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New Orleans Grace

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He could still hear Christopher's voice filling the small church, singing of salvation, of redemption. The Alabama native had found his solace in the grace and beauty of New Orleans, in the sanctity of his work and the holiness of his relationships. It had been enough for him after losing Cade and his father and Savannah, after the hell that had been Katrina. It was a solace that Dwayne was having a hard time trying to find now.

I miss him, he thought as he sat in the hard wooden pew, tears slowly sliding down his lined face. I miss him still, even after everything that happened. Christopher...ma cherie...why did you have to leave me?

If he closed his eyes and listened hard enough he could still hear his lover's sweet Alabama drawl and his laughter, could still see his eyes sparkle thanks to the moon on a warm summer night, could still feel his hands ofering comfort. Offering love. Offering grace.

So much grace...

It's gonna be so hard, living without him after so long, he mused. He knew that, deep down in his bones. So hard. He had gotten through so much before this; storms ravaging his hometown, his mother's mental breakdown, his father's incarceration, the loss of collegues and friends both. But this...this threatened to take him down at the knees.

It was almost too much.

But then he remembered Christopher having his back time and again, always sure of him, always convinced. He remembered Christmases and Thanksgivings and countless Mardi Gras parties. And he remembered quieter times singing together around the piano, sharing a bottle of wine or craft beer at the bar, sitting out in the courtyard under the trailing roses, trading kiss after kiss like they were the shiny multi-colored beads Laurel had collected when she was a little girl.

"Dwayne?"

Pride looked up. Loretta was standing nearby, regal with her white hair curled perfectly and dressed in her Sunday best. "I thought I might find you here," she said, an understanding smile on her face.

He managed one as well; he knew she would find him eventually. "I can't seem to keep away," he said, turning back to the altar.

She slid into the seat next to him, taking his hand. "I miss him, too," she said simply. "I keep expecting to see him stride around the corner."

"I can hear his voice still," Dwayne said,his own voice soft. "He gave me so much in the time we had together. So much..."

Loretta nodded. "New Orleans has a new guardian angel watching over her. I try to remember that when things get too dark." She closed her eyes. "He saved so many of us."

Dwayne thought about that for a moment. "He'd like that," he finally said. "Roll tide." He paused, thinking of his other team mates and their grief. their loss. "How's Sebastian?"

"Mourning, same as the rest of us. I tell him that Christopher is still with us in our hearts but I don't think he believes me." She shrugged. "But he's young. He will in time."

"Tell him...tell him to listen to the silence," Dwayne advised. "To the crickets at night, to the blow of a jazz horn." He closed his eyes. "He's there. Waiting." Oh, ma cherie...my Christopher...wait for me. Please...Just wait a little longer...

Loretta squeezed his fingers. "Are you going to be all right?"

Opening his eyes, Dwayne Pride looked up at the altar and saw Christopher standing there, candlelight shining all around him and an irrepressable smile on his face. "I'll be fine, Miss Loretta," he said, smiling through his tears. "Christopher...he's still right here."