I'm Still Here, Chief
The outside world was just a blur to John as he drove home, his sense of direction automatic yet unfamiliar. After talking to the cops and watching Shepard's body get taken away, his dad had told him to go home. He'd put up a fight, of course. But Frank had insisted, they could talk in the morning.
The morning. His dad would still be there in the morning.
The realisation of what had happened hit John like a sucker punch to the gut. His dad was alive, and his mom was safe. And now he was headed home, not to his childhood house with the hollow space in the floorboard and the crack in the glass door of his dad's study. He was going to a new home, where he would find either a nightmare or a dream. He could walk through his front door and find an empty house, and know that he had lost his mind. That the scotch he tossed back like water had finally poisoned his brain. That he had imagined the whole thing.
Or he could walk through his front door and find her.
Through the twisting fog of his intertwined memories, he could see her face as clear as daylight. It was the expression she had the day that he had asked her to marry him, tearful eyes and a smile so wide he was afraid her face would split in two. He could see her face on the day they had gotten married, as rings were slipped on fingers and they vowed to love each other until the day they died. He could see her face on the day she had told him he was going to be a father, an expression so full of love and hope that kissing her was all he could do to keep his heart from bursting with joy.
He could see his son's face too. The day that he was born, so small and pure and made solely from their love. The tiny Mets t-shirt that his father had brought to the hospital, telling John how proud he and his mother were. Watching the tears fill his father's eyes as they told him their son's name. Watching his little boy grow stronger and taller, until the day he was big enough to throw a ball. That was John's happiest moment, teaching his son about baseball. Telling him all about the 1969 World Series, and why it was so special.
Catching his wife watching them out of the corner of his eye, a serene smile on her delicate face. The smile that she wore the day she told him she was pregnant again, that beautiful smile that matched his own. He needed to see that smile.
He pulled into a driveway that he knew to be his own, with no recollection of how he had got there. It was as if the journey was so ingrained into his brain that he had done it without thinking, as if there was no need to think at all. He made his way from the car to the front door, his hand trembling as he reached out for the doorknob. He opened the door and stepped inside, his heart falling at the sight that beheld him. She wasn't there.
He felt as though he had been ripped apart, he had pinned so much hope on seeing her face on the other side of that door. But instead he was alone, and in desperate need of a stiff drink. He walked slowly towards his kitchen, the misery coursing through his body evident in his footsteps dragging across the carpet. It was as if his feet were made of clay, yet he wished for his entire body to be cast to stone. As he approached the kitchen he braced himself for the sight of half-empty takeout boxes and completely-empty scotch bottles, such was his life before the ham radio had lured him in and apparently ever since. And suddenly, there she was: Samantha.
Peering inside the open fridge, with a spoon in one hand and a bowl of ice cream in the other. Beautiful, ethereal, resplendent. He watched as she closed the fridge door, slowly unveiling her silhouette to him. Her belly, swollen with the life that was growing inside her. The life that he had planted there. As she turned, she finally saw him and smiled so softly that John was afraid he was imagining it.
"John, where were you? I was getting worried."
The sweet melody of her voice was all he needed to know it was real, his body reaching hers in mere seconds. He brought his lips crashing down on hers so hungrily, so passionately that for a moment he was lost in the sweet taste of her until he felt her pull away.
"John, is everything okay?"
"Yes, everything is perfectly ok. I just needed to kiss you, I've been waiting all day to do it."
She smiled that beautiful smile again, and slowly shook her head.
"Well, that's not a problem. Why don't you look in on Frankie, and then come to bed? You've got all night to kiss me some more."
The joy he felt at hearing these words was indescribable, knowing that his son was asleep in his bed upstairs. That it couldn't be a dream because his mind could never construct a dream as wonderful as this. He couldn't restrain the cheeky smile that broke out across his face as he looked at his wife.
"That sounds great. You head up, and I'll be in soon to tuck you in."
She smiled and shook her head again as she padded off towards the stairs, muttering to herself that she didn't know what had got into him tonight but she liked it. John could only sigh as he watched her head towards their bedroom, mentally preparing himself to see his son. He climbed the stairs and walked the few steps toward the door, berating himself for the fear he felt. What if he wasn't a good father? What if his son didn't love him?
He summoned the courage to turn the doorknob and stepped inside the room, allowing his eyes to fall on the small figure curled up amongst the blankets. He was almost startled when he saw that the figure's eyes were open.
"Hey Frankie, why aren't you sleeping?"
"I heard a car outside, it woke me up."
John could have kicked himself. He had been so intent on actually getting home, he hadn't realised that he'd made any noise. He watched as his son slowly sat up against his pillows, shifting over to make a space on the bed next to him.
"Daddy, will you sing with me?"
"Yeah, like we always do."
John felt the sucker punch for the second time that evening. They sang, just like he had always done with his dad. They would be just fine.
"Ok buddy, but then you have to get some sleep."
Take me out to the ball game
Take me out with the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks
I don't care if I never get back
Let me root, root, root for the home team
If they don't win it's a shame
'Cause it's one, two, three strikes you're out at the old ball game
John hadn't even finished the song when he felt Frankie slump against him. Cradling him softly, he laid his son down on the mattress and covered him with the blanket. Brushing a stray lock of dark brown hair away from the little boy's eyes, he kissed him on the forehead and rose to return to his wife. But before he closed the door, he couldn't resist taking one last look at his son and whispering into the darkness.
"I'm still here, chief."