The prologue for my next novel, 'The Return'.
6 years ago
6 years ago
Justin Bennet sat on the edge of his bed, head in his hands.
As he’d only just begun his general surgical residency, there was a mountain of work stacked in neat piles on his desk. Notes to read through from both his class work and his patients. Leisure time was a luxury he didn’t have right now.
And yet he could not find the strength to stand. To get up from where he sat and do the things he knew needed to be done.
Who could, when faced with the loss suddenly thrust upon him this week?
Slowly, his eyes tracked to the paper lying atop the nightstand. He stared at it for several seconds before taking it up. The paper shook in his hands, crinkled from repeated readings. Greedily, his eyes flew over the words, soaking them into his heart once more, like rain on parched soil.
Little Brother -
I’d hoped you’d never read this. The guys all write these goodbye letters to loved ones back home before their first mission, counting on them never being delivered. Counting on surviving long enough to hug their wives, children, girlfriends, or parents on their next leave. We all know, deep down, however, that there are times when the worst happens. Guys don’t make it home. Families must learn to live without their husbands, fathers, boyfriends, or sons.
And now, I’m one of their numbers.
I know this will be extremely difficult for everyone. You. Mom and dad. My darling, beautiful Izobel. Promise me that you’ll look out for her. With her family all scattered across the country, the only family she has nearby now is the three of you. Watch over her and help her with whatever she needs. I can’t help her now; I need you to do that for me, bro. You know I’m depending on you.
And then, the part of the letter that had clearly been recently added:
I wish we could’ve had more time together while I was last on leave. There’s so much I’ve wanted to say to you, so much I’ve wanted to know. You’ve changed, Justin. You’re not the same carefree guy you used to be. What happened? Who hurt you? It was clear to me during our limited time together that you are just a shell of the man you were. I’m worried about you, little brother. Worried, and praying day and night that whatever has happened, you haven’t turned your back on the One who makes life worth living. I’m sorry we’ll never be able to talk about it, Justin. My prayer for you is, and will continue to be, that you find peace and joy once more.
Take care of our parents, of Izobel. And please, Justin. Please take care of yourself. It has been my joy to be your older brother, even if only by a few minutes. I love you, bro.
He carefully returned the letter to the top of the night stand and lay back on his bed, his feet planted on the floor. While he regretted not having more time with his brother during his final leave last year, especially knowing what he now knew, the wounds were still too raw. Watching Matt and Izobel together, especially after he’d finally proposed, would’ve been more than his broken and aching heart could handle.
And now this.
Justin knew that Matt’s final wish was that he would find peace and joy in his life again. With each day, the hope of reclaiming those two things was growing dimmer and dimmer. First the betrayal by the woman he’d loved. Now, the death of his best friend.
This letter showed that his brother was concerned he’d turn his back on God. But what Matt didn’t--wouldn’t--know was that he’d turned his back on God a long time before now.
For the first time since he’d received that horrible phone call, he was actually relieved. Relieved that his brother--the one whose faith had always been strong and an encouragement to everyone around him--would never see how far from God his little brother had wandered.
Stuffing the pain even deeper inside, Justin opened the bottom drawer on the night stand, sliding the letter into it, then shoved it closed. There was work to do, after all, and he didn’t have time for grief.
After all, what good would it do? Nothing would bring his brother back to them.