Spaghetti was William’s favorite food. I stared at the gloopy, burned mess I’d made of my son’s favorite food and I broke down.
He’d never eat spaghetti again. And he wasn’t here to make fun of me for burning such a simple meal. I’d never hear his laugh again.
I’d never get to see him ride his bike or hear him arguing with his sister or begging Homer to play catch with him. I’d never get to help him with his homework or take him scuba diving or fishing with me ever again. It was just too much for me to handle.
“Oh Em! Why is this happening to us?! Why!!?”
Emilee just shook her head. She wrapped me up in her arms and we cried together. Our son was gone. He’d had hypothermia after being in the water so long. Then he developed pneumonia. The doctors did everything they could, Phillip told me.
“Sometimes there’s nothing we can do,” he said sadly. “I know it doesn’t make you feel better, but they did try their hardest.”
At the time I was too shocked to respond to my brother-in-law’s comments. Now I would have railed at him. If those doctor’s had done everything they could, William would be ALIVE.
Homer was having a really difficult time dealing with the loss of his brother. He refused to make William’s bed, and he spent almost all day in his room. I heard him talking sometimes. At first I thought he was on the phone, and I got a little angry with him, but then I realized that he was having conversations with William and my heart just broke.
Charlotte was also having difficulties with William’s death. She couldn’t sleep and was always tired. She hated being in her room alone she said, so she started sleeping on the couch. She hardly spoke to anyone. Sometimes I found her playing chess on the computer or just reading a book. She always looked like she’d just been crying. I guess she probably had been.
We all cried. Sometimes we consoled each other, or just held on as Emilee had when I burned the spaghetti. Other times we were alone and the tears just fell.
“I didn’t know I had this many tears,” Emilee told me one evening when we were holding each other in our bed.
“I was gardening today and one of my plants had died. I just broke down.”
“I understand,” I said, pulling her close. We were both trying but failing to keep from crying. I kissed the top of her head and let her weep on my shoulder. My tears fell into her hair, but she didn’t seem to notice.
At William’s funeral the whole family got together to share our grief. Both Juno and Rhea took over the planning so that Emilee and I wouldn’t have to even though we held the wake at our house.
“It will get easier with time,” Juno said to me, giving me a reassuring hug. “Remember how hard it was after Mom and Dad passed? It won’t hurt like that forever.”
I cried on Juno’s shoulder, but part of me wanted to tell her to shut up. I knew that I would have this pain with me for the rest of my life. Parents are supposed to die before their kids. That’s normal. Having your child die die before you is not the way things are supposed to go.
Once everyone left the house, I sat next to Emilee on our couch. She put her hand over mine and gave it a squeeze.
“Is it wrong that I wanted everyone gone like an hour ago?” Emilee asked me softly. “If they hadn’t left when they did, I think I might have screamed.”
“Me too,” I said, understanding exactly how she felt.
“Everyone kept telling me how loved William was and that he was in a better place.”
“I wanted to smack them! What’s better than being with his parents?”
We held each other for a long time.
Of course time does pass and the pain is dulled. It isn’t gone–never that. But it isn’t as immediate and horrible as when the loss is fresh.
Emilee and I were aged by the loss of our son. We were getting older, sure, but I don’t think we would have had quite the age transformation if William hadn’t died. It takes a toll.
“It’s so hard,” Emilee said to me as we sat on our porch. “I look out at the water and I can’t help but think of him.”
“I don’t know how you can still go out and dive.”
“Sometimes I can’t. I get into the boat and I can’t even start the engine.”
“We really need to move,” she said, looking over at me. It was a conversation we kept having. Here in Isla Paradiso we were surrounded by memories of William.
“It’s almost Homer’s birthday,” I said, giving my reason for not wanting to move just yet. “He’s going to graduate. We should let him finish school before we uproot the family.”
“But Homer hates it here as much as we do.”
It was true, at least a little. Homer was not the same happy-go-lucky kid he had been. He visited William’s grave a lot. And brooded all the time.
“Still,” I said to Emilee, “It wouldn’t be right to force him to graduate from a totally different school. It’s only a few more months. We can hold out that long.”
Despite the fact that he said he didn’t want one, we threw a small party for Homer’s birthday. Emilee felt that it was important to celebrate even if our hearts weren’t in it.
“William would have wanted Homer to have a party. He wouldn’t want Homer to be sad on his birthday.”
The excitement of a party would also be good for Charlotte. She had refused to go back to Smugglesworth after William died. She said she hated the school and all the kids.
“You don’t hate it,” I said, wiping her eyes and hugging her to me.
“I do so! I don’t want to go back. What if something bad happens while I’m gone?”
It broke my heart to see Charlotte hurting so badly. I knew that she wouldn’t get the sort of education she needed at the school in Isla, but I couldn’t make her go back to her prep school until she was ready to do so.
“I’ll call them,” I told her. “I’m sure they will understand. They may even hold your scholarship incase you change your mind and want to return.”
After he graduated, Homer decided not to go to college. He, like Charlotte, seemed afraid to go away from home.
“I just don’t know what I want to do yet, Dad,” he told me. “I think I’m going to fish for awhile and then when you guys move, I’ll move with you. Maybe by then I’ll have a better idea for a career.”
Since I had done pretty much the same thing, I couldn’t really say anything to Homer. I’d always hoped better for him, though. I wish he had been a little more like my sisters and less like me.
Instead of telling him he was making a mistake, I said, “That’s ok son. You know we want the best for you. Your mother and I will support you in whatever you decide.”
Homer gave me a hug. “Thanks Dad. I just don’t feel right going away from home right now. I’ll help you guys move. I’ll help out around the house here, too. You and Mom shouldn’t have to do everything.”
I laughed and patted him on the back. “You’re a good kid.”
Since Charlotte and William’s birthdays were close to when Homer’s was, we decided to wait until after Charlotte turned 13 to move. At that point, like Homer, she’d be transitioning into the upper grades. We still hoped that she might consider going back to Smugglesworth, but if she didn’t want to, maybe her new school would have a good gifted and talented program.
Charlotte’s party was bitter sweet. As she cut into her cake, I know she was thinking of her twin. His cake should have been right next to hers. Maybe she was also wondering if we’d have thrown a bigger party.
“I don’t know anyone here,” Charlotte told us when she made us promise that it would just be us celebrating her birthday. “I don’t want to have all the aunts and cousins over, either. They’d all be thinking the same thing!”
“Charlotte, that’s not true.”
“Yes it is! I’m thinking it too. So are you and mom and Homer. It’s William’s birthday, too!”
“Oh, baby!” I said, hugging her. She cried on my shoulder for a bit and then pulled away.
“No party, Dad. Promise me.”
Before we moved, Emilee and I lay in our bed discussing our plan. We were going to move to Twinbrook. The town had this farming grant thingy. If you agreed to move there and farm the land, you could get a good deal on a tract of land and a house to live in.
“Are you sure this is what you want to do?” Emilee asked me.
“I think so,” I said. “I did a little reading and found out that one of my ancestors did the same thing. He moved to Twinbrook from Riverview and started a farm.”
“What a coincidence,” Emilee said.
“I know, right? It was different for him, though. He got his land and house for free. I guess Twinbrook was taking advantage of a new craze for organic foods. They wanted to encourage town growth, too, and a higher standard of living for everyone in the town.”
“I guess they’re still looking to do that,” Emilee said, yawning. “Why else would they still be making those types of deals?”
“I don’t know. We have to buy our own property and house. We do get a nice tax break.”
“I never pictured you as a farmer,” Emilee told me, smiling. “Are you going to miss the water?”
I chuckled. I hadn’t picture myself as a farmer, either. I guess I would learn, though. At least Emilee knew about gardening and I did remember some of the things that my mother had done when she gardened. “Twinbrook does have a river,” I said. “I guess I’ll have to content myself with that sort of water.”
Since finding out that one of my ancestors farmed in Twinbrook, I’d done a lot of background checking and discovered where that ancestor had lived. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this long-ago Field’s property was unoccupied in Twinbrook. We decided to buy it.
I wasn’t totally in love with the house, but it was interesting. It had been remodeled a bit since a Fields first lived in it. Apparently, several of my ancestors had occupied the home! I had no idea that the Fields had had such a rich history in Twinbrook.
Anyway, we moved in and immediately set to work getting the farm going. Everyone helped out getting everything started. Emilee had the most experience, but I remembered what my mom had done, so I wasn’t too terrible at it. Homer, on the other hand, obviously didn’t have a green thumb.
Emilee and I finally had to ban Homer from the farm area. He was constantly pulling up seedlings instead of weeds. He also tended to step on the plants instead of stepping around them.
“I just want to help out, Dad,” he told me. “I feel bad that you guys are starting over here and there’s nothing I can do.”
“Well…” I hesitated. “Maybe you could fish in the river a bit and provide the fertilizer,” I suggested.
“I could do that,” Homer said. “I did say that I might take up fishing. After all, I watched you do it.”
“Freshwater is different than ocean water,” I cautioned. Homer just rolled his eyes.
“I watched you for years, dad. You taught me everything. We fished all over Isla Paradiso not just in the ocean. I learned on the small pond near the grocery where mom worked.”
I nodded. “I forgot about that. You’re right. I just wanted you to know that fishing a river might be different.”
I went out with Homer a few times to see how good the fishing was in Twinbrook. I can’t say that I was too impressed with the waters. I missed Isla’s beaches with the clear blue waters and the bright white sands. Twinbrook just appeared muddy to me. Some of the joy I used to feel out on the beach was diminished.
Thankfully, the fish were plentiful. I knew that Homer could make a decent living fishing in Twinbrook if that was what he wanted to do. I had hated fishing as a career. All of the relaxation and enjoyment I had from the activity as a hobby was leached out of it when I did it for a living. Homer didn’t seem to have my problem with working as a fisherman.
After our day on the water, I said, “This is a pretty good stretch son. I think you’ll do well here.”
“But?” Homer asked with a raised eyebrow.
“But I’m glad it’s you doing it and not me. These waters are just so…brown.”
Homer laughed. “Not all beaches are sandy and bright. At least here I’m not likely to get a sunburn!”
“Ha! Like you ever got a sunburn. Your skin was always nicely tanned. That’s the gift you got from your mother. Just be thankful you didn’t get the fair skin of my mother or my aunt Anne.”
Charlotte was definitely fairer of skin than her brother, but it didn’t matter even in Twinbrook’s somewhat overcast skies. Charlotte didn’t seem to be thriving as well after the move as she had before we left Isla. I wasn’t sure what to do.
The only thing that Charlotte seemed to enjoy doing was spending time with her pets. Since moving to Twinbrook we have acquired a parakeet and a rat. If you think that having two cats around the house is a pain, try living with a rodent and a chirping bird! But if the these pets made Charlotte even a little happy, I was willing to tolerate them. The only problem was that Charlotte had finally decided to go back to Smugglesworth.
“Are you sure you want to go back?” I asked her when she told me and Emilee what she wanted to do.
“I think so,” she said. “I checked out the Twinbrook Community School, but it just doesn’t look that interesting. You said they might have advanced classes, but when I was looking at their records online, I wasn’t that impressed.”
“You have friends at Smugglesworth,” Emilee said. “I’m sure they miss you.”
Charlotte just shrugged. “One of the girls who was on my Science Olympiad team wrote on Simbook yesterday that the school had invited a new professor to guest teach at Smugglesworth. He’s the leading expert in genetic research at Sim State University. I would hate to miss an opportunity to learn from someone like him in a high school setting.”
“That’s pretty amazing,” I said, not really sure if I completely agreed. Sometimes Charlotte just baffled me. What sort of girl got excited because of a professor unless she was a desperate co-ed? I know for a fact that Charlotte isn’t that type of girl!
“We’re going to miss you Baby,” Emilee said, hugging Charlotte. I hugged her, too. “We just want the best for you. If you want to go to Smugglesworth, then we’ll give them a call and get you re-enrolled.”
With Charlotte away at Smugglesworth and Homer working on the water or just out doing things away from the house, Emilee and I found ourselves with a lot of time to spend together.
“It’s almost like we’re retired,” I told her one evening when we were playing chess on our veranda. “I know we’re farming the land here, but because we’re both working on it, the work goes faster.”
“Um-hmm,” Emilee agreed, she was intently thinking about her next move. The two of us were fairly even at chess. “It doesn’t hurt that Homer is out getting us some decent fertilizer. Who knew that fish guts would be so useful?!”
“We should go to town tomorrow for Love Day,” I said. “Homer said he won’t be home all day. No one says we have to stay home all day.”
“I’d love to see what the Spring Festival is like here,” Emilee answered. She moved her rook forward two squares. “Check.”
I cursed. I moved my king out of jeopardy, but I could tell that in at least three moves Emilee would have me in check mate.
The festival was pretty much just like the one in Isla. The only major difference was the weather. It didn’t feel like it would ever be sunny in Twinbrook!
After spending the day with my wife, we were watching TV on the couch. “What do you think of Twinbrook now?” I asked Emilee.
“It’s nice,” she said, non-committedly.
“Today was fun,” I said. “I just wish the weather had been better.”
“Ares,” Emilee said looking at me. “what are you trying to say?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “I guess I just miss the sun and the ocean and the sandy beaches of Isla Paradiso.”
“What does that mean?”
I shrugged again. “I don’t know.”
“Well, we can’t move. We uprooted our entire family to come here. We just got started on this farm.”
“I know. I wasn’t thinking of moving. I just miss home.”
“Twinbrook will be home soon. Just give it time.”
A few days later, I was watching Emilee make pancakes one morning before we went out to work on the farm.
“Yes?” She flipped a pancake without a spatula, a skill that I envied.
“I love you,” I said.
Emilee put the pancake on a stack she already had next to the stove and turned to me, smiling.
“I love you, too. What brought that on?”
I chuckled. “Just you.” Emilee came over and gave me a peck on the cheek.
“You’re sweet, old man,” she said.
I reached out and stroked her cheek. “You’re sweeter. And I want you to know that home is where you are. Twinbrook, Isla, even Moonlight Falls if that’s where you wanted to go.”
Emilee laughed and went back to her pancake making. “We are not moving to Moonlight Falls!”
And so Twinbrook is where we stayed. Homer stayed with us, though we hoped he’d meet someone or find some direction in his life. It was often colder than we were used to, but the three of us made the most of our property. People like us who love the outdoors and love each other can make the most of anything.
Thank goodness for warm coats, fire-pits and marshmallows!