38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl): Chapter Three
Author’s Note: This is Part 3 of a series of posts serializing my novella 38 Years Old (Never Kissed a Girl). For more information on the origins of this novella, including all disclaimers, and a complete chapter list, please see the announcement regarding this series.
Cathy didn’t come home that night. When breakfast rolled around Sunday morning, her chair remained empty. Brenda tried to cover for her, saying that she thought she went out early. Dad shook his head at Mikey, like he had given up on her, once and for all. Mikey downed his coffee in a single swig and grabbed a piece of toast off the pile. He shoved the slice into his mouth as he pushed back from the table.
“I’ll go find her, Pop.” He grabbed his denim jacket off the hook by the door, and pulled his tar-stained work boots on, not bothering to stop and tie the laces. He pushed a crumpled pack of smokes into the front pocket of his jacket, gave me a quick wink, then tousled Brenda’s hair on his way out the door. Brenda offered a mock groan of complaint and tried to fix the damage he had done without getting up from the table. Ricky and I laughed. Even Dad smiled at that one.
Mom bit her lower lip, rubbed her forehead, then cast a long, concerned glance at Pop. Mikey was twenty. Mom was thirty eight. You do the math.
Sundays were, of course, the day to go to church for most families in our neighborhood, and in that respect, we were no different than any other family. There were three masses at St. John’s Catholic Church starting at 8:00, 9:45 and 11:00 AM. The 8:00 AM was for those who couldn’t stand the singing of the church choir. There were no hymns, just an extra psalm or two. The 9:45 mass was for the commoners like us who were used to getting up early, but not too early on the weekends. The 11:00 mass was for the richer city folk who were used to sleeping in till all hours of the day. These weren’t actual rules—anyone could attend any of the masses—but it seemed to be generally accepted. Myself, I liked to go to the 8:00 mass. Sure it was early, but without the singing, it was a good 15 minutes shorter, and I never had to worry about getting stuck next to some tone deaf geezer who loved to belt out ‘Amazing Graze’ at the top of his lungs, apparently trying to make up for years of sinning by showing how good a Catholic he was now. If God was smart, he’d tell St. Pete to kick his ass back out the door when it came time for judgment, to spare the angels their hearing.
With the long weekend came the big crowds of tourists at the 9:45 mass. Which meant we had to get there early, or be stuck standing along the side until our legs gave out. Dad hated to stand, and as a regular church goer who gave his proper tithing, he believed it was his right to sit. So on this weekend, we were there by 9:15, meaning an extra half hour of sitting on those wooden pews. Well, not all the time was spent sitting. Since we had that extra time, Mom thought it was appropriate to pray a decade of the Rosary. And for Tony, Brenda and Ricky, they had the special treat of going to confession and professing their sins to the priest. I was pretty sure Mom went to confession once in a while too, but I never saw or heard of Dad going. He paid his money. That was what counted.
Sometimes Tony was an altar boy—something everyone in my family did, including me, at least for a while. There was a schedule, but this wasn’t Tony’s week, at least not to be one of the primary two. But since the church was getting full, and there was room up on the altar, Tony asked Pop if it was okay for him to go up and be an alternate. That basically meant he stood there and did nothing, but it did get him out of the crowded pew, and the extra Hail Marys. Pop nodded. Ricky gave him a little punch in the ribs as he slid through, for which Mom made him say another decade of prayers. I smiled at Mom, being the good little boy I was. I could be a suck up when I wanted something, and Sunday was as good a day to suck-up as any. Sometimes we’d stop by the Discount Corner Stop and get some penny candies. I could do a lot of sucking-up for a dime’s worth of candy.
The hymns were barely started when Mikey showed up and tapped Dad on the shoulder. Mikey still wore his jeans and work boots, a definite no-no when it came to entering the Lord’s house back then. He held his baseball cap over his right hand. Mom gave him a stern look as she judged his attire, and his whispering into Dad’s ear. Dad’s eyes widened a bit, and his jaw tightened. He nodded at Mikey, and leaned over to whisper to Mom. It only took a second, and I couldn’t overhear it, but Mom’s hand went to her mouth. She looked at Mikey, who nodded to her and made a motion with his head towards the door. He took Mom’s hand, and led her out. They walked quickly away from us, heads down, trying to avoid the stares which came with leaving church before it started.
I was only six, but I knew my mother. Running out of church in front of everyone in the neighborhood would only happen if something was really wrong. I glanced up at Pop. I could see he was torn, trying to decide what to do. He looked back towards the door, but Mikey and Mom were already gone. He bit his lip, and looked down at Ricky, Brenda and me, before turning to the O’Brien’s behind us. Mr. O’Brien was little more than a casual acquaintance for us. They ran the neighborhood drug store, and had two sons, around Ricky’s age, who were always bragging about the amount of ice cream they had the night before. Dad motioned for Mr. O’Brien, and he whispered a few words into his ear. O’Brien nodded. Dad turned to the three of us.
“Stay put. Be good. Mr. O’Brien will take you home after church.”
I nodded, and Dad turned and left. I watched him go, feeling more than a little uneasy. I turned to Mr. O’Brien. He smiled nervously, and pointed towards the front. Ricky and I exchanged a quick glance. Something was wrong, very wrong, and we all knew it.