This was a contest entry gone wrong. I hope to expand it. Do you think there is enough there for a novel, or just a short story?
“Love, Candace.” That’s how she’d signed her note, spurring Henry into a fit of foolish passion and the letter he should never have written. She didn’t take it well and broke off all contact. Sixteen was too young to meet the love of your life, and he’d learnt the hard way.
Candace, now Sister Mary Dufort, sat before him in his office with a young novice, Sister Catherine. He wasn’t sure that she even recognized him, although she had the advantage of knowing his name. Her surname had been a clue, but he’d never expected Candace to walk into his office that day, much less as Mother Superior of the Sisters of the Covenant. In spite of her salt and pepper grey hair, she looked much the same after 25 years, with her athletic physique and brilliant, sparkling blue eyes. Both women wore demure grey skirts and blouses and wouldn’t ordinarily be recognized as nuns, now that full habits were a relic of the past.
Henry, on the other hand, was much the worse for wear. His brief failed marriage and a subsequent long-term relationship resulted in two children, both girls who blamed him for the break-ups and plunged him into never-ending money problems as he staggered under hefty maintenance payments. Claire starting college eased them somewhat, but his life had just sunk into turmoil again when his latest girlfriend of ten years, Anna, left him and three days later announced that she was pregnant. Broken relationships and alienated children had become an annoying routine.
Working all hours of the day, Henry’s body betrayed him. He’d lost sight of his feet a couple years ago, and his back ached constantly. The little hair that he had left was cut short to de-emphasize his baldness.
“Mr Gordon,” Sister Mary began, “at the Convent we have finally decided to computerize. Sister Catherine has trained in web design, and we have come to you for advice on hardware, which we hope you will be able to install and maintain. I know so little about it myself that I will have to let Catherine take over from here, Hank. I’ll get involved only when we come to costs.”
Hank. No one had called him that in over two decades, and hearing it roll off her lips again made his spine tingle. He still thought of her often, and she had clearly forgiven or possibly forgotten his ancient faux pas. Yes, he saw recognition in her eyes, and it threw him. As Catherine prattled away, he found himself unable to take notes or any interest in her at all, as he realized how much he was still in love with her Mother Superior.
“Mr Gordon?” Mary interrupted, “Hank? Are you alright?”
Henry’s glazed look remained.
“Hank?” Mary persisted.
“I, umm…” Henry’s memories refused to let go.
“That was a long time ago,” she said gently. “We were both young and foolish then.” Meanwhile, Catherine fidgeted, unprepared for the familiarity between the two.
Snapping back to his senses, he replied nervously, “Yes, it’s ancient history. I’m sorry. I don’t know what possessed me.”
He felt the sudden urge to cry, something he hadn’t done in years, neither when his relationships broke up, nor when his parents died. He couldn’t help it – crying was the last thing he wanted to do in front of two nuns. The tears flowed, nevertheless.
“Catherine,” Mary whispered, “would you leave us for a moment?” The novice quietly obeyed. “I’m sorry, Hank,” Mary continued. “I thought that having her here might make our meeting less awkward.”
“No, I’m sorry,” Henry replied, wiping his tears. “This was all so unexpected. But I wouldn’t have anticipated my reaction in any case.”
“Should we come back some other time?”
“I’ve put this meeting off for several months myself,” she admitted.
Too much, too soon. He’d only known her a month when he wrote that ill-conceived letter. Had it driven her to the Convent? Surely, she wouldn’t have made such a decision so young. Yet some hurt remained, undiminished by time. “You could have gone to someone else,” he replied.
“No … I couldn’t,” she stuttered. “I had to face … I … had to … I needed to … ” She found herself unable to say whatever it was. The meeting appeared to be as hard for her as it was for him.
“I’m glad you came, Candace,” he interrupted, relieving her from her misery.
“You mustn’t call me that,” she insisted, struggling to regain her composure. “That was my old life.”
“I’m sorry,” he muttered. Yes, it was her old life. The wedding bands that she and her novice proudly wore attested to that. She was a bride of Christ. He mused on whether it would have been easier for him if she were married to another man. No answer came, so he fought to compose himself. “I think I can continue now.”
As Sister Mary remained motionless, Henry suspected a reason for her visit that extended beyond websites and networks. He was resigned to wait until she was ready. He’d already waited for 25 years.
“We will talk more when you come out to see the Convent and School,” she said abruptly, standing and turning the handle of the door. “As Mother Superior, I have a few privileges.”