Everyone headed to bed straight after getting home from church. Mike was tired, but somewhat restless.
The thought occurred to him during church that he wasn't feeling the almost unbearable burning within him that he felt in
the dream. He assumed that this feeling had been due to her being so violently taken from him after they had become
one. He fell asleep as infusions of gratitude for his and Marco's miracle pervaded him. He heard a voice
say within: "What you had felt in the dream was unrequited love. I had greater plans for her."
"Well, then," he said within himself, "Please bring her perps to justice."
"I will in my own time," said the inner voice.
A peace he had never felt--every last cell of his body relaxing and an amazing inner strength--helped him fall asleep.
After what seemed like only 30 minutes, he felt someone shaking him awake. He began to notice the smells of
both a fire in the fireplace and breakfast.
There was a tremendous hub-bub behind him. When he finally got his eyes open, he saw that the Stanleys had produced
from somewhere a very low-to-the-ground table at which everyone would sit. Everybody except Chief--who was
in uniform--was still in a house robe.
"Aw, Chief, you're ruining the atmosphere!" Barb quipped.
"Oh, okay," Chief said, shrugging. "I'll just run back upstairs and put my robe on."
Bobby and the womenfolk were bringing the usual breakfast fare to the table.
Mike slid down to the floor after they gave him time to get his own robe on. He was at the far end of the table,
facing the fireplace. Chief and Bobby were to his right; Elizabeth and Barbara to his left, next to the door that went
directly to the kitchen. Chief was closest to the kitchen door that led to the back door.
The idea that both men were usually told where to go by either of the women dawned on Mike. He snickered.
Bobby looked up, bemused. "Yeah, they tell us where to go all the time." The others were trying to keep
a straight face.
"No henpecking here," said Chief. "No, none whatsoever."
Then Mike noticed a particular picture of Betsy on the mantle--the one where her racing colors matched her
two-tone eyes. Apparently, the family had obtained another copy.
"It's another copy," said Bobby, who was turning into a mind-reader, or so it seemed. Either that or Mike's face
was more expressive than he gave it credit for being.
Chief asked the blessing, and the food was passed around. Mike had a problem comprehending why the Stanleys were
so joyful on this, their first Christmas without Betsy. His attention was then turned to himself--he was living proof
that she was in a better place.
After breakfast, another element of the dream came to pass--the Stanleys started looking at photo albums, and asked which photos
he wanted. Mike really wasn't prepared to see Betsy wearing the same flower print dress as Brin in the funeral
photos. He dashed to the window as he broke into sobs.
"My sincere apologies. We had them taken for your benefit," Chief explained. "Since you couldn't be here."
"Thank you," he said. "I'll be okay. It's just that she's wearing the exact same dress as the dream."
The family drew a sharp breath.
Mike and the Stanleys had a tearful and huggy farewell at the Louisville airport late that evening, and once back to
the house, Mike surprised himself with tears. He missed not only Betsy, but the wonderful companionship of her
family. He felt like moving to Kentucky, but knew he needed to stay put. Meowzie asked for access to his
arms after a visit to the litter box and an extended drink of water.
Mike surveyed his home and tried to figure out where to put Betsy's stuff. He was beginning to think he would have
to start coming into the house by a door other than the front one--passing the wall where their wedding portrait would've
hung was getting to him.
But, oh, where to put these things? he thought with a sigh. He would have to give the idea time to sink in.
He wasn't able to bring everything. Fortunately, she didn't have that much, and as her mom was packing it, she broke
down into tears. Chief knelt down, put an arm around her, and lovingly asked her what was wrong. Elizabeth
said she had to have some time to say good-bye to the stuff. Mike himself started weeping, and knelt down next to her,
telling her to take her time--he couldn't take everything with him on the plane.
Christine Coe's name came to him very strongly, but he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do with the information.
Since there were only two large boxes of various items, he decided to put everything along the wall in the den.
He had to be to work in a couple of hours. Hopefully, the day would be slow, so he could nap. He wasn't working
with his regular crew, so nobody would pester him about his holiday. Aside from the usual polite greetings, he didn't
usually speak unless spoken to.
On his way out the door, he made sure Meowzie had enough food and water, and gave her some affection. Then it dawned
on him--would Meowzie smell Betsy on the stuff he had brought in and try to get into it? He quickly closed the two large
doors to the den. "We'll look at Mama's stuff together when I get back home, okay?" he said to the cat. She
rubbed up against his legs as she purred. She was so smart.
After coffee, roll call, and muddling through morning equipment checks, Mike sought solitude with his bunk. The
day after Christmas was a huge shopping day, but he had no interest in it. The doorbell kept shocking him awake as wives
stopped by to ask their husbands about bargains. Mike was the only unmarried man on this particular crew. Unmarried
in legal terms, he presumed, but not in spirit.
He kept making notes to himself not to ever take the red-eye flight back home if he had work the next morning.
A muddle-minded engineer was of no use to anybody. Fortunately, his catnaps were deep, and undisturbed by strange dreams.
Murphy's Law had graciously taken a vacation, also.
Back home the next morning, he sat down by the window with one of her journals. He loved natural light.
What day is it? she had written. There is no clock or calendar in here. The days all blend together.
I miss Mike.
Should he read on? Her words, "I miss Mike" were like rain in a desert. He held the journal to his heart
as he looked out over the ocean. Something spurred him on.
He is becoming like a dream now.
Mike let out a small cry, and put his fist to his mouth. He had been afraid something like that was going to happen.
No cat, and my family is all out on the job. I can hardly breathe. Must stop writing now. I want
to read the sports section of the Louisville paper, but the newsprint makes me sneeze.
She read the sports section? The racing charts, you dummy. The racing charts.
The next entry on page 2 was undated as well.
Why can't they rent a hospital bed and make the front room my sick room? At least then I could have the Christmas
tree's perspective of the street. I can see nothing here--other than the tops of the trees. The very thought of
moving makes me tired. I am too tired to voice my complaints.
Dad has just been here. He rolled me onto my side, and started smacking my back. I coughed up more gunk.
He reminds me to drink more fluids. He says our priests from church would've come for a visit, but one was in a car
wreck and is in the hospital himself, and the other two are now overburdened.
Mom is worried. She won't say anything, but I heard her on the phone with a priest. She wants the Sacraments
brought to me. Am I dying? I changed my will to send everything to Mike. At least I hope I did the right
thing. I feel so alone, and he almost feels like another lifetime.
Shades of Mandy giving herself the Last Rites in his dream! The memory gave him chills. Betsy
sounded like she was getting worse. Her talking about him being like another lifetime made him cringe. Cap
said they'd nearly lost her to inhalant pneumonia. Now the journal entry was driving home the point.
Her next entry on page 3 was more disturbing, and like the others, undated:
I kept dreaming of a man named Mike calling my name from afar. He was in the same situation as myself.
He kept trying to throw a can with a string on it. He held the other can.
He was stunned, and didn't know what to make of the first line. Yes, he had kept calling to her from his hospital
bed at Rampart. He knew they were soulmates.
Visions of my past keep going before me. I woke up in a candle-lit room. I could make out the faces of
my family in the background, and one of our priests was standing next to the bed, anointing my hand. I could hear muffled
weeping. "Oh, thank God!" someone said--I think it was Mom. "She's awake."
The more aware I became, the more I realized that the candles were from Mom and Dad's Sick Call set which usually
hangs over the head of their bed. Someone had set up a TV tray next to my bed, and set up the Sick Call set on it.
I started coughing up tons of gunk after that.
Sick call set. Perhaps that was the unusually thick crucifix hanging over Chief and Elizabeth's bed.
Mike went straight to the phone, and called the East Coast Stanleys, as they were beginning to be known at work.
Elizabeth answered. After he thanked her for the lovely holiday, he started gushing about Betsy's journal entries.
"Why wasn't she in the hospital?"
"We tried to convince her to go, but since she was over 21, she had the right to her own decision."
Then Mike remembered the threat from Geoff.
"She was also afraid Geoff would get her if she were in the hospital."
"Did you know she wanted a hospital bed next to the front window?"
"Yes, but Bobby didn't think it would be safe."
"I have to apologize. I'm a little upset by these journal entries."
"She was extremely sick when she wrote those. When she started asking why different classmates were in the room
with her, and nobody was there, I realized her life was flying before her eyes, and got a priest right away."
"Oh, my God."
"It was scary. I kept wondering how I, uh, we would be able to break the news to you. . ." Tears cut off
Mike's imagination started running away with him. Would it have been Cap? If he had entered the hospital
room all weepy, Mike would've known in an instant that. . .
Or what about Dr. Brackett? No, not him. He would've thought it something to do with Dixie.
Roy would've been a good choice.
"Have you heard anything from Hank?"
"No, I haven't. Have you?"
"He called us late, late Christmas night, after we took you to the airport. I hope you weren't too tired at work
Mike chuckled. "I was able to nap."
"Oh, that's good. Anyway, Hank says Ettie's been acting strange, and he's thinking about getting professional help
"Oh, thank God. It's been affecting his work."
"I'm not trying to run you off, but I've got to get lunch on for the others. Everyone's going to 10-7 here today."
And the Veil hovers close to the Earth again. . .