Belief by Troubleshooter Copyright 2000 all rights reserved.

Chapter 4

I got a call from a friend of mine at the paper this afternoon. A reporter they were sending to D.C. to cover a women's rights conference broke her leg and had to have surgery and they needed a replacement. I almost said no immediately. Instead, I told her that I needed to talk to Damian about it and would call her back.

I hung up the phone, grabbed an iced tea and went to my little sanctuary. It's a little sunroom on the side of our house. I've slowly stocked it with plants and little things and a nice, comfortable chair. It's my private little thinking space. Damian respects my need for privacy and stays out, giving me the time that I need. I settled into the chair and thought about the offer.

We are trying to put our lives back together. Part of that life is my writing...that I'm a journalist. It's what I went to school for, and more importantly, it's what I love to do. After Damian and I adopted Diego, I gave up my wandering ways and took a job at the local paper. I never regretted it. I couldn't very well run around the world when I had a family to take care of, to be a part of. It's hard to attend a parent-teacher conference when you're in Shanghai.

Writing has always been a part of my life. I can't remember having any other career thoughts other than of being a writer. When I was a child, my Barbie was a reporter, and there was definitely no Ken in the picture. When all the little girls in my neighborhood got together to play with their Barbies at the weekly Barbie tea...well, my Barbie didn't drink tea. My Barbie's nickname was Scoop - and not for those ridiculous necklines on her little outfits. She brought a notebook and a pen and covered those teas for the Hayden Dispatch, the newspaper I created.

I had a circulation of eleven. Six for my family and five for the other little girls who came to the weekly tea. Oh, and I had one dad. I got a quarter a week to advertise his insurance company. It kept me in paper and pencils.

I've also had a wandering spirit, I think, all my life as well. I loved Virginia, but I wanted to see the world. I was fascinated by different cultures and wondered if people around the world were really that different from me. I've found that, for the most part, we aren't so very different.

When everything happened, I took a leave of absence. I've been gone for almost five months. I've done a few articles, mostly fluff pieces, and certainly nothing that's taken me away overnight. Part of putting our lives back together means that I needed to resume my career. Am I ready to do that?

I think. There's this little seed of excitement in the back of my brain right now. So why am I feeling so apprehensive? Part of it is the fear of leaving our little safe-haven. I've seen a lot of things in my time. But it's always different when the things aren't happening to you. You can say it's not, but you'd be lying.

It's like the stories I write. I'm an observer and a relator. Nothing more and nothing less. I'd be a fool to tell you that my stories aren't colored by my own perceptions and prejudices, but I make an honest effort to make them as fair and objective as possible. Things change entirely when you become the story...when you live the nightmare you've only written about. And here, in our little haven in the country, I can at least pretend sometimes that we hadn't been the story. That I am still in that blissful state of ignorance where I thought I knew people's pain and understood the things humans did to each other, but could still sleep at night.

There was no real reason not to go, I finally realized. Damian was fully recovered, at least physically. She could certainly manage to take care of Maya and Arabella by herself for a few days. So why didn't I want to go? It comes down to fear. And haven't we lived through our worst fears being realized, and made it through?

I got up and wandered out to find Damian. She was outside, replacing some boards on the deck. You can tell she's a New Orleans girl, through and through. This heat doesn't faze her a bit. I can handle it if I have my iced tea. I've gotten addicted to the stuff since moving down here.

I brought her a glass of some red colored sports drink she had in the fridge and asked her to come sit with me a little bit on the swing in the shade. Sometimes, when I look at her, my chest feels like it wants to explode. It's all the emotions she stirs in me...the love. I realized something a while ago. All that I was, before I met her, I can take credit for that. All that I am now, all that I will be in the will be because of her.

She's such a simple person. I don't know if it's because of the way she grew up or if she would have been like that anyway. I suspect it's a little of both. She doesn't want much. She's happiest with the littlest of things. I feel like a spoiled brat sometimes. I've learned so much from her. About love and life...things that are truly priceless.

She sat next to me and wiped the sweat off her brow. “Thanks for the drink.”

Damian's very polite. It's one of the little things I noticed about her. If she's got something on her mind, the politeness slips.

“You're welcome.”

“Only have two boards to finish up. You feel like barbecuing tonight?”

“Sure, I'll take something out when I go back in.” I watched as her eyes wandered around the back of the house. She was mentally cataloging little projects she wanted to do. “That was Linda on the phone.” I held my breath. I don't know why.

I could see a little grin tugging at the corner of her mouth. I exhaled.

“I was wondering how long it was going to take her to call you.” Her hand reached out and captured mine.

“It hasn't been that long.”

“Almost five months.”
“The time...I think it's been good for us.”

I could see by the little tilt of her head that she's considering my words. I reached over and brushed back a lock of hair that's escaped from under her ball cap. Her head moved slightly and shy blue eyes peered at me from under dark lashes.

“ has.” She takes a deep breath. “So, you gonna go?”

“I'd like to.”


I smiled and teased her. “You trying to get rid of me?”

A shadow flickered across her face, much like a rapidly moving cloud leaves its mark when it blocks the sun's rays. She's so serious. It's another one of those little things about her that I've noticed. She has an incredible sense of humor, and a great ability to laugh at herself. When something's on her mind, when she's upset, it goes. I don't think I've heard her really laugh...a deep, from your gut laugh, seems like forever.

Time to take the offensive, I thought. I crawled onto her lap and straddled her.

“Jules,” she protested. “I'm all sweaty.”

“Like that's ever bothered me before? Please....” I kept my voice light and teasing. “You just want me out of the way so you can dismantle and rebuild the house while I'm gone. I'll only be gone four days. Think that will be enough time?”

A wry smile edged its way across her features. “Hmmm...should be.”

“Even if you're going to add a second story?”

“That's what the fourth day is for.”

My head dipped down and my lips stole a small kiss. “If anybody can do it, you could.” My tone was serious. I know, in my heart, that if she sets out to do something, it gets one hundred and fifty percent effort and she'd rather die trying than give up. When she went into that jungle to get Diego back, I knew that I'd either see both of them again or neither of them. It was only a miracle that I have her here with me now. That miracle was Joe Duncan.

He ended up doing the right thing, despite the politics and the protocols and the procedures and all the crap that stopped everyone else from helping us. So many many good, decent people put their lives and their careers on the line for a small boy and a comrade. When they found her...I've only heard bits and pieces of the entire story. I've read what little reports were done.

It should bother me, you know...the fact that everything was swept under the rug. Technically speaking, none of this happened. As far as the governments of Mexico and the United States were concerned, it was a case of a missing tourist and her child, lost in a jungle after taking a sightseeing trip. The child died. The woman was found, barely alive.

I see the scars on her body...the open wounds that still cover her mind...her heart...her soul. It did happen.

Does the world need to know? Maybe. Am I going to be the one to tell them? No. It's a price I'm not willing to pay. I will not put her through that again. I will not put our friends through that. There is evil in this world. What good would one more story about evil do, other than add to the list of overwhelming evidence already before us? Not much, really.

“When do you have to leave?”

“Tomorrow morning. It's...there's a women's rights conference in D.C.”

“Mmm...your mom and dad will be happy to get a chance to see you.”

A thought popped into my head. “Why don't you fly up with me? You could...sight-see, maybe do something with Dad. A ball-game...or....”

“I...think I'll stay here. Got a lot of stuff to do around here. Besides, who's gonna watch Maya and Arabella? We'd need four jobs each to pay for all the furniture we'd have to replace if we left them inside for four days.”

“Maybe next time.” She was right. With such short notice, we couldn't get someone to watch them. “I'm gonna miss you, you know.”

Those blue eyes captured mine. “Me, too,” she offered softly. “How about I finish those two boards off, you call Linda back and then we'll take some time for us. You can show me how much you're gonna miss me.”

A smile of pure joy came over me. “Sounds like a winner.” I moved off her lap and stood. “I think I'll start off showing you how much I'll miss you in the shower. You need one,” I teased.

A delighted grin crossed her face and in a smooth motion, she was standing next to me. Her head bent down, but she was very careful not to touch me with the rest of her body. Her lips found mine and she gave me one of those know the one...where the earth moves and the heavens open up and your heart and mind and soul are filled with a rush of emotion and feeling, not to mention the hormones that get dumped into your bloodstream.

My hands moved to grab her and pull her closer, but I was stopped as her hands captured them. She broke the kiss and looked at me with sparkling blue eyes. “No, no no...I need a shower, remember.”

“Hurry up with those boards,” I grumbled and practically ran inside to call Linda back. I thought I heard a faint chuckle as the patio door closed


I...I've been staring at you again. Longer this time. For a day and a half. Not the whole time. I'm not that crazy. I've alternated between staring and avoiding you, this whole part of the house, altogether.

Jules is gone. She's supposed to be back Thursday night. On Sunday, she got a phone call from Linda, her boss at the paper, about taking an assignment in Washington, D.C. She decided to go. I think that's good. She's going to get to see her family when she's up there. They live in Virginia. It will be good for her.

Jules is an excellent writer. Several months after I met her, I looked up all her articles she had written at the library. I spent a lot of time in the library. I love to read. I made copies of all of them and have read each one of them several times. Jules found them one day and it made her cry. I was so confused at her reaction. We react to things so differently sometimes. It didn't even dawn on me that she was pleased. I thought that I had upset her in some way.

Just like yesterday morning, when I put her on that plane. She was excited, I could tell, when we were driving to the airport. But before we said goodbye, the excitement left her eyes. She looked at me for such a long time. I didn't know what was going through her head. She looked so sad.

“Please....” she whispered. “Please promise me that you'll take care of yourself while I'm gone.”

I simply nodded my head. That promising thing. I didn't want to do that.

Her hands found my shirt and she almost pulled it off of me as she bunched the material in her hands. There was this wild look in her eye. “You promise me, God damn it. You promise me.”

“I...I promise...I swear.”

She apologized when she called yesterday afternoon. I told her she had nothing to apologize for. I still don't know why she got so upset, but she said we'd talk about it when she got back.

I haven't done much of anything. I read some and played ball with Maya. I took her swimming with me in the pool. Jules would kill me if she found out. It's not like I picked her up and put her in the pool. I was swimming laps and the next thing I knew, she was swimming right along with me.

Maya's kind of representative of our relationship. She's our compromise. It's how we do things...compromise. When Diego wanted a dog, I voted for big and dog-like. I didn't want something that looked like a mop and needed it's own hairdresser. A dog's supposed to be a dog. You know, it fetches a stick, it digs holes and buries bones, it protects you. Dog things. Jules wanted something little and cute. Diego didn't care. He just wanted a dog.

Maya's a rat terrier. She looks like a big dog, but only weighs twelve pounds. And she does all the dog things, but Jules can pick her up easily and she is very cute. We got her when she was twelve weeks old. She slept with Diego every night. She was the perfect size for him.

Maya reminds me of Jules. I hope Jules never reads this. I don't think she'd be too pleased, although she has told me that Arabella reminds her of me. I'm not calling her a dog. Jules is very beautiful. It's Maya's intensity and fierceness. They're both like pit bulls. Once they get hold of something, they don't ever let go. Jules can be a little more subtle about it than Maya, making you think she's lost interest or forgotten, until you're lulled into a false sense of security then you get ambushed. And they both lead with their hearts.

The fierceness and was Jules who made the adoption happen. If left to my own devices...I don't think I could have done it without her. Hurricane Jules let nothing and no one stand in her way.

The whole adoption process...frustrating doesn't even begin to describe it. The Mexican officials stalled. The U.S. officials stalled. Everyone stalled. You'd think that we had asked them to solve the problems of the world. It was one little boy and two women who just wanted to love each other and be together. Thank God love doesn't come with red tape. We called in every favor from every person each of us knew, and then some. Even Jules' parents used their connections and favors.

Her father, Ed, is an insurance man. A pretty successful insurance man. He's very practical. He works with some insurance group and had some experience lobbying in Washington, so he knew some Congressman and Senators. Jules' mother, Marilyn, well, she didn't really know anybody, but by the time it was over with, she knew everyone and they knew who she was. Jules is the spitting image of her mother. Talk about scary, putting the two of them together in the same room and turning them loose on whatever poor soul happened to be in there. Oh man, not pretty.

The first time I met them, it didn't go exactly as we had planned it, or at least how I had planned it. The month before they was during a pretty wild period for us. DAT had gotten some big breaks in the investigation of the Mexican slave ring that was responsible for all the kids dying and what we thought was a major percentage of a lot of the others we had found during raids. Jules was in and out of town on another story about environmental hazards somewhere up north. We had received the okay from Social Services to have Diego placed with us on a foster care basis, so we had moved to a bigger place and were scrambling to get everything that needed to be done finished.

Jules had just come back, and we had managed to find a quiet slice of time on a Sunday morning to have a nice breakfast and some time for us. I was rinsing the dishes and put them in the dishwasher, when very casually...mentioned that her parents would be here on Wednesday for a visit. I dropped a dish.
It's not like I didn't know she had parents or brothers and sisters. I just hadn't thought about the fact that they would ever come to visit. Family abstract concept for me. The kids I grew up with...we didn't have families. We all went to the same school and we all hung out together. We didn't have moms who dropped us off or picked us up from school. We didn't have dads that came to Dad's day at school. We were different.

Being different isn't bad. It's just...different. It causes problems sometimes. You are what you know, and most people don't take the time to stop and think that not everyone is like them. I don't blame them. I do it, too. What does piss me off is when they do figure out that there are differences, they continue to ignore them. Or assume that their way is the right way or their opinion is the correct one...never even trying to see things from another perspective. No wonder the world is so screwed up today.

It's one of the things that I love about Jules. She'll stop and reevaluate things from all kinds of perspectives. She questions you until she understands your viewpoint. She tries to communicate seeing things how you see it. She doesn't necessarily change her opinion or her view, but she does try to understand. I thought it was because she was a journalist. That may have something to do with it, but when I met her parents, I found out they were both like that, so some of it must be genetic.

Anyway, I just hadn't considered the possibility that her family would come to visit. I was suddenly faced with the reality of it.

She teased me, saying “Does the thought of meeting your in-laws make you nervous?”

“Damn right it does.” I was very serious.

I remember thinking, Holy shit! In-laws?! I mean, seven months before, I didn't even know Jules existed. Now, I had in-laws. I was in love. We were getting ready to adopt a little boy. We had a house. Oh my God, I had a family. Holy shit is right.

I don't think about things sometimes. I just do it...go with the flow. I think that if I think about it too much, that it will go away or that I'll put some unrealistic expectations on it all, and then whatever happened couldn't ever live up to the expectations. So I don't think about it. Drives Jules crazy.

Now, I had to think about it. The in-laws were coming. Holy shit!

“Honey, they don't bite.” She got up from the table where she had been drinking coffee and wrapped her arms around me and nibbled on my neck. “Not like I do.”

“Juliana Lee Hayden! There will be none of that while they're here.” I was appropriately indignant. Oh God...the in-laws were coming and Jules was joking about sex. Then it occurred to me that I had no idea how long they were staying. I wondered if we were going to have to rent a hotel room. I'm going to have to wake up in the morning and have coffee with these people...these people who were Jules' parents. What if they didn't like me? This is not good. Not good at all.

“Damian...they know about sex. How do you think I got here?”

This was too much. Everybody knows, even orphans, that parents don't know about sex. Her parents only had sex five times. Once each for the five kids. “They don't know about our sex life and I intend on keeping it that way.”

“Guess we're going to have to sneak out and get a hotel room, because they're staying for a week and a half.”

Maybe I'd sign up for a lot of details while they were here. Lots of overtime. We have a little boy on the way. We need to get started on his college education fund. Overtime. That's an excellent idea.

Remember me telling you that Jules is pretty good at handling me? This is another one of those occasions. When my mind goes into overdrive about something like this, she keeps everything light until I have some time to process the information and think about it rationally. Then we can talk about it without us both losing it.

We ended up talking about it when I was more rational. I didn't sign up for any more details and I didn't put in for overtime.

Her parents were flying in on a Wednesday afternoon. I had calmed down enough that the prospect of meeting them now created only a small feeling of dread, as opposed to an overwhelming one. I woke up that morning and went to work for half a day. I put in for time off and wanted to finish some paperwork that needed to be done. I shouldn't have done that. It started off with being asked to do a prisoner transport and ended up with me solidifying my reputation as a certifiable nut.

Mistakes in law enforcement can cost you your life. If you forget that, and get sloppy, you get hurt or you die. It's pretty simple. Peace-loving, law-abiding citizens, for the most part, don't end up as a prisoner. We had three prisoners to take to the jail. I got lucky and went to get number three, one Phyllistine Singleton, from an interview room. Yes, the spelling's correct. And I thought my name was bad.

The guy was huge, and not very happy about being arrested. The asshole who had cuffed him for transport hadn't used the oversize cuffs and didn't check them when he put them on. The end result was that Phyllistine got a free shot at me. Only one, but it was with a metal chair that left bruises on my chest and face, a split lip, bloody nose and two black eyes. Phyllistine went to the hospital. I had to go pick up my in-laws at the airport.

After, of course, I had a chat with the asshole who had cuffed him. I found the asshole in the men's bathroom. He was having a little difficulty hearing me because his face was in the urinal, but the rest of the people on that floor knew that I was going to meet my in-laws for the first time ever in five hours looking like I had gone twelve rounds with Mike Tyson. It wasn't the urinal-face thing that made people think I was nuts. It was the yelling about the in-laws.

Most people...okay none of them at the time, knew anything about Jules and I. And most people don't think of homosexual relationships and in-laws in the same paragraph. Now they were all wondering what the hell I was talking about and who the hell was crazy enough to marry me and why hadn't I met my in-laws before.

I thought Jules was going to have a stroke when I walked into the house. Made me want to go back and shove asshole's face into one of the toilet bowls and flush repeatedly. I had blood all over me, and, as luck would have it, I had a white shirt on, so it looked worse than it was. By the time I finished telling her what had happened, I realized that the least of asshole's worries was me. I was going to have to keep Jules from killing him the next time she was at the task force.

So that's how I met my in-laws...looking like Mike Tyson' punching bag.


Good evening.

I'm feeling...I don't know what I'm feeling exactly. The conference has been good so far. I'm tired, but I'm having a little trouble going to sleep. I miss her. This is only my second night without her. Pretty sad, I think.

I don't mean it like that. It's not sad. It's...I never worried before when I had to go out of town. I was supposed to have dinner with my parents tonight. Only mom showed up. My parents are funny. I knew when she showed up alone that I was in for a heart to heart.

Dad's like Damian in that regard. He's very solid, very stoic, but if he and I were to have a heart to heart, I'd be here well into the next month. But one of his hugs...that speaks volumes. I wish Damian was here right now, hugging me.

They're worried. I don't blame them for worrying. I

I'm sorry. Had to stop for a little bit. They loved Diego so much. I was always just a little bit amazed at how they took all of that in stride and just accepted Damian and Diego. I mean, one day, their wandering daughter, the one who hadn't stayed in one place for more than two months since graduating from college, calls and gets both of them on the phone and announces, “Mom, dad...I'm in love with a woman that I want to spend the rest of my life with, we're buying a house and adopting a little boy. So what's new in your life?”

Mom's first words were, “So when do I get to meet my grandson?”

Dad's first words were, “So when do I get to meet my daughter-in-law?”

The conversation wasn't really that short, but that was the gist of it. I'm really lucky to have them as parents. I think they are the exception, rather than the norm. Don't get me wrong. We've had our fights and our problems. But they've never made me feel like I wasn't loved or that what I did wasn't okay.

And the first time they met Damian...oh, it was a disaster. It really wasn't, but I was convinced it was going to be a disaster. Damian had gone into work in the morning to finish some paperwork. She had taken the rest of the day, as well as the rest of the week off so she could undergo...what did she call it...parental scrutiny.

It was the first time my mother ever gave me relationship advice. Damian got into some scuffle at work, and came home full of blood, cuts, bruises, scrapes and I think her nose was broken as well as having a few ribs cracked. After my initial shock at seeing blood all over her, I determined that she was okay. In pain, looking awful, but, in the grand scheme of things, relatively okay.

Only then, I wasn't okay. I wanted to kill the idiot who had done this to her. Then I found out that the idiot was someone she worked with. I really wanted to kill him. And we were going to the airport to pick my parents up in less than two hours where my parents would meet my lover, and the other mother to their new grandson, for the first time.

We laughed about it after my parents left. I thought Damian was the one who was nervous about my parents visiting. Turned out that I was just as nervous, if not more, than she was. She refused to leave early so we could stop by the task force before we went to the airport. I just wanted to have a little chat with the idiot who hadn't put the handcuffs on right. She wouldn't tell me his name. I never did find out who it was. She just referred to him as asshole.

We were at the airport, waiting at the end of the concourse for them. I had worked myself up into a pretty good frenzy by that time. We were standing there, arguing. Well, I was the one arguing. She stood there. I hadn't wanted her to go into work that morning and I had now turned what had happened into her fault. I surprise myself sometimes with how irrational I can get.

My parents found us there. The first thing I said to them was, “Look at what she did.” I sounded like a two year old. Damian, thank God, was in her right mind and had the manners to introduce herself to my parents and explain that there had been a little incident this morning with a prisoner and improperly working handcuffs and that she was really fine. That it looked much worse than it was.

We headed downstairs to claim their bags. My mother held me back and we trailed my father and Damian, who were now involved in a discussion about Mike Tyson and boxing for some reason. I never did figure that one out. I'll have to ask her about it.

“Juliana, it's good to see you, sweetheart.”

I started to become a little less livid. “You, too, mom.”

“I'm reasonably certain Damian didn't do that to herself on purpose.”
That's what I love about my mother. She's direct, yet subtle. She didn't come right out and say I was being irrational and unreasonable, but she put it out there.

“I'm acting like a fruitcake, aren't I?”

She put her arm around me as we walked and squeezed me to her. “You just love her, that's all.”

Like that explains everything. And I guess it does.

“Ask your father sometime what a fruitcake I can be. Comes with the territory when you love a Hayden woman. Does she have a lot of patience?”

“An enormous amount. More than anyone I've ever known.”

“Good. She'll need it.”

We laughed, walking arm in arm. My world righted itself.

Their visit turned out better than I could have ever hoped for. Just like dinner tonight.

My mother came tonight, alone. My initial reaction was anger. How dare they assume that I...what was I? Tired, scared, worried, lonely, hurting.... Good thing my mother came alone. I needed to talk.

We dispensed with the niceties, and as usual, my mother got down to brass tacks. “How are you and Damian doing?”

I was talking to my mother. I wanted to cry. I wanted to crawl into her arms like I did as a child and have her make it all better.

“I'm still so scared. I hurt so much. And Damian....”

“Tell me about it.”

So I did. I told her everything. I told her things I hadn't even realized I was thinking.

“Your father and I are coming down there to spend a week.” Her tone left no room for refusal. “We need to spend some time with you two. We've been very worried about you both.”

I was immensely grateful and relieved. Daddy's coming to talk to Damian.

I don't know, and have long since given up trying to figure out what it is about my father and Damian and the way they communicate. I remember one Thanksgiving when we had gone to my parents' home in Virginia. Diego was off playing with his cousins. My two sisters, Carolyn and Erica, and their husbands, Tom and Eric...I know, Eric and well as one of my brothers, John, and his wife, Teresa, had taken off after we had eaten to go to some function. Junior, who is my brother Edward, and his wife, Selena, were out in California and hadn't been able to get to Virginia. Damian and I volunteered to stay and babysit all the kids, along with Mom and Dad.

It wasn't too hard to babysit. Only one of the kids was still in diapers. My job was to hang out in the playroom with my mother and the kids. I had such a wonderful time. Damian and my father watched the baby, which wasn't a big chore since Adrienne was in her playpen taking a nap.

When we crawled into bed that night, Damian had told me what a great time she had with my dad. I couldn't understand it. Every time I had peeked into the TV room, they were both napping. I never heard a word pass between them.

When Damian was in the parents had come when everything happened. My mother got me out of the room and left my father there. I don't know what they talked about. I have the hardest time imagining them even talking. Whatever it was, I noticed a slight difference in Damian. A spark of that fierce determination had returned. That was the greatest gift my father ever gave me.


I can't believe I'm sitting here typing on this damn computer. My head is pounding and I want to throw up. I have a hangover that would drop God.

I went out last night. I went out looking for a fight. I found one. There's no way the bruise on my jaw is gonna be gone by the time Jules gets home. What the fuck is wrong with me? I'm almost thirty-five years old and I'm acting like some damn kid. Now I have to tell she doesn't have enough to deal with. I think sometimes that she'd be better off without me. All I do is cause her heartache.

I just want it to be like it was. Is that so wrong? I want Diego back. It hurts so much. I don't know what to do with the pain and I can't make it stop, no matter what I do. That's only right, though...that the pain won't stop. It shouldn't. It's my fault he's not here. It's my fault that all of this happened.

If there was one thing in my life I could change, I'd go back to that day that it all started and I wouldn't have pulled the trigger. I would have let him kill me. Diego would be safe. He and Jules would be together. Maybe she would have moved back to Virginia with him. Stayed with her family. She loves Virginia. She'd have been happy there. He would have been happy, too. He always had so much fun with his cousins.

I don't know why she stays here now. How can she look at me everyday and know that I could have stopped it all from happening? How can she live with that? I can't.

I got out of the shower this morning and looked at myself in the mirror. There are a lot of scars on me. The doctors had to remove my right kidney. They say the bullet shredded it. I'm also missing one part of my right lung, the upper lobe, I think. I guess a bullet must have shredded that, too. When I woke up in the hospital, I didn't care what had happened to me. I only had one question. After that, it didn't matter.

Jules traces the scars and kisses them. I don't know why she does that. I see them and all I can think of is my failure. They should have let me die.

I need to go throw up.


Good afternoon.

I feel so drained emotionally and physically. I didn't get to sleep until almost five this morning. My triumphant return from D.C. was definitely not how I had pictured it. I think that in the last eighteen hours, I've experienced every emotion known to man, and probably invented a few.

I was so angry when I walked into the house last night that I was shaking. I don't ever remember being that angry before. I yelled at her the entire forty-five minute ride from the airport to home. Yelled...loud voice, turning red, shaking my finger at her...the whole nine yards. I'm pretty sure I had a bit of jugular venous distension there for a while. I think I shocked her. I know I shocked myself.

I couldn't seem to stop myself. One look at that bruise on her jaw and I lost it. I said some things that I know hurt her to hear. Maybe she needs to hear them, though. The things I said...they were the truth. I feel like I'm using a toothpick to try and break through steel walls. I'm scared, though, to use anything bigger. I get the feeling sometimes that if the walls shatter, she might, too, and I couldn't take that.

She's always been so steady, so...well, like a matter what happened. It's hard to look at her and think of her as fragile. I have to remind myself that she is. I can't allow myself to get complacent and assume that the picture she presents to the world is a mirror to what's going on in that beautiful head, because with Damian, it often isn't.

It's the little things with her and it's so easy to get caught up in whatever's going on, to get so self-absorbed, that I forget to look for the little things. I could tell on the phone when I called before my flight left yesterday afternoon that something was wrong by the tone of her voice. Her reassurances that everything was okay didn't work. But I heard her voice...knew she was alive. After that, it didn't much matter. We'd deal with whatever it was. Funny how your perspective changes once something's happened to you.

It's like when we were going through the adoption process. I was suddenly having discussions about buying a home. I hadn't ever thought of owning a home before. Now, Damian and I were looking at houses. And not only were we looking at houses, but we were considering the school districts they were in, what the neighborhood was like, how we would arrange our finances to afford things, saving for college...asking ourselves all these questions that had been, up until then, an abstract concept for me.

This...what we're going through. I guess it's an abstract concept for both of us. I'd never, ever suffered a loss before in my life. At least not a profound loss. My paternal grandfather died when I was eleven. I remember missing him, but it seemed that as time went on, the loss diminished. I probably spent a total of one month of time with the man in my life. He lived in Canada, so we didn't see him a lot. I actually felt a lot worse for my father than I ever did for him. My paternal grandmother had died right after I was born, so I didn't know her at all. My mother's parents are still alive and living close to my family in Virginia.

Losing Diego...that loss will never diminish. Loss is such an innocuous word. “The condition of being deprived or bereaved of something or someone” - that's how the dictionary defines it. Deprived? Bereaved? How about having your heart ripped out of your chest? What do you fill the gaping hole with? How do you stop the pain? I really don't know how I deal with it some days. All I want to do is cry...dwell on what happened. I sometimes think that if I think about it enough, feel the pain enough, then maybe, just maybe, I'll get used to it...become numb to it. Then it won't hurt so much.

One of my sisters, Erica, has sent every book ever published about death, grieving and the recovery process. I've read all the books. All very interesting, intellectually. I can hear a sing-song voice in my head as I read them. “It's a process. You'll work through it. It takes time.” No one ever tells you how much time, though, do they? Do you know why? It's because you don't ever really recover from things. things. Recover means that you get something back. We're not getting Diego back, therefore there can be no recovery. All you can hope for is that you learn to live with what happened. Not let it destroy the rest of your life. Not let it destroy us.

I think that's why I got so angry. Damian can be very self-destructive at times. Like getting into that fight. She was so ashamed of going out, getting drunk and getting into a fight that she wouldn't look me in the eye. I have no idea how she could see to drive home since her head was hanging so low. Damian is her own judge, jury and executioner.

But you know, the fight she got into, well...she's always protecting somebody. Damian's choices of what battles to fight are very interesting. Things that affect her directly, if they don't affect anyone else...those battles she rarely fights. But let someone else be affected and watch out.

After we got home, I calmed down a little and asked her exactly what had happened. Damian went to this little bar in Hammond. It's about twenty miles from here. Just a dive, really. I've seen it when we've been out. There was a guy there, in a wheelchair. He obviously had a drinking problem, Damian told me, and he had passed out. There were some people there making fun of him. She wouldn't tell me what they were doing, but whatever it was, she didn't like it.

I told her that I wasn't sure that the situation had to be resolved with fisticuffs. She said that she tried speaking with them first. When I asked her what she said, her response was, “I told them, 'If I wasn't such a nice person, I'd kick your ass.'”

She truly looked perplexed when I threw my hands up in the air and said, “No wonder.”

“What do you mean, no wonder?” She stopped walking to the kitchen and put her hands on her hips, giving me another of those 'alien on the front lawn' looks. “I told 'em I was being nice and not kicking their asses. What's the problem with that? I coulda just hit 'em first.”

I was not in the mood to explain 'subtle.' I honestly don't know what to do with her sometimes. “And what if they had been some crazy assholes and had guns? What if you had really gotten hurt?”

I realized as the words came out of my mouth that the anger was my fear expressing itself. It's too soon for this and I'm still too raw. I want to wrap her up in cotton and keep her safe for the rest of our lives. I don't want to lose her.

I could see by the expression on her face...her body language, that she realized it, too. I watched her stiffen as her eyes burned white hot with rage. Rage at herself. “I'm...I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you. Didn't think.... Never meant for any of this to happen.”

Then she was gone.

That saying...everything happens for a reason...I don't always agree with it, but last night, if I hadn't been so angry, I wouldn't have followed her. But I was angry, so I did follow her out.

I called her name and saw her hesitate, then stop. I caught up to her halfway to the woods. The moonlight reflected off her face and I saw that muscle in her jaw twitching, the one that means she's fighting for control. We stared at each other. It struck me that we were facing off as two enemies would. The anger left me, replaced by nausea.

“Don't....” I uttered the word softly. I had no idea what I meant. Don't what? Don't shut me out. Don't blame yourself. Don't.... There were so many things I could have used to finish the sentence.

“How can you even stand to look at me?” The words were said bitterly.

“Because every time I look at you, I'm reminded of the most wonderful things in my life.”

“How can you do that...say that?” The anguish on her face, in her voice, tore at my heart.

“Do what? Love you?” I sighed. “There's no choice for me, Damian.” There really isn't, you know. “Why do you love me?”

“Jules...I...a million reasons. How could I not?” She started to pace around. “You'd have been better off without me. None of this would have happened. You'd be living in Virginia, surrounded by your family. Diego...would be alive.” Her voice choked on the words. “I should have let him kill me.”

Without thought, I grabbed her and shook her. Shocked blue eyes looked at me as I spoke. “Do not tell me that I would have been better off. I'd have existed...for his sake. It would have been half a life.”

“I'm so sorry...for everything.”

“For me, too?”

“No!” She said vehemently as her eyes flashed. “You....” Her voice dropped to a bare whisper. “You're my world.”

My hand moved to caress her cheek softly. “And you're mine. I wouldn't want to live in any other.”

“Why did this happen?” Her voice was so small, so child-like.

“I don't know, baby. I wish I did...but I don't think the reason would really matter. We've lost him. Please...let's not lose each other. I don't think I would survive.”

She was quiet for so long, her eyes staring at the ground. “Jules...I promised you..that I...that I would bring him back to you. I didn't.”

Oh God. My mind filled with the images of that night. That low voice swearing upon her own life that she would bring our boy back, safe and sound...those blue eyes reflecting both desolation and determination. I swallowed and felt the tears come to my eyes.

She looked at me, so lost as I felt. “I should have....”

My hands moved up to cup her face as I looked into her eyes. “What? What more could you have done?” My voice begged her to tell me, because I knew there was nothing more she could have done.

“Succeeded. The one time, Jules, the one God damn time in my life that I couldn't fail...I did.”

What do I tell her, I thought. Yes, she did fail, but is it really failure when you set out on an impossible task? “You did everything that you could. You couldn't do it by yourself...there was nobody else...that would help...until it was too late.”

“I made too many mistakes. I...I....”

“No, you didn't. You did your best.”

“You don't know that,” she objected.
“Oh, sweetheart....I do know that. It's one of the few things I know to be true in my life.”

“You don't even know what happened.”

“No,” I allowed. “I don't know exactly what happened. We've never talked about it. But I know you, and I know that if there had been any way you could have gotten to him, gotten him out of there, you would have.”

My eyes searched her face intently. Her eyes were blank, her body still. “I saw him.”

Saw him? I was confused. What was she talking about? I waited for her to continue.

“I couldn't stop it. I watched him die.”

Those words were like a blow to the gut. “I don't understand. You...when you woke up in the started to ask...I had to tell you.”

“Hope,” she said bleakly.

I think I went into shock. I hadn't known. We hadn't talked about it. I guess I had always assumed that he had been killed before. I don't know why I did. There had been sixteen people in that compound. The only one that came out alive was Damian, and she hadn't talked about it.

Not knowing what happened...that's been a problem for me. I had been so sure that I wanted to know every detail. My mind had tried to piece together the events of that night from the reports I had read and what Joe Duncan and the others had told me they found. I had imagined all sorts of things, but not this. Now, I wasn't even sure if I wanted to know what had happened in that compound. I don't think I would have survived seeing them kill my boy. If I had survived, I would have gone insane.

I had always said that I couldn't imagine what she went through. That even if she explained it all, that I truly couldn't understand. Never did those words seem so true than right then. How could anything I ever say make that better for her? Take away any of the pain and horror?

I wrapped my arms around her, pulling her body close to mine. “I'm so sorry you had to see go through that.”

She leaned heavily on me. She's so exhausted. I know she doesn't sleep well, even though she tells me she does. “Come on, baby, you're exhausted. Let me put you to bed...let me watch over you tonight.”

And that's what I did until five o'clock this morning. I watched over her in her sleep.

I spent the time stroking her hair and her skin, holding her when the nightmares threatened. And thinking. Thinking about how lucky I have been in this lucky I am to have found lucky I am that she loves me.
She tells me that I am her strength. How ironic I find that. She has such depth of heart. That she could have provided so much comfort to me these past few months and endure her own pain is staggering to me. Even more so after last night's revelation.

I cried last night as she slept. Not for me...not for Diego. But for her. I found myself praying to a God I don't even know to heal her wounds. To take away some of her pain.

chapter 5

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