XVII - The confessional

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[RECAP:  Carl Spencer is struggling with guilt over his feelings for his student Juliet, after she kissed him on Hallowe'en]

Drinks. A couch. A mindless action move.

A doctor couldn't have provided a better tonic for the way Carl was feeling right now.

Dan, who was perceptive, could tell something was up. Carl saw the question in his eyes but his friend didn't push it.

Ninety minutes of car chases, people dangling from helicopters and some kind of jewel heist later, he was finally starting to feel normal again. It wasn't his favourite kind of film but it was what he needed right now.

"So," Dan began, flicking Carl a sidelong glance, "all good with the wedding progress?"

"There's more involved than I thought," Carl said.

Dan laughed and handed him another drink. "Tell me about it. I thought it would never end. But I guess this stuff is important to them, so I just let Jenny do her thing."

It had been a wise move, Carl thought, as Dan's and Jenny's wedding had been good fun. Dignified where it mattered, and relaxed and enjoyable for the rest of it.

He was silent, thinking about his own situation.

Dan wasn't going to ask him outright what was wrong. "You must be nearly done with the marriage classes. Jenny and I were pretty over them by the end of it all."

"How do you mean?"

Dan shrugged. "It's all a bit overdone, isn't it? They mean well, but constantly being reminded to save it for the day... well it just increases the pressure, doesn't it?"

Carl frowned. "Did you find that aspect difficult?"

"What do you reckon?! One night we nearly threw it all in and went to Vegas. Jenny was even more up for it than I was."

Vegas. Carl thought of Rebecca's very different reaction to his own joking suggestion.

"What made you stay?" he asked Dan.

"All the money we'd spent. Angry relatives. Mainly the fact that Jenny really wanted to wear the dress, and it was still being fixed up at the bridal shop." Dan took a swig of his beer. "If we'd had it with us, we might well have eloped. The pressure was pretty full on by then, as you can imagine." He gave a wicked grin, assuming Carl was experiencing the same.

Once again Carl was silent. He didn't usually talk about stuff this personal with his friends. Or even his pastor.

"It hasn't really been an issue," he said.

"You mean you're both too well disciplined?"

"I guess. Something like that, maybe." He couldn't hide his troubled expression.

Now Dan looked puzzled and concerned. "What's up?"

So many things. The fact that Carl was constantly aroused by another girl and couldn't stop thinking about her. The fact that he felt no physical attraction towards the woman he was about to commit his entire life to. The fact that after tonight, he wasn't even sure whether he knew her properly. Did they even share the same values?

"Doubts are pretty normal," Dan said, to try to reassure him. "It's about reinforcing to yourself that you're doing the right thing."

"Did you have them?" Carl asked.

"You've met Jenny's mother, right? What do you reckon?" Jenny's mother was something of a battle-axe. Dan set the can down. "I shouldn't say that, she's got a good heart, Barbara. But yeah, I mean everyone has doubts. Or not so much doubts, but 'what ifs'. At the end of the day you're opening more doors than you're closing. Or one much better door, perhaps. Think of it that way."

* * *

 Inside the confessional it smelt of wood polish and the dust of ages. The faint smell of incense lingered in the air. It was a very different atmosphere to the modern cheer of Carl's own church, but he had come here because he couldn't think what else to do.

He needed to confess. To seek guidance.

But he couldn't face telling his own pastor.

As he knelt on the hard cushion inside the confessional booth, there was a sliding sound as the shutter drew across. It left only a lattice between Carl and the unseen priest.

Carl waited. He had some idea that he or the priest was supposed to say something, but he wasn't sure what.

Eventually the priest spoke. "Do you wish to confess, my son?"

The first thing Carl needed to confess was that he wasn't a Catholic. "This isn't actually my church, Father. I'm not really sure how to proceed."

The priest's voice was warm. "The house of the Lord is open to all. Why don't you start by telling me what is troubling you?"

Where to begin? "I'm supposed to be getting married, Father..." He trailed off, unsure how to continue. "But I'm having doubts."

"It is not unusual to feel uncertainty at such a time."

Carl wondered what the priest looked like. He sounded patient and wise. "It's more than just uncertainty. I can't stop thinking about someone else. I don't know what to do."

"Have these remained merely thoughts, my son?" the priest asked.

You couldn't lie in a confessional. Of all the places in the world, this was the last place you could lie. "Not quite. But nothing much, nothing..." Carl spoke quickly, wondering what the relevant transgression was called by Catholics. A kiss that he hadn't done enough to prevent. "Nothing mortal."

"Can you put distance between yourself and this other person?"

"No, she's..." he stopped himself from saying "one of my students" as it sounded so appalling. "She's at my place of work."

"Then you must do your best to put what distance you can there."

Carl already knew this, though it was painful to think of having to avoid Juliet. "Yes, Father."

"With this person removed from your thoughts, would your doubts be gone?"

This was the crux of it. This was the thing that Carl was trying to establish. Sitting there in the dark and calm, infused with the ancient odour of church, the holy serenity of it all, Carl finally got the clarity he sought.

"No, Father." He and Rebecca were just too different. Their values were too different. He realised that now.

"Perhaps time and distance from both these women will help you find the correct path," the priest said.

When Carl walked back outside from the dark stillness of the church, into the bright wintry sunlight, he felt as though a burden had been lifted from his shoulders. He had been stressed that his attraction towards Juliet and growing feelings for her were interfering with his affection for Rebecca.

Now he realised that regardless of Juliet, he and Rebecca were simply wrong together. He didn't have the appropriate emotional or physical feelings towards her. Despite his revulsion at her attitude towards his cousin, he was reluctant to hurt her more than necessary. 

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