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Published by api-19966661

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Published by: api-19966661 on Dec 03, 2009
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03/18/2014

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Chapter 1

The wind outside found its way into the old Chevy. Even with the heater blowing
full blast, it was still cold enough to make Thomas\u2019s teeth chatter. The arthritic pain in
his leg was white hot. He kept telling himself he should move south and be done with
these terrible winters. As he pulled the truck to the curb in front of a small wooden
house, he realized that as long as his mother lived, he would never move.

The house had always reminded him of something from a storybook. It looked
like it had been plucked from the pages of Hansel and Gretel. He could imagine little
children being drawn to it with thoughts of sweets in their heads. The gray of the
November day couldn\u2019t drain away the deliberately happy colors of it. It actually seemed
to make them more apparent. The tiny yard still held his old tire swing in one tree.

Not for the first time, Thomas noticed that his parent\u2019s house didn\u2019t seem to fit
into this neighborhood. All around were young, working class families, that strived to be
seen as normal. They had their manicured lawns and tastefully sided houses. At midday,
like it was now, they seemed lifeless. Even the mailboxes seemed to conform to one
another. Thomas\u2019s mother had a mailbox in the shape of a cat.

When he was young, this difference had made him uncomfortable, even slightly
embarrassed. He thought of his mother as peculiar and so did everyone else. The cheery
house seemed at odds with her terminal melancholy and he didn\u2019t understand why she
wouldn\u2019t paint it to match all the others on the street. As he grew older and spent many
long hours talking with his mother, he understood. The house was a memorial to the pure
bliss that his parents had felt while they were together. The brightness was not
intentional, it only reflected the warmth and radiance they felt for each other and for him.
After loosing his father that light had dimmed dramatically, but as long as she had
Thomas and this house she would never feel dark and cold again.

Thomas opened the truck door and listened as the hinges creaked. As he slid
carefully out of the driver\u2019s seat he thought that they could use some grease. When he
stood on his feet he realized that his hinges might need a little after today as well.

\u201cCome on, Duke. It\u2019s freezing out here and I\u2019m not about to carry you. Let\u2019s
go!\u201d

The golden retriever gave him one more pleading look before accepting the
decision and dropping down to the concrete. Duke pounded up the front porch steps
while Thomas was still walking around the front of the truck. For a dog almost twice his
age, he could sure move better.

His mother stepped out the front door and swooped down on Duke. Her long hair
was almost the color of his coat and they seemed to blend together for a minute. While
she smiled and made silly baby noises at the dog, Thomas remembered a day when she
had been much different.

Thomas stopped at the spot in the yard that he had been playing that day. He was
pushing his toy fire truck around, complete with sound effects. Most days he would have
made up a story to go with his play, but that day he was thinking about his mother. She
had been crying all morning. While he ate his cereal he watched her. It wasn\u2019t loud
sobbing like the girls on TV did sometimes. It was very quiet and scary. She was asleep
on the couch. He stood up to go into the house. Thomas remembered quite clearly
thinking that he should stay in the yard like she told him. His legs seemed to disagree

with his brain, however, as they moved him up the steps and into the house. His mother
lay still on the couch with only a little sniffle to remind him of the morning. He used all
of his six year old stealth to move past her and into her bedroom, a place he was strictly
forbidden from playing. By the time he had quietly closed the door behind him, he was
literally shaking. He was always a good boy and would never disobey his mother, and
yet here he was, doing exactly what she had told him not to do. She had warned him that
if he ate anymore of his Halloween candy he would get a tummy ache. His mom never
lied to him, but he was opening the drawer by her bed anyway. Even as he unwrapped
the first piece of chocolate, he wanted to throw it down and run out of the room. Instead
he put the treat in his mouth, and then another, and another. He had suffered horribly that
night, with not only a stomach ache, but with the guilt of what he had done. His mother
never mentioned it, though she surely knew.

\u201cHey old man. Not getting around so good today, huh?\u201d His mother met him at
the bottom of the steps to help him up. He felt silly needing her help when she was easily
a foot shorter and a hundred pounds lighter than himself.

\u201cNot so bad. That damn dog just jumps around so much it makes me look bad.
One of these days he will grow up and act his age.\u201d One more step.
\u201cYou leave Duke alone. It\u2019s not his fault that you\u2019re hurting. Come inside. I\u2019ve
just made some fresh coffee.\u201d

Thomas\u2019s mother never made just coffee for his weekly visits. She had cinnamon
rolls and pumpkin bread on the table for the two of them. Duke had a bowl of leftover
meatloaf and a bowl of warm milk waiting on him. The house was so warm it made
Thomas\u2019s eyes water when he entered. It was a welcoming heat and he could feel the
cold leaving his bones. As he took his seat at the table, Thomas took the pill bottle from
his shirt pocket. He opened it and shook the pill out with a fluidity that magicians would
covet. His mother returned with the pot of coffee just as he flung it into his mouth.

\u201cIs the pain reallythat bad this morning?\u201d The inflection told Thomas that this
would be today\u2019s sermon. Fine by him. He didn\u2019t need his mother to tell him that he
had been taking to many pills lately. If it made her feel better to tell him, he would listen.

\u201cIt\u2019s always that bad, mom. The cold weather makes it worse. It\u2019s my first one
today, I swear.\u201d He could hear the rationalizing in his voice, but it couldn\u2019t help it.

They talked like old friends, just like always. She slyly asked if he had been on
any dates lately and he only blushed slightly. The fact was he was always going on dates.
That\u2019s not really what his mother wanted to know. She wanted to know if he had met
anyone special. He hadn\u2019t. His dates were almost always for physical companionship
only. When he felt the need to have a warm body beside him for the night, he had a few
young ladies he could call. It was very rare for him to have a date with a woman and
actually consider a second date. Thomas knew that there was a woman for him
somewhere. A love like the one his parents had shared could not be mere accident. It
was to powerful for that. It was as if it were fate for them to meet and marry. They had
been soul mates, and eventually he would meet his.

\u201cI took Sue from the pharmacy out a few nights ago. We have been out a couple of times. She\u2019s fun. We went to dinner. I had chicken and I think she had some sort of pasta. I could call her and confirm that if you want.\u201d He couldn\u2019t keep the grin off his face.

\u201cNo, Tom, don\u2019t be silly. I didn\u2019t mean to pry or sound nosey. I just want to see

you happy. Sometimes I wonder who you will have coffee with and chat with after I\u2019m
gone. Duke is a sweetie, but he really isn\u2019t a very good conversationalist.\u201d Duke huffed
a response as if he understood her. More than likely he was just tired of waiting for
dropped crumbs underneath the table and was about to take a nap. \u201cBesides, you always
say that such and such girl is fun or sweet. I have never heard you say one is interesting.
You know you can have a relationship with a woman without it turning into marriage or a
romp in the sack, don\u2019t you?\u201d Now the blush was not so slight.

\u201cMom! I know that! Jeez, it\u2019s not like I am some kind of womanizer or anything.
I don\u2019t go picking up women at bars and mislead them to thinking our night out is
anything more than what it is. I just haven\u2019t met one that I would rather spend more than
one night with yet.\u201d Now Thomas was wishing for the talk of pain pills and addiction.
Anything would be better than discussing his sex life with his mother. He tried to take
the conversation in another direction.

\u201cI haven\u2019t been sleeping very good, lately. A lot of it is the pain. The pills don\u2019t
seem to help much at night. I also keep waking up at night thinking I hear voices. I\u2019ll get
up and check the house and no one is there. I thought I had left the TV on in the living
room the first time it happened, but it was off. I guess maybe I am really falling asleep
and dreaming but don\u2019t realize it.\u201d Maybe this was the wrong direction. He could
immediately see concern on his mother\u2019s face.

\u201cHave you talked to Dr. Cornwall about it? Maybe it is a side effect of the
medicine. I\u2019ve read that pain medicine can do strange things to you if you take it long
enough.\u201d

\u201cI don\u2019t think it\u2019s the medicine. Like I said it doesn\u2019t really help at night, so I\u2019ve
pretty much stopped taking it until I get up the next day. I haven\u2019t talked to the doctor
because I honestly think that it is something simple and I would feel like a fool bringing
it up.\u201d The look of concern was not diminishing like Thomas thought it should be.

\u201cDon\u2019t think you know all the answers, Thomas. Sometimes you should ask for
another person\u2019s opinion. Especially when the other person might know better than you!\u201d
What was this? Why was she suddenly so upset over something as mundane as bad
sleep? Why did her eyes glisten like they were holding tears that were about to spill?
His mother must have seen the questions in his face and read them as well as she had
always done.

\u201cYou were probably to young to remember, but your father had something very
similar going on with him, right before they diagnosed the cancer. He would wake up in
the middle of the night and search the house. At first he tried to tell me that he had heard
a noise and was just checking it out to be safe. Eventually he admitted that he had heard
voices, even entire conversations, that made no sense to him. It bothered him so much
that he started writing down what he heard about a month before he went into the
hospital.\u201d Now it was Thomas\u2019s turn to read her face. He knew why the sudden intense
emotions had come upon her. She was worried that he was going to suffer from the same
illness his father had succumb to. She thought that by sharing this strange symptom of
hearing voices, that he would soon be diagnosed with brain cancer as well. It wasn\u2019t a
completely faulty theory.

\u201cI promise I will talk to Dr. Cornwall tomorrow at my appointment. I\u2019m sure that
it\u2019s not connected in any way. I would like to look at what dad wrote about though.
Sometimes I feel like I only know him through you. Reading that would be like getting

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