“So you’re sure you’re okay?” Krystina asked for what must have been the fifth time. “Because I can stay, you know. Mitch can handle the kids without me.”
Lucas just shook his head, smiling slightly. His daughter had been checking in on him every day for the past week, and had said almost exactly the same thing every time she said goodbye. Her concern was touching, of course… But also unnecessary. He really didn’t mind being alone. And after all, Lucas realized sadly, he would have to get used to it now, wouldn’t he?
“Go home, sweetheart.” Lucas replied gently, smiling. “You need to take some time for yourself too. No need to keep worrying about your old man, okay?”
His daughter had been spending so much time trying to make sure he was okay that Lucas had begun to worry about her. He still remembered how difficult and painful it had been when his own parents had passed away all those years ago. She needs to be with Mitch and the kids… They need to help each other through this.
“I’ll be fine on my own.” He continued. “And besides, I’m not really alone anyway, am I? I’ve got Ev as soon as the sun goes down.” Of course, he had barely spoken to Evelyn since the day Mel passed away. But his daughter didn’t need to know that.
“I guess you’re right… Okay, dad.” Krystina returned his soft smile. “But you’ll call me if you need anything, right?”
“Of course.” Lucas stepped forward, pulling her into a tight hug. “Thank you, Krysti.” He said seriously. “I don’t know if I could have gotten through these past few days without you.”
“I love you, dad.” She replied, sniffling softly. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Lucas watched as his daughter headed out the front door and out of sight.
He sighed softly as the smile quickly vanished from his face. Lucas had loved his long visits with Krystina over the past several days, but it was exhausting to continue putting on a brave face for her day after day.
Lucas headed out the back door to his garden, grabbing his watering can along the way. It had been far too long since he’d properly tended to his garden, and part of him feared the damage may not be so easy to reverse. Getting back into a regular routine would not be easy, but Lucas knew that he could not put it off any longer. Looking down at the dried-out, weed-ridden plants before him, he quickly got to work.
In all the heartache and despair he’d endured, Lucas had almost forgotten just how much he truly loved to be alone in his garden – the sun shining down from the bright blue sky, the singing of the birds in the nearby trees, the earthy smell of the damp brown soil – It was all so peaceful and relaxing… And, for a moment, Lucas almost felt a glimmer of genuine happiness again. Almost.
A sudden vibration from his pocket interrupted his train of thought and brought Lucas back to the present. A soft sigh escaped his lips as he pulled the phone out of his pocket, not even bothering to glance at the caller ID before lifting it to his ear.
“Hello?” Lucas answered, as though he didn’t already know exactly whose voice he would hear on the other side.
A few years ago, Noah and Sam had both moved away from Newcrest in favor of more exotic locations where they could enjoy their respective retirements. Sam and Laura were enjoying the beautiful European countryside of Monte Vista. Noah and Camryn had not gone quite as far, instead choosing to bask in the sun and sand down south in Sunlit Tides.
The three friends had still managed to stay close, despite the distance between them. But living so far away had, of course, meant that neither Noah nor Sam were able to be there for their friend during this difficult time. And it seemed that they’d both decided the best solution was to call Lucas day after day “just to say hello”.
Lucas appreciated the gesture, at first. Then, after a few days, it had become almost irritating. And now, nearly a week later, it was simply tedious – they were running out of things to talk about, and, much as he missed his friends, Lucas tried his best to keep the conversations short.
After saying goodbye to Sam (who always called in the morning, thanks to the several-hour time difference between them), Lucas returned to caring for his plants, his previous joy now extinguished. The call had simply served as a painful reminder of everything he was going through – and the fact that two of his best friends were not there to help him through it.
A short while later, Lucas opened the refrigerator as his conversations with Sam and Krysti from earlier continued to replay themselves in his mind. It did nothing to lift his spirits.
He was tired of everyone walking on eggshells around him, and feeling sorry for him. And if anyone asked him “How are you doing?” or “Are you okay?” one more time, Lucas felt fairly certain he was going to scream.
They know how I’m feeling. He thought as he brought the knife down onto the cutting board. They know I’m not okay. Lucas sighed. They meant well, of course. He knew that. And it wasn’t right to feel angry at them… But sometimes, it was difficult not to.
He took a deep breath and continued preparing his lunch until a loud knocking at the door suddenly reached his ears.
Oh no… He thought, turning slowly toward the door. Who is it now? Why couldn’t anyone understand that he wanted to be alone?
A tall figure stood on the other side of the glass, giving a small wave and staring expectantly at him. Or at least, Lucas thought it was staring at him. The figure’s face was completely obstructed by an eerie blackness beneath its worn hood.
For a moment, Lucas genuinely believed he was having a heart attack. He said nothing and simply stared in horror as the figure took it upon itself to enter. Why is he here? What could he possibly want with me?
“Ah, Mr. Ainsworth.” A deep, gravelly voice reached his ears. “Long time, no see.”
Lucas was silent for a few moments, and finally managed to recover from his initial shock. He narrowed his eyes at the visitor as he drew closer. “What are you doing here?”
Death simply shrugged. “It’s been a while.” He said with a laugh. “I thought it might be nice to drop in.”
The old man’s face quickly contorted into a scowl. “Well get out.” He spat. “You’re not welcome here… Not after what you did to me and Ev.” Lucas shook his head in disgust.
“Hmm… would you care to refresh my memory, boy?” Death said with a small laugh. “It’s been a long time…”
“You lied!” Lucas cried out angrily. “To both of us!”
The figure seemed completely unfazed by the sudden outburst. “Ah yes… I remember now…” He paused. “I may have twisted the truth a little.” Death admitted. “But I assure you, I wasn’t without my reasons.”
“Reasons?” Lucas practically snarled at him. “They’d better be some damn good ones after what you put us through.”
“Well…” Death began. Lucas could almost hear the smile in his voice. “That’s part of the reason I’m here right now… I owe you a bit of an explanation, don’t I?” He chuckled to himself. “So I have some… information I’d like to share with you.”
Lucas stared at him in confusion. “Information?” He asked skeptically. “What kind of information?”
The figure just shrugged. “The kind that beautiful wife of yours thought you might want to know…”
Death shook his head in amusement. “Calm down, my boy.” He laughed. “And let me explain…”