Bryant woke up to a knock on the door. His pullout couch sat in the middle of his waiting room and three steps from the door. Bryant peaked at the clock on the wall: 6:45. When he glimpsed through the shades, Father Joe stood patiently outside. Bryant unlocked the door and headed straight for the bathroom.
“Good morning to you too,” Father Joe said.
“I need to pee,” Bryant said, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
After he flushed, Bryant pulled clothes out of his bathroom closet. He heard Father Joe lift up the pullout couch and squeak it back into place. Bryant knew the cushions would be replaced as well.
“The clouds seem to be lighter than usual,” Father Joe said, raising his voice to get through the closed bathroom door.
“I know. Some of the aliens might’ve gotten bored with Chandler,” Bryant quipped.
“Good riddance,” the priest said.
Bryant washed up and brushed his teeth. When he returned to the waiting room, Father Joe held out a steaming cup of coffee he’d just made.
Bryant took a sip from the Styrofoam cup.
“You look terrible,” Father Joe said.
“Yeah, well I was up late getting interrogated by the FBI,” Bryant said, sitting down on the couch and placing the coffee on the end table. “Margo’s family died in a plane crash the same morning the girls died.”
Father Joe pulled up a waiting room chair and sat next to Bryant.
“The very first phone call Margo made was to my office,” Bryant said. “Apparently someone has removed the word coincidence from the official FBI dictionary.”
Bryant reached over and picked up a picture of his wife and daughter posing for his sister-in-law’s wedding. They were all made up and happy to be with each other.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while,” Bryant said, “but talking with that FBI agent last night, well, it just convinced me to start over.”
Father Joe sat quietly.
Bryant stared at the picture of his family. “There’s nothing here for me anymore. Just bones and dirt.”
Father Joe’s nose curled up like he’d just smelled a skunk. “Is that what’s become of your faith? Bones and dirt?”
Bryant sipped some coffee while staring at the picture, as if someone dared him to cut open a stitched-up wound. “Spin it however you like.”
They sat in silence for a minute, then Father Joe said, “I had a visitor last night.”
“And?” Bryant raised his eyebrows.
“Margo Sutter came by. She spent the night praying. I found her sleeping in a pew when I stopped in this morning.”
“She sounds like a devoted Catholic girl,” Bryant said.
Bryant took another sip of coffee and watched the priest’s eyes go cold.
“What?” Bryant said.
“I’m trying to understand where Michael Bryant went,” Father Joe said.
“Huh,” Bryant mocked a laugh. “You can’t be serious.”
Father Joe stared.
Bryant stood and began a slow pace. “I mean after everything I’ve been through, you expect my conviction to the Lord to be intact?”
“No. I don’t.”
“Then why ask?”
“Because it’s my job to ask. I’m in the business of saving souls.”
Bryant stopped to gaze out the window. The traffic on Ray Road was clearing up. “I’m afraid my soul has seen too much action. There’s nothing left to revive.”
“Ah, Michael,” Father Joe said with his Irish brogue accent, “that’s where you’re wrong, lad. I’ve seen what you can do. Peter Grettles was only fourteen when he was convicted of stealing cars. A few sessions with you and the kid became one of my finest altar boys. Do you know what he’s doing now?”
Bryant simply watched the traffic go by, wondering where everyone was going and why they even bothered.
“He’s a CPA. He actually does my taxes. And he’s as honest as the day is long. You did that, Michael. You’re the one who put him on the right track. It was your words that got him there.”
Bryant heard the one-way conversation behind him, but merely shrugged as he watched a dog scurry up to the rear tire of his car and lift its leg to pee. Isn’t that about right, he thought.
Just then a loud sonic boom exploded overhead and two F-16 fighter planes soared past the window only fifty yards overhead. Father Joe joined Bryant as they watched the peculiar flyby.
“You think they found any aliens?” Bryant said, completely ignoring Father Joe’s line of reasoning.
“I’m beginning to think you don’t remember the Michael Bryant who saved hundreds of people from a life of misery. You prescribed less medication than any psychiatrist in the state. You had such a gift for finding the root of the problem and getting res—”
Father Joe stopped. Bryant turned to see the priest flustered by his apathy.
“I’m listening,” Bryant said.
“No you’re not.”
Bryant returned his attention out the window. “All right. I’m not.”
There was a long moment of stillness. Bryant wondered whether Father Joe had left his office.
“What would Kate say about your behavior?” Father Joe’s words came at him like an arrow from a bow.
“You heard me,” Father Joe said, backing up a half step as Bryant charged toward him.
Bryant came at him with purpose. “I can’t believe it. How can you possibly—”
As he passed the corner of his desk, he knocked over a picture of Kate and Megan. It was the photo of the girls sitting on a white oak fence in a farm back in Virginia. The glass frame shattered on the wood floor, and the room became still. Bryant looked down at his family, fractured, broken, their faces still holding their smiles. His daughter’s bright eyes seemed to be looking directly at him.
Bryant bent down to a knee to pick up the broken picture. The pressure built up in his throat, and he had to swallow a couple of times to keep his stomach from lurching. He thought of Kate and how her warm, loving fingertips used to caress his face after he’d had a bad day. There was enough love in her heart to cover half the county. It all came back to him in rushes.
Father Joe bent next to him and placed a hand on his back. The priest whispered, “They’re safe. I can assure you of that.”
Bryant rocked back and forth and moaned like a wounded animal. “I can’t afford to do this anymore, Joe. I need to leave, or I’ll . . .” He left it out there for interpretation.
The priest patted Bryant on the back. “Okay,” he said softly. “You do what’s best, Michael.”