Two weeks later, Nathan braced himself as his flight touched down at the Salt Lake International Airport. He was joined by Elder Grobben, a former companion who was also returning to Utah. Elder Grobben knew about Nathan’s family situation, and he’d arranged with his parents to drop off Nathan at his Aunt Susan’s home in Salt Lake, who was out of town until the next day.
The days since the bombing had flown by for Nathan. He’d thrown himself back into missionary work after being released from the hospital, although the only thing the people they visited wanted to talk about was how they were going to spend their “chip money.” Despite that obstacle, Nathan had been privileged to baptize two investigators on his last Sunday in the mission field.
Now he felt a rush of emotions. He wasn’t too excited to return home and face his family’s troubles again. He had prayed nightly during his mission for his father to have a change of heart and return to the Church, but Nathan sensed the timing wasn’t right—and might never be.
The two missionaries made their way to the airport’s main entrance, where a large group was waiting to greet Elder Grobben. Cheers erupted as the group spotted the missionaries.
“I think they’re happy to see you!” Nathan said. “I’ll wait for you at the baggage area.”
“Hey, stay with me,” Elder Grobben said. “I’m sorry no one is here to greet you, but there are plenty of hugs to go around.”
Elder Grobben was soon engulfed by his family members, but he stepped back and introduced Nathan to them. Elder Grobben’s mom stepped forward and embraced him.
“Every missionary deserves a mom’s hug when he gets home,” she whispered in his ear, and Nathan felt tears come to his eyes.
“Thank you. That means a lot,” he whispered back.
Soon they moved as a group to the baggage claim area. He was picking up his two suitcases when he heard a familiar voice.
“Hello, son. You’re looking good.”
Nathan turned around in shock. His father Garrett stood nearby.
“Dad! What a surprise,” Nathan said. “The Grobbens were going to drop me off at Aunt Susan’s house . . .”
“I can do that if you want,” Garrett said, watching Nathan’s face. “This is all right, isn’t it?”
“Sure, but I just didn’t think you’d want—”
“Not want to pick up my son?” Garrett asked with a grin. “We’ve had our struggles, but I want to start fresh.”
Nathan couldn’t quite believe his eyes. His dad was clean-cut and seemed happier than he remembered.
Nathan quickly explained to Elder Grobben that he had a ride after all. “My dad is here to pick me up.”
“Really?” Elder Grobben asked. “Are you all right with this? We can still take you—”
“No, this will be fine,” Nathan said.
Elder Grobben shrugged. “Okay, but don’t hesitate to call me if you need anything.”
“I will. Thanks again.”
Nathan turned back toward Garrett, who reached out to take one of the suitcases from his son.
“I’m glad you’re home,” he said. “I’ll still take you to Susan’s house, but I’m hoping you’ll agree to stay with us instead.”
Nathan stammered, “I guess that would be okay. Have you talked with her about it?”
“Yes, and she thinks it would be a good idea. We’ve got a spare bedroom you can use. Vanessa and Denise are eager to get to know you . . . and so am I.”
They soon loaded the luggage into Garrett’s Honda Civic and got on I-80 heading east to reach I-15. Nathan noticed some landslides on the mountains above the University of Utah campus that had been caused by a substantial earthquake a few weeks before.
“I saw some footage of the earthquake at a member’s house,” Nathan said. “Were you affected by it?”
“Well, it snarled the freeway system for a while, but they’ve got things under control,” Garrett said. “I’m just glad I wasn’t living in some of those houses up on the bench. The people living on the fault line got the worst of it, although it shook the valley floor pretty good as well.”
As they approached the freeway interchange, Nathan assumed they were going to the home in Bountiful where his father had moved after the divorce, but they got on I-15 heading south.
“Where are we going?” Nathan asked.
“Oh, I thought your mom would’ve told you. I moved back to Orem when she was diagnosed with cancer. I live about a block from our old house.”
Nathan furrowed his brow. “Mom never mentioned it in her emails to me. I didn’t know you two still talked.”
“Well, I still paid your child support until you turned 18, and I always liked to hear how you were doing. I often asked her to let me visit with you, but she felt it was best if I stayed out of your life. I suppose I could’ve taken her to court over the visitation agreement, but I felt I’d already inflicted enough pain on her, so I followed her wishes. But now she is gone, I decided to take a chance . . .”
Nathan felt strange inside. It had never dawned on him that his father still cared about him. “I don’t know what to say. I feel like I’ve lost a whole decade with you.”
“Believe me, so do I, but what’s done is done.” Garrett’s face displayed a brief flash of grief. “You probably don’t know that I attended her funeral. I was hoping to see you there, but they said you had stayed on your mission. I admire you for that.”
Nathan did a double-take. “You saw Mom’s family?”
“Yes, and I even got a hug from Aunt Susan. It was awkward, but I needed the closure. Frankly, so did they.”
“Wow. I thought they would’ve strung you up by your ankles right there in the church.”
Garrett smiled. “Well, when Susan first saw me, she did give me a look that would’ve sent most people running. But hopefully time can heal all wounds, including the ones I caused you. Son, I’m truly sorry.”
Nathan was silent for nearly a minute, his mind swimming. He finally asked, “Do you regret what you did?”
Garrett gave him a sideways glance. “The affair? Yes, it was a huge mistake, and you and your mom didn’t deserve it. But I’m happy I have Vanessa and Denise in my life. You’ll like them.”
Nathan felt the answer was a bit hollow. “That’s it? You put me and Mom through an emotional hurricane! It’s a miracle I turned out halfway normal. What about the Church? Where do you stand?”
“I’m still excommunicated, if that’s what you mean,” Garrett said with a sigh. “But I don’t hold any hard feelings against the Church. I deserved what I got.”
“Do you still believe the gospel?”
Garrett stared straight ahead. “My issue was never with the doctrine. So I do believe it, but right now I wouldn’t consider rejoining. Vanessa is a devoted Catholic, and she takes Denise to church each week. I’m content with that. But enough about me. Tell me about your mission.”
Nathan was happy to change the subject, and once he got talking, he couldn’t stop telling his father about the various experiences he’d had in Minnesota, including saving Elder Smith from the bomber.
“Yes, I followed the whole thing through the Minnesota media websites,” Garrett said.
“Of course! You’re my son. I nearly called you when they reported you were in the hospital, but when it was clear you’d recover, I decided it would be best to surprise you this way.”
Nathan smiled. “A call from you would’ve been a shock to my system, that’s for sure.”
Garrett soon pulled off the freeway at the Orem Center Street exit and pulled into a gas station. Nathan watched as his dad held his right hand over a scanner at the pump, and suddenly the pump kicked on. Garrett removed the gas cap, inserted the nozzle, and started filling the car without even touching a button. He then grabbed his cell phone while he waited and punched in a speed-dial number.
“Hi, honey,” Garrett said. “Everything is going fine. Nathan and I should be there in about five minutes. Love you.”
As Garrett got back in the car, Nathan said, “I noticed you used your chip. Did it hurt to get it?”
“Not at all, and it sure is convenient,” Garrett said. “Are you going to get chipped?”
“Probably not,” Nathan said. “The Church sent out a letter discouraging it.”
“That’s what I’ve heard, but it really has made my life so much easier. I don’t even carry my wallet anymore.”
They headed east and soon arrived in front of a nice home that was a couple of blocks south of Mountain View High School, Nathan’s alma mater. They climbed out of the car and grabbed the suitcases.
“Vanessa and Denise are nervous to meet you, so please be kind to them,” Garrett said.
“Don’t worry,” Nathan said. “I’ll be a gentleman.”
The front door opened, and a stunning Hispanic woman came outside, followed by her pre-teen look-alike.
“Sheesh, they’re beautiful,” Nathan muttered to Garrett. “How am I supposed to hold a grudge against them?”
Garrett smiled. “Maybe you shouldn’t.”
Vanessa came forward and shook Nathan’s hand. “I’m so happy to finally meet you. Welcome to our home.”
“Thank you,” Nathan said, surprised at the instant connection he had with the woman he’d despised for so many years.
Then he turned to Denise. “You must be my little sister! How are you?”
Denise didn’t say anything, but instead threw her arms around Nathan and started crying.
“She’s happy you’re here,” Vanessa said softly, patting her daughter’s head.
Denise soon backed away and said, “I’m sorry. I’ve just never had a brother before.”
Everyone laughed, and they headed into the house where Vanessa and Denise had prepared a nice dinner. As they ate and chatted, Nathan truly felt loved and accepted.
Nathan had previously arranged to meet with his stake president that night to be officially released as a missionary, so Garrett let Nathan take the car to do that. After a pleasant interview with the stake president, Nathan stopped by his bishop’s house.
“You look great,” Bishop Tanner said. “I’m relieved you weren’t hurt worse in the bombing.”
“Me too,” Nathan said. “The Lord was watching over me.”
“You got my latest letter, right?” the bishop asked. “Is Sunday still going to work for you to speak in Sacrament Meeting?”
“Yep, I’m planning on it.”
After his visit with the bishop, Nathan decided to take a little journey around the old neighborhood, including a slow drive past his old home. The new occupants had painted it a bright color, and it didn’t even seem like the same house.
He then drove to Marie Shaw’s home. Her rebellious actions in his “spiral dream” remained vivid in his mind, and he still had a hard time believing it could be true.
“At least they haven’t moved,” he said as he recognized her father’s car in the driveway. The lights were on in the front room, and Nathan surprised himself by pulling over to the curb.
“I just want to see how she’s doing,” he told himself. Then he realized he didn’t have a reasonable excuse for why he was visiting her on his first evening back from his mission.
“You’re such an idiot,” he thought as he pulled back onto the road. “She surely has a boyfriend.”