The nuns, both clad in heavy woolen sweaters, walked side by side. Their breath hung visibly in the chilly autumn air. They had done one turn of the frost-dusted grounds in silence. On this, their second, they spoke.

"I've talked to Julian. I believe his objection to the rec. hall is legitimate. It does tend to be rather loud."

"You haven't given in to him, I hope!"

"I question your choice of words, Sister Dana, but I have agreed to let him hold his classes in his room."

"Sister!"

"Chaperoned, of course."

"Oh… He agreed to that?"

"Why wouldn't he?"

She ignored the question.

"But who?"

"Julian suggested Sister Clara."

"He would. Of course. The next best thing to being by themselves."

The old nun's dubious look bade her explain.

"She'll fall asleep! You know it's true. She's always nodding off. I don't mean to be unkind but, with Sister Clara on guard, Marcy just isn't safe."

"Safe? From what?"

"From him, of course. He may look innocent to you, but it's crystal-clear to me what's on his mind."

"Which is?"

"Oh, come now, Sister Zoe, don't be naïve. Do I have to spell it out for you?"

"I think you had better."

"S-E-X, Sister. Sex is all he's after. Any fool can see that." She saw that her zeal had carried her too far. "I'm sorry, Sister. Really, I apologize… But don't you see how obvious it is?"

"I guess I don't. You haven't mentioned this in any of your reports. Unless you've omitted something?"

"Oh, no. It's only a feeling."

"Well, perhaps you'd be less worried if the job of chaperon were yours."

At first this prospect frightened Sister Dana. She had yet to reconcile herself to Marcy. It was too soon. She was not ready. Then, suddenly, the situation looked ideal! How better to inaugurate the protective role she had vowed to play?

"That is, Sister, if you have the time."

"Two to three on Tuesdays and Fridays?"

"I believe that's right."

"I think I can… Yes, I'm sure. It won't be any trouble."

"Then you don't mind?"

"No. Well, yes. I mean, most likely it'll be a bore. Unless I learn the silly game myself. You don't suppose he'd teach us both?"

"No, I think not. Marcy is an exception as it is, I understand. Julian has never taught. His mother was quite shocked the day I told her."

"You called her?"

"She called me—and has, every other day, for weeks. I tried to discourage her early on, gently, but to no avail. Now I think, without the frequent contact, her fear that she has abandoned Julian would grow to be intolerable. I was so grateful the other day to have something new to tell her, I'm afraid I sort of blurted it out. There was a long silence on the line—which held I know not what—followed by her effusive thanks for all that we were doing for her son, the gist of which made plain that Julian never before had considered taking on a student, had, in fact, disparaged the idea."

"You see? I told you he had something else in mind."

"We disagree, however, on what that is."

"Okay, what do you believe he's up to?"

"As I said, I think there are many things involved, not the least of which is Julian's need to justify his existence. His suicide attempts were in response to a specific crisis. That crisis is over, leaving him to confront the situation; one his fears have him convinced is a hopeless void—one he now must fill. Undertaking Marcy as a project or a challenge is a life-sustaining enterprise for Julian. So, whether you judge his conscious motives honorable or otherwise, I trust you will keep their vital source in mind. Watch, protect if necessary, but do not interfere."

The young nun knew debate was closed, that "policy" had been made.

"Yes, Sister. Should I continue my reports?"

"Once weekly should be sufficient."

"Unless?"

"Unless, of course, you note some telling change."

They parted, walking off to their respective tasks.

 

Thus far...

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