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The first time I saw them, I was standing at the circulation desk. The three of them exploded through the front door, laughing as they came. Between the two good-looking adults, a man with shoulder length brown hair and startling green eyes and an Asian woman with wonderfully long hair as black as her eyes, was a giggling boy who looked to be about three years old and a beautiful blend of his father’s eyes and his mother’s black hair. He was holding on to their hands and taking the opportunity to swing from his parent’s arms as they lifted him in tandem. They approached the front desk of the library and the man with the astonishing jade green eyes swept the little boy up into his arms and asked, “Has the storytime started yet? I was told there would be one today. This is Rene’s first time.. We read to him every evening, but we thought he was ready for a visit to the library for storytime.”

“Oh, you’re here with time to spare. It starts in ten minutes. So, Rene, what’s your favorite story?” I asked, trying to keep my eyes on the boy’s green eyes instead of his father’s. I smiled at the beautiful and obviously loving family before me.

"I like Al the dog best!!” he said loudly.

Rene’s mother put her hand on his arm and said quietly, “Rene, you musn’t speak so loudly in the library. People are reading and studying and they enjoy doing that in a quiet place.”

The little boy looked up at his mother from under his long lashes and said, “Okay, Mommy, but I like Al the bestest. When do I get to hear the story?”

“In just a few minutes,” I said, “You want to come with me? I’m the one who gets to read the story today.”

“Yeah,” he said shyly. Looking at his father, Rene whispered, “Can I, Daddy?"

The father’s green eyes shone with pride and he said quietly, “Of course, Rene.”

With no further prompting, Rene leapt out of his father’s arms, scrambling across the circulation desk and wrapped his arms around my neck and said, “Let’s go read!!”

Horrified at their son’s actions, both parents said in unison, “Rene!”

“It’s okay, he’s excited about storytime.” I said trying to smooth over the embarrassment they both seemed to be feeling. “Why don’t you have a seat at the table over there and listen to the story along with Rene,” I said directing them to an area next to the sunken reading area in the children’s literature section.

I carried Rene with me and settled him on my lap as I sat down in the rocking chair and took up the book that I had placed on the chair a few minutes earlier.

The family continued to come to the story hour each Saturday. Most of the time, they all came together, but occasionally Rene appeared with only one parent. Work sometimes interfered with the small family’s happy time together.

On one Saturday, Rene came running into the library calling my name, “Miss Grace, Miss Grace! Am I late?!” Following him was a crusty old gentleman who looked like he still lived in the seventies with a bandana around him head and wearing a well-worn Grateful Dead tour jacket.

“Rene, slow down! I’m sorry, he got away from me.” he apologized.

“No problem, Rene and I are great friends,” I said as I introduced myself. “Where are Michael and Simone?”

“They both had work to do for their company. I got drafted because Rene did not want to miss his story time with Miss Grace. I presume you are Miss Grace?” he said, observing how Rene snuggled into my shoulder as I scooped him up.

“Yes, I’m Grace, and you are...?”

“I’m Uncle Walter,” he smiled. “So, Grace, what happens at storytime?”

“Oh, I read, the kids are enthralled, I get to feel like a mommy for a few minutes. It’s vicarious thrills for everyone.” I smiled back.

“Sounds stimulating,” he grinned. Walter seemed to enjoy story time as much as the kiddies.

The next Saturday, both Michael and Simone were back with Rene. That was the last time I saw them together.

************

I wasn’t aware of how much I looked forward to Saturday storytimes. Before I met Rene and his parents, the library staff had rotated who worked on Saturdays. To my own amazement and the delight of the rest of the staff, I actually started volunteering for Saturday duty. I guess in some deep part of me, I had come to love the little boy with the ever eager green eyes and black hair. There was something about the way he snuggled into my lap to hear me read him a story. Of course, the stories were for all of the children who came for storytime, but I knew that I chose the books with Rene in mind.

I had never married, never had children and until Rene, I had never regretted any of the choices I had made in my life. Rene became the child I would never have. Michael and Simone didn’t seem to mind as they watched my love for little Rene grow. After all, they are the ones who got to take that little bundle of energy home with them each Saturday afternoon .

In fact, they also became my close friends, as close as friends can be when a certain aloofness and an air of mystery remained between us. We were friends, but only at the library or at the coffee shop nearby. We never visited in each other’s homes, but contented ourselves with a relationship that was that of an adoring “aunt” and her “niece and two nephews.”

I could never quite understand what Michael and Simone did for a living. When I questioned, they would vaguely mention something about government work and change the subject. After a while, I stopped asking questions.

I had always felt closer to Michael than Simone. He seemed more outgoing, talkative and was far more approachable than Simone. She seemed more remote. Often, I would find her staring off into space as I read to Rene and the other children. Michael listened with his eyes always on Rene as if he could never get enough of loving his son. Sometimes when the stories I read had a sad part, I would notice Michael’s eyes glistening with tears as he watched a big tear roll down Rene’s chubby little cheek. I had never known as tight a connection between a father and son as I saw between Michael and his son.

About a year after I first met my little family, there came a time in the early fall when the leaves were just starting to turn brown, red and yellow when Rene and his parents missed a Saturday. Then another and another until a month had passed with no Michael, no Simone and no Rene. No Rene...

************

No Rene.....

Every possible scenario ran through my mind as I waited for some word of what had happened to my little family. I knew they would not have moved away without telling me, so the possibilities of their fate worried me more and more. My colleagues at the library started to notice my depression and tried to cheer me up, but nothing helped. I missed Rene desperately. The phone number on Rene’s library card record rang and rang with no answer. I waited. I worried. I was sick with fear.

Finally, when I felt I could not stand the not knowing any longer, I looked up from my desk in the Reference section and saw Michael come through the front door of the library. I almost cried with relier. He was dressed completely in black from head to toe. This was a much changed Michael from the one who brought his son for storytime. That Michael smiled, he dressed in soft-colored sweaters and faded jeans. This darker Michael walked swiftly to the circulation desk and with a brusque manner set a stack of books on the counter. They were the books I had helped Rene pick out on his last visit.

I rose and almost ran across the library toward Michael. He caught the movement and turned toward me quickly. I couldn’t see his eyes, I thought to myself. He wore black sunglasses as if he were hiding from the world. If I could see his wonderful jade eyes, perhaps they would give me a hint of news about Rene. They revealed nothing.

As I neared him, words started pouring out of his mouth in a torrent. “Grace, the books are overdue. I’m sorry I kept them so long. Rene loved them so much. I just couldn’t....I just...” He stopped talking abruptly as if he had suddenly run out of steam.

“Michael,” I said. “Where is Rene and Simone?” As soon as I mentioned their names, he started trembling. I think he would have collapsed if I had not been there to hold on to him. I grabbed his arm and led him over to a sofa in the reading area and sat him down beside me.

He took off his sunglasses and stared at me blankly with eyes that were red from what I knew must have been weeping. “Michael,” I said again urgently, my fingers gripping his arm and punctuating my agonized plea for information.

“Rene is gone!” The words exploded out of his mouth as he tried to shake my hand loose from his arm. “He’s dead, dead and buried and I didn’t get to say goodbye!” I pulled him into an embrace and he just collapsed against my shoulder, reminding me of how Rene would snuggle up to me.

Tears were now rolling down Michael’s cheeks. My own cheeks were also wet with tears. “How, what happened?” Michael suddenly sat up ramrod straight and pulled away from my touch. In a voice as cold as the grave, he whispered, “They told me it was a hit and run. They didn’t find the driver. He was in the park with Simone and when he saw an ice cream truck across the street, he pulled his hand out of hers and ran towards it. She couldn’t catch him before he ran out into the street. He was killed instantly, or so they tell me.”

Michael was attempting to deal with something that no parent should ever have to deal with....the death of a child. I could not believe what I was hearing, I simply could not conceive of a world without Rene. “God, Michael, is there anything I can do for you and Simone.” I put my hand on his and this time he did not pull away.

“Grace, I know how much you cared for my Rene. What can anyone do? I feel like all the life has been pulled out of me. I think my soul died with Rene. I don’t know what to do. Simone just looks at me and cries. She blames herself and won’t let me comfort her. I feel like I’m going to lose her too. I’m sorry. I just can’t deal with this now. I’m sorry the books were overdue. Rene loved them and I just wanted to hang on to something that he loved.” The words tumbled out of his mouth.

“Michael, I will do anything I can for you and Simone. I think you know that. What about the funeral? When will that be?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s done and over with. My employer persuaded Simone to go ahead with it. I was on a mission...a business trip and rather than interrupt the trip, Ops, er....my Director of Operations made all the arrangements himself with Simone’s help.” I listened horrified. “What kind of people do you work for Michael, that they would place your job above your right to say goodbye to your son?”

“Grace, it’s just the way things are in my line of work. I’m a special negotiator for a government agency and I was involved in some high level negotiations involving national security. I can’t say anything more about what I do, but my feelings are secondary to the bottom line of the people that I work for,” he explained. “I know you cannot understand this, but it’s just the way things are.”

“No, I can’t understand, but it’s your life and you are the one who has to live with it. I just cannot help but be angry at how you were treated. It’s not enough that you have lost Rene, but to not be allowed to deal with your grief?” I stopped unable to continue. How would I deal with my own grief? But my grief was inconsequential compared to what Michael must be feeling. “Michael, what can I do to help you?”

“Just listen to me when I need to talk sometimes,” he whispered as he squeezed my hand. “Always, Michael, always,” I whispered back.

************

In the months that followed Rene’s death, I saw Michael frequently. He still came to my storytimes and lived again with Rene as he watched the children who listened wide-eyed to my stories.

Sometimes, Walter accompanied Michael on his visits. At first, I was surprised by his presence, but then I realized how much the old man cared about Michael by the way he talked to Michael as the tears threatened in those fathomless green eyes.

"So, Gracie, you ever give private readings?’ he said to me one day as I finished a storytime. “I have a well-worn copy of the Kama Sutra that I would love to have you read to me.”

I looked at him, with his eyes wide open and seemingly guileless. “Walter,” I said. “I’m a child of the sixties. Been there, done that.”

“Gracie!” He looked shocked. “Been there, done that maybe. But not with me,” he commented as he winked at me.

“You are an incorrigible, lecherous old coot.” I smiled at him as Michael walked up to us.

“Ready for coffee?” he asked, completely unaware of the conversation that had just taken place.

“I think Walter needs a cup of iced coffee.” I told him. “And maybe a cold shower as well.

Michael laughed. I hadn’t heard him laugh since we lost Rene. “ I was wondering when he would reveal his true self.”

“Michael!” Walter said as if offended. “I just asked for a private reading. That’s all.

“Don’t worry about Walter,” Michael told me later. “He’s mostly all talk and bluff. But he is a good friend and he loved Rene, too.”

After storytimes, Michael and I, and sometimes Walter when he came with Michael, would go down the street for coffee on Saturday afternoons and Michael would talk about Rene. Through his words, I watched Rene’s delivery, his first smile, his first tooth, his first steps.

Time passed and soon, several parents came to me and asked about the man in black who sat so quietly and watched their children at each Saturday storytime. As I explained about Rene, they hugged their children a little closer and eyed Michael with sympathy.

Three months after we lost Rene, Michael came to the library one day in the middle of the week. I felt his presence behind me and turned to him with a smile. The haunted look was back in his eyes.

“I’ve lost Simone,” he stated flatly. “She’s gone. Gone to be with Rene.”

I stood and once again enfolded him in my arms. He hugged me back and said quietly, “I don’t know if I can go on like this, without her. I can’t do this anymore.” The defeat in his voice frightened me. “Of course, you can make it through this. We all do what we have to do to survive whatever life throws at us and life has thrown you more that you deserve, but Michael, you will survive. What is the alternative?” I said, hugging him tightly.

“Oblivion,” was his answer and he pulled sway. “Grace, you don’t want to be around me. People I care about, people I love are dying around me. You should tell me to stay away from you.” His voice broke and tears once again flooded his wonderful eyes.

“Michael, you are going to make it. It will take awhile and it will be hard, but you will survive, so stop all this talk about oblivion.” I tried to reassure him. “If you don’t make it, then how will I? I can’t lose Rene, Simone and you. I just can’t!” I said tearfully, blatantly trying to coerce Michael into living again.

“It’s all my fault. I didn’t listen to her. I didn’t support her like I should have. I killed her. I killed her,” he said again taking the weight of the world on his shoulders.

“What happened?” I asked as I cupped his face in my hands and smoothed his hair behind his ears. His eyes had regained that cold, lifeless look and he opened his mouth to speak.

“It was a terrible car accident and, Michael, it was not your fault.” A voice said from behind us. I looked around and found Walter standing there in one of his leather jackets with a dark blue bandana tied around his gray head. Walter’s words seemed to have stopped whatever Michael was about to tell me. “Yes,” he said as if in a daze. “A terrible accident.” Knowing Michael as I did, I knew I was not going to get any more information about Simone out of him, so I settled for what I seemed to do best. I comforted Michael once more as he mourned the loss of someone he loved.

That was the last time i saw Michael for over a year. I did continue to see Walter. We had lunch occasionally and he gave me the only news I had of Michael. Michael’s employers had taken him off active duty for awhile and had assigned him to training new employees. Michael had closed himself off and rarely talked to anyone outside of his assigned duties.

The next year passed slowly. I continued working on Saturdays, always hoping that Michael would reappear. I stopped reading to the children. I could no longer look at those eager little faces without wishing to have Rene back in my arms again. I knew I would never forget him, but I could not allow myself to keep on obssessing about losing him, so I closed that chapter of my life and moved on. But I still missed Michael. And then one day, he walked into my life again....

************

Michael was back, unsmiling, but with eyes not quite as lost as the last time I saw him. Something was different. He walked up to my desk in the reference section of the library and stood silently, waiting for me to finish what I was doing. “Grace,” he said impatiently. “I’m so sorry that I have stayed away so long. “Come have coffee with me, so we can talk.”

“Oh, Michael!” I said as if surprised, “Have you been standing there long? I didn’t notice your approach. I’m not used to seeing you. It’s been over a year since you have graced me with your presence.” I was not pleased with him and he knew it.

He tried again. “Please forgive me, Grace. I have no excuses. I just didn’t want to be around anyone I cared about. It was easier to do my job without having to feel anything for anyone.”

“So, what’s different? What has brought you back to see me? How have you been?” I asked, my resolve melting under the intense gaze of his green eyes, as they seemed to plead for my forgiveness.

“I have been trying to live one day to the next. Working hard to get on with what is left of my life. I’ve been doing what you told me to do. I do what I have to do.” he said with a small smile. “What?...” he asked as he noticed how intently I was watching him.

“Something is different about you.” I said wondering what is was that I saw in his face. Was it a tiny glimmer of hope that I saw? What it that glimmer of hope that brought him back to me? “Have you met someone who has become special to you?”

He smiled that small secret smile of his. “Who is she, tell Grace all!” I commanded. By this time, I had gathered up my coat and purse and Michael had taken my arm and was guiding me out of the library and down the street to our favorite coffee shop.

“I think Walter told you that I had been assigned to train new recruits?” he said as we say down at a table. Michael ordered for us and turned his attention back to me.

“Yes, he told me. He also told me that you had closed yourself off to everyone. That’s why you stopped coming to see me, isn’t it?” I said, encouraging him to open up to me.

“One of my recruits has turned out to be a mixed bag of emotions that I didn’t expect and certainly didn’t want to have to deal with. But she is my material and after a while, i didn’t want to get rid of her.” He stopped and the little smile grew into a bigger one. I hadn’t seen this smile for a long time.

“Go on,” I pushed, “Tell me more about this recruit!”

“She is exasperating! She drives me crazy! She most definitely has a mind of her own!” he said, talking faster and faster as he seemed to get angry while describing this young woman who had caused such a whirlwind of emotions in him. “She blond, blue-eyed and beautiful, but I am not supposed to notice that. I’m supposed to train her to do what she is told, to be unemotional and to follow any orders given to her without question. And she is very good at following orders, that is, until she doesn’t agree with the orders, or until those orders affect others. She’s very empathic and doesn’t want to do anything that might hurt others. In our line of work, that can be a problem. My superiors are concerned about this streak of independence and have encouraged me to terminate her employment,” he said all in a rush in a worried tone of voice. “I cannot go that! I think she will be a good employee and I just cannot let her go. Out of this morass that has become my life over the past few years, she is a light that beckons me. She gives me hope in the darkness of my life.” He sighed heavily and looked at me for my reaction to his words.

“Michael,” I said, “She sounds wonderful! You need someone exasperating in your life. When do I get to meet this light of yours?”

“I’m sorry, Grace, but you can’t meet her. Part of her training is to remain on base until the training period is over. She is not finished and has about another year to go. I hope you understand. I have tried to keep you in the dark as much as possible about my job, so I can keep you safe. You’ve met Walter and I cannot let you get any closer to what I do. It’s for your own protection. The people I work for are ruthless.” Michael took my hand and squeezed it. I can’t lose you too, Grace.” He smiled, looked at his watch and stood up from the table. “I’ve got to go. I hope you understand about why I can’t say more.” Michael leaned over, hugged me and was gone.

I was suddenly scared, for me and especially for Michael and Walter. What kind of people did they work for? As I wondered about this, I noticed a woman standing across the street. She stepped out of the shadows and followed Michael at a distance as he walked down the street. I walked over to the front window of the coffee shop and watched her. The breath caught in my throat as she glanced over her shoulder at the coffee shop. I quickly stepped back from the window. She had long dark hair and the coldest eyes I had ever seen. I would have to remember to tell Michael the next time I saw him about the woman with the cold eyes.

************

Another year passed. I saw Michael a few times, but it was always on the run. We always seemed to be interrupted by the ring of his cell phone. I was so happy to have Michael back in my life that I had forgotten to tell him about the woman with the cold eyes.

Finally, I told him, but only because I got an unpleasant reminder. I saw her again. Michael had come hurrying in the library doors and I went to the front entrance to meet him. That’s when I saw her. She was sitting in a car that was parked across the street. The window on the driver’s side glided down about half way. She was watching Michael again.

“Michael?” I asked as he enveloped me in his arms for a big hello hug. “Is there some reason a beautiful woman would be staring at you from across the street?”

He stiffened in my arms, his smile for me faded, and I saw his eyes go dark. Without turning to look out the doors at her, he said, “What does she look like? Is she blond?”

“No,” I said, “She has long, dark hair and the coldest eyes I have ever seen. Michael, I saw her watching you once before, but I forgot to tell you about her. Who is she?”

“Grace, she is the last person you ever want to know. Mon dieu!” he exclaimed, “How did she get this close without me noticing? Grace, I’m so sorry, but I cannot see you anymore. In fact, we are going to quarrel, quite loudly, and then you are going to throw me out of the library and tell me to never return. I want you to make it very convincing. Our lives depend upon this.” He finished breathlessly and I could see how frightened he was for the both of us.

“Michael, I don’t understand. I can’t let you go. I cannot do what you ask!” I started to cry. As pathetic as it sounded, I could not be without Michael. It felt like I was losing Rene all over again.

“Grace, you will do what I say!” he said urgently, grabbing me by the upper arms and shaking me angrily. “Shout at me. Push me out of the door. Make it look good! Make sure she sees how angry you are with me!”

“I can’t, Michael, I can’t!” he shook me again and told me I would do what I had to do, that my actions could save both our lives.

“Who is she?” I repeated.

“Grace, I can’t answer your questions. I’m sorry, but there is no time! She must see us quarrel and part angrily. She must!” His words and the urgency of his exhortations frightened me beyond words.

“I’ll do anything for you Michael, but please don’t tell me that I won’t see you again. Please, Michael” I wasn’t afraid to beg where Michael was concerned, because I was faced with losing the last precious member of my family. I was dissolving in my own tears.

I saw similar tears in Michael’s eyes. “I’ll try to keep in touch, but that might not be possible, Grace. Just know that I will always love you and I will always try to keep you safe. Now, yell at me and tell me to stay out of your life.”

I did what he told me to do. I raged at him. Gesturing wildly and then pushing at him, I told him to go and never come back. I created quite a scene. Library patrons looked up at the sound of my shouts and glanced at each other in shock. I told him that the parents didn’t like the way he watched their children at storytime and they wanted him to stay away. I aimed my hand at that beautiful face with the tear-filled eyes and touched him one last time. Not as I wanted to touch him, tenderly in a sad good-bye, but for effect. My hand smacked loudly against his cheek in the silence of the library. I yanked my hand back and was about to reach out to him when he took a step back, a shocked expression on his face. “Good job, Grace!” he smiled his secret smile, turned his back to me and walked away from me. I never saw him again. My life stopped having any meaning without Michael.

About two weeks later, Walter came to take me to lunch. “Gracie,” he said, as he put his arm around my waist and guided me to a corner table facing the door in the little restaurant on a quiet side street. “Michael is okay. he told me what happened. I agree that what he had to do was extreme, but it was necessary. The people we work for would not hesitate to get rid of you if they felt you were a threat to their control of Michael. He is an important commodity to them and they want no interference with him,” he said sadly. “I’m only here today to bring you this and to also say good-bye. We have to cut all of our ties with you, to keep you safe.” He put a package into my hands. “You are very important to Michael and to me.”

I opened the package and cried when I saw what was inside. It was a family portrait of Michael, Simone and my lost Rene. They were all smiling, and happy.

“I took that photo of them about two weeks before we lost Rene. Michael wanted you to have a remembrance, so he sent this to you as well.” From its safe place inside his jacket, Walter pulled a well-worn and obviously much-loved teddy bear with a limp red ribbon tied around its neck. He handed it to me.

“I...I... can’t take this, surely Michael will want to keep this!” I said through a flood of tears.

“No, Gracie,” Walter said sadly, “ Michael has shut off that part of his life. He said he cannot afford to dwell on what he cannot have. He is coping the only way he can. He’s cutting the ties with anything and anyone that they can use against him. He can’t see you ever again.” He sniffed and swiped his hand hastily across his eyes. “And now I have to take my leave of you and say good-bye.” His kissed me firmly on the lips and smiled. “ One for the road. And Gracie, I really wish you could have given me a private reading. I’ll miss you.” And with those few words, he turned and left the restaurant. I walked out of the restaurant in time to see him turn the corner. The last time I saw Walter, he was walking down the street with his ponytail blowing in the wind. He disappeared from my sight and everyone that I loved went with him. Michael, Simone, Walter, and little Rene...

***********************

A week passed and still I morned the loss of everything that I held dear. How could I go on? It was hard getting up each day and harder still going to work in a place that held so many memories for me. I knew that I would never see Michael or Walter again. I had to accept that, I told myself. Pull yourself together, Grace! You’ve never been a quitter before, so don’t start now. Slowly, I let the routine of my work take over. And even though I still missed my family, I survived.

That is, I survived until one evening, as I settled into my favorite chair with a long neglected novel, there was a knock on my door. It was eight o’clock at night.

“Now, who could that be?” I muttered to myself as I looked through the peephole in my door. My heart stopped as I felt a chill run through me. I cautiously opened the door. The cold dark eyes stared back at me.

“May I come in?” she asked. I felt like the fly that had just received an invitation from the spider.

“What is this about?” I demanded, angry with myself for feeling so afraid. Stupid, I told myself. Stand up to her. Dont give an inch!

“I have a proposition for you.” she said as she walked into my living room and proceeded to take off her coat and seat herself on my sofa. “It concerns Michael.”

She had my rapt attention. Shocked and scared out of my mind, I sat down opposite from her in my favorite chair and listened to her proposal.

An hour later, I sat back and sighed, “And if I do this, you guarantee that Michael will be safe? There will not be any reprisals if I do this thing?”

“Michael will be perfectly safe. As safe as anyone can be in his line of work.” she said smoothly. “I care about what happens to Michael and I think this is what is best for him. You cannot ever see him again. He will be told that you have moved away to forget him and your friendship. That you wanted to start fresh somewhere without so many memories of him and Rene. I think that he will accept that. You will be relocated and given a new identity that even he cannot trace. I know Michael,” she continued, “and eventually he would try to contact you again to see that you are okay. He needs to have closure to this part of his life.”

“Like the closure you left him without when he lost Rene?” I asked sarcastically.

“That was unavoidable. We thought that removing any reminder of Rene and Simone would help Michael focus on his job. He was distracted and worried too much about his family and he didn’t always focus on the tasks before him.” she explained.

“So,” I asked, “does he focus now? Now that you have taken everything from him? Does he focus NOW!” I shouted, angry at the thought of how this cold-eyed bitch had manipulated Michael and was now manipulating me.

“Yes,” she replied in a matter-of-fact way, “Michael is more focused now.” So, do you accept my proposal?”

I thought about my answer for a long time, but in the end, I gave her the only possible answer. “Yes,” I said, “I accept.” And I hoped Michael would understand if he ever found out about the “proposal” that I had agreed to.

The next week was a whirlwind of activity as everything in my life was packed away for the movers, but I kept three things away from the movers. These three things I kept with me in my own bag. No one would touch these things and live...I kept the picture of Michael, Simone, and Rene, Rene’s teddy bear and one of Walter’s old bandanas close to my heart.

I met Cold-Eyes at the airport. She had yet to tell me her name, so I named her Cold-Eyes. She handed me a packet of items. “Here’s your passport, credit cards, driver’s license, plane tickets, and the keys to your new home and car. Someone will call you when you are settled in your new house. Let us know if you need anything else. Remember, do not contact anyone from your old life, or all of this, and you, will simply disappear.” She said with a cold smile.

“I understand,” I said looking deeply into those dark eyes of hers to see if she had a soul. I didn’t find one. “Aren’t you forgetting something?’

“Of course not,” she said, “here it comes now.”

Turning, I watched as a six-year-old Rene pulled his hand loose from a grim-looking stranger and came running towards me. “Grace,” he yelled, “GRACE!!”

We came together with many tears, much laughter and lots of tight hugs. I swung him up into my arms and marveled at how much he had grown in the past few years since I saw him last. “Grace, where is my mommy and daddy? I haven’t seen them in such a long time. She,” he said, pointing at Cold-Eyes, “told me they had to go away and that I had to live somewhere else. Where are they and what are you doing here?” The words tumbled out of a mouth that reminded me achingly of his father.

“Rene, as soon as we are on the airplane, I will tell you about your mommy and daddy and about a brave prince and his beloved princess.” I said as I walked toward the gate that would take us to the airplane that would take us far away from Michael and Simone and Walter. “I brought you someone that you have probably missed.” I pulled Teddy out of my bag and Rene grabbed him and hugged him.

“My daddy gave me Teddy! Where did you get him, Grace?” he asked.

“Your daddy wanted to make sure you got him back, Rene. Your mommy and daddy love you very much.” How was I going to explain to a six-year-old the cruelty that had separated him from his parents? My advice to Michael so long ago came back to me, so ... I did what I had to do...I kept Rene and Michael and Walter safe. I accepted and would try to live with Cold-Eyes’ proposal. I hoped Michael would understand.

In a dark corner of the airport opposite the gate where Grace’s plane waited, a man in black watched as the woman and the six-year-old walked down the jet way leading to their airplane until they disappeared from his sight.

“Bon chance, mon Grace & mon Rene,” he whispered, as he put both of his hands to his face to wipe away the tears that oveflowed his green eyes. “Go with God, my loves.” And he turned and walked away, firmly slamming the door on that part of his life forever...