And here it is. The final installment. Final total is 67,960 words.
Forgive the self indulgence, but if you've read all the way through, even if you normally just read in an RSS reader without clicking through to the blog, please leave at least a brief comment. I'm curious how many people have been following all the way to the end. (If you want to leave more detailed feedback, I'd certainly welcome that too.)
It was Lent, and Katie threw herself into it with the enthusiasm of the neophyte. She fried fish on Fridays. She went to Stations of the Cross with Paul on Friday nights. She placed an Operation Rice Bowl carton on the kitchen counter and trimmed the food budget in order to stuff it with change. She stopped making desserts except on Sundays, the change which Kristy found hardest to adjust to, despite the minor satisfaction of seeing her morning consultations with the scale confirm the accusations she had long leveled against Katie’s baking.
As Easter neared, the preparations for it began to take over increasing amounts of Katie’s time. Easter dinner was to be at their parents’ apartment, and Kristy, Katie and Paul were to be in attendance. To the same extent that Katie’s new religiosity had led to a slight asceticism of cuisine over the the last few weeks, Katie was determined that Easter should be a notable feast. To this end, she seemed at particular pains to discover dishes that would require the maximum amount of preparation in the days before. Kristy volunteered to bring wine and a salad, and considered herself fortunate to be spared of further worry, though as she saw less of Katie she began to wish that she had agreed to become involved in projects such as pickled eggs and homemade ravioli if only in order to be included.
The Thursday and Friday before Easter arrived, and Katie seemed to contrive to spend virtually all of the evenings either away at church or going about somberly with a book by the pope about the life of Christ.
Work provided no effective source of diversion. Half the office seemed to have taken vacation. Brad wandered in to Kristy’s office at three o’clock on Friday and advised, “It’s dead around here. Unless you’ve got something really important you’re working on, just clear out and get a start to your weekend.”
Easter vigil did not, in itself, hold great allure to Kristy, but it was a relief that she would, at least, be included in the main event of the day along with the rest of her family. Katie and Paul were going out to dinner together before the vigil, and Kristy had invited Pat and Tom to have dinner with her, both for company and so that her mother would not have to cook amidst the elaborate Easter preparations already under weigh. Thus, late afternoon found both sisters getting ready for the evening.
“Do you have a cardigan I can borrow that would go with this dress?” Katie asked, bursting into Kristy’s room without knocking as Kristy was standing in her bra and slip, contemplating the relative merits of two different dresses.
“There’s a light pink one that might go. Second drawer down on the right,” Kristy said, her head disappearing into her own dress. Once dressed and adjusted, she turned back to Katie to see her rooting through her makeup drawer. “Wrong drawer.”
“I found the cardigan. I just thought maybe you’d have some lipstick that matched it.”
“Feel free,” said Kristy, shaking her head but smiling at the same time.
“Oh hey,” said Katie into the makeup drawer. “Hmmm. No. Not that.” Sounds of more pawing around followed.
“Are you seriously wearing those scuffed old flats?” Kristy asked, surveying Katie’s outfit more critically.
“I don’t want something really high,” Katie said, contemplating the shade of coral lipstick she had just applied.
Kristy disappeared into her closet for a moment. “How about these,” she said, reappearing. “Kitten heels. The shade matches your dress better. And they look new. I liked them but I don’t have anything to wear them with.”
“Oooh. I like those. Okay. Hey, can I use this eye cream?”
“No. That’s for wrinkles, and it’s really damn expensive.”
“I might get wrinkles some day. I used the face wash of yours from the same brand and it felt really good.”
“You work yourself up some wrinkles and let me know. Now get out. I want to finish getting ready.”
“Okay. Thanks for the shoes. And the sweater.”
Kristy shoed her out and shut the door behind her, feeling like she was back at home after a long absence.
Dinner with her parents was a quiet affair, and at their insistence they left for the church with plenty of time to spare to be assured of getting a good spot. Mass was to begin at 10PM, but there was already a significant crowd gathering at 9:30 when they arrived. There was, it seemed, to be some sort of blessing of the Easter candle outside before the mass started, and so the congregation was assembling on the patio in front of the main doors, enjoying the unusually warm April night air.
Kristy and her parents had been standing there for only a few minutes when she heard an excited squeal of, “Kristy!” and turned to receive a sudden and fierce hug from Katie.
“Look! Look what— Paul— Look!” Katie, who was almost bouncing up and down in her excitement, disengaged from the hug she was giving Kristy enough to show a left hand which sported a slim gold band holding a tiny solitaire. “Isn’t it beautiful?” Katie asked.
Kristy’s first, if quickly suppressed, thought was how much smaller it was than the diamonds she was used to seeing on women at work, but she assured Katie that it was beautiful and asked how it happened. Katie, however, had already turned to show the ring to her parents.
Paul ambled up, smiling proudly though looking somewhat awkward.
“Katie was just telling us,” Kristy said. “Congratulations!” She gave Paul a quick hug. “And on Easter. Was she surprised?”
Paul nodded, his smile approaching a grin. “I thought, feast of new life, starting a new life together, you know… I asked your father for permission last week, but he said he wouldn’t tell anyone.”
“You asked Dad for permission to propose to Katie?” Kristy asked, without thinking to prevent her disbelief from sounding in her voice. “What did he think of that?”
Paul shrugged and shifted from one foot to the other. “He seemed a little surprised. But pleased.”
At that moment Katie seized Kristy by the shoulder. “Kristy! Come here. I want to tell you and Mom how it happened.”
Discussion of the engagement, in one form or another, took up all of the Nilsson family’s attention until the mass began.
The mass was long, and the first half of it was lighted only by candles. A whole sequence of readings traced biblical history from the seven days of creation to Jesus Christ. By turns listening to these and looking over at Katie — who was so obviously trying hard to pay attention yet continually drawn to look at Paul or at her ring — Kristy found herself thinking back over her own recent history.
Last April she had been busily working toward the PocketDJ launch, with her only thought of Katie and her parents being that she would not have time to make it to Katie’s graduation in May. Katie’s unexpected arrival. Two new jobs. China. Moving back to Illinois. Christmas with Katie and her parents. Paul. And now Paul and Katie getting engaged. The hopes of a year ago now seemed remote. And yet the news which made it seemingly impossible for Katie, sitting next to her, to stop smiling, even as she tried to look piously attentive to the mass, was for Kristy the final step in returning to the old way of things. Katie would get married and move out, and once again Kristy would be alone.
When Katie had first arrived it had seemed a temporary disruption is the organized and satisfying life that Kristy had created for herself. Now the prospect of Katie leaving seemed like the breakup of a family. Katie would go on to form a real family, living out on Paul’s farm in the broken down old farm house he was fixing up, and probably having lots of babies. And Kristy…
What will I do? Kristy found herself wondering as they all knelt. She looked over at Katie. Happy in love and deeply involved in the liturgy going on before them. Having all the things I lack. Things I’ve shied away from or just never found.
Why should Katie, a sister so much younger that they’d barely known each other, have created this deep attachment? How was it that the household formed by Katie’s sudden phone call, by Paul’s handyman ad, and by her parents’ house selling so much faster than expected: Why had this household of chance made such a deep impression when neither of the people she’d chosen to share a roof with had worked out? Had the necessity of getting along with someone familiar and long cared about, but unchosen, somehow been the key to forming a household when trying so hard to choose just the right person had failed?
The priest was raising up the host. Katie, beside her, was watching raptly. Kristy thought she could see the gleam of tears in her eyes.
“Behold the Lamb of God,” he said. “Behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”
The congregation responded with words that seemed unfamiliar from Kristy’s previous experience, and incongruous in the situation, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
The priest consumed the host, and row by row the congregation came up to receive communion. Kristy reflected on the words as she sat watching Katie and Paul and her parents go up to receive.
The blessed did seem to be the ones going up to the supper of the lamb. Having all these people come under her roof over the last year had brought her soul a certain healing, and inspired in it a hunger for more.
Lord, she thought, in an unfamiliar, prayer-like mode. I’m really not sure I’m ready to have you under my roof. I’m not even sure what that would mean, yet. But I need someone under my roof if my soul is going to be healed. That much I’ve learned this year, whatever else is to come.
Mass concluded, and each went their separate ways. Pat and Tom to their house, Katie and Paul, to whose happiness midnight still seemed early, to find somewhere to talk for another hour or two before parting for the night, and Kristy back to her empty house.
Sitting on her bed, she thought over the string of memories and desires that had been crystalizing in her mind since that hesitant half-prayer as she watched the rest of her family go up to communion.
Kristy pulled out her phone, scrolled through the contacts, and for several minutes sat contemplating the name long familiar but with a new possibility of significance. At last she pressed ‘Call’ and waited, half hoping, half fearing, that there would be no answer.
“Kristy? It must be late out there.” There was an edge of concern in his voice. “Is everything okay?”
“Hey, Dan. Yeah, everything’s fine. I know it’s late. It’s just, I’ve been thinking, and…” Her wont had never been to intentionally expose what might be seen as weakness, to ask for that which might justly be refused.
“What?” Dan asked, his tone one of searching curiosity, clearly aware that she was hesitating over something.
The words from earlier that night ran through her mind: Enter under my roof. Say the word and my soul shall be healed.
She drew herself together. “There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
-- The End --
The cruelest month, a few days early
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