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Matthew Walker

Chapter 1

He sat slouching on the corner of the lifeless bed; an elbow rested on the footboard and the other on his knee. The darkness in the room crept like a villain. Light from the moon lit sky dodged the darkness to dance along his silhouette. His long hair draped in front of his face, while the milky smoke from the cigarette perched between his chilled lips, swirled around his head. His right hand, closest to the floor, caressed a picture of a woman whose green eyes poured her beauty out into the dead room. His eyes, hollow with sorrow, gazed into the picture.
He slowly stood from the bed and placed the picture in the inner pocket of his red coat that dragged the floor. Clasping the buttons together, drawing the picture closer to the depths of his heart. The coat separated at the waist and buttoned across his chest with a high collar wrapping his neck; it gently drifted in the cool night wind. His heavy boots strode along the wooden floor and ripples of dust erupted beneath his sorrowed feet into the chilled air. Stopping at the sliding glass window that lead to the balcony, he turned, gazing at the numb room. Everything in the room was preserved in dust. It had been a long time since it felt life, or heard laughter. The picture frame on the ground with broken glass surrounding it was the only thing out of place.
He turned and strode between the rustling drapes onto the balcony. The night air, bitter against his bristled face, danced along the winds with his coat.
He reached into his pocket drawing out the picture once more. A tear rolled from the corner of his eye, followed the creases in his face, and then fell somberly to the picture. Lungs filled with the sweet nectar of night air, he raised his left hand, and held it straight in front of him. The wind was fierce, as electricity rolled from his fingertips. Windows cracked and shattered around him. Yet, he stood steadily, unwavering. With a final burst of faint blue light from his hand, a rip in the sky formed in front of him. His hand fell to his side as he pondered the picture once more. He returned the picture to his pocket and let it rest in the warm embrace of his heart.
Then, as he glided toward the rip, he promised, “I will find you….”
In a final flicker of blue light, he was gone, along with the rip in the sky. The cold night air returned as if he was never there.
The sun beamed against her face through the kitchen window as she fixed breakfast. She wore a tank top with grey design over its white background, and grey pants with a pink strip down the side. Radio blaring, her tall frame wired around the kitchen as she fixed breakfast in synch with the beat of the song. Moving, swaying and sometimes grinding with the refrigerator door. Flour, egg, and a few other ingredients caked her round face and brownish hair. Hurling broken egg shells towards the trash, but only making a few, completely oblivious to her surroundings. She was in her moment and her moment was breakfast.

“Ladies and gentlemen she is on fire this morning, making…” she paused glancing at the almost dozen broken eggshells on the floor. Sauntering, closer to the kitchen door, “…Honestly I have lost count ladies and gentlemen but truly a remarkable performance today….” cocking her arms back about to shoot,”…This will be huge for her if she maaa….AAAHHAHH!”

Her game winning throw was abruptly interrupted by the sharp smack to her rear by the swinging door. Her scream echoed through the kitchen and her “infamous” shot landed in the eggs cooking on the stove.

“ALEX!” she yelled as he came through the door trying to look as innocent as possible.

“Sorry Lori, I didn’t know you were in here honey,” he said with half a grin trying to get out of trouble.
His bare muscular chest dodged most of her impending slaps. Aggravated, Lori made her way to the stove desperately trying to remove eggshell pieces. He moved behind her, and put his arms around her waist and kissed her neck squeezing her tight.

“Yeah, yeah. Sure you didn’t know,” in a sarcastic tone, she rolled her eyes.

“Ok, so maybe I knew, but it’s not everyday that you get to wake up knowing your about to marry a woman that fixes you a breakfast that comes with a ‘song and dance show’ too,” apologetically Alex spoke continuing to hold her and kiss her neck.
At that, moment hot scrambled eggs poured down from the pan now hanging above his head, scalding his naked chest and back. The hair on his neck rose with a twinge. Eyes squinted he felt Lori flip around from his embrace.

“The next time you want to scare this ‘song and dance show’ think about where those hot eggs are resting.” Lori quipped, patting his behind as the soft eggs made their way into unwelcome places.

The pan rattled in the sink amongst the other dishes, as she smashed it in anger. Lori turned back to Alex who was still squinting in a hint of pain. She then wrapped her arms around his neck. Her slender fingers ran through his hair, dusting away the chunks of warm egg, that draped in front of his face. She smiled wide as she reached to kiss him. Alex moved in and their lips met in a brief moment of passion.

“Oh God…” Lori broke away, looking at the clock. “I gotta go. If Margot finds out I stayed here last night she would have a bitch fit. She’d probably try and kill you, you being the corruptor of my innocence and all.”

“Then I guess you better go. After all you don’t want to be the first in your family to marry a dead guy,” laughed Alex as she slipped from his embrace.

“Have you even seen my sister’s husband? I wouldn’t be able to claim that title even if you were dead,” Lori sped for the door, picking up her purse along the way.

“Henri’s not that bad. It’s just that he’s…well…seasoned, that’s all. Besides…Heather really loves him,” following close behind her to see her to the door.

“Seasoned! That’s what you call a twenty-five year difference?” reaching the door Lori stopped turned and gave Alex a kiss on the cheek.

“Alright baby, I’ll see you at 3:30 today, right?” returning the kiss Alex held the door for her.

“You’re just trying to get hurt now,” sarcastically chuckled Lori as she tapped him on the arm with her palm, “I love you Alex.”
“I love you too Lori. Be good, at least till after we’re married,” with a wink, as he shut the door.
Alex glanced out the small window in the door. Lori silently mouthed “3 o’clock” as she walked backwards down the path before she turned.
With that, she was gone and Alex was alone. He walked through his empty home. Everything was packed and ready for the move. As a wedding present his father and mother purchased them a home. They also made sure it had plenty of rooms for their future grandchildren. He glanced at the paperwork for the new home resting on the coffee table. He bent over, picked up the picture of the house, and muttered to himself, “Nice house Dad.” The chimes of his clock began to let him know it was 10:00.

“Shit!” he exclaimed as he hurled his body over the back of the couch. Through the hall corridor and up the stairs he raced. He was late. He had told his best-man, Mac Johnson, that he would meet him at the gym by 10:15. Alex was upstairs and back down in no time, hair still dripping wet. Almost out the door, the annoying chimes of the phone caught him.

He lifted the phone from its base next to the couch, to his ear, “look, Mac I’m...”

“Is Lori there?” interrupted a graveled male voice.

Stunned Alex questioned, “No... this is Alex. Can I help you?”
Faint breathing echoed from the receiver and then a harsh click of someone hanging up. Alex stood for a moment 6j0huyhwzzhyu looking puzzled and tossed the phone to the cushions of the couch. He turned and peered out his front window and across the street there stood a man with a long red coat flapping in the Autumn wind. Alex rubbed his eyes and then blinked them open and the man was gone.
Alex shifted away from the window; a piercing light flickered, like lightning in the night sky, and filled the room. Glass shattered, wailing through the stale air, and pierced his skin. Ripples of the wind gusts lifted Alex from his feet and he flew through the air. Weightless only briefly, his weight crashed into the stack of boxes beneath the staircase. The boxes tumbled around him as he lay on the ground. His vision still fuzzy as he looked around the room. Thick shades of red brushed the ground in front of him as the darkness comforted him in a loving blanket.
“Alex I know you can hear me,” spoke a scratched voice next to his ear, “You are not ready but you will be. There is no time now to prepare. I am not your enemy and you are not mine. I will do everything I can, but you must first accept the gift. Remember that.”
Beats of strong boots crunched along shards of glass. Silence filled the room only briefly as the sirens sung down the road. Alex felt himself lifted by strong feminine arms; he saw only a faint outline of his savior. After checking him out in the house, the EMS techs moved Alex to the back of the ambulance. Slowly, yet painfully, they removed the glass shards from his skin. From a distance Alex saw a black convertible zooming down his street. The car came screeching to a halt near his home and a man lept from the driver’s seat.

“Alex, hey Alex!” raced the man towards him.
He began to rise uneasily, “Hey Mac, how’s it going buddy?”
“Easy man,” soothingly said Mac as he helped his friend sit back on the ledge of the ambulance, “When you didn’t show at the gym I came here and saw the lights and…What happened?”
“I don’t know, I was on my way out the door and then the phone rang. A weird phone conversation. Then BAM! I got enough glass in me to start a new fashion trend.”
“Which is exactly why you need to go to the hospital, Mr. Purdue,” ordered the paramedic that first found him.
Her name was April he had found out. She was a bit stocky, and liked to use her hands. This was evident by how delicate she was removing the glass. She would only occasionally stop to remove strands of blonde hair dangling in her face.
“Who was on the phone?” asked Mac trying to take Alex’s mind off the semi surgical procedure.

“I don’t know they asked to speak to…Oh God Lori,” with that, he was up and on his feet heading towards Mac’s car. “Where is she, is she all right?”

“Look Alex calm down, I tried her on her phone and left a message. I’m sure she’s fine, probably with her friends doing last minute wedding stuff,” consoled Mac.
April came over to Alex and helped him back to the ambulance and continued her work. Mac stood steady next to his friend still in his work out clothes. His smooth pale skin blended with his white tank top. Alex had bought him the tank top years ago and on it was the faded remembrance of their childhood hero. Mac shifted his weight a few times resting against the ambulance, occasionally catching the eye of April.
“I think that’s all I can do right now,” addressed April, “You still need to go to the hospital though.”
“I will,” Alex pulled his shirt over his chest, as he stood from the ambulance, “Just not right now. It is exactly one hour before my wedding. Today is going to be the best day of my life and there is nothing that is going to prevent me from beginning my life with her. I promise you that.”
April still protested this decision but ultimately conceded. Alex made his way to the passenger side of Mac’s convertible. Climbing in he saw Mac hand April a piece of paper and smile as he bounced to the car.
“You’re pathetic. You know that?” quizzed Alex as Mac hopped into the driver’s seat.
Mac smiled as he turned the ignition on, “See that has always been your problem. You’re the condemist and I good sir am the opportunist.”
“Mac, condemist isn’t even a word,” Alex chuckled.
They backed out and where heading down the road towards the church when Mac’s cell phone rang. It was Lori returning Mac’s call. Frantic, she wanted to talk to Alex.
“Baby, are you okay?” questioned Lori on the other end of the phone.
“I fine honey. I’ll probably just need to visit the hospital after the wedding for a quick check-up,” consoled Alex.
“Well, why aren’t you there right now,” demanded Lori, “Oh and I’ve talked to your mom and she wants to see you as soon as you get here.”
“Thanks Babe. I really appreciate that. Not only do I have you and Mac worrying about me, now you’ve involved my mom. Look, we are on our way, now stop worrying and continue whatever it is that you are doing and I will see you at the altar.”
He reassured her he was fine and everything was going to be perfect. She of course protested, more in-depth, about him not going to the hospital, but nothing changed, he was already on his way.
Their drive was mostly silent. This gave Alex a few moments to think about the man in the red coat and what he had said. Who was it? Was it the same person on the phone looking for Lori? What gift was he talking about? He did not know but he tried not to think about it much more.
“Alex, man you should have let me take you to the hospital,” Mac said with concern, “Look, everybody would understand. You were blown up man! If they can’t sit in those awful chairs Lori picked out a little longer, then they shouldn’t be there to begin with…”

“Who's being the condemist now? It’s alright Mac,” spoke Alex while adjusting in his seat after changing the radio station, “Besides, I have to be here to see who brings the biggest gifts. So I can make sure to send thank you cards to them after the wedding,” smirked Alex.
Mac chuckled sarcastically as they sped along the road. “Yeah, thank you cards.”
They pulled into the parking spot in front of the church marked for the groom. They climbed out of the car and started towards the giant church doors.
“Hey, hold up a minute. I forgot something,” jolted Mac as he ran back to the car. Pulling something from the back, he trotted back to Alex’s side.
“What’s that?” pondered Alex.
“You’ll see in a moment,” winked Mac.
The two of them paused and looked at some of the guests flowing into the grand hall. It was the biggest and beautiful non-Catholic church they could find. As they began their journey in, Alex noticed out of the corner of his eye one of the many stained glass windows. There was man cloaked in red resting his weary head against the belly of a lifeless woman and in her hand, she held a single white rose.
“Hey, you coming or not?” Mac knocked Alex out of his trance.
“Yeah, sorry just lost in the moment I guess,” Alex scratched his brow and turned to Mac.
“So buddy, are you ready for this?” asked Mac.
“I've never been more ready for anything in my life,” pointed out Alex as they continued there journey to the church doors.
Alex’s lungs filled deep. He smiled as he reached for the door. He never thought he would see this day. Here it was the happiest day of his life. Just on the other side of the door before him waited the rest of his life.

Chapter 2

The inside of the grand hall was completely decorated, with only a few touches remaining for Alex’s mom to finish. She had already put the orange and cream flower arrangements and vermillion silk streams along every chair, as well as the altar framed with an arch fully decorated with fragrant roses and lilies. She would have put nametags on everyone’s seat if she had time thought Alex. Now she was putting on the final ribbons on the ends of the chair rows. She hadn’t noticed they had entered the hall.

“It looks great Mom,” spoke Alex as he nudged her in the side.

Straightening herself up she glared at him, “It’s about time I started receiving some praise for the twenty-eight years I’ve made everything in your life look pretty.”

“Angela I think it looks great,” sucked up Mac.

Alex bent down and hugged his mom who was almost a good foot shorter than he was. Mac, who had to do no bending or reaching to huge Alex’s mom, squeezed in a hug from a woman he felt like was his mom since. His own had passed years ago. She smiled, pinched the side of Mac’s face with a gentle smack and motioned him towards the dressing rooms. As they started to walk away, she called to Alex. She stood there waiting for him to return while trying to tie the last bow on the chair.

“Yeah mom, what’s up?” asked Alex squinted with a little pain.

“So what happened?” she asked him with a half smile and even less of a glance.

“What, do you mean…?” picking some of the ribbons from the basket his mom held.

“You know exactly what I mean. I felt the bandages under you shirt and the agony in you face makes you terrible liar,” Angela spoke with pursed lips.

“Lori already told you what happened Mom. I knew that she did,” rubbing his head, “I just don’t want you to worry that’s all. I’m really okay I promise.”

Angela turned, placed her arms on his shoulder, and with sad eyes said, “I know your fine, I just want to make sure it wasn’t one of those…”

He stopped her, “Mom, I told you that part of my life is over. I can’t go back now even if I wanted to,” he lowered his head, and slid her hands from his shoulder. He absorbed the beauty of the hall as he made his way to the dressing room.
She stood there for a minute gazing into nothing with a mother’s worried look; she whispered, “I surely hope so.”

“Angela, what are you doing? We have many other things to do,” echoed a strong stern voice.

“Joe,” she turned and broke her gaze, “I was just, you know …”

“Interfering with our son’s life again,” finished Joe as he stopped in front of Angela.
Cradling one side of her face with his hand, Joe continued, “I know it has been hard on you after we found out, but we have to accept it, take him at his word, and hope that it’s not a part of his life anymore, okay?”

“You’re right; it was a bit of a shock. It’s not every day you find out…”

“Sshhhh, here comes some of our future relatives,” he whispered with a smile in her ear.
Sure enough, Lori’s father and stepmother where coming down the aisle. At first glance, you could tell they were not like Alex’s mom and dad. They exuded the ‘I’m better than you’ attitude. Each looked as if they were models of some sort. Surgeries and cosmetics had been kind to them and hide there age really well. They made sure everyone took notice of them as they entered a room. Unfortunately, for them, Angela and Joe where the only ones in the room.
Alex was almost to the dressing room when he turned and saw that Lori’s parents had just arrived and witnessed the fake hellos, kisses on the cheek, and halfhearted hugs. He smiled, entered the room, and wished his parents luck with a faint breathe.
Mac was almost completely dressed except for his tie. Mac fidgeted forcefully with it repeatedly, and then, in total disgust, threw his arms down. Alex laughed and walked towards him.

“You know, I don’t think you’re ever going to figure this out on your own,” snidely Alex said as he began to tie Mac’s tie.

“I know. That’s why you’ll always be here,” Mac paused, “Your mom, she’s still taking it kind of hard, huh?”

“Yeah well, it’s not everyday that her son decides to tell her something he’s been hiding for almost eight years, now is it? How would you handle it?”

“The way that I have…” Mac said as he pulled away from Alex who had just finished his tie.
“Look man, you know why I couldn’t tell you before…It’s the same I reason I stopped…”

“Why did you stop Alex?” asked Mac as if he had wanted to for a long time.

“I told you!” exclaimed Alex.

“No, I don’t think you have told anyone how it happened, why you did it, what you did, or why you’ve suddenly stopped…I’m you’re friend man… your best friend and you haven’t told me.”

“Mac, right now is not a good time to get into this,” Alex dismissed it with his back turned. He began to get dressed ignored his friends point.

“Maybe, maybe there will never be a time for us to actually talk about it, but know I am your friend and if you can’t trust me well…,” reaching into his pants pocket on the floor, “here this is for you.”
Alex turned back around and saw that he was holding the small box he ran back to the car to get. In the box was a circular pendant that cradled a small white jewel in the middle, with chaotic etchings around it. He looked at it and then up to Mac.

“I can’t take this. This was your Dad’s. It’s all you have of…”

“No, it’s not,” pulling from the inside of his shirt Mac, revealed an identical pendant, “This is my dad’s, yours is a gift from my father. This arrived the other day with some of his other things. With a note that said it was for you,” flipping the pendant over, “See on this side there is an indention from a bullet. It saved my dad’s life. I guess he figured that maybe this one would help you. You know… in case you ever need to stop a bullet.”
Alex stretched out his arms, drew his friend closer to his chest and tightened their embrace, and patted his on his back. “Thanks man, here’s hoping I’ll never have to stop a bullet.”
He let go and continued to get dressed putting the pendant on underneath his shirt. After tying his tie, Alex looked in the mirror with his friend beside him. They both smiled. This was the second time the two of them had stared into a mirror like this. The first was prom and after that night, it was nearly eight years before Mac saw him again.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” thought Alex “, but she’s worth it,” his thought paused as he heard Lori’s mothers laughter cackling in the next room. “I just don’t know about her family,” he finished.
As Alex and Mac left the dressing room, they prepared themselves for the onslaught they were to receive from Lori’s step-mom. No more than a moment had passed when her bellows of excitement filled the hall.

“Look at you. How handsome,” she paused and gawked at her husband, “You know Harold, if I was not happily married, my daughter would have competition.”

“Now, now Margot, I’m sure Alex wouldn’t want to cause himself the same pain I have waking next to you, witnessing the almost satanic ritual you go through to look the way you do,” nasally chuckled Harold.

“I’m sure that is not the case Mr. Anderson. I’m sure Mrs. Anderson looks as ravishing even in the early hours of the day, as she does now,” Alex tried to keep the peace.

Mac, almost as if on cue, “Come Mrs. Anderson, let me escort you to your seat, before someone else takes the best seat in the house. We must make sure that you have a seat where everyone can see your ravishing beauty.”
As they walked off you could barely hear the schmoozing she was giving Mac on how to treat a woman unlike some, all the while glaring at Harold. Alex snickered as Harold turned his glare towards him. Alex cleared his throat and coughed away a smile. Harold then huffed and stomped off behind Mac and Margot. Alex stood, looked around the room, continued the absorption of the amazing job his mom had done. The flowers, candles, ribbons, and lights were all amazing. He exhaled, realized he was alone for the moment, and decided to sneak away to have a cigarette.
Opening the side door that led outside, he lit his cigarette. He paced around kicking a few leaves with gravel as he took drag after drag. He looked up at the sky and saw a plane flying above, as well as how calm the sky was. A perfect day, he thought as he turned his gaze from the sky. Off in the distance his eyes fell on a man swirled in red. Alex felt his weight shift, entranced, he felt as if the man was calling to him.

“Son,” Alex stopped, the sound of his father’s voice broke him out of his trance.

“Hey Dad, how long have you been standing there?” asked Alex.

“Long enough. I see that you’ve broken your promise to quit smoking.”

“I guess old habits die hard, huh?” flicking his cigarette to the ground.

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about son...”

“Not you, too. I’ve already caught it from Mac and Mom I don’t need the pep talk from you, too,” rejected Alex, as he muzzled the fire from his cigarette with his shoe.

“What do you expect son? For eight years, you hid this from us. Then all of a sudden, you decide to tell us why you hid after you quit. I have to tell you son, it doesn’t set well with me, let alone your mother,” Joe rested his weary hands on his son’s shoulders.

“Dad I…” muttered Alex, breaking the gaze of his father.

“What made you think you couldn’t tell us before? Could you not tell us? Is that what it was? Or could you not trust us?” Joe pondered, lifting his son’s head.
Alex turned away from his father’s stern hands. He felt as though he was experiencing déjà vu, except this time with his dad, “Dad it’s none of those, I told you before it’s that…I was protecting you…”

“You just don’t get it do you son? You never had to protect us. We could have taken care of ourselves,” Joe sighed and listened to the silence that hung between them, “Have you told Lori? I certainly hope you have, considering today.”

“I’m doing that tonight,” relieved Alex, “I couldn’t tell her now, just in case.”

His father breathed a soft regret, “Come on son let’s talk about this later. For now lets go make sure you get me that future daughter-in-law.” Joe wrapped his strong arm around his son’s shoulder as they returned to the grand hall.
Alex glanced over his shoulder and saw the blank stare of the man in the red coat. He turned back and tried to ignore it so he could focus on the most beautiful woman in the world, and to make their day the best he could.
The next thirty-minutes were the longest and most painful he had ever experienced. Meeting people, he had never met, seeing people he wished he could forget. More and more he just wanted the moment to be over. Mac stood steadily beside him. He was supposed to walk Heather down the aisle, but she insisted that Henri walk her down.
Then everything stopped, everyone fell silent, and soft angelic music began to fill the room. Alex gazed down the aisle, heart beating heavier with each passing minute. One after another, the bride’s maids and flower girls glided down the aisle. Once more, the music stopped and everyone in the room stood from their seats and gazed towards the entrance. Alex smiled wide and his eyes glistened as he gazed upon a goddess. Harmonic music filled the room; each note strummed his heartstring. Lori’s dress floated along the rose petal covered floor. It was off-white; neither her or Alex wanted a stark white dress. Of course, to him at this moment, she could have worn nothing at all and she would have still been just as beautiful. Each step drew her closer to Alex and with every passing moment, a small petal from her bouquet sifted to ground. Alex’s mom was weeping silently. He glanced over to her, smiled and nodded his head towards his father.
Lori’s parents where the complete opposite of Alex’s. Her father stood stone faced, tightened muscles, and a blank stare towards his daughter. None of Margot’s face was visible. Her large blonde hair framed her face as tissues continuously wiped her eyes. As Lori passed them, she giggled a little and then looked at Alex to see if he caught her amusement and he just smiled. She finally reached Alex, turned, and handed her bouquet to her Heather, whose makeup was running from her tears. Lori then faced Alex with her heart thumping silently in her chest.
Alex could feel the sweat forming in his hands as he continuously wiped them on his pants. He breathed steadily while looking at Lori. The preacher, a short chubby man with a weird beard, even weirder hair, began to speak.
“Dearly beloved,” with a small hint of a lisp “we are gathered here today to join this man and this woman in…”
Alex’s head clouded and the preacher’s voice became muffled as he tuned out every sound in the room except for Lori’s heartbeat. It was a quick but steady pace, each thump louder than the next. He gazed into her eyes, her piercing hazel eyes, and tears flowed down the side of his face. Each tear nestled in the creases of his wide smile. Lori’s peach lipstick glistened from the candles flickering behind the preacher. The flowers in her hair dangled and kissed her ears. Alex stood there smiling, crying, and taking every ounce of her beauty in with each breath.
“Alex,” whispered Mac from behind him.
Just like that, he snapped out of his daydream trance and before him stood the preacher with outstretched hand. With a quick coat check, anxiously he turned to Mac, whom already had the silver band resting on the tip of his index finger. Alex patted Mac’s shoulder as he took the ring from him, turned and dropped it in the preacher’s hand. He shrugged playfully at Lori, and she shook her head with a smile.
“Normally at this time would come the exchanging of the vows but I believe these two have prepared there own vows,” he sighed and look towards Lori who was shifting her eyes towards Alex to say ‘him first’, “Alex, are you ready?”
Alex winked at Lori, and took a deep breathe and let out a sigh, “Whew, you look just as beautiful today as you did when I met you. Though I would have never thought I would be standing here after the way we met. Watching you fly through the air the way you did was both amazing and terrifying. If it wasn’t for me being there to catch you, I doubt I would have ever figured out what happiness was. On that day, I saw myself being with you forever. Your beauty mixed with your embarrassment caused me to fall in love with you instantly and chuckle, which only made you mad at first, but you, came around. Standing here with you today makes everything I have done and gone through worth it, just to get to this moment. I have loved you longer than you have known and I will love you more than you will ever realize,” his hands holding Lori’s gripped a little tighter “I will always be there for you, I will always protect you no matter what and,” with a nod to Harold, “Of course, I will spoil you rotten, too.”
A small muffled chuckle echoed from Alex’s father. Lori’s mother bellowed even louder as the preacher turned and faced Lori. Lori was speechless as she gazed at everyone in the rows and then back at Alex. She rolled her quivering lips together wetting them.
“Alex, wow…there is no way I could top that,” she paused and Alex saw a small grin from the corner of her mouth “So, I didn’t write mine. Instead, I found something in a book in your house that said everything that I could possibly ever hope to sum up the love I have.
‘You will remember when you are older that life will be as you hoped. Hope is what you will give, an unquestioned love. Protection, you will give to those you love and you will never fail those who love you. Your heart will flow the peace you keep,” she closed her eyes to hold back the tears.
She opened her eyes again tears brim the top, “I love you Alex and I always will. You have been there for me, even when you were not. I make this promise to you now; I will always be here for you as you have me,” finished Lori as she slid the ring on Alex’s finger.
The preacher then rested his hands on their shoulders, “Well then, by the power vested in me, I now pronounce you man and wife. Alex you kiss your bride.”
Alex moved one hand to Lori’s waist and the other rubbed across her face as he leaned in and kissed her. Their lips met with a small spark that startled Lori as she released herself to his kiss. The kissed seemed to last forever to them. The preacher cleared his throat to separate them. They smiled as they moved back from one another, still holding hands.
The preacher raised his arms above his head with a bellowed voice, “It is with great honor and privilege that I present Mr. and Mrs. Alex Purdue.”
Music rolled from the speakers to celebrate their union as they walked hand in hand down the aisle. Everyone’s tear-filled gaze was upon them. On their way past the giant doors, turned to one another, and embraced once more. The trees swayed, releasing their autumn hued leaves in approval of their love. The doors opened again and their guests followed their bride’s maids and groom’s men.

They shook hands, hugged, and kissed checks. Alex glanced down the Wall-of-China-length line of guests to thank and shake hands and saw drifts of a red coat swaying at the altar. Alex excused himself and started back into the church. Bumping into people, forced his glance away from the red and each time he would readjust his determined gaze on the altar. Reaching near the end of the line, he realized the man in the red coat was glaring at him. His hair and the collar of his coat obscured his face; Alex thought he saw him smiling. Almost there, now he would have his answers. A strong hand from behind him jerked Alex away from his entrancement.

“Hey Alex, where you going buddy?” asked Mac.

Alex turned to see Mac, and turned back to the altar and the man in red was gone, again. Alex turned back to Mac, who had a look of both question and concern. Alex turned one more time and on the steps of the altar sat a box wrapped in wedding paper. A huge note rested on top of the box that read: “To start your lives with a BANG!”

“EVERYBODY OUT…NOW,” yelled Alex pushing people out the door, “EVERYONE ACROSS THE STREET HURRY!” as he pushed people out the door.

A stampede ensued causing a couple of people to fall, Alex and Mac helped those few up to move them to safety. Everyone raced out of the building and at the entrance stood Lori looking bewildered.

“Alex what’s going on?” she asked

He said nothing as he grabbed her by the hand, interlocking their fingers. They raced across the parking lot to the street with the others. Alex turned and looked back at the church. Breathing heavily he looked around to make sure everyone was out. Joe was steadily making his way through the crowd towards Alex.

“Son what is it?” asked his father once he was close enough.

Alex leaned into his father’s ear, “Dad I believe there’s a bomb inside I saw a guy with a box at the altar….”

Joe’s eyes widened as he fell back a couple of steps. Father Madigan had made his way to the front of the crowd everyone still shocked and excited. He marched angrily towards Alex. Finally reaching him, he raised a finger, “Young man, what is the meaning of this?”

Alex could not say anything he stood looking at him with a blank stare waiting for the right answer to find his lips. Other guests began to question Alex as well. Lori held tight to her new husband.

“Well if you won’t tell then I guess I’ll just go and find out for myself,” the preacher began marching towards the church.

Alex looked around and nobody else moved, drawing his attention to Lori he noticed she had an even greater look of puzzlement. The church doors creaked loud, Alex darted his attention to the church. In the doorway amidst the shadows, the man in the red coat stood.
“FATHER MADIGAN…STOP!” yelled Alex but the preacher ignored his plea.
Alex sprinted and leapt towards the preacher. He grabbed him around the waist, and rolled with him to behind one of the cars in the parking lot. The preacher fought himself free from Alex’s grasp and stood up dusting himself off in disgust. He glared at Alex and his mouth opened slightly.
BOOOM, the building exploded like a firework on the fourth of July. Father Madigan was thrown from his feet and skidded half of the way across the parking lot. Debris from the church bounced off several of the cars and rolled along the ground. Smoke billowed from the church filling the beautiful sky. Alex stood from behind the car and watched the flames lick the sky and the church crumble to the ground. Ash and soot covered his hair and face as he turned, to see the looks of horror and relief on everyone. Alex’s father held Lori close until she saw Alex, she broke free and raced towards him. The met half way, in the midst of the debris of the parking lot, they reconnected. He wrapped his arms around her as she buried her head into his chest. Off in the distance the sirens drawing closer comforted their hearts.
The firefighters had no choice but to let the building continue to burn. Alex and Lori stood wrapped in a blanket and each other. They watched this sanctum of love burn. One by one the other guests where checked by the paramedics and released to go home. Lori’s parents refused the paramedics and informed the preacher that his congregation would be hearing from their lawyers for the lack of security for such an event. Father Madigan, whose beard was singed a little, was being checked out by the paramedics, and was having the worst anxiety attack of his life. Everyone soon, was gone except for Alex and Lori.
“Who would want to do this Alex?” she asked with a dry voice.
“I don’t know honey…I …We can’t dwell on this…it probably doesn’t have anything to do with us. When we get back, we’ll help them rebuild the church, maybe better than before,” he gripped her tighter.
“No, I don’t think we should leave just yet. Let’s stay and help rebuild first then we can go on our honeymoon,” suggested Lori.
Releasing herself from Alex, she walked closer to the church and knelt down by the curb. Her bouquet rested on the sidewalk crispy and ash covered. Standing up with bouquet in hand, she looked at Alex and smiled. The drifting wind swirled the hazy smoke and leaves behind her. Longingly Alex gazed at her and realized how happy he was. Behind her Alex saw a silhouette moving in the smoke. He assumed that it was a firefighter, but a flash of red cloth from the smoke told him different. Alex’s heart fell from his chest as another explosion erupted from beneath the rubble. Debris hurled towards Lori, one final cry from Alex was all she heard before a large chunk pinned her to the ground.
Alex raced to her side with a few firefighters. They lifted the concrete slab and Alex pulled her out battered, bruised, and bleeding. He rotated her around to see her face and, wiped away the hair covering her face, her eyes where blank and motionless. In one body jerking breathe her eyes began to move around.

“Ssshshhhh, don’t speak,” tearfully requested Alex as he continued to stroke her face.

“Kofff….wha…what happened...”

“There was another explosion honey but you need to be quiet save your strength,” he paused, looked around and yelled, “PARAMEDIC…I NEED A PARAMEDIC!”

The paramedics were already on their way as he yelled to them. They moved her from his arms and onto a stretcher setting her so she wouldn’t be able to move anymore. Alex stood with them and raced beside Lori holding her hand, repeating to her to just hold on and that it was going to be okay. They placed her in the ambulance and Alex climb in and sat beside her, frantic to try and help. She looked up at him and a tear flowed from the corner of her eye she as smiled and whispered, “I…guess…I won’t be there to protect you af…after all huh?”
Then Alex felt her hand go limp and watched life slowly begin to escape her hazel eyes. The ambulance sped along the streets with siren screams, the only thing covering Alex’s own.

Chapter 3

Leaves fell across the ground of the cemetery. His pace as heavy as his heart, strands of brown hair whipped in the brisk wind. Slow and steady, his feet dragged the ground. The trees looked as if they were dying – naked and bare. Headstones some cracking and crumbling from age, decoration on some, others desolate. In his gloved hand, he held a single white rose. Gripping its stem, thorns dug slowly into his skin through his glove. The bloom swayed with each step, his coat danced with the wind.

No stone stood were his journey ended. He knelt down to the moist ground, and drove his knee into the earth. Fierce winds whipped as he bowed his head. Cradled in hand, he nestled the rose in the confines of the blades of grass. Not a word, not a sound, came from him. His crimson coat enveloped him completely. Dirty strands of hair kept his face concealed in darkness. From the shadows, a sparkle of a tear rolled from his eye and dripped off his nose. The tear fell freely as he rose from the ground. A small splash against the petals of the rose and he was on his feet.
He looked to the sky, blinking in the harsh sunlight. His lips parted, “Soon…I promise.”

Sirens wailed along the outside walls of the cemetery. Cars screeched to move out of the way of the squalling ambulance hurling itself down the street. Alex feverously sat trying to help the paramedic, who he finally recognized was the paramedic that visited him earlier, April. She had to move Alex repeatedly out of the way. He looked at Lori lying motionless, each second her skin becoming lighter and lighter. Beautiful pink lips began to fade as he held her hand.
“Baby come on…come on…just hold on we’re almost there baby just a little more,” franticly Alex whispered while the paramedics orchestrated CPR.
With an abrupt stop, the back doors flung open. Doctors grabbed Lori’s stretcher pulling her out kicking down the wheels. Crashing through doors, they sped to a room in the ER, Alex right with them. The doctor’s voices muffled in Alex’s head as he watched helplessly as they began working on her. He felt hands on his chest pushing him out of the room, he squirmed and tried to break free but to no avail.
“Alex, come on they can take care of her now. You’d only be in the way…” April escorted him over to the nurse’s station.
Alex’s gaze never broke from the room. April stood by him for a moment until she saw the clerk nurse coming over to him.
“Alex, I‘m about to get off shift I’ll be back. I’ll wait with you till your family arrives, okay? Everything’s going to be okay,” she smiled and faintly rubbed his arm before she left his sight.
Behind the counter sat a woman mid thirties with bright auburn hair in a bun. She was wearing a nursing smock with bears on it. She looked at Alex; he did not return the glance he was deadlocked on Lori’s room. Doctors, nurses, and technicians darted in and out of the room changing out equipment and bringing in new.
“Sir,” a voice from behind the counter said, “my name’s Betty. I need to ask you a few questions…”
Alex said nothing waiting on the question.
“What is your relationship with the young lady?” asked Betty with pen in hand waiting for a reply.
“She’s my girl…I mean my wife we just got married today,” tears now streaming along his face, bottom lip quivering.
“Can you tell me what happened sir?” pursued Betty.
Alex replied to her question. Though the rest of her inquiries didn’t matter; Alex still provided her with her answers, not once removing his gaze from the room. Once Betty was done, he paced by the door waiting; his mind splintered in a thousand directions. Hours passed and Alex had finally found a seat next to the door of Lori’s room. He watched others rush in and the same ritual that was done on Lori repeated itself throughout the night. Feeling his eyes grow heavier with each minute he lent his head to the caress of the wall bracing his back. His eyes fell victim to an uneasy heart.

“Alex what are you saying, son?” asked Joe with wavering doubt.
“I’m not really sure your ready to hear any of this, but it’s time that I tell you,” scratching his head Alex sat down on his parents couch.
Sitting in their house for the first time since they moved over seven years ago, Alex had decided to tell them something he had been hiding for some time. His mother’s look of worry was not making this any easier, nor was his father’s look of question.
Alex rubbed his hands on his knees, as he looked around the living room. Pictures of Alex in all his adolescent glory strung the mantle, some had his parents wedding pictures, and some of course held his slobbering dog, Target. Target was a golden Great Dane with very huge paws and an exceptionally long tongue. That tongue was now dripping saliva onto the hard wood floor as he lay stretched out beneath Alex’s feet. Everything was exactly as he remembered, except for the new recliner for his dad resting in front of the television set.
“Son I’m sure that it’s nothing that we don’t already know. If it is something we don’t, I believe now probably isn’t the time,” suggested Joe as he paced behind Angela in her satin blue chair.
“Alex, look whatever it is, you have had your reasons for not telling us and maybe it should stay that way,” Angela spoke with tears of renewed joy glazing her eyesight.
“Can I see you outside, Alex?” asked Joe motioning his son to follow him.
“Sure, but it’s something I want to share with you both. It has to do with where I’ve been,” Alex trailed off as he noticed his father’s glare.
“Now, son,” Joe demanded.
Alex moved past his mother and felt her hand caress his arm. Family portraits and some of Alex’s high school awards filled the hall. His parents had no problem gloating about the achievements of their son. Alex smiled as he passed the picture with him and Mac all decked out in suites for Prom with their dates; Alex still had braces and Mac had no hair. Snow covered the backyard, the air bitter-sweet, Alex and his father exclaimed about the cold as they left the warmth of the house.
“Dad, look I’m sorry…” began Alex as he shut the door.
“Where do you get off coming home after seven years? Seven years! Without a single sign you where alive?” expressed Joe glared at Alex.
“Dad you don’t understand. I couldn’t…it would have been too dangerous and I didn’t want…”
“Well what could have been so damn important to let your mother cry herself to sleep every night for the first three years? What was so dangerous Alex? What?” demanded Joe.
“Every thing that I have done, I did it to make you proud, to give you hope through unknown protection. That’s all I have ever wanted to do,” running his fingers through his hair Alex began to lower his head.
Joe saw the boy he raised before him desperately trying to become a man. Now that man was trying to make amends for what he had done. Joe finally saw everything he had taught his child wrapped into the man pleading for his forgiveness.
Joe placed his hand on his son’s shoulder, “I’m sorry son…it’s just that…what is it? Why did you come here today, after seven years?”
Alex raised his head to see a sincere look on his father’s face. He parted his lips to force out the words but nothing came. His world was frozen, he couldn’t move or speak. The unquenched silence was only interrupted by his father’s repetition of his name.

“Mr. Purdue,” a strong gruff voice startled Alex awake.
“That’s me,” rubbing his eyes as he began to rise to his feet. “Is she alright?”
“My name is Doctor Sauloman, I was the lead doctor who cared for your wife,” he paused after the introduction, “Your wife was seriously injured sir, we did everything we knew to do but I …,” he broke his words as he watched life fade from the young man before him.
Doctor Sauloman, whose graying thin hair made it easier for Alex to see his troubled brow, placed a strong hand against Alex’s shoulder. Alex’s weight shifted as his knees buckled beneath him, and sent him crashing into the wall.
“What are…is my wife okay or is there something wrong?” badgered Alex.
“Your wife needed a lot of work…she’s stable but she’s non-responsive. We don’t understand exactly. Her vitals are perfect, it’s like she’s in a coma but with her eyes open. She may still be in shock from the accident but that still doesn’t explain why or how long she’ll be this way…I’m sorry,” apologized Dr. Sauloman as he helped Alex back to his feet.
Like a fist in the mouth, Alex found it hard to find his breathe. He grabbed then released the door handle and stood with an emptiness showing throughout his body.
Alex raised his head, peered at the doctor through half opened eyes, and a distant expression, “Are you sure?”
Sauloman placed his hand on his shoulder once more, and squeezed gently as he turned and walked away. Alex stood looking down at the floor, and watched his hands tremble in front of him. The doctor’s foot steps rippled deafening explosions in his head as Alex glared in disbelief. He turned back to the door; his right hand fell in sync with his head pushing against the door. With brittle breathe, he turned the knob and entered the room.

The room reeked of blood and sweat, lifeless colors to match the motionless body lying in the bed. The color on Lori’s lips, a pale mauve, hair matted stretched along the creases of the pillow. Her eyes glistened with tears but none broke free. Alex saw the tubes and wires running from her body to machines. A faint beep transcended the room, his heart was heavy as he moved across the room. He found a stool in one of the corners, and pulled it up to the side of the bed. He placed his warm hands atop her chilled fingers, tears streamed along his face. Alex’s glossy eyes moved silently along Lori’s figure.

He laid his weary head against her frail stomach, and with a sorrowful voice, “I’m sorry…I should’ve …I could’ve… but I didn’t. Maybe I should have never quit, I just thought being with you was enough…I thought it was all we would need. This would never have happened or I would have at least been able to save you…if only I hadn’t stopped.”

A faint knock from the door trickled the room. As the door opened Alex felt the warmth of life entering the room. It was April, who had changed out of her dreary work clothes. Her steps were light as she walked to his side.

“Thank you, for coming back. I haven’t been able to get a hold of anyone yet,” spoke Alex clearing his throat.

“I’m really sorry Alex, I know how hard it is,” April poured as her eyes drifted along Lori, “I lost my husband a few years ago. It’s hard to…”

“I AM NOT LOSING MY WIFE,” enraged Alex interjected.

“I’m sorry that was way out of line,” apologized April as she drifted from machine to machine, “I was just trying to help that’s all.”

Alex didn’t respond, he sat perfectly still, hands interlocked beneath his chin. April watched as all hope and love expunged from his eternal blue eyes. The constant beep and clicking of the clock where the only conversation April had. She jolted from the spot on the floor she had marked as her own. Alex’s eyes shifted slightly as she fidgeted around the room.

“Hey, I’m going to get some coffee, do you want some?” she waited for a response, but none came, “Alex, you can’t…why don’t you just come with me to get some coffee and then we will come right back?”

Still nothing. She gave up and left, but not before running her fingers along Lori’s face, and a quick pat on Alex’s back.
Alex lost track of time sitting by her side. How long had April been gone, he pondered? The chaotic orchestra of the ER outside the room, soothed Alex. Slowly the darkness came for him once more and he ultimately succumbed to the comforting blanket of sleep.


The following comments are for "Echoes"
by Boostergold

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