Emmitt had come to see his old friend one last time. Andy held to him, as they all sat in the living room, visiting with one another. Danae had just put the children to bed and joined Andy. “Travis, I want to thank you for everything, my friend.”
“You act like you’re saying goodbye, Emmitt.” He hoped it wasn’t true, but the look on Andy’s face told a different story.
“Well, the truth is, I have been much better. I know time is short, Travis. Please, let me say what I need to say.”
“Very well, then.”
“When you left Dragon Valley after high school, I thought I’d never see you again. At the time, I thought I was okay with that. But I never realized until we met again how much I had missed you. I thought I was content with living my life in that wretched place until Lionel offered me that job. My life changed, Travis. Without his help, I would have never been in a position to find you again.” Emmitt wiped tears from his eyes.
“There wasn’t a force that could make me go back to Dragon Valley, Emm until I thought you were dead. And when Talia told me you had died, I was angry. I would have gone back for you.” He remembered that day as if it was yesterday. It was one of the worst days of his life.
“When Lionel sent me here to negotiate the Llamas sale, I knew I had to contact you. Little did I know how close we would be again. We’re practically brothers. You and Charlotte got me through a pretty tough time, the day we thought we lost Andy. What an awful day, and then it was the best day. But without you coming to get me that morning, Travis, I’m not sure I’d be sitting here with you right now. It scared me how despondent I became in such a short time. I couldn’t imagine burying my only son.”
Emmitt’s eyes filled with tears. “I know one of us has to leave the other behind, and I’m sorry that you have to be the one left. We both know I haven’t got much time, Travis. But it’s time for me to go be with my Tessa. She’s been waiting for me for a long time.”
Travis knew he was the only one left in his family. Talia had been gone for a few years, and his parents were long, long gone. Emmitt was all he had left, and now, he was losing him all over again. “I’m so glad we had these extra few years together, Emmitt. You came back into my life at the best possible time, with the best news I’d gotten in over ten years. I can never repay that. But I’m so thankful for you, Emm. My brother. My best friend. Thank you.” Travis sobbed, even though he didn’t want to. Saying goodbye was never easy. Charlotte hugged him and wept alongside him.
Turning to Danae, he spoke softly. “Danae, sweetheart, thank you for two beautiful grandchildren. Love them, teach them. Please don’t let them forget me. And take care of my son for me. I will die peacefully, knowing he is loved.” There was not a dry eye in the house.
“Emmitt, thank you for my Andy, for raising him right, for teaching him everything he knows. He’s the man I love today because of you.” Danae wept as she spoke. “Over the years, I’ve really grown to love you, and I couldn’t have asked for a better father-in-law.” She hugged him gently and swallowed a sob.
Andy couldn’t speak, and Danae just held him as he tried to find the words, but only four left his lips. “Dad, I love you.” He leaned to Danae. “My sweet,” he whispered, “I’m going to spend tonight with Dad. I don’t think he will make it until morning, and I don’t want him to die alone. Will you be okay here?”
“I’ll be fine. Come home to me tomorrow, and call me if…” she couldn’t finish her sentence, but he nodded.
“I’m sure it will be tonight.” Andy sighed. He was not ready for this. “I love you, my sweet Danae, with all I am. Wait for me.” He stood to help Emmitt up. “Come, Dad, let me get you home. I’m staying with you tonight.”
“Thank you, Son.” Emmitt cried as he waved to his friends and his family, though they were one and the same. “I love you all.”
Andy called Danae at 3:30am, with great sorrow in his voice. “Nae,” he choked. “Pa is gone, peacefully in his sleep.”
“I’m sorry, baby,” she wept. “I’ll tell Daddy and Mama. Come home when you’re ready. I know you will need me.”
Danae walked softly to her parents’ bedroom, but Travis was already awake. His eyes filled with tears as he saw her approach. “Is he…”
“Yes, Daddy. Andy said it was peaceful.” It tore her up to watch her father cry. “I’m so sorry.”
“I’m sorry too, Punkin. He was your father-in-law. You’ve suffered a loss, too.” He motioned for her to come to him, and he hugged her tightly. “I’m glad we got to say goodbye. Not everyone does.”
“I hope Elyse will remember him, but I don’t think she will. She’s too little.” Her words cut Travis to the heart. If she was too young to remember Emmitt, she would not remember him or Charlotte either.
“I’ll tell your Mama when she wakes. She hasn’t been sleeping well lately, and I don’t want to wake her with such sad news.” Travis kissed Danae’s forehead and said goodnight.
He lay in bed thinking about Emmitt, thankful that they had been reunited. Thankful for Andy, thankful for their grandson and granddaughter. But the sorrow was too much for him, and he cried himself to sleep.
He woke the next morning, feeling like death warmed over. His head was pounding, his nose stuffy and his body ached all over. Charlotte was still sleeping beside him, and he pulled her close to him, breathing in her familiar, vanilla scent. His kisses woke her.
“Mmm, good morning, honeybear,” she cooed. But when he did not answer her, she felt alarmed. “Are you okay, baby?”
“No,” he sniffled. “Emmitt passed this morning just before 3:30. Danae came to wake me up, but I was already awake. I had a feeling he wouldn’t make it. The world is a better place for having had Emmitt Murphy in it.”
“Oh honeybear,” Charlotte wept. “I’m sorry.”
“Nae said something that broke my heart. She doesn’t think Elyse will remember him…” Tears flooded his eyes.
“If she won’t remember him, then she won’t remember us, either.” The revelation hit her hard.
In the month since Emmitt’s passing, Travis had grown increasingly restless. He knew the Reaper was coming for them, but he just couldn’t tell when. It’s odd, he thought, Emmitt and Chris both knew their time was up. Will I know? Will Charlotte know? He didn’t mean for it to torture him so, but it bothered him.
Eamon and Elyse continued to grow, and Danae stayed at home, taking care of two babies under two years old, and her aging parents. Travis spent a lot of time with his grandson in his arms while he rocked. Charlotte acted worried about him.
“Danae, does your dad seem okay to you? It seems he spends so much time just rocking that baby.”
“I don’t think it’s unusual, considering how much loss he’s had lately. His career, his best friend. He really hasn’t been the same since he retired, as much as he hates to admit it.” Danae sighed heavily.
“How is Andy doing after his dad’s passing?”
“He’s okay. He misses talking to him and working with him. But I think he’s happy he isn’t in pain anymore. They both missed Tessa. I think Andy is happy they’re together again.” Elyse was on the floor playing with her blocks. “I miss him. He had incredible wisdom. I wasn’t really done learning from him.”
“I really need to get after Devin to come around more often. We aren’t going to live forever. Your dad misses him.”
“Good luck. If he didn’t look so much like Daddy, I’d ask you if he belonged to the mailman,” Danae teased. “He isn’t anything like Darce or me. He’s so… cocky. Arrogant. Over sure of himself.”
“Yeah, that’s what Smitty told your dad at the retirement presser. I understand he lives his own life, but someday he will be sorry he didn’t spend more time with your dad.” Devin had been a constant source of disappointment and frustration for Travis, and she hated to see it. The kid was a good soccer player, but his rotten attitude erased all of the talent. Andy had told Charlotte he was one more shot away from getting kicked off the team, and she hoped it didn’t happen while Travis was still alive. That would break his heart.
“He was such a good kid when we left for college. Something changed in him. And it wasn’t for the better.”
Charlotte shrugged. “Danae, if you figure it out, let me know.”
It was an early winter morning, and the sun was shining on a new dusting of snow that had fallen overnight. It was Travis and Charlotte’s wedding anniversary, and she knew it would be the last they would celebrate. But still, she didn’t want to bring it up. Death was a frequent topic of discussion lately, and she was done with it for now. This day, the anniversary of their wedding, was a happy day.
Travis still slept soundly. The house was surprisingly, and eerily peaceful, which meant Andy had already left for work, and the babies were still sleeping. She snuggled into Travis’ embrace as he slept, her movement waking him. “Happy anniversary, my sweet Charlotte,” he purred into her ear. He never missed it, not once.
“Good morning, honeybear,” she replied. “Happy anniversary, my love.” She could still smell the musk on his skin from yesterday, and she still loved how it smelled on him.
“What do you want to do today?” he asked.
“I haven’t thought about it much,” she admitted. “With everything that’s been going on, I’m surprised you want to celebrate it.”
“Oh Charlotte, you have to be kidding. You are still here with me, and that is plenty of reason to celebrate. How many couples can boast being together this long, especially after…” No, he thought. Don’t bring that up again. But it was too late.
“Honeybear, you promised.” She kissed his fingers and he held her tighter. “You promised you would forgive yourself. I can’t…” she began to weep. “I can’t meet the Reaper knowing you are still angry with yourself.”
“I’m trying very hard, honey.” He meant it. But every time he got to that place, he saw the hurt on her face, the pain in her eyes, and he hated himself all over again. “I just hate what I did to you.”
“Would you be angry with me for this long?” She had to ask it.
“Of course not, my love. Never.”
“I am part of you. When you’re angry with yourself, baby, I feel like you’re mad at me, too.” She sniffled. “I know you have great ability to forgive, because I have seen it. But the one person you’ve never forgiven is yourself. Baby, you need to let it go. Please.”
Travis stopped to think. “Help me to forgive, honey. I don’t know how.”
“Yes you do, honeybear. Just remember how you felt when I told you I forgave you. The sense of relief. The freedom. Remember how I love you.”
“But that was easier.”
“You’re a prisoner to your unforgiveness, Travis. Let’s try this.” She took a breath and turned over to face him. “Close your eyes and picture what tortures you.”
“Okay. I can clearly see you, thinking I’d cheated on you. The betrayal. The disappointment.”
She wrapped her arms around him. “Say this to yourself. ‘I forgive you, Travis. I forgive you, Travis. I forgive you, Travis.’ Say it out loud.”
He opened his eyes and looked at her. “Really? This is your big self-help speech?”
She frowned at him. “How has your method worked so far?”
“Point taken,” he sighed. “Okay. I forgive you, Travis. I forgive you, Travis…” On the second one, he choked up. “I forgive you, Travis. But why? Why do I forgive you?” He had to admit, he felt like a crazy person talking to himself.
“You forgive yourself because you know you didn’t mean it. You forgive yourself because I forgave you. You forgive yourself, because if you don’t, you’re angry with me, too.”
“Why would I be angry with you?”
“Because I’m part of you. If you are angry with yourself, you’re angry with me, too.”
“That makes no sense, Charlotte.”
“But it does. You say you wouldn’t hesitate to forgive me, but you do hesitate. Don’t you see, Travis? The two shall become one. We are one. We have been since the beginning, and we still are now. One being. One flesh. One heart. One soul.”
He nodded. “Okay, I see it now.” He wiped tears from his eyes. “I forgive you, Travis,” he said one last time.
“Do you believe it this time?” She watched his face, trying to discern his feelings.
“I believe it.”
“No more apologies?”
“No more apologies, baby. My goodness, I love you, honey.” Travis kissed her.
“Make love to me.”
“This is what I live for,” he cooed.
Danae was downstairs cooking breakfast for Elyse when Charlotte and Travis came downstairs. She smiled at them. Even now, they were still not quiet. In fact, they woke her. But it gave her comfort that some things, no matter their age, would never change. “Good morning you two,” she winked at her mother, gently shaking her head.
“What’s for breakfast, Punkin?” she asked her, ignoring her acknowledgment. Charlotte poured coffee for her and Travis.
“I’m making Nana Destiny’s banana pancakes. This recipe card needs to be copied before I can’t read it anymore.” Danae giggled. “It has been well used over the past how many years now?”
“More than I care to think of, baby girl.” Charlotte walked to Elyse and kissed her forehead. “Hi sweet pea, good morning!” The baby cooed at her and giggled. Charlotte’s best guess was the recipe was the best part of one hundred years old.
“Where is Eamon?” Travis asked, not spotting him around.
“He’s still sleeping, or was when I brought her down. I haven’t heard him on the monitor, though, so I’m guessing he’s still asleep.” She adjusted her bra. “I need to nurse him soon, though. I’m a tad uncomfortable.”
“Was Darcey working today?” Charlotte could have sworn it was their day to watch the boys.
“No, Shan wasn’t feeling well, so she stayed home with them today. She didn’t want Eamon to get sick, which I appreciate.” Danae finished cutting up pancakes for Elyse and drizzled some syrup on them for her. Instead of a fork, the little girl used her fingers. Danae laughed. “Silly girl!” she cooed and made the child giggle. “Could you watch her while I grab the baby?”
Charlotte sat down by Elyse’s high chair, the tiny fork in her hand. “You bet I will.” Danae heard the sound of airplanes and choo-choo trains as they approached Elyse’s little mouth, and the sound of her giggles.
Travis, who was reading the morning paper, looked up from his reading long enough to watch his wife with their granddaughter. Elyse was now 20 months old, and Eamon, just 3 months old. Danae walked down the stairs with a cranky, hungry little boy, and sat on the sofa in the living room. Travis got up and joined her.
It wasn’t anything Danae hadn’t done before, and she didn’t mind her father watching while she fed her infant son. When it was her first baby, everything was so new and she remembered being so modest, but with Eamon, she didn’t mind nearly as much. Besides, Darcey had been telling her for a while now she thought time was getting short for both of them. There were just some subtle changes she saw in Charlotte that made her think she would go before Travis, but she couldn’t be sure.
“So Daddy, what are you doing for Mama tonight? Dinner out? Dinner in? A movie? More of what you started your day with?” She winked at him and gave him a knowing look.
“I wish we could end like we started. There isn’t that much stamina left in this old stallion anymore,” he joked. Danae blushed. “Oh, come on Nae,” he teased. She giggled at him and shook her head.
“That was just a little more visual than I needed, Daddy,” she laughed. Eamon fussed, and she sat him up to burp him, rubbing his back and patting him gently.
“Sorry, sweetie,” he said. “But you did ask.”
“Yes, I know I brought that on myself.” Eamon burped a little tiny burp, and she looked at him. “Your sister does better, sir,” she chuckled as she switched sides.
“I don’t know, Nae. I feel like we’ve done it all for our anniversaries. Vacations. Dinners out. Shoot, I even called her Amy on one anniversary. That was not my shining moment.”
“Oh Daddy, you didn’t!” Danae was shocked. “I bet that went over like a lead sinker.”
“I know you were too little to remember it. Devin was just a baby, maybe Elyse’s age. It was the morning we came downstairs and she was sleeping on the couch.”
“You know what? I do remember that! That’s what put you in the dog house that night?” She laughed, getting way too much enjoyment from it.
“Yes, that’s what I did. So stupid. I never said I was brilliant. That was your mama’s job.” Charlotte walked to where they sat with a sticky sweet Elyse in her arms. “I was just telling our daughter about the time I called you Amy on our anniversary.”
Charlotte rolled her eyes. “That wasn’t your dad’s greatest moment.”
“That’s what he just said, almost verbatim.” Danae laughed. “What else has he done that I don’t know about?”
“I think that’s it,” Charlotte chuckled. “You were old enough to remember the other stuff he did. And we’re not revisiting that anymore anyway.” She winked at Travis, and he smiled at her.
“Oh, I’ll never forget that night as long as I live.” She shuddered. “I don’t even like thinking about it.”
“Me neither, Nae,” Travis agreed.
“I think Eamon is done eating, if you want to rock him to sleep, Daddy. I’ll bring him up for you. I need to give Elyse a bath I see, before Mama licks her clean.”
Charlotte belly laughed. “I was just giving her kisses. I can’t help she tastes good.” All three of them laughed.
By mid-afternoon, Travis hadn’t decided what to do for Charlotte for their anniversary, so Danae decided to make lobster thermidor for them, and make them a pretty candlelit table downstairs. After the babies were down for a nap, she drove to the store to get ingredients she needed to make their favorite dish, and she realized the last time she had made it was the night she met Andy for the first time.
Just in time for dinner, Danae was pulling the lobster from the oven, and serving it on plates at a pretty table, set with china, silver, flowers, and candles. The stereo had love songs playing on it, and she dimmed the lights. And when she led them downstairs after telling them to dress for dinner, they were so surprised.
“Oh, Danae!” Charlotte exclaimed. “You didn’t have to do this for us!”
“I know I didn’t have to, Mama. I wanted to.” She watched as Travis sat his bride at the table, and he took his usual place at the head seat. Danae served them a glass of wine and dinner. They were so lost in the moment, they didn’t notice her sneak upstairs, and they surely didn’t see Andy come home and sneak past them.
“We are so blessed, my sweet Charlotte,” Travis said, relaxing in the atmosphere. “We are so lucky that she and Andy didn’t leave our home. I know they had their eye on a house at the beach.”
“I talked her into staying. She knew this house would be hers eventually anyway. It made sense. She has built-in babysitters when she needs to run an errand, and we get to see those precious little ones whenever we want. Win-win.” Charlotte sipped her wine and proposed a toast. “To us, honeybear. To the love of my life. Thank you for a life well loved.” She remembered her own father saying that to her mother in a love note, and adored the sentiment.
“To us,” Travis said, and they clinked their wine glasses together gently.
They ate together quietly, not saying much, but enjoying each other’s company. But then Charlotte broke the silence. “Travis, how do you think Emmitt knew it was his time?”
This was the very question that tortured him daily. “I don’t know, honey. I don’t know if he was just ready, or if he didn’t feel well. I remember Chris saying he didn’t feel well, and that Greg knew it was his time.” He had hoped to avoid the topic this evening.
“I was just wondering. My dad knew. Mama told me he woke that morning knowing he wouldn’t make it through the day.” Charlotte began to pick at her dinner. “I’m sorry I brought it up. I know how you don’t like it.”
“It’s okay, honey.” Travis sat back and pushed himself from the table. “I don’t want to leave this mess for Nae to clean. I’ll get your dishes. Go sit in the living room, and I’ll light the fire in a few.”
“No, it’s okay, love. Don’t bother with the fire tonight.” She took the last sip of wine from her glass. “I think the wine isn’t agreeing with me. I’m going to go upstairs.”
Travis nodded. “I’ll be up in a little bit, baby.”
He was wiping the last dish when he heard Danae scream. No! He thought as he climbed the stairs as fast as he could. When he reached the top, Danae was hysterical, and Andy was trying to calm her. Charlotte lay in a heap on the floor at the top of the steps, and Travis smelled the pungent odor of death. Danae saw him teetering dangerously near the stairs and pulled him to her, hugging him close. But he didn’t cry or weep, watching for the Reaper to appear behind the stench.
From thin air, it materialized, and it circled the family as they wept. But Travis simply watched, stunned, numb. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end as it laughed at him, and swooped his scythe dangerously close to his head, or so he believed. And in an instant, Charlotte was gone, a white alabaster urn trimmed in gold left in her place.
“Daddy? Are you okay?” Danae asked him. But he just stood, looking at the urn, stupefied. He shook his head and looked at his daughter.
“W-what just happened?”
“She’s gone, Daddy. Mama is gone.” Andy wrapped her in a hug, and let her sob. “I need to call Darcey, honey,” she said to Andy, and she walked into their bedroom, and closed the door.
“She can’t be gone. We… we just finished dinner. I never got to tell her… how…” he sobbed, “how much I love her.”
Andy tried to comfort him as much as he could, but Travis just sat in his rocking chair, sobbing, inconsolable. Danae came back from their bedroom and her heart broke watching her daddy cry. In desperation, she knelt in front of Travis, her head on his lap, sobbing. Instinctually, his fingers reached for her hair, and he ran his fingers through it.
“She was coming up to lay down in bed. She said the wine got to her.” Travis cried. “She didn’t know… I didn’t tell her… I never got the chance…” his words were tortured. “I love her so much, she can’t be gone!”
“Daddy, she knew you loved her. Every chance you got, you told her. There is no way she didn’t know.”
“She didn’t know the Reaper was coming for her. She just asked me about it, right before she came up here. She didn’t know!”
“You said she wasn’t feeling well. Maybe she did, Daddy.” She honestly didn’t know what to say, what would make him feel better, and it killed her inside.
Darcey opened the door downstairs and yelled up. “Danae!”
“We’re up here, Darce.”
Darcey reached the top of the steps and fell to her knees. Danae knew it would hit her especially hard. “Oh my… no!” Darcey repeated in between sobs. “She’s gone. She’s gone.”
Travis woke the next morning with a pounding headache and someone next to him. But the woman sleeping in her spot was not his sweet Charlotte, but Danae, his daughter. She felt him awaken, and she sat up next to him and put her arms around him. “I’m here, Daddy.”
“Hey Punkin,” he said sadly. “Why are you here?”
“I didn’t want you to be alone last night. Andy stayed with the kids in their room, mostly so he didn’t have to be alone.” She looked at his face, and he seemed so much older in just twelve hours’ time. “How did you sleep?”
“I think okay. I don’t remember going to bed. I don’t know how I got here.”
“Andy carried you here, Daddy. I got you undressed and into your pajamas. Don’t worry, I didn’t see anything.”
“I’m not worried about that, Nae.” It wouldn’t have been the first time she had seen him undressed. “It just bothers me I couldn’t remember.”
“Darcey was here, and she gave you something to help you sleep. She didn’t think you’d sleep on your own. She was a mess. Andy had to drive her home and walk back from their house at 10 last night. I think she’s taking today from work. If I was working, I would be, too.”
A soft knock sounded at the door. “Nae? Honey, the baby needs to be fed.” Andy had Eamon in his arms.
“I’ll take him, love, thank you.” She took their son and settled back down on the bed. “Stay here for now, Daddy. Just be with me while I nurse him.”
Travis nodded. “For a few minutes.” He got up and went into the bathroom, and came out in time to see Danae burping the baby. His little face looked at Travis, and he couldn’t help but smile.
“When I’m done nursing, would you like to rock him, Daddy?” She hoped he would say yes.
He nodded and wiped tears away. Just twenty-four hours ago, they were talking about their anniversary. And suddenly, he remembered their conversation about forgiveness. “You know, Danae, I just thought of something.”
She settled the baby and let him latch on to nurse, and she nodded. “What’s that, Daddy?”
“Your mama yesterday. She was acting weird all morning. Before we came downstairs, we were talking about her wanting me to forgive myself for the night I almost died. Because as of yesterday morning I still hadn’t, even though I promised her. She got angry with me. But now that I think of it, she wasn’t so much angry as she was desperate. Desperate to hear me say the words. Maybe she did know after all, and she didn’t tell me.”
“It’s possible, Daddy. It sounds like something she would have done.” She sat Eamon up and patted his back gently. “I’m going to change him before I settle him into your arms, Daddy. He is wet. Would you like coffee or anything for breakfast?”
“I’d love some coffee, sweetie. Thank you.” He got up to walk to his rocking chair, but stopped at the dresser to change clothes. Inside his dresser was Charlotte’s diamond ring, with a note:
My dearest Travis,
By the time you find this note, I’ll be gone. There was so much I wanted to tell you, but I sensed my time was short, and we promised not to be melancholy on our anniversary. Please give this ring to one of the girls. I’ll let it be your choice. The wedding band is in our jewelry chest, with Chris’ purity ring, Nana’s diamond, Mama’s anniversary band, and my dad’s sapphire ring. Please, if you give these things to the girls, tell them to keep them in our family. Do not let Devin have any of it, as I fear he will sell it or give it to some girl he doesn’t plan to marry.
Thank you, my honeybear, for our life together, our children and all your love for my lifetime. It was all I ever needed. I will see you on the other side.
All my love,
Danae saw his face contorted with pain as he read the letter she left him. “Oh Daddy,” she cried, holding the baby close to her. He dropped the letter and watched it fall to the floor.
“Her ring… it’s in my drawer, with this note. I can’t… I can’t read it to you.”
“I’ll get it, Daddy. Go sit, and I’ll give Eamon to you to rock him.”
Travis nodded. Though he had opened his drawer to get changed, he stayed in his pajamas and stumbled to the rocker outside the nursery. Danae changed the baby and handed him to Travis. She hugged his shoulders and kissed his forehead. “I have the monitor, Daddy. If you need me, just yell for me, and I’ll be right up.”
“Okay, Punkin.” He cuddled his grandson into his arms and stared forward into space, rocking the baby until he fell asleep.
It was the tenth morning since Charlotte had died, and he woke up in a bed without her for the tenth time since they had been married. He instinctively reached for her, and felt only a cold, empty place. Travis sighed deeply, not wanting to face one more day without the love of his life. This was a despair he’d felt before, but the first time was nothing at all like how he felt now. How could he even compare it? Charlotte had been his one true love. And she was gone. The emptiness threatened to consume him.
The sun hadn’t even come up yet, and he was wide awake, though this was nothing new. He tied his robe around him, shivering in the damp chill. With his slippers on his feet, he trudged down the stairs and started a pot of coffee. He glanced at his watch. It was 4:34am. Even Andy wouldn’t be up this early. With his new promotion, he was going in at ten every morning, and if Danae was lucky, Eamon would sleep a little longer without needing to be fed.
He poured himself a cup of brew and put a little cream in it. With his first mouthful, he shuddered. This was how Charlotte liked it, he thought. I need sugar. He stirred a half teaspoon of sugar into the cup and mixed it well, and walked into the living room. He set the cup on the table near the sofa, and started a fire in the hearth to take the chill off the morning air. He didn’t notice it was snowing until he really looked outside, and it was coming down at blizzard intensity. Too early in the season for this, he thought.
When the fire began to roar, he picked up his coffee cup and watched the flames for what seemed like hours. He heard soft footsteps descending the stairs, and looked up to see Danae, her hair disheveled, looking like she hadn’t slept a wink. She peeked around the corner from the staircase and saw her father sitting by the fire, thankful that Andy hadn’t forgotten to extinguish their fire from the evening before. “Good morning, Daddy.”
“It’s morning. The jury is out on good,” he grumbled. His leg was stiff with arthritis, and the weather and cold wasn’t helping any.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Can I get you anything?”
“I’m going to refill my coffee in a minute. What are you doing up, Punkin?”
“The baby had me awake all night. He’s colicky.” She rubbed her eyes. “The stuff they don’t tell you about motherhood.”
Travis half-smiled. He and Charlotte had been lucky. None of them had been colicky when they were babies. “I’m guessing Andy is going to be grumpy today.”
“No, just me. I stayed in the nursery and walked the floor with him downstairs for most of the night. I just got him down to sleep when I noticed the light on. I thought I’d turned it off.” Even though she shouldn’t have coffee while nursing, she poured herself one anyway, and brought Travis a fresh cup. “Hopefully, Andy slept through it all. I know he has to work today. He doesn’t need the sleep disruption. He’s a busy man.” Travis was about to ask her a question when the baby’s sharp cry sounded on the monitor. Danae grimaced in frustration. “You have GOT to be kidding me.” She looked close to tears as she set her coffee cup on the table and trekked upstairs, returning moments later with a crying, colicky baby boy.
“Why don’t you let me hold him while you rest, honey?” Travis offered.
“No, it’s okay Daddy. He’s my responsibility. But now I totally get why you said babies are hard work. If he was our first, he’d have been the only one.” Travis chuckled.
Ten minutes later, Andy walked down the steps, yawning. “Oh honey, I’m sorry!” Danae cried. “Did the baby wake you?” She rocked him in her arms, trying to get him to settle down.
“No, not having you next to me woke me, my sweet. The baby’s cries were an afterthought.” He stumbled to the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. “I can’t afford to miss today. It’s our quarterly meeting with Lionel, though I suppose I could work from home today, until after the video conference.” His hair was as messy as Danae’s. “Why is he crying like this?”
“Best I can tell is colic. The poor little thing has been crying for four hours straight. I didn’t want him to keep Elyse awake, so I brought him down here. We’ve been having a time for ourselves, haven’t we little one?” She kissed his head, and he stopped crying for five seconds before he screamed again.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to rock him, Nae? I don’t mind.” Travis held his arms open for the squirmy, crying baby.
“No, it’s okay Daddy. In fact, why don’t you go back to bed? You don’t need to be up at all today. No doctors, right?”
“Nope. Nothing going on.” He emptied his second coffee cup and set it back down. “I’m two cups of coffee down already. I don’t see me going back to bed anytime soon.”
“Let your dad take the baby, Nae. Get some sleep. After my video conference, I’ll come home and take baby duty so you can get some rest.”
Reluctantly, she gave Eamon to Travis, who nestled him into the crick of his elbow and rubbed his belly gently. To her great amazement, he settled down and stopped crying. “How? How did you do that, Daddy?”
“A trick I remember from parenting classes years ago, back when Amy was expecting. Because we were so young, we had to attend classes so we would know how to care for an infant. But colic is helped by different things. This was the only thing I remembered. It was a long shot, but so far, so good.” The gentle rocking motion settled the baby, and he yawned.
“I’m impressed, Daddy. I wish I woke you up hours ago.” Danae kissed him. “I’ll have the monitor on, so if you need me, just call my name, or let Eamon scream into it. I’ll be out in a jiffy.” Andy took her hand and led her back to the bedroom, mostly so she could sleep.
Travis held his infant grandson and remembered when things were better between him and Devin. He remembered sitting in that very chair, rocking with his son after Charlotte had fed him. I need to call that boy, he thought. Devin knew his father was deeply disappointed in him. But rather than fix the problem, he avoided contact with Travis like he was stricken with plague. Eamon started to fuss again, and Travis laid the boy on his lap and rubbed his back. Soft cries were replaced with coos of contentment, and Pop-Pop smiled.
Eventually, Travis got the baby to sleep, and he put him in the crib gently. Even Elyse was still asleep, so he went back downstairs to check on the fire and grab one more cup of coffee.
At 9am, Andy came downstairs dressed for work and ready to leave. He was only staying long enough for the meeting and would tell Lionel he needed to come home to care for Danae. And she was right behind him, with a tired little girl in her arms. But Elyse was hungry, so breakfast it was. “You look tired,” Travis observed. “Still not enough sleep?”
“Hardly,” Danae yawned. She sat Elyse in the high chair and prepared some cereal for her. Andy walked to her and kissed her.
“I’ll be home after the meeting, my sweet. Time for you to sleep, and Daddy to have some fun with the kiddos!”
Danae laughed. “If you think a colicky baby is fun, have at it.” She waved as he headed to the garage.
“He doesn’t get to spend as much time as he’d like with those kids,” Travis observed. “Lionel has put a lot of responsibility on him. It will only get worse when the new season starts. Eventually, he will have to travel again, Nae.”
“I’m not looking forward to it, Daddy.” She set the bowl of soft fruits and cereal in front of Elyse. She was capable of feeding herself, even if it was a bit messy. “It’s too soon.”
“Well, he will have to travel with the team. The good thing is, that accident was an anomaly and the likelihood of that happening again is slim.” Airplanes hardly ever crashed in Simville. The one that should have claimed Andy’s life was the first crash in over 40 years and was truly a freak accident.
“Well, he had better come home to me every time, or I will not be happy.” She half teased. “I need him here, with me and these babies. I’d be so lost without him, Daddy.”
“I know Punkin. Don’t worry. You will grow old together like your mama and I did.” And wait for one of you to die first, he thought.
Danae yawned. Andy’s meeting couldn’t be done fast enough, but she knew she had at least another two hours before he was home. “Daddy, why don’t you go back and lay down awhile? You look tired, too.”
“I’ll just sit in my rocking chair and doze,” he replied. It wasn’t ideal, but he did feel rested when he got up. He didn’t want to tell his daughter that his bed was too empty. At least in the rocker, he didn’t feel as alone.
“Alright,” she said. She picked Elyse out of the high chair and set her on the floor while she cleaned the tray. “Why don’t you rock with Elyse awhile, Daddy? She could use some Pop Pop time.”
“I’d love that,” Travis replied. “I’ll be upstairs waiting for her.”
Danae cleaned her up, changed her clothes and brought her to rock with Travis. She held out her hands to him, and he snuggled her on his shoulder. “I need to nurse Eamon, so I’ll be right here.” She went in and got the baby, hating to wake him. But if she didn’t nurse him soon, she’d be very uncomfortable.
Charlotte had been gone for two weeks, and Travis was really slowing down. Despite her attempts to get him to eat, he was only picking at the meals she served him. Even Darcey came to check him out, but she told Danae it was the beginning process of death. “He doesn’t have much time, Nae. You might want to call Devin. He never came for Mama’s death. Maybe he’ll come to see Dad.”
She nodded her head. “I am not ready to lose him, Darcey.” In the two weeks since Charlotte’s death, Travis had really relied upon her, and it allowed them to get extremely close.
“We have a choice on this, Nae. But we have each other, and you have Andy and the kids. You’ll be fine.” Darcey hugged her before she left. Now Danae had an uncomfortable phone call to make.
“Hello?” Came a tired, grumpy voice on the other end of the phone.
“Devin, it’s Nae.”
“What do you want?” She recognized the slur in his voice, the fatigue. Devin was very hungover.
“I think you should come to see Dad today. He isn’t well.”
“That’s too bad,” Devin said, his voice cool. “Tell him I said happy trails.”
“Devin, I don’t know what is wrong with you, but this man gave you life. You’ll break his heart if he dies without seeing you.”
“That’s not my problem.” Devin huffed into the phone, and Danae heard a female voice that did not sound like Maribeth in the background.
“I feel sorry for you, Devin. What a colossal screw up you turned out to be.” Danae was disgusted. The life of privilege, wealth and fame was taking its toll on the youngest Jones child, and she was not impressed.
“Suck an egg, Danae. Don’t call me again.” Devin hung up the phone on her.
Danae growled in frustration, and Andy peeked his head out of the bathroom. “What’s wrong, my sweet?”
“My brother is a jerk, and I’m done with him.” She slumped on the bed and sighed heavily. “Darcey doesn’t think Daddy has much time, so I called Devin to see if he would come. He basically told me he doesn’t care. He isn’t my brother anymore.”
“Yeah, well, he’s walking a tightrope with Lionel right now. One more screw up and he’s looking for another team.” Andy shook his head, but it was not news to Danae. What he didn’t want to tell Danae was that she and Darcey had become his topic of discussion in the locker rooms, speaking about them as if they were tramps. Andy found out about it because Smitty had told him, and he was ready to strangle Devin himself.
“I just don’t understand. He wasn’t raised like this. None of us were. And yet, Darcey and I turned out okay, and he’s contemptible. He’s messing around on Maribeth. He is going to break her heart.”
“If she was smart, she’d walk away from him. But I know he buys her stuff to keep the steady flow of sex coming his way, so one is as bad as the other. As long as she puts out, so will he.”
Danae redialed Darcey’s number. “Darce, I called Devin. He’s not interested in seeing Daddy. I swear if he didn’t look like Dad…”
Darcey sighed. “Yeah, I know. I can’t even get through to him anymore. I’m disgusted with him myself.”
“I thought I’d let you know. I’ll call you.”
“Thanks, Nae. I’ll try to get the boys to see him today, but my schedule is tight.” She hated it but with Charlotte’s death, Darcey had taken too much time. She couldn’t spare one more day off.
“Okay. Hopefully, we’ll see you soon.”
Danae walked to Travis’ room, where he laid on the bed, resting. She approached him and put her hand on his shoulder. “Daddy? Are you okay?”
“I’m tired, Punkin. I’m tired of being without your mama. Tired of being the last one left. I’m ready to go.”
“I’m not ready, Daddy.” Danae began to cry. “I know you are lonely—”
“No, sweetie, lonely doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s as if half of my soul died with her. I am empty. I feel hollow. Honey, that’s no way for a man to live.”
She sighed. “Let me know when you need me. Andy is home today, it’s Saturday, so I’m here for you.”
“Stay with me, precious. I need you now.”
“Let me tell Andy, Daddy. Do you want to see the kids one last time?”
“I’m good. But I would like to see Andy once more. There are a few things I need to tell him.”
“I’ll get him now, Daddy.” She left the room quietly and walked back next door.
“Andy, Daddy wants to see you.” Danae wept. “He doesn’t feel he has much time.”
Andy opened the door to Travis’ bedroom and stepped quietly inside. “Come in, Son,” Travis beckoned.
“What can I do for you, Dad?” Andy sat on the bed and took Travis’ hand in his.
“I just have some advice, so you don’t make the same mistakes I made. First, if Danae ever says she wants to give Elyse her purity ring, let her. It’s an important tradition on her mama’s side of the family. Don’t do what I did and throw a tantrum in a restaurant, go out and get drunk and nearly cheat on a perfectly good woman. That haunts me still, even though I promised Charlotte it wouldn’t. But there isn’t a day that passes I’m not sorry for the hell I put her through.”
“I promise, Travis.”
“If you’re going to be late, call her. She is like her mother, and she is a sensitive soul. I think you know that already, Andy. She worries quickly and without reason. Don’t give her a reason.”
Andy nodded. “Easy so far.”
“Love her with all you have, and she will never leave you. Again, she is like her mother. She loves deeply, and only one person for life. She is beautiful, and some men just don’t care what they say about a beautiful woman, or do with her. Keep her close, protect her and those babies with your life. Learn from my mistakes. Don’t make them again.”
“Believe me, Dad, I will never hurt her. She is my life.”
“I told my father-in-law those same words when I married her. But every ounce of pain she ever had, I inflicted it on her. Be careful, son. She is a jewel of great value. Don’t take her for granted, like I did with her mother. I almost lost the best thing I ever had because I was stupid.” Travis wiped tears from his eyes. “Look, I know you’ll probably never make the same mistakes I did. It’s just helpful advice from someone who has been there. I love you, Andy. Take care of my baby.”
“I will. You have my word. I love you, Dad.”
“You can tell her I’m ready for her. I’m sorry to take her from you today. But I need her. Or, I should say, she needs me.” Andy nodded and left the room, unable to speak.
“What did he say?” she asked him.
“Every mistake he ever made, he wore it on his sleeve for me to see. And he begged me to not make those same mistakes with you. He is worried about that. But he is ready for you.”
She took a deep breath, her eyes filled with tears. “I’m not ready.”
“I’m right here, my sweet. When he’s gone, I’ll still be here.” He kissed her tenderly.
Danae walked back to Travis’ bed. “I’m back, Daddy. What did you tell Andy?”
“Everything I needed him to know. Come,” he patted the spot next to him on the bed. “Lay down here with me, Nae. Let’s talk.”
She approached the bed and sat on the edge. She hated laying on her mother’s side of the bed, but she placed her head on Charlotte’s pillow. Already she felt the tears stinging her eyes. “What do you want to talk about, Daddy?”
“Let’s reminisce. What was your favorite childhood moment?”
“Wow, that’s a deep question to start with,” she laughed. “The Rock Tooth concert ranks pretty high. But I think I have one. That patch in the yard, where there’s never any grass. Darcey and I decided to make mud pies one summer. She turned the hose on and made that so muddy. We were covered, head to toe in dark, sticky mud. Mama was so mad at us.” She laughed at the memory. “That was a lot of fun.”
“I remember that,” Travis laughed. “That was the reason we installed the showers by the pool.”
“Really?” Danae was amazed. She couldn’t remember those showers not being there.
“Yep…” Travis coughed and groaned. “Oh, that hurts.”
“I’m sorry Daddy.”
“It’s okay Punkin. It won’t be much longer.”
Danae swallowed a sob. “What else do you want to talk about?”
“Well, let’s still reminisce. What was your least favorite childhood moment?”
She had to think about this one. “Well, getting in trouble at the freshman spring dance was pretty bad. But feeling like I was disappointing you over my curiosity about sex. That was probably my biggest regret. Looking back, it seemed like that was all I ever wanted to discuss. I mean, I know why.”
“Why is that, Nae?” This should be good, Travis thought.
“It’s pretty obvious, Daddy. You and Mama were always having sex in the next room, and you were not even close to discreet about it. It always sounded like so much fun.”
Travis’ face turned beet red. “All these years and you never thought to mention that to me once, Danae?” He looked as though he wanted to crawl under his bed, totally humiliated.
“It’s okay, Daddy. After a while, I was okay with it. You and Mama made it natural, normal. It’s a big part of the reason why I was always so curious about it, though, but I felt like I disappointed you in so many ways because of it.”
“Well, obviously you turned out okay, and you were innocent on your wedding night. You were tougher than Darcey, that’s true. But at the same time, when she started seeing Clint, your mama had no idea what she actually thought because she never asked questions like you did. You were an open book to her, just like she was with you. But Darcey, she seemed embarrassed by the whole thing. She never asked many questions of either of us.”
“Darcey was embarrassed for the same reason I wasn’t. She never got used to it. When Andy and I got married, I told him that hearing you two next door was ambient noise, and that you would have competition.” She blushed, not believing she was discussing her sex life with her father. “I mean, there was nothing wrong with that, Daddy. I actually admire you and Mama. The day she died, you guys woke me up that morning. Had I known that would be the last time I’d ever hear it…” her voice trailed off. “I guess I might have stayed and listened awhile longer.” She was a little ashamed to admit that.
Travis was truly mortified. “Nae, I had no idea. I’m incredibly sorry. No little girl should have to grow up like that.”
“Daddy, relax. It’s okay. Andy doesn’t complain a bit.” She blushed again.
“Okay, time to change the subject.” Travis coughed, his body ached. “Tell me your favorite memory with just you and me.”
“I don’t know, Daddy. That’s a tough one.”
“There has to be one.” A shiver shook his body, as though he was getting the flu.
“Well, even though Darcey was part of it, I loved our dates together. I always felt like your little princess, and you were my king.”
“I was hoping you’d remember those dates, Punkin. They were my favorite memories, too…”
“I almost didn’t want to date anyone else!” she laughed. Danae expected to hear his normal chuckle, but nothing came. “Daddy?” She touched his shoulder and sat up. “Daddy?” And again, she got no answer.
Suddenly, the pungent odor of death penetrated the room, and it made her nauseated instantly. She sat by his lifeless body, crying, warning Death itself to stay away. But the Reaper only laughed as it materialized right next to his bedside.
“Please!” she begged it. “Please spare his life.” But the apparition merely shook its head, and took him from her, even as she held on for dear life. In his place, close to where he was, sat an urn that looked nearly identical to her mother’s. With one last laugh, the embodiment of death disappeared the same way it appeared.
“Go,” she whispered to an empty room. “Go be with Mama. Spread your angel wings and fly, Daddy.”
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