The senator pointed at the portal, and Ed saw his brother sitting in a living room armchair, drinking vodka with Sprite and watching a prerecorded LSU football game.
The doorbell rang as the Tigers recovered the ball on the University of Tennessee’s 20 yard-line. Stephen considered ignoring the visitor before entering the foyer with the half-empty drink in his hand. He opened the front door to find Julie Comeaux, the local sheriff’s wife, standing on the welcome mat. “Will you hear my confession, Father?”
“Yes, please come in.”
As Julie entered the living room, Stephen put his drink on the kitchen counter, hung his sacramental stole around his neck and sat in his recliner. He looked across the coffee table at her and made the sign of the cross.
“God, please heal the hurt that we’re feeling, and please give us the grace to identify our sins, seek forgiveness and resist future temptations.”
Stephen remembered he was breaking church law by administering this sacrament to a female alone in his private residence, especially while he was intoxicated. Julie broke into loud sobs, and he handed her a box of tissue. He guessed she had come to discuss problems with her marriage.
“A great evil has taken over our lives, Father Keller. Why does God withhold his grace?”
“I’ve prayed for faith, but it doesn’t seem to come – especially after my mom’s death.”
He touched Julie Comeaux’s shoulder, and her eyes widened.
“I’m sorry about your loss,” he said, doubting his ability to give her any real consolation with words.
She snatched his hand between both of hers. “The world feels so evil. Why bother praying, Father?”
Stephen withdrew his sweaty palm. “Prayer is our greatest weapon, especially when it feels like a waste of time.” After saying this, he felt pressure on his bladder and feared he might pee on himself if he didn’t rush to the bathroom. “Excuse me, Mrs. Comeaux, I’ll be right back.”
Julie pounded the coffee table. “Be quick. I’m running out of time.”
Stephen walked down the hallway into his bathroom and locked the door. He looked into the mirror and prayed for guidance as he washed his face and flushed the toilet. He felt more intoxicated than he might expect from three shots of vodka.
When he opened the bathroom door, Julie stood in front of him in the hallway. He noticed the unbuttoned top of her blouse. Her intention was unmistakable when she stepped forward and looked into his eyes. She kissed him and brushed her hand against the zipper on his pants.
Stephen moved away from her with his blood pulsing. He blamed himself for enjoying the kiss and wanting it to continue. He accused himself of creating this atmosphere of temptation. Rushing into the kitchen, he started a pot a coffee. “You should go.”
“Not yet.” Julie’s voice sounded close, but Stephen saw her in the other room. “Please. It wasn’t me doing that. Sometimes I can’t control of myself. It’s like someone more powerful is driving, and the car windows are all black. Don’t you know what I mean?”
Stephen considered it improbable, but he imagined an evil spirit, controlling the woman.
Carrying two cups of strong coffee, he returned to the room. “I’m not supposed to be hearing your confession under these circumstances, but I have a coworker who can meet you at the church in the next five minutes.”
Julie buttoned her blouse. “I know what you did to my daughter, pedophile.”
He almost spit the coffee out when he heard these words and had to catch his balance on the entertainment center. “What did you say?”
“This morning when I woke Mary, I found bruises all over her body. The voices told me everything you did to her in your warehouse.”
Stephen felt a sense of déjà vu, along with the weird fear that her words were true – although he knew they were not. Her words flustered him so much that he leaned to the ground and struggled to speak a coherent sentence. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but if you’re suggesting. I…” He lost his train of thought and vomited on the carpet. Each time he heaved, he felt guiltier of her ridiculous accusations.
Julie pointed to the fresh burn marks that ran down her leg. “I was going to report your crimes until the voices made me do this with my curling iron. They threatened to make me turn the hot curling iron on Mary so the cops would think I was her abuser.”
Stephen stood up and grabbed his home phone, deciding to call child protection services, regardless of what this woman said about him. “Where is Mary, now?”
Julie shook her head. “She’s with my sister.”
“I’m calling your husband.”
Julie pulled the phone cord out of the phone jack on the wall. “The demons who possess me told me told me you’re going to kill yourself in shame. After I agreed you should, they commanded me to die first.”
“No. You’re confused,” said Stephen, walking to the cell phone on his bedroom dresser.