Friday, June 26, 2020

Chapter 9

As Matthew watched the ambulance drive off with his former sister-in-law, clinging to the love of her life, that cold February night, he feared for her heart, more than he had ever in the eighteen years since she had become his best friend and adopted sister in his heart. He watched the pained look in this bit of sunshine in his life; he feared another earth shattering loss of a great love of her life. He knew that in her weakened state with the anorexia, another loss like this would be the end of her. He was there that night two years ago. He saw how Katie had responded to him. He noted a familiarity with Nick the very first time he shook his hand. He even went as far as to welcome him prematurely into his family, noting the shiver’s effect they had on each other. He put his arm around his wife. She tucked her head under his arm. 
“Don’t worry, Matthew, he’ll be okay,” she said to reassure him, unsure herself. Matthew knew that Becca was more unsure than he was, but was trying to comfort the love of her life. 
“Oh, Becca, I contributed to bringing that man into Katie’s life. I pushed her to stay with him that night. I thought that he would be the bright star that would light up her life, again. 
“He is, and he will.” 

Matthew’s eyes watered with worry as they walked toward their brand new Ford Expedition that Katie had bought for them. “Hey, you don’t look like you’re in any condition to drive, sweetheart. I’ll drive.” Matthew nodded in a daze, agreeing with his wife that his mind certainly was not spot on for the busy Lexington traffic; especially with this many out-of-towners rubber-necking their way around the city streets. 
As they both entered the vehicle, Becca looked over to watch the love of her life staring off into the distance, knowing where his mind was going. He shook his head in his thoughts of regrets. Another heartache, what she didn’t need, and what I never thought he’d do,” Matthew mumbled into the window. He blamed himself many times for bringing Katie to Michael because of the damage he did to her, and Michael was his own brother. These last two years, he second guessed his judgment of Nick, even though he had a rock solid faith in God’s ability to bring the prodigal son around, but this night, the mere thought of the possibility of Nick’s demise wrought an intense fear of what this would do to Katie.  
“Hey, honey, stop that. Don’t blame yourself. Now, our Katie is a strong woman even when she’s being a bratty child. Listen, she’ll get through this and so won’t Nick and Scotty. What would you always say in a circumstance like this, huh?” Matthew shook his head and coughed out a disgruntled cough. 
“You never know when God’s going to throw us a curve ball and catch us looking,” he mumbled into the window. 
“Now, that’s right. Nick Thomas was one helluva curve ball. Remember when you came home, and how excited you were for Katie? You were almost as lit up as she was. You kept bouncing around telling me how sure that you had the peace of God about this guy. Now, hold on to those thoughts, darling.” 
Matthew turned to his wife as she put the vehicle in gear and began to navigate the busy gridlocked streets. He gave her a short consolatory smile and turned back toward the window of his vehicle, as well as the window of the past. The memories of that night became as fresh to Matthew as if they had happened a few nights ago. That night, his heart had a renewed hope of seeing that twinkle in his dearly beloved’s eyes on that wonderful Valentine’s birthday evening when Katie met the second even greater love of her life. She had endured the last eight years of mourning his twin brother, after his treacherous death, leaving Katie hollowed out as a widow and single mother to Michael’s teenage daughter.   
He remembered the kind of man that Nick portrayed himself to be when he was cleaning the shotgun. He also remembered having to do some of his fanciest footwork to have to convince her to stay and let love bloom in her heart again. 


 “Kate, you should stay. This guy really likes you, I can tell.”  
“Matthew, I am not jumping into a relationship with a smooth talking country singer with a girl in every port.” Matthew put his hands on Katie’s shoulders and got close to her face. 
“I’m not telling you to jump into anything. Kate, when are you going to allow yourself to have some fun?”
“I have fun.” 
“Dearie, swinging on your hammock swing while daydreaming is not fun.” 
“It is too fun.” 
“Stop mourning my brother and let yourself feel again. Things are over with you and Scott. It didn’t work out. You never loved him like that. There was no light and twinkle in your eyes, like there is right now.” Matthew pulled her in for a hug, putting her under his chin. “Kate, it’s there. He has it too. I’m always right about these things.” 
“Matthew, he’s a traveling artist. Who the heck wants to get involve with a traveling artist with hundreds of women throwing themselves at him every night? Besides, I’m not going to dump this on Scotty, now. You know that would be even more devastating to him.”  
“Listen, Scotty is a big boy. He’ll get through this. He has us. He needs to find someone else. Stop coming up with excuses, and let this man pamper you. It seems like pampering is Nick’s specialty.” 
“I’ll fall in love with this guy, and then he’ll stomp on my heart.”  
“Stop thinking that every man is a potential heart stomper. Just go and have fun. Go on beautiful, and let yourself feel like a Princess to his Prince Charming, just for the fun of it.”  
“Ah, what the hell, I can fight off the shiver, if it shows up,” Katie said. 
“Yeah, as if it hadn’t already,” Matthew said. 
“It hasn’t,” she said lying, “But I gotta admit, there is something so comfortable about him, I can’t quite put my finger on it.” 
Matthew Joseph Moore left the pub with his three very giddy girls, and he was almost as giddy as they were, but he had to practice some serious self-control. His daughters were the only light in her life at the time. They were extremely close to their Auntie K, and the thought of her bringing home Nick Thomas as a beau, or even a husband, making him Uncle Nick, created quite the buzz in the short car ride back to the Embassy Suites Hotel in Indianapolis. 
“Marianne, I just had an incredible thought! Oh my goodness!”  Thirteen year-old Marianne turned her head back from the front seat to see her taller, thin, Barbie-like sister bouncing uncontrollably in her seat. 
“Julianna, calm down,” Matthew said. 
“Oh, but Dad do you realize that if Nick Thomas falls in love with our Auntie K and marries her, can you just imagine the wedding guest list?”  Marianne gasped, putting her hand to her mouth. 
“Oh my gosh! I never even thought of that. Oh my gosh! Luke Bryan. Dad do you think he’d invite Luke Bryan? WOW! I can’t believe it, Luke Bryan coming to our Auntie K’s wedding. Oh, we’re going to have to do some serious shopping for that and get our hair and nails done, huh, Julie?” 
“Luke Bryan, nothing, you aren’t thinking big enough, think Brad Paisley.” Marianne squealed with excitement bouncing in her seat. 
“Marianne, calm down. Now, you two girls are getting way ahead of yourselves. First of all, he has to fall in love, second she has to fall in love, too. That’s going to be a hurdle that may take years to get past, even for Mr. Thomas. You know how protective your Auntie K is of her heart. Second, you don’t even know if he knows those guys, and third of all, they may not attend even if invited. So, let’s put the wedding plans to bed for now, which is where we all are going as soon as we get to the room.” 

 “Dad, you’re such a drag. We’re only having fun dreaming about it. Seriously, what’s the chance of that happening, anyway? He didn’t like her that much, did he, Marianne?” 
“You wish, Julie. He was crazy about her. I could see it, couldn’t you, Dad?”
“I’ve seen a young man look at her that way before.”
“You’re talking about Uncle Michael, huh?” Marianne asked. He pulled into the parking spot in the parking garage, turned off the ignition and wept years of mourning before his girls. Marianne put her hand on her Dad’s shoulder. She looked back at Julianna and tilted her head toward their father. Julianna made a crying motion with her fists rotating on her cheeks to confirm what she expected. Marianne nodded. Julianna leaned forward and put her hand on top of his shoulder next to her sister’s. 
“Awe Dad. I’m sorry I mentioned it,” Marianne said.
“Yeah, Dad, we know this is such a hard day for you and Auntie K,” Julianna added from the back seat. Matthew sniffled, and Marianne pulled out some tissues from the glove box. She handed them to her father who blew and wiped his nose.
“It’s okay girls, I’m sorry. It is a hard day. I miss my brother so much.” His voice quivered with those last few words. Julianna and Marianne joined in on the tear fest and added a few sobs of their own for the hurt of their father and the loss of their cousin. 
“I miss Laurie, even though she picked on me, she was like an older sister.” 
“That was until she got involved with that jerk who killed her by driving drunk,” Marianne added. “Dad, I don’t know how Auntie K got through it, losing both of them in such a short time.”
“Yeah, first her husband, then five years later, her stepdaughter. I don’t know how she survived that,” Julianna said. Matthew got a hold of his emotions and blew his nose. 
“She almost didn’t. It was Uncle Scotty who saved her life and kept her going. We need to be so grateful to that man.” They all exited the vehicle and began walking toward the elevator in the parking garage, with Matthew carrying a sleeping little Katie over his shoulder. 
“What do you suppose he saved her from?” Marianne asked. 
“We don’t know, and we don’t need to ask. It’s between them two.” 
“I’ll bet she tried to kill herself,” Julianna said. Matthew whipped his head around and shot Julianna a look. 
“Don’t you talk like that, young lady. It is not our business. All that matters is that she was lost, and he found her. I’ll never forget that day, and I’ll never let that man out of my heart. He’s as much a brother to me as Markus and Michael were. So, I’m warning you two, if you so much as whisper Nick Thomas’s name and this night anywhere near Uncle Scotty, neither of you will see the light of a monitor for weeks, maybe months. Do you hear me?”
“If he finds out that another man is in love with Auntie K, and it’s someone like Nick Thomas, it would kill him, wouldn’t it Daddy?” Marianne asked. 
“Yes, I’ve never seen that man so down in his life in the three years I’ve known him. He loves her so much.”
“If he loved her, why did he beat her up?” Julianna asked. 
“He didn’t beat her up, your Auntie K says. He got violent with her, and he hit her. It was an awful thing. He was going through a really bad time, and he wasn’t thinking straight, like himself.” 
“Dad, he wasn’t ever all that nice to her anyway, he was gruff,” Marianne said. Julianna hit the up button on the elevator and they all looked up at the glowing numbers above the elevator doors.
“There were times that he was very tender toward her. Uncle Scotty does have a big heart, and he does love us, especially that little sleeping squirt over there.” 
“I love Uncle Scooter, a little sleepy voice said.” 
 “So, you haven’t been sleeping?” 
“Not with these noisy sisters,” she said. 
“Okay, well, now you’ve all heard the commandment. Thou shalt not mention the name Nick Thomas anywhere near your Uncle Scooter, thus saith your father. Do all three of you have that ingrained?” A chorus of three girls answered him.
“Yes, Daddy, we got it, they said as the elevator dinged. They entered it after the door opened, and Matthew reached over the girls to press the number eleven.” 
“Good, now, your Auntie K asked me to keep you girls in my room tonight, and I want to hit the hay, so you are going to be quiet so we can all sleep.  I have a big day tomorrow, and you all are going shopping with Auntie K. I don’t want you cranky and tired. 
“Hey, sporto,’ it looks like Auntie K is planning on hooking up with Nick Thomas tonight, right in the room adjacent to ours. 
“Oh, how weird that’s gonna be,” Marianne replied. 
“Julianna, I’m surprised at you. Such language and putting terrible ideas like that into your younger sisters’ minds. Auntie K, surely would not do that, especially on this day and on a first date, if at all. I know your Auntie better than anyone, and there is no way she would do that or even suggest it to him, on this night, on a first date.” 
“What’s hooking up mean?” Little Katie asked. Julianne tightened her lips and pulled them in biting them. 
“Do you see what I mean, little Miss?” 
“Sorry Dad. Hey squirt, it’s when two people like Dad and Mom—,” Marianne interrupted her.
“Julianna, you aren’t going—,” Julianna interrupted Marianne.
“Shut up, sporto, I’m not that stupid. You are remember?” 
“Julianna, stop calling her that name.” While little Katie was walking holding Julianna’s hand she repeated the question.
“Is it like when Mommy and Daddy kiss for a long time, gross like?” Julianna chuckled and Marianne looked down at her little sister, laughing. 
“Yes, it is, and it’s not gross, little girl, and someday, you’ll find your Prince Charming and want to kiss for a really long time,” Matthew said as he bent down picking up his youngest daughter, swung her around and hugged her, carrying her the rest of the way. “And for your old man, that day, you kiss your new husband like your Mommy kisses me, will be the saddest day of my life.” 
“Why?” She asked.
“Because, then you won’t be my little girl anymore, you’ll be a beautiful grown lady, just like your Mom.” 
“I thought you said she looked like Nana Marj,” Marianne asked. 
“She does, but she has that twinkle in her eye like her Mama, the one I fell in love with, and the one that keeps me in love.” 
“Awe Daddy, that’s so sweet. I hope I find a husband just like you,” Julianna said, taking little Katie out of her father’s arms, so he could fish for the room key. 
“Well, then make sure you look for one like me, and don’t accept anything less, my lovely girls. Now, let’s get ready for bed. I’m pooped.” 
“Can we put the TV on for a little while?  You won’t let us have cable at home, and we can watch tons of good stuff.” Marianne asked. 
“Okay, you can put it on softly, and you must set the sleep timer for no more than three hours.”
“That’s fine, Marianne you sleep in this bed with me, and we’ll turn the TV toward us so the squirt will fall asleep.” 
“Sounds good. Gee, I can’t wait to hear all about Auntie K’s date tonight. Do you think that she’ll let her hair down, Dad?” Matthew jerked his body around to face his middle daughter. Julianna laughed. 
“Daddy, we know what letting her hair down means, and we know what she does when she gets drunk.” Julianna said giggling. Marianne guffawed.
“Yeah, I’ll bet she goes skinny dipping in the hotel pool with Nick Thomas there.”
“Marianne, honestly. Stop talking like that in front of your little sister, and you two just better stop growing up so fast. My head is spinning.” Matthew put his hand to the side of his head and rolled his eyes. 
“What’s skinny dipping, Daddy?”  Little Katie asked. The teen girls laughed while Matthew shook his head. Father and daughters settled themselves for a much needed night of calm and rest after such an eventful day. 
Little Katie was sleeping practically before her head hit the pillow on the far side of Matthew’s queen-sized bed. The two older girls were long since sleeping before the flickering light of the first of their line-up even rolled its ending credits. 

As Matthew drifted off to sleep, he began to dream of those days when he would actually hear Michael’s radio playing, but at some point in the dream, he detected Katie’s singing voice. In his dream he tilted his head up to look up over the top bunk, confused as to why Katie would be in his childhood bunk bed. A sudden appearance of Katie’s head and long hair hanging down, singing with a brightest smile on her face startled and shook him and brought him out of his dream like state. . He always loved the sound of Katie’s voice, but this night, it was especially joyful and upbeat. He shuffled his way over to the connecting doors and peaked around the doorway to see the girls iPod plugged into portable speakers. He reached around and pulled it from its base and ended the happy song in lieu of a full report of the most exciting evening of his adopted sister’s life, since that night when Michael asked her to marry him, a year to the day after the culmination of Operation Rescue Fair Maiden from Stalker. 
Katie stood in her low rider jeans and light pink camisole, staring at two blouses laid out on the bed, when the music she was listening and singing to, abruptly stopped. Matthew peeked around the adjacent door. “You decent?” Matthew said as he moved slowly through the gap between the double doors.
“Yeah, like you haven’t seen me in less.  C’mon in,” she said leaning her head back to peek into the bathroom, hoping Matthew could get a view of the shower with her wet bathing suit dripping on both sides of the curtain. 
“Was I too loud for you? I’m sorry. Did I wake the girls?” 
“No, they could sleep through an atomic bomb, dearie. Hey, is the date over? How’d it go?” 
“Oh, Matthew, he’s incredible. I can’t believe it. He’s sweet, kind, tender, humble, besides gorgeous and hunky. And you know what? He’s nervous around me, can you believe that? Me, this boring school teacher. ” 
“You are not boring by any means.”  Matthew walked toward Katie. 
“The date’s not over, he wants to spend every minute before the sun rises with me. He’s claiming to have fallen in love with me. I’m not sure what to believe. How does someone fall in love in one night and with me?  I mean seriously, I can’t wrap my head around that.” 
“I can’t believe you would even ask that question. You fell in love in one night. I fell in love the first time I saw my Becca at the hospital when Pops was sick. You know it can happen, especially if he’s the one for you that God has picked. Kate, I liked this guy. He seemed real genuine, and I saw the way he looked at you. You blew him away, but you do that anyway. I remember all those summer nights that I watched my brother staring at you from the bar the exact same way.” There was a pause as a sadness took over both of them. 
“I’m about to tell Nick that story, Operation Rescue Fair Maiden from Stalker.”
“Oh, he’ll love it, and it would make a great song. I imagine he’s got an entire album’s worth of songs in his head with you as his inspiration.” Katie nodded with the widest smile that Matthew had seen grace her face in a very long time. 
“That’s what he’s said.” She stood there with her hand on her chin staring at two tops laying across the bed. Matthew went over to the closet rod, and he pulled out his favorite pink and rose-colored V-necked flowered shirt that accentuated her size seven/eight body curves.   
“This one? But it’s so old.” Matthew chuckled.
“He doesn’t know that, besides, you look stunning in it. It’s always been my favorite. It brings out the blue in your eyes. Becca has always loved it on you too."
After she put it on, she walked over to the bathroom, knocking the wet bathing suit off the shower rod, into the bath behind the curtain. Matthew leaned against the doorway, he reached into her make-up basket and picked out the perfect lip stain to match her top. Katie shot him a glance in the reflection in the mirror and poked fun at him. 
“And only a master geek knows which of a woman’s lipstick is a warm or cool color. Good choice,” he guffawed. 
“Hey 18 years of trips to the make-up counters at the mall was not wasted on either of us, I mean Becca and me. You see, I pay attention to the things my wife is concerned with and her cool and warm colors are one of them.” 
“Master geek, but sweet, to care that much.” She dropped her head, wishing she had a man who cared that much about the little things in her life. Scotty only complained about all the make-up baskets in the bathroom, and how she would leave them on the covered commode. So many arguments were hashed out in that cramped bathroom. 
 He stepped forward and squeezed a little water out of her pony-tail. He crooked his head with a disapproving look. She moved the shower curtain so that he could not see her bathing suit. 
“So, you let your hair down and then sobered up in the pool, didn’t you?” 
“Who me?” Katie asked, feigning shock that he would accuse her of such a thing. 
“I told you not to, but I never expected you to obey.” 
“Hey, I was nervous as all hell, I just needed a little relaxing juice,” she said. 
“Apparently,” he said as he looked behind the curtain to see her wet tankini crumpled up in the tub. “You let more than one strand down, or you wouldn’t have had to sober up in the pool. You better have kept that on. Hey, how did you get in there at this hour, he said, noting how wet her hair was still. Katie turned and gave him a quizzical snicker. 
“Boy, you must be sleep-walking, duh, I named dropped, dummy.” Matthew shook his head. “She’s a huge Nick Thomas fan. That worked out pretty well for me.” 
“The night manager, silly, and quite the hot-to-trot cougar, she is.” 
“You didn’t go promising any favors from Nick to her, did you?” Katie giggled, remembering the prank about him having to take her two less than stellar daughters out on a date. 
“No, I didn’t have to, she just wants to meet him in person. I’ll bet she ran home, and changed, and got a little black dress on or something, although, it wouldn’t be so little,” she laughed, raising her eyebrows. Katie continued to do her eyes just the way she knew would best accentuate her star like quality baby blues, which dropped many men at first encounters. It was her cool aloofness that usually ended any hope in them of getting past her eyes. 
“Oh brother, he’s not going to be able to take his eyes off you,” Matthew said, leaning against the doorway with his hand in his pocket.  
“That’s the idea, silly.” She continued to apply her mascara, blush, contouring bronzer and then the lip stain. Her evenly applied make-up perfectly brought out her beauty, without covering it. She picked up her perfume bottle and stared at it. She had already tempted him all night to the point of aggravating him, and she was not sure.
“What do you think, spritz of essence or not? 
“Matthew took the bottle from her hand and raised her chin slightly. He sprayed the tiniest amount on to her neck. “There just enough for him to remember and not enough to drive him crazy.” 
“Oh, I’ve been driving him crazy, but it’s mutual,” she said as she turned and winked. 
“You wouldn’t, Kate, right? I mean not this night, or even at all? 
“Silly man, of course not, he won’t let me,” she cackled. Matthew took her by the arm. 
“I’m serious, Kate.”
“Listen master prude, I would never do that on the first date, especially with a smooth country artist, or any artist for that matter. I gotta give him something to look forward to, huh?” She tilted her head, and he slanted his the opposite direction. “Kate, you shouldn’t be doing that outside of wed-lock.” Katie reached up and wriggled her fingers in his thick short sandy-blonde hair that was as thick and full as it was the day she met him. 
They both walked toward the door when she casually mentioned her religious experience from earlier. “Speaking of that, I did some business with God tonight. You’ll be happy to know that I’ve climbed aboard the Christian Cruise Line to Paradise.”
Matthew’s eyebrows snapped northward, and his mouth popped opened wide. He stopped short and put his hand to his chest. Tears formed in his eyes. She turned back, startled by his silence. He searched for the right words and looked straight up and mouthed, ‘thank you.’ 
“Oh, now don’t go and get all mushy on me. It’s not like I didn’t believe all that stuff before. Most of all you’ve taught, I’ve tried to live by, it was just that Nick made something I never understood so perfectly clear and so eloquently touching.” 
“What was that?”
“That I’m a Job’s Princess,” Matthew squinted, causing his eyebrows to go asymmetrical. 
“A what?” 
“A Job’s Princess, oh, c’,mon, Matthew, I mean you must know what that is, don’t you?” He shook his head, and she turned to look at the door, as if she were studying the man behind it in her mind only. “So you’ve never heard that term?” He shook his head with his grateful grin. 
“It’s a first for me, but I have a good idea what it means.” 
“Well, I’ll be, the tortoise brain made that one up, hmm. I guess he’s a pretty smart fella’ after all. Anyway, I’ll explain it later.”  She said as she waved, and promenaded to the Prince Charming. 

Matthew returned to his room, and sat on the edge of the bed. He pulled his wallet out and studied a picture of him and Michael when they were young boys. His eyes watered, grateful to Nick, and he spoke to his brother. 
“Well, she did it, older bro,” he said referring to the seven minutes Michael had on Matthew. Now, we’ll all be together for eternity, and I can’t wait to see you, again. I miss you so much, you stupid idiot,” he said in tears, still reeling with some left over anger for Michael choosing drugs, over his family. 
Matthew laid, staring at the ceiling while sleep transported him back in time. Although he thought his eyes were open, what he was really studying was the back side of his eyelids, where his memory replayed one of the many nights that he stared up on the bottom side of a younger Michael’s top bunk. There were so many nights that the boy Michael would be rocking both beds, playing every instrument in his own air band, with his air guitar ranking tops most nights. On occasion Michael would lose his headphones, therefore Matthew would be subject to Michael’s set for the evening, before sleep would close the curtain on his fantasy shows.


The young boy Matthew laid on his bottom bunk on his side listening to the radio with Michael on the top bunk. His hands were clasped behind his head. A favorite song had come on that their deceased brother Markus had always loved and sang with his friends when they jammed in the garage.  The twelve year-old boys laid there with tears in their eyes. Michael leaned over the top bunk bed. With his head hanging upside down, he asked Matthew a question.  “Matt, you awake?” 
“Yeah, that song hurts, huh?” 
“Yeah, it kills me. Matt, I miss Markus so much. Sometimes, it hurts so bad that I think I just want to join him. I loved him so much.” Matthew nodded, pursing his lips.
“He seemed to like you better than me, I don’t know what I did to make him not love me,” Matthew said with tears in his eyes. 
“That’s ridiculous, he loved you just as much as he loved me. Markus and I just loved the same kind of music. He taught me how to play guitar, remember? He played so well, didn’t he? He always let me watch when he and the guys jammed in the garage. I loved watching him play. I decided then, I was going to be just like him. I always hoped when I got older—,” Michael stopped, he lowered his head and sobbed.  When he got control of himself, in his tears he continued. “I was hoping that when I got older, we’d play together in a band or something.” Michael laid back up on his top bunk and stared at the ceiling. There was a moment of reflective mourning. 
“Michael, do you think he went to Heaven?” Matthew asked, staring at the bottom side of the top bunk. 
“Why would you ask that question? Of course, he did. He was a believer. We used to talk about that sometimes. He’d always tell me that I needed to get right with God. I didn’t think I was wrong with God. I mean I was only nine years-old. He told me he made a profession at the youth camp out at the bonfire when he was twelve years-old. He said he wanted to make sure he covered his bases—” Michael stopped again and this time both of them cried openly. 
“I know, he told me the same thing, shortly before the accident. He said I should go down to the altar and drag you with me.” Both boys chuckled. “I think he must have known something. I wonder if God kind of gives us some kind of warning.” Matthew added.
“Well, I’ve always thought I was going to die early,” Michael said. 
“Michael, don’t talk like that. We are going to be old men together. We’ll marry another set of identical twins and have a ball with that, huh?” Michael laughed. Michael hopped down off his bed and sat Indian style at the foot of Matthew’s. 
“That sounds like a plan. Maybe we should put things in order this Sunday on Markus’s birthday. It would be a good tribute, and he’d be happy we made our profession public. We could even get baptized. I’ll bet he’ll watch down from Heaven.” 
“Michael, that’s a great idea. Let’s do it. We can talk to Mom about it tomorrow. She’ll be thrilled. You’re a pretty smart fella,” Matthew said.
“You mean a pretty fart smella,’ Michael said as he lifted himself and let one rip. Matthew made a grossed out face and shoved Michael. 
“Oh gross, Michael, get the heck off my bed.” The boys started wrestling as Matthew tried to push Michael off his bed. They quit when they heard their mother, Marjorie, yelling from her room for them to go to sleep. They both laughed and Michael returned to his top bunk, farting one more time. 
“Well at least the stink will rise. Good night, pig.”
“Good night Matt, I love you bro.” 
“I love you too.”
Matthew tossed and turned with a restless night of sleep, as this night usually wrought. It was eight years to the day since the death of his identical twin, but on this day, it was as if it happened yesterday. His subconscious mind, during that fitful night of sleep, often brought him to the last time he spoke with his brother, causing him to wish he had done more. He always regretted not doing more to stop his brother’s self-destructive ways. They were at Matthew and Becca’s the last week in January. The women were getting their dinner ready, while Matthew pulled Michael aside. 


“I know you are using again. I can see it in your face. Michael for Katie and Laurie you have to stop. Jesus can help you stop.”  
“I’m not using, so get off my back,” Michael said. Matthew grabbed his brother’s arm. 
“Listen, you stupid brother, I know you are and so doesn’t Katie. There are times when I regret ever bringing her to you, when you get like this. You’re going to die on her and leave her devastated. You need to get a handle on this.” Michael broke down and started crying. 
“I can’t help it. I see her cry. I see her suffer for our Baby Markus. I know it’s my fault.” 
“That is ridiculous. Just because you named him after our Markus, didn’t mean that he was going to die, also. That superstition is foolishness. Markus would have been happy you named your son after him. Michael, you need to strengthen up for Katie.” 
“Matt, I don’t deserve her. I’m no good for her. I was never good enough for her. I’m sorry sometimes that you brought her to me too, you know. I’ve never done her any good.”
“That is foolishness. I’m sorry I said that. You brought love into Katie’s life. She had never experienced that. You lit up her world, brother. I’m worried. I don’t want to have to go over there some day in the middle of the night and comfort my best friend as a new widow. I love you, man. You are my twin. I can’t imagine life without you. We’ve been together forever. Please don’t die on me and Katie.” 
“I love you, too, Matt. I love Katie so much, but I think sometimes that she’d be so much better off without me.”  
“Michael if you say another thing like that, I’m going to have you locked up in a seventy-two hour hold to save you from yourself. You are depressed. You are grieving. Get some help, bro. Do it for Kate and Laurie. Love them enough to help yourself,” Matthew said imploring his brother to find a reason to live.

Matt, I have always wished I was like you. I’ve never been worth anything. You’ve always been the better of the two of us.” 
“God loves you. If God loves you, then you are worth loving. Katie adores you and so does Laurie. I love you; Mom, Pops, Becca, Julianna, and Marianne love you. Now, what right do you have to hate yourself?”
“You sound like Mom.”
“Well, she’s right, you need to remember that. Michael, Mom and Pops would be so devastated. Loosing one son is enough, don’t you think?” There was some silence between them, as Michael contemplated his self-worth, not able to conjure up any.
“Thanks for always being there. I know you’d take great care of Katie if something did happen. While he gave another look at Katie in the kitchen through the open doorway, she turned to him and he smiled.
“Bro., don’t talk like that. Get off the drugs, Michael. You need to tap into Jesus for help, please. Katie would die without you. Do you remember how good it was when you were home every night? You and Katie were so happy. Quit the band. It’s no good for you. Go back to the way it was. Go to church, you know Jesus is the source of all strength. He’ll help you get your self-esteem back.” 
“I’ll think about it. I really will, I promise.” He looked through the half wall and watched the love of his life, laughing with Becca. “I love her. I don’t want to leave her. If she found out, you know, she’d leave me. She told me that. I haven’t done anything in a few weeks. I’m really gonna stay away from it.”
“Quit the band, Michael. I know Katie talked you into going back because she thought you missed is so much. Tell her you loved being with her more than the band. Get away from Pete Simpson and all that trash.” 
But Matthew, we are so close to a record deal. I can handle the band and not do the drugs. I just have to set my mind to it. I can do that. I love my music. Katie was right. I needed to go back to it.” 
“Then you don’t love your wife like you should if you love the band more than Katie. You are selfish. You are willing to take a chance with your life and leave Katie and Laurie. What the heck is wrong with you?”  
Michael broke down dropping onto the sofa in Matthew’s living room. He cried over the hurt of his wife. He cried over the hurt of his stillborn baby. He cried over his failure as a husband to Katie. 
“It hurts, Matt. It just hurts all the time. I hate myself. I hate what I’ve done to Katie. She never wanted to get pregnant. I pushed her to give me a son. She wouldn’t be hurting if I had done it right and left her alone about that. You’ve always done everything right. I’ve always done everything wrong, just like Pops said. If we get this contract, then I’ll be somebody.” 
“You only need to be Michael, Katie’s knight in shining armor, remember? Then you are somebody.” 
Matt, that wasn’t even real. You guys set me up, for crying out loud. Even Schuler was faking it. He could have taken me.”
“That’s not the point, what mattered was that you wanted to protect her and you stepped in and loved her enough to take that chance with Schuler. You were so confident and protective of her. That’s what counts.” 
“Get some help. I’ll help you find someone or some place. Admit yourself to a drug facility. Do it for Katie and Laurie, and me, and Becca and the girls, but most of all, for you. Please, Michael.”
“I’ll give it some serious thought. Let me get through this audition. Then we’ll talk.” 
No, skip the audition. I know you. You’ll get high, again, especially if you get a big contract and a lot of money,” Matthew said. 
“No, I won’t. We’ll talk about this later, okay? I don’t want Katie to hear about this.”  
“As if she didn’t already know, c’mon Michael, please, get some help.” 
“Later, we’ll talk later, Matt.”  
That was the last conversation Matthew had with his brother. It  was two weeks later, that Matthew was hovering over a devastated Katie in the back yard of their home, soaking in the dew of the wet grass and wailing together the loss of a husband and his other half. He looked up to heaven, with his tear-soaked cheeks. 
That repetitive dream usually would wake Matthew in tears, however on this night, God had a different plan in mind for his troubled heart. Matthew found himself standing in the back yard of Katie and Michael’s Pembroke home, staring up at the sky on the last day he was in Massachusetts, saying goodbye to his brother’s memory in his dream. Oddly enough, although, he actually did spend moments alone in that back yard seven and a half years ago, this night, Matthew’s dreaming mind seemed to be in the present, knowing of Nick Thomas’s entrance into their lives. 
“Our girl has found happiness, you stupid jerk. You were such an idiot to throw away what you had. You ended up just like Markus, dying young. Damn you, Michael Jeffrey Moore.”
He spun around when he heard some autumn leaves rustling behind him. He turned, expecting to see Katie behind him, yet, the face of his brother greeted him, but as if he were walking on a cloud. Matthew called to his brother in his dream. Michael came toward him with Markus beside him. 
“Markus, Michael, how can you be here? You’re dead?” 

“So she’s found him, huh?” Michael asked. He looked over at Markus who just nodded. Matthew stared at their ageless faces. He reached out to touch them, but they were too far away. A figure caught Matthew’s eye and he squinted past his brothers. 
“Is that Pops?” He asked. 
“He’ll be good for her.” Michael turned to his brother Markus who again, just nodded. Then they both started to drift away. Matthew called out for them. 
“Come back, Markus, Michael, come back. I miss you, both. We need to talk. I’m sorry I was so mad at you, Michael, I forgive you.” He started bawling in his dream. The apparitions both turned toward their still surviving brother. “We’re sorry, too. We love you Matt,” a voice said that had a familiarity to Matthew. It had been so long since he had heard his brother Markus’s voice he barely recognized it. “Pops loves you too,” the voice said. The figure behind them waved and all three disappeared into the mist.
 His body jerked and he rose up instantly, sitting up, sweating, and breathing heavy. Not wanting to disturb his daughters, Matthew quietly crept into the adjoining room, sat down on the bed, and wept aloud to God. He sighed and looked up to heaven. “God, I hate this day, I really do. It hurts sometimes more than I think I can bear. Please help me and Kate. Lord, if this is the man you are bringing into Katie’s life, please give her peace about it. 
Julianna heard her father crying through the door. She opened the door to see her father holding his face and weeping desperately. She put her arm around him and wept with him. Marianne soon joined the two and got on the other side of her father. He cried into his daughter’s shoulder. Julianna saw the picture in his hand. She took it from him. She studied it as she went to get her Dad some tissue. 
“I’ve never seen this picture of you two, Dad.”  She then handed it to Marianne who studied it.
“Is that you and Uncle Michael at church? Why are you standing there?” 
“It was our brother Markus’s birthday, a little over two years after he died, and we commemorated it by going down to the altar and accepting Jesus as our Savior.  He always got on our case about it. We decided his birthday was a good day. We were twelve.” Matthew said composing himself. 
“That’s so sweet, Dad. Gee, if I hadn’t already done it, I’d do it on your birthday to honor Uncle Michael,” Julianna said. 
“Me too. Hey Julie, let’s start getting on the little squirt’s case, maybe she’ll do it then.” 
“Girls, that sweet of you, but you have to let the Holy Spirit direct little Katie. That’s how it works, and that’s how it is authentic. Michael and I had been talking about it for some time. We both felt the draw of the Holy Spirit to do it. It just so happened to be around his birthday. We were missing him so much at the time.  Uncle Michael and he shared so much. I think that he just took it so hard, and he never really got over it. 
“Do you think that was why Uncle Michael died, to be with Uncle Markus and Baby Markus?” 
“You know, Marianne, I’m not so sure anymore. I didn’t think he would, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder. I don’t think he cared if he lived or not, he never liked the person he was. At the end, after baby Markus died he just couldn’t stand to watch Katie grieve. He was never a strong man. He wanted that baby so much. He was more excited about having a son than your Auntie K.” “That’s so sad,” Marianne said.
“Oh, by the way, Auntie K asked Jesus to forgive her, and she became a Christian tonight, thanks to Nick Thomas making something make sense.” 
“Oh, Daddy that’s so great. I knew he was special. I knew he could do it. I had been praying for that all night,” Marianne said. 
“Wow, Nick Thomas led our Auntie K to the Lord, I’ll bet she marries him, now. Oh my gosh, the girls on the cheerleading squad are going to be so jealous. I can’t wait to tell them.”  Julianna started bouncing on the bed. 
“You will do no such thing. No one is to know. You know how shy your Auntie K is, if anyone found out about it, she would hide under a bushel and probably never come out, so you two keep your mouths shut.” 
“Can we tell Mama?” Marianne asked. 
“Yes, you can tell your mom, but not even little Katie. Do you hear? Uncle Scotty is sad enough.” 
“Oh, daddy, what’s going to happen to Uncle Scotty? Are we going to lose him?” Matthew shrugged his shoulders as he put his arm around his middle daughter. She like Katie was fiercely loyal and once someone was in her heart, he always was. 
“Well Mama will be glad to be rid of him,” Julianna said. Matthew turned to his eldest more pretentious daughter. 
“Julie, we love Scotty. He has no family. We are his only family, and he is like a brother to me. When he saved Auntie K, he became a permanent member as far as I am concerned. I can see that Nick Thomas lights up Auntie K’s world like Scotty never could, but she loves Uncle Scotty, also. She loves him with that Agape love, the one from God, like I’ve told you.”  
“Even after what he did?” Julianna asked. 
“Listen, we don’t know what he did. Your Mama tends to exaggerate, and she shouldn’t harp on it. I regret doing what I did to Uncle Scotty. I took out my frustration on him, and with him being a police officer, I could still go to jail for that.” 
“Oh no Daddy, is Uncle Scooter going to arrest you? What did you do that Uncle Scooter is going to arrest you?” Little Katie asked rubbing her six year-old tired eyes. Matthew rose and picked up his youngest little one. 
“Honey, your Uncle Scooter won’t arrest me. Daddy did something bad to Uncle Scooter, we all do bad things at times, but your Uncle Scooter loves me and adores you, and he would not put me in jail. Now, you go back to sleep,” he said as he laid her back in bed and covered her body with the blankets, burying her in the giant bed. Marianne followed her father. 
“Dad, are you sure he won’t arrest you? What if he gets mad about Nick Thomas?  Can he still arrest you after all this time?” Matthew turned and put his arm around his daughter to comfort her. 
“Sweetheart, there’s no statute of limitation on assaulting a police officer, so he has forever to file charges on me, but he loves us all, and he won’t do that. He has forgiven me, likewise we need to forgive him. He is having a very difficult time forgiving himself, so we need to show him extra love. Do you understand that, little missy?” He said, looking straight down at his taller than average fifteen year-old, Julianna. 
“Yes, Daddy. I will be nice to him. I don’t want him to arrest you. We need to have a talk with Mama so that she won’t get him so mad that he’ll arrest you.” 
“Your Mama is having a hard time forgiving him, because of where she works. She see’s women all the time who live with abusers who aren’t like Uncle Scotty. They continue to beat their women. Uncle Scotty just lost his control over his anger. We don’t know what he did, and it’s not like him. He’s going through anger management classes and wants to get Auntie K back. He loves her more than his own life.” Matthew dropped his head in sadness with how much Nick Thomas’s entrance into Katie’s life will hurt Scotty. 
“Daddy, if Uncle Scotty is so depressed now, and Auntie K comes home in love with Nick Thomas, do you think he would try something to hurt himself?” Marianne paused. 
“Honey, we will pray for God to heal Uncle Scotty’s heart, to find him a new love or to make him understand. God can do things we can’t even imagine. All of this is all taken care of in His eyes. We are living out history to God. He already knows how this will work out and he has a plan for our Auntie K, your Uncle Scotty, and Nick Thomas. We need to trust Him. We’ll pray for Uncle Scotty, okay?” Both girls wrapped their arms around their Dad. 
“I will pray for him, Daddy,” Julianna said, with more compassion toward Deputy Scotty than she ever had before, somewhat afraid of what he could still do to their Dad. I’ll work on Mama too,” she added. Matthew hugged both of them in a group hug. 
“Good, thank you. Your Mama will eventually get over her mad. She’ll see how much Scotty loves all of us. Now, you two go to sleep.” The girls gave him one last hug and looked over at little Katie who was already asleep again in their Dad’s double bed. 
“Julie, push little Katie over. We can all sleep together. Daddy, you should have the whole bed, we can share.” Marianne reached down and pushed the little sister to the middle, and the three girls tucked in the bed, with Matthew bending over to kiss his precious daughters. His eyes watered as he looked to heaven to thank God for these three gifts. 
“I love you, my baby girls. Now, we’ll keep this secret for Auntie K who won’t want the world to know about this. You know how shy she is, and for Scotty so his heart can heal, okay?” 
“Yes, Daddy,” they said in unison. In the darkness of their room, before they all went back to sleep, Matthew whispered to his girls in the bed next to his. 
“Thank you girls for coming in to comfort me. I’m the most blessed Dad in the world. I love my beautiful girls who are just as sweet as their Mama.”  “We love you, Dad,” Julianna said. 
“Yep, me too,” Marianne said. 
“Yep, me three,” little Katie said from buried in the middle of the bed between her two older sisters. They all snorted a quick laugh and drifted off to sleep, thrilled at Katie’s good fortune.  

Matthew closed his eyes and fell into a deep sleep, confused about his earlier dream, wondering if it was real, or just his wishful thinking, but for the first time in those eight years, a Godly peace came over him, one that assured him that his dear adopted sister and former sister-in-law would finally be able to find her happiness, again, and Nick Thomas was the key to that opportunity. He thanked God for Nick’s entrance into their lives, and fell into a deep peaceful sleep.   

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