A rush of cold air whistled by as the pub door opened. A few bachelors were lined up at the bar, drinking the death of Cupid on this lonely Sunday night, St. Valentine's day. Other than that, the place was empty.
Out of the wind and the cold came a pair that drew a stare from three or four, while the others, those with better manners, studied their pints intently. One of the gawkers made a lewd comment to the young woman, who blushed and turned her eyes to the ground. The jester's neighbor and erstwhile drinking buddy instantly backhanded him across the mouth, grabbed him by the collar, and hauled him toward the door.
"Wait, I ain't finished with my drink yet," protested the jester.
"I'll finish it for you," said the other.
"But I ain't paid!"
"I'll pay for you."
The chastising party yanked open the door and kicked the jester into the cold, sending him stumbling into a snow drift.
Back at the bar the man and woman were praying without words. The bartender nodded toward the door. "Sorry about him," he said, and, turning to the man who was returning to his stool, he added, "Thanks, Jack."
Jack nodded, "Wasn't right, what he said. I'm sorry for it, Sister." He gave her a slight bow and then returned to his pint.
The bartender looked the pair up and down, thoughtfully. "You're Charlie's kids aren't you? There aren't many who'd come in here wearing a cassock and a habit."
The brother and sister, for so they were, nodded.
"I'm sorry to hear about your father," said the bartender. "He was a good man."
"Thank you," said the priest.
"Can I get you a drink? You look like you could use it."
"Guinness for me. Sis?" he turned to the girl at his side.
The bartender poured a cider for the young nun. Then, he handed the priest his pint and waved away the proffered money. "No, not tonight. You just let me know if you need anything; I'll be here listening to these fools grumble about Valentines Day."
"Ah, I had forgotten that. To St. Valentine," the priest said, raising his glass.
The bartender poured himself a quick shot. "To Charlie Bantam," he said.
The brother and sister, or Father and Sister, touched their glasses, and then headed toward the end of the bar. The bartender, Patrick was his name, watched them thoughtfully. They were a strange pair, these two. They could almost have been father and daughter, for, though his boyish face belied the forty-five years that had passed for Charlie Bantam's eldest son, he was nearly eighteen years older than his sister, the baby of the family.
They spoke softly, torn between the joy of seeing one another for the first time in nearly two years and the sorrow of the occasion. They shared their stories, he of the parish life and she of the convent, of the people, the sinners and saints, the innocent and the broken. With few words they spoke; words carried the stories, but the love behind the stories spoke more deeply then the sounds of tongue and lips and teeth ever could.
Occasionally Patrick would refill the priest's glass, while the young Dominican nursed her cider throughout the night.
The night waned and the bar slowly emptied, until only the two young saints and the bartender remained. The young nun was laughing at something her brother had said. Suddenly she froze, staring straight ahead at her brother, who at first tried to jar her back, thinking she was merely tired. Then, he began to wonder and worry about her. She continued to stare at him, into him, beyond him.
Without warning, she began to weep, throwing her arms around her brother. "Oh," she sobbed, "Father is gone, and soon I shall lose you as well!"
Stunned, he patted her head, just as he had all those years ago, when she was still a child and he a seminarian visiting home. "What is this?" he asked. "You are not going to lose me."
"Yes, yes I am... I know it."
He contemplated that for a time. "Even if... even if it is so..." a lump formed in his throat. Perhaps she was right. He knew life's unpredictability; he knew she might be right, whether God Himself had told her, he did not know. She continued to weep into his cassock sleeve.
"I know," she said, wiping her eyes, "I know I must trust." She put on a brave face, but her lip trembled and her eyes glistened.
"We must all," said he.
"But it is so difficult."
"It is another cross," he said.
"That is too easy to say."
"I know; that does not change the truth." He took her by the hands, facing her. "If what you say is so, then you must pray for me."
"Oh don't be foolish," she smiled a little. "You shall skip right on past purgatory, I just know it."
He grinned, "I doubt that very much. You must pray. And in turn I will do the same."
She nodded, but he could see the tears welling up again. He, who knew so well the humanity the lay behind his own cassock, knew also that beneath the habit was his little sister, the same girl he'd always known.
"Come," he said, "let's go back to our brothers and sisters. They shall need us tomorrow."
To the bartender he said, "Thanks, Patrick. Have a good night."
Patrick just nodded. "God bless," he said.
As they left the bar, the priest clasped his sister's hand. The wind howled and beat at them in the night beyond the shelter of the building. Turning their eyes to heaven they prayed with the words of the heart, and they walked into the night.
St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, pray for us.