Chapter 21

    It had been over a year since Michael last set foot in his main residence. Everything looked virtually the same and in its proper place. After making their way up the stairs to his bedroom, Michael stood frozen before dropping onto his knees.

    Running his hand across the blood-stained carpet, he broke down and started crying. If he hadn't been so exhausted and thinking more clearly, he would have never gone up to his bedroom in the first place. It was where Patricia was found lying dead on the floor.

    For days and days after her death, he sat beside the bloody mess, not allowing anyone to clean it. It was only until after her and the baby's funeral that he decided to move into his condo. Every time he thought about having the carpet cleaned, guilt struck him like a dagger to his heart. He felt as if he was trying to erase them out of his life.

    Plopping down on the floor beside him, Leila wrapped her arms around him as he wept. "I'm so sorry, Patricia! I'm so sorry. I should have been here-- I should have been here." He kept repeating to himself over and over again, rocking back and forth.

    "Just let it all out, Michael. Just let it all out." Leila cooed soothingly while stroking his back.

    "I miss them so much, Leila. They were my everything."

    "I know, sweetheart-- I know."

    "What did I do wrong? I mean... What did I do that was so terrible that they had to be taken away from me?"

    "Nothing Michael-- you did nothing at all."

    "I'm so sorry, Leila. This is so unfair to you. I'm sorry, but I'll never stop loving them."

     "You don't have to be sorry, Michael. I know that you'll always love them. I'd never ask you to stop."

    "Oh God-- this is so hard. I love you, Leila. I really do. I feel like we're together for a reason-- I want a future with you. But how can I move forward? I want to be happy... I don't want to be alone for the rest of my life! But I also don't want to forget about them. I feel like I'm betraying them. Fuck! I'm so confused!"

    "Michael sweetie-- listen to me, please. I know that you love me and I love you too. You're being too hard on yourself! They wouldn't want to see you this way... They'd want you to be happy. You don't have to forget about them to move forward."

   "So once again-- what am I to do, Leila? Why do I have these nightmares? Isn't she trying to tell me something?"

    "All I can tell you is that we'll have to take it one day at a time, sweetie. I wish I had all of the answers, but I don't. Let's go back downstairs, Ok? I'll grab some blankets and pillows if it's alright with you?"

    "Yes-- sure, Leila. That's fine. There's a linen closet located on the right as soon as you walk into the room... I'll be waiting for you downstairs."

    As Leila made her way to the linen closet, she took a quick tour around his room. Never in her life had she'd seen a bedroom so big. It was like a house within a house. Nearing his bed, she saw a photo of him with Patricia. In the picture, Michael was standing behind her with his hands placed on her stomach. She looked to be about 5-7 months pregnant.

    Taking a seat on his bed, Leila began to tear up. Seeing how happy he was in the picture made her emotional. She began to think about her inability to have children. She knew how much he loved kids and thought he'd make a wonderful father. Quickly brushing her thoughts A-side, she proceeded to the linen closet, grabbed what they need, and headed back downstairs.

    "Hey, baby! I'm back. I almost got lost in your ro--." She stopped short of speaking at the sight of Michael knocked out asleep on the couch.

    Grabbing some pillows from a nearby sofa, Leila placed them on the floor and covered them with the sheets she had retrieved from his room. After removing his shoes, fedora, and long-sleeved shirt, she was somehow able to move him onto the makeshift bed that she'd created. Even though Michael didn't weigh much, he was still tall with lean muscles.

    After removing her clothes, Leila got into the bed with him. His skin was cold to the touch, so she threw a thick blanket over themselves. As she cuddled Michael into a spooning position, she stroked his hair lightly. "Everything is going to be Ok, sweetheart. You don't have to hold onto the pain to hold onto the memory. I know that I'm not Patricia and nor will I ever try to be-- but I do love you, Michael... God knows I do. Please let me love you."

    When Leila awoke a few hours later, Michael was still sleeping. She was happy to see him resting soundly after the past two rough nights he had. Watching his chest rise and fall, Leila smiled to herself. She couldn't help but watch him sleep. Hair fanned across the pillow, eyelashes resting on cheeks, his chiseled jaw soft and relaxed. He was a vision to behold—a male sleeping beauty.

    Though Leila could watch him sleep for hours, she needed to stretch her body and was in desperate need of a good cup of coffee. After taking a quick birdbath, Leila stepped outside for some fresh air. As she watched a baby chipmunk play in the grass, she noticed a golf cart making its way towards the house.

    "Good morning, dear." Michael's mom called out cheerfully, making her way towards Leila with Wayne in toe.

    "Good morning Ms. James. Hope you're doing well this morning". Wayne spoke cheerfully."

    Leila smiled. "I'm doing well, Wayne, thanks for asking. And by the way... Please call me, Leila."

    "Sure thing Leila. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you."

    "Actually, there is! Do you know where I can get a delicious cup of coffee?"

    "Oh yeah yeah-- just give me 20 minutes or so. Michael's pantry is usually filled with stuff, but since he hasn't been up here in a while, everything has been cleared out of the kitchen."

    "Thanks so much, Wayne! You're a Godsend."

    "No problem, Leila! I'll be back in a few, and Mrs. Jackson just let me know when you're ready to return to your guest house. 


    Katherine nodded and smiled. "Sure thing Wayne."

    After Wayne drove off, Katherine and Leila proceeded to the house. As Leila was about to turn the doorknob, Katherine placed her hand on hers. "Can I talk to you alone for a minute?

    "Of course, Mrs. Jackson, is everything OK? Leila asked concernedly.

    "Yes, dear, I'm fine, but how is Michael?"

    "He's doing the best he can," Leila spoke sadly. "But let's go inside and talk, shall we? Michael is still asleep, so we should keep our voices down."

    As they entered the house, Katherine was surprised to see Michael asleep on the makeshift bed.

    "Did you two sleep down here together?" Katherine whispered.

    Leila stuttered. "I um-- w-we."

    Katherine laughed. "It's alright, Leila. I have nine kids. I understand."

    Taking a seat at the kitchen table, they kept their voices low.

    "I would offer you something to eat or drink Mrs. Jackson, but it's bare-bones in here. Me and Michael didn't plan on staying here last night." Leila spoked apologetically.

     "It's alright, dear. I'm quite surprised he's in the house to begin with. He hasn't been back inside since Patricia's untimely passing."

    "Yes, I know. Last night was hard on him. Since he wouldn't let me drive us to a hotel, he suggested we stay in the house. But uh-- he became distraught when we went up to his bedroom."

    "Hmm-- It makes complete sense now that you two chose to sleep downstairs."

    "Yeah... I just. In all honesty-- I don't know what to do, Mrs. Jackson. I just want him to be happy. I know that he is confused and hurt. I know that he still loves and misses them... That's to be expected. I just wish he stopped beating himself up over their deaths."

    "You know-- he wants to be happy too, Leila. A few months ago he visited me at our family home and told me about you. He asked me if it's alright for him to have a girlfriend... My reply to him was that Patricia would want to see him happy."

    "I told him the same thing as well. I just hope he doesn't take it the wrong way, you know?"

"Don't worry, Leila-- he won't. He told me that you're very important to him and that he cares about you a lot. Just give him time, dear... don't give up on him."

    "Thank you, Mrs. Jackson. I needed to hear this. I told him that we'd take each day at a time but last night... I felt a bit defeated."

    Completely unaware that Michael had been standing outside of the kitchen, Leila gasped when he came shuffling in unexpectedly. He tried eavesdropping, but their voices were too low for him to hear clearly. He had just awakened five minutes ago, and his brain was still half asleep.

      "Good morning Mother." Michael yawned, as he placed a gentle kiss on her cheek.

    "Good morning dear, I hope we didn't wake you." Katherine smiled.

    Crossing over to Leila, he kissed her forehead tenderly.

    "Hey, sweetheart."

    "Hey baby, did you sleep well?"

Swiping his hand across his face, he yawned again. "Mmm-hmm... I did. What are you two discussing? How come no one woke me up?" He asked inquisitively.

    "Oh, not too much, sweetheart. Me and your mom were just having a friendly chat."

    Feeling relieved that he didn't hear much of their conversation, Leila sighed inwardly.  

     Jumping at the sound of the doorbell, Leila ran out into the living room. It was Wayne returning with the coffee she asked for. Following Leila into the kitchen, Wayne greeted everyone as he removed several items from a large bag. In addition to bringing back coffee for Leila, he also brought back a few pastries.

     "You're so awesome, Wayne!" Leila shouted as she grabbed two croissants.

    "No problem Leila. I figured you might be hungry as well." Wayne smiled. "I hope you don't mind, boss."

     "Of course not but damn... I do feel bad now." Michael replied sourly as he rubbed the back of his head. He felt slightly embarrassed and a little jealous over Wayne bringing Leila breakfast. He wasn't mad at Wayne but more-so dissapointed in himself.

    Recognizing the bitterness in Michael's voice, Leila touched his leg under the table as she whispered in his ear. "It's Alright, sweetheart... You haven't been here in a month of Sundays... I know you wouldn't have let me starve. You were asleep, and I didn't want to wake you, so I asked Wayne where I could get some coffee."

    Looking at Leila with sad eyes, he whispered in return. "I'll make it up to you, sweetie-- I promise."

    "Well, I'll get going now. Take care, boss-- let me know if you need anything." Wayne announced briskly, as he proceeded to leave the kitchen.

    Getting up from her chair, Katherine told Wayne to hold on. After talking with Leila one on one, she felt as though the two needed to be alone after the long night they had. After wishing Michael and Leila a nice day, she headed out of the house with Wayne so he could take her back to the guesthouse she was staying at.

    "Mother, wait!" Michael shouted just before she got into the golf cart. "What were you and Leila discussing before I came into the kitchen?"

     Katherine pinched his cheek and smiled. "That's between Leila and me dear."


    The following afternoon

     "Hello-- please follow me. The bedroom is that way." Michael greeted the cleaning crew politely, guiding them down the hall and up the stairs."

     Returning to the living-room, Michael took a seat beside Leila on the couch. After putting down the book she had been reading, she leaned her head into the crook of his neck. "Michael, sweetie-- How are you feeling?"

    "Everything." His voice quivered.

    "What does that mean?" She stroked his chest softly.

    Placing his hand over hers, he caressed it lightly.

    "Honestly, Leila-- It's hard for me to explain."

    "It's Ok, sweetie... You don't have to."

    As Michael closed his eye's shut, he drifted off to sleep. As he fell into a dream, a vision of Patricia appeared in his mind. She was dressed in all white, holding their baby.

    Patricia smiled. "It's Ok, Michael-- we love you. We'll always love you, and we know that you love us... It's time for us to go now, but before we leave, there is something that I want you to know. Leila is special... You two have found each other again for a reason. Don't let her slip away. I know this is all so very hard for you to understand at times, but just take it one day at a time. Soon, everything will fall into place."

    As a pearly white gate opened, a man guided them inside. "Michael-- They're at home now. Please let them rest." The man spoke firmly but lovingly before vanishing with them into a burst of celestial dust.

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