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SYMPHONY FOR GROWING HEARTS
by KAEERA
RATED FRC

A series of oneshots, giving us glimpses of the life of the boys as they grew up.

Author's Notes:

Thank you, Pen, for your eternal help and suggestions :)

So what's the deal with this? Since I had several ideas for small stories, I thought it would be nice to link them together with common themes instead of posting them on their own. 'Symphony for Growing Hearts' is not a chaptered story, but simply a series of one-shots (some of them longer, some shorter, maybe even some drabbles) that may or may not be connected to each other.

There's a connection between the first five, though, as you can see in the heading. I followed Pen's suggestion and used the five stages of grief as a theme, which are as follows:

Denial and Isolation - Anger - Bargaining - Depression - Acceptance.

I wonder, will you be able to identify them?

Other than that, I don't think much needs to be said, so go on and enjoy reading!


First Movement: Grief

+Graveyard+

"I hate you," he told the tombstone with a stubborn look on his face.

"I hate you, even though I don't really know you. I hate you because you're not here. You're not here and that's why I don't know you." His lip trembled. "I hate you because you make the others sad. I hate you because Dad looks so tired whenever this day comes around."

Alan clenched his small hands into fists. "I hate you because you left like that. Because you're never there on parent's night. Because I have to be here, and act as if I know you, even though I don't. Not much. Just that it's empty. In my heart. Because you're not there."

His voice trailed off in the wind. The others were long gone, leaving him standing alone in front of the white marble. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see them waiting at the gate, Scott on the verge of coming back to get him.

Knowing that he didn't have much time left, Alan turned back to the tombstone. The words he had spoken fluttered back to him and he shifted from one foot to the other, uneasy.

"I didn't really mean it like that," he finally admitted, because she was his Mom after all, and one couldn't hate his Mom, no matter what happened. "It's just...hard, you know?"

It was hard that he had a Mom, but she wasn't there. It was hard that he had to stand here, in the graveyard, and look at a dumb stone that was supposed to remind him of a person that was just a shadow in his mind.

"Alan." The voice sounded reproachful, carrying so many more layers in it than the simple word betrayed.

Alan, why are you being difficult again, Alan, why aren't you coming, Alan, leave it alone, please.

Scott jogged to his side. "Come on. We've got to go."

"Yes." Almost out of instinct, Alan took his brother's hand. The two turned around, backs towards the tombstone, the memory, the past, and the darkness. They had barely walked a few steps when Alan hesitated, looked over his shoulder with a thoughtful frown on his face and waved at the grave. "Bye, Mom."

It could have been his imagination, but he saw Scott's shoulders tense and the grip on his hand became just a little harder.

Ages...well, they are pretty young. I guess Alan is about four or five years old, which makes Scott about nine or ten.

First Movement: Grief

+Unshed Tears+

He moved.

It was simple, really. He didn't want to think, didn't want to remember, to feel...no, not going there. He moved, because that was easier than the alternative, because then he could feel his muscles and his harsh breath, could feel that he was still alive, even when he didn't like the fact.

And it wasn't as if he could have stayed still. There was a lot going on, and he others needed him, because he was strong, because he was the oldest, because they were depending on him, and because that day had been they day he had grown up, suddenly, unexpectedly, and not at all voluntarily.

There was no time for being sad.

During the day, he moved, he talked, he helped dried his brothers' tears, helped Grandma with her chores, went to school, did his homework...it was necessary. It was expected. And it was a distraction, because at least that way, he felt useful, even though he knew deep inside how useless he was. Pathetic. Because he hadn't been able to do anything. Because she was gone, and he was still here.

But then there were those silent times in the evenings when, despite being exhausted, the memories would creep up on him like a snake, leaking their poison into his mind. And then he lay in his bed, wide awake, and remembered, remembered her smile, her laughter, her gentle scolding, and the fact that she would never come back...

He didn't cry.

He didn't talk about it, either.

And with all the grief going on, nobody bothered to ask him. He was grateful about that, for he wouldn't have known how to reply.

'I'm fine'? That was a lie if ever he heard one.

'I feel as if I might never be able to laugh again'? No. Impossible. What would they think of him? Being weak and pathetic like that?

Things didn't change.

She was dead. And he missed her. But he wasn't the only one, and goddammit, his younger brothers were taking it much worse, because they were younger and not grown-up and there were days when they wouldn't stop crying, especially Alan.

Not him, though.

Scott didn't cry.

And when his father asked whether he was alright, he would nod and smile and say 'Sure Dad'.

And when John got all withdrawn and sad, he would make a point of dragging him out of his room and talk with him about stars, or books, or movies, anything that didn't involve their mother.

And when Virgil refused to play the piano because she had taught him how, he gently convinced him how sad she would be if she knew that her son had stopped playing simply because she wasn't there anymore.

And when Gordon climbed into Scott's bed at night, he would curl around the youngster, whisper calming nonsense into his ear and watch him fall asleep, even though he himself stayed awake for a long long time.

And when Alan fell into another screaming fit of rage, because that was the only way he could express his grief, he would hold his little brother until he calmed down and dissolved into a fit of sobs that were enough to shatter his heart all over again.

It became routine. It became his life. It was enough to distract him, because facing the pain was something he couldn't do, because he was a coward that way, because he hated to feel...

He moved. Didn't stay still. Staying still meant thinking, and thinking led to memories, and memories led to grief, and grief lead to that red-hot feeling behind his eyes, the feeling that told him that tears were only an inch away

He refused to let them fall.

First Movement: Grief

+Bad behaviour+

Jeff found his second-youngest in the graveyard, kneeling in front of the tombstone with a look of utter confusion on his face.

After having searched for hours it was eight pm! - he wasn't in the mood to be gentle.

"Gordon!" his voice was sharp not too loud, because they were still in a cemetery and one didn't shout where the dead rested but nonetheless the head of the red-headed boy snapped up.

"Dad!" A sheepish expression crossed his face, but no guilt.

"What are you doing here?" Jeff walked closer, his heart lurching painfully as he reached the tombstone of his deceased wife. Two years later, and it still was as painful as before.

Gordon shifted his weight, looking uncomfortable and embarrassed. "I wanted to talk to Mom," he mumbled, chin set in a stubborn frown.

"You wanted what?" Jeff raised an eyebrow, not trusting his ears. He would expect such a reply from John, or maybe Virgil, but definitely not from his second-youngest, who was far too loud and brash. "Why?"

The frown became sullen. "The teacher wanted me to. Because I was bad at school, even though it wasn't my fault, and so she said that I should go home and tell my Mom about it and ask her why I shouldn't act as I did, even though I think I was right and..."

"Wait, wait," his father raised a hand. "A teacher told you this? Which one?"

"Miss Rabikoff. She's new."

Well. That explained why she didn't know about Gordon. "You could have told her."

"I didn't want to. I don't like telling other people about Mom. They always look at me funny. And then they say weird things."

Jeff frowned. "And so you came here after school instead of going home?"

Gordon nodded, a stubborn tear glittering in his eye. "I talked to her, really, I did. But I still don't understand why it was wrong to sneak into the girl's dressing room, I just wanted to get back my ball, and Sandra stole it, so it was all her fault, I don't understand what's so special about girls anyway and I just wanted my ball because it's yellow and shiny and looks much better than Alan's..."

Jeff sighed, wondering where his son had picked up the habit of raving. It was hard to follow his chaotic monologues on a good day, but here in the cemetery, faced with the still open wound of the loss of his wife and the fact that he had been worrying about a certain redhead for the last three hours made it difficult to follow.

"The next time a teacher says something like that," he clarified, interrupting the jumbled words, "You can come to me, or to Grandma, or to your brothers." Jeff held out his hand. "And now lets go, you missed dinner already. I'll see what we can do about that teacher; after you tell me the full story, of course."

Huge eyes looked up at him. "So I can come to you even though they're saying I should talk with Mom?"

The reply was soft. "You can always come to me, Gordon."

"That's good," Gordon said, suddenly cheerful. "Mom wasn't answering, anyway. Maybe she's busy in heaven." He took his father's hand and missed the astonished look that crossed the Jeff's face. For a second, his face was tense then he smiled, looked up at the sky and nodded. "You know, son, you might be right about that."

The idea of this one was entirely Pen's I just wrote it down.

First Movement: Grief

+Christmas+

The air felt fresh, cold and crisp, scented with the tiniest bit of cinnamon. Many of the houses were decorated with Christmas lights, changing the darkness of the evenings into something friendlier and warmer.

The house itself smelled of cookies and gingerbread - Grandma had been baking. With Christmas barely two weeks away, there was an underlying current of glee noticeable among the five boys. The younger ones were especially affected. Alan kept changing his wish-list almost every hour, while Gordon had sudden doubts about his behaviour. He kept looking over his shoulder, expecting to be scolded by Santa Clause any second.

Virgil had started practising songs on the piano that he would perform under the tree on Christmas Eve. Scott was being all mysterious, evading questions about presents with ease and thus annoying the heck out of his brothers (he seemed to enjoy it).

Jeff smiled, cradling his coffee cup. Today had been a day mixed with both joy and sadness. The fact that this was the first Christmas without their mother was hanging over everybody's heads; but on the other hand, it was impossible to banish the Christmas spirit completely. And so the boys had written their letters to Santa, even Scott 'lowering' himself to the menial task, sitting with his brothers in the kitchen while they ate fresh cookies.

"It's going to snow," a soft voice announced behind him.

"We might get a white Christmas," Jeff agreed.

Grandma Tracy entered the room, a mug in one hand and a pile of letters in the other. "The boys are going to love it." She sat down at the table, a thoughtful look on her face. Systematically she spread the five sheets of papers out in front of her.

Even from the armchair he was sitting in, Jeff could tell which belonged to each of his sons. The one with the torn edge and the red crayon all over simply screamed Alan (he couldn't write yet, so he drew, and red was his favourite colour), whereas the one on the left bore Virgil's round, childish handwriting. Then another with a single line on it (most assuredly Scott's), and a fourth that was full of comic-style doodles - it simply had to belong to Gordon (was that a submarine in the right-hand corner?).

His mother's attention wasn't focused on those four, though. Instead, her gaze was directed at the fifth piece of paper.

Jeff raised his eyebrows. Had John written in pencil? From his vantage point, the paper seemed empty.

"It's empty," his mother voiced his thoughts and looked up.

He frowned and placed the cup on the table. "Maybe you got the wrong one?"

"No, he wrote his name on it."

What the...why would John not write anything on his Christmas list? Didn't he know what to wish for? He had never been unable to articulate his thoughts before; quite the opposite, his letters had always been the most pleasing to read, even before he had been able to write. He'd always dictated to his mother, telling her that she couldn't change anything at all about it, with the result that the end result was full of 'ehs', 'wait, forget that' and 'uhm, maybe that's not such a good idea'.

Jeff's heart gave a sharp pang, as he remembered the fact that there wouldn't be any such little escapades this Christmas; and worse, there never would be again.

It almost made him hate the season.

Then he pulled himself together no time for grief, he had to deal with the present and stood up. "Maybe he forgot it?" he guessed, even though he knew John, and how organized he was, even at that age.

"He wouldn't, Jeff, and you know that," his mother frowned. "It worries me. You should go and talk to him."

"I probably should." Jeff walked over to the table and picked up the empty sheet of paper. It seemed to stare accusingly at him, a white blankness with John's name squeezed tightly into the corner. Odd.

Sometimes he had the feeling that he would never understand kids, even when they were his own. With that thought in his mind, he climbed the stairs and knocked on the door that led to John's room.

"Yes?"

"Hello son," Jeff entered the room, also teasingly known as 'outer space' among the rest of his boys, because the walls were plastered with photos of suns, planets, supernovas and other interstellar phenomena.

John himself was lying on the floor, a book spread out in front of him. "Hi Dad."

"Grandma and I were looking at your Christmas list," Jeff came straight to the point, as he always did, "And we were wondering why yours is empty. Did you hand in the wrong sheet of paper?"

"Ah..." A strange mixture of emotions crossed John's face. "Not really."

Jeff frowned. He knew that look. It meant that something bothered the blonde, but he didn't want to tell. That didn't sit well with him. "So why not? Don't you have any Christmas wishes? What about that telescope?"

John squirmed. "Well, yes, I do, but..."

"But what?" Jeff urged when the boy didn't finish.

"It's just...I don't want anything, okay?" John looked at the ground, sullen. "I don't want the telescope, or books, or sweets, or...nothing at all! That's why I didn't write anything on it."

A child that gave up Christmas wishes? That was unheard of! There had to be a deeper meaning to this. Jeff lowered himself to the ground and placed the paper in front of John. "I think you should write your wishes on it," he said. "It is Christmas, after all, and you deserve it."

"No, I don't!" John almost shouted and then looked away, eyes narrowed.

Ah. This certainly wasn't an answer he had expected. Jeff blinked and tried to look into his son's eyes, but John was determinedly avoiding his gaze. "John," he began in that deep voice that meant that there was no other way than telling the truth, "Why?"

The blonde gnawed on his lower lip and shook his head.

"Tell me. Please."

A deep sigh escaped John's lip, so heavy that it seemed to darken the air. He mumbled something, a tell-tale glint in the corner of his eyes.

Jeff frowned. Again. "Excuse me, I didn't quite get that." But he had been sure that the word 'Mom' had been among the jumbled sentence; which explained the sadness. Even though more than ten months had passed, the wound was still as fresh as ever.

"I want Mom to be back."

Jeff still failed to see the connection. "And that's why you didn't write anything on your list?"

John looked away. "Well...I thought...you know...that if I didn't get anything for Christmas, that maybe she could come back. Somehow." He looked down at his hands, while Jeff waited patiently for him to elaborate,

"Like...you know how people bargain with God? They tell him that they're going to be good and all...and as an exchange, they'll get into heaven. Bargains work like that, don't they? You give something, and then you receive another thing in return. And the more...important the thing you give up, the better your result...I don't know...that's what..."

His voice trailed off in a whisper, as he tried to voice his thoughts. "So I thought...I'd tell Santa, and maybe God, too, if he was listening...I'd tell him that I never want anything for Christmas ever again, even if I grow as old as Grandma, and even if they give me the chance to travel to the stars, I would give that up...So that in return...that...that she would come back and make everything alright again. Because life is just not the same."

It was such a silly, childish notion, and it was also a notion that managed to break his heart all over again. "Oh John," he breathed and pulled his son into a half hug. "I'm so sorry, but...but your Mom isn't going to come back. She's gone, and your suffering won't change that."

"No?" The blonde sniffed, at the same time trying to hide the fact. He didn't manage very well. "But I thought..."

"If it would have worked," Jeff told him sadly, "I would have done that the very day she died. Because I miss your mother very much, as well. But that is not the way the world works. What is gone, is gone. We cannot get her back. We only can accept it and learn to live with it."

"But it's hard!"

For a brief moment, Jeff wondered whether these sort of conversations would ever get any easier. Probably not. It was like the day of her death all over again, with the only exception that back then, he hadn't been able to face his boys at all. Instead, he had left the gruesome task to someone else had told Scott about it and then locked himself away, to fall into a deep, black pit of his own grief.

There was nothing he could say. Words lost their meaning when confronted with such feelings. Because things didn't get better; they never did. You could only accept, and hope that you learned to live with it.

"I'm sorry," he repeated helplessly, because he was, and if he had been able to change things, he'd do so in a heartbeat, but there was nothing he could do, nothing at all...

"She won't come back." John had a lost look on his face. "I guess...well...I knew...I didn't expect...but I hoped!"

"I know, son."

"I miss her so much, Dad!"

And suddenly, he had an armful of sobbing child, clinging to him as if he never wanted to let go. Jeff cradled the boy closer, offering physical support where words had ceased to mean anything. Outside, snow started to fall, soft and silent, covering the neighbourhood with a thin, white blanket. Neither of them realized, or cared. They sat like that for a long time, the empty sheet of paper forgotten in the corner.

Even Christmas, with all its magic and power, was helpless when it came to certain things.

And the snow continued to fall.

I hope that your Christmas is better than John's. Happy Holidays!

Poor Virgil was left until last (I forgot that I had this).

First Movement: Grief

+Lunch+

"Look!" the little girl said, "My Mom packed me chocolate chip cookies!" She pulled out a brightly wrapped shape.

They were sitting in the cafeteria, gathered around a table with their respective lunch boxes in front of them. Most of them eyed the cookies with envy, knowing that they only had healthy snacks like apples or bananas nobody ever really wanted to eat.

"Do you share?" One of the boys asked, hopefully.

The girl grinned. "Nope."

"My Mom packed me grape juice." Another boy offered, feeling the need to defend himself.

"Want to trade? I've got orange juice; I hate that."

"Sure." The transaction was completed.

Virgil sat amidst the crowd, smiling and nodding along with the others. The boy close to him snickered and pointed at him. "Virgil's Mom didn't pack him anything!"

Five sets of eyes swirled towards him. "Really?" - "What?" - "Why?" - "Doesn't she like you?"

Virgil became smaller under the inquiring gazes and clutched his lunch box tighter. Then he set his chin defiantly. "That's not true."

"Did she pack you lunch?" the girl asked with the brutal honesty of a child, munching on her cookie.

Whatever the situation was, Virgil had been told, you never should lie. And so he didn't. "No."

"Why not?"

"Because she's dead."

There. That shut them up. Funny, he marvelled, how it became easier to say those words. They still hurt, but not as much as before, and he had kind of got used to it, like you get used to the scab of an old wound. Virgil wondered whether one day the pain would fall off him, like scabs did, but he figured that would take a while, because even Scott was still being sad and he was old.

And so he ignored the shocked faces and unpacked his own lunch, procuring a sandwich, an apple, and a delicious looking slice.

With an air of superiority, he looked at the others who were eyeing the slice with interest. "My mother didn't pack my lunch," Virgil stated matter-of-factly, "but my Grandma made me apple-pie."

That cleared, he started eating.

 
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