As Calcifer started getting older, the only trouble he was having in school was his homework. Most his classes seemed to elude him and he’d still be up whenever I got home from work, erasing and working. I helped him as much as I could but sometimes it was if he wanted me to do his homework for him. I put my foot down for that.
I wished I could put my foot down for something else.
Now that he was eight, I decided it was okay for him to start working at the science station. I didn’t like it, but knew it would be silly of my to stop him. I couldn’t tell him how much it scared me to see him wearing that white lab coat and start mixing chemicals.
“Dad, stop hovering,” he said while he worked. “I’m not gonna have an accident.”
That’s not what I’m worried about. But how could I explain to him? I hoped this was just something he’d lose interest in. Maybe he’d take up scouts or something. It was a new thing in town and a lot of kids were joining.
“Want me to sign you up?” I offered as he poured some weird thing into another weird thing.
“Nope,” was all I got in reply.
I just watched him, hoping he was trying to take after Uncle Aiden. I guess I shouldn’t be so worried. But with the way some people still treated him, if he tried to go into a science career–what would Landgraab Facilities do to him? They denied his very existence right now. But what if he turned out like the twins? So obsessed with wanting research that he’d lie and cheat to get what he wanted?
I guess all sorts of people are like that, I thought while pretending to not watch him. Just because I have bad history with science doesn’t mean I should keep him from it. But still…
“Dad!” Cal said, snapping me out of my thoughts. “Don’t you trust me?”
I gulped, worried he had somehow read my thoughts. “W-what do you mean?”
He folded his arms and raised his eyebrows. “I’m not gonna blow up the house. I’m being super careful.”
I gave him a small smile, relieved that he hadn’t picked up on my true reasons for worrying. “I trust you,” I said. Then I gave him a thumbs-up. “You’re a bright boy. Sorry for worrying. Guess it’s me being parent-y. I love you so much, I don’t want anything happening.”
He looked up at me and rolled his eyes, turning back to the science station. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he said. I turned to head back into my bedroom. “Love ya too,” he added and I couldn’t help but smile.
Calcifer was starting to make more friends at school but it often seemed like he preferred playing with his doll. Which was frankly starting to creep me out.
One night when I went to tuck Cal in I found Pendragon sitting by his bed. I knew he had left her out by the TV. Or had he? Maybe my mind was going.
I knew my body was going. It was hurting all the time and some nights after work I was too achy to even think about changing into my pajamas.
Sleeping in my clothes became a normal event. Cal never said anything about it, which was good. I didn’t want him worrying about my health. Since there was nothing I could do…
I tried finding the Reddings again shortly after Cal turned 9. But despite both the doll and the science station having Twinbrook postmarks, Twinbrook simple had no idea who they were. I realized they might be using false identities. Since I had no pictures of the twins, I couldn’t go to Twinbrook and hunt them down.
Just accept it, I thought one night. Whatever will be, will be.
“Daaaaddy?” Cal cooed out one afternoon when he got out of school. “I have a queeeeestion!”
I looked over my newspaper at him and saw right away that he wanted something big. “Yes?” I asked, smiling.
“Um–are you gonna be working next Monday?”
That certainly surprised me. “Yes,” I answered. “Why do you ask?”
“Can you take the day off?” he asked, grinning at me.
I stared down into his hopeful face and set my newspaper down. “What’s up with this?” I asked. “I can’t take any time off work, kiddo. You know that.”
“But our class is going to the mausoleum tomorrow!” he suddenly wailed, stomping his foot. “And if you’re there then I’ll be SO EMBARRASSED!” He curled his hands into fists and scrunched his face up, much like he did as a toddler. “Nobody else’s parent works in a GRAVEYARD! It’s SO embarrassing! They’ll call me Crypt Kid!”
“Whoa-whoa-whoa!” I said, holding up my hands. “Why would they call you that?”
“Cause it’s what I’d call someone,” he said which really upset me. “Come on, Dad! Take the day off!”
I shook my head, picking up my paper again. “Nope. Besides, the field trip should be over by the time I’ll get there. And if it doesn’t then I’ll pretend not to know you. How’s that sound?”
“IT’S NOT FAIR!” he wailed, and took off running to his bedroom. “I’M GONNA BE CRYPT KID FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!”
I winced as he slammed the door shut then sighed, wondering if maybe I should just take the night off. I had some vacation time. I wanted to help give Cal the easiest life at school I possibly could…
But I changed my mind the next night. I was fixing dinner while Cal messed around in the bathroom. I wasn’t sure what he was doing and I looked over as he finally emerged with a strange look on his face.
“What were you up to?” I asked as he headed straight for Pendragon.
“Nuthin’,” he muttered.
I didn’t think anything else about it during dinner but then I realized what exactly he had been doing after I got my shower and stepped out. There was a flash of bright color in the mirror and when I looked over, I did not like what I saw!
“CAAAAAAAAALCIIIIIFEEEEEEEER!” I grabbed my pants and angrily pulled them on before stomping out into the main room. Cal had his back to the door and was playing with Pendragon, singing to himself.
I stormed over and tapped my foot. He continued to ignore me. “Calcifer,” I said through clenched teeth. “What did you do?”
“Nothing,” he said, not looking up at me. “Been playing with Penny.”
“Calcifer Danevbie, you get up right this second!” I snapped. He finally glanced up and when he saw my hair, he burst into laughter. “CAL!” I roared. “This is NOT funny!”
He continued giggling as he got to his feet. “Dad, you look hilarious!”
I glowered at him and took a step forward. He took off running to the other side of the room and started giggling again. “Calcifer,” I said, exasperated now. “Why did you do this? And where did you get this–this dye?”
“Todd at school gave it to me,” he snickered. “You look hilarious. Can I take a picture?”
“No!” I said. “Why did you do this? Did Todd tell you to?”
“Noooo!” he said, still grinning at me. “We were gonna put it in the girl’s showers at school but didn’t get the chance so we took it home.”
I rubbed my temples, feeling exhausted by this. “Cal…”
“Well, I didn’t want you going into work on Monday so I thought if your hair was like that then you wouldn’t go!” he protested.
“I was going to take the night off!” I said and he smiled.
“Really, Dad? Thank you–“
“But maybe I shouldn’t!” I pointed a finger at him. Okay, so this was a bit… entertaining. But I didn’t like the fact he was going to pull a prank like this on other kids at school. And he did this to get his way which is another reason I was so annoyed. “Then everyone at school will think you dad dyes his hair bright pink!”
“NO!” he gasped out. “You can’t do that!”
“Go to your room,” I said. “And think about this. Okay?”
He glared at me and grabbed Pendragon, taking off towards his room. He shut the door angrily and I just headed back to the shower to try to wash this out.
I went into work on Monday and got there after the field trip had already left. When I got home I refrained from saying anything about it. Cal seemed okay and I didn’t want to upset him.
As Cal’s tenth birthday approached, it seemed he got more and more into the science station. He was always whipping up strange concoctions… and trying them out.
I told him he shouldn’t drink them but he rarely listened to me. He often tried to get me to try them, telling me they’d help me sleep better or stuff, but I always refused.
“I’m not really into that,” I kept telling him, messing his hair up and giving him a fake smile. He’d just roll his eyes in response and go back to whatever it was he was doing.
Which lately involved interacting with air.
I’d find him talking to air, playing with air, and even hugging air. I often asked what he was doing but never got any response. But since he was still playing with his friends from school, it didn’t worry me too much. He seemed to be a happy, bubbly boy once more and life was going pretty good despite my aches and pains.
Then everything changed after a few months of peace when I got a phone call.
I didn’t recognize the number and all sorts of ideas went through my head. I kinda hoped it was like the old days and one of the twins might be calling me. Then I could have them come in and look at me to see what was wrong with me.
But it wasn’t either of the twins. It was someone I knew pretty well–Mallory Bee.
“Jacob?” Her voice was cracked and I almost wasn’t sure it was her. But then she said, “It’s me. Mallory…”
“Hey Mal,” I said, my heart stopping when I heard the pain in her voice. “Are you okay?”
“No,” she said and then she stopped speaking. I could hear her crying. I didn’t want her to say it, but I knew it was coming as she kept crying. No, I thought, closing my eyes. Forget I asked. Don’t tell me. Oh please… don’t say it… “J-Jake,” she whispered, then her voice broke again and she let out a sob. “I’m s-sorry… but mom…”
“Mom passed away…”
I really didn’t remember the rest of the phone call. I vaguely recalled Mallory saying something about me not needing to do anything and then she promised to call back when she knew more details about anything.
I think that’s what she said.
I couldn’t really remember anything.
The funeral was that weekend. It was a small memorial service for family only–which made me cry more when Cal and I were invited. There were tons of flowers from seemingly all the families in Sunset Valley. Parents and kids who she used to work with.
The burial was at sunset, her favorite time of the day. Cal was taking this really hard but refused to let me comfort him. Katie was also taking this pretty bad and her sobs seemed to pound in my ears. I couldn’t cry anymore. I had cried throughout the memorial service and had nothing left.
Mallory seemed to be focused on taking care of her niece. Edgar also held one of his granddaughters, and hadn’t spoken at all except for when he told the story about how he and Elouia had first met all those years ago. Doug was just plain angry about it and before we got to the graveyard, I had seen him punching a wall.
When I talked to Edgar, he looked so hollow and empty on the inside. He could hardly speak back and when he did, his voice sounded distant.
“Is there anything I can do?” I asked.
He stared at me for a moment then pressed his face into his granddaughter’s hair. “Talk to Katie,” he groaned. “If you could.”
I looked over at Katie and took a few cautious steps towards her. She was still a teenager, as hard as that was to believe. She would soon be an adult but when I looked into her puffy eyes I thought she looked even younger than the 18 years she was. “Katie?” I asked, touching her arm gently.
“This is my fault, Uncle Jacob,” she said, her voice barely audible. “It’s my fault Mom died.”
“No!” I said. “No, Katie, it’s nobody’s fault. Elle…” I choked slightly on her name, hardly able to believe this had happened. “She…”
“It is my fault!” she cried out. “She started having heart problems after I got pregnant! And now… it’s my fault…” She covered her face. “I’m pregnant again! I didn’t–I couldn’t help myself, Uncle Jacob! And I told Mom and now she’s dead because of me and my stupidity!” I put my arms around her and she dove against me, sobbing loudly.
“It’s not your fault,” I told her, hugging her tightly. “Your mother loved you very much and she loved the twins so much. It was just old age. Katie, please don’t blame yourself.”
She sobbed into my chest and didn’t notice her dad coming over. “Katie,” Edgar said quietly. “Please listen to him. You told us several weeks ago. This has nothing to do with your pregnancy. Your mother wasn’t even mad at you.”
Her body shook and I just kept hold of her. I knew from experience she needed a lifesaver in this sea of pain, so I just held her and held her, never letting go–the same way her mother had done for me all those times I had needed it.
And as it got darker I could almost feel Elouia’s arms around us too.