“Yes, death. Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace. You can help me. You can open for me the portals of death’s house, for love is always with you, and love is stronger than death is.”
The yard was only sixteen cartwheels across and eighteen frog leaps long. The grass wasn’t as green as her mother’s eyes, but it was certainly softer than her pillow. The swing set was a hand-me-down from her cousin. Her mother’s garden sat along the side of the white washed fence. Purple, yellow, orange, and red flowers danced in the breeze. Mina couldn’t name the flowers, but she knew the orange flowers smelled the best.
Letting her head fall to the side the blades of grass poked at her nose. Through the grass her father’s form was hunkered next to their garage. Her father had been her teddy bear when she was younger, but she had just entered middle school and she thought she was too grown up for those things now. Her strawberry blonde bangs fell in her face and she pushed them away with her free hand as she pushed herself to her feet. Her bare feet made no noise as she moved closer to her father.
His back was sweaty as he stretched to place the new window pane into place on their garage. The old window pane lay on the ground and Mina looked down at her reflection. Blue eyes, freckles across her pixie nose, short strawberry blonde hair, and her sunburn looked back. The dry heat of the Colorado sun had turned her into this pink creature. The bright red streaks across her face and arms were partially obscured by the dust covered glass.
Mina had spent most of her summer alone watching for hidden images in the clouds. Despite her being almost a 6th grader she felt the need to indulge in these childish fantasies. No one her age was around to laugh, or join in. She broke the staring contest with her reflection to edge closer to her father. He continued his work. She tapped her foot and poked him. His balding head turned in her direction and the edges of his eyes crinkled as he smiled.
“Aren’t you a little old Mina? You’re going into middle school.” She shook her head and bolted for the swings.
Mina loved the rush of the wind as her father pushed the swing higher and higher. The colors of the backyard blurred and the swirling colors took the shape of ladies in ball gowns and men in top hats. The stones glittered on the women and the men were pillars of black satin. The waltz began in front of her, and suddenly the colors leapt towards her; spinning wildly she felt it clothe her in favorite golden color. A bow in her hair, and another around her waist were a darker golden color than the dress. She fanned her small fingers on the pleats of the dress before looking out to the dancers. Their faces were glass pictures of perfection. Each dancer had a pristine partner, and Mina felt herself falter. Her partner was off on a grand adventure. She drew away from the now explosive colors.
The swing slowed, and as it came to a stop, the empty seat next to her seemed more apparent.
“Kale isn’t coming back from his adventure, right Dad?” She asked as she gazed down to her dirt covered feet.
Her father sighed behind her. “No, my princess, I’m afraid he isn’t.”
The swing set lay dormant since that day. The rest of the summer passed quickly, and when Mina went back to school as a 6th grader she avoided anyone who looked like the white-blond haired boy she’d been forced to say good-bye to the summer before.
10 years later
The steam poured from the Styrofoam cup that sat on the scratched table in the backroom of the flower shop. Mina sat on the counter staring at the steam as it curled up towards the ceiling. Jumping off the counter she picked up the cup of hot chocolate. Leaning on the door jam Mina looked at the people walking around the flower shop picking through the buckets filled with an assortment of blooms. Roses and baby’s breath were stored next to the already filled bouquet orders. She drank as her manager, Amy, rang customers up.
Turning back to the table she threw the empty cup away. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and pushed her mother’s speed dial.
“Hi, Mom. How’s work?” Silence crackled along the line.
“Class was good today. The kids had things to focus on.”
Mina frowned. Her mother didn’t usually give details of what she taught the children. “What’s up, mom?”
There was murmuring from the other end of the line before Mina heard something slam. “I had to get away from the other teachers.”
Mina sighed and sat down. She glanced at the clock. She had two minutes left on her break, and she hoped this wouldn’t take too long.
“We had a new student in class today. Nice, quiet, and respectful, but maybe a little shy. Curious though, he asked questions as much as he answered them.”
“His name was Kevin, but he looked exactly like Kale. He looked like he hadn’t aged a day. I couldn’t believe it. The only thing that changed was his name. He’s back, Mina. You need to come meet him. Come talk to him.”
Without answering her mother Mina clicked her phone shut. She leaned her head into her hands and sighed softly. The tears pricked the corners of her eyes. She lifted her hand and pushed them away stubbornly. She wouldn’t cry. Not for Kale, and certainly not after all this time. Not after he just left her alone.
The backyard was still neatly trimmed, but the flowers had long since died. Mina’s mother had never bothered to replant them. The swing set had not felt the touch of her hand in all these years. Mina ran her hand over the dust covered seat before sitting down and letting the swing rock gently back and forth. Her mother would accuse her of not coming to see her at the school, but after leaving the flower shop Mina had simply come here out of habit. A habit that she had ignored for all these years.
Nothing had changed through the years of high school. The years seemed pregnant with Kale’s absence. She turned her head and looked at the empty swing next to her. The dust settled on his phantom silvery outline, sticking to the white blond hair and frail fingers. His pointy nose tipped up as he looked at the sky, finding animals and monsters in the clouds. The adolescent figure turned towards her and before she could see his eyes the boy vanished.
Mina couldn’t remember the color of his eyes.
From inside the house she heard her mother slamming cabinet doors. Mina didn’t realize how long she had sat there until she looked up and saw the sun setting behind the trees. She knew her mother was searching for the single malt scotch. Whenever something bothered her, and her father was away on a business trip, she went for the scotch. The therapy her mother had gone through after the accident had allowed her to get off of the alcohol for a time, but after the therapy ended she fell back into the drinking rhythm. Mina had long since removed the stuff, but her mother still searched.
Entering the kitchen from the back door Mina saw her mother with her hands wrapped around a glass of milk. Milk was the fall back when her mother remembered there was no alcohol left in the house.
“You didn’t come.” Her mother’s fingers drummed on the table.
“And you can’t keep chasing his ghost mother. Why can’t you understand that his death wasn’t your fault? You didn’t know he would try and walk home from school early.”
Her mother shook her head. Her hair had grayed at the temples soon after the accident, and as the years passed she had allowed all of it to turn silver. Her green eyes were pacing behind her chipped glasses. Her nails were chewed down to the quick and her wedding ring was held onto her finger by a sizer.
Mina hesitated in asking her mother if she remembered what color Kale’s eyes were, but Mina was afraid. She was afraid she would guess wrong. She sat down across the table from her mother and watched as her mother sipped at the milk.
From outside Mina heard thunder rumble.
“It was raining that day, too.”
The rain tapped against the glass as the two women sat silently in the kitchen. Her mother was gazing at the empty counter tops while Mina stared at the grey skies outside. Those grey skies had taken Kale from her as easily as a dream: something you weren’t sure if it happened or not, but the pain lingered in your heart just the same. She glanced to her mother who’s frailty had increased everyday since the accident, and after her father began to go on longer business trips it seemed that she only doubled in on herself. Her mother had taken a blind focus to teaching her children after that. She taught with more passion, and with a great deal more caution. The security in the school had increased greatly since Kale’s accident. The school had set up a small memorial in Kale’s name: a silver plaque that was near the entrance to the school. No one had blamed her mother, but the school sent her to heavy counseling. She had been forced to take a break after the accident, and during the break the counseling was the only thing her mother clung to, certainly not Mina who needed her mother’s support more than ever. Any teacher would need to go to therapy after a child you were responsible was killed because he slipped your watch. It was even worse when Kale was leaving school to see Mina who had been sick that day. Worse still was the loss of a family member: a cousin, a nephew, and a best friend.
Mina sighed and picked up the empty milk glass as she walked past her mother to the sink. Mina rinsed it out before placing it into the dishwasher. Mina moved out of the kitchen to the hallway that led to her room. Her mother’s briefcase caught her gaze. The bright colors of the tests were accompanied by the red marker showing the grades. Her mother still put stars on the tests that got A’s. The kids never seemed to mind.
If mom wasn’t so screwed up, Mina thought, she would have made a fantastic actress. I don’t know anyone who can make kids so happy, but be so miserable herself.
Mina moved, for just a moment, to pick out the boy’s paper. Perhaps to see if this boy’s handwriting was the same as Kale’s. Mina doubted that she would be able to remember what Kale’s handwriting looked like, but maybe if she saw it she would know.
Moving towards her room she stepped in a quickly closed the door behind her. Her room had gone through minor changes over the years, but the worn comforter lay on the twin bed, and the night stand next to it sat a silver unicorn. She sat down on the bed and looked where her work clothes were hanging on the peg on the back of her door. One good thing about working in a flower shop was that she never smelled like over greasy food coming home. She ran her hand over the unicorn.
Kale had given it to her the week before his accident. He said he saw it at a garage sale and it was meant for her. She picked it up and weighed the figure in her hand. It was heavy deceptively so, and she ran her hand along the horn before setting it down on the table. Her door opened and she looked to her see her mother watching her.
“You have Friday off from work. You’ll come then.”
“Why do you want me there so badly, Mom? You’re fighting his ghost more so than anyone else. What if I don’t want to come?”
“You will come. You will see him. He’s special.”
Mina ran her hand over her face. “You think he’s special because you are making him into the boy he isn’t.”
Her mother scoffed. “Maybe you think that, but you will come regardless.”
Mina looked to the unicorn she had just set down. She wasn’t sure if she should go. She certainly didn’t have to decide right now.
Mina had tried to convince her manager, Amy, to give her a full shift on Friday, but the woman said that Mina deserved a day off. Mina sighed as she began cutting the stems on the daisies for a bouquet. The customer had forgotten his wife’s birthday, and this was the third order he had placed in the last week. Mina loved the flower shop. She had never considered college because Amy had hired her in her sophomore year of high school. This was what she had always wanted: after Kale’s accident her mother had stopped planting the flowers in the garden, and Mina had been searching for another way to have them in her life. Mina ran her hand over the daisy in her hand before placing it into the red vase with the others she had already cut.
Mina chewed her lip as she checked the daisies off her list of things to do for the day. The shop was relatively quiet today and she had had far too much time to think about Kale. The boy she had lost so young had remained as her best friend despite his physical absence in her life. This boy that her mother wanted her to meet was someone her mother had placed her idea on. Mina felt her mother wanted her to feel the pain her mother suffered from the accident. Mina had her own issues with maybe meeting this boy. If she went there and saw the boy, and he reminded her of Kale, what would change in her heart for the boy who had died?
She picked up a clear vase and began her next order. Mina was mindlessly pulling flowers out of the buckets of water, pulling snap dragons and sunflowers. A cough behind her had Mina dropping a rose back into the bucket.
Amy stood leaning against the door jam. Her brown curly hair was pulled into a high pony tail and the green shirt she wore brought out the color in her eyes. Amy was older than Mina by six years. She majored in business at the community college, and she had opened In Bloom six months before Mina had applied. Mina had been desperate to show her mother she didn’t need to go to college. Amy’s business had boomed and she had been desperate for work.
Amy had learned of Kale gradually, and over time Mina had given Amy more and more information about him. Amy walked farther into the room. She ran a hand over the daisies in the red vase.
“I don’t think you should go on Friday.” Amy said. At Mina’s confused look she hurried to explain herself. “I mean it’s just that you mother has always pushed you to see Kale’s death like she did. She wants you to see the boy, the student that he was to her. She obviously still feels guilty over his death, and I imagine, in some way, she wants you to feel guilty. He snuck out of school for you.” Amy ran a hand over her curly hair. “How do you feel about Kale now?”
Mina fiddled with the rose she had picked back up. She felt angry because her best friend had died. She felt frustrated because her mind refused to remember the good times that Kale had brought to their lives. Mina supposed the child in her was still a little jealous that Kale had gone on a new adventure without her. Looking back she knew it was ridiculous because death was not an adventure, but she was naive enough back then to believe that.
“I’m not sure, I guess.” Mina looked at her boss and friend. “If you don’t want me to go why did you give me the day off?”
Amy snorted and turned to return to the front of the store. “Because no matter what I want you to do it is still your decision, Mina.”
Mina spent the rest of the day making flower arrangements and organizing the new shipments of flowers. She kept her mind locked down from wandering to the choice she had to make about Kale for the rest of the day. Closing the shop she hurried to her beat up 1994 Toyota Camry. She sat in the seat and pulled out her phone. No calls from her mother, but her father had called. She hit the redial button.
“Hello Mina. How are you princess?”
Mina felt a smile pull at her lips. “I’m ok, Dad. How is the meeting going?”
“Oh as well as I can imagine. I got a call from your mom. I’m rebooking my flight so I can get home tomorrow. I don’t know why she keeps pushing you like this.”
“Oh, dad I can’t ask you to leave early. I feel bad I can’t handle this on my own.”
“Honey, I’m your dad. There is no reason you should have to face this alone, ok?”
“Ok. Thanks, Dad. I appreciate it.”
He chuckled. “You want me to bring you home a souvenir? I was thinking this bug fluffy bear.”
Mina laughed openly. “No thanks. I think I’m too grown up for that.”
“You’re still my baby girl. I’ll see you tomorrow, and we’ll figure out what to do about Mom.”
“Ok, bye.” She clicked the phone shut and sighed.
Mina leaned forward to adjust the review mirror so that she could check her reflection. Her eyes looked tired and she sighed before moving the mirror back into place. For a brief moment she imagined Kale’s eyes staring back at her, but they were a blank gaze because she couldn’t place a color in them.
“I’m sorry that you tried to come see me that day.” She said softly to the backseat. “I can’t feel guilty though. I didn’t know you were going to do that, and if I did I would have told you to stop, and to wait. But you were always impatient, and you never listened to me.” She sniffled at the sudden rush of emotions. “I just want my friend back. Sure we were young, but I could always tell you everything. We always talked about going on grand adventures together, but we never got to do that.”
She fumbled around in her purse and pulled out her car keys. “It’s silly. To think you can here me, but I want you to tell me what to do about this boy. What if I see something in him that reminds me of you?”
Mina looked to the rearview mirror to find any kind of confirmation in his eyes, but they were gone. “Great,” she muttered at she pulled out of the drive. “Now I’m talking to a ghost, or I’m just going bat-shit crazy.”
Mina got up the next morning rolling over in her pajamas she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes before she stumbled towards the kitchen where she could hear the rumble of her father’s voice. Mina still felt like a little girl whenever her father was around. He was her teddy bear when she was a child, and that certainly hadn’t changed. She rounded the corner and saw her father talking quietly to her mother.
Mina was always startled to see the different person her mother was when her father was near. You could still see the last few days’ stress still etched on her face, but it was brighter. Mina coughed lightly and her father turned to grin at her. Her father was a large man. His eyes were blue just like Mina’s and she always joked that they matched because of it. He wrapped her in a hug that lifted her off her feet. She leaned into him for that moment because once he let go the focus would be her mother and why she was being so unreasonable. At that was Mina’s idea of her mother, sometimes, despite his best intentions, her father sided with her mother out of complete devotion to her.
He let her go and stepped back. “So apparently I leave for two days and the world comes crumbling down.” He looked back to his wife. “So there was a child who looked like Kale. Sure he didn’t look like every other kid, but you have to expect some similarities to come up.”
Her mother stood straighter and narrowed her eyes at her husband. “You may remember Kale like the boy that he was, but all I do when I look at this other boy is see Kale.”
“Obviously.” Mina muttered as she went to sit at the kitchen table.
Her mother shot her a glare. “If you had come to visit him like I had asked you would have seen it too. I was practically his mother. I practically raised him because his good for nothing parents were always taking off to Vegas to get rich. I was basically his mother. I saw him everyday.”
“So did I!” Mina snapped. She felt all of her emotions unraveling under her mother’s selfish declarations. “He was my friend, mother. I spent everyday with him since before I can remember and you have the nerve to tell me that I don’t know Kale better than you.”
“Now both of you.” Her father said calmly as the two women stared across the kitchen at each other. “You could spend all day declaring why you knew Kale better, but that is not really the issue here. The issue is this new boy, or rather the fact that you want Mina to come and see him when she obviously hasn’t made up her mind yet.” He glanced to both of his family members.
“Honey, why it is so important to you that Mina see this boy? She was just as broken up about Kale’s death as you were. We all miss him, but why this sudden insistence?”
Her mother sighed. She suddenly looked at the older because of the stress of the situation. “She doesn’t understand what it was like not knowing where Kale was. How he could have slipped past everyone without anyone seeing. We always had teachers watching to make sure students didn’t try and ditch, but he got past all of them. And he only left because he knew you were sick that day. He wanted to come and see you. And because of that awful rain the visibility was so poor that driver never even saw him crossing the street. He was gone from us and I never got to say goodbye. I was thinking such mean things about him while we were looking for him. He was always acting out when he felt like I wasn’t paying him enough attention. I was so mad because I just assumed it was another one of his rebellious moments.”
“Of course I will never understand that, mom, but you have to understand that I felt bad knowing he was coming to see me. It was no one’s fault. Just a horrible day that deserves to stay in the past.”
Her mother’s head snapped up from where she had let it sag. “That’s just it. You let go of the past so easily, and you don’t even stop to remember him. You think that just because Kale loved flowers you working in a flower shop is going to keep him around. Well it isn’t.”
“And finding his ghost in other students? How is that healthy?”
Mina’s father sighed and sat down in the seat across from her. He rested his chin in his hand and looked at both of them.
“It isn’t healthy, dear, and Mina sees that. Why can’t you just let go of his ghost? Let this other boy live his life without you hovering over him.”
“Because it isn’t another boy.” Her mother finally ground out. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, but neither of you would listen. This boy knows things about the school that only Kale knew. He knew that if you shoved the lock on my desk just right it would pop open without the key. He knows that Mrs. Handel, the secretary at the front desk is scared of mice. Kale always used to play that trick on her. This boy has done the same mischievous things in the past week that Kale always did.” She leveled her daughter with a stare. “He asked if I had a daughter.”
Mina felt her world sink. “You…you must have a picture on your desk, and it’s not a completely crazy idea that a teacher would have kids of her own.”
Her mother shook her head. “No, Mina. He asked if I had a daughter who liked flowers and had wanted to know if you liked unicorns.”
The wall clock ticked by for a few seconds. Her father cleared his throat and pulled a chair out. “Now I’m sure there is some logical reason for this, dear.” He ran a hand over his face, and suddenly he looked years older. “For all we know this boy could think that Mina is his age. I seem to recall that girls like unicorns at that age. Unless my fatherly intuition had suddenly started lacking.” He rapped his fingers on the kitchen table a few times. “Honey I think that you need to give Mina her space. If she wants to go see Kevin then that’s her choice, but forcing her to see him it beyond selfish.”
Mina’s mother sputtered at that comment, but her father gave her a look. She crossed her arms and sat back. “Now, Mina. I think that you need to take a few days and think about everything. You were young when Kale passed away, but I know that he still means a great deal to you. Think about what your mother is asking. I think it would be good for both of you to try and respect each other’s wishes.” He glanced from his daughter to his wife. They both had matching expression of resignation on their faces. He sighed, “Why was I stuck with the two most stubborn women on the planet?” He got up and walked out of the kitchen.
Mina could hear him in her parents bedroom fumbling around as he started unpacking. Mina fiddled with her hair and glanced to her mother. Mina sighed and stood up. Pulling a glass out of the cabinet she filled it with milk and placed it in front of her mother. The older woman looked up. Her face softened as she wrapped her hands around the glass. In an instant Mina felt a jolt of emotion. That expression was the face of her mother before Kale’s accident: the mother who was always so warm. She was the perfect lady who always knew the right thing to say or do to calm her daughter. She was the person Mina had always looked up to, and always dreamed of becoming. Now she was a husk of her former self, and she had never taken the time to try and change things for the better. She had never taken the time to consol her daughter over the loss of her best friend. Kale’s death caused her to pull away from Mina. Mina figured the loss of Kale was tragic enough she couldn’t be trusted in placing an emotional investment into her daughter.
In her room Mina ran her hand along the unicorn. Despite her mother’s emotional reservation towards her now she always hoped that perhaps some part of her mother was still in there, struggling against the injustices and would come back with a kind word like she had in the past. Mina tapped the unicorn.
“Though you were the cause I still can’t be mad at you, Kale. It wasn’t your fault it was raining that day. You were never that big, and the driver wasn’t paying attention. One skipped curb and,” she gripped the unicorn tightly. “I just wish you had stayed at school. Sneaking out of class to come see your sick best friend was not worth it.” She sighed and let the unicorn sit at it always had: rearing up with its front hooves raised in the hair the silver mane swirling wildly around the face, and the expression of pride it its silver eyes. Despite it being able to fit easily in the palm of her hand she had always loved the power in the figurine.
The air conditioning in the school did little to combat the heat that raged outside. Mina pushed her sunglasses on top of her head and glanced down the hallway. Seeing her childhood school after so many years brought back memories, but they were foggy as if she were looking at them through another person’s gaze. She shifted the small name tag labeling her as a visitor and walked down the hallway towards her mother’s classroom. She had seen only the familiar face of the receptionist when she came in, but all of the other teachers and staff were new.
The halls were empty because the children were at lunch and as she looked into her mother’s classroom she noted that the classroom looked the same as it had years before. Streamers hung from the ceiling showing different math symbols and banners across the far wall showed the different writing tenses. Everything was in bright colors to try and inspire the children to love learning.
Mina wandered to the corner of the classroom that held bean bags of different sizes and colors and books were stacked everywhere. She picked up a book and flipped through it. It was a children’s book, and targeted for girls by the look of the pastel colors and the various animals on the front. Her mother’s name was written on the inside cover along with the room number. Mina remembered that you could borrow any of the book within the nook as long as you signed it out and brought it back within the week. Mina sank down into one of the bean bags and suppressed a giggle as her now too long legs came up almost to her chin. Digging through the stack she found a book that was a bit bigger and probably for the more advanced children. She flipped to the front page and began reading.
Time passed slowly as she read the book and didn’t notice anything until there was a scuff of a shoe coming from the doorway.
“Mom,” Mina said standing up and dropping the book hastily she looked towards the door, but didn’t see her mother. “Oh, um, are you supposed to be in here without a teacher?”
The boy’s face was smeared with dirt and it covered his hair in a fine dust. He had his little hands interlaced behind his head. “You shouldn’t be in here either. You’re not a kid, and I bet Mrs. Perkins doesn’t know you’re in here. I could yell, and then you would get in trouble.”
Mina studied the child, his shoes were coming untied, his shorts were covered in dirt as well, the shirt that he wore was torn at the sleeve, and she could see various scratches covering his arms and legs. Trying not to be alarmed as his appearance she felt something nagging in the back of her brain.
“Why do I get the feeling you really aren’t supposed to be in here either?” She pointed to the tag on her shirt. “See, I am allowed to be here, and besides, Mrs. Perkins is my mother. I can do what I want. I bet you have to follow the rules.” Her tone took her back. She was bickering with this child as if she were his age and not a fully grown adult. She sighed. “What’s your name, and how did you get so filthy?”
The boy giggled and stepped out of the shadow of the doorway and moved towards the backpacks that were hung in neat rows near the door. “We were playing in the sandbox and three other kids tried to cover me in it. You know how you see those pictures of people completely buried in the dirt, but just their heads are sticking out? They wanted to do that, but I fought them. I don’t ever want to be buried.” He turned and fixed his eyes on her. “So I came in here to get my toy and wait until recess was done. I didn’t tell Mrs. Perkins because she would never let me come on my own. She’s kind of bossy that way.” He dug around in his backpack and pulled out a little knight figurine.
“Listen, kid, we need to go find my mother and let her know where you are, she doesn’t like it when she doesn’t know where her students are.” Mina moved to the door and was almost in the hallway before the boy’s voice stopped her.
“It’s ok. It’s not the first time I’ve run off without telling her. Besides, it’s for something special, so doesn’t that make it ok?”
Mina swung around, her own childhood fears about Kale coming to the surface. Her fists clenched and her voice shook. “No, it is not ok, just because I was special it doesn’t not mean you leave school on a rainy day just to bring me a present. It could have waited until the end of the day.” She covered her mouth.
The boy cocked his head to the side and through the light coming from the window that underneath the dirt the boy’s hair was so light blond it was almost white. “I don’t remember doing that, but I guess I could have. You seem pretty special.”
Mina felt frozen to the floor. She couldn’t move and couldn’t speak. She just stared at the boy. Kale. She couldn’t see much of his face, but the hair, and the way he spoke, but that was ridiculous. She forced herself to step towards him, but as soon as she moved he started like a rabbit caught outside by a fox and bolted behind the door.
“Shh. I can hear Mrs. Perkins coming. Oh she’ll be all sorts of angry.”
The spell broken, Mina stumbled backwards and turned away from the boy who was so like Kale, and called for her mother. The child still within Mina cried when she saw her mother coming down the hallway.
“Mommy, I saw him, but he isn’t what” she gasped for air and clutched her mother’s arms, plucking at her clothing.
Her mother’s arms came around her, and in that instant she felt her old mother back. The one who made hot cocoa when it rained, and would always read her a story before bed. “Where is he, Mina? Did you see Kevin? He disappeared from the play ground.” Mina looked up at her mother’s drawn face, her eyes were wild.
“Kevin? I saw Kale, Mom. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She could feel the other teachers and staff give her a strange look.
“No, Mina.” For once, her mother’s hands were strong as she pulled Mina’s face around to look her in the eyes. “You saw Kevin.” Her voice was low and calming. “Now we need to find him because he is not out with the other children.”
Mina shook her head, trying to separate past from present. “He, he said he didn’t want to play in the sandbox. He came to get something special. That’s why he left. I think he’s hiding behind the door.” Mina stood still as her mother moved around her and down the hallways towards the classroom. She could hear the voices as her mother scolded the boy. Kevin, her mother said his name was Kevin. But that hair, his hair was the same color, but she couldn’t be certain. She still hadn’t seen his eyes.
The principle had to be called in to discuss with Kevin, his mother, and Mina’s mother the consequences of leaving without telling a teacher. Mina could see through the open door that the boy had his arms crossed and was scowling at the table. Looking at him now all she saw was another little boy who had gotten into trouble. The moment when she had seen Kale was gone. There were physical differences, but it was nothing like what she had felt earlier.
Turning away she ran a hand across her face and walked out to the car. Well, her mother had wanted her to meet Kevin. Mission accomplished. Soon after they had found Kevin her mother told her to head home. The rest of the day would be messed up because of the actions needed to disciple Kevin. Her mother told her she could come back another time.
Her hands shook on the steering wheel as she drove home. She went to the back yard when she got home and sat on the swing the rest of the day not leaving to go inside until well after dark.
The week passed with Mina burying herself in her work. The flowers seemed dull, and she could feel Amy watching her when she thought she wasn’t looking. Mina knew she had been quiet, but she couldn’t help it. For just that moment that boy had looked like Kale, and she had been transported back to her younger self like nothing had changed. All those questions had come back up in her mind. Why would he leave her? Now she knew the reason, but the question still nagged at her all these years later.
She looked up to see Amy standing in front of her with her brow furrowed.
Mina sighed, “What is it, Amy? I’m trying to work.”
Amy raised her eyebrows. “Don’t get snippy with me, honey. I was just going to say that you could take a break if that would help. I’m pretty sure your sour mood has frightened away any walk in customers we would have had this week.” Amy ran a hand through her hair. “Look, just take your break, get whatever is bothering you off your chest, and then maybe you won’t be such an emotional leech.”
Mina smirked, finally seeing the friend instead of the boss. “Well, Amy, if that’s the case then you could have been a little bit blunter about it.”
Amy nodded, and walked back to where she was assembling the daisies Mina had cut earlier this morning. Pulling the chair away from the table in their small break room, Mina slouched into it while her coffee warmed in the microwave. It was left over from this morning, but she’d been too wrapped in her thought while driving here.
So what if the boy looked like Kale? It was just a fluke that he had similar features. She’d seen other boys who had those features and it didn’t bother her. She had seen it just because her mother had told her the resemblance was there. So what if she hadn’t really made many friends after Kale’s death? She was just protecting herself, and she was a rather solitary person anyhow. She’d let it weight on her all these years because of guilt that Kale had left to come see her. He had always been the kind of boy to worry more about others than himself. Well, she wasn’t going to let something that wasn’t her fault dictate her life, or her mother’s life any longer.
She’d stayed at home for far too long, worrying that if she left her mother might crumble further to the point where Mina wouldn’t be able to recognize her own mother. If Mina was honest with herself she didn’t really recognize her mother now.
Mind made up, she moved back out into the main part of the shop where Amy was helping a customer pick out some flowers. A tall man, his hair was graying at the temples, and there were laugh lines covering his face. Mina went back to her work and finished her orders for the day while Amy finished checking the man out.
“First customer of the day,” Amy glanced at the clock, “at eleven thirty. No big deal.”
“What did he want?”
“Flowers for his wife. They moved here recently and she’s been having trouble finding a job, so he thought flowers might cheer her up.”
“Nice of him. Why did they move here? I mean no offense to our little town, but it’s not exactly like a huge bustling place where people move to with the intention of finding permanent jobs.”
Amy nodded. “That’s what I thought, so I was nosy for once—”
“You’re always nosy.”
“Anyhow, I asked and he got transferred here from some corporation out East and they want him to manage it.” She shrugged. “Plus, he said something about our schools being better here. He must have a kid.”
Mina nodded, a lot of families moved here because of the schools, but there was really only one in the area. Her mother’s. She tried to keep her hands from shaking.
“Hey, I think I’m going to need to pick up some extra hours for a bit. I’m planning on moving out. I think I need to stop feeling like the caretaker for mom’s delusions.”
Amy smiled. “Done. I was hoping that you would be coming around to that conclusion soon. I actually need the help. I was going to hire another part time worker, but if you want the extra hours we can just move you up to full time. Sound good?”