Molly didn’t resurface for months. Becca hoped against hope that her friend would find her way back to her, but it just didn’t happen. Becca managed to get through her last semester of nursing school. Graduation was right around the corner. Her parents, sister and Aunt Sarah would be attending. She had hoped Father Ian would also come.
It was a balmy May afternoon, the dogwood trees were in full bloom in their pink and whites cross blossoms. Father Ian had told Becca the story of the tree and how its wood had been used to make the cross for Christ. The symbolism of rebirth for all God’s children was the promise of their blossoms. Becca had liked this story, she felt a kinship to the trees, she felt she was becoming a new person in her pursuit of nursing, that she was being reborn into a life of service, perhaps not as strict as that the life Father Ian had chosen, but a life of service none the less. She had wanted to make a difference; she had wanted to be a healer.
There were only forty nursing students who made it to graduation. There had been twice as many when they began, but one by one, life swallowed up half her classmates and now only the very determined stood waiting for their diplomas.
As the names were called, Becca felt bittersweet, the names of the unspoken whispered in her ear. Molly would not hear her name; Jannie would never have her name called and all the others whose hopes had been claimed by a different path were somewhere else today. Her reverie was broken when she heard her name, Rebecca Thomas; she rose and glided to the podium. She heard the cheers of her family as she shook hands with the Dean of Nursing and then smiling retreated to her seat.
Afterwards she milled around with the other graduates as they congratulated each other. Most would continue on as friends and colleagues working at the local hospital or nursing home. Becca’s family rushed up to her and hugs were all around. Aunt Sarah held her close and whispered in her ear, “Jannie would be so proud of you! I am so proud of you!” with tears in her eyes.
“Come on Becca, we’re taking you out!” her father said. Becca nodded but was looking around for someone. She knew he had come, she had seen him sitting in the third row, but where was he now? She scanned the large crowd, all the graduates were in black gowns, he was lost in a sea of black.
“Becca?” she heard his warm voice. She turned around and Father Ian stood smiling at her. His eyes were shining; she wanted to dance in them. She embraced him before she realized what she was doing. He laughed, “You feel like a nurse!” And he broke away feeling self conscious.
Aunt Sarah called to them, “Turn this way so I can get a picture of you two.” Becca stood next to him, careful this time not to touch, and Aunt Sarah focused.
“Becca, do you have a minute?” Father Ian asked shyly. “I have a small gift for you.” Becca was thrilled, it didn’t matter what is was, it was a gift from him.
She waved to her parents, “I’ll be right back,” and the two found a quiet place beneath the grove of dogwoods. The blossoms offered a canopy of privacy.
“I wanted to give you something, well, I mean I know you are not catholic, but I wanted to give you something that was meaningful,” he stammered. Suddenly he was embarrassed by his own generosity. He hand her a small box wrapped in pink paper. He felt the warmth of her hand. The feeling shot through him and he looked into her eyes, “Congratulations, Becca. I am sure you will be a wonderful nurse.”
She opened it, inside was a delicate cross of gold. “Oh Father, it’s beautiful, thank you!” she was overwhelmed with emotion. She gazed into his face and saw the depth of his emotion. “Thank you, really,” she whispered again and then she impulsively kissed him on the cheek. He pulled back as he flushed full face, the tingle of the kiss lingered for the rest of the day.
Becca didn’t realize the effect she had on him, she handed him the cross and said, “Would you help me put it on?” She turned her back and pulled her chestnut hair up offering her neck. He gently clipped the necklace, taking care not to touch her skin, afraid of what emotions might arise. Becca twirled around and smiled widely at him, “I will never take it off!”
Father Ian laughed nervously, “I’m glad you like it, Becca. I hope it brings you strength whenever you need it.” He took her hand and squeezed it underneath their sanctuary of blossoms. “You mean so much to me,” he confessed without meaning to.
Molly’s life was a living nightmare. The beautiful high she had first gotten from her drug use had turned on her and she now became a slave to it. Searching for that ever elusive perfect high was all that mattered.
When she realized she was pregnant she was well into the first trimester, she hadn’t been paying attention to her body for some time. Bill was less than thrilled, “Shit, you can’t have a kid! I know a guy who can take care of things for us real cheap,” was his response. Not exactly the white picket fence scenario Molly had always imagined.
They didn’t speak of it again for a while, Bill was sullen unless he was high, then he was all pie in the sky about life and his abilities. Molly thought about checking herself into rehab and having the baby on her own, but when she mentioned rehab to Bill he totally freaked out on her, threatening her very existence. He need her, she was the one thing he could control in his out of control life. If she straightened out, he would be lost. So he badgered her and belittled her until she agreed to the abortion.
Molly called Becca, “Hey, Becca. How’s my favorite nurse,” she said trying to sounding cheerful.
“Molly? Shit is that you? Where are you?” Becca had been taken off guard.
“I’m still here, I mean at Bill’s. Listen, I’ve got some good news and some bad news,” she ventured.
Becca braced herself, “Oh?” she didn’t want the concern in her voice to betray her.
“Yeah, see I’m pregnant! How cool is that?” Molly gushed. Finally she felt she could share the news with someone who would understand.
“Wow, Molly, that’s huge! Are you okay?” Becca didn’t know what to say. The situation couldn’t be good, and having a baby while using was awful for everyone involved.
“Yeah, well no,” and then Molly broke down. “I really want this baby, Becca. Really I do. I think I could straighten out, you know? I mean, I could be a really good mother. I love kids,” she sobbed uncontrollably.
“Molly? Molly? What’s going on? Why can’t you have your baby?” Becca asked growing more and more concerned.
“He won’t let me!” she wailed. “He’s making me have an abortion! I can’t do that, I’m catholic! I will go to hell! He’s taking me later today. Becca I don’t want to go. Please, help me!” Molly was out of control.
“Where are you? I’ll come get you,” Becca said in panic.
“I’m at Bill’s. Please hurry, he’s coming back soon,” Molly whispered in desperation.
“Molly, leave, now! I’ll pick you up at a store or something. Just tell me where you are. Just get out of there so he can’t find you!”
Becca heard his voice in the background getting louder, “Who are you talking to, bitch? Who’s on the phone? You think you’re going somewhere?” Then Becca heard the smack of hard flesh against soft flesh and the simultaneous sound of Molly’s scream and the phone hitting the floor. “The only place you’re going is with me. Now get up you piece of shit!” Then the phone went dead.
Becca was beside herself, she didn’t even have an address. She called 911 and explained the situation, maybe the police had an address, maybe they could go over and fast. “He’s hitting her, I swear, I heard it over the phone,” Becca said hysterically. The dispatcher calmly asked her more questions until the little information Becca had been gleaned.
“I’ll send a car over, we know the address,” the dispatcher said. “Just hang tough, I’ll let you know if we find your friend.”
Becca paced her apartment, Kallie paced with her. Ten minutes later the phone rang, it was the dispatcher, “Miss Thomas, I’m sorry. When the officers got there the place was empty. I’m sorry we tried.”
“No, please! There must be a way!” Becca cried.
“I’m sorry, honey. They did their best. Maybe your friend will show up. Don’t give up hope.” The dispatcher hung up.
Becca called Father Ian, there was no answer. Where could he be? Becca then decided to call Aunt Sarah, she had always been a good listener. After Becca had unburdened herself with the latest sad tale of Molly’s life, Aunt Sarah was quiet and then she said, “You know honey, every baby is sacred, even one who’s mother is a drug addict. I hope she gets the help she needs. You have been a good friend.”
“But I couldn’t help her when she needed me most! What kind of friend is that?” Becca stated.
“You can’t blame yourself for what has happened. You have always had open arms for that girl. Becca, she turned away from God,” Aunt Sarah pronounced.
Becca realized she had shared too much information. Aunt Sarah would always carry the loss of Jannie in her heart, so to see someone throw their life away was especially painful to her.
“I’m sorry, Aunt Sarah, I shouldn’t have called. Thank you for listening though.”
“No, darling, really it’s all right, really. Anytime,” Aunt Sarah said with obvious pain in her voice.
“Thanks. Love you,” Becca said.
“I love you too, dear. Goodbye.”
Becca needed to get out of the apartment, she need to release the angst that was threatening to swallow her up. She grabbed the leash and Kallie and decided to walk towards the church, maybe she could find Father Ian.
Kallie sniffed everything, stopping every few feet on this new route. Becca was becoming impatient and tugged her along. The church was quiet, somber in fact. The building had a feel all itself. Becca walked behind the building hoping to find Father Ian in the back gardens, sometimes he would go there for some solace. It was empty as well. She felt abandoned. She needed him now in this moment more than any other and he was nowhere to be found.
Becca took the long way home, she had to go home sometime and tomorrow she had to work. She ate very little and spent much of the night staring at the phone willing it to ring. She would have given anything to hear Molly’s voice again. She tortured herself with vision of what may have happened. She awoke in the darkness of the early morning and dressed for work. Rest had eluded her; it was going to be a long shift.
Becca immersed herself in her patient’s needs and almost forgot her troubles. Coming back from lunch break she saw a familiar face, Father Ian was talking to Lisa, her nurse manager who nodded sympathically. She saw Becca returning to the floor and called her over. “Becca, I am covering your shift. You need to go with Father Ian.”
Becca was confused, she looked at him, it was all he could do to look her in the eye. “Come, we need to talk,” his voice was soft, she almost lost his words. She followed his lead and walked to the hospital chapel.
“What is it? What has happened?” Becca began increasingly nervous. He crossed himself before the small alter and motioned for her to sit next to him.
“Becca, I have some sad news. I wanted you to hear it from me first,” he hesitated. Her brushed the hair away from her eyes, and gently caressed her cheeks trying to soften the blow that was about to come.
“What?” Becca croaked out, her throat was dry and her head began to pound. She knew something terrible had happened, her heart raced in her chest.
“They found Molly’s body this morning. She died,” the words were gentle but it didn’t lessen their effect.
Becca grabbed at him, “No, no! I just talked to her yesterday. I told her to run, I called the police,” disbelief colored her words. She clung to him as if the air of the universe had all been consumed and she gasped for breath between her sobs. He held her; there was nothing more he could do. He let her sob in his arms and he silently cried with her. He had failed Molly and he had failed Becca, he should have done more. He lost a precious one from his flock, one that Becca had told him was in trouble and he had done nothing.
“I am so sorry Becca,” he finally said when her sobs subsided. “I should have done more.” He held her close and rocked her to comfort both of them.
She put her head on his shoulder, “It’s not your fault, I know. It’s that bastard Bill, he did this to her. Did they get him?” Becca wanted some justice for her friend.
He shook his head, “It appears she had a back alley abortion and bled out. It is so sad, Becca, every child is precious. Someone would have taken that child,” he held her closer.
“She wanted the baby, she called me yesterday. She told me he was making her do this. I tried to stop it, really I did. I called the police but by the time they got there he had already taken her,” Becca explained yesterday’s events. She rocked in his arms. “Do her parents know?”
“Yes, I was just with them. They are devastated. They hadn’t heard from her in months,” he confided in her. “Let me take you home.”
“I don’t want to be alone; please can I just stay with you?” Becca pleaded. She wrapped her arms tighter around him and buried her head sobbing once again.
“I have to go back to the church. You can come back with me,” he spoke tenderly. He stood up and loosened her grip.
She leaned into him again, “No, no, don’t let go of me, please,” she wailed. He waited for the fresh spasm of grief to pass, wiped her face and then took her by the hand back to the church.
She curled up in the corner chair in his office. He brought a pillow and blanket form his apartment and wrapped her up. His scent was all around her now, it brought her comfort. She watched him as he did the business of a priest, making those phone calls no one wants to make, scheduling a funeral for someone too young and offering comfort to the bereaved. She must have fallen asleep as a few hours later he was jostling her shoulders, “Becca? I have to go out. Let me take you home first,” he was talking to her through a haze of sadness.
He took Kallie out back when they got there, put the tea kettle on and made her a bowl of soup. He sat there and watched her eat. She tasted nothing. Kallie tried to nuzzle up to her and she pushed her away. She was beyond despair.
“Becca, are you sure you don’t want to go to your parent’s house? I don’t think you should be alone,” he said. She looked so wounded as if her heart would crumble when he left. Her eyes were hollow with grief.
“No, I’ll be okay here,” she whispered. “You go and do what you need to do, I’ll be okay.”
He didn’t believe her, but he had to leave. She walked him to the door, “Remember Becca, God loves you,” he said.
“Good for him,” she replied listlessly.
He pressed his forehead to hers and closed his eyes. A million images flashed through his mind as their skin touched, as though he could read her thoughts. “I love you too,” he whispered.
She didn’t even open her eyes but said in a low tone, “I know, Ian.” He broke away flustered and left. Becca stumbled into her bed and the darkness of her soul consumed her.
Becca didn’t remember much of the funeral. Father Ian had resided over it, there was a lot of talking and platitudes, but there was no Molly. In the front of the church a casket covered in flowers was the only thing that stated her presence. Becca couldn’t believe her friend was inside. She knew it was only the human shell of who Molly had been, but she had loved all of Molly, even that part. Becca’s sadness consumed her. She sat in the back of the church during the service said nothing and left first. She couldn’t even speak with Molly’s parents, it was all too painful. She shut herself away from all human contact.