DECEMBER 16, 2039
Garret sits inside the cozy bungalow he had been issued for his personal use. ‘For as long as he needs,’ Travis had adamantly insisted the clerk manually add that stipulation to his registration form. It is very comfortable.
Garret shuts his laptop.
He feels sad and dejected. He had tried finding his mother-in-law, Marlene, to try to seek out. Try to make some small amends. Garrett’s relationship with her daughter, Suzy, had been, well tumultuous was putting it mildly. They had fought. But Suzy had fought with almost everyone. Garrett had some time in the prison library to do some research. He looks back and wonders if his wife didn’t have an undiagnosed borderline personality disorder. He mourns her death again – even if it was at his hands. She deserved more happiness than he was able to give her. But when he’d caught her, in their bed, with another man? Garrett had snapped and shot both of them.
Losing Marlene, his mother-in-law had hurt a lot while he was in prison. He thought about her frequently. She had always been sweet and kind to Garrett.
DECEMBER 25, 2039
“Just a minute,” Garrett shouts at his front door from the bathroom.
He washes his hands, then goes to open the door of the bungalow.
“Merry Christmas Garrett! I got you a little something,” Travis says handing him a present.
“Hey come on in. You want a drink or …”
“Just a second Gar. I also have a surprise for you. Close your eyes?”
“Travis, what is going on?”
“Please? Close ’em?”
Garrett closes his eyes, hears some gentle shuffling at the front door.
“Okay, you can open them now,” Travis says.
Standing beside Travis is the most beautiful little girl he’s ever seen. She’s holding a basket of apples. Golden delicious apples. She’s had her hair cut. She’s clean and wearing a navy blue dress with white shoes. The sight of her makes Garrett almost cry.
Cory hands the basket to Travis and rushes in and hugs the man that got her out of Garland – her hero.
Garrett sets her down. Oh hey, I have something for you also. He reaches under the bed and draws out a sloppily wrapped gift, clearly a book.
“It was supposed to be a birthday present but yesterday when I called trying to find where you are, no one was able to tell me anything. I was a little worried.”
“That’s my bad,” Travis says as he shuts the door and puts the apple basket on the coffee table. “Cory had contacted me on the 18th and said she wanted to visit you on Christmas and was wanting know if that was something I could help with. So I swore my staff to secrecy.”
Cory plops down on the soft bed and opens her present.
“I was going to get you a Christmas present yesterday but when I couldn’t reach you… It was not a good day.”
Beaming she holds up the book. “It’s a book about apples, Mr. Travis! Apples!!!”
Turning to Garrett, “Will you read it to me, Garrett?”
Damn! He had forgotten! She was five when she lost her family. She never learned to read.
“I’d be happy to darling.”
“Miss Cory, would it be okay if I spoke with Mr. Garrett alone for a few minutes?” Travis asks.
“Sure! I can look at my book. There are oodles of pictures.”
“There’s a small reading room down at the end of the hall Cory,” Garrett says.
“Look Gar, she’s got nobody. And I saw the two of you together. There’s some type of weird connection or something between the two of you,” Travis is whispering while Cory is still looking over the books in the bungalow’s little reading room. “I saw how much your time in Garland, changed you. I didn’t want to see it, I’ll admit it. I’m not proud of it, but I had judged you. Two years ago I thought you were just low-life criminal scum. Hell, I didn’t even read your criminal record until February; right after Sam died.”
Garrett starts to say something but Travis puts up his palm.
“Just a little more, please. I read your criminal file and I gotta say man, if it had been me, in your shoes, your wife? In your bedroom? I’m afraid I would have done the same thing. The exact, same thing. So who am I to judge you?” Travis says wiping his eyes.
After a few seconds, Garrett prompts him. “Travis? You were working up to something there, it seemed? Something about Cory?”
“Right. Cory has no one. You have no one. If you want to be ‘next-of-kin-Uncle-Garrett’ I can make that happen. You can raise her, if you wish.”
Four days after leaving Garland, Cory began repeatedly telling Colleen that she remembered why Garrett had looked so familiar. Because he was, in fact, her uncle Garrett. While Garrett was touched by the thought she was worried about her clinging to something that wasn’t true.
Travis, apparently done speaking now, looks expectantly at Garrett, eyebrows raised.
Garrett’s automatic reaction is to want to say no. But then he remembers her face, how guarded she’d been in the warehouse and then again in the alley. He would imagine that were she to be admitted to some orphanage or foster home at 10, her odds of getting a permanent home would be dismal. He can see her sitting in whatever sad, little rec room or arts and crafts corner smiling when prospective ‘shoppers’ walked in or out. But then he saw it as if he was foreseeing the future. The second the smiling, smartly dressed couple left that dimly lit, badly needing a new paint job rec room, Cory’s face would be that guarded, wounded animal all over again.
He can’t let that happen. He won’t let that happen.
“Look I want to raise her, but I’m not going to start by lying to her. I’m going to tell her I’m not her uncle, that he is dead, that her family is dead, but if she wants me to be, I’ll adopt her legally. I won’t start a relationship with my daughter by lying to her.” So he motions for her to follow him and the two of them walk into the reading room to discuss uncles, futures, and how she feels.
He walks into the reading room and she smiles at him.
“Cory, I have some good news! I will read you the book but I can also teach you to read and write if you like?”
Her brow is furrowed. She senses this is leading somewhere and she doesn’t know where that might be.
“Would you like that Cory? If I taught you to read … and write?”
“I would LOVE that!” she says. She gets a vague glimpse of what he’s offering. Learning to read takes time. Lots of time. That would mean lots of time with Garrett!
“It would take a lot of time. I know,” says Garrett. And it wouldn’t make sense to ask you to always having Mr. Travis or Ms. Colleen drive you back and forth from Rockwall every day, would it?”
Cory shakes her head.
“So I was thinking, and Mr. Travis said it was okay, that if you wanted to do you could live here? With me?”
She slowly comes to him and hugs him tightly before answering.
“So is that a yes Cory? Would you like to live here? With me?”
“Yes Garrett, I would like that very much.”
He wants to ask her about adoption. He wants to ask her about being her new daddy but wisely sensing that this little girl hasn’t processed all the pain of losing her real daddy, not to mention her mother and two older sisters, Garrett figures that can be a conversation for another day.