Jay & Miles

by ColumbusGuy

Chapter 59

Tears, Now And Then

POV: Jay, Linda

I'm not sure how long it took me to get to sleep because of all the whispers and snickers coming from the other guys…and some rustling of bedclothes as they shifted around to find a comfortable position on the tent's floor. The moonlight was barely enough to see outlines in the darkness inside our little haven, but I'd seen the others had decided to unzip their sleeping bags to form one bigger layer, and the other one in the pair had lain his on top as a blanket for both to burrow under.

Having Mikey lying next to me with our friends all around, gave me the same feeling I got when I was surrounded by my family, and I hoped my kæreste could feel it too. I guess he must have, because he was asleep in only a few minutes once I'd kissed his cheek. Most times when he stayed the night, we'd spend a lot of time making out first, then talking quietly until we dozed off. Tonight, though, we'd had to forego the sex…yet it seemed to make no real difference in how quickly we fell into dreamland. Despite the gooey sugar hit of only an hour ago, I soon joined my boyfriend in slumber.

The soft notes of birdsong, and the rustling of leaves in the surrounding trees, roused me from a restful night as the light grew brighter, filtering down through the grove and into the tent's windows. Warmth from Mikey's body made me want to snuggle closer, but since we had bodies that prevented us from sharing the same space at the same time, it wasn't gonna happen…. Yeah, it would have been nice if waking up had been so blissful, but the only part of that scenario that was real was the body next to me.

Birdsong was tragically drowned out by what sounded like a buzzing chainsaw.

I tried keeping my eyes closed in an attempt to get a few more winks, but that did nothing to stop the assault on my ears. Which one of the other guys was it? I ruled out my special guy because we'd slept together before and this was the first time for this racket, but I couldn't pin down the culprit without getting up to look around…and I was still feeling cozy enough to let it go for now. Maybe once I got up to piss….

Okay, so that wasn't an idea to have pop into your head first thing in the morning—I felt a sudden urge to water some bushes even though I'd done that before I crawled in with the rest of my friends last night. My internal clock told me it was past the time I'd usually get up to do the milking, and taking a leak was one of the first things I did as part of my routine.

I screwed my eyes up tight and made myself try to go back to sleep, but I couldn't stop thinking about how good it would be to drain the lizard. After another ten minutes or so, I gave up and wriggled my arm out from under Mikey's head so I could go out and do my business.

He snuffled a few times and mumbled a ' wha? ' of confusion as I leaned in to give him a peck on the cheek.

"Shh," I whispered. "I'll be back in a sec…Nature's calling." I grinned as he turned to lay on his stomach and try to bury his head under our pillow. If my elskede had his way, his day would start around noon rather than sunrise. I yawned and took a second or two before getting on all fours to make my way to the door. We'd left about two feet of space between our bags and the door wall for just such an emergency, so I didn't have to worry about waking anyone else up with a misplaced knee or hand on the way outside.

Our shoes were all piled outside the tent, and I thought about putting mine on, but decided not to since I'd just have to take them off again when I finished; it was chilly enough I felt goose-bumps on my arms, and my nipples stiffened as the coolness hit them. Most of us had decided to sleep in our jeans rather than go naked, but the air inside our tent was warm enough with all of us in there to make us peel off our shirts, and mine was in the corner pile of discards like all the rest.

The morning dew hadn't burned off yet, so I got a tingle as my socks absorbed the wetness of the grass tickling my soles. I remembered the game we'd played on Mikey's swings where we'd kicked our shoes off and then ran to get them. Now I understood what he meant when he said it was a lot better doing it when the grass was wet…my need to pee wasn't the only thing making my dick excited. Why did this feel so different from just walking around in bare feet?

The little pit where we'd built our fire was cold when I held my hand about an inch over the ashes. I let out a sigh of frustration. If I'd planned better, we could have brought out some more stuff like eggs and bacon, and cooked breakfast. Now we'd have to go all the way back to the house…then come back to take down the tent. To prove my point, I checked the cooler with the remains of our party and saw that if we ate here, we'd be dining on potato chips, a couple cans of root beer, and half a bag of marshmallows. It didn't take a genius to figure out I'd never been a Boy Scout, not with the woeful lack of preparation I'd been responsible for.

There was a little mist rising from the pond as the sun rose a bit higher, and I caught a glimpse of movement on the other side of the stream feeding into it from my right. A doe had emerged from the woods to get a drink, and a fawn followed close behind on spindly legs, white spots dotting its reddish fur. He couldn't be more than a few weeks old, judging from his size and the time of year, since most fawns were born anywhere from late April to early June. The mother might be two years old, maybe a year or two more, and I'd probably seen her around the area when she was no bigger than her offspring. Far didn't allow hunting on our farm, unlike some others in the area with enough woodland to give them shelter, but he'd told us about going out with his own father as a teenager just before and during the War.

"Back then, money was scarce, and if you could, you hunted to help feed the family, but shooting an animal just for the fun of it is plain wrong. Sometimes their numbers get too large for the area they're in, so killing some needs to be done so they don't starve, but there are Rangers or some truly needy people who can do that, instead of some fool with a beer in one hand and a gun in the other. Some of those animals are butchered and their meat goes to help feed the poor, and that's a good thing, but I won't let any be killed on my land."

I saw the doe's head come up about the same time I felt someone behind me. She was far enough away, and on the other side of the stream, so she probably thought they were safe, and they went back to drinking before wandering back into the trees. I'm not sure which was the bigger surprise—who was standing there, or the fact that he had tears in his eyes.


The boy shook his head a bit and gave me a forlorn look, then used one hand to brush away his tears. He let out a sigh, then headed over to one of the logs we'd sat on the night before. I followed, seeing he was only dressed in his jeans too, though without his socks. Our bare arms brushed together as I sat, and he took my right hand in his left. "The world can be beautiful at times, like we just saw…did Benny tell you about me—my hunting experience, I mean?"

I shook my head. I thought I'd heard Greg tell the big wrestler something about it before we got to know the two guys, but no details other than there had been one. I wondered if I ought to get Mikey if this was going to be a really emotional confession, but figured Cal might lose his nerve if I did. First my boyfriend, then Denny…and now Calvin; why did my friends think I'd be able to help them? I was just me, Jay Beckel, nobody special….

"I guess you could say that trip was the last straw for my Dad—nothing I did was good enough for him, but that goes way back, and I'll tell you about the deer first, okay?" I nodded, and he went on quietly. "He tried teaching me to shoot with a bow, and then a gun, and I did alright, so I think he got it into his head to take me hunting, to turn me into his idea of what a man ought to be….

"Well, I missed my first shot in the morning, using the gun, and it was nearly two hours before we saw another buck. He told me to use the crossbow on this one, and I hit it—but it had turned just as I shot so it didn't die right away…we had to chase it down and he made me slit its throat. I watched as the light drained from its eyes while blood pooled on the leaves it had collapsed on at the end of its run."

Calvin was crying harder now, and his grip on my hand was like iron, making my whole hand hurt. Somehow I managed to move to his other side and put my free arm around his shoulders and let him bury his face at the base of my neck. I'd never wanted to hunt, but now I had a real life example of why, sharing his grief with me. Calvin gained a little more control after a few minutes, but he had one last bit of anger to vent. "Jay, as I watched that poor animal die—I wished to Hell it had been my father instead…."

All I could do was sit there holding my distraught friend in my arms. I knew from Psych class that people said a lot of things in anger or at other times of intense emotion—things that would never cross their minds normally, but seeing Calvin this way was my first experience with it. I couldn't tell if he truly meant that last bit or not. He'd said at the beginning there was more to his story; what else had he suffered to make him want such a horrible thing?

I couldn't think of anything to say just then, because I was so shocked, and maybe that was okay because I felt he needed comfort more than words. My arm snaked around his shoulders and I pulled him close to me so we could share a bit of body warmth to offset the dawn's chill. Sitting down, we were close to the same height, so I leaned my head against his until our cheeks were pressed together, and I shifted just a bit so my lips could brush his tear-stained skin.

I moved our entwined hands until I could lace our fingers together rather than have him clasp mine in a vise-like grip. I raised both of them to my lips and kissed them gently, then rubbed the back of his hand with my thumb. I'm not sure how long it took, but he finally got his breathing under control, and he made several sniffling snorts before clearing his throat to go on with his story.

"I dunno why you'd listen to me…." I let go of his hand and put a finger to his lips, shushing him. I raised one eyebrow at him and frowned, and he gave his head a little shake. "Greg and Benj said you were cool, but—okay, here goes nothin'…."

As Cal told me his story, with several pauses to collect himself again from another bout of snuffling, I began to realize just how lucky I'd been to grow up with the parents I had. Denny's father and mother sounded more interested in their businesses and charities than their son, and seemed to notice him only when he didn't live up to their expectations. My elskede's parents both had jobs which meant they didn't have a lot of spare time, but I could tell his mom loved him, and so did his dad, even if he never said it. I didn't know Greg or Benny's families at all except for their rowdy brothers who'd just spent the night with us, but I knew Greg's spent a lot of time doing things as a family, and I got a similar impression of Benny's from when Linda had dated him before Thanksgiving.

From what I could make out, his grandparents Lisbeth and Piet Schuyler had two sons, and they always competed against one another, all the way through school and into adulthood. Cal didn't know why, but his father always felt like his older brother had things better, whether it was true or not, and he resented being seen as second best. There didn't seem to be any of the love between them like I felt with Jerry, or even Linda, for that matter. I couldn't imagine what my life would be like without my family's love.

Cal's only source for the affection I took for granted, was his grandmother, and now Benny Ross. The more he went on, the gladder I was that he'd become part of our group of friends. It sounded like his mother had drawn into her own little world, and his dad did little beyond chipping away at him on the rare occasions they did speak. I wondered if far might be able to help him too, like he did with Mikey….

"I don't know the details of it all, but I think my dad expected more than he got when Grandpa's will was read—Uncle Paul and Dad got the same amount of money, and the rest went to Gram. My cousin Bram and I got some money in a trust to pay for college, so I don't know why he's upset about things like he is."

It sounded like greed to me, but I only knew what Cal was telling me. "You said you helped on the farm after your grandpa got sick—could that be part of it? Maybe he felt he deserved something for his trouble?"

Calvin snorted derisively. " His trouble? The family had a meeting when Grandpa began to feel bad, and they agreed I'd be the one to help out since Uncle Paul had just been transferred to California for his job, and dad never wanted anything to do with farming. Mom drove me over until I decided it would be easier to just stay there…once I got my license I could drive back to visit using the LeSabre.

"In a way, I was glad to be there because I felt needed and loved. Dad always compared me to Bram: why couldn't I be good at sports like him? Why did I waste my time on crap like art or hiding away with some book or other? Bram was always better, and I was a disappointment; I thought going out for wrestling might help, but it wasn't a 'real' sport, like football…."

I let him lean into my shoulder and rubbed little circles on his broad back. Where we touched the morning chill went unnoticed, but I could feel him shiver in my arms. It took a minute for me to realize he was trying to hold back more tears.

"Thanksgiving was when it all blew up. Mom and Dad had been fighting before they came to eat, and after my failure at hunting a couple days earlier, Dad's mood was worse than usual. He told Granm she ought to sell the farm and move into town, seeing as I wasn't man enough to run the place alone." I was taken aback when Cal looked at me this time, and there was a little grin starting to show on his face.

"Gran said I was doing fine, and then asked me to set the table. There was a flurry of whispered conversation in the kitchen which stopped when I came back for glasses, then started again when I was gone. Dinner was awfully quiet, and the tension could have been cut with the carving knife Dad wielded. That's when they told me they were having problems and were going to talk to somebody about them. Well, that was just keen," he said with obvious sarcasm. "Then they tell me at Christmas that they're separating, and I should get the rest of my stuff and stay with Gran until it got settled."

I had no idea why he was grinning even a little bit, especially after the tears just a few minutes earlier. So I asked him. I was surprised, maybe even shocked when he actually laughed. "Dear ol' Dad, it turns out, has been cheating on Mom for years, and it turns out she knew about it almost from the beginning—and now had proof—provided by his previous mistress! She gave him two choices: a messy divorce where she cleans him out, or a no-contest one where he can keep half of everything…"

"What the hell, man? You sound like you're okay with…with…that bull…."

It took me a minute to see beyond the grin, and the laughter, but I did. Both were false—his brave attempt to keep himself together as best he could. He wiped his cheeks with the back of one hand, then pushed his blond hair back off his forehead with the other. "It depends, Jay—some days I am, others I'm not. See, I haven't had much of a home life for a long time except when I've been living with Gran. Dad became more of a dick as time went on, and Mom was okay at first…but then she began pulling away from things more and more. I'm fairly sure she drinks now, but I don't know how bad it is."

He took a deep breath and this time I was pretty sure his mood had brightened, if his eyes could be trusted. "Since I'm gonna be eighteen in less than a year, I can choose where I want to live—and that'll be with my grandmother. I don't have to see either of my parents again unless I want to."

I shook my head in bewilderment. "I just can't imagine not having my jeps in my life. You're sure you're okay with this?"

Calvin hugged me this time, and ruffled my hair into even more of a mess than it had been already. I growled at him, but all that did was make him laugh more. "I'll be cool—I've got Gran, friends like you…and Benj for the hard times."

With his last statement, I was more than sure that the two wrestlers had gone all the way, but rather than ask them for some practical advice, I'd wait to uncover that mystery on my own, with my kæreste .

"Where's far headed off to?"

I'd helped him with the chores an hour or so earlier since Jay was back at the pond with his goofy friends camping out, and he hadn't mentioned anything about running any errands. Now, at 8:30 on a Sunday morning, he was climbing into his red '54 International Harvester pickup. The truck, like the tractor and other farm equipment, had come with the place when he bought it, just before Jay was born. It had been five years old then, and still ran and looked as if it was almost new. I was even more puzzled when he headed down the narrow track toward the fields rather than out onto the gravel-and-tar road into town.

I watched as mor glanced up from the sink and out the small pair of windows that gave great morning light to the old kitchen. From there you could see most of the back yard, and farther off, the vegetable garden and the apple orchard to its right. Between the two was the trail we'd made over the years that led back to the woods and our pond; to the left of the garden plot was a rutted track leading into the fields, used mostly by the tractor and harvester.

"I'd say he's gone to help take down that tent and save your little brother a second trip." At my puzzled look, she laughed. "They didn't take any breakfast makings out with them, so I bet they'll be coming up to eat before going back and packing things up. You know how Jay can get when it involves Miles or his friends…."

I snorted. Boy, did I know. Jay's enthusiasm often overtook his common sense when he had the chance to do something new. Most of the time he was as organized as anyone else, but not if he thought there was an adventure ahead. I only had to think of his broken arm when he was ten to prove that—he'd insisted he could jump his bike just like the other kids, then he discovered gravity was more than something he'd read about in school.

That was another thing I had to be grateful to Mikey for: keeping my brother's feet on the ground—no pun intended. Sure, they could both act like love-struck idiots, which was why I was glad Benny would keep an eye on them once I graduated in a month, but that guy had an innate practical streak that would serve both of them well in their future lives together.

Looking at my friends in school, it seemed common for them to change the objects of their affections regularly, and it wasn't just due to the hormones coursing through teen bodies, both male and female…I thought it also had a lot to do with their maturity. Most of them thought every love would be the perfect one, then be disillusioned at the first sign of any flaw in their mate. I had to thank our parents for their open talks with us about sex and love which gave the three of us a good idea of what it really took to have a successful relationship.

Having seen Jay's fretting over a simple gift for Mikey on their one month anniversary, reading the poem Mikey had written for him now hanging above his desk, and watching them mingle their locks of hair in the charms Bobby and I would carry with us at our Prom, I knew they would be a loving duo until the day they died. I could only hope that I'd found that with Bobby Thomas….

I started when I felt a hand on my shoulder. "What?"

"I asked if you'd help set the table for the boys when they get back, unless you have any plans for the day?: I would have protested under normal circumstances, but there'd be eight bottomless pits this morning who hadn't eaten yet, unlike the rest of us.

I grabbed more plates from the cabinet to go along with the just-cleaned ones from the rack and began dealing them around the Formica table like cards. Eight would be a tight fit, but since they were all friends, I didn't think they'd mind too much. "Why don't we just set a trough in the middle of the table and be done with it?"

That got a laugh, then a shake of the head in mock despair. "And risk someone losing a finger or arm in the feeding frenzy? Bad enough to give them knives."

Before long we were assembling big stacks of pancakes to put in the warming oven, and that gave us some time to sit before beginning the scrambled eggs and bacon that could wait until we saw the truck coming back. "So, plans today?"

I shook my head, realizing I hadn't answered the earlier question. "No, not really. My home-work's all done, and Debbie had plans with her family today." It was rare for me not to have something going on, and I thought of the talk we'd had on our trip to Lazarus yesterday. Despite the need to find a dress for the Prom, I'd actually enjoyed the time we'd spent together, just the two of us. How many more times would we have like this once I went off to OSU? "You said something about altering my new dress yesterday…."

I caught the twinkle in her blue eyes, and thought she'd make a joke about me finally taking an interest in 'girly things', as I'd called them when I was little, but she changed her mind.

"Of course we can, skat ," she said softly, giving my hand a squeeze. I loved it when she called me her 'treasure'. "We could shorten it a few inches…maybe use the extra as a matching belt, and a choker to go around your neck? I think my emerald brooch would look nice on that, rather than a necklace…."

"That sounds like something from that Julie Andrews movie Thoroughly Modern Millie —you know, that one set in the Twenties? I think she played a secretary, and her and Mary Tyler Moore got mixed up with white slavers. It had some pretty cool fashions in it, if I'm remembering it right."

"I think you have a pair of low heels that would work if we give them a coat of white polish—or beige…too bad we don't have a cloche hat to finish off the look." I watched as mor tilted her head to give my hair an appraising look. I shook my head quickly when she raised an eyebrow and asked if I'd be willing to 'bob' my hair. "Well, cutting it was just an idea. There were other hair styles we can do that'll be fine. Maybe you should give Bobby a call later to see what kind of suit he has?"

"No tuxedos," I retorted.

"No, Lene…something more casual, like a two- or three-piece, pinstriped if possible, or in a medium to light gray…if all else fails, gray trousers and a jacket will work, especially if you can con him into wearing a bow-tie."

Just the idea of my gangly basketball-playing boyfriend dressed like that had me laughing. What a gas!

"I don't suppose they'll be playing the ' Charleston ', so at least I don't have to brush up on that old craze. If they do any slow dances at all, I think you'll be fine with a simple 'box-step'…your father and I used to be pretty 'hep' with the jitterbug back when we were your age—you know, Big Band stuff like Glenn Miller," she added at my look of confusion.

"How long do you think fixing up my dress will take?"

"The basic style of the dress is good, so we don't need any complicated changes…doing the faux belt and re-hemming will take the longest, maybe three or four hours. If we can get the cutting done tonight, and make the belt and choker, then one or two nights after dinner will be more than enough time. I think I even have an old buckle in my sewing chest we can use for the belt."

With the dress plans squared away, something else occurred to me, and I wondered if now was a good time for us to discuss it since we were alone. "You mentioned about the two of you being good dancers when you were kids...is Willem's death in World War II the reason far never talks about those days?"

"Give me a minute…" I wasn't sure if I should have asked her that, judging by her obvious reluctance, but she was my only source for the information; no one else in the family even mentioned Willem or Eskil by name, at least not in front of us younger people. When she returned to the table, she had two small glasses half-filled with a clear amber liquid. This wasn't the apple brandy I was so used to. "Whiskey," she stated flatly.

"Only take small sips," she cautioned. I knew why as soon as I'd taken the first drops into my throat…it burned like fire, and I felt like I was going to throw up. I pushed it aside for now, and got a rueful laugh. "Maybe later…."

And she began telling me about Uncle Eskil.

For me to understand, she had to give me a little background first—some of it I knew, most I didn't. There had been four boys and two girls in far's family, beginning with Willem, Katrin, our father, and then Eskil. All of them were spaced about two years apart, then came Marit after three. The last, Mikkel, came as a surprise after six more years. All of them were pretty close, living on a farm outside a small town with fewer than a dozen kids in their area. I was shocked to learn that in most years, the senior class at their school had only about fifty students in it…my class would have nearly two hundred.

It didn't surprise me to learn that Willem, being the oldest, had a large role in keeping his siblings in line, much as Jerry had with me and Jay, but back then I assumed it might have been easier, since the chances for getting into trouble were far fewer. With the gap before Marit was born, that gave far and Eskil more time to bond, and that's what made his loss more keenly felt than Willem's, though that too was very hard for my father to bear.

"Our high school ran to 12th grade rather than many rural systems that stopped at eight, and all of us did well—Willem even planned on college, but got drafted right after graduating in 1944. Your father got in two years before Korea started in 1950, but decided to sign up when Eskil got drafted that year right after his own graduation…."

Mor took another sip of her whiskey before going on, so I tried mine again, but with the same distaste as the first time. "The military tries not to put brothers in the same units to prevent both dying in the same battle, so Dirck didn't get to serve with Eskil as they'd hoped. Your father was in Supply, while Eskil went into the Infantry, being well-regarded as a sharp-shooter and reconnaissance man.

"About three months before the war ended, Eskil's patrol ran into a fire-fight with some Chinese forces, and he was badly wounded. He was stabilized at one of the forward surgical units, then sent on to Tokyo for further care. Your father was given leave to go with him to Tokyo…due to the nature of his injuries, the Army felt it best if someone else made the decisions about his treatment and recovery."

I had no idea what the injuries were, but the somber tone and sorrowful look that came into my mother's eyes made me realize this wasn't going to have any sort of good outcome. Another sip of whiskey, but bigger this time. Much as I disliked the taste, I took more of my own glass to help absorb what I guessed might be coming. Eskil had died…how much worse could the story be? A lot, as I soon learned .

"One of the bullet wounds had shattered Eskil's knee so badly the lower half of that leg had to be amputated, and if that had been all, he might be with us still…but the other shot had been a head wound. If the sniper had been closer, then he would have been killed outright, but Eskil wasn't so lucky."

I put my hand on hers and grasped it tightly, and she could tell I wanted her to stop—I'd heard enough to put the final pieces together—but she shook her head. "It's nearly done, Lene…but I'll cut it a bit shorter since the boys will be back soon.

"Eskil spent almost two months in a coma, and that gave his leg some time to heal…but the doctors couldn't say whether any serious damage had been done to his mental processes until he woke up. Until he did, all they could do was minor therapy to keep his body in shape—he wasn't paralyzed, but that was pretty much all they could tell. About two weeks before the war ended, Dirck sent a telegram home saying Eskil was awake…that was all until we got a cable telling us they were moving on to Hawaii, and then home sometime after that."

I watched as my usually calm mother downed the rest of her drink, then got up to grab some paper towels from the counter. She wiped at her eyes, then held them out to me. I took a couple automatically, not noticing my own tears until that moment. "When we saw him next…he…you had to have known him—before the war, Eskil was a lot like Jay—full of 'piss and vinegar' as we used to say—but quick with a joke and a helping hand; the man who came off that plane with your father had little of Eskil left in him.

"It took him a great deal of effort to speak, and then mostly in broken, almost unintelligible words, and Dirck said he'd been improving in the last weeks, but no one knew how much better he'd get. He had been fitted for a prosthetic leg, but his balance was off, so he needed a little help even with crutches. Looking into his eyes, we could tell it was hard for him to put some memories and events together with the person they should fit, and the doctors said that might improve over time too—yet another unknown."

Mor shook her head, then began getting some pans together for another round of bacon and eggs for my bror and his friends. "Over the next year and a half, Eskil's body healed, but not his mind. He'd never be the independent soul we knew before his injury, and there were still big gaps in his memories and learning skills that never really left. All that time, I'd helped Dirck and his family with Eskil, and I fell for your far like a ton of bricks. In 1955 we got married and began saving for a place of our own…then I got pregnant and Jerry was born in 1956….

"That was when Eskil managed to shock us all—we'd gotten good at interpreting his words by then, and with the help of a letter he'd managed to write over the course of several weeks, he let us know that he loved us all, but it was time for him to go. He was in a lot of pain his medications didn't entirely fix, and knew he'd never hold another job or be anything more than a burden on his family. He'd held on to see Dirck get married, and when he saw little Jerry, he knew the time was right for him to move on to his next life.

"Many people would say that it was wrong, and so did we at first, but you only had to look into Eskil's eyes to see the pain he was finding harder and harder to hide, and he begged us to let him pick his time so he could keep what dignity he had left."

I had no words to express how I felt, so I just wrapped my arms around my mom and cried into her shoulder. I eventually had enough composure back to whisper "H-how?"

"Oddly enough, it was his mother who gave in to the idea first, then Katrin, who was now the oldest child. Your farfar Karl and your uncle Mikkel were next, leaving only your father and aunt Marit as hold-outs. As for me, I told Dirck I'd support him however he decided, and be there to console him as best I could."

I handed my nearly untouched glass of whiskey over, and watched as my mom downed it in two draughts before washing it in the sink and putting both away. It didn't seem to have much effect on her, but they'd been smallish glasses and only half-filled. She pulled the carton of eggs out of the fridge, along with some milk, cheese and ham. "I think omelets will be nice, don't you? Can you dice some of the ham while I shred the cheese…."

As we worked, she finished off the story by saying that in his final week, Eskil had spent time every night with one of his family, 'bidding farvel' to each in turn, leaving Dirck for last. "Eskil decided that the easiest way to end his life was to take all his pain pills—they would knock him out, then slowly stop his breathing...his heart. Dirck told me later he'd refused to leave Eskil alone as he passed, so they held hands long into the night as your father shared memories of their boyhood adventures. At the time, all he said was, 'He left us quietly and at peace,' we learned a bit more later, but mostly he kept it to himself."


That got me a long sigh and a shake of the head. "It's part of the reason we don't go up to visit the family farm, and meet at my parents' instead. You know we love all of you just the same, right?"

I nodded, confused by what seemed to be a sudden change of subject.

"Well, don't ever doubt that, min kæreste skat —but as long as Jay's alive, there'll always be some bit of Eskil around to comfort your father, just as you remind him of Willem."

Before I could take that bit of news in, we heard far toot the horn on his truck and the laughter of a herd of boys riding in the back. I saw Benny and Calvin jump over the side before the truck had even stopped. The others copied them, all making a bee-line for the porch and mountains of badly needed food. They stopped at the kitchen door when mor shook her spatula at them. 'Wash first—then you can eat!"

We laughed as they scattered to the four winds, or at least upstairs to the bathroom, and Jay led a second group down to the sink in the basement's half-bath. Dad walked over to give each of us a kiss, and I saw him frown as he caught the faint trace of whiskey on our breaths. I pulled him into a hug and squeezed as hard as I could.

"She knows," was all that needed to be said as both question and answer.

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