Krystina yawned softly to herself as she stepped out into the warm morning sun. It was a beautiful day. The white wood of the back porch creaked softly beneath her feet as she crossed to the backyard.
Her mother was working this morning — a bit unusual on a Saturday, but the company was preparing for an important business proposal for a fellow software developer — a BIG one. And if all went as planned, it could be a game-changer. Melanie had been stressing out about it for weeks, and the recent death of her father-and-law certainly had not helped. She’d been coping by channeling all of her energy into her work, and today was no exception.
Her father, on the other hand, had been taking a lot of time off since Damien’s death. He’d been working shorter shifts at the restaurant just a few days a week, leaving most of the day-to-day business in the capable hands of the general manager, Shelley. Today, he had the entire morning and afternoon off.
When Krystina woke up that morning to a seemingly deserted house, she knew exactly where to find her father. She could hear him before she saw him – he always seemed to be whistling or humming a tune to himself as he tended to his garden. It was a habit she’d even begun to pick up herself.
“Hey, dad.” Krystina smiled as she walked down the steps and approached the far edge of the garden.
Lucas put down his watering can, smiling. “You’re up early!” He said, surprised.
“Dad, it’s almost ten.”
He chuckled to himself. “Oh… Guess I must’ve lost track of time out here.”
Krystina glanced down at her father’s garden, her eyes lingering on the strange dark-leaved plant that stood prominently in the corner. “How’s the mystery plant doing today?” She asked.
Lucas just laughed. “No better than usual… But no worse either. So I guess that’s something!”
It had sprouted from some unidentifiable seeds they’d found inside a pomegranate over a year ago. No matter how much they watered it, or fertilized it, the plant always looked so sickly, and had borne no flowers or fruit ever since it had been planted. Maybe it’s a dud. Krystina sometimes thought.
“It would be nice if we could actually figure out what it is.” She said thoughtfully. “Maybe you discovered a new species or something!”
He shrugged. “Maybe. That’d be pretty amazing, actually.” Lucas admitted. “Definitely a far cry from that little vegetable garden I planted with your grandma back when I was a kid.” He added with a laugh.
His daughter’s eyes widened. “Wow, I didn’t realize you’d been into gardening for that long!”
“Gee thanks, that doesn’t make me feel old at all.” Lucas teased. “But yeah, I started back when I was pretty young… I didn’t get into it very seriously ‘til I was around your age though.” He explained.
He smiled as he spoke, but there was a flash of something strange in his eyes for a moment – Sadness? Regret? It was gone before Krystina could find the right word for it.
“Well, looks like I’m about done out here… And I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.” Lucas continued, changing the subject. “Let’s head inside and I’ll make us some breakfast.”
Krystina felt as though her stomach was in knots as she followed her father inside – and it had nothing to do with hunger. Her conversation with her father had brought back many of the lingering suspicions that had been floating around in the back of her mind for some time.
She thought about how much her dad loved experimenting in his garden… and what Evelyn had said about the little boy who used to experiment in his garden too.
She thought of the strange look that sometimes came to Evelyn’s eyes when Krystina mentioned her father.
She thought about her father’s friend Evelyn, who she’d always been told had passed away a long time ago. She always thought that her Evelyn had passed away much too long ago for it to be possible. But maybe not…
And she also thought of the strange night she’d caught her dad at her grandfather’s grave, like he was waiting for something, just like she was… But how could he possibly know?
“So you’ve always been pretty into gardening, huh?” Krystina asked as her father began mixing up the eggs for their omelets.
“Yeah, I’d say so.” He replied. “But you know me… I love anything that gets me outside.” Lucas smiled.
Krystina bit her lip nervously. What else had Evelyn said? Gardening, and…
“So… Like, fishing too?” His daughter paused. “I mean, Silas mentioned taking me with him sometime, but I’ve never been, so… Do you know what it’s like? Do you think I’d like it?” Krystina hoped she sounded casual.
“Oh gosh, I haven’t been fishing in a long time.” Lucas laughed. “But I used to go a lot. The peace and quiet was always nice.” He admitted. “But it was too much standing around and waiting, and not enough doing anything… I never cared for it very much…” He smiled as he poured the egg and vegetable mixture into the hot pan. “Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try though. You never know, maybe you’ll be better at it than me.”
His daughter hesitated. “Well… if you never really liked it, why did you do it?”
“What do you mean?” He asked almost nervously
“You said you didn’t really like it, but you used to go all the time… Why would you spend so much time doing something you don’t like?”
Lucas suddenly looked extremely uncomfortable. “An old friend of mine used to like it.” He said hesitantly. “So I went with them.”
May as well go for it… Krystina took a deep breath. “Was it Evelyn?” She asked.
The spatula her father had been holding clattered to the floor. The kitchen was silent for several moments, save the soft sizzling of the eggs on the stove.
“Shit.” Lucas muttered to himself, breaking the silence as he bent down to pick it up.
“I… I know we haven’t talked about her in a long time…” Krystina said quickly. “But… she used to be your best friend, right? That’s what you told me back when I was a kid…”
Her father sighed. “She was.” He replied at last. “A long time ago.”
Krystina said nothing, watching as her dad continued cooking in silence. He looks so upset… She thought sadly. I guess this is why we never talk about her…
The uncomfortable silence continued, even when he joined her at the table, filling each of their plates with a portion of the fluffy omelet. It was a few minutes before Krystina finally found the courage to speak again.
“I’m sorry.” She said seriously. “I didn’t mean to just bring her up like that…” Krystina shrugged. “But I guess I’ve always kinda wanted to know more about her… I mean, I’m named after her, aren’t I? My middle name, at least…”
“So she must have been really important to you.”
Krystina hesitated. “You guys were just kids when you met, right?”
“It was right after I moved to Newcrest.” Her father said softly. “So I was around eleven, I think.”
“And… you were friends for a long time?” She asked.
He nodded yet again. “Years.”
Krystina paused, taking the last bite of her breakfast and thinking for a few moments, trying to figure out how to proceed. Her father was noticeably uncomfortable with her questions, but this could finally be her chance figure out if her suspicions were true… She had to keep going.
Krystina put down her fork. “So… What was she like?”
Lucas was thoughtful for a few moments. “Very smart.” He said finally. “And kind. Creative, too.”
“Creative, huh?” Krystina smiled, trying her best to sound nonchalant. “Sounds like I’d get along with her… So she liked art, like me? Or… writing like Grammy? Or maybe… Music?”
A look of annoyance slowly came to her father’s face. “Music.” He confirmed, sighing. “Look, sweetie, I really don’t –”
“What happened to her?” Krystina pressed. “How… how did she die?”
“Look, I don’t know, okay?” Her father practically snapped at her.
Krystina was taken aback by his sudden burst of anger, but she could not contain her curiosity. “How can you not know?”
He took a deep breath. “Because when it happened, we weren’t friends anymore.” His voice shook slightly as he spoke, and Krystina could not tell if it was with anger or sadness.
Her eyes widened. She’d never heard this part of the story before. “Really?! What happened? I mean, why did you –“
Lucas’ hands were balled into fists in his lap. Krystina realized too late that she’d made a mistake.
“Enough!” He shouted, his deep voice booming throughout the large, open room. “Just drop it, okay?!”
His daughter was silent. Me and my big mouth… She rose to her feet and picked up their dirty dishes, cowering under her father’s glare.
Krystina quickly began loading the dishwasher, too nervous and guilty to say anything else. She stole a few sideways glances at her dad from across the room. He still sat at the dining room table, breathing heavily. But his expression looked a bit calmer, at least.
As she turned toward the counter island to pack up the leftovers, her father finally rose to his feet and approached her. He crossed in front of her, taking a deep, nervous breath.
“Krysti…” Lucas began uncomfortably. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that. And I’m sorry.” He said seriously. “It’s just… not easy for me talk about.” He admitted. “You’re right, Evelyn was a wonderful friend. But talking about her brings back a lot of bad memories too…” The man sighed softly. “I’m still having a hard time with losing your grandfather… So thinking about Evelyn on top of it all… It’s just too much for me right now.”
Krystina just shook her head. “Dad… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pushed you like that.” She said seriously. “I never should have forced you to talk about it. I kinda let my curiosity get the better of me…” The girl shrugged. “Can you forgive me?”
Her father simply hugged her in reply. He squeezed her tightly for several long moments.
“Maybe this is a conversation we can try again another day.” Lucas said softly as he pulled away. “Y’know, when things are a little easier… Okay?”
Krystina nodded. “Sure, dad.”
She watched as her father headed over to the couch to catch up on his latest cooking shows, her heart sinking.
Krystina felt awful. She’d made her father so upset, and for what? She was still no closer to figuring out the truth. This was a terrible idea. The girl told herself. What could she do now?
There was only one other person she could talk to…