Strange Bedfellows - Part 4
Pete knocked lightly on the Reeds' door, then let himself in.
"Hello, Pete." Dan Reed quickly rose to meet him, with Bud Bailey close behind. They shared brief handshakes, but only Dan met his eyes. Bud quickly retreated to his seat.
"Hello Dan, Bud. How are things? Any word?" Pete knew he would have already heard of any new developments, but asking seemed like an important formality.
"No, nothing yet." Dan seemed to have become the spokesman, which seemed odd for such a naturally quiet fellow. Yet for some reason, it appeared that he wore the role comfortably.
"Oh, Pete, hi! I thought I heard the door." Carol Reed stepped in from the back yard. Her face looked drawn, but she put on her best 'hostess' form. "You didn't have to bring anything. Believe me, we have plenty of food."
She took the bakery-fresh cookies from Pete's hands anyway, and carried them to the kitchen. Pete heard her bustling about in there, and guessed by the smell of things that dinner would be ready soon.
"Where's Jim?" Pete glanced out back, but saw no sign of his friend.
"He's in the garage," Dan answered. "I managed to convince him to do something rather than just sitting around and fretting. Feel free to go on back there. I'm sure he'll be happy to see you."
"Wait, now, just one minute." Bud jumped to his feet, running a hand through his hair with obvious agitation. "I just want to know one thing. How many cops are on duty at any given time in this town?"
"Why, with all those cops, why can't they find just one woman? That's not asking a lot! Just one woman!" Bud appeared on the edge of tears.
Pete dipped his head a bit. He had heard variations on that question far too many times over the years. Everyone thinks that their problem is the only problem in Los Angeles.
He swallowed the irritation that the question always provoked. He's hurting. He's her dad, and he's hurting.
Pete sighed. "I wish that was all that we had to do. Unfortunately, it isn't. I kept my eyes open for Jean today, and I checked in at hotels whenever I had a spare second. But I also had to answer two nasty domestic dispute calls, ticket or arrest four unsafe drivers, direct traffic in a busy intersection until an accident was cleared, take down a report about a home robbery, issue a summons, answer a call about a dead body, pursue a stolen vehicle, arrest two shoplifters, and break up a knife fight in a park. And, of course, I had to write detailed reports about everything I did. And every cop around here could tell you the same kind of story. We're doing the best we can, Mr. Bailey. But unless someone gets really lucky, it's going to take time." Pete kept his tone patient.
Bud seemed apologetic. "I know, I know. But it's just so hard...she's my little girl, no matter how big she is. She's my little girl, and I can't take care of her."
Bud broke a little but quickly caught himself, apparently using anger to give him strength. Dan reached out and briefly laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Ah!" Bud waved off the other two men and turned his back, choosing to be alone with his suffering. Pete and Dan shared uncomfortable looks.
"I guess I'll go check on Jim," Pete finally said.
"Mind if I come along?"
"Not at all." Pete liked and admired Dan Reed, and he also knew what a stabilizing influence the man had on Jim. Besides, Bud obviously wanted to be alone.
They walked in silence through the back door, and Pete paused at the picnic table to greet Candace. She clasped his hand in hers and patted it, gratitude shining from her eyes.
"Pete, I'm so glad you're here. I've been wanting to thank you for everything you've done for Jim and Jean. And for Jimmy." She nodded to where her grandson played on the swingset.
He doesn't look too happy. Pete heart sank at the little boy's lethargy. I don't feel like I've been much help to him or anyone.
He forced himself to respond. "You're very welcome. Jim and Jean have always been there for me. And Jimmy's really special to me, too." He dragged his eyes back to Candace.
"I hope he can get through this thing without being scarred for life," Candace whispered.
"Nobody's going to let that happen," Pete replied almost heatedly. "He's got too many adults who love him. He'll pull through."
Pete looked worriedly back at his godson, trying to convince himself of the truth of his own words.
Jimmy drooped on the swing, his legs hanging listlessly.
Carol came out and resumed her seat at the picnic table. "Dinner should be ready in about ten minutes."
Bud came out behind her, then marched toward the swingset, growling something about 'nobody trying to cheer Jimmy up.' Evidently he planned to do just that.
Pete doubted Jimmy's grandfather would succeed in his mission, but he hoped he was wrong. Good luck, Bud.
Candace gave Pete an apologetic look. "I tried to cheer Jimmy up, but he just wanted to be left alone."
Pete nodded. I can relate to that feeling. "I'd better go check on Jim."
"All right, Pete."
As he walked toward the garage Pete heard Candace and Carol discussing his many wonderful qualities. He blushed and quickened his pace.
Dan followed just behind him.
Pete squinted a little as he entered the garage. It seems dark in here. He glanced up and saw that one of the fluorescent light bulbs had gone out. It's not like Jim to leave that there. He always likes a lot of light for his work.
The observation put a knot of fear in his gut. Where is he, anyway?
Pete hated to admit it to himself, but he still suffered from the aftershocks of his nightmare. Sleep had eluded him for the rest of last night, mostly because he had been afraid to let himself drift off. Insomnia was far better than reliving that nightmare. But the lack of sleep made his overburdened nerves that much more vulnerable.
Now, in the unnaturally dark garage, Pete's skin began to crawl with the same shivery feeling he'd battled last night. He stopped in his tracks. Lots of people off themselves in the garage.
Where is he, and why doesn't he care about the light?
Pete shook himself. It was just a dream. He would never do that to Jimmy. Never.
Pete forced the thought out of his mind by sheer strength of will, and called out to his partner with his best "stand up and take notice" voice.
He got no answer.
"Hmmm. I thought he was in here," Dan commented. "Maybe he's getting something out of the utility shed. I'll go check there." Jim's father walked away.
Pete began to reason with himself. There's a perfectly rational explanation for this. Jim is fine. This is not last night's dream.
Unfortunately, his heart ignored him and began to race.
"Jim?" He called out again.
Still no response.
Pete was not a man to stand still and wring his hands. Dread or no dread, it was time for action. He walked along the passenger side of the car, careful not to make it wobble on its jacks. He rounded the front fender, and saw something that made his mind reel and his stomach drop.
He saw the top of Jim's head, barely visible under the front bumper.
Dear God, NO!
"Jim!" Pete dropped to the floor, grabbed his friend under the shoulders, and tugged gently to see if he was stuck.
He found he could move Jim's body easily; well, as easily as he could expect to move a 180 pound man.
Pete swallowed hard and opened his mouth to yell at Dan to get an ambulance, but he bit back the words just behind his teeth.
Jim stirred and opened his eyes. He looked quickly around him, his face a mask of drowsy confusion. "Pete…? What…?" He blinked hard several times. "Where…?" He wriggled the rest of the way out from under the car and sat up. "Don't tell me I fell asleep down there." Jim shook his head as if trying to clear out cobwebs.
Pete couldn't move. He opened his mouth, but he couldn't speak. Relief poured over him, but embarrassment came right on its heels. How could I have been such an idiot about this? A moment after that, Pete felt the beginnings of irritation with Jim for scaring him like that.
"Pete? What's wrong?" Jim watched him with open concern. He probably thinks I've heard something about Jean.
"Nothing. Nothing at all. It's just that...dinner's going to be ready in a couple of minutes. I called you, but you were so sound asleep you didn't hear me. Are you always that hard to wake up?"
Pete tried to sound mildly annoyed, and hoped desperately that no one would ever know how panicked he'd been.
"No, not usually." Jim shook his head. "But I hardly got any sleep last night. This thing is really wearing me down."
He stretched his neck downward and rubbed at the back of it, still making no move to stand up. "I guess it caught up with me somewhere between the struts and the U-joint. I've never fallen asleep under a car before." Jim's last sentence came out mushily around a yawn.
"Well, that's good to know," Pete replied dryly, still trying to keep a calm exterior and make his racing heart slow down.
"No word on Jean?" Jim's eyes kept their dull weariness, but Pete detected a flicker of desperation as well.
"No, partner. Nothing yet."
"Dinner!" Carol's voice wafted over to the garage.
Dan poked his head in the door. "Oh, there you are, Jim. Where were you?"
"Asleep under the car, if you can believe that." Jim finally dragged himself to his feet and started toward the house with another yawn.
Dan clapped his son on the back. "Right now, son, I'd believe anything."
Pete wiped his mouth with a napkin and stretched his legs out in front of him. I'm stuffed. I can't believe I ate that much.
He wasn't sure who to credit for the meal. Both Candace and Carol had worked on it. All Pete knew was that he'd just enjoyed a far better meal than he'd had in a while. Probably since the last time Jean had cooked for him.
That seemed like a lifetime ago.
Will things ever be normal again?
The gathering had turned out exactly as Pete knew it would. He'd been to enough Reed family get-togethers to know that the whole gang couldn't fit at the dining room table. Extra place settings ended up on the picnic table, and someone would step up and volunteer to sit outside. Immediately, everyone else of the same gender would volunteer as well, and the whole group would split up.
Today Pete had been the first to offer to eat at the picnic table, so now all the men milled around in the cool of the evening. Dan and Bud took turns playing with Jimmy, though it seemed they had little success in raising his spirits. Bud didn't even seem to try to hide his own discouragement.
Pete glanced back at Jim. The younger man normally far outstripped Pete where appetite was concerned, but not today. He ate just enough to do justice to the cooks' efforts, and then he pushed it away.
It's still more than I've seen him eat since all of this started. Pete felt sure the meal must have done Jim some good.
"How're you feelin,' Jim? I know that meal hit the spot for me."
Jim looked up. "It helped. I just don't feel much like eating right now. What I really want to do is go back to sleep, but that wouldn't do Jean any good, would it?"
Jim shook his head in answer to his own question. "I want to go out and look again." He rubbed again at his eyes for what seemed like the hundredth time.
You need to get back under the car and go back to sleep.
Pete sighed. "Look where? You'd probably end up covering the same ground that our guys have already gone over." Pete's own fatigue was pulling him down, and at the moment he didn't mind Jim knowing it.
"Yeah, but they haven't found her yet, have they?" Jim looked angry. "You know if Judy were missing, we'd have to hogtie you to keep you out of the search." He pushed himself up to stand. "I can't sit around here any more. I have to do something." Jim's eyes held a touch of fire, and his jaw took on that determined set which made arguing pointless.
It's good to see that spark in him. Even if it means a wasted, miserable night of searching.
"Well, I suppose I'll have to hogtie you." Pete gave Jim his most exasperated look. "At least let me call the station and see what areas they've already searched, all right?"
"Fine." Jim still sounded like he wanted a good fight.
That's more like the Jim I know!
Jim fretted in the living room, watching with growing frustration as his partner talked on the phone. After a seemingly endless series of "uh-huh's" and "I understand's", Pete finally hung up. Then he sighed and turned toward Jim.
"You're not going to like this."
"So I gathered." Jim scowled and kept his arms folded tightly across his chest.
"They really don't want you joining the search, Jim. Hotel managers are even less cooperative with estranged spouses than they are with cops. They're concerned that, if you start nosing around, you'll make a manager clam up who otherwise might have talked to them. Besides, they want you near the phone."
Pete gave his partner a sympathetic look, but Jim could clearly read his other unspoken message. It said, "Be reasonable, Jim. They're right, you know."
Jim looked down, not wanting to show the depths of his anger to his friend. It really isn't his fault. But Jim would not be deterred, and he spoke despite his achingly clenched jaw.
"Pete, I know the law as well as you do. And there's no law that says I can't go look for my wife. So the only question is, are you coming with me, or am I going alone?"
Pete didn't look surprised by Jim's stubbornness. But he's still going to argue with me. Jim braced himself for an onslaught of logic. "What about the phone, Jim?"
Jim turned to his mother, who sat on the couch and listened with obvious concern. "Could someone stay and man the phone for me?"
"Yes, of course, but Jim...if the police don't think it's a good idea for you to go…." Her eyes pleaded with him. "And you're so tired. You should…."
Jim cut her off. "You see, Pete, the phone is covered. Now, are you going with me?"
"Are you planning on taking my car if I say no?"
Pete's dry tone reminded Jim of just how fuzzy his own thinking was. Here I was thinking I had my own car. Being so dependent felt like torture to Jim.
"I'll take Dad's car if I have to. I'm sure he'll let me."
Jim began to realize just how desperate he must sound. Like a teenaged kid about to beg for his dad's wheels. He felt tempted to doubt himself, but his stubborn will clamped down hard. No one's going to stop me. I'm going to look for my wife.
His threat had the desired effect. Pete rolled his eyes in a familiar gesture of surrender.
I knew there was no way Pete would let me go alone. Jim kept his jaw set.
Pete turned to Carol with obvious exasperation. "Has he always been this obstinate?"
"Only when he's sure he's right." Carol shook her head and regarded her son with a mixture of frustration, worry, and love. "Which is most of the time."
Pete turned back to Jim, and his face held a no-nonsense expression that Jim knew he couldn't argue with.
"All right. I'll agree to this, but it's got to be on my terms. It's 7:00 now. I'll take you out for two hours. No more. And I'm going to make sure that your relatives know that you're not supposed to do this. I wouldn't be so sure they'd offer their wheels if I were you. This is the best deal you're going to get. Take it or leave it."
Jim ground his teeth a little harder but nodded his head.
"I'll take it."
Jean's latest dose of sleeping medication had finally worn off, but her exhausted body continued its nearly unbroken rest. Lack of food dropped her blood sugar low, adding to her drowsiness.
She dreamed. Snippets of her entire life paraded before her, and it seemed that Jim was a part of all the best and the worst times. In fact, it seemed that he, or rather his job, had actually caused the deepest heartaches and fears that Jean had ever known.
Close calls, missed dates, crises, injuries, and emotional upheaval swirled through her mind. She held him as he wept, she poured out her heart to him, she helped to doctor his wounds, she argued heatedly with him, she sought comfort in his arms.
Through it all, one multi-faceted theme stood out. I can't imagine my life without you. I don't ever want to live without you. I don't want Jimmy to have only one parent. I love you, I love you, I love you.
And then Jean saw herself with tear stained face, walking out of Jim's life. "Destroying his world." That's what he said. She saw the devastation in his face, and in Jimmy's.
This is wrong!
Somewhere in the back of her mind, a voice began to cry out. It started out soft, but grew louder with each word.
No, no, no, no, NO!
Jean woke up, heart pounding in the darkness of her hotel room, battling disorientation.
I don't know what day it is. I don't know how long I've been asleep.
She groped her way through a mental fog, still feeling the cumulative effects of all those sleeping pills.
Jean looked at the clock, and it told her it was 8:45.
Morning, or night? She saw no sunlight filtering through the gap in the drapes. Must be night.
She got up out of bed, then wavered as light-headedness threatened to buckle her knees.
Water. I need water. And food. Other than the small amounts of water that she'd used to wash her pills down, she'd had nothing since she'd left home. How long ago was that?
My water cup's in the bathroom. She held onto walls and furniture as she walked, feeling like she imagined the drunks on skid row must feel.
I shouldn't have taken so many doses. I'm not used to that kind of medicine. I shouldn't have slept so long. I should have had more water. I should have eaten. The floor felt like the deck of a ship, heaving on rough seas.
Finally she stumbled into the bathroom and filled her cup with trembling hands. She downed it, filled it, and downed it again, more times than she cared to count. Her parched lips and mouth slowly regained some moisture, and her head cleared slightly.
Now for the food. I saw a diner not far from here.
Despite the relief her drinks had given her, Jean still felt too drugged and weak to go on.
I don't think I can make it. She sank down and sat in an armchair and flicked on the table lamp. The door looked miles away, and the diner might as well have been on the moon.
She glanced again at the clock on the night table, and then her eyes fell on the phone.
Call for help.
The little round card in the center of the phone read, "Dial 9 for the Front Desk." She picked up the receiver and placed the call.
"Bridgeton Hotel." It sounded like an older woman.
"My name is Jean Reed, and I'm in room number..." Jean squinted at the little round card again, "...room number 12. I'm sick, and I was wondering if I could have food brought in. I can put it on my credit card."
"Well, we don't have room service, but lots of people order in from Frank's Diner. They'll deliver. But they only take cash."
"Do you know their phone number?"
"Just a minute, please." A rustling sound came over the line, like the pages of a phone book. "Here it is. 555-7549. Is there anything else I can help you with?"
"No, that's all. Thank you." Jean hung up and then dialed the Diner's number. As she waited, she rummaged through her purse. Besides the scant change from Jim's ten, she also found about two dollars of her own.
Someone answered the phone. "Frank's Diner."
Jean explored her options over the phone, and found that she could afford a burger, some fries, and a soft drink, and still have a little bit left over.
"We'll have your food over there in about fifteen minutes." The voice sounded like an adolescent boy.
"Thank you." Jean hung up
Fifteen minutes. I'll start to feel better in fifteen minutes. She rested her head on the back of the chair and promptly fell sound asleep.
Pete cast yet another sidelong glance at his partner. Jim felt vaguely aware of it, but Pete's concern couldn't quite penetrate the heavy black cloud which surrounded him.
They rode in silence. Pete didn't seem inclined to talk, and Jim doubted that words could penetrate that cloud, anyway
Here we go again. Jim braced himself as Pete steered his car into yet another parking lot. He raised his head to see where they were, and the sight filled him with disgust.
Oh, no, not this place.
He spoke for the first time since leaving the last hotel. "I want to find her, but I hope I don't find her here!"
"I know what you mean." Pete sighed and opened his door. "Is it your turn, or mine?"
"Mine," Jim replied grimly. He stepped out of the car and strode resolutely toward the front door. Pete fell into step with him quickly.
It felt creepy coming here to the Tumbleweed Hotel in search of Jean. He and Pete had both visited this seedy establishment on many occasions, responding to calls about domestic disputes, drug deals, and prostitution.
When I come into places like this, it always makes me grateful for my home, my wife, my family. Now my wife could be calling this place 'home'. The thought nauseated him.
He pushed the door open and walked through. Several disreputable looking characters lounged around the lobby, but they quickly left. Jim heard them mutter things about "the heat" and "the fuzz."
Creeps like that have radar. They know a cop whether he's in uniform or not.
Jim didn't miss a stride. He approached the front desk, eyeing the clerk with enough determination to balance the clerk's wariness.
He quickly weighed his options. At some hotels he'd taken the 'husband' approach, but his instincts told him that wouldn't work here. The clerk already knows I'm cop.
Jim showed his badge and went through his spiel, focusing intently on the hotel employee's face.
The clerk ran his finger down a list of names, which he kept below the counter, out of Jim's sight. "Nah, she ain't here."
Jim narrowed his eyes, sizing up the weasely little man. Much as he disliked him, Jim decided he was telling the truth. For once, he felt relieved to come away empty handed.
He walked briskly back to the car with Pete, fighting the urge to brush at his clothes. He felt dirty just spending a few minutes in that place.
Jim's skin suddenly prickled as his gut-level 'radar' kicked in. He became aware that Pete had grown tautly vigilant, and he slowed his pace in response.
"What's that behind my front tire?" Pete kept his voice low.
Jim felt ashamed that he hadn't noticed anything before. "Looks like a broken bottle."
"That's what I thought. And perfectly positioned to slash my tire when I pull out."
Pete walked around toward the far side of his car, his arm moving out away from his body as if he wore his duty holster there. Jim felt his own arm growing alert, ready to draw from the back of his belt if need be.
The two officers carefully inspected the lot, the car, and even checked the lock on the trunk. They found no evidence of an ambush. Just the broken bottle.
Jim stepped back to better observe the scene as his partner bent down to remove the razor-sharp glass. No one attacked during that vulnerable moment, and Jim felt himself relaxing.
Pete carried the bottle to a nearby dumpster and threw it in.
"All right, Jim. That's it. Let's go home."
"Home?" Jim looked quickly at his watch. "I can't believe it's 9:00 already."
"Well, it is. It'll be about 9:20 by the time we get you home. And you and I both need to get some rest. Not to mention that your parents might want to get home, too."
"Yeah." Jim felt in no mood to argue. The two-hour search had disheartened him more than he cared to admit. But if I hate walking into some of these places, how would Jean feel about living here?
I have to try again tomorrow. No matter how much it hurts.
Jean wiped her mouth with the napkin and sighed deeply. The food had worked a near miracle, raising her blood sugar, stopping her trembling, and clearing her mind. Fatigue still made its presence known, but Jean knew she could cope with it now.
She rested in the chair for several minutes, feeling her body growing stronger, and her resolve along with it.
I can't imagine my life without you. I don't want to live without you. I don't want Jimmy to have only one parent.
Her decisiveness felt good. So did her sense of self. Jean paused as the realization struck.
I know who I am. My life...my past...they belong to me again. She began testing herself, pulling up memories of high school, of her wedding, of Jimmy's birth. It's all there. All of it! Jean felt joy beginning to bubble inside.
Newly invigorated, Jean grabbed her suitcase and hurriedly stuffed her belongings back into it. She reached to loop her hair behind her ear, then smiled at the old habit. Someday I'll be able to do that again. But now, at least, I can remember doing it.
Packing took very little time. Jean paused to sweep the room with a critical eye. Have I forgotten anything?
Satisfied at last, she sat back down in the armchair and looked at the phone.
Nervousness twitched in her gut and made her hands moist. Jean felt fairly certain that Jim would want her back. But how angry will he be? How hurt? How much damage have I done?
And how in the world will I ever make things right with Jimmy?
She spent several long moments working up her courage, and then finally reached for the phone. This time her trembling had nothing to do with hunger.
The men fell silent again during the drive home. Pete's time estimate proved very accurate, and they pulled into the driveway right on schedule.
Carol instantly darkened the doorway, clearly hoping to see her daughter-in-law step out of the car.
Jim managed to maintain a calm façade while he made his report to his family and saw them off to their car. His trudge back up the lawn took about a year, or so it felt.
I'm so tired. I'm so tired of all of this. The physical weariness Jim could stand, but the soul-weariness sapped him of all his strength.
Sleep won't help this. Nothing will help this. Nothing except having my life back. Having my wife back.
My real wife.
He dragged himself back through the front door and stretched out on the couch.
"Want a beer?" Pete asked quietly.
Some host I am. I should have offered one to him.
Jim debated within himself. Part of him wanted to accept, but he wasn't sure how the alcohol would affect him when he'd eaten so little. He finally decided against it.
"No, thanks. But you help yourself."
"No, I don't need one. I just thought you looked like you did."
Jim managed a smile. "Yeah, but I want to be all there when the call comes. When they find her."
Jim sat up again. "I want to look in on Jimmy."
He walked down the hall and quietly opened his son's bedroom door. The boy slept peacefully, and Jim drank in the sight of him.
He'd never told anyone, but since Jimmy had run away, Jim had checked in on him constantly, even hourly overnight. He listened intently for any sound that might mean Jimmy was leaving again. His vigilance cost him a lot of sleep, but he simply couldn't relax.
I've lost Jean, and I almost lost Jimmy. I can't lose him again. I can't.
So now, after a fruitless search for his wife, Jim indulged in a long, long look at his son.
How would I manage to raise him alone?
Jim slowly became aware that Pete had joined him. He backed away a little and gestured to Pete to take a look.
His partner peered in at Jimmy, then turned with a sad little smile.
Yeah, I feel the same way.
Jean drummed her fingers as the dial retraced its path after the last digit of her phone number. She nearly squirmed with discomfort when it rang. Please be home. Please don't be home. Her mixed emotions left her spinning.
The two men walked slowly back to the living room, and Pete began to take his leave, but the phone interrupted them.
Jim froze, and then snatched it up.
Jean gasped. After only one ring, she heard someone pick up.
"Hello?" Jim's voice both frightened and relieved her.
Jean closed her eyes.
"Honey, it's me."
Jean could scarcely breathe.
"Jean?" Jim's knees went weak and he dropped to sit on the couch. Pete's eyes grew large as he watched. "Honey, where are you? Are you all right?" Jim couldn't hide the desperation in his voice, so he didn't try.
"Yes, I'm all right. I've been sleeping. A lot. I...I remember everything now. And I want to come home. If...if you still want me to. I'm so sorry...." Jean began to cry softly, and Jim felt warmth flooding his soul.
"You want to come home?" He shot a look at Pete, whose eyebrows threatened to disappear into his hairline even as his jaw hit the floor.
"Of course I want you to come home! Where are you? Pete can drive me there right away. He's here right now." Jim felt his face splitting into a huge smile, and yet tears threatened to spill at the same time.
Jean's voice trembled. "I'm...I'm at the Bridgeton Hotel. Room 12. Oh, Jim, can you ever forgive me?"
Jim closed his eyes. "What's to forgive? Just let me bring you home, and everything will be all right again."
"I've packed everything. I'm ready to leave as soon as...as soon as you're ready to have me back." Jean sounded as if she could scarcely believe she'd be welcome.
"I'll be there in a heartbeat. And I won't breathe until then. I love you, baby."
"I love you, too, Jim. Not just as a memory now. It's all real. And boy do I need a hug!" Jean managed a tearful little laugh.
"Oh, man, me too." Jim felt in danger of completely losing his composure. "We're leaving now, and it will take us about fifteen minutes. Don't change your mind, okay?"
"I won't. Believe me. I...I'll be holding my breath, too."
"All right. I love you. Wait for me."
Even though he wanted to leave as soon as possible, Jim could barely stand to hang up the phone. This felt too good to be true, and he didn't want to sever this tie with her.
"Where is she?" Pete asked as soon as the receiver met the cradle.
"At the Bridgeton. Let's go."
"The Bridgeton? I'm sure our fellows already checked there. Some jerk wouldn't level with them." Pete shook his head with disgust. "I wonder how many hours of pain we could have avoided if they'd told the truth."
"I don't know. I just know I need to get there now." Jim pulled on his jacket and headed out the door.
"Wait, Jim...what about Jimmy?"
"Oh!" Jim felt ashamed at his oversight. "Uh, well, I guess I should call Mrs. Donovan. Let me find that number." He walked back to the end table, flipped through the index, and made the call.
His good news drew a little cry from his kind neighbor, and she was more than happy to come watch over Jimmy. Jim thanked her and hung up.
"She'll be here as soon as she can. Within the next few minutes."
Jim fidgeted and paced back and forth between the window and the door, craning his neck for any sign of his neighbor. It couldn't have been more than a minute or two before his search was rewarded, but to Jim it felt like hours. He flung the front door open before she could knock.
"Thanks, Nancy." After everything that had happened lately, and all the help his neighbor had given, he felt comfortable calling her by her first name.
"Oh, I'm just so glad you've found her. Where is she?"
"At the Bridgeton Hotel. And actually, nobody found her. She called here, because she's started to think more clearly and she wanted to come back."
"Oh, that's a good sign. Isn't it?" Nancy fiddled nervously with her purse strap.
"I think so. Definitely. I wasn't looking forward to having her mad at me for hunting her down, and I dreaded trying to talk her into coming home. Just knowing that she's herself again, and that she wants to come back...."
Jim couldn't finish the thought aloud. I've missed her so terribly! It seemed like forever since he'd held his Jean.
Nancy smiled and patted him on the arm. "You'd better be going."
Jim didn't need to be told twice, but as he left, a new thought occurred to him. "Nancy, would you mind calling my in-laws? I'll give you their number, and you could let them know that Jean is doing better and wants to come home. They'll be anxious to know. And could you ask them to call the rest of my family? I would do it myself, but I need to go get Jean as soon as possible."
Jim still feared that any delay might allow his wife to change her mind. She could start this nightmare all over again. The thought sent a chill through him.
"Of course, I'll be glad to do anything I can."
Jim scribbled the number down on a scrap of paper and gave it to his neighbor. "Thanks again. Oh, and would you ask them not to stop by tonight? It's going to be too late, and...well, they'll understand."
"Of course, Jim. I'll call them right away."
It felt rude to hurry out, but Jim couldn't bear to wait another minute. We're already going to be later than we told her we'd be.
He sprinted out to the car as if headed for a code three, with Pete right at his heels.
Jim wished fervently that he had a black-and-white right now, and permission for lights and sirens.
Hurry, hurry, hurry.
He inwardly cursed every red light, and tonight it seemed that Pete caught them all. Pete muttered something under his breath when they got stuck behind a particularly long-lasting one.
Jim tried to regain the euphoria he'd first felt when she called. She wants to come home! She remembers everything! But the agony of the last two days robbed him of trust. How can I know that she means it? How will I cope if she walks out yet again? How will Jimmy survive that?
The drive to meet Jean should have been a happy one, but Jim could feel only a growing sense of fear. His stomach fluttered and he even shuddered a little.
Pete cast a worried-looking glance his way, but said nothing.
I thought things were going well the other morning, too. I held her in my arms, and I kissed her, and then she told me she was leaving.
If I can't trust my own instincts about our relationship, how will I ever be able to relax and trust again?
By the time the Bridgeton came into view, Jim felt like telling Pete to turn around and drive back home.
Get a grip, Jim. There's no backing out of this. Just do it. It might turn out okay. Just go to her. You'll know if it's true when you see her.
Pete nosed the car into a parking spot and threw it into Park. A moment later he killed the engine and turned to look at Jim.
"Are you ready for this, partner?" Pete's question and his soft tone made it clear that he'd read Jim perfectly.
"I don't know. I just know that it's time, and I have to go do this." Jim opened the car door and climbed out.
"I'll wait here. Take as long as you need, Jim. I don't have any pressing engagements."
Jim wondered just how many times in his life he would end up indebted to this friend. He leaned back down to speak through the window. "Thanks."
Pete just nodded with a little smile of support, and Jim walked toward the front door under the neon "Bridgeton Hotel" sign.
Jean stared nervously at the clock. He's late. He's never late. He hates being late. He knows this town like the back of his hand. So does Pete. They're not lost.
Maybe he's not coming. Maybe he's so mad he changed his mind.
No, no. I can't believe that. Not after the way he talked to me on the phone. He was so glad to hear me, he almost cried. He's coming. There's got to be some good reason why he's late.
Jean fussed with her skirt, smoothing out the wrinkles that the suitcase had made.
No, Jim's not the type to hold a grudge. He'll be here. She paced a few times between her chair and the door.
He's not a stranger any more. I know him. I know who he is and what he's like. He'll be here. He loves me. He'll be here.
So why am I so nervous?
Jim glanced at a directional sign near the front desk. It told him that room 12 would be to the left, towards the end of the hall. His presence drew the attention of an employee, a middle-aged woman who offered a friendly-enough smile.
"May I help you, sir?" she asked politely.
"Actually, I'm just heading to Room 12. I believe that's down this way…." Jim pointed past her to the left.
"Yes, that's correct, sir. It will be almost at the end."
I wish you could tell me if my wife is really my wife again.
Jim walked down the hall, hoping he'd managed to keep his face neutral for the desk clerk. Now he just had to figure out what kind of face to wear for Jean.
Number 12. Already? Jim stopped at the door and tried to steady his heart in preparation for...what?
I never thought I'd see the day I'd be so afraid of Jean.
Jim raised his hand, sighed deeply, and rapped on the door.
Knock, knock, knock.
Jean felt her heart leap into her throat. The man she loved more than life was on the other side of that door, and in a moment she would see just how badly she'd hurt him.
She rode on butterflies all the way to the door.
Jim drew his hand back from the door and wiped sweaty palms on his pants legs. What am I going to do when that door opens?
Old adolescent fears came rushing back; fears about what to do with his hands, what to say, what look to give her. He leaned against the doorframe, not quite trusting his legs.
He heard the interior lock slide open, and his gut tied itself in a knot.
The door opened, slowly, tentatively.
Jean! Jim straightened up, scarcely able to breathe.
Jean's eyes locked with his, and he knew. He couldn't have said how, but he knew. The connection no longer flowed just below the surface, but pulled powerfully straight from her heart and mind.
This is Jean. This is my Jean.
She ducked her head as tears filled her eyes. "Oh, Jim!" Her hands flew up to her mouth, and Jim could not have held back if he'd tried.
He didn't try.
He stepped quickly into the room and gathered Jean into his arms, crushing her close and nuzzling into her cheek. He let go with one arm just long enough to push the door closed behind him, and then held her tightly again. He felt no reservation on her part, no walls to break down. She melted against him and held him as tightly as he held her.
He kissed her tear-moistened cheek, tasting the salt, reveling in the scent of her. His hands reached up to cradle her face, drawing her eyes back up to his.
"Oh, Jim, I'm so, so sorry! I..."
Jim laid his fingers gently on her lips and shook his head. He turned his attention to her other cheek, softly kissing her tears away.
He felt her arms moving up, winding themselves around his neck, drawing him toward her. And then they were kissing, not at all like they'd kissed on the morning that she left. Jean held nothing back from him, and Jim accepted everything eagerly, giving his all in return. To Jim it seemed that a lifetime had passed since the last time they'd kissed like this, and at least two lifetimes since....
Pete's waiting out in the car. Jim reluctantly broke off the kiss, finding her just as unwilling to pull away as he was.
"Pete's waiting to drive us home, honey. Let's go home."
"Home. That sounds perfect." Jean leaned against Jim's chest, needing his closeness as desperately as she had needed water and food a short time before.
Jim cradled her gently for several long moments before softly pressing her away. He picked up her luggage, but scarcely took his eyes off of her.
She tucked herself under his arm as they walked toward the door.
Jean's mind flew back to another time they'd walked out a door together. She'd felt desolate and afraid as she'd left her hospital room for the last time. The sound of the door clicking closed had felt like the loss of home and safety.
How different this time! The hotel door closed behind her, and Jean sighed with relief. I'm going home, and this time, it really will be home.
She felt twinges of worry about Jimmy. He may not accept me as easily as Jim has. But Jean couldn't deny the depth of her reborn connection with Jim, and she hoped she'd find the same magic with her son.
I just want us to be a family again.
Jean smiled. We will be. I know we will be.
Jim paused near the entrance to the hotel's one public restroom. The door was recessed, offering a private little nook. Jim drew her into it and kissed her once more, just long enough to make her heart flutter and her breath come short. They shared a quiet little smile at their stolen moment, and then resumed their walk to the main entrance.
They stopped at the desk while Jim settled up her bill. He had to put her suitcase down so he could write with his right hand, but his left arm never wavered from its hold on her.
Jean felt as if her heart would burst.
Home? Home is wherever he is.
Pete glanced around him for any sign of Jim and Jean.
He kept his body positioned for the best view of the front doors while he conversed in the phone booth.
"That's right, he's in with her now. I haven't seen him or her since he went in, but as far as I know, everything is all right."
"Did you say she was in one of the places we already checked into?" Sergeant Powell sounded irritated.
"That's right, the Bridgeton."
"And you think this is for real?"
"Yeah, I think you can call off the search. I don't think she's gone and disappeared on him. He'd have come out by now if that were the case."
He craned his neck again as he listened to Sergeant Powell. I sure wish they'd come out. Despite his confident words to the Sergeant, Pete wouldn't feel completely sure of anything until he saw them emerge together. If there's anything the last few days have taught me, it's that nothing is impossible, and nothing is too bad to happen to Jim.
What? His attention snapped back to the Sergeant. "What news?" As he listened, Pete's face darkened, and a deepening scowl furrowed his brow.
Great, just great.
"All right, Sergeant, I'll give him the news when I get an opportune moment." Pete saw a couple inside the hotel approaching the door, and he squinted for a better look at them. "Yes, of course I'll tell him tonight." He hoped he'd managed to keep the irritation out of his voice.
Mac never would have felt the need to tell me that. Mac gives me credit for having some sense. Pete rubbed at the back of his neck and swallowed his anger. Come on, Pete, you're just tired. Sergeant Powell didn't mean anything by that.
Pete's adrenaline suddenly kicked in as he clearly recognized Jim and Jean. "I have to go, Sergeant. I see them now." Pete hung up as soon as he respectfully could and swung the phone booth door open. He walked slowly toward his car, trying not to be too obvious in his appraisal of the couple.
They look snuggly enough. Pete tried to feel reassured by that, but his trust in Jean couldn't be regained so easily.
She blindsided him and broke his heart once. Twice, if you count the first time she ran off.
Pete knew that wasn't Jean's fault, but this was no longer about blame. This was about just how much one man could stand. Culpable or not, Jean had the potential to cause Jim a lifetime of torment. Pete's instinctive need to protect his friend and partner took precedence over anything else, even his friendship with the old Jean.
If she's not the same woman anymore, then she's a stranger. My loyalty to my friend comes first.
And I couldn't stand for him to keep hurting like this.
Pete arrived at his car and opened the door. He stood behind it, quite unconsciously keeping it as a barrier between him and Jean. So far the young couple seemed oblivious to him and the rest of the outside world, though Jim was steering them in the right general direction. They only have eyes for each other.
I hope Jim's not getting set up for a very big fall.
Try to keep an open mind. Pete worked up a smile, and a moment later, Jean caught sight of him.
She stopped in her tracks, and her hands flew up to cover her mouth.
Jim quickly smiled at his partner.
"Pete?" Jean spoke from behind her hands. She walked slowly forward while Jim hung back.
"Pete?" Jean's eyes shone with a mixture of joy and tears, and Pete felt himself softening. He had the presence of mind to step out from behind the door when she reached him.
"Oh, Pete." Jean took her hands away from her face and reached out a tentative hand to his arm. "Oh, I've hurt you too, haven't I?"
Pete felt himself melting fast. Something in her eyes looked so familiar, so like herself.
I can see why Jim is smiling.
"It wasn't your fault, Jean." Even as he said it he felt the last of his anger melting away.
The old Jean reached for a hug, and Pete could not refuse. He caught Jim's eye over Jean's shoulder, and the two men shared a smile.
Jean pulled away from the hug and wiped at her eyes. "Thank you for being there for Jim through all of this." She turned and walked quickly back to her husband, and as Jim folded her into his arms Pete heard her whisper, "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you. I'm so sorry I was the one causing you pain."
"It's all right, baby. Pete's right. It wasn't your fault."
Jim gently guided Jean toward the car, and Pete opened the door for them. The young couple climbed into the back seat, each of them flashing a grateful look at Pete as they went by.
Pete climbed into the front seat and tried not to sigh.
It looks good. I hope it really is good.
Pete felt very much like the fifth wheel. He focused on his driving and tried to ignore the quiet whispers behind him. He tried even harder to ignore the silent times, when he suspected they were kissing back there.
I want to go home. I want to climb under the covers and sleep for a week. And when I wake up, I want to find out that the Reeds are happy and healthy and everything is easy again.
Somehow, that didn't seem too likely. Even if she really is back to her old self, there's still been a lot of pain that they're going to have to face. And of course there's Jimmy.
Pete shook his head ever so slightly.
Jim cuddled close with Jean in the back of Pete's car. Every once in a while he'd glance at Pete's face in the rear-view mirror, and he'd have to smile.
He's so uncomfortable. He's trying so hard to ignore us. Though why it would bother him that we're just sitting back here is beyond me.
Jim sighed and placed a very soft kiss on the top of Jean's head. She snuggled even closer into his shoulder and gave his arm a squeeze.
I wonder what exactly he thinks we're doing back here. The thought tickled Jim so much that he had to stifle a laugh. Let him think....
"What's so funny?" Jean whispered in his ear.
"I'll tell you later," he whispered even more softly.
They pulled into their driveway at last, and Pete got out to let his passengers out. Jean turned suddenly to Jim.
"Who's watching Jimmy?"
"Nancy Donovan. Do you remember her…I mean from before?"
Jean smiled. "Yes, honey. I really do. I can't wait to go say hi to her."
"All right. We'll go straight in." Jim turned once more to Pete. "Thanks again for everything."
To Jim's surprise, Pete turned to Jean in response. "Jean, would you mind if I talked shop with Jim for a few minutes?"
"No, not at all." Jean flashed them both her beautiful smile and laid a hand on Pete's arm. "Thanks again, Pete." She turned and walked toward the house.
Jim swallowed his annoyance at Pete. What could possibly be more important than me having Jean all to myself right now?
The funny little smile on Pete's face made Jim pretty certain that Pete had read his mind. But the smile quickly faded, and Jim realized something really was up.
"What is it, Pete?"
Pete sighed. "Before you and Jean came out of the hotel, I called Sergeant Powell to let him know that we'd found her. He...had some news for me, too."
"We're going to be smeared all over the papers again tomorrow." Pete folded his arms and leaned back against his car.
Jim's face contorted with disgust. "You're kidding! For what?"
"The parents of one of the kids we shot...the one named Conners... they've gone back to the press. They're not satisfied with the way things turned out, and they're lashing out with all sorts of venom. From what I've been told, they don't have any facts at all, just insults and accusations."
Pete looked as disgusted as if he'd swallowed a live goldfish. "It doesn't even qualify as news, but the paper's going to print it anyway, of course."
Jim muttered an angry invective under his breath, folding his own arms like armor in front of him.
"Sergeant Powell says that the Department is going to have a formal press conference, and they're going to round up as many of the actual witnesses as are willing to speak out. They'll have several Department representatives there as well. It should be a simple open-and-shut case of fact versus emotion, but of course, there's no guarantee how the press will play it."
Jim snorted. "I can guarantee how they'll play it. We'll be the villains, as always."
Pete's expressive face spoke volumes. "Maybe not this time. The article from the parents will be pretty bad, of course. But maybe they won't hack the press conference to death, and our people will get their say."
"Yeah, and maybe the moon is made of green cheese."
"Now wait, Jim. In the last few weeks your wife disappeared and you didn't think she'd be coming back. She did. Then she had a tumor in her brain that might have been cancer, but it turned out to be benign. Then she still didn't have a memory and she got confused and disappeared again. And your son ran away. And you didn't think you'd see either of them again. But they're both right there, inside your house. And from the look of things, your wife is doing a lot better. So if anyone ought to believe that things can work out, it should be you."
Jim shrugged. "Yeah. I guess. I'm just so tired of it all. Every time one of those crises resolved itself, another one came right up and slugged me in the face. I'm getting a little punch-drunk, if you know what I mean."
Pete offered his most supportive expression.
Jim rubbed at the back of his neck. "Frankly, I'm just expecting the blows to keep coming. So no, I don't think it's going to work out well in the court of public opinion."
"Well, whatever happens, we'll make it through. After all you've been through lately, you ought to be pretty well indestructible."
"Hmph." Jim shook his head. "Before Jean called, all it would have taken was burnt toast and I would have been done for. I was that close." He worked up a weak smile for Pete and saw it returned.
"Good night, Jim. There's a pretty lady waiting for you in there, and I suspect she'll be better company than I am right now." Pete climbed back into his car and started the engine.
Jim nodded with a little smile. "Good night, Pete. Sleep well. Are you working tomorrow?"
"Yeah, mid day watch." Pete leaned his arm on the window frame.
"I've still got paid time off. I can't believe you guys did that for me." Jim made sure he included Pete in that reference.
Pete just smiled. "Enjoy it, Jim." He pulled his arm back into the car, placing both hands on the steering wheel in his best LAPD Driving School fashion. "Good night."
Jim watched as Pete pulled away. Once his friend turned the corner, Jim made his way slowly up the yard. He pulled the front door open and paused at the sight of Jean and Nancy. Jean looked terribly upset, and Nancy appeared to be trying to comfort her.
Jim stepped inside and hurried to his wife. She turned pain-filled eyes to him and whispered, "Jimmy ran away?" Her face seeming to plead with him to tell it wasn't true.
"Oh, honey, we found him! He's fine! He's right there in his bedroom asleep. You don't have to worry about him." Jim hugged his wife close. Why didn't I prepare her for this? Jim could hardly believe how fuzzy his thinking had become lately.
"I know he is! Nancy told me. But still, Jim..." Jean placed a hand on his shoulder, "...he was gone most of the day! You lost me and him all at once, and you were devastated!"
Jean paused to wipe a tear off her cheek. "Look at all the harm I've done. Just look at it!"
Nancy turned to Jim with a regretful expression. "I'm sorry, Jim. I didn't realize you hadn't told her. I shouldn't have assumed...."
"It's all right. It wouldn't have been easy for her to hear about it, no matter who told her." Jim kept his tone kind, even though he did feel twinges of annoyance. He stroked Jean's shoulder as she leaned against him.
"I'll talk to her. Thanks for watching Jimmy."
I just wish she'd go home now. He hoped Nancy would catch the hint and take her leave. After a few seconds, the hint seemed to find its mark, and Nancy stood up.
"Well, I guess I should leave you two alone. I wish there was something I could do to take back what I said. I hate leaving on a bad note."
"No, Nancy, you've done so much for us. You've taken care of Jimmy, you've helped clean our house, and you've cared from the bottom of your heart." Jim walked her toward the door with a hand placed lightly on her back. "Please don't feel bad. Jean and I are both pretty worn out and pretty easily shaken up by now. We'll get through it as things calm down. Please don't worry." He pushed the door open.
"All right, Jim. If there's anything I can do, please let me know. Good night, Jean. I'm sorry again."
"Good night." Jean had by this time regained her composure and had joined her husband at the door. "And Jim's right. You're a very good friend. I can remember now, and I know you've always been there for us." Jean gave Nancy a little hug, and the latter went home in what appeared to be better spirits.
Jim closed the door and turned to Jean. "I'm sorry, hon. I didn't want you to hear about it that way."
Jean turned away. "Just how did you want me to hear it?"
"Hopefully with my arms around you." Jean had folded her arms around herself, and Jim ached for her fragile loneliness. He saw her shoulders shaking, and drew her around to face him. "It's going to be all right. You mustn't blame yourself." He hugged her close, and she let herself cling tightly to him.
I'm so glad she's not pushing me away. Jim felt the old fears rushing back even as he reassured himself. What if she decides she can't take it...again! Or if she decides that we'd be better off without her....
"Oh, Jim, I don't blame myself. But...but..." she looked up into his eyes, seeming to search for words. "If you...if you were in an accident, and it wasn't your fault, but you were driving, and then it happened, and everyone you loved most was killed or injured, how would you feel?" Her eyes searched his, seeming to plead for him to understand.
"Well, that's how I feel."
Jim brushed a tear from her cheek, hating every bit of pain she had to feel. "If I were in such an accident, what would you be telling me right now?"
Jean smiled ironically. "I'd probably be telling you not to feel bad, and you'd hate hearing it as much as I do."
"But you'd be right."
"No, not really." Jean cuddled closer. "I think we need to stop telling each other how to feel, and just be here for each other."
"Deal." Jim kissed the top of her head.
Jean pulled away. "I want to go look in on Jimmy. I just...need to see him."
"Sure. Me too."
They walked to Jimmy's bedroom door and opened it softly. Their son lay curled around Pancake, his hair standing up on his head and his face adorned with the sweet innocence of childhood.
Jean sighed. "He looks like such an angel."
"Yeah." They watched him in silence for several long moments.
"Do you think he'll ever forgive me?" Jean's whisper barely reached Jim's ears.
"It may take time, but I think he will."
Jean backed quietly out of the doorway, and Jim pulled the door softly shut.
"I don't know how I can be tired after all the sleeping I've done, but this whole thing has worn me out." Jean looked into Jim's eyes. "How about you?"
"Yeah, I'm tired. But hon, before we hit the hay, there's something else I need to tell you." He guided her away from Jimmy's door.
"Why don't I like the sound of this?"
"Probably because I don't like it either."
They walked into their room and sat down on the bed to talk. Jim told her about the upcoming article in the paper, and the planned LAPD response. He tried to keep it as nonchalant as he could, but he doubted he'd fooled her.
"This is all pretty depressing stuff," she responded when he'd finished.
"Yeah. But hopefully it'll blow over soon."
Jean still seemed unguarded, and Jim found that very reassuring.
Sad or scared or angry I can deal with. But please don't ever shut me out again.
Jean could feel her husband's fear. He tried to hide it, but he'd never been able to fool her. Jean concentrated on keeping herself open and reachable.
"Thanks for telling me about that... for not sheltering me," she finally said.
Jim shrugged. "Well, you can't exactly miss what's all over the news."
Jean smiled just a little. "I can remember a time when you would have tried."
Jim seemed surprised by that. "You really can?"
"Yes, I really can." You don't believe me? "I wasn't kidding you, Jim. It's all come back. And I'm myself, back in my right mind. I swear it." She reached up to touch his cheek. "And no matter what, I'm here to stay. As long as you want me. This stuff that's happening...it's hard, and it hurts. But nothing is harder than being apart from you and from Jimmy. I love you...both of you...so much."
"I love you, too." Jim moved close for a kiss, clearly feeling none of the constraints that had held him back before.
Jean felt a shiver move up her spine. No Pete waiting, no neighbors here, nothing between us, nothing to stop us.
A little cry sounded from Jimmy's room, and both parents jumped in response.
"You'd better let me take care of it. He's not expecting you to be home, and I don't want to startle him." Jim rose to comfort his son.
Jean waited until he'd left the room before opening one of her dresser drawers. She knew exactly what she was looking for.
Here it is. She pulled it out with a sense of satisfaction. Jim's favorite.
Jim opened his son's bedroom door and stepped inside. "Daddy's here, Jimmy. What's wrong?"
"I had a dream, Daddy!" Jimmy's voice sounded barely less than panicked. His little face now wore none of the peacefulness of a few minutes before. The sight tugged at Jim's heart.
"Shh-shh-shh. Daddy's got you." He reached out and picked the little boy up, settling into the rocking chair with Jimmy in a comforting embrace. "What happened in your dream?"
"Uh-oh. Did she get hurt?"
"She fell into a big hole that didn't have any bottom. She just kept fallin' and fallin', and nobody could catch her, and nobody could save her." Jimmy's little body shook with emotion.
Jim smoothed the little boy's hair down and brushed it back from his forehead. "Oh, Jimmy, it's all right. It's all right. Mommy's doing better. Did you know that?"
"How do you know?"
"I talked to her on the phone. She said her head got better, and she could remember things, and she wanted to come home. She said she didn't ever want to leave again."
"Really?" Jimmy turned his little face up to Jim's with a pleading expression. "Really, Daddy?"
"Yes, really. Do you want Mommy to come home?" If you don't, I'm not telling you that she's here. I don't want her to have to deal with that until tomorrow.
Jimmy snuffled. "Yes."
Jim closed his eyes with relief.
"Good, because she's here."
Jimmy sat bolt upright in his Daddy's lap. "Here? In our house? Now?" He leaped out of Jim's lap. "Can I go see her? Now? Can I, Daddy?"
The words washed over Jim's soul like a balm.
"Yes, son. I know she'd love to see you, too." He picked Jimmy up and carried him down the hall. "You're going to be good to her, aren't you?"
Jimmy just nodded.
Jim opened his bedroom door and peeked quietly in, hoping Jean wasn't already asleep.
No, she is definitely awake. The sight that greeted him made his head spin, but only in the most delicious of ways.
"Uh, there's someone here who'd love to see you. Besides me, that is." Jim grinned.
"Oh, well..." Jean jumped up and threw on her robe, "...send him in."
Jimmy walked slowly into the room, and then ran to his mother.
"Mommy!" He wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in her robe. "You came home!"
Jean sat on the bed and cuddled with her son, and played with him, and talked to him for quite a while. Jim just lay quietly beside them, watching them with apparent delight.
Jean could almost join in his pleasure. Almost. Something troubled her, and she struggled to put her finger on what it was.
Jimmy seems like an absolute angel. But he doesn't seem like himself. His exuberance, his cheerfulness, his goodness...they all seemed forced somehow.
He's putting up walls, just like before. It's a different kind of wall, that's all. Before it was anger and rejection. Now it's this happiness that doesn't reach his eyes, doesn't ring true in his voice.
Oh, Jimmy, how am I going to reach you?
"Okay son, it's time to go back to bed." Jim scooped Jimmy up. "Mommy and Daddy are tired, and you should be sleeping, too."
"Okay Daddy. I'll see you tomorrow, okay, Mommy?"
"Yes, son. I'll be here." Please believe that.
Jean watched as her two men walked out of the room, and then laid down and closed her eyes. Just focus on the positives. I can remember. I'm home. And Jim will be back in this room very soon.
That last bit of good news carried the most weight with Jean, and she let her thoughts linger there.
A few moments later she heard his soft footsteps, and then she felt him slip under the sheets beside her.
"That went well." Jim stayed up on one elbow and snuggled up close.
"Yeah." Jean chose not to share her reservations with him. Maybe later, but certainly not now. She opened her eyes and smiled up into his face.
"So...uh...what was that you were wearing?" His face filled with playfulness.
Jean smiled at the mischief in his tone. "Oh, you mean the little thing that made your jaw hit the floor?" she teased.
"Yeah, that. Is it hiding under here?" He toyed with the opening of her robe.
"Maybe. Why don't you look and see?"
She gave him a second to start his investigation, and then added coyly, "Unless, of course, you were serious when you told Jimmy how tired we are...."
"Ha! Yeah, right."
Was it a dream? Jim awoke but avoided opening his eyes. If it was just a dream, if she's not really there, it'll kill me.
Jim concentrated. No, it was real. He felt a slight motion beside him, and his tentative hope turned to joy. His eyes flew open and he rolled over to face his wife.
What a beautiful sight. It didn't matter one bit that her hair looked like a buzz cut. The rest of her looked deliciously, unquestionably feminine.
Let her sleep.
Jim could barely hold back from touching her. She's home. She's home. And she's really herself. He propped up on one elbow and soaked in the sight of her, like a man just released from a dark prison would soak in the sunlight.
She breathed deeply, peacefully.
The longer Jim watched, the more he wanted to wake her. But unwelcome thoughts began to tap at the back of his mind. He pushed them roughly away, refusing to recognize them.
Jimmy's doing better, too. We're really going to be okay.
He couldn't quite manage to distract himself. There's something to dread. The thoughts knocked louder, demanding his attention. Finally, annoyed, he let them coalesce.
The paper. Jim's shoulders sagged and he sighed. I'd better go see what the vandals have done this time.
He threw the sheets off, pulled on some pants and a T-shirt, and walked outside.
So far, so good. The walls still looked clean and freshly painted. Jim walked around the privacy wall and down the driveway. The rose bushes are okay, too. He began to breathe a little easier.
After a thorough survey of all four sides of his house, Jim returned to the front yard to retrieve the paper. Maybe it's not so bad.
The main headline said something about the City Council, and Jim breathed easier still. At least we're not in the hottest spotlight.
But we are on the front page. His picture, along with those of other officers involved in the shooting, stared back at him from thumbnail-sized prints. The caption read, "Victim's family speaks out."
Jim snorted. "So, he's the victim, is he?"
"What's that?" Jean responded.
Jim turned, surprised. "Oh, good morning. I hope I didn't wake you."
"No, it was time to get up. I'm surprised Jimmy isn't up already."
The thought put a knot in Jim's gut, and he hurried into the house and down the hall. Jean joined him in Jimmy's doorway a moment later.
"You were worried he'd run away again, weren't you?" She snuggled against his back and wrapped her arms around his waist.
"Yeah," Jim confessed, watching with relief as his little son slept.
"I'm so sorry." Jean whispered.
Jim just patted her arm. "It's going to be okay."
"Yeah, I hope so."
Breakfast went just about as Jean expected. Jimmy ate too cheerfully, talked too cheerfully, cleared his place too cheerfully.
"Mommy, I want to play outside."
Jean stood to clear the dishes away, but her eyes followed her son out the back door. Jimmy headed straight for the swingset, but even as he played, he seemed to have no heart for it.
But he wants me to think he does.
"Something wrong, honey?"
Jean jumped a bit at Jim's unexpected question.
She sighed and turned on the faucet. "Maybe it's nothing, Jim. Maybe I'm just imagining it."
Jean could see Jim out of the corner of her eye. He leaned with his right side against the refrigerator, arms folded in front of him, clearly prepared for a long talk.
He's not going to let it go, so I'd better tell him.
She put the stopper in the drain and squeezed some dish soap in.
"Well, it's just that I don't think he's leveling with us...emotionally, I mean." She turned to face her husband. "I think he's still just as upset as he was before, but he's hiding. I...I'm just wondering how I'll get through that wall."
"You'd better turn the water off." Jim's face showed a touch of amusement for a moment.
"What? Oh, yeah." Jean turned back to the sink and shut off the flow, then looked outside. Her window afforded her a view of the swingset, but Jimmy no longer swung there. She craned around until she spotted him digging in the dirt with a stick.
Jim moved to stand beside her. "I'm sure he still has some things to work through, but I'd rather have him this way than the way he was before."
Jean nodded. "Yeah, me too." She swiped at a dish and then ran it under the rinse water. "But, at least before, he was honest and open. It worries me to think that he's still got all that anger and fear hidden away inside of him."
She turned back to Jim. "You know how miserable it is to keep feelings like that bottled up. You know how hard I have to work to pry it out of you sometimes, and you trust me. But he doesn't trust me, so I can't begin to get inside his head or his heart."
Jean turned back and scrubbed away at some silverware. "Maybe you can get through to him."
"Sure, we'll talk things out when he's ready. But don't count yourself out yet. You've got a way with getting into people's hearts. Believe me, I know."
Jean flashed him a brief smile, and she was struck by the happiness she saw in his face.
"So what are you so happy about?"
"You. Listening to you talk. You sound like you again." Jim reached a finger to trace her jaw line.
Jean felt a slow smile spread across her own face. "Yeah. I am me again. It feels good." She gave his hand a quick kiss, and then returned to her dishes. Concern filled her again as she looked out at her son.
"Look at him, Jim. He's still just digging in the dirt. He looks so... listless. I've never seen him like that before."
She ran the last of the dishes through the rinse and opened the drain.
Jim stepped close behind her and rubbed her shoulders. "I promise, I'll talk to him when he seems open to it. Right now though, we have to get ready for your doctor's appointment. Ruthie should be here any minute to watch Jimmy."
"I know, Jim. I hadn't forgotten." Jean gave her son one last look before heading to her bedroom to get dressed.
Jean fidgeted uncomfortably in Doctor Barnes' waiting room. I feel like I'm about to go on trial. She battled with a relentless dread that, after all of her recent shenanigans, the doctor would want to have her committed.
"What's the matter, honey?" Jim kept his voice soft.
Jean gave no thought to hiding her true feelings. Her long days of estrangement from her husband made her crave absolute unity with him now.
"I'm wondering how to convince him that I'm not a lunatic."
Jim smiled. "You've convinced me." He put a gentle arm across her shoulders.
She tried to smile, but couldn't quite. Instead she just snuggled close.
"Seriously, honey, just tell him everything you told me. Explain how the sleep helped you. Show him that you remember everything now. He can't help but be convinced." Jim rubbed her shoulder encouragingly.
"I hope you're right." Jean shivered a little. "Why do doctors always keep their offices so cold?"
"Probably for the same reason they make you wait in those cold rooms forever. Sheer meanness." Jim's tone bore no real anger.
"Mister and Mrs. Reed? Doctor Barnes will see you now." A pleasant-looking receptionist beckoned them, and Jean rose nervously to her feet. Jim touched her elbow in a silent show of support, and she felt a warm flush of gratitude.
What would I do without you? I must have been crazy to have tried.
Doctor Barnes rose to greet them the moment they entered his office. "Jean! Come in. Please sit down. Mr. Reed...." The doctor shook Jim's hand briefly. He had evidently gotten so used to using Jean's first name back at the hospital that he used it again now, but kept the more formal greeting for her husband.
Doctor Barnes took Jean's arm and escorted her to the chair, clearly uncertain that he could trust her to comply.
Jean moved purposefully, wanting to erase his doubts. "Thank you, Doctor."
"Yes, and thank you for getting us in so quickly," Jim added.
"This was important enough, wasn't it? Jean, you gave us quite a scare." The doctor seated himself and regarded Jean gravely. "Can you tell me what happened?"
Jean started at the beginning, back when her insomnia first began at the hospital, and the extraordinary stresses at home, and her decision to depart, and the sleeping pills. The latter drew an even more grave expression from the doctor's already serious countenance.
"You took how many sleeping pills?" he asked, scribbling on his note pad.
Jean paused to figure out the total and reported it to him. "But," she quickly added, "I didn't take them all at once. They were spaced out about 8 hours apart. I wasn't trying to harm myself, I promise you."
The doctor nodded. "I believe you. But you clearly weren't using very good judgment, were you?"
"In hindsight, no. But then again, in hindsight, all that sleep did help me regain my memory. It turned out well. And I'm back to being myself now." Jean tried not to fidget nervously.
"Is that true, Mr. Reed?" The doctor turned still-serious eyes to Jim.
"Yes, I believe it is. She seems completely like herself now." Jim's voice held no reservation, and Jean felt another wave of thankfulness at her husband's confident support.
The doctor seemed only marginally less concerned than he'd been at the beginning.
"You've made this judgment of her mental capacity after having her back home for...less than twelve hours? That seems rather hasty to me, especially since you must have spent quite a few of those hours sleeping." The doctor tapped his pen on the desk and furrowed his brow.
Jean felt her stomach sink. He's not going to believe me. What kind of trouble have I gotten myself into?
Jim sat back and watched with pride as his wife fielded question after question from the doctor. He could see her fear, but he could also see her strength. You're doing fine. Keep it up, hon.
The doctor started with informal-but-pointed questions, and worked up through a battery of mental tests. Jean answered every question just as she would have before the whole ordeal began, and the doctor seemed less skeptical despite himself. Finally, after almost an hour, the doctor sat back and blew out his cheeks.
"Well, Jean, I've got to hand it to you. You've surprised me. You've passed all my tests with flying colors. But I'm still not comfortable." He began tapping his pen again, and then switched over to clicking it thoughtfully. The room fell uncomfortably silent.
"I'll tell you what I'll do." Jim almost jumped when the doctor suddenly resumed. "I'll clear you to go home, rather than sending you back to the hospital, which is what I really wanted to do. But I'll do that on only one condition."
He leaned forward as if to emphasize his point. "I want you to phone me every day, without fail, at 3:00 in the afternoon. I want to talk to you personally and make sure that you're okay. And Mister Reed," he continued, turning his attention to Jim, "I want you to give me your word that you'll notify me of any deviation from the norm, no matter how insignificant it might be. I may agree with you that it's minor, or I may not. I want to know, regardless. Do we have an agreement?"
"Yes, doctor. Anything." Jim stood, sensing the end of the interview. Jean took his cue and stood as well.
"And another thing," Doctor Barnes continued. "I want you to go straight from here to the hospital. Not to be admitted," he added when the Reeds grew visibly worried, "but to have some follow-up xrays. You'll go right there...?"
"Well, Doctor," Jean said quickly, "can we wait an hour or two? We have an appointment with Jimmy's pediatrician in about twenty minutes. We're barely going to be able to make it in time as it is. And it's very important. We need to find out how to help him."
Jean's presence of mind and confident manner drew a smile from Jim.
The doctor looked questioningly at him, and Jim nodded to confirm Jean's statement.
"All right then." Doctor Barnes scribbled something illegible on a prescription pad and handed it to Jim. "Right after the pediatrician's appointment, take this prescription to the hospital and get the xrays done. Tell the hospital I want them on my desk first thing in the morning."
"Yes, Doctor. Thank you." Jim folded the little paper and put it in his pocket.
"And now, if you'll excuse me, I have another appointment waiting." Doctor Barnes rose and shook hands with Jim and Jean. He gave the latter a lingering look. "Jean, I really hope that you're doing as well as you seem to be." And then to Jim, "Call me if you need me, any time."
Jim nodded, feeling deeply appreciative of the doctor's concern. The young couple took their leave, pausing only to settle their bill before hurrying to meet the sitter and Jimmy at Doctor Cole's office.
"Well, Jimmy, you're growing like a weed." Dr. Cole handed Jimmy back to his parents after a cursory examination. "You must be eating your spinach."
"Yuck!" Jimmy laughed. "Never!"
The doctor smiled, chucked Jimmy under the chin, and opened the examining room door. "Nurse Hill, could you come here a moment, please?"
"Yes, Doctor." The nurse appeared shortly after her voice, looking expectantly at the doctor for her instructions.
"Would you take Jimmy here to the waiting room and give him a sucker? I'd like to talk with his parents for a few minutes."
"Of course, Doctor. Come along, Jimmy." She beckoned to him, and he followed quite willingly.
"Can I have a yellow sucker? Those are my favorites."
"I'll see if we have one."
"Be good for the nurse, Jimmy," Jean called as the door closed behind him.
The doctor pulled his wheeled stool closer to Jim and Jean's chairs and perched on it. "Well, I understand you've had some concerns. I'm all ears."
Jim and Jean looked at each other as if wondering who would speak up. After a moment Jim took the initiative.
The doctor watched with an expression of increasing astonishment as Jim related the events of the recent past. His eyes kept darting to Jean, as if trying to reconcile the collected young woman he saw with the confused person of Jim's narrative. When Jim finally finished, the doctor ran his hand through his hair and puffed out his cheeks.
After a moment's silence, Jim had to chuckle just a little. "That's the shortest comment I've heard from a doctor in weeks!"
"And probably the least helpful," the doctor replied ruefully.
"What can we do for Jimmy?" Jean broke in. "I don't expect you to wave a magic wand and make it better, but we'd sure appreciate any suggestions you might have."
The doctor only nodded. He sat quietly for a while, his hands folded, his mouth resting on steepled fingers.
The Reeds gave him all the thinking time he needed.
"All right," he finally began, raising his eyes to the worried young parents. "Let me tell you a little of what I've learned over the past twenty years in this field, and the last eighteen years of being a parent. I can't promise you that I'll have the answers you're looking for, but maybe there'll be something useful in there."
The Reeds leaned forward as the doctor began.
"It seems to me that you've got some good insights there. I think he was putting you to a test, Mrs. Reed, and I think he wanted you to pass it. I don't mean to be cruel by saying this, but when you left, he may have taken that as a failure of his test."
Jean hung her head briefly, and Jim put his arm around her shoulder.
"So now," the doctor continued, "if you're right that he's being artificially good and cheerful, it's probably because he has decided that he can't trust you to stay, and he figures that being really good is the only way to make sure you don't run away again.
"I know that's hard to hear," he added as Jean placed a hand over her mouth. "But I want to be completely level with you. That's the only way I can help."
"Of course, Doctor. I'm all right. Please go on." Jean shot a brief, unhappy look at Jim before returning her full attention to the doctor.
"It seems to me that the best thing that could happen would be for him to do something really wrong, and for you to respond just as you would have before you lost your memory. Do you remember how you would have responded?"
"Yes, Doctor, I do."
"Well then, let's just hope something makes him good and mad, and he blows his top. He may do it a lot. He may start putting you to the test all over again. And it may be rough going for a while. But if you can consistently respond like your old self, eventually he may be reassured."
"Oh, I hope so, Doctor."
"So do I. As I said, I can't make you any promises. He's been through some very traumatic things. But I can tell he's got good, loving parents. That's the most important asset any child can have."
Jean finished off the last crumb of the squash casserole Betty Wells had made. That, along with Leona Sanchez's Barbecued Chicken, had made for a delicious dinner. And after her exhausting day of doctors' appointments and tests, Jean needed all the refreshment she could get.
She folded her napkin and stifled a yawn.
"Mommy, may I go outside?"
"No, Jimmy. It's getting dark out."
"Okay, Mommy." The little fellow jumped immediately to his feet, his now too-familiar fake grin plastered on his face. "Can I play with my cars in my room?"
"Yes, after your bath."
"Oh, okay Mommy. I'll take my bath now."
The forced cheerfulness in his tone grated at Jean. She watched after him as he skipped off toward the bathroom, and then she turned back to Jim. "He's still doing it."
"Yeah, I see it. But we've just got to give him time. He's a little guy dealing with very big things. Let's just be glad that he's trying to deal with it in a more pleasant way. And I know he'll let us help him eventually. When he's ready."
Jean wasn't so sure, but she decided to let it drop. "Are you going to help him with his bath tonight, or do you want me to?" Jimmy didn't really need much help, but bath time was often a special play time for him and his Daddy.
"I'll go. Maybe I can get him to open up for me."
Jean flashed him a grateful smile. "Thanks, hon."
Jim gave his wife a quick kiss and then followed Jimmy down the hall. "I'm coming, son." He turned into the bathroom and found that Jimmy was already undressed and ready for the tub. "Well, that was quick work, son."
"Yeah, I…." Jimmy stopped in mid-sentence.
"You what?" Jim turned on the faucets and let the water run over his hand.
Jimmy looked down. "Nothin'."
Jim felt his son's discomfort, but he decided not to push. I wonder what really is going on inside his head.
The water grew a little too hot, and Jim quickly turned up the cold tap. After a few moments he felt satisfied and closed the drain.
"You can get in now, son."
"Okay." Jimmy climbed in and grabbed his favorite red boat. He made lots of motor noises, but Jim could sense a difference from his usual play. He's trying to block me out with all that noise.
Jim picked up his usual green boat and moved it idly through the deepening water. Should I let him block me out? Should I give him space? Or should I try to pull it out of him?
Maybe I'll let him decide.
"It feels good to have Mommy home, doesn't it?" Jim putted the little green boat around.
"Yeah. I'm really happy," Jimmy replied with artificial brightness. He did not look up at his father.
Jim let the silence stretch out between them, once again thankful to his father for teaching him that by example.
Jimmy pointedly refused the bait.
This could have been me twenty-odd years ago. Jim could almost remember a time...yes, that was it. He too had sat in the bathtub, playing with his own toy boats. He'd gotten in a fight at kindergarten that day, the first time he'd ever done so. Guess I must have been older than Jimmy. But not by much. Jim's father had wanted to talk about it, and Jim had set himself not to answer. But the silence had become unbearable, and Jim had broken under it.
Be patient, Jim. Wait him out.
Jimmy showed no sign of cracking, and Jim began to fidget. I don't know how long I can stand this. I'm sitting here trying to be like Dad, but I think my son's silence is going to break me.
I can't stand it when Pete won't talk, either.
By now Jim's little green boat had run a marathon back and forth through the tub.
Jimmy's droning motor noises continued unabated, even as he washed himself.
Jim broke. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Nope." Jimmy's answer came out clipped and forcefully cheerful. Jim thought he also detected a note of triumph, though he might have only imagined it.
Jim inwardly cursed his weakness. I let him shut me out. Next time I'll wire my jaw shut if I have to.
Pete would say that I'd have to, for sure.
Maybe it just means he's not ready. Maybe I pushed too hard. Maybe....
"I'm ready to get out now, Daddy." Jimmy's voice sounded more normal now, as if he knew the danger was past.
Jim sighed deeply. "Okay, Tiger. Let's go put your pajamas on."
"Do you want to play cars with me?"
"Sure. But you have to go to bed in fifteen minutes."
"Awww, Daddy…." Jimmy looked up and apparently spotted something behind his father. Jim turned to see his wife standing there, smiling fondly at them both.
Jimmy instantly stopped whining about bedtime. "Okay, Daddy. I'll go to bed." Jim could almost hear the doors slamming shut behind those compliant words.
How long can he keep this up?
The little family observed its nightly bedtime ritual in Jimmy's room. It went smoothly, though without any real sense of connection.
Jean said one last "good night" as she left the room, and then turned and watched as Jim closed the door behind them. She took Jim's arm as they walked back to the living room.
"Any luck talking to Jimmy?"
"No. He wasn't ready." Jim's face betrayed just how much that bothered him. Jean leaned her head into his shoulder.
"It's okay, honey. He'll come around." She had to smile at their reversal of roles since the last time they'd had this conversation. The two walked in silence the rest of the way to the living room. Jim sank into the couch, and Jean cuddled up beside him.
"So, hon, you never told me how you felt about that article in the paper. You did read it, didn't you?"
Jim's question surprised Jean a little. Normally I'd have to pull teeth to get him to talk about it. Now he's asking me!
"Yeah, I read it. It was horrible. I'm amazed that the paper can get away with printing that. Isn't that slander or libel or something?"
"It wouldn't surprise me if the department pursues it that way. It was totally outrageous." Jean saw that Jim's jaw muscles bulged with telltale tension.
Time for a neck rub.
She sat up and reached for his shoulder, and after one squeeze he squirmed around to get the other shoulder into easy reach.
"Oh, man!" Jim groaned as Jean dug into knotted muscles. "Ow, you're killing me!"
"And you love it."
"No, I don't. I just love how it feels when you stop...OW!" Jim scrunched down to escape.
"Big baby." Jean eased up a little anyway. I don't think I've ever felt him so tight. Normally he loves a good rubdown.
She kneaded for quite a while, gradually working back down to the depth she knew he needed.
His protests finally gave way to little sounds of relief.
Once his shoulders softened she worked her way up his neck, and then finally rubbed the tension out of his jaw. By then her hands felt knotted, as if they needed a massage of their own. She dropped her arms down to her sides and shook her shoulders and wrists to loosen them.
"Oh, man. I didn't know I was in such bad shape. Thank you." Jim looked about like a marshmallow by now.
Jean stifled a giggle. "You look like you're ready for bed."
"Yeah, and unfortunately, I feel like sleeping."
Jean gave him a playful slap on the shoulder. "Well, wake up!"
"Or else what?" Jim smiled with sleepy mischief.
"Or else you could miss out on some wonderful things." Jean batted her eyelashes.
"Oh? Like what?" Jim put on his most innocent, confused expression.
Jean glared at him and folded her arms. "Tiddlywinks. I was thinking of a nice long game of tiddlywinks. Followed by some thumb wrestling, if you feel up to it."
"Hmmm...sounds interesting. Why don't you teach me the rules...?"
Jim helped his wife clear off the breakfast dishes, while Jimmy scampered off to get dressed in his too-cheerful way.
Jean yawned for what must have been the hundredth time as she started to run water into the sink. "Um, Jim, would you mind getting tonight's dinner out of the freezer? I think the only things that are left are a chicken casserole and a chicken casserole."
Jim winced. He was tired of chicken casseroles, no matter how much he appreciated the kindness of the women who had cooked them.
Women call each other to talk about what they're going to wear when they go out, so they won't wear the same things. Why don't they call each other about what they're cooking to give to someone, so they don't all cook the same things?
Of course the thought instantly made him feel guilty. How can I be so ungrateful?
He opened the freezer and glanced through the contents, hoping to find something novel for tonight. In all fairness to the cooks, there had been quite a few other kinds of meals, and they had all been good. Some had even been excellent. But most of the meals were gone now, and all that remained were two foil-wrapped dishes, each one carefully marked with the name of the cook and the ominous phrase, "Chicken casserole."
Jim closed the freezer without removing any of its contents. "What do you say we go out for dinner tonight?"
"I thought you didn't want to do that, because of money being tight right now." Jean placed another dish in the dishrack and turned to face him. "But it sure would be nice."
"Then it's done. It doesn't have to be any place fancy or expensive, right? Just as long as they serve something other than chicken."
"Oh, Jim, shame on you!" Jean scolded, swatting at him with her dish towel. "You're being ungrateful."
They locked eyes for a few moments until Jean's annoyed façade crumbled. "You're right. No chicken!"
They laughed together over their shared guilt, and Jim drew her into his arms. "Mmmm, you feel so good to me."
Jim intended to tell her everything wonderful about herself, but Jimmy suddenly joined them. How does he always manage to show up at the very worst times?
"I can't find my shoes. Do you know where my shoes are, Mommy?"
"You took them off right before bed and put them away in the closet, just like you always do." Jean gave Jim a meaningful look, but Jim couldn't guess what that meaning was.
"I can't find them. Will you come help me?"
"Okay," Jean replied, and Jim let go of her reluctantly. She returned less than a minute later.
"They were in the closet, in plain view, like I knew they'd be." Jean seemed bothered by that somehow.
"And…?" Jim waited for her to explain what was going on in her head this time. Sometimes he thought maybe she worried too much.
"He wanted me to help him put them on, too. I told him he had to do it himself, of course."
Jim's brow furrowed. "That's weird."
"No, it's not. It's sad, but not weird." Jean sighed and leaned back against the counter, arms folded. "He's been acting like a baby this morning in some ways. Haven't you noticed? He wants me to do things for him that he's been able to do for years. It's just another kind of insecurity on his part."
Jim hadn't paid much attention to it at the time, but now he recalled how Jimmy had wanted Jean to cut up his breakfast sausage this morning, and had even asked her what she thought he should wear.
"Maybe he wants to be helpless, because that will make me stay. He thinks that will make me feel like I have to stay to take care of him."
Jimmy reappeared beside them, and Jim jumped a little. How much did he hear?
"Do I have my shoes on the right feet, Mommy?"
Jim and Jean exchanged a lingering look over that one.
"Jimmy, you have them on the wrong feet, and I think you know that." Jean kept her tone patient, but with just enough of an edge to let Jimmy know she could see through him. If he cared to listen. "Take them off and put them on the right feet, please."
"Help me," Jimmy replied, making no move to comply.
Jean gave Jim another "look," then knelt down beside her son. "Jimmy, you don't need to act like a little boy for me to love you. You're a big boy, and I love you just like you are. Now take your shoes off, and put them on the right feet."
Jim watched with quiet approval. He liked the no-nonsense tone that she took, as well as her patience.
"I can't," Jimmy said, a hint of defiance in his voice.
Jim couldn't help speaking up. "You know you want to get outside and play. Put your shoes on the right feet, son."
"I want Mommy to do it!"
Jimmy's babyish whine set Jim's teeth on edge, but he bit back the urge to yell at the boy.
Jean is handling this well. I'd just blow it. It's really between the two of them, anyway.
"Mommy knows that you can fix your shoes, son. I'm not going to fix them for you." Jean's response was gentle but firm. "If you don't want to fix them, you can go play with them on just the way they are."
"With my shoes on the wrong feet?" Jimmy looked almost intrigued by the notion.
"If that's the way you want them to be."
"Mommies should help their little boys with their shoes," Jimmy pouted.
"Yes, they should. And I did, when you were a little boy. But you're a big boy now." Jean knelt down in front of her son. "I'm very proud of what a big boy you are. That's why I know that you can fix your shoes yourself."
Jimmy looked at his mother as if she'd betrayed him, but after a moment he shrugged and went out in the backyard with misaligned shoes.
Jean turned to Jim with a heavy sigh.
"I don't know how much of that I can put up with!" She blew out her cheeks and shook her head. "I think I'm doing the right thing by not babying him, but how can I be sure? And he knows how to pile on the guilt, doesn't he?" Jean looked to Jim almost pleadingly, needing his reassurance. He went to her quickly and took her into his arms.
"You handled it well," Jim assured her. "And remember, this may not simply be his way of trying to be babied. Maybe it's a test, like the doctor said. And maybe if you act just like you would normally act, that'll be the response he's looking for."
"Well, I don't mind telling you, if he keeps this up, I'm not sure how long I can keep being patient."
"And that's the natural way to feel," Jim said with a smile. "You didn't like it when he was being too angelic. So don't worry if you're not too angelic yourself."
"Hmmm." Jean snuggled for a moment before pulling gently away. "Well, anyway, you'd better be getting ready for work."
"Yeah, I know." Jim felt his heart sink a little bit at the prospect. "Back to my adoring public." It would be Jim's first day back since the shooting and all the bad press which followed it. He shook his head at the thought. Sometimes I wonder why I do this job.
"Who needs an adoring public when you've got an adoring wife?" Jean pulled him out of his dark thoughts and gave him a quick kiss before heading back toward the kitchen.
"Are you planning to go on patrol with me today, so I can feel that adoration any time I want to?"
"Hah!" Jean's little laugh brought a smile to Jim's face.
It's so good to have her back.
Jim felt himself tensing as he opened the black-and-white's door and stepped out. In front of him waited a carload of rowdy young people, and Jim's skin prickled at the memories they evoked.
What's wrong with kids these days? He wondered briefly if that thought meant he'd turned into an old fogey.
Like the teens in the shootout, these young ruffians had gone out of their way to get themselves pulled over. Like their predecessors, they were mocking and laughing and insulting the officers, trying to provoke them. But so far Jim could see no sign of weapons.
He wasn't taking any chances. The radio was tied up by a pursuit right now, and he hadn't been able to report the code 6. So he stood behind his open car door, mic in hand, waiting for a chance to report in.
Pete remained in the driver's seat, but Jim knew he was watching just as vigilantly.
"Hey, fuzz, what're you afraid of?" One of the teens taunted. "Are we tougher than those other kids? Are you afraid to gun us down too?" His comrades laughed, but Jim simply continued his icy surveillance in silence.
"Help, help, the pig has a gun! He's going to kill me! Aaaargh!" One of the young fools clasped his hands around his own throat and threw his upper body partway out the window, feigning death. He stared at Jim, tongue protruding, until he'd had enough of his own joke and laughed his way back into the car. His friends slapped his back in hearty congratulations.
Pete opened his door and stood as well.
"Ooh, you spooked the big bad coppers, Mitch! Now the old one is ready to fight us, too!"
Jim made a mental note of the man's name.
Finally! The pursuit which had tied up the radio was over at last, and Jim snagged the chance to report their situation and run the plates. He received his acknowledgement and then directed a question to Pete over the roof of the car, never letting his gaze waver from the suspects.
"Should I call for backup?"
Pete didn't answer for a few moments. "They're probably just a bunch of dumb kids, but still...yeah, why don't you call."
Jim keyed the mic again. "1-Adam-12 requesting backup at our location."
"Hey fuzz, if you hold us here much longer, you'll have to let us see a lawyer! We have rights, you know!"
"Yeah, what'd you pull us over for, anyway? We didn't do nothin' did we, guys?"
The dispatcher's voice caught Jim's ear. "1-Adam-12, Lincoln Mary Ocean 698, no wants, no warrants, a 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass registered to Henry McAllister, 117 South 10th Street, Los Angeles."
Jim didn't need to look at Pete to know what his partner was thinking. These kids probably were just being foolish, perhaps with a little help from drugs or alcohol. But even if they didn't have guns, they still outnumbered the officers, and things could still get ugly. Especially if somebody chose to split, because that would draw one officer away, leaving the other to handle the rest.
Adam-36 nosed its way onto their street, and Jim sighed with relief. He really wanted to put this ugly situation behind him.
The young punks had quieted a little, but when 36 showed up they raised a howl. "Oh man, they've called in reinforcements! They're scared to death of us. What do they think we're going to do to them? They're the big bad Man, not us!"
"Whatcha got, Pete?" Jerry Woods had driven up next to Adam-12.
"We don't know yet. But we intend to find out. Pull up in front of them, would you?"
Jerry nodded and steered his unit into position. Pete gave a small nod, and Jim left his position behind the door. He felt the hair standing up on his arms, but he knew he couldn't draw on them. Especially not when half of Los Angeles thought he was a trigger-happy child killer.
Watch yourself, Jim. Don't let public opinion interfere with the performance of your duties, or you could make a widow of Jean yet.
"Whoo-hoo, ladies and gentlemen, we got us a real live po-liceman walking our way. What do you think? Are his knees knocking? Looks like that to me!"
A moment later one of the kids recognized Jim. "Hey, that is one of the cops that shot those kids! I remember his face from the paper!"
Jim directed his attention to the young man who seemed to do most of the yelling. "You, smart mouth, you come out first, and keep your hands where I can see them. Reach slowly through the window and open the door from the outside."
"Oooooh!" came a chorus of voices. But the punk raised his hands with exaggerated care. "Are you sure you're not going to shoot me, now?"
"Depends, Mitch. Are you going to shoot at me?"
The level of derision increased inside the car.
"Nah, man, I'm clean." Mitch rolled his eyes, but Jim thought he detected a slight change in the young man's demeanor. That often happened when a suspect found out that his name was known.
"Good," Jim replied. "Then we'll just rap a while, and if you're really clean, everything will be fine, won't it?"
Mitch stood at last outside of the car.
"Now, close the door, turn around, place your hands on the roof of the car, feet back, and spread 'em."
"What for, man? I told you I'm clean!"
"I've never yet had anyone tell me he was dirty," Jim replied dryly. He patted down his man and found nothing. "All right, you can turn around."
Jim proceeded to get all of the pertinent facts about the young man identity. That done, he leveled a stare at Mitch which made the younger man squirm a bit. "Step over here, please." He wanted to get this fellow alone, without his supportive peanut gallery.
"Now, Mitch, maybe you can explain to me what this is all about."
Mitch appeared to be trying to keep his bravado. "Me, explain to you? I don't get it, man. We were just driving along, and we weren't speeding, just having a good old time until you pigs came and started pushing us around."
"That's not quite the way I remember it, Mitch. I remember you driving very slowly, doing everything you could think of to get our attention, and acting just like the young kids you read about in the paper. What's that about, Mitch?"
Mac's wagon appeared, but Jim only looked at it out of the corner of his eye. Once Mac was out of his unit, Jim knew the other officers would start their own pat-downs and field interviews of the remaining kids.
"You…you called in more cops? Man, isn't that a bit much?" Mitch was beginning to look a bit rattled. "We were just having fun!"
"Fun?" Jim knew he hadn't quite kept the anger out of his voice. "You're right, Mitch. I am one of the cops you saw in the paper. One of the cops who pulled over a car for acting hinky like you guys were. One who found himself dodging bullets and having to fight for his life. As far as I knew, you could open fire on us next."
Jim quickly reined himself in. So far he'd kept his behavior professional, but he felt the edges of rage beginning to threaten his composure.
He didn't look at the other officers, but he was pretty sure that Mac was watching him.
"So," Jim continued in carefully measured tones, "I'd like to know what you thought you'd gain by acting like they did."
"Man, we didn't mean nothin' by it. We were just goofin' off, you know? We didn't mean any harm. You're…you're not going to arrest us or nothin', are you?"
Jim's anger began to turn into pure disgust, but he hid it behind his professional mask and continued his duties.
It took several hours to tie up all of the loose ends those "dumb kids" had created. The two minors in the group had been returned to their parents, and Jim had a feeling that they were in for it at home. The two young adults were completely abashed by the time the cops had finished with them. They seemed terrified when the officers explained all of the trouble they might be in, and were relieved at how little trouble they actually received.
Jim thought perhaps they'd gotten off too lightly, but these things weren't up to him. All he knew was that his first morning back at work had given him a major headache, and the shift wasn't half done.
Jim finally carried the last of his paperwork to the sergeant's office and turned it in. Mac looked it over briefly. "Everything seems to be in order. Time to hit the streets again."
Jim nodded and turned to leave, but Mac's voice stopped him. "That must have been rough for you out there. Pete told me some of the things they said and did before I got there."
He hated to admit it, but Jim kept feeling shudders of horror and anger whenever he remember Mitch's death pose, hanging out the window, eyes staring. It brought back too many terrible memories of a young man who hadn't been pretending. I haven't gotten over that as well as I thought I had. Then again, when did I even have time to deal with it?
Jim realized he'd been standing there, lost in thought, for quite a while. He shook himself and met his watch commander's eyes. "Yeah, it was rough."
"You all right?" Mac's tone was very gentle, his eyes sympathetic.
"Yeah, I'm all right."
Mac nodded, letting Jim know that he took him at his word.
Jim found Pete waiting for him right outside of Mac's office. Pete's eyes held the same concern that Mac had voiced. "You all right, partner?"
"Just get us back onto the street so we can get on with this day." So we can get it over with.
"You're one of the cops that shot it out with those kids, aren't you?"
It took Jim nearly all of his will to keep from yelling at the citizen in front of him. With two more hours of patrol left ahead of him, Jim didn't know how many more times he could stand to hear that question.
Pete got the same treatment, of course, but it didn't seem to affect him as much.
"If you don't mind, Mr. Cunningham, I'd like to get back to the subject at hand. How much did you say the stolen goods were worth?" Jim stood with his 484 report in hand, ready to take down the details.
"I just have to tell you, officer, that I think you did a fine job. Somebody's got to teach those hooligans a lesson! They're communists, that's what they are, out to ruin our country. Let me tell you something, young man." Mr. Cunningham leaned forward, jabbing a finger at Jim's chest for emphasis. "I saw a lot of good, honest, patriotic young men die for our country in Europe. Their deaths I can mourn. But I'm not about to mourn the loss of three worthless scoundrels. We're better off without them and their kind!"
Jim stared at him for a moment, completely at a loss for words. All day people had either derided him, or looked at him with cold hatred whenever they recognized his face. It was a relief the few times that he went unrecognized. But now, here stood a man praising him, and it made Jim feel even worse.
I'm not ashamed of what I did. Jim felt his stomach lurch as he pictured the carnage yet again. But I'm not about to celebrate it, either.
Jean set Jimmy's lunch in front of him when a movement in the front yard caught her eye.
"The mailman just left us something, Jimmy. I'll go get it while you eat, okay?"
"Okay Mommy," Jimmy mushed his words around his sandwich.
Jean opened the box and grabbed the few items inside it. Bill, bill, letter….who's the letter from? Even as she asked herself, the answer came to her. The handwriting was familiar, and the return address confirmed it.
Oh, man, what does she have to say? Whatever it was, Jean doubted that she wanted to read it.
Man, I wish this day was over with. Jim was past the worst of it, he was sure, because the workday was over. He knew he should be looking forward to having dinner out with his wife, but he was too tired and headachy to look forward to anything.
I wonder where we're going to eat. They had agreed this morning to let Jean choose the place. I wonder if we're bringing Jimmy, or if it will just be the two of us. He stopped and signaled to turn onto his street, waiting for an oncoming car to pass. I guess I'll find out soon enough.
He pulled into his driveway and killed the engine. A moment later the door flew open, and Jimmy hurtled out like the cyclone of energy he was. "Daddy!"
Jim couldn't help but smile. Who wouldn't love being greeted so excitedly?
"Hey, tiger." Jim stood and closed the car door behind him, then caught his son in mid leap. "How are you?" He squeezed the little boy close, struck again with how much it had hurt when Jimmy had run away.
I need more time off to recover from all of this.
"Hey Daddy, we're going out to dinner tonight! Mommy says I can get a hamburger!"
"That's great, champ!" Jim gave his son one last squeeze and put him down. "Let's go in and see your mommy now."
Jim found Jean in the bathroom, cleaning out the cabinet under the sink.
"What are you doing?" Jim asked.
"Making myself useful." Jean attacked a far corner of the cabinet with a scrub brush, and something about her demeanor made him feel that something was wrong.
"Is something bothering you?"
"No, nothing." Jean's tone left him in no doubt that she meant just the opposite, but she didn't want to talk about it.
He decided to just buck up under the pressure, like he'd done all day. "Where are we going to eat?"
For a brief moment Jim felt confused, wondering how she'd ended up making plans to eat with the sergeant's family. But then he realized what she meant.
The Golden Arches. A real high class establishment.
He didn't know how to respond to Jean, so he just said, "Oh."
"I hope that's okay. Jimmy really wanted to go there, and it's not expensive. It's nothing fancy, but I'm pretty sure there's no chicken casserole there." Her attempt at lightness was not convincing, but Jim didn't feel like trying to pry anything out of her. It would have taken too much energy.
"Yeah, McDonald's is okay."
Jim felt irritated and he wasn't even sure why. It's just been a bad day. It's not her fault.
Jean glanced at her watch. "I'm a mess. I'd better get cleaned up." She avoided his eyes as she walked past him.
"Yeah, me too," Jim replied to her retreating form. "But you go first. I'll watch Jimmy."
He heard the resignation in his tone, and wished his feelings weren't coming through so clearly. But he'd been looking forward to a shower.
It takes her a lot longer to get ready than it takes me. It makes sense to let her get started first.
At least she didn't ask me if I was okay. I am so sick of that question. How in the world am I supposed to be okay? I've been through so many fires that I can't even remember what 'okay' feels like.
Jim sighed and glanced toward the living room where Jimmy was playing. I wonder if he feels the tension.
Who am I kidding? Of course he does. The idea seemed to drag Jim's mood down further.
Jim buried his feelings tried to talk himself out of his mood by reminding himself of how much worse things might have been. Jean and I could still be total strangers. I might not even know where she was living. Something terrible could have happened to Jimmy when he was gone. Those kids today could have had guns. Things could have been worse.
Jim forced himself out of his brooding. "Hey, son, can I play cars with you?"
"Sure!" Jimmy's enthusiasm sounded genuine this time.
Jim spent the next forty-five minutes playing with Jimmy. His son seemed pretty normal, and Jim felt himself relaxing. By the time he got his own shower, Jim was beginning to think the end of the day might turn out all right after all.
The Reeds piled into their sedan and headed for McDonald's. Jimmy chattered excitedly all the way, and Jim had to smile at his enthusiasm for the place. Maybe this wasn't a bad idea after all. It could turn out to be a fun family time, and heaven knows we could use that!
Jimmy bounced on his seat, trying to convince himself and his parents that he really felt happily excited.
All he really felt was fear, and the heavy burden of needing to fix things himself.
Mommy and Daddy aren't happy together. I need to try harder. I need to be happier. It wasn't really a conscious thought, but that didn't keep it from weighing down his heart.
Jimmy bounced some more, and began to feel a little genuine anticipation as Daddy headed toward him with a tray of food.
"Son, you look like a kangaroo, the way you're bouncing." Daddy put down the tray with a smile and ruffled Jimmy's hair, and Jimmy felt his hopes rising.
I made him happy!
Next to their table, a couple of big kids stood up. "We're out of here," one of them said, and somehow it seemed to Jimmy that the kid was directing his comments towards him. "The atmosphere here just got really sour."
What does that mean?
"Yeah," the other kid said with an ugly voice. "It smells like a pig pen in here all of a sudden."
The big kids walked past, and Jimmy wondered what in the world that was all about. It smells okay in here to me!
Jimmy turned his attention back to his food, but after a moment he began to feel uneasy. He looked at his parents, and saw the reason.
It's even worse. He couldn't have put it into words, but he knew. The tension between his parents was thicker than ever, and Jimmy couldn't understand why.
What did I do wrong?
Jimmy couldn't figure out how to be any more good than he was already being. He'd done his best at McDonald's, and he'd done his best on the ride home, and he was doing his best now. But things still weren't right with Mommy and Daddy.
What's wrong with them? His parents constantly confused him, with their daily swings from snuggling to silently avoiding each other; from laughter to angry words.
Jimmy used to hate to see them kissing, but now he liked to catch them at it, because it gave him hope.
"Come on, son, it's time for bed." Daddy smiled a little at him, and Jimmy smiled back as brightly as he could.
"Okay, Daddy." He hopped up out of his chair and headed down the hall. "I'll get ready for my bath."
"No, let's skip the bath tonight, okay, tiger? Daddy's really tired."
"Okay, I'll get my pajamas on." Jimmy trotted into his room with the same cheerful façade he'd worn all evening.
Daddy spent some time with him before bed, and then Mommy came in and spent some time, too.
Mommy still looked strange, but Jimmy was getting used to it, and Daddy had promised him that her hair would grow back.
Mommy didn't stay long. She was tired, too. Before long he'd used up his last request for water, his last hug and kiss, and his last tucking in. Mommy closed the door behind herself, and Jimmy was alone.
Not alone enough.
Mommy and Daddy's words were unclear, but their voices still carried through, especially to a little boy who feared that his whole world might still fall apart.
They're still angry.
"Jean, I need to know what's bothering you! You've never been the kind of wife who gives me the 'silent treatment,' and your honesty is what has helped us work through some tough things. Why won't you open up to me now?"
Jean crossed her arms, but Jim thought he saw a crack in her armor. She looked as if she might cry.
"Honey," Jim approached her and put tentative hands on her shoulders. "I want to put whatever this is behind us so we can move on."
He received only stiff shoulders and silence and downcast eyes.
"Something must have happened while I was at work, or else I did something wrong as soon as I got home. Am I right?"
Jean pulled away with a sudden flare of anger. "Wrong? No, you didn't do anything wrong. If you had, I'd know what to say or do about it."
Jean cast a quick glance down the hall, towards Jimmy's room, and then lowered her voice. "But it can't be that simple, can it?"
"Well if it's not me, then what is it?"
"I didn't say it wasn't you."
"Oh come on, Jean, at least try to meet me halfway here! I'm trying to work things out, and you're making no sense at all!" Jim knew he was angrier than he should have been, but his day had stunk from start to finish, and he'd had about all he could take.
"Don't yell, you'll wake Jimmy up." Jean walked into the kitchen, though Jim doubted she had any reason to go in there other than concern for her sleeping son. He paused a few moments, gathering himself, before following her in there.
"All right, so I didn't do anything wrong, but I'm still the problem, is that right?"
"There's no point in having this argument. Let's just go to bed." Jean tried to brush past him, but Jim wouldn't move out of the doorway.
"This is about my job, isn't it? I'm not doing anything wrong, exactly, but you still hate what my job does to you. That's what this is about, right?" This was a very old fight, and Jim felt every bit of anger from its history now settling on his shoulders.
"I told you, there's no point in having this argument. It never does any good, does it?"
So I was right. Jim ground his teeth and tried to regain some perspective. She's right. This argument is pointless. But if we don't argue, she won't talk to me at all, and that's no better.
"What happened?" Jim tried to bring more calmness into his voice than he felt. "Things were fine this morning, or at least they were okay. I wasn't even late coming home today, nobody shot at me, no other cops got shot, so what in the world is eating at you?"
Jean snorted. "Oh I see, so one day without disaster should make everything just fine?"
"One day? That's hardly fair, is it Jean? My job causes problems for us, I'll admit that, but it's hardly every day!" Jim's anger began to boil over, and he felt himself losing his cool completely.
"What about the last several weeks of our lives, Jean? Our family has been through an unrelenting nightmare. It wasn't your fault, but it still happened because of you. I have bent over backwards to be understanding and patient and kind…."
Jean's eyes finally met his, frightening in their anger. "Then maybe you're getting a feel for what the last several years have been like for me. Do you think you've heard even one half of the grief your job has caused me?"
Jim clamped his mouth shut, because if he didn't, he'd bring the walls down. How dare she? After everything she's put me through?
The two combatants glared silently at each other, each trying to rein things in. It will be a miracle if Jimmy hasn't heard this. Jim regretted that, but he was too angry to regret anything else.
Jean was the first to speak, her voice deliberately cold. "Are you going to let me out of the kitchen, or am I under arrest?"
Jean's words crept through Jim's soul with a deadening chill. She might as well have been in the car with those kids today, the way she was mocking him. The way she seemed to despise him.
If that's the way you want it. Jim said nothing, but he made sure his eyes poured out every bit of rage he felt. He moved out of the doorway slowly, hating the fact that she brushed against him as she went by.
That was the closest he intended to let her get. He'd slept on the couch during her illness, and he'd sleep on the couch tonight. The way he felt right now, even that would be too close.
The bedroom door closed behind Jean, a little more loudly than necessary.
Maybe she was right when she thought she should leave.
Jim turned off the lights and dropped onto the couch just as he was, without bothering to change or brush his teeth or anything. None of that stuff could possibly matter.
Of course he couldn't sleep. Seething and sleeping just didn't mix, and the seething just got worse.
How dare she? How dare they? Every indignity he'd suffered from the public seemed to get mixed in with the troubles at home, until he honestly felt his whole life was an outrage.
He heard his bedroom door open and then close again, and knew that Jean had gotten his unspoken message. That's right, I'm staying out here.
He found himself hoping that he'd hurt her feelings, but then realized how childish that hope really was. Get a grip, Jim.
Silence reigned for a while, and Jim squirmed on the couch in a futile attempt to get comfortable.
Then he heard it. Quiet, muffled, but unmistakable.
Jean was crying.
Jim tried not to care, tried to even feel triumphant, but the thought of her crying cut through to his heart.
I will not feel bad about this. She doesn't deserve any more of my sympathy! I gave and gave and she stabbed me in the back.
Jim steeled himself, and for a little while he heard nothing more. Either she'd stopped crying, or she was crying more quietly. Jim tried not to care which was true.
He heard it again.
I will not go in there. She deserves to feel bad.
Even as Jim tried to fortify himself, he knew he was softening.
Who am I kidding?
He got up and walked to the bedroom, hesitating at the door until he heard another muffled sob. He opened the door as quietly as he could, and saw to his surprise that Jean was sitting on the bed, her bedside lamp lit, holding what looked like a letter in one hand. Her other hand was busy wiping away tears.
What's that letter?
It seemed that Jean hadn't even noticed him, so he walked up quietly beside her and gently took the paper from her hand.
She flinched and looked quickly up at him, then threw her hands up in a gesture of despair and laid down, curled up in a ball on the bed.
Jim glanced briefly at his wife, but quickly turned his attention back to the letter. He had a feeling that it held a clue to his day's troubles.
The handwriting didn't register with him, so he glanced down at the signature. Mary Agnes. Mary Agnes had been a neighbor of the Reeds back when they lived in the apartment. Jim knew that Jean had kept in touch with her after they'd moved, but they'd never been really close. Why would this letter upset Jean so much?
Jim glanced at his wife and then back at the letter, this time starting at the beginning.
You know how hard I've tried to keep our friendship going over the years. I've tried to be understanding despite all of the terrible things that the police have been doing in Los Angeles. I kept believing that Jim was one of the good ones, though it has been getting harder and harder to believe that there were any good ones. I wanted to believe it for your sake. But after Jim was involved in shooting those kids, I couldn't keep lying to myself.
I didn't know how to respond at first, and I thought maybe I just wouldn't say anything at all. You've never been very open-minded when I've talked to you about these things in the past. So I considered just breaking off our friendship without a word. But then it occurred to me that maybe you were beginning to see the light about things. Maybe you are pulling your head out of the sand and realizing just what sort of man you're married to. If that's the case, then I'd be happy to help you start a new life. If you are brave enough to face the truth, then escape while you still can. Leave Jim, and I won't hold any of your previous foolishness against you. You and Jimmy could even come stay with me until you can get back on your feet.
But if you're still willing to stand by Jim, after it has become to clear to all of Los Angeles what a monster he really is, then I can see no reason for our friendship to continue. I hope it won't come to that. You used to be a very nice person, Jean, and I can't understand how you ever got married to the Gestapo. I know that love is sometimes blind. But surely you can't still be blind to the truth. If you choose to stay married to that sort of person, then I can no longer think of you as a good person yourself.
Please do not bother to respond to this letter if you intend to defend your husband or yourself. If I don't hear from you, I will know that you value the monster more than honest people like me. But I do hope to hear from you, so I can continue to think well of you.
Jim needed several long moments to stop swearing inside. He couldn't believe that anyone had the nerve to send this sort of letter to his wife. "Leave Jim, and I won't hold any of your previous foolishness against you."
No matter how hard he tried, Jim couldn't calm his anger. In fact, it just kept getting worse.
"I don't care about her," Jean said from the bed, catching Jim by surprise.
"I would hope not. Someone like...that...doesn't deserve anything from you." Jim somehow kept from using the expletives which best described the woman in question.
Jim just stood and seethed for a little while longer, but questions began to push their way to the surface.
"If you don't care about her, then why are you so upset about this letter?"
"Because it's just one more straw," Jean said softly. "You don't even know about the number of friends I've lost because of your job. Some have completely walked out of my life, and others have just become cold. They've just slowly disappeared from my life, and I've known why, but I've never mentioned the reason to you. I kept telling myself that they didn't matter. My true friends would stick by me. But that didn't stop it from hurting.
"But now…," Jean sat up and reached for a tissue, "…now I can't even go have dinner at McDonald's with my family, without having people insult us and leave, as if we were lepers or something. You haven't done anything wrong, Jim, but you're still hurting me."
Jim bristled. "I didn't walk out on you. They walked out on you, because they don't care enough about the truth to find out what's really going on. I'm not the one hurting you, Jean!"
"I know that. I admit that. But it still hurts, and it's still because of your job, and that's never going to change. There's no getting around it."
"So what do you plan to do about it? Do you want to escape while you still can? Go start a new life with the help of Mary Agnes?" Jim crumpled up the note and threw it toward the trash, not caring that he missed.
"Of course not."
"Well then, what?"
"I don't know, Jim! I don't know the answer. I tried walking out of your life not too long ago, and that was a disaster. Maybe things would be easier if I could stop loving you, but I can't. So I have to figure out how in the world to live with loving you, when loving you hurts me so much.
"It's not just the friends that I've lost, Jim. It's not just the hateful strangers, including the ones who paint their hatred on the walls of our house. It's the daily fear of losing you, too. But we've had this discussion too many times before. There's no point in having it again." Jean tossed her Kleenex toward the trash can, missing it as badly as her husband had a few moments before.
"Loving you wasn't exactly easy over the past few weeks, Jean."
No one spoke for a while after that.
"So," Jim finally spoke up, "what do we do now? It's getting late, and I don't feel like standing here digging up every hurt we've ever felt in our marriage."
"I don't know what we do now." Jean looked into Jim's eyes for the first time in a while. "But I don't think the answer lies in sleeping separately, or in rehashing everything we've already fought over a thousand times." She sighed tiredly. "There must be an answer somewhere, but I'm too tired to look for it any more tonight. Are you going back to the couch?"
"Do you want me to?" Jim wasn't quite ready to let go of his anger just yet.
"Of course not."
Jim shrugged and gave up the fight. Nothing was resolved, of course, but at least he could sleep on something comfortable.
It's just been a rotten day. Tomorrow will be better.
Tomorrow wasn't better. Jean didn't snub him in the morning, but he certainly felt no warmth from her. Not much warmth for her, either, if the truth be told. But as much as he hated the distance, he didn't really fear for their future. He knew most of what they were feeling right now would fade once they'd had time to heal.
He held onto that hope and worked up the courage to give her a little goodbye kiss before heading off to work, and even met her eyes for a moment. And somehow, in that mysterious way that eyes can speak to hearts, he knew he'd communicated his hope to her. It helped.
But there was another future to deal with, and he wasn't nearly so optimistic about this one.
How long will the public keep hating my guts?
In all fairness, he did get support from some citizens, but he didn't really know how to respond to that either. What he really wanted was for everyone to forget about it and let him leave it behind.
Jim went through the work day on auto-pilot, shutting his emotions away inside, refusing to feel even Pete's concern.
Wishing Pete's concern didn't show so plainly.
Trying not to notice in the station when other officers approached Pete, talking privately, and casting worried looks back at him.
I just have to get through it. That's all there is to do. Just get through it, and give myself time to heal. I will heal. I will heal.
And my family will heal.
He finally finished his watch and called Jean to see if she needed him to pick anything up on his way home. She did, and before long he found himself at the market, trying to decide what constituted a "medium" onion.
"You seem to be out of your element, young man." The kindly voice at his elbow made him jump a little. He glanced with some confusion at an older woman who had pushed her cart up next to his.
"Uh…yeah. I guess I'm not an expert on onions."
"Well, that one you're holding looks just fine. I'm sure your wife will be pleased with it."
"Thanks." Jim smiled at this simple, friendly exchange. It seemed like the first thing all day which had been easy and unguarded. "The question is, is it a 'medium'? They all look about the same to me."
The woman pursed her lips thoughtfully and regarded the onions again. "You're right, they are all about the same. But I'd have to say, they're all 'mediums'."
Jim smiled again. "Thanks! You've been a big help."
"I'm glad to be a help," the woman replied, lowering her voice just a little. "Don't you mind about what the hippies say. You're one of Los Angeles' finest, and lots of us appreciate what you do." The woman patted his arm and went on her way, leaving Jim to stare after her with some shock.
He still couldn't get used to people recognizing him when he was out of uniform, but it was more than that. He had let his guard down with that little old woman, and so her words had penetrated deeply.
It felt good.
Jim needed that good feeling to shore himself up in the checkout line, where he felt much less good-will emanating from those around him.
Or maybe I'm just paranoid.
He spent the drive home forcibly putting the public out of his mind.
Jim delivered the onion to Jean and received weary thanks in return. Clearly, things were still eating at her, and she seemed just about worn out. The thought tugged at him, and when she turned away he reached out and caught her arm.
She allowed him to draw her into a comforting hug, a little reluctantly it seemed, but it was better than nothing. And when he released her she gave him what seemed like a grateful look before returning to her work.
"Dinner should be ready in half an hour," she finally spoke up.
The silence became awkward, and it started to make Jim angry again. He told himself that it shouldn't, but it did anyway.
"How was your day?" he asked, hoping to ease the tension.
"Oh, the usual," she replied unhelpfully.
Jim sighed and gave up. Everything in life was a fight, and he was tired of fighting.
Just get through it.
Jim suddenly remembered one little detail of his day that he needed to share with her, but he didn't want to. She'll be mad….
He held his peace through dinner, but when Jimmy left to spend the last of the waning daylight playing outside, he knew it was time to tell her.
"They asked for volunteers to work a double tomorrow."
Jean's expression hardened unmistakably. "Of course you volunteered."
"I had to. Nobody else could." Jim wasn't about to tell her how much time he'd spent convincing the Sergeant to accept his offer. Jim wasn't even sure why he'd fought so hard for it. It wasn't like work was fun, or anything. But Jim couldn't shirk duty. Ever.
"You mean nobody else would." Jean's voice simmered with resentment. "They all know that, if they keep their mouths shut, you'll volunteer! Did it ever occur to you to be the one who holds out?"
"No," Jim snapped, feeling that the implication was an insult. Of course he wouldn't refuse duty. And he resented the idea that the others were holding out. They were good cops, too.
Mary Agnes's words echoed in his mind. It's been getting harder to believe that there are any good ones….
That did it. He wasn't going to lie down and take it any more. The day's frustrations welled up inside, and he made no attempt to control his feelings.
He wanted a good fight.
"Why don't you leave, then? I won't stop you. And this time, I won't go looking for you, either!"
Jim stormed away and slammed himself into his room.
I don't want to play outside any more. Jimmy gathered up his cheerful façade and headed back toward the house. Maybe it would be fun to play cars in my room.
He started to open the sliding glass doors when the sound of his parents' voices stopped him.
It sounds like they're arguing.
Part of him wanted to run back to his swingset and pretend nothing was wrong, but that part of him couldn't seem to command his feet. He stood frozen, listening, his little heart pounding.
Daddy's mad at Mommy, and Mommy's mad too, and if she leaves again, Daddy won't go get her.
He watched as his Daddy said something angry and stalked away, back to his bedroom, no doubt.
Mommy just stood in the living room, the solitary cause of all of Jimmy's problems.
Fear solidified into anger, and anger into rage. Jimmy threw the glass doors open and stomped into the house. His mother turned, seeming surprised and unhappy to see him there.
Jimmy planted his feet and balled his fists on his hips. His eyes nailed his mother's, all thoughts of angelic pretense gone.
"I hate you! Go away! Just go away! I wish you'd never come home. I hate you!"
Jim's skin tingled as his son's venomous words reached his ears. He and Jean had needed to blow off steam, and he knew it would all get patched up. But Jimmy's feelings weren't so easy to predict. Besides, their little son's words must have wounded Jean deeply, and Jim didn't want that.
All of his protective instincts rushed to the surface, and he headed for the bedroom door. But just as his hand touched the knob, he remembered Dr. Cole's words, and he stopped himself.
This could be just what they both need, after all.
Jim stayed close to the door, listening intently in case he might be needed. But for now, he'd let Jean have a chance to hash this out with Jimmy on her own.
The words hit Jean like a fist in her stomach, but they also gave her the first opening she'd had in a while. At least he's stopped pretending.
"Jimmy, you can yell at me all you want, but I still won't leave." I don't know how I'll live with Jim's job, but I'll find a way. I have to.
"Yes you will! And Daddy won't go get you, neither. We don't want you here! Just go away!" Jimmy's angry red face matched his words.
Jean looked through her son's rage and into his fear. The Doctor's right. This is just what we needed. If I handle this right, we'll both be winners at the end. She squatted down and spoke in her calmest voice. "Daddy used to be afraid that I'd leave, just like you're afraid now. But he's not afraid of that any more. He knows I won't leave. I won't leave, Jimmy. No matter how much you yell at me. I won't leave."
"Yes, you WILL!" Jimmy pushed Jean roughly, tipping her off balance. She shot an arm out to steady herself.
"Yes, you WILL! You WILL! You WILL!" Jimmy yelled it into her face so many times that Jean began to wonder if she'd ever get another word in. So she began to speak softly right along with him, hoping he'd hear her despite his own noise.
"No, Jimmy. I won't leave. No matter how much you push me, I won't leave." She let no hint of pleading or cajoling enter her voice. Just the calm assurance of an absolute promise.
At first Jimmy didn't seem to hear her, and his words didn't change. But finally she knew her promise must have hit home, because he responded to it violently.
"I don't believe you!" Jimmy began to hit his mother, his arms windmilling with angry slaps. Jean took the blows calmly, finding more hope in them than she had felt since coming home from the hospital.
"I won't leave, Jimmy. No matter how much you hit me. No matter how bad you are. No matter what you do. I won't leave you. I won't."
Jimmy kept hitting, his angry words dissolving into tears.
Finally the child exhausted himself and stood staring at her, looking as fragile as glass. His chest heaved with emotion, just as his father's would have.
Jean let the silence stretch out for several seconds, and then spoke with deep, quiet conviction.
Jimmy stood firm for a few more seconds, tears still running down flushed cheeks. Jean waited.
"Momeeee!" Jimmy dissolved, melted, collapsed against her. He sobbed wrenchingly, but his little arms circled around Jean's neck and held on tightly. After a few moments Jean worked her way into a more comfortable position on the floor, cradling her son as she had ached to do for so long.
If possible, he held on even tighter.
Jean began to rock him, slowly, her arms still holding firmly. After a time she freed one arm and began brushing sweaty locks away from Jimmy's forehead, and then gently kissed every bit of his face that she could reach.
Jimmy's sobs ebbed into shudders and hiccups, and his arms loosened their grip on her.
He's worn himself out. He's going to fall asleep. In my arms. Because he's mine again. Jean closed her eyes and nuzzled into his cheek. My son. My son. I love you, Jimmy.
Some instinct made her look up, and her heart melted at the sight. Jim leaned against the bedroom doorway, his eyes very moist, his face vulnerable with unguarded love.
Jean locked her eyes with his, and silently formed the words with her lips. I will not leave you. Jim's eyes absorbed her words into their blue depths, then reflected them back with acceptance and trust. After a moment he nodded and walked toward her, with no hint of his earlier anger.
Come to think of it, Jean didn't feel angry at him anymore, either.
Jim knelt beside his wife and gently took the sleeping child from her arms. He carried Jimmy back to his room, and Jean followed him as far as the doorway.
Jim laid his little burden down on the bed and turned back to his wife. The two of them walked up the hall to their room, and at Jim's guidance they sat down beside each other.
"He did his best. He did his best to drive you away, but you stayed. That's what he's been trying to do, isn't it? He's been trying to prove to himself that you won't leave again."
"Yeah. For the last little while, I'd almost given up on him ever trusting me. It made me so sad." Jean snuggled close and rested her head on Jim's shoulder. "Losing friends is one thing. Losing my son is quite another."
Jean paused to collect herself, suddenly feeling the weight of all that she'd been through. "Maybe today, finally, I might have proven my love to him. I think...I hope I've really proven it."
Three Months Later
Pete slid into the driver's seat, stowed his hat in the back of the unit, and buckled in for the start of watch. Jim watched him silently, knowing that his partner liked to get himself in order before the small talk began.
Adam-12 made its way out of the parking lot and nosed its way into LA traffic. Its two occupants scanned the streets quietly for a few minutes.
"How was your week off?" Jim asked at last, though his partner's relaxed attitude spoke volumes.
"Hmmm? Oh, it was great."
"Did you get the same cabin you usually get at the lake?"
"No, but that's okay. They're all really about the same."
"Betcha it was good to have Judy there with you." Jim grinned widely, imagining how romantic their week-long retreat must have been. It was the first time the two of them had gotten away together in a long time.
"You wouldn't lose that bet, partner."
"Hey, has she ever forgiven you for keeping her in the dark about Jean?"
Pete waggled his hand in the air. "Almost." The two men shared smiles, then turned their attention back to the streets.
"Where're we headed?" Jim asked.
"Oh, nowhere in particular. Just patrolling."
"I thought maybe you wanted to check out the warehouse district. You know…after what they said in the briefing."
"Yeah, we'll cruise past there."
Jim nodded with satisfaction.
"So, are you going to spill it now, or will I have to pester you all day?" Pete asked casually. His eyes kept up their scan of his surroundings.
Ever since Pete first saw him in the locker room this morning, something about Jim's demeanor spoke of a secret, and a good secret at that.
"Spill what?" Jim asked with completely unconvincing innocence.
Pete rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to answer his partner in no uncertain terms, including a description of just how exasperating the younger man could be. But just then the dispatcher's nasal tones interrupted them with their first call of the day, and Jim seemed a little smug as he acknowledged the call. Some things never change. Pete shook his head as he turned a corner and headed off in the required direction.
A moment later he stole a sidelong glance at his partner, and suddenly felt very glad that some things never change.
Life as usual. I still can hardly believe things are becoming normal again.
They handled their call, and Pete was glad to see that Jim seemed relaxed, almost exactly like the old Jim. He was downright cheerful as they hit the streets again.
I bet I'll have to wring his neck to get his secret out of him, whatever it is.
"I guess I should just put you out of your suspense," Jim finally said, surprising Pete to no end. But of course Pete couldn't let his partner know that he'd been caught off guard.
"Suspense? I never said I was in suspense. I just wondered what was going on, because I needed to know if I could count on you to be annoying all day or not."
"Hey, you keep talking like that and I just might not invite you."
"Invite me to what?" Pete suddenly felt a sense of dread. "If you're thinking of setting me up with another one of Jean's girlfriends…."
Jim laughed. "No way, man, this isn't about you at all. Like I said, I may not even invite you."
"All right already, invite me to what?"
Jim gave him a long, quiet stare, all the time looking like he might start laughing. "Are you sure you're not in suspense?" he finally blurted with a chuckle.
"Reed…!" Pete gave him his most exasperated voice, and it was a pretty good match for his real feelings right about now.
"Only to the biggest thing that's happened in my life in nine years."
Pete braked at a stop sign and turned to look at his friend more closely.
He's serious. Whatever he's planning in that head of his, it's gonna be something.
"Jimmy, for the third time, take off your tennis shoes and put on your good shoes! The ones you wear to church!" Jean bustled into the living room and fussed with things that looked perfectly fine to Jim. "Hi honey," she added almost as an afterthought.
Jim planted a kiss on her worried forehead. "Jean, you look great. Today's going to be great, if you'll let yourself stop worrying and enjoy it!" He held her gently by the shoulders so she couldn't keep rushing about. After a few moments he felt her relax.
"Yeah, I guess you're right." She brushed a few wisps of hair away from her forehead and settled in for a hug.
Jim kissed the top of her head. Her hair's growing back nicely.
"I don't know why I'm so nervous about this," Jean continued after a moment. "Of course it's going to be wonderful. But it just…" Jean paused to collect her thoughts, her face full of sincerity. "…I know this is just symbolic, Jim, but it means more to me than that. I need today to settle things in everyone's minds, once and for all."
"It will, honey, it will." Jim checked his watch. "But only if we get there for it." He raised his voice to carry down the hall. "Jimmy, it's time to leave! Are you ready?"
"Yeah, I'm ready. But I wish I didn't have to wear this dumb old suit. It's too tight." Jimmy grumbled his way down the hall, but he grew cheerful again a moment later.
"Wow, Mommy and Daddy, you look really fancy!"
"So do you, buddy." Jim rumpled his son's hair playfully, only to have Jean glare at him and fuss the boy's hair back into place.
"I didn't spend all this time making him handsome so you could make him look like one of the Little Rascals!"
Jimmy rolled his eyes under his mother's ministrations, and Jim grinned at him.
What is it with women?
As soon as Jean's back was turned, Jim swiped at Jimmy's hair again, and they shared a smile at their little triumph.
After some more fussing they finally succeeded in packing themselves into the car and heading off toward their destination.
"I wonder if he'll be able to come," Jean said, almost to herself. She stared out the car window, her hands fumbling nervously with her purse.
Jim didn't need to ask who "he" was. Jean had been a nervous wreck ever since inviting him. "I'm sure he will unless something major comes up at work."
"That's what I was afraid of. Whenever I've got something special planned, something major comes up at work…."
"Hey, I'm here, you know. I hope that counts for something," Jim teased.
"Well, maybe it counts for a little," Jean teased back, then reached over and took the hand that Jim offered her. "I don't know why I'm so nervous about him coming. I mean, I really want him to, but…." Jean stopped, apparently at a loss to explain her feelings.
"It's all right." Jim squeezed her hand. "You don't need to understand it. Just enjoy this day, okay? Promise me you will."
Jean squeezed him back and flashed him her most beautiful smile. "I will. I promise."
Jim thought he could see her relaxing, as if she'd just made up her mind to do so. That's my girl.
A few minutes later they pulled into the parking lot, and he felt Jean's nervousness returning full force.
Jim suddenly felt a little nervous himself, though he didn't quite know why.
"Your parents are here," Jean commented, though Jim had already noticed their car.
"And here come my folks," Jean added a moment later as her parents' Buick rounded the corner into the lot.
There were hugs and pleasantries all around, and Papa Bailey managed to snag Jimmy in time to prevent a romp across the lawn.
Jean couldn't stand still for long, though. "Come on, Mom, we've got a lot to do to get ready!" The two women bustled inside. "Don't let Jimmy make a mess of himself," Jean commanded over her shoulder.
"Yes, ma'am!" Jim called back, then shared a chuckle with his father-in-law. "I don't know what else they think they have to do." Jim shook his head at the mysterious ways of women.
"Neither do I, son, but I learned a long time ago that it goes a lot better for me if I just let them do things their way!"
"Oh believe me, I figured that out a long time ago too."
Jim took his place in front of the assembled guests, feeling more than a touch of déjà vu.
Why am I nervous?
His father stood beside him, looking quietly proud. Bud was next, looking nervous. Next to him stood Pete, looking slightly uncomfortable in his best suit. Last of all was Jimmy, squirming a little, but trying to stand as still as his mother had repeatedly told him to.
Jim glanced across at his sister, and sister-in-law, and Candace and his own mother standing opposite them, wearing beautiful matching dresses.
But it was the sight of the guests which put a lump in his throat. There sat nearly every cop that he could call a friend, and he had to smile at how strange they all looked in three-piece suits. The married ones had all brought their wives, of course, and several of those kind hearted women were already dabbing at their eyes.
A moment later Jim's jaw dropped a little, for there sat the lieutenant with his wife, and beside him the captain with his wife. He hadn't even dreamed of such an honor.
And there sat more relatives, neighbors, friends from church, almost everyone who meant anything in Jim's life.
And who was that? Someone was arriving at the last minute, and after a moment Jim smiled in recognition. Officer Hernandez had made it, all the way from Morrisville.
He did come. Jean will be so pleased.
The newcomer caught Jim's eye and returned his smile, before scanning the crowd for a place to sit. After a few moments he made his way to sit next to Jerry Woods, one of the very few people there he had ever met.
The church is almost full. Jim could hardly believe this outpouring of support.
Another survey of the guests provided him with a new surprise. Dr. Barnes is here? I didn't know Jean had invited him!
But a moment later the organist began to play something. It was a hymn that Jean had chosen, and though Jim wasn't familiar with it, he liked the words that Jean had read to him from the hymnbook. It was called, "Oh Perfect Love." And it was the signal that Jean would be arriving next.
Jim caught his breath. There she was, but what…? That's not the dress she wore here!
She looked stunning in this new dress, absolutely gorgeous.
Jean's eyes locked with his and she smiled, clearly pleased with his response to her surprise. No wonder she and Candace had to run off in a hurry. I guess my mom brought the dress here….
Jim wasted no more time trying to figure out the logistics of her little subterfuge. What did it matter how they did it? He just enjoyed the fact that they had.
A nudge from his father reminded Jim of his role, and he quickly stepped forward to meet his wife and give her his arm. Together they took their places in front of the minister, the very same pastor who had married them nine years before.
"Dearly beloved," the minister began with a smile, "we are gathered together today not to witness a union, but rather a re-union, a celebration of a love which has withstood the hardest of trials, and has emerged stronger than ever before. The purpose of this ceremony is to publicly proclaim before God and these witnesses that James Allen Reed and Jean Marie Reed, whom cruel fate had turned into strangers, have re-built their union with the same lasting love and commitment with which they first were joined nine years ago."
Jean turned and smiled radiantly at Jim, and the minister's words simply faded away. Jim studied his wife's face, thinking of how much had changed since the last time they'd stood at an altar like this, and how glad he was to be able to stand here with her again.
Jean squeezed his hand, returning his gaze with equal warmth, probably as oblivious to the minister as he was. He had no idea how long they stood there, but the minister's final words did catch his ears.
"You may now, again, kiss your bride."
Jim's mind suddenly flashed back to their wedding, when he had kissed Jean a little too fervently, bringing a chuckle from the guests. And now he caught a glint of mischief in Jean's eyes which seemed to encourage him to do the same thing this time around.
Of course, he did exactly that. And the guests chuckled again, but not loudly enough to keep Jim from hearing a sound which had definitely not occurred at his wedding.
Behind him, unmistakably, a little voice said, "Yuck."
With all the usual thanks to Karen and Cathy for their great proofreading, and to my family for putting up with all of my countless hours at the keyboard.