Lost Love Ė The Gift
"Mom?" the small voice reminiscent of his fatherís and the short taps on the hard wood floor announced the newcomer.
"In the kitchen, kiddo," Evangeline replied with a smile. "Have you finished your homework?"
"Are you ready for me to check it?"
"Whenever you are."
"Okay, give me five minutes." Evangeline was too distracted with dinner to notice the sadness that filled her sonís eyes in that moment. When sheíd topped the lasagna with cheese and stuffed the oversized pan into the oven, she glanced at the little boy and noticed the slump in his shoulders. "Evan, whatís wrong?"
Evan looked at his mother with eyes so like his fatherís that it melted Evangelineís heart. The boy glanced down at his clenched hands and then back up at his mother.
"When is daddy coming home? I miss him."
"I know. I miss daddy, too."
"Could daddy get killed doing his job?"
Evangelineís heart caught at the question. She knew John was a good cop, but she also knew his job could be very dangerous. Her five year old son asking the question brought her concerns to the forefront. Thoughts of John not coming home were not thoughts she welcomed, but it looked like she had someone else to reassure at the moment. Never having been one to lie to her children, she stretched out her hand to draw Evan to her and led him to the big oak table sitting in the breakfast nook.
"Yes, Evan, daddy could get killed doing his job, but your daddy is very, very careful. He does everything he can to stay safe, because he has you and me and Dani to take care of."
"I donít want Daddy to die," he said, looking at his mother with tear filled eyes. Evangeline pulled the five year old into her lap for a much needed hug.
"Oh, Evan, I donít either, but you daddy is fine. I talked to him earlier and heís fine. Heís still out of town, but he promised heíd be home in a couple of days Ė at least by Christmas Eve in time to open presents like we always do. What made you think about this?"
"My best friend, Adam Tate," he said more as a question than a statement, looking at his mother, as if she didnít remember the little boy that spent the night at their house once a month, "his dad died in the war. Ms. Sullivan told the class today."
"Iím so sorry, baby. Did Ms. Sullivan say how Adam is?"
"No," Evan whispered and snuggled into Evangelineís breast.
"Well, we can call Adamís mom and see how he is."
"You mean it?" he said with the first hint of a smile.
"You bet, buddy."
Evangeline was pleased to see Evanís smile widen. He wrapped his arms around his motherís neck in a tight hug. Evangeline had to smile in the embrace. Evan had always liked hugs and kisses, but had recently asked his mother not to hug or kiss him in front of his friends. Evangeline had taken the request hard, while John had just laughed at her saying heíd make sure she got her hugs and kisses. Her little boy was growing up, but she really enjoyed these moments.
A few minutes later, she was talking to Amanda Tate. Amanda was barely holding it together and Evangeline realized how blessed she was. What would she do if something happened to John? The very thought brought chills to her spine. Evangeline considered providing Amanda and Adam with a Christmas meal and gifts, but Amanda informed her that they would be going to her parents for the holiday and wouldnít be back until after the New Year. Amanda and Evangeline made plans to meet after the holidays and get the boys together.
Evan and Adam talked for a few minutes before the call ended. A happier little boy wrapped his arms around Evangelineís neck. Evan was a care giver like his father and he needed the people in his world to be okay.
"Thank you mommy."
She was relishing the moment with her baby boy when she heard the phone ring.
"Huh," he said leaning back to look at his mother with wide eyes.
"I bet thatís your dad. Why donít you go answer the phone?"
Without a word, Evan hopped down from his motherís lap and ran to grab the wall unit. Evangeline didnít have the heart to stop him from running in the house.
John sat on the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania hotel bed waiting for someone Ė anyone Ė in his family to answer the call. He hated being away from them, especially during the holidays. Trimming the Christmas tree and shopping for last minute presents were times he treasured with Angie and the kids.
"Hello," answered his son.
"Hi, big guy. Itís daddy."
"I know silly."
"Oh, so now Iím silly? What have you been doing today?"
"Nothing. I find that hard to believe."
"I did the usual stuff, daddy. I went to school, did my homework and just now I was in the kitchen with mom."
"Whatís your mom doing?" John enjoyed these moments when he was out of town. The only thing that kept him going was the love of his family. For so many years, he never thought he would have this and here he was married to a beautiful, brilliant woman raising two bright and tenacious children that were a true combination of their parents.
"That sounds really good. I wish I was there with you guys."
"Me, too, daddy."
"Whereís your sister?"
"Sheís with Aunt Shannon. They went shopping."
"That sounds like fun."
"Not with Aunt Shannon. She doesnít like the toy stores. She only likes clothes," Evan said indignantly.
John laughed at his sonís indignation. The nerve of Shannon not enjoying a good toy store.
"Daddy, when are you coming home?"
"Just in time for Christmas, buddy, why?" John wasnít sure what was going on, but he knew his son and something didnít feel right.
"I just miss you and want you to come home."
"I miss you, too, but are you sure thatís all?"
John knew there was more to it than Evan was saying, but if he knew his wife and he did, Angie was already on the case.
"Can I speak to you mom, bud?"
"Yep, sheís standing right here. I love you daddy."
"I love you more. Be good for mommy and Iíll see you in a few days."
"Okay, hereís mom."
John heard the passing of the phone and Evangeline talking to Evan about working on the model car he was putting together in his room.
"Hi hon. I was just missing you guys and decided to call again."
"Iím glad you did. Evan needed to talk to you."
"Why? Whatís wrong?"
"He misses you and Adamís father, Robert Tate, died. Evan found out today at school."
"What? Have you talked to Amanda yet?"
"Yes, I talked to her a little earlier. Sheís doing as well as can be expected, I guess. Evan talked to Adam and heís better than he was earlier."
"How are you?"
"Iím okay. I just miss you," Evangeline said, considering whether to tell John everything. Knowing how much her husband liked to stay in touch with what was going on with his kids, she decided to spill all. "Evan also asked me if you could get killed doing your job."
"Great," John sighed, "thatís the last thing I ever wanted. Itís bad enough that you worry about me coming home; I donít want the kids worrying, too. What did you tell him?"
"The truth. I didnít want to worry him, but I couldnít lie either. I donít know if I made him feel better or worse."
"Knowing you, Iím sure heís better. The kids know that Iíd walk through hell to come home to you guys. I love you more than anything and nothing could keep me from you."
"I know. I just wish you were here."
"Me, too. I know Iíve said it before, but one of the hardest things about being away is not hearing the kids get ready for bed and sleeping alone. God, I miss you."
"You, too, babe."
"Evan told me Dani is out shopping with Shannon. Whatís that about?" John asked.
"Shannon picked her up from school so they could go pick out an outfit for the Christmas party at the Love Center."
"I can only imagine what Shannon will help her pick out," John said with a frown.
"I made them promise it would cover everything and be warm."
"We can only hope."
"Shannon will do fine. I trust her with Dani."
"I trust her with Dani, too. But if you go by what she wears, I donít trust her to dress Dani."
John heard Evangeline chuckling at him and figured it was time to finish the call.
"Hey, Iím gonna go. The DA wanted to have dinner to further discuss the case weíre working. Iíll call you tonight if itís not too late."
"Itís never too late to call. Iíll be waiting for you."
"I know. You always do. Tell the kids I love them. I love you."
"I love you, too." John heard the pause and knew heíd have to hang up first. It had become a habit with them. They never said goodbye, because they would never really be apart again. Their hearts were connected and that was a tie that would never be broken.
Later that night after talking to Evangeline again, John tried to sleep, but only tossed and turned. Now, he understood why Evangeline traveled with one of his shirts. The smiling picture of her sitting on the side table wasnít nearly enough of her to guarantee a sound sleep. Since he often had problems sleeping, John rose to go back over the case he was working.
Before sitting at the desk, he took a look out his hotel room window and saw the Christmas lights twinkling. The sight made him want to be home that much more. He had to finish up and make the desire a reality. John glanced up at the picture on his side table repeatedly while he sat working.
The next few days were harder on Evangeline than she had imagined. She and John had spent nights apart since they married, but never during the holiday season. This was a time for families and it made her miss John more.
The day before Christmas Eve, after picking Dani up from the Community Center and dropping Evan off with his Aunt Marcie so he could play with MJ, the two went shopping. Dani bought Evan a cap to match the Philadelphia Eagles jacket Shannon had gotten him.
"Mom, do you think Dad will like this belt?" Dani asked of the brown woven leather belt she held.
"Your fatherís going to like whatever you get him, but I like the belt," Evangeline replied. Dani wrapped her arms around her motherís waist and smiled up at her. "Whatís the hug for?"
"Thank you for bringing my shopping. I love you, mommy."
"I love you, too, baby girl. Now, weíve got to get Nana something and then youíre done."
Dani found a scented candle and holder for her grandmother. Evangeline could see that Dani was really excited about how much her brother, father and grandmother would like her gifts. In giving, Dani was receiving a joy that couldnít be bought.
That night, John made his regular call to check in on her and the kids. After talking to John for a few minutes, Evangeline passed the phone to Dani and watched her eyes light up. She was definitely a daddyís girl Ė always had been. Evan stood waiting with bated breath until it was his turn to talk to Ďdaddyí. Sometimes, Evangeline couldnít believe this was her family. She had everything she ever wanted Ė a loving husband, two great children and after the holidays she had a meeting with a local law firm. Hopefully, sheíd be working within a month. Every thing was wonderful for her and Amanda Tateís world had just been blown apart. Evangeline was so thankful for the life she led.
John talked to his family every day, but talking was not being there and he needed to be there. His family had some traditions that were all their own. They spent the morning of Christmas Eve in the master bedroom with breakfast in bed. They delivered presents to their extended family and they opened one gift each at the stroke of midnight Christmas morning. John expected to be home in time to do all those things.
As he watched the snow fall in sheets outside his hotel room window, he knew he might have to do something drastic to get home, but wasnít sure what. Christmas Eve was the next day and he was going to miss it with the people who mattered most if he didnít do something Ė but what?
Christmas Eve dawned gray and frigid. John hadnít gotten home the day before as expected and Evangeline was worried that he wouldnít make it home in time to open presents due to the snow that had rolled in the night before. The kids were anxious to see their dad and asking her regularly when he was getting home. She had no idea what to tell them. The phone only rang when she dialed his cell phone and the regular phone lines were out at Johnís hotel. All they could do was wait and none of them were good at that.
Evangeline, Dani and Evan had breakfast in the kitchen. They didnít want to observe their normal holiday traditions if John wasnít home to share them. By the time breakfast was finished, the snow shovels had cleared their street, so they packed the gifts for their extended family Ė Eve, Michael, Marcie, Shannon, MJ, Bo, Nora and Matthew - and hit the road.
They were back at home before dark and Evangeline made hot chocolate and a fire in the family room. The Christmas tree was lit and stockings were hung on the banister. The only thing needed to make the evening perfect was John. They hadnít heard from him all day and Evangeline was really beginning to worry. The phone lines at Johnís hotel were still down and he wasnít answering his cell phone. She had been saying prayers for his safety all day.
After bathes and brushing of teeth, Evangeline, Dani and Evan settled in the family room on the sofa to watch ĎMiracle of 34th Streetí. By 11 oíclock, both children were asleep against their mother. As midnight approached, Evangeline was sure John wouldnít get home before morning. The fact that she hadnít talked to him disturbed her greatly. At this point, she just needed to know he was alright.
She laid the children down on opposite ends of the sofa with plans to call the hotel again. Maybe the phones were fixed. As she moved toward the kitchen, Evangeline heard the garage door. Without thinking, she opened the door just as John turned the knob. She broke into a smile as soon as she saw him and launched herself into his arms.
"Yeah, and this is some kinda welcome," he said, extremely pleased with her reaction. John pulled her so close that he was sure she could feel his heart beating.
John pressed his face into Evangelineís neck and drew a breath. He inhaled the scent of flowers in springtime Ė Evangelineís scent. John felt her tremble in his embrace and stroked the silken tresses that hung down her back. When she pulled back, he took her soft, glossy lips in a hard kiss. He had missed her and John needed her to know it. They finally parted when they had to take a breath. John pressed his forehead to hers and closed his eyes; he would actually get some sleep tonight.
"I was so worried about you. Why didnít you call me?"
"I left Harrisburg this morning and Iíve been driving all day. I bought tire chains and had a really slow ride. I didnít call, because I didnít stop. My cell battery died and I didnít have the car charger."
"Donít ever do that to me again. I was sure something had happened to you, but I had to keep on a brave face for the kids," she said in a shaky voice as tears filled her eyes. One thing John couldnít handle was tears from either of his girls.
"Hey, none of the tears, okay? Iím fine. Iím sorry I didnít call you, but Iím here now. Nothing happened to me. We are going to have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year," John said, stroking her cheek and catching a tear with his thumb.
"We definitely will now that youíre home." Evangeline pulled John into another kiss that could have led to other things had they not been interrupted by little people.
"DadÖ," Evan said tentatively rubbing sleep from his eyes. John turned to him and picked him up in one arm, while reaching for Evangelineís hand with his free one.
"Hey buddy," John answered him. Evangeline trailed behind John as he carried Evan back into the family room.
Dani had curled up in the corner of the sofa, but otherwise hadnít moved. John sat down next to her and ran his fingers up and down her side, tickling the girl. She opened her eyes and seeing her father, she jumped him.
"Daddy, youíre home."
John held both children close for a minute. He had missed them so much. They were the reason he got up everyday. The fact that God had blessed him with two beautiful children humbled him. He didnít deserve them, but he was glad he had them.
"Yep, and just in time to open one gift and get you guys to bed."
"Aww, dad," the two said in unison.
"Yeah, I know, but you can tell me all about the last few days in the morning and then you can see what I brought you."
"Yay," they cried.
Evangeline sat next to John shaking her head. He knew what she thought Ė that Dani and Evan had him wrapped around their little fingers. Well, maybe, but he would never admit it to her. Evangeline moved to the tree and started pulling presents from beneath.
"Okay, letís get these presents opened so you guys can go to sleep," Evangeline said to the kids. She passed presents to each member of her family and joined them on the sofa.
Evan tore the wrapping paper off an elaborate remote control all-terrain vehicle. Dani received the black boots she had asked her mom for over a month prior. Evangeline got a day at the spa and John got a set of tickets to see the Philadelphia 76ers play the Atlanta Hawks. There were exclamations all around. There was driving of remote control cars and modeling of boots, while the adults watched from their place on the sofa. After about 15 minutes of entertainment, it was called a night. Kids were tucked into bed and the adults retired to their room, where they could continue what had been interrupted earlier.
Later, as Evangeline was curled into John, he ran a finger down her cheek before sliding his hand into her hair. John tilted her face up to his and placed a soft kiss on her lips before he whispered, "I love you more today than the day I married you."
"Nothingís wrong," John interrupted. He could see the anxiety in her eyes, but John was compelled to express himself. "But, Adam dying just reminded me that we canít depend on having another chance to tell the people we love just how important they are. You are the most important person in my life. Donít ever forget that."
"I feel the same way. I love you," she said in return and pulled him into another kiss.
As the kiss deepened, John thanked God for His greatest gift - The Gift of Family.