The heavy green lenses were a blessing. Here in the bright morning sun, they were a necessity. Kermit Griffin sat quietly on a worn park bench and used one finger to press his shaded armor more securely in place on his nose. Sleep wasn't able to win the battle with his over-active reasoning during the night. Pros and cons had stomped up and down beneath his eyelids, forcing them to snap open time and time again.
Now, he was here in the park, hiding in the eleven o'clock cover of daylight. You shouldn't have left her standing there like that, you moron. Indecision could have been a nice explanation for his behavior at Delancey's. Karen had called his bluff and he'd snatched up his cards and fled, but not before retrieving the protection of those cool green filters and plastering them back into position. Indecision was a convenient haven. That particular con on his mental list concerning Karen Simms was a prominent marker. He was still deciding, gathering information, analyzing their chemistry. Yeah, right.
Indecision was less embarrassing than stone cold fear. He'd stick to that alibi for now.
His paper cup held only the stale remains of his morning coffee and he tossed it neatly into a nearby garbage can. The crumpled paper landed with a dull thud that rumbled inside the metal can and drew the attention of several children playing nearby. Kermit bent his mouth into a smile to soften his appearance, which was most certainly intimidating the four waifs standing a few feet away. They eyed him carefully, betraying little by way of acceptance or rejection. Three boys and one little girl --all under ten and all obviously too young to be safely left alone -- bore the tattered, dirty clothing of neglect.
Kermit watched their expressions flow past fear and then to indifference as the group of children sized him up, deemed him harmless, and returned to kicking a nearly deflated ball over their playground acreage. Lots of these street kids had this park as their only nanny. Parents scrounging for work or drugs or the next shelter that would hold them for the night left them here to roam the park in packs until they could be reclaimed. It was a dangerous solution to the lack of daycare.
The group of children had been there when Kermit had arrived at nine and he'd followed their movements, keeping an eye out for trouble that never came. He should call social services, probably would later. But, under his watchful eye, they were safe. Let them play for now. At least someone here is happy.
Inch by inch, the game of catch was rotating its way toward a busy ice cream stand on the edge of the green. The sweaty attendant swabbed his face and snarled a warning to the tattered children. "I TOLD you kids to stop hangin' around. You bother the customers!" Accustomed to being moved along, the kids stared blankly in response to the harsh rebuff and moved away. The oldest boy gripped the dirty hand of the little girl and lead the group a safe distance across the grass to sit in the shade.
Each step he took toward the vendor bounced with anger. Kermit covered the distance slowly, fighting the urge to vent on behalf of those children. One good threat and he'd piss in his pants. It would be so nice to relieve the pressure with a little vengeful distraction.
Luckily, judgment won out over exhausted outrage. By the time the detective reached the ice cream stand, reason was once again in control. Waiting his turn, Kermit stood in line until he drew the vendor's attention.
"What'll it be, mister?" the man said, anxious to unload more inventory.
Kermit slid several bills from his wallet and put them into the man's hand. "Call those children, who you treated like crows, back over here and tell them today is Kid Appreciation Day and they can eat ice cream until they turn blue.... on the house."
Annoyed, but not sufficiently enough to turn down cash, the vendor snapped, "Fine, but why don't you just give 'em the cash and get your Good Samaritan buzz?" Wiping the gleaming stainless-steel doors of his prized cooler, the man avoided Kermit's heavy green glare.
Quietly, in a tone low and lethal, Kermit explained. "Because they need to have someone be kind to them. That someone should be a man they see every day." Leaning over and offering an unsavory grin, he whispered, "Who knows, you might even enjoy not being the park asshole for a day and I might enjoy not having to rip you a new one if you're less than gracious to those children again."
With a patronizing pat to the man's white cotton shirt, Kermit turned back toward the parking lot. He hesitated just long enough to hear the ice cream man call the children over, noting with satisfaction the change in his voice and manner. Happy Saturday, kids. The momentary satisfaction faded away as his feet hit the concrete.
Last night was still there. The indecision was still there. A night of celebration for Karen had led to that all important first move. She had been warm and witty and personal. Kermit met her approach with retreat. Moron. Chicken shit, moron. What the hell is wrong with you?
With the raging doubt pounding through his mind, Kermit approached his vehicle. Jamming the key into the door, he suddenly felt a warm breeze of perfume, a scent that greeted him every morning at the precinct. Not overt or brash, the aroma was a light breath of sweetness and woman. He didn't turn immediately, allowing himself to enjoy the sensation of Karen Simms.
"Would you buy me an ice cream cone if I were left alone in the park?" Karen's voice blew softly over his shoulder.
"How many cones would it take to equal a decent apology?" It was a lame attempt at atonement but the best he could muster.
"You know, Detective, until last night I had never actually seen a deer caught in headlights." Karen leaned her long frame backward, resting on the lime green door and preventing Kermit Griffin's escape. "I should apologize to you. I didn't mean to scare you with my brazen behavior. Chalk it up to euphoria at my newfound freedom."
She wasn't angry. When Kermit finally focused on her eyes, there was no harshness there at all. I left you standing there after you practically asked me to visit your bed and you aren't angry. Why the hell not? Calm blue eyes met his own. A smile lay below those eyes. "You have nothing to apologize for.... Karen." Reaching out one finger, he thought to stroke her hand, then stopped himself. The pros and cons of last night vaulted back to mind. Don't risk it.
But Karen Simms was evidently deaf to his inner voice. "So, to summarize, you're sorry and I'm sorry and we're all sorry. Forgiveness all around. All done."
"You should have been a diplomat," Kermit said, returning his keys to his pockets and taking a position beside her. He faced away, staring at the scenery.
"No thanks, married one once." She slid her hand into his and he didn't pull away. "Pompous asses, all of them."
"So, I'm finally going to be privy to the dark, sordid details of the mysterious life of Captain Simms," Kermit said, smiling as the tattered children walked by with their ice cream.
"We could trade secrets."
"Some of my secrets could get you killed."
"We can just skip those...for now."
For a moment, they stood in silence, hands their only contact. When she spoke again, it surprised him. "Do you want to tell me about the woman who left you this way?"
No, I don't. I don't want to say her name or bleed another drop. The thought mangled itself before reaching his tongue. Daring to look in her eyes, he took a leap of faith. "What makes you think it's a woman?"
"It's always a woman." She squeezed his hand once again and began walking back to the park. Kermit followed, lacing his fingers with hers.
Karen covered her surprise at his hand in hers with a calm blanket. Not that he hadn't held her hand once already, but this was different. That day, the worst day of her life, he was there gripping her fingers to stop them from shaking. Now, her hand was the still one. All her anger was gone. He expected you to be angry and you should be, you wimp.
They walked in silence toward a small concrete fountain. Karen cast a furtive glance toward Kermit every few steps. His eyes were fixed on their goal and his mouth tipped slightly toward a frown. Something was about to happen.
Yes, well, that's what you thought last night, lady. She had been so certain, so high on her own vindication that all those formalities and chains of command had cracked wide open. The banter between them wasn't unpredictable. "Do you ever take off those glasses?" had seemed such a subtle cue. Subtle like a brick through a window, you moron. His response, the obligatory sexy counter to her thrust.
Then something went terribly awry. For a few seconds after Kermit's borderline-panicked escape, she had simply stood stunned in her embarrassment. She had assumed they were of like minds. What do you get when you assume?> The scenario would involve sliding those green glasses into her purse, paying her tab, and vandalizing her employer/employee relationship.
On the long ride home, Karen had performed a heated recitation of each and every foul and profane noun she had committed to memory. Kermit Griffin's parentage had been dissected and defamed with much gusto in time to soundtrack from 'Tommy.' By the time she'd reached her driveway, she had been reduced to referring to him as that "fucking Muppet" and found her own rage just a touch ridiculous.
After a good night's sleep, the fury had smoothed enough so that finding Kermit AWOL from the office left her concerned instead of enraged. Upon witnessing his performance of 'The Good Humor Man Meets the Ill-Humored Man', the hurt and anger gave way to curiosity and caring. As they both reached the gray stone fountain, she sank down beside him and held on to Kermit's hand. Somehow, the contact seemed right, natural for sharing.
The silence remained intact. All right, smart girl. Your job to keep this ball rolling. Karen settled herself and watched as the black-clad shoulders slumped slightly. He was wrinkled and he was never wrinkled. "Was it one of your wives?"
Kermit's body shook with the jolt of one grunted laugh. "So, it's 'wives' now, is it? If I had half the prowess with women the precinct has awarded me through the rumor mill I'd be one busy man."
"Ah, so there are no multiple Griffin nuptials." She slid just an inch closer. "The plot thickens."
Kermit released her hand and leaned forward on his elbows. "Mrs. Griffin, singular.... for about a nano second."
"Author of the famous 'Dear Kermit Letter' I presume." Karen watched as a mist of sadness, far too evident for the private man she'd come to know, settled around him.
Another short burst of mischievous laughter. "Made a great story, but not exactly accurate." He turned his head sideways to look at her and smile. "She skipped the letter."
Now we're getting somewhere! The sun was beating down on them and the wall had fallen prey to one tiny hole. "So, this woman broke your heart and sent you off to join the French Foreign Legion."
"Not hardly." Kermit ran a hand through his rumpled hair. "Finding her gone was like a birthday and Christmas rolled into one and I'd never make a Legionnaire because I refuse to wear that stupid hat."
The urge to stroke his back tingled down Karen's arm and into her hand. She held it back. The caring was a forgone conclusion. She wasn't exactly sure when it had started. Maybe in a falling elevator. Maybe when she was being handcuffed and he came in flailing a sword to defend her. Maybe it was one late night in the precinct when he brought her coffee because "it was on his way." The origination didn't matter anymore. "So, if it wasn't the wife, it must have been someone else."
"How long ago?"
"And it still hurts this much?"
The pounding of his heart began to rattle up through his ears. It's been so long. Why is this still so strong? Kermit suffered for a moment in silence. Karen was beside him. She wanted, no deserved, an answer. He wanted to answer. Damn....no one knows this. Not even Paul.
Then, she touched his back. Gently she tried to soothe him, even in the middle of her own mystery concerning his predicament. "You do know you can trust me, don't you, Kermit? If you aren't certain of anything else, you should at least know that by now."
"It's me I don't trust." He was tired, tired beyond denial and deflection. "I don't want to hurt you, Karen."
"Tell me about her." Her tone was warm, as warm as her hand moving up and down on his jacket.
You don't know what you're asking. Or maybe you do. With one last deep breath, he let go into the uncertainty that was confession. "In 1986, I was on an assignment for," he paused and reconsidered for a moment, "a governmental entity." Kermit twisted his head slightly, testing her ability to hold in her questions. It would be interesting to see if she would want to know which three letters of the alphabet had been his boss; interesting to see if she would have to know.
You pass, Karen. Once again, he looked back into the scenery. "Here in town. I had just been involved in some nasty business in the Middle East. This was, in essence, a test to see if I'd recovered sufficiently."
"Recovered from what?" Karen leaned in more closely.
The worry in her voice reassured him that he was doing the right thing. "It isn't relevant to the story. Anyway, a partner and I were to set up a phony store front on Garden Way and wait for a mark. He was a major supplier of scientific information for terrorist colonies around the world. Kind of a procurer of Dr. Frankenstein’s and twisted chemists. He had a penchant for antique books and anytime he was in the country, you could count on him showing up at a shop run by this dealer across the street. We were to wait for him to show up then ....handle him."
"Was the woman your partner?"
A mental picture of her fluttered by in his memory and made him smile. "No....she wasn't the agent, or the book dealer, or the terrorist." He looked back at Karen, just in time to see her shake off a mist of jealousy. A faint tightening of her jaw, but there, nonetheless.
Let go. For once, let go. The heartbreak began to purr in his gut once more; one last grip before releasing his vocal cords again. "Her name was Claire. She made wedding dresses in her home across the street from our stake out. The neighborhood was one of those beautiful Victorian areas that slowly gave way to commercial zoning. She lived in the house she grew up in and sat in the front window sewing every day. I'd watch for hours, one eye staring at the street and waiting for our mark and the other eye watching her."
"Was she beautiful?"
"Yes, she was." Claire. Mousy brown hair leaning on his shoulder. Suede colored eyes squinting as she threaded a needle. Tiny, graceful fingers holding satin and pearls. Always looking away with a blush if she caught him staring. Nothing to draw a second look unless you were looking for gold. This is killing me.
"Kermit....you don't have to tell me if it's going to hurt."
"It'll hurt either way." With that honesty splayed out for her to see, he got to his feet and began to pace. Moving was good, harder for the pain to silence him that way.
Karen stayed put, letting him journey back and forth in front of her. "Tell me what happened."
Oh, just that? Just chop up my guts and fertilize the park with them? Why not....
Isn't this just perfect. Some beautiful woman who sews and lives in a Victorian gingerbread house. Just great. I can see petunias and blue birds. Wonderful. Karen followed his pacing as the comparisons between this mystery woman and herself continued. Kermit's eyes betrayed the mystic way this 'Claire' remained in his heart. Claire. His voice was almost a whisper when he'd said it. Claire. Why couldn't it be Helga....or Prudence....something less poetic. Oh well, she couldn't be that perfect or she wouldn't have hurt him this way. Bitch.
After Kermit had walked off his initial tension, he continued. Karen braced herself as he began to speak. "It happened so slowly. She had this routine. Everything about her was routine. Appointments in the morning. Down the street for coffee at three every afternoon. A movie on Friday nights. Church on Sunday." His hands were buried inside his pockets nervously fiddling with his change and whatever else ex-mercenaries kept in their pockets. "I found myself arranging to change shifts with my partner so that I could walk down the street behind her."
"So, you followed her around her neighborhood?" The thought of Kermit as the shy suitor was nearly comical.
"Until the day she stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, turned around and said, 'You'll eventually have to speak to me if you want to get this going, ya' know.' After that, it was like I'd known her forever. She told me about being all on her own since her parents had died. She talked about her business....said she didn't make dresses, she made memories. She liked Gregory Peck and reading and listening to old scratchy jazz records."
The heat was rising with the sun and remembrances. Karen slid her jacket off her shoulders and folded it beside her. "What did she think about having coffee with a mercenary?"
"Ah," he stopped pacing and donned the trademark twisted grin, "I elected to become the man she saw across the street. Griffin Banner of Banner Security. Since that was the name on our little fake business it was the easiest thing to be. I had left the service and was now selling residential burglar alarms. I liked to read. I could stand Gregory Peck and if she wouldn't mind a little opera, I could put up with scratchy jazz records."
"In other words, you lied." The word 'lie' seemed to slap him in the face. The grin flattened back into a thin line. Nice going. Make it worse, Karen.
"Yes, I lied to her."
Weariness began to settle over him. Karen patted the hard cushion of concrete -- half in apology and half in invitation. She must have found out and dumped him. Damn her. Princess Claire couldn't take it. In the same thought, Karen wondered if she could take it.
"After we dispatched our target," Kermit paused at his tactful choice of verbs, "I just kept up the life I'd created. Told my partner and the Company to go to hell and made Griffin Banner a real man. The business became real and little by little I became part of Claire's world. It was easy. Business was good and I had a life that belonged to me." He loosened his tie and swallowed deeply. "Maybe it was her life itself that I fell in love with first. I was so ripped at that point in my life. Living with death rends your very soul. I needed to be stitched back together. I was thirty-three and felt ninety. The longer I stayed with her, the easier it was to live. I got greedy for it. Greedy for every ordinary, average, decent minute that we were together. I didn't have to watch my back or have someone else's in my sights. Claire was kind and gentle and easy to be with. She didn't want anything from me except love. That was it."
"You loved her very much, didn't you? She must have been very special." This was costing him. She could see the blood nearly seeping from his chest.
"I did. And she was."
"You still do, don't you?"
"That doesn't matter."
Yes, it does matter, damnit! You loving someone else matters plenty. Whoever this Claire was, she still had pieces of Kermit, pieces Karen was beginning to want for herself. What did she do to you? Whatever chisel she'd driven into this man had left permanent cracks.
Karen held out her hand. "Come on, lets walk for a while."
The hands linked again. This time, he held on tighter than before.
"Where is she now, Kermit?" Karen didn't look at his face as they walked. Seeing the longing for another woman was beginning to be too much to take.
The words hung in the noonday heat, heavy and sad.
The walking stopped. That word 'dead' always ground motion and words to a halt. Kermit searched her face for cues and found far too many. "And, no, I didn't kill her."
"It didn't occur to me that you did." It was a lie. He could see it in the way she deflected her eyes a fraction of an inch. "Was it someone you knew?"
Quickly, he rattled his head back and forth, then started walking again. "I wanted normal and ordinary, Karen, and I got it. No retaliatory strike killed Claire. No stray bullet or explosion." God....I miss you. He could hear his heels thumping over the fitted blocks of sidewalk. The sound intensified with his heartbeat. Karen laced her fingers in a more tangled knot with his own. "We were together almost a year. I was breathing again. Nice clean air. Nice clean life. We were.... happy." Her face played across his memory once again. I love you, Griffin. I love you, Claire.
"Claire didn't have a great deal of money," he said, quietly. "But she always seemed to work things out and would never let me help her. Like so many people, she didn't have health insurance and avoided the doctor like the plague. I didn't know she was sick. She didn't say a word. By the time her pain had become too intense for her to cover or ignore......," his voice trailed off before a break could take root, "it was too late. They did an exploratory and stitched her back up within thirty minutes. The cancer was everywhere, eating her alive."
"I'm so sorry, Kermit. It must have been heartbreaking." Now, it was her turn to lead. They reached a grove of trees and detoured off the sidewalk. Karen leaned back on a gnarled oak and offered her expressive face in sympathy. Kermit found a prop and rested himself. The kindness in her features struck him. That classical face that could assume hard lines of solid command was now softened. No captain. No mask. Just, Karen. He felt naked, as if that kindness were a weapon. Point of no return, Kermit. You're out there now. Finish it.
"She lasted two months. I moved in to try to take care of her. 'Make her comfortable,' they said and gave me morphine to pump into her. But she didn't want it. Said she wanted every minute to be...clear. She wanted to read and talk and listen to music. She tried to sew for a while but had to turn over all the unfinished dresses to someone else." That memory was the worst. "All those white dresses moving out the door seemed to take what glimmer of life Claire had left with them. I'd follow her wishes about the morphine until she was too delirious with pain to tell me no, then I'd give her a shot."
Karen was silent, standing there with long wet streaks painting her face. Please don't cry......I can't take your tears or mine. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a plain white handkerchief and put it into her hand.
"She simply faded away." Soft white skin. Lips paling from rose red to bleached flesh. Eyes misted with pain and longing. "That last day, she smiled once then drifted off to sleep. No dramatic last words. Just sleep. I was grateful that she went easy. She deserved that much."
"I've never lost anyone that way," Karen said, brushing away more tears with his handkerchief. "How did you get through it?"
"I'm not sure. Claire had no family, so I gave her home and her business to the girl who took over those final dresses. I buried her. That's it. The end of a life."
"Where did you go afterward?"
"I rotted for a while," he answered, breathing deeply. "You see, Claire did this nasty little thing to me. She left me hanging in limbo. I couldn't go back to.... that life of before after being with her. But I couldn't stay there without her. I actually hated her for a few self-indulgent moments for doing that to me. Luckily, Blaisdell crossed my path and offered me an out. He never asked any questions, just showed me an office, and shoved me in it. I could hang somewhere between merc and man and hide out as a cop for a while. I never intended to make it forever."
"Is it going to be forever?"
Don't ask me that. He paused, debating not answering at all. "Forever seems an unrealistic goal given my track record."
She moved closer, never touching, just closing the space down to whispering distance. "You loved her very much. I can see that. And I'm sure that Claire wouldn't want you to mourn her for a lifetime. She loved you and she'd want you find some peace."
His voice hardened. "But you see, Karen, that's the sticky part. I'll never get the chance to be sure of that."
"Of which part?"
"I'll never know if she really loved me or not."
"You never told her the truth, did you?" Karen felt the pain radiate from his body. The self-loathing was tangible. "Not even in the end?"
"No. Sounds like a coward, doesn't it?" Kermit shifted away, putting an arm's length between them. "Claire loved an invention. Griffin Banner. Former serviceman making the neighborhood safe one burglar alarm at a time. That's who she loved. I couldn't risk changing that love to disgust by telling her she was sleeping with a killer."
Damn... Karen calculated her words carefully. The sudden realization of his confession was overwhelming. He's told you more. More than he told her. That means something. You can trust me, can't you? "Kermit, you made mistakes. That's not inhuman. But I know enough about you to know that--"
"Karen, there are some means that can never be justified by noble ends. I didn't know that when I was twenty-five. By the time I was thirty-five, it was too late to undo the things I'd been part of; too late to save the innocents who were caught in the middle." He turned toward her, blocking the sun, and casting a long shadow that covered her. "Do you know what it's like to love someone so deeply, for the first time in your life to have someone love YOU, and have that life built on a lie? I can think about it and analyze it for all eternity, and I'll never be certain that what she felt would have survived the truth. Never."
"Do you actually think that she didn't suspect that you were trying to hide something?" Karen realized sympathy wouldn't cut through the guilt. "You fancy yourself a master of concealment, but those glasses don't hide everything. You wear your grief like a shroud, Kermit. You showed her what she needed to know, and she let you keep your secrets. I think that's your answer right there."
He stood there in his manmade shade. He's trying to believe you. "Kermit, some things don't have to be earned. Some things are just given. All you have to do is take them." Please believe me.
The words were blowing into the shadow across Kermit's face. Deep lines marked years of mourning and doubt and isolation. "Can I ask you a question, Kermit?"
"Why did you tell me these things?" Karen fixed her eyes on the deep green glasses and waited. Moments ticked by without one movement to break the stifling silence. Then, one large hand moved upward, grasped the arm of the shades, and peeled them away. Sad brown eyes blinked only twice as they bared themselves to the harsh afternoon sunlight.
The gesture was a momentary shock. Be careful what you do now, Karen. Be careful. Karen touched his hand lightly with her fingers then pushed his offering back toward him. "You should hang on to these until you've settled your business with Claire. I don't require any sacrifices, Kermit." She smiled up at him. "You helped me escape a trip to prison. Work on your own escape for a while."
She had said enough. If there was one thing Karen had learned about Kermit Griffin, it was that he had to percolate information. No more revelations were required. She knew enough for now. As he returned the shades to his face and settled them comfortably on his Roman nose, Karen allowed herself an indulgence.
With one feather-light stroke to his cheek, she left Kermit alone to think and watch four children gobble up more ice cream.
Very little had changed on Garden Way. The city had shifted around this pocket of Victorian structures but had not intruded. Careful management by a local historical society had battled progress and held on to the gentle grace of the neighborhood. Through traffic was no longer allowed over the newly uncovered brick streets, so Kermit left the Corvair behind and walked down the sidewalk toward the remains of another life.
Going to the cemetery was out of the question. He'd buried her body a few miles away under that smooth green sod and placed a stone angel there as a sentry, but she wasn't really there. All that was Claire was here. All that he'd known of her was still here within three blocks. A phony business. A bookstore. A coffee shop. A painted-lady Victorian with vines slowly seducing the corners of the porch. A squeaky oak bed where they made love... where she died. A window with a seamstress and mother and a bride-to-be.
Kermit paused at the gate leading to Claire's old home. He recognized her assistant, now ten years older, busily fitting a satin gown to a twenty-something who was babbling away to her mother. The seamstress was working around the exuberant young woman whose arms bounced up and down in gestured time to some excited storytelling. I don't make dresses, I make memories.
He smiled. Claire was still here. A quiet presence that wouldn't make a ripple in the busy ocean of modern life, she could still be found in this place. He'd spent ten years avoiding this part of town and the pain he was certain lay in wait for him here among antique roses and picket fences. Once again, you prove yourself a moron, Kermit. There was no pain here. Claire had never brought him pain. Her death was painful, but not Claire.
Here I am, Claire. I'm sorry to have ignored you for so long. This isn't really a confession. Confession seems just a bit redundant considering you're probably privy to all my secrets from where you are now. In a sudden self-conscious gesture, Kermit straightened his tie. Karen seems to think you knew I was holding back and loved me anyway. Could that be true? If so, I don't understand why you wouldn't ask. Were you afraid to know or is she right -- was it irrelevant? You never even asked about the shades. Everyone in the neighborhood asked and I told so many different lies I lost track. Everyone asked but you. I suppose that's my answer, sweetcakes.
Somehow, those months with you shifted my life, Claire. You had no way of knowing that then because I didn't have it in me to risk telling you. I doubted myself.... not you. That fantasy time with you was the break between a life of dark and one of light. Hell, without you I'd probably have been dead in a year. The hunger for that life was dying and you fed me another to take its place. I love you for that.
I've been holding on to you for so long...so long, hiding behind you. Now, I think it's time to move on to something between the ideal of you and this life here on Garden Way and reality. I'm somewhere in between Griffin Banner and the man I was before we met. Maybe Karen can accept that. I don't doubt that she wants to but, she knows I'm not there yet. I'm trying. God, I'm trying. I don't know if anyone can see that if she can see that. But you can, can't you, Claire? That's you needling inside my head night and day, isn't it?
The mental dialogue coasted to a stop. The heavy burden in his chest began to unload into the peaceful surroundings. As the mother and daughter exited from the house, Kermit stepped back to the corner. His appearance, dark and rumpled, could be disturbing. He wouldn't bring disturbance here. They walked down the street, talking non-stop all the way, before disappearing around opposite corner. They had a memory full of hope and new beginnings. A woman was sewing away in the window, putting the finishing touches on that memory.
I still miss you. I suppose I always will. And I love you, but you know that already. I didn't have any trouble telling you. Maybe it can be that way again. We'll see.
With one last look, he turned and walked back to his car. It was time to get back to the precinct. Someone was expecting him.