An Unexpected Visitor

Image by Katerina Kerdi, Unsplash

Taking a page from an article I read on The Writer blog: Resurrect your darlings: How to recycle deleted material from your manuscript, I decided to ‘resurrect’ some of my deleted material from the original MISTY DREAMS draft and post it here. This is the second in the series. For those who have read the book, this piece explores the friendship between Clare and a young nun at St. Isabel Monastery, Sister Teresa.

Teresa’s muffled voice seeped through the haze in Clare’s brain, reaching her as if from afar. She was being asked something, but her mind was still on Monks’ Beach and a pair of silver-blue eyes glinting in the April morning sun.

“Hello, Earth to Clare?”

Clare blinked and snapped out of her reverie. “I’m sorry . . . You were saying?”

Sister Teresa angled her head, her dark eyes regarding her piercingly. It always surprised Clare to see how startling a contrast they made with the white of her wimple.

“I was asking,” Sister Teresa said putting emphasis on the last word, “what you think about using red anthuriums for the pedestal arrangement in the choir stand. They’ll make a beautiful contrast with the dark paneling, don’t you think? Maybe toning it down a little with a few pale pink peonies and a sprinkling of baby’s breath?”

Clare nodded, trying to infuse some enthusiasm into her voice. “I think that’s a perfect combination. You’re a flower genius, Teresa.”  

Instead of giving her usual smug grin, Teresa’s perplexed expression intensified. “Is everything all right?” she asked.

“Of course. Why do you ask?”

The nun tapped a finger on her pursed lips. “Well . . . let’s see. Perhaps because for the past fifteen minutes you’ve been staring into space with an air of mystical rapture only a choir of angels singing above your head might produce?” she quipped.

Clare dropped her eyes to the frayed edges of the antique brocade runner on the Carrara marble altar, feeling the heat rush to her face. “Sorry, I was . . . distracted,” she mumbled, nestling a pink powder puff blossom between emerald ferns.

“It’s because of the mysterious doctor, the trespasser on Monks’ Beach, isn’t it?”

Clare’s gaze cut to her friend. “How do you know about the trespasser?”

This time Teresa’s smugness came through in her wide grin. “I have my sources,” she said, and smartly chopped the ends off the stems of the anthuriums with the wire cutter she’d brought along.

“It was Jimmy Ramirez, wasn’t it?” Clare guessed. That boy was a troublemaker, as well as a notorious tattle-taler.

Not that she had anything to hide or be ashamed of, Clare told herself. The nuns had complete trust in her when it came to her commitment to keep the children safe.

She stooped to pick up some baby’s breath from the bucket. “He’s a new guest at Serena. He was sailing around the island on his sailboat and missed the keep-off sign at the mouth of the cove. We chatted for a bit,” she said nonchalantly.

“Mighty neighborly of him.”

Clare sensed Teresa’s curiosity behind the sarcastic façade. “I couldn’t very well turn him away, him being a Serena guest and all,” she said defensively.

“Of course not. That would have been extremely inhospitable.”

Clare narrowed her eyes. “Are you laughing at me, Teresa Maria Alvarez Moreno?”

“Just having some fun, is all.”

Clare poked her friend playfully in the ribs. “Oh, you . . .”

“So, tell me,” Teresa said poking her back, “is he handsome, this mysterious new guest of your mother’s?”

“Sister Teresa! Have you no shame? And in the Lord’s house, too.”

“Is he, or isn’t he?” Teresa repeated, disregarding Clare’s mock reproach.

Teresa’s expression was one that could easily pass for salacious, if Clare didn’t know her friend was a devout nun who took her vows seriously. She drew in a slow breath then let it out in a rush. “All right, yes.”

Smiling broadly, Teresa leaned her elbows on the marble and rested her face on the palms of her hands. The filtered light from the stained-glass windows of the chapel created a multi-colored aura around her veiled head, like a celestial light. “Pray, tell,” she drawled with a nuance that was anything but heavenly.

Clare rolled her eyes. “There’s barely anything to tell. He told me he’s a neurosurgeon, and that he’s taking a hiatus to work on a book he’s writing. I doubt he’ll show up again.”

She rolled the stem of a peony with fingers that shook a little. She hadn’t considered the possibility that she might never see Richard Kelly again. She’d just assumed he meant it when he’d said he’d like to come back to the cove.

Her encounter with the troubled-eyed surgeon from New York had had a strange effect on her. She remembered feeling like a giddy schoolgirl meeting her first crush. It was the first time she had been instantly drawn to a stranger. After he was gone, the entire ordeal had felt surreal, as if she had had an out-of-body experience. If the monastery children hadn’t been there to witness it, she’d have thought she’d dreamed it all. Every time she thought of him, a storm of butterflies unleashed inside her belly reminding her of the gentle brush of his hand against her cheek when he’d casually curled a lock of her hair behind her ear. Who knew what dark secrets he harbored behind those guarded eyes of his?

“What sort of book?” Teresa asked.

“A medical textbook. Of the brain.” Clare bit her lip, remembering too late her promise not to reveal Richard’s real profession. “He prefers to maintain a low profile while on St. Isabel. His fellow guests think he’s a fiction writer in search of his muse.”

“Serious and educated. Young?”

“Early to mid-thirties, I think.”

She stiffened when she saw the naughty grin on her friend’s mouth. “Whatever you’re thinking, forget it. Like I said, it was probably the first and last time I’ll ever set eyes on the man. Hand me a couple birds of paradise, will you?”

Teresa plucked two fiery-colored long-stemmed flowers from a tall canister and handed them to her. “I was only making a point. It’s time you stopped being a recluse and explored new interests outside of the confines of Monastery Hill,” she said, no longer playful.

“I get out. Who do you think organizes all the field trips?”

“Playing chaperone to a bunch of preschoolers doesn’t qualify as me-time. You need to be with adults, making new friends.”

“You’re saying I should date?”

At Clare’s incredulous look, Teresa shook her head. “Girlfriend, you may not be a nun like me but you sure act like one.”

Clare raised her eyes to the ornate crucifix hanging above the altar and crossed herself. “Really, Sister Teresa, I’m appalled at your impious insinuations. If I were you, I’d make sure to say a few extra Hail Marys tonight, or the Powers That Be might start to have doubts about the legitimacy of your vocation.”

Teresa’s expression softened. “Never mind a few Hail Marys. Your happiness is worth at least a nine-month novena, and I’d recite it all in one breath if it served the purpose.”

Clare’s eyes filled even as she stifled a laugh. “Oh, Teresa,” she said giving her friend a hug. Never like this moment had her heart swelled with so much affection. Teresa was like and older sister to her, more so than Courtney. She had a big heart, and she was caring and protective in ways her real sister had never been. “I’m happy the way I am, truly,” she argued. “I have friends up here, and I have you and the children. I have everything I could possibly want.”

“So you always say, but you’re not like me, Clare. You have a special calling too, but of a different kind. You’re made for marriage, to raise children of your own. I believe you’ll make a wonderful mother someday. But you won’t be able to do any of these things by secluding yourself up here or working yourself to death. Besides,” Teresa added with a suggestive wink, “a man who can put that dreamy look in your eyes has to be special.” Clare laughed and threw up her hands. “Oh, Teresa, you’re incorrigible!”

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