She was losing blood, too much blood as it spilled out of the wounds on her chest, her stomach, her sides, her legs, her arms. Too many holes, too much blood, too much pain, too much weakness, too little time.
All odds were against her, yet she continued to fight the unconsciousness that simply wanted to absorb her in its bleakness, its blackness, its painlessness, with a primal, animalistic intent . . . survival.
She left a trail of red on white as she dragged herself through unpacked snow, burying her face in it here and there to quench the severe dryness of her throat.
She was dying from a succession of 17 merciless stab wounds from a six inch hunting knife. She would die. It was inevitable. Yet she continued her painstakingly slow crawl toward some kind of life, all the while continuing to hear his agonizing shouts playing over and over and over again in her head like a broken record.
“I love you. Oh God, I love you. I love you so god damn much!”
The alarm clock blared, arising Burton to that particular abrupt awakeness that occurs when one’s slumber is suddenly disrupted. He looked at his wife in wonder – that she could continue to sleep completely undisturbed despite the beeping at 75 decibels directly beside her ear. Once leaning over her and swatting the snooze button, his head returned to its indentation in the pillow, but then he was harassed with a new awareness to raw heat of nude parts emanating off of his significant other. Completely unguarded in her sleep, Charisma was a beautiful specimen. It was this moment every morning for the past five years that Burton was in complete awe of the woman he had married.
The whole of her 5’8” frame was curled in fetal position, her porcelain pale face unmarked by anything bothersome buried in the long, black, silky hair pulled over her left shoulder. Her lips curved slightly upward in that constant small smile he’d first fallen for, like a woman in love, like a contended child. There hadn’t been any bad dreams since the night before their honeymoon. To watch her so innocent in sleep, it would have looked completely natural to find her thumb between those soft child-like lips. . . . But he’d rather it be his tongue between those lips as despite the vulnerable impression of her child-likedness that made one react with nurture and a fierce need to protect, her aura displayed woman with all her fiery passion and hormone-driving phermones mixed with a delectable combination of maturity, knowledge, and wisdom. She was neither the intelligent, cold, and nerdy prude, nor the impulsive, foolish, bodacious bimbo. Rather she was a mixture of the two, an intelligent bodacious babe that could be spontaneous while maintaining a healthy climate of modesty, humility, and dignity. But she was never cold, by God, cold Charisma was not. She carried warmth from the deepest portion of her soul to the satiny surface of her skin and outward. Her inner warmth warmed his soul where her outer warmth set his body aflame.
He admired her.
How many times in these past five years had strangers thought they newlyweds?
How many eyes had looked upon them with envy?
How many pessimists had scoffed, saying it would dull and fade once the new wore off?
And how many others had turned to faith in hopes that they may be blessed the same with such a perfect and unburdening love?
Had they been blessed? Absolutely. And never would they stop counting their blessings. They’d inspired many and they’d insulted many with their deep and undying love.
Despite having grown up in the same small town of Camillus they’d never crossed paths prior to the tragedy that had brought them together. He was non-denominational, and she had been strictly Catholic, making them as diverse as Black and White, though ironically believing in the same God. Six years ago, Charisma was left beaten, broken, and pregnant amidst a religious group and family that couldn’t understand how Charisma could possibly want to keep the greatest reminder of her tragedy. Where Catholics are typically strictly pro-life, they deemed the child in her womb a spawn of one of the devil’s demons that needed to be exorcised rather than aborted or terminated. Like society, like government, morality, rules and regulations, and laws are everchanging in the eyes and hands of the beholder, and the people, once provided poor premises from authority they trust and respect, go along with it as though it had always been the way.
When Charisma refused to rid of the child in her womb, they turned her away and shut her out of their world of truth and enlightenment and right. She had been completely closed off from her portion of society and life that she had always known, always loved, always believed in, because she believed that all children were good in the eyes of the Lord, no matter who or what they came from.
She had come to Burton’s church a stranger, confused when she could not find the confessional box, a foreigner to a different world. She’d had her back to him when he first gently approached her. Her shoulders were hunched, and she quite resembled the Virgin Mary herself with the cloth that wrapped around her head and body to keep out the chill of a dying winter.
“May I help you?” Burton had asked her, carefully moving closer.
Her shoulders jumped and straightened. “I’m here to make a confession,” she had said.
“Okay,” he had said, not familiar with this approach. Normally people just asked for his help. “You can come into my office if you would like. I can make you some coffee or some tea.”
“I don’t drink coffee or tea. It’s a –”
“So you’re going to freeze to death in the name of our Father?”
And suddenly she giggled, realizing then how ridiculous it all was.
“I suppose you’re right.” He could hear the smile on her lips. After long hesitation she turned toward him, “I wouldn’t suppose you have any hot cocoa in that office of yours, would you?” And that’s when Burton had lost his heart to the one woman he would ever love.
“Only if you like it overflowing with marshmallows.”
She nodded, a shy smile on her lips, and a small struggling rebellious flame in her eyes that processed her potential to go against all she had ever known.
“Come on.” He had grabbed her hand, feeling oddly boyish and giddy. “My office is filled with every sweet and fulfilling beverage and morsel a person could ever want. I have a confession to make myself, and it has to do with this unnerving sweet tooth of mine that can never be sated. The children love me because they know I will share all my goodies.”
“Well, for having such an avid weakness for sweets, it obviously has not affected your smile any.”
“Ah yes, sugar and sweets will rot your teeth. It’s all in the genes dear, all in the genes and body composition. There are those who never touch sweets, yet their teeth are weak and decaying, and then there are those, like myself, who eat sugar all three meals daily as well as a mid-day snack, evening snack, and midnight snack, and have not a problem in that regard.”
Burton had seated her comfortably on the small recliner in his office with a steaming cup of cocoa overflowing with bobbing marshmallows. Whether the hot cocoa or the space heater or himself, she came to be warmed and relaxed quickly, and he found something even more beautiful than the phenomenal acoustics of the church resounding in chorus, and that was her laughter echoing all around him, as he made her laugh time and time again with the purely selfish desire to hear her laughter. He made a vow that day after secretly vowing that he would marry this woman, that he would always make her laugh. He found one other glorious thing that night aside from Charisma and love . . . Father Burton Faulkner had found God with the enlightenment of one of his greatest miracles of true love.
They talked and they laughed until the birds began to chirp the following morning. Disowned by the parents with whom she’d been staying, Charisma was homeless. That the woman could still laugh after what she’d been through was a miracle in and of itself. From spending three weeks in intensive care progressing from a mere two percent chance of surviving to 65 percent, she was transferred to recovery where she spent another month of her life. It was at her six week stay when they realized she was pregnant. After two months of hospitalization, Charisma had returned home to a whole congregation of Catholics, not to welcome her back, but rather to pressure her into ridding of the child in her womb. And now three months after her brutal victimization that she just barely survived, friends and family alike had cast her out as though she were the criminal and to blame.
Burton had welcomed her into his home, into his church, into his family and friends, into his life, and into his heart.
Society had then turned on them both, calling it a scandal. She was called a child then at 17 years old and he a pedophile at 28. He’d moved into the scheme of the stereotypical pastor and that’s all they saw him for. His job was jeopardized, his reputation to the people, and he and Charisma alone, once the most respected people in society, had stood up to them all, had taken the blows, . . . and had forgiven. Martha Lampshell had started the food-throwing at the church to get the Pastor off of the podium, but when Martha Lampshell’s house burned down, it was Charisma and Burton that took her into their shared home while supporting her and providing her with all those things needed to get her back on her feet.
When they’d gone on their honeymoon, consummating their love for the first time after having lived together for a long and sufferable six months, the church had been desecrated horrendously for their return, and without a word, Burton and Charisma had fixed it up.
Not a single person arrived at the hospital when the child was born, and when it was time to baptize the newborn child, the holy water was found to be contaminated with salt. Patiently Burton had locked the doors so that no one could leave and with Charisma at his side, they drained the basin and refilled it with pure holy water.
“If this child is to pay for the sins of his father, then may God make the water burn him,” Burton had exclaimed, and everyone had held their breathes, expecting just that. Not only didn’t the child burn, but he came up from that water laughing and gurgling ga, ga, ga, ga which to highly alert ears sounded very much like God, God, God, God!
It was that day that Burton had given one of his most prominent and remembered speeches. “Mary was called a whore because her child was not conceived in the traditional way of procreation of a man and wife. Everyone turned their eyes away and shut their doors on their faces. Mary gave birth to God’s only son, Jesus Christ. Years later when Jesus was a man and trying to spread the word of God, their were many that betrayed him and turned their backs. They tortured him with their words before they tortured him on the cross, because they were ignorant and close-minded. We are born sinners, but let us not be so ignorant and close-minded that we do not see the truth. God has already given my family his blessing , just like God’s blessing was already bestowed upon Jesus Christ. God’s blessing was enough for the suffering Jesus Christ just as God’s blessing is enough for my family. I quote Jesus’s words, ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do.’
He had stormed out of the church that day, carrying the newborn he loved as his, and holding the hand of his gentle wife.
Gradually in six months time, the congregation, save a few souls, had given them their belated blessing. And six months after that with Charisma and he just as much in love and a pretty average baby boy, many had come to him to ask, “Father, how can I earn what you have been rewarded with? How can I find what you have found?” Like a mother will tell her children to eat his fruits and vegetables and he will grow big and strong, Burton would tell them to do good things and follow the righteous path and to keep their eyes and minds open to the opportunities that come about.
Now five years later, Burton touched her heart-shaped face with profound adoration. He traced the curves of her expressive high-defined cheekbones, her kid nose … and suddenly Charisma abruptly jumped out of bed, startling him.
“What is it?”
“Baby’s up,” she said, hurriedly covering her nudity with a peach robe.
“I don’t hear -” And sure enough there were the little baby goggling sounds barely audible from across the hall. An alarm clock a foot from her ear hadn’t awoken her. Burton’s warm touch hadn’t awoken her. But a sound that could only be heard through intense concentration had woken her immediately. Amazing. She was wide awake now, her full breasts ready to nourish their dependent six month old baby girl; their first and their last addition to the family.
“I was having some very detailed, juicy dreams. Wanna hear?” she said to him while pushing her feet into peach slippers.
“Yeah, tell me every detail and maybe I can replicate it.”
“Maybe later.” Charisma winked at him before scooting out the door. Burton went for a swipe at her rear, but missed. He thought of that rear in the palm of his hands, enveloping his face. Forgive me father for I have sinned, but that’s a hell of a temptation. You enjoyed every minute of making that mold.
Charisma scooted into the room closest to her and Burton’s bedroom and patted her son’s rear. “Come on, Bun Bun, time for breakfast.”
She moved on to the next room across the hall. “Good morning, baby doll.” The precious babe suckled air, giving a visual of where her mind was at the moment. Charisma quickly lifted her, planting a kiss on her forehead before patting Bun Bun’s bun bun once again, and gliding down the stairs on tiptoes.
Charisma popped a nipple in the suckling baby’s mouth and threw some butter on the heating frying pan. One-handed she cracked the eggs on the skillet, laid out strips of bacon on another, and placed some bread in the toaster. She flipped the eggs, the bacon, buttered the toast, laid out two plates and distributed breakfast onto them just as a bedraggled six year old Sonny entered the room followed by his lesser bedraggled adoptive father, both yawning and letting their noses do the walking. Charisma got out the cups and poured the freshly-brewed coffee into two cups and the orange juice in the spider man cup that had a color-changing straw.
As though merely a football, Charisma moved the baby to curl into the other arm and latched her on to the remainder of the meal before returning upstairs and grabbing her son’s school clothes and backpack. The baby content and dozing, Charisma hurriedly changed and dressed her, placed another kiss on her forehead, and laid her back down in the bassinet. “Sweet dreams, love,” she sang as she closed the door and moved to her dresser to get her clothes for the day.
Sonny met her in the livingroom as she returned downstairs with his clothes and backpack, as well as her husband’s tie and briefcase. “Can I watch cartoons?”
“As soon as you put on your clothes.”
The dirty dishes soaked in a sink full of hot suds that Burton had filled. He laid his paper down and pulled out a chair for her in front of her already-made up coffee. They held hands across the table as they sipped off of their lives’ fuel and discussed their plans for the day.
He stood. She helped him with his tie. He put his shoes on. She made up a fresh mug of coffee. He wrestled with Sonny’s jacket as she tied Sonny’s shoes.
“Bye mom, love you,” Sonny said, grasping his father’s hand.
“Love you too, sweetheart, have a good day at work.”
Burton wrapped his arms around her in a big bear hug. “Bye sweetheart, I love you.”
“Love you too, have a good day at school.”
Sonny giggled as they kissed.
Burton grinned at him. “What? What’s so funny?”
“Mom says yer going to school and I’m going to work. Mom’s silly.”
“Silly-lookin’,” Burton said, causing Sonny a riot of laughter.
“Yeah, we’ll see how silly-lookin’ I am when you crawl into bed tonight.”
“Is that a threat or a promise?”
“Until my guy comes out growling, we’ll see who’s screaming,” Burton said.
“What guy? You mean a … a monster!?” Sonny said excited.
“Oh yeah, a big hairy scary monster,” Burton said.
“Not that big. It’s a little monster.” Charisma showed Sonny with two fingers five inches apart. “So small you can bite its head off.”
Burton grimaced. “Ouch, dear, very big ouch.”
“Come on, Dad, you’re making me late for school.”
Little Sonny dragged a reluctant Burton out the door.
Charisma waved from the tall window until the Green Taurus was but an ant on a hill, allowing herself that small moment of sadness that they were gone, before getting to work on all the baking she needed to do today for the bake sale. The bake sale’s profits would go to the children’s wing at the hospital, where Charisma had to go after the bake sale, as she’d volunteered to paint the wing’s walls a nice cheery yellow as bright as the sun as were the children’s requests. From there she had the church choir as they were preparing for the Easter Mass Concert. She would see her husband on and off all day. He wouldn’t be there at the bake sale as he had his own prepping to do for Easter Sunday, but he would be there to help paint the children’s wing, and then despite supposedly being locked up in his office, Charisma would find him peaking around the corner of the door at her as she sang in the choir.
At 3:00, as Charisma rushed around to clean up the eight rooms and two bathrooms in their Victorian-style home, Sonny came running through the white picket fence in the front yard, full of the energy only a child can have.
“Mom! Mom!” he cried. “I been lookin’ out the window all day and seein’ the sun and I want to go swimming. I want to go swimming.”
She laughed. “Well then what are you waiting for? Go get your trunks.”
He scurried up the stairs as Charisma hurriedly changed herself and Jewel for an afternoon of swimming. Charisma was slowly making her way down the ladder, baby Jewel in her arms, when Sonny did a running cannon ball, spraying cold water to all those places not yet used to its cold.
Charisma laughed. “Don’t splash, Sonny, it’s getting on your sister.”
“Put her in bed. Let’s play me and you, mom, then we can splash all we want.”
“It’s not her nap-time. She’s been sleeping all day. For once she’s finally wide awake.”
He dragged on her arm. “Hold me, hold me, hold me.”
“I can’t hold you, sweetheart. I’m holding your sister.”
“Throw me, Mommy. Pick me up and throw me in the water like you do sometimes.”
“Not now, honey. I have your sister.”
He squinted his eyes at her, furrowed his eyebrows, tightened his lips. Charisma held her breathe.
“I don’t want a sister. Take her back.”
Charisma laughed. “I can’t just take her back, silly. And when she gets older, you’ll like her a lot more because you’ll have someone to play with.”
“Can she swim like me, Mommy?” He frantically did the doggy-paddle.
“Nope, that’s why I have to hold her.”
“What if you dropped her?”
“She would fall in the water.”
“Would she drown?”
“Until I got her back out of the water.”
“Would she die? Would it kill her?”
Charisma gasped. “Sonny, where do you come up with these things? I won’t be dropping her which means no, she won’t drown, nor will she die.”
He seemed to contemplate this for a moment and then grudgingly concluded, “Good, cause then I won’t have a sister no more.”
Jewel giggled in delight, throwing her little hands at the water.
“We can play with the beach ball. Do you want to do that?”
“Yeah!” Sonny exclaimed excitedly. Back and forth they hit the ball until he tired of that game. Then they played bumper boats with their floaties. They were having so much fun that time passed quickly and Burton arrived out on the deck, home from his day’s work with a dinner not yet even started.
Burton admired his family unaware before diving into the deep blue waters to the screams of the rest. He surfaced, gliding his hand from Charisma’s calf, up her thigh, touching her most privately and then plopping a wet, dripping kiss on the baby’s mouth, and a longer, hotter, lingering, passionate one to his wife’s lips already aquiver from the small pleasure he’d aroused in her. Going back under he chased Sonny’s paddling feet to his son’s shrill delight.
“You got this while I go in and start dinner?” Charisma asked, but their fun play was answer enough. With a silent smile she boarded the deck, laying Jewel on a towel while wrapping her own around her waist. She caught her husband’s admiring eyes and his glint of disapproval when the towel covered all her curvy delicacies. He was a wonderful man. Truly a wonderful, wonderful man.
He was a full-blooded and full-bodied Italian with dark thick hair at the moment wet and plastered to his head, a few strands curling over his forehead. He wasn’t huge but his frame was large, big-boned, and somewhat fleshy around his torso and chest area. He had a round head with pink cheeks and navy blue oval eyes. His lips were a natural dark pink, something Charisma envied him for, as well as his long thick lashes. He was covered in black hair in the front, but fortunately not too absurdly in the back. He was a good-looking man. Not gorgeous, not pretty, but good-looking, handsome in his suit and tie, sexy in his navy blue swimming trunks.
Burton had a way about him that made him the perfect Pastor. People wanted to talk to him. People wanted to confide in him, despite the intimidation of their being judged because of his cloth. He was mild-tempered and soft-spoken. He did all the smiling with his intense eyes and the crow’s feet surrounding them. He never yelled. He never had to. His power, his authority, his control came from within. He was the type of man you never wanted to disappoint because although a word wouldn’t be said on his part, he would have that look, and that look would cause the most merciless to squirm in their pants with a conscience newly-developed. But when you pleased him, boys, girls, adults, the elderly alike would feel that pride the child feels when they’ve made their father proud.
And Charisma loved him. She loved him for the helping hand he’d so willingly provided six years ago. She loved him for the stand he’d taken against the congregation for her. She loved him for the acceptance of a child that wasn’t his. She loved him for everything that he was and everything that he wasn’t. He’d taken her in. He’d supported her while she completed college. He was there for her every step of the way, no matter how thick. He’d won her heart, married her, adopted her son, bought them this house, and finally given her his child, the baby girl. If he’d accomplished all this in only six years, Charisma couldn’t imagine the blessings 20 years from now would bring.
While the meatloaf and potatoes baked, Charisma called them from their play. Together they set the table. Charisma poured their wine as Burton filled the sink with suds to let the dirty dishes soak. Jewel was placed in her highchair, clapping her hands in delight. Sonny took his seat on the booster in between his mother and father. They all held hands as Sonny spoke their dinner prayer.
Burton mmmed and aaahed over the meatloaf.
Sonny declared how much he hated meatloaf.
Charisma lectured him not to use the word hate.
Jewel scarfed down her applesauce and pureed green beans.
Charisma critiqued her meal saying she should have used more of this and less of that.
Burton assured her it was perfect.
Once the subtleties were out of the way they spoke of their day, Sonny overpowering any sort of conversation with his wild tales and exhilarating excitement.
Burton cleared the plates and put them in the sink as Charisma set her son up at his desk so that he could do his homework. Only upon its completion could he have dessert, providing the motivation to hurry up and get it done. Jewel went down for more sleep. Burton filled their wine glasses one more time as they now had the opportunity to speak one on one in quiet voices.
He gripped her hand and lovingly caressed it. “Darling, I must confess. I have been cheating on you with my eyes. There is this woman who sings in the church choir and her angelic beauty and voice stand out from the rest of the choir. She wears the mandated maroon robe but every time I look at her, I find myself wondering what she is wearing beneath the robe and I picture her not wearing anything at all.”
“Burton, to have such thoughts in church, under God of all places.”
“I know. I cannot help it. She is just too beautiful.”
Charisma flushed with his compliment. “Well then I, too, must confess that I see this man peering at me as I sing, looking so handsome in his starched suit and tie and my thoughts tend to wander in the want of taking hold of that tie in my hand and wrapping it around my wrist and pulling him to the nearest pew and–”
“Daddy!” Sonny called.
“Hold that thought, dear. Our son needs higher intelligence, hence his calling for his daddy rather than his mommy.”
“He just wants to ask you how to spell pig.”
Charisma went through the dinner mess as Burton helped Sonny with his homework. Once completed Burton came in with Sonny at his side. “Can I have my dessert now?”
Charisma scooped both of them a brownie with vanilla icecream and then woke Jewel to take care of the evening feeding and a quick bath. Sonny was next in the tub, and then they all sat down together for their nighttime reading. With Burton’s deep resonant voice, it’s power and ability to change characters, he was the perfect story-teller.
At 8:00 they tucked Sonny into bed and Burton gave the night-time prayer. Love you’s were exchanged and the door was shut very very slowly.
Suddenly Charisma bolted down the stairs, Burton not too far behind her. She threw the shower on as he rapidly undressed her, then ridding of his own clothes he joined her in the warm spray. Each taking turns with the soap they lathered it over one another’s bodies and alternated positions to rinse. He brushed his teeth as she washed her hair and then he washed his hair as she brushed her teeth. She wrapped the towel around her hair and took off naked toward the stairs as he followed dangerously close snapping a towel at her rear.
“Quiet, you’ll wake the - ”
He tackled her as she squealed in a face-plant on the big bed. His hands hurriedly roamed her backside as she flipped herself over. Their lips clashed hotly as they prepped one another, their hands moving over one another. Charisma arched her hips as he slid smoothly inside her. They moaned and murmured, never tiring of the dance they’d begun five years ago and continued to do on a three to four days a week basis. He lifted on his knees and took both her cheeks in the palms of his hands and slid her over and around him as he grinded against her, awaiting his favorite climax-causing moment of her gasping, “I’m gonna – Ahhhhhh.”
Settled into and on one another, they kissed until their contended end. Gathering her up in his arms, Burton rolled off of her and they fell to sleep with her head at his shoulder, her hand splayed on his chest, their legs entwined, his arms wrapped around her and holding her hand.
Life was good.