Of Time: Chapter 7
The afternoon flight to Connecticut landed in Hartford around eleven p.m. Paul rented a car and they headed straight to his parent's home. Paul drove in brooding silence, while Moira meditated or looked out the window. The neighborhood he'd grown up in had long since transitioned from rural to suburban, and was bordered by a shopping mall. The houses, however, were still the same formal, brick colonials that had been there since his childhood. He never failed to be surprised at how large the trees had become on the street where he'd lived, or how short the streetlights seemed. One of his favorite childhood memories was of standing under those lights in late summer, catching fireflies.
The living room lights were on when they pulled up to the curb, and Paul was grateful. He hadn't wanted to wake anyone up. The front door opened before they reached it, and his sister met them on the steps.
"Oh, Paul, I'm so glad you could make it. I waited up for you -- Mom's asleep." She collapsed into her big brother's arms. They held each other a while, and then broke apart. "Hello, Moira." Susan said to her. "I'm glad you could make it, too." She looked beyond them. "Is Adam here?"
Moira took Susan's hand in hers. "I'm sorry it has to be under these circumstances," she said. "We couldn't get in touch with Adam, so we left him a message. How is your father?"
Susan teared up. "They have him on a respirator and a bunch of other things. We're supposed to go to the hospital tomorrow to discuss whether to leave him hooked up or not."
Paul was stunned. "He's that far along?"
"Oh, they've revived him twice already." Susan said. "I just want him to stay alive long enough for everyone to get here."
Paul wanted to ask why, but he knew the answer. When their grandmother had died, their father had decided to pull the plug on her without telling anyone else in the family about it. Uncle Stephen had been glad to be left out of the responsibility of such a decision, but Susan had gone ballistic. She thought she'd been cheated of the opportunity to say good-bye. This time, she wanted to make sure everyone had the chance. Paul wondered how his mother felt. She probably was willing to go along with anything Susan decided.
"How's Mom?" Paul asked once they were inside.
"Oh, she's in shock, as you can imagine. I've been making sure that she eats, and I drive her to the hospital. But other than that ... she's very distant." Susan shook her head. "I'm worried about her."
"It's quite common to be that way at first." Moira commented. "We'll need to watch her for when the reality of what's happening sinks in."
Susan looked up at the use of the word "we". She wasn't quite ready to let Moira into the family yet. "Yes, thanks for warning me," she said, with as much politeness as she could muster. She turned to Paul. "Well, I hope you don't mind your old room. I'm in mine, and when Ron gets here, the kids are going to sleep in the rec room."
"Did you get hold of Uncle Stephen?" Paul asked.
Susan shot him a disgusted look. "That bastard said to call him for the funeral. I'm seriously thinking of quitting the company."
Her vehemence took Paul aback. "You know Uncle Stephen and Dad weren't on the best of terms. You should probably take it as a positive sign that he'll even come out for the funeral." Paul realized that he was talking about his own father's funeral, and he wasn't even dead. Yet. The events of the day, and the week, started to hit him then, and he began to slump.
Moira stepped in. "Susan, we all could use a night's rest. Why don't we talk about things in the morning? I'm sure everything can wait until then."
Susan nodded. "Yes. Ron called and said they were spending the night at a motel somewhere between Ann Arbor and Hartford and they'll be getting here tomorrow. I guess I can try to sleep." She looked like she hadn't slept in several days.
"Good night." Paul kissed his sister on the cheek and they embraced once more.
"I'm so glad you're here," she whispered to him, and left for her room.
Paul and Moira went upstairs to Paul's old room on the second floor. He opened the door and started to laugh. Two twin beds, wooden bunks that split apart, graced opposite sides of the tiny room. A Howdy Doody lamp was beside one, a lava lamp was beside the other.
"I don't think you could read by that one," she commented, pointing to the lava lamp.
"I'm so bushed, I don't think I can read. I wish we could push these two together, though." He nodded at the beds. It seemed a little impractical to be moving furniture at midnight, and a chest of drawers would have had to be relocated as well.
"I think we can survive at least one night in separate beds. Actually, we're not married yet, so I guess it's appropriate," Moira said.
Paul's jaw dropped. "Oh, God, the wedding! The minister!" He had totally forgotten.
"I called them from the airport. The minister and Michael, I mean," Moira said. "We're fine. The license is good for two months."
Paul looked at her. "But are you?"
Moira hesitated before answering. "I don't know," she said. "But this won't take two months, so let's not worry about that now."
They got ready for bed. Paul was surprised to see Moira in a flannel "granny" type nightgown, and that she braided her hair before bed. Most of the times they'd spent together, they hadn't slept much, except in the nude. During the three weeks they'd had in Seattle some fifteen years, before she'd favored his tee shirts as nighttime apparel. He could still see her in his white pocket tee that came down to just the curve of her bottom. She noticed Paul's reaction and laughed.
"Well, you look cute yourself." She pointed to his very worn cotton pajamas. He used to wear only boxer shorts to bed.
"I wear these when I visit my folks." He grinned.
Then they got in their separate beds and Paul turned out the light.
"Good night," he said to her.
"Sweet dreams," she said to him.
"I miss you," he said.
"Okay," she said, and got out of bed.
It was rather ridiculous, the bed was barely big enough for Paul; his feet hung over the edge. But she managed to wriggle in and, if they both slept sideways, she wouldn't topple out of bed in the middle of the night. Paul kissed her forehead.
"Thanks. I can sleep now."
She kissed the hollow of his neck. "So can I." And they slept.
Paul awoke disoriented the next morning; it took him a few moments to remember where he was. He sat up and promptly bashed his head on the bookshelf above the bed. He groped for Howdy Doody and turned the lamp on. His watch read 6:00 AM. Good. He could have another hour or so of sleep, so he turned off the lamp. When his head hit the pillow, he realized Moira wasn't beside him. Up again he sat, bashed his head a second time, and turned on Howdy Doody, cursing. The other bed was empty, but her suitcase was on the floor beside it. She must still be here, he thought. When she vanishes, all of her things vanish as well. He got out of bed, slipped on his robe and went into the hall. Daylight streamed in through the windows at the end of the hall. His room had been dark, but the shade had been down. Then he noticed the grandfather clock by the stairs showed 9:00 AM. Of course -- his watch was still on Seattle time. The bathroom door was open, no one in there, so he went downstairs.
Moira and his mother were sitting at the kitchen table in their bathrobes. A strong aroma of mountain grown coffee filled the air. It wasn't Seattle's Best, but it was coffee. Paul's mother looked up when he came in.
"Oh, Paul!" she exclaimed, jumping up.
She was shorter than he remembered and her hair a lighter shade of brown. He recalled Susan having some opinion about their mother dyeing her hair. He embraced his mother and she patted him on the cheek.
"You look so handsome clean shaven. That beard looked so scruffy." She smiled beatifically. Paul resisted the urge to say 'Oh, mom'. His mother went on, "I've just been talking to your lovely friend -- Moira, isn't it?" Moira nodded. "She gave me ever such a start when I came down this morning. In that white bathrobe and that hair, I thought she was an angel! I asked, 'Are you an angel?' and she said, 'Well, maybe the Coffee Angel', because she was making us all a pot of coffee!" His mother giggled and pulled Paul over to the kitchen table. "Now sit and tell me how you two met."
Paul was slightly unnerved. His mother acted as if everything was fine, but he sensed that she was delicately walking a fine line and that any moment she could cross over and totally lose it. Paul wanted to ask about Dad, but thought better of it.
"We met a long, long time ago," said Paul, not wanting to go into details.
"I seem to keep coming in and out of his life," quipped Moira.
"Oh, isn't it nice when that happens! So romantic, just like it's meant to be!" his mother exclaimed, her eyes unusually bright. Just then the back door opened and Susan came in, wearing a sweat soaked tee shirt and shorts.
"I didn't know you jogged," Paul said, glad for the diversion.
"I run," his sister corrected him. "Ten miles every day. Between work and my family, it's the only time I have to myself." She got a glass from the cupboard and filled it at the sink. She downed it and turned to her mother.
"Visiting hours start at ten on Sundays. We'd better get ready."
Mrs. Marbanks turned to Moira. "You've never met Paul's father, have you? Well, I'm afraid he's not looking his best right now. Let me show you my favorite picture of him -- it's on the mantelpiece in the living room. I'll go get it."
"Mother, there isn't time --" Susan started to say, but her mother was already in the other room. Susan looked at Moira and Paul. "We've really got to be careful around her; she's going a little nuts," she whispered.
Their mother's voice floated in from the living room. "Oh, my, we have a visitor." They heard her open the front door. "For goodness’ sake! Charles! You're home! Charles is home, everyone!"
The three got to the living room in time to see her run out of the house in her bedroom slippers and robe.
"She's lost it!" Susan cried, and they all ran to the front door.
Mrs. Marbanks was standing on the sidewalk embracing a very bewildered Adam, saying, "Oh Charles, you shouldn't have taken a cab -- would have picked you up from the hospital!"
Susan was the first to reach them. "Mom, mom, this isn't Dad," she said, her voice shaking.
Her mother broke away and looked up at Adam. "Oh! No it isn't!" she said, her voice fading to a whisper. "Silly me." Then tears welled up in her eyes, "You look just like him in our picture!"
Paul took his mother by the arm, "Mother, this is Adam ... my son."
Susan shot an 'I knew it!' look at him.
Their mother looked completely lost. "Your son? But he's so big. He's not a little boy." She turned at Adam. "You look so like Charles."
"Mother, stop saying that!" snapped Susan. "He may look like Dad in the photograph but he doesn't look like Dad now! Please, let's go in. We're making a spectacle of ourselves here on the sidewalk."
Mrs. Marbanks blinked at her daughter, not comprehending one word. Adam stepped in.
"Would you like to show me the photo?" he asked, gently taking his grandmother by the arm. Paul and Adam led her into the house. They sat her on the davenport, and Adam sat beside her. Paul got the photograph from the mantelpiece. He nearly dropped it when he looked at it. A sepia image of Adam and a youngSusan stared out at him, except Adam had an extremely short haircut and wore full military uniform. Susan had on a white satin gown with a lacy veil poofed on her head, and clutched a bouquet of lilies of the valley. 'Charles and Olivia Marbanks, December 15, 1945' it said at the bottom. Paul brought it to his mother.
"Oh, I always think of him looking exactly like this." She touched the glass fondly. "So dashing, so handsome. From the first day I saw him -- I was a cigarette girl at the Our Boys Canteen -- I knew he was the man for me." She looked up at Moira and Susan, standing nearby. "You know what that feels like? Love at first sight?"
Susan said nothing, embarrassed by her mother's odd behavior.
Moira, on the other hand, nodded in agreement. "I most certainly do." She smiled at Paul.
"Mother, we'd all better get dressed if we're going to get to the hospital." Susan said. "Do you need to use the bathroom before I take a shower?"
"Oh goodness, yes indeed. I always have to piddle!" Her mother stood up. She turned to Adam. "Paul's son. Oh, Charles will be so pleased to meet you." She patted him on the head and Adam managed a smile. Then she went upstairs with Susan hovering close behind.
Paul grimaced when she left. "I just got it!" he groaned. "Adam Paulson. How could I be so dense?"
Moira sat down between them. "Not very original, but the best I could do at the time."
"Better than Gottsdotter," Muttered Adam under his breath.
Ignoring the comment, Moira leaned over and pecked her son on the cheek. "Hi, sweetie, thanks for coming on such short notice."
"Don't thank me," Adam said. "I'm on assignment."
"Oh, you didn't get the note I left at the Colvos house?" his mother asked.
"What note? I never made it out to Colvos. I sensed you were trying to contact me, but I was getting briefed," Adam said.
Paul leaned forward on the davenport. "You mean you're on assignment now?" Adam nodded. "What are you supposed to be doing?" Paul asked.
Adam shrugged his broad shoulders. "I just go with the flow."
A short time later Susan came back downstairs.
"Well," she said, seeing all three of them sitting together. "It's one big happy family."
Paul squirmed, getting ready for the onslaught.
Susan turned to Adam. "I knew it! From the first time I saw you, I knew you were a Marbanks." Adam's eyebrows rose. "I just wasn't sure if you were Paul's or some bastard son of Uncle Stephen's. How old are you?" She demanded.
"Thirty-one." Adam said.
Susan whistled. "Paul! You were sixteen? That's the same age my daughter is now. Why didn't you tell anyone? Why didn't I know?"
There was an awkward silence. Paul could feel Moira and Adam having a swift telepathic discussion. Before anyone could say anything, Susan went on.
"I remember you. You were that pompom girl," she said, accusingly.
"She was not!" Paul snapped. "You wouldn't have known her. You were in junior high."
She was about to say something else, but the telephone rang. Susan picked up the phone. It was Ron on the cellphone with the kids, saying they were approaching the outskirts of town.
"Meet us at the hospital, we're going straight over. No, don't come here first, there's no time. We'll probably be pulling the plug today," she said into the receiver.
"Isn't there a better way of saying that?" Paul said, helplessly.
Susan hung up. "Everybody get dressed; we'll leave in fifteen minutes."
"Uh… shouldn't I stay here?" asked Adam, hopefully.
"Nonsense. This is your only time to see Dad." Susan said with finality, and went upstairs.
Fifteen minutes later everyone was dutifully dressed and waiting by Susan's rental car. Paul sat in the front passenger seat while Moira and Adam flanked Mrs. Marbanks in the rear. They drove to the hospital in silence. Every time Paul thought of something to say, he thought better of it. Either his mother would fall apart or his sister would jump down his throat. Better to keep quiet, he decided.
At the hospital, Susan and her mother stopped to talk to the doctor while Paul and Moira went directly to his father's private room, Adam trailing behind. Paul got to the doorway and froze. There was his father, lying in bed, hooked up to oxygen, an IV drip, an EKG, an EEC and probably seventeen hundred other things. His mouth was slightly open. If it weren't for the noise on the monitors, Paul would have already thought he was dead.
"No, he's not." Moira said. "Go talk to him, he can hear you."
Paul stared at her as if she were mad. "Talk to him? I could never talk to him when he was alive -- I mean -- awake. What makes you think I can now?"
Moira gently pushed him into the room. "Maybe it'll be easier now, when he can't talk back," she said. "Go on. We'll stand guard." Adam had come up beside her.
Paul found himself standing by his father's bed. He looked down on the withered form -- it hardly looked like the man he remembered. Where should he begin? He cleared his throat.
"Dad. It's Paul," he started, feeling like an idiot. He looked back at the door, but Moira had closed it. He could see Adam and her through the glass, but they were staring down the hallway. "Uh, I guess this might be the last time to talk to you." This sounded really stupid. How could he say all the things he was thinking? "I just want to let you know that I didn't turn out all that bad." Now what was that supposed to mean? "I know you never liked me working for Uncle Stephen ... but I'm very successful. Last year our company netted..." What the hell was he talking about business for? Ground he heard in his head. Oh, yeah. He closed his eyes and imagined connecting to the earth. That now familiar magnetic feeling immediately comforted his body. He opened his eyes again. "I'm sorry I never lived up to your expectations." He found himself saying, and his heart immediately contracted in a spasm of pain. His eyes began to water. "I - I wish you could have a chance to meet Moira and Adam." Tears began to run down his nose, and he wiped them away. He covered his eyes while he wept. It occurred to him that if he didn't stop himself right then, he might not be able to when the others came in. He took a deep breath and looked up at the ceiling. "I'm sorry we never had the chance to know each other. But ... I love you, Dad." He felt the grief surging up again, but there was a knock on the door, so he stifled it. "Come in," he said in as strong a voice as he could muster.
Susan came into the room and stood beside him. She slipped her arm about his waist. "He looks awful, doesn't he," she said softly. "Poor Daddy." She grabbed a tissue from the side table and wiped the drool from the corner of his mouth. "Paul, the doctor wants to talk to us all together, about ... " she glanced at the body on the bed, "you know."
Paul's head weighed a hundred pounds as he slowly nodded it. He followed his sister out of the room. He didn't even notice Moira and Adam slip in after he'd left.
"Well, I just want the whole family to approve before we take such a step." The doctor was saying to their mother as Paul and Susan came up. "He left no instructions as to life-saving measures, so it's up to the family to decide. It really won't take very long after we disconnect the machines."
Paul's mother looked at her children. Her eyes were vacant. "I think your father wants to go home," she said, distantly.
"We can't take him home." Susan snapped, impatiently. "We talked about this, mother."
Paul stopped his sister. "Yes, Mom. I think Dad wants to go home, too. I think he's ready." He reached out and took her hand.
She nodded, staring past the doctor at the wall. "Yes, he should go now. It's time to let him go."
The moment she said that, something inside Paul panicked. No. He thought. This can't be happening. This is too fast.
"Wait a minute," Susan said. "My family isn't here yet. We have to wait until Ron gets here with the kids." She turned to the doctor. "He's on his way."
The doctor nodded. "We'll be standing by," he said to them, and they went to their father's room.
Adam was standing in the far corner, and Moira was standing by the foot of the bed. Susan and her mother didn't seem to notice, going right up to the head of the bed. But Paul wondered what they had been doing. Moira had her hands resting lightly on the end of the bed, right by his father's feet. She looked over at Paul and smiled. Paul went to stand beside her, and then thought he should be up by the head of the bed, too. He took his place on the opposite side of his mother and sister.
There was the sound of people running down the hall, and a teenage girl with magenta hair and a pierced eyebrow came skidding into the room.
"Oh, good, we haven't missed it!" she said. "Dad, they're in here!" she yelled.
Susan glared at her, and jerked her head to indicate she was to stand - silently - by her. The teen rolled her eyes and said, "Sor-reee!" to nobody in particular, before taking her place by her mother.
Two chubby twelve-year-olds in identical soup-bowl haircuts came in next. They looked stunned by the scene, and giggled. They also received a glare from their mom, and scuttled over to Paul's side of the bed. Then a tall, blond man, Ron, and a tall, blond adolescent boy came in the door. Ron nodded to everyone in the room and went and stood beside the twins; the boy followed him.
Everyone waited for something to happen. Moira gently spoke up. "Should Adam get the doctor?"
That startled Susan into action. "Oh, no, I can use the call button. Adam, you should come over here and stand by Paul."
Adam shook his head. "I've already talked to Charles. I should stand here," he said firmly. Susan's eyes opened wide, but said nothing. She looked at Moira as if to tell her to switch places with Adam, but didn't open her mouth.
The call button brought both the doctor and a nurse.
"So it's time." They both swiftly went around and disconnected everything. "There," the doctor said. "It won't take long now. We'll be outside." He retreated to the doorway, clipboard in hand. He stood in the hall scribbling notes.
Susan spoke first. "We're all here, Dad. We want to say --" her voice choked, "good-bye. Everybody, say good-bye."
Her daughter gave her an agonized look, "Do we have to?" she whined. Her mother's glare confirmed she did, indeed, have to. "Oh, okay, keep your shirt on." Her mother was ready to kill her. "Good-bye, Grandpa," she said, unenthusiastically.
The twins mumbled something acceptably sounding like good-bye. Ron leaned over and touched the man's hand. "Good-bye, Charles," he said with genuine affection. His wife smiled at him, gratefully.
The blond boy bobbed his head. "Good-bye, Grandpa," he said in a squeaky voice. "Uh, thanks for teaching me chess." He shrugged his shoulders, and Ron gave him a reassuring squeeze.
It was obviously Paul's turn next, as his sister stared at him expectantly. He looked at his mother, then over to Moira and Adam, who were each standing with surprisingly serene looks on their faces. What were they up to, he wondered. He turned his attention back to his father on the bed.
"Good-bye, Dad," was all he said.
Then his mother leaned over and kissed her husband on the lips.
"Yuck," whispered one of the twins, and got an elbow nudge from the other.
Then, to Susan's surprise, her mother straightened up and looked over at Moira. "Give him to the Angels."
At this, Moira smiled and nodded and closed her eyes. Adam remained immobile in the corner, his feet planted firmly on the floor, his eyes open and observing.
Paul sensed the strangest thing, and looked to see if the others felt it, too. The energy in the room seemed to be rising, getting lighter. He felt drawn upward. He looked around at the others but no one reacted. They were all staring at the body on the bed. He felt, no, he saw his father leave. It was invisible, but he saw it. One moment he was there, the next, he was gone. The body was empty. Paul felt nothing. He looked at the other faces in the room. His mother was smiling. His sister looked stricken. Her daughter looked bored. The twins looked uncomfortable. Ron looked sad, and so did his eldest son. Adam looked ... impassive. Moira looked like she was praying.
Paul wanted to tell everybody it was done. It was over. Time to go home. But nobody moved, and he thought he shouldn't either. After a few minutes, Moira opened her eyes and withdrew her hands, which Paul hadn't realized until then had been resting on his father's feet. Somehow the movement woke everybody up and everybody started to talk or move at once. Susan began to sob, and her husband went to her. Paul leaned over and closed his father's eyes. His mother floated around Susan and Ron and went directly to Moira.
"You were very, very helpful," she said, patting Moira on the hand.
"Thank you," murmured Moira, her eyes shining. It seemed to Paul as if her whole body were glowing. He looked at Adam, and he seemed to be glowing, too, only with less intensity.
"Let's get her out of here," Susan said. With that, everyone filed out of the room.
The family went back to the house in two cars. Susan went with her husband and kids, and Paul drove Susan's rental car with his mother, Moira and Adam. Paul reflected on the incident at the hospital. Why didn't he feel anything? What did Moira and Adam do in the room during the family good-byes? His mother kept staring out the window and sighing deep sighs but with this odd smile on her face. It scared Paul a little. In the rear view mirror he looked at Moira and Adam, who also were looking out the window. Moira had a small smile on her face, as if she were remembering things from long ago. At one point she nudged Adam and pointed out her side of the window, and Adam nodded and smiled. Paul looked in their direction and was shocked to see his old nursery school. That's right. They'd been there before. This led him onto another tangent of thoughts for the next several blocks until they pulled up at his home. He heard Adam mutter. "Trees got a lot bigger."
To which Moira replied, "Yes, but they cut the oak down..."
Paul looked at the house next door, and remembered there had been an old oak tree there that he and his childhood friend -- that he and Adam, he realized with amazement -- used to climb in. It wasn't there anymore. He hadn't noticed when it was cut down; it must have happened after he left home.
Susan and her crew were already inside when Paul's group arrived. The twins were out back fighting over something, the daughter was sitting in a chair facing the wall listening to a Walkman that sounded like it could have been on the stereo it was so loud. The eldest was engrossed in a hand-held video game. Susan and Ron were in the kitchen arguing over what to make for dinner.
Moira went straight to the kitchen and stuck her head inside. "Why don't we call for Chinese take-out? That way we won't have to deal with any pots and pans."
Ron looked at her in genuine relief, while Susan struggled with wanting an opposing argument, but couldn't think of one. Moira walked into the kitchen and filled the kettle with water and set it on the stove to boil. "Isn't there someplace like Wong's we could call?"
"How do you know about Wong's?" Susan asked suspiciously. "Oh, that's right -- you used to live here."
Ron extended his hand. "I'm sorry, I saw you at the hospital but we haven't been introduced. I'm Ron, Susan's husband. Susan says your name is Moira?"
Moira graciously shook his hand. "Yes, and out there is my son, our son, Adam." Adam was sitting on the davenport with his grandmother, who had pulled out a stack of photo albums and was showing them to him.
"Oh, God, don't let her do that!" Susan said, seeing her mother leafing through the old memories.
"Why not?" asked Paul, bracing himself.
"Well, we don't know what's going to set her off, we can't have her looking at those now, I mean, especially since, you know." It seemed like Susan was more in danger of being set off than her mother at the moment.
Moira quietly went about making tea. Ron found the teapot and showed her where the tea bags were kept.
Paul stood in the center of the kitchen door, to physically block his sister in case she tried to go out and snatch the albums away from her mother. He usually didn't use his height, so it surprised his sister to see how his six-foot-four frame filled the entire doorway. He shook his head.
"Showing Adam the family pictures may be just the thing she needs to do right now. It's probably comforting for her to remember. In fact, when Moira finishes with the tea, I'm going to get myself a mug and go join them." Paul was pleased to see his sister speechless for the first time in her life.
He left her and Ron to order the Chinese take-out, and went to join his mother and son on the davenport.
"This is Paul as a little boy, in nursery school ... "she was saying. "He loved his sailor suit."
Paul's eyes zoomed to the photo, scanning it for any sign of Adam. He couldn't see any.
His mother turned the page.
"Now, this is Paul's fourth birthday party. We gave him a bright red tricycle. Oh, you loved that trike so much, dear!" his mother gushed.
Paul wasn't listening; he was staring at the photograph. It was a black and white picture of a little boy in a cowboy outfit, Paul, sitting astride a tricycle with a toothy smile on his pudgy face. In the background there were several girls and boys and a few parents, watching. Standing next to his mother, and beside a solemn little boy with dark eyes, was a woman in a slender fitted dress and hair pinned up in a bun, smiling. It was Moira. Paul wondered if anyone else would recognize her. He looked at Adam, gazing at the page.
"These are great," he said to his grandmother. "I don't have any photographs of my childhood."
"You don't? Why ever not?" she asked.
"Well, we moved around a lot as a kid. If there were any photos, they probably got lost. We just didn't keep a lot of stuff because it was too hard to take it with us." Adam explained. Too hard to transition with? thought Paul. Adam looked at him. "Yes, something like that."
Paul's mother looked at the photo album. "Oh, you must see this one." She jabbed a finger at the next picture. "That's Charles."
The photo was one of Charles, looking like an older version of Adam, with two little boys stuffed into life jackets in a canoe. One was Paul and, Paul realized with dawning shock, the other was his childhood buddy -- Adam.
"Oh, that's the time the boat flipped over and everybody got wet." Adam said.
"Why yes, how did you know?" she asked him.
"Uh Dad told me." Adam said, with a sheepish grin.
It was the first time Adam had referred to Paul as Dad. And Paul had never told him about the incident. Paul took a big swig of tea. Ground. Center. He reminded himself.
"Well, that little boy was Paul's best buddy that year, but he only lived next door for a short time. I actually think it was for less than a month. They were as thick as thieves." She held up her two fingers, crossed.
Susan came out of the kitchen. "Mom, Ron and I are going to pick up some Chinese take-out. We'll be right back." She looked at Paul. "If any of the kids give you any trouble, send them to the rec room. Better yet, maybe they should all go down there now anyway."
"No, they're okay where they are right now." Paul said. If they started out in the rec room, there wouldn't be anywhere else to send them if they acted up.
When they left, Paul got up to check on Moira. She was still in the kitchen, sitting in one of the chairs with her eyes closed. He decided not to disturb her. The twins were outside but no longer arguing. Livvy, Susan's daughter, still had the Walkman on too loud, but was also engrossed in a back issue of Readers Digest. Susan's eldest, Chuck, had taken Paul's seat and was looking at the photo album with his grandmother and Adam. As Paul watched them sitting there, he started seeing Adam in a different context than before. He was just getting used to Adam being his son. But Adam was his mother's grandson. She was his grandmother. And Chuck was Adam's cousin. And Susan was his aunt. He started seeing Adam connected to everyone in the room, and it was as if the familiar tapestry of his family was suddenly illuminated with a new, golden thread. He felt arms slip around his waist and a head rest upon his shoulder.
"How are you doing?" Moira whispered in his ear.
"Fine. I mean it, I'm really fine." Paul said. "I don't know why, either. My father just died!" He shook his head. He turned around to face her, and they stood in the kitchen face-to-face, arms around each other. "Thank you for being here. I know you helped."
"You're welcome." She nodded. "We're not quite through yet, there's a little more to be done."
"What?" Paul said. "This is your assignment? This is Adam's assignment."
She glanced past him at Adam, who seemed thoroughly engrossed in the photo album. "I think so, but I'm not always sure until it's over."
Paul felt a tiny icicle creeping into his heart. "And when is this assignment going to be over?"
She gave him a squeeze. "Oh, shush. Don't worry about that. It ain't over ‘til it's over."
"Until the fat lady sings?" Paul said, trying to be cheerful.
"I beg your pardon?" Moira said, with mock indignity.
Paul hugged her close. "You know what I mean." He kissed her forehead.
"Ooo! Look at Uncle Paul and his girlfriend." The twins had come in from outside via the kitchen door.
Paul looked up. "Into the rec room, guys, until your mom gets back."
"Cool. The TV’s down there." They stormed by the couple and went downstairs with all the delicacy of a herd of rogue elephants.
Paul's mother had apparently moved on to more recent photo albums and was showing Chuck all his baby pictures. Adam extricated himself and went to the kitchen.
"How are you doing, Adam?" Moira asked.
"Not bad, not bad." Adam answered. "It's interesting to see those old photos. I'd forgotten what I looked like."
"How do you like your grandmother?" asked Paul.
"She's a pretty neat old bird. Just a trifle wigged out at the moment, but she's hanging in there. I think she's doing okay." Adam looked at Moira. "She really knew what was going on in there today. So did you." Adam said to Paul.
Paul wanted to ask about that, but felt the nausea rise in his stomach. He decided the questions could wait until later.
"I think I need some fresh air," Paul said.
"Why don't I sit with your mother while you and Adam take a walk?" Moira suggested.
So the two men found themselves out on the sidewalk in the late afternoon sun. Paul started walking towards the space where the old oak tree was. Adam stopped him.
"Over here, Paul." Adam pointed.
"What?" asked Paul.
"I didn't live in this house, it's the one next to it." Adam said, with a tinge of excitement. "Let's see if it's still there." He began to take off over the lawn.
"What's still there?" asked Paul, going after him. He started to have flashes of being little, all the houses big and all the trees skinny. Chasing after a little boy who was running on ahead.
"Here." Adam stood in front of the next house. "Let's see if anyone is home." He went up and rang the doorbell.
Paul felt a little foolish, standing there. What was he going to say when the door opened?
The door opened and a tall African American woman answered the door. "Can I help you?"
"Hi, I'm Adam Pa- Marbanks, and this is Paul Marbanks. We're from over there." Adam pointed to Paul's house. "We used to play here when we were kids and I was wondering if you'd mind if we looked around."
"Oh, yes, I know your mother -- or is it grandmother?" The woman looked confused.
"Mother, my mother." Paul said. He was a little disturbed by Adam behaving totally out of character.
"Lovely woman. Gives great Halloween treats," she said. "My kids like to hit her house first. You go right ahead and look." She smiled and closed the door.
"This way." Adam went around to the back. In the back there was an old brick barbecue grill. He went up and squatted behind it.
Paul went up to Adam. "What are you doing?"
"Seeing if it's still here." Adam was fingering a brick.
Paul had some half-memory of this grill. He associated it with his Dad being angry with him for something.
"Got it." The brick came out in Adam's hand. Inside was a hollow space, probably designed that way for heat distribution. Adam felt inside the hole. Paul wondered about spiders and maybe snakes. "Here it is!" Adam pulled out an old canvas sack.
"Treasure!" Paul said, kneeling beside him. They had been playing pirates and they were burying treasure. Back when the barbecue was new.
Adam opened the sack and dumped out its contents. Three giant marbles, several Lincoln logs, two green soldiers and a gold coin. That was it. The gold coin had come from his father's desk. Paul could still see in his mind's eye his old man chasing him with his ruler for stealing the coin.
Adam looked at him. "Your dad hit you with a ruler?"
"Sometimes," Paul said vaguely, picking up the coin. "I wonder how much this is worth?"
Adam shrugged his shoulders, disinterested. "Well, this is cool." He said. "I never get to check out any of the places I grew up in, so this is fun."
Paul eyed him sharply. "You never go back?"
"Well, I've been to my old junior high in Seattle. Remember that time I got beamed with a baseball?" Adam grinned.
Paul stared at him. Oh, that's right. The only other person Adam can share his childhood with is his mother. There is no one else that he can validate parts of his past with, because it all happened in different times.
"And countries. We shifted everywhere." Adam said, softly. "But what's really weird is ... all this family stuff. Until I was eleven, it was always my mother and me, alone. Afterwards I had chaperones, but it was always one on one. They never assigned me with another. I think because my energy was already starting to be different, and no one else matched me. So it's weird to have cousins and things." He picked up a Lincoln Log and examined it. "I used to love these."
"Me, too." Paul looked down at the treasures. "Which of this stuff is yours and which is mine?"
"Oh, it’s probably all yours." Adam said. "Mom never got me anything because we couldn't take it with us."
"You mean you never had any toys when you were a kid?" Paul found this hard to believe. Moira didn't seem the type to deny her son -- their son; Paul corrected himself in his thoughts -- toys and playthings.
"No, no that's not it." Adam sighed. "I had stuff, we just never bought anything." He looked at Paul. "It's too hard to explain."
Paul fought the queasiness that was rising in his stomach. "Try me," he challenged.
Adam leveled his brown eyes at Paul. So Paul leveled his brown eyes at Adam. Momentarily they were both four-years-olds at a standoff. Adam broke the stare first, by shrugging his shoulders and looking away.
"We ... manifest stuff," he said, simply.
"You manifest stuff?" Paul echoed.
"Yes. You know, manifest. Create what we need. And when we go, it goes." Adam shrugged his shoulders again, to emphasize simplicity.
Paul shook his head. "Moira manifested you toys?" He tried to understand.
"Well, at first, and then I did. It's pretty easy, once you get the hang of it." Adam said.
"How?" Paul asked.
"No, Paul. I don't prove stuff. I only manifest what I need, when I need it. I don't need to prove to you that I can," Adam said firmly, as if reciting a rule.
"I didn't mean prove it to me, I meant show me how. If it's so easy, I must be able to do it too, right?" Paul asked. He suddenly realized they'd been sitting on this lady's lawn behind her barbecue for a while now. He wondered if she was watching them. He wondered if he had grass stains on his trousers.
Adam began to stand up. "Let's put this stuff back. A kind of time capsule, okay?" He picked up the bag of trinkets.
"Fine with me. But I should keep the coin," Paul said, and Adam gathered the other things and put the bag back into the barbecue.
"I think we should be getting back. I think Susan and Ron are back with dinner," Adam said.
Paul realized he had heard their car pull up to his house while he and Adam were talking. He'd been so absorbed he hadn't paid attention.
"Paul! Adam! Come and get it!" Moira's voice floated over the hedges.
Paul had a sudden flashback of being four years old, with Adam playing in his back yard. Adam's mom - - Moira - - calling from the house they now were standing in. Climbing up the back stairs to the kitchen, sitting at the white Formica table with the gold flecks in it and Adam's mom -- Moira -- serving them … was it peanut butter and jelly?
"Grilled cheese. You liked Mom's grilled cheese, because she melted it in the oven instead of in the pan like your mom," Adam said as they walked towards Paul's house.
Paul felt a little woozy by the time he got to the kitchen door. Moira was standing there, a dishtowel wrapped around her waist. She smiled a broad smile.
"You guys been out playing in our old back yard?" She grinned.
Adam smiled. "Yeah, we found our treasure."
Paul didn't feel like smiling. He felt like throwing up. Ground, breathe down your grounding. He did so and began to feel better. Moira patted him on the back. "Take it easy, Paul dear. You're already dealing with a lot."
Paul nodded and they went inside.
Wong's Take Out was mostly devoured by the time Paul and Adam got washed up and to the table. Susan hadn't adjusted for the extra family members.
"Geez, guys, I'm sorry. I don't know where I left my head." She genuinely apologized.
"Oh, I think we have plenty." Adam said, reaching for a nearly empty carton.
Paul stared at him. There was enough for one person to eat, but, not three, as Moira hadn't had any either. Adam began dishing out the steamed rice on to his plate. He made a sizable heap and handed it to Moira. She dished herself out an equal portion, and handed it to Paul. The carton was still nearly empty, but there was a decent amount left for Paul. Adam grabbed the Sweet and Sour Shrimp, which also was depleted, yet he dished himself several full spoonfuls, while his mother did the same and when Paul got the carton, there was more in it that when Adam started.
"There's enough for you guys, oh, I'm so glad!" his sister said, with a dazed expression.
"These cartons are deceptive in the amount they can hold." Moira said.
Susan's children excused themselves because it was time for their favorite show, and went to the rec room to view it. Susan went to call relatives, their mother was lying down, and Ron started to wash the few dishes the dinner had produced.
Paul looked at Adam, hoping he'd telepathically picked up on his question.
Adam shrugged, "Well, you wanted an example."
Moira caught what they were talking about. "Only what we need."
"Well, it looks like you provided me with what I need, too." Paul said, jabbing his fork at his now nearly empty plate.
Moira and Adam both smiled at him like two sunlamps. He'd never noticed quite how much they looked alike. Paul’s heart swelled. These two people were his family. His family. His family. He wasn't just the bachelor uncle at this gathering. Paul was here with his family. Then he remembered his father. Why didn't he feel sad?
Moira and Adam began to talk at once, and then laughed.
"You're the teacher, Mom, you answer him." Adam said.
"Oh, Adam, you teach him things I'll never know." Moira responded. With a glance at Ron, absorbed in his thoughts at the sink, Moira leaned over and whispered to Paul. "You saw your father leave. You realized it was a transition. A birth, not a death. That's why there is no grief."
Paul let the explanation settle into him, a comforting blanket over the guilt he'd been experiencing. He'd thought he was emotionally lacking or something, to have no sadness at his father's passing. He saw his mother in shock, his sister in tears, and her family having various reactions, and he had none. Come to think of it, Moira and Adam had none, either. Paul saw them both being compassionate and understanding to his relatives, as well as supportive and patient. But both were undisturbed by witnessing a death. As if they'd done it before. Paul wanted to ask about it.
"All right, folks, listen up." Susan reappeared from the office where she'd been on the phone. "We've a nine o'clock appointment with Bill at his office tomorrow morning.” Bill McHenry was an old family friend and their father's executor. “That won't take long, as the will is up to date and all of Dad's papers are in order. We've a ten-thirty appointment with the funeral home. I don't know how long that will take. We've a one o'clock appointment with Rev. Truman to discuss the funeral. Uncle Stephen will be flying in tomorrow; his flight gets in at 6:45 PM. Paul, you can pick him up from the airport. None of our cousins have responded to my messages, so we don't know if they're coming or not."
"You've been busy!" Paul interjected when his sister took a breath. She looked better; she had color back in her face. She always was happier when she was organizing things.
She gave Paul a tense little smile. "Well, I won't bother you with the details about the caterer for after the funeral right now," she said. "I'm going to look in on Mom." She turned on her heel and went upstairs.
Paul looked over at Ron, and whistled. Ron smiled and nodded. "That's Susan. You know, Paul -- you just step out of the way and let her run."
"I can see why you two have such a successful marriage." Moira observed.
Ron came over and joined them at the table. "It's a lot of hard work, but it's worth it," he said. He paused and looked at Paul. "I know you and your Dad didn't always see eye to eye," he began.
Paul gave a short laugh. "That's an understatement!"
"Well. I just wanted to say how sorry I am that this has happened." Ron said, as if taking responsibility for his father-in-law's death. "I really respected and cared for your father, Paul. I thought he could have had a few more years left in him, if he'd only managed his stress better."
"I know what you mean," Paul agreed. "I don't handle my stress very well, either." He smiled, thinking of the extraordinary stress he'd been dealing with since Moira came back into his life.
"Well, Susan's getting better at it." Ron observed. "The kids used to really get to her." He gave a little glance at Moira. "She couldn't sue them if they didn't obey her, or subpoena them to dinner on time." He gave a wry smile.
"It's definitely easier to manage your work than to manage your loved ones." Moira said, understandingly.
Ron managed a grin. Then he turned to Adam, "So Adam, what do you think of the Marbanks?"
Adam was surprised at being part of the conversation. He was used to quietly listening in the background. "Um, in what way do you mean?" he said, stalling.
"Oh, it's just that I know what it was like for me, meeting the family for the first time,” Ron said, kindly. "I mean, it was under entirely different circumstances and there weren't four kids racing around," he said, meaning his own. "And of course, I had Charles interrogating me as only a lawyer can." He smiled at the memory. "The old man sure terrified me at first. It took me a while to find that under that crusty exterior was an old softy."
Paul raised his eyebrows. He'd never met the soft side of Charles Marbanks.
Adam nodded, understanding what Ron had asked. "Well, I already know Paul and Susan from work, so it really was ... " he hesitated over what to call Olivia. Grandmother didn't quite fit. "Paul's mother I hadn't met yet. It's hard to get a feel for her right now." he ended. He saw Ron still expected something of him. "Well, Susan, now, let's see. I like Susan. You have to really stand your ground with her, not let her blow you away. But the thing I like about her is that you can see her coming. With some women it's subtler, you don't feel the bullet holes until you've fallen over. Susan, you said it perfectly, you can just step aside."
Paul looked at Adam. He'd never heard him talk about women before; at least he noticed them.
Ron nodded, satisfied with what he'd heard. "She's always liked you, Adam, ever since she met you in January. She called me that night and talked about you. She was pretty convinced you were a Marbanks back then, too." Ron glanced at Paul. "She's sharp, Susan is." He stood up and stretched. "I'm going to check on the kids. It sounds like we've a busy day planned for tomorrow. Unless," his face brightened with the thought, "I can get out of it by watching the kids." He said good night and went downstairs.
Paul, Moira, and Adam all sat at the kitchen table for a few minutes in silence. Moira reached out and rubbed Adam's back.
"Good job today, Adam." She gave him a little hug.
"Thanks, Mom. You weren't half bad yourself." He smiled at her.
"No, I don't just mean at the hospital. I appreciated your energy control, but in general, with all these people. You are actually related to these people, you know." She looked him in the eye.
"That fact had occurred to me once or twice today." Adam replied, sounding like Spock. "It's most interesting how relatives can get in your space, even when you've never met them before."
"That's your unique learning experience, Adam. I don't have that. Except with you and Paul. And you're very well behaved," she complimented him.
"And I'm not?" Paul broke in, feeling left out, but not understanding what they were talking about, either.
"No, you're not." Moira shined her smile at him. "But that's okay, because I love you." She sounded like she was talking to a little boy who didn't know any better. It reminded Paul of when he was four. "What I mean, darling," she took Paul's head and pulled it towards her to kiss, "is that you are able to affect me in ways no one else can. And that I don't mind it. Not in the least."
Paul lifted his face up so that her lips, aiming for his forehead, met his instead. "You're able to affect me, too."
"Well, I'm going to leave you two love birds affecting each other." Adam said, dryly, and standing up. "I'm going to look for a quiet corner to meditate in for a while."
"Try the den," suggested Paul, thinking of his father's study. Susan had already been in there, so she was unlikely to go back in that evening. Adam nodded and headed off in that direction.
Paul and Moira watched him go. Moira was caressing the back of Paul's neck. Paul had his arm draped casually around her waist. He looked at her.
"Well, I can't get out of tomorrow's schedule by staying behind to watch my kid," he said with some humor, "so I feel like turning in right now."
"Sounds like an excellent idea, even if it is only about six PM our time." Moira said with a smile.
"Oh, well, I can think of a few ways to occupy our time before falling asleep." Paul leaned over and kissed her neck. He felt Moira's throat vibrate with her laugh.
"I think the TV show is over, Paul. Let's get upstairs before we have an audience." She took Paul by the hand and led him up to the bedroom.
Paul and Moira lay with their limbs entwined in Paul's childhood bed. It had been quite a challenge to keep the bed from squeaking or thumping the wall. It had been an equal challenge to have any movement at all without rolling onto the floor. They were smothering their giggles into each other's shoulders.
"I think we should have just done it on the floor," Moira whispered.
"No, that wouldn't have worked. The kitchen is right underneath. You can hear everything. The ceiling lamp would have rocked back and forth," Paul whispered back. Then he gave her little kisses on her cheek and ears and neck, and started her giggling again. She began to tickle his back. "Stop it! Stop it," he hissed. "I'll push you onto the floor, I swear!"
She stopped, and began to kiss him on the chin and neck.
"God! I can't believe we just did it in this old bed of mine." Paul murmured, thinking of all the younger Pauls who would be either very impressed or shocked. All his teenage years he spent dreaming of sex, lying in this bed. Now he was here, not just with a real, live girl, but a real, live Moira.
"You think the sweetest things," she whispered.
"I also can't believe we're doing this the evening after my father died." Paul said, still wondering at his absence of grief.
"You don't think Susan and Ron are humping right now?" Moira asked.
Paul's mind went blank. "I don't think Susan and Ron ever humped. She was probably artificially inseminated." It was the first thing that jumped into his head; he hadn't meant to sound unkind.
Moira snorted. "You don't mean that. You just don't like the image of your sister having sex."
Paul realized that was true. Another image came to his mind. "Well, I bet he's never on top." He began to snicker uncontrollably.
"Hm. That's an idea." Moira said, and carefully rolled on top of Paul. "Now, don't you move, or it'll shake the bed."
"Oh, God, Moira, no!" he croaked huskily. She ignored him, and subtly began to do some very erotic moves.
Downstairs, Adam, the only person in the house not retired for the night, sat in the kitchen. He sipped a cup of coffee and watched the ceiling light gently sway.
At 8:30 the following morning the entire Marbanks contingent assembled, front and center and ready for inspection. Paul thought his sister was going to put on white gloves and check to see if everyone's shirt was buttoned. Ron received his instructions. He succeeded in hiding his relief as Susan gave him the itinerary for activities around Hartford with the kids. Adam managed to get out of the day's schedule also by saying he wanted to accompany the kids, as he'd always wanted to see Mark Twain’s house. Moira was blatantly left out of the schedule, and Paul tried to get her included. No way did he want to go through the day without Moira. There was a little tension when he raised the matter with Susan.
"I'm sorry, Moira," Susan said pointedly, "I thought it more appropriate if just Paul and I go with Mom go to the executor's this morning."
"I understand, Susan," Moira said, soothingly. "I certainly don't want to be where I might be in the way. I only want to be of assistance and support at this time."
Olivia piped up. "I'd like Moira to come along." They were the first words she'd said all morning.
Susan wheeled around towards her mother. "Now, Mom, I don't think that's a good idea. This is a family matter."
"She's Paul's wife," Olivia said stubbornly, her facts slightly inaccurate. "And I like her. I want her to sit beside me in the car, too."
Susan stared at her mother as if the woman had completely lost her marbles.
"I find it comforting. She doesn't tell me what to do." Olivia crossed her arms over her lap as if to indicate that the subject was closed.
Susan's mouth opened and closed. Tears sprung to her eyes, but she didn't let them spill. "Fine," she said through clenched teeth. "I'm going to get ready to go." She marched out of the room.
Ron started to say something, but Paul raised his hand. "It's okay, Ron. We understand. We all understand." Ron nodded, gathered the kids up and herded them to the car, with Adam following behind.
Adam shot Paul a humorous look. "Good luck, Dad," he said, emphasizing the word Dad.
Paul looked back, wishing he could go with them. "Have fun with your cousins, son," he smiled. "Opie."
Paul turned to Moira and put his arm around her. "Thanks for being here."
She patted his chest. "De nada," she answered.
They went to Bill McHenry's in their parents’ car. Susan drove, with Paul sitting up front. Moira sat in back with Olivia. Olivia reached out for Moira's hand, and Moira gave hers a comforting squeeze. They rode to the executors in silence.
It was a short meeting. Their father, lawyer that he was, had everything in order -- trust fund set up and finances organized so that Olivia should never have to worry about anything. There was little for Paul or Susan to do or say, as they would receive no inheritance until their mother passed on. This was perfectly fine with them, as they both were well off on their own accord. Susan got a little testy, because Olivia would not let go of Moira's hand during the proceedings. She obviously thought her mother had gone off the deep end and suspected Moira of either pushing her, diving with her, or both.
The funeral home was a little more difficult, as there were decisions to make. Neither Paul nor his mother really cared about the details, which frustrated Susan because she wanted them to heartily approve of all her choices. There was a slight fracas over whether the body would be viewed. Paul was horrified, but Susan insisted on it. Olivia wouldn't offer an opinion, so Moira spoke up.
"I understand that this is none of my business," she said softly, "but I agree with Susan." Paul gaped at her. "None of Charles' friends got to see him at the hospital to say good bye. Viewing his body is a way for them to have that chance." She looked at Susan. "It's also nice for the family, who last saw him in the hospital, because he'll look so much better once the funeral home has taken care of him."
Paul was about to raise his objection when he heard Moira's voice, clear as a bell, inside his head. Paul, your sister doesn't understand about spirit. The body is very important to her. Let it go. Paul understood, without understanding, so he let it go.
They went to lunch at a restaurant on the way to the church. Nobody was very hungry. Paul desperately wanted the day to be over with, and poked at his ham on rye. Moira methodically worked her way through a tuna melt. Susan mechanically nibbled on a Caesar salad, while their mother had ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, tomato soup, and cottage cheese. Except she only had one bite of each.
Suddenly Olivia spoke. "It's too bad Charles couldn't have met you," she said directly to Moira. "He would have liked you very, very much. He would have been very impressed."
Moira smiled modestly, while Paul puffed with pride. Susan looked like she was about to explode.
His mother looked at Paul. "I know it hasn't been easy, dear," she patted his hand gently. "But I have been behind you all the way. You may not have known it, but I have. Charles and I had quite a few ... discussions about you becoming an architect. I'm very proud of your accomplishments."
Paul was speechless. He'd never seen his mother stand up to his Dad on anything in his life. He'd wondered how he'd been able to go to architecture school without his father disowning him. Now he understood.
"And you have a lovely, lovely wife. I am very pleased, Paul dear." His mother squeezed his hand.
"Mother," Susan hissed. "They're not even married yet. If they ever do get married."
Olivia turned a stern eye on her daughter. "Susan, that is a very ungracious thing to say." The reprimand stopped Susan in her tracks. "Marriage is more than a ceremony and a piece of paper, dear. Paul and Moira are already married in the eyes of God." She looked very solemnly at the whole table.
Paul could not believe his mother really said that. Susan was about to call the funny farm on her. Moira just beamed at Olivia.
"Thanks, Mom. It means a lot to me to hear you say that." Paul sputtered.
Susan started to say something, but for some reason stopped. Paul noticed Moira's hand was resting on the table, but her fingers were gently moving. She seemed to be -- directing energy at Susan. Was that right? He couldn't see anything. But he could see the affects. Susan's focus seemed to be pulled inwards, and she sat back in her chair. Paul wasn't ready for what happened next. Susan's strong facade crumbled; she wilted and began to cry.
"I - I - I miss my Daddy," she said in gasps. Both Olivia and Paul reached out for her. "I - I - I want my Daddy." She dissolved, sobbing into her napkin.
Moira's hand kept gently moving, while Paul and Olivia patted Susan on the back. It was as if the grief was being washed out of her. All the years of being strong so her father would admire her, all the decades of doing the right thing according to Charles, all the rigidity and strong opinions melted away. When she was done, Susan looked soft and pink and glowing, like a newborn with puffy eyes and a swollen face.
"Oh, God, I look a mess. I have to go fix my face." Susan got up to go to the ladies room.
"I have to fix my face, too," Moira said, and went with her. After she'd left, Paul realized Moira hadn't been wearing any makeup.
Paul looked at his mother. "Well, that was something."
Olivia nodded, a wise smile on her face. "A long time in coming, I think."
They continued on to the church to meet the family pastor. Paul hadn't been inside that building since he was a teenager and he was slightly uncomfortable. Moira provided a calming presence by his side, a buffer between him and all the things he rebelled against. This time, it was the minister who had a lot of opinions about the way things should go. Fortunately, Susan wasn't up to arguing, and their mother genuinely agreed with the minister. They were out of the church in twenty-five minutes. Paul drove everyone home.
Olivia took Moira around to the back of the house to show her the garden, leaving Paul and Susan in the house alone.
"Are you all right?" Paul asked with genuine concern. He'd never seen his sister look so fragile.
"I'm okay," his sister said softly. She went into the kitchen and looked out the window at her mother and Moira in the back yard. "Mom's right, you know."
"About what?" Paul said, coming up behind his sister and putting his arm around her.
"About Moira. Dad would have loved her." His sister leaned her head against her brother's shoulder.
Paul gave her a little squeeze and kissed the top of her head. "That's nice of you to say."
"It's not that I don't like her." Susan said, looking up at him. "I guess, maybe I'm jealous."
"Of Moira?" Paul said, surprised.
"Not really, just ... that I'm no longer your special one," she said, smiling.
"Special." Paul echoed, thinking of the summer he started that endearment. He had just finished junior high and his sister had just started. He called her his special sister, and joked that she could compete in the Special Olympics. She hadn't known at the time that the Special Olympics were for developmentally disabled people and took it as a great compliment. When a friend had clued her in, she socked Paul in the stomach. Winded him, too. Later on, being special was always a secret joke between them.
"Susan, you are my sister." Paul held her tight. "You will always have a special place in my heart."
"You, too. Special." Susan hugged him back.
Stephen's plane landed at 6:45 PM at Hartford Airport. Paul went to pick him up and take him directly to the restaurant where all the adults having dinner. Susan had to arrange to pay each of her children baby-sitting wages to take care of themselves, to insure that the house would still be standing when they arrived home after dinner.
Stephen was in fine spirits, having imbibed a few during the journey across the country.
"Well, I expect Susan has got everything organized to a 'T'," he said, as Paul drove him to the restaurant.
"Oh, yes, " Paul answered, "everything is in perfect order. You know Susan."
"Yes, I do," Stephen said. Susan had not only whipped the Portland office into shape in four months, but she was attempting to do the same to San Francisco. She left Seattle alone, because Paul was doing the job almost up to her standards. San Francisco was a mess, and Susan wanted to fix it.
"Well, we left the kids at home. Except Adam," Paul joked.
"Adam?" Stephen said. "What's Adam doing here?"
Paul realized that no one had yet told Stephen about Adam and Moira. Paul swallowed before answering. "Well, I just found out that Adam is my son," he said, quietly.
Stephen let out a big hoot. " I knew it, I just knew it." He slapped Paul heartily on the back, nearly making him run off the road. "You old rascal. I knew there was something you were hiding in your britches when you were a lad."
Paul stuttered a protest, "Well, no, I, that is, I didn't know until last week."
"Ah ha, well." Stephen paused, and then nudged him again. "We should pass out cigars, eh?" And dissolved into a wheezing fit of laughter.
"There's something else I should tell you before we get to the restaurant," Paul said, trying to talk over the wheezing. "I'm getting married."
Stephen stopped in mid-laugh. "You're taking the plunge again, boy? I'd thought you'd have learned the first time." Stephen had never stoppedl smarting from his own divorce.
Paul winced. "It's not like the first time, uncle. I'm marrying Adam's mother." He wondered if he should mention that Stephen probably knew Moira from L.A., but decided to let that matter come up if Stephen raised it upon meeting her.
His uncle chuckled a slightly lecherous laugh. "Doing the right thing, eh? Seems a bit late for that."
"No, no, no," Paul said, and then realized that he didn't want to go into it with Stephen. He didn't want to talk about true love or love at first sight with someone who didn't know the meaning of the word. "Well, you'll meet her and you'll understand." He knew his uncle would judge her on the basis of physical appearance alone, and on that matter Moira would pass with flying colors.
They got to the restaurant and were led directly to a table where the others were already seated. Stephen transformed into a perfect gentleman, but only for the sake of Olivia, to whom he gave a compassionate hug, and murmured appropriate condolences in her ear. He nodded at Susan, who nodded back with pursed lips. Then he went over and thumped Adam on the back.
"Adam, you old scalawag," he said, although that was hardly an accurate description of him, "welcome to the family."
Adam coughed slightly at the thump. "Thanks, Uncle Stephen." He emphasized the word Uncle.
Then Stephen stood by Moira and looked her up and down, eyes lingering a bit too long below her neck. Moira broke the stare by lifting her hand up to shake his.
"So, you're Moira, eh?" Stephen practically drooled as he took her hand.
"So pleased to meet you, Stephen." Moira said, her diction a bit clipped.
"Well, well, Paul, you are full of surprises." Stephen took his seat, fortunately situated across the table from Paul and Moira; otherwise Paul would have decked him.
"Oh, Uncle Stephen, put your eyes back in your head and order. We're starving," Susan broke in. The presence of her uncle restored her to her old fighting self. Her uncle laughed congenially and looked at his menu.
The dinner conversation covered everything except Charles. For some reason, everyone was skirting around any references to the dearly departed. There were just so many topics one could cover at a family gathering such as this one without mentioning family members, so the talk turned to work. It turned out that Ron wanted a small office building designed for his new practice in Portland so the conversation included him a great deal. The two persons excluded were Moira and Olivia. Adam didn’t talk either, but he at least followed along. Unnoticed by the rest of them, Moira and Olivia excused themselves and went, not to the ladies room, but out of the restaurant for a walk.
It took Paul a while to realize that they were missing. He glanced at Adam to see if anything was wrong, but Adam’s impassive eyes gave no indication of alarm. Stephen and Susan were haggling over some minor details so Paul got up and went to the rest rooms. He stood outside the ladies room for a while until he ascertained that the women weren't in there. He stepped outside and looked up and down the block. He caught sight of them down at the corner, sitting on a bench by a bus stop. He strolled down to join them. As he got closer he heard snippets of their conversation.
"So you're saying he held his feelings deep beneath the surface?" Moira asked.
"Oh yes..." Olivia's voice faded in and out "... you'd just have to know they were there ... that's why Adam reminds me ... such a good man, I was so lucky..."
Paul stopped a few yards from them, feeling like an intruder. He considered backtracking when both women looked up and saw him.
"Oh, Paul dear, come sit beside us. Moira and I are having the most delightful time." His mother's voice sounded frail and delicate, but light at the same time.
Paul sat down on the bench beside his mother. He rested his arm on the back of the seat behind her.
"It's such a beautiful night. Isn't that breeze just lovely?" His mother patted his knee.
"Yes, quite refreshing after that stuffy restaurant." Paul agreed. They'd been seated in the non-smoking section, but without air circulation, so there might as well have been no separation at all between the two parts of the restaurant.
"When your father and I were courting he had very little money, so our early times together were spent like this." His mother smiled up at the stars. "We used to take the bus to the park and walk along the river. You know, I enjoyed being with him so much we could have saved ourselves the bus fare and just stayed at the bus stop, talking."
Moira was smiling at Paul's mother with glistening eyes. She'd leaned back against the bench so Paul's hand had just grazed her shoulder. He let his hand rest there.
"You know, Paul, your father was the most wonderful talker. I could just listen to him go on forever." his mother said, lost in her reverie.
Paul suppressed the comment that his father's talking was one of the reasons he left home. The man didn't know when to stop. It wasn't easy being a teenager with a lawyer for a father. You could never get him to shut up long enough to hear your point of view. Of course, being a teenager, it had been difficult for Paul to get his thoughts collected enough to present his point of view.
"He had the most wonderful voice," Olivia was now telling Moira. "So deep, so manly. Paul has that voice, too." Moira smiled and nodded, flashing a secret look towards Paul, whose heart contracted when she did.
"Oh, his health has been so poor recently." Olivia's voice quavered. "I knew what was coming, I really did. But still, it's so hard to get used to." Her head dropped and she shook it. "Fifty years in December it would have been. We just missed our fiftieth." She was silent for a moment, and Paul slipped his arm down around her shoulders. Olivia collected herself. "Now Paul, you hang on to Moira. You hang on to her with both hands. She's a good woman. She's a keeper, as Charles used to say." Olivia turned to Moira and touched her cheek with her trembling, knotted hands. "Sometimes you don't know what a precious thing you have until you lose it." Moira smiled into Olivia's face, and a tiny teardrop trickled over her lower eyelid. She gave Olivia's hand, a squeeze.
The three sat there for a while, huddled on the bench, the night air gradually growing chillier. Paul broke the silence.
"We'd better get back to the others, Mom," he said. "They probably haven't missed us yet. Stephen and Susan were getting into it when I left. But it would be nice to have some dessert and coffee."
The trio stood up and walked back to the restaurant.
Later that evening, Paul and Moira were in Paul's little bed, face to face sideways, pressed up close to each other.
"This is getting ridiculous," Paul said. "I don't think I can hold out for two more nights of this." The funeral was the day after tomorrow.
"Let's throw both mattress on the floor." Moira suggested. "It may be drafty, but we'll have room to stretch out."
Paul thought about it as he gave her face little kisses. "On the other hand, this is awfully nice."
"Nice for you," retorted Moira, "you're against the wall. You can't fall out."
"I'm sorry, I didn't know you were so uncomfortable. Do you want to move the mattresses? We can." Paul started to shift himself.
"No, that's okay. I'll just adjust myself." Moira said, pulling him close.
Paul started to ask what she meant, when the oddest thing happened. In his arms she shifted in solidity. That is, one moment she was leaning heavily against him, the next ... she was still there but she wasn't. Paul gave her a little squeeze. He could still feel her, but she was lighter somehow.
"Sure wish you could teach me this trick before I have to go in for my next physical," Paul said. "What are you doing?"
"Oh, I'm just insuring I don't fall off the bed," she said, matter-of-factly. "Let's go to sleep."
Paul anticipated the queasiness as he pursued the question. "But how are you doing it?"
"I've just adjusted my molecules so I'm not so affected by gravity," she said, sleepily.
Paul felt her drifting off in his arms, but kept pressing. "Moira, I thought you were human, that is, your body was human."
"It is." Her face was nestled into his neck.
"But human bodies can't do this. Human bodies can't travel through time. Human bodies can't make Chinese food appear out of cartons." He felt like they were lying on a narrow waterbed, and he was becoming dizzy.
"Well, they can, but most people don't know how." Moira started to sound a little grumpy at being kept awake.
"How?" Paul said softly. Perhaps if he knew how, he could travel with her. Then they would never have to be apart.
"It takes years of training, from birth." She lifted up her head. There were dark circles forming under her eyes. "Plus, my body is slightly different. Adam's body is more like yours."
"Different, how?" Paul asked, only slightly guilty at keeping her awake.
"Well, mine operates on a higher vibrational level; it can handle a higher level of energy. Part of that is the original design I was created with, but part of it is training and years of energy work -- meditation. Adam has the same training, but his body was formed differently." She smiled at this, and Paul felt warmth rising between them. "The seed came from you, and the egg came from me, and grew inside me." Paul suddenly found the seventh grade health class illustrations that appeared in his head while she was talking incredibly erotic. "His energy vibration is heavier, denser, more solid than mine. But it means he can stay in one place longer, and his grounding is more stabilizing than mine, if that makes any sense." They were looking into each other's eyes.
"Tell me again about the seed and egg stuff," Paul said, forgetting his earlier curiosity.
"Hang onto me with both hands and I'll show you." Moira replied.
The next day was one of relative ease for Paul, who had nothing in particular to do. It was one of intense activity for Susan, who was handling all the details herself and not delegating to anyone. He found her in the den, sitting in their dad’s overstuffed leather chair, talking on the phone. A yellow legal pad lay on the large oak desk in front of her, filled with scribbled notes and phone numbers.
“Anything I can do to help?” Paul said when she’d hung up the phone.
Susan shook her head, “No, I have too many details in my head to delegate. Besides, I need to keep busy.” She gave her brother a tight little smile. Sarah sighed and leaned back in the chair. “I just love this room. It holds so many fond memories of Dad.”
Paul looked at her blankly. “This room? It does?”
“Oh, yes, I used to come in here when he was working, and he’d put down his pen and pick me up on his lap...” Sarah’s eyes had a faraway look in them, “he’d let me play with his paperclips and the stapler.”
Paul’s head sunk to his chest. "Susan, you had a different relationship with Dad than I did. You see these things and it brings up fond memories. I see these things and" Paul picked up the metal ruler on the desk. He shook it at her the way his father used to shake it at him when he was close to getting hit with it.
"Oh, Paul, you're exaggerating. Dad never hit you." Susan said.
"What!? I was there! I can tell you almost every time this ruler was used, and every place it hit. One time I couldn't sit down for a whole weekend. What would you do if Ron hit one of your kids with this? How would you feel about Dad if he'd ever hit you himself?" Paul was astounded by her denial.
Susan's eyes opened wide. "He really hit you?" She sounded stunned. "Why don't I remember?"
"Well, either you were at Brownies, or piano lessons, or ballet, or you were in the kitchen with Mom doing dishes. I don't know. Almost every Friday night, for as long as I can remember, I'd have a date with this." Paul wanted to take the ruler and break it or melt it down. "He'd bait me into some stupid argument, and I'd end up in here, bent over. Sometimes he'd work late on Fridays so I knew I'd better be out of the house all day Saturday or he'd get to me before breakfast. Or after dinner. Meals were his prime time to go at me, get me to contradict him or argue with him. Don't know where he was at lunch."
"Playing golf." Susan said, staring at Paul. "I remember you always fought, but ... I thought you went into the study to get a lecture."
"A lecture? Are you kidding? You couldn't hear?" Then Paul realized he'd never cried out during the beatings. With the study door closed, someone in the kitchen probably wouldn't have heard the ruler hitting his flesh, either. Suddenly, Paul wondered if his mother had even known it was happening. He looked over at the doorway, and there was Moira and his mother, looking at him.
"Paul, things were different back then," Susan began. "Ways of raising children were quite different then they are today."
"Oh, yeah, spare the rod and spoil the child," Paul spat out. "At least it wasn't a leather riding crop. That's what his father used on him. He had scars, you know -- mom told me." The faraway look came back into Susan's eyes. Paul stopped himself from continuing. He'd never thought that his father had simply been passing on what he himself had experienced. Maybe he had thought a metal ruler was kinder than a leather-riding crop. If only Paul had had the opportunity to raise Adam, he would never have hit him, ever, with anything. Just then the phone rang and Susan’s attention returned to planning the funeral, absent-mindedly playing with the ruler on the desk. Paul shut the door behind him and went to see what the rest of the family was doing.
Ron was busy supervising the kids. Moira was with Olivia, handling meals. Adam seemed to be there whenever a helping hand was needed, and gone otherwise. Paul decided to get some fresh air to calm down.
Paul sat out on the back steps, breathing in the spring sunshine. Crocus blossomed in his mother's flowerbeds, with daffodils and tulips getting ready to. The old cherry tree had bloomed and it looked like it had been snowing on the lawn. Birds constantly chirruped, and busy chipmunks raced across the lawns from one house to another. Adam came out and joined him.
"How was the Mark Twain house yesterday? I never got a chance to ask you." Paul inquired.
"Neat. I really enjoyed it. Feels really good, too. The guy had a lot of amusement." Adam responded.
Paul had expected a discourse on the unique and beautiful architecture. He smiled at Adam. They really did have similar interests, but they had completely diverse ways of viewing things.
"How did yesterday go for you?" Adam asked, although Paul could tell he was being polite. Adam already knew how yesterday went; he could read Paul's thoughts.
Paul hesitated before answering. "Better than expected," he said. "It really helped that Moira was there. I couldn't have made it through the day without her." He looked down at his shoes. "I couldn't have made it through this week without either of you," he admitted.
Adam put a friendly hand on Paul's shoulder. "Ah, you could have. You just wouldn't have enjoyed it as much." Adam said with a straight face and Paul got the sudden image of the kitchen ceiling lamp swaying. "You never create more than you can handle," he finished.
"Well, I suppose that's true." Paul mused. Then he thought of a new subject. "God, Stephen is a trip."
Adam chuckled. "You didn't know that before?"
"Well, it’s different when it’s just him and me. Him and my family," said Paul, thinking of last night's dinner, "That's a different kettle of fish."
"I can handle Stephen. Mom can handle Stephen. You should see Mom handle Stephen." Adam said.
"Well, she did great last night, or are you referring to another time?" Paul racked his brains. "Are you referring to L.A.?"
Adam nodded. "Yeah, when Mom was working for those Japanese guys. He came to our apartment one night, drunk as a skunk. Scared me out of my wits." Adam grinned at the memory. "She handled him good. I'm surprised he can still pee standing up."
Paul felt a flush of rage pass through him. "What do you mean? What happened?"
"Oh, nothing physical." Adam assured him. "He wasn't able to get through the front door, although he tried. She blasted him back to his car. I mean, from his awareness, he probably came to our place, tried to get in the front door, and then found himself instantly jammed into his car, but not exactly in the driver's seat."
Paul strained to remember what kind of car his uncle drove back then. Oh, yes. A Porsche. Was it a stick shift? Or was that the emergency brake in between the bucket seats?
"You got the picture," Adam said. "Anyway, I'm not surprised he doesn't remember her. She did a lot of energy work about that time." Then Adam seemed to recall Paul's participation, and he looked away.
"Energy work about what?" Paul asked, softly.
Adam squinted in the sunlight. He started to respond slowly, choosing his words carefully. "Oh, she was pretty freaked out about the earthquake. Felt very responsible, although it was supposed to happen. She felt it was worse because we were there. And she was freaked out about meeting you. It was only her second time, you know, seeing you." Adam glanced sideways at Paul. "And she told me, much later, how you asked her to come to Seattle, and she knew she couldn't. She knew she couldn't because she'd been corporeal for too long during that assignment, and she knew she couldn't because I was already here. She had to let go of you, again, not knowing when or if she'd see you again, and not knowing when or if I'd get to see you again until I was an adult."
"But I told her of the other times I'd met her." Paul said.
"That's right," Adam said. "I guess it was just she didn't know how old she was during any of those times." He nodded, resolving something in himself. "So she knew she'd see you again. Maybe she was more upset because of me."
"Why?" asked Paul.
"Oh, growing up without a father, that stuff. She really wanted you and me to be together. I mean, she realized the Universe was in charge of it all - the timing and the circumstances - but she's still my mother." Adam smiled. "I got to see you when I was older, and that was important."
Again Paul felt little pieces coming together inside him. Accumulated experiences of being a Big Brother, two different decades, same kid, same person sitting in front of him. Then he started to remember all the things they did together, shoot hoops, go to museums, go hiking. He started to chuckle.
Adam picked up on what he was thinking. "Oh, the Lincoln Memorial." That was when Paul was in college and Adam was in his mid teens. In the late sixties.
"You said, 'man, that guy has big feet'!" Paul laughed.
"Well, he did." Adam said.
"And hiking, we went hiking when you were about twelve in Seattle in the mid-eighties... on the same trails that we went on together a couple of years ago!" Paul marveled at the memory.
Adam grinned. "That was fun. You know, I should have guessed who you were by then, because you pointed out the exact same things on that trail that you did when I was twelve. It just didn't occur to me until I called you in L.A. and you were with ... us." Adam looked at Paul. "So many things came together for me after that. I pretty quickly figured out you were my dad. And that I couldn't say anything about it. So, I just accepted the relationship for what it was, what I could have. Enjoy the time I do have with you, instead of regretting the time we didn't have." Adam could have been echoing Paul's resolution about his relationship with Moira.
"Well, it may be a little late to begin being your father, but you're welcome to consider me as your dad and to talk to me about anything you might need to talk to a father about," Paul said, feeling kind of silly and uncertain. He hadn't talked to his father about anything since he was a teenager. He had no idea how to be a father, based on the fathering he had experienced.
"Well, thanks, Paul --I mean, Dad." Adam tried not to sound condescending. "But I think we have a pretty good thing going already. Compared to other people's relationships with their fathers, I feel quite lucky. I mean, we're friends. If I needed to talk about anything, I guess I could..." he paused and looked off into the distance.
"What are you thinking about?" Paul asked.
"Oh, how I usually talk to God about everything, and my mother, who helps explain things in terms of having a body, but I just realized you could probably give me better information regarding that than she can now. She has a intellectual understanding about my body, but you've actually lived in one of these." Adam sounded like he was talking about a house or a car. "Come to think of it, you really helped me with some stuff when I was a teenager."
Paul strained to remember the conversations he'd had with Adam as an adolescent. All he could remember was hiking and shooting hoops.
"Well, I didn't really talk to you then." Adam said, picking up on Paul's thoughts. "But I observed you. I learned about being male from you."
That sounded very odd to Paul. "In what way?"
Adam smiled, but he didn't look like he was going to tell him.
"Go on." Paul urged.
Adam looked down at the garden and chuckled. "Oh, you used to ogle girls a whole lot when we were in D.C. And you used to strut your stuff for them." he went on, ignoring Paul's embarrassment. "So it was easier to handle those urges in myself when I had them."
"So you've had urges." Paul said, trying not to sound too relieved.
"God, Paul, I have a body." Adam said. "I just choose not to act on those urges."
"You sound a whole lot like Spock right now." Paul teased.
"Well, a Vulcan's goal is to master his emotions. My goal is seniority over my body. So that I as spirit can be in charge of what I do, instead of letting my emotions and ego run the show," Adam explained.
"You know, cooperation with your body works a whole lot better." Moira's voice suddenly came from behind them. Both men looked up at her. "I could hear your conversation in the kitchen. It's a good thing that nobody else is in there." Moira came out and took a seat between the two men in her life.
Adam looked at her with one eyebrow raised in a deliberated imitation of Spock. "Elaborate." he said.
"Our bodies are more like horses than cars, Adam. Cars don't have the emotional aspect that bodies do. Cars won't drive themselves away if we're not in them. If you use the image of a rider on a horse, rather than a driver in the car, the picture will be clearer to you. See? Our bodies have emotions, and needs, and survival instincts. You can drive a car off a cliff and it won't bolt on you. A horse, or a human body, would definitely resist that kind of direction." She spoke directly to Adam, and Paul struggled to keep up.
Adam snorted, rather like a horse, "By cooperation do you mean allowing it to have sex?"
Moira smiled, and cozied against Paul. "What I mean by cooperation is allowing the body all the emotions it has to communicate to you with. Not resisting the body's feelings and urges." Adam started to speak but Moira went on. "By not resisting, I don't necessarily mean give in, I just mean ... to accept it. Not stifle it."
Adam's mouth shut and he appeared to be mulling the information over. "Okay," he said, simply.
Moira patted him on the knee. "Good boy." She grinned.
Paul sat there, watching the interaction between mother and son, trying to process what they were saying. It occurred to him that they were verbalizing for his benefit, and that probably many more of these conversations had already happened on this trip -- but telepathically. He thought about Adam's comment that he, Paul, could give him better information about having a body than his mother could. He couldn't think of one thing that he knew that Moira wasn't more aware of, or wise about. Next to them he felt like a man in a deep-sea diving suit, viewing the world outside through thick layers of padding, steel and glass, and they were scuba divers, directly touching and feeling the reality around them. He looked at Moira, and how the sun reflected off her silver-gold hair. Scuba divers -- or mermaids, perhaps. What would it be like, he wondered, to experience reality from their level of consciousness? To know people's thoughts, to be able to do all that they could do? It seemed overwhelming to him. If he were that way, how would he cope with the bombardment of thoughts and feelings? How could he stop himself from feeling responsible for everything going on around him, and running out to try and save the world? Oklahoma City. Why didn't she stop the bomb from happening? Why didn't she save all those people?
Moira sharply turned towards Paul, her eyes flashing. "That was not my assignment. I don't know what is going to happen, I am put in places to respond to the moment. Obviously, all the people who died were meant to die. And the room I was in --" She choked on the tears welling up "the children who lived were meant to live." She stared at him, eyes wide and glistening.
Adam stepped in. "Who knows, maybe if she hadn't been there, the whole building would have collapsed. We don't know these things, Paul. We're given limited information so that it doesn't affect our response. We're simply briefed on the general time period and circumstances, and sometimes we vaguely know that a major event is about to take place, but then we're dropped there and have to rely on our own knowingness."
Moira had closed her eyes and was struggling for self-control. Paul had never seen her quite like this. Obviously she'd asked herself the same questions Paul had thought, and struggled with the sense of responsibility Paul thought he himself would struggle with, had he Moira's abilities.
"Anyway, I probably wasn't the only one there." she said. "There are lots of us. Sometimes we recognize each other, sometimes we don't. We each have different assignments, also. And some of us are more corporeal than others."
Hearing that new piece of information, Paul wanted to ask a million questions, but Adam stopped him.
"Hello, Ron." Adam said, loudly.
Ron was just walking into the kitchen and hadn't noticed the three sitting on the back stoop.
"Oh, hi there. Beautiful day, isn't it?" Ron seemed in good spirits. "Have you heard the latest?"
"On what?" asked Paul, not certain he could absorb any more information.
"Oh, Susan has contacted about 150 of Charles' closest friends," Ron rolled his eyes, "and most of them are coming to the funeral tomorrow. She's been on the phone to the caterers for the last half hour."
"Popular guy." Adam remarked.
"Oh, he had many, many friends and contacts in the business community around here. And he and Olivia were quite active in church, so there are a lot of committee members and trustees who were good friends. A hundred and fifty is actually quite small, but it's happening so soon, many people had plans they couldn't change. Some people who can't make it are going to the viewing this evening."
"What viewing?" Paul said, uneasily.
"Gosh, Susan's been telling everyone about the schedule of events except her own brother. Actually, I doubt Olivia knows what's happening, but she doesn't seem real tuned in with what's going on in general." Ron said. "There's a family viewing this afternoon at the funeral home, at four, then a viewing for the general public at seven tonight, then the funeral is tomorrow morning at the church at ten followed by a catered luncheon. There was a big discussion whether the lunch should be here or not, but it was suggested by the Reverend Truman to have it in the church dining area, to save us from having that many people tromp through here. There's a small graveside ceremony after lunch for the immediate family."
Paul stared at him, letting all the information sink in. Susan had indeed been busy. "Dad has a gravesite?"
Ron looked at Paul and chuckled. "You don't come home much, do you? Last Thanksgiving, Susan and your parents went shopping for gravesites. They chose two plots at the cemetery. They already have gravestones carved for both of them, just needing the dates filled in."
This was too morbid for Paul to comprehend. He knew his sister liked to be organized and prepared for anything, but this was sick.
"I bet her foresight has made things a lot easier for her mother right now. It would be so difficult to have to do those things and plan the funeral," Moira said, attempting to smooth things over.
"Well, she couldn't get Charles to pre-plan the funeral." Ron smiled. "But she did try to get me to go shopping for gravesites for us when we got home. I told her, 'Susan, I don't want to spend my money on plots and gravestones right now. I don't even know if I want to be buried here, or anywhere. Maybe I want to be cremated. Anyway, we have kids to put through college, and I'd rather invest our money in their education instead of our eventual deaths.' It quieted her down. Of course, now we're moving to Portland, so just imagine if I'd let her run with that whim -- having two plots in Ann Arbor while we relocate to Portland." Ron shook his head.
Just then, screaming erupted from somewhere in the house. Paul must have jumped a foot in the air at the sound, but the others acted perfectly calm.
"It's the twins." Ron said, wearily, "They're always like this. I'd better go see if any blood is being shed." He turned and disappeared into the house.
Paul watched Ron go, not envying him the active role of parenting. After he'd gone, Paul turned to Moira and Adam.
"I don't care what Susan says, I'm not going to view my father's dead body!" The thought of it practically made him ill.
Moira and Adam grinned at him.
"It's just a body, Paul." Adam said. "There's nobody in it."
Moira put her arms around Paul and gave him a little hug. "It might be good for you to go. You may still have something to say to him that you hadn't thought of yet."
Adam looked at Moira. "Well, he doesn't have to talk to the shell; he can talk to him directly as spirit."
"That's easy enough for me and you, but we're talking about Paul and his father. Paul hasn't had any experience relating to his father as spirit. It probably will be easier for him to finish his cycle by viewing the body." Moira held Paul and he enjoyed the familiar magnetic feeling. Little rivulets of current ran down his legs into the ground and his shoulders felt tingly and relaxed. Suddenly he jerked himself out of her arms.
"Oh, no - no way are you going to talk me into seeing a dead body, much less talk to a dead body. They'd cart me away!" Paul said, stubbornly.
Adam folded his arms across his chest. "I don't think he should have to do anything he doesn't want to do, Mom. It means he's not ready. You're manipulating him."
"Oh, horse hockey," Moira said. "I'm just suggesting."
"Well, I'd say his horse is bucking, and you'd bucking better leave him alone," Adam said, matching his father's stubbornness.
"And you both are resisting. I'm just trying to get Paul past his resistance. But I can see I'm not welcome here. Fine with me! I leave you to Susan," she said, making a gesture that looked like she was washing her hands. She smiled at both of them. "Good luck."
In the car on the way to the funeral home, Adam and Paul slumped in the back seat with Olivia in between them, while Moira sat up front and chatted with Susan who was driving. Olivia seemed serene, while Moira and Susan were unusually animated. They were talking about the caterer's menu for the next day. Paul stared out the window, his brows furrowed. Adam did the same out his own window until they were halfway there, and then he began to chuckle.
Paul threw him a look. What's your problem? He thought. He immediately heard in his mind Adam's telepathic answer: what you resist, you get stuck with. Was it this easy to communicate telepathically? Paul wondered, just think it, and Adam gets it? Yes. Well, what's this crap about resisting? Moira warned us about resistance. Resistance attracts what you're resisting. You resisted going to view the body, and - guess what? Paul wondered how you hung up on somebody who was talking in your mind. Adam just laughed, and began talking with his grandmother.
Amazingly, Uncle Stephen was at the funeral home when the two cars, driven by Susan and Ron, arrived. Paul tried reasoning with his sister one more time.
"Look, the kid's aren't into this viewing thing either. Why don't I stay outside with them?" Paul said. Anticipating her answer, he tried it from another angle, "We already said good-bye at the hospital, why do we have to be here?"
"For God's sake, Paul, grow up and show some respect," his sister said in a way that made his insides wither. He went over to Uncle Stephen, who was talking to Adam.
"Ah, he was a good man. Shame he had to go so soon," Stephen was telling Adam.
Paul was not in a diplomatic mood. "What do you mean? You guys hated each other."
Stephen looked at Paul. "Not true, not true. We didn't get along, we didn't understand each other, we didn't even respect what the other did for a living, but we did love each other."
Paul was slightly ashamed at his outburst. Stephen spoke the truth. Paul imagined that, if he were estranged from his sister for thirty years, he would still come to her funeral, and probably say the same thing to his nephew.
"Why did you come to the viewing, Uncle?" Paul asked.
"Oh, I prefer it. Hate the hospital stuff, tubes up their noses. Awful sight. And the funeral… there's too many people at funerals. But a viewing like this..." Stephen paused. "Paul, when my father died, I hadn't talked to him for longer than I haven't talked to Charles. The man -- I won't get into character assassination here. When I saw him in the coffin, it was the first time we’d been in a room together trying to start an argument or hit me. It was quiet. The guy looked good -- for a dead man, I mean. I was able to make a sort of peace with the old man that day. I let the past be buried with him."
Stephen sounded unusually introspective. He must not have had anything to drink yet today, thought Paul.
"Go take a look, Paul." Stephen nudged him. "You too, Adam."
Paul and Adam walked into the funeral home together. The coffin was at the end of a large room that looked like it was also used for services, although Charles' would be held at the church. It appeared that Susan and Olivia had already had a good look at the body, because they were sitting down in the first pew with Moira sitting between them. Susan cried as Moira patted her back. Olivia sat there with a blissful smile on her face, her eyes closed. Ron ushered the kids past the body and took them outside.
The two men, father and son, walked down the center aisle towards the casket. Paul had the feeling Adam walked with him to keep him from bolting out of the room. He slowed down as the open part of the casket came into clear view. There was Charles resting in his Sunday best, surrounded by dark blue silk, flowers on top of the casket. It was eerie. It looked like he was breathing. His face was a fleshy pink, instead of the ash gray pallor it had in the hospital. He looked more at peace than Paul had ever seen him.
Paul stood over the casket and thought about his father's death, and how he'd had no reaction. He looked at the man now lying in front of him, and a flood of memories came rushing to the surface. Years’ worth of conflict and misunderstanding, followed by wrenching regret. Paul felt a surge of grief overtake him. He would have fallen over if Adam hadn't been there. Adam held Paul's arm, while he gasped for air. Adam steadied him, and Paul, not crying, released the grief. He released it through breathing, through letting it flow from him, through feeling the ground beneath his feet. He could almost see all the times with his father race past his eyes like a swollen river almost overflowing its banks, each memory an uprooted tree or piece of debris. Adam stood beside him, grounding, until the floodwaters subsided and Paul was able to move again. They went and sat down in the pew opposite the women.
Paul closed his eyes and tried to pray, but no words came to mind. Instead, he turned his thoughts towards his father, and to consciously releasing him and the history they shared. He imagined boxing up photo albums containing all their interactions and loading it on some plane that his father was about to take off on. Then he imagined a case of letters, honest ones Paul had wanted to write his father but never had, and loaded that onto the plane as well. Finally, he imagined a footlocker filled with books and old mementos, all belonging to his father representing his father's ideas and expectations for him, all of his dad's advice and opinions. And loaded that onto the plane. Then, he didn't imagine, but rather saw, his father wave good-bye and get onto the plane himself. And the plane took off into a cloudless blue sky.
Paul opened his eyes and felt unusually light, and a little dizzy.
"Good job." Adam murmured. He was sitting with his eyes closed.
Paul looked over at Moira and found her gazing at him. Her eyes were full of love. He sensed her love pour into him like a soothing balm. It filled all the space in him that his father's energy had occupied. Paul checked inside himself, and felt like he'd undergone some personality transformation, as if he were not the same person who had walked into the funeral home moments ago. He felt incredibly free, able to go anywhere and do anything.
Inspiration hit him. He knew what he was going to do with the rest of his life. But he couldn't say anything until after the funeral.
Everyone got up at the same time and went to the back of the room. Susan was the first one to speak.
"Thank you all for coming today to show your respect for Dad, and support for Mom," Susan began, rather formally. "None of us have to be here for the public viewing, but I thought Mom and I would come so we could say hello to people who might not make it tomorrow." Susan looked at Paul. "No, you don't have to be there. I appreciate how hard it was for you to come today; you don't have to do it twice."
Paul was stunned. He wouldn't have come without his sister verbally putting his balls in a vise. And now she was being appreciative? He managed a grateful smile.
Stephen, who'd been standing in the back all along, said, "Well, why don't I treat you all to some dinner, and then I can drive whoever needs a ride back to the house in my rental car so you and Olivia can come back here."
Susan smiled gratefully at her Uncle, all of his past sins --real or imaginary-- forgiven. Susan drove her mother to the restaurant, while Stephen drove Paul and his family.
"That wasn't too bad now, was it, my boy?" Stephen asked Paul in the car on the way over to the restaurant.
"No. Quite cathartic, actually." Paul said, musing on the experience. He still felt a little lightheaded and shaky from it.
Stephen grunted, not interested in the details of Paul's catharsis, and then launched into a monologue about his plans for expanding Marbanks Architects. Primarily, he wanted to expand their international contacts, both for increased business within the United States and for doing business in other countries. While he talked, Paul noticed Adam and Moira being very quiet in the back seat. He could sense that they were actually having a lively conversation, but when he glanced back there, both were looking out opposite windows. He felt a twinge of frustration that he couldn't participate in their communication.
"The only thing is, Paul, my lad, I'm no spring chicken, if you hadn't noticed." Stephen was saying as they pulled into the restaurant's parking lot. "I can't go gallivanting across several time zones with quite the energy I used to have."
Paul had noticed his uncle aging rapidly since his slipped disc in '89. That particular injury began his decline. He'd never paid much attention to his physical health, and the amount of alcohol he consumed surely must be adding to his ailments. On the other hand, the man was in his late sixties; perhaps it was just part of a normal process.
"You know," Paul found himself saying something he'd been considering but had never put into words, "perhaps what Marbanks Architects needs is an international representative."
Paul noticed Moira and Adam cease their telepathic chatter and direct their attention to Paul’s conversation.
"International representative? Capitol idea." Stephen said with a broad grin. "Do you have any recommendations?"
"Me." Paul said.
"You?" Adam asked from the back seat. "What about Seattle?"
Paul shifted himself so he could see everyone in the car. He primarily looked at Moira as he talked.
"Well, I'd like to travel more. I'm thinking of turning the Seattle office over to someone else, maybe someone younger who could use the career opportunity." Paul only slightly glanced towards Adam before continuing. "Moira likes to travel. We could go together." He remembered India as he said it.
Moira, who had been looking at him with a stunned expression, melted into a radiant smile. "It just may work."
Stephen clapped his hands together. "Excellent. Excellent idea! And you, young lady," he wagged his finger at Moira, "I remember you! You were the Japanese translator for Nishikawa. You can be quite an asset. Do you speak other languages?"
"A few." Moira said, modestly. Paul suspected she could speak every language in the world.
"What about it, Adam?" Stephen turned to look at his newly appointed grand-nephew. "Want the Seattle job?"
Adam blanched. "I didn't know it was being offered to me," he hedged.
"Well, of course it's being offered to you!" his great-uncle bellowed. "You're a Marbank." He glanced at Paul. "Always knew it, too."
Adam looked at his mother, and then at Paul. Finally, he looked at Stephen.
"I need to think about it." Adam said reluctantly.
"Yes, you think about it." Stephen said, twisting himself painfully to get out of his rental car. "Just let me know before we leave Connecticut."
Of course, the dinner conversation was entirely around Paul's new position as International Representative, with Adam's succession to the Seattle office assumed. Susan was jubilant for them. Moira and Olivia sat silently, side by side, eating their dinner.
After dinner, Susan went back to the funeral home with Olivia, and Stephen drove Paul and his family home. He strenuously tried to get them to stop somewhere for drinks, but they successfully resisted. Stephen left them outside the family home and left to partake of his hotel's twenty-four-hour room service.
It was still twilight and the streetlights had just come on. Paul, Moira and Adam stood outside, listening to the sounds of the evening. There was a chill in the air; nature had not quite let go of winter even as it was about to release spring into summer. Paul slipped his arm about Moira and pulled her close.
"So what do you think, darling?" he asked.
"About our living a life of constant travel?" Moira said. "I think it just might work."
"How, Mom?" Adam interjected. "You not only can't stay in one place for more than three weeks, you can't stay in one time either. Moving from one geographic location to another may temporarily offset earthquakes, but what of the planet during this time period in general?"
"I don't know, Adam. I'll have to ask," she said calmly to her son.
"I don't understand." Paul said. "Are you saying that her continued presence during this time period could also cause problems?"
"We don't know, Paul. I've never done it. I've never stayed corporeal consistently beyond three weeks anywhere." Moira leaned her head against Paul's shoulder. She felt warm and real within his arms. He pressed his face into her hair.
"If her vibratory level is too intense to remain in one place for more than three weeks, what do you think her vibratory level will do to this planet if she remains within this time period for more than three weeks?" Adam asked, uncomfortable with their physical affection and impatient with their lack of concern. "Moira is meant to make change. She does so by her physical presence. When the earthquake happened in San Francisco, she had to go to India to balance it. When the earthquake happened in Northridge, it was because she'd been there far too long. Who knows what could happen? Everything during this time period could accelerate, affecting more than just nature. It could affect countries and politics and cultures."
"Adam, let me ask. I'll not do anything without permission. I learned my lesson with Mount Saint Helens." Moira assured him.
"Ask who?" Paul said, wishing he could follow their conversation with less effort.
"God." Moira and Adam both spoke at once.
"Oh," said Paul, and with that they all went into the house.
"So what do you really think of my plan?" Paul asked Moira as they huddled together in the dark.
"About your new job?" Moira's voice came from somewhere below his chin. It tickled his neck and he found it mildly arousing.
"Do you think it will work?" Paul said, snuggling closer to her, if that were possible in the tiny bed.
"Possibly. I will have to ask, and I want to be through this assignment before I do. My main difficulty isn't in staying in one place for more than three weeks, although you know the problems that come up when I do. The real challenge is staying in one time for longer than three weeks, and staying corporeal for that long."
"Staying corporeal?" Paul always had trouble understanding that part of her.
"Well, it's very strenuous maintaining a body day after day. I honestly don't know how Adam does it. Bodies are like psychic receptors -- they receive and put out energy. I tend to be very sensitive to receiving energy. I have to do a lot of meditation to release the energy that I pick up during the day -- you've seen that. But it isn't until I dematerialize and get a tune-up that I'm fully cleansed of the energy I pick up during an assignment."
"Does that mean at the end of this assignment you'll have to de-materialize?" Paul asked, the old anxiety rising in him.
"Normally, yes. I'll have to ask if there's any way around it. Or if there's not, how I can come back to this same time period." Moira paused, breathing softly against Paul's neck. "None of us has ever retired; we keep transitioning from assignment to assignment until our body is done. I'll have to ask if there's a way to stop doing it."
Paul stayed silent for a while feeling Moira pressed against him, enjoying the tickle of her breath, the flowery scent of her hair. It was sinking in to him what a sacrifice he was asking of her. And he hadn't really asked her; just assumed she would drop everything to be with him. He hadn't comprehended, until now, what a complete change in every aspect of her life he was expecting her to make.
"But you're changing every aspect of your life, too, Paul." Moira said, reminding him that she knew his thoughts. "You have shown me that you will give up your job and your home to be with me. Everything that you've worked for, to be with me. How can I not do the same?"
"Well, I'm not giving up my job, just changing it. And I'm staying within my own time frame." Paul pointed out.
"But moving out of your comfort zone." Moira said. "Admit it. Those times when you had to go to India and L.A. you were extremely uncomfortable. You're not a natural-born traveler."
Paul gave her a little squeeze. "How well you know me. Better than I know myself. I've never thought about it before, but you're right. I'd rather go hiking in the Cascades than fly to the South Pacific. I'd much rather sleep in my own home than stay in a hotel --" he stopped himself. That was exactly what he would be doing if he went ahead with his proposed new job. "But, wherever you are will be home to me," he concluded, and meant it. His life would not be complete without her.
Moira lifted up her head, and her lips found his in the darkness. "And wherever you are will be home to me, also," she said.
ASSIGNMENT 438: CONNECTICUT, 1995
Have I made the right choice? Oh, I know there are no right choices, and that everything that happens is meant to. But for the first time ever, I am experiencing fear. It helps me understand why unconditional love is such an elusive concept for most Human Beings, and why so many fall into survival level thinking and lose their spiritual focus. I ask for assistance with maintaining my neutrality and awareness. How am I to continue to do this and stay corporeal?
You are now moving onto the part of your path where you must operate solely off your own information. You will no longer have the assistance of the Teachers, for their information has ceased be helpful to you. You will now have new Teachers who have more corporeal experience than you. Another is being drawn to you, which you have yet to meet. You will find you will need to double your discipline of meditation to maintain yourself and your focus now that you are on your own and without frequent contact with us. It will no longer be adequate for you to notice something and say to yourself, 'I will work on that later', or 'I can fix that with a tune-up'; the physical now is the only place to make change. For your body, present time is the only existence. Remember you do not create anything you cannot handle, so you are indeed capable of handling prolonged corporeality. Go forward with our blessings, dear one, for you have made the most difficult of choices. All is very well.
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