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Unbroken by K.C. Beaumont

Published by K.C. Beaumont

Copyright Š 2011 K.C. Beaumont

Cover Design by K.C. Beaumont

This is a work of fiction. All names, characters and events are either fictional, or if real, used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, business, or places are purely coincidental.

License Notes Thank you for downloading this free ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form.

Additional Notes This ebook appeared in a 2010 short story anthology to raise money and awareness for victims of violence. While the anthology is no longer in print, and charitable donations are not required to download this ebook, your support for causes such as The Matthew Shepard Foundation is wholeheartedly encouraged and appreciated.

http://www.kcbeaumontwrites.com/

Unbroken

K.C. Beaumont


Dedication To my husband who unconditionally encourages everything I do, my parents for their love and willingness to critique every last thing I write, my friends—notably, the incredible Jen Barry— for helping me maintain a firm grasp on the English language and for letting me know what works (and what doesn’t!), and my kids who make me happy like nobody else can.

Unbroken

K.C. Beaumont


Unbroken by K.C. Beaumont

Unbroken

K.C. Beaumont


1

Standing behind him, I watch Gavin adjust his tie. Beads of sweat appear on his temples, and blond curls cling damply to his forehead. It should probably go without saying that he’s pretty nervous. “You okay, man?” I ask. “I don’t know. I don’t think I can go through with this. Am I doing the right thing?” he asks my reflection in the floor-length mirror. I don’t blame him one bit for his trepidation, even if it were just for the simple fact that most 18-year-old guys don’t find themselves in Gavin’s position. “You love her, don’t you?” I ask. “Of course, I do,” he replies. There is no denying the certainty in his eyes. “And despite everything that’s happened, she loves you, too. Don’t ever doubt that,” I tell him. Turning to face me, he grabs a handful of tissues from the table beside us and wipes the sweat from his face. “I just got her back, and now I’m about to—” “Gavin, you can’t look at it like that. That’s not what this is about.” I start to say something else before I see tears well up in his eyes. Pulling him into my arms, I whisper, “You really don’t have to go through with this if you’re having second thoughts. Just say the word, and I will take care of everything.” Squeezing me tight, he answers, “I can’t do that to her. I love her, and she’ll hate me if I back out now.” I shake my head. “She’ll be disappointed, yes, but she could never hate you. She’s always loved you and will always love you.” Releasing me from his bear hug, he steps back and wipes his eyes before turning back toward the mirror. After clearing his throat, he asks, “Have you seen her yet?” Smiling, I say, “Of course, I have. She looks stunning. Glowing, even. It’s almost ridiculous.” Finally, I see my favorite smile spread across his face, his pronounced dimples making their appearance.

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“I’m being stupid. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” With one last tug of his tie, he seems happy with its placement. “Now if I can just remember what I’m supposed to say, I’ll be good.” Putting a hand on his shoulder, I say, “It’s just two simple words: I do.”

* * *

Stretching my arms above my head, my knuckles knocked against the headboard and I groaned, low and deep before furiously scrubbing my eyes. I turned onto my side and fixed a sleepy gaze on the most beautiful creature to ever exist. Reaching out my hand, I stroked the soft skin of his cheek before slipping my fingers into his crown of silken honey curls. I was truly the luckiest man on the planet. “Time to wake up, sleepy head,” I whispered, continuing to stroke his hair. His eyelids fluttered open and took a few moments to focus on me. My heart soared to see that sweet smile spread across his face, dimply, toothy and cheerfully happy. “Mornin’, honey,” I said with a smile. Half asleep, he squirmed until he was close enough to bury his face in my chest before mumbling, “Mornin’, Daddy.” “Have trouble sleeping again? I thought you liked your big boy bed,” I said with a kiss to the top of his head. “There’s monsters in my room. I wanna sleep in your bed.” “Gavin, little man, we talked about this, remember? You’re three years old—practically a grown-up. There are no monsters in your room. Besides, Roger’s in there to protect you.” At the sound of his name, Roger thumped his tail against the hardwood floor. I leaned over the side of the bed to peer at him. The dog turned his eyes up to me, his head never leaving its place between his paws. “Good boy, Roger.” I reached down to scratch the dog’s head. Turning my attention back to my son, I said, “Gavin, it’s time to get up and get ready for school.” “Can’t I just stay home with you, Daddy?” I briefly considered the idea, but since I had a lot of work to accomplish that day to make my deadline, it wouldn’t be feasible. Being an active three-year-old boy, Gavin required an ever-

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watchful eye, and his hour-and-a-half naps weren’t long enough for me to relax and get my work done. As much as I would’ve loved to have him home with me, I instead decided on a compromise. “Daddy has a lot to get done today. How about you go to school today and you can stay home with me tomorrow?” Tears welled up in his eyes, and my heart broke. “But Daddy, I wanna stay home with you today!” Sitting up, I pulled my son into my lap and rocked him gently. “Baby, I would love nothing more than to have you spend the whole day with me. But if Daddy doesn’t get his work finished today, his boss is going to be very mad. I promise, tomorrow you and I will spend the entire day together. We can go to the playground, and I can push you on the swings for as long as you want. Would you like that?” Following a series of sniffles and hitched shoulders from silent sobs, he nodded.

* * * “Daddy, Daddy, look! I drew a house!” If I turned the paper one way and my head the other, I could kind of make out the house amidst the various crayon scribbles on the paper. “Wow, big boy. That’s quite the structure you drew there. Good job!” I ruffled his hair before bending down to pull him into a hug. My heart squeezed because I knew that it wasn’t all too long ago that I had to stoop much lower to hug him. It seemed like he had a birthday every time I turned around, and at four-years-old, he already looked like a little man. He was getting so big, so fast. At the sound of someone clearing his throat, I looked up. “Mr. McElroy?” I was speechless. They had told me that morning one of Gavin’s new preschool teachers was a guy, but the school director failed to mention he was beautiful. Of course, she had no way of knowing that information would mean anything to me, but still. It would have been nice to be prepared for this. “Oh, my word…”

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When he raised an eyebrow, I realized I had actually spoken the words instead of thought them. Not exactly a good first impression. Taking Gavin’s hand, I stood up and extended my other hand to the incredibly attractive young man in front of me. “I’m sorry, yes. I’m Gavin’s father, David McElroy.” “My name is Mark Reynolds. I’m taking Mrs. Nelson’s place while she’s on maternity leave. It’s nice to meet you, sir.” “Likewise,” I replied with a smile. It took me a moment before I realized that we were still shaking hands. I also hoped the fact he didn’t immediately release mine meant that he wasn’t just being polite. “So, is my boy behaving himself?” I asked. I already knew the answer to the question. His other teachers had always given glowing reports and told me what a joy he was to have in class. “Absolutely. Quite a wonderful kid you have there, Mr. McElroy.” “David. Please, just call me David.” “Of course.” Turning his attention to Gavin he smiled and said, “Hey, Gavin. How about you go over there and play with Caleb for a bit while I talk with your Dad, okay?” Gavin looked up at me with questioning eyes, silently asking for permission. “Go ahead, little man. We’ll only be a few minutes.” With a triumphant grin, he took off in Caleb’s direction, tackling the startled boy to the ground. Mark jumped as the kids made contact, but I wasn’t surprised. Gavin and Caleb were close friends, and roughhousing was something I was used to seeing with those two. “Go easy on him, boy. Caleb’s smaller than you,” I warned. Caleb answered with a growl and a giggle as he broke free, and they both took off for the unsuspecting tower of blocks, leveling it with squeals of glee. Hannah, another one of their teachers, rolled her eyes and headed over to the mayhem to supervise. Focusing my attention back on Mr. Reynolds, I asked, “So, is everything okay?” He suddenly looked quite nervous, and I was once again thinking about how impossibly young he looked. Was he even old enough to be teaching here? “Well, I brought this up to the director shortly before you got here, and she agrees that it’s worth looking into. We’re a little concerned.”

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My heart dropped into my stomach as I pondered the possibilities. Was Gavin being too rough? Was he causing trouble in class, and Mr. Reynolds just gave me that answer about Gavin’s behavior to be polite in front of him? My thoughts suddenly turned from musings about his behavior to my own. The school was very much aware that I was a single father, and that Gavin’s mother was all but out of the picture. Our latest exchange didn’t involve the school, so I couldn’t imagine that being an issue. They were not, however, aware of my sexual orientation, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was what concerned them. I hadn’t had any social life to speak of since Gavin was born, so I had no idea what would have given me away or what this could mean if it were something that bothered them. I turned down a date with the mother of one of Gavin’s classmates a few months before, but I had a hard time believing she would have just assumed I was gay or that she would have brought it up to one of Gavin’s teachers. “Mr. McElroy, are you okay? I didn’t mean to make you worry. It’s very likely that this isn’t a problem at all and I’m just making a big deal out of nothing, but I would rather be safe than sorry by discussing it with you now.” Nodding in response, I followed him to the director’s office across the hall. Upon entering the room, Mrs. Diaz stood to greet me with a handshake and a warm smile before gesturing for me to sit down. “I would say Mark’s having quite the first day since he’s already having a parent-teacher conference, wouldn’t you say, David?” she asked with a chuckle. “Something like that,” I replied with a nervous laugh. “What seems to be the problem?” “I’ll let Mark explain since he was the one who brought it to my attention.” She then gestured to Mr. Reynolds, who sat in the chair next to me, to speak. “Well, Gavin woke up in the middle of his nap this afternoon crying. I thought, maybe he had a nightmare or something, so I went over to his cot to try and soothe him. He sat up and just clung to me, crying louder and kept saying something about ‘the crying lady.’ I asked him what he was talking about, and all he would say was, ‘The crying lady’s at my house.’ When I asked him who she was or what she looked like, all he would tell me was that she had yellow hair.” Oh, no. He’d been awake. “Sweet Jesus, I thought he was sleeping,” I muttered. “David, could you explain what’s going on?” Mrs. Diaz urged.

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I couldn’t believe he had been awake! Why hadn’t he been sleeping? I had told her to keep her voice down. After swallowing several times trying to collect myself, I finally found my voice. “Gavin’s mother came by the house a couple nights ago. At the urging of her boyfriend a few weeks prior, she filed a petition for sole custody—” “Oh, no…” Mrs. Diaz gasped. “No, no, everything’s fine. She ended up dropping the suit and came over the other night to apologize and ask for forgiveness. Apparently, her boyfriend was hoping if she got custody of Gavin, then she would get a nice little child support check. She made the decision, though, to drop the suit and ditch the boyfriend. According to her, he was a bit of an abusive bully and a control freak. I’m just grateful she came to this conclusion herself before things got out of hand.” Things had naturally gotten pretty heated and emotional that night, but I never dreamed that it would’ve been bad enough to wake Gavin, or that he would have been harboring these feelings enough to disrupt his sleep. “I’ll be sure and talk with him. It’s kind of hard to bring her up, though, without trying to explain who they are to each other. He’s too young to understand the complexities of the situation,” I muttered, mostly to myself. “You don’t have to explain specifics. Maybe just tell him that the two of you were close once and let him know that sometimes grown-ups cry when they’re upset, but it doesn’t have to mean that something is wrong,” Mr. Reynolds offered. Raising an eyebrow at him, I asked, “How old are you again, Mr. Reynolds?” “You can call me Mark, if you’d like. And I’m twenty, but I’ve lived through enough divorces on both parents’ sides to remember the spiel that made the most sense to me,” he answered with a sad smile. “Sorry to hear that. And I’m sorry for asking about your age, it’s just that you barely look old enough to work here, let alone give advice on discussing adult topics with a four-year-old.” He must think I’m a complete jerk right now, I thought. “No need to apologize. I have the credentials to work in a preschool setting, and I’m going to school for Early Childhood Development and Elementary Education if that makes you feel any better about my age,” he replied with a smirk.

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Chuckling, I responded, “Actually, it makes me feel like an even bigger jerk than I did just a few seconds ago.” We chatted for a few more moments before leaving Mrs. Diaz’s office, and I went to collect Gavin just before Mark tapped me on the shoulder. “I don’t know if it would be presumptuous of me to give you my phone number in case you need anything, you know, regarding Gavin.” “Not presumptuous at all. I’d appreciate it, actually.” He handed me a piece of paper after scribbling his phone number on it. Just before I was about to tell him goodbye and grab Gavin to leave, he cleared his throat. “You know, if you wanna call about anything, not just about Gavin, I’d be cool with that, too.” I could tell he was nervous by the way he wouldn’t look me in the eye. The thought that he may be attracted to me made my heart pound, but at the same time it made me anxious. I was ten years his senior. There were only six years’ difference between Gavin’s mother and me, and that relationship had been tumultuous at best. “Not for nothing, Mark, but you’re a little young for me.” He finally met my eyes and said, “Does that matter? Really? We’re talking about a phone call here, not a marriage proposal.”

* * *

Meandering around the chapel, I spot Natalie. She’s so beautiful it makes my heart ache to look at her. “Hey, baby girl,” I call out with a wave. She looks up at me with a smile that could light up the Pacific. “Look at you, sweetheart. You look fantastic!” Taking her hand above her head, I give her a twirl. When she turns back to face me, she gives me a wink. “I know.” I can’t help but laugh. “How you feeling? Getting cold feet?” “Cold feet? Now, Daddy, what reason would I have for cold feet?” she asks, adjusting my tie.

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She has called me Daddy ever since she and Gavin started dating. She’s always been like a daughter to me. I take a deep breath and wonder if I should mention Gavin’s little episode. “How’s Gavin doing? Where is he?” she asks, her face a sudden look of concern. “He’s in one of the conference rooms making sure he looks immaculate,” I answer with a snicker. “He is a little nervous, though. I won’t lie.” Her face pales at my answer. “He’s not thinking of—” “No, sweetie. He’s not chickening out, don’t you worry. It’s just that with everything that’s gone on...” I let my voice drift off because it should all really go without saying. Dropping her eyes to her shoes, she said, “I know, I know. It’s only natural to be nervous.” “Are you nervous?” “Absolutely not.” Kissing her forehead, I whisper, “That’s my girl.”

* * *

It had been three months since Mark had given me his phone number. His words had echoed in my head nearly every night since then regarding our difference in age. Does that matter? Really? And nearly every night, I shook away my doubts as I called him. It didn’t matter if we had seen each other that day or not. It was a rare evening that we didn’t spend at least an hour or two talking on the phone. We could have been talking about something as meaningless as a running commentary on that evening’s sitcom or sports event, or something as important as Mark’s studies or my situation with Gavin’s mother. In regards to Gavin’s mother, I had finally worked up the nerve to call her and ask that she not come by for a visit unexpectedly, given how it had affected Gavin the last time. Communication had never been a forte for us, which had probably contributed to the demise of our relationship even more so than my acceptance of my sexuality. Everything for us had been spontaneous, impulsive—consequences be damned. Talking things over had never been a priority. In fact, the first time I had ever spoken up and voiced a concern was when I broke down and told her I was gay. Of course, she took that to mean she wasn’t good enough to keep me

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straight and vanished, only to turn up on my doorstep seven months later, crying through backto-back contractions. It should have surprised me how easy it was to talk about things of this nature with Mark, given that I hadn’t spoken of them with anyone else. Mark was just so easy to talk to. He was understanding, funny, insightful, and he never, ever judged me. We went out on dates frequently, and it should have also surprised me that he wanted to include Gavin almost every time. We went out to dinner, family-friendly movies, bowling, mini-golf, the zoo. It was nice. It also should have even surprised me that I ached to touch him whenever he was close. His hair was a wild shock of a dark brown mane that was so silky soft it was like running my fingers through satin sheets. The first time I had left Gavin with a sitter for a date was on Mark’s twenty-first birthday. That was also the night of our first kiss. His lips were as maddeningly soft as his hair, and so warm and deliciously sweet. It should all have surprised me, but it didn’t. It didn’t surprise me because I was slowly warming up to the idea that I was falling in love with him. I watched my son, who appeared to be standing on the surface of the water in the pool when, in fact, he was standing on a submerged Mark’s shoulders as he waited to be thrown into the deep end. It was Gavin’s fifth birthday. He had opened a present from his mother first thing that morning—a present that included a stack of coloring books, a giant box of crayons and a pair of superhero swimming trunks that he was wearing at that very moment. She rarely came around or called, and Gavin had stopped asking about the crying lady. He did, however, ask me why he didn’t have a mommy like the other kids. Right when I was about to burst into tears from frustration over how to talk to him about it, he had gotten distracted by his beloved cartoon coming on TV and ran off without an answer to his question. Gavin’s thrilled squeal brought me back to the party festivities as he splashed down, dousing everyone unfortunate enough to be in his wake. Mark was standing in the shallow end, arms raised, shouting, “It’s good! It’s aaaall gooood!” Right about then, I was even more grateful that Mark had helped me teach Gavin how to swim, as my boy doggy-paddled back to the shallow end like a pro. Kicking and sputtering, he yelled, “One more time, Mark, one more time!”

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Mrs. Nelson, Gavin’s teacher who had been on maternity leave, had decided to stay home with her new daughter indefinitely. Her change in plans had left Mark to take her position for the rest of the school term. Gavin was thrilled, since he seemed to have fallen in love with Mark even before I did. Since Gavin was entering kindergarten and Mark was no longer his teacher, formalities had been dropped, and he’d taken to calling Mark by his first name. Personally, I’d gone from calling him Mark to such things as “Baby”, “Sexy”, and “Gorgeous”. Hours later, the majority of our guests had left and Gavin had taken off to spend the night at Caleb’s house while Mark and I were left to clean up the mess. I wasn’t complaining by any means, because I got to spend that much more time alone with him. It wasn’t long before I found myself wondering if he would like to spend the night. The subtle brushes against me as he passed from one side of the room to the other to put away leftovers, and the not-so-subtle glances over his shoulder as he caught me looking at him reaching for something over his head, kind of hinted that he just might have been thinking about the same thing. I’d never doubted for one second since we met that I wanted him. The fact that I hadn’t been in a relationship in several years, let alone had any intimate contact with someone, only heightened what I already knew. I needed his touch—however he’d be willing to give it. There was one sure way to find out if he wanted the same thing, so I decided to ask him. Sneaking up behind him, I wrapped my arms around his waist and kissed the nape of his neck. “Mark?” I whispered against his skin. Following a delightful full-body shudder, he rasped, “Yeah?” “Stay with me tonight?” I followed my question with an open-mouthed kiss to his shoulder and pulled him closer to me so he could feel just how badly I wanted him. He slumped against me with a groan before nodding his head. As he turned to face me, I captured his lips with mine and slipped my hands into his hair, still damp and smelling of chlorine from the pool. I tilted my head slightly to deepen the kiss as his hands slid up to cup my face and trace nondescript patterns on my jaw with his thumbs. I would have quite happily spent the rest of my days just kissing this beautiful man if it were possible.

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* * *

Sitting in my pew, I smile thinking back to that night. The following morning, when Gavin returned from Caleb’s, Mark and I asked my son what he would think about Mark moving in with us. For Christmas that year, I had gotten him a bicycle. I swore on that day that I had never seen him smile so big. His response to our question the day after his fifth birthday eclipsed that smile completely. He was beyond ecstatic to have Mark living with us, and I was thrilled and relieved that my son wholeheartedly accepted the man I loved. Caleb is seated close to the altar where he plays with some knobs and buttons on his soundboard, prompting the opening strains of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” to play. The flower girl begins to make her way down the aisle with the half-pint ring-bearer. Watching their procession, I remember Gavin in that very same role eleven years ago.

* * * “Gavin. Gavin!” I whispered. He turned to look at me, his finger still deeply lodged in his nose. Grimacing, I pointed to my nose and shook my head. His eyes widened when he realized what he has just been caught doing and he mouthed, sorry! before wiping his fingertip on his pants. It appeared as though I wasn’t the only one who caught him as those immediately surrounding us erupted in a chorus of groans and chuckles. The minister cleared his throat, and my attention was drawn back to the beautiful man by my side. His blue eyes shimmered with tears as he smiled back at me. “Do you, David, take Mark to be you partner for life, to love and cherish him, to honor and keep him in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, in good times and bad, and remain ever faithful to him, for as long as you both shall live?” Taking a shaky breath, I clasped Mark’s hands in mine. “I do.” “Do you, Mark, take David to be your partner for life, to love and cherish him, to honor and keep him in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, in good times and bad, and remain ever faithful to him, for as long as you both shall live?”

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He had apparently been holding his breath, for he let it out in a gush of choked laughter before wiping a tear that had slipped down his cheek. After taking a moment to compose himself, he replied, “I do.” The minister then turned to my son. “The rings, Master Gavin?” Gavin held the small blue pillow above his head as if presenting a crown to the king. I gave Gavin a wink. “Thank you, little man.” When Mark placed the ring on my finger, I was lost. I barely heard the words he repeated at the prompt of the minister as I focused on the light reflecting off his eyes, the flush of his cheeks, and how my heart felt like it was about to burst from the overwhelming amount of love I felt for him. The tears flowed freely when I heard the minister announce, “I now pronounce you partners for life.” I didn’t wait for the cue to kiss my husband.

* * *

Coming down the stairs, I heard hushed voices coming from the foyer. “Did you think I wasn’t gonna? Dude, I told you I would wear it. What kind of friend do you take me for?” Gavin said with a chuckle. I was about to turn around and head back upstairs when I heard what sounded like crying. “Crap, man. I’m sorry. Come here.” Reaching the bottom of the steps, I saw Caleb clinging to Gavin, sobbing. “Everything alright, guys?” I ask. Pulling back from my son, Caleb wiped his eyes and said, “Yes, sir.” “You know, I’m sure the folks at school would understand you taking today off. You boys are welcome to hang out here for the day if you want,” I offered. “I appreciate that, Mr. David, but I’ll be okay. It would be a shame not to show off our shirts before the race tomorrow,” he said with a half-hearted snicker. “That it would, son.” That day marked one year since Caleb’s mother lost her struggle with breast cancer. His family, the three of us, and Gavin’s girlfriend, Natalie, were all participating in the next day’s Race For the Cure to help raise money for research. Most people showed their support for breast

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cancer awareness by wearing a small pink ribbon. Caleb and Gavin are wearing pastel pink Tshirts with the words, “Real Men Wear Pink” emblazoned in bold electric fuchsia across the front. “You guys look great!” It was true. I was very proud of my son for being so supportive of his best friend. “Thank you,” Caleb took one last swipe of his eyes and turned to Gavin. “Ready to go?” “Yep. Go on, I’ll be out in just a minute.” Caleb nodded and shuffled out the door. “Dad,” he began, looking at his shoes, “remember when I said that I wanted a car for my birthday?” Rolling my eyes, I answered, “Of course, how could I forget something like that?” His sixteenth birthday was in less than two weeks. That request was pretty much expected. “There’s something I actually want more than a car,” he replied, keeping his gaze fixed on his shoes. Oh, God. How much is this gonna cost me? “What’s that, big guy?” Finally raising his eyes to look at me, he said, “I wanna meet my Mom.” His words hit me like a sack of bricks to the chest, and I staggered back a few steps. “I’ll, uh, I’ll see what I can do,” I croaked. Stepping forward, he wrapped me in a tight hug and told me he loved me before heading out the door. And for the first time in years, I got flat-on-my-face drunk before lunch.

* * * “Now, remember what I said, Gavin. Please, please, please don’t have any outrageous expectations tonight, okay?” It seemed like just yesterday I was giving him the dreaded How Babies are Made talk. While that little conversation had been painfully awkward in and of itself, it was infinitely more awkward explaining to him why Mark and I couldn’t make babies. All that aside, I also gave a

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very vague explanation of how his mother ended up signing over her parental rights to me, as she wasn’t capable of taking care of a child in her state. That explanation had been satisfactory until Gavin had to do a family tree for a class project. That little activity opened a floodgate of questions and led to him learning a few painful things about his mother. How Gavin’s near nine-pound girth was too much for his mother’s tiny frame to handle, which lead to an emergency Cesarean and hysterectomy. How she couldn’t bear to hold Gavin even once in the two months she lived with me recovering from childbirth and surgery. How the post-partum depression led her to attempt suicide two weeks prior to her vanishing into thin air. How she appeared on my doorstep two years later to officially sign over her parental rights, strung out on God knows what. How she later attempted to sue for sole custody and continued to struggle with her drug addiction. How I forbade her to have contact with Gavin until she could obtain sobriety. When I called her two weeks before and let her know what Gavin had requested, she promised that she had been sober for nearly six months. I’d prayed every day since that she hadn’t lied. Gavin and I sat on the front porch, waiting for her to arrive and take him out to dinner. My son had managed to get his hands on a pair of jeans that weren’t riddled with holes, and he wore a sharp green polo—a shirt that brought out the vibrant green of his eyes. His mother’s eyes. Finally, a dark blue sedan pulled up across the street and parked. I could barely see her through the shadowed tint of her windows, but I knew it was her. Turning to Gavin, I said, “Now, if something comes up… anything… you don’t hesitate to call me, alright? I want you to have a good time and enjoy yourselves, but if anything feels off, call me.” I was pretty sure he only half heard me as he gazed across the street in wonder. My heart ached to see him shaking in his nervousness. A small smile played at the corner of his mouth as he stood to wave. She still hadn’t gotten out of the car. Turning to look at me, he asked, “Should I go to her?” I honestly had no idea. Shrugging, I said, “I guess so.”

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Before he made it to the sidewalk, the car across the street peeled away in a screech of tires and filthy exhaust, leaving a stunned Gavin in its wake. For several moments he stood on the sidewalk slack-jawed, chest heaving and red-faced. “Why the hell don’t you want me?” he roared before blowing past me and into the house. By the time I was halfway up the stairs in pursuit, I heard the sounds of destruction beginning in his room. After knocking, I called out, “Gavin? I’m coming in. I would appreciate it if you didn’t throw anything in my direction.” Following a few seconds of silence, I opened the door to find my son in a crumpled heap on the floor in the middle of his bedroom. In an instant, I was at his side, holding him in my lap as I rocked him like I did when he was little. Just seconds later, Mark burst in the room. “What the hell is going—” He stopped when I looked up, and I was sure he could read the anguish on my face. He quickly joined us on the floor, struggling to wrap his arms around us both. Looking at me, he mouthed the words, Was it her? I shook my head, wanting him to drop it. Saying anything at that point might have made the situation worse. He ignored me. “Gavin, none of this is your fault. Please don’t blame yourself,” he murmured, his voice soothing as he stroked Gavin’s back. “How could it not be my fault when she doesn’t even wanna see me?” Gavin sobbed. “It’s not. She loves you, but she’s afraid of rejection. She rejected you before you could reject her.” “I thought mothers were supposed to want to be with their kids no matter what. Why did she give me up? What did she abandon me?” he cried, his voice growing shrill. I wept with him because I’d been asking myself that same question for sixteen years. “Your mother was in a very bad place when you were born. She made the decision to leave you with your father because she knew in her heart he would be best for you, and she knew no one could love you better and make sure you knew how much you were loved—every day. “Gavin, you have to know that there are so many people that love you. I fell in love with you the day we met. You’re a great, great kid. Your mother loves you, too, but she’s broken and doesn’t know how to show you that you mean the world to her.”

Unbroken

K.C. Beaumont


16

Gavin twisted in my embrace to haphazardly grasp at Mark. Sniffling, he whimpered, “I love you, Dad.” Mark and I answered in unison, “I love you, too.”

* * *

It’s amazing how much things have progressed since that day three years ago as I watch the woman wearing a simple white sundress gaze lovingly at Gavin. Her son. Celeste looks truly dazzling. Her cheeks flushed with excitement, her brilliant green eyes glittering with joy, and her glossy blonde hair hanging in lustrous waves down her back. Although there is no denying my lack of attraction to the fairer sex, it’s very easy to see how one such as myself, many years before, could be so taken with her. She’s even more breathtaking as she smiles at Gavin, her love for her boy so plain to see. I’m so caught up in their wordless exchange that I’m confused by their laughter and the chuckling snort from my husband beside me. It is then that I realize Caleb has just exchanged the traditional rendition of “Canon in D” for a slightly updated version on his electric guitar, cranking out the heavenly tune in a manner that would make guitar greats—past and present—so very proud. A wedding procession that includes air guitar performances from bridesmaids and groomsmen alike is truly a sight to see. I should expect nothing less from Gavin’s best friend, though, as he pulled a very similar stunt a year ago at Gavin’s graduation. The same day Gavin and Celeste were finally reunited.

* * *

Sitting in the bleachers, camera in my one hand, Mark clasping the other, my smile was so big and wide it made my jaw hurt. No man had ever been as proud as the two of us were at that moment. I looked down at the commencement program, and my heart nearly burst with pride as I read: Gavin David McElroy – Valedictorian. Our son was at the top of his class and had been awarded a full scholarship.

Unbroken

K.C. Beaumont


17

He could have applied to an Ivy League school, gone on to get an engineering or other technological degree, and then become some kind of hot-shot with buckets of money. Instead, he’d decided to attend a local university, close to home, to study Elementary Education—like his dad. One would have thought I’d be jealous of the fact he was following in Mark’s footsteps and not mine as a writer, but I couldn’t find it in me to complain. Mark was an incredible role model, and I was thrilled he’d had such a positive influence on Gavin. I truly believed that he wouldn’t be half the man he was without Mark’s constant love and guidance. It was one of the million and one reasons why I was so very grateful to have Mark in my life. It had always been tradition for the high school band to play “Pomp and Circumstance” for the procession of the graduates, so I was a little bit shocked to see Caleb on a small riser with his electric guitar and amp, smoothly picking out the opening strains of the song. As the song progressed, he was joined by a handful of other students playing backup, including his feisty girlfriend on drums just before he erupted into some Hendrix-style riffs. He paused only once to give Gavin a hearty clap on the back as my son passed him by to take his seat. When it became official that Gavin would be named Valedictorian, he had immediately gotten to work on his speech and had taken great pains to make sure I didn’t read it or hear him practice it. While I was so very excited to see him get his diploma, I was anxious for his speech most of all. I’d been to enough commencement ceremonies to know it was quite typical for the Valedictorian to give a slight nod of thanks to his or her parents for support and a major buttkissing to the teachers and faculty for their contribution to his or her success. Leave it my son to thumb his nose at the status quo. “How do you define ‘success’? Is it defined by a title? Valedictorian, maybe? Am I a success because I’ve earned this achievement? Is it the decorated letterman, the all-around allstar, earning a football scholarship to the university of his choice? Is the person next to you a success for developing a newer, better, microprocessor? Absolutely. I won’t stand here and deny that any of these are fantastic achievements. “What I will do, however, is urge you to see success where others might not. “I’ve learned that success can be a single father, struggling to raise a child on his own, making sure that child lacks for nothing—least of all, love. I’ve learned that success can be a man following his heart and marrying the one he loves regardless of the fact that their marriage

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18

would not be legally recognized or widely accepted. I’ve learned that success can be a man helping to raise his spouse’s child and loving that child as if it were his own.” I clung to Mark’s hand desperately as each word sank in, and my breath hitched just as Gavin’s did before he continued. “I’ve learned that success can be a depressed drug-addict giving up her child so that that child can experience the love of a family so profound it cannot be put into words.” He paused briefly to dry his eyes. “Many would think that I come from a non-traditional or broken family. I say that’s a crock.” Even though I could no longer see him, I knew the shout of approval in response was from Caleb. “Tradition is what you make it. Family is what you make it. Success is what you make it. I wouldn’t be a fraction of the man I am today without the love—the success—of my very unbroken family. So I stand before you to today to celebrate in your success and to urge you to find and foster the success in those around you.” I wasn’t sure if it was an attempt to lighten the mood, or if Gavin’s words had gone right over his head, but someone in the throng of graduates cried out, “Go Broncos!” right before the crowd burst into cheers and shouts of approval. Mark and I stood to our feet and cheered, not knowing or caring if we were the only ones standing. Before sitting down, though, a shock of green off to the side of the bleachers caught my eye. Focusing on the figure, my knees nearly buckled as I realized who it was. Celeste. She showed up. At Gavin’s graduation. Please don’t do this. His world will come crashing down around him if you do this. Please, not now… Panicking, I looked to Gavin and was grateful to see that he had returned to his seat and had his back to me. Mark, however, caught on and immediately honed in on the petite blonde standing off to the side with the other stragglers. Instead of panicking like I was or getting angry like I should have been, he whispered, “Do you think she plans to stick around?” “What?” I whispered back.

Unbroken

K.C. Beaumont


19

Shrugging, he looked off again toward Celeste, and I was left with a nauseating storm twisting in my gut. Speeches were made, awards were given, diplomas were distributed, benedictions were spoken, and it was over. I couldn’t get off the bleachers fast enough. As it turns out, I wasn’t fast enough. I couldn’t make it through the crowd in enough time to run interference before Celeste caught Gavin’s attention. Mark grabbed me by the arm before I had the chance to yell and stop her. It was then that I saw the man to her side with his hand on her elbow. His hair was dark brown, almost black, cut in a military style. Dressed in a sharp gray suit, he was a handsome complement to the woman beside him. My eyes finally lit on Gavin as he stood rigid, sizing up the woman making her way toward him. Her companion respectfully hung back as she closed the distance between herself and her son. Standing directly in front of him, I read his name on her lips as tears slid down her face—moments before his broke out in a triumphant grin and he wrapped his arms around his mother, lifting her off her feet and spinning her around. I released my breath in a gush of relief as Mark pulled me into his arms.

* * *

While their reunion was joyful, the passing year hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. Of course, few worthwhile things are. There have been just as many spats and angry words thrown around as there have been smiles and laughter shared. The man who accompanied Celeste to Gavin’s graduation was her Narcotics Anonymous sponsor, and her fiancé. While she didn’t lie to me about her sobriety when I called her last year, she did slip and, in her anxiety, started using again two days before she and Gavin were due to see each other. Leaving her son behind again gave her that one last shove to ask for help with her addiction rather than struggle to quit on her own. In doing so, she found Joseph. Joseph helped through every step of her sobriety, including the step where she had to make amends with the people she hurt through her addiction—starting with her son. The day of Gavin’s graduation marked nine months, two weeks, and three days since she quit using. There will never be a day that she will be considered ‘cured,’ and that is something

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she has come to terms with and has willingly accepted. I am so grateful that Joseph nurtured her journey to sobriety, and continues to do so, as she in turn, helps him through his own. All eyes are now on the altar as the bride and her escort have taken their places beside the groom, and my heart is beating so loud that I’m certain everyone in my pew can hear it. Natalie closes her eyes as a tear squeezes past her lashes before fixing her eyes lovingly on Gavin. Gavin rolls his shoulders back and all but puffs out his chest as his dimpled smile takes over his face. I realize I am holding my breath when my husband says, “Breathe, David.” I do as he asks just before the minister speaks. “Who gives this woman to this man in marriage?” With how nervous he was not an hour before, I’m floored by the certainty in his voice as Gavin pronounces, “I do,” before placing his mother’s hand in Joseph’s. Gavin has given Celeste to the man who gave his mother back to him. After kissing his mother’s cheek, he subtly winks at Natalie, who has cheerfully taken on the role of Celeste’s Maid of Honor, and takes his seat between Mark and me in our pew. Sinking low where he sits, he sighs with relief as we each throw an arm around him. I’ve been blessed with a career that has given me the ability to provide financial security, and have time available to spend with my family. Does that make me a success? One could argue that. Looking at my son, seeing his content smile and knowing in this moment he is blissfully happy—that is my success. Looking at my husband, seeing the love reflecting in his eyes and knowing I could never find a more compassionate lover, partner, and friend—that is my success. Of course, what could also be considered a success is knowing that the object Gavin is now toying with in his pocket is a box containing a ring for the Maid of Honor—that he wants to add another member to our unbroken family. Our family is far from perfect. Dysfunctional, maybe. Loving and supportive, absolutely. Broken, certainly not. * * *

Unbroken

K.C. Beaumont


21

About the author: K.C. Beaumont resides in northwest Louisiana with a sweet man who pays her bills and two small people who continuously call her “Mama.� In addition to being a professional child wrangler and clothes ironer, she is an avid fiction reader, a sometimes fiction writer, and a horrible cook. Connect with Me Online: Twitter: @KCBeaumont My website: http://www.kcbeaumontwrites.com

Unbroken

K.C. Beaumont


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Also by K.C. Beaumont Available from Silver Publishing Avowed Available from Dreamspinner Press Talk to Me Available from Evernight Publishing ‘Twas a Dark and Delicious Christmas: Manlove Edition

Unbroken

K.C. Beaumont


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