Not A Goodbye
“Stella, have you started that piece we talked about the other day?” Kristin asks, walking into my studio. I’m currently in the middle of smashing a wobbly vase that I’ll never be able to trim when I glance up at my mentor.
“No. I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to start it, because I can’t figure out if I should build it in pieces and put it together or just work from the bottom up. Instead, I’ve been working on pieces for the gallery next month, but that’s not working for me right now either.” I grumble to Kristin as I dump the four pounds of clay in the reclaim and grab another pug of clay to wedge into different sized balls.
“You’ll figure it out. Remember, if you need a break you’re more than welcome to take the day off. The quality of your work is what we really need.” She smiles, and heads out of the room while I sit back down at my wheel and stare at the drawing of my sculpture piece I need to start while I’m centering an 8-pound hunk of clay that I’m planning on turning into a plate, hopefully.
The sculpture is supposed to be a miniature replica of Zeus. I have a picture of him prancing in the paddock with the wind blowing his long mane posted beside my hand drawn design, and I start missing my pony.
Summer was super awkward with how things ended between me and Beau, but he spent a month of it with Gunnar and his mom in Florida. As much as I hated doing all of his work for him that month, it was nice to not have to see him every day. Plus, it gave me time to hang out with my friends without him showing up and having to rescue me.
Once I have my hunk of clay centered, I dive in to opening and pulling the sides out and up, until I’m satisfied that I’ll have a nice sized platter that I can carve into later. Then, I lay the sides down and create the serving surface before trimming and pulling the bat off the wheel once I’m done. I take one of the smaller hunks and secure another bat to the wheel to try another vase, now that I have one successful piece.
“Stella, you have to stop forgetting to eat.” Gemma groans as she drops a bag of fast food on my work table. I glance at the clock and realize that it’s nearly 7. I’ve been in my studio for 10 hours without eating anything. I didn’t even stop for lunch.
“Thanks.” I mumble, grabbing the burger out of the bag and digging in. “This is why we’re friends.”
“I like this new piece. It’s huge!” Gemma gasps, glancing at one of Zeus’s legs that I’m currently constructing. I already have the other three built and drying over to the side, and the leg I’m working on now is the bent one that won’t be touching the ground. It’s been a bitch to get the proportions right on, but I’m finally smoothing out the hoof area. Once they’re all dry enough that I can carve into them, I’ll go back through and shape and trim and make the legs more realistic, but that won’t be for another couple of days. I don’t want them drying out too fast or else they’ll crack and I won’t be able to do anything else to them.
“It should stand about three feet tall when I’m done. Here’s the design.” I shrug, pushing the picture of Zeus to her so she can see it while I finish off my burger.
“You’re so artistic. I can’t wait to see what it’s going to look like when you’re done.” She sighs, and I smile and grab some fries.
“As soon as I’m done with this leg I’ll be home. You don’t have to stay here any longer.” I laugh, knowing my best friend probably has a shit ton of homework she needs to do.
“Don’t stay too late my love!” She calls as she’s headed back out the building. I laugh at my best friend and hurry and finish the leg before covering all four of the up with plastic and putting a fragile sign over them before going to wash my hands and arms and legs that are covered in clay.
I leave the studio a little after 7:30 and wave good night to the janitor, Dave, on my way out. As I’m climbing into my Jeep, I notice my phone is ringing, and I’m extremely surprised to find Beau’s name on my screen. “What?” I snap, answering the call.
“I don’t need your attitude, thank you very much.” He growls on the other end, and I roll my eyes at the guy who made my life a living hell for 4 months.
“You obviously had a reason to call, so what is it?” I narrow my eyes at the dark parking lot in front of me as I start my Jeep.
“Your dad had a heart attack this afternoon.” Beau answers, and I think my heart stops beating.
“What?” I yelp in a tiny voice, barely above a whisper.
“I don’t know how long he had been laying in the barn when I found him, but the doctors were hopeful when I called the ambulance. Now, they don’t think he’s going to make it and you need to be here.” He says, and I want to rip his head off.
“Did you not think you should call me as soon as this happened? What the hell is wrong with you, Beau?” I gasp into the phone, immediately speeding back to the house to pack a bag.
“Like I said, the doctor’s thought he’d be okay. I was planning on calling you as soon as he woke up, but now they don’t think he will. I called as soon as I heard that news.” He tells me in a surprisingly even tone considering I was just yelling at him.
“What even happened?” I ask, not able to form tears because I don’t think it’s processed yet.
“Beats the hell out of me. I had just gotten back from putting mineral out and I found him passed out outside of Lucy’s stall.” He answers, and then the line is silent for a few minutes while I’m speeding back to the house.
“What hospital are you at?” I ask, knowing there isn’t a good one unless they’re here in Savannah.
“Via Christi here in Savannah.” Beau sighs, and I pull into my driveway and leave the Jeep running as I run inside and grab Gemma’s hand, pulling her outside.
“Gemma and I will be there in 10 minutes. Tell him he has to wait for me.” I cry into the phone before Beau promises he will.
“What’s going on?” Gemma asks as soon as I’ve hung up the phone and am racing towards the hospital.
“My dad had a heart attack.” I tell her, glancing at her shocked face.
“What? But he was so young!” She gasps, her hands flying to her mouth.
“I don’t know. Beau called as I was leaving my studio.”
“Oh honey, is he going to be alright?” She asks, and I shake my head.
“Beau said the doctors don’t think he’s going to survive.” I cry, tears finally forming. Apparently it’s sunk in enough now for my brain to register it.
Beau is waiting outside of the hospital when we get there to lead us back to where Dad is hooked to the ventilator that is breathing for him. There’s a heart monitor off to the side that is beating steadily, but weakly.
“Hi miss, are you his daughter?” A nurse asks, walking into the room. I look up at her with tears in my eyes, and she, Beau, and Gemma give me some space to say good-bye. I pull the chair up and grasp his hand as I tell him all about my latest Zeus project, before rambling about some of the other classes I’m taking this fall. I apologize for how little I’ve been home since this semester started, and for how much complaining I did over the summer. His face never shows signs of recognition, and tears are pouring down my cheeks as I go get Beau and Gemma. Beau presses a button on the side of his bed that summons a doctor, and he wraps an arm around my shoulder as the doctor unhooks him from the ventilator while I’m holding his hand.
“Bye Daddy.” I whisper, before dropping his hand and shrugging out of Beau’s arm to go wrap myself in my best friend’s arms.
“I’m sorry, Stel.” She whispers, tears in her own eyes. “Nobody deserves this to happen to them.”
“I should have gone home more. I knew he needed me, but I still left and chose to stay in the city instead of going home at least once a month.” I whimper into my best friend’s shoulder, before hearing a sniffle behind me.
As much as I don’t like Beau right now, I know that he and my dad were really close. He was never really close with his own dad, and when mine showed him love and respect, Beau latched onto it. After hearing Beau’s second sniffle, I release Gemma from my death grip, and turn to embrace Beau, squeezing my arms tightly around his waist and pressing my ear and cheek into his chest while he squeezes his arms around my shoulders.
“I’m so sorry, Stella.” He whispers into the hair on top of my head and I feel several tears drop into my hair.
“I’m sorry for you, too, Beau.” I reply, glancing at the curtains they’ve pulled around Dad’s bed. A nurse has been sent in to round us up and is slowly herding us out of the room. “Do Mom and Bryndle know?”
“I called them right after I called you. They should be here tomorrow morning.” Beau answers, releasing my shoulders as we sit in the hallway for a few minutes while I try to get my tears under control. “Come on, we should go.”
“Are you going home tonight?” I ask, directing my question towards Beau while I’m clutching Gemma’s hand as she becomes my rock.
“I didn’t do any nightly chores. I need to head back.” He replies once we’re outside and I see his truck.
“Are you okay to drive that far?” Gemma asks, looking at my ex-boyfriend worriedly.
“I’ll make it.” Beau promises before reaching out and squeezing my shoulder.
“Stel, you should probably go with him. You’re in no shape to go to class tomorrow, and I think you should be there when your mom and sister get home. I’ll tell your professors and Kristin what happened.” Gemma mentions before Beau gets too far away.
“I can go home tomorrow.” I whisper in an incredibly hoarse voice.
“You’re not going to be okay to drive that far. It won’t be safe, Stel. You just lost your dad.” She pulls me into a hug as another wave of sobs racket through my body. “I promise I’ll take care of the Jeep while you’re gone.”
“Thanks Gem. You really are my best friend.” I sniffle, pulling away from her tight embrace.
“You better not forget it, either.” She gives me a half smile while tears of her own are streaming down her face.
“Love you.” I call, making my way towards Beau, who is waiting by his truck.
“I love you too, my love.” She tries to smile for me before heading back to my Jeep to drive it home.
I climb up into the cab of Beau’s truck and tuck my feet into the seat while I chew on my bottom lip. He reaches behind the seat and tosses me an old hoodie to put on because it’s getting chilly out and his truck doesn’t have a working heater. I look at the gray fabric in front of me, and tears start welling up again as I think about what Beau and I used to have. It’s been over 6 months since we broke up, but I hate how much we still share. No matter how hard I try to cut him out of my life, he always seems to end up back in it some way or another. Sometimes I wish he had never walked into my life, but then I remember how much he taught me in the few months we dated, and I’m glad to still have him as a friend. While Beau drives home with the radio quietly playing, I rest my head against the window and try to take a nap.
Beau softly shakes me awake when we get back to the farm, and I numbly walk into my house and look around at the furniture and decorations that haven’t changed in almost 8 years. I walk past the living room and head straight for my bedroom so I can curl up and cry and think about the memories I shared with Dad. He taught me how to ride. I have pictures of him putting me on his old champion cutting horse before I could even walk. When I was three, he got me my first pony, a little Shetland named Minnie. I know, original, right? When I was 7, he upgraded me to my first real horse, an old paint mare named Sassy, and she’s the one who I started really riding on. She died when I was 11, and between the time she died and when I got Zeus, I rode a gray kid pony my dad bought for Bryndle when she was 5, but wanted nothing to do with. He taught me how to ride a bike and bait a hook and surf. My dad was an amazing surfer despite his cowboy ways. He used to load us up and take us to the beach for a day of sand, sun, and waves. I used to love watching him until I was old enough to learn myself.
Eventually I drift into a restless sleep, waking up several times tossing and turning. Finally, when I wake up at 5:30, I crawl out of bed and head to the bathroom so I can look at my puffy face from crying and the lack of sleep. Somehow I manage to pull myself into the shower, where I just stand and think about life until the water turns ice cold, and then I wash my gross, still full of clay, hair. I’m not sure that it’s sunk in yet that Dad died, but when I walk out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around my chest and see Dad’s bedroom door standing wide open, tears well up in my eyes. I hurry back to my bedroom and curl up in a ball on my bed, hugging a pillow as I let the tears rack through my body, ugly sobs escaping from my mouth.
“Stel, I’m here if you need to talk about it.” Beau sighs, softly knocking on my door before entering without being invited. I pull my towel closer around my body and wipe away some tears before turning to look at him.
If it weren’t for him thinking everything was going to be okay, I might have gotten to say goodbye to my dad, not his lifeless body. Before I can say anything to Beau though, I quickly turn my head back and bury it under my pillow, still sobbing. It hurts so fucking bad. Dad had been my rock ever since I can remember. He went through life with me, taking me in my worst times and best in stride. He always used to say, “Make the choices right for you in the moment you are in. Do that and you can never have regrets later.” I loved him so much. He taught me so many things: how to ride, how to stand up for myself, how to love, and how to let go. I know he wouldn’t want me to be crying about him right now – instead he’d want us to be celebrating his life. Despite the divorce with my mother, he loved everything about his life. He loved his cattle, his horses, and his children with as much love as a man can possibly give.
“I think we should bury him under the weeping willow tree in the paddock. He loved it there.” I mumble, feeling Beau sighing and getting ready to leave.
“Why?” He asks, and I can feel the frown in his voice.
“When Bryndle and I were little, he used to sit out there every chance he got to listen to and watch nature. We used to try to convince him to build us a tree-house in it, but he always refused because he said it would take away from the natural beauty of the sacred willow. Instead, he built us a tree-house in the backyard in one of the old oak trees that was taken out by a storm several years later.”
“I think it sounds like a wonderful eternal resting spot. By the way, your mom’s flight lands in a few hours so I’m going to head up to Atlanta to pick them up. Do you want to come with me?” He asks softly, resting his hand on my waist like he used to. Now, his touch feels so foreign, but it still sends electricity through my body. I try to keep my eyes off of his perfect body – he must be putting in more hours at the gym – and instead notice the beginning of a second sleeve forming.
“I probably don’t need to be in the house by myself. Plus, it’ll still be dark for another hour, and we both know how I deal with that.” I sigh, clutching the towel around my chest and swinging my feet around Beau, who hasn’t budged.
With tears still in my eyes, I hurry to my closet and tug up a pair of old athletic shorts and a way oversized sweatshirt. I don’t even bother putting a bra on, and Beau obviously noticed. Shoving my feet into a pair of Nike flip flops, I turn and head out the door, crossing my arms over my chest as I climb into the passenger’s seat of the four-door Dodge he’s had since I was born. It’s old and it’s earned it’s keep, but it still runs flawlessly, and it still smells like Dad. Beau finally climbs in beside me and starts the truck, letting it idle for a few minutes before we silently head for Atlanta.
“Did you sleep at all last night, Beau?” I ask, noticing the giant tumbler of coffee he hasn’t stopped gulping at since we got on the highway. He shakes his head and I watch a tear drop down his beautiful face. “I’m sorry I got mad at you yesterday. It wasn’t your fault.” I whisper hoarsely to him, desperately needing him to know that even though we’re not together anymore, he can still count on me and know I’ll keep all of his secrets.
“After my father did what he did, I didn’t think I’d ever have someone step into my life and treat me like a son, but that’s exactly what John did. He was a father when I didn’t have one and didn’t realize I desperately needed one. He was your dad, Stel, but his acceptance meant everything to me.” Beau whispers, and pulls one of his hands off the steering wheel, opening his arm for me to hug him. I do. I scoot over and bury my face in his shirt like I used to, and just let myself cry.
“I know he loved you, Beau. Just like a son.”
“Mom, do I really have to dress up for this? It’s just a reading of his will.” I sigh, straightening my floral skirt and pink blouse. Apparently we’re all supposed to look nice when we show up at his lawyer’s office for the official reading, and Mom decided that Bryndle and I needed to match, but Bryndle got the blue outfit.
“Yes. And we need to leave as soon as possible.” She states, handing me a white shoulder shawl to cover my shoulders with, and I follow her out of my bedroom, nearly running into Beau as I do.
“You clean up nice.” I mumble, hurrying past his suit and tie that makes him look hunky as hell. It’s hiding all of his tattoos, and I find myself longing to look at them all up close again.
He glances at me, and then mutters something uncomprehendable before Bryndle finally comes out of the bathroom he’d been waiting for. She sighs and links her arm with mine before planting her cheek on my shoulder. “I miss him, Stel.”
“Me too, Bryn.” I answer, grabbing my sister’s hand and holding onto it for stability.
It’s been almost a week since Dad passed, and we just had the funeral the day before yesterday. Once Mom got to town, she didn’t waste any time with the funeral plans, and she didn’t spare any money, either. It was a surprisingly big event – I never knew how many friends Dad actually had until the church was full of old rodeo buddies, high school friends, cattle dealers he’d dealt with for years, and just people from our town and the surrounding areas. He was such a good man – if I hadn’t already known that, I would have by the time the funeral was over. Bryndle and I each got to toss a daisy into his grave because they were always his favorite flower. Whenever he’d see them on the side of the road when we were little, he’d always have to stop and pick a couple to put in our hair. God, I miss him so much.
“Stella, can you drive us there? I think we need to show up in something besides Beau’s old rusty truck, and I don’t really want to take your father’s. It gave me the creeps when we were coming home from the airport. I’d much rather take your Jeep.” Mom asks when we finally step into the kitchen. I nod at her, and then notice Beau struggling with his tie when he walks into the room. Silently, I walk over and grab it out of his hands, tying it for him like I’ve done before.
I smile, remembering the date we went on to Vic’s, where absolutely nothing went right. First, Beau’s truck split a side-wall on one of his tires after a semi dropped a board with a piece of tin on it. He changed the tire in his suit, insisting that I couldn’t get out of the truck because I’d ruin my beautiful crème dress, and we went on our way to the restaurant since we had reservations. Then, after we arrived at this restaurant, there were no parking places close because there was some kind of festival, so we had to walk half of a mile in one direction, and I’d worn 5-inch heels that night. Finally, after we’d been seated and ordered, another lady came in with some little yapper dog who she claimed was a service dog that wouldn’t stop barking at the servers. That little shit wrapped his leash around our waiter’s feet as he was bringing my Seafood Bouillabaisse, and I ended up wearing the red sauce of my soup and the mashed potatoes that Beau’s filet mignon came with. Let’s just say that was not a fun night.
“Are you thinking about that night, too?” Beau asks, softly removing my fingers from his tie after I must have frozen while I was off in thought.
“That ridiculous date? I’m still upset I had to throw that dress away because the tomato sauce stain wouldn’t come out.” I sigh, pulling my hands away from his.
“At least we didn’t have to pay for that $70 meal.” He teases, following my mom and Bryndle out to the garage. I climb into the driver’s seat while Mom and Bryndle sit in the back and Beau and his long legs sit in the passenger’s seat.
It takes about 20 minutes to get to the lawyer’s office, where he quickly ushers all four of us into the small room and gets right to business. He’s known our family since before I can remember, and was also the lawyer who helped my parents get their quick divorce. He apologizes quickly to me and Bryndle before pulling out Dad’s will and reading it word for word.
“This is the last Will and Testament of John Lane Hawkley the third. To my beloved Bryndle, I leave the back 150 acres and 1/2 of the cattle currently owned. To Stella, the house and horses are yours, my dear. Take care of Faith for me, would you? To Merideth, even though our marriage failed, you were still the woman who I fell in love with when I was 16 years old. You’d said many times over the years how much you always loved my mother’s old set of Pearls, so they’re yours. Please, keep them in the family though. They were too important to her to sell or pawn off. Last but most certainly not least, Beau Morris. Son, you may not have been my own flesh and blood, but in the short, few years I’ve known you, you’ve become someone who I’d trust my life to. You’re the son I never got the chance to have, but you’re a son to me now. To Beau, I leave 1/2 of the currently owned cattle, and all of the farmland and remaining pasture land. You always said you wanted to own your own farm someday, and I’d love to help you get your start. My only stipulation is that you, Stella, and Bryndle work together to keep our farm in our family’s name. Now, the last problem I have to address is my money. I’ve been putting money into a saving’s account for my children every month since I found out Merideth was pregnant. I’d like to split it in half. Right down the middle. Half goes to Stella, and the other half goes to Bryndle. Use this money however you’d like, girls. Go to college, open a business, travel the world if you’d like, but use it wisely. This hereby ends the last Will and Testament of John Allen Hawkley the third.”
I glance around the room at Bryndle, Beau, and my mother, finding different reactions everywhere I look. Bryndle looks annoyed that she has to split the money with me. Mom looks touched that Dad left her Grandma’s pearls. Beau has tears forming in his eyes, and I watch as he covers his face after he realizes what Dad wrote about him. Instinctively I reach out and squeeze his forearm, as tears start to fill my own eyes.
The lawyer puts the piece of paper aside before handing Bryndle and I each a check. I glance at the amount and my heart swells. $45,300. That’s enough to get a really good start on my ceramics career.
“I love you, Daddy.” I whisper, as I kiss the check and hold it to my chest, squeezing my eyes shut and thinking about him.
Part 3: Surprise!