Maggie’s face flashed before Finn’s eyes. How would he feel if through his actions Maggie was taken from this world? He couldn’t even imagine the utter devastation.
Colin frowned at him. “Declan told me you’ve been blaming yourself all this time,” his father said.
Finn gritted his teeth. “I put the bullets in the shotgun. I went against everything I’d ever been told by you and Mom
in our household.” He wiped away tears with the back of his palm. He let out a groan. “Boredom set in while I was home alone. I put the bullets in and then I shot off a few rounds in the backyard. I’d lined up some cans and I wanted to see if I could hit them.
“I kept telling myself to take the bullets out so I wouldn’t get in any trouble, so no one would know what I’d done. But I forgot. And then that night you were in the backyard joking around. The gun went off. We lost our whole world. Because of me.”
“And you never said a word, did you? You bottled it all up inside you and let it fester.” Declan’s face looked tortured.
“No. How could I?” he asked in an agonized voice. “I didn’t want to lose the rest of my family. I didn’t want all of you to hate me.”
“So instead you hated yourself.” His father’s words hung in the air like a grenade. Finn had never thought about it like that before. It was true. He had been struggling with feelings of poor self-worth ever since.
Finn hung his head. He didn’t know what to say. How could he put into words the guilt of a child over something so monumental? How to put into words the devastation of having your father unravel and leave the family who had so desperately needed him?
His chest tightened. “We lost so much. It was a lot to bear.”
“You are not responsible!” Colin said in a raised voice. “No matter what you think you know about that night, you’re wrong.”
“You need to listen, Finn,” Declan said. “Just listen.”
“At the time I was as honest as I thought I should be about that night. You two were so young I didn’t want to overwhelm you with the details. I didn’t know it would be important.” Colin raked his hand through his hair. “I never imagined you would blame yourself, Finn. How could I when I was the one at fault? Finn, you know how meticulous your mother was to detail. Cindy was like a bloodhound.” Colin let out a sharp laugh. “Much the same way as she knew when you sneaked freshly baked peanut butter cookies from the tray, she knew you’d been playing around with the shotgun. That same day she emptied it when she realized what you’d been doing when we weren’t home. We were planning to sit you down and talk to you about it, but then—” His voice trailed off.
“She died.” Finn’s voice sounded flat to his own ears.
“Yes, Finn, she passed. And there’s not a day that goes by without my thinking of her. Mourning her. And wishing I’d never refilled the shotgun with bullets. Your mother and I had just enjoyed a wonderful night. We had dinner out at The Bay, then we came back here and drank some wine and a few beers. I was joking around with her about finally getting rid of that raccoon who kept messing with our trash.” Colin’s shoulders shuddered and he let out a sob. “To be honest, it all happened so fast. Like a flash. She was laughing and she lunged to take away the weapon. It was like an explosion.”
For a few minutes everything was silent.
His father cleared his throat. “So you can’t blame yourself, Finn. If you have to place all of this on someone’s shoulders, pick mine. I’ll gladly shoulder it if it brings you peace.”
Finn felt as if he’d been blind for the last two decades and now he could suddenly see clearly. His father was a broken man. The death of his wife had gutted him. He’d spiraled out of control and, due to guilt and pain, abandoned his family. For many years Finn had harbored negative feelings toward the man who had given him life. But now—seeing him so shattered—it hit Finn hard. At this moment all he felt was compassion. And gratitude. It couldn’t have been easy to come back after all this time and confess the truth of that night.
It was time to move past his mother’s death. In Finn’s opinion she had been the most loving, wonderful person in the world. Never in a million years would she have wanted her family to be eaten up by her death. She would have told them all to get a grip on themselves. Cindy O’Rourke would have hated all this angst and guilt and divisiveness.
He wanted to honor his mother. The way he was living his life wasn’t doing justice to the woman who had given him life. He was throwing away every hope and dream for the future she’d worked so hard to build for him. Feeling overwhelmed, Finn bowed his head.
Lord, I need Your grace. I’m at a crossroads in my life. For so long I’ve been carrying all this guilt around on my shoulders. I can’t carry it anymore. I’m incredibly weary. I’m not an unworthy person. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I’m still worthy of happiness. I’ve got to lay these burdens aside. I need to have forgiveness in my heart for my father. I’ve been so angry at him for something out of his control. He loved my mother more than anyone or anything. And I love Maggie. And Oliver. I need peace in my life so I can move forward and claim my future. Thank You, Lord, for allowing me to see clearly what’s been in front of me all of this time.
When he opened his eyes he saw both Declan and Colin bowing their heads in prayer. He walked closer, bridging the distance between them. Without saying a word, Finn stood between them and clasped their hands in his.
“Lord, please bring us together as a family,” Finn said. “Let the pain of the past be healed. Open our hearts and minds to all the possibilities stretched out before us. I ask this in Your name.”
As soon as Finn stopped speaking he found himself enveloped in a hug by his father and Declan. His shoulders heaved as all of the years of painful separation and heartache melted away in the loving embrace of his family.
Maggie was trying not to worry about what was happening in the back room of the store. They had been sequestered for quite some time. Oliver was serving as her official greeter while she manned the cash register. There were only a few minutes left until the shop closed. They were all supposed to head over to the Moose Café, where Cameron had offered to host a small holiday party in Keepsakes’s honor. Oliver was excited about having hot chocolate and s’mores and hanging out with his best buddy, Aidan.
Maggie’s mind was whirling with the possibilities about the sudden appearance of Colin O’Rourke. Perhaps Colin had come back due an illness? Oh dear. She hoped it wasn’t anything terrible. Or maybe he was trying to make amends at Christmas. It would be such a blessing for Finn and Declan if that was the case. The best gift of all.
When it was time to close up shop, Ruby took Oliver over to the Moose Café with her family. Maggie promised to meet up with them in a little while. She couldn’t imagine what was going on in the back room. And the longer they stayed out of sight, the more she fretted. She prayed Finn was okay.
After what seemed like an eternity, Finn, Colin and Declan all emerged from the back room. Colin approached her and they exchanged pleasantries before he departed with Declan. Finn stood quietly in their wake. He was staring at the door his father and brother had just walked through.
“Finn, are you all right?” Although Maggie had accepted the fact that she and Finn didn’t have a future together, she still cared about him. There was no denying it. She loved him. But she could never profess her love for him, because he didn’t want it. He’d made that fact quite apparent.