Summary: A grieving Adam finds comfort from an unexpected source. A companion to Lucky.
Rated: K+ 2500
Story Notes: This story came to me one night after watching “UP” with my family, and grew with inspiration from the songs “The Luckiest” by Ben Folds and “Breakfast Table” by Chris Rice.
Thanks to Meg for being my beta and for putting up with me, to Debbie for your opinions and encouragement, and Sheryl for believing in me. Hugs to you all.
He hated waking to the yellow walls – they reminded him of one of the saddest periods of his life – but he gladly chose them now over the other bedroom in the house. With a groan, he raised his aching bones from the small bed he’d built near forty years ago for a completely different purpose than it now served. It was never meant to be a spare bedroom.
Almost mechanically he pulled on his clothes and started to head out the door, but a glimpse of his reflection in the dresser mirror made him stop. Slowly, he finger combed his salt-and-pepper hair, sure he hadn’t bothered to touch it in a couple of days. The prominent beard told him he should probably shave today too, but he shrugged the idea off. There wasn’t anyone here to see him either way.
The kitchen was dark and cold, as it had been every morning for the past five months. He stood leaning against the doorway, wondering whether he dared to go in. A rumble of protest from his stomach got one foot in, but the sight of their small table – solid oak with two sturdy chairs, another thing he’d built for them – changed his mind. He wasn’t that hungry this morning anyway.
Dutch and Saint neighed their greetings as he brought them their morning feed. He put his hand on the door to let them out into the fenced in pasture, but something made him stop. They were two fine horses, and they hadn’t received the attention they deserved in a long time. Picking up a brush, he worked the snags out of Dutch’s mane before moving on to Saint. Just being near her horse made his heart constrict. As he gently worked through the hair, he thought back to the excitement on her face when he’d given it to her. She’d named him Saint because she said the brown fur reminded her of the habits worn by the monks they saw in Rome. She’d only gotten to ride him a couple of times before she’d gotten sick.
He spent hours on the porch these days, sitting in the rocking chair and gazing out at everything they’d built together. There was the little chicken coop, empty now, but the memories of the occasional comical chase after their evening meal lingered near. Behind the house stood the garden she’d been so eager to have; every spring and summer bringing in a bountiful harvest under her tender care. Under the great Oak they had planted together lay a bittersweet memory of a tiny stillborn, their first and only child.
Time seemed to come to a stand still when there was nothing to live on but memories. Every day seemed cold without the warmth of her smile there to brighten it, and he finally began to understand those months of grieving his father had gone through when he had lost not one, but three wives.
The morning sun was just heating up to early afternoon when the dust in the yard was sent spiraling in the air as a wagon rolled in. He roused himself from his stupor to see the driver dismount and help his passenger down from her seat. His brother, Joe, though twelve years his junior, had hair as gray as his, though he had managed to hang on to its youthful curl. He watched as Joe pointed the little girl he’d brought with him over towards the gated pasture before making his way up the porch steps.
“Hey, Adam,” he said, easing himself into a neighboring chair.
“Joe,” he forced a smile as he acknowledged him.
They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes before Joe spoke up again. “When I told Ellie I was coming to visit you today, she insisted on whipping up some of her sourdough bread for you, seeing as how you like it so much. Got it in the back of the wagon there; remind me to get it for you before I leave.”
“You tell her I don’t appreciate her efforts of trying to fatten me up,” Adam said in mock seriousness. “I fit just perfectly in my clothing, and I intend to keep it that way.” He smiled faintly as his brother laughed his famous giggle, these last months having helped him perfect his cheerful façade.
“Well, you might be on to something there, Adam, because she also wanted me to ask you if you’d join us for dinner tonight. She’s fixing a big meal for Haleigh’s eighth birthday,” he nodded his head towards his granddaughter, who was standing on the fence, giggling as Saint searched her pockets for treats. “I’m sure she’d love it if her illustrious Great-Uncle Adam came to her party – she thinks pretty highly of you, you know.”
Adam raised an eyebrow. “Now just what sort of things have you been telling her?”
“Nothing that ain’t true,” Joe said innocently.
He harrumphed his disapproval at his younger brother before turning his gaze once more towards the yard.
“Does that mean you’ll come?”
He didn’t answer for a while, his eyes lingering on the great Oak, wishing to draw comfort from it like he once did. “I don’t think so, Joe,” he said finally. “These old bones can’t ride a horse like they used to.”
“Now I know you’re lying. You may be 71, but we both know that if Pa could ride well into his 80s, so can you.” When he got no response, he pressed a little harder. “Adam, it’s been months since you left the house; how long are you going to keep this up?” He sighed as his brother remained in stony silence, the cheerful façade replaced with a mask of apathy. “What would Anna say?” he asked softly.
Adam felt his jaw clench at the mention of her name. After five months, the wound was still as raw as if it had happened yesterday. He sensed movement and flicked his eyes over to see Joe get up and head over to the wagon before returning with a cloth-wrapped parcel and setting it on the table next to him.
“Dinner’s at six in case you change your mind.” He started down the steps then stopped without looking back. “I hope you do, Adam, we miss you.”
He sat there long after they left, Joe’s words bothering him more than he wanted to admit. Anna had never been one for pity parties, so she’d be liable to give him a swift kick in the rear if she saw him now. It wasn’t the same, though. She didn’t have to live without her partner, her best friend; she wasn’t the one who’d been left behind. He was glad when his stomach gave a protest too loud to ignore, giving him the opportunity to tear his mind from such a painful topic.
Grabbing the loaf of bread Ellie had made him – secretly pleased it was still warm – he made his way into the house. His destination was the kitchen, so it surprised him when he found himself standing in front of the solid oak door at the back end of the house. It had been closed tight since the day she died; he couldn’t bring himself to sleep in their bed when he knew that every morning would bring the same feeling of cold and empty arms.
Almost of its own accord, his hand reached out and turned the knob, pushing the door open in one swift movement. He took one step in, enough to be able to see the room in its entirety, but went no farther. Nothing had changed. The smell of his aftershave and her sweet perfume still lingered, mingling together and floating like little clouds over their possessions. The bed stood made with the patchwork quilt she had spent the entirety of their first Christmas making and had served them faithfully for over forty years. Little trinkets from their excursions in Europe sat proudly displayed on various shelves and dressers though in need of a thorough dusting.
He’d get to it one day – but not today. He took one last glance around the room and started to close the door when something caught his eye. From where he was standing he could just see the edge of something jutting out from underneath his pillow. Slowly, he made his way across the room and sat down on the edge near the pillow, running his hand under it to discover what it was. He pulled out a large book with a bow wrapped around and a small tag that read: To Adam; Love Anna
With shaking hands he undid the bow, only to recognize the book as Anna’s sketchbook. She’d had it since they’d been married, and never once had she allowed him to look at it. He would find her on the porch, pencil in hand and distant look in her eyes, scratching furiously away at the paper, only to stop and close the book as soon as she saw him. He’d always just assumed that she drew for herself and never pressed her on the issue.
Now, he hardly dared to open it though she had made it clear it was for him. Trembling fingers turned to the first page to find a much younger version of himself staring back at them. It was their wedding photo; a glimpse back into the happiest day of his life – he couldn’t believe she was finally his. Anna was a sight to behold; more than a blushing bride, she was an angel without her wings. Underneath the photo, in her careful scrawl, she’d written four simple words:“I am the luckiest”. He choked back tears as he considered the words, that she thought herself lucky to marry him while in truth it was the other way around. He didn’t know what he’d done in life to deserve her.
He turned the page, where there was a sketch of their home he had built and a few words describing her excitement to have her own house. Page after page was filled with sketches of memories of their life together: the baby oak right after they had planted it, the view from the hill they always climbed together, the garden at the back of the house; each with her voice written across it telling of her feelings of happiness, contentment, love, and sometimes even her sadness.
He paused on a page that held another picture, one that had been taken in this very room. An exhausted Anna sat in bed gazing adoringly down at their son, a stillborn, but beautiful nonetheless, while he stood protectively over them. He remembered how hard she had taken it when the doctor told her that they wouldn’t be able to have any more children; she had dreamed of raising a large family. On the page opposite, amidst the long dried tear stains, she’d written the name of their son and a Bible verse.
Elijah Benjamin Cartwright
September 17, 1865
“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.”
– Psalms 139: 13, 14, 16
By the time he got to the final pages, he had added quite a few teardrops of his own to the pages. Each memory that was brought back held a great sweetness marred by the sadness of her passing. The sketches grew more recent, until he came to the end, a page that held a picture taken about half a year earlier. He had just gotten Saint for her, and she sat happily astride her new mount while he held the reigns, beaming. It hadn’t been but two weeks later when she’d fallen ill, and two weeks more until she was gone. He didn’t know if he had the courage to read the note she’d written by the picture, but for her sake, he pressed on.
My Dearest Adam,
It saddens me that you’ll be receiving this book before I was quite ready to give it to you, but the Lord had other plans for me. I know you’ll miss me when I’m gone, but you’ll be strong – just like you were when we lost Elijah and when you lost your father. You are the most self-less and loving man I have ever met, and I couldn’t have asked to spend the last 40 years of my life with a more wonderful husband and friend. I love you more than I could ever find the words to tell you, and I can’t wait for the day we’ll be together again. I’ll be saving you a dance around the Milky Way.
With all my love,
Adam wiped the tears from his cheeks as he gazed at the picture; he could feel her love radiating around him and wondered how he could’ve missed it in these last months. Life may go on, but he’d always carry a piece of her in his heart, and when the time came, she’d be waiting.
The minutes ticked by unnoticed as held the book in his hands and let his mind wander through the sea of memories. It wasn’t until he heard the clock strike six that he was jerked back to reality. He was late!
Minutes later he was in the barn, saddling up Dutch, and on the spur of the moment, Saint, too. He’d seen how taken Haleigh was with the horse, and the bond seemed mutual. It was just one more way to solidify the fact that he was indeed her illustrious, Great-Uncle Adam.
As he left the barn and rode out into the coming dusk, he smiled, knowing that Anna was watching him, and she too, was smiling.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
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