"Again, I'm so, so, so sorry, Hannah. Please don't be afraid to call Jasper and I if you need anything, anything at all," Jasper peered over the railing of the second floor to see his wife wrapping up a phone call with his niece, Hannah. Eileen went silent as Hannah replied to her over the phone. "Alright. Take care of yourself, sweetheart."
Jasper cleared his throat, Eileen turning to look at him as he descended the staircase, eyebrows knitted together with worry. "How is she?" Jasper asked, though he already knew the answer.
Eileen gave a soft sigh and shook her head. "She's a wreck, Jasper. She's doing much better than she was a couple days ago, but even now I could tell she was struggling not to cry over the phone," she reached out for her husband, who met her wholeheartedly in a comforting embrace.
"I assume she won't be able to make it to the funeral?"
Eileen shook her head again. "She said the nor'easter hasn't shown any signs of letting up, but she's taken a couple weeks off work to come see us when she can travel. Aiden, too," she murmured, stepping back from her husband and putting a hand to her temple.
"Eileen, you need to take some time for yourself. Your work is picking up, you're arranging three different campaign fundraisers, and on top of all that, you agreed to arrange the funeral," Jasper reached out, tenderly cupping his wife's cheek in his hand. "Go take a bubble bath or a nap, or maybe head down to the day spa for a massage later. You can't keep pushing yourself like this, hon."
Eileen reached up to stroke the hand on her cheek. "I know, I know. But," the redhead bit her lip, as if struggling with something. "There is something else that needs to be taken care of for me."
"Kirsten hasn't gotten any better. She hasn't left her room in three days except to stand on the second-floor porch. Cody's been bringing her food, but he says she won't even talk to him," Eileen explained.
Jasper sighed, running a tense hand through his hair. "When Kirsten gets like this, she usually just needs a little bit of time, but I had no idea it had gotten this bad," Jasper glanced upstairs at the door to Cody and Kirsten's room before looking back at his wife with a sad smile. "Go relax. I'll take care of this."
Eileen mumbled a 'thank you' that was quickly eaten up by a soft kiss from her husband. As Jasper walked up the stairs, Eileen watched him with a sad yet anticipative glint in her eye, hopeful that her husband would be able to comfort their grief-stricken little girl.
Jasper gave a gentle knock on the door. He waited patiently for Kirsten to invite him in. All was quiet on the other side of the room. "I'm coming in," Jasper called out, waiting a few seconds before turning the doorknob and opening the door to his children's room.
Cody and Kirsten sat side by side on his bed, eyes sunken with dark circles beneath them. Kirsten's hands were folded neatly on her lap, as she was wont to do in times of great emotional turmoil. Her favorite books lay untouched on the dresser, stacked in a precise pile as if she hadn't read them in days.
Cody's eyes met his father's. Sensing the situation, he started to get off the bed to head towards the door. Jasper shook his head, forcing Cody to remain in place. "Stay. We need to talk."
Jasper exhaled, pinching the bridge of his nose. He had never imagined something like this would happen, and needed to steel himself to talk his kids through it.
"Kirsten, how are you feeling?"
Kirsten looked into her father's eyes before looking back down at her feet dangling off the bed, wringing her hands. "I don't feel good," she mumbled, twisting her legs together.
Jasper remained silent. He looked to Cody, who almost immediately looked down at his own feet similar to his little sister.
"I got grabbed," Kirsten bit her lip, blinking rapidly to keep from crying. "Aunt Lydia had a cramp in her leg or foot or something and she panicked and grabbed me when she couldn't float. I got away, but she didn't. And it feels like it's all because of me."
"No, it's my fault," Cody spoke up for the first time, prompting his father and little sister to look at him. "I was the one who didn't want to babysit Kirsten in the first place. I was the one who wanted to go to that stupid class, and Aunt Lydia was the one who ended up paying the price," Cody's voice shook as he spoke, his fists clenched and his knuckles turning white.
Jasper shook his head, readjusting his glasses. "No," both his children met his eyes for the first time. "It was nobody's fault."
"It wasn't?" Kirsten's trembling, meek voice inquired. Jasper's heart shattered. His daughter sounded so small and broken.
"It was nobody's fault," he repeated. "It was just an accident. An awful, horrible, terrible accident," Jasper sat down on the bed across from his children.
The three sat in silence, save the nearby wall clock ticking. For minutes, or maybe even hours—Jasper couldn't tell—the three let quiet envelop the room.
Cody was the first to break the silence. "I've never had someone close to me die before," Cody began, crossing his arms. "Except grams and gramps, but I was too little to remember."
Jasper nodded. "It was hard for Aunt Lydia and I. When grams and gramps died, we felt like orphans."
"But aren't orphans little kids?" Kirsten asked.
Jasper chuckled softly. "Usually, yes they are. Aunt Lydia and I felt like little kids when we lost grams and gramps. We were both very sad and very scared."
"But you're a grown-up," Kirsten noted, head tilted curiously.
"That's right, peanut," Jasper replied. "Grown-ups get sad. And grown-ups definitely get scared."
"But I feel angry," Cody added. "It's not fair that Aunt Lydia had to die. I feel sad, yeah, but I'm also really freakin' mad," Cody clenched his fists even tighter, frustrated tears coming to the surface and spilling out onto his reddening cheeks.
"No worries, pal. It wasn't fair," Jasper reassured his teenage son, giving him a firm squeeze on the shoulder. "And it's okay to feel sad, but it's also okay to feel angry. When we lose someone we love, we can feel all kinds of crazy stuff."
Kirsten sniffled, finally unable to hold back her tears as they dribbled down her cheeks. "It feels like I'll never smile again, dad."
"Come here, you two," Jasper opened his arms wide. Cody and Kirsten didn't hesitate to accept their father's hug, softly crying on his shoulders. "We're all going to be very sad for a very long time. We can't just bounce back from something like this right away. But I promise you both, things will eventually start to feel normal again."
"I miss her so much, dad," Kirsten whispered, holding her father tighter.
"I miss her too, peanut. I miss her so much," Jasper kissed Kirsten's hair. "We're always going to miss Aunt Lydia, but she loved us all very, very much, and I have no doubt she'd want us to keep being happy, living our lives, and having lots of fun."
Cody and Kirsten kept hugging their father, the three letting silence take over the room once again, until Kirsten gently pulled away. "I think I want to go to bed early tonight."
Jasper and Cody left the room so Kirsten could go to sleep. "You staying up for a while, bud?" Jasper asked his son.
"Yeah, I'm going to step out of the house for a bit. Maybe sit on the bench by the garden for a hot minute."
"Alright. I love you, Cody," Jasper kissed his son's forehead.
Cody gave a hint of a smile. "Love you too, dad."