It was silent, but a silent that was so loud I wanted to cover my ears.
Finally, Jude walked past me, stopping right before he walked out. “I’m sorry it wasn’t,” he said, his voice low. “Because I really could have done without all this shit.”
Slamming the door behind him, his footsteps thundered down the stairs, out the door, and out of my life for good this time.
When the screen door slammed, I cried the flood of tears I’d held onto for five years.
I stood in front of the mirror, studying the girl reflecting back. She looked like me, but she wasn’t the same girl I remembered. Something had broken loose in the hours since Jude walked away, and it must have been vital to who I once was.
I felt flat, unable to muster any kind of emotion, and I felt lost, like everything I’d worked for and achieved had led me to a dead end. For the first time in my life, I wondered if the world around me I’d been trying to save wasn’t worth saving.
“Lucy in the sky?” a gentle knocking sounded outside my door. “You ready?”
No, was my answer, but that’s not what came out because when it came to my brother, I never said no. I hadn’t when I’d been asked to speak at his funeral, and I hadn’t every year on the anniversary of his death when dad and I visited his grave. It was the only way I could still show him I loved him and I thought about him every day.
I took one last glance at the girl in the mirror before shaking my head and turning away. That girl was no longer me.
“Hey, dad,” I greeted, opening my door. Like the four prior, dad was in his black suit and had even managed to get his tie almost right. “Just the two of us again?” I asked, looking down the hall. My mom never accompanied us to John’s grave, and for all I knew, she’d never revisited after the day he’d been lowered into the ground.
“Your mom deals with this in her own way,” he said, wiping his palms on his jacket. “We deal with this in our way.”
Most days I wished I could deal with it mom’s way.
“Come on, it’s getting late.” He turned and headed down the stairs. I grabbed my purse and followed.
“You’re driving,” he said needlessly as he locked the front door. The last time he’d been behind the wheel of a vehicle was the day John died.
The cemetery was about an hour’s drive from the cabin, but when you were sitting next to your father in total silence, it seemed more like an entire day without pit stops. This would be my sixth time to the cemetery. I came once a year because it was the right thing to do, but I couldn’t do it any more than that. Besides, nothing of what I loved of John was buried beneath that gravestone.
Dad looked out the side window, thinking whatever the thoughts of a man who had ceased to live were, and I stared at the road ahead, trying not to think because my thoughts only led me down one road.
Like every other cemetery, it was empty. Rolling to a stop, I looked over at dad. He was frozen, still staring out the window.
“Dad,” I set my hand on his shoulder, “you ready?”
He flinched, his eyes clearing as he came back to life. “Ready.”
I slid out of the car and walked around the front. I waited.
It was a practice in patience I’d learned five years ago. One I’d perfected.
Dad stood outside the passenger door, fidgeting and fighting with his demons. It took a lot out of me to come see John, but the kind of torture dad experienced to spiral him into a semi meltdown was the kind entire mental illness books were dedicated to.
I’d never timed it, but I’d guess fifteen minutes was about average. This time, he rolled his shoulders back and smoothed his coat into place after only five. Walking up to me, he looked over. “Let’s go say hi,” he said, adjusting his tie for the fiftieth time.
John’s headstone wasn’t far and, about fifty paces later, we were kneeling beside it. Dad looked close to fainting, but I knew he’d hold it together. He always did.
We never said anything, but I always sensed John heard what I wanted to say. The birds chirped, the sun shone down, I pulled my favorite memories of John to the surface, I tried to file the ones of Jude away for good. Life was slowly becoming one giant mess, and I wasn’t sure if this was because I was somehow cursed or if life just blew by nature. I’d been buying into the whole one person can make a difference thing this whole time only to discover that, in the end, the world sucked.
“Would you like to tell me what’s wrong?” Dad asked quietly, resting his hand on my lap.
I startled, whether more from his touch or the broken silence, I didn’t know. “I’m fine.” How was it so hard to make my voice sound normal?
“Lucy, I’ve never heard you once say you were fine. You’re either wonderful or awful or exhausted or rip-roaring angry or anything else but fine,” he said, gazing off into the horizon. “You’re a passionate person. You take after me in that department,” he said, a smile shadowing his face. “Or at least the person I used to be.” He stopped, taking in a couple of breaths, then shifted to face me. “What’s wrong?”
“How did you know?” I asked, thinking of all people on the planet, my dad would be the last person to detect something was going gangrene below the surface.
“When you stop letting yourself feel your own emotions like I have, there’s more room to feel those of others,” he said. “It’s one of the many down sides to becoming a silent shut-in.”
This was the first conversation of meaning my dad and I had had in five years, and the day and place it was happening on made me feel that John had his hand in it. “It’s about Jude,” I said, playing with the grass edging surrounding John’s gravestone.
“I thought you weren’t seeing each other anymore?” Dad cleared his throat; he was really doing this. Having a concerned parent conversation with his teenage daughter.
“We weren’t, but we kind of stumbled into each other last night.” My dad might be exhibiting a margin of strength, but I feared that telling him about the event leading up to Jude’s and my reunion would send him into another five years of absenteeism. “We worked things out and then, this morning, we found out there was something between us that we could never work out.” I also knew this information might send my dad into a downward spiral, but he was sitting before me looking so much like the beacon of strength I remembered as a little girl. Like a man that nothing could take down.
He nodded. “And what was that?”
I blew out a breath, the letters etched into John’s gravestone going blurry. “Jude’s last name is Jamieson.” Even as I said it, I still couldn’t quite believe it. I still didn’t want to believe it.
Dad sighed, rolling his shoulders. “I know.”
My head snapped up. “What?”
“I know, baby,” he repeated. “I’ve known from the beginning.”
Okay, dad was having a moment. Another break with reality, but this one led him to lie through his teeth.
“Are you saying you knew from the first night I brought Jude home that his dad was Henry Jamieson?” I spelt it out a little clearer.
“I knew,” he said. “It took me a while, but yes, I figured it out.”
I wasn’t sure how much farther down the rabbit hole I could fall. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because you were happy and because Jude isn’t his father and because I knew one day, if the two of you stayed together, you’d figure it out.”
“We figured it out.” I sunk my teeth into my lip.
Dad patted my leg. “And you’re wishing you hadn’t?”
I bobbed my head.
“Because you cared about him and wanted to be with him?”
Another nod as I concentrated on keeping myself together. This day was bending my mind so far, I was bracing for it to snap at any time. “You should have told me.”
“Maybe I should have, but I didn’t. Jude shouldn’t be judged by who his father is,” he said, grabbing my hand. “What Henry Jamieson did is unforgivable, but that doesn’t mean Jude is undeserving of happiness. We lost our John, but he lost his father.” His voice wavered, but he caught it. “Everyone lost something that day, and I was glad to see one seed rise up from the ashes.”
That seed had died in the ashes. It was a seed that’d never taken root. “He blames you.”
“And you blame his dad,” he said, his eyes moving between me and John’s headstone.
“That’s because he killed John,” I said. “I have every right to blame him.” Blame was the least of it for murdering my brother.
“It doesn’t matter who’s to blame and who isn’t when it comes to you and Jude, sweetheart. What matters is what the two of you want. Both of you are looking for an easy way out of this because it scares you,” he said, looking into my eyes with actual emotion and a presence I’d thought was long gone. “Caring for someone is scary because you both know how it feels to lose someone in the span of a heartbeat. But you can’t let fear dictate your life or else you’ll end up like me. Don’t live life hiding behind your past, live for right now. When you find someone you want to spend forever with, you don’t let them go, whether forever turns out to be a day or a year or a hundred years.” He rested his other hand over John’s grave. “Don’t let the fear of losing them keep you from loving them.”
There was the Wyatt Larson who could talk to anyone about anything, the man who’d operated the largest commercial construction company in the state before his whole world came to an end, lecturing me about living for the moment and not letting the past make you fear the future. I knew he wasn’t a hypocrite, that’s what he believed; he just was incapable of living like that now.
“I have lost him, dad,” I confessed, wondering if I’d ever had Jude.
Dad looked off into the distance, his expression flattening. “It always amazes me how when we’re sure we’ve lost something for good, it winds up finding us.”
I smiled. It was a sad one, but it still registered. My dad had said the same thing numerous times when I was younger and lost a favorite toy. He’d been right. As soon as I surrendered to the fact Teddy was long gone, he somehow popped up in the most obvious of places.
“Even if we did get back together,” I said, “how could we ever hope to move on from something like that? How can I look past his dad being Henry Jamieson? And how can he look past my family being the reason he lost his dad?” That question didn’t have an answer, and I wasn’t expecting one.
“I’m fool hearted enough to believe love can conquer all,” he admitted, lifting a shoulder.
I laughed a little, but it sounded all off since I was trying not to cry. “You are fool hearted,” I said, looking over at him. His words and voice were right, but his shoulders and head still hunched forward. He was a fraction of the father he’d been. But I’d take a fraction.