Family Bonding

Written by: A. Lincoln

Author's Notes and Warnings: Breaking Dawn reminded me how hilarious the internet had the potential to be. Consider this story now pre-Breaking Dawn.

V: A Wish for Unity

Chicago, Illinois 1914

"Now, Therefore, I, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the said Joint Resolution, do hereby direct the government officials to display the United States flag on all government buildings and do invite the people of the United States to display the flag at their homes or other suitable places on the second Sunday in May as a public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country."

- Woodrow Wilson on May 9th, 1914

"She's my wife; you cannot take this opportunity away from me, boy."

"But is she your mother? That's why I am more fitting to take her out today of all days."

"That doesn't matter. She's my life, and I need to publicly express my love and reverence for her!"

"As do I."

"Why must you be so difficult, Edward Anthony Masen?"

"Why must you be so stubborn, father?"

"Why must you two argue about me, in front of me?" I hissed angrily, pushing myself up from the table and walking past my husband who stood stiff in the doorway and my son who sat smugly on the sofa.

I had been trying to tune them both out, and was pleased when their animated voices fell to dull sentences in my mind, without pitches and hard edges to them. It had only been that way for a few minutes before the quiet rapping on the door called my mind back to reality - and to their quarrelling.

This petty arguing over me had gone on for the past hour and I was relieved when I opened the door to find Charles there with a knowing smile on his face. His cheery attitude brought a smile to my face and I beckoned him forward. But he stood at the door, a silhouette against the morning sky in the background, grinning gloriously with his hands behind his back.

I was taken aback by his breathtaking smile, not because it was was beautiful, but because it was rare. Charles was much like my son: intelligent, quiet, watchful and overprotective. There were too many similarities to go through, but one broke the moment I saw his smile. He was one who always brought joy to everyone, never really showing enough of the emotion himself. My family knew the real reason why this was, but we never spoke of it. It was considered taboo. Now though, looking at his grin, I had to wonder who the cause of this was.

After a moment, he strolled inside with his hands still behind his back, and I caught the faint sound of something ruffling in the breeze. I eyed him warily and his smile faded into a smirk as he caught sight of both my boys in the other room.

"Fighting over you, are they?" he inquired jokingly, slipping his shoes off and inching past me without revealing his back.

"Ah, yes. How did you know?"

"A cousin's intuition," he replied smoothly (as he always did), taking a seat at the kitchen table. I pulled out my chair and sat across from him, wiping my hands on my apron and glancing back to survey the two 'men' still quarrelling.

"How about half day?" my husband asked, wiping the sweat off his brow. I laughed quietly as I heard Charles sigh.

"You can have the morning then."

"No. You're not old enough to take full advantage of the evening." I could detect the edge of eminent victory in his voice, and knew it would be short lived. My son would win this. He always did.

"That is true, but aren't you quite limited on a Sunday? After all, you just went to confession."

My husband choked on his saliva for a bit, stared blankly into his son's green eyes, and then sauntered over to the sofa and plopped himself down without so much as a word of rebuttal. His weight caused Edward to shift slightly to reposition himself and I grinned at my son. He smiled back in my direction and my husband's grunt of disapproval was lost in Charles' quiet laughter.

"You all are quite the family," he said when my husband demanded he explain himself. "I'm pleased to know that I contribute to it."

"And I'm pleased to know that you enjoy it," I added, getting up to place a soft kiss on my husband's cheek in reassurance. "Are you too upset to express your love and reverence to me this lovely morning?" I whispered in his ear, delighted that I could stir up some of the deeper emotions within him. He grunted like a child though, and I pinched his cheek as he got up and mumbled something about getting ready and going to the park.

It was quiet as both Edwards left to attend to business, and I was disgruntled by the fact that the two never asked for my opinion during their whole argument. I knew they simply wished for me to enjoy this first official Mother's Day with them both, somehow separately, but to argue about it and not ask for my input was a little too ignorant in my opinion.

I must have looked like I was ready to run someone over with Edward's Ford because Charles was suddenly up on his feet. He grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the door, and I glared menacingly at his back as I voiced my confusion.

"Where are we going?"

"Just outside."

I followed him blindly into the yard. My neighbor wasted no time to kindly remind me of my attire as Charles hauled me down the street. I glared at the woman and whispered something surprisingly rude in my annoyance. She eyed us suspiciously then her eyes widened as she saw what Charles was holding. A giggle escaped her pursed lips and she sent a toothy grin my way.

My eyes must have looked frantic and confused as I tried to see what he was holding and watch others at the same time. Luckily, it was early in the morning, and only that curious neighbor was out to worsen the embarrassment. Without warning, he stopped, and I hissed in aggravation as his hold loosened.

I looked around - we had only gone down two houses, but it seemed as though he had dragged me down the length of the entire street. I stood up fully and ran my fingers through my hair to make it look a little more presentable. I was grateful that I had changed into my morning gown, and I untied my apron and shoved it in Charles' face. He smiled and took it, putting it behind his back and revealing a large bouquet of white carnations.

I gasped, shortly forgetting my simmering anger, and reached out to caress the beautiful flowers. They were like velvet under my fingers, and I could not hide the smile that burst forth. They were magnificent and the beauty emanating from the collection oddly fascinated me. They smelled wonderful and the scent was the only one that registered, even though rows upon rows of roses, lavenders, lilies and orchids surrounded me. My smile reached his as I looked up to stare at him.

"I just wanted to thank you for everything," he said softly, pulling me forward into a crushing hug. I wrapped my arms around him tightly and laughed when he grunted. I felt the tears cascading down my face and into another one of his tailored suits (I soiled at least one a year), but I did not utter a word.

Despite the beauty of the situation, I was crying in sadness. For the past five years, I had received white carnations from an admirer every Sunday in May. They would always be placed in my pew, on the end, with a red ribbon tied in a delicate bow to the stem. I never knew who did it, and my husband would become jealous on several occasions, but he eventually got over it once he realized no one was pursuing anything farther than the little gift. I, however, always found myself smiling and being a little more cheerful every time I received another one.

Maybe, subconsciously, I had an idea who it was from - because, somehow, I knew there was no romantic significance - since this confirmation seemed to only deepen this conviction. Charles had finally decided to reveal himself, and I was crying because it meant something other than happiness.

As we embraced, I felt my heart beat frantically under my skin. I was a strong person, not easily affected physically in such a way, but the fluttering of my heart was akin to a reaction from an event three years ago. I promised myself I would not think about it often, since it brought up unwelcomed emotions and a subtle ache in my chest, but I had to have it resurface to compare it to the ache in my chest now.

And indeed, the two were alike. They both were in reaction to losing someone precious, to having someone ripped violently away from my family. Was that it? Was Charles leaving? I did not understand.

Charles seemed to have sensed my sudden distress, as his firm hands slowly unwound themselves and found refuge on my shoulders. He pushed me back lightly to look into my eyes, and I squinted to crush the tears. I needed to see his face. I did not understand.

He sighed and sent me a comforting smile, and I attempted to smile in return. It felt more like a grimace though, and I settled for a grim line. Only something from Charles would cause me to react like this; I was usually not such an emotion-stricken woman.

As I contemplated, I glanced around. Archer Avenue was eerily quiet, as though everyone felt they were intruding by even glancing outside. It felt strange - as if the two of us were alone in this world and God decided that only one of us would remain. That would have explained the tearing sound coming from my chest - the ripping as though someone was violently tearing away a part of me and refusing to return it.

We continued to stand in silence, looking at each other and asking questions that could not be voiced. His eyes told me he had to leave - somewhere important it seemed - and I told him that I loved him deeply. I knew my eyes were not equipped to express such emotions, but I was afraid to open my mouth. I did not want to ruin the moment; it seemed too perfect, like a middle ground for the both of us.

I never expected to feel content after everything, but I did. I felt changed, as though he knew I would somehow come out unscathed. Of course, I would not dismiss that since Charles knew many things.

It was a short and quiet walk back to the house, and he opened the door for me without a word. I set myself down on a kitchen chair and ignored the look on my husband's face as he came into the kitchen. My cheeks felt soggy, so I figured my husband saw something disturbing on my face.

"Charles, where was that - Elizabeth, you look like a mess. What happened?!"

I glared at him. "Charles is leaving."

He took a moment to process that. I saw his eyes take in the carnations on the table, the expression on my face, the way Charles had his hand on my shoulder, and it was obvious he was trying to comprehend the situation. I could only frown as I watched his face betray nothing and his hands dig into the wood of the doorway.

Another silence enveloped us and it was no surprised that my son did not disrupt the comfort it brought when he entered. He simply set the full force of his green eyes on all of us, and nodded knowingly to Charles. I still could not understand how my son could come to such conclusions from simply observing us, but when I looked at his face, I could not doubt it.

I watched as Edward crossed the length of the kitchen, and on normal days, I would have reprimanded him for having his hair that disarray not suited for Sundays. But I said nothing, for I knew my words would taint the atmosphere, and I was curious to see what my son planned to do.

As always, he surprised me. One moment he stood in front of Charles, his head at my cousin's shoulder, then the next he had his hand outstretched. Charles smiled and grasped his hand firmly, and the action brought a smile to my face.

"She will get better," he said softly, and for the first time in all the years I had known my favourite cousin, his eyes widened. I laughed and my husband could not help but join in as Charles blushed slightly.

"That's what I'll be there for," he replied, and he let his hold loosen on Edward. Their arms fell back to their sides and my husband was suddenly there with them, enjoying this moment.

But my husband, the only person who still was not in on the whole situation, piped up. "Where are you heading out to now?"


I decided to make my exit at this point since I could feel the ache returning. I told Charles to wait until I was done preparing for church, and I sauntered upstairs, feeling tired although the midday sun had not even hit the horizon.

I dressed hurriedly, nearly forgetting my bonnet as I searched for the inkpad Charles had given to me when he found out I liked to document events in our lives. I was out of breath when I eventually found it in a box by my bedside. I took it out and opened it slowly, smiling at the blotches disfiguring the surface.

I found a notepad, scribbled a small note onto it, and addressed it to Charles Anthony Brandon. I placed a small red ribbon inside and closed it up, and was rushing downstairs when my husband called my name.

I handed the letter to Charles and I had to fight the tears from flowing once more when he smiled kindly at me. I would miss him dearly.

We were outside and piling into Edward's Ford when I heard my son casually remind my father of today.

"Father, your time starts now."

The ride to church seemed extremely uncomfortable for my husband, but I was smiling and laughing at Charles' simple observations the whole way there.

It was nearly evening when my husband decided to hand me over to my son. He had taken me out for lunch with Charles, and then we had visited Chicago's only Nickelodeon to watch Roof to Cellar and Catch the Kid. They were being re-shown due to their popularity, and I could clearly see why. My husband was arrogantly pleased when we left and Charles seemed happy regardless.

When we returned, Edward was not home. He left no traces or hints to where he had gone, and I began my panicking. The sun was setting and the sky had begun to dissolve into the many different colours of dawn, but my eyes could not appreciate the beauty when I had no idea where Edward was.

I was pacing, becoming agitated, and I could feel the joy of Mother's Day slowly dissipating off my skin. My husband was outside, scanning the street to see if he could spot him, and Charles just sat at the table, watching me. Even though he was leaving soon, I could not help but be annoyed at his nonchalance.

I ignored his stare as I paced and my mumbling quickly turned into hisses under my breath. Where on Earth was he? Was he not, just a minute ago, arguing over how much time he wanted to spend with me?

I was about to rush to the door when my husband walked in, a frown on his face. My mouth opened to ask him the first question that came to mind, but a new arrival kept my it closed. She was quite tall, probably nearly Edward's height, with a heart shaped face that matched her thin figure.

She was wearing a pink evening gown with ruffles that made her look like a porcelain doll, and I smiled at her politely as she pushed my husband towards me. I caught Charles with an eyebrow raised in the corner, and was mildly surprised that he was surprised.

"Ann, is it?" I asked slowly. I knew the toothy neighbor had a beautiful daughter, one that Edward had shown cute interest for last year, but I never saw her enough to etch her face into my memory. But surely it branded itself there now because I couldn't keep my eyes off the curly brown hair that framed her face delicately.

Her head turned slowly and she stared at me for a moment before grinning. She let go of my husband, who still had a scowl on his face, and rushed over. Her gloved hand took hold of mine, and she caressed my skin softly, as though she was checking to see if the stories were true.

"You're so beautiful," she said in awe, and I was not sure if she was complimenting my hand or me. Either way, I could tell she had something to say (in regards to Edward?), so I waited for her to stop marveling at the texture of my skin. "Yes, my name is Ann. It is an honor finally meeting you. Edward is quite fond of you, you know."

"I suppose it is implied since I am his mother," I replied awkwardly when she let go of my hand. "Do you happen to know where he is?"

"I do, actually," she sang as she grabbed my hand once more. She tried to pull me towards the door, but I did not budge. She sent me a questioning look, no doubt acquired from her always-curious mother, and I laughed.

"Do you mind telling me where we are going first, ma'am?" I smiled as her face lit up and she giggled.

"Edward asked if he could borrow the second floor of mamma's restaurant, and he asked me to escort you there."

I spared a glance at my husband and could tell that his pride was hurt from this revelation. I turned to Charles and he beamed comfortingly at me before excusing himself to start packing.

"Your mamma said yes?" I asked, wondering how a thirteen year old could gain so much power. Then again, he was the child of one of the most dazzling men in the world, so I refused to be surprised if he had used his charms on her.

"Of course! Who would say no to him?" It was obvious she was smitten.

She tugged a little harder and I was reminded of how much time we had spent talking here. I let her pull me out of the house, waving goodbye to my husband who still frozen, tall and angry. She took me down the street and we walked, hand in hand, to the corner, where there was a vehicle waiting for us. I did not know the driver, but the ride was quiet and comforting, despite its length. We had only gone a few blocks, certainly walking distance, and then we were in front of Libretto. The building was a cube, and the title took up at least half of the front. It was painted an off-white and provided no relief for its surroundings, but I found it enchanting as I stepped inside.

A rush of voices hit me and I looked around to find many women having wine with their families. One particular family was praising our president while another was talking excitedly about plans for the duration of the evening. Their excitement seeped into my skin as Ann pushed past the bar and up the stairs. I only faintly caught the sign she posted as we walked past a small gate halfway up the stairs; it said something along the lines of closed.

I was dazed and unprepared as we reached the top, and I nearly fell backwards as I caught sight of everything around me. Everything had been pushed aside it seemed, and there was only one table in the centre. There was a pathway of carnations to the table, white and pink from the looks of it, and I felt that breathing would require too much effort - something that needed to be put towards more useful things like keeping my heart beating.

Ann had been watching me the whole time, silent as I observed the sheer beauty of the decorations around me. When she felt I was finished, she gently tugged me forward until I was at the table, and then disappeared. Or she just left. I was not sure, since one minute she was there, and the next she was gone and another person had taken a seat across from me.

I tried to string together words to form something coherent, anything to say to the one person before me, but nothing came. Instead, I slowly stretched my quivering hand across the table, and placed it on tops of hers. I was stunned by the perfection of the moment; I had never felt so calm in all my life. The woman who represented me, but with many more years to her name, was here to spend this evening with me - just us and no one else.

And I could no longer doubt anything anyone said. I could no longer look at the world around me and wonder why God had chosen me to bear witness to the brutality and wonders of it. For this moment, and everything it entailed, was the only one that mattered. In this moment, the world was not a place throbbing with sinners who wished for mercy; it was a world where everyone just wanted to live and love and adore anyone close to them.

Because, after everything was said and done, what was left? It was not the ties of friends that kept you sane during the darkest hours; it was not the ties of enemies that kept you alive when you wished to die; and it was not the ties of heroes that kept you hopeful when all seemed lost. It was the tie of blood, thicker than water, thicker than air, thicker than everything that kept you alive. That kept you breathing, sleeping, and living.

And the amazing thing was that everyone was your family. Those friends were just family not related by blood. Those enemies were just family you were not fond of. Those heroes were just family who helped you understand the world a bit more and who sacrificed something important along the way.

So when my hand touched my mother's, and she whispered a happy mother's day to me, the tears that exploded from me were not tears of sadness or longing. They were tears of understanding. Each drop helped me to understand the world a bit better - to understand the reasons and the motives behind things, and to learn to live with them.

My mother smiled at me and reached to put her wrinkled hand on top of mine. She did not have to say anything to express her feelings. I knew from her feathery touch that she was proud, and that she did not need an official day to celebrate the joys of motherhood. I had stopped crying by then, but I could not speak. I had not seen her in years, and our dinner was mostly her speaking of her journey from the south. She was actively a part of the Civil Rights Movement, and was wanted in several states. I was surprised and worried for her safety, as she was now in her late sixties and growing frailer each day, but she laughed at my pessimism.

"Have I taught you nothing? Elizabeth, this world is filled with family who do not understand the title they hold. I will fight until we are all equal. When we can all hold hands and walk towards our saviour in unity, then my job will be done. It is the least I can do with the time I have left."

Then I began crying like a child again because my mother was a martyr and I was being unfair. She knew that I was berating myself though, and gently held my hand between hers.

"If you look into your palm, you can see your entire family." Her finger slowly traced the patterns on mine, and I felt the hinges of my mind begin to loosen. "Everyone who came before you is imprinted in your skin, and they are with you for whatever decisions you make. Do not doubt your family, for those before you have made these decisions already, and you are here as a testament to their choices. Elizabeth, I love you, and I thank your son for finding me and bringing me here. I want you to be strong for him especially, since it seems the he is beyond his years. You know what he said to me?"

I smiled at her compliment and whispered that it was probably something life changing. We laughed together for a moment, and she continued.

"He said that people who were important to you were leaving, and he would be honored if I could step back in to mend those wounds. But he also knew the reason why I had not visited you earlier - your safety, of course - and he said something which surprised me. Mind you, I am not surprised easily. He said that he wished to remind you what you live for, and that I would be the perfect one to do it. He even said I did not have to say a word. And the most surprising thing was that he was exactly right. The moment you saw me, Elizabeth, I could tell that you were mending wounds."

I had nothing to say after that. I smiled weakly, overcome with everything, and she understood. She supplied the rest of the conversation and I ate in silence. I was happy that she was alive and well, but the fear that she would be torn away from me once more still crept up my throat. That was why I would not speak; I did not wish to ruin this tender moment with my pessimism. When I was too elated to eat anymore, I just picked at the food while she talked about running from executioners and hiding slaves.

The moon was a large mark in the sky by the time we were finished, and I thanked Ann immensely when she handed me a washcloth and directed me to the washroom. I cleaned my face twice, staring at my twisted expression in the mirror as I tried to decide which emotion was winning the battle. By the looks of it, sadness was edging back towards its home in the back of my mind, and I felt a smile on my face as I washed my hands under the cold water.

I was surprised when I heard the the soft sound of piano playing outside, and I went to investigate. I saw a small figure situated by a grand piano in the corner, one that I had not noticed until then. I turned and Ann saw the confusion and pain on my face as I sought my mother. The whole area was empty except for the three of us, and the only sound that registered (other than the beautiful piano) was the creaking hinges of the small gate that blocked upstairs as it swung. The forward and back motion was mesmerizing as I realized that my mother had gone and this night was over.

I sauntered towards the piano and sat next to the boy who continued to play. The tune cleansed my ears of the pessimistic voice in my mind, and I gently laid my head against his shoulder. The tempo slowed and I could hear the song transitioning into something sweeter. I listened closely with my eyes closed and recognized the song I had written for my husband. He had done some adjusting, I guessed, and made it his own, and I listened with a smile as his fingers moved across the keys.

"Thank you, Edward," I mumbled, and I was surprised at how quiet my voice was. I could feel myself falling asleep and my eyelids became heavy as Edward whispered directions to Ann. Suddenly it was just the two of us in this desolate place, with Ann having gone to fetch someone.

He stopped playing and began to hum the tune, and I wondered if he knew how tired I was becoming. I tried without success to keep my eyes open, and it was not long before I began drifting.

I had a strange dream that night. I was in a field and rows of small children were coming towards me in long lines. They were all smiling as if a great weight had been lifted off their shoulders. But what caught my attention most was their unity. They stepped together, held hands, and they all hummed the same tune I heard before I drifted to this place.

I tried to spot my son and waved when I found him in the first line. He was holding the hand of a black child, and I could not hide my surprise. I half expected someone to ambush us from the surrounding forest, but no one came as the children approached.

I felt a small tug on the back of my dress as I got up to meet them. I turned to find my mother standing there with cuts and bruises marring her skin. Blood ran down her hairline and she panted in exhaustion, but her smile of exultation was enough to make me smile despite my confusion.

"This is what I would like to call family bonding," she whispered, and I eyed her warily before turning back to look at what she was staring at.

And when I saw all the bandages, clothes and buckets of water they were carrying with them towards their saviour, I could not help but agree.

Posted: August 7, 2008