THE SEVENTH CROSS

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CLAIRE AND MIKEY MEET

O’Malley made the call and lined up the meeting on Claire’s behalf. It was the least he could do. He’d gotten to know her pretty well these last few days and man, she was as tough as they come, but this was different. And personal. And she was scared. He knew it and she knew it. Neither had to say anything, but both knew they were in this thing together. Like it or not, she had begun to lean on him as though he were her father, well not her father, but like a father should be. He liked it and she needed him. Good.

Mikey knew he was getting a visitor. O’Malley had contacted him but was vague on the details. Curious. But if there was one person he respected nearly as much as Charley, it was O’Malley. He never could figure out why he had taken such an interest in him. But he kept showing up to visit him. No one else ever did, that is, until the last couple of years when some of the inmates were released and had sung his praises to their families. After that, every now and then he’d have a visitor, sometimes a family member just wanting to thank him for taking care of their boy, and on occasion, the former inmate himself just wanting to say thanks. But, he sensed that this was different. It made him nervous and that was not like him. Not one bit!

The closer they got to the prison the more nervous Claire became. Maybe this was a mistake. I should have come years ago. I abandoned my own brother. He’s going to hate me. I’m such a coward. I hate me! And on and on it went. O’Malley wanted to wrap her in his arms and hold her close, let her scream, or whatever. He hated seeing her this way. If she needed a father figure in her life, he wanted the job, and one way or another, he was staying close to this girl!

Oh God! There it is! I thought it was further away. Calm down girl. Breathe. And finally she became Claire, the Investigator, once again. She had a job to do. She’d done this dozens of times in the past. No big deal! Except, it was. It was a really big deal, and suddenly once again, she was a really little girl. Thank God O’Malley was with her because the chances are she would have got back in the vehicle and got the hell out of there!

“We’re here to see Michael Godfrey. We have an appointment.”

Cell phones, recording devices, wallets, etc., pat down, the usual and finally they were escorted to the visitors area. O’Malley moved off to the tiny sitting area hugging the far wall while Claire sat at the table waiting for her brother’s arrival.

She could hear him coming before she saw him. She composed herself as best as she could and waited for . . . she wasn’t sure what she was waiting for. Any semblance of a suntan that she had when she arrived at the prison had long since gone on vacation. She glanced at the door as it slowly began to open, quickly fluffing up her hair for the fortieth time in the last thirty seconds, and squaring her body up for the assault she was sure was coming. And then he walked in.

He stopped. They stared at each other. And each began to cry. Unabashedly. Not a word was spoken for what seemed an eternity. And then he stepped forward and sat down across from Claire, his baby sister! “Thank you, God!” Over and over he repeated it, “Thank you, God! Thank you, God!” They weren’t allowed to embrace but they could hold each other’s hands and when they finally touched, what little control Claire had mustered up to that point evaporated completely.

Control be damned. They had found each other. That’s all that mattered. Big brother; baby sister. United at last.

O’Malley could barely contain himself. He was pretty sure it would go well but this blew the socks of any scenario he had imagined. And they hadn’t even spoken yet! Thank you God for letting me be part of this!

Suddenly Claire blurted out “I love you!” and quickly covered her mouth with her hand. What did I just do?

Mikey began to chuckle and then he roared. And he cried. But these were tears of joy! Pure, unadulterated joy! “I love you too!” And he burst out laughing again, but this time she was right there with him. Two kids having the time of their lives! And then they both looked over at O’Malley and they began to roar.

Thirty years gone in the blink of an eye! But at this moment they were 11 and 15 and all was well with the world! But it wasn’t, and in very short order their lives would change forever.

They were there an hour but it felt as if a minute. She didn’t want to leave; he didn’t want her to go, but they were in different worlds. And that was reality. With tears unabashedly running down both their cheeks, they went their separate ways, she promising to return real soon. “I love you!”

And as the door closed behind him, she heard him call out “I love you, sis!”

She was a wreck. Thank God O’Malley was driving. Thank God for O’Malley period. He was her rock, a job he was quite happy to take on. Claire would stick around one more day but then she had to get back to Seattle. And besides, she missed Derek like crazy!

So now Claire had another mission on top of all the other missions she already had on the go. But this was personal. That was her brother in there, and if there was any way on God’s green earth that she could get him out of there, she’d find it. Don’t ever underestimate the power of a woman!

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