Two weeks later, Mark returned slowly from getting the daily mail. He walked towards the pool and sat down heavily in the closest lounger. The judge found him staring at the water.
“Well…did they come?”
McCormick was brought out of his reverie by the gruffness of the tone. “Ah, yeah, they came.”
“And?...” The judge’s impatience was showing. It wasn’t like he was unsympathetic to the tension, he had certainly experienced it before. But, he had to admit to a high level of curiosity. After all, he had a lot at stake here, too.
“And… what? I haven’t opened them yet” he replied still not meeting his friend’s eyes.
Sitting down across from him, the judge tried a different tactic. “McCormick, I won’t insult you by telling you they are ‘only’ grades; that they don’t mean anything. We both know better than that. But, no matter what, I know the work you put into all of your coursework. You know this stuff.”
Mark looked up into his friend’s eyes. “Thanks, Judge.” Slowly and carefully he opened the envelope and unfolded the white parchment paper.
The judge watched as his young friend read the words; a small grin growing larger as the seconds passed.
“Are you going to tell me, or am I supposed to guess.”
“Guess” was the smirky response.
“Four. Point. O.” McCormick couldn’t contain himself any longer. He jumped out of his chair and danced the grade report over to the judge.
The judge took the paper quickly, sporting a competing smile. “Straight A’s…no kidding…that’s great, kid. I knew you could do it!”
Their celebration was interrupted by the sound of a car coming up the drive. A moment later, Father Atia rounded the corner by the pool, “It sounds like a celebration is going on over here.”
“McCormick’s grades are in—and he couldn’t have done any better!” the judge boasted.
“Congratulations, Mark. It’s wonderful when hard work pays off.” The priest’s façade was not lost on either Hardcastle or McCormick.
It was Mark who addressed the unspoken tension first, “Father, can you tell us what happened with the bishop?” His concern for his friend was evident—and these last two weeks had been spent waiting not only for his semester grades, but for word of his friend’s future.”
“I am officially on sabbatical for three months. During this time I am to reflect on my actions and prepare a defense from both sides. Upon successfully presenting these cases—with equal diligence—I will return to work. I will be able to continue hearing confessions. For that, I am very thankful.”
Mark put his hand on Father Atia’s shoulder, “I am so sorry. I will always be grateful for the decision you made, but your actions shouldn’t have come at such a high price for you.”
“Oh, Mark, please don’t misunderstand. I was already scheduled to go on sabbatical. This is not so much a punishment as a decision on the focus of my time away. There is always some focus—every few years we are to learn and experience something in an in-depth manner. I am looking forward to this time. I just wanted to come and say good-bye in person. I’ll be out of touch for awhile, but you know how you can always reach me.”
Father Atia had long ago given Mark his private phone number. He had used it sparingly, but valued his friend’s advice and support. “And you know how to reach me.”
The judge reiterated Mark’s invitation, “if you need anything, please call either one of us. We’ll look forward to getting together when you return.”
The priest simply nodded and waved as he turned to leave.
The judge heaved a long sigh. “Well, kid, we need to celebrate. Everything turned out as well as it could—and you have a 4.0 average. That’s hard to beat!”
McCormick smiled as he followed the judge off the patio. These last three years had certainly been worth it. Although their relationship had started in an unorthodox manner, it had grown into something neither one could have anticipated. “Now you’re cookin’, Hardcase.”