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The Talon House

If By Chance


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If By Chance

Chapter Fourteen

By Nick

"He looks so peaceful," my mom said through her tears, looking down into the casket that we were standing in front of. She was right too, he did look peaceful. I couldn't get over it, though, and as peaceful as he looked, I was inconsolable. Behind me was my father, massaging my left shoulder, trying to help me summon the strength I needed to face this moment.

It was a moment I still couldn't reconcile in my mind. How did it happen so abruptly? Why Gerald? Why not me? He didn't deserve it.

In a pew at the front of the chapel were two total strangers, but I knew exactly who they were. I'd seen them so many times before in the photo albums that Gerald shed so many tears over in the past. They were the offenders, in my opinion, but how could I feel anything but pity and remorse for them right now? Surely there was regret coursing through their veins; there had to be.

I slowly turned my attention back to the love of my life, realizing that this was it. I'd never see him again after today. The only thing left would be the memories we'd built in the months that we lived together. Nothing was going to matter now. I took a deep breath and let out a loud sob, and all my mom and dad could do was cry with me and try to support me. Just when I thought I was going to collapse from the pressure and the sorrow in my soul, a man's voice carried into my ears, and I knew right away that it was Gerald's dad.

"Gerald's in a better place now," he said in a voice so soothing that I had to turn and give him my full attention. "He's with The Lord in heaven, and we'll see him again. When we do, it'll be a glorious reunion. We'll all be able to drink coffee and listen to AM talk radio together."

My eyes shot open and I sat straight up with a gasp. I looked to my left, where Gerald was sleeping peacefully, and let out a sigh of relief. I brought my right hand to my forehead and wiped away the perspiration that was building, then I took a deep breath and tried to relax. It was hard, though, after the close call we had earlier that day.

I carefully lowered myself back down onto my pillow and stared at the ceiling, letting my mind drift back to a different time in my life. A time when I was working as the controller of a major company, one of the largest employers in our region. A time when office flings were no big deal, when my mentality was hit it and quit it. I let my gaze travel to Gerald's sleeping form and wondered how in the hell he managed to change my life. What was it about the two of us that clicked and made things work the way they did? It was something fragile, I knew, something that was still developing, still growing.

But there was a secret between us, and I didn't like that. Something about the way Gerald shifted in his seat when I brought up the letter Peter sent him. Something about the tension I picked up on from my boyfriend when ever Peter's name was brought up. All I wanted him to do was open up to me and let me know what it was. I felt like there was nothing he could tell me that would jeopardize what we had, but for some reason, Gerald didn't seem to feel the same way.

Out of nowhere, he rolled over into my side, and I instinctively wrapped my arms around his torso, running my hands up and down his back, letting my fingertips trace along his spine, tracing the outer edges of each vertebrae as they made their journey downward, then back up again. Eventually, I let the thoughts of Peter and everything else slip my mind, and I eased into a more restful slumber.

For the next two days, I made a point of not bringing the letter up at all. In fact, I was determined that it wasn't going to be a factor in my relationship with my boyfriend. Instead, I buried myself in the task of cleaning out the gutters on the roof of my house, then rearranging the garage while Gerald got his work done. At the end of each day, he'd bundle up and come outside to admire my work with me.

I never told him about my nightmare. As much as I wanted to, I felt like there was nothing constructive that would come of it. All it would do at the very least was remind us of the moron who slid through the intersection at a rate of speed faster than the posted speed limit, just missing the front end of my car. At worst, it would make Gerald think about his mom and dad. I hated seeing him suffer that way, especially for two people who hadn't even called to see how he was. It was Gerald who had to make the effort to call home on Thanksgiving. In fact, he was always the one to call. I was dumbfounded that his own parents weren't willing to reach out to their son. So, taking all of that into consideration, I just decided to put it out of my head and move forward, thankful that it was only a nightmare.

"Florida?" I scoffed. "What in the world are you going to do down there?"

"Enjoy the warm weather, for one," my dad said. "I really wish you and Gerald would at least consider making the trip with us."

If there was one thing I was definitely not going to consider, it was being on a plane with my mom and dad for any length of time. I could just picture the multitude of possibilities that existed for them to make a huge scene on the flight, and I wasn't about to play a part in their chaos. Besides, I didn't think Gerald would be interested in spending the holidays in Florida with my mom and dad at a timeshare.

"Well, we don't have to go to Florida," my mom offered. "We can just stay home if you and Gerald want us to."

"Mom, go to Florida," I insisted. "You and dad have a good time. Gerald and I can manage all by ourselves."

"Well make sure you get a tree," she said. "Your father and I have a gift for the two of you."

"We do?" my dad asked, sounding bewildered, and my mom responded with an elbow to his ribs that looked painful.

"Of course we do," my mom said. "Give it to him, Dan."

With that, my dad fished his checkbook out and I rolled my eyes while I let out a loud sigh.

"Mom, dad, you don't have to do that," I said. "I'm 36, for God's sake. I don't need money."

"It's a present, honey," my mom argued. "Just take it and be sure to split it with Gerald."

When my dad was finished writing the check, he handed it to my mom for final approval, and as soon as she nodded, he took it back from her and handed it to me. I gawked when I saw the dollar amount, but my dad was quick to the punch before I could protest.

"Just take it son," my dad said. "It's just a little something. You know if you need more you can always come to us."

"Dad, this is too much," I started, but my mom cut me off.

"Nonsense," she barked. "We'll be the judge of what's too much. You and Gerald just enjoy spending it."

"I love you guys," I told them, holding an arm out for each one of them as I moved toward them for a hug.

"I love you too, bud," my dad said in my ear. "Your mother and I are going to miss you this Christmas, but we'll call, okay?"

"Okay, dad," I said. "I might take Gerald out of town for Christmas."

"Well the invitation's still open to come to Florida," my mom said. "Just think about it, okay?"

"I will mom," I promised her, then I planted a kiss on her cheek before we broke the hug. "I'll talk to Gerald about it, but I think he might want to go North if we go anywhere this year."

"Home?" my mom asked inquisitively, and I shook my head, knowing for sure that home wasn't the answer. Because according to Gerald, he didn't have a home to go back to.

One of the bright spots about the interstate system in our area is the use of the HOV system for people who carpool. Another nice thing is the shoulder lane, which helps to alleviate traffic congestion in the morning. When I commuted to work, I almost always drove along the shoulder to my exit. On the way home, the shoulder was closed to all traffic, but there were always a large number of people who broke the rule and drove along the shoulder anyway. In fact, the number of people who use the shoulder when it's closed is so great that the state troopers are almost powerless to stop the practice. There just aren't enough troopers on patrol to stop everyone, so they seem to ignore the lawbreaking drivers in the evening commute.

Among those who love to ride the shoulder, even when it's closed, is Gerald Ballard. In fact, it seems, he has an affinity for breaking as many traffic laws as he can get away with breaking as he travels from place to place. I'm sure he doesn't do it for a thrill, but there are times when I have to wonder why he doesn't just do things the right way. He basically scares the living crap out of me when we're in his car, so I try to drive as often as possible.

Lately, though, my subtle hints haven't been doing the trick. I'll say things to him like, "Let's just take my car, it gets better gas mileage," or, I'll offer, "My car's in the driveway and yours is in the garage….I'll drive." In the last few days, he's rebuffed all of my offers and insisted on taking his car when we go somewhere. I have to admit that his Nissan 350Z is more fun to ride in, but when fun turns into danger, I stop having a good time.

One time I thought for sure we were going to have a wreck. As soon as we were out of the neighborhood, he swerved in and out of lanes, popping his clutch, cutting people off and being impatient with slower drivers. But luckily, as soon as we got on the interstate, traffic was so slow that he had no choice but to keep it under forty, which is probably as fast as he's qualified to drive.

I was positive that we'd be riding in my car when I announced that we needed to drive to the store for a few things. His car was in the garage and mine was parked right in the center of the driveway, making it even less likely that he'd be able to pull his car out unless I moved for him. I figured that it was such a hassle, he'd surely agree to let me drive. That's why I never gave it a second thought as I casually went to our room to grab my checkbook. I heard the garage door open, and I chuckled a little to myself that he was just then realizing that he was trapped in the garage.

Then I heard his engine roar, and my heart sank. I hurriedly moved back down the stairs and to the living room window, pulling the drapes back just in time to see him maneuvering his 350Z around my car, giving the motor a loud rev as I fretted about the prospects of taking a ride with him.

"Where are we going to put the groceries?" I asked as we pulled out of the driveway.

"There's room for them," he said sweetly, as if it were nothing.

"You know, we could have just taken my car," I reminded him, prompting him to playfully engage the clutch and give the engine a loud rev.

"Relax, babe," he encouraged me. "I haven't had a wreck or a ticket yet, have I?"

"I guess not," I conceded.

"We'll be fine," he assured me.

Somehow, we managed to make it to the store in one collective piece. When we were there, I was careful not to stock up on too much, especially because of Gerald's two-seater. I grabbed enough vegetables for a couple of dinners, a loaf of artisan bread, some oatmeal and a bunch of bananas. We happened by the seafood case, and wound up with a pound of fresh Ocean Perch before we got out of the market.

For all of Gerald's driving faults, he has one redeeming quality that I admire; he refuses to answer his cell while he's operating a motor vehicle. Add to that the fact that he leaves his cell phone in his car when we go places, all of his vehicular sins seem to cancel out. I happened to notice that he had a missed call when we got back in his car to go home, but that was nothing new. Gerald noticed it too, but made no move to even pick his phone up. Instead, we proceeded home recklessly.

I groaned a little when we pulled into the driveway and Gerald haphazardly swung around my car, into the garage. At the very least, I figured, he missed hitting it, so I didn't have too much to complain about. As soon as he parked, he pulled his parking brake up and made sure the car was in neutral by working the shifter back and forth, then he cut the car off.

I got out and grabbed the bags as he picked his phone up and looked at the number. I heard him sigh and watched as his eyes closed for a brief moment, then he smiled weakly at me.

"It's my mom," he said. "I'm gonna call her back before I come in."

"Okay sweetie," I said, gently closing the car door and taking the stuff inside. I put everything up, threw the bags away, then I sanitized the counter tops. I have a real problem with the idea that the bags from the grocery store are fit to rest on my counters after they've been exposed to the bottom of a grocery cart that's almost certainly spent a significant amount of time in the elements, not to mention the children that ride in them as their parents push them through the store. There has to be some risk of germs that we don't know about, so I take care to use Clorox wipes on my counter tops every time I go shopping. I had no proof of it, but I always just choose to believe that Gerald sanitized, too.

Once I got everything put away, I decided to start dinner. I wasn't sure what Gerald wanted to do with the Perch, but I wanted to barbeque it. I took several lemons out and rinsed them off before I cut them up, then I put the fish in a glass Pyrex pan to season it. Once I had it seasoned, I covered it with foil and put it in the fridge while I went out onto the deck and fired up the grill. I was sure to scrape the grill clean, then I lit the flame and set it to high, hoping to burn away all germs that might be residing on my barbeque.

When I got back inside, Gerald was sitting at the table with a dejected look on his face. It was the same look he had the last time he spoke with his mom and dad, and I knew things hadn't gone so well over the phone.

"What's wrong, babe?" I asked, taking the chair next to him and wrapping an arm around his shoulder.

"My mom and dad are out to ruin my day," he said with a sad sigh. "I had to hear the usual crap about not caring about them, then they told me that they wanted the money they gave me for college back."

I wanted to say something rude about his mom and dad, but I knew better. I wouldn't like it very much if someone talked my parents down, no matter the situation. It wouldn't be very fair of me to expect Gerald to like it, either. Instead, I ran my fingers through his hair and nuzzled my cheek up against his, then I gave him a kiss on the lips. Not a French kiss, just a kiss on the lips. One to let him know that I loved him more than anything, and that I'd always be there for him.

After dinner, we snuggled on the couch under a blanket and watched a movie on Lifetime. I know, it's not exactly the place for compelling TV, but there's a healing factor in most of the movies that Lifetime airs, and Gerald needed that. In a way, so did I, but I needed it for him. When the movie was over, we got up and held onto each other, still sharing the blanket, as we moved up the stairs to our bed.

Making love to my Gerald is still something I consider a privilege. True, I could get sex from him anytime I want it, but I never take advantage of that. I never make love to his body unless it's something he asks for. I think that's the thing that makes it so special between us. I see couples that casually talk about their love life as if it's routine, and I never want that for Gerald and I. He's the most amazing person I've ever known, and his body is a temple that I enter only when I know that it's time to worship at his alter.

That night, he opened his temple for me, and I was sure to bring him my finest offering. I didn't take his love for granted as I reveled in the perfection that was his mind, body and spirit. As I partook in the life sustaining energy of his love, my head spun and my eyes rolled back in my head. It seemed like only seconds, but one look at the clock that glowed in the darkness told me that it had been nearly an hour that he was calling out my name and eagerly accepting my full length.

When we stopped, he slept soundly and I found myself awash in feelings of love so powerful that they left me shaken. Not because I was intimidated, or worried. Instead, it was because at that moment, in my bed, lying next to Gerald Ballard, I realized for the first time that the answer to all of my questions was right in front of me. That the realization of the dreams I never even knew I had was just a motion away. I knew that all I needed was for Gerald to take my hand, and we could fly.

I carefully slid my right arm under his back and pulled him into me. He rolled over quietly and cuddled up to my side, resting his head on my shoulder as I tousled his hair.

"I love you Gerald," I told him.

"I love you too, Dennis," he said, his voice cracking with emotion. "I want us to stay like this forever."

"We can, sweetie," I said softly. "You and I can just stay like this for the rest of our lives."

I heard him let out a long, contented sigh, and I knew that this was my moment.

"Gerald, will you go to Massachusetts with me," I asked him, and he brought his head up so that he could look into my eyes inquisitively. "Will you marry me?"

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