Chapter 1 – Leaving
Gwen stands there, unable to believe that something has caused the rare trait in her husband’s eyes to rise to the surface.
“Babe, you okay? Your eyes, they’re yellow.”
Josh barely dips his head as his glow burns a hole through her.
“Remembering all the shit I experienced here as a kid. You know I hate coming home. Every time we’re here, something bad is about to happen.”
Gradually his eyes return to their natural hazel color. Josh’sHis inner fury cools down before he approaches his wife. The sky above begins to cloud up with an occasional roll of thunder.
Josh takes Gwen under the pavilion, where they avoid getting drenched. They’re stuck there for several minutes, but for Gwen, it doesn’t matter since Josh has his arms wrapped around her torso and gently breathes in her ear.
“Welcome back, lover; you know when your eyes do that, it scares the living bejesus out of me.” She reminds him before she lifts her arm, reaching behind his head to pull him in for a kiss.
All the time they share a passionate moment, a surprise guest arrives at the house. Someone who’s traveled from Wyoming to share his pleasure over the final favor President Edward Burns II gifted to Josh before retirement.
The guest of honor arrives at the house to see no one has returned from the funeral. He stretches in his rental car to retrieve his cell phone.
After her phone begins to ring, Gwen’s unaware since she left her phone in her SUV. Benton leaves a message and taps his foot on the floorboard while he waits for the return call.
“Come on, Gwen, what’s taking so long?”
The rain lets up enough for the couple to head back down the path. Gwen’s not in a rush to drive home. Josh can’t wait to get away from Huntington. This is the one subject they never can agree on when it comes to their past.
The Mustang takes off like a bat out of hell, but Gwen notices her phone vibrates in the cupholder. She checks the voicemail and squeals after she plays the message.
She manages to turn around to take the only route she remembers back to the house, but she cannot beat Josh. Benton stands in the driveway, talking with him. It’s a relief to see Josh laughing with her client, that became one of his friends.
Benton has dark skin and tall stature with his long pitch-black hair and pot belly frame. His dark eyes are enough to capture anyone’s attention.
“Well, it’s good to see this happening; the two of you have some fun! Benton, is everything alright? I was coming out in a few weeks to deliver the last contracts to have the lands granted back to you and your people.” Gwen explains as she glides over to Josh.
“Yes, my dear friends, everything is fine, but I wanted to come here in person to say thank you. My people are most grateful for the generosity both you and Josh have shown us. The lands of our ancestors coming back to us means the world to all of us.”
Josh tightens his grip and keeps Gwen against his body, signaling to her that he’s ready to get her alone. In her subtle way, Gwen lets him know that she’s ready for him to take her and violate her body all over again.
“Hey Benton, they shouldn’t have ever torn y’all from those lands to begin. Plus, having the President is on your side, and one I can trust, I might add, but you have a great support system.” Josh mentions.
“Yes, even if he is Seminole, but President Burns has our thoughts and hearts is all that matters. We can’t thank any of you enough!” He says, walking up and embraces them in a hug.
Benton backs away to give them some space before he leaves.
“This is where I must leave you and get back to my people. I just wanted to say thank you in person and to invite you both out to the ceremony to honor the ancestors for a long-fought victory.”
A quick visit isn’t what Josh has in mind for his friend. He moves Gwen aside and rests his hand on Benton’s shoulder.
“Not so fast, my friend, you are not getting away that easily. You’re going back to Coal City with me. Let’s go drop that rental off and ride with me. I need your expertise on a project I have at the house.” Josh explains in a calm tone.
Benton smiles, flipping the keys in his hand.
“I could go for that, thank you.”
They leave Gwen there as the two of them get into their cars and leave. Gwen then takes out her phone to call Audrey to figure out where to meet up with the rest of the family.
“Hey, girl, yeah, I found him, but he’s already gone again. We all know how Josh is ever since he was a teenager. Always on the road, always busy to avoid his past. Anyways, where you at, girl? I’m hungry. I could use a drink.”
Gwen listens and rushes over to Applebee’s, where everyone waited on Josh to make his rare appearance. She walks in and notices that no one has ordered, and there are two empty chairs between Conner and Delilah.
“Crushed again, Jesus Christ in Heaven, I swear, Josh, one of these days, you’re going to lose all these kids all because you can’t face the one thing they need. You need to open up and watch these kids grow. It’s like you only see snapshots of their lives.” Gwen thinks to herself with her heart dropped low.
An excited Delilah hears her mom approach the table and turns to find that her father has once again skipped out on them. The heartbreaking glare in her eyes almost has Gwen in tears when she settles into her chair.
“So, that coward decided to run off all over again, eh,” James comments with a disdainful connotation.
“Ease up, bro. He hasn’t exactly had it easy. Besides, you know he hates people staring at his arm. Yeah, we got hurt back in the day working with him on that case, but think about what he had to endure. We all have our scars, but his, his are deeper, bro. He watched us go down one by one. It nearly took everything from his mind, body, heart, and soul. He won’t even talk about it, not to me, and that’s what bothers me.” Justin speaks up on Josh’s behalf.
The entire table is aggravated as the two debate back and forth like blood-related siblings argue over a subject. It’s not until Kyle intervenes that the heated debate abruptly ends.
“Both of you shut up! Look, we all suffered and still live with the aftermath and effects from then. If either of you thinks I can sleep all night, then you’re both crazy. I can’t sleep, I’m still on edge, and it feels like this sinister force is still around me that I can’t shake. So, fuck both of you and how you feel about Josh. He’s trying to deal with the demon within; I can see it. Why can’t you?”
Kyle’s rant resets the mood at the table from serious to angry. James sits there in a silent rage, being told to shut up. In his mind, he’s worked on how to punish Kyle since he’s the liaison for the FBI and CBI working as a field agent.
The silence is broken when the server comes to the table.
“Howdy all of you, I’m Mike, and I’ll be your server. I see there’s still one empty chair. Should we wait for your final person to show up, or are we ready?” The tall, portly balding gentleman with pale blue eyes begins with his order pad in his hand.
“No, we’re all here; mom, would you like to begin?” Brooklyn says, staring at the menu.
One by one, the gigantic order is written down. Mike walks away to place everything in with the kitchen. While he’s busy waiting on the family to refill drinks and watch over at the pass-through for food, they all return to the next big family event.
“Have we set a date for the wedding?” Audrey asks, looking at Sara and Bryan.
All Sara can do is stiffen her grip on Bryan’s arm. Her head rests on his shoulder as she listens to him talk.
“Yes, actually, I have an idea. This coming spring would be delightful if Sara agrees. All we’ll need to do is book our venue and get everything set, but that’s not in my area of expertise.” Bryan mentions shocking his fiancé.
“Oh my God, yes! Spring is what I’ve always wanted! It gives me plenty of time to start looking at places.” Sara squeals shaking her hands, and bounces in her chair with excitement.
Before either one of them can begin teasing playfully, Emily takes control of their conversation.
“There’s no need to look for anywhere. I own nearly a hundred hotels, and our location in Akron should be finished by then. It’ll be our first huge event of the season.”
Sara sucks in a deep breath but seems to have forgotten how to exhale. The offer of a complimentary venue overwhelms every sense in her body.
“Breathe, babe!” Bryan says, slightly shaking her to bring her back to reality.
Slowly she begins to exhale and inhale and repeats the action. Gradually Sara’s eyes return to an average size. Her mouth begins to move with slurred noises that eventually return to words.
“Really… We can’t, it’s too nice, and we can’t afford…”
She’s cut off by Brooklyn confirming her sister’s offer.
“Consider it our pre-wedding gift. You’ll be the talk of the season, girl. I mean, for Christ’s sake, take it and run with it. You’re our big cousin, and hey, everything is on the house from catering to designs and all that. Focus on that dream dress and save up for that honeymoon. I mean, after all, you both work for the government.” Brooklyn teases as everyone gets a chuckle.
Gwen even comments cheerfully.
“It’s more than Josh and I had offered to us. The only thing we did was go back down to the house in the Outer Banks and get married on the beach.”
“I remember that! It was a beautiful little ceremony.” Justin says with a smile on his face.
Gwen closes her eyes and begins to describe that day in detail.
“I remember it all so well too. It was a rare sunny day. The water was tranquil. Justin, it doesn’t surprise me, you remember, you’re the man who married us. Ah, the smell of the ocean and the sand between my toes.”
In her vision of that day, Gwen sees herself walking down to the edge of the beach as Josh waits there wearing a white long sleeve dress shirt with light tan khakis with his sandals partially sunken in the sand. He smiles as Gwen makes her way down.
She carried an array of multicolored tulips. She’s barefoot as the warmth of the sand massages between her toes. In the blink of an eye, she’s up beside Josh as they stand together, eyes locked with each other.
Justin opens with a few words as the kids and Momma Cline with Audrey and Sara watch on.
In a single breath, Gwen begins to speak her vows.
“Joshua, my life, my love, my light in the darkness. I’ve prayed for this day to come at last. Here we are with friends and family watching us become one, and it’s too perfect to believe. I couldn’t dream of another place or time to do this with anyone but you. Since the day I first looked into your eyes, I knew you were meant for me. I was meant for you. Through all the pain and setbacks, we managed to find a way to make it here. I will cherish you for the rest of my life, just as I have cherished the days with our children. I love you. I take you as my husband, my best friend, and the missing piece of my soul. I will be here just for you until that day I take my final breath.”
After she is finished, Justin takes the ring from his palm with Gwen taking it and slides it upon Josh’s ring finger. Her hands tremble with each second until Josh takes them in his hands.
“Gwen, our lives have been filled with amazement and confusion for so long now. When the darkness gives way to your presence, you cause the demons to clear. You’re the first person there to help me back to my feet. You’re terrific with the kids. You’ve been an angel in disguise, which is why you came into my life so long ago. Back when there was nothing but anger and chaos, you somehow calmed the raging storms within. You’re one of the few never to walk away from me. I love you. I will keep you only for myself for the rest of my life. No one else can hold a candle to your beauty and love for life, which is one reason why I placed my life in your hands.” Josh says in his vows, with a firm grip.
She smiles at him, trying to hold back the tears.
They listen to Justin say his final words leading up to, “you may now and finally kiss your bride.”
They embrace in their first kiss as husband and wife. Before she snaps back into reality while still at the restaurant, the images begin to fade in and out, turning to black and white.
“Mom… Everything okay, mommy?” Delilah calls out with her hand over her mother’s.
Delilah’s hand is enough to rip away from her memory. It sends Gwen’s consciousness back to the table where no one seems to have noticed she stared off into space. Delilah brought her back just in time as the food arrives at the table. She looks around the table at everyone in awe at the announcement of the wedding date.
Gwen rejoins the conversations after she winks at her youngest for pulling her away from the joyful memory.
The rest of their time is spent going over several topics, but when it comes to an end, they each pay and load up to either head for their hotel or back to the house where they can rest up before they depart in the morning.
They take advantage of the easy-going night. By the time the sun rises, they each separate to head back to their own homes without saying goodbye to each family member.