Kevin heard the knock. It made him smile, since he had a doorbell. Then he heard the knock again. It was a soft knock, a timid knock, an uncertain knock, and definitely a feminine knock. It was also seven O’Clock at night. Kevin didn’t know anyone who would knock on his door at that time, except on Halloween. And it wasn’t Halloween.
Who could it be? Kevin had no idea, so he opened the door.
“Where are we going Mommy?”
Tammy was the oldest, but she spoke for all four children when she asked. Tammy might be only Nine, but over the last three years Time and circumstance had made her much older and wiser. She had helped her mother with the three younger ones, and helped her Mother stay strong during these last few months.
They had left the shelter with only their backpacks, one ragged oversized suitcase, and the small wire portable shopping trolley the Janitor at the Shelter gave them. It opened up enough to hold all three backpacks, and Tammy and Timmy were both strong enough to pull it behind them. So they took turns doing just that.
Mommy hadn’t said much since the shelter told them they couldn’t stay any longer. Six weeks was the maximum for a family to be allowed to stay there. The Administrator was kind, but firm: “Tomorrow you must leave. I am sorry. But we aren’t equipped to handle a family for any longer.”
Mommy had just nodded in her quiet way; said a soft: “Thank you. We do appreciate it.” Turned and told us all to start packing. So we did.
They had walked…and walked…and walked. Through almost half the city, at least that is how it felt to Tammy and the three younger ones. Her mom had a quiet determination, but hadn’t said a word since they left the shelter. So Tammy tried again. It was dark now, and she was tired, scared, and hungry.
“Mommy, where are we going?”
“Somewhere safe. Somewhere nice… I …hope. Keep moving honey, we are almost there.“
Tammy looked at the big houses they were walking by. They were so pretty. Some were bigger than the school she went to last year. The memory of that school almost made Tammy cry. It was her only experience of going to school. She loved it. It only lasted three months, and then they had to move again. Tammy wondered how pretty the school must be, if this is what the houses looked like.
Kathy stopped at the foot of a long drive. Her little train of children huddled up behind her. Except for Tammy. Tammy stood next to her Mommy, and took her hand in hers. Nobody spoke.
Tammy and the other three children saw their Mommy take a deep breath, square her shoulders and whisper under her breath: “This is my last chance. I hope he remembers me.”
“Who remembers you?”
Tammy whispered back in that same soft whisper tone.
Kathy looked down at her oldest child. Time and circumstance had worn Kathy down to just the bare truth. And that is what she told her daughter, the bare truth.
“A man I hurt a long time ago.”
Kevin was furious. Kathy had never seen him like this. A part of her thought he would hit her mother, and a part of her felt like she would deserve it. She knew Kevin would never hit a woman. But he sure looked like he wanted to hit something. Kathy’s Mom wasn’t backing down an inch. She was secure in her self righteousness- her beliefs, and her moral backbone was strong as steel, and less likely to bend.
Kathy just stood quietly behind her Mother, as her Mother's edict destroyed Kevin’s future, changed the course of three lives, and ended a match that seemed to be made in heaven. The Irony of that wasn’t lost on Kathy- for it was Kevin’s quiet belief that there was no Heaven, no God, and no Religion that had caused her Mother to lay down the law. No fire or brimstone preacher had seared a heart like her calm steady words had burned through a Love like it was kindling.
It was Christmas Day. Kevin had proposed to Kathy the night before- floated home on Angel Wings, her feet barely denting the deep snow. The night before Kathy had floated home, to tell her Mother that Kevin proposed and she accepted. It was the first time her Mother ever slapped her. Bewildered, tears streaming down her face, she watched her Mother transform from a caring loving human being, to the Angel of Wrath:
“You are not marrying a Heathen! That boy is Evil. He will lead you away from the Lord. I don’t care how kind he is to you. How much he pretends to love you. He is an Agent of the Devil. I should have stopped this years ago. You are too young to know how the Devil works. He will quietly lead you on a path away from the Lord. You don’t want that…do you? Do you?!”
Her Mother’s anger and fear leaked into Kathy’s heart. She never thought of love as a tool of the Devil. By morning, and it took all night, Kathy was convinced that her Mother was right. When Kevin showed up, he was beaming from ear to ear, until he saw the look on both Kathy and her Mother’s faces.
He started to come in the door and reach for Kathy, when her Mother put herself between them.
“How dare you lure my Daughter into doing the Devil’s work! Treating her like a Queen, making her think she could become anything she wanted to. Offering her a future filled with promise and dreams. Nightmares, that is what you were really offering her. A path away from the Lord!
Here is the ring you gave her. You can’t buy my daughter’s soul with baubles and false promises. I should have stopped you long ago, but I thought she would recognize you for what you are…a Demon. A demon hiding behind love and a naive girl’s romantic fantasies. Begone. She will never be yours. Not as long as I am alive! Now go!”
Kevin was furious. It wasn’t the Christmas morning he was expecting. She saw how he barely controlled his feelings, how he never said a word to the woman accusing him of doing the Devil’s work. He just looked past her. She saw the deep pain in his eyes, his hands were not balled into fists, but open in a pleading gesture. Then he said the last words she ever heard from him:
“Is this what YOU want, Kathy?”
She couldn’t talk. So she merely held her Mother’s hand, and nodded.
It was then she saw hope die. She saw a soul crawl out of a body. She saw a future destroyed. And all she could do was stand there when he quoted her Mother’s favorite Bible saying back at her.”
“So be it.”
That was more than a dozen years ago. And now Kathy, her four children, and everything they owned stood at the foot of a long driveway. The Fact that it was Christmas Eve- was not lost on Kathy as she gathered the courage to march her brood up that long driveway. She hadn’t seen Kevin since that Christmas Morning. She married the Man her Mother thought was a Saint. Only because her Mother didn’t have to live with him.
Then he died in a drunk driving accident, and he was the drunk driver- leaving her a widow with four young children. Her Mother let them all move in with her. But her Mother’s new Husband was a Pastor. And he didn’t think he should have to provide or take care of children that weren’t her own. To save her own marriage, Kathy’s Mother kicked them all out. She kicked her only child out, to please the Good Godly Pastor who said that all the Evil Kathy had undergone was because she didn’t follow God’s path.
That was the night that Kathy called her Mother: “A tool of the Devil” and her new husband: “A Philistine dressed as a snake, spouting love, but living hate.” The Police were called, and Kathy and the four kids were taken to the first of many shelters they would live in over the next three years. There was only that three months that they lived in a house, and went to school, that stood out as a bright memory.
The old man saw them leave the shelter and said he had a big house. They could live with him. Tammy was leery, as was Kathy and the three little ones. But it turned out the old man had been married for fifty two years, and when his wife died he was lonely. Tammy pretended he was her Grandfather, so did the three little ones. It was a lovely time. They had ice cream. A car. Went to school. He took them to the Zoo, movies, and once, to Busch Gardens for a weekend. It was heaven.
Then he had a stroke. Two days later he died. Two days after that, his oldest daughter told them they had to move out in a week. Her and her two sisters and brother were selling the house and splitting the money. So it was off to shelters …again.
Kathy had nothing left to lose. Her life was fading from her, only her kids were keeping her going. She had only one small hope left. A kindness. Kevin had always been kind. Maybe…just maybe…he could help her and her family. She didn’t know if he was married, or if he had kids of his own, or anything. She just looked up his name on the computer at the library, and it gave her this address. Surely he would let them stay for Christmas? Wouldn’t he?
She held Tammy’s hand a little tighter, looked at her other three children with the warmest look she could muster:
“Here we go.”
She marched them up to the big double doors, and with the snow falling gently behind them on the portico, she knocked. She knocked again, a little firmer. Her gloved knuckles making little muted knocks on the carved glass. And she knocked again.
Kevin was transfixed. If the world had ended that day, it couldn’t have left his mind reeling any further away from conscious thought. Stunned was too weak a word. It had to be a trick of his mind. Or some kind of hallucination, it couldn’t be real. He could have sworn he saw Kathy and four children standing on his door stop looking meek, scared, and worried. He blinked. Apparitions can’t speak, can they? That was the first coherent thought his brain threw out to him.
Then the Kathy apparition spoke:
“I didn’t know where else to go.”
It was the simplest, most honest, open, trusting, plea of hope he had ever heard. It cracked his heart open and let forgiveness pour out in a tide of loving words that washed over the Woman and her children in wave after wave of kindness, forgiveness, and a future.
“Well, you came to the right place.”
Kevin stood to the side so they could all pile into the foyer. A curved staircase led upstairs. A Master Bedroom was on the first floor, and three unused bedrooms were upstairs. The children stood in awe at the beautiful hallways, the marble floor with designs in it, off to the side they saw the most beautiful piano, a fireplace, and a huge open kitchen behind that.
A Christmas tree was in the corner, and it must have been eight feet tall. There were no gifts under it, but it was set up with care. There were Candy canes, and popcorn garlands, and tinsel galore. The children were bug eyed looking at it.
Kevin took the little wire trolley with all their backpacks in it in one hand. With his other hand he slid the oversized suitcase to the side of the Staircase. Then he spoke in a voice still quivering with emotion:
“Kathy, you take this suitcase straight down this hallway, our bedroom is on the right. Kids, you follow me upstairs and I will show you your rooms. I want you all to take a quick bath - there are two bathrooms upstairs- so it should not take too long. Change into dry clothes. Then come to the Kitchen and I will have supper ready.
"Kathy" he said, turning to look at his True Love who was looking at him like an Angel had appeared in front of her, "you take a quick shower in the Master Bath, meet me in the kitchen when you are ready. Okay?”
Kathy couldn’t talk. Just like that night more than a decade ago, she found she could only nod. So she did.
It was New Year’s Eve. It couldn’t have been a week. A week isn’t long enough to wash away twelve years- is it? It is if you find your True Love…again. She would never forget that night. Kevin did make supper for all of them. And what a feast it was. The kids came down from their baths all freshly scrubbed and clean smelling. Kathy came out of the shower, a shower that saw as many tears of gratefulness and gratitude fall as cleansing water going down the drain, as it did soapy water.
Kathy sat close to Kevin, whenever his hand was available, she held it. She watched in awe as Kevin won over, first Tammy, then Timmy, then Chelsi and even tiny little Caleb. After the best meal anyone could ever remember and a hearty belly laugh provided by Tammy telling Kevin with a mock serious smirk on her face:
“You better not cook like this every night. I don’t want to get fat!”
Kevin promised she wouldn’t get fat on his watch.
Then it was off to listen to Kevin play the piano, and they all sang Carols together. Then it was time for some ice cream, with bananas and chocolate sauce. Kevin put the animated film: Wall-E on the big screen. Kathy cuddled up on his one side, Tammy leaning up against his other side, and the other three spread out over the huge couch, each with their own bowl of ice cream, and their own blanket.
Kevin carried the fast asleep Tammy up to her bed, and Kathy carried little Caleb up to the bed he would share with Timmy. Chelsi and Timmy both said they weren’t tired but as soon as their head hit the pillows, they joined Tammy and Caleb in dream land. Kathy kissed them all quietly good night, making sure the soft blankets covered them all.
Later, lying in bed next to Kevin, just enjoying the sensation of being loved, held, and respected- Kathy looked up at Kevin with tears puddling in her eyes.
“I love you.”
“I love you too."
Kevin put a strong finger up against Kathy's soft lips and pressed very lightly:
“Kathy. Shh. You’re here now. Our life starts now. All that other stuff is in the past. We are together, and that is all that counts.“
Kathy buried herself in Kevin’s chest and cried a decades worth of guilt, shame, worry and hurt out. Kevin just held her. His own tears were of welcome, thankfulness, and gratitude.
Now, a week later, just one week. (Kathy shook her head in wonder, where in the world did Time learn to erase all but the Now?)
It was New Year’s Eve. Well, not quite, it was only about Seven PM. But the dinner was ready. A lot of treats were stacked up for later, and the kids were told that if they wanted to, they could stay up until midnight.
Kevin had called Kathy’s Mother. The Pastor had left more than a year ago. Kevin talked with Kathy’s Mother for a long time. Kathy couldn’t quite bring herself to speak with her. Only at the end of the conversation did Kathy say to her Mom:
“I love you, Mom. See you on New Years Eve.”
The week flew by. It was New Years Eve. It was Seven O’clock at night. The lone car coming up the drive flashed its lights through the windows. Kevin and Kathy stood in the Foyer, and heard a car door close. Kathy gripped Kevin’s hand hard, and felt a return pressure. She took a deep breath. Her Mother was here.