I slowed to a stop as we approached the exit of the airport. Everything felt too real just being here in Windenburg. Walking outside, somehow, seemed even more real. More visceral, somehow.
“Tommy?” Loralee said quietly. She reached out and laid her hand on my arm. “Are you okay?”
I shook my head. How could I be okay? My father died two days ago. One newbie made a mistake on the site and now my father was dead.
“I wish Mom had let us fly him home.” I’d offered to pay to have the funeral in Oasis Springs, but Mom had refused.
“Cody liked Windenburg. I’m sure Ava knows this is what he’d want,” my wife said gently.
“He just wouldn’t want the expense,” I muttered.
“Come on.” I forced myself into motion and led the way out of the building into the October afternoon. The slight breeze already had a bite to it.
We hailed a cab. The ride to the house was not quiet; though I didn’t feel like talking, Logan and Jasper had no such reservation. I doubted that they really even understood that their grandpa was gone. Not that either of them knew my parents very well. That thought made my heart squeeze painfully. Though we tried to make two trips to Windenburg a year, that was still only a drop in the bucket. For a moment, I was bitterly jealous of Camille and Shirley. They saw the boy’s on almost a weekly basis. They were there for all the events and birthdays. They weren’t separated by an ocean.
“Honey, we’re here.”
I blinked and looked up to find my wife and sons standing on the sidewalk. “Danke,” I muttered to the driver before getting out. Right then, I was very glad that Loralee couldn’t tell what I’d been thinking.
Reluctantly, I turned to look at the house that my parents had lived in for over fifteen years. The front door opened and a thin figure appeared.
I was in motion before I was fully conscious of doing so. With great strides, I walked up the path towards my mother.
I wrapped my arms around her, and then the tears came again.
At the graveside, I stood back with Ava, Logan, and Jasper. Tommy still stood next to the casket, long after everyone else had stepped away. The men from the funeral home hung back quietly, patiently waiting until all of the family had said their final goodbye’s sot hey could lower Cody into his final resting place. But my husband had might as well be made of stone, for all he seemed to notice.
“Would you get him?” Ava asked me in a thin voice. “It’s time.” As seemed usual for her now, she sounded tired and on the verge of tears.
I nodded and walked over to my husband. I rested my hand gently on his back. “I think we need to let them finish,” I said, barely above a whisper.
“I can’t,” he croaked. “Once he’s buried, he’s…”
“He’s already gone,” I told him gently. “Tommy, you have to say goodbye.”
He let out a harsh breath that verged on a sob. “I don’t know how.”
My heart ached. Desperately, I wished that there was something – anything – that I could do. But there was nothing. Nothing that anyone could do would fix this. “Your mom needs you.”
That forced him to move, at least enough to twist to see Ava. She looked tiny and frail. He nodded slowly, then looked at the casket again.
“Goodbye,” he whispered. Then he took my hand and walked over to his mother and our children and away from the grave.
“You’re going back tomorrow,” Mom said almost silently over her tea.
I looked over at her. Her skin was sallow, her face wan. She was grieving, I knew – God, did I know – but this seemed like more.
“I’m supposed to, at least.” I turned my cup in circles on the table. Loralee and the kids were out doing something fun – I couldn’t remember what. An arcade or something. But it had left me alone with Mom, and I was more than a little concerned with how she seemed.
“How are you feeling, Mom?” I asked her seriously.
“I’m alright, really.”
I didn’t believe her.
That evening, I sat down with Loralee in the living room. “Loralee…I can’t go home tomorrow.”
She frowned at me. “What? Why not?”
“I don’t think Mom is doing very well. I want to stay for a few days. Just to make sure she’s okay.”
“I’ve noticed she doesn’t look well, too,” she admitted. “Do you want me to stay, too?”
I shook my head. “You should get back to work. And the boys need to go back to school.”
“If you’re sure.” She slid her arm around me and leaned into my side. “Don’t stay too long; I’m going to miss you like crazy.”
I smiled weakly and squeezed her against my side. “I promise; I’ll be home soon.”