Cal wasn’t back in the morning, but he did come in after school wearing the same clothes he had been wearing when he ran off. He told me he went to school, he was still nursing a headache, then he went to bed.
I didn’t get to go to his graduation since I was hardly able to leave the house anymore. I was grateful that Teri took some pictures and when she dropped them off, I spent a long time just running my finger around the edges.
I was glad Cal had gone to his graduation. I was sure it was more to do with pleasing Teri than it did his grades. He had graduated low in his class and apparently had been given the award ‘Most Likely To Fulfill His Lifetime Wish’. When I asked him what his lifetime dream was, he just shrugged and told me he wasn’t sure yet.
“I’d kinda like to learn more about painting,” he confessed. “Maybe pick up an instrument or something.”
“That sounds good,” I said, closing my eyes and nodding slowly. “Any plans for finding a job?”
“Oh jeez,” he grumbled. “I don’t know. Maybe in a while… I want some freedom before I start.”
“That sounds fine to me,” I told him. He left my room and I just lay back, closing my eyes and breathing heavily. I didn’t want to tell him that he would have to get a job very soon. Because I knew, from the indescribable pain in my stomach area, that I wasn’t going to be lasting much longer.
I didn’t tell my friends when I asked them to visit me, so I could say goodbye to them. I didn’t want them getting angry, or start crying. It was hard for me not to cry. It was the hardest saying goodbye to two certain people, the first being Katie.
Katie seemed pretty teary-eyed when I told her what a beautiful young woman she had become, and that I knew her mother would be proud. I told her she was a wonderful mother to her three beautiful kids and that I was so happy I got to be part of her life. She still sometimes blamed herself for her mother’s passing, so I reminded her again how much her mother had loved her and Katie’s decisions hadn’t been the reason.
“And Katie,” I added, taking her hand and holding it as firmly as I could. “Mallory and Doug are both amazing people, but you are so much like your mother. Strong, loving, passionate… Elouia wouldn’t have wanted you to live in grief.”
She was crying when she hugged me. I used up the rest of my strength for that day hugging her back. “Never forget that,” I whispered.
It was harder to say goodbye to Aiden. He had been one of my best friends, the first one I had met when I moved here. He had always been there for me.
I had the feeling he knew why I had called him over, though he didn’t mention it. When we said goodbye before he left, he gave me a peaceful smile. Then he left, and I was alone.
When Cal came home later that night, he crashed on the loveseat. I just stood over him, watching him sleep. He was a good man, when he wasn’t drinking. I had made so many mistakes but I knew I had done something right–the way he was with Teri, how he acted when he wasn’t angry.
But there were so many things I wished I could do over. Telling him everything when he was younger, disciplining him when he acted out.. but he hadn’t left me. Not on his birthday, nor on his graduation. I had made so many mistakes but at least I hadn’t turned him against me like my father had.
I realized now that it was wrong of me to just abandon him and my mother. I couldn’t have stayed in Bridgeport, but I could at least have kept up contact with them. Attended their funerals. I wished I had the strength to go to Bridgeport to visit their graves, say goodbye to them. I disliked them both, but I knew it could have been a lot worse. My father did mistreat me, with verbal and mental abuse and very occasionally physical abuse… but maybe that was all he knew. I didn’t know anything about my grandparents, or how my father was raised.
I looked down at Cal’s sleeping face and reached down, brushing his loose bangs away from his face. I had told him when he was younger my dreams of a legacy. But whatever his plans were for the future, be it marriage and kids or a life by himself, I just wanted him to be happy and satisfied. I didn’t want him to have regrets like I did.
“Love you, Cal,” I whispered, bending down and kissing his forehead. He shifted and mumbled something and I backed away from him, giving him one last look before going to my own bed. I curled up and thought about everything that I had been through in Sunset Valley. The good, the bad, the easy, the hard. I thought about Aiden and Elouia. I thought about Nicky and the Reddings
But most of all I thought about Cal, and realized there was one more thing I could give him. My scrapbook–full of my life and memories, full of everything I knew about the Reddings. I closed my eyes and started drifting off to sleep. I would add just this one last entry, and then put it away. My story was over, and whatever will be, will be.
It was pretty late in the morning when I woke up. I rubbed my head, ignoring the throbbing pain that was becoming too much apart of me. I glanced down at the doll by my feet. Penny was sulking, like always. She hated when I got drunk. Be that way, I thought, stepping over her to get dressed. Her doll eyes stared glassily at me as I changed. I stuck my tongue out at her then stepped over her again, going out into our front room.
My father was bending over a box, packing something away. I watched him for a moment then slowly said, “Glad to see you’re feeling better.” I hated to see him down on the floor like that.
He looked up at me and gave me a small smile. “Yeah, told you all I needed was some rest.”
I ran my fingers through my hair and the fiery strands rested back over my right eye. I watched my father through this half-curtain and he finally got up, putting all his weight on his cane.
“I’m going out,” I said, waiting for some sort of reaction. He merely smiled and nodded. I sucked in some air and tried not to get mad. I loved my dad, but he really drove me insane sometimes with his complacency. He rarely got mad at me and even when he did, he never followed through. I knew why. I knew exactly why, and it was what made me so damned ANGRY all the time!
I walked out of the house, sticking my hands deep into my pockets and hunching my shoulders over. It was because of me his body was like that. I deserved punishment. But he never gave it to me, he never hated me, he never said anything mean to me. Even though I deserved it.
I spent the day feeling angry at myself at the park, then decided to hit the bar as soon as it opened. Truth be told, I hated drinking. It just helped me forget about everything. That I was a monster. I sat at the bar and watched everyone around me. There weren’t many people there yet, and those that were I knew were like me. People wanting to forget their problems, drown their sorrows in the bitter poison.
I wondered what brought them here. Problem marriages? Pink slips at work? It burned me that not one of them could even imagine the problems I was trying to forget. I bet it never even crossed their minds that they were sitting so close to a bona fide monster. Just like they watched on the silver screen. Made in a lab by crazy scientists. I was just a bit different than the ones in the movies. I had been made as a baby, and I was still waiting for the craziness inside of me to be unleashed. That’s how it always went. Screams of terror, the military shooting down the creature, then someone standing over my dead body saying how wrong it was for people to play Watcher.
My phone chirruped and I glared down at my pocket. It was the ringtone that played whenever an unknown number called me. I considered not answering but when it persisted, I finally flipped my phone open and grumbled out a greeting.
It was the hospital. Apparently, my father had called them and they had taken him in. They told me that I needed to get down there right away because they figured he didn’t have much time left at all.
Part of me hoped they were just blowing smoke since after all, they never were able to help him before. But considering how my dad had been acting, I was worried that they were telling the truth. I quickly paid my small bill and took off running, not stopping till I got to the hospital. I was told where he was and my feet clattered along the floor until I got to his door.
I hesitated, my hand on the knob. Suddenly everything felt different. I didn’t want to go in. I was terrified at what might be waiting for me on the other side. If he might already be…
But no. When I went inside, he was sleeping. I stood at the end of his bed, just watching him. His face was twisted slightly, as if he were having a bad dream. I wrung my hands and tiptoed over closer to him, not wanting to disturb him. As if he had a sixth sense, he woke up as soon as I got close.
“Hey Cal,” he said, his voice raspy and weak.
I just stood there, staring at him. Finally I laughed and rubbed the back of my head, trying not to look as scared as I felt. “Hey Dad. Lemme guess, you feel fine?” I rolled my eyes, hoping he would tell me one more lie.
“No,” he croaked out. “I don’t feel well at all. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize!” I snapped, backing up until I reached the chair. I angrily sat down and just glared at him. He looked so pale and so frail that it almost looked like he had already started making the transition into the other world. Tears began dripping down my cheeks as he continued smiling at me. How could he give me that look? It was because of me he was like this. All my fault.
“Calcifer, I need to talk to you before…” He trailed off and then shuddered slightly. “Before I go.”
He was quiet for a minute and I was about to ask him what it was, but then he started speaking. “I kept a memory book,” he said. “Everything is there. It won’t hold all the answers, but I’m sure it will help some of your questions.” His body shuddered again and he began smiling again. “I’m sorry I kept things from you.”
“No,” I half-snapped. I wanted to yell at him, to demand he stop acting so cheerful about this. “You, uh, did what you, um, thought was right.”
“It was wrong,” he whispered, shifting his body a bit. “I hope I was a good father. It’s what I always wanted to be, you know. A father. A husband and a father…” He slowly reached up, pressing his fingertips lightly against his temples. “My dream from when I was younger than you. A big family. A legacy.”
“Well you know, it’s not as if you lost it!” I snapped. “You have me. I can, you know, get married and pop out some kids.”
“No!” he said, sitting up slightly. “Don’t you dare change things because you think it’s what I want!” He stared at me then his strength gave out and he lay back down. “I want you to live your life, Cal. I want you to do what you want, not what I wanted with my own life. Those were my dreams. You have your own.” He gave me a pleading look and I reached over, taking his hand.
“Promise me you’ll fulfill your own dreams.”
I closed my eyes and held onto his hand tightly. “I promise I will do what I want,” I said, saying my words carefully.
Dad nodded and then his eyes widened. “Love you, Cal.”
I knew what was happening as he slowly slid out of bed, standing up by his bed, looking stronger than he had in a long time. I wanted to scream for a nurse to stop this. NO!
I began sobbing, my body shaking violently from grief and despair. I wasn’t ready to lose him, not now!! I wanted to make up for everything I had put him through. I had been a horrible teenager, and now he was leaving. I wasn’t ready for this.
I watched as the Grim Reaper came in and then my father departed from this world. I began wailing, unable to stop the sounds escaping from my mouth. The nurses and doctors came running and when they saw the little grave surrounded by smoke, they knew what had happened. I just fell against the bed, feeling guiltier than ever.
I had done so much wrong, and I wouldn’t be able to make it up to him. But worst of all was the fact that it was because of his dream of having me that he had died so young. I had killed him. I couldn’t stay in Sunset Valley anymore.
After Dad’s funeral, I had left the Valley. How long had it been? A year? Two years? I couldn’t remember. It was all a drunken blur. I wanted to escape from everything. All the bad memories, all the hate. I traveled here and there, staying in little inns in the country. Getting drunk. Trying to forget everything. Trying to forget who I was, what I had done.
But I couldn’t forget it anymore. I had gotten really smashed one night and when I woke up, I had done the one thing I had wanted for years: I forgot who I was.
When my memory came back, all the pain came and I couldn’t take it anymore. I realized running away from everything wouldn’t do anything and I needed to come back.
Now here I was. Back in Sunset Valley. The place I had been trying so hard to forget, the place I knew I belonged.
This is where it all started, I thought as I went into the darkened house. It had been a couple years since I had stepped foot in this ten-by-ten shack. Looking around as an adult I couldn’t believe my father lived here, worked here, and even raised me here…
“Hey Dad,” I whispered, looking down at the little grave. I wrapped my arms around myself, shivering. It was nighttime and the graveyard seemed so spooky, but I hadn’t wanted to come here with the blazing sun pointing me out to everyone.
“I’m back,” I said, staring down at his name. “I guess I was stupid, huh? I’m sorry I left. I just couldn’t stay here. I thought everyone might remember your… your pregnancy… and start accusing me.” I wiped a tear away. “I had to forget. And I did, Dad. I’m sorry. I forgot. But I’m back, and I intend on staying. I remember everything you told me that night you died. Remember?”
I glanced up at the stars overhead and this time I didn’t wipe away the tear. “I read your scrapbook, Dad. I can’t believe everything you went through. I didn’t help things… you had so much patience with me… I was so stupid!”
“But I’ve changed. I don’t want to get drunk anymore. Not after I forgot everything. I can’t forget who I am. I can’t forget what you went through.” I knelt down, ignoring the grass and mud stains rubbing off onto my trousers. “I know you told me to do what I wanted. I will, Dad. But what I want is to give you your dream. Your family. Your legacy. I do want this, Dad. I guess… I never really had much of a dream before. I still want to play the guitar and paint and stuff, but I also want to give you yours.”
I touched his gravestone then slowly stood up. “I took so much away from you. I want to give it all back. But there’s something else, Dad. I know you won’t like it. But after reading everything you wrote, it’s something I want. I want as much as learning skills and having a family. It’s more than a dream, really. It’s a promise. To you, and to me. Please forgive me for this, Dad.”
“But I promise that no matter what, no matter how long it takes me, no matter how difficult it is for me to find them… for all their lies and using you, and the pain they caused you, and then abandoning you to let you die from what they did to you…” I looked up, my fingers curling into fists, my eyes narrowing.
“I swear I will get revenge on the Reddings.”