I’ll keep it short this time – because the second part of the story is long enough to keep you busy reading for a while anyways. Just one thing:
And here it is:
Part II: Count your blessings.
A strange notion entered Emma’s thoughts; it snuck in, cat-pawed, and curled up beneath her feat. It was funny, almost: no other person had ever been closer to her (he had lived right underneath her heart) and yet, no other person was harder for her to reach now.
She smiled, burst out in giggles, and finally started laughing. She started laughing so hard, she could hardly breathe; so hard, her stomach hurt. She almost forgot about every other part of her body that was hurting, and why (because she wanted him back: back in her house, back underneath her heart; because all he’d wanted was out).
Barbara stood in the kitchen preparing dinner when she heard her daughter. It didn’t really sound like she was crying (and wasn’t she familiar with the sound by now?) – it seemed absurd to think she could be laughing. But maybe?
Emma was still laughing when she heard the knock on the door.
“Emma?” Her mother’s voice sounded worried, even muffled by the thick wooden door between them.
“The door’s open, Mom.” She wiped her eyes and rubbed her stomach.
Her mother quietly put one hand on her shoulder.
“So … “, Barbara hesitated. “What’s in the books?” She squeezed her shoulder just like Emma had squeezed Liam’s (on the first day of school, whenever he had to see the dentist, when he woke up late at night from dreams of cars crashing and the smell of hospitals).
“I don’t know, Mom” was all she said and her mother knew her well enough to leave it at that. After a while Emma noticed a dull pain in her right shoulder; without saying a word she took her mother’s hand and locked fingers with her. Still, the next morning she woke up with a bruise.
She woke up and intuitively reached over to his side of the bed. Instead of finding his hand, though, she found: nothing. She winced, half-asleep. Like a dog that dreams of chasing a rabbit (but she wasn’t the dog, if anything, she was the rabbit).
Eyes still closed, she rolled over to where he used to lie and pulled the comforter over her head. When Liam knocked on the door half an hour later, she pretended to be still asleep.
She never got really excited over her own birthday. She didn’t like to celebrate it – not because she dreaded getting older, she simply didn’t like it.
Once however, she had liked the birthday mornings, at least: when he woke her up whispering happy birthday, his nose against her ear lobe (if she didn’t react then, he even sang; she always pretended to be asleep as long as he would believe it) and just held her hand for a while before they finally got up (happy birthday, babe).
Another half-hour went by and Liam knocked a second time. Finally, she struggled out of bed, empty-handed.
Liam loved birthdays. But even more than that, he loved his little sister, Lucy. She loved, loved, loved birthdays. Especially her mom’s birthday. Because Liam helped her make cupcakes the night before and they got to wake their mom early in the morning (which felt like Christmas; no: better).
The best part for Lucy (and Liam too, although he would never admit it) had nothing to do with any of that, though. It was when Emma acted all surprised (like this wasn’t a little tradition and the best thing that’s ever happened to her; although: it certainly was one of the best things), smile and kiss each of them on the forehead. Having cupcakes for breakfast, of course, wasn’t bad, either.
All of a sudden, Liam started going to church regularly: every Wednesday after dinner and every Sunday after breakfast. Sometimes he simply skipped a meal to go a third or fourth time. Sometimes all he ate was the host at communion.
Emma never questioned his habits. He’d always been different. Special, she’d say.
Once, when he was five or six, he watched her paint her toe nails. He sat at the edge of the bathtub, his short legs dangling in the air.
“Why do you paint your toe nails, Mom?” he asked.
She smiled. “Because I think it looks nice.”
“So why doesn’t Daddy paint his toe nails?” He was good with the questions: he always had one more up his peanut butter covered sleeve.
She smiled again, imagining Dave, her 6 ft. tall, mostly unshaven husband with time square red toe nails. “I don’t know – you go ask him.”
He giggled. “Can you paint mine, Mom?”
She nodded and dropped a dab of color on his pinky toe nail: “What do you think?”
She was sure he’d crinkle his nose (the way he always did when he had to eat something he didn’t like or when he felt like the grown-ups were giving him a runaround) and tell her to remove it again.
He didn’t, though. He continued dangling his legs and said: “All of them, Mom, please.”
So she kept on painting and he walked around with time square red toe nails for a week.
When he was seven or eight, he went through a months-long phase where he wanted to work as a microbiologist by day and as archeologist by night. “As a second mainstay sort of”, he would say, pushing his black-framed glasses up his nose. “One needs to plan ahead.”
Often, he seemed to her like a shrunken version of a middle-aged man – surely, he was a shrunken version of his father.
She wondered whether that’s what he wanted to be. Sometimes she had the feeling that he was trying to fill the hole his father’s absence had torn into their lives (not quite like a gunshot that quickly drills through you, more like a constant strain that eventually makes you bend and break). He was trying to be the man in the house.
Although other times she was sure that he simply missed his Dad (worse than his sister did, she’d been too little, thankfully maybe). Emma knew how he always slept muffled up in one of Dave’s old sweaters (this random green thing with a big moose on the front – he’d gotten it on one of their many trips to Maine). Liam had grabbed it thinking she wouldn’t notice (when she finally threw out most of Dave’s belongings one day, when she finally decided he needed to stop haunting their house).
So when Liam started to attend church – with so much dedication (he still used his dad’s sweater as a blanket; lately, however, he’d also replaced his pillow: he slept with his head rested on the Bible) – she tried to tell herself, once more, it’s because he’s different (no: special).
Deep down, however, she was sure that he was only looking for his father (“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; Matthew 6:9–13, ESV).