Mike

By the time we got to the hospital, Steve was sound asleep in the back seat and difficult to awaken. Considering he had been unconscious earlier that evening for several minutes, the ER doctor classified it as a severe Grade III level concussion. The good thing was that he had recall of what had happened and no signs of amnesia. He also wasn't slurring his speech. The bad thing was that he was extremely nauseous, tired and dizzy.

On top of that, he had to have several stitches where the impact of the flashlight hit. It was no surprise that the doctor kept him overnight for observation. I was worried, but knew he'd be in good hands until I could pick him up the next day.

In the meantime, Jeannie was still down the coast with an old friend of mine. I had sent her there to keep her safe from Cord. Now, I wanted nothing more than to get her back home. She only had a few days for break anyway. Despite all that had happened, she needed to return to Arizona to finish her semester. Our time being limited, I wanted to spend every moment that I could with her.

I called her at 7am and told her that I'd drive down to pick her up. I thought if I got her in the morning, we could swing by and pick up Steve from the hospital in the afternoon. For whatever reason, it was important for me to get them both back to where they belonged.

Jeannie

When Mike called, I could tell he was anxious to get me home. We were back in the city by the early afternoon. By 5pm, the three of us were sitting in our living room, frazzled and exhausted. For what we had been through during the last forty eight hours, it was understandable. Mike was enduring his last surge of nervous energy - like a light just before it flames out. Steve more than offset the surge as he dozed on and off in Dad's recliner.

Mike didn't know what to do with himself and paced back and forth. With a clap of his hands, he announced, "I know what we need. A good steak!" The clap and Mike's loud announcement made Steve's head snap up and I could tell that wasn't a good thing for him.

But Mike's answer to our problem of the moment was to grill. A true Dad. Neither of us argued with him as we sat down at the dinner table.

It was interesting to watch the interaction between Mike and Steve. Steve was still a little embarrassed about how Cord tricked him. Mike reassured him that Cord had spent so long thinking about his plans, he had no chance to react. While Steve nodded his understanding, I don't think he ever completely accepted Mike's assurances.

At the same time, Mike expressed disappointment in himself. He felt he misread Cord's intent, not completely understanding that Cord was really after himself all along and would use whomever he could to get to him. He thought it was all about Cord's wanting to rape and murder me as revenge for the arrest twelve years ago. Steve tried the same assurances that Mike had given him and was just about as successful.

A silence fell across the table. We all immediately shifted the discussion to the mundane topics of everyday life: school, sports, vacations, and food. Those topics were exhausted by the time I brought out dessert and coffee.

Finally, Mike took a deep breath and spoke with a shaken voice.

"Look Jeannie, Steve… I need to say something here," he paused. "After what has happened these last two days, I need to say how thankful I am that you both are able to be here at this table. I am grateful that you are in my life. I am proud to know you and so happy that I am a part of your life.

This business with Cord was very tragic for Valerie and her family. I know that we'll never forget Valerie. But this could have turned even more tragic…for me. I thank God..," he choked. "I thank God in Heaven that He has watched over us. If anything, this has made me realize how fortunate I am and how quick things are to change. I thank God for showing this to me. It is a message I won't soon forget."

We all sat quietly around the table. With tears in my eyes, I reached over and grabbed a hand from both of them and squeezed. Both looked at me and smiled.

Steve

Mike's words rang true to me. I also felt very fortunate that Cord did no further harm to Jeannie or Mike. Cord was all about vengeance, but what was left behind for us went way beyond that.

I sent a silent prayer after Mike spoke. I prayed again for Valerie and her family. I also took a moment to thank God for what I have - these two very dear friends that have become family to me. Whatever needs to be faced at this point in my life, I realized at that moment I could count on Mike and Jeannie to be with me. And they could count on me for the same. Mike's right. It is a message I won't soon forget.

~finis~