From the creator of the Knitting in the City series, Penny Reid — Please enjoy this exclusive piece called, “The Confession.”
“I’ve always written short stories. I must have hundreds of them, little ideas that knock around in my brain and won’t let me sleep. This short story was written over ten years ago and the idea came to me while I was (dun dun DUUUN!!!) in confession. 😉
I seldom write serious stuff with no tempering funny moments. I hope you all enjoy.
“Bless me Father for I have sinned-” And sinned, and sinned… and sinned.
“-it has been six months since my last confession.”
Mary glanced at the cobalt beaded rosary she held between shaking fingers; in the dim light of the confessional the beads appeared almost black. She pressed her lips together and swallowed, allowed her thick dark hair to fall in front of her face like a curtain as she dipped her chin, wanting to conceal herself further. The screen between her and the priest didn’t feel adequate.
She listened as the man on the other side of the confessional cleared his throat quietly and she waited for a prompt to continue, not because one was needed or expected, but rather because, without one, she wasn’t sure it was in her to initiate the confession. She closed her cloudy blue eyes, tried to think of every minor infraction she’d made over the last few weeks in an endeavor to postpone relating the real reason for her visit.
Silence stretched, becoming tangible, substantial, heavy. A pew creaked under the weight of a parishioner somewhere in the church, she deciphered the virtually noiseless squeak of the chapel door as it opened and closed. Mary swept her hair behind her ear with a black gloved hand, lifting her face to the screen. She heard the soft footsteps of her bodyguards’ Italian leather shoes, a safe but not obtrusive distance from where she was to confess her sins.
She had the abrupt sensation that she was drowning in the stillness, like a viscous pool filling her lungs, and suddenly—like gasping for air—breaking the silence was both terrifying and essential.
“IliedtomyfamilyaboutwhereIwasgoingtoday.” Mary blurted, the words slurring together in her haste. It was the first thing she could think of that qualified as a sin. She was a twenty-six year old woman who lied to her family about going to confession. Her long, thick lashes fluttered open and the simple, black wool dress suddenly felt confining and itchy. A hot flush accompanied her embarrassment and reached its fingers up neck and cheeks and she once again lowered her forehead.
“And, I uh…” Mary stalled, her voice shaky as she attempted to recall all the miscellaneous wrongs she’d done to her sister, “I lied to my sister and my father… about it.”
She bit her lip in an effort to keep her chin from wobbling, could feel the sting of new tears behind her eyes. It was, she knew, ridiculous to delay any longer. She knew why she was there, she needed to tell someone, and neither her family nor her friends were an option.
“The thing is…” she sighed, breathing with effort. “The thing is, Father, I’ve done something that I shouldn’t have and I-” her chest felt impossibly heavy, “-I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
The rosary was her grandmother’s. Mary remembered the day her father gave it to her, the day her grandmother died. It was tradition, her father told her; the rosary passed from matriarch to matriarch, like a damn crown of thorns.
“I feel it necessary to preface this confession by saying that I don’t, necessarily, regret what I’ve done…” Her face burned hotter, brighter at an accompanying surge of memory. With effort, she pushed the heated thoughts to the recesses of her mind, locking them away. But as much as she needed to bury them, needed them to sink down to the deepest trenches of the ocean, she also wished she could have the chance to relive the memories again… and again.
But that was not possible, not anymore.
“Even though I don’t regret it, I know it was wrong. I know I was wrong.” Mary rested her elbow on the ledge just below the screen, held her forehead in one gloved hand, gripping the rosary with the other, “I don’t want anyone to get hurt because of me and I’m afraid that—no matter what I do—I won’t be able to stop that from happening.”
The black lace worn to cover the top of her head as a display of modesty slipped backward as she ran gloved fingers through her soft hair. The veil fell gently to her feet. She left it discarded, covering her shoes. The idea of being modest at present was ludicrous.
“I’m married.” Her tone was flat, like her marriage. “I- I don’t love my husband, but I don’t suppose that’s really relevant.” She peripherally heard the priest shift on the other side of the screen; but as she was mostly talking to herself, she dismissed the movement. “My husband was picked for me, by my family. I was a child—sixteen—and he was… not a child.” She swallowed, hard, tried to keep her voice from betraying the bitterness that welled in her chest.
“But- but I did feel for him. I felt- I was…” she struggled, narrowing her eyes as though searching for the right word carved among the wooden frame of the screen; “I was infatuated with him-” she nodded, agreeing with her choice of words, “-and I was faithful to him for ten years. I was faithful. I kept his secrets and I made his business my business, I made his priorities my priorities. You see, our marriage was… between families. It was a marriage of two families more than a marriage of two people.” She pressed her lips together and the corners of her mouth turned downward. “But he was not faithful.”
Mary shook her head, feeling tired, exhausted. The edge of bitterness was replaced with an undercurrent of surrender, “He says he loves me. He tells me that the women- that the women mean nothing.” She flexed her jaw, her blue eyes turning stormy as she stared determinedly without seeing at the opaque brown panel. “I don’t care about the women because I don’t care about him. He thinks I’m angry and he’s right, but it’s not him, it’s not the women, it’s not the lies, it’s- it’s what I’ve lost.”
Her heart started beating between her ears, racing, a lump lifted to her throat. She tried unsuccessfully to swallow and her voice turned raspy and strained, “I’m angry because of what they took from me. I’m angry because of what I can’t have.”
Mary let the platinum and sapphire rosary fall from her hand to the wooden ledge in front of her, she ignored the thwap of the decades against the hard surface and began removing the black gloves on her left hand. Once she succeeded, she paused, glared at the obscenely large old mine cut diamond and matching band adorning her third finger. The gold of the rings seemed to suck all the warmth out of the air. She shivered.
“I’m in love with a man who is the enemy of my family and they don’t know, they can’t know. I’ve been sneaking around, lying for months.” Her voice sounded faraway, as though she were listening to someone else or an echo of herself, “I’m in love with him and he doesn’t know who I am because I’ve been lying to him too.” Slowly, carefully, Mary smoothed out the black glove, rubbing the leather with her thumb and forefinger. She closed her eyes. A small tear trailed down her cheek, leaving a wet streak from the corner of her eye to her jaw. She didn’t wipe it away.
Mary closed her eyes and sighed, allowing the words to wash over her, spoken aloud for the first time, “I’m pregnant… and my husband is not the father.”
For the first time since she’d entered the confessional she heard the priest make an audible noise, a word she didn’t comprehend. At the sound of the second noise, the same word repeated louder, angrier, darker, she perceived something, recognized something, and fear gripped her chest.
Mary’s eyes flew open; her mouth slack jawed, agape; her back stiff sending alarm signals to every cell in her body. Suddenly, before she could fully comprehend what was happening, the screen separating her from what she believed was a priest slid forcefully to the side revealing the last person she expected to see.
A long, black cashmere raincoat covered his imposing frame; it was speckled with shining drops of water that shimmered under the light. His sandy blonde hair was still wet from the early autumn drizzle she’d succeeded in avoiding by utilizing an umbrella. His green eyes, usually reasoned and credulous, burned into her with a ferocity that knocked the wind from her lungs and made her heart stop. His expression matched his fiery gaze—set, rigid, intransigent.
Like a frightened rabbit, her first instinct was to bolt. Her plan must have been obvious to him because he reached through the opening of the confessional and grabbed her arm before she could recoil.
“Don’t…” his voice was low, unmistakably dark and foreboding. His eyes narrowed as his grip on her forearm tightened, “Don’t.”
Her mind was frozen, she couldn’t move, couldn’t think, couldn’t speak. She could only stare at him, this man she loved, now as open and vulnerable to him as an infant, prostrate and powerless.
Finally she swallowed, looked away, unable to bear the accusation and betrayal in his glare.
“Michael… you’re hurting me.” She tugged against his vice grip, which he loosened but did not release. Instead he pulled her wrist toward him through the opening so that she was forced to lean forward, the back of her hand brushed against his chest. She felt him stare at her for a long moment and she knew she was a coward because—try as she might—she couldn’t bring herself to meet his gaze.
When he spoke his tone was withdrawn, distant. “You haven’t returned my calls.”
Mary flinched again, closed her eyes, wishing she could disappear.
“I guess now I know why, Mrs. Alessandri.”
She shook her head, “Don’t-”
“Were you going to tell me?”
Mary tried to pull her wrist out of his grasp but only succeeded in knocking her glove and the rosary to the floor.
She shook her head, choked on a sob, her eyes still closed, “I can’t.”
She felt his hand tighten again as he tugged on her arm, his tone unkind and unyielding. “Answer me.”
Pressing her lips together she lifted her chin and met his gaze; her blue eyes, practiced in false pride, held his and she told him the truth, “No.”
She perceived him flinch, a tangible dent in his steely exterior, just a flash of pain and genuine surprise which was quickly replaced with contempt. She felt, actually felt, her heart shatter, the pain of it knocked the wind from her lungs.
The unobtrusive footsteps of her bodyguard approached, she knew the rhythm of their steps by heart. Michael’s eyes narrowed, fierce with warning, but he needn’t have been concerned. She was a liar and an adulterer, but she loved him. Despite what she guessed he intended for her, she would never betray him to her family.
She made no movement or sound as the man passed the confessional and retreated.
He swallowed and released a slow breath. “Listen to me very carefully.” Each word was chilly, Michael’s voice matched his sub-zero stare. “You are going to collect yourself and your things. You are going to go to your family’s pew and say your penance-”
Her eyelashes fluttered as she tried to force impertinence, “What is my penance-”
“Shut up and listen.” He growled, his fingers twisting around her wrist, pressing her hand against his chest. Despite his calm tenor and cold exterior she felt the rapid pace of his heart and knew the mask of calm was thinning. “You’re coming with me.”
She shook her head, “I can’t-”
“You don’t have a choice.”
Her mouth curved into a slight smirk and she said in a graveled whisper, more to herself than to him, “I never do.”
His eyes traveled over her face, his expression softening just slightly, and he slowly released her hand. She pulled it back through the open screen, rubbing gingerly at her wrist. Mary was struck by how handsome he was and she mourned her existence and the reality of their situation, she mourned the pain she caused him, inwardly cursing herself. Tears stung her eyelids but she blinked them away before they fell.
He audibly sighed and sat back in the priest’s chair, she still knelt and recovered her rosary from the floor as he continued with less force, less like a command, “After you say your penance you will go to the back of the church and tell your guard you need to visit the bathroom.”
She closed her eyes and shook her head slowly.
“Once inside, count to one hundred, cover your face with the black veil. I will deal with the guard. We’ll leave together.”
She sniffled as she retrieved the black lace veil from where it rested on her legs. “You make this sound so easy.”
His voice was matter-of-fact, “It is easy.”
She placed the lace around her neck, her voice was a trembling whisper as she turned her eyes to his. “What then, hmm? What happens, we just leave?”
“And where do we go? What do we do?”
He shrugged, taking out his gun and releasing the safety. “We get married.”
She watched him, incredulous, her heart swelled in her throat then dropped to her knees in an instant; she choked, “I- I- I’m already married.”
His eyes lifted from his gun to hers as he tucked the metal instrument in the back of his pants. She was surprised by the intimacy of the gaze, which felt almost like a loving caress, but when he spoke his voice was as deadly as his intentions and she did not confuse his meaning.
“You’ll be a widow soon enough.”
Penny Reid is a part time author of romantic fiction. When she is not immersed in penning smart romances she works full time in the biotech industry as a researcher. She’s also a full time mom to two diminutive adults (boy-6 and girl-4), wife, daughter, knitter, crocheter, sewer, general crafter, and thought hijacker.
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