From THE PATH HOME
“Father!” Christopher rushes up to me as he pounds down the steps of St. Michael’s. “I’m going to be an altar boy today.”
I smile and laugh. It feels like years since he and I played on the beach. I have to remind myself it was just yesterday. “Are you?”
“Yes. Bishop Marquez said I would get the honor because I am so special.” “Do you know what to do?”
He nods. “Tommy, the other altar boy, said he’s going to help me.”
I ruffle his hair. “Good.”
The bells ring, and Christopher runs off to get in his robe. I turn to the forty monks who are all lined up and ready for the procession. They fidget, all nervous at the honor they have at being in the presence of Cardinal Rouche.
Why am I so antsy? I can’t put my finger on it.
The bells chime and ring. It is time for the procession into the great sanctuary of St. Michaels.
Side by side, the monks walk two deep down the aisle. I am at the back. The great choir sings Ave Maria, and once again the beautiful song shakes me to my bones.
While not a fast and hard rule, we traditionally look ahead, staring at the back of the heads of the monks in front of us. I don’t know why, but my eyes begin to wander. I look up at the cross of my Savior hanging there, and I say a silent prayer of thanks for his sacrifice. Looking to my left, I gaze at the stained glass windows and marvel at their beauty.
Finally, I look to my right, and for a moment it doesn’t register.
It can’t be. I think that if I ignore it, it will go away.
The world is about to end.
Toni sits in the middle row, her eyes on me.
I stare at her. I take a deep breath, knowing I am about to break. I no longer hear the song. There is a silence all around. Then a rushing sound, as if a great wave is crashing, thunders through my head.
She holds my gaze for one more moment. Her expression is confusing. I can’t discern her thoughts. Then I see her first tear fall.
I never see the second.
She stands, and runs out of the church.
Dumbfounded, I find my seat. I am left sitting in the front row of the church as mass continues on, my mind a thousand miles away.
“Did you see me up at the altar?” Christopher bounds up to me after the mass. I do my best to smile. It is harder than I thought. The pain in my throat overpowers any thoughts of happiness. “Yes, Christopher. You were wonderful.”
He beams. “Are you proud of me?”
I kneel next to him, trying to fight back the tears. My voice is choked as I speak. “Yes, I am so very proud of you.”
His eyes scan the church for something. “What are you looking for?” I ask, although I already know. Emotions boil to the surface, and I have to fight them back down.
“Toni,” he says. “I invited her. I wanted her to see me at the altar.”
My heart hurts and all the pain boils to my mouth. “Why didn’t you tell me?” My tone is harsh, and I immediately regret it. Christopher looks up, scared. “I… ”
“I’m sorry, Christopher. I’m just tired. That was wrong of me to snap at you. I just can’t believe you didn’t tell me Toni was coming, or that she didn‘t tell me she was coming.”
Christopher, still looking a bit nervous speaks. “I told her to keep it a secret. I wanted it to be a surprise.”
“It’s okay, Christopher.
“Did I do something wrong?”
I grab him and hug him close, knowing that this is the end of the dream for us.
“No, Christopher. You are perfect. You are absolutely perfect.”
“I just wanted her to see me up at the altar.” His voice breaks. “I just wanted her to be proud of me.”
Taking a deep breath, I try to hold back the tears. “I know, Christopher, I know. And you were great up there today. You did everything perfectly.”
The world is broken and falling apart.
Christopher knows something is wrong. I can’t hold back my broken heart. He understands that whatever is going on has to do with Toni, or rather, a lack of Toni.
I choke and heave. Pressing him close to me, I try to push the tears back in. It doesn’t work.
“I just wanted her to see me up at the altar… ” Over and over he says it as my tears begin to fall. His high-pitched voice begins to crack as he repeats the sentence again and again. I shake as I realize Christopher is blaming himself for my sadness. He understands that if he hadn’t asked Toni to come, I wouldn’t be crying. I want to tell him it’s not his fault. I want to tell him everything will be okay. I want to tell him that no matter how bad we both feel, in one week we will both go back to Toni’s house and play on the beach and eat hamburgers once again.
I want to tell him the dream is still a reality.
But as my tears fall, and Christopher’s tears fall, and the crowd begins to gather around us, I know none of that is true.
Caedem Marquez spends his time reading, writing and enjoying life. He has traveled to South America and over half of the states in the United States. One of his favorite trips was up Highway 1 in California. He has made a 1,200 mile road trip on a whim, given his hand-made coat to a homeless man, saved a friend that was about to drown, and eaten 42 chicken wings in one sitting. His greatest delight is meeting fans and sharing a laugh.
TODAY’S PRIZE CONTEST!
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