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Forbidden Love by Moonlight

17 minute read

The evening mass ended with Father Jacob and the retiring deacon blessing the congregation. Modern lighting illuminated every corner of the 17th-century building that had once been a sanctuary to refugees and fugitives. A final hum from the mass marked the flock’s dispersal as a few voluntary assistants gracefully thanked everyone as they left, reminding each of today’s sermon, the importance of family and education.

 

               Dr Peter Milton forced himself passed a pair of older citizens firmly clasping the priest’s hand to thank him for the outstanding service. Behind him was his daughter Christina, a girl of twenty-two with pale white skin and silky ginger hair. Her bright blue eyes glowed as Dr Milton reached for her to proudly display how righteous and pure she was to Father Jacob.

 

               ‘God bless you,’ he told Dr Milton, who crossed Christina’s brow with his fingertips. Christina awkwardly smiled as her father explained how he had followed Father Jacob’s doctrine as a single father and how his daughters were the finest in the community.

 

               Many fellow churchgoers glared at her as Father Jacob accompanied her down the church entrance into the courtyard, asking about her plans for the future and joining Saint Mary’s sanctuary in the south. Christina clenched her fists to conceal the tearing pain raging in her chest.

 

               Sitting in the large SUV waiting outside the parking lot, Rachel twisted her head to tell Dana and Sarah off for squabbling. Christina pulled open the side door, put on her earphones then squeezed in next to them. Daphne burst open the front passenger seat, ranting about different church activities.

 

               Christina nodded to acknowledge but gazed out the window, pressed by the ever-growing twin girls fidgeting beside her. Their father arrived and looked at the girls proudly. ‘So, what did you think?’ he asked, adjusting the rear-view mirror.

 

               All the girls laughed and joked about one part of the sermon and what other parts meant for them. Dr Milton started the car listening to their critiques of Father Jacob’s biblical teachings. Their three-hour drive back home to his secluded lake house in the hills passed faster when they spoke with each other. Christina sat in silence. Rachel looked over the drowsy twins, mouthing, ‘What’s the matter?’ but Christina shunned her with a frown.

 

               The car pulled into their automatic garage. Dr Milton exited the vehicle with Daphne and Rachel, carrying the twin girls straight to bed. Christina sat alone in the back seat.

 

               ‘Come on, Chrissie,’ her father insisted with a tired voice. She took out her earphones, slipped out of the car, and walked to the entrance to the kitchen. He tilted his head at Christina, who lumbered her shoulders forward as he kissed her cheek. ‘Are you okay, sweetheart?’ he asked.

 

               For a moment, an urge came over Christina to tell her father what was on her mind. She envisioned a discussion of the two speaking openly about what was troubling her, but she knew that whatever she said would hurt him; after everything he had done for them, that was the last thing she wanted. ‘I’m fine, father. Just tired, that’s all,’ she said. He kissed her and wished her a good night.

 

               Christina walked quickly upstairs to her room at the end of a long corridor. She closed the door without turning on the light and sat on her bed in the dark. A dam of emotions welled up in her, ready to erupt, yet she held it in with a tough swallow. Her phone vibrated. Christina fished it out of her pocket.

 

               A message from Eric. ‘How are you?’ it read with an icon of a smiley face afterwards. She held the glowing device brightening her face turquoise. ‘I’m fine,’ she wrote uncontrollably with one hand. ‘I’m tired. How about you?’

 

               After a few moments, Eric responded. ‘It’s nice to be coming home from the Benedictine Monastery. Four years away from everyone has been insightful but tough.’

 

               ‘I missed you,’ she wrote with a heavy tug in her gut. She sat up straight, clenching a tight chest. Christina inhaled short breaths erasing those words and writing: ‘We missed you.’ She sent it, then unwittingly asked, ‘Where are you?’

 

               ‘I am in a hotel nearby; I suppose it’s too late to come over. I know you all attend evening mass on Thursdays. I’d rather come in the morning when you are all awake,’ Eric ended with an icon of a wink. She blushed. An eruption of butterflies flew from her stomach, knowing that Eric was nearby.

 

               ‘Don’t be ridiculous. Come round. You can stay in my room.’ There was a tick next to the message on her phone. Then a double blue tick to show the message had been read, but there was a pause. No response.

 

               Christina sweated, but her throat dried as she waited. ‘Please come,’ she added in slight desperation. ‘I don’t know why, but I am feeling miserable.’ She paused and then ground her teeth before seeping out a long-winded sigh that hissed between her teeth. ‘I know seeing you will make me happy,’ she added with a smiley face, then froze before finally pressing send.

 

               Another long pause followed. Eric responded. ‘Okay. I’ll let you know when I arrive.’

 

FOUR YEARS EARLIER.

 

The midday sun illuminated the soft greens and glimmering trees which danced with the swaying wind. The two-storey house stood overlooking a lake at the foot of rolling grassed hills with the natural beauty of the icy mountains beyond.

 

               With his children holding hands in the dining room, Dr Milton prayed to thank God for their meal. ‘Amen.’ The long dinner table was filled with stories and laughter while they ate. Amid the joy, however, the air grew thicker as the elder sisters, Daphne, and Rachel, stared at Eric with discontent.

 

               The twenty-two-year-old half-brother from a brief liaison their father had before he married their recently passed mother sat beside Christina, playfully joking about how he got lucky with his final paper at university. The younger sisters, the twins Dana and Sarah, got on with Eric first, especially after their mother passed away the three summers prior. Eric appeared shortly after and raised Dr Milton’s spirit — a child he never wanted who became the one he needed.

 

               ‘I must say…’ – Dr Milton raised his wine glass at the head of the table. – ‘I am so happy to share this moment with my beloved family. You have all made my life a blessing.’ They all clinked their glasses of soda together, but Eric kept his glass up. Dr Milton picked up his knife and fork but glanced over to Eric, his eyes wide, concerned. Eric cleared his throat, then put his cup down.

 

               ‘I have, I have….’ A nervous cough stuck in his throat as he looked at the table. ‘I’ve decided to join the service of the monks of the Benedictine Monastery.’

 

               ‘What?’ the younger two sisters gasped in unison, then turned to each other flabbergasted. Christina’s face dropped too. She glanced over from the twins nodding, then back to Eric, ‘Yeah, what?’ Speechless, Eric turned to the head of the table. Dr Milton sniffed and pulled his cheeks back into a forced smile. He raised his glass to salute him.

 

               Eric looked back at Christina; a slight sheen glazed over her eyes. Dr Milton spoke, but the words muffled as the sisters remained paralyzed. Eric turned to his plate, picked up his cutlery, and continued eating. ‘Well,’ – he took a bit of the lamb. – ‘I’m finishing my studies; I was offered the chance to go, and learn philosophy from the monks.’ – He took a sip of the fizzy soda. – ‘I hope to learn something new, you know?’

 

 

               Daphne was the first to break free from the spell and nodded, feeling relieved. The twin girls stormed off the table, hitting him on the shoulder as they shoved by. ‘Hey, what was that for?’ Eric’s boyish smile snapped Rachel out of her hesitant state of disbelief.

 

               The air lightened, but Rachel turned to a frozen Christina who lifted her glass like a mannequin with strings attached; Dr Milton followed along with the other sisters. ‘That’s great news, brother. Congratulations,’ her monotone voice said dryly. Daphne, who had always scorned Eric, held up her glass, disappointed at herself as she continued to nod but couldn’t look him in the eye.

 

               Christina’s face stunned Eric: her angelic smile stung his eyes. He sniffed, although looking at his father and the other sisters, Christina’s greenish emerald eyes lured him back. The back of his neck tingled as he eventually locked eyes with her. Her hand lowered, and the meal continued. She remained silent.

 

               After the meal ended, they cleared the table. Eric went to make friends with Sarah and Dana, who ran off to their bedroom. ‘You promised you’d be there for us,’ cried Dana to be followed by Sarah: ‘You told us you’d take us to high school,’ then Dana called back, ‘Help with grandma.’

 

               ‘Girls, it’s only four years,’ he pleaded. ‘I’ll be back for holidays.’

 

               The door opened slightly, ‘Even Christmas?’ Sarah asked, rubbing her eyes. Dana popped up from behind.

 

               ‘Especially for Christmas.’ Eric held his arms out, then knelt beside the two girls who rushed to hug him.

 

               ‘We’re gonna miss you,’ they both said repeatedly.

 

               ‘I’ll miss you both too.’

 

               ‘Sarah, Dana,’ shouted Christina walking up the stairs. ‘Come, eat your lunch. It’s been reheated for you.’ She reached the landing and saw the twin girls wrapped around him.

 

              Sarah pulled Dana from her as she whispered in tears: ‘We love you, Eric.’ They passed Christina slowly with their heads down. She pointed them to go to the dining room.

 

               ‘Go on.’ Eric stood up; Christina’s pulled back her ginger hair into a ponytail.

 

               ‘Do you want to go for a walk?’ she asked.

 

               Eric jittered, then looked out the window to the autumn sun setting over the lake. He cleared his throat, then gestured for her to lead the way. ‘Down to the lake?’

 

               Christina didn’t answer and stomped down to the front door. Out on the porch, she picked up the pace; her elegant stride gave Eric an eerie feeling as if she were gliding away from him like a phantasm. He stumbled to keep up with her.

 

               They stepped onto a path where the crushed brown leaves littered the floor loudly. Christina placed a hand on the tree bark slanting over towards the water, then trotting down a slight hill out of Eric’s sight. He stopped and glanced back at the house; its picturesque picket fence and triangular roof froze still under the late afternoon. A shimmering warmth from the lake's ripples burned the side of Eric’s face as he turned back to the water, glowing a mystic purple with orange lines. The sky above glowed pink with greyish clouds that hung low over them.

 

               Eric knelt on the floor and picked up a sizeable thin stone. Pressing against the smooth texture of the tree, he thought about turning away. ‘She doesn’t need to know,’ he told himself, then stood up, clenching the stone in his palm.

 

               Automatic footsteps grew heavier as he pulled himself closer to Christina, passed the tree, and down to the lake. Eric tumbled down gently, holding his arms out to not lose his balance; a strong scent of brine made his nose wrinkle as he sneezed.

 

               Face in one hand, the other clutching the stone tightly until it pierced his skin. Eric’s gaze kept to the ground, slowly rising to find Christina sitting on the edge of a pier looking at the giant orange sun setting on the horizon. She placed a hand on the edge of the wooden plank and quickly wiped her face as Eric sat down. ‘When did you decide just to pick up and go?’ she asked.

 

               ‘I wasn’t going to,’ Eric told her, unable to see her under the golden light. He focused on the rippling waters and squinted as the reflective sparkles stung and blinded him. ‘I changed my mind at the last minute, you know?’

 

               ‘Come on,’ the girl said as she punched him lightly on the arm. ‘We used to talk on the phone for hours about how all you wanted to do was travel. Why change your mind and go to this monastery place?’

 

               The still violet waters mirrored the golden globe above. Eric turned to her green eyes smouldered grey. ‘To be honest… it’s more of a way to change my heart.’ Christina’s girlish smile dropped, and she cocked her head, turning pale. She opened her mouth, but Eric continued abruptly, returning to the lake, stiffening his posture. ‘I pray that going to the Benedictine Monastery, I can learn to, learn to, you know, control my feelings someday.’

 

               Christina’s mouth sealed; lips pressed hard until it pained her cheeks. Her tongue pried her words from her as she asked quietly: ‘You’re going… because of me?’

 

               ‘No,’ Eric whispered. The stone loosened in his palm. ‘It’s because of me.’ His bare hand recovered its yellow texture in moments. He threw it into the water, and a light splash fizzled out. ‘How I feel. I’m just... I’m just confused, that’s all, Christina.’ She retreated and pulled her seated position to the opposite edge of the pier. ‘Ever since I became part of your family, you have all treated me,’ – he swallowed the words, forcing them out swiftly. ‘Like family, you’ve loved me so much. I just…’ – he grunted, then softly spoke. – ‘I don’t want to betray your trust by succumbing to how I feel about you.’

 

               Christina leaned closer to him. ‘And how do you feel about me?’ she asked.

 

PRESENT.

 

The stars twinkled lightly between the dark clouds. Closing the car door quietly, Eric stood outside the silent lake house he once shortly called home. He walked around his car parked a distance from the main driveway, then stared in the direction where he knew the same pier on the lake used to be all those years ago.

 

               Past a weeping willow tree full of dark green leaves, he gradually planted his feet on the steep slope down to approach the ghostly mirage that was Christina sat at the edge of the pier under the moonlight in a greyish-blue nightgown.

 

               Resisting the urge to run up and embrace her, Eric bit his tongue, strolling down towards her.

 

               She didn’t acknowledge his arrival. Eric sat next to her and placed his hand on her rigid shoulder, which she shrugged off. ‘Hey Chrissie,’ Eric said softly, sitting on the edge of the pier. ‘Are you okay? What’s going on?’

 

‘I have sinned, Eric,’ she solemnly admitted.

 

‘So?’ Eric said. ‘What about? It can’t be that bad. You can tell me.’

 

               ‘I am so lamented by a repressed love I bear that I cannot…’ Christina stopped as he placed his arm around her. His firm touch made her skin pulsate, sending warmth through her bones. She trembled, and her eyes, lured by his, drew her gaze into his.

 

               ‘I love a man, Eric.’ Her shimmering eyes glanced at the reflected lines of the full moon scattered across the lake. ‘One I am forbidden to love but one I have loved for many years.’ She clutched her hands together until they hurt. ‘The guilt has become too much for me to bear,’ she cursed, grinding her teeth.

 

               Eric cupped her trembling hands in his free one. ‘I know how you feel.’ A scent of brine made his nose twitch; he breathed a fresh, clear sense of reason that flooded his mind. ‘I sincerely wish at times, I didn’t have a heart so cursed,’ he told her. Christina shook her head, leaning herself into him, comforting herself by his warm, sensitive touch. She murmured something. ‘What did you say?’ he asked.

 

              She then pulled her head back, curly ginger hair alight; the reflection of the moonlight in her teary eyes appeared to radiate with all the stars in the galaxy. ‘I am in love with you.’

 

               Words like lightning fired into Eric. His heart pounded, his skin burned, itched, and he stood up. ‘You were beautiful – you are beautiful,’ Eric corrected himself in a whisper, turning away.

 

               Christina rose slowly and softly touched his arm. He turned to face her. Their fingers fused in the form of prayer, melting into one another as their heartbeats pounded after a single sigh; the pair shared the same rhythm of their hearts in sync. ‘I love you too,’ Eric admitted leaning into her.

 

               The bluish-grey moon hung over them as if supported by strings. Its luminous rays grew as they embraced. Eric brushed his fingertips through her soft ginger hair that radiated gold. Laying his eyes on the fiery texture, Christina glanced up at him. Their eyes engaged and struggled to wrench the other apart. Christina’s shoulders loosened, and she closed her eyes; Eric’s tightened nerves seeped a warm whimper of wind as his abdomen clenched. Then he closed his eyes, and they flowed into a mesmerizing motion that drew their lips together.

 

               A single kiss released an explosion of ecstasy, like a trembling wave of energy resonating throughout every part of their bodies. Her palms lowered to his hips, his placed on her shoulders, trying to keep her from floating away as if tearing this fantasy away.

 

               Christina tiptoed her left foot as if she were floating while Eric sensed the earth itself push them up off the ground, reaching a moment beyond their human understanding. A breeze carried the sound of evening crickets, a magical chorus of birds from the other side of the lake serenading a merry caw for them. The moonshine brought the lake to life.

 

               The pair opened their eyes to behold the other anew. Eric studied her face, then grazed the back of his hand on her soft, freckled cheek. She, in turn, reached out, grabbed it, kissing his hand, sealing her eyes once more. ‘How unjust this world is,’ he whispered.

 

               ‘No one, not even God, can deny our love,’ she said, opening her eyes. He rested his hand on her chin and then kissed her again. Intense emotions overwhelmed him as he placed his hands on her waist and then lifted her. Ripples of shattered moonlight turned the night to day as the two floated in pure bliss.

 

               Christina woke the following morning with a beaming smile lying naked under a thin white sheet beside Eric. The early morning sun pierced through the large open window of the hotel room where Eric was staying. The pale orange light accompanied a fragrant smell of summer lavender.

 

               Both tried to recall how they had returned to the hotel from their father’s house. They laughed as Christina turned to face the ceiling saying, ‘Everything was like a dream.’

 

               Eric leaned on his elbow, his frail white arms aching. He streaked his index finger over the bedsheets up to her bare neck. Her windpipe visibly dipped, and her emerald eyes stared at him. She smiled and rolled over to tuck herself into his embrace. She wrapped her arms around him, then squeezed him closer.

 

               They lay in silence together. Christina’s head rested on his upper arms while he played with her fiery curly ginger hair. Eric’s gaze fixed on the ceiling with a slight realization of the reality where they both would have to lie to hide their real heart’s desire.

 

               A tear slid onto Eric’s lower arm. Christina stiffened with nerves. Her whole body trembled. Eric kissed her brow, then whispered. ‘Whatever happens, I will always love none other than you.’

 

               ‘At mass,’ she said. ‘Father Jacob told us it is written in Leviticus twenty, seventeen,’ – she sniffed, her body shifted so she leaned up to face him. – ‘If a man shall take his sister, his father’s daughter… see her nakedness.’ She placed her hand on his skin and then swallowed. ‘If she should see his nakedness. It would be wicked.’ Her emerald eyes met with his.

 

               A cold shudder raced through them as she continued. ‘They shall be cut off in the sight of their people; he who hath uncovered his sister’s nakedness. He shall bear his iniquity.’ He raised his head, then ran his hand across her smooth marble skin.

 

               ‘If our love is wicked,’ he told her with a bright stare. ‘Then smite me now, for I have never felt such love as I do for you.’ She shuffled forward, and he sat up as they kissed passionately again.

 

SEVERAL DAYS LATER

 

The church bells rang. Christina stood differently today, taller, more secure, with glowing cheeks. The other churchgoers studied her with a slanted look or a squint as if unable to notice that the sweet innocent girl they had seen a few days earlier had grown into a fully grown young woman.

 

               Christina observed the service. She looked over briefly to see Eric standing at the back of the congregation. He smiled, then gave a subtle wave which she returned with a smile. Eric didn’t sing throughout the service.

 

               The thought of their words together in private echoed in his mind, ‘I vow never to speak of that night to another soul,’ Christina told him.

 

               ‘After church,’ Eric said, ‘let’s get away from here, far from the prying eyes. Live as Adam and Eve, make our own Garden of Eden.’ He looked at the back of Christina’s golden ginger head. She continued to look forward and did not turn back. Eric ran through the mental list of what he had packed again to ensure he had prepared his car with everything they needed for their new life together.

 

               Saliva stung his throat. He hissed, thinking of his note to his father bidding him farewell, asking for his forgiveness. Father Jacob finished the service after everyone received the wafer of communion. Eric sweated, juddered from one side to the next, then took a deep breath, preparing to leave the church.

 

               ‘I have a special announcement before we end today,’ Father Jacob abruptly stated. The congregation froze and then fixed their stare back at the front of the church. ‘Our soon-to-be ordained deacon Dr Peter Milton would care to share something with us.’ He gestured for the doctor to join him next to the altar. Dressed in a traditional deacon attire, he stood with an enormous smile full of pride.

 

               ‘Good day all,’ Dr Milton said. He met eyes with everyone. ‘Today is a special day for my family and me,’ he cleared his parched throat, then raised his hand to the front row of the church. ‘I want to tell you, my daughter, Christina, will join the sisterhood of nuns in the south and shall pray for us all in the sanctuary of Saint Mary’s.’

 

               A round of applause followed a gasp. Christina walked up to the front of the church; her pale complexion and ginger hair emitted an aura of elegance.

 

               She stood next to her father. ‘I thank you all for your best wishes and shall pray for the souls of every one of you,’ she said before capturing Eric’s dead stare. She straightened her neck and turned to face the other churchgoers. ‘For whatever happens… I will always love none other than God.’

 

               Eric blinked excessively, turning away from the clapping and cheering of Christina’s address. He walked under the church's arch, feeling a bitter gust of wind struck his face. ‘Time, a fickle adversary,’ he thought, taking one step after another as the applause grew louder and louder in his mind. ‘Moments of joy are robbed, passing by in an instant.’ 

 

               He turned to see Christina smiling at the end of the aisle with Dr Milton next to her. ‘And where moments of pain last an eternity.’ His father hugged Christina, and Eric left.

 

               Crossing the courtyard, he reached his car and silently drove, never seeing his family again.

 

               After nine months of secrecy, unknown to Dr Milton in Saint Mary’s Sanctuary, Christina gave birth to a son called David, who was placed in the care of an orphanage, never to see the fruit of her love for Eric.

 

               The day drew to a close one autumn evening. Christina sat alone in prayer, her lengthy hair fuzzy as she hid it under her garments, skin worn, stale. She sat in the sanctuary and closed her eyes, recalling that night with Eric on the pier under the bright celestial orb that shattered its light over the rippling lake.

 

               ‘Whatever happens,’ Christina babbled; Eric’s face filled her mind as she softly whispered, fearing her sisters overhearing, ‘I will always love none other than you.’

 

The End.

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