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The Shadow of a Soul

By MultiMapper

2002-2019 by MultiMapper
All Rights Reserved.

Chapter 18 - Sincerely Yours

{Holy mother of all fucks, what have I done?} Was the thought that came unbidden into Derek's mind as he awoke.

{Oh shit! Oh shit!} Derek internally whispered as he tried to extricate himself from the bed without waking his ex-wife.

The way his heart was beating and the way he had to fight his natural instinct to run away screaming, reminded him of the few occasions when he had had the honor of working directly with the bomb squad.

It wasn't until he was off the bed and out of the room that Derek felt that it might be safe for him to chance a breath.

There was still a very vocal part of him telling him that he should just hop in the rental car and not stop driving until he reached Michigan... or Canada. In fact, he wouldn't be opposed to an extended stay in a South American country if it came to that. He was only a scant few hundred miles away from the Mexican border after all.

Even as his mind raced over the events of the previous night, his body automatically retrieved his luggage from the study and carried it to the bathroom, so that he could prepare for the day.

* * * * *

Although the shower seemed to have magical rejuvenation properties, it still couldn't absolve Derek of the horrible, unforgivable mistake that he had made.

{Oh my God! What if she gets pregnant?} Derek silently asked his reflection in the mirror.

Due to the fortuitous timing of his question, he was actually able to see it when all the blood rushed out of his face.

During their marriage, Pat had always taken care of the birth control. It wasn't something that he was in the habit of worrying about.

Since the divorce Derek hadn't pursued any other relationships, and to his knowledge, there hadn't been a need for Pat to take preventative measures either. In the heat of the moment the previous night it had simply not occurred to him that such a thing might end up being a concern.

{Just how many miles is it to Mexico from here?} Derek asked himself, then abruptly wondered, {Isn't she about due for the Menopause?}

The next thing Derek knew, he found himself in the kitchen, making breakfast for his family.

Even though his mind was skittering around like an excited puppy on a linoleum floor, Derek somehow managed to stage the ingredients that he would need to make a decent meal.

* * * * *

"It never happened." Pat said gruffly as she walked across the kitchen and directly to the coffee maker.

"Agreed." Derek said as he maintained his focus on the strips of bacon he was laying out on a baking sheet.

"Do you want me to go up and wake the boys?" Pat asked before taking a sip of coffee.

"I'm pretty sure that they'll be down as soon as Mark smells the bacon cooking. That boy must be part bloodhound." Derek finished with a smile.

"How do you think you'll be able to manage with two teenage boys and a full-time job that demands all your time and attention?" Pat asked curiously.

"I'm hoping to prove that I'm able to learn from my mistakes and strike a balance between work and home." Derek said frankly, then slid the pan of bacon into the oven.

"If you find out that you can't manage it, be sure to call me. We'll work something out." Pat said seriously.

"I was thinking, if it comes down to it, that I could take the boys to see my parents... and if that goes well, maybe leave them there to visit for a week or so while I work on getting things resolved for the longer term. I could present it to them as a 'summer vacation' sort of a thing." Derek tentatively suggested.

"I can't see that going well." Pat said honestly.

"It's possible that the colonel has mellowed in the past few years. You know, absence makes the heart grow fonder and all of that." Derek weakly offered.

"Possible, but not likely." Pat said as she fought to maintain a straight face at the ludicrous suggestion.

"It's been about six years since the last time I talked to them. It's probably time..." Derek trailed off as he warred within himself.

"We're divorced now, so I don't have any reason to pretend." Pat said in prelude, then continued, "Your parents are horrible, toxic people with not one single redeeming quality between them. I think that Mark will be better off without their poison spreading through his life."

"It did occur to me that they might treat Mark badly because he's gay." Derek quietly admitted.

"They'll probably use his sexual preference as an avenue of attack, but if it's not that, it'll be something else. And I don't even want to think about what they'll come up with to hurt Enoch. He seems so vulnerable and those people are absolute monsters. They strike me as the type who likes for their prey to suffer." Pat said firmly.

"I had a feeling that my parents weren't your favorite people but I had no idea that you disliked them that much." Derek said quietly as he took the bacon pan out of the oven and began turning the strips of bacon.

"They're horrible, awful people who bring pain and misery to everyone they meet. If you have any evidence to the contrary, I'd love to hear about it." Pat finished earnestly.

"Well, at least with the colonel, you always know where you stand. Everything is done exactly according to specifications and to the letter of the law." Derek hesitantly offered.

"But your mom leads him around by the short hairs. That throws a wrench into the whole dependability thing. One word from her and whatever he was planning gets dropped like a hot potato." Pat countered.

"You know what? Let's just accept that it's a really bad idea and agree to never, ever, under any circumstances, allow the boys to have any contact with them." Derek said seriously.

"Can I have that in writing?" Pat asked humorlessly.

"How do you mean?" Derek asked curiously as he placed a skillet on the stove and started the burner.

"Like in a living will or something to let people know your wishes regarding the boys should something happen to you." Pat said frankly.

"I'll have it to you as soon as I've gotten Enoch's legal documents settled." Derek promised.

"How big of a problem do you see that being?"

"I may have to tread into some gray areas to make it all work, but I'm reasonably sure that once we're back in Michigan I'll know who to go to to get his things in order."

"Is breakfast almost ready?" Mark asked sleepily as he padded into the kitchen.

Derek glanced back over his shoulder and smiled at the sight of Mark and Enoch both looking sleep rumpled and completely relaxed.

"It will be in a minute. Why don't you get yourselves some juice and have a seat while I finish it up?" Derek asked as he turned the majority of his attention to the skillet in front of him.

"Go ahead and sit down, E. I'll get it." Mark said as he started toward the refrigerator.

Derek glanced in Enoch's direction in time to see the lost and uncertain expression that he was wearing.

"Enoch? Do you have any favorite breakfast foods that you enjoy?" Derek asked pleasantly.

"There's no need to trouble yourself on my behalf." Enoch timidly responded.

"I wasn't planning on it. But if there's something that you especially like or something that you feel like you're missing, we might pick it up next time we go shopping and have it some other morning." Derek easily explained.

"Before I left Boston, I was served a variety of foods that I enjoyed very much. Since arriving in Texas, I have learned to be thankful for each and every morsel given me." Enoch said quietly.

"Translation: He'll eat anything." Mark said as he placed glasses of juice on the table.

"I wasn't worried about that. He's a teenage boy, after all." Derek said to his son, then turned to Enoch and continued, "But what I wanted to know was if you have a favorite breakfast food that you particularly enjoy."

"One thing that I always liked were the jams and jellies that my aunt would set out at breakfast. Just a dab would turn a plain crust of bread into a delightful confection." Enoch said with a wistful smile at the memory.

"I got it." Pat said before Derek could even open his mouth.

He smiled in her direction and said a quick, "Thanks."

"You get a choice between strawberry and grape." Pat said toward the table as she opened the refrigerator.

"I didn't mean for you to go to any trouble." Enoch hurried to explain.

"I carried it from there to here. I'd hardly call that trouble." Pat said as she placed the jelly jars on the table, near to where Enoch was sitting.

"Watch out! Coming through!" Derek said as he carried three plates of food simultaneously.

"I would help you if you asked." Pat said as she stood aside.

"I know. Don't worry. I've got this." Derek said as he placed a full plate at her place setting.

"Thank you." Pat said sincerely as she slid into her chair.

Derek hurried back to the stove to grab a plate for himself.

"This is so good. I feel that it must be a dream." Enoch said distantly.

"Nope. It's real. I promise." Derek said as he took his seat.

"It really is good. You should've cooked breakfast for us before..." Mark trailed off, immediately regretting his words.

"...the divorce?" Derek guessed.

"Yeah. Sorry." Mark quietly acknowledged.

"You don't have anything to be sorry about." Derek said frankly.

"You and Mom aren't together anymore. I think that's a big reason to be sorry." Mark said firmly.

"If you'll stop and think about it, we haven't been together for a very long time. We just hadn't gone to the time and trouble to make it official until recently." Pat told her son seriously.

"We had the same mailing address. Otherwise we led separate lives." Derek added somberly.

"I know we haven't done anything as a family since, well... ever, but there was always the chance that we could. Now with you being divorced, that kind of kills the hope that we ever will." Mark said imploringly.

"What were you hoping that we could do?" Pat asked slowly.

"I don't know. I guess I always thought that someday we'd be like the TV families and just... I don't know, do stuff... be a family." Mark said helplessly, obviously frustrated by his inability to articulate his expectations.

"You mean like us sitting down to breakfast together and having a meaningful discussion?" Derek asked curiously.

Mark looked at his father with surprise for a moment, then timidly answered, "Um, yeah. Like that."

"I'm sure that you already know this, but I still feel that it needs to be said." Pat said in prelude, then continued, "Those TV families aren't real. If they ever have a problem, it'll be solved within half an hour. Nothing any of them ever does has consequences and not one of them has to worry about the most common problems that normal people face every single day."

"That's right. They never have to worry about putting food on the table or gas in the tank." Derek confirmed.

"Especially if it's a choice of one or the other." Pat quietly added.

"Those shows are an escape from real world problems. And while they might be a fun diversion from time to time, they're certainly not a guide on how to live your life." Derek firmly added.

"Please excuse my interruption, but are you assuming that I understand what you are talking about?" Enoch asked carefully.

Before anyone else could answer, Derek quickly explained, "Some people make the mistake of thinking that certain morality plays hold more meaning than they actually do."

"So rather than recognizing the moral, they believe that all the elements of the story, even those obviously exaggerated to make a point, constitute a primer on life and the greater world?" Enoch asked slowly and uncertainly.

"Yes. That's right." Derek said simply.

"I think it may also have something to do with how drastically society has changed from one generation to the next." Pat said thoughtfully.

"How so?" Derek asked with interest.

"It used to be that if a person had a question about what was the proper course of action to take, they could look at their extended family or neighbors and see various examples of what was acceptable.

"For some, the decay of community has caused media to fill the void with 'morality plays' that were never intended to fill that role. As you explained, people end up assigning more importance and meaning than is actually there. On the surface, it appears to be happy people living happy lives, but if you bother to look beneath the props and scenery, you'll see the fiction for what it is.

"Another way of looking at it is that while growing up in 'TV Land' might sound nice, it also means that you're running a race not only without a path to guide you, but also without benchmarks to tell you that you've accomplished what you were supposed to at any particular stage of things. It's a pointless, directionless way of life. It's all for show and nothing important ever really happens." Pat said seriously.

"Oh yeah, right. Now I remember why we don't sit down together as a family." Mark said with a grin at his mother.

"As I recall, once you get entrenched in a conversation, you're not exactly a ray of sunshine either, Puddin." Pat countered and ended with a teasing little smirk for her son.

"Regardless, we would do well to take this opportunity to discuss what we're going to be doing today, so that we're all on the same page." Derek interjected into the conversation.

"Before much of anything else, you and I need to go into town and sign a few things in front of a notary. Everything else is arranged, we just have to go do it." Pat said seriously.

"Agreed. I suppose that while we're doing that, the boys can be packing for the trip to Michigan. The way things are looking, they might not get a better chance." Derek suggested.

"I just finished unpacking." Mark complained.

"At least you haven't had a chance to acquire a lot of new things to weigh you down." Derek said as optimistically as possible.

"And that's a good thing?" Mark asked cautiously.

"Anyway..." Derek said loudly to draw all attention back to himself, "As I see it, the next thing on our itinerary will probably be when Pat and I get back to the house. As soon as your grandparents hear that we're leaving, I'm sure that they'll invite us over. So most likely, just as soon as we get back, we'll load everyone up and go to Harlan's place for a big lunch with your grandparents so that everyone can have a chance to say goodbye." Derek said seriously.

Everyone around the table was silent, not wanting to think about leaving their friends and family behind.

"And, unless something comes up to make us alter our plans, all of us will be needing to head out tomorrow, first thing in the morning. That being the case, we're probably going to need to pack the cars as much as we can tonight." Derek said none too enthusiastically.

"I still haven't completely rested up from the trip here." Mark whined.

"I suppose Enoch and I could go on ahead to Michigan and later on, when you're feeling sufficiently rested..." Derek trailed off with a grin at his son.

"No. That's okay. I was just saying..." Mark trailed off with a shrug.

"Good. Then it sounds like we have a plan." Derek said as he turned his attention back to his briefly forgotten breakfast.

* * * * *

"Whatever you rescued Enoch from must have been really horrendous for him to be so out of touch with everything." Pat said as she kept the majority of her attention on her driving.

"While I have no doubt that he's been traumatized, he's also been kept very isolated. I'm sure that's a contributing factor." Derek confirmed.

"And Mark rescued him?" Pat cautiously asked.

"If you want to think of it that way." Derek finished with a smile.

"You know, you're really infuriating when you're being evasive." Pat complained.

"Yeah. I know." Derek said repentantly.

"But you're still not going to tell me what's really going on?" Pat asked plaintively.

"Nope."

"But whatever it is isn't going to come back to hurt Mark, is it?"

"Let me put it this way, if we do nothing and say nothing about the whole matter, then it will most likely just blow over." Derek carefully explained.

"I don't think that I'm going to be able to let it go. I trust your motives and your judgement, but you're asking me to take too much on faith." Pat complained.

"Try thinking of it this way. It's like a while back, Enoch fell into a hole. He was stuck there for a very long time. Eventually, Mark unwittingly fell into the same hole. When I went looking for Mark, I found them both. The only way I could get them to safety was to promise that I wouldn't tell where they had been or what had happened to them." Derek said, very precisely.

"Who did you promise?"

"I can't tell you that."

"If this is someone who abducts children, then you have a duty to see that they're brought to justice. It's the only way to really protect Mark and Enoch in the long term." Pat said firmly.

"I know what it sounds like, but I promise you that it's not that way at all. This is something else entirely. I just can't tell you exactly what it is because it would put all of us in danger."

"Are you implying that the boys might be physically harmed in retaliation if you tell me?"

"No. I'm saying that they would kill us all without hesitation to keep their secrets safe. The only reason that the boys and I were allowed to live was due to one person's compassion. It would be best for all of us if that person didn't have cause to regret helping us." Derek said seriously.

"You're not exaggerating about the severity of this, are you?" Pat asked cautiously.

"Let me put it this way, from my reading of the situation, it appears to me that the person who helped us might face severe consequences if we were found out. However, I suspect that he would face no consequences whatsoever if all four of us were to suddenly become dead, for whatever reason." Derek said in a measured tone.

"So, in essence you're saying that we're alive right now thanks to this person's good graces." Pat said cautiously.

"In so many words, yes." Derek confirmed.

"What am I supposed to tell my family about Enoch?" Pat asked seriously.

"As little as possible, I suppose." Derek said weakly.

"Have you met my family? I mean, Mom and Dad will probably be willing to give us the benefit of the doubt, but Prissy won't think twice about asking the most inconvenient and inappropriate questions."

"Maybe we can try to get across to her that we're facing some troubling things and could really use her support at this difficult time in our lives." Derek said thoughtfully.

"This is Prissy we're talking about." Pat reminded him.

"Right. Then maybe we could bring something sparkly to catch her attention." Derek said with a wilting look.

"Actually, that could work. I'll see what I can come up with." Pat said simply, then continued, "If you figure that today is Saturday and we're going to be having an impromptu family gathering to say goodbye to everyone, I have no doubt that Mom and Dad will invite Prissy and Jim Bob and maybe even Petey, if they have a way of getting in touch with him."

"Are you sure we have to do this? I mean, Prissy and Petey at the same time? What did we ever do that was bad enough to deserve that?" Derek whined.

"Now I see where Mark gets it." Pat said with a smirk.

"Wait. Gets what?" Derek asked in offense.

"Never mind." Pat said as she dutifully kept her full attention on the road in front of her.

After a moment to consider whether it was worth pursuing, Derek finally said, "Well, at least if Joe Bob is there I'll have someone to talk to."

"It's late enough, I need to call Mom and let her know what's going on. I called last night and told her that Mark had been found, but I didn't have any details for her." Pat said anxiously.

"Would you like for me to call her? I know that you don't like to talk on the phone while you're driving." Derek asked cautiously.

"Would you? I'd really rather not have to pull over." Pat answered honestly.

* * * * *

After getting out his phone and confirming the number, Derek finally said, "Hello?"

"Yes? Who's that then?" A woman's voice asked.

"This is Derek, Pat's husband... er, ex-husband. Pat's driving right now and wanted for me to call you to let you know what's going on."

"She said that you found Mark. Is he alright?"

"Yes, he's fine. In fact, in the midst of everything else, he seems to have made a new friend. So he probably counts himself as being better off than he was before." Derek said carefully.

"When you say friend, I take it you mean the type of friend who wouldn't be opposed to handholding and a walk on the beach." Pat's mother said knowingly.

"Yeah. Pretty much." Derek said with a smile. She was sharp. He'd give her that.

"Well good. He's of an age where it's time for him to start thinking about settling down."

"Hattie, he's fourteen." Derek reminded her.

"And this is West Texas. What's your point?" Hattie firmly retorted.

"Pat wanted me to let you know that in light of recent developments our plans seem to have changed."

"How so?"

"Pat's going to continue on to New Mexico to start her new job and get set up, just like she'd been planning. But instead of Mark going with her, he's going to come back to Michigan with me. Since I'm already established in my job, it will probably be easier for me to make arrangements to be there when he needs me." Derek carefully explained.

"How is Mark going to handle leaving his new friend behind?"

"Enoch will be coming with us." Derek said cautiously.

"Isn't this boy's family going to have a problem with that?"

"He doesn't have any family, Hattie. He was on his own and completely alone when Mark found him."

"Well, with all your criminal justice degrees and such, I'll trust that you know what you're doing." Hattie said slowly.

"Most of the time when I see something wrong, there isn't much I can do to set it right. I can do this. It's the right thing." Derek said with certainty.

"Have you decided when you're going to be leaving?"

"We'll be leaving first thing in the morning. I'll be driving to Michigan with the boys and Pat will be driving to New Mexico to get things in order before she has to report for work on Monday." Derek said seriously.

"Will you be able to stop by and visit with us so that we can have a chance to say goodbye to our grandson?"

"Of course. Pat and I have some legal paperwork to sign and get filed right now, but we should be done around noon."

"Well, it's short notice, but with it being Saturday most of the family should be free."

"Please don't go to any trouble..."

"I'll go to as much trouble as I please. You're taking my grandson away, so you don't get to ask me any favors." Hattie said sternly.

"Understood." Derek immediately responded.

"Good. Then I'd best get after it. Tell Patsy to drive safely. Y'all make sure you bring your appetites."

"Will do." Derek confirmed.

"Goodbye."

"Goodbye."

"What did she say?" Pat asked curiously.

"She seemed to think that Mark was the male equivalent of a spinster because he's fourteen and not married yet." Derek said dubiously.

"Yeah. Dad said something like that when we arrived. I guess West Texas has its own culture." Pat said with a smile.

"I'm glad I'm taking Mark back to Michigan then." Derek said frankly.

"Don't you think that there will be those who will look upon Mark and Enoch's relationship as being something 'sinful'?" Pat asked curiously.

"Yes. Probably. But I doubt that it will be any more or less severe than what they would encounter here." Derek said honestly.

"Texans tend to be more open-minded than you think." Pat informed him.

"Like Prissy and Petey?" Derek asked with a look askance at his ex-wife.

"Well, they don't count. They're assholes." Pat said frankly.

"And there are assholes in Michigan too. That's all I'm saying."

"Point taken." Pat finally relented.

"How much farther?" Derek asked as he looked around to see where they were.

"Twenty minutes or so."

"I forgot how spread out it was here. It seems to go on forever."

"We tend to build out instead of up." Pat agreed.

"I know you probably don't believe this, but I really am sorry that Mark and Enoch won't be able to stay here."

"Actually, I think I understand."

"Really? Then I wish you'd explain it to me." Derek said with a chuckle.

"The only reason to want to stay here is the people. I'm not just talking about my family, but the people in general. They're good and decent and hard-working. They make putting up with the depressed economy and hellish climate almost worth it." Pat said frankly.

"I can't argue with you about that. If there were any sort of job opportunities here I'd at least consider it, but there really aren't." Derek said regretfully.

"Did you check into it?" Pat asked curiously.

"Whenever I come across industry statistics I make a point of looking at prospective law enforcement opportunities in the Permian Basin. To say it's 'bleak' would be an understatement."

"I have no problem believing that. In fact, that's part of why I cast the net so wide when I started job hunting. I got the feeling that if I only searched locally, that I'd be looking for years." Pat said seriously.

"I'm really happy for you, Pat. I hope that things will work out for you to get everything that you wanted and for all your dreams to come true." Derek said sincerely.

"If you'd been in my corner like this all along, we wouldn't have needed to get divorced."

"Yes we would. Even though I've always been there for you, however you needed me, I've never inspired you to do your best. Just look at what you've been able to accomplish in only a few weeks away from me. It's obvious that I've been holding you back."

"Maybe I just got too comfortable letting you deal with things. This is the first time that I've stood on my own since... I guess I never really stood on my own before. I went from my parents' house to ours. The closest I ever came to being on my own was in college, and that was all either paid for by my parents or with student loans." Pat said thoughtfully.

"Regardless of how or why things were the way they were, the way things are now is what is important. Right now, you've got a new job that will allow you to use your business degree, you've got a little nest egg so that you won't have to struggle so badly while you're starting out and you've got the freedom to design your new life to be everything you want it to be." Derek said passionately.

Pat thought about his words for a moment, then slowly began to nod her agreement.

"The boys and I will be fine for a while on our own and when you've got things set up to your satisfaction, we can make arrangements for the boys to go to Santa Fe for a visit or possibly even to live there. We'll just have to wait and see how things play out before making any firm decisions." Derek said carefully.

"I would like to think that the boys would want to come and live with me, but I can't really make myself believe that they will." Pat said honestly.

"None of us can predict what will happen that far in the future. As optimistic as I want to be, I can't help but think back on some of the things I've seen at work. Trust me when I say that all it takes is one little misunderstanding or error in judgement to drive a wedge between people and cause a rift that can never be healed. By the time you've got everything settled, the boys may be desperate to be away from me." Derek said frankly.

"Or you may want to be away from them." Pat suggested.

"I very seriously doubt that, but I suppose that anything's possible." Derek reluctantly agreed.

"We're going to park up here on the left, then we'll have to walk around the block to get to the office we need. I'm glad we're doing this on the weekend so I don't have to fight for parking." Pat said as she made a left turn.

"I'm glad we're doing this in the morning. I haven't had time to adjust to the hotter climate." Derek said honestly.

"I grew up in it, but my time living in Michigan has made me soft. I can't even walk barefoot in the heat of the day anymore." Pat chuckled as she pulled the car to a stop.

"Well, if the boys end up moving in with you at some point, make sure you give them time to acclimate." Derek cautioned, then followed Pat's example when she got out of the car.

"After seeing how Mark reacted to arriving here, I don't have any doubt that he'll be fine if he has to face some new challenges. He's made me very proud." Pat said seriously as she led the way down the sidewalk.

"He's made me proud too." Derek quietly agreed.

"You mean in regard to that stuff you can't tell me about?" Pat asked cautiously.

"Yes. And I still can't talk about that, but I can say that he behaved admirably and that I'm very proud of him." Derek said sincerely.

"Then let's get this done so we can get back to the house." Pat suggested as she increased her pace.

Derek followed along, silently agreeing with her plan.

* * * * *

By the time Derek and Pat pulled up in front of the house they had run out of conversation.

Although neither of them brought up the subject of what had transpired the night before, the spectre of it nonetheless hung between them.

"Do you think they're asleep?" Pat asked cautiously.

"I think it's more likely that they're enjoying a special and private moment that they wouldn't want us walking in on." Derek quietly responded, then shouted upward, "Boys! We're home!"

After a long silent moment, a voice from upstairs timidly responded, "We'll be down in just a minute!"

"We'll be leaving for your grandfather's in about twenty minutes. Finish up whatever you're doing and be ready to go!" Derek called upward.

There was another long hesitation before Mark finally responded, "Okay."

"Finish up?" Pat asked in a chuckle.

"It's my hope that our son will grow up to have a healthy and fulfilling sex life. So, to that end, I'm doing my best to be respectful of his relationship with Enoch." Derek explained.

"So you're okay with them having sex? Aren't they a little young?" Pat asked cautiously.

"I don't know about that, but I've seen for myself that he's responsible and understands the practical dangers." Derek said seriously.

"How is that?"

"That's not for me to say. But Mark has gained my trust, so the best thing for me to do right now is to allow him the freedom to prove me right." Derek said honestly.

"I'm used to trying to preempt him from making mistakes and here you are intentionally setting the stage for him to misbehave."

"If he's never given the opportunity to face and overcome temptation, how can we expect him to make the right choices when he's entirely on his own?"

"So you're planning on providing him a safety net?"

"Yes. If it comes to that. But I'm hoping that he'll make good decisions and won't have to make use of the safety net at all. I think that this will be a much more valuable lesson for the boys if they decide things for themselves." Derek said frankly.

"Well, I guess instead of standing around talking, I should probably be packing for the trip tomorrow."

"Would you like some help?" Derek cautiously asked.

"No thank you. I fell for that one last night." Pat said with a smirk.

"I thought you said that it never happened." Derek said with a teasing smile at her.

"Regardless, it won't happen again." Pat said firmly.

"Got it. I'll just go gather my things, then check in on the boys." Derek said quietly.

"You do that." Pat said before starting upstairs.

Derek shook his head as he mounted the stairs, much more slowly than his ex-wife.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

Well thank goodness. It has been quite a while since we have heard from Mark and Enoc. The are such good boys, and they really do love one another.

I am so glad that Derik was able to rescue the boys.

There probably aren't any other people who could have pulled that feat off.

For those of you keeping track of MM's stories. I believe he is taking the opportunity to spread the chapters out, and deliver a chapter from a different story each time he posts one.

Please let him know you are enjoying his stories.

It really helps keep him motivated to write more.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher