The Road Not Taken
The vehicle pulled out of the parking lot and onto the highway. Josiah watched, as the taillights grew smaller with increasing distance. Gradually he became aware of six figures coming toward him out of the darkness from the direction of the patio.
"Care for a beer?" came the Texas drawl.
"Sounds like a fine idea Vin," said Josiah taking the can Vin held out to him. "I was wondering where all of you were," he said as he flipped the tab on the can. "It was too quiet when we pulled in."
"We ah, didnt realize it was Sam with you until it was to late. We didnt want to intrude," explained Nathan.
"Howd it go?" asked Buck.
He smiled to himself in the darkness. How do I answer that question? It was rougher than I expected and turned out better than I could ever have imagined. "It went fine."
"You had a chance to talk to Rosemary?" asked Chris.
"Yes, yes I did."
"Is there anything youd care to share with the rest of us?" inquired Ezra delicately.
"Why didnt she tell you abou Oww," yelped JD as Buck cuffed him on the back of the head.
"No one was askin him and I want to know," exclaimed JD.
"Arent you the one always telling me how you have your private stuff Im not suppose to ask about? Well, this is some of that private stuff for Josiah," lectured Buck.
"Hes already told us everything else why wouldnt he tell us " protested JD.
"Because JD "
"Boys BOYS, NOT NOW!" thundered Chris, effectively putting a stop to a big brother Wilmington lecture which was sure to be followed by little brother Dunne rebuttals.
Josiah chuckled. "Sure is nice to be back in the fold," he said before taking a long drink from the can.
"Look, my beers empty whattaya say we go inside," suggested Vin as he turned and headed toward the room he and Chris shared.
The others followed and once again all seven of them managed to shoehorn themselves into one of the small motel rooms.
In the light of the motel room they were able to get a better look at the profiler. He looked exhausted. Lines of fatigue creased his face and his movements were weary. Even so, there was a familiar calm to his demeanor and his eyes held their usual spark once again, they were no longer clouded with anger. His manner was relaxed as he slid down in the chair and stretched his legs out in front of himself and crossed them at the ankle. He took another long swig of beer and let his head fall against the back of the chair and closed his eyes while he steadied the can with one hand on his belt buckle.
"What happened?" asked Chris.
Speaking as if he were rhyming off items on a grocery list, "We talked Rose and I, about what happened and why. We had lunch. I met him. Then he and I talked, had supper, and then he brought me back here."
"Thats all?" JDs tone was leading. He was hoping to encourage Josiah into giving them more detail.
"Thats all," confirmed Josiah.
"You have no doubts that young Mr. Christianson is indeed your son?" asked Ezra.
"No doubts Ezra," replied Josiah as he rolled his head a little to one side and opened one eye to focus on the southerner, "if for no other reason this is not exactly a mug thats easily duplicated."
"Youre not gonna tell us why she kept your son a secret are you?" said Buck.
"I guess thats your business," said JD obviously disappointed.
"Sure as hell is..."
He stopped when he caught sight of hurt and disappointed expressions all around.
He sighed heavily. Then he sat up in his chair and leaned forward resting his elbows on his knees while holding the beer in cupped hands before addressing them all. "Look, the wound is pretty raw right now and theres still a few things I have to think about, that I have get used to. Im not shutting you out. I just need some time, thats all. For now, suffice it to say, I understand her reasons for not telling me and I accept them."
"Do ya forgive her?" asked Vin.
"Theres nothing to forgive."
"You still in love with her? Oww! Buck! You hit me again and Ill knock you on your butt!" threatened JD irritably.
"Oh ho! Id like to see that!" retorted Buck.
"Cut it out Buck or hell have some help," growled Nathan ignoring Bucks surprised expression.
Looking at Chris, Josiah shook his head and asked, "Howd you manage to keep this bunch out of trouble all day?"
"After you and Mr. Christianson departed this morning, Mr. Wilmington decided some of us would enjoy a swim in the pool fully clothed." It was clear from Ezras dry tone, that he was unimpressed with Bucks idea of fun.
"JD and Vin were his first victims and when Ezra threatened Buck with that pea-shooter he keeps strapped to his ankle, Chris decided the game had gone far enough," continued Nathan.
It was Vins turn to carry the explanation. "So we went out to the Roadrunner to settle up damages. Deputy Dunne from the Sheriffs office, was there. He was just finishin his lunch. Hed taken the afternoon off and was headin out to the Warners Ranch to catch up on some chores."
"Sounded to me like as good a way as any to burn off some energy, so I volunteered us to help out," finished Chris.
"They got a nice little place out there, it needs a lot of work though. I swear we must have repaired five miles of fence today," said Buck, holding up one well-bruised thumb.
"All except Ezra of course," said Nathan.
"As usual Mr. Sanchez, I had the most critical task of all. Keeping Masters Kevin and Tyler Warner entertained and out of harms way, as well as explaining to them that the language Mr. Wilmington used the numerous times he hit his thumb with his hammer, is not language used by well-mannered young gentlemen. It is a wonder Mr. Wilmington, that Mr. Larabee entrusts you with any type of firearm considering how inept you are with such a basic instrument as a hammer."
"You met them?" asked Josiah, obviously surprised.
"Who?" asked JD.
"Ben and Becca Warner are real nice folks Josiah," said Vin.
"So is David Christianson," added Nathan.
" and Rosemary is one very, classy, lady," complimented Buck.
Josiah moved to sit up straight in his chair, visibly disconcerted at the mention of Rosemary.
"After working all afternoon, Mz. Warner said the least she could do was feed us and insisted we stay for supper," JD explained further.
Josiah did not hear JD. "Did you met Sam too?"
"Chris might have. No one was home when we first got there. The family showed up just after Deputy Dunne got us all set up with tools and materials to work on the fencing. Ezra had volunteered to help Deputy Dunne in the barn. Chris, trusting nature that he has," said Buck with a Cheshire cat grin," stayed behind to make sure Ezra did help."
"Trusting nature that you have Chris, is that the only reason you stayed behind?" There was an element of suspicion in Josiahs tone.
"I wanted to see him for myself," replied Chris his matter-of-factly. "I wanted to make sure that he was your son."
"Really and did you manage to get a swab from inside his cheek so you can match our DNA as well?" asked Josiah accusingly. He didnt like the idea that Larabee had butted in ahead of him to meet Sam before he had a chance to. The man was arrogant enough!
The other men in the room shifted uncomfortably. Never had Chris and Josiah been at odds like this before.
"I make no apologies Agent Sanchez," replied Chris. "Youre a member of my team and your welfare is my business. I had to be satisfied that this persons claim of paternity was legitimate and not some ploy to compromise you."
"What right did you have to question the legitimacy of my son?" His voice was tight, a hint of the rage that Deputies Warner, Rose and Sheriff Santiago must have faced showed itself.
"I dont know Agent Sanchez," replied Chris, his tone of voice patronizing, "Let me think, youre one of the foremost profilers in the country, you, personally, have been instrumental in putting, I dont remember just how many, criminals and deviants behind bars. Most of whom would sell their mothers to hurt you, or better yet, see you dead. Tell me Agent Sanchez, youre usually the most grounded member on this team but just how functional have you been for the last seven days?"
Josiah rose slowly to his feet. "Fuck you! Where do you get off thinking you have the right to meet my son before I do?" he snarled.
Chris never flinched.
He stared steadily back at the angry profiler. His eyes cold as he spoke. "I didn't meet him. I never went any closer to the house than the barnyard. I wouldnt do that. Even if he hadnt been the spitting image of you," then a flicker of something else in his eyes, "I wouldnt have taken that moment away from you."
The anger seemed to suddenly drain out of Josiah as he realized hed jumped to the wrong conclusion. "Alright." He said as he dropped back down into his chair again. He ran his hand over his face in weary gesture. "Alright and I, ahh, I guess I havent exactly been at the top of my game lately," conceded Josiah grudgingly.
"How about another round boys?" Vin leaned over the cooler and started pulling out cans as the other men let out a collective sigh of relief.
"Can we meet him, you know, Sam, tomorrow?" asked JD. Hoping no one was noticing as he reached into the cooler for a beer.
Buck raised his hand to cuff JD once more and found his arm caught by the wrist, in mid-air, by Nathan. Buck looked back at the owner of the hand holding his wrist in surprise and met with an annoyed glare from the healer.
JD, oblivious to the antics behind him, was hoping the others were too busy to notice that he was trying to sneak a beer. He was disappointed to discover hed grabbed another cola.
"Thank you brother Nathan," said Josiah lifting his beer in a toasting gesture in Nathans direction before directing his attention to JD. "JD, it would be my pleasure to introduce you to my son tomorrow. Though I cant take any credit for it, I think hes a fine young man and I would be honoured to have you all meet him."
+ + + + + + +
Josiah lay on his back. His fingers were linked behind his head and his arms lay flat on the pillow beneath his head. He was staring up at the ceiling. They had gone to bed shortly after the last round. Fatigue and the beer had helped him fall asleep quickly. He had slept soundly for about three hours but a short time ago hed awoken and found he couldnt get back to sleep.
He soon became aware that someone was outside his room, keeping watch. No wonder the others balked at being kept an eye on. He hadnt realized just how irritating it was. He had never been the subject before.
Though weary his body might be, his mind keep replaying the day over and over again, especially the hours spent with Sam.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah had been frozen in the moment. Sam reached and took his fathers hands off his shoulders. He then stepped past him and into the house holding the door open as a silent invitation.
Sam led them back into the kitchen where he poured them both a generous scotch. He handed Josiah a glass and Josiah had followed him out into the living room.
Josiah sat down on the couch and Sam settled into an easy chair across from him.
Josiah then took a hefty swallow of the amber liquid. He hardly noticed it burn its way down his throat as he watched Sam do the same. Josiah studied Sams fingers as they held the glass. His gaze traveled slowly up to the young mans face. It was the same face more slender with youth and the features were a little less angular maybe. The eyes, deep brown like Rosemarys, were watching him intently.
Sam smiled self-consciously and Josiah suddenly realized he had been staring at him.
"Sorry." He said as he shifted self-consciously.
"Its okay," replied the younger man.
"Im sorry as well for the way I ahh reacted the other day. I ahhh dont usually " Josiah began.
"I understand," interrupted Sam in a deep gentle resonant voice. "After all, I knew about you and that you were here, you knew nothing of me. Had the situation been reversed I dont know what I would have done."
"You knew I was here?" Josiah asked frowning.
"I knew you were in town. Ya see Becca telephoned Friday morning and told Mom shed run into you Thursday afternoon. Mom tried but couldnt find you before you found me," Sam explained.
"I wish she had, it might have saved some grief," Josiah said ruefully.
"Thats Becca for you," said Sam before he took another sip of his drink.
There was a long moment of silence.
"Ya know an hour ago my mind was full of questions I wanted to ask and things I wanted to tell you and now I cant think of even one," admitted Sam.
"I know what you mean," replied Josiah.
"You like to fish." said Josiah after another long moment of silence.
"Yeah, howd you know?"
"Your mother showed me your baby album."
"Ah jeez Mom." Sam grimaced as he put his hand up to scratch the back of his neck in a self-conscious gesture.
"What the wrong?" asked Josiah, a little concerned at Sams reaction.
"That album, its not exactly the way I wanted you get to know me," replied Sam with an embarrassed smile.
Josiah, relieved, smiled broadly. "Youll have to forgive her, mothers are like that."
"Yeah, I know, Im 63", 24-years-old and a marine but to Mom Im still her baby boy."
Josiah chuckled. "Theres no damage done. Look " Josiah shifted nervously to lean forward, "its a place to start." He looked hopefully at Sam. "I think she left it in the kitchen."
Sam got up and a moment later returned with the album. He sat down beside Josiah on the couch and laid the album out on the coffee table. The two men leaned over the open book while Sam supplied his own comments with the pictures.
The go-cart had been a last minute effort because David had dared him to enter the races. The band had been short lived but a helluva lot of fun. His mother had gone to every football game he played. He was pretty sure she had watched with her heart in her throat every time hed been tackled. He had loved every minute of it.
The pictures were enough of an icebreaker that they soon forgot about the album and sat back on the couch half facing one another and just talked.
School just never interested Sam. He always wanted to be doing something rather than reading and studying. He wanted to travel and see some of the world. Thats why the military had appealed to him.
Josiah could empathize with him. He told Sam about his and Hannahs lives growing up in other countries. Where they had lived and how theyd ended up in Denver. He told him a little bit about his work, about the Team and what had brought him back to Cuatro Esquinas.
Sam asked about Hannah. What was she like?
Josiah told him about her, a talented artist who battled the demons of schizophrenia.
Sam wondered about meeting his aunt sometime. She would be thrilled, replied Josiah.
They questioned one another and talked about themselves taking delight in commonalties and finding the differences fascinating.
At one point Josiah found the young man beside him staring at him.
"Its just so weird," explained Sam by way of an apology. "Im just not used to seeing someone who looks like me."
The hours flew by and the sun was setting when Sam asked, "Are you hungry?"
Josiah suddenly realized he was.
"Come on lets see what we can find in the fridge." Sam got up from the couch and strode into the kitchen. Josiah followed.
"Hey steaks," exclaimed Sam peering into the refrigerator through the open door. "Whatta you say we barbecue them?" asked Sam.
"Sounds like a plan," agreed Josiah.
Sam squatted down to get a better view of what was on the lower shelves. "Potato salad, that wasnt here this morning! Bless you Mom!" Reaching further into the refrigerator, he brought out a basket of fresh green beans. "How about beans?" he asked.
"Do you like chili?" Josiah asked on a hunch as he took the items Sam handed up to him and placed them on the counter top.
"Love it, but I dont get it much around here, none of the others like it three alarm spicy," replied Sam as he stood up.
"A man after my own heart!" exclaimed Josiah chuckling.
Sam froze and looked at Josiah with serious eyes. The off-handed comment had caught them both off guard.
"I was thinking the same thing ," said Sam quietly, " about you."
The lump suddenly returned to Josiah throat. He put his hand on Sams shoulder and squeezed gently. Sam put his hand on top of Josiahs and returned the gesture.
A moment later Sam dropped his hand back to his side. "How about you get the beans ready while Il start the barbecue?" He ducked out the patio door without waiting for an answer.
It gave Josiah a moment alone while he ran water over the beans. He picked the beans up three and four at a time and rubbed them gently between his hands under the running water. His thoughts wandered back over the last few hours spent with Sam. He shook the water from the last handful of beans and placed them in a pot with the rest. He paused for a moment then closed his eyes and raised his face upwards. "Thank you lord." he whispered.
+ + + + + + +
It had been much later, though it seemed to them as if hardly any time had passed at all, they sat talking at the same patio table Josiah and Rosemary had sat at. Their plates pushed aside, their beer glasses long ago empty.
They had found much to talk about. Their mutual characteristic of openness had made it almost easy for them to get to know each other once they got going.
There was one thing Josiah wanted to know. "I wondered. Your mother told me that youd never asked about me, except once when you were nine. Did you not want to know? It would have been understandable for you to have been angry with me."
Sam shook his head gently. "No, it wasnt anything like that. Mom had told me that she never told you about me. I figured maybe there was a reason why. Like maybe you two had had a fight or that she knew that you didnt want children. I did wondered about you, an awful lot. I tried asking David, Emily and Becca but they didnt remember much, at least not anything I wanted to know about you."
"Thats quite a burden for a child to cope with, how did you handle it all on your own?"
"Dad." Sam replied simply.
Josiah was visibly startled by the mention of Craig Morales. How could it be that the man Josiah unconsciously considered a rival, had provided Sam with the emotional support to deal with the questions about his father? It wasnt until this moment that Josiah realized he was jealous of the man.
Sam noticed Josiahs surprise and decided an explanation was necessary. "Dad and I were pretty close. You have to understand, unlike the others, I dont remember a time when he wasnt here. And while Mom and the others shared some physical resemblance, Dad and I shared sort of a mutual kinship, I guess youd call it, in the fact that though we didnt look like each other, neither of us looked like the rest of the family either."
"I talked to him about you off and on while I was growing up. Ya see Dad had a different take on things. He was adopted. He understood my interest in you had nothing to do with how I felt about him or Mom, or the rest of the family."
"He sounds like quite a man your Dad," Josiah acknowledged grudgingly.
"He was." Sam spoke quietly of the "Dad," who was now gone.
"If this hadnt happened, do you think you might have come looking for me on your own some day?" Josiah knew it was a selfish question but he didnt care, he wanted to know.
Sam dropped his eyes to the table and after a moment nodded his head as he replied, "Yeah , yeah, I would have. I was home six months ago on leave. Dad was pretty sick by then and I think he knew it would be our last chance to talk. He encouraged me to look for you. His parents had both died by the time he found out who they were and he felt they could have answered some questions for him. He told me that I could count on Moms help to find you."
"Now that we have met," asked Josiah a little hesitantly, "how do you feel?"
"Pretty damn lucky "
+ + + + + + +
"Pretty damn lucky "
The phrase echoed over and over again in Josiahs mind. Had Rose been right in keeping quiet? Sam had grown up in a warm supportive family environment that Josiah had never known, and since it seemed likely that they would not have married, would have found difficult fitting into. What more could he have offered a child that Rose hadnt already provided? Twenty-five years ago he had been basically unskilled, with a sister who needed a lot of care. The burden had been great. His feelings now were purely selfish.
He rolled up out of bed and trudged off to the bathroom to get rid of the beer. Returning he pulled on his jeans and a sweatshirt and slipped his bare feet into his shoes.
He opened the screen door to find Nathan sitting alone in the blue-black of 5:00 a.m.
"You feel like company?" Josiah asked.
"Sure," replied Nathan, indicating the seat beside him. "Hows the hand?"
"Fine," replied Josiah tartly, "Im physically fine." He shot Nathan an annoyed look that seemed to pierce the darkness.
Nathan held his hands up in mock surrender. "Im just asking."
Josiahs gazed traveled out into the desert as Nathan dropped his hands slowly back into his lap. Nathan studied the dark shadow of his friends profile for a moment. "How do you feel otherwise?" he asked gently.
"Okay, I guess. No! Not okay." Josiah sighed heavily. "I dont know how I feel. Right now more that anything else I wish Id come back, even just to say good-bye. If I had then I would have found out about Sam." His voice began to quiver as he continued, "then I would have had the chance to watch him grow up." He paused then took a deep breath, "Then I wonder, what more could I have done for him that Rose wasnt already doing?" His voice broke.
Nathan leaned forward putting his elbows on his knees and rubbed his hands together slowly. Though he couldnt be sure in the darkness, he suspected silent tears were falling. Maybe some perspective might provide some comfort here.
"You know I cant imagine what it must have been like for you to suddenly have been thrust into the role of care-giver for Hannah. I can treat obvious physical symptoms. I can ask my patients "where does it hurt" and "what does it feel like." I cant even begin to understand how to treat someone who isnt bleeding or who cant tell me whats wrong."
Josiah leaned over so he and Nathan were side by side. He put his elbows on his knees, and wiped his eyes with the cuffs of his sweatshirt. "I remember feeling pretty overwhelmed," he said quietly.
Josiah sighed loudly as they both sat up again. He was troubled by the memories. "So many, many times she was sure I was conspiring with the doctors against her. The next minute she was begging me not to leave her, that the doctors would hurt her while I was gone. She seemed to lurch from emotion to emotion, from one thought to another with no discernible connection. Always in her eyes , Nathan I could see it! She truly believed what she was saying."
"Then there were the really bad days," he said with a voice full of sadness as he recalled the memory, "when shed get so out of control theyd have to sedate her. Shed be so drugged, shed just sit and stare for hours."
"Maybe I figured I couldnt handle any more than I already had." He shook his head. "I shouldnt have come in the first place. The military told Rose everything she needed to know. I only made things more difficult for her and the children."
"I think youre wrong there, coming here to see Rosemary was the right thing to do."
In the darkness he could see Josiahs head turn toward him as if questioning him.
"Josiah, you were fresh out of the service at a time when it wasnt exactly popular to be a Viet Nam vet. Youd been through a lot. You needed to come home to something, to somebody. Who could blame you for wanting to coming home to the Christianson family you described instead of the family you had?"
"So, you think maybe I wasnt in love with Rosemary and the children, so much as I wanted the life Mark had?"
"Maybe, youre the psychologist, but it seems to me that a young man feeling guilty over his best friends death might feel the need to replace that person in the lives of those who needed him the most his young family."
Nathan waited a moment to give Josiah time to ponder that thought before continuing. "I think you did as much to help them heal from Marks death as Rosemary and children did to help you heal. Youre always saying everything happens for a reason, maybe helping each other to come to terms with Marks death was the reason you came here in the first place."
Josiah shook his head. "I deserted them," he insisted stubbornly.
"Of course I did, I said Id come back and I didnt!"
"None of the people I met yesterday feel you deserted them. In fact they only thing they talked about was how happy they were that you and Sam had finally met."
"Nathan there is no excuse for turning my back on them "
"Josiah, Im not going to argue with you," said Nathan patiently. "If you want that guilt, be my guest, but I think instinctively you knew you didnt need each other any more and thats why you didnt come back."
Nathan left Josiah to his own thoughts while they listened to the noises of the desert as it awoke with the first light of day.
After a while Josiah spoke. "This journey, coming here to Cuatro Esquinas I mean, was to help me sort out how and why Ive ended up where I have in my life. It was here that I learned how happy family life could be. It was here that I had decided that I wanted a family someday. That didnt happen. Somehow I lost my way."
"Did you lose your way or did life lead you down a different road?" asked Nathan in a quiet voice.
"What do you mean?"
"The other night Josiah you told us you didnt understand something Father Ambrose had said, "That not all priests live as priests inside the priesthood." Ive known you ever since I was a rookie with the KCPD, nearly eleven years now. In those eleven years Ive met a number of exceptional women that youve spent time with. There was the "Doctors without Borders" Doctor, Laura Wong."
"Quite a woman Laura, I pity any one who gets in the way of her caring for her patients."
"Then there was the lobbyist you met while trying to get changes in the legislation concerning the rights of family members and caregivers of those with mental illness."
"Christine Lunnin, she was a talented musician as well."
"The PD who got you off when you were "detained" for participating in that non-violent demonstration concerning the homeless. You know, the time Travis told you to keep your politics in your back pocket if you wanted to stay in Federal law enforcement, Vivyenne wasnt it?"
"Winslow, Vivyenne Winslow "
"I can think of half a dozen other intelligent, beautiful, creative women, any one of whom, given a little encouragement, would have spent the rest of their lives with you. So why didnt you?"
Josiah sat in silence. Nathan was right. There had been a number of special women in his life. He could have married and happily so, more than a few times. All hed had to do was ask. He had no answer for Nathans question.
Patiently Nathan continued, "Josiah, youve done a lot of good in your life. Youve provided a home and a life with some quality in it for Hannah. Youve provided this team with a lot of stability, we were not at our professional best with Sheriff Santiago and you should have heard us bitching and sniping at each other when you were missing. As a profiler youve dealt with the worst humankind has to offer. I dont have to remind you of some of the really grim cases youve worked on. Cases where other profilers were absolutely stumped. Cases that you had to lose yourself in. Cases I wasnt sure youd ever recover from."
Josiah looked at Nathan and for the first time, Josiah realized Nathan had been his Buck. Watching over him in the dark times when the monsters he studied threatened his soul.
Nathan was watching over him again now.
"Despite it all, youre still a man of great faith and compassion. I doubt that much of what youve done in your life could have been accomplished within the constraints of the priesthood or with the obligations of a family."
Josiah sat in silence for along time considering Nathans words.
Sunrise came in full blooming colour. The spiritual man couldnt help but wonder if it was an omen.
"Then why the gift of meeting my son now?"
"I dont know, " replied Nathan giving his friend a hopeful smile, "but, as you have taught me my friend, everything happens for a reason. I truly believe that. There is a reason for meeting Sam now Josiah. We just dont see it yet."
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org