Meg Barkley watched her husband carefully place the bassinet containing their grandson on the floor of the buggy, taking care to make sure it was absolutely secure before climbing into the driver's seat and driving gently away. She continued to watch as the buggy went out through the mansion gates and up to the hills beyond. Smiling wistfully, she turned to her daughter-in-law, Libby and expressed her gratitude.
"Thank you for letting him take him. Be sure, he will look after Baby Heath. There is no way he would let any harm come to his grandchild."
Libby, who was Sean's wife of just over two years, possessed the nervousness any new mother felt when letting her child out of her sight, but she knew without reservation that her father-in-law would look after her baby and bring him back safe. With real affection she linked arms with mother-in-law and together they walked back to the Parlor as she enquired where her father-in-law was taking the baby.
Meg smiled as they reached the Parlor. "He's taking him to the family cemetery."
"The cemetery? But why?"
"To show Cate their first grandchild."
Libby did not know what to say for a moment. "His first wife? And you don't mind?" Libby's surprise was genuine. She knew of Sean's mother, Cate Adams Barkley, of course, but it seemed hard to think of someone else as Sean's mother, other than Meg. She had been his mother for twenty-four years and they were as close as any natural mother and son could be. Libby, herself, enjoyed a particularly good relationship with her mother-in-law and against this background she found it difficult to understand Meg's generosity and understanding in allowing her husband to share time with his late wife.
Meg, with her greater experience of love and marriage, could see that Libby did not understand. Her daughter-in-law's marriage was still new compared to her own and had not traveled the distance and time hers had with Heath. Young, excited at the birth of her first child, Libby simply did not comprehend how it was possible to love, without jealousy, a husband who still held feelings for his first wife.
Meg tried to explain.
"Heath and I have been married nearly twenty-five years. I know he loves me and the depth of that love, but there will always be a part of him that belongs to Cate, as well as me."
"And you don't mind? You're not jealous? Oh Mother, I am not sure I could feel the same way if it was Sean who....."
Meg was quick to stop her with reassurances. "You'd be surprised what you accept when you are in love. My husband's love for me is no less because a part of him still has feelings for Cate. I have absolutely no doubt of my place in his heart, or his life."
She could see that Abby was still finding it difficult to understand.
"How can I deny Heath," she continued as the younger woman listened intently, fascinated yet again by her mother-in-law who she greatly admired, "the years he had with Cate? She was a part of his life once, just as I am now. She is gone, yes, but not forgotten. And yes - and I know this is so hard to understand, but it is true nonetheless - she has never come between what Heath and I mean to each other."
Meg continued. "I know I am not explaining myself very well. Somehow I think you will come to understand it better as you and Sean grow into your own marriage. For the moment, it is enough that you understand this visit is important to him. I will be Baby Heath's grandmother for the rest of my life, and enjoy every moment of it too, but today is Cate's special day with her first grandson and the man she married all those years ago. I can gift her that with no jealousy in my heart."
Heath approached the cemetery with a mixture of happiness and sadness in his heart. The place, which had become the Barkley family plot had once been the violent scene of his father's death. Heath had not known the family then and even after all these years it was hard for him to feel fully close to a man he had never met. Of course, he had learned things about him from the family, but he would never experience the closeness to his father, which his brothers had enjoyed whilst he was alive. It was a sad fact, but a fact, nonetheless.
Did he still feel anger towards his father? Truthfully? No. He had learned that as one grows older, the absolute certainties of youth subside and an understanding of human frailties emerges, as you yourself, stumble and make mistakes throughout life. He would always regret not knowing his father and his father not knowing him.
Pulling the buggy to a halt, he secured the break and jumped down to the ground. Quickly, he walked round to the other side and carefully picked up the bassinet in which his first grandchild, Heath, soundly slept. He then carried him over to Cate's grave and gently laid the bassinet down in the grass, taking a moment to check on the sleeping child. With his familiar easy gait, he then walked back to the buggy to retrieve a bouquet of freshly picked summer flowers, liberally sprinkled with the delicate and deeply scented pastel shades of sweet peas which were his late wife's favorite flowers.
Kneeling down by her grave he took a few minutes to compose himself before he placed them in the vase that was carved into the base of the stone. He was totally unprepared for the flood of memories that came racing back over the years of his sweet young wife and the good times that they shared.
He was in no doubt about his love for Meg. She was the love of his life, his soulmate, and would be to the day that he died. With Cate, he had been so young, had fallen in love the moment he had met her, pushed to marry her against his brothers' advice. He had been right. Though they had shared just four short years together, their life together coming to a sudden end when she had died unexpectedly in childbirth, it had been worth it. They had loved and their legacy was alive today in the three children they shared. But, with Meg, their falling in love had surprised them both, because at first their marriage had been one of convenience and friends, not love. They fell in love the night they became man and wife and their love had grown solid over the years, cemented as it was by children and a life together, marriage tested and winning through as it does in any long marriage where couples change but still find themselves falling in love with each other time and time again.
Knowing all he had with Meg, Heath grieved for his first wife and the young life that was lost in bearing them a child. Slowly he moved from his fixed spot and stretched across the grave to place the flowers in the vase. As he arranged them a few petals fell to the long grass. He fingered them briefly, as if hoping to reach out to Cate from across their different worlds. When nothing happened, he sighed heavily and sank back on his haunches concentrating on the wording on Cate's headstone, which said she had once lived. After a few moments and with great care he picked up his beloved grandson who was beginning to stir. For a moment grandfather and grandson shared eye-to-eye contact as Heath held him up; Baby Heath's two sleepy innocent young eyes staring back at the two life experienced ones of his grandfather. In years to come the two would become very close, but today was Cate's day with her grandson. That was why they were here. Leaning back against the gravestone and drawing his long legs up, he rested Baby Heath against them. "So what do you think of our grandson, Cate?" He said. "Here, let me introduce you two. Cate Barkley, this is your grandson, Heath Josiah Barkley. Heath, this is your grandmother. I think it is time you two became acquainted."
Encouraged by Baby Heath's gurgling and happy smile, Heath began telling his month old grandson about his beautiful grandmother and how she had come into his grandfather's life when he was still finding his feet as a member of the Barkley family. "She was good for me, your grandmother and I do so miss her. Oh Cate," he sighed, his words going heavenward and spoken from his heart, "You went too soon. You should have been allowed to live and see your family grow up. To be here now, to hold your first grandchild in your arms."
"But I am, Heath." A voice said, softly, a voice he recognised from all those years ago. "I have always been around. Loving and watching over you all."
He closed his eyes, not quite believing what he was hearing. Was it really her voice talking to him from across the years? Still light and youthful, betraying none of the time passed between them. He was frightened to open them, lest it was all just imagined, his mind playing tricks on him. "Cate, I loved you so much," he breathed out, his heart filling with the grief of her passing once again.
"I know, my love. I always knew." There it was again. Her voice. He listened, unquestioning, because he wanted to believe she was there. "But, now my sweet," she continued. "It is time for us both to let the other go, to set each other free. I am happy Heath. I am at peace. You have no need to grieve for me any more. I was proud to be your wife and I am proud of the way you have brought up our children with Meg. She is a good mother and a good wife."
The words forced Heath's eyes open and he saw her for the first time since that sad day when he had kissed her cold lips, death already having claimed their warmth and life from him. She was beautiful, just as he remembered, a look of serenity on her face, which remained youthful, unravaged by earthly time. Cate; his dear wife.
"You know about Meg?" He found himself saying and with one hand still holding the baby, he took her youthful hand in his middle-aged one and was surprised when it felt warm, no longer cold. "Cate, is that you? Really you? Have you come back to me?"
She nodded. "Just for a short while, my darling. I cannot stay long."
"But how? I guess I must be dreaming." Heath shook his head to be absolutely sure.
"May I?" she asked, indicating she wanted to hold the baby, her grandson. As if still dreaming, Heath gently scooped his grandson up from his lap and passed him over to her. She immediately cradled him in her arms, cooing to him as she use to do with her own.
"There's so much I want to say. Are you happy, Cate?" he needed to know, though his mind still could not comprehend she was here. He watched her with her grandson, holding him just as she had done with their twins. "I'll bring him again. I'll keep bringing him back, I'll..."
"No," she said softly, freeing one hand to press a finger to his lips. "It's time to let go of each other. You were the love of my life, Heath, but our time is over. You share your life with Meg now. She is a good woman and I am not jealous. The baby will be her grandchild from this moment on. It is enough that I have this brief time with you both. Here, take him now. He is in good hands. Strong hands that will protect him. Share a kiss with me and then I will be gone. Don't grieve. Remember, I am happy."
Their lips met and before the kiss was ended she was gone, the only presence remaining being the baby lying once more in his arms and something else - the absence and weight of his grief.
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