“Right as rain, Sister B.”
“Right as rain and yet still late for Mass? Tsk-tsk.”
I shrug. “Better late than never.”
She smiles. “I suppose you’re right, though offering a few Our Fathers as you pray for punctuality may be in order. I saw your parents at the early mass; they’re looking grand as always.”
I nod. Then I turn to Dee and say, “Delores, this is Sister Beatrice, my grade school teacher. Sister B, this is Delores Warren.”
Sister B greets her. “Pleased to meet you.”
Dee waves. “Hi.”
Sister Beatrice’s brow wrinkles. “You look uncomfortable, m’dear. Why is that?”
Dee fidgets. “I just . . . I’m not Catholic. Not even a little.”
Sister B pats her shoulder, and in a hushed voice tells her, “That’s quite all right. Neither was Jesus.”
When we get to Central Park, I take out my camera and get a few great shots of Dee by the fountain. I take some more nature-themed pictures of the leaves as they’re blowing down from the trees. Then Delores and I lay next to each other on a blanket, on a grassy patch, heated by the warm sun of the fall afternoon. And we trade questions—the random, inappropriate kind that are always fun and a great way to get to know a person.
“Have you ever been arrested?” Dee asks me as she plays with the buttons on my flannel shirt.
“Not yet. You?”
She smiles. “Arrested, but never convicted.” Then she tells me about the time she, her cousin, and Kate got caught breaking into their local roller-skating rink after hours and had to be brought home by the town sheriff. Her mother wasn’t thrilled.
“Have you ever had sex in a public place?” I ask, partially because I’m curious . . . and partially for future reference.
“Mmm . . . public place, yes—but I don’t think anyone actually saw us.”
I run my fingers through her hair, the sunlight accentuating the red highlights, making it more fiery than golden.
“Have you ever had sex on your motorcycle?” she asks. And I hope that’s for future reference too.
“Yes. It’s not as easy as you’d think. But, it’s something everybody should try at least once.” Then I ask, “What’s your favorite color? And how do you take your coffee?”
“I don’t have a favorite color—it changes, depending on my mood. And I don’t drink coffee. I try and stay away from caffeine, it’s bad for your skin.”
Dee is a foodie. She mentioned going to the farmers’ market in Brooklyn later, to stock up on fennel and lemongrass and some other shit I’ve only heard of in gourmet restaurants where presentation is more important than taste. That’s not my idea of a great meal. But she swears her homemade granola doesn’t taste anything like rabbit food.
“Is everyone in your family devout Catholics?”
I chuckle. “Devout is kind of a strong word, but we all go to church.” I think about it a little more, then say, “Well, all of us except Drew. Besides weddings and baptisms, he hasn’t willingly stepped inside a church since we were kids.”
She turns on her stomach, resting her chin on my chest. “What made him the black sheep? Did he find a six-six-six tattoo on his scalp or something?”
I smile, because I’m sure several of our ordained teachers held that very same opinion about him.
“No. Drew and God had a falling out when we were about ten years old. That was the year Steven’s mother, Janey, was diagnosed with breast cancer. The parents sat us all down, told us she was sick, that she’d be getting treatment from the doctors, and that we had to pray as hard as we could that the treatment would work.
“Drew didn’t take the news well. He couldn’t understand why, with all the dickheads in the world, God had to afflict someone as nice as Janey with a terminal illness. Anyway, she did chemo and eventually went into remission. But when we were in high school, the cancer came back hard and she was gone within a few months. She was the first person I knew who died. By the time I was born, my grandparents were long gone. My aunts and uncles are still around, but Janey went at age thirty-nine, which, even as a kid, seemed young to me.”
Delores’s mouth turns down in sympathy.
“But the real kicker came at her funeral. Steven’s father, George, was just wrecked. And, unfortunately, useless. That left all the heavy lifting to Steven. He made the big decisions, he played host to the guests at the three-day wake. He was sixteen years old—Alexandra and he had started dating a few months before Janey passed.”
I watch a flock of three sparrows, flying with precise synchronization as I continue the trek down memory lane.
“So, on the day of the funeral and burial, there’s an early viewing—just for immediate family. Steven wanted to be there first, to have some private time with his mom. Drew and I went with him for moral support. And the priest at St. Mary’s at the time was Father Gerald—he was a real old-school, arrogant, prick of a priest, you know? He comes in where the three of us are sitting, and he tells Steven his mother died because she wasn’t pure. That if she had been holier, God would have saved her. Then he said her death was also a sign of our lack of faith. That if we had believed more, God would have answered our prayers.”
Dee’s mouth falls open. “That’s terrible. What did Steven say?”
“Nothing. He was too shocked, too grief-stricken to say anything. Drew, on the other hand, has always been quick with a comeback. So he gets up, gets right in Father Gerald’s ugly face and says, ‘Fuck you, Father, and the donkey you rode in on. Isn’t there an altar boy somewhere you should be trying to ply with sacrificial wine, so you can get laid?’ ”
The corners of Dee’s mouth turn up. “The more I hear about this Drew guy, the more I’m starting to like him.”
I nod. “Father Gerald turns, like, frigging purple and is just about ready to smack Drew a good one when John, Anne, George, and my parents come in. So Gerald holds off, only to try and get Drew booted out of school the next day. He said if he didn’t apologize, he’d have him expelled. Although John didn’t like what the priest had said, he leaned on Drew to apologize for being disrespectful. But he wouldn’t give—refused to say sorry to such ‘an evil f**k.’
“And then, Anne started to cry. She sobbed about how if Drew got expelled it would ruin his life, and where did she go wrong. That’s when Drew caved—’cause he just couldn’t handle making his mother cry.