A series of oneshots, giving us
glimpses of the life of the boys as they grew up.
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
Other than that, I don't think
much needs to be said, so go on and enjoy reading!
you," he told the tombstone with a stubborn look on his face.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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?"
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.
The voice sounded reproachful, carrying so many more layers in
it than the simple word betrayed.
are you being difficult again, Alan, why aren't you coming,
Alan, leave it alone, please.
jogged to his side. "Come on. We've got to go."
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,
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.
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.
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.
no time for being sad.
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.
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...
talk about it, either.
all the grief going on, nobody bothered to ask him. He was
grateful about that, for he wouldn't have known how to reply.
That was a lie if ever he heard one.
as if I might never be able to laugh again'? No.
Impossible. What would they think of him? Being weak and
pathetic like that?
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.
his father asked whether he was alright, he would nod and
smile and say 'Sure Dad'.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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
to let them fall.
his second-youngest in the graveyard, kneeling in front of the
tombstone with a look of utter confusion on his face.
having searched for hours – it was eight pm! - he wasn't in
the mood to be gentle.
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.
sheepish expression crossed his face, but no guilt.
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.
shifted his weight, looking uncomfortable and embarrassed. "I
wanted to talk to Mom," he mumbled, chin set in a stubborn
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?"
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
wait," his father raised a hand. "A teacher told you this?
Rabikoff. She's new."
explained why she didn't know about Gordon. "You could have
want to. I don't like telling other people about Mom. They
always look at me funny. And then they say weird things."
frowned. "And so you came here after school instead of going
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..."
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.
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
looked up at him. "So I can come to you even though they're
saying I should talk with Mom?"
was soft. "You can always come to me, Gordon."
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
of this one was entirely Pen's – I just wrote it down.
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.
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.
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
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
going to snow," a soft voice announced behind him.
get a white Christmas," Jeff agreed.
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.
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
mother's attention wasn't focused on those four, though.
Instead, her gaze was directed at the fifth piece of paper.
raised his eyebrows. Had John written in pencil? From his
vantage point, the paper seemed empty.
empty," his mother voiced his thoughts and looked up.
and placed the cup on the table. "Maybe you got the wrong
wrote his name on it."
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
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.
made him hate the season.
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.
wouldn't, Jeff, and you know that," his mother frowned. "It
worries me. You should go and talk to him."
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.
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
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
himself was lying on the floor, a book spread out in front of
him. "Hi Dad."
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?"
strange mixture of emotions crossed John's face. "Not really."
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?"
squirmed. "Well, yes, I do, but..."
what?" Jeff urged when the boy didn't finish.
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."
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."
don't!" John almost shouted and then looked away, eyes
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,
gnawed on his lower lip and shook his head.
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
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.
Mom to be back."
failed to see the connection. "And that's why you didn't write
anything on your list?"
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..."
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."
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."
blonde sniffed, at the same time trying to hide the fact. He
didn't manage very well. "But I thought..."
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."
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.
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.
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...
come back." John had a lost look on his face. "I
guess...well...I knew...I didn't expect...but I hoped!"
her so much, Dad!"
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.
Christmas, with all its magic and power, was helpless when it
came to certain things.
snow continued to fall.
that your Christmas is better than John's. Happy Holidays!
Virgil was left until last (I forgot that I had this).
the little girl said, "My Mom packed me chocolate chip
cookies!" She pulled out a brightly wrapped shape.
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.
share?" One of the boys asked, hopefully.
packed me grape juice." Another boy offered, feeling the need
to defend himself.
trade? I've got orange juice; I hate that."
The transaction was completed.
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!"
of eyes swirled towards him. "Really?" - "What?" - "Why?" -
"Doesn't she like you?"
became smaller under the inquiring gazes and clutched his
lunch box tighter. Then he set his chin defiantly. "That's not
pack you lunch?" the girl asked with the brutal honesty of a
child, munching on her cookie.
the situation was, Virgil had been told, you never should lie.
And so he didn't. "No."
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.
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
cleared, he started eating.