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“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been a week since my last confession.”
The confessional window flew back. “The usual, Harley?” Father Marks chided.
Vexed, I retorted, “Isn’t this supposed to be anonymous?”
“Harley, I could set my watch by you. Every week you come in and confess the same sin. Would you rather I lie and act like I don’t know who you are?”
“I made out with a girl. Again. Would you rather I not bother confessing that?”
“Considering confessing doesn’t stop you from changing your ways, perhaps you need to look at the root cause of your guilt. God forgives you, but you don’t forgive yourself, Harley.”
“So, you’re giving me carte blanche permission to make out with girls?” I concluded.
“Nice try,” he acknowledged with a chuckle. “But not quite. For your penance this week, figure out why your sin eats away at your soul and bothers you so much.”
I rolled my eyes. If I wanted a therapist, I’d hire one. “Can we cut to the chase here? How many Hail Marys?”
“Harley, Harley, Harley,” Father Marks reproached. “Pray ten rosaries.”
“Cool. See you next week.”
The moment I was out of the Church, my sinning resumed. I would have shown restraint if she hadn’t been perched by the door, waiting for me. But she was. And I was fifteen. And I wasn’t dating anyone. And she wasn’t dating anyone. So, there wasn’t a reason not to make out with her.
“I missed you,” she admitted before pausing, clearly waiting for me to say that I missed her, too, but I had been gone for what, five minutes? I certainly hadn’t missed her. So, I replied with tonsil hockey like I did any time she silently demanded a lie. After a while, she giggled and added, “Why did you have to go to that stupid church anyway? It’s not even Sunday!”
“I have my reasons,” I hedged.
“Well, stop having your reasons! Churches give me the creeps! Remember the last time we were all in that awful place?” She shuddered. I could tell she yearned to rehash the funeral yet again, but I wanted no part of the recollection. So, before she continued, I planted another one on her to keep her occupied until she forgot whatever we had been talking about. “I love you, Harley,” she added.
It wasn’t the first time she had said it. She interjected it into just about every conversation. Given that I had never come close to saying it back, any self-respecting girl would have long ago tossed me to the curb. But Coral Jones was practically as damaged as I was, and she eagerly accepted my kisses as verification of my feelings for her.
Yeah, no wonder I went to confession each week. But at least I never lied to her. I couldn’t help that she assumed what she assumed.
Yeah. I know, I know. Weekly confessions or not, I was so going to hell. Unless I was already there.
“Don’t you think?” Coral suddenly asked. Okay, it was likely not “suddenly,” but like I was listening to yet another Coral tangent about heaven only knew what? Yeah, right. But not wanting to pick a fight by admitting I hadn’t heard her, I relied on my standard, go-to reply. Nearly immediately she pulled back and said, “No, Harley! Not now! We were talking about something important!”
News to me. I hadn’t heard us talking about anything. “Sorry, Coral,” I apologized.
She giggled, dismissively. “It’s okay, Harley. I love you, too.” Yeah. Pretty certain I didn’t say anything like that. But luckily for me, she recapped her “important” conversation we were having. “I’m just so excited that I start at your school tomorrow? I mean, this summer flew by! Don’t you think?”
Flew by? No. For me, the summer was long and tortured, so I was anxious to return to school and maybe get my mind off of things. Not holding my breath, but at least the glimmer of the possibility existed. But Coral wouldn’t understand that. “Freshman,” I teased her.
“Harley, stop!” she chastised with a giggle that confirmed her thorough enjoyment of our banter.
“I don’t go back to school until Thursday,” I taunted. “Tomorrow’s just for the frosh. Like you.” Yeah, and cue more giggles.
We hung out at my house for a while, until Grams got home. Grams didn’t like Coral, so as soon as she arrived, Coral knew to “leave.” Truth was, she’d exit through the front door and sneak in my bedroom window, and we’d secretly hang out in my room until it was really time for her to leave.
But that night, when I was ready to be rid of her, she protested, “But I don’t want to go,” as she embraced me in a way that made her agenda wicked clear.
Yeah, no. Kissing was one thing. But there were lines in life you didn’t cross, and that line, with Coral, was one of them. “No, Coral. You gotta go,” I insisted, pushing her off of me.
“Harley! Really?” she whimpered, crying. Ugh. I hated when girls cried. If I comforted her, she’d misinterpret it as permission to try again. If I let her sit there in tears, I’d be a heartless jerk.
I sighed. I didn’t like being a jerk, but I certainly knew how to be one. “Listen, I’m sorry, Coral, but there’s the window. Don’t let it close on you on the way out.”
“Harley Stevens!” she snapped. “I love you! Don’t you get it? I love you, and I want to be with you!”
I shrugged. I was smart, so I certainly understood her; I simply didn’t care. I wanted her to go home.
“Oh my gosh! You’re still in love with Persephone! That’s what’s going on here!” She emitted a frustrated sigh and covered her face with her hands. “Whatever, Harley. It’s your problem, not mine.” Then, thankfully, without any more squabble, she climbed out of my room and into the night.
Alas, Coral was absolutely right. I didn’t love her. I loved Persephone Smith, and I would never feel that love for anyone else. And yeah, my unconditional and undying love for Persephone was absolutely my problem. And mine alone.
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