That night, Oct. 28, 1999, Jarrett boarded a flight to O'Hare. "Instead of immediately going to see him, I got one of my dad's cars and just drove around," Jarrett says. "Before I left for college, Dad liked to drive around with me for hours. Just the two of us. So that's what I did now. Driving that day, all alone, I felt like he was hanging with me. It was just the two of us, doing what we loved."
On Sunday, Oct. 31, Jarrett took another long drive before coming home to bid good night to his father. When the son walked into the bedroom, Walter—dazed, weakened, near death—lifted his head ever so slightly. Walter's brother, sister and mother were in the room. "Where have you been?" he whispered.
"I was out," replied Jarrett, "looking at some motorcycles." Without uttering a word, Walter gave his son the glare from hell.
"I'm joking," Jarrett said. "Dad, I'm joking."
Brittney was at a Halloween party hosted by a friend. A high school freshman, she was trying her best to maintain normalcy. "My closest girlfriends were there," Brittney said, "and I just broke down. All my friends were lying on the floor with me, in a big group huddle, and they were crying with me."
The following afternoon, at around 12:30, Brittney was in class when she was summoned to the principal's office. Miss Luna was there, waiting to bring her home. "She didn't say anything," Brittney says. "Just that I needed to go." Upon reaching the house, Brittney found Connie and Jarrett in her bedroom, crying and hugging.
"Do you want to see Dad one last time?" Connie asked her.
Walter Payton was all alone. His eyes and mouth were closed. His skin was cool to the touch. "I hugged him," Brittney says. "I told him I loved him. I was sad, but a part of me was relieved."
For nearly a year, a man accustomed to pain had endured unspeakable suffering. "Now," says Brittney, "he was at peace."