The game was over, but the banter lingered.
"Jackie Boy, yer slower than me Uncle Pat, and he’s eighty-two and uses a walker!"
"Paddy, me lad, you’re so slow you just figured out dat you have an Uncle Pat!"
"See you fellas next week," Ben said to his teammates as he walked off the field. "Have a pint for me, will ya?"
"Sure ting, Dr. Kelly. Say hello to your beautiful bride for me."
Gina came to most of Ben’s games, but she was out of town on a girl-friend’s holiday with her best friend Erica. He missed her as a new bridegroom would, even though they had been married a year. She’d be back on Sunday, much to his and Rocco’s delight, Rocco being their bull terrier.
One of Ben’s teammates called after him,
"Dr. Kelly, wait up," the young man said as he ran up to Ben.
"Kenny, what’s the hurry?" Ben said as the young man pulled up beside him, panting heavily. He had run across the field after realizing Ben was leaving.
Kenny Reilly was twenty-four, the youngest man on their rugby team. He was like Ben in that while most of the men on the team were big, Kenny was only 5’6" and didn’t weigh much either. You may recall that Gina herself referred to her husband like Jack Higgins’ character Sean Dillon, only taller and softer. Kenny was the fastest next to Ben and Paddy Reagan, and his tenacity impressed his larger, stronger teammates. He smiled nervously, like he had something important to say, but was too nervous to say it.
"Out with it, lad, I’ve got a dog at home that has waited for three hours for a walk." Ben teased. Actually, Rocco was litter-trained, but they referred to it as his doggie toilet, rather than call it a cat box.
"You’re a shrink, aren’t you?" Kenny asked, his expression indicating that he hoped he was right.
"I’m a psychologist…well; actually, my title would be ‘little kid’s shrink.’" Ben said with a laugh.
"Do you have any friends that deal with guys like me?" Kenny, like his mates, found that his accent grew deeper when he was around other Irishmen. He had been in the country since he was twelve, and his accent had become an interesting amalgam of County Clare and West Chester, PA.
Noticing Kenny’s nervousness, Ben tried to lighten the moment.
"And what would a newlywed like yourself need a shrink for? Married life become perplexing to you…Don’t worry…They speak a different language than we do, Female, and it just takes gettin’ used to."
Kenny smiled. He loved Connie, and would do anything in the world to make her happy. That was why he wanted Ben to help him here, but he wasn’t ready to share his problem just yet, and certainly not with one of his mates.
"I’ve more than a few colleagues that I could recommend, but I probably would need to know what your problem is in order to steer you in the right direction."
Kenny struggled for a moment, debating what to say, when a voice called from the other side of the field.
"Kenny boy…are you going to take all day. I’ve got to get over to the market before it closes, and you’re riding with me, remember." Just when Kenny thought that his deliverance had come, Ben called out.
"That’s okay, Jackie Boy, I’ll give him a ride home."
Before Kenny had a chance to speak, Jackie Boy had run to his car after a quick wave, and had driven out of the parking lot.
"’Looks like we’ve got some time to talk, Kenny."
Ben said with a smile. "Now, let’s go get us a cup of coffee and you can tell me about it.
The Kelly's had taken the couple under their wing, so to speak, and a friendship was developing. Kenny felt somewhat nervous, however, because he had something he needed to talk to Ben about that was very personal, and troubled him deeply. He and Connie had their first substantial argument. Not their first argument. That would have been before the wedding and the first of several that every couple has when they find out that the person they married isn’t quite the person they dated. They were normal in that regard. Connie was a fair facsimile of the person she presented pre-Wedding Day, but Kenny had, though he hadn’t intended, withheld part of himself that under most circumstances might have postponed or canceled the wedding.
The two men sat on the bench in front of the pond in the park. A loaf of Wonder Bread sat on the bench between them, pulled apart for the ducks at their feet.
"Now she’s angry at you because you say you weren’t entirely honest with her before the wedding?
What is so different about you that would jeopardize your relationship?" Ben was a very sensitive and compassionate counselor. He continued as a middle school guidance counselor in the school district adjacent to where Gina’s high school was, and he was well regarded by his colleagues and by the kids he helped. In dealing with young adults and teens, he had learned that getting to the point and dealing immediately with the problem was the most effective approach. What is referred to in some circles as Reality Therapy.
"Well, like I said, I wasn’t completely honest with her before the ring, so to speak."
"Well, then, Kenny my boy, what was it you weren’t able to tell her…so to speak." Ben kidded him, but he knew that the longer Kenny took to get to the heart of the problem, the less he would be able to reveal. After all, something was so troubling that he was either unable or unwilling to discuss, although Ben expected it was the former reason rather than an unwillingness to talk.
"And let me say this, Ken." Ben said with an earnest but serious tone, "There’s nothing you can tell me that would surprise me, and nothing, absolutely nothing you can say that will change my friendship." There’s something about unconditional love that is so freeing, but it still took him to say,
"The longer it remains a secret, the stronger it gets. Let’s just get it out in the open and see what we see, Yes?"
Kenny thought for a moment, his eyes beginning to mist. Shame and embarrassment can do that, even to a man. Kenny thought back to the previous Saturday and began.
"Connie had been out shopping and she was going to go to her sister’s in Camden for the afternoon, so I didn’t expect her home until after midnight." He saw in his mind’s eye everything in detail, with way more clarity and focus than he wanted to view. He was a writer; a newly hired bottom-rung sports writer for the West Chester Daily Local News, and had a vivid memory with a matching talent for description. So what happened that past weekend played out like a videotape entered into evidence by a DA at trial.
"I was…." He paused, and he actually began to cry softly. Ben noticed it, and reached over and put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, but without a word. After a few moments, Kenny continued.
"Connie realized she had forgotten….came home first." He put his hand over his face, almost as a way of hiding. The memory of the moment brought him such shame and guilt as it played out in front of him.
"Kenny….what the hell?" Connie was standing in the doorway to their bedroom. Her fists were balled up in tense anger.
Her purse lay on the floor, its contents spilled on the floor after she dropped it in shock over what she saw. Kenny was silent, mostly out of fear, but also because he had no answer for her. He had no answer for himself, truth be told, or he would have talked to her months ago.
Her fists began to shake with rage as she stood at the doorway, unable to move. Finally, with what most might consider a supreme effort of patience, she turned and walked quickly down the hallway, without saying a word. Imagine, as did Kenny, the scene playing out like one from a TV show or a movie. The camera would remain at the doorway, following Connie down the hallway until she disappeared. It would then pan around to return to the bedroom, tracking around until the lens discovered the reason for Connie’s anger. Cue dramatic music as the lens zooms to the figure in the middle of the room, the view revealing a face so stricken with utter despair, as if someone had died. Despair mixed with fear with just a little guilt and shame added for flavor. The lens would then pan out to reveal that the figure was that of a pretty young woman…or so it would seem. She was dressed as if she were going out, maybe to a restaurant or a show, but on further inspection, the camera revealed that the person was actually a man.
A man dressed in her clothes. Kenny; dressed in Connie’s clothes.
Ben sat quietly on the bench, throwing bits of bread to the ducks and one very rude goose. He looked over at Kenny every so often, seeing that he was okay, albeit still awash in his own tears. "Best to let him cry it out…Sounds like more than just a week’s worth of crying." Ben said to himself. And then he remembered something someone once wrote: "Every so often, it’s good to have yourself a good cry; but after that, you must figure out what got you crying in the first place."
There’s an almost dramatic tension that occurs within therapy between a client and a therapist when the therapist must determine what is and what is not appropriate to share with the client concerning the therapist’s own experience; especially if the relationship is professional and bound by professional ethics. Two things were going on here that gave Ben pause. First, he felt he didn’t know Kenny well enough to share anything "deep" about himself, and certainly needed to think and pray hard regarding his own experience in light of what Kenny had just shared. For now, Kenny would only be acquainted with Ben and Gina, and the "third" member of the family would "wait in the wings." Second, since he wasn’t Kenny’s therapist, he felt his responsibility before God, at least for the time being, as a friend to both Kenny and Connie, and it was absolutely necessary for him to encourage Kenny to communicate with his wife. He could not; he would not share anything that Kenny had just revealed, but eventually Kenny would have to tell Connie.
Ben drove home; glad that he had been able to provide at least some solace for his friend, and absolutely relieved that Kenny had not uttered the words, "Please don’t tell your wife." Ben’s relationship with Gina occasionally spilled over into the professional in some general instances, but he would never violate a trust by speaking to her in that regard.
Gina acted on occasion as Ben’s sounding board, and her own experience in this regard might come into play if Connie needed to talk after Kenny talked with her. And this was more than Ben could handle by himself.
As many of you may know, Ben and Gina’s relationship started with "everything on the table," as Gina "met" Ben’s sister Katie. She was his alter-ego, born out of a need to cope with the abuse and neglect he and his mother suffered at the hands of his father. She "dropped in" from time to time, and had actually become a welcome member of the Kelly household. Katie might be introduced to Kenny and Connie, but only if it could be of some use to them in their relationship. Or she might not ever meet them. Time and God’s will would tell.
Gina walked through the front door. Rocco came running down the hallway, tail wagging enthusiastically. Ben got up from the couch and walked over to his wife. He hugged her tightly and broke the embrace only long enough to turn his attention to her lips, which he kissed.
"Hey, tiger," she actually cooed.
"And hello to you, my love." He kissed her again and then relieved her of the bags and purse in her hands. Putting them down, he literally swept her off her feet and "retired" to the bedroom. Rocco looked disappointed until he noticed a new chew toy that had fallen out of one of the bags. He was still happily engaged in gnawing when the couple came down the hallway later.
"OH MY GAWD!" Gina said in her best imitation of Janice from Friends.
"Do you think that maybe that’s gettin’ a little old, darlin’?" Ben teased. She swatted his arm playfully and continued.
"Really….she must have been so angry." Not really as obvious a statement as one might think. Hurt and betrayal might
mix together to produce profound sadness and depression, but Connie was angry. Without need for much speculation, the couple surmised that her anger was out of a sense of being lied to. Yes, as we all know, withholding the truth is a form of lying; perhaps the worst kind for some, as they might have done things differently "had they known."
"He said they haven’t really spoken a word since last week. He has to be at the paper at 5:30, and she’s off to her job at the hospital before he gets home." Ben was grateful that their own schedule matched, and even more that they shared the same passion for children.
"Really doesn’t foster communication, does it." Ben continued.
"I know something that might." Gina looked upward, more for comedic effect, but she did actually pray about it as well. "Do you think they might accept an invitation to dinner….no, I know what you’re thinking, and I agree. Your sister isn’t invited." Ben made a make-believe frown until she added… "This time. Kenny knows that you and I were going to talk…Would he be alright with this?"
"He told me that he’s willing to do anything I might suggest," Ben looked both thoughtful and relieved, "As a friend." I’m glad he trusts me enough. It’s Connie I’m worried about."
"I think at this point, we can only ask. If they can’t come, they can’t, but at least it gives her someone to talk to. And only if she brings it up. I’ll try and touch base with her at church. Maybe a girls-only lunch, but I believe we have to do something."
"Oy, honey and remember what yer professor said about that we’re not human-doings?" Ben said, and his brogue was uncharacteristically un-amusing. Gina frowned at him and stuck out her tongue.
"Dat’s wot I luv about you, my darlin’ Wife! Always the professional!" Ben said, sounding a lot like Barry Fitzgerald.
The iceberg in the Reilly apartment had begun to thaw enough so that Connie was able to navigate without anger; at least not as much. She was still hurt over what she felt was Kenny’s betrayal. Some marriages can be annulled if it is determined that the relationship was fraudulent. And she had thought about that all week. Having opposite schedules allows for little conversation and way too much self-talk. Fortunately, she came to one conclusion that was entirely accurate, even if she didn’t know why. Kenny would never have hurt her intentionally, but she still wondered what would have happened if she knew her husband would have been thrilled to wear the wedding gown before they exchanged rings.
She actually felt clever about that. Her understandable confusion and hurt threatened to mutate into misunderstanding and judgment, but she knew that was wrong. She called a friend, instead.
"Gina? It’s Connie….Reilly. I…" Weeks of anger failed in their attempt to suppress Connie’s need to understand, and she started crying."
"What is it, sweetie?" Gina asked.
"I need someone to talk with." The urgency in her voice, coupled with the sounds of suppressed sobs told Gina that sooner rather than later was the way to go.
"Come right over, I’ll put on some tea and we can talk." Ever notice that some people will drink coffee when they want to solve a problem, but it’s a good strong cup of tea that helps them cry?
"He lied to me. He lied to me." Connie had just revealed to Gina exactly what hurt the most.
"Honey, it sounds like you feel betrayed."
"Damn right I do…the bastard lied to me."
They could have danced around this all day, but Gina wanted to help her friend, so her questions became more subjective. She wasn’t being therapeutic so much as caring, as she knew the woman seated at her kitchen table was in a lot of pain; pain that would only diminish with the truth.
"Why is that so important? I know it hurts, honey…I can’t imagine how much, but this seems to hurt more than anything." She put her hand on Connie’s arm. Connie wasn’t angry by any means with Gina, but she tried to pull away anyway.
"A lie of commission," Gina thought.
"He promised what, sweetie?"
"That he’d love me."
"You don’t believe he loves you." Gina stated.
"No….how could he?" She started to sob. Gina grabbed her hand and held it.
"How could he? I’m sorry, honey, why wouldn’t he?"
"He wore my dress…he must…" She broke down and cried, her tears flowing like a small stream.
Someone once noted that there’s a lot written about a boy and his dress. Much of it is written by those who have no clue, and those that do know really don’t know everything.
And you know that your parents might have told you to always tell the truth. Not communicating and withholding the
truth leaves others with the absolute permission (at least from their perspective) to fill in the blanks. It’s not so much like they’re making things up as following things to what seems to be a logical conclusion. Gina couldn’t speak for Kenny, nor would she if she could. What she did, however, is help Connie "fill in the blanks" with the truth.
"Honey, he must what?"
"He must not really love me." She struggled not to cry, but it was a losing battle.
"Have you asked him that?" She really wasn’t trying to speed things along. Sometimes these things take time. But here and now, the only real relief to Connie’s pain was the truth, and only Kenny could provide it. He might say something that would confirm what Connie thought; Gina didn’t believe that for one second, even after knowing the couple for only a short time. The betrayal and the hurt came from the not knowing. Just like an antibiotic doesn’t work with a virus, speculation and guessing don’t always work with life, and sometimes they can make things worse.
"Honey, Connie….You need to talk with Kenny. With Ben and me or just me or you alone…we want to help…You love Kenny, don’t you." Gina just asked a question regarding what Connie had already expressed her doubts about, but quickly followed. "And he loves you?"
Connie answered reflexively because deep down it was at least her utter hope and wish for it to be true, despite her fears to the contrary.
"Yes…." She made no resistance as Gina got up and walked to the back of her chair and hugged her.
"It’s okay….it’s okay," Gina said, assured in her own heart that everything would be okay.
"I’m sorry, Ken, but it’s time." Ben sounded like the warden walking the condemned man down the Green Mile, as Kenny got out of the car. Connie was coming straight from work, so Ben walked out and welcomed his understandably nervous friend. Kenny walked into the house, and would have diverted his face downward but for the welcoming hug he received from Gina. Too much shame and guilt cause him to anticipate rejection and judgment, and her gesture helped diffuse his fears. He looked past her to find Connie sitting at the kitchen table drinking some coffee. She looked at him with an uncomfortable smile and said, "Hi Kenny." He was disappointed that the warm reception he received was from a friend instead of his wife of ten months. But then again, he hadn’t lied to Gina.
"Let’s go out on the deck and have some lunch." Gina said as she pointed to the door. Kenny and Connie awkwardly stood at the doorway, motioning for the other to exit first. They really both wanted to hug, as much for acceptance of themselves as each other, but pride temporarily kept that from happening. The foursome settled into a tentative truce held together by some great lasagna and iced tea. And that could hold together only so long with, "Gina, how old is Rocco," and "Ben, did you catch the Eagles last week?" Gina broke the conversational impasse.
"So, guys….let’s talk. Connie, why don’t you tell Kenny what you told me?" Three sets of eyes turned and stared at her; Connie and Kenny out of fear, and Ben with some amusement and pride.
"I don’t know if I can do this." Connie looked away, hoping that when she looked back there would only be three at the table. Ben went to stand up, and would have said "Fine," with some indignation, albeit entirely unrighteous, until Ben grabbed his arm and said.
"My wife has made an entirely reasonable suggestion to you both, and after preparing such a wonderful meal, it would seem rather rude for you to leave just before desert." Ben looked at Kenny and continued.
"I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong. Yes, your wife is angry and won’t speak to you, but think about it lad. Who did the hurtin’ here and who got hurt?" Ben smiled at the turn of the phrase, wholly enhanced by his deepening accent. Connie started to smile and speak, but Gina cut her off.
"And you, missy," Gina said, even as her mind asked the question, "Missy…?" "Connie…did or did you not tell me that you thought that you two still loved each other?" The word "still" wasn’t a part of what she said, but it seemed appropriate, so Gina included it. Connie wanted for all the world to say "NO," but instead said,
"Yes…" Her voice trailed off.
"And correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you just tell me the other day that you’d do anything for your wife?" Ben asked Kenny.
"Yes…" Kenny said sheepishly.
"Then I have a suggestion. It might not work, perhaps. But let’s just try it anyway, shall we," Gina said.
"I am going to take this chew toy." She held it up for effect, "And go play fetch with Rocco." His tail wagged at the mention of his name. "And my sweet husband will clear the dinner dishes and put the pie in oven to heat. That should take about, oh….an hour." She smiled at Ben who looked at her and mouthed the word, "Missy?" Since the two of you have indicated to both of us on more than one occasion that you love each other…how did they put it?" She said as she looked to her husband.
"More than life itself, I believe."
"More than life itself….you can actually prove that you mean what you say and start talking."
Connie and Kenny looked at each other and at Gina and Ben, who proceeded to do exactly what Gina had just promised.
An uneasy alliance formed quickly as the couple probably felt angrier at the moment with their friends than angry at each other. Their expressions revealed that they were more nervous and scared about what they might hear as well.
Connie looked at Kenny with an expression that said, "You first." He was actually thinking of asking her to tell him what she wanted to hear, but her glare changed his mind. And he surprised himself with his next move. As abrupt as Gina and Ben had been, they were actually still their friends and role-models. It helped as well that just before Ben went into the house, he turned to Kenny and put his hands together somewhat solemnly and mouthed, "Pray, lad, pray."
"I was about nine or ten. Mommy…Mom had been sewing a dress. She wanted to measure it…’Hop up here and try this on, Kenny,’ she said. I tried to argue, I really did." He actually pled with Connie to believe him. Some of you might have felt like him at one time.
"’Don’t worry,’ she said to me…’Just for a few minutes,’ and before I had the chance to say no, she popped it over my head, and there I am, standing on a table in the middle of the room with a dress on." Something like that would appear comical if you saw it in a play or a movie, but it was all too personal and sad for Kenny. He tried not to, but he started to cry. Old, good habits die hard, and try as she might not to, Connie reached over and grabbed Kenny’s hand. Her gesture helped him collect himself and he continued, but not for long.
"Well," he said, having only a brief victory over his tears, "Here I am in the middle of the room, like I said, when in comes my sister’s best friend, Lorraine Kielty." Connie remembered from past conversations that Lorraine had been Kenny’s first crush. "Mara looked at me and pointed, and said, ‘Look, Lorraine…I’ve got a new sister.’" Kenny’s face was flush from embarrassment, as if Lorraine was right at the table. "And Mommy just looked at her and said, "And isn’t she the pretty one, as well."
Kenny put his head down on the table and wept. Gina looked over from where she and Rocco were playing. She would have gone to the table, but Ben looked out the kitchen window and shook his hand ‘no’`. Connie wanted not to understand, she wanted to stay angry. She almost wanted to stay confused. Perhaps you’ve been so hurt that you didn’t want to let go? But her deep-down self loved Kenny more than life itself, as they had confessed, and she took over, pushing the resentful and angry Connie aside. St. Francis said something about understanding rather than understood. Connie had a perfect right to be angry. Maybe she would have married someone else or not at all. Maybe it really was unfair that she was lied to. Maybe it was entirely foolish for her husband to cry so much about something so long ago. But hearing her husband; witnessing the pain that was present to this day; seeing the shame and guilt that had imprisoned her best friend, companion, soul-mate, whatever, made her more angry than her anger at him.
There’s a scene in the movie “The Mission.” Perhaps you’ve seen it, where DeNiro has strapped heavy armor to his back as penance for killing his brother. He climbs up a cliff with the armor pulling him down, like Kenny’s guilt and shame. And like the Indian who cuts the armor off DeNiro to free him of his guilt, Connie made the conscious effort to forgive her husband. Like the Indian who freed DeNiro, Connie got up and actually fell upon her weeping husband on the table and wept with him. She didn’t say it; she still was too angry to say it, but her actions spoke louder than words ever could as they said, "I love you."
"Paddy, ya fookin’ moron, ya shudda trown me the ball." The player shouted to his mate as they walked off the field.
"Aw, Jackie Boy, you couldn’t score even if they gave you the ball, sat ye down on the field, and painted the goal
"Paddy, my boy, you kick worse than my mother’s cat, and he’s been dead for five years."
Ben and Kenny walked up to their teammates.
"And will you be joining us today, Dr. Kelly."
"As a matter of fact, we will join you. Meet you at the pub."
"Are you sure the girls won’t mind?" Kenny said.
"No, they’re meeting a friend for lunch. We’ll meet up with them later at the house.
Gina and Connie skipped the lunch after the women’s meeting that morning. They were going to catch up with Gina’s friend Erica, who was meeting them for lunch at Applebee’s. They sat in the car in the parking lot, waiting for Erica to arrive.
"We’ve come to a sort of truce….No, a cease fire." Connie said. "Kenny is going to a counselor in West Chester that has experience…oh, that’s right, Ben referred him. Tell him thank you for both of us." Her eyes were a little misty as she continued. "I told him I don’t know really how I feel about it, but it still makes me angry and I still feel a little hurt." She looked embarrassed and turned away from Gina, looking out the window into the parking lot. "I mean…how do you handle this stuff? I thought he loved me." She stopped. "No, I know he loves me, even if he does piss me off. I thought…." She started to cry. "She pulled the rearview mirror to one side and looked at herself, saying." "What’s wrong with me?"
"It’s really not about you, sweetie…I mean, why he does what he does…that’s not really how it works." Gina said with a little more authority than she had intended.
"But how do I deal with this? I love him too much to ever leave him…He’s…"
"He’s kind, considerate, caring, handsome, athletic," Gina said, appreciating the ironic parallel.
"That’s right…but" Connie looked confused. She wiped her tears with her sleeve.
"But that other thing…’She who shall remain nameless,’" Gina said, invoking the name of an old character in a movie.
"Yes, what do I do with that?"
Gina was about to answer when Erica pulled up in her van. She got out and walked over to the driver’s side and stood by the door. She had a package in her hand.
"Is that it? Is that it?" Gina said with excitement.
"Yep, UPS this morning. ‘No More Sad Songs, Mark Kiernan and Company’" Erica said, beaming with pride. Connie looked at Erica with recognition.
"Ohmygod!" She said, her mouth open. "You’re Erica Kiernan. Billy Bear. I baby sat my little brother with your first book."
"Hi, Connie Reilly, right?" She said. "I saw you at the meeting this morning. Nice to meet you." Erica was one of those people who actually were thrilled to meet new people.
"Can I have one? Can I have one?" Gina said in a kid’s voice. Erica pulled out an open case. "I’ve got an un-open one for you, but I wanted you to read the dedication. I think you’ll get a kick out of it. She pulled out the insert and handed it to Gina, who read,
"To God; who gave me life and hope; to my beautiful wife Erica, the light of my life; to my mother Marie, my mentor and friend; to my dear dad, Pat, may he rest in peace; to my late sister Maura, my inspiration; to my sister Maired, my better half; and to my friends; Drs. Gina and Ben Kelly, and Ben’s sister Katie, my support and encouragement."
Erica beamed with pride and Gina looked on in agreement.
"That’s not all…." Erica chuckled. "Look at the back." Turning the CD over, Erica pointed to the photos on the back. "Jimmy Agnew on drums; Bobby Cahill on bass; Maired Underhill on piano and cello." Gina stared at the last photo, that of an attractive red-headed woman." The women looked at each other and laughed in an almost conspiratorial manner.
Connie looked at the two of them, perplexed; not so much because of what they just said, but
what Erica read just before that.
"Gina? I thought you told me that Ben was an only child?" Connie looked at Gina’s broadening grin, wondering just what she was smiling about."
Gina looked at Erica who joined Gina as she looked back at Connie. The two women spoke at once, almost in harmony,
"We need to talk."
The "Whole" Truth
"I just don’t understand….I thought he loved me." Connie checked herself and added, "I thought he loved…just me."
Connie was still coming to grips with the fact that her husband had not, however unintentionally, presented himself completely when they were engaged. She and Kenny had spent last weekend at Gina and Ben’s home, trying to make sense of Kenny’s past, and how it affected their present relationship. Connie sat across from Gina and her friend Erica.
They had spent the morning at a women’s meeting at church but decided to have lunch together instead of attending the luncheon at church. But their lunch was quickly turning into a focus group of one as Erica and Gina listened to Connie pour her heart out. Having walked through some of the issues that Connie was dealing with; neither woman actually minded.
Connie and Kenny had not even been married ten months when she discovered him in their bedroom after returning home early from a visit to her sister. Kenny was standing in the middle of their bedroom wearing her best "party" dress, along with a long dark brown wig and make up. It was surprising on a number of levels, but the one thing that was most surprising, the thing she hadn’t even discussed with Gina and Ben, was that Kenny actually looked…good. Kenny was a small lad, as they say. When he played rugby, he was one of the smaller fellows on the team, along with Ben and Paddy Reagan. His speed and agility overcame his size, and he had earned the respect of his "bigger" teammates.
But standing in their bedroom, wearing that dress, he didn’t look at all like the man she married. And that made her angry. Almost at once, she had begun to resent him, and try as she could; she was unable to forget what she had seen, even though she was making a supreme effort to forgive his failure to tell her the truth. Their time together with Ben and Gina helped her and him move past the anger into an uneasy but welcome truce. She had agreed to allow him to dress when she wasn’t home, and they worked out a schedule that fit the uneasy "cease-fire." But she was still filled with doubt and hurt, feeling understandably guilty, even if unnecessarily.
"Sweetie, I know it hurts, but try to remember what you two said to each other when you married." Gina wasn’t ignoring Kenny’s failure to be completely honest; they had discussed that when they met last week, and Connie had agreed to forgive him, albeit warily, since she wasn’t sure she could trust him. That broken trust would take time to rebuild, as you may already know, and while they waited for the "Contractor" to do his work in their hearts, they still had to walk out what they had promised. Gina wanted to remind Connie that their vows meant something when they said them, and they could still hold meaning and weight even after the rough time they were going through.
"I know, Connie said, her eyes misting slightly. "I just wish I had with Kenny what you have with Ben." Connie would learn eventually and begin to appreciate the irony of her statement.
Erica had brought along a copy of her husband’s CD. Her conversation with Gina brought up something that neither had expected to talk about, but were fully prepared, regardless.
"You asked me about Ben’s sister." Gina continued. I think you might get a better answer if I let her explain that.
She’s home right now, and we can go over to my place for tea, if you’ve got the time." Tea…Gina expected more crying, but she’d put on a pot of coffee just in case Connie was looking to problem-solve.
The attractive blond moved about the kitchen, getting everything ready for the impromptu visit. Tea was brewing, along with a fresh pot of coffee. Rocco sat by the door, waiting for Gina’s return, his tail wagging in anticipation. Katie was just putting out some Danish when the ladies arrived.
"Hi, Katie," Erica said as she hugged her. They had been friends since Gina’s engagement, and Erica welcomed Katie as part of her extended family. "Is Maired coming?" Katie asked softly. Katie counted Maired as a "best friend" among best friends, if you follow me. Some girls have a changing hierarchy of friendship, and the number one spot rotates on occasion. Maired was a good friend who helped Katie gain perspective and support when she felt… insecure.
"She’s home with Marie, but she sends her love." Marie was Erica’s and Mark’s daughter, six months old already and sweet as can be. You may recall that Erica was unable to have children, but they had been blessed with a sweet baby girl that a caring teen mother gave to them in adoption. Marie was half Taiwanese, half Turkish, and all "Irish," as they say, and a complete blessing to her new parents.
"Connie, I’d like you to meet Katie Kelly, Ben’s sister." Gina said, as she hugged Katie. She whispered softly in her ear before separating, "I love you."
"Ben and I grew up here after moving from Ireland when we were in Middle school. I went to high school and then college, and we both were able to attend the University of Dublin for graduate school." Katie wasn’t lying actually. She went to every class and stood with Ben when he received his diploma.
"I’m sorry I misunderstood, Gina. I really thought you said that Ben didn’t have a sister, but here she is." She turned her head and faced Katie. "I can see the resemblance, but of course, you’re much prettier than your brother.
(Enigmatic face…Jodie Foster…hint, hint)" Connie was enjoying meeting Katie and certainly enjoyed her time with Erica and Gina, but she didn’t understand how any of this was helping her with her problem with Kenny. Gina had almost anticipated Connie’s question and was ready when Connie asked,
"Will Ben be joining us?"
"We met at a conference in Atlanta. Actually, we met at the airport, and he was kind enough to pay for my cab to the hotel. I thought to myself, he’s beautiful. (Gina actually felt that way, but repeated the phrase with a stress on beautiful since she was going to explain more). We talked and got to know each other at the conference, and we began seeing each other when we returned. He works in a middle school in the next school district, and we found out we had so much in common." She looked directly at Erica and grinned, and Erica did not miss the cue.
"They made such a sweet couple. I’d been praying for Gina to find someone just as special as my Mark, and she did.
But things didn’t start out easy, though they’re great now, right sweetie?"
"Right," Gina said.
"All of a sudden, after a few weeks where we were growing and learning about each other, Ben stopped taking my calls, and I got so angry. I can’t speak for my Swedish side, but the Sicilian in me (1/4) got angry enough to go over to his house to confront him after he left a note that broke off our relationship. When I got there, the door was open, and he wasn’t anywhere to be found. That’s when I met Katie" With that, she reached over and grabbed Katie’s hand, cradling it in hers.
"Where’s Ben," I said. Gina was almost dramatic at this point. "Katie tried to run away…can you believe that?"
Connie couldn’t figure out where this was going. "I grabbed her and pulled her around, and I got the biggest surprise of my life." Gina toned down the theatrics and smiled at Connie.
"Honey, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but your role model has feet of clay, just like you. I had to make some adjustments in order to have what I always wanted." She smiled again at Connie and then looked at Katie with as much love as anyone can demonstrate in an awkward moment. Connie looked at Gina and then over at Katie. Erica didn’t know whether to cry or laugh hysterically, so she chose neither, and stifled a grin and looked away for composure.
Connie’s eyes widened in recognition as she realized just who was sitting in front of her.
"As ever was, Connie, as ever was."
"You’ll do just fine, honey. I know you can do this, because I trust you. It’s hard, but you’ve got everyone behind you, and you want this to work." Gina said as she held Connie in her arms. She rubbed her back and continued, "He’s really the same man you married….just with different decorations, like someone I know once said." Erica sat at the kitchen table with Ben, who had changed and was enjoying a cup of coffee. They all had talked and prayed and listened, and Connie had come to the conclusion that there was nothing she wouldn’t do for Kenny. She had loved him since they were in high school, and he was the same man of character and caring that she had fallen in love with. It wouldn’t be easy, and her efforts would probably be awkward and uncomfortable at first, but she was determined, so it would work.
"Would you mind putting in some whites and towels when you get a chance?’ Connie said as she finished her makeup. She looked in the hallway mirror and for the first time in months felt good…no, great about her appearance. She was beginning to sort out the wherefores and whys of her relationship with Kenny, and she felt more secure and less threatened by the new member of the family.
"Be happy to," the voice came from the bedroom.
"Rehearsal’s at church at six, but I wanted to go over early to meet with Nancy about the music."
Connie had just started to sing solos at church, renewing her interest in music and worship after a short, understandable hiatus. She felt, incorrectly she would remind herself later, that she had little to sing about. But now she was entirely convinced otherwise, and she began to sing to herself as she continued to get ready to leave. She looked up and saw a familiar person walking down the hallway. The woman was pretty, not as pretty as Connie, she mused, and was about her age, perhaps a year younger (she was) and about her size. She usually wore her hair short, but had decided recently with some encouragement to let it grow out. Her dress, a nice light blue print, fit her only somewhat, as it had been borrowed from Connie. She had few clothes of her own, having only "arrived" recently. Connie walked toward the girl and stopped, looking up and down, as if in an inspection.
"I’m glad it fits…it looks nice…on you." You’ll have to excuse her awkwardness in the moment. This was all too new for Connie, but she was trying hard with a lot of success in overcoming her doubts and fears. She was motivated by love, after all…Amor Vincit Omnia…a newly acquired but entirely fitting motto in the Reilly home. She leaned forward and kissed the girl on the cheek, holding her shoulders in an awkward hug.
"I’ll be home about eight or so. We can have dinner then. You can remind your brother that I’ll be there for his game tomorrow, but I might be a little late in case the last service runs late. The girl nodded and sat down on the couch to resume reading her novel (Navigator by Clive Cussler; aptly fitting since the family was in strange new waters in need of a Navigator, so to speak)
Looking over her shoulder one last time, Connie said,
"Kenny probably doesn’t have to be home for dinner, so it will be just you and me tonight, Kiera." She smiled a smile that was half awkward and half wonderful. She said the next thing with as much will and love and uneasiness and gratefulness as can be mixed together in the same sentence.
"Love you, back soon!"
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