It was mid-morning December 22nd when a car pulled up in the Elgins’ driveway. The rumble of the tires against the gravel brought Helen to the window. Her face lit up at the sight of her daughter-in-law stepping out of the car.
“Jim, they’re here!” she squealed with delight, drying her hands on a dishtowel that she tossed aside before hurrying to the living room door to dash outside. She and Jim met Cassie halfway down the driveway.
“Cassie!” Helen exulted with her arms outstretched to fall into her daughter-in-law’s. “I’m so glad you came early.”
“So am I, Helen. So am I.” Cassie quavered with a mixture of bliss and sadness. She turned to Jim and gave him a warm hug. “Hi Jim. How are you?”
“I think I should be the one to ask you the question,” he said with a sombre voice. Cassie’s morose expression and dull eyes were self-explanatory.
“It’s hard but I’m getting there,” she signed heavily with tears threatening to her eyes that didn’t go unnoticed by her parents-in-law.
Jim and Helen flanked the grieving mother and each wrapped an arm around her waist; both pulled her into a group hug to allay the pain elicited by the painful memory of her lost.
“Where’s Steve?” Helen asked, puzzled by her son’s absence.
Cassie hung her head low and heaved a heavyhearted sigh. “He’s not coming.”
“What? Why not?” Helen queried, turning to Jim with a quizzical frown.
“He said he couldn’t face you. He doesn’t want to celebrate Christmas this year. He’s resentful of God for taking our daughter.” She sniffed back her tears and stared at Helen with desperation in her eyes. “I don’t know what to do anymore,” she sobbed. “I tried everything to bring him back to me. He can’t get rid of the guilt. I thought perhaps spending time with you might help.”
“Steve must know Carly’s death was an accident?”
“I tried telling him that. He won’t listen. He shut me out completely. Only three weeks ago he came home feeling good. I thought he’d made peace with his inner self but that was just because he was drunk.”
“Come into the house, dear. We’ll get a cup of coffee and help you settle in.” Helen clasped Cassie by the waist with her husband following suit to support the grieving wife as they all walked to the house.
Meanwhile back in Washington, Steve was lounging around the house, wallowing in self-pity. He sat on the couch with a photo album on his lap, thumbing through the pages, dwelling on the photos of his wedding and his daughter Carly’s birth. Tears flooded his eyes as they came to rest upon a picture of him holding his baby girl for the first time. His heart bled and his throat constricted at the thought of losing her at such a young age. He was driving the car that killed her and to this day he has never forgiven himself for causing her death. ‘The most invincible man in the world and I couldn’t save my little girl,’ he scoffed.
He snapped the album closed, wiped the tears from his cheeks and stood to amble over to the window. A glimmer of a smile flickered on his lips as his mind wandered to happier days. The grief quickly overshadowed the bliss when a young mother and her daughter walking on the sidewalk across the street caught his sight. He swallowed hard the lump forming in his throat and blinked to wash the stinging tears from his eyes.
Drawing a deep breath, he marched back to the couch, grabbed his jacket and headed outside to step in his car. After turning on the ignition, he leaned back against the headrest and pondered his next move. He put the car in reverse and drove away with no particular direction in mind.
On the way he thought of stopping by the cemetery to visit Carly’s grave but something coaxed him to drive on to his favourite place of meditation.
‘What am I doing here?, Steve chided himself for ending up at the least likely place he’d want to be at the moment. The park was his and Carly’s playground where they would spend quality father-daughter time. Shuffling his feet against the blue grass he wandered aimlessly, trying to cleanse his soul of the festering guilt but to no avail.
He stopped underneath Carly’s favourite oak tree and sat down with his back leaning against the trunk and let his mind wander. He was roused out of his thoughts by a meek voice. “Hi Mister.”
Steve looked up to see a young eight-year-old boy standing over him. “Hi,” he answered apathetically.
“You look like you lost your best friend.”
Steve strained an amused grin at the boy’s keen observation. “Something like that,” he sighed heavily.
“I lost my daddy.”
“Oh, are you lost?”
“Not me. He’s the one who’s lost.”
Steve knitted his brows in confusion. “I don’t understand.”
“He left my mommy and me. She said he needed time by himself to think.”
“I know just how he feels.”
The boy sat on the ground next to Steve and stared at him with his big bewitching brown eyes. “He’s been sick ever since my sister died.”
“I’m sorry, kid. How old was she?”
“I don’t know exactly. I just know that she was still a baby.” Steve’s eyes dropped like lead at the mention of a baby. His own memory of his little girl came flooding back like a raging torrent; drowning his heart in sorrow.
“I lost my little girl too.”
“About seven months ago.”
“No wonder you look like that, all sad and weepy.”
“She was my whole life,” he said wistfully with tears stinging his eyes.
“Hey Mister, don’t cry. She’s in heaven now,” the boy reassured with his little hand resting on top of Steve’s. “I bet her mommy is very sad too?”
“Yes she is.”
“Where is she?”
“She’s away for Christmas.”
“And you’re not with her?”
Steve shook his head dejectedly while biting his upper lip to refrain the overwhelming grief from overpowering him. “I’m in no mood to celebrate.”
“My mom is like that too. She misses her baby but most of all she misses daddy. She says she needs him to go through this but he won’t come. I told her not to worry; that he’ll come back once he realize we need him.”
Steve glanced down at the wise little boy sitting at his side and squeezed his hand. “I’m sure he’ll be back.” As Steve uttered the words it suddenly dawned him that he’d been acting the same selfish way with Cassie. A warm glow enveloped Steve’s heart, cleansing it of all the guilt and shame he’d been holding for the past months. He cracked a thankful smile and ruffled the kid’s hair. “Thanks kid. You’re very wise for your young age.”
“My mommy and daddy are the best parents in the whole world. They taught me everything I know.”
“They must be special alright to have raised such a fine boy.” Steve heaved himself up and gave the boy a hoist up. “What’s your name?”
“Thanks Eric. You just opened my eyes.”
“Want me to walk with you to find your mom?”
“No need. She’s not far.”
“I hope your dad does come home soon.”
“He will. He said I just opened his eyes.”
“What?” When Steve turned around, the child was gone. His eyes swept the area for any sign of the boy who appeared to have vanished as quickly as he came. Steve shook his head in disbelief to cast aside the crazy notion that he might have been talking to his own son.
He returned home to pack his suitcases and headed to the airport to catch the first available flight out to California. He dithered over whether or not he should call Cassie to inform her of his arrival but finally opted to keep it a surprise. He wanted to make a brief stop by the toy store to buy her the huge stuffed bear that was destroyed in the car crash. It had been a present from Carly but given the circumstances Steve had never mentioned the stuffed animal before.