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Josiah stood on the sidewalk in front of St. Jerome´s hospice and stared at the double doors of the entrance.
He thought he had been ready for this, but now he wasn´t so sure. He started slightly as he felt a hand grasp his shoulder.
You alright with this? Chris asked.
Josiah felt the warmth of Chris´ hand lying on his shoulder and drew strength from the simple contact. He drew in a deep breath and squared his shoulders then patted Chris´ hand to reassure his concerned friend.
Yeah. I just needed a moment to find my center, Josiah reassured him.
You take all the time you need. We have all day, Chris assured him. You don´t have to do this until you´re ready.
I´m okay, Chris, and I´m ready to do this. So much time has already been wasted and I don´t want and can´t afford to waste anymore.
Josiah and Chris walked up the front steps and into the entrance of the hospice. It had a homey atmosphere that tried it´s best to be cheerful, but the underlying smell of antiseptic and disease negated much of the affect. No matter how well the decorator had tried to disguise it, this was a place of death and Death´s skeletal handprint was subliminally apparent.
May I help you? the middle-aged receptionist addressed them with a polite smile.
Both men approached the receptionist´s desk and Josiah smiled back at the woman sitting behind it.
I´m Josiah Sanchez, and this is my friend, Chris Larabee, Josiah told her, I´m here to see my daughter, Michelle Taylor.
Hello, Mr. Sanchez. I´m Betty Watkins. You can call me Betty. We´re all pretty informal around here, Betty said and her smile turned more genuine. If you´ll have a seat I´ll see if Michelle is ready for visitors, alright?
Josiah nodded his agreement and he and Chris both took seats in the waiting room while Betty rose and left the reception area. Chris picked up a magazine and started thumbing through it idly. Josiah clasped his hands and stared at them as they hung between his knees. He drew deep even breaths in an effort to relax. His nervousness was only apparent in the whiteness of his knuckles.
Betty returned a few minutes later and signaled the two men.
If you´ll come with me I´ll take you to Michelle´s room, she said.
Thank you, Betty, Josiah said as he stood then looked at Chris who was now watching him.
Do you want me to go with you? Chris asked quietly.
Josiah paused for a moment, tempted to take Chris up on the offer, but knew he needed to do this alone, so shook his head.
I´ll be here when you´re ready, Chris assured him, Take your time. Just remember I´m here if you need me.
Nodding his thanks, Josiah turned and followed Betty as she led him through the door behind the reception desk and down a long hall. They passed many doors along the way. Most were closed but some were open revealing patients attached to monitors and I.V. equipment. Josiah was aware of their pain-filled eyes watching him as he passed their doors. He couldn´t help the shudder that made its way up his spine at the thought of his beautiful, lively Michelle in this place.
Betty came to a stop in front of a closed door and turned to face Josiah once again.
This is Michelle´s room, she smiled at him kindly. If you need anything, just pick up the phone and dial 45. That will connect you to my desk out front, alright?
Thank you, Betty, Josiah answered with a respectful dip of his head, I appreciate all your help.
Don´t think anything of it. Here at St Jerome´s we like to think of our guests as family, and family doesn´t need to say thank you, Betty smiled again. I´ll leave you to your visit then.
Josiah stood at the door quietly and watched the woman walk away, and he realized he was using the woman´s exit as an excuse to put off entering the door in front of him. Taking a deep breath to steady himself, Josiah put his hand on the knob, and pushed open the door. He stood motionless in the doorway as the details of the scene imprinted themselves on his brain.
The walls of the room were painted in a sunny yellow and a large picture window let in the sun which illuminated the cheerful patchwork quilt that was pulled over the disturbingly thin blonde woman lying in the hospital bed. IV poles with various lines running from them were hooked to the top of the bed. The country music song playing on the radio was softly accompanied by the low background sound of a heart monitor slowly counting down the remaining heartbeats of the daughter he had not set eyes on in nearly thirty years. The woman that was looking at him with her heart showing in her tear filled eyes.
Daddy, she whispered in a broken voice, you came.
Always, Princess. You only had to call. If I had known where to find you at anytime since you were gone, I would have moved heaven and earth to get to you. If you believe only one thing in this life, believe that.
Josiah´s eyes filled with his own tears and he quickly made his way over to the bed. He carefully took the weeping woman into his arms and pulled her against his chest, laying his head on the top of hers. Her thin arms wrapped around his waist and she held on as tight as her waning strength would allow.
You´re home, he rasped with a voice made rough with emotion as the tears flowed freely down his face, My baby´s finally home.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Chris had been sitting in the waiting area for over an hour when he chanced to glance out the window. He should have been expecting it, he thought to himself. Looking out over the hospice parking lot, Chris saw Buck, Vin, and JD in Vin´s battered Suburban, parked next to Ezra´s Jag, and one row back was Nathan´s Explorer.
Josiah and Chris had spent the rest of the previous night talking or more accurately Josiah talking and Chris listening. It had been the sound of Buck and Vin arriving the following morning that roused the still sleeping team members. While Josiah took a shower, the task of explaining Josiah´s painful past to the rest of the team had fallen on Chris and he had gladly born the burden to spare his friend the additional pain that re-visiting the past would have caused.
The whole team had been saddened by the news of what their friend had endured, and each felt the need to show their support and lend their strength to their grieving friend. The argument over who would go with Josiah to the hospice had started as soon as Chris had told them that Josiah planned to visit that morning and he, Chris, didn´t think the whole team crowding in on the reunion would be good idea. Chris had eventually pulled rank and told them he had already promised Josiah that he would take him and the discussion was finished. Needless to say this had not gone over well with his teammates.
Now there they were, staking out the parking lot in spite of his orders to the contrary. Chris had to shake his head at his own foolish complacency. His team members knew the importance of following orders when it came to their job, but when it came to their family well that was a totally different story. He wanted to be angry with them, but somehow couldn´t. Josiah was just as much their brother as his. They had as much right to worry about him as Chris did, and they felt just as deep a need to be there to support the older man. He knew in their place he would be doing the same thing.
Chris walked from the waiting area and out the front door. He stood on the front steps with his fists resting on his hips, staring down his brother agents who met his glaring eyes calmly but determinedly. Sometimes being a good leader meant knowing when to come down hard on his men, and when to let things slide. Chris had always been a good leader.
Chris jerked his head back toward the building and caused a hurried exodus from the vehicles. No words were spoken as the six men filed into the waiting area and took seats. Betty watched in puzzlement as the five new visitors found chairs.
Chris smiled at the woman and stated, We´re just waiting for Josiah.
Betty looked at each face closely and smiled her approval.
It´s always better when our guests and their families have a large support system. I´m glad to see Josiah and Michelle have so many people they can count on. They´ll need all the help and comfort you can give them, she said gently, It´s a very hard path they have to walk now.
Her kindly meant words caused terse nods and the straightening of shoulders in her listeners. The men made eye contact with each other and the silence rang with the unspoken promise that the team would be there to lend their strength to their brother. They would get him through whatever he faced. It was a promise set in stone.
It was two more hours before Josiah emerged from Michelle´s room and returned to the waiting room. He paused in the doorway and smiled fondly, not at all surprised to find all six of his brothers waiting for him.
They were family, and this is what they did. The pattern had repeated itself time and time again. If one hurt, six were there to protect, and help mend him. It didn´t matter if it was a physical hurt or an emotional one, the reaction was always the same and Josiah gave thanks to the Lord for these six men every time.
JD was the first to notice him standing there and jumped up immediately to rush to his side.
Hey, Josiah, he said as he closely examined the older man´s face trying to judge his mental state, How´d it go?
Josiah threw his arm around JD and pulled him close in a hug.
Very well, Brother JD, Josiah replied with a calm smile and peaceful eyes, Very, very well.
Six men released the breaths they had unconsciously been holding and returned the man´s smile with relief.
So when do we get to meet this lovely daughter of yours? Buck asked.
She´s resting right now. She tires easily. I told her I´d come back in a few hours. I´d like to introduce you then. I told her a lot about you and she´s looking forward to meeting all of you.
Cool, JD said, Why don´t we go get something to eat and you can tell us about her. It´s not fair that she start out with such a big advantage over us.
The group waved goodbye to the watchful Betty and left the hospice in good spirits, cheerfully arguing over what restaurant to go to and whose vehicles they would take.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Josiah climbed the steps to the hospice as the evening sun was setting in a beautiful orange and red burst of color. He swung open the doors and entered with a grin for the woman behind the receptionist´s desk.
Evening, Betty, he said with his customary dip of the head, How you are this fine night?
I´m doing great, Josiah. How was your day?
It was busy, but productively so. How´s my girl this evening? Did the doctor up her medication like she was afraid he was going to do? Josiah asked.
I don´t know, Josiah, but judging by the good mood she was in today I´d have to guess he didn´t, Betty replied helpfully.
That´s great news. I know she was worried about that. She really hates that stuff. Says it makes her too groggy to make the most of her time. I can´t say that I blame her for that.
I believe Vin and Ezra are visiting with her now, she informed him.
Josiah wasn´t at all surprised to hear this. In the three weeks since his first meeting with Michelle, he and the other six men had become regular visitors. Josiah came to see Michelle for about an hour in the mornings before he went to work and then again after work was over. He frequently arrived in the evening or the weekend to find one or more of his teammates in his daughter´s room, and several times one of them had accompanied him when he left work to drop by for his evening visit. Josiah knew the men had started visiting his daughter for his sake, but had soon fallen under her spell and now visited her because they actively liked her. They had accepted her into their growing family with ease, and Josiah knew he was not the only one who would mourn when she left this world.
A few moments later, Josiah quietly opened the door to Michelle´s room and stood unobserved in the doorway watching the room´s occupants. His daughter was sitting in the recliner by her window with the light daisy-patterned throw blanket, which Nathan had thoughtfully brought her when he found out that daisies were her favorite flower, draped across her legs. Vin and Ezra were seated in a little circle with her.
The men were trying to out do one another in telling embarrassing tales on each other. Michelle was giggling like a teenager as their stories had become progressively more outrageous.
Josiah was gratified to see the shadow of despair that had clouded Michelle´s eyes the first time he saw her again was no longer present. His friends had managed to drive it way with the light of their concern and caring. She was almost glowing in response to their kindness and attention. They had managed to help bring the laughter and humor that had always been such a big part of her personality back to the surface, and she now seemed to have an easier time getting through the day and dealing with her illness. Josiah knew he would never be able to repay his friends for the good they were doing for his daughter. He could only give thanks that he could count men of such high caliber as his friends and his brothers.
Michelle glanced up and caught sight of him standing in the doorway and her smile widened in loving welcome.
Hi Daddy, look who came to visit, she said, Seems like I´m very popular tonight.
Could a woman of such dazzling wit and good company be anything else but popular? Ezra asked gallantly.
Ooo, now I´m being flattered, Michelle laughed, but don´t stop on my account!
The laughter this remarked caused had barely died down when the door opened and the rest of Team Seven walked in. Josiah smiled a greeting at his friends, and then noticed the questioning looks they were throwing at Michelle. Josiah turned his head toward his daughter and found her watching him closely.
She was still smiling but Josiah could see a look of trepidation in her eyes as she looked at him, and he noticed she had started twisting the edge of her blanket in an uncharacteristic bout of nervousness.
Michelle? he asked carefully, is something wrong, Princess?
Not wrong, exactly, She replied. I just had to tell you something and thought you might need eh want your friends here when I told you. I called them and asked them to come.
Sweetheart, you know you can tell me anything, Josiah assured her, worried about the news that had her so agitated. You never have to be afraid to talk to me. I thought you knew that?
It wasn´t that I was afraid, Daddy, she hastened to reassure him when she caught a glimpse of hurt in his eyes. I was just being a little selfish. I wanted time alone with you for myself. I wanted to get to know you as my father and nothing else. It wasn´t fair, and I´m sorry for that, but I needed this time for me.
I don´t understand, Princess. You know I wanted to be with you, too. Why would you think that was wrong? Josiah asked in confusion
That´s not what I mean. I don´t think spending time with you was wrong. It´s just, Michelle broke off in frustration. This is harder than I thought it would be. Okay, she breathed out a deep sigh. JD, would you look in the top drawer in that dresser and bring me the blue book that´s on top, please?
Sure Michelle, JD said and jumped up and hurried to the dresser.
He returned a moment later with the item she wanted and handed it to her.
Michelle held the book in her hand for a moment as she looked at her father and said, They say a picture is worth a thousand words.
At this, she opened the front cover of the book to reveal it was actually a photo album and the photograph on the first page was of two children, a girl and a boy. The girl had light blonde hair and the boy had medium brown. Both were smiling into the camera with blue eyes shining with laughter.
Josiah looked blankly at the picture and thought the children looked familiar, and then it hit him with the force of a baseball bat to the head. The shape of the eyes, and the laughter shining out of them reminded him of Michelle! He looked in stunned surprise at the woman watching him with a trembling smile on her anxious face.
These are my children, Rhiannon, and Lucas, she quietly said, her voice trembling, your grandchildren.
Josiah felt the earth under him move and only realized when he felt Buck´s grip on his arm the he was the one swaying.
Buck helped him to the chair that Nathan was holding out and he collapsed into it.
Grandchildren? Josiah whispered. I have two grandchildren? Your son and daughter?
Mine, she affirmed. Rhiannon just turned five, and Lucas is three. They´re staying with a friend of mine right now. She brings them to see me during the day when you´re at work. I´m sorry for springing them on you like this. I really didn´t mean to hurt you by keeping the news from you.
Tears began to fill her eyes and drip down her cheeks, and suddenly Josiah couldn´t stand to be even that far away from her. He rose quickly and moved across the room to kneel by her chair and take her into his arms. He brushed his cheek against her hair as her tears were absorbed by his shirt.
No, baby, no, he said almost roughly, its okay, Princess. You didn´t hurt me. Josiah pulled back and reached out his hands to wipe the last of her tears away with gentle fingers. He smiled and continued, You may have startled me a bit alright a lot, but that´s okay. Everyone needs a little jolt in their lives once in awhile to keep the blood pumping. You certainly got mine going for me, so thanks.
Michelle gave a hiccupping little laugh at his attempt at humor, and pressed her face back against his chest for a moment before pushing back and looking at him again.
You´re not angry at me for keeping them a secret from you?
No, Princess, I´m not angry, he told her as he cupped her face in his hands and she could see all the love he felt for her shining out of his eyes. I´m just happy you finally felt secure enough to tell me about them.
Hey boys, Josiah´s a Granddaddy, Buck´s enthusiastic voice broke the solemn moment, and Josiah started slightly. He had forgotten his friends were in the room.
Congratulations, Granpa, JD laughed, and slapped him on the back.
As his friends continued to pour out their congratulations, it finally sunk in. He was a grandfather. He had not one but two grandchildren. The wonder of that brought a delighted smile to his face and he reached down and picked up the photo album from the floor where Michelle dropped it and stared at the young faces that were captured there.
They´re beautiful, Princess, Josiah told her. They look just like you.
Well, Lucas has his father´s hair and chin, Melissa stated.
Where is his father? Vin asked quietly.
Brad is out of the picture, Melissa told him with out flinching. He took off about 8 months after Lucas was born and I haven´t seen him since divorce court. He apparently found somebody else that made him feel young and free again. When I offered to refuse child support in exchange for him surrendering all rights to the children he jumped at the chance. I was more than happy to go it alone just to get him out of our lives. As far as the children and I are concerned, he´s already dead. At the rate he was catching up on all the excitement he´d missed by being tied to the family-man scene he may very well be dead by now. I haven´t tried to keep up with him.
Josiah ran his fingers over the faces shown in the picture almost reverently, trying to absorb the fact that his baby had babies of her own. He felt his chest swell with pride and he looked at Michelle with that pride shining out at her.
I thought you might like to come meet them tomorrow. My friend is bringing them by around three o´clock. I thought I could introduce you and you can get to know them if you want to, Michelle said with a teasing smile.
If I want to? Just try to keep me away, Josiah laughed.
Why did I just know you were going to say that? she laughed with him.
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