by Jennie

AUTHOR: Jennie
PAIRING: Sk/Doggett
ARCHIVE: Sure. If you really want it.
NOTES: Written for Pollyanna's Lyric Wheel, Literary Round. Book passage provided by Waterfalling ABC. SUMMARY: Home, death, family,love
BETA: Teri and Ursula and Jose

by Jennie

You know that feeling you get when you return, as an adult, to your childhood home? The warmth that starts in your belly and spreads through your body when you reach whatever landmark your brain recognizes as 'home'? It could be the 'Welcome to Hometown, USA' sign you pass on Route 6. Or maybe it's the house your very first girlfriend lived in. Possibly, it's the shopping mall that sprawls all over what used to be Old Man Harding's cotton fields.

I'd passed all of the above in the last ten minutes and that feeling, that warmth, well, it wasn't happening. The closer I got to Momma's house, the more nervous I felt and that was bad, very bad. I'd never not felt it so close to home. I was seriously thinking about freaking out and pulling over to call Walter and tell him to, yes, skip that meeting with the Director, fly down and hold poor little Johnny's hand because he's home but it doesn't feel like home and that scares him.

Before I could do that, I noticed that the truck wasn't moving; it was, in fact, parked in Momma's drive. My youngest brother was waving to me from the garage and his kids were charging out of the front door, across the porch and yard to greet me. And no, it still didn't feel right, but there was Malc. My other brother, Jims, was around somewhere because there was his car so I climbed out of the truck and let myself be distracted by grabbing my nephews as they flung their bodies at me.

And they're getting so fucking big, the boys. I always forget, you see. I forget that they continue to grow even when I don't see them and they're, my god, they're both teenagers now. Which meant that Luke, as the oldest of the cousins, would have been a senior in high school. And, really, if he'd lived, my marriage would have probably survived, so Barbara would have been here. Thank you, Jesus, there came my other brother and his wife, the sister-in-law from hell, to distract me again.

Malc's youngest carried my bag up to my old room while I cleaned up in the washroom off the kitchen. When I reached blindly for a towel and my hand found paper towels instead of the pretty hand towel set Barbara had embroidered back in... fuck, back in '89, the truth finally sank in.

She was dead, my mother was dead and home didn't feel right. Wasn't Momma supposed to live forever? She had raised me, taught me, loved me and she was dead and that just couldn't be right, dammit. Because without Momma, there was no one that really knew me, John Doggett. No one who understood all the things in my life that had conspired to form me into the man I'd become. The joy and pain and wonder and knowledge that made up the days of my life, events, both large and small, which built up layer by layer over the years as I had fought my way from the innocence of childhood to the reality of adulthood.

The worst thing though, the very worst thing, was that I'd never told her about Walter. Oh, she knew I was seeing someone. She even knew it was serious. But, I'd never quite got around to telling her that my 'someone' was a man. A wonderful man, a man she'd have liked, a man I was gradually preparing for the inevitable meeting with my family because no one should ever be introduced to my family without a whole bunch of preparation - like fifteen or twenty years of preparation.

Just as I was about to really get into a good, old-fashioned panic attack, Arlene (the aforementioned sister-in-law from hell) tapped on the door. "John?" she asked, in a voice so sweet I nearly went into sugar shock. "You okay in there?"

"Yeah, Ar," she really, really hates it when I call her that, "'m fine. Be right out."

When I emerged from the bathroom, only five minutes later, she was waiting with barely concealed impatience. "Jims and I are going to pick up your mother's stuff over at the home. You want to come with us?"

Yeah, right. As much as I'd have loved to spend some quality time with the wicked witch of the south and her progeny, watching her exercise her complete control over the brother I'd once been so close to... I figured there must be a wall around the house that I could bang my head against instead, so I declined.

I kept myself busy for the rest of the day, helping Malc clean out the garage attic. He and his family had moved in to the house after Daddy's death in '99. Momma was a proud woman, a strong woman, but even she couldn't take care of that big old house alone and she hated Ar-ar every bit as much as the rest of us did, I was living 'up Nawth', so there hadn't even been any discussion. When the time came, Malc, Suze and their kids moved in and took care of things. As Suze gradually put her stamp on the old place, making it her family's home, more and more of Momma's belongings found their way into boxes and out to the garage.

The great thing about Suze was that she always managed to convince Momma that the changes were her own idea. Of course, that didn't really matter after Momma had that third stroke and they had to put her in the home. I'll bet that Suze never stopped explaining every change she made, right up until the day Momma died.

Dinner was an awkward affair. For me it was, anyway. Things still weren't quite... Yeah. Suze made fried chicken and mashed potatoes and biscuits and slaw, which all tasted just like Momma's because Suze had taken every opportunity to watch and learn when Momma cooked, but... It. Still. Wasn't. Right. Not only was Momma not there, it didn't feel like home and there was this lump of coldness sitting in my gut screaming at me that this, this wasn't home. It just wasn't and I couldn't figure out what to do or how to feel or why the warmth of the kitchen on a fall evening wasn't comforting me the way it always had before.

Did you ever notice that in a home with kids, the kitchen becomes the center of the house? In this room I'd cried against Momma's bosom more times than I can count. The untimely death of my hamster when I was in first grade. My disappointment on not making first string quarterback my senior year in high school. The aftermath of my time in the Gulf. Luke. The divorce.

Of course, there were good memories, too. I wasn't exactly in the mood for those, though. I wanted to wallow, so wallow I did. Now, Malc and Suze know me well enough that they understood my mood and left me alone. Jims did too, I think. Arlene, though... I mumbled some lame excuse and headed up to bed before nine. That should tell you all you need to know.

I expected my old friend insomnia to visit, which was a good thing. I woke up at two am and spent the rest of the night staring at the ceiling, wondering if I'd ever feel the safety of home again or if this chill was going to be keeping my stomach in knots for the rest of my life.

You could safely say I was not at my best when I walked into the kitchen the next morning to find that Arlene was apparently the only other person awake. Fortunately, she was no happier to see me than I was to see her. In companionably hostile silence, we drank coffee and read the paper.

Absolutely fascinated by the tale of the apparent abduction of the county fair's Grand Champion Duck, as recounted on the front page of the Gazette, I jumped about a foot in the air when someone rang the doorbell. Even in a farming community, 6:30 am is kinda early to be visiting.

Ar-ar's sigh, not to mention her expectant look, informed me that it was my job, as the male of the species, to protect her delicate self from possible exposure to something unsavory at this hour of the morning. Oh, how I miss the delicate constitution of the Southern Female.


Being as the person at the door most likely didn't deserve to be greeted by Her Venomousness, I didn't argue the matter. And, you know what, it turned out to be good that I was alone in the foyer when I opened that door. Because it was Walter, my Walter, and he looked great, better than ever. I was so fucking happy to see him that I just threw myself on him, wrapping my arms around his shoulders and kissing him. I'd never been so thankful for his quiet strength. Truly, I hadn't. He didn't waver, just dropped his bag to the floor and returned my embrace.

The fourth time Arlene cleared her throat, it wasn't such a genteel, lady-like noise as she usually made when making a bid for attention.

"Thank you," I whispered in Walt's ear. "Thank you for being here."

"Walter, this is my brother's wife, Arlene," I introduced. "Arlene, my lover, Walter Skinner."

I never knew she could turn quite that shade of puce.

"So, this is Walter." Malc. Of course, that was Malc. He deftly greeted Walter and moved us all into the kitchen, all the while selflessly blocking Arlene's killing glare with his broad back. No wonder he's my favorite brother.

We were seated around the table, each with a fresh cup of coffee in our hands, when Suze and the boys made their entrance. I almost missed it, almost, but I didn't. I heard it loud and clear, Malc introduced his kids to their 'Uncle Walter', and it finally occurred to me-

A swift kick to Malc's shin - probably a little harder that necessary, but it made me feel better so what the hell? - got his attention pretty quickly and I asked him exactly how it was that he knew about Walter.

Momma, it turned out, had a spy. A snitch. Barbara. Yes, Barbara-my-ex, had been keeping Momma informed about my love-life. And how had Barb known?

To this day, I haven't been able to pry that information from Malc. I will, though. Probably. Eventually. Hell, Malc'll never tell - a clam's got nothing on my little brother - but I'll enjoy nagging him about it so I guess it doesn't really matter.

I shouldn't have been surprised to find out that Momma's friends knew all about Walter and me. Really. And I suppose it was the sheer numbers, actually, not the fact that she'd told some of her friends, but the fact that she'd seemingly told all of them about her son and his lover, Assistant-Director-of-the-F-B-I-ex-Marine-with-a-law-degree-very-male-and-oh-by-the-way-did-I-mention-that-he's-a-lawyer, Walter Skinner. One after another they came up to me during the afternoon visiting hours at the funeral home, each expressing approval of the match I'd made.

The bridge ladies agreed that Walter was a calming influence on me. The Mah Jong group said I was lucky to have found such a fine, upstanding man at my age. The minister's wife thought we made a cute couple. Momma's best friend, Lucille, winked at me slyly and pronounced Walter to be a 'hottie'.

During the break between afternoon and evening visiting hours, we walked over to Miller's Dining Room (best hot cross buns in the USA!) for dinner. Malc and Jims were telling Walter 'Momma Stories'. The kids were listening as if they'd never heard about Momma's determined belief that if Bufferin helped her arthritis when swallowed, it should and did help even more when dissolved in a hot bath and soaked in for thirty minutes every third day. We were all laughing, and there it was.

That feeling. That warmth I'd been looking for.

Home wasn't gone, after all. It also wasn't just Momma or Momma's house or my hometown. Home was family, Malc and Suze and Jims and the kids and, yes, even Arlene. Home was knowing and being known. Loving and being loved - well, tolerating and being tolerated in the case of Ar-ar. Home is always with me, and I am always home in my heart.

Most important and best of all, home was, is, and always will be... Walter.

The following is from "All Over but the Shoutin'" by Rick Bragg, which is an autobiographical look at the author's life and, in particular, his relationships with his family.

"If I live to a hundred, I will never forget her, eyes closed, lips moving in prayer, both hands pressed to the warm plastic top of the black-and-white television. On the screeen was a young Oral Roberts in shades of gray, assuring my momma that God was close, that she could feel Him if her faith was strong enough, coursing through that second-hand Zenith.

The fact that my momma did not go to church did not mean that she did not seek God. The television preachers - beamed to us from Baton Rouge, from Tulsa, from the Birmingham Municipal Auditorium - brought not only His Word, but salvation. All you had to do was reach out and feel the screen, feel that warmth, that electricity, and be Saved. I reached out to touch it myself once or twice, but all I felt was the hot glow of the picture tube.

I am not making fun of this. I mention it at all only because faith is part of my Momma's life, and because my own struggle to understand, to believe, to accept, consumed so much of my childhood. That faith, that belief, made the unbearable somehow bearable for her, and the loneliness, less. I am descended from a people who know there is a God with the same certainty that they know walking into a river will get them wet. The promise of heaven, the assurance of it, was balm, even if you had to turn the antenna to fix the prophet's horizontal roll.

I was only nine years old, but I knew even then that God didn't live in no damn TV. But I never told my momma. She needed to believe that somebody bigger and stronger than her was looking out for all of us, so on Sundays she turned on the television for her preaching, and worshipped. The prophets on Channel 6 did not know or care that she was wearing old blue jeans cut off at the knee and rubber dime store flip-flops, as long as she sent them a list of prayer requests every month wrapped around a one-dollar bill. They praised God and said that, of course, it would be nice if she could send five dollars or maybe ten, but that kind of salvation was too rich for our blood. When I was little, I truly believed that the reason we had it so hard was because we could only afford a dollar's worth of salvation a month."

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