Sacred Trust

by Katherine Dana Mercer

 

 Dixie smiled proudly as she watched her six-year-old triplets play in the backyard.  The children meant so much to her, as did their father.

 

"Hi."  Dixie walked over, ruffling Kelly's hair.

 

 Kelly looked up. "Hi, Mommy."

 

"Hey, sweetie.  Are you and your brothers having fun?"

 

 "They're being mean to me." Kelly pouted.

 

"Oh?"

 

 "They keep kicking sand on me."

 

Dixie shook her head.  "Nicky...David...stop kicking sand on Kelly....."

 

 Kelly stuck her tongue out at her brothers.

 

"And, Kelly, don't stick your tongue out at them..."

 

 Kelly pouted.

 

Dixie wrapped her arms around Johnny.  "I love you."

 

 Johnny smiled. "And I love you, Dixie."

 

"We're such a good pair."

 

 "We sure are."

 

"I don't know what I'd ever do if I lost you."

 

 "I don't even want to think about losing you."

 

Dixie laughed.  "I'm on the night shift.  I'd better get ready for work."

 

"You'd better."

 

At work, Dixie smiled over at Kel.  He'd been on vacation so she hadn't seen him lately.  "Have fun?"

 

 Kel nodded. "Yep."

 

"Where'd you go?"

 

 "Went to Maine to visit some old friends."

 

"Cool.  How was it?"

 

 "It was great."

 

Dixie shook her head.  "We've missed you...been busy...."

 

 "Anything interesting happen?"

 

"Not really.  I've been out a couple days, too...the triplets had a cold..."

 

 "How're they doing? They okay?"

 

"Yeah, now...you'd never know they been sick."

 

 Kel smiled slightly.

 

Dixie patted his arm, friendly-like.  "Why don't you come over sometime?"

 

 "That sounds great. I'd love to."

 

Soon after that, there was a terrible case that came in.  A drunk had run into a school bus, injuring many of the children coming back from a field trip to an amusement park.

 

 Kel was horrified by the details of the case.

 

After they'd patched everything up, finally, Dixie slipped into the lounge.  Kel found her in there, crying.  

 

 "What's wrong, Dix?" Kel asked, concerned.

 

"That little girl...who didn't make it...she was only 6..."  Like her kids.

 

 The implication hit Kel instantly. "Oh, Dix, I'm so sorry," he murmured. "Must've been hard for you to deal with that..."

 

She nodded.  "I keep thinking...what if it was one of my babies...?"

 

 "But it wasn't, Dix. You can't dwell on things that didn't happen."

 

"I know."  She found solace and comfort in his hug.

 

 Kel smiled slightly to himself.

 

When Kel came over the next day, Johnny was working.  The kids ran to meet him before Dixie could even get to the door--they loved their "uncle".

 

 Kel grinned as one of the kids opened the door.

 

"Hi!" Kelly launched herself at him, hugging his leg.  David and Nicky grabbed the other leg.

 

 "Hey, Munchkin," Kel said affectionately.

 

Dixie came out of the kitchen.  "Hi, Kel...come on in."  The day at home with her kids had done her wonders.

 

 Kel smiled at her. "You look like you're doing better..."

 

"Yeah...being home with the kids helped."

 

 "I'm glad you're doing better."

 

"You seem to be doing better too."  

 

 Kel nodded. "I am."

 

Dixie smiled.  "Well, dinner's almost ready."

 

 "So what're we having?"

 

"Nothing fancy, I'm afraid."

 

 "Ah, that's okay."

 

"Spaghetti...I hope you don’t mind."

 

 "I don't mind at all."

 

There was news on the radio about the aftermath of the bus accident.  Dixie was about to cry again...

 

 Kel reached out to hug her.

 

The kids were in the playroom.  Dixie leaned into the hug.  "Oh, Kel...."

 

 "It's okay, Dixie," he whispered.

 

"Those poor kids..."

 

 "We did the best we could, Dixie."

"I know," Dixie said.  "But I can't help but think about it...and their parents....."

 

 "Don't think about it, Dixie.  Don't put that trauma on your shoulders."

 

She held onto him tightly, not noticing his fingers tangled in her hair.

 

 He just held her, wanting to comfort her as best he could.

 

The surge of emotion that ran between them was amazing.  It reminded them of their old relationship, before she'd gotten married.

 

 Kel was vaguely unnerved.

 

Dixie tried to pull out of the embrace before it because something they'd regret, but Kel's hands still lingered.

 

 Kel looked at her.

 

"Kel..." she whispered.

 

 "What?"

 

"This is wrong..."

 

 "How can it be wrong?"

 

"I'm married."  She pulled his arms away from her waist, her tears on her cheeks.  she didn't want to hurt him, but....

 

 "So? We both want it, obviously..."

 

"But Johnny..."

 

 "Doesn't have to know."

 

The electricity in the room overwhelmed her.  "This is so wrong..."  But she allowed him to kiss her.

 

 He kissed her gently.

 

Reflexively, she kissed him back.

 

 He smiled tenderly.

 

The passion was building.  Dixie gave a small gasp of surprise as Kel scooped her up and carried her to the bedroom.

 

 Kel grinned at her.

 

Dixie pulled away from him afterwards, getting dressed quickly.  She was crying.  "I can't believe we did that...I feel so guilty...."

 

 He looked at her. "You shouldn't feel so guilty, Dix... we were just expressing our feelings for each other."

 

"My husband is at work, risking his life...and I'm here, betraying every trust he put in me!"

 

 Kel looked at her, feeling hurt.

 

"I'm sorry, Kel...I just...I've...I can't believe this..."

 

 He said nothing.

 

"Mommy?" came a little voice  from outside the door. 

 

 "Yes, sweetie?" Dixie called out, struggling to sound calm.

 

"When we gonna eat?"

 

 "Soon, sweetie."

 

She shook her head, looking back at Kel.  "I'm sorry...."

 

 "Well, I'm not."

 

The phone rang.  It was Johnny. 

 

 Dixie went to answer it.

 

"Hey, Love."  Johnny smiled.

 

 "Hey, sweetheart."

 

"How're you?"

 

 "I'm good. You?"

 

"Fine."  Johnny frowned.  "What's wrong?"

 

 "Nothing's wrong," she insisted.

 

"You sound upset."

 

 "Ah, it's nothing."

 

"What happened?"

 

 "I'm just still really bothered by something that happened at work."

 

"Oh, the accident with those kids."  He sighed.  "I'm sorry, honey."

 

 Dixie sighed. "I'll be okay."

 

Two weeks later, Dixie was throwing up in the bathroom.  She shook her head, coming out.  "I think I got the flu...."

 

 Johnny looked at her sympathetically.

 

She went to her appointment she'd made, and learned the shocking news.  Dixie pulled Kel into her office.  "We gotta talk.  NOW."

 

 Kel looked at her. "What's wrong?"

 

"Not that I'd normally tell you this, but Johnny and I have been too busy the past few weeks to...um, well...you know..."  She sighed.  "I'm pregnant."

 

 "What?!"

 

"I'm pregnant.  And you have to be the father because it's the only time in the past few weeks that I've..."

 

 "Whoa...."

 

"Kel, I don't believe this.  I guess I could cover it.  I could try to get some time alone with Johnny...pretend the baby came a few weeks early...but..."

 

 Kel was stunned.

 

"Kel, say something."

 

 "I... I don't know what to say."

 

"I don't, either, but I can't hide this forever."

 

 "We'll figure something out."

 

"I already know things are going to be different this time...I've been so sick...I was never sick with the triplets..."

 

 "So you have morning sickness this time. That's nothing to worry about."

 

"It's different, that's all.  I'm just afraid that this pregnancy will be so different...I...I don't want my marriage ruined over one mistake I made!"

 

 "Just calm down, Dix.  Yes, it shouldn't have happened, but you need to think about it calmly."

 

"What do you suggest?"

 

 "I don't know just yet..."

 

"I gotta know soon.  Johnny's gonna ask what I found out at my appointment.  I don't want to lie to him...but I can only dodge the question for so long..."

 

  Kel sighed.

 

"Kel, I can't tell my husband I'm having another man's baby."

 

 "So don't tell him anything just yet."

 

"It won't change the fact that this is your baby," Dixie replied.

 

 "But it'll give us time to figure out something to say."

 

"Yeah." 

 

They didn't speak of it again--and Dixie mentioned nothing to Johnny until one day, three months later.  Dixie was alone with Kel.  She sighed.  "We can't beat around the bush anymore, Kel."  She pulled her uniform closer to her skin, revealing a small bulge.  "I'm starting to show."

 

 Kel looked at her, trying to figure out what they would tell Johnny.

 

"I guess I could just tell him I'm pregnant and hold he doesn't catch the timing," she said.

 

 Kel sighed. "Might be a good idea to do that."

 

"Johnny?"  Dixie asked, getting home.  "You got a minute?"

 

 "For you? Of course."

 

"I'm pregnant."

 

 Johnny grinned. "That's great!"

 

Dixie nodded, trying to muster up the same enthusiasm.  "Yeah...12 weeks."

 

 Johnny hugged her gently.

 

"You're happy?"

 

 "Of course I am."

 

"Good."  She looked far away, wondering how he'd have reacted to knowing it was Kel's baby.

 

~~

 

Dixie put a hand on her bulging belly, sighing softly.  She was 7 months pregnant, and still hiding her secret.  Johnny thought the baby was his--Kel and Dixie knew it wasn't.

 

Johnny came up behind Dixie.  "Hey, Sweetheart," he said, wrapping his arms around her and resting a hand lightly on her stomach.  "How's the little one doing?"

 

"Pretty good."  She smiled lovingly, her inner turmoil was ready to tear her apart though.  

He smiled.  "Only two more months."

 

"Yeah."  Dixie desperately hoped the baby wouldn't look like its father.  "Are the kids still asleep?"

 

"Yeah, they are.  Kelly had a nightmare a little while ago, but I calmed her down.  She's okay now."

 

"Good."  Dixie nodded.  She glanced at the clock.  "It's almost 6:30...I'd better get ready for work."   

 

Johnny smiled.  "Yeah, I guess you'd better."

 

Dixie got ready for work, and left the house, saying nothing more to Johnny.  She ran into Kel almost as soon as she stepped into the hospital.  "Oh.  Hi."

 

"Hey."

 

"How're you?"  Things between them had gotten terribly awkward lately.

 

"I'm good.  You?"

 

"Fine."  Dixie stepped past him, heading for the lounge.

 

"How's... uh..." Kel gestured to Dixie's stomach awkwardly.

 

"The baby's okay," Dixie answered.  "Johnny still doesn't know...I think it's best he doesn't find out."

 

"I agree.  Believe me, even though I suggested it, I hate hiding this kind of thing from him.  But it's for the best, really."

 

"As long as the baby doesn't look like you."

 

"Let's not worry about that until we absolutely have to."

 

"This pregnancy has been so different from before," she sighed, sitting on the couch.

 

"Every pregnancy is different in some way, Dix.  You of all people should know that.  You're a nurse."

 

"I know," she sighed.  "I just can't help but worry."

 

"You worry too much."

 

"I feel so guilty!"

 

"I know you do."

 

"I've been lying to Johnny for months..."  Dixie shook her head.  "I want to stop, but I'm afraid of what would happen.  I don't want to lose him."

 

"I wish I knew what to tell you, Dix..."

 

"How do you feel about all of this?" she asked after a moment.

 

"I... I don't know quite how to feel."

 

"What do you mean?  I'm having your baby--you have to feel SOMETHING..."

 

Kel sighed. "I feel like I'm being torn in a bunch of different directions.  On one hand, I'm thrilled that you're having my baby.  On the other hand, I'm terrified.  Then there's the fact that I feel horrible for this big, complicated lie we've been feeding to Johnny.  Sometimes I want to end it, but sometimes I'm glad we're continuing it.  I don't know which way to feel."

 

Dixie nodded.  "I guess that's how I feel."  She gasped as the baby kicked.

 

Kel looked at her.  "Something wrong?"

 

"No...the baby's kicking!"

 

Kel smiled slightly.

 

"You want to feel?"

 

"If you wouldn't mind..."

 

"Go ahead."

 

Kel gently placed a hand on Dixie's stomach.  The baby was kicking vigorously.

 

"Whoa," Kel said softly, very much in awe.

 

"Yeah, amazing, huh?"

 

"Amazing isn't the word for it."  Kel smiled. "I don't know what is, though..."

 

Dixie nodded, understanding.  "Well, we'd best get to work..."

 

Kel nodded.  "Yeah..."

 

When she went home that night, Dixie's head was still spinning.  She decided to tease Johnny a bit, hoping he'd give her an answer in his response.  "What would you do if I told you this baby wasn't yours?"

 

Johnny looked at her.  "Well... depends, I guess."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"Depends on how you told me. If you were screaming it at me in a fight, I'd probably yell right back.  But if it was calmly and rationally like you usually are, I'd probably just ask you if you were sure.  Granted, I'd ask it repeatedly, but still."

 

This seemed like the right time.  "Well...it...I mean...I'm sure."

 

Johnny looked at her.  "What?"

 

She wiped away the tears falling from her eyes.  "I'm so sorry, Johnny...it wasn't supposed to happen..."

 

"What did happen, though?"

 

"It was after that bus accident...with the kids..."  Dixie couldn't believe she was telling him this, but her heart was leading her this way.  "Kel and I..."

 

"You and Kel."  Johnny's voice was flat as he spoke.

 

"It was a mistake."  She couldn't look at him.  "I'm so sorry..."

 

"But... why?"

 

"We...we were talking about the bus accident...and...everything just sort of...happened..."

 

"Sleeping with someone isn't generally most people's reaction to tragedy!"

 

"I know!  I'm sorry!"

 

Johnny took a breath, trying to calm down.

 

Dixie shook her head.  "I'm sorry...I don't know what else to tell you."

 

Johnny stood and paced.  "I don't know how to react to this, Dix."

 

"I understand."

 

He turned to look at her.


"What?"


He sighed. "I just can't believe this is happening."


"I'm sorry..."


"So am I.... because I don't know how to deal with this!"                                     

 
She groaned, putting a hand on her stomach. "I gotta sit down..."


Johnny looked at her, feeling concern for her. "You okay?"


"I don't know..." The stress of telling him and his reaction and her fears for what might happen to their marriage had induced labor.


"You're going into labor, aren't you?"


"I...I think so..."


"We need to get you to the hospital."  He was concerned for her, and the baby. 


"Maybe they can stop it..."


"I hope so..."

She gripped her husband's hand.  "Please...don't think any less of this baby because you aren't its father..."

 

Johnny just looked at her.  "Let's get the baby born before we worry about anything else."

 

Dixie was in heavy labor by the time they arrived at the hospital.  She looked up, trying to manage a calming smile for Kel.  "Hi."

 

Kel smiled reassuringly at her.  "Everything's going to be fine. Don't you worry," he soothed.

 

"Can't you stop it?" she asked.

 

"You're too far into it, Dix.  It wouldn't be safe."

 

"But what about the baby?"

 

"The baby's going to be fine."

 

After another hour, the baby made his entrance into the world.  He looked a lot like his father.

 

Kel tried to pretend nothing was wrong, but the expression on his face said it all.

 

"What's wrong?  The baby?  Is he okay?" Dixie asked in a rush.

 

"He's fine, Dixie.  As fine as possible, considering he was born early."

 

"How's his breathing?"

 

"A little too shallow for my tastes..."

 

"You're gonna have to intubate him, aren't you?"  Dixie had a suspicion, based on the look on Kel's face.

 

"Yes."

 

"I knew it."  She tried to hide her obvious disappointment.  He'd also spend time in an incubator...

 

"Don't worry, Dix," Kel said as he caught the look on Dixie's face.  "He'll be fine."

 

Dixie nodded. 

 

She was released from the hospital three days later, but first went upstairs to check on baby Jamie.  She found Kel there as well.  "Hi."

 

Kel smiled slightly.  "Hi."

 

"How is he?"

 

"Not as well as we'd like, but he's doing better."

 

"Guess I'll take what I can get."  Dixie sighed.  "I know Johnny hasn't been around much..."  She shook her head slowly.  "He knows.  About us.  That Jamie is your son."

 

"How'd he react?"

 

"Not well.  I think he's still trying to handle it.  We never did finish talking about it because I went into labor..."

 

Kel merely sighed.

 

"Jamie looks like you," Dixie said after another moment.

 

"Yeah... he does."

 

"In a way...I'm glad.  In another way...I wish he didn't."

 

Kel sighed again.  "I know what you mean."

 

"Maybe..."  Dixie shrugged.  "It's probably a bad idea, but maybe you and Johnny should talk...."

 

"You're right.  It is a bad idea."

 

"I don't want this to go on forever, though...something has to happen..."

 

"Something does have to happen... I'm just not looking forward to it."

 

Something did happen...two weeks later.  Kel came by to tell Dixie that Jamie was doing much better.  He thought he'd deliver the news in person.  Johnny was there.  He glared as he opened the door.  "Come back to sleep with my wife again?"

 

"Hardly."

 

"What, you've found someone better?"

 

"You just insulted your own wife with that one, buddy."

 

Johnny growled softly.  "What do you want?!"

 

"I just want to talk to Dix.  You can stay in the room if it'll make you feel better."

 

Johnny nodded, stepping back.  "Better believe I'll stay.  I wouldn't want either of you stabbing me in the back again!"

 

"I've only come to bring news about Jamie.  Not even you would begrudge Dix's knowing how her son is doing."

 

"Her son," he muttered, shaking his head.

 

Kel said nothing.

 

"I should deck you," Johnny muttered, more to himself--but Kel heard.

 

"I wouldn't blame you for it -- just wait until after I've told Dix about Jamie."

 

"Okay, tell her," he said as Dixie walked in.  

 

Kel smiled at Dixie.  "Jamie's doing much better now.  He still has a way to go before he's completely recovered, but he's doing much better than before."

 

"That's great!"  She smiled, before rushing off as one of the triplets called for her.

 

Kel smiled slightly to himself as he turned to leave.  He wanted desperately to stay, but he didn't have a death wish.

 

"Oh, so you're just going to leave?"  Johnny pulled him away from the door.  "Not so fast...I want my chance at you..."

 

Kel spun around.  "I'm trying to leave, Johnny. You want me out; I'm going."

 

Johnny swung at him.

 

Kel just took the blow.  He stumbled backwards slightly, but made no move in Johnny's direction.

 

Dixie, having found the doll Kelly had wanted, had just come back into the room.  "Please...don't turn this into a fight because of me!"

 

"I'm not the one who wanted to fight!" Kel said desperately, looking to Dixie for help.

 

Dixie stepped in to shield Kel's body as Johnny prepared to swing again, hoping he’d stop when he realized he'd hit her instead.  Kel didn't want to take the chance and pushed her aside.  She tripped, hitting her head on the coffee table.  There was a terrible cracking sound...then she slumped to the floor.

 

Kel swore softly under his breath as he dropped to his knees at Dixie's side, praying Johnny would forget his anger long enough to concentrate on Dixie.

 

"Dix!" Johnny rushed over.

 

Kel checked her out carefully.

 

Her neck was broken--she'd died instantly.

 

"Oh, God..."

 

"What?!" Johnny demanded. 

 

"She's..." Kel looked up at Johnny.  "Gone."

 

"She can't be!  She just fell!"  He clutched her to his chest for a moment, then reassessed her.  "Dix!  No...this isn't happening!"

 

Kel wisely stayed silent.  He wanted to offer the other man some comfort, but had a feeling it wouldn't be accepted very well.

 

Johnny cradled her limp body in his arms, brushing her hair back from her face, as if it would revive her.

 

Kel stood and stepped back a few paces, giving Johnny some space -- and time to say a relatively private goodbye.  "Do... do you want me to leave the room for a minute so you can... say goodbye?" Kel asked softly after a moment.

 

"She's dead," Johnny whispered.  "Oh, God, she's dead..."

 

Kel was silent, his heart yearning for the chance to say his own goodbye.  He had no real right, though, and so remained silent.

 

The funeral was the next day, and Johnny had no idea how to face it.  He felt completely numb--caught somewhere between all-consuming grief and complete rage.  "Dixie..." he whispered, staring at their wedding photo.

 

Kelly approached her father slowly.  "Daddy?" she said softly, uncertainty reflected in her voice.

 

"You look just like your mother," he whispered, pulling her into his lap.  He held her tightly--perhaps a little TOO tightly, he mused, as she started to squirm.

 

"You're squishing me, Daddy," Kelly complained.

 

"Sorry, Precious."  Johnny sighed, then let her go.  She and her brothers were the only living memory he had of Dixie.

 

Kelly turned to look at Johnny.  "Are we going to see Mommy tomorrow?" she asked.  The little girl still didn't quite understand that "dead" meant gone forever.  The six-year-old thought that Mommy had just gone away for a little bit.  To her, the phrase "Going to Mommy's funeral" meant nothing more than maybe going to see Mommy.

 

"Yeah," he whispered, his throat tight with unshed tears.  

 

"Is she gonna be coming home with us? Davey and Nicky and I miss her..."

 

Johnny shifted over on the bed as the boys came into the room.  He pulled David and Nick close to his side as Kelly scrambled up into his lap.  "I know you miss her.  I miss her too, a lot.  But..."  How did you tell this to your child?  How did you make them understand?  "She's not coming home."

 

"Is she mad at us?" Nicky asked, a confused look on his face.

 

"Oh, no, Buddy."  Johnny shook his head firmly.  "She's not mad at all.  She didn't want to go away."

 

"Then why isn't she coming home?"  This was from David.

 

"Because..."  Johnny searched for words.  "Your mother...she...well, she was hurt very badly.  And sometimes, when you get hurt badly like that...your body just

 

"But can't they fix her?"

 

"Sometimes doctors can't fix everything," Johnny replied, closing his eyes for a moment.  This was tearing him apart. 

 

"Why can't they?"  Kelly asked softly.

 

With a heavy sigh, Johnny looked into his daughter's sparkling blue eyes.  "I wish I knew.  But sometimes they can't and then a person dies.  I kind of like to think they go to heaven after that."

 

"What's heaven?"

 

Children had the most amazing ability to ask the toughest questions.  "It's a place...above the stars...and everything's perfect there, and no one's ever gonna get hurt again.  But once a person goes there, they don't come back."

 

"Why don't they come back?"

 

"It's too perfect there," Johnny explained.  "And it's too far away.  But they're watching out for us, you know."

 

"They are?"

 

Johnny nodded.  "Sure, Nicky.  Mommy's with the angels, now...and she's gonna do her best to make sure they keep us out of trouble."

 

"Mommy's really with the angels? Does she have wings?"

 

"I don't know."

 

"But she's gonna be watching over us, right?"

 

Yup."

 

"Cool."

 

"Yeah...and I bet she misses us as much as we miss her," Johnny said.

 

Kelly sniffled.

 

That was it.  Normally, he could simply reach out and dry his little girl's tears, but now he couldn't fix the problem.  She was hurting, and he couldn't stop it.  And not just Kelly--all three of his children.  A single tear slipped down his own cheek.  "It's okay to cry, Honey..."

 

Kelly sniffled again as the tears started to flow.

 

Johnny pulled her close to his chest, hugging her as his own tears fell freely.  He pulled Nick and David closer, too, clutching them as a drowning man would a life preserver.  In a way, he WAS drowning...in loneliness, guilt, anger, and a hundred other conflicting emotions. 

 

The triplets just clung to their father.

 

It was sometime later--it may have been hours, or minutes, Johnny was unable to tell--that the doorbell rang.

 

Kel stood at the door, knowing he shouldn't have come there but knowing he wouldn't be able to do anything else until he talked to Johnny and tried to set things as right as he could.

 

Johnny threw a glance behind him to see if the children had followed him into the room.  They were still in the bedroom, reassuring each other as best they knew how.    "What are you doing here?"  His tone was flat.  Johnny didn't know how to feel.  Part of him wanted to try to talk things out.  Part of him never wanted to see Kelly Brackett again.

 

"I wanted to talk to you."

 

"I told you; the funeral's tomorrow," Johnny told him, wondering if that was what Kel had come for.  He knew in his heart it couldn't be so simple.

 

"I know that.  That's not what I came to talk to you about."  Kel sighed, and continued.  Dixie was gone, and nothing could change that.  All they could affect was what happened from his moment on.  "There's something you probably should know."

 

Johnny arched his eyebrows curiously.  "And what's that?"

 

Kel shook his head, not knowing quite where to begin.  His emotional battle was still ripping him apart.  "We both know Dixie shouldn't have been killed in that fall.  To break her neck fatally, she'd have had to have been thrown with each force to throw her father than the coffee table...and the odds on her falling as she did, just right, are completely astronomical."

 

"So what are you saying?  Something else caused it?"

 

"Yes," Kel replied.  He sighed heavily, wondering how Johnny would take the next revelation.

 

"So what was it?" Johnny asked impatiently, more out of a vague sense of fear than an actual desire to know.

 

Kel sighed again.  "John, there's...something you need to know first.  It explains a lot about the past few months as well...."

 

"Look, don't beat around the bush. Just tell me what it was."

 

Kel's discovery left him feeling as though his heart had been ripped out.  "Johnny, when she cheated on you...she really had very little idea of what she was doing...medically."

 

"And that means... what, exactly?"

 

"You know she'd been having headaches the past few months, right?"

 

Johnny nodded. "Yeah."

 

"She had a tumor, John."

 

"What?"

 

"It was benign, but it was putting pressure on the judgment center of her brain.  She didn't always rationally think about the decisions she was making--she couldn't have.  By the size of it, Dr. Jacobs thinks that it's been building for over a year."

 

"But what did the tumor have to do with her death? Just because she had it didn't mean she would've died... right?" Johnny knew otherwise; he was just trying to deny something he very much wanted not to believe -- that his wife had been sick, sicker than anybody knew. Along with that, he was trying to deny that he had missed the signs.

 

"It might have killed her in several years--but she'd have shown signs by then," Kel replied.  "There was nothing you missed.  I just want you to know...I was the only one who really made the mistake when we slept together that day."  He didn't feel it was a mistake for him; he loved her...but he knew that she'd been married and that made it a mistake.  "She didn't have the medical capacity to make a sound judgment of the situation."

 

"Still, I... Damn it, Kel, she was my wife! I should have at least noticed that something was wrong!"

 

Kel nodded in sympathy.  "I've told myself the same thing.  Her headaches seemed normal enough, but they would have been the only clue."  He bit his lip.  "It contributed to her death, but it didn't kill her.  There was pressure on one of the arteries in her brain due to the tumor...the pressure created an aneurysm, which we'd have had no way of knowing about.  We don't know how these things happen still, exactly.  It blew.  She was dead before she hit the coffee table."

 

"That's not exactly comforting, Kel," Johnny muttered.

 

"I know it's not comforting, but it's what happened.  We couldn't have known when it would have happened--it was just lousy timing.  A vertebrae in her neck did break, so it looked like that killed her at the time.  But...she didn't feel a thing.  She wasn't in any pain."

 

"Well... at least she wasn't in pain," Johnny said softly. "At least she had that much going for her... I guess."

his dark hair.  "I guess it's a good thing after all that--"  He stopped himself.  He was going to say that it had been good that Jamie had been born early, or he'd have died with his mother.

 

Johnny looked at him. "You were going to say something about Jamie, weren't you?"

 

Kel bit back the tears that threatened.  "You don't need that reminder in your life...I'll take care of him."

 

"He may be a reminder of you, but he's also a reminder of Dixie. And that I won't mind having in my life."

 

Kel bit his lip.  He desperately wanted his son--Jamie was his reminder of Dixie, too.  He didn't say anything, though.

 

Johnny sighed. "But maybe I'm just being selfish... Do you honestly want him?"

 

"It's not selfish.  I understand your reasons...but I do want him," Kel admitted.  He was about to add that he had loved Dixie too, desperately, but he wasn't going to put Johnny through that.

 

"You'd give him a good home?"

 

"The best I could."

 

Johnny nodded thoughtfully.  "That's all I can ask of you."

 

"You can see him whenever you want," Kel said.

 

Johnny smiled slightly.  "You sure you won't mind that?"

 

"No, I won't."

 

"You ever need a babysitter, you know who to call."

 

Kel laughed for the first time since Dixie died.  "Sure...seeing his brothers and sister would be good for him..."

 

"Just be sure you take good care of him," Johnny said.

 

"I promise.  He's my son..."

 

"I know.  But I've still gotta make sure I know you're going to take care of him.  Can't blame me for that."

 

"Yeah...I can understand..."

 

Johnny sighed.

 

"I...if it means that much to you...you could have him..."  Kel sighed.  "But I really do want to raise him...I feel I kind of owe it to Dix.  And I love him."

 

"I want to raise him, but I don't want to be selfish."

 

Johnny smiled weakly. "Hi..."

 

"Hey."  Kel's mood had changed drastically, he was much more depressed than the day before.  Knowing the truth about her death hadn't help.

 

"How're you holding up?" Johnny asked softly.

 

"Probably about as well as you are."  The woman they both loved was gone, forever.

 

Johnny sighed. "We have to be strong, Kel... for the kids."

 

"I know that, but it's hard...Jamie's never going to know his mother...and he'll be in the hospital for another few weeks at least...he's getting stronger, but....."

 

"We'll just have to make sure that we tell him all about her..."

 

"Yeah...what an incredible lady she was....."

 

"Incredible's not the word..."

 

Kel stepped over to where Dixie was laying...he closed his eyes, wishing she'd open her eyes and wake up, but knowing she would never do that.

 

Johnny followed slowly. He stood a few feet from Kel.

 

Kel stepped away to allow Johnny a moment with his wife.  Kelly tugged at Kel's sleeve.  "Mommy's sleeping..."

 

Johnny smiled slightly as he overheard Kelly's words. He turned to look at Dixie. "God, Dix... I wish this hadn't happened..."

 

She didn't respond.

 

"You died at the wrong time, Dix... Someone as vital and full of life as you shouldn't have died so soon..."

 

"There was no good time for her to die," Kel sighed as Johnny came back over.

 

"I know... but of all the times she could of died, this was definitely the worst."

 

"Yeah...with three small kids and a new baby...."

 

"We've both gotta take good care of the kids... 'cause if we don't, you just know her ghost is going to come back and haunt us," Johnny joked weakly.

 

"I almost wouldn't mind it...but I'd take good care of them even if she wouldn't."

 

"So would I..."

 

A year after Dixie's death, the wounds hadn't healed, but things were getting better every day.

 

Johnny smiled as he sat in the back yard and watched the triplets play.

 

Kel had brought Jamie by...Jamie toddled over and held his arms up.

 

Johnny grinned as he scooped Jamie into his lap. "Hey, kiddo."

 

Jamie squealed.  He only knew a few words, but he was very vocal all-around.

 

Johnny laughed and tickled the toddler.

 

"Stop," Jamie giggled--a word his siblings had taught him.  He looked up as Kel came over to watch, and waved but didn't leave Johnny's lap.  "Dada!"

 

"How much you want to be the next word he learns is going to be 'mine'?" Johnny quipped.

 

"Oh, probably..."  Kel smiled, ruffling Jamie's dark hair.  He had Dixie's eyes, though.

 

Johnny smiled a bit as he glanced over at the triplets.

 

Dixie's spirit seemed to be with them as the breeze blew gently.

 

Johnny glanced upwards as the breeze ruffled his hair.

"Almost like she's with us....."

 

"Yeah..."

 

"I still miss her...so much..."

 

"So do I..."

 

"I think what you told the kids was right, though--she is watching out for us..."  

Johnny smiled softly.

 

The breeze ruffled their hair again, as though Dixie were responding in the only way she could.  Jamie scrambled down, toddling over to play with the triplets.

 

"You be careful with him!" Johnny called over to the kids.

 

"We know!  He's just a baby!" Nick yelled back--they'd heard it before.

 

"Exactly! So be careful!"

 

"It'll be a year tomorrow," Kel sighed--it had been on his mind.

 

"Part of me remembered that... and part of me was trying to forget it," Johnny admitted.

 

"I know exactly what you mean...there's so many days I wanted to give it all up...and be with her...but I had to keep going...for Jamie..."

 

"And that's all that counts -- that you kept going."

 

"We both did," Kel replied, knowing Johnny had days like that too....

 

"Yeah..." Johnny nodded. "We did."

 

They had survived Dixie's death, and they would survive the days ahead without her--but in a way, they knew she would always be with them.  The affair had broken one kind of trust...but Dixie's death had started another...the trust that her children would be taken care of and raised...by both of the men who had loved her, and loved them.

 

 

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