Freeing Joshua

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Chapter 6: Justin

I spent the next few days with Katie after hearing the news about my brother. The second day I spent at Katie’s we decided it was best we headed down to my parents’ house to break the news to them. They never cared about Josh the way I did, the way Katie did, but I still did not expect the reaction I received from them. When we finally made it to their house, I got out of the car first to knock on the door. I figured it would be best if I was the one to say it, I mean if I’m being honest here they never really cared for Katie anyway. I guess they never really cared for anyone, not even me. But oddly enough they were crazy about my girlfriend Paige. As I knocked on the door I started to wonder if it was even worth coming all the way out there to tell them about Josh when I knew that they had completely turned their backs on him when he was arrested. Maybe I should have just called or left a note at the doorstep with a picture of Joshua. I was having all these thoughts about what I could’ve done instead of facing my careless parents, but Katie quickly came up behind me and pulled me out of the depths of my mind. It was at that moment that my mom opened the door.

“Justin?” She questioned as if she was unsure if it was actually me.

“Hey mom, is dad around?”

“Yeah, he’s sitting in the living room drinking and watching sports as always.” She hissed.

“We need to talk to both of you.”

“We?” She hadn’t even noticed Katie standing right beside me the entire time.

“Hey! Nice to see you again Mrs. Norte.” She piped.

“Yeah, you too.” My mom mumbled back. I hated when she was rude to my friends, especially Katie. Katie had never done anything wrong to where she deserved the cold shoulder from my parents.

“So, can we talk to you both?” I questioned with a slight tone of annoyance.

“Come in.” She huffed.

We walked inside feeling as uncomfortable as ever and took a seat on the couch in the living room. My mom sat down in a chair across from us and turned off the TV which of course sparked an argument between her and dad. They were always fighting. If it wasn’t with each other it was with Joshua and I. Something always ticked them off. It must have been exhausting constantly finding a reason to be angry and to yell. I honestly believed that they just looked for something to be mad about each day. It was like a disease.

“Mom! Dad!” I shouted to get their attention, after all I was about to drop a huge bomb on them.

“WHAT?!” They shouted back at me in unison, their scowling faces both now turned in my direction.

“Look, I really need to talk to you guys so can I just please say what I need to say so I can go?” My voice cracked a little and Katie held my hand to comfort me. “This is hard enough as it is and I’m never gonna get through it if you two can’t be quiet for literally one minute.” I continued calmly.

“Okay Justin, all eyes are on you, everyone’s paying attention to you now Justin go ahead.” My dad replied sounding as childish as ever.

I was so royally pissed off at that point that I rose to my feet dragging Katie up with me and shouted to both of them, “Joshua’s dead! I hope you both are happy. I know neither of you cared about him anyway!”

There was absolute silence, a sound I had never heard growing up in that household. My mom gasped and then buried her face in her hands to sob. My dad shifted in his chair a little, but the only reaction I got out of him was him chugging his beer. After what seemed like forever in deafening silence, my father cleared his throat and spoke.

“Tragedy.” He said.

Tragedy. That word resounded in my head. Tragedy. He was just informed that one of his sons had died and that was all he could say? But I guess, it was better compared to what he followed that up with.

“It’s his own fault you know.” He continued. “Shouldn’t have got himself locked up, it was bound to happen. I can’t say I’m surprised. The only real surprise is how long he made it in there. Shoot, that boy lasted longer than I had expected.” He chuckled a little to himself even. I could no longer take it. I could feel the years’ worth of anger building up inside of me and I was ready to explode.

“You have got to be kidding me!” I blurted out. “You have got to be fucking kidding me right now dad. Your eldest son dies and that bullshit is all you can say? You really didn’t care about him at all, did you? You never gave a shit about either of us, did you?”

“You watch your language boy!” Was all he replied.

I turned to face my mother who had tears still streaming down her face. “Mom are you hearing this?”

She didn’t answer me. She didn’t defend me or apologize for my father’s actions either. All she did was bury her face in her hands again and continue to sob.

“Leave your mother out of this.” My father jumped in.

“Fuck you!” I yelled back. I flipped him off, grabbed Katie by the arm, and bolted out of the door. I couldn’t remember ever being as angry as I was that day in the entirety of my life. My blood was boiling, my body was trembling, and I couldn’t control how heavy I was breathing. I stomped my way down the dirt driveway to Katie’s car still half dragging her behind me.

“Justin, you’re hurting me.” She finally said to me and it was only then that I realized I had my hand clenched around her skinny arm a little too tightly. I loosened my grasp and released her arm.

“Sorry.” I uttered sheepishly.

“No worries.” She replied.

When we got into the car and drove off it started to hit me a little and tears began to accumulate in my eyes. Katie took one look at me and pulled the car over a few miles away from my parents’ home and turned towards me.

“Justin, it’s gonna be okay.” She spoke finally.

“No Katie, it’s really not. It’s not gonna be okay. It will never be okay.” I cried out hopelessly, “They care so little about Josh, it’s disgusting. I can’t believe what my dad said in there and then my mom just sits there as fucking always. It’s not okay. That’s not how a family is supposed to be. You know they’ve never even told me that they love me? Or that they’re proud of me. It sucks. They don’t care about me or Josh for that matter and I’ll be damned if they come to his funeral. It’s you and me Katie, you know that right? Putting this funeral together is all up to us. Joshua’s last hoorah, his send off to the afterlife…it’s up to us. We need to come through for him. It’s what he would’ve wanted.”

“I know, sweetie, I know. Don’t worry, it’ll be absolutely perfect, and I know Josh will be smiling down from above at both of us once he sees the sendoff we’ll be giving him. And you know what? Screw your parents! You’re an amazing human being Justin and you’re going to do great things, believe that. I love you and I’m proud of you and if you ever need anything you know I’m always here for you, you understand?”

“I understand. Thank you, Katie I’m so glad I have you. I don’t know what I would do if I had to go through this pain on my own. I love you so much.”

She just smiled at me and then we hugged and started driving back to her apartment once again.

After that stressful day, I decided to call Paige. I knew I would need her in my time of grieving and she was good at being there for me. She had only met Josh once when we first got together. I was so excited about her and he was the most important person in my life that I wanted them to meet. I explained to her the whole situation on the way to San Angeles prison and she was understanding and was glad to be on her way to meet him. When we got to the prison we only had maybe ten minutes all together. They got to know each other just a little bit and it was honestly the best moment of my life. I remember before we left Josh leaned in and whispered to me, “You did well baby bro. Put a ring on her” and eventually I would.

I dialed her number and she answered on the first ring.

“Justin Norte, love of my life. How the hell are ya?” Her sweet voice cooed through the receiver.

“Not so good to be honest.”

“I’m all ears. Tell me what’s wrong babe.”

“Well first of all, Josh committed suicide a few days ago. It’s been really tough on me so far. As you know, he was all I had and I know that I now have you but-”

“But he was your older brother. Your only sibling. I understand.”

“Right. I loved him so much. I love him so much. I don’t really know how I’m supposed to make it without him. I feel so heartbroken. It’s like I’m sad, but also angry that he would do this you know? He had so much potential and promise. He was gonna get out of there early, I could feel it yet he chose to just give up. It sucks. And then get this, I go to tell my mom and dad about it, right? And then they act like it’s no big deal. My dad basically said he’s not surprised and it was Josh’s own fault for getting himself locked up to begin with. Who the fuck says that about their own child? I’m just so frustrated honestly. I’m sorry to put this all on you right now. I didn’t even ask how you’re doing.”

“Oh, don’t even apologize, I’m doing just fine. Still as pregnant as ever. But I’m here for you okay? Would you like me to come over with some ice cream and maybe some movies?”

“You know my heart so well!”

“How does Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough and a Disney movie sound?”

“That sounds perfect.”

“Fantastic! I’ll see you in about hmm thirty minutes or so?”

“Okay, but one more thing, I’ve been staying with Katie so don’t bother going to Max’s apartment, come here instead.”

“Oh, she won’t mind?”

“Nah, she could probably use a little more company. She’s taking the loss just as hard as I am. I’ve never seen her cry really, but she can’t seem to stop. I think that maybe having a female heart to heart will do her some good. After all, that is his girlfriend you know? Or I guess, was. I hate how everything is past tense now.”

“Awe poor Katie. Alright, I’ll bring some ice cream for her too and the three of us can sit in our pajamas eating ice cream and watching Beauty and the Beast.”

“I love the sound of that!”

“Good. I’ll be there in thirty.”

“See you then. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

We hung up and I went into Katie’s room to tell her about Paige coming over. She was huddled under the covers still crying her eyes out. I went over to her and sat on her bed. I gently pulled the blanket down from over her head and she looked up at me. Her face was red and her eyes were puffy. She looked so sad and her hair was a tangled mess. I had never seen her look so miserable, so fragile, so helpless. She sat up and tried to smooth down her hair and wipe away her tears.

“Are you okay? Would you like me to leave?”

“No stay.” She wrapped herself around my arm and cuddled up close to me. “I don’t want to be alone.”

“I’m glad you said that actually because Paige is coming over with some ice cream and some Disney movies. I called her and told her about everything that happened and she wanted to do something to make us both feel a little better.”

“That sounds really great actually. I love you, Justin.”

“I love you too, Katie.”

I held her for a little while longer as she cried. The doorbell soon rang and I went to open it to see my beautiful fiancé. She had ice cream in one hand and movies in the other. She beamed at me before she kissed me and walked inside. In almost one swift motion she got spoons, popped the movie in the DVD player, and sat down on the couch cross-legged ready to enjoy the movie. That’s one thing I liked about her. She had no problem making herself comfortable no matter where she was. I sat down next to her and she just smiled while handing me a spoon and a pint of ice cream. When Beauty and the Beast began to play, it was only then I noticed that Katie still had yet to come out of her room. I told Paige I’d be right back and she paused the movie.

I knocked on Katie’s door and there was no answer. I let myself in. She was sound asleep so I didn’t bother waking her up. I simply tucked her in, kissed her forehead, and exited her room. I returned to the living room and told Paige that Katie was out like a light. I put her ice cream in the freezer and cuddled up with my lovely fiancé on the couch and watched Beauty and the Beast. That was the last day we spent together before the funeral.

On September 21st of last year, we said our final farewell to my brother Joshua Russell Norte. I remember it was supposed to be pouring rain that morning, but for some reason it was just calm, still, and gloomy while the funeral went on. I sat in the front row with Katie, her mom and dad, her friend Dexter, and my own family minus my mother and father whom I hadn’t spoken to since that awful day. I didn’t even bother inviting them to the funeral and they didn’t bother calling to ask when it was. Typical. The reverend droned on about life and death and whatnot until it came time for the eulogies. I spoke first.

“As all of you know, Joshua was my brother…my only brother…my only sibling.” I was nervous and still really broken up over all of it but I continued. “He meant more to me than anyone else in this world. He was all I had growing up in the household we did, it was always just the two of us against the world. I remember when things would get bad at home he would always come get me and we’d leave to god knows where, but we always ended up grabbing Katie along the way. We were the three amigos. It’s difficult to speak of Joshua and the times we had in the past tense because it seems wrong, a life without him just seems so wrong because if you only knew Josh like the way I knew him, the way I know him, you would understand why the world really needed so many more people like him in it and he not being here is a huge blow to the universe. He was truly a unique soul, someone that I wish everyone had the chance to meet. That’s why I never believed he could’ve done what he was accused of doing and I guess now we all know the truth. In his final days-”

My voice caught in my throat and I swallowed hard in an effort to compose myself once again. “In his final days, he managed to write both me and Katie letters to say goodbye. The reason I mention this is because in my letter he said something I’ll never forget and it just shows the kind of person he was. And I want to share a little bit of that with you all today. He wrote, ‘Now Justin this isn’t meant to hurt you, even though I know it will, it’s meant to resolve a problem. You see either way this goes my life is ruined. If I win the appeal, I’ll still have ten years of prison time for manslaughter under my belt and all the things I had hoped to accomplish won’t happen because who would take a chance on me now? If I lose the appeal, well that’s ten more years for me and I’ll be forty-one by the time I feel the warmth of the sun once again. I know I didn’t do what they think I did, but if I must be a martyr to open the eyes of the people so they can see that there is a serious flaw within our justice system then so be it.’ You see even in death his last thought wasn’t of himself, but of the wellbeing of others. Because that’s who my brother was, a selfless, kind-hearted, and gentle human being not the violent, cold-blooded killer, villain they painted him to be. He didn’t deserve any of this, but I’m glad his pain and suffering is finally over.” I turned toward the coffin, “I love you Joshua, and may you rest in peace.”

I was in tears when I took my seat again next to Katie and she squeezed my hand and told me that my speech was beautiful and that Josh would’ve loved it. I thanked her and then she rose to her feet to deliver her eulogy. It was probably the saddest words said during the duration of the ceremony.

“Hello, my name is Katie. I was Joshua’s best and closest friend, his confidant, and his partner in crime.” She started.

She went on for a while about her time with Joshua, the good memories and the bad. She talked about how they had first met and everything they had been through. She really got people emotional and even more so with the last part of her speech.

“What none of you may know, however,” She said, “is that Joshua and I were very much in love. A few weeks prior to the unfortunate incident that resulted in his sentence, he told me that he was in love with me. I remember being so relieved because now I didn’t have to be the first one to awkwardly confess my love to him.” She laughed sadly. “We didn’t even get much time together as a couple, but I guess one could attest that our whole life together was as our future would have been. I think we always knew we were made for one another. That’s probably why any relationship we had never lasted. We always secretly knew our hearts were taken by each another. I only wish we would’ve confessed this to each other much sooner so that we could have spent more time together as an official couple. I only had the pleasure of kissing him three times. If I had known our last kiss was our last, I would’ve kissed him for longer. But the part that hurts the most is that in the goodbye letter that he wrote to me…inside that envelope…” She started sobbing uncontrollably and by the look on everyone else’s faces, I could tell we all knew what she was trying to say. Some cried with her and others bowed their heads. She wiped her tears, took a deep breath, and forced herself to continue.

“Inside the envelope, I found an engagement ring.” She blinked back tears. “And I couldn’t help but wonder for how long had he planned to propose? When did he even buy the ring? I mean, we were always together. And now I can’t help but think that if he wasn’t at the wrong place at the wrong time, we would’ve been married by now, most likely with a couple of kids. The future I know both of us had always dreamed of. He would’ve made an amazing husband and an even more amazing father to our children. So, I wore the ring today to say yes.” She turned towards the coffin with her left hand up. “Yes, Joshua I will marry you. I know it’s too late, but I wanted you to know that my answer would’ve been yes.”

As Katie burst into tears it seemed as if everyone else in attendance did the same. She placed a hand on the coffin and whispered what I believed to be ‘I love you’ and sat back down between me and Dexter. I put my arm around her and she rested her head on my shoulder and continued to lightly sob. Everything that day was a little too much. I couldn’t believe that Katie would’ve officially been my sister and now it couldn’t happen. Instead of a wedding, we were having a funeral. The ceremony continued on and the coffin was lowered into the ground to the tune of It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday by Boyz II Men, as per Katie’s request. It didn’t truly feel real until the coffin was in the ground and we were tossing dirt over it. I stared at the clumps of dirt covering the coffin with my brother’s body in it for a while. This would be the last time I’d see him. Now whenever I’d go to visit him I’d only be greeted by a tombstone reading “Joshua Russell Norte. Beloved fiancé and brother. June 1, 1979 - September 10, 2010. May you rest in peace.”

After it was all said and done, Katie, Dexter, my family and I decided to stick around for a little while longer. My now wife, Paige and our son adored Katie so we mainly spent the time trying to console her because we knew she didn’t really want to leave Joshua’s side. This was the one place she could not follow him too. After a while of talking and crying, and eventually laughing and smiling, Katie found the strength to leave. We all walked to the parking lot to hug each other goodbye and parted ways for the day. Dexter took Katie home and told me he’d make sure she was alright and would text me if need be. I liked him. He knew how to make Katie happy in this dark time and we all needed a person like that. Paige and my son were the ones that kept me going. Even with this devastating tragedy, knowing I was surrounded by so much love made life look not so bleak. The three of us got into the car and headed to the house, our house. Paige drove while I sat in the passenger’s seat and our son, Lucas slept in the back. I looked out the window feeling very nostalgic as I reminisced about all the times I shared with my big brother. It saddened me that he missed my wedding, the birth of his nephew, and soon the birth of his niece. I could no longer cry however, because I knew that he probably was in a better place. I looked up at the darkening sky as the clouds drew nearer to each other and the rumbling of thunder could be heard.

It stormed on the way home.

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