The final weeks of October were always Calvin Montgomery’s favorite time of year. This was when the heat and stress of the summer months burned away, the leaves were blazing with color and the air was filled with the spicy scent of the coming fall. For Cal, this autumn season brought a sense of renewal and a chance to put the past to rest and focus on the future. Driving home from work along the winding road to his cabin, enjoying the sun highlighting the spectacular reds yellows and purple of the flaming leaves, he was energized with a sense of joy and hope that he had never dreamed possible. The music from the stereo blared through the speakers of his truck and leaving a trail of happiness as the sound billowed out of the wide open windows. Today, as it had been for just about every day of the past three months, Cal couldn’t wait to get home.
Cal pulled up to his cabin just as a blur of black and tan fur barreled from around the back of the house. He jumped out of the car and squatted down just as the German Sheppard puppy closed the gap between the back porch and the door of Cal’s truck and launched itself into his awaiting arms.
The puppy wriggled furiously, licking at Cal’s face.
“I hope you don’t expect that kind of welcome from me.”
Cal scooped the puppy up in his arms and walked over to where Taylor had emerged from the side of the cabin. He leaned in to kiss her but Max had other ideas and covered them both sloppy licks as the both laughed. Cal put the puppy down and slipping his hand in hers and kissing her softly on the lips before they followed speeding mass of fur as he loped back around the house. Together they climbed the steps leading to the back deck; Cal settled into one of the Adirondack chairs pulling Taylor down on his lap and watched Max race around the back yard.
Taylor and Cal had been living together since her release from the hospital. Originally, the plan was for her to move into Michael’s house with her mother acting a nurse. When Taylor officially accepted Cal’s engagement ring and they had shared the news with Allison and Michael, the original plan was abandoned. It took sometime for both of them to feel comfortable; Taylor had insisted that they needed to discuss everything that had happened but Cal disagreed. He was happy to put the past behind them and build a something new; all he wanted was for her to honor the promise she had made at the hospital. Three months had passed and although Taylor was wearing her engagement ring, Cal hadn’t made any progress getting her to set a wedding date. The only thing he had been able to get her to commit to was the choice of the puppy they bought.
“What’s the rush? We have all the time in the world now.”
That was her response every time Cal broached the subject. It bothered him that at times she seemed to withdraw and keep him at arms length. Cal hoped that it was just an adjustment phase for Taylor as she transitioned from living in the land of grey back to the routine and the mundane. But every time it happened, he began to wonder if Taylor was capable of really leaving her old life behind; doubt fuelling his greatest fear that she would decide that she couldn’t.
As they watched the puppy frolic in some raked leaves, Cal slid his hands over hers and touched the ring on her left hand. Without warning, a memory of Taylor bathed in the grey light of the ICU, connected to tubes and wired to monitors insinuated itself on this perfect moment, reminding him of what it had taken to bring them both to this place. Cal tightened his arms around Taylor and kissed the back of her neck, breathing in the smell of her hair to chase the image away and validate the fact that she was really here and that they were together. He felt her stiffen a little, as if she was steeling herself then she shifted her weight to her hands, and pushing her self up off his lap, walked to the railing keeping her back to him. As he watched her shoulders rise and fall as she took a deep breath, Cal readied him self for what ever she had to tell him.
“Alex Harmon called me today,” she said looking out into the yard.
Although the news was not entirely a surprise, Cal couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his voice. He gripped the arms of the Adirondack chair tightly to keep his composure. Taylor had officially tendered her resignation from the FBI the day she was release from the hospital.
“What did he want?”
Cal was there when she handed Harmon her gun, her FBI credentials and, just for good measure, a formal letter of resignation. Cal had watched the exchange intently and he noted how Harmon had begrudgingly accepted the items. Something deep in Cal’s gut told him that Harmon wouldn’t let Taylor go so easily; she was too valuable to the Bureau to simply allow her to retire to private life. He knew that it was just a matter of time before Harmon made his first overture in an attempt to lure Taylor back into the fold.
“Nothing really,” Taylor said conversationally. She turned back to face Cal and leaned against the railing with her arms folded across her chest. “He asked how I was and what I had been doing with my self, if I had made new career plans.”
Cal stood and moved toward Taylor just as Max darted up the steps to the deck and began demanding attention. He halted his approach toward Taylor and let the puppy into the cabin through the sliding door before he turned his attention to her again.
“What did you tell him?”
Though he meant it as a question to keep the lines of communication open, the words came out more as presumption that she was going to be less than honest. Cal instantly chided himself for his reaction; it was his fault that they had never really cleared that air regarding Taylor’s former activities. Cal had insisted that those things didn’t matter when in fact the exact opposite was true. Those things were exactly what mattered; until they dealt with them they would never be able to move forward. He remained by the door, his entire body tense while he waited for her to respond.
Taylor narrowed her eyes, reading the conflict in Cal’s face and his demeanor. She knew that he would be suspicious of what Harmon’s motives were in calling. She knew that, when it came to anything connected with Taylor being one of Alex Harmon’s agents that Cal expected her to lie to him about what they talked about.
“I told him that I am fine, practically good as new.”
She traversed the space between them and took his hands in hers, feeling the tension radiating from every pore in his body. She lean into his body reached up on her toes and kissed him gently.
“I told him that I had been making wedding plans. How does New Year’s Eve sound to you?”
Cal wrapped Taylor in his arms and lifted her spinning around as he whooped with surprised happiness. But almost at the same instant as he lifted her into his arms, a dark thought intruded upon his happy moment. Cal ended the celebration abruptly.
“Are you sure this is what you want?” Cal looked deeply into Taylor’s eyes. “Or are you doing this because you think it’s what I want?”
Taylor smiled sweetly and kissed Cal.
“For the first time in a very long time I know who I am and where I want to be. I’ve done things and lived a life that rivaled the stuff nightmares. I never allowed myself to dream of bright and happy things. I never imagined or let myself hope that, after all the time and ugliness, that I would ever have you be a part of my life again. I am the happiest I have been in longer than I care to remember. And even though I’m not quite sure what my life will be like from now on, I am sure of one thing. I want to share what ever comes next with you.”
It took some doing but once Cal explained to Jack what Taylor meant to him, Jack slowly got used to the idea that Taylor was going to be his father’s new wife. He began spending more time at the cabin getting to know Taylor before the wedding and after a month or so, Jack finally warmed to the idea of having Taylor for a step mother. Because of Jack’s frequent visits, Stephanie and Taylor managed to be civil towards each other and after the wedding the two women developed a mutual respect for each other’s standing in Jack and Cal’s lives and, although they would never be friends, they managed to begin to peacefully coexist.
The ceremony was small and simple: a civil ceremony conducted at their cabin in front of their first Christmas tree with Cal’s son Jack acting as best man, Max as ring bearer and Michael and Allison acting as witnesses followed by a small gathering of family and friends at the Boathouse. After a short honeymoon trip to the Bahamas, Cal and Taylor settled in a quiet domestic life. Cal knew that it was only a matter of time before the role of blushing bride and house wife wore off and was not surprised when Taylor accepted a job with the district attorney’s office as an assistant counsel and part time investigator.
“You catch the bad guys,” she joked. “I’ll make sure they go away for a long time.”
By the time their second anniversary passed, it seemed as if Cal and Taylor were well on their way to their happily ever after. Taylor and Jack had cemented their relationship by sharing a common interest in all kinds of outdoor activities. Since Taylor and Cal were already 46ers, Jack had expressed an interest in joining the ranks of those North Country people who had climbed all 46 Adirondack peaks. Taylor jumped at the opportunity to help Jack and even though he sometimes felt a bit left out when the two of them went hiking without him, Cal was overjoyed to see Taylor and Jack’s relationship blossom. As the end of the school year approached, Taylor and Jack were planning to play hooky on a Friday and hike up Mount Marcy. They were going to hike to the summit then meet Cal and camp at Marcy Dam. But, as often happens in the life of law enforcement officer, the unpredictable responsibilities of Cal’s job interfered with their family plans.
Cal and Michael had gotten notice early Friday morning that they had to travel to Ogdensburg to mediate an argument concerning extradition of a Canadian suspect apprehended at the border crossing in Massena. The man had over thirty pounds of hydroponic marijuana hidden in the spare tire well in the trunk of his car. The RCMP wanted the suspect and so did the BCI Narcotics squad. As there was no way Cal was going to able to meet Taylor and Jack that afternoon, he wanted to call her before she left work to pick up Jack. She had planned to work half day and then spring Jack from school. When he was connected with the D.A.’s office at 9:30, he was surprised to learn that Taylor wasn’t there.
“I’m sorry Sergeant Montgomery,” said the secretary apologetically. “Ms. Bennetto got a call from the Attorney General’s Albany office as soon as she got in. She’s left for Albany about half an hour ago.”
Cal hung up the phone; as nervous knot began to form in his stomach; his cell phone began to vibrate in his pocket. He checked the display. He had one missed call and a voice mail. Cal checked the call log and as soon as he saw that the missed call was from Taylor, the knot eased but did not entirely disappear. He cued up the voice mail.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you in person,” said Taylor’s disembodied voice. “But I have to go to Albany. The AG needs some information concerning a case I worked for the Bureau. I sent Jack a text. I know he’s going to be bummed. I’m sorry Cal. It couldn’t be helped. Love you.”
As soon as the message ended, Cal called Taylor’s cell phone. She didn’t answer and from the number of times it rang before going to voice mail, Cal knew that she must be in one of the Adirondack Northway’s notorious dead zones. He saw Michael waiting by the door tapping his watch at Cal to signal that they needed to get going.
Michael couldn’t help but notice how distracted Cal was as they pulled out of the Barracks parking lot.
“Anything I should be aware of?”
“No,” Cal sighed. “No; it’s nothing really.”
Michael continued to watch Cal with an expression that said ‘I’m not buying but I’m not prying either.’
Cal felt Michael’s eyes on him and began to feel foolish.
“The AG’s office called Taylor this morning,” Cal began. “They asked her to go to Albany. They need some information on one of her old cases.”
Michael kept his expression neutral and waited for him to finish.
“It’s just a little sudden. We had camping plans with Jack this weekend.”
As soon as Cal said it he realized just how much he was overreacting. He laughed at himself to complete the release of nervous tension he had forced on him self. Michael, seeing Cal’s face redden with embarrassment, laughed with him.
The rest of the day whirled by in a blur of activity keeping any and all unpleasant thoughts from Cal’s mind. He checked his messages before leaving the barracks to go home. He had two from Jack; the first expressing disappointment at having to stay at school all day, the second asking if he could spend the weekend with them at the cabin. Hearing Jack actually ask to spend time with Taylor and him made Cal very happy but also very aware that he had not heard from Taylor all day. He tried her cell twice on the way home and got her voice mail both times. The nervous knots from the morning returned and twisted in his stomach until he pulled into his drive way and saw Taylor’s car in her usual spot. The back door opened and Max loped out to greet him as he climbed out of his truck. He followed Max into the house to find Jack and a school friend playing Xbox in the living room, pizza boxes on the kitchen island and Taylor sitting on the deck sipping a glass of wine. Cal grabbed a beer and a slice of pizza and went to join her.
“Long day,” he asked taking a seat beside her.
“Long day,” she repeated. “Jack called me ransomed his forgiveness of our lost hiking trip for pizza and an Xbox tournament weekend here.” She took a long drink of her wine. “Apparently Stephanie is not very receptive to teen video football tournaments?”
Cal chuckled and stuffed the rest of the pizza slice into his mouth.
“When are the rest of Jack friends arriving?”
“Not till tomorrow afternoon. Jack and Kyle are going to the movies at nine.”
Taylor got up from her chair and lowered herself onto Cal’s lap.
“I asked Kyle if his mom could drive them so I could have some quiet time to beg forgiveness at not getting back to you when you called me today.”
Taylor tilted her face and kissed Cal in a way that made him want to forget his son was on the other side of the glass doors. Jack and Kyle left a half hour later and two minutes after the door shut, Cal and Taylor were in the master bedroom where she was absolutely forgiven.
A month later, Cal came home from work to find Taylor packing a suitcase. The Attorney General had requested Taylor to work as a liaison between his office and the DEA.
“You don’t work for the Federal government anymore T,” Cal protested. “Remember?”
“It’s not that simple,” Taylor said as she continued to move around the bedroom gathering her things.
She was being evasive and that pissed Cal off. He’d let the first trip go by without pressing for any details about this “case” that was so important. Not this time. He wanted answers and prepared to square off with her to get them.
“Why can’t they find someone else? Why does it have to be you?” Then he finally voiced his true concern. “T as far as some of the key players in all of this is concerned; you’re supposed to be ‘dead’. What of somebody sees you?”
“Look Cal,” Taylor sound exasperated. “I know a great deal about the Eastern European Syndicate that will help the case the DEA is building. The marijuana smuggling that BCI has been investigating is just one part of a much bigger operation.”
She could see that he wasn’t convinced.
“I’m not doing field work; this is strictly consulting.” She watched as his expression phased from anger to impatience and finally to worry.
“How long will you be gone?”
“Just a couple of days,” she said wrapping her arms around his waist. “Just a couple of days and then I’ll be home.”
Over the next six months, Taylor was away for longer and longer periods of time and Cal had started to realize that they’d gone this route before. More time on the phone, less time face to face and fewer explanations about the nature of her involvement in the investigation. Two weeks after their third anniversary, Taylor broke the news that she was going to Washington and then to the FBI’s offices in London. The difference this time was that Cal wasn’t going to give in without a fight.
“What about us T? What happens to everything we have now?”
“I have to do this Cal. Please try to understand.”
“No! No I don’t want to understand.” Cal threw the glass he’d been holding across the room, shattering it against the fireplace. “It’s kind of hard to have a marriage when one of us is 5000 miles away.”
Taylor bowed her head and grabbed a broom to clean up the broken glass. He watched her clean up his mess; the silence in the room weighed heavily on both of them.
“What do you want me to say, Cal,” Taylor finally asked as she dumped the remains of the broken tumbler into the trash.
Cal grabbed the sides of the island to keep his hands from trashing anything else.
“I want you to tell me that this marriage means something to you. I want you to tell me that this means enough to you to at least stay in the country.”
Taylor was quiet for a long time. Finally she took Cal’s hand and he let her lead him to the couch.
“Cal I love you more than anything in this world. I belong to you and no one else. I need you to understand that helping to close this case is very important and I really need you to trust me.”
Cal kept her hands tight in his. “I do trust you.”
“Then trust me enough to let me finish what I’ve started.” Taylor’s face was bright with excitement.
He knew that it was pointless to continue the argument; the decision had already been made. She was leaving and he couldn’t stop her. He knew that if he didn’t want to lose her again, he was going to have to let her go.
They spent the rest of that night giving each other all that they could to remember each other by and the next morning, as Cal and Max stood on the back steps watching Taylor drive away in the grey of a cloudy morning, Cal tried to find comfort in what Taylor had told him before they fell asleep the night before.
“This is only temporary. It’s just a small part of our life now. We still have all of our ever afters ahead of us.”
Almost as if he knew what Cal was feeling, Max whined at his side and nosed his hand. He followed the big German Sheppard around the back of the cabin. Cal watched Max dart in to the woods after a snowshoe hare as the sun started to burn away the grey clouds in the sky. The sky began to brighten and Cal looked toward the future just breaking on the horizon.
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