Saturday morning, Harper woke gently with a smile on her lips. She wasn’t even sure why at first. Why this lightness in her chest? The realization came slowly that her conversation with Blaise last night fed her in some deep way. She had longed for real friendship for years, but the distance and sadness that was a growing part of her life experience had sapped her of hope that things would ever be any different. She suspected agendas, always—even well-meaning ones, and so it seemed easier to continue to insulate herself from any attempt of others to get in. But for the first time in a long time, she felt like she had had a real conversation—a conversation that just existed in its own right in a singular moment. Nothing strained or constrained. It felt a bit like being in a lovely bubble, however temporary it surely must be. And she would never have admitted it to Blaise, but his passing comment about his being celibate had done much to enable her to let some of her defensiveness down. She was in no way looking for a new partner, but friendship? Yes. Real friendship would possibly fill a void. And that made her smile.
Clutch nuzzled her arm by the side of the bed. She gave him a pat on the head which was enough comfort to cause him to slide down onto the mat for another few winks. Harper, too, nestled back into her soft pillow and watched the replay of last night’s conversation in her head.
“So, when did you enter the monastery, and how long did you live in there, and what would have led you to make such a decision? Sorry that sounded critical. And what did you do there? I mean, is it similar to movies, with vespers and times of silence and such?” Blaise chewed slowly, his eyes smiling. “Sorry. That twenty questions format must sound like a grilling! Forgive me. I’ll take a breath . . . and a bite.”
“No, indeed. It is a rather unique experience and probably not one on most people’s radar, even fellow believers. Let’s see: I entered the monastery when I was twenty-three, and given that I have been out for two years, if you do the math, you will figure out what a middle-aged monk-man I really am.” He took another bite and chewed slowly. He seemed perfectly comfortable with the silences; and surprisingly, at that moment, so was she. “It was a wonderful healing and growing time for me. The disciplines of daily life, the intense study in the Word and philosophy, and the patterns of devotion did much to quiet my spirit. The skills we learned and the products we made developed a methodism in me that has stuck. Before that time, I meant well, I guess, but my passions were all over the place. I was kind of like Mr. Toad in Wind in the Willows, always chasing a new mania. I lacked direction and maturity in matters of faith, as well as just plain old living issues; and though it was not what I intended, I ended up hurting a lot of people.”
“What did your mom and dad think of your leaving to go live in a monastery? Are they still alive?”
“That’s twenty-one questions, Harper. Or maybe even twenty-five!” He pretended to be offended, but it didn’t sell.
Blaise gazed off to a corner of the room for a moment, then met her eyes once again. “My dad passed away when I was fifteen. Leukemia. My mom is still with me, living in a board and care in the northern part of the state. She has really diminished mentally, even though I think she could probably still arm wrestle me and win. When I left for Switzerland, she was sad, but still behind me one hundred percent. She has always been supportive, even of some of my craziest schemes.”
“Like what crazy?”
“We don’t know each other well enough to become that vulnerable.” He teased. “I will say though that one such venture amounted to evangelical hitchhiking and almost got me killed. I’m sure my praying mother kept me out of many dark places.”
Blaise shifted slightly in his chair. “Though not all.”
Harper caught a hint of the shadow that crossed his face. “But that is a story for another time.”
“We all have stories, right?”
“Yes. Now your turn. What is some of your story?” It was Harper’s turn to feel a little uncomfortable. She was not ready to open up too much about the things that mattered most. “What is something interesting in your backstory. I am assuming it is not a Protestant convent, right?”
“No, though that might have kept me from some of my moments of extreme stupid. I am starting to hold the opinion that kids should be cloistered away from the teen years on through college years—possibly drugged. Then at thirty, wise people could inject the sleepers with all the skills and knowledge to be responsible thirty somethings. That way we could avoid all the disastrous mistakes made in the teens and twenties and just go from pubescent awkward cuteness to responsible adult.”
“That kind of negates the idea that we learn from doing, and quite often our best learning comes from mistakes, those times of stupid, as you call them. Don’t you think?”
“Well, there is that. That is if we survive them. But I still sometimes have flashbacks that cause me embarrassment to this day. And I have to wonder if other people remember my antics the same way. I, too, have a hitchhiking story! And then there were the purple hot pants and the Jesus patches on my jeans in rather awkward places.”
“Okay, now you are scaring me. We might not be able to be friends after all.” They both laughed out loud.
They finished the food and cleaned up, exchanging anecdotes. The safe ones. It was 10 p.m. when Harper locked up and they said their goodbyes. Blaise followed her beat up Honda home in his Chevy pickup. He honked lightly as soon as he saw she was safely inside.
Harper opened her eyes again and sighed at the memory of it all. She felt that in some way she was turning a corner—an emotional one, at least. She rose quietly, stepping carefully over Clutch who was still dead to the world. She pulled on her robe and headed to the kitchen to make coffee.