chainofclovers: (aloysius)
[personal profile] chainofclovers
Title: A Good and Joyful Thing
Author: Chainofclovers
Fandom: Doubt (film)
Pairing: Sister Aloysius/Sister James
Rating: Mature
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Doubt.
Note: Way, way back in January 2010, I committed to writing a story for the [livejournal.com profile] help_haiti project. [livejournal.com profile] thelastgoodname made a generous donation to the cause, and requested a “(sexually explicit) Doubt story.” Well, it’s taken me a year and a half--about a year and five months longer than I originally anticipated--but I’ve finished the story. Many thanks, The Last Good Name, for your patience and generosity. I really hope you enjoy this story, and I’m sorry it was so ridiculously delayed.

I also owe many thanks to my wonderful editor, [livejournal.com profile] soukup. She offered incredible insights, caught embarrassing typos, and was such a valuable supporter, questioner, and helper. I’d also like to thank Nici for being an advance reader and offering support of her own.



“In this mirror, who are you? Dreams of the nunnery
with its discipline, the nursery
with its nurse, the hospital
where all the powerful ones are masked”

from “The Mirror in Which Two Are Seen as One” by Adrienne Rich

---

Sister James loved living in a beautiful place. She adored the stark house; the ornate church; the dusty, worn-in school. The three buildings were Catholic, full of people and full of space, and together they made a home. There was something wonderful about leaving her bedroom, all rectangles and white paint, and walking slowly toward the sanctuary with its marble and curves.

Nervous as she was about her new teaching post, Sister James knew she was in the right place. She was blessed by good fortune, even if some of it came at the hardship of another. The nun whose classroom Sister James inherited, halfway through the term in the spring of ’64, was not dead. She was convalescing—hopefully in peace and comfort—in a rest home an hour north of the city. Sister Mary Charles had started forgetting her eyeglasses on the top of her head. Had begun to mix up FDR and JFK and LBJ. Paper airplanes took flight in her classroom. The wet slap of spitballs hitting the ceiling went unnoticed. Was it dementia or a simple softening? Senility or a restructuring of priorities? Either way, she was gone, and Sister James arrived at Saint Nicholas School to pick up where Sister Mary Charles had left off.

History had always been James’ favorite subject, and she’d assumed she’d be more comfortable teaching history than the literature and mathematics for which she was also responsible. “Now”—the now of her own life—was so predictable: Catholic school and Mass as a child, then Catholic high school and a Catholic teaching college, and now a life here in the same sort of place, a place where God blurred the lines between work and home. Despite time having moved in a forward line for eons, history was always a bit of a shock. You could look back at that straight line and dig at it, creating infinite offshoots and tunnels.

Sister Aloysius, James’ superior, saw things a bit differently.


“It happened,” Aloysius said, speaking of James’ most beloved subject at the end of James’ first week in the classroom. She peered across her desk at James, eyes narrowed slightly like a cat’s. “It happened, and we have to equip the students with the facts. So they can make some sense of the world. You need to be able to give them a picture of how history happened.”


“And to speculate why—” Sister James ventured, perhaps unwisely, her fingertips stuttering against her cup of black tea. She would have been happy to be flexible about algebraic equations, or to adopt a new method of diagramming sentences, but she would not be so gracious about this topic.


“Not always why,” Aloysius said quickly. Her thoughtful tone sounded feigned, even patronizing; this conclusion was not a fresh one. Then, all of a sudden, her face went gentle. “Think of last year, Sister James. 1963. The assassination. All the violence. Can you explain that?”


James shook her head from side to side. “No, Sister.”


“Then you can’t expect to explain 1066, either. Or 1492. Give them the facts, and we’ll get through this term somehow.”

Aloysius went on to explain how she planned to restructure the staff over the summer so Sister James could try her hand at the younger grades. Someone else—older than Sister James, younger than Sister Mary Charles—was certain to materialize for the eighth grade. She didn’t bother to explain to James that she wasn’t trying to insult her, and James didn’t feel insulted, not exactly. It was a blessing to be in this parish at all, and only a little sad to know that she would not be trusted with the challenge of working with older students long enough to live up to her own personal expectations.


But when Sister James received her course schedule for the fall term, she looked down at a page of eighth graders after all.

~

Summer had not passed without incident, of course; there was life for teachers even in the absence of students. James spent the summer learning that one conversation could last for an entire season. She and Aloysius didn’t discuss teaching very much, but their ongoing talk had everything to do with Aloysius’ eventual decision to give her a second chance with the eighth grade. It started in the garden, where they discovered a shared anticipation for the tomatoes, still tiny and green on the vine. There they talked about flowers and vegetables. At the dinner table, they talked about books whether the other sisters joined in our not. When Aloysius received word that her blood sister, Mary, had been diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer, James sat up with her that night as late as they could. They talked about death--pain of the earth, peace of Heaven--with a frankness James had never before experienced.

They didn’t just talk, especially not on days when there was only bad news from the parents Aloysius had hardly spoken to--outside of holidays--in years. Sometimes, they sat in silence. When they parted, they touched casually on the shoulder or the crook of the arm. They grew so comfortable with each other that a discomfort was born from the calm. Sister James remembered the crushes she’d had in school, cursory attractions to boys in her year or the year above, entertained mostly so she’d have something to whisper about in the schoolyard. She had a crush again, like Sister Aloysius was all at once the handsomest boy and her favorite teacher and her best friend. Like that but stronger, all summer, and then Aloysius gave her that second chance at teaching eighth grade, and she ran immediately to the principal’s office to say thank you.

Their kiss felt exactly as a kiss should, like needles barely pricking at every nerve ending. Soft and warm where their mouths met; freezing cold everywhere else. For a first kiss, it did not end quickly. It was long and deliberate, a sexual kiss, in front of the wall between the windows in Aloysius’ office. There were the windows to avoid, and the door, all firmly shut today though sound and light and guilt could travel slyly through most any surface.

Guilt filled the space between their lips as soon as the kiss was over. Guilt made Aloysius say, “I vowed never to do that. And so did you.” Her words were scolding, even though she was the one who’d backed against the wall, touched James’ waist with her fingertips, pulled her closer. Guilt and the words made James flee the office and walk blindly away from the school and into the house, where she threw up into the toilet and barely made it out of her room in time to pick at her supper. Aloysius got a two-day headache and did not want to see anyone outside of work and services; James was devastated to consider the loss of a friend.

Privately, each returned over and over to the moments surrounding the kiss: the awareness of the hot, shadowy weather outside; standing together at the point of no return; then fleeing the scene. Neither examined the kiss itself right away, though later their thoughts would settle, and they would be able to acknowledge its loveliness.

~

By the next summer, their whole world had changed. Father Flynn’s departure had not driven a rift between the nuns, but it had been a near thing. Only James understood the full extent of Aloysius’ involvement in the scandal with Donald Miller (and others? Who could know?), but everyone suspected. And yet, even behind closed doors and in the sole company of other sisters, few women ventured to discuss what had happened, never mind why. If the whispers about Father Flynn were true, there had been an abomination in their midst.

It was almost a relief when the term ended and the students scattered into the neighborhoods, trading in their prayers and textbooks for comics purchased with pocket money earned at odd jobs. The sisters saw most of the children at Sunday Mass, of course, but by mid-June the relief of summer had faded and the house and school seemed eerily quiet. The season did make it easier for James and Aloysius to carve out time alone, letting words like “love” and “try” and “wrong, but . . . ” emerge from their throats; however, the closeness that felt joyfully new last summer was older now, and tense. They were nervous, all the time, waiting for bad news about Mary. James was the only one who knew, and when Aloysius was sharp with one of the sisters, or didn’t feel like supper, James made her excuses. Aloysius did not go home to see her family, even when James told her how much better she felt for visiting her brother when he was ill; instead, she waited from a distance, and let James massage her shoulders and kiss her hands and tell her it would be all right.

The death came not in a letter, but in a long-distance call.

“When do we leave?” James asked after Aloysius hung up the telephone in the blue common room, deciding all of a sudden that she couldn’t bear to wait for an invitation that might not come.

“Tomorrow,” Aloysius replied, and her face crumpled briefly in grief before she smoothed it out again, steeled herself against lurking tears. “It isn’t done,” she added. “Bringing someone home.” But it turned out that she couldn’t bring herself to care. The next morning James watched from the doorway to the Monsignor’s office, travel bag already in hand, as Aloysius used her eyes to dare the Monsignor to question them about the travel plans.

On the train to her parents’ home in Mortonville, Aloysius rattled off what seemed like dozens of names: her siblings, parents, nieces and nephews, cousins she hadn’t seen in years. For having largely isolated herself from blood family, she certainly had a handle on who populated her family’s world. There were three brothers, and there had been two sisters. Now, with Mary gone, Aloysius was the oldest. Paul was next, single at forty-three years old, and he was followed by Alan and Luke, both of whom were married and fathers of three each. James couldn’t figure out if Aloysius was looking forward to seeing any of them, so she focused on memorizing names.

There was hardly time to be nervous about meeting Aloysius’ family. Besides, James told herself, there was no reason to worry. She was on this trip to support Aloysius, to be a friend. She did hope she would like Aloysius’ people, and that they would like her, but she reminded herself that this was not her primary concern.

The Mortonville house--poor but imposing, brown bricks just beginning to crumble at the corners--filled up steadily with mourners whose names matched the list Aloysius had recited on the train. Introductions were pleasant but mostly somber, and James and Aloysius waited until the door shut behind them to laugh at the room they’d been assigned: a small second-floor guest room with one double bed. “Sorry about the cramped room, Katherine,” Aloysius’ mother Elaine had said, addressing as her daughter by her old name as she turned the doorknob with a trembling hand. “We didn’t realize you’d have a guest. There’s no other other space.” Elaine talked like Aloysius did sometimes, with noticeable silences between her sentences, as if she wanted to remind the listener that she gave voice to only a fraction of her thoughts.

The funeral was the next day. Mary had no husband or children, and, having spent her life in Mortonville, there weren’t any faraway friends to hold up proceedings. The sanctuary was spacious but dark, and Sister James watched with curiosity as Aloysius and her siblings clumsily helped their parents make their way down the center aisle. It dawned on her that they’d all left home but Mary; the eldest, even in her illness, had been the caregiver. Watching Aloysius place a steadying hand on her mother’s elbow reminded her of the way she watched out for Sister Veronica back home, and helped James figure out how to do the same.

The funeral mass seemed to last a long time, and Sister James was fascinated by the church where Aloysius must have worshipped during her childhood. Her head felt stuffed with senses: incense, old hymns, the organ pumping unfamiliar air. She felt a tinge of guilt for sensing church magic now, in the midst of death, but she couldn’t help it. In fact, the feeling was welcome. She sat next to Aloysius in the pew, closer than they sat at home. There was no distancing possible now, not now that she was situated with her family.

~

They didn’t linger in Mortonville. “We have to get back,” Aloysius announced over breakfast the next morning, echoing the discussion she and James had while preparing for bed the night before. In delivering this news to her family, her voice momentarily silenced the chatter that had started to grow within a few hours of the funeral. They would purchase tickets at the station that very afternoon.

After the meal, James helped the sisters-in-law clean up the breakfast dishes while the siblings had a private meeting regarding their elderly parents’ situation. Colleen (Alan’s wife) and Marla (Luke’s) were both pretty women. The former was a bit younger than her husband, with blonde hair from a bottle. The latter was a bit older, and her hair was red. Both had been sweet to James, if a little preoccupied with their immediate families. “You’re lucky you’re heading back to the city today,” Colleen said to James as she handed her a serving dish to dry.

“Don’t bother the poor woman with our problems,” admonished Marla, but the chastisement was only for show. She added, “But you are lucky. We’ll be stuck here until the weekend, I’m sure. Luke says he wants to make a plan for the grandparents’ care, doesn’t want to go back to Buffalo without one.” She dropped her voice. “How Mary stood it here for so long is beyond me. I think we should hire a caretaker to look in on them, but he seems to think he’ll convince Paul to move back home.”

Colleen smiled ruefully. “Then we could be here for awhile. Our guys are stubborn. And they feel at home here, with no idea what it’s like to keep the kids busy for days. I hope Molly and Jer don’t destroy the house.”

“What’s left of it, you mean,” Marla remained hushed. “I know Alan hates it here, but he’d never say--”

James stopped listening then. She’d caught herself nodding along in commiseration, like another wife.

The train home was hushed. No more primers on the relatives, no reminiscing about what they’d just experienced. It was pleasant, though, to be comparatively alone. “I like your family,” James said softly. Aloysius nodded, the words seeming to please her. Still, that was the last they spoke until the station. James wasn’t lying. She did like them--they were awkward and loud, not at all like her own family, but they clearly tried to be kind to each other, and that trying made them good.

~

There wasn’t a return to normal after the trip. What was normal? There was no answer to that question, especially not after Aloysius asked Sister Mary Margaret to find James in the garden and tell her to come to her office.

Aloysius opened her locked door and ushered James inside, ignoring James’ inquisitive “What’s the matter?” until they were settled on either side of the desk. Then Aloysius handed James two parts of a letter: a torn envelope first, followed by the stationery that had been folded inside. The envelope was addressed to Sister Aloysius Beauvier, but that name was not written on the stationery itself. James startled at the sight of the word that appeared instead.

“My old name, obviously,” Aloysius explained impatiently, seeming to forget that James had been home with her to hear which family members used “Katherine” instead of “Aloysius.” Her own expression was inscrutable.

Katherine,

I’ve spent years showing up alone to Christmas and weddings and funerals. Surely the family has wondered why: Bad luck with women? Still as awkward as a teenager? Is Paul a fairy? We were closest, growing up--you might have teased me a little, prodded me for information. But you never have, not even when you were married, and now I know why.

I saw you with her, the night before you headed back to the city. You must’ve thought the guest bedroom door was shut, but it wasn’t, not all the way. I didn’t see much, but it was so damned obvious.

I’m not going to tell anyone. I just want you to think about what I’m saying. I’ve spent eight years with Charles and he’s never been home to meet family. It isn’t possible. You’re a nun, and a widow, and yet you brought your girl home without any trouble.

Had to get this off my chest.

Paul


They’d only been back at the convent for a week. James handed the letter back to Aloysius, studying her face as she did so. “What are we going to do?”

“We?” Aloysius raised her eyebrows, a first clue.

“Well, will you write him back?” James thought it was a fair question. She knew what she’d do if Paul were her own brother, even though she didn’t know how Aloysius felt about him. They’d hardly spoken to Paul during the visit. But if Paul were James’ brother, she’d write him that very day. To say what, she didn’t know. That much she could admit to Aloysius--if Aloysius asked.

“I haven’t decided yet,” Aloysius said.

What might Paul have seen? He could not have seen sex; they weren’t having any, though they’d talked about it, and for the time being had decided to wait until something happened to make them both sure. (James suspected they were both willing, but needed to convince the other.) He could not have seen nakedness. Thinking back to the night in question, though--their last night in Mortonville, the night of Mary’s funeral--James could remember plenty. Without realizing the door had come ajar, they’d sat side by side at the edge of the guest room bed for a long time before shutting off the light. They’d made the decision to leave for the city the next day, then fell into a brief quiet. Then Aloysius had placed her arm around James’ shoulder, and James had whispered, over and over, “I’m sorry,” even though Aloysius wasn’t crying or frowning or saying anything. I’m sorry your sister died. I’m sorry it’s hard to be here. I’m sorry you’re sad. They kissed for awhile, too. James kissed Aloysius’ shoulder, Aloysius kissed James’ forehead, and they kissed each other on the mouth for a long time. By then, they’d decided they could do that whenever they wanted--within reason. They kept changing their rules.

Eventually, they crawled under the covers. James turned off the bedside lamp, and it was then that they noticed that door was edged in an inch or more of golden light. “It’s all right,” James had whispered, tiptoeing back to bed after correcting the problem. “Nobody saw through.” But Aloysius had not been convinced, and she made herself small in the bed, lying as far from James as possible. That’s not what you want, James thought, and was proven correct when Aloysius sighed and scooted closer after a wakeful half hour had gone by. There was no changing the past, and no point in wasting a night in a double bed for the sake of trying.

James looked up when Aloysius began to rip the letter into small pieces, though she left the envelope with Paul’s return address intact. She let the pieces fall to her desk, then stood, sweeping them into her hand and tossing them in the trash. “Don’t worry,” she said wryly. “I’ll remember what it says.” She paused, and James could tell that she must have had some look on her face, because Aloysius’ own face softened. “Oh, come here,” she muttered. James rose to meet her, but they did not kiss. Instead, Aloysius placed her hands firmly on James’ shoulders. “Tell me what worries you.”

Everything, James thought.

“Don’t say ‘everything.’”

James couldn’t help but smile. “That’s exactly what I was going to say. Don’t you feel strange, knowing that he knows?”

Aloysius looked alarmed. “I ripped it up,” she said quickly. “He won’t tell.”

It was late that night, as James lay alone in her bed, that she divined the meaning of Aloysius’ tone, the worry that compelled her to rush her words, kiss James on the cheek and then on the mouth before they left the principal’s office, to ask when they were going to see each other next even though they saw each other all the time.

Aloysius must have thought the letter had frightened her. It was unnerving, sure, but there was a surprising relief in being certain that there was someone out there who knew, and maybe there was even some safety in that person’s being a--James whispered the word in her mind--a homosexual. James worried that Aloysius and Paul would never mend their already-distant relationship. She worried that Aloysius would avoid her blood family for good after this. But if Aloysius had misinterpreted, assuming James would question the wisdom of continuing to be together--

James grinned, got out of bed, and very quietly ventured down the hall.

She couldn’t afford the sound of knocking on Aloysius’ door, not at this hour. So she let herself in without permission and stood awkwardly at the side of the bed, willing Aloysius to wake up without a fright. “I’m here,” she whispered, once her eyes had mostly adjusted to the darkness. “I want to.”

Aloysius murmured something wordless as she stirred awake, and James sat at her side. “I want to,” she said again, taking the sheet away from Aloysius’ body.

“Are you sure?” Aloysius asked, sweeping her loose hair behind her shoulders.

They’d been talking, weeks before the funeral, even, about the moment that was about to happen. Aloysius had been married before the war took her husband from her. Furthermore, she had hinted--somehow with coyness and self-loathing all at once--at there having been a woman a year or two before she met her husband. Although there had never been a point in James’ deliberate, religious life at which she “should” have had sex, she couldn’t help but worry about being a disappointment. Aloysius dismissed this worry out of hand, which was kind but did little to make James feel better. Aloysius was more afraid that James would regret the deepening of their physical relationship after the fact. “You can still claim innocence,” Aloysius had said on the day they spoke most bluntly about the imbalanced nature of their past experiences. “I don’t want to take that from you without a lot of thought.”

James disagreed--about her innocence, not about the need for careful thought. “No,” she replied. “I lost my innocence when I met you, and there’s nothing to be done about it now.” When she saw the grief on Aloysius face, she’d added, “You’re misunderstanding me--I’m glad I did. I like myself better this way.” So, they spoke more, not only about the question of whether or not they were going to have sex but what it would be like if they did. They would need to be quiet, would need to communicate carefully. Aloysius said something James found beautiful, about how even the air outside a room occupied by two people sounded louder than the air outside a solitary room. James didn’t want to get caught, but she liked the idea that the hallway would give off a nearly imperceptible hum.

And now they were in bed, not for the first time ever but for the first time like this. James had imagined this event in several different configurations, but she’d always pictured Aloysius guiding her, maybe even bossing her around a little. It was a rather delicious thought, but now James realized that Aloysius wasn’t going to direct her at all, at least not at the start. It was James’ responsibility to hand the remaining innocence over, proving to Aloysius that they should get rid of it together.

“I’m sure,” James confirmed.

“Don’t surprise me,” Aloysius replied, relief in her eyes, her voice almost as quiet as telepathy. “Talk to me.”

James, softspoken as she was, struggled to bring her voice down to the same level. “All right,” she said shakily. She could prove it not by stripping off her own clothes, but by loving Aloysius first. “Let’s pull up your nightgown. Let me see you.” Aloysius did not move except to nod, so James collected the well-worn cotton between her fingers and pulled it up towards Aloysius’ waist. “May I take these off?” she asked, gingerly touching the waistband of Aloysius’ white underwear. Another nod, another maneuver, so that once the underwear was out of the way, James was half-kneeling between Aloysius’ bare legs. “I want--” She couldn’t say this. Maybe they were beyond proof. “Touch.”

Then James’ left hand was comforting and her right hand was terrifying. Her left hand cradled Aloysius’ hip, thumb gentle against the bone. Two fingers of her right hand fumbled for a moment before pressing their way inside, but Aloysius was mostly dry, and even in the dark her face said pain. Aloysius’ own hands were still, arms flat against her sides, but the rest of her squirmed.

“Give it a minute,” Aloysius whispered, and gave James a faint smile.

James understood then that nerves had made her rush and she should have moved more slowly, but something stopped her from apologizing. “Should I--?” she asked, and moved to pull out.

Aloysius shook her head. “No. I want it.”

“What would feel good?” James asked gently, and then she had an idea, based on the relief she usually felt when she took off her underthings at the end of a long day. “Maybe, uh, maybe touch your breasts.”

“I can’t do that,” Aloysius said. There were still rules somewhere. But she did after only a moment’s hesitation, brushing her own fingers back and forth across her still-clothed chest. “Oh,” she whispered as she focused her fingertips on and around her nipples. “I feel, I feel--”

James blushed with pleasure to hear Aloysius speak without seeming to choose her words. James remained still except to pull her fingers out only slightly, and she felt some wetness. That made moving easier, so she moved slightly in and slightly out several more times. “Like this?” she asked, and Aloysius nodded again. James kept her pace slow, pressing around the entrance and back inside in a way that made Aloysius breathe heavily. A few minutes passed, and Aloysius began to move with her.

“Higher,” Aloysius said. “I need--”

But James didn’t entirely understand what she meant. She knew there was probably some way for her other hand to help, but it didn’t want to loosen its hold on Aloysius’ hip. “Show me.”

So Aloysius closed her eyes and snaked her right hand down her own body. She gave James’ hand a quick pat, and then used her middle and index fingers to circle her clitoris. “Right here,” she explained. “Your thumb, or your mouth. Or my own fingers, damn me.” Then she was too breathless to keep talking. They sped up, and then--wet, a clenching, a gasp as she finished.

“Beautiful,” James mouthed. After a few moments, she took her fingers away. She stretched out next to Aloysius, wrapped her arm around her waist, and pulled her close. “Does it hurt?”

Aloysius shook her head “no” and placed her left hand over James’. They lay side by side for awhile, trying to breathe quietly. They kissed a few times; then Aloysius raised her eyebrows inquisitively. “Do you want it?” she asked.

James shook her head. For now she only wanted to stare at Aloysius, to be close to her. “Tomorrow,” she whispered. “Please.” She added, “I’m sorry I didn’t know what to do.”

“Don’t say that. You care about me feeling, uh, a certain way. We’ll work out the rest.”

Aloysius fell asleep first, having already been asleep for an hour or more that evening, but James followed not long after. She left the bedroom at first light, her mind buzzing and overfull from the moment she woke up.

The next night, Aloysius visited James in her bed. “Let’s prove it’s real with both rooms,” Aloysius said, and did not elaborate except with action. Once they were undressed, she gently cupped between James’ legs with her entire palm, then sank two fingers flat but deep, then touched all around her clit with quick fingertips, more and more specific. Her head snapped up when she heard James moan a little, and she didn’t grin or move to cover James’ mouth with her free hand. “Control it,” she snapped, the words no louder than a hiss, the pattern of her movements unceasing. James kept herself quiet then, and found that breathing through her nose and biting down on the inside of her bottom lip made the pleasure sharper. Her first orgasm felt like taking her happiest memory and condensing it, threading it through the center of her body and into her limbs. Aloysius smiled at the sight, though James wasn’t aware of that until later, when she saw the expression lingering at the corners of her mouth.

It was like that night after night, and during the day too. Togetherness, that is: not only sex. There were great quantities of happiness and guilt and desire, and no such thing as moderation between them. Aloysius had made a career--more than a career, a life--out of expecting herself and everyone else to be obedient, but that summer shattered for good the expectations against which the previous year had conspired.

One evening, a couple of weeks after their return from Mortonville, Aloysius was noticeably quiet during dinner and clean-up, prayers and the sisters’ goodnights. James waited to inquire until they were in bed together. “Are you missing Mary?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I didn’t really know Mary,” Aloysius said. “We hardly spoke for years.” They were silent for a long time, and then she continued. “When we were little, we played together every day. One day we arrived home from school and I went to take our usual dolls and things out of the toy box, but Mary picked up a book and said she was too old to play with me anymore. I never forgot it. I didn’t hold a grudge, exactly, but a distance started then. That’s probably when I began to spend more time with Paul.”

James swallowed. This was the first Aloysius had spoken of Paul since the day they’d discussed his letter. James had thought of him many times, but every time she considered bringing him up, a strong feeling urged her not to. “James,” Aloysius whispered, turning her body so they were facing each other in the small bed. “If I wrote back and invited him to the city, invited him to bring that man. . . would you spend time with them?”

“Sure,” James replied. “I absolutely would.” She’d spent so much time thinking about the answer to that question before it was question that she didn’t have to do any more thinking now.

“I was thinking that we were so alone in this,” Aloysius said after several seconds of quiet. “Then he sent that letter, and we seemed even more alone, because . . . if he knew the truth and couldn’t understand it, how could anybody? But it occurred to me later that he was just caught up in how unfair it was that he’d never been able to bring anybody home.”

James nodded. “That’s how it seems to me. His letter didn’t seem threatening. Important, but not a threat. That’s why I came by your room that night. I thought you might have misunderstood my reaction.”

“Aren’t you smart.” Aloysius snorted softly. “And you’re right.”

“Were you surprised?” James asked. “Not by the letter, but by who he is.”

“No, I figured. But I didn’t know how to talk about it without talking about me.”

“I’m glad you’re going to write him. I hope they visit.”

James stayed awake for a long time that night, practically pulsing with a nervous sort of happiness. She watched Aloysius sleep fitfully and thought about the ways her existence had changed since the same time last year. Aloysius had been convinced so recently that those changes could be summarized as a loss of innocence, a piling on of sin, but James disagreed and was not afraid to say so. Being unafraid--that, perhaps, was the biggest change. She remembered a dinner last fall, on the night Aloysius began to voice her suspicions about Father Flynn. She bit down on a tough piece of gristle, saw Aloysius watching her, put the meat back in her mouth, and chewed it up until she could swallow. Aloysius had not forced James to shed her innocence, but had prompted her to prove her strength. The challenge appealed to her: she defied the Monsignor in her heart and with her voice, she chewed on tough things, she kept her orgasms silent. She was her true self in front of Aloysius, and she’d be that same person in front of Paul and Charles. If they came.

The next afternoon, the women locked themselves in the principal’s office and Aloysius handed James a letter. Thank you for writing, it said. And then, a few lines later: Would you consider visiting us in the city? You might bring your friend. It would be nice to meet him. The letter, just two brief paragraphs of several sentences each, ended with “Yours,” and Aloysius signed it with “A.” instead of “Katherine.” James told Aloysius to change “your friend” to “Charles,” at which point Aloysius nodded thoughtfully and recopied the whole thing so that at least the ink would be flawless.

They heard back within the week, and holed up in the office to open the letter together. Paul’s reply was brief but cordial. He thought it would be best to visit alone the first time, but had mentioned the women’s idea to Charles and had no intention of rejecting the offer outright. He asked if he could come to the Bronx as early as mid-September, when he was set to have a Saturday or two free from work. “Charles isn’t exactly a religious man,” Paul wrote, “But I bet I could get him within a hundred feet of the convent if I report back first.”

Aloysius laughed at this, then peered down her spectacles at James. “My brother the comedian,” she said.

“Is he religious?”

“Best Catholic in the family,” Aloysius replied. “I’m serious,” she added after James began to chuckle.

They wanted each other badly that night, but Aloysius couldn’t get comfortable. “I don’t want to be quiet,” she said, her voice a fierce whisper. Her face was a frown. She took her nightgown completely off and flung it to the floor, as if irritable and hot. As James kissed her neck and chest, Aloysius bit her lip so hard that tears filled her eyes and spilled over. “Stop,” she said, already out of breath and on the verge of too loud. “I want it too much.”

James knew that Aloysius wouldn’t want a hand over her mouth any more than she wanted to place her own hand over James’, but she imagined she could help just the same. “We’ll talk later,” James said. “Loud. For now . . . control it.” That wasn’t supposed to be her line, but she uttered it with a smile, and it made Aloysius take a deep breath and open her legs. James was exceedingly calm with her that night, whispering “Shh” and coaxing pleasure through gentle, soothing touch.

~

Paul scheduled his visit for September 18, the first Saturday he was available. “I’d like us to be there to meet his train,” Aloysius said to James. “We’ll have to figure out the arrangements.”

“Let me handle it,” James said.

James went to see the Monsignor the week classes began. It was a busy week, and the Monsignor couldn’t set much time aside for her. This suited her perfectly.

“I took the liberty of arranging a surprise visit from Sister Aloysius’ brother Paul for two Saturdays from now.” Her heart pounded; she hated to fib, but she hated the thought of one or both of them having to stay home from the station even more. “As you know, she lost a sibling this summer. I thought they both might benefit from the company of family. You may remember the time I spent back home when my own brother was ill.”

The Monsignor nodded, distracted. Perhaps she needn’t have practiced this speech fifteen times before bed the night before. “I remember.”

“I’d like Mr. Smith’s visit to remain a surprise until the last possible moment. Would it be too much trouble for me to walk Sister Aloysius to the train station on the 18th?”

As it turned out, it wouldn’t be too much trouble. James glowed as she gave Aloysius the news.

Time was largely filled for all the sisters by the return of the students and the resumption of classes, and September 18th arrived almost suddenly. The station was crowded that day with families making one last venture out of the city before cold weather hit and businessmen returning home from weeklong trips. Though there was one bench available on the platform, James and Aloysius stood in the crowd, scanning for Paul’s train despite being substantially early.

“We could have lunch in a restaurant,” Aloysius said for maybe the third time. “Then bring him to Saint Nicholas.”

James nodded and grinned. “I love you,” she said, speaking a bit more loudly than her typical volume.

Aloysius looked down and smiled, but met James’ eyes before she spoke. “I love you,” she replied, equally loud.

A whistle sounded, signalling Paul or perhaps only the arrival of more strangers.

Date: 2011-07-26 05:17 pm (UTC)
soukup: fancy monarch wings (monarch)
From: [personal profile] soukup
Weird -- I wonder why this doesn't show up on my reading page? (It's not dated out of order, is it?)

Regardless, congratulations! It's so shiny and pretty and DONE, and I love it so much. Good on you for seeing it through!

*rereads*
*happy sigh*

Date: 2011-07-26 05:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thelastgoodname.livejournal.com
I am all aflutter with joy. I keep flailing my arms--fluttering out loud--and letting off pleased squirms and smiles. Like a puppy, not like someone about to go camp out in my bunk.

Not that it's not nice to see them having sex, but this more felt like watching two very dear friends finally find happiness together. And by that I kind of mean Aloysius and Paul, because I love Paul. You're brilliant, you know that?

I love the idea that James has introduced Aloysius to a whole range of good things, not just romantic love but also a more general happiness with herself. Meryl Streep does a great pinched face, but everyone she's ever played just needs some cuddles and understanding to be happy. Lots of cuddles. And sex--

Sex! They talk about it! Then they do it! And it's strange and slow and realistic and hot, and then Aloysius threw off her nightgown!

So yhank you. Thank you very, very much. If I give MSF more money, will you write me more fic?

Date: 2011-07-30 05:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
Thank you so much! It makes me ridiculously happy to know that you enjoyed your story, and I appreciate your understanding re: the embarrassingly long delay. I had fun creating Paul, and I'm glad you enjoyed him as a character. Apparently there are all sorts of fandom hang-ups about original characters, but I tend to ignore the pros and cons and just write what I feel like writing.

Thanks for the insight about James helping Aloysius find happiness with herself. I think it goes both ways, though I don't think Aloysius set out to help James become happier or more able to embrace love. (I can see A initially wanting to help J become more self-confident, though.) You're right, though, that even with James' shorter life and smaller collection of experiences, she's able to introduce Aloysius to a lot of new things.

I'm grateful for your thoughtful response, and thanks again for the generous donation to MSF.

Date: 2011-07-26 11:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] shyboots.livejournal.com
*Shivers* that was...intense! I'm a bit choked up! I want them so much to have even more happiness than that, at the same time it is the pain and the impossibility that makes their story so compelling. This should really be made into a film or book, seriously. I'd read/watch!

Date: 2011-07-30 05:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
Thank you so much for the kind response!

Date: 2011-07-26 12:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jintymac.livejournal.com
I was so pleased to find that you'd written another new Doubt fic, it really made my day!

You write these characters so beautifully and this story was so moving. I love they way you had them falling for each other so gradually then having to overcome their initial guilt until the inevitable happened between them. The letter from Paul to his sister was a wonderful touch and opened up another side of Aloysius that we've never seen before.

I hope you'll consider writing more of these characters, I know that I'll never tire of asking ;-)

Date: 2011-07-30 07:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
Thanks for reading and commenting! I'm really glad you enjoyed it. Where new fic is concerned, I make no promises. (Especially not after finding out that making a promise with a monetary donation attached could still result in a 1.5 year delay.) Still, the interest is really appreciated.

Date: 2011-07-26 03:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] occidorien.livejournal.com
I'm not one for Doubt fic, but I am one for your writing. I found your rendering of these characters sympathetic and engaging; the friendship, sex, and love illustrated with a deft, subtle hand. A wonderful gift. Well done.

Oh, and please write more -- no matter what it is.

Date: 2011-07-30 07:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
Thank you so much! That means a lot, especially if Doubt fic isn't your thing. If you don't mind my asking, why is that? The opinion certainly doesn't offend me . . . in fact, I don't even know if I'm truly "one for Doubt fic" even though I've written--and enjoyed writing--three stories. Just curious.

Date: 2011-07-31 06:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] occidorien.livejournal.com
I don't mind you asking at all. I think the reason Doubt fic doesn't work for me is due to my lukewarm reaction to the film. I watched it several months after its release and didn't see what the fuss was about, though I did enjoy Streep's work, which really goes without saying. Amy Adams, however, is problematic for me (the exception being her part in Drop Dead Gorgeous). So, any relationship between Aloysius and James is hard for me to imagine, or I'd simply rather imagine something else.

The nun factor may also be a turn-off—not that nuns can't be passionate. Perhaps it's because I was raised Catholic that I prefer not to mix love and religion-flavored guilt. The forbidden quality of love and sex between nuns is intriguing for a hot minute, that gray area that must exist for nuns (and priests) between their urges for love and sex and their vows of devotion and faith, until I start considering the source of the feeling of the forbidden and discover that I'd much rather discuss love and sex between people who aren't constrained by a belief of a punishing God, or choosing to live within and perpetuate the rigid rules of a religion. Please note that my Catholic upbringing was in no way strict. ;)

Anyway, I feel as if I've gone off on a tangent, but I do hope I answered your question. Thank you for asking, by the way. You've helped me learn a bit about myself. Take care.

Date: 2011-08-04 02:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
Thanks so much for responding! I'm glad you weren't offended by my question, and I appreciate the care you took with the answer.

I think the big difference here is that I really loved the movie. I thought all four of the main adult roles were well-played, and I'm an Adams fan (have you ever seen her in Junebug? That might be my favorite Adams movie to-date, even though I've only seen it once).

I wasn't raised Catholic, though I've spent a good chunk of time surrounded by them, and--perhaps obviously--I do take a more consistent interest/pleasure in exploring that tug-o'-war between love, sex, and religious faith. In fact, my goal in writing this story was to create an evolution in the main characters, so that those tensions would stop feeling like an unnatural, irreconcilable fight between two sides. (That's not to say, of course, that I think the nuns and priests who hold that tension sacred and faultlessly uphold their vows are unevolved or too sheltered. That's not how I see it at all.)

Guilt intrigues me, but I wanted to eradicate at least some of it here. I can totally see, though, why there'd be a lot more appeal for some people in exploring the same love/sex discussion through characters who are more accepting of their own needs and the needs of others.

Again, thanks so much for responding! I was so happy to see a story of your own, btw. Such a fun story, too!

Date: 2011-07-26 03:53 pm (UTC)
ext_425300: (Default)
From: [identity profile] mayireadtoday.livejournal.com
So interesting: "James stopped listening then. She’d caught herself nodding along in commiseration, like another wife."

Fantastic lines: “Is he religious?”

“Best Catholic in the family,” Aloysius replied. “I’m serious,”

Date: 2011-07-30 07:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
Thanks for reading and letting me know what you enjoyed! I appreciate it.

Date: 2011-07-26 06:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chilly-flame.livejournal.com
So happy I was really, really diligent in trying to figure out a way to read this! LJ is killing me with being down, and the fact that you posted somehow made me make it happen.

This story really made me miss the Sisters--their universe, and them specificaly. I love their first time--awkward and uncomfortanle and rewarding, and just the first of many more times that surely got better if not sweeter. And the whole family thing--I feel that this is your specialty: going home again, and opening up all those small nooks that hold so much history in them.

Wonderful stuff, as ever. Come back soon!! :D

Date: 2011-07-30 08:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
Thank you so much, as always. I had no idea that LJ was giving people trouble when I posted, but I clearly used awful timing, as LJ was down off-and-on for me and everyone else for the next several days.

I'm really glad you enjoyed the story, and that the awkwardness worked for you. As Soukup knows, I struggled to write that scene because it was difficult to make it happy and awkward and guilty and loving and weird all at once. As for the family theme: I can't seem to keep myself from returning to those ideas, and trying to explore them from different angles.

How's your own writing going? Feel free to answer by email or PM, of course. ;-)

Date: 2011-07-27 08:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sanditar.livejournal.com
So many feelings about this, awesome as always. You are missed, please more soon?

Date: 2011-07-30 08:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
Thank you so much!

Date: 2011-07-27 08:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pantone462.livejournal.com
Oh, it's so good to see your story posted! The best thing to wake up to! I don't even really care if it's DWP or Doubt, you just have the way with words that makes it joy to read.
It is interesting actually - the differences and similarities between those two universes. The fashion world and, in a way its total opposite. And then two people in those worlds who are essentially the same.
Oh, and I love the guilt... "There were the windows to avoid, and the door, all firmly shut today though sound and light and guilt could travel slyly through most any surface." Great sentence!
Thank you so much for writing!

Date: 2011-07-30 08:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
Thank you! It's a big relief to have this story posted, and I'm really happy about the response. It's definitely true--in most ways, at least--that characters for whom love is a struggle can be boiled down to some essential truths. I really enjoy considering the sparseness and self-denial of this particular religious world.

Thanks for reading and letting me know what you thought!

Date: 2011-07-29 12:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nature-saphique.livejournal.com
You have always been one of my favorite authors. This piece was such a great surprise. I've read it very early before going to work and it made my day. You write so well, each time you never disapoint me. It's in you. You master all the fandoms you work on. Thanks for sharing and for continuing to share with us your talent.

Date: 2011-07-30 08:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
Thank you very much. Your comment means a lot, and I'm flattered and grateful.

Date: 2011-08-02 02:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thanatopsis76.livejournal.com
This is so so beautiful. I love the paragraph describing James's orgasm - it's just gorgeous. I'm so glad i caught this.

Date: 2011-08-04 02:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chainofclovers.livejournal.com
Thanks so much! It's great to hear from you--I hope you're doing well, and I still think fondly on the old "Ham Sandwich" days.

Date: 2011-08-04 02:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thanatopsis76.livejournal.com
I am doing well, I hope you are too. I've been trying the odd fic now and again, but nothing comes out right. I do keep a tumblr and a wordpress blog now, so I haven't totally disappeared from the internets.

http://beyondlighthouses.wordpress.com/
http://inanimate-adventures.tumblr.com/

Date: 2012-07-04 05:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ellydash.livejournal.com
So very, very late with this comment (nearly a year late!) but I just stumbled across this fic and couldn't leave without telling you how lovely it is. Everything here feels so intimate -- not just Aloysius and James's interactions, but the mood and flow of the piece itself, and your descriptions, which are exceptional. I'm especially impressed by how you say so much with so few words. Aloysius telling James how to touch her was a wonderful bit of characterization, and offers a hint of what she's experienced beyond what James is able to see.

A whistle sounded, signalling Paul or perhaps only the arrival of more strangers.

Beautiful. Thank you for writing and sharing this.
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