The beads slid between his fingers as he prayed for Nina and for Cara, and for all the children that had fallen prey to the Church.
He prayed for Father Eugene. He understood the man all too well, even if he’d decided to walk another path himself, one that hurt a lot fewer people. He hoped.
He tried to pray for Monsignor Mulregan and Bishop Catalano and even Father Akintola, but the words turned to ashes in his mouth, choking him.
In the end, he prayed for himself, asking for strength and discernment. He bowed his head low and let the tears fall and cleanse him. He concluded his prayers with the Creed, his voice weighing every word. “We believe in one God…” At the last few lines, he paused, then continued, his voice firm and clear, “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”
After the last Amen, he remained kneeling for a moment, enjoying the sense of peace around and inside him.
Sonny crossed himself and stood up, his knees protesting loudly the change of position. It was getting late and the church was empty but for him and another man, kneeling on the prie dieu in front of the votive candle rack by the side chapel.
Sonny frowned in sudden realization as he recognized the man. Even from the back, it was, unmistakably, Barba. The last man Sonny expected to find in the middle of devotion in a church. He was technically a Catholic, but Sonny had thought him lapsed, and even hostile.
Sonny walked toward him, his shoes clacking against the tiles, the sound resonating inside the empty church. He’d not intended to startle Barba, but as he came closer, the man twisted around. His face smoothed up almost immediately in recognition, but not before Sonny had time to see the naked fear in his eyes. His steps faltered for a second.
“Don’t let me interrupt you,” he said, sitting down on the nearest bench.
Barba looked at him, then turned back toward the candles, his head bowing again, his hands joining in prayer once more. Now that he was closer, Sonny could see that there were three candles lit, aligned in a neat row in front of Barba.
One for Nina and one for Cara, Sonny supposed. He wondered who the third one was for.
Sonny snapped back to attention when Barba crossed himself. He stood up, silently offering a hand to the other man to help him up.
“Carisi. I thought I was alone.”
They started walking down the aisle.
“I was up in the front pews.”
Barba nodded wordlessly as he held the heavy oak door open for Sonny. On the doorsteps, Sonny took a deep breath and let it out slowly, exhaling his last fears and doubts. He laid a hand on Barba’s arm.
“Buy you a drink, Counselor?”
Barba hesitated. “If this is you offering or seeking free therapy…”
“God no!” Sonny’s outburst surprised even him. “No, that’s not why,” he continued in a calmer tone. “I mean, if you want my shoulder to cry on, of course you can have it—” The eyeroll he got at that was epic even by Barba standards, which made him grin. “Nah, just a drink. I want one, but I don’t want to drink alone.”
Apparently convinced, Barba said, “I know a place a couple of blocks from here.” He started without looking if Sonny followed, forcing him to take a few long strides to catch up.
They sat side by side at the bar, contemplating their respective drinks morosely. They had barely exchanged a few words since they’d arrived, too busy brooding.
“When I was fifteen, I fell in love with my best friend.”
Sonny almost immediately regretted speaking, especially as he’d told Barba he wasn’t seeking therapy earlier. He risked a glance at Barba. The man looked puzzled by the non sequitur, but he also set his glass back down and angled his body towards Sonny, ready to listen.
Sonny returned his eyes to the beer label he was methodically shredding. “I was horrified, of course. I struggled with my feelings for the longest time, especially as I was alone. I’m not used to that.” He shook his head. “I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. Not my parents, not my priest.” He scoffed. “Especially not my priest.”
“Because it’s a sin,” Barba said, flatly.
Sonny chuckled, but it was joyless. “Actually, it’s not, not until you act on it. The official position of the Catholic Church is that having homosexual feelings merely shows a… a ‘tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil’.” He mimed air quotes.
“Oh yes, that’s so much better,” Barba’s tone was vicious. He downed the rest of his scotch and signaled the barman. “Another beer?”
Sonny tilted his bottle to the light. It was not empty, but there was barely an inch left. “Yes. Please.”
“So what did you do?” Barba asked once the barman had served them.
“Oh, I ended up deciding that becoming a priest would afford me the protection of celibacy and at the same time allow me to fight my intrinsic evil.” Sonny smiled ruefully. “Bulletproof plan.”
“Yeah. I talked it over with my favorite priest then.” He remembered the compassion Father Fabrizzi had shown him, the overwhelming sense of relief as Sonny had sobbed on his shoulder.
After a moment, Barba prompted, “And?”
“He told me that the Church was made up of men, weak and fallible. That its laws were slow to change. And that Jesus’ only commandment was ‘You shall love your neighbor’ and if it meant for me to love another man, spiritually and even physically, God would understand. Then he cautioned me about promiscuity.”
“Wow.” Sonny looked over at Barba, who was looking astonished. “I wish my priest had been more like yours. He never would give me absolution, even for innocent feelings, though at least he didn’t tell my father. I was so grateful that I’d chosen to tell him under the seal of the confessional, because he had no choice but to keep it to himself. I never went back to confession, after that. I only went to Mass for my mother and my abuelita, and I stopped doing even that after I left for college.”
“I’m sorry.” Sonny wondered why he’d chosen to go back, tonight of all nights.
Barba made a dismissive movement with the hand that held his glass before bringing it to his lips.
“The rest of the squad doesn’t know.” Barba wasn’t asking.
Sonny looked at him. “About me? No. I’m not afraid, but most police officers aren’t Liv, so I hid it and now it’s become, you know…” He shrugged.
“Something like that.”
Barba nodded and looked at the bottom of his glass as if it held the answers to the universe. Abruptly he said, “Have the bar results been published yet?”
Sonny was grateful for the change of subject. “Nah. Late April, normally. I’m dying, you have no idea.”
Barba laughed, not unkindly. “I do have an idea. Longest two months of my life. Though you sounded pretty confident when you told me about it.”
“I think I did pretty well. But every time I remember a question, I come up with three better answers than what I gave. You passed on the first try, I suppose.”
Barba shot him an incredulous look, as if Sonny was a fool for even hinting otherwise. “Top 10th percentile.”
Sonny whistled low. “Just passing would be enough for me.” He finished his bottle and took out his wallet. “That’s it for me. I’ll see you next week, I suppose, Counselor.” He raised a hand to catch the attention of the barman, who was busy with another customer. The man smiled and whirled his finger at the two of them, asking if Sonny wanted both tabs. Sonny nodded.
While Sonny was waiting for the bill, Barba finished his glass and put on his coat. “Split a cab?”
“Are we even going in the same direction? I live in Washington Heights.” He slid his credit card to the barman.
“I’m just south of you in Hamilton Heights.”
Sonny glanced at him while he was signing the slip. “I wouldn’t have pegged you for a Hamilton Heights kind of guy.”
Barba cracked up. “I fit better there than you do in Washington Heights. Are you the only white person in your building?”
Sonny opened his mouth to retort indignantly but closed it immediately, reviewing his neighbors. He laughed. “Fuck. Possibly.” He followed Barba outside.
Sonny pulled up his collar, cursing his forgetfulness and trying to remember what he’d done with the scarf Gina had given him for Christmas. Barba was standing on the sidewalk, his hands deep into his pockets, a pensive expression on his face as he looked at Sonny.
“Are you waiting for an Uber or something?”
“No.” Barba didn’t elaborate.
Sonny frowned at him and raised a hand to hail a cab.
Sonny half-turned toward him, keeping an eye on the flow of cars for a free cab.
“Just how seriously do you follow your priest’s advice on promiscuity?”
Was Barba asking…?
“Are you drunk?” Sonny asked, suspicious.
“After two scotches? No.” He paused, then added. “I’ve been wanting you when I was sober, too.”
So Barba was asking.
Sonny took a deep breath. “Not that seriously,” he said, answering Barba’s earlier question.
That was, if not a lie, then a serious misrepresentation of the truth. He had only two relationships under his belt, both serious. But if a little BS could get him inside Barba’s bed…
“My place?” Sonny asked.
Barba’s smirk widened. “I thought you would never ask.” Sonny made a face at him.
Sonny finally got a taxi to stop and gave his address to the driver. They were utterly silent for the twenty minutes the trip lasted, both looking out of their respective windows. Sonny opened the door and led the way up to the sixth floor. He closed the door of his apartment behind them and took both of their coats and hung them, then he pushed Barba against the wall, slipping a leg between his and taking his lips.
When they were both hard and breathless, he pulled away a little and said, “I want you.”
Barba surged up to kiss Sonny once more. His arms left Sonny’s shoulders to shrug off his jacket. Sonny started on the buttons of his vest, opening it to access the buttons of his shirt. He loosened up the tie and pulled it away before trying to push the rest of the mess off Barba’s body. The shirt caught on Barba’s wrists, and they had to break off the kiss to take off his cufflinks.
While Barba was freeing himself from the tangle of his clothes, Sonny took care of his own. Thankfully he’d gone for simplicity over layers today. He took a second to toe off his shoes, then caught Barba by the waist, turning him and pushing him onto the bed. Sonny knelt to remove Barba’s shoes while the man looked at him with hooded eyes, supported by an elbow.
Sonny had forgotten the heady feeling of exploring another man’s body, mapping it out with fingers and mouth. He touched Barba with reverence, and all the feelings he couldn’t say aloud lest he frighten away the man.
Afterward, they were both breathless and sweaty. Sonny rolled on his side, manhandling Barba until they were spooned together. He looped his arm around Barba’s waist, anchoring him surely against his chest.
Barba let out a protesting noise. “I should…”
Barba relented, sinking against Sonny. His breathing evened out, and soon Sonny followed him into sleep.
When Sonny woke up, he was alone. He patted the bed a couple of times to make sure, then reluctantly opened his eyes.
Barba was nowhere in the room. Sonny’s apartment was more of a closet, really, every angle visible from the bed. Barba’s clothes had disappeared, and Sonny’s had been picked up and laid neatly on a chair. A sparkle caught his eye and he got up to investigate.
It was one of Barba’s cufflinks.