Today, He Brings Flowers
A/N: More feels on the feel train, buckle up. Also, be on the lookout for more hints. We’re ticking down to the end loves. With a few chapters remaining I’d like to ask what you all have thought of this journey. This was arguably the hardest book for me to write. I had to break from a shell I’d grown comfortable in. And craft a world in isolation to avoid creative leakage. It’s been two-plus years in the making of this story. And I’m honestly so happy to just be able to share something that I love so much!
“Shhh.” I soothed, calming down my baby sister Halle who I held in my arms.
The mood was somber as we gathered out in the backyard of the main house, among a few other gravestones.
“We gather here today to honor the lives of those lost. Joseph, Ella, and Cara. And I hope their travels are safe.” Jerry said, his voice tense as he cast a sad look at his son Jericho.
“The life of a child that hadn’t yet started life was lost. But we can believe she’s in her mother’s arms in the afterlife.” Jerry concluded, having finished his speech.
“Did anyone else have any final words?” He asked, wiping away his tears.
Almost everyone but me had spoken. I looked to Jonas, handing off my baby sister to him as I heaved a deep breath, stepping beside Jerry as he rejoined his family.
“My stepfather. Who viewed me as his son. Treated me as if we shared blood lost his life.” I began shakily, losing track of my thoughts instantly.
“When I was younger I was so broken and needy. So fucking needy. He loved me unconditionally despite that.” I continued.
“He gave me everything I needed. All of the love and understanding I could possibly ask for. And I hoped to one day give it back to him when I was stronger.” I croaked, forcing back tears that tried to fight free.
“I loved him so much it hurt. And to lose him I feel like I never got the chance to repay him.” I went on.
“But aside from that. We need to be here for one another. It’s hard now. But we need to be there. Be kind to one another. Care for one another. And lift each other up.” I said, running out of steam as my thoughts couldn’t seem to settle.
I got a small round of applause from the group as I stepped back to the crowd, everyone clamoring. I didn’t have my thoughts lined up to say anything profound. Everything just sort of dissolved and I found myself wandering out into the yard, my head in the clouds. Patting my back pocket I pulled out a small silk satchel. It contained the hair I’d cut off, having not completed the ritual. I decided today was the day I let it all go. I squeezed the bag, releasing all of my intent into every single hair; or so that was the idea. I opened it, heaving a shaky breath. I waited for a stiff breeze to let it go. And when it came I did. My father would have believed all our lost loved ones became the nature around us. The time I spent around his tribe taught me that. I was told they never left us. So death wasn’t seen as a cut and dry sadness. But I couldn’t help but feel the void. I dropped into a squat just feeling nothing. Not wanting to feel anything I carefully kept my thoughts coiled tight and restrained as deep as I could force them.
“Hey.” I heard a voice ask.
Turning to look it was Darren and Alisha.
“Hey.” I returned, wanting to smile to add some brightness to their faces but I lacked the energy.
“What’s the bag for?” Darren asked, his voice shaky as he seemed to be walking on eggshells around me.
Alisha stared off into the distance, expression unreadable.
“It’s a tradition. My people would cut their hair when something traumatic happened.” I began, my voice quivering as I tried to remain strong.
“And when we cut it we either scatter it in the wind, burn it, or let a river take it away.” I explained.
“Why’s that?” He asked, squatting down beside me.
“We believe our hair carries energy. Which is why we don’t cut it unless it’s serious. When something bad happens it changes and we set it free.” I elaborated.
Darren didn’t ask another question like I expected him to. Instead, I felt him wrap me in a hug.
“I wished I could believe in something like that.” Alisha sighed, her tone seeming a little harsh.
“If you’re still blaming yourself you need to stop.” I told her firmly.
“There was absolutely nothing you or me could have done to save dad.” I tacked on, recoiling at my own aggression.
“I know.” She sighed, squatting down next to us as we just stared out at the vast expanse of land that stretched before us.
“This just sucks.” Darren piped up.
“You don’t need to beat yourself up over it either Darren.” I assured him, pulling him closer to me and giving him a light squeeze.
“I never knew what it would feel like to lose a parent. It does suck.” Alisha sighed, seeming frustrated.
I’d never experienced a loss like this either. I lost my birth father when I was maybe a year old. So I don’t have any memories of him. But growing up I found out eventually that Alisha’s father wasn’t my biological father. And that created some sadness. I never knew what he was like, only hearing stories from others when I’d asked. Darren had lost his parents and it made me feel for him. And Alisha had realized she said something touchy as Darren froze on the spot.
“I’m sorry.” She said, patting his back.
“It’s okay. Izzy taught me that you can pick family.” Darren reasoned, impressing me with his maturity.
“Sometimes he’s smart.” Alisha chuckled, wiping away her tears.
“He’s always smart.” Darren replied, looking confused.
“Us adults; more so us younger ones. Never have it all figured out. You’re never too old to learn.” I told him, standing up.
“Hey, Darren. Come help me and Mrs. Doddson with breakfast?” Jonas asked, coming up to us.
Jonas had been so supportive in my time of need. He stayed up almost all night with me as we just talked about what hurt. I liked his strength so much and it helped me feel as good as I felt now. I mouthed a thank you as he probably realized Alisha had wanted to speak to me.
“How are you dealing?” She asked, leaning into me as I wrapped a warming arm around her shoulders.
“I’m looking at it this way.” I began.
“I want to feel as if he’s still right here. I still have my memories of him. I think I’ll be okay with that.” I sighed, not totally believing my own words. They were comforting yes, but did I believe them?
“I wish I could feel the same way. Just what are the chances something like that happens while we were away.” Alisha remarked, seeming to be in denial.
“You should know that the unexpected happens more than anyone. Would I have changed what happened if I could? Absolutely. But can I?” I replied.
“It just sucks. Why him?” She huffed, her frustration palpable.
“If I had just come with you that would have saved time that could have saved him.” She went on, shaking her head.
For some reason, I was more accepting and recognized that he was gone with nothing we could have done. While my more pragmatic sister couldn’t seem to grasp that he was gone. She couldn’t seem to accept that he was gone and nothing could have been done. It was the cards we were dealt.
“You need to accept it Ali. It’s not pleasant but you have to accept that he’s gone.” I croaked, feeling emotion well up.
“I didn’t even hug him before we left because I was so certain we’d come back and he’d be waiting.” She heaved, breaking down in my arms as I hugged her to me.
“We all make mistakes. And that wasn’t a mistake Alisha. No matter how you look at it.” I soothed.
“But we need to be here for one another until we all feel better. It takes time but we’ll get there. You have all of us. And Daniel had been worrying himself ragged over you.” I explained as she pulled away.
“He is?” She asked, seeming surprised.
“You two are dating after all. And he hasn’t stopped looking over here since you came. Those lost puppy eyes say it all.” I tacked on, smiling past the tears welling in my own eyes.
“He’s got a massive heart, Alisha. He’s hurting but he’s also been wanting to help and you can’t keep avoiding him.” I told her, bringing up the fact that she’d been intentionally avoiding him since last night.
“I guess I’ll woman up and talk to him. It’s not fair.” She sighed, seeming to sober up.
“We’ll survive this. Come see me later today and we’ll do some face masks or something.” I told her, feeling a smile creep its way onto my face.
“I can’t say there’s a better older brother out there.” She smiled, hugging me tightly before she took a composing breath, heading off.
I made my way over to my mother, taking my baby brother off of her hands as she looked as if she was headed into the house.
“How are you holding up?” I asked as we walked.
“Tired. But I should be okay. I want to be okay.” She rambled, the strong woman I drew so much strength from seeming frazzled.
“You should rest.” I suggested.
“Oh, I will. It’s a lot to process but I’ve lost loved-ones before. We’ll be okay. We don’t have a choice.” She mused.
“I can keep an eye on the twins while you take a nap?” I asked, wanting her to take it easy.
She waited until she thought everyone was sleeping before she wept well into the morning hours through the night. It hurt hearing your mother or parents cry. It left you feeling so helpless when you knew that there wasn’t a thing you could do about their sadness. The sound of her weeping was haunting and had pain echoing off the walls of your skull. I’d recovered enough to offer solace. I needed to be positive, yet not neglectful of myself. So I’d do what I could and when I grew close to burning out I’d let the others care for me as I cared for them.
“That sounds like a deal.” She smiled weakly as we trudged up the stairs.
She settled into the room she shared with my father, heaving a sigh as she sat on the bed, looking at it longingly.
“I’ll be up to check on you every so often. If you need anything just call.” I said to her, taking my little sister Halle from her arms, placing a kiss on her forehead.
“I’ll be okay Izzy.” She assured me, a nod telling me she meant what she said.
Reluctantly I turned and left, closing the door a bit to offer her some privacy. With my baby siblings in tow, I set off back down the hall to head downstairs.
“How about some breakfast and then some floor time?” I asked them, not really expecting an answer.
I got a few coos and gurgles as a response. I took that as a yes. Heading down the stairs carefully, I strolled into the kitchen, seeing Donna setting out cooked food.
“The all father is here.” Jonas announced, trying to lighten the mood as I entered the kitchen.
“I’m just watching them while my mom takes a nap.” I told him, putting them in their highchairs one at a time, my arms thanking me as they were growing to be quite big pretty fast.
“I’ll go tell the others breakfast is ready.” Donna commented, summoning up a smile as she wiped off her hands and disappeared into the house.
“Hungry?” Jonas asked from near the stove as Darren was already stuffing his face.
“For once not really. I know these two are though.” I replied, sitting next to the twins at the table.
“Alright.” He shrugged, not pressing me.
Jonas brought the twins some food he’d prepared for them, actually going a further step and feeding them.
“And you call me the father figure.” I joked, my chin in the palm of my hand as I just watched.
“I think you’re both good dads.” Darren pipped up, seeming to recoil a bit.
He was close to me and Jonas and probably saw us as parental figures. But we’d never clarified our relationship with him.
“Thank you, Darren. That was sweet.” I said, just being direct, shooting him a small smile that seemed to soothe his nerves.
“I never in a million years thought I’d be feedin’ babies. But here I am.” Jonas chuckled, seeming to be enjoying every moment of it.
“It looks good on you.” I said, yawning.
I’d done most of my crying last night, in the company of Jonas who’d whisper sweet-nothings to me the entire time. So I was tired myself, probably in need of a nap.
“So can you tell me how you met? Jonas’ version sucks.” Darren asked, catching my attention.
“Hey! It’s accurate.” Jonas complained.
“Accurate is hardly the word.” I drawled, rolling my eyes at him.
“We met a long time ago when we were both in middle school. And we’ve been good friends ever since.” I said, the story going pretty quickly as I chickened out last second.
I didn’t want to go into a lengthy explanation about the true depth of me and Jonas’ relationship. Darren after all just thought we were best friends. Was it wrong? I wasn’t quite sure. But it felt awkward bringing that up in conversation.
“Did you finish your assignment I gave you a few days ago?” I asked Darren, trying to keep some semblance o normality.
We didn’t know when this would all end. But me and Jonas both agreed that Darren should be learning all sorts of things. So together we both taught him what we knew; asked Alisha to fill in any gaps as we were both hardly perfect students.
“No sir.” He said quickly and honestly.
“It’s alright I’ll help you out with it later if you need help with it.” I told him.
“What time is it?” He asked suddenly.
I glanced over at the clock on the wall, as Jonas was occupied making silly faces at my baby siblings who were laughing. Distracted for a split second I pulled my attention away from the heartwarming scene right next to me.
“It’s 9 am.” I told him.
“I have to help feed the chickens.” Darren said suddenly, scarfing down the rest of his food and quickly getting up from the table.
“Take it easy.” I told him, my voice trailing off as he bolted off.
He reminded me a bit of Ellis. He liked being helpful and doing things around the ranch. It wouldn’t be long before he would be joining us on patrols at this rate. I got up from the table as well, taking his plate over to the sink to wash it.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go lay down?” Jonas asked, looking smug as I turned to face him; something I wasn’t catching.
“If it’s for anything naughty I’m not in the mood.” I sighed.
“Nope. I just learned that if kids are sleeping you should sleep too.” He shot back nodding over to the two dozing twins.
Halle slept with Alisha while Eric slept with me and Jonas. They didn’t like being apart but I couldn’t leave Alisha to look after the both of them. So needless to say they both stayed up into the night either refusing sleep or crying. It probably explained why they fell asleep so soon. I was tired too. Not sure if it was from shock or a lack of sleep. But it was probably a combination of the two.
“I think I’ll actually take you up on that offer.” I agreed, getting up.
Telling myself this would be the last time I have to carry these two today I scooped them up into my arms. Jonas seemed like he wanted to help but he’d have to get himself up the stairs.
“I’ve got ’em, tiger.” I drawled, trudging up the stairs as he followed me a bit slower.
Making it upstairs, we rounded the corner, seeing Alisha leaving her room, her eyes landing on me.
“Need me to watch them?” She asked. I peeked into her room, seeing Daniel there as he gave me a wave.
“I’ve got it this time. You’ll owe me next time.” I told her, nudging her with my shoulder as me and Jonas swept past.
Jonas opened the door for me, limping out of the way as I thanked him, entering as well. My arms were growing strained under the weight of the two sleeping babies and I made it to their crib just in time. I set them inside, bundling them in blankets and being careful with my placement. Too far apart and they’d wake up crying and too close and they’d grow too hot and cry in complaint.
“I think parenting looks good on you.” Jonas remarked, causing me to look back at him.
“Children are my weakness. It’s like a double-edged sword.” I sighed, falling back onto the bed beside him.
“I think it’s a good thing so long as you can ground yourself ya’know.” He mused, falling back beside me after he pulled the crib closer to the bed.
“It pushed me farther than I’d liked to have gone.” I sighed, pulling the rest of my body onto the bed alongside Jonas.
“Y’know you’re that person for me. I love Ali to death but you just get me y’know.” He said, looking over at me as I started up at the ceiling.
“I knew yet didn’t know that.” I mused, feeling as if this were one of his odd-hour visits in my dorm.
“I’d do anything to make sure you’re okay. I fucked up a couple’a times but I think I’m on the right track now.” He shrugged, rolling over to face me as I did the same.
“You have had my back. And a couple of times if you didn’t I’m not sure if I’d be here now.” I sighed, cupping his face in my palms.
“I ripped a guy’s throat out with my bare teeth for ya. I think that says a lot.” He chuckled.
“That was hardcore. Kind of sealed the deal for me.” I remarked, a small smile creeping onto my tired face.
“For the longest, you were the most positive person in my life. I have a fuck ton of regrets Bambi.” He admitted, his gaze dimming a bit.
“You loved on me like there was no tomorrow even though I treated you like shit.” He tacked on.
“It wasn’t good. But it didn’t take me long to see who you really were capable of being I guess.” I soothed, my hand slipping down to intertwine with his.
“If I coulda did things different I would’ve.” He assured me.
“Maybe if you did things could have turned out drastically different.” I shrugged.
I wasn’t religious per-say. But I did believe in destiny. All things happened for a reason as they were supposed to. That thinking gave me solace during bad times sometimes. That level of indifference also had its unhealthy drawbacks though.
“I forget you believe in destiny and I’m a more grab life by the balls kinda man.” He chuckled, his other hand cupping my face.
“So enough about me. What about you? How are you doing Jo-Jo.” I asked.
“I’m good as long as you’re good. If you’re okay I’m okay. I just want you to be okay.” He rambled, though I could feel the burning intensity of each and every single word leaving its mark on me. And it made my heart buzz with warmth.
“I like this Jonas.” I remarked, chuckling as I just let the good emotions take me.
“I can’t say I’ve had a favorite Issac. I’ve loved ’em all.” He smiled back.
“Now that’s cheesy.” I remarked cocking a brow in amusement.
This moment was utter and complete bliss. Nothing or no one else mattered right now and I was taken out of my own head for a few moments in time.
“I don’t have a lot of priorities. I can count ’em on one hand.” He smiled back.
“I won’t ask you to tell me who they are in case the others hear and get jealous.” I teased.
“I like them too. I just have preferences for who I enjoy spending my time with if I have the option.” He smirked.
A soft blanket of silence fell between us as we studied the depths and details of one another’s eyes.
“Bambi?” He asked breaking the silence.
“Yeah?” I replied.
“What did you see in me that kept you comin’ back?” He asked, catching me off guard a bit.
“I’m just gonna be honest. Sometimes being with you sucked. And you’ve made me cry more times than I can count. But for some reason, I’d come running back whenever I saw a glimpse of that soft side.” I explained.
“And the payoff has been amazing. The man you are now is all I could ask for.” I smiled, pinching his cheek as he took joking offense to my words.
“So what about you?” I asked, flipping the question.
“You’ve always just been so damn nice. I never really knew what to do with the love I did get in those group homes whenever I did get it. But I loved it when I got it. And you gave it out so often.” He began, pausing and looking thoughtful for a moment.
“The person you’ve become in all of this is something I like too.” He admitted.
“You’ve shown you’re strong and still capable of being warm after bein’ so hurt. And a damn good father figure.” He smiled, going back to those nights when we were on good terms and spoke of a future together. Who’d have thought it’d be so soon?
“If we were a straight couple I’d be the mom.” I joked.
“And I’d be the cool dad.” He shot back.
“Not going to try taking the mom title from me?” I asked, feigning shock.
“You’re willin’ to love every kid you meet like you carried ’em for nine months.” He shrugged.
“To a fault. But I see the positive.” I admitted.
“I think it’s good. Your love is something amazing. It’s like it’s deeper than the ocean Bambi.” He smiled.
“I’ve never known you to be the poetic type.” I chuckled.
“I just like it. I like you.” He mused blissfully.
“Never change?” He asked quickly.
“I don’t plan on it.” I assured him.
Times like this had me forgetting what was going on just outside of the ranch. It felt normal, almost like we were on a vacation save for the slight bit of negativity nagging in the back of my mind. It felt blissful nonetheless.
“What’s on that mind baby.” He mused.
“It’s like a positive anxiety attack with these racing thoughts.” I smiled, my eyelids growing heavy. My answer was clumsy and probably made absolutely no sense. But I was so glad to have Jonas here with me right now.
“I love you, Bambi.” He said softly as I felt myself drifting off.
“I love you too.” I replied.
“I love you more.” He returned.
“I love you more.” I drawled as sleep was clawing at my mind.
And eventually, it won, leaving me in blissfulness as I faintly heard Jonas return the last ‘I love you’. My dreams were pleasant for the first time in a long time. I’d either never remember them or they’d be of the violence I’d been subjected to. Unlike the usual sensation of sleep feeling as if it ended in no time I felt well-rested when I felt something tugging at my senses. I woke up to see Jonas somehow managing with one crutch, the other tucked under his arm as he carried a tray of food into the room. I looked over at the crib seeing it gone entirely.
“Your mom came and got them a few minutes ago.” He explained when he saw my confused face.
“You could have woke me up.” I replied, stretching.
“If I did you’d run after everyone.” He shrugged.
“So I let you sleep while I checked up on everyone for ya.” He said, sitting down next to me as he flipped the TV on.
“How is everyone?” I asked.
“Alisha and your mom are doing better than this morning. Jericho is still going through it but I think he’ll be good.” He explained as he bit into a roll.
“Where is Darren?” I asked, wiping my eyes.
“With your mom and Alisha. He wanted to help look after the twins while they ate dinner.” Jonas explained.
“Take it easy Bambi. I looked after everyone just like you would.” He smiled, pushing over the tray with my food on it.
“I’m sorry. I just worry about them.” I sighed.
“Well, we’ll be okay. You’ll be okay. They’ll be okay.” He assured me, leaning over and placing a kiss on my forehead.
“I hope so. I think so.” I rambled, taking my food.
“Wanna do some normal shit tomorrow? Give Darren some riding lessons?” Jonas asked, his idea unveiled and raw.
Just blunt and to the point. I knew he was trying to distract me. Giving me something to do. Something normal as he worded it.
“I see what you did there. But sure. Can’t sulk forever.” I sighed, getting a toothy grin from him.
“Good. Let’s get it!” He cheered.
A/N: Things are ending soon. Though like, don’t leave too soon. The end might not seem like the end. It continues past that point. Why am I being so problematic? I don’t know. But uhh, read on loves. People will die. Feelings will be stabbed. And new beginnings will start. To quote Jurassic Park; “Life finds a way”. And trust me it will, no matter the cost!