Summary: Jeff goes to confession, but the results aren't exactly what he expected.
Disclaimer: Homefront characters belong to their creators. No copyright infringement intended. No profit is being made.
Author's Notes: Special thanks goes to Sharon who came up with the idea of Jeff at confession. Sharon continues to be a wealth of ideas and infectious enthusiasm for Homefront.
Author: Tracy Diane Miller
Even exhaustion and a glass of warm milk were not enough to induce sleep when one was sharing his bed with a guilty conscience.
Jeff had tossed and turned most of the night. At around 3:00 a.m., he had gone downstairs to the kitchen for a glass of warm milk. The young man was very careful that his efforts did not wake up his mother. Mom had the most incredible radar he had every seen in detecting whenever there was something was bothering him. Maybe it was something that all mothers had acquired. Jeff realized that if she woke up, she'd immediately interrogate him on what was troubling him. Of course, he could use a mental reservation and say that he was thinking about baseball and fretting over whether he'd ever play with the Indians again. Yeah, that was true. He was worried about that, too, but this concern wasn't what was causing his insomnia. In a strange way, he wished that it were.
Why was life so screwy? How did everything go so wrong? It seemed like only a short time ago he had excitedly booked the cabin for his and Ginger's honeymoon. All that time off, alone in a secluded cabin; their honeymoon would have been perfect: a fire, perhaps, the sound of Bing Crosby filtering the air, chilled champagne, and all that time alone to "practice" on making little short stops. Life was good. He was in love with the most beautiful and swell dame in the world. He was about to get married. He was at the top of his form in his profession, unchallenged with the most impressive batting average
of any rookie on the team. Then, just like that, it all changed. Losing Ginger felt like…it was a hurt that he had never felt before, not even when he had lost Sarah to Hank. Even though he tried to hide his pain under layers of male bravado, he felt that pain
everyday and probably would feel it for the rest of his life.
Of course, seeing Ginger with a ham-fisted yahoo like Arthur Schillab was like rubbing salt into his wounds. Not that he'd want to see Ginger with any man, but Schillab? What could Ginger see it that guy anyway? Schillab didn't take long before he moved in on Ginger. Schillab thought that he was clever getting his own room during the barnstorming tour on the guise of studying those fancy law books of his. Did Schillab think that he was such a sap and wouldn't know what that guy was up to? Schillab had it all planned out: He waited until Miss Wescott did the bed check then he lured Ginger into his room, whispering sweet nothings into her ear and plying her with champagne in those fancy little tea cups. Ginger was a smart dame…how could she have fallen for Schillab and ended up in that guy's bed? And now she was going to marry Schillab? Good Lord! The
thought of Ginger married to Schillab made Jeff sick to his stomach. And Caroline. The way he had treated Caroline…Mom would be ashamed of him. Jeff was ashamed of himself. He didn't love Caroline. He never envisioned a future with her. He just wanted to have a good time, to relieve a little "tension". But what he had done had gone against everything he was raised to believe in. Not only had he dishonored Caroline, but he had dishonored himself and his religious teachings. Maybe there was some small part of him that felt justified because of what he had witnessed between Ginger and Schillab during the barnstorming tour. Maybe he wanted to get back at her. It was all so stupid.
And so complicated.
He hadn't even called Caroline after what happened between them at the Paradise Court. Jeff was doing his best to avoid Caroline. How could he be such a louse!
Jeff climbed the stairs back up to his attic bedroom, his steps heavy under the weight of his guilt. Falling back onto his bed, Jeff realized that he couldn't go on like this. He needed…he wasn't quite sure what he needed except he had to talk to someone about what he had done.
Jeff knew that there was only one place that he could go, only one person that he could talk to who would listen and wouldn't judge him. It had been a long time, but he would go there tomorrow.
Jeff closed his eyes. He prayed that sleep would finally come. Tomorrow was going to be a big day for him. There was no question that Jeff Metcalf had a lot to talk about. And it wasn't going to be easy.
Sleep proved to be a mischievous nymph teasing Jeff with the promise of her spell before pulling back victoriously. Jeff recalled closing his eyes a couple of times during the night (or was it early morning?), but then he'd wake up abruptly. At around 6:30 a.m., he finally gave up on the notion that he'd get any rest. Maybe lack of sleep was preferable to a restless one where nightmares plagued his subconscious. He'd had few of them in the last couple of weeks. He'd be in his car kissing Caroline ready to…and Mom, Charlie, Judy, and Father Dreher would suddenly appear in the back seat cautioning him about the sin that he was about to commit, reminding him that a few moments of pleasure weren't worth spending an eternity in Hell. Once Mom awakened him from one of those nightmares. He stared at her, mud green eyes disoriented, his body drenched in sweat before he realized that it had been just a dream.
Maybe now his lack of sleep was meant as part of his punishment for his sins. Still, he had to admit that sleep deprivation was a far lighter burden to carry than persistent nightmares.
Sighing, Jeff arose from the bed, put on his robe, and went downstairs to the bathroom. A nice, long hot shower would do him good. He'd have time to think. The house was still dark and quiet. The gentle spraying of the shower relaxed his tense muscles. If only the water could also relax his mind.
After his shower, Jeff proceeded to the bathroom mirror. He studied his reflection for a moment. He opened the cabinet, removed his hair cream, squeezed a generous portion of the foamy substance into his palm, and gently massaged his hair. The dark, thick locks took on a fabulous luster as if his hair had acquiesced to the power of the hair cream. Jeff picked up his comb.
"Have you thought about what you're going to say?" Jeff's mirrored reflection inquired.
"Don't be such a sap. You know what I'm talking about. At confession, what are you going to say?" The mirrored reflection asked.
Jeff paused briefly before answering. "I'm going to tell the truth." He responded innocently to his mirrored image.
"The truth?" The mirror image laughed. "And when the priest asks you how long has it been since your last confession, how are you going to answer that question?"
Jeff rubbed his hand across the back of his neck. "Well…it's been…ah…I went...it was…um…"
"A month? Three months? Six? You don't even know, do you?"
"I'll think of something." Jeff reassured.
"Sure, you'll think of something. You always do. Mom always say that you were too clever for your own good."
"That's right." Jeff replied, smiling.
"You can wipe that smile off of your face, Slugger. She also said that it was going to catch up with you one of these days. News flash…that day has come and you're in big trouble." The mirrored image taunted.
A brief silence.
"What do you from me, anyway!" Jeff charged, perturbed.
"Has the laundry been putting too much starch in your shorts again? Don't get mad at me. I'm not the one who put us in this mess. I'm just trying to help you."
"Help me? Like you tried to help me in Clearwater?"
The mirrored image let out a devilish laugh. "I still think that you drop the ball on that one, Slugger."
"Don't call me that!"
"Why not, Slugger? You and Miss Owen would have made beautiful music together. Here she was a gorgeous, experienced dame willing to teach you a few tricks. Think of the memories that you'd have now if you hadn't gotten all guilty and stopped yourself. And what did you get for your troubles, huh? Ginger convicted you anyway and without a by your leave. You were innocent and Ginger didn't believe you."
"I wasn't innocent. I thought about it. I considered it."
"But you didn't do anything. Thinking about it doesn't make a man guilty of a crime and it's not a sin just to think about the act."
"Unless you intend to go through with it. Then it's a sin
"Good Lord! You sound like your mother!" The mirror image observed, the tone of his voice frustrated.
"Okay, you know so much. What about…what about what happened between Caroline and me, huh? I did a lot more than thinking about it if you recall."
"So what? You had a swell time with Mrs. Hailey, didn't you? You had been tense for weeks. Caroline took that tension right away, didn't she? And besides, I bet that Schillab wasn't doing all this thinking and feeling guilty when he took Ginger into his bed. He
probably enjoyed every minute of it."
"Alls I'm saying is, look at you. You can't sleep. You haven't been eating the way you used to, which by the way, I'm starving and I shouldn't have to suffer because of you. All because you feel guilty about that night in the Paradise Court with Caroline. You want my advice?"
"No, I don't. But I have a feeling that you're going to give it to me anyway." Jeff said sarcastically.
"Let it go. You don't have to go to confession. You don't have to tell that priest anything. The only people who have to know about what happened that night are you and Caroline. Period."
"You're wrong. You don't understand. I need to…."
Jeff's thought was interrupted by the sound of pounding on the bathroom door.
"Jeff! Jeff, hurry up. Some of us need to use the bathroom too. I don't want to be late for work. And who are you talking to?" Linda asked.
"Jeff!" Linda roared again.
A moment later, Jeff opened the door and came out of the bathroom. "It's all yours". He responded sheepishly.
"Well, it's about time. And they say women take a long time getting ready in the morning. Who were you talking to in there?"
"Nobody. I was just...um...that is...I...ah...I thought that you said that you were in a hurry to use the bathroom."
Linda eyed him suspiciously. As she started for the bathroom, she briefly hesitated. "Oh, by the way, Al said that you have to baby sit Mike today."
"Today? No, I can't. I have some things that I have to do."
"Al is taking Mom to the hospital for her therapy. Charlie and I have to work. You don't have to be at the Roadhouse, so that leaves you for baby sitting duty. I think that Al said that they should be back around 3:00 or 4:00 so you can do whatever it is you need to do
This was so screwy! Not that he minded that much about baby sitting. Even though the thought of Mom having a baby had taken some getting used to, now that Mike was here, he loved his brother very much. It was just, well, he'd work up the nerve to go to confession and he was afraid that if for some reason Mom and Al got delayed and he couldn't go today, he'd lose his courage. There had to be some "sin" in that,
Jeff wondered, "bargaining" with oneself about when to go to confession instead of just going.
Of course, it didn't help matters that his baby brother was being unusually fussy today. Everyone had left the house around 8:00. Knowing that Mom needed to conserve her energies because the therapy sessions always drained her, Linda had helped by making sure that Mike had been fed and changed before she left for work. She told him that the baby should be put down for his nap and should sleep for a few hours. But Jeff suspected that either his sister was being an eternal optimist or that she believed that he was a sap. Ever since Mike was born, the infant hadn't been much of a sleeper. And today
was no exception.
It was now 9:30 and the youngest Metcalf had been crying for a few minutes. Jeff was becoming more than a little frustrated. Fortunately, it only took him a moment before he remembered that there was a tried and proven way to appease the infant. Seated on the couch and gently bouncing Mike on his knee, Jeff crooned: "Lemo Tomato Juice is all the rage. Because it is what we crave. Goes down well. Tastes so swell…"
The jingle, once again, had done the trick. Immediately, Mike stopped crying and seemed to be contented on his brother's lap.
This whole big brother thing was another new dynamic for Jeff. As the baby brother for a very long time, Jeff learned how to milk that position to its fullest advantage. He learned a long time ago that if he played his cards right he could get away with just about
anything. And he usually did. As importantly, he had an older brother to look up to.
Now he was a big brother. Mike would look up to him and come to him for advice just as he had done with Hank. He would be expected to set a good example for his little brother. He would be expected to be a role model for Mike. That was scary. How could he be a role model when he hadn't even done a very good job lately with his own life?
Jeff's reverie was interrupted by a very real signal from his brother-Mike needed to be changed!
Good Lord! This was the part of baby sitting that wasn't swell.
Through the pain of rejection, they had found kindred spirits in each other. Perhaps the bottles of beer had assisted in knocking the fences down, in surrendering their inhibitions in those quiet moments in his attic bedroom, and in discovering something that neither one of them had expected.
She pulled the sheet up to her to cover her nakedness. Maybe her modesty was instinctual, but it still amused him. It was a bit late now for a display of modesty. They gazed into each other's eyes. Ginger gave him a satisfied smile, then a question:
"Jeff, do I look any different?"
She did. If he found her beautiful before, he thought that she was absolutely gorgeous now, after their lovemaking session. Would he be a jerk to tell her that? Would she take it the wrong way?
She paused briefly before posing another question. "How long do we have to wait before we can do it again?"
He reciprocated with a boyish smile. Then those mud green eyes of his twinkled mischievously and expectantly. This was a question that he happily could answer as he took her once again into his arms.
It was better the second time around, if that were even possible. Making love with her was magic; it was pure ecstasy.
It was paradise.
Coach Zelnick seemed to relish his role as father figure to this particular ballplayer. After all, the young man had lost his own father a long time ago. And he was an engaged man. There were certain sensitive matters that the boy certainly couldn't discuss with his mother. Coach was more than happy to oblige stepping into the role as adviser.
"Tension is a terrible burden to carry." Coach said.
Jeff's eyes widened at the implication of Coach's statement. "You advise me to relieve some tension?" Jeff questioned.
"Not in any sinful way." Coach revealed.
If only he had convinced Ginger to take Coach's advice, if only they had eloped. But their mothers would have never forgiven them. If only Ginger's screwy visions of stardom hadn't gotten in the way of their stardom. If only she hadn't ended up in Schillab's bed during the barnstorming tour.
Caroline had been there for him. In a way, they had been there for each other. She, too, had been nursing the pain of rejection over Charlie's cruel treatment. She was forced to live with the stigma of divorce. Charlie Hailey was such a jerk! Charlie had hurt Ginger and now Caroline. Jeff knew that Caroline wasn't Catholic, but surely, the Church would forgive her, would forgive them both, wouldn't it?
A paradise lost. A paradise found.
There were no errant cows to interrupt the mood. There were no hot plates and the possibility of fire to smother their passion.
The Paradise Court was discreetly hidden away from the prying eyes of a curious River Run. It was the perfect place for anonymity. The walls would remain silent; the walls wouldn't betray the confidence of the act it would soon witness. It was the perfect place for a man and a woman to relieve long awaited tensions.
And he had been waiting a very long time for this moment. He had eagerly envisioned the scenario in his mind over many weeks. Only momentarily had he considered the "laundry list" of the disasters that had befallen them along the road towards sensual bliss. Maybe those disasters had been signs that they shouldn't be doing this.
"Maybe. But I find it terribly frustrating not knowing for sure, wouldn't you?" She cooed between the hungry kisses that he rained upon her body.
"I'll say." He whispered.
A short while later...
Jeff lay on his back staring at the ceiling. The impish moon had insinuated itself through the curtains of the Paradise Court and had left shadows on the ceiling and walls. To him, the silent and dancing shadows were mesmerizing, almost hypnotic.
What had he done?
The answer to his question shared his bed. His tension was definitely gone. Their interlude had been, well, it had been incredible. She was incredible. It was an experience that he would never forget. Still, he felt empty inside and he couldn't understand why. He expected to feel...different, somehow.
Jeff started to leave the bed for the bathroom when he felt her warm hand reach out and touch his arm. He turned around and gazed at her. He thought that she was asleep, but he had been mistaken.
"Where are you going, love?" She purred.
"I...ah...I just need to..." He stammered sheepishly as he indicated the bathroom.
"Hurry back." She said smiling.
He nodded. Before leaving the bed, he leaned over and kissed her one last time on the lips. "Thank you." He whispered.
Those were the images that raced furiously through Jeff's mind as he sat in one of the pews of the church collecting his thoughts and praying before he made his way towards the confessional.
The church was eerily quiet in this late afternoon hour with only a few worshippers occupying the pews. It may have only been several minutes, but to Jeff Metcalf, it felt like an eternity before he made his way towards the confessional, his steps heavy.
"Bless me Father, for I have sinned."
"How long has it been since your last confession?" Father Dreher asked.
Jeff rubbed his hand across the back of his neck. He was expecting and dreading this question. He couldn't even remember when he had last gone to confession. But he was here for understanding, to find peace and forgiveness for his sins. He needed to start by being brutally honest.
"I don't...I don't remember."
"You don't remember?"
"I've meant to come earlier, before, but it's just that, well, there's been a lot of things going on with my family, my life, that I just, well, I just never got around to coming."
"You never got around to making time for God?"
"Yes, Father. I mean, no, Father. I mean, I made time for God. I just, I guess, I just never made time to come to confession before now. Not that I didn't think that it was important to come, that I needed to come, but I just couldn't, I just didn't, but now I need to..." Jeff felt a lump forming in his throat. Good Lord! He hadn't even actually confessed yet and he was already struggling to find the right words. How was he ever going to get through this?
A brief silence.
"Now you need God's understanding and forgiveness?"
"All things are possible with God, my son." Father Dreher reassured him. "Why do you seek His understanding and forgiveness now?"
A brief silence.
Jeff swallowed hard. "You see, Father, there was this woman and she and I, that is to say, we were, we did..."
"You engaged in relations with this woman that belonged within the sanctity of marriage?"
Another brief silence.
"I see. Holy Mother Church insists that the union of flesh between a man and woman be reserved for the sacrament of marriage. Did you intend to marry this woman?"
"Ah...well, I...ah...I...No, Father."
"It was like this. You see, I was supposed to...supposed to give a...a speech before a lot of people, millions of people, actually. Well, I wasn't actually in the same room talking to millions of people, but they were going to be listening to me, talking. I mean, they were going to be listening on their radios, to me, talking. And knowing that there were millions of people, out there, listening to me, talking, on their radios, I kinda got stage fright. I froze. I couldn't say anything. Stage fright comes from tension, you see and..."
"Tension. I see." Father Dreher cleared his throat. "Go on, my son."
"Tension, you see, tension...well, tension can be a terrible burden to carry. A lot of people depended on me to give this speech on the radio. And I couldn't let them down, you see. So this woman, she's a friend, and she's really swell. She wanted to help me relieve my tension, she wanted to help me perform...ah...I mean, she wanted to help me relax so that I could give my speech on the radio."
A longer silence.
"So what you're saying is that you used this woman, this woman that you didn't love, that you had no intention of marrying, that you used this woman to engage in pleasures of the flesh?"
"I...ah...I guess that I...ah...yes, Father."
The silence, once again, was deafening. Jeff was beginning to wonder whether coming to confession was such a good idea after all. Maybe he should have listened to his inner voice and kept what happened between he and Caroline a secret. His worries seemed justified when he heard what the priest had to say next.Chapter Five
It was far worst than stage fright.
What had he really been afraid of, then, as he stood before the microphone at the WREQ studio? The criticisms hurled by the assembled studio audience or the imagined indictments of the millions of nameless, faceless strangers listening to him on their radios? He would never meet these unseen listeners, never connect with them except by the wonderment of some unexplained current that carried his voice through the airwaves into their lives. They knew him only by the media public relations spoon fed to them by the Cleveland Indians' front office as the baseball greenhorn who had amassed an impressive .297 batting average during his rookie season.
But he was certainly no Satchel Paige or Bob Feller.
And they knew him by the promotions fed to them by Lemo; to them, he was the appleknocker who had ignited sparks with the feisty tomatohawker during his radio debut in Tulsa on the barnstorming tour.
But he was no Jack Benny.
No, stage fright was nothing compared to this. Who cared about what strangers thought about him? What he couldn't run away from was himself, his guilt over what had occurred in that motel room. And if he expected understanding, if he expected forgiveness from God for his sin, then Jeff Metcalf was about to discover that understanding and forgiveness came at a very high price.
There was no comfort in the silence, the weight of which hung heavy and blanketed the air with recrimination.
Jeff swallowed hard. "Father?" He whispered again, tentatively.
This time, the silence appeared to gather strength in the uncertainty of the preceding moments. Or, maybe it was the priest who had gathered strength in his mission, who had carefully pondered his words during these quiet moments of reflection. As priest, the Church had endowed Father Dreher with the dual yet arduous task of impartial listener and spiritual advisor.
"It is through prayer and faith in the Heavenly Father that Man is able to fight the many sinful worldly temptations. The greatest gift that God gives His children is the sacrament of marriage and the promise of new life through the seeds planted from the love between a man and a woman, between a husband and his wife. When a physical union exists between two people who have no intention of serving God's will and the gift of the institution of holy matrimony and procreation, the sin is very great."
Father Dreher paused briefly before continuing. "You said that this woman was your friend, but by your actions, by your decision to engage in a carnal relationship without the blessing of the Church, you treated her in a way that no friend should ever be treated. You dishonored her. With full knowledge of the gravity of your actions and their consequences, you threatened her Salvation as well as your own. You've taken from her the joy of experiencing a physical union sanctioned by God. This woman will never be able to enter the bonds of holy matrimony in the state befitting of a bride. She will always carry with her this taint, this impurity."
Jeff felt the lump forming once again in his throat. He felt the bile rising up from his stomach. Good Lord...what had he done? He had taken something from Caroline, something special. Something that he couldn't give back to her.
So much had already been taken from Caroline. She had come to America clothed in the stigma of being a war bride insulated from a suspicious River Run that had questioned her motives in marrying a veteran in the first place. She had come to this country as a stranger and without a family to lean on for support. Charlie had been a heel and had humiliated her by asking her for a divorce. Still, Caroline had worried about him following his injury; she had been swell when he told her that the doctor informed him that he would never be able to play professional baseball again. She had been there for him when he needed someone and had encouraged him when he had been forced into a radio career. She had been his friend without expecting anything from him in return. And what had he done? He had been selfish. He had thought only about his needs. He had used her. He had turned her kindness and her vulnerability against her.
He had been more of a louse to Caroline than Charlie Hailey had been!
Jeff knew that Caroline wasn't Catholic, not that they had talked much about religion when they were together. He remembered once that she mentioned that she belonged to the Church of England. He didn't know anything about her religion. How would it help her to cope with their sin? How would she find forgiveness?
The sound of the priest's voice interrupted Jeff's reverie." And would you be prepared if your actions came with more physical consequences?"
A brief silence.
"Well...um...we...ah...that is to say...we kinda..." Jeff stammered.
Jeff felt his cheeks becoming warm. He shifted uncomfortably. He didn't exactly feel comfortable telling the priest that he and Caroline had taken the necessary precautions.
Father Dreher seemed oblivious to the younger man's embarrassment as he continued once more. "Would you have married this woman if a child had been involved?"
The very question had presented itself a long time ago. Then, he had proposed marriage without reservation and not only because he felt a moral responsibility.
Then he had been in love.
"What if your actions had resulted in other physical consequences?" Father Dreher probed.
Jeff remembered a discussion with Coach during spring training where Coach talked about "these other physical consequences."
Another brief silence.
"This sin isn't just yours alone. The heaviness in your heart that you feel is because you know that your actions have brought great shame and pain to this young lady. You used this woman", Father Dreher reiterated, "you used this woman that you didn't love, that you had no intention of marrying just so you could engage in pleasures of the flesh. It is not just your eternal Salvation at stake here. Because of what you've done, you have also sentenced her soul to suffer the consequences of this sin. And you expect understanding and forgiveness?"
"I'm...sorry." Jeff whispered. His words were simple. They were sincere. They were what he had left to give.
Somehow, he knew that they weren't nearly enough to make up for what he had done.
"What...what can I do?"
Silence once more engulfed the room.
"There is something that you can do. But are you prepared, my son? Are you prepared to make this sacrifice?"