Saturday, May 24, 2014
I have had so much fun getting Gabe's story out in front of all of you. I am able to see where some of my readers are coming from and I have had visitors from California to Russia, Malaysia to Belgium. I'm so excited to have such a varied audience.
I am busy writing the rest of Gabe's story but no spoiler alerts here. You'll have to wait for it!
What I really need is feedback:
Make a comment *be brave*
Post a thought *All of them*
Tell me it stinks and you aren't going to read anymore. *Be gentle, but let me know*
I'm ok with all of it, I just want to improve his story the best I can.
Once it's all done I'll need plenty of help editing, so you all get first dibs on the whole kit and caboodle.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Anna stepped away from Gabe, clearing a path for him to his son. In two quick paces he crossed the room and stood by Sean’s bedside. Gabe gently fingered Sean’s head desperate to comfort him without doing any more damage. Sean raised his arm slightly, but quickly dropped it again. His eyes fluttered open, trying to focus on his dad's countenance.
Anna slipped out the door to tell the nurse on duty that Sean had awoken. It seemed only seconds later that a doctor and another nurse entered the room, bustling to take vitals and examine the boy. Finally, a smile broke on the doctor’s face and she reassured Gabe that everything looked good and that Sean had made progress toward recovery. It would take some time, but she felt fairly certain Sean would be alright. “Up and driving you crazy in no time,” she added.
Sean stayed awake for twenty minutes before he had worn himself out and needed to rest again. He struggled not to close his eyes, but sleep eventually won. Reinvigorated, Gabe resumed his vigil, but Anna interrupted his plan. “You should go change. There are clothes and personal items in the bag. Once he’s awake again and needs you to be here you won’t be able to get it done. It will be hard to feel 100% if you are still wearing yesterday’s clothes, with yesterday’s grimy teeth and body odor.”
Only women think of things like that. I’m in a hospital, does it really matter if I have B.O.?
But, he did agree that washing up would wake him completely, although her kiss had done a pretty good job. He left her guarding over Sean in favor of a short shower and fresh clothes. When he walked out of the bathroom fifteen minutes later, she had also changed her shirt and smelled less like yesterday’s laundry. Sean remained asleep.
He returned to the chair that had been his home for the past 12 hours. Anna left to call the house and let them know the good news. Rose answered her cell phone and insisted that she and Doug drive to the hospital immediately. The problem was that Anna had the car at the hospital. They would wait another hour until Sue or John could take them into town.
Completely exhausted now, Anna sat in a chair and leaned against the wall to rest. Gabe offered his arm as her pillow instead of the hard, cold wall and she readily accepted. Two hours later she awakened when the doctor returned to check on Sean. His eyes were now focusing and he woke a little when she lifted his eye lid, both very good signs.
Fully awake now, Anna went in search of breakfast. She returned with two bowls of runny oatmeal, two cups of fruit, and two cups of water. She juggled her bounty while trying to open the door. A nurse stopped her and explained there were already too many people in the room and she would have to wait. “Who else is in there?” she questioned.
“The grandparents,” the nurse replied directing her to a chair against the wall where she sat to wait. After a few minutes, she ate her oatmeal before it grew cold and then her fruit before it turned warm. Finally, she asked the nurse to give them a message. Anna pulled a sheet of paper off the notebook she kept in her purse and wrote a short note.
Glad that Rose and Doug are here. I headed back to the cabin to get a little sleep and help with Thanksgiving. Call me if you need anything.
She walked half way outside before she realized that if she drove the suburban the others could not get back. Off to her left, she spotted Sue sitting in a car in the parking lot. Sue and John had come in the hospital, but Sean’s condition was still fragile and only family was allowed in, so they had to go. Sue had stopped at the bathroom and browsed the gift shop before heading out. She selected a ‘Get Well’ balloon and brought it to the attendant at the front desk to have it delivered.
Anna could catch a ride back to the cabin with them. The bright light of day shone through the glass sliding doors. She stepped outside expecting to be assaulted by sunlight, but instead a camera crew and two reporters pounced on her asking for information about Sean and Gabe. “Are you the fiance we’ve heard about?”
The other shouted, “What happened to his son? Is he hurt badly?”
The first reporter asked about Sean’s mom and if she had been notified that Gabe had allowed their son to be hurt. Anna stopped, dazed and confused by the barrage of questions, added to the exhaustion of operating on only 2 hours of sleep. The day at the beach flashed back to her. She needed to talk to these people and make nice for Gabe’s sake.
“Sean is fine; it’s just a bump on the head. No, I’m not his fiancé, just a friend. Have a good day,” she tried to push past them. She needed to catch Sue and John before they left. The questions kept coming and Anna didn’t understand any of them as her head swam. She continued smiling, being friendly, but she shook her head and ran toward Sue and John’s car, waving them down. Only when she arrived in the car with the door closed and John began to pull away did they stop harassing her.
Sean recovered quickly, but the doctors wanted to keep him overnight again to make sure there was no permanent damage. They made a decision to postpone Thanksgiving until Friday so that Gabe, Sean, Rose and Doug could be there. After missing the night before, Rose and Doug had stayed at the hospital continuously until Friday morning. Doug called to let them know they were on their way to the cabin about 11:00 am. Anna, Mary, and Sue were working on food preparations in the kitchen when they heard the car pull in the gravel drive.
Rose walked to the cabin and opened the front door, while Gabe helped Sean walk slowly. Doug followed behind carrying Gabe’s over night bag from the day before. Gabe’s phone rang and he handed Sean off to Bob waiting at the door. The call came from his attorney and he stepped outside to answer it. After a couple minutes Gabe’s voice could be heard all the way in the house. He sounded very upset about something.
“Gabe, why haven't you returned my calls? I've been trying to get a hold of you since yesterday.
He stormed toward the door and threw it open. Without stopping to close the door behind him he marched into the kitchen and glared at Anna.
“What were you thinking?” he shot angrily at her.
In complete surprise Anna didn’t know how to respond. She had seen him upset before, but never so furious and never directed at her. She furrowed her brow and stared at him in confusion.
“How dare you answer questions about me or my son?” he shouted now. “Do you have any idea the disaster you have created? Why would you do that?”
Still lost as to what upset him, Anna stammered out a question for him to clarify the situation. He pulled up an article, on his phone, from an entertainment column and handed it to her. She read quickly the headline accusing Gabe of negligence and being the cause of his son’s ‘life threatening’ injuries. Gabe’s unnamed fiancé was the source for the seriousness of Sean’s condition and the cause for concern regarding his safety with his father.
Anna looked up in horror as it began to dawn on her what had happened. “I didn’t say anything. I acted pleasant and happy like you said I should be with the press. I told them Sean would be ok and that I wasn’t your fiancé and then I walked away. I would never…I don’t know why…how could they do this?”
“Why would you talk to them at all? My attorney just informed me that Sean’s mom has filed papers to contest custody based on my ‘negligence.’ You could have just cost me everything.” He spat back at her.
“I didn’t say anything. I said he was fine, just a bump on the head. I said I wasn’t your fiancé and then I walked away.” Desperately, she tried to make him understand, “You told me to be nice to your fans and the press. I was tired and they jumped on me as I left the hospital. What was I supposed to do?”
“They did jump on her, Sue and I saw it,” John came to her defense.
“Did you hear what she said?” Gabe asked him and John shook his head no.
“We were in the car, too far away, but why would she do anything to hurt you or Sean?” John asked Gabe trying to calm him down.
“It doesn’t matter if she tried or not, the fact is she did it and it’s a disaster,” Gabe, although still angry, no longer yelled.
He turned abruptly and walked over to Sean. He scooped him up and headed to the stairs. Half way up they met Chris who headed down to find out what all the shouting was about. Sean asked him to come with them and as much as Gabe didn’t want anything around that reminded him of Anna, he relented to the look in Sean’s eyes and permitted Chris to accompany them.
His footfalls pounded heavily up the stairs. He knew he shouldn’t have yelled, but he felt so afraid and exhausted that it was the only response he could muster. She may not have wanted to cause him issues, but her loose tongue already caused a multitude of problems. Gabe treasured his full custody and to have a fight on his hands because of a stupid accident and a loud mouth blonde infuriated him. Why didn’t she know how to handle them? Why couldn’t she have said nothing, smiled, and walked on? Why did she even have to be there in the first place? My parents should have been there, not her.
Anna, downstairs, felt completely floored by what had just happened. How could her short answers have been twisted into the story that appeared on that website? Through all these months, she didn’t even know anything about Sean’s mom or her life. Gabe had strictly avoided any discussion of her or their custody arrangement. Knowing how difficult it would be to lose Chris, she accepted Gabe’s anger as justified, just not justified being angry with her for it. I’m not the one that made up lies. The reporter that wrote the article altered the truth to sell papers and deceive. He shouldn’t blame me for this. It’s not my fault. The hardest part of the situation seemed that she would usually turn to Gabe for solutions but he was the one she couldn’t talk to.
Gabe stopped short as he entered his bedroom. Chris had decorated it with posters and balloons to celebrate Sean’s return. Gabe resisted the urge to tear down the papers taped to the wall that contained words in Anna’s handwriting. He knew how much that would disturb Chris. Sean delighted that they had gone to so much trouble just for him.
Everyone felt the thick tension in the house and Anna escaped the kitchen to hide in her room for a few minutes. A flood of tears she was unprepared for erupted as soon as she closed the bedroom door. The sanctuary that had seemed so peaceful suddenly became a reminder of the man who had so cruelly accused her of wrong doing. A long while later she emerged to wash away the evidence of her emotional explosion and return to the kitchen and continue working on dinner. I need something to keep me busy and not thinking about Gabe.
The chattering about their argument had long since completed and Mary and Sue were cutting apples for pies. Anna walked in silently and began rolling out rolls and placing them in the baking dish. Her mom walked behind her and rubbed her back. Sue smiled at her and she knew that they didn’t judge her despite what Gabe accused. Soon the kitchen and whole house smelled of turkey, baking bread, and apple and pumpkin pies. When Anna asked about Chris, Doug told her that he stayed upstairs with Sean. She only nodded in response.
Adam came in the kitchen to see if he could help and Rose assigned him to stir the gravy while it came to a boil. By the icy stares and wide berth he gave Anna, she knew he sided with Gabe and blamed her completely.
The table was set and then piled with food. Doug went upstairs to tell Gabe that dinner was ready. They heard two sets of steps coming down the stairs, and Gabe emerged carrying Sean. Sean was not yet strong enough to walk up and down but Gabe wanted him with the rest of the group for dinner.
Gabe sat at the head of the table and Anna hid on the side near the other end. She wanted to be far away, but not directly in his sight lines. Matt sat down next to her. Chris sat next to Sean. The others gathered and Gabe began to speak. “This year I have a lot more than usual to be grateful for. Two days ago I thought I lost you,” he spoke to Sean, “and I couldn’t imagine my life without you,” he added in an icy, accusatory tone of voice to no one in particular. “I am reminded that family is the most important thing, and friends who have been with me for a long time,” he looked at Adam, Matt, Jayne, and Rana, pointedly avoiding the others. “The whole meal would be cold if we each shared, so let’s just have a blessing and dig in.”
Doug offered a prayer, but Anna felt Matt moving next to her stealing a bite of roll. After the ‘Amen’, dishes were passed in all directions and the plates were piled with all variety of Thanksgiving goodies. Matt kept Anna and the others around him laughing with his jokes and antics. Anna finally relaxed.
They all complained that they were too stuffed to move, but the delicious taste kept them glued to their plates. One by one they finished and carried the dishes to the sink. The dishwasher loaded, all the containers of food were filled and placed in the refrigerator. Only the pots and pans remained, but they would have to wait until everyone had digested enough so that standing no longer posed a challenge.
An hour later Rose offered to dish up desert. She pulled small desert plates from the cupboard and started slicing pies and adding ice cream. Gabe had returned to his room with Sean and Chris, so Doug carried plates up to them.
Doug heard Gabe's phone ring as he got to the top of the stairs. The door opened and Gabe stepped out onto the landing. Doug showed him the plates of pie and raised one to offer it to his son. Gabe shook his head but motioned to the room. Gabe heard squeaks of delight as Doug presented his offerings to the boys and they eagerly chose their favorite flavor. Doug suggested that after eating the pie Chris should probably sleep in his mom's room. Sean would not get the rest he needed if he stayed up all night playing with his friend. Gabe overheard the suggestion and agreed it was probably the best plan. He'd make sure Sean got to sleep early that night. Doug left the third plate of pie on the desk and stepped out the door.
Gabe stood staring at an arrangement of family pictures on the wall with his back to the stairway. “If they don't see her again, the media will die down. As for the legal case, do whatever it takes. We won't be able to do anything until after the holiday weekend, so we'll talk Monday.” A long pause indicated the speaker spoke while Gabe listened, but then responded, “I am so mad at her I don't even want to see her at all. I wish she would fall off the face of the earth and not come back. It's not like she's ever been anything but a drain on me anyway. She was nice to look at, but not worth much else.”
As Doug walked past his son he locked eyes with Anna who came up the stairs. Obvious she had heard Gabe's comments. Tears filled her eyes and she turned to hurry away, as far away as she could. Nothing Doug could do or say would erase the venom in his son's voice, so he simply walked downstairs and embraced his wife. He had a feeling the situation might get a lot worse before it got better.
Gabe started running and Anna dashed out after him not even stopping to close the door. Chris’ ashen face revealed his worry as he ran back as fast as he could to his friend. Sean lay at an odd angle on the ground beneath at the foot of the tree house ladder. Ryan sat on the second level crying in pain. Sofi knelt on the floor half holding Ryan, trying to comfort him so he would stop.
Sean was unconscious, but still breathing and Gabe yelled at Anna to run back to the cabin and call 911. His cell phone didn’t have service. She made it half way back before she saw Rose step out. “Call 911, Sean is unconscious,” Anna yelled at her and ran back to the tree house to see what she could do to help.
When she returned Gabe checked Sean for fractured bones; thankfully nothing appeared to be broken. Anna hugged Chris who stammered, visibly distraught.
“Ryan fell asleep and Sean said he could carry him down and to the house. He got down the first ladder and had just started down the second ladder when his hand slipped. He pushed Ryan onto the landing, that’s why he’s crying, but then Sean fell. He wouldn’t wake up. I checked to make sure he was breathing like they taught us in first aid at scouts. I didn’t know what else to do though, so I ran for you guys.” Chris’ eyes filled and he choked on the last words.
Doug, Bob, Mary and Rose came running. “Paramedics will be at least a half hour to get up here. If he can be moved, they can meet us at the bottom of the mountain and take him from there,” Doug announced. Adam followed after them and took Ryan, now calmed down, from Sofi.
“Is there a board we can roll him onto and carry him stabilized to the car?” Anna asked. Rose told her about some extra wood in the barn and Anna and Adam took off running. Gabe stayed holding his child’s hand.
They found the wood and brought back a stiff board long enough to hold Sean, but short enough to fit in the car. Rose held Sean’s head still as the men gently rolled him onto the board. Anna returned to the house to get the keys and bring the suburban over near the tree house.
The car stopped feet away from the injured boy. Rose climbed in the far back seat and Chris got in after her. Anna started to protest, but the look on his face silenced her objections. Doug and Bob loaded Sean on the back seat while Gabe steadied the board and then sat on the floor beside Sean to hold him still. Doug climbed in the front seat and Anna sped away as quickly as she could safely traverse the uneven ground. Mary, Bob, and Adam took the other children back to the house.
The twisting mountain roads frustrated Anna. Each turn seemed to conspire to slow down their desperate hurry, each bump in the road a potential danger to a boy with unknown injuries. No one spoke the whole drive, but many silent prayers were offered pleading for God’s help and protection.
Anna pulled into the shopping center lot seconds before the ambulance arrived. The paramedics transferred Sean and the 20 minute trip to the hospital began. Sirens running and lights flashing Gabe and Sean disappeared down the road. Anna followed carefully behind, held up by other cars and traffic lights.
Eventually, the gleam of the hospital came into view. It stood taller than the surrounding buildings and Anna directed the suburban into the closest parking spot. Everyone jumped out of the car and Chris practically ran into the Emergency Entrance. Anna assured him that a few seconds would not make a difference, but she also felt anxious for Rose and Doug to walk faster.
Rose approached the receptionist and inquired about Sean. He was being cared for, Gabe was with him, and they could wait in a small room across the hall. Someone would come and update them as soon as they learned any results or new information.
Vinyl covered chairs and small tables filled a typical waiting room. A few magazines and a left over news paper spilled over a table and onto the floor. A few small children’s toys, wooden cars and a bead maze, filled a corner of the room. The patterned linoleum flooring and light green wall color appeared designed to make people sick, not help them recover.
Chris, uninterested in reading, anxiously twisted in his seat. Anna offered to take him to the gift shop to look for a balloon for Sean to keep Chris’ mind off his friend’s condition. They wandered through hallways and double doors until they noticed a sign with arrows pointing out directions. The small gift corner opened in a corner, visible near the main entrance. They took their time looking at each item for sale. Finally, they decided on a star balloon attached to a small plastic stick; brightly colored with “get well” printed in a gold font and streamers attached at the base.
Rose and Doug were not in the waiting room when they returned. A quick check at the Emergency Room reception desk told them that Sean had been taken to CT for a scan and Gabe should return to the waiting room shortly. Anna spotted him as they left the ER. He looked very tired and his shoulders slumped as he collapsed in a lightly padded chair. His hands covered his face and his breathing was shallow and uneven.
Anna knelt on the chair beside him and wrapped her arms around him. His shoulders began to shake and a small sob escaped. She tightened her embrace and kissed him on the head, like she would have comforted Chris. Rose and Doug returned to the room and rushed in to ask Gabe about Sean’s status. “He is getting a CT scan to check for brain injury. He came to while he was in the room, but seems to be drifting in and out. He has a large swollen egg on the left side of his head, he must have hit a buried tree root. There isn’t any blood and since it’s swelling outside, hopefully it’s not swelling inside. The scan should tell us more.”
Rose sat on the other side of Gabe and held his hand. It seemed like hours or days that they all sat there frozen, each lost in their own thoughts. The door creaked as it opened and a doctor came in with a very serious expression. It softened as he saw them all. “It looks fine; there isn’t any swelling on the brain. He has a severe concussion and we want to keep him overnight for observation. They are moving him now to a room. He is awake and asking for you.” The doctor was taken aback when Gabe stood abruptly and hugged him.
“I don’t want more than 2 or 3 at a time,” the doctor added and gave them the room number. All five of them dashed through the hospital corridors. Anna stopped in the hall on the upper floor to make a phone call back to the cabin to inform everyone of the wonderful news and the new over night plans. Jayne answered the phone and was relieved to hear from her. Anna could hear her repeating to the others. Jayne said good-bye and Anna hurried to catch up to the others speeding down the hall.
Anna and Chris waited outside the hospital room door while Rose, Doug, and Gabe went in. Sean, obviously groggy, tried to focus on Gabe as he sat in a chair at the bedside. Gabe held desperately to Sean’s hand as though that lifeline would hold Sean there with him. Rose stood beside her son and Doug sat on a stool at the foot of the bed. Gabe caressed his son’s arm, afraid to touch his head now. A flexible ice pack laid under Sean’s head with a thin towel between the pack and his shaggy scalp.
Fifteen minutes later, Rose and Doug came out and told Anna and Chris they could go in. Chris stopped in the doorway when he saw the EKG machine and IV hooked up to his friend. Gabe motioned for them to come in, never letting go of his son’s hand. Chris only came over to the foot of his bed and waved hello. Sean had a hard time focusing and Gabe offered, “Chris and Anna are here to see you too.”
Chris took a deep breath, “I was scared when you fell.”
Sean, still not thinking clearly enough to respond, just closed and opened his eyes in an attempt to nod. Anna touched his leg and told him, “You just get some rest, dude. Don’t think that smashing your brain is going to get you out of eating my world famous pumpkin pie. You have to be hurt worse than that to escape.”
Sean smiled and closed his eyes for a second. “You probably just need a nap after all this excitement.” She said it more for Gabe and Chris’ benefit. Gabe looked at her thankfully and then returned his focus on Sean. Sean slipped back into unconsciousness.
Anna and Chris walked out to the hall to talk to Rose and Doug. “The nurse says it will be at least a few hours until Sean is coherent. I would love to stay, but we should take you two and Rose back to the cabin,” Doug suggested.
They all agreed and Doug went back in the room to explain the plan to Gabe. Anna met them all at the door with the car. The drive back flew by now that the need to hurry disappeared. She turned the car into the drive before she noticed that all three of them had drifted off. She shook each one gently and they all groggily walked into the house to share the latest update. Sue, John, and they daughters were waiting at the house for them too.
In their absence, Mary had prepared dinner and the delicious aroma filled the house. They were met by Jayne, Adam, Rana, Matt, and Michael all dressed to go out. Anna looked at them in stunned silence. It took her a minute to realize that they were following through with their plans. Don’t they know that their friend’s son is in the hospital? But then she reminded herself that staying around here waiting wouldn’t do any good. They might as well be out having fun. No use sitting around worrying. They said good bye and left Clover and Poppy to babysit.
Rose was stunned to see it was 8:30 pm already. Doug sat down at the table and Mary handed him a plate. Chris waited for his dinner, his head leaning on his arm on the table. He nodded and nearly rolled off the chair. The anxiety of the day had worn him out. Anna dished herself some food while Mary got some for Rose. One look at them and she knew that Doug would not be in any position to travel back to the hospital, especially down the mountain roads in the dark.
“If you’d rather, I am happy to go back to the hospital and stay with Gabe and Sean,” Anna offered. “I’ll take Gabe some food and he can get some rest while I keep watch.”
Initially Doug declined, but eventually admitted his exhaustion and gladly accepted her offer. Sue and John suggested they go with her, but Doug explained that they wouldn’t be permitted in the room after visiting hours. Anna was permitted in only because one of the nurses had mistakenly assumed Anna was Gabe’s significant other. As nearly family she was allowed to be there. Anna raised her eyebrows in surprise, she hadn’t known about the misunderstanding. She hadn’t even thought about it. Grateful none the less, she walked up the stairs to grab a change of clothes for Gabe. I’m sure he won’t leave the hospital at all and he’ll be glad for some clean things.
She felt a little silly as she went through his drawers deciding on clothes, but pushed it out of her head. I’m a grown woman, underwear and socks should not embarrass me. She laughed to herself as she placed them all in a bag. Last minute she remembered his toothbrush and deodorant from the bathroom and added them to her collection.
Just as an after thought she grabbed hers as well. If I’m going to let him get some rest, I might need to stay. It only took a minute to grab an extra shirt and her toiletries. Mary had filled two plastic storage containers with food and a jug with fruit juice. She handed them to Anna as she rounded the foot of the stairs. Anna kissed Chris good night and assured him that his friend would be ok. “I’ll be here when you wake up tomorrow. I love you,” she added as she walked to the car and Chris stood in the doorway watching her leave. The headlights barely illuminated the darkness as she drove the swerving mountain road for the third time that day.
Gabe felt both grateful his parents, Anna and Chris had left and abandoned at the same time. I don’t want to have to pretend to have it together. I can’t act like I’m strong or have any answers. I can’t pretend like I know it will work out all right. But I really wish someone was here to tell me he will be fine. I could use a shoulder to cry on. His mind drifted back to his breakdown this afternoon and how nice it felt to have arms around him for comfort.
Anna walked into the lobby of the hospital and an attendant walking by stopped her, “It is way past visiting hours and I can’t let you in.”
Trying to be discrete she explained, “I am bringing clothes for the father of the patient in room 273. He is still in there and I just need to see him.”
The woman told her to wait there while she checked at the nurses station. A few minutes later she returned and gladly directed her to the elevator to get up to the second floor. “Sorry about that misunderstanding. They said you are to go right in. You must be family,” the attendant added, obviously fishing for information.
Eager to get inside and a little afraid that if she told them she was just a friend they would not let her go, Anna didn’t correct her and simply responded, “Almost.” The woman smiled and opened the door to the corridor.
Only a small table lamp barely lit Sean's room. Gabe sat in a standard waiting room padded chair set close to the bed. His elbows rested on the edge of the mattress, his head buried in his hands. Anna opened the door and seeing her there brought a little bit of sunshine to a dreary day. She will take care of me. I can rely on her.
Anna dropped the bag on the floor at Gabe’s feet and dug out the plastic containers of food. She pulled off a lid and inserted a fork. She handed it to Gabe and nicely commanded, “eat.” He tried to shake his head no and tell her he wasn’t hungry, but she stared at him with a look that she used for the boys when they were doing something stupid but she didn’t want to scold. When he took a bite, she relaxed, pulled out the bottle of juice and twisted open the cap.
After a few bites, he really was starving, she handed him the juice which he gulped eagerly. He made quick work of the food and drink. Sitting back in the chair his eyes closed for a second. Now that he had eaten his fill, his mind could focus again. He returned his attention to his son.
Anna touched his shoulder to get his attention. He turned to look at her briefly, but focused his gaze again on the unconscious boy. “There is a new doctor and she has been in several times to check on him. Sean is unconscious again, not just sleeping, and he is not responding at all. The doctor is worried, she doesn’t say it, but I can see it.” The words tumbled out in a whisper, the tears in his voice barely veiled. “I can’t survive if he doesn’t make it. I can’t lose him. I have nothing else.” A small tear escaped, “Oh, God, please make him alright. Please heal him and bring him back to me.” What had started as an explanation to her had ended in a prayer, pleading for his son’s life.
She pulled a second chair to sit beside him. She wrapped her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder. She closed her eyes and silently prayed for Sean and for his dad. Warm tears escaped as she considered how she would feel if put in his place. I can’t do much, but I can be here for him. He is rightly terrified.
Leaning against the bed, elbows resting on the blanket, Gabe started to crave sleep. It was still very early, but the stress had taken its toll. He couldn’t believe only this morning he had planned to go out shopping with his parents and still go out with the gang tonight. He planned to help tomorrow with the Thanksgiving preparations. It seemed like weeks ago they had stood in the kitchen making plans.
Anna raised her head and facing Gabe softly said, “You look tired, you can get some sleep and I will stay watch for you. I’ll wake you, I promise.” She tried to sound concerned, but firm. She prepared to meet resistance and fight it with every tool at her disposal. Concern and confidence started only round one.
Expectedly, he declined. “I need to be here in case he wakes up.”
Round two: sarcasm, “Where do you think you are going? I meant for you to lean this incredibly comfortable chair against the wall and rest for a little while. I will stay awake so I can wake you the moment he stirs.”
Again he shook his head “No” and grabbed Sean’s hand as though he could hold her off with a firm grip on his charge.
Round three: supermom powers of logic and guilt, “Gabe, if you are so tired that you can’t keep your eyes open, how are you possibly going to take care of him when he does finally wake up? You need all your faculties in case there are decisions to be made. You need to be able to think in case something goes wrong.” She stood and edged her way between him and the bed. “Move your chair against the wall. You can lean back and sleep for a short time. You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of him.” In a firmer voice she added, “I will take care of him. Trust him to me for just a little while.”
Finally, he relented, “I do trust you. I trust you with him.” He pushed the chair backwards, tried to recline slightly and closed his eyes. Within seconds he fell fast asleep. Anna moved the second chair to the place where Gabe had been. She took up his vigil holding Sean’s hand. She heard Gabe start to snore slightly.
He woke up several hours later. Still dark outside, only the small lamp shown in the hospital room. He noticed her still sitting there, holding Sean’s hand. Anna stared off into space lost in thought. He unfolded his legs, then stood with a groan. He stretched his stiff and cramped body after too many hours twisted in a hard chair. She turned at the sound and she stood up, facing him.
His tired eyes were framed with exhaustion and worry lines, as though the last several hours of sleep had not happened. Anna wanted to comfort him. She knew he had been strong for too long. Single parents often develop a ‘I need to do it all because there is no one around to help me’ complex. He, and he alone, took responsibility for Sean.
She felt tired too and, at that point, had lost all inhibition. She stepped up to him and raised her hand to his face. Her fingers softly traced the lines around his eyes as though she could magically erase them. She focused on him, wishing she could draw out all the worry and take it on herself. She wished she could leave him with just peace, believing it will be alright.
Her mind cleared for a moment and she became overwhelmed with her feelings for him. In the past five months he had become her friend, the one she turned to and was most excited to spend time with. The day was not complete without a text or call to share the experiences from her day.
She was attracted to him too, she had been from the first day at his house. Even when she thought him a chauvinist, she felt a pull toward him, both emotional and hormonal. She had tried in vain to ignore this fact. She felt too tired to run from it now.
Her fingers were gentle and he wanted to succumb to the peaceful sensation. He closed his eyes and let her touch wipe away the stress and terror of the past few hours. After a few moments, she lowered her hand, brushing it against the soft stubble lining his jaw. She rested her hand on his shoulder. Without thinking he wrapped his arms around her. I need her support. I need her comfort. I need her strength. It surprised him when she responded by resting her head on his chest and melting against him. He tightened his arms around her; a warm sensation began around his heart.
They stood there for several minutes, holding each other. Each one attuned to the breath and heartbeat of the other. Unable to calm her frantic heart beating, Anna raised her head and arched back to look him in the face. He fought within himself for only a short few seconds, before he gave in. He bent his head toward hers stopping a scant inch away, waiting for her to respond. He needed to know she wanted him, that it wasn't just him kissing her, but their decision together. She closed the space between them. His eyes gently closed as she pressed her lips to his.
This was so much more than the small kiss they shared at the ball park or a half dozen times good bye. The strength of her lips, the soft warmth of his kiss. He wanted it to never end. Everything felt right with the world and would continue to be, so as long as her fingers remained entwined in his hair and his hands stayed firmly against her back. Minutes passed slowly as they were both lost in the comfort of their emotions and each others' touch.
Several minutes later, this utopian feeling was interrupted by the only thing that could make life better, a small voice coming from across the room. “Dad? My head hurts.”
Anna staggered off the small plane convinced she was going to die. The motion sickness wrist band hadn't helped at all, nor had the pills she took. Shear determination made her walk across the tarmac and toward the small airport terminal. She collapsed on a bench just outside the coffee shop. The winter air felt much colder and snow piled up along the corners of the airport and surrounding streets. She didn't care if she got hypothermia right now, she just needed the earth to stop turning momentarily so she could recover. Is a halt to the earth’s rotation really too much to ask?
Twenty minutes later Gabe, Sean, and Chris reached the group after parking the small plane and loading the luggage into the rental car. Gabe knelt next to Anna still lying on the bench, her head now in Rose's lap. “Are you going to live?” he asked, seriously concerned.
She sat up slowly with her eyes still closed. “I had some 7up and popcorn from the coffee shop to settle my stomach and I think I may survive. But,...I need to drive to the cabin.”
Gabe waited for the punch line and then accepted that she was serious.
“If I drive I won't be sick. It's the only way I'll make it up the mountain,” she explained. He helped her to her feet and handed her the keys. She looked up at him gratefully, surprised at this man willing to relinquish control of the rental car to her just because she asked.
The winding mountain road led through a pass and into a neighboring valley. Clusters of trees popped up here and there, hiding several ranches and cabins. Gabe pointed out where Anna should take a right turn and as the steering wheel came back around she came to a sudden stop, jarring the others in the car. “What's wrong? What happened?” various voices inquired.
“Look at that sunset.” She pointed to the streaks of red, orange, and light blue. The golden sunlight filtered through the foliage, breaking through in spectacular glimpses of color. “It's amazing how the colors blend with the trees. How peaceful and beautiful,” she sighed in contentment at the beauty out the front window.
Several momentary groans about being slammed to a stop to look at a sunset turned into mutual appreciation of the view. It was truly gorgeous. “The Sierra Nevadas and Tahoe especially are my favorite mountain place. It's so green, all year round, even when it's covered in snow,” Doug chimed in. Everyone nodded agreement, too entranced to speak.
Eventually, Rose commented, “I think if it had been up to me I would have just made the whole world covered in beaches. It's a good thing God knows better than I do.” She laughed. “I think it's also a sign of His love for us. So much detail, so much variety on the earth, from the smallest insect to the largest mountain, all of it for us. Amazing to think how much work and planning must have gone into it, just for our enjoyment and benefit.”
“God is good,” Sean added.
Anna slowly pushed on the gas pedal and they continued their travels toward the cabin. Soon she could see a small clearing with a beautiful log house, a smaller cabin laid a ways away and the barn stood alone between them with a fenced corral.
“John Michelson and his wife and daughters live here year round to take care of the animals and land,” Gabe explained. “Susan said she would turn on the heater this afternoon, so the house should be ready for us when we get inside.”
Just then the front door opened and a woman in her forties stepped outside and waved. Anna pulled up to the back door and everyone climbed out. Gabe gave the woman a hug and she motioned to the smaller cabin. Then, they turned and he introduced her to Anna, Chris, Bob, and Mary. “I just dusted a little. There's nothing worse than traveling all this way and walking into spider webs the second you walk in the door,” Sue said.
Gabe scolded her for going to so much effort, but she waved it away and added that she and John had prepared dinner. “If it's OK with you, we'll eat in the house. Too many people won't fit in our cabin,” Sue added. Gabe, with his arms filled with bags, followed Sue headed toward the house, while the rest of them carried in their luggage and Rose gave them the grand tour.
The first floor was large and open, a family kitchen, painted red, filled one corner, Anna liked it immediately. The walls were a little more of an orange-red than her kitchen at home, but just as fun. The rest of the area divided into two sitting rooms. One surrounded a large television, the other an oversized coffee table with plush chairs. Off to one side opened a large bedroom with an attached bathroom for Rose and Doug. “Our knees aren't young enough to be running up and down the stairs all the time.”
The second floor housed the majority of the bedrooms and guest bathrooms. Anna and Chris chose a room and Mary and Bob took the room in the far corner hoping it would be a little quieter. Another stairway led up to Gabe and Sean's room, a loft tucked underneath the eaves. A bunk bed and a queen bed lined the walls. Toy bins filled the space behind the door. A carved wood desk sat under the main picture window.
“Sean is always inviting friends over, so they need extra beds and we still end up with kids on the floor,” Rose motioned toward the bunks.
Anna pointed out the beautiful quilt and pillow shams on Gabe's bed. “I didn't take him for a flowery kind of guy,” she smiled.
Rose told her about the older woman who lives in town and still makes these quilts to supplement her income. “Gabe asked her to make several quilts for him. He has them all over the house. It may seem a little feminine, but he actually likes some of the softer touches.”
Anna raised her eyebrows in surprise. A man who actually chooses a flowered quilt has to be pretty secure in his masculinity. “Haven't you ever seen his room back home in Santa Monica?” Rose asked. “She made that bedspread for him too.” Anna shook her head no, and it was Rose's turn to be surprised. A thought crossed Rose's mind, but she dismissed it as she turned toward the door and motioned them all downstairs.
The suitcases were unpacked and everyone had gathered downstairs when Gabe returned with Sue, John, and their teenage daughters, Poppy and Clover. Mary commented on their names and Sue told the story of her two aunts, Patricia and Chloe, who were never called by their real names. They were like mothers to me after my mom died, so we named our girls after them. The girls agreed that their names were original, but that they fit their personalities well.
They had brought over enough food to feed an army and the hungry travelers dug in. Even Anna regained her appetite when met with all the delicious, aromatic food. They were half way through eating when the door opened and Doug's brother, Uncle Jack, stepped in followed by Aunt Jenny and their youngest son Tom. They were quickly introduced to everyone and invited to join the dinner party, their bags left at the bottom of the stairs.
It had been a long day and after dinner everyone separated to their rooms to get a good night's sleep. John, Sue, and the girls went back to their home. Chris and Sean went up to the loft to hang out for a while before bed. Gabe and Anna stayed up to wash dishes and clean up dinner. “It was so kind of John and Sue to cook for all of us. We'll have leftovers for the rest of the weekend,” Anna commented.
“She does as much as she can before we get here,” Gabe explained. “She helps John with the horses and chickens, too. He's a handyman and she used to teach, before the girls came along. They moved up here when their daughters were little, to enjoy the solitude. They've lived here for so many years; they are just part of the family now. It's comforting to know I have someone up here to keep up the place when we're gone. They wanted to live on a ranch but couldn't afford it and I wanted the cabin but can't be here all year long to watch over it. It's the perfect arrangement.”
They talked more as they finished the dishes, then Gabe walked her around the downstairs pointing out each unique piece of furniture or feature of the house. She remarked on the beauty of the whole house and she loved some of the small details that added character and personality to it. It was just as much a home as his house in Santa Monica.
Tired, they walked up the stairs to the second floor and said goodnight. Anna headed to her room and Gabe continued up the second stairway. When she entered the room, Anna noticed Chris missing. She assumed he was still upstairs with Sean and walked up to the loft to find him. She knocked lightly on the door not wanting to wake anyone.
It took a moment for Gabe to open the door and when he did he stood there in just his jeans, no shirt. Anna's heart fluttered to her throat and she chastised herself. When will I finally get over this reaction to him? It's been long enough I should be immune by now.
Gabe pointed to the bottom bed of the near bunk. Chris lay sound asleep snoring lightly. A foot, that Anna assumed belonged to Sean, hung over the edge of the top bunk. “It's OK if he sleeps up here,” Gabe assured her. He watched her walk over to the bed, rub Chris' back and turn him over on his side.
“Now he won't snore.” She ran her hand across his head like a little boy. “Although,…I looked forward to sharing a bed. He is always so warm and I don't ever get anyone to warm up my bed for me.”
Gabe's body lurch slightly and he felt taken off guard by his desire to solve that issue for her. “Sorry, I can't help you there,” he looked very off balance.
Smiling, she tried to reassure him, “I wouldn't expect you to.” She said good night and touched his arm as she walked away. He flinched when she touched him and she felt the twinge of his muscles. Once again she reminded herself to keep her distance. If I'm not careful I am going to lose his friendship. One wrong move and all my good intentions will be for naught.
How much longer am I going to be able to keep away from her? It's not like I don't have platonic relationships with women. Why is it so difficult with her?
The sun rose early and bright the next morning. The boys were still sleeping as Gabe quietly shut the door behind him and ventured downstairs to the smell of pancakes, eggs and bacon. A greeting came from his parents, standing next to Anna's parents, and Anna still in her pajamas. He self-consciously ran his fingers through his hair to smooth it down and scratched his short beard. I probably look like a Sasquatch.
“Good morning. Are the boys still sleeping?” Mary asked handing him a plate. He nodded and dished up several pancakes and a few strips of slightly crisp bacon as well as a large helping of fruit salad. He carefully picked out the grapes.
“What have we got planned for today?” Bob asked facing the beautiful view out the large windows lining the front room.
“Well, if anyone is brave enough to face the cold we can go for a horse ride or out on the snowmobiles. The kids will probably want to do both,” Gabe explained. “There are enough horses for twelve of us to go at a time.” Turning to his dad, he answered, “I borrowed the calm ones from Jodie,” before Doug could even ask where the extra horses came from.
Before long the boys and Tom came downstairs looking for breakfast. They piled generous portions on their plates and sat down at the table to eat. Anna excused herself to get dressed while Doug and Jack planned a ride for the afternoon when it warmed up a little. Rose and Mary were washing dishes; a loud “hello” came from the entry.
Gary and Stephanie, Gabe's cousin and her husband arrived with Rose's brother Gene. 'Boisterous' understated Gene. He greeted everyone loudly and enthusiastically. He chided Doug about getting old. He teased Rose about being married to such a layabout. He joked that Sean had grown too tall and needed to play for the NBA. He asked Sean and Chris about their girlfriends and acted shocked when they told him that at age 13, they were too young to be dating. Gene handed each boy a suitcase and asked them to carry the luggage upstairs to the room that would be his.
Running down stairs after depositing Gene's belongings, the boys were ready for a horse ride. By the time Anna came back downstairs, the horses were saddled and the party waited for Gabe. He came down a few minutes later carrying Sean's coat and gloves as well as his own.
The horses were waiting and Gabe assigned rides to each person based on ability and size. Sean had his own horse and Tom had his favorite. Gary and Stephanie were able with horses and were given friskier mounts. Clover and Poppy had “their” horses too. They belonged to Gabe but each girl had a favorite adopted horse. Anna and Chris were given trusted and gentle horses. Gabe's steed, tall and energetic, responded precisely to even the slightest command he gave him.
The ride through the mountains started peaceful and thought provoking, but once the kids adjusted to the horses the fun began. Tom and Sean raced up hills and around boulders; Chris, not as accustomed to being on a horse, proceeded with caution. After about 20 minutes, he felt more confident and took a few more chances.
Anna had been around horses when she was younger, but it had been years since she had been in a saddle. She felt very aware that she was no longer 18 and if she fell it would hurt a lot more now than back when she acted a lot braver and a lot less careful.
Gabe sped after Sean and Tom up a short hill while Chris and Anna lumbered along after them. Tom beat both of them, but Gabe came in a close second. Anna’s horse, Clyde, itched to run too. She hated to restrain him, but didn’t feel up to the task of racing. The gentle rhythmic rocking allowed her to divert her attention to the beautiful scenery.
Gary and Stephanie rode playfully along the trail, racing up hills, but meandering along enjoying the scenery. The girls could out ride any of them, but felt no need to race or show off. Their everyday lives revolved around their horses and the ranch, so this ride was just a fun stroll with friends.
The tall peaks reached almost to the sky. The white summits hid permanent glaciers which survived even the warmest summers. Blue skies with wispy clouds blended seamlessly as they touched the sharp wedges of the mountain tops. The shade of the largest evergreens made their pathway ten degrees cooler than the chilled air around them.
After two hours, they were all chilled through and the party decided to head back to the barn. The snow covered hills were picturesque as they rode along a nearly invisible trail. Luckily, Gabe and Sean had ridden this way so often they knew it well, and Clover and Poppy of course knew it. The horses were eager to get back to their warm beds and full food troughs.
Gabe, Tom, and the girls unsaddled the horses while the rest headed back into the house. Sean and Chris ran upstairs eager to prepare for a D&D session once Tom finished in the barn. Anna headed toward the other adults in the kitchen but a familiar voice stopped her in her tracks. Rana spat out, “I can’t believe she’s here with him. I don’t understand what he sees in her.”
Adam responded, “She’s here with her son, he’s friends with Sean, nothing more.”
Jayne reassured her, “Rose showed us her room. She’s not even sleeping with him. You have nothing to worry about.”
Anna didn’t want to interrupt, but she didn’t appreciate the others discussing her, especially in an unfriendly way. She went back to the front door and shut it loudly calling, “hello” as she entered the living room. The conversation ended abruptly and she smiled as she walked in. They greeted her warmly and she pretended to be surprised to see them. Hypocrites.
In reality, she was surprised to see them. No one had said anything about them coming. “We decided last minute to come up. A late season hurricane ruined our vacation, and we were bored, so we decided to come up here instead. Gabe appreciates when we come, so he isn’t alone,” Jayne explained.
“It’s rustic up here and we enjoy the time away to unwind,” Adam added.
Rustic? With indoor plumbing, heating, satellite, game systems, internet, and plenty of spare bedrooms? I wonder what they’d think of real camping.
Anna headed into the kitchen, motioning for them to join her. Lunch was underway and Anna gratefully allowed the others to carry the conversation. She had spent time with Jayne and Adam twice since the first afternoon she met them at Gabe’s house. Her opinion hadn’t improved, but she acted well, for Gabe’s sake. She wasn’t accustomed to those who valued society or intellectuality above all else. Her life revolved around down to earth people with more pressing issues. It wasn’t that she didn’t like them, but their view of the world took some getting used to. Rana had avoided her like the plague and hadn’t joined them whenever Anna was invited.
In the kitchen plans were being made for a shopping trip in town. The local shops were filled with eclectic treasures. Many of the items were cheap tourist items, but hidden among the “made in china” items are works by local artisans and undiscovered valuables. Rose told Mary about a quilt shop they needed to visit and the fabric options it offered. Rana announced she was staying to rest; she had plans to go out that evening. Matt wandered into the kitchen to agree with Rana, he wouldn’t be able to enjoy the evening properly if he wore himself out wandering around stores.
Anna hadn’t seen Matt since their date a few months earlier. She hadn’t thought about it, but he must have been avoiding her as well. He walked over, said hello and gave her a hug as though they were old friends and she didn’t contradict him. Gabe walked in and Matt quickly removed his arm from around her. “Where did you guys come from?” Gabe asked Matt and Rana.
“We came to visit you,” Rana purred. “The hurricane spoiled our vacation and so we decided to come brave the cold instead.” She pouted a little when she spoke, as though the storm was created just to interfere in her plans and the loss of a week in the sun and surf was a great tragedy.
“Just the two of you or did Jayne, Adam, and Michael come along?” Gabe asked. He spoke unusually reserved, not as ready for fun as she expected.
“All of us. Jayne is putting the baby down, Adam is reading, and Michael will be up later. He doesn’t have his boy for the weekend so he has him today and can’t get away until this evening,” Matt answered.
Rose informed her son of their shopping plans for the afternoon and he eagerly accepted the plan. “We were planning on hitting a few clubs, Gabe, and were sure you’d want to go out with us tonight,” Rana announced, sure that Gabe would choose her plan over his mother’s.
“I can do both,” he answered with a smile, “I’m not as old as I look.”
A herd of children came into the kitchen lead by Chris who announced the question, “We’re starving, what’s for lunch?”
“Macaroni and cheese with fruit on the side,” Rose told him, “Wash up all of you and then wait at the table and we’ll bring it out in a minute.”
The kids left in the general direction of the bathroom and Anna followed to make sure that at least most of the hands made it in the water. She balanced Ryan on her knee so he could reach the sink when Mary walked in to help. “Who are these friends?” she asked Anna.
“He’s known Matt since they were little boys. Adam and Jayne are friends from college. I’m not sure where Rana is from, but she’s best friends with Jayne,…”
“And is after Gabe from the looks of it,” Mary interrupted.
“And is after Gabe. She doesn’t like me, she’s never around when I am,” Anna responded. “They are always invited. Like they said, plans went south so they knew they were welcome here.”
Anna set Ryan down and sent him off to go find lunch. Mary looked at her daughter, about to say something, she thought better of it and simply turned and walked away. “Let’s go see if Rose needs help dishing up bowls for all the monkeys”
The adults scattered throughout the downstairs to eat their chicken salad while Anna, Mary, Jayne and Rose sat with the kids at the table. Gabe, Matt, Bob, and Doug were discussing football prospects and the others listened in.
It only took a few minutes before the kids had devoured their lunches and were ready to head out to play in the tree house out behind the barn. When Sean was 4, he and Gabe along with Gabe’s dad, Doug, had planned and built an amazing tree house. It had 3 levels, each one short enough for Gabe to just barely stand, his head brushed the ceiling. There were ropes, ladders, dumb waiters, and climbing holds attached on all sides of the structure so that the kids could get from story to story any way they chose.
Sean drew and painted on the walls of his own personal escape. In the summer he spent evenings out under the stars, sometimes he invited his dad, sometimes only kids were allowed. No matter how old the kid, a visit to the cabin wasn’t complete without some play time in the tree house, even the grown up “kids.”
Coats were found and shoes tied and the race outside began. Little Ryan was told he needed a nap, but his eyes filled with tears and his lower lip protruded. He looked so sad to be left out that Adam allowed him to go out for a few minutes. He would go out to get him in a little while. With tears drying on his cheeks his put his own shoes on, slipping them on the wrong feet as little kids usually do. His dad zipped up his jacket and off he ran after the others.
The quiet in the house felt a little unnerving to those who were used to the hustle and bustle of small people. The table was cleared and dishes washed. The chicken was prepared and left to marinate for dinner. A board game started in the far corner on the coffee table; Doug found a corner to read and Adam debated the merits of a new immigration proposal with an unsuspecting Bob.
Gabe stood and stretched, he figured he would go check on the kids. It wasn’t too cold outside and the sun shone, but they had been out there for about 45 minutes. He had barely opened the door when Chris came speeding around the corner of the house at a dead run, out of breath. He waved at Gabe to come and finally got out the words, “Sean fell.”
Gabe stood and stretched, he figured he would go check on the kids. It wasn’t too cold outside and the sun was shining, but they had been out there for about 45 minutes. He had barely opened the door when Chris came speeding around the corner of the house at a dead run, out of breath. He waved at Gabe to come and finally got out the words, “Sean fell.”
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
After church services the next day Gabe and Sean headed to his parents house. They were exiting the car when Uncle Jack and Aunt Jenny pulled up to the curb behind them. Gabe waited for his aunt and uncle while Sean knocked on the front door. Even with the time it had taken for Jack and Jenny to exit the car and walk up to the porch, no one had answered. Confused, Gabe opened the door and walked in, looking for his mom and dad. He walked into the den and stopped so suddenly Sean ran into him. There on the couch were his parents making out. He cleared his throat loudly to announce their presence.
He chuckled when Sean peeked around him and announced, “ewww! Grandma! Grandpa! That’s gross. You’re way too old to be doing that!”
Jack and Jenny laughed and Uncle Jack announced, “Hear that Jen? We’re too old to be kissing.” He took her in his arms and dipped her low and kissed her dramatically.
Gabe was used to it. His parents, and aunt and uncle, had always been very affectionate and he had many memories as a child of catching them kissing, holding hands, and being playful. He still tried not to think about his parents’ love life, but contrary to most childrens' protests, public displays of affection were some what comforting to him. Even after all those years his parents still loved each other and had a great friendship and marriage. They weren’t perfect, he also remembered some arguments through the years, but they were actually part of the reason he wasn’t married. How do I find a woman who I can love 45 years from now the same way my parents love each other?
His sister “lucked out” he thought, but she would say she “made” her marriage like her parents’. It didn’t just come that way. She met her high school sweetheart at age 17. They were married five years later, the week after they graduated from college. When others might grow apart, they chose to grow separately, but together. Each one made life choices, but they supported each other. After their son was born, she decided she didn’t want to go back to work. Curtis supported her. When he had reached ten years with a large international company, he opted to leave Corporate America to start a small business. Rachel encouraged him. Both choices changed their lives forever. Either could have destroyed them, but they fought for each other together.
Rachel and Curtis would not be able to join them at the cabin for Thanksgiving so today became the pre-Thanksgiving dinner. Curtis always had to have his store open and running for Black Friday, so they weren’t ever able to come up for the holiday. Jack and Jenny would be in Tahoe the next week, but Jenny loved Thanksgiving dinner so they agreed to come and share this one as well.
The smell of turkey filled the house when Rachel and Curtis walked in and their three kids arrived like a tornado. Rose and Doug complained about the noise, but truthfully they preferred it that way. The kids ran outside to find Sean already playing in the yard with the dogs on the trampoline.
Curtis went into the kitchen to deliver the dishes filled with food to accompany the turkey. Gabe had never been the best cook and they always assigned him to bring a pumpkin and an apple pie, made from scratch by an elderly neighbor who loved him to death and thought he was just the cutest thing since puppies.
A few minutes later Rose’s sister, Trudy, arrived. She would be in Fiji for Thanksgiving with some old college girl friends. Trudy always arrived in a whirlwind of energy and fun. She set down her famous sweet potato casserole on the stove to keep warm and then hugged everyone and kissed every cheek. Gabe and Sean received extra strong hugs, they were definitely her favorite. Gabe imagined that if Sean hadn’t come along he might have turned out very much like his favorite aunt.
Trudy immediately launched into her latest story of traveling to New York. She always met the most interesting people, people no one else ever seems to get to know. “Everybody has a story,” she often stated and would prove it over and over again when she told the stories of random men and women just living their lives.
Today she related the account of a man she met on the street asking for change for the subway. He wasn’t quite homeless, but had a similar appearance. “His manner of speaking drew me in,” she explained. “He spoke well, with a touch of southern twang.” He had been the president of a large real estate investment firm. When the housing market crashed, he lost everything. His wife left him, taking the kids with her. He took what little he had left and had been traveling the country, following one lead after another searching for his children.
His last tip had been to New York. He had found a job in a small motel as repair man. His wife had been living with a friend in Manhattan. He had located the school where the children attended and called the police. The authorities had recovered the children and he had gone out to buy newer clean clothes in order to meet them. His wife had been staying with one friend and then another, all of them wealthy. He feared his children would judge him if he showed up to see them in his worn out work clothes. He was left fifty-three cents short of what he needed for the subway to get home to wash and change and get to the police station.
“Of course, I gave him all the cash I had on hand and asked if I could go with him to capture the reunion. He agreed and after cleaning himself up, we headed to see his kids. It had been nearly 3 years. He had tears streaming down his face when the oldest of them, his daughter, ran to him. The youngest little girl had only been 9 months old and his son had been four. The younger two were unsure, but followed their sister’s example and embraced him. I have rarely been witness to such a beautiful scene.”
She continued telling his story. Once a judge gave him custody, he was able to return home, even though they hadn’t found his wife. In the 3 years he had been gone, his business partner had rebuilt the company. He was welcomed with open arms. He will have to work hard to regain his wealth, but he is well on his way. Last he heard, his now-ex-wife lived in Argentina with man she met shortly after he left New York. She had mist in her eyes as she finished the end of his tale.
Someday I’ll write a book and publish my photos,” she daydreamed, “but I’m going to wait until all my friends are dead and gone so I don’t embarrass anyone with my version of circumstance.” She laughed at her own joke.
“It will be a best seller for sure, Trudy,” Curtis remarked. “You keep us in stitches and tears every time we see you. Every heart seems to find a home around you.”
Most people would blush with such compliments, but Trudy, true to herself, took them in stride. She knew them to be true, not from arrogance, but simply self confidence.
Another knock at the door announced the arrival of Rob, Gabe’s cousin from his dad’s side. Doug’s youngest sister lived in Texas, but her oldest son had moved back to California where he was born. His two kids were quiet and reserved and Rachel walked them outside to re-acquaint themselves with her kids.
Rose left the guests and called Gabe to take the large bird from the oven and he left it on the stove to “rest” for a few minutes before Doug came in to carve. The rolls were heated and last minute touches added. The children were called in to wash hands and calm down before dinner.
At last, they all gathered around the large dining room table. They each chose something to share that they were grateful for. Rose felt, of course, grateful for her family around her. Curtis thankfully related that things were going well at work. Sean shared about his new best friend, Chris, and his new Pokemon game. Gabe repeated that he enjoyed good friends and a wonderful family and a new holiday movie he would be shooting after the first of the year, prepared to release next fall.
The rest of the family congratulated him and the gratitude continued around the table.
Dinner turned into a tumult of laughing and talking. Eventually, everyone ate their fill and then some. Curtis leaned back teasing that he practically needed to take off his pants because they no longer fit and everyone begged him to please restrain himself. Doug offered him a trash bag to put on instead.
The children were excused and ran off to use up the energy they had just consumed. The adults started carrying dishes and leftovers to the kitchen. As he wiped down the stove, Trudy teased Gabe, “how’s my favorite ‘old maid’ nephew doing?”
He claimed to be fine and then she invited him to join her in Fiji. “All the girls would love to have you. You know they all think you’re HOT!”
He laughed envisioning his aunt’s “girls.” The group of women in their 60’s and 70’s and their misadventures were legendary. Gabe could only imagine what spending a weekend with them would entail. “If I spent the weekend with you all, I wouldn’t be able to sit for a week,” he laughed. “Those women are very grabby,” he teased.
“I just want to make sure you’re having enough fun. We spinsters have to stick together,” she added.
“Stop encouraging him, Aunt Trudy. We want him to get married! He just has to stop being so picky,” Rachel declared. “He’s surrounded by beautiful women all the time, and yet, he hasn’t managed to decide on one.”
The conversation quickly degraded into a debate on “Why Gabe isn’t married,” as it often did, and even Aunt Trudy chimed in with her belief about him. “He’s just a loner who loves spending time with women but can’t find one he wants to spend too much time with,” she added confidently. This theory reflected a little more about Trudy’s philosophy than Gabe’s.
Curtis told everyone to leave him alone. “If Gabe is enjoying being a bachelor there is nothing wrong with that.” Teasing his wife and quickly kissing her on the cheek, he added, “Married life is not all it’s cracked up to be. I’d like a few days now and then to be a bachelor myself.”
Rachel shot him a dirty look, before Rob chimed in that Curtis was right. “Most women are just after your money so they can go shopping,” Rob’s recent divorce clouded his point of view too. “Besides, how do you trust that they will be faithful? You never can tell who will do what when presented with the wrong opportunity.”
Rachel launched into a story about a couple who had been married for fifteen years and the wife started having an affair with the UPS guy. He used to arrive early for his shift and take his breaks at her house too. The neighbors finally got suspicious of the UPS truck parked on their street and one of the guys said something to the husband. They had seemed like the perfect couple.
“Don’t they always?” asked Rose. Turning to Rob she commented, “You and Kayla always seemed perfect too, until the last few years. We weren’t surprised when you finally announced your divorce, but the steep decline of your relationship came unexpectedly.”
“She always had to be right, always knew the ‘correct way’ to do something. I just got tired of fighting. It was the beginning of the end, when I quit fighting back,” Rob shared. “I realized I started to notice other women, something I had not done for ten years. That’s when we went to counseling, but it was always ‘my problem’ and not hers, so eventually, I decided I was done.” Reflecting he added, “It’s sad really that we couldn’t work it out. We had the best love story until the last two years.”
Jack chimed in with a recent story about a husband who went on a business trip overseas. He returned a week later and announced he was leaving his wife and four kids to go live with some woman in Brazil. After that, everyone fell into their own thoughts about the sad state of marriage.
Trudy broke the silence, “Seems like everyone is splitting up now days except you guys,” she directed her comment at Rose and Doug, Jack and Jenny, and Rachel and Curtis.
“We’ve all had our challenges,” Rose piped up. “There’s not a one of us that hasn’t thought about calling it quits at one time or another. The difference is that when the hard times came, we turned to each other instead of apart. We were also both willing to listen and take our partners happiness into account.” The last sentence was directed at Rob to ensure he understood she wasn’t judging him and she understood that there is only so much a person can do when their partner is not willing. She stood up ready to walk to the kitchen and prepare for dessert.
“I thought this whole conversation was ganging up on Gabe? How did we get so far off topic?” Curtis joked.
Rose walked behind Gabe’s chair and wrapped her arms around her son’s neck. “Gabe is afraid of making a mistake and being stuck in a relationship that isn’t working. You can’t always know what someone else will do and depending on someone else for your happiness is scary.”
She kissed him on the cheek and walked into the kitchen. Rachel, Judy, and Jenny followed. Jack turned on the television to watch the NFL game and Curtis and Rob were immediately absorbed in it. Gabe sat stewing, trying to decide how upset he felt at his family for their interfering conversation.
Doug leaned over to his son and quietly told him, “I really lucked out marrying your mom. I married her because she was cute. She was a little smarter. She married me because she said she could trust me.” He thought for a minute and then continued, “Somewhere is a woman you can trust with your heart and your son. When you find a friend you would trust to raise Sean if something happened to you, you’ll know you’ve found the right one.” Doug then returned his attention to the game and the offense running for a touchdown.
The vision of a blonde, blue eyed woman came into his mind. He pushed the thought out and went outside to run around with the kids. He needed some physical distractions.
Instead of finding Sean running around the yard with the rest of the kids he sat on the patio chair seemingly deep in thought. Sean starred off into space and didn’t even notice his dad approach until he stepped right in front of his face, “Boo!” Gabe interrupted Sean’s trance. Sean jumped and then smiled as he noticed his dad.
“You’re just the person I wanted to talk to,” Sean said. Gabe laughed out loud at his son’s serious, adult like approach.
“Well, I called this meeting to discuss recent developments in our eastern Asia sector,” Gabe added in a boardroom tone of voice, touching his fingertips together and trying hard to repress a smile.
“Dad!” Sean stopped his dad's teasing with a tilt of his head and a tone that said “please be serious.”
Gabe took a deep breath and straightened his facial expression to show he was listening.
“We talked about sex at church today,” Sean stated matter-of-factually. Gabe's eye brows arched, wondering what had gone on and on what Sean was so focused.
“So tell me about sex,” Gabe kept his voice easy and hopefully encouraging.
“Well, not really about sex, but about our relationship with God and why sex is important,” Sean started to explain, unsure of the exact words he should use to describe his thoughts. “ We are children of God and He loves us.” Gabe nodded in agreement. “God let's us do mostly what we want and if we chose to disobey the commandments he doesn't really stop us even if we hurt someone else.” Gabe continued nodding unsure of where this was going. “God has power over life and death and we shouldn't interfere with that except when He has said we can. We can punish murderers or people who do really bad things and we can have babies when we are married.”
Gratefully, so far, all of this seemed rather tame. Gabe and Sean usually talked openly about everything, but he didn't really like the idea of someone else discussing such a personal topic with his thirteen year old.
“When people have sex there are hormones that go through their bodies that make them feel bonded to each other. But, men have testosterone and that kind of gets rid of that feeling a little bit. But, girls don't have that, so they usually still feel like they want to be in love with a guy. It's not fair to sleep together if you're not ready to really feel in love and like you're going to be in love forever.” So far, Gabe felt fine with what Sean had said but he sensed where the conversation headed.
“Besides, sometimes women get pregnant, even when they try not to, and it's not fair to the babies that they can't be raised by both parents together. It's hard not to have a mom and dad around to love a kid and take care of him.” Sean stared in his dad's eyes. He didn't want to hurt his dad's feelings by saying that only having one parent wasn't good enough, but Sean wanted him to know that it wasn't fair that other kids had both a mom and dad and he didn't.
“I heard you once say that you always use protection because you don't want to have end up in the same boat twice. What did that mean?” Sean inquired.
The realization that Sean had ever overheard him say such a thing, shocked Gabe. He kicked himself for having a big mouth. He didn't ever want his son to feel like he wasn't wanted or that Gabe had been forced into something because he came along. True, he had only gotten engaged because she became pregnant. Gabe had always wanted kids and he felt thrilled when he found out she was expecting.
He hadn't dated his ex for very long and they really had no business getting married, they weren't in love and wouldn't have stayed together much longer except for the baby. The brief relationship lasted until Sean was four months old. Gabe took Sean with him to visit some friends and came home to a letter and an empty closet. Her announcement that she wasn't ready to be a mom came as no surprise, but the idea that she would abandon her son did. Her attorney had handled the custody arrangement and Gabe didn't even see her for several years afterward. Sean had only seen her a handful of times through the years, a few Birthdays and one Christmas.
Grasping for words, Gabe tried to explain, “I know it's not fair, that's why I have tried to avoid having any more kids. I love you, I was so happy to know that I was going to have a boy. I think all my life I've tried to make choices that wouldn't jeopardize me being a good dad one day. If one of the other women I dated had gotten pregnant I would want to be that child's father too and it would make life harder. I just don't want any other kids unless I am married so we can take care of them together.”
Sean's face broke into a huge smile.. Evidently that was the answer he wanted to hear. Encouraged he continued sharing about what they discussed at church. “We talked about sex being a great thing when two people are in love and committed to each other, but it can hurt when someone you love breaks up with you and you've already shared that.”
Gabe asked, “Did they tell you it was wrong or you would be bad to not wait?” I want him to decide for himself how he's going to live. I don't want other people pressuring him to make commitments he doesn't really live up to. Abstinence education doesn't work unless it is rooted in appreciation for marriage and love for the opposite sex. By telling kids it is wrong or they are not old enough, you are simple setting them up for failure and failing to be prepared has bigger consequences than they are able to handle.
“No, they didn't tell us it was wrong, they told us it was good, so good we should decide for ourselves who we were willing to share it with. A few of the teachers talked about how they had waited for marriage, but they didn't say anything to us about having to do that.” Sean answered his dad's questions honestly. He didn't understand Gabe's concern and didn't edit he answers accordingly.
“I've been thinking about it though and I think I would like to make that my goal. It's just a goal between me and God. Personal, you know? Jude told me that at his church they made all the kids promise in front of everybody that they would keep a chastity pledge. I didn't like that idea.” Sean had obviously thought a lot about it. “I think it's important though.”
Gabe liked his sons independence and commitment. He felt happy that he decided for himself and yet still choose to live what God asked of him. The next bomb, though, dropped on him totally unprepared.
“Dad, I think you should make this promise too.” Sean told him earnestly. “You are single, God wants you to live the commandments same as me. You just said that you don't want to have any more accidental kids when you are not married to the mom. What do you think? Will you do this with me, Dad? Will you?”
Gabe felt like a knife was driven into his chest. With each sentence it twisted and plunged in deeper. NO. I am not living like a Priest. Is he crazy? What can he possibly be thinking. I'm an adult, he's a kid. Of course, he should wait. That's what I want for him, but there is no way I am going to live that way.
Gabe looked into his son's face ready to try to explain to him how it is different for adults. He wanted to say he could not realistically live without it. Instead, he found himself face to face with the green eyes he loved most in the world. He saw his son's innocent resolution to live God's will. The excuses he had been crafting so passionately seconds before were evaporating.
How do I encourage him to live in a way I'm not willing to live myself? I know better than anyone that telling a kid that's he's not he's old enough is the surest way to drive him to it. Do as I say, not as I do is the dumbest way to be a parent.
Sean waited. “Yes,” Gabe whispered. What am I doing? “I promise God, and I promise you that I will wait until I am married before I sleep with anyone else.” Gabe could hardly get the words out. Sean is the only person in the world who could pull such a vow from him. Only his love for his son could make him even consider it.
Sean smiled and hugged his dad. “I'm so happy we're going to do this together.” He jumped up and ran off to play with the other kids, not a care in the world. Gabe on the other hand felt like he had been socked in the stomach and he had no idea how he would ever live up to his word.