Saturday, April 20, 2013

Bride of Christ (Book 1: Mystical Bodies--Chapter 3) (Viva LaRose)

Chapter 3
Love Them, Leave Them, Friend Them


Jeremiah Epstein meets girl; falls silly head over in lust with girl; chases girl obsessively, wooing her with flowers, perfume, expensive dinners and fine wines, extravagant gifts, and trips to exotic places; fucks girl–he’s a good lover, no use in denying it, he spends much of his time fine-tuning the art; gets girl to chase him obsessively; occasionally, he may even ask girl to marry him; then the old malcontent breaks out, and he wants to ditch girl.

But when he’s in love with someone, that woman is the center of his world, he consumes only her beauty, sleeps with only her. He wouldn’t think of making love with anyone else. It’s all or nothing, and he’ll do anything for his lover, including allowing his art work to slide into disarray and his friendships to lapse.
But when it’s over, it’s over–no going back.

Over the years, he has learned how to break off a relationship gently, even turn things around so that the unwanted woman thinks that she has left him. It’s quite easy, really, nothing abrupt and nasty and confrontational; a good breakup, like a good wine or whiskey, takes time, and Jeremiah has learned the art of orchestrating that time between relationships, the breaking off of one and the cultivating of another, that equilibrium point at which he may be making love to the soon-to-be former lover in the afternoon and racing the new object of affection to the sheets that night.

He doesn’t see any inconsistencies here–he has already made up his mind about the spurned woman, so he’s not really cheating–he’s just letting someone he cares about down gently.

And the new woman, well, he’s not made any commitments to her yet, and he doesn’t tell her otherwise. He’s in her bed tonight–isn’t that enough for now?–and who knows what tomorrow will offer?

He prides himself in not telling his lovers any more or less than what they need to hear and never any lies. He won’t tell a woman he loves her just to get her into bed. If she insists on a commitment, he backs off, allows the passion to cool, and, maybe six months later, calls her; most of the time, the two become friends.

It’s a delicate process, maintaining the balance between the old and new, but one that has become second nature to him. When the desire to split from a relationship hits him–and it usually happens fast, maybe the woman does something to annoy him, like play with her hair or pick her teeth in public–he begins by calling the woman less.

Perhaps he finds himself spending less time in Philadelphia, his home, and more in New York, or terribly engrossed in a new sculpture, or maybe he’s been ill. He still sees her, of course, enjoying their lovemaking almost as much as ever, but he has one eye on the door. He continues to compliment her beauty and her accomplishments, and he always speaks highly of her in public.

But he gradually cuts back on their phone calls, his availability, and their dates, until, finally, the woman calls him and says, "Jeremiah, we’ve got to talk."

When she tells him, "It’s over," he apologizes for his lapse in character, and lets her know how much he’ll miss her, but that she probably knows best. They usually make love one last time, a bittersweet passion, an act of extreme mercy on his part, but a pleasurable one, he hopes for both of them. Especially for him the act represents closure and relief–now he can move forward. As the last ounce of love is exhausted, he whispers, "I hope we’ll always remain friends," and he means it; he’ll continue to call her; at first, they will meet often for lunch, and, before long, she’ll be talking about a new lover, perhaps even a new fiancé–so far, he has been invited to and attended at least three weddings of former lovers, including Terry Douglas’, the mother of his only child.

He sees his daughter Michelle at least once a month. He has been supporting–and then some–the child for 16 years now, paying everything from basic necessities to private schooling, and he’ll see to her college expenses. He’s more than happy to give money to Terry and Donald Matheson, the man she married shortly after Shelley was born. They’re good people, and they love the girl fiercely, giving her more emotional and psychological support than he ever could. Giving her monetary advantages is the least he can do.

Jeremiah has a network of female friends, many of them former lovers; he could spend the rest of his life on lunch dates with women and so has learned how to graciously turn down invitations. Still, he keeps in frequent touch with a few close female friends, and, sometimes, between relationships, even sleeps with them. It’s an unspoken understanding, a knowledge that while they can never go back to the old days of look-deep-into-your-soul–"wool-over-the-eyes"–passion, they can seize the moment of mutual need.

Sarah Dimont is such a friend. They broke up 10 years ago– one of the few mutual breakups he has experienced. He can no longer remember the reason for their split, but it’s no longer important. Since then, she has married, has one child (now seven), divorced, and has gone through at least two major relationships since her divorce. It seems as though they are always between relationships at the same time, always needing each other’s bodies at sensitive junctures in their lives.

Today, he calls her and asks her to dinner, a code for "I want something more tonight than just a good talk between two friends." If she’s "available," she will accept the offer; if not, she will say, "no time, sweetie, maybe a quick drink, instead?" If he needs more, he’ll meet her for that drink, but only a quick one, because he will have another friend waiting for him; if he wants to talk with Sarah specifically, he will linger over drinks, and they may grab a pizza somewhere and talk about their lives, but nothing more. Jeremiah prides himself on respecting boundaries– after all, there are plenty of willing women out there–and women love and trust him for it.

"I’d be delighted, Jeremy," she says today. "I could use a good meal and even better company."

Relief. There is no one he would rather spend time with tonight than Sarah–he needs her expert touch, her frenetic sexual energy, and reassuring voice. Her lovely body. At 37, Sarah still cuts a stunning figure, long blonde hair, green eyes, tan and toned skin, nice tight rear. More than that, the body carries a brain and a pretty nice personality, too, not just another vacant beauty. He often wonders why they could never make it as a couple, but then realizes that she sees him as he is, no more, no less.

"By the way," Sarah asks. "Have you had an AIDS test lately?"

"Last week," he says. "I’m clean. And you?"

"A month ago. Negative."

"Great. Bring your report, and I’ll bring mine."

Sarah laughs. "You don’t trust me."

"Well, you know the old saying, ‘Love everyone and trust no one.’"

"I’ll see you tonight, report in hand."


AT BOOKBINDERS, a swanky Philadelphia restaurant, Sarah shows up wearing a strapless red sequined mini-dress.

During dinner, they talk about their latest projects–Sarah is about to close an important real estate deal, a $5 million dollar mansion in center city Philadelphia.

Jeremiah talks about his latest sculpture, a black marble creation slightly resembling a female form, but which is, so far, mostly a block with sharp edges. So far, it reminds him of those obelisks you see in caves. He also mentions his latest social project: his funding and development of a young people’s center in the city, complete with a gym and swimming pool, a tutoring wing, activities wing, including a fully equipped art studio and craft area designed with gallery space. At the moment, the art center is his main obsession; next month, the center will offer three meals a day; next year, Jeremiah hopes to open the center around the clock–for lonely kids with nowhere else to go–and eventually open up a privately funded home for unwanted kids.

For the past week, Jeremiah has been trying to come up with a name for the art center. None of the names suggested so far–The Children’s Art Center, The Liberty Bell Center, The Walnut Street Art Project–seem quite right. He wants the name to have significance...

"No government funding," he says. "All private donations."

"A tall order," Sarah says. "But if anyone can make it work, you can."

"It’s got to work," he says.


AFTER DINNER, just when they are finishing up their pineapple sorbet and liqueurs, Sarah says, "So, what’s up?"

"It’s Ellen," he says. "I can’t seem to shake her."

"Hummm. Sounds serious."

He shakes his head. "If you only knew..."

"Well, tell Mama all about it."

"Mama" is a cue that she’s inviting him to her apartment, that she expects him to earn her ear and sympathy.

Jeremiah calls for the bill–he always pays, and women always let him.

At Sarah’s apartment, they compare their AIDS’ test reports. There is never any guarantee, but he does the best he can, making it a point to get tested at least every six months, sometimes more often, depending on his sexual activity and his partners.

He and Sarah are nestled on the sofa, sipping martinis and watching the flames in the fireplace.

"So, what’s up with Ellen?"

"I think she’s mentally off. I’ve been trying to cut off the relationship for months, but she’s obsessed. She doesn’t get the hint."

Sarah is one of the few women who has figured out Jeremiah’s strategy for dumping women–and who has reflected this character flaw back to him, so he feels safe in talking to her.

"Oooh, that’s bad. Looks like you’ve found yourself a winner."

"I thought so at first. Sarah, when I met her, I thought she was the one, she was so perfect in every way: beautiful, intelligent, independent–or so I thought–and a fantastic lover. She would do anything for me. In fact, she wanted me to inflict pain on her. You know that isn’t my style, but she got terribly excited when I paddled her hard–"

"Ouch, a sickie. I can’t imagine you getting sucked into such a thing."

"Me neither. But it wasn’t something that happened overnight. She just kept upping the stakes."

"When did you get a clue?"

"About six months ago. She invited me to her apartment for dinner. No big deal. She’s a good cook, and she had a nice apartment. But when I got there, she said, ‘Honey, I want to show you something.’ She led me into the bedroom. It was unbelievable–I doubt if you’ve ever seen anything like it."

"Try me."

"On one wall, she had an altar, filled with crosses, statues, rosaries, hundreds of lighted candles, chalices–all the trappings of a church. In the middle of everything was a huge picture of me. A gilded frame. Must have cost her a fortune. And the statues...they were me."


"Yeah, I was speechless, too. I felt sick to my stomach. I never wanted to run so fast in my life."

"What happened then?"

"My mind was racing a mile a minute. I was trying to figure out a way out of there. After choking down dinner, I told her that I was working on a sculpture of her–a lie, I know, but it was the only way I could get out of there without all kinds of nastiness. She said, ‘Oh, honey, you must show me sometime.’ Then she grabbed my arm and held me in a grip–you wouldn’t believe how strong that tiny woman is–and said, ‘You are my Christ.’ I said, ‘Ellen, you know I’m Jewish.’ ‘So was Jesus. You are my Alpha and Omega.’ And then she kneeled before me and folded her hands in prayer. Then she started to unzip my pants, but I moved away. I said I had to go. ‘I know,’ she said, getting up off her knees. ‘Just remember this: I would do anything for you. I would die for you, Jeremiah Epstein.’ Then she grabbed my arm again. ‘Before you go, promise me one thing.’ I told her it all depended. ‘If you ever leave me, please kill me.’"

Sarah sits up straight. "I hope you ran as fast as you could."

"Well, I was stunned at first. And you know me. I try to take care of things.... Anyway, I tried to reason with her, tell her I wasn’t a demigod, just a mere mortal, that I was just a small fish, etc., etc. That I wasn’t worth dying for."

"Forget that. She’s nuts."

"Yeah, so I found out. There’s more."

"Okay, shoot."

"She’s hired a private detective to check up on me."

"Oh, boy..."

"I kept having this feeling that someone was following me. Finally, I caught the bastard and told him if this didn’t stop, I’d get a restraining order on him. I haven’t seen him since, but I think I’m still being tailed."

"This is really bad. You’ve got to do something now."

"I have. I’ve been trying to break it off–"
Sarah laughs and snuggles up to him. "I think you’re going to have to change your tactics, my friend."

"What do you mean?"

"C’mon, Jer. Most women know what’s up. Even the dumbest bimbo catches on eventually. You think we can’t sense when a guy wants to move on?"

This surprises Jeremiah. He fidgets at this revelation. "Uh..."

"It’s okay, love. Your secret is safe," Sarah says, ruffling his hair.

He just wants to keep everyone happy, his life balanced–in neat boxes.

"You know, Ellen’s got a few wires loose. You might think about getting a restraining order against her."

"Sounds drastic..."

"You’re going to have to be firm with this one, Jeremiah Epstein. She’s stalking you. Indirect strategies are out of the question."

"Well, I don’t like to hurt anyone."

"No, you don’t like conflict."

"Same thing."

"Not quite, love. This isn’t about unselfish motives."

Jeremiah strokes her breast.

"Ummm, I like that."

"Why don’t we talk about what you like?" he says, moving to her inner thighs.

Sarah pulls away slightly. "All in good time. But you’ve got a bigger problem than the immediate pleasures of the body."

Jeremiah sighs and pulls away. "You’re right. What am I going to do?"

"You’ve got to break it off clean. Period. Tell her to get lost."

"I don’t think I can do that. She’s threatened to kill herself."

"Most people who threaten suicide don’t carry it out. Even so, you can’t worry about that. Just tell her." Sarah gets up from the sofa and picks up the phone. "Do it now."

Jeremiah takes the phone and looks at it.

"Go ahead. You have the right to break off a relationship, especially a sick one."

Breaking into a sweat, he dials. The phone rings about five times before the answering machine kicks in. "Hello, this is Ellen Epstein–"

Jeremiah slams the phone down. "What the hell? Now she’s stolen my name?"

"Excuse me?"

"Now she’s calling herself ‘Ellen Epstein.’"

"Call her back now. Tell her, in no uncertain terms, to get lost."

He hesitates.

"Do it now! Or get the fuck out of my apartment!"

Jeremiah dials again.

Ellen’s machine kicks in again: "Hello, this is Ellen Epstein. I can’t come to the phone right now–I’m waiting for an important call from my husband–but if you leave your name and number, I’ll get back to you as soon as possible...."
He listens impatiently to the rest of the message and the clicks and beeps of the answering machine. A monster thrashes around in his chest:

How dare you do this to me, how dare you just take my identity without my permission, how dare you suck my psyche dry, how dare you rape my soul...

Finally, the long beep ends, and Jeremiah finds himself screaming into the receiver:
"You bitch! It’s over, do you hear me? I don’t ever fucking want to hear from you ever again, I want you out of my life. I want my name back. I don’t remember giving you the right to my name, if you call me ever again, I’ll get a restraining order, I’ll–"

Sarah hits the button, takes the receiver from him, and hangs up the phone. "I think you’ve made your point. Let’s not overdo–" The phone rings again. She picks up. "Hello? This is Sarah. Who’s this? I see. Yeah, he’s here." She hands the phone to
Jeremiah, and whispers, "It’s her. Looks like she’s got caller I.D."

Jeremiah feels the anger draining out of his body. His eyelids feel heavy, as if he has just eaten a large pasta meal. He wants to curl up next to Sarah in her king-sized bed.
"Ellen? Look, I didn’t mean to yell, but, well, it’s no good."

"I’ll kill myself." Her voice is smooth and level.

"I don’t think so."

"You know I can’t live without you."

"You know you can and will."

"Who’s Sarah?"

He looks at Sarah. "She’s a good friend. You met her once at the Nichols’ opening."

"Oh, that blonde bitch?"

"Yeah, that’s her."

"What are you doing there?"

"We had dinner, that’s all," he says, falling back into old habits.

Sarah takes the receiver from Jeremiah and smiles coolly. "Ellen? It’s true I’m good friends with Jeremy–" she loosens his belt buckle, making as much noise as possible "–but let me tell what’s going to happen tonight. Right now I’m touching Jeremy’s penis; soon I’ll be sucking it like a lollipop, and Jeremy will rise to the occasion. You know that he’ll take his time–no messy premature stuff–"

A pause. Jeremiah’s pants are down around his legs, his penis straight out, but Sarah has stopped stroking him and now whispers huskily into the phone, "No, dear, you won’t be slitting your wrists. That would be too tacky. Besides, Jeremy doesn’t love you, so your suicide would mean very little to him–oh, Jer, do that again, put your hand right between my legs. Oh, yes, that’s nice–as you can see, Ellie, I’m going to have to go pretty soon, things are getting a bit involved here–ohhhhh, yes, Jer, your tongue feels good there–Ellie? Are you still there? No, Jeremy and I aren’t in love; we’re just old friends who get together once in a while, you know, for old time’s sake–Oh, God! do that again. Oooooooooohhhh!–Sorry, dear. It’s a bit hard to concentrate right now–"

By now, Jeremiah has undressed and is parading around the living room with his martini.

"Ellie? The point is, Jeremiah sees other women now. Who knows who he’ll be with tomorrow? Yes, I’m comfortable with that–OH, YES!–It’s just the way he is. You deserve someone who wants all of you and no one but you. Jeremy can’t give that to you. He’s a male slut."

"WHAT!!!" Jeremiah asks.

Sarah puts her finger to her lips, and mouths, "It’s okay." She fumbles with a note pad.
"She’s buying it, so hush!" she writes.

To Ellen: "Even if you get him to commit, you’d always wonder about him–ohhhhh, suck my tits–screwing some hussy like me. We are legion, and we find men like Jeremy irresistible. Ellie, start over. Now, look. I’ve got a friend who works as a masseuse at the Holiday Inn. Of course it’s a guy. You tell him my name–Sarah Dimont–and he’ll give you a little something extra. That’ll show Jeremy–Ohh, God, I’m about to explode, oh, my clit!–Just ask for ‘Stallion.’ Yeah, he’s everything the name implies–" Sarah gives Ellen the guy’s number. "He’s expensive, but worth it. You’ll forget about that silly notion of self-destruction–ohhhhhhh, Jeremy, push it all the way in. YESSSSSSSSS!"

Jeremiah begins making groaning noises, and now they’re both groaning into the receiver, the groans growing louder and competing with each other.

"OH, GOD!" they both yell, and Sarah slams down the receiver. They burst into laughter.

"What a performance," Jeremiah says. He pauses. "So it’s Stallion now? You pay for sex?"

"Are you kidding? No, he’s an old boyfriend. Great lover, but he likes his job too much. He gives new meaning to the word ‘overtime.’ I don’t mind a lapse here and there, but that guy lives for sex. Not much of a thinker, either, I’m afraid."
Jeremiah slips his arms around Sarah, and says, "There are times when you should let your body do the thinking. How about it?" He unzips her dress and allows it to fall around her feet.

She is wearing nothing underneath it.

"Ahhh," he says softly, "We’d make such a lovely couple."

Sarah pushes herself against him. "Ye-ess. So sensual together." She whispers, "But if I loved you, I’d never be able to share you."

"A most fatal flaw."

"Most fatal..." She leads him into the bedroom, where they spend the night, locked together in her bed.


THE NEXT MORNING, Jeremiah awakens with a start. He looks at Sarah’s alarm clock: 7:00 a.m. "Oh, God," he says, leaping up. "I almost forgot. I’m meeting someone at 9:45 at 30th Street station."

Sarah rolls over to face him. "Sweetie, you don’t need to feed me that line..."
He bends down to kiss her forehead. "Not a line. I agreed to meet a reporter today."
Sarah sits up. "A reporter? You?"

He dresses quickly. "A moment of weakness, I’m afraid. Some woman called from–get this–a religious station in Knighton. Represents The Catholic Hour, I think she said. A segment about Corporal Works of Mercy–"

"Oh my God," Sarah says, "I haven’t heard that term since my convent school days–"

"You, a Catholic?"

She laughs. "Yes, we’re everywhere. We’re either sexually repressed, or, like me, sluts."

"You’re no slut. Just a good friend."

A faraway look comes into Sarah’s eyes. "Corporal Works of Mercy. God, that brings back memories. The nuns always said that if you did good works, like visiting the sick, shoveling snow for an old person and not charging money, babysitting your little brother without asking for special favors, you were performing corporal works of mercy. Not really religious stuff, but things that have to do with taking care of people’s physical needs–"

"Well, you do pretty well in that department–"

"I’m serious, Jeremy. Helping people is important work, and the Church rewards us for it. We don’t ask for rewards–otherwise it’s no longer corporal works of mercy–but we’re told that for every good work that we do, we can expect God to shave off a bit of Purgatory time."

"What has this got to do with me?"

"Oh, honey, you’ve been doing corporal works of mercy ever since I’ve known you. You won’t spend one minute suffering in Purgatory."

"But I’m a Jew. I don’t believe in such things."

"Doesn’t matter, doll. As long as you live a good life, you’ll still reap the rewards. Though you do seem to rack up a lot of Purgatory time in other aspects of your life."

Jeremiah shakes his head. "You lapsed Catholics. Still hanging onto outdated beliefs..."

Sarah hits him with a pillow. "You should talk. I know how you Jewish boys stay tied to your mothers."

Jeremiah flinches; he hasn’t seen his mother in almost two years, not since his dad died, and that had not been a pleasant experience. "Don’t come back home," his mother said. "Not until you get your head on straight." Which meant going into the family brokerage business. "You killed your father just as sure as you stuck a knife into him and twisted it. You broke his heart."

"Not true," he says, tossing the pillow back to Sarah.

She stretches out like a cat, her body electric and glowing, legs opening, arms reaching for him.

Groaning, he rips off his clothes and falls on top of her. "I could almost love you," he whispers.

"Shut up and fuck me," she says squeezing his buttocks and guiding his erection into her.

Sarah is soft and yielding, hungry for his sex, loving him and him alone, at least for this moment. She opens wide and moans as he rubs hard against her clit.


As he explodes inside her, she pulls him tight to her and claws at his back until she, too, has reached orgasm.

He collapses on top of her and catches his breath.

"I could love you again," she says softly.

He pulls away from her. "Don’t."

A warning.

"I won’t."

"Good girl," he says as he rises and hunts around for his clothes. He kisses her forehead. "I gotta run. I have to stop off at my digs–can’t show up at the train station all rumpled, smelling like stale booze and fresh sex."

"Why not? It works for me."

"Because it wouldn’t be kosher."

"Get out of here," she says, laughing. She throws the pillow at him again. "And don’t come back until I summon you."

"I’ll remember that," he says.

"I love you, too!"

He leaves without looking back.


COPYRIGHT © 2013, Viva LaRose

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this excerpt shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, magnetic, photographic, including photocopying, recording, copying/ pasting on the internet, and/ or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission of the author and publisher. No patent liability is assumed with respect to the use of the information herein. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this excerpt, the publisher and author assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. Neither is any liability assumed for damages resulting in the use of the information contained herein.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locale, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Bride of Christ (Book 1: Mystical Bodies--Chapter 2 (Viva LaRose)

Chapter 2

IT IS A COLD WINTER, uncharacteristically bitter and snowy. It grips the city early, beginning December 6, on St. Nicholas Day, and shows no sign of abating. On December 15, a 31-inch snowfall covers the city; the townspeople are caught unprepared. It snows every day after that, mostly two or three inches a day, but by Christmas Eve, 30 additional inches are piled on top of that first major blizzard. The officials ask the state for financial help, but the state has its own winter problems; then they turn to the federal government, but it, too, has financial problems, mostly from previous disasters: hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires. "You’re on your own," Uncle Sam says to city officials.

For the most part, people are snowbound in their homes, only able to get out on foot or by snowmobile. Schools have closed, and a local state-of-emergency has been called. No one, except emergency personnel and volunteers, is allowed to drive vehicles on the road–even then, only snowmobiles, front-wheeled drive vehicles, and buses. Pedestrians are allowed on the street– very few people shovel their walks because there is nowhere to put the snow–but it is caveat emptor: chances are, no one will be available to rescue them should they suffer from the cold and collapse into a snow bank. Freeze and frostbite warnings fill the airwaves: "Don’t leave your home unless you absolutely have to!"

Very few people go to work. But some stubborn souls do freeze to death in snow banks and deserted alley ways.

From a commercial standpoint, the Christmas season has been a disaster, although Christians know its true meaning and know how to celebrate without all the secular trappings, still enjoying a satisfying and holy Christmas Day.

By New Year’s Day, the mercury has dropped to a low of 50 below and a high of 25 below, so cold that when you breathe, the hairs in your nose freeze up, and your lungs feel as though they were being ripped from your chest. Young girls and boys spit just so they can watch the water freeze in midair and land on the ground with a tinkle.

People of all ages drop dead from cold-induced heart attacks, and the local TV station has devoted entire shows to how to dress for the cold: layering your clothing and covering every surface of exposed flesh. Wear a mask over your mouth–young people mustn’t be so fashion-conscious, warns the meteorologist on TV–especially old people and all others who may be susceptible to heart attacks.

Throughout January, snow, mostly flurries, continues to fall, but it never melts; the curbs of city streets are piled with six-foot drifts. Slowly, the snow plows are making their way through the streets, and life returns to some normalcy. Inhabitants start to trickle back to work and school, and, by now, the people have learned how to dress for arctic weather. Reports of freezing deaths subside. On Groundhog Day, the furry creature sees his shadow, so six additional weeks of hard winter are assured. No one would be surprised if winter held the city in its grip through July. The people are resigned, but long-faced and grouchy.

Love of neighbor on hiatus.

Just after Groundhog Day, the mayor, a big jovial man with red cheeks and nose, goes on TV and announces the First Annual Winter Carnival, to be held on the fairgrounds, to commence immediately and continue every weekend until the final thaw.
In the large halls, there will be exhibits of all kinds and competitions for best pies, cakes, quilts, paintings–almost everything that is judged in the September Fair.

In Exhibition Hall, hot dish cook-offs will be conducted: the best hot chili, goulash, spaghetti, pizza, soups, desserts–the only limitation: the cook’s imagination. Because of the season, no animal and produce exhibitions and competitions will be organized, but some new categories will be added: for the children, a snow fort competition and, for the adults, ice structures and sculpture competitions. Local architects will design ice buildings and palaces, and teams of local builders and volunteers will build them on the fairgrounds. Local sculptors and artists will carve ice sculptures. First, second, third, and honorable mention prizes will be awarded to the best entries.

Excitement takes over the city; volunteer crews clear out all the extra snow from the fairgrounds–except what is needed for the competitions. Other crews cut large slabs of ice from the river and haul them to the grounds. Bus drivers offer to work extra shifts so that riders can ride public transportation to the grounds– there are few parking spaces. Free-lance snowplow operators plow private driveways open and haul extra snow out of the city. Young people offer to shovel old people’s sidewalks, free of charge. There is a hum throughout the region, the kind of buzz that usually comes with the first day of spring, when people are outside, polishing their cars, working in their gardens, and playing sandlot baseball, all in their shirt sleeves. Except that now it is still close to 15 below, and no one is in shirt sleeves, but everyone seems to be outside.

So what if it is cold.

The heart of this story begins at the Carnival.

One of the ice sculptors, a young lady who has just graduated from art school, is determined to win first prize. She has planned to sculpt a whale, in a curved position with his tail tilted in the air. In her mind, she can see the long sleek lines of the creature and how it will look in the sunlight. As everyone around her has a good time, she remains at her block of ice, shaving and carving, until fairgrounds officials close the grounds each night. At home, when she is eating supper, she thinks about the sculpture; when her parents or siblings talk to her, she is thinking about the whale.

She dreams about her creation.

Eventually, she convinces the fairground officials to allow her to come to the grounds during weekdays; she has taken a leave of absence from her job.

Previously an outgoing and popular girl, she now turns down invitations from her friends for parties and movie dates. Soon they stop calling, but she barely notices.

The day of the competition, mid-February, her sculpture is not quite ready. Something is missing, the curve, perhaps, is slightly off, or maybe the angle of the tail is somewhat too tilted or the backfin not quite defined. Even so, her sculpture takes third prize.

That should be the end of it, but it is not; the rest of the competitors go on with their lives, even enjoy the rest of the Carnival, but the girl does not. Every day, she visits the displays and compares her whale to the first and second place entries, a castle and an angel, trying to figure out what her sculpture lacks. Soon, she is spending entire days sitting in front of the winning exhibits, staring and contemplating. One day, she brings a pup tent, sleeping bag, space heater–everything needed for long-term survival in the cold–and sets up camp.

She becomes a part of the exhibit itself, the local Carnival-goers going to see her as much as they would go to see the works of art.

She is a hunger artist by default: it is still very cold outside, and she has refused all solid food, drinking only hot liquids brought to her by anxious Carnival officials, who have
yet to make a move about her camp-in.

The local media hear of her obsession and begin covering her vigil: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3... Finally, on Day 15, Carnival officials announce to the media that the girl, along with her sculpture, would be removed from the fairgrounds, and banned until spring.

"We can’t have someone freezing and starving to death," they tell the TV reporter. After such a successful and profitable venture, they do not need any bad publicity.

The girl agrees to go willingly, on one condition: that she be allowed to take the winning sculptures as well. The first and second place winners, having received their prize money and gone on with their lives, graciously agree.

Moving day arrives.

The national media are there with their cameras, their microphones, their commentators: "What does this all mean?" they ask each other, the masses, and arm chair psychologists. No one has an answer, but what fun on a cold and rather routine winter day!

A large truck comes, and its driver loads and takes the sculptures away. The move is videotaped and distributed to the masses over the air, through cable, and via the web.
The sculptures are deposited on the girl’s front lawn, where she sets up her camping equipment. "Now I will work," she tells the media who have followed the truck to her house.

For a few days, they chronicle her work, giving updates on her progress, but her work goes slowly: a shave there, a sliver there, a chink here and there, and soon they grow bored. They pick up their equipment and follow the next Big Story.

The girl continues working on her sculpture. She grows so obsessed that she mutilates the two winning sculptures by chopping a spire off the castle and a wing off the angel.
The local media make a blip of the destruction over the airwaves, but demographics show that the public has grown bored.

Winter continues its grip; by early March, the temperature is still below freezing. The girl has become extremely thin and weak, barely able to hold a chisel, but somehow she manages to compensate for the lack of food and snow blindness. Her parents are sick with worry, but since she is over 21, there is very little they can do, and proving incompetence to a court would be very difficult, if not impossible. They will have to wait until she slips into unconsciousness before taking custody and commencing with force-feeding.

The first robin appears on March 15 and lands on the angel’s broken wing. It looks around, shakes its wings, and takes off. The temperature creeps up to 30, 31, 32, 33 degrees. The girl, still working frenetically, barely notices the drip, drip of melting snow and icicles.

It is not until the temperature rises to 45 degrees that the girl notices the changing world around her. Next to the broken angel, a green knob pokes through the ground.

"NO!" the girl screams. She chops the new growth to pieces with her chisel. But other shoots rise through the soil, taking the mutilated shoot’s place and then some.
The girl quickens her pace as the sculptures continue to shrink, becoming slick and gleaming in the sunlight.

By the end of March, much of the snow is gone, but the girl has built a shelter around her masterpiece, insulated inside with straw, and only works on it at night, away from the killing sun. By now, the two winning sculptures have melted into indistinguishable hunks of ice. The girl is worried; today is an especially warm day, about 55 degrees.

She notices as the townspeople wash their cars, chatter in small groups around the neighborhood, ride around in their cars with their boom boxes turned up high, wear short sleeves. She worries about the masterpiece and checks on it every half hour as the sun makes its arc around the earth. So far, so good: the shelter is holding. Maybe she can keep it forever!

On April Fool’s Day, the girl awakens with joy. An onion snow, about six inches, has covered the earth, and temperatures have dropped below 30 degrees. The TV meteorologist, now pinch-faced, predicts cold weather for at least the next five days. The girl leaps for joy!

But her joy is short-lived; two men in trench coats approach her, and identify themselves as officials from City Hall. "You must remove this structure," they tell her. "You need a building permit, and, besides, this shack doesn’t meet city codes."

There is a $500 fine for each day of non-compliance, and since she still lives at her parents’ house and no longer holds a job, she and her father dismantle the shed.
Her father feels sorry for her and would like to find a way to salvage the sculpture, but he is just a forklift driver with other children to support and cannot afford to buy or rent a freezer. Anyway, he feels it is time for her to move on and enjoy the gifts of spring and summer.

Four days left of glorious freezing weather! She works day and night on the sculpture, and, finally, on the last day, the whale gleams with perfection, slicing through the last of winter with its curved body and tilted tail fins. Its lines are so perfect that the neighborhood children come and pet the creature. She allows them this because she believes that such beauty ought to be shared, not hoarded.

She calls the media to tell them that the denouement of their Big Story has just transpired, but they are not interested; they are off chasing the latest celebrity murder trial or plane crash. But no matter: the girl knocks on doors and spreads the good news, so the neighbors, shaking their heads and wondering at all the hoopla, come around and gaze for a few seconds at the whale’s beauty.

"Is that all there is?" they ask as they go back to their cozy homes.

The girl is disappointed that adults cannot enjoy her creation as the perfect work of art, but the children love the whale, some of them sing-songing and whooping, climbing up
on its back and riding it like a horse.

The most perfect day ends with the temperature rising, never to go back to freezing until next winter. The girl falls into bed and sleeps for three days straight.

As the sculpture melts, the girl, even though she has been eating ever since she finished her work, grows weaker and more lethargic. Doctors are consulted, but for a slight vitamin deficiency, they can find nothing wrong with the girl.

"My life is over," she tells her mother just before slipping into a coma. "I cannot ever create such a work of art ever again. So why bother?"

Two weeks later, as the microscopic ball of ice that was once the whale disappears into the earth, the girl dies and once again becomes the Big Story:


The media turn out for the funeral, and they bring back with them footage of the mourners bearing her casket. They splice that footage with clips from last winter when she was holding out at the fairgrounds.

Anchors offer editorial commentary, blasting the system for not intervening in the girl’s case; physicians shake their heads, claiming that the death should have not happened.
Psychologists speculate about the effects of the death on the girl’s siblings and on other young artists.

Lawyers suggest that perhaps a lawsuit might be in order.

A tabloid news magazine TV show dedicates an entire 15-minute segment to the girl’s story, adding a three-minute exposé about how city officials have skimmed profits from the Winter Carnival for their own personal gain.

A week after the funeral, the media have left, and the city returns to normal. The girl lies cold in her grave, the flowers covering it wilted and forgotten.

Next to her headstone, a lone shoot, curled in a loop, unfolds and reaches for the sun.


CHRISTINA PAUSES for five seconds, an eternity in broad-casting, and then looks straight into the camera. "Farewell, good friends," she says. "This is Christina O’Dea, signing off as host of The Valley Catholic Hour. I invite you to tune into the new show, which promises to carry on our good work."

A voice-over comes on, giving the standard closing comments and announcements; then the credits roll.

She shakes hands with Rabbi Goodman and her crew.

Jack Motter is nowhere in sight. But every one else, except Christina, has tears in their eyes, their voices cracking, even the rabbi’s who had not even met her until today.
As Christina leaves the studio, she is surprised to see local reporters surrounding her, some bombarding her with questions about why she is leaving the show. But they all want to know the meaning of her story.

She shrugs, smiles, and says, "Sometimes a story is just a story."


COPYRIGHT © 2013, Viva LaRose

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this excerpt shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, magnetic, photographic, including photocopying, recording, copying/ pasting on the internet, and/ or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission of the author and publisher. No patent liability is assumed with respect to the use of the information herein. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this excerpt, the publisher and author assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. Neither is any liability assumed for damages resulting in the use of the information contained herein.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locale, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Bride of Christ (Book 1: Mystical Bodies--Chapter 1) (Viva LaRose)

Chapter 1
Family of God

CHRISTINA O’DEA floats in and out of her body. She’s asking some man questions–what’s his name, anyway?–and he answers in long, flowing paragraphs, but it’s as if he’s speaking German or Dutch, sounding vaguely like English, but unintelligible. She breaks out into a sweat–cold and clammy.

Everything seems distant and skewed at odd angles: the Teleprompter, the cameras, the lights. The voice in her earpiece crackles a command, but it’s too garbled–as if it were being broadcast inside a tunnel.

Christina, weightless in space, floats; if she moves one inch, she might end up in one of those speeding somersaults that the astronauts on the shuttle show off for the weighted masses.

This has never happened before, this vertigo.

When the man finishes his long, flowing paragraph, he stops and waits for another question: Christina’s mouth is moving– what it’s asking, she does not know, but the man answers without acting as though she has totally cracked up. He even laughs at a joke that he tells–she assumes it’s a clean one, given the nature of the show–so she smiles, too.

The man reminds her of Ted, her close friend and mentor. Father Ted to the students at Mercy College and Father Theodore Vaughn to parents and other outsiders. Priest, college president, sitting board member for WFOG–"Family of God"–the TV station where she hosts The Valley Catholic Hour, a daily talk show.

Soon to be past tense. Today’s show is her last.

Her guest seems like a pleasant enough man, about 50-55, silver hair, smoothly combed and styled. No doubt some local dignitary from the religious community. Fashionably slim, a tread-milled and nautilized stomach, yet well-fed and sleek. He smells of trendy cologne and healthy food. She notices the small bulge in the crotch of his pressed gray slacks. He wears a gold band.

He smells of sex.

Can he sense sex wafting from her?

He’s just a man, he’s just a man, he’s just a man...and I mustn’t think of such carnal thoughts.She has to reach back almost 20 years for that scent, but it comes to her, clear and vivid:

Johnny Frank, why did you have to die?After work, she’ll drive to Lancaster County, 50 miles away, to make yet another Confession, her third trip this week.

She wonders if perhaps she should increase her therapy sessions to three times a week...

Perhaps she should talk to Sister Joseph, the Mother Superior. No, that’s not an option. Though only in her late 50's, Sister Joseph is a linear thinker, moribund in pre-Vatican II. She believes that when one gives herself to God and Christ, one does not entertain carnal thoughts.


Christina misses Sister Agnes, Sister Joseph’s predecessor who died five years ago. She was strict, in the old tradition even, but there was an openness about her that made people want to confide in her, at least to a certain extent.

Sister Agnes had a wicked sense of humor, cracking slightly irreverent jokes about their being "brides of Christ," the last of the vestigial virgins.

Sister Joseph would never joke about sexual matters.

Two hours ago, Christina knew all about the man’s pertinent stats, having read his vitae and some articles written about him in the local press.

Impressive religious leader.

Now the haze lifts: he’s Rabbi David Goodson, from the reformed temple in town.

A good way to close out her career: sleeping with the enemy...

Though the Church no longer automatically dismisses other religions out of hand, at least in public.

At ecumenical meetings, priests, rabbis, protestant ministers, Muslim leaders come together, smiling and patting each other on the back, vowing to love and get along together, but when the lights are turned out and the power structure convenes behind closed Catholic doors, talk of the one and only apostolic True Church prevails.

While the Church is Christina’s best choice, it can’t be the only choice. Why would a merciful God condemn billions of non-Catholics just because they don’t subscribe to a limited band of beliefs? Over the years, she has met some extremely pious Protestants and Jews.

Perhaps Rabbi Goodson is one of them.

The rabbi asks a question about transubstantiation, the transforming of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and what does it mean to Catholics?

Why ask me such weighty theological questions? It’s beyond my comprehension, I don’t understand these mysteries any better than you do. What about
my body and blood?
She says, "While the body and blood of Christ may appear to be bread and wine, Catholics accept on faith that the transformation has physically taken place."

But do I really believe what I’m saying?

She has discussed with Ted the mystery of transubstantiation, its phantasmagoric properties, and, in her mind, its unlikelihood.

The words of the Lord God: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end." (Revelation 21:6)

Circular like the universe, at least according to Einstein–if a traveler embarked across the expanse, albeit for billions of years, she’ll end up where she began, time moving seamlessly around and around, eventually returning to its beginning. So, perhaps, transubstantiation isn’t such an impossibility, but it’s all a jumbled mess of theology, philosophy, and science–where does one end and the others take up? Like Einstein’s universe, arguments become circular.

I am the Alpha and the Omega.

The rabbi’s gold band glares under the TV lights.

Christina’s head spins from all the theological implications of the moment and turns again to corporal matters–

Has the rabbi ever strayed from his wife, like Ted has strayed from the Mystical Body of Christ?

At first, when she discovered Ted’s affair, she was shocked and hurt. Now she’s just hurt, but mostly confused, and when she visualizes Ted Vaughn and Amy Anderson locked together in lust, she feels the aftershocks of their quake, the rumbling that moves through their bodies.

Illicit Love + Sex + Lust = A Deadly Sin.

Oh, Hell, I might as well rack them up.

Yet another pilgrimage to Lancaster County and the spiritual baggage that she’ll be dragging along.

She could take Rabbi Goodson, perhaps show him the Amish country, treat him to lunch at Zinn’s Diner, ask about his wife and his sex life...

"Sister Christina, it’s been a real pleasure. Thanks for having me."

The rabbi’s voice, deep and pious, surprises her. She stumbles over the clarity of his words, the implications of his statement. She has grown accustomed to the garbled non-fluencies, the fantasy of what he might be saying to her.

Her lessening vertigo, like a camera lens sharpening into focus, shows in glaring detail cracks in her character.

But she’s a professional, 10 years experience, even on her last day; she recovers without faltering. "You’re welcome, Rabbi Goodson."

The camera pans closer to Christina–time for "The Farewell Speech."


FROM THAT FIRST DAY, 10 years ago, she has been a natural in front of the camera.
The first thing one notices about those early shows is Christina’s shock of red curls. And those blue eyes, large and childlike, always happily surprised by a comment or joke.

But it was her mouth that really seduced the camera: full lips, not quite sensuous, that naturally turned up at the corners, always a hint of a smile without the TV phoniness of many commentators, gleaming white teeth. The little bit of stage makeup that she used–albeit reluctantly–gave her a fresh-scrubbed perkiness, never a fake "painted lady" look.

She has always viewed her beauty not with conceit or arrogance, but with praise and gratitude that her stunning physical attributes, a gift from God, could be used productively in His service.

Like Christina, The Valley Catholic Hour grew and matured; five years later, the Valley religious community–Christians, Jews, Muslims–came together, bought an old TV station, and changed the name to "Family of God"–FOG for short.

The Valley Catholic Hour
airs five evenings a week during prime time, and Christina has become a local celebrity. Her career might have gone on for another 10 years had a national religious consortium not bought out the station and turned it into a national cable network called "The Family Values Channel."
Christina still cuts a fine figure on camera, although she has gained about 15 pounds, the red curls have faded a bit–not quite the ring of fire around her face–and the wrinkles around her eyes require a bit more makeup, although the mouth is still the same.

Still, she likes the extra pounds; she was much too thin, often catching colds and flu, but she tolerated the annoyances of the too thin: her collar bone jutting through her necklines, her skin stretched out over her ribs, her back concave with two bony knobs poking through her blouses, and not being able to sit in hard chairs for very long, a real problem at Mass.

For years, she tried to gain weight, but no matter how much she ate, she remained underweight. Then she decided that her body was God’s will and offered up her bodily annoyances as Penance and praised God that she lived in a land where she could get good food and nourishment. She would be dead if she lived in a place like Bangladesh. It was after this acceptance that the weight slowly came on and stabilized where it stands now.

Now her flesh covers her body just right, and she feels healthier and more empowered than ever.

Jack Motter didn’t see it that way; for at least six months, he harangued her to lose 10 pounds. "You look like a sow on camera!" he said.

But Christina kept her silence, allowing him to rant on about her weight.
Besides, she’s not fat; on camera, she looks normal, like any other 35-year-old woman who might be carrying a few extra pounds. Sure, she has to wear the right clothes, but if she doesn’t go for bright colors or frilly styles, she looks just fine. Off camera, she is still too thin–5'8" and 110 pounds–though not excessively so.


LAST WEEK was the end of it.

Jack, in front of the entire crew, started in on the sow business again, by now almost an automatic response to her very presence.

Without fanfare or major scene, Christina took Jack by the arm, led him into his office, closed the door, and motioned for him to sit, which he did.

Jack registered surprise; perhaps he was just cowed at Christina’s belligerence, but perhaps willing to listen.

She sat at the edge of his desk, folded her arms, and said, "Look, Jack, let’s get this straight. You are not to refer to my body in a derogatory manner, ever again. Not every female wants to lose weight. I like my body just the way it is. And even if I were overweight, I would not be a sow." She tapped him on the chest. "You got that?"

He frowned and wrinkled his eyes. "Yeah, I got it."


TWO DAYS LATER, he called her into his office and fired her, effective 30 days hence. At first, she was hurt because it meant that Jack hadn’t really listened to her, and then she was angry, not for herself, but for the other women in the entertainment business who are slaves to the beauty myth and must depend on their looks for their livelihood.

"It’s nothing personal," Jack said. "Ever since we been bought out, the word’s been that we got to get out of the local mode. Which means national talent."

"You mean young and skinny talent, Jack."

Preferably someone not a nun.

Jack shrugged. "Whatever."


CHRISTINA TOLD TED about being fired.

"I’m afraid I saw it coming, Chris."

"You mean you knew about this and didn’t even warn me?"

"I wasn’t expecting it to happen so soon. The board was looking at a replacement host six months to a year down the road." He paused and took her hand. "Look, Christina, you didn’t help yourself very much by marching into Jack’s office and making demands."


"Well, not quite demands. He said you were getting a bit uppity and that it was only a matter of time before you started asking for a big raise and demanding a bigger dressing room."

"Ted, you know me better than that. First, I don’t need the money, and, second, I wouldn’t even think of acting like a prima donna. I’m a nun, for heaven’s sake. I took my vows, and I live by them. My job is not an ego thing; it’s a way of doing God’s work. That’s all."

"So what did you say to get Jack all rattled?"

"I just told him to get off my back about my weight–if I hurt his ego, then I’m sorry.

I’ve always been too thin, so when I finally gained some weight, I started feeling healthy. My body is a temple of the Lord, and I just won’t have some sexist pig yammering about my body." Christina was surprised at the extent of her anger with Jack and the word choices that flew out of her mouth.

Ted laughed. "My goodness, my militant friend, I can see how Jack got bent. And he’s got the power to dump people. And, my dear, you’ve been dumped."

Christina shrugged. "Well, I don’t need the money, so it’s not like I’m in dire straits. I’ll pray on it. The Lord will show me the right path."

"Look, honey, school starts next week. I think I may be able to set up a TV production course for you, one night a week. Interested?"

"Maybe. As long as it doesn’t take a job from someone else."

"No, this would be an extra course. Look, I’ll call the Communication Department and arrange it. They’ll listen to the president, after all. They’ve been hollering for years for just this type of course. So they’ve got only a week to organize it. They’ll get over it."

"What about students? Aren’t they already signed up for classes?"

Ted smiled. "Don’t worry. I’ve got a list of 10 kids who’ve been lobbying for this course for the last two years. You’ll have your class."

The next day, Julia Mullins, head of the Communication Department at Mercy College, called and firmed up her Monday night schedule, effective next week.


A WEEK LATER, Jack called her into his office and offered her a consolation prize: a once-a-month segment on the retooled Catholic Hour.

"We’re calling it ‘Corporal Works of Mercy,’" Jack said.

Christina thought. There’s something not quite right about this...
"Did Ted put you up to this?"

Jack shrugged. "Maybe he put a bug in my ear. But I know you’d be perfect for the job, with all your experience and your, uh, spiritual sensitivity."

"I see. What’s involved?"

"You’ll follow around do-gooders of any religious persuasion and interview them and develop a 10-minute segment on their good works."

"Field work," Christina said.

"That’s right."

"I don’t know. I’ve done very little field work."

"Hey, not to worry. We’ll start you out easy, say within a 100-mile radius of the Valley."

"This would still involve overnight travel, right?"

"Well, some, but no more than five or six days a month."

"I don’t know, Jack. You’re asking me to take a drastic cut in my schedule and sticking me on the road like a rookie. Anything else I should know about?"

"Nothing but good news. Kathy Jacobs has agreed to work with you."
Next to her mother and sisters, Kathy Jacobs is her best friend, and Christina loved working with her.

"Well, then," she told Jack. "I’ll consider the offer. I need a few days to think it over."

"Don’t wait too long. I got 150 résumés of young beautiful talent stacked on my desk, and they’re starving for the chance to be seen on TV, even if it’s just a scrap like this."

He wiped the sweat off his forehead with his handkerchief. "Besides, beggars can’t be choosers."

There was something odd about this whole scene. Why was he so nervous? "Sure, Jack. I’ll get back to you," Christina said. "I need to talk to a certain person."

Ted admitted that, yes, he pulled some strings to get Jack to offer her the "Corporal Works of Mercy" segment: Jack’s son’s social suspension at Mercy would be overlooked for the upcoming semester, contingent upon Christina’s taking the segment.

"You can’t do that!" she said to Ted. "It’s immoral and sends the wrong message to the young man."

"So what? The deal got you the job."

"I can’t accept under such circumstances. The young man needs to learn that the rules apply to everyone equally and fairly."

"Christina, you’re wrong. Life’s not fair. Deals are made all the time, even in the Church. It’s how the world runs."

"Not my world," she said, folding her arms and turning away from Ted. "In my world, morality is absolute."

"Look, Ryan Motter is a good boy who made one small mistake–he got caught with one can of beer in his dorm room. And for your moral consideration, I was going to override that suspension anyway. I just never told Jack that. Why not take advantage of my omission and do the right thing? Jack’s being a real bastard–we all know it–so make him sweat a little for his sins."

"I just don’t know. It seems so devious–"

Ted took her by the shoulder, forcing her to face him. He lifted her chin and looked directly into her eyes. "What young person has never, ever made a mistake? Can you tell me that?"

Christina thought about Johnny Frank and little Brittany, how tough, yet exhilarating, life had been years ago...Then there was the shock of Johnny’s death and subsequent coverup...No, she didn’t even want to think about that time...Her secret must remain intact, unknown to even Ted and Kathy.

No, I’ve never had to face the court of public opinion.

"No, I can’t." She put her head on his shoulder and cried.

"I know, honey. Life for the clergy should be less complicated than it is–" his voice cracks here–"but we have our human frailties, too. My advice: take the job, go to

Confession, and forget it."

Christina went back to Jack and accepted the "Corporal Works of Mercy" segment. Politely, she made one other request: until her full-time position ended, could her Monday evening show be taped in the afternoon instead of running live? She told him about the Monday evening TV production course at Mercy College.

"Well," he said, snorting. "Looks like you have me by the gonads this time, sister."

"There’s no need to talk to me like that, Jack. I’m not trying to put you on the spot. I’m happy your son has a second chance. But you’ve really messed up things for me. I know I’ll be okay, but what about all the other women working for you?"

"Goddamn! You women are all alike, all feminists and lesbians, like that Kathy bitch friend of yours, out to cut our balls off and make eunuchs out of us. Even you nuns go in for the kill–you beat our sons throughout grade school and high school, and then you wonder why we hate you so much–"

Christina rose from her chair, and said in a soft voice, "Jack, I’ve never hit anyone in my life. I’m leaving now. We’ll talk when you have calmed down." She moved to the door, opened it, and stepped out into the studio.


Crew members looked up and shook their heads.

"Bye, Jack." She closed the door softly and said nothing to the people in the studio.

Later, Kathy said that Christina should sue the creep for sexual harassment and age discrimination and take him for all he’s worth.

After that last encounter in Jack’s office, she has thought about suing the station, not for herself–she would be financially comfortable no matter what–but to help other women. She prayed on the matter for three days and nights, but God wasn’t giving her any clear-cut answers.

Then she looked at her own life.

Would getting involved in a lawsuit distract her from her vocation? Would putting herself on the political firing line fit in with her basic personality type? No, she didn’t want to get involved in a long legal battle.

But something kept nagging at her, a sense that she couldn’t leave without some kind of fight. She should have fought, maybe, though the fire wasn’t there. She didn’t dislike Jack and the powers at FOG, but perhaps she should have marched up to Jack’s office, plunked down legal papers, and said, "So there!"

Not her style.


THE FAREWELL SPEECH was Jack Motter’s idea, to show no hard feelings exist between Christina and FOG.

It’s true on Christina’s side, even though Jack had acted shoddily.

But no matter. No one can take away those 10 good years.

These thoughts run through her head as she prepares to speak to her audience for the last time as host. The camera pans in close to her, cutting part of her forehead off, an uncharacteristic in-your-face shot.

Okay, Jack, so you want to put me on the hot seat.

She hasn’t written a speech for the occasion–that would seem terribly artificial and contrived. She wants to speak from the heart and share the love she feels for her audience, but the words seem locked up inside. All she can think up are the standard platitudes: "It’s been wonderful, you have been a great audience, I’m sad to leave, but my life has taken me in a different direction, but I’ll think of you always, blah, blah, blah."

They deserve better than that!

She offers up a prayer.

Rabbi Goodson and the crew stare at her, waiting for her to close her career out with elegance and grace.

Then Christina remembers a story from the Philadelphia Inquirer; it was about a year ago, when she, her mother, and Brittany were on their way to the beach house in Cape May to spend a few days before Brittany set off for Penn State. As they rode along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, she felt an urge to pull off at a rest area in the Philadelphia area and buy a newspaper. It wasn’t a major story–it was buried in the Metro section–forgotten by now, she’s certain. A girl, a promising young African-American sculptor, was murdered as she walked home from her opening reception. Her photo and a picture of her sculpture, a marble whale, appeared with the story. It was a sad story, one that clung to Christina for days before receding in the back of her mind.

Maybe I could tell her story.

But she can’t remember the girl’s name or even the details of her life, just the incredible sadness in her heart that someone so young could die such a horrific death–the girl was stabbed several times, her skull shattered with a brick.

No, the best she can do is tell an allegory about the girl. Then she remembers once interviewing a Sufi storyteller, who told her how to create stories that teach the listener a lesson without revealing more than that person was ready to hear. The lesson to be learned has to be decided by the listener, not by the storyteller, so the stories tend to end before they quite end–like dropping off a traveler at an intersection with thousands of roads leading off into as many destinations, each one offering its possibilities and its twists and turns.

Words fill up in her heart, her own words, a modern tale, not quite a Sufi equivalent to a parable, flows from her mouth and throughout the Valley.


COPYRIGHT © 2013, Viva LaRose

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this excerpt shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, magnetic, photographic, including photocopying, recording, copying/ pasting on the internet, and/ or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission of the author and publisher. No patent liability is assumed with respect to the use of the information herein. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this excerpt, the publisher and author assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. Neither is any liability assumed for damages resulting in the use of the information contained herein.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locale, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Bride of Christ (Book 1: Mystical Bodies--"The Alpha") (Viva LaRose)

30th Street Station
(November 1997)

And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.(Colossians 1:17-18)

WHEN ENTERING Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station from 29th or 30th Street, a traveler first notices the muted din. New age music filling the air, mixing with the echo of arrivals and departures, the sound waves bouncing back and forth, wrapping themselves around harried travelers, most dressed for success, rushing to Metroliners, shouting into bulky cell phones: "Buy!" "Sell!" "Merge!" "Diversify!" "Fire!" "Hire!" "Make that million!" "Greed, Greed, Greed..."

Celebrities and politicians–some of them regulars, such as C. Everett Koop and Senator Arlen Specter–from all over the eastern seaboard, sweeping through, their entourage of press loping behind them. Other travelers: blue-jeaned college students, their backpacks, arranged and anchored to aluminum frames; weary travelers and cranky children, clutching tattered Teddy Bears and dragging blankets, screaming in dissonance, their voices fading into the music and confusion of echoed announcements; old men and women scurrying to New Jersey transit, their jars and rolls of quarters locked up in bags, pockets, and fanny packs–Atlantic City and bust.

Overseeing the frenetic pace of travelers, a bronze sculpture on a high pedestal near the 29th Street exit, "The Angel of Resurrection," wings folded, feathers fanning slightly outward, wing tips pointing toward the ceiling, arms holding a fallen World War II soldier. An angel of travel into the otherworld, a reminder to those passing through a way station dedicated to the living.

Sunlight streaming through tall vertical windows– transporting spirits of war dead railroad workers–seven panes across the exits and 11 along the length; six marble columns at either exit; wooden benches with high backs; beige marble walls and floors tinged with veins of gold and burnt orange.

In the center of the station, a computerized flip board, clicking the ebb and flow of arrivals and departures–thousands of dramas passing through each day, and, save for the pigeons and the homeless, the actors playing their roles and moving on to other stages.

A mother slapping her child. Two inner city boys lugging a box of Butterfingers and hustling travelers into paying a buck a bar. A silver-haired man escorting a young woman–ala Courtney Love–heavily made up and scantily dressed, to the schedule board.

A stringy old man sneaking a furtive smoke in the "No Smoking" section. A teenage boy buying a Nine Inch Nails CD at Tape World.

A girl buying a pound of pistachios at Candy Express.

People rush in and out of the beiges, greens, and browns of the art deco McDonalds. Inside, accented by purple neon lights, marble, glass partitions, seashell lamps, splashy art deco posters featuring 20's and 30's cars, and dark woods, almost every table is full. Employees behind the counter bark out orders to the back, and others in front sweep up litter from the floor. A young homeless man shuffles from table to table, begging for money.

Most people ignore him. One middle-aged man, about 45, himself a bit rumpled in a faded black turtleneck and blue jeans, does not; he gives the beggar a five-dollar bill and a card.

"I can help you find a job, get you some help." The benefactor, all angle and bone, his flesh stretched and taut, thinning graying hair falling slightly below his shoulders, reaches for the young man’s arm.

The young man, shaking his head, shuffles away, then like a mechanical wind-up toy, moves toward the next table.

The middle-aged man and a slender woman drink coffee and pick at their Big Macs and fries. A bulging airline case sits upright next to the woman.

The woman, in her 30's, has short red curly hair framing an oval face. Her hair looks a bit oily and flat now, but a traveler might infer that, in less harried times, her hair would be fluffy and neatly combed. Her eyes, a startling blue, seem intense, feverish, consumptive, even. Her slightly wrinkled clothes, a white blouse and navy slacks, are at least one size too big. She wears a gold crucifix around her neck, gold wedding band on her left finger.

They both appear as if they have been awake all night. After the young man leaves, the woman leans toward her companion, and says, "He didn’t even thank you."
The man shrugs. "I can’t take it personally. Who knows? Someday, something might click, and he’ll show up at the center."

The woman stares past her companion at the beggar. "I doubt it, Jeremiah."

"It’s happened before. Remember Ed?"

"That old funny guy finger painting with the kid?"


"He was homeless?"

Jeremiah nods. "I found him here, drunk and smelly."

The woman looks surprised. "No way!"

"I gave him some money and my card. Six weeks later he shows up. Days away from death. So I help him get into rehab and AA. Clean for six months now."
"A miracle..."

Jeremiah sighs. "Unfortunately, miracles are all too rare."

The woman doesn’t answer. Instead, she picks up her sandwich, nibbles at it, and sets it down. She takes a sip of coffee.

Jeremiah studies her as she, avoiding his eyes, tears bits of bread from the edge of her Big Mac.

"So this is it, Christina," he says.

Christina sighs and stops picking at her sandwich. "I guess so."

"So, now what?"

She shrugs. "I’m thinking about quitting the show all together."

"You don’t seem happy there."

"My old job was wonderful, but now I feel like I’m working for the oppressor. I might even sue them."

Jeremiah slaps the table. Everyone in the restaurant stares at him, but he doesn’t seem to notice. "Way to go! You still got Jimmy Bradford’s phone number?"

"You gave it to Kathy–"

"I’ll write it down again–"

"That’s okay. I’ll get it from her. Besides, I’m not going to do anything until I get back from my retreat."

"If you do decide to go ahead, call Jimmy. He’s the best discrimination lawyer in the state."

"We’ll see. Another thing."


"I’d like to can the segment. If you don’t mind."

Jeremiah wipes his forehead with the back of his hand.

"I can’t be unbiased," she continues. "And with Kathy leaving early, I don’t have enough footage."

"It’s okay," he says. "To be honest, I was never that wild about the idea. I agreed only because I liked your voice."

"It’s my business to make you like me."

Jeremiah touches her hair. "I wish you weren’t going."

Christina shrugs. "I have to."

He sighs. "I know."

Christina leans forward and whispers to Jeremiah. "Don’t forget to call the police."

He looks confused. "What?"

"About Ellen."

Jeremiah nods. "Oh, yeah. Her."

"They’ll be wanting to question you."

"The bitch," he hisses.

"Don’t be so harsh on her. She can’t help it."

"I just want her to get help and out of my life."

Christina glances at her watch. "About an hour now."

Jeremiah runs his hands through his hair. "Don’t remind me." He starts to open his mouth to say something to her, but then stops.

"What?" she asks.

"I know we agreed on this time apart, but..."

"But what?" She leans toward Jeremiah.

"Well, I was wondering if you’re still coming to the opening."

Christina looks away from him. "I don’t know."

"Well, it’s an idea, anyway. I think the Overtons would like you there."

"It depends. I might be in Europe."

"So I won’t arrange it until you’re back. Two months, you said, right?"

She nods.

"Well, then. I’ll plan for it for some time after Christmas."

"We’ll have to see."

"Please come."

Christina starts to cry. "Don’t push me, please."

Jeremiah shakes his head and looks away. "I’m sorry. It’s just that...well...without you, the Overtons would’ve walked."

She wipes her eyes with a napkin. "They’re still mourning. They were about to come around...."

"No, I screwed up royally, and we both know it. The opening just won’t be complete without you."

"I’m sorry."

Jeremiah brightens a bit. "Look. I’ve got an idea."

"What’s that?"

"You agree to come, and I promise to keep away from you. We’ll stand on opposite sides of the room. How’s that?"

Christina laughs. "Sounds odd."

He shrugs. "Maybe so, but it could work."

She rubs her chin and then puts her hand on his. "I’ll have to think about it." She pulls her hand away.

"You’ll consider it then?"

"I’ll write you a post card. Just a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’"

He laughs. "Sounds very mysterious."

She smiles.

He takes both her hands in his. "You have a nice smile."


"No matter what happens, I’ll always remember this...."

"Me, too."

"Are you going to tell the order about us and the–?"

Christina sighs, her body sagging again. She touches the crucifix. "I suppose I’ll have to tell them something, eventually," she says, putting her hands on her stomach.

"So then what happens?"

She shrugs. "Who knows?"

"No Agnes of God stuff, okay?"

"Of course not."

He looks at his watch. "Forty-five minutes now."

She wraps the remains of her meal and tosses it into the sack. She rises from her chair. "Would you excuse me for a moment?"

Jeremiah looks alarmed. "Where’re you going?"

She fumbles around in her purse. "I need to make some calls."

"Can’t they wait? I mean, our time, you know–"

She shakes her head. "I’m sorry, but I must call my mother and Brittany, before I chicken out."

"I see."

"Do you? I’ve decided to tell Brittany everything. She has a right to know."

"What about your mother? What’s she going to say?"

Christina shrugs. "She’s going to be angry, but what happens after that, I don’t know."

"You might regret going back on your word."

"I promised under duress. I didn’t know any better. Besides, I was too young..." She pauses and then pulls the crucifix over her head. "Before I forget." She places it around Jeremiah’s neck.

"I can’t take this–"

"Please. Something to remember me by."

"What will your mother say?"

"She won’t even notice. I’ll buy one just like it."

He holds the cross and touches the tiny figure of Christ nailed to it. "Thanks. I’ll wear it all the time–except, of course, around Mother. She’d wonder why her Jewish boy’s wearing a cross."

They both smile.

Jeremiah rises. "I have something for you, too, but I left it in the car."


They pick up their trash and toss it into the receptacle.

"While you’re making your calls, I’ll dash to the car and get it."


He looks at his watch. "Please hurry. Our time’s short."

"I’ll try."

He kisses her hand and rubs it across his face. "I love you."

She pulls away from him. "Me, too." She puts her handbag on her shoulder, pulls out the handle on her suitcase, and tips it on its wheels. Together, they walk out of McDonalds, toward the schedule board. "I’ll see you in a bit."

"Where should we meet?"

Christina squints her eyes at the board. "My track number’s not posted yet. How about over there, at the board? Say 15 minutes?"

"That’s cutting it a bit close, isn’t it?"

She sighs. "Maybe, but I’ve got to do this. I’ll hurry."

"Well, I’ll be waiting."

As Christina walks toward a bank of telephones, her suitcase rolling behind her, Jeremiah watches her. After she slips out of view, he dashes toward the 30th Street exit.
WHEN JEREMIAH, carrying a black carry-on case, returns, Christina is still on the phone, engaged in what looks like an animated conversation.

As he waits near the departure and arrival board, he taps his foot and rolls his sleeves up and down. Semicircles of sweat darken his armpits; he wipes his hand across his forehead.

"Please hurry," he mutters. Hundreds of travelers pass by him as if he were just another bench or trash receptacle.

He sets the case down on the floor and unzips it. He removes an object wrapped in brown paper. After carefully removing the paper, he places the object on the floor.
It’s a crystal sculpture of a whale, about 16 inches from head to tail and eight or so inches high, with its tale slightly tipped. Light through the windows catches the curve of its body and its backfin, and, before long, a small group of people gather to gape before moving on. The crowd remains small, with new on-lookers coming and going every few seconds.

Christina returns, out of breath, her suitcase dragging behind her. She glances at her watch and then the board. Keystone Service to Harrisburg, leaving at 2:00 p.m., track 7.

On time.

"We’ve got about 15 minutes yet," she says, breathing hard. Then she notices the sculpture. "Oh!" She bends down to stroke it.

He touches her hair.

"Ummm," she says, slowly pulling herself up.

Jeremiah strokes her cheek and kisses the top of her head. He picks up the sculpture and rewraps it in the brown paper and carefully places it in the carry-on bag. He zips it shut and holds the bag out to her. "It’s yours."

Christina shakes her head. "I can’t, I mean, it’s just too much."

He pulls her close to him. "It’s not nearly enough. Please take it. Think of me when light passes through its body."

Tentatively, she takes the bag and sets it next to her suitcase. She wraps her arms around Jeremiah’s shoulders. "Okay," she whispers in the man’s ear. She clears her throat.

"Everything okay?" he asks, putting his arm around her shoulder.

She wipes a tear from her cheek. "It will be."

"Yes, I believe that." Jeremiah takes Christina in his arms, and they kiss, in the middle of 30th Street Station, near the schedule board, just as the final boarding call for Keystone Service is announced.

Travelers continue on their way, barely paying any heed to yet another couple about to part.


COPYRIGHT © 2013, Viva LaRose

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this excerpt shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, magnetic, photographic, including photocopying, recording, copying/ pasting on the internet, and/ or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission of the author and publisher. No patent liability is assumed with respect to the use of the information herein. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this excerpt, the publisher and author assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. Neither is any liability assumed for damages resulting in the use of the information contained herein.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locale, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

About Bride of Christ... (Viva LaRose)

Christina O’Dea, a beautiful young nun and TV reporter for the Family of God Network, has been assigned to interview Jeremiah Epstein, a dashing Philadelphia artist and philanthropist, also known for his high profile "love them, leave them, and friend them" romances.

As five days of intensive interviews ensue, sparks fly between Sister Christina and the wealthy, community activist.

Christina is torn between her sacred vows to Christ, her spiritual groom, and her growing feelings for the suave Jeremiah, but she omits revealing to him her promise to God and Church–until too late.

Jeremiah is drawn to Christina’s fresh-scrubbed beauty, soft-spoken innocence, keen intellect, and steely core, but he is also puzzled by an undefinable and intriguing quality about her–a holding back of her innermost secrets–reminding him of his first love, the unattainable Inez...

Both Christina and Jeremiah harbor deep family secrets from their pasts that may impede their moving forward in their lives.

After five steamy days in Philadelphia and the Jersey Shore, what will Sister Christina ultimately choose: remaining a nun belonging to the Mystical Body of Christ order or creating a new life with Jeremiah?