Bala knelt on the hard, stone floor and folded his hands across the latticed-carved railing, his head bowed. As the priest approached, he stared straight ahead; his eyes fixed on the ornate altar under the stained glass window of Jesus embracing His Mother Mary. With precise steps, the robed figure bent and offered him a gift. The greatest gift Bala could imagine.
He accepted it, crossed himself, and stood.
When he returned to his pew, he knelt beside Kendra; her head bowed onto her hands clasped over the pew in front of her.
Final prayers and chants completed the liturgy, and Kendra sank back with a deep sigh. Her gaze floated up to the gorgeously painted ceiling.
Bala slid back on the pew and echoed her sigh. It had been so long. So much had happened. Six kids had happened. A new job, an attack on his family, and now a new threat. Bala sighed again.
Kendra reached over and clasped his hand. With a quick squeeze, she nudged him.
The procession had left, and only a few others remained behind, praying, crying, thanking God, adoring—Bala didn’t know; he didn’t need to know. He scooted out of the pew and Kendra followed.
Still clasping hands, they strolled through the enormous, carved doorway and stood on the top row of twenty, stone steps leading into the heart of a bustling city. Saint Francis, it was called. Bala chuckled at the incongruity of the sign across the street proclaiming itself the city’s finest Savings and Loan on the planet: “Saint Frances would keep his units here—if had any.” Bala pointed out the sign to Kendra.
She laughed. “Well, at least they have a sense of humor, even if they have no common sense to speak of.”
“Speaking of sense, I’m starving. Want to get something before we pick up the kids?”
“You mean to eat in peace and quiet?” Kendra’s eyes widened as if she were scandalized. “What would the kids say?”
“Let’s not tell them.” Bala dragged her along as he led her down the street toward a fancy establishment. “Besides, I’m sure that Sister Mary Rose will have stuffed them with enough breakfast to keep them happy for at least an hour or two.”
Kendra sniffed with a shrug. “If not her, then one of her fourteen sisters will see to it.” Kendra halted in mid-stride. “Lord, you don’t think our little darlings will end up with fifteen breakfasts, do you?”
Bala stared wide-eyed. “If they do, we’ll be able to stay out for the whole morning.” He nudged Kendra through the delicately carved glass doorway.
They followed a portly, smartly dressed waiter to a table laid with a white, linen cloth and real silverware. Bala’s eyes bugged. “It’s been so long!”
Kendra patted his hand. “Don’t go getting attached. We have to return tomorrow. This is our last fling with Oldworld comforts.”
Exhaling, Bala perused the menu, and they ordered two healthy breakfasts. The waiter retreated, and Kendra folded her hands in her lap. “So? What did he tell you?”
Bala tapped his water glass and frowned. “Confession is supposed to be private. You know what priests have gone through to keep—”
“Awe, come on. We always share. And besides, this was more like spiritual direction. You don’t have much to confess, I imagine.”
Bala shrugged. “Your imagination is lacking. Trust me, I had plenty to confess.” Bala shook his head. “Funny, but when I was a kid, I used to face the priest like a soldier going into battle. I was always scared to death, shook like a leaf. This time, I felt rather sorry for the poor man. The things he must have to listen to! Felt rather sorry for myself, too.”
Kendra nodded as the waiter placed two steaming cups in front of them and retreated. She returned her gaze to Bala’s face. “Any conclusions?”
Bala sipped the hot coffee and blinked. “Yeah. But you won’t like it. It seems that our sins make us who we are. And we forgive others and ourselves and move on, knowing all the while, we’ll have to forgive again later.”
Kendra sipped her coffee and then leaned across the table, clasping Bala’s hand. “And?”
Bala swallowed, his gaze fixed on the tablecloth. “And I have to go. Clare will chase after Omega, but someone has to locate Cosmos. It’s my duty. I can’t shrink from it, not even for you and the—” Bala swallowed back his last word.
The waiter returned with loaded trays of steaming food. He placed them silently on the table, and with a bow, retreated again.
Bala shuddered. “I have to go. If—”
Kendra squeezed his hand and nodded. “I know. Why do you think I insisted on this family trip? We needed to return to our home—to our roots. We needed to remember why we settled on Newearth in the first place.”
Bala lifted his gaze and stared into Kendra’s eyes. “I married you for two very good reasons.”
Kendra smiled. “My charm and money?”
Bala scratched his head with a grin. “Okay, four very good reasons. But it was your wisdom and love that won me over.”
Kendra picked up her fork, eyeing her food like a tiger about to pounce. “Yeah, same with me. I figured that no matter how many kids we had, you’d provide what we need. And probably not go insane in the process.”
Bala chuckled and speared his ham and eggs with gusto. “Cool-headed-logic, that’s my middle name!”