"Corrie, I don't ever want to be apart from you ever, ever again. Please, Corrie . . . Please marry me."

She began weeping.

She sobbed, wrapping both of her arms around my neck, embracing me, and kissing my face all over before placing a rich one on my lips. "Yes, Baby. I absolutely will!" she whimpered. "What took you so long? I should have said 'yes' years ago!"

"That would have been kinda weird!" I laughed through my own tears of joy.

I slipped the ring onto her finger, thanking my lucky stars that it fit perfectly.

"Oh, God, Robin! I love you so much! I can't wait to tell everyone! Best Christmas Eve ever!"

------------------

July 5, 2015

I stared at the table.

On it were my Browning Buck Mark URX, my Beretta 96FS INOX, and my Glock 19.

I internally debated which one would work best without leaving a huge mess.

My magnifying glass was the bottom of the bottle of bourbon I'd polished off.

I picked up the URX, racked the slide, released the safety, and put the muzzle against the roof of my mouth.

I pulled the trigger.

I heard and even felt the firing pin release.

"Yeah, that'll do," I said to myself, tasting gun oil on my tongue.

I loaded a single cartridge into the magazine and inserted it into the butt of the grip.

I staggered to the master bedroom. I figured I'd do the deed in the shower so any stuff could simply be washed down the drain by whoever I managed to inconvenience.

'You need help!' were words that rattled in my brain.

------------------

June 8, 2015

"You need help."

"You think?!" I groaned after I'd vomited probably four times followed by a few dry-heaves.

"You're gonna stop that before I put you in my car," the officer said, holding the chain of the cuffs behind my back.

"Yeah. I'm done . . . I think."

"You better be," she said, helping me to my feet. She held her hand against the crown of my head as she guided me onto the bench seat in the back of her cruiser.

"You're going to spend the night in the tank. The smell of stale piss might make you wake up."

------------------

March 3, 2015, 1:03 PM

"Corrie!" I cried as soon as Sienna escorted me to my wife's bedside in the recovery room.

"Rob, I feel like absolute shit," she groaned when she recognized me. I knew she meant business because she was seldom one to speak vulgarities.

Her doctor had ordered her to a surgical suite when her blood pressure rose dramatically. I knew nothing else at that point, and two agonizing hours elapsed.

"It's rare for eclampsia to present without earlier signs, but Doctor Wilkes caught it. He's good that way. The stars lined up," an unknown nurse said.

"Yeah, they did," Sienna, her earlier nurse said. "I don't want to understate it, but you both should be very thankful."

I offered both attending nurses gracious, honest smiles and nods.

"I love you, Baby," I said to my wife, kissing her hand cautiously to avoid the IV cannula taped to its back.

"I missed it all," she whispered. "They put me out."

"Yeah, I know. They wouldn't let me be in the room with you."

She pouted her lip in acknowledgment.

"Corrie, our baby is a boy."

My wife choked back a happy sob. "A boy?"

I nodded. "Yeah. I was holding him when Sienna came to bring me here to you. She took a ton of pictures with my phone. He's gorgeous, Corrie. Just beautiful. He's got your chin," I smiled.

"The Slater dimple?"

"Yeah. Look," I said, offering her my iPhone.

She smiled and giggled with tears in her eyes as she swiped from photo to photo.

"When can I hold him? I want to hold my son!" Corrie begged.

"As soon as Doctor Wilkes gives the okay. I'll call him. He's sure to be famished by now," Sienna smiled. "Your baby, not Doctor Wilkes," she clarified.

An hour later, Corrie was released from recovery and returned to a standard room.

Our little baby boy greedily nursed from her breast. I delighted in the coos and grunts he made as he suckled and swallowed noisily.

"God, Robin, can you believe it? I'm a mommy," my bride whispered, tousling the fine hair on our son's head.

"I absolutely can, Corrie. Like I said yesterday, you're the toughest woman in the world."

She silenced her laughter. "Didn't you say that just this morning, Love?"

"I guess I've lost track of time. I'll say it every day. You are my world. I'll give my life for you or our son, but you will always be my first love."

"You're so sweet, Robin," she whispered. "Today was wicked, but . . . I think I could maybe do it again," she quietly giggled.

"Let's give it a few years," I chuckled, running my fingers through her beautifully short-cropped silky hair as she nursed our hungry baby.

"He's your son. What do you want to name him?" she smiled at me.

"Cornelius Francois."

"No."

"Remus Romulus."

She laughed. "Ugh! No! Be serious, Honey!"

"How's Robert Ethan sound? My dad's first as his middle, and the name I wish I had as his first. No birds."

I saw her smile happily as she drew our newborn to her other breast.

"That's absolutely perfect, Robin.

"'Robert Ethan Grant.' Yeah. Perfect, Baby, I love it. Even though you don't, I love your name, too," she sighed contentedly, crooking her finger at me, inviting me to kiss her.

------------------

March 7, 2015, 2:14pm

"Where am I?" I asked a shadow. I saw flashes of blue and red through a fog so thick my eyes wouldn't focus.

"This is to keep you still."

Whatthe...

Corrie?

Corrine?

Robert?

------------------

June 8, 2015

"You need help, buddy."

"You've already said that," I said. "I get it."

"No, I don't think you do. I see it in you. You're not an ordinary drunk. You're hurting," the arresting officer said from the opposite side of the bars between us.

She'd already cuffed me, preparing to transport me to the courthouse for my arraignment hearing. I tried, by remaining silent, to end the conversation.

"Based on what you told me last night, I'm going to make you this one-time offer. If you look me in the eyes, right now, and promise me you'll get help, I'll advocate for you with the judge, and maybe he'll ROR you.

"You need help. You need counseling. Or attend group support meetings. It would do you wonders. If you do it, I'll stand by you when your defender begs the ADA for deferred prosecution. You can keep this whole thing from being a blight on your otherwise lily-white record."

"Why would you do such a thing?"

"Why?" she chuckled. "I just told you. I can sense it on you. You're trying to get rid of the pain. I know what happened, and I've close to being where you are. Nine years ago. It was before I joined the force. And another cop did me the same favor, probably saving my future."

I stared at her wordlessly for a few moments.

"Well?" she prompted.

"Agreed. Thank you."

------------------

March 7, 2015, 12:48pm

"Your doctor just sent his discharge orders," the day-shift nurse said and clapped. "Get your stuff together so we can send your family home!" she said with a broad smile.

We'd already packed everything.

"Corrie, you ready to be home?" I asked. The last word resonated in my brain because it'd taken on a fulfilling new meaning.

"You can't imagine, Baby," she said with her dimpled cheeks glowing.

Twenty minutes later, we were all in our SUV with Robert strapped into his car seat behind my wife. There was, once again, fresh snow on the ground. It was the wetter sort, perfect for making snowballs, but our vehicle still had no problem navigating the conditions.

------------------

July 7, 2015, 7:15pm

"Um, I've never done this kind of thing before, so I apologize if I do it wrong, but . . . my name is Robin."

"Hi, Robin," came a unison response from the one- or two-dozen men and women in the room.

"Welcome, Robin," said an absolute stranger who was "in charge" of the group. "Please, tell us your story."

"I had a drink last night. And then another. And then another. Another. Another, then another three or four or maybe five or six more. Just like every night for the last couple of months.

"I must have passed out, because I woke up this morning with a gun in my bed. I have fuzzy recollections of putting a bullet in it and making my way toward the bathroom with it because I had every intention of killing myself.

"Yeah, that really got my attention," I reflexively chuckled nervously on hearing the muttered gasps.

"A few months ago, my wife and newborn baby boy were killed. We were on the way home from the hospital with him just a few days after he was born. My wife almost died during labor, but she pulled through only--"

I couldn't keep the tears inside me.

I felt two strangers' hands on my shoulders, offering reassurance and compassion.

"A K-DOT snow plow lost control coming off the I-35 exit at 75th. Its brakes had gone out or something. It collided into the side of our SUV. My wife and son were killed instantly. I woke up the next day back in the same hospital I thought I'd just left, but I was the one in the bed instead of my wife.

"I knew Corrie forever. I loved her. She was my life. My soul. My everything. I told her the day Robert was born that I'd give my life for them, but I . . . well. You can see how that turned out.

"When I was taken home and I went inside, our bed looked just like it did when we left it the morning she went into labor. The nursery was still spic-and-span, with the little diaper sorter all stocked up with the tiny diapers. All of it was completely perfect. Untouched . . . and unoccupied.

"I just . . . I couldn't take it.

"I was only in the house for maybe twenty minutes before I took the . . . I took my wife's car to the closest liquor store.

"Anyway. They were buried in the same casket. It had to be a closed casket service because . . . well . . . yeah.

"I just can't shake it. I can't get past this . . ."

I couldn't talk more. I sat back onto my chair and sobbed.

"Robin, thank you," the moderator said. "Everyone, please take a minute of silence to use as you choose."

A few of the people walked over to me and put a hand on my shoulder or back. I heard whispers.

Twice per week, I returned to the same meeting room.

------------------

September 14, 2015, 11:30 am

I entered a plea of no contest to the charge of public indecency, a Class C misdemeanor. The judge threw mercy my way and sentenced me to deferred prosecution because I was getting help. I owed the officer who spoken up for me a debt of gratitude.

------------------

March 12, 2015.

"Theodore Barton Slater!" his wife barked at him, hearing his words.

"Quiet, Marta! This man is responsible for the death of our daughter!"

"Do you not give a damn that your grandson perished, too?!" I hissed at him through clenched teeth.

"Your . . . offspring," he grunted, "matters not half as much as ours."

"What the--" I stammered, "Are you out of your mind?!"

"I am twice the man you are," he growled.

"Then you can handle this," I said, not even thinking, as I sent my fist into his face.

"Robin!" his wife shrieked.

"I can't believe you are Corrie's father," I spat as my brother and father dragged me away. I was rattling my hand, wondering if my wrist or fingers were broken. I'd never struck a human once in my life, and I was startled at the pain I felt in my hand. Those were the last words ever spoken between us.

I was then alone in my house that evening, and, of course, got drunk again. I could've worried the cops were going to knock on my door, but I didn't care.

------------------

October 17, 2016, 7:20 pm

"Can I help you?" said the lady who answered the door.

I noticed her big fluffy dog looking up at me from behind her with a wagging tail and amazingly bright blue eyes.

"Ma'am, my name is Robin Grant. I am the guy who acted in a very crude and embarrassing manner over there on your driveway last year."

It took her several moments to speak again.

"I hardly recognize you," she said with furrowed brows.

"I can understand that, ma'am. I'm kinda back to my norm now. I probably was quite a mess when you saw me . . ."

". . . relieving yourself, then barfing everywhere," she finished my sentiment after my long, hesitant pause. "Your hair was a lot longer. You had a lot of facial hair, and you were rather . . . unkempt."

I nodded sheepishly. "Yes, ma'am. I'm told that an important part of closure for me is to make amends and apologies, and it's taken me far too long to do so. I sincerely want to--"

"I understand. Step nine, right?"

"Sorry, what?" I said.

"Step nine. Making amends?"

I shrugged.

"AA's twelve steps?" she asked.

"Oh," I said, making the connection. "No. I don't drink like that anymore, and frankly, I don't miss it. I just drank myself into oblivion back then because I couldn't figure out another way to cope, but--"

"When did your . . . um . . . when did the accident happen?"

"How did you know?" I asked in surprise.

"I overheard you trying to explain why you were so drunk to the cop that picked you up."

"Ah. March of last year," I said.

She nodded, then said, "Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?"

"Thank you. You're very kind, but no. I only came to apologize for what I did, and to ask if there's anything I can do to . . . well . . . maybe make some sort of reparations?"

She was silent for a few moments.

"You know what? There is, actually. I could use a hand putting up some Halloween decorations out here."

"Sure. Tell me what to do," I agreed.

She walked me around the side of her house to its garage. There were three plastic bins which held various ghouls and ghosts, witches and tombstones, a few inflatables, and an assortment of other stuff.

She pointed to a ladder which was folded against a wall and asked me to bring all of it to the front yard. She asked me to hang some lights along the broad and tall brick archway at the front of her porch.

I surmised the lights, and perhaps Christmas ones to follow later, were a regular feature, because the clips to hold them on the brick were already there and were showing some mild signs of aging. I untangled the strand of lights as she began staking the assorted decorations in her lawn.

"Please feel free to wave me off if I hit a sore spot or a nerve, but, can I ask you a question?"

"Sure," I answered, suspecting she was going to ask me to give the details of what happened in the accident. It was a tale I'd told dozens upon dozens of times. By that point, I could relate it without breaking down into a simpering wreck.

"How did people treat you after your wife and son were killed?"

I stopped what I was doing and looked at her. I was actually quite surprised at the question.

"You know, you're the first person who's ever asked me that," I answered, and resumed looping the LED bulbs through the perfectly-spaced hangers.

"Too personal?"

"No. Just kinda caught me off guard," I admitted. "You know, some treated me very compassionately, some treated me like crap, and a lot kinda . . . ghosted me."

"Yeah."

Once again, I stopped.

"Yeah?" I said.

"I know what you mean. Go on."

"Folks that treated me well? My family. My boss. Some coworkers. Even Corrie's coworkers I'd never met. Even though I was in absentia for almost four months after it happened, my manager only placed me on leave of absence instead of terminating me, which, by all rights, he probably could have. Several of my and my wife's coworkers asked to bring over meals and stuff, but I didn't want visitors, so they'd just Uber Eats me something instead.

"The ones that treated me the worst of anyone were my in-laws."

"You're kidding me," she said.

"No. I wish I were. They weren't terribly fond of me to begin with because Corrie and I got engaged just two weeks after I graduated from college. That was Christmas Eve seven years ago. They tried to convince her we were too young to be getting married, but we did it anyway. They didn't see what we had. We'd known each other for more than a decade and dated for like six or seven years. She was my high-school sweetheart, you know? We knew what we were doing.

"So they sort of gave me the cold shoulder, but at least treated me civilly. That all changed when they found out we were expecting. Her mother began doting on me as if turning her into a grandmother was the best thing that ever happened to her."

"Yeah? That's sweet."

"It was more weird than sweet, really. Took some getting used to. But her father, on the other hand, went the total opposite way, accusing me of ruining his daughter's career by putting children in the way. She kept trying to get him to stand down, but he wouldn't believe her when she tried to convince him we both were wanting to start our family and her career wasn't going to suffer.

"He told me at the funeral, 'My daughter is dead. The marriage is now null and void. You're no longer an in-law. You are nobody to me.'"

"My god. How awful," the woman responded.

"I broke his nose," I laughed nervously. "The only time I ever heard from her parents again was in regard to the civil suit they tried to file against me."

"For assault?" she asked.

"No. They planned to sue me for wrongful death."

"No way," the lady gasped.

"Yeah. Her dad was convinced the accident was my fault, even though it was far from it."

"How? I mean, why?"

"Spite? Vindictiveness? I don't really know or care. But every high-dollar attorney he tried to hire told him 'no way' when they read the police reports or because they saw it on the news.

"I certainly wasn't watching the news the days I spent in the hospital, but I heard later that, since Corrie was one of the station's producers, they mentioned her passing on every newscast that aired the day after the incident. It might sound stupid, but I can't watch that station anymore. Everything I'd see would be a reminder."

I finished hanging the last few feet of the string then plugged it into the extension cord situated nearby, lighting the strand of purple and orange LEDs.

She stared at me. "Now I remember the name. I can't believe I've been so blind. I never put two and two together. I had no idea who you were."

"I wouldn't expect you to."

"I had no idea yours was the family mentioned on the news. I am so very, very sorry for your loss, Mr. Grant. I really am."

"Thank you. I appreciate that."

She shook her head slowly as she watched me. "I can't imagine. I just simply cannot imagine what you've been going through. How on earth have you managed to pull yourself back together?"

I considered her question for a few moments.

"I started attending a crisis support group. Some of the stories I heard there helped start putting things into perspective. Those first two or three months when I was trying to destroy my liver really came into focus when I heard other stories and realized that I was not the only one in the universe whose life had been blown apart.

"Some of the people had been attending for years and were still suffering. Some had been in less than six months and were among the most encouraging people I've ever met. I wish I'd have known about that group before I dove headlong into liquor, but I stopped drinking and went into the group the day after I damn-near succeeded in killing myself."

"Jeez," she whispered, staking her last figure into her yard. "Just horrible."

She nested the three emptied totes together, then dusted off her hands. She walked to the end of the front walk and surveyed the work.

I took her nods as approval of the appearance, so I folded the ladder and began walking it back to the garage. She followed me with the emptied bins.

"May I ask what might be a bit of a personal question?" I asked.

"You can try," she chuckled. "But no promises of an answer."

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