“If you were to pray while we’re here, maybe it would help ease your thoughts of them,” I said to Caleb as we stood in the midst of his parents’ graves behind the somber church; we’d go to whenever it was felt necessary. He kept his reply to himself, to his own mind of which would probably have disregarded the suggestion if I were to guess correctly. I noticed the clench in his jaw and the unsteady debate through his emerald eyes, possibly of whether we should stay any longer. “It could give them-”
“Night is falling, we better get going before Tux is put through angst,” he cut me off to keep from discussing more on the matter of prayer. I knew he wasn’t actually concerned for the cat. Caleb knows Tux is aloof, as he is more his cat than mine. Tuxedo, or Tux, has never bothered to grow fond for me since I arrived at Grandma Linnora and David’s 10 years ago. Caleb and I became orphans both at similar times; we weren’t related but we weren’t separated by much either. I understand Caleb’s dismissiveness towards prayer since his mother’s death originated from praying for his late father who grew sick early on during Caleb’s childhood and it seemed though they loved Caleb deeply; wherever Arvin went, Beatrice belonged there, too.
Following the tragedy of their deaths, nine year old Caleb stepped foot into the lives of me and his grandparents. Linnora and David took me in 3 months before- my single mother, a hitchhiker, had been killed by the people “kind enough” to stop and give her a ride back to Ruth, Nevada in hopes of reuniting with her 8 year old Aurelia, me. Instead, I reunited with her close friend Linnora who I’d only met once before, back in Ely, Nevada. I believe now that it was for the purpose of meeting sweet Caleb, who had a scrawny structure, fair skin dipped in the sun’s kisses and curly dirt locks framing his strong face.
It’s been 10 years since then, growing up in that lake house filled with a family arranged by fate more than blood and covered mostly in this pastel yellow wallpaper with little dandelions drawn so realistically, it felt as if you could blow away their white flurries at the wish of your mouth.
Caleb had me drive the rusty Plymouth Deluxe back to the empty house in no demand for rushing since he forgot to carry out the excuse of having concern for Tux’s wellbeing, probably since he knew I could see through it. He got out as I pulled the elastic round my stick straight, vermilion colored hair back into a low updo revealing the birthmark planted into the skin behind my ear and connecting to the nape of my neck. Caleb’s chivalrous character influenced him to open the jet black door for me, he helped me hop out although I let him know I didn’t need it.
After we settled into the protection provided by this house’s walls— much like arms provide warmth— I took it upon myself to prepare dinner. Grandma and David were gone on a road trip for a few weeks now since the surgery. I’d guess it’d been around two, but I wasn’t counting. I wasn’t anxious for them to be back with me as long as Caleb’s presence was existent. As the water for our soups was boiling, I leaned onto the sea foam green countertop with memories scratched into it’s dense material. Caleb was switching the channels to the radio station till he came across “Moonlight Serenade” by Glenn Miller. His fingers then left the turn knobs, to be placed with his knee. His view laid heavily on the stereo but was soon traced to contact my deep brown eyes that had been laid on him moments before. His gaze felt intense yet comforting, like he was more of a home to me than the one we were currently in. He walked with a defined purpose felt beneath his feet towards my direction and carried himself with such resilience. Finally, he took a hold of my hand, detaching me from the counter edge. He kept staring like he was trying to communicate through his soul instead of words, I understood every flicker, every blink. We lazily danced to the charming tune of Glenn Miller’s Orchestra. They were playing for us, for us to escape our thoughts, for us to find each other’s protection.
The following morning, Caleb woke hours before sunset. Somehow he found preparing himself for such a beauty wasn’t as difficult for him as it was for me, even after the night we had with Glenn over the stereo. I discovered him gazing over the lake out on the creaky deck, the boards seemed as if they were constantly adjusting to your weight, letting out little groans here and there. Caleb explained how he still had to rebuild the porch when he found time on his hands, which felt like every blue moon. We would occasionally arrange to watch the sky’s awakening peering above the lake, but I never paid as much attention to it as he did. I was always distracted by the endless worries I had for him as he probably had for me but he managed to hide them in his mind’s cellar.
“Aury?” he muffled.
“What’s it now? Your heart?”
Caleb had undergone surgery several hours before Linnora and David left for their trip, the one I learned of last minute, two weeks ago. One of his aortic valves wasn’t functioning accordingly so although it cost a pretty penny, the procedure was necessary. Miraculously, they weren’t sure what had caused such a life threatening condition in a beloved 19 year old male, but the surgery was a success. The success of it wasn’t clear immediately. In fact while in the room next to his unconscious body that needed so eagerly to rest, I sat patiently intertwining our hands in hopes that I could send some sort of message to him with the absence of words. I prayed, elbows on the gurney and focus filled through my veins. I desperately didn’t want to abandon my home, him. My focus was interrupted by the squealing of machine’s that were keeping him stable. Nurses rushed in as if this was an emergency, this was nothing, it had to be. God wouldn’t put me through such a loss, wouldn’t take Caleb for his own selfish desires. But the flat line following those ear aching beeps proved me otherwise. It was infinitely too much for my brain to process, I stood shaking across every inch of my body, even the covered parts. I felt naked, I felt as if everything was just ripped away from me, like a baby deer ripped from her mother. I was a bystander with a movie to watch before me although the plot wasn’t connecting right in the chemicals of my brain.
He was gone. He had left me, they told me.
“Have you eaten anything dear?” The nurse questioned like that was my top priority at this moment.
“Yes, m’am,” I falsely replied. I hadn’t let food enter me in a while, my anxiety for this day left me too nauseous, and nothing has changed. I didn’t want to eat, not without him, there was a food shortage anyway, what is one minor meal to me. Linnora left before me so that she could explain the tragedy to David. I had a feeling that she was uneasy about how he’d react, so she didn’t feel I needed to be his audience. I had to leave this hospital, with it’s clean air that led you to believe people come out once they go in, I needed time to be on my side. I’d made it almost the full way to the Plymouth, but he’d tapped my back. Caleb was standing close to a foot in front of me after I’d turned to face him. The confusion stuck with me like foggy vision, but he explained on the way back how they were too quick to pronounce him dead, he was only so for 8 mins. It was one of those miracles you hear through the headline of grandpa’s newspaper. He was real, his tattered jeans, he’d constantly sew horribly in efforts not to trouble me and- his soothing voice, he was real.
“What is it now?” I returned.
He squinted towards me, piercing his lips to let it sound words, “I feel persistent fraudulence and inadequacy since they left for their road trip despite evidence of my competence. I feel fake.”
“Caleb, you’re not an imposter, you’re always safe with me, you’ve never felt like you belong anywhere but with me, maybe it’s a mental illness or something psychological.”
“Perhaps,” was muffled under his breath, “You gonna offer me your dish for breakfast too, Aury?” he was referring to how I let him eat my bowl of soup last night, the swaying of our bodies left me disgusted by the food’s smell.
“Perhaps,” I teased since I said it back in a mocking tone. I did.
Dandelion flurries left their nurturer to be with my hair along with his, as me and Caleb goofed in the field of them midday Thursday. I’d been trying to suck myself into the realm of the pages in between my fingers, a novel Linnora recommended, but Caleb made everything a fun type of difficulty. He picked my feet up from the earth’s surface, causing my book to fall in the unmowed grass; although books don’t have genders, it was a lost boy now. Caleb perfectly placed me over his shoulder with gentleness showing off his brute strength I wished to have. He kept on walking through the familiar field with me in such a ridiculous position, ignoring my requests to place me back with the dirt by laughing it off his unoccupied shoulder. I rolled my eyes and kept quiet for a second or five. It was then he decided to return me to my normal height by bringing my back over the way I came, to face him, very slowly as if I was a fragile vase. He gave me a quick peck on my cheekbone before laughing at my expression once again. Finally he calmed and we just sat in the dandelion’s giving them company.
He blurted, “You know it sometimes all just feels like a bad hallucination, when people feel they need to fill awkward silence with meaningless words. ” His jaw clenched heavily now and he looked at me but not at my soul like usual, it felt he was just seeing through me or past.
The next few nights had passed slowly. The sun was starting to make a goodbye but I didn’t want to leave the dock of the lake just yet. My calves hung over the edge, not enough for water to meet my toes. My back was turned to the house, but I could feel Caleb staring into my neck as he walked down the deck, probably with the intent of joining me but I may never know. My neck hairs stood straight up telling me so.
Earlier in the evening, my mind was bombarded with the memory of Caleb and I, we were 10 or 11. He had come home from school to tell me that he’d learned of people who had hallucinations after going days being starved and deprived of food or water. I was fascinated and frightened by the concept. He gave me the gist of every school day’s material that week since I had to stay in our pastel yellow home to take care of David. I realized from this one little memory, this moment. Before Caleb could make it to the end of this dock, I stopped him.
“I think… I need to let you go now,” he evanesced into my mind but his memory stayed. The hallucinations were impossible to fight till now. He never came out of that hospital with me, not in reality at least.
I was alone and dark had fallen, so I made my way back to the comfort of the house. The minute I stepped inside and had shut the sliding glass door behind me, Tux meowed across from me, sitting calmly on the windowsill above that seafoam kitchen counter. Seeing his unbothered expression set off a bomb in my heart, for Pete’s sake he was his cat after all. He meowed again, then purred for attention. I took all the restraint I could carry, into my voice, “He’s gone” I said, hearing the heartbreak through those words.
Tux continued, my anger let loose and rage filled my blood.
“He’s gone, He’s gone and he’s not returning,” I screamed towards him getting closer in hopes that my volume would help him to understand. “He’s gone…” I cried to myself and finally picked Tux up, who for once didn’t dismiss me. I held him and let my tears soak into his white and dirt fur. My shaking didn’t keep us from holding one another all night. Grief kept me from truth.