Times Change For Sister Joan – Episode 39

JOAN got up from her chair and went to stand beside him. She put a kindly hand on his shoulder.

“Just tell me, Ben,” she urged gently. “We are alone here. Whatever you tell me will go no further.”

“Like confession?” he asked quietly.

“Exactly,” Joan replied.

Ben sat up straight in the chair and looked up at Joan.

“I’m in love,” he said simply.

Joan’s heart missed a beat. He was still looking at her, waiting for her reaction.

“Is it someone you met at the Sorbonne?” she asked hopefully.

“No. Here,” he replied quietly.

Outwardly Joan appeared calm but inside she felt helpless.

“How . . .” she began.

“I’m in love with Emma.”

Joan tried hard to show no emotion. The moment was so delicate.

“I knew you’d be angry but I had to tell you. I couldn’t bottle it up any more. I didn’t want it to happen, it just did,” he finished lamely. “It all began with the music. Sister Emma is so passionate about it and strives so hard to get every note right. I helped her with some pieces. She has such a love of the classics, such deep feelings for the music – we seem to be twin souls.”

“Stop right there!” Joan held up her hand. “Does Emma know? Is she aware how you feel?”

“She has no idea,” Ben replied. “Nothing whatsoever has passed between us. Emma’s love is here with all of you – that’s very clear to me. There’s nothing else for me to do but go away, and soon.”

“You cannot just go away, Ben,” Joan said. “Your very life depends upon your being here with us. Whatever the reason I shall not permit you to go away.”

She looked at him directly and spoke firmly and with authority.

“If Emma truly is unaware of this. . .”

“She is. I’ve been careful not to show her how I feel. I just wanted to tell you. Did I do wrong?”

“No. You must always tell me what troubles you. I am here for everyone in this house.”

Joan managed a smile.

“That is our vocation – to care. As I said before, if Emma is unaware, then it is up to you to leave it like that, no matter how difficult it may be. Perhaps after a while these feelings you have will pass. Go about your day now and take your walk as usual. Don’t forget your disguise and crusts for Old Jack. We don’t want him eating your veil again, do we?”

Ben managed a weak smile.

“Every problem has a way of sorting itself out,” Joan continued with what she hoped was confidence. “Leave your troubles here in this room with me.”

“Thank you, Sister.”

“Love is a precious gift but in this case we must take the greatest of care. Emma must not be hurt or confused,” Joan said softly. “Concentrate on your music, Ben. Practise as hard as you can.”

“Yes, Sister, I shall certainly do that and thank you for understanding.” He left the room, closing the door quietly behind him.

After their conversation that day, nothing more was said between Joan and Ben. Things seemed to have returned to normal and the days passed peacefully. But Ben was quiet and spent much time on the beach in the mornings, dressed dutifully in his disguise, and spent the afternoons practising his music.

Joan had phoned the Mother House to explain the situation to Mother Catherine, without telling her about Ben’s attraction to Emma, but that was two weeks ago and she had heard nothing since.

The first new peas of the season had been brought to the kitchen by Sister Amy and Joan sat at the table shelling them into a saucepan. She couldn’t resist popping one or two into her mouth. They tasted of fresh summer sunshine.

“Now, then, Sister,” Clare admonished. “I saw that!”

“I couldn’t resist,” Joan said. “New peas and baby new potatoes always remind me of my grandmother’s kitchen garden.”

“Ah!” Clare smiled. “When I was a girl in Ireland we all got together as a family and made a meal of the new crop with just butter and a bit of pepper and salt. There’s nothing like that first taste, is there?”

“I remember the first sun-warmed tomatoes in Italy,” Jan put in as she sat down beside Joan to help with the task. “Sliced thinly and sprinkled with olive oil and a little basil.” She sighed.

“Just a little chopped parsley on the potatoes,” Clare added.

“And a little mint in the peas?” Jan suggested.

“We cooks know a thing or two about what brings out a good taste, do we not, Sister Jan?”

The sound of a motorcycle in the driveway cut into their reverie.


Alison Cook