Part Three
by sarAdora


"I need to speak to Gary," I told the voice on the phone.

"He doesn't wish to be disturbed," was the response.

"He's expecting my call," I insisted.

"Who shall I say is calling?" the man asked formally as if he didn't recognize my voice.

"Tell him it's his long lost love, the reason he swore his devotion to the Church."

I heard a small sharp intake of air on the line before the receiver was placed none-too-gently on a hard surface. A long moment of silence and then a voice I've known most of my life said hello.

Well... he didn't actually say hello.

"I knew you'd call, brat," he said by way of greeting, his voice slightly subdued and as always, filled with his love and a hint of admonishment.

"I can't stop thinking about..."

"I know," he answered. "And I love you for it but men of the cloth do not appreciate hearing that their lost love is on the phone. You make it sound like Il Diablo is sending a temptress to entice me away from our Lord."

"Oh Gary..." I sighed. "I hope you haven't turned into one of those stuffy priest types with fire and brimstone and hell and damnation around every corner.

"I *am* a priest, Sari girl. Have you forgotten that little detail?"

"No, but have you forgotten that you're one of the few holy-holys in the world that I actually like, let alone am civil to?"

"Like? What's this *like* business? You *love* me."

I couldn't help it. I laughed. "Yes, I do. Good thing I'm married."

"I thank God for that, too," he chuckled. "And be sure to tell the Admiral that I pray for him regularly, that God will give him the strength to..."


We both laughed.

And then we were somber again as we remembered why I had called.


It had been one of those sudden downpours that catch you off guard. The wind had picked up, the temperature dropping to a chilly 40-ish feeling. I had a thin sweater over my dress and knew more than one nun would backhand me if I showed up wet. They had sent me on an errand when school was out and I was so glad to be free of that prison they called an orphanage that I ran out of there as quickly as I could. The beating I would get wouldn't be much worse if I ran away so then and there, I made a decision to hide from them and social services for as long as I could.

I took refuge on the stone porch at the side of the small church that used to stand behind Marshall Field's. Part of it was covered and I wouldn't dry off there but I wouldn't get wetter either. It would be dark soon and I wondered if I'd find a place inside where I could hide.

"I have a towel if you want one," a boy said softly, startling me. I thought I was alone.

"No thanks," I answered.

"It's no trouble. Come inside and I'll get it and you can have a cup of cocoa with me."

"No thanks."

"You'll catch cold if you stay out here," he said in that voice that adults use when they're positive they're right.


"God does *not* want you to catch cold. Come inside now!"

"How do you know what God wants? Who are you? One of His baby saints?"

"I'm Gary," he answered as if everyone knew who Gary was. "I'm going to be a priest some day."

"Whatever for?" I demanded to know.

"Because that's what I want," he replied and took my arm to pull me into the warm building.

"You don't look old enough to be so bossy," I told him.

"I'm almost 20," he said.

"My ass!"

"Okay, I'm closer to 15 and you shouldn't curse. It's not what good Catholic children do."

"And you shouldn't lie. It's not what boys who are going to be priests do and I'm not Catholic."


"Have you had any sleep?" I asked, doubting that he'd slept in days.

"I doze off at the oddest times," he said softly.

"With your crucifix in one hand and those little beads in the other?"

"The Rosary, Sari."

"Do you still pray for me, priest boy?" I asked knowing full well that he did.

"I always pray for you, Sari. When I'm standing in line at the grocery store waiting for the cashier to ring up my groceries, I try to save a few souls. Yours is the first I ask the Lord to forgive. I remember you in my evening prayers and I remember you at the Confessional."

"You still love me, Gary?"

"I will always love you, Sari girl. You have my heart but our Savior has my soul."


"Where'd you get that big fat bruise on your cheek?" I asked Gary when we had known each other a few weeks.

"Fell in the vestry," he lied through his teeth.

"Uh huh."

"You swear on your cross that's what happened?"

"Don't ask," he said softly but I thought he might be close to tears, the kind of tears you shed when a childhood dream has been destroyed.

"Come here, priest boy," I urged, pulling him into my arms. "I think you need a hug."

He hesitated briefly but soon fell into my arms - his body only slightly bigger than mine at the time - and I held him close. Gary had been beaten often; we all had been beaten but this blow that had been delivered had been more personal and it had hurt him more on the inside than the bruise he had to show for it.

"You still want to be a priest?" I asked. "You still want to be one of them?"

"If I'm not a priest I only have one other choice to make of my life."

"What's that?" I remember asking as I let him go.

"I'll have to marry you and keep an eye on you," he said with a smile.

I laughed. I was about 9 or 10 and he wasn't 15; he was 12.


"Did you call your friend in Rome?" I asked, not sure he'd answer me.

"Yes," was all he said.

"And?" I probed.

"And he said he did as I asked."

"You think he did?"

"He's a priest, Sari. He wouldn't lie to me."

"Oh Gary, you are so naive," I tsked. "Not only do priests lie, they lie to each other."

"Sari..." he whispered over the phone, his voice half admonishment, half regret.

"What did he say happened?"

"He said he conveyed my message to the Cardinal and that the Cardinal promised to tell the Holy Father and..."

"Did he say he remembered you?" I pushed.

"He said... the Cardinal said that Il PapÓ remembered me..." he whispered, his voice raspier with each word. "He remembered my promise... Sari..." his voice choked and I knew he was crying. "He thanked me... for my love of God."

"Gary," I whispered over the line, my own tears falling at his grief and wishing I could hold him close and comfort him.


"I'm going to miss you, Sari girl," he told me as he hefted a garment bag over his shoulder.

"Don't get lost over there," I told him shortly after his 18th birthday. "They might let you in but they might not let you out again."

"It's my chance for an education and the seminary. If I go to Poland I can become a priest."

"I guess you're not going to wait for me to finish high school, huh?"

"Can't marry a baby and can't wait for you to grow up," he teased.

"You love the Church more than you love me," I said, only half serious.

"I love you, Sari girl," he said softly, hugging me tight. "If I wasn't going to be a priest, you'd be the girl for me."

I remember smiling at his words. Gary and I would find a way to stay close even if he remained in Poland.


"You knew this would happen one day," I reminded him. "We all die, even the Pope."

"His death is just the beginning of his new life with our Lord, an eternal life," he said softly, words that sounded rehearsed and more for his comfort than mine.

"For your sake, I hope so," I said, knowing full well that one has to have a strong faith in the Almighty, His Son, the Holy Spirit, and all the other deities and saints that are worshipped around the world.

"For his sake, Sari, not for mine. And of course, he's with our Lord. I have every confidence that he is."

One does not shake the faith of a devout priest and I had no desire to do so.

Gary takes great comfort in ministering to street folks and I admire his gentle ways. I also miss him as a presence in my daily life.

"When are you coming to visit me?" I asked.

"You have to come to me, Sari girl," he said softly, regaining his composure. "I cannot leave my parish. My work is here. My life is here."


"Gary!" I rushed into his arms when he disembarked. I hadn't seen him in 8 years. He was taller and his body had filled out and he looked so good.

"Sari!" he yelled his delight and swung me into the air, his valise dropping to the ground as he hugged me tight. "I should have married you!" he laughed. "You got so pretty!"

"I saved you from a life of worry," my husband quipped and shook Gary's hand in greeting. "She married me instead."

"I will pray for you," Gary said solemnly and then they both laughed.

I smiled at the two of them, so happy to see my husband and my childhood friend take an instant liking to each other.

Later, over dinner, Gary told us about his time in Poland and university and the seminary and his promise to the man who was still a Cardinal when they first met.

"He was at the ceremonies when my class was ordained," he explained. "He gave each of us his individual blessing and asked for our promise to deliver the Lord's message wherever we went. I made my promise and wished him Godspeed wherever he went as well."

"And I told him that if we did not meet again that I would look for him in heaven when the Lord called me home. And he asked me to give him my promise that I would do that and I did."


"And you will," I told him gently knowing that the Holy Father was not only a Pope who had passed on and was about to be buried, but that he was a special mentor to my old friend.

"Thank you for remembering, Sari girl. I love you," he said just before he said goodbye.

"And I love you, priest boy, and I always will."

~ End Part Three ~

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