It was just past midnight when Morgan's flight landed at O'Hare. Coming home to Chicago was always a bittersweet experience for him. While he loved seeing his family, and the handful of friends that he'd kept in touch with, there were painful memories associated with his hometown. Eighteen years after his father's murder, he still couldn't pass the site where Sam Morgan died without getting a knot in his gut, or drive by the Upward Youth Center and not think of how he'd been exploited by Carl Buford. But, the good memories outweighed the bad, and he was happy to be back for a visit.
He retrieved his luggage and stopped at the desk to pick up the keys to his rental car. He hadn't eaten since early afternoon and he was ravenous. It crossed his mind to get a sandwich at the airport, or to drive through the all-night McDonald's, but realized that his mother would no doubt have prepared something for him. Of course, he told her not to wait up, just as he always did, but she would ignore him. Fran Morgan would be napping on the sofa with the television on, waiting for the sound of Derek's key turning in the lock. "Mothers," he thought, affectionately.
He loaded a large and a small bag into the trunk of the black Chevy Impala, and carefully placed his briefcase and laptop on the seat beside him. There was a chill in the night air, promising that fall was not far away. He zipped the light jacket he was wearing, noting that he should have worn something heavier. It was still warm in Quantico, and he hadn't thought about making the adjustment for the colder climate. He was glad that it didn't take long for the car warm up and provide him with heat.
It was a twenty minute drive from the airport back to his old neighborhood. There was an ambitious restoration program in the area, and even in the dark he could see that some of the old landmarks had been razed. New, brighter street lights had been installed on some streets. He counted four police cars, just since he'd exited the Expressway. In spite of the efforts to improve the area, gang violence still made the streets unsafe. There had even been suggestions that the National Guard should patrol in some sections of the city. Nearly two hundred murders had occurred in Chicago last year, almost all of them gang related.
As he passed the South End Bar, he noticed several young black men hanging out near the entrance. Down the street, another group, mostly Hispanic, was loitering by an all night convenience store, and Morgan wondered if there was trouble brewing. They're always so young, he thought, sadly. Most gang members didn't live to see thirty. He knew that if he'd stayed on the path he took after his father's death, he'd likely be dead himself.
Morgan turned onto Lafayette Avenue and parked in front of the brick row home where he'd grown up. The trim on the old house was in need of paint, but it was otherwise well-kept and tidy. There was a pot of fall mums on either side of the front door and a weathered mat that said "welcome." Although he had tried many times to persuade his mother to move, she stubbornly refused. "Your father and I bought this house when we were newlyweds," she'd remind him. "This is where I raised you and your sisters. I don't want to live anywhere else." Derek would only sigh, and give up the argument, but he did persuade her to let him install security doors and windows, and an alarm system. It helped him to sleep better at night.
As he ascended the porch steps, he could see the flickering light from the television through the blinds. Just as he predicted, as soon as she heard him unlocking the heavy, steel door, his mother was awake.
"Hi, Baby," she said, hurrying to hug him before he'd even put down his bags.
"Hey, Ma," He hugged her back, and scolded her gently. "Didn't I tell you not to wait up for me?"
"Who's the parent here, Derek?" She reminded him, jokingly. "Besides, I haven't seen you since Christmas," and she hugged him again. He could smell the aroma of something delicious in the kitchen before she even told him. "I have some roast beef simmering in the crock pot. I'll fix you a sandwich."
His mother sat at the table with him while he ate, giving him updates on his sisters and friends, all the while keeping his coffee cup filled. "Ma," he put his hand up. "I'm never going to fall asleep after drinking this much coffee."
She looked flustered, standing there with the coffee pot in her hand, ready to refill his cup. "Oh, I'm sorry, Baby. I wasn't thinking." Fran was so invested in nurturing her youngest child that she didn't think of how late it was. Twenty years ago, she would have offered him chocolate milk, but felt silly suggesting a kid's drink to her thirty-something son. Derek's father used to enjoy beer with roast beef, but she no longer kept alcohol in the house, not since it became clear that Desiree's boyfriend had a drinking problem. "I have some fruit juice, or iced tea." She offered.
"Mom, sit down. I'm fine. If I need anything, I'll get it." Derek finished his sandwich, and sat back in his chair and stretched. Yawning, he noticed by the kitchen clock that it was nearly two. "When are the girls coming over?" He inquired, anxious to see his sisters.
"I told them not to come before noon since your flight was getting in late."
Morgan was amused at his mother's concern with him getting enough sleep. It was so typical of her. She always worried about others, and often shortchanged herself in the process. It was Fran who looked tired, and he wondered about her health.
His mother was a petite woman, with porcelain skin and long auburn hair. It was hard to believe that she was past sixty. Still pretty, she looked much younger than her years. A genuine goodness radiated from her, and Morgan could understand why his father had so easily fallen in love with her. His dad had often told Derek how fortunate he was to have met her.
They were an unlikely couple. Sam Morgan was a tall, powerfully built black man. He had a broad smile, and easy going persona, but could turn cold and deadly serious when his role as Chicago police detective called for it. Francis Ellen McDermott was a quiet Irish girl, six years his junior. They met when Sam was a rookie cop, responding to her call about a prowler. They were attracted to each other from the moment they met.
Derek yawned again and got up. He took his plate to the sink. "Ma, go on up to bed. I'll put everything away."
"That's alright," she started, but Derek interrupted.
"Mom," he warned, gently. "Go on. Besides, I need a few minutes to unwind." He hoped the remark hadn't hurt his mother's feelings, but he needed some time to himself. "Wake me when the girls get here."
"Okay, Honey," she said, reluctantly. "'Night."
Derek put the leftovers in the fridge, and took a long swig from a bottle of chocolate milk he found on the top shelf. He washed his dishes, and then sat down to text Garcia. "Got in at 12. All is okay. Will call tomorrow."
Alone in the kitchen, he could almost hear the voices of his family at suppertime. His father used to tell stories about his day, usually with a humorous bent, although they all knew his job was dangerous. Sam Morgan had a deep, resonant voice, and an easy laugh, and Derek loved listening to his anecdotes. In contrast, his mother's voice was soft and almost musical when she spoke. She would often be singing to herself when she was working in the kitchen. His sisters, Sarah and Desiree, were chatty as kids, almost as much as he was reserved.
Derek missed his dad more as he'd grown older. Big Sam was his hero, and for as long as he could remember, he aspired to be like him. He wished he could get to know his father as an adult, and he often wondered if his dad would be proud of the way he'd turned out.
As he started up to his room, Derek heard sirens in the distance. Whatever was going on, he was glad he didn't have to be involved. For the next week, he wasn't going to concern himself with anything more than family and his high school reunion on Friday night.
He crept up the steps with his bags, careful not to disturb his mother. Her light was out and he could hear the soft rhythm of her breathing as he passed her door. He went into his old room and switched on the lamp. It hadn't changed much since he was a kid. The posters were gone from the walls and his sports trophies had been put away, but there was still a Chicago Bears blanket on his bed and his old boom box sat on the dresser, which made him smile.
Being home was an emotional sanctuary for Morgan, and in spite of the coffee he'd had, he quickly fell asleep. He didn't stir until he heard a loud banging at the front door, and the frantic sound of his mother's voice.