Stories from Lightport, Massachusetts
More stories from your favorite characters in The Front Row Series
Stories from Lightport, Massachusetts
More stories from your favorite characters in The Front Row Series
Summary: As Micah holds his son for the first time, the full truth about his drug addiction threatens to overwhelm him. He fears he will never be worthy of Chloe's love or the love of his son. He has a heart to heart with the most unlikely person - his estranged father. Maybe love means saying good-bye. Micah just hopes it isn't forever.
Chloe Wren had never been so beautiful to Micah Barrett as she did in that moment, her hair clinging to her brow, sticky with sweat, and her arms holding their son in a gentle yet tight embrace. Her smile was one that was difficult to describe, but it was definitely radiant and breathtaking; a smile he had surely never seen on her face before.
Oh Micah,” she whispered, “I don’t even have words.”
“I know what you mean,” he whispered back, brushing a kiss across her cheek.
The nurse took Luke from Chloe then, carrying him across the room to the hospital bassinet. Micah followed the nurse, a feeling of nervousness for his son’s well being suddenly overwhelming him. He was sure the nurse knew what she was doing as she bathed the tiny infant with a wet washcloth and soap, but Micah found himself flooded with worries. Was he too cold? Was he frightened? Was the nurse being too rough? As soon as the wet cloth touched Luke’s skin, his body startled and his eyes flew open wide for a moment before his entire face scrunched up for a loud wail. But in that brief moment, Micah saw his own blue eyes staring back at him. A miniature face just like his own. It was a bit disconcerting to see himself in miniature, but it also swelled his heart almost to the bursting point to see such visible, tangible evidence of his and Chloe’s love. Their love had brought forth this tiny human being before him.
“He has his daddy’s eyes,” the nurse told him.
When she finished bathing Luke, she diapered him and dressed him in a onesie Chloe had brought in her overnight bag. Then she swaddled him tightly in a hospital blanket and turned with the tiny bundle to Micah.
“Is Daddy ready to hold him?”
Micah swallowed hard as he reached out tentatively for the newborn. He knew babies were small, but he still hadn’t been prepared for just how small and vulnerable his son was. As he settled Luke in the crook of his arm, being careful to support his neck as the nurse instructed, Micah felt he could barely breathe. The weight of this love was overwhelming all of his senses, and one thought kept repeating on a loop in his head. He was responsible for raising this child in his arms; he was this little boy’s father. And he suddenly knew his own father had been right: he wasn’t ready. Cold realization swept over him; he was a drug addict and now he was holding a son in his arms. A son who deserved so much more than he could give him. A son who would surely endure the pain of being let down, just as Micah had repeatedly let Chloe down. Micah felt his heart beat faster and the blood rush from his head. What was he supposed to do now?
“Micah,” Chloe said softly, “it’s August 15th. We met a year ago today.”
He looked up from the babe in his arms to gaze into Chloe’s face. She was so happy, so at peace. Motherhood looked so right on her already. How could he go on the way he was? Letting her down at every turn when she needed him?
He swallowed hard, “We met a year ago today,” he repeated.
She frowned and reached her hand out towards Micah, “It’s fitting, then, isn’t it? That our son would be born on this day in particular.”
Micah took her hand and kissed it, holding Luke safely tucked in the crook of his left arm. A year ago he had promised Chloe so many things. He thought he could change for her - be . . . better, and look where it landed her? In a maternity ward at the age of nineteen.
“Yes, Wren, a lot can happen in a year.”
Micah couldn’t shake the sense of dread that had fallen over him like a blanket. He stared out the window of the hospital cafeteria, looking pensively at nothing at all as he clenched his jaw over and over again. Even now, his body screamed for those pills. It was only a matter of time before everything crumbled to dust. And now he had a helpless baby who would suffer in the aftermath.
“Micah, son, please sit and eat something.”
Micah tore his gaze away from the hospital landscaping that he wasn’t even seeing. His father sat in a molded plastic chair in a hideous shade of orange. On the table in front of him was a cup of cheap hospital coffee. He gestured with his hand at the soggy sandwich and bag of chips across from him. Micah sighed and sat before the unappetizing meal. Even if the food had been decent, he wouldn’t have had the appetite for it. His father regarded him over the rim of his coffee cup as he took a sip. Tom Barrett's eyes held a tenderness and a hint of regret. Of course they did, everyone in his family regretted just about everything about Micah.
“Luke is precious,” Tom said on a sigh as he lowered his coffee, “When I held him up there, I never wanted to let him go.”
“Yeah,” Micah nodded with a half-smile, “I know what you mean.”
He noted his father’s concerned glance and raised the sandwich to his lips. He took a nibble, followed it with a swig of water, and then tossed a chip in his mouth. Tom leaned back in his chair, a little more relaxed now that Micah was forcing himself to eat.
“It reminds me of the moment I held you,” Tom continued, “he looks just like you did..”
Micah didn’t know what to say as his father regarded him. He was sure both his parents had great dreams for him, as all parents do. Holding Luke was probably a reminder of how spectacularly Micah had failed.
“I failed you, son.”
Tom’s words almost caused Micah to choke on his next bite of sandwich. He looked at his father and was surprised to see tears pooled in the older man’s eyes.
“I wasn’t there like I should have been,” he continued, “I worked too much. And I didn’t encourage you in your gifts.”
Micah was still so sure he must be dreaming, he grasped at his father’s last statement, thinking surely he couldn’t be serious. “What gifts? Getting in trouble all the time? Cracking jokes during Sunday school?”
“You’re an intensely passionate person, Micah. I should have encouraged that, helped teach you to use it in the right way. Your natural charm and sense of humor could have made you a great leader, but I was so busy worrying about my image, I tried to stamp it out of you. And your questions and your curiosity, they frightened me, to be honest with you. Because even pastors don’t have all the answers, but everyone expects them to.”
“I didn’t need a pastor,” Micah replied, voice thick, “I needed a father.”
Tom smiled as a single tear tracked down his cheek. “I know, son. I’m sorry.”
He reached his hand out to clasp Micah’s shoulder, but Micah quickly stood. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans and paced back towards the window. His father followed him.
“Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Shall we?”
Micah took a deep, shuddering breath, knowing full well what his father was referring to. “Chloe flushed the pills down the toilet two months ago, Dad. I haven’t had one since.”
“And how’s that working for you?”
Micah ran a hand wearily over his face as he whispered, “I don’t want to fail them, Dad.”
Tom clapped a hand on Micah’s shoulders, “It’s time to face your demons, but you don’t have to do it alone. It’s okay to get help, Micah. If you don’t do it for yourself, at least do it for your son.”
And suddenly, it was all too much to bear. The woman he loved was upstairs counting on him. His innocent, helpless son needed a father. And it was too much. Micah knew he couldn’t be the man they needed him to be. No matter how hard he tried. He turned to his father, expecting to see disappointment, or shame, or hurt. Instead, he saw . . . love. And it broke him.
“Dad, I’m so scared,” Micah choked out, sobs wracking his body.
His father grabbed a fistful of Micah’s shirt and yanked his son into a hug. Micah wrapped his arms around the older man in a way he hadn’t since he wrecked his bike in the fifth grade. He sobbed against his father’s shoulder, and Tom Barrett held him, cupping the back of his head as if he were a boy again.
“I’m right here, son. I love you, and I’m right here.”
Micah’s hands were in his pockets as he shuffled his feet back and forth in the hallway outside Chloe’s door. He didn’t want to do this; the coward in him wanted to run. Tom slapped him on the shoulder and squeezed.
“This is the right thing to do, Micah.”
He nodded; he knew his father was right. The orderly who had checked him in at Hope Haven, the rehab facility his dad had found, was shocked when Micah explained detoxing at home. Apparently, it was something incredibly dangerous and stupid. He could have died. And the orderly wasn’t surprised that he was still struggling with the pull of his addiction.
Six weeks. That was the length of the basic program at Hope Haven. Six weeks with no contact whatsoever with the outside world. Six weeks completely focused on his recovery. Six very expensive weeks. When he saw the cost on the paperwork he was filling out, Micah had protested to his father. Micah had nowhere near that kind of money.
“Your mother and I will take care of it,” Tom had said firmly, shoving the clipboard back into Micah’s hands.
“But Dad,” Micah had protested, “pastors aren’t exactly rolling in money.”
His father had shaken his head and pressed his lips together tightly as if to say there was no point in arguing. “I’ll sell all I own; spend the rest of my days paying off credit card debt. Anything to get you clean, son.”
Micah had finished the paperwork, seeing that there would be no arguing. Micah had to list every controlled substance he had ever taken, even beer and nicotine. But that had been nothing compared to the more personal questions: Have you ever hated yourself? Have you ever wanted to harm yourself? Do you believe God loves you? Do you believe God has a purpose for your life?
It looked like the next six weeks would also force him to face his inner demons; the ones that had been there a long time before the pills. He told his father he was afraid in the hospital cafeteria; now he was downright terrified.
In the present, Micah took a deep breath and then slowly opened the door to the hospital room.
“Micah!” Chloe cried out the second he stepped through the door. Her eyes were bright, her face alight with joy and relief at seeing him. He hated to shatter that look. But he was about to.
“Chloe,” he answered her, forcing a half-smile on his face.
“Chloe and Micah need to talk,” Tom announced to the room.
Micah was vaguely aware of Chloe’s cousins hastening out the door. His eyes were focused on the blonde angel in the bed in front of him. Their tiny son was pressed against her chest, skin to skin, a blanket covering all but the tip of his button nose. The little lump beneath the blanket squirmed, and Micah was once again in awe of Chloe’s natural instincts as a mother. Thoughts tumbled through his mind of all the little moments he would miss with Chloe and his son in the next six weeks. It wasn’t going to be easy for her, and it killed him not to be there.
“Chloe,” he said finally, “Chloe, I have to go away for a little while.”
She gasped, “But why?”
Tears pooled in Micah’s eyes as he crossed the room and knelt at her bedside, “Because I want what’s best for you, Chloe. For you, for Luke.” He rested a trembling hand on the baby’s head, gently stroking his thin tufts of dark hair. “I’ve already checked into a rehab facility. I move in this afternoon – right now, actually.”
Chloe shook her head, tears spilling over to roll down her checks. Every tear was like a knife to Micah’s heart. “But you quit! You’re doing fine!”
Micah’s jaw clenched and the shame that overwhelmed him was so great, he could barely look at her. “No I’m not. You have no idea how I struggle to keep this addiction, this darkness, at bay. I’m barely hanging on. This place can help me conquer my demons. For good.”
“But I don’t want to lose you!”
Her words were so desperate, a look of despair and fear awash in her eyes. She wouldn’t even be in this situation if it hadn’t been for him. And yet, Micah loved her more than his own life. He reminded himself that was the reason he had to do this. Micah’s own tears finally spilled over as he caressed her cheek, “And I don’t want to lose you. But if I don’t do this, it’s only a matter of time before I relapse.”
And that was the other thing; he knew he might lose her by leaving. But how could he risk hurting her? Risk hurting Luke?
“But why now?” Chloe grasped at his shirt, a hint of desperation in her voice, “Can’t it wait? We need you!”
The edge of panic in her voice almost made his resolve crumble. In truth, it was the depth of his love for her that was helping him resist the temptation to stay by her side. Micah leaned closer, pressing his forehead to hers, “If I wait, I’m afraid I’ll talk myself out of it.”
“It’s just a six week program, Chloe,” his father spoke up from the corner of the room.
“Six weeks?” Chloe whispered.
“Six weeks,” Micah whispered back, “six weeks to become a man worthy of you. And our son.”
Micah kissed her then, with desperate passion, even though his father was in the room. Then he bent and kissed the top of Luke’s head.
When he walked out, he forced himself not to glance back. He could hear her sobs, and if he turned to look at her tear stained face, he might never leave.
Micah dropped his duffel on the floor of his dorm room at Hope Haven; his home for the next six weeks. He walked around the stuffy, institutional room, sitting tentatively on the edge of the bed covered in a hospital-grade blanket. At least the room had a nice view of the backyard, filled with a beautifully manicured garden of flowers. The edge of the property held a small pond where ducks and geese glided through the water.
“Ahem,” his father stood in the doorway, clearing his throat. “I got permission from the staff for this. They actually thought it would be helpful to your recovery.”
Micah stood, his mouth agape. He reached out to touch the tip of his guitar case, almost as if it were a mirage that might disappear.
“This is one of your gifts too, son,” his father told him firmly, voice laced with pride. “You haven’t played since the accident – “ Tom cut himself off, shaking his head, “since Rachel died. Perhaps it’s time you played again.”
Micah grasped the top of the hard leather case and pulled it towards himself. He gave his father a teasing smile, “What about that lecture you gave me at 14 about the inherent evils of the music I preferred?”
Tom chuckled, “Well, that may have had more to do with the headaches you gave your mother and I. That one band you liked was particularly grating – some song about a rat in a cage?”
“Smashing Pumpkins, Dad,” Micah laughed, “and I’d need my electric for that.”
“Oh, well, maybe you’ll learn some new songs.”
Micah nodded, “I’m sure I will, Dad.”
Tom shuffled his feet a bit, as if working up the courage to add something else, “Micah, figure out who you are while you’re here, okay?”
“I used to think I wanted to be like you, Dad. Or Josiah. But I don’t think I could measure up.”
“Then don’t look to us, son. Look to God. He’s got a plan for you, I know it.” Tom shook his head and raised both hands in a gesture of surrender, “Sorry, there I go being a pastor again instead of a dad.”
Micah just grabbed his Dad in a firm hug. “I love you, Dad. Even when you preach at me.”
Tom’s chuckle let Micah know he saw the humor. “I love you too, son.”
Then his father was gone, leaving Micah alone in the sterile room. Micah had to meet with a counselor in half an hour, so he had some time to kill. He swung the guitar case onto the bed and flipped it open for the first time in almost four years. He ran his fingers along the cool wood and the taut strings. He pulled it out and began tuning it. He had missed the feel of it in his hands; it was still as familiar as an old friend.
Maybe his dad was right. Maybe he should learn some new songs.
I am a former English teacher turned homeschool mom of three who writes Christian romance novels on the side. You know, in my huge amount of spare time.