Three days into the summer vacation. Each day Amanda had walked for hours, desperately needing the time to be alone, but needing desperately to not be alone. She'd always loved Gustave Dore's illustrations for The Inferno but she'd never thought too much about what Dante had been talking about. Now she was beginning to understand Dante's genius. "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here". Was there any more perfect way to describe the most terrible of all hells - to have no hope?
But she did have hope. She trusted Jake. He said he loved her and she knew that he did. He'd reply to her letter. Any day now. Please God, let it be today.
* * *
I've been trying so hard to work out the best way to tell you this.
* * *
Slowly she turned and walked back towards town, past a fence draped with honeysuckle that she'd passed every day for the last three days. But this time something about the sweet, almost cloying scent triggered a memory. Summer, warm, honeysuckle-sweet, and she was six again.
"Amanda - did you make this?"
Warm summer sun. Was Daddy angry?
"Elaine - look a this!"
"My God! Amanda - that's beautiful!"
"It's a horsey Mommy."
The scent of honeysuckle...
* * *
Why did it have to be so hard? That day three months ago in Gilbert's Malt Shop came back in vivid detail.
"Uh, Amanda, Jake ain't gonna make it today."
She remembered that as she'd walked out of the malt shop her smile had faded like the light from a guttering candle. Three months. Then another three months. She'd absentmindedly put a hand over her stomach as if she could stop the sinking sensation and she'd propped, thoughtless of the people stepping around her, staring. Six months. The sun was high in a cloudless sky but all she'd seen was a midnight road, wet with rain. People had passed in front of her but she'd only seen one face. She'd turned and walked in a daze back towards school. Seventeen years of solitude and suddenly she'd felt terrified of losing something that, until a week before, she hadn't even known she'd wanted.
The Summer sun was warm on her back, bleaching her hair a paler shade of gold as it had every summer since she'd been tiny. Her Dad had called her "Goldilocks" as long as she could remember, but she'd always imagined Goldilocks with curly hair though. Once she'd asked her Mom if she could have curly hair and be a real Goldilocks, and her Mom had laughed and used her hair rollers to curl it. When Amanda looked in the mirror it seemed as if all her dreams had come true. She'd rushed in, overcome with excitement, to show her Dad
"Daddy! Daddy! Look at me!"
"Elaine - who's this pretty little girl who's come to visit us?" he'd called.
She'd giggled. "It's me, Daddy - Amanda!"
"Amanda? No! You couldn't be Amanda!"
"It's me Daddy! Really!"
He'd picked her up and sat her on he knee, peering into her face. "Well let me see now - you sound like Amanda. But you can't be. I'll call Amanda and she'll come - you'll see. Amanda! Amanda! There's a little girl here who says she's you!" She'd squealed with delight. When the curls had disappeared after her bath that night. She'd howled bitterly. "They were supposed to last forever Mommy!" Her mother had comforted her by saying that they could give her curly hair any time she wanted it. Funny - she'd never asked to do it again.
* * *
Three days before school broke up for summer she'd written that last letter. To his home address. So hard. The hardest thing she'd ever had to do.
I've been trying so hard to work out the best way to tell you this.
This is the fifth time I've written this letter. I've screwed up the last four and thrown them away.
* * *
Amanda loved her parents. Her father had been so proud of her that he'd taken on another job so that they could save up for art lessons, and then to send her to Saint Agnes's, and so that they could afford to send her to college - providing she got a scholarship. As she got older she started to understand what a sacrifice they'd made. Sometimes she'd hear them talking late at night.
"She's going to get a good education Elaine. I never had a chance, but she's going to have one."
He'd left school at 12 to help his father on the farm. Education wasn't important to his father, but he'd grown up wanting any kids of his own to have the opportunities he'd never had. If he'd wanted a son he never showed it, but Amanda knew that they'd wanted more children. She would have loved a brother or a sister. But she never did and she'd never asked why.
* * *
"Uh, Amanda, Jake ain't gonna make it today." Willy's voice echoed in her mind. Three weeks later she'd had her first tingle of suspicion, but she'd ignored it.
Dear Jake, she'd written,
I've been trying so hard to work out the best way to tell you this.
This is the fifth time I've written this letter. I've screwed up the last four and thrown them away. The problem is that no matter how I say it it's the same.
* * *
When she gotten off the bus from school three days ago her parents had met her, as they always did, smiling, hugging her, happy to have her home. Her Dad had taken her suitcase and carried it home for her. As soon as they'd gotten inside they wanted to see her award and hear all about her time at school. For the first time ever, she had to fake it and she felt dirty. So she'd walked. As long as she was out of the house she could forget the worst of the feeling - the knowledge that she'd betrayed them.
Four weeks after the first sign it had been undeniable, but she'd denied it anyway. Four weeks after that she'd had no choice but to admit it to herself. She'd been able to dismiss the vomiting every morning, but she couldn't dismiss missing her third period in a row. So she'd written him a letter and posted it five days before school broke up for Summer.
I've been trying so hard to work out the best way to tell you this.
This is the fifth time I've written this letter. I've screwed up the last four and thrown them away. The problem is that no matter how I say it it's the same. I'm pregnant.
I love you Jake. I don't know what to do. I'm so scared.
Please write to me or call me. Please Jake.
* * *
As her steps led ineluctably home the sinking feeling overwhelmed her. Worse than the morning sickness, worse than the raw knot of fear, worse than her desperate need to see Jake, to be held by him again. She tried to feel the comfort that she'd felt in his arms that night beneath the rough blanket but it was no good, and every step made it worse.
She turned up the path towards the front door. She could have traced every crack in the path with her eyes shut tight, described the flaking paintwork on the porch rail in minute detail, but the most familiar place on earth was alien to her. But she realised that it was just as it always had been. She was the alien.
The key slid into the lock and turned, the same little catch in the lock mechanism that she remembered from the first day that she'd been old enough to have a key.
Her eyes slowly adjusted to see her mother, eyes red-rimmed, and her father standing just inside the door.
She staggered back into the door as the force of her father's open hand raked across her face. In the seconds that it took for her mind to realise what had happened her body reacted to the shock and her hand leapt to her cheek. He'd never hit her before. Except for a well-deserved smack on the bottom when he'd caught her about to drink a bottle of bleach that she'd found in the laundry room. But this wasn't that kind of smack. The shock dulled the pain, but not completely, and she felt the hot flow of blood to her face. Her mother gasped and her father stepped back, horrified at what he'd done, but shaking with anger.
"Wha...wha..." she stumbled over the words, forcing them past the pain.
Her mother, her hand trembling, passed her a letter which Amanda took, her left hand still clutching her stinging face as she looked down. The colour drained from her face lost with the exception of the handprint burning across her left cheek.
Mr and Mrs Phillips,
Your daughter has written to my son telling him that she's pregnant - by him being the implication. My son assures me he would NEVER have anything to do with a harlot like your daughter. He most certainly will not be tying his bright future to a whore and her bastard.
The letter dropped from her hand. She felt her knees start to give way and the room start to swim. She couldn't bring her eyes up to look at her parents. She'd never felt this much shame in her life.
Jake... oh God Jake...
Her mind raged, the strength she needed to face her parents conflicting at a primal level with the urgent need to scream in horror and despair. "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here."
The bus pulled up at the train station and the cadets, those who weren't being picked up by their parents or the lucky few who were flying home, tumbled out, laughing and talking about their plans for summer. Behind them two stragglers stepped down onto the street and picked up their bags.
"Well, this is it, man. Three months to go."
"Halfway for you, Jakey boy. Just the start fer me."
"You and Hilda are going to write to each other, aren't you?"
"Yeah yeah, but it ain't the same is it?"
"No. But you know, in some ways it's even better. When you write, you have time to think about what you're going to say. You...sort of...get to think about how you really want to say things, how you really feel about them. It's made me think hard about a lot of stuff that I wouldn't have thought about if I didn't have to put it down in words. It's made me understand a lot about myself."
"That's prob'ly okay fer you, Jakey, but I don't write s' good. Never been my thing, if ya know what I mean."
"Yeah, I know. But you might surprise yourself, Willy. Just say what you feel. Like...that letter you sent me at Christmas. Man, that was...uh...neat." He blushed, remembering how he'd reacted.
"Thanks Jakey. I'll try. I hope it works out. Fer both of us."
"It will, man. It will. I know it!"
"Yeah. Well...I hope so. An' good luck, Jakey. At least I know my Ma's gonna be glad to see me, not like Mad Dog. I hope it ain't too bad for ya."
"It won't be. That pathetic bastard's going to find that he can't push my buttons like he used to. I can handle him."
"Good for you, Jakey."
"Yeah. See you, Willy."
And they left for their different tracks.
Jake stared out the window for the whole trip but, like Amanda's, his vision was turned inwards and the scenery rolled by without making it past his retinas. Three months and things had only gotten better, not worse. From what Amanda said, the same thing applied to her. They were strong. Nothing could touch them now. Another three months? Only three months. He smiled.
As he expected, there was no-one to meet him at the station so he took the bus downtown and walked the block to his house as the sun sank. He dropped his bag and rang the bell, hearing his mother's familiar steps coming down the hall and the sound of the double locks opening.
"Jakey!" she smiled, opening her arms for him.
He hugged her. "Hi Mom."
She stood back. There was something...different...about him, something she couldn't quite put her finger on. He was a little taller, though he'd just about finished growing. The stubble on his chin was a little darker, but...
"How's my big, strong son? How's school been? Why don't you write to us?"
"I'm fine, Mom. School's been the same nightmare it always was, and I didn't write because I didn't know the address of our relatives in...where was it? Oh yeah...Toronto?"
She blushed. "Oh Jake, that was just your father's little joke. You know him."
"Oh yeah. I know him alright." Jake scowled.
"Well come on then, come in. You're room's just as you left it and I'm making potroast for dinner. I know it's your favourite."
"Thanks Mom." Jake smiled despite himself, picked up his bag and followed her down the hall through the living room where 'Mad Dog' Morgendorffer sat reading the newspaper with a beer in his hand and a cigarette in his mouth.
"Well - say hello to your father, Jakey," his mother chirped as they passed.
Jake stopped and turned. "Mad Dog," said Jake in mock friendliness. "Always a pleasure to see you."
Mad Dog looked up over the top of his paper and grunted, scowling as if he'd just smelled something that the dog had left on the carpet. Jake's mother laughed nervously and stepped up their pace through the house to Jake's bedroom. Jake tossed his suitcase on the bed and looked around.
"Jakey? Is anything wrong?"
"Uh - no Mom. I'm, uh, tired. I think I'll have a rest before dinner. Is that okay?"
"Of course, Dear. You must be tired after your trip. I'll call you when dinner's ready."
"Thanks Mom." He kissed her on the cheek and she turned to walk out. "Mom?"
"There hasn't been any mail for me has there?"
She walked out, closing the door behind her.
Jake looked around the room with a vague sense of disquiet. His model World War II airplanes, the painstaking work of previous summer vacations and lovingly painted, rested on the shelves where they'd sat since he'd glued the last undercarriage wheel in place. His comic books were neatly stacked on the bottom of the bookshelf and above them his books, chronicles of his life in paperback, from Goodnight Moon to Jules Verne. Posters of previous seasons' baseball heroes stared down at him from the walls, their blind eyes gazing backwards to his yesterdays. A kid's room. A room he didn't belong to any more.
* * *
Over the next few days Jake and Mad Dog tolerated each other like the relationship between the US and China, each aware of, but refusing to formally acknowledge, the other's existence. Which suited Jake fine. He spent his first day taking down the baseball posters and making the room a little more liveable, then he strolled into town to the second-hand bookstore where he bought a copy of the collected works of Lord Byron for $1.50. As he walked back a thought struck him - there was more than one use for a book of poetry.
"Is it true?"
Amanda's father's voice was shaking. She'd never heard him sound like this.
Was Daddy angry?
No. Daddy had never been angry. Until now.
She forced herself to look him in the eyes.
She nodded, heard her mother's sharp intake of breath.
"Go to your room."
Trembling, she held his eyes while she bent at the knees, body straight, and picked up the note. She backed away, one hand clutching the note and he other pressed against her face, her fingers resting along the lines of his, outlined in hot blood beneath ghostly skin, not turning until she felt her bedroom door behind her.
She sank down on her bed, her skin drained of colour except where the handprint glowed red on white, but she didn't feel it any more. Her eyes were open but unseeing, her thoughts fleeting and disconnected. Her heart fluttered and her breathing came shallow and fast. The world turned grey, then black.
Jake sat at his desk, paper and pen in front of him, but it was too small. His knees brushed against the legs of the table and he moved the chair back to give the sensation of more room.
I got home three days ago. So far it hasn't been too bad. Mad Dog and I keep out of each other's way and Mom's been trying to make me feel at home but it hasn't worked. I feel like I don't belong here any more. It's not that anyone's different but, well, I guess I am. I felt more at home when I was at Buxton Ridge by myself at Christmas. There I was just me, but here, I feel like I can't escape from the kid who used to be me. He's all around me. I took his baseball posters down from the wall, but I couldn't bring myself to toss out his model planes. Remember I told you about them? They were a great way to escape from MD because I could spend hours in here making them.
I might make another model plane or two this vacation. I think I could still lose myself in that. I don't know. You've made me different. I love you Amanda.
Oh, I bought a poetry book. Lord Byron was great. I think he might be my favourite romantic poet. I don't understand a lot of what he wrote about, but some things are obvious. He wrote one poem to a guy who'd written a play that he really didn't like. It's very funny, he really ripped into that guy. I think I'll try to find out what it was about. A lot of his poems are sad, but they're beautiful.
There's one about a kid called Harold that I don't really understand though the words are wonderful, and one poem about the death of a dog. I cried when I read it.
I thought of something interesting to do with the book too, but it's a surprise. It'll be another month or so before I can tell you.
Please write soon. I miss you.
He folded the letter and slid it into the envelope that he'd addressed and stamped. As he licked and sealed it the door opened and his mother walked in with a tray. Jake hastily put the letter face down on the desk as she put the tray on the table.
"Cookies and milk, Dear!"
"Thanks Mom. That's great."
"What are you writing?"
"Oh, just a letter."
"Why Jakey! You're blushing! You're not writing to a girl are you?"
Jake grinned. "Yeah."
His mother smiled with delight. "Jakey! Tell me all about her! What's her name? Where did you meet her?"
"Her name's Amanda. I met her at the dance, you know, the Christmas dance that Buxton Ridge and Saint Agnes's do?"
"And what's she like?"
He blushed again. "She's, um, about my height, blonde hair. She's pretty. You'd like her."
"I'm sure I would, Jakey! So that's why you asked me if there was any mail!"
"Well, I'll mail it for you if you like."
Thanks," he said, handing her the letter. "And, uh, Mom, don't tell Dad about this. Okay?"
She winked at him. "Of course not dear. It'll be our little secret."
Amanda's mother watched her daughter's pitiful retreat, saw the hurt and the fear in her eyes, and was cursed by it. She turned to see her husband, trembling, watching Amanda go, then raising the hand that slapped her in front of his eyes as if he didn't recognise it as his own, then sink back into the chair behind him. She was shocked. He looked...old.
"I hit her," he whispered.
"I've never hit her before."
She walked over and knelt down in front of him, holding his hands. "We have to decide what to do."
"All that work, all those years. How could she..."
He looked at her and his strength returned. "You're right." He stood up and paced the floor.
"We'll send her to your sister Irene in Cincinnaiti. She can have the baby there and have it adopted. She'll miss a year of school but that won't matter. We'll pay Irene for her food and board. She'll appreciate the help."
He stopped and looked at her. "I'm not going to have her ruining her life because some hairy, oversexed bastard took advantage of her innocence. She probably didn't even know what he was doing."
"NO! That's all there is to it, Elaine! I've worked too hard to make sure that she's had all the chances I could give her. She's too smart to waste her life looking after that bastard's baby! She's only seventeen for God's sake! Now get on the telephone and arrange it with your sister. We'll send her off tomorrow or the next day. There's no sense in wasting time."
Elaine knew that there was no point in arguing.
* * *
He shook her shoulder.
She woke with a start to see her father's face leaning over her and she flinched. He stood up, a flicker of pain flashing across his eyes - she'd never - ever - shown fear of him before. What had he done?
"Get up and come into the kitchen for breakfast. Your mother and I need to tell you what we've decided." He turned and walked out.
It was light outside. She was still dressed and lying on top of the bed. Slowly she became aware of an ache in her hand and, looking down, she saw that she was clutching the letter tightly. No matter how hard she tried she couldn't open her fingers, cramped from grasping it all night. Painfully she prised them open and massaged the circulation back, then she folded the note and put it under her pillow, not quite sure why.
She slowly stood up. Her mouth felt like sandpaper and her face throbbed. She trudged into the bathroom, relieved herself and stood, staring into the mirror. Her hair was lank and knotted, damp with sweat. But her face...
She washed her hands and splashed her face with cold water, the shock waking her a little, then she carefully patted her face dry and brushed her teeth. She ran a comb through her hair, unflinching as the knots tore out leaving strands of long, pale hair in the comb. She felt numb all seeing the horrible face staring back at her from behind the mirror. She trudged into the kitchen and sat down at the table, eyes downcast.
"Oh, Amanda!" He mother, her voice no more than a whisper, reached out a hand and gently touched the bruised cheek. Amanda flinched again and pulled her face away, not at the pain in her face, but the pain of her betrayal. Elaine sighed and turned back toward the bacon and eggs frying in the pan. She put two eggs and two slices of bacon on a plate, then turned and put it down in front of Amanda.
The familiar smell struck Amanda's nostrils and she felt her stomach spasm in revulsion. She leapt up, tipping her chair over, and ran back to the bathroom to kneel in front of the toilet as her stomach desperately tried to expel its non-existent contents. Slowly the retching stopped and she knelt, eyes and nose streaming, panting and aching from the exertion, staring into the water, empty inside.
Her legs felt weak as she shuffled back to the sink to wash her face. This time she paid more attention the face in the mirror, trying to overcome the revulsion at what she saw. Her eyes were sunken and red-rimmed but the colour was returning to her face. Her right cheek was a mixture of pale blue and yellow bruises. Slowly despair gave way to quiet anger at herself. She was alone. Whatever the reason, she wasn't going to hear from Jake. Jake. She ignored the knot in her stomach. What we've decided.
Willing strength back into her legs she walked back to her room and rummaged around in the drawer for clean underwear.
"I need a shower," she said, not looking round.
"You have to eat."
"After I've had a shower. Maybe some toast." She took a clean pair of jeans and a blouse out of her closet and turned to pass her mother, glancing cautiously at her as she passed. She turned on the shower and undressed as the water warmed up then stepped under the stream, closing her eyes as the warm water hit her, and she relaxed just a little. The feeling was so delicious that she stood there with her eyes closed and her head turned up to the shower head, letting the water flow over her. Her right cheek throbbed with the warmth and she reluctantly reached for the shampoo. It felt so good to wash the sweat out of her hair. She took the soap out of the dish and started washing but stopped in shock as she reached her stomach. There was a distinct bulge, not big enough for anyone else to notice.
She finished her shower and dressed. Her cheek throbbed and looked worse, but she felt clean and as ready as she'd ever be to face whatever her parents had decided. She walked back to the kitchen, cautious about being assailed again by the odour, but the windows and doors were open and the smell of frying bacon had dissipated.
Her mother put a cup down in front of her and she sipped the hot, strong brew eagerly. She closed her eyes for a second then looked at her father.
"What have you decided, Dad?"
"You're going to Aunt Irene's to have the baby. We've contacted an adoption agency. They'll take the child directly from the hospital. You can start school again next year and no-one need know." He spoke quietly, in a voice she knew was not one that invited discussion.
Amanda stifled her anger. "Did you think that I..."
"This is not something we're going to discuss, Amanda. Your Aunt's expecting you. You leave in the morning."
"ENOUGH! You've done your part in this, you and...whoever got you into this mess! Now..."
"I SAID ENOUGH!" He stood, glaring down at her. "You leave in the morning. That's all there is to it. And be grateful that your Aunt's prepared to do this for you." He walked out. Amanda looked up at her mother, not really expecting any support. Her parents' marriage was a good one, she never doubted that they loved each other, or her, even now. But theirs was a traditional family. The Pope was the unquestioned head of the Church, and Trent Phillips was the unquestioned head of the family. That was all there was to it. All there would ever be to it. She still saw love and sorrow and forgiveness in her mother's eyes, but she didn't see rebellion.
"I'll have to get my things from school." she whispered.
"Yes. Of course Dear."
Amanda finished her coffee while her mother made some toast. She ate it quietly while her mind raced, then she took her backpack and walked to the bus stop.
* * *
Amanda had never seen Sister Assumpta out of her habit and she was startled by the unfamiliarity, her plain blue skirt and white blouse alien to Amanda's eyes. But the strangest thing was her hair. Amanda had never seen her hair. It had always been covered by the veil that she wore in public. Her hair was straight, greying, but with some of it still the glossy black that it must have been in her youth. The nun smiled, understanding Amanda's discomfort, letting her get used to it at her own pace.
She led Amanda up the stairs and into a small, spare, rectangular room, harshly lit by a single naked bulb in the ceiling. Along one wall was a cast iron bed with a thin mattress, covered by an immaculately smooth grey blanket turned back to reveal a snow-white sheet underneath. A pillow with an equally immaculate plain white cover rested against the bedhead. There was a small, dark wooden wardrobe against the far wall and a small, sturdy desk-sized table opposite the bed. A reading lamp, a bible, and a framed black and white photograph of a family; a mother, father and two pretty dark-haired girls were neatly arranged on the desk. Amanda guessed that the elder of the two girls was fourteen.
Seeing Amanda's interest, Sister Assumpta nodded toward the photograph. "My Mom and Dad, with my sister and me." She pointed. "That's me. Marie's a doctor now, working in Seattle. She has three lovely children, two boys and a girl. The youngest is just about your age. I usually visit them over Christmas but this year they're in Europe."
Amanda smiled. "You were pretty before..." then caught herself.
Sister Assumpta's eyes laughed. "Before I became a nun you mean?"
Amanda blushed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."
"They give us ugly pills when we join the seminary, you know." She grinned, and whispered conspiratorially "So we don't tempt the priests."
Amanda smiled, grateful again for the easy way the nun had of making her feel comfortable, and she relaxed for a moment.
A single wooden chair was pushed under the table. Sister Assumpta pulled it out and motioned for Amanda to sit down, sitting down herself on the bed facing her young friend, hands clasped in her lap. On the wall above her was a cheap reproduction picture of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus, and next to it an equally mass-produced crucifix, draped with a set of rosary beads.
Amanda nodded at the picture. "That's Giotto's Ognissanti Madonna, isn't it?" The colours were dull compared to the expensive print she'd seen in the library's art books. She wondered what the original must look like and momentarily imagined herself in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence.
Sister Assumpta smirked. "I asked them if I could borrow the real one but they wouldn't let me."
"You're good, Amanda. I don't think any of my other students would have recognised it. But I don't suppose you came here to discuss renaissance Florentine art. What did you want to talk about, Dear?"
Amanda closed her eyes, gathering all her willpower, knowing that what she had to say was as much an admission to herself as to her friend and mentor - the first time she'd dared to speak the words aloud. She opened her eyes but couldn't bring herself to look the nun in the face. She stared down at her lap, and said quietly, "I'm pregnant."
Sister Assumpta's expression didn't change. "I thought it might be something like that"
"No," She said gently, "but I knew it had to be important. We're friends, I think, Amanda, but in the three years you've been at Saint Agnes's you've never come to see me outside school time, never come to visit me in my room. I knew it had to be very important, and...well, there are only so many things..." She trailed off.
Tears filled Amanda's eyes. "Do you think I'm going to go to Hell?"
The room was tiny. With the chair pulled out, the distance between them was small enough for the nun to reach out and take Amanda's hand in hers. "That's for God to judge, Dear, not me. But if God does judge us, I'm sure that he judges us on what he sees in our hearts, not on the basis of our indiscretions."
"Have you told your parents?"
"How did they react?"
"Dad slapped me across the face. Hard. They're sending me away to have the baby and then have it adopted."
Sister Assumpta squeezed Amanda's hand and, looking into her face, noticed the fading blue-yellow tinge on her cheek. "And you, Dear? What do you want?"
Amanda stared back at her lap, hiding her face. A tear fell onto her dress. "I don't know. I was...hoping..."
"That I might be able to tell you what to do?"
Amanda nodded almost imperceptibly.
The nun paused, trying to find the right words. "You know I can't make the decision for you, Amanda?"
Amanda nodded again, and raised her face to look into the eyes of her friend. "But...can you help me know what's the right thing to do?"
Sister Assumpta sighed. "I wish I could my dear, but only you can know that." She paused. "You've been here for three years now and I think that we've probably taught something about the Church's teachings on ethics and morality." She gently put her hand under Amanda's chin and raised her head, looking her straight in the eye. "I want you to forget all that." Ignoring Amanda's gasp, she said "I believe that you have to listen to that quiet voice that you sometimes hear in your heart. Some people say it's God speaking to us, some call it our conscience. It doesn't matter. Somehow we have to try to quieten the clamour in our head so that we can hear it. Some do it by prayer, some use meditation, some people just lie in bed at night and they hear it in that quiet place between waking and sleeping. You have to find the way that works for you. That voice is hardly ever wrong."
"You'd hoped that there'd be an easy answer? That I'd quote some Bible verses and tell you what to do?"
Another gentle nod.
"You made a choice when you conceived your baby, Amanda. Children want easy answers and often we adults give them one. It delays the time when they have to face some of life's harsher realities. Some never do. They go through their entire lives demanding easy answers. Politicians make a living - a very good living - out of giving them - these Peter Pans - what they want and I'm ashamed to say that the Church sometimes does the same thing. You're too important to me to give you an easy answer. If I gave you one now you'd always resent me because you'd know that I'd lied to you." Her voice was quiet. "I don't want you to remember me like that. The choice you made means that you're not a child any more. You can't afford to be." She stood, still holding Amdanda's hand. "Listen to the voice in your heart and follow its advice."
Amanda sniffed back another tear and nodded again.
"I'd like to give you something to take with you." The nun took three steps to the wardrobe and opened it. Amanda could see that there was a single drawer in the wardrobe next to a space where her surplice hung, perfectly pressed. Sister Assumpta opened the drawer and rummaged around, her body blocking Amanda's view of what she was doing. After a minute she turned, holding an envelope and a piece of writing paper which she folded and put into the envelope, licking and sealing it, then handing it to Amanda. "I want you to promise me that you'll only open it when things seem...darkest, at their most hopeless, not before."
She looked at Amanda with the penetrating stare that Amanda had seen quieten a room full of raucous teenagers. "I promise," she whispered, taking the envelope and putting it in her pocket. She stood and turned to go, but spun quickly round on her heel and threw her arms around the Nun, clutching her in a tight embrace. Sister Assumpta returned the hug, and gently put her hand under Amanda's chin, lifting her head to look up into her face, tears once again filling the young girl's eyes. She kissed Amanda on the forehead and said "God bless you, Amanda."
"God bless you too sister." She turned and walked away, like Lot, not looking back.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of All My Children.
Disclaimer: All characters are copyright MTV.
Special thanks: to all our beta readers:
Quirks: Deref, who typed the words, is an Australian, so he's used Aussie English spellings and grammar conventions. He may also have inadvertently used some Aussie idioms though he's tried to keep in culture.
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