Ann spent the next few days in a daze, unable to concentrate on her chores or her students with Maxine's offer occupying her mind. Maxine might not be ready to go back into the real world alone, but Ann wasn't sure she herself could face the outside world again either. She had been living the life of a nun for so many years now, and she felt her heart flutter in fear at the thought of leaving the safe haven of the convent. Her mind was racing. She was scared, but as the days went by her fear slowly turned into curiosity, and she rationalized her thoughts by telling herself that if she were to accept she would be doing it to help Maxine, so in a way she wasn't compromising her mission. She locked her classroom door and decided to seek Mother Clarence's advice. Her aunt had always been kind and protective of her. Ann knocked lightly when she reached Mother's Clarence office.
"Enter," called the voice from inside.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, but may I speak with you?" asked Ann as she entered.
Mother Clarence pushed aside the papers she had been working on and removed her glasses, smiling at her niece. "Of course, sit down. What can I help you with?"
Ann decided to cut to the chase and explain her issues to her aunt. "Can I speak to you as my aunt and not Mother Clarence?"
The older nun frowned, suddenly worried. "Sure, is something the matter?"
Ann sighed. "Maxine...I mean Miss Johnston...has asked me to come with her."
"Excuse me?" asked Mother Clarence, unsure she clearly understood her niece.
"She is scared, and doesn't think she is strong enough to make it on her own in the outside world. She asked me to come with her for a little while and help her stay away from temptation."
Mother Clarence looked at her niece in silence for a few moments. Ann's once babyish face had become serious and lost its childish features, replacing them with an adult determination. She wasn't a lost teenager in need of rescue anymore, but an adult in need of advice. "Are you thinking of accepting? I guess you must be giving it some consideration, otherwise you wouldn't be here."
Ann sighed for the second time. "It's appealing. Don't get me wrong, I love my life here, but I've always felt as if something was missing...as if I am missing out on life." The last word said almost in a whisper.
Mother Clarence had always known this day would come, and somehow by asking Maxine to leave the convent, she provoked it. She knew thatAnn wasn't mean to spend her life living the strict life of a nun. "You are of legal age Ann, and this convent is not a prison. You're free to go whenever you feel the time has come."
"I know." Ann stopped and looked at her aunt sadly. "Without you I probably would be dead by now. You rescued me, and gave me my life back. You're the only family I have left..."
"Do you want to go?" interrupted Mother Clarence. Ann stared deeply into her aunt's eyes, and nodded. Mother Clarence nodded her understanding. "Very well then, but as your aunt I need to ask you a question."
"Can you yourself resist the temptations? There are many out there."
"I know...I have thought about it. I think so. I feel as if we can help each other, I'll keep her out of trouble and she will look out for me. It's only temporary. I am a nun first and foremost, but I need to do this."
The older nun stood up feeling exhausted, as if ten years had suddenly crept in her weary bones. She walked to her niece and stopped a few feet away. Ann had stood up when her aunt got up and was now facing her. Mother Clarence reached tenderly for Ann's face, stroking it gently. "My dearest niece, I wish your mother were here to help me give you the right advice, but then again if she was still alive you would not be here, so don't listen to the rumblings of an old nun," she said smiling and stepping back. "If it is something you have to do, you have my blessing Ann. I have always known you wouldn't stay here forever, I had only hoped God would give me a few more years." She then hugged her niece and walked out of her office, leaving Ann to stare at the empty space where she stood only a few seconds before.
Looking briefly at the clock standing on her aunt's desk Ann read, "7:30 PM," and realized that dinner had already started. Choosing to skip it, she walked quickly up the stairs to Maxine's bedroom. The actress had been taking her dinner to her room ever since the day she had been asked to leave at the end of the week. Ann almost didn't wait for an answer before stepping into the small room.
"Alright, I accept."
"What?" asked Maxine, surprised and confused.
"You asked me to come with you when you leave on Sunday. The answer is Yes."
Maxine put her fork down and stood up. "You're telling me that you are coming with me?"
"That's what I said," smiled Ann, almost not believing it herself. She felt exhilarated.
A smile broke Maxine's face and she flashed a smile of white straight teeth at Ann. "Great! What made you change your mind?"
"I need to do it for myself as well as for you." She sat on the corner of the bed. "One condition applies though."
"Shoot." Maxine reached for the rest of her food and put a spoonful ofmashed potatoes in her mouth."
"Very well. I am to go with you everywhere, movie sets, social gatherings...everywhere. If I am not with you I want to know where you are and your whereabouts."
"All right, I'll try," said Maxine honestly.
"I don't need you to try, I need you to promise me." Ann looked steadily into Maxine's green eyes, not breaking her gaze.
Maxine passed her hand through her hair and nodded. "I promise," she said, her voice ringing with honesty.
"One more thing."
"All right, go for it."
"I need you to look out for me also."
"I don't understand."
"The last contact I had with the outside world was no better than yours. I was a drug addict. The only difference is that I have been here for a few years instead of a few months. I'm still scared and worried. Those are my conditions."
"I don't know. I'm not even sure I'm going to be able to control myself, so
I don't want to be held responsible for your actions. I'm not looking for a babysitting job," answered Maxine, regretting her last comment immediately. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that."
"We help each other Maxine or we have no deal."
Maxine again held the nun's gaze, her green eyes losing themselves in the pale blue of the nun's. Ann's determination was obvious.
"Very well then. We'll give it a few weeks' try. If it doesn't work out we'll call it quits."
"All right. Four weeks. If you are out of control, I'm leaving you."
"And if you are out of control I'm sending you back."
"Deal then," said Ann, extending her hand and exchanging a strong handshake with the actress. "One thing though," she said, her attitude returning to the reserved nun. "I'm not staying forever Maxine. I am a nun and intend to remain one.
The last few days happened in a blur for Ann. Everyone talked about her departure and as she tried to reassure the other nuns that she would only be gone for a few months she felt that no one believed her. The last night came and she found herself knocking at Maxine's door.
"Can I come in?"
"Sure. Trouble sleeping?" asked Maxine. She herself had been lying on her bed staring at the ceiling for the past hour, sleep eluding her.
"Yes. It's hard to believe that tomorrow is the big day. I don't even know if I should keep on wearing my uniform or...well, it's not as if I own any everyday clothes anyway." She sat down near Maxine's bed. "I'm scared."
Maxine smiled and looked at Ann sitting near her bed, her hair hanging loose on her shoulders, her veil having been removed for the night. The nun looked so young and Maxine felt a sudden urge of responsibility toward Ann. She wondered for a moment if asking her to come with her had been the right thing to do, but brushed her concern aside.
"It'll be a change for you. New York is quite a town. You'll be all right."
"I'm sure I will be," said Ann, getting up. "I should let you get some sleep. We've got a long day ahead of us." She had suddenly reverted to the caretaker, any sign of the fear she felt inside gone. "Have a good night. Also, Mother Clarence asked that you assist in the morning mass tomorrow so you can say your farewell to everyone. I'll wake you up at 6. Good night." Ann left and closed the door gently behind her.
Maxine growled. "Not 6 AM!" She shut off the light and tried to force herself to sleep.
Go to chapter XVI
copyright(c)malaurie barber 2002Feed the bard