Grief's Melancholy Shade - Chapter 12
By: Susan McNeill & Rhonda Hallstrom

Present day.....

"You look relaxed. Maybe I should take a picture of this and pass it
around to your precinct friends." Marilyn, still in her decidedly large
bathrobe, whispered into her brother's ear as he dozed on her living
room sofa.

"Be my guest. Even with photographic proof, no one will believe you."
Kermit gave a huge yawn as he stretched, his arms sticking straight up
and his legs resting comfortably on the coffee table, shoes kicked under
the table hours ago. Twisting his neck and unraveling from beneath a
heavy comforter, he asked, "When did you finally go up to bed?"

"I waddled up at about two," she said, stifling a mirror of his yawn,
"somewhere between 'Imitation of Life' and 'Jaws'. You were snoring so I
just let you sleep."

"Suppose I would be a tad too heavy to carry up the stairs," he quipped,
reaching for his shades.

"I wouldn't be much lighter." Marilyn smiled at her brother. All that
he'd been through in the past week, and he'd tossed it all to be there
with her, to give her one night of relaxation. Even so, she'd seen the
look in his eyes when things got quiet. David was with them, too.

"Just like old times, right, Mare? Watching movies till all hours?" he
asked, taking the popcorn bowl off the table to give to her.

"And the Monkees on Saturday morning?"

Kermit snapped a stern look at his sister. "Don't start." She met glare
with mischievous grin and he had to grin back. Tossing her head in
victory, she continued to bustle around, picking things up and wiping

"It was nice." Marilyn picked up the empty cans to dump
them in the trash. "We ought to do this more often, with the kids."

"It's a date." Maybe if he was around more often, Marilyn might not feel
so helpless. She was virtually outnumbered every day of her life. Kermit
grabbed Marilyn's arm as she rushed by. "C'mere, you. Sit down. I want
to talk to you."

Looking rather like a trapped animal, Marilyn sat on the couch next to
her brother. "What?" she asked, giving him her most innocent look.

Ignoring the look and the smart remark that immediately came to mind,
Kermit looked at her sternly. "You know what, little girl. I let it go
last night because we both needed some free time. What's wrong with

She sank down heavily into the cushions. "I told you. His life has
been nothing but upheaval all because of me-"

"Stop. Let's try it again without the guilt."

"But it IS--"

"Who might or might not be at fault isn't important!" Kermit got down
to the business of family. This conversation was taking on a frightening
air of deja vu. "Dammit, Marilyn, you know the signs as well as I do! Is he...?"

Marilyn held up a hand. "I haven't seen any signs. He doesn't have
friends over, he doesn't go visit his friends anymore, he's doing okay
in school, not good, not bad....I try to talk to him all the time. Ask
him what's wrong, what I can do to help. He just says he's fine."
Marilyn wrung her hands. "I even tried a heart-to-heart in private. He
seemed more nervous than ever." Closing her eyes, she whispered, "It's
like I said last night. He's so unhappy and I can't break through it."

Kermit frowned, thinking. Teenage boys didn't feel comfortable talking
about their fears to their moms, especially when their mom was hurting
already. "Marilyn, what you've got to do is get your own life back on
track the way you want it to be. The kids will follow suit."


The kids burst in, Mitch greeting her uncle with an enthusiastic hug and
kiss while Jason slouched into the room.

"Hi, sweetie," Marilyn greeted, giving Mitch a squeeze on the shoulder
and going over to hug Jason. He avoided her touch by walking forward
suddenly to grab the morning paper. Kermit frowned as Marilyn put on a
brave face. "How was the visit? Did you have a good time?"

"Gramma bought me lots of new clothes!" Mitch exulted. "I can't wait to
try them on again!"

"So we can see how much you've grown from the hour and a half when you
had them on before," Jason muttered, sotto voce.

Kermit shot a warning glare at Jason as Mitch studiously ignored her
brother. She was evidently accustomed to rolling his rudeness off her back.

"I can't wait to see them, honey," Marilyn assured her daughter. "What
did you do, Jason?"

"Nothing," came the predictable response.

"He just watched TV all weekend long," Mitch reported. "Didn't even go
to the mall with us. He's such a downer."

"One suck-up in the family is enough."

"Jason!" Marilyn exclaimed as Mitch's mouth gaped open in surprise. The
casual tug of war between siblings had been taken one step too far.
Before the little sister's eyes could spill the building tears, her
mother hugged her tightly.

"Okay, that's it," Kermit said, standing up, shoes on, tie in place.
"Time for a man-to-man talk. You ladies get beautiful because I'm taking
us out to Cafe Mexicano for lunch."

"All right!" Mitch, cheered once more, bounded up the stairs.

Kermit nodded at his sister as she swung a desperate look over her
shoulder. He winked, obtaining a shaky smile in return as Marilyn followed
her daughter up the stairs. Only when the ladies were safely out of
earshot did Kermit's voice and tone change to ice. "Come with me."

Jason, giving a grunt of exasperation, knew better than to argue and
followed his uncle outside to the lime-green Corvair. Jason watched as
his uncle walked around the car to the passenger side, puzzled. <He
wants me to help him unload presents or something? > Jason remained silent
and followed him around the car.

Kermit turned. "You can't drive from the right side of the car, kid.
This isn't London."

Jason gaped in disbelief as his uncle dangled keys in front of his face.
He took them and walked to the other side of the car in a daze.

Kermit waited until they were buckled in before issuing the expected
warning. "You crash this car and you'll be paying for it throughout
eternity. Let's go. I'll give you directions."

Jason Manse followed his uncle with typical sullen posture. Hands jammed
into his pockets, he shuffled behind the figure moving ahead of him,
cloaking his curiosity within the code of silence observed by most angry

Weaving a familiar pattern among the tombstones, Kermit sought out one
among the many -- the final resting place of a troubled boy who became a
man then a martyr. He felt another troubled boy on his heels. Jason had
possessed the good sense beneath his teen angst not to resist the
invitation for a ride. His rebellion wasn't strong enough to override the
subtle bite laced throughout his uncle's terse, "Let's go."

"Weird place for a lecture, Unc," Jason uttered with building annoyance.
All he wanted was to be alone in his room. No questions. No give and
take. No waiting for the next family crisis to deal with and adjust. <At
least that asshole Darren is gone.>

The sun was rising steadily upward in the cold November morning as
Kermit allowed the sarcasm to pass unnoticed. Bright yellow sunshine
washed over the horizon of manicured grass glinting occasional sparks
off the polished granite markers. Finding the eternal resting place he
sought, Kermit sank to a crouch at the graveside.

"I get it now!" Jason snarled, no longer restraining his anger at the
forced rode trip. "You think I'm on drugs! Why the hell should I be
surprised! You all think I'm some fuck up anyway! I'm outta' here!"
Whirling in his righteous indignation, Jason began a heavy stomp away
from his captor and the indictment of his family's name on a tombstone.


The command came not with fury or authority. A gentle breath. A request,
almost laced with a begging quality.

Involuntarily stunned by the unexpected tone, Jason did stop. Tennis
shoes were cemented to sod but still facing away from the man in black.
Nobody talked to him like that. His mother had tried to use guilt to
press him into being some other way than how he was, pelting him
with questions, "What's wrong?" "What have I done?" "Why are you so
unhappy?" His temp-step-father had lectured and ordered, giving the
teenager great delight as he had turned up the sound louder on his CD's
and ignored him.

"So," Jason snapped, "you gonna tell me how you're some dangerous psycho
and I have to do what you say or else? Spare me."

Eyes fixed straight ahead, Kermit focused on the words. David Michael
Griffin. Trying to open himself up to the spirit that had saved him days
before in Florida, the weary man rubbed his eyes beneath his mask of
dark green shades. <Was this all you needed, David?>

Silence drew his curiosity and Jason found himself at a loss. He knew his
uncle and understood him more as he grew up and acquainted himself
with the moods of adults. Jason was a watcher, soaking up the quirks of
others was a somber hobby. <Surely, that last remark pissed him off. Why
isn't he saying anything?>

Turning but still rooted to his higher ground, Jason looked down on the
figure of his dark and mysterious relative. "If you've got something to
say, just say it. All right? It's gettin' cold out here." Jason crammed
his hands down into denim pockets and waited for some reaction.

Understanding that his words were vital, the detective weighed his
thoughts. Searched for right tack, he brushed stray leaves off of the
plane of his brother's memorial.

Then the inspiration came, crystal clear as it had been years ago.
Years ago he had watched his younger brother bare his soul to
a complete stranger, David's first lost sheep. <Thank you, Squirt. >
The words played and realization dawned. Getting up,
slowly, Kermit pulled off the shades, folding them into his pocket,
and walked back to the rigid young man preparing to battle his authority.

Jason almost flinched as the two large hands came for him. Even so, he
wouldn't run. Actually, the young man was ready for a good tumble. <Just
let him try to bully me! > He steeled himself for war, for ultimatums and
sage wisdom.

What greeted Jason was something unexpected.

The hands rested lightly on his shoulders. Pulling slightly, Kermit drew
the tension hardened young man close and wrapped his arms around him.
Undaunted by the lack of response, he hugged his nephew in
silence. In a near whisper, he said hoarsely, "No, kid. All I want to do
is tell you I love you. You matter to me. What you feel matters. That's

Shock was a trivial description of the earth-shattering oddity Jason
found himself embroiled in at the moment. His uncle, who joked about
killing people for a living, was hugging him, telling him he loved
him. Not ordering or demanding adjustments of his behavior, Kermit
was simply loving him.

The deep voice continued to drip into his ear. "Kid, I know you aren't
doing drugs or stealing or any other juvenile vice." Jason struggled as
he heard Kermit trying to control the break in his voice. "I just know that
dropped a huge load on our family and the ripples of that have kept the
adults in your life preoccupied."

Jason tried to pull away at the sound of desperate emotion in his
uncle's words. He was unprepared for this. He didn't know how to react. The
arms never squeezed with force but held him tightly nonetheless.
" don't have to..."

Holding Jason's head lightly with his hand, Kermit continued. "Yes, I do,
Jason. I love you, kid. As long as you live, you'll always be able to
come to me. Your mom loves you more than anything but I understand that
maybe that's not enough. I want you to come to me, kid. Tell me anything
you're proud of or excited about or interested in and I swear to God
I'll listen." He held onto the body stiffened by confusion. "If you're
worried or confused, just call me. I won't judge you or blow you off."

"So you think if I have a bud, everything'll be okay?" Jason was
defensive now, trying to get his bearings. He just didn't know what
Kermit wanted to hear to get him to leave him alone. The boy couldn't
even order his own stumbling feelings. It was unhappiness without a root he
could grab. It wasn't just losing his father. It wasn't just the new man
who'd moved in to rule over him. But it was there and it hurt. How could
he explain?

"Maybe," Kermit answered. "Everybody needs 'buds'. Someone they can talk
to, someone to give a damn about what they do or what they think,
someone to care whether or not they're alive. Some people don't ever
find one. But I'm telling you that you have one."

"Do you have one?"

"It took me forever to figure it out, but yeah, I have a few. But this
isn't about me. We can discuss my shortcomings when we have a year or
two to spare." Kermit held him again. "I know you're going to make
mistakes, kid, and I'm prepared to let you learn from 'em. But I don't
want you to make the mistakes that happen when you feel you're alone,
because you're not."

Jason caught a glimpse of his other uncle's grave around Kermit's arm.
"Is that why you brought me here? Is that what happened to Uncle David?
He felt alone?"

"Yes," Kermit said softly.

"That's why he did drugs?"

"Yes. He told me he felt invisible otherwise. People didn't pay
attention to him so he just didn't feel that he existed....that he
mattered. Drugs made him feel strong; it made him forget the pain. It
created an illusion. Eventually, someone used that illusion to kill

"Yeah, but he cleaned up. He was okay."

"He was never okay, Jason, he was an ADDICT." Kermit's look of pain was
now blatantly obvious. "You don't get it, kid. The drug use was a
symptom of his pain, a monster that was looking for those weaknesses and
pounced on him when he wasn't looking."

The intensity wasn't lost on the boy. Jason, though surly as any boy his
age, felt the empathy building a wall over his stubbornness. He couldn't
help but feel the suffering and loss flickering in the dark eyes of his

"See, you never recover from an addiction. It's always with you. That's
why they call it 'recovering', because they never recover. All it takes
is one hit and you slide back to it, no matter how hard you've worked or
what you've done to fight it. He did some good, Jason. He helped a lot of
kids. But he never got over it. And you know what? I don't think he was
ever convinced that he mattered to us. He lived alone and he died alone,
fighting a war to make himself feel worthy. That is why I will give my
life to prevent it from ever happening again!"

Jason watched as the tough mercenary/cop sank to the grass, a couple of
tears dripping down rough cheeks. In defense, he returned his dark green
shades to their place. Softly, silently, the teenager sat down on the
grass beside him as his uncle absently twirled a blade of grass.

"You matter to me, Jason," Kermit continued, wiping the tear away. "I
want you to believe that. For God's sake, please believe me."

Jason looked down at the grass, speechless. The good inherent in him was
winning over the anger; anger that wasn't his uncle's fault. Uncle David
was a great guy, tall and lean and always smiling. Kermit was generally
dark and intense, only occasionally showing a goofy sense of humor. His
mother was so sensitive and emotional. Uncle David was the fun guy, the
guy who knew all the cartoons and cool video games and laughed at your
dumb knock-knock jokes. It was hard to picture him as a cop and even harder
to picture him as a burner. It had been such a long time since his

Reaching back, Jason tried to touch. "You were close to him when he was
my age?"

"No," the dark man shook his head in admission, "not when he was your
age. By then, the monster had come for him and I wasn't there." < /Dancing
in remembered haze came the little brother once again...Can I play on
the team when I'm big? /> "But when he was six," Kermit continued,
"he was my shadow and I was his big brother. He looked up to me and
he made me smile." </Sure, Squirt. I'll be in the stands yelling my head

"But Mom said that you saved Uncle David," Jason said. "Got him off
drugs and helped him become a cop. You helped him."

"After the fact, kid."

"I'm not doin' drugs, Unc. I swear." Jason wanted to reassure him.

"I know, but you're not happy, are you?"

"Am I supposed to be?" Jason began his own distracting manicure of the

Laughing coarsely, Kermit shook his head. "I'll be the first to
acknowledge brooding as my own teenage state of mind. But that's not
what I mean. I want you to have something in your life that's your own.
Something to give you a definition and a leg up on the world." Touching
they boy's shoulder once again, he explained, "I want you to know that
you're not just taking up space and sucking in air. That's all I want
for you and I want to help you if you need it."

Jason wanted somebody to listen; somebody to ask about why the girls in
school rolled their eyes at him; somebody who wouldn't think he was
postal because he wanted to scream at the top of his lungs; somebody to
explain why something he couldn't name was stabbing him in his insides.
Did all guys feel this way or was he crazy? It felt crazy. How could he
dump it on his mother with all her trouble?

Bending, ever so slightly amid the storm of outreach being rained over
him, Jason whispered, "I...I...need it, Uncle Kermit." It felt
nearly as uncomfortable to say as it was to live. "I try to write it but
it just--"

"Sounds crazy?" Kermit finished the sentence as if it were his own.


"Well, it's not. You have a right to feel any freakin' way you want,
kid." Glancing appreciatively at the carved granite that was standing
watch over their exchange, Kermit twisted a crooked grin at his sister's
child. "So, you write?"

It had slipped out. "It's not very good. I mean, you'd probably think
it's pretty weird."

"I like weird, Jase." Kermit stood up and held out a hand for his
companion. "Or haven't you noticed?"

"So, you'd read it? I mean, you want to?" Jason followed his uncle to
the Corvair, all ready wondering if he'd be given chauffeur duty once

"Yes, I will and I do." Stopping at the passenger door, Kermit fished
another set of keys from his pocket. "By the way, here's an early birthday
present." Flinging the keys through the air, he smiled at the expression
as Jason caught them in mid air. Reading the near faint on the young
man's face, he clarified, "And no, they do NOT fit this ignition."

"What is this?" Jason caressed the keys attached to plain silver ring.

"Those, dear boy, are the keys to a 1990 Mustang convertible with 75,000
highway miles on it. Good condition and brand new paint job to be ready
for delivery next Friday." The white mask of shock on his nephew's face
was worth every single dime he'd paid at the last police auction .
"Breathe, kid. Can't drive from the morgue."

Stammering through his disbelief, Jason gasped, "Uh....Mom said this was
okay? Really?"

The boy did care about his mother's feelings. "Yes. We discussed it
months ago and she agreed after I told her about the strings." To the
young man's puzzled expression, he continued, "You get a job and pay for
insurance, gas, and upkeep. Nobody who's been drinking sets foot inside
it, and you have to drive Mitch when your mother asks. I think that's a
pretty fair trade for some freedom."

"DONE!!!!!" Jason screeched in ecstasy. He couldn't believe they were
trusting him with a car. <A 'stang!!!> Now he could have his own money.
His own life. "Thanks, Unc! I mean it! I won't let you down!"

"One more thing," Kermit said, with a hint of the gleeful mercenary
humor. "You won't make me come up here and beg for conversation.
You'll call when you need an ear for good stuff or bad. Deal?"

"Deal." Jason slid in behind the wheel, still absorbing the reality of
his uncle's powerful insight into his turmoil and the overwhelming trust
demonstrated by his gift.

"Good deal, Squirt." For a second, he stared into David's mischievous
six year old grin, full of promise not yet squashed by indifference.

"Squirt?" Jason quirked, slightly offended but trying not to show it.

"Sorry, Jason," Kermit's vision faded back to the present, "I was just
talking to someone else." Slamming his door, he gestured dramatically
toward the road. "Home, James."

"Uncle Kermit?"


"Do people ever tell you you're one strange dude?"

"Oh yeah."