That Christmas we went to her parents’ house in Virginia. Her mother greeted me at the door and pulled me into a tight embrace. Said it was good to see me. Beckoned me to come inside, where I found Bliss, who ran to me and gave me a great big hug. She said how she had missed me and I walked to greet Vigil. He shook my hand and welcomed me into their home.
Plan had gotten married and they showed up a little later. I had not known Plan very well, so we spent that holiday talking and getting to know each other. Her husband was a bit off, but a good guy.
That year there were so many presents, we had to take a break halfway through opening them to eat lunch. Everyone had gone overboard in the present-buying department, and we laughed while opening them and took so many pictures. Hymnal liked to buy the girls matching gifts. The same item, only slightly different. The same hat of different colors, say. Well, that Christmas they all did get hats and I grabbed Bekah’s and threw it on. Plan’s husband pulled Plan’s on and Vigil grabbed Bliss’s.
There is a picture somewhere of the three of us wearing these very girly hats leaning close and laughing. It was my favorite moment, from my favorite family memory of that age. When it was time to leave, I wanted to stay. I didn’t want to go back to my place on Normal Street and Johnson, I didn’t want to go back to school or Springfield. Did not want to see Rose or Mumble. All I wanted was to stay with those people and celebrate.
I didn’t know that it was all a facade. I did not know that they had all decided I was not the right guy for Bekah. That they were going to spend the next year doing everything they could to tear us apart. I thought that I had a family, finally void of drama and back stabbing, that could love me and care for me. I thought I had found a home.
Me and Bekah were together a lot. We spent all of our time together. We started telling each other that we loved one another. We started having fun again. There was a string of marriages among our friends and relatives that year and we went to all of them. We danced. We laughed. We played. We were in love again. It was good. And things were getting strong.
In therapy things were heating up. I was getting memories back, and they were hard to live with. I was having dark days and missing school, but for the most part things were improving. I was learning to communicate, I was learning to talk about my emotions in a healthier way, and I was starting to get to my feet.
That spring break we got into her Dodge Neon and drove across Missouri, Kansas, and into Colorado, to visit her aunt and uncle in Denver.
Aunt Paintbrush met me at the door and hugged me. She was a short, beautiful woman with a great laugh and a perfect smile. She had a husband, we will call him Uncle Sway, who I looked at and instantly knew was one of the coolest people I had ever met.
Sway had a kind of strut to him. But it didn’t look like he was trying. It was like everything he did was planned without him planning it. Everything he said was funny or thoughtful. Every move he made was easy and graceful. He had a way of drawing me out of myself and I loved him instantly. And I wanted to know everything about him.
Paintbrush had found out that a Matisse exhibit was in town, and she was an artist. She was a fucking good one at that, and she wanted to take her graphic designer niece to the museum to see the show. I was never a Matisse guy, but this show was awesome. Every museum I had ever been in with my family, I had been rushed along. I never was able to take my time and look around at the magnificent things on display.
For the first time, I was able to stop and listen to the headphones with the information playing and explore an art museum. I learned. I laughed. We walked and Paintbrush turned out to be one of the most beautiful people I had ever met.
She laughed at everything. She had class. It was a kind of easy grace that made her cool. It made her interesting and it made everything around her light up. It was as if she brought light to the world around her, and in her presence, I glowed.
When we got back from the museum, we walked into the house to find Sway had gotten steaks to grill. He had mentioned in passing that he might pick some up. I was not ready for what he grabbed. Each steak was two inches thick. I didn’t even know meat could do that. He slapped them on the grill then dropped a plate in front of me. I bit into it and finally knew what a steak was supposed to taste like. From that day to this, every steak I eat I weigh on the scale of what I ate that day. It is a twain mark for the depth of a good piece of meat.
We drove out of there after the week was out. I looked at Bekah’s face and I saw it. I saw what I had not seen in years. We were driving out of the mountains, where sunlight is unpredictable and a hill will slip down to the ground and from the pass will come a ray of light. We were in one of those unpredictable moments. I looked at her and the sunlight hit her face. I saw life there. I saw my life. My future. I saw the possibilities for us to make it.
We had control of our lives now. We could move in together if we wanted to. We could get counseling and work out everything that had come before. We could make it work this time. Guardian felt his heart warm. Shadow was in love again. Artist was caught up in the glint of brown light rolling through her hair and spreading itself across her face. Servant smiled. After Rose had married Honed, Servant had felt as if he was free. Rose had a man who could take care of her. She had a man who was warm and caring, and she did not need Servant anymore. Maybe now he could reach out and take something he wanted. Maybe now things would be okay.
Somewhere on the road between Colorado and Missouri I decided to propose. I had the ring. I hated it but we could get a new one. No one would rush us to get married this time. There was no clock, no timeline. There was no one telling us, “This dress, this ring, this church.” We could do it ourselves, which meant I could ask her to marry me using the ring I had, but not actually have the wedding until I replaced it with a ring I loved.
I closed my eyes as the night grabbed me and I pictured the ring and where it was. I knew it was within reach of my bed. I had pulled it out every few nights to look at it and to remember what it had looked like on her finger. Now, I could see it again. Who knows, after everything that we had gone through, maybe I would love the way it sat her finger. Maybe that ring was our destiny all along, it just needed to be earned a little before we could build a life around it.
When we got into Missouri, I hadn’t figured out the proposal yet. We would be in Springfield so it needed to be something romantic in that city. We had so many bad memories of that city, I had not yet figured out where I was going to do it, or how. So, I mentioned stopping in Waynesville first.
It was Saturday night. We spend the night at her grandparents’ house, we spend all day in Waynesville with our families and I have time to figure out the details. Sunday night we go back home and I would drop the question on her.
I decided I would drop on both knees, and that I would beg.
We got to Waynesville and stayed with her grandparents. I had tricked myself into thinking that they had accepted me as well. They treated me with kindness, and I didn’t see in their eyes that they were only putting up with me because they had no choice. It looked to me as if they had set all of the pain behind them and we were fine.
The next day we played all day. We visited Rose. We visited friends. We played with the girls for a while, then we went to a movie.
We watched the Disney movie Eldorado. City of Gold. Mythical. Unattainable. Not. Real.
We were headed out of town, and I had figured out how I was going to propose. I decided I would walk her onto campus, take her to the elephant tree and stand her in front of it. Ask her if she remembers what we saw there. Remind her of the magic we had seen in the mundane back when we were still planning my college, before the Corruptor and Sapphire. Before the Coward and Grand and Grant. When Tragedy of the Outcasts was never going to be, and we had everything in our hands.
I was going to get in front of that tree, and I was going to drop to both knees and ask her to marry me.
We just needed to say goodbye to the girls first. Just needed to quick stop by Mumble’s house on our way out of town.
We walked in the back door, to the kitchen. Horrid was stomping out of it and she pointed at me. “Maybe you can talk to your other son about it and see what he thinks,” she snapped.
I looked at Mumble and I saw that he sat at the kitchen table with his fingers kneading into his forehead as he stared, lost and traumatized, by some phantom thought, some horrible reality.
“What’s going on, Dad?” I asked. I reflexively squeezed Bekah’s hand too tight. She pulled it away painfully and I stepped forward. “What happened?”
“I need to talk to you alone,” Mumble said.
I nodded to Bekah. “Go check on the girls,” I said. Bekah nodded and left the kitchen.
I sat across from Mumble and looked him in the eye. “What is going on?”
“You can tell me anything. You can tell me everything. Just talk to me; I will help you.”
And that right there is where it all broke.
“The girls say that Grasp has been touching them and making them do things,” Mumble said. “Bad things.”
Did you hear it? Did you hear my future drop from my hands and shatter on the floor? I heard it the moment he said it. Right then, I knew it didn’t matter if I knew exactly where that ring was or not. I knew it didn’t matter how much fun we had at Christmas, or what our next spring break would look like. I knew as soon as he said those words, I was done.
“I just don’t know what to do,” Mumble said. See, he was a weak man. I know you see it, too. He is weak. Far too weak to take this sort of action.
A legendary question came to the front of my mind as everything began to burn. When the game is on the line, do you want the ball? Do you want to have the entire game in your hands or do you secretly hope the quarterback throws it to the other guy?
Guardian wanted this ball. He stepped forward and grabbed Mumble’s hands across the table.
Mumble looked up, shaking his head. “I don’t know what to do.”
“You do nothing, Mumble. I will take care of it,” Guardian said.