It's almost 5AM. I know I'm going to regret this in the morning. But I wanted to make sure that I reached this point so that the next section can finish it.
Sorry for the rough editing, especially near the end.
Saturday was a restrained day. Katie slept late the next morning, and when she did rise stayed mostly in her room. Kristy cleaned and organized and even resorted to checking her work email, but while over the last month work has been a constant source of pleasant distraction and anticipation when she found herself alone, with her pitch done at both Home Depot and Lowes she now wished she could be basking in the familial glow that had been so plentiful over Christmas.
Noon came. Kristy went to check on Katie and found her in bed, the covers pulled up to her shoulders, reading a book.
“Are you doing alright?” Kristy asked.
Katie shrugged and only have lowered her book. “I’m sorry I went to pieces at you last night. I was really tired. And kind of upset.”
“What happened? Do you want to talk about it?”
Katie raised the book again. “No. Not really. It’s just… Relationship stuff.”
Kristy waiting to see if any more information would be forthcoming, but nothing was. “Can I get you anything?”
“Cocoa?” asked Katie from behind the book. “If you don’t mind. You don’t have to.”
“Sure. I’ll get you cocoa.”
In the kitchen, Kristy pulled down cocoa, sugar and vanilla from the cupboard. Measured, mixed, heated, stirred. Then brought the steaming cup back to Katie, who sat up in bed with her back to the wall, pull the blankets up over her knees, and sipped.
“Thanks. This is good.”
Kristy smiled, unexpectedly warmed by the offhand compliment. “Is there anything in particular you’d like for dinner?”
“Mmmm. It’s so cold today. There’s stew meat in the fridge and onions in the pantry. How about beef stew?”
“That’ll make the kitchen smell good all day,” Kristy agreed. “Maybe I’ll put the rest of that bottle of wine from last night in it. Didn’t you make a stew with red wine once?”
“Yeah. There’s a recipe in that Black Cat Bistro cookbook of yours.”
Kristy returned to the kitchen with a new sense of purpose for the day, found the book, and began chopping ingredients.
An hour later, the pot fragrantly simmering on the stove and Kristy contemplating the newspaper over an afternoon cup of coffee, there was a knock at the kitchen door. Kristy opened the door to find Paul standing on the step, holding a bouquet of flowers.
“Paul, hi. Come on it. It’s cold! I don’t want to stand with the door open.”
“Thank you.” Paul knocked the snow off his boots against the door sill and stepped inside. Kristy closed the door behind him. This flurry of activity past, Paul stood awkwardly, still clutching the flowers before him — not, Katie noted, roses, but a mix of gold, yellow and red flowers with pieces of fern arrayed around them.
“Are you here to see Katie?”
“Yes. I… want to talk to her.”
“She’s been in her room all day,” Kristy said, circling around the island to the stove, to give Paul an unencumbered path through to the living room and the bedroom beyond.
Paul seemed to hesitate. “Do you think I should just go back to her room?”
“She was watching her phone all last night hoping you’d call or text. I assume she wants to talk to you.”
Paul set the flowers down on the counter, took his coat off, hung it on the hook by the door. Kristy noted that he was wearing khakis and a blazer like on Christmas, rather than his usual jeans. He took a slow breath, buttoned his blazer, then unbuttoned it again, started for the kitchen door, then turned back, picked up the flowers and left again.
“The door on the right,” Kristy called after him, unable to repress a slight smile as she did so.
Time passed, and Kristy suddenly began to feel awkward sitting in the kitchen, as if sitting with her newspaper and coffee, waiting, made her a spectator or spy in relation to whatever was going on in Katie’s room. She went to the stove, stirred the stew, washed the few things that were in the sink, and looked around for something else to occupy her. Stew for dinner. What else would Katie make if she were in charge of the kitchen for the evening? She examined the fridge and then the pantry. In the pantry, a plastic bag full of green apples caught her eye. Pie. Katie would definitely make pie. She pulled the copy of Joy of Cooking off the shelf.
When Katie and Paul appeared the dough was chilling in the refrigerator and Kristy was occupied in peeling apples.
“What are you doing?” Katie asked, setting the bouquet of flowers on the kitchen counter and putting on her coat and hat.
“Apple pie,” Kristy responded.
“Isn’t that on the list of things that make you fat?” Katie asked, grinning.
Kristy shrugged. “I thought you’d like it. And now that you mention it, I haven’t had any lunch today…”
Katie finished buttoning her coat. “We’re going for a walk. We’ll be back in a little while.”
Rolling out pie crust proved more challenging that Kristy had expected— or at least, doing so without the dough either sticking to the counter or developing cracks that caused it to tear apart when she picked it up to put in the pan. At last, the pie was complete, if somewhat lopsided and patched. She put it in the oven and set about washing up.
It was as she was finishing with the clean up that Kristy noticed that the bouquet of flowers was still lying on the kitchen counter near the door. She searched through cupboards, found a vase, filled it was water, put the flowers in, and placed it in the center of the island.
The pie was cooling on the counter by the time that the kitchen door opened. Katie stepped in, then paused to exchange a brief kiss, which became a longer kiss, with Paul on the threshold. At last she stepped back. “Goodnight, then. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Katie pushed the door closed with her shoulder and stood leaning back against the door, hugging her arms to her and rubbing them for warmth.
“You guys were out there for more than an hour. You must be freezing,” Kristy observed. “Do you want some tea or something to warm you up?”
Kristy started the electric kettle, and after a few minutes Katie ducked into the other room to hang up her coat.
“So,” said Kristy, once both sisters were grasping mugs of hot tea. “Did you two make it up? Is everything okay?”
Katie stared down at her mug rather than meeting her sister’s eyes, and took so long before answering that Kristy was beginning to think that she would not answer at all. “Things are okay,” Katie said at last.
There were no more scenes like on Friday night. Katie seemed unusually restrained but not visibly unhappy. Paul came and picked her up the next day just after noon, but she was back by nine o’clock. Over the following week Katie either stayed home entirely or else went out for a couple hours after dinner with Paul. Most nights, however, Kristy could hear the low murmur in the next room of late night phone conversations going long past midnight.
Katie also seemed to be on a reading tear. Gone, however, were Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan and books on farming. Now Katie was working her way through a succession of religious titles.
“Why all the religion books?” Kristy asked one evening, on coming home to find Katie making dinner with a book propped open on the counter and a can of Little Kings in her hand. “Didn’t you cover all that stuff in college with your Religious Studies major?”
“It’s not the same kind of thing. We studied religion as a phenomenon. That’s not the same thing as understanding the theology and morality and spirituality that people live by.”
“Did you have some kind of a religious argument with Paul?” Kristy asked, looking over Katie’s shoulder at the book. Then she turned to the fridge to see if there was any beer to her own taste. “Did he want you to start going to church if you guys are going to stay together.”
“No!” Katie objected, closing her book loudly. “Paul would never do that. He takes his faith too seriously to try to force it. No, he—” Katie seemed to stop and gather her thoughts, then continued in a quieter tone. “I realized that being in a relationship with Paul I’ll be living with the practical implications of his beliefs, so I figured that I needed to understand those beliefs a little better.”
“Does it make that big a difference? I dated a vegetarian once; I didn’t have to go read a bunch of books about vegetarianism. I just knew when we went out we had to go to restaurants with good vegetarian options.”
Katie sighed and opened the book again. “It’s not the same. Paul’s faith doesn’t just affect what he’s willing to do, it informs his ideas about what a relationship is and what it’s for.”
“I’m going over to Paul’s house for the afternoon tomorrow,” Katie announced on Saturday evening, emerging from her room after a several-hour-long phone call. “I’m going to make dinner for him there, so you’ll be on your own for dinner. I’ll be back around nine.”
Kristy shrugged. “I’ll come up with something.”
She contemplated the Netflix envelopes sitting by the TV and the prospect of a long quiet afternoon, then went back to her room, shut the door, and called her mother.
“Kristy, this is a surprise.”
“Hey, Mom. I know it’s kind of last minute, but I was wondering if you and Dad would like to come over for an early dinner tomorrow. Katie’s going off with Paul for the afternoon and evening, and I don’t have much going on. Seemed like it would be nice to do something with family.”
“Well, sure. We’d be happy to. What time? Is there anything I can bring?”
“Oh, how about two o’clock and we’ll eat at three or something. Don’t worry about bringing anything. I’ll come up with something.”
“Sure, that sounds wonderful. How’re you doing? We haven’t talked in a while. Katie told me about your big Home Depot thing at work.”
“Well things have been a lot quieter at work since I got the big box accounts sold. Katie’s been around a lot more the last week than she has been since she and Paul got together. I hope she’s okay. She seems… different.”
“I think she’ll be fine. She’s just,” Pat paused and her tone suggested she was choosing her words carefully. “She and Paul are just working through some religious and moral issues.”
“Has she talked with you about it?” Kristy asked, surprised that her mother seemed at least as conversant in the topic as she.
“Well, yes. Katie and I have talked it over a few times.”
“Wow. I didn’t think— I mean— It’s great that you two are getting along so much better.”
“I was real glad she felt comfortable talking to me about it. She’s grown up a lot while she’s been living with you. Your father and I are very proud of her.”
This routine held through the rest of February, with Tom and Pat coming over for dinner with Kristy on Sundays while Katie spent the afternoon with Paul.
The first Saturday in March was unusually warm for Illinois. The sun was so inviting that Kristy had gone out to the nursery and returned with several bags full of bulbs, which she spent the afternoon planting in the beds along the front walk. She had just finished one side when Katie, who had been inside reading all morning, suddenly issued from the house and drove off quickly in her red Focus. It was almost an hour later that she returned, her eyes red as if she had been crying.
“Are you okay?” Kristy asked.
“Yes!” said Katie, with a smile that was completely at odds with the redness of her eyes. “Oh, Kristy, I feel wonderful!”
“I realized I was only holding back now because I was scared to start. And I looked at the schedule and saw that confessions were going on right now, so I drove down to St. Anne’s and went to confession. It took half twenty minutes and I cried my eyes out by I feel so good.” The last two words were delivered with an emphasis that was almost a dance step.
“You feel good because you went to confession?” Kristy asked, skeptically. “I remember doing that as a kid. I hated it.”
“So did I, then, but… I just feel new. And clean. And it’s sunny out. And spring. And… I’m going to call Paul and see if he’s free to have dinner! I feel like celebrating.”
Kristy shrugged. “Um, okay. I’ll see you later.”
Katie had already turned away and was pulling up Paul’s number on her phone as she walked inside.
Kristy continued working down the walk planting bulbs. Just as she was finishing Paul’s truck pulled into the driveway and Katie came rushing down the walk, dressed and made up. She leaned in the driver’s side window to give Paul a long kiss, then ran around the truck to climb in the passenger door and they were gone. Kristy stretched, took off her gardening gloves, and went inside, intent on a cold beer.
The next morning Paul arrived shortly before nine rather than after noon. Katie rushed out to the truck and was gone until nine o’clock that night. She brought back with her a little icon of the Virgin Mary which she hung in the kitchen, next to the liquor bottles, on the stretch of wall between the countertop and the wall cabinets.
“Don’t you want to have that somewhere nice in your room?” Kristy asked.
“No. I want it in here where I work,” Katie replied.
Kristy’s initial fear had been that Katie’s sudden return to religious practice would result in her becoming even more quiet and reclusive than she had been the last few weeks. Instead, this seemed to mark something of a return of the old Katie. Monday morning, when Kristy came into the kitchen to grab breakfast on her way to work, she found Katie already there, a can of Little Kings in hand, frying up bacon and eggs.
“You’re starting early,” Kristy observed.
“I thought you’d like a hot breakfast.”
“It smells great.”
“Coffee should be ready too,” Katie said, gesturing towards the maker with her beer can.
When she got home that night, Katie was again in the kitchen. The stereo was blasting dance music, and Katie swayed to the beat as she ladled out French onion soup into a pair of bowls.
Other changes were more peculiar. Katie had purchased a package of little votive candles and would occasionally light one in front of the icon in the kitchen. That Sunday, passing through the kitchen, Kristy noticed that the candle in front of the picture had been left lit. She blew it out and thought no more of it until that night when Katie came back, pulled a beer out of the fridge, popped it open, and then squawked, “What? You put out my candle?”
“Um, yes,” said Kristy, looking up from her laptop where she sat in the living room. “You left it burning.”
“It was supposed to be burning!” Katie objected, coming into the living room and planting herself in front of her older sister.
“What are you talking about? You weren’t even here.”
“Exactly. I lit it in front of the icon before I left so that if I was tempted while I was gone I would remember that Mary was watching over me and stop.”
“You lit a candle in front of a picture so that the Virgin Mary would make sure you didn’t get in trouble with Paul while you were gone?”
Katie nodded firmly. “And you blew it out. Why can’t you leave my stuff alone?”
“Katie, that’s weird. No one does that.”
“What do you mean weird? I had a roommate in college who used to put a gold Buddha in the center of the room and smoke pot while listening to Pink Floyd. How is lighting a candle weird compared to that.”
“Lots of people do weird shit with pot,” Kristy stated. “No one lights a candle in front of a picture so they don’t go too far with their boyfriends.”
“Well I do,” said Katie defiantly, taking a swig of Little Kings. “And next time I’ll thank you to leave my candle alone. It’s not hurting you.”
Late that night, after she had retired to her room, Kristy called Dan.
“Please tell me,” said Kristy, after the usual greetings had been exchanged, “that when you started becoming religious you didn’t start doing insane shit.”
“Um…” said Dan. “Perhaps a definition of ‘insane shit’ would be in order?”
Kristy described the incident with Katie and the candle.
“Well,” said Dan with evident mirth, “I think I can promise you that I’ve never lighted a candle in front of a picture of the Virgin Mary — whatever other ‘insane shit’, to use your evocative phrase, I may have done.”
“I make a joke of it,” Kristy said, her tone turning serious. “But with Katie having a boyfriend and turning religious, it’s been lonely. Sometimes I feel like everyone else is just crazy, but other times it’s like being blindfolded while everyone else is sightseeing. Everyone is talking about things that I don’t have any experience of.”
“That doesn’t entirely change,” Dan said, his tone sympathetic now. “I’ve often heard people talk about religious experiences that are completely foreign to me. Even aside from faith, some people just feel and respond to symbols and words more than others.”
“So if you don’t have all kinds of religious feelings, what made you go back to being a practicing Jew?”
“Ask an easy question why don’t you,” said Dan with a wry laugh. There was a pause, and Kristy was on the point of withdrawing the question with apologies. “I guess the best way I could describe it is: I became convinced that there was something out there beyond just me that I had to acknowledge, something more than my everyday. And not just something abstract, but something that cared about me. And at the same time, I had this inescapable feeling that being a Jew was something that wasn’t just a matter of chance. It was something in my blood and in everything I’d been brought up to. Like the way the language you’re brought up speaking is the language you always think in even when you learn another language. I realized that when my parents and grandparents when to temple, they were talking to that… whatever it was that was out there. And that as a Jew the only way I could acknowledge it was by going with them and learning to be a better Jew. I know that probably sounds pretty irrational, but it wasn’t exactly something I reasoned my way into at first, that came later. At first it was just something I knew.”
“No, that’s… Thank you,” said Kristy, surprise and slightly uncomfortable with the honesty and completeness of Dan’s answer.
Silence stretched on for several minutes and at last Dan broke it with a lighter note. “So, the last time we talked you were talking about settling down with a Nice Catholic Boy. How’s that going?”
Kristy found herself laughing wildly for a moment.
“What?” Dan asked.
“The Nice Catholic Boy, that’s right… The Nice Catholic Boy is the guy who’s dating Katie. He’s the reason she’s become all religious.”
“Your sister stole the guy you were interested in?”
“Or he stole her. Take you pick. Somehow in all my plans I missed the point that he might have ideas of his own. Says a bit about my own self involvement.”
“Well… Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” Kristy felt a lump rising in her throat but swallowed it down. “My interest in Paul was just… Just one of those crazy ideas one gets from time to time. I’m not upset about that. He and Katie are happy and they seem to be good for each other. The only thing that’s hard is that I see so much less of both of them now. The way it always is when a couple gets together. Though I’m still seeing a lot of my parents, and that’s good.”
“It must be nice to be back near family.”
“It is. I hadn’t thought it would mean much to me, but it really is. I miss all of you back in California, though. I know I was always pretty selfish about my social life — only showing up for things or calling people when I needed company. But I hadn’t realized how much I relied on the circle of acquaintance I had out there. The new job is great. I really love it after Aspire and AppLogix. But it seems like everyone at work my age is married and talking about their children. The single people are all kids right out of college. And I don’t know anyone else. I didn’t think about it at first, because I was busy and I had Katie around for company. But with her spending all her time with Paul now… I miss all you guys.”
“Well, for what it’s worth, even without having uprooted and left everyone, I miss having you around.”
The call soon wound to a close. Once she had changed and gone to bed, lying under the covers in the dark, Kristy couldn’t help dwelling on the closing exchange of the call.
Worth a Thousand Words: Fall Landscape
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