The church was filled to the brim with life, with colors and sounds. There were your newest acquaintances, knitting in the corner. They were the main source of the commotion, all shrill laughs, and clacking needles. On the pews further ahead were some children, and a man attempting to corral them but failing in the end. The squeals of the kids echoed through the crowds and came to where you stood at the entrance. When you took in the scene, you were surprised the doors could even close given how the entire town had flocked to its sonorous halls this cold Sunday morning. Inside it was somehow still just as bright like the blinding clouds had followed your shadow.
Though you’d admittedly been to few churches in your lifetime, this one you were sure was exceptionally stunning. How such a grand masterpiece ended up out in these boonies was beyond you. You had felt a bit silly at first, attending mass at all but then you saw the steeple and then there you were, standing in awe of how the building seemed to soar above you. The view of it as you had driven up the small hill was impossible to replicate, how the belltower rose over the rolling grass like the sun that unknowingly led you the dawn of your new life. In your juvenile appreciation of its architecture, you lost yourself in the way the worn stone of the support beams still held the tall ceilings up like pillars of salt to the heavens.
Pillars of salt, you thought, was a fitting image for your situation. Surely you must have blended right into the columns, tributes to every other woman who approached religion and turned their heads back. You were ripped from your runaway thoughts, though, by the bustle of bodies behind you and the urging but ultimately gentle hand that came to squeeze your upper arm. Beatrice stopped at your side and looked up at you with shining, young eyes that got lost in the folds of her lids when she smiled.
There was somehow a familiar and comforting aura about her and when she touched you a blanket of trust always came with the contact. With the top of her auburn beehive just reaching your eyes, her bent body led you to the very front pew and gestured for you to take a seat on the sandalwood. You did as told with a thin smile, still distracted by the arched ceiling of the chapel around you.
As you waited in the congregation for the priest to begin his sermon, your mind wandered to the morning, how the belltower rose, tall and white, over the rolling green hills like the first sun dawning on a new world. Impossible to replicate. It was an unknowing sign of things to come. The church wasn’t something you expected to ever return to much less for it to become something you looked forward to, something that would end up being such a large part of your life. That was all yet, to come through, for, at this moment, your thoughts weren’t busied by the future but rather by the thought of the blinding white exterior of this place of worship, how bright it had been in those early hours.
The organ began and its resonance nearly shook you from your seat, but it certainly caught your attention as intended. The people rose in unison, you doing your best to follow, unfamiliar with the practices seeing as your last time in mass would have been before you were able to remember anything about it. The songs, though, were vaguely familiar, maybe reminiscent of something you’d heard on the radio, seeing as this town picked up almost purely religious stations.
You moved your mouth along to the words, not knowing exactly what they were but doing your best to look like you were competent. The song ended and you sat, grateful it was over, huffing a bit when your body hit the wood. The father beside you gave you an awkward smile when you attempted to cover your relief with a cough and a straightening of your back.
Then when you looked up from your awkward encounter-
Were you very religious? Not particularly, but when in Rome, do as the Romans, right? So when in church, pray. Maybe there had been a little prayer going on in your heart since you entered the building, hell, since you entered the town, a prayer for good things to come, and God must have heard those unintentional prayers because behold before you was what must have been an angel.
He walked slowly to the podium, robes dragging behind him and a glow seeming to emanate from the crown of his head. He seemed like the only living proof of a God that you could find in the whole of the chapel. His hair was wispy, auburn, and looked so soft, reminding you of clouds, and maybe cotton candy if cotton candy were brandy flavored. Bronze, you thought would be the right shade.
The stained glass behind him spread like wings, angels on either side surely singing of his beauty and softness. The haze of his arrival washed over you and you were enraptured. You never thought someone could so quickly feel this way. The romcoms were nice, but they were unrealistic, and most definitely did not happen to you of all people. Completely prepared to shove down these feeling, deep down underneath the mattress of your soul and leave them there to rot, you allowed yourself to enjoy the sermon, or at the very least, enjoy the priest.
God, your gaze hadn’t dropped past his eyebrows before you completely fell. His eyes were soft, pleading, forgiving, but young and curious as well. His nose? You adored immediately. He had, in the kindest way, what you would have referred to as an ‘old man’ nose, a little long, strong, gave him an impeccable silhouette that shown like a holy image again the early morning backlight, sun streaming from the tall windows behind him. His chin was soft and clean shaven, his lips, soft and puffy and lush and looking simply perfect to kiss.
Kiss? You shook your head briefly, half attempting to banish these thoughts you knew you shouldn’t be thinking, but having been so completely lost in his image that you had missed the beginning of his sermon. The congregation spoke back at him at certain times, words you vaguely remembered from childhood. The echoes of “and also with you” kept you anchored to reality as you struggled not to get lost in the languid movements he made as he moved about behind the podium. He spoke animatedly about- Well, you weren’t exactly paying attention, but you did notice how he spoke with his hands, waving them about when he said something about the glory and grace that has been granted so many. His hands were long and thin and surely would be long and thin enough to fit perfectly between your-
The organ boomed through the hall and shook you from your daydream, again, and you, again, tried to lipsync your way through the unfamiliar hymn and failing, again. You had stood for the song, and the stretch was welcome after clenching your thighs so obviously together for so long, but when you sat back down, the cool of the wood and the wetness of your panties made you visibly shudder. Dear, sweet, Beatrice placed a feeble hand on your arm as a sign of concern, along with her shakily drawn on eyebrows being raised. Gripping her wrinkled hand carefully, you smiled, tight-lipped, as a reply of ‘I’m fine’.
You again turned from your elderly friend to the man at the front of the room, the one who demanded your attention with his repetition and his- He smiled, all teeth, cheeks puffing up. A sharp intake of breath was all you could muster before he began to pray. The rest of those looking on seemed to know what to do and you did your best to imitate, but as he pushed his hair back, your lips fell apart and you crossed your legs in desperation, his clergy status seeming to only turn you on more. Fuck, you chastised your own attraction to the taboo. As clandestine as it may have been, though, God, did it turn you on.
“Lord have mercy,” he said, voice effortlessly both round and light.
“Lord have mercy,” you pleaded breathlessly.
“Christ have mercy.” His eyes rose to meet yours for the first time and you choked.
“Christ have mercy” came out like a whine under your breath, unheard under the rest of the mass, but you knew he saw your chest rise and fall heavily as you seemingly tried to breathe in his prayer and send it back to him.
“Lord have mercy.” His own voice wavered when he saw you, red in the face and out of breath. His gaze didn’t move from you as you mouthed the words back at him.
“Lord have mercy.”
Unbeknownst to you, this was not, in fact, the first time he’d laid eyes on you. He had been watching you, side-eyed, the whole service. If his peripheral served him right, you had been the one with your eyes glued to him since he’d first emerged from his chambers. He saw you stand out in the mass, the last of the congregation to sit down after prayers or songs. He was unable to tell whether this was due to you being distracted or inexperienced, or both, but it caught his attention without catching yours, darting his own away just in time as to not catch your gaze. It seemed to work so long as he kept his focus on the other side of the chapel, though the magnetism of your attentive gaze was hard to resist. The man didn’t let himself give in, not until he somehow heard your barely audible repetitions after those of the congregation. Then you saw one another, caught in the undeniable stare of interest. Suddenly, his lungs felt like iron on his chest and he struggled to finish praying.
Again, you were pulled down by the older woman next to you, unaware everyone had been seated and for a moment it was just you and him, standing and caught in this sudden whirlwind of unknown attraction. The world seemed to dissolve around you, focus seeming to blur and leave you with tunnel vision on the holy man. His sermon paused for a moment as he stared at you and smiled softly. You could feel his eyes fall down your body, but then his voice picked up again, being carried over your head in smooth, calming waves and you were lost, again, in his presence that loomed over the crowd like the hanging branches of a willow on a sticky summer day. For the remainder of his sermon, you focused less on his words and more on the mystery that might be hiding beneath those layers and layers of robes that dragged behind him.
If you asked Joe why you caught his attention, he would tell you that you were the first young and clearly not familial woman he had seen in town since his arrival. This was true, that in a town occupied only by elderly folks and new families, you were the first young face he had seen in a long time. Of course, it didn’t help that he found you incredibly attractive and that, as a newly appointed man of the cloth, he had been experiencing somehow more temptations than ever before.
Every verse he read was budding with new meaning and potential, every lust soaked gaze sent your direction waning to go through with it. There was, of course, a pang in his heart every time the thought of you passed through his head. The allure of a woman who was neither the age of his grandmother nor heavily with child was far more than it should it have been. Father Joe knew it was wrong, that he must keep his mind as clean as his body, his thoughts as clean as his actions. “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds,” he said aloud to the congregation, using his slip as some kind of holy motivation.
Another song followed, then a prayer and every time he stood the priest had to force his eyes forward, away from the direction you were sitting. His thoughts went back to the way your skirt slid up your thigh when you sat down and how you must have known how much skin you were showing but when his eyes met yours with one final, united “Amen”, he knew you were too distracted to have noticed.
You watched the priest with unintentional intensity, looking as though you were spaced out, lost in thought and caught on his words, but the reality was that you were simply entranced. All the time you’d spent in this town so far and you had yet to see anyone as young and painfully unavailable as him. Though in the back of your mind you wondered how fidelious some of these new husbands were, you had settled with remaining single, that is, until now. What was more delicious than a man who was not only gorgeous, mature, and clearly into you already, but also one so out of reach, so taboo and clandestine. The beating of your heart when he would slip up and land his eyes on your form a little too long thrummed against the bars of your ribcage like Morse code, an aching organ begging to be hurt.
The service had ended and Beatrice had eagerly joined her group of cawing old ladies, but not before kindly introducing you to the sweet-faced Father that had spoken today. “Darling, this is Father Mazzello, he’s new to the Ridge.” Her smile was sickly sweet and you couldn’t help but smile back, keeping your eyes from the man approaching you.
He’d traded the excess robes for a simple black ensemble already and when he approached you and, God, he looked even better now. His hand was extended to you firmly, holding back any eagerness behind a front of eminence and dignity. Beatrice spoke again as you finally lifted your longing gaze from his nimble, capable, horribly inspiring hands, up his arms, across his shoulders, and finally to his green eyes. They were so much prettier up close. “Father Mazzello,” your friend spoke warmly, “this is [Y/N]. The dear has been staying with me and I’ve finally convinced her to get a bit of God in her.” She laughed and you took the man’s extended hand, holding it motionless.
“I would love a bit of God in me,” you laughed quietly, hopefully only loud enough for him to hear.
Joe swallowed dryly at your low comment and the softness of your hand, “It’s nice to meet you, [Y/N],” he smiled crookedly, “and you can call me Joe.”