Chapter 21- Alternative Fates
What follows after the near-fatal incident with the boys is a tumultuous few years. Their decisions to let go of the old lifestyle takes them down different paths.
Alex becomes Josh’s best friend, and together they become a hell of a team.
Josh even held up his end of the deal and introduced Alex to Nikki’s best friend, but they don’t date for more than a couple of months before Alex had his eyes set on a couple of other females.
Alex’s career choice follows that of a Paramedic for the village of Barboursville. He also is one of a few life-flight paramedics in the county.
James’ passion evolves into a culinary program at UCF in Orlando. He’s top of his class with offers from hotel resorts to Carnival Cruise Liners. He travels home only during Christmas break between semesters.
His relationship with Scarlett is strenuous. She follows her dream to become a Physical Therapist. Once she graduates from Ohio Valley College, she plans to enroll in a Florida program to finish her degree.
Justin never applied to a traditional college. Instead, he works on the Quality Control side of Brass Eye Surgery Inc. He got hired with a friend on the inside, Aiden.
He’s two semesters away from graduation and placed into the Preacher program to find a church to call home.
On the first night of their final Christmas in Huntington, Josh and Nikki pack up gifts to take to Momma C’s.
“Last Christmas, love, that means last one here. Are you nervous yet about being accepted into the Chirographic program at USC-Spartanburg?” Josh asks with a smile.
“Oh my God, I’m scared to death! You sure you want to go down there with me? I mean, you have an offer to design engines and transmissions for Ford baby. I can’t take you from that.” Nikki reminds him before she breaths into her gloves shivering in the snowy night’s air.
Josh shakes his head when he makes his reply.
“I can work on that part-time in our apartment, I’ve told you that. I have an AutoCAD program, plus I have offers from Genesis Restoration and International Engine Company working on jet engines. I’m in good shape, baby, now c’mon, we need to get a move on.”
Nikki doesn’t waste time when Josh suggests getting into his car. Once she’s fastened in, he slides into his seat and backs out of his parking spot and nearly hits the tenant who lives upstairs.
“Ugh, damn it, Addie, you bitch! God, I can’t wait to leave this apartment behind.” Josh yells as they wait for the Tiburon to park. Nikki sits there eager to move once the spring semester ends and graduate with their bachelor’s degrees.
“I know, babe, one more term, that’s it!”
Josh pulls out onto Hal Greer Boulevard to drive down Fifth Avenue in a huff. The roads are clear, but snow begins to fall on Christmas Eve.
By the time they arrive at the house, Nikki rushes inside, leaving Josh alone to carry in the gifts. Something she isn’t mindful that this will be a special Christmas. A few weeks ago, Josh made a call to invite her parents down to dinner at Momma C’s.
Everyone begins to arrive, including Audrey, little Sara, and Tyler as the last ones expected to arrive. They’re greeted with hot chocolate with mini marshmallows, and Sara sits on the couch to watch Christmas cartoons, thanks to Granny Cline.
“Ho, ho, ho losers, the ugly foursome still gruesome as ever!” Tyler calls out from the kitchen doorway getting the boys riled up into a frenzy.
“Hey, Nikki, over here, girl!” Audrey calls out, holding her stomach with a second little one on the way.
The girls strut to the oversized window and chat along with Momma C for a while. Their attention is pulled away when a new set of headlights pulls along the edge of the driveway.
“No… It couldn’t be…” Nikki mumbles to herself when she recognizes the people getting out of the truck.
She sees her mother wave from the steps while she stands there in shock.
“Mom…” She stutters as her parents walk through the door.
“I invited them, sweetheart. Mr. Katua got a minute. I got something I need some help with, and I want to install and need your electrical advice.” Josh calls out against the doorway.
“Yeah, sure thing, kid, let’s check it out.” Mr. Katua mentions walking back out the door with Josh right behind him.
Everyone else returns to enjoy the evening while there’s a mysterious conversation that occurs in Josh’s car.
The doors shut when Mr. Katua digs into Josh’s true intentions before the dome light shuts off.
“Spill it, what do you really want? Money? A place to live or ask my permission to marry my daughter?”
Josh gives him a look that self-answers his curiosity.
“Then I guess I don’t need to ask, sir. I love Nikki very much, and I want to do it right.”
“When did I get so old? My youngest child, now old enough to get married. Bad enough, you both must move so far away to finish your education. I’ll miss her, and yes, you have my blessing to get married. You’re a great young man, and she has been crazy about you for years.” He explains, comfortable in the leather seat.
They burn a little time as Mr. Katua waits to see the ring. Josh realizes this fact and smiles, keeping his hands in his pockets.
“So… Should we get back inside? It’s pretty cold in here, sir.” Josh says while he caresses the ring box in his jacket pocket.
“I’d like to see it, please.” Mr. Katua tells his prospective to be son-in-law, fidgeting in the seat.
A single inhale later; Josh takes a box from his leather jacket pocket. He opens it to expose tourmaline and topaz stones with a set of quarter cut diamonds placed in the middle.
“I had our birthstones put in there, figure it would be a nice touch.” Josh describes it when he hands over the box.
“It’s perfect. Best of luck to both of you, but don’t rush into it either. Also, don’t rush to have kids. Enjoy your twenties. They vanish in a blink of an eye.” Mr. Katua enlightens Josh and gives back the ring.
That being settled, they hurry out of the car to return inside to warm up and begin to open gifts.
As the music blasts, everyone has fun and laughing with practical jokes all around the living room. It seems like everything is said and done. Josh gets to his feet with a tremor to his voice.
“I have something I want to say. It’s been a long time coming, and well everyone deserves a Christmas miracle.” He begins his speech when he gets up and takes Nikki by the hand to the middle of the floor.
“Um, as you all know, I had some wild dreams when we nearly died a few years back, and since then, I’ve um made a turnaround from the pissed off smartass I was back then. That’s mainly thanks to this woman right here that seen something in me I couldn’t see myself.” He continues with Nikki’s cheeks blushed in a bright rosy red.
He freezes to peer around the room with everyone’s eyes locked on only them under the glow of the ceiling fan lights. Finally, with a lick of his lips, he kneels without taking his eyes away from Nikki’s.
She gasps with her right hand to her mouth while Josh takes a firm grip on her left hand and finally reveals the ring box flipping open with his fingers.
“Nikole Katua, I love you, and I always will love you. With our families here to witness it, will you marry me?”
All she can do is nod her head yes while her parents and Josh’s extended family clap and cheer the happy couple. Josh takes his hand to remove the ring from the box, sliding it on her ring finger.
Paula’s mind travels back to that first Christmas when everything was opposite from this moment when animosity was fueled by anger and disdain when Nikki was blamed for the fractures between the boys. Here they stand now as young adults prepared to say goodbye to home and travel out into the world happy and healthy.
“Now, this is a picture-perfect Christmas.” Momma C says when she hugs the happy couple.
“We’re not going to rush into it. I made a promise that we wouldn’t do that. Nikki will finish her Chiropractor degree, and I’m still unsure about my Master’s in Mechanical Engineering, and we’ll go from there.” Josh explains, easing the fears of Nikki’s mother.
James gets to his feet, and his career choice has taken its toll on him. He’s gone from a skinny bean poll to sporting a bit of a beer belly with chubby cheeks.
“All I gotta say is I’m happy for you both, dawg. It’s been a long time coming indeed, and well, welcome to the family, Nikki. You’re not so bad after all!” He teases, giving his future sister-in-law a warm embrace.
Alex’s radio goes off with an emergency call. “Delta 3-3 emergency call single-vehicle accident; 6300 block Salt Rock Road, please respond.”
A disgruntled groan comes from the couch.
“Delta 3-3 on route to the scene, over.” He replies on his feet with his keys in his hand.
“Looks like the party is over for me, y’all, duty calls.”
Alex makes his way to the door, then runs to his car, firing it up to rush out to the call. In the blink of an eye, he pulls away, squealing the tires in his car.
“How do we celebrate? Not only your engagement but after I graduate, I’ll be moving to Georgia. I took a pastor job at a little town church just outside of Johns Creek, and the best part of my job transfers. This is a magical moment in your lives, y’all, and this calls for a family photo—a collection of families uniting as one. You’re a strong couple. I’m beyond thrilled to call you my brother and now Nikki, a sister.” Justin rambles his speech with everyone locked to his words.
The festivities continue for a few more hours before the guests begin to depart. James crashes with Scarlett in his old bedroom. Nikki’s parents make the nearly hour-long drive home. Justin returns to his townhouse apartment, where he prepares for morning service at church with his family.
Snow begins to fall while Josh and Nikki stick around at Momma C’s, talking with her over plans and dreams.
“And there’s the snow, the one thing I will not miss when we head South,” Josh says, staring out the window.
“Speaking of which, what’s the plan for everything? I have to know when can I expect some adopted grandkids.”
Nikki nearly chokes on her drink with a hard swallow.
Well, let’s not beat around the bush…” Nikki declares after she places the mug on the table.
“Yeah, Momma, I mean, she has to finish school first. I want to settle in with my job while I consider about to finish my degree too. I mean, we want kids, and we have discussed it, but the timing isn’t right.” Josh clarifies when he relaxes in his spot on the couch.
Momma C acknowledges their wishes then props her feet in the air. Josh reaches over the couch, taking a heavy blanket to hand it to Momma C while she rolls on her side.
“We’ll get going home. Merry Christmas Momma, we’ll see you soon.”
She listens as Josh gives his farewell for the night.
“Bye, son, y’all be careful going home.” She murmurs in a soft tone with a tug at her blanket.
Josh takes a slower pace home. When they arrive, there’s a message on the answering machine. Nikki hits the button and listens as her mother’s voice travels through the apartment.
“Hey, kids, we’re home safe and sound. Your dad told me about the talk Josh had with him in the car, and we couldn’t be happier for both of you. Josh, I know you’re listening, and welcome to the family!” The machine’s beep indicates that the message is over while the two of them nestle up on the love seat with a blanket over their bodies.
Nikki rests her head against Josh’s chest and listens to his heartbeat. She slowly falls asleep again while he channel surfs for a while to wind down for the night.
The following Saturday, the boys have a wild and crazy idea. Alex has talked them into a surprise bachelor party at the Import Room Club. It shocks Nikki when the three of them show up at her door.
She moves aside so they can escape from the brisk, freezing air.
“Don’t say anything, but we’re taking Josh out tonight for a bachelor party,” Alex tells her in a hushed tone.
“But we said we weren’t going to rush things…” She reminds them with a concerned look on her face.
James takes control of things to explain the idea of what’s going to happen.
“We ain’t gonna let him drink at all, sis. We may end up passed out on your floor, but we, or rather Alex here, thinks since we’re all gonna be apart, why not go ahead and do it while the getting’s good.”
With James’ explanation out in the open, Nikki’s expression goes from concerned to relieved and eventually comes full circle to delighted since she feels a bit under the weather.
“That’s fine. I feel bad tonight. He could use a boy’s night out. Just don’t do anything stupid. Can you promise me that much?” She asks all three of them.
Justin looks at James, and James looks back at Alex while he exchanges a look of pure sarcasm back with both James and Justin.
“Uh, like duh!” Alex says with his hands on his hips.
A chuckle is a gesture signifying that she’s okay with the idea.
Nikki walks away to the bedroom to retrieve her fiancé.
Moments later, Josh comes out to greet the boys. Altogether, they exchange the usual handshake with a quick bro hug before they breakdown their idea to him.
“Yo man, we know you don’t drink, so you can be our D.D. but check it. We’re gonna hit up the Import Room and check out that band people seem to like a lot. So c’mon, we’ll have some fun before we all head our own way in a few months, ya feel?” Alex babbles, working up some spit with his words.
A simple nod affirms his interest, but rather than cram into any of their vehicles, Josh nabs the keys to Nikki’s brand new electric blue and light gray Ford Escape.
“Let’s roll…” He says, slipping on his leather jacket.
One by one, they pile into the SUV, where they buckle up excited for a night of joy. It’s a short drive to the club, but the place begins to fill up with a raucous crowd when they arrive.
“Welcome to the Import Room gentlemen, the first round of drinks is on us.” The bouncer says, checking everyone’s ID at the door.
Something in the air that night doesn’t sit well with Josh, but he doesn’t say anything. The tension that surrounds him is an eerie one. He tries to play it off and keeps a sharp eye out for anything unusual when he stops by the bar to hand Alex his complimentary drink ticket.
The place is packed, and almost everyone has a drink in their hands. The band finally makes an appearance from the backroom.
A prosperous ovation rattles the building, with the four band members get into position on the small stage.
“How’s everyone doing tonight?” The guy questions locked in with the crowd as they all hoot and holler.
“That’s totally awesome! I am Aiden Hart, and we are Disgrace Thru Grace, and we’re ready to TURN…IT…UP…” He nearly screams into the microphone.
“Get ready because here we go on the road to Columbus, Ohio, and battle at the Ohio Rock Festival! This is our first song of the night, Shadow Warrior.” He calls out, giving his bandmates the count as the song kicks off in high gear.
Josh tries to make his way through the club, pushing and shoving his way through. He accidentally bumps into a young blond lady when someone knocks him off balance.
“Oh, sorry, Gweny…” He says when he meets her eye to eye.
“No need to be sorry, Josh.” She yells over the music with her friend next to her, confused when she barely hears Gwen respond to Josh.
“He’s kind of hot; how do you know him?” Her friend Rita asks when she playfully shoves on Gwen’s shoulder.
That’s when it strikes Gwen that she doesn’t know him personally. She saw him differently in her dreams.
“I don’t know, maybe I knew him in another life or reality. He reminded me of the guy in my dream when I suffered that concussion my junior year in high school. You remember what I read about how some people connect like that and can be hundreds of miles apart.” She shares.
They laugh, watching him make his way through the crowd and disappear before they can get his attention.
It doesn’t dawn on Josh that he’s bumped into the woman he cared about so much in his alternate universe. To him, it was merely bumping into another old friend.
In his mind, the two worlds are still blended together. The rest of the night, Gwen struggles to discover how she knows about Josh and why a nagging sensation takes control over her body that she’s missed out on a great opportunity.
The night ends with Josh back at the apartment, where the guys are sloshed and stumbling their way inside.
Josh is still as sober as a priest on Sunday.
Gwen is still on his mind for the remainder of the night. The images of her and their lives flash in his mind as he fights to stay away from that twisted, connected reality they share.
When he manages to fall asleep, he slips back to that world where Gwen waits for him at their spot in the Rose Garden at Ritter Park.
“About time you got here; I’ve waited for what feels like years.” She calls out to wave him over.
“Sorry, seen your counterpart tonight at a club. Don’t worry, I wasn’t drinking, but I guess this has to be goodbye, though. My other life will be calling for me before long. I must say things with us were nearly perfect. I miss you and think about our adventures often.” Josh explains, taking her hand with a gentle squeeze.
Gwen smiles as she gives him a passionate stroke with the back of her hand along his cheek and a kiss on the lips.
“It’s okay to say goodbye, we did have some kickass times together, but it’s okay to let me go now. You have a rare second chance, and that makes all the difference in the world. I’ll see you again from time to time. When life gets difficult, I’ll be right here to help guide you back on track. I love you, Josh.”
Slowly she fades away to leave Josh on the concrete bench alone. Suddenly a crash in the sky occurs where he sees both of his worlds dissolve into one again. The color of cherry skies overhead brings a consciousness that blends it when it all comes to an end.
Josh’s mind has finally started to heal itself when he realizes his life gets a twisted regenesis from Gwen’s message.
It’s always been in his decisions to help lead the way for those around him.
A smile and an open-armed embrace with his eyes closed send him back to where he belongs with a renewed passion for life. A passion he tends to embrace head-on from that last moment with both worlds. A finale that gives him the answers at last as he lays there staring at the love of his life as it begins to clear his conscious better than he expected.
With his friends close and Nikki closer, there isn’t a better thing Josh can feel to take that first leap into a brand new era of his life.
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