QSFer Grace Kilian Delaney has a new Bi/Gay MM contemporary fantasy out: “Bars And Butterflies.”
It’s been ten years since my young niece died, and it’s time to make my yearly pilgrimage to the basilica where her prayers were answered, and my nightmare began. I light a candle for her and her parents, a promise I made before they’d passed. An entire family—gone.
There’s no peace after death. There is nothing.
I leave as unsettled as I came, shoving the church door with such force I almost hit somebody. Not just somebody. The mysterious man I had seen at the basilica years ago. For the briefest of moments, he had helped me forget the pain and grief in my life.
He invites me out, and he reveals a disturbing secret: he believes he can communicate with the dead. It’s just my sort of luck the first guy I find attractive is delusional. But then, what he does and what I see are impossible and send me scrambling to learn more about him, to figure out how he tricked me.
Because what he did has to be a trick.
Step by step, I’m drawn into in his world until I no longer know the difference between reality and imagination. I can’t fall for him. None of this is real. It can’t be. Unless…
Gael Taylor is no ordinary human.
“Here, Uncle Aaron.” Teresa tugs on my sleeve, pointing to the pews to the left. I genuflect and make the sign of the cross before scooting into the pew and kneeling on the pad below. Teresa does the same, then passes me so she’s on the inside; she prefers it to the aisle. We kneel, and I cross myself once more in the way my mother taught me before she went the new age route. Tiny hands mimic mine, then fold in prayer. Connie would have liked for her to make First Communion. I look upon the crucified Christ, his face in agony, and a knot tightens in my belly. I fear that day will never come.
I’ve forgotten the correct way to pray and I’m not on the best of terms with any deity. I’m a cliché, praying at the eleventh hour. I have more faith in Teresa than I do in any omniscient power. Desperate times, desperate measures. I’m out of options. I don’t care who’s listening: angels, devils, Buddha, Muhammad, God, Thor—if any of them can heal Teresa, I’ll grovel and do their bidding for eternity. I pour every bit of hope into my makeshift prayer.
Father, God of mercy and healing, forgive me of my sins. Teresa has enough faith for the two of us and trusts that You’re listening. I hope You are. I don’t know what to do. She’s not getting better. The doctors are trying everything. Please help. She’s just a child. You already took my papa, Connie, and Steven. Please don’t take Teresa. Please. I’ll do anything. Amen.
I clench my jaw, holding back a sob as grief claws at my throat. A tear escapes, slides down my cheek, and clings to my jaw. I wipe it away. I’m so tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of being angry. Tired of worrying. Tired of being alone. Tired of being strong. I stay with my eyes closed, kneeling, resting in the eerie stillness of the basilica before I fight with Teresa to leave. She never wants to. She always says she hasn’t heard her answer yet, and she has to stay longer.
The woman’s voice isn’t known to me, distant, raspy, and no louder than a rustle of newspaper blowing in the wind. I’m dreaming. I must be. I got home late after playing a gig last night and snagged four hours of sleep before picking up Teresa at my mom’s house this morning so we could come here and mourn the one-year anniversary of her parents’ death.
My eyelids are heavy as I open them and check on Teresa. She’s still praying. I wipe the remnants of another rogue tear and hear a whisper of a single chord played on an indiscernible instrument coming from behind me. It resonates through my body. I feel lighter. A burden lifted. No one is playing the organ and no one is singing. I can’t pinpoint the source of the tone, and I give up searching for it. That’s when a silver light appears in my peripheral vision and darts toward the back of the basilica. On reflex, I turn my head to follow it, certain I’ll find nothing there and affirm my imagination is on overdrive from lack of sleep. I’m wrong.
Sunlight blinds me as a figure enters. Footsteps approach. As my eyes adjust, I consider the possibility I’ve fallen completely asleep and any minute Teresa will wake me, for the man walking toward me is plucked from my fantasies. Tall, with dark, wavy hair, shaved on the sides, well-trimmed stubble accentuating his prominent jaw, and full, kissable lips. He’s older than me, possibly in his thirties, the last traces of youth giving way to laugh lines and crow’s-feet. A golden halo of sunlight surrounds him, diminishing as he walks deeper into the nave. He moves with a purpose in designer slacks and a navy dress shirt, and he’s unaware of my attention. When he’s within my reach, he looks at me and startles. The organ in my chest kicks to life with an erratic rhythm. It’s thunderous, urging me to move. To touch. I don’t remember standing. I’ve taken a step toward the aisle, a siren song drawing me to him. The stranger has now drawn up beside me, his focus no longer on me but straight ahead, and I reach for him.
“Where are you going, Uncle Aaron?”
I blink and look down at Teresa, wondering what the hell came over me. Why was I reaching for this handsome stranger? What did I expect to happen if I touched him?
He’s moved beyond my reach now and sits beside the woman and her child. His family. In hushed voices, they speak. He hands her a small object, a pink crystal, the kind that adorns the jewelry my mother wears. I’m the asshole checking out a man in a basilica praying with his family. He’s painfully attractive, and I’d give anything to have one night to escape in his arms, to get lost in kissing that pouty mouth, and fuck away the grief, sorrow, and anger that has become my life. For my blasphemous thoughts I doubt my prayers for Teresa will do any good.
“Nowhere, butterfly.” I shake my head and kneel beside her, cursing myself for forgetting where I am and why I’m here. I’d been free from the heartbreak, from the suffering, from the weight of reality, and as I look at my niece, guilt erodes the brief peace I’d felt when I was drawn to the stranger.
“Uncle, I think my prayers have been answered.” She no longer has the little divot between her brow, the one that deepens whenever she’s in pain. For a moment, I see her with a full head of dark curls and the inner fire that used to sparkle in her eyes before chemo. I see her healthy, happy, running in the park, and playing in the garden with the butterflies she so loves. Maybe God listened for her sake, and she’ll get better. A bit of peace inches its way into my heart.
“That’s wonderful, sweetie. What did you pray for?” I sit back in the pew, and she joins me. Her light brown eyes smile so much like her mother’s, and I indulge my newfound belief, feeling Connie smiling down on us.
“For the angels to take me to Mommy and Daddy.”
Author, musician, and human slave to the dog and cat that rule her house, Grace Kilian Delaney enjoys giving her characters a dark sense of humor and a happily ever after.
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