Story #23 in the Angel Girl series.
Characters: Josiah, the Seven, OFCs, OMC
Warning: Hanky alert!
Size: Approx: 180K
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Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
-- T. S. Eliot--
Josiah Sanchez, profiler for the ATF´s Team Seven, was watching his younger teammates on a Friday afternoon in Denver. Observing the antics of his friends was one of his favorite occupations. His friends beat anything he might watch on television hands down.
They were funnier than the most popular sitcom, and more dramatic than any movie of the week could ever be. Their work could make any action hero look like a cowering wimp and the strange and oft times bizarre predicaments they constantly found themselves in could push the envelope of believability farther than any believe-it-or-not reality based program. Josiah figured he saved a fortune in cable TV and video rental fees just by indulging himself in his favorite hobby.
I´m telling you, JD, that wasn´t a woman, Buck shook his head firmly at his young friend. Trust me, because I know what I´m talking about here.
JD snorted, Just because she didn´t fall for any of those moldy pickup lines of yours doesn´t mean she´s a man. It just means she´s too smart for you. She could see straight through you to the bull you were dishing out.
My lines are not moldy, you little Buck began as he started after the young agent who hurriedly put the desk between himself and the irritated man.
Come on, Buck, JD smirked as he made a feint around the desk corner then darted back the opposite way causing Buck to miss when he tried to grab him in a headlock. I´ve seen three month old bread that had less mold than those lines you were spouting.
So, Bucklin, Vin´s voice broke in as he watched the large man chase the smaller around the desk, If you knew it was a man, why´d you throw him out a line? Is there something you need to tell us about yourself, pard?
Now wait one damned minute, Buck yelped and stopped chasing after JD to face this new tormentor.
Really, Mr. Wilmington, it´s nothing to be ashamed of, and you´re among friends. I assure you that your sexual orientation would make no difference to us, Ezra drawled with a seriously sincere look on his face, but his eyes were dancing with laughter. I´ve often thought that your obsessive chasing of women was merely a way to try to cover up other latent urges. It´s good that you can finally come out of the closet.
Sexual orient latent I ain´t I didn´t Who said Buck stammered in chagrin then puffed out his chest and stated indigently, Now, you boys just hold on there! I ain´t never swung that way and you know it. I don´t want to hear another word about it coming out of your mouths either, you hear me? That´s the way nasty rumors get started. I´ve got a reputation to think of, you know!
Since you ladies don´t seem to be particularly busy at the moment I take it that all your reports are finished, the menacing voice of their team leader, Chris Larabee, surprised the men as he walked out of his office into the team´s bull pit.
Just about, Chris, Buck hurried around to his desk and resumed typing his delayed report.
Mine is completed, Mr. Larabee, Ezra said and handed the report folder to the scowling man in black.
Show off, JD muttered under his breath, as he headed for his own computer terminal.
I want all your reports on my desk before five o´clock. That gives you two hours to finish. I don´t want any excuses either. You´ll stay until they´re all done. Maybe that´ll give you all an incentive to cut down on the horseplay in the office, Chris growled.
Chris smirked in satisfaction as the only sounds to be heard in the office were the sounds of five sets of fingers hitting the keys on computer keyboards as the agents got back to work.
Forty five minutes later, Josiah whisked the last page of his report off the printer and straightened the stack with a tap on the desk. He slipped it into the report folder and was just about to take it into Chris´ office when his phone rang.
Agent Sanchez, he said when he picked the handset.
Agent Sanchez, this is John Tyler at the front desk. We´ve got a courier here with something for you. Do you want me to send him up after we scan it or do you want to come down here and pick it up? the security guard on duty in the main lobby asked.
Just send him up, John, thanks, Josiah replied.
Sure thing, Agent Sanchez.
Several long minutes later, the elevator dinged and the doors opened to reveal a courier with a flat package tucked under his arm and a clip board in his hand.
Josiah Sanchez, the courier asked, looking around at the seated agents.
Here, Josiah said and rose from his chair to approach the young man.
Sign here, please, he was told and the courier held out the clipboard. Thanks.
Thank you, Josiah said with a smile.
The courier made his way back to the elevator and Josiah went back to his desk and sat down again, turning the package over in his hand looking for a return address.
St. Jerome´s Hospice? Josiah questioned in surprise.
Josiah tore the strip across the top of the flat package and shook out an envelope and a black and white photograph. Josiah´s curiosity caused him to pick up the photo and look at it before opening the letter. When he looked at the picture the blood drained from his face, and he sat frozen in place for several minutes.
It wasn´t possible. There was no way it was possible. Not after all these years. Josiah reached for the letter with hands shaking in shock and tore open the envelope. He had to lay the letter on the desk top in order to read it because he had started shaking so hard the paper wouldn´t stay still enough for him to read it.
I bet you didn´t expect to see that when you opened this letter did you? I´m sure this is quite a shock for you having your long lost daughter suddenly appear out of thin air after twenty eight or so years? What can I say? Surprise! just doesn´t seem to cover it, does it? Sorry, Mother always said I had a twisted sense of humor. I guess she was right.
I suppose you´re wondering how I found you? It took me a long time, several years, as a matter of fact. Mother passed away about seven years ago. I guess you probably didn´t know that, did you? When I cleaned out her house after her death I found a lot of old papers and photos in her things. They included a copy of your birth certificate, your marriage certificate, and your divorce papers.
I got curious. I mean, here was one of my parents, my own father, and I could hardly remember anything about him. I guess I wanted to find out about you because you were a part of me I knew almost nothing about, a part Mother would never talk about. I started searching for you using the information that I discovered at Mother´s house. I spent the next few years tracking you down. I found you about a year ago.
Now you´re wondering why I didn´t make contact with you when I first found you, aren´t you? To be honest, I was afraid. I expended so much time and effort to find you. I researched every area of your life that I could get my hands on. I built up this image of you in my head; how you would act and feel when you found out about me. I dreamed of walking up to you and announcing I was your daughter and having you take me into your arms and give me all the hugs I had missed getting from you as a child.
I had quite a wonderful fantasy going when I finally did find you. So wonderful in fact, that I couldn´t bring myself to risk shattering the illusion. If I didn´t tell you, then you couldn´t deny me or turn away from me. I´m ashamed to say I played the coward, and let my own fears rob me of all that time. Time I could have used to get to know you and have you get to know me. It´s something that I deeply regret, because time is so dreadfully short for me now.
I´m dying. How´s that for a kick in the teeth, huh? First you find your daughter then she dies. What wonderful irony. I bet you´re starting to wish you had never opened this letter, aren´t you? I apologize again. Sometimes humor is all that gets me through the day now, black and twisted as that humor may be. I´ve always thought it was better to laugh than to cry. I´m doing a lot of laughing these days.
So, that brings us to now. As you probably saw, I´m staying at St Jerome´s Hospice. I´d like to see you and get to know you in the time I have left, but will understand if this is all too much for you to deal with. I leave the decision in your hands.
Do what you have to do for you.
By the way, the photo I enclosed has become my favorite one. I wanted you to have it so you´d have something to remember me by.
Always your loving daughter,
Michelle Sanchez Taylor
Josiah? Josiah, are you alright?
JD´s concerned voice brought Josiah´s attention back into the present. He stared blankly at the six men that surrounded his desk? When had they approached him? He hadn´t even been aware of them until JD´s voice had penetrated his daze.
Nathan was kneeling at his side and reached out to lay a hand on his wrist to check his pulse.
Are you okay, Josiah, he asked as he scanned his friend´s pale features. Do you feel faint, or have any chest pains? The concerned paramedic asked. Are you having difficultly breathing?
Josiah weakly waved him away and stood up.
I´m okay. Really, I´m fine.
Judging by your current appearance, I would have to say fine is not a word that should be applied to you at this moment in time, Ezra said. I have never seen anyone who looked less fine than you do at present, my friend.
Josiah, Chris began.
I tell you I´m alright! There´s nothing wrong with me. I´m healthy, and I´m alive, and I´m I´m, Josiah´s voice broke, I´m losing my daughter.
Tears began running down the big man´s face and he collapsed into his chair. Great sobs began to wrack the man´s body as he tried to hold his emotions in check.
Your daughter! Buck cried. What daughter? When did this happen, and what do you mean you´re losing her?
Josiah couldn´t speak so handed the letter to Buck, but kept the photo and pressed it over his heart. Buck quickly read the letter then looked at Josiah in deep sympathy.
Oh lord, Josiah, I´m sorry! This is the most awful thing I´ve ever heard, Buck told him.
What, Buck? JD asked and rather than explaining, Buck handed the letter to the young man.
While JD read the letter and passed it on to the others, Buck walked behind the distraught man and wrapped his arms around the large, shaking frame and hugged tightly, trying to show his friend with his touch how much he grieved with him because he knew there were no words that would comfort the older man.
The remaining five agents watched their suffering brother in silence, no one knowing what to say to the grieving father. They were stunned at the revealing of this secret and a little pained that the man they considered such an integral part of their family had not trusted them enough to tell them about it.
Oh, God! Josiah cried out, How could you turn your face from me this way? How could you be so cruel as to give me back what I lost only to snatch it away again! How I can I bear to lose her all over again?
Josiah reached up and grabbed onto Buck´s arms as they surrounded him, seeking an anchor in the maelstrom his life had suddenly become. His friends could see his knuckles turn white, so tight was his grip. Buck pulled his friend closer and stoically bore the pain of Josiah´s hands knowing he would have several bruises tomorrow as a reminder of this moment. Josiah dropped his head back against Buck´s chest and cried out his grief in the security of his friend´s steadfast embrace.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
The night was quiet and still when Josiah awoke from his exhausted slumber. He turned his head to study the clock on his bedside table. Three AM. He´d been asleep for several hours, now he was wide awake and the memory of what had driven him into the depths of exhaustion returned to haunt him once more. He had found his daughter, his baby girl. After all those long and lonely years, she was here in this very city.
Josiah found he couldn´t remain in his bed any longer. He needed to move, to release some of his emotions in action before he exploded, so he rose from his bed and left his bedroom. He moved down the short hall towards his living room and stopped in the doorway. He glanced around the room and saw his friends sleeping on various pieces of his furniture and the floor. Josiah had to smile. They had refused to leave him alone, not that he had wanted them to. Josiah knew they were all worried about him, and felt comforted just by their presence.
Josiah could only remember fleeting images of the trip from the office to his home. He remembered being in the elevator surrounded by the protective wall of his friend´s and hearing Larabee´s voice telling someone that they would have to catch the next elevator.
He could remember sitting in the backseat of Nathan´s Explorer and Buck reaching across him to buckle his seat belt then feeling the warmth of Buck´s body as he was pulled into the man´s comforting embrace again. He could remember the feel of JD´s hand patting his leg and hearing his young voice murmuring words he couldn´t take in, only the concerned tone penetrating his dazed state.
He remembered Nathan´s gentle hands as the medic removed his shoes and pressed him back against the mattress on his bed and recalled Vin´s blue eyes, filled with sympathy and concern, watching him as he rested on the bed before exhaustion dragged him under and he slept.
He also remembered waking from a nightmare and hearing Ezra´s voice telling him it was only a dream and he was safe. He had felt the cooling relief of a damp cloth wiping away the sweat left behind in the wake of the nightmare. It was the feel of Ezra´s hand gently stroking the tension from his forehead that had lulled him back to sleep.
Now sleeping in his living room were four of the friends who had taken such good care of him when he was beyond caring for himself. The only ones missing were Buck and Vin. He could image the difficulty those two must have had in leaving him, but knowing their responsibilities at home had forced them to depart. He couldn´t fault them for leaving. He was thankful he had the rest of his family near him. He would need them in the days to come. He was certain he wouldn´t be able to get through this without borrowing from their combined strength.
Josiah quietly walked into the kitchen, not bothering to turn on a light for fear of disturbing the sleeping men. In the kitchen, he opened the refrigerator and found cartons of leftover Chinese food on the shelves that had not been there that morning. Obviously his friends had opted for ordering in for dinner. His growling stomach suddenly reminded him that it had been several hours since lunch, so Josiah removed a carton and peeked inside: General Tso´s Chicken. That would do he decided.
Josiah opened a drawer and took out a fork, closing the drawer with his hip. He sat down with the open carton at his kitchen table and began to consume the impromptu meal cold. He had been eating for only a few minutes when he felt eyes on him and lifted his head to face the kitchen door. Chris was standing in the doorway silently watching him in the dim light reflected from the kitchen window. Neither man broke the silence but continued to watch each other for a few moments then Chris entered the kitchen and pulled out one of the chairs and sat down.
Feeling better? Chris asked quietly, scanning Josiah´s face and relaxing when he smiled at him.
Yeah. I guess I really lost it, didn´t I? It was just such a complete shock, Josiah explained.
I could see where it would be, Chris agreed. He was silent for a moment longer as he watched Josiah eat then asked the question he had wanted to ask all evening. Why didn´t you ever tell us you had a daughter?
Josiah heaved a big sigh, and hung his head, avoiding looking at his friend as he gathered his thoughts. When he was ready he looked Chris in the eye and asked, Why don´t you ever talk about Adam?
The team leader stiffened for a moment and then relaxed again.
I don´t talk about him because it hurts too much, Chris replied, but I never made a secret of his existence. You all knew I had him and what happened to him.
Buck told us about him and what happened to him and Sarah. You never mentioned anything until after Buck told you we knew. You never once brought it up. Be honest now, if Buck hadn´t told us do you ever think you would have said anything on your own? Isn´t Adam like an open wound on your soul that just won´t heal, and talking about him like poking at it with a sharp stick?
It was the same with my daughter for me. She was lost to me and she became the wound on my soul. I thought I would never see her again, and remembering was so very painful. I stuck her in a corner of my memory and tried to build a wall around her, although occasionally something would remind me of her and the wall would crumble. Then I would have to start all over again. Those are the lowest points of my life.
Those black moods you sometimes get was that the cause of them? Chris asked.
Some of them. Most of them, Josiah confessed, until I could rebuild the wall up high enough again.
How did you lose her?
Josiah sighed deeply and dropped his eyes to watch the fork in his hand as he toyed with the food still in the carton.
It was my own stupid, arrogant fault, Josiah whispered. You know I was the son of a missionary. I found life as a missionary´s son so completely restrictive there were times I felt like I was living in an emotional strait jacket. I had to break out, stretch my wings, which put me at odds with my father. I couldn´t live up to my father´s expectations and still remain sane, so I became the direct opposite of what he wanted me to be. I was wild and reckless, and constantly rebelling against him and his beliefs. We argued all the time. Any time spent together in our house turned into an occasion for open warfare. By the time I reached my teenage years, I spent a lot of time at school and on the streets so I didn´t have to go home.
When I was seventeen I met Rachel. Rachel was sixteen and had just moved into the neighborhood. She was quiet and shy, and smart, and funny. She also had a father that liked to get drunk and beat on her mother and her, so she tried to avoid going home as much as I did. We got to know each other pretty well and became friends. Pretty soon we started going out together and, being teenagers who thought they were grown and knew it all, naturally enough we got into trouble. Josiah laughed and shook his head at the foolishness of his young self.
Rachel got pregnant. My emotions were so confused when Rachel told me. I was scared, and thrilled, and worried, and excited all at once. There was one thing I knew for certain though. Rachel couldn´t go home and tell her father. We both knew he´d beat her half to death if he found out, and then come after me. We decided we needed to get married, so we sneaked across the county line and lied about our ages.
Josiah´s face softened at the memories flooding his mind.
We came back so very pleased with ourselves, like conquering heroes returning home in triumph. We had never really thought anything through beyond getting married. In our minds, that was the answer to all the problems, after all in all the fairy tales they got married and lived happily ever after. It wasn´t long before reality smacked us in the face.
Reality was moving in with my father and getting a job after school and on weekends to pay for the doctor bills that piled up while Rachel was pregnant and later for the baby´s needs. Reality was Rachel having to drop out of school. Reality was staying home at night instead of going to the football game or the prom because I was too tired from going to school then working all evening, and didn´t have the money to waste anyway. And reality, Josiah´s voice became tender, was Michelle.
Josiah stopped talking as he became lost in his memories. Chris sat quietly and waited patiently for Josiah to continue, content to let the man tell the story at his own pace.
Michelle was a bright star shining in both of our lives. She was the best baby, hardly cried at all. She learned to laugh early, and she had the sweetest laugh. I would drag myself home at night after one of those long days that never seemed to end, so tired and depressed that I could hardly stand it. Then she would smile at me and laugh and suddenly everything would seem brighter, better. She made the struggle worthwhile, Josiah looked up at Chris, You know what I mean?
Chris smiled and nodded, Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.
When I graduated from high school I decided the best way to support my family was to join the Army. Rachel didn´t´ agree, and we had some miserable fights over it. She was scared of what might happen to me, but I was still young enough to think I was indestructible and was convinced that I was right so I joined up anyway. Looking back, I can see that was the first chip in the foundation of our marriage. She never really forgave me for that.
I was shipped off to boot camp and she was left at home alone with the baby. I remember I missed them both so much I´d lie on my bunk at night and fight to keep from crying. I was so happy when I was finally stationed so they could come live with me.
I remember waiting at the train station for their train to get in. I kept pacing and checking my watch and looking down the tracks straining to hear the first sound of that train. I know I must have driven the stationmaster half crazy asking if the time was correct and when the train would arrive.
Josiah had to stop and laugh at this memory of himself.
I can still remember the feeling of joy that flooded me when I saw Rachel step down from that train with little Michelle asleep on her shoulder. I think I must have run down several people in my rush to rejoin my family. I swept Rachel up into my arms and kissed her until we both were breathless. I was so happy we were together again.
We settled down into a small apartment on the base and things were great for about a year until I got shipped overseas, Josiah broke off and looked at Chris with sadness radiating from his eyes, things went downhill from there.
I was shipped to Viet Nam and although it was close to the end of the war and I wasn´t there very long it changed me. I saw too much, did too much. I took to drinking to help pass the time and ease my mind. I figured it was better than turning to drugs like some of the other guys did. In hindsight I can see it was another bad mistake. Alcohol is just another kind of drug, even if a more socially acceptable one. I didn´t see how it could ruin my life just as easily as the heroin some of my buddies shot up ruined theirs.
It was the alcohol that finally drove Rachel away. By the time I came home, having a few drinks in the evening was already my established pattern and I didn´t see anything wrong with it. What I forgot was Rachel came from a home with an alcoholic and abusive father. She knew what alcohol could cause a man to do. The more she tried to get me to stop, the more I drank just to show her that I was the man in the family and she couldn´t tell me what to do, Josiah said and Chris could see the deep regret showing on his face.
My youthful pride and arrogance wouldn´t let me see what I was doing to her; didn´t let me see that I was starting to scare her. I kept insisting I wasn´t her father, but she wasn´t appeased. She had her own demons working on her. She feared one day I would start acting like her father and start hitting.
If it had been just her, she might have taken a chance and stayed with me, but she was also afraid for Michelle. She was always such a good mother. She was as protective of Michelle as a lioness with her only cub. She wasn´t prepared to let our baby go through the same hell she had lived through.
Josiah found he could no longer sit still and rose from the table to take a glass from the cabinet and fill it with water from the kitchen sink. Chris watched the tension build in the large man´s shoulders as he drained the water from the glass while looking out the kitchen window at the darkness of his backyard. Josiah set the glass on the counter and gripped the edge of the sink as he continued to stare out the window with his back to Chris.
When Michelle was four, I was given orders for Germany. I wanted Rachel and the baby to come with me, but she refused. She said she didn´t want to risk trying to make that long trip with Michelle still being so young. Since I was told I was only going to be in Germany for six months, I reluctantly agreed to let her and the baby stay behind. She convinced me it was best for Michelle, and she promised to write everyday and send me pictures of Michelle.
I remember watching out the airplane window as they were waving goodbye at the airfield. I can still see the little red coat and hat Michelle was wearing and the bright smile on her face as she waved at me. I thought the tears that I saw in Rachel´s eyes were just because we would be parted for six months. I never guessed that would be the last time I saw either of them, Josiah´s voice broke as he spoke those last words, and he started heaving in deep breaths as he struggled to control the tears that threatened to fall again.
Chris rose from the table and walked over to Josiah. He reached out and laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently in silent support. He let his hand rest there as Josiah recovered enough of his composure to continue.
I received one letter a few days after I arrived in Germany then nothing. I tried writing and received no answer. I tried phoning and discovered the phone had been disconnected. I requested emergency leave but was denied, and I had no way to get back home to see what was happening.
I almost went AWOL but a few buddies kept me from leaving. One had to knock me out once to stop me, he smiled sadly in remembrance. They thought they were helping me, but all they did was make it impossible to locate my wife and daughter.
Rachel took our daughter and left with no word to anyone. When I got back, I pounded the streets looking for them, but they had vanished without a trace. She had six months to hide from me, and she was always a smart woman. She hid too well.
I had been back for about four months and just gotten my discharge papers after my hitch was up when I was served with divorce papers. I immediately took off for Las Vegas where the court papers were from, but Rachel had known me too well and was already gone by the time I was served.
I searched for the two of them for years before I finally had to give up and accept that I would never see them again. It was the darkest day of my life, and I came so close to ending it all on that day. I got so drunk it seemed like the most reasonable thing to do to end the pain, but I passed out before I could do it.
For the next month I stayed drunk. It wasn´t until I finally got a look at myself in the mirror one morning as I was reaching into the bathroom cabinet for aspirin that I pulled out of it. I saw my uncombed hair in snarls, and my eyes so bloodshot you could hardly see any other color in them. My skin was dull and pale accept for the yellowing bruises I had gotten from the many bar fights I had started. I realized if my Melissa had seen me this way she wouldn´t even have recognized me, and I probably would have frightened her half to death. I was totally ashamed of what I had become, and I finally realized what I had done to myself and my family.
So I dried myself out, and used my GI benefits to go back to college, and tried to start my life over without them. You pretty much know the rest of my history. I turned the corner and tried not to look back at what I had lost until today.
And now? Chris asked.
And now I go see my daughter, Josiah said quietly.
Chris studied his friend and thought on all that Josiah had revealed this night. All he saw was the pain that awaited his friend if he chose to go forward and meet with his dying daughter. Chris was reminded of the terrible anguish he had felt at the death of Adam, as though a huge piece of his soul had been ripped out. He could never wish that on anyone, especially this special man. As befitting his personality, Chris tried to protect Josiah from that pain.
Are you sure, Josiah? Can you Chris began but was stopped when Josiah waved him silent.
Chris, if you were given the chance to spend just one more day with Adam knowing you could only have that one day and them he would be gone and you would have to face the pain again would you pass it by, or would you jump at the chance to see him, touch him, and say all the things you never got to say to him? Tell me the truth, Chris. Could you walk away?
Josiah watched as Chris´ jaw ground as he processed this question. Chris´ eyes seemed to lose their focus as he turned his sight inward and searched his own heart. After a few seconds his jaw relaxed and Josiah could see the understanding in his eyes.
I´ll drive you, Chris promised.
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