He had gotten up very early that morning. He watched the sun rise from the window in his room. It promised to be another beautiful day. The weather was getting cooler now as they approached the third week in September. Soon the leaves would start to fall and then the ground would be covered with snow. He loved the changes in the season and winter made him think about the wonderful Christmases he enjoyed with his family in Zamosc and his mother’s Keks świąteczny (Polish Christmas cake). Perhaps next year, he would spend Christmas with his family. His mother would love that.
After he finished his reading and morning prayer, he went for a walk. He had started going for his walks in the mornings instead of in the evenings. In the evenings, he made his rounds visiting the sick and shut-ins. A few mornings, he passed by the tree and spent several minutes there, reminiscing. Once, he even ran his fingers along the area of the tree bark where she had leaned against. Then, he chided himself for his foolish behavior and avoided passing by there.
Sister Francesca who met him soon after he returned from his walk that morning. “Father Kowalski, Mrs. Siri called while you were out. She asked if you would call her at your earliest convenience.”
“Do you have her number?”
“Yes, Father. Here it is.” She handed him the note.
“Thank you, Sister Francesca.” He went into his office and closed the door. After sitting down behind the desk, he reached for the phone. He dialed the number and waited for Mrs. Siri to answer.
His heart leaped in his chest when he recognized Clara’s voice. For several minutes he was tongue-tied.
“Hello, Clara. It’s–it’s Father–Pastor Kowalski. May I speak to your grandmother, please?”
“Hello, Pastor Kowalski. My grandmother isn’t here. Would you like to leave a message?”
“Yes. Please tell her that I returned her call. I will be the office for much of the evening if she would like to call me.”
“I will. Pastor Kowalski?”
“Is everything all right?”
He gripped the receiver. “Yes. Why do you ask?”
“It’s just that I haven’t seen you for two weeks. I was just wondering if everything is all right.”
“Everything is fine. Thanks for asking.”
“Have you had a chance to read Divine Inventions?”
“No, I–I haven’t. I’ve been very busy.”
“Well, I must go now. Goodbye, Clara.”
“Goodbye, Pastor Kowalski.”
He hung up the phone and leaned back in the chair. Hearing her voice was a bittersweet agony. The temptation to break his vow to never see her again was overpowering. He missed her. He missed their conversations. He closed his eyes in despair as he asked himself in his native tongue, Polish, “Dlaczego musiałeś zrobić coś tak głupiego, jak zakochanie się w niej?”
“What’s the matter, Clara?” Mrs. Siri asked her grand-daughter when she got home an hour later. “Why the long face?”
“Pastor Kowalski called.”
“Oh, I called him to tell him that I will be at the bake sale after 5pm instead of the one after 11. After we have supper, I will call him.”
“I’m going out for dinner with Abigail, Zoey and Joanne, remember?”
“Oh, yes. I forgot. Do you have a jacket you can wear over that dress?”
“Yes. Grandma.” She sighed.
“What’s the matter?”
“I don’t feel like going.”
“How come? What’s bothering you, Clara? Is it Father Kowalski?”
“I think he’s avoiding me.”
“Why would he be doing that, Child?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him for two weeks.”
“Before that, have you been seeing him?”
“Well, you know that I go and spend some time under that oak tree reading or just relaxing. Well, he usually passes that way when he’s going for his walks. He has stopped and we have talked about things.”
“What sort of things?”
“You know, religion. I gave him our unused Bibles for Crimson Clover Compassions.”
“Yes, I remember. Now, Clara, we had a frank discussion about your feelings for Father Kowalski.”
“I wish he weren’t a priest,” she sighed. “If only we could be together like two regular people.”
“Unfortunately for you, he is. He’s a Catholic and you’re a Seventh-day Adventist which means there are many beliefs which you don’t share. There’s no future for you with him. You need to accept that and move on.”
“Grandma, I wish it were that simple. I love him. Oh, if only we could be together.”
Mrs. Siri sighed. “Child, why did you have to go and fall in love with a man of the cloth?”
Clara opened her mouth to answer but began to cry instead.
“Oh, Baby. Come here.”
Clara went to her grandmother and into her outstretched arms. Mrs. Siri hugged her tightly while her lips moved silently in prayer.