“No-one ever told me that grief felt so like fear” -C.S. Lewis
I’m falling. Darkness shrouds me. I can see a hand and a forearm pulling away into the blackness; I try to reach it to stop them and myself from tumbling further. I miss. The hand disappears, and I continue my fall until I hit the bottom of the pit.
Jolting awake, sweat is dripping off me, I’m struggling to breathe, and it has nothing to do with the tiny human who has taken over my bed, whose foot is half covering my face. I gaze over at the clock on the bedside cabinet- 2:47am, ugh, you have got to be kidding me. Lifting the cover, I check on my favorite person; I coo down at Ollie as he lets out his little snuffly sounds.
I hate having to move him when he’s sleeping so peacefully. I feel bad, but I need some air right now; I need to try to work out what the hell that damn nightmare was about. I shift his little leg to his side of the bed because, ya know, I guess we share now.
As I get out of the bed as smooth as I can, I lean over and turn him right-side-up so that he doesn’t suffocate. After giving him a quick kiss on the forehead, I head downstairs in silence; I don’t want to wake Ollie or Dad, who is just down the hall. As I creep down the stairs, I somehow manage to hit every creaky step as I go, note to self - work out which ones they are to avoid them next time.
I make my way into the kitchen and jump about fifty feet in the air when I see a dark shadow stood in front of the open fridge. My hand flings to my mouth as I stifle a scream before the figure turns, with a whipped cream can in his hand, and says, “Shh, Baby-girl, it’s just me. Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Holy crap on a cracker, Daddy, you scared the life out of me. What are you doing, creeping about down here? You okay?” I half-whisper at him.
He starts to chuckle as he puts the cap back on the spray-can of cream; I give him an accusatory look as he does so. “Don’t judge me, Pumpkin. I had a rough dream and couldn’t sleep. So, I decided I need a drink and... a snack.”
I look at this grown man in front of me, trying to convince me that cream from a spray can is a standard snack at 3am; I sometimes wonder who the parent is between us. “A banana is a snack Daddy, whipped cream from a can is not.” I shake my head at him. “What was this dream of yours about? If you tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine.” I start gathering what I need to make myself a tea. Throwing a gesture to Dad to see if he wants one too. He nods eagerly, so I go about making the tea as he tells me his dream.
He takes a deep breath, and runs a hand through his smattered salt and pepper hair, then sighs, “I don’t know, if I’m honest, it’s kinda hard to explain Darlin’, I just remember it being real’ dark, and something about a hand that I couldn’t reach, then we both fell. Weird, right?”
I drop my spoon while removing the teabag; it clatters to the counter. “Woah, Pumpkin, it wasn’t all that bad, honest.” He soothes me for a second time.
“I-I know Daddy, i-it’s just I had that very dream, that’s why I’m awake.” I pad over to him, wrap my arms around his waist and give him a squeeze; he reciprocates while rubbing my back with one hand and my arm with the other.
“Now, now Emma, don’t get all dramatic on me. I’m sure it’s nothing, alright?” He coos into my hair.
“Dramatic, Daddy? I squeal in a higher than usual octave.
He winces for a moment, “Mmhmm, yeah baby, sure, that’s not dramatic at all. Look, I get it Pumpkin, we had the same dream, but you know we’ve always been close. It was most likely, what’s that thing twins get? Just sympathy pains or something, ya know?”
I look into his kind, green eyes and shake my head, “I don’t think that’s quite how that works, Daddy.” After finding out we both had the same dream, I’m kinda creeped out. Daddy must sense this, so he is happy to just sit in comfortable silence with me as we both sip on our tea.
“You feelin’ better now, Darlin’?” Daddy asks as he clears our mugs.
I give a sheepish shrug, “I guess, I don’t know, I just have a weird feeling, ya know.” He nods, seeming to know what I mean, without having to say too much.
Daddy puts the mugs into the dishwasher and makes his way back over to my side as I sit at the kitchen island. “You know what Maw-Maw always says Pumpkin— he begins. “—Everything happens for a reason.” We finish together.
I embrace him in a tight hold, “I know Daddy, I know. I just wish I knew what it meant.” I sigh.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I could use some more sleep, if you’re gonna be alright, I’m gonna head to bed, night-night - well what do you know, I’m a poet, and I didn’t know it.” Dad chuckles at his hideous ‘Dad joke.’ “For the love of—just go to bed, Daddy - I’ll be fine. I should get to bed myself, school tomorrow, and ‘Hurricane Ollie’ will be up in a few hours.” I embrace him once more as we part ways in the hallway.
“Night, Pumpkin. Get some sleep.” He bends a little, I lift my head to him, and he brushes his lips down onto my forehead.
I open my bedroom door in full stealth mode, closing it behind me - I don’t let it fully shut, though. I don’t need Mr. Oliver to wake up right now. If he wakes up, there will be no getting him back to sleep, and I do not need to be cranky and groggy tomorrow while trying to wrangle a herd of kindergarteners.
Working as a Kindergarten teacher, I have to be on the ball every day. Not only do I have their lives and minds in my hands, but those minds can be little evil genius’ when they want to be. So, being awake and on the ball is crucial.
I check the time on my phone, 3.10am; hmm, if I fall asleep straight away, it’ll give me another two hours and fifty minutes of sleep, though knowing the tiny hurricane that’s sleeping like a baby next to me right now; I should lower that timescale by about fifty minutes.
I sigh as I slip under the covers, cursing to myself as I accidentally nudge Ollie. He was more on my side than I had first thought. I stop breathing for a split second. Lucky for me, he stays fast asleep - which is a miracle in itself.
I feel so lucky to have this tiny human in my life. He may not have had the ideal upbringing so far in his short time on Earth. However, he has never gone without and has one-hundred percent of my love.
I hadn’t planned to be a single parent. But what can you do when your childhood sweetheart, the love of your life, cheats on you with your best friend? I might add, this all happens the night you were planning on telling him he was to be a father.
As I lay there, in the quiet, somewhere between the middle of the night and twilight, I think back to my childhood and compare it to Ollie’s.
My Mama and Daddy were childhood sweethearts, too. She was the pretty, blue-eyed, blonde cheerleader. He was the hot jock, with the incredible bod, dreamy brown eyes, he even had a full head of thick brown hair (his description, not mine). My choice of words for him now would be much the same except, incredible bod has now turned into Dad-bod - though, still kept in reasonable shape for his age. His hair is now a tad thinner on top with a speckling of salt and pepper streaks, don’t tell him I said that, of course.
From what I’m told, my parents were just about perfect for each other. The only blip in their relationship was when they were eighteen. After graduation, Daddy proposed; he said he knew that Mama was the only woman for him. (Until I came along, of course, but hold on, we’re getting there.)
Mama, of course, said ‘a thousand times yes.’ They began to plan their big day. It was just as well that they wanted to get married as fast as possible because somehow, in all their excitement of being newly-engaged high school graduates, they found out they were expecting little ol’ me.
This is where the blip happened. It turns out Mama’s Mom and Dad were none too happy about my Daddy ‘corrupting’ their perfect angel. They kicked her out. So, she came to live and Maw-Maws and Pops’.
Just under a month later, Lily Walker and Kyle Scott were married, and I’m told the day was perfect. If only every story had a happy ending.
I was born around seven months into their perfect marriage; sadly, Mama died that very same day. Daddy told me the labor was long, she had many complications, I arrived healthy and happy. Mama got to meet me and hold me for a short while before they whipped me off her chest; Mama went into shock. Daddy said there was nothing anybody could have done; she suffered a massive hemorrhage.
He was angry, broken-hearted, and lost for a long time. Maw-Maw took over looking after me while Daddy got back on his feet. It took him a long time, but soon he started to come back to life.
He couldn’t stand living in our small town, too many reminders of Mama - the love of his life. So, he packed up and moved to the city. It was hard enough for a boy who only had a high school education to get a job, let alone one with a baby in tow. So, he left me in our hometown with Maw-Maw and Pops. He’d visit as often as he could and always made sure to be there for the important milestones in my life, and of course, he’d drop everything the second I needed him.
When I was growing up, I wanted for nothing. Except, on occasion, my Mama. I didn’t get to know her on a personal level. Yet, the stories about her always left a hole in my heart. Having a ‘step-in mom’ in Maw-Maw worked well enough. Maw-Maw was young enough when she had Daddy that sometimes she was mistaken for my mother. She could still keep up with running after me and all my shenanigans. I guess young parenthood runs in the family.
My life changed on my first day as a sophomore in high school. I was fifteen and didn’t have my driver’s license yet. Daddy, as always, dropped me off on my first day of school. I leaned over in his truck, he gave my forehead a tender kiss, and said what he always did, “Have a great first day, Pumpkin. And remember, “Don’t be a fool—” he began.
“—On the first day of school.” I finished for him with a chuckle, “I know, Daddy. Will you be here to pick me up later?” I ask with hope, knowing full well he had to get back to his job as owner of his own Garage. It kept him busy, yet being his own boss had the perks in that he could be there when I needed him.
“I’m sorry, Darlin’, I have to get back to the city, you know you can always come with me. There are schools in the city too.” He tried to persuade me on many occasions to go and live with him.
“Daddy - my friends are here, my school is here, Maw-Maw and Pops are here—” I take a brief pause, then take a breath before I continue, “—Mama’s here.” It’s scarcely above a whisper, but I know he heard me.
He nods, then prepares to head off by restarting the truck. I jump out and give him a sorrowful wave as he drives away. I turn around and step towards the school, only to bump headfirst into someone picking their bag up off the pavement. Our heads collide, “Ouch! Quite the head you’ve got there, you might wanna watch where you’re aiming it,” he chuckles intensely while rubbing his head. My apologies are in abundance. I’ve still not taken all of him in.
At last, I look up and see his face. It’s like no-one else exists, just like Daddy said it would happen. I can’t breathe, I can’t talk, my hands are clammy. Oh, God! Say something, anything, he’s gonna think you’re a doofus!
He clears his throat, then speaks, “Urm, Miss? Are you quite alright?” He asks in a smooth, deep southern drawl while brushing a loose tendril of Blond hair off my face
God, he smells terrific, his cologne is woody with a hint of citrus, and he’s close enough for me to smell the fresh mint on his breath. I look into his hazel eyes - they’re perfect. I move up to his mousey brown hair; I find myself wanting to run my fingers through it.
He’s taller than me; then again, who isn’t? He’s muscular and lean. He must be a jock. But I sure as hell haven’t seen him around these parts before.
“Who are you?” It’s all I manage to respond, which elicits the most amazing deep-bellied laugh I have ever heard. “Well, I guess you are okay. I’m Casey Carson. It’s my first day.” He holds out a hand, I slip mine inside it, and we shake hands. I pull my hand away fast when I remember it was clammy.
Oh God, ground, you can swallow me up now.
“I uh-I’m sorry, I have sweaty hands,” I stutter while wiping my hand on my jeans. My face pulls into a grimace then I give him an apologetic shrug.
“Hey, it’s all good,” He winks at me and, in a smooth move, slips his hand back in mine, interlocking our fingers. He caresses the back of my hand with his thumb. I can’t move again, struck dead-still in the hold of his stare. What is this guy doing?
As if he can read my thoughts, he lets go of my hand; he doesn’t leave, though.
“I’m sorry, I guess I should’ve known the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen would have a boyfriend. I was way too forward; I’ve just never seen anyone that looks like you do. I just had to touch you again,” he rambles. But before I have the chance to correct him, I don’t have a boyfriend, and the fact that I haven’t even told him my name, the bell rings, alerting us that we have two minutes to get to Home Room.
It’s funny because I’m sure the bell tends to stop after around ten seconds, but it’s still ringing. It’s then that I realize I’m being dragged from my dreams by my alarm clock yelling at me to get my lazy butt out of bed.
I must have drifted off thinking about the day I met Ollie’s father. The love of my life. Breaker of my heart.
Fluttering my eyes open, I see it’s just after six. Ollie is nowhere to found. I assume he has gone downstairs to find his Pops. Meandering my way downstairs to find Ollie already in front of the television watching ‘Power Rangers’ with a bowl of cereal. “Pops let you eat in front of the television, huh?” He nods his answer in silence. I ruffle my favorite human’s hair and kiss the top of his head, “Mornin’ Baby sleep well?”
“Mornin’ Mama, yup, the bestest. Your bed is so comfy!” He coos at me. I know I shouldn’t let him sleep in my bed, but I mean, he’s so god damn cute. No-one else is sleeping there right now, and let’s face it, he sure as hell ain’t gonna want to sleep there forever, is he? So, why not let him enjoy his sleep, snuggled up to his Mama?
“I’m glad to hear it, Baby, now eat up, we gotta get ready for school, Honey. Where’s Pops? Kitchen?” I ask, and he shrugs - damn rugrat.
I walk into the kitchen and see my Daddy on the phone, he’s clutching his chest, and tears are pouring down his face.