Stacy swung his legs over the side of his bed and glanced at his alarm clock. Today was his day off and heâ€™d be spending it taking his mother to all of her doctor appointments. He could hear the continuous coughing echoing from her body through the paper thin walls. As
|Keys To Redemption by Erica Gilbreath|
he stood up and stretched, his eyes fell on his computer desk and the scrunched pieces of paper next to his laptop that he had written and re-written at least a hundred times over the last three years. Drawn to the papers at his desk, he sat down and unfolded them, briefly scanning the first page. What would he think if he was Evelyn Tyrell? If he got this letter in the mail, would it make things better or worse? There were times when he thought that this letter was his only salvation. He was neither a religious man, nor a devout Christian like his mother. He didnâ€™t really believe in anything, except doing the right thingâ€”at least once upon a time he did. Maybe thatâ€™s why he continued to work on this letter after two years. Picking up a pen off the desk, he pulled out a fresh piece of paper from the printer next to his laptop and started a new letter. He told himself that heâ€™d finish this one and mail it this time. Dear Mrs. Evelyn Tyrell, I know this may seem completely unorthodox to you, but this is something Iâ€™ve been trying to do for the last three years. I donâ€™t know if I am doing this for my peace of mind or maybe to give you the answers you probably sought in your husbandâ€™s death three years ago. No sooner than the words were on the page, Stacy groaned and crumpled up the paper. Maybe he should just send her an email? No, he couldnâ€™t do that. An email could be traced and it seemed so impersonal. The least she deserved was a handwritten letter. Before Stacy could pull out another piece of paper and start over, he heard his motherâ€™s coughing take a more violent turn. He immediately jumped up and hurried to her room. Her frail, thin frame was thrashing about under her quilt as the coughs shook her little body. He grabbed the cup of water off of her nightstand, supported her neck in the crook of his arm and gently brought the cup to her lips. She managed to take a couple of sips then sat back heavily. Her coughing abated for a moment, but her shallow breathing was just a reminder to Stacy how sick she was and how she was only going to get worse. â€œHow is that, Mom?â€ he asked. â€œBetter,â€ Mary Walsh rasped, sinking even further into the stack of pillows under her. Stacy sat next to her on the edge of the bed and placed her cup of water back onto the nightstand. â€œI hate to see you suffering like this, Mom.â€ Her eyes were glassy and sunken in, her hair thin and wispy, barely having grown back from the last round of chemotherapy treatment. She was just barely holding on to her ninety pounds, mainly because she couldnâ€™t keep anything down nowadays. â€œIâ€™m dying and I want to be home when it happens, not in some sterile, cold hospital room with a bunch of nurses I donâ€™t know.â€ Stacy sighed and ran his hand through his short brown hair again. Mary placed her small, gnarled hand on her sons arm. â€œIâ€™m sorry to have to put you through this. I just canâ€™t be in that hospital, son.â€ Stacy understood. Not a day went by that he minded taking care of his mother. Taking care of her was not a burden, it was his pittance. Besides, it was not like he was doing it all by himself. Esther, the home health care nurse, came by for a few hours a day to help his mother with the difficult tasks, like toileting and bathing. And his mother could still get around a little bit, too. â€œMom, you know itâ€™s not any trouble taking care of you.â€ Mary smiled weakly and patted her sonâ€™s cheek. â€œYouâ€™re a good boy, Stacy.â€ Then with hesitation, she said, â€œI hear you at night sometimes.â€ â€œMom,â€ Stacy started, not wanting to discuss the subject right at the moment. â€œI always taught you to do the right thing, and I pray for you every night. I know God hasnâ€™t got a hold of you yet, but He will.â€ â€œDo the right thing? What was the right thing anymore?â€ Stacy thought to himself. But before he could respond, the phone in the hallway rang. Mary waved him away and he got up and made his way into the hallway. â€œHello?â€ â€œHello. This is Torrance Memorial Hospital calling to confirm Ms. Mary Walshâ€™s appointment today with Dr. Hagar.â€ â€œYes, sheâ€™ll be there,â€ Stacy confirmed. Chapter 2 Today was not a good day. For three years now Evie Tyrellâ€™s days fell into one of two categories: Good days and bad days. Today was a bad day. Sheâ€™d gotten yet another call at work from her son, Jamieâ€™s school regarding his behavior. This time he had bitten another student. Fortunately for her, he was only three years old and in pre-school so would not be suspended. But the director of Little Angels pre-school made it quite clear to her that Jamie was not a little angel and that she needed to get his behavior under control or seek another placement at a different pre-school. And because when it rains it pours, on top of Jamieâ€™s behavior problems, it had been absolute chaos at her job. The Joint Commission was evaluating her area of the hospital and not only were her patients particularly challenging today, but her supervisor had been riding all of the staff pretty hard. It was now four oâ€™clock in the afternoon and she was only now getting home from work. A reporter from the Los Angeles Times newspaper was due over to the house in half an hour. She groaned as she stuck her key into the front door, wondering why she agreed to this interview. â€œIâ€™m home!â€ Evie called out once she was inside. She slipped out of her Crocs and dropped her purse onto the end table by the door. â€œSssshh!â€ Madeleine Crown, Evieâ€™s mother, said as she came rushing into the living room with her index finger pressed to her lips. â€œIs he sleeping?â€ questioned Evie. â€œYes, thank God. He didnâ€™t take a nap today and heâ€™s been running around this house like a mad man all afternoon.â€ Evie couldnâ€™t help but smile at her motherâ€™s disheveled appearance. â€œHow was work?â€ Madeleine asked, walking into their small kitchen and opening the refrigerator door. â€œTerrible. Hopefully the Joint Commission will be gone by tomorrow. Thanks for picking Jamie up from school for me today. Did Ms. Cathie give you a hard time?â€ Evie plopped down into one of the kitchen chairs and rested her chin in her hands. â€œYou know she did, but I can handle her,â€ Madeleine said as she removed a package of ground beef from one of the refrigerator shelves. â€œIâ€™m glad one of us can.â€ â€œWell, for all of Ms. Cathieâ€™s faults, you do have to admit that little boy of ours is something else. Heâ€™s a spitting image of his father, but certainly does not have his calm temperament.â€ A familiar wave of sadness washed over Evie. Jamie did look exactly like his fatherâ€”beautiful brown skin, large brown eyes, a sharp nose, high cheek bones and unruly black hair; that is, until James cut his all off right before he died. My God, how she missed that man. â€œSo, when is this reporter coming?â€ Her mother asked, pulling her out of her depressing thoughts before she could begin to spiral downwards. Evie glanced at her watch. â€œOhâ€¦um she should be here in about thirty minutes.â€ â€œI donâ€™t know why they want to do a story on James three years later,â€ said Madeleine. â€œSomething just doesnâ€™t feel right. If they start asking questions that are too personal, Iâ€™m cutting the interview short and kicking the reporter out. Iâ€™m giving you fair warning.â€ Evie smiled. Her mother was one of the kindest women she knew, but she could turn into a ferocious Mama Bear when it came to her family. She watched as Madeleine separated the ground beef and began forming hamburger patties. â€œHamburgers again?â€ Madeline nodded. â€œI know when Jamie wakes up heâ€™s going to be hungry and with him being such a picky eater I figured Iâ€™d make it easier on all of us and fix him something I know heâ€™ll eat.â€ â€œBut hamburgers two nights in a row? He has you wrapped around his finger, Mama.â€ â€œOh hush,â€ her mother chided. â€œBefore I forget, I was over at Lindaâ€™s today.â€ â€œMmhmm.â€ Evie muttered, closing her eyes and wishing she could just crawl into her bed and not get up for the next few days. â€œWe got to talking about our grandkids while I was there, and you know she has two grown grandsons. One is your age.â€ Evieâ€™s eyes slid open and she regarded her mother through narrowed lids. She did not like the direction this conversation was headed. â€œHer oldest grandson, Carson, is an accountant. Works for some big law firm in downtown LA. She showed me his picture, and I must say that man is good looking.â€ â€œWhere are you going with this, Mama?â€ â€œI was just thinking, maybe it would be nice if we invited Linda and her grandson over for dinner one night so that you can meet him.â€ Evie slid her eyes back closed. â€œI donâ€™t think so,â€ she muttered. â€œEvie, itâ€™s been three years now. Plenty of time for you to meet a nice man, get married, maybe give me some more grandchildren.â€ Evie sat up suddenly, feeling even more tired than she had when she first walked in the house. â€œI know itâ€™s been three years, but Iâ€™m still not ready to start dating. Every time I look at Jamie all I see is James. All I ever think about is James. Some days are better than others, but I just canâ€™t imagine bringing somebody into my complicated mess right now.â€ Her mother had stopped forming the hamburger patties by then and was watching her intently. â€œThe reason you feel like that is because youâ€™re still holding on to Jamesâ€™ death and all of the hurt that came with it. You havenâ€™t given it to the Lord yet.â€ â€œMama, Iâ€™ve come to terms with God on this whole thing.â€ â€œThereâ€™s a difference between coming to terms with God on something and letting Him heal you of something, honey.â€ â€œIâ€™m just not as strong of a Christian as you are.â€ Madeleineâ€™s eyes crinkled at the corner as she smiled at her daughter. â€œHoney, donâ€™t fool yourself. You are, you just donâ€™t know it yet.â€ The ringing of the doorbell interrupted their conversation. Madeleine immediately rushed for it. â€œI will throttle that woman if she wakes up Jamie, I swear it. Then she can write an article about that.â€ Evie chuckled at her motherâ€™s comments, still she could not get her motherâ€™s words about not being able to let go of Jamesâ€™ death out of her head. Evie sat staring at the polished journalist who was intent on trying to make her relive events from three years ago. Jamesâ€™ death had not garnered very much national attention, so she could not understand why this woman had been so insistent upon writing a news article about her husbandâ€™s death. â€œMs. Tyrell, how do you feel about your husbandâ€™s death not gaining national attention? Do you wish it had?â€ Ms. King asked, tapping her pin against a small notebook in her hand. Evie frowned at the woman. She had asked this exact same question at least twice since sitting down with her, just in a different format. Clearly, Jasmine King was not one of the LA Timesâ€™ better staff reporters. If she was she would have concluded that Evie did not want to answer the question. If her choice to settle with the Los Angeles Police Department out of court and refrain from interviews all these years were not indicators, her demeanor during the interview should have been. â€œNo,â€ Evie said tiredly. â€œWhy not?â€ Ms. King shot back. â€œDonâ€™t you think a case like your husbandâ€™s could have been a catalyst for shining light on racism, prejudice and the sheer brutality of the Los Angeles Police Department?â€ Evie exhaled and pinched the bridge of her nose. â€œTo put in plainly Ms. King, I had just given birth and was in no position to take up such a cause. I had just lost my husband and my childâ€™s father. I was not interested in having Jamesâ€™ death become the catalyst for anything at that point.â€ Ms. King paused for a moment as if waiting for her to further elaborate, but Evie said nothing else. The woman looked to be not much older than Evie. She was a well put together African-American woman who knew how to dress to accentuate that fact, but she was pushy and slightly overbearing, almost making Evie wish that her mother would just strangle the woman like she had threatened. â€œNext question?â€ Evie finally said after a long, awkward silence. â€œCan you tell me how much you settled out of court for with the Los Angeles Police Department? It was an undisclosed amount.â€ Evie sucked in a sharp breath. If it was one thing she didnâ€™t like talking about more than Jamesâ€™ death it was the money she received for it. When they awarded her the money she opened up a separate account and immediately placed the money in it for Jamie. She decided a long time ago that it was rightfully his. He would never know his father and he deserved something for that. He couldnâ€™t touch it until he was twenty one, and she didnâ€™t know when she would tell him about it. She wanted him to be smart with the money and do something good with it. â€œI prefer not to say,â€ Evie ground out. Ms. King pursed her lips in an apparent attempt to convey irritation. â€œFrom what Iâ€™ve heard itâ€™s quite a large amount. I assume if you chose to, you probably would not have to work anymore. Why is it youâ€™re still working as a registered nurse and still living this modestly?â€ Evie grit her teeth. This woman truly did not understand. Madeline, who was now coming into the room from the kitchen and by her body language apparently had enough, intervened. â€œThat is enough, Ms. King. I think youâ€™ve gotten all of the information you need.â€ â€œNo Mama, itâ€™s fine,â€ Evie said as she put her hand up to stop her mother from descending on the woman. â€œItâ€™s a simple question,â€ Ms. King stated non-pulsed. Evie looked carefully at the woman, and as she examined her she attempted to put herself in the reporterâ€™s shoes. She knew this story would probably earn the woman some points with her newspaper editor, and she knew she wasnâ€™t helping by being very uncooperative. Despite Evieâ€™s own reservations, she decided to give Ms. King something she could write about. She sat forward and eyed the woman. â€œMs. King, the love of my life was shot and killed on the streets of Los Angeles because he was an African-American reaching for his wallet in his car. I was given a bunch of money to make up for that. But it really doesnâ€™t matter you see, because nothing will bring James back to me. And no amount of money will ever let my son know his father. I could go out and buy myself a big pretty house in Beverly Hills, buy myself a Mercedes Benz or a Rolls Royce. I could hire maids, a nanny, and pretty much do whatever I want for the rest of my life if I handled the money wisely. But none of that would make up for what happened, and none of that is what I really want. So, why spend money on stuff that wonâ€™t make me happy or bring back my husband? The money will go to my sonâ€”our son. He can do what he sees fit with it when he comes of age. There now, does that answer your question?â€ Evie could tell the reporter was taken aback by her little speech and needed time to gather herself. She watched as the woman smoothed out her pencil skirt and adjusted her silk blouseâ€”she even adjusted herself in the chair she was sitting in. When she finally made eye contact, Evie could tell her whole demeanor had shifted. â€œYouâ€™re a wise woman, Ms. Tyrell,â€ Ms. King suddenly said. This confused Evie. â€œDid you ever read the police reports regarding your husbandâ€™s incident?â€ Evie had skimmed over the sketchy reports about her husbandâ€™s death but they had given her absolutely no closure and it had been painful to read some of those details. Before she could answer, Ms. King barreled on. â€œWhat if I told you that police report wasnâ€™t entirely correct?â€ At this Evie stilled. â€œWhat?â€ questioned Evieâ€™s mother. Ms. King peered between the two of them. â€œWhat if I told you that there was another officer there that night that took part in the incident, but his involvement was swept under the rug because of his connections.â€ Upon hearing this Evieâ€™s breath stopped, and for a moment she couldnâ€™t remember how to breathe. â€œWhat are you saying, Ms. King?â€ Madeleine asked. â€œIâ€™m saying that all kinds of things go on in the police department and so many things are covered up. Officer Timothy Walker did shoot and kill your husband but Officerâ€¦â€ â€œStop!â€ Evie suddenly cried. The impulsive reaction startled Ms. King, causing her to flinch and sit back. â€œDonâ€™t say another word. I canâ€™t hear this. It took me a long time to learn not to hate the officer responsible. Donâ€™t you dare give me another name to hate,â€ Evie hissed. Ms. Kingâ€™s mouth dropped open. â€œI donâ€™t know your real motivation for being here, but you need to leave.â€ â€œBut Ms. Tyrell, if I were you I would definitely want to know.â€ â€œThatâ€™s the difference between me and you,â€ Evie said. â€œI donâ€™t want to know.â€ â€œMs. King, let me escort you out,â€ Madeleine offered motioning to the door. â€œGood-bye Ms. King.â€ Evie rose up and left the room without even waiting for her mother to show the woman out. Ten minutes later, Evie stood in her sonâ€™s bedroom, watching his tiny form rise up and down under a mound of blankets. Another officer was involved in her husbandâ€™s death? No. She wouldnâ€™t even entertain the thought. She couldnâ€™t. It had taken her a long time for her to let God remove the hatred out of her heart for the responsible officer, Timothy Walker. How many nights had she lain awake in her bed, crying into her pillow and cursing his name? Now she was being told that there was another man who had taken part in her husbandâ€™s murder, one who had gotten away scot-free? How did she know that Ms. King had even spoken the truth? How would the reporter even know that information about another officer being present at the scene? Evie watched as Jamie stirred then settled down. â€œWhat am I doing God?â€ she thought. She wished she could say that it was the reporterâ€™s visit that brought everything back to surface for her again, but the truth was the pain never left. It was always there, under the surface, pushing on her and pulling at her. All Ms. King did was make her talk about it today. As she turned to walk out of her sonâ€™s room a sudden thought occurred. It was so clear and poignant that it stunned her for a moment. It was a Bible verse she could remember reading somewhere at some point in time. She had no idea what chapter it was in, and probably wouldnâ€™t be able to open a Bible and find it to save her life. But for some reason it came to her so crystal clear in that moment, that she knew it had come from God. â€˜Cast your cares upon Him, because his burden is light and His yoke is easy.â€™ It sounded so simple, but for her almost impossible to do. Chapter 3 The day of Mary Walshâ€™s funeral it was raining. Stacy stood in the cemetery at her gravesite in the blistering cold with about a dozen people from her church. The only family there was himself, Chief Parker and Parkerâ€™s wife. His younger brother, who was stationed somewhere on a ship overseas, had elected not to come. All of the funeral arrangements and everything else had fallen upon him, so heâ€™d done it all exactly as his mother had asked him to. It was a simple funeral with a cheap casket, and she shared a burial plot with his father, who died ten years earlier. Some of his motherâ€™s church friends wanted to come over after the funeral and bring food but he was not in the mood to entertain anyone or host a repast. The truth was he just wanted to get home and start cleaning out all of her stuff. The rain let up as soon as the pastor finished his prayer. Chief Parker and his wife immediately approached him. The chief was the only brother of his motherâ€™s father and had acted like a father figure to Stacy after the death of his own father. He was good man. He was a stern, no-nonsense man who ruled with an iron fist, but was always fair. These character traits gained him the respect of mostly everyone in the department. Heâ€™d done above and beyond for Stacy when the incident with James Tyrell happened, even putting his own job on the line. â€œThat was a nice funeral, son. You did your mother proud.â€ Chief Parker boomed in his baritone voice, slapping Stacy on the back with one of his gloved hands, his dainty wife hanging off of the other one. â€œThank you, Chiefâ€ Stacy said, forcing a smile. â€œMary was a good woman. She was more like my sister than my niece.â€ Beverly, the chiefâ€™s wife, leaned over and pressed her cheek near his, not making contact, but kissing the air. â€œSo sorry, Stacy,â€ she murmured. He simply nodded and said, â€œThanks for coming you guys.â€ Wanting nothing more than to make a beeline for his truck and get out of there as soon as possible. â€œThat brother of yours should have been here. What is he thinking missing his motherâ€™s funeral?â€ The chief continued. Stacyâ€™s feelings mirrored his uncleâ€™s, but he wasnâ€™t in the mood to talk about it right then. â€œAnyway, I let Captain Brown know you may be out for a few days taking care of your motherâ€™s business. So donâ€™t rush to get back to work. Take your time, son.â€ â€œThanks again.â€ Stacy muttered. Chief Parker and his wife left right after that and Stacy quickly thanked all of his motherâ€™s friends and the pastor, before practically sprinting for his truck. The winds picked up as he tromped through the wet grass, and he pulled his long, thick black coat around himself tighter. He supposed that he should be crying and completely brokenhearted by his motherâ€™s death, but he wasnâ€™t. This had been something they both expected for the last six months, ever since the doctor had announced that his motherâ€™s breast cancer had returned and spread to her lungs. His mother began to refuse all treatment shortly after this, stating she didnâ€™t want her last days on earth to be in a cold, sterile hospital room all doped up. So she opted to go home and die peacefully thereâ€”mission accomplished. It wasnâ€™t until heâ€™d gotten home and changed from his slacks and button down shirt into a pair of sweats and a sweatshirt that Stacy realized he had two missed calls and two voicemails on his cell phone. One message was from his brother Greg, saying he was sorry he couldnâ€™t come to the funeral and he would be home in a few months or so. Stacey laughed to himself, â€œYeah right.â€ He hadnâ€™t seen his brother in three years, not since their drunken fight. After that night, Greg split and the next thing theyâ€™d heard was that heâ€™d joined the military. Chief Parker had been the one to let Greg know their mother had died. The second message was from his girlfriend, Kelly, saying she was sorry she couldnâ€™t make it to the funeral, she got caught up at work and she would come over later that night and make it up to him. He laughed to himself again. Kellyâ€™s idea of making him feel better would no doubt involve some sort of sexual activity. Well, if not fulfilling, at least it would distract him for a few hours or so. Stacy ran his hands through his disheveled brown hair and went into his motherâ€™s room. As soon as he stepped through the door he was hit with a sudden wave of sadness. The room still smelled like her, of course. The bed was still rumpled from when the paramedics performed CPR in attempts to revive her already lifeless body. He glanced around the room at all of her stuff, thinking about what he wanted to start packing up first. Thatâ€™s when his eyes landed on her old, worn leather Bible. It had fallen to the floor when the paramedics moved her onto the stretcher to load her into the ambulance. And now it lay on the ground open, face down. He walked over to it and picked it. Just as he was about to close it and set it on her nightstand, a folded up piece of paper fluttered out. He bent down and retrieved the paper, unfolded it, then sat down heavily onto the bed. It was a letter to him, one that his mother had written at some point in time before her death. Dear Stacy, I know I donâ€™t have a lot of time and thereâ€™s some stuff that I want to say to you that I know under normal circumstances you wonâ€™t let me speak about, so Iâ€™m hoping youâ€™ll find this when Iâ€™m gone. You are my first born son and I love you so much. I know you carry a lot of guilt and blame for all thatâ€™s happened, but I know in my heart youâ€™re a good boy and you got a good heart, itâ€™s just hard for you to do the right thing sometimes. I want you to have a good life like I did. I want you to have a wife and children. I want you to have a house, drive a mini-van, take your kids to soccer practice, kiss your wife at night before you go to bed, go to church on Sunday and pray with your family. But I know you, and I know you will deny yourself all happiness as punishment for the things you did in the past. You need to know that God forgives all. There is nothing you can do to make Him hate you. All you have to do is go to Him and give him a chance. He can fix anything. He can take all that pain away. You need to know that I donâ€™t blame you for Greg going away. Heâ€™s always been hot-headed and heâ€™s always known how to push your buttons. It may take him some time, but heâ€™ll come back to you. I already sent him his letter a while ago. I have only one thing to ask of you: Call it my dying wish (smile). I am a nosy mom, and like most moms I go through my kids things. Forgive me, but I saw that letter you started writing to that woman. I think itâ€™s a good thing. I think it will help you through all of that guilt youâ€™ve packed on to yourself. Iâ€™m asking you to finish that letter and send it to her. Donâ€™t be afraid. She wonâ€™t know who you are. She canâ€™t come after you. Send it to her. You never know how something like that may affect her life. Well, my hand is getting tired and I just heard you come in, so Iâ€™m going to end this letter. I love you. Be a good boy and do the right thing.â€ Love, Mom Stacy set the letter down on the bed. Good God, she had known. This whole time she had known about the James Tyrell incident but never said anything. There were only a handful of people who knew: the Chief, his wife, his brother and his brotherâ€™s girlfriend. The Chief had thought it was best to leave his mother in the dark about everything, considering she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer right before the incident took place. Somehow she had gone through his stuff and pieced it all together. Shaking his head, he was about to slip the letter back into the Bible when his eyes drifted to the chapter it was open to. It was Romans 7. For I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is goodâ€¦â€¦..for I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do but the evil I do not want to do â€“ this I keep doing. At that moment something came over Stacy that he couldnâ€™t understand. He felt like breaking down in tears, but he wouldnâ€™t allow himself to do that. Instead, he stood up abruptly and made his way to his bedroom. He pulled out the chair to his desk and sat down forcefully. He took out his notebook and pen and spent the next thirty minutes filling up five pages with everything in his heart. Chapter 4 â€œWhen is your mother coming back?â€ Evieâ€™s neighbor, Linda Headley, asked. â€œShe should be back the day after tomorrow. She went to San Diego to visit her sister.â€ Evie said this as she was preoccupied. She was more focused on Jamie, who was practicing some sort of karate moves on the lawn that he certainly hadnâ€™t learned from her. There was definitely no doubt in her mind that these were the moves that had gotten him sent home early today for busting his classmateâ€™s lip. This was the third time heâ€™d been sent home early this month. And to add insult to injury, just as she was ushering him into the house with a bag full of groceries, her neighbor picked that particular time to come and ask her about her mother, who happened to be out of town for the latter part of the week. â€œJamie, get over here now!â€ Evie suddenly shouted. Ms. Headley winced, â€œWell tell your mother that I need to talk to her becauseâ€¦â€ The neighborâ€™s next words were lost on her. She became preoccupied when she noticed that Jamie made a beeline towards Ms. Headleyâ€™s little Chihuahua who, at the time, had chosen that moment to poke his head and tiny body through the bushes that separated their yards. â€œJamie, leave that dog alone!â€ Evie warned, practically reading her sonâ€™s thoughts. But, it was too late. Jamie had already zoned in on the poor pup and had no intentions of diverting his attention away. In that instance, he lunged for the dog and grabbed its tail, causing it to yelp. â€œWhat in the world?!â€ cried Ms. Headley. Evie set her bag of groceries on the ground and immediately rushed towards her son. â€œIâ€™m so sorry Ms. Headley! Jamie, stop it right now! â€ He looked up at her sheepishly and, for a moment, she was completely taken aback. In spite of his recent rebellious action, he looked so much like his father in that moment that it took her breath away. James had always given her that look when he was sorry for something heâ€™d done. â€œSorry, Mommy.â€ Evie inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly, allowing all of the anger to seep right out of her. â€œItâ€™s alright, Jamie. Letâ€™s go inside.â€ â€œWhat did he do to my Penelope?â€ Mrs. Headley cried out as she rushed over and scooped up the tiny dog. â€œHe just grabbed her tail, Ms. Headley. Itâ€™s all right.â€ â€œIt most certainly is not,â€ she said indignantly. â€œHe didnâ€™t hurt the dog. Not really,â€ Evie tried to explain. â€œThat is not the point. Youâ€™d better get a handle on that boy, Evelyn.â€ Evie winced at the use of her full name. Ms. Headley was the only one who ever called her Evelyn. â€œIâ€™ll try to.â€ She conceded, knowing it was pointless to argue with the woman. Meanwhile, Jamie fidgeted at her side. â€œTell your mother to call me as soon as she gets in.â€ Evie started towards the house, dragging Jamie along behind her. â€œWill do, Ms. Headley,â€ she called over her shoulder. â€œSorry doggy!â€ Jamie cried. â€œGet control of that boy Evelyn, before he ends up a hooligan!â€ â€œJamie, what am I gonna do with you?â€ Evie whispered this more to herself than to anybody as she dropped her sonâ€™s hand and picked up the abandoned bag of groceries. â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ her son answered in all seriousness, skipping towards their front door. Chuckling to herself, she made her way into the house after her son. The night had not gone well. It never really did when her mother wasnâ€™t there, which was a sad fact. Evie was twenty six years old, educated, smart and completely capable. But, when she had to do everything alone, she felt completely overwhelmed. Truth be told, she just couldnâ€™t handle things without her mother there to help her. Work had been a mess today, as well. Sheâ€™d been in the ER and it seemed as though there had been a never-ending string of patients during her shiftâ€”not to mention she had to leave early to retrieve Jamie from school, which her supervisor had been none too happy about. After picking up Jamie she had to take him to the grocery shopping with her. This event ended up in a display being knocked over, a can of marinara sauce being broken on one aisle and her son throwing a full on tantrum in the store because she refused to give in to his pleas for a piece of candy. Then, sheâ€™d come home to Ms. Headley. The woman probably sat in her window and waited until she saw Evie pull up, then pounced before she could even get the groceries out of the car. While her mother seemed to get along with their neighbor, Evie was not a fan; hence why she had absolutely no desire to date any of the womanâ€™s kin. Dinner, bed and bath time proved to be no better. Jamie refused to eat anything, gave her a hard time with his bath, then decided right before he went to sleep that he was hungry, to which she made him a sandwich. He ate the sandwich, getting peanut butter and jelly all over himself, which required a wipe down. It was ten oâ€™clock at night before he finally fell asleep. Now it was ten thirty, and she was too tired to eat anything herself. Her mother called a few minutes earlier to find out how things were going and not wanting to upset her, she told her everything was great. Telling this little white lie to her mother got her thinking. When was the last time she felt like things in her life were great? And when was the last time sheâ€™d actually had fun? Granted she went out with her co-worker and only friend Anna every now and then, when Anna was able to drag her out of the house. But, she never really enjoyed herself at the overcrowded nightclubs or stifling restaurants. She hardly enjoyed herself anywhere these days. She was always in mommy mode and when she wasnâ€™t, she was in nurse modeâ€”both of these modes kept her so busy and overwhelmed that she felt it was a struggle just to keep her head above water. Suddenly feeling a headache coming on, she went to the kitchen to grab some Tylenol and a glass of water, when she noticed the mail on the counter. Her mother must have left it out for her before she headed off to San Diego this morning. She picked up the stack and began flipping through it. A bank statement, an official looking letter from her attorneyâ€™s office and a plain envelope addressed to her with no return address. She set the bank statement and the letter from her attorneyâ€™s office on the counter and tore open the unaddressed letter. Within it were several folded pages of paper that looked as if they had been torn from a spiral notebook. All of them were filled with someoneâ€™s handwriting. Confused, she leaned against the counter and unfolded the papers. Dear Ms. Evelyn Tyrell, You are probably going to be very confused after you finish reading this letter, but what I have to tell you is something that Iâ€™ve kept close to me for three years. Upon reading these first words, Evieâ€™s heart began to beat erratically, growing more rapid as she read on. What in the world was this? Your husband is James Joseph Tyrell, and I was there when he died on November 7. My partner was Officer Timothy Walker, who Iâ€™m sure youâ€™re familiar with. Although it was kept out of all of the reports and never mentioned, there was a second officer there that night that was involved in your husbandâ€™s murder, that officer was me. My involvement in the incident was not recorded, but it is important to me that you know what I did. I am not trying to make excuses for my actionsâ€”there are none. Your husband was targeted unjustly by my partner, and as a rookie cop I felt that I could not go up against a 25-year-veteran. He made a call I didnâ€™t agree with. Although my partner shot first, I am just as guilty because I shot second. In my heart I knew that your husband was innocent, and there isnâ€™t a day that goes by that I donâ€™t regret my decisions. I was wrong. I took your husband away from you and your family, and there is nothing worse in my opinion. I have lived under this layer of guilt for the last three years, and I have written this letter to you a million times. I know that this apology is too little too late and cannot begin to make up for what Iâ€™ve done, but I need you to know that I am extremely sorry. I know that my words wonâ€™t bring James back, and I know the money they gave you wonâ€™t either, but you deserved to know the truth. They kept the truth from you, but you deserve to know that I was involved in Jamesâ€™ death that night. I will never forget your husbandâ€™s face; I dream about him every night. I have not moved on and donâ€™t think I ever can. I want you to know how sorry I am, and I canâ€™t say that enough. I am not asking for your forgiveness; I donâ€™t deserve it. I only want you to know the truth. I am so sorry and I suffer daily for what I have done. Sincerely, An Officer The pages fluttered from Evieâ€™s hands as she sank to the floor. Well, she thought weâ€™ve got one thing in common: neither of us can move on. She didnâ€™t even bother to wipe the tears that slid down her cheek. Chapter 5 Stacy lay on his back shirtless in bed with his hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling. It had been a month since his mother died and since heâ€™d sent that letter to Evelyn Tyrell. For the life of him he couldnâ€™t explain it, but he somehow felt what he could only describe as a little bit lighter. By no means had the nightmares stopped, and he was still wracked with guilt every day, but he couldnâ€™t help but feel as though he may have done something halfway right in the last three years by finally admitting the truth to Jamesâ€™ widow. Maybe God wanted him to send that letter. Not that he really believed in God, but his mother had and her letter convinced him to do it. â€œBabe, what time do you have to be at work?â€ his girlfriend Kelly asks, rolling over in bed and draping an arm across his bare stomach. â€œIn about two hours.â€ He already knew what time it was, heâ€™d been up for the last hour or so. â€œMmm,â€ she moaned. Laying her head on his chest, her long blonde hair tickled him. â€œSo my friend Sara gave me the phone number to that psychiatrist I was telling you about.â€ Stacy stiffened. â€œI can call and set up an appointment for you, if you want.â€ As she made this offering, she lifted her head to get a better look at him. â€œNo, Iâ€™m good,â€ he said stiffly. Kelly sat up almost immediately and looked at him as if he was crazy. â€œYouâ€™re kidding, right? Baby, you have nightmares almost every night.â€ Stacy suddenly made a move to get out of the bed. She was talking to him in that slow voice heâ€™d heard her use on her third graders when they didnâ€™t understand something she was trying to teach them. He hated when she tried to use it on him. â€œAt least when Iâ€™m with you, you do. You havenâ€™t been right ever since that guy shot at you.â€ Stacy grimaced. Kelly didnâ€™t know the truth. He told her heâ€™d been shot while trying to stop a robbery. Sheâ€™d believed him, and then convinced herself that he had post-traumatic stress disorder. If only it was that simple. Ignoring her, he sat up, threw his legs over the side of the bed and walked over to his dresser to retrieve a fresh t-shirt. â€œStacy, I canâ€™t keep doing this with you. Weâ€™ve been together for five years and up until three years ago, we were talking about getting married and buying a house and moving out of Los Angeles. Whatever happened to that?â€ â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ he said, pulling the shirt over his head. â€œYou donâ€™t know?â€ Kelly growled. â€œSeriously?! I have been very patient with you, letting you work through your issues and stuff, but this is ridiculous.â€ Stacy finally turned and looked at her. â€œYou realize my mother just died a month ago, right?â€ â€œYes I do,â€ she sighed, â€œand I thought you being her caregiver was what was stopping you from marrying me and us moving, but itâ€™s not that at all, is it?â€ â€œI just have a lot of stuff I have to do.â€ Stacy walked out of the room, hoping that this would signal to her the end of their conversation, but if he knew Kelly then he knew that this was not even halfway over. Just as he predicted, she jumped out of the bed and followed him into the kitchen where he began replacing the filter inside of the coffee maker. â€œStacy, I just need to know, is this going anywhere or is this how itâ€™s always going to be?â€ â€œWhat do you want from me, Kelly?â€ He didnâ€™t even bother to look at her as he poured coffee grounds into the coffee maker. â€œWhat do I want?â€ she cried. He could do without the dramatics this morning, but Kelly was one for the theatrics. Itt was completely unneeded considering they had this conversation at least once a month and it always ended the same. â€œHow about for starters, Iâ€™d like you to stop waking me up during the night with your nightmares? How about I want you to actually talk to me sometimes? Tell me what you are feeling; donâ€™t be a brick wall. How about I want to get married? Have some kids? Buy a house somewhere? Is that too much to ask for?â€ For a normal guy, no it wasnâ€™t. For Stacy, yes it was. Kelly really did deserve all of the things that she wanted; sheâ€™d put up with a lot from him over the past five years. He knew she triedâ€”she really did. It had been good for the first two years of their relationship. Maybe if things had turned out differently he would have married her and had kids. Maybe he would have bought her that house she wanted. Truth be told, their relationship was all about sex now. Perhaps one day he would want more, but not now and not from her. Once he got the coffee maker going, he turned and gave her his undivided attention. He might as well get this over with so he can get to work. â€œYou deserve all that and more, Kel. But, I canâ€™t give that to you and I donâ€™t know if I will ever be able to. I havenâ€™t been myself for three years and I donâ€™t know when I ever will be, and thereâ€™s no point in you waiting around to see if I turn back into the Stacy that you want.â€ â€œYou say that now but there will be somebody, some woman who will help you get back to how you use to be. I know it.â€ Folding his arms across his chest, Stacy realized that Kelly was right, but the woman that would be able to return him to himself was not going to be the random woman Kelly was thinking of. It was going to be a very different woman, one he had never met but was very much tied to. Chapter 6 â€œEvie, Iâ€™ve got a gunshot wound in bed three. Itâ€™s just a flesh wound but it needs to be cleaned and bandaged,â€ yelled Dr. Holster from the nurseâ€™s station. Nodding to the doctor, Evie went over to the omnicell in the corner across from the nurseâ€™s desk, punched in her user ID and password, and grabbed the equipment she needed. â€œThe patient is a gunshot victim and a possible suspect. A police officer is in there with him now,â€ Holster called to her. â€œExcellent!â€ Evie thought to herself. In this part of town their hospital saw way too many gunshot victims. As she made her way over to the little room with the sliding glass door that contained bed three, she passed a co-worker who was heading the opposite way. â€œAre you taking the patient in bed three?â€ Anna asked her. â€œYeah, gunshot wound.â€ Anna broke out into a mischievous smile. â€œGirl, there is some serious man candy in there in the form of a police officer. Try not to drool. His uniform does very little to hide that sexy body.â€ Evie shook her head and grinned at her friend. â€œWhat would Emilio say if he heard you?â€ â€œHoney, Iâ€™m married, not dead. Why else would God put these gorgeous specimens on this earth, if not for us to admire His handiwork?â€ Anna countered. â€œI am telling Emilio the next time I see him.â€ Evie said laughing. Her friend was twenty-eight with two kids but acted like a boy-crazy teenager sometimes. â€œGo on in there. Youâ€™ll see.â€ Anna motioned to the doors and wiggled her eyebrows. â€œI am now ignoring you.â€ Evie slid open the door laughing, Annaâ€™s words lost on her until she heard, â€œGood evening, Maâ€™am,â€ and looked up into the clearest blue eyes sheâ€™d ever seen. It was then Evie realized that for once her friend had not been exaggerating. The man before her was tall with broad shoulders and good posture. His hair had that untamed but sort of tamed look to it, and was short and brown. It looked as if he had run his hands through it a hundred times. He was well-built and in shape as Anna had pointed out. But the thing that caught Evieâ€™s attention the most were his eyes. My God, was it possible for people to even have eyes that color? â€œMaâ€™am?â€ the officer repeated, snapping Evie out of her thoughts. Good Lord, what was she doing? Had she actually been checking him out? She hadnâ€™t looked at another man in that way for a long time, and for Godâ€™s sake he was a police officerâ€”not that she had anything against cops after what happened to her husband; it was just a bit unsettling that the first man she noticed in three years happened to be a cop. â€œMaâ€™am, are you okay?â€ the police officer asked. â€œOh, Iâ€™m sorry,â€ she said with slight embarrassment. Evie walked over to the patient, trying desperately to compose herself; the gunshot victim was little more than a kid, probably no more than sixteen years old. He looked somewhat out of it, but not enough to miss her initial reaction to the police office. He looked back and forth between them with a sleepy grin on his face. Quickly sliding into a more professional demeanor, Evie asked the boy his name while she slipped on a pair of latex gloves. He told her it was Louis as she removed the temporary bandage on his arm exposing a flesh wound and begin disinfecting it. The room was deathly silent, except for a few groans and hisses from Louis as Evie re-bandaged his arm. She was fully aware that the officer was watching her intently. When she was finally done and Louisâ€™ eyes were starting to drift shutâ€”a side effect of the pain medication heâ€™d been given earlier --- she gathered up all of her materials and gestured to the officer to step outside of the room with her. He complied immediately. As soon as the door was slid shut behind them, he laid his blue eyes on her, which startled Evie for a moment. After reminding herself to breathe, she worked up the nerve to speak. â€œHeâ€™s going to need to be here for a little while longer, more than likely overnight. Were you planning on staying with him the entire time?â€ The officer ran his hands though his hair. â€œIâ€™ll be here with him for a few more hours, and then another officer will come and relieve me.â€ Evie nodded and turned to leave. â€œBy the way, Iâ€™m Officer Stacy Walsh,â€ he said in an attempt to turn her back in his direction. She turned back to him, smiled politely and took his outstretched hand with her free one. â€œYour name?â€ he asked. â€œEvelyn. Evelyn Tyrell.â€ She expected him to say something along the lines of, â€œNice to meet you, Evelyn.â€ What she didnâ€™t expect was for him to look as if somebody had just punched him in the stomach and knocked the wind out of him. â€œWhat is your name?â€ he asked again, this time with his brows furrowed. Evie stared at him. It looked as if all of the blood had drained from his face, and for a moment she thought he might pass out. â€œAre you okay?â€ she asked. â€œYou donâ€™t look so good.â€ â€œYour name is Evelyn Tyrell?â€ he said in disbelief. â€œYes,â€ she said slowly. â€œOfficer Walsh I think you had better have a seat.â€ He shook his head â€œnoâ€ and glanced at the name badge pinned to her scrubs. â€œEvelyn Karen Tyrell,â€ he whispered. â€œMaybe I should take your vitals.â€ â€œNo,â€ he suddenly said, some of the color coming back into his face. â€œIâ€™m okay. Itâ€™s uh nice to meet you, Nurse Tyrell.â€ Evie could tell he was trying to gain back some of his composure but his voice betrayed him; it came out a little strangled. She had no idea what had spooked him about her name. While she was concerned about his condition, she needed to unload the blood soaked bandages she was holding. â€œI need to dispose of this,â€ she said, â€œbut when I come back Iâ€™m going to take your vitals.â€ She turned to leave, but not before she noticed him shaking slightly. She was definitely taking his vitals when she came back. Five minutes later when she returned to Louisâ€™s room, Officer Walsh looked considerably better. â€œAre you feeling okay now?â€ â€œYes I am, thank you.â€ Although he sounded convincing, Evie had a feeling he wasnâ€™t telling her the truth. â€œI didnâ€™t,â€ he cleared his throat, â€œI didnâ€™t eat lunch today, so I think I was just feeling a little bit lightheaded.â€ â€œI can have one of the nurses grab you a sandwich from the cafeteria if youâ€™d like,â€ she offered. â€œNo, no, thatâ€™s okay.â€ He was sitting in one of the hard-backed chairs next to Louisâ€™ bed looking completely uncomfortable now, but Evie wouldnâ€™t let the matter rest. â€œAre you diabetic?â€ Officer Walsh shook his head â€œno.â€ â€œAre you experiencing any pain anywhere?â€ â€œNot really.â€ Evie gave him a look of suspicion. â€œNot really? Itâ€™s either a yes or no.â€ â€œThen no.â€ â€œI think Iâ€™d still like to check your blood pressure,â€ she said, pulling the cuff from around the back of her neck. â€œThatâ€™s completely unnecessary, Nurse Tyrell.â€ â€œCompletely necessary, Officer Walsh? And please call me Evie. You make me sound like Nurse Ratched when you say it that way.â€ She hadnâ€™t meant the reference to the â€˜One Flew Over the Cuckooâ€™s Nestâ€™ movie as a joke, nevertheless it solicited a genuine grin from the man. Goodness, the man was even better looking when he smiled, if that was possible. Evie approached him slowly, almost regretting that she had pushed him to let her take his blood pressure because it was going to bring her in so close proximity to him. â€œArm please,â€ she said, hoping she sounded completely professional. Officer Walsh complied and held out his arm. Evie wrapped the cuff around his bicep, trying not to notice how hard it was. Swallowing nervously, she secured the cuff then began pumping air into it while simultaneously staring at the dial. She felt Officer Walshâ€™s eyes boring through her. As she let the air out of the cuff and got her reading, she wasnâ€™t surprised to see that his blood pressure was 190/100. â€œIs your blood pressure usually this high?â€ she asked, removing the cuff and stepping back several feet as to put some distance between them. â€œNo, it isnâ€™t.â€ â€œYou should probably see your primary care doctor and get that checked out.â€ â€œI will,â€ he said too quickly. â€œWhy do I not believe you?â€ â€œI will, I promise. But I donâ€™t think itâ€™s a big deal.â€ â€œHigh blood pressure can be a silent killer, Officer Walsh.â€ â€œIâ€™ll keep that in mind.â€ â€œOkay, well my shift is almost over and another nurse will be taking over and checking in on Louis periodically.â€ Officer Walsh nodded affirmatively to reassure her that he understood. â€œNice to meet you, Officer Walsh.â€ With that, she made her way to the door. â€œNice to meet you too, Evelyn Karen Tyrell.â€ It was odd, but Evie swore he really meant it. Unfortunately, even though Officer Walsh was now no longer in her presence, he stayed on her mind all the way home. She couldnâ€™t shake his strange behavior with her, or his good looks. But as soon as she arrived home, all thoughts of Officer Walsh fled as the exhaustion from her twelve-hour shift finally set in. Stepping through the front door, she wasnâ€™t surprised to find her mother in bed and Jamie sprawled out across her. She tried to gently lift her son off of her mother without waking either of themâ€”she was successful. She carried her sons little body to his room and placed him in his bed. She kissed his forehead, then left the room, shutting the door behind her. She thought about waking her mother up to let her know she was home, but she decided against itâ€”Jamie had probably run her mother ragged; it was best to let her sleep. Evie crept to her already lit room and without even removing her scrubs, collapsed onto the bed. Without even looking, she reached across the bed towards her nightstand. She intended to turn off the light, but her hand touched her Bible first. She grabbed it and pulled it onto the bed with her. Flipping it open, she turned through the pages until she reached the book of Psalms. There nestled between the pages was her letter â€“ the anonymous letter from the anonymous officer. Sheâ€™d read this letter every day for the last month. Her mother thought it was foolish for her to do so and had advised her to throw it away, but the note had a grip on Evie. It was proof that Jasmine King had been right after allâ€”indeed another officer was involved in her husbands murder. But did knowing this really change anything? Not really. He was faceless and nameless to her. And thatâ€™s how she preferred it. Sheâ€™d been bitter and hateful towards Officer Timothy Walker for too long. If she didnâ€™t know this new officerâ€™s name and didnâ€™t know who he was, and if she simply judged him by the contents of this letter, she couldnâ€™t hate him. Dear Mrs. Tyrellâ€¦ she read. Chapter 7 It had been two weeks since Stacy ran into Evie in the ER. And he knew very well who she was, yet she had no knowledge of his true identity. He was a murderer plain and simple, but now he could add stalker to the long list of his transgressions. He couldnâ€™t help it though. He had been in a dazed state ever since she spoke her name, and like anyone confounded, he had to learn more. He knew James Tyrellâ€™s wife had been a nurse, but he didnâ€™t know she worked at Mercy Hospital. How many nurses worked in that hospital? How is it that Evie just so happened to be the nurse assigned to take care of his suspect? If this wasnâ€™t irony he didnâ€™t know what was. Although her husbandâ€™s face was etched in his memory, he hadnâ€™t known what Evelyn Tyrell looked like. But now her face was there right alongside her husbandâ€™s. She was a beautiful woman and everything about her captivated himâ€”her brown skin, the wild curly hair she pinned back, her brown eyes and the way they looked at him with worry when heâ€™d almost had a heart attack after hearing her identify herself. Evie was attractive, but he had no right to think thatâ€”or so he felt. The other pressing matter that haunted him was whether or not sheâ€™d gotten his letter. She must have, but he knew there was no way he could ask her that. Unable to release her from his mind, Stacy found himself at Gabrielâ€™s Mexican Food, which was located across the street from the hospital. When he was at the hospital with that kid Louis heâ€™d overheard one of the nurses saying that Gabrielâ€™s was where a lot of the hospital staff ate when they were sick of the cafeteria food. It was a long shot and he wasnâ€™t even sure if Evie even came here to eat, but what he did know was that he needed to see her again. Heâ€™d been eating lunch at Gabrielâ€™s for the last two weeks and he was just about ready to give up running into her, when suddenly he spotted her in a pair of bright pink scrubs. She was approaching the food window, and for a moment he felt completely out of his element. What should he do now? Approach her? Ask how she was doing? He reprimanded himself for not having a game plan. He watched as she ordered and paid for her food, and then made her way to the outside patio where he was seated. Though she sat down at one of the tables and waited for her order number to be called, she hadnâ€™t spotted him. Before he could rationalize his next step, he abandoned his food, stood up and walked over to her in a very compulsive action. She didnâ€™t notice his presence at first, so he cleared his throat and belted out what he could. â€œEvelyn Tyrell?â€ She looked up and was startled. It took a moment for her to examine his face and make the recognition. â€œOh, um Officer Walsh, right?â€ To his surprise, she had remembered him. â€œYes. How are you maâ€™am?â€ His words caused a slight grin to display across her face. â€œYou can call me Evie,â€ she said with a soft, kind tone. Encouraged by her friendliness he smiled back and offered up the same informality. â€œFeel free to call me Stacy.â€ Evie nodded and Stacy relaxed a little bit, glad they were on a first name basis now. â€œWould you mind if I joined you for a moment?â€ he asked. Evie didnâ€™t answer at first. And if Stacy wasnâ€™t mistaken he could swear that the offer to dine with him suddenly made her nervous. He couldnâ€™t blame her. Everything he was doing right now was completely unorthodox. Not wanting her to feel awkward any further, he said, â€œIâ€™m sorry if Iâ€™m intruding.â€ â€œNo, itâ€™s fine Stacy. You can join me. I donâ€™t have long though. As soon as they call my number and I get my food I have to head back over to the hospital.â€ Abandoning his food, Stacy sat down in one of the hard plastic patio chairs across from Evie. He tried to seem at ease, but that was difficult in his uniform with his gunâ€”technically he was still on duty. If he was being completely honest with himself though, it was really the fact that Evie was sitting across from him that had him on guard and more anxious than he had ever been. â€œSo, do you patrol this area?â€ Evie asked. â€œNo. I usually patrol the downtown Los Angeles area, but I like Gabrielâ€™s.â€ â€œOh.â€ â€œWhat about you?â€ Stacy asked, quickly realizing what a stupid question that was. And Evieâ€™s corresponding laugh proved it even more. â€œNo, I donâ€™t patrol this area, but Iâ€™ve worked at this hospital for the last six years.â€ Not quite knowing what to say, Stacy lamely asked, â€œDo you like it as a nurse?â€ Evie nodded. â€œI do. I love my job. I think it might be just as dangerous as yours sometimes.â€ â€œIâ€™m inclined to agree with that. I heard that Louis kid tried to attack a nurse later on that night after I left.â€ Evie had heard the same thing from Anna. Silence engulfed them for a moment as Stacy mentally tried to grasp for things to talk about. What does one talk about with the woman whose husband youâ€™ve killed? The weather? Besides, there were more burning matters on his mind, like the anonymous letter he had written her. â€œSo,â€ Evie said, suddenly breaking the silence and interrupting his thoughts. â€œAre you a good cop or bad cop?â€ â€œGood cop, bad cop? Not really sure what you mean.â€ Stacy said forcing a laugh. Evie shrugged her shoulders and then said, â€œMy experiences with cops havenâ€™t been all that great. But, I know that there are some decent oneâ€™s out there. I was just wondering which one you are.â€ This was not how Stacy imagined this conversation going. He wracked his brain quickly for an appropriate response. â€œI think that itâ€™s easy to fall into the bad cop classification. On the other hand, I think that sometimes certain people and situations can push you into that good cop category.â€ By the confused look on her face, he didnâ€™t know if what he said made sense to her. In fact, he didnâ€™t even know if he understood his own logic. But how in the world was he supposed to answer that question, especially considering what heâ€™d done. â€œThat didnâ€™t really answer my question,â€ she finally said, giving him a small smile. What he said next was even more beyond him. â€œNo, I didnâ€™t answer your question. If I said I was a bad cop, youâ€™d get up from the table and leave. If I said I was a good cop, you would think I was egotistical and pretentiousâ€”and possibly lying. Letâ€™s try this: if you let me spend more time with you, maybe you can form your own opinion.â€ Clearly by the shocked look on her face, Evie wasnâ€™t expecting that answer either. â€œI - I â€“ I donâ€™t know about that,â€ she stuttered. By her appearance and mannerisms, Stacy swore she was blushing. â€œOh, Iâ€™m sorry. Are you married?â€ he quickly asked, attempting to cover up his mistake by assuming she was single. â€œYesâ€¦I mean noâ€¦widowed.â€ He could tell she was struggling to try and answer that question and process what heâ€™d just aid and asked her. â€œIâ€™m sorry to hear that,â€ Stacy said tenderly. And she had no idea just how sorry he was. â€œOrder number fifty-two,â€ the cashier called out from the restaurantâ€™s order window. Evie suddenly jumped up and shouted, â€œOh thatâ€™s me!â€ It was the perfect or maybe imperfect timing given their awkward exchange. â€œIs that a yes or no?â€ Stacy persisted. He could just kick himself right now. What in the world was he doing? Evie hesitated and then said, â€œMaybe if I run into you again I might consider it.â€ Before he could respond, she turned and hurried away. As he watched her grab her bag of food and rush back across the street, he felt a surge of emotion run through him, but he couldnâ€™t pinpoint the feeling. Was it excitement? Was it the anticipation of seeing her again? He groaned to himself and ran his hand through his hair like he always did when he was nervous or out of sorts. He must be the stupidest man alive. Heâ€™d literally just asked a woman whose husband he killed whether she was single or not. And it was obvious that by that statement he was attempting to ask her out on a date. He was either certifiably insane or a glutton for punishment. He tried to tell himself this as he finished his lunch and got back into his squad car. Nevertheless, he couldnâ€™t help but think of various ways he could accidentally on purpose run into her again. Chapter 8 Despite leaving hastily, Evie could not deny that Stacy had gorgeous blue eyes. In all honesty, she wouldnâ€™t mind seeing him again. But, the prospect of going out with him and beginning something of that nature scared her to death. James had been her first real boyfriend. Theyâ€™d met when she was nineteen years old and still doing her internship at the hospital. Back then, he had been working for his uncle as a construction worker and their company had been contracted to build a new wing of the hospital. Two short years later theyâ€™d gotten married, and a year after that they had their son Jamie. And as twisted as fate would have it, James died one week after their sons birth. To be frank, there was never anyone else but James. Even though her mother and Anna continually tried to get her to start dating again, she didnâ€™t want to. Men had somewhat become non-existent to her; they took a backseat to her pain. However, this Officer Stacy Walsh, peaked her interestâ€”and she didnâ€™t know why. She smiled to herself thinking about how nervous he seemed asking to see her again. She even liked how he constantly ran his hands through his unruly brown hair, making it even messier. Evie couldnâ€™t believe her thoughts. Was it completely crazy that the first man she had taken notice of since Jamesâ€™ death was a cop? That evening as Evie relaxed on the sofa watching the news with her mother, having finally gotten Jamie to sleep, her mother asked her if she could invite Linda Headleyâ€™s grandson over for dinner next week. Evie grunted and looked at her mother who, in this moment, was resting comfortably in the easy chair off to the side of her. â€œMama, Iâ€™m not going out with some strange man Iâ€™ve never met.â€ â€œYou wouldnâ€™t be going out with him; heâ€™d be coming over here,â€ her mother insisted. â€œMama, please donâ€™t push this issue.â€ â€œEvie baby, I just think thatâ€¦â€ â€œI met someone,â€ Evie blurted out. Her motherâ€™s mouth dropped open. The look on her face was absolutely priceless, but she knew she was going to have to fess up now. She hadnâ€™t meant to say anything. She didnâ€™t even know if she would ever see Stacy again, let alone go out with him. Sheâ€™d just uttered the first thing that popped into her mind that she knew would get her mother to shut up. â€œOh, really? And where did you meet this someone?â€ her mother finally asked. Evie looked into her motherâ€™s eyes and could see how they had started to slightly narrow in disbelief. â€œUm, well, you remember when I ended up staying late at work like a week ago?â€ Madeleine, Evieâ€™s mother, nodded. â€œWell, there was a police officer with this kid who had a gunshot wound. He brought him into the ER for medical care. I ended up running into him again at Gabrielâ€™s during my lunch break today, and he sort of asked me out. He seemed like a nice man.â€ When Evie finished her statement, she watched her mother closely for a response, but all she got was a soft smile. â€œWell now, a police officer? Isnâ€™t that interesting?â€ â€œI donâ€™t hate them all because of what happened to James, Mama. Itâ€™s not like he was one of the officers who shot him.â€ â€œI know that,â€ her mother said. â€œI raised you better than that. So, what is his name?â€ â€œItâ€™s Stacy, Stacy Walsh.â€ â€œWhat is his name?â€ Madeleine asked again for clarity. â€œStacy Walsh.â€ Evie watched as her mother sucked in a deep breath and wore a look of perplexity on her face. But, as soon as the look came, it was gone and replaced once again with a soft smile. â€œWhatâ€™s the matter? Why did you look like that when I said Stacyâ€™s name?â€ Evie asked. â€œLook like what? I didnâ€™t look like anything,â€ Madeline quickly said. â€œSo what does Stacy look like?â€ â€œBlue eyes, brown hair, nice build,â€ Evie ticked off. â€œHeâ€™s white.â€ â€œWell, I guessed that much from the blue eyes,â€ Her mother said. â€œSo, when are you going out with him?â€ â€œSee, thatâ€™s the thing. I didnâ€™t actually except.â€ Evie had no choice now but to explain the nature of their last encounter. Madeleine listened silently, then said, â€œYou should go out with him.â€ â€œI donâ€™t even know if Iâ€™ll see him again.â€ â€œI think you will,â€ said her mother. Chapter 9 For the next two weeks, Stacy tried to accidentally run into Evie at Gabrielâ€™s yet again, but no such luck. At one point he even considered going into the hospital and asking her out, but he felt like that would be too forward and it might scare her off. Besides, he had no idea what his endgame was anyway. Was he really going to take her out on a date? Pursue her? No, he couldnâ€™t do that, at least that much he knew. Then why had he stalked her for two weeks and forced his company on her during her break? He should be running as far away from this woman as he could. Still, he knew what kept him coming backâ€”she made him feel something that day in the hospital, only he wasnâ€™t quite sure what. All he knew was that it wasnâ€™t bad. Whatâ€™s more, how could he chase Evie when he had not completely severed ties with Kelly. Kelly lived about seven blocks from the hospital, and despite their argument and his honest omission to her, somehow they were still togetherâ€¦..or at least still having sex. One evening, exactly two and a half weeks after his meeting with Evie, Stacy was off duty and doing the favor of dropping Kelly off at home. She only live a couple of blocks from the hospital and despite himself Stacy drove by there on his way home. Thatâ€™s when it happened: he stopped at a red light and glanced around, when he spotted an old Honda Civic stopped on the side of the street. Someone in bright pink scrubs was shielded by the popped hood. Just seeing pink scrubs these days gave him hope that it could be Evie. Unable to get a clear view, he couldnâ€™t tell if it was her or not, but his heart nearly leapt out of his chest at the possibility. As soon as the light changed he made a sharp right, parked his car on a side street, hopped out and jogged over to the mystery person. Just as he reached her, Evie pulled back from under the hood and let it slam close. Stacy nearly jumped for joy. It was her. And this time their happenstance wasnâ€™t even planned! â€œGood evening, Evie,â€ he said walking up to her. Startled by the greeting, she spun around. There was alarm flooding her face. â€œIâ€™m sorry. I didnâ€™t mean to scare you,â€ he countered quickly. She placed her hand over her chest and began to laugh. â€œNo, itâ€™s okay. You did scare me though.â€ He smiled and raked his hands through his hair. He noticed she watched him intently as he did it, and he felt heat flood his face. He was used to the way women looked at him and admired him. But having her watch him like that was a whole different story. â€œYouâ€™re in regular clothes,â€ Evie suddenly said. â€œAre you off duty?â€ â€œYeah, I was coming fromâ€¦â€ He stopped himself before he said his girlfriendâ€™s house. For some reason he did not want her to know about Kelly. Perhaps he didnâ€™t want to jeopardize spending time with her by mentioning a girlfriend that he no longer wanted. â€œFrom a friendâ€™s house,â€ he finally continued. Surprisingly, she seemed to except this and turned back towards her car. â€œSince youâ€™re here maybe you can help me figure out whatâ€™s wrong with my car.â€ â€œYou see, I only really stopped because you owe me a date now.â€ Evie whirled around and stared at him. â€œYou thought I forgot?â€ he grinned. Her mouth dropped open. â€œIâ€¦I didnâ€™t forget,â€ she stammered. Stacy casually leaned against the closed hood of her car and folded his arms across his chest. â€œLetâ€™s make a deal. If I can help you with your car, then will you go out with me?â€ He watched Evie break eye contact and look around for a moment. He could tell she was flustered. Evie suddenly took a deep breath, looked at him and said, â€œOkay. We can have lunch together.â€ Stacy didnâ€™t expect to feel that sudden unidentifiable feeling hit him again. Yet there it was with the acceptance of his proposal. â€œDeal! Just not Gabrielâ€™s please. Iâ€™ve had lunch there for the last couple of weeks.â€ Stacy mentally kicked himself because he had just let on to the fact that he had been frequenting the establishment in hopes of running into her. But, did she know that was why? He watched as Evie bit her lip and scrutinized him. As he always does when heâ€™s nervous, Stacy began running his hands through his hair again. By her reaction, he fully expected her to cancel their impending date now. How could he blame her? It was a bit creepy. â€œOk,â€ she finally said. He breathed a sigh of relief, and before he could stop himself said, â€œEver since that day I met you in the hospital Iâ€™ve wanted to see you again. I hope Iâ€™m not out of line by telling you this.â€ â€œYouâ€™re fine,â€ she said. Those sentiments put a small grin on her face. â€œIâ€™m off work on Saturday. Does the afternoon around two oâ€™clock work for you?â€ â€œSaturday works for me.â€ She agreed, then hesitated for a moment as if she would change her mind. â€œYeah, Saturday is OK, I guess.â€ â€œSo, um, at the risk of sounding like a sixteen-year-old boy, do you think I could have your phone number?â€ â€œYes.â€ â€œYes?â€ he asked. Somehow he needed reassurance. â€œYes, you sound like a sixteen-year-old boy, and yes you can have my number.â€ Stacy chuckled as he watched her retrieve her cell phone from the car. Once they exchanged phone numbers he placed his phone in his back pocket, then turned and looked at her car. â€œSo what happened with your car?â€ She sighed, â€œWell, besides being a piece of crap, on my way home from work it started making this funny jerking motion and then cut off. It hasnâ€™t cut back on since.â€ Stacy looked at the car and stroked his chin. â€œDo you know whatâ€™s wrong with it?â€ she asked. â€œDo you know much about cars?â€ â€œGo and pop the hood, and Iâ€™ll take a look at it.â€ Chapter 10 She was going to call him and cancel their lunchâ€”there was no question about it. He would be her first date since James died, and she just didnâ€™t think she was ready. She slipped off the pair of skinny jeans she had on and tossed them onto her bed, then retrieved the pair of sweats hanging on her bed rail. Just as she slid them on, her mother walked in. Madeleine took one look at her daughter and frowned. â€œHoney, do you have sweats on? I know itâ€™s been a while since youâ€™ve dated, but wearing sweats on your first date with a man isnâ€™t really the style nowadays, is it? Well, not unless you guys are going hiking, or maybe to clean out somebodyâ€™s house, or perhaps to garden.â€ â€œVery funny, Mama, but Iâ€™ve decided not to go out with Stacy. And, for the record, it wasnâ€™t a date, it was a luncheon.â€ â€œA luncheon?â€ her mother chuckled. â€œIâ€™m 50 years old honey, men and women your age donâ€™t go on luncheons. Now, why are you not going on your date?â€ Madeleine sat down on her daughterâ€™s bed and Evie collapsed next to her. â€œMama, I canâ€™t. I barely know him and I canâ€™t be thinking about men right now. I should just focus on Jamie.â€ â€œWell now, thatâ€™s an excellent idea. Will you wait until Jamie is eighteen and out of the house until you start dating again? Youâ€™ll be about what by then? Forty? Prime age to start dating again.â€ Evie rolled her eyes, but her mother continued. â€œHoney, what good are you to Jamie if youâ€™re not happy? Plus, heâ€™s a boy. He needs room to grow, not a mother hovering over him all of the time. You have to get a life of your own, and going out with Anna once every couple of months when she is able to drag you out of this house does not count.â€ â€œBut I donâ€™t even know him very well,â€ Evie whined. â€œThat is why men and women spend time togetherâ€”to get to know each other.â€ â€œI havenâ€™t dated anybody except James. How do I know this guy is not some crazy killer?â€ When Evie spoke those words she noticed a familiar look pass over her motherâ€™s face. It was similar to the one she had given when Evie told her Stacyâ€™s name for the first time. â€œI donâ€™t think heâ€™s going to hurt you,â€ she said in an odd tone. â€œIt seems to me like he had the perfect opportunity to earlier this week when he stopped at night to help you with your car. But, he let you live. So maybe thereâ€™s some good in him.â€ Evie rolled her eyes at her motherâ€™s attempt to be funny. â€œGo on the date. See what this Stacy is all about. Youâ€™re meeting him in a crowded, public place for lunch during the day, and afterwards you will come home and he will go on about his business. There really is nothing wrong with that, love. If it makes you feel better, pay for your own meal. You donâ€™t have to marry him. Although, if this gets serious I hope you eventually bring him over here so that we can meet him.â€ â€œWeâ€™re not serious about anything, Mama!â€ Evie exclaimed, her gut suddenly seizing up. But with the prospect of beginning something serious with Stacy, or the fear of it, she didnâ€™t know. â€œJust go, dear. There is nothing wrong with making a new friend at the very least.â€ A new friend? Okay, she could deal with that. There didnâ€™t have to be the prospect of a relationship looming over their heads. They were both adults; they could just be friends. â€œYouâ€™re right,â€ Evie said, â€œIt doesnâ€™t have to be anything serious. I guess I can go.â€ She stood up. â€œI suppose Iâ€™ll change out of these sweats.â€ â€œOh honey, please do. And if itâ€™ll make you feel better, we can pray about everything before you go.â€ â€œGood idea.â€ Chapter 11 Evie pulled her Honda into the restaurant parking lot. Stacy called her last night and suggested they lunch at Gladstones Restaurant in Malibu. But as she pulled her car into the parking lot and got out to hand her keys to the valet she suddenly got cold feet, and the valet had to practically pry the car keys from her hand. As she watched the man speed away way in her car she said a quick prayer to herself. Lord I have no idea what is going to come of this. Please be with me. She took a deep breath and began making her way to the restaurant. The cold, salty air assaulted her lungs as she made the trek. All the while she could hear the waves crashing against the shore less than fifty feet away from her. Despite her temporary discomfort, she found relief in the restaurant he had chosenâ€”Evie loved the beach. Still, as soon as she reached the outside lobby of the restaurant, she felt the overwhelming urge to turn around and bolt. Just in that moment, however, she spotted him and every bit of anxiety fled. The man was good looking. His hair was a bit more artfully disarrayed this time around and he wore a black polo shirt with a pair of dark blue jeans and Converse sneakers. The moment Stacy saw her, he broke out a timid smile. Evie, who was trying to calm her racing heart, smiled back. â€œYou can do this girl,â€ she tried to tell herself. â€œYou can go on a friendly luncheon with a man. It doesnâ€™t have to be more than that.â€ As she repeated these words to herself and slowly made her way to him, her heart rate slowed down slightly. â€œI think this is the first time Iâ€™ve seen you without scrubs on,â€ Stacy said with a grin. â€œYou look beautiful.â€ She bit the inside of her cheek. I will not let this man get to me, she told herself. â€œThank you. You clean up well too,â€ she replied. â€œThey have a table ready for us. Would you like to eat inside or outside?â€ â€œOutside is good. Itâ€™s a nice day.â€ â€œThen outside it is.â€ Once they were seated at their table, a blanket of awkward silence fell over them. It wasnâ€™t until they ordered their drinks that Stacy finally said something to break it. â€œI know this is going to sound corny, but why donâ€™t you tell me about yourself?â€ The question caught Evie by surprise. She had no idea what to say. Iâ€™m an overworked ER nurse with a three-year-old son that I can barely handle, let alone raise without my mother, and you are the first man I have dated since my husband was gunned down in the streets by cops three years ago. Yeah, that probably wasnâ€™t an appropriate answer, especially their first time out together. So, she opted to give him the nice, abridged version instead. â€œIâ€™m a registered nurse, as you already know. I have a three-year-old son. Those two things, besides God and my mother, pretty much take up all of my time.â€ Stacy stared at her intently, his blue eyes combing over her. His scrutiny of her was so intense and telling that it made her blush. â€œAnd yet youâ€™re here on a date with me,â€ he said softly. So softly, in fact, his words drifted like feathers in the wind. Though they felt as if they delicately grazed her cheeks, she quickly corrected him. â€œThis is a luncheon.â€ His eyes swelled with laughter; he could tell she was just trying her best to be cagey. â€œSo you have a little boy? I can imagine he keeps you very busy.â€ The waiter brought them tall glasses of ice water and Evie immediately took a sip of hers then blurted out, â€œYou have no idea. He looks just like his dad, but does not have his temperament at all.â€ Oh no, why did she say that? The last thing she wanted to do was talk about James with this man. â€œYou said you were widowed, right?â€ Evie inhaled deeply. She might as well get it over with now. Usually when people found out she was widowed they always wanted to know how. Even though it was too soon to divulge such information to this man, she figured it was best to put it all out in the open, so if he wanted to heâ€™d have the opportunity to leave before they ordered their food. â€œMy husband was killed almost three years ago.â€ She shut her mouth and waited for the inevitable question that always followed, but to her surprise it didnâ€™t. â€œMy mother died a little over a month ago to lung cancer,â€ he offered. â€œOh my, Iâ€™m so sorry,â€ Evie said sadly. Before Stacy could elaborate, the waiter came to take their food orders. Once their orders were given, he continued on. â€œShe was sick for a long time. I moved her in with me and started taking care of her when it became terminal. She didnâ€™t want to stay in the hospital or anywhere else. I had a long time to get used to the idea, so it wasnâ€™t too shocking when she finally passed.â€ Evie nodded her head as a sign that she understood his loss. It would have been nice however if she had time to get used to the idea of James dying before it occurred. As she gazed at Stacy, she realized that she had divulged things about herself, but not as much as he had just done. So far what she knew about this man was that he was police officer who ate at a restaurant for two weeks straight just for the chance to run into her again, that he rescued her when her car broke down and had moved his dying mother in with him to take care of her. From the sound of it, he was too good to be true. It was right then and there she decided to tell him the complete truth, to see what he was really made of. Since he was a police officer, the odds were he had heard about the incident surrounding her husband. Maybe he even knew the officer that killed him. That would certainly be unfortunate if he did. â€œMy husband was shot and killed by the police three years ago,â€ she blurted out. She waited for the gasp and look of astonishment, but once again there was none. Oddly enough she felt relieved. â€œWhat happened?â€ Stacy asked slowly, his facial expression never changing. Evieâ€™s eyes fluttered shut and opened quickly before she began. â€œHe was on his way to work when he was pulled over. Apparently he looked like a suspect or something. From what I know, the officer started giving my husband a hard time. To make a long story short, when James finally went to hand the officer his wallet he shot him.â€ Evie cautiously opted not to mention the mysterious second officer, or the letter. â€œThe case gained some publicity but not a whole lot,â€ she added. â€œYouâ€™ve never heard of James Tyrell or Officer Timothy Walker?â€ For a minute it looked as if Stacy was going to say one thing, then it seemed as though he changed his mind. â€œThat happened a few years ago. I did hear about it. That was your husband?â€ Evie nodded, expecting him to jump up and bolt at any minute. Her heart nearly leapt out of her chest when Stacy reached across the table and grabbed her hand. â€œIâ€™m sorry, Evie. Iâ€™m sorry that this terrible thing happened to your husband and he was taken away from you and your son. You didnâ€™t deserve that, and Iâ€™m sure he didnâ€™t deserve that either.â€ Evie sat back. She was stunned by his sincerity. He acted as if he had been the one who committed the crime. â€œYou donâ€™t have to be sorry,â€ she said barely above a whisper. â€œYes, I do. I donâ€™t even know why youâ€™re sitting here with me right now after all of that.â€ â€œI donâ€™t judge all men for the acts of a few.â€ â€œAnd because of that, you are a better person then I could ever be.â€ His hand felt warm and slightly calloused over hers. It felt good. â€œI donâ€™t want to be consumed with hate anymore. It took me a long time to forgive the officer who shot James.â€ Evie fell silent, her mind thinking back to the anonymous letter. As much as she held on to that letter and read it, she never wanted to know the identity of the other officer. â€œEvie,â€ Stacy said, pulling her away from her thoughts. She looked at him expectantly. â€œI know this is our first date, I mean luncheon, but if you give me a chance I promise I will try my best to show you that all cops are not like the one who killed your husband.â€ â€œI know theyâ€™re not, and you donâ€™t have to do that.â€ â€œBut I want to.â€ â€œStacy you donâ€™t even know me. I come with a lot of baggage and itâ€™s not your job to make up for what another man did to me and my family.â€ â€œNo, it isnâ€™t my job, but I want to do it. Iâ€™m volunteering. I donâ€™t know you but I want to. And who doesnâ€™t like a little baggage? It keeps things interesting.â€ â€œBaggage makes for drama,â€ Evie said with a smirk. â€œIt doesnâ€™t have to. Besides, everybody has baggage.â€ â€œAnd whatâ€™s yours?â€ she suddenly asked. â€œYou take care of sick family members, save women who are stranded on the side of the road and want to make up for another manâ€™s mistakes. Do you have any baggage or do you just have a cape?â€ â€œI do not have a cape.â€ â€œYou arenâ€™t hiding a wife and children are you?â€ Sheâ€™d just automatically assumed he wasnâ€™t married or involved with anyone since he asked her out. But now, she felt as though she should ask. He shook his head and chuckled. â€œI would have never asked you out if I had a wife. And no, I donâ€™t have any kids. And Iâ€™m not really involved with anyone.â€ It was then that the waiter brought their meals and Stacy let go of her hand. It immediately felt cold and she found herself wishing he would reach for it again. Still, she tried to push down that feeling as she picked up her fork and closed her eyes to bless her food. When she looked up she found Stacy staring at her curiously. â€œWhat was that?â€ he asked. â€œI was praying over my food.â€ â€œMy mom used to do that all that time. She would force me to do it as a kid. I was about two years old when taught me that rhyme, â€˜God is great, God is good. Let us thank him for this food. In Jesus name, Amen.â€™ â€ Evie couldnâ€™t help but burst out laughing at the childish prayer Stacy offered up. â€œI teach that prayer to my three-year-old son. Was you mother very religious?â€ â€œYes, she was Christian, or I think it was Baptist. I donâ€™t remember. She was one of the good ones though.â€ â€œWhatâ€™s a good one?â€ Evie asked as she cut up her salmon into bite-size pieces. Ironically, Stacy was doing the same to his steak. â€œYou know, one that actually lives the life instead of just talking about it.â€ â€œAre you a Christian?â€ Stacy shook his head, making a negative affirmation. Evieâ€™s heart plummeted just a bit. â€œDo you believe in God?â€ At this he paused. â€œNot really. What about you?â€ â€œIâ€™m Christian. I donâ€™t know if Iâ€™m one of the good ones though.â€ â€œYou are,â€ he said quickly and with such assurance that Evie felt her cheeks redden. The rest of their lunch passed by quickly with much lighter conversation. After their meal was complete and paid for, Evie found herself being walked out to the parking lot by Stacy. All in all, despite its heavy beginning, the luncheon turned out pretty well in her opinion. â€œI had a good time, Evie,â€ Stacy remarked as the valet handed her the car keys. Here it comes, Evie thought. She figured heâ€™d start off with something like â€œThis was nice but letâ€™s not do it again.â€ Or say, â€œIâ€™ll call you at some point,â€ and then he never would. Instead he said, â€œSo when can I see you again?â€ Evie looked at him as if heâ€™d grown two heads. â€œAre you serious? After all of that?â€ â€œDid you think I was joking in there?â€ he asked, motioning to the restaurant. â€œNo, but that was a pretty intense lunch. And like I said, I come with a lot of baggage and I-,â€ â€œDonâ€™t care,â€ Stacy interrupted. â€œNow please, donâ€™t make me stake out Gabrielâ€™s again just to see you.â€ Evie smiled. â€œIâ€™m not sure what my schedule looks like at the hospital next week, but you can call me.â€ She almost laughed at the school boy grin he gave her. â€œWill do,â€ he said. They both stared at each other uneasily for a moment, neither knowing what to do next, until Stacy brought her in for a quick hug. The gesture surprised her. â€œThank you,â€ he whispered in her ear, before setting her down. Confused and feeling slightly giddy, she climbed into her car having no idea why he was thanking her. Chapter 12 Right after his date with Evie Stacy drove straight to Kellyâ€™s apartment from the restaurant to end things once and for allâ€”he didnâ€™t want to lie to Evie. He told her he wasnâ€™t involved with anyone and he wanted that to be true. Unfortunately, ending things with Kelly didnâ€™t go very well. Apparently one of her friends was at Gladstones at the same time he and Evie were there. The friend spotted them right away, then promptly called Kelly to let her know that her boyfriend was out with another woman. After an hour of being shouted and cursed at, it was finally done. There would be no more sex, no more phone calls, no more anything. If he was being honest with himself, he hated that things ended the way they had between him and Kelly. But, she just couldnâ€™t do anything for him anymore, and it was best to end things for good rather than drag them out any further. After his ordeal with Kelly, Stacy was so drained that by the time he got home he immediately fell asleep on the sofa. The beeps from his cell phone were the only thing that woke him up from his nap forty minutes later. He had a voicemail. He didnâ€™t recognize the number, but as soon as he heard the voice on the other end of the line, he suddenly felt more exhausted than he did after his fight with Kelly. It was his brother Greg calling to say he was going to be in town next month for a week and that he hoped everything regarding their motherâ€™s belongings was in order. In other words, Stacy needed to have the money their mother left for him. He rubbed his head, feeling the onset of a headache. Dealing with his brother was the last thing that he needed right now. Greg hadnâ€™t bothered to come to their motherâ€™s funeral, but he was going to show up now for the money? He knew that it was his fault his brother stayed away and had joined the army three years ago, but his mother didnâ€™t have anything to do with that. He used to be close to his brother, but after the incident with James Tyrell, all of that changed. In his opinion, his brother should have set all of their issues aside in order to be there for there mother, but he hadnâ€™t. Stacy dropped his phone onto the coffee table next to the sofa and fell back into the cushions. Heâ€™d already taken care of his motherâ€™s financial situation, so he would have Gregâ€™s check for him when he came. Hopefully that would be all he wanted. Refusing to waste any more time thinking about his brother, Stacy decided to conjure up more pleasant thoughts, like the time he and Evie spent together earlier. She looked absolutely beautiful in her sweater and jeans, and she was so nervous that he tried everything he could think of to put her at ease. What he didnâ€™t expect was for her to divulge what happened to her husband that quickly to him. He was completely taken off guard when she asked if heâ€™d heard about the whole incident. It was out of sheer foolishness that he blurted out that apology. He practically admitted to what he did. Luckily, she simply thought he was being benevolentâ€”and in fact, he was. He could not bring Evieâ€™s husband back, nor could he undo what he did, but he could help her out in any way possible. He could start by showing her that he was not a bad guy. He didnâ€™t exactly know what all that would entail, but he could figure it out as time went on. He was sure this was what he needed to do though, mostly because for once in his life, as odd as it sounded, being around this woman made him feel like his life had meaning for the first time in three years. Chapter 13 Evie breathed in and out slowly as she stuck her house key in the front door. She hadnâ€™t been that nervous since her first date with James. It had gone well though. As soon as she pushed open the front door she heard Jamie shout from somewhere in the house. â€œMommy?!â€ â€œJamie, donâ€™t shout,â€ Madeleine admonished from the living room sofa. â€œItâ€™s me. Iâ€™m home,â€ Evie called out. Suddenly Jamie came barreling from the den and threw himself onto her. She swung him up into her arms and kissed his check. â€œDid you have fun with your man friend? Did you bring me back something?â€ Jamie asked with excitement. â€œMan friend? Really, Mama?â€ Madeleine shrugged. â€œWell, what else am I supposed to call him, honey?â€ â€œWhat did you bring me back?â€ Jamie interrupted. Evie set him down and reached into her purse, producing a small dolphin-shaped foil package. Sheâ€™d been delighted when the waiter at the restaurant molded the foil containing their leftovers into an animal shape. â€œCool, a shark!â€ Jamie exclaimed, grabbing the foil and immediately taking off around the living room. â€œBe careful, baby, thereâ€™s food in there.â€ She hadnâ€™t even bothered to tell him it was a dolphin. â€œOkay!â€ he shouted. As her son dashed out of the room, she suddenly had a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. She could foresee the leftover food spilling onto the floor of the den. However, before she could quickly intervene, her mother sparked a conversation. â€œSo, how was it? As terrible as you thought? Did he attack you in the restaurant?â€ Madeleine asked with her hands on hips. â€œNo. You were right, it was fine. I was nervous, thatâ€™s all, but it turned out okay. I guess weâ€™ll go out again.â€ â€œUh huh, so when do I get to meet this officer?â€ Evie froze; it hadnâ€™t even crossed her mind to introduce Stacy to her family yet. â€œDonâ€™t you think itâ€™s a little early for that?â€ â€œIs the man married?â€ â€œNo.â€ â€œDoes he have kids?â€ â€œNo.â€ â€œWell, then I donâ€™t think itâ€™s too early. This is the first man you have shown any interest in since James died. And before you get into anything serious with him, I think he should have our stamp of approval.â€ Evie grunted. â€œIâ€™m not sixteen okay. This whole intimidate-my-boyfriend thing worked when I was in my teens, but Iâ€™m twenty-six now.â€ Madeleine didnâ€™t flinch. â€œIâ€™m not sayinâ€™ we have to meet him tomorrow, but soon. He knows about Jamie?â€ â€œI told him I have a son. I told him about James too.â€ Madeleineâ€™s eyebrows rose. â€œAnd what did he say about that?â€ â€œHe said he was sorry like it was his fault or something.â€ â€œReally? He apologized?â€ her mother asked in a funny tone. Before Evie could reply, she suddenly remembered that Jamie was still running around the house with the leftovers. As if on cue, she heard a loud cry from the den. â€œSorry Mommy!â€ Jamieâ€™s little voice screeched. Evie sighed as she made her way into the den. The mess was exactly what she expectedâ€”a disaster. Her left over salmon and rice were splattered on the carpet and the stench of the seafood had already begun to soak into its fibers. â€œOh great,â€ Evie said. She hung her head, knowing the work she had cut out for her. She looked at Jamie and despite his apology and puppy-dog eyes she was not going to let him get away so easy. â€œGrab a trash bag and napkins. You are going to help clean this up.â€ â€œOkay, Mommy.â€ As she and Jamie picked up the food and plopped it into the plastic bag one chunk at a time, Evie looked over at her son and wondered whether Stacy would have the patience to deal with such incidences as these. Jamie was a growing boy who was bound to repeat similar mistakes. Even though sheâ€™d been a parent for three years now, she still had difficulty calmly handling childhood errors, but with Stacy being childless, she was unsure whether he would be able to adjust. With the majority of the mess cleaned, she sent Jamie on his way so that she could do the detailed partsâ€”scrubbing the carpet to ensure a permanent stain didnâ€™t set in. Evie poured carpet cleaner over the spot, then scrubbed vigorously and in a circular motion. The action was actually a source of release for her, and as she performed this mindless task she was able to gather her thoughts. Stacy was a police officer whose job was to apprehend criminals of all ages. The boy he brought into her hospital for care was a young teen who had gotten himself in a heap of mess. With this on her mind, Evieâ€™s fears of Stacy not being able to accept her childâ€™s antics fell to the wayside. If he could manage lawbreakers, he could surely find the fortitude to deal with Jamie. Right? By the middle of next week, Evie still hadnâ€™t heard from Stacy. She wasnâ€™t totally surprised; she figured she had scared him away. What in the world had she been thinking telling Stacy about James? Who in the world would want to spend time with someone who had that type of baggage? That night after she finished reading her Bible, she took out the letter and re-read it as she did every night since receiving it. I have not forgotten what happened. I never can and never will. I have not moved on. The only thing that this incident has done for me is made me a better copâ€”made me more cautious. I know that sounds bad, but it has. Just as she was tucking the letter back into her Bible, her cell phone rang. Thinking it was Anna from the hospital, she answered it without looking at the caller ID. â€œIâ€™m not covering your shift Sunday,â€ she said into the phone. â€œOh, well thatâ€™s disappointing. I was hoping to have Sunday off.â€ Evie gasped and tore the phone away from her face, then stared at the caller ID. It read Stacy Walsh. â€œStacy, Iâ€™m sorry. I thought you were one of my co-workers.â€ He laughed, â€œClearly.â€ Silence ensued for a moment while Evie tried to catch her breath and slow down her heart beat. She was in utter disbelief that he had called. â€œSo Iâ€™m guessing you have Sunday off then?â€ She could hear the smile in his voice. â€œFor the time being, yes.â€ She laughed, a little too breathlessly for her taste. â€œIâ€™m sorry I havenâ€™t called for a few days. I had to deal with some financial stuff regarding my mom. Itâ€™s taken a while to straighten it out,â€ he explained. â€œOh, thatâ€™s fine,â€ she said, pleased with how normal her voice sounded now. Stacy cleared his throat. â€œI actually have Sunday off as well, if youâ€™d like to do something this weekend.â€ â€œSunday is not exactly a good day for me. I usually go to church with my family.â€ â€œWhen is your next day off?â€ â€œNot until Friday. Iâ€™m working four-tens this week.â€ â€œI wonâ€™t be off until next Sunday.â€ Disappointed, Evie played with a loose thread on her comforter. With him being a cop and her being a nurse, their schedules might always conflict. Suddenly she had an idea. â€œIf you want...â€ she started then hesitated, â€œI mean you donâ€™t have to or anything, but if you want you can come to church with me Sunday.â€ She had no idea why she put that offer on the table; he didnâ€™t believe in God. The air fell silent, and then Stacy gave a response. â€œThat sounds okay.â€ Shock almost caused Evie to drop the phone. â€œReally?â€ â€œSure, why not. I can meet you there if you give me the address and time. I just have one request.â€ â€œRequest?â€ â€œYes. You have to let me take you out afterward; this time on a real date, not a luncheon.â€ She took a deep breath and said a quick prayer. â€œOkay. Sure.â€ Chapter 14 He took the tie and tossed it onto the dresser, then unbuttoned the top two buttons of his blue, long-sleeved button-down shirt. He had no idea what type of church she went to or what the dress code was. More than anything, he couldnâ€™t figure out why heâ€™d even agreed to go to church with her. Sure, he wanted to spend time with her and he knew with their careers that could prove to be somewhat difficult. But church? Gospel songs, a choir, a sermon, prayer? He hadnâ€™t been to church since he was fourteen years old. By then, his mother had finally given up and stopped forcing him and his brother to go. He hoped he was dressed right. He originally was going to go with a suit but that just seemed too formal. So heâ€™d taken off the tie and suit jacket and untucked the shirt. The finished product of that wasnâ€™t too bad. He looked casual enough but not too casual. He was a nervous wreck on the drive to Calvary Chapel Church. Only when he pulled into the crowded parking lot of the mega church did it really dawn on him what he had gotten himself intoâ€”he was getting ready to go to church, then afterwards take out a woman he barely knew but had become infatuated with. The thought caused him to run his hands through his hair with more force than usual. Unable to turn back now, he mustered up the will to exit the car. As he made his way to the large glass doors that led into the church, he tugged nervously at his shirt. Although it was a mere fifty five degrees out this morning, he was sweating bullets. With one foot through the front door, he hesitated at letting the second follow. After having avoided church for more than a decade, he could only hope that he wouldnâ€™t burst into flames after crossing the threshold. Looking up, he caught sight of Evie; she was standing by herself just a few feet away. At that moment any thoughts of combusting quickly fled his mind, as did every other irrational thought he could conjure up. She was an attractive woman; heâ€™d established that the first time they met at the hospital. There was no doubt in his mind that James had been a lucky man. But watching her stand there in a dress and high heels with her hair down and reaching passed her shoulders, he couldnâ€™t help but wonder if he was in over his head. Still, it didnâ€™t stop him from gazing at her from head to toeâ€”he was a man after all. When he was just a few feet away, he compelled himself to make eye. â€œI wasnâ€™t sure youâ€™d come,â€ she said with nervous energy. Stacy noticed she was a little breathless, and for some reason this boosted his ego a little bit. â€œI told you Iâ€™d be here. How are you?â€ â€œItâ€™s a good day,â€ she said. â€œWell church is about to start. Should we go find seats?â€ Stacy nodded and motioned for her to lead the way. â€œIâ€™m warning you though, I havenâ€™t been to church since I was fourteen years old. My mother is probably turning over in her grave right now.â€ He whispered this as they sat down next to each other in a pew located in the middle of a massive church that was quickly filling up. Evie leaned into him and whispered back, â€œWell you got through the front doors without bursting in flames so I think youâ€™re okay.â€ Stacy looked at her in surprise; she had thought the same as he had a moment ago. The fact that they had come to the same humorous notion comforted him. â€œI see we have jokes today,â€ he uttered back. Evie giggled. He liked the sound of her giggling. But what he liked even more was that he had been the one to make her do it. ___________________________________________________________________________ The church itself was not as bad as Stacy thought it would be. It somewhat reminded him of the church his mother had dragged him and Greg to as kidsâ€”there was singing, scripture reading and announcements. This church was much larger, however, and the congregation was a mix of African Americans, Asians, Hispanics and Caucasians. The eclectic mix put him at ease, but it did nothing to stave off his lack of patience. Even though the activities leading up to the sermon only took about forty five minutes, Stacy felt as though he had been there for hours. The only thing that kept him remotely interested during this time were the occasional turns and smiles from Evie. She was sitting a foot away from him and it made it hard to concentrate. Evie, however, had no trouble; she seemed to be fully engrossed in everything that was going on. She bowed her head and closed her eyes for prayer, and sang along with the hymns without even using the hymnal book. Finally, the pastor made his appearance. He was a tall Hispanic man with a bald head and overwhelming presence. When he opened his mouth to speak, he commanded the attention of the congregationâ€”even Stacy couldnâ€™t help but be lured in by his voice. Listening to every word, Stacy was completely unprepared for what came out of the preacherâ€™s mouth next. â€œNo matter how terrible or how bad we think we are, or how atrocious and awful the things we have done are, God can forgive you and make you knew. He casts your sins far away and remembers them no more. Unfortunately, we as people sometimes can be our toughest critics. Long after God has forgiven us, we havenâ€™t forgiven ourselves.â€ Stacy swallowed hard, as if he were trying to force something down his throat. Was this a joke? Did the pastor somehow find out about his past and engineer this little speech just for him? Unsure, he furrowed his brows and ran his hand through his hair as the preacher continued. â€œIt says in Romans 7: 14-25, â€˜We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to doâ€”this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in Godâ€™s law. But I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to Godâ€™s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.â€ Stacy sat forward. That was the scripture he read in his motherâ€™s Bible a few weeks ago when cleaning out her room. As the pastor continued his sermon, Stacy tried to wrap his mind around what the man was really saying. If he really understood that Bible verse and the pastorâ€™s explanation, then that would mean that God forgave him for what he did. But could God really forgive someone for killing another individual for no reason? Murder was one of the top sins in his own book. And after three years he hadnâ€™t forgiven himself, so how could God forgive him? What was he thinking? He didnâ€™t even believe in God, but even as Stacy thought these words he wasnâ€™t sure if they were true anymore. His head begin to hurt as he tried to wrap his mind around the part of the Bible verse that stuck out to him the most: â€˜I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.â€™ If he could put exactly how he felt that night and for the last three years into words, that was it. He turned slightly and caught Evieâ€™s profile in his peripheral vision. She looked calm and relaxed, totally at peace as she underlined something in her Bible. He smiled to himself; his mother had always been underlining something in her Bible too. When church service ended and they stood up to leave Evie looked at him, and for a moment he thought she was going to ask him how he liked the sermonâ€”he hoped she wouldnâ€™t. He didnâ€™t quite know how he felt about it, and he didnâ€™t want to lie to her any more than he already had. But to his relief she didnâ€™t; she simply motioned to the set of doors that marked the exit. They were quiet as they fought their way through throngs of people. Once outside, before he could say anything, Evie turned to him and after scanning the crowd nervously said, â€œIâ€™m sorry to do this to you, Stacy.â€ â€œWhatâ€™s the matter?â€ â€œI really wasnâ€™t planning on doing this right here and now but my mother is here and sheâ€™s on her way over here. Sheâ€™s going to want to meet you. Iâ€™m sorry to spring this on you.â€ Stacy interrupted her with a laugh and a sigh of relief. â€œThatâ€™s fine, Evie. I donâ€™t mind meeting her.â€ He watched as she seemed to visibly relax at his words. â€œYou sure you donâ€™t mind?â€ she asked â€œNo, not at all.â€ Before he could say anything else a small boy seemed to come out of nowhere and fling himself onto Evieâ€™s legs. â€œMommy, Grandma said I could have ice cream if I was good in Sunday school. Can I? Can I?â€ the small boy cried. Stacy smiled figuring the little boy had to be her son, but his smile quickly disappeared when the boy turned around and looked at him. It was almost as if he had been punched in the gut. The boy was the spitting image of his father. Stacy faltered for a minute but caught himself just as Evie was saying, â€œStacy this is my son, Jamie.â€ Pulling himself together quickly, Stacy bent down to put himself at eye level with the boy. He then smiled and stuck out his hand. â€œHey Jamie, Iâ€™m Stacy.â€ Like any young boy who is being introduced to a stranger, Jamie was shy and slow to extend his hand back. â€œHeâ€™s a police officer,â€ Evie said to the boy. At those words, Jamieâ€™s eyes lit up. â€œDo you have a gun?â€ he asked, quickly overcoming his shyness. â€œI do.â€ â€œDo you shoot bad guys?â€ Stacy cringed at the question and for a moment imagined God in the heavens looking down upon him, shaking his head and saying, â€˜Look at what youâ€™ve gotten yourself into.â€™ â€œI try not to shoot anybody,â€ he managed to get out with fake cheer in his voice. â€œWell now, who is this?â€ A middle-aged, attractive brown-skinned version of Evie said approaching them. â€œStacy, this is my mother, Madeleine Crowne.â€ Madeleine smiled warmly as she approached them and reached out to shake Stacyâ€™s hand. He stood up and took her hand. â€œNice to meet you, Ms. Crowne,â€ he said. â€œPlease call me Madeleine. So, this is him? The police officer?â€ she stated, clearly sizing him up. â€œIâ€™m so sorry Stacy, I didnâ€™t mean for you to be bombarded by the whole family. I promise this is all of them.â€ â€œI donâ€™t mind,â€ he said, actually meaning it, as he watched James Tyrellâ€™s mini me stare up at him with his fatherâ€™s eyes. â€œNonsense,â€ Madeleine said. â€œDo you have a gun in your car?â€ Jamie suddenly piped up. As much as Stacy was disarmed by this little boys looks and his fascination with guns, he knelt down again and said, â€œI donâ€™t think your mom wants you playing with guns. But I do have a set of handcuffs in my car if you want to see those.â€ â€œOoh, Mommy can I go see them?â€ Jamie cried, jumping up and down in excitement. â€œIâ€™m parked right over there,â€ Stacy said, pointing to his Chevrolet Tahoe parked a few yards away. He looked to Evie for approval, but he found more in her face than he was counting on: gratitude. â€œThank you. Sure, Jamie, go ahead.â€ Jamie took off for the car, before anyone could stop him. As Stacy took off after Jamie he could here Madeline saying, â€œWell now, heâ€™s just scored about ten points in my book.â€ Stacy was pleased by the utterance, but wasnâ€™t sure if she meant for him to here that or not. ______________________________________________________________________________ â€œIâ€™m really sorry about all of that. I really wasnâ€™t planning on having you meet my family after only one date,â€ Evie said, later on, as Stacy drove up Muholland Drive towards the Getty Museum. There was a special art exhibit featuring the work of somebody named Georgia Oâ€™keefe that he was taking Evie to see. Some time ago, he heard Kelly say her work was for women, or something like that. He didnâ€™t know if Evie was even into art, but when he mentioned they were going to an art exhibit she seemed pleased. â€œSo, then this is a date?â€ Stacy said, looking over at Evie. â€œI guess,â€ she conceded. â€œAnd I would actually call this our fourth date,â€ he said. Evie crinkled her eyebrows out of confusion. â€œOur first date was when I saw you at Gabrielâ€™s,â€ explained Stacy. Evie couldnâ€™t help but laugh at this. â€œOur second date was when I rescued you on the side of the road after your car stalled. And then the third date was our luncheon. Now, this is the fourth.â€ â€œI hardly think rescuing me on the side of the road is a date,â€ she countered. â€œI count it as one,â€ said Stacy. Eager to transition the conversation, Evie asked if he was available during the week. Her mother wanted to have him over for dinner. â€œIâ€™m free Friday. Is your mom a good cook? I havenâ€™t had a good home cooked meal in a long time.â€ Evie explained to him that Madeline grew up in Louisiana and being a good cook was a pre-requisite for all women in the area of New Orleans where she lived. Stacy was delighted to hear this. â€œSo, thank you for entertaining Jamie. He can be umâ€¦.very excited about things sometimes,â€ Evie said as they pulled into the parking lot of the Getty. â€œHe seems like an exciting kid,â€ Stacy agreed. â€œHeâ€™s a handful; I might as well say it. I have no idea how to raise little boys.â€ Stacy shut off the car, unfastened his seat belt, than turned towards her. â€œYou donâ€™t think you do a good job, mom?â€ Evie didnâ€™t look at him; instead, she looked out the window. Stacy knew immediately that he had hit a soft spot. â€œItâ€™s hard, I admit. Heâ€™s into everything right now and I donâ€™t know how to channel all of that excess energy. My mom and I can only do so much with him. And with me working so much and my crazy hours as a nurse, sometimes I think I come up short.â€ She looked at him suddenly and it was as if she realized she was telling him these personal things. â€œNever mind, Iâ€™m just talking. You ready?â€ Wishing the moment would pass quickly, Evie hurried to gather her purse and other belongings. She had hoped it would signal that she was ready to get out of the car, but Stacy wasnâ€™t done with her yet. â€œMy dad was in the Air Force. He married my mom right before they shipped him overseas to Germany. They spent just enough time together for her to get pregnant with me, then he left. She didnâ€™t have a whole lot of family out here in California, they were all back in Kansas, where she was from. My dad didnâ€™t have any living relatives close by, so she was mostly by herself. I was six months old when he came back, and he stayed just long enough to make my brother. He went back to Germany, leaving my mom to pretty much raise us by herself for the next few years. When he came back for good I was about four and my brother was three. She used to tell me those were the hardest years of her life and more often than not, she questioned whether she was a good mother and if she had done right by us those years she was alone. â€œShe told me that one day my brother and I had given her a particularly hard time, so she took us to the park and was sitting on the bench watching us play while she quietly had a nervous breakdown,â€ he continued. â€œIt was during that moment a woman came over and started talking to her. She told me that the woman talked endlessly, but there was one thing she remembered from that whole conversation, one thing that stuck with her for years. She said that only good mothers question whether or not they are doing right by their kids. A truly bad mother, or one that didnâ€™t really care, wouldnâ€™t question their motherhood.â€ Stacy watched Evieâ€™s face carefully looking for any sign that he had overstepped his boundaries, but once again all he saw was that thing againâ€”gratitude . Very much misplaced, he thought to himself. â€œThank you,â€ she finally said. With Evie at a loss for words, Stacy made a move to get out of the car. She followed him and as they made their way up to the tram that would take them to the museum, her mind began to churn as it searched for something to say. â€œYour mother must have been a strong woman.â€ â€œShe was, although she didnâ€™t look like it and she wouldnâ€™t tell you she was.â€ He continued, â€œBut then again, itâ€™s usually the ones who donâ€™t consider themselves the strongest that usually are, isnâ€™t it?â€ Not speaking a word, Evie turned to him and grinned. Once inside of the museum, Evie asked him which art exhibit was being featured. When he told her, she gave him a funny look. â€œAre you familiar with Oâ€™keefeâ€™s work?â€ she questioned. â€œUm, not really. Are you? A friend of mine recommended her.â€ â€œYou could say that,â€ she stated in response, donning a half smile and a raised eyebrow. Stacy was not really an art fanatic and wasnâ€™t familiar with any artistâ€™s work except maybe Van Gogh, so he really didnâ€™t understand the funny looks Evie kept giving him until they made their way into the gallery and he was staring at a painting called Grey Line With Black, Blue and Yellow. Its shapes, though artistically done, bared a striking resemblance to a womanâ€™s intimate parts. As they continued through the art gallery Stacy became increasingly uncomfortable. After a while he felt like he should say something. â€œSo um, Oâ€™keefeâ€™s work is, uh, interesting.â€ Evie bit her bottom lip to keep from laughing out loud. â€œDid you know this was the type of stuff she painted?â€ â€œNo. Clearly I wouldnâ€™t have taken us to this exhibit if I had. Why didnâ€™t you tell me?â€ â€œNow whereâ€™s the fun in that? I didnâ€™t want to spoil this lovely outing you planned.â€ â€œSpoil it?â€ Stacy looked at Evie incredulously. â€œWhat did you want me to say? Oh, hey Stacy, just in case you didnâ€™t realize it Georgia Oâ€™Keefeâ€™s paintings are part of the womanâ€™s feminist movement and the majority of them are flowers that bear a striking resemblance toâ€¦.â€ Evie, too embarrassed yet highly amused, covered her mouth before she could let the word slip out. â€œYou canâ€™t even say it!â€ Stacy hissed. Almost on cue, they both burst out in laughter and thought that turning away would halt it, but instead they had rotated in the direction of the painting, which only sparked more amusement. After getting control of herself, Evie explained that Oâ€™Keefe was in fact a popular artist. Still, Stacy folded his arms across his chest and couldnâ€™t help but think what an idiot he was. He really should have done some research about the artist before dragging Evie here. At least she hadnâ€™t gotten the wrong idea about him. â€œI am officially embarrassed now. Do you want to leave? We can go somewhere elseâ€¦..anywhere else,â€ he offered. â€œAre you kidding? There are two more rooms of her paintings that we havenâ€™t seen yet. Itâ€™s not every day you get to look at paintings of flowers that look like lady parts. Plus, we have to get your moneyâ€™s worth.â€ â€œLead the way then.â€ Chapter 15 Evie stood in the full-length mirror and stared at herself. The white button-down shirt she had on looked too dressy. She stripped it off and grabbed the plain, cotton jersey t-shirt off of her bed and slipped it on. That was much better. On second thought maybe not; maybe it was too plain. She groaned. Why was she so nervous? She was somewhat comfortable with Stacy now. She shouldnâ€™t be a nervous wreck over him coming to the house for dinner, but she was. This would be the first time he would be in her home, getting an intimate view of her life. According to him, this would be their sixth date. Their fifth had been earlier this week when heâ€™d surprised her at the hospital during her break and brought her lunch. Their meetings were becoming more frequent and while Evie considered Stacy to be nice and was starting to become fond of him, she didnâ€™t know where this thing between them was headed. She was unsure whether she was ready for a relationship and if she were, how it would survive with their beliefs and faith being so different. Nevertheless she enjoyed spending time with him. As she stood there smoothing out her t-shirt, she chuckled at the thought of the art exhibit debacle. During their tour of the last exhibit hall, sheâ€™d decided to have a little fun with him. She pointed to one of the more risquÃ© paintings and declared that as her favorite. The look on Stacyâ€™s face was priceless. Evie hadnâ€™t had fun like that in a very long time. She almost felt guilty for allowing herself such pleasure. The doorbell rang jolting Evie out of her thoughts. Before she could make it out of the room, she heard voices. It was that of Stacy, her mother and Jamieâ€™s shouts. She clenched her teeth. â€œEvie, Stacyâ€™s here!â€ called her mother from the living room. She looked herself over in the mirror one more time. Well, the cotton t-shirt would just have to do for tonight. She shut her bedroom door behind her and made her way to the front of the house. The scenario made her feel like she was nineteen again and getting ready for her first date with James. Entering the room, she spotted Stacy on his knees. He was handing Jamie a package. But when he saw Evie, he straightened up. â€œHey,â€ he finally said. â€œHey yourself,â€ she said from the frame of the doorway. He was handsome today in a button-down blue shirt, jeans and Converse shoes. Just as she was admiring his attire, she was shaken from her trance by Jamie. â€œMommy!â€ He screamed. â€œMr. Stacy got me hand cuffs. My own handcuffs, can you believe it?â€ â€œWhat?â€ Evie said, going to her son. He held up a pair of plastic toy handcuffs. â€œOh, that was nice. What do you say, Jamie?â€ Madeline asked her grandson. â€œThank you, Mr. Stacy.â€ â€œYouâ€™re welcome, kiddo.â€ As Evie scanned the roomed, she noticed flowers on the counter. â€œArenâ€™t my flowers beautiful?â€ Her mother asked, pointing in their direction. â€œThey are.â€ Evie agreed, thinking Stacy too kind. But he wasnâ€™t finished with his flattery yet. He reached over and handed Evie a large envelope. She took the package and pulled out a thick paper inside. Her eyes grew big when she saw what it was and she immediately stuffed it back in the envelope. It was a reprint of the painting she said she liked yesterday. It was the one she claimed to adore for the sole purpose of teasing him and making him uncomfortable. And clearly by his laughter, he knew this and had decided to pay her back in kind. â€œYou said you liked that painting, right?â€ he asked. â€œI did, didnâ€™t I? Wow, Iâ€™ll have to find a special place for this one,â€ she barely managed to get out. â€œWas that something you saw at the art gallery last weekend?â€ her mother asked. â€œUm, yes. Iâ€™ll just go put this in my room.â€ Evie hurried off, hoping her mother wouldnâ€™t ask to see it. After depositing the envelope underneath her pillow, she walked backed into the living room. Her mother was bent over the stove peering into a pot and Jamie was on the sofa attempting to put the handcuffs on Stacy. â€œDinner will be ready in about ten minutes,â€ Madeleine called from the kitchen. â€œI hope you like jambalaya, Stacy.â€ â€œIâ€™ve never had it before, but if it tastes as good as it smells then I think I will. Besides, Iâ€™m not a picky eater; Iâ€™ll pretty much eat whatever is put in front of me.â€ â€œMy kind of man,â€ her mother said, replacing the lid on the pot. â€œLook Mommy, you put the key in the handcuffs and they open,â€ Jamie exclaimed. â€œI see that.â€ Evie responded taking a seat on the sofa next to her son and Stacy. She watched quietly as Stacy patiently taught Jamie how to maneuver the handcuffs around his wrist and lock them. Watching how gentle he was with her son made her wonder if he had any nieces or nephews because he seemed to be very good with kids. This revelation sobered her up quickly because it only served to remind her just how quickly she could fall for this man if she was not careful. They sat down for dinner fifteen minutes later, with Jamie insisting on sitting next to Stacy. Throughout the meal Evie watched her son talk excitedly through a mouth full of food to Stacy. He listened good-naturedly and responded to her sonâ€™s antics with appropriate enthusiasm. Besides the male relatives who visited periodically, he was the first man Jamie really had any contact with. It was amazing to see how quickly her son had taken to him, and even more remarkable that Stacy didnâ€™t seem to be annoyed or bothered with Jamieâ€™s level of intense energy. Though the sight brought her immense joy, for a split second Evie was filled with sadness. James should be here sitting with them at this table right now, playing with their son. With his calm demeanor, James would have no doubt been able to handle Jamieâ€™s vivaciousness. As her emotions began to mount and feel as though they were rising up her throat, Evieâ€™s eyes swelled with tears. To keep them from falling down her warm cheeks, she had to find a distraction, which oddly was her plate of food. She poked at the jambalaya until she was able to stuff her feelings way back down where they always were. When she finally looked up a few minutes later, Stacy was watching her intently. Her mother, on the other hand, was scolding Jamie for talking with a mouth full of food. Evie tried to don a smile, but couldnâ€™t be sure that she wore it well enough to give it some authenticity. After dinner, to Evieâ€™s horror, Jamie threw a tantrum in front of Stacy. He became upset when Madeleine crushed his plans of staying up late and spending more time with Stacy and informed him he was going to take a bath. Strangely, this outburst didnâ€™t seem to bother Stacy at all. He simply promised Jamie that if he did as he was told he would come back and visit him again. This seemed to placate her son enough to let her mother lead him to the bathroom. So, as Evie walked Stacy outside to his car she couldnâ€™t help but blurt out, â€œYouâ€™re very good with kids. Iâ€™m so sorry for Jamieâ€™s behavior. My mother is able to deal with him better than I am. I get too overwhelmed sometimes.â€ Stacy was quiet until they reached his car, which was parked across the street. Once there he made no effort to get inside. Rather, he leaned against the driverâ€™s side door and folded his arms over his chest. They stood in the street under the now lit street lights. â€œMy mom was an amazing woman and you remind me so much of her,â€ he finally said after a while. Evie smiled to herself, quietly accepting the comment. She felt more comfortable after hearing this and too leaned up against the car but rather stuffed her hands in the pockets of her pull over. All of a sudden Stacy said, â€œSports.â€ Evie was confused. â€œWhat?â€ â€œHave you ever thought of getting Jamie into sports? Heâ€™s too young for football, but they have soccer and t-ball for kids his age.â€ Understanding dawned on her. â€œI never thought of that.â€ â€œHeâ€™s a great kid, with a lot of energy. Sports might be good for him to burn some of that off.â€ â€œDid your mother have you and your brother in sports?â€ She saw him smile to himself, â€œyup.â€ â€œAre you close to your brother?â€ Evie asked. Stacy talked about his mother often, but not that much about his brother. â€œNo,â€ he said abruptly. By the sharpness of his voice, Evie could tell that there was something else going on there and that he was not ready to elaborate, so she left it alone. He then said, â€œIf you donâ€™t mind me asking, you seemed to go into your own world there for a minute during dinner.â€ Evie sucked in a breath and replied, â€œIt was nothing. Just thinking aboutâ€¦.nothing really.â€ â€œWere you thinking about your husband when you saw me with Jamie?â€ Stacy asked softly. Evieâ€™s stared at him in shock, her mouth dropped open. â€œHow did you know that?â€ Stacy shrugged. â€œSixth sense, I guess.â€ Then with a whisper, he continued: â€œYou know itâ€™s okay to be sad, to miss him. Thereâ€™s nothing wrong with it.â€ â€œMy mother thinks I need to move on.â€ â€œEasier said than done, right?â€ Evie only nodded. â€œCan I ask you something about what your pastor said last Sunday at church?â€ â€œSure.â€ Evie looked up at Stacy, her interest piqued. â€œDo you think God forgives all sins, no matter how bad or how terrible they are?â€ Evieâ€™s eyebrows shot up; she thought he didnâ€™t believe in God. Taking a quick swallow, she fired off an answer. â€œYes.â€ Stacy nodded in understanding and Evie watched as he ran his hands through his hair. He was obviously trying to work out something in his mind at the moment and probably didnâ€™t realize his hair was even more disheveled than normal. Without even thinking, Evie reached up and ran her hands through it. He turned to look at her and she snatched her hand back as if she had just stuck it in a fire. She laughed nervously and said, â€œSorry, it was sticking up everywhere. I couldnâ€™t help myself; Iâ€™m such a mom.â€ But her apologies were unnecessary. Stacy wasnâ€™t bothered by the contact. He said as much causing Evieâ€™s chest to suddenly tighten. She was frightened and excited at the same time. The two feelings were in conflict with one another, and unsure which was stronger, she had to remove herself from Stacy before one took over the other. â€œIâ€™d better go inside so I can tuck Jamie in,â€ she said quickly, pushing herself up off of his car. â€œThank you for the gifts. Well, at least for my motherâ€™s flowers and Jamieâ€™s handcuffs.â€ Stacy smiled, but it did not reach his eyes. â€œIâ€™ll call you tomorrow. Oh yeah, tell your mother thank you again for the meal; it was delicious.â€ Evie waved good bye to him as she jogged back across the street, and with her back now turned to Stacy, she could release the huge grin she had been trying to hold in. Walking into the house, Evie heard the water running in the bathroom and her mother scolding Jamie for something he had done. Curious about what was taking place, she made her way down the hallway and peeked her head around the door. â€œMommy!â€ Jamie cried, suddenly standing up in the tub and splashing her mother with soapy bath water. â€œGood Lord, Jamie!â€ Madeline exclaimed. â€œIâ€™ll take over Mama.â€ Her mother scooted back tiredly and picked herself up just enough to plop down on the closed lid of the toilet seat. She grabbed a hand towel and began to rub excess water off of her face. â€œYouâ€™re going to be the death of me,â€ she said, looking at Jamie. â€œNo, Iâ€™m not.â€ He retorted. The little boy laughed, giving his mother a sopping wet hug. Evie hugged him back. â€œAlright, sit down babe. Let me rinse you off.â€ Jamie plopped back down into the water, effectively splashing her. â€œIs Stacy gone?â€ her mother asked. Evie nodded her head up and down. â€œHeâ€™s a nice man. I think I like him. It was sweet of him to bring us gifts.â€ Evie agreed. â€œSoâ€¦â€ her mother began. â€œWhat is it Mama? What do you want to know?â€ Evie sighed. She should have known her mother was going to have some sort of opinion on the evening, considering this was the first man sheâ€™d brought home aside from James. â€œStacy said his mother died a few months ago, didnâ€™t he?â€ â€œYes, from breast cancer.â€ â€œSo sad. Just like your Aunt Sandra.â€ Her motherâ€™s oldest sisterâ€”and her favorite auntâ€”died from breast cancer five years ago. â€œHow long has he been a police officer?â€ â€œHe said about four years.â€ â€œMmm.â€ Evie could tell there was much more in the â€˜mmmâ€™ than her mother was letting on. â€œWhich police station does he work at?â€ â€œThe one over on Broadway, Mama. Can you please stop with the third-degree? Why in the world didnâ€™t you just ask him all of this while he was over here?â€ â€œOh, I didnâ€™t want to be rude,â€ her mother said. Evie narrowed her eyes and flicked a few drops of water at her. â€œEvelyn Karen Tyrell! You keep that up and I swear Iâ€™m going to put you over my knee and spank you like I used too,â€ Madeline exclaimed, tossing the hand towel at her daughter. Evie caught it and laughed. After Jamie was put to bed Evie made her way to her room and plopped onto her bed. She took out the Georgia Oâ€™keefe reprint Stacy bought her and couldnâ€™t help but smile to herself as she stared at it. He definitely had a humorous side to him. Tucking the reprint into the drawer of her night stand, she then pulled out her Bible and flipped it open to Psalms as was her custom every night and took out the letter and begin reading it. â€œEvie?â€ Startled, she looked up to see her motherâ€™s frame in the doorway. She didnâ€™t hear or see her come in. She quickly folded up the letter and stuck it back in her Bible. â€œAre you reading that letter again?â€ Evie exhaled and rolled onto her back. â€œYes.â€ Madeline shook her head slightly. â€œWhy honey? Why do you keep doing that to yourself?â€ â€œI donâ€™t know, Mama, I just do. I just have to. Maybe one day Iâ€™ll be able to rip it up and throw it in the garbage and forget all about it. But not right now.â€ â€œDoes Stacy know about that letter?â€ â€œI havenâ€™t told him.â€ â€œYouâ€™ve told him about how James died, didnâ€™t you?â€ Evie nodded. â€œHe needed to know, especially since heâ€™s a police officer.â€ â€œWhat was his reaction when you told him?â€ To this Evie shrugged her shoulders. â€œIt was nice. He said something about making it up to me if I gave him a chance.â€ All of a sudden her mother became rigid and a strange look came over her face that she couldnâ€™t place. Finally she said, â€œWell now, that was an interesting reaction.â€ â€œI thought it was nice. He could have gone running for the hills when I told him everything. For Godâ€™s sake, he could have gone running for the hills tonight when he saw Jamie raise hell. But he didnâ€™t, and that means a lot to me.â€ â€œWell, you got him into church and thatâ€™s always a good thing.â€ Madeline hesitated for a moment after this then said, â€œSo where do you see this thing going? Itâ€™s been about two months now since you all have met.â€ â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Evie said truthfully. â€œThere are a lot of factors to consider. But as of right now weâ€™re just friends.â€ â€œGood. I think Iâ€™d like to see more of him.â€ Evie beamed at her motherâ€™s approval then closed her Bible and hopped off of her bed. â€œIâ€™ll take care of the dishes. Go to bed,â€ she said, kissing her motherâ€™s cheek and starting down the hallway to the kitchen. Chapter 16 Evie enrolled Jamie into a t-ball program at the park down the street from her house, and his first practice was today. Stacy new she was nervous about the whole ordeal, so he offered to go with her. He hadnâ€™t seen them since dinner a week ago, and was anxious to spend more time with them. Stacy knew that things were getting bigger and growing faster than heâ€™d meant for them to, and there were times when the guilt ate away at him like some disease. But when he was around Evie, his contrition seemed to go away and somehow he felt removed from his shame. Sometimes it would return, however, when Jamie was around. He was the spitting image of James. Yet, Stacy saw so much of his childhood self in himâ€”full of crazy energy that just shot out everywhere when not channeled into something. For this, there was a commonality and Stacy couldnâ€™t help but be drawn to the little boy. He even took a liking to Evieâ€™s mother. She was nice, warm and didnâ€™t bombard him with a barrage of questions like Kellyâ€™s mother always had. In the back of his mind, despite his affections for Evie and her family, he knew that this little scenario heâ€™d created for himself was not going to end well. There was only one way this thing could play out, and it wasnâ€™t good. As Stacy headed out of the door, he noticed an unfamiliar car parked in the driveway behind his. He stopped and looked, shading his eyes from the afternoon sun with his hand, but it was hard to see anything within the shadow of the car. It wasnâ€™t until he saw his younger brother immerge from the vehicle that he froze. He knew his brother Greg was going to show up sooner or later. Heâ€™d called and told him to expect him within the next few months yet somehow Stacy was still unprepared for this reunion. His brother walked towards him and stopped about ten feet away, blocking the walkway. He hadnâ€™t seen Greg in almost three years. Looking at the grown man only a year younger than himself, he saw little of the college kid that had skipped town years earlier and spontaneously joined the army out of spite. They stood sizing each other up for a few moments, until Stacy finally greeted his brother. â€œGreg.â€ â€œStacy.â€ â€œThanks for letting me know you were coming by today.â€ The comment came out a little more sarcastic than Stacy had meant it to. However, his brother didnâ€™t bat an eyelash. â€œIâ€™m on my way out,â€ Stacy continued, â€œso I canâ€™t sort everything out with you right now.â€ â€œThatâ€™s fine. I can wait. Iâ€™m in town for a while on leave. Iâ€™m staying with some friends.â€ Stacy shrugged. â€œGreat. Iâ€™ll see you maybe tomorrow then.â€ And with that, he brushed passed his brother and walked out to the curb towards his car. He hadnâ€™t intended to be so curt with his brother, but he couldnâ€™t help but be a little angry that Greg hadnâ€™t come to see their mother in the past three years and hadnâ€™t even bothered to attend her funeral. No matter what problems Greg had with him, he should have been there for their mother and not simply emerge only when there was to be money collected. By the time Stacy arrived at the park he was somewhat out of sorts. With everything going on in his life right now the last thing he needed to add to that list was his brother, but one could only be in a bad mood for so long while watching three year olds try and play t-ball. It wasnâ€™t long before heâ€™d totally forgotten about his brother and was cheering Jamie on, assuring Evie that the boy wasnâ€™t too young to play sports and engaging Madeleine in conversation. â€œJamieâ€™s a natural. Look at him, he hit the ball on his first try.â€ Stacy commented. He could see the worry lines etched on Evieâ€™s face. â€œHe seems so much smaller than the other kids though.â€ â€œOh, baby, stop worrying; heâ€™s fine. Itâ€™s baseball, not football,â€ Madeline said. â€œAnyway, Stacy you were saying your mom grew up in Kansas?â€ â€œYes, Kansas City. â€œ â€œAnd your father was a veteran?â€ â€œHe was in the air force during Vietnam.â€ â€œEvieâ€™s uncle was as well, although he was never in actual combat. Thank God for that.â€ â€œMy father wasnâ€™t either.â€ â€œDo you have any siblings?â€ â€œUh, a brother.â€ Stacy almost choked on the words. â€œAre you two close?â€ â€œGrowing up we were. Not so much now. Heâ€™s been in the army for the last three years.â€ â€œGood for him. Your mother must have been very proud of you two.â€ â€œMy brother is a year younger me.â€ Stacy said, for lack of anything else better to say about his brother. â€œMommy! Grandma!â€ Jamie shouted, rapidly climbing the bleachers towards them. Stacy sighed in relief. Jamieâ€™s interruption could not have come at a better time. â€œDid you see me hit the ball? I hit it! I hit it! Mr. Stacy, did you see me? â€œ â€œYeah, we saw you kiddo. You looked good out there.â€ Stacy grinned down at the boy and pat his shoulder affectionately. â€œI like baseball. Itâ€™s so much fun. When can I play again?â€ Jamie exclaimed. â€œWell, your next practice is Saturday,â€ Evie told her son as she hefted up the sweatpants that were slowly creeping down his narrow waist. â€œMr. Stacy, will you come to watch me again?â€ â€œI wouldnâ€™t miss it.â€ â€œGrandma, will you?â€ â€œOh, baby, next weekend I canâ€™t. Iâ€™ll be out of town.â€ Evieâ€™s head shot up. â€œWhatâ€™s next weekend?â€ Stacy watched her carefully. He could see the anxiety beginning to creep up on her face. He could only guess it was at the prospect of her mother leaving. â€œI told you last week Iâ€™m going up to Laughlin for the weekend with Mrs. Headley and her sister.â€ Stacy almost smiled to himself the way Evieâ€™s face scrunched up at the mention of her neighborâ€™s name. â€œHow long are you going to be gone for?â€ â€œWeâ€™re leaving Friday night and should be back Sunday morning. But, I wonâ€™t make it back in time for church.â€ Evie breathed heavily. â€œAll right.â€ â€œYouâ€™ll be fine.â€ Madeleine assured her daughter. â€œI guess so.â€ Evie rose from off of the bench. â€œOkay Jamie, letâ€™s get you home and wash that one inch thick layer of dirt off of you.â€ As they walked out to the parking lot, Stacy gently pulled Evie back and motioned for her to let Madeleine walk ahead of them with Jamie. â€œWhat has you so worried about next weekend?â€ he asked quietly. â€œItâ€™s nothing,â€ she waved him off, and then seemed to think better of it. â€œItâ€™s just that whenever my momâ€™s out of town it gets a little hectic by myself. No big deal though. Iâ€™ll be fine.â€ She forced a smile, but Stacy noticed that it lacked honesty. â€œIâ€™m off duty next weekend. If you need anything, just let me know. I can help you out with Jamie.â€ Stacy offered. Unfortunately, he didnâ€™t get the reaction he thought he would. A look passed over her face so quickly that he had trouble figuring out exactly what it meant. It seemed like relief at first, then something else. Maybe it was concern, or perhaps it was fear? â€œOkay,â€ she finally said. ____________________________________________________________________________ To his dismay, Greg showed up the following morning at six oâ€™clock. Stacy barely had time to roll out of bed before he heard the doorbell ring. He quickly pulled a pair of basketball shorts on over his boxers and furiously ran his hands though his hair before making his way to the living room. When he peeked through the blinds and saw his brother on the porch he felt like putting his fist through the wall. He slung open the front door, but before he could say anything Greg pushed passed him and entered the house. â€œSeriously, Greg? Itâ€™s six oâ€™clock in the morning!â€ â€œSince you couldnâ€™t find the time to deal with me yesterday Iâ€™m here now.â€ Greg said coldly. He was standing in the middle of the living room feet spread apart and hands clasped behind his back. Even though he wore a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, he practically oozed army. â€œOkay, what do you want, Greg? You want your money? Is that it? Fine.â€ Stacy stormed to his bedroom where he kept all of his motherâ€™s papers in his desk. He took out the cashierâ€™s check that he had made out to his brother a few weeks ago. All of his motherâ€™s assets had been split right down the middle, with half going to him and half to his brother. He walked back into the living room and thrust the check at him. â€œHere is your half. Everything was divided down the middle.â€ Greg took the check almost reluctantly. â€œSheâ€™s buried at Rose Hills Cemetery.â€ A flicker of emotion passed over his brotherâ€™s face as headed back towards the door. As he was reaching for the handle he turned and looked at Stacy. â€œYouâ€™re real messed up big brother.â€ â€œIâ€™m messed up?!â€ Stacy exploded. â€œWe havenâ€™t heard from you in three years. While your own mother was dying on that bed in my back room you didnâ€™t bother to come see her. And Iâ€™m messed up? Youâ€™re so twisted you couldnâ€™t even get over your own hate for me for her sake.â€ â€œYou killed a man!â€ Greg shouted back. The force of hearing his brother say those words hit him so hard he almost stumbled backwards. â€œHow could I stand to be near you when that was the type of person youâ€™d become. You were my big brother and I looked up to you.â€ â€œI was wrong. The situation was wrong. I never meant to hurt that man.â€ â€œYet you did, and got away with it.â€ â€œI didnâ€™t get away with anything,â€ Stacy muttered. In fact, he was reminded of his mistake every time he was around Evie and her son. â€œYou ruined my life.â€ Stacy found this comment highly amusing. â€œI ruined your life? How? Because youâ€™re silly little girlfriend decided to take things to the next level?â€ â€œYou killed a black man in cold blood. What was she supposed to think or do for that matter?â€ â€œBelieve me!â€ â€œYouâ€™re a white cop! Why would she believe you?â€ â€œBecause you were my brother and she knew me! You should have made her understand.â€ â€œHow could I make her understand when I didnâ€™t?â€ Stacy was starting to get a headache from all of the yelling. He was in no mood to rehash the problems that Gregâ€™s ex-girlfriend had caused after the incident. â€œJust go, Greg. Youâ€™ve got your money. Iâ€™m sorry if you feel I ruined your only chance at happiness with Jasmine. See yourself out.â€ Feeling resigned, Stacy left his brother in the living room and retreated to the bathroom where he found a bottle of aspirin and downed two five hundred milligram tablets. He didnâ€™t leave the bathroom until he heard the front door shut, and then he went back to bed. _____________________________________________________________________________ Three years later and his brother was still nursing a broken heart. It was not over the fact that Stacy took a manâ€™s life, but that Jasmine, his brotherâ€™s girlfriend broke up with him because of it. The notion was ridiculous. The situation had been very precarious three years ago, and it seemed to end badly for everybody involved to some degree. After James Tyrellâ€™s death, there were only three people that knew the truth about the situation: his great uncle Chief Parker, who cleaned the whole mess up; his partner Timothy Walker; and his brother whom he mistakenly told. At that time, Greg was a senior at the University of California Los Angeles. When he first told his brother about James Tyrell, Greg had his back and was very supportive. He seemed to understand that Stacy was a rookie cop and simply made a mistake. Knowing his career could be over, his great uncle, Chief Parker had taken it upon himself to save Stacyâ€™s job by calling in some favors and cleaning up the entire mess. All charges were pinned on Timothy Walker, a man who was somewhat known for having underlining prejudices toward African Americans. Walker was the one thrown under the bus and after a temporary suspension, heâ€™d been dismissed from the force and the Tyrell family was issued a formal apology and given a substantial sum of money for their losses. Meanwhile, Stacy was allowed to remain on the force and his involvement in the incident was swept under the rug. Unfortunately, things got even messier when one drunken night Greg mistakenly told his girlfriend, at that time, about the whole situation. Gregâ€™s then girlfriend, Jasmine King, was the editor of the university newspaper and just so happened to have an uncle who had previously suffered some type of cruelty at the hands of the LAPD --- and she had an axe to grind. Hoping to expose them all she wrote up an article on the incident naming Stacy as the second shooter and exposing his uncle as the one covering everything up. When Stacy informed his uncle about what Jasmine was about to do, Chief Parker had his wife, who was an alumni of UCLA and good friends with the deanâ€™s wife, convince the dean to have Jasmine removed from the university newspaper immediately. She then informed Jasmine herself that if she went anywhere else to print the article she would make sure that Jasmine would never be hired by a respectable newspaper, magazine, blog site, or anything of that nature for the rest of her life. In other words she would blacklist her. Jasmine, had complied to save her career, but at the cost of her relationship with his brother, something Greg couldnâ€™t forgive him for. Chapter 17 â€œMama, Iâ€™m sorry!â€ Jamie wailed. He didnâ€™t look the least bit regretful, but what could she except from a three year old. â€œItâ€™s fine, baby, just go play in the den. Be careful and donâ€™t walk on the glass.â€ Evie bent her 5â€™9 frame over and started to pick up the shards of glass that sprayed everywhere when her son accidentally knocked into an end table, toppling over one of her motherâ€™s lamps. â€œBut Iâ€™m hungry. I want my spaghetti now.â€ Oh no! Warning bells went off inside of her head. She jumped up and scurried into the kitchen, leaving the mess on the floor and ignoring the sound of crunching glass under her feet. It was too late; the water had all boiled out of the pot and now the bottom was burning. She grabbed the handle without thinking and a searing pain immediately shot through her hand. She dropped the pot on the floor and cradled her aching palm. She was just about to put it under the faucet when Jamie started screaming. â€œI want spaghetti! I want spaghetti!â€ â€œOkay, baby, give mommy a second.â€ She hissed in pain. â€œI want spaghetti!â€ â€œJamie, stop it!â€ Her son paid no mind to her and took off out of the kitchen screaming about spaghetti. She observed her surroundings, paying special attention to the burnt pot on the ground. She knew something of this nature would happen the moment her mother left. When Madeline went off to San Diego three months ago chaos reigned in her absence then too. It was only Friday night and her mother had just left that morning. Work had been hectic as always and when she picked Jamie up from school afterwards, the principal pulled her into the office to officially let her know that she was going to have to find another placement for her son. Apparently he was using foul language at school and their no-tolerance policy didnâ€™t allow for such behaviors to go without harsh punishment. This, of course, led to a verbal altercation between her and the principal. Evie maintained that Jamie never heard that language at homeâ€”which he never didâ€”and the principal asserted that he heard it from somewhere. By the end of the conversation, she had stormed out of the school with Jamie in her arms screaming. â€œGod I canâ€™t do this,â€ she prayed. â€œNot by myself.â€ Just as she was considering ordering out for pizza, her cell phone buzzed. She looked at the screen; Stacyâ€™s name flashed across it. She tried to steady her voice and rapidly beating heartbeat in attempt to sound normal when she answered. â€œHi, Stacy.â€ She croaked out, and then winced. â€œWhatâ€™s wrong?â€ he immediately asked. She almost laughed to herself. She was like an open book. â€œNothing,â€ she lied, â€œjust a rough day.â€ â€œYour mom left this morning?â€ â€œYeah.â€ â€œHowâ€™s Jamie doing?â€ â€œHe got kicked out of school.â€ â€œWhat?!â€ She quickly told him the story, then finished up with the burnt spaghetti. â€œI think Iâ€™m just going to order pizza then put Jamie to bed early. Weâ€™ll be alright. Are you still coming to his practice tomorrow?â€ â€œYeah, I should be able.â€ There was a short pause then Stacy suddenly said, â€œDo me a favor and donâ€™t order pizza. Iâ€™ll be over in thirty minutes.â€ â€œNo, Stacy, itâ€™s fine. You donâ€™t have to go through any tro-â€ Evie was unable to finish her sentence; he had already hung up. She frowned and looked at her cell phone confused. What was he up to? Tiredly, she began cleaning up the pot of spilled spaghetti on the ground and once that was finished moved back to the shards of glass in the living room. It was only then she realized that she hadnâ€™t heard from Jamie for a good ten minutes. â€œJamie!â€ she called. When she got no immediate answer she went looking for him and finally found him nodding off in front of the television in the den. She knew he needed to eat, but she was no fool. There was no way she was going to wake him up. She closed the den door quietly and went back into the kitchen, falling into one of the chairs exhausted. She was just starting to drift off when the sound of the doorbell jolted her awake. Her eyes flew open and she jumped up. She prayed the doorbell wouldnâ€™t wake Jamie as she ambled towards it. She peeked through the blinds and saw Stacy on the porch holding two very full bags. She swung open the door and hoped she didnâ€™t look as tired as she felt. â€œHey, beautiful. I come bearing food.â€ Before she could respond, he gently brushed passed her and made his way into the kitchen. She stood by the door slightly stunned. She was completely and utterly taken off guard by the comment he just made. She was exhausted and knew she looked disheveled, not to mention she hadnâ€™t had time to change out of her scrubs yet. â€œI brought Chinese food. I know Jamie is picky sometimes, so I got plain white rice for him. He eats rice right?â€ Too stunned to answer, Evie just stared at Stacy wondering where this man had come from. â€œYouâ€™ve had a rough day today. I know your mom is out of town so I thought Iâ€™d try to make tonight a little easier for you.â€ She closed the front door silently and walked over to the counter where Stacy was placing an array of Chinese food boxes. â€œWhy are you doing this?â€ she whispered. Stacy stopped unpacking boxes and looked at her. He hesitated as if he was going to say something, then stopped. â€œYou deserve it.â€ She laughed to herself. â€œI donâ€™t know about that.â€ After dinner, Stacy helped her clean up the kitchen and as she was washing the few dishes in the sink, she couldnâ€™t help but start spilling her heart out to this man. â€œI know itâ€™s been three years, and I have my mother whoâ€™s been there for me every step of the way, but there are times that I feel like I just havenâ€™t had myself together since James died.â€ â€œHonestly, Evie, I donâ€™t think you give yourself enough credit. Jamie is a happy, healthy little boy. That should be testament enough. Youâ€™ve gone through something terrible. You just have to work all of that out in your mind in your own time. But I think youâ€™re doing a great job all the way around.â€ Evie dropped the dish rag she was holding in her hand and looked up at Stacy. â€œThank you. Thatâ€™s probably the nicest thing anybody besides my mother has said to me in a long time.â€ Chapter 18 If someone had told him a year ago that he would be standing in the kitchen washing dishes with the widow of James Tyrell, he would have laughed in their face. Yet, here he was standing here with her trying to exude a calm demeanor on the outside to put her at ease. On the inside, however, an internal war was waging. His conscience was commanding him to tell her the truth, but if he did, he would then have to leave her with this pain. There was no way he could face her after telling her, and it was unconscionable to think sheâ€™d want to remain with him. The other part of his twisted soul wanted to hold off telling her; it encouraged him to be selfish just a little longer. But when she turned to him and thanked him, his conscience fell victim to his self-regard. He slowly dried his hands on the dish cloth, turned to her and was completely struck to his core by her beautiful face and the tears dancing on the edges of her eyes. They were threatening to spill out from all corners. He wanted to make her feel better; he wanted to take the tears heâ€™d put there away. Yet, in spite of her obvious suffering, he couldnâ€™t deny his attraction to her. Somehow the need to make her feel better and his attraction merged together, causing him to do what he later would determine to be one of the stupidest things ever. Stacy reached out for Evie and gripped her by the forearms, pulling her into him. He felt her stiffen at his touch and for a moment, he thought she was going to pull back. Quite the opposite though. She sagged against his chest and he let out a breath. He hadnâ€™t realized how good she would feel in his arms. Unfortunately, the feeling was short-lived. A moment later she pulled back from him and dropped her arms. He watched her flush with embarrassment. She tried to laugh, but he could tell it was forced. â€œIâ€™m sorry. Iâ€™m acting like such a girl right now, crying all over you.â€ He whispered her name tenderly, then slowly brought his hands up to her face and cupped her cheeks. He watched her eyes widen like saucers when she realized what he was about to do. Before she could stop him, or he could change his mind, he placed his lips onto hers. He felt and heard her gasp. As soon as their lips connected, his body came to life. Hers, on the other hand, was still like a statue. Nevertheless when he attempted to deepen the kiss it seemed to work. Her arms suddenly came around him and her fingers became entangled in his hair. He had never felt something so good. Every logical thought fled his mind as contentment sliced through him. It had never been like this for himâ€”not with Kelly and not with any of the females before her. Eventually, he forced himself to pull away. He knew that he could take it no further, although the male in him wanted to more than anything. It was not until he pulled back that the cloud that had engulfed them was lifted and they were hit with the full force of what they had just done. She stared at him wide-eyed and brought her hand up over her mouth, as if she was a child and had let a bad word slip out in front of her parents. â€˜I am a blazing idiot.â€™ He thought to himself, rubbing his hands through his hair quickly. â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ he whispered. â€œI didnâ€™t mean to take advantage of the situation.â€ â€œMama! Mama!â€ Jamie suddenly cried from the den. Both of them swung their heads in the direction of the childâ€™s shouts. â€œJamie needs me.â€ Evie scurried from the kitchen as fast as she could. â€œSo do I,â€ Stacy thought to himself. Stacy left Evieâ€™s house soon after, feeling like the lowest life form possible. If he believed in the existence of Heaven and Hell he knew God would have a special place for him in the very bottom pit where it was the hottest. How had he not seen this coming? How could he make this right? When could he tell her the truth? How could he leave her and Jamie? These were just some of the questions that sprinted through his mind. As he wore himself down with question after question, he realized something: He wanted her and Jamie. No, he needed them. These last four months with Evie and Jamie had done something; they returned him to who he was prior to the shootingâ€”or at least somewhat. Though heâ€™d destroyed their lives, theyâ€™d given him back his. But what would Evie even say if he told her the truth? If she didnâ€™t kill him right there on the spot, sheâ€™d probably remove herself and Jamie from his life. The idea of this happening brought Stacy much pain and grief, for being with them gave his life a new purpose, new meaning. Without even really contemplating what he was doing, Stacy pulled his car over to the side of the road leaning his forehead against the steering wheel. He had dug himself into a terrible mess and there was nothing he could do to get out of it. God, I donâ€™t know what the hell Iâ€™m doing. I donâ€™t. Please show me what to do. Wait, when did he start praying? When had he started believing in God? He wasnâ€™t a Christian, he and God didnâ€™t have an open line of communication. Just as he was giving up and convincing himself that God was not in the business of hearing his prayers, a Bible verse suddenly came to mind. He couldnâ€™t remember if heâ€™d heard it at Evieâ€™s church, or if maybe heâ€™d heard his mother say it to him. But he remembered the words as clear as day: He will perfect that which concerns you. Tuesday morning as he buttoned up his uniform shirt, he tried to clear his mind but it was impossible. He couldnâ€™t erase that kiss from his memory even if he triedâ€”neither could his body. He hadnâ€™t heard from Evie since Friday night. He knew there was a chance that he had scared her off. She was young when she met and married James and from her mannerisms and actions over the last couple of months, Stacy was almost positive James had been the only man sheâ€™d ever been with. She didnâ€™t know how to be with a man, and heâ€™d be damned if that didnâ€™t excite him. He was used to women with a lot of experience. But her naivetÃ©, her deer in the headlights look when he kissed her, had only served to fuel his fire more. â€œHey Walsh, somebody is here to see you,â€ called Lietunenant Richards, interrupting his thoughts. Stacy looked around his open locker and stopped buttoning his uniform. Who in the world needed to see him now, right before his shift? His heart rate sped up thinking it could possibly be Evie. â€œWho is it, Lieutenant?â€ There was quiet for a minute, then Richards yelled back to him, â€œMadeline Crowne!â€ This time when Stacy froze mid-button, his hands dropped to his side. What was Evieâ€™s mom doing here? He shut his eyes for a moment and swallowed hard. Had Evie told her about their kiss? Was she here to tell him to stay away from her daughter? But why would she do that? She seemed to like him. He took a deep breath and called out, â€œCan you tell her Iâ€™ll be out there in a moment?â€ â€œSure thing,â€ Lieutenant Richards called back. Okay, he could do this. When he was presentable, he made his way out of the locker room and to the front of the station. The lieutenant was shuffling around some paperwork at the front desk. He looked up when Stacy came in and then nodded to the small African American women sitting off in the corner of the lobby thumbing through a magazine. Richards raised his eyebrows as if to say, â€œWhatâ€™s going on?â€ But Stacy just shrugged his shoulders as if to say he didnâ€™t know. Madeline looked up at him as he approached her. Stacy observed her for some sign, something that would let him know that she knew what he had done the other evening. But her face was an impenetrable maskâ€”she gave nothing away. â€œMs. Madeline, is everything okay? Did something happen to Evie or Jamie?â€ â€œOh, no, of course not. Theyâ€™re both fine. But Iâ€™d like to talk to you in private if we could.â€ â€œSure. We can go outside,â€ he said. He could have very well taken her into any one of the interrogation rooms, but he didnâ€™t want to risk being overheard by anyone, nor did he want to intimidate her. â€œVery well,â€ she said. Madeline slung her purse over her shoulder and led the way out of the lobby. Although she was a grandmother, she was far from the old and feeble type. She sauntered across the lobby floor with her head held high. She was so sure of herself. In that instant, she reminded him so much of Evieâ€”all of the self-confidence, self-assurance that Evie swore she didnâ€™t have, but he saw in her so clearly. If only he could make her see it. Once they were outside, Stacy glanced around for a private place to talk away from the prying eyes of his fellow officers. Across the street was a small park that really held nothing of interest, except for a large patch of grass and a few benches. He motioned towards the park and Madeline nodded. As soon as they were seated, Stacy held his breath waiting for the inevitable. â€œWhat do you want with my daughter?â€ Madeline wasted no time opening up the bars of conversation. Stacyâ€™s eyebrows gathered. He almost felt like he was sixteen again and asking his girlfriendâ€™s father if he could take her out on a date. â€œUmâ€¦I donâ€™t follow, Madeleine.â€ â€œWell, Iâ€™m trying to figure out exactly what you want from Evie. I see the way you look at her. You got this intense look about you, like thereâ€™s something that you need or want from her. The first day we met you had that look. Since then Iâ€™ve been trying to figure out what itâ€™s about.â€ Stacy released another long breath. This was not a conversation he wanted to have, especially with Evieâ€™s mother. But, all in all, a part of him relaxed, thankful that she hadnâ€™t figured out his secret. It still didnâ€™t mean that what they were about to discuss was going to be any better. â€œUm, Ms. Crowne, Iâ€™m a little too old to be pursuing women just forâ€¦.ahemâ€¦.â€ He cleared his throat, â€œsex.â€ â€œIf thatâ€™s what you are thinking is going on, thatâ€™s not it at all,â€ he continued.â€ Iâ€”â€ Madeline suddenly interrupted him, using a swipe of her hand as if what he was saying was of no consequence. â€œBoy, please. I know thatâ€™s not what youâ€™re after. Iâ€™m fifty years old. I know when a man wants a woman for sex, and that is not the way you look at my daughter. You want something else from her, something more than that. Now I let this go on for a while waiting to see your true character, and I believe I know what it is. But now I need to know what your exact intensions are with Evie.â€ God in heaven, he wanted to fall through the floor. He couldnâ€™t believe what was coming out of Madelineâ€™s mouth. Not only did hearing her mention sex make him cringe, but he couldnâ€™t believe that his intentions were so transparent that even her mother could tell that redemption was what he was really after. Silence engulfed them for a moment, then out came a soft whisper. In fact, the whisper was so muted Stacy had to strain to hear her. â€œShe reads your letter every night,â€ Madeline said. â€œShe keeps it in her Bible. Every night she reads it over and over again.â€ With those words Stacyâ€™s blood ran cold. â€œWhy are you here, Stacy? Why are you in her life?â€ Thatâ€™s when it hit him. All this time heâ€™d told himself that eventually he would tell Evie, that eventually he would tell her the truth. And he always imagined that when he did what they had built would implode and he would be left feeling terrible and alone. Ironically, Madeline confronting him caused relief to wash over himâ€”relief that at least someone close to Evie knew the truth. But while he found liberation, he wasnâ€™t sure that she had found emancipation in knowing who had killed her son-in-law. â€œDoes Evie know?â€ he asked. â€œNo, she doesnâ€™t. And Iâ€™m not going to tell her; itâ€™s not my place. This is something between you and her. But I need to know why youâ€™re here. What is your angle? If youâ€™re here to cause more problems and toâ€”â€œ â€œNo, Madeline, Iâ€™m not. I swear. I didnâ€™t even know who Evie was up until a few months ago. We first met in the hospital. I brought a suspect in for medical care and she happened to be the nurse who tended to his wound.â€ Without really meaning to, Stacyâ€™s revealed everythingâ€”from their chance meeting and his stalker behavior to his desire to set things right. The only thing he managed to withhold was his attraction and growing feelings for Evie. Surely it was something he should have divulged to assure Madeline that he was not in Evieâ€™s life to upset things, but his affection for her daughter was so strong and confusing at times that he couldnâ€™t put it into context. When he was finally done, Madeline turned and looked at him. â€œMy daughter, sheâ€™s book smart. That girl could have been a doctor if she wanted to. But sheâ€™s not street smart or smart in matters of the heart. She likes you, any fool can see that. You are the first man sheâ€™s allowed in her life since James, and that is a big thing. If she would have dug a little deeper she could have figured out who you are. But my daughterâ€™s not very perceptive, so she doesnâ€™t see it. She probably never will,â€ Madeline persisted. â€œI understand what you are trying to do. My fifty years of experience have shown me a lot. But I donâ€™t know how my daughter will respond to you once she knows. This is not something you take lightly, not something you trifle with. You need to tell herâ€¦soon. You canâ€™t let her get too close to you and not tell her. I will not do it, but you have to.â€ â€œIâ€™ll lose her and Jamie.â€ The words were out of his mouth before he could take them back. Madeline smiled and said, â€œThen things have already gone way beyond the, â€˜I want to make amends scenario.â€ â€œTheyâ€¦they make things better for me, Madeline.â€ â€œI understand. I honestly think that youâ€™re a good man that just did a bad thing. And I think that your mama raised you right, or you would have never sent my daughter that letter in the first place. I also think that the Lord is doing something hereâ€”something big. This situation has His mark all over it. But you have to be honest with Evie; sheâ€™s a big girl.â€ With that, Madeline stood up. â€œTell her at a time when you think God is putting it on your heart. It needs to be soon, preferably before you marry her and give me more grandchildren.â€ Stacyâ€™s mouth dropped open. â€œI-I-itâ€™s not like that Madeline,â€ he stuttered, feeling himself grow warm. â€œSure itâ€™s not. Take your time, figure it out, and let God lead you.â€ And just like that, she slung her purse over her shoulder for the second time that day and marched away. â€œMs. Madeleine!â€ he called. She turned around and looked at him expectantly. â€œWhen did you find out?â€ She smiled softly. â€œI knew who you were the day she came home and told me about you, before I even met you.â€ Stacy was stunned. How did she know? There were only a handful of people who knew this dark secret. Madeleine made her way back over to him slowly, and with every step he was intrigued by what would come from her mouth once she settled her heels into the ground. â€œA reporter came to the house a couple of months ago to interview my daughter about Jamesâ€™ death. I knew by the way the woman acted that something was going on with her. Her main goal for interviewing Evie was to let her know about the other officer involved. Needless to say, my daughter wouldnâ€™t listen to her. I spoke to the woman afterwards and found out the name of the other officer, but I never told Evie. Imagine my surprise when my daughter comes home one day and tells me she is going out with a police officer named Stacy Walsh.â€ â€œWhy didnâ€™t you say anything?â€ â€œBecause everyone deserves a second chance. And I wanted to see what your true motives were. Didnâ€™t take me too long to figure out how you really felt and what you were doing. I just needed to make sure.â€ â€œWhat am I doing?â€ Stacy said more to himself than to her. â€œFalling for my daughter.â€ She laughed, then walked away. All Stacy could do was stare and try to process what just happened. But then something came to mind that urged him to call out to her once again. â€œMs. Madeleine, what was the reporterâ€™s name?â€ â€œJasmine King,â€ she shouted over her shoulder. He was not the least bit surprised. Chapter 19 Stacy watched Evie ramble on with excitement. It was Saturday again, and theyâ€™d just gotten back from Jamieâ€™s third T-ball practice. Madeline had taken Jamie for ice cream as soon theyâ€™d gotten to the house, which left him and Evie alone for the first time since their kiss. They hadnâ€™t talked about the kiss, or talked much at all since that evening. And now as he stood in the kitchen listening to her, he couldnâ€™t help but wonder what it would be like to kiss her again. But as quickly as the thought popped into his mind, it was promptly replaced with the conversation he and Madeline had a few days ago. The one thing that stood out: â€œYou tell her.â€ â€œIâ€™m really excited about this school,â€ said Evie. â€œI think itâ€™ll be a much better fit for Jamie. God knows they had my number on speed dial over at Little Angels. And I think the sports are really helping. Did you see how tired he was today after practice? He fell asleep in the car; he never does that.â€ She was thrilled and he was happy for her. Her high was too good to disrupt, still for whatever reason he decided it was time to tell her. After their kiss last week, he knew where they were headed. He was no fool. He liked her. But Madeleine knew now and just about everything was out in the open. Evie deserved to know the truth, and he knew that she needed to hear it from himâ€”not from Jasmine King, not from some newspaper column or website, and not from her mother. He just hoped that by some miracle she would forgive him. He took a deep breath trying to work up enough courage to say the words he needed to say. He let her continue talking for a few moments. He could tell her rambling was nervous energy, and it was likely the result of them not having addressed the kiss before reencountering one another again. â€œEvie,â€ he interrupted. She stopped talking immediately as if sheâ€™d been waiting for his interruption. â€œI need to tell you something.â€ â€œOh, okay,â€ she said slowly with her eyes locked on him. As he searched for the words he needed to say, he remembered something else Madeline told him in their conversation, and it helped him find a place to begin. â€œWhy do you read that letter every night?â€ Evieâ€™s face changed immediately. What was nervous and anxious energy suddenly dissolved into something low and guarded. â€œWhat letter?â€ she whispered in a flat tone. He knew she knew exactly what he was talking about. â€œThe anonymous letter written to you by one of the cops who killed your husband.â€ She gasped. â€œHow did you know that? Did my mother tell you?â€ He noticed she was gripping the counter so hard that her knuckles were turning white. â€œNo. She only told me you read it every night. I knew about the letter long before that. â€œ â€œI donâ€™t understand.â€ Yes, she did. He could see it in her face; she just didnâ€™t want to. â€œYou do understand, Evie.â€ â€œWhat are you telling me?â€ Her voice began to rise and he noticed she started shaking. He wanted to go to her and hold her, but he knew that was not an option right now. â€œI wrote the letter. I sent it to you four months ago. Iâ€™m one of the officers who shot your husband that night.â€ And just like that a great weight was lifted up off him. Although that allowed him to breathe a bit easier, he knew he was going to go through the fire right now. â€œI donâ€™t understand. How could you be the one who killed James but youâ€™re here with me right now. Youâ€™ve been here with me and Jamie. Youâ€¦you kissed me. You made me like you. What kind of sick, twisted game is this?â€ Her voice had was low and menacing now. Her eyes narrowed to slits as she regarded him. â€œItâ€™s not a game.â€ â€œThe hell it is!â€ she suddenly shouted, coming from behind the counter so suddenly it startled him. She shoved him as hard as she could in his chest and he stumbled back a bit, but not because of her strength, more because of the element of surprise. Never had he pegged her for a violent woman, but then heâ€™d just admitted to shooting her husband so what could he expect? â€œWhat is this? Tell me now? Are you playing mind games with me? ANSWER ME! WHAT IS IT?!â€ â€œIâ€™m not playing games with! I was there that night with Officer Walker. I shot your husband. I didnâ€™t meant-,â€ Stacy didnâ€™t see Evieâ€™s small fist coming at him until it was too late. As soon as her knuckles connected with his eye he cursed and grabbed his face, someone had taught her how to punch. But she wasnâ€™t done yet. She began to slap him over and over again until he managed to grab her arms and pin them behind her back, putting them face to face with only a few inches between them. He could feel his left eye beginning to swell as she tried to wiggle out of his grasp. â€œWhat do you want from me?!â€ she screamed, â€œwhy are you doing this?â€ He allowed her to break away. She backed up against the counter, breathing hard. Anger was pouring from her. â€œWhy are you doing this?â€ she yelled again, this time demanding a response. â€œI want to try and make things right!â€ he shouted back. â€œMake things right?â€ she screeched, looking as if she was going to fly into another murderous rage. Then all of a sudden she got quiet, as if realizing something for the first time. â€œI am so stupid!â€ she suddenly laughed. â€œYou told me that didnâ€™t you? On our first date at the restaurant you said you want to make up for everything, or something like that. I thought you were just being really nice, but now I see. You had this sick, stupid plan all along and you pulled me into itâ€”me and my son!â€ â€œNoâ€¦noâ€¦itâ€™s not like that,â€ he struggled to say, holding up his hands in a defensive position. â€œPlease let me explain.â€ â€œExplain? Explain what? By all means go ahead and justify what youâ€™ve done!â€ â€œEvie, that whole incident with your husband was a mistake. I was a rookieâ€¦Iâ€¦..there are no excuses. I was wrong; you know that from my letter. I had no idea he had a family. When my partner and I were under investigation it was revealed that he had a wife who was a nurse. Your name was mentioned, but I didnâ€™t know where you worked. And while I admit I did get your husbandâ€™s address to send you the letter, I didnâ€™t even know if you still lived there or not. The day I met you in the hospital was pure coincidence. Do you remember my reaction when you said your name? I didnâ€™t know you worked at that hospital. I didnâ€™t seek you out, not until after I met you.â€ He could see her face changing. Unable to decipher what the expressions were, he rushed on. â€œAfter I met you in the hospital, I admit I did engage in some stalker-like behavior becauseâ€¦.well, I donâ€™t know. In a way I felt I had to know you, to see if you were okay.â€ â€œAre you crazy?â€ she interrupted. â€œSee if I was okay? After you killed my husband? Oh yes, that was the noble thing to do.â€ â€œI know itâ€™s absolutely insane. Believe it or not, but my life was ruined the day I killed your husband. I canâ€™t sleep more than a few hours at a time. I have nightmares every night about James. I shut myself off from everybody.â€ â€œSo when were you going to tell me?â€ Evie interjected. â€œMaybe before after you kissed me again? Or maybe after you slept with me? Was that part of your little plan too? Stacy faltered for a moment. â€œGod, no Evie! What happened between us wasnâ€™t planned. It was always my intention to tell you what happened at some point. I was never going to keep it from you. Your mom-,â€ â€œOf course, my mom!â€ she sneered. â€œShe knew didnâ€™t she? Was I the only one being played for a fool?â€ â€œShe came and spoke to me. She was the one who encouraged me to tell you.â€ â€œWhen?â€ â€œA few days ago.â€ â€œRight. A few days ago,â€ she scoffed. He saw her suck in a deep breath and move around the counter, back into the kitchen. She stood in the middle of the linoleum floor looking at nothing. Then her eyes flashed at him. They were filled with so much hate and malice that he was taken aback for a moment. â€œWe donâ€™t need you, Stacy! We donâ€™t need you! We still belong to HIM!â€ She began to wail, sinking to the floor. She disappeared behind the counter but Stacy could hear her sobs loud and clear. Stacy closed his eyes briefly, his left one stinging. Somehow the pain was nothing compared to the twinge his soul felt after hearing the words that had come from Evieâ€™s mouth. Stacy stayed in the living room for several minutes, debating what to do. Leave and never contact her again was, of course, the most rational option. But nothing about this whole situation was rational. Besides, he couldnâ€™t leave herâ€”not like this. Knowing good and well that he was risking his physical safety, he finally decided to go to her. He found her on the floor of the kitchen with her knees pulled up to her chest and her face buried in them. Her body shook violently as she sobbed. Closing his eyes and silently praying she didnâ€™t attack him, he sank to the floor in front of her. She didnâ€™t even look up. â€œIâ€™m so sorry,â€ he whispered. â€œIâ€™m so sorry.â€ â€œJust go. Please.â€ Defeated, he made his way back to the living room and silently slipped out of the house. Madeline pulled up into the drive way just as he was pulling the front door shut. â€œOh, Stacy, good.â€ She called to him as she hopped out of her car. She waved him over. â€œJamie fell asleep in the car. Can you carry him inside for me? I have groceries-â€ She stopped talking when she saw his face. â€œYou told her, didnâ€™t you?â€ Stacy didnâ€™t need to say anything. â€œWhere is she now?â€ â€œOn the kitchen floor where I left her.â€ â€œBy the looks of that eye, I assume she took it well.â€ He sighed long and heavy, running his hands through his hair. â€œHold on a minute.â€ Madeline reached into the backseat of the car into a grocery bag and pulled out a bag of frozen peas. She approached him and pressed it to his eye gently. The cold sting of the frozen vegetables shocked his system at first, but after a moment, they started to relieve some of the throbbing pain in his eye. â€œKeep that on it for a bit and it should make some of the swelling go down.â€ â€œWell, I guess this is goodbye, Ms. Madeline. I really appreciate you taking me into your home and for keeping my secret and letting me tell Evie in my own time. Not a lot of people would have done that. In fact, nobody I know would have done anything like that.â€ â€œOh Stacy, this isnâ€™t goodbye. This may sound crazy, but I know my daughter will come around.â€ Stacy laughed cynically. â€œMs. Madeline you donâ€™t come around from somebody shooting your husband.â€ She pat his shoulder. â€œAll things work together for those who love Him, and my daughter does indeed love Him. I think one day you will too. Sheâ€™ll come to terms with everything; she just needs time. God can work miracles.â€ â€œI think it might just be better this way. What about when Jamie grows up and finds out the truth?â€ â€œWe will cross that bridge when we get to it. Todayâ€™s troubles are sufficient for this day. Donâ€™t go borrowing tomorrowâ€™s. Do you still want to be around my daughter and grandson?â€ He didnâ€™t even have to think twice about that answer. â€œYes.â€ â€œThen pray about it. And give my child some time. Let her come to you. She will eventually.â€ Stacy wished that this womanâ€™s words could make him feel better, but they just didnâ€™t. Nevertheless, he knew in his heart she was remarkable for allowing him into her familyâ€™s life after knowing his past, and for standing here talking to him after everything. â€œYou know what, Madeline?â€ â€œWhat?â€ â€œMy mother would have loved you. Youâ€™re one of the good ones.â€ Madeline smiled as Stacy removed the bag of frozen peas from his face and bent over to kiss her cheek. â€œYou are too, honey, you just donâ€™t realize it yet. Not many men would do what you did.â€ ___________________________________________________________________________ He hadnâ€™t drank like this since the night Evieâ€™s husband died. He was a lightweight, and always has been. But on this day, it seemed like it was taking way more alcohol than normal to make him numb. He clutched the bottle of whiskey in his hand and took another swig. The liquid didnâ€™t even burn going down his throat now. Unfortunately, he was still able to think somewhat clearly. What am I supposed to do now, God? Huh? Stacy laughed to himself. As if God would answer him now. Heâ€™d done one bad thing, tried to make it right, and then ended up doing another bad thing. Evie would never forgive him, no matter what Madeline said. Heâ€™d seen enough death in his line of work to know that the relatives and family of those who were killed or hurt did not easily forgive the offenders, if ever. Pain sliced through him as he thought about what Evie was doing right now, and he brought the bottle up to his lips again. â€œStacy.â€ Stacy didnâ€™t even bother to turn around. Though he didnâ€™t hear his brother come into the house, he knew he was in no mood for round two tonight. â€œHow did you get in here?â€ Stacy asked, without even turning around. â€œYou left the door unlocked.â€ He frowned. He never left the door unlocked. He was really messed up tonight. He groaned wearily, â€œLeave me alone, Greg.â€ Without a word, his brother flipped on the den lights and came around the couch. He stood in front of the coffee table looking down at the bottle of Jack Daniels. â€œDamn it Greg, turn off the light.â€ Stacy squinted as he looked up at his brother. â€œWhat in the hell could you possibly want? You got your money. Did you come back to blame me for your failed love life again?â€ â€œDonâ€™t be stupid,â€ his brother said, acting as if he hadnâ€™t even heard his brotherâ€™s plea. â€œMa said you had stopped drinking.â€ Stacy ignored him. â€œWhy are you drinking?â€ Stacy disregarded his brother again and attempted to reach for the bottle on the table, but before he could take another swig, Greg snatched it from his grasp. â€œGreg! Iâ€™m not trying to get into it with you tonight!â€ Stacy roared, jumping up from the couch and getting into his brotherâ€™s face. They were toe to toe and even though Stacy was in good shape and a foot taller than his brother, Greg was Army and there was no doubt in his mind that his brother could take him right now. â€œSit down brother. Iâ€™m not gonna fight the drunk man tonight,â€ Greg said. Stacy stumbled back a couple of feet, then collapsed onto the couch, the fight gone out of him just like that. â€œJust leave me alone, please.â€ His brother set the bottle of whiskey onto the coffee table, just out of his brotherâ€™s reach. â€œMom said you were doing a lot better. But you donâ€™t look like it, not right now.â€ Stacy breathed heavily as he stroked a hand over his face. â€œI really donâ€™t care what you think. Just go, and stop acting like you actually give a damn.â€ Looking up at his brother, Stacy was surprised to see pity in his face. â€œYouâ€™re a bastard and in all honesty I hate you for what you did, but itâ€™s pathetic to see you sitting here like this.â€ â€œWhen are you going to get over that? I didnâ€™t make Jasmine leave you.â€ Greg shook his head. â€œOf course you didnâ€™t. But who wants to be married to a man with a racist brother who goes around shooting black men and getting away with it.â€ Stacy laughed. â€œRacist? You know Iâ€™m not racist. You of all people should know. What I did was out of stupidity, not prejudice.â€ â€œShe didnâ€™t see it like that, Stacey,â€ Greg said softly. And it was then that Stacy realized that his brother was still in love with his old girlfriend. The pain was fresh in his eyes, as if she had just broken up with him yesterday. Leaning his head back onto the sofa, Stacy said, â€œI did stop drinking. I stopped the night after everything happened. This is the first drink Iâ€™ve had in three years.â€ His brotherâ€™s eyes constricted. â€œWhy are you drinking now? You didnâ€™t shoot anybody else did you?â€ â€œNo. Iâ€™ve taken to harassing their families instead,â€ he muttered. â€œWhat?â€ Taking a deep breath, Stacy figured he might as well tell his brother everything. Why not? Gregâ€™s opinion of him couldnâ€™t get any lower. â€œThree months ago I arrested this kid who got shot. I stayed with him in the hospital since he was a possible suspect in a robbery. While I was with him a nurse came in to bandage him up. The nurseâ€™s name was Evelyn Tyrell, James Tyrellâ€™s widow.â€ His brother gasped. â€œAre you kidding me? Are you sure it was her?â€ Stacy laughed. â€œYeah, it was her. I knew without a doubt it was her.â€ The sofa sank in next to Stacy as his brother sat down. â€œTell me you didnâ€™t do anything stupid.â€ â€œBeyond stupid. You donâ€™t know it, but Iâ€™ve been messed up real bad since that night. The only thing that made me feel like I had any worth was taking care of Mom.â€ Stacy heard his brother respire. â€œI know. Mom told me how you were. She begged me to come back and make things right with you.â€ Stacy stared at his brother. He had no idea his mother had done that. â€œWell,â€ Stacy continued, â€œafter I met Evelyn I donâ€™t know what happened. I suddenly got it into my head that I needed to help her, to make things right.â€ â€œWhat exactly did you do?â€ The whole story began pouring from Stacyâ€™s mouth, and he left nothing out this time. He told his brother about Jamie, the kiss, how they made him happy, Madeleine finding out what heâ€™d done, and finally him telling Evelyn.â€ â€œDamn, brother,â€ Greg said after taking a moment to digest what he had just heard. â€œIâ€™ve never heard nothing like that before.â€ â€œI donâ€™t think anyone has.â€ â€œAs much as I hate to say it, you didnâ€™t do a bad thing. You did a stupid thing, but not a bad thing.â€ â€œRight.â€ Stacy deadpanned, â€œMy heart was in the right place, huh? Maybe I should have told Evie that.â€ â€œI take it she gave you that black eye.â€ Stacy didnâ€™t respond. â€œHow do you exactly feel about this woman?â€ his brother asked. Finally, he asked the million dollar question. He remembered Madeleineâ€™s words â€˜do it, before you get married and give me more grandchildren.â€™ And without even meaning to, the image of Evie in that sundress and the smile she gave him that first time he went to church assaulted his mind. It had started out innocent enoughâ€”his relationship with her. Well, as innocent as something like this could be. But that day heâ€™d seen her at church, had given birth to something else and Stacy knew it. It had been growing for three months under the radar and Stacy had used the excuse of helping her and being there for her to cover up what was really developing within him. â€œI take it by your silence youâ€™re still trying to figure that out. If this woman forgives youâ€”which I doubt she ever willâ€”you really donâ€™t deserve her and I would really like to meet her.â€ Stacy frowned and looked at his brother. This was probably the most decent conversation theyâ€™d had for the last three years, and he hated to ruin it, but he knew he had to tell Greg. â€œA journalist interviewed Evie about four months ago. Her mother told me the lady was kind of pushy and kept trying to tell them about my involvement in the incident.â€ Gregâ€™s face became blank. â€œIt was Jasmine.â€ His brother didnâ€™t respond just stood up and said, â€œStay away from this stuff. Itâ€™s not going to help.â€ Then he scooped up the bottle of whiskey and walked out of the room, flipping off the den light as he went. â€œGreg, wait.â€ Stacy wasnâ€™t sure his brother had actually stopped until he yelled â€œWhat?â€ from the doorway. â€œDo you think that God forgives you of all your sins? Even something as wrong as I did?â€ There was a long pause. Stacy rotated around to see Greg now in the doorway. â€œYeah, I think so,â€ he said. I guess He wouldnâ€™t be God if he didnâ€™t.â€ Chapter 20 She was a living, breathing zombie. For the last week she had simply been going through the motions. She knew it was silly, but she swore that even Jamie sensed it was a bad time for her and decided to give her a break by acting like a normal, well-behaved little boy. He seemed to be adjusting well to his new school and he hadnâ€™t given her one problem since the day she found out about Stacy. Evie squeezed her eyes shut and inwardly cringed as she laid alarmingly still in her bed on a Monday morning. She was due into work at two oâ€™clock in the afternoon but was considering calling out. She had been experiencing sharp stabs of pain in her chest as of late, and she knew they were from her heightened anxiety. As the aching finally began to subside, she opened her eyes, only to find her mother standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips. Evie knew what this was about and couldnâ€™t handle the lecture she was sure to come, so she turned over in bed and faced the wall. Her mother had left her alone for a week, taking over the majority of Jamieâ€™s care. Evie knew it could not go on for much longer, yet she hoped her mother would go away. â€œDonâ€™t act like you donâ€™t see me,â€ Madeline finally said. â€œGo away, Mama,â€ Evie moaned. â€œYou need to get out of bed. Youâ€™re acting like somebody died. James has been dead for the last three years.â€ Furious, Evie sat up quickly in bed, throwing the covers back violently. â€œHow can you be so nonchalant about all of this?â€ she spewed. â€œHe killed your son-in-law, and you knew the whole time and never said anything.â€ Madelineâ€™s face didnâ€™t change. â€œYouâ€™re right, I didnâ€™t say anything. I knew who he was the day you came home and told me his name.â€ â€œWhy didnâ€™t you say anything?â€ Evie wailed. â€œIf you stop screeching for a moment, Iâ€™ll tell you.â€ Satisfied that she would get an answer, Evie closed her mouth. â€œI know you donâ€™t understand this, but sometimes itâ€™s better to see how certain things are going to play out. I never thought Stacy had the wrong intentions, I just didnâ€™t know what they were. But now I do.â€ â€œAnd what are they? To help me out like he said?â€ Evie spat. â€œNo. Well, to some extent. What I really think that man wanted was forgiveness.â€ â€œHa, yeah right! He doesnâ€™t deserve anything!â€ â€œWho do you think you are? Do you think youâ€™re too good to forgive somebody for a wrong they are obviously sorry for? You think youâ€™re better than Jesus? He can forgive the people who killed Him, but you canâ€™t forgive the man who shot your husband?â€ â€œHe killed him!â€ â€œHe did not. He shot him, but we know that other man killed him. It was in the reports. What makes you think that you have the right not to forgive someone? You have an opportunity here, an amazing one that God has given you for His glory, and youâ€™re throwing it in His face.â€ â€œBut Mama,â€ Evie tried, knowing that her argument was literally being ripped apart. â€œNo, donâ€™t but Mama me. God has given you a tough challenge, I wonâ€™t refute that. Heâ€™s saying, â€˜Evie, can you do this? Can you prove your love for Me by doing this thing here? Itâ€™s the hardest thing you may have to do, but will you do this for me?â€™ And youâ€™re saying, â€˜No God, I canâ€™t. Iâ€™m sorry.â€™ What did Jesus say to the Romans when they had Him up on that cross?â€ â€œI forgive them for they know not what they do,â€ Evie ground out. â€œExactly. And anyone who has eyes can see that man is sorry for what he did. And if you believe what he wrote in that letter, youâ€™d know he really didnâ€™t understand the magnitude of what he was doing.â€ â€œMama, he pulled his gun out and shot James. He may not have killed him but he shot him. James didnâ€™t deserve that. Whether or not you see it, Stacy is a bad cop.â€ Even as the words left her mouth, Evie was unsure of them. â€œWould a bad cop write that letter? Would a bad cop come to the family and help them? Would a bad cop come to you and admit what he did and take that brutal beating you gave him without so much as a word against you?â€ â€œJust because he did stuff for me and Jamie doesnâ€™t mean anything. Doing stuff for us eased his guilt. It was all done out of guilt.â€ Now that she believed. Madeline shook her head. â€œTo some degree, yes I do believe his actions were performed out of guilt in the beginning. But honey, even I can see itâ€™s much more than that now.â€ â€œI donâ€™t know what youâ€™re talking about.â€ â€œHas anything happened between you too?â€ her mother asked. â€œLike what?â€ Evie pretended not to know what her mother was talking about. â€œRomantically.â€ She hesitated. â€œWeâ€¦he kissed me once,â€ she admitted. â€œSounds to me like thereâ€™s much more than guilt going on there.â€ Evieâ€™s mind went back to that evening in the kitchen. That kiss had been absolutely amazing, and at the same time terrifying because she hadnâ€™t had feelings like that for the last three years. She quickly shook her head attempting to dismiss the thoughts. â€œHoney, ultimately it is up to you whether or not you want that man in you and Jamieâ€™s life. But I honestly do believe he is a good man and that God brought him to youâ€”to usâ€”for a reason. God is giving you a golden opportunity here; donâ€™t throw it in His face. Forgive that man for nothing other than to show him Godâ€™s love.â€ ____________________________________________________________________________ She called out of work that afternoon, and somehow she was able to roll herself out of the bed to take care of Jamieâ€”she even showered herself. Still it didnâ€™t take long for her to return to her bedroom and shut herself in. Her motherâ€™s words kept ringing in her ears and heart all day. They churned around in her brain and brought to light the things she thought she resolved within herself a long time ago. She had come to the realization that she was not over her husband and his death, and that this was why she hadnâ€™t looked at another man until Stacy practically threw himself at her. The other thing she apprehended was that a lot of anger still resided within her regarding Jamesâ€™ death, and aside from blaming the cops who killed him, she had also made God liable. Once comfortable in her bed, she picked up her Bible off of the nightstand and opened it up, removing Stacyâ€™s letter. Why did she keep this thing? Her mother asked her that so many times and she couldnâ€™t honestly say why. Holding the letter carefully in her left hand, she began to tear it up into strips with her right hand. One by one she created a messy pile on her bed until the letter was shredded. Then, she opened her Bible to Colossians and just started randomly reading in chapter three. Forebearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against anyâ€”even as Christ forgave youâ€”so also do ye. She almost laughed to herself and the appropriateness of the verse, and kept reading. And above all all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfection. Charity, she thought. Punching Stacy in the face probably hadnâ€™t been very charitable. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one bodyâ€”and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisodm, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And then it hit her like a lightening bolt. She almost felt like looking up towards the Heavens and saying, â€œSeriously God? Really?â€ She called herself a Christian, even went to church and all of that. But when it came down to it, when she was faced with tough situations, she was a coward. She didnt turn to God, just shut down really. Sheâ€™d done it when James died, and she was doing it now. She didnâ€™t trust God to get her through tough situations. She relied on herself, and that didnâ€™t tend to end very well for her. Here she was being the total opposite of what a Chrisitan should be with Stacy, then again she never thought she would be tested with the man who shot her husband. But like she heard her pastor once say, God doesnâ€™t do things halfwayâ€”and He certainly hadnâ€™t here. Suddenly she remembered something Stacy said to her a few months ago on their date at Gladstones Restaurant: Youâ€™re one of the good oneâ€™s. She had the opportunity to forgive him, lead Him to God and be a good example. Instead, when he came and laid his heart before her, sheâ€™d punched him in the eyeâ€”and not just with a single blow. â€œI am so sorry, God,â€ she thought as she dropped to her knees and started praying. ____________________________________________________________________________ Evie had come out of her cocoon, and called Stacy a day after getting herself together with God. Sheâ€™d kept the conversation short, and simply asked him to meet her at the park to talk. On the day they were set to meet, she left Jamie at home with her motherâ€”she figured it would be easier to do this without them around. She knew what she needed to doâ€”what God wanted her to doâ€”and had they come with her, she may not have had the courage. She sat nervously on the bleachers as she waited for Stacy. She hadnâ€™t been able to keep food down all morning, and it was clear by the grumbling from her stomach. Every couple of seconds she glanced at her watch. He wasnâ€™t late; it was still early. In fact, he wasnâ€™t due for another ten minutes. Thereâ€™s no way she could continue to look at her watch. Seeing the time tick away was driving her mad. So to occupy herself, she began observe the surroundings of the park. As her eyes led her to the nearby baseball field, her heart nearly leapt out of her chest. She saw him. Stacy was walking towards her with his hands in the pocket of a pair of faded jeans. As he got closer, she felt her heart rip open. She hadnâ€™t known how she would feel when saw him, but now she didâ€”happiness and attraction, followed by a surge of pity and sadness. The later emotions were thrust upon her when she caught the haggard look on his face and the five oâ€™clock shadow. But just as quickly as that pity and sadness came is disappeared and was replaced with brief rush of anger as she thought of him as the man who last saw her husband alive. It took everything in her might to cast all of those feelings aside and concentrate on what she knew she needed to tell him. As soon as he reached the bottom bleachers he stopped and hesitated, looking completely unsure of himself. â€œHey,â€ he said. â€œHi,â€ she replied. Apparently that was all that needed to be said for the time being. Stacy lowered himself onto the bottom bleacher. Evie, who sat four bleachers up, moved down until she was sitting a few feet away from him. When he saw this, he seemed to loosen up a bit. His face was less dreadful as a result, and this tugged at her heart. Still, she forced herself to focus. â€œStacy, Iâ€¦I need to knowâ€¦.I mean I want you to tell me about that night James was killedâ€”from beginning to end. Explain it all to me, all the details. Donâ€™t leave anything out.â€ Stacy seemed confused by this request. â€œAre you sure?â€ Evie nodded. â€œI need to hear everything from your point of view, not from a police report.â€ He didnâ€™t even hesitate. â€œMe and Officer Walker were on duty that night. Walker was a veteran officer with twenty years on the force. I was a rookie who was only five months in. What you donâ€™t know and what the reports donâ€™t tell you, is that Walkerâ€™s son was killed by an African American man several years earlier. The kid was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got hit by a stray bullet. They caught the man who did it, but losing his only son messed Walker up real bad. He developed this vendetta against black men, I guess you could say. When we were on duty, sometimes he would pull them over for no reason and search their cars just to mess with them.â€ Stacy paused for a moment then added, â€œHe did a lot of stuff like that.â€ â€œAnyway, your husband became his target that night. The make and model of his car belonged to a murder suspect weâ€™d been looking for. But when Walker ran your husbandâ€™s plates, they came up clean. He stopped him anyway though.â€ â€œMy partner,â€ he continued, â€œwas in a bad mood that night. It was the seventh anniversary of his sonâ€™s death and heâ€™d been drinking prior to beginning his shift. I tried to stop him from going out that night, but he wouldnâ€™t listen. He told me if I told anyway heâ€™d been drinking heâ€™d deny it and tell them I was the one drinking and because he was a 20-year veteran they would believe him. He was in the frame of mind to make someone pay that night. He should have let your husband go butâ€¦..â€ Stacy trailed off. â€œKeep going,â€ Evie urged him softly. â€œWe were in the cruiser when Walker got on the speaker and asked your husband to get out of his car with his hands up where we could see them. He complied, but I could tell he was angry. He started yelling that he hadnâ€™t done anything and needed to get to work before he was late. Walker was starting to get annoyed, and thatâ€™s when I knew things were going to get bad real fast. I told Walker just to leave the man alone, but he wouldnâ€™t listen to me. Your husband started yelling, saying that whoever we were looking for he wasnâ€™t that man and if we just looked at his license we would know that. Walker started walking towards him and yelling at him to shut up and keep his hands where he could see them. Your husband shouted back, saying he was just going to grab his wallet and show us his license. â€˜He reached back into the car to grab his wallet, and thatâ€™s when Walker took the first couple of shots. I didnâ€™t know what to do and had never been in a situation like that before. So when Walker shouted that he was going for a gun I panicked and I shotâ€”three times. As soon as James was down, I ran over to him and thatâ€™s when I realized he really was going for his wallet. I told Walker this after I checked for his pulse and there wasnâ€™t one. My partner said it didnâ€™t matter, that when they asked what happened weâ€™d say he was going for what we thought was a gun. Andâ€¦..and he said that one more Black man dead was doing society a favor.â€ Evie winced and tried to calm the rising bile in her throat. These details werenâ€™t something you could get from a police reportâ€”only someone there could tell her the things she needed to hear to finally get over her husbandâ€™s death. Stacy didnâ€™t look at her as he continued. â€œWalker was wrong, I was wrong. I should have tried harder to stop him. I shouldnâ€™t have even gone out with him that night. Iâ€™ve never regretted something so much in my life. Even though it wasnâ€™t the bullet from my gun that killed your husband, I still consider myself the person who did. I feel like I could have stopped it.â€ Stacy suddenly turned towards her. She could see the anguish in his face, and she now knew something she had not known before: He was genuinely regretful. The pain radiated off of him in waves; he was tortured by what heâ€™d done. â€œEvie, if I could give my life for your husbandâ€™s right now so that you could be happy and so that Jamie could have his father back I wouldâ€”in a heartbeat. I wouldnâ€™t even have to think about it,â€ he said passionately. â€œYou donâ€™t know what you and Jamieâ€”and even your momâ€”have done for me over these past few months. Without even knowing it, you gave me a chance to redeem myself. You actually brought some joy back to my life. You gave my life purpose after my mother died. I guess you could say you all were the keys to my redemption in a way.â€ Evie exhaled heavily, her whole rehearsed speech completely useless in this situation right now. Of all the things she had planned to tell him, there was only one thing she knew she needed to say. â€œStacy, we arenâ€™t your keys to redemption, we never were. Jesus Christ is, not us.â€ Evie watched his chest rise and fall with every breath he took. Without giving herself a chance to question her actions, she reached over and picked up one of his hands that had been clutching the edge of the bleacher. She studied it for a moment, feeling its heavy weight in hers and the rough callouses that marked his palm. She then laced her fingers through his and rested both of their hands in her lap. She pretended not to see the shocked look on his face. He was no doubt stunned by her actions. As she leaned back into the bleacher above them and bathed in the rays from the setting sun, she felt more at peace than she had for the last three years. Of course, bringing her husbandâ€™s killer into her life would not have been the method she would have chosen to in order to gain that peace, but God knew what He was doing.