All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
Pages whispered under Kylo’s left hand as he flipped through the Psalms. The rustle of the slick, onion-skin paper was the only sound in the room. It was a quiet summer afternoon. When the bells weren’t ringing, it was always quiet at the seminary. The little square window to Kylo’s room was cracked open and a bee bumbled around it, buzzing and batting against the glass. He spared the creature a glance. It was caught half-under the edge of the window, flying back and forth in confusion. Kylo stretched out a hand and pushed the window open so the bee could escape. It didn’t understand that it was free, and spun in agitated circles.
‘Chrystostom reckoned that the bee is more honored than other animals,’ Kylo said softly, guiding the bee away from the window with a careful hand. ‘Probably not more intelligent, though.’ The bee spiralled away, off to trap itself in another window.
Kylo’s fingers returned to the navy blue Douay-Rheims at his side, and he picked up his pen again. He was composing a response to his tutor on Psalm 22:16. For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They have pierced My hands and My feet. The Psalm made him shiver. A lot of verses made Kylo shiver. This particular one had a brutal, visceral quality to it that elicited a physical reaction like fingernails on his scalp or lips on his neck. It exuded an exciting aura of martyrdom. It captivated him. He stroked his fingertips absently down the edge of the Bible as he considered, and wrote another line of notes. His father confessor and tutor was absolutely rigorous on interpretation of scripture. Most of Kylo’s study time was spent carefully constructing sound theological arguments, about half of which Father Snoke abruptly shredded.
A smile crept across Kylo’s face as he added the finishing touches to his response. Snoke was strict, but he approved of Kylo’s dedication and rewarded it. You’re not supposed to care about being rewarded, Kylo told himself, and yet he sat at his desk and quietly glowed. Tomorrow he would begin his own mentorship with a class of students at the Catholic school attached to the seminary. Boys of sixteen or seventeen, newly learning about their faith and in need of guidance. That Kylo, still a second-year seminarian, would be allowed to teach them, was testament to his hard work. So Kylo let himself indulge in the sin of pride, just for a moment. Then he closed his books, shelved them neatly and stood just in time for the chapel bell to ring out Vespers.
Nobody at St. Luke’s Seminary was required to pray eight times a day, of course - administration was firm on the point that they were students, and not monks. Still, the major and minor hours rung out across the tiny campus at regular points throughout the day, and students casually spoke about meeting each other at None, or getting up at Prime. Snoke had ordered Kylo to come to his office today at Vespers to finalise the details of his new role.
‘Come in, Kylo,’ Snoke said as Kylo lifted his hand to knock on the old oak door. Snoke always seemed to know exactly when he was standing outside. Kylo pushed the door open and padded across the worn carpet to Snoke’s imposing desk.
‘Good evening, Father,’ he said, and Snoke gave him a dry, cracked smile. Although he was an excellent pedagogue and a respected father confessor, Snoke was not considered likeable by the students at large. Kylo liked him, though, and the old man always seemed to have a smile in return.
‘Sit down and take a look at this,’ said Snoke, handing a plain brown folder across the desk. Kylo opened it in his lap. Twelve forms were arranged in alphabetical order.
‘These are my students?’ Kylo asked, his throat tight with excitement. He read each name to himself. Barry, Brown, Hux, Kelly, King, Leavitt, Mitaka, Nolan, O’Shea, Walker, Yao, Young. He felt immediately possessive of them. Their single-page information sheets gave tantalising hints about each boy. Grades, extra-curricular activities, a few sparse details about awards or special arrangements. The sort of thing a teacher - a real teacher - would need to know. Mitaka, here on a year-long language exchange from Japan. Walker, a scholarship boy with straight As. Kelly, Irish-American and an athlete. A palpable sense of potential radiated off the thin folder.
‘You’ll see them for an hour a week for a Bible study class,’ said Snoke, gesturing to the sticky note on the inner cover of the folder. Wednesday, 11am, Ferris Building, room 2, written in an administrator's feminine handwriting. ‘How you choose to use that time is up to you, although it should be some form of guided discussion.’
‘I’ve been studying the curriculum material,’ said Kylo, eager to show willing. ‘I made some lesson plans.’ He chewed on his lip for a moment. ‘Maybe I could show you?’
‘Kylo, you’re very diligent. You’ll be walking them through analysis that you could do in your sleep. I have faith in whatever you’ve planned.’
‘What if they don’t listen?’ Kylo asked, flushing a little. It seemed like such a childish worry.
‘Youngsters imitate what they see around them,’ said Snoke. ‘Nobody expects you to have all the answers to theological debates, or to be a perfect teacher. Your role is to interpret your faith in a way that makes sense to these boys, and to speak and act appropriately. It’s hard for them to connect with old teachers. Your youth will be beneficial.’
Something about the way Snoke looked at him then made Kylo feel warm. He didn’t ask Snoke to clarify; he hurried on.
‘You spoke the other day about mentoring…’ he began.
‘Informally,’ said Snoke. ‘You won’t be required to meet all the boys outside of class time. We are connected to St. Luke’s School, though, so it would be appropriate and indeed useful for you to make time for any of the boys who need more personal discussions about Scripture. As long as it doesn’t interfere with your own studies, of course.’
‘I have a lot of work,’ Kylo agreed.
‘More than anyone else,’ said Snoke, but it didn’t sound like a compliment. He paused, and moved a few sheets of paper minutely to the left. ‘There is a kind of dangerous pride in being the first to rise in the morning, the most diligent student, the most often seen in prayer. I think making time in your schedule to be a mentor and a guide will be good for you.’
Kylo nodded, unable to speak. A tiny seed of shame was stuck somewhere between his lungs and his mouth. His appointment as a student teacher had seemed like a reward, but now he thought it was a correction. Not a penance, exactly, but a way to keep him in check. He picked at a loose thread on his pants and stacked his feet one atop the other, letting time crawl on without a word. After a minute of silence, Snoke checked his watch and then tactfully gestured to the door.
‘It’s almost half past six,’ Snoke said. ‘You must be hungry. Go and eat, and come and see me tomorrow after your first class.’
Kylo stood. At the door he paused, and half-turned back, wanting to say something. He didn’t know what, though; he never knew what to say. Snoke was his spiritual teacher and his confessor, but he could no more confide in the man emotionally than he could call into a radio show with his problems.
He could confess, but that was different. Sin was easy to navigate. Kylo sinned constantly. Something was either a sin, or it wasn’t; emotions were infinitely more complex.
‘You look like a man wrestling with something,’ said Poe Dameron cheerfully, falling into step beside Kylo as he crossed the quadrangle to the dining hall. Poe was always cheerful, and never wrestled with anything. Casually tousled and stylish in jeans and a polo shirt, Poe grinned up at Kylo and easily inserted himself into Kylo’s personal space, as he did with everyone he liked.
‘I’m thinking about a class I have to teach tomorrow,’ Kylo said evasively.
‘Right! Right, you’re teaching the youth. That’s great, man. That’s great. You’ll be great.’
‘I thought you might have been picked,’ Kylo said. Poe got along with everybody and had a hazy notion that he might work with teenagers once he graduated. He was suffused with an easy charisma that Kylo tried, and failed, not to envy.
‘Too irreverent,’ said Poe. ‘Probably. St. Luke’s is nearly two hundred years old. They don’t approve of jeans and slang and guitars.’ Kylo blushed for the second time today as Poe gave him an appraising look. ‘You’ve got a more classic style, buddy.’
‘Classic,’ mumbled Kylo, watching his big feet ruck up the tidy gravel. He wore the same black shoes every day, and his plain, dark dress pants, and a black shirt. It was hard to find shoes and pants in his size. ‘It’s not an affectation,’ he said with sudden heat, in case that was what Poe was thinking.
‘Jesuit chic, my guy,’ Poe laughed, and gently bumped Kylo’s arm with his shoulder. Kylo forced himself not to take a step away. Poe was a good man. He just made Kylo feel awkward. Too earnest, too weird, too anachronistically concerned with theology and quotations and dusty, ancient books. They reached the dining hall and Kylo paused at the threshold of the old building. Poe shot him a questioning look. The late evening sun highlighted his face; high cheekbones, straight, dark eyebrows and a warm, inviting curl to his mouth. Kylo averted his eyes.
‘I’m, er, I’m not hungry,’ he said. ‘I think I’ll skip dinner.’
‘Whatever you like, man,’ said Poe, flashing him a movie star smile.
Kylo meandered to the chapel and found a quiet corner in which he could fold himself down onto his knees and pray. He eschewed the hassocks and instead let the bare floorboards creak under his kneecaps. It was dead silent here during dinner time. Dust motes swirled in the bright flashes of stained glass against the floor. Everything smelled like dust and stone and beeswax. Kylo reached out and slid a finger against one of the waxed floorboards.
He closed his eyes. Time grew long and liquid. He rolled the wooden beads of his rosary through his fingertips, one mystery at a time, shaping each accompanying prayer with precision and deliberate slowness. The beads grew warm and smooth in his hand. When he finished, the sun’s warmth was beginning to leech from the air and Kylo’s stomach growled. When he stood he felt stiff and sore, but easier in his mind. The dinner hour was long over.
It was easy to take the quiet back way to the dormitory house. He passed by one of the older teachers and they exchanged nods, but everyone else was at their evening recreation or prayer by now. Kylo’s room was at the very top of the building, a small bedroom conversion in what had probably been the servants’ quarters when the house was in personal use. He had an odd little bathroom next door with a slanted roof. Lower down, the rooms had been modernised, but Kylo’s scholarship was limited and, lacking family to support him, he was confined to the attic.
It suited him. His bed was narrow and the floor were wooden and the only other rooms on his floor were used for storage. The bells rang out for Compline and Kylo slowly undressed himself in the dark. His rosary beads clicked in his hand as he lulled himself to sleep and then, eventually, they slid to the floor. It was very quiet.