do?”


“The first thing you have to do is stop beating yourself up over this man-made law of celibacy. Yes, I said man-made. It amazes me the Church has gotten away with this type of nonsense for so long. The pain and suffering it has inflicted are criminal.


“Deep down, your common sense is telling you there is something wrong with this vow business, otherwise, you wouldn’t be talking to me. Right?”


Josh nodded.


“Only a very small percentage of priests are qualified for celibacy and even that percentage is questionable.


“What do you mean?”


“Just what I said, no priest is a qualified celibate just because the Pope and those fuddy-duddy hypocrites in the Holy See say so. To force people into that corner is tantamount to criminal abuse. Now we’re seeing the results from such abuse.


“If Canon Law were challenged in a court of law it would fail miserably.”


Josh was slack-jawed, “I don’t understand how you can say that. These laws have been with us for hundreds, maybe thousands of years.”


“That’s precisely the point. They’ve been outdated for hundreds of years and no one has done anything about it. The laws were proclaimed on the premise they were acknowledged by and consecrated by Almighty God. A prosecutor would have clear sailing since no defense lawyer would be able to call the Almighty to the witness stand to substantiate the claims of the Catholic Church.


“And don’t get me started on this sainthood business they bandy about. I find it amusing they always wait until the poor fellow is dead before they bestow that privilege on him. Given the opportunity, I’m sure most of them would reject the whole premise of sainthood.”


I could tell Josh was thunderstruck by Tomas’ radical stance on the bedrock of Catholicism. To quell the argument Tomas was bent on, I intervened. “You feel warmly on the subject, don’t you?” I smiled and winked at Josh.


“I do indeed.” Tomas realized his passion was a little over the top. He took a deep breath and smiled. “What’s her name?”


“Who?”


Tomas looked at him.


“Oh,” Josh smiled as if he had just won a prized turkey. “Laura, her name is Laura Pritchard. Isn’t that a beautiful name? I looked it up. It means clever, clear-sighted, and intelligent. That’s her in every way.”


“You’re beginning to sound like you’re besotted.”


“I know, and I’m ashamed.”


“Ashamed of what? Having feelings for another human being?” Tomas looked at me and smiled.


Josh was silent.


“Does she know how you feel about her?”


“I’m not sure. She volunteers at church. We’ve worked fairly close in the last year and a half.”


Tomas chuckled, “Trust me, she knows. Has she given you any indication she would like to reciprocate?”


“There have been looks. Nothing more.”


“What kind of looks?”


“The worst is when she takes communion.”


“The worst?”


“Well, not the worst, but the most intense.”


“How so?”


“Most people keep their eyes closed in prayer when they receive the sacrament. Laura looks up at me in such a way . . . it melts my heart. She moves her head forward a little to receive the wafer, her lips touch my fingertips.”


“Josh, for heaven’s sake, the woman is making love to you in front of the altar.”


“No, she’s not.”


“Then why are we having this conversation?”


“I know, I know, I know. But I don’t know what to do about it?”


I had all I could do to keep from laughing as my imagination tuned in on that scenario.


“Are you reciprocating when she does that?”


“No, I don’t think so.”


“Do you pull your hand away immediately when she takes the wafer?”


“Well, yes, kind of.”


“Oh my God, how long has this been going on?”


“Not very long.”


“How long?


“About a year. Maybe a little less.”


“Maybe a little more?”


“Maybe.”


“You’re not made out of asbestos, my friend.”


“What’s that supposed to mean?”


“It means, unless you do something about this, you’re going to explode, and probably do something incredibly stupid.”


I touched Tomas’s arm. “Did you know we’re being observed?”


“What?” Tomas and Josh replied at the same time.


“I spotted her when we got off of the cable car. She was getting out of a cab.”


“Her? What her?” Josh looked around. “What did she look like?”


“Above average height, good figure, shoulder length sandy colored hair. I only caught a glimpse.”


“Oh my God, that sounds like Laura.” Josh twisted around, looking in all directions. “I don’t see her.”


“She’s still there, I can feel her watching us.”


Josh got up and walked around the bench we were sitting on, looking in all directions. Suddenly, “There she is. I’ll be right back.” Tomas and I turned and watched Josh running toward the Alcatraz ticket kiosk. He called her name. She stopped but did not turn around. Josh caught up with her. She turned and faced him. We could not hear what they were saying. She kept shaking her head. Finally, Josh took her hand and walked toward us. Laura followed, reluctantly. Josh was on the verge of dragging her.


“Laura, these are my friends Tomas and Geno.”


“How do you do.”


“You are Laura …?”


“Joubert.”


“A lovely French name.”


“You told me your name was Prichard.”


“That’s my married name.”


“You’re married?” Josh could not have been more astonished.


“Divorced.”


“Well, that’s a nice kettle of fish,” Tomas invited her to sit next to him. “Josh, you sit on the other side so she can’t get away. So, Laura, can you tell us why you were following us?”


“I wasn't following…”


“Geno spotted you getting out of a cab when we got off of the cable car. Own up, Laura.” Tomas could not keep from smiling.


“I’m so embarrassed, I’m sorry, Father. . .”


“Josh, Laura.”


“I’m sorry, Josh. I don’t know why I did that. I saw you get on the cable car with your friends near the Fairmont.”


“How long were you following me?”


“Since you left your residence this afternoon. I planned on talking to you but couldn’t do it.”


“I thought we were friends. You can talk to me about anything.”


Laura looked down and was silent.


“How well do you know Josh?”


“Well, we work together at church.”


“That’s not what I meant.”


Laura shook her head and would not speak.


“I’ll answer for her.” Josh paused. “I know Laura very well, and I care a great deal for her.”


“Oh Josh, you shouldn’t say that.”


“Why not, it’s the truth.” Josh was relieved.


Tomas took advantage of a pause, “Laura, your turn.” Laura shook her head and began to cry, “I can’t say it. I just can’t say it. I have to go.”


“Oh, no you don’t.” Tomas pulled her back. “Does the word love have anything to do with it?”


Laura nodded slightly.


“Well, then say it.”


“But he’s a priest, and I’m divorced.”


“He’s a man, for God’s sake, and he cares for you. So, what if you’re divorced. It amazes me how you people get caught up in all these barriers that don’t mean anything. Here, have a slice of sourdough bread.”


Laura took the slice of bread, looked at it, looked at Tomas and me and began to laugh at the absurdity of the gesture. Josh began to laugh, Tomas did not understand what was so funny.


When the laughter subsided, Josh took Laura’s hand, and spoke softly, “Laura, I’m afraid I’ve fallen in love with you. I’ve been denying it, hiding it, afraid of giving myself away each time I was with you.”


“Oh, Josh.” Laura took Josh’s hand in both of hers.


“According to Tomas, I’ve broken my vow of celibacy.”


Laura straightened up, “But you’ve never touched me, until now.” She looked at Tomas to confirm her statement.


Tomas laughed, “Josh has spilled the beans about your little communion game.”


“What?”


Josh may not have touched you but you, evidently, have been playing that lips on his fingertips during communion.”


“I…”


Tomas raised his hand, “Thou shalt not lie.”


I could not help from smiling as this charming scene unfolded.


Laura looked to Josh, pleading for help.


“It’s no use, Laura,” Josh whispered, “In my mind, I’ve touched you many times. I’m sorry if that offends you.”


Laura reached up and touched Josh’s cheek, “No, Josh, it doesn’t offend me at all.”


Tomas gave a great sigh, “Well, thank God we got that out of the way. The two you have a lot to talk about. Come on, Geno, we’re going home. You’ll probably want to talk to me again, so call me and we’ll meet at my place. And don’t do anything stupid. Does anyone want some more bread? No, I guess not.”


As we walked away, “Will you stop giving it away?” I grabbed the bag away from Tomas and nudged him with my elbow. Tomas pushed back as we continued walking toward Aquatic Park and the Cable Car turnaround.


I heard Josh say, “You stay put,” then called out, “Tomas!”


We turned around, Josh ran up and embraced Tomas. “Thank you, my friend,” and kissed his cheek.


“Save that for Laura. And you’re welcome. Now get back to her before she runs off. We’ve still got a lot to discuss on this celibacy thing. It’s important you understand its true purpose.”


Three days later our phone rang. “This is Tomas. Josh! How are you? Oh? Well, come on over. We’ll put the kettle on.”


Half an hour later, Laura and Josh sat down at our kitchen table. I set cups of tea on the table and joined them. “You two don’t look very happy,”


“I’m going to leave the priesthood,” Josh announced.


“That’s one of the stupid things I told you not to do.”


Laura took Josh’s hand, “I told him that’s not the answer,”


Tomas smiled, “Are you two having your first fight?”


“No.” Josh smiled.


“It’s our second one. And I’m right.” Laura laughed.


“Yes, she’s right.” Josh looked lovingly at Laura, “I’ve asked Laura to marry me.”


Tomas looked at Laura, “And you said …” Laura nodded but was silent.


“What about your parishioners, Josh?”


“I know. The proverbial rock and a hard place. What are we to do?”


Laura intertwined her fingers with Josh’s. The hopeless look on both of their faces prompted Tomas, “The parishioners are important, but so are the two of you, to each other. I’m thinking you should go to your Bishop and request a transfer to a permanent deaconship. You can still attend to your flock, and you can marry Laura.”


Josh and Laura looked at each other, then turned to Tomas, “Can they do that?”


“Probably not. But, anticipating what you just told me, I did a little research on your Bishop Cordova. What I found is nothing earthshaking, but I don’t believe he would want a San Francisco Chronicle reporter to get ahold of it.”


“Tomas, that’s blackmail,” Josh whispered.


“I know,” Tomas whispered back, with a grin, “but I think it will work.”


“I could never do it.”


“You don’t have to. I will.” Tomas grinned.


“But why?”


“It’s my little way of getting back at the church for their ridiculous Canon laws. Okay?”


Josh and Laura looked at one another. “Laura, what do you think?”


“It certainly would solve the problem.” She looked to Josh. “It’s your decision. You have the most to lose.”


“I won’t lose you.” Josh turned to Tomas. “Okay.”


All the while I sat there slightly slack-jawed. I was learning something about Tomas I had not realized until that moment. After Josh and Laura left, I put my arms around Tomas’ neck, “I am so proud of you.”


“For what?


“You know, for what.” I hugged him and pushed him away as we both laughed.


I found Tomas to be a truly humble man. He refused to take credit for any of the goodness he accomplished. It was just who he was and he could not understand the praise he received.


After several months, the paperwork came through. Josh became a permanent deacon and married his Laura before the ink was dry.


On a subsequent occasion, after we had met with Josh and Laura, I mentioned to Tomas, “Is it my imagination or does Laura look like she is with child?”


“I thought the same thing but figured I was wrong.” A mischievous look came over his face.


“Tomas,” I laughed, “What are you up to?”


“Nothing,” he lied and smiled.


We meet with Josh and Laura soon after and I observed one of Tomas’ rare ‘gotcha’ moments when he pointed out the obvious, much to the chagrin of the happy couple.


“You’re supposed to wait until after you’re married,” Tomas playfully chastised them.


“I know,” agreed Josh. “But look at her, Tomas.”


It was the only time I ever saw Laura blush. It was so beautiful. I secretly envied them the child they were about to have.


When they announced they intended to name the child ‘Tomas,’ Tomas countered with, “What if it’s a girl?”


Laura laughed, “We’ll name it Tomas anyway.”


A few weeks later Tomas and I were in the tabernacle of the Cathedral. It was quite empty and peaceful, as usual. I was sitting in one of the front pews waiting for him. As he approached I asked, “Tell me about celibacy?”


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