He had been praying and fasting for weeks on end. He thought about what his friend, Bernard had said after he told him that he couldn’t imagine leaving the church. “You don’t have to give up your Catholic faith if you don’t want to.” And to his objection that Clara and he would be unequally yoked, Bernard’s response had been, “There are couples who attend the same church and they are unequally yoked.” He urged him to marry Clara since he was in love with her. Marry Clara. The thought had never occurred to him until Bernard suggested it.
He couldn’t continue to deny his feelings for Clara or continue to avoid her. He wanted to be with her. He missed her terribly. He missed their conversations about the differences in their beliefs. Every time he thought about being unequally yoked, the story of Boaz and Ruth came to his mind. Initially, Ruth had worshipped different gods but she gave that up when she wanted to go to Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi. She and Boaz met and they fell in love. His God had become hers. His father Salmon had married Rahab, a non-Jew who knew and feared his God.
He thought to himself, Clara and I believe in the same God and Jesus was our Savior but we are from two different denominations. We worship on two different days and believe different things. Yet, in spite of this, I know deep down inside that she’s the perfect girl for me. I can’t imagine my life without her. I don’t want to live the rest of my life in regret. I don’t want to even imagine how I would feel if she were to move to London. The thought of her meeting a young man and marrying him is too painful.
No, Bernard was right. Marrying Clara was the sensible thing to do. He loved her. And he suspected that she loved him too but there was only one way to find out. He had to go to her and tell her how he felt. That afternoon after he had made his rounds, he went to to see her. She was alone in the shop.
His heart began to beat faster as he approached her as she stood behind the counter. It had been a long time since they last saw each other. “Hello, Clara,” he greeted her.
“Hello, Pastor Kowalski.” There wasn’t the usual smile. In fact, she looked very subdued.
“How are you?”
“How’s your grandmother?”
“She’s fine too. Are you here to see her?”
“No, Clara. I’m here to see you. Is there somewhere more private where we can talk?”
“Yes. At the back of the house. Give me five minutes to close the shop.”
“All right.” He left the shop and went around to the back of the house. He waited for her, rehearsing what he was going to say. He was extremely nervous. Shoving his hands in the pockets of his cassock, he began to pace. As soon as she joined him, he blurted out, “I have something very important to say to you.”
She stared at him. “Yes?” She hoped he wasn’t there to tell her that he was leaving the parish. The thought was unbearable. For weeks she hadn’t seen him. The last time they saw each other was the night when she was going to her friend, Lyn’s engagement dinner. It was the night he and she kissed. How often she had replayed that moment in her mind. She knew that when he had stopped coming around it was because of that kiss. Maybe he regretted it. He was a priest, after all but that night, it was a man kissing her.
“Clara, I know I haven’t been around lately.”
“You haven’t even visited my grandmother. It was another priest who came to see her.”
“Yes, I asked him to come in my place.”
“Why? Is it because of the kiss?”
“I told my grandmother about it.”
He stared at her in surprise. “You did?” he exclaimed. “Why?”
“Because I was excited. I told her that it meant that you had feelings for me too.”
“What did she say?”
“She said that she couldn’t believe what she was hearing and then, I left. I thought that you would have visited but when you didn’t and another priest came instead, I realized that you were sorry about what happened between us. I guess I was wrong about your feelings for me.” At the moment she was very close to tears but she was determined that she wasn’t going to cry in front of him.
“Clara, you weren’t wrong,” he told her. “I do have feelings for you. I’ve tried very hard to fight them but that night I couldn’t help myself. I had to kiss you.”
Her breath quickened. “You have feelings for me?” She wanted to hear him say it again.
“Yes. I may as well come out and say it. Clara, I’m in love with you.”
“You’re in love with me?” she felt like she was a parrot, repeating what he said but she couldn’t help it. Was she dreaming again? She hoped not.
“Yes. What about you? How do you feel about me?”
“I love you too.” It felt so good to be able to say that to him.
Hearing her say the words he had longed to hear took his breath away. After making sure that they were completely alone, he cupped her face between his hands and kissed her. “Kocham cię,” he murmured when he raised his head to gaze down at her. “That’s Polish for I love you.”
She smiled. “Will you teach me Polish so that I can say I love you in it too?”
He grinned. “Yes.”
“What do I call you now?”
“Alek. It’s short for Aleksander.”
“I like Aleksander.”
“And I like the way it sounds when you say it.”
She smiled as she removed his hands from her face and took him over to a bench where they could sit down. “What happens now?” she asked. They were facing each other and holding hands.
“I will leave the priesthood and then, you and I can get married.”
“Are you sure you want to leave the priesthood? You’ve been a priest for such a long time.”
“Yes, I have been but I can’t remain a priest if I want to get married and I do want to marry you, Clara.”
“I want to marry you too but what about the fact that you’re Catholic and I’m Adventist?”
“We’ll focus on what we have in common for now and work on our differences. The important thing is that we worship the same God and have the same Savior.”
He leaned over and kissed her. “Shall we go and tell your grandmother about us?”
“Yes, but now not right now,” she said as she reached up and kissed him. It felt surreal kissing a priest but at the moment, he was the man whom she had fallen in love with.