When I came back to the room with a bottle of water for him, he was lying eyes closed and with his right arm over his forehead in a contemplative mood. As always. He never stopped thinking.
When he heard my footsteps approaching, he opened his eyes and leaned up to look at me. I went over to him and gave him the water bottle. He gulped down half of it and placed it on the nightstand before reclining back on his pillows.
I walked over to the other side of the bed and sat down on the edge besides Ari.
“So, when do we break the news to Ari?” He asked me.
“Maybe after dinner. She might lose the appetite to eat if we tell her before dinner.”
“Right. So, can you stay the night? Do you have work to do at home?”
“Not really. I can stay.”
“Great. So, how we gonna do it?”
“You break the news to her. I’ll help out. It would be best to explain it to her as short and as simple as possible and. . . answer all of her questions but, not to give too much information. Only the basics.”
“But what do I say? How? I don’t wanna say he died to her.”
“Just say. . . he went to heaven to get well. . . I’ll try my best too but, just don’t kill me if she starts crying.” I laughed under my breath and he softly smiled back and threatened me. “Then you better not mess it up.”
“See that’s what I’m talking about.” I chuckled again. “You’re always so intimidating and demanding.”
“Yeah. My biggest flaw is that I’m a perfectionist.” He smirked back slowly and I felt my body shake with quiet, controlled laughter.
Rolling onto his front with his arms folded beneath his face, he eventually fell asleep on the bed. I spent my time writing and replying to comments on Wattpad. Romeo checked in once after he’d done showering. When he saw that both Augustine and I were with Ari, he left the room to go make some snacks in the kitchen.
A while later, Ari languidly turned on the bed and she opened her bright green eyes before stretching out her delicate limbs. Blinking up at the ceiling, she whimpered drowsily before faintly calling out for Romeo.
I waited just in case she would go back to sleep again. But, when she called for Romeo and turned my way, I dropped my phone on the bed and reached out to her.
“Hey, you awake?” I smiled at her in a low voice.
Augustine stirred a bit and his calm eyes shot open like a panic-stricken doe. He sucked in a heavy breath and looked over at Ari. When he saw that she was awake, he tried to get up.
I stopped him as I picked Ari up in my arms, saying, “It’s alright. I’ll take her.”
He hurriedly pulled off his shirt and slumped back on the bed sleepily with groggy eyes. “Thanks.”
Ari’s arms snaked around my neck and she leaned into my embrace. “Where’s Ro?”
“Ro’s in the kitchen. Let’s go meet him.”
I took her out of the room, leaving Augustine to sleep. Closing the door behind me, we went into the kitchen to find Romeo pouring cooked noodles into two bowls. Ari instantly went to him. I washed some grapes and strawberries and then made some mild Apple juice for her mixed with a lot of water. Once we finished eating and doing the dishes, we went out to the backyard to take some air.
We rolled and played in the grass while Augustine slept inside like it was night for him. I even climbed up the sycamore tree that stood in their backyard with its branches stretching out beautifully. I had been tempted to climb it for so long.
Augustine emerged from his room only at dusk and when he came out at the backyard, shirtless, I was still high up in the three. I was tearing up bits of leaves as confetti and Ari was twirling beneath the shower with her arms stretched wide.
Hands in his pajama pockets, Augustine looked up from the backdoor and signed at me, “What are you doing up there, Sophia?”
Perched up on a high branch, I could see the sun setting over the chimney. With a hand on my heart, I sighed deeply and smiled down at Augustine. “Why yes, I am beholding the unmatched beauty of the sunset. A beauty so divine pleasuring my vision. A beauty so powerfuLAHHHH – !!!” I screamed in fright when I threw one arm out theatrically, almost losing my balance.
My heart thumping, I hugged the nearest branch tight with all my might. When I looked down, Augustine and Romeo were already standing near the tree trunk ready to catch me.
“Get down from there right now before you fall,” he commanded rigidly and I complied obediently since I was now afraid myself that I might fall.
Stepping from one branch to the next carefully, I descended. Augustine, Romeo and Ari watched and waited below.
“Be careful,” Augustine said.
“Yeah. Yeah. I’m fine,” I replied with firm confidence until after a while, I couldn’t find a branch to step on.
I looked down in between my feet to see that there wasn’t a branch more for me to step on and I was still pretty high up on the tree. I glanced around looking for a way down but, all that I seemed to see was the neat trunk. I thought of jumping down but, seeing that I wasn’t yet that close to the ground, I hesitated.
How the hell did I even climb up here?
“Can’t get down?” Augustine asked, amused at the sight of their babysitter stuck in a tree.
Wait a minute. Who’s babysitting who?
“Yeah. I. . . I don’t know how to get down.”
He snorted as he tried to suppress a laugh.
“Jump. I’ll catch you.”
“Very funny but, I love my spinal cord,” I grunted as I tried to get a tighter grip on a branch.
“Why did you even have to climb up there, Sophia?” He sighed at me again.
“It was fun, okay. Do you have a ladder?”
“We have it inside. I’ll go get it!” Romeo said and turned to go inside.
“No need for that,” Augustine stopped him and muttered to me as he stepped forward, “You’re just like a kid. Sit on that branch. I’ll come and get you.”
I turned, settled on one of the lowest branches and waited for him. Holding on to the two branches, he jumped and pushed his body up while his biceps bulged in the process at the contraction.
I moved to make space for him and once he found a spot to sit next to me, he said, “Come.”
I gave him a confused look.
Where would I go?
“Put your arms around me,” he instructed and I felt my eyes glued to his athletic torso.
I swallowed, finding it hard to imagine my arms around him. I had never come this close to hugging him except for that one accident in their kitchen at night. Suddenly, I was glad that I got stuck in the tree.
“You planning to spend the night up here?”
Snapping out of my daydream, I instantly put my arms around his neck. I felt one of his right arm snake around my waist to steady me and my body went straight into his. My legs hitched around his waist as I tried to hold on to him. Air stuck in my throat when I felt his hard body press into mine. I looked at his face and found his deep green eyes peering into mine through the close proximity of our faces and I felt my heart stumble a beat.
“Hold on tight,” he said.
With another gulp, I tightened my arms and legs around him as he carefully began to climb down.
“Be careful, August,” Ari advised Augustine as she watched us with anticipation next to Romeo.
Grasping on to the lowest branches, Augustine and I hung in the air for a split second before he let go and we plopped to the ground. My forehead crashed into his as he lurched back to the ground with his back with me on top of him after landing on his feet. We both groaned out in pain.
I entangled my arms from his neck and rubbed my forehead. “Sorry.”
“No problem. Just don’t climb trees only to get stuck,” he winced back.
Probing my body up on my palms, I met his eyes and said, “For the record, I didn’t mean to get stuck.”
“Yeah. But you did.”
“Is that my fault then?”
“It could be. Now, get off me. Does it look like I’m enjoying this?”
“Why not?” I smirked at him sassily. “Look at me. I’m hot. I’m beautiful. I’m talented and funny. I’m everything that you could ever wish for.”
“Yeah, right.” He smirked back. “I could take you right here.”
“Okay. You two aren’t weird at all,” Romeo remarked and I rolled off of Augustine, chuckling.
We went inside a few minutes later. While I played and read stories with Ari, the two boys cooked dinner and we dined like one big happy family. After doing the dishes, we went out to the backyard again. Augustine spread a mat on the grass and all of us lay down on it, staring up at the clear, starlit sky. Ari was in between Augustine and me, while Romeo behind August.
“Will you make my hair for school tomorrow?” Ari asked me in a voice filled with delight and excitement.
“Sure, I’d love to!” I smiled at her.
“Then, after school, can we keep this hair and go to the hospital to see Jared too? I haven’t seen him for so long.”
The smile on my face faded after hearing her words and I looked over at Augustine. He only stared back at me without a word. But, we knew that the time had come for us to break the news to Ari. How I wished we never had to do it.
“Ari.” He called softly and moved in closer to her until their heads were almost touching.
She turned to look at him and Augustine held my gaze again, seemingly lost for words. He appeared to be thinking about what to say next.
Exhaling a deep breath, he opened his mouth and dropped, “You won’t be seeing Jared again, Princess.”
Wow. He really took my words. Short and simple.
My breath stuck in my throat and I gaped at August, fretting for the outcome of it. His eyes flashed about in worry.
Ari turned to August and goggled at him in confusion, “Why?”
August proceeded to explain, “You know. . . he’s been pretty sick lately, his chest hurt a lot so, he’s gone to some other place to get well.”
Ari’s frown grew deeper but, it seemed to be because she couldn’t understand what was happening.
“Some place we don’t know.”
“I heard that he’s going to the stars,” I added to make her feel better and good about it.
“Can we go see him?” She turned to look at me with her big, green eyes that seemed to gleam in the dark like precious stones. They were so beautiful that each and every time I looked into her promising eyes, my heart seemed to be filled with a sense of power and enchantment, a sense of awe and even a sense of heartbreak.
“We can’t, Princess,” Augustine replied softly. “Stars are very far from us so we can’t go to him.”
“That makes me very, very sad.”
“I know, it makes me sad too.”
I wriggled closer to Arizona and explained to her slowly and calmly, “We can’t go to the stars but, we can surely go say goodbye to him tomorrow. Ari, I want you to remember that when you see him tomorrow, you can talk to Jared but, he won’t be talking to you. . .”
“Because. . .” I paused to think for a moment.
“Because he’s dead.” Augustine dropped bluntly and I stared at me surprised. He met my eyes and swallowed rather nervously but, I got that he had decided to break it to her once and for all. He sat up on the mat and took Arizona on his lap.
“You see when people die,” Augustine explained, “They go to the stars. Jared is going to the stars too and we will say goodbye to him tomorrow. And. . . dead people can’t talk but, they can hear us.”
“But. . . I want him to talk to me.” She pouted and frowned gloomily.
Augustine hugged her tighter and kissed her on the top of her head, “I’m sorry he won’t be able to talk to you anymore, Princess.”
And then the next moment, Arizona burst out crying. I could almost hear my heart crack within me. The truth had finally sunk in and it had hit her hard. Terrible seemed such an easy and light word to describe how much sadness and grief I was feeling for Ari. Considering she was just a toddler yet to have to go through the loss of someone so close to her, it was beyond painful to watch. My eyes burned with tears to watch her cry.
All the while, Augustine hugged her close and comforted her with kisses and easy explanations as though Jared had only gone away for a trip. We carried her up to her room but, she said she wanted to sleep with Romeo so we left her with him in his room.