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You have made Senor Josiah a very happy man, Senora, Rita´s quiet voice pulled Michelle´s attention from her laughing father as he pretended to growl ferociously at the two giggling, squirming children he had clutched like a football under each arm.
The evening had flown by in a softly focused glow of conversation, laughter and good natured teasing; speeding by much too fast for Michelle´s wishes. She was sitting in her wheelchair positioned at one end of the sofa, not quite on the outside of the family´s circle but slightly distanced so she could observe their interactions and drink in the warmth and caring that seemed to flow out of these seven men toward each other and the children that were basking in their loving attention. She was wishing she had the power to freeze this moment in time so she´d be able to take it out when the dark moments threatened to overcome her spirit and use it to drive away the shadows.
Michelle looked in question at the little Latino woman, that she had been introduced to for the first time earlier that evening, when she spoke.
I have known Senor Josiah for almost five years, now. He has always been good natured very kind and helpful, but you only had to look into his eyes to see he suffered. He covered it well, but the eyes the eyes always show the truth to those that know how to look, Rita raised her eyes and looked at Josiah as he laughingly began to slowly spin around with the children held securely in his strong arms. There was always a shadow in his eyes that said he had loved and lost, had grieved harshly and yet still mourned. I look into his eyes now and there is no longer that shadow, only happiness and joy and love. You gave that to him. It is a very special gift.
I´m afraid I´ll take that gift away from him soon, Michelle whispered.
Rita laid her hand on Michelle´s shoulder and gave a comforting pat.
No one can take away the gift you have given him. He has always loved you, but you gave him time to come to know you. He no longer has to live with the uncertainty of not knowing; not knowing where you were, what you were like, or if you were even still alive. He can finally find some peace.
No matter what happens now, he´ll be able to heal. Those men, Rita lifted her chin in the direction of the six men cheering Josiah on with shouts and laughter, will see to that. They´ll take care of him for you, Senora, and they´ll take care of your children, too. You need never fear for them now for you have placed them in the circle of their protection. Each one of those men would give their life to protect your children.
The children have been told to call each man uncle, but that is not just a courtesy title. To those men, your children are now a part of their family and they´ll do whatever is necessary to make sure they are brought up right, with kindness and caring and surrounded by love.
Michelle looked up at the woman staring down at her with quiet conviction and felt a sense of calm engulf her as the woman´s words sank in, as if an unconscious burden had just been lifted from her shoulders.
Thank you, Michelle whispered and grasped Rita´s hand where it still rested on her shoulder.
De nada, Rita shrugged and said, You are part of this family too.
And you take care of this family, Michelle said with a smile, making it a statement and not a question.
Rita smiled back, Si, I take care of this family all of them.
Michelle heard the unspoken promise in the woman´s voice and fought back the tears that threatened to sneak out of her eyes as she nodded gratefully.
You two are being mighty quiet, Buck´s genial voice broke into the agreeable silence that had fallen over the two women and he stopped in front of them. What kind of secrets are you two telling each other? Dishing out the dirt, maybe? Buck grinned at them with that irrepressible grin and bouncing eyebrows and continued with, Come on and let ole Buck in on it.
We were just discussing the best diet to put you on, Rita informed him with a straight face, I think I might have fed you one too many enchiladas, senor.
What! Buck gasped in chagrin, checking his middle for the extra pounds she implied he had gained. What are you talking about? I haven´t gained any weight in over two years! I´m darned near perfect!
Well, Michelle said, biting the inside of her cheek to keep her smile in check as she looked over him seriously and said, I don´t know, Buck. You could stand to lose a little off that back side of yours.
Buck´s hands flew to the seat of his jeans and he tried his best to look over his own shoulder at his butt. His contortions were all it took to push both women over the edge and they both broke down into gales of laughter. Buck frowned for one moment as he realized he´d fallen for the women´s joke then laughed with them.
Now that was not nice, he chuckled. Just see if you get a Christmas bonus this year, Rita, he threatened with a mock growl.
Believe me, Senor Buck, it would be worth it just to have seen the look on your face.
There goes next year´s bonus too, Buck joked.
Rita just shrugged and smiled.
The evening finally came to an end when the three older children started yawning every few minutes. Being children, they of course denied they were tired even though it was already a couple of hours past their bedtime. The triplets had already been blissfully asleep for an hour, safely ensconced on a pallet in the corner of family room. Despite the children´s protests, the party began to break up. Goodnights were said, and Angel, Dallas, Austin and Houston were strapped into car seats for the ride home. Josiah, Rhi, and Lucas waved goodbye from the front door as their guests departed. Only Nathan, Raine, and Michelle remained, and Josiah led the children back into the family room to join them.
Michelle hugged her children tight and drew them to her to place kisses on their cheeks. She stroked her hands over the little heads that were drooping in sleepiness, cherishing the quiet moments but knowing they couldn´t last.
It´s time for bed now, she told them. I´ll see you tomorrow, alright. Goodnight, Rhi. Goodnight Lucas. Sleep tight, she said as she gave them one final kiss each.
Night, Mama, Lucas yawned and Josiah picked the boy up as he swayed, already half asleep.
Goodnight, Mama, Rhiannon told her mother and wrapped her little arms around her neck for a hug then stepped back.
Goodnight, Princess, Josiah knelt by her chair, Lucas still held in one arm, and reached out with his other arm to hug her. I´m so glad you got to come tonight. It made everything extra special for me.
And me, she reassured him. I wouldn´t have missed this for the world. You have a wonderful set of friends.
I know. I don´t always appreciate them like I should, but there´s no getting around the fact that there´s no better men on the face of the earth to have at your back.
I really hate to go, but I promised Michelle´s doctor to have her back before ten, Raine broke in regretfully. There´s just enough time to make it if we leave now.
Let me tell you once more before you go how much I appreciate what you did, Josiah stood up and shifted the now sleeping Lucas to his other shoulder so he could pull Raine in for hug.
You´re very welcome, Josiah. It was my pleasure to be able to help. You´re always doing such nice things for the clinic and I liked returning the favor for once. And thank you for such a lovely evening. I really enjoyed myself tonight, Raine told him returning his hug and stepping back and allowing Nathan a chance to say goodbye.
Once more Josiah stood on his doorstep with his grandchildren, watching as Nathan helped Michelle make the transfer from wheelchair to backseat. He gave one last wave as the vehicle disappeared into the night. Then he closed and locked the front door and turned off the front porch light, and stooped to pick up Rhiannon and walk up the stairs.
Josiah walked down the upstairs hall to Lucas´ room and carefully deposited the child on his bed then took Rhiannon to her room and gently laid the sleeping girl on hers. Josiah went to her dresser and pulled a blue cotton nightgown out and quickly changed the little girl and then slipped her under her covers.
He leaned down and placed a gentle kiss on her head then straightened up and whispered, Good night, pumpkin and welcome home.
Josiah quietly went back to Lucas and pulled the tiny sneakers from his feet and slipped the jeans from his legs leaving him in his Blues Clues briefs and a tee shirt. He settled the boy in his bed and tucked the covers around him. Lucas immediately rolled onto his back and stretched his arms out, taking up all the available space in the bed. Josiah stood grinning at the sleeping child for a moment before bending to kiss his cheek, and murmur, Good night, little man. Welcome to your new home. I´ll do my best to make it a good one for you and your sister.
Josiah left the room and pulled the door almost shut but left it cracked open a little so the light from the nightlight on in the hall would be visible. Josiah stood with his back against the wall between the children´s rooms for a few minutes and bowed his head, saying a prayer of thanks and one for divine help in the task he had set for himself. It had been so many years since Josiah had found himself in the position of father that he was unsure of himself in the role now. Deep down, he didn´t know if he was ready for this.
Josiah was lost in his thoughts as he entered his room and started across it to the connecting bathroom when he suddenly felt a sharp pain shoot up from his right heel. He jumped around on one foot for a moment them limped over to his bed and dropped down on it, lifting his injured right foot onto his left knee to survey the damage. Josiah stared in disbelief for a minute at the piece of bright yellow plastic that had tried to embed itself in his foot then he started laughing.
Pulling the Lego block from his heel, Josiah chuckled, Signs and portents! Well I guess that does it. Ready or not, I have been officially re-christened into fatherhood!
Josiah tossed the block in the air and caught it with a jaunty grin then looked up at the ceiling and gave a salute. As far as heavenly signs went he guessed it would do.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Wwweeeeeee! was the first thing Josiah heard the next morning. It was actually what had pulled him from a sound sleep. Josiah raised his head in sleepy confusion for one moment then reality slammed back into place and he sat up with a jerk. The next thing he heard was a loud thump, childish laughter and the thunder of little feet climbing stairs at a near run. Josiah snapped the covers back and jumped out of bed, realizing that at least one of the children was already up, and from the sound of it getting into trouble.
Josiah ran out his bedroom door and down the hall then froze at the top of the stairs at the sight that greeted him. Lucas, legs astride the banister and hands lightly grasping the wooden rail he sat on, was sailing down the polished wooden surface, picking up speed as he went. Before Josiah could get his legs to carry him forward, Lucas performed a maneuver worthy of the Flying Wallendas and jumped off the end of the banister to land on his feet on an area rug that promptly slid across the waxed wooden floor and carried the child, whooping with glee all the way, across the foyer to slam into the far wall by the front door.
Josiah watched in astonishment as the little boy picked himself up, still laughing, and turned around to run up the stairs for another try. The sight of the large man watching him from the top of the stairs caused the child to still for one moment in surprise then race up the stairs again to throw his arms around Josiah´s knees in a morning hug.
Morning, Grandpa, Lucas looked up at him with his usual cheerful grin. You wanna come slide with me? the child asked eagerly.
Josiah shook himself out of his stunned state enough to lift the child into his arms and return the hug. If his arms held on a little tighter than usual Lucas didn´t seem to notice.
No, Lucas, and I don´t want you to do it again either, Josiah looked down at the boy sternly.
But´s it´s fun, Grandpa, Lucas protested.
Josiah shook his head firmly, knowing it was better to establish the rules from the beginning, and reiterated, No more, Lucas. It maybe fun, but it´s also very dangerous. You could fall and get really hurt. I don´t want to see you get hurt, son. It would make me very sad and make your mama very sad too. You don´t want that, do you?
Shaking his head quickly, the little boy threw his arms around Josiah´s neck and held on tight. I didn´t mean to be bad, Grandpa! I´ll be good, I promise.
I know, Josiah reassured his grandson with a smile. I´m not mad at you. I just want you to be safe, that´s all. Since we´re up, why don´t we see what we can find for breakfast?
Carrying the little boy down the stairs, Josiah made his way into the kitchen and set Lucas down on the counter. He opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a carton of eggs and a gallon jug of milk and set them on the counter beside the child.
I feel in the mood for some French toast this morning, Josiah said, How does that sound to you?
Umm, I love French toast. With lots of syrup! Lucas enthused.
I like mine with strawberries and whipped cream, Josiah grinned, but syrup´s good too. You want to help me?
Yeah! Lucas began bouncing up and down with anticipation. I can help good!
Then let´s get started! Josiah smiled and leaned his head down to place his nose against Lucas´ and rubbed it back and forth a few times causing the boy to giggle and grab his ears. Josiah gently extricated himself from the boy´s grip and set a chair in front of the counter for the child to stand on.
He helped the little boy wash up at the kitchen sink then stood him on the chair he had retrieved. After cautioning the boy to be still for moment, Josiah went to his cabinet and took down a bowl and retrieved his frying pan from another. He returned to Lucas, setting the pan on the stove as he went, and placed the bowl in front of the eagerly awaiting child.
First we need the eggs, the man said as he opened the carton and withdrew one.
Josiah handed the egg to Lucas, and showed him how to crack it on the side of the bowl. They both spent a few minutes fishing broken shell out of the bowl after his overenthusiastic attempt. Josiah patiently helped the boy try again and by the fourth egg Lucas was getting the hang of it.
I did it, Grandpa! Lucas grinned up at the watching man proudly when he managed to empty the egg into the bowl like Josiah had shown him.
Great job, son, Josiah hugged him, Now we add the milk.
Lucas´ little tongue peeped out of one corner of his mouth as he concentrated hard on pouring the milk into a measuring cup, aided by Josiah´s firm grip on the milk jug. Josiah showed him how to measure out salt and vanilla, and Lucas managed to pour half a bottle of vanilla onto the counter trying to fill the tiny measuring spoon. Josiah didn´t scold him, but downplayed the accident and helped the boy wipe up the mess with paper towels. When all the ingredients were in the bowl, Josiah reached into a drawer and withdrew a whisk and showed it to the child.
Now comes the fun part, Josiah told him with a smile.
With Josiah´s strong, but gentle hand resting over Lucas´ little one, he helped the child stir the mixture, being careful to keep the enthusiastic little chef from whisking the contents right out of the bowl.
Josiah made a show of looking into the bowl carefully then asked Lucas, Do you think that´s enough?
Lucas looked at the runny yellow liquid seriously and gave it another quick stir then nodded his head. I think it´s done.
Are you sure?
Yep, it´s done.
Alright then, next step is to heat some oil in the skillet, Josiah told him, This is my part, alright. You just stand right there for moment.
Josiah readied the pan and turned on the gas flame underneath to preheat it. He grabbed a loaf of bread from his breadbox and opened it before setting it on the counter and pulling out several slices. He handed a slice to Lucas and instructed him on how to dip the bread into the egg mixture and then took the coated bread and quickly slipped it into the pan. Another piece followed the first into the pan and Lucas watched Josiah expertly flip the toast over to brown both sides.
Ummm, Lucas breathed in deeply, enjoying the smell filling the kitchen. It smells so yummy!
Yep, and this first batch is almost ready, Josiah smiled down at his grandson. Hand me that plate, please, Lucas.
Josiah slipped a spatula under the bread and transferred the now cooked French toast to the plate. Lucas was ready with another piece of bread and the two males happily worked together to turn half a loaf of bread to a stack of golden brown French toast. When the last piece was cooked, Josiah slipped the hot frying pan to the back of the stove and turned off the burner.
Can we eat now, Grandpa? Lucas asked excitedly.
Before Josiah could answer, a still drowsy Rhiannon walked into the kitchen rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
Good morning, Rhiannon, Josiah said with a cheerful smile at the slowly waking child. Are you ready for breakfast? Lucas and I made French toast for breakfast and it´s all ready to eat. If you two sit down at the table I´ll pour the orange juice and
Josiah broke off at the gasp that escaped Rhiannon. As he watched in confusion the expression on her little face rapidly went from shock to devastation. Josiah took a step toward the little girl, but she backed away from him, then turned and ran from the room.
Rhiannon? Josiah called after the fleeing child as, breakfast now forgotten, he quickly started after her.
He hurried up the stairs and swiftly made his way down the hall to stop at Rhiannon´s bedroom door. He hesitated a moment then knocked softly and turned the doorknob. He opened the door slowly and entered quietly to find Rhiannon stretched out on her bed with her face pressed into her pillow. Josiah could see her shoulders shake as she sobbed quietly.
Rhiannon, sweetheart! Josiah´s asked with concern as he sat down on the bed beside the distraught little girl. What´s wrong, baby? Why are you crying?
The large man placed a tender hand on the child´s back and started rubbing it in a gentle rhythm.
Please, talk to me, sweetheart. I can´t help you if I don´t know what´s wrong.
A few sniffs was the only answer he received.
He waited a few seconds and when Rhiannon still didn´t react, he carefully grasped her shoulder and turned her over until she lay on the bed looking up at him with tear tracks marking her face. Josiah´s heart broke as he witnessed the wells of misery shining out at him from the little blue eyes.
Oh, Rhiannon, he murmured and pulled the unresisting child into his arms and held her tenderly. One hand gently started stroking her hair and he laid his cheek against the top of her head. Please, talk to me. I only want to help you feel better, sweetheart. Tell Grandpa what hurt you.
It was mine, a tiny voice whispered with a sobbing break.
What was yours, baby?
Making the French toast. It was mine and Mommy´s, Rhiannon pulled back to look at her grandfather with a streak of anger mixing with the hurt in her voice, Mommy and me always made it on Saturday mornings while Lucas watched cartoons. We always made it together.
Josiah suddenly realized the depth of the hurt he had unwittingly done to the child by simply making breakfast. In the child´s eyes he had spoilt a cherished tradition and tarnished a special memory of her mother. Josiah felt like he was walking in an emotional minefield; one wrong step and the fragile bond that was developing between himself and this child could be seriously damaged.
I didn´t know, Rhiannon, Josiah tried to assure her. I didn´t mean to hurt you. I´d never knowingly do that, sweetheart. I´m sure Lucas didn´t either. It was my idea to make French toast this morning. I didn´t know it was so special for you. I´m so sorry.
Rhiannon searched his sad eyes, seeming to judge his sincerity, then gave the waiting man a nod. Josiah tightened his arms and pulled her close again for a hug. The two sat together in silence, Josiah gently rocking her from side to side.
I know this is hard for you, Rhi. You´re in a new place, living with someone you haven´t really known long; all the rules are different. You don´t know what to expect. It seems that everything you´ve ever known is suddenly changing. That alone can be pretty scary all by its self. Do you want to know a secret? Josiah asked, bending his head down to look into her still teary eyes.
Rhiannon nodded and wiped at her eyes with her pajama sleeve as Josiah continued by saying, You´re not the only one that´s scared. I´m a little scared too. This is all new to me, as well as you and Lucas. I don´t always know what to do, but you know what? That´s alright. It´s alright to be scared, and it´s alright not to always know what to do and it´s alright to make mistakes. We just have to give each other a chance, and try to forgive each other when we make a mistake. We´re all still learning about each other, and how to get along, and what is right and wrong to do.
It´s like when Lucas tried to throw the boomerang in the house, you remember that? He didn´t know it was wrong until I told him. Just like I didn´t know how much making French toast with your mother meant to you. Now Lucas knows that the boomerang is for outside, and I know to wait for you to help make the French toast. Do you see?
Josiah fell silent while he allowed his granddaughter to process his words.
So it´s like going to school only we´re still at home? Rhiannon said after a while looking at Josiah for confirmation.
That´s right, Josiah smiled at her, that´s exactly what it´s like. We have to learn to live together, how to get along with each other. We have to learn the rules as we go along, and not just rules like no running in the house or sliding down the banister, Josiah shook his head in remembrance of his early morning wakeup call, but also the rules for dealing with each other.
You mean rules like the Golden Rule, Rhi stated.
That´s definitely a good one, Josiah agreed, but there will be others. I don´t expect any of us to learn all the rules in one day. You´re going to slip up and break a few without meaning to and so am I, but as time passes we´ll figure out what to say or not say, and what to do or not do. I´ll learn what you like and don´t like, and you´ll learn the same about me. We have to learn how to be a family together.
And one of the very best things about being a family is that even when you break the rules you still get to be a part of the family, and will still be loved just as much and offered forgiveness.
So you broke a rule this morning without meaning to and learned something about me, Rhiannon said slowly trying to absorb his words and apply them to the current situation.
Yes, and I´m very sorry that you got hurt before I learned it, Josiah hugged her close once again.
Rhiannon nodded, I forgive you, she said firmly, and I still love you, Grandpa. Rhiannon raised her head and the beautiful smile that Josiah loved so much spread across her face.
Thank you, sweetheart, and I love you, too. Did you learn anything from this morning? Josiah asked.
Rhiannon thought for a moment then Josiah saw a twinkle appear in her eye and she said with a giggle, Yes, sir! I learned not to sleep late if I want to help make French Toast!
Oh, you! Josiah laughed and started tickling the little girl who was still giggling at her own joke.
We better go see if Lucas left us anything to eat. I don´t know about you, but I could eat a bear this morning, Josiah said with a growl and he hefted the still giggling child over his shoulder, happy that the crisis had been resolved satisfactorily.
SEVEN MONTHS LATER
Agent Sanchez, Josiah absently said into the phone receiver when the phone on his desk rang and he had answered it, his attention still on the report he was currently typing into his computer. His quiet, Are you sure? caught the attention of his fellow agents and they all watched in concern as his face slowly drained of color. I´ll be right there.
Josiah slowly replaced the phone receiver on its cradle and sat silently with his hand still resting on it.
Josiah? Vin asked as he pushed back his chair and rose from his desk to walk toward his friend. Are you okay?
Josiah looked up at Vin with the beginnings of tears in his eyes and replied, That was the hospice. They think I need to get over there as soon as possible.
Vin found himself at a loss for words so settled for gripping his friend´s shoulder in support.
Come on and I´ll drive you, Vin told him.
Alright, Josiah said with a distracted air then said, the kids!
JD and I will see to the children for you, Ezra stepped up to his friend and assured him. They´ll be fine.
Sure, we´ll take care of them for you, don´t worry, JD hastened to reassure his friend.
Michelle didn´t want them to see her like when, Josiah stammered.
Understood, my friend, Ezra told him gently.
Josiah nodded and whispered his thanks.
Nathan put his arm around Josiah´s shoulders and told him, We´re here for you, Josiah. You´re not alone in this.
Ezra since you and JD volunteered to take care of the children, Chris stated, We´ll take Josiah on ahead.
Nods of agreement were exchanged and the team set off. Josiah had a flashback of another elevator ride when once again he found himself surrounded by the supporting wall of his friends, protecting him from the prying eyes of curious people that tried to board their elevator on the trip down to the garage level of the federal building. Although he felt like his heart was breaking, he took comfort in their presence. He knew he could count on them to get him through whatever came in the next few hours.
The trip to the hospice seemed to drag by in slow motion for Josiah. He wanted to yell at Vin to hurry up, scared that they wouldn´t make it in time, and yet another part of him was screaming to slow down, irrationally telling him that if he didn´t go then she couldn´t leave. He sat tensely in the back seat sandwiched between Nathan and Chris. Buck, sitting in the front passenger seat kept throwing worried glances over his shoulder but remained quiet. None of the men in the vehicle quite knew what to say so the trip was made in total silence.
Vin pulled into the hospice parking lot and everyone jumped out and hurried inside. The receptionist, Betty Watkins, was on duty once again, and gave them a gentle, understanding smile that never wavered as they ran down the hall to Michelle´s room.
Josiah stood for a second with his hand on the door of Michelle´s room and tried to brace himself mentally and emotionally for what was about to pass. He felt all four of his friends touch him, trying to lend him some of their own strength through the contact. When he felt ready he pushed open the door and entered with his four friends following him inside.
He couldn´t help the gasp that escaped him at the sight of his daughter lying on her bed so pale and still. If it wasn´t for the sharp tones of the heart monitor attached to her he wouldn´t have been able to tell if she was still living. Josiah crossed to her and sat beside her on the bed, taking her hand in his own. Chris, Buck, Vin, and Nathan remained standing near the door, wanting to be there for their friend if they were needed, but not wanting to intrude.
Michelle stirred when she felt Josiah pick up her hand and her eyes opened slowly to look at him.
Daddy, she whispered You came, and caused another flashback for Josiah to the first time he had stepped into this room.
Always, Princess, I told you that once before, remember? Josiah voice was low and broken but he pasted a smile on his face for Michelle´s benefit.
I´m glad, she said and Josiah could see the struggle she had to draw enough breath to speak. It may be selfish of me but I´m glad you´re here.
There´s no other place I would be, Princess.
I love you, Daddy. I wanted to tell you that one more time. I don´t think I ever got enough chances to say it, so I wanted to make sure you knew.
I could never get tired of hearing it, sweetheart, but don´t you worry because I never had a doubt about it. And I love you too, Michelle. For forever and beyond, I will love you.
I´m so glad I found you, got to know you before it was too late.
Me too, Princess. I´ll be grateful for the rest of my life for this time together.
Josiah watched a shudder pass through Michelle´s wasted body and she whispered, I´m cold Daddy.
Josiah drew her up and across his lap, covering her with a blanket and wrapping his arms around her, holding her tightly and rocking her back and forth. She settled her head comfortably on his chest and relaxed slightly. Josiah stroked a trembling hand over her hair as the two took comfort from each other.
Will you tell Rhiannon and Lucas goodbye for me, Daddy? And tell them that I love them and will miss them?
Josiah caught his breath on a silent sob of pain and he fought for enough control to answer her with, I´ll tell them, baby. I´ll make sure they remember you and how much you loved them. They´ll never have to wonder about it. I promise you.
Michelle smiled tiredly and nodded, and Josiah could tell her strength was waning. He tightened his arms around his daughter more, not wanting to let her go, but knowing he didn´t have a choice.
Tell the guys goodbye for me too, alright?
Tell them yourself, Josiah joked, Most of them are right here.
Michelle turned her head but said sadly, I can´t see anything from here.
The four waiting men approached the bedside and knelt, one by one, in front of the dying woman to receive and give their own goodbyes and promised to convey her words to Ezra and JD.
Take care of him for me, she whispered to the four men gathered around her bedside.
That´s a promise, darlin´, Buck assured her, tears flowing freely down his face.
We´ll see to him, Nathan told her gently his own eyes brimming with unshed tears, Don´t you worry one bit about him or the kids.
We got his back, same as always, Vin smiled sadly.
You have my word on it, Chris told her.
Knew I could count on you, she whispered so low they could barely hear it.
I´m so tired, Daddy, she sighed after awhile.
The tears Josiah had worked so hard to keep at bay finally spilled from his eyes and down his face as he whispered back, Then rest, Princess. It´s okay to rest now.
Josiah continued to sit on the bed rocking his daughter, occasionally breaking the silence to whisper of whatever memory popped into his head . Somewhere in the long night, he felt her give one last deep sigh then she stopped breathing. Josiah pulled the now lifeless body of his child closer, lowered his cheek to the top of her head, and wept.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Chris looked in concern at the large man standing by the now covered graveside, his head raised to the clouds. In the three days that had passed since Michelle´s death his friend had been very quiet and reserved. Chris had expected him to react with anger, possibly breaking furniture or going on a drinking binge, but Josiah remained calm and withdrawn. Chris supposed Rhiannon and Lucas were the reason for the control. Those two had clung to their grandfather in the past three days as the only security they had left in the world and Josiah had risen to meet their needs like the loving, compassionate man he was.
The funeral service for Michelle had been completed half an hour ago and no one remained in the cemetery but Josiah and Chris. The rest of the team and the other mourners had adjourned to Josiah´s house. Chris had stayed behind to look after Josiah. Chris approached Josiah and stood beside the silent man, watching him for signs of distress.
You alright? Chris asked him.
Josiah lowered his head and turned to glance at his worried friend. Chris could recognize the grief in the eyes looking at him, but Chris couldn´t quite interpret the other emotion he saw in the man´s eyes.
I´m alright, Josiah reassured him then returned to watching the clouds.
Do you need anything? Chris asked, wanting to help his friend, but not knowing how.
Josiah smiled to himself, not taking his eyes away from the sky.
I´m fine, Chris, really.
Josiah nodded then turned to face his friend.
You know, when I first found out about Michelle, I cursed God because I thought he had turned his face from me. It wasn´t until I sat in that room holding my daughter and watched her leave this world just as I had watched her enter it that I realized God hadn´t turned from me, but instead had blessed me. I can´t mourn the time we lost. I can only rejoice in the time we were given. For eight beautiful, glorious months my wonderful daughter was home and was mine again.
Then God smiled on me once more and left me a piece of my child in the shape of her children. I look into Rhiannon´s eyes and see her mother looking out at me. I hear her laughter and I can hear the echo of Michelle´s. I see Michelle in Lucas´ smile, and the way he tilts his head just so when he´s listening to me tell him a story. My lovely Michelle is gone and I´ll miss her more than I can tell you and yet a piece of her remains in my care; depending on me to love and protect as I wasn´t able to do for her while she was growing up.
I´ve been blessed with a second chance, something few of us ever get in this life. I´m going to grab on to that chance with both hands and do my best to make the most of it. I owe that to my Michelle, to her children, and to myself.
Although I know there is nothing I can ever do to deserve them, for the rest of my life I´ll be thanking God for giving me such gifts. He´s shown me that it´s time for me to leave the doorway of yesterday´s regrets behind and step into the garden of tomorrow´s hopes. It promises to be a wonderful adventure.
Chris looked at his friend and finally recognized the look in Josiah´s eyes. It was peace. For the first time since Chris had known him, Josiah looked like he had finally found some measure of peace. A slow smile broke across Chris´ face and he nodded in understanding, realizing that his friend truly was going to be alright.
Come on then. Let´s go home and drink a toast to Michelle, second chances, and making the most of them.
Amen, Brother Chris, Josiah said as he threw his arm around the smaller man´s shoulders and followed him out of the graveyard to the new future that awaited him, a final gift from the woman that had made such a difference in his life, and would forever hold a treasured place in his heart.
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