From The Sky - Part VIII

"How dare you!" I cried. "How dare you pity me!"

And I raced out of the Burger Shack, "Home of the Bonzo" and ran all the way home. I locked myself in my room and refused to come out for supper, finally crying myself to sleep.

At church the following Sunday, I spotted the boy sitting in the pews of the center aisle. Both of his eyes were blackened, and his nose was taped. I was horrified. How could I have done such a thing?

He turned and his eyes met mine. Those beautiful, big raccoon eyes. He smiled and it felt as if the pew vanished beneath me, as if I was floating, weightless, at the mercy of eddies and currents I was powerless to fight.

He met me on the steps of the church. He was walking out with his family. He introduced himself: Joe Byrne. He took my hand and kissed it, right there in front of everyone and anyone, and asked me again to the prom. One of his brothers said: "Please don't kill him. He owes me five bucks."

I was still mortified. I looked at his parents waiting patiently. What must they think of me? Joe read my mind: "My Mom and Dad think I got hit in the face with a basketball," he whispered. "Now what do you say? Yes? No? Or should I duck?"

I said yes, of course, and a long on-again, off-again relationship began: on for summers, off for the months we spent away at our colleges. Come summer we picked up where we left off the previous year. We were comfortable with each other. We trusted each other, though at first we took no vows of exclusiveness. Those came later. Joe was the first man I slept with, the summer after my sophomore year. He will be the last. Was there anyone in between? That is a secret I carry in my heart, one I won't share, thank you.

It was during my senior year that there was a shift in our relationship. We began to seek each other out for no reason. He would call from his dormitory room at the state university a hundred miles away, or I would call him from mine. We would talk until dawn, and I when finally rested the pink princess phone back in its cradle, I would lie down and my heart would ache, and I would miss him so profoundly I thought my chest would burst open.

The first day home after we graduated, we met in the parking lot of the Burger Shack. We walked across town to the church, neither of us saying a word about where we were going or why. Joe rang the bell and Father Tinsdale opened the rectory door.

"Yes?" the priest asked as he adjusted the glasses dangling perilously close to the end of his nose. He ran his fingers through his gray-white hair as waited for one of us to say something. It was me who spoke at last: "We want to marry. Tell us about Pre-Cana, Father."

He looked at us, his head swiveling back and forth as he studied our faces.

"Renata Tarentella," he said at last. "And Joe Byrne, isn't it?"

Joe nodded.

"When did you get engaged?"

We looked at each other, and we both smiled.

"Just now. Right here. This second," said Joe.

"This second! This isn't a decision made lightly!"

"We know that Father," I said. "But we arrived here together, didn't we? Without a word between us, we came to your doorstep to get engaged on your landing. We want to take all the right steps. Oh, Father, I love him madly. He loves me. So please …please tell us all about Pre-Cana."

Father looked at my naked ring finger.

Joe and I glanced at each other and Joe said: "We're picking out a ring tonight. As soon as we leave, in fact."

Father considered us a moment, then opened the door and ushered us in.

"It's the strangest thing," he said as he walked us to his office. "I had a commitment this afternoon, a meeting with the auxiliary Bishop. It was cancelled. That man never, never cancels. And I find you on my doorstep at almost precisely the moment I hung up the phone with the Diocese. It would appear God cleared my schedule for you two. I'll yield to the Almighty, as must we all. Sit down, then. Sit. I'll tell you about the Pre-Cana classes. I'll tell you what little I know of marriage, and let you know what you're getting yourselves into."


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