Man of the Hour
And the road, the old men paved
The broken seams along the way
The rusted signs, they're just for me
He was guiding me, love, his own way
Now the man of the hour
Has taken his final bow
As the curtain comes down
I feel that this is just
Goodbye for now
He forgets, sometimes, the ease in which she slips into the role of caretaker for anyone and everyone.
She moves about the kitchen as if she's been here for years—how is it that women always seem to know where everything is, even in someone else's home?
A shallow sigh escapes his chapped lips. This home is no one's now.
It's just a house.
Once more, his eyes fall on her—this woman he's pledged his life to—and he feels the emptiness dissipate some.
Strange, the hole he feels deep inside—he hardly knew his father. His memories of his childhood are laden with flashes of humiliation and shame, not for anything his father had done; no, his shame was selfish and narrow-minded indeed.
Monica was the one who forced him to reach out—the one who insisted he would regret deeply his decision not to include his own father in his wedding.
She'd been right—she always was. In this moment, his guilt would have been compounded with the knowledge that, as an adult, he had made the choice.
A choice that, had he followed through, would have isolated his children from their grandfather; a choice that would have eaten at him, the way his childhood often does.
Erica and Jack were too young to understand, or to even process, their grandfather's eccentricities; they had simply accepted him for who he was, never questioning, and never doubting their love for him, nor his love for them.
Charles adored the twins magnificently. He was, as a grandfather, everything he could never have been as a father.
His son would never have allowed such open affection, after all.
He blinks back tears he doesn't feel worthy to shed; Charles was his father, but he was not a good son.
His wife—his lovely, pure-hearted, spirited wife, is facing him now, bathed in the light of the early evening, her cheeks flushed from working, her azure eyes soft with sympathy and sadness.
He looks at his hands, feeling unworthy of her sympathy as well.
"Are you hungry?" she asks softly, and he simply shrugs.
He is hungry; but for reasons he can't quite rationalize, he feels like it's wrong to want to eat so soon.
He buried his father three hours ago.
"You should eat something," she persists, as she pulls off her apron and crosses the room. Her black heels click across the Spanish tile Charles had had installed two years ago. She places a warm hand on his knee and cocks her head.
"You look tired, sweetheart."
"I'm fine," he croaks, and still, he can't meet her eyes.
"Ross and Rachel will take the kids for the night…if you need…space," she whispers the last word softly, as though it were taboo.
He feels his chest constrict, and tears again prick his eyes.
He refuses them, and takes a deep breath.
"No, they should be with us tonight, don't you think?" he says, as he slides off of the wooden stool he's occupied for the better part of an hour. He crosses the room, folding his arms across his chest tightly.
She does not follow.
He can feel her looking at him, staring at his back, willing him to turn and open up to her.
"Chandler," she finally whispers, pain and sadness permeating the air around them.
"I'll be fine," he whispers; he lies.
She sees through him.
She always has.
"I should check on the twins," he says, with a weakened sense of purpose.
"They're fine," she replies with all the determination he could not find, "they're with your mother, and my parents."
He looks at his shoes.
The purpose seeps out of him.
His shoulders sag.
She crosses the room once more.
He turns, and pulls her to him, knowing that she won't let him do this to himself.
His determination to hold on to age-old guilt is waning.
He inhales her familiar scent, as he buries his face in her hair.
"He knew that you loved him, Chandler. He knew how hard it was for you," she says softly.
"I never told him," he whispers, and a tear escapes, slides down his nose, and disappears in her ebony locks.
"He knew," she repeats.
"I can't imagine," he whispers, and pulls away slightly, needing to look at her, "Now that I'm a father…I can't imagine Jack looking at me the way I used to look at him…"
"He won't," she shakes her head, and strokes his damp cheek with her hand, "he won't."
Sadness overwhelms him.
Footsteps. They both turn to see Nora, standing hesitantly in the doorway of the kitchen, looking worn and melancholy. She too, carries her share of guilt and regret.
"I'm sorry, I just…the children were asking for you," she says timidly.
"Okay, thank you Mom," he says, wiping his eyes dry.
He looks at his wife, and smiles slightly.
She takes his hand, and leads him toward their children.
He will make his father proud, today, and every tomorrow to come.
("Man of the Hour", by Pearl Jam)