Milly sat on the flat roof of the faded hotel, face craned upwards in deepest contemplation. If someone had gotten a bizarre compulsion to scan the rooftops they would have thought her in the act of stargazing; of course, they would not be able to know that she quite frankly was horrible at astronomy and couldn’t tell if any random glob of stars was supposed to be a Thomas or a bird or a giant piece of sparkling cottage cheese. Her eyes looked up, gazing beyond them, letting her thoughts take their course wherever they pleased. In a fit of inexplicable fancy she’d taken off her shoes. The night breeze drifted in between her toes as they wiggled, chilling them. But she paid it no mind.
It had been too uncomfortable, too stifling in the hotel room when Senpai had left--gone off to follow Mr. Vash as he went out to get some dinner, a dinner with the killing flaw: no prospect of delicious deserts afterwards. She had declined. Her stomach wasn’t up to a big dinner (suspicious). So, left to her own devices and not feeling up to doing paperwork, Milly had crawled out their top-floor balcony window and hoisted herself up to the roof, for once grateful for her long, lanky arms and legs. It did not suit her to be alone but if she had to bear it then she wouldn’t suffer it in a cramped room with dubious stains on the ceiling and floor that smelled as if her grandma’s funeral clothes had gotten washed in a vat of gin.
She frowned at her toes, wiggling them some more like she could augur from their movement, tracing a finger over the instep of her right foot idly. Ever since the kidnapping, Senpai had always acted somewhat on edge around the target of their surveillance, yet she now hovered around him more than ever like a determined (perhaps suicidal) moth after a moving lantern. A peculiar look now curtained over her face when she was around him, her eyes a bit wider in some unknown unease and her lips pursed together oddly: it was as if she wanted to impart some terrible secret knowledge to him but she couldn’t do it, fighting to keep it bottled up inside. If it had been any other man Milly would have let Senpai hear the riot act when it came to honesty and trust, but Mr. Vash was the sole exception. Milly didn’t have the heart. Mr. Vash had the unique ability to make everything, no matter how open or benign, seem as if it were so horrible it should be kept secreted away--and he was the king of secrets. What he touched just grew out of proportion, twisting and turning in strange ways. He didn’t make anything easy; maybe, she had mused to herself, that was why he was so very unhappy. To encounter many adventures and trials in life could be a treat; for life to be one continual adventure was exhausting.
At least he could take consolation in that his adventure would come to an end, and she had the opinion deep in her bones that it would come sooner rather than later. How it would come to pass depended on those secrets. She hoped for his sake that they were worth hiding.
Milly could see the thin gauze of smoke from chimneys hanging hazy yet thick over the flat rooftops, illuminated weirdly by the glares of lamps inside living rooms and bed chambers. All was still and immutable, seemingly forever. It made her smile. It was nice to see something constant--her job was getting increasingly madcap, and not in a fun away, unless you thought almost getting shot by assassins was fun (she didn’t). Before the kidnapping the pace had been furious, but now it just made her almost sick to see how fast things went. She was trying her best but she did not think neither she nor Sempai were keeping up. How could they keep up when just the very sight of one of Mr. Vash’s opponents nearly shattered her mind with fear?
Visions of unpleasant altercations infringed on her vagrant mind and her lips pulled down in disapproval. This time around she actually did focus her eyes on the skyline of the town. In the distance she heard the yowling of a distant pack of stray dogs. She wondered what they were doing. Hunting? Maybe. Except for sandworms--the one that had arrived outside the hotel window the night after Senpai had gone missing nearly made her dive under the bed--she liked animals. They knew what they were all about and had evident reasons for doing what they did.
People, now that was a bird of a more ragged feather.
Milly used to fancy herself that she had a good sense of reading for her fellow man. She knew which ones were good and trustworthy and which ones were bad and to be avoided. She liked to give the benefit of a doubt but always reserved judgment until the character was proven; she knew that most people tended to make themselves out to be more complex than they really were at the core, quirks, idiosyncrasies, and conditions notwithstanding. Now she was not so sure. Her optimistic intuition had been failing her as of late.
All because of this assignment! It was absolutely dizzying. Milly forced herself to hide it from Senpai but there were times she just felt like sobbing. She could name the root problem: Mr. Vash was an unfortunate soul who managed to have a whole gang of assassins sent after him, wicked men who did wicked things. Simple enough. Perhaps if she knew the exact reason why and the particulars it wouldn’t have been so bad. No solid answers had come, she had hunches but nothing she could be certain of, and it lay heavy on her. Something bigger, vastly bigger, was at hand and no matter how much the desire she didn’t have the least notion of how to go about fixing the problem the slightest. So many lives ruined and at least two decent men’s souls being crushed and--she did not have the means to lift a hand to help them. How could she help them without knowing what was happening? They were probably having a big laugh at their expense. Her toes clenched.
With her coat unbuttoned and lifting up her shirt, she examined the bruise on her stomach. It no longer hurt to touch but the marks had not completely faded away. She dangled her splayed fingers over the tiny rivers of dark purple webbing the discolored skin. She never understood why it could remain that color (though it had lightened over the past few days) and not hurt.
She wanted it to go away. She was the sort of person who hated clinging to unpleasant memories, for they dampened her spirit and depression did not become her, her parents once said. It was hard, though, very hard when a reminder was etched on to your skin. She had tried every medical and home remedy to remove it but they had only served to keep down the swelling.
He had hit her very hard.
It was not knowing why, always coming back to that basic problem. It made her heart sick within her. Senpai had told her of a strange twisted game going on with Mr. Vash and that was the reason the killers had come, but it didn’t explain why Mr. Priest had to go and sock her like that. He had never been very mean to her, not that kind either, yet she hoped that they were becoming some sort of friends that could rely on one another in times of need. She screwed up her face as she figured that he had done it because he didn’t trust her judgment. The notion stung her pride. The exact reason why she had been selected to help Senpai for this case was because she was the sensible one--so sensible people often considered her insensible--who could tell when things got out of hand. Senpai, while not unmethodical by no means liked rushing into things, tended to see the forest for the trees. If he had told her why he needed to go alone, that they would meet up later to get Senpai out after dispatching the bad guys, then she would have obeyed him. She had only wanted to help and be there in the final stretch to rescue her superior.
Ah, then again, hadn’t he tried to do that before? She hadn’t listened then and it almost got her shot. Maybe she wasn’t so sensible and had deserved everything that happened to her.
Teeth bit into her lip; she looked up at the stars in the moment of shame to find no more meaning than usual in them. She really hated being confused like this. Once again her toes flexed; her eyes darted down to them, staring--she felt that a whole world could be found in the wiggling of her feet, if she were only smart enough to break the mystery!
With her sights set down lower she noticed the rows of dusty shingles on the roof. One of them, she noted, had gotten its nails loosened somehow and had been blown so by the wind so that it hung crazily, swiveled on its one secured nail at a crazy angle. That only made her jangled frame of mind even less at ease. Nothing was right, it seemed.
With a flash of insight, akin to the inspiration that prophets of antiquity received from absolutely nowhere from time to time without asking or knowing, a remembrance sparked in Milly’s brain. She recalled that amongst her portable stun-gun maintenance kit was a small hammer used to smooth out dents in the casing. It was sturdy for all the delicate work it performed; she wagered it would do in a pinch. After retrieving it from her suitcase and giving a tentative test whack she smiled to see the nail begin to go smoothly in.
Her brows drew down in intense concentration, the tip of her tongue slipping out between her lips. She had always been very good at physical labor. There was something nice in using one’s hands, moving muscles. Non-field work at Bernardelli made use of hands but in a bad way that gave no stimulation; the closest thing to feeling useful was when she got in trouble and had to wash windows or carry heavy cleaning buckets to the uppermost janitor’s closet --so she had sworn to get in trouble at least once a week for some minor offense to keep from going crazy. The Chief was pretty obliging in that regard. He was somewhat fond of her, perhaps because she saved him from being hit by Senpai’s typewriter once. Meryl had drunk five cups of quadruple-caffeine espresso and he’d informed her that the formerly urgent case report that she’d worked overtime on the night before had gone out of Bernardelli jurisdiction and was therefore void. She had not taken the news well.
Rough wood shifted underneath her fingertips with the vibrations from the tapping of the hammer. The night breeze shifted her hair, the hammer’s metal cool in her palm. Only these things did she consciously recognize. Everything else beyond this one task meant nothing. This planet really wasn’t so bad if you got lost in it.
“What’re you doing out here?”
The voice came down a few feet below; Milly shifted her eyes to look down to see Mr. Wolfwood standing out on the men’s balcony. She bit down her surprise in favor of plastering on a smile. “I got bored so I decided to come out here. And then I saw this weird shingle, I just had to fix it.”
He nodded absently and flicked away some crumbling ashes, dark brows swooping a fraction. “You shouldn’t be out here this time of night. We don’t wanna have to go through the same thing that we did with the small girl if someone targeted you.”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” she replied briskly to keep out the rise of bitterness in her. She tapped at the shingle with her hammer. “I’m not important enough.”
“True, they probably won’t try it again, but it doesn’t hurt to take precautions. What’s eatin’ you tonight anyway? “ A more sympathetic look surfaced, the haunting in his eyes reflecting an understanding. “Ah. It’s getting to you at last, isn’t it? It’s catchin’ up.”
She wanted to know what he thought. She herself did not honestly know what had been truly bothering her so. Turning to look upon him from her vantage point her hands fell expectantly into her lap.
He took a drag of his cigarette and continued over the smoke: “I told you that this wasn’t your world. It eats up a person. You don’t deserve it.”
“What are you trying to say, Mr. Priest?” She watched his arm draw back with surprising violence as he chucked his smoked-out cig to the earth below.
“We weren’t planning on telling you girls, but I don’t want any bad feelings like last time. It’s going to get very dangerous soon. Girl. You and your little friend really should leave before the heat turns up. Vash and I are leaving soon and you are not coming along. I mean it this time.”
“Why? Why won’t you let us help? We may not be able to do much but it’s better than nothing.”
“That’d just be putting you two in the way.”
“In the way of what, Mr. Wolfwood?” She wailed. “I know this is something bigger than a few assassins and Mr. Vash’s bad luck! Senpai told me a few things but even she won’t come completely clean with me yet. Everyone knows more than I do. Nothing’s explained to me!”
“You both know too much as it is,” he spat. “You can’t do nothin’. Except hang around like a passel of watchdogs at our heels. That’s why we’re taking off soon, Needle-Noggin and me.”
“We may have been like that before, but now we’re friends. We should stick up for each other,” she protested, knowing the argument as a lame one. She felt much more than that but she had never been eloquent in speech, never could voice her deeper processes clearly so that she mostly didn’t bother. She wished she had a capable tongue like Senpai’s.
“Yeah, leaving us out in the desert like that was real friendly.”
“If you’d been nice and told us that you were leaving we wouldn’t have done that! You never tell us where you're going and won't let us do our job! Because you're mean! If you two had been around, maybe Senpai wouldn't have gotten kidnapped and you could've saved us all a lot of trouble. But that’s beside the point, Mr. Priest. When things are scary as they are now, we need friendship more than ever, that’s what my family always told me.”
Coolly he rolled his eyes. “There you go, talkin’ about feelin’ again.”
Now he’d gone too far--something broke inside of her, the whole world bursting scarlet right before her eyes. “Stop it right now,” she snapped, feeling very angry and ashamed to be seen out here in her bare feet and holding a dinky stungun hammer, trying so hard to figure things out. “You’re not the boss of me, so don’t you talk like that. I don’t know why you’re so mean to me and why you have to discredit my feelings all the time. Don't you know how terrified I was when I turned around and saw that Senpai wasn't there anymore? How scared I was that they'd come after me, too? I know we can be annoying at times--might I add that you two aren’t the most ideal traveling companions--but Meryl and I also saved both of you once or twice too. And you brush that off like it’s no big deal. You’re right, Mr. Priest, maybe it’s only emotion. I don’t know why you dislike me so much, but just because I have more of an ability to feel than you doesn’t give you the right to make me feel worthless! I know I’m not much in the scheme of things but you know I’m not nothing. And if you don’t care to recognize it and keep on demeaning me so--” she curled her lips back against a hitching breath, rubbing at her eyes, deciding then to say one of the meanest things she knew of, “then you can just screw off. Yes! You heard me! If you can’t even be decent to people who actually think kindly of you, then the life that’s made you so mean is exactly what you deserve. Good night.” She stepped down from the roof to her open window in an awkward movement; her balance thrown a bit off from the red film still cast over her vision, and slammed the shutter behind her.
The unfortunate hammer met a none-too gentle fate as it was slammed back inside its case with a vengeance. Milly paced a few tight circles to take the edge off her distress before clambering onto her bed, rocking back and forth.
Her mind traveled over distant miles to think of her home. More and more often she was getting the notion that the home life had spoiled her. Her hometown had been one of the few successful government cultivation projects on the planet, a stringently guarded land of fields and light tree growth, rather like an expanded geo-plant. Her family had been among the tenants since the initial inception and controlled most of the land--it had gotten so that more than three quarters of the inhabitants were of Thompson stock. Outsiders married in the ranks quickly became subsumed; there had been no shortage of cousins of all kinds and ranks to be her playmates as a child, along with her parents and older siblings to play with. They had been her best friends and companions, and the non-relatives had all been joyous in the communal prosperity as well.
She had been very sheltered. She left when she was eighteen and she was still only twenty-two. She’d long forgotten what exactly she’d hoped to find to make it all worth it.
Barring some exceptions, such as Senpai, the people without the fences and guard posts of the government land had proved lacking. She remembered through her chagrin that her father had tried to warn her. His hearty, pleasant face had soured on the day she’d left as she’d enthused about all the new people she would meet and the friends she was bound to make. “Don’t get your hopes up,” he had said. He then had explained that lots of people out there did not have green fields to work and play in, that the desert was hard and had made the people hard and greedy so that they could not find joy in the simplest things in life. Soaking in the sky and having Ceylon tea along with pudding each day would not satisfy them. If she’d only listened to him!
Often enough her own natural cheeriness could sustain her, the thought of home and that out there existed some people who loved her. That combined with her joy in quiet things had brought her contentment. But it was becoming clearer and clearer to her that she marched to a different drum here. The Bernardelli people said (mostly good-naturedly but not always) that she was too sunny, her notions bizarre, and they liked to make fun of her appearance. She knew there was some water cooler gossip. In and out of the office the people--often men--saw her height and unnatural strength and called her gorilla-girl and giant-girl and lots else. She’d seen Mama Nebraska, so she knew that her tallness didn’t come close to breaking the record; it struck as rather silly to point out who was, at best, second place, but then again Mama Nebraska probably smashed people who made fun of her.
Milly placed the center of her forehead against her knees. She recalled that people liked to say similar things about Mr. Vash; but she’d never found him particularly odd. Maybe that was why he had finally warmed up to her. They had never made fun of each other. He seemed to like her just fine. In spite of everything going against him she liked him fine too--he had been very kind to her, even if he was kind to everyone. . .
“We’re not monsters,” she mumbled to her knees, the room her intended indirect audience. Well, convincing herself and inanimate objects was one thing. People were harder nuts to crack. And since she hated cracking nuts anyway, she had never thought about the issue on a cognizant level before until after Mr. Wolfwood had punched her.
It bothered her, she concluded, because she thought of the priest as a friend. He had an air of charisma and suaveness about him that appealed; and, even if she hadn’t given any outward admission of it whatsoever, she liked his looks. He had some rather scary elements to his personality--she knew that his world was not her own, that in him was darkness and scattered dreams. Plus (this was the worst in her opinion) he was brusque. She had no hope for it. But in spite of it all she was convinced, no, knew that his inner spirit was a good one. She’d heard about the orphanage and knew that no bad man would do the things he did for them. She had to concede that he needed to keep his goodness in check, since this world had a habit of trying to stamp it out. He had to preserve it for the children.
She supposed it would be too much to ask him to be a little kinder, not with all his baggage.
“No use in it,” she half-chirped to herself --she found that addressing herself usually helped her regain courage and cheer. She blew her nose on her sleeve, wiping it across her nose. The cross sewn on the cuff bumped her nostrils. She really had to remember that they were on there.
A knuckle-rapping knock sounded at the door. A part of the insurance girl perked up in hope of something, another wishing against wish that it was Senpai returning because she didn’t feel up to more complicated interaction. “Senpai?”
“Nuts,” she grumbled discreetly. She had a mind to just let him rot out there--still, where was the point in that? It wasn’t kind to leave things so twisty; they’d both feel better for it in the end if she talked.
Deciding that, she allowed him to come in.
Wolfwood shuffled in with the step of a bad boy being sent to the principal’s office; it almost made her giggle at the strangeness of it, he never looked like that. She hoped her face was a neutral one as she waited. He cleared his throat once, twice.
“I don’t dislike you,” he said.
She stared at him. “That’s very nice of you, Mr. Wolfwood. But I don’t see why you would act the way you do if that’s the case. You punched me! I was only trying to help. It‘s bad enough you won‘t call me by my real name, it’s even worse that you think I‘m so dumb you won‘t even trust me to stay put! Mr. Vash is so much nicer to me.”
Wolfwood’s gritted teeth split his face; skin across his cheekbones drawn in something very much akin to pain. “I’m sorry that I treated you less than kind. At the time I was doing what I thought best in the situation. It was dangerous and I had no time for any sufficient explanations. But apart from that, you‘re--right. I haven‘t treated you or Shorty with any real respect, and I‘m sorry. I just didn‘t think you‘d take it so personal.”
The big girl leaned forward so better to study his face, her eyebrows drooping down in deflation. “Please explain--I really don’t understand. I won’t ask anything else. I know you’re not a mean man, Mr. Wolfwood, yet what can I say when you punch me in the stomach and leave me all alone? I’m confused, more so than usual!” The tiniest smile tickled the corner of her mouth.
“I’m not used to people like you. Big Girl. . .Milly, I really hate sayin’ this because it sounds stupid, but it’s hard to know how to act towards nice folk when you’ve never had a shred of dignity given to you your entire life. I can treat strangers just fine. It’s the closer ties that give me trouble. People like you and Needle-Noggin’, you throw me for a loop and I don’t know how to act. It bugs me, really, even though I look at you both and see something that I want more than anythin’.”
With a very gentle voice she prompted: “Aren’t the children enough?”
His big rough hands clutched at his knees in the grip of one giving out the most tortuous confession. “They’re what I live for. I don’t have anything else. But I don’t know. Ever since all of this, and the message at the ship, I’ve been--dissatisfied. I love ‘em with all my heart but it’s just not quite enough. I give ‘em my all, yet I’m startin’ to want more. Do you get what I’m saying?” He lifted up his miserably searching face. Milly felt something swell inside her chest, wanted to cry out; however, this required the utmost of her tact. She had to move slowly.
“Perhaps it’s because you’re feeling hope,” she offered.
“Maybe,” he grudged.
“It hurts that you don’t trust me enough to even talk about what’s bothering you. I hate being left in the dark, Mr. Priest.”
“It’s better that way.”
She cupped her forehead. “It’s never good to hide things. It never solves anything.”
“Even if it keeps you alive?” He challenged, voice getting harsher.
Her mouth dropped open a little, cold dread numbing her stomach with an edge of frost. “Oh, is it as bad as that?” She received a curt nod. It was at that moment she realized that nothing more could come of this if the situation was too dire for truth. “Well, at least I understand a little better. Thanks, Mr. Wolfwood. I’m sorry I snapped at you.” She stared at him when he didn’t leave right away as expected.
“I just wanna try one thing.” He fidgeted uncharacteristically with his hands.
“What is it, Mr. Priest?” Wide blue eyes blinked.
“It’s kind of stupid.”
“You’re talking to the queen of that kind of stuff,” she managed to give a small laugh, voice warmer with her smile.
He nodded at her, face stoic, and braced his shoulders as if he was going to pick up his Punisher. He crossed the distance over to her and clamped a hand on her shoulder. He leaned in close. He gave her a very quick kiss on the lips, bumping her nose with his on the way back. When an inexperienced kisser like her thought the action was a tad bit awkward, then that was saying something.
Wolfwood stepped back like he’d been pinched, holding up his hands in apology. “Sorry, that was bad,” he muttered, looking cross with himself. “But--I’d actually wondered what that might feel like. For a while now.”
“Oh, you just need a bit more practice is all. Nobody gets it right the first time,” she said immediately, putting his comfort first without thinking. A second later a blush erupted over her cheeks. For God’s sake, he was a priest and she was--well, she only had to look at her cuffs and collar to know that’d she slipped past the mark of propriety.
“Practice?” he smirked.
She steeled herself, flouncing her chin a little. “Mr. Priest, I am a firm believer in the charity of one’s heart. I’ll do whatever you need to make you feel at ease. Because, if you don’t mind my saying so,” her eyes twinkled, “you’re acting like a shy teenager right now.”
“Girl, you are really quite scary, you know that?” His head drooped down, eyes lost in the thick cover of his messy bangs. She couldn’t read him to understand what she had said to elicit such a reaction. Maybe he was embarrassed about her deducing it had been his first kiss. “You’re too smart for your own good sometimes.”
“No pulling the wool over my eyes,” she sang. He could only nod his head in answer.
He stepped forward, reaching out and grasping one of her hands up loosely in doing so. He studied her wrist. “Now I may be mistaken but I recall the first time you were with Needle Noggin you didn’t have these. What’s the story there?”
Milly affixed her own eyes to the blocky Greek cross. “That’s my own secret. Maybe when you feel like opening up I‘ll explain in return.” Normally she preferred not to advertise, but after she had met him on the bus over two years ago she couldn’t help but let the admiration seize her. He was just so cool, confident, and strong in the face of the big disappointment she found most Gunsmoke society to be, shrugging off things like they were gnats. Maybe if she mimicked him a little, even the tiniest bit, then she could stand being away from home so long that much easier. She had her pride and did not want to come home crying her eyes out while her brothers shook their heads and her father patiently said, “I tried to tell you that’s the way it goes.” It felt silly to tell him that.
A frown pulled at his face; his eyes grew foreboding and flinched as if he were ashamed. She had seen that look more and more often as of late, especially around Mr. Vash, a look that revealed that, for some terrible reason, Mr. Priest didn’t like himself much. "I guess I deserve that."
“I'm sorry, but that's just how it goes. It's not a one-way street," she tried to make her voice as gentle and level as possible in defiance of the urge to grab him by the lapels and give him a good shake to rattle his obstinate head. It wasn't fair for her to do all the work, it really wasn't--he just couldn't go around thinking that he had the right, just because he was all mixed up in something she was better off not knowing, to assume that everything would be done for him. He needed a lesson. But when she looked at his unguarded, unhappy face one again her resolve softened; she had to remind herself that he had been very alone for most of his life, something which made life all that much crueler. It was not fair to have such high expectations all at once.
"Mr. Priest, you are a better person than you give yourself credit for. I admire you something awful, as much as I admire Mr. Vash. It's sad that you have not been given a good life, but I am willing to be patient."
“If you knew everything, then you wouldn’t think like that,” he answered. “You can’t be so naïve to think that a guy like me could be so great. I never had the luxury for any close ties for a long time. The kids, what I feel for them puts 'em in enough danger as it is. I'm not like Needle Noggin."
“I think that it only makes the good you do that much better, Mr. Priest. That’s no excuse--anybody can fall back on it. Still, I won’t force you to say anything. If you’re so minded to change for the better, then you will. I believe in that. But I would like to hear your story one day, when all of this is over and you and Mr. Vash come back. I would listen.”
Wolfwood did not say a word, instead fishing around in the inner pockets of his jacket, at length pulling out a plain little silver rosary. He pressed it into her palm, closing her fingers around the cool chain. “I wanted to give you this before we split up. I hope you make better use of it than I have.”
Milly dangled the rosary in front of her face watching its pendulum sway with tight but smiling eyes. “I’d be honored to hold it for you. I’ll give it back to you when you return, though. I can’t keep this forever. It’s yours after all. And you will come back!”
“I can’t promise anything.”
Once again that constant negative attitude was able to drive Mr. Vash and Senpai (who never liked anybody else being pessimistic except herself) up the wall reared its sulky head; she, however, only brushed it aside with a laugh. The future was extremely malleable when the Humanoid Typhoon was concerned; she would pin her hopes on him and Mr. Priest, knowing that even if they failed that she had erred on the side she thought best. Her fingers brushed up against his sand-gaunted cheek. “Practice a bit more faith, Mr. Priest.”
He slowly got down on his knees to let his head come to rest in her lap. Milly stroked a hand through his hair. A sigh shuddered through his back; his face seemed very young and very old all at once, mouth still in a youthful pout but the angles of his face too sharp. She felt bold and brazen but time was a fickle friend at best. She knew the imminent departure would strike without warning; this was no time for a too-bruised ego that had been practically non-existent in the first place to muck everything up. “Not enough time,” she murmured. Senpai and Mr. Vash would come back soon and he’d treat her as he usually did as if nothing had happened. Well, maybe a little better, but she’d come to realize that the priest liked keeping up appearances, if anything. But he had humbled her by putting his own face to the mud, so to speak, and somewhere in the deepest recesses of her intuition she knew that she would never see the like again.
He peered over the edge of her lap. He smiled.
"You have cute feet."