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Born for Leavin'

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August 1978

Grace came home in a flurry of tie dye, scooping David up and lavishing him with kisses while John carried in his duffle bag and his guitar case, a big grin on his face. Patrick watched the three of them, and wished he could share their happiness. Wished he could just be in the moment and appreciate it for what it was.

“John Patrick and I had a lovely time, didn’t we, sweetheart?”

“We saw the Grand Canyon!” John had sent post cards all summer, dutifully recording facts about landmarks, or promising that he was reading and brushing his teeth.

Patrick hadn’t been in favor of his eldest son traipsing around the countryside with Grace, but she’d turned her Gypsy eyes on him, worked her particular brand of magic, and once again he’d been unable to say no.

“Patrick, don’t be shy. There’s plenty for all of you.” Grace shifted David to her hip and held her hand out to him. “Grá mo chroí.”

Patrick never had been strong enough to deny his wife anything she wanted.

“I missed you,” Grace murmured. She gazed up at him through her lashes, and licked her lips in invitation.

Patrick dipped his head and kissed her, and almost unmanned himself at the first touch of her full lips against his own. They were both in their thirties now, but to him she’d always be that young girl in the bright orange mini dress, holding a sit-in on campus to protest the war and insisting he join in, even though he was a Business major and his father had used his considerable influence and family money to make sure he wasn’t drafted.

One look in those changeable hazel eyes, and he’d been lost. Grace had sung anti-war songs, some of which she crafted on the spot, and it had been apparent that she had talent. He hadn’t known at that first meeting that she was already becoming well-known in certain music circles, or that she’d be invited to play at Woodstock, or that she’d travel to Vietnam before Saigon fell and almost get herself and their unborn child killed trying to understand it all. Maybe if he’d known, he could’ve walked away.

“Come, boys,” Grace said, pulling back from Patrick’s kiss. She left him breathless, as always. “Help Mamma unpack.”

“Are you staying?” Patrick asked. He hated that he had to.

“For a couple of days. Then I have to drive down to Macon to meet up with the band.”

Two days, after months of being gone. Patrick tried not to let his disappointment show, but he could see the mirror of it on John’s face. He took it the hardest when his mother left. Every time.

“I’ll go see about dinner.”

Patrick needed a moment to catch his breath, to steady himself. He’d hoped to have her home for longer, maybe convince her that it was time to give up the music. Tastes had changed, people were into disco now. There had to be a way to convince her that her boys needed a full-time mother, and he a full-time wife.

Two days later, after the boys had gone to bed for the night, Grace snuck out of the house; she hated goodbyes. Patrick let her slip away, as he always did. Pretended not to see her leave.

The front door closed with a barely audible snick, but to Patrick it sounded as loud as a gunshot. The house was so quiet with Grace gone. She was always singing, or humming, or telling stories, or laughing that big belly laugh that never failed to make Patrick smile.

In the morning there’d be tears from the boys, and they’d have to transition back to life without Grace. Back to routines and Patrick having to dole out punishments for bad behavior and John counting the days on his NASA calendar until Grace would be back again. Thanksgiving, she’d said. It was the only time all year she ate meat.

And Patrick would be left wondering why he wasn’t enough to make her stay, when he loved her so much it was a physical pain every time she packed her bags and closed that door.

Two months later Grace would be gone forever, killed in a car accident caused by a young boy high on cocaine. The silence of her absence would never be filled.