He raised the paper to his lips and kissed it reverently. Settling gingerly onto the edge of her bed, he closed his eyes. The pain was getting worse…the loneliness was killing him.
He’d sent Vincent Above to visit Catherine, convincing his son with brave words and the request that he be left alone for a little while. For his part, Vincent had promised to return early.
He was a good son, Jacob acknowledged, in a moment of clear thinking. Devin was coming home as well…another good, if different, son of his.
We should have had sons, Margaret.
We should have had a lifetime making memories…. with years yet to come.
He glanced at her pillow and ran his hand lightly over its surface. He saw her there as she’d been at the end...peaceful, happy, grateful…her hand in his, safe and warm. But he hadn’t been able to keep her, to save her, and she’d passed on with his name and his kiss on her lips. He covered his eyes and sobbed.
I am… alone.
Gathering himself he pulled out a handkerchief and wiped away the evidence of his breakdown. Mary might come looking for him, checking on him, and it wouldn’t do to upset her with a tear-streaked face.
Be at the threshold, smiling at me, when I turn, Margaret.
Tears blur my vision.
Come, sit beside me.
Read these, your words, aloud to me.
He stared at her writing, at the testament she’d left for him when she knew it was the end. He’d found it after they’d held the burial service, when he’d returned to this chamber, hoping so desperately that it had all been a horrible nightmare and he’d find her waiting for him. He wanted it to be a nightmare, wanted it so hard that he thought it must happen. Yet it did not.
Tell me your thoughts.
Let me hold you.
They’d spent every moment together, jealously guarded each of them, hoarded them, as if such care could make them last forever. He’d come to know her then, the Margaret she’d become over a lifetime of experiences, apart from him. And he’d shared himself…everything…he wanted to give her everything he was…but they needed life’s years to do that…years of life together. A sob, muffled, hurt his chest.
Take my hand and we will know this world.
It should have been ours.
She’d been so impressed with everything he’d shown her of the world Below, so gracious to everyone, so readily accepted by everyone. And Vincent, Vincent was her favorite. A small smile touched his lips at the thought. And Mouse…Margaret had been enthralled by Mouse!
Come back to me.
Let us cheat death as life so callously cheated us.
Stiffly he rose, leaning on his cane, preparing to leave the hallowed place, her place, always. Vincent would return soon. He would await him back in his own chamber. This one, Margaret’s, would hold her essence. He would visit with her here. Find her here…one day…waiting…and that day he would be with her into eternity.
All the empty years between…
How many hopeless, empty years before me…
I cannot bear it.
“Father.” It was Catherine’s gentle voice, her arm around his shoulder, caring and warm.
“Come. Let us help you,” Vincent said, leading him and Catherine out of the chamber.
“We’ll have some tea,” Catherine suggested. “You don’t need to grieve alone. We’d like to know her better…will you tell us about Margaret?”
When they eventually finished talking that night he was feeling a little less alone. He rose from his chair with Vincent’s help. Catherine had begun to gather their cups.
“There is barely enough time in one’s life to love well, Vincent. Don’t wait too long,” he whispered and he turned toward his sleeping chamber.