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
Lost and Insecure
Summary: Nobody ever told Micah Barrett drug rehab was easy, but he never thought it would bring him face to face with an identity crisis. Missing Chloe doesn't make things any easier, or the fact that he just became a father. Then again, maybe fatherhood is just what he needs.
Micah Barrett slammed the door of his room behind him so loudly it echoed up and down the halls of Hope Haven Rehabilitation center. He paced back and forth in the dorm-like room he had called home for the past seven weeks, muttering obscenities under his breath. Most of them were aimed at Logan, his counselor/mentor for the duration of his stay in rehab. It didn’t take much pacing to cover the distance in his tiny, eleven feet by thirteen feet room that barely had space for a bed, dresser, and desk. At least he didn’t have a roommate.
Micah ran the fingers of both hands through his dark hair in frustration. He thought the basic six week program at Hope Haven had been difficult; if his first counseling session with Logan this afternoon was any indication, the one year program might just kill him. Either that or he would kill Logan. Micah guessed there was a good reason they called it their “intensive” program.
To say Logan had been picking at old wounds today was an understatement. First dredging up his childhood along with the anger and self-doubt those years were filled with. Then he had to go and bring up Rachel and Chloe. Micah pressed the heel of both hands to the back of his closed eyelids, thinking back to Logan’s words.
“You love intensely, Micah, that’s not a bad thing. Your parents, your brother, these two great loves of your life.”
“It’s a problem if you end up losing everyone,” Micah had snapped back.
“Rachel died, Micah, and that was tragic. But who else have you lost? You still have everyone else last time I checked.”
“There’s more than one way to lose someone. I lost my parents to the church. Dad became a workaholic, mom a shell of a person. I lost Josiah to disappointment and failed expectations. The golden boy I could never measure up to.”
Micah had clamped his mouth shut at that, having never intended to speak such feelings aloud. How did Logan manage it? Every damn session.
“And Chloe. What exactly happened the other day?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Micah had muttered.
“Rose said she seemed upset when she left.”
Micah had sighed and suppressed the urge to roll his eyes, “So obviously I’ve lost her. Do I have to give you every detail of the conversation?”
“She didn’t support you staying on here?”
Micah had evaded the question, clenching his mouth tightly until the muscle at his jaw twitched.
Logan had regarded him calmly, “You said in previous sessions you always got high alone. Did you only say that to protect Chloe?”
“No!” Micah practically shouted, “Chloe isn’t that kind of person! Which is exactly why I had to –“
Micah had stopped talking abruptly, realizing that Logan had goaded him on purpose.
“Just because you’re staying on here longer doesn’t mean you have to end things with Chloe,” Logan had told him gently.
“That’s precisely what it means,” Micah had whispered back. Logan had let the silence linger until it began to make Micah uncomfortable. “It’s what’s best for her,” he had finally added, a bit grudgingly.
“What’s best for her? Or what’s easier for you?”
And that’s when Micah had stormed out, rage threatening to overwhelm him. His sessions with Logan had a way of turning him inside out, digging beneath the surface to the hard truths underneath. And what it all boiled down to was what Micah thought he deserved. Or didn’t deserve. It seemed like every time he faced darkness, instead of fighting it, he jumped in with both feet. And dragged everyone he loved right down with him.
Micah sat up, knees bouncing in agitation, heart pounding. His left leg started to throb, and an old, familiar urge surged through him to numb it with pills and feel the euphoria of the high that came with the deadened pain. He already knew from being here for seven weeks that temptation was always greatest when facing emotions he didn’t feel ready to deal with. Why did Logan have to poke the beast today of all days? His parents were visiting today. And most importantly of all, they were bringing Luke with them. His sweet infant son whom Micah hadn’t seen since the day he was brought into this world. Micah had been counting down the days, hours, and minutes to this visit. They would be here in an hour, and Micah was wound tighter than guitar strings.
His guitar! Micah stopped rubbing his sore leg and reached under the bed to pull out his old instrument. The same well loved, battered Gibson he had gotten for his fifteenth birthday. He strummed it a few times and tuned it. Then he bit his lower lip in thought. What should he play? He was still a little rusty after putting the hobby aside for four long years. The first day his father had dropped him off at Hope Haven, he had mostly just strummed a few chord progressions, getting the feel of the instrument in his hands again. After that, he added Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” which was the first song he had ever learned to play. Just last night, he had played Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’”, which was always great to play hard and sing at the top of your lungs. He strummed a bit, thinking both songs over. He quickly dismissed both. He didn’t want to think about black clouds or bad boys making good girls cry.
He sighed and just started to sing and play the first song that came to mind - a Greenday song. He sang the first line, and realized it was about a guy making a girl cry. Micah shook his head. Ugh, not that one. He changed chords to an Oasis song instead.
Micah stopped strumming that one abruptly too, falling back on the bed, clutching his guitar to his chest. He had two problems. One, every song made him think of Chloe. Two, he suddenly had a startling revelation: he didn’t know for sure what kind of music he liked. How was that possible? He had spent hours since he first picked up a guitar at the age of twelve playing dozens and dozens of songs. And not just songs that were popular at the time, but classic rock, heavy metal, grunge rock, and alternative. All of the stuff that guitar enthusiasts were supposed to like. All of the stuff that spoke to the heart of a rebellious teenager. But that was just it. He knew what guitar nerds liked. He knew what teen rebels liked. But what did Micah Barrett like? He thought about that Smashing Pumpkins song his dad had always complained about. To be honest, Micah knew that he had never liked the song all that much. But the more his father complained about it, the more concerned his mother seemed about the content of the lyrics, the more he wanted to play it.
He sat up suddenly, as a thought occurred to him that he had never considered before. He used to pride himself on being different. Of not allowing the church or what people thought to dictate the person he was, the way Josiah did. But wasn’t he? Was doing the opposite of what everyone wanted you to do really being unique? Or was it just trying to make a point? Josiah toed the line while Micah ran smugly over it. But they were both equally trapped by expectations.
Micah took a few deep, shaky breaths. Micah Barrett didn’t know who he was. But here at Hope Haven, he could find out. And he could start right now. What kind of music do I like . . . ?
The lyrics to U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” ran through his mind. He chuckled. There was no way, especially after four years of not playing, that he could master the dotted eighth delay of The Edge. If he had his electric and a delay pedal, maybe, but it wasn’t happening today. Still, now he knew he truly liked U2. But who didn’t? A person could no more say they didn’t like U2 than they could say that they didn’t like The Beatles. If you appreciated music at all, it was a given. So was Bob Dylan. And Jimi Hendrix.
Kilian closed his eyes and strummed again. The next song that came to him flowed out of him. It was perfect in every way: the chords familiar, the strum cathartic, and the words . . . Micah could have written the words himself. He had heard it only recently, so he was only able to pick out a few chords. It sounded rough and halting, and he didn’t know all the words, but the meaning of it hit him square in the chest. Lost, not knowing who you were, wondering where God was in everything - it summed up everything he was feeling.
Micah stopped playing abruptly, lifting a shaking hand to touch his cheek that was wet with tears. He had started the song thinking only of himself and his own pain, but now the lyrics reminded him of Chloe. He had never believed in soul mates, in the idea that there was one person out there that you were destined to be with. Until Chloe. Too bad for him.
At least he would always have their son. The one good thing that had come from the mess he had made.
Micah was pacing again, but this time in a much bigger space. There were several visitation rooms at Hope Haven, one of the advantages of the place being a former mansion. This one was the family room. It was huge, spanning a large portion of the mansion’s basement. In one corner was a play area filled with toys and books, in another was a kitchenette where patients could share a family meal with their loved ones. There was a sitting area that even included a changing table and a rocking chair, and along the far wall was a big screen TV surrounded by couches for family movie nights. He looked forward to earning more time with his family; he knew this hour would fly by. Hence his nervousness. He wanted to make the most of every second with his son. In short, he wanted this afternoon to be perfect.
He turned at the gentle exclamation from his mother’s lips. He rushed towards her, bending to accept the kiss Elizabeth placed to his cheek. However, he was far more interested in the tiny baby boy cradled in his mother’s arms. Luke looked up at Micah with bright blue eyes that seemed to soak in the world around him. His tiny hands clenched and unclenched as his arms flailed about. Micah smiled as exuberant coos and gurglings came from Luke’s tiny lips. The thick tufts of hair Luke had been born with had fallen out, but the downy fluff left behind was still the same shade of black as Micah’s own. His cheeks were also a bit chubbier, his eyes far more alert.
“He’s grown so much,” Micah whispered in wonder, offering his son a finger which the baby grasped in a surprisingly tight grip.
“Yes,” his mother agreed, looking down into the baby’s eyes with a tender smile. Luke’s eyes filled with recognition as he focused on his grandmother’s face, and he smiled. Micah’s heart raced at the sight.
“Good to see you again, son,” Tom said as he stepped around his wife. He clapped a hand firmly onto Micah’s shoulder, “You’re looking well.”
“Thank you, father,” Micah replied. Despite the formal words, their smiles communicated the change that had come recently in their relationship. Tenderness and displays of affection would take more time to develop, but they were on their way.
Micah looked back at the child in his mother’s arms, shifting his feet nervously. He bit his lower lip then asked tentatively, “May I hold him?”
“Don’t be so shy!” his mother chuckled as she transferred Luke gently into his eager arms, “You’re the boy’s father!”
Micah took the little squirming bundle into his arms, that same sense of awe overwhelming him that he had first felt in the hospital. “Hey,” he whispered down at his little one. Luke gazed up at him, a tiny furrow forming in the skin between his eyes. Micah swallowed a lump in his throat. His own son didn’t recognize him. But how could he? Micah had only held the child once.
His mother motioned him to the rocking chair and his parents sat on the love seat nearby. They chatted about everyday things as Micah rocked Luke in the chair. He couldn’t stop looking down at his tiny son, barely following the flow of conversation. It didn’t escape his attention, however, that his parents seemed to be avoiding church as a topic. Their faces also seemed slightly strained when he asked about Community Fellowship, and now that he really looked at her, his mother seemed thinner and had dark circles under her eyes. He sighed inwardly, knowing that the tension at church probably involved him. And, unfairly, the baby in his arms.
Said infant started to squirm and scrunch his face up. Micah looked down at Luke with concern. The little one then started to whimper and gum his fist. Micah bounced him slightly in his arms and frowned at Elizabeth.
“What’s wrong with him?”
Elizabeth glanced at her watch, “Oh, he’s probably hungry.” She reached into the diaper bag on the floor beside the loveseat, but then paused. She looked at Micah for a long while and then dropped her hand back to her lap. “You know, I’ll just let you give him his bottle.”
“Me?” Micah squeaked, eyes widening.
“Yes, you,” Elizabeth said with a slightly scolding edge to her voice, “You are his father, and a father has to learn these things.” She turned to Tom, and when she spoke again, Micah could have sworn she sounded a bit mischievous. “Actually, darling, why don’t we give Luke a little one on one time with his Daddy?”
An unspoken conversation passed between Micah’s parents, and then a slow smile spread across Tom’s face, “I think that’s a wonderful idea.”
And just like that, Micah was alone. With a seven week old baby. He had tried to argue with his mother that he had no idea how to fix a bottle, or change a diaper, or really anything related to babies. Couldn’t she stay and tell him what to do? But his mother had simply fixed him with a stern glare, softened by the kiss she placed to his stubbled cheek.
“What’s done is done, sweetheart. Now you have to man up.” Then she had patted his shoulder gently and was gone. Micah wasn’t sure what surprised him more: his mother refusing to come to his aid as she always had in the past, or the fact that she had actually used the expression “man up.”
Luke’s fussing had increased in intensity to the point that he was now waving his arms in the air and wiggling in Micah’s arms. Micah shifted him to the crook of one elbow while he rooted in the diaper bag with his other hand. He pulled out a bottle, but it was empty. Further down in the bag, his hand closed on a plastic container of powder. Bingo! Formula! But now what?
Well, this was the new millennia, after all. There wasn’t anything a person couldn’t learn on the internet. Micah made shushing noises to the fussing baby as he made his way over to the PC set up next to the book shelf. He googled “making a baby’s bottle,” then clicked on the first listing. Micah’s heart sank and his head spun as he started reading about sterilizing the parts of the bottle and only handling things with sterilized tongs. He picked up the empty baby bottle. Had it been sterilized? Surely his mother or Chloe had seen to that. He prayed that was the case as he scrolled farther down. Panic started to seize him as he read about the dangers of bottled water and contaminated tap water. Bloody hell, what kind of water was he supposed to use? Then the site said that using water from a different tap than the baby was used to could give him an upset tummy. Luke’s whimpering turned to loud cries, and Micah felt like joining in. His spirits lifted when he saw an alternate search subject: “feeding your baby on the go.” That was more like it! He clicked on it.
He groaned in frustration when the first few paragraphs were all about breastfeeding in public. That was obviously zero help. He scrolled down until he found a list of tips for bottle feeding. He inwardly cheered at first when the site said that all you had to do was add warm tap water and shake. Until it warned that the water still needed to be boiled until they were four months old because of their weak immune systems. Micah glanced over at the kitchenette on the other side of the room. How long was it going to take to boil water? Luke was full-out wailing now. Micah scanned the article, hoping there was some other way, and then he saw it: taking along a thermos of pre-boiled water. Maybe that’s what Chloe did. He reached down and searched the contents of the diaper bag again. He almost cheered aloud when his hands closed over the cool metal of a thermos. When he pulled it out, there was a piece of paper taped to the side with instructions in Chloe’s handwriting: “Elizabeth, this water is already sterilized and measured. So is the powder. Just put both in his bottle and shake.”
Micah cast a withering glance at his son, “Your grandmother could have shared this bit of information, don’t you think?” Luke’s only response was red-faced screaming.
Micah debated whether to set Luke down in the infant carrier his father had brought in while he made the bottle or to attempt it while juggling the baby. Fear of spilling the precious formula or dropping Luke won out, and Micah buckled the wee lad into the plastic carrier. Luke’s cries were now so powerful, his mouth was opened wide and his eyes were squeezed shut.
“I’ll do this as fast as I can, Luke, I promise,” Micah assured as he unscrewed the lid of the thermos with shaking hands. It was amazing how a baby’s cries could frazzle your nerves to their breaking point. When he finally had the bottle ready, he settled with his son into the rocking chair. Luke’s mouth smacked desperately for the bottle, and once he made contact, he began to suck almost desperately. Micah cooed to him, setting the rocking chair in motion, worried that his frantic eating would give him a tummy ache, but once Luke had a few mouthfuls, his little body shuddered and sighed in contentment as he continued to eat. Micah’s own body sagged in the rocking chair. He felt as if he’d just run five miles uphill.
It took Luke almost half an hour to finish his bottle, a fact that Micah was quite grateful for. He needed the peace and quiet of holding his son and rocking him gently after the screaming cries and frantic bottle preparation. He enjoyed just gazing at him, of running his thumb over his soft downy hair. But it also gave him time to really mull over what raising this child would mean. Conquering his addiction successfully was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If simply seeing to his son’s basic needs was this panic-inducing, how in the world was he ever going to do this fatherhood thing right?
Luke finished his bottle, and Micah cradled the child against his chest, patting his diminutive rear end gently. The tiny thing gave a momentous burp, followed by a wet feeling spreading across Micah’s shoulder. He turned to see a sufficient amount of spit up spread across the shoulder of his black Fender t-shirt. Micah groaned as he fished a burp cloth out of the diaper bag to dab at the mess.
“Guess I should have put this on my shoulder before I burped you, huh?” Micah said wryly to his son. Luke looked back at him with wide, wondering eyes as if he wasn’t quite sure what to think of this man. Micah sighed, trying not to take it personally. Chloe said he had begun to smile; he had seen Luke bestow smiles on his grandmother. What Micah wouldn’t give to receive a smile of his own!
Almost without warning, Luke’s face took on a pinched look, and he began to wail again. Micah tried rocking him, rubbing his back as he whispered loving words in his ear, but Luke simply arched his back and wailed louder. Micah stood and began pacing, bouncing Luke gently in his arms. The wails intensified. Micah shifted the baby to a different position, and as he did, a sharp, pungent odor drifted to Micah’s nose.
“Ugh,” he muttered, “smells like someone needs a change.”
Micah carried both Luke and the diaper bag over to the changing table. He gently lowered his son onto the water proof surface, then unsnapped his onesie. Micah recoiled in disgust once the contents of the diaper were revealed, but he soldiered on, lifting a squirming, crying Luke up by the ankles so he could wipe his rear clean. He rolled the offending diaper up into a tight ball and tossed it into the diaper pail, and only then did he realize he had forgotten to grab a clean diaper from the bag at his feet. He rested one hand on Luke’s tummy, and reached down with his other hand. Luke was still exercising his little lungs with enthusiasm until Micah straightened with a fresh diaper in his hand. Micah watched his son’s face instantly clear into a blank, calm expression, followed by a stream of urine shooting higher into the air than Micah would have thought possible for a child so small. The arc of warm liquid sprayed all over the front of Micah’s t-shirt, and even splashed onto his chin. Micah shouted in alarm as he hurried to cover his son. Chest heaving from the antics of the seven week old, Micah looked down into those bright blue eyes that matched his own and shook his head.
“Seriously, Luke? After all I’ve done for you?”
And then Luke smiled. A beaming, gummy smile that absolutely stole Micah’s heart.
“Oh,” Micah chuckled, “you think that was funny?”
Luke kicked his little legs and swung his arms, grinning even wider. Micah thought his cheeks might crack from the force of his own grin as he changed Luke into a dry diaper and onesie. Then he lifted the tiny boy and nuzzled him to his chest, which unfortunately still smelled like baby pee and spit-up. Micah kissed the top of Luke’s little head and felt that lump clog his throat again.
“If you promise to keep smiling like that,” he whispered hoarsely to the baby, “you can keep right on baptizing me.”
When Micah’s parents tiptoed back into the room, Luke had fallen asleep in his arms as he rocked him, singing “Blackbird” to him softly.
Elizabeth bent down to brush her knuckles first against her grandson’s soft cheek and then her son’s scruffy one. “I used to sing that to you when you were little,” she whispered.
Eyes glassy and wet, Micah nodded, “I remember. The Beatles were always your favorite.”
Elizabeth straightened and gave him a smile, “I knew you could do it.” Then she screwed up her nose, “Although . . . what’s that smell?”
And for the second time that day, but only the second time in seven weeks, Micah Barrett laughed.
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.