Hank Metcalf stood with his mother, sister and brother on the steps outside Saint Matthew's after Sunday Mass. It was the same as it was for all the Sundays he could remember growing up. The difference was the brother with him that Sunday morning was Michael.
The family said goodbye to Jeff and Ginger the afternoon before and they were now waking up at Lake Ichiwana. It was the place they were supposed to go for their honeymoon when they were engaged the first time and instead it was where Michael was born.
It seemed to Hank that he hadn't gone far without his baby brother over the last two days. That was because of Mom and Al and it was as though they were trying to make up for lost time. Hank never saw Michael until he came home for Jeff's wedding and they seemed to want him to spend as much time with his baby brother as he could before he had to leave again.
So it wasn't a surprise that Hank again had Michael in his arms.
Friends of his mother were stopping to say hello and ask her how things were going in New Jersey. Those that were at the wedding the day before told her what a nice time they had and how happy they were that her son was finally married.
They also fussed over Michael and in turn made the baby fussy. Hank could feel his little body tense every time someone wanted to pinch his cheek or ruffle his hair. He seemed to turn toward his older brother for comfort and Hank could see his face beginning to turn red.
"He's getting ready to cry ." Al stated as he stood next to him.
"It looks that way." Hank agreed.
"I know all of these nice ladies mean well, but I don't think Michael cares for it too much." He answered.
"I won't argue with you there."
It had been an interesting couple of days for Hank because he was given the opportunity to see his mother with Al. He was a young boy when his own father died but he was old enough to remember that Steven Metcalf didn't treat her with the deference that Al Kahn did. It was clear to him now how much Al loved his mother and he couldn't ever remember seeing her so completely happy.
They had their differences of course and it was because of those differences that his mother resisted becoming involved with him for so long. But he thought he understood now that Mom never would have been with him if she didn't love him, deeply. He also knew that if Al Kahn hadn't come to River Run his mother would still be a widow with her grown children living at home.
She always said that everything happened for a reason and he supposed that his father dying when they were so young was meant to be. It meant that he and Linda and Jeff would never know what a bad husband he was to their mother and how he broke his marriage vows to her. It had been a shock to hear it from her but it was only because of her love and respect for Al that she wanted her oldest son to know that his own father wasn't the Paragon of Matrimony that she'd led her children to believe. But she did it because he was their father.
"And I thought we could take Michael for a walk before you have to leave." Hank heard Al's voice and was pulled back from his reverie.
"I'm sorry, I didn't hear you." He said and looked down at his brother who was sound asleep.
Al smiled. "You seemed about a million miles away."
"More like twenty years." Hank answered with a smile of his own. "What were you saying?"
"Your mother wants to go back to the house and start packing because we have to get going ourselves pretty soon. But I thought that since Mrs. Davis made the offer of fresh cobbler and coffee to you, we could take Michael over to Rupert's and have a couple of slices. What do you say?"
To be honest, Hank wasn't sure how he felt about spending any more time with the man that he still held partly responsible for Sarah's death. But the fact of the matter was, Al was his mother's husband and he knew that it was past time to let go of the anger and animosity that he still harbored. Al was making a real effort to make him a part of Michael's life because it was something that was important to him and to Michael's mother, his mother.
"Sure." He finally said.
"We don't have to do this, I understand." Al seemed to sense the reason for Hank's hesitation and was willing to back out. "I can take Michael back to the house with me and you can go by yourself."
He shook his head. "Rupert's isn't that far from here. I walked over there after you and Mom got married and it's how I found out that the Davis's bought the place."
Al looked relieved and grateful that Hank didn't tell him to take a flying leap. "That son of mine will probably sleep through the whole thing. In fact, he seems to sleep when ever you've got him."
"I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing." Hank couldn't help but smile.
"It's a good thing Hank, trust me. Your mother has slept better in the last two days because Michael doesn't wake her up crying." Al admitted. "But I think being back in the house has helped her sleep too."
"Do you ever think about coming back?"
Al nodded. "Sure I do, I think about it every day. Your mother misses this place and living in her own house, though she'd never admit it. But the reason we left here in the first place is that I couldn't get a job and I don't see that changing any time soon. I would like Michael to grow up here. It's not perfect but this is where he was born and it's where he should grow up."
"It was a swell place to grow up."
"Hopefully he'll be able to find out." Al told him with a sigh as Hank's mother approached. "Al, we're going back to the house now. Please say hello to the Davis's for me and buy a piece of Mrs. Davis' cobbler. Hank, I can take Michael if you're getting tired of holding him."
"We're fine Mom. Al and I will keep an eye on him so that you can get ready and not worry about him."
"Thank you Hank, just don't be too long. We have a long drive ahead of us." She kissed her oldest son's cheek and the downy head of her youngest.
"We won't be long Ann, I promise." Al reassured her and kissed her cheek. "I just want Michael to see something of River Run while we're here."
"All right. We'll see you back at the house." And she followed Linda to the car.
Hank started down the steps with a sleeping Michael in his arms and turned up the sidewalk. They headed toward Rupert's and the silence between them was almost companionable. There was so much anger for the longest time and he didn't want to be angry anymore. Not with Jeff and Ginger newly married from the very church they were walking away from.
"She didn't love me the way I loved her." Hank said suddenly and it seemed to lift a weight off of his heart.
"What are you talking about? She was crazy about you from what I could see." Al seemed surprised at his sudden admission.
"She met someone when I was overseas and really fell for him. She told me it was over after I came home and maybe it was, but I always had the feeling that she never really got over him."
"How did you know? Did Sarah tell you?" He seemed genuinely curious.
"We were making plans for our wedding and she wanted to show me the receipts for the things she'd bought." Hank began in way of explanation. "What she didn't realize was that there was a poem mixed in that he'd given her and I read it. I talked to her about it and she tried to pass it off as a crush but when I look back at it now, it had to have been more."
"Hank, are you saying that she settled for you?" Al frowned.
He nodded. "I think she did. I'm not saying that she didn't love me because I think she did, but I don't think that she was in love with me the way she was before I shipped out."
"Why tell me this?"
"Because I've been watching you with Mom and Jeff with Ginger these last couple of days and Sarah and I didn't really have what you do. At the time I thought it was that she was adjusting to living in a full house after having her own room and her privacy. She always hesitated when I wanted to make love because she didn't want anyone to hear. She never kissed me first, but she did always kiss me back. She never took my hand or put her arm around me unless I did it first." He sighed. "It just makes me wonder what kind of a marriage we would have ended up with."
Al didn't seem to know what to say. "I'm not exactly the guy to hash this out with because my first marriage didn't work. But from what I knew of your wife, she didn't strike me as the type to have married you if she didn't really love you. So why bring this up now?"
"Because I've had time to think about it. One of the reasons that I left River Run was that I couldn't live in the same house with the man I held responsible for Sarah's death. But I also couldn't sleep in the bed we shared or the same room. A fresh coat of paint on the walls couldn't change that which I learned pretty fast. The move to Chicago gave me the chance to step back from everything that happened and gave me the time to sort things through to see them as they really were. What finally did it for me was to see my mother and my brother together with the people they love."
"I've never met a woman as wonderful as your mother. She's as strong in her faith as she is in her life. After she came down with polio the hardest thing for her to do was ask for help, from any of us. She was so used to taking care of her children and me that she didn't know how to let anyone else take care of her."
"But she learned."
Al smiled. "To a point. You know how stubborn your mother can be and sometimes she would have to find out for herself that she couldn't do something even when she thought she could."
"I don't think I ever thanked you for calling me every day to let me know how she was doing. I didn't worry as much because of that."
"That's what family does Hank. You are my wife's oldest son and you weren't here when it happened. And the last thing I wanted was for you to feel as though you didn't matter because you were so far away."
"I appreciate that Al, thank you."
"For better or worse we're family and Michael makes it official."
"That he does." Hank smiled and checked on his sleeping brother.
"Out like a light, what did I tell you." Al smiled and ran a hand over the baby's head and laughed softly. "If we're lucky he'll look like your mother when he gets older."
Hank looked around and realized with a start that they were in front of Rupert's.
"You have radar when it comes to this place." Al joked.
"They had the best chicken fried steak in the city." He remembered. "The last time I was here the Davis's hadn't opened this place back up yet. Mrs. Davis told me that it would be a while before they could afford to offer it, but as long as I can have a piece of her cobbler I'll be happy."
"Don't let me forget that your mother wants a piece of cobbler to take back with us." He commented as the front door opened with a jingle and Abe Davis stood there with a long cook's apron on.
"Welcome to Rupert's. Gloria just took her cobbler out of the oven and a fresh pot of coffee is brewing." He told them with a smile. "Please come in and make yourselves comfortable."
"Thank you Mr. Davis. " Hank smiled. "And if you can spare it, Al would like a piece of cobbler to go for my mother."
"Thanks for remembering that Hank." Al clapped him on the back.
"That's what family does Al." He quipped before Al followed him inside.