The sun woke me up. My head flopped around as my squinting eyes tried to make sense of the scene. "Where am I?" I muttered. "Am I...outside?"
I sat up with a start. I remembered. Sophie, dancing, the walk back, the strain of music. The clothes falling to the floor.
She wasn't there. The bed was far too small for her to hide. I looked around, half panicked. "Sophie?" I finally asked.
She appeared next to the bed, almost as if by magic. She looked freshly showered and was wearing a pair of black pinstriped pants and a red silk blouse.
"Oh, good. You're up. Just in time."
"Just in time for what?"
"Oh, god," I said, pinching the bridge of my nose. I felt the little bumps of my tear ducts under my fingers, worried for a moment that I might damage them. I decided I didn't care. "Not again."
"No, really," she said. "I want this more than anything."
"Are you sure?" I asked, not at all convinced. "We don't have to. Really."
"No, I want to," she smiled and kissed me quickly. "I love you. I want you to know how much."
We were lying on my bed. Her shirt was somewhere on the floor and my pants were unbuttoned. We'd been here before, but she'd always stopped before we got any further. It was starting to get frustrating, getting all ready to go, then watching her run out and finishing up all by myself.
The last time it happened I hadn't even thought of her when I masturbated after she left. I'd thought of a girl from one of my classes. It's hard not to get distracted, I guess, when you're teaching eighteen and nineteen year-old girls who are living without limits for the first time. I was rapidly approaching the age when girls like that didn't notice me at all, when I was too old to be the hot, older, experienced guy but too young to get the ones with the serious daddy issues. Not that I was ever that hot. Or, I guess, that experienced.
It surprised me at first, but I went with it. Then I'd gotten my second surprise when I'd walked out of my bedroom and found her sitting on the floor, back against my couch, knees up to the point where she was nearly folded in half, with her face buried in her hands. I sat down next to her, put my arm around her.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered. "Next time. Next time we'll make love."
I didn't believe her. It had never gotten me anywhere before.
I cursed myself for falling in love with someone I didn't, I couldn't, trust.
"Church?" I asked. "I, uh, I haven't been in years. And I don't have the clothes for it."
"Nonsense," Sophie smiled. "Take a shower. What you had last night will do just fine."
I rolled out of her bed, hopped in to her shower and stood under a scalding stream of water, hoping that she'd join me, forget about the whole church thing.
I got out, got dressed, followed her down to the street. She glided forward down the sidewalk, as effortlessly as the night before. I plodded along, as excited as a man on his way to a date with his own firing squad.
Her bra came off. This was new. This was progress. She sat up, put her weight back, rubbed her crotch against my erection through several layers of fabric. Then she smiled.
"Told you tonight was going to be the night."
"I knew it all along," I lied. I reached up, put my right hand behind her neck, pulled her face back to mine. My left hand cupped her right breast while my thumb traced its way around her hardened nipple.
"Mmm," she said through closed lips before opening her mouth and stucking her tongue in to mine. Her right hand made it's way in to my pants, wrapped itself around me. She pulled her tongue out of my mouth, pulled her head back, smiled. "I've never touched a penis before," she said.
The rest of the night was a blur of skin and sweat. She cried out to god. She called me "Daddy."
It surprised me when she pushed me away when I tried to wrap my arms around her as we drifted off to sleep. I guess it shouldn't have. When I heard her sobbing quietly, whispering, "I'm sorry, forgive me," over and over in to her pillow, I knew what would come next.
She jumped up an hour before dawn, got dressed, and ran out of my apartment. She called at noon in tears, asking me not to be mad, swearing that she liked it, promising me that she wouldn't do that the next time. It didn't surprise me when she offered that night as the next time.
It surprised me a little when I agreed.
"Do you believe in god?" Sophie asked me as we walked down the street. She grabbed my hand, cupped it in both of hers, pulled her body as close to mine as she could.
"Not really," I shrugged, mostly with my empty shoulder.
"He's, um, he's caused me more problems than he's solved," I said. "I was under the impression that god wasn't supposed to work that way."
"Maybe he was trying to help you with your faith," she offered, a definite note of uncertainty in her voice.
"It wasn't my faith that was the problem," I said. My voice dropped. "It wasn't my faith at all."
She got in to the habit of dragging me to church every week. We'd spend Friday and Saturday nights having sex, then come Sunday morning she'd barely look at me, barely touch me, barely talk to me. We'd be in a pew and she'd have her eyes closed, mouth moving in a prayer of absolution. I'd take her to lunch after and she'd tell me all the ways she thought things had to be different.
Then she'd spend the night. And the next.
By the next Sunday she'd be as freaked as ever. I'd sit in that pew next to her, completely alone in the world, listening to the shitty Christian pop that passed as worship music at her church. Then I'd listen to the pastor harangue the crowd about their terrible, sinful lives.
Most Sundays I fantasized about walking to the front of the sanctuary and punching the asshole right in his smug, pinched little face. His garbage about sin and wrath and the need to be pure for the end times was supposed to save our souls. But all it did was tear apart the woman who sat next to me, the woman I loved more than I could understand for reasons I couldn't explain.
I hated Sunday mornings with a passion. I lived for those Sunday nights, when she'd finally be done with the tears, look at me with wide eyes, say she just couldn't help herself, and lead me in to my bedroom. I never understood why, but she never seemed guilty on Sunday nights. We'd fall asleep holding each other as tight as we could, whispering, "I love you."
I always hoped that time would stop on Sunday nights and I'd get to stay in that moment forever.
"We're here," Sophie said, stopping in front of an old stone building sandwiched between a pair of much newer looking apartment buildings. She led me up the stairs and through a pair of heavy wooden doors.
We crossed a vestibule filled with milling pairs and groups of people in hushed conversation, then entered the sanctuary. My footfalls seemed sacreligiously loud as the clicked and creaked on the floor and echoed up in to the high, vaulted ceiling. Rows of stained-glass windows marched down the sides of the room, lit from the inside, probably because the buildings on either side cut out the light of the sun.
I noticed the choir up front at the moment it started.
A woman's voice rang clear across the space.
A baritone joined the lone voice.
Qui tollis peccata mundi
The whole of the choir came in, a torrent of sound washing across my body.
The lone voice again.
I closed my eyes, stood still, gripped Sophie's hand as the dozens of voices took me...somewhere.
Qui tollos peccata mundi
Dona noblis pacem
Dona noblis pacem
Dona noblis pacem
"What does it mean?" I whispered to Sophie.
"It's a call to god," she replied. "Asking Jesus to take our sins and replace our fears with peace."
"Is this why you come here?" I asked.
"Yes," she smiled. "It's the place where I find the peace I need."
I opened my eyes, looked at her, took in her smile. "Thank you," I said, "For sharing this with me."