After going past the point of no return and finally reaching breaking point, the only thing Matthew Elliott can do now is start over.
Matthew Elliott is a recovering man. As an ex-cop and ex-fighter, his new job teaching kids at the local community gym about drug awareness and self-defense, is a little bit of both. His new focus on helping street kids is helping him heal, and with Kira by his side, he’s making strides.
Brother and sister, Rueben and Claudia, are homeless kids and they’re very much alone. As they strike a chord with Matt, he does everything in his power to help them.
But when Ruby and Claude need more help than he bargained for, it stops being about work, and starts being about home.
The day he met Kira, Matt’s life changed direction, and it’s only now he realises that everything he’s been through led up to this moment. It was never about endings. His life, his purpose, was just beginning.
Reader Advisory: This book contains reference to the death of a child.
Tamara Coulter was my psychiatrist. She reminded me a bit of Diane Keaton—middle-aged with grey-brown shoulder length hair, and a kind face. She was very smart and soft spoken, but her words were carefully chosen and usually fired with perfect aim.
She was the best the LAPD had to offer and I’d been seeing her twice a week for six months. We’d covered a lot of ground, from the death of my mother to my going undercover, how I’d lost my hearing in one ear, how I’d almost lost Kira.
We talked about actions and consequences, but most of all, we talked about guilt.
From my first appointment, Tamara had talked about guilt. How it can paralyse or catalyse one into action. How it, more often than not, led to resentment and depression. She’d told me we’d be focusing more on guilt so I’d gone home and researched all I could, that way, at my next meeting, we could discuss it properly.
I have a photographic memory—a mind for details. Years as a detective did that. I’d read all the documents on guilt and other associated emotive behaviors I’d been able to find, which probably annoyed my doctor more than was productive. Too much time and the Internet were not a good combination.
Tamara had been surprised, and amused, but in my attempt to be prepared and dedicated to getting help, I’d also shown her what she’d come to suspect—I was a control freak.
So then we talked about that too.
Actually, there wasn’t much we didn’t talk about.
I had to realise the doctor didn’t have the ability to take away my guilt. Only I could do that.
Tamara had said I needed to acknowledge that as part of my therapy, I had to seek absolution from whom I’d hurt. I’d argued that that seemed a little redundant to me. “So I have to make Kira feel guilty, in order to absolve my guilt?”
“If he doesn’t forgive me, I can’t get better. That’s not fair on him.
What if he’s not ready to forgive me? What if he can’t? You’re saying that he has to, no exceptions, or I carry this burden forever? What kind of horrible responsibility is that?”
“Do you think he should forgive you?”
“I don’t think it’s right to ask if he should or not. That’s not fair. I want him to, yes. But if he should forgive me? That’s something only he can answer.” I’d taken a breath and exhaled loudly.
Tamara had waited, the way she does, knowing I’d keep talking.
“I think he has forgiven me, yes. For the life of me I can’t figure out why, or by what grace of whose god, but yes, he has.”
“Have you forgiven you?” she’d asked.
“I’m working on it. Every single day. It’s not something I’m going to wake up one day and be magically cured of. You know that, Tamara. You know I could spiel off some textbook answer so you can tick all the right boxes, but that’s not how this works.”
Tamara had smiled. “No, it’s not.”
“Then why make me say it?”
“Because it’s better for you to say it, than for me to keep saying it. I know you’ve studied all you can on this, Matt. I know you’re capable of telling people what you want them to hear. You did, after all, exactly that to a team of department psychologists about going undercover.”
“I lied to them.”
“Yes, convincingly. I read their files on you. You knew exactly what they were going to ask, what they were going to look for and how to be credible in your responses.”
“Do you think I’m lying now?” I’d asked. I’d kept my emotions in check. I’d even given her a small smile.
Tamara had looked at me for a moment. “No. No, I don’t. I think you’re working very hard at getting better,” she’d said.
But I was pretty sure she wondered every now and again if I was telling her what she wanted to hear. Sometimes she’d look at me as though she was looking for some telltale sign of my lying to her. Most of my appointments with her involved debate and banter, and I wondered what today’s appointment might entail.
Today was a scheduled appointment, and I’d been looking forward to it. I had something to share. I was smiling. I hadn’t stopped smiling yet.
I knocked lightly on the open door. The woman looked up from the file in front of her and smiled. “Matt, come in.”
I closed the door behind me and sat in my usual seat.
“You’re in a good mood today,” she said brightly as I sat down.
My smile got wider. “I am.” Then I told her, still getting a thrill to say it out loud, “I asked Kira to marry me.”
Her eyes widened, and her grin matched mine. “I take it he said yes.”
“That’s really good news, Matt,” she said.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am,” I said, knowing I sounded like a school kid, and not really caring. “It’s not a magical fix, and I still have a long way to go. I know that. I’m not pretending this is going to fix anything overnight, but it’s a good thing, yes? We’ve not set a date or anything, we’re just taking it one day at a time.”
Tamara was still smiling. “It is a good thing,” she said. “And it’s good you’re both aware that while it’s a positive step, it’s still good to be cautious.” She tilted her head, in the way that she does. “Did you think I wouldn’t agree?”
“I didn’t know what you’d think,” I answered honestly.
“You sounded like you were waiting for my approval, or my disapproval.”
“I tend to babble a bit when I’m nervous or excited,” I told her. “But I didn’t want you to tell me we weren’t ready for this kind of commitment.”
Tamara was still smiling at me. “You didn’t plan it? Was it a spur of the moment thing?”
I nodded. “We were at Mitch and Anna’s wedding.”
“Ah,” she said with a nod.
“And after the speeches, and while Mitch and Anna danced, I just looked at Kira. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He signed, asking if I was okay. I signed back saying I was fine. And then I signed the words ‘Marry me’ across the reception hall,” I told her, knowing my grin was ridiculous. “He didn’t answer me straight away. We danced first, and we joked about his mom, how it’d keep her happy if she at least had some colors to work with when she planned the wedding. Kira said he thought blue and silver would be nice. Just like that, he picked out the colors to our wedding, well, for the invitations anyway. I asked him if that meant his answer was yes, and he said yes.”
Tamara was grinning with me. “Sounds very romantic.”
I sighed, trying not to smile, which was futile. “We kept it quiet though. We didn’t want to take anything away from Mitch and Anna.”
“Did you tell Kira’s parents yet?”
“Tonight,” I told her. “We’ll tell them tonight. They were up at the cabin this last week, so Kira called them and told them to come around for dinner tonight.”
“Do you think they’ll be happy?” she asked. She always asked questions, like every answer was a test. It used to bother me, but I was used to it now.
“I think so.” Then I amended, “Well, I hope so. They’ve been very good with me in the last six months. I think I’ve earned back some trust with them.”
Kira’s parents were often a topic of conversation between Tamara and me. She knew how much I loved them, and how sorry I was that I’d hurt them.
“I’m sure you have,” she said. “The fact that Yumi calls you her Matty, I’m fairly certain she’ll approve.”
I nodded and shrugged one shoulder. “I just feel sometimes, not all the time, but I wonder how long I have to feel like I failed them.”
Tamara looked at me for a long, quiet moment. “That’s an interesting choice of words, Matt,” she said. “You said you wonder how long you have to feel like you failed them. I’m sure they’ve forgiven you, but yet you still feel as though you owe them.”
“I think I will for a long while,” I told her. “And that’s not a bad thing. A little remorse every now and then means I’ll never take it for granted.”
Tamara raised one eyebrow thoughtfully, which told me she didn’t really agree with me. “Do you feel like you need to earn their trust again?” she asked. “Have they ever said that?”
“No, but I’d just feel better if there was something I could do that would tip the scales, you know? Make it better.”
“Like marrying Kira?”