Joseph by Mary Kennedy

CHAPTER ONE

Joseph Billy Redhawk came into this world completely silent and content.  There was no screaming, no shuddering cries, no wailing.  He simply opened his eyes and stared up at his father’s face.  His twin, Nathan Joe, was the screamer.  Not Joseph.  He turned to look at his twin, blinked a few times and went back to sleep.

When you’re born a twin, particularly an identical twin, certain things are a given.  You’re often forced to dress exactly like your twin; you often feel the same things your twin feels; and you always, always have a playmate and someone who can give you an alibi. 

From the time they were born, Joseph and Nathan knew that their father was different from other men.  His eyes, although filled with love for his children, had a dark sadness hidden inside them.  His back had scars that seemed old, yet still new in so many ways.  He was so quiet, no one, not even their mother, could hear when he was coming.  Yes, he was very different from other men in all the good ways.

When they were able to walk, he taught them to be silent in their steps.  It wasn’t until their later years that they understood why.  As soon as they were old enough, Trak was teaching them how to handle a knife and a gun; how to defend themselves, and more importantly others.

He also taught his sons that nothing is more precious than family, blood, and non-blood.  As soon as their twin sisters arrived, Joseph and Nathan hovered over them.  If they started to fall, they were there to catch them.  If they were being bullied at school, they stopped it.  If someone was trying to date them, that wasn’t going to happen. 

The Redhawk brothers did everything together.  Everything.  They’d lost their virginity to Sheila Compton in the eleventh grade.  At the same time.  Sheila was a year older and far more experienced.  While her folks were in New Orleans doing some Christmas shopping, she’d invited the stunningly handsome brothers to her home.  When she opened the door, it was clear that Sheila wanted to be unwrapped.

Although Nathan was more than willing to get his rocks off in front of his twin, Joseph felt a little more self-conscious.  He felt everything his twin did, only amplified.  When Nathan was sick with the stomach flu, Joseph vomited, but had no fever, no other symptoms.  When Nathan fell over a hurdle during track practice, Joseph’s knee hurt for a week.

He’d learned from this father that their great-grandfather, Nathan Redhawk, was somewhat of a medicine man in their culture.  He saw things, felt things, that others did not.  All of that made him a better Delta operative, and certainly a better protector.  Sometimes uncomfortable and confused by his skills, Joseph’s father taught him to be proud of his abilities and to use them wisely.

From the time they were three years old, Trak spent two hours every week teaching the boys his native Navajo language.  They picked it up easily, often using it so that teachers or other children wouldn’t understand what they were saying.  Joseph wanted to know everything about his culture.  Although his mother was not Navaho, he wanted to know it all.

A practice he learned very early on was his ability to meditate in silence, anywhere.  He loved it when they moved to Belle Fleur because the gardens provided so many places for him to just sit and think.  His favorite place was always near the garçonnière at the furthest point on the property.  He loved just sitting on the old iron bench outside its door.

He would close his eyes, taking in deep, cleansing breaths and just let his mind wander.  Joseph felt everything from the history of Belle Fleur.  He felt war and evil, he felt love and passion.  He could almost sense the workers building the garçonnière behind him.

One morning, just before his seventeenth birthday, he rose to do his usual run.  It was a habit he developed from his father.  Their love of running was something that tied both him and Nathan to the man they admired most.  The ease at which they ran made others insanely jealous.  For Joseph, it was another opportunity to clear his head.

But today, he had more than usual on his brain.  He was trying to decide if he would go off to college or join the military.  Nathan had already made his decision, although he hadn’t openly shared it.  Joseph just knew.

Seated on the iron bench, he crossed his legs and leaned back against the weathered building.  Closing his eyes, he took in a deep breath and just relaxed.  He wasn’t sure how long he’d been out there when he heard a tiny voice.  At first, he thought he was imagining things.  Then the voice got louder, and he quietly stood from his perch.

Tilting his head, he followed the sound, his steps making no sound at all.  On the other side of the garçonnière was a trail that wound through the massive wetlands of Belle Fleur.  Joseph often took it when he wanted to extend his run, but it was difficult terrain and had not been fully cleared.  He heard the voice again and took another step. 

Ahead, he spotted the blonde curls of Julia Anderson.  She was so little to be out here alone, he nearly called to her, but she spoke again.  Joseph looked around and didn’t see anyone.  Clearly the child had an imaginary friend.  But imaginary or not, she shouldn’t be out here alone.  As he started to step forward, she spoke to him.

“I know you’re there, Joseph.”  He grinned to himself and took three giant steps toward her.

“Hello, Julia,” he smiled.  “Why are you out here by yourself?”

“I’m not,” she said, tilting her head to the side and looking behind her.  “You’re here.”

“Yes,” he laughed, “I suppose that’s right.  I am out here, but you should not be.  It’s not safe.  The path is not clear and there could be alligators or snakes.”

“I’m not afraid of them,” she said bravely.

“I am,” he said giving her a terrified expression.

“You’re not fooling me, Joseph,” she said with a side glance, “you’re not afraid of anything.”

Joseph looked down at the little girl, then knelt in front of her.  He pushed back the blonde curls, her bluish-green eyes staring straight into his soul.

“Everyone is afraid of something, sweet Julia.  Now, why are you out here?  Really.”

“You’ll laugh at me,” she said shaking her head.

“I would never laugh at you,” he said smiling at her.  “I promise to keep this just between you and me.”

Julia looked at the dark, handsome face of her friend and then behind her once more.  She seemed to nod and then knelt onto the path in front of Joseph.  Her little white tennis shoes were dirty, her blue jeans now digging into the dirt of the path.  She grabbed Joseph’s hand and lay it flat on the path.

Joseph frowned at first, unsure what she was doing.  He felt a zinging sensation up his arm and started to pull his hand away, but Julia held it to the earth.

“Do you feel that?” she asked.  He nodded; his brow furrowed with concern.  “A lot of people have died here.  White people.  Black people.  Indians, too.  Their blood is in the dirt.”

“Julia…”

“I knew you wouldn’t believe me,” she said standing to leave.  He gently gripped her wrist and pulled her back to the path. 

“I believe you.  I know that what you say is true.”

“I talk to them,” she said quietly.

“Who do you talk to, honey?” he asked lovingly.

“The people who died.  They’re everywhere.  Some of them aren’t very nice, but I like most of them.  Mr. Matthew’s great-great-great…”  She trailed off looking over her shoulder.  She nodded and then began again.

“His four times grandfather is really nice.  He shows me lots of cool stuff.”

“Baby, are those people here now?” he asked.

“Yep.  You can feel them too.  That’s why you like coming out here.  You feel them around you making you calm.”

Joseph looked around them once again.  He did feel something, but he wasn’t sure what it was.  What he did know was that he was terrified for little Julia.  If she really were seeing spirits, not many on this property would understand.  In his culture, it was not uncommon to get messages or see visions from the beyond, but most people didn’t feel the same way.

“Julia, have you told anyone else that you see these people and talk to them?” he asked.

“No,” she said shaking her little head of blonde curls.  “They’ll think I’m crazy.  Mr. Franklin said so.”

“Who is Mr. Franklin?”

“He worked here a long time ago.  He’s a really old black man, but he’s so nice.  I love when we get to spend time together.  He said a long time ago one of the daughters who lived here told her family she could hear and see them.  They sent her to a hospital and she never came home.”

“That’s not going to happen to you, Julia, I promise.  But I do want you to talk to your mom and dad about this, okay?”

“Do I have to?” she asked.

“You need to talk to an adult about it.”

“Okay.  Franklin says I should talk to Mama Irene,” she said standing.

“That’s probably a good place to start,” he smiled.  “Right now, what do you say you and I walk back to the cafeteria and get some ice cream?”

“Cool,” she said smiling up at him.  “Oh, and Joseph?  Nathan chose the Army and so will you.  You’re gonna be soldiers like your dad, only better.  It’s all gonna be okay.”

Joseph was silent for a moment.  He knew that Nathan had been wrestling with his future as well, but he hadn’t told anyone the final decision, yet..

“I love you, Joseph.”

“I love you, too, sweet Julia.”

Joseph did enter the Army and then became Delta, just like his father and brother.  They were paired together, given almost free reign for nearly every operation they participated in.  Their abilities were uncanny and no one, not an enemy, not an ally, could compare. 

Every leave, Joseph would return home and go out to his garçonnière.  Occasionally, he would hear the footsteps of Julia on the now cleared path, her soft voice speaking to someone.  He never asked her again if she still saw the spirits of those before them, but somehow, he didn’t need to.

Almost ten years younger than Joseph, she always just seemed to be the quiet, shy little sister of Paige.  When she graduated from high school as valedictorian at seventeen, he and Nathan were both home and attended the ceremony. 

“She’s grown up, hasn’t she?” smiled Nathan, nudging his brother.

“She’s still a kid, Nathan.  Just seventeen.”

“She’s a kid that’s graduated high school early and already headed to college.  She’ll be grown before you know it.”

“Why are you telling me this?” asked Joseph in frustration.

“Because I see the way you look at her.  Yes, she’s a kid now and she’s way too young for you.  But she’s beautiful, smart, and sweet.  The perfect mate for you, and I should know, you’re my twin.”

“I’m aware I’m your twin, Nathan.”  Nathan laughed at him, shaking his head.

“Just remember this conversation,” he said.

Two years later, home on leave once again, Joseph was much changed.  His usual light, happy demeanor was gone.  In its place were anger and bitterness.  The things they’d seen, the men they’d lost, would haunt his soul forever.  There was no forgiveness for what he’d done in the name of his country.  No amount of meditating or running would wash the blood from his hands.

Sitting in the grove waiting for Thanksgiving dinner to be served, he looked down the rows of tables to see a beautiful blonde head, her curls blowing in the wind as she tried to control them.  She appeared taller, certainly more voluptuous than the last time he’d seen her.

As if sensing his stare, she turned, smiling at him, and nodded.  Joseph frowned as she went back to her animated conversations with those around her.  She was still just a kid, barely twenty.  He didn’t need to be around her innocence.  Instead, he left the table and went to his quiet place.  More than an hour later, he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder.  He knew immediately who it was.

“You left without dinner,” said Julia smiling down at him.

“I-I wasn’t very hungry.”

“You’ve never been a good liar, Joseph,” she laughed.  “You’re starving.  Here, I made you a plate.”

“Thank you,” he said taking the heaping plate of food and the utensils.

“May I sit with you while you eat?” she asked.  He nodded as she seemed to float into the space beside him.  “I remember the last time we were out here together.”

“You were a child,” he said in disbelief.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been a child, Joseph,” she grinned.

“Do you still…”

“Hear dead people?” she grinned.  “Yes.  I hear them, see them, feel them.  It’s exhausting.  They want you to know that nothing is your fault.”

“Wh-what?”

“They know that you are wrestling with what you do for a living.  They want you to know that it’s necessary.  I want you to know that too.  I hope you’ll stay safe, Joseph.  I need for you to return to us.”  She stood and turned toward him, bending, she gripped his face and then kissed his forehead.

Joseph watched her walk back toward the cottages and the grove.  He didn’t move for several moments, then reached up, touching the still moist spot on his forehead where she’d kissed him.  When he finished his plate of food, he stood to return to the group.

Feeling a hand on his shoulder, he turned quickly.  No one was there, nothing. 

“Get a grip,” he mumbled. 

Turning back down the path, he kept walking, but he felt as if he were in a bubble.  As he passed the cottages and moved toward the grove, the bubble seemed to pop, and he was alone once more.  Alone with his thoughts.  Alone with his grief.  Alone with his guilt.

Alone.