5. The Long Road
Bob turned onto the long dirt and gravel #road that led to the O’Brien farm. The tackle and fishing gear protested, rattling around in the backseat. Bob eased off the gas pedal, not just to conserve fuel but to delay. "Let Cass have a few more pain-free minutes."Father Jamie thought about the summer following the kiss. He was busy getting ready to leave for the seminary. She spent the summer on the lake at her aunt’s, where she met Joe O’Brien. They married the following winter before Joe joined up. Ted was born not long after. For years Father Jamie didn’t see Cass, he was busy with his studies. He served at several parishes before being assigned St. Stephens back in his home diocese after Father Rierdon passed away. It was also Cass and Joe O’Brien’s church. It was a struggle not to focus on her presence during mass. He didn’t face the congregation, so pretended not to know where she sat. When giving communion he wrapped himself in his holy duties, trying not to notice the people taking the sacred host. Every Sunday it got easier. Listening to her confessions was therapeutic, and painted a vivid picture of her life. As tough times hit, everyone in the community pulled together to try and help each other. The O’Brien’s lost their town home and moved to their farm, which too was struggling. Joe and their two boys took over all of the manual labor, but they still lost most of their acreage. Still, they were lucky to keep their home. His duties as a priest had stretched him thin those days. There were so many to feed, so many to help find shelter, so many to save from despair. He went bald, and was as thin as most of those begging the streets. Cass was active in the community kitchen, helping Mrs. O’Reilly make the watery soup for distribution. He treated her as he treated all the ladies of his parish. Kindly, respectfully, distantly. Every time he saw her he over-pretended not to remember that long ago first kiss, which had never been discussed. Life and inaction had nulled it for everyone but himself. She never showed him anything more than friendliness, sometimes making him think he had imagined that moment years past. Their old camaraderie was lost. Not that remembering it would change anything. His priesthood, her marriage, her three children.
Bob turned into the long driveway outside the farmhouse. He could see Beth hanging big white sheets to dry on the clothesline. She looked most like Joe, but had Cass’s wide smile. William was probably cutting hay with his father. He was almost old enough to join up too, something Cass seemed to know by the deepening lines in her face each week. Ted had joined up right away, just one year shy of graduating from university. Cass and Joe had worked so hard to send him there, even though times were tough. He had listened to her at confession cry about how much they had fought over his decision to enlist. How she knew she was being selfish by not wanting her son to go off to war, but to stay home, finish school, and start a family instead. The priestly side of him comforted her as well as he could with the powers God gave him. The man inside him cried as much as she did in private. Of all her children, Ted was the image of his mother in looks and in personality. When the bishop gave Ted the customary slap at his confirmation, Father Jamie had flinched as much as Cass. The thought of him going off to fight in a war sickened him as much as if he were Ted’s real father. The telegram in his hands right now was more deadly to a mother’s heart than a real bullet. He found out he had lost a boy today, and would now kill the woman he loved by bearing the news.