Author’s Note: I know I said that the last chapter was the end of Sasha’s generation, but I just couldn’t leave it alone. She had more story to tell, and her heir wasn’t quite ready to step in yet. So…one more Sasha chapter.
I know that I said there were oddities with the birth of my late-in-life baby, Natasha, but other than getting an odd package from some distant relative I’d never heard of, those oddities were not readily apparent. As far as babies go, she cried, pooped, and ate just like normal children. Since she shared a room with her sister, Sarah ended up taking care of Natasha at night. I felt bad about this to a certain extent, but honestly, getting up with the baby was never one of my favorite things.
Natasha learned to speak rapidly. She talked to herself in the mirror of her playpen and to the odd little doll she was always dragging around. She also learned to walk rapidly. Linc thought she was a budding genius. I just think she was precocious. She saw all of us walking around and couldn’t wait to do it herself.
I wouldn’t say that Linc and I neglected Natasha. But maybe we didn’t spend as much time with her as with our first two. It was actually their fault. Both Chris and Sarah loved their little sister and were constantly holding and playing with her. I suppose I shouldn’t have worried that she wouldn’t have the same close relationship with her siblings as they had with each other. By the time Christopher graduated and moved on to college, little Natasha worshiped him.
“I wanna be jus like Chis,” she said to her little doll she called Darcy. “I wanna paint an’ do pull ups an’ jump jacks.”
“What about being like your big sister?” Sarah, who was eating some cereal while Chris did his homework, called out.
“I like Sar-Sar, too.”
“You can be like me,” Sarah continued. “I can beat Chris at soccer, and I can do more pull ups. I’m even better at Kicky Bag.”
“Hey!” Chris protested. “You got lucky. And I’m tons better at soccer. You can’t even beat me at a shootout!”
Chris and Sarah were always competing. Ever since she’d come to the high school, her goal was to out-shine Chris at sports. Linc, ever the athlete, encouraged this attitude in our oldest daughter. He was extremely proud of her awards and trophies.
“I can run fast, too, like Sar-Sar, ” Natasha sang to her doll, “but Chis paints bee-u-tee-ful pictures. I like pretty, pretty pictures!”
Neither Sarah nor I pointed out that she had once loved painting, too. She had given it up in favor of sports and writing in high school. I couldn’t believe she’d joined the paper like I once had.
“Do they still have my old ‘In the Halls’ column?” I asked Sarah once when I was helping her write her first article.
“No, Mom. That’s so old-school. The paper’s all on-line now, and I do sports. I’m the only girl sports writer.”
“Well, that’s nice,” I said. “Do you think you want to be a writer after you graduate?” I could picture her writing for one of the big papers. Female sports writers were rare.
“Duh,” Sarah said in the exasperated tone of most teenaged girls. “But I want to be a famous athlete first. I want to be on the Sim City Rockets…the girls-only soccer team.”
“Well, you know…” I began my speech about how most people can’t be famous athletes and that she should have a fall-back plan. Sarah just rolled her eyes. “That’s why I’ll be a writer, duh.”
“Duh, Darcy. Duh, duh, duh!” sang Natasha who was on the floor nearby. Her doll seemed to mock me from it’s beady little eyes.
I was glad that Sarah had found an interest that was just hers alone. She and Chris had always been so close, I was afraid that when he left for college, she’d be lonely. But by the time Chris had his birthday and graduated, Sarah had become really good friends with one of the girls from her class.
So Chris went to college. I was proud and terrified at the same time. He was going on an arts scholarship. Linc and I were both proud of that though I think Linc was more proud of the partial sports scholarship he also received.
While he was gone, I worried about what sort of trouble Chris was getting into. He moved into a frat house right away. He tried to explain that the fraternity would give him instant friends and guys to hang out with.
“But a fraternity?” I asked. “Don’t you think you might want a more studious environment? Don’t they party all the time at frat houses?”
“No mom. I promise I’ll be fine.”
Linc assured me that Chris was too much an athlete to do stupid things like kegger parties with juice pong or pull all-nighters. I took some comfort in that, but still I worried that he might be meeting the wrong sort of people. Who knew was weirdoes had also joined his fraternity?
Then one day I got a text from Chris saying he’d met someone. Initially I was excited. I figured that a girl would keep Chris grounded. But then I realized that she might be even more of a partier than the frat boys. And what about sex? Had Linc talked to Chris about using protection?
I admit to being completely nosy regarding Chris’ new girlfriend, Shasta Parks. I did some snooping into the girl’s background. She was a twin. She and her sister lived with their grandmother who had a house near the campus. Ok. Her sister, Clare, was a technology major. I hacked into the computer system and found out she had perfect grades. Shasta was a Science major. Her grades weren’t quite as good, but she seemed the decent sort. I started to worry less.
Eventually, Chris came home from college. He had graduated with an art degree and he told me he was going to be a painter.
“I know painting doesn’t pay well, mom, so don’t give me that look. I am also going to train people at the gym for extra money. Eventually, I know I will break into the art world. It’s only a matter of time.”
“Ok,” I muttered, not really believing him. I figured he was probably going to end up one of those guys who lived with his parents all of his life. I had mixed feelings about that.
“If art doesn’t work out,” Chris said, “I have a back up plan.” I nodded. I’d always taught my children to think ahead. Linc and I had both instilled that in them.
“My friend Elijah from school is in a band. He offered me a job as the lead guitarist, but I turned him down. He says it’s an open offer.” Chris smiled as he made this pronouncement. He seemed pleased that he’d thought of everything. I didn’t say what I wanted to which was that musicians have an even harder time than starving artists.
Chris hadn’t been home even a week before he invited his girlfriend over to meet us. I liked her. Linc and I both did. She was a sweet girl, if a bit childish. She and Chris looked good together. A lot of my anxiety about them ceased. Shasta still had school to finish, but she and Chris were talking of her moving to Twinbrook when she graduated. I just hoped he’d be making more money then so they could move out. I liked the girl, but I didn’t want them living with us!
Meanwhile, Sarah made good on her promise to beat her brother in sports. She graduated and earned a full-ride scholarship to play soccer at the university. Before she graduated, though, Sarah had one bomb-shell to drop on us.
“Mom, Dad,” she informed us while we were eating supper. “I got asked to prom today.”
“That’s wonderful,” I gushed. “I can’t wait to go shopping for a dress. We’ll do your hair, nails, everything!”
“Um, before you get all girly on me, mom, you should know that my date is Shayla Castro.”
Shayla Castro. It took me a moment to remember that she as Sarah’s friend from her newspaper class.
“She was the friend I invited to Chris’ birthday, remember?” I’d forgotten. “Anyway, we’re really good friends and…well…things have sort of happened and I realized…well…Shayla is my date to prom.”
I am not sure why this stunned me so much. I mean, I grew up with two dads. I had no problem with same-sex relationships. So my daughter liked girls? So what? I guess I was just surprised. I always thought I would have a hint or a clue. Weren’t there supposed to be signs? Was my gay-dar off? Was there really such a thing?
“I’m really happy for you,” I finally managed. I smiled, hoping it looked sincerely and not like I was stunned witless. I was supportive, damn it! I didn’t want her to think it mattered.
“Are you going to wear a dress?” Linc asked, jokingly. “Who’s going to rent the tux?”
“Duh, Dad!” Sarah rolled her eyes. “We’re both girls. Sheesh. We’re not trying to make some sort of statement. We’ll both wear dresses.”
Interestingly, I was much less worried about Sarah attending university than I was Chris. Sarah and Shayla were going together. They weren’t going to live in a dorm or sorority, either. Instead the two of them were going to rent a small house. Unlike Chris and Shasta, who I constantly worried were having unprotected sex, I had no such worries about Sarah. They were so devoted to each other! Shayla wanted to be a school teacher and adopt at least 5 kids. Sarah, who I never thought of having kids of her own, happily agreed with her girlfriend. Even though I knew they’d make me a grandmother someday, I had no worries about it being an unexpected surprise!
So amongst all of this, Linc and I were getting older. The problem with getting old when you have a young child, is that they are so much harder to keep up with. Natasha was so good at entertaining herself, I hardly worried about her, but maybe I should have.
She had a strange obsession with the moon. She painted odd pictures of it all the time. They were always the same. And when she wasn’t painting, she was always playing or talking with her doll. I thought she would have outgrown it.
“Isn’t she a bit old for that doll?” I asked Linc one night.
“How old is too old?”
“I don’t know. But that doll is creepy. I have always hated it.”
“But Natasha loves it. Just leave her alone. If you think she’s too attached to it, get her into other things.”
So I did. I enrolled her in dance class at school, which she seemed to love. However, she asked me if she could take an inventing and science class for kids, so I got her into that as well. I’d learned from Chris, that you couldn’t pigeonhole your child. She might love dance and playing with dolls, but she also loved science and building things.
Linc wasn’t as enthused about the science classes as I was. “She’s making some odd things,” he said. “Don’t you think it’s sort of dangerous?”
“What, you mean like bombs and stuff?” I asked.
“Sure. That’s not unheard of.”
I looked over at Natasha who was once again playing with her doll and shook my head. “I don’t think we should worry about that.”
Linc decided that some of his paranoia was coming from working too hard. He came home one day and told me that he was going to retire from the police force. “I’m getting too old for the job,” he said.
“But what will you do?” I asked. “I know you will be terrible at retirement if you don’t have something to occupy yourself.”
“I was thinking about doing some PI work,” Linc smiled at me. “You keep saying you need to find a partner so you don’t have to work so much. What about me? We could be a husband and wife duo!”
Linc working PI? I almost laughed. He looked so sincere, though, so I decided to let him try. I gave him a few hacking jobs. “This is how Bruno started me out,” I told him.
The funny thing was that PI work suited Linc. I should have known. Not long after his retirement, I was already training him to do surveillance and snooping. “Bruno used to say, ‘think shrubbery’ and no one will notice you,” I advised.
Eventually Shasta graduated from college. It didn’t come as any surprise when Chris told me that he was going to ask her to marry him. What did shock me was that he asked her in our living room as soon as she arrived for one of her weekend visits.
Linc shook his head. “That kid is too eager. He should have planned a more romantic proposal.”
Of course the two of them wanted to get married right away. “Why shouldn’t we elope?” Chris asked. “You and dad did.” Luckily, I talked them out of the elopement. I never regretted marrying Linc at the court house, but I didn’t think that sort of wedding would really satisfy Chris and Shasta.
After talking, the two of them settled on a beach ceremony with a few close family and friends present. I have to say that it was a beautiful ceremony. Afterwards, Chris and Shasta took a balloon ride over the city. I thought that was very romantic.
“See,” I poked my husband. “He managed to get the romance right at the end.”
“You want to take a balloon ride, too,” he wiggled his eyebrows at me. “No one would notice if we just sort of laid down in the basket for some fun.”
“Linc!” I smacked him. “Let’s go Smustle. You need to work out some of your energy. But maybe later we can…” I trailed off.
I guess Chris and Shasta had a similar idea to Linc’s. The consequence of their wedding fun was morning sickness and pregnancy.
“Mom, Dad,” Chris announced, “Shasta and I are going to have a baby.” I had already deduced this due to her frequent vomiting.
“Congratulations son!” Linc clapped him on the back proudly. I nodded. I was waiting for the rest of Chris’ announcement. I could predict what he was going to say.
“Um, I was wondering if we could continue living here a bit longer. As you know my art career is just getting started…” he trailed off. I knew the rest. He was making little to nothing on his paintings and his new wife was working at the science facility as a test subject, which I was sure couldn’t be good for a pregnant woman. I sighed. “Of course you can stay with us.”
“Thanks mom!” Chris hugged me. “Babies are expensive. I mean, we couldn’t really afford to move out before the baby…now…” Now, it would be impossible.
Thankfully, Sarah and Shayla decided to get married right after their first term at college. They elected to move permanently into their little campus house. Sarah said she could concentrate on the team and her grades and Shayla had just been offered a job at the campus radio station.
This left Natasha still in the house with us, but she was getting older, too. I asked her if she would mind sharing her room with the new baby and she seemed ok with it.
“I like kids, Mom,” she told me. “I can sing to the baby with Darcy. I can paint pictures to hang above the baby’s crib.”
I didn’t think Natasha knew how much work sharing a room with a baby would be, but I was happy that she seemed enthused.
“You’re going to make a great aunt,” Shasta told her. “The new baby will be so lucky to have you around!”
I suppose that no body expected what happened on the day of Natasha’s birthday party.
Natasha had just blown out her candles when I heard a groan and a splash from Shasta, who was next to me.
“Oh no,” she moaned. “I think the baby’s coming.”
I nodded. It was definitely time judging from the pained expression on Shasta’s face. I turned to Chris to tell him to get Shasta’s bag. Unfortunately, both he and Linc (who should have known better since he had three children!) were just about worthless.
“Sarah,” I said, motioning to her and Shayla. “Can you get Shasta’s bag. It’s in their room. And can you make sure she and Chris actually make it to the hospital?”
“Sure mom. We’ll take care of it.”
I felt bad for Natasha. Pretty much all of her guests, both family and friends, left the party once Shasta’s labor started. Natasha had to clean up the party mess by herself.
“Don’t worry about it Mom,” she assured me. “I don’t mind.”
I looked over at my smart now teenaged daughter and smiled. I was about to be a grandmother. What sort of grandmother has a teenaged daughter?
Linc and I did our best not to let the fact that we were grandparents slow us down. All of our kids thought we were sappily romantic. We often went out on dates together. My favorites were when we recreated our first meeting at the skeet ball machines. I even managed to out-score Linc unlike that first game we played.
Linc and I also liked going dancing. Once, when Natasha was still in grade school, we even one a spring dance competition. We never let a little thing like age slow us down.
So we welcomed having our grand daughter in our house. Chris and Shasta named her Sophie. She was a delight. I was especially surprised when her hair came in almost the exact shade of strawberry blond as my sister, Lydia’s.
You never know when your life is going to irrevocably change for the worse when you wake up in the morning. Typically on Saturdays, I liked to get up early and make pancakes for everyone.
The Saturday morning that tragedy struck our lives, started out like all of the rest. I was eating my pancakes and trying to talk Natasha into joining the newspaper like Sarah had. Linc finished his pancakes quickly and was telling her she should consider doing a sport.
“Jeez, Mom, jeez Dad! I don’t know what I want to do. I was thinking of the science club and maybe drama.”
“Drama?” This was the first I’d heard that Natasha was into drama. I knew she liked art, so joining the art club would have made more sense.
We talked about it some more but in the end, Natasha did one of those teenaged shrugs and blew us off. She went out back to mess with her chem lab.
Natasha wasn’t the type to wait to do her homework. Later that afternoon, I came in to see her sitting with Shasta. She looked puzzled.
“Need help?” I asked.
“Nope. Not unless you know physics. Mrs. Lindstrom wanted me to try this physics assignment to see if I should join her advanced class.”
“Isn’t that a senior class?”
“Well, duh! She says I’m like a genius in science.”
I raised my eyebrow. Natasha was smart, but a genius? Linc had always said so, but I had ignored him. Hearing Natasha describe her physics assignment and talk to Shasta who really did understand it, I started to believe that he had been right.
Linc came in from running, something he liked to do on Saturdays just as Natasha finished up. She thanked Shasta and kissed him on his sweaty cheek.
“I’m going to go paint,” she said.
I waited for Linc to get a drink from the fridge before telling him about Natasha’s advanced physics to see what he thought of it all.
That’s when it happened. It was like slow motion. He shut the fridge door, turned to me with a pained expression and said, “I think I went too far on my run. My side hurts.”
What innocent words!
The next thing I remember is hearing him gasp. He grabbed at his left arm and sort of hissed in pain.
Before I could even register what was happening, he collapsed on the floor.
My Linc was gone.
I was never more grateful to have Chris and Shasta still living with me than I was when Linc passed away. Without them I don’t know what I would have done. They took care of everything including planning the wake.
I didn’t have to do anything except be there and hope I could hold it together.
I know that Natasha was having a hard time. She’d always been especially close to Linc. They were always doing things together like entering the hotdog eating contest that I truly thought would be the death of him! She didn’t even want to get out of bed on the morning of the funeral. I didn’t blame her, but neither of us had the luxury of staying in bed.
With all of the guests present in the house, I was sort of grateful that I could escape for a little bit by taking Sophie to bed. It was nice to get out of the room of all of those people telling me how wonderful my husband had been. Did they think I needed reminding?
If I could be with him for one more moment, I would do it! I knew exactly how much he was missed! Maybe it was inevitable, what happened next. I started feeling strange, like fireflies were crawling all over me. Then, it almost felt like I was floating. I looked down at Sophie to let her know it was time for bed and I could see through my body.
Maybe I should have been alarmed that she was witnessing this happen to me, but I wasn’t.
I felt Peace.