I snapped awake from a nightmare that morning.
I had lived in Sunset Valley for about six months. All the people I worked with knew better than to pop in at 8 a.m. We all worked the same evening shifts, so we all knew what an ungodly hour that was.
The ringing was persistent though.
So I managed to pull myself out of bed and to my front door.
“Harriet? What are you doing here…how did you find me?!”
“Your father is dead.”
I drew back as she continued. “A car accident, a few months ago…”
“You have to help us out, we have nothing left!”
“Us?!” Oh no. If she had a new husband already…How was that even my first reaction!
“Bernard and I…Oh, Kitty, you have a brother now. Bernard. Bernard Black. He’s three months old…Your father died on the way to the hospital to meet him…He had been working late…”
“Go on, bring him inside. We’ll…We’ll figure things out.” There was no time to think, to let things set in. She had two suitcases – one full of her things, one full of his – and a crib and mobile to hang above it. That was all she had left it seemed…
I couldn’t believe I was letting that snake back in to my life, but what choice did I have? I wasn’t about to be responsible for a child starving in the streets. My brother, no less!
Early the next day I slipped out of the house and headed up to the town graveyard. It wasn’t a substitute, but I’d missed the funeral already and the town was several days of driving (if I even had a car) straight back. So what was I to do? It wasn’t the same, but who said I had to be standing at my father’s grave to mourn his passing?
I dared not cry at home, or at work, or in public. I couldn’t deal with Harriet, or even my co-workers just asking what was wrong. Let alone strangers…So I crawled up to the graveyard. I hoped I wouldn’t be bothered there. That’s where people go to mourn, so it makes sense that someone would be up there crying, right?
“Are you a relative?” a smooth voice called out to me. I snapped my head up after dabbing my eyes.
“Yeah. Of…hers.” He motioned to the stone near my feet. “You’re far too young to have actually known her. She died thirty years ago.”
“Oh, oh no, no…I’m not…related to anyone here, actually. I just…I found out that…my father died, back in my hometown. I wanted somewhere…peaceful to mourn him…”
“Ah. I understand Dear.” He reached out and patted my arm. “Losing a parent is always difficult.” I tried to bottle back my tears, but my body would have none of that. They started pouring out all over again.
“I didn’t even tell him goodbye, or that I was leaving…I just ran off with no ties to find me…”
“There there.” He pulled me into a hug and gently rubbed my back. He comforted me until I was able to compose myself a bit better, then leaned back and glanced over the cemetery. “Talk a walk with me.”
He walked me around a bit, discussing dawn and sunrises and new days. All sorts of philosophical yet cliche things, but they were incredibly helpful. Then he abruptly switched topics back to the issue at hand.
“I come up here because it’s peaceful. It’s where I’m free to just breathe the fresh air, visit with the city’s ancestors. Even if they aren’t directly mine, they have affected me after all. Every person has a part to play here. I know you’re new, but you are included in that.”
“How do you know…”
“I know everyone in town. Yet we’ve never met before.” He flashed me a quick smile. “Someday, when your descendants are mourning the loss of your children, I hope they’ll know the part that they played. That they are important, just as everyone is. And while life may be over, things really are still just beginning.”
He reminded me of how I had always pictured a sage. Or rather, his voice reminded me of how I expected them to sound. And his words…
The new light he was shedding helped me more than I could ever have imagined. As I felt the sun’s warmth glaze across my skin, I turned my head and smiled out over the tombstones. The ancestors of the city…Now my ancestors as well, just as my father was, just as he will be to my children…A legacy. A never-ending legacy…
He stopped near the lake, a far-away look in his eyes. I’ve never been good at reading people, but in that moment I felt he truly understood my pains.
“I apologize. I forgot introduction. My name is Gunther Goth.”
“Kirsten. What a lovely name…”
“Thanks. It’s after…an ancestor.”
“That makes it all the more beautiful.”
“I’ve never really been a big fan of the name…”
“Oh? Well, then what have people always called you?” Why did my nickname embarrass me so much right now?
“Uh, it’s not important. My name is growing on me.” I flashed him a smile, hoping he’d buy it. “I’m trying to completely rebuild my life here. And where better to start than with my own name?”
I hardly noticed the mood when he pulled me into another hug.
“Hey, uh, would you like to get lunch sometime?”
How could I say no?