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Authors: Jolene Betty Perry

The Weight of Love

BOOK: The Weight of Love
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The Weight of Love

 

By Jolene Betty Perry

Dedicated to
the LDS missionaries – without whom I would not be who I am today.

 

 

COPYRIGHT

All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America.

 

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval systems, without prior written permission of the author except where permitted by law.

 

Published by

Next Door
Books

Cover photo by
Chaoss on Shutterstock.

Cover art by J Designs/Next Door Books

Copyright October 2012

 

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author.

 

 

 

A few notes from the author
– feel free to skip ahead to the story:

Yes. I’m aware that with his history, Mitchell most likely would not be able to serve a mission, but this is fiction and I wanted him to… ;-)

When you serve a mission for the LDS church, you leave your first name at home, and use Elder (Insert Last Name Here).

Sacrament meeting is the general Sunday meeting where everyone meets together,
then you break into classes.

A Bishop “oversees” the running of a particular ward, or group that meets together on Sunday. There are very often several wards that meet in any given LDS church building.

“Blessings” are given to babies as a “welcome to the world” kind of thing. Kids in the LDS church aren’t baptized until age eight.

Blessings are also given to people in need – physical ailments, or mental difficulties…

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

JAYCEE

 

I know
the news before I open the door.

Nobody brings you good
news at seven a.m. by knocking in hard, purposeful knocks. I don’t know why I’m in a hurry to get there, but I’m jogging as I hold my robe closed. It hasn’t hit yet though, not really. The need to get the door is too great.

The house is still dark, and it’s cold, like it always seems to be in winter.
I tiptoe past Bridger’s door, wrapping my robe around me, and pushing my thick, blond hair off my face. I can’t believe my hands still work. Everything is fuzzy, numb, hazy. I know what’s coming, but it still doesn’t feel real.

“Mrs. Layton?”
His uniform is crisp, even at this early hour. Even after the fifty-mile drive from the military base. He’s a nameless officer. Someone who’s never seen Matt, probably never met him, and has been given the job of telling his wife the worst news of her life. He has people with him, but I don’t see them. I stare at his nametag. Lt. Brent.

“Is he gone or wounded?”
My voice doesn’t sound like me. I’m heavy, shaking and floating all at once.

“I’m sorry.”
His mouth turns into a tight frown and his eyes glance down before meeting mine again, like he’s been trained to do. Keep eye contact, give important info, check her off the list and move onto the next one.

I start to shut the door.

“Wait. I have numbers and people…”

I don’t pause.
I slam the door in his face. It’s the only thing I have control over in this moment. My legs fall out from underneath me, but I don’t feel it when I hit the floor. Bridger may or may not remember his father. He’s so young. Three. I don’t know if I’m crushed or relieved. He should know a man as good as his dad.

The crack
in my chest splits me apart. There’s no way with this much pain I can still be in one piece.

I’m on the floor in my entryway, picturing Matt’s face, smiling in his uniform, confident and happy.
From now on, that’s all he’ll be. Someone in my memory. In my past. The thought makes me choke.

I plead for blackness, something to take me away from here, away from this situation, to make it less real.
The cold Alaska winter seeps through my house, through my robe, making me shiver. How will I ever be able to move again? Why would I want to?

 

MITCHELL WORTHEN

 

I groan as
I fumble around for my phone. Why is it ringing so
early
? On
Sunday
? Sunday, Sunday… Oh. Crap. Jennie’s baby’s blessing is today. Probably the only thing that could get my lazy butt to church. It’s a big deal, but not a big deal. Not like a baptism but sorta close, I guess. Important enough that I should go. Also, my sister will kill me if I miss it. I flop onto the floor from my low-lying bed and grab the phone out of my jeans.

“What
is
that?” Caroline asks as she rolls over.

I stand up to see her lean, blond frame
under my blankets. She looks warm. I step toward the bed to climb back in with her but catch my face in the mirror. Nope, gotta pull myself together. I let out a sigh and stumble for the bathroom.

Taking the time to do a real shave will be worth it in the end
. Mom will be happy to see me all dressed up for something other than work.

I finish with my tie and walk
back into the bedroom.

“Where are you going?”
Caroline props her head on a hand.

“Church.
Jennie’s baby is getting blessed today.” I grab my watch from the dresser.

“What does that mean?” Her brows pull together.

“It means
I need to be there on time.” I lean forward to give her a kiss because trying to explain the religious side of me, when it doesn’t exist much anymore, is tricky. She pulls on me for more, her fingers weaving their way around my collar, holding my tie. But I don’t have time. Not right now.

“You are
way
too good-looking to go to church.” She smiles seductively and raises a brow.

“That makes no sense at all.”
I laugh. “But yeah, you’re probably right.” I wink as I walk out the bedroom door.


Mitch! When will you be back?” she calls.

I inwardly groan and spin back around to s
tick my head through the door. “Not ‘til after dinner probably.” I hate it when people call me Mitch. It started the night we got together. She called me Mitch, and I didn’t stop her because I wanted to take her home. It stuck.

“What?”
And there’s the edge of annoyance I knew would come.

“Mom will want to have a big dinner and a whole family thing.”
I try to gesture dismissively.

“And, of course, you don’t want me there.”
Her seductiveness from a few moments ago is gone. Now she’s scowling.

I sigh.
“It’s just…”

“Complicated.”
She folds are arms and narrows her eyes. “I know.”

Taking the
girl who currently lives half her life in my condo, home to meet Mom, when I’m supposed to be out serving a mission for the Mormon church, doesn’t seem like that great of an idea. One of two things will happen eventually. One: Caroline will get sick of me keeping my two lives separate, or Two: She’ll walk away like Amber before her, and Casey before her. Not that I blame either of them. But after Casey, my high school girlfriend, love started to feel like something that would weigh me down, and I’m definitely not ready to be tethered to anything.

“See ya.” I
blow her a kiss before turning to walk out.

I run my hand throu
gh my dark, wavy hair as I step down the stairs of my apartment building. Mom always thinks it looks messy. There’s not a whole lot I can do about that unless I do some sort of military cut, which will
never
happen. Nerves begin to tingle in my limbs as I think about stepping in the church building. My twin sister better be grateful I made it.

 

I pull up to the chapel with ten minutes to spare. Honestly, I feel a little smug. I look at the red brick and the white steeple, the sign for The Church of Jesus Christ, of Latter Day Saints. Saints.
Hm
. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here. I watch families, couples, kids, and grandparents slowly pull up, get out of their cars, and walk inside. Young men hold open doors and kids press their faces against the glass, marking up the windows. I smile because some things will never change.

I see
my sister, Jennie, and her husband, Brandon. It’s still crazy to think of her as married, but now she’s a mom, at barely twenty—it’s a lot to process. Brandon has one arm around her waist and the other arm holds the car seat with their new baby. He squeezes her closer and they look at one another in a way that no one can mistake. I feel warmth in my chest that I haven’t for a long time. I’m glad my sister is well taken care of—even if I don’t like the idea of her doing anything that could result in a baby.

My breath hitches and I
feel like a dork or a weirdo or something, just sitting in my car like this. Am I ready to get out? Am I holding my breath on purpose? I blow the remaining air from my lungs and open the door.

“Mitchell.” Mom’s warm
smile is the same as it’s been for ages. We don’t always agree, and I know she’s probably disappointed in me, but she doesn’t let on. Never would. She stops next to my car.

“I said I’
d be here. It’s a big deal.” I stand.

“It
is
a big deal. Your first niece, your sister’s first baby—its all a big deal.”

I hold out my ar
m for Mom to take and she does. She has more grey hair all the time but it suits her, up in a small bun. “Where’s Gage?”

“He prepares sacrament. He has to be
here early.” We start toward the front doors.

I remember walking to church early to help fill the tiny water cups and break the bread… It suddenly feels like yesterday.
“Wow, when did he get old enough to do that?” Time’s passing too quickly. I don’t see my family often, but I do see them. Gage being old enough to prepare sacrament still feels impossible even though I know he’s sixteen. My little brother.

“You’ve been a l
ittle pre-occupied.” Mom squeezes my arm. It’s her nice way of saying I don’t see them as much as I should and I’m just not
doing
what I should. She’s being way too nice. I think that every time we get together. She did a good job with me. I’m still not quite sure how I got off track, and I’m also not sure that I want back
on
the track. The fact that I’m half living with a gorgeous blonde I have no intention of marrying is proof enough of that.


So, how does Gage do with the whole sacrament thing?” My younger brother, Gage, is somewhere between autistic and asperger’s. He’s wicked smart, but can be difficult.


Gage does just fine. We’ve been going to church with the same people for a long time. Everyone knows what to expect or not expect from him. He’ll take a Sunday off once in a while. Sometimes he still just doesn’t want to be around all the people.” We step up onto the sidewalk.

I nod.
I know this about my brother, but he has the best, kindest spirit of anyone I’ve met.

There’s no hiding my tall fr
ame as I walk through the doors. I stand at 6’4” –a height I’ve always loved. I’m not taller than everyone, but I’m taller than most. I remember cheering for every inch and every pound I gained in high school. People glance up as Mom and I walk into the chapel together, but I don’t get the stares that I expect after my absence. The ones that should accuse me of not being out doing what I
should
be out doing—serving a mission like almost every other guy I graduated high school with.

“There’s your siste
r.” Mom points and we head their way, taking the row just behind them.

“Mitchell!”
Jennie squeals and then claps her hand over her mouth, realizing that she’s probably a little too loud for in the chapel.

I nod and widen my eyes
at her. “Don’t look so shocked. I said I’d be here.”

“I know you did, I just…”
She cringes.

“You thought I’d
bail,” I finish for her.


Yeah.” Her face turns apologetic.

“I couldn’t miss Michelle’
s blessing. It’s a big deal.”

Jennie
’s head cocks to the side. “I’m glad you still recognize that.”

I can barely make out her
whisper and she doesn’t mean it as a jab, but it feels like one just the same. Her husband Brandon rests his elbow over the back of their pew to lean around and shake my hand. Brandon
does
have a neat haircut, light brown eyes, light brown hair, medium build… Average looking, but exceptionally
good
.

“Oh, Mitchell, your namesake has your eyes.”
Jennie smiles.

“My name’
s not Michelle,” I tease. I’m still flattered and baffled that she named her first little girl after me, but it makes me feel connected to her in some way.

Jennie
turns back toward me, and before I know what’s happening, I’m holding Michelle. Her tiny form nestles easily in the crook of my arm. Her eyebrows stretch way up and she yawns, opening her mouth further than I thought possible. I sit, completely entranced. I’ve seen Michelle twice in the four weeks since she was born, but I’ve never held her. It feels significant, like an experience. Her eyes open to reveal the deep blue iris underneath.

“See?”
Jennie smiles.

“Aren’t all babies born with brown or blue eyes?”
I want it to come out teasing, but I can’t take my gaze off her sweet face.

“Yes, but hers are par
ticularly blue, just like yours. I also think she has your thick dark hair.”

“I’m just her uncle,
Jennie.” My eyes are still on the baby in my arms. She feels wonderful, warm, sweet, trusting. That warm feeling is back. The one I’ve been ignoring. The one I’ve been missing.

“Still,
” she insists.

The bishop stands to start the meeting and
Jennie turns back around, leaving me with Michelle. I brush my finger across her cheek, watching as her eyes open and close and her tiny fists squeeze together to tuck into her sides. It would take an amazing woman to be a good mom to something so special, so perfect. Jennie’s that girl. I look up at Brandon. It also takes a special man—a man that I most certainly am not. Not right now.

Baby Michelle is
happily resting in my arm. Mom puts her hand on my shoulder and touches Michelle’s feet with her fingers. Brandon and a few other men stand up. He reaches back for her. Right, the blessing. The reason I’m here. I stand up to hand her over and watch as the group of men gather in a circle. Guys who are doing the right thing and able to stand in a circle around my niece. I should be part of that group. It’s my niece and I’ve screwed up so I can’t do it—can’t be a part of her day. The thought of it gnaws at my insides.

Maybe
Michelle’s blessing day
wasn’t
a good day to come back to church. Maybe I should have picked another day, a different day, to come back. It hits me hard.
Come back
. I know and I guess I
have
known I’d make it back here. It’s that hearing the words in my head makes it feel more real, more imminent. More
urgent
. Though, I definitely don’t want it to feel this urgent. I want to go home and snuggle back in with Caroline.

Right now and since just after high school my life has been a whirlwind of real estate and more money than I thought possible for a guy with no coll
ege education. I walked the straight and narrow for a long time, all through high school, and should be allowed some leeway in religious guidelines now. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself.

My chest constricts as
Brandon starts the blessing—like a prayer for their little girl. I reach my hands forward and put them on Jennie’s shoulders in front of me as she bows her head. Her hands reach up and take mine. She gives me a squeeze. My whole family has the biggest hearts, the most forgiving hearts. Well, except maybe Dad, but we don’t talk much anymore. He left home when I was thirteen, and Gage was just in elementary.

The blessing finishes and
Jennie stands up, reaches around and hugs me tightly over the pew before turning to watch her husband and her baby walk down the aisle toward her. I’m sort of sad to let her go and just then, Mom’s hand slides through my arm. Brandon kisses Jennie softly and they both beam at the tiny miracle they brought into the world.

I want what
Jennie and Brandon have. When their eyes aren’t on each other, they’re on Michelle. I can only imagine what that must be like, to trust and love someone so completely. And now I want it. How did that happen?
When
did that happen? I push the feeling away again.

I scoot closer to
Mom. She’s dabbing tears as she always does at events like this. The sacrament is blessed, but I don’t take in the words. Instead, even after being afraid to hold the baby, I now sort of miss her.

BOOK: The Weight of Love
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