...And Forgive Us Our Sins


joseph_icon.gif nicole_icon.gif

Scene Title …And Forgive Us Our Sins
Synopsis Nicole turns to God and finds Joseph.
Date March 26, 2009

Guiding Light Baptist Church

Most people would think that the breaking of 7 am is best observed beneath the covers of a warm bed. Perhaps if they walked down the street at such an hour, they'd see it a little differently. The streets are shiny with prior nighttime rain, though the sky's long since dried up and is paling more and more as the minutes tick by. There's a reverent kind of emptiness that Joseph can appreciate - much like the interior of the church he's walking across the street towards, as if that holiness had expanded to wrap around the rest of New York City, allowed it to bask in dawning light and for a brief moment of time, be at peace.

He has a dark, weatherproof coat over more formal attire, the barest glimpse of a pressed shirt and suit from where the zipper parts at the throat. A brown leather suitcase in one hand, other hand dipping into his pocket to extract a set of keys as he makes his way up the curving stairs, and, somewhat sleepily, he takes his time in fingering through for the right one, stifling a yawn.

It's an old building, but a shiny, new sign has been affixed to the exterior wall just near the door. Dark blue with white, cursive writing, it reads:


Sunday Services:

9 am, 12 pm

Wednesday Services:

7 pm

The right key is located, slipped into the lock, and sticks. With a sigh that pushes wispy steams into the still frigid air, Joseph sets down his briefcase to lean against his leg, and works the lock until it obeys.

The beauty of being out at this hour of the morning, before most people want to be out, is that parking spaces are a lot easier to find. A dark Buick pulls up to the curb and a woman steps out just as Joseph is getting the door open. She's ill-dressed for the chill weather, wearing a dark blue tee shirt with white screened lettering and sandaled heels with her black skinny jeans. "Excuse me," she calls before the door can close. "Are… Are you open yet?" She rubs gloved hands together before rubbing them over bare arms. The contrast between the warmth provided by the car's heater and the early spring air is stark, to say the least.

Leaning a shoulder back out the door when a voice calls out, Joseph blinks a little owlishly at the woman before leaning out even further to see if the sign the senior pastor had commissioned gives such information. Nope. Of course not. He looks from her, towards her car, then back to her. Well, it could be worse. She could be pointing a gun at him. That's so far been the standard for after-before hours patrons.

Not to say that she won't, regardless. He tilts his head a little, offers a smile. "Mornin'. We open the doors at nine," he says, apologetically, in his reasonably mild Southern accent, but then nudges the black painted door open a little wider. The hinges creak with the movement - the littlest signs of past neglect here and there, not entirely smoothed out. Getting there, slowly does it. "Come in."

"You're sure?" Regardless, the woman doesn't look the gift horse in the mouth. She hits the lock button on the fob of her keys and scurries toward the building and the presumed promise of warmth. "Thank you," she's quick to offer when she's close enough not to raise her voice anymore. "I'm awful sorry to come by so early. I just… I didn't know where else to go." She tries to offer a smile, but it doesn't quite form. "Are you a pastor here?" She assumes he must be, rather than office help or a caretaker of some sort. This is a Baptist church, after all, and he's got the right accent for the job.

Warmth isn't cheap, not at this hour of the day, and though the inside of the church doesn't provide much comfort of that kind, the distinct chill of wind and rain from outside is gone. So that's something. Into a boxy kind of hallway that easily opens up towards the left, the main hall of the little church has a high ceiling with streams of light coming in from the higher up windows. Polished wood, cleaned carpet, there's a certain installed newness to the place upon the older brick, stone and scuffed wooden floors.

Also, stairs, presumably leading up to more private spaces. Offices. Maybe even more accommodating rooms. Inside, Joseph doesn't get too far, swapping his briefcase from one hand to the next as he turns towards the woman, offers that hand out to shake. "Yes ma'am. My name's Joseph Sumter, it's nice to meet you." Delivered genuinely, with that same lift of a smile.

The woman takes the preacher's hand easily and shakes with the confidence of someone who relies on their handshake for first opinions on a regular basis. She doesn't offer her name in return. Not yet. "I… I need someone to talk to. I thought a church might be a good option." After her hand is released, she rakes her fingers through the dark bob of her hair. "I… Do you have time to listen? I don't really know how Baptists work. I know you don't have Confession like the Catholics, but…" A confident handshake on a very uncertain woman.

Time to listen. What time doesn't he have for such a thing? Never mind that the doors are open two hours before they're due to, that he's only just set foot in the door. Both hands come to grip the handle of his suitcase, dangling it in front of him as Joseph tilts his head a little as she speaks, that smile twisting more something more amused by the end of it, before softening again when the woman's sentence trails into nothing.

Then, he tilts his head in an abrupt, jerky movement. An invitation to follow. "Kitchen's this a way. I got a clearer head for things in general once I get caffeine in my system. You drink tea, coffee?" He reaches out, urges the door closed fully with a push from the fingertups, before he's already walking, expecting her to follow.

"I'll drink either," the woman responds almost absently, accepting the invitation readily. She hurries after, the promise of a hot beverage almost as inviting as the man's kind smile. "Thank you, Pastor Sumter. You didn't have to open the doors for me. I really appreciate this."

"Joseph," he corrects over his shoulder, voice bouncing off cavernous walls and rafters. "Just Joseph'll do." The building is not large, even if it's built as if it strives to be, with its ambitious architecture and careful design, like a miniature version of a larger cathedral. Into the more mundane areas, however, such as the little kitchen through a door beneath the stairwell, it takes on something homier, something more suitable to its size, and in desperate need of refurbishing.

The brown suitcase is set down on the table, the kettle switched on. "A church is a good place to go," he says, with occasional glances towards her but mostly focused on setting out things for tea, a box of Irish Breakfast teabags set onto the counter before he's hunting for clean mugs. "Here, we offer counsel, guidance to those who're looking for it. I guess that's how we work." Another glance, an easy smile. "I take it you practice?"

"Not as much as I should. It's… I was angry at God for a long time," the woman admits, taking a seat with a quiet exhale of breath that isn't quite a sigh. "I'm trying not to be anymore."

It's easy to preach. You identify a flaw in someone's statement, you go on a litany. A well-meaning, informed and sometimes even uplifting litany, but not always a good thing. Took Joseph a few years to learn that biting his own tongue is half the battle, and if his encounter with Flint "Mike" Deckard was meant to teach him anything, it was the value in choosing his words a little wiser. So Joseph's mouth only twists into a slight, sympathetic frown, nodding once as he spoons some sugar into each mug - two matching items of pale blue ceramic, the top denting inwards like the lip of a vase to keep in the heat.

"Lookin' for someone to blame?" he only asks, now shedding off his rain coat as water boils, hanging it up by the door.

"I suppose that was part of it," she admits. "I wanted someone higher to blame. I didn't want to think that it…" Her words halt and she presses her lips together before she stares up at the preacher with her dark blue eyes, serious expression firmly in place. "What I say stays between us, right? I… I don't want any crimes reported."

The question— or rather, it's follow-up brings him pause, dark brown eyes studying her. Then, quite simply, Joseph wraps his hand around the door handle leading into the near-quaint kitchen, and smoothly shuts the door. There's no lock, but that's unneeded, anyway - there's no one else within the church, either. But the gesture is symbolic, both of her not-quite-request and his decision.

Moving back towards where the kettle has reached its boil, he pours the tea, moves on over to place the cup in front of her, before taking a seat as well. "I believe you came here for counsel, and I believe you came here for salvation," he says, simply. "Whatever you got to say stays in this room."

After a sip of hot tea, probably a little hotter than she expected it to be, if the momentary twitch of her eyelids is any indication, the woman nods. "My name is Nicole. When I was young, Richard, my father abused me… sexually." She stares down into the liquid in the mug, finding the words difficult to say, but liberating once they have been. "I thought for the longest time that my mother never knew, but as I got older, I realised she didn't want to know. She turned a blind eye to it. I guess I blamed God because I didn't want to believe it was the fault of my parents that this horrible thing was happening. I wanted to believe that God did this to me. Not that Richard could possibly be doing this and that my mother simply let him." It starts as a trickle, but soon the fount begins to flow.

His fingers curl around his own mug of tea, wedding ring making the tiniest clink sound when it connects against porcelain, and though the liquid inside it is still scalding, Joseph finds himself pressing his palms against the curving sides a little firmer as Nicole begins her story. Enough to make skin a little red, a mild sting without damage.

The smile is gone, which can only be expected when someone is divulging this to another. Joseph stays still, silent, neglecting his beverage he holds tightly. He needs to say something. He makes the mistake of saying nothing, but then, she did ask for him to listen and conveniently, he can't summon up words that don't sound wooden, insufficient in his mind.

Nicole wasn't really expecting a response, fortunately for Joseph. His uncertainty and her need to just have someone to talk to match well. "But I could handle that, you know? I could handle what happened to me. It wasn't a good thing. It was horrible. I was unhappy. I didn't have friends because I felt like it was somehow my fault, too. I acted out. I wasn't a good kid. But I still was able to live with it. I stayed there and I made sure Richard focused on me. My little sister was born when I was ten…" She stops for a breath, her thoughts becoming a jumbled mess that she can only hope makes sense when she speaks them out loud. "I lived through it. I got out. My mother paid for school." Much like the man across from her, she grips her own mug tightly in her hands, until her knuckles turn white. "Things were looking up. Then, my mom got cancer. And I found out he was doing the same thing to my baby sister." Did the mug just creak?

Eye contact is important, a fact he forgets for a while as he studies the patterns on the table as she speaks, words washing by as much as they're taken in. Up, towards where her hands too have gone white around the cutlery, making him aware of the unnecessary ache in his own hands. They relax, forcibly, fingers looping through the handle to bring the mug up to sip from, during the same pause at which Nicole remembers how to breathe, and continues to do as needed. Listen.

But it's about when here hands clasp even tighter around the tea mug that Joseph remembers eye contact, studying her eyes with— well, understanding. Which can be expected, this is his job. Still, there's a certain kind of empathy when he holds her gaze and says, "I'm sorry. Faith can be hard when you— realise exactly what some people are capable of."

Nicole nods somewhat numbly, remembering to lift her eyes to the man across the table. She's somewhat surprised by what she finds there. Concern was expected, but the way he looks at her… It's as if he knows. "I told my parents that I would take her - my sister, Colette - to help ease their burden, since it was hard to raise a kid while fighting terminal cancer. But I really just wanted to get her out of there. We went back a few times, to visit Mom. I don't think either of us could ever fully blame her for what happened to us. We still loved her. Part of me wondered if the cancer was God's way of punishing her." She pauses, reminding herself again to slow down and breathe. "Does that make me a bad person? I was kind of… glad to think that God punished her."

"Doesn't make you a bad person," Joseph says, gently, almost over the end of Nicole's statement. "Just means you're looking for some sense of justice, I think, and that's alright." An eyebrow raises and he makes a rueful gesture, tipping his head a little to the side. "God forgives. In this life and the next. If He punished, that's… somethin' you don't have to decide. What is, is. You'll know better than me, you know the sum of your mom's life more than I could." He manages to remove a hand from his cup of tea, lays it on the table, palm up. It's an offer for contact, about as unobtrusive as it could be. "How's your sister doin'? Sounds to me you did the right thing." The empathy is still there, still permitted to be shown, but anything else - his own twinges of old guilt, at the implications and the ideas behind Nicole's story - is hidden behind it.

There's no reluctance in the way Nicole takes the offered hand, squeezing it tight. Her fingers are still hot from where they gripped the cup of tea. "I think she perked up instantly after I got her out of there. She and I were never that close when we were kids, but… Colette means everything to me." She smiles faintly, the love for her sister replacing some of the anger, but it's short-lived. "When the bomb went off, I…" The whole truth is too complicated. A white lie can explain just as much, right? "I lost my memories and it's taken me until just recently to get them back. Colette thought I was dead. The state put her in a group home." The anger starts to come back. "She was only a kid. And Richard let her rot in a home for orphans. I know he wasn't a good man, but she needed family, not social services. I just… Our apartment was totally destroyed in the bomb. I thought she was dead once I managed to remember who I was, and what I had. But when I found out she was alive?" Nicole's cobalt eyes narrow furiously. "I couldn't believe he would do that to her."

"Sometimes there's no amount of understanding." His hand is wrapped and secure around her's, brotherly in support. Some people are just naturally inclined for physical comfort. And Joseph doesn't want to say that this woman's sister getting away from her father might have been a hard but correct road, so he manages not to, brow knitting a little.

Maybe it's time to talk. If not from his wealth of experience, from what he knows. "We believe that all men and woman can be saved in the eyes of God," he says, voice almost conversational. "As long as they accept Jesus Christ into their hearts, they will be granted redemption. When the end comes down on us, and we're all judged, the dead and the living, we'll be deemed righteous and…" His hand slackens a little in her grip, but stays. "…not. Those that are will walk in the kingdom of heaven beside our Lord, for all eternity. Those that aren't will be punished, everlasting. If it helps, know that eventually, God will ensure that world rights itself."

His other hand comes around to cover her's, both hands squeezing once as he adds, more directly, "And as for right now, we do what we can. Have you considering turning him in, Nicole?"

Nicole finds herself unable to meet the eyes of the kind man anymore. She considers pulling her hand away, but finds the grip to be too comforting for her to resist just now. "I… I didn't want to put Colette through any sort of trial where she'd have to tell a room full of strangers what Richard did to her." There's a moment of silence, uncomfortable for the woman as she swallows back a lump forming in her throat. "I couldn't wait any longer for God to punish that man." Tears well up in her eyes and spill down her cheeks, though she makes no gasping, sobbing noises just yet. "I killed my father last night."

There's silence for a time, of the stunned variety, which might be better than any other expected reaction. Joseph doesn't jerk his hand away. Certainly doesn't run to call the police. Nor is he quick to reassure and reaffirm, going quiet and thoughtful, of all things, as he looks at the woman across the table connected only by a clasp of hands.

Being a good Christian isn't limited to actions. It's about everything that goes on beneath the surface, too, something substantially harder to control. The door is closed, still, the church is empty, and he'd told her that nothing said in this room will leave it. His other hand moves in mimicked offer, so that he might take her other hand.

"Pray with me."

"O- Okay." Nicole clutches the second offered hand tightly. The tears stream down her face as the gravity of what she's done truly sinks in. She planned it and let her anger carry her through it. But now the wave of that has crashed onto the shore and there's only wreckage around her.

"It's okay," he murmurs, in that it's not, and may never be, but as for right now, it's not as bad as it could get. For her tears if not for her sins. Joseph's hands hold onto hers tightly, and there are better places for this. They're in a church, after all, and happened to be boxed into a kitchen that's seen better days. "You're okay."

That's enough for reassurance. His head bows a little, his eyes close. "Almighty God, we pray for forgiveness, for guidance in what will undoutably harsh times to come for this young woman before me. I pray that she finds it in her heart to forgive in turn, so that she might seek salvation when it's called for."

There's a wryer note in his tone when he adds, "And I pray for forgiveness too." His hands twitch a little in his shrug. "You'll get it, I'm sure." Baffling, perhaps, for those in the room who are only getting one half of the conversation, and he looks across at her, and speaks carefully. "I can't say what you did was right, or just. It's a sin, one you'll— you'll have to come to terms with in your own time." A pause, his hands squeeze her's. "I can say it was brave. And there are worst things in this world."

After the prayer, Nicole puts her head down on the table, still clutching those hands like they're the only thing keeping her from drowning in the sea of emotion. "He ruined my life, he ruined my sister's life. I just… I couldn't ever let him do that again." She lifts her head again and disengages one hand to wipe at her eyes. "I went to the house to confront him. And I brought my gun. I… I meant to shoot him just once. Just once between the fucking legs so he couldn't hurt anyone again." She pauses with a soft gasp. "Sorry. Cussing in a church. God must really love me." But she doesn't wait for any assurance of innocence or guilt on that front before continuing. "I shot him and he fell down and he started screaming at me. He… He said I had asked for it. That I never said no. He said it was my fault." She trails off, sniffling once before falling silent entirely for several moments. "So I started shooting again and I didn't stop until the gun was empty."

Despite himself, Joseph lets out a breath of chuckle at her apology for swearing. It's not entirely mirthful. Almost a sad sound. There's a wince, now, drawing crow-feet lines at his eyes, ones about his mouth in a mild grimace at the brutal story, taking a breath, but doesn't let go even as he withdraws his freed hand to fold his arm closer to himself. His gaze loses some focus, studying the table again. Finally, he finds himself asking the unhealthy question: "How'd it feel?"

The question is an unexpected one and the confusion of how to answer it draws deep lines across Nicole's face. "I don't know. I felt a lot of things. I felt… angry. Scared. A little relieved." She pauses, bringing the cup of cooling tea to her lips, hopeful it will calm her some. "At first, I think it was just relief to have released all that anger. Then I was scared that I was capable of just losing my mind like that." She turns the cup in front of her on the table 360 degrees. Something to do with her free hand. "I think he deserved to die. I wanted God to do it. But… God's work isn't done by God." She looks up again finally to meet the preacher's eyes.

"It's done by people."

Gently, he extracts his hand from her's. His tea has about one sip taken from it, and is sitting lukewarm his his cup, further neglected when he pushes it to one side to better rests his elbows against the table, fingers linking together beneath his chin. "God's work," he repeats, and not in agreement.

Not in this way. "God's work can also be seen in our government, the police, the justice system. Your father could have been punished the mundane way, given the opportunity to repent, to understand what he did and I can't believe that wouldn't be the most punishing experience he'd go through." Nicole gets given a serious, imploring look, now. "Was it worth your soul?"

"It doesn't matter now, does it? I can't undo it." Nicole wipes at fresh tears and again takes a drink of tea. "If it saved other girls from going through what Colette and I did, then it was worth my soul." She begins to cry again, harder than before. "If you'd have seen Colette when she was little, she was so happy even if she didn't understand why I was sad all the time. She was a good kid. And when I saw her again after I'd left home, it was like that ba- Like Richard had murdered her. My little sister wasn't there anymore. She was like me. You'd understand if you could have seen her. I never stood a chance, but she did. She grew up differently from me. She-" Both hands come up to cover her face now as she succumbs to the sobs that shake her entire body. "It was worth it. If Colette will be able to sleep better at night, it was worth it."

Eternal damnation in favour of punishment. As long as he knows what she's in for. Which is a bitter kind of insensitive sentiment that Joseph doesn't necessarily feel, not in the ways that matter. He stays quiet as she cries, letting her give into it without interrupting, watching slim shoulders heave and shake beneath the thin fabric of her shirt and fingers hide wet eyes to let tears smear instead of leak.

Eventually, he stands, moves around to touch her shoulder, kneels down. He's reasonably tall at 6', and she's less so and curled as she is, it's not too awkward. "What's done is done," he agrees. "It was God's plan for him to die that day, but your choice. You understand that and I think you're a good woman, Nicole. I'd have you come back here whenever you need, seek the redemption you deserve. You did that much for Colette, you can do that for yourself, now."

"Can I ever be forgiven?" One dark blue eye peeks out between thin fingers, seeking the shape of the reassuring man. Slowly, she separates her fingers to allow the other eye to peer out. "I…" Nicole shakes her head slowly and lets her hands lower to her lap, swallowing back a fresh wave of sobs.

His hand places on her high up on her back, near her shoulder, and with as much earnest conviction as he has in him, which is quite a lot, he quietly says, "Yes." A pause, gaze dulling a bit, and adds, "It's not easy. Starts with forgivin' yourself, coming to terms with the Lord. We have a way of doin' it here. We can help."

"You… You'll help me?" Nicole seems genuinely astonished. "I kind of thought you'd listen to me and then turn me out and tell me not to come back…" She lets out an astonished sort of breath. "You must be a saint in the making."

Now that gets open cynicism, a soft snort as Joseph stands back up, keeping that hand where it is for a moment as he says, "I'm pretty sure it's the fact I'm not a saint that has me here at all." Hand moves back, picks up his lukewarm tea and moves towards the sink to empty it and rinse its insides out. Less wryly, he adds without a glance, "And maybe I get it, as much as I shouldn't. The why, anyway." The water from the tap mixes with tea, splashes as he tips it. "We're only human. People deserve a second chance. No one made you walk into a church today - you're here for a reason, like I am."

Nicole lifts the neck of her shirt up while the pastor is busy with rinsing his glass, using the inside of the shirt to dry her eyes and then settling the fabric back into place. "I… I can't even begin to thank you enough for just listening to me, even. You… You said you have a way of…" One hand gestures vaguely. "How?"

"You attend service. You pray. You accept Jesus Christ as your personal saviour." Thunk. The flat bottomed side of the mug punctuates the little list rattled off, casting a glance back at her over his shoulder, the beginnings of a smile, before he's moving to pick up a dishtowel and dry his hands. "That'll sound more credible to you when you're ready for that. I'm not in the habit of trying to convince people, Nicole - just extendin' the offer and keepin' it there until it takes."

The towel is loosely folded back up, set aside. "But here, I… well I'm new to this church, but back where I came from, my hometown? I'd help people see ahead of 'em, in a sense. Helps guide the way. I'm— " A strained, but good-humoured smile. "I'm what our good government calls Evolved. I prefer to the term gifted under this roof, but…"

Vague hand wave.

Nicole blinks several times. "Not too many people admit that sort of thing very often," she says softly. "Especially not to strangers." She's awkward for a moment. Evolved individuals aren't a new concept to her or anything, but there's always that moment where she wonders if she should ask. "What… is it that you do, then? If you don't mind my asking."

"Sad, isn't it?"

The chair scrapes against linoleum as he sits back, perhaps too used to awkwardness in response to really mind much. Otherwise it can be chalked up to a running in sainthood. Either way, she gets just a shrug and a smile. Likely not a reaction from someone who knows what it is to be hunted, but we're only young once.

"My card reads, 'projective precognition'," Joseph says, leaning back a little. "I like to think of it as seeing God's will, and a second chance at free will. The greatest gift we've been given. In short, I like you see your future. Ten minutes from now, ten years from now. Whatever's important at the time. I find it… gives a person a sense of clarity. A way to see the bus comin' and act on it, or what to look forward to and chase it down."

A short pause, studying her, and a little more reverently, he adds, "Now I'd say you could stand to look forward for a while, instead of behind you. But you also got things to— reckon with before you need to be worrying too hard on what I could show you. It's up to you."

He raises a valid point. There's things Nicole should come to terms with before accepting this offer, but… "I want to see," she insists, turning in her chair to face the man more fully. "Please… Joseph." The name is a little awkward on her lips, but she hopes it adds emphasis to her request.

A quiet word of agreement, barely audible, before Joseph is extending his hands again, for the final time. Palms turned up, fingers relaxed, wedding ring and haphazard lines in his palm breaking up the symmetry. "It's weird," is his warning, a slight smile. "But you just have to open your mind to it and it works like natural. Remember that you're safe here and don't let go."

The first time Nicole took Joseph's hands, there was no reluctance at all. This time, she hesitates. It reminds her of the first time someone offered to show her their ability. She trusted then, and she trusts now. With a deep breath, the lost sheep reaches out to the shepherd.

He doesn't pray out loud. Some people need to hear it, some don't. Maybe Nicole would take comfort in it. But it's not a prayer for her to listen to. There's not clock on the wall, just the watch on his hand, and in the silence of the kitchen perhaps the tick is just audible. Twitching once, twice, three times—

"Close your eyes."

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