Gratias

Gratias 18x2 cover

TITLE: Gratias

AUTHOR: Starfleetofficer1

CATEGORY: Casefile, holiday, Sk

RATING: PG-13

DISCLAIMER: The X-Files belongs to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions.

SUMMARY: When Skinner meets up with his adopted son Andrew for a Thanksgiving gathering at Maggie Scully’s house, a dark presence intrudes on their holiday.

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DULLES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

WASHINGTON, DC

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2012

1602

“We landed. I’m gonna head down to Baggage Claim. Where are you?”

“In the garage, parking. I’ll meet you by the Departure/Arrival screen at the bottom of the escalator in Baggage Claim.”

“Okay, see you then. Love you, Walter.”

“Love you too, Andrew. Bye.”

Twenty-three-year-old Andrew Madden dropped the smartphone back into his front pocket and hoisted his duffel bag a little higher on his shoulder as he maneuvered through the crowd at Dulles International Airport. He had been slightly disappointed to hear that Mulder and Scully were both gone on a case, but was delighted that Mrs. Scully had heard of his impending arrival and had baked chocolate chip cookies.

The recent college grad had been earning money for Seminary for the past year by working as a meteorological field reporter. Using his Bachelor’s degree in computer science, he implemented storm-tracking software in tornado and hurricane hot spots around America, and then tracked the results to help communities prepare for disasters. It was part of a private initiative spearheaded by a wealthy entrepreneur who had a passion for disaster preparedness. The entrepreneur’s company was based out of Dallas, TX, but also had an office in New York City. Andrew had traveled around the country for much of the past year, but he and Skinner kept in close contact through Facebook and the phone, and met up whenever their travel schedules corresponded.

Andrew hoped to enter Catholic Seminary next year, when he would have amassed the savings necessary. He loved his current work, but knew that God was calling him to something more. His journal entries featured pages of academic speculation on Scriptural meaning and interpretation, on philosophy, on the nature of the universe and God’s direction thereof. His degree in religious studies had broadened his academic horizons and launched his interest in doctrinal origins. The resulting dissertations he wrote almost nightly in his journal were, combined, probably good enough to be published in a theological journal. So he knew that while the entrepreneur’s disaster preparedness efforts were noble and a wonderful way for him to minister to people, that neither computer science nor meteorological studies were his future.

The young man quickly descended the airport stairs, bypassing the traffic on the escalator, and intercepted Walter directly in front of the Departure/Arrival screen. The two men embraced. “I’ve missed you,” Walter said simply.

“It’s been too long,” Andrew agreed, and then pulled away. “I’ve particularly missed Mrs. Scully’s cooking.”

Walter laughed. “That’s the only reason you came home, isn’t it?”

It was a funny thing to say, Andrew thought. Home. Where was home? Certainly, with Walter, but could he call Washington D.C. home? Was the place itself home?

Walter seemed to catch Andrew’s introspectiveness and he nodded his head toward the exit. They began walking to the parking garage. “Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine,” Andrew said, and smiled.

They loaded his bag into the hatch of the small SUV and climbed into the front. Walter handed Andrew a cookie, and said, “A preview of Mrs. Scully’s latest batch.”

The young man beamed. “Nice!” He took the cookie eagerly, and reclined his seat. He was the picture of relaxation as they pulled out of the garage.

“So how’s work?” The two men asked simultaneously, and then laughed. Walter shook his head. “It’s fine at the Bureau. The case Mulder and Scully are on should wrap up within a few days, and they might even make it back in time for turkey tomorrow.”

“Great, that sounds good. Work on my end is good too. I’ve got to be in Kentucky next week, probably for about a week or two.”

“You didn’t mention that on the phone,” Walter said, and maneuvered his way around traffic.

“It was sort of a last-minute thing. I got the notice on my phone, actually.”

Walter rolled his eyes.

“What?” Andrew asked.

“It seems to me like you’re being used.”

“This is the job,” Andrew defended his employer. “And I knew that going in. It’s only for another year, anyway. Then I’ll be in one place, safe and sound, and you won’t have to worry about me.”

“I’m not—“ Walter stopped himself, and shook his head. “We’ve had this conversation before.”

Andrew smiled slightly. “We have.” He polished off the cookie. “Let’s change the subject—got any more cookies?”

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SKINNER HOUSEHOLD

ALEXANDRIA, VA

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2012

1920

After dinner, the two men retired to separate areas of the house, Skinner to check his work email, and Andrew to change into a long-sleeved t-shirt and pair of plaid pajama pants and relax in front of the television—something he hadn’t done in quite a while, as he didn’t have television in his Dallas apartment.

“Vacation is a wonderful thing,” Skinner said as he came down the stairs and saw his son sprawled on the couch like a teenager, his Bible and journal askew on the coffee table and the television turned on the Hallmark channel. “Sappy prime time specials, eh?”

“Nothing else is worth watching,” Andrew commented. “When did our society get so depraved?”

Walter laughed ironically. “I think it was depraved when you showed up. And you just started noticing.” He grabbed a beer from the kitchen and asked, “Do you want anything?”

“Nah, I’m good,” the young man said.

Walter knew Andrew didn’t drink, but he also knew that his adopted son grossly understated his needs. He brought him a bottle of water, and tossed it into the space between the coffee table and the couch. Andrew smiled in gratitude. As Walter relaxed into the lounge chair next to the couch and glanced at the Hallmark special, Andrew said suddenly, “Hey, Walter, for the past three years I’ve been writing these doctrinal theses in my journals, and I was wondering if you’d like to take a look at them.”

The assistant director’s eyebrows went up, and he leaned forward. “Sure, I’d be happy to.” He took the journal from Andrew’s outstretched arm, and asked, “Mind if I ask the topic? Or is it just general theology?”

“Everything I’ve noticed about the Bible and history. You might want to use the Bible while you read—I refer to a lot of passages without enclosing them in the text.”

Walter paged through the handwritten journal, and glanced up, impressed at the intellectual giant who lay on the couch before him.

Hours later, the travel-weary, hard-working young man was fast asleep and the assistant director was still reading the details of his son’s deep theological conscience. Andrew had delved into the events surrounding the Council at Nicene, studied Constantine’s person, provided an incredibly lively commentary on Pope John Paul II’s writings, answered questions of faith that Walter himself had pondered at times, and asked questions so far out of the FBI leader’s grasp that he sat gaping at the page.

This all would have been impressive by itself, but on the latter pages were thoughts that disturbed Walter, and made him want to wake Andrew and demand answers. Predictions of massive hardship, of war, of hunger…where was he getting this from? Most concerning of all was the most recent of the dismal writings, in which Andrew stated events pointed to a presence of evil gathering in their midst. To what was he referring? Had someone threatened him?

Walter began an introspective study himself, only now shifting from his mentality of a concerned father to that of an assistant director in the FBI. Andrew’s behavior had been slightly off since meeting him in the airport. He seemed quieter than normal, perhaps more tired, but perhaps he was depressed. The lack of face-to-face contact with his friends and family in the past year had been rough, and Walter worried that it had taken a toll on his son.

He resolved to speak with him about it in the morning. But for now, the assistant director stood and grabbed the blanket off the back of the couch. He silently draped it over his son, kissed the young man’s forehead, and closed his eyes in a brief prayer of thanks before retreating to his bedroom upstairs.

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MAGGIE SCULLY’S HOME

BALTIMORE, MD

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2012

1200

“Just got the call from Fox—they’re at the airport and they’ll be here in about two hours,” Maggie said from the threshold of the kitchen and family room.

Two small children, about four and six, ran past her, screaming all the way. Eight-year-old Claire looked at Maggie and the children with an exasperated expression. “PLEASE! I’m TRYING to listen to the parade!” she exclaimed. “Santa will be on any MINUTE!”

Matt, on the couch with his PSVITA, blasted enemies in Call of Duty: Black Ops (in preparation for his impending receipt of Black Ops II for Christmas) with Andrew for an audience, looking over his shoulder. Walter seemed to be the only one paying attention. “That’s great, Maggie. Thanks.”

Tara walked in at that moment, just as Santa’s sleigh float rolled in on the 40” LCD TV. “HE’S HERE! HE’S HERE!” Claire’s shrill cry interrupted Tara’s sentence before it could even escape her lips, and the four and six-year-old stopped their game of tag to gaze at the television in awe.

After the excitement passed, Tara stated, “Bonnie will be over in ten minutes to get Lisa and Joe. Matt—please turn the game off and help me get the kids’ things ready.”

“I can do that, Tara,” Maggie said without hesitation.

“No—Maggie, you’ve been on your feet all morning in the kitchen. Please relax. Let Matt take some responsibility and do what he said he would do this morning,” the fourteen-year-old’s mother replied with a pointed glance at Matt, who paused the game and looked up sheepishly.

“Sorry,” he offered, and stood up. “Lisa, Joe, time to pack up your stuff and go home. C’mon, guys. Get your toys together,” he tried to round up the troops despite their protest. Claire watched the credits to the parade roll on the screen and then lost interest in the event altogether, now that Santa was gone. “I’ll help too,” she offered.

With Matt, Claire, and the young children gone from the room, and Maggie retreating back into the kitchen to pack up snacks for the kids, only Walter, Tara, and Andrew were left. “Mrs. Scully is really nice to have offered her home to those kids,” Andrew commented, and plucked a freshly baked cookie off of the tray on the coffee table.

“She is that,” Walter agreed. “I suppose Bonnie was able to find a place to stay?”

“She’s going to go to her mother’s house. Her uncle is coming to stay with them. He’s a police officer—hopefully they’ll be safe there,” Tara commented.

Bonnie, a friend of Tara’s, had recently escaped with the children from an abusive husband. Walter frowned in concern. “It’s probably the first place he’ll look. They’d be better off going to a shelter.” Tara shook her head, and was about to reply, but Walter held up his hand. “I know she doesn’t trust shelters.”

Andrew looked relatively concerned over this situation, but didn’t comment further. He watched as the dog show started, and said, “This is probably the most innocent network TV day of the year. Not that I’ve watched much TV lately…”

Tara glanced absently at the television and nodded.

Two hours later, Mulder and Scully arrived. In good cheer despite their recent airport struggles, the agents were pleased to be with family and relaxed in the family room, engaging in casual conversation with Tara and Skinner.

When the bird was still a few hours from being fully cooked, Andrew sat up from his reclined position on the couch and looked uncomfortable.

Just then, Tara’s cell phone rang. Scully’s sister-in-law stood up and left the room to take the call, but the conversation had fallen silent, and Andrew’s body language seemed to set the anxious mood. Mulder even stood and crossed his arms in concern, glancing in Tara’s direction.

“Calm down,” they heard, and then when Scully heard “police,” she charged over to where Tara was. “What’s wrong?”

Tara simply held up a finger. “Where are you now?”

There was a pause, and now everyone was standing, and the television had been muted. Maggie exited the kitchen, untying her apron as she entered the family room. “What’s going on?” the grandmother asked.

“Not sure yet,” Mulder stated quietly, slightly confused at the entire thing. “Did something happen while we were gone?”

“No,” Maggie started, and then Walter cut in. “One of Tara’s friends is dealing with a domestic dispute.”

“Bonnie, you need to call the police. This is a dangerous situation.” A brief pause followed her statement, and then Tara said forcefully, “No. Bonnie—“ there was another pause, and Claire asked, “What’s wrong with Mrs. Hauser?” Matt shushed her. “Then at least let me send some friends.” A brief pause followed, and then she said, “Okay. We’re coming. Stay where you are.”

As soon as the smartphone came away from Tara’s ear, she was assaulted with the inquisitive stares of everyone in the room. “Bonnie is at her mother’s house. Her mother isn’t home. The car is gone from the garage. The door was unlocked, and her uncle hasn’t shown up yet. Neither of them is answering the phone.”

Andrew seemed to stiffen at the news, and Walter was keenly aware that this case was affecting his son.

“Was there any sign of a struggle?” Mulder asked.

Tara shook her head. “They’ve been there waiting at least two hours—if they had noticed anything, they would have left.”

“Let’s get over there, then,” Walter made the decision. “If you give me the address I’ll take Mulder and Scully and we’ll wait until there’s enough time elapsed to file a missing persons report. Meanwhile we’ll start investigating—there’s definitely something amiss when two people who said they would be there are independently missing.”

The agents both nodded, and Maggie looked rather despondent that her houseguests would have to leave.

Andrew moved toward his adoptive father. “I’ll go with you.” Walter immediately shook his head, but the young man was persistent. “I need to go with you. I’ll be fine with the three of you protecting us. I’m serious, Walter. I need to go with you.”

There was silence in the room, almost as if Andrew’s proclamation had changed the very nature of the situation from an unfortunate, potentially dangerous domestic dispute to an event of larger proportions. Mulder glanced at Scully, who did not look back, but instead kept her eyes on Andrew.

Finally, Walter nodded once, and the small crowd of agents accompanied the twenty-three-year-old who led the way out the door. “Tara, you stay here,” Mulder ordered, and there was no argument. He closed the door on his way out.

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HOME OF EMMA HODGINS

GEORGETOWN, DC

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2012

1400

Mulder and Scully had driven independently, and pulled up to the small Georgetown home not too far from their own townhouse. As Andrew got out of the passenger side of Skinner’s car in front of them, Mulder glanced at his long-time partner and confidant. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

“I do too,” Scully admitted, and looked at the small house, with perfectly trimmed hedges and newly-painted shutters.

“And I think he knows what’s about to happen,” Mulder nodded toward Andrew, who was behind Skinner as they approached the front door.

“Andrew? But…” Scully cut short her own protest at this theory, as she herself had witnessed Andrew’s miraculous abilities.

“Let’s go,” Mulder got out of the car, and waited until Scully had done the same before he trotted to the front door to catch up with Skinner.

The four of them rang the doorbell and were greeted by a nervous Bonnie Hauser. “Thank you for coming. Is Tara here?”

“We advised Tara to stay behind,” Skinner said, and extended his hand. “I’m Walter Skinner. I work for the FBI—these are some of my colleagues. Fox Mulder, Dana Scully—Tara’s sister-in-law. And this is my son, Andrew. We’re here to make you feel more comfortable.”

Bonnie nodded, and struggled to find words. “I don’t…my mother was supposed to…her car is gone, so she obviously went somewhere….but Uncle Hank, he should’ve come…he never called, and he won’t answer…”

“We understand,” Mulder said, and closed the door behind him. He locked it in one fluid motion, and asked, “Mrs. Hauser, where are the children?”

“They’re…I told them to hide. Do you think we should leave? We shouldn’t stay here, should we? ‘Cause, if he comes…”

Scully placed a comforting hand on Bonnie’s shoulder. “We’re going to protect you here. This is what we do. Why don’t you go to where the children are hiding and stay there. You know this house better than we do. If you hear something going on, stay where you are. Don’t come out until one of us says it’s okay.”

Bonnie nodded rapidly, tears beginning to form in her eyes. Then she ran away, retreating to some hiding place within the house. They heard an interior door shut with finality. Skinner looked out through the front blinds and then let them snap shut. “I recommend we split up.”

“Scully and I will take the back door in the living room area,” Mulder suggested.

Skinner agreed with a curt nod. “I’ll take the front door and Andrew, I want you to go upstairs and be our eyes. If you see someone coming from the upstairs front room window, yell down.”

Andrew nodded, knowing not to argue with his father about this. There was no way he would be allowed to stay downstairs.

The plan was set. The situation itself, though suspicious, did not warrant calling in reinforcements. There were no signs of forced entry or a struggle. The disappearance of family members for such a short time did not meet the requirements to file a missing persons report. The failure to answer a cell phone did not constitute an emergency. But put together, the circumstances were highly suspicious. And perhaps more telling than anything was Andrew’s reaction to the case. They knew better than to ignore such instincts.

XXX

Hours passed. The sun set behind the line of trees across the street, and Mulder sighed at the lack of action. They had spent their time trying to track Emma and Hank Hodgins’ whereabouts, but had come up empty. “We’re going to end up declaring these people missing before Hauser shows up,” Mulder stated.

Scully had done some research on Louis Hauser. He had been dishonorably discharged from the US Marine Corps after striking a senior officer. It got worse from there. Ten years ago he had gone to prison for a year for assault of a coworker. He had resumed his job as a professional mover upon exiting prison, but three years later had another run-in with the law after exhibiting violence during a union strike. Five years ago, he was the prime suspect in a bank robbery investigation, but was never charged with anything. Though his life since then had been relatively quiet, he had also spent the vast majority of it out of country, in Russia, supposedly visiting his mother.

“I’m thinking he’s a Russian mobster,” Mulder said, only half-serious.

“I’m going to call one of my friends,” Skinner said from near the front door, taking his cell phone out of his pocket. “He’ll bring us some reinforcements and possibly relieve us for the evening.”

After Skinner’s phone conversation, there was relatively little discussion between the agents. Scully took a breath as if to say something, but suddenly Andrew’s voice cut through the air from upstairs. “They’re coming,” he called. “Four or five, I think, in an Expedition. Pulling into the driveway. They see our cars.”

“Get under the bed, Andrew. Keep your head down. Stay quiet!” Skinner barked up the stairs, and resumed his post at the front door. Mulder took cover with Scully in the living room. Skinner could see through the angle of the blinds that there were multiple men, and that they were splitting up. “Got at least two headed for you,” he called in a low tone.

“Understood,” Scully said quietly.

They were expecting these thugs to kick in the doors and begin shooting, but apparently they had come better prepared than that. They no doubt had seen the government plates on the cars parked in the driveway and knew they were dealing with law enforcement. And yet, they still approached boldly. The windows shattered, and smoke grenades were tossed in. Then the doors were kicked in.

As soon as gunfire erupted, Andrew called the police from upstairs. “9-1-1, What is your emergency?”

Andrew gave the address. “There’s gunfire,” he stated clearly. “There are four intruders. “ Then he froze. He saw feet from under the bed, and realized that in the commotion downstairs, one of the men had broken free and was searching the house for Bonnie and the children.

“Are you hurt, Sir?” the operator asked, but Andrew didn’t answer. “Sir?” Andrew ended the call as silently as he could, but the light from the screen coming away from his face alerted the intruder to his presence.

“Who are you?” a gruff voice demanded, and squatted down to pull Andrew violently from under the bed. The man was much bigger than the twenty-three-year-old. He smelled of alcohol but his voice was clear—he was not drunk. His buzz cut and attire were both very military, but his demeanor was anything but. “I said who are you?” He threw Andrew down by the young man’s shirt and pointed a 9 mil at his head.

Andrew drew in a sharp breath. “Andrew Madden,” he answered, too softly to be heard over the gunfire.

“What are you doing in this house?!” the man yelled.

“Helping some friends,” he said, his near-paralyzed vocal cords unable to make his voice loud enough.

“Where are you hiding them?!” The man screamed, and charged toward Andrew again, obviously only now getting to the question he truly cared about.

Andrew backed into the corner of the bedroom, next to the antique dresser and vanity. There was a cord running from an old lamp into an outlet near his hand, and he formed a plan instantly. He would pull the cord and the lamp would come crashing down onto the man’s head. Hopefully. It was a long shot, and his panicked brain wasn’t providing him with any other options.

He yanked on the cord, and simultaneously noticed that next to the lamp were small statues of St. Jude, St. Anthony, and the Blessed Mother. They seemed to capture his eyes and hold them, because he found himself utterly unable to look away, even as the lamp missed and the giant man charged toward him.

XXX

Downstairs, Skinner shot one intruder, but the other had evaded his sight in the smoke. Mulder’s first shot at the man who charged through the back door was a miss, and now there were three intruders hiding in the house, unaccounted for. The fire alarm was now going off and the agents all hoped that would mean the police would be there soon.

It was clear the intruders meant business and had some sort of training. They fired from one location and promptly moved to another. Skinner was now behind the cover of the refrigerator in the kitchen, in front of the pantry door. It was dark and impossible to see anything. He worried about hitting Mulder or Scully if they had moved to evade these men.

He saw movement, and fired. Something shattered—probably a lamp or a figurine—but no one dropped. And now his location was discovered, and he had to move. He quickly migrated across the kitchen, behind the small island that divided the kitchen area from the dining area. Making his way in a squatting position along the kitchen floor, he looked around the corner of the island and spotted a gun in someone’s hand, behind the stairs.

He heard a shot and a thud, and prayed it wasn’t one of his agents. They were hopefully down to two intruders.

Suddenly and inexplicably, the lights came on in the living room and behind the stairs, perfectly illuminating through the smoke the silhouette of his target. Skinner fired, and the man dropped. Another shot from the living room told him the same situation had occurred there, and then he heard Mulder’s voice. “All clear.”

He breathed out, and the lights were off again.

“Walter!” a faint cry could be heard, and he scrambled up, darting up the stairs so quickly that he nearly lost his footing. He spun the corner and saw the man pointing the gun at his son. He would have fired, but Andrew cried, “Wait!” the young man inched his way out of range of the gunman, who immediately spun upon hearing noises around him. Not wanting to give away his weakness, he said nothing and blinked rapidly, desperately trying to clear his vision.

But it was clear to Skinner that the gunman couldn’t see anything, and the assistant director put his finger to his lips as he silently made his way out of range of the man’s gun and then cold-cocked him on the back of the head, knocking him out.

It was over. It was as if time stood still in the house. Andrew slowly got to his feet and stumbled into his father’s arms, embracing him tightly.

“Thank you, Andrew,” Skinner whispered.

Andrew briefly pulled away and looked at his father with confusion.

“The lights,” the assistant director explained. “The lights, downstairs. That was you?”

Recognition flashed in the young man’s face, but he was silent, embracing his father again. He stared at the statues behind them. “It wasn’t me,” he stated simply. “It was God.”

XXX

SKINNER HOUSEHOLD

ALEXANDRIA, VA

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2012

2140

Walter came through the front door and kicked it closed behind him, placing his briefcase on the chair next to the threshold and slipping his coat off. He turned around when he heard footsteps, and saw Andrew standing in the arch that led to the family room.

“Everything’s wrapped up for tonight,” he told his son.

“Do we have any kind of idea what the guy’s motivation was?”

Walter nodded, and hesitated briefly. This was still technically an open case and it would be wrong to disclose details to Andrew and put him at risk. At the same time, he felt his son deserved to know, and it would be in the news soon enough anyway. “Emma Hodgins was murdered at a shopping mall early this morning. Her ID was taken so it took the authorities some time to identify her. Hank Hodgins had jurisdiction in the area and showed up to the crime scene, and there was a shooting. He was killed before he could identify his sister-in-law’s body.”

“The entire thing was planned. That jackass targeted his wife’s only living family when he found out she was leaving and then planned to go finish her and his children off, too. How evil can a person possibly be?”

Walter was surprised. Andrew never swore, and his voice sounded genuinely angry. “It does seem to be a disproportionate response. But if the trial goes well, he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison.”

“That won’t stop the next person…” Andrew said in a low tone, and turned and walked back into the family room.

The assistant director threw the deadbolt on the front door and then followed his son. He thought about what had happened to Hauser. The hospital reported that he was completely blinded by cataracts, which looked like they had been growing for some time. How he saw to even get into the house, let alone find Andrew under the bed, was a mystery. What was also a mystery was that Hauser insisted he had not had the cataracts that morning.

Skinner leaned against the couch and glanced at the Bible and journal on the coffee table. He wondered if the events had shaken his son’s beliefs. “I’m sorry your stay hasn’t been pleasant.”

Andrew looked up from his folded hands. “Walter, I’m not upset because my stay hasn’t been pleasant. I’m upset because this is a symptom of a larger problem.”

Walter frowned. “You let me read your journal last night, and I was really impressed with your work…but the last few entries—“

“I started realizing what was about to happen about a year ago. But this past month the feelings have been really strong. Something is telling me that disaster is coming, and that it’s a threat not from without, like a terrorist attack or a war, but from within.”

The young man’s father gazed at his son with concerned eyes. Andrew continued.

“I think whatever is about to happen has to do with you. And the fact that all of this happened to Tara’s friend, I don’t think this is an accident that it’s this close to our circle of family and friends.”

The assistant director was silent for a moment, and the two men stared at each other. Finally, Walter spoke. “What do you think we should do?”

“Pray,” the young man answered instantly. “And be prepared.”

Walter nodded his agreement. Then he added, “And be thankful.”

“Be thankful for what?” Andrew asked.

This must truly be a terrible thing coming, for you to ask me that question, his father couldn’t help but think. “That we have each other to get through it. And that God is guiding us.”

The young man nodded introspectively, and Walter came around the couch and knelt by Andrew’s chair. “We will overcome.”

It was as if a lightbulb went off, and Andrew’s eyes were opened. Walter could actually see the despondent and disturbed mood lifting, and the light flicker in his son’s eyes. The 23-year-old smiled. “Thank you, Walter.” The two men embraced.

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