Everyone loved the new house, especially our parents. When he wasn’t cooking, and he was doing less and less as he grew older, Dad’s favourite place to relax was the swimming pool in the back yard. His arthritis seemed to have been getting better lately, and his doctors were allowing him to do more of his usual activities again.
That day was the first since the house was built that none of the rest of the family was home. Dad was relaxing in the pool by himself, probably being careful to follow his doctor’s recommendations about staying away from anything strenuous. He was always good that way.
Disease can be unpredictable sometimes. Dad’s health had been pretty good up to that point – he wasn’t undernourished or tired. But the doctors say his limbs cramped up, and he wasn’t able to get himself out of the pool in time.
Everything we know about what happened that day, we learned from the doctors’ post-mortem examination. From the moment the rheumatism took over, Dad was powerless to save himself.
The rest of us arrived home far too late. We found his body floating in the pool, several hours after he had died. There was nothing we could do.
Cody and I were distraught, but Mum… I don’t know if I’ll ever forget her face in that moment.
We buried Dad in a shady corner of the cemetery at the bottom of the hill, surrounded by flowers and trees. I think the beauty of the place was a small comfort to our heartbroken mother.
Predictably, Mum was by far the worst when it came to coping with Dad’s death. My siblings and I had been prepared for something like this to happen, so it wasn’t such a shock, but Mum had lost the love of her life and she was inconsolable. Cody was a wonderful son to her, always by her side to listen to her outbursts or offer a shoulder to cry on.
I hoped that Mum would be cheered a little by the celebratory atmosphere, since Bridie’s and my graduation ceremony was fast approaching. She had promised to attend, and true to her word she emerged on the morning of the ceremony wearing her best dress and a wide, if somewhat forced, smile.
It hurt to look at her, and see the pain she must have been feeling, but she was making a heroic effort to appear glad for my sake. The least I could do was to stay happy for her, even though I couldn’t help thinking how much Dad would have loved to be here to see us graduate.
I could recognise my sister even at a distance, standing at the top of the stairs where our taxi pulled up in front of the town hall. She too was dressed in her graduation cap and robe, ready for the ceremony.
I started jogging towards her, but at that moment the Bridgeport mayor emerged from the Town Hall and started ushering the graduates inside. I didn’t have a chance to talk to my sister until several hours later when the ceremony was over, and the two of us were standing near our family on the concrete outside. Bridie waited until the others were out of earshot before she spoke.
“I heard about Dad,” she said softly. “How’s Mum coping?”
“As well as can be expected, I guess,” I sighed. “It’s been hard on all of us, but Mum is just heartbroken.”
Bridie frowned sympathetically. “Well, you know that Aidan and I are always here for any of you if you need us,” she said.
I smiled. “Yeah, I know. Thanks, Bridie.”
I reached out and pulled her into a tight hug. I knew that whatever happened, I was sure to have my sister at my back.
When it came down to it, though, I was still worried about Mum. She had taken to eating huge amounts of food at strange times. Most nights I would come downstairs after midnight to find her sitting at the table all dressed up and gorging herself on leftovers.
When she wasn’t eating, she would just stand by the pool or in the kitchen, weeping her heart out for most of the night. It made my own heart ache to see her like this.
I didn’t have much experience dealing with grief, so I just wasn’t sure whether this was normal or not. Regardless, I decided, I had to do something to help.
After consulting Cody, the two of us agreed that what Mum really needed was support from the rest of the family. We called Aidan and Bridie and invited them both over for the weekend. Violet was pregnant with hers and Aidan’s first child; surely it would do Mum some good to witness the growth of her first grandchild. What better to distract from a painful death than the prospect of new life? Both of my siblings shared my concerns, and assured me that they would be there.
I admired Cody hugely for the part he was playing in all this. My baby brother was still a teenager; he had schoolwork to keep up with as well as a part time job; his father who he had adored his entire life was gone, and yet still here he was, doing everything he could to help Mum with her own grief and assisting me in planning a party on top of everything else. Even Bridie, for all her kind words, wasn’t really doing half as much. Looking back, I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten through those months without him.
My other rock was James. I still saw him most days, along with Tyler, whose curfew was later now that she had started high school. I told him almost everything, and he in return offered advice and practical help wherever it was needed. When it all became too much to handle, he was my shoulder to cry on, and the only person who could calm me down and get me back on my feet.
James and Tyler had also offered to help with the party when I mentioned it to them, which I gratefully accepted. Hosting a family gathering with emotions running so high after Dad’s death was going to be a lot of work. I didn’t think much of it, therefore, when I got a call from James late one afternoon, assuming that he just wanted to discuss details for Saturday. That is, until I heard the voice on the other end.
“B-Bianca?” I had never heard James stutter before. His voice was so soft it was almost unrecognisable. I didn’t know the tone, but I knew James. I knew something had to be terribly wrong.
“Yeah, it’s me… listen, I know this is a lot to ask, but… I need you to come down here. Now. Tyler… Tyler needs you.”
From the sound of things, Tyler wasn’t the only one who needed me. But I kept that observation to myself.
“Our house. I know you’ve never been here, but you know where it is, right?”
“Of course.” He sounded like he badly needed reassurance. I had no idea what the problem was, but that wasn’t important right now. “I’ll be there in five minutes.”
He hung up without responding. As soon as the call ended, I began to really worry. What was going on?
Apologies for the short chapter. If I had gone on from this point it would have ended up waaaay too long. So, I decided to stop here, and all will be revealed in the next chapter instead 😉
Here are a few bonus graduation pics to make up for it.
And this one of Bridie. I found her wandering around town one evening and I just had to include the picture, because taking an evening walk in a leopard print minidress with a miniature dog under one arm is just exactly the sort of thing Bridie would do 😛 I’m surprised the dog wasn’t in a fluffy handbag, to be honest.