The cold air hung precariously, like a guillotine ready to drop at a moment’s notice. The trees were wilted and bare, the grass a shade of dark brown customarily reserved for less pleasant times.
The landscape looked as dead as any living thing looked alive. Vapor escaped from his mouth, a byproduct of the nearly freezing temperatures. His hands, weathered and dry, gripped the wooden railing, and his eyes looked across the horizon, hoping that just beyond it were better times.
“Grandpa,” the meek voice came from behind him. Her feet stepped across the ligneous surface before she placed her cold hands upon his.
Craig looked over at his granddaughter, the smile on his face a natural reaction when seeing her. December had been far more cruel than it should ever be, and January wasn’t shaping up to be any better. He placed his other hand on hers, eager to bring warmth to it. He knew the heat would be temporary; the cold had long settled in and would be far more challenging to extract.
“Adeline, what are you doing up so early?”
Her blue eyes looked at the giant ball of fury slowly rising in the distance. “The sun is awake—”
“—and thus you are awake.” A smile spread across her face, a smile he would do anything to keep there forever.
Silence filled the space between them. He pulled her into him, wrapping his light brown jacket around her. Her body gradually warmed thanks to the fur-lined interior.
Craig had spent decades in the ring, yet his body felt more broken and weary now than all those days put to gather. He’d torn ligaments and broken bones, but he would experience all his injuries at once if he could remove the pain his daughter and granddaughter had felt over the past few weeks.
The two stood there for a moment, watching the sunrise. He looked down at Adeline, and sorrow filled him as he did. He remembered a little girl, the same age she was currently, who drowned in sorrow without knowing how to deal with or process it.
Craig knew time was a cruel fuck, but he underestimated how much it yearned to repeat itself.
Adeline looked up at him with her hand comfortable under her grandfather’s.
“Can you make me something to eat?”
He nodded, and the pair walked inside. As they did, the sun-kissed the spot where they were previously standing—a further reminder to him just how inhuman the world strived to be.
Pots and pans were laid across the counter with various ingredients in them. Craig held a white plastic bowl in his left hand and whisked the eggs until they were as fine as he could get them. The sizzle of oil and heat mixing greeted his ears, and he slowly poured the contents of the bowl into the hot pan. His dark brown eyes watched as the liquid gradually became solid. Another pan began to cackle with life, and once it did, he laid three pieces of bacon into the pan. As the fat and the oil mixed, it sounded like poppers on the Fourth of July.
Adeline sat patiently on a barstool on the opposite side of the island. Her eyes danced around the kitchen, content with watching her grandfather.
“Do you think Mommy will wake up today?”
The words shot across his heart like an arrow with a single purpose: to wound. December had brought the death of his daughter’s husband, his granddaughter’s father. The world crumbled around Rose courtesy of an earthquake that would have measured 9.7 on the Richter scale; everything pulled out from under her. The grief she’d bottled up for so long after her mother died was now magnified by the pain of losing her partner in life.
“Maybe,” was all that Craig could offer.
Rose became catatonic after the death. Having been in that position before, Craig shut off any emotion he felt and jumped into action, doing the only thing he knew how to do: put out the fires before they grew too large. He buried Brian with dignity on his property in Texas. Then he called his realtor to find a place as remote as possible to ensure they had an opportunity to be away from anyone they could run into. That’s how they found themselves in Montana.
He grabbed a spatula and pressed it into the egg, breaking it into pieces so Adeline could eat. Then, he held a pair of tongs he’d found the day before and flipped the bacon over, letting the other side cook. He grabbed a plate off the counter and slid the eggs from the pan onto the porcelain dish.
Adeline took a sip of her water as she watched her grandfather put the plate of eggs in front of her face. She grabbed the fork before stabbing the eggs and taking a small piece of them. She slowly blew on it and brought it to her lips before placing a part in her mouth. Her eyes closed as the warm and seasoned food warmed her mouth and, eventually, her belly.
“It’s good,” she muttered, and Craig smiled at her.
“Good, good,” he responded. “Eat up. There’s plenty of food. You need to keep your strength up.”
Adeline had cried in his arms the night her father succumbed to his injuries. He just held her as tight as he could against his chest. As much as he never wanted anything wrong to happen to her previously, his resolve grew to the point that a bear would know not to mess with. He’d wanted to do the same with Rose, but he knew her grief would be different encompassing, and no amount of touch could coax a good feeling out of it.
The days were prolonged for both of his girls, but for Adeline, she’d come out of her shell and was at least interested in exploring and filling the holes she felt in her heart.
Rose had wanted nothing except to embrace the cold darkness. And he’d let her thus far.
Craig placed the bacon on a paper towel and watched as the grease sank into it. A moment passed before he put it next to the plate of eggs. Adeline wasted no time grabbing a piece of it and shoveling it in her mouth.
“Hungry, I take it,” he said, and she nodded. Then, her blue eyes locked upon his, and she smiled. With the food in her mouth, though, it looked like she was storing food in them for the winter.
Craig walked to the coffee machine and took the brimming carafe off the small burner. As he poured the coffee into a white ceramic mug, he knew it would sit on Rose’s side table all day without being touched. He didn’t care because he knew, at some point, she would need something, and it would be that cup of coffee that would pour some warmth into the coldness that enveloped her.
As he walked to her bedroom door, he hoped that day would be today.
Night fell, and Craig lifted Adeline off the couch where she’d fallen asleep and carried her to bed. She grabbed his finger and held it momentarily as he pulled the covers to her chin. Her eyes remained closed, and he wondered about the dream Adeline was having at that moment. Eventually, she released it, and he slipped out of the room as carefully as possible.
He quickly gathered his granddaughter’s toys and drawings off the floor, returning the toys to where they belonged and the sheets of paper to the counter, where they joined the other pictures. Craig knew time would pass on this chapter, and Rose would want to look at them, cherish them, remember them.
His feet carried him to his daughter’s room, and he placed his hand on the doorknob. Silence radiated from the room, and as he opened the door, he saw her lying under the covers, her back to him.
Craig walked to the nightstand where he’d placed the coffee twelve hours earlier and gently picked it up, the mug still full. His eyes landed upon the back of Rose’s head, and he fought every instinct to hold her, to sit down next to her. Instead, Craig left her to process, grieve, and explore her pain. He trusted she would let him know when she was ready.
He slipped out of the room and closed the door, hoping tomorrow would be better.
Her knees were pulled tightly against her chest. She heard the doorknob click as it turned, the gentle wind as it rushed into the room as the door opened. She felt his presence as she came closer to her. His shadow loomed across the room, and she could feel the heat and sadness that radiated from him.
Rose wanted to turn around and grab him, pull him into her bed, and sob. She knew he would let her do it for hours, days if needed. She knew the only reason he put the barrier between them was because she’d done that before and never processed her feelings, instead wanting to get better for him.
She refused to do that this time, and he recognized it, and she loved him for it. It didn’t make her want him any less, though, and she wished she could have it both ways, but she knew she couldn’t.
Rose felt him as he left the room, wanting to yell after him and tell him how much she loved him. Her heart, though, wouldn’t be able to handle it. It would fracture at the sight of him, and she would be back at square one. She was closer to the other end; she knew that much but needed time.
Still, she knew how much he was hurting. Tomorrow, she would at least drink the coffee to send him the message that she wanted to tell him so badly: thank you.