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Prudence, Chapter 57

Behind the curtain, Angie lay still and silent, her face turned towards the wall. Mark couldn't tell whether she was asleep, so he quietly asked, "You awake?" She didn't respond, but her breathing faltered.

He stepped inside the alcove, closing the curtain behind him, and moved closer to the bed. "Angie?"

She flinched, closing her eyes tightly, and sunk lower into the bed.

He sat in the chair beside her bed. "Want to tell me why you did it?" he asked, and she trembled, her hand clenching around the blanket.

"No," she whispered. "Want to tell me why you stopped me?"

"One, because you don't need to die," he said. "Two, because it would have killed Kristen."

"I want to die. And it would free Kristen."

"Think so?" He stood up and pulled the curtain back just enough for her to peek out. "Look over there and say that!"

Confused, she peered through the curtain, and her eyes widened in horror. "Oh god, what happened?"

"You tried to kill yourself," he said flatly. "I told you that you were bonded."

"I thought it would free her," Angie whispered. "I thought if I were dead, there'd be nothing left, that it would stop hurting her. I swear I didn't mean to... God, oh God... is she all right?"

He let the curtain fall closed. "She will be. Probably. A fair amount depends on you."

Tears ran down her cheeks. "I thought it would stop hurting her. I didn't want to hurt anyone anymore."

He reached out and touched her hand. "Angie, there's an easy way to do that. Stop fighting yourself."

She turned her face away again. "I can't. I just can't. It's wrong."

"Why?"

"It's a sin," she said miserably. "Several of them, really. Pedophilia. Homosexuality. Adultery."

Mark raised an eyebrow. "Pedophilia? I don't recall that being listed in the Bible. Many girls were married off by the age Kristen is, in fact. Homosexuality... I don't believe that one would still apply. There are a lot of things that don't hold for everyone in every situation; you eat bacon, don't you? And adultery... you're leaving your husband, you said. Once that happens--"

"He left me!" she interrupted, her voice choked with emotion. "He said he knew there was someone else, and he left me. And... and if you truly believe something is wrong, that it's a sin to do it, no matter the logic behind doing so."

He just shook his head. "Then adultery is no longer an issue, is it?"

"My vows didn't say 'until he divorces me', Mark."

"So even now that he's left you, you still consider yourself bound to those vows? Meaning you could never remarry?"

"I... I don't know. I'm an oath breaker," she said. "It would be wrong to accept someone else's oath when I can't honor my own."

"Angie, God doesn't require you to be perfect. He requires you to try-- and he'll forgive you if you fail. You couldn't know this would happen, and you still tried when it did. You failed. Fine. Ask his forgiveness, pick yourself up, and get back on the horse."

"Maybe he could forgive me, but that doesn't mean it's okay to keep doing the things I need forgiveness for."

"You wouldn't be committing adultery anymore," he said. "Divorce is as old as Moses. Pedophilia isn't in the bible. It's something our culture has come up with-- and it isn't even the right word when speaking of a post-pubescent girl-- and I don't thing the reasons for the proscription against it would apply to Kristen. That just leaves homosexuality."

She shook her head. "If adultery isn't an issue, then sex out of wedlock is."

He looked at her thoughtfully. "Only if you aren't married. I'm not saying she'd marry you right now, of course. She's still really hurt. You'd have to earn her trust again. But she told me she'd rather be with you than without you."

She sighed, looking exasperated. "Mark, marriage between two women isn't possible, even if she weren't already married."

He smiled wryly. "Because the Bible sanctions monogamy so strongly and doesn't have any examples of multiple marriages?"

"It's still not possible for a woman to marry a woman," she said, flushing slightly.

"It's not legally possible, no, but you're not worried about legally. It is possible to have a religious ceremony."

She laughed bitterly. "Yeah, right. Find a priest-- a Christian priest-- willing to do that, and I'll believe whatever you tell me."

He blinked at her, widening his eyes as if with innocent confusion. "But Angie, I already know of one. A couple of them, actually. One of them has a church in Dallas."

"Oh bullshit," she said, clenching her jaw angrily. "There's no way."

"One of them married a couple of my friends," he said. "Two women. And I know he's done poly ceremonies before, too."

"Then he's not a Christian priest," she said firmly.

"Yes he is. Unless you're defining 'Christian' as 'would not do that'."

"Christian: worships one God, believe in the Bible, behaves as God would have him behave. As the Bible says to behave," she said.

Mark nodded. "Then, yes. Christian."

She turned away and was quiet for a long moment before saying, quietly, "I'd like to meet him, then, maybe."

"Okay," Mark said agreeably. "I can arrange that. Hell, I'll call him and see if he'll come see you here, if you want. Angie, doesn't it hurt you to deny Kristen like this?"

"YES, damn it, it hurts!" she snapped. "Of course it hurts! God...." She squeezed her eyes shut, tears seeping from the corners.

"Do you think God wants to torture you?" he asked softly.

"Why the hell not? I deserve it."

He glared at her, resisting the urge to reach out and shake sense into her. "Did you ever think that maybe your love for Kristen was a gift? A reward for all the kids you've helped, all the lives you've saved by talking them out of suicide? That maybe you're throwing what was meant to be something special and wonderful back in His face?"

"No," she said tightly. "There's no way that it wouldn't have hurt Ed, and he didn't deserve that."

Mark sighed. "Maybe that was going to happen anyway, though. Maybe He knew it wouldn't work out, and was giving you something to hold on to. Maybe Ed's got someone out there he's going to meet who he'll feel the same about."

"But ten years..." Her voice trailed off, and her eyes were full of guilt and regret before she looked away.

Mark nodded sympathetically. "Ten years. But which would hurt him worse-- leaving you because he thought there was someone else, or finding someone who did for him what Kristen could for you, and having to leave you for them?"

She sighed, then reached into the drawer by the bed and pulled out a crumpled, folded piece of paper. Wordlessly, she handed it to Mark.

The tear-stained letter was short and to the point:

Angelica, I've gone. I couldn't live this way anymore. I'm sorry. Just like you, I've found someone new. Our marriage was a mistake, and I do not blame you for anything. I do love you, and a part of me always will, but not enough... and I know you feel the same.

Darling, I truly hope you're as happy with your new love as I am with mine. The papers will be in the mail soon, and you'll be free to be with him openly at last. Don't let guilt keep you from the kind of love that you deserve but I could not give you.

Goodbye, dear one, and best wishes always,

Edward

Mark read it again, then folded it carefully and handed it back to her. "I ask you again,"he said quietly, "which would have hurt him more? This, or meeting her when everything was fine, and having to either leave you or give up being with her?"

"I don't know," she said, swiping at her wet cheeks with the back of her hand. "Maybe everything never was fine. Maybe I was deluding myself all along. I don't know anything anymore."

"So maybe Kristen has always been the one for you," he suggested, "and by rejecting her, you're just throwing a gift back in God's face. Right?"

She sighed, covering her face with her arm, the I.V. line glinting in the dim light. "Or maybe there is no God," she whispered hoarsely, "and I've just been hurting everyone I touch for no reason at all."

He glared at her again. "Hurting everyone you touch? Really?" he asked angrily. "What about Kayla, then? She's still breathing, because of you. What about the other kids you've helped? One mistake doesn't cancel out every bit of good, you know."

She didn't have a chance to answer him, though, because right then Kayla called out from the other side of the curtain, "Mark! She's waking up!" and he shoved the curtain aside and rushed to his wife's side.

Kristen was stirring weakly, a slight frown upon her lovely lips, as he sat carefully on the edge of her bed. She moaned, reaching out gropingly with both hands, her eyes still closed.

He caught one small hand in his own as Kayla captured the other. "Hey, love," he said tenderly, and she opened her eyes at last.

Still looking somewhat dazed, she tried to smile up at him. "H-hey," she said, weakly. "What... what happened? Where are we?"

"You're in the hospital, love," he said.

Her brow wrinkled. "I remember... something awful. It hurt. I was so cold!"

Wondering how much they should tell Kristen, Mark glanced over at Kayla. The normally acerbic brunette had tears running down her face as she pressed Kristen's hand to her cheek, and her voice was choked with emotion. "You have to promise to never, ever scare us like that again, angel."

"Ever," Mark agreed, as the remembered fear and anguish clutched at his heart, and reflexively, he squeezed Kristen's hand tightly within his.

Kris looked at them, confused. "I'd love to, but I don't know what happened. How can I avoid it if I don't know what it is?"

"Uh..." Mark still hesitated, afraid of bringing her more pain, and she sighed.

"I hate it when you don't want to tell me things," she said. "I don't need protecting, you know."

He wasn't sure he agreed with that, but it was still her right to accept or reject that protection, anyway. No matter how much he wished he could just keep anything from ever hurting her. He took a deep breath, then met her irritated green gaze. "Angie tried to commit suicide last night."

She stared up at him, horrified. "Oh," she said, very quietly, as tears welled in her eyes. "I guess I really was a fate worse than death."

He hoped, unable to suppress a small amount of vindictiveness, that Angie had been able to hear her statement, but he still rushed to reassure her. "No! Love, you are not a fate worse than death. She's just... she thought if she killed herself, she'd stop hurting you. She has some trouble with the fact that she loves you, but she does love you."

She trembled, biting her lip as she looked up at him miserably. "I don't understand. Why is it so awful to love me? You love me, and you're wonderful."

He squeezed her hand, hating the pain in her voice. "I don't know," he said, looking over towards the other bed. "Except that she seems to think just being the same sex makes loving someone a terrible sin."

"But... but Kayla," she protested, then shook her head. "No. I've never been so happy before. It couldn't possibly be wrong. And if it is, well, I don't care! Any god who would condemn us for something so right is too cruel to be worshiped anyway."

Out of the corner of his eye, Mark looked back through the gap in the curtain to see if Angie had heard that. She had, obviously; she was watching quietly, tears running down her face, with a surprised and thoughtful expression. He swallowed against the surge of relief he felt, and looked back at Kristen. "If you could say one thing to her, right now, what would it be?" he asked softly.

Kristen's lips trembled, and she turned her face away, closing her eyes. "That I'm sorry," she said tightly.

"You're sorry?" he asked, unable to keep the surprise out of his voice. "For what?"

"For... for being the cause of such pain that it made her want to die." She didn't look up, didn't open her eyes, and Mark turned his head to stare over at Angie, his face unreadable.

The woman bit her lip and shook her head rapidly, though her eyes overflowed with tears, and he raised an eyebrow, his expression growing challenging.

"I never wanted to hurt anyone," Kristen whispered brokenly, and that was too much for Angie.

She sat up abruptly, making the I.V. pole rattle an the line tightened and tugged against it. "You didn't!" she cried. "I did. You didn't do anything, not anything!" Angie collapsed against the bed, crying too hard to talk.

Kristen stared at her, shocked, then looked back up at Mark with a trace of betrayal in her eyes.



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