"One Day At Time"
"Hi, I'm Andy and I am an alcoholic." His husky voice echoed along the pale walls of the small church filled with people who waited to hear his qualification. Andy cleared his throat and fought to maintain his composure. He tried to hold his nervous emotions at bay as the wave of them suddenly consumed him. He hadn't expected to feel this unsteady while sharing the true meaning of spoken words. His legs were a little shaky after the short path he walked from his chair to the podium.
It suddenly felt like he was sharing about his addiction for the first time. Like when he was just a kid, a smart ass that knew it all, that was dragged to his first meeting by his aunt Ruth, held in a small church in Jersey. He was a hothead and didn't think he had a problem back then. He went, regardless, because her tears broke his heart into pieces and it was easier to indulge her begging than to shut her out. His fight for sobriety never was easy, he fell off the wagon a few times, he would never deny it, but in the end, tonight, he stood proud and tall in front of everyone. Andy felt the familiar knot in his chest and a clenching sensation in his stomach. It was never easy to speak about himself, but the determination that fueled him was more than enough to do so. He gripped the podium with one hand, his knuckles going white as he gathered the inner strength he needed for what was ahead.
"Hi, Andy." The people attending the meeting responded loud and clear. There was quite a crowd this Tuesday night, more than the usual group of attendees. Andy knew it was his sponsor's doing. Peter must have made some calls to gather such a huge circle. It was an unexpected gesture on his part. Andy had known the man for almost two decades and yet Peter still managed to surprise him.
"Today is my seven thousand three hundred and fifth day of sobriety," he continued with much more confidence in his voice. "Over the past twenty years I've been coming here and talking about my life, my mistakes, and my failures. I could tell you the story of how alcohol wrecked my marriage and almost destroyed my relationship with my children permanently. I could tell you how alcohol almost cost me my whole life, my health, and my badge. But I'm sure you all have already heard that story more than once, if not from me, than from somebody else that shared a destiny similar to mine, to all of us. But tonight, I want to talk to you about something else, about a feeling that keeps me coming back here every time. Even when I think I'm doing fine and that voice in my head, that one we all hear, is telling me that there is no need for me to be here — and no, it's not a force of habit that keeps me dragging my old ass to meetings. Tonight I want to talk to you about hope. Hope in staying sober and in recovery."
Andy paused for a moment and exhaled the small breath he was holding. He searched for the blue piercing eyes and gray hair of the older man that was sitting in the front row, the man without whom Andy wouldn't be standing here and speaking about all of this, man who was always just a phone call away. He never let Andy break apart. Pete gave Andy a small nod and he proceeded.
"As you all know, staying sober is not something easy to achieve. It is one hell of a fight against yourself. The struggle and work that comes with it feels almost impossible to bear. I'm sure for everyone here, there have been moments of doubt and resignation, when it all seemed just too much. When reaching for the alcohol felt like the best possible solution. I know that in these twenty years I have had those moments. More than once, the temptation for a drink, even one small sip, felt like it could have saved me from the demons and always present guilt." Andy took another pause and focused his gaze on the familiar faces that had helped him in those dark moments of his life. He could feel their silent support in their presence and their sincere smiles. Against his palm he tightly pressed the chip that was a testament and a reward for every day that had passed in this struggle. He was sure that by now the round object was engraved into his skin. It was a force to hold onto. With tremendous pride in his voice, Peter had given it to him at the beginning of the meeting away from everyone's eyes and ears. A private moment between two men that Andy appreciated more than he let on. He took another deep breath as he continued.
"There is not a real recipe for being sober. You just are and stay that way. What kept me determinedly on this path often was hope. I hoped that my children would forgive me for their broken childhood. I hoped that in staying sober and doing my job I would be able to keep this city safer from all the dirt bags that are out there. Still working on that last one, by the way." His joke earned a small chuckle from the crowd. "I hoped that one day my ex-wife and I could make real amends and her hate toward me would fade even a little bit. But I guess we can't have everything we wish for. We have to earn it." There was a hint of sadness at his mentioning Susan and her never ending resentment toward him.
"Anyway, I want to remind you all that even when the urge to drink is stronger than anything you are feeling in that moment, when you want to fill up the emptiness that has settled deep inside, don't do it. Don't let the alcohol fool you again, lure you in to its invisible trap. Because one lesson that I've learned over these past two decades is that there is a light of hope for people like us. If you work the program, the hope for forgiveness from your family, the hope for a better future, and hell, even the hope for a chance of a new love might actually come true. You just have to remember that, one day at time for the rest of your lives. And if you forget, call me, or your sponsor. Call someone. Reach out. Thank you for listening and for being here today. Keep coming back."
When he concluded his speech or drunkologue as they call it, Andy stepped away from the podium, his cheeks warm and red. His pulse thrumming at an accelerated rate. His thumb twirled his sobriety ring in a calming motion. Everyone stood up and made a circle as he lead them in serenity prayer.
"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen. Keep coming back. It works if you work it!"
Once the last words were spoken, applause filled the room, the clapping hands usually were a sign of released tensions, but tonight it was more than that. Tonight people felt lighter. The atmosphere was charged with unbroken possibilities and positive energy. It seemed that everyone in their own way had been inspired by Andy and his honest words. His persistence had given them hope.
Andy was beckoned into the corner where a small crowd of people surrounded him and began congratulating him, shaking his hand, giving him a nod, someone even gave him a brief hug.
It was exhilarating, although he felt out of sorts, perhaps even a little embarrassed. All this attention was making his head spin, because he never wanted it to become such a big deal. He never intended it to turn out to be such a huge thing. It was simply another day, another day where he didn't let his addiction take over his life, another day away from the dark, lost sea.
Andy politely invited everyone to the table for refreshments, to help themselves before they returned to their homes and lives. For the first time in a long while there was something other than stale doughnuts and reheated coffee. It looked like a real banquet made mostly by him. Before he came here tonight, Andy had felt an increasing sense of uneasiness. He'd had to keep busy, trying not to think of what was coming. He sought distraction in the kitchen making all sorts of appetizers, small dinner rolls, two types of quiches, and then some. It helped to keep his sweaty hands busy with healthy cooking. His over active mind was hovering on the edge of over-thinking it. He didn't need that.
All day he played it cool in front of others, trying very hard to ignore the date itself. No one had noticed he was a little agitated. Provenza was still on his honeymoon with Patrice and no one else had really paid any attention to him. He didn't mind, it felt good to finally not be the center of attention where his health was concerned. He had had enough of that the past few months. Finally they had all stopped breathing down his neck. They had stopped asking the annoying and identical questions or glancing at him with worry every time he had a hiccup in the field. It was refreshing that he didn't have to prove himself to them anymore. Everything was getting back to normal.
Although, in all fairness, today he had particularly avoided Sharon. She would have known something was wrong. She had this ability to read him now, and often used it against him. There was a part of him that didn't really want to bother her at all. It was a big day for her as well. After some insisting from him and Rusty, Sharon had finally rescheduled the NFL interview. It wouldn't be fair to distract her from it now. He wanted her to focus on herself. This meeting was important. Andy knew she had already had a hard time making the decision to take the meeting. Between listening to her nervous rambling during their alone tea time where she had come up with all the 'what if' scenarios, and her deafening silence when he tentatively asked about it, it was clear she hadn't made up her mind yet. He didn't want to push her in any decision. Adding his own apprehensions to this day could have unsettled her even more, so he just buried himself in paperwork, making himself scarce. Maybe overdid it a little, but, in the end, his reports were flawless. When he kissed her briefly but intensely before leaving the office muttering a quiet, "knock' em dead," against her semi parted lips making her smile, he was more than fine with it.
People were moving along, and for a moment he hoped the clutter would ease down a notch and he could relax a little. After a second he straightened his posture and was ready to move and get some coffee for himself, but he was stopped by a huge hand that slapped him on the back with such a force that it knocked all the air out of his lungs, leaving him coughing and breathless. Even with his back turned he already knew who it would be.
"Jesus, Bob," Andy gasped and coughed trying to steady his breathing, bringing his hand to his mouth. "Are you trying to kill me?" he asked turning around to greet his long time friend.
"Andy, you dog. Good to see ya! And what a hell of a day?" Bob cheerfully mused placing his hand on Andy's shoulder giving it a firm shake.
"Yeah, it's something for sure," Andy murmured under his breath still a bit shaken by the whole greeting. "I'm glad you could make it," he said truthfully, smiling at the very small group of people that came up to him.
"You kidding, I wouldn't miss it for the world. Seeing Andy Flynn sweating while talking to people won't ever get old. Plus, Peter called." They all answered when Peter called them. It didn't matter what hour it was or where they were living. Peter was the glue that united them all even when life inevitably had put distance between them.
Bob was the first person in AA that Andy had meet and trusted in Los Angeles. Andy could still remember the measured, deep tone that Bob used when he spoke during meetings. What got his attention was the lack of anger and resentment in the way he acted at that stage of his recovery. Andy couldn't really understand it. There were days when Andy missed that soothing voice and presence. He was drawn to Bob's natural calmness. This man was over six foot tall, with huge shoulders and even bigger hands and belly. He had the patience of a saint, something that Andy never believed was possible. Andy on the other hand was always in perpetual motion. In the early days, he could never stay in one spot. He kept changing homes, girlfriends, meeting places, searching for nothing in particular but never resting for one moment until Bob taught him how to find a sanctuary in this very church. It wasn't easy for Andy at first. Getting too attached to people, trying to seek help and advice from others. At that time Bob had been sober for five years already, and Andy decided to listen to him. He had never regretted it.
"Glad you enjoyed yourself. If I'm not wrong, you're next, so save me the seat." Bob would be reaching thirty years of sobriety, a milestone that deserved a celebration.
"You bet. Oh and Christine made me swear I would send you her love. She is very sorry she couldn't be here, but work and the grandkids kept her busy. You know how it is," Bob concluded a bit lamely, diverting his eyes but smiling when the name of the woman left his lips.
Christine was Bob's wife who had never left her husband's side. When things got tough with his addiction or out of hand, she supported her man and stood by him always helping him work the program and never breaking. Her strength was like a mirror for Andy. She had never judged Andy when he showed up at their home in the middle of the night because he didn't trust himself to be alone, it happened usually after a hard case but not only then. She would give him a pillow and a warm blanket so he could sleep on their old, lumpy couch and she would make a strong, stomach burning black coffee in the morning, just like he liked it. She was a real angel of compassion. A true friend.
She also didn't mind when Bob disappeared with Andy for a whole weekend in Bob's shop. There were times when nothing would help, not a meeting, not a talk, not even sitting in silence. When Andy felt restless, his mind would run and run in circles not allowing him to focus on anything. He found himself moving like a caged animal through his apartment, pacing without purpose, his body vibrating with an energy that needed an outlet. Bob had a solution. He would take Andy to work his ass off, to tire his body, so his brain would simply go numb and give it a rest. Bob was a builder and he would let Andy work on the wood in the warehouse. Through hot dripping sweat and colorful curses they would spend a day or a night using their hands, over-working every muscle in their bodies till the frustration and temptation would let go. Christine would bring them a homemade meal and a smile. She truly believed in them.
Women like her were a real treasure. They had an invisible force within. Andy recognized this force in someone else, someone that already held his heart in her palm and was burrowing deeper and deeper inside his soul. Andy had a feeling that if Sharon had been given the chance, she would have been that same strength for that Jack-ass, but Jack was an idiot who never understood the real force of the woman that once loved him. Bob got it. Bob had it, and Andy was trying very hard to not to screw it up and to be the man Sharon had deserved her whole life.
"She still hasn't come to her senses and cut you lose?" Andy joked giving him playful shove.
"Nah, she loves me too much," Bob said proudly.
"You are way too lucky. Send her my love, and tell her I will take her out dancing one of these days," Andy said winking at him. Christine was quite a music lover. A passion that she shared with Andy which Bob had never understood. Thus Andy took the girl out few times, hitting the dance floor of a small jazz club close to their place. Sometimes Bob would tag along, but since it bored him to death he left his friend and his wife in peace.
"Hey, get your own girl. That one is mine," Bob complained.
"Maybe I did." Andy lowered his voice and suddenly he wished Sharon was right there by his side. He would love for her to meet this bunch of lunatics. A pang of regret gripped Andy's chest. She should have been there. He hadn't realized until now how much he wanted her with him, listening to her sincere laughter, holding his hand in a steady comforting grip, twilling their fingers in a visible bond. She would tease him and the others, charming her way into his friends' hearts. His hands would itch to touch her skin. His eyes would watch the mesmerizing movement of her lips, daydreaming of a way to steal another kiss from her while no one was looking. The schedule just didn't work out. He would repeat this excuse in his mind over and over till he actually believed it.
"Bobby, let's not give Andy such a hard time shall we?" A small brunet with dark eyes moved between the two men and put her hands on both of their arms. The woman was accustomed to their antics having known them all far too long. "Let's not make a scene. These young people don't need to get scared away by us old farts."
"Norah, you are a sight for sore eyes." Andy immediately gave her all his attention.
"Always a charmer, dear Andrew? Glad to know some things will never change." She placed her hand on his forearm waiting for Andy to bend over for a kiss on the cheek. "Love, huh?" she asked as quietly as it was possible in a crowded room, not wanting to be overheard.
Andy looked at her and shrugged shyly. His eyes diverted finding the laces of his shoes suddenly very interesting. With two fingers, Norah tipped his chin up gazing deeply into his brown eyes, trying to understand how much of his qualification was the reality her friend was living, and how much was simply geared for maximum impact on his audience. Andy noticed the curiosity and apprehension in her gaze and gave her a reassuring smile. He was fine, all things considered.
It was always so hard for Andy to lie to Norah. She had this ability to keep him honest. She was the only person that could stomach his self-pity when he needed to dive into the abyss of guilt that clouded him at times. In the shelter of her small house she had listened to him as he spit the venom on everyone that had made him miserable. He ranted about the boss that he had trouble trusting, about all the creeps that couldn't stop brutally killing people, about Susan and her coldness. He talked and talked until the white hot spill of anger faded, leaving him breathless with the sting of unshed tears in his eyes. Then, with a few well-placed comments, she just pulled his head out of his ass and effectively ended his self-commiseration. Andy always envied her brutal honesty. He owed her. He owed a part of his sobriety to all of his friends.
Norah rose up onto the balls of her feet reaching for Andy's neck. "I hope she is worthy of you," she whispered in his ear, pressing herself to him in a warm hug. It stunned Andy that she still cared so much, like a sister, like a mother.
Over the years, Andy and Norah had shared a bond of duty that only those who serve others can actually understand. She was a doctor, a surgeon. She spent her life fixing people's bodies, saving their lives, and giving the best possible cure when required. She was focused and determined. She had learned the hard way how to detach herself when the failure sadly happened.
There was one clear rule in hospitals — doctors should not treat their family members. One night Norah devastatingly broke that rule and the result was the death of her beloved mother. Nothing after that night was ever the same. Facing herself in the mirror was the hardest part. Andy had heard her speak more than once as she explained that the guilt, the self-loathing, and the mistrust in her own abilities were so corrosive that they had ripped her apart; and that the only way to forget it all was a magic mix of pills and alcohol. She had been just like Andy, lost in the forest of doom till she had meet Peter and trusted him to guide her from there. It wasn't an easy journey. Andy knew that she had never forgiven herself for what had happened, but the rules now kept her grounded. She had never broken one again. Norah, just like Sharon, had the ability to let the rules keep her honest. Andy never cared much for them, but he definitely respected and loved—in his own way—both women for it.
"She really is," he stated confidently, earning an arched brow from her. The question 'why isn't she here' was at the tip of her tongue, Andy could sense it. He shook his head just a little, only for her to see, and silently begged her not to voice it.
Norah considered him for a moment. She titled her head to one side and nodded faintly in agreement. For now she would let it go. She knew Andy. If he hadn't shared it with this special person, there must have been some reason. One of them would be that Andrew Flynn often acted like an idiot and kept things to himself, especially when it would reveal him to be vulnerable and exposed. For now she would not worry about it. Although, she made a mental note to call him later and talk about it at length, asking all the questions.
"So tell me something, Andrew. When was the last time you ate the cake here?" The interrogation in her tone was unmistakable. The presentation of a cake was customary in AA meetings when a milestone anniversary happened. They called them birthdays and as such it required a proper celebration.
"Oh no, don't you start," Andy warned her, raising both hands in front of his chest.
"Chief, you better give her an answer. You know how important cakes are to her." Victor cut in between them, extending his hand to greet Andy. Their handshake was firm and strong.
Victor was the youngest and latest addition to this dysfunctional little family of friends. Pete had dragged him to his first meeting one rainy night and made the others promise him they would help out this kid. No one hesitated. Norah even gave him a place to stay for a few nights. Andy didn't trust the kid at first, he was too inconsistent, too smug. He was an opportunity guy, always having a thousand ideas for a new job, new career, or a new path to follow. He reminded Andy of a train without breaks and maybe a little of himself at that age. The feeling of Victor's likely failure was like a shadow among them. But they gave him a safe space where he could regroup and think out loud about his past and present, a place where he could focus on his future as well.
The kid liked to cook, or was at least curious about it. Andy could work with that, so in his small kitchen he listened to Victor as he talked his ear off about so many things that he would never remember. Frankly he never really listened, his span of attention was short where the kid was concerned, but at the end of the day what mattered was that Victor didn't reach for a bottle to settle his mind. He had called Andy, and the guys at the meeting got fresh muffins out of it. Also, Andy never minded when the kid called him Chief. That was easy to get used to.
"Don't I know it? Let me guess. She made you bake one, didn't she?" Andy arched his brow at Norah.
"Yep," she chirped proudly.
"Bossy as always," he sighed and shook his head at his friend as he turned to Victor. "Well, thank you kid. That is nice of you. I truly didn't expect it."
"I made your favorite, the dark chocolate truffle one," he added a bit shyly.
Even the mention of the name made Andy's mouth water. He had to give it to kid. He had learned how to bake and had mastered this cake to perfection, adding the coffee to the dense cream that spilled out when you cut a piece with your fork, a real heaven. He missed the taste of it. Andy had tried to bake one for Sharon while he was living at her condo, but the result wasn't as excellent as he remembered it. Sharon loved it, of course, she even joked that she would keep him there forever, if every morning this cake would be awaiting her. Chocolate and coffee, two things that were as sinful as the taste and the feeling of her lips against his during a sensual kiss, three things that Sharon and Andy shared a hidden passion for.
"Kid, you remembered?" Andy was touched. It really had been a long time since they had spent any time together.
"It's kind of hard to forget, you can be pretty vocal about things you like and... dislike, Chief. Also, it was Jimmy's favorite as well."
"Jimmy," Norah whispered, and they all noticed how her eyes filled with tears threatening to fall. Andy took a step closer to her and placed his hand on her shoulder giving her a strong squeeze in support. She looked at him and shook her head. Some emotions were meant to be felt not hidden away from.
They all missed Jimmy terribly.
The last time they had all seen each other was at his funeral. His kind soul was taken away by the act of a drunk driver who crashed his car into Jimmy's while he was on his way home from his shift at work. An ordinary day that ended up opening a huge void. The wound of his loss was still fresh among them. Andy thought Norah would break under the cold stone of Jimmy's grave, he had never seen her so broken, so helpless. He always suspected there was something stronger than friendship between Norah and Jimmy. But no one ever admitted anything, and it wasn't his place to ask.
In the silence that settled among them, they took a moment to remember Jimmy's smiling face, his wicked humor, his never ending kindness, and the strength that he exemplified during the years. His jokes had saved them all more than once.
"Yeah, it was. He gave me that recipe." Andy smiled sadly and gave a small nod to Vick.
"I'm going to cut the cake and make slices for everyone. Excuse me," and with that he stared toward the table where people were still helping themselves to what was left of the other food. "Wait for me, kid. Gonna help." Bob rushed after him, leaving Andy and Norah alone.
"I forgot to thank you for sending me to that delightful doctor. She was... let's just say, something." He hinted sarcastically. The memory of the doctor that thought him deaf and helpless when he bashed his head open in Sharon's bathroom still sent shivers down his spine.
"Dr. Liu you mean? She is one of the best and an old friend. Also, I had a feeling you would need her since you lied, Mister." Norah pointed a finger at him, gladly embracing the change of conversation.
"I didn't lie per say... just got around the whole problem." He shrugged as a matter of fact, her accusation causing his skin to heat a little. He passed his hand behind his neck and through his hair, easing the hot feeling.
"Honestly, Andy, what were you thinking not telling the truth about your pills? You are just..."
"An idiot," he interrupted her before she could work herself up and actually start yelling at him, "I know, Provenza wouldn't stop calling me that."
"He is right about that. I hope Liu was her usual self, cause really; you scared more than one person that day. If not for the conference in San Diego, I would have done the surgery myself. But really, Andy, be grateful that it all went well, because I am."
The first phone call Andy made after he found out about the clot in his carotid artery was to Norah. He trusted her completely and he knew she would have enough patience to answer all his dumb questions about it. She would never lie to him. He took notes meticulously on his note pad and when Norah had reassured him enough, he was able to explain the situation to Sharon in a calming manner. He knew Norah was still mad at him for omitting the part about the pills. She did call and check on him a few times and he had always promised her he was fine.
"I am too, but I didn't want to worry anyone and Sharon had had enough of me already. I was living with her and her kid at that time and it just..." he let a long sigh escape his lips, trying to explain all his reasons.
"So this is what it's really about? You wanted to be a hero for this Sharon? Oh, Andrew, you really aren't going to change, are you?"
"No, I mean... yes. I don't know. Look, I just didn't want to worry anyone, okay." He was trying to dig himself out of a hole that was getting deeper and deeper. He wasn't really surprised that Norah knew all about his medical condition; his physician was also a friend of hers. He probably had called her more than once while all hell was breaking loose and Andy couldn't even go to the bathroom without supervision.
"Ah, you are stubborn," she sighed, shaking her head. She would still be mad about it for a while. "So how is Provenza? Still chasing young skirts and being his grumpy, charming self?"
"Actually he is on his honeymoon now, so I guess he is more than fine."
"Oh my God, he remarried? Again? I guess you can always count on Provenza's weddings." She went silent for a moment. "Am I the only one who said no to him?"
"It seems so. But can we please not talk about it. Ever. I still have nightmares. You two drove me nuts!" Andy had made lots of mistakes in his life, and one of them was introducing Provenza to his friends. It was ancient history, but he had learned his lesson and had sworn that he wouldn't do it ever again.
They were interrupted by Peter who strolled towards them a bit breathless, "Good, I still caught you," he panted.
"You thought any of us would leave before saying goodbye to you?" Norah asked surprised, lightly touching his arm.
"No, but I wanted to actually talk to you. It's personal," he whispered bowing his head.
"Are you alright?" Norah was concerned. He wasn't a particularly young man anymore, none of them were, but they seemed to forget that Peter was older. His energy could fool them about his age and it was easy to forget.
"I am just fine and dandy, but my hip is not. Stupid thing makes me feel damn old and it can't keep up with me. I hate that." Peter was getting aggravated with himself and she squeezed his hand. Now it was up to her to keep the blood pressure of her boys in check.
"Don't you worry, let me handle it. I know just the guy." She reassured him confidently with a warm smile.
Andy rolled his eyes at her with emphasis. "I'm sure you do, just tell this guy to be nicer, maybe. We need Peter to be around for while longer," he teased.
She signed loudly, mostly for Andy's enjoyment. "You are annoying me, Andrew. Peter won't go anywhere, not under my watch, but I am going to get some cake while there still is some." She gave Andy a playful smack on the arm, "You," she pointed a finger to his chest, "better say goodbye to me before you leave." Then she turned to Peter. "Come and find me later, we will talk."
"Yes, ma'am." They answered in union and watched her as she maneuvered between people to grab a paper plate. She had joined the boys and they were already starting to laugh together. It was such a joy for Andy to have them here celebrating with him.
Andy didn't have many friends in his life. He had been a loner for so many years after he moved from Jersey to Los Angeles. Sure, he had buddies from the academy and some guys at work to go to the game with, but this small group of people that shared the program with him had become very dear to him. There were times they irritated him as like hell. There were times when he was drowning in sorrows and they were the only lifeline, but more than once he had considered them his family.
Andy turned to Peter and gently placed his hand on his shoulder. "Listen, I want to thank you for…" he paused and took another look around the crowded room that was loud with laughter, "well, this. You didn't have to," he said a bit shyly, hiding his emotions.
"What? This? No, kid, it was a long overdue, but don't thank me yet." Peter said in a conspiring voice, leaning towards Andy.
With suspicion in his voice he asked, "What did you do?"
Peter smiled to himself with a mischievous grin and tugged at the sleeves of his jacket, "Come on. You will see."
With a measured pace, they walked through the packed room bypassing everyone that stood in their way. Andy's curiosity took was getting a hold on him. He couldn't understand what was going on. It was time for all of them to leave the church. What else could possibly be so important right now?
And then out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of a very familiar form. Before his brain could catch up with him and any coherent thoughts could form in his mind, his heart went on an erratic spin threatening to jump out of his chest.
He saw her.
She was bent over a candle tray. The orange glow of a dozen flickering flames shined upon her face illuminating her features and the delicate red in her hair, as her body cast a long, dark shadow across the wall behind her. In her hand she held a new candle and lowered her wrist to bring it to life using the fragile fire from another one. When it was lit with a shy light, she placed it on the tray with the others, closed her eyes and made the sign of the cross. Her hand moved from her forehead to her chest, to both of her shoulders and then she rested her palm over her beating heart. She took a deep breath, a contented smile adorning her face.
He watched her pray.
Andy couldn't tear his eyes away from her. She seemed so at peace, so tranquil and yet everything about her vibrated with a new aura that was surrounding her. She had been there, all this time in the back of this small church where he poured his heart out open, the same heart that had started to beat reverently when she came into his sight. It was beating so very strongly and simply for her.
"Sharon," he whispered her name, still stunned by her presence. The sound of his ever so soft voice traveled to her ears and she opened her eyes lazily, blinking a few times before she turned her head and looked at him. Their eyes locked and before he knew it, she was in his space, her body pressed into his as he opened his arms to welcome her in an intimate embrace.
"Sharon," he said quietly again, while burring his nose into her hair, the familiar, sweet scent of her perfume assaulting his senses, spreading a warm, exciting wave through him. He wanted to hold onto her soft form forever. He felt her body relax alongside him and her supple breasts pressing against his chest with every breath she took, a glorious feeling to live for.
"What are you..." he didn't finish. Her arms wound around his neck as she hugged him even tighter to herself, one hand gripping at his shoulder.
"I'm so proud of you, Andy," her voice was low and somehow strong expressing all her thrill in being able to share this moment with him. She paused and kissed the side of his hair, combing her hand through the short locks at the nape of his neck and slipping one finger into his collar. He shuddered lightly as her fingernail grazed that place on the base of his neck where she knew he was so sensitive.
"So proud," she repeated with determination and happiness, kissing the skin at his hairline, then his cheek and corner of his upturned mouth. Her fingers moved to where her lips had touched, caressing the side of his face and settling lightly on the strong bone of his jaw. She turned his head so he could look at her.
Her hand slid along his arm and she took his hand and twined her fingers with his. Palm to palm touching in a silent kiss of old lovers. His thumb out of reflex started to caress her wrist. Their eyes locked while the silence wrapped around them. They held a quiet conversation with just their eyes. They communicated without words daily, speaking a language all their own. They could read each other's thoughts and often times finished each other's sentences. At work it was a necessity. She didn't have to voice every command to him, and she could easily detect were his thoughts would go while they brainstormed a case. But when it was only the two of them, the silent communication went beyond that. They knew how one another felt without speaking. All concerns, issues, and deep feelings were often left unspoken, to be discovered one day at time.
"Can you," he whispered rather breathlessly, leaning into her neck, "hold on to this for me?" He took her other hand and placed a small, round object in the heart on her palm. His chip felt damp and almost scorching from the amount of time it had been held in his hand. "I want to give it to Lukas next time I see him. Maybe this time he will listen."
She felt his fingers closing in her open palm and she closed her fist around it. This one small object held so much hope. The same hope he had spoken of, earlier. The hope that they had both embraced together. Sharon understood the meaning of it. She wished his son would finally listen to the amends of his father. They rarely spoke about it, her and Andy, but she knew. She deeply, truly understood how much he longed to earn his son's forgives, a second chance to prove himself, to be a real father to his only son. She knew that felling would never go away regardless of how many years would pass. Sharon prayed for that day to come, possibly soon. She titled her head a bit to look at Andy and nodded her head as she breathed a strong "Yes."
He flashed her a watery smiled, his eyes shining perhaps with tears that would never leave his eyes. She withdrew her hand from his and put it in her jacket pocket. When she felt the weight of the chip safely hitting the bottom of her pocket, she locked it with the zipper.
"Thank you." he mouthed, exhaling a long breath he hadn't known he was holding, while his hands danced her waist resting on her hips.
He still couldn't believe she was there here and it was so hard for him not to stare at her. Her cheeks were flushed with rosy color and her eyes bright and shiny with a deep green he hadn't seen in a awhile. Her smile was sincere and she wasn't hiding from him, displaying all her pride and joy in being there with him openly.
He finally realized that she was indeed here. "What about your meeting?" he blurted out when his brain regained some of its function, a slight panic clenching at his stomach. He wasn't sure if he was ready to face her decision, to see her travel the country, to be apart from her for such long periods of time.
She took a step back from him gaining some space between them. Andy didn't want to lose the contact with her body. He wasn't fully ready to let her go. His thumbs started caressing her hip bones.
"Andy, there was only one meeting that mattered today and I had the honor of attending it. I made it just in time." She braced her hands against his forearms. "This was important. I wouldn't miss it. You should have known that!" her voice rose in volume and he saw a flash of hurt shine across her eyes. She shouldn't have heard about today from Peter.
"So you've decided?"
"I did. A while ago perhaps. It was nice to get the offer. I won't lie to you about it. I felt flattered nevertheless, at this point in my life. I appreciate your support in my decision, but Andy, I want to live in L.A. You know how much I love my job, my life here, and… you."
"I..." he didn't know what to say. All the emotions that he had tried to suppress through the whole day started to surface, hitting him in his gut and having her here in his arms clouded his head even more. Also, there was an awfully heavy lump in his throat that trapped his voice. His head was swimming with so many things all at once, and why couldn't his heart slow down, just for a moment, just to allow him think and catch a breath. Instead his hands gripped hard at her hips before they slid behind her back linking his fingers at the base of her spine. She was pressed against him one again. His head inched closer to her face and this time he nuzzled her hair away. His lips touched the shell of her ear and with a hot, broken whisper he confessed the secrets of his heart, saying simply, "I love you."
"Oh love," she breathed, her eyes falling shut in a matter of an instant. She let his words sink into her mind and her heart, clutching to his arms with all the strength she had in her. Her chest was rising and falling at a rapidly eccentric rate, leaving her light headed. Suddenly she felt everything at once, while the proverbial butterflies settled at the base of her belly moving their wings franticly. So this was happiness and she was finally feeling it all after such a long time. "Love you." It was so liberating to say it out loud.
And there it was, his hope for love coming true through her spoken words.
He felt her tremble in his arms and for a moment he thought she was crying, but then the sound of her giggles reached his ears. He couldn't hold at bay the silly grin that plastered itself onto his face. He moved and looked at her face. She was radiant.
"Oh gosh, we are making a rather a spectacle of ourselves." She said with mirth catching a few tears as they escaped her eyes.
"Maybe," he looked around and noticed some people watching them closely, especially his dear friends. "I don't care. I want..." he trailed off while watching her lips move in slow motion. She slid her tongue out, teasing him cruelly as she scrapped her teeth across her bottom lip. His pupils dilated in one blow and his nostrils flared. His mouth went dry and his eyes rapidly darkened with unhidden desire.
"Yes?" She asked, pleased with herself when his fingers traveled farther down her spine, almost touching her rear. He was restraining himself, and she knew only too well that this wasn't a place for them to fool around, not in a church, not in front so many people. So she looked at him with a daring expression. Waiting.
"Let's go." He said firmly and tugged sharply at her hand, almost dragging her with him.
"Andy," she giggled at his force trying to catch up with his pace. "Stop. What about your friends?"
That made him pause and turn to her. "Damn them. Let's go."
"No. Say goodbye at least."
Andy groaned with desperation and it made her laugh out loud.
Once again during the evening his eyes turned towards his friends. They were talking among themselves and pretending not to be paying attention to him and Sharon. He had a feeling his phone would be burning up with messages and phone calls the next day. He watched as Norah put on her grey coat. She always wore something grey a hat, a scarf, or a coat, in memory of the color of her mother's eyes. Peter would escort her to the car since Bob and Victor where engrossed in animated conversation about God knows what. Andy caught a glimpse of Peter's gaze. Peter only winked at him leaving the place with Norah on his arm. She shook her head at him but had one bright smile on her face.
"See, they are leaving. Can we go?" There was an urgency that gripped at him. He just wanted to be alone with her.
"How about we invite them over sometime soon?" she asked gently, seeing how distracted he was.
"Sure, whatever you want."
Sharon passed in front of him, brushing his arm while walking with an extra sway in her hips accentuated by that skirt he really liked. She looked at him from over her shoulder. "Aren't you coming?"
In no time he was by her side. "Wicked witch," he murmured in her ear as he opened the door for her as they exited the church.
When they reached her car she didn't even have time to search for her keys. Her back was pressed firmly against the side door, and Andy positioned himself directly in front of her. Sharon smiled at him as his eyes scanned her face. He nudged her legs lightly apart with his knee and eased more comfortably between them. Closer.
She felt the heat of sweet anticipation coil at her center. He had this effect on her now, not even a whisper of a touch shared between them and she was already on the edge of becoming hot and bothered.
Andy caught a stray lock of her hair and moved it out of her face, hiding it behind her ear. His finger traced a path down the soft skin of her neck, slowly, till it reached the beginning of her cleavage and the first button of her purple blouse. In one quick motion he undid one more button to his immense enjoyment and a much better view. Sharon arched a questioning brow at him but didn't dare move. She titled her head toward him and felt as his fingers tangle in her thick hair as his lips finally touched hers in one ardent, deep kiss.
There was no urgency in their act. They took the time to pour all of their emotions, spoken and unspoken, all that was intensely blossom between them. He teased her mouth open and his tongue danced with hers. Andy felt her melting in his arms, leaning into him, seeking support as her fingers dug into his back. He held her close, never really ready to let her go, but the need for air was stronger than his will.
When their lips parted he placed his forehead against hers and breathed deeply of the same air she shared. He looked in her eyes and there saw so much acceptance and affection for him that for a moment he felt unworthy of it and he diverted his eyes from hers loosening her grip on her.
He started to pull out of her embrace, but she held him in place, sensing a change.
"Andy, let's go home." Before he could move again, she reached for his neck and smashed her lips against him. She kissed him harder this time, faster, to ease whatever dark thought had passed through his thick head.
When they parted he was breathless but his eyes held a glint of happiness.
"I will follow," he panted. Wherever she wanted to go, he would always follow her.
It took one more kiss and a huge amount of mutual restraint to separate themselves from each other. Sharon needed a moment to compose herself while she got into her car.
It occurred to him while he was walking to his own vehicle that in life he never needed it all to be happy. He had her, his friends, his job, and now he was a part of Nicole's family and they trusted him again. He was a grandpa and every time the boys would call him that, he was ready to burst into tears. It was a truly wonderful feeling.
For all of his life, his restless being had searched for something. Something that would make him feel alive and yet grounded. Perhaps this time, at this stage of his life, he had finally found it. Acceptance and affection so easy to long for and yet so hard to earn. He found them in his family that was building a bond anew. He found them in Sharon's bright eyes when she opened them in the early light of a day, her features mussed with sleep and a lazy smile on her face when she whispered to him soft morning followed by a gentile kiss.
With one last glace at the church, which had been his meeting place for so many years, he vowed to himself that he would never mess it up. He would be damned if he would let it happen. He would keep fighting, for his love to Sharon, for his family, for the hope that now settled in his heart and for his sobriety that helped him to achieve it all. He would do it one day at time.