Authors: Andrews & Austin,Austin
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Love Stories, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Lesbian, #Women Journalists, #Lesbians, #Women Priests, #(v4.0)
Andrews & Austin
Uncross my heart
© 2009 by Andrews & Austin. All rights reserved.
ISBN 10: 1-60282-045-7E
ISBN 13: 978-1-60282-045-6E
This electronic book is published by
Bold Strokes Books, Inc.,
P.O. Box 249
Valley Falls, NY 12185
First Edition: January 2009
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Editor: Shelley Thrasher
Production Design: Stacia Seaman
Cover Design By Sheri ([email protected])
Award-winning publisher and author Radclyffe proved once again that she is always up for breaking new ground in lesbian fiction, publishing controversial subject matter so long as there’s style and story. Thank you, Rad! Our ongoing love and thanks to our editor Dr. Shelley Thrasher, who worked with us through every aspect of the novel. Special thanks to BSB consulting publicist and friend Connie Ward.
To Hillary Clinton:
21st-century women’s warrior who,
in breaking new ground,
refused to be broken.
I’m Dr. Alexandra Westbrooke, and for those of you who are
lost, you’re on the grassy commons of Chicago’s Claridge Seminary and this course is Sexuality and the Church. Also known as two thousand years of heresy, hell, and holy hormones.” I eyed the rumpled ecumenical students, who chuckled appreciatively.
Sally Jackson, a young blond student seated directly in front of me, shielded the sun’s glare from her eyes and stage-whispered to her classmate, “She’s hot.”
Embarrassed, I realized she was talking about me and I recalled my image in the bathroom mirror this morning—short, dark hair with silver highlights, high cheekbones, and, just above my cleric’s collar, a square jaw that hinted at some ancestral resolve.
Clean-cut, yes. Hot,
, I thought with a wry smile as I began the lesson.
“Before we discuss the sacred and salacious, I ask you to contemplate the New Testament—a document that the followers of Christ assembled one hundred years after his death to piece together his life, in part from papyrus found sealed in urns preserved by the Essenes in the caves at Qumran. For those of you who were vertical and awake last semester…the Essenes?” Not expecting an answer, I continued.
“Two b.c., religious sect, Judean Desert, Dead Sea Scrolls?” Ketch, my large burnt orange German shepherd, settled at my feet.
“To understand the enormity of their task in attempting to reconstruct the life of Jesus so long after his death, I ask you to reach into this urn and draw several 1960s newspaper headlines. Using only that information, tell me—who was Martin Luther King?”
A young man began. “African American Civil Rights—”
“Is that what the headline says?” I asked, and gave the students time to assemble and study the torn papers.
A curly-haired boy held up clippings. “MARTIN LUTHER KING ARRESTED IN STREET DEMONSTRATION. MONKEY LAUNCHED IN SPACE. I don’t know if one caused the other.” Laughter.
“Something that could serve as the basis for the Epistle of Martin Luther King, Sally?”
She stared at the headlines on the ground in front of her. “
MARTIN LUTHER KING ASSASSINATED. COVERAGE OF KING’S DEATH SPARKS RIOTS. ELECTRICAL OUTAGE STRIKES NEW YORK CITY. TWO PEOPLE ARRESTED FOR PUBLIC SEX. HUNDREDS SLAUGHTERED DURING MEXICO’S OLYMPIC GAMES. PRESIDENT JOHNSON WILL NOT SEEK RE-ELECTION.
I swept across the lawn and arrived at her side. “How about this? Martin Luther King’s assassination created riots in the street and caused the largest city in the United States to go dark. Frightened people, believing the end was near, engaged in acts of debauchery and slaughtered one another even unto the city of Mexico. The president of the United States so loved Martin Luther that he went into mourning and, bereft, refused to be president any longer.” Students chuckled. “A story woven together, but completely out of context. As you interpret the Bible, share the Bible, teach the Bible, I ask you to harken back to this class exercise.”
Sally twisted her blond tresses around one finger and whispered,
“She so rocks.”
Roger Thurgood, a heavyset, pimple-faced young man with too-tight clothes, struggled to his feet, books tumbling from his lap, and said loud enough for all to hear, “She sucks.”
He clomped away from the gathering as heads turned to watch him. Whispers rippled through the crowd and I refocused their attention by acknowledging his departure.
“We have passionate reactions when our personal belief systems are poked and prodded. Those reactions mean we are thinking. We are stirring up things inside ourselves that have been hidden and silent for decades. And so,” I said, eyeing them, “What do I want from you?” The class moved nervously under my gaze.
“If you learn nothing else from me this semester, learn…context.
Context!” My voice rang out a battle cry as I whirled on my heels, Ketch at my side, and strode away from the slightly jolted ministers and priests-in-training.
“Let’s see what they make of that,” I said to Ketch as my long white robe whipped madly around me—I hoped, like the wings of an avenging angel.
I was grateful for my long, athletic legs that could outrun most forms of danger, but today they were taking me directly into the fire. My strides chewed up the distance across the commons, bringing me closer to the chancellor’s office, where many a qualified professor had been struck down by unqualified ignorance.
Ketch jogged effortlessly at my side while Dennis panted and tried to keep up, his short legs, hefty body, and flushed Irish face signaling his heart was two steps from needing the paddles. I halted suddenly and stripped off my cassock, revealing a tailored shirt and pleated black slacks.
I tossed the beautifully brocaded vestment at him. “Stay here. I’ll come back and tell you everything.”
“Be careful with that. Last time I checked, a robe cost a couple of grand.” He fell in beside me, his round face dripping sweat. “So what do you think?” he asked in an unpriestly show of nervousness over my fate. “It’s Roger Thurgood. God is speaking to him again.”
Dennis shrugged. “Well, that’s possible.”
“No, it’s not. No one wants to speak to Roger—not even God.”
Dennis’s head swung left to right like a mercenary employed to intercept someone who might try to take me down, and Ketch whined.
We cruised past the three-story stone library whose pale, slate gray slabs embraced all religions, then around the fountain with its enormous off-white Virgin Mary seated on a throne, water rolling over her marble lap. Faint strains of a Gregorian chant emanated from the chapel, reminding me that religious diversity was one of the reasons I loved Claridge. Students learned the basics, found their moral high ground, then chose the denomination into which they would later be ordained. For me, Claridge was a great ecclesiastical sorority engaged in a continuum of pledge week, and ultimately someone would be pinned Presbyterian or Unitarian, priest or preacher.
We passed Spencer Whitt, professor emeritus, whose C-shaped spine mimed celibacy. Dennis muttered, “There’s a sour fruit for you—half a century without sex.”
“How do you know that?”
“He told me.”
“I marvel at the things people confide in you,” I said, silently attributing their trust in him to his round, boyish face more readily associated with donuts than do nots. “Do you think God is happy when we abstain, Dennis O’Shane?” My supercilious tone mocked the question.
“Don’t start. You always do this when you’re nervous.” He placed an index finger inside his cleric’s collar as if it were choking him.
“Do you think God says, ‘It puts a smile on My omnipotent face that old Spence is horny and unsatisfied, and I gave him all that annoying plumbing that constantly wants to…jump up in a wild salute’?” I waggled my fingers at zipper level.
“Stop before we’re struck by lightning. Spencer’s upset because his brother is going to Disney World despite Spence’s public support of the Baptists’ boycott over gay night on Main Street.”
“Spencer should love Disney. Donald Duck has no genitals.”
“I don’t think Spencer is against genitals—just the misuse of them.”
“Misuse? What about disuse? What about rust?”
“Remind me again why you choose to serve a church that drives you insane?” Dennis pricked me.
Dennis knew without my repeating it that I viewed the church as one would a dysfunctional relative—antiquated, humorous, occasionally mean-spirited but, at the end of the day, related. I held out hope the church would change, as all things change. However, admittedly some days I simply grew tired of her and thought she should be locked up.
He baited me. “We need a celebrant for mass this Sunday.”
“I let my membership run out. Dues are too high.”
“Interesting way of saying you no longer celebrate mass, or perhaps that you no longer believe.”
“Why am I debating faith with a man who sits inside a black box and listens through a peephole to people’s secrets?”
“Confession. And you might try it.” A massive medieval stone building rose up in front of us, rugged granite squares, a meter across in places, looking battered and beautiful.
“I wish I had something interesting enough to confess. But alas, my life is boring. Wish me luck.”
“Please don’t get yourself fired. You’re the only humorous person here, and my primary diversion.”
“I’m the closest thing to anarchy this bastion of conservatism will most likely ever see. It’s my duty to disrupt the chancellor’s day.”
“Whatever he says you’ve done, just say it won’t happen again.”
The fretful look on his face put a big grin on mine. I gave him a salute and bounded up the wide stone steps, through the heavy double doors, and then into the rotunda.
The two flights of marble stairs I dashed up were so worn they sloped in at the center. When I reached the large wooden doors marked Chancellor Hightower, I grabbed the baroque, polished door handle—brass leading to brass—and pulled. Eleonor Washington, a large-chested, medium-build black woman greeted me from behind the admin desk.
“Command performance,” I said in answer to her raised eyebrow.
“He’s not in a good mood. You’re lookin’ hot in that black outfit—like you’re about to scale the outside of a building and steal the diamonds. Tall and thin and ready for somethin’,” she teased, and made a little “mmm, mmm” sound just as Harold Hightower burst into the room—tall, a bit puffy around the gills, and at the moment an obviously unhappy man of God.
“Come in, Dr. Westbrooke.” He stepped back, allowing me to enter ahead of him, and over his shoulder told Eleonor we weren’t to be interrupted.
His office was as large as the apartment I’d rented while a student at Berkeley. One glass wall afforded a view of the seminary grounds, the fountain, and the paths that crisscrossed between commissary and classrooms. The furniture was masculine and beautifully polished but depressing in its sheer weight, as if once-proud giants of the forest had sacrificed their majestic centers to do nothing more than suspend books full of thou-shalt-nots.
Hightower indicated the maroon leather tufted chair across from his desk and said, “Sit,” as if I were a Westminster poodle. He picked up a file, tilted his glasses, and stared into the folder like he was reading its contents for the first time, which I was certain he was not—he was a calculating man.
“Roger Thurgood.” He glanced at me over the top of his glasses for a reaction, and I realized he wasn’t such an unattractive man if he would smile occasionally. “His grandfather, a devout, Christian conservative, and the person who controls the largest trust contributing to this seminary”—he thrust out his chest, pontificating as if he were telling me something I didn’t already know—“called this morning to say his grandson walked out of your class because you said the Bible was”—Hightower looked down at the folder and read from it—“‘a bunch of random stories taken out of context.’”