Early morning slowly crept over the horizon of a brushy field from a partially covered window. The dim illumination of a television screen glowed from the den into the kitchen and dining space. Two, elderly gentlemen were watching from a long dining table, covered in floral cloth and petal-patterned mats. They weren’t alone in their daily, early-bird ritual. A feminine humming drifted from the kitchen, where Chelsea was busily packing two lunch bags.
“Looks like that show of yours is in for some good weather, Chels,” one of the elders spoke up, still watching the weather report. Sitting closer to the wall, his faded, blue ball cap with yellow embroidered letters spelling Korea Veteran covered his thin, wavy, platinum hair, brushing his shoulders. The red and green flannel shirt draped over loose, weathered denim that led to stained, brown, work boots.
“You never can tell these days though, Charley.” The other glanced at the former speaker. Seated at the far end of the table next to Charley, his white, button-up, long sleeve shirt was tucked into his black slacks. Though his loafers appeared fancy, the memory foam label was seen on the sole of his left foot, resting on his opposite knee. His trimmed gray locks were combed down, revealing his receded hairline. “The weather has been off this year.”
“That’s just Mother Nature keeping us on our toes, Walt!” Charley Kay replied with a playful grin. “Ain’t that right, Chelsea?”
“Sure is, Pop Pop,” Chelsea answered with an amused grin. “Leif says that’s part of her charm.”
“I always liked that Dahl boy,” Charley said with a hearty laugh before sipping his black brew. “You two been swimming upstream since dance school. He’s good people, like the rest of those rascals you used to bring around.”
Walter Johnston glanced toward his great-granddaughter. He smiled that - less than an hour ago - she had barely been awake, dragging her bare feet to the bathroom after her fifth alarm sounded. Now, she was preparing for her day like someone that enjoyed rising early. Messy waves had been tamed to a coiled bun behind her head with a bun cage. Her rhythmic movement around the kitchen made her flowing, gray skirt twirl with a personality all its own, and the pale, floral button-up shirt tucked inside gave the pop of color the youth added to the early morning room. Catching the sight of the wall calendar behind her, he took a deep breath.
“What’s the matter, Papa?” The teen looked up at the heavy sigh. “Need me to top off your coffee?”
“No, I’m fine, sweetheart. Thank you though.” Walt waved his free hand to dismiss her concerned face. “I was just thinking about how mature you’ve become. I can tell you love taking care of us, but I wonder if you’re letting yourself enjoy these years.”
“What do you mean?” Chelsea asked curiously, leaving the kitchen island to sit at the table with her great-grandfathers. “Of course, I’m enjoying myself. Have you seen my room these days?”
“Got anything new since that last parcel?” Charley asked with excitement. She shook her head before looking back at Walt.
“I don’t mean that,” Walt confessed, rubbing his thumb against the rim of his mug. Glancing back at her with dark green orbs, he smiled sadly. “Young people shouldn’t have to grow up so soon. You have friends that are pursuing hobbies and passions. I worry that you aren’t balancing pleasure and responsibility.”
Charley glanced back at Walt after hearing his reasoning. His earthy brown eyes gaped as he clued into what this was about. His gaze looked toward the calendar at last.
“I’m all right, Papa. Really,” Chelsea said, placing a hand on the one holding the mug. “Why do you think I joined the Theater program at school? I love sewing costumes. Everyone loves my work, and I get to be creative at school. Can’t let these skills go to waste even if I don’t dress up anymore!”
“Are you sure there isn’t anything more you want?” Walt looked deep into her hazel pools. It was clear he wanted her to think about that question before answering. It caught her off guard enough to finally notice Charley’s crestfallen gaze.
“Pop Pop? Why are you sad now?”
“Sad?” He snapped back from his thoughts, hearing her worried tone. “Not sad, honey! I was just thinking how time flies, is all! Spring Break’ll be here ’fore you know it!”
Chelsea realized what was going on. Spring Break meant April was half over. Pulling her hand back, she folded her hands together as her shoulders hunched forward. The elders looked back at her sadly, knowing what was going through her head. Charley furrowed his brow, unable to come up with another distraction. Walt reached forward to grip her clenched hands.
“I didn’t mean to dredge up your grief, sweetheart,” Walt spoke softly. “I just hope that you take the time to cycle those feelings. We’ve all been worried about you and your mother. You both took it hardest. Don’t run from it, Chelsea. It will only chase you.”
“Kitty wouldn’t want to see you so low, honey,” Charley said at last. “She’d want you to smile for real, not for show.”
“I know,” she finally spoke after a deep breath. Looking up at them with a smile and tightly closed eyes, she hummed cheerfully. “I’m happy though. Taking care of the family makes me feel closer to her, so she’s never far from me. Thanks for worrying though, Papa, Pop Pop! I’m all right!”
Chelsea stood to kiss Walt on the forehead. Rounding the head of the table behind him, she gave Charley one on the side of his head. They watched her walk back to the kitchen island. If there was one thing they wished she hadn’t inherited from them, it was their emotional suppressing to keep moving forward. She wasn’t a veteran, so it broke their heart to watch her carry on this way.
The Dahl household was far busier in the mornings. Freja had her kitchen up and running before the birds. On top of preparing breakfast and lunches for four men, the family was on their month-long visit from Norway! Luckily for the kitchen witch, she was not battling hungry bellies alone. Leif and Frey were quite adept in the kitchen, and Jake had taken up lunch prep with her since the family arrived. There wasn’t much room to slack with a house filled with Viking descendants though.
“Thank you, my love,” Adrian said as he came up behind his wife. She turned from the counter with his lunch bag to meet a surprise kiss. The man was so well-practiced at pulling his business jacket on while taking up his lunch. He made the fluid gesture seem heroically romantic. “I will see you this evening. Enjoy your day.”
“Oh, thank you, dearest,” Freja said after he took the bag from her. “I packed something extra for you to try. I hope you like it.” Adrian grinned as he pulled away from her.
“Stop trying to make a baby!” Leif called from where he was clearing the table of dishes. Jake trembled, trying to hold in a snort. “I’m too old for a new sibling!”
“Nay, lad,” an older woman spoke sternly from her seat at the table. Her elderly visage might have its wrinkles, but the sea-blue orbs were as fiery as her daughter’s. “Blessed by her namesake, your mor has plenty of youth in her, and you have too few years to complain!”
“Farewell, Mamma,” Adrian chimed as he kissed his mother-in-law on the cheek. He glanced up at Leif briefly as he crossed the dining hall for the mudroom. “I will see you and Jake for driving practice after work. No escaping, Lei.”
“Yes!” Jake cheered, but Leif huffed as he rolled his eyes.
“Maybe I like to walk…”
“No wrong in that, lad,” an older man spoke with a hint of mischief in his tone over the mug at his lips. The years had been kind to him, as his wrinkles were less prominent than his sister’s, but his blue eyes had clouds his elder sister lacked. That didn’t hold back his playful personality though. “A hearty body keeps a strong heart.”
“Yeah...” Frey sighed from the living room, where he sat on an ottoman. He was tying his hiking boots. “Well, some of us are just fine holding a license, Onkel Normann. Lei, you and Jake ready to go? I’m about to head out.”
“I finished our lunches,” Jake answered, “but we have to grab our bags still.”
“I’ll wait five minutes in the mudroom before I go. I can’t be late today.”
“Go on ahead then, Frey,” Leif said with a shrug. “I know you’re meeting with your mentors in the morning. We won’t hold you up.”
“All right,” the brother sighed with a smile, “I see I’ve been replaced with the fourth son. Catch you both at school. Farewell, Bestemor, Onkel Normann.”
The elders both waved Frey off as he exited to the mudroom. Leif and Jake both headed toward the bedrooms to gather their things. The grandmother narrowed her eyes after them a moment. Freja swiped her dishtowel at her mother.
“Mamma…!” Freja hissed softly. “Do not glare after them.”
“It grows, Freja,” the elder spoke darkly. “Do you not see his eyes? Jacob has begun to show it as well.”
“Urd,” Normann Holt said softly, “why frighten your datter with myths?”
“Thank you, Onkel Normann,” Freja said with a huff. “I tell you Lei is well, Mamma. Please do not frighten him with those old tales. He carries enough on his shoulders.”
“The Wunderlust waits for no one, Freja,” Urd Dahl insisted. “Take heed of my warnings. Leif has always held the look in his eyes. Now, I see it has taken root, and he influences his friends. This is not the time to coddle him.”
“Leif has always been a listless child, Mamma, but I know he will tell me what burdens him when he is ready.” The woman turned to her stove, if only to escape her own mother’s harsh gaze. “Adrian agrees with me as well, so please stop worrying.”
Before Urd could retort, Leif and Jake walked quickly through the kitchen to grab their lunch bags. Jake was especially happy to have home cooking for his school meal. He and his brother had always bought lunch at school, but this treat tasted like pure love in every bite.
“We’re heading out, Mom,” Leif said in a rushed voice, forced even. He kissed her on the cheek before turning to leave without another word.
“All right…” Freja gave Jake a kiss on the black roots of his crown before looking after them. Her clear blue eyes trembled at the thought of them overhearing their conversation. “Farewell, boys.”
“See you later, Mamma Dahl,” Jake called as he crossed over to the mudroom.
Leif was moving quicker than ever this morning. Jake had to rush to catch him before he walked out of the door. Once they were outside, Jake noticed Leif looked relieved as he leaned over to pet the black, forest cat meowing from beside the door.
“Did I scare you, Laufey? I’m sorry,” Leif cooed down to the feline.
“What was that all about?” Jake asked after nearly falling over the fair Viking. Glaring with steel-gray orbs, he tried to smother his temper. “What’s the rush? You trying to catch Frey or something?”
“No… I’m sorry, Jake,” Leif confessed. “I just couldn’t listen to Mom and my grandmother argue over me.”
“If it bothers you so much,” Jake grunted as he started to walk toward their school, “you should just come out and tell them what’s what. You told me to be honest with my folks. Why aren’t you with yours?”
“I can’t do that!” Leif snapped back at the advice, making Jake pause. As the taller youth walked on ahead, his face softened from the anger to a depressed expression. “I’m sorry. Can we just drop it?”
“It’s not that big of a deal, you know,” Jake said after he collected himself. “Your folks aren’t as backward as the people in town. I’ll drop it if you promise me one thing though.”
“What’s that?” Leif looked back at his friend hopefully.
“Promise you won’t fall for any idiots in Moonshine. No one is worth your time here, dude.”
“If only it were that simple…” Leif slapped his forehead as he tried not to laugh at the comment.