We kept the celebration small this year. The kitchen table was pulled out, the basket of condiments banished to the pantry for tonight. There were 6 place settings crowded around the square table. I pulled the three chairs I owned in around in and added the stepstool; the kiddo would get a kick out of that. Lucy had her high chair, and I was happy to stand. Truth be told I was too excited to sit.
We set the table together, with silverware clattering on plates, as “Lucy Danger” and “gentle” don’t always go together. The sun had set already, and the sky was vaguely purple with the cloud cover and light pollution from the city refracted inside it. I fiddled with the vases of bright orange carnations, and bit my lip as I worried that they were not marigolds.
Suddenly, there was a rush of warmth and the voices of our beloved guests poured into the room. Lucy was startled and ran to grab my leg a moment, but found herself swept up in hugs.
Oh, but they looked wonderful. They’d all dressed up for the occasion. Stan, in his suit from the church picture that his wife had taken, shit, must be ten years ago now; Clark, a fresh flannel button down and pressed slacks, with his hat and walking stick and sunglasses. Hawthorne, dapper as could be in a lavender button down, jeans, vest, bow tie, and pocket chain. And Oscar, my sweet boy, in a checkered Oxford shirt and suspenders on his jeans.
He’s gotten so tall, a full head taller than his sister, who was looking at him with wide eyes from her perch up on Clark’s shoulders. He’d be four now; he sure seemed like it. Lucy kicked her legs and demanded “down, down please!” Clark lifted her off his shoulders and put her down, and I watched my children, my babies, run into the other room to play. Their grandfather went with them, a smile on his face that I could tell reached his eyes, even with the sunglasses.
I turned from hugging Stan, who followed in to watch his grandkids play, and found myself back in my spot, head under Hawthorne’s chin, their arms wrapped right around me. We fit perfectly together there, and always had. I breathed them in; sandalwood and calendula, and the smell of their skin that I remembered so well. I wanted to pause time, to feel those arms hold me like no one else could, to lay my head on their chest where it fit so naturally. The bossa nova station I had playing on my computer slid toward something slower, wrapping around us as if we needed help holding on to each other. We swayed in place a moment, then Hawthorne tugged my hand. I spun away and back in, laughing into their eyes. We danced in the kitchen like we had so many times before.
The kids ran in, demanding food, followed by the men. Hawthorne gave me a last squeeze and let go, reaching to pick up Lucy as I turned to the stove.
“Hey, baby. Remember me?”
Lucy nodded. “You Papa,” she said, pointing. My eyes stung, and I closed them against the wave of emotion. She was always to ask to look at pictures, and didn’t always recognize Hawthorne. “That my Mama,” she continued, the same way she told her friends at school every time I came to pick her up. “Who that?”
“That’s your brother Oscar,” Hawthorne told her.
She gasped. “My picture!” She strained to get away, and since neither of us knew what she was talking about, they set her down. She ran into her room. “Mama, my picture!”
We all followed her in, Oscar pushing through legs to get to the front to see. Hawthorne gripped my shoulder and tears filled my eyes.
She was pointing to a painting given to us by our beautiful and talented friends when we had been pregnant with Lucy. A branch of a birch tree against a truly Oscar blue sky – she had color matched it to pictures we posted of our Oscar sky. On the branch was a birds nest made of twigs. Inside the nest was a gold crown, and half of a perfect egg. Well, when it had been given to us, it was the shell of the egg, glued on like the twigs and the crown; the shell had been broken during the move. Lucy asked about it often, asked why it was broken. I always told her it was because she had hatched, and the crown was for her brother Oscar. He left it here when he went to the stars, I would tell her.
Lucy climbed up on her bed, turned and gestured to Oscar. “C’mere,” she told him. “My picture. My egg broken, I hatch. You has a crown! My picture!”
Stan clapped his hand on my other shoulder. “Ya done good, kid,” he said as he turned and walked out. He wasn’t much one for displays of emotion, his own or that of others’. Clark echoed the sentiment and action. “Well done,” he nodded, before stepping out. The kids began chattering about the books on Lucy’s shelf, and we watched our babies play.
The timer beeped, and I ran back to the kitchen. It wasn’t a traditional dinner in any sense of the word. We had chicken nachos with Chiavetta’s, shepherd’s pie, shrimp cocktail, cereal with milk, and ice cream. We sat and ate the smorgasbord happily, passing things around the packed little table, then one of the grandfathers would turn easily in their chair to place the dish on the counter. Oscar got a kick out of sitting on the top of the backwards stepstool. Wine flowed and beer foamed, raised in toast, and enjoyed without any negative anticipation. All were well here.
After dinner was finished, I pulled out a cake I had hidden in my bedroom, away from little fingers, frosted with bright orange flowers. I lit the candle and brought it out carefully. Hawthorne, Clark, and Stan joined in singing Happy Birthday to Lucy, and she clapped along in her Papa’s lap. Between us all, we managed to eat half the cake, and polish off a tub of ice cream with it.
Despite the sugar rush, Lucy and Oscar were both beginning to droop after the meal. We moved to the living room, where there was just enough space to have Stan and Clark each take a comfy seat in a high-backed chair known for cradling its occupants. Hawthorne and I snuggled up on the couch with the kids. I took our son into my lap, and Hawthorne held our daughter. We sat and talked, sharing family stories we never had a chance to, as well as old favorites. I caught them up on the highlights of the year. They had felt some disturbance through the veil, more of the unpleasant things that I tried to lighten in the retelling. I didn’t want to dwell on the hardships and illnesses, the tears and sleepless nights. I wanted this bright, golden memory.
We continued to talk as the candles burned low, and the grandfathers each drifted off to sleep. I held Hawthorne’s hand over the back of the couch, surrounding our sleeping babies. I was having trouble keeping my eyes open any longer, but I didn’t want to let go. Hawthorne laughed and my head came up; I’d fallen asleep and kept talking, nonsensical ramblings. I shrugged and smiled. It’s not like it was the first time that had happened. I laid my head in their hand as they murmured to me, all the little things we used to say in bed together, before they rolled over and I’d curl around them to finally fall asleep. A tear slipped from my eye – I knew they would be gone when I awoke, my lap back to being space for only Lucy, my couch and house otherwise empty. The dog would wander around, confused as to where her family went. I didn’t know how Lucy would respond. Another tear fell, and Hawthorne wiped it away with their thumb.
The last thing I heard was them telling me they loved me, with the weight of Oscar back in my arms, before the candles faded out and I drifted off to sleep.
I hadn’t needed the marigolds after all.