Fr. Barnard had gone to the water’s edge behind the abbey, to the place where Karissa had tried to drown herself. He sat down, remembering that day, remembering the feel of her limp, wet body in his arms, remembering the pain that tore at his heart as he kissed her, remembering the relief when she coughed and opened her eyes.
He had thought she had done it because of him, but now he knew better. It was Bryantt Sands she loved. It had always been Bryantt Sands. The priest had been a fool to think otherwise.
Karissa approached him from behind, coming from the catacombs. She longed to reach out and touch him. to comfort him. He had looked so weary earlier. She knew she had to tread lightly. She knew she was being watched by the Cardinal, by Sr. Agatha, by Gregor, by the whole town.
Fr. Barnard rubbed the back of his tense neck. That’s when he sensed her. He stiffened as the scent of her perfume drifted to him. He heard her kneel behind him and felt her warm hands on his neck. Her touch flowed like hot lava into the heart he was trying to harden. Tears welled in his eyes. He finally grasped her hand to stop her and pulled her down in front of him.
“What are you doing?” he demanded to know.
“I wanted to see if you were okay,” she said, noticing his tone of voice. “I was worried, is all. With everything going on. But I can see you want to be left alone. I will leave you be.” She stood up to leave.
He grabbed her wrist and pulled her back down to face him. “I was a fool!” he stated emphatically. “I have been acting like a damn fool. Like a teenage boy with his first crush. Gregor is right. I have responsibilities. I have a parish to run. I have a flock to tend to. I forgot…”
“Yes, you do,” she said.
“I forgot,” he repeated himself, his voice softer now, his eyes sad. “I forgot you loved him.” He let go of her wrist.
Karissa lowered her eyes, knowing her love for Bryantt was not the same as her love for the priest. Her heart was beating rapidly in her chest.
“This is all my fault,” the priest said.
“No. It’s not. It’s our fault.”
“Yes, it is. I was the one who should have been responsible,” he argued.
“You are not alone,” She frowned.
“I took a vow. I have obligations!”
“Yes,” she interrupted. “And I shouldn’t have sought you out as much as I did. I knew it was wrong.”
“I have put us both through hell,” he told her.
“I would gladly go back through it for the last few days with you, but we know that it can’t be.” Her voice quivered.
“I love you, Karissa,” he said to her. “With my whole heart I do. I can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep letting you come and then leave to go back to him. I have to let you go. I don’t have a choice. I don’t know what else to do.”
Karissa’s heart was crushed, knowing Barnard had just made a very difficult choice for her. She fought back her tears. “It is the right choice,” she said. He shuddered as he drew his hand down her arm and squeezed her fingers. He couldn’t bring himself to kiss her one last time, but only pressed his forehead to her fingertips. “I won’t seek you out any more,” she said, her voice quivering. He nodded silently. “If we bump into each other, I will nod and so, no more. There is no use making it harder than it has to be,” she told him. She stroked his cheek, her body threatening to collapse under her heavy heart. Her heart breaking inside, she ached to tell him that she loved him, but didn’t dare say the words now.
“You’d better go,” Fr. Baranrd said. “Now.”
Karissa nodded and kissed his cheek. “You are a good man,” she whispered.
“Now,” he said again, feeling himself weaken and battling every urge to seize her.
“Be well, Barnard,” she said, standing up and turning to run through the catacombs to the crypt.
He watched her walk away, taking his heart with her. He couldn’t breathe.