Wyatt hated the awkward moments that came while dealing with adults. The loosening of the brow, the tender look of pity, the soft voices spoken to him like a wounded puppy. it triggered something in his brain to react, sending prickling pulses of uneasy emotions throughout his small body.
It made him uneasy, the fragile way people treated him, as if he were a broken fence in need of mending. He was thankful for his mother; that their relationship was open and honest, mostly anyway.
At night Wyatt heard his mother’s grief, emancipated behind the closed door in her bedroom--muffled sobs that sounded like small sneezes--when she thought he couldn't hear her. Less often than it had been, almost four years had passed since he lost his father, but enough to know that she was still in pain.
He kept a framed picture of him and his father beside his bed. They were at the beach on vacation. His father’s confident smile in the center, Wyatt perched on top of his shoulders. His mother had taken the picture, being sure to capture the pier in the distance. Wyatt could still remember being up on his father’s broad shoulders, the unfathomable distance to the ground, the prickly stubble of his chin, the safety of his father’s strong arms as he lifted him into the air.
He remembered the piggy back rides in the house, the trips to the park, playing in the yard. But he couldn't remember his voice. He wanted to remember what his father sounded like, when he was happy, or even angry.
“What did Dad’s voice sound like?”
“What do mean?”
“His voice, what did his voice sound like?”
His mother took a moment, perplexed by his question. Normally he was happy to stump his mom with whatever nugget of information he had retained from school, but this was a question he wanted her to answer. She put her hand on his head,
“His voice was kind and gentle Wyatt, and he loved you very much.”
This seem to satisfy his query and he quickly shifted gears.
“Can I stay up late tonight? Spiderman comes on TNT!”
“Did you ever read those Spiderman comic books I bought for you?
“Some of them.”
After dinner, which entailed a brief standoff involving Lima Beans and a 9 year old’s resolve, Wyatt and his mother walked down to the park, enjoying the warm Spring temperatures on an early May evening.
With his 10th birthday approaching, Wyatt had been after his mother to get him a Nintendo DS. No easy task considering her hatred of video games and, as far as he could tell, technology in general. Her idea of a good time was devouring the pages of countless novels that lay strewn throughout their small house. She encouraged him to read, telling him it would help him find some of the answers to those questions he was constantly asking, but he knew the real reason she immersed herself in those novels, to escape the pain of reality, if only for a chapter at a time.
Walking under the large Poplar trees, they passed a small playground, where a couple was cheering as a little girl scooched down a small slide. She began to cry, and was quickly hoisted up by her adoring father. Wyatt watched the scene unfold, before looking up to his mother, the walking search engine for his precocious mind.
“How tall was Dad?”
She extended her hand above her head.
“He was 6’2”, about a foot taller than me.”
He studied her hand for a moment, gazing at it as if it were his head, before his mother slowly pulled her arm back, her eyes squinting as she bit her bottom lip in an attempt to smile.
Wyatt woke in his bed, tucked in with no idea how he got there. He had missed the end of the movie, which he had seen countless times. Turning over on his side, he noticed the warm glow inthe hallway.
He stumbled out of his room and down the hall, hearing the refrigerator humming in the dark. Approaching the kitchen, he noticed the light peeking through the front door.
He opened the door, and was greeted by an electric blue sky. The large tree in the field glittered in the breeze, its green leaves waving and clapping in the sun. The grass climbed the hills in the distance, sprinkled with flowers that bloomed bright and radiant as if they had been kissed by the careful stroke of a paintbrush.
Wyatt’s eyes widened as his mind tried to process the scene at his doorstep. His father stood before him, unscathed by the accident, looking as if he had just stepped out of the picture by his bed.
“Well.” his father said. “Aren't you going to give me a hug?”
Wyatt shot off the porch, his bare feet propelling him into his father’s welcoming arms which clutched him just as they had so many times in the past. He breathed in deeply, the familiar scent of his father rushing through his nose and filling his body with a warmth and safety he had almost forgotten. His father held him tightly, and then bent down on one knee while placing his hands on his son’s shoulders.
“It’s good to see you again Wyatt.” He said, his hair ruffling in the breeze.
“But Dad, you’re…” Wyatt stopped mid sentence, his mouth forgetting to close as he couldn't bring himself to finish.
“It’s okay, Wyatt, everything is going to be fine. I love you and your mother very much.”
Wyatt listened carefully, knowing he would never again forget the sound of his father’s voice. His eyes were intense and compassionate. Wyatt tried to speak, but was unable to summon the words to convey his feelings.
“I have something I want you to give to your mother. Can you do that?”
Wyatt nodded and his father reached into his pocket, pulling out a large ring that he recognized. It was his father’s wedding band, the one his mother had lost a couple of years ago and had never forgiven herself.
“Can you give this to her Wyatt?”
Wyatt nodded again, feeling the weight of the large ring in his palm.
“Can you come home Dad?”
His father stood, smiling. He rested one hand on Wyatt’s head while placing the other on his heart.
“I’ll always be with you, wherever you go, always. I need you to take care of her Wyatt.”
Wyatt cried out. The sun had vanished, taking the warmth with its light. He sat up in the dark, the moonlight sliced through the blinds on the window, leaving thin bars of light on the floor. A weight sunk in his chest as he realized the talk with his father hadn't been real. He opened his palms which were empty and moist, shutting his eyes tightly as to prevent the tears building within.
The next morning, Wyatt woke up later than usual. Walking out of his room, the warm buttery smell of pancakes stirred his empty stomach as he shuffled down the hall and into the kitchen.
“Well good morning.” His mother said cheerfully.
Wyatt had decided against telling his mother about his dream, not wanting to upset her. She was in good spirits, humming and singing while carefully attending to the blueberry pancakes browning on the stove. He watched her dancing around the kitchen, unable to suppress his amusement.
“So, I've decided we need a little road trip. What do you think about heading to the beach for the day, just you and me?”
"Yeah, why not?” She answered, before shooing a quizzical look his way. “You did finish your homework last night didn't you?”
He nodded quickly.
“Well then,” She said, sliding a warm plate with two perfectly golden pancakes under his chin, “eat up and then we’ll go!”
After breakfast, they grabbed a bag and Wyatt, as instructed, headed for the linen closet for beach towels. He spotted the towels, yanking the large rolls with the carefulness of a young boy. Washcloths and hand towels fell to the floor, and as he turned to walk out, he noticed a small matchbox on the hardwood floor. He stared at the box for a moment, before dropping the towels and picking it up. He recognized the large sun in the center of the box, setting into the mountains in the distance of a large field. Hanging in the sky was the word Forever.
Wyatt vaguely remembered the box, something about his parents wedding. Sliding it open, his hands began to quiver as the silver wedding band was unveiled. The ring his dad had given him in his dream.
“Dad.” He whispered aloud. His mother had talked about losing the ring many times over the last few years and he had no idea how it ended up in the box, or in the back of the closet. Happiness swirled inside his body, washing over his thoughts as he knew the significance of his discovery. He had seen his father last night.
He shot down the hallway and into the living room. His mother was carrying a travel sack, no doubt looking for the sunglasses resting on her head.
“Where are the towels?” She asked, before seeing his face bursting with excitement.
“Wyatt?” She said suspiciously.
The abandonment in which his mother cried took Wyatt by surprise. She shook her head as she held the ring to her chest, her lips quivering between breaths, overcome with emotion the small piece of jewelry had stirred. She embraced her son, and he hugged her back, his father’s words still fresh in his mind.
At the beach, the two of them enjoyed the clear skies and warm sand, walking along the ocean as Wyatt told his mother about his dream and the conversation with his father. She listened to every word, her fingers barely leaving the ring that hung from her necklace, close to her heart. The small family was still healing from the pain of their loss, but as each delicate day passed they would continue on together.