x Bluebells 4

This is my first attempt at a story. I'd love to hear some feedback at nathan98765@hotmail.com

This is a work of fiction. Any similarities to persons alive or dead are purely coincidental. All the usual disclaimers apply.

Chapter 4: Moving In, Moving On

Dad beckoned to me from the now open front door and I quickly got out of the car and, moving as fast as my slightly stiff legs could carry me, dashed through into the small entrance hallway. Dad stepped out again to collect our bags from the trunk but was back in practically no time at all. He placed our suitcases to one side and I reclaimed my backpack. Shedding our coats he hung them both in a cloakroom off to the right of the front door.

"OK Jon, you ready?" He said holding onto the door handle of another heavy wooden door facing the front door. He was obviously a little excited at being back in his old house but I was tired and really just wanted to go to bed.

I shrugged and rolled my eyes but managed to fake a smile for him, trying not to rain on his parade. "Sure Dad."

"Well, let me give you a quick whistle-stop tour of the place and you can explore it all at your leisure tomorrow." He enthused, opening the inner door and flicking on the lights to reveal a fairly large square central hallway. The floor was set with black and white tiles arranged in a diagonal checkerboard pattern. The walls were half wood-paneled in a dark wood and half papered with a large floral style pattern in white on a mustard yellow background. Two white painted paneled doors were set in 9 and 12 o'clock positions, the one to the left he identified as the dining room and the one straight ahead as the main reception room. He didn't open the doors but instead walked to the far right corner and disappeared down another hallway. Before I followed him I walked to the far left corner to check out what I assumed was a grandfather clock. I'd seen them in pictures but had never been up close to one before. It looked very old and although it wasn't running it appeared in good condition.

"That clock's been stopped for as long as I can remember." Dad said from behind me suddenly causing me to jump. "My father refused to wind it up because he said it made too much noise. Let me show you where the kitchen is and so I can put these supples away." He said hefting the bag of groceries we'd picked up at the supermarket.

He headed off down that side hallway again and I followed him down three stone steps to a small landing and then down another two stone steps to the end of the hallway.

"That's the study," Dad gesturing to a door on the left as we passed by it. "The kitchen and family room are down here too." He said turning through a door on the right into a large kitchen. I assumed that the other door further along on the left was the family room.

I walked into the kitchen and over to a central island, comprising a stove top set in a polished granite work surface with various storage units beneath. The floor was covered in stone flags and there was a large cast iron oven set into the base of the chimney area. Leaning on the cool stone surface, I waited as he opened a few cupboards around the room to find somewhere to put our supplies. Once he'd stowed them away and put the eggs, bacon and a carton of milk in the fridge he turned back to me.

"Well, what do you think so far?" He asked.

I shrugged. "Looks OK." What more could I say really, I hadn't seen much yet. "What's with all those steps leading down here?" I asked.

"The oldest part of the house dates back to the 17th century." He began. "But it's been extended and refurbished several times over the years. There's a bit of a slope to the land here so I assume that, as extra rooms were built on, the steps were a more practical, and much cheaper, alternative to demolishing the house and starting from scratch. You'll see a few more oddities like that around the place. I think it gives the house more character. Come on, let me show you where your bedroom is."

He headed out of the kitchen and up two flights of stairs set between the kitchen and family room. At the top of the stairs he opened the first door on the left and ushered me inside.

"Here you go." He followed me in and walked over to another door set into the right wall. "You have your own bathroom too." He grinned. "Well, a shower room anyway. If you want to have a bath you'll have to use the main bathroom. That's the room immediately next door to your bedroom." This was great, I had my own bathroom. I much preferred showers to baths anyway, so I couldn't see myself needing to use a different bathroom and said as much to Dad.

"OK, well my bedroom is right at the end of the hallway on the same side of the house as yours." He said. "There are three other bedrooms on the right hand side of the hallway but only one of them has an en suite bathroom and it's little smaller than this bedroom. There's also a large attic which I'll show you tomorrow along with the cellar and outbuildings. Well, I'll let you get settled in and I'll pop back in about 30 minutes with your suitcase, OK?"

"OK Dad, thanks. I'm sure this room will be fine." I smiled at him and walked over to the bed placing my backpack down on it and opening the central pocket. I took out the padded envelope and removed the framed photo of Mom and I, looking about the room for somewhere to put it. The bedside cabinet was the obvious choice and there was enough space so that I wouldn't knock it off accidentally.

The bed was a large double with ornate brass bedsteads, not unlike the one in 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks' I mused. The mattress felt soft and I wondered if I'd sleep OK as I was used to something a little firmer. A double width fitted wardrobe was along the wall next to the bedroom door and a decent sized dresser stood next to one of the two tall sash windows. There wasn't a desk for my computer but there was still ample space for one. I expected that that would be one of the items we'd be picking up when we went shopping in the next few days. Thinking about that I wondered where all of the stuff we'd shipped over was, I'd have to mention that to Dad. I walked over to the window furthest from the door and looked out. It was still pouring with rain and I could see out over the driveway and our car parked below. The view from the other window opposite my bathroom door was less easy to make out due to the darkness and rain but appeared to look out over the garden. I think I could see a stone wall in the distance but wasn't sure. Oh well, I'm sure that all would become clear in the light of day.

I took the opportunity to use the bathroom and was pleased to find that the facilities were modern and the shower unit looked quite spacious. Certainly big enough for my thin frame.

Dad had returned by the time I emerged from the bathroom and was leaning on the door frame having put my suitcase on my bed.

"You need anything else before I say goodnight kiddo? A hot drink maybe?" He asked.

"No thanks Dad, I'm fine. I think I'll just turn in, I'm really tired." I responded yawning. "Can you call me at about 9am if I'm not up already?"

"Will do Jon, sleep well." He said as he turned and left the room. Leaving me to spend my first night in a strange bed, in a strange house, in a strange country.

Dad must have turned the boiler on, as I could feel the room warming up a little. I walked over to feel the radiators under both windows and they were indeed quite warm. As I turned away from the window over the garden I thought I caught a flash of movement near the far stone wall. I put my face near to the glass and used my hands to shade out possible reflections from the room but couldn't see anything. "Probably a cat." I thought dismissively as I moved my suitcase off the bed and placed it on the floor, far enough away that I wouldn't trip over it should I need to use the bathroom during the night.

I turned on the bedside lamp and turned off the main light. Getting undressed, I slipped under the covers and lay on my back, placing my hands behind my head. I stared at the ceiling for a while just listening. Apart from the occasional distant sound of my Dad opening and closing a door, all I could hear was my own breathing and a quiet ticking sound from the plumbing as the pipes warmed up. I don't know how long I lay there before sleep finally claimed me. I tried to resist for a while, knowing that to sleep meant to dream about Mom again, but the weariness eventually won out and I slept and dreamed a different dream altogether.

I was running through the coarse undergrowth and damp leaf litter between the gnarled trunks of large trees. It was night and I could hear a fox calling eerily in the distance. I was out of breath and my arms and legs were scratched and bleeding from the brambles and thorny bushes I had stumbled through in my panicked flight into the woods. I paused to catch my breath and leaned against a fallen branch, my chest heaving. I wiped the tears from my eyes and peered into the darkness around me, trying to get my bearings.

A muffled thud and a curse from 50 yards or so behind me spurred me on again. I couldn't let him catch me. I ran again, trying to find the familiar path but I'd lost my sense of direction in my haste to get away. I ran blindly on desperately seeking out a landmark to guide me in the darkness illuminated only by faint starlight. I tripped over an exposed root and scratched the palms of my outstretched hands as I tried to soften my fall. A sharp pain shot up my arm as my hand bent back farther than it should be able to and I tried to stifle a scream. Another shout, closer this time, made me clamber to my feet again and cradling my damaged wrist I ran on. I've got to get away! The tears in my eyes made it even harder to navigate but somehow I managed to stumble across the path I sought.

I felt a huge relief as I recognized the familiar twisted trunk of the lightening struck oak that marked the halfway point of the path through the woods. I knew my way from here, I was safe. I made off down the path as rapidly as I could, passing the oak and now able to hear the water in the brook as it poured over the small waterfall and into the pool some 10 feet below. I knew the shortcut across the brook by heart, even in the dark, but I had never been pursued before and, following the recent heavy rains, the brook was more swollen and fast running than I'd ever seen it. I heard another shout and turned to see how close he was behind me. The force of all that extra water rushing by my legs caused my left foot to slip off the edge of the stepping stone upon which I was balanced and I was tilted backwards of the edge of the waterfall and into space. Another yell came as I went over but I'm not sure if it was mine or his and had no chance to think on it before darkness swallowed me...

I lurched up in bed panting heavily. "What the...where...!" I thought to myself looking around the room in a panic until I remembered where I was. I put my hand to my forehead and it came away coated in sweat. I swung my legs out of the bed and sat there for a few minutes gathering my wits. I heard a fox calling somewhere out in the night which stirred a memory of the now rapidly fading dream and I shuddered. The room felt very hot and I felt parched all of a sudden, no wonder I was sweating. I stood and walked to my bathroom and turned the cold water tap on to let it run for a minute. I splashed a couple of handfuls on my face and, cupping my hands, caught and drank some of the water. Turning the tap off I dried my face and looked in the mirror over the sink briefly and sighed. God I looked like crap. I had gotten so used to the dark shadows under my eyes that I could hardly remember what I looked like without them.

I returned to my bedroom and but didn't go back to bed. The room seemed a little lighter and glancing out the window I could see I faint brightening over the distant tree-line. I didn't think it was worth trying to sleep again, partly because I didn't want to dream again and partly because, with dawn fast approaching, I expected that I'd have to get up again soon enough anyway. The room was still too hot so I turned down the thermostats on both radiators and opened both top and bottom sashes of the window over the garden a couple of inches to let some of the excess hot air out and some cool air in.

At least it looked like it had stopped raining. With the window open I could hear the start of the dawn chorus. The faint tweets and trills were a pleasant reminder that we were now in the countryside and as I sat back down on my bed I wondered what other changes were in store for me. I expected I'd have a lot to get used to what with the house and starting a new school in a few days time. I was dreading starting school. No doubt I'd be the only American kid, well, the only British kid with an American accent in the school. That was bound to get me a lot of unwanted attention. I'd prefer to just fade into the background and keep myself to myself but I wasn't sure I'd have that opportunity. Have to play it by ear I suppose. If I don't act friendly then hopefully the other kids will get the message and leave me alone. I wish I'd thought of that tactic back in the US when I returned to school after the summer break.

Summer had been horrible for a number of reasons and I was glad to see it end, even if that did mean having to go back to school. After the funeral I didn't know what to do with myself or how to feel. I don't think I actually felt anything, except for this deep ache in the pit of my stomach. Not like the ache you get when you're hungry or sick but something I can only describe as a 'heavy emptiness'. Like a tiny black hole in my stomach, sucking at my insides.

Mike and Stace came over every day to start with. Just to spend time with me. We didn't talk much and they didn't try to make me. I was glad of that because I couldn't see how talking about stuff would make any difference. They did try to get me out of the house several times, for a walk around the block or a trip to the mall, but I didn't want to go out. I didn't want to see people living their lives when I was feeling like mine was over. I could sense their frustration, though they tried to hide it, that what they were trying to do wasn't working. I actually began to resent their attempts to get me out a little bit. Didn't they understand? Why couldn't they stop asking?

I also started to feel guilty about spoiling their summer. Why should they have to feel obligated to spend time with me when they could be out having fun? I was dragging them down with me and I hated that. I started telling Dad to say I wasn't up to visitors when they called. He didn't like it but he didn't seem to have much fight in him at the time, so he gave in. I wasn't intending for it to be every day, just a couple of days here and there, to give them a break from me. The problem was that after a couple of days of not seeing them it I began to suspect that they were coming around again to 'do their duty' and spend time with 'poor Jon'. Did they pity me? They didn't act like they pitied me when they were here...but maybe that was it, maybe they were acting. Maybe they didn't want to be here at all? Of course they didn't! Who would want to spend any time with someone like me? To spend time with someone who killed his own mother for fuck's sake. I know I wouldn't want to if our positions were reversed.

These thoughts only served to fuel the resentment that was building inside me towards them. So much so that, after nearly a month, I was having Dad turn them away more times than I was letting them in. That's not to say it was easily done. Both Mike and Stace complained to me about it. They kept saying they cared about me and wanted to more spend time with me but I had convinced myself that they didn't mean it. I had a stubborn streak and once an idea took root it wasn't easy to persuade me otherwise.

Dad was still concerned that I wasn't eating properly and tried to make more appetizing food. He even tried to cook a Lasagna for dinner one night but burnt it badly and we ended up having sandwiches again anyway. I did feel a little thinner. My clothes were a little loser on me and I could count more ribs than I remembered be able to before. I didn't think I could have lost that much though as I wasn't doing anything to burn off the food that I was eating.

At the beginning of August Dad said that he had arranged an appointment for me with a doctor for a check up. I wasn't happy about it because it would mean going out of the house and because...well...because I just didn't see the point. We argued about it and we both got upset but Dad said I was going and that's that. What he didn't tell me was that he'd arranged two appointments for me.

The next morning he drove me to our usual clinic to see our family doctor, Dr Stevens. On the way there I kept my eyes focused on my hands in my lap to avoid looking out of the windows. I hated being at the clinic, the smell of the place immediately reminded me of the hospital emergency room. Dr Stevens carried out a battery of basic tests on me, checking my heart, blood pressure, temperature, etc. He also asked questions about diet and exercise after taking my height and weight measurements. Then he started to ask me about how I was feeling in myself and about myself. I answered his questions about food and I told him I knew I wasn't exercising enough and that I would try to do better. I didn't want to talk about how I was feeling though, there was nothing he could do about that. So I just kept saying I was fine until he stopped asking. I had to wait outside after the exam was over while he talked to Dad.

When Dad came out he had a piece of paper that he folded twice and slipped into his jacket pocket. That's when he dropped the bomb that we wouldn't be going straight home because he'd arranged an appointment for both of us with a Bereavement Counselor. So that we could, in his words, "Begin to deal with some of the issues we were both struggling with". I couldn't believe he'd done that. He knew that the last thing I wanted to do was to talk about it, to anyone. I told him he could go if he wanted to but that there was no way I was going to see anyone else. He didn't argue with me about it and we walked back to the car in silence. He drove for 10 minutes or so before pulling up in front of another medical center. He turned off the car and asked me again to come in with him, "Just this once" he'd said. I didn't want to go but I could see that he was getting upset about it and I hated to see him upset, so I caved and reluctantly agreed. BIG mistake.

We walked in and after a short wait were greeted by a large middle aged woman wearing glasses and with shortish graying hair. She was wearing a business-like gray jacket and skirt and didn't look at all how I imagined a counselor would. She took us into a room that just had a couple of sofas facing each other with a coffee table in between and asked us to make ourselves comfortable. I was feeling anything but comfortable as she went on to talk to us about what she does and the people and families she helps through the "grieving process", as she called it. I tuned most of it out whilst still managing to nod in all the right places. I didn't want to hear any of this but at least she didn't ask me any direct questions. It was only a 40 minute session but it seemed to drag on for hours. Eventually she smiled and said that we'd made a good first step and gave Dad an information pack to take away with us to read through at home.

Dad talked a little during the drive home about how we had done the right thing in seeking help and that we'd get through it together and things would now start to get better. I didn't think he was right about that but I nodded in agreement anyway to keep him happy. I just wanted to get home so I could go lie down and forget all about today. I definitely didn't want to go to any more counseling sessions and had to find some way to get out of them. I reasoned that the only way I could avoid them was if Dad believed that I didn't need to go, that I was feeling better. Could I convince him that I was OK? Could I act as if I was feeling better? It wouldn't be easy but I thought that if I was able to bury my true feelings deep enough then I might be able to pull it off.

When we got home and I was back in my room again I developed my plan a little more and spent some time in front of the mirror on my closet door practicing smiling and laughing, quietly of course as I didn't want Dad to hear me. I tried to make my expressions as convincing as possible but the hardest part was my eyes. No matter how much I smiled or laughed the emotion I was trying to project never seemed to reach my eyes, which I thought remained dull and lifeless. Damn it! Maybe I was trying too hard? I tried to relax myself and took a break, lying on my bed for 15 minutes or so. When I tried again I kept my smiles smaller and turned away as I did to avoid looking at my eyes. That seemed better to me. If I could avoid eye contact, at least until I had more practice, I might be able to pull it off.

I tried out some smiles on Dad that evening over dinner. I had stopped eating in my room so much and, as Dad and I sat around the table, I asked him if it was OK if I invited Mike over for an hour or so, flashing him a small smile. It seemed to have the desired effect and he returned my smile and said it was a good idea. After we'd eaten I went into the lounge and called Mike and asked him to come over. Mike seemed a little surprised, which I suppose is understandable given how I'd been avoiding him and Stace recently, but he readily agreed and just 10 minutes later we were in my room sitting on the bed. Time to see if this was going to work on Mike. I started off by apologizing for not seeing much of him lately and said that I was feeling a little better now and, with one of my practiced smiles, suggested that maybe we could go to the mall together tomorrow if he was available. After I'd turned away slightly to avoid eye contact I could feel him looking at me and held my breath, feeling that I'd blown it and he'd seen through my act. But he just said that he'd love to go to the mall tomorrow and asked if he could invite Stace to come with us. I let out my breath slowly and smiled at him again saying that that would be cool. He said that he come by around 11am to pick me up and we could have lunch in the food court like we used to. I could tell that he was happy because he was bouncing a little on the bed. It was harder work than I thought keeping the pleasant facade in place and by the time he left to go home I felt exhausted.

Dad was happy when I told him of our plans and he he even offered to drive us all to the mall to save us from having to take the bus. True to his word, when Mike and Stace arrived the next morning, he drove us and even gave me $50 to buy lunch for everyone. I tried the same performance on Stace that I had on Mike the night before and she also seemed to buy into it. I thought that maybe they were just seeing what they wanted to see and were hopeful that things were returning to normal. Well, I could live with that. If it meant not having to go back to that counselor and not having people treat me like I was so fragile all the time, then having to pretend to be OK was a small price to pay. We spent a good four hours wandering around the mall and had a nice lunch which I insisted on paying for. They both opted for burgers and fries whilst I went for a chicken caesar salad sandwich. Thankfully Stace only dragged us into a couple of clothes stores as she always took ages trying stuff on. We wandered around a few music and games stores before ending up in a book store where we browsed quietly as we waited for my Dad to come and pick us up.

As Dad dropped Stace off outside her house she leaned across from the back seat and kissed me on the cheek, thanked me for a great day and said we'd have to do it again next weekend. I smiled and nodded and she went home happy. Mike drove the rest of the way with us back to our house and, like Stace, thanked me for spending the day with them. I said it was cool and I'd see him tomorrow if he wanted to hang out. His eyes lit up and he grinned at me before heading off home. Dad was really chatty when we got in and even suggested we get a pizza delivered for dinner and maybe watch a movie together. I smiled and said that would be great but that I wanted to have a lie down for a little while first because I was tired from not being used to the exercise I'd gotten today. When I got to my room and closed the door I leaned my back against it and closed my eyes. I felt a bit odd, having to keep up an act all day was draining but it was more than that. By the time we were due to leave the mall I had begun to believe my own performance and was even feeling a little happy. Now, with Mike and Stace gone, reality was kicking in again and I remembered why I was doing this. I was lying to them all and the guilt of that, and of the happiness I had felt, was making me feel like crap. But I had no choice but to keep up the act or I'd have to go to see that counselor again. I was trapped and I'd done it to myself.

Dad did order in pizza for us that night and we did sit and watch a movie together but I was a bit distracted and still don't remember which movie we watched. Before going to bed that night Dad said he wanted to have a quick chat with me and so I waited in the lounge while he disappeared briefly into the kitchen before returning with a little paper bag. He said that when he had spoken with Dr Stevens right after my exam, the doctor had expressed concerns that I might be suffering from depression and thought I could benefit from a course of medication to lift my mood a little. He took out a small bottle from the paper bag and showed it to me. He said that I should take one tablet a day, in the morning, for 30 days and that the doctor would review how I was feeling at the end of that time, so that he could adjust the dosage or cancel the prescription. I took the bottle from him and read the label: PAXIL 10mg.

He went on to say that until yesterday he was going to encourage me to try the pills but, now that I seemed to be turning a corner on my own, he wasn't sure it was necessary. I said that I didn't think that I needed the medication but would try them if he wanted me to. He said that we'd see how I got on without them for a while longer but, if I started to show signs that I was getting depressed again, that we'd have them as a backup plan. I nodded in agreement and handed the bottle back to him.

I didn't really want to take any pills. Maybe they would do me some good and maybe not. But it did make me think that until I had started acting happier Dad thought it was a serious option. Anyhow, I couldn't now say that I wanted to take them as that would show him that my sudden improvement wasn't real after all.

So for the next month, until school was due to start, I carried on pretending that I was feeling better. Waiting until I was alone in my room before letting down my guard and allowing myself to cry quietly into my pillow. I forced myself to see Mike and Trace more often and we hung out and even went to the mall a few more times. My acting skills improved and I didn't have to avoid eye contact with them quite so much as when I started. But I still felt dead inside.

I was really anxious on the morning of that first day back in school. I'd had practically no sleep the night before as I tossed and turned, fretting about what it was going to be like. How would the other kids treat me? Would they treat me as a pity case and smother me with "Sorry about your Mom" comments? Would they feel too uncomfortable to be around me and totally ignore me? I had no idea about who knew and who didn't, so how should I respond to the expected "Hey dude, how was your summer?" questions that were bound to be asked. Maybe it wouldn't be too bad, it's not as if I have a huge circle of friends. Apart from Mike and Stace, I could count the people I considered friends on one hand. All the rest were friends of friends and casual acquaintances.

The shadows under my eyes seemed even more pronounced, I thought, as I brushed my teeth in the bathroom. I fixed my hair, which was badly in need of a cut, finished getting dressed and went down for breakfast. Dad asked me if I'd prefer him to drive me to school but I said I'd rather take the bus with Mike and Stace. Better to start the day off with a familiar routine I thought. Besides, I'm sure Mike and Stace would be keeping an eye on me. Before I left to collect Mike, Dad said that I should call him if I have any problems at school and I promised that I would.

Mike could see that I was nervous and did his best to reassure me that things would be OK, as did Stace when we picked her up. When we got on the bus I felt a sense of déj vu. Just as when I had come out to Mike, Stace and my parents, I felt as if everyone on the bus was looking at me. They weren't of course, they were too busy catching up with their friends about what they'd been doing over the summer break. Still, I stared out of the window for most of the journey to avoid the chance of catching someone's eye. Much to my relief it was much the same when we arrived at school. I did notice a couple of stares in my direction and a overheard a few whispered comments but I ignored them as much as I could.

Chris, one of the guys on my swim team came bounding up to us as we made our way to our first lesson. He wanted to know if Mike and I were going to be trying out for the team later that week. I hadn't thought about the swim team since before the summer and I didn't know if I really wanted to get back into that now. When I said I'd think about it he looked at me oddly, as if noticing me properly and said "Holy crap Jon, you look like shit! Are you sick or something?" I just shrugged and said "Yeah, something like that." Thankfully we were just arriving at our class and I was able to excuse myself and duck inside. I didn't want to have to explain the circumstances around my appearance, I'd rather he hear about it through the grapevine.

The only other awkward moment I had that first day back was at lunch. A couple of the guys Mike and I regularly ate with offered their condolences to me when we sat down and rather than leave it at that they wanted to know what had happened as they'd only heard about it second hand. I started to get a bit panicky and started to stammer out a response but Mike came to my rescue and told them that I wasn't comfortable talking about it just yet. They did apologize for bringing it up and tried to change the subject to lighter topics but the incident had killed the mood and it wasn't long before they were making their excuses and leaving the table. I kept my head down and just focused on my food tray for the rest of the lunch period. Mike squeezed my shoulder and told me it would be OK but at the time it wasn't much comfort.

Things did settle down though and within a week or so a semblance of normality was reached. People that knew me had come to understand that my Mom's death was a taboo subject and as long as that was respected we could carry on pretty much the same as before. In the meantime, I had decided I didn't want to try out for the swim team this year and, despite Mike's efforts to change my mind, I informed the coach of my decision. Coach said that I would be missed and to let him know if I changed my mind. I said that I would but I was pretty certain that I wouldn't be changing my mind. I just didn't feel competitive anymore.

The weeks started rolling by and pretty soon it had become second nature to me to

get into and stay in character. To my Dad and my friends I was mostly the same Jon that I'd always been, although understandably a slightly more reserved, quieter version than before. In the privacy of my bedroom, away from prying eyes, I could drop the act and allow the feelings of guilt and self-loathing to come to the fore. As painful as they were, I needed them. I didn't want to forget that all of this was my fault.

On the Sunday before Thanksgiving Dad insisted that I accompany him when he visited the cemetery to lay some flowers on Mom's grave. I hadn't been back there since the funeral. Dad went every Sunday with fresh flowers and always asked me to come but I just couldn't do it. Especially after the headstone had been put in place, I couldn't bear the thought of seeing Mom's name engraved in stone. It just felt so final. But this time, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving he said that he thought I needed to do this and wouldn't take no for an answer.

The drive to the cemetery and passing through those gates was like reliving that day again, except that we were in our own car and we weren't dressed in suits this time. Dad even parked in the same spot as last time. I reluctantly got out of the car and followed him up the grassy slope to where the grave awaited us. I stuffed my hands deep into my quilted jacket and hunched slightly against the biting November wind.

The place where Mom was buried looked different from what I remembered and I didn't know which grave was hers. The last time I'd seen the spot there were lots of people here and lots of flowers laid about the place. So I followed Dad until he stopped before a simple white marble stone inlaid with black lettering. I didn't want to read what was on the stone at first and stood with my head bowed, just looking at my shoes. Dad bent and laid a bouquet of Tulips before the headstone and removed the flowers he had placed the week before. Eventually curiosity got the better of me and I glanced at the inscription.

Julia Barrett

1965 - 2011

Beloved wife and mother

Forever in our hearts

As I read the words over and over to myself I had to wipe my eyes to clear away the tears that were blurring my vision. I thought that no amount of words could adequately describe what Mom meant to me, to us. But those two simple lines of text did a pretty good job. Dad put his arm around my shoulder and squeezed and I leaned into him and rested my head against his chest. We stood like that for 15 minutes or so and then slowly walked back to the car.

I went back to my room when we got home and lay on my bed. I didn't cry though, I felt too numb to cry. I was so tired of all of this. Tired of feeling like crap all the time. Tired of putting on a brave face for everyone. I wanted things to go back to how they had been before but knew that was never going to happen. Was this all I had to look forward to? This misery? Then what was the point of being here anymore?

I must have dozed off as the next thing I knew Dad was calling me down for dinner. Dad asked how I was feeling whilst we ate our microwaved pasta and a salad. I didn't answer him at first, I was just moving the pasta around my plate with my fork and not taking a real interest in eating any of it. He asked again and I shrugged and just said that the trip to the cemetery had taken it out of me. He nodded and said that it was understandable. He went on to say that he wanted to talk with me about something he'd been thinking about for some time. I stopped playing with my food and paid attention. I had a dread feeling that he was going to get me to go back to that counselor and started to prepare my argument against it. But what he actually said surprised me. He said that he had approached his old University in the UK to inquire about the possibility of taking up a lecturing position with them again. They had apparently been quite keen to discuss this with him and had just confirmed that a position would be available in January should he wish to pursue it. He wanted to know what I thought about the prospect of moving back to the UK.

I didn't know what to say. This was so unexpected I couldn't get my head around the idea. Dad told me he didn't expect me to give him an answer right then but suggested that I think it over. He did say that this might be just what we needed...a fresh start. Later in my room I thought about it some more. Was this something that I could do...leave everything behind me and start over in a new place half way around the world? What about Mike and Stace? Could I leave them? Maybe I should, after-all I must be such a burden to them. They'd be much better off if I wasn't around, then they could get on with enjoying their lives.

I decided that I could...that I would do this. What was the alternative? Stay here and carry on living this lie? After how I felt before dinner tonight I doubted that I could carry on like this for much longer. I was afraid that I might do something stupid if I couldn't find a way out of the trap I had fashioned for myself. Moving away would be scary but not as scary as staying put.

I told Dad over breakfast the next morning that I was willing to move back to the UK with him if he wanted to go. I even said that I thought it was a good idea, for both of us. So he went ahead and made the formal application necessary to secure the teaching job at Cambridge University. Although confirmation of his appointment was a sure thing, he waited on the arrival a formal job offer letter before starting to make the arrangements to move us back to the UK.

I didn't say anything to Mike or Stace about it until Dad had received his letter a week later and he'd told me that we were really going to move in January. They were both shocked when I told them together at the end of the Thanksgiving weekend. We were in Mike's bedroom when I broke the news. Mike was especially upset about it and was practically begging me not to go. I told them that I hadn't been doing as well as everyone thought and that I was worried that things would only get worse if I stayed. I did say that it might not be for ever. I didn't think I'd be coming back but thought that saying that would soften the blow a little bit. Besides, Mike looked so miserable that I felt I needed to offer him some hope of a reunion, however tenuous it was. We all shed some tears that night and Mike clung to me a little tighter than usual as I was leaving to go home.

The last month or so before we left was quite busy. Mike, Stace and I saw each other as often as we could. Dad and I also spent a lot of time together in the evenings packing up everything we wanted to take with us and selecting stuff to be thrown out. It was amazing how much junk we had accumulated in just a few years. It was good to be busy though as it left me with less time to dwell on myself. I still had my moments of course. I was still having the bad dreams and would often cry myself quietly to sleep at night but there was also a glimmer of hope. A hope that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Christmas came and went. Neither Dad nor myself were up to celebrating it. It was after all our first Christmas alone and to be festive just felt wrong. So we treated the holidays as if they were just regular days and I think we were both glad when it was over. I did buy small presents for Mike and Stace and, despite my request for them not to get me anything, they both bought me a couple of CDs.

The night before we left I had Mike and Stace come over so that I could say goodbye properly. They ate dinner with us and then came up to my room. The mood was sombre and we just sat there looking at each other for a little while as if each of us were trying to burn the other's image into our memory. I had a few things I wanted to give them to remember me by so I went to my closet and took out a box that I'd prepared earlier. To Stace I gave my old Teddy Bear that I had uncovered during our clear out exercise and a few of my favorite CDs. I had struggled to think of what Mike would like and eventually settled on the last swimming trophy I had won which I felt would reflect that he and I were a team of two as well as being on the swim team together. I also gave him a framed copy of the photo of the two of us taken when we went to the swim park. It was my favorite photo of us and really captured just how great friends we were. I promised to stay in touch with them by email and IM and let them know everything about what it was like in the UK.

They both looked really sad when they left, knowing this was the last time we'd see each other for who knew how long, if ever again. We each hugged in the doorway and as I hugged Stace I whispered to her that she should look after Mike. She nodded and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I said the same to Mike, that he should look after Stace. It was hard to let go of him. He nodded and pulled back from me a little so he could look me in the eyes. Then he told me quietly that he loved me and would miss me but wouldn't forget me and wouldn't let me forget him either. He said that if I didn't keep in touch he would come to England and kick my ass. I had to laugh a little at that image but nodded seriously and promised to stay in touch. I told him that I loved him too and leaned forward to place a kiss on his cheek near the corner of his mouth. I did love Mike, he was so much like a brother to me it was going to be so hard not having him around. But this was all for the best. Leaving was the best thing that I could do for them and, I hoped, it was the best thing for me too. Only time would tell if that was true or not.

The sound of a door closing at the end of the hallway stirred me. I could hear soft footsteps approaching and the creak of a floorboard as Dad passed by my room on his way downstairs. I looked around the room and noticed it had gotten a lot lighter and figured it was probably somewhere around 8am. I stood up and stretched to relieve the stiffness in my joints and muscles. I opened my suitcase and fished out a T-Shirt, sweats and some fresh underwear. Once dressed I opened my bedroom door and padded downstairs in search of Dad and whatever this first day of my new life would bring.

To be continued...

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