Long Island, New York
July 20, 2015
The funeral was a somber celebration of a man who had been great in life. He touched everyone around him with love, learning, and compassion. Annie sat alongside the grave with the rest of her family. Her large sunglasses hid her red-rimmed eyes as well as the deep, dark circles underneath. She had slept a total of six hours in the last five days, ever since she found her grandfather’s lifeless body in his bed. The memory brought fresh tears to her eyes. As of now she had no idea how she had the ability to stay awake, much less the strength and composure to deliver a eulogy. Still, she had managed through it somehow; although she could scarcely remember the words she had said.
Her father, George, placed a reassuring hand on her back, silently giving her the comfort that she needed. Leaning back into his strength, Annie half-listened as her mother, read her recollections of her father. Tears streamed down her eyes, but did not impede her steady voice. Annie wondered if her mom had any idea that she was in fact crying. She doubted it. So many tears had been shed in the last few days that the salty wetness felt almost normal now. At least to Annie it did.
Annie’s mom finished her eulogy, the last of the day, and returned to her seat. The minister said a few short words before consecrating Annie’s grandfather’s coffin to the ground. Annie rose from her seat and tossed the red gladiola that she had been holding onto the descending casket. It was her grandfather’s favorite flower. Then she turned and walked away from the overflowing family cemetery and back towards the house that had been in her family for generations.
Instead of heading to the backdoor, Annie turned along the side of the house and walked towards the large swimming pool that had been installed back when her mom was a child. Annie had spent many summers in this pool. It was where she had learned how to swim, done her first perfect cannon ball, and even received her first kiss. She opened the gate and headed for the edge of the pool.
She removed her black high heels then dipped her feet in to the cool water. It was the complete antithesis to the muggy July air. She was half-tempted to take off her dress and dive into the pool in only her underwear. Unfortunately, they had guests, so that would not be appropriate. Instead she contented herself with dangling her feet in the blue water.
She sat outside for hours before anyone came to find her. The sun had already begun its descent in the sky when she heard the gate open and the clack-clack of heels approach her. She did not turn her head to see who was intruding on her solitude. She would find out soon enough.
“You need to come inside. We have guests to entertain,” a young female voice snapped at her. It was her sister, Catherine. Annie did not respond. She just stared into the water. “Did you not hear a word I just said? I said come inside. Stop being selfish and get your ass inside that house,” Catherine chided then pulled Annie up by her arm.
Annie turned and stared at her sister head on, fighting to keep her temper under control. Today was not the day to fight. Annie nodded her head, put her shoes back on, then turned and stomped off into the house. She would deal with her sister later. Or, more likely, she would just avoid her.
When she entered the house she noticed that very few people remained. Only close friends and family milled about the sitting room. Annie’s mom, Alex, stood near a large expanse of windows talking to Mr. and Mrs. Jones. The Jones’ had been close friends of the family for years. Annie’s father was deep in discussion with James Greenleaf, another close family friend. She had known these people since birth. They had all been present in her life and continued to play a big role in it, even though she attended college in Amherst.
Annie wandered into the room and joined her mom. She wished her best friend were here, but she was studying abroad in Africa and would not return until the start of the winter term. It was all for the best. Katelyn, Annie’s best friend, was pursuing a dual degree in Anthropology and Archaeology. One of her professors had invited her along on a dig to Africa. They had found a new specimen that appeared to be a missing link between Neanderthals and Homosapiens. Katelyn had offered to return to the States for the funeral but Annie refused. Her grandfather would not have wanted her to give up the opportunity of a lifetime just to watch his casket be lowered into a grave. Besides, she would be home soon enough.
“Annie dear, are you okay,” her mom questioned.
“Yes, of course. Sorry,” Annie apologized.
“It’s alright. Mr. Jones was just asking you how school was going,” Alex stated.
“Oh, it’s going quite well,” she replied.
“You’re going to be a senior this year, correct?”
“Do you plan on going to graduate school?”
“I haven’t decided yet. But I am seriously considering it.”
“What would you specialize in, if you do go?”
“Women’s roles during the American Revolution. It has always been a fascination of mine. There is so much information that has not been addressed that needs to be.”
“And you are still double-majoring?”
“Yes, in American History as well as Literature. I must have been insane to do a dual major. But I’m so close now. There’s no point in changing course.”
“Ambitious, not insane,” Annie’s mother replied. Annie smiled softly.
The four of them chatted for another half-hour then the Jones’ left. The rest of the mourners followed shortly after that. By nine o’clock the house was empty except for Annie, her parents, and her sister.
“Do you need help cleaning up mom,” Annie questioned.
“No, I can manage. You go do whatever you want.”
“Thanks. I think I’ll just go for a swim.”
“That’s fine. Enjoy yourself.”
Annie left the sitting room and climbed up the stairs to her bedroom. The room was comfortable and lived in. For the past three years Annie had spent her school vacations here. The strain between her and her sister had reached a breaking point when Annie had left for college. Annie’s grandfather had noticed the turmoil and invited her to spend the summers and holidays with him. She had enthusiastically accepted. As a result, virtually all of her belongings had made their way over. For all intents and purposes, this was Annie’s home. The thought of having to pack it all away and leave brought a fresh set of tears to her eyes.
Annie wiped the tears from her eyes, pulled on her swimsuit, and grabbed a towel. Two minutes later she dove into the deep, blue, warm water. She swam a few laps, nothing too challenging, just enough to calm her nerves. Afterwards she just floated, staring up into the starry sky.
She heard the water lapping around her, felt the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. The solitude brought a deep sense of peace to her. She had done this many times in her life. God bless her grandparents, they never bothered her when she came out for her late night swims. Annie knew that they had watched from the windows, glancing out every once in a while to make sure she was okay. They were always looking out for her, even when she reached adulthood. It was comforting.
Memories of her grandparents floated through Annie’s head. She remembered the tea parties her grandmother had thrown for her whenever Annie had been sick; the root beer floats and Shirley Temple’s that her grandfather had always made her. She remembered both the fear and exhilaration she had felt the first time her grandfather had let her co-pilot his Cessna. But above all she remembered the love that they had always shared, for both each other and their family.
After a while Annie’s skin began to pucker and itch. Reluctantly she got out of the pool, dried off, then went to her room. She took a quick shower and pulled on a pair of boxers and a t-shirt and walked out of the bathroom, turned off the lights, then collapsed onto her bed. Minutes later she had fallen into a fitful sleep.
Tim Locke’s ghost floated above his granddaughter’s bed, watching as she slept. A large gamut of feelings ran through him. Everything from determination to grief and pain. He hated what he was about to do to his beloved Annie. The events that he was about to set in motion would alter her life forever. But it had to be done otherwise the life that she had come to know would not exist.
“She’s strong enough. She can do it,” he thought to himself. He knew it was true. But that knowledge did little to ease his guilt. He floated for several moments, mentally preparing himself for what he must do. Finally, his strength gathered, he set the process in motion.