A/N I can't thank you enough for all the support, Dear Readers. I come back to you with so many ideas I can barely fit them all on the page. Thanks most especially to my Twitter and FanFiction buddies who are too numerous to name here. Most especially, thank you to Diko, DWBBFan, BostonLegalGirl, Amanda, EveyEve1215, MariaGalician, alwaysthere39, jitzter14, ciaomichaella, LaciLucyLou, MossadNinja and so many others who interact with me on a very regular basis!
Sometimes we write for you, sometimes we write for Bones. Sometimes we write for ourselves. The best chapters, I've found, are the ones we write for ourselves. This is one for me and my dad. I hope it becomes a favorite of yours as well.
This chapter is dedicated to my dad. The character of Ed Williams is loosely based on him. There is a lot of him in this chapter, as there has been in previous ones even though I was the only one who knew it. Dad reads my reviews from heaven now. I hope he is pleased with my work. I hope it gives you pause to think. The poem "On Love" was written by my dad in 1961. I found it in a box of his old college papers and read it at his funeral.
William Edwin Owen
January 15, 1942 - December 5, 2012
"I carry your heart;
I carry it in my heart"
From Chapter 209:
"The way things are going between you and Booth," Angela had said with a sardonic smirk as she held out the small white gift bag toward Brennan, "you will never get to use this, but I have no need for it now that I'm married ... If you don't want it, put it in the circular file, but just don't tell me. You have no idea how difficult this was to get ahold of." Angela had shrugged dejectedly and walked toward the door. That was when she ran right into Booth and called him an ass hat.
Booth asked Brennan what was in the bag, but wasn't given an answer other than that it was private.
While Brennan slept in her airplane seat, Booth took the white gift bag to the restroom and looked inside it, seeing enough to realize that it held a meaning that Brennan would not like.
Chapter 212 In The Clearing Stands A Boxer
In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders of ev'ry glove that laid him down
or cut him till he cried out in his anger and his shame,
"I am leaving, I am leaving—" But the fighter still remains.
~ Paul Simon, 1968
While on the plane from Philadelphia to Seattle Booth had found himself in a lengthy discussion with Ed Williams, a stranger seated several rows behind him and Brennan. At first their coming together seemed random. By the end of the flight it was clear to Booth that their meeting was the product of some crafty planning by his good old friend, the Holy Spirit. The conversation with Ed had been the kind you can only have with a stranger; someone you'd never see again. It was no coincidence that the gentleman turned out to be a man of faith. When Ed shared this fact, their casual conversation turned provocative and annoyingly introspective for Booth. He now had a lot more to think about before his pre-copulatory discussion with Brennan. He had mixed feelings about this. Strong mixed feelings.
Getting off the plane and thanking the man for the discussion, Booth sent up a prayer to the Holy Spirit to take over this whole mess because he wasn't sure he would have the fortitude on his own. Later that evening once Booth finally closed his eyes and gave in to his body and mind's craving for rest, the demons he revealed to Ed Williams bubbled to the surface of Booth's subconscious and shook him, literally, and deposited him on the floor . . .
Booth awoke in free-fall, smacking his head on the glass coffee table in the tiny living room space of Brennan's mini suite at Hotel 1000 in Washington. Attempting to claw himself free of the dream web wrapped around his still hazy consciousness, he remained disoriented by the pervasive dankness of the abandoned parking structure in his dream juxtaposed against the sweet sound of Brennan's voice which seemed to echo off the walls before landing gently in his ears.
"I know it's kind of late. I hope I didn't wake you. But what I have to say can't wait …"
In his dream he could not see Brennan, but he could hear her as clearly as if she were standing right behind him. It was his turning and twisting, his thrashing about to find her that catapulted him off the leather couch, his cranium connecting with the edge of the glass coffee table.
"Excrement! Hooooly …. EXCREMENT!" Booth groaned through clenched teeth. He ground a crop circle into his hair over the pounding sting as if doing so would decrease the pain and drown out the instant replay of the crunch of man versus coffee table still ringing in his ears. "Dammit! Ahhhh, dammit, dammit, DAMMIT!"He pulled himself off the floor when he heard the undeniable sound of waves crashing against glass. "What the …?"
He swung around in the dark room, registering nothing but a pale yellow haze in the shape of an open doorway. He stumbled past the couch, still massaging the bump pulsing angrily just above his temple. He took three steps further and fell through the light into her combination bed and bathroom.
Brennan had heard Booth fall, heard the nauseating crunch of skin and bone against beveled glass, and sat up abruptly, splashing a tidal wave of soapy bath water and creamy bubbles over the toe end of the freestanding tub.
"Booth!" She yelped, trying to make sense of the incongruity between what she thought she knew and the indisputable evidence to the contrary. "Where did you come from? And … wha … How did you get in?" She stared at him, clean-faced and wide-eyed, her mouth hanging open, damp curls framing her face. She squinted at him, her mind whirring. She was confident it had been silent in her room ever since he'd left over thirty minutes ago. Disappointed in their sleeping arrangements though she was when she found out about them, she'd finally relented mawkishly. After he'd left, she'd undressed, twisted her hair up into a chignon, and then eased into the luxurious bubble bath he'd prepared for her. It had been silent, except for the occasional tinkling of water dripping from her washcloth or quietly sloshing about as she sank into the bubbles or propped her feet up on the ledge to watch the steam rise off her toes.
And then all of a sudden there he was.
"Are you intoxicated? Booth. What is going on?"
Booth fell forward. When his hands hit the glass wall separating the bathroom and the bedroom, she instinctively reared back sending another wave of water tumbling over the back of the tub.
"Bones!" He croaked before turning and running from her room and out into the hallway. From there he hit the stairwell and sprinted, two steps at a time, up five flights of stairs. Jamming his keycard into the lock mechanism, he swung his door open and dove for the bedroom. As the door reconnected with its frame he launched himself diagonally across the king size bed, panting and sweating, as a thousand anxious black tingles took tiny bites out of the skin on his back. He stared at the ceiling and vigorously rubbed his face for a moment, then pressed his palms into his eyes and lay motionless until his heartbeat returned to normal.
It had all happened so fast that Brennan thought perhaps she'd imagined it, but there clearly remained condensation in the shape of two Booth-sized palm and fingerprints on the glass separating the bed from the bath. Registering his considerable distress, she was out of the tub in a flash. She had her wet soapy hand on the door knob leading to the hallway before a sudden chill shot two crucial pieces of information into her consciousness: 1) She didn't know his room number, and 2) She was dripping wet and without a stitch on except enough bubbles to cover half the surface area of the tub – but not nearly enough of Temperance Brennan.
She rushed back into the bedroom and found herself face to face with Booth's hand prints, which had yet to evaporate from the glass wall. She pressed her palms and fingers to the glass inside his prints as she thought about her options. She then paced back and forth, chewing on her thumbnail, then snagged a bath towel from the built-in shelving on the only solid wall near the tub, and retraced her wet footprints to her anteroom.
"Phone, phone! Where the hell is my stuff?!" She rifled through the bag, her coat pockets, and the computer case – all which Booth had deposited right inside her door when they'd first arrived. Nothing! Then she spotted the cell on the coffee table which sat catawampus from the couch as a result of its brawl with Booth's formidable frontal bone.
Scooping up the phone, she depressed speed dial number one and waited. After fifteen seconds, she heard it: a tinny canned version of her own voice coming from the bedroom.
"The phone rings in the middle of the night, my father yells 'What you gonna do with your life …"
"Agh! Copulating donkey turds!" She ran into the bedroom and clawed at the overstuffed pillows. There it was, under the last one. It was a miracle it hadn't bounced off the headboard and fallen behind the mattress where she'd never be able to get at it without pulling the bed apart. Annoyed, she turned the phone off to stop the unwelcome serenade. "Focus," she told herself, slumping onto the mattress.
She decided to call the hotel front desk.
"Yes, Ms. Brennan, I will connect you to Mr. Booth's room. Before I do so, is there anything else I can do for you this evening?"
"Yes, please give me his room number," she said confidently, then closed her eyes and held her breath.
"I apologize, ma'am, but it's against hotel policy to reveal the room numbers of any of our guests, especially those staying in our Grand Suites. I apologize for the inconvenience." This is what she had expected, but she had asked anyway. However, this did tell her that he was o one of the Grand Suites!
"Then, can you answer an architectural question?"
The voice on the other end hesitated, confused, but then regained his professional demeanor. "I will do my absolute best."
"Where can I find blueprints of the hotel?"
"I beg your pardon, Ma'am?"
"A map!" She said loudly with a frustrated sigh. "Of the hotel!"
"A map? Of the hotel?" The clerk failed to hide his suspicious tone. "If you are concerned about emergency exits, you can find the one nearest to your room on the inside of your door—."
"Never mind," she said. "On second thought, I don't think I'll call Agent Booth just yet. Thank you!" She hung up and ran to collect the laptop.
Up on the eighth floor, Booth was grappling with his own humanity.
"Why now, you Filthy Stinking Bastard?" Booth growled at his imaginary archenemy, the antagonist who always delighted in laughing in Booth's face while torturing his subconscious. "Why now?" He whimpered into the empty room. "Now is not a good time for me to be freaking out, OKAY?!" He curled his fists around chunks of his own hair and squeezed until his scalp felt tight. "Lord," he pleaded, "take that horse's sphincter as far away from me as you can, please, please?!"
In his mind, Booth stormed onto Planet Booth ready to fight the Filthy Stinking Bastard in hand-to-hand combat if necessary. He wouldn't relent until he'd subdued the tugging that was dragging him closer and closer to the calcified pit in his gut, the pit that grew a new outer layer every year for too many years to count. That pit that was rattled by Booth's conversation with Ed Williams about sin.
"You can handle him, Seeley …" came a deep soothing voice from somewhere inside Booth's brain. Booth imagined himself stumbling over a pyramid of dusty rocks as he searched the sky of Planet Booth for the origin of that voice. No matter, he already knew who it was. It was God the Father and Creator. It was God the Son and Redeemer. It was God the Holy Spirit and Companion.
Huh, huh, wh-what? Haven't I had enough God talk for one day? He thought-said in the direction of the white slice of light on the horizon of the darkening purple sky blanketing Planet Booth. It was true; he had talked about God and faith and forgiveness for hours while on the plane. He was God-ed out for the time being.
No response from the firmament.
Booth tossed his hands in the cooling air and walked off, smirking in disgust. Why do I even ask? And what's left to say at this point, seriously? He mumbled to himself. He wasn't interested in the answer, so he hushed his thoughts, filling his mind with the opening verse from 'The Boxer', by Simon and Garfunkel. The Booth of his mind's eye sang the lines while the Booth laying on a king sized bed in a Grand Suite on the eighth floor of Hotel 1000 in Washington State hummed along.
"I am just a poor boy though my story's seldom told
I have squandered my existence for pocketful of mumbles
Such are promises … all lies and jests ...
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest."
The God in Booth's mind's eye remained silent until the last notes of the verse trickled out of Booth's throat and disappeared. Booth basked in the silence and fervently hoped it would stretch out until morning. The hopes of a fool are a churlish comedy for all except their owner, thought Booth, not sure where he'd heard it before. God, however, had a tender heart for Booth's hopes, and an even greater commitment to Booth's character and his heart. As for God's character, Booth knew Him to be diligent and patient; impeccable in his timing, and flawless in his purpose. In God there are no coincidences, in other words. Booth knew this to be true, at least in his own experience.
As he thought about God's character, another melody by Simon and Garfunkel stole into Booth's consciousness. It simply appeared as if coming toward him over the horizon. He, of course, learned early in life to accept that this was a nudge from The Almighty.
"When you're weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes, I'll dry them all.
I'm on your side, when times get rough …
And friends just can't be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down."
"Let's get this over with—" Booth relented. Dusting off his pants he hopped off the planet and back to the reality of a king-sized bed at the Hotel 1000.
Wide awake and able to think somewhat clearly, he began to begrudgingly face what he'd been skirting around all evening. Now that they had his full attention, the events that brought him to this very place and time presented themselves on the screen of his consciousness like images from a projector. He imagined the click, release, and whir of Pops' old projector fan. Click, release, whir.
Booth's youth flashed before him as he stared, wide-eyed, at the ceiling. Then, an image of his father flipped by. What a mess that was. Then he saw his mother leaving. He tried not to think about it, but he missed his mother. It was one of the reasons he carried such a chip on his shoulder against his father.
Click, release, whir.
His tumultuous teen years with Pops flashed onto the screen. Neighborhood kids in the woods behind the gas station. Boys shooting with spring-piston BB Guns at branches, then targets, then squirrels. All the kids making a big deal about how good of a shot that Booth kid was. When they got older, they took turns with a 12-gauge pump action shotgun. Booth was the undisputed champion when it came to hitting a target, any target.
Click, release, whir.
He imagined the heat of the projector lamp against his temple—or was it genuine anxiety that made his cheeks hot? College, girls, parties, his first Mustang.
Click, release, whir.
The Army Rangers. Fourteen kills. Corporal Teddy Parker. Silence, where there was once laughter, camaraderie, but it ended with a bullet that split time in half with a sharp whizzz, whizzz, FFFT! The sound of the lethal projectile meeting it's target … it still rattles around in Booth's ear drums.
Click, release, release, release—whir.
The Gulf War, Somalia, Kosovo. Twenty-eight kills.
Click. Click. Click. No release. Something is stuck, jammed.
Gambling. Hustling pool. Camille … Rebecca. Parker.
Here Booth paused, remembering a baby in his arms, his baby. Those plump fingers and toes, the chubby belly, the wonderful tinkling of endless giggles and genuine awe of everything and anything. Parker was a splash of innocence in the middle of a life swimming upstream. Love without boundaries. Promise. A chance to right the wrongs.
Booth's throat began to tighten. He swallowed audibly, licked his lips, took a deep breath, and watched as Parker slid to the left off the screen, though he could still feel Parker there beside him. From then on, there would always be Parker. Parker to ground him. Parker to give him a compelling reason to quit gambling. Parker to embrace him and love him unabashedly and unconditionally. Parker to see him as the perfect, whole person he so desperately wanted to be for his son. Parker as his reason for redefining what he wanted out of life, and what he needed to do to get it. Time to take life seriously—to get things sorted out, whatever that meant.
Then there was a flash of a young forensic anthropologist on an auditorium stage at American University. A whirlwind case, a kiss, and a separation that flipped his world upside down, messed with his sleep, and persisted in begging for his attention like a starving puppy he'd tossed a slice of bacon to.
This memory sent a rush of warmth from his neck down through his chest. Parker had given Booth a reason; Brennan had given him motivation.
Booth sighed and rolled over onto his stomach, wrapping his arms around a huge starchy-clean pillow.
Then came partnership and purpose—with happiness and friendship on its heels. Before he knew what was happening, Love was ushered in by a quiet, confident, hand at the small of its back. Actual love. Absolute love. This thought came not in words but in something more pervasive. Love in the shape of a crooked smile and wide-open cool blue eyes- love that sunk into him and made its home there.
Click, click, swoosh-swoosh-swoosh, ahhh! Oh, ahhhhh!
He wanted to stop right there and go back to her room. He knew he'd frightened her and she would be worried. In his hesitation he sighed, resigned in the knowledge that he had a job to do here by himself. Before tomorrow.
Back in Brennan's room, Brennan was in full research mode. Connecting to the Internet she found the site for the hotel. Within five minutes she'd located information on how many rooms the hotel had, the square footage of each room, and the quantity of each room layout per floor. She recalled from the elevator that a special key card was required for access to floors eight through ten, and also that Booth had one of those key cards. Thanks to the hapless clerk at the front desk, she now also knew that Booth was in a 2,000 square foot Grand Suite. Booth had supplied the telling detail that his room would have a panoramic view of Puget Sound. From this she deduced that he was in a West-facing suite on either floor eight or nine.
Snapping the laptop shut, she reached for the phone once again.
"Please connect me to Agent Booth's room? Thank you." She waited for the connection and was only slightly relieved when he answered after what felt like ten rings.
On the eighth floor, in the Grand Suite with the panoramic view of the Puget Sound, Booth swallowed dryly several times, then sprang across the bed toward the phone when it broke the silence with its shrill announcement that Brennan was trying to contact him. His hand on the phone, he hesitated, allowing it to ring several more times before he picked it up. On the other end would be a voice that would confirm that he had not dreamed what just happened. Well, not all of it, at least. The confirmation was not a welcome one, but … he needed to hear that voice.
"I'm okay. I'm okay," he groaned insistently into the receiver before she had a chance to blurt 'Hello!' or, 'What the hell was that all about?' He swallowed several times and fell back onto the mattress, closing his eyes and running a ragged hand through his hair. "I'm … really sorry, Bones. I just … was a little disoriented."
"Booth, your face was pale, your pupils were completely dilated, you were perspiring profusely – I still have your handprints on the glass bathroom wall!" This was an exaggeration, they were long gone, but he didn't know that. She paused, grimaced, and allowed the ensuing uncomfortable silence to force him to say something.
"Everything really is fine … okay. Okay?" Despite his insistence to the contrary, they both knew that everything was not okay. Not at all okay.
Many hours earlier while on their flight from Philadelphia to Washington ...
Booth sat on the seat cover in the miniscule airplane bathroom disgusted with himself. He'd looked in the gift bag Angela had given Brennan. Brennan had insisted it was 'private' and refused to let him see it. When she fell asleep, he stole away to the bathroom with it to have a look. Then his conscience got the better of him and he felt like a turd for doing that. The other issue he'd have to face with her was the meaning behind this very personal gift. Resigned to the disappointment Brennan would certainly feel once she was enlightened, Booth sighed heavily, stood and washed his hands in the teency-weency bathroom sink.
Stooping to pick up the paper towel he accidentally dropped on the floor, he picked up two other wayward paper towels, a crumpled cash machine receipt, and finally, a well-worn, piece of paper carefully folded into a perfect square. Throwing everything else into the trash receptacle, he paused to look at the square of paper. He turned it over and looked at both sides of the 3.5 inch square. It curved slightly from wear, as if had been carried in the back pocket of a pair of pants or tucked into a well-worn wallet. From the degree of the curve, the slight discoloration of the paper, and the rough and darkened edges at the exterior folds and corners, Booth surmised that this document had been preciously held and guarded for a very long time.
Looking at himself in the mirror, Booth thought about the notes he and Brennan had exchanged since last Monday, starting with the "I love you, Booth, with my whole metaphorical heart," Brennan had hidden inside the footies she had given him before his flight to Philadelphia. That note was precious to him. At that very moment, that note, written in tiny human bones, was tucked inside his own wallet along with several others she'd given to him. After twenty or thirty years those notes would probably could look a lot like the one he held in his hands now. If he ever lost Brennan's note, he would be devastated. He made a mental note to photocopy her notes and stash them in the top drawer of his dresser … just in case.
"This is not garbage," he said out loud to his reflection, glancing down at the folded paper again, turning it over in his hand. The outside of the square held no clue as to who it belonged to or what it was, though a shadow of ink showed through the paper, indicating there was text within.
Gingerly unfolding it, he noted it had originally been folded in half, then each side folded inward and overlapping perfectly toward the center with great care, formin 3.5 inch rectangle, not unlike a love letter. The magic is in the details, thought Booth, wondering if he'd read the signs correctly.
Rather than having a uniformly smooth, opaque surface like contemporary copy paper, the surface of this paper was textured like raw sanded silk. It was thin, yet stiff and nearly transparent. Upon closer inspection, Booth concluded that this wasn't a document produced on a contemporary printer. Each individual letter had been slapped onto the page in quick succession via a metal hammer keystroke against a fabric ribbon saturated in black ink. Booth had seen this before.
Three years previously Booth had become fascinated with several cases whose most compelling evidence included forensic examination of typewritten documents. Martha Stewart's ImClone stock trading case, the National Archive forgeries, and the faked George W. Bush National Guard performance correspondence, to name a few.
Already a collector of vintage artifacts, Booth had found himself in the public library checking out several books on the history of typewriters and typography. Eventually, he purchased a 1936 Underwood Noiseless Portable typewriter which he used on occasion to write letters to Pops and sometimes to Parker when he was away at summer camp. Pops enjoyed it immensely; Parker thought it was silly.
"Why can't you email me like all the other dads do?" Parker had complained every single summer when Booth picked him up after camp.
"Because I'm cooler than those other dads," Booth had replied. "Besides, they all get the same thing … crappy little notes that take a second to write and send. You get something different … something that took time and thought and intentionality. It's just cooler."
"Different is not cool!" Parker had insisted.
"You won't always think that, Park," Booth said, tousling his son's dishwater brown curls. "Besides, girls like guys who are different."
"Dad! First of all, who cares what girls think … and second of all … I don't want to be different!"
"Believe me, son, someday you will. Being different is what makes you—you!"
"Whatever," Parker had replied, tucking two letters and a typewritten post card into his backpack. Booth later found a stash of those letters when he was cleaning Parker's bedroom. He'd saved every single one Booth had ever given him.
Today in his hands Booth held a note typeset on what he now realized was a leaf of 1961 scrivener's paper. Based upon the lack of variation in spacing for each typed letter, the distinct style of the lower case 't' and 'g', plus the outdated design of the sans serif ampersand, Booth recognized this typography as most likely from an IBM Selectric typewriter from the early '60s. Seventy-five per cent of the commercially sold typewriters at that time were Selectrics, so this was nothing out of the ordinary. What was written on the page, however, was nothing short of extraordinary.
In the upper right hand corner was typewritten,
From Ed, Your Most Ardent Suitor
March 28, 1961
The body of the document contained seven brief typed paragraphs and a handwritten note. The paper was mottled with several typewriter ink smudges and the occasional correction made by a black felt pen over a smudge of white paste. It was a poem.
God made animals to go by pair:
For every pigeon there is a dove,
For every horse there is a mare,
But animals do not have love.
However gregarious animals are
It is not uncommon to find just one;
But man is very different by far,
For he cannot exist alone.
A man may appear to walk alone,
But his Lord is at his side,
Another has a wife at home
With whom he loves and does abide.
A man may be very strong,
But he is melted by a simple kiss
For to his wife he does belong
In the sharing of Heav'nly bliss.
The little thing that makes life worth livin'
(The little thing is not little at all),
Is the constant spirit of sharin' and givin';
This makes a man feel nine feet tall.
A man who has had the good fortune
To attempt love and win
Is a man who sings a happy tune –
Is a man who wins happiness in the end.
He who loves today
Is not forgotten tomorrow,
For he is free, his heart is gay,
And another's life he need not borrow.
Booth sighed wistfully. It wasn't Shakespeare, but it came, without a doubt, straight from a heart that beat to the tune of someone's name. Across the bottom of the page in mottled navy fountain pen had been scribbled the words in clear boxy printing that slanted just slightly to the left and provided the name of this most ardent suitor's conquest, one Miss Catarina Diane:
"To my dearest Catarina Diane. I've done nothing but think about you since we saw each other at your cousin's wedding. I will be home for Easter and would like very much to see you. Please write back, Cat. I will check my mailbox every day until you do.
Yours in Spirit and hopefully more,
Booth gasped and chuckled to himself as he leaned against the miniscule countertop. No, this was definitely not destined for the garbage can. Before long someone would be missing it. Booth recalled seeing an elderly gentleman walking back to his seat from the restroom twenty minutes before he got up to go himself.
Determined to reunite this keepsake with its owner, Booth exited the closet-sized mostly-plastic bathroom and peered down the aisle. There he was: the octogenarian Booth had seen earlier. He was seated five rows behind a slumbering Brennan. Perfect, he thought.
The gentleman had reclined his seat and appeared to be dozing. A thin gray airline blanket was tucked under his neat white beard, covered his 'little old man's paunch', and ended its coverage just below his knees. His mouth was relaxed in a shallow smile. Vertical dimples like parentheses sprang from the middle of each of his crab apple cheeks and ended somewhere under his beard. His eyes were closed against the harsh light of his seat mate's overhead lamp. He had a receding hairline that was thinning on top, a short beard and mustache, and bushy brown and gray eyebrows sitting atop a pair of gold-rimmed trifocals. The soft wrinkles radiating outward from the corners of his eyes told Booth this was someone who'd spent a great deal of time laughing. Booth didn't want to simply leave the paper on this man's lap without confirmation that it belonged there. Everything inside him told him this was the owner of the love letter, but what if he was wrong?
For a moment, Booth didn't want to disturb him. He was so peaceful! This man reminded him of a younger, more slender version of Pops. Booth couldn't help feeling a kinship with this man from the moment he got close enough to see the details of his features. Who wouldn't love a guy that wrote such a tender poem?
"Excuse me, sir?" Stage whispered Booth. The man didn't stir. He tried again, louder. "Excuse me. SIR?!"
The gentleman's eyes blinked open. He had very long, damp-looking lashes and deep blue eyes. He reared back, his fingers grasping for the blanket then fumbling with the button for raising his seat to the upright position.
"Did we land? Is it over?" He sputtered in confusion, sticking his tongue out to wet his dry lips, then smacking his lips together attempting to do the same for the rest of his mouth.
"No, sir. Sorry for startling you," said Booth, tentatively leaning against the head rest of the seat in front of the older man. "We still have another three hours to go, I'm afraid." He paused for a moment. "Sir, my name is Seeley Booth. I, uh, I found something that may belong to you … in the restroom."
"What?" The man's features tightened suspiciously. "Something of mine?"
"Well, I don't know, but I recall that you were recently, uh, out of your seat and-" he said, holding the folded paper out for the man to see, "I thought you may have dropped this."
"Who are you again?" The gentleman leaned further away from Booth and squinted until his eyes all but disappeared.
"I'm Seeley Booth, just another passenger. I found this on the floor. It looked important. It's from 1961. If someone held onto this for fifty years he probably didn't mean to drop it—?" Booth held it up higher for the man to see. "I think it's a note of a personal nature."
The man stared at Booth for a moment as if assessing his character. Then he squinted at the square of folded paper until a flash of recognition flew across his face before he could hide it, and his hand dove behind him in the direction of his pants pocket. Convinced, gingerly took the 3.5 inch square from Booth's outstretched hand and held it away from his face for a better look. He made a show of rubbing his thumb over the surface, then holding it out and squinting at it once more. Adjusted himself in his seat, he cleared his throat a couple of times, then glanced around the cabin to see if anyone else was paying attention.
Booth smiled as he watched the wrinkled face soften. The man glanced at Booth with a twinkle in his eyes, his dimples appearing just above the line of his close-cropped white beard. "Thank ya, Mr. Booth." He smiled and nodded, then sighed and grimaced appreciatively. "Ed Williams," he said in a steady voice as he offered Booth his hand.
Booth smiled back, then sat down on the edge of the seat across the aisle from Ed Williams. For the next ten minutes, Booth and Ed exchanged pleasantries: Is this business or pleasure? Are you coming or going? How long are you staying? Did you catch the latest game?
Ed Williams was flying home from Kentucky by way of Philadelphia where he'd been visiting his daughter, Diane, and her three girls, Emily, Cat and Amanda. He'd spent three weeks with Diane, left her house only six hours previously, and already missed her 'somethin' awful' and was tempted to turn around a go right back tonight.
Booth shared that he was out there on business and hoped it would be a successful and brief visit to Washington. Yes, he'd been here before and found it quite beautiful but a little too wet for his taste. He was looking forward to getting home to go fishing with his son.
They fell into a companionable silence after laughing at something they were surprised to find they had in common.
"That's a nice little poem on that paper," Booth mentioned casually during another lull in the conversation.
"What?" Ed leaned toward Booth and pointed at the tiny hearing aid in his ear.
"The poem. On your—on the note thing there," Booth said, gesturing toward Ed's back pocket where he'd stowed his wallet after returning the note to the same slot it had populated for the last however many years.
"Oh, yeah," replied Ed, snorting bashfully and placing a hand on his hip in front of the pocket. "Well, I was a very young and idealistic man back then. I thought love was that tingly feeling you get in your chest, the gnawing in your gut—and everywhere else. What was I thinking?" Ed shrugged, baffled at his own naivete.
"My partner would say that's all hormones and chemistry!" Booth twinkled at Ed as he nodded toward Brennan's seat.
"She's a smart one, that partner of yours."
"You have no idea," chuffed Booth, rolling his eyes and shaking his head.
"My wife would say that's the kind of chemistry that makes you stupid."
"And she wouldn't be wrong, I'm livin' proof," snorted Booth, setting them both laughing again.
"Aren't we all?" Added Ed in falsetto on the downside of a chuckle. "And thank the Lord for those stupefying hormones. Without them, my wife never would have looked at me twice!" He grinned sheepishly at Booth. "Or put up with me for forty-five years."
"Ain't that the truth," agreed Booth, with an eye roll and a lopsided grin. "It's generally frowned upon to konk them on the head and drag them away by their hair these days. God bless mother nature, heh, the goddess of biochemistry."
"Giving Mother Nature credit for God's divine creation is frowned upon in my business, but I understand what you mean, Seeley."
"What business are you in? I assumed you were retired," Booth asked, intrigued.
"Monotheism. But I was married to the same person for long enough to understand the urge to pay homage to whatever brings two people together."
"Monotheism?" Booth stared at Ed, deep vertical lines sprouting above the bridge of his nose.
"I'm a deacon," Ed smiled as if watching an hapless animal that was about to fall into a carefully laid trap. "Almost became a priest though."
"What?" Booth started. "How—? You were married for—how many years?"
Ed took a deep breath and pushed it out. Gotcha! "Married for forty-five years. Before that, I was this close," he said pinching an inch of air from in front of his face, "to being ordained."
"So—you said you were married—for—uh, you must not be Catholic. No way they'd let a divorced man become a priest—maybe not even a deacon." Booth had perplexity written all over his face.
"Roman Catholic it is, but I did things out of order. Let me explain. At fifteen I went to a Carmelite Monastery as a novitiate. After that, St. Bonaventure with the Franciscans in New York for post-secondary studies and seminary, followed by two years of post graduate seminary at Catholic University in D.C."
"Wait, I'm no math wiz, but- what, are you like 110 years old? Where does the love letter to Catarina come in?"
"Heh, heh! I wrote that in— what was it— '61? I was nineteen," he said, matter-of-factly. "Eh, it was a crush," he said lightly, shrugging his shoulders all the way up to his ears, "or so I thought."
"But you were in the seminary! Nah, nah, nah. Seminarians aren't allowed to date."
"Right. I wrote it in an undergraduate literature class. It was just an exercise!" He said defensively tossing his hands in the air. "I'm tellin' ya'. It was just a harmless little poem about a crush. I wrote it, packed it away after I got the grade, and forgot all about it."
"Well, there comes a time when you have to make a decision. The priesthood is a marriage. It's serious. But—something had been tugging at me, I can't describe it other than to say I felt like I was walking in one direction but looking in the opposite direction. I didn't realize what it was until I ran into Catarina at a wedding a couple of years later and—well, we weren't kids anymore. Seeing her just threw me."
"Hm," grunted Booth, digging his elbow into the aisle-side arm rest and absently pulling on his bottom lip. "Chemistry."
Ed paused and concentrated on the aisle carpeting without really seeing it. Then he sighed and continued. "It was more than chemistry. But—I was a very determined and committed young man. I was going to be a priest. Period. End of discussion," he said, staring Booth right in the eyes. "God in His infinite wisdom had other plans for me, I guess!"
Booth pressed his lips together and nodded slowly, captivated by the story. "So—what did you do?"
"I ran, of course. Like a bat out of hell—back to the sem!" Ed laughed at the memory, his dimples deepening and his eyes smiling. "Then I prayed. Man, did I pray. Then I talked to the bishop who happened to be in residence at St. Bonaventure at the time.
"Whoa," whispered Booth. "What'd he say?"
"Well," Ed sighed and shrugged, "he encouraged me to spend some time in silent prayer, to listen with my heart, and to be open to the calling, whichever God had planned for me. So, I did that and I started to put the pieces together. Then I came across this poem I'd written about Catarina four years earlier and everything became crystal clear. This was His plan for me—being married to Catarina.."
"Wow. And the deacon part? Where does that fit in?"
"After we were married and had a couple a kids. The call to serve, even as a lay minister, was still very strong. I was nervous, though. I thought I had to choose one or the other—Catarina or the Church."
"What?" Booth stared quizzically. "The Church wouldn't make you—"
"No, but I was afraid that if I went back I would feel an undeniable pull and realize I'd made a mistake. I just couldn't do that to Cat. But—the Lord works in mysterious ways and everything fell into place beautifully." Ed grinned at Booth like a cat that ate the canary.
"Hm," grunted Booth pensively.
"There are no coincidences. Turns out, my specialty is working with couples in crisis. Now, being married gave me experience that the priesthood never would have. See? It was all in the plan."
"From the beginning," said Booth, nodding contemplatively.
"From the beginning," repeated Ed, smiling warmly at his new friend. After a moment, he said, "Right now I'm on bereavement leave. Catarina passed away in December."
"Oh, I'm … sorry for your loss, Ed," consoled Booth, Copulating Donkey Turds is what he meant. After all this time, to lose the one you love. After all we've been through together. Booth swallowed dryly.
"I try not to think of it as a loss," said Ed, leaning back in his chair and pulling the gray blanket back over his arms. He expelled a long breath and stared at the back of the headrest at eye level in front of him. When he began again, his voice was low and warm, introspective. "Let me tell you, death is part of life. When you commit to be with someone until death do you part … that is exactly what it is! You don't think of that when you're young and healthy and you've got your whole lives ahead of you. Truth is, one of you is going to live past the other's final breath." Ed shrugged apologetically. "One of you's gonna go first, right? You start to think about that once you get on in life. You start watching each other for signs of everything. Alzheimer's, heart disease, diabetes. And then there's cancer. The big 'C'. With cancer, it all happens in slow motion. And the chemo treatments," Ed swallowed, and shook his head slowly, closing his eyes. His mouth puckered as if he'd bitten into something he now wanted to spit out. "I felt like I was watching my partner being tortured to death. Cat said she felt like she was running from a starving bear, but the cuts on her feet and legs were what was going to get her in the end."
Ed puckered and blinked several times, then swallowed and looked up at Booth. "There comes a point when there's nothing more you can do except be there for her. Whether I knew it when I signed up for it or not, this was part of the deal from the beginning." Ed stopped and squinted into his memory. He sat perfectly still for a moment, then cocked his head to the side and glanced at Booth.
"I can't even imagine what that would be like," mumbled Booth, thinking about all the losses in his life: his father, Corporal Parker, Rebecca, Brennan, Hannah … and his mother. The loss of his mother had been devastating. The very young, very serious and vulnerable Booth had blamed himself for his mother's departure. If he'd just been able to fight back, to knock his dad on his ass, his old man would have learned that he couldn't hit people anymore. Then his mother would have been able to stay.
Booth almost never let himself think about his mother. It was just too hard. Booth swallowed audibly and pulled himself away from these disturbing thoughts. A wife is not a mother, but she's the closest thing to a mother in many ways, and this man across the aisle from Booth had lost his wife. Losing a woman who loves you, cares for you; that, Booth could relate to. He stopped himself before he allowed thoughts of losing Brennan again to go any further than a flash of her beautiful face inside his eyelids. Not going there.
Ed's eyes had gone glossy, and so had Booth's. When Ed began again, it was in a whisper. "I needed to find something to hold onto after she died. It has been a privilege—a privilege, Seeley—to be her partner all her life and to do things for her in the end that I never thought I'd be able to do. I spent 45 years along side the best person I've ever met," he said quietly to the upholstery dead center in front of his face. "It wasn't always smooth sailing." He released a half-hearted sardonic chuckle. Then he nodded with intention and looked down at his knees. 'We have a wonderful family, Catarina,' I said to her the day before she died. She smiled-oh, she had a beautiful smile-and I know she was imagining all her kids and grandkids, lined up like Barbie Dolls standing right there on the kitchen table. 'We have this big, beautiful, crazy-wonderful family … and it's all because of you', I said. Cat looked into my eyes for a moment, then nodded slowly and said, 'This is our legacy, Ed, this family, and we made it together, you and me.' Ed's chin wiggled as he tried not to lose control of his emotions. Booth had a big ball of dough in his throat and what felt like an elephant standing on his chest.
"Now I ask you, sir, how is that a loss?" Ed cleared his throat, sniffed loudly, then locked eyes with Booth.
The thought of growing old with Brennan had always been a peaceful one, a joyful and romantic one. In their time together they'd already cheated death, hadn't they? But, how do you dodge the bullet that comes from inside your own body, your own brain, your own blood and bone, for goodness sake? How do you share a whole life- and then watch your partner disappear? How do you live on after that? Booth felt a migraine coming on.
"I apologize for going all maudlin on you, Seeley. You just came here to return something. You didn't need to listen to an old man-"
"That's enough of that," replied Booth sincerely. "It is a beautiful story, a beautiful life."
"It is," he said, smiling wanly. "So," he blurted, "tell me about this 'partner' of yours. You said she's a doctor?"
"Yep." Booth shot Ed a glowing smile that went all the way up to his eyes.
"Medical or science?"
"Science. Forensic anthropology."
"Oh, then she's really smart."
"Smartest person I know." Booth nodded as his whole face lit up in an appreciative smile.
"Hm. Think they're always right. Like to argue. Think it's a sport."
"Exactly," said Booth. "Heh, heh, heh, yeah. Exactly!"
"My wife? Catarina? Chemist. So, I feel your pain, my friend," he chortled and pat Booth on the forearm. "I'll say an extra prayer for you. But you know what?"
"Don't ever forget that as smart as she is … "
"She chose you."
Booth grinned slowly. "Well played. Very well played." If they'd been drinking he'd have offered him the neck of his bear for a conspiratorial clink.
"Further proof of her brilliance, I always say," chuckled Ed. "Brilliant or not, she's not perfect. Don't be looking for perfection and thinking you don't have it when the love you experience falls short," he advised.
"Is that the advice you give all those couples in crisis that come to you for spiritual guidance?"
"As a matter of fact, it is," Ed nodded, crossing his arms and jutting out his chin. "I've always said there are two rules that every couple should live by: 1) Don't sweat the small stuff. 2) It's all small stuff. And that's the truth."
"Easier said than done," chagrined Booth.
"Yes, it is," affirmed Ed with an exaggerated nod as he leaned forward, coughed, then grimaced as he tried to get comfortable in the seat he'd been stationary in for five hours already. Once he was settled, he stared at Booth with a wiggly smile. "But here's the thing, love is not patient, and it's not even always kind. Human love, at least."
Booth almost blurted, No shit, Sherlock, but he didn't want to sound disrespectful, so he sat and waited for the septuagenarian to continue.
"Human love is jealous and self-centered, too. Whoever popularized that bible verse did humanity a great disservice." Ed furrowed his brow in contemplation, then he chuckled. "It was written about divine love … perfect love. Not the kind we can expect from each other. We'll always be disappointed!"
"It was Paul writing to the Corinthians. About love," offered Booth.
Ed continued as if Booth hadn't said anything. "Love gets lazy over time, human love. Believe me … I've experienced a good deal of it in my seventy some-odd years, Seeley." Ed pursed his lips and took a deep breath, his chest rising and falling several times. Just when Booth thought Ed was finished speaking, the man stared over at him and started up again.
"Maybe it was Paul to the Corinthians," said Ed, though he knew full well it was. But you know what, Mr. Booth?"
"What's that?" Booth was beginning to relax again, the tension of Ed's earlier revelation dissipating with every smile from the old man. Ed was clearly serious about his topic, but he was also a man who was greatly amused by humanity and not afraid to point out man's foibles, or reveal his own for the sake of a good conversation.
This is the kind of guy, contemplated Booth, that will always see the good in others, will empty his wallet into your hand if you ask to borrow a quarter, and would take you home and feed you if you looked lost. In a pinch … and if he thought you really needed it … and if you were lucky enough to have his love and admiration … he'd also hand you your ass on a platter with a little tabasco sauce. Then, he'd dry your tears, wrap his big soft warm hand around yours and stand beside you while you figured out how the heck you got yourself into such a big mess. Booth pondered this and felt his heart swell with affection for this man he'd known for such a brief time. Of course, that poem helped. How could you not love a guy who wrote a poem like that?
"Answer me this: when was the last time you met anyone who loved patiently, kindly, selflessly … energetically, even … one hundred percent of the time?"
Both shrugged and shook his head.
"Have you ever loved that way?" It was a pointed question that Booth was uncertain if he was supposed to answer. "Can you honestly say that you ever loved that way?"
"Uh ..." hemmed Booth.
"Not easy is it?" Ed jabbed an index finger in the air in Booth's direction. "It almost can't be done." One of Ed's eyebrows shot up in a question mark, daring Booth to challenge such a bold statement. "Christ is the only man who ever lived who could love like that."
Booth cocked his head to the side, crossed his arms, and pulled on his bottom lip, suddenly deep in thought.
"Human love is still love," the old man grinned as if he were Santa with a secret. "It's still love. Real love. But unlike divine love, it is imperfect. But here's the thing-" The man shuffled his feet, spreading them apart, and leaned into the aisle toward Booth. He stared straight into Booth's eyes.
"The beauty in human love is that it tries," Ed said in a loud whisper. "Love tries to be patient and kind and self-sacrificing. It tries. And it fails. And it tries again. Then, do you know what happens?"
"According to the book of Ed? No idea."
"It fails again … and again. See, that's what people these days don't understand. The love that fails, but tries again … that is the real love. It's the trying and the wrestling with it. That is the real love." The older man paused and stared without blinking at his new acquaintance. Then he nodded up the aisle where Brennan sat with their belongings, trying to sleep. "But you have to continually fight for it. Put on your boxing gloves, lace up your lightest pair of leather low top boxing shoes and fight against your humanity. Fight to stay in the game and keep winning. Have faith that the love is still there even when it feels like it isn't."
"Why are you telling me this, Ed?" Booth wasn't sure where this was going.
"Because-I guess because, in my experience, a person who picks up an old piece of paper on the floor of a public restroom and goes to the trouble of getting it back to its owner is a person who believes in love. A person who sits for an hour and listens to an old man talk about his own love story-a guy who does that has hope. You've let me ramble on all about myself, yet you've hardly said anything about your own story. You keep that to yourself. Now why is that?" Ed waited for an answer.
Booth shrugged. "Well-"
"Maybe because you don't think your own story is a good enough story. Maybe because your story has a lot of pain in it? Something tells me you are anxious that love is going to slip through your fingers and jump out the window without so much as a 'see ya' later'."
Booth stared blankly back at the older man.
"I'm telling you this because you are a good person, Seeley. I get the feeling that you have fought all your life, but you've mostly fought for other people."
Booth's chin dropped to his chest and his eyes darted to the ground.
"That hit a nerve," said Ed, quietly.
"You have a right to lace up those boxing shoes, put on the gloves, and step into the ring on your own behalf, and fight against your humanity-for yourself this time."
Booth looked up from the floor, leaned back in his seat so he was facing squarely toward the front of the plane for the first time since meeting Ed Williams, and gave a little jab to the empty seat in front of him.
"It's not ignoble to fight for yourself, Mr. Booth. Your being small does not serve the world. You deserve that love of that good woman," he said, nodding several seats ahead toward Brennan. "And you need to know that it is enough."
"Enough," repeated Booth, with another jab to the headrest in front of his face.
"Enough to fill that hole."
"Hole?" Booth asked, glancing over at Ed without moving from his forward-facing position.
"The hole that someone else left empty," Ed whispered.
"Whoa!" This time Booth twisted to the left so he could look Ed in the eyes.
"But first, you have to take care of business."
"I'd bet my eye teeth that you have something even more troubling on your mind. You've been holding it back ever since I told that I'm a deacon." Ed's eyebrows rose and his chin dropped as he waited for Booth's acknowledgement. "We are strangers on a plane. Who better to ask than clergy you never have to see again?"
Booth released a long sigh, then dropped his forehead into his hand. "And I thought I was good at reading people, but you, you're in a league of your own … " He grimaced, then exhaled again and began.
"I do have some things on my mind," he said to his companion who sat completely still, listening intently. Booth was asking permission.
"Have at it," encouraged Ed, as if this was Booth's reward for listening to the old man for the last couple of hours.
"There is something that's been on my mind, especially this last week, you know, since-" Booth shrugged and nodded toward Brennan. He was ready to ask the question, but apprehensive about whether or not he really wanted to know what the answer. Better to not ask than to ask and get the answer you don't want to hear, right? Except that this issue … well, it's a big one for Booth. And it's been on his mind for a long time.
Ed nodded sagely. His action said, go ahead.
"I feel like I'm at confession!" Booth chuckled nervously. "Forgive me father for I have sinned-bla,bla,bla."
"I can't hear confession or grant absolution, if that makes you feel any better," offered Ed. "Just talk to me."
"Uh, alright," said Booth, pressing his hands together as if in prayer, then crossing his arms awkwardly. "Second Corinthians, Chapter six, Verse fourteen."
"Ahhh. Yes. Let me guess. The anthropologist, she's not Catholic?"
"She's—not just non-Catholic, she's non-God," Booth said, baring his teeth apologetically. "She's an atheist." He chewed on his bottom lip and crossed his legs, his foot began bouncing up and down nervously.
Later, on the ride from the medical examiner's office to the hotel, Booth would unpack what Ed shared with him about the bible's proviso against christians being unequally yoked. For the time being, however, he just wanted to get past that question as quickly and painlessly as possible so he could ask Ed about what was really on his mind.
"I have another question-about sin?" Booth said tentatively once the previous topic was exhausted.
"What about it? It's the human condition. We are born into sin and sin is what kills us," said Ed dryly.
"But, uh, is this confidential?" Booth glanced around the cabin. No one was paying any attention to them.
"If you need it to be, sure," Ed looked for a change in Booth's expression, something that would tell him the answer he'd given had satisfied Booth. Nothing. "You have my word, as a man of God."
Booth sighed, his shoulders dropping. He'd never told anyone this. Not even Monsignor Mike at his own parish. Admitting it – saying it out loud, he feared, would somehow weaken the righteousness cloaking his guilt and saddle him with responsibility he's labored choke out of existence. Despite his efforts, his demons never fail to find him when he's at his weakest. They pounce on him in the middle of the night, or when he's had one too many drinks or when the sun sets on any day during which he was forced to take a life out of self-defense or defense of another life.
"I've done the worst thing a person can do," he said so quietly that Ed had to strain to hear ...
Thank you, from the deepest corners of my metaphorical heart, for your wonderful notes and kind words over this hiatus. I appreciate each and every one. Some of you sent private messages instead of a public 'review' after my announcement. I will leave those names off as perhaps you'd rather remain private.
Ladies, you ring my bell. THANK YOU FOR SUSTAINING ME!
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I promise you this ... 1) there will be plenty of fluff in the next chapter - plenty, and 2) Booth reveals what he's never told anyone before in his life ... and Brennan makes a comment that suggests something to him that he never would have guessed in a million years. Not even Sweets would have seen it coming.
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