Exclusive Excerpt from The Vampire’s Angel
by Damian Serbu
16 May 1789
It was too dark. Xavier felt like a fool in the garden as he weeded at a time of night when most people went to bed. He came out after dinner with Catherine, hoping that Thomas might return. But it was too late to count on a visit.
What had Xavier expected, anyway? His weakness angered him. Why did he hope for a forbidden dream and delude himself?
All day, he went over their conversations again and again. They talked about so much, the American revolution, monarchies, French politics, even religion. Thomas at first resisted revealing his atheism, but Xavier guessed and pulled it out of him, then had the hardest time convincing him that it didn’t matter. Xavier divulged little of his own opinions, however, because he still struggled to share personal feelings.
Most of all, Thomas’s bold presence intoxicated Xavier. He ordered himself to stop those thoughts, however, because of his duty to God. He must repress these unnatural yearnings.
Xavier picked himself off the ground and smelled the flowers in the soft breeze that blew through Paris, overpowering the other less attractive smells in the air. He collected himself and started toward the church. For the second night, his neighborhood was quiet except for the sounds of a few children and revelers, typical for a spring evening, and not indicative of a riot.
He sauntered toward the church and admired its simple, small beauty. The diocese tried to close it a number of times, but the political clout Catherine exerted with their family name kept it open. She thought she’d kept her protection of her youngest brother from Xavier, but the bishop had told him about it, rather bitterly. Regardless, Xavier loved serving there, amidst the common people, helping them through their daily struggles.
The sound of footsteps broke his contemplation.
“Abbé, I hoped to find you here. I’m sorry about the late hour. I was doing business.”
Xavier’s heart pounded at the long black hair, broad smile, and Thomas Lord’s confident voice.
“I thought you didn’t come to Paris on business?”
“I didn’t,” Thomas answered and looked away. “But I still have matters to attend to. I promised not to lie to you anymore. I’ve kept my word.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply anything.”
“No offense taken.” Thomas smiled again.
“What can I do for you?” Xavier struggled for words, but, too nervous, instead sounded like the authoritative priests he despised.
Thomas’s smile turned to a frown. “I didn’t come here to be insulted.”
“No, no. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way,” Xavier backpedaled. “I enjoy your company. I just had some things on my mind. Please—”
“Perhaps we need to stop being so nervous with one another. Can we be friends? Pardon my forward behavior, but last night, I felt an attraction to you and wanted your company. I confess my ignorance of French custom, so I don’t know if I’m crossing some boundary. But can we become friends without all of the pretense and nervousness?”
Xavier listened, exhilarated and terrified all at once.
“Excuse my boldness,” Thomas continued, “but I want companionship beyond the casual acquaintances I’ve met thus far. I love spending time with you. My friends say that my biggest fault is telling people how I feel, but now you know.”
They stared at each other before Xavier glanced at the ground. Thomas’s proposition came with innuendo. The mere idea of a personal friendship made Xavier nervous, but was Thomas suggesting something else? He was lost. His entire life he’d fought his sexual attraction to men. He had entered seminary, hoping for a magical cure within the priesthood’s celibate world but instead found only more admonitions to control oneself and no solutions.
Xavier’s heart almost pounded out of his chest. “I’m sorry. I don’t know how to respond.”
“For one thing, you have to stop apologizing. Every other sentence out of your mouth requests forgiveness. The Catholic Church’s teaching on guilt means too much to you.”
“I’m sorry, I only mean—”
“See? There you go again,” Thomas said. The gentleness in his tone caused Xavier’s breath to catch in his throat.
Xavier smiled when he almost apologized yet again.
“Is something funny?” Thomas asked.
“If you want this friendship, then I have a confession, one I think you already know. I don’t have friends.” He raised his hand to ward off any response from Thomas just yet. “I know. It sounds preposterous, but I have colleagues and parishioners, and I have an intimate relationship with my family. But no other personal relationships.”
“I guessed as much. But you should revel in life from time to time. You’ll find that I take things to the opposite extreme. I’ll teach you all you wish and more. May we sit?”
Xavier ushered him toward a bench, with only a faint lantern for illumination. Thomas sat next to him and looked into his eyes. The proximity aroused Xavier, sending panic through his body as his stimulation increased. Before either of them said anything, Thomas laughed.
“Abbé, you astound me. Why are you petrified? Your face is bright red.”
“Please, it’s Xavier.” He never said that to anyone outside his family. The church forbade such intimacy, and Xavier was not close to any of his colleagues except one nun.
“Xavier it is, then. Do you always look so distressed?”
“No, really—not usually. I just don’t know what to do with this…friendship.” He drew out the word, savoring it, uncertain what it meant.
“Well, what can I do to help?”
“I’m not sure. What do we do?”
“I see I have my work cut out for me,” Thomas said dryly. “We just do what we did last night. We talk and learn from each other. And there will be times we need to help each other. I’ll never need a priest, but I may need companionship.” Thomas patted Xavier on the back, sending that thrill down Xavier’s spine that he both loved and feared. “It’s difficult to explain how friendship works. Make this agreement with me. We’ll just enjoy the company, and when you need clarification or feel the urge to apologize, tell me and we’ll address those concerns as they come.”
“I’ll do my best, but tell me when I fail.”
“You’ll never have to guess about my feelings. In fact, I already have a concern.”
“I hear a lot of anticlerical sentiment in Paris. What keeps you safe?”
Xavier shrugged. “They lash out at the establishment. My parish never threatens me. Worship attendance has suffered, but I don’t fear the people.”
“Will the militia assist you?”
“There’s no need for extreme measures. They attack that which threatens them, and this small church in no way endangers anyone.”
Thomas seemed assuaged, and for the next hour, they chatted as they had the night before, about the riots, government, and Paris. The more they talked, the more Xavier relaxed. But his initial hesitance embarrassed him. He found Thomas’s familiarity liberating and fun, with no inhibitions or threat of condemnation. Perhaps friendship was simple, and as they talked behind the church, Xavier lost track of time. He was jolted out of their leisure when he heard steps echoing up the catacomb’s entrance behind the church.
How could he forget Maria? All this talk of friendship and he forgot his one friend in the Catholic Church. Maria and he arranged a visit in the late evening to ensure the secrecy of their plans without the watchful eye of church authorities, but in his infatuation with Thomas, he forgot.
Xavier jumped off the bench and away from Thomas too late. Thomas looked befuddled and then saw the approaching figure. The plump nun, dressed in black, stood off by herself.
“Is this a bad time, Abbé?”
“Sister, good evening. No, not at all. Please come,” Xavier said. As he floundered around, Thomas rose and headed toward the gate. He nodded and smiled, as if to say he understood, though Xavier worried that he had offended him.
“Good night, Abbé. Thank you for your counsel. It brought me comfort.” Thomas walked away into the night and Xavier stared after him, then caught himself and turned to Maria.
“Did you forget our plans?”
“Of course not. The gentleman sought comfort about a…a business and personal matter.”
“Is there anything wrong?”
Xavier wiped his brow with his shaking hand. “No.”
Maria raised her eyebrow, but he ushered her into the sanctuary and closed the door. She walked forward in silence. Did she suspect? Did she somehow know?