Chapter 1 - Slow motion movie

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Joe Walch sat down and took his mother's hand.  He rubbed his thumb over her raw red knuckles. Her pained expression was like a stab in his heart.

Shit! That was a sick simile, he cursed internally.

Taking a deep breath, he quietly pleaded. "Ma, I want you to be happy for me. I'm happy for me. This is what I've been working towards."

"But why so far away? I need you... We need you..."

"I'll be four hours away not on the other side of the world. I need to get outta this town."

"But the kids..." She pleaded. She knew that he felt the need to protect his younger sister and brother. They were really his half-siblings, but he always felt responsible for them. They never asked to be born into this dysfunctional mess.

"Ma, I didn't go away to school. I missed out on so much. All I've done for four years is study and work. I hate waiting tables and sucking up to jerks for a decent tip... I need a change. I need a life."

"Whitney's home now... You can have a life together..."

"Ma, I don't love Whit..."

Gayle Walch looked at her son with a shocked expression. "Of course you do... You've loved each other since you were fourteen."

"Exactly, we thought we did... we were younger than Leah is now." Joe's sister had just turned fifteen. "We might have thought it was love, but it wasn't."

What he and Whitney had was never love, but it was a need. They needed each other to navigate the crap that was their life. Hell, they used to debate whose family was more screwed up for really sick bragging rights. Having each other made it easier to deal with the shit. Everything that Whitney represented was what he was moving away from.

"How do you know?"

"You mean besides the fact she dumped me... I still remember, even after those years you were with Garrett."

His mother eyes shut and her mouth sagged. He'd done it. He'd reminded her of life with his father. His own father had been gone for over sixteen years, but his mother had never stopped mourning. Joe's memories of him were mostly just flashing like still photos or feelings. His mother smiling at his father and his father kissing her goodbye were included in the slide show of his early life. He had always felt safe and secure in his parent's love before everything changed.

"You and Whitney can have a good life here... maybe even give me some grandchildren someday."

"Ma, I'll never marry Whitney." He stood up. "I'm gonna be late for work."

When Joe walked onto the back porch toward his beat up Corolla his mother was dragging on her Virginia Slims and refused to return his goodbye.

Joe had a six-hour dinner shift ahead of him. He was a college graduate and hoped he'd never have to wait tables again. He had been working at the restaurant for seven years when he started as a dishwasher, then busboy and eventually waiter. At the end of the week, he would be giving his notice.

Joe knew what hard work was. He also knew what it was like to be poor. His mother worked at the hospital as a cleaner. She had to work evenings when the kids were little because their father was a loser and a drunk.

Joe hated Garrett Gallagher and it was mutual. He preyed on Gayle when she was grieving. He was supposed to have been his father's best friend.

Joseph Walch, Senior was killed in the line of duty when some thug pulled a knife on him and sliced a carotid artery. He bled out of the street next to his cruiser. It was supposed to be a routine DUI stop. No one told Joe the details, but as soon as he was old enough he looked it up online. Old archived newspaper articles reported the details of the moment that broke his mother and changed his life forever.

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