Maybe lay and let your feelings grow accustomed to the dark
And by morning’s light you might solve the problems of the heart
And it all might be a lesson for the hasty heart to know
Maybe leavin’s not the only way to go
People reach new understandings all the time
They take a second look maybe change their minds
People reach new understandings everyday tell me not to reach and I’ll go away
From the stage show ‘Big River‘
When Kate said ‘yes’ to my proposal I couldn’t help myself. I insisted that we get a marriage license within a week of getting back to Seattle. It was my insurance policy against her falling back down that big black hole of depression again and the day of the massive meltdown, I very nearly dragged her off to the registrar’s office and probably would have if Mia hadn’t been abducted by Jack Hyde. When that happened all thoughts of a rushed wedding were pushed aside and I entrusted the licence to Christian for safekeeping. Now as I look around at all of these expectant faces I am starting to regret that decision. I should have just burned the damn thing.
“Well, son. Miss Katherine seems to think that you and I might have something to talk about.” Father Kelly has gone from jovial smiles to deeply serious. It would seem that he is at least waiting for an answer from me, something I can’t give in a way that will satisfy everyone in this room.
“Unless you’re here to pray for my miraculous recovery, Father, then I’m not sure I have much to say.” I don’t want to be rude to a priest but I’m barely holding back my frustration. I don’t care that she has brought everyone together or that she thinks she has backed me into a corner. She has no right to potentially throw her life away on what could be my life sentence. I punch my closed fists into the bed in impotent anger. Pain shoots through my torso with the impact. “Fuck!”
“Elliot, please! And don’t take that tone.” Being told off by my mother isn’t high on my list of things to do today. She of all people should be able to see that physically and emotionally I am not in the right place to be having this discussion but she isn’t focused on me at all. Instead she is too busy riding on ‘freight train Kate’. “I’ll leave you to apologize while I go and help Kate get ready. I’m hoping that by the time we get back, there will be a change of mood. Julie?” Both women slip out the door leaving just the blokes and Mia. The room is filled with uncomfortable silence that is almost immediately broken by a shrill ringtone.
“Yeah.” Ethan steps towards the door then pauses. All eyes are on him as he turns to Mia dropping the phone away from his mouth. “We’ve got him. We’re on our way.”
Mia nods as he slips the phone in his pocket and they both approach the bed. “Hey Lelliot, I’m sorry but we’ve got to go.” She leans over the bed and plants a soft kiss on my cheek. Then she whispers, “Don’t give up, don’t let him win.” I have no idea who ‘he’ is. I’m about to ask when a cramp-like pain shoots down my leg. Fuck! I grip the sheets, trying not to give anything away. Whatever is happening, I know that they have more important things to do right now than to take part in this ridiculous charade of Kate’s. Besides if they go then she might put a hold on the madness.
“Sorry, bro, but duty calls.” Ethan steps in beside her and reaches down to grip my hand. “Listen, I know she’s a bossy tart, but she loves you, man. We all do. So just go with it. We’re all here for you, for both of you.”
I grit my teeth and stare up at the ceiling wishing he would shut the hell up. “Haven’t you two got bad guys to catch?” Part curious, part pissed off, I want to ask more but they’re already half way to the door.
“We’ll be back as soon as we can.” Ethan is no longer talking to me but has stopped in front of my father. The worry etched across his face says it all. Like all of us, Dad hasn’t reconciled himself to his little girl being a big bad agent. Unfortunately, no amount of us seeing her like a fourteen year old is going to stop her from walking out that door and I think it takes Dad a full two minutes to start breathing after the door shuts.
“Dad, she’ll be alright.” His head drops to his chest, tension riveting him to the spot. The pain is slowly abating giving way to pins and needles. I’m about to call the nurse when Dad’s deep angst cuts through the silence.
“How do you know?” Sucking in a deep breath his shoulders tense up and release with a slight tremor. He looks back over his shoulder towards me so I can see just how much the last few weeks have aged him. The disturbing look of defeat is likely to haunt me to the end of my days, which, if this pain continues, might only be hours away. “I thought you would be alright and look where we are. How the hell am I not supposed to worry myself sick about any of you? Ana is nearly killed, Mia has been drugged, kidnapped and now she’s going off into God knows what danger. You put your foot on a bomb and now you’re here. Jesus, I thought the worst that could happen was finding out about Christian and Elena. When does this shit stop?” He turns around almost surprised to notice Father Kelly still in the room and catches himself. “Sorry, Father.”
“It’s alright, son. You’re a family under stress and a man who doesn’t worry about his children is not much of a father.” I’m waiting for some ‘the Lord will prevail’ or ‘His grand plan’. Instead he says, “I won’t plaster over your pain and anxiety with meaningless platitudes, son. What I will suggest is that your prayers, in whatever form they might take, will probably not go astray at this moment. And if I can be of service in that area then I am happy to be here.”
I’ve only met the man a couple of times, but Father Kelly has to be the coolest priest, ever. I remember being nervous about going to dinner at Kate’s parents’ house to meet the parish priest. I had no idea what the etiquette was for an atheist wanting to marry a Catholic. The burning question in my mind was would I have to convert? I don’t think I will ever forget his reply.
“There are enough bad Catholics in the church, Elliot. Don’t become another one if you’re heart and soul isn’t committed to it. Be committed to Katherine, to your family, and support her in her faith and that will be enough.”
“What about our children? Won’t they have to be raised as Catholics?” Not that I particularly minded. I had no objection to organized religion, I just decided pretty early on that it wasn’t for me. As far as I was concerned, the only good thing most of them had given the world was their architecture.
“You know, I’ve always believed that children should be raised with a sense of wonder, a sound moral core and an open eye and heart. My faith and religious teaching has always been based on that premise and I’d certainly welcome your young one’s into the fold. In the end, this is an agreement that you and Katherine will have to make and live with. My only question to you is, if Kate wants the children baptised and brought up in the church, would you disagree? An open and honest discussion about that would need to be had before you settle down and get married and none of that has anything to do with what religion you are but is more to do with the ways are you willing to compromise and allow for each other’s beliefs. Don’t you think?”
Kate and I did eventually have that discussion and it was a no-brainer for me. We would bring our children up with an open learning approach to all religions so that they could make an informed choice as they approached adulthood. In the mean time, they would have the blessings and community of Kate’s faith and some sensible guidance from Father Kelly with no objection from me. Hell, after laughing my way through a couple of meals with him and sitting through a description of one of his sermons, which sounded more like the best of British comedy, I would even be willing to go to church on Sundays, myself. Looking at him now, comforting my father, I am glad to have him here. Dad looks like he has aged twenty years in the last few weeks and I can’t deal with guilt of knowing that a large part is about me being here in this bed. Just another reason to get the fuck out of Dodge. Dad looks over at me with a frown.
“Don’t even think it, Elliot.”
“What?” The pain is bugging the shit out of me and I grab the remote control, trying to drive the bed into a position that doesn’t kill. Neither man seems to notice that I’m struggling and that is a good thing. I don’t want to add to Dad’s worry, any more, by showing how much pain I am in.
“You’re pulling away from us. Don’t think we don’t know that. Kate and Christian warned us that you would and it is killing me to see that they’re right. This family has been through too much in the past few months for any of us to cope with that.” Jesus H Christ! Why won’t he just give me a fucking break!?
“You don’t know what I’m thinking.” I keep my eyes focused on the end of the bed. Next thing I hear an almighty bang and I look up in time to see my father has thrown a chair over. His breathing is ragged, his shoulders heaving. Then he turns on me.
“I know exactly what you’re thinking because I’ve been there. I once thought that it would be better for your mother and you kids if I wasn’t around. I had brought her nothing but pain. Every day, no matter how much we loved your sister, she had to live with my mistakes. Mistakes that very nearly broke her and my very presence just kept dragging her back there. But you know, your mother turned everything around and kept us all together. She stood by me even when she probably should have kicked me to the curb. Kate is trying to do the same thing. She is strong and gracious like your mother and you haven’t committed the sins that I did. You have done nothing that she has to forgive you for. And what about Mattie? Your brother paid a fortune to the Haitian authorities so that you could circumvent their bureaucracy and bring him home. You have a son to think about now and a woman who loves you so much that she would sacrifice anything for you. Don’t throw that away.”
“YOU. WEREN’T. PARALYZED!” I’m ignoring the salient points of his little outburst because right now I can’t think about anything longer term than my stay in this hospital bed. I can’t inflict this on Kate or Mattie or anyone else in the family.
“NEITHER ARE YOU, YOU SELFISH SON OF A BITCH!.” Dad’s anger cuts through my pain as Mia’s words come back to me. Am I giving in? Have I really given up? Is that what I am doing here? And why is this fucking pain getting worse?
“Son, why don’t you step outside for a moment and let Elliot and I have a wee chat.” His Irish brogue soothes the strong tempers in the room but his tone also brooks no argument. Dad turns and stalks angrily out of the room.
Father Kelly picks up the fallen chair and carries it over to the bed. He turns it around and straddles it backwards, leaning on the back to look in my eyes. “Now, how about you tell me what it is you really want.”
Shit. “I….I want to go back a few days and not go out to the building site. I want that delivery to never have been made. I want that agent to still be alive. What do you want me to say?” Blinking up at the ceiling isn’t helping with with the emotion or the waterworks.
“I don’t have any agenda in this, Elliot, but it is obvious to everyone who loves you that you do. Do you really think that you have become a burden to them?” I’m anticipating that I will be. Without giving my body time to do its thing. Without finding out what that burden might look like. The specialist has already told me that there is no damage to the spinal cord. That everything depends on getting the swelling down as quickly as possible and then the rest is likely going to be up to me. But what if he’s wrong? What if it doesn’t go down quick enough? What if I can’t….?
“No, I’m not a burden… yet… but if I don’t get out of this bed on my own, then I will become one. I don’t want that. Especially not for Kate. She doesn’t deserve that.”
“You don’t think that they love you enough? That Kate loves you enough?”
“No, it’s not that.” Her love isn’t in question. It is because she loves me too much that I can’t put her through this.
“Then is it because they don’t have the skills to support you? Or the desire?”
“I know they do. I just don’t think they should.” He frowns and looks at the floor for a moment. See, even he doesn’t think they should be burdened with me.
“Tell me something. If this had all happened after the wedding would you still be pushing Kate away?”
“I don’t know. Probably.” Definitely, maybe. Would I divorce her because of this? Hell, I don’t know.
“If this was her lying in this bed. Would you walk out on her? Would you let her leave?”
“Hell, no.” What sort of man does he think I am?
“Then why on earth do you think she should accept this from you?”
“It isn’t a matter of what she wants. She is too young to take on my problems.” I had this all sorted in my head and he is screwing me up. And my back hurts like fuck. Why won’t the pain stop, for Gods sake!
“And what problems would those be, exactly?” Smart bastard. I’ve got nothing so silence seems to be my best come back. He changes tack. “So if you had lost your business. If you got arrested. She should just up and leave you? Marriage doesn’t work like that. When you commit to a person in the holy sanctity of marriage you are in it for life.” I get that, but we’re not married yet.
“This is different. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Ah, so you’re only marrying her for the sex.” What the…? What a lousy damn thing for a priest to insinuate. I evil eye him which is easy when the pain is shooting up into my neck and my head.
“No? Well, then I’m not sure I understand and I don’t think young Katherine is going to let you go. She does have a strong will. Always has.” Will you give up already, you jumped up religious leprachaun? Man, if there is a God then I am definitely on his shit list now.
“It’s best for everyone if I disappear as soon as I can.” That comes out through gritted teeth as I try to reposition my body to get comfortable. I squeeze my eyes tight to block out the light that wants to sear my brain.
“Best for everyone or best for you? I never figured you for a coward, Elliot. I thought you had more mettle than that.” I open up to catch the intensity and compassion in his eyes. I look away first. “Perhaps leaving isn’t the only option open to you. You have a family that loves you. A young woman who is willing to stand by you. Do you really want to throw all of that away because you’re scared of what life is going to hand you next? There are no guarantees in this life, Elliot. You’ve got to seize that sort of love. If I didn’t think Kate had the strength to deal with what this might mean then I would be first to counsel you out of this wedding. But she does. And that young woman has the strength of her faith and the love of your families combined behind her. Perhaps you need to have a little more faith – if not in God, then in her. And yourself.”
Faith? Have I lost my faith in her? Hell, she stood by me even though I had a potential jail sentence hanging over my head. She helped me with my presentations. She has promoted my work and handled Gia when I couldn’t. She chased me to Haiti even though she had no idea where I was. She tried to protect me from Linc and the gossip column and found a way back to me even when her heart was hurting so hard she couldn’t bear it. She took on my brother, several times, to protect and support her best friend. Everything I love about her – the strength, the tenacity, the pure grit and the absolute loyalty is exactly what I am afraid of. But if it was her would I allow her to push me away like this? Did I allow her to do it when she lost the baby? When she crashed emotionally? Fuck, my head is swirling and this fucking pain is intense.
“Father Kelly, can we do this another time? I need a nurse.”
“Son, are you in pain?” I nod and as the tears start to roll down my cheeks I no longer care that I’m not holding it together cos right now the spasms are ripping me apart. Father Kelly reaches over and squeezes the call button three times and within minutes the nurse is in the room checking monitors and adjusting the drip. My mother is close behind speaking with her in a language I don’t understand but I am hoping involves something stronger than Nyquil. Kate arrives next, like a vision in white, my guardian angel, which is my last thought before the meds kick in and my mind checks out.