Mac’s eyes and throat burned. They’d buried Lee near their mom, too.
Grant cleared his throat. “He’ll have a military honor guard ceremony, of course. And the chaplain from the base agreed to drive up. I’ll take care of the details. Hannah, I’ll leave the rest of the will in your hands.”
She nodded. “I’ll do whatever you need.”
“If it’s OK with you both, we’ll have a reception here after the service,” Grant said. “Ellie and her grandmother have that under control. Do either of you want to say anything at the service?”
“No,” Mac and Hannah said in unison.
Grant nodded. “Then you want me to give the eulogy?”
“Definitely.” Mac didn’t even know how he felt about his father or his father’s death. There was no way he was ready to speak about the topic to a hundred people.
“Yes.” Hannah agreed. “And thanks. I don’t know if I could sort out my thoughts enough to be coherent.”
“Let me know if either of you change your mind,” Grant said.
“What can I do?” Mac asked.
“Well,” Grant said. “Carson wants to attend the funeral.”
The kid could have Mac’s chair.
“Since I’ll be speaking,” Grant continued. “I’ll need you two to stick close to Carson. The service is bound to remind him of Lee and Kate’s deaths. I don’t know how he’ll handle it. He might want to leave in the middle.”
Mac suspected he might want to leave in the middle. “Whatever he wants.”
A small knock sounded on the door. “Uncle Grant?”
“Come on in, Carson,” Grant called out. “The door’s not locked.”
Carson slipped in. He was clean, his hair damp, and he smelled like soap. His pale blue pajamas were covered in tiny red race cars. He walked up to the closet and stared up at the uniform. “Is that Grandpa’s?”
Grant lifted him into his arms. “It is. See the eagle? That means he was a colonel.”
Carson turned his head to the Colonel’s uniform. “Grandpa had a lot of ribbons.” He reached toward them, then pulled his hand away.
“It’s OK, Carson. You can touch them.” Grant moved the boy closer.
Carson traced the ribbons on the chest of the uniform then dropped his hand. “Can I see yours, too?”
“Sure you can.” Grant lowered him to the floor. “I’ll be getting it out tonight.”
“I had fun today.” Carson walked to Mac and leaned on his thigh. “Can you come over and play tomorrow?”
“Maybe.” Mac rubbed Carson’s head.
“Uncle Grant says Grandpa is going to be with Daddy and Mommy now,” Carson blurted out. “Is that right?”
Eyes blurring, Mac squatted to the boy’s level. “You bet. He’s with Grandma, too.”
Carson nodded, then rested his head on Mac’s shoulder. “I miss them.”
“We all do.” Mac’s throat constricted until it felt as if a noose was wrapped around it, choking him.
Carson lifted his head and turned his face toward Grant. “Can I have ice cream after dinner?”
Grant laughed. “Definitely. Ellie bought your favorite.”
“Cookies and cream?” Carson’s eyes brightened. “Awesome.”
He squirmed away from Mac and bolted for the door. “I forgot. Ellie said to tell you dinner was ready. Nan made macaroni and cheese.”
“Then we’d better go eat.” Grant followed Carson. “We can’t let macaroni and cheese get cold.”
And Mac knew exactly how he and Ellie managed the kids. They enjoyed every exhausting minute. Unbelievably, Mac was a little jealous.
Which was ridiculous and selfish. He was the one who kept leaving. He was the one who took off for South America every time he felt like the kids were getting attached to him. The last thing they needed was more grief.
Who was he kidding? It was his heart he was guarding.
What was he going to do? He’d committed himself to stopping drugs, to protecting kids like Carson and Faith from the poison entering the country every day. But the thought of leaving his family again left him empty, just as the idea of committing to being a permanent part of their lives terrified him.
“Are you all right?” Hannah asked from the doorway.
Mac shook off his mood. “Yes. Just thinking.”
“Need to talk about it?”
“Not yet.” Mac joined her in the hall. “I’ll let you know.”
“Don’t shut us out again, Mac. We need you.”
“I know. I’m trying.” Mac rubbed the ache in the center of his chest.
Hannah leaned her head on his shoulder. “You can let us all in. We don’t bite.”
She laughed. “Seriously, Mac. I was always chasing something. Success. Independence. Approval. I struggled when every milestone felt so . . .” Hannah paused. “Empty. What’s the point if there’s no one to share those moments?”
“My job is dangerous, and sometimes it feels like I can’t possibly make a difference. No matter what I do, the drugs keep flowing.” Frustration filled Mac. “As long as there’s a demand for drugs, some scumbag will be willing to fill it. On the other hand, how can I refuse to do what I can? I know better than anyone that drugs can ruin a life. A whole family.”
Hannah turned him to face her. “You didn’t ruin anything. We love you. You had a perfectly legitimate problem as a teenager. The stress we all lived with was soul smashing. No wonder the three of us ran as far as we could from it.”
“Only Lee was strong enough to stay, and we abandoned him.”
Hannah nodded. “The best we can do is learn from our mistakes and not repeat them, because Lee was the one who had it right. This is what counts, Mac. These kids. This family. This is for keeps. Sure, it’s a commitment, and an intimidating one, but I promise, you won’t regret it.”
His siblings had managed to sort out their problems and find peace. Why couldn’t he?
Stella parked her unmarked car half a block from Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church. Lance rode shotgun. She rolled down the window and let the evening breeze into the vehicle. The scent of freshly cut grass lingered in the humid night air. Lightning bugs blinked neon green over the lawn.
“Do we have a picture of this creeper?” Lance asked.
“No. No name either.”
“But you think this guy might be stalking women from this Narcotics Anonymous group?”
“Gianna saw a tall, thin man lingering outside the meetings. This might be the last place Missy Green was seen alive.” Stella stretched her neck and checked her watch. “Today is Thursday. The meeting is over at ten. It’ll be dark enough for a stalker to follow the women undetected.”
“It’s a good start anyway.” Lance shrugged. “Some people can be followed in broad daylight. You’d be surprised how little people pay attention to their surroundings. Everyone’s totally focused on their phone.”
Stella slid down in the seat and stared through the windshield. Our Lady was an old stone structure. An attached parochial school formed one wing of the campus, while church offices comprised the other. Narrow and tall, the sanctuary’s spire towered over the neighboring buildings.
She scanned the sidewalk and the parking lot on the other side of the street. A woman got out of a blue Prius and hurried to the crosswalk, her heels clicking on the pavement. She jogged up the steps and disappeared inside the office wing.
“The meeting is in the basement below the offices,” Stella said. “The church donates the space several nights a week.”
While she watched the church, Stella played with a spare hair elastic on her wrist.
Bored, Lance slid his straw in and out of his Coke. “So how’s your grandfather?”
“Busy as ever.” Stella smiled. “I’m glad Morgan and the kids are living with us. It takes all of us to keep him occupied and out of trouble.”
“He’s a character.” Lance spun the straw. “How’s your sister?” he asked in a fake casual voice.
Stella took her eyes off the street for a few seconds to study his profile. He and Morgan had dated in high school, but Stella couldn’t remember which one of them had done the breaking up. She directed her gaze back to the church. “John’s death was hard on her.”
“How many kids does she have?”
“Three girls.” Who seemed to be coping better than their mother was.
“That’s tough.” Lance straightened and nodded toward the building. “Do you see that? There’s a person in front of the school office.”
Stella’s eyes pierced the shadow under the roof overhang. Something shifted. A faint orange light glowed brighter and then faded. “Gotta love smokers. Let’s see if he goes inside when he’s finished with his cigarette.”
Instead, he lit another. Stella gave him another ten minutes, but he didn’t move.
She reached for her door handle. “Let’s go have a talk with him.”
“Give me five minutes to circle around behind him in case he decides to bolt.” Lance opened his car door and slipped out into the dark, shutting his door gently. He disappeared into the shadows alongside the church buildings.
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