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No Guarantees 
by Martha
marthalgm@yahoo.com


In time, they say, all wounds will heal.
The unpleasantness will fade and the good memories remain.
The sorrow subsides and life begins anew.

They lie.

Who are 'they' who have such wisdom
And where do these assurances come from?
'They' can not have loved and claim to be healed.
'They' can not have felt pain and continue on with hope.

It is only a smoke screen that 'they' use as their shield
For 'they' have never had to lose someone
And rebuild a life with half a heart.

And 'they' are to be pitied.

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J F Byers' apartment
April 11
late afternoon

Frohike followed her to the front door. "You shouldn't go running after
him. It will only encourage him."

Dee adjusted her jacket and fished in her pockets for her keys. "Then
you shouldn't have ridiculed him in front of the rest of us." She
looked around for Becca and Byers, who had retreated to the kitchen to
escape the impending argument.

"Langly deserved it. And he knows it."

"So, you don't think that he's worth saving?" she challenged.

"That's not it. It's not a question of 'saving' him; he's got to do
this on his own."

"Without your support?"

"He *has* my support." Frohike leaned his back against the door and
crossed his arms. "I've spent the past five years bailing him out of
one situation or another, and he looks to me to continue to do so. I
can't do this anymore. He has got to do this for himself."

"Well, I just can't leave it at that." Dee made a move for the
doorknob.

"Why should this matter to you?" Frohike softly asked.

"Because maybe I can do something. Because this means so much to you.
Because I've watched others . . ." Dee stopped and noticed that he was
staring at his feet. "I'll be back in a few."

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Limerick Tavern
April 11
late afternoon

Langly played with the soda bottle on the bar, making water-ring
designs. "He hates me."

Dee drew in the water to fill the circles. "No, he doesn't. He just
hates to see you waste yourself. It's hitting a little too close to
home for him."

"See, that's just it." He tapped the bottle a little too hard on the
wood. "I know that he does this a lot. I've seen him on some of those
mornings, just barely there. So why doesn't he get off my back?"

"It's two completely different situations. You shouldn't compare
yourselves. Mel almost always drinks alone. And at home. If he is
out, it's always at a place that he knows, and there is always someone
there to see that he gets home."

"That's *called* enabling."

"That's *called* planning. He won't start unless he knows that he's
going to end up in his own bed that evening."

"Or someone's bed, anyway . . ." Langly looked over at Dee after his
last remark and noticed that her expression had changed. "Sorry, cheap
shot." It did not appear to have reassured her. "Look, Dee, I didn't
mean anything by that. He's never, I mean never, given anyone cause to
say such a thing. Sometimes his mouth . . ."

"Yeah, I know. He does have a tendency to put his mouth into gear
before the brain is warmed up."

"I keep forgetting that the two of you were together back then. I can
remember seeing you around, but I don't think that we were ever really
introduced."

"I was surprised to hear that the two of you had teamed up, given your
history. And even more surprised to find out your first name."

" . . . of which I may never forgive my parents, may they rest in
peace."

"Listen, Langly, I know Mel's not the easiest guy to get along with. Or
to try to figure out. What he's lived through - the war, the streets,
the drinking . . . He's older now. And truth be told, I like him
better now than I did when I thought that I was in love with him. He's
calmed down quite a bit, not as . . . well, anxious or geeky . . . as
before."

"Oh, he'll love that description."

"Don't bother; I've already told him. What I mean is, listen to him.
He's been through most of what you're going through. He knows, and he
understands. Filter out the wisecracks, and listen to the message. And
do it for yourself and not because someone is holding a gun to your
head. That way when you slip up . . . and I'm not saying this to be
mean or anything, but we all *do* screw up at times . . . you're not
automatically blaming someone else for the mistake."

"We? Dee, you're not telling me that . . ."

"No. But I've been to the meetings, both with and without Mel. I had
to be sure that I wasn't going to contribute to his habit or be sucked
into being a facilitator. Though I think that at times, just by
tolerating it, that I was giving my approval."

"What was he like before, with the drinking I mean?"

"So much of it started long before I met him. The war, certainly,
affected him. Coming back with nothing really to look forward to. He
used it as an escape, as another way of fitting in. He stopped, cold,
for a long time. You know that story, right? Well, after a few years,
he started up again. Not like before, so I've heard. Just every now
and then. He'd be angry or start remembering something about his past,
and I'd see him grab a bottle and head for a corner of the house just to
be alone. And the only thing that I could do was to make sure all the
weapons were locked up and leave for a few hours."

"You didn't think that . . ."

"No, but just to be sure. I'm from an old Southern family. Men and
guns are nothing new. Drunken men and guns are a fatal combination that
are all too familiar in our history. So I'd leave him to his
nightmares. I know that there was nothing that I could say or do that
would stop him. I know that he still does drink, and I'm not talking
socially. I know that he struggles and sometimes he loses. But I don't
worry about him or walk on eggshells waiting for that next episode. If
he were anyone else . . ."

"Yeah, anyone like me."

"You should give yourself more credit than that. I mean, look at you.
You could have easily given yourself an excuse to get drunk, and yet
you're here, in a bar, drinking a soda. Just because you know that it
will piss him off even more to prove him wrong."

They both laughed on their way out the door, knowing this to be true.

Langly heard tires squealing and saw a car heading straight for them.
Someone grabbed him from behind and pulled him down hard onto the
pavement. He was shaken up for a few seconds and disoriented mainly
from losing his glasses in the fall. As he felt around for them, Langly
thought that he saw Dee lying on the sidewalk in front of him.

She was not moving.

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Arlington Hospital
Emergency Room Admissions Office
April 11
early evening

"Tell us in your own words, Mr. Langly, exactly what happened."

What happened? I don't know what the hell happened. I saw the car. I
tried to call to Dee. I fell backward. She's not moving. She's not
even making a sound. Call 911. Call 911 NOW, somebody. I've got to
get her to a hospital; I have to call the guys; Frohike . . . Jesus.

"Mr. Langly. We need to take your statement. Can you please tell us
what happened?"

I've *been* telling you. I've been saying it since you brought me into
this room. She's in surgery now, right? I need to be out there. I
need to be with my friends. Can't we do this later?

"Mr. Langly. I'm sure that you would appreciate our position. We need
your statement to corroborate what the other witnesses have stated. You
were the closest to the accident scene. Please, Mr. Langly, if we can
get this done now, then you can go and be with your friends."

I wasn't the closest to the 'accident' scene; Dee was. But she can't
talk now, can she? And she wouldn't make a good witness anyway because
she never saw it. She didn't have a chance to get out of the way . . .

I heard the car first. It sounded like someone floored the accelerator
- you could hear it coming like a freight train. Then brakes started
squealing. That's when I first saw the car. It was swerving, coming
down the street. It hit a parked car . . . no, it hit two of them on
the block just before the bar. The force from the collision slowed it
down some but then it started to head in our direction. It jumped the
curb right at the corner and then headed straight for us. I tried to
call out to her, for her to get out of the way. That's when I felt
someone grab my shoulders and pull me back towards the doorway, to pull
me back inside the bar. But I fell instead.

I didn't black out or anything, but I was a bit stunned. I lost my
glasses in the fall, and I wasn't really seeing too well, but I could
see her lying there. She didn't move, and she wasn't making a sound. I
could hear the hissing of the radiator from the car. But that was the
only thing that I could hear. I didn't hear any voices, any screaming.
As I tried to get up, I think I yelled back into the bar for someone to
call for an ambulance. I . . . I couldn't stand up - I don't know why.
My knees . . . So I crawled on over to her, on the sidewalk. She's not
moving. She's breathing still, I think. She's lying face down on the
pavement. I brush some of her hair away from her face. Her eyes are
closed. There's a thin line of bleeding from her mouth, but I don't
notice any other injuries. I'm sure that the car hit her, but it really
looks like she just fell down in front of the car.

I keep talking to her, asking her to wake up, to tell me that she is all
right. And she's not moving. And I keep talking to her, and she's not
answering me. I want to shake her, to wake her up, but I know that if I
do that, I might hurt her more. So I just keep talking to her. And I
tell her that I'll stop. If she'll just wake up and talk to me, I'll
stop drinking. I've been going to the meetings and really working on
staying busy so that I don't have time to think about it, but if she
would just move and let me know that she hears me, I can keep that
promise . . .

"Mr. Langly, how much had you had to drink at the bar?"

Nothing. Ask the bartender. Ask him, damn it. We both had sodas.
Nothing more.

"Yes, Mr. Langly. That we can verify. If we have any more questions,
we'll be in touch."

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Arlington Hospital
Administrative Offices
April 11th, 9:46 pm

"Full name?"

Diesera . . . D - I - E - S - E - R - A . . . Lamar . . . L - A - M - A
- R . . . Holmes.

"Date of birth?"

January 1, 1959.

"Place of birth?"

Atlanta, Georgia.

"Father's name?"

Frohike rattled off the information for the clerk completing the death
certificate. Why did he remember these things about her now? He knew
the names and the dates but couldn't remember the sound of her laughter.
He couldn't remember her favorite color or a movie that she didn't cry
halfway through. He could only remember the cold facts about her life,
now at the time of her death.

What the hell happened tonight? Why am I here? Why can't I just take
her home?

Home. Jesus, I have to call her mother. Maybe I'll call one of the
sisters first and let her . . . No, I have to be the one to tell her.
She should be the first to hear it.

Damn it. Why did she have to go after Langly? What was the point?
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Outside the Limerick Tavern
April 11th, 9:58pm

Langly turned the corner and came face to face with his own personal
moment of truth. The sidewalk still had that yellow "crime scene" tape
sectioning off a portion that forced one to walk into the street.

The tow truck had left with the wrecked vehicle. The crowd of
on-lookers had since disbursed. One police car was left along with some
city personnel to clean up the aftermath of the accident. By morning,
there would be no outward trace of this incident - only the reminisces
of some patrons and "poor shame, a lady got killed".

Langly walked into the street to get by the cleaning crew and stepped
back on to the sidewalk just outside of the bar. He had every intention
of going inside and getting thoroughly plastered after his masterful
ditch of the ever inquisitive Becca. But as he circled the yellow tape,
he could not take his eyes off of the section of the walkway where he
sat with Dee, waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Imploring her to
wake up and talk to him. Keeping her company until separated by the
paramedics.

Langly stopped right in front of the doorway to the bar, never taking
his eyes off of that square of pavement. He heard the laughter of the
patrons tempting him inside, but then he heard a louder voice.

"Do it for yourself."

He swallowed and stopped cold.

"Give yourself more credit."

He was confused and light-headed. He wanted a drink so badly, to erase
the memory of this day. But those words - her words - gave him the
strength that he needed to turn around and continue past the bar and
down all those other blocks until he was home.

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Washington DC
April 11th, 10:16pm

The drive to Frohike's apartment was made in complete silence. Byers
stole several glances over towards his passenger but noted at each time
that Frohike never seemed to move. His head hung slightly downwards,
his shoulders slackened - he was staring into his hands.

They pulled up to the complex, and Byers shut off the engine. Frohike
made a move to his right to open the door, and the overhead light
flickered on. Frohike glanced back at the driver, and Byers caught his
breath, instantly recognizing that blank expression. It was as if he
was looking in a mirror, all those years ago.

I know that look.

And I can tell you what's coming next.

First will be the pain of loss. The finality of knowing that you will
never see her again. What were your last words to each other? Were
they in anger or in that secret language that couples learned over a
period of time? How will you continue, and should you even go on at
all?

Next will be the anger. Anger at God for letting this happen, anger at
that old man for picking that exact moment to have a heart attack and
being in a car and causing the accident. Anger at Langly for not doing
what he could to get her out of the way, even though you *will* soon
realize that there was nothing that could have prevented this outcome.
And finally, anger at yourself for allowing her to walk out that door
and setting the events in motion. Anger at yourself for not going with
her to be able to avert the accident. Anger at yourself because
somebody is to blame, and it might as well be you.

And last will come the emptiness. The vagueness of the days roll into
the hollow of the evenings. A quick glance at a calendar (it's
Thursday? I thought it was still Tuesday) or a look at a watch (3:30?
What have I been doing for the past three hours?) are enough to make you
realize that your own existence has slowed to a crawl, and you are now
in danger of slipping backward through time. The only problem is that
she is not there in that backward slide. She is moving further away,
and no matter how far you reach out your hands towards her, she is
always beyond your grasp. She is gone, and you are alone.

The glance between Byers and Frohike lasted only seconds but conveyed
years of emotions. "I'll call you tomorrow," Byers said as Frohike slid
out the door. A turn, a nod - and then the door closed.

He watched as his friend made his way up the walk and into the building.
And then he rest his forehead on the steering wheel and closed his eyes.

I know exactly what you are going through. And I wish to God that
there was some way to stop it from happening.

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end of part one

No Guarantees
begin part two


In time, they say, all wounds will heal.

I tear the pages from the calendar
And reset all the clocks.
I draw the curtains and turn off the monitors
And wait for time to pass.

Time flies, they say.
But for me it soars with a broken wing
And a broken heart
From which there is no peace.

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April 23
11:12 am

Byers drove to Frohike's apartment, not knowing exactly what he was
going to say. He could have made some excuse about being worried about
him, which wouldn't have been far from the truth.

Neither Byers nor Langly had heard from Frohike since returning from the
funeral. Byers expected him to take a few days for himself, but after
nearly a week of not coming in to the offices or answering his phone or
any of his pages, Frohike's absence became less of an irregularity and
more distressing to the other two.

Byers slowly walked up the flight of stairs to the apartment. He pulled
from his pocket an extra set of keys that he had stashed away for
emergencies. Upon realizing that Frohike held a key to his own
apartment (along with nearly everyone else's), Byers had schemed to make
a duplicate set for the apartment that he was approaching. But he told
himself that he would only use them if he received no response.

Byers knocked on the door, a bit lightly so as not to draw too much
attention from the neighbors or unduly alarm the occupant. When he
received no response, he tried again, a bit more forcefully this time
and called out to Frohike just to let him know who it was at the door.
Still no answer.

He hesitated for a moment, then put the spare key in the main deadbolt
and gave the door a push. Frohike had to be inside - most of the other
locks were still in place. He fiddled around with the keys for the
remaining locks and finally opened the door.

He quickly glanced around the hallway and entered the apartment. As
soon as he closed the door behind him, he was struck by the stuffiness
of the room. It had been an unusually warm couple of days in DC, so
much so that people had taken to opening their windows or running the
air-conditioning for some comfort. Apparently Frohike hadn't felt that
need.

Byers crossed the living room and headed for the kitchen. From down the
hallway, he heard some rumblings that sounded like someone getting out
of bed and walking across the floor. "It's just me," Byers called out.
The reply was a bedroom door closing.

"Frohike, come on out." Byers approached the closed door. "Or at least
let me in."

"I'm not exactly dressed for company."

"Are you all right?"

"I'm fine."

Well, he sounded fairly lucid. "You haven't returned any of my calls."

"I unplugged the phone days ago. And the pager is in the refrigerator .
. . don't ask."

Lucid and making jokes. A good sign. "Have you been eating?" A stupid
question, but he had to get him talking somehow.

"Not really. Haven't had an appetite."

"I can have something delivered within the hour."

"Don't bother. I can get something later."

From the direction of the replies coming from the other side of the
door, Byers had surmised that Frohike was now sitting on the floor just
on the other side of the door. Still standing, he leaned in his
shoulder against the door and stared into the woodwork as if trying to
see through it, to see if Frohike really was all right. "You know,
Frohike, when you want, I'm here to listen. I'm not saying that you
have to do it now, but you can call me . . ." Not that there's anything
that I can say that will make it better - or bring her back, Byers
thought.

"When does it stop?"

Byers did not even have to ask for a clarification. He knew exactly
what Frohike was driving at. An honest answer might move him to
despair. His gut reaction was to soften the blow, but this was not a
time to be evasive. Byers turned his back towards the door and slid
most of the way down, settling on the floor in a mirror image of the
bedroom occupant. "It doesn't."

"You're no help. Does Becca know this?"

He took that well. "Yes."

"And she doesn't mind?"

"It's not a question of 'minding'; it's part of my past - neither she
nor I can change that."

"I miss her." Frohike ran his hands over his face, settling them on his
forehead. "It wouldn't be so bad if I could make myself do some work,
but I can't get past her not being here anymore." Glasses, Frohike
thought; where are my glasses? "I didn't even get a chance to say
good-bye."

Byers knew what that meant. At least he had the chance to say good-bye
to his wife - every day for those last two painful, horrible months.
Every time he left Monny's side, even for a few minutes, he wondered if
she would still be there when he got back. And every time, Byers hated
himself for even thinking that she might be gone before he returned. As
if it would hasten her end.

"At least you got a second chance." For what it was worth, Byers
thought - at least Frohike had that. It was only an excuse, a pacification -
just a seed of hope to plant in his mind for future consideration.

"Yeah," came the voice from inside the bedroom, "but if I hadn't gone
and butted into her life again, she'd still be alive somewhere. She'd
still be out there, and I could still wonder about what she's doing and
. . ."

Frohike's voice trailed off, and a different sound replaced it. The
closed door between them could not disguise or diffuse the sorrowful
mournings that Byers was hearing. I wonder, Byers thought, how we
managed to get along all these years - the two of us so completely
opposite in character and background. But now, we have this one thing
in common; something that will, in a few months time, fade to the back
of our minds but will always be there. Without a word or a remark but
with a look, we will view the other as a survivor. And then you will
understand, Frohike, that in this life there are no guarantees to
happiness, just what little we can go out and grab for ourselves and
hold on tightly to for a time.

Byers then stood and hesitated at the door for a moment, his hand on the
knob, debating and then deciding against forcing his way in. Another couple
of days is what he needs, Byers thought, as he walked back through the
apartment, pausing at the front door just long enough to brush away the
tears of his memories, and locked the door on his way out.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

As he drove away from the apartment, Byers picked up a spare cell phone
and called Becca.

"How is he doing?" she wanted to know.

"He's still in Stage One - the denial phase. I don't think that I
helped any."

"Is he drinking. . ."

Byers paused. "I don't know, and I don't think that I care. It won't
help but can't hurt him either."

"Come home."

"I'm on my way."

There's something to be said for second chances.

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Some time passed after Byers left before Frohike made it back to his
bed.

He should never have let her go.

He let her walk out on him eight years ago, with no effort on his part
to keep her with him. And he had done it again the other week - let her
walk out against his better judgment to go after someone in his place.

He turned on the small alarm/clock/radio by the bed to listen to some
news. Evidently, sometime that last weekend, Dee had changed the
station from its usual setting because he was greeted with the
beginnings of a song:

There's no guarantee that we'll see tomorrow**

Without the benefit of unplugging the radio from the wall, Frohike
picked it up and hurled it against the opposite wall.

Frohike was now, officially, in Stage Two.

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April 23
8:36 pm

'What am I doing here?' Langly thought to himself. 'Why should I
bother?'

Byers had told him not to go to Frohike's apartment - about five minutes
after Langly had lifted the spare keys from Byers' desk. But it was
simply too good of an opportunity to pass up. Frohike had seen him at
his worst; now it was Langly's chance at a bit of revenge.

He thinks it's so easy to straighten up, Langly thought. It's so easy
to pull your life together in a few short hours or days. You've been
moping too long - that's what he'd tell Frohike. It's time to get your
act together and start living out in the world again. He'd show Frohike
how all of his preaching could be turned around on him. He'd show him.

But Frohike was not playing along. He had, as with Byers before,
remained behind the closed bedroom door and, except for a few grunts and
one-word answers, barely acknowledged Langly's presence. Exasperated,
Langly turned to leave the apartment. Then he got angry.

Langly returned down the hall to the bedroom. He slammed his fist into
the hollow-core bedroom door, forcing it open and sending it banging
against the wall, creating a small crater. "You wish that it was me,
don't you? I'm the one that should have been killed, isn't that right?
Isn't *that* what you're thinking?" His words reverberated around the
small room.

Frohike, sitting on the edge of the bed, raised his head from his hands
and just stared at Langly. How many times had that thought crossed his
mind these last few days? In how many of those alcohol-laden dreams had
he rushed to the hospital and found Dee alive but Langly dead? It was
such a simple answer to the problem at hand and provided a great deal of
distraction. But is that what he really wanted? Should he be selfish
and wish for her safety at the expense of another? Especially if that
'other' was someone he had known for a number of years and had done
absolutely nothing wrong in connection with his loss? Could a life be
traded that easily? And what would Dee think of him if he could have
made it happen?

He lowered his eyes to the floor in front of him. The answer to Langly
came softly, "No."

Langly was puzzled. This was not the response that he was expecting.
He wanted yelling and crying and fists to fly. He wanted Frohike to say
something so hurtful that could be thrown back in his face one day. He
was fully prepared to twist that knife in Frohike's heart a little
deeper as payback for past actions, notably leaving him in jail that one
weekend. But there seemed to be no sport in torturing someone who
refused to cooperate. The longer that Langly stared at the other man, the
more he realized that the heart that he wanted to stomp on would not
feel another beating; the spirit that he wished to break had already
eroded away, and the man who sat before him could not be any more
desolate. His original reason for being here no longer mattered. With
a sigh and some guilt, he again turned to leave.

His thoughts confused him as he made his way back down the hall. He
should stay, bunk out on the couch like he had so many times before, and
*be* there, just in case. Not that he really expected Frohike to need
him but rather as a gesture, letting him know that he would be there
like others had been for him. And besides, the look on Frohike's face
the following morning could be priceless.

Langly was halfway out the front door when he made his decision and
stopped. He wasn't leaving. He wasn't just going to keep walking out
and away from every little bump in the road of his life. He kept
telling these guys that he would straighten himself out, if they would
only just help him some more. But they'd done that, and he just kept
right on going with what he had always done before - being a joke and a
disappointment to anyone that mattered. It stops here, he thought; it
*has* to stop.

He closed the door and absentmindedly walked into the kitchen. He stood
in the middle of the room and stared at the cabinets. 'How many times
have I been in here when I wasn't drunk or hung over?' Langly couldn't
even begin to come up with an answer. But another thought crossed his
mind, and another decision was made.

Langly began to hunt through the cabinets, like he had done before, but
with a different purpose. Upon finding the few bottles of liquor that
were left ('Jesus, Frohike must have been in a complete stupor this past
week - he usually keeps his place stocked better than some bars'), he
placed them on the counter and proceeded to pour the contents down the
sink. The guys had done it often enough to him; it was now time to
return the favor.

Langly was so wrapped up in emptying the bottles and throwing them in
the trash can that he did not hear Frohike coming back up the hallway.
Langly froze when he realized that Frohike was almost next to him,
carrying a nearly-empty fifth of Southern Comfort; he began to have a
fleeting thought that Frohike would take a swing at him with it.

"Here," Frohike said, offering the bottle, "take care of this one, too."

Langly took it from him and tried to recover from the vision of his
near-brush with a cracked skull.

"You do know," Frohike continued, "that there's no guarantee that this
will work for either of us."

Langly nodded. "But it's a step forward, don't you think?" Hey, all
those meetings haven't gone to waste.

"Possibly," was the reply. "It will have to be."

Frohike returned to the bedroom and sat back down on the bed. He
grabbed one of the pillows and hugged it to his chest and reached over
for the radio before realizing what he had done with it earlier in the
day. And he remembered the chorus of the song that was playing before it
sailed across the room. And Frohike knew that it was promise that he
would be able to keep. He just hoped that, wherever Dee now was, she
carried that promise with her.

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'Til my last breath; 'til I'm called on high
'Til the angels come, and I see the light
To the very end; 'til I give in; to the last beat of my heart.
No, I can't swear that I'll be here for the rest of your life
But I swear I'll love you for rest of mine.**

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

**Lyrics contained in this section are from "The Rest of Mine", recorded
by Trace Adkins and written by Trace Adkins and Kenny Beard. They are
used without permission, and no infringement is intended.